Testing THT’s Fan Experience Index in Kansas City: Part 1

In late June, as a regular Fangraphs reader, I stumbled across the Hardball Time’s Fan Experience Index, which rated the fan experience of every team in Major League baseball. The ratings didn’t show the Royals in the most positive light, as Kansas City ranked 27th overall in fan experience, according to THT’s ratings. I wasn’t necessarily sure how I felt about this at first: I didn’t grow up in Kansas City, so a lot of my fandom comes from a more recent lens. However, here’s a list of the ballparks I have been and seen games at over my lifetime:

  • Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals, obviously)
  • AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants)
  • Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland A’s)
  • Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Dodgers)
  • Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
  • Coors Field (Colorado Rockies)
  • The Kingdome (Seattle Mariners, pre-Safeco Field)
  • Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)

I have visited the grounds of Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs) and Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox), but never actually seen a game there, so I didn’t list them. While the amount of parks isn’t numerous, some of the parks I have listed were highly ranked in Asa Beal and Michael Wentworth’s rankings (San Francisco, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego ranked 1, 4, 5, and 6, respectively). And to be honest, while a lot of those parks were great, I didn’t necessarily feel that their fan experiences were 20+ spots better than Kauffman Stadium and the Royals.

So, I decided to make a two-part series post where I respond to the supposed “fan experience index”. In this first post, I am going to look at the rankings directly, and either confirm or refute their ratings based on my own experience as a Royal fan. Since I follow the Royals regularly, as well as go to games, I feel I have a pretty good accurate view of what the Royals fan experience is like, and whether or not Beal and Wentworth are spot on, or are letting their “West Coast” and “bigger city” biases get the best of them (which they admit in the article that they’re based in the West Coast).

In part two, I am actually going to recap an experience of a game at Kauffman Stadium on July 25th against the Tigers (a day game). This will be “actual” experience, and based on this recent visit, not only can I examine Beal and Wentworth’s claims of Kauffman even further, but also examine my own, and see where I was on, and where I may have let my own biases as a Royals fan come through.

So, let’s begin part 1 of this “Royals Fan Experience” analysis by directly responding to the late June article posted on the Hardball Times.


THT’s Fan Experience Index Criteria

I really admire what Beal and Wentworth are trying to do with this “fan experience index”. In reality, only one team can win the World Series, so while winning is important, winning is not the only reason fans come to the ballpark. There are a variety of factors and reasons that sway a baseball fan into deciding to pay for a ticket and come to a game in person instead of just watching it on their couch or laptop (because nobody likes to pay for cable these days). Thus, Beal and Wentworth come up with nine criteria that in their words ” judge the experience of being a baseball fan outside of your team’s World Series chances in a given year.”

Here are the nine criteria they list:

  • Affordability (18 percent)  — is attending your team’s home games financially feasible?
  • Ownership (18 percent) — is ownership committed to creating a positive on-field product while also maintaining an atmosphere in which a wide variety of fans feel welcome?
  • Game Day Experience (18 percent) — how enjoyable is seeing your team in person?
  • Ballpark and Broadcast Accessibility (15 percent) — how easy is it to get to games? To hear a broadcast in your native language? To feel welcome at the stadium? To access insider information?
  • Broadcast (15 percent) — how good are the TV and radio broadcasts of games?
  • Spring training facilities (9 percent) — how is the experience of seeing your boys in spring?
  • Laundry (5 percent) — how stylish are their jerseys and hats?
  • Social Media (1 percent) — do the franchise’s social media and marketing team add any fun?
  • Mascot (1 percent) — because why not?

I think those criteria are pretty fair, though I’m sure you could argue the weights they give to each individual category. Some may say affordability should be worth more, while others may argue that Spring training facilities should be less, if not inconsequential. Nonetheless, in this post, I will share Beal and Wentworth’s ratings, and whether I think the Royals rating from them should be higher or lower and why. All their ratings are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. And thus, their aggregate rating (an average of all the criteria) is a number out of 10.


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Affordability: 6. My rating: higher, but barely.

THT rated their affordability as a 6 out of 10, which I can understand if you’re not in the Kansas City area. If you simply buy tickets off the Royals website, the deals aren’t great, and it probably does merit a 6 rating, maybe lower. The cheapest seats at face value are around 11 dollars, which for a team that is near the cellar of Major League Baseball, seems like a steep price to pay.

That being said, the Royals are the master of specials, and also not “enforcing” the specials. What do I mean? I can buy student night tickets for “student” prices (which are $5, which I did for the Tigers game tomorrow) without having to actually prove I’m a student (i.e. not use a student email, id, etc.). It’s a loophole, but I think the Royals don’t go too hard in enforcing it because they need to get rid of tickets, especially this season where they aren’t quite the “hot item” they were from 2013-2017 (Now if you try to buy it at the box office, that’s a different story, as you will have to show ID). Also, you can find deals aplenty out there on StubHub or other coupons, as I was gifted a “season discount” package where I could get 4 free games (albeit with a $3.50 service charge per ticket) and 8 1/2 price tickets. And scalper prices are pretty reasonable as well, as you can get tickets in the $5-10 range in the parking lot the day of.

In terms of concessions, parking etc., I will probably go into more details about those items in my second post. That being said, I never found the prices too egregious when it came to concessions or parking (it’s $15 day of but you can get it cheaper if you buy it online), and again, much like tickets, there are plenty of days where there are concession sales. Fridays are dollar nights, where certain items like hot dogs and peanuts are only a buck each, which is something I know AT&T would never dream of doing.

If I had to rank the affordability of Kauffman (pregame of course; this is subject to change), I would probably rate it a 7. It’s gotten more expensive as the Royals have gotten better, but they don’t sell out every game, which means you can get cheap or fairly price tickets the day of. Hell, you can even get a good selection of tickets from the box office the day of a game, which is something that would be difficult to do at AT&T or Dodger Stadium. I think that counts for something, and I think there will be even more deals and affordable ticket deals in the second half as the season winds down.


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Ownership: 4. My rating: lower.

4 is pretty low, but I still think David Glass merits a lower rating. The guy was on the cusp of making the Royals the premier professional sports organization in Kansas City. He has the advantage of playing during the best season in the Midwest (the Summer, where everyone in the Midwest wants to do shit outside because they know what winters are like), and other than Sporting KC, they actually have a championship title to boast (unlike their NFL neighbors the Chiefs). And yet, not only did he and management fail to capitalize on this run, but they also have made things more expensive, a drag considering the Chiefs are already such an expensive product in the Fall and Winter months.

I appreciate that Glass didn’t go full Jeffrey Loria and totally blow it up after their run. That being said, he definitely could have done more to maintain the competitiveness of this squad so they wouldn’t have bottomed out three seasons after their first World Series title in 20 years. Another key aspect of this rating is also how the organization maintains an “environment in which a variety of fans feel welcome.” I struggle a bit with this one, as it is similar to the Chiefs, in terms of they cater to the traditional White, middle-class family in the KC Metro area. You don’t see a whole lot of cultural nights, or even a whole lot of diversity in fans to be frank (my friends made note of this once when watching the Royals game, remarking “You know, if everyone just judged KC based on Kauffman alone, they would think we were the whitest city in America”).  Now, I will say that I think the Royals do a much better job in this regard than the Chiefs: they don’t have the racist props; they really embrace Kansas City’s Negro League roots, especially when it comes to Buck O’Neill; and they do a great job with the KC Urban Academy. But compared to other ballparks and other organizations? Glass and the Royals still have a long ways to go. I give them a 3.


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Gameday Experience: 7. Accessibility: 3. My ratings: TBD

I’m going to go into these ones more in-depth in tomorrow’s posts. I feel a fresh experience in response to these categories would be more relevant anyways.


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Broadcasters: 5. My rating: higher.

The Royals television team consists of Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler in the booth, with Jeff Montgomery and Joel Goldberg as pre and post-game hosts (Montgomery does fill in on occasion in the booth). The radio team consists of Denny Matthews, Steve Physioc, and Steve Stewart. I tend to listen to more radio than television, as I do not have cable, I subscribe to the At-Bat radio (it’s not blackouts and only $20 for the year), and I like to do a lot of things while following games (the life of a teacher, I guess).

