Friday, February 28, 2014

Breakout on the Horizon

I won't be shy about my feelings regarding the Royals off-season. I love the trade for Nori Aoki and the signing of Omar Infante. I'm really looking forward to watching these two at the top of the order in 2014. 

I've made no secret that I think Aoki is going to be a breakout performer in 2014. I look at his batted ball frequencies and I get giddy thinking about the BABIP he could post this season. When I think about how beneficial Kauffman Stadium is for batting average and gap hitters, I get even more excited.

I couldn't be more relieved that the Royals didn't bring in a lumbering "power" bat to fill the right field hole. I was dreading the announcement of a Mark Trumbo acquisition. Entering the off-season an Aoki type player was exactly the guy that I would have targeted and I'm ecstatic to see that the Royals played it out this way. 

The decision to acquire a player like Aoki gives me faith that the Royals have finally embraced Kauffman Stadium. Instead of slow corner outfielders who can "knock in" base runners, they have realized the importance of outfielders that can cover ground in the spacious Kauffman outfield. Aoki, who is an excellent corner outfielder as a defender, should post some excellent defensive numbers for the Royals this season.

When you consider the defensive value and the fact that he is constantly putting pressure on defenses, Aoki was a savvy acquisition by the Royals brass this off-season. I've said this on Twitter, but I think Aoki will hit .310+ this season with 30+ doubles. If it turns out that the Royals have added that kind of hitter to the top of the lineup, the summer of 2014 could be a special one for Kansas City.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This is What an AL Playoff Team Looks Like

The Kansas City Royals have one of the best pitching staffs in the American League, and certainly the best bullpen. What the team lacks is an offense that can score enough runs to close the gap in the AL Central and Wild Card races. Let’s take a look at how the Royals stack up against the six American League teams that played 163 games or more in 2013:


A few thoughts:

-  As you can see, the Royals fell short in nearly every category listed here. They really weren’t even close in most areas.
-  Simply put, the team must score more runs. 112 home runs, 400 extra base hits and a .379 slugging percentage are pathetic. Chicks dig the long ball remember? To make the playoffs in the American League, you must put the ball in the seats more than the Royals did last year.
-  Looking ahead, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Eric Hosmer showed last year that his power is improving. Billy Butler has the ability to hit 30 homers, and Alex Gordon could as well moving down in the order. The bad news is that the team did not add any power to the lineup by adding Aoki and Infante, and an increase in power production must come from players already on the roster. Perhaps Carlos Peguero is the missing link - right Landon?
-  Strikeouts can be a good thing. Seriously. Check the chart. The average team struck out 132 times more than Kansas City. If swings that result in considerably more long balls and extra-base hits also result in a few more K’s, so be it.
-  The team was pretty on par as far as bating average, but was certainly lacking in on-base percentage and slugging. In all, KC was far, and I mean far from doing the offensive damage necessary to play meaningful October baseball.
-  Saves as a percentage of wins. I am not sure if this is really even a statistic, but it was something that stuck out to me. If people have been looking at it for years, it never occurred to me. If I invited a new one, you’re welcome. Pretty much across the board, the teams that win the most games have a lower percentage of saves. What this means to me is the Royals are playing too many close games and have to scratch and claw for every win. This is why run differential is such a huge statistic. A few more lopsided victories would be nice to save some of the stress from a long season.

Pitching and defense can only get you so far. In fact, 86 wins may have been an overachievement for the Royals in 2013. The bottom line is, the 2014 Kansas City  ball club is going to have to make some serious improvements at the plate to make the playoffs.

Breaking Down the Royals Schedule

A season ago, the Royals got off to a decent start before allowing the wheels to fall off in the month of May. Somehow the team was able recover and after a sterling 42-27 finish to the season, they closed the year with their best record since the days of Al Gore inventing the internet (I'm not exactly sure when this occurred, but needless to say it was a long time ago.)

On Friday, the Royals will begin their defense of the Cactus League title and once again we will hope that they can get off to a fast start in 2014. Fortunately, for the Royals it appears as though unlike a season ago the schedule makers appear to have done the Royals a favor in the early going. Here's a break down of opponent winning percentage by month:

  • April: .471
  • May: .458
  • June: .513
  • July: .519
  • August: .507
  • September: .520
Also, here is another way to look at the data of teams over .500 versus teams under .500 by month.
  • April: 13 vs teams >.500, 14 vs teams <.500
  • May: 7 vs teams >.500, 22 vs teams <.500
  • June: 16 vs teams >.500, 11 vs teams <.500
  • July: 17 vs teams >.500, 8 vs teams <.500
  • August: 16 vs teams >.500, 13 vs teams <.500
  • Septemeber: 18 vs teams >.500, 7 vs teams <.500
Overall, the winning percentage of Royals 2014 opponents is .497. So it does appear that they have been given a slight break. This is mainly because they play the Twins and White Sox 18 times a piece. 

