Judging the Royals

Assessing the strengths and limitations of the Royals’ core players

Even a World Series MVP has his limitations. The Star’s Lee Judge writes that for Royals catcher Salvador Perez (right, with pitcher Yordano Ventura), that weakness is game calling. Perez can fall into patterns and get his pitchers in trouble.
Even a World Series MVP has his limitations. The Star’s Lee Judge writes that for Royals catcher Salvador Perez (right, with pitcher Yordano Ventura), that weakness is game calling. Perez can fall into patterns and get his pitchers in trouble. deulitt@kcstar.com

Here’s an exercise recommended to me by Tim Bogar, currently the Seattle Mariners’ bench coach: Go through your lineup, look at each player, and list his strengths and limitations.

This is helpful because every big-league player has some strengths (after all, he made it to the big leagues), and every big-league player has some limitations (nobody’s perfect). Such evaluation keeps you from inaccurately categorizing a player with an overly simplistic opinion.

I went through this exercise with the Royals several times back when we started this blog, but I haven’t done it in a while. Now seems like a good time to do it again.

I didn’t try to list every strength and every limitation of every current player, but I did look at the main guys coming back from last season and listed two or three things each player brings to the table.

Eric Hosmer

Strengths: Defensively, Hosmer saves his teammates errors with good footwork and soft hands. Hosmer’s also got opposite-field power.

That can make it tough to pitch to him. Pitchers usually stay on the outside part of the plate when they want to rob a hitter of pop. And in 2015 Hosmer stepped up as a team leader. He talked to Yordano Ventura when he needed it and stepped in front of an angry umpire looking to eject one of Hosmer’s teammates.

Hosmer also shoulders a load with the media. He talks to reporters every night, and that means some teammates come away unscathed.

Limitations: Put him in the right count with the right pitcher and Eric can take a gangster hack like nobody’s business.

Last spring, he told me he was working on not over-swinging in fastball counts. He got better at that in 2015, but it’s still something to watch for. He’s not a pure base stealer, but he’s capable of swiping one in the right situation.

Mike Moustakas

Strengths: Defense and opposite-field hitting. When Moose looks to go the other way, he waits longer on each pitch ... and that improves his pitch selection.

It also allows him to beat overloaded defensive shifts on the right side of the field.

Limitations: Last season, Mike hit for a higher average when he put a ball in play to the opposite field than when he put a ball in play to the pull side.

That doesn’t mean Moose can never pull the ball. He hits for more power when he does. He just has to do it on the right pitch in the right count in the right situation. But if Mike hits a bomb to right field, he can’t get pull-happy. He has to continue using left field. Last season, there were times he got away from that.

Omar Infante

Strengths: After Ben Zobrist took over at second base, it was easy to see Infante was quicker on the double play. In that situation, Omar’s very slick with the glove.

Limitations: There were times Infante lost focus and failed to cover second base on balls hit to the outfield. And Infante hasn’t done much at the plate since he got hit in the face by a pitch in 2014.

If pitchers think Omar’s reluctant to lean out over the plate, they’ll pitch him on the outside part of the dish, because he won’t hit that pitch with any authority.

Alcides Escobar

Strengths: An outstanding defender. To my eye, Esky’s been making fewer highlight-reel plays in recent years, but that’s probably due to better positioning. Stand in the right spot to begin with and you don’t have to dive for the ball.

Alcides has also made a virtue of impatience. Hitting coach Dale Sveum turned the Royals hitters loose in 2015, and when Esky swung at the first pitch of an at-bat he hit .364 and slugged .477.

Limitations: Escobar can lose focus, and you can see that when he sometimes fails to get ready before a pitch. On the other hand, he plays a lot (put durability on his list of strengths), so if a guy playing a demanding position is going to play in that many games, maybe taking a pitch off is understandable.

Salvador Perez

Strengths: Start with a strong and accurate arm. Most big-league catchers can receive a pitch and get the ball down to second base in 2 seconds. Sal can do it in 1.8. That means Royals pitchers don’t have to spend so much time worrying about the stolen base.

