Fire Dayton Moore

Fire Dayton Moore
It's time.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Don't stop now

At my job, there are basically two Royals "fans" in the entire building. I say "fans" for a couple reasons. Sure there are other people who like to hear when the Royals have won. But there are only two who had their phones out for instant updates from today's game in Detroit. I also say "fans" because I'm just too stupid to follow another team while my co-worker has probably never considered following another team.

He's old school. I lean new school. I was feeling pretty good about myself when I started writing for this blog. When he found out about it, he went off on me. And it was an awkward couple months after that. But when the Royals set out for their road trip which concluded this afternoon, we were both in agreement that a .500 record against Atlanta, Boston and Detroit would be an absolute positive. I don't know if either of us actually expected it to happen.

The Braves were the hottest team in baseball. The Red Sox were one of the hottest teams in the American League. Detroit was the unquestioned favorite in the AL Central. Somehow, someway — despite interruptions from national tragedy and poor weather — the Royals return home Friday at 11-8 overall following a 4-3 showing on the trip.

What does it mean? Well, it's not yet May, so not a whole lot. Minnesota is second in the Central as I write this. What do I think it means? Well, maybe the Royals aren't as far from winning as I thought. I'm not convinced of that just yet. But there's no debating that the Royals are in first place and have proven they're at least capable of playing competent baseball this season.

However, if you're Dayton Moore — and odds are you're not — you've already made your stance known. You've announced that the Royals have entered their window for winning. You've shipped off your best prospect. You've committed millions of dollars to players who probably won't be on the team in 2015 and, if they are, won't be major contributors. So, for now, Moore can pat himself on the back. But he can't put the club on auto-pilot just yet.

The Royals are still a player or two away from being serious contenders. I've already made my thoughts  clear on what the Royals should do about Giancarlo Stanton. Very clear. But listening to ESPN's Baseball Tonight Podcast, Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian discussed a trade possibility I can't believe I didn't come up with first.

Due to what can only be diagnosed as a complete lack of comprehension when it comes to statistical analysis, the Philadelphia Phillies are not a good team. They don't have many trade pieces remaining to start rebuilding. But they do have one that makes a ton of sense to unload: Chase Utley.

He's in the last year of his contract, he's 34 years old and has an injury history that could make him worthless if the Phils don't trade him while he's healthy. But he's still productive and plays a position almost every team could use an upgrade at as a second baseman. If the Phillies were willing to eat a majority of the $15 million he's due this season, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to get back an elite prospect or a solid package of prospects. Maybe both.

Olney and Kurkjian first mentioned the Orioles as a perfect fit for Utley. I can't argue with that. He'd look great in that lineup and I'm sure he'd enjoy not having to move far from Philly. The only question is what the Orioles can offer other than Dylan Bundy, who I doubt they'd let go of for Utley no matter how much money the Phillies took on, and Kevin Gausman, who some say the organization likes even more than Bundy even if he's not as highly rated.

The other team they mentioned was...drumroll...the Kansas City Royals. I'm not sure what reasons they might have to doubt Chris Getz or Johnny Giavotella. Other than the fact Getz had more homes runs (1) than walks until he walked on Wednesday, which explains his .241 OBP. And other than the fact the Royals clearly have no faith in Giavotella (and neither do I). All that aside, I'm not sure how they reached such a conclusion.

All sarcasm aside, it makes a ton of sense. For one, Utley is actually a realistic replacement at a position of need for the Royals. Stanton probably isn't going anywhere. I don't know where the Royals are going to find another third baseman if Mike Moustakas can't get his act together. But unless Utley simply doesn't want to go anywhere, there's no reason he shouldn't be available.

And as much as Moore talks about adding veterans with the right clubhouse presence, Utley makes a ton of sense. He's won a World Series. He's finished as high as seventh in the MVP voting. He's a pro's pro. And even though Alex Gordon of all people should be able to relate to Moustakas and see him through his struggles, there's little doubt Utley could be a positive influence on Moustakas. And Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar for that matter.

On the Royals' end, they have just as much to offer in the form of prospects as the Orioles. If the Phillies' want elite prospects, they're better off dealing with the Orioles (assuming the Orioles are willing to part ways with Bundy or Gausman). If the Phillies want a package of prospects, the Royals are the better fit. The Royals haven't ruined Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura (yet) and players like Jorge Bonifacio, Sam Selman, Orlando Calixte and Jason Adam should also be available. I would hold onto Adalberto Mondesi unless the Marlins come calling about Stanton. I wouldn't give up all of the players above for Utley, but Zimmer or Ventura plus another piece or three lower ranked players would be a fine package, depending on how much money the Phillies would be willing to take on.

