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.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.