Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Joe Blanton, Royals needs, All-Star bonuses, All-Star fixes and monster trucks

Royals starting pitcher Joe Blanton in action against the Seattle Mariners  Monday in Seattle
Royals starting pitcher Joe Blanton in action against the Seattle Mariners Monday in Seattle AP

Felix Hernandez struck out 248 batters last year, the most in an already remarkable career that has him fast-tracked for the Hall of Fame. He threw 236 innings, and allowed 221 baserunners. No pitcher in baseball was harder to get a hit off, or get on base against.

Joe Blanton bought a vineyard last year. He took the family on an RV trip, and hung out with his kids, often by the pool. He did not play professional baseball of any kind.

So, obviously, Blanton outpitched Hernandez last night and the Royals beat the Mariners.

If not for Blanton, the highlight of the broadcast may have been Rex Hudler explaining to the folks at home what a koozie is — you put your drink in it, but it’s not a cooler, Rex said. But Blanton pitched what so far is the game of his season. Two years ago, he walked away from baseball a bit of a broken pitcher, a 6.04 ERA and nearly $40 million in career earnings making it easy to walk away.

The Royals have the best record in the American League, still, and it’s in no small part because of performances like this. The Royals did not expect to get as much, as soon, from Chris Young. Ryan Madson has been a pleasant surprise.

No baseball season ever goes to plan. One hundred and sixty-two games don’t allow for that any more than a college kid becomes the 40-year-old he plans to be. You might have read this before here, but the Royals’ greatest success in the offseason was in insulating themselves from potential problems in the rotation. They’ve had more problems in the rotation than they expected, but they’ve had more solutions than they could’ve expected, too.

The rotation remains the team’s biggest long-term concern, but the baseball season is played day-to-day, and the Royals are doing enough to not just get through these concerns, but thrive.

This week’s reading recommendation is Jonathan Mahler on Gawker, a story that includes the best lead I’ve read in 2015. The eating recommendation is the french onion dumplings at Gram and Dun.

As always, thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

Damn straight. Now keep quiet and get back to work for me.

So, first, some context.

All of these numbers are entering yesterday’s games, but Royals starters rank 13th in the American League in ERA (4.42), 14th in WHIP (1.34), 11th in opponents’ OPS (.742) and last in innings (364.1)^.

^ A minor point, but the Royals have played between two and six fewer games than every other team in the American League. So a stat like innings pitched by starters could be skewed, but in this case, the Royals also rank last in innings per start (about 5 1/2, which, I know, technically does not exist but you get the point).

The numbers are pretty terrible no matter how you look at them. The Royals have used eight starting pitchers already, and among the six who’ve started more than twice, only Chris Young and Edinson Volquez have ERAs under 4.00. This is not a case of a team having four good starters and wondering whether it should splurge to complete the set. This is a team that needs both quality and quantity, and it’s been apparent for some time that the rotation is the biggest long-term concern.

It is not as simple as it may appear, however. The most obvious reasons are that Danny Duffy returns from the disabled list this week, and if he can be more 2014 than he’s been so far in 2015, that goes a long way toward stabilizing the rotation.

Kris Medlen is a factor, too. It’s hard to get a feel for what exactly the Royals are expecting from him. It seems to me that there has been a subtle but steady increase in how much people in the organization talk about him contributing this year, but it’s hard to know exactly how much of that is his progress in rehab, and how much of it is the needs of the club.

But the answer to your question is that the Royals themselves don’t know yet. Trades don’t typically happen until at least the middle of July, and a lot can change between now and then. Duffy will have had a few weeks back. Ventura will, presumably, be back from the DL. Same with Vargas. Noted Bo Jackson fan Kris Medlen could make a start or three by the trade deadline.

I’m starting to change my feeling on this a bit. A month ago, I thought the problems would be mostly mild and temporary, that the Royals had enough internally that they could get to average with the rotation. I did not think the problems with both health and efficiency would be this widespread and ongoing.

All of that said, pulling off trades is much easier said than done. I don’t sense much willingness from the Royals to give up a top prospect like Raul Mondesi, and for whatever it’s worth, I think doing so would be a mistake.

