Judging the Royals

The Kansas City Royals; it’s not a simple narrative

Most of us in the media like a simple narrative. We have limited time and space to tell a story and we generally don’t do complexity well. It’s easier to say Alex Gordon hit a home run on the day they gave away his bobble head than to explain counts, slide steps and arm slots that result in hung sliders. It’s easier to talk about pressure and momentum than explain pitch sequence or a hitter’s premature weight shift. So we tend to look for simple explanations that may or may not be accurate.

But the story of any team is not simple.

Back when Kansas City was losing more than it was winning, the simple explanation was that the team sucked and Dayton Moore was an idiot. But if you watched the team and knew what to look for, you could see improvement; the simple narrative was wrong.

Now that the Royals are going to the playoffs for the first time in 29 years, people are going over the top with their praise, but once again a simple narrative does not paint a complete picture.

The Kansas City Royals are a very good team with flaws—all teams have them.

The Royals strengths and limitations

When Texas Ranger manager Tim Bogar was with the Boston Red Sox he told me they used a system to analyze players; they looked for strengths and limitations. It’s a helpful way to think about things: all players have strengths (they made it to the big leagues) and all players have limitations (nobody is perfect). So with that in mind, here are some of the Royals’ strengths and limitations:

The starting rotation has been solid, but if they don’t throw six innings and get the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland with a lead, you see middle relievers come in the game and the chances of success go down.

The Royals do not have one big bopper in the lineup; no 30 home run, 100 RBI guy. On the bright side that means there’s no one player the other team can work around; the Royals have hitters that might do damage up and down the lineup. But the Royals have to work together as a group to score runs; on most nights one guy swinging for the fences isn’t going to work—they have to get on base, move runners and then do a good job of situational hitting with a runner in scoring position.

The offense has struggled with pitch selection. In many of his at bats Salvador Perez is swinging at just about anything that comes his way. Lorenzo Cain has been chasing breaking pitches off the outside corner. Billy Butler is being pitched down in the zone with sinkers and off-speed stuff and all too often Billy goes after those pitches, rolls over and hits double play groundballs. When these guys get good pitches to hit, they hit well; but if a smart pitcher with good control sees the Royals will chase borderline pitches, they won’t get good pitches to hit.

Lorenzo Cain is hovering around .300, but has had an awful lot of infield hits, seeing-eye grounders and jam shots that fall in. He’ll need that luck to continue in the playoffs.

The Royals lead the league in stolen bases, but have made some fundamental mistakes on base paths; Perez not tagging up and Dyson getting picked off come to mind. And Dyson has hit some double play grounders and failed to run them out—even when it looks like he might have been safe with a better effort.

Omar Infante is a very good bat handler, but there are times he plays the game 90 feet at a time or fails to cover second base in routine situations. He’s also got problems with his throwing shoulder.

Nor Aoki has been on fire at the plate, but does not have a strong arm and gets challenged by base runners who don’t think he can throw them out when they take an extra base.

Mike Moustakas plays third at a level that puts him in the conversation for a Gold Glove, but has been scuffling on defense lately—although he made a great play on Saturday night. Both he and Eric Hosmer can get big in their swings and pop up or foul back hittable pitches.

I could go on and I think I have.

The point of this is to remind everybody—myself included—that simple narratives are generally wrong. Any picture that paints a team as all bad or all good is inaccurate: every team and every player has strengths and limitations.

Game notes

*The Paul Konerko Day celebration caused the game’s start time to be missed and that screwed up the starting pitchers; but if it was a factor it seemed to affect Danny Duffy more than John Danks.

*After the game Duffy denied that the long ceremony had any effect on his start, but players are unlikely to use something like that as an excuse—it’s considered bad form to put the blame for a poor performance on anyone but yourself.

*Danny Duffy threw over 30 pitches in the first inning and never got an out in the third; Duffy was pulled after two innings and that meant the Royals had to provide seven innings of relief pitching.

*Duffy forgot to cover first base at one point, but Eric Hosmer picked him up and made the play himself.

*Danny also issued a leadoff walk to Adam Eaton and that walked scored in front of a Jose Abreu home run.

*Salvador Perez homered and lined out in the ninth, but still struggled with pitch selection, at one point swinging at a pitch that bounced off home plate. If hitters will chase borderline pitches, pitchers don’t need to throw them strikes.

*John Danks is left-handed so base runners have a harder time reading his intentions, plus he was pitching out of a slide step. Base stealers can’t just decide they want to steal a base; the pitcher’s delivery time home and the catcher’s time throwing the ball to second base dictate when a base stealer can run.

*A White Sox fan reached for foul ball and knocked it away from the White Sox catcher. It’s a simple rule: if your team is trying to make the catch, get the hell out of the way. If the other team is trying to make the catch, go for it.

*Adam Eaton singled over a drawn-in Mike Moustakas. As I’ve said before—and will probably say again—when you think about the worth of a bunt you have to include the hits that past bunt attempts can get you.

*Tim Collins came in to pitch the seventh inning, fell behind Josh Phegley 3-1 and then threw a fastball when Phegley was expecting one. The ball cleared the left field fence and provided the White Sox with the margin of victory.

The Royals miss an opportunity

The Detroit Tigers lost and the Royals had a chance to pull even in the race for the division, but couldn’t get the job done. Even so, tomorrow is game 162 and the Royals still have a chance to tie the Tigers.