What went wrong: Kansas City Royals

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The following is the latest in a series profiling some of 2009’s biggest disappointments:

Two weeks ago: Cleveland Indians

Last week: Cincinnati Reds

This Week: Kansas City Royals

Record: 60-87 (5th in AL Central)

How It Happened:

It
seems like forever ago, but the Royals sat atop the AL Central on May 7
with an 18-11 record. In the midst of a six-game winning streak, ace
Zack Greinke graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in an article by
Joe Posnanski
that proclaimed he was “The Best Pitcher in Baseball.”
That might be true, but it wasn’t long before it all came crashing down
for the Royals. They haven’t seen the .500 mark since May 22 (21-21).
In fact, since May 22, the Royals are 39-66.

A
lot went wrong with the Royals this season, but that shouldn’t surprise
you. Alex Gordon went down in mid-April with hip surgery. He struggled
upon his return to the majors in July, and the club decided to demote
him in August. Though they said the demotion was performance-based, the
dirty little secret is that the move delayed his free agency until
after the 2013 season. Managing just a lousy .215/.324/.347 line with
four homers and 13 RBI, 2009 marked another lost season for the former
first-round pick.

Limited to just 81
games, Jose Guillen hit just .242/.314/.367 with nine homers and 40
RBI. Counted on to be a mainstay of the Royals’ offense, Guillen got
off to a late start due to a sore right groin. Then he missed six weeks
with a torn ligament in his right knee. And just recently, completing
the trifecta, Guillen was grounded for the rest of the season with a
strained right hamstring. Good thing the Royals still owe him $12
million for 2010.

If the
above two examples didn’t show it, the Royals have struggled for
offense, ranking in the bottom three in the league in batting average,
runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and home
runs. The pitching hasn’t been much better, ranking third-worst with a
4.66 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP – and that’s with Greinke. No other qualified
starting pitcher on the Royals staff has more than eight wins (Kyle
Davies) or an ERA under 4.00 (Brian Bannister – 4.73).

And
then there was the trade. You know what I’m talking about. On July 3,
the Royals acquired Yuniesky Betancourt from the Mariners in exchange
for Derrick Saito and Dan Cortes (No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball
America). The move brought on a firestorm of criticism for general
manager Dayton Moore, who then committed a cardinal baseball sin by
saying, “The defensive statistics – I still really don’t understand how
some of those statistics are evaluated, I really don’t. When you watch
baseball games every single day, its very apparent who can play
defensively and who can’t.” Ugh.

Silver Linings:

Though
Royals fans suffered through their sixth straight losing season, they
were fortunate enough to witness one of the most dominant individual
seasons in recent memory. Through his first 30 starts this season, Zach
Greinke is 14-8 with a 2.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 224/44 K/BB ratio in 210
1/3 innings. Greinke is second in the league with 25 quality starts.
There’s been a lot of talk about if Greinke will lose out on the Cy
Young because he has only 14 wins, but realize that he ranks 123rd
among American League starters in run support (4.71) – 100 IP mininum.
Only two other starters (Tim Redding and Justin Masterson) have
received less.

The Royals may
not have gotten much return out of their 2005 first-round pick
(Gordon), but Billy Butler has emerged as a legitimate
middle-of-the-order threat. The 23-year-old first baseman is batting
.301/.358/.482 with 17 homers and 82 RBI. Butler ranks ninth in the
league with 65 extra-base hits.

Long
known as a guy who couldn’t find the strike zone, Robinson Tejada has
surfaced as a candidate for the starting rotation in 2010. His overall
line — 3.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 11.42 K/9 — is impressive enough, but
he has allowed just one run over his first three starts since being
moved to the rotation.

Looking Ahead:

The
same cast of characters will be back for at least next season, with
manager Trey Hillman assured of a job, and Moore given a contract
extension through 2014.

The
Royals have about $58 million in contract commitments for 2010
including $12 million for Guillen, $12 million for Gil Meche and $4.5
million for Kyle Farnsworth. They could elect to bring back Coco Crisp
for $8 million or Miguel Olivo (leads the team with 22 home runs) for
$3 million.

The Royals will not
be a contender in 2010, and they shouldn’t pretend to be, either. They
need to stop jerking Gordon around. And as our own Matthew Pouliot
suggested earlier this month, the Royals need to promote on-base
machine Kila Ka’aihue to be the team’s designated hitter.

Finally,
if the Royals aren’t going to consider moving Joakim Soria to the
rotation, they should trade him. He’s being wasted in the bullpen right
now. If Soria could complement Greinke alongside a high-risk,
high-reward guy like Ben Sheets or Erik Bedard and a fine rebound
candidate in Meche, they could have the groundwork for a long-term
competitive ballclub. And if they trade him, they would be able to plug
a few holes in a roster that resembles small-market swiss cheese.

John Lackey stole the first base of his career

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Cubs starter John Lackey stole the first base of his 15-year career on Wednesday against the Reds. Of course, he spent the first 11 and a half years of his career in the American League, where opportunities to bat, let alone attempt to steal a base, were rare. Lackey entered Wednesday having taken 250 plate appearances, reaching base just 31 times on 17 singles, seven doubles, and seven walks for a .134 on-base percentage. One can imagine the 38-year-old is not exactly the swiftest base runner.

Still, Lackey managed to swipe a bag in the fourth inning. He singled with two outs against Homer Bailey. Then, with an 0-1 count on Ben Zobrist, Lackey broke for second even before Bailey began his windup. Tucker Barnhart stood up to alert Bailey that Lackey was running, so Bailey wheeled around and threw to second base, but Lackey slid into the bag easily safe. It wasn’t a pretty slide, but it did the job.

Lackey, however, was picked off of second base by Barnhart later that inning. Bailey threw a 3-2 fastball wide of the strike zone, walking Zobrist. Lackey had wandered too far off of second base, so Barnhart threw behind Lackey and the tag was applied by Zack Cozart. Lackey was called safe initially. The play was reviewed and the ruling on the field was overturned, ending the fourth inning.

Base Ba’al giveth and Base Ba’al taketh away.

Video: Aaron Judge sends a baseball into the upper deck at Citi Field

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge hit another jaw-dropping home run, victimizing Mets starter Robert Gsellman in the top of the fourth game of Wednesday night’s game at Citi Field. Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes didn’t even move. The ball traveled 457 feet and was hit 117 MPH off the bat, according to Katie Sharp of River Ave Blues.

The home run moved Judge’s AL-best total to 37, putting him two ahead of the Royals’ Mike Moustakas. Along with the prodigious dinger total, he has 80 RBI, 90 runs scored, and a .291/.421/.616 triple-slash line in 499 plate appearances. Judge is on pace for 50 dingers. If it holds, that would give him the rookie record for home runs in a season. Mark McGwire currently holds the record, having hit 49 for the Athletics in 1987.