I enjoy the radio broadcasts for the most part. Matthews is a vet who has been with the Royals since the organization started in 1969. Matthews reminds me a bit of Jon Miller for the Giants, though he doesn’t have the pizazz for big moments like Miller. But I respect Matthews for his balanced, unbiased, and no-nonsense approach to the game, which makes the Royals games enjoyable to follow on the radio. Believe me, if you listen to some of those Yankees broadcasts on WFAN, it will make you sick how “homer” they are. Physioc and Stewart have their moments on the show, but Matthews is really the star of Royals Radio broadcasts.

As for TV, I have grown to like them more year by year. Lefebvre is fine, but it’s the combo of him Hudler that really make the broadcasts worthwhile. Lefebvre plays a great straight man to Hudler, who will go on tangents and have a lot of “catchphrases” that already have become the stuff of legend amongst Royals fans today. I know Hudler had a tough time initially, as he is a relative Royal outsider, and many people, especially the older generation, felt he was just off his rocker. Thankfully, Kansas City has warmed up, especially 35 and under fans, who seem to appreciate his goofy style more so than old-school Royals fans. Tonight, KC showed their appreciation for the duo with a special T-shirt night for fans, as evidenced in the tweet below:

As for the pre and post-game team, Goldberg has become something of an icon for Royals baseball and it’s easy to see why: he’s always there when Salvy is dumping water on players. I’m kind of lukewarm on Goldberg. He’s perfect for his role, has great energy, like Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” But like Fieri, if you get anything more than a few minutes of Goldberg at a time…well…he just doesn’t hold up well.

Overall, I would rate the Royals broadcast team a 7. I don’t think they’re elite (there are a lot of better broadcasts teams out there; as much as I hate the Dodgers, they’ve had some of the best), but they’re definitely better than the middle of the road grade they were given by THT.


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Spring Training: 10. My rating: lower, barely.

I have only been to Surprise once. I was in high school on Spring Break playing in a baseball tournament of my own and from what I remembered, it was a nice ballpark and a fun experience (Ruben Gotay hit a game-winning home run, and we heckled the hell out of the Padres’ Robert Fick). Plus, it is in Arizona, which is infinitely better than the humidity of Florida Spring Training spots. That being said, I remembered it being a pain in the ass to get too (I remembered we got lost going there and went to the wrong stadium by accident initially; this was pre-GPS days and there are a ton of MLB facilities around the Surprise area). Furthermore, it was a nice ballpark experience, as nice as a good Triple-A park, but nothing noteworthy. So, I would probably give it a 9.

Maybe the Royals Spring Training facility in Surprise is my trip for Spring Break in 2019?


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Laundry: 7. My rating: higher.

I love the Royals uniforms. I like the hats and the uniforms, and that they don’t try to do too much. I get that their look resembles the Dodgers, but people only say that because they both have blue and white. The Cardinals and Reds both have red and white, but you don’t see people complain or complain about it, right?

I also love the Royals powder blues, which they wear for Sunday games. I do wish they would go full boar with the powder blues and also have powder blue pants, a cry to their old school days in the 70’s and 80’s when they were a powerhouse in the American League and had a legitimate rivalry with the Yankees. I also liked their gold outline jerseys and hats, which they wore primarily in 2016 after they won the 2015 World Series (which most teams do anyways). However, I feel the Royals could get away with the gold more often, just because of the “Royalty” motif of their nickname.

The dark blue road uniforms are the only ones I’m down on and prevent me from going higher than a 9. They just look like Spring Training uniforms, and if they wanted to do a solid blue look, I felt they could’ve gotten a bit more creative with the jersey design. Overall though, I think the Royals uniforms are underrated and don’t get as much love as they deserve, mostly because they always get compared to the Dodgers.


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Social Media: 2. My rating: higher.

I admit: the Royals twitter handle is really positive. Like overly positive. I’m pretty sure the Royals twitter is handled by an intern who doesn’t want to piss off Dayton Moore and have to sit through another “anti-porn” seminar, or is a retired mother from Overland Park who has nothing better to do than tweet how much she loves her Royals. I do think though that 2 is pretty unfair. They are pretty responsive to tweets, and they seem pretty active on social media, even if it is a bit vanilla.

If it’s just based on the Royals social media, the rating probably would be around 4. However, I’m giving it a couple of more points (6) due to the affiliates who are just great, especially the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who post GIFs like a madman possessed by Four Loko. Yes, Wilmington’s only the High-A, Carolina League affiliate of the Royals. But that doesn’t stop them from being turned up on Twitter to the 100th degree, which merits a follow from Royals fans who are active on the Twitter-verse. Now if the Royals Twitter can get some help from these guys in Delaware.


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Mascot: 8. My rating: higher.

It’s a lion, who is considered “Royalty” of the jungle. He’s dressed in a Royals uniform. The hairs on his head look like a crown. He loves to wave the Royals flag, especially after a victory. And his name is Slugerrr…that’s right, with not one, not two, but THREE R’s. (That’s how we do in Kansas City! F your spelling!)

Look at the Giants’ mascot. A seal. The A’s? An elephant. The Rockies? A deformed, deranged Barney.

The Royals have a lion…lions were the stars of “The Lion King,” which kicked ass. Barney sucked. Nobody watched Operation Dumbo Drop. And you think people would go watch a movie called “The Seal King?”

I rest my case. Give Sluggerrr a 10.


ALCS - Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals - Game Four

Aggregate rating: 4.99. My rating thus far: 7.28 (with 7 categories)

So, my rating of the Royals is about 2.29 higher than THT’s ratings. Now, I didn’t weigh them just yet, so this is simply a raw average for now. If they took my rating, that would put the Royals fifth in between the Dodgers and Rockies. I like Kauffman and the Royals better than both those teams and their ballparks, personally, but I know I am a Royals fan, which colors my view a bit (plus my family cheers for the Giants so that also colors things as well).

Of course, this rating isn’t totally complete. I still have two categories to consider (ballpark experience and accessibility) so this rating could change after tomorrow’s game (which is why I didn’t weigh it; I feel those two categories are weighed so heavily that including the weights with this initial rating would be unfair, not to mention complicated). I do worry about accessibility since I definitely prefer the “mass transit to the ballpark” options of San Francisco and Oakland which Kansas City is devoid of. However, I can tolerate driving and parking if the commute is tolerable, which will be interesting to see during a day game during the week.

Let’s hope Kauffman Stadium and the Royals have a good one in store for Wednesday afternoon.

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Who is Heath Fillmyer? And can he help this Royals rotation?

The dreams of an undefeated second half came to an abrupt end four games after the All-Star break (I know I’m kidding), as the Royals wasted a 3-0 lead in the seventh and 4-2 lead in the ninth to lose 5-4 to the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium Monday night. (This Reddit thread will let you know who fans feel is responsible for the loss.) However, there were a few bright spots in the loss: the Royals had 13 hits, a sign that their offense is coming around; Brian Goodwin, acquired in a trade with Washington over the weekend, was 2-for-2 in his Royals debut (albeit as a pinch hitter); and rookie Heath Fillmyer, making his second big league start, was superb, going 6 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts and only 3 hits and 1 ER allowed.

Fillmyer’s performance has been the second-most-talked-about story from yesterday’s loss (as Brandon Maurer and his 14.25 ERA, unfortunately, has usurped all the Royals fan comment headlines). And it’s easy to see why, especially when one checks out the highlights from his start.

There’s been no question that the Royals starting pitching has been an Achilles heel for the club this season. While Danny Duffy has started to turn a corner after a rough start, the Royals staff has struggled to not only stay healthy but also consistently effective as well this year. Ian Kennedy, Jakob Junis, Erik Skoglund, and Jason Hammel are all examples of starters who have flashed some solid starts but have either failed to string effective ones together or stay off the disabled list. So, to see Fillmyer, recently acquired this past Winter in a trade with the A’s, to demonstrate promise in only his second Major League start is definitely cause for excitement amongst Royals fans, especially as Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, and the Royals organization try to figure out who will be part of their rotation plans in the near future.


