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Hok Talk: A Tale of Twos

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This Royals team is exhibiting a dual nature.

Milwaukee Brewers v Kansas City Royals
Jason Hammel throws a two-seam fastball to warm up before Wednesday night’s game
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

OK, obligatory opening sentence done. Let’s get to business. The Royals, as a whole, haven’t been dual-natured; they’ve just been really, really bad. But some of the players on the team have some pretty obvious, pretty large splits. The most obvious of these examples is, of course, Jorge Soler who started the season without a hit in his first 11 at-bats which stretched across the Royals’ first 7 games. Since then he has been as hot as the sun (pun intended). What other Royals are dual-natured? Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Lucas Duda and Jon Jay are examples of small sample sizes

2 weeks ago some, including me, were suggesting Dayton Moore had made cunning work of signing these two free-agents late in the off-season because they were off to such hot starts that they might be very valuable come the trade deadline. Then the last two weeks happened. Duda has slashed .222/.286/.311/.597 while Jon Jay has pulled off a putrid .227/.306/.250/.556. One of the big knocks against Jarrod Dyson was always his lack of power but it turns out that he is not only faster and a better defender than Jay, he’s stronger, too. Dyson, by the way, is getting paid not much more than Jay this year but has already been worth 0.6 fWAR more. His current .213 ISO is doomed to come down but his glove and speed remain superior. Of course, the hitters aren’t the only dual-natured ones on this team...

Dr. Junis and Mr. Home Run

Jakob Junis has made 5 starts for the 2018 Royals and 3 of them have gone really well. The one commonality they share is a lack of home runs allowed. In the other two starts, he has allowed a total of 8 home runs in 10.1 innings. Not exactly a recipe for success. This duality stretches back to last season, as well. Only once has he given up more than 2 earned runs in a start where he didn’t allow a home run - when he allowed 3 - and only once has he allowed as few as 2 earned runs when he has allowed 1 or more dingers. Jakob succeeds with pinpoint control - he doesn’t strike out many but has a K-BB% (a stat that subtracts a pitcher’s walk percentage from their strikeout percentage) to rival Danny Duffy since 2017 even accounting for all his control struggles to start last season. No one else even comes close to his K-BB% so far, this year.

All he has to do is figure out how to get his home run rate under Ian Kennedy’s to turn from the #4 or #5 starter a lot of people say is his ceiling into a solid #2 starter bordering on ace. Most of the secondary pitching stats say he’s already the second-best starter in the Royals’ rotation going back to last season. He’s got far and away the best WHIP, the best ERA, and he’s second in xFIP and SIERA only to Duffy. There is a reason 3 of the Royals’ 5 wins have come while he was on the mound this year. All he needs is a bit more consistency in limiting home runs and it can all be his. Speaking of the ginger right-hander...

Healthy and Injured Ian Kennedy are completely different from each other

Last year was a tale of two Kennedys, before his injury and after. A 3.03 ERA before and a 6.08 ERA after. Add in a 3.46 ERA this year before he bashed his toe on a line drive and a 3.68 ERA in 2016 and it’s pretty clear which of those things looks more like an outlier. The question is, are the Royals and Kennedy rushing him back to the mound, again, tomorrow? The move at least made some sense in 2017; they had no viable replacement for him in the rotation after Nate Karns also went down with injury and Eric Skoglund turned into a pumpkin. The Royals also thought they were competing last year. While it made sense in the moment it really didn’t make sense to continue that experiment after a few starts showed there was definitely something still wrong with the right-hander’s leg.

It should likewise be obvious to everyone even this early that the Royals are not competing this year, anyway. They also have a handful of viable starting pitchers toiling in the minor leagues, right now, between Trevor Oaks - who will get a start today as the 26th man - Clay Buchholz, Heath Fillmyer, and Jonathan Dziedzic at AAA alone. If Kennedy is really healthy we should see him continue to pitch fairly well and make a case to be valuable enough to someone to at least dump his salary this off-season. If he’s hurt and the Royals are sending him back to the mound anyway...why? It will make it more difficult to trade him and he’s definitely not helping them win like that. I guess we’ll just have to see what he does tomorrow.

One more thing about Jay and Duda

The small sample size of the horrid last two weeks have made their entire season stats look bad. The first important thing to remember is that even an entire month is a pretty small sample size. They could turn it around tonight, or tomorrow, or next week and still look valuable to someone at the trade deadline. But if they don’t, that can be OK, too.

Even if they were playing well it might not be well enough to convince Dayton Moore to trade them for whatever it is they’re worth. But if they’re bad they’re not being paid so much that they can’t just be cut if someone in the minor leagues - like Hunter Dozier with his 121 wRC+ at Omaha - seems ready to start learning against MLB pitching. Don’t forget, Jorge Bonifacio will be back at mid-season, too, he’ll need somewhere to play, and the Royals have already admitted that they only signed Jay because of his suspension. It will be a lot easier to convince GMDM to cut a struggling Jay than franchise hero Alex Gordon in order to make room for Boni.