Royals Pitching Staff Adjustments and Playoff Possibilities

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This week, we talked about the demotion of Greg Holland and its impact on the bullpen plus the game of musical chairs taking place with the pitching staff. Appropriately, we recorded during a particularly disastrous Jeremy Guthrie start…

Then we talked about Alex Rios’s hot streak, Kendrys Morales’s huge Sunday, and the depth of the Royals’ lineup this year.

After a break, we checked in on the playoff standings and the potential matchups ahead, including some of the weaknesses the other teams have that make them less scary.

Also, we’re happy to mention that we’re a new affiliate of DraftKings.com. If you’re into playing daily fantasy games, we’d love if you signed up through our affiliate link HERE or by using promo code “KCBBV”. DraftKings offers daily fantasy games for baseball, football, MMA, golf, and many many more along with deposit bonuses and free games or games as low as a quarter.

AND — we’re back on iTunes! Here’s where you need to go to find us. Of course, you can also follow the podcast on SoundCloud or via Stitcher depending on your podcast app of choice.

Follow us at @KCBaseballVault
Follow the hosts at @TheJeffReport and @michaelengel

And give our sponsor, Kelly’s Westport Inn, a follow at @KellysBarKC

The Plan: Comparing HDH Last Year and Now

It’s a simple formula, and one that the Royals leaned on en route to their first playoff appearance in 29 years.

Get a lead. Pitch Kelvin Herrera in the seventh inning. Pitch Wade Davis in the eighth. Finish it off with Greg Holland.

In the ALCS, the trio – referred to by Orioles fans as “cyborgs” on more than one occasion – shut down the Baltimore lineup and recorded two wins and four saves. That’s where the national media really started to notice.

After last season, the Royals – as expected – stuck with the same blueprint to begin 2015, but on occasion there have been concerns that they aren’t using the trio as frequently. So I wanted to go digging and see just how often the Royals are employing the trio and how it compared to last season.

The result? Last year, Herrera, Davis, and Holland pitched in the same game 25 times in the regular season (15.4%). In the 2014 postseason, they worked together in all but two games (but the postseason is a different animal, with off days and less incentive to save an arm for tomorrow).

The most common utilization that developed in 2014 consisted of Herrera pitching a scoreless seventh inning, Davis a scoreless eighth to preserve the lead, and Holland closing out the game in the ninth. That happened 13 times (if I allow for times when Herrera started the sixth inning and continued into the seventh, which only seems fair). Then there were games in which the relievers came in and held the opponent scoreless while the Royals came back to take a lead. That happened four times in 2014. When the Royals used HDH together in games, they went 23-2*. Herrera and Davis gave up no runs in those games. None. Zero. Holland gave up five runs, but only three were earned. They rattled off either a Hold-Hold-Save combination 14 times in 2014 with three more instances in which Herrera pitched the seventh after which the Royals would get the lead and Davis would get a hold and Holland a save, thus giving Herrera the win.

*That can be a little misleading, as HDH would usually only be in games when the Royals had the lead, which would have to be surrendered. If the Royals were trailing, they wouldn’t be used, so the losses that occurred wouldn’t be in that record.

In other words, when these three combined, it was automatic.

Now, I don’t think there’s a unique synergy between the three that leads to their combined dominance. There’s nothing that says that Holland getting a scoreless inning is dependent on Herrera or Davis pitching one, though I imagine there may be a slight element of pressure on an opposing team that didn’t get a lead in the first six innings and would then recognize that they had to face the fire-throwing hydra.

Now, the trio’s dominance seems obvious, but it took the Royals a bit of time to settle into the pattern.

Ned Yost is a manager concerned with roles. He’s of the mind that relievers work better when they know when they’ll be called upon and what situations they’ll have to deal with. Holland is the closer and is used exclusively in the ninth inning. Davis was recognized early as an eighth inning setup man (and in 2014, he pitched earlier than the eighth inning one time), But Herrera’s use varied.