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Who is Fillmyer and what has he done so far as a pitcher?

As stated before, Fillmyer, who originally played shortstop in junior college his freshman year, came over in a deal this winter along Jesse Hahn from Oakland for Ryan Buchter, Brandon Moss, and $3.25 million in cash. The deal was a bit of a dump for the Royals, who wanted to shed Moss after a disappointing 2017 campaign in Kansas City. Hahn was expected to be the prize of the deal and would booster the Royals rotation, as Hahn experienced some success with the San Diego Padres and A’s rotations in the past.

Unfortunately, Hahn hasn’t done literally anything yet as a Royal, as he was shelved on the disabled list early in Spring Training due to UCL discomfort (he recently has just begun a rehab assignment in Surprise, Arizona, the Royals Training facility). Thus with Hahn not pitching until just recently, the spotlight from this trade has been squarely put on Fillmyer, the 18th rated prospect in the A’s system according to Baseball America going into 2018.

Royals Farm Report had a pretty good little scouting report on Fillmyer shortly after the trade, which can be found here. Here’s a couple of key bullet points that Patrick Brennan wrote up on Fillmyer in the piece:

“Fillmyer works with a pretty slow, straight-forward, over-the-top delivery. Doesn’t feature a lot of moving parts and it seems easy to repeat. The arm speed looks really good, allowing for a sneaky mid-90s fastball that holds some good sinking action. From what I’ve seen, he commands this pitch really well, having a good feel for both sides of the plate…

“I like the chances that he ends up as a 4/5 starter in the major leagues. If not, I think his sinker along with his plus-secondaries can probably play in the bullpen…

“The Royals landed themselves a pitcher that will already rank high among the other arms in the organization. As mentioned above, Fillmyer was ranked the #18 prospect in a deeper Oakland Athletics farm system, so if we had to pin an early ranking on him post-trade, he’d probably find himself in the 10-15 range.”

So far this year, the results have been a little mixed in Omaha. In 13 starts with the Storm Chasers this year, he posted a 5.75 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 0.67 HR/FB ratio, and a K/BB ratio of 1.68. Those really aren’t great numbers, especially for someone in Triple-A. That being said, one could contribute his inflated numbers to his first experience beyond Double-A (he’s 2.6 years younger than the average Triple-A player), and the hitter-friendly environments of the Pacific Coast League. This is further evidenced in the high BABIP (.342) and abnormally low strand rate (62.5 percent). With more time, it may have been possible that Fillmyer’s numbers would’ve evened out a bit, especially considering the outings he’s showed before, as evidenced by his six-inning performance against Memphis earlier this year in the video below:

At the Major League level, some numbers look a lot nicer: six games total, two starts, 22.1 IP, 2.50 ERA, 0.81 HR/FB ratio. However, the advanced numbers aren’t so generous: 4.50 FIP, 1.30 K/BB ratio, .246 BABIP. If Fillmyer could credit inflated numbers due to high BABIP and hitter-friendly conditions, then the inverse could be true of Fillmyer’s performance thus far in Kansas City. Of course, Fillmyer’s sample is so small that it’s really hard to make any credible judgment of him as a pitcher just yet. We’ll need 2-3 starts before we can really make a solid, practical analysis of Fillmyer’s performance and outlook as a pitcher at the Major League level.


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What can we say about Fillmyer going forward?

There’s a lot to like about Fillmyer’s performance last night. It wasn’t exactly the best lineup hitting behind him, or defense (the Royals had Hunter Dozier at 3rd instead of Mike Moustakas; Drew Butera behind the plate; and Salvador Perez playing first). And yet, Fillmyer didn’t need much help as he pretty much cruised until he allowed two runners on in the seventh (and then promptly witness the bullpen tear his win to shreds). In the Royals sweep over the Twins, we have seen Duffy, Junis, and Keller all pitch well this season at some point, so while their wins and strong performances were nice, they didn’t shock Royals fans at all (it’s just surprising that they all came at once). Fillmyer’s, on the other hand, came a bit unexpectedly, especially considering the Tigers had a more established starter going against him in Francisco Liriano.

Fillmyer’s next few starts will be interesting to track. In addition to Hahn, Skoglund has begun his own rehab, and Kennedy may come back to the rotation at some point when he recovers. But, as evidenced by tonight, Fillmyer deserves an extended shot in the rotation for the time being, even with those other options available in the near future. As we have seen before in Omaha, Fillmyer has been a bit up and down with his starts, and no question his BABIP will rise in future starts, which will undoubtedly damper the ERA a bit. The only question will be how much will it rise?

It’s hard to trust Fillmyer because he’s not really an “elite” prospect by any means (BA graded him a 45 with High Risk). The K numbers don’t wow you, and he gives up too many walks, based on his numbers in the minors and even with the Royals. But, he definitely showed some confidence and poise in Monday’s start, and his moxie to convince Yost to keep him in shows that the kid at the very least is a competitor (even though it didn’t work; he gave up a hit the next batter and Yost promptly too him out on the second visit). Maybe Fillmyer’s future will be in the bullpen eventually (I could see those K numbers improving in fewer innings), but for the remainder of this season, I would rather see the Royals take a chance on a young prospect than take another look at Kennedy or Hammel at this point in the season (and I think many Royals fans would agree with me on this).

Who did the Royals get in Brian Goodwin? (And why did they make this trade?)

The Kansas City Royals should be in “tank mode” (there’s t-shirts and everything). They sit in the bottom of the AL Central, and they are battling with the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in baseball overall. Already the Orioles are starting to lean in fully to the “tanking” strategy, as evidenced by them trading superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a gaggle of prospects. One would think the Royals would also be “all-in” on such a strategy, eager to follow the lead of the O’s in order to keep pace for the No. 1 draft pick in 2019.

However, it seems like the Royals, both on the field or in the front office won’t go down this season quietly.

Already the Royals are 3-0 in the second half thanks to a weekend series sweep of the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman. And if that wasn’t enough, general manager Dayton Moore made an aggressive move in the wake of Jeurys Familia being traded from the Mets to the Athletics:

The move by the Royals is an interesting play, as it somewhat contradicts the notion that the club is “tanking.” “Tanking” teams are giving up Major League players for Minor League prospects, not the other way around. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at who the Royals received in the trade, who they give up, and why they decided to trade for the 27-year-old outfielder.


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Who did the Royals receive?

Since Jorge Soler went down with a foot injury in June, the Royals outfield has lacked depth and effectiveness. While Alex Gordon has held down the left field position this season, and Jorge Bonifacio has added some stability after returning from suspension, it’s been a bit of a rotating door in center field. Abraham Almonte underwhelmed and eventually was released by the club. Rosell Herrera has flashed some promise from time to time, but it’s clear he’s not a long-term solution. Paulo Orlando is a far cry from what he was a few seasons ago, and Alcides Escobar may offer some athleticism and defense at the position but doesn’t hit well enough to justify him moving into the outfield.

Goodwin, on the other hand, is a pure outfielder who comes in with a lot of accolades over his Minor League career, though his star has faded a bit over the past couple of years. Goodwin is a former first-round pick who was drafted by the Washington Nationals 34th overall in 2011 (the same draft year as Bubba Starling). Immediately, Goodwin was praised for a strong tools set, which included plus-speed, a solid ability to make contact, and a mature batting eye for his age. Going into 2013, Baseball America ranked him as the 70th best prospect overall, and Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked him as the 52nd best prospect overall.

Before, when I was writing on prospects at my Giants-centered Minor League site, Optioned to Fresno, I covered Goodwin leading into the draft. Here’s a snippet on Goodwin from that post written in 2011, where I quote a scouting report on Goodwin:

“He does a lot of little things well, and has four legitimate tools, lacking power as the only tool to make him the always coveted five-tool talent. And despite his lack of power, Goodwin will surprise you with his pop from time to time. Most of his power goes to the gaps, and his 6.5 speed allows him to leg out plenty of extra base hits. His bat is made for contact, as he excels at putting the ball in play and going with pitches to drive the ball up the middle and the other way. He is extremely fast out of the box, and gets down the line to first base as a left-handed hitter as well as anyone, allowing him to be a threat on infield grounders and bunt plays.”