If there's one thing I can think of that might rule the Royals out of an Utley deal, it's money. If the Phillies aren't willing to eat much or any of Utley's $15 million, I'm not sure how much more cash David Glass can make available. And if that's what happens and Utley winds up in Baltimore as a result, the mistake in paying Luke Hochevar $4.56 million this season will become all the more glaring.

Fire Dayton Moore

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Braves Way

In the last couple years my go-to Dayton Moore joke has been, if a player on his way out of baseball wants to extend his career, sign a one-day contract with the Atlanta Braves. Then after it expires, show Moore he was once employed by the Braves and Moore will be powerless to resist signing him.

Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies, Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera and whoever else I've forgotten that Moore has imported from Atlanta, are proof that Moore hasn't forgotten his roots coming up through the ranks with the Braves. So when the Royals played the Braves this week, I got the idea of comparing the Braves dynasty that Moore was a part of to Moore's Royals — at least in one aspect.

I thought to myself, "Gee, the Royals don't seem to have much pop and they sure don't seem to walk all that often, either." OK, my inner thoughts aren't actually that eloquent. But it got me to wondering how the Royals under Moore's direction compare offensively to the Braves during Moore's time with the organization.

Now, I fully understand Moore himself can only do so much when it comes to affecting the performance of the players on the field. With the Braves, it was even more limited. At the same time, Moore was a scout, director of player personel and Assistant GM with the Braves and therefore had a voice in the players the Braves sought to fit their philosophy.

The result was 11 division championships, three World Series appearances and a World Series title between joining the organization in 1994 and leaving in 2006. So I hopped over to Fangraphs and filtered the team stats from 1995-2005 because those were the years Moore spent entire seasons with the organization.

The results: 2,064 home runs (9), 9.0 percent walk rate (12), 16.7 percent strikeout rate (17), .267 batting average (13), .338 on-base percentage (12), .432 slugging percentage (8), and .335 weighted on-base average (10). In parenthesis are the Braves' rank in all of baseball in those categories during that span.

Now, from 2007 to this point in the 2013 season, here's how the Royals compare: 753 home runs (29), 7.0 percent walk rate (30), 16.5 percent strikeout rate (28), .267 batting average (7), .323 on-base percentage (22), .400 slugging percentage (21), and .317 weighted on-base average (22). Again, the parenthesis signify the club's rank in all of baseball.

Looking at that, it's as if Moore came to Kansas City straight out of the early 1900s. Swing away, get on base with a seeing-eye single and hope to bunt and steal your way around the bases. It's not hard to see why the Royals have yet to compete with Moore as GM. Although hitting for power and finding ways to get on base were clearly part of the Braves' formula for winning, Moore's Royals have solely excelled in hitting for average.

Yes I realize the David Glass Royals haven't had the same funds that the Ted Turner Braves once worked with. But anyone with a vague understanding of "Moneyball" knows players with a knack for getting on base and platoon power hitters are available at reasonable prices if you know where to find them.

Even if you isolate the Royals' ranks in those statistics to this season, it's not pretty: 6 home runs (29), 5.8 percent walk rate (29), 16.3 percent strikeout rate (29), .267 batting average (5), .314 on-base percentage (18), .381 slugging percentage (20), and .304 weighted on-base average (20).

Again, their strength lies only in getting on base by way of hits. But as I write this, roughly a handful of individual players have as many or more home runs this season than the Royals do as a team. Justin Upton, who the Royals theoretically could have landed for a package even less lucrative than the one that brought in James Shields, has already launched nine long balls.

These are the reasons I have no faith in this year's club sustaining its success. Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and a surging Lorenzo Cain can't be the only Royals contributing in both on-base and slugging. After last season, Kevin Seitzer was the scapegoat for the Royals' lack of power. Who will the blame fall on when these numbers extrapolate over the course of a season?

As far as I'm concerned, Moore may not be the one scouting amateur talent, developing that talent in the minor leagues or even coaching that talent at the Major League level. But he is the one deciding which amateur players to bring into the organization. He is the one deciding which ones to move along through the system and which ones he doesn't have to "cross off the board" in trade negotiations. And he is the one signing players at the Major League level to free agent deals and extensions and hand-picking coaches to instruct them.

I don't think anyone in Kansas City is expecting Moore to build a dynasty to last 15 seasons. But if the Royals truly are entering a so-called "window" for winning, it's going to take more than a change at hitting coach. A 3-2 start to a daunting road trip is indeed encouraging, but if some trends don't begin to reverse soon, it might be time to find realistic alternatives in right field and at third base. And that's on Moore.