The first time the Royals used HDH together was April 4, 2014 against the White Sox. Jeremy Guthrie loaded the bases with two outs (surprised?). Herrera came in, gave up a hit, but got a strikeout to stop the rally. Davis pitched the eighth and Holland the ninth. But it was Francisley Bueno and Aaron Crow who pitched in the seventh. HDH didn’t see the same game until more than three weeks later on April 30. Herrera pitched the seventh after Danny Duffy and Crow allowed the Blue Jays to tie the game. The Royals took the lead after Herrera pitched a scoreless seventh and DH handled the rest.

It wasn’t until mid-to-late June that the Royals finally settled into their HDH groove. Before June 15, the Royals had only used the three in the same game five times. After, they did so 20 times, including 13 times in a 35 game stretch from July 26 to September 3. August was an HDH month.

Last season Luke Hochevar was used in that eighth inning role and he posted a 1.92 ERA. But he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow in March, so the plan had to be altered.

But once Davis began to have success in the role setting up Holland, “then it was like OK, find a way to get to the eighth inning,” Yost said. “And with Kelvin’s emergence this year, it’s like, ‘Let’s get through six.'”

– From USA Today, October 16, 2014

Overall, the Royals pitching staff covered 1450.2 innings. The bullpen threw 464 of those (31.99%), but HDH were the featured performers with 204.1 combined innings (14.06% of the Royals inning total) with 74 innings coming in games in which HDH all appeared. They allowed 29 total earned runs across all of their appearances, but the rest of the bullpen allowed 141 (in 259.2 innings).

It’s no surprise that Yost would lean on HDH when the rest of the bullpen performed so poorly. Crow didn’t give up a an earned run until his 20th appearance, but from that point, he had a 5.79 ERA (Crow had Tommy John surgery in March after a trade to Miami.) Jason Frasor was a solid acquisition to help add some depth to the bullpen, but he was never going to crack the HDH rotation.

And in the postseason, HDH pitched together in every game but one on the road to the World Series and in two of the Royals three wins against the Giants. They combined to cover 40.1 of the Royals’ 141 innings in the postseason (28.6%).

“For me, the whole focus is just get through the sixth inning tied or with the lead, so that we can get to those guys,” Manager Ned Yost said. “If we have the lead, I feel like the game is over. If we’re tied, I feel like they’re going to hold us there until we score a run.

From the New York Times, October 12, 2014

So, then, how does all of this compare to 2014?

I was surprised to find that the usage isn’t that much different than last year. This year, we’ve seen Holland go on the disabled list, Herrera get suspended, and Davis have some back issues. And still, the three have pitched in the same game 20 times in 141 games (14.1%) in 2015. And up until the September 9 game against the Twins, all of those games were wins.
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The “standard” usage hasn’t been quite the same though. This time, HDH has only had six Hold-Hold-Save combinations in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, though they do have seven games in which Davis got the win after Herrera had pitched with the Royals tied or behind.

Some of this year’s HDH moments have been by accident, that is, the Royals ended up using all three when it seems clear that they were trying to give one of the three a night off. Like July 21 against Pittsburgh. This was the game in which Jason Vargas started but blew out his elbow in the second inning. Joe Blanton had to cover 3.2 innings for him, and, after Ryan Madson pitched the sixth, Herrera tried to cover the seventh and eighth. He gave way to Davis, who faced one batter and struck him out, before Holland got the save in the ninth.

Or July 25 when Madson pitched the seventh with the Royals trailing 0-1 and held Houston scoreless. The Royals tied it in the bottom of the inning, which got Davis and Holland for the eighth and ninth. Herrera pitched the top of the tenth, after which the Royals got a walkoff win. There’s also August 22 when Davis set up for Herrera with the Royals up 6-2. But Herrera hit a batter and walked Pablo Sandoval with two outs, which put the tying run on deck, which brought out Holland for the save (Herrera had also thrown 25 pitches after the Sandoval walk). In those cases, the Royals tried to use just two of the three but ended up using all three anyway.