Despite the praise and high expectations, things never went as planned for Goodwin in Washington. First, he was unable to find many opportunities in a crowded outfield that included Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Juan Soto, and Michael Taylor. Despite playing professional ball for seven seasons, Goodwin has only 144 games and 401 total plate appearances at the Major League level. With Soto and Eaton entrenched in the long term, and the Nationals most likely making a play for Harper this off-season, it just seemed like Goodwin was bound to be the odd man out in D.C.

Furthermore, while the Nationals’ outfield depth didn’t help, the 27-year-old outfielder didn’t do much to really sway management’s expectations on the field. In the minors, Goodwin has a career .253/.343/.399 slash with a .742 OPS and 53 home runs in 2,399 plate appearances in 565 total games. While those numbers aren’t bad by any means, they don’t “wow” or demonstrate that the Nationals were missing out on a lot. That being said, in Goodwin’s most extended stint in the majors in 2017, he actually impressed, and show glimpses of what he could do with regular playing time.

Filling in for an injured Adam Eaton, Goodwin hit 13 home runs and posted an OPS of .811 in 278 plate appearances in 74 games in 2017. While the average wasn’t great (.251), he made up for it with impressive power, as evidenced by a .498 slugging and .247 ISO last season. It’s easy to see why he was such a heralded prospect in the past when you check out his highlights from 2016 and 2017 in the video below:

Unfortunately, despite the promising extended look last year, Goodwin didn’t get much consistent playing time this year, as he filled in mostly as a pinch hitter with the big league club. He only has appeared in 48 games and has only 79 plate appearances, not much of a sample. And in that small sample, he only hit .200 with a .674 OPS and three home runs.

Goodwin will get a lot of starts and at-bats in the center field position this year, as he will be an upgrade over more free-swinging options such as Herrera, Orlando or even Escobar. The former supplemental-round pick demonstrates a patient approach, as evidenced by a 12.7 percent walk rate this year, and a 36.3 percent swing rate (it was 41 percent last year). To be more effective, he will need to improve his strikeout numbers, as he is striking out in 32.7 percent of his at-bat this year and posted a 24.8 percent K rate a season ago. That being said, considering this club’s problems with free-swinging out of the strike zone, Goodwin’s approach (he has only swung at 22.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone this year) may be a nice change of pace for this Royals lineup.

Another question will be how Goodwin adapts in the outfield along with Bonifacio and Gordon, who both have their issues defensively. In the outfield, Goodwin was rated as 5.4 runs below average defensively last season in his extended stint, and the fans scouting report from last year wasn’t too glowing either. While Goodwin will have his shot for playing time in the second half, his defense may be the difference in terms of him getting regular playing time, or simply being a fourth outfielder in Kansas City.


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Who did the Royals lose?

The Royals traded relief pitcher Jacob Condra-Bogan, a 32nd round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft who came from Georgia Southern (He was drafted originally by the Toronto Blue Jays). By no means is Condra-Bogan an elite prospect, as he is currently 23-years-old and playing in Lexington (where he is 1.1 years older than the average prospect). But, Condra-Bogan has demonstrated good command in his first full big league season, as evidenced by a 2.08 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 39 strikeouts in 26 innings with the Legends.

Condra-Bogan has an interesting backstory, as Maria Torres of the Kansas City star profiled him on June 1st. It’s definitely worth reading if you want to get to know more about the 23-year-old, who bounced around the foster care system growing up. However, while Condra-Bogan definitely is a feel-good player worth rooting for, he didn’t have much of a prospect ceiling as an older, relief-only arm. So it’s not a huge loss overall for the Royals farm system. Nonetheless, Condra-Bogan has his share of fans, as evidenced by the Tweet below:

 


Milwaukee Brewers v Kansas City Royals

Why did the Royals make this trade?

I found this Tweet pretty interesting from Down Under Fan (@RoyalDUF), who would have preferred the Royals go with some internal options in Omaha rather than acquiring the Nationals castoff.

In many ways, I empathize with RoyalDUF. The Royals plan ideally should be to rebuild the system by acquiring prospects and finding which players in the system currently are worth keeping and which ones aren’t. That’s not going to happen if players are still playing in Omaha or Northwest Arkansas. Maybe Schwindel or O’Hearn are Four-A players, but the Royals won’t know that unless they get at-bats against MLB players. Acquiring Goodwin definitely impedes that process from happening.

That being said, Goodwin is a low-risk acquisition who has potential to develop with regular playing time in the outfield. After all, he was a former first-round pick, was a highly rated prospect at one point, and has demonstrated that he can produce at the Major League level, as he did last season in Washington. While Condra-Bogan was a nice arm in the system, he was an older prospect in Single-A whose upside was a middle innings relief arm, maybe a setup guy at best. The Royals didn’t have to give up much for Goodwin, so that’s a win for Moore and the Royals organization.

It will be interesting to see too if this is the first of many moves for Moore as we approach the trade deadline. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Mike Moustakas is gone, and it also seems to be plausible that Whit Merrifield and/or Lucas Duda may be dealt as well (especially Duda, who’s been on a tear in the last couple of games). Thus, the Goodwin trade may be a sign of Moore being proactive, as Goodwin could provide the Royals with some insurance in the lineup once the roster becomes thinner and younger perhaps in the next few weeks.

‘Will they ever be Royal?’ (July 21st): Matias wows at Futures; Lee homers; and Starling injured (again)

I hope to post a weekly series called “Will they ever be Royal?” from here on out. The series name is a play on the famous Lorde song that got considerable play in Kansas City during the 2013 season, when they suddenly got competitive again, and set in motion their 2014 and 2015 World Series runs. Basically, these are quick bits on some important stories going on in the Royals system, especially concerning prospects.

These posts won’t be as long as my usual posts, and a lot of them will refer you to links where you can read more about the points I bring up. There are a lot of great sites that provide more in-depth prospects coverage, with “Royals Farm Report” being a prime one (follow their blog and them on Twitter; the writers really run the best Royals prospects site out there), so I want to defer to others when it is necessary. That being said, I will highlight key stories going on in the farm system which I think hardcore Royals fans should know about it. (Non-Hardcore fans probably have stopped caring about the Royals a month ago and are glued to Chiefs coverage.)

So here are some bits on what’s going on in the Royals farm system.


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Seuly Matias turns heads at Futures game

No Royals prospect has been more polarizing than 19-year-old outfielder Seuly Matias, who currently has 27 home runs with the Lexington Legends (he just hit his 27th yesterday), which leads not only the South Atlantic League but the Minors overall (I have written about Matias before on the Roto Royal). Matias has a smooth big swing with oodles of power, but prospect experts have been mixed on his projection. Baseball Prospectus lists him as the top Royals prospect in the system and ranked him 75th overall in their pre-season Top 100. Baseball America ranked him as the 3rd best prospect in the Royals system (behind 1B Nick Pratto and OF Khalil Lee) and graded him a 60 EXTREME (meaning that his future is highly questionable; he could be a superstar or bust). At such a young age, and with such big strikeout numbers (he’s striking out in 36.8 percent of his plate appearances with Lexington this year), it really is difficult to see how Matias will project.

However, Matias showed well in the Futures Game last Sunday, with his prime achievement being a majestic oppo-field home run off of Justus Sheffield, one of the top pitching prospects in the Royals system.

Take a look at the home run, via Twitter:

And if that wasn’t enough, this is what former Red Sox DH and World team manager David Ortiz said about Matias after his 2-for-3 performance in the Futures Game:

That’s some strong praise indeed. Matias has gone under the radar a bit this season because the Royals system is not highly ranked, and he still is a few years away from really having an impact at the Major League level. However, after a great All-Star weekend, the magnifying glass is on the young Dominican outfielder. It will be interesting to see how the kid will not only handle the increase of attention from Royals fans and the media but also opposing pitchers in the second half of the Minor League season.