If only there were a player waiting in the wings at Triple-A with experience at both positions.

Fire Dayton Moore

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Not exactly easy listening Pt. VII

If you haven't taken the time to listen to any of the podcast episodes I've posted, at the very least, check out Friday's (4/19) episode of Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney.

Olney's first guest on the show was none other than Royals GM Dayton Moore, not to be confused with Daynot Moore. Olney touches on the obvious (an overview of the negotiations between Moore and Rays GM Andrew Friedman, the decision to give up Wil Myers, what Moore sees in Eric Hosmer, and so on). Moore answers the only way he knows how — like a politician.

However, it was Olney who had me shaking my head in disbelief during the interview. At a certain point, Olney asks Moore about his "best kept secrets in baseball." Just who are these secrets Olney was referring to? Alex Gordon and Billy Butler? No. Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura? Nope. Kauffman Stadium and Arthur Bryant's? Nah. It was obviously the Royals' bullpen.

The same bullpen anchored by Greg Holland and his 9.00 ERA, 3.56 FIP and 4.26 xFIP to go with a .294 BAA and 2.75 WHIP. The same bullpen that in a single week submarined the entire team thanks in part to Kelvin Herrera's four home runs allowed. Just days after seemingly surpassing Holland for the closer role, Herrera boasts a 7.36 ERA and 8.10 FIP. And the same bullpen that includes J.C. Gutierrez.

True, Bruce Chen, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and amazingly Luke Hochevar have been admirable in middle relief. But to a man, almost every Royals reliever has wilted in high-leverage situations, including Collins, who sparked the fateful bottom of the eighth against the Red Sox on Sunday.

Granted this interview was likely done Friday or possibly Thursday. So Saturday's implosion had yet to take place. However, that doesn't exclude Holland's struggles. That doesn't exclude Herrera's meltdown Tuesday against the Braves. If anything, the Royals' bullpen has been the most glaring weakness this season.

The offense has been middling at best and that was a danger entering the season. Ned Yost has made Ned Yost-like decisions and there was no reason not to expect that to happen. But the bullpen was supposed to be as sure of a bet as the Royals could hope for. At this point, I'm thinking it's time for Aaron Crow to start fulfilling his first round expectations as the club's stopper.

If there has been any kind of secret kept by the Royals thus far, it's that four of their five starters have ERAs below 3.50. Both Ervin Santana's FIP (4.51) and xFIP (3.75) suggest his 2.45 ERA won't last. Same for Wade Davis (2.25/3.56/3.25) and Jeremy Guthrie (3.20/5.24/3.44). However, Shield's FIP (2.82) and xFIP (2.99) imply he's done more to earn his keep than his 3.43 ERA would let on. And perhaps Luis Mendoza (6.17/3.06/4.14) can recover and hang onto his spot in the rotation.

While I think the Royals' season could very well be on the verge of slipping back down into the doldrums of the AL Central, I think the starting rotation does deserve some recognition for keeping the club in games to this point. It's great that the Worldwide Leader chose to give the Royals some exposure on its main baseball podcast, but I can't believe someone like Buster Olney would miss the mark so badly. For a moment, it made me forget Moore was the same person who handed Myers to the Rays but still won't pull the trigger on plucking Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins. This season is the beginning of their "window" to win, after all.

Fire Dayton Moore

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The room is spinning

I'll be honest, this isn't what I expected. To be fair, Aprils of Royals' past have given me little reason to.

Two weeks into the season, the Royals stand at 7-5 in first place in the American League Central. Before anyone begins to run a 2013 pennant up their flag pole, I have a couple questions: 1. Did your home have a flag pole when you moved into it or did you install it yourself? 2. How much are Royals 2013 AL Central Champion pennants going for right now?

I would also like to point out every other division leader has a better record than the Royals, save for the Cardinals. Yet, as negative as I want to be about the Royals, there are obviously some positives to recognize.

When I last wrote, the Royals had one last game in Philadelphia before making their six-game home debut. I fully expected Cole Hamels to shut down the Royals lineup, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a hard-to-watch Twins team steal a game or two at Kauffman Stadium, and anticipated the Blue Jays to assert their dominance to close out a disappointing week and send the Royals into a downward spiral. I was wrong on every account.

Despite the bullpen's worst efforts, the Royals took the series with the Phillies and swept the Twins. Even though the Blue Jays did take two of three, the Royals were competitive for most of the series. Through 12 games, the Royals have done, in large part, what they were supposed to do. Another win in Chicago would have been nice, but winning five of their last seven is a pleasant surprise to say the least.

