More Mid-Season Grades for the Royals

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By: Conrad McGorkin and Brian Graham

MLB Photos: Kansas City Royals

 

After yesterday’s double-header sweep of Tampa Bay, the Royals finished the first 81 games with a 48-33 record, good for a 96-66 pace. It’s the second best 81-game start to the season (51-30, 1976).

Defense: 43 E, .986 FPCT, 784 A, 2151 PO, 2978 TC

The Royals defense has once again been outstanding, again. Ranked fourth in the A.L. in fewest errors (43) and seventh in MLB. Per FanGraphs defensive measurement DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), the Royals have prevented a staggering additional 42 runs, best in Major League Baseball, from scoring due to their defensive prowess. By comparison, the next best team in the American League is the Houston Astros with 18, and in MLB, Arizona Diamondbacks with 34. The Chicago White Sox have been so poor per the measurement that they have ALLOWED an additional 47 runs, though that number isn’t worst in baseball. The Philadelphia Phillies have allowed 73 additional runs due to their poor defensive play! “UZR” (Ultimate Zone Rating) is another commonly used defensive metric and the Royals rate No. 1 in the American League there as well at 37.4 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays at 26.5. For what it’s worth the White Sox are also last in the A.L. in UZR at -38.4. The White Sox have had a tough year.

GRADE: A

Offense: 2,758 AB, 746 H, 141 2B, 20 3B, 60 HR, 48 SB, 347 R, 330 RBI, .270 AVG/.322 OBP/.401 SLG

The Royals offense has scored 347 runs, good for 15th in Major League Baseball. That’s as middle of the pack as they can be of the 30 MLB teams. They are, of course, near the bottom (27) in home runs (60), despite the nine home run binge they went on in the first week of the season. Their team .270 AVG is second best in baseball (Detroit Tigers .280) and they rank 10th in OBP (.322). After leading all of baseball in stolen bases in each of the past two seasons, the team is only good for 13th (48) overall currently. Alcides Escobar isn’t running as much as he has in the past and Jarrod Dyson isn’t playing as often, being likely contributors to the lower total. The offense has been streaky, however as good as could be expected to this point. Third baseman Mike Moustakas has been much improved over previous seasons, and new designated hitter, Kendrys Morales is a legitimate Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Alex Rios has been a disappointment in right field to date. He suffered a broken wrist in the second week of the season after a hot start.

GRADE: B-

Now, lets grade the players, individually.

Let’s start with the All-Star starters:

Salvador Perez

2015 Projection: .282/.313/.427, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 55 R, 26 BB, 70 K, 1 SB, 24 2B, 0 3B

Current Pace: .262/.274/.443, 26 HR, 68 RBI, 52 R, 10 BB, 82 K, 2 SB, 24 2B, 0 3B

Salvador Perez is having a solid offensive season, on pace for a mammoth HR season, where he currently is tied for the positional lead. That said, he ranks as the fourth best catcher in MLB offensively and the third best defensive catcher, statistically, but we wouldn’t trade him for anyone. Perez has played in 75 of the 81 games, and if he doesn’t get more days off, he will wear down again in the second half, but has had days off twice in the last three games. Nedly. He apparently hasn’t learned his lesson from a year ago.

Perez will never be the best offensive catcher because of his lack of plate discipline – his 1.7% walk rate is worsted only by teammate Omar Infante – but his reputation as a plus-defensive player at one of the most important defensive positions propels him. But, he is not even the best defensive catcher in AL, based on advanced defensive metrics, so FAR in 2015. His plus defensive tool is his arm, which likely registers in his high defensive runs saved (second best at the position behind Seattle’s Mike Zunino). But, other defensive metrics, such as pitch framing and blocking, are not on the high end. Per FanGraphs, Perez is among the worst, not just in the AL, but in MLB, in framing pitches, losing 100+ pitches per year for his pitchers. Stat’s aren’t the end all be all, and we would not trade him for any other catcher in baseball, but it is the best indicator we have.

He’s in a bit of a slump, with just four singles in his last 23 AB (.174) and his slashline is pacing behind projections, but he has made up for it with his trips to Dong Tong.

Grade: B

Alcides Escobar

Projection: .266/.288/.349/, 5 HR, 51 RBI, 69 R, 25 BB, 87 K, 30 SB, 27 2B, 4 3B

Current Pace: .282/.323/.367, 4 HR, 62 RBI, 82 R, 28 BB, 72 K, 10 SB, 30 2B, 4 3B

After playing 162 games last year, Escobar has already been sidelined twice this year – once on Brett Lawrie’s slide and after taking a 96 mph Danny Sanchez fastball to the ear hole, placing him on the 7-Day Concussion DL list, missing 10 games.

Escobar, once on pace for 40-plus doubles, is the AL’s starting SS in the 2015 All-Star Game and is a fine selection at a weak position, but so far this year, he ranks as the third best offensive shortstop but only the sixth best defender at the position.

