(NOTE: in an effort to keep this column a reasonable amount of words, and to give us more to talk about, Ups and Downs will now alternate weeks between position players and pitchers. This week, it's the position players for KC, next week, the hurlers)
I really can't decide which is worse - having to watch possibly the toughest game of Mike Moustakas's young career, or the Royals going down 1-2-3 to Jose Valverde. If you live under a rock and/or don't follow either the Royals or the Tigers, I'll just put it this way - Valverde isn't a good pitcher. It would take some cruel, cruel baseball gods to allow him to make the above face without punishing him with one of his classic IP, 3 H 4 ER K 3 BB outings (the K, naturally, would be Frency. I'm not sure Moustakas will get to bat in the ninth anytime soon).
That's really a lie, though - as much as I dislike watching Papa Grande's antics after he somehow closes out a rooting interest of mine, I also really want Mike Moustakas to succeed--he's one of the young players that would need to exceed expectations in order from the Royals to meet the expectations of the "it makes sense for us to try and win now crowd," and thus he's under a probably unfair microscope this season among Royals fans and the media, along with Eric Hosmer and Wade Davis. We hear things like, "for The Trade to be successful, Davis needs to break out" and "for the Royals to stay competitive, they need a better season from Hosmer," and "the Royals need Moustakas to find a productive form in-between early 2012, and, you know, since then," and those things are true, and they should be said. As a result, it does make it sting a little bit more, as a fan, when one of those players makes a bad play, or has a bad game, or proves himself to be the same player that the Rays knew he was (jury's still out, I hope, just a hypothetical, here).
Naturally, these players doing well to satisfy expectations brought on by the front office's going all-in with two-seven off-suit is a secondary concern to them just doing well, period. The fact is that I'd just like to see a talented young Royals player produce well, and give me reasons to hope that he's part of the next good Royals team. That goes for Hosmer too, and Davis, I suppose, though I honestly don't expect Davis to be able to be much more than what he's already been, for reasons well-documented by my fellow Royals bloggers.
So tonight's game was extra painful, even if we discount Valverde's chicken dance. On to the arrows! Once again, position players first, in order of tonight's appearance:
Alex Gordon - LF -
Continues to rock in terms of results, though I'm not really sure what to make of his continuing hackiness. An interesting thing to note about Gordon is that, though this very small sample size of roughly a tenth of the total PAs in a season, he's seeing 5% less fastballs than last year, when 34.5% of the pitches he saw were charted as four-seamers or "unclassified fastball." It's not long enough in the season for me to say he's being pitched differently with any conviction, but I wonder if it has anything to do with the higher number of grounders. Gordon's .379 wOBA whispers, "who cares, I'm good."
Alcides Escobar - SS -
5-for-11 against the Red Sox, 2-for-5 against Detroit tonight. Escobar earned his up arrow for the week. Escobar's fielding also is free of whatever magic juju that kept Fangraphs' FRAA from liking him last season. By the eye test, which I trust about half as far as I can throw Billy Butler, since mlb.tv isn't all that reliable, he looks good in the field to this particular blogger. Escobar hitting around .280-.290 is a player we can know and love, which is more than a can say for the rationale of batting him second, but I'll take small favors.
Billy Butler - DH -
Actually had a pretty quiet week, with the exception of when he single-handedly saved the world against the Boston Red Sox in the nightcap of the double header. Butler's "struggles" are virtually all due to the BABIP fairy screwing him over, and thus shouldn't be taken as anything other than random variance in the life of a darn good hitter. He also still has a .375 OBP despite a .216 batting average. Okay, I lied, it's not the BABIP fairy screwing Butler over - she just noticed that I drafted him for my fantasy team, and this is her idea of mocking me.
Eric Hosmer - 1B -
A .277/.375/.319 line for the season is not really the breakout we want, but things improved for Hoz over the course of the week. As I mentioned last week, it was kind of ridiculous that Hosmer was squaring up the ball as often as he was, and still only hitting safely one out of four times. Naysayers, or people who employ "logic," might point out that Hosmer's walk rate actually got better last year, when he was generally terrible, so that his current similar rate isn't necessarily an indication of future success with hitting a baseball. While I'll concede that, I'll also say that 5-for-10 with two walks over his past three games might be Hosmer beginning to figure things out.
Lorenzo Cain - CF -
His average peaked at a Brettian .392 before someone in the baseball gods BABIP department realized that they were in danger of being fired. Cain started to come back to earth after his 4-for-4 performance in the game where Herrara went boom against the Red Sox, but he still gets the up arrow for the week because his overall triple slash line improved on last week's. He also hit a dinger!