So I think the decision makers are going to be watching this closely, with optimism that the situation will settle. The Royals will know much more internally than they will let on about whether Ventura, for instance, just needed a little break or whether his problems are more the reasonably predicted aftershocks of a much-increased workload from 2014.

At this point, I do think it’s more likely than not that the Royals will add someone, and much more likely than not that it will be more Tom Koehler than Johnny Cueto.

This, to me, is the great success of the Royals so far. It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it’s fairly remarkable. Whether it’s injuries or suspensions or a prolonged offensive slump, the Royals have had their share of things to work through, enough that in a parallel universe if the Royals were, say, two games over .500 and two or three games behind first place the rational reaction would be, hey, that’s cool, they’re still in it and can make a run at this.

What the Royals are doing, basically, is lead the Indy 500 on lap 80 or so despite leaking a little oil and driving on tires that need to be changed.

In other words, between the rotation issues and the All-Star voting, it’s been easy to miss that the Royals are a really good baseball team, particularly in the context of the American League which is, well, not awesome.

But, yeah, the Royals are winning because they play the best defense in the league by a pretty fair margin, are in the top half offensively, are the league’s toughest strikeout, and still have a ridiculous bullpen^.

^ Worth noting: even if he’s a regression candidate, Greg Holland has blown just one of 15 save chances. The other night in Milwaukee was somewhat concerning, but it wasn’t a save chance, and you always hear that it’s tough for closers to get up for non-save chances, and what’s more important is that other than that appearance he’s been perfect in eight games dating back to May 25.

We talk about this fairly often here, but when you follow one team, it’s so easy to lose perspective. It’s easy to think your star player is better than he actually is, and it’s easy to think the guy who’s struggling is worse than he actually is. It’s easy to forget that every team has strengths and weaknesses.

The Royals have a lot of strengths, and perhaps more than anything, an incredible belief in themselves. They are a talented, resilient bunch, and that’s a tough combination.

No, because that’s not going to happen. And if it does, hopefully Royals fans can be distracted by the scathing column that would be written in the local newspaper.

As gout patient Andy McCullough wrote the other day, the Royals stand to pay out $1.25 million in bonuses and escalators in the next few years if the patterns hold and eight Royals are voted into the All-Star game.

A few points to make about that. First, that’s not an obscene amount of money in the context of major league baseball OR the new Royals. They made many times that much off the playoff run last year, and many times that much off increased attendance this year and, presumably, the passion and attention that’s coming from the voting.

I’m sure the front office and owner aren’t super psyched to be potentially paying a half-million dollars to Omar Infante based, essentially, on Royals fans being amused at how easy it is to manipulate the internet. But that’s life in the big city, and the days of the Royals having to sweat out $1.25 million spread over a few years — particularly when it comes from something positive like the All-Star game — are over.

Or, at least, they should be over. And if not, that’s where I will have one of the easiest columns to write in the history of Kansas City sports journalism.

Yes. Of course it would be.

It will also be the jersey of choice for the hipster or counter-culture Royals fan.

I believe that Lorenzo Cain is a deserved starter, but recognize the offensive numbers are a ways behind some others. There are varying degrees of credibility to the cases for Mike Moustakas, Sal Perez, Alex Gordon and perhaps a few others. But just based on numbers, Moustakas and Perez are behind Josh Donaldson and Stephen Vogt by fair margins. The outfield is fairly stacked, not just Mike Trout, but Jose Bautista, George Springer and a few others.

But, either way, the voting system will almost certainly change. The All-Star game is a complicated thing to fix, and, really, I’m not sure how important it is to fix. It’s never going to be perfect. It’s one night of television programming, and I know you’re probably saying, BUT HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE IN THE WORLD SERIES!!!, to which I basically reply, shrug.

Since 2003 — or, if you’re a Fox exec: in the This Time It Counts era — there have been two game sevens of the World Series. The home team is 1-1. The win was in 2011, when the Cardinals beat the Rangers the day after The David Freese Game^. You might remember the loss.

^ I was lucky to be at that game, still one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in person.