Defensively, many of his errors are a result of getting to balls no one else can or rushing throws because of it. But, the eyes can also lie. Stats and numbers, don’t.

He is pacing ahead in AVG, OBP and SLUG, extra base hits are right on track

When it’s all said and done Escobar, although still not getting on base at a good rate for a leadoff hitter, has done better than we expected, so he earns a high grade.

GRADE: A-

Alex Gordon

Projected: .271/.347/.439, 19 HR, 79 RBI, 85 R, 10 SB, 73 BB, 134 K, 37 2B, 2 3B

Current Pace: .280/.394/.459, 22 HR, 78 RBI, 62 R, 2 SB, 76 BB, 126 K, 26 2B, 0 3B

Alex Gordon isn’t a noticeable standout anywhere offensively, like he is defensively, but he still ranks as the sixth best offensive outfielder in the American League. Thanks in part to the fifth-best OBP in the AL, he sports a team best OPS. His game-tying HR on Sunday was his second since June 18 – a span where his slugging percentage dropped 20 points, but his OBP just one point as he still found ways to get on base. Both his HR accounted for his only two RBI in that stretch. Then, he raised his batting average 18 points yesterday with a franchise-tying seven hits in a double header (George Brett and Gerald Perry did it a month apart in 1990), homering and driving in six in nine AB. Have yourself a day. His 63 strikeouts are easily a team-worst, but his 38 walks are a team-best.

With Mike Moustakas out of the lineup for a few days, Alex Gordon is hitting second in the lineup, which is absolutely fantastic, and although we’re beating a dead horst hoping it would permanently change anytime this season, he needs to be hitting at the top of the batting order because of his ability to get on base than any other Royal. No, he is not the “traditional” leadoff guy or top of the order guy, and some say it’s wasting his SLUG hitting him high, but it’s wasting his OBP hitting him sixth in order.

Oh, and that defense. Dude is Superman in the outfield. If the season ended today, he’d be the Platinum Glove winner, again.

GRADE: A-

Lorenzo Cain

Projected: .292/.330/.408, 8 HR, 56 RBI, 58 R, 30 BB, 101 K, 25 SB, 27 2B, 3 3B

Current Pace: .305/.364/.477, 12 HR, 74 RBI, 98 R, 44 BB, 32 SB, 110 K, 34 2B, 8 3B

We projected Cain, not a prototypical 3-hitter, to have his best overall offensive season, and he has certainly hasn’t let us down, ranking sixth in the AL in hitting, 10th in runs (48) and a surprising second in stolen bases (16) and the 13th best offensive outfielder in the AL. Oh, and his defense, too. Certainly on his way to his first Gold Glove, he has saved the most runs in baseball. DUDE IS A STUD, and ranks as the second best defensive outfielder in the AL behind Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier, but you’ll have a hard time persuading anyone that he’s not better. Arguably the team’s MVP.

Cain is nursing a bit of a calf injury and has missed the past couple of games, but Ned says he isn’t in jeopardy of missing the All Star Game.

GRADE: A

Mike Moustakas

Projected: .243/.295/.409, 20 HR, 64 RBI, 54 R, 2 SB, 38 BB, 86 K, 26 2B, 1 3B

Current Pace: .301/.357/.436, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 78 R, 2 SB, 40 BB, 70 K, 32 2B, 2 3B

Moose, currently on the bereavement/family emergency list for the second time this season, is arguably the most improved player in the American League, as his OPS, which was .632 last season, stands at .793. After leading the team in hitting for most of the season, he has dipped behind Lorenzo Cain with a .118 (2-17) July and 2-21 (.095) in his last seven games. Still hitting over .300 – something we would never would have imagined from the worst offensive 3B for three years running – the 180 Moustakas has done is simply amazing and I don’t think I can remember one like it in my years as a baseball fan. We have been very hard on him, but it wasn’t without reason. Then he hit 5 HR in the postseason (only hit .231) and it led us to all wonder – to all hope – that it would carry over into the next season. Then, Ned penciled him into the No. 2 spot in the order simply because a couple opposite field hits down in Arizona – something he should have been doing all along to beat the shift. We even wrote about Ned hitting Moose 2 with nothing in his career to show that he should hit anywhere other than 7, 8 or 9, might be the dumbest thing he has ever done. But, because Royals Devil Magic, almost everything Ned did a year ago, even if it was something with no reasoning, worked. So, hell, this was probably going to, also. And, it has. Simply amazing.

Ned and Dale Svuem (although some reports are his agent Scott Boras told him to go look at his high school tapes to see his approach and if he didn’t make adjustments, he was going to be what he was – a low average hitter with some power), you baseball wizards. Entering his fifth season in the bigs, he’d been nothing short of a bust for his entire career, considering his status as the No. 2 overall pick in 2007. The question still remains…why was Moose so unwilling to made adjustments in the past when it was pretty evident that he needed to hit to the left side to beat the shift? And now that teams have begun to adjust to Moose’s adjustments, how will he adjust?