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Khalil Lee hits first home run in Double-A

The No. 2 prospect in the Royals system according to Baseball America, and the No. 4 prospect according to Fangraphs, Khalil Lee is an outfield prospect who has a big arm, and relies on his speed. According to Fangraphs, his arm rated as a 60 on the 20-80 scale, and his speed currently rated as a 55. Lee has demonstrated a knack to be aggressive on the basepaths, as he stole 20 bases last season in Lexington and has 16 so far between Wilmington (A+) and Northwest Arkansas (AA). Unfortunately, while Lee has the speed, he still has to develop his instinct on the bases as he was caught 18 times in Lexington last season. That being said, he has been much more proficient in 2018, as he has only been caught three total times this year, a significant improvement in success rate from a year ago.

Alex Duvall wrote a great piece on Lee for The Royals Farm Report four days ago, and had this to say about Lee:

Khalil Lee’s elite on-base abilities combined with his speed separate him from plenty of folks at similar levels. He walks like a power hitter and runs like a leadoff hitter. Pretty good combination for a leadoff hitter. Lee has been leading off a lot for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals, a position I’d like to see him stay in long-term. He is going to be so much fun to watch when he gets to Kansas City.

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Lee since being called up to Northwest Arkansas just three days after his 20th birthday. After posting a .270 average and .808 OPS to go along with four home runs and 14 stolen bases in 301 plate appearances in the Carolina League with Wilmington, Lee is only posting a .224 average and .638 OPS to go along with 1 home run and 2 stolen bases in 80 plate appearances in the Texas League.

However, on July 18th on the road against Springfield, Lee launched his first Double-A home run, which proved to be an absolute bomb as evidenced below:

Much like Matias, opinions differ on Lee’s projections going forward, as he is a strong athlete, but still has to work on a lot of aspects of his game, especially when it comes to making contact. He had a 32.1 percent strikeout rate in Lexington last year, and though his rate has declined, it still has been pretty high as evidenced by 24.9 percent and 23.8 percent K rates in Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas, respectively. However, Patrick Brennan, founder of Royals Farm Report, posted this on Twitter in reference to a 2080 Baseball article that ranked the Top 125 Prospects of the Midseason.

Lee is making good progress in the Royals system, as he is 2.4 years younger than the average player in Double-A. So there isn’t tremendous pressure on him to “produce” right away (development is the main focus for him now). Thus, it will be interesting to see how he continues to develop not just this season in Northwest Arkansas, but this Fall and beyond.


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Bubba Starling out at least six weeks

Things haven’t turned out as expected for Bubba Starling, the 5th overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft. Despite signing one of the largest signing bonuses in Royals history at the time, the local Gardner, Kansas high school three-sport star has failed to live up to the considerable hype he received when he decided to pursue professional baseball instead of football at Nebraska. Originally ranked as the 24th best prospect in baseball going into 2012 by Baseball America, Starling has only posted a .235 average and .693 OPS in 617 games and 2,483 career plate appearances over seven seasons. Though he certainly has the size at six-feet, four inches, and 215 pounds, the tools never really developed for Starling over the course of his Minor League career.

However, despite his lackluster performance, Starling still is on the Royals’ 40-man roster (as of July 21st) and there was hope that with the Royals tanking and going nowhere, Starling would debut this year with the big league club at some point. However, Rustin Dodd of the Athletic posted this on Twitter on July 19th:

Apparently, Starling suffered the injury while falling out of bed, an injury that will rank up there with Clint Barmes falling down the stairs while carrying deer meat. The setback is just another one of many for Starling this year, as he has only played in 11 games in Omaha this season due to various injuries. With him being shelved for another six weeks, it seems less and less likely that we’ll see Starling up with the Royals club this season…or perhaps ever at all.

Starling will turn 26 in August, and it seems certain that he just doesn’t have the skills or ability to be a Major League player (Age 26 is the prospect peak, meaning they are what they are as a player at this age). I’m sure Starling is a great person, and maybe he could return to football and have a Brandon Weeden-esque quarterback career or something. But after this latest setback, and with the Royals most likely going to add more pieces to their system by the trade deadline, it may be best for both sides if Starling finally steps away from baseball once and for all.

 

Can the Pirates’ Polanco and Cardinals’ Ozuna turn around their fantasy (and team’s) fortunes in the 2nd Half?

The NL Central has certainly seen its share of shakeups this season. After 18 games and a 3-15 start, the Reds fired manager Bryan Price. Even though the club still sits in the cellar of the Central, they have been more competitive as they have posted a record of 40-38 under new manager Jim Riggleman (and Billy Hamilton has increased his fantasy value consequently as well).

The St. Louis Cardinals made a huge move near the end of the first half of the season, firing longtime manager Mike Matheny after a 47-46 start this season. Though the Cardinals were relatively successful in the regular season under Matheny (they never had a losing season and he finished with a winning percentage of .555 in six-and-a-half seasons), the lack of a World Series title, missing the postseason the last two seasons, and rumors that he had lost respect in the clubhouse ultimately led to his relief of duty mid-season.

And lastly, even though the Milwaukee Brewers sat atop the NL Central standings most of the first half, and the Pirates hovered near the bottom part, in the last series before the All-Star break, the Pirates swept the Brew Crew in a FIVE GAME series to knock Milwaukee out of first place, and 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs. Consequently, Brewers fans spent the All-Star break in panic mode, fearing deja vu. Last season, they went through a similar swoon in the second half of the year where they went from the top of the standings to out of the playoff picture during the late summer months. Don’t be surprised to see the Brewers an active player at the Trade Deadline in order to prevent the same kind of “burn out” from happening again in 2018. (Though considering the Josh Hader Twitter controversy during the All-Star game, falling out of the playoff race may be the least of Brewer fans’ problems.)

While the AL Central has been pretty much a snoozefest and a showcase of mediocrity (The Cleveland Indians have seemed to be in first place for like…forever), the NL Central has proven to generate its share of excitement, with more drama forecasted over the season’s second half. (I mean, who saw the Cardinals winning 18-5 against Jon Lester in Wrigley Field?)

As the home stretch of the season begins, there will be two outfielders to pay attention to not only for fantasy purposes but also in terms of how they impact the NL Central race in the second half: the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gregory Polanco and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Marcell Ozuna. Let’s break each player down individually.


MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets

Gregory Polanco, OF, Yahoo! Rank: 113; 73% owned, 60% started in Yahoo! Leagues.

Stats: 49 runs scored, 16 home runs, 51 RBI, 5 SB, .235 average, .823 OPS

Gregory Polanco struggled with injuries a year ago, as he only played 108 games and had 411 plate appearances in 2017. Lingering hamstring issues resulted in deflated numbers across the board: .251 average, .695 OPS, 39 runs scored, 11 home runs, and 35 RBI. (To compare here’s the same line in 2016: .258 average, .786 OPS, 79 runs scored, 22 home runs, 86 RBI in 587 plate appearances). It was questionable which Polanco fantasy baseball and Pirates fans were going to see in 2018: the one that looked like a budding All-Star in 2016 or the one who looked injured and impatient at the plate in 2017.

So far, it’s been a bit of both for Polanco in the first half of the year.

Polanco is showcasing the power again, as his .249 ISO is the highest mark of his career thus far, resulting in 16 home runs before the All-Star break. He is also showing a more discerning eye at the plate as well, as his 12.9 BB percentage would also be a career high as well, and almost double his percentage from a year ago. Without a doubt, it seems like Polanco is fully strong and healthy, and his power numbers certainly demonstrate that and then some.

That being said, it hasn’t been all “sunshine and rainbows” for Polanco in 2018. Despite a tick in power numbers and walk percentages, he still is striking out at a decent clip, as his 23 percent strikeout rate is also a career high. This has resulted in him having a low average at .235, 16 points down from a year ago, and 20 points down from his breakout season of 2016. This may be a result of Polanco maturing as a hitter and becoming more selective: his swing percentage is down at 44 percent, nearly 5 percent down from a year ago. But, even though he is more selective, he hasn’t always made his swings count, as his contact rate is down around 77 percent from 82 percent a year ago, and his swinging strike percentage rose from 8.9 last year to 9.8 so far this year.