Limitations: Game calling. Sal can fall into patterns and get his pitchers in trouble. Pitchers can always shake off the catcher’s sign, but that means the pitchers can’t put 100 percent of their concentration on pitch execution — they have to expend some mental energy on deciding whether Perez just called the right pitch.

Perez can also get lazy on pitch-blocking, and when he’s at the plate Sal’s usually willing to chase sliders in the dirt.

But once again, give Perez credit for durability: He catches a lot of games, and a catcher who’s tired will tend to get lazy on pitch-blocking and might feel like he has to crank his swing up early to get around on the fastball. Start early to hit the fastball and you’re going to look silly when you get the slider.

Alex Gordon

Strengths: Outstanding defense, for starters. Gordon runs great routes. He tries to field the ball while running toward the infield, and that puts more on his throws. He also has a quick and accurate arm. He turns doubles into singles on a regular basis.

Like Esky, he has benefited from Sveum’s let-it-rip philosophy. In 2015, when Gordon swung at the first pitch, he hit .400 and slugged .725.

Limitations: Weirdly enough, one of them might be how hard Alex works. As the season goes on, he’s been asked to cut back on some of his workouts so he isn’t risking injury from being worn out.

Lorenzo Cain

Strengths: Lorenzo covers a huge amount of territory in center, and like Dyson and Gordon he’s willing to make a catch up against the fence. Some outfielders slow down and play the carom.

Last season, Lorenzo hit .307 and showed that he could repeat his offensive success of 2014.

Limitations: Last year, Lorenzo told me he can get over-amped when there’s a big crowd going crazy and try to do too much at the plate. Doing too much usually means pulling the ball, and pulling the ball means starting your swing early, and starting your swing early can lead to strikeouts.

Cain also has to be careful about lunging toward first base. He’s had leg problems, and the Royals don’t want to lose this guy for a few weeks because he was beating out an infield single. It isn’t worth it.

Jarrod Dyson

Strengths: Game-changing speed. This allows him to cover lots of ground in Kauffman’s spacious outfield, and when he’s on base it puts pressure on the other team’s pitcher and defense.

With Dyson on base, pitchers are always distracted by the possibility of a steal ... and that can help the man at the plate.

Limitations: Anything that gets Jarrod away from using his speed. Over his career, Dyson bats .252 when he hits grounders and .168 on fly balls. When the Royals played the Mets in the World Series, they wanted to keep the ball on the ground and put pressure on the New York infield. A guy with Dyson’s speed adds pressure.

Watch for him to hit the ball on the ground to the left side of the field. If Jarrod does that consistently, he’ll probably have a good year. If he consistently hits the ball in the air, his game will probably suffer.

Kendrys Morales

Strengths: Morales hit 22 home runs and drove in 106 last year. He is a good situational hitter and understands what pitch to look for with a runner in scoring position.

He was another guy who tore it up on the first pitch in 2015. He hit .424 and slugged .682 when he swung at the first pitch of an at-bat.

Limitations: He’s not a fast runner, but Morales has good base-running instincts. He doesn’t play much defense but can hold down first base in an emergency. On a couple of occasions, Morales forgot the number of outs. It’s important for him to stay focused.

Paulo Orlando

Strengths: In 2015, Paulo mainly played in right or left field, but he has enough speed to play center in a pinch. He didn’t hit for a high average, but he had some pop in his bat, slugging .444.

Limitations: Orlando does not hit lefties well, so at this point he makes more sense as a backup or platoon player than an everyday guy. Despite possessing good speed, he stole just three bases in six attempts in 2015. But Rusty Kuntz has worked with him on improving his stolen-base footwork.

Speaking of limitations …

Now I remember why I quit doing this: The column gets too damn long. Let’s take a break here, and tomorrow I’ll post something on the pitching staff.

See you then.

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