Fire Dayton Moore

Fire Dayton Moore
It's time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's real and it's spectacular

If you'd told me before the season a Royals fan from South Korea would be as popular as the Royals themselves in mid-August, then I would have safely assumed the Royals' season had gone exactly as I'd expected. Not well.

But as I stood in section 429 and looked across Kauffman Stadium on Monday night to see SungWoo Lee hoisting a royal blue "W" while the Crown Vision flashed the Royals' sole possession of first place in the American League Central, I was floored. This season has not gone as I expected. To this point, anyway.

As I wrote on Monday, the last 19 game could simply be a tremendous, yet small, sample size and the next 45 games could be a heartbreaking, yet more brutally honest, larger sample size. As euphoric as it was to feel what must be what others refer to as "hope," the Royals still find themselves in a slippery position. Their best chance at making the playoffs (and by far their best chance to make a run in the playoffs) is to win the Central outright. However, if you stack up the Tigers against a field of the Mariners, Blue Jays, Yankees and, I suppose, the Indians for the final Wild Card spot, it would seem the Royals' have better odds of holding off the field than the Tigers.

Many Royals followers have written about the team's remaining schedule. Their upcoming nine-game road trip certainly appears advantageous. But how many wins is it going to take? The Royals have 64 wins entering Tuesday. The Tigers won the Central with 93 wins last year. To match that mark, the Royals would have to go 29-16. Combine a 29-16 run with their current 16-3 run and that means they'll have played .703 baseball the final 2/5 of the season. Even 90 wins would require a 26-19 flourish from here on out.

Of course, maybe it won't even take 90 wins to claim the Central this year. Maybe the Royals could play one game over .500 their final 45 games. That'd put them at 87-75. Even if that doesn't top the Tigers, maybe it's enough to outlast the likes of the Mariners, Blue Jays, Yankees and so on. The best part about that, though, is an 87-75 season would be a one-game improvement from 2013. If the Royals play just one game under .500 the rest of the way, they'll tie last year's record. A mere 21-24 record from this point and suddenly their odds of being on the outside, looking in come playoff time start to balloon.

I guess my sobering point here is it will take a truly magical finish, not only for the Royals to make the playoffs, but for Dayton Moore's process to produce any improvement from Year 1 with James Shields to Year 2. And without some semblance of an improvement in the win column, the process isn't going to yield so much as a play-in game appearance at the expense of Wil Myers and Co.

That sucks.

Nevertheless, last night was an unforgettable experience and regardless of what I've written, I'm hoping against hope the Royals can hold on. On that note, here are some random thoughts from my Monday at the K:

1. If the Royals want to make the playoffs, Eric Hosmer should not play again this season. In 409 at bats this year, he's posted a .312 OBP and .377 SLG. Even against right-handers he's slashing .319/.382 with a whopping 5 of his 6 home runs off righties. That's pathetic "production" from a player the Royals have curiously deemed bulletproof.

Earlier this season I was optimistic Hosmer could salvage a decent season. Adding a hand injury to the mix does not help matters. His defense isn't that good. Butler's defense isn't that bad. It's first base anyway. There's a reason the Royals are winning without him.

2. Dayton Moore is blinded by his devotion to his 1st round picks. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow, Christian Colon, and I'll cut off there. What do these players have in common? All five were drafted by Dayton Moore. All five were first round picks. All five have either reached the Major Leagues and performed poorly or they're development in the minors stalled significantly. Yet, aside from Montgomery who was actually a compensatory pick taken 36th overall, they are all still with the Royals and, when healthy, Moustakas, Hosmer and Crow all play prominent roles on the team.

Moustakas, Hosmer and Crow all made their MLB debuts in 2011. Moustakas's career WAR is 4.6 nearly four seasons later. Hosmer's is 1.8 (seriously, do not play him the rest of the season). And Crow's is 0.7. By comparison, Alex Gordon's WAR this season alone is 5.3 and Wade Davis's WAR this season alone is 2.1.

The fact four of those five players have reached the bigs (and Montgomery probably will with the Rays) is an accomplishment. But it's also fair to say Moore has not hit on any of them in a significant way. What's worse, what are the odds any of them make drastic improvements at this point in their careers? Yet Moore can't find it in him to commit to a platoon with Moustakas or move Hosmer down in the order or stop using Crow in higher leverage situations.

The only blessing here is, thanks in part to the players' agents involved, none of them have been signed to lucrative extensions. Yet. But it's still disturbing Moore has designated these players as "his guys" while snubbing his greatest success story, Jarrod Dyson, and trading away another in Myers.

