Royals First Quarter Report Card

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The Royals won 4-1 on Friday night, marking the end of the first quarter of the season and the first time they had been above .500 in two weeks.

Three days later, the Royals (22-21) head to Minnesota (11-32) as winners of three straight series after losing five in a row as they took the series from the AL Central-leading White Sox, who are meanwhile, trending down, having lost eight of 11, and are 17-18 in games not started by Chris Sale (9-0), who will take the mound a week from today at the K, to cap off a huge 4-game series.

It has been a different start for the Royals this year, after dead set on proving their 2014 World Series appearance wasn’t a fluke, started 7-0 and 28-14 a year ago. But, they’re starting to come around. After the 5-13 stretch cancelled out the 12-6 start, the Royals have gotten back to winning the ways we have become accustomed to: a dominant bullpen, clutch hitting and mind-blowing defensive plays.

The offense has been OK across the board, but in what matters most – scoring – they are near the bottom in MLB, ranking 28th at 3.6 runs per game. For most of the season, the scoring was down as a direct result to their horrendous hitting with runners in scoring position, which ranked next to last in all of baseball at .200, after finishing second in MLB at .280 last year. But now, the bats are heating up and the Royals rank 14th at .256 – one point better than their season average (11th). They’re still not hitting HR, ranking 26th (38), or walking (they’ve drawn the fewest walks, again), so are maintaining a low on-base percentage (.308, 24th) and rank 22nd in both OPS and SLUG, and are one of the best teams in NOT striking out again (only two teams have struck out fewer times).

Grade: C-

SS Alcides Escobar

Current: .261/.294/.310, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 16 R, 25 K, 8 BB, 10 SB

Pace: .261/.298/.342, 0 HR, 45 RBI, 94 K, 30 BB, 38 SB,

Escobar is near his career slashline, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. He continues to display a sub-.300 OBP out of the leadoff spot and has only scored 16 runs. In other words, not good. He is running again, ranking third in the American League in stolen bases, after stealing just 17 last year after averaging 29 the four years prior. He has made three highlight reel plays in the last week, but he already has six errors, which is on pace for 23, which would be the highest total of his career. After accumulating a 1.1 defensive WAR as a Royal, he is sitting at -0.1.

Grade: C-

3B Mike Moustakas

Current: .240/.301/.500, 7 HR, 13 RBI, 12 R, 13 K, 9 BB, 0 SB

Pace: .240/.301/.500, 26 HR, 49 RBI, 45 R, 49 K, 34 BB, 0 SB

Moustakas is on pace for his best HR season of his MLB career and before his injury was the Royals second best offensive player. Hopefully, he remains his strike now that he is back from the broken thumb that landed him on the DL. He’s went 0-7 with three strikeouts in two games since his return. And now, he is out of the lineup again tonight with a bruise on the outside of his knee due to a collision with Alex Gordon, which landed the latter player on the DL. Ches Cuthbert, down on the farm for just two days, is one his way back up. Do-it-all Whit Merrifield is in the lineup playing 3B tonight.

Grade: B

CF Lorenzo Cain

Current: .277/.337/.419, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 21 R, 41 K, 13 BB, 5 SB

Pace: .277/.337/.419, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 77 R, 151 K, 48 B, 18 SB

Lorenzo Cain suffered a World Series hangover to start the season, but he bounced back strong in May, slashing .341/.379/537 with 4 HR and 15 RBI, has picked up his defense and is showing that last year’s unexpected power might not have been an outlier after all. A 20/20 season could be on the horizon for LoCain, and another All-Star Game? Dude, can play.

Grade: B+

1B Eric Hosmer

Current: .311/.367/.522, 8 HR, 21 RBI, 22 R, 31 K, 15 BB, 3 SB

Pace: .311/.367/.522, 30 HR, 79 RBI, 83 R, 117 K, 57 BB, 11 SB

Hosmer has been the Royals most consistent player at the dish, although he has cooled down a bit thanks to a current 1 for 15 slide. Like last year, Hosmer hit well in the first two months (he hit .310 with 7 HR in the first two months last year). Let’s hope he can avoid a long cold, light tower powerless stretch like in the past. If he does, the 26-year-old may finally make an All-Star Game and start reaching elite status that has been projected of him. I’d expect the RBI numbers to go up as the offense really gets in gear, and the homeruns to go down, as that really isn’t who he is, as he averages just 15 a season and hasn’t hit more than 19, in the fewest games played (128) as a rookie. 20-25 maybe. 30? No.