Polanco has also benefited from wild stretches of play this season, especially when it comes to power. He hit six home runs in the March and April months and five home runs so far in July, but only hit five combined in June and July. However, while he demonstrated more power in March/April and July, he only hit .195 and .229 (thus far), respectively. On the other hand, though his power numbers were down in the May and June months, he hit better for average, as evidenced by a .306 average in the month of June (his .232 average in May was far less impressive and that month was the stretch where he struggled the most).

The 26-year-old Dominican outfielder has been on a tear as of late, and his hot streak has gotten the Pirates back in the Wild Card mix, even if they remain a long shot (it’s hard to see them doing it considering their starting pitching). A big reason for hope is that the Pirates coaching staff has helped Polanco with his approach, having him step back further in the box before his hot streak so he could get the barrel of his bat around balls quicker. Pittsburgh Tribune writer Chris Adamski in his piece about Polanco highlighted this interesting bit which reveals Polanco’s adjustment in the box:

‘”(Manager Clint Hurdle) called me into the office and he said, ‘Hey you have got to move back from the plate because you have long arms,’ ” Polanco said. “So (Hurdle and the Pirates’ two hitting coaches told Polanco), ‘Just move back and give yourself some space because you are getting jammed, but when you’re back that’s when you hit the ball on the barrel.’…Polanco went from flirting with the Mendoza Line to becoming one of the National League’s best hitters over a span of almost a full month. His .447 on-base percentage and 1.104 OPS since June 10 each rank third among all NL players.”

It will be interesting to see if this small adjustment will continue to help Polanco in the late July, August and September months. He’s a notoriously streaky hitter and he has demonstrated that already in the first half with his vastly different months production-wise. Yes, the power is promising and probably legitimate, but non-existent speed on the basepaths (he only has 5 stolen bases; the days of him being a 20-base threat may be gone), and his declining contact rates should tamper fantasy owners’ and Pirates fans’ excitement for “El Coffee” just a little bit in the second half.


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Marcell Ozuna, OF, Yahoo! Rank: 385; 94% owned, 78% started in Yahoo! Leagues.

Stats: 38 runs scored, 10 home runs, 50 RBI, 2 SB, .270 average, .695 OPS

St. Louis has not been kind to newly acquired outfielders coming to the “Arch” city as of late. After putting up a 128 wRC+ and .276/.393/.447 slash line in the Cubs’ World Series championship season in 2016, Dexter Fowler has declined sharply as a Cardinal, as evidenced by his 56 wRC+ this season.

Unfortunately, the same could be true of Marcell Ozuna, who came over from the Miami Marlins this offseason via trade.

Ozuna was an absolute beast with the Marlins a year ago, lost in the spotlight thanks to a crappy market and larger-than-life superstar in Giancarlo Stanton. Though Stanton garnered more attention (and the bigger contract from the New York Yankees this offseason), Ozuna absolutely tore the cover off the ball in his final season in Miami. In 679 plate appearances, Ozuna hit 37 home runs, drove in 124 RBI, scored 93 runs, hit .312 and posted an OPS of .924. Hence it made sense why Ozuna ranked in the Top-50 in Yahoo! leagues this off-season and considered a second-to-third round draft choice.

But much like Fowler, the performance hasn’t translated on the eastern side of Missouri. Ozuna is down all across the board, and his wRC+ sits at 90, nearly 52 points below his mark last season in South Beach. Though Busch Stadium profiles a bit as a pitcher’s park, so does Marlins Park, which makes Ozuna’s sudden decline concerning for Cardinals fans as well as his fantasy owners.

Now, there are a variety of factors in play that can explain Ozuna’s “down” season in St. Louis. For starters, Ozuna hasn’t always been a high-average hitter, as his batting average each year from 2013-2016 (before his breakout year) was .265, .269, .255, and .266. Not terrible by any stretch, but not the .300 plus mark he demonstrated in 2017. The key reason why it went up so much last year? Well, one could credit that to the BABIP monster, as his BABIP was .355 in 2017, his highest mark as a professional. While his BAIP had been in the .320-.330 range before in his career, the .355 mark probably was more an indicator of luck than skill, as 25-35 points higher than typical is just unsustainable. Currently, his BABIP is .312 which is close to league average and more akin to what he had showcased in the past, hence the dip in average.

On the other hand, the dip in power is a bit more concerning, as he hit 23 home runs in 2014 and 2016 prior to his 37 home run output last year. Having only 10 home runs thus far and an ISO of .115 (which would be a career low) is not typical for him and a serious regression for a hitter who was just starting to fully realize his power stroke a year ago. So…what gives with Ozuna’s lack of punch?

Too many groundballs, and not making his flyballs count.

Ozuna has always hit a lot of groundballs before, as he had a 1.41 GB/FB rate a year ago during his power surge. This year though, not only is he hitting even more groundballs, as evidenced by a 1.51 rate, but his fly balls don’t pack the same punch. Last season, he had an HR/FB of 23.4 percent. This year? That percent is 10.8 percent. That needs to improve if he wants to salvage something at the plate in the second half. On a positive note, Ozuna still hits the ball hard, as his hard-hit balls percentage is actually up at 46.5 percent (it was 39.1 percent a year ago). Thus, it may be a sign that he just needs more luck and see some of those balls to go out of the park rather than stay in the yard or worse, in the gloves of opposing outfielders.

Ozuna doesn’t exactly have the most patient eye (especially in contrast to Polanco), and that has never been more evident this year with his 0.29 BB/K ratio. And yet, other than BB/K ratio and the standard scoring categories, a lot looks the same statistically for Ozuna in comparison to previous years: his plate discipline numbers are close to his career average, and he has actually improved in contact rate and swinging strike percentage. Yes, Ozuna isn’t duplicating his 2017 numbers, but he still has the potential skill-wise to replicate what he did before from 2013-2016 if some breaks go his way in the second half.

Who knows what has been the true reason behind Ozuna’s underwhelming season in the Cardinals red. Overembellished expectations from Cardinals fans and fantasy owners? Not gelling with his new club? Pressing under former manager Matheny? The list could go on and on, really.

But, Ozuna isn’t as mediocre as what he’s showed in the first half. And if he can get back to his normal, average numbers, (especially in power and run production) then well…not only will his fantasy owners be happy, but the Cardinals faithful will also be too. (Not easy to do considering they’re the “best fans in baseball.”)

/vomiting after re-reading the last sentence I just wrote…

It’s the end of an era for Baltimore (and Kansas City too) after the Machado trade

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After hanging out at the All-Star game, Manny Machado (left) and Matt Kemp will be teammates in the 2nd half of the 2018 season. (Photo Credit: USA Today)

Manny Machado is one of my favorite players in baseball, not easy to do since commissioner Rob Manfred feels some MLB’s stars don’t “engage enough” to be marketable. (To be fair to Manfred though, Mike Trout can be as engaging as Colton Underwood from this season’s “Bachelorette.”) That being said, most of my affection for Machado stems from having him on my fantasy team for almost seven years now. I was able to acquire Manny Machado in my fantasy league off of waivers when he debuted for the Orioles in August of 2012. The rush for him from other league owners was insane, as nearly every team in the league put in a waiver bid for him. It made sense. He was not only the top prospect in the Orioles system, but he was considered one of the top prospects in baseball at the time, some characterizing him as the next Alex Rodriguez. Machado had the size (he stood six foot, three), the youth (he broke into the Majors not too long after his 20th birthday), the defense (many projected him as a perennial Gold Glove player; they weren’t wrong) and the rare combination of ability to hit for average and power that most middle infielders could only dream of.