Also makes you wonder why Luke Hochevar has stuck around so long if Moore wasn't behind that pick, as well...

3. I used to respect Soren Petro's opinion. Then again, I hadn't really heard much from him since he was a guest speaker in one of my journalism classes at KU. I just don't listen to sports talk radio. But I couldn't help myself after the game Monday night.

Petro seriously argued that the Royals' free-swinging approach would be better suited for the playoff format where opponents are starting one of their top pitchers every single night and using their best remaining pitchers whenever necessary out of the bullpen.

His argument? The Royals would benefit from facing top tier pitchers because they pump pitches in the strike zone more regularly, thus the Royals would have fewer bad pitches to offer at, thus having better pitches to hit, thus getting more hits. I'll let you pick that one apart in your head for a second.

So the hidden argument by Petro is that the Royals have only struggled against bad pitchers this year and have only struggled against them because they lack the same command as elite pitchers. The thought that the Royals have performed or will perform better against good pitchers than bad pitchers is absolutely insane. And I guess it never occurred to Petro that elite pitchers might scout the Royals, notice their tendency to swing at anything, and therefore use their pinpoint accuracy to work away from the middle of the plate.

That's why I don't listen to sports talk radio.

4. I'm not too worked up about the Josh Willingham trade. Jason Adam is a pitcher I'd been hearing about for years. I would've liked to have seen him in Kansas City. I'm sure the Twins will max out his pitching potential. But at the same time, if deployed against lefties as a DH-only, Willingham could and should provide value down the stretch. But playing him in the field under any circumstances would be a mistake.

And it could be worse, I'm almost positive Dayton Moore offered at least Jason Adam to the Phillies for Marlon Byrd but Ruben Amaro Jr. was too foolish to take it. Willingham won't clog up payroll after this season whereas Byrd would have. They're both equally bad defenders and they both bat from the right side. Byrd might be a slightly better hitter, but not enough to make a significant difference in a 45-game span and certainly not enough to justify that contract.

5. SungWoo must stay in Kansas City the next two months. The only acceptable exception is if he's on a road trip with the Royals.

Fire Dayton Moore

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Catching up -- in more ways than one

I'm sure you've all be wondering when FDM would break its brutally long silence and offer up more hard-hitting analysis of the limp-wristed Royals.

Believe me, there were times I was rilled up and ready to lay into Dayton Moore on here. However, just as I wrote in my FDM Predictions piece, the Royals were nothing but a .500 team in my eyes. Any .500 team is going to have its ups and downs and the Royals have had their fair share. Plus, it's impossible for me to get too worked up about a .500 team with a GM and manager who have job security (whether or not that security is justified).

I've never had the expectation that this blog would make any difference when it came to how the Royals did business. So as much as I wanted to lambaste the Royals after their embarrassing series against the Astros, ridicule them for pampering Eric Hosmer, or excoriate Dayton Moore for pussing out at the trade deadline, I told myself "What's the difference?"

But as I look at the standings, the Royals are suddenly 10 games over .500 and half a game behind the Tigers. KC is 9-1 in its last 10 while Detroit is 5-5 and coming off a crushing 19-inning loss on Sunday. The Royals also find themselves with a 1.5 game cushion between them and the Mariners and Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

I'm not going to dig into all the playoff scenarios or plot out the Royals' remaining schedule compared to their competition. I'm just not. All this could be meaningful. Or it could simply be an exceptionally high high like the Royals experienced after the break last season. The Royals could get swept in four games by the A's this week and Royal it up on their nine-game road trip and that'll be that for their playoff aspirations.

Instead, I wanted to write about the decisions Moore has made -- both good and bad -- that have led the Royals to this point:

Norichika Aoki -- Might as well start with Moore's first big splash of the offseason. My stance on Aoki was consistent from the start. I was not excited. I seemed to be the only Royals blogger (if you even want to consider me one) who pinpointed Aoki's drop-off in doubles and steals from 2012 to 2013 and considered it a red flag for 2014. If you look at his stats now, his slide in doubles turned into a season-long home run drought until this past week. And he's unlikely to match his 20 steals from last year, although he has missed time this year.

The only defense for the Aoki trade was: 1. He would be an upgrade from the sorry lot of RFs the Royals deployed in 2013 and 2. All it cost was Will Smith while the deepest aspect of the Royals' roster was the bullpen. Well, as I look at the deal now, I don't think it's hard to argue the club might've been better off with Jarrod Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain in right. A fourth outfielder of Aoki's quality could've been found elsewhere at a cheaper cost.

