The K Zone

Andy McCullough blogs about the Royals and baseball

Andy McCullough answers your baseball questions in his debut Royals mailbag

04/25/2014 9:00 AM

05/01/2014 9:16 AM

Greetings from Charm City, and welcome to The Star’s first Royals mailbag of the season. We will try to make this a regular feature each Friday. Let’s get to it! To quote the Greek Chorus from Animal House: “We need the dues.” By far the most surprising part of this new job has been the amount of attention and care paid to my clothing by the baseball operations department of the Kansas City Royals. Also, Alex Gordon described my most recent haircut as “decent,” and thank you for asking. You live up to your Twitter handle. Kansas City has been fantastic. We should call this the #McCulloughBag. That’ll stick. It would probably make Billy’s life a lot easier, I suppose. The most effective turn, though, would probably be Alex Gordon. Morphing from a clean-cut, bland babyface into a swaggering heel certainly worked for The Rock. I’ve been told I upset a few people in the organization when I wrote during spring training that Escobar was the worst hitter in baseball last year. Which, for the record, he was. But he’s been tremendous thus far this season. He’s been the Royals best position player, and perhaps their most valuable performer overall. He currently has a negative defensive rating, to which I’ll offer merely a dismissive hand gesture. The catch he on Monday night here, sprinting from the shift for a sliding grab in foul territory, was incredible. What most impressed observers, from coaches to executives, was the ease with which he made the play. All Escobar has to do to be value is play defense like he does, and, basically, not be the worst hitter in baseball. He’s been one of the team’s best hitters thus far. If he can produce an OPS above .650 (which is far from guaranteed), he’ll be plenty valuable. Baseball-Reference says it’s “a-OH-key.” So there is that. If I accomplish nothing this season, at least I can say I wrote a game story centered around a squirrel. In a pure scouting sense, Vargas is probably a No. 4 starter. He might even be a No. 5 starter for an American League East team, where the ballparks are tight and the offenses are ferocious. But in the Central, where there’s a little more room to work, his stuff plays up. I’ve been meaning to use this in a game story for a few weeks, but I already basically wrote a feature about it. So here’s a leftover chunk on Vargas: His fastball won’t crack 90 mph. He stands 6-0, with a stocky frame that team officials say belies his athleticism. “The thing that people don’t give him credit for is what a great athlete he is,” said bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who managed Vargas in Seattle. “They look at the body and they go ‘Ehh . . .’ But he’s able to repeat his delivery, and that’s the sign of a solid starter.” To those who know him well, the critical components of Vargas are internal as well as external. At Long Beach State, Vargas’ final stop on a peripatetic amateur career, he impressed his coach, Troy Buckley, with his poise. Buckley hit upon a trio of keys: Shoulders, pace and face. “If your shoulders aren’t slouched,” he explained, “if your pace isn’t slow, if you’re not showing what you’re thinking on your face, then you’ve got pretty good presence, and you’ve probably got pretty good makeup.” That’s why the Royals like him. He’s reliable. He doesn’t get rattled. Will he pitch to a sub-2.00 ERA this year? No. But he’s a confident pitcher who will benefit from the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium and the team’s outstanding defense. He’s probably closer to the pitcher he was on Wednesday (6 innings, two earned runs) than the guy from the first four starts. But the guy on Wednesday was solid. I wrote a lengthy story that touched on this topic during the spring. Doug Melvin, the Brewers GM, contends the team fired Yost because they stopped hitting, and ownership felt compelled to make a change. Melvin regrets the decision, even if interim manager Dale Sveum (now on Yost’s staff) led the team to the playoffs. Here is what Yost says has changed: He no longer worries about things he cannot control. It’s a hard thing to believe, but he insists he does not. He referenced this a few times during spring training, and it came up again recently in Houston. When he was in Milwaukee, he would fret about how he could help if a player like Billy Butler was in a slump. Now, he says, he understands that Butler is the only person who can save Butler. In general, managers get fired because of how players perform. The Royals front office appears to have the utmost confidence in Yost. This may be hard to remember, but he did lead the club to their best record in more than 20 years last season. That means something to the baseball operations department, who had to rebuild an organization from something resembling scratch. 1. A team official raised an interesting point about Perez the other day: If he was just a catch-and-throw guy, no one would complain about his lack of days off. But it’s because his offense is so critical, and because his production has cratered, that people worry about his playing time. He will get more days off as the season goes on. It’s also important to remember that Perez doesn’t have to be an elite hitter to have incredible value. If he can post an OPS+ from 100 to 110, he’s a monster. 2. Dyson is still rotating with Justin Maxwell in a platoon until Lorenzo Cain comes off the disabled list. Team officials still go gaga over Maxwell, and you hear all sorts of late-bloomer comps: Nelson Cruz, Jayson Werth, etc. But Dyson is a better defender. And when he can drop a bunt in fair territory, it really does wreak havoc on the opposing infield. They are just song titles. Sometimes they relate to the current state of the team. Sometimes they don’t. It’s mostly a way to differentiate between the days. Don’t read too much into them. Maybe for you, but that would really cramp my plan to see American Football’s reunion show in New York on Oct. 11. Unless … unless they play the Yankees. Well, now I know what I’m rooting for this season. It’s a great question. I hope The Menzingers blow up, because they really are tremendous. I need to listen to “Rented World” a few more times. There’s nothing as immediate or infectious as “Good Things” or “The Obituaries” or “Gates.” But this one feels like it has a little more depth to it. “Transient Love” is such a burner, and probably my favorite song on the record. You don’t have to choose, man! That’s the great thing about music. We’re all winners. I stand with Sam. Probably Outdoor Channel. I hope it’s just us sitting in a hunter’s hutch, with me annoying him with questions. Jeff Foxworthy plays the wacky next-door neighbor. James Shields: “Something You Forgot” by Lil Wayne. Jason Vargas: “So Far (It’s Alright)” by The 1975. Yordano Venutra: “The Fire” by The Roots. Jeremy Guthrie: “Night Light” by Sleater-Kinney. Bruce Chen: “Kin” by Shone. I picked these off the top of my head. But I do think Chen is the man to bring #Shone to the masses.


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