Opinion

Ask Rustin: The Royals’ defensive start, All-Star voting, and how to look at April results

Royals left fielder Alex Gordon stretched out to take away a hit from Albert Pujols on Tuesday night.
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon stretched out to take away a hit from Albert Pujols on Tuesday night. AP

The Royals had a day off Thursday after opening a West Coast road trip by getting swept in Anaheim. In the words of Eric Hosmer, the break was needed.

The Royals have lost seven of 11 after starting the season 8-2. They have dropped five straight on the road. They are averaging 3.2 runs per game in their last five, and they are tied for 11th in the American League in runs scored (77), and they will face Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (1-1, 1.89 ERA) on Friday night at Safeco Field.

So, there’s that.

But first, let’s mailbag. The podcast recommendation this week is Klosterman discussing the new Weezer album and GNR on the Celebration Rock pod. The random album recommendation of the week is “Singing Saw” by Kevin Morby (who is actually a Kansas City native and Royals fan). Let’s do this.

Three more days.

1. Nice. 2. This made me think of this from @mellinger during whatever he now calls his weekly thing of nonsense.

From Sam:

“One interesting thing is seeing how the team is followed. There seems to be two general groups of Royals fans. On one side, anything that is not a statement on the Royals’ awesomeness is taken as criticism. On the other side, irrational freakout about Joakim Soria’s last outing or Omar Infante’s bad throw or Alex Gordon’s strikeouts are clouding two unalienable truths:

▪  No team is perfect, and

▪  The Royals are winning at a pace that’s good for more than 100 wins.”

You can read the whole thing here. It’s silly to panic in April, especially when your team is 12-9. But of course, the Royals are no longer on pace for 100 wins. So … panic?!

(Nods.)

I would assume nothing like that at this point. The Royals’ television ratings are absurd again, breaking records set last year. Interest in the team appears to be at an all-time high. A year ago, the Royals were coming off an AL pennant. This year, they are reigning champions. And, yes, Royals Twitter is quite the powerful thing. I mean, Ask this guy.

As far as an over-under? I’ll say … 5.5? Last year, the Royals had seven All-Stars in Cincinnati. And Ned Yost will have his hand in picking a few reserves once again.

Salvador Perez and Wade Davis seem like locks. It wouldn’t be surprising if Lorenzo Cain or Alex Gordon is starting in the outfield again, even after slow starts. Eric Hosmer could have a fighting chance to be voted in after his performance in the postseason and a strong start.

It will be more difficult for Alcides Escobar to beat out Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and others at shortstop. And it’s likely the Royals won’t have four starters again. But Mike Moustakas and Kelvin Herrera could also have arguments to be included.

For now, I’ll lean toward the over, because Royals fans internet really, really hard, and Ned.

OK, let’s go to the numbers: For now, the Royals rank third in the majors in Defensive Runs Above Average, according to FanGraphs. That is not bad.

The leaderboard:

Cubs, 14.7

Rangers, 10.9

Royals, 10.7

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the Royals lapped the field in the same statistic last year, finishing with 56.9 Defensive Runs Above Average. The Giants were second with 30.2.

From an anecdotal perspective, the Royals are continuing to make their usual share of highlights and tremendous plays (See Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon). The outfield defense still possesses great range, especially with Jarrod Dyson in right.

But in a small sample size, the defense has been a little sloppy. Escobar booted a ball that could have turned into disaster in one of Yordano Ventura’s starts. (Ventura escaped the inning and the Royals won.)

Escobar and Omar Infante failed to execute an important double play in Kris Medlen’s last start against Baltimore. Infante could have prevented a big inning on Tuesday in Anaheim by making a tricky back-handed play up the middle.

At this point, it’s hard to know what to make of it. On the whole, the Royals’ defense is still among the best in baseball. But it’s worth tracking the numbers over the next month. Because much of the Royals’ formula is built on not just being a great defensive team, but a historically great one.

This is highly unlikely.

It’s right to be skeptical in the same way it’s right to be skeptical of any statistic — team or individual — in April.

The White Sox’s starting pitching has been stellar. Chris Sale is 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA. Mat Latos is 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA. Jose Quintana is 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA.

Latos would appear due for some regression, as would the White Sox offense. A year ago, Chicago finished last in the AL with 622 runs scored. At the moment, they have scored 82 runs, good enough for ninth in the league.

The question: Will the White Sox score enough runs to support their beastly starting pitching?

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