Judging the Royals

Heading to spring training

As you read this, I’m on my way to Surprise, Arizona. I’ll arrive in Phoenix, take a shuttle straight to the ballpark and begin my fourth year of covering the Kansas City Royals. People ask if I’m excited about this upcoming season and the answer is yes; but once it begins, the grind doesn’t stop until the Royals quit playing. During that period I’ll either do my job as a political cartoonist or cover a baseball game — and on most days I’ll do both — for the next six months, weekends included.

OK, now that I’m done whining about being paid to watch baseball — but a lot of baseball — let’s talk about 2013. Judging the Royals has changed as we’ve gone along, and there are more changes in store: This year we’re dropping Ron Polk’s player evaluation system. Some people liked it, some people hated it, but few people looked at the numbers it produced. Personally, I liked it. It made me pay attention to baseball in a new way, and it forced me to record things that might otherwise go unnoticed: things like an 8-plus pitch at-bat or a runner breaking up a double play. But it was extremely time consuming and, since few readers were looking at the numbers, we decided to drop it. I will continue to look for those kinds of plays and continue to write about them; they often go unnoticed, but they still make a difference in a ballgame.

Eliminating the Polk system will allow me to concentrate on bringing the players’ point of view to baseball fans. If this is your first visit to Judging the Royals, I should probably mention this site was started to bring the conversations I’d been having with ballplayers for the past 20 years to other baseball fans. I’ve been lucky enough to know a lot of professional ballplayers, and their knowledge and insight helped me appreciate the game. If I could bring that knowledge and insight to this site, I hoped others would have the same experience: it’s more interesting to watch a ballgame when you know the hitter is trying to hit the ball to the right side of the infield and how the pitcher is trying to prevent that.

If you want to know why third baseman Mike Moustakas sometimes leaves a tag on a baserunner, this site can help you with that. (If Mike thinks the runner is out, he’ll bring the glove up and show the umpire he controls the ball. If Mike thinks the runner is safe, he might leave the tag on the runner hoping he over-slides the base.)

If you want to know why outfield coach Rusty Kuntz stepped out of the dugout and put his hand behind his head, this site can tell you what Rusty was up to. (Putting a hand behind the head means the outfield should play no doubles: back up far enough that any ball hit over their head is out of the park — the man at the plate represents an important run and the defense wants to hold the batter to a single.)

For the most part, the players, coaches and manager want us to know why they do the things they do. If you’ll put in the time necessary to convince them you really want to understand, they’ll explain. Players and coaches also want to know that you don’t have an axe to grind and that you’ll talk about the positive as well as the negative. If you’re going to write about Jeff Francoeur overthrowing a cutoff man, sooner or later you might also want to mention how well Jeff plays the wall.

In fact, for a source to be credible, it’s important to write about the good and the bad. Players are not perfect; for the past three years I’ve tried to point out the things they did well, but I’ve also pointed out their mistakes. When a player throws to the wrong base, makes a bad decision on the basepaths or avoids contact on a double play, I write about it.

The Royals organization — the players, coaching staff, manager Ned Yost and everybody from the groundskeepers to the GM — has given me countless hours of their time so that I can understand what they’re doing and pass that information along. Bottom line: these people know more than I do. If I ask questions and listen, I can learn from them and bring that knowledge to other fans.

I’ll continue to write about the process as well as the results. The results might be a three-run home run, but the process is the hitter looking for a fastball up in the zone in a 2-1 count and trying to catch the ball out in front. Because I have no set assignment or deadline — I just try to post something each night — I can ignore the normal storylines and concentrate on whatever catches my attention. If a guy gets a game-winning hit, his locker will be surrounded after the game and that story will get covered — and it should. But this site’s format allows me to talk to the guy who broke up the double play that kept the inning going so the other guy could get that game-winning hit.

I can write about the small plays that make the big plays possible (although after playing, managing and watching this game for more than two decades, I’m not sure there are any small plays). I can use this site to break down the right way to catch a ball in the sun, turn a double play or block home plate.

And that information makes the game more interesting for all of us.

OK, that’s the agenda for the 2013 season. I'll learn as much as I can from the players and coaches and bring that information back here. I hope you enjoy it.