Team leader in hits (50), runs, HR, RBI, hitting, OBP, SLUG and OPS.

Grade: A

DH Kendrys Morales

Current: .190/.244/.323, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 10 R, 36 K, 9 BB, 0 SB

Pace: .190/.244/.323, 19 HR, 64 RBI, 38 R, 136 K, 34 BB, 0 SB

Morales, the 2015 Silver Slugger, struck as a pinch-hitter to end Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the White Sox in an AB that was a microcosm of his season – swinging and missing at two breaking pitches down and out of the zone. He can not hit that pitch and he has been hacking away at it all season. After resurrecting his career last year with a big bounce back season (.290/.362/.485, 22 HR, 106 RBI), he has been the biggest disappointment thus far, for the Royals. Morales hit a game-winning walk-off HR last Sunday in extra’s against the Braves, in what was his third HR of the month, but otherwise, it has been a horrendous month at the plate for K-MO (.149/.203/.284). A better left-handed hitter historically, he is riding the struggle bus on that side this year, hitting .137/.190/.256 compared to .341/.391/.512 from the fight side. Only the HR’s have saved Morales from a failing grade. Do better, Cuban Breakfast.

Grade: D

LF Alex Gordon

Current: .211/.319/.331, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 19 R, 50 K, 16 BB, 3 SB

Pace: .211/.319/.331, 15 HR, 38 RBI, 72 R, 188 K, 60 BB, 11 SB

Like Morales, the now likely Royals lifer has been a disappointment after signing a new 4-year, $72 million contract. Traditionally a slow starter, there is hope Gordon, who is performing well below his career norms (.267/.47/.432), will get going and be close to the player he has been. Meanwhile, fans continue to talk about how well Ben Zobirst is playing (.326/.438/.507, 6 HR, 29 RBI; among the NL leaders in runs, walks and OPS) as a Cub, but it was unrealistic for the Royals to bring him back. It seems that he is playing great defense still, but his defensive WAR sits at -0.1. and his current WAR (0.2) is the lowest its been since 2.8 in last year’s injury shortened year, and -0.6 back in 2010. And the 50 strikeouts, ouch. Oh, and now, he’s headed to the DL, out at least 3-4 weeks after Sunday’s collision with Moose. We might not see him again until July.

Grade: D+

C Salvador Perez

Current: .245/.277/.442, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 14 R, 35 K, 7 BB, 0 SB

Pace: .245/.3277/.442, 23 HR, 79 RBI, 53 R, 132 K, 26 BB, 0 SB

Salvy’s OBP continues to drop on a yearly basis, but his SLUG continues to increase. Second on the team in HR, and RBI and leader in doubles (9), Perez leads all American League catchers in homers and is on pace to set a career-high for the third straight year. The oft-used catcher is likely headed to his fourth All-Star Game and has played in 41 of the 43 games (receiving only four days off from the starting lineup.

Give me a catcher that plays defense, hits the ball over the fence and wins World Series MVP’s, Gold Gloves and goes to All-Star Game’s any day.

Grade: B+

2B Omar Infante

Current: .246/.278/.314, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 13 R, 21 K, 6 BB, 0 SB

Pace: .246/.278/.314, 0 HR, 22 RBI, 48 R, 77 K, 22 BB, 0 SB

In year three of four for Omar Imfante, one wonders if even the loyal Ned Yost had begun to move on from Infante as the everyday second baseman when Christian Colon was essentially in a time share with Infante. But, since, Colon, the career .290 MLB hitter, has been sent to the minors again, handing the bulk of playing time to the again struggling Infante. Hitting .324 through 10 games, it appeared maybe the injuries were a reason for his past lack of success here in Kansas City, but here we are again, with nothing from the second base spot. But, hey, at least he’s better than last year.

Grade: D+

RF platoon – Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando (and Rey Fuentes)

Current: .291/.323/.378, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 24 K, 5 BB, 6 SB

Pace: 291/.323/.378, 4 HR, 58 RBI, 93 K, 18 BB, 23 SB

Both Dyson and Orlando are likely to see an uptick in playing time now that Gordon is out, but, as we saw last year when Gordon was out, and even earlier this year for Dyson, that isn’t always the best thing for these two.