The Royals will need to get out of the gate in 2014. If they aren't sitting pretty at the end of April and May, their final four months will make it difficult to go on a run like they did a season ago. Unfortunately, when the Royals do clinch their first playoff spot since 1985, they'll have to do so away from Kauffman as the Royals final seven games are on the road. Bummer.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fox Sports' Five Reasons the Royals are Making Playoffs

Last Friday, Jeffrey Flanagan of Fox Sports Kansas City provided Royals fans with a wonderfully written and masterfully crafted essay in which he listed five reasons that the Boys in Blue would find themselves playing games in October. Let's review each of his reasons:

1. Big Game James

Now before you yell out "we had James Shields last year and won 86 games!" let me stop you. You're right we had Shields last year, but we didn't have contract year Shields! And according to Flanagan the idea of being rich will be just the extra motivate that Shields needs to take his game to the next level in 2014. You think James Shields is good now, just wait until he's throwing changeups so good, dollar bills start streaming from his pockets!

2. Filling the Black Holes

Flanagan says it all in his first sentence "it's not like the Royals acquired a couple of Hall of Famers to fill the holes of second base and right field, but it sure feels like it." 

Hell yeah it does! And when you feel like something is true, in virtually every circumstance it proves to be true. If Omar Infante and Nori Aoki don't play like Rogers Hornsby and Babe Ruth, I'll be damned.

3. Alex Gordon

Flanagan points to Gordon's new found security of hitting consistently in the heart of the order as a reason to expect big things for Gordon in 2014. Never mind the fact that Gordon his lead off in over 75% of his games last season. Also, let's ignore the fact that Gordon is entering his age 30 season and is coming off a year in which he posted the worst walk rate of his career and struck out in over 20% of his at bats. All the while seeing his line drive percentage drop to his lowest mark since 2009. 

4. The Vargas Addition

Flanagan opens this one with "it's kind of a tough sell to believe that left-hander Jason Vargas simply will step into the rotation and fill the void left by the Royals' decision not to sign Ervin Santana." 

That's true, but as Flanagan reminds us many didn't expect Santana to be so good last year. This is an excellent report by the Fox Sports reporter. If an Angels cast off was good last year, then it is a given that another one would be a good addition for 2014. 

Vargas could very well be a strong addition to the Royals 2014 rotation, but let's not act like just because it worked with Santana, it is going to work again with the former Angel and Mariner.

5. Closing the Gap on the Tigers

Flanny's got a hunch and he says there's a chance the Tigers slip a notch this season. 

There you have it Royals fans! Rest at ease the Royals are postseason bound! 

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Aoki in Center

In just 10 days since pitchers and catchers have reported, one common article topic has been the importance of Lorenzo Cain's health. On Sunday, the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough brought us another one of these articles which you can read here. I don't deny the importance of Lorenzo Cain. If the man can stay healthy and hit just a little he would be a very valuable player for virtually every team in baseball. However, I don't want to talk about Lorenzo Cain's health twice in two weeks. Instead, I want to bring to light this nugget in the article:
"Yost has floated the idea of using right fielder Nori Aoki in center. Aoki played there 18 times during two seasons in Milwaukee."
If you are a reader of this blog, you know how much I like versatility. Determining whether or not Aoki can handle center during spring training is definitely advantageous for the Royals in 2014. But I also know that the Royals currently are planning to carry both Justin Maxwell and Danny Valencia, which would mean no middle infielder on the roster. Personally, I find it unlikely that the Royals will be able to make it long without a back up middle infielder and so I wonder if this Aoki in center talk is laying the groundwork for a Dyson versus middle infielder roster battle.

Let's face it, if Aoki logs time in center this Spring and looks good it definitely decreases the importance of Jarrod Dyson. If Yost finishes camp and is confident in Aoki's ability it wouldn't shock me at all to see both Valencia and Maxwell on the roster in addition to a utility man.

It would be a shame for the Royals to lose Dyson in such a way. His speed is game changing and as a back up there is definitely value in him pinch running late in close games. Also, where would the Royals be left when Lorenzo Cain gets injured? At that point, they'd have to bring up Carlos Peguero or Jimmy Paredes to be the back up outfielder and you have no one who can back up Aoki in center.

