Looking Way Too Far Ahead – Opening the post-2017 Window



If you look at the Royals’ financial commitments past 2017, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of guys on the team today won’t be around two years from now.

Many of the contracts on the team will expire after 2017, so we tried to assess the situation and think of what the fate of the bigger likely-to-depart names might be, weighing the cases of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Wade Davis, specifically.

Joining Mike this week as guest co-host is Ben Nielsen, formerly of the Walkoff Talk podcast and various KC sports blogs. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenThereBro.

NOTE – Part of the conversation referenced future free agents, comparing current Royals to that crop. Unfortunately, we were going off a list of free agents for the year AFTER this class, which does change the equation a bit, at least so far as comparing potential Royals free agents to other free agents. Cain in particular won’t have as star-studded a cast to contend against when he’s a free agent, and Moustakas won’t have Donaldson or Machado to fend off. To me, the general conclusion is the same – that Moose and Cain are probably most likely to stick and have situations best-suited to find something now if they can – even if the steps to get to that point are slightly different. Thanks to Hunter Samuels for catching our error. The responsible parties have been sacked.

(Today’s short music clip: “Achilles” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

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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.

Royals/Mets World Series Preview Episode with guest Gary Mack From Mets Musings

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The Royals had their backs against the wall in Houston, came back, and won the ALDS. They faced a juggernaut. A powerhouse. A wrecking ball of an offense, but held on to beat Toronto in the ALCS.

And as a result, they won their fourth American League pennant and second in as many years.

What a world.

The Royals go on to face the Mets in the World Series, so we talked with Gary Mack from MetsMusings.com to get some insight on the Mets and to share our Royals thoughts with him and his listeners.

This is going to be a series of matchups: fastball throwers vs. fastball hitters. A powerful Mets team against a scrappy Royals team.

We also had to talk about the makeup of the Royals playoff roster and of course had to talk about the anxiety that we ran into during the Blue Jays series up until a remarkable Lorenzo Cain run, and Wade Davis’s unlikely return from rain delay.

It was a fun show and we’re hoping our next episode is celebrating a Royals World Championship.

Recorded 10/26/15

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.

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On Comebacks and Previewing ALDS Game 5

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After another historic comeback win by the Royals in the postseason, the ALDS goes to a deciding Game 5.

It comes down to a Johnny Cueto start.

But first, we talked about the Game 4 comeback and the approach that saved the Royals season.

Then we looked at Game 5, wondering if the big comeback can fuel the Royals to another win and another big run like last season. We asked if Dallas Keuchel would pull a Madison Bumgarner, if Eric Hosmer has turned it back on, and if the Royals can pull it off.

Recorded 10/13/15

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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):

Kansas City Baseball Vault: All Star Game Election and Watch Party Info

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Mark your calendar for July 14 when the Royals invade the All Star Game. We’ll be out at Kelly’s Westport Inn recording a live podcast and talking baseball while Royals fans come out to enjoy a watch party. There will be giveaways and guests and a lot of fun. More information will be posted here: www.facebook.com/events/822763797838454/

The Royals will send a record six players to the 2015 All Star Game after a flood of fan votes and some wicked relief performances.

We talked about the elections of Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar to the AL starting lineup, and the relief selections of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis. Where do they stand in relation to others at their positions? What happened with the fan voting and what’s next in that process? We talked about it all this week. We also talked about Mike Moustakas as the Final Vote candidate.

And then, on July 14, we get to see all the Royals in the game when we host an All Star Game watch party at Kelly’s Westport Inn. For more information, go to http://www.facebook.com/kansascitybaseballvault.

Email your thoughts to kansascitybaseballvault@gmail.com
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Pine Tar Podcast 10.13.14

David and Clint recap the previous two games of the American League Championship including the terrific play of Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.

Also David and Clint preview the rest of the series with the Orioles, talk a bit about which team they would prefer the Royals to face in the World Series and talk a tad about possibilities for next years rotation.

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