By Soren Petro
The Royals were already trying to answer several very important questions before yesterday’s announcement that Mike Moustakas would, in all likelihood, be lost for the season. How to replace Alex Gordon while he is out with a wrist injury? Who is going to handle the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation? Can Omar Infante handle second base as an everyday player?
Well now you can throw more questions into the mix with Moustakas ACL injury. Here are three major questions the Royals will need to answer with the end of Moose’s season.
1. Who handles third?
The Royals actually have a couple of options. Cheslor Cuthbert has been tearing up Triple-A and has at least showcased survival skills at the plate. While he is a fan favorite right now, his .250 OBP and .339 slug are going to wear on the fans quickly if they don’t improve. He looks the part with the glove but the bat will have to improve if the Royals are to thrive rather than survive with him at third.
Whit Merrifield is the second option. The Royals would prefer to not have to go down this road. If Cuthbert can handle third it allows Merrifield to handle the “Super-Sub” role the Royals have envisioned for him this season. Not starting at third also gives him a chance to be used as a pinch runner, which is an important weapon for Yost to have on his bench with Dyson being pressed into a more regular role.
An option down the road could be Hunter Dozier. After a disappointing 2015 that had him falling off many people’s prospect map, this year he’s putting up a slash line of .301/.370/.590 over 95 AB’s in double-A and 71 in Triple-A. Twelve homers and 12 doubles are a good sign he is mastering the strike zone from a power perspective, but his 17 BB’s against 43 K’s say there would be some pretty dramatic droughts for him at the plate in the big leagues. He looks more like the long-term answer at the position if Moustakas is not signed to a contract extension after 2017.
2. Who bats second?
Merrifield has handled the duties for the last three games. So far so good, as he was 6-for-15 with four runs scored in Minnesota. However, he is a career .274 hitter in the minor leagues and wasn’t able to conquer the bus circuit until he was 27 years old. Those two things generally don’t add up to a No. 2 hitter on a playoff caliber team. But, then again, there are a lot of baseball formulas the Royals have put together the last couple of years that didn’t traditionally add up to championship baseball. Maybe the career minor leaguer batting second is the Royals new batting theorem.
I’ll nominate my usual suspect here as well. I would like to see Lorenzo Cain pushed up into that spot in the order. In the last 10 years, there have been a number of baseball stat heads that have penned pieces supporting the idea of the No. 2 hitter being more important than the No. 3. Cain has been arguably the Royals best hitter the last two years and it is never a bad idea to get more AB’s for your better hitters.
Finally, I’ll nominate a healthy Alex Gordon. Gordon has struggled this year so a change of scenery in the batting order could do him so good. It would get him to the plate in the first inning with Cain standing in the batter’s box - which should result in more fastballs for Gordon. It also gives Ned is right-left-right top of the order he seems to be committed to. For his career (small sample size of 126 plate appearances), Gordon has slashed .342/.421/.532 when batting second.
3. How it affects Moustakas future with the club?
For this question, we’re assuming the “done for the season” conclusion most of us have reached is reality. A big part of this question will be answered by how quickly he can come back from the injury. You would assume they would perform surgery in the next week or 10 days. To make it easy let’s call it June 1st.
The modern rehab for your typical ACL injury is 9 to 12 months. Nine months would have him ready for the start of Spring Training. He would be watched closely for sure but would be able to begin getting ready to start 2017 in the starting lineup. If it is more like 12 months you are talking May 1st.
This is an important distinction. If the organization doesn’t think they can count on him for the start of spring, they will have to have another option lined up to handle third base. This could keep the Royals from trading either Cuthbert or Dozier in the off-season. Quality at third base is hard to find in the big leagues and continued progress form Cuthbert and Dozier could make them an attractive trade chip in acquiring the next veteran starting pitcher the Royals are going to need to sign. But that is a subject for a different day.
ESPN’s Jim Bowden said on The Program before the season that the Royals had the money to sign most of the corps of their team, but would probably have to trade one of the main players for prospects after 2016. The thinking being that they could replenish the system in some key areas to keep the winning window open longer than just 2017.
Moustakas rehabbing an ACL injury means you can’t maximize his value on the trade market if he is the one you were going to move, and with Cuthbert and Dozier, that is the position with the most depth. If he wasn’t the piece the Royals wanted to trade, it gets harder to determine his value on a long-term contract extension. That could be good if it drives his asking price down or it could be bad if it puts the Royals and Boras on different pages of what his value is.