The argument for trading Smith still holds true, to a degree, but on the heels of a trade deadline that saw Drew Smyly turn into David Price, I can't help but wonder what Smith and his 68 punch outs in 51.1 innings would be worth. And if this really was the year for the Royals to go for it, it wouldn't have killed them to keep Smith at Triple-A and try one last time to see if he could start. Worst-case scenario, they'd have had a strikeout-heavy lefty to bring out of the bullpen right now.

Jason Vargas -- I described the Aoki deal as the first big splash of the offseason, but the Vargas signing was actually Moore's first move of the winter. I just refuse to classify the signing of a No. 4 starter as a "big splash." Nevertheless, Vargas (3.68 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) has been part of the solution, not the problem. Much to my surprise.

Vargas has basically stepped up and done what Moore expected Jeremy Guthrie to do while Guthrie has stepped down and done what I expected Vargas to do. And what most of us thought Guthrie was going to do, anyway.

Omar Infante -- As unimpressed as I was with the Aoki trade, that's how impressed I was with the Infante signing. I would say it was the biggest "go-for-it" move Moore has made since the Shields trade. Unfortunately, even compared to the Shields trade, it's been a disaster. Like Aoki, Infante has battled injuries this year, and he's lucky he hasn't missed more action.

But that doesn't change the fact he's posting his third worst OBP since 2004 (.302), his worst SLG since 2004 (.360), and he has three years left on his contract plus a $2 million buyout in 2018. Given the plethora of utility men Moore has developed and acquired (Johnny Giavotella, Christian Colon, Pedro Ciriaco), it's hard to even fathom Infante providing any value as a super utility man any of the next three years, let alone being a productive starter.

Danny Valencia -- Valencia, of course, is no longer with the Royals. He seemed like a decent addition at the time, though. At the cost of David Lough, Valencia appeared to be an ideal platoon partner for Mike Moustakas. Of course, Yost didn't really use Valencia unless he had to. Then again, Valencia didn't do much to force Yost's hand. And the fact Moore was able to flip Valencia into a semi-legitimate backup catcher and semi-legitimate Triple-A pitcher kept Valencia from being a complete flop.

On that note, I think it's fair to now look back at the Royals' Opening Day roster and state the obvious: Moore did a poor job of roster construction to begin what was supposed to be "the year" for the Royals.

Rather than go into the season with George "All I do is Hit Bombs and Walk" Kottaras, Moore thought it more prudent to back up Sal Perez with a glorified Triple-A backstop in Brett Hayes. And given all the teams that have disposed of Kottaras, maybe he has a personality disorder, but so what. Every playoff team in the league probably has at least one asshole on its roster. Put Kottaras' locker in the corner of the clubhouse and, in return, you don't have a complete black hole in your lineup when Perez gets a day off.

If the Royals were going to go into the season with seven infielders (including Billy Butler), why wasn't Emilio Bonifacio among them? What did Ciriaco offer that Bonifacio couldn't? Bonifacio would have been a much more competent replacement option for Infante during his injury struggles, could now be Moustakas' backup at third, or could've been a platoon option in the outfield. Or he could've just been a badass pinch running option late in games with a glove that would've allowed him to stay in the game.

Lastly, to this day, does anyone know why Justin Maxwell was on the Opening Day roster? Is there anyone else who catches lightening in a bottle and assumes it will last forever like Dayton Moore? I remember crushing the Maxwell trade when it happened and, of course, he proved me wrong the rest of the season. But if Moore seriously expected to get another .857 OPS out of Maxwell this year, he was out of his mind. Maxwell hadn't even posted a minor league OPS that high since age 27.

Five months later, Moore has shuffled that mess of bench fodder and turned it into Erik Kratz, Colon and Raul Ibanez. He had half a season to shore up the team's bench and the only reason it might be improved is that it started out in the negative.

Sure, it's just the bench we're talking about here, but we're also talking about the bench of a team that is trying to hold its own as a playoff contender. These are the players the Royals are going to need late in games (although this might be a moot point considering the man entrusted with making late-inning moves isn't actually very good at doing it). And these are the players the Royals will have to use if and when a starter goes down.

This isn't a video game. This is a real life playoff race and the Royals have rested their postseason hopes entirely on their starters. That wouldn't be quite as daunting had Moore actually showed up for work in July, but he didn't.

So as well as the last 18 games have gone, they're in the past. The Royals still have almost no room for error and they will still be depending on Infante, Moustakas, Aoki, Guthrie, Bruce Chen and that bench down the stretch.

Oh, and I'll be attending my first game since 2012 (pre-Shields trade) on Monday. So let's not discount my ability to send any team I want to win into a tailspin. You've been warned, Dayton.

Fire Dayton Moore