The National League won that 2011 All-Star game 5-1. I’m not sure fan balloting swung that game, or the World Series. In both the postseason and regular season, home teams win about 54 percent of the time, so we’re not talking about a huge advantage here.

I feel like people are falling for a marketing gimmick, is what I’m saying. This Time It Counts does not actually Count as much as all the added attention and viewers and advertising money that it generates.

Baseball’s All-Star game is the best of any of the four major sports. Now, I happen to believe that any list of major American sports that includes the NHL should also include MLS, and I particularly like that league’s willingness to go outside the box with its all-star game, but their format of MLS All-Stars against a European team brings its own challenges.

A related format would work much better in baseball, which doesn’t rely on cohesion or teamwork nearly as much as soccer, and as much as I appreciate how much baseball loves its traditions, I wonder if it might be worth trying something totally new.

The idea of a sort of Team USA vs the World thing has been kicked around before, and is actually the format of the Futures Game over All-Star weekend. I think that could be interesting. It would do away with tying World Series home field advantage to the All-Star game, and I think most baseball fans would see that as a positive.

But, none of that really answers your question. I think MLB is too invested in the current format to let up now, and besides, any major changes to the format would likely have to be agreed upon by Fox.

So, the changes that can be made are more to the selection process, and I expect that to happen. I expect some combination of tighter regulations on how email addresses can be used, and a smaller limit on the number of times each person or email address can vote. I’d also be in favor of the return of the in-stadium vote. MLB could also choose to bring players and/or coaches into choosing the starters, which would be understandable from a logical perspective, but disappointing from the fan perspective.

There aren’t enough parts of sports where fans control the action. We need more of that, not less.

This would be funny, and probably both appropriate but old after a while. There’s going to be a lot of Royals in that game.

So, I came up with an advanced algorithm to figure this out. I don’t have time to explain the whole thing, but it involves both traditional and advanced metrics, tenure with the organization, team success, and involvement in major franchise moments and shifts. Also, I probably don’t have to tell you that that whole last sentence is basically garbage, and that I did this off the top of my head.

In order of likelihood:

Alex Gordon’s No. 4 — 91 percent. I believe I’ll write a column about this.

Ned Yost’s No. 3 — 87 percent. He was the manager for a rise from the ashes that changed the franchise’s history. He’s won a pennant, and won more games and managed more games for the Royals than anyone else. I would think that last 13 percent would evaporate with another playoff run.

Salvador Perez’s No. 13 — 81 percent. The Royals control him for four more years, and that’s only if they don’t redo the contract into something longer. He’s about to play in his third All-Star game already. The 19 percent is, basically, an injury risk.

Eric Hosmer’s No. 35 — 48 percent. This is where it begins to get tricky. The Royals control him for two more seasons after this. He’s likely to finish his career somewhere else. If he finishes this year like he’s played so far, and then has two more seasons close to it, he’s in. He’s a huge part of last October, which is important, but this is the part of the list where it depends more on what’s coming than what’s already come.

Lorenzo Cain’s No. 6 — 40 percent. He’s the MVP of the ALCS, will almost certainly start the All-Star game, and is a candidate for a long-term contract to stay in Kansas City. This just depends on health and production.

Mike Moustakas’ No. 8 — 30 percent. This is the hardest one, at least for me. He was the first official draft pick under Dayton Moore, and there is a lot of symbolism in his career and his breakout season. His catch against the dugout suites was one of the defining images of the postseason run. Thirty percent is probably too high for a guy who only this year is hitting so well, but another season or two like this and that number will rise.

Yordano Ventura’s No. 30 — 19 percent. Had a terrific 2014 season, and could be in Kansas City more than long enough to put together a resume, but who can be sure what that will include?

Go to that game. The ballpark is gorgeous, perhaps my favorite in baseball, almost certainly my favorite of the “new^” ballparks^^.

^ Camden Yards is in its 24th season.

^^ PNC in Pittsburgh is awesome, too.

You will not regret this. You will regret not going to that game. Go to that game.