Orlando has been hot, hitting a scorching .484/.515/.774 with his only HR this month – including .643/.667/1.143 in the past week – and .377/.397/.525 on the season. He’s definitely taken advantage of his platoon splits, hitting .478/.500/.609 against left handers. Dyson, hitting just .209 in May after a .303 April, is hitting .243 against righties, but the only way the time share will work, if Ned treats it as a platoon, until there is a better solution out there. Recent surge from the position has increased their grade. The Royals may need to call up a new outfielder when Moose is ready and Fuentes could be an option after hitting .239/.273/.238 in a six-game stint before Dyson was activated after hitting himself onto the roster in the spring.

Grade: B

Cheslor Cuthbert

Current: .255/.269/.373, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 11 K, 1 BB, 0 SB

Pace: .255/.269/.373, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 19 R, 41 K, 4 BB, 0 SB

Ches’s stay in the minors didn’t last long, as he is back with the team tonight, when he finally arrives at the park, to replace Moustakas, albeit likely brief. He held his own the first time filling in for Moose with both the bat and the glove. Could be transitioning to second base in the minors when he heads back down.

Grade: B-

Christian Colon

Current: .255/.269/.373, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 11 K, 1 BB, 0 SB

Pace: .255/.269/.373, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 19 R, 41 K, 4 BB, 0 SB

There’s something the Royals organization don’t like with Colon, as he has now been sent down to the minors to “get more AB” last year in favor of Dusty F Coleman and this year in favor of Whit Merrifield because of his versatility – although he does deserve to here, despite being a career .290 hitter and owning now one of the most memorable moments in Royals history as well as another clutch moment in the 2014 Wild Card Game. One has to wonder if we’ll see Colon up here again, or if the Royals have moved on from the former first round draft pick.

Grade: C

Drew Butera

Current: .250/.294/.438, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 11 K, 1 BB, 0 SB

Pace: .250/.294/.438, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 19 R, 41 K, 4 BB, 0 SB

Butera still isn’t seeing a lot of playing time, starting just give games all season, but, I’m sure he’s glad to have a MLB job. He’s OK in his limited role, and he can handle the staff. He’s made the most of the opportunities given to him, as three of his four hits have went for two bases.

Grade: B

Whit Merrifield

Current: .250/.250/.250, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 3 K, 0 BB, 0 SB

Merrifield has been up less than a week, and is starting tonight for the third time – all in a different position – and it was that said versatility that Ned said is the reason he is here. And, with all the injuries and some struggles at other positions, the Royals will likely need that versatility. It should serve him well, as he can do many things well, and could be in the show for a long time.

Grade: Incomplete

Terrance Gore

Grade: Incomplete

***

To say the Royals pitching has been an adventure this year, wouldn’t be an understatement. The rotation has been awful at times, although they do have three starters on pace for 15 wins, and the bullpen, while not as automatic as last year, has still been really good (they tossed 11.2 scoreless innings in Chicago). As a result, the entire staff ranks 11th in ERA (3.80) and batting average against (.244), 13th in strikeouts, 14th in OPS against, 23rd in walks and DEAD LAST in quality starts (15), tied with the Brewers, who by far have the worst starting pitching in baseball.

The rotation and bullpen splits are quite noticeable:

Rotation:

  • ERA – 4.59 (19th)
  • IP – 221.2 (29th)
  • AVG against – .253 (14th)
  • BB – 102 (27th)
  • K – 191 (21st)
  • K/BB – 1.87 (27th)
  • OPS – .745 (18th)
  • HR allowed – 33 (11th)
  • WHIP – 1.43 (23rd)

Bullpen

  • ERA – 2.50 (3rd)
  • IP – 148.1 (6th)
  • AVG against – .230 (13th)
  • BB – 50 (15th)
  • K – 149 (5th)
  • K/BB – 2.98 (8th)
  • OPS – .646 (6th)
  • HR allowed – 9 (4th)
  • WHIP – 1.19 (9th)

The fourth most walks allowed despite tossing the second fewest innings for the rotation? Ouch.

Overall Grade: C

Rotation: D+

Bullpen B+

SP Edinson Volquez

Current: 9 GS, 54.2 IP, 4-4, 3.79 ERA, 1.39 WHIP

Pace: 33 GS, 199.2 IP, 15-15, 3.79 ERA, 1-39 WHIP

“Steady” Eddie opened the season great, going 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in his first four starts, but went oppo over his next five starts with a 6.00 ERA, winning just one of the five decisions, but, he continued to eat innings, averaging six innings per start and has went at least six innings in two-thirds of his starts and has one-third of the teams quality starts (5). His command and control come and go and he doesn’t quite have enough strikeout stuff most nights, but, if he gets to 15 wins, is at almost 200 innings and produces a sub-4 ERA, it’ll be pretty solid.

