Judging the Royals

Which Royals players deserved Gold Gloves?

Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain catches a line drive hit by Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa in the fourth inning during Wednesday's ALDS baseball game on October 14, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain catches a line drive hit by Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa in the fourth inning during Wednesday's ALDS baseball game on October 14, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Here’s my problem with postseason awards: I watch the Royals play 162 games a summer and only see the other teams and players when they face Kansas City.

I can tell you a fair amount about how Ned Yost manages, but next-to-nothing about Paul Molitor. I know quite a bit about Lorenzo Cain, but hardly anything about Kevin Kiermaier.

So if you choose to keep reading you’ve been warned: I don’t really know which Royals deserved to win Gold Gloves — I just used that headline to lure you in — but I can tell you quite a bit about the Royals’ strengths and limitations on the defensive side of the ball.

So let’s start with…

Three Royals that didn’t win

Lorenzo Cain: If you watch Lorenzo Cain play every day, you know he covers an enormous amount of ground. He shows no fear of the wall; when they hit the warning track a lot of outfielders pull up and play the carom. If Lorenzo thinks he has a chance to make the catch, he’ll keep going and isn’t afraid to bang off the wall in an effort to record an out.

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Cain had fewer assists than the three Gold Glove finalists — Kevin Kiermaier, Mike Trout and Kevin Pillar — but assists can be misleading: once the other teams figure out you’ve got a strong, accurate arm, they tend to quit running on you.

But the three finalists all had more total chances, more putouts and fewer errors than Lorenzo. Cain had 10 errors and that’s a lot for an outfielder; if you don’t see him all the time and have to vote, those 10 errors might keep you from voting for Lorenzo.

Alex Gordon: Alex is one of the more interesting outfielders in the game; because of his background as an infielder, he does some unusual things in the outfield.

Some outfielders lay back and let the ball come to them; Alex is not afraid to charge ground balls and that shortens the distance he has to throw when he gets the ball back to the infield.

Gordon also uses an infield throwing motion — most outfielders let their arms drop to its full length to generate power — but using a shorter throwing motion makes for a quicker release; you just have to be strong enough to make it work from the outfield.

Gordon also turns a lot of doubles into singles by running excellent routes. Whenever possible Alex will get behind the ball first and then field it coming forward; that combined with his arm strength and accuracy makes a lot of runners shut it down 90 feet earlier than normal — hence Alex Gordon’s four assists. People just don’t run on him much.

Alex also has no fear of the wall … or bullpen gates … or crashing head first into the stands.

The current theory on Gordon’s Gold Glove streak being broken is that missing two months to a groin injury hurt Alex’s chances, so they gave it to a guy who actually played two fewer games in the American League than Gordon did. Alex played in 104 games and Yoenis Cespedes played in 102 games before being traded to the National League.

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Can you win a Gold Glove in the American League for what you do in the National League?

Mike Moustakas: Mike has fewer errors and a better fielding percentage than the winner at third base: Manny Machado. But as we all know — or should know — numbers never tell the whole story.

In spring training I watched Mike stand in front of pitching machine wearing a tiny infield glove; if the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz had a baseball team, this would have been the model glove they’d wear.

The pitching machine was firing bullets at Moose and if he didn’t catch the ball at just the right angle it wouldn’t stick in the glove. That’s how you get good at catching smoking hot line drives.

The Royals are blessed with two guys on the left side of the infield with cannons for arms. It’s not just fielding the ball that makes a great defender; what’s the point in making a grab in foul territory if you can’t then fire a scud missile across the infield?

Eric Hosmer has told me that both Moustakas and Alcides Escobar are throwing in the mid-90s when they really cut one loose — and if it’s an emergency and those guys are throwing from low arm angles, those throws aren’t straight.

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When Moose first came to the big leagues he had a tendency to fire off some off-line throws and I gave him a hard time about it; was he buying his buddy Eric Hosmer a steak dinner every time Hos saved his bacon?

Moose saw it differently, he figured Hosmer owed him. “How’s he ever going to win a Gold Glove if every throw is perfect?”

And that brings us to the three Royals that did win Gold Gloves; but first a word from our sponsor.

(Actually, I’ve got no sponsor; but this thing has just gotten long enough for one day. Check in tomorrow and we’ll talk about the three Royals that did win Gold Gloves.)

See you then.

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