Mike Moustakas - 3B -
Moose Tracks Ice Cream is really good. I used to get it all the time at Gifford's when I attended college in Maine. Mike Moustakas, currently, isn't very good. He's currently clocking in at negative point four WAR. It's gotten to the point where even if Moustakas's swing is completely messed up, we should expect a dead cat bounce just because it's nearly impossible to keep hitting .150 for any long stretch of time. Moose's OBP rises right now if he gets on base once out of every four PAs. Just ouch.
He's still popping up too much, and he's still stuck on a sub-.200 BABIP. The latter would be more encouraging, going forward, if his line drive rate wasn't a measley 12.2%. Only other think I can think to say is that if you think Tejada/Falu/Johnson/(insert replacement player here) is going to be better than Moose's current line, you're right, but Moustakas is also virtually a lock to improve. And either way, the production from third base would still be bad.
And no, I don't have any ideas on what's best for Moustakas at this point. I'm not mad, Mike, I'm just concerned.
Jeff Francoeur - RF -
wOBA shrunk to .280 after a very Frenchy-like week. 3-for-16 with seven strikeouts and no extra base hits. I'm convinced there are a large percentage of professional baseball players who could lose an eye in a terrible snake-juggling accident, and still be better than Jeff Francoeur.
Salvador Perez - C -
Despite only getting two hits in eight PAs in the first two Red Sox games, Perez drove in three runs, which just goes to show what a hero he is. After taking a night off (scandal!), Perez was back in the lineup tonight and went 2-for-4. Might I suggest continuing this newfangled experiment of giving your catcher a day off every-so-often,
Ned Frank? Stuck on one walk, so his OBP is only .282 despite hitting .271 on the year.
Chris Getz - 2B -
Just didn't getz it done this week, going 1-for-10 to suck his OBP down into the abyss where only strange, Tony Batista-like creatures dwell. Getzy's only decent game was tonight, in which he managed a single and a walk. He also scored a run on an Escobar single, which was by far the scrappiest run of the 7-5 loss.
When asked for comment on when the Royals would acquire a player whose skill set could be described as more "starting second basemen" and less "futility infielder," Dayton Moore reportedly attempted to trade for Alexi Casilla.
(NOTE: this isn't real, but how hard would it be to believe?)
Jarrod Dyson - OF -
It would be really hard for Dyson to be as bad as Jeff Francoeur. Though I'm hoping that cobra-juggling isn't one of the pastimes he's taken up while sitting on the bench.
Miguel Tejada - "IF" -
Batted once against the Red Sox. Did what I would've done (struck out).
George Kottaras - BC -
Gets the up arrow for a whopping .400 OBP on the week in five plate appearances, because he was solid--one home run, one walk--and because I'm terrified we'll never see him on the field again.
Elliot Johnson - IF -
Batted three times against the Red Sox, did what I would have done. All three times! And he pinch ran because Jarrod Dyson took Ned Yost's strawberry poptarts. C'mon, Ned, strawberry isn't even close to the best flavor of poptarts - let's be real here.
Five Questions From Last Week -
1. Starting pitchers are getting out jams? Wade Davis did indeed fail to strand a lot of runners in his fourth start, which wasn't surprising given he'd stranded 93.3% of them going into the Detroit game. For the other starters, this wasn't much of a factor.
2. Hitting the ball in the air, whether hard and in-between fielders, or over the fence? Alex Gordon George Kottaras, and Billy Butler both went deep in the nightcap against the Sawx, leading the charge for the Royals hitting five homers in four games. Groundball rates dropped slightly.
3. Mike Moustakas IFFB% Watch: down to 19.4%
4. Weird Yost bullpen management? Left Davis out to dry too long against Detroit, which probably had a small hand in costing the Royals the game.
5. Hosmer? He's still Hosmer, alternating between moments of promise and moments of "please hit something harder."
Your Five Questions for This Week (now directed at you!):
1. How should the Royals handle the Moustakas problem (cutting or any similar hyperbole will not be accepted)?
2. How will they handle the Moustakas problem?
3. The Royals are still in first on the morning of April 25th, how much longer will that be the case?
4. Should the Royals continue to skip Mendoza starts when the opportunity presents itself?
5. If Jeff Francoeur were a vegetable, which vegetable would he be?
Bonus Off-Royals-Question - Any other hockey fans psyched for the playoffs? For our KC area peeps, which team do you root for?