And the Royals have been competitive despite the fact Alex Gordon (.373/.396/.510) and Billy Butler (.257/.435/.457), as usual, are the only bats in the lineup pulling their own weight. Chris Getz (.306/.306/.472) has been serviceable. Lorenzo Cain (.282/.341/.333) has the OBP but no pop as of yet. Same for Eric Hosmer (.276/.400/.310). Meanwhile, Sal Perez (.280/.294/.360) and Al Escobar (.250/.288/.396) have scuffled. Mike Moustakas (.158/.238/.211) appears lost. And Frenchy (.238/.273/.381) has done pretty much what everyone knew he would do.

Yes, Dayton Moore can pat himself on the back tonight because the Royals' success thus far has been a result of the pitching staff he assembled. They've kept the team in virtually every game. The starters have gone deep into games. Other than J.C. Gutierrez and Greg Holland, the bullpen has been lights out.

And perhaps the most significant positive from the homestand was the Royals' victory on Sunday despite Ned Yost's attempts to blow it (Sacrifice bunting in the 7th with Jarrod Dyson on second base? Complete waste of an out.). In past years, the Royals would have lost that game, then fallen apart on their upcoming eight-game road trip.

The second part of the equation can still happen. With two games at the Braves (11-1), three at the Red Sox (7-4) and three at the Tigers (6-5), this upcoming eight-game stretch will make the Royals' first 12 games seem like Spring Training.

If Hosmer and Moustakas don't wake up soon, the time may come to seriously question whether either player is cut out for the big leagues. They are the duo the Royals need to drive the offense. Not Perez and Escobar. Their value is in their defense. Their offense is a bonus. Bottomline, the Royals can only subsist on 3- and 4-run outputs for so long.

As for Moore's mound crew, I can't help but feel like the floodgates are about to open. Ervin Santana has the lowest ERA among the starters, but the most home runs allowed. Shields has the highest batting average against in the rotation and his performance against the Phillies without having to face a DH, was not becoming of an "ace." Jeremy Guthrie has performed as expected. Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza will remain liabilities as long as they're in the rotation, but are nevertheless better options than Luke Hochevar.

Finally, as I've said before, the main impact a manager can have on a club is with his late-inning decisions — most notably calls to the bullpen. If Yost continues to trust Holland to close games, the Royals might be this year's version of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers who led baseball with 29 blown saves and missed the playoffs by five games. I think we all can agree Kelvin Herrera is the best arm in the bullpen right now. Use him. When he becomes ineffective, give Aaron Crow a turn. After him, why not Tim Collins?

I believe the first team that discards the shackles of the term "closer" and simply bases its relief hierarchy on match ups will be this era's version of the Moneyball A's. Any pitcher is capable of recording the 27th out of a game in the right situation. The Royals won't be that team as long as Yost is manager.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's cool the Royals are leading the division halfway through April. But realistically, they're basically in first place because the Tigers are allowing them to be.

Fire Dayton Moore

Saturday, April 6, 2013

So close — or close

Dayton Moore must have been proud of himself around the fifth inning today.

In one fell swoop, Jeff Francoeur doubled to put himself and Lorenzo Cain in scoring position. Miguel Tejada hopped out of his casket and followed Frenchy with an RBI groundout. Then prized PTBNL of the Wil Myers trade, Elliot Johnson, singled to bring home Francoeur and put the Royals up, 2-0 on the Phillies.

In the seventh, Moore had to have been radiant. Francoeur led off with another double. Miggy traded places with him to put the Royals up, 3-1. The Royals were nine outs from climbing over .500 and setting up a possible sweep of a National League powerhouse (I can only imagine Moore still views the Phillies as a powerhouse considering such stalwarts as Ryan Howard, Michael Young and Delmon Young are on the payroll).

Two innings later, the Royals did what they do so well, turning a two-run lead into a 4-3 loss to drop back below .500. Again, I won't be surprised if they remain there the rest of the way. Like a game of Tetris, just when everything appears to be under control, the pieces start falling faster and faster until they're out of control and you're left staring at a jumbled mess.

Five times they went down in order. The Phillies put their leadoff man on base just twice on Saturday. Both times came back to scramble the Royals' Tetris matrix.

Luis Mendoza was excellent, striking out seven and allowing just five baserunners in six innings. He attacked an altogether weak lineup, throwing 17 of 23 first-pitch strikes. His one mistake was allowing a leadoff walk to John Mayberry Jr. in the bottom of the fifth, which turned into Philadelphia's first run.

Alas, Ned Yost stepped in to allow the game to slip away. Rather, he refused to step in, hanging Greg Holland out to dry and walk the bases loaded in the ninth. Three batters later, Holland gave up a bases-clearing, game-winning double to Kevin Frandsen.