Grade: B-

SP Ian Kennedy

Current: 8 GS, 50 IP, 4-3, 3.24 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

Pace: 33 GS, 184 IP, 15-11, 3.24 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

Averaging a strikeout an inning, Kennedy has been better than advertised for the Royals staff in 2016, and possibly the most consistent, as he’s pitched at least six innings six times in eight starts, and into the seventh inning five times, completing that inning twice and owns four of the team’s 15 quality starts. If he met his current pace, it would exceed expectations.

Grade: A-

SP Yordano Ventura

Current: 8 GS, 48.2 IP, 4-3, 4.81 ERA, 1.56 WHIP

Pace: 33 GS, 177.2 IP, 15-11, 4.81 ERA, 1.56 WHIP

Ventura is walking almost as much as he is striking out (33:34), but still managed to work around that with a 3.67 ERA in April despite twice issuing free passes, he’s now allowed 15 runs in 21.2 innings in four May starts to raise his ERA to 4.81. As soon as Super Dave Eiland “fixes” Ventura (again), Ace will be closer to his career ERA (3.75) and WHIP (1.33) marks. It’ll start with his control, where he leads the AL in walks and is well off his 2.17 strikeout to walk ratio, as he is actually giving up less hits, where his .234 batting average against is above league average.

Throw fire, Ace.

Grade: C

DL’d SP’s Kris Medlen and Chris Young

Current: 13 GS, 56.2 IP, 2-8, 7.15 ERA, 1.75 WHIP

Pace: 48 GS, 206.2 IP, 8-29, 7.15 ERA, 1.75 WHIP

This duo has combined to allow 45 earned runs, 31 walks, 68 hits and 15 homers, while averaging just 4.1 innings per start. Horrendous.

Ventura leads the league in walks, but Medlen actually has a worse walk rate. Owner of one of the best road splits (24-10, 3.20 ERA) in all of baseball, it’s no surprise that Medlen’s one “quality” start came away from home, and that he has a 3.86 ERA away from the K, but still with a 1.66, which is still not nearly as bad as his 2.05 season mark. His last two starts were simply awful, as he labored through four innings, allowing 10 earned runs, seeing his ERA climb from 4.87 to its current 7.77. He has lasted fewer than four innings in three of his six starts this year, has just one quality start and has issued more walks (20) than strikeouts (18).

Young was a great success story for the Royals last season – especially early in the season, but it’s also evident that he isn’t suited to last a whole season in the rotation. Expected to be the bridge until Mike Minor is ready (expected to join the rotation in the next week or two), he didn’t make it that long, losing his spot to Dillon Gee before heading to the DL. In his last outing, he gave up a franchise-worst five homeruns in one game – all solo shots at Yankee Stadium, increasing his road ERA to 9.72. He has allowed 13 on the season, which is still worst in the league, despite missing two starts.

These two, if either return to the rotation, will have to be a lot closer to what they were last year than what they have been this year. If even one of them gets it righted, it’s what the Royals will need going forward.

Grade: F

Dillon Gee

Current: 9 G, 2 GS, 31 IP, 1-1, 2.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD

Pace: 33 G, 7 GS, 114 IP, 4-4, 2.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD

Gee has given the Royals some valuable innings in blowouts and/or when the starter exited early, which has happened way too much so far this season. Filling in for Young, he’s been solid, despite failing to go six innings in either one of his two starts. With Young and Medlen coming off the DL in the next month, and Mike Minor nearing activation, it’ll be curious to see what happens if Gee, who had a 3.97 career ERA as a starter in New York, continues to pitch well.

Grade: B

Danny Duffy

Current: 18 G, 2 GS, 25.1 IP, 0-0, 2.13 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 0 SV, 1 HLD

Pace: 68 G, 18 GS, 94.1 IP, 0-0, 2.13 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 0 SV, 4 HLD

The book continues to read that Danny Duffy is better suited for the bullpen, but in two pitch-count limited starts in place of Medlen, he has shown command that he often didn’t show when he was a fixture in the rotation, throwing 7.1 scoreless innings, walking two, striking out eight and allowing just five hits, while averaging just 15 pitches per inning. He has now thrown 11 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run and he’s holding opposing batters to a .234 average this season. He still has a high ceiling as a starter, if he ever gets it figured out, but he isn’t “young” anymore.