We expect him to continue to regress some, maybe down to .270 or even .260, but it is still more than we expected. He’s manager to increase his career average nine points in just one-half of a season. His power is down as he was went to the opposite field a lot more, but he is better than projected in nearly every other area.

GRADE: A

Eric Hosmer

Projected: .281/.331/.461, 22 HR, 87 RBI, 78 R, 48 BB, 105 K, 8 SB, 36 2B, 2 3B

Current Pace: .280/.347/.426, 16 HR, 82 RBI, 82 R, 60 BB, 114 K, 8 SB, 30 2B, 4 3B

We projected Hosmer to have his best career all-around season at the plate, and his hot start (hitting .333/.410/.574 on May 15) hinted that he could certainly meet those expectations, but we may have over-did it with the projections. He has never had a 20 HR season in his career, not even in the minor leagues. After his 1-for-10 double header yesterday, I have decided, that this is who we is – a decent hitter (career .277/.331/.421) that has torrid hot stretches (.354/408/.738, 6 HR, 18 RBI from April 29-May 15, which once had him on pace for a 30/100 season), but also has long power outages, where he’s all of a sudden a light-hitter with bad habits – a long swing, bad plate discipline and pitch recognition, and ‘I want to hit every pitch out of the ball park swing.’ Those bad habits have returned and his production has slowed to a crawl, hitting just .234/.295/.291 with 1 HR, 12 RBI since that two and a half week hot stretch and the once-sure thing 2015 All-Star will fall short of our projections and will once again be more comparable to James Loney or Casey Kotchman, which is fine, but not the superstar some expect him to be. He is still relatively young (26) and just entering baseball prime, so he still may have that breakout season, but until he does it we won’t believe it. And, we’re getting closer and closer to him having that season somewhere else (two more years of Eric Hosmer after this one, and then, lets face it, he’s gone).

His slashline is pretty comparable to what we projected, minus the SLUG (because HR and doubles), so he is not underwhelming THAT much, but he is trending downward. Another example is his walk rate. On pace for 60, we will not be surprised if he ends up near, or below the projection, UNLESS another hot streak. He walked 13 times in April (ranked ninth in AL) but nine times in May and five in June. Not a good trend.

GRADE: B- (better than last year’s mid-season D)

Kendrys Morales

Projected: .262/.307/.425, 20 HR, 69 RBI, 57 R, 37 BB, 92 K, 0 SB, 27 2B, 0 3B

Current Pace: .282/.345/.453, 20 HR, 108 RBI, 78 R, 52 BB, 104 K, 0 SB, 42 2B, 0 3B

It was a mixed bag reaction when the Royals signed Kendry Morales to be Billy Butler’s replacement. It’s the easy thing to do to compare him to Billy Butler all season, and he is easily out-performing him this year, but he’s been so much more. He ranks eighth in the AL in RBI (54) and has been a steady run producer in the Royals lineup all season.

Not only has he already surpassed his HR and RBI total from a year ago, he’s already beat Butler’s totals from a year ago, also. He ranks fourth among AL’s DH’s, but he’s well ahead of Butler (who ranks last). So, yeah, Cuban Breakfast > Country Breakfast, but he’s also out-performing our projections in every area except HR (on pace to match) and strikeouts, but we’ll live with the strikeouts if you’re going to hit 20 bombs and be among the league leaders in RBI.

It would be in Yost’s best interests to move into the cleanup spot.

GRADE: A

Omar Infante

Projected: .270/.310/.370, 8 HR, 55 RBI, 53 R, 30 BB, 67 K, 8 SB, 23 2B, 1 3B

Current Pace: .235/.246/.309, 0 HR, 48 RBI, 54 R, 10 BB, 86 K, 2 SB, 32 2B, 4 3B

Infante, just in year two of a four-year contract, spent a better part of the first 81 games as the team’s whipping boy, because, of course, there has to be AT LEAST one. But, lucky for him, there’s someone else now.

Infante, in under-producing across the board, minus runs. That’s not good. His power has been non-existent. I would think he would hit a couple at some point this season. He’s currently trying to dig his way out of a huge hole dug for himself, thanks to a woeful 5-62 (.080) slump. During that stretch, his OBP and SLUG was also .080. At that time, he his average was hovering around the Mendoza line and qualified as the WORST OFFENSIVE PLAYER IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. Now, he’s still the worst offensive 2B in the AL, but…And, hey, at least he ranks out as the best defender at his position in the AL.

Amazingly, Infante hasn’t really lost any playing time and the only threat to take it from him, Christian Colon, has been sent back to the minors (more on that later). The chances of Infante ever being what he was in Detroit () are almost non-existent, so we were hoping he could rebound a little bit to closer to his career norms. At this point, we hope the 13-year veteran finds a way to get to .250, or even higher, but the contract he has will make it difficult to even trade him.