There is no doubt a contract extension gets a lot riskier for the Royals now. Moustakas was batting .240/.301/.500 on the season. You like the slugging percentage but are at least a little concerned about the average and on-base percentage. It would be a lot easier to put a five-year contract in front of him if he had backed up last year’s breakout season with another 20 homers and .817 OPS. Any contract extension given this offseason would be a much bigger leap of faith.
By Soren Petro
The Royals resurgence has been greatly credited to the strength of their bullpen and Ned Yost’s willingness to ride that strength. It should come as no surprise that Ned is sitting proudly atop his bullpen horse again this year. However he’s going to have to consider waiting a little longer to bring his prized stallion out of the stable. Or will he?
Yost has gone to his pen early and often this season. The Royals bullpen is currently on pace for 567 innings for the season. We all remember the gloomy early days of Dayton Moore’s Spring Trainings and his stated goal of 1,000 innings for his starting rotation. We’ve come a long way from those days and those comments. The Royals are now defending World Series Champions and right now the starters are on pace for just 891 innings.
Here is a look at the breakdown of innings for the bullpen and starters in 2014 and 2015 compared to what the early pace is for the pen this year.
|Year||Starters IP||Bulllpen IP|
It is important to remember that it is early and the starters are not fully stretched out. Yost is, or at least should, be more cautious with how far deep into the game he will stay with his staring pitcher. Normal expectation would have the manager going longer with his starters as the year progresses, but as we all know Ned is not normal.
Here is a look at how the innings breakdown this year compares to the first eight games the last two seasons.
|Year||Starters IP||Bullpen IP|
Maybe it will change as we move along, but at least right now it looks like Ned is not just moving towards riding the bullpen more, but a lot more. A LOT MORE! The 28 innings from the pen is a 45% jump over last year’s usage at this time.
First reaction is that the Royals are going to need the starters to step up, but the first reaction to the Royals approach to things the last couple of seasons has been a bad indicator of future success. I think Ned and the Royals would love to see the starters walking off the mound after seven strong innings, but it certainly doesn’t look like Ned is going to sit around hoping for it to happen.
The Royals bullpen is a thoroughbred, but we’ll see how fast they are coming down the stretch after Ned’s been using the whip since the starting gate.
|AL East||Blue Jays||Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|Cy Young||Corey Kluber||Corey Kluber||Chris Archer|
|MVP||Carlos Correa||Carlos Correa||Carlos Correa|
|Rookie of the Year||Byung Ho Park||Joey Gallo||Byron Buxton|
|Royals Player of Yr||Eric Hosmer||Eric Hosmer||Eric Hosmer|
|Royals Pitcher of Yr||Yordano Ventura||Wade Davis||Edinson Volquez|
|Surprise||Yordano Ventura||Mike Minor||Omar Infante|
|Flop||Right Field/Dyson||Ian Kennedy||Chris Young|
|Cy Young||Max Scherzer||Clayton Kerhsaw||Clayton Kershaw|
|MVP||Bryce Harper||Paul Goldschmidt||Bryce Harper|
|Rookie of the Year||Corey Seager||Corey Seager||Steven Matz|
|World Series||Nats over Astros||Nats over Astros||Royals over Cubs|
|Blue Jays||Blue Jays|
|Chris Archer||Chris Sale|
|Carlos Correa||Carlos Correa|
|Byron Buxton||Byung Ho Park|
|Gerrit Cole||Noah Syndergaard|
|Paul Goldschmidt||Paul Goldschmidt|
|Corey Seager||Steven Matz|
|Giants over Blue Jays||Blue Jays over Giants|
by Soren Petro
In 13 years at Kansas Bill Self has made it to the Elite Eight, six times. Basically he’s been one win away from the Final Four almost every other year he’s been the head coach of the Jayhawks. The problem? He’s only won two of those Elite Eight games.
Good or bad… right or wrong (and it’s probably wrong)… the Final Four is the ultimate measuring stick of a coach and a program.
Cody Tapp pointed out last night on Sunday Sound Off (Sundays at 10:30 PM on KSHB, Channel 41) that there are now eight head coaches in college basketball that have been to more Final Fours than Bill Self during his 13 years in Lawrence.
