Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Royals for real

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Royals for real

by Matt Smith

WHGB11Sky Sports News have a habit of making mistakes on their MLB scrolling news section, such as mixing up team names with other U.S. sports or getting player names wrong.

Consequently when it popped up on Sunday morning at breakfast that the Kansas City Royals had a three game lead in AL Central and had won 24 of their last 30 games, I wasn’t prepared to believe it until checking the facts myself.

The doubt wasn’t just down to typical SSN sloppiness but also a reflection on the fact that you don’t associate the Royals with leading or winning much.

That’s not been their way for many years and yet, sure enough, they have overhauled the Detroit Tigers and have been playing some great baseball over the past month or so.

Based on Fangraphs, over the last 30 days the Royals’ batting production has been the second best in MLB based on a 5.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) mark, with only the even-more-unfancied Minnesota Twins bettering that with a 6.2 WAR. The pitching sits 10th based on WAR over the same span, more than holding their end up to support the hitters.

Over the season so far Alex Gordon has been the actual and symbolic leader of the Royals’ resurgence. He struggled initially when he made the Majors in 2007 whilst trying to live up to the expectations of being the next George Brett as a star Royals third baseman.

A move to left field and an impressive determination to learn from his difficult days has turned Gordon into one of the better players in the American League over the past few seasons.

According to FanGraphs, Gordon is having the best season of any position player in the Majors this season with a 5.8 WAR, bettered only by pitcher Felix Hernandez with a 6.2 mark.

Part of Gordon’s standing comes from a large boost due to FanGraphs’ calculations of his defensive value, which – purely from a sniff-test point of view rather than anything more studied – often seem a little overly generous to me.

Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR leaves Gordon sitting just outside the top ten of all MLB players this season and eighth among position players, which seems more appropriate. He’s not been quite the best player in the game, but he’s been among the elite and is having a tremendous year.

The Royals are also receiving an impressive return this season from James Shields and Wade Davis, the two players they acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2013 season for their best prospect Wil Myers in a deal that provoked considerable negative comment against the Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore (whose track record had not built up much in the way of credit or benefit of the doubt, to say the least).

Despite finishing 2013 ten games over .500 with an 86-76 win-loss record, missing out on the playoffs yet again immediately cast more doubt on the wisdom of trading away Myers for short-term gains.

Royals fans will be more than happy with the decision if their team is able to hold onto their division lead and play postseason baseball for the first time in a long time, with Shields and Davis contributing handsomely to the effort from the mound alongside another pitcher, Jason Vargas, who has performed much better than the naysayers predicted when he was signed as a free agent over the past offseason.

In fact, the ESPN.com game report from the Royals’ win over the Texas Rangers on Saturday included this nugget from their Stats and Information team that shows Kansas City may well have every reason to be getting excited about their baseball team once again:

“Following Saturday’s games, the Royals now lead the AL Central by 3 games. This is the furthest into a season they have led the division by at least 3 games since 1985. That was the last time they made the postseason and the only season in which they won the World Series”.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has put ‘parity’ among clubs as one of the key cornerstones of his regime, alongside revenue-raising and labour peace. Like much else during his tenure, the positive value of Selig’s actions can be debated. Is this parity merely produced by mediocrity at the expense of seeing truly great teams battling it out and lowering the bar to reaching the playoffs with first the wild card and then the recent introduction of a second wild card team? If so, is that good for baseball or not?

Whatever your personal view, the Royals will be delighted to make the postseason regardless and it would be seen as a fitting end to Selig’s last year as Commissioner if it happened.

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