Unlike last season, however, the Royals have the luxury of a deeper bullpen. Ryan Madson has acted as an honorary member of HDH often this season, and Luke Hochevar has been mostly solid in his first season back from Tommy John Surgery. Many fans have extended the acronym to include one of both, as in HMHDH.

That has given Yost some leeway in using HDH. Holland’s had velocity issues and arm soreness all year. He’s had some stretches of no activity, even if he wasn’t placed on the DL. Davis has been unavailable here and there. Herrera, Davis, and Holland have thrown 162.1 innings combined through Sunday, 12.88% of the Royals’ 1260.1 innings as a staff. They’ve allowed a total of 40 earned runs. The rest of the bullpen has thrown 302.2 innings and allowed 99 earned runs. A much better balance than last season.

This year, Yost has opted to give guys a day off here or there. With a large division lead, he can go with the next best option and feel fine (again, a deeper bullpen makes this much easier, but running away with a division is a lot different than trying to catch a wild card spot). Yost also uses HDH in ways that optimize their situations. They usually start with a clean inning, free from the stress of runners on (though Herrera is most likely to be used with runners on).

So what does it all mean? The two things I noticed in looking at the game logs were as follows: 1) I thought the Royals had used HDH more often last season. 2) I didn’t think they’d used them nearly as often this season. Is there meaning in that? Or is it just how things work out? There have been situations where the Royals could have used their bullpen differently and chose different combinations. There were games in the past two seasons when the Royals starter went seven or more innings, preventing any HDH combo.

The Royals are going to lean on this trio again this postseason, and I expect it to be effective. It’s a blueprint for success that’s worked regularly already, and the Royals have had little reason to change it up (and no plans to, either). The Royals found a bullpen plan and between last year and this year, they’ve stuck to it in about the same way.

Below is a spreadsheet noting every instance in which HDH pitched in the same game between last year, last postseason, and this season (so far):

Step Back From That Ledge My Friend: On the Royals’ Four Game Skid and Panic

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We recorded this week’s episode as the Royals were seeking to snap a four game skid that sent the fanbase into an anxious frenzy.

We talked about a few of the legitimate concerns, but also wanted to point out the big picture: a talented team with a big division lead, with the calendar getting shorter every day.

In the past, the Royals rebounded strongly after four game losing streaks and we looked at the potential for that trend to continue (and after we finished recording, the Royals did snap the four game losing streak and all was well).

Also, we’re happy to mention that we’re a new affiliate of DraftKings.com. If you’re into playing daily fantasy games, we’d love if you signed up through our affiliate link HERE. DraftKings offers daily fantasy games for baseball, football, MMA, golf, and many many more along with deposit bonuses and free games or games as low as a quarter.

During last week’s episode we told you about the Royals Twitter Kickball event on September 19. As a reminder, more info is on our post here or at RTFKickballClassic.com. Darin Watson at Pine Tar Press also wrote something about this event that benefits the Bishop Sullivan Center.

AND — we’re back on iTunes! Here’s where you need to go to find us. Of course, you can also follow the podcast on SoundCloud or via Stitcher depending on your podcast app of choice.

Follow us at @KCBaseballVault
Follow the hosts at @TheJeffReport and @michaelengel

And give our sponsor, Kelly’s Westport Inn, a follow at @KellysBarKC

Some KC Baseball Vault Updates

If you’ve followed this particular site for any length of time, you’ve surely noticed that we started off with a quartet of Royals shows forming what we liked to call the Royals Podcast Network.

Well situations change and the other shows are on hiatus or not recording at least, but we’re still here. So you’ve probably noticed the title page and such have changed to reflect this shift. Our Soundcloud feed did so as well, and episodes feeding through Stitcher should be showing up labeled as “Kansas City Baseball Vault.”

The other shows may return at some time and we’ll gladly help spread their thoughts through this site just as we did in the past, but for now, you’re stuck with just Jeff and I.

So that’s the first update.

The second update is pretty cool. We’re back on iTunes!

You may remember that back in May 2014, there were a number of baseball podcast feeds taken down from iTunes due to references to specific teams or use of logos, etc. Well we were part of that purge and after some emails, we’re finally back.

