On Wednesday, Royals general manager Dayton Moore held a press conference and the big news that came out of it is that Rusty Kuntz will no longer be the first-base coach.
I might be screwed.
I once told Rusty it was my job to get as much baseball knowledge as possible out of his head and into mine before he rode off into the sunset. Fortunately, if I have a question I’ve got Rusty’s cell phone number; unfortunately, Rusty assures me he won’t answer when I call.
Nevertheless, Rusty will still be around the organization in a role that has yet to be fully defined, so it sounds like the Royals don’t want to lose that source of baseball information any more than I do.
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Mitch Maier will take over for Rusty at first base, Mike Jirschele will stay at third base and Dale Sveum is the new bench coach.
But Dayton had lots more to say and here’s some of it.
What happened in 2017?
When asked about the 2017 season, Dayton talked about starting pitching.
The Royals got off to a 7-16 start in April, but Dayton said the offense had a lot to do with that poor start (more on that momentarily). After that, the Royals were about as good as any team in the American League for the next three months.
In May, June and July the Royals played 81 games and went 48-33, which is a .592 winning percentage. The only two teams with a higher winning percentage over the entire 2017 season were the Indians and Astros.
Unfortunately for the Royals, the season is 162 games long, so performing well over an 81-game stretch doesn’t cut it.
After those three months, underperformance and injuries caught up with the Royals and the staff ERA of 3.91 put up in July jumped to 5.89 in August.
Baseball people will tell you that it’s rare for a team to be hitting on all cylinders at the same time, so when the starting pitching scuffles, the other parts of a team’s game — the bullpen, the offense and defense — need to make up for it.
And in 2017, Dayton thought the rest of the Royals’ game wasn’t strong enough to cover for the starting pitching.
The offense in April
In April the Royals hit .210 and slugged .336. For comparisons sake, the Royals hit .279 in July and slugged .462. In 2017, the American League average in those categories was .256 and .429.
So a shortage of runs scored in April — 63 compared to 141 in July — led to that 7-16 record in the first month of the season.
One of the theories thrown around about that first month is that all the spring training talk about hitting more home runs got into the players’ heads and that got the Royals hitters away from their “keep the line moving” style of play.
Like all smart people, Dayton answers the question he wants to answer and that might not be the question you asked.
The home run question never laid a glove on him, but Dayton did talk about hitters expanding the strike zone and chasing pitches. In Dayton’s opinion the Royals did a better job of getting pitches to hit after the first month.
Dayton also pointed out that it’s only natural for players to try to put up numbers when they’re about to become free agents, and that might have led some players to be overly aggressive at the plate.
Taking the bad with the good
Apparently one of the Royals fans frustrated by the team’s willingness to chase pitches out of the zone is the Royals owner, David Glass.
Dayton explained it this way:
The Royals as a group are aggressive players. They run the bases aggressively and play defense aggressively, so it’s not surprising that they’d also be aggressive at the plate.
As everyone who has ever signed a player or gotten married finds out, you don’t get to keep the best traits of a person and discard the others. As frustrating as it might be, people come in complete packages and you have to take the bad with the good.
If Alcides Escobar were less aggressive at the plate, he might not be such a great shortstop on defense.
We like it when Escobar goes to his backhand, then leaps and makes a throw to first base from the outfield grass, even though it’s a low-percentage play and his throw could wind up in the dugout. We’re not so thrilled when Escobar swings at a low-percentage pitch.
But it’s two sides of the same coin.
You can try to get Escobar to be a bit more patient at the plate and convince him a slider at his ankles is not a good pitch to hit, but his aggressive style of play is going to show up in all parts of his game; it’s part of the entire package.
Why didn’t the Royals hold a fire sale?
One of the great things about not running a baseball team is getting to wait until the dust clears and then telling people who do run baseball teams what they should have done.
When they reached the 2017 trading deadline the Royals went for it instead of selling off players to the highest bidders. That didn’t work, so Dayton was asked if he now regrets not holding a fire sale.
Dayton said if the Royals were going to do that, the best time to do it would have been right after the 2015 World Series championship, when the players’ value was highest.
But when Dayton took the job in 2006 he listened to Royals fans and one of their complaints was the team’s habit of trading star players like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The window of opportunity is only open for a short while, so the Royals decided to keep this group of players together as long as possible, let them have their run and see if they had another championship in them. Turns out they didn’t and, depending on what happens in the free-agent market, giving those players one more chance to pull off a miracle might set the Royals back for a few years.
More on that later, when we take a look at what Dayton Moore had to say about 2018.