GRADE: D

Alex Rios

Projected: .291/.330/.448/, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 72 R, 31 BB, 102 K, 20 SB, 29 2B, 5 3B

Current Pace: .227/.255/.270, 2 HR, 24 RBI, 28 R, 6 BB, 53 K, 10 SB, 6 2B, 0 3B

Thanks to Rios, there’s not as many calling for Infante’s head.

Dayton Moore has had great success with reclamation projects in Kansas City, or guys that are looking to have a rebound year. There’s several of them on the roster. Alex Rios, however, is NOT one of them.

The reaction was mostly positive when he came here on a 1-year, $11 million deal. But, it’s been nothing short of a disaster, so far.

He was off to a great start, hitting .321/.345/.464 with 1 HR, 8 RBI in the first seven games before a J.R. Graham fastball broke a bone in his hand and put him on the shelf. Since, he has only drove in FOUR runs, has not hit another HR (his only HR was a 3-run shot on Opening Day) and is hitting .204/.233/.221 in 118 plate appearances. His defense and his lack of effort rubs Royals fans the wrong way.

He does have a history of hitting lefties (.325 with an .808 OPS in 2014 and .288 for his career), so the Royals could turn it into a platoon situation with Jarrod Dyson, which is of course, is the worst-case scenario – especially for $11 million, but it may be a better option than trotting him out there everyday. The Royals could also trade for a guy to replace him in RF, or even downright release him and eat the rest of his salary. I think we would all take Nori Aoki back, even though most wanted to run him out of town last season, too.

But, maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel. He already has three multi-hit games in July (where he’s hitting .316) after only having three in June.

Grade: F

Paulo Orlando

Projected: .264/.300/.324/, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 10 R, 9 BB, 28 K, 5 SB, 3 2B, 1 3B

Current Pace: .242/.278/.400, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 32 R, 8 BB, 46 K, 4 SB, 6 2B, 10 3B

Everyone loves Paulo Orlando, and how can you not? Only the third Brazilian to play in the majors, he splashed on the scene as the man who could only hit triples after spending 10 seasons and 1,017 games in the minors. His first three hits were all three-baggers and he had five in the first 13 games, only the eighth player in the live-ball era to do so (most recent was Christian Guzman in 2001). But even more impressive? Orlando did it in just his seventh MLB game, joining Emmet Heidrick of the Cardinals (1901) and Gil Coan of the Senators 1951) as the only players to accomplish that feat.

He then, with everyday regular playing time, slowed down some, as expected after his amazing start that was unsustainable. He was exposed with regular at-bats, and is more like the player he is now than what he was when the season started, but he is still a great story. And how amazing was that walk-off grand slam yesterday – only the fifth in franchise history? Not a bad return to the bigs, huh?

A lot of Royals fans have been calling for Orlando to be the RF, and do whatever you have to with Rios to make it happen. And, is he a better option RIGHT NOW? I guess. He had as many RBI with one swing of the bat than Rios has had in his last 31 games. But, let’s not pretend like Orlando, also a plus-defender and blazing runner, is some savior, hitting just .242 with a .678 OPS. Should the Royals maybe leave him up here and play him in some sort of a 3-man RF rotation? Maybe. Is he the answer in RF? No. He’s a backup outfielder, but he’s been better than we expected.

GRADE: B

Jarrod Dyson

Projected: .253/.295/.342, 1 HR, 28 RBI, 41 R, 24 BB, 59 K, 38 SB, 9 2B, 4 3B

Current Pace: .271/.320/.406, 0 HR, 14 RBI, 30 R, 12 BB, 34 K, 20 SB, 10 2B, 8 3B

Opportunity knocked for Dyson when Rios hit the DL, but Ned Yost handed the job to Orlando after Dyson looked shaky out in right field after the Rios injury and Orlando did nothing but hit triples. He has looked better there since, and has been getting more playing time recently as Cain is nursing an injury. But, he has not received as much playing time so far this season and has had less pinch-running and none defensive replacement appearances (this is something they want to consider going forward, though, if Rios remains the RF). But, he is still second on the team in stolen bases (10). He is perfect in his current role of playing 1-2 times a week, but as the offense has slowed down, the Royals need to ramp up the running game, so Dyson may be used more in the second half. #thatwhatspeeddo

GRADE: B+

Christian Colon

Projected: .297/339/.414, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 42 R, 21 BB, 39 K, 9 SB, 15 2B, 2 3B

Current Pace: .244/.306/.295, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 10 R, 14 BB, 24 K, 4 SB, 8 2B, 0 3B

Colon has proved valuable this year, filling in at both short and second while Escobar and Infante were on the shelf and at third base when Moose has needed a day off against a tough lefty or was on the bereavement/family emergency list.