There are two ways to find us on iTunes. First, you can go here and view in your iTunes. You can subscribe from there. You can also search “Kansas City Baseball Vault” in the iTunes store. We’re (for now) the show without a logo up (working on meeting Apple’s image size requirements. The other KC Baseball Vault is an older feed from our days doing the show on 1510 ESPN. You want the one on the left, that the poorly drawn arrow is pointing at.

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Of course, you can also follow the podcast on SoundCloud or via Stitcher depending on your podcast app of choice.

We’ve also begun a trial period as an affiliate of Draft Kings. You’ve probably seen the commercials, but if you’re the type to get into fantasy games, Draft Kings is a great place to play. They offer daily fantasy games where you can submit lineups in multiple contests for a chance at prizes. You just pick your lineup, stay under a salary cap, and let the games begin. Draft Kings has MLB, NFL, MMA, Golf, NASCAR, Soccer, College football, college basketball and NHL contests every day with many free of charge and some starting as low as a quarter.

To sign up through us, you can click the link here or the banner below:

Finally, just want to remind you of the charity kickball game coming up. The #RoyalsTwitterFamily Kickball Classic on September 19. The afterparty will be at Kelly’s Westport Inn where we’ll also watch the Royals game.

As always, you can follow the Kansas City Baseball Vault on Twitter and Facebook. You can follow the show’s host, Jeff Herr, at @TheJeffReport, and you can follow myself at @michaelengel. You can also email us any time at kansascitybaseballvault at gmail.com.

September Call-Ups and Playoff Rotation Possibilities

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There was a lot to cover this week including the following:
-potential call-ups in September
-the impending debut of Miguel Almonte
-recent starts by Yordano Ventura
-figuring out who might be the fourth starter during the playoffs between Danny Duffy and Kris Medlen

Plus, while recording, the Royals announced the trade for outfielder Jonny Gomes, so we added some chatter about him as well.

During this episode we also told you about the Royals Twitter Kickball event on September 19. As a reminder, more info is on our post here or at RTFKickballClassic.com. Darin Watson at Pine Tar Press also wrote something about this event that benefits the Bishop Sullivan Center.

Also, we’re happy to mention that we’re a new affiliate of DraftKings.com. If you’re into playing daily fantasy games, we’d love if you signed up through our affiliate link HERE. DraftKings offers daily fantasy games for baseball, football, MMA, golf, and many many more along with deposit bonuses and free games or games as low as a quarter.

Follow us at @KCBaseballVault
Follow the hosts at @TheJeffReport and @michaelengel

And give our sponsor, Kelly’s Westport Inn, a follow at @KellysBarKC

Kickball for a Cause

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I joined Twitter back in 2009. At the time, it was mostly to join in on the fun of live-tweeting Zack Greinke starts with fellow Royals fans. But what started out as just events surrounding Greinke’s games developed into much more. By 2010, I was blogging for Kings of Kauffman and Royals game live tweets were a regular part of the season. Through that, I ran into familiar handles and started to follow a large group of Royals fans.

And I’m not alone. Over the years, I’ve seen people get excited about local kids being drafted, by the trade deadline, by prospect rankings and debuts, and starting in 2013, winning Royals baseball. We don’t always agree on the best lineups or tactics but the common thread is a love for Royals baseball.

But I’m burying the lede here.

On September 19, Royals fans will gather at Gillham Park to play some kickball while raising money for Bishop Sullivan Center.

Here’s the plan: at 2:30, two teams will take the field (Field #2) for a rousing game of kickball. When the competition has concluded, we’ll move over to Kelly’s Westport Inn to watch the Royals play the Tigers.

Edit: We had hoped that the Royals would be in line to clinch around the 19th but the math and the schedule didn’t cooperate. Still, the Royals will take on the Tigers and we’ll be upstairs at Kelly’s watching all night.

Here’s the sales pitch: thanks to generous contributions from local sponsors, we’ll be putting many items up for grabs in a raffle.

