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.

Manny Machado, Jake Arrieta highlight MLB’s monthly award winners

Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado celebrates scoring on a two-run double by Gerardo Parra during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Toronto. The Orioles won 10-2. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP
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Major League Baseball announced the winners of its monthly awards today. Your April standouts…

Player of the Month

American League: Manny Machado

All Machado did in April was play his usual elite defense while hitting .344/.394/.667 with 10 doubles, seven home runs, 16 RBI, 20 runs scored in 104 plate appearances.

National League: Bryce Harper

Harper followed up his MVP award winning 2015 season by looking arguably even better in April 2016. The 23-year-old hit .286/.406/.714 with nine home runs, 24 RBI, and five stolen bases in 96 plate appearances.

Pitcher of the Month

American League: Jordan Zimmermann

Zimmermann didn’t get a lot of fanfare for his dominant opening month. The right-hander went 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA and a 23/7 K/BB ratio over 33 innings. The Tigers signed him to a five-year, $110 million contract back in November. Hard to ask for a better start.

National League: Jake Arrieta

Yes, it was the Reds. Yes, he walked four. Still, it’s impressive that Arrieta threw his second career no-hitter, just nine starts separated from the first one, authored on August 30 last year against the Dodgers. Arrieta finished April 5-0 with an even 1.00 ERA and a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 36 innings.

Rookie of the Month

American League: Nomar Mazara

Mazara debuted on April 10 against the Angels, going 3-for-4 with a homer. He hasn’t cooled off much since. He went hitless in only four of the 17 April games in which he played, racking up a .333/.392/.460 line. The Rangers made a blockbuster trade last year for Cole Hamels and they made sure to hang onto Mazara. It’s a good thing they did.

National League: Trevor Story

Depending on how much one values recency, Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz was arguably as or more deserving of the honor. Story, however, grabbed headlines for more than a week after opening up the season with homers in each of his first four games, two of which featured multiple dingers. He finished the month with 10 homers, tying a rookie record. Along with that, he hit .261/.324/.696.

Diaz, in April, hit .423/.453/.732 with eight doubles, a triple, four homers, 13 RBI, and 18 runs scored in 75 plate appearances.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws to a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, April 21, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
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10 games on the slate for Monday evening. The pitching match-ups aren’t too awe-inspiring, but the 7:05 PM EDT game between the Cubs and Pirates will be interesting if only because the two pitchers’ last names kind of form the name of another pitcher. Jason Hammel will pitch for the Cubs against the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole. Cole Hammel. Cole Hamels. Get it? Tough crowd.

In all seriousness, Cole-Hammel has the chance to be a fun game if you’re a fan of great pitching. Hammel has started off the year on fire, boasting a perfect 3-0 record with a minuscule 0.75 ERA and a 22/9 K/BB ratio in 24 innings. For most of his career, Hammel floundered with an ERA often north of 4.50, but when he joined the Cubs in 2014, he seemed to figure things out. The right-hander posted a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts with the Cubs in 2014 and reprised that with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts last year.

Cole hasn’t been as dominant as Hammel thus far, but still solid nevertheless. He has a 2.78 ERA with a 19/6 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings. Cole has yet to pitch into the seventh inning, but he’ll hope to change that tonight. The 25-year-old finished fourth in NL Cy Young balloting last season. If he didn’t pitch in the same league as Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta, it would be a lot easier to forecast him winning the NL Cy Young Award. Cole’s good enough to earn one, anyway.

The rest of Monday’s action…

Texas Rangers (A.J. Griffin) @ Toronto Blue Jays (R.A. Dickey), 7:07 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves (Mike Foltynewicz) @ New York Mets (Bartolo Colon), 7:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Johnny Cueto) @ Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Jimmy Nelson), 7:20 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Jose Berrios) @ Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel), 8:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 8:15 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Nathan Karns) @ Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman), 10:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Jon Gray) @ San Diego Padres (James Shields), 10:10 PM EDT

Today is the anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man streak ending

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MARCH 31 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this Oct. 5, 1938 file photo, New York Yankees' Lou Gehrig scores the first run of the 1938 World Series against the Chicago Cubs as he crosses home plate in the second inning of Game 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. A dozen years before Babe Ruth’s famed ‘Called Shot,’ teammate Lou Gehrig hit an equally dramatic homer. Gehrig was 17 when his high school team traveled to Chicago to take on a Chicago team. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and his team down 8-6, Gehrig hit a ball over wall and onto Sheffield Avenue to win the game. The historic ballpark will celebrate it's 100th anniversary on April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/File)
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Today is a significant baseball anniversary. On this day in 1939 Lou Gehrig asked out of the lineup as the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit. It both ended his Iron Man Streak at 2,130, but also marked the beginning of Gehrig’s very public acknowledgement of ALS, the disease which would come to bear his name. Gehrig would never play again.

While it was clear that Gehrig’s body was betraying him and his baseball skills were abandoning him in the first few games of the 1939 season, some say the ultimate impetus for Gehrig asking out of the lineup happened earlier that day. The story goes that Gehrig collapsed on the grand staircase of the Book-Cadillac hotel where the Yankees were staying and that later, as he sat in the hotel bar, he told manager Joe McCarthy that he couldn’t play anymore.

The Book-Cadillac is still there. It deteriorated over the years and then was renovated. It’s a Westin now — the Westin Book-Cadillac. It’s a wonderful hotel and the bar area still has much of its old charm, but the grand staircase is gone, replaced with a couple of escalators. I stay there whenever I’m in Detroit. I’m friends with one of the Book-Cadillac’s bartenders and I try to see him whenever I’m there. When I sit in that bar I often wonder if Gehrig sat near where I was, telling McCarthy that he just couldn’t do it anymore. There are a lot of ghosts in Detroit. Gehrig’s is mostly in New York, but there’s a little bit of him in Detroit too.

Cal Ripken would later break Gehrig’s record. I doubt anyone breaks Cal’s. But in some cases the record holders are less interesting than those who were surpassed.

More talk of a juiced ball

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Washington Nationals practice balls  during spring training workouts on February 18, 2014 in Viera, Fl.  (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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At the end of March we linked a story from Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight which sought to figure out why home run rates have spiked. Their theory was that it was either randomness or a juiced ball. They tested baseballs and found no evidence of a different ball, so that seems to have ended that.

Except it didn’t end it because, as so often is the case in the early part of a season, we are seeing some statistical, well, let’s just call it “interestingness” and people don’t like to let such interestingness go. To that end Yahoo’s Jeff Passan — acknowledging the Lindbergh/Arthur study — asks once again if the balls are funky.

It’s all based on exit velocity of baseballs, which Passan notes has spiked. He doesn’t come to any conclusions — just not enough data — but the very act of asking the question in a column and Passan’s acknowledgment that he sounds like a conspiracy theorist tell you that that’s his hunch. And it could be the case. I still think the ball got juiced in 1987 and again, on a more permanent basis, in 1993, but there’s no evidence to really support that. Just one of those “can’t think of anything better” sort of situations.

For now, though, it’s May 2. And I suspect that for as long as there have been May 2nds in a baseball season, people have looked at the stats and suspected something weird was afoot. Maybe something weird is afoot. We just can’t really know.