Seemingly the perfect utility infielder for the Royals, the once popular choice to take playing time away from Moose if his continued struggles carried into 2015 and/or Infante continued to go all old man and continue to break down in front us. But, the second kind of happened, and Colon still didn’t take playing time away, and surprisingly, he was demoted to the minor leagues in favor of some guy that many of us didn’t know existed – Dusty Coleman – last week. I like to think it was to get some regular AB’s, and then he’ll be back soon after the All-Star Break. Or, was it they didn’t like his defense? Or, even worse, is he in the doghouse?

We envisioned Colon getting anywhere in the ballpark of 200-300 AB this season, and in the process becoming a fan favorite with his gritty style of ball he brings. But, we have got this all wrong.

GRADE: D

Erik Kratz

2015 Projection: .238/.291/.413, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 19 R, 13 BB, 39 K, 7 2B, 0 3B

Should we even include Kratz? He played in just three games, getting AB in just one of them – his lone start April 17, a game he didn’t even finish. We didn’t bother including his stats, as he has zero’s across the board other than 3 AB and 2 strikeouts. He was slated for more playing time this season as Perez clearly wore down in 2014. The initial plan was to have him valet one of the starters – likely Jeremy Guthrie or Jason Vargas – but that was scrapped by Yost. Then, he went on the DL and lost his job to Drew Butera.

GRADE: Incomplete

Drew Butera

Current Pace: .180/.196/.200, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 12 R, 0 BB, 18 K, 0 SB, 2 2B, 0 3B

Butera, the lesser offensive player of the Kratz/Butera backup catcher decision, the Royals went with the “better” defender. The career .183 hitter has caught both of Danny Duffy’s post-DL solid outings, but he’s also been behind the plate for six of Greg Holland’ eight earned runs this year. I don’t know what that means, but it’s interested.

Not a huge sample size with Butera, here, but, he seems OK.

GRADE: C

Orlando Calixte

Projected: N/A

Current: 0-2

Calixte wasn’t included in our season projections, but has already been up on the active roster twice, seeing action once at shortstop, entering mid-game. Known as a free swinger, scouts have compared him to Alfonso Soriano, so isn’t that fun? Ned should give the guy a bone, and let him start once when he was here, but he never did. We’ll probably see him again at some point this season.

GRADE: Incomplete

Dusty Coleman

Projected: N/A

Current: 0-2, 1 K

We’ll just leave this here.

Cheslor Cuthbert

Projected: N/A

Incomplete

***

Starting pitching: 448 1/3 IP, 456 H, 141 BB, 307 K, .264 BAA, 50 HR, 219 ER, 4.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 32– 28

The Royals starting pitching has been pretty mediocre, some might say poor. As a staff, their 4.40 ERA is 12th best of the 15 American League teams, and 23rd best of the 30 Major League teams. They haven’t really been “bad,” they just haven’t performed as well as we’ve become accustomed to over the last two seasons, and certainly not as well as fans had hoped coming into the season. In 2013, the Royals starters were fifth best in the American League, and 12th best in Major League Baseball (3.87 ERA) and last season, fourth best in the A.L. and 11th best in MLB (3.60 ERA).

The Royals have had to deal with the departure of staff leader James Shields, and more injuries in 2015, so a regression is certainly understandable. The injuries and shaky pitching from Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have played a big role in the staffs overall performance. Obviously the hope is that both can overcome their ailments and boost the team in the second half. Duffy’s recent outings have been encouraging; hopefully he continues to build on those. Ventura is expected to return Thursday to take on the Rays in the finale of the 4-game home series. He has been dealing with numbness in his pitching hand and a bit of immaturity in 2015.

GRADE: C-

Yordano Ventura

Projected: 32 GS, 202 IP, 15-9, 3.54 ERA, 1.298 WHIP, 1 CG, 186 K, 71 BB

Current Pace: 24 GS, 134.1 IP, 6-12, 4.68 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 108 K, 42 BB

It’s been a strange year for the youngster. His peripherals are not that bad. His WHIP is below his career mark and our projected mark, but his ERA is inflated compared to his career mark and our projected mark. His walk to strikeout rate is not that bad. He went seven innings in half of his 12 starts. He is third on the team in quality starts (5) despite a stint on the DL. But, his velocity is down and has decreased in each of his three years (97.1, 96, 94.3). He had five starts end early for various “cramps,” ejections and numbness in his fingers – something that dates back to last season (makes you wonder if that is why his velocity has been down). We hope the old Yo is back when he returns from the DL to start tomorrow’s series finale against the Rays. Lets also hope he comes back with more maturity.