These items include:

  • 5 Kansas City Monarchs-themed wine bottles, engraved by Manos Wine
  • A Zarda gift basket
  • Various Royals alumni signed baseballs
  • More that we’re still figuring out and that you can find HERE.

Raffle tickets will be available for sale during the kickball game as well as at Kelly’s Westport Inn after the game.

Tickets will be available in the following numbers:

  • 1 for $3
  • 2 for $5
  • 6 for $10
  • 15 for $20

All proceeds from the event will go to Bishop Sullivan Center. For more on Bishop Sullivan Center and their efforts to assist those in the community, you can find them here.

More updates on the game, including teams and rosters, and the watch party can be found at RTFKickballClassic.com and on Twitter at @RTFclassic.

Sizing Up the American League Contenders

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This week on the Vault we took a look at some of the key players on this Royals team. We discussed the breakout seasons of Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, as well as talked about the performances of Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura lately.

Then we discussed other AL contenders, taking a look at which teams might be the toughest matchups in October and compared a few records – in one-run games, at home, on the road, etc. – to make our choice. Tell us which team you least want to face in the comments or email your thoughts to kansascitybaseballvault@gmail.com

Follow us at @KCBaseballVault
Follow the hosts at @TheJeffReport and @michaelengel

And visit Royalspodcast.com for all the latest shows by and for Royals fans.

Kansas City Baseball Vault – Retro Show with guests Buddy Biancalana, Greg Pryor, and Freddie Patek

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With Retro Night coming up this weekend, we dipped into the archives to bring you three interviews with some former Kansas City Royals.

First, we talked with Buddy Biancalana, shortstop for the 1985 World Series championship team. He talked about getting into the zone, using fear as a motivator, and his World Series experience.

Then, we talked with Greg Pryor, also from that 1985 team. He talked about the memorable experience of Game 6 and winning Game 7, his favorite coaches throughout the years, and some wild baseball days he was a part of, like Disco Demolition Night, and the Pine Tar Game.

Finally, we talked with Royals Hall of Famer Freddie Patek. Patek discussed the seasons he enjoyed most, making it as a smaller player, grooming Frank White, and playing tough all the time.

Note: These interviews were recorded in the summer of 2012. Which makes one of Patek’s responses very interesting.

Email your thoughts to kansascitybaseballvault@gmail.com
Follow us at @KCBaseballVault
Follow the hosts at @TheJeffReport and @michaelengel

And visit Royalspodcast.com for all the latest shows by and for Royals fans.

Kansas City Baseball Vault (8/4/15) – Royals Are Bad Boys Again and Recapping Trading Deadline

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Well, the Royals found themselves in the middle of the diamond in a scrum again, this time trading words with Toronto over the weekend.

As a result, the Royals are wearing the “bad boy” tag again, after a couple months of no such incidents. Jeff and Mike talked about the fallout from that series and the perception – again – that the Royals are troublemakers.

Then we talked about the trading deadline and the teams that improved and what it means for the rest of the AL and the Royals, plus the matchups that might best benefit the Royals.

Email your thoughts to kansascitybaseballvault@gmail.com
Follow us at @KCBaseballVault
Follow the hosts at @TheJeffReport and @michaelengel

And visit Royalspodcast.com for all the latest shows by and for Royals fans.

Kansas City Baseball Vault – That Time the Royals Traded For Johnny Cueto

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With the best record in the AL and the biggest lead of any division-leading team, the Royals went out and got better.

We talked about the big, unprecedented (for the Royals) trade that sent Johnny Cueto to the Royals for Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed.

Not only is Cueto an ace, but his arrival also impacts the overall pitching staff and could help Yordano Ventura down the line as well.

We also discussed some other trade targets for the Royals and potential extensions for Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain.

Email your thoughts to kansascitybaseballvault@gmail.com
Follow us at @KCBaseballVault
Follow the hosts at @KCRoyalman, @TheJeffReport, and @michaelengel

And visit Royalspodcast.com for all the latest shows by and for Royals fans.