The eight coaches are…
John Calipari – 5 (2008, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015)
Tom Izzo – 4 (2005, 2009, 2010, 2015)
Roy Williams – 4 (2005, 2008, 2009, 2016)
Mike Kryzewski – 3 (2004, 2010, 2015)
Rick Pitino – 3 (2005, 2012, 2013)
Ben Howland – 3 (2006, 2007, 2008)
Billy Donovan – 3 (2006, 2007, 2014)
Jim Calhoun – 3 (2004, 2009, 2011)
Bill Self’s two trips to the Final Four ties him with…
Jay Wright – 2 (2009, 2016)
Bo Ryan – 2 (2014, 2015)
Thad Motta – 2 (2007, 2012)
Jim Boeheim – 2 (2013, 2016)
So what’s wrong with the Jayhawks in the tournament? That’s the question most KU fans are asking themselves right now. Unfortunately the answer is never as easy as fans want it to be.
Now listen, I’m certainly not going to say that I have the ability to prepare a team for a tournament run any better than Bill Self, but I have watched a lot of tournament basketball over the years. So I will take a shot at it and offer eight possibilities of what is wrong with KU in the tournament.
1. Nothing. That’s right. The first possibility is that there is nothing wrong at all. It’s entirely possible that Bill Self is doing nothing wrong and is just experiencing a run where the ball isn’t bouncing his way in close games. Since Self has been at Kansas, Mike Kryzewski has been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round three times and the second round another time. Self’s next championship may be one freshman signing away.
If over the next 13 years Self makes six more Elite 8’s and goes 4-2 in those games winning two National Championships (right now he wins the title 50% of the time he makes the Final Four) he would have six Final Fours and three National Championships in 26 years. No one would be complaining about those numbers.
2. Extra Timeouts. If you watch the tournament you know that the networks jam a 30 second commercial in wherever possible. This basically gives coaches a number of extra 30-second timeouts. Theoretically this could give other coaches a chance to adjust to things that KU is doing, where in the regular season they don’t have that opportunity. It basically allows lesser coaches to catch up to what KU is doing.
3. Second Game of the Weekend. Self has lost the second game of a tournament weekend seven times, including the last three seasons. It’s possible that the Jayhawks need to do a better job of prepping for the second game. It’s possible they are worn out from the first game.
4. Recruit Better Guards. Don’t take this as a shot at Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham. Both are quality guards, but neither appears to be a next level talent. It’s not a coincidence the Jayhawks 2008 Championship team featured a couple (Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins) of McDonald’s All-Americans in the backcourt. Guards that can get their own shot or beat their man off the dribble can get teams out of slumps. It gives them a chance to make more shots.
5. Loosen Up on Offense. This one goes along with number 4. It is possible the reason Self has not been able to land the NBA caliber point/lead guards is because he is too strict in how he runs the offense. If you have to live with a little more one-on-one game and a few more turnovers to make the program more attractive to big-time shot-making guards, it could be worth it.
6. Play Freshman Earlier. Calipari has made a living out of playing freshman early and living with their mistakes. The biggest example is the 2014 Kentucky Wildcats. Huge expectations turned into a lackluster season and an eight-seed in the tournament. Calipari’s team was able to flip the switch in the tournament and advance all the way to the title game. He lived with the mistakes of his freshman early in the season and ultimately their talent began to shine and carried them to the final game.
7. Play Faster. This would serve two purposes. First, when you are the more talented team more possessions mean more opportunities to take advantage of that talent. Just as a seven game series favors the better team (they can overcome one bad night because they have seven chances to win four times) in the NBA, extra possessions in college creates more chances for the better team to make shots.
Also, every kid wants to play fast. They all want to get up and down the court and dunk the ball. Who doesn’t want to play in the open court. Speeding up the tempo gives the athletic player a chance to showcase their talent and sell their skills to the next level.
8. Recruit Athleticism. You could make a case that Self recruits skill more than athleticism. Andrew Wiggins would be the obvious exception. Players that are raw and athletic can get better skill wise. An unathletic player is not going to practice his way to more athleticism.
In conclusion, the answer is usually all of the above, and in varying degrees I think that is probably the case here.
I would say that number one has the highest percentage of truth. Self does so many things right as a college basketball coach I have to believe a lot of his trouble is simply a tough streak that will turn in his favor in the near future.
I do think he’s got to land more talented guards. I think the bigger emphasis on the dribble drive in this year’s offense will help make the program more attractive to the elite guards. Playing a faster brand of basketball will help attract the kind of talent that can get its own shot when the team is struggling to score.
Finally, there’s a great phrase going around today, “first world problems.” It should be remembered by all KU fans out there that in the world of college basketball, trying to figure out how KU can get deeper in the tournament is certainly a “first world problem.”