GRADE: C

Danny Duffy

Projected: 30 GS, 179 IP, 11-9, 3.52 ERA, 1.368 WHIP, 142 K, 65 BB

Current Pace: 22 GS, 112, 4-8, 5.14 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 84 K, 48 BB

Duffy took a shutout into the eighth inning on April 30 against Detroit and the Royals won four of his first five starts. Then, May – where he threw just 9.2 innings in three starts, posting a 13.03 ERA, walking 10, striking out seven as opponents hit a healthy .341 against him – and a DL stint happened. Since his return, the 26-year-old has thrown into the seventh inning in back-to-back starts and recorded an 11:5 K:BB ratio over 17.2 innings in three post-DL starts. Duffy will look to continue chipping away at his 5.14 ERA and 1.59 WHIP Friday against the Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium.

Duffy, much like Ventura, is a huge piece the Royals need to be right down the stretch if they want to get back to the World Series. He’s really had only one bad month and the team is 6-5 in his starts. But, because of an injury/ineffectiveness, we’ll still grade him low.

GRADE: C-

Edinson Volquez

Projected: 31 GS, 192.1 IP, 11-11, 4.24 ERA, 1.336 WHIP, 1 CG, 146 K, 73 BB

Current Pace: 34 GS, 200.2 IP, 16-8, 3.40 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2 CG, 174 K, 72 BB

We didn’t expect the greatest things from Eddy, but he has been the steady force in the Royals rotation. Thanks to low run support, the Royals won just two of his first seven starts, but since, they’ve won eight of the last 10. His eight wins rank ninth in the AL, his 36 walks are the eighth fewest among qualified starters, his win percentage (.667) ranks seventh and he has tossed one complete game, tied for sixth.

He’s been not only the Royals most consistent starter, but he’s also exceeded expectations – across the board. On pace for 200 innings and twice as many wins as losses? Please do.

GRADE: A

Jason Vargas

Projected: 30 GS, 194 IP, 11-10, 4.01 ERA, 1.288 WHIP, 2 CG, 134 K, 48 BB

Current Pace: 16 GS, 82 IP, 10-4, 4.10 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 50 K, 22 BB

A flexor strain is commonly a precursor to Tommy John surgery. Vargas is on the DL for the second time this season with said injury and threw a simulated game today.

He went six scoreless innings on June 8, but left after throwing just 70 pitches. Isn’t it inevitable that he’s headed under the knife sometime soon? We’ll find out. He’s likely to return to the rotation after the All-Star Break, as he’s headed out to a rehab start on Monday in NW Arkansas after throwing a simulated game today.

Despite his injuries, he’s allowed two runs or less in six of his eight starts (although one was only four innings) and his last start a month ago today was the first time he hadn’t allowed a run in a start this season. On the other side, he has not pitched passed the sixth inning in any start, but has earned a quality start in three of his last four starts and is 4-1 in his last five starts, dating back to April 27. In that span, he has a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings pitched. His only loss was that four-inning outing at Yankee Stadium on May 26 in his first start back from his first DL stint, where he struck out a season-high six.

He was on the DL again, after three more starts. Because of injuries, we have to downgrade him.

GRADE: C

Jeremy Guthrie

Projected: 32 GS, 201 IP, 11-11, 4.29 ERA, 1.386 WHIP, 1 CG, 120 K, 52 BB

Current Pace: 32 GS, 178.2 IP, 12-10, 5.42 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 94 K, 48 BB

One would look at Guthrie’s stats and instantly want to give him a D-/F, but there are some other things to consider here. Unlike most of the original starting rotation, he has been out there every time and outside the epic bad start at Yankee Stadium –the first pitcher to allow 11 runs while throwing fewer than 60 pitches was Jason Jennings for the Astros on July 29, 2007 (somehow doing it on just 39 pitches!!), the fourth pitcher ever and just the second starter (Jennings the other) to allow 11 runs in two innings or fewer and the last starter to allow four hoe runs while pitching fewer than two innings since Jae Kuk Ryu as a Cub on May 28, 2006 – he’s been solid, considering. Yes, he’s allowing just 5.6 innings per start, has only six quality starts, has allowed 12 HR and owns a 4.71 K/9 rate (which is HIGHER than we projected), in his last 11 starts, he has allowed three runs or less, nine times, with five of his six quality starts coming in that span, with the Royals going 7-4 in those starts. Yes, his ERA is pacing well over projection and he is not on pace for another 200 IP season, but for a fifth starter, he has been less helter skleter than normal and keeps the team in the game. There’s some value in that.

GRADE: C-

Chris Young

Projected: 38 G, 4 GS, 100.2 IP, 3-4, 3.98 ERA, 1.408 WHIP, 0 SV, 1 HD, 68 K, 37 BB

Current Pace: 36 G, 24 GS, 162 IP, 14-8, 2.89 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HD, 104 K, 44 BB

Where would the Royals be without Chris Young? A simple, short answer: not in first place.