Grade: B

RP Wade Davis

Current: 16 G, 15.1 IP, 1-0, 1.15 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 11 SV, 0 HLD

Pace: 60 G, 57.2 IP, 4-0, 1.15 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 41 SV, 0 HLD

The cyborg Wade Davis actually blew a save on May 15, and fans wondered what the hell was going on if Davis actually looked human. But, it’s the only outing all season he has allowed a run, and he has converted three saves since and ranks 7th in the AL in saves. He is holding opposing batters to a minuscule .154 average. Still the best out there in closing out games.

Grade: A

RP Kelvin Herrera

Current: 16 G, 22.1 IP, 0-1, 0.81 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 0 SV, 11 HLD

Pace: 87 G, 83.1 IP, 0-4, 0.81 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 0 SV, 41 HLD

Herrera has remained one of the Royals top relievers, as his ERA and WHIP sit at 0.81 and 0.90 respectively. Having pitched in 23 games this season, he, like Davis, has given up runs in only one outing. Since last season, Herrera has dramatically improved his control, as his K/BB has risen to 13.00 after finishing 2015 at 2.46.

If you get into the eighth inning, losing to the Royals, chances of a comeback are bleak.

Grade: A

RP Luke Hochevar

Current: 20 G, 19 IP, 1-0, 2.79 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 0 SV, 8 HLD

Pace: 72 G, 72.1 IP, 4-0, 2.79 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 0 SV, 30 HLD

Papa Hoch actually has a lower WHIP than Wade Davis, and despite some out there thinking he doesn’t have what it takes to pitch in high-leverage situations, Ned thinks otherwise, throwing him out there with runners on, sort of the fireman – the Ryan Madson role. As a reliever, Hochevar has a 2.72 ERA, three saves and 23 holds.

Grade: B+

RP Joakim Soria

Current: 22 G, 22.1 IP, 2-1, 3.63 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 1 SV, 7 HLD

Pace: 83 G, 83.1 IP, 8-4, 3.63 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 4 SV, 26 HLD

Soria was the closer for the Royals years ago, saving 40 or more games twice as a legit All-Star, before making stops in Texas, Detroit and Pittsburgh. His return to Kansas City, so far, has been disappointing. He was even booed by the home crowd, and makes Royals fans nervous the way Greg Holland did last year. Soria is coming off his best outing Saturday in Chicago when he entered the bases loaded, no out and Kansas City clinging to a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning. Soria coaxed a double play and pitched two strong innings in a 2-1 victory – the first time he pitched two innings since 2011. It was the 11th time in 12 appearances that he didn’t allow a run. Brought here to be the set-up man to Davis, he lost the job to Herrera, and rightfully so, and now shares the next in line role with Hochevar.

Grade: C+

RP Brian Flynn

Current: 5 G, 7.1 IP, 1-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD

Pace: 19 G, 26.1 IP, 4-0, 4.91 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD

Flynn has been solid in his role as a middle/long reliever this year since his recall. He will not pitch in many times with the game on the line.

Grade: C

RP Scott Alexander

Current: 4 G, 6.1 IP, 0-0, 1.42 ERA, 0.79 WHIP

Pace: 15 G, 23.1 IP, 0-0, 1.42 ERA, 0.79 WHIP

Brought up as bullpen depth when Gee and Duffy moved into the rotation, Alexander has been outstanding. His best effort came in the 13-inning win over Atlanta a little over a week ago, when he tossed 3 scoreless innings after throwing 31 pitches the day before. Huge.

Grade: B+

Chien-Ming Wang

Current: 12 G, 14.2 IP, 2-0, 3.07 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD

Pace: 48 G, 55.2 IP, 7-0, 3.07 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HLD

Wang is a ground ball pitcher who seems to be at the bottom of the bullpen totem pole, and he has done just fine in that role – usually cleaning up in losses.

Grade: B

***

The currently third place Royals made up 3.5 games in the standings in the last week, and after a 7-game week against the woeful Twins and then the White Sox, by the end of this week, they’ll be in first place. Mark it down!

WIN. GAMES.

***

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