Judging the Royals

Royals fans send me questions, and Johnny Cueto is topic No. 1

Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto
Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Between doing political cartoons and writing a baseball column, my days are pretty full. Readers will send me emails or leave comments and while I might find them interesting, I don’t always have time to respond. So because Monday night’s game in Cleveland was more of the same — a poor start by Edinson Volquez and a bullpen that was leaking oil — I thought I’d get to some of those emails and comments.

The readers’ comments are italicized and my responses are whatever the opposite of italicized is.

Should the Royals give up on Johnny Cueto?

Mr J: Agree with all you say. No time to give up on anyone at this juncture. No point. But watching Volquez tonight and our pitching in general the last couple of weeks gives me a sinking feeling. No real stopper. Each pitcher looks more confused and tentative than the last. A massive collapse may be headed our way. Hope I’m wrong.

Some fans are ready to give up on Johnny Cueto, but unless they know of a Cy Young winner who’s just wandering the Kauffman Stadium parking lot, these are the starting pitchers the Royals have; they’ve got 19 games to get back to what they were doing that got them to the best record in the AL. It’s not fantasy baseball and you can’t always go out and get different players; sometimes you need the ones you have to play better.

Is part of the problem the defense?

We have switched the players around much more than we did last season in August and September. At least I think so. Do you think we hurt our starting pitching because more defensive mistakes were made? Not necessarily errors, but like last night’s game where Zobrist didn’t get the throw from Moose. I feel like I’ve seen more of this than we ever saw last year. Our starters are not great. They are very good because of our defense. When our defense fails them they are below average. 

Unless Lorenzo Cain stands in the other team’s bullpen, there’s no defense against the home run. And playing in Baltimore’s smaller park shows why the Royals need home-field advantage; KC might need that extra game to be held in Kauffman. But pitchers are missing the mitt too often; when we see Salvador Perez’ mitt go up and toward the center of the plate, that’s on the pitcher.

Even so, the defense has not been spectacular in right field with Rios and at second base when Zobrist is there. Gordon’s injury, the chicken pox, Moustakas’ hamstring and resting players with a big lead in the division race have led to some makeshift lineups. Maybe down the stretch the Royals can sort things out and get back to the team that will take the field in the playoffs.

Did Cueto pitch better in his last start?

Love your articles. Did you feel that Cueto had better pitches than he has had in his last bad starts? It seemed to me he did. Of course, he gave up the home runs so he has a lot to figure out, but to me I saw improvement. Maybe I’m just wishing. 

I tried to focus on Salvy’s mitt in Cueto’s last start and I saw some good pitches, but too many bad ones. If Johnny can get the ball to the glove-side corner of the plate — away to righties, in to lefties — that’s a good sign. If he can get his off-speed stuff to finish down and out of the zone, that’s another good sign. But too many fastballs were in the middle of the dish and too many off-speed pitches were flat.

Should Cueto skip a start?

Would missing one turn in the rotation possibly help? I’m wondering if he could have something physical that just needs rest.

Johnny says he’s healthy and feels fine. I’ve asked and the Royals say Johnny Cueto’s side sessions are good; his pitches are down and he’s hitting the mitt. His problem is showing up in games, which might indicate he’s trying to do too much (he says he isn’t, others say he is). That being the case I think Johnny needs to pitch in games to fix the problem; another good side session won’t help.

How about pitching in the American League?

Do you think it’s tougher to pitch in the AL? I wonder if that could be part of it and that’s why. 

For me it would be tough to pitch in a co-ed softball league, so I might not be the best judge. But actual big-league pitchers say yes, it is tougher to pitch in the AL because there’s no break in the lineup. When the pitcher hits there are two soft spots; the pitcher’s spot and the spot right before the pitcher’s spot. 8-hole hitters will often chase pitcher’s pitches because they know they can’t leave it up to the pitcher hitting behind them.

An incredibly intelligent reader

My compliments on the outstanding analysis you provided in your column about Johnny Cueto’s struggles. You provided many interesting insights on how athletes often recover from what seems like catastrophic and never ending failure. You also did an outstanding job putting his situation into a proper perspective.

I have been reading your sports columns ever since you began publishing them in the Star. I always enjoy your very thoughtful, topical and self-effacing writing. I hope you keep up the fine work.

This guy didn’t have a question; I just wanted you to read what a smart dude I am. Check out Twitter if you want to hear the other side of the story; over there I’m a moron.

Forever Royal?

How sad this story of the Royals’ season has become. They’re not even an average team anymore.

They’re definitely scuffling right now, but they’ve still got a nine-game lead in the division and the best record in the American League. It’s a little early to start waving white flags.

Cueto’s windup

IMO, He should knock off the rocking and stalling motions until he pitches better. I was neat to watch when he was pitching well, but now that he is struggling it looks stupid, like he doesn’t really care!!!

There’s a lot of money riding on Johnny Cueto’s performance, I can pretty much guarantee you he cares. The different windups aren’t showing off; he uses them to disrupt hitter’s timing. But if he’s struggling with his mechanics settling on one windup might be helpful and we’re seeing less of the rocking and stalling in his windup than we have in the past.

A strong opinion; typos and all

There is know fixing this useless, lazy free agent. Cut him and sue his button off.

One of the things the Royals liked about Johnny was his reputation as a hard worker and if you get there early enough, you can see him running stadium steps. I’m not sure what you’d sue him for, but if you can sue people for pitching poorly, a lot of pitchers would be bankrupt.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Wasted trade — should of saved the players sent and used them they would be around longer — Johnny “Red Sox” Cueto. Management knew all along that Starting Pitching was our weakness and should of addressed before this. Wasn’t it Ned that let the Brewers blow their lead one time — same old Ned.

For years Royals fans complained that their team would not spend money when it mattered; this year the Royals went out and got Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist — two moves everybody loved when they were made.

Give up on Cueto

In 60 days, he won’t even be a Royal. Management’s job isn’t to “fix” a rental. It’s to win. You don’t rent a broken down car and sacrifice time and money to fix it.

If Cueto is still pitching poorly when the playoffs start, the Royal will have a big decision to make — but Johnny still has time to straighten things out. If that doesn’t happen you’re probably going into the playoffs with Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Kris Medlen as your starting rotation.

Tuesday’s game

Kris Medlen starts for the Royals on Tuesday night. As always, watch the catcher’s mitt and see if it moves up or toward the middle of the plate. If Medlen is missing location, the Indians will hit him. Also watch Medlen’s off-speed stuff and where it’s finishing; down at the bottom of the zone or out of the zone and he’s pitching well and his chances of having a good outing increase.

Here’s hoping this game goes better than the last few have: I’ve got to watch the whole thing no matter how it turns out.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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