Another Dayton Moore under the radar pick-up. After no one signed the 2014 AL Comeback Player of the Year, he was snagged up in Spring Training to be the Bruce Chen-like swingman. He’s been so much more. Arguably the best starter on the staff, he has posted a 2.89 ERA and 1.01 WHIP (5th in AL) through 18 appearances (12 starts) with the Royals this season, providing much needed stability in a rotation that has struggled with consistency and health. He’s pithed five hitless innings twice (the second time into the seventh inning). He is slowly regressing and may flame out, like he has a history to do, as the season goes on, but the 6-10 gentle giant and his invisiball has made the grade, so far.

GRADE: A

Joe Blanton

Projected: N/A

Current Pace: 22 G, 8 GS, 66.2 IP, 4-4, 3.74 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 60 K, 14 BB

Who envisioned a rotation featuring the likes of Joe Blanton as early as mid-June?

Anyone besides Dayton Moore, and maybe even himself, had to consider it a scary notion.

You can never have enough pitching. They say a team needs eight starters to make it through a season. But, I never imagined a scenario that featured Joe Blanton in the rotation this early into the season, if at all, without thinking the Royals NOT being in bad, bad shape.

But somehow, he made four starts (and scheduled for a fifth on Saturday) for a first-place team.

Royals Devil Magic?

It certainly seemed like it at first, as he won his first start in almost two years, striking out seven and allowing one run on five hits, on June 7 en route to doing in just two starts what he did in 20 starts in his 2-14 2013…win two starts. But, after allowing two earned runs over 11 innings in those first two starts, the real Joe Blanton came back, allowing eight runs in 7 2/3 innings, increasing his ERA to 5.30.

He struck out 17 and issued four walks in 18 2/3 innings. He could not pitch again the entire season and would still go down as contributing more than possibly expected.

GRADE: C+

Bullpen: 268 2/3 IP, 185 H, 91 BB, 243 K, .194 BAA, 16 HR, 60 ER, 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 16-5, 25 SV

The Royals bullpen has been phenomenal. Their bullpen has been very good over the past two seasons (2013: 2.55 ERA, 1st in A.L. and 2nd in MLB and 2014: 3.30 ERA, 5th best in A.L., 10th in MLB), but what they are doing in 2015 could be historic. Their 2.01 ERA is best in the American League by A LOT (Houston 2.70) and best in Major League Baseball (St. Louis Cardinals No. 2 at 2.33). The best team bullpen ERA in the 21st century is 2.46 by the 2013 Atlanta Braves.

Only the New York Mets (14) and Miami Marlins (14) have allowed fewer home runs by relief pitchers. Needless to say, keeping the ball in the park goes a long way toward success. The three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland have been exceptional for more than a year, now the entire bullpen is a monster. The only cause for concern with the group is the workload. They have pitched the eighth most innings of any Major League bullpen and fifth most in the American League. Assuming the starting pitching can stay healthier and go deeper into games in the second half, we could be watching the greatest bullpen the game has ever seen. B-BOAT.

Greg Holland

Projected: 67 G, 66.2 IP, 2-2, 2.08 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, 43 SV, 89 K, 24 BB

Current Pace: 50 G, 48 IP, 6-0, 3.00 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 32 SV, 0 HD, 52 K, 28 BB

Holland was on the DL for a couple of weeks, but still ranks 10th in the AL in saves (10), which isn’t really that good, but considering bullpen mate Wade Davis also has nine, it’s not too bad. Before he went down with a Grade 1 pec strain, the 2014 Mariano Rivera Relief Man of the Year winner was mowing batters down, allowing just one runner in four appearances, all saves. His has already blown two saves and has an unimpressive ERA and is striking out less batters than normal while battling his control more than he ever has as a closer. That said, if he stays healthy, with the Royals on pace for 96 wins, he could near 40 saves.

Grade: B

Wade Davis

Projected: 69 G, 69 IP, 6-2, 1.88 ERA, 1.087 WHIP, 5 SV, 30 HD, 92 K, 24 BB

Current Pace: 74 G, 74 IP, 8-2, 0.24 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 18 SV, 22 HD, 82 K, 24 BB

We could go on and on about the #WadeDavisExperience. What he has done the last two years has been God-like – the best two-season relief pitcher EVER in the history of relief pitching: 0.45 ERA while holding batters to a .150/.227/.187 line. Since his moving to the bullpen in September 2013, he’s struck out 157 and allowed just 60 hits in 119 innings, posting a 0.76 ERA with ZERO HOMERUNS allowed, walking just 39.

No, he won’t end up with 18 saves, unless another injury to Holland, and yes, eventually he’ll give up another run, but don’t be surprised if he ends the season with a below 1.00 WHIP, again. DUDE IS A STUD. A deserved All-Star and a MAJOR factor in the Royals not losing a game when leading after seven since May 25, 2014.

Woah.