I named my fantasy team “Machado, Machado Man” (a play on this famous song) in honor of him for a couple of seasons (before I eventually settled on my current name: “(Chien) Ming Dynasty“; a combo of the Ming Dynasty of China and Chien Ming Wang, a pitcher formerly of the Yankees). And for Orioles fans, baseball fans in general, and me as a fantasy owner, Machado hasn’t disappointed.

Over his seven seasons, Machado has accumulated a WAR of 30.9, has four All-Star Appearances, and two Gold Gloves to his name. He’s hit 162 home runs in his career thus far, an average of 31 dingers per season. And most importantly, he’s helped make the Baltimore Orioles relevant, no small feat considering they’re in a division with traditional MLB powers such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

After back to back ALCS appearances in 1996 and 1997 (which included young Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier interfering with play and robbing a home run at Yankees Stadium which supposedly turned the tide of the series), the Orioles fell into a tremendous rut of mediocrity that probably should’ve been profiled in some way on “The Wire“. The successful days of Mike Mussina and Armando Benitez on the mound, Cal Ripken in the infield, and Brady Anderson and Geronimo Berroa in the outfield became a ghost of the recent past, as the Orioles and the fans in Baltimore suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998-2011. The Orioles became a roundhouse combo of lousiness: they overpaid for veterans who had no impact (Rafael Palmiero and Miguel Tejada), picked poorly in the draft (Wade Townsend, Billy Rowell, Matt Hobgood to name a few), and failed to have any stability in management, whether it was in the dugout or front office.

After drafting Machado in 2010 with the third overall pick, the Orioles fortunes began to change. Just two years after drafting Machado and hiring Buck Showalter as field manager and Dan Duquette as General Manager (both moves were criticized by experts around the league; as many felt they were retreads in baseball circles, failing with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox before, respectively), the O’s made the playoffs with a 93-69 record, which included a win in the AL Wild Card play-in game over the Rangers, and an exciting five games series with the rival Yankees (they lost 3-2). 2012 in many ways could be likened to the 2014 Kansas City playoff run in which the MLB team captured the attention and endearment of the city. Baltimore was no longer dominated just by the Ray Lewis and the Ravens. For a brief glimmer of time, Baltimore became a baseball town again, and Machado was front and center leading the charge.

For five more seasons, the Orioles remained competitive, making the playoffs two more times (2014 and 2016; they were ironically swept by the Royals in 2014, though Machado didn’t play that series due to injury), and only having one losing record in that time span (in 2017, where they went 75-87; most of that was credited to a late-season swoon where injuries hurt the club). As the Orioles became more competitive, Machado developed as a player. He didn’t quite maintain the defensive prowess he displayed early on in his first two seasons, but he did display a stronger power stroke, as he posted three straight seasons of 30+ home runs from 2015-2017. Debates in baseball circles fluttered about what position Machado really should’ve been playing. (Was he a shortstop or a third baseman?) However, as Machado entered his Age 25 and final season of club control, there was no debate that he was one of baseball most high-profile stars.

Orioles fans probably knew that the shoe of this competitive run was going to drop sooner or later. After all, it is Baltimore, where “The Gods will not save you.” Despite Machado being in the midst of one of his best offensive seasons yet (he has 24 home runs, a .963 OPS, and an OPS+ of 164), the Orioles have rekindled their early 2000’s selves (i.e. shitty), battling in the basement of the American League along with the Royals, both on pace for nearly 120 losses. (Such a far cry from their 2014 ALCS matchup, right?) With Machado going to command a big payday in the offseason, and a dire need to rebuild the farm system (the farm system has ranked below league average since 2014, according to Baseball Prospectus), Machado was finally traded, after weeks of rumors, to the defending NL Champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, for an impressive haul of prospects.

It sucks. I grew up a San Francisco Giants fan living in Northern California, where hating the Dodgers came as natural as voting for a Democratic candidate in an election. To see Machado, one of my favorite players and the lynchpin of my fantasy baseball team for seven years (because I got him as a rookie keeper, he started off as a 20th round draft pick his first full year and has gone up one round every year since; yes, it’s the deal of the century) now wearing Dodger blue makes me sick. He should’ve been an Oriole for at least one more contract (like five-seven years). He should be up there with legends like Brooks Robinson and Ripken. Instead, he’ll just be another cog in the Dodgers long history of “irritating players of greatness,” while the Orioles and their fans have to suffer undoubtedly through another stretch of losing, hoping that another Machado will come around to save them sooner rather than later.

(To get a sense of the Orioles fan perspective, I embedded this link I found on Twitter. It was tough to watch this video below of Mallory Rubin of the Ringer say goodbye to Machado; it just goes to show you how rough it is for Orioles fans to be the black sheep of the AL East.)

And to make matters worse, Machado’s trade and the Orioles’ decline most likely is a sign of the lean years in store for Kansas City as well.


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First Machado (right, orange) left the Orioles; Is the Royals’ Mike Moustakas next?

 

Strangely enough, the Orioles and the Royals have been joined at the hip when it comes to their standing in Major League Baseball since the early 80’s. As the Orioles have risen to competitiveness in the 2010’s, the Royals have followed. The Orioles won a World Series in 1983. The Royals won two years later in 1985. The Orioles made the playoffs in 2012 after a 14-year absence. The Royals made the playoffs in 2014 after a 20-year absence. In their first playoff game after a lengthy absence, the Orioles won the Wild Card play-in game in dramatic fashion over an AL West foe (the Rangers). In their first playoff game after a lengthy absence, the Royals won the Wild Card play-in game in dramatic fashion over an AL West foe (the Athletics).

And of course, don’t forget the epic fight between the two clubs in 2016 which started with Machado and Royals pitcher Yordano “Ace” Ventura (RIP).

To further demonstrate the close Orioles-Royals connection in the 2010’s, baseball fans have to look no further to the 2010 MLB Draft. In what many people considered a three-player draft, the Orioles selected Machado with the third pick after Bryce Harper at 1 (to the Nationals) and Jameson Taillon at 2 (to the Pirates). Who had the fourth? No other than the Royals, who selected Christian Colon, a light-hitting, defense-first shortstop out of Cal State Fullerton. Unlike Harper or Machado, Colon has failed to stay in the Big Leagues, as he was waived by the Royals last season, and currently is in the minors in the New York Mets organization.

Strange how baseball works sometimes, huh?

In the coming days, much like the Orioles, the Royals will lose their third baseman (Mike Moustakas) for a bunch (fingers crossed) of prospects (though the haul won’t be as impressive as the Orioles’ package). And like Machado was the last major remnant of the Orioles’ competitive stretch, Moustakas leaving will also signify that somewhat as well. Instead of being side-by-side competing for an American League title like in 2014, it will instead be a battle for top draft picks on an annual basis, similar to what it was in the 2000’s for both clubs.

It will be different for Royals fans of course. The Orioles got a shot in the head with the Machado trade. It was obvious, high-profile, and expected. By June, Machado’s time in Baltimore was up, and thus, the club and fans have been in this rebuilding mindset for quite some time.

The process to the Royals’ rebuild, on the other hand, has instead been a slow one, not to mention painful. First James Shields…then Ben Zobrist…then Wade Davis…then Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain…and soon to be Moustakas and maybe Salvador Perez, should the price be right (though the latter may not happen this year). For Royals fans, they would have definitely traded places with Orioles fans and their more publicized loss of their beloved superstar.

At least the pain and agony came all at once and they can move on quickly.

Unlike Orioles fans with Machado, Royals fans are still waiting for that final shoe to drop. And like most baseball moments over the past decade between the two clubs, it always comes a little bit slower for Kansas City than Baltimore.

 

 

Should Salvy Be an All-Star? (Yes, but not for the reasons you think…)

The All-Star game is at the end of the day an exhibition for baseball fans. It doesn’t “count” anymore (thank God), and even though most fans will vote on players based on merit, it is understandable that fans may vote a player in over one who may be more deserving statistically. One can look at Bryce Harper, who’s playing the All-Star game in his hometown, for getting voted in as a starting outfielder, even though he is hitting only .214, the lowest batting average of his career. But, his copious amounts of dingers (23 home runs thus far), and the host crowd got him over, even though there probably were better starting options available in the National League.