This leads me into last week's episode of The Baseball Show with Rany and Joe. With Joe Sheehan bringing up the topic, the two discussed the Royals' loss on Opening Day. Sheehan in particular discussed how the Royals will be submarined by Yost's mismanagement this season.

(Effectively Wild also discussed the Royals' fitting start to the season last week if you feel like giving it a listen.)

In general, I'm not one to place too much blame on a manager. Recent research has shown lineup construction has a minimal impact on run production over the course of a season. So that leaves the manager with two means of influencing a ball club: 1. Clubhouse atmosphere; 2. Late-game substitutions.

As Sheehan points out, Yost already whiffed on pinch-hitting opportunities the first game of the season (although I thought it was wise to pinch run Jarrod Dyson for Billy Butler late). I didn't see Saturday's game, but in general I can't defend keeping a pitcher in the game after he has walked the first three batters he's faced to put the winning run on base.

The Royals had one of the best bullpens in baseball last season. The bullpen has done nothing thus far for Yost to lose faith in it as a whole. Only Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera pitched out of the pen prior to Holland. Only Tim Collins threw an excessive amount of pitches on Friday afternoon.

So I don't really care that Holland struck out the fourth and fifth batters he faced on Saturday. He shouldn't have had the opportunity in the first place. It doesn't matter if the calendar just flipped to April. Every winnable game matters. To a certain degree, you have to treat every close game as if it's a playoff game and in Game 7 of a playoff series, there's no way Holland stays in the game in that situation.

Now Cole Hamels stands between the Royals and a series victory and 3-3 record. Seeing how the Royals have only managed to defeat Gavin Floyd and Kyle Kendrick (the two most Royals-y pitchers to never have suited up for the Royals — yet), the odds are against them.

And if it doesn't happen, the Royals will need to take four of six on their opening homestand to get back to .500. After that, it's a nightmare eight-game road trip to Atlanta, Boston and Detroit. Considering the Royals' history with the Twins and the Blue Jays' overall talent, it's not a stretch to imagine April slipping away before the Royals ever had a grasp on it. In much the same way Saturday's loss unraveled.

Fire Dayton Moore

Monday, April 1, 2013

Your 2013 Kansas City Royals

This is why James Shields will not single-handedly change the culture emanating from Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals opened the season with a 1-0 loss at the White Sox on Monday. Already, I'm left wondering if the club will climb above .500 at any point this season.

Highlights from the game were few and far between for the Fightin' Ned Yosts. Alcides Escobar had a pair of hits. Eric Hosmer drew a crucial walk and stole second in the ninth to reach scoring position. But at the same time, no Royals player recorded an extra base hit and they combined to leave eight men on base, going 1 for 5 with RISP.

Jeff Francoeur managed a pair of singles, but of course with Hosmer on second and two outs in the ninth, he grounded out to end the game. Yet, such performances will buy Frenchy all the job security he needs.

Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera were near perfect out of the bullpen. But, again, hitting conditions were less than ideal and the White Sox did have Jeff Keppinger hitting second in the order.

Oh yeah, and Shields made his Royals debut. He allowed just one run on eight hits in six innings while fanning six. Then again, he gave up a leadoff home run to White Sox No. 8 hitter Tyler Flowers in the bottom of the fifth, which decided the game. A bonafide "ace" wouldn't have set that changeup on a tee for Flowers to park in the stands. Shields did.

Look, I'm not pinning this one on Shields and using this start as Exhibit A as to why Dayton Moore overpaid for Shields. If Shields can pitch like he did Monday at least three out of every five starts for the next two seasons, you can build a solid defense for the trade.

But Monday's loss is Exhibit A as to why the Royals are no closer to a winning season or playoff appearance with James Shields than they were without him.

Given the conditions, even Jeremy Guthrie would have been capable of holding the White Sox to a run. That's not why the Royals lost. They lost because Alex Gordon got on base just once. They lost because Billy Butler struck out with the bases loaded and just one out and Mike Moustakas, who was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and six men left stranded for the game, followed up with a pop out. They lost because Lorenzo Cain did nothing to prove he's an everyday player from a hitting standpoint, going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and three men left on base.

It's just one game. There are some positives to take away from it. Any negatives could easily reverse direction as soon as Wednesday. But the Royals' foundation is built upon the likes of Gordon, Butler, Moustakas, Hosmer and Cain. If they aren't capable of stepping up against a frontline starter like Chris Sale in tough hitting conditions, then this team simply isn't ready to win.

Maybe in two years this core will be ready to win. But by then, Shields will be gone and who knows what Moore will have done with the rotation.

Fire Dayton Moore