Opinion

Ask Rustin: Why teams are stealing on Sal Perez, the farm system, and the best albums of the 2010s

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez jsleezer@kcstar.com

The Royals are in last place. They have lost seven in a row. Their offense is the worst in baseball — for now.

There isn’t a lot good to talk about right now. This is obvious. But they are back in Kansas City, opening a 10-game homestand on Friday night. General manager Dayton Moore says he’s not discouraged. The Royals have the time — and the track record — to suggest they can dig out of this hole.

But yes, it has to start with more runs. We could spend more time talking about this, but let’s just get to the mailbag questions.

The song recommendation of the week is the new single from Haim, which was much more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

To the questions …

This is a good question. It’s been noticeable, in part, because Salvador Perez (and the Royals’ pitchers) were so good at controlling the running game last season. In 2016, for instance, Perez threw out 37 of 77 potential base-stealers, the best percentage in baseball. This year, he’s thrown out just one of 13 thus far.

Of course, so much of this depends on the pitcher. Base runners steal bases on the opposing pitcher, not the catcher. And this becomes even more evident when you look at the numbers.

Opponents have stolen five bags off Nathan Karns, who has never been great at controlling the running game. They have also swiped four bases off Jason Hammel, who last season allowed 15 stolen bases with the Cubs. That was tied for the 14th-highest total among all pitchers.

The rest of the Royals’ starters have been better, combining to allow three stolen bases (Ian Kennedy 2; Jason Vargas 1).

This topic probably requires a little more reporting; I want to ask around a bit. But of course, there is something else at play here, too, a sad thing.

Yordano Ventura was excellent at controlling the running game, allowing just seven stolen bases in his career. Aside from his electric stuff, it was one of his greatest gifts on a baseball field.

And while Danny Duffy is very adept at it, too, using a slide step often, the absence of Ventura can’t be ignored.

I wrote a little bit about the state of the farm system during spring training.

There does seem to be sort of a momentary void of difference-making talent arriving at the major-league level the last few years. There are two reasons for that. They Royals’ first-round picks from 2010 to 2013 read like this: Christian Colon, Bubba Starling, Kyle Zimmer, Hunter Dozier.

With apologies to Christian Colon, who has a historic World Series moment on his resume, the most promising player in that group is likely Dozier, who is recovering from an oblique strain.

It’s hard to know what Dozier’s ceiling is, or what defensive position he might land at. But he has shown some offensive talent.

The other reason for the void, of course, is that the Royals used a collection of top pitching prospects to acquire Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto in 2015. Maybe Sean Manaea would already be in the majors. Same with Brandon Finnegan. But maybe that means Matt Strahm is still knocking at the door in Omaha, which makes the system look stronger. So there’s that to consider as well.

Still, Royals officials will tell you that they feel very optimistic about the talent acquired in the last few drafts.

Josh Staumont was an inspired selection. Pitchers like Scott Blewett and Foster Griffin still have high upside. Same with A.J. Puckett. Club officials like Eric Skoglund as well. First baseman Ryan O’Hearn is hitting at Omaha. Jorge Bonifacio continues to progress and is now getting a chance in Kansas City.

A couple other names to watch: Outfielder Donnie Dewees, acquired in the offseason for pitcher Alec Mills; shortstop Nicky Lopez, who has drawn rave reviews; and 18-year-old outfielder Khalil Green, who was drafted out of high school last year and has high upside as an offensive player.

All-time: Gary Smith, Jon Krakauer, Michael Lewis, Dan Wetzel

Current: Chris Ballard, Eli Saslow, Mina Kimes, Bryan Curtis, Jeff Passan

If “thinking” about it constitutes scouting other teams and looking for matches in possible trades, they should be doing it right now. And considering how baseball front offices operate, they are.

But the trade deadline is not until July 31. There are three full months until then. That’s ages in baseball terms. Dayton Moore has a track record of remaining loyal and trusting his players. The advent of the second wild card means it’s very difficult to be out of contention for a playoff spot in July. The Royals will have to be buried in the standings to consider a full fire sale. But they will be right to wait and see where they are in the standings in July.

The Royals have scored a league-worst 46 runs in 18 games. Beat writer Rustin Dodd explains what's ailing Kansas City's offense.

This may be one of the strangest Kansas City barbecue takes out there. But sometimes, as someone who has lived in this general area for most of three decades, I’m just kind of worn out talking about barbecue. It may be because I spend a lot of time in press boxes with out-of-town sports writers who want to talk about nothing but barbecue and where they should eat. And I understand this puts me in the minority. And maybe I take it for granted. But here’s my general rule of thumb.

If I want a more leisurely, enjoyable meal experience, I’m going Jack Stack.

If I want the truest Kansas City barbecue experience, I’m going original Arthur Bryant’s.

And if I just want to go to food heaven, I go to Joe’s KC.

But I’ve also never even been to Q39, so yeah, nobody should listen to me on this topic.

 

My top 11:

11. Sremmlife, Rae Sremmurd, 2015

10. Currents, Tame Impala, 2015

9. Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper, 2016

8. Celebration Rock, The Japandroids, 2012

7. Lost in a Dream, The War on Drugs, 2014

6. The Shark, Empty Moon, 2014

5. The King is Dead, The Decemberists, 2011

4. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson, 2016

3. Trouble Will Find Me, The National, 2013

2. Bon Iver, Bon Iver, 2011

1. The Monitor, Titus Andronicus, 2010

Sunflower Seeds.

Near the top. Baseball writers have a reputation for being a miserable lot. Crusty. Cranky. All that.

But few writers in any sport exude the joy, friendliness and love for the sport that Jayson does. He’s a fountain of historical knowledge and interesting stories and nuggets. Simply put, he’s a legend in the profession.

Dr. Thunder.

I also have a strong affinity for saltine crackers. I will eat them plain, which is bizarre. But I’ve found there’s very little difference between name-brand saltine crackers and the cheap ones. In fact, the cheaper ones tend to have a more cardboard quality, which actually translates to a nice little pop-crunch that I enjoy.

This isn’t a name brand/off brand thing, but the same is true of regular Wheat Thins vs. Reduced Fat Wheat Thins. The reduced fat ones feel a little more stale, a little less oily, and somehow that makes them better.

So, honestly, I didn’t recall anything memorable about Hosmer and the ninth inning on Wednesday. He singled to left field. It was his third hit of the day. Salvador Perez popped out to end the game moments later.

Out of curiosity, I went back and watched the tape. Here’s Hosmer’s single:

So, yeah, not all-time hustle there. But considering the circumstances — ninth inning, down by three, sharp single to left (what is he gonna stretch it into a double?) — I can’t really see how this would rise to the level of criticism. Moving along.

These numbers are strikeout percentage — strikeouts/plate appearance — not strikeouts per nine. But here’s how the last four season stack up:

2014: 16.3 percent (Led the league

2015: 15.9 percent (Led the league … by a lot.)

2016: 20.2 percent

2017: 23.1 percent

You probably heard this by now. But the answer is no. Here’s Dayton Moore explaining why here.

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