In the American League, some are making the case that Royals catcher Salvador Perez shouldn’t be on the All-Star roster, let alone starting (though to be frank, he is only starting because original starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, suffered a hamstring injury right before the break and is expected to go to the DL. The emergency start will be the 29-year-old Venezuelan’s fifth-straight start in the All-Star game and his sixth appearance in the Mid-Summer Classic overall. Yet despite those gaudy accolades, it isn’t hard to see where non-Kansas City baseball fans might have a problem with Perez taking an All-Star spot, as this season has been one of the more mediocre ones of his career statistically, and he is the face of the worst team in baseball record-wise at the break. Some may argue that Yan Gomes of the Indians should have been starting the All-Star exhibition rather than Perez, considering Gomes’ offensive numbers are better than Perez’s and the Indians are in first place in the AL Central. And furthermore, some may argue for the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, whose average is a lot worse than Perez’s (.190 to .221), but has demonstrated better-advanced numbers than Perez in the first half (.313 wOBA to .281 for Perez).

I am not saying that Perez is a slam dunk All-Star selection by any means. This first half has certainly been concerning for one of Royals fans’ most beloved players. That being said, I will explain why Salvy deserves an All-Star berth and even start this year even though the “surface level” stats may say otherwise.


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While he has 13 home runs, Salvy has struggled offensively, as evidenced by his .281 wOBA.

The case against Salvy starting/playing in the All-Star Game…

The main case against Salvy starting the All-Star game mostly centers on offense. And to be honest, you would have a point. In the table below that I created initially on Fangraphs, I sorted all AL Catchers who had 200 or more plate appearances. As you can see, according to wRC+, Salvy ranks 8th out the 11 qualifying catchers, with a mark of 73. If you sort the other offensive only categories below, he ranks near the bottom in most.

Another aspect that hurts Perez is his offensive runs above average (OFF), which sits at a negative-12.1, good for 9th out of the 11 qualifying AL catchers in this sample. OFF combines batting runs and baserunning runs, and as one can see, Perez has been more detrimental than positive to the Royals lineup (though to be fair, this is a 27-win Royal team we’re talking about; pretty much everyone has been detrimental to this roster this year). One big reason for Perez’s lackluster offensive ability has been his lack of plate discipline this season, as Perez has become more free-swinging than ever. Al Melchior of Rotographs wrote a great piece on Perez’s ineffective and wild approach at the plate as a big reason for his decline in 2018. Melchior had this to say about Perez in his article (for more context, check out the graphs embedded in Melchior’s piece):

“If he is slumping, it may be because of where he is at in his career arc. Perez has never been a choosy hitter, but his plate discipline has been especially bad the last two seasons…He has increased his O-Swing% substantially this year, just as he did last year. Possibly because pitchers know they don’t have to give Perez pitches in the strike zone, his Zone% has fallen precipitously, especially from 2017 to 2018…It’s a trend that is working against Perez, because he has the lowest wOBA on pitches outside of the strike zone…of any hitter this season (min. 100 plate appearances on pitches out of the zone). Perez (.173), Chris Owings (.189) and Alcides Escobar (.196) are the only hitters with a sub-.200 O-wOBA.”

Everything about Perez’s offensive numbers screams “horrendous”. His .221/.259/.394 slash resemble a starting catcher at the end of his prime, not a 29-year-old All-Star. His BB/K ratio sits at 0.14, and his walk rate is 2.9 percent, a sign of a grossly impatient hitter. Lastly, his swinging strike percentage of 13.4 percent is the highest rate of his career and his 77.4 percent contact rate is the lowest of his career.

And when you combine that with the fact that he plays on a 27-win Royals team which plays in arguably the worst division in baseball (at least the Orioles have the excuse that they’re playing regularly against the Red Sox and Yankees), and it’s easy to see why the argument against Perez being an All-Star is valid. Yes, Salvy is a loveable figure in baseball. Yes, he is associated with great memories of success for Royals fans. Yes, he’s probably one of the few (if only) guys keeping this Royals team together in the clubhouse.

But, according to critics, All-Star appearances should be awarded by merit, not reputation. And thus, based on his qualifications and offensive output, it is understandable to see why Perez shouldn’t deserve an AL All-Star nod in 2018.


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Salvy has thrown out 43 percent of runners stealing, the 2nd best mark in the AL.

Why Perez deserves an All-Star berth…

As an offensive lynchpin in the Royals lineup, Perez has been disappointing. As a fantasy player, Perez has been disappointing. There’s no question about that. However, baseball is more than just offense and how much a player impacts fantasy statistical categories. If it was only about that, then there wouldn’t be a vote, MLB would just pick the top guys based on wRC+ and WAR and not think twice about it.

When it comes to judging a baseball player completely for an All-Star berth, his defensive ability also comes into play, and by most advanced metrics, Salvy is one of the best in the American League. His defense and ability to save runs as a catcher is a big reason why he deserves a spot on the AL All-Star roster this year.

Now, catcher defense numbers are still a work in progress, but there are many ways to evaluate how effective a catcher is behind the dish. Practically speaking, when one evaluates catchers two tangible things come to mind:

1.) How often does he throw runners out?

2.) How well does he keep pitches in front of him?

When it comes to caught stealing percentage (i.e. the percentage of runners he throws out trying to steal a base), Perez is at 43 percent, the second-best mark in the American League (behind the Angels Martin Maldanado who has a 48 percent caught stealing rate). He also has the second fewest bases stolen against him with 16, a sign of the respect for Perez’s arm from opposing teams (Thus affirming point 1 from above). Furthermore, in addition to saving runs on the basepaths, Perez also prevents baserunners from advancing, as he has only three passed balls this year, which ties him for fewest in the American League with the Blue Jays’ Russell Martin. (Thus affirming point 2 from above.)

(The passed balls category is where he and Maldanado deviate, as the Angels catcher actually leads the AL in passed balls of qualifying catchers with 10 this year.)

Perez’s advanced numbers are even better, as you can see in the graph below (this too was compiled from Fangraphs, originally).

As the numbers demonstrate, he leads in defensive runs saved above average (DEF) and stolen-base prevention (rSB) of qualified American League catchers with marks of 8.5 and 4, respectively. And thus, while one can question Perez’s offensive merits this season, his defensive prowess is not debatable. Salvy has been unquestionably one of the, if not the, best defensive catcher in the American League so far in 2018.

That statement alone merits Salvy a spot in this year’s All-Star game in the Nation’s Capital.


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Salvy deserves this All-Star berth for himself and Royals fans, despite what some critics may say…

What are my final thoughts on Salvy?

Perez undoubtedly is hitting a crossroad in his career. Offensively, he probably is on the decline and is what he is: a free-swinging hitter who will hit home runs, but will strike out too much, ground out too much and walk too little to really be beyond average. His advanced numbers, especially in the area of plate discipline (as Melchior of Rotographs pointed out), aren’t promising and considering he’s going to turn 30, he’s not at an age where he can really revamp his approach. Sure, he may get a little better possibly in the next year or two, but it’s likely that Perez will be a 0.15-0.25 BB/K ratio guy for the rest of his career (meaning there won’t be much difference between his average and OBP). Longtime batting habits, especially for guys who have played in the Majors and had as much success as Salvy, are hard to break.

That doesn’t mean Royals fans should like Salvy any less or shouldn’t appreciate the value he brings to this Royals team. He’s one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and his leadership in the locker room can’t be overstated. The guy brings joy to the ballpark and gives the Royals a likable face to a nationwide audience, something not every club in the league can boast. Yes, maybe he’s not statistically the best guy for the All-Star game. But, baseball fans are going to be a lot more entertained with Salvy in the AL dugout than a Jonathan Lucroy or Mike Zunino.

Salvy deserves his All-Star spot. The Royals deserve to enjoy his infectious smile and superb defensive ability in the All-Star game in D.C., especially after this tire-fire of a season thus far.

So for chrissakes baseball fans, let’s cut Salvy (and the Royals overall) a break here.