GRADE: A++++++++++++++++++++++

Kelvin Herrera

Projected: 64 G, 65 IP, 3-2, 2.21 ERA, 1.138 WHIP, 2 SV, 20 HD, 67 K, 24 BB

Current Pace: 72 G, 66.1 IP, 2-4, 2.14 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 0 SV, 24 HD, 72 K, 22 BB

Kelvin Herrera was a surprise pick for the 2015 All-Star game, but I guess that’s a perk of winning the American League pennant.

The third head of the H-D-H monster is still really good and could be closing multiple teams in the league. #pentowin

Ryan Madson

Projected: 27 G, 27 IP, 1-2, 4.33 ERA, 1.593 WHIP, 0 SV, 1 HD, 17 K, 10 BB

Current Pace: 70 G, 66.2 IP, 2-2, 1.60 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 0 SV, 18 HD, 62 K, 19 BB

Madson has been an absolute stealth signing for the Royals. Not even expected to make the team, Madson seems to be in the pre-injury from. Better yet? The Royals are only paying him $850,000 after he made millions the last couple of years to not even pitch. HDH gets the press, but Madson helps make the Royals bullpen as good as it is – a guy who can come in and throw before those three, and mow down batters. What a luxury. If Madsen comes anywhere close to pitching a full season, he’ll easily exceed expectations.

GRADE: A

Franklin Morales

Projected: 56 G, 49.2 IP, 2-3, 4.35 ERA, 1.489 WHIP, 5 HD, 42 K, 24 BB

Current Pace: 69 G, 65.1 IP, 6-0, 2.70 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 0 SV, 8 HD, 41 K, 14 BB

Another guy on the roster who came to Spring Training not on the 40-man roster, Morales doesn’t get a lot of work and hasn’t pitched a lot in high-leverage situations because Ned doesn’t go with the lefty-lefty matchup in the late innings because of HDH, but, so far, so good.

GRADE: B

Brandon Finnegan

Projected: 5 G, 3 GS, 20 IP, 2-2, 2.35 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 0 SV 1 HD, 25 K,

Current Pace: 22 G, 0 GS, 40.1 IP, 4-0, 2.21 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HD, 32 K, 22 BB

Finnegan won his second game of the season yesterday in Game 2 of the double header and was promptly demoted to the minor leagues for the fourth time this season.

Hopefully, he’ll be down there starting until he’s needed again when the roster expands in September. He was sent to Double-A when the season started to work as a starting pitcher, but was recalled, sent back down as a starter, recalled again, then sent back down, as a relief pitcher and recalled again. Do the Royals really have a plan with him? If the Royals long-term plans for him are as a starter, then why is does he keep getting called up as a relief pitcher? Do the Royals think his future is as a relief pitcher because he can really only throw two pitches for effectively, right now? His stuff has looked good so far this season as his arm is less fatigued than it was in the postseason last year. On a side note, dude looks fat. He’s gained 35 pounds since last season.

GRADE: B

Luke Hochevar

Projected: 45 G, 47.2 IP, 2-1, 2.79 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 0 SV, 4 HD, 46 K, 16 BB

Current Pace: 34 G, 32 IP, 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 0 SV, 2 HD, 34 K, 8 BB

Hochevar had a career resurgence in 2013 as he worked out of the bullpen for the first time and worked to a 1.92 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. Expected to build on that role in 2014, he suffered a sprained UCL in spring training and underwent Tommy John surgery in March that sidelined him for the entire season. Given the normal timetable, he probably could have been ready for the regular season, but as good as the Royals pen is, it was OK to send him to Omaha for some extended work before activating him. He probably came back before he was fully ready, but after a 30-day rehab stint, they had no choice. He was used in a couple high-leverage situations early, then struggled and relegated to mop-up duty with his ERA peaking at 7.20. But, he’s starting to be used in tighter situations again, and Jason Frasor has been DFA’d. So, maybe he “ready?”

GRADE: D

Yohan Pino

Projected: N/A

Current Pace: 14 G, 2 GS, 38.1 IP, 0-4, 3.26 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 0 SV, 0 HD, 26 K, 6 BB

Pino, who made 18 minor league stops in 10 minor league seasons, has spent three stints with the Royals this year, twice as a long reliever and a third time making one start.

Already exceeding our expectations, as we didn’t even think he would make an appearance this season.

Grade: B

Jason Frasor

Projected: 54 G, 48 IP, 3-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 0 SV, 15 HD, 46 K, 20 BB

Jason Frasor entered May with a 0.00 ERA and in the process lowering his ERA as a Royal to 1.01. But, he allowed a lot of runners. When he was surprisingly DFA’d earlier this week, his ERA stood at 1.54, but his WHIP at 1.67, thanks to 15 walks in 23.1 IP.

Frasor’s role on the team shrunk as the season progressed, some because of Luke Hochevar’s return and some because Ryan Madson. He gets it, too, saying in the clubhouse that he felt not needed.

Sad to see him go. He’ll get a job somewhere.

GRADE: Who cares, he’s gone

***

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