The K Zone

May 2, 2014

Royals mailbag: Moustakas to platoon? Ventura’s innings limit?

Welcome back to our weekly Royals mailbag. Let’s do this.

The K Zone

Andy McCullough blogs about the Royals and baseball

Welcome back to our weekly Royals mailbag. Let’s do this. If you can’t learn from the best, you have to try to learn from someone. I can’t recommend food like Sam, but I can recommend music. Unwound is a criminally underrated band from the 1990s, and their lead singer, Justin Trosper, just released a debut record with this band called Survival Knife. It’s quite good. Blake Schwarzenbach says he once cried at an Unwound show. That’s how you know, man. Works for me. Oh, I love the readers! You guys keep us in business. And the interaction on Twitter has been fun. Keeps me entertained during the long season. I do find humorous how often Ned Yost is blamed for, well, everything. In conversations with Royals officials, it’s become clear they have tempered their expectations for Moustakas. Remember, when he came up, he was heralded as a guy who could win both a Gold Glove and a home run title. The Royals no longer expect he will be that player. The flaws in his approach are too vast. Even so, they haven’t given up hope on Moustakas as a solid, above-average third baseman. It’s a reasonable hope, I guess, but it requires you to ignore just how disastrous he’s been as a hitter thus far. Consider this. As of Thursday, there were 202 players with at least 80 plate appearances. Moustakas ranked 201st with a .149 batting average and 190th with a .552 OPS. That is, as they say in the parlance, not good. He continues to play useful defense, but useful defense is only worth so much when you’re hitting .149/.219/.333. So. His playing time. You will not see Ned Yost hanging a shingle over the lockers of Moustakas and Danny Valencia that reads "THESE GUYS ARE PLATOONING," and you will rarely even hear him mention the name of that Oliver Stone film. But a platoon is coming, it appears. Valencia started on Friday against left-hander Mark Buehrle. He’ll likely siphon away more and more playing time against southpaws as the year continues. Now, if Moustakas begins to find his stride against righties, he could win back some of those at-bats. But as we creep into May, expect Valencia to play more. I’m pretty sure I only did that once or twice. My point was that a three-game sample size when he was good was as relevant, in the big picture, as an eight-game sample size when he was bad. He deserved the opportunity to play enough to present a more accurate picture of himself. He has been given that opportunity. You see the results. I grouped these two together, because they revolved around the same topic. The extended slump of Billy Butler, really the first of his career, is a mystifying thing. His plate-discipline data is fairly similar to years past. Entering Thursday, he was swinging at pitches outside the strike zone 29.8 percent of the time, a slight uptick from his career average of 27.4 percent. He was swinging through pitches 5.5 percent of the time, an actual decrease from his career average of 7.1 percent. Yet rival evaluators still believe his mechanics are out of whack. And the proof is in his results. He is assaulting the infield grass. Line drives and fly balls are rare. Is it a concern? Obviously. Butler is critical to the composition of the 2014 Royals (and he needs to produce in order to be valuable to the 2015 Royals, either as their cleanup hitter or as a trade chip). Team officials continue to point to his track record. He has been the team’s most consistent hitter for the past half-decade. And yet . . . he’s a designated hitter with a .232/.295/.275 slash line. That’s a problem. It will probably be a moving target, one that varies from start to start. He looked dominant over the weekend, so Yost let him throw 113 pitches. He looked scattershot on Wednesday, so Yost cut him off at 92. The Royals insist they do not have a set innings limit for Ventura. They expect him to throw 180 to 200 innings. Hosmer homers. He was OK in April. His defense is outstanding. He made a few gaffes on the bases. And his hitting is still a work in progress. After Alcides Escobar (!), Hosmer has probably been the team’s best hitter. He entered Thursday leading the group in batting average (.301) and on-base percentage (.354). That’s a useful start to a slash line, although you’d like to see a few more walks. I doubt Hosmer slugs .388 this season. As the weather improves — and, to be fair, it really has been miserable — some of his doubles might actually carry over the fence. Danny Duffy received the lion’s share of the criticism on Wednesday, but it was Crow who actually allowed the two runs to score. He’s been a bit of a mystery this year. His velocity is down, his strikeouts are down and his walks are down. He explained recently this was on purpose: He is trying to control his delivery to throw more strikes. Fair enough. The results have been OK. He’s giving up a career-low 6.3 hits per nine. The problem is the hits have come at inopportune moments. We tend to remember when relievers struggle, and now when they have success. I’m not sure Crow is Yost’s "fireman." I’d describe him more as "a middle reliever who sometimes has to pitch in high-leverage spots." And he’s done an adequate job with that so far. Ned Yost makes me laugh every single day, and some of the time even on purpose. I find his dogged commitment to curmudgeonry amusing. Jarrod Dyson is likely the funniest player. Bruce Chen is on the podium. Greg Holland is in the conversation. Does Jason Kendall count? Because then I would say: 1. Jason Kendall. 2. Jason Kendall. 3. Jason Kendall. Otherwise, probably Chen. He could dissolve the tension with his quick wit and left-handedness. None, but I did enjoy Jack Antonoff’s appearance on the Going Off Track podcast this week. Both Dayton Moore and J.J. Picollo affirmed this week that the script remains the same: The team hopes Zimmer leaves extended spring training by late May and debuts with Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He is said to be throwing well down at the complex in Surprise, Ariz. There has not been any word of a recurrence of the biceps tendinitis or shoulder soreness that slowed him this winter. Is he 100 percent? He throws a baseball for a living, so, probably not. But he hasn’t missed a beat in his revamped throwing program. To be fair to this question, I listened to “Spiderland“ again on Thursday morning. Good grief, what a boring record, except for the blasts of guitar fuzz near the end of "Good Morning, Captain"). I never got why people loved this album so much, and I refuse to read Pitchfork’s 2,054-word defense of it. An aside: I love the accessibility of music in 2014. But part of me misses the exhilaration/devastation of hunting down a hard-to-find classic record. I was thrilled when I finally got a copy of "Spiderland." This was probably in 2004. And I was so bummed when I actually listened to it. I am pretty sure I spent three years in high school trying to track down The Soft Boys’ “Underwater Moonlight.” And man, did that one let me down. “Disintegration.” The Red Sox basically said to him “lie, lie better next time,” and he couldn’t do it. I tapped out on wrestling from about 2000 to 2008. I still don’t watch the programs regularly, but I have no idea what happened during that period. It all sounds pretty terrible. My favorite album in 2004 was probably The New Amsterdam’s “Worse For The Wear.” Not in the mainstream sense, but he looks capable of running as a big-time heel for a while. And when I say "heel," I mean, "a face who behaves like a heel, but who is considered a face because the fans." I stopped playing when I was 11. All I could do at the plate was hit a hard groundball to the shortstop. And, honestly, who cares? See you next week.

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