Royals mailbag: What’s up with James Shields? Trading Greg Holland?

James Shields
James Shields AP

The Royals entered one of the toughest portions of their schedule last weekend, and thus far, they’ve muscled through it. After a victory on Thursday night, they’ve gone 5-3 against Toronto and St. Louis. Now a three-game series with the Yankees beckons, beginning on Friday at Kauffman Stadium.

But before then, you have questions. We, theoretically, have answers. Here’s this week’s mailbag:

On May 13, he struck out eight Rockies during seven innings of one-run baseball.

This anti-Shields thing, which is probably just a production of Twitter and general angst, is preposterous. He pitched a mediocre game against the Angels, an excellent hitting team on May 24. He gave up three home runs to the Blue Jays, who employ Edwin Encarnacion, who rendered opposing pitchers helpless all May. Encarnacion hit two of those homers.

And then, on Tuesday, he lacked command and pitched poorly. It happens. You would think a pitcher of Shields’ caliber and pedigree would have earned some slack. He has been everything the team expected since his arrival. A few poor starts, even if they happen to occur, occasionally, in “big games,” don’t change that reality.

The ad hominem attacks — the type you see far too often on Twitter — on Billy Butler are dopey and original. But criticism of his play is warranted. He has disappointed this season, and any signs of progress are charitable. Since May, he is hitting .274/.315/.359. You can live with that production from Alcides Escobar. You can’t thrive if you’re DH hits that poorly.

So, to me, the most unwarranted criticism now belongs to Shields. He appears to absorb some residual resentment inspired by the Wil Myers trade. Incidentally, Myers was terrible this year, and he will miss the next two months because of an injury. James Shields has still never been on the disabled list. Also: Wade Davis, the reliever.

Duffy can become a No. 3 starter, but a useful comparison is A.J. Burnett. Burnett is a No. 3 starter. He possesses the arsenal of an ace, but his inability to harness it every fifth day makes him less reliable. Duffy is similar. He has yet to achieve consistency within his delivery, and he may never do it. But he has enough talent and commitment to be a very, very useful pitcher.

A.J. Burnett has had a tremendous career, is what I’m trying to say.

Absolutely. The two most productive hitters on the Royals in 2014 are Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. In Ned Yost’s typical lineup, they bat fifth and seventh. I think analysis of lineup construction is overrated, but that should be remedied. Yost doesn’t. Only one of us has influence on the batting order.

He hit 29 homers in 2012 with an .882 OPS, and he only appeared in 20 games in the field. So, I don’t think that’s it. His problem is he can’t hit the ball in the air. His groundball-to-flyball ratio is 2.33, easily his career-high, and well above his average of 1.52.

A couple reasons:

1. The 2014 Royals, as currently constructed, rely upon the tandem of Davis and Holland. Removing one from the equation could cripple their bullpen, which has been leaky all year long, save for this duo. Ned Yost plans every game on how to deliver a lead to Davis in the eighth.

2. You are far more likely to get prospects than big-leaguers for Holland. Those prospects will still be available this winter, when the club almost certainly has to shop one or the other.

Oh, the criticism I received on Twitter for making a casual reference to the ballpark as “Busch Stadium West.” I spent the last five years in New York, so, yes, this has been my first I-70 Series. Forgive me by being struck by the infusion of Cardinal red inside the otherwise lovely Kauffman Stadium. The manager was, too. “I saw a lot of red shirts in the stands,” he said on Wednesday night.

Because I could only choose three players. Cain has to prove he can last a 162-game season with, at least, only minimal interruptions via injury. If he can stay on the field for the rest of 2014, after missing a few weeks in April, that would be a start.

Yost does not think Dyson is better in center than Cain. Few center fielders in baseball are better than Cain. I wouldn’t frame it as “Dyson can’t handle right,” exactly, either, although there’s a measure of truth there. Dyson is a solid center fielder. Cain is a tremendous one, and he also serves as an upgrade over Aoki. So the team feels the duo, configured this way, is better than Cain in center and Aoki in right.

Does that make sense? The brain twists into knots, sometimes, understanding this stuff.

You know that Vanilla Ice dance move, where he jumps over his own leg? I can do that.

I have never seen this film.

Do we need a new Rage album? I’m fine with “The Battle of Los Angeles” as a walkoff record. I enjoy Tom Morello’s occasional forays with Bruce Springsteen. And I was thrilled to see Zack de la Rocha is working with Run The Jewels.

1. Brand New, summer of 2006, TLA in Philadelphia.

2. The Decemberists, February 2005, TLA.

3. The Wonder Years, December 2013, The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

4. The Dropkick Murphys, spring 2003, The Electric Factory in Philadelphia.

5. Japandroids, December 2012, Union Transfer in Philadelphia.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/McCulloughStar.