I have a sneaky suspicion I’m missing an internet meme of some sort here, but I’ll answer this anyway. Of course I like monster trucks. I believe that along with popsicles and watermelon and slip-n-slides and catching fireflies, that going to a monster truck show should be a part of every childhood.

Even at the expense of looking forward to things down the road, I try very hard to focus on my son now. I don’t want to think about the things we’ll do in five years or ten years, because I want to enjoy what he is at this moment as much as possible. That being said, I do know it’ll be fun to take him to see monster trucks at some point. I don’t know what the youngest appropriate age is for that. I think maybe four? I don’t know.

My wife, who is normally very awesome, disagrees with my monster truck stance. It should be noted, however, that she has never been a little boy. Not even once.

OK, so if I had more time, or if I was working in the office, I’d go through the books of old All-Metro teams to make sure I’m not forgetting someone. I am quite certain I’m going to forget someone with this list, but these are the first five kids who came to mind, and first a few qualifiers.

I covered high schools from about 2000 to around 2005, give or take, so my list is going to be skewed to that time. Also, since you brought up the Rushes, I’m not including Brandon, because he only briefly played at Westport, even though I did see him later at Zion. This list is also going to bias toward people who excelled in one sport, rather than all-around studs — Blair Walsh, who I believe was All-Metro in three sports, comes to mind there.

Also, I realize this list is all guys, which I wish wasn’t the case, but these are the five that best come to mind. Erneisa Bailey, who just overpowered folks at Pembroke Hill back in the day, would be No. 6 on this list.

Anyway, here we go:

1. Darren Sproles. Ran for 2,485 yards and 49 — that’s forty-freaking-nine — touchdowns as a senior in 12 games, many of which he played only a half or three quarters. It was a joke. Just an absolute joke. His teams were stacked, so he always had holes, but nobody could touch him. Like a miniature version of Tecmo Bo.

2. Bubba Starling. I only saw him play football, and he just looked out of place. Like a college kid got lost and ended up dominating a high school game. That he was also a $7 million baseball prospect and would’ve been a high Division I basketball recruit is just silly. True, but silly.

3. Tony Temple. Probably could’ve been first on this list if not for playing through some injuries. Was a first-team All-Metro pick as a freshman. I remember his senior year, Rockhurst coach Tony Severino saying people would be disappointed if they expected to see “the Tony Temple Show.” He just said that to me, no cameras around. But that week, a Chiefs player was doing sideline reports for the Metro Sports broadcast, and after Temple made a ridiculous touchdown run, screaming into the microphone: “This is the Tony Temple Show, starring Tony Temple, directed by Tony Temple, produced by Tony Temple.”

4. Marcus Walker. The best Kansas City high school basketball player I saw, and I saw a lot of good ones, including guys who you knew would be better college players. Scored 30 a game as a senior, sometimes against constant double teams, and dropped 40 in the state title game. I also liked that he took summer classes at one of those basketball factories as a senior, but decided against staying when he got a key to the gym before his class schedule, and saw other kids trying to copy off him during a test he was sure he didn’t know the answers to. “I ain’t high on books,” he said, “but I’m at least trying to be average.”

5. Josh Freeman. He was, literally, bigger than nearly every NFL starting quarterback and bigger than every one of his offensive linemen. It was really weird looking. I remember when Grandview lost on a last-second play, the coach of the other team ending his postgame speech by screaming to his guys, “when that guy’s rich and playing on Sundays, you can tell everyone you know about the night you kicked his ass!”

I can’t think of it. I mean, maybe, if the Black Keys were playing a private concert on the beach with nothing but Tank 7 and good bourbon, then maybe. But only if they were only playing their old stuff, and it would help if the concert ended with, like, a massage.

But I still don’t think I’d wait hours — you said hours, right? — in heat like that.

The no-hitter, and it’s not all that close to me. Most of this is that baseball records — even now — strike me in a way that football records just don’t. I actually consciously monitor no-hitters in every game I go to, whether the leadoff guy singles or it takes until the fifth inning.

I’d love to see a no-hitter in person. I’d prefer I’m not working that night, but if I am, hopefully it’s not a tight deadline.

I doubt it.

But I’ll be there just in case.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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