I hope the Royals realize that Dyson is too valuable of a commodity to simply move at the end of spring training. In fact, one could argue that given the importance of each game, his pinch running ability will be more important in 2014 than it has ever been. I've always been a Dyson fan, so I hope that I'm over analyzing here. At the same time, I do think the Royals need to find a way to fit a back up middle infielder on to the roster.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

No Draft Pick for Ervin?

Wouldn't it be just the Royals luck if Ervin Santana waited until after the All-Star Break to sign with a Major League team robbing the Royals of the supplemental round selection that they should have received? Well, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that is exactly what the agent of Ervin Santana is threatening. You can read the whole article here.

Rosenthal also makes the point that Santana could sign immediately following Opening Day in order to guarantee that he isn't eligible to have a draft pick attached to him at seasons end. I'm not sure that I buy this part of the post as it would be easy for Santana's agent and a team to simply reach a handshake agreement ensuring this without forcing Santana to sit out extra time.

At the moment I'm not ready to buy that Santana will wait until mid-June to sign a professional contract. At the same time, I'm looking for Santana's market and I just don't see it. Seriously, who is signing Santana to a four-year, $50 million contract now? At this point I really don't know what to expect for Santana.

Moving forward, it would make sense for Major League Baseball to get rid of teams losing draft picks as a punishment for signing free agents. It has always seems a little strange that big market teams are penalized for spending the money that they earned. Baseball could continue to subsidize teams that "can't afford" to keep their top players by still awarded supplemental picks to players turning down a qualifying offer.

What happens with Santana is now anybody's guess, but I would think that a one year deal with an agreement of no qualifying offer would make the most sense. A big knock on the Dominican is his inconsistency and a strong one year deal would help to suppress this criticism. While there isn't much of a market for Santana now, I have to think that if he was signing a one year deal, there would be more than a handful of teams with interest.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Control the Inner Half

When it comes to the Royals future, there aren't many players who could tip the scales one way or another more than Mike Moustakas. Watching him blast home runs all over Arvest Ballpark in 2010, was an experience I'll never forget, but I'd love to add some memories of him doing the same in Kauffman Stadium.

On Thursday, Fox Sports Kansas City' Jeffrey Flanagan brought us this article on how the young Royals hitter is approaching the 2014 season. Here's what Moustakas had to say regarding his off-season work in Winter Ball when he hit .288/.360/.515 in 66 at bats with Cardenales de Lara:
"We worked on driving the ball the other way, and doing damage that way. If pitchers came in, I was still able to get my hands in and pull it. But that's how I got into a funk last year - I tried to pull everything. Pedro just told me (pulling every pitch) is not going to work."
 I worry that a big part of the reason Moustakas hasn't developed into the hitter that he could be is the result of poor development by the Royals front office. Having three different hitting coaches over a two year period has done no favors for the Royals former 1st round pick.

Moustakas's top strength is his ability to turn on anything on the inside part of the plate. He was lauded coming up for his incredible bat speed. But what did the Royals do? They tried to turn him into a guy that would spray line drives all over the field. Maybe they felt he needed to make this adjustment to excel at the Major League level, but they sure didn't push that too much to Moustakas when he was in the minors.

This is not to say that Moustakas was a dead pull guy in the Minor Leagues either. On the contrary what I was most impressed with when watching him in the Texas League was his ability to hit the ball with authority to all fields. One Royals executive even told me that there are regularly a few guys with legitimate power at the Double-A level, but sometimes years can go by without guys with the refined power that Moustakas displayed.

Following, Moustakas's disappointing 2012 campaign, the Royals made a hitting coach change. Then came in a couple of hitting coaches who wanted to lead the league in fewest home runs. Once again they failed to play to the California high school career home run record holder's strengths. Somewhere along the way even an uncle chimed in about how far Moustakas had deviated from the approach that once made him as fearsome as any hitter in the minor leagues.

I hope Moustakas can find the balanced approach that he once had. He needs to be able to shorten his stroke with two strikes and stop rolling over on outside pitches and hitting pop ups a mile into the air. But most importantly, Moustakas needs to command the inner half of the plate and when pitchers try to test him inside he needs to punish them just like he did for the Naturals in 2010.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Prospect Countdown: #14 Jason Adam

14. Jason Adam Right Handed Pitcher

Age: 23
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 219
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Drafted in the 5th Round of the 2010 Amateur Draft

2013 Rank: 9

2012 Rank: 11

2011 Rank: 19

Landon Adams (11): I saw Adam first hand quite a bit at the beginning of last season for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The experience was so disappointing that there was a time when I had all but mentally written him off as a future piece of a Kansas City rotation. However, Adam battled in 2014 and eventually was able to get his ERA all the way down o 5.19 to end the season and he was even better from a peripheral standpoint posting a 4.06 SIERA.

At this point Adam has solid stuff, but doesn't likely feature as anything more than a back of the rotation option. If he can somehow find the fastball that he flashed in the upper 90s during his first trip to instructs than his stock could quickly rise.

Adam had a strong showing in last year's Arizona Fall League and I think part of his problem last season was an unlucky start which he allowed to tailspin out of control. Hopefully, he can get off to a better start in 2014 and prove that he belongs in the top 10 prospects in the Royals system. If so, he would provide Kansas City with another near Major League ready arm to look at while trying to fill the three open spots in the 2015 rotation. 

Paden Bennett (20): I ranked Jason Adam the lowest because I just don't see him as becoming anything special at this point.  He does have some upside but I just don't see a ton.  Last season for Northwest Arkansas he had a 5.19 ERA and a 3.97 FIP.  He struggled with walks a little bit more last season than he has in the past, however his K rate did go up which was encouraging to see.  He is still only 22 and will probably start for the Naturals again this season so I hope that we continue to see progress in the strikeout department while lowering his walks.

Joe Cox (15):  Adam, a 2010 5th round pick for the Royals, is a local boy standing at 6-4 225 pounds.  He displays a low 90’s fastball with potential plus pitches in both his curve and change.  In 2013, Adam made the all-important jump to AA in 2013 with mixed results.  In 144 innings Adam posted a 5.19 ERA and a 3.97 FIP.  

Adam saw a lack of command he had yet to experience at the professional, walking 54 batters, hitting 15, along with 8 wild pitches.  Adam did post his highest K/9 of his minor league career at 7.88.  Adam may have had some bad luck with hit sequencing as he had a very poor 60.4 LOB%.  Adam is a young pitcher to monitor who has the upside of an innings eating back of rotation starter.  In 2014, it would be nice to see Adam regain his control without sacrificing much in the K department. 

Dan Ware (14):  Jason Adam showed some flashes of a potential front end starter with the Naturals in 2013.  Logging 144 innings and a career high 126 strikeouts, the 22 year old struggled with command, posting 54 walks with a BB/9 rate just above the Texas League average.  April was a month to forget, as he compiled an 0-2 record with an ugly 12.84 ERA in 5 starts to begin his Double-A stint.  

During May and June, although his combined record was just 3-6, he managed to drop his ERA, dramatically, to a more appealing 3.03.  Adam seemed to be rolling, but hit another wall in July, throwing 26.1 innings, logging a 7.18 ERA and a 21/15 K:BB.  The final month of the season ended on a good note for Adam, his best month of the season: 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA and tossing a 32/9 K:BB.

Adam has been playing in the Arizona Fall League this offseason.  For Peoria, he has logged 29 innings on the mound with a 2-2 record, 4.03 ERA and a 24/7 K:BB.  As long as he can work on command issues and throwing with consistent mechanics, he can gain back the 98 mph fastball he had in 2010.  I suspect Adam will get a few starts for NW Arkansas this coming season before the organization believes he has improved his command.

Nicholas Ian Allen (--): Generally, it is very difficult to project high school pitchers. As a local product, there was a lot of excitement about the big-bodied right-hander that threw in the mid 90s coming out of Overland Park, Kansas. However, after three seasons in the organization, the results have been less than thrilling.

Adam settled down and improved after an extremely rough start to 2013 in which he allowed five or more earned runs in each of his first four starts. While Adam battled all season, he was very inconsistent. The righty can put together a string of solid starts, then explode. He allowed six earned runs or more in six starts in 2013. Just when it looked like Adam could finish the year with an ERA below five, he allowed eight earned runs in just 2.1 innings August 26. He put together his best start of the year in the finale (four hits and no earned runs in seven innings), but it was not enough to cover up the up-and-down nature of the season.

There is still time for Jason Adam. However, at this point he allows far too many base runners. Adam allowed an alarming .277/.353/.409 slash line last season.  Most troubling to me, this has increased in each of his three professional seasons. In all, he has allowed .256/.319/.395 for his career. Those numbers must improve in 2014 for Adam to have any chance to reach his lofty potential. At this point, seeing him as a contributor out of the bullpen in Kansas City seems unlikely.

Total Points: 64