Royals fans of the last two decades have seen this happen before. Other baseball teams have probably seen it, too, but when your team is in the process of going 30 years in between playoff appearances it hurts just a bit more. Think back to 1999 with Tony Muser and Jose Rosado. Or perhaps 2001 with, again, Tony Muser but this time with Chad Durbin. Or, likely the most famous example, 2009 with Trey Hillman and Gil Meche.
There is relatively little a manager controls throughout a season. They don’t determine who is on the roster, that’s the job of the GM even if the manager might have some input. They also have no control over how a given player performs on a certain night. They can make the statistically best lineup or call in the statistically best reliever for a given situation and those players can have an off night and none of it matters in the slightest.
One thing that is 100% in a manager’s control, though, is when they’re going to give a guy a break. For position players, that’s a night off. Same for relievers. For starting pitchers they usually just follow the rotation, but they decide when a guy has had enough for a night and bring in one of those relievers. In the historical cases from the first paragraph, the manager chose to let those starters throw more pitches (130+) in a game than they should have.
Danny Duffy has never thrown nearly that many pitches in a game in his career; so what am I going on about? On April 21, Ned Yost allowed his most oft-injured, most valuable pitcher to pitch on 3 days’ rest in a season that was already clearly lost. Just like with those other starters this wasn’t the first time Danny had been called to go above and beyond; but as a manager, it’s your job to know when and where you can push a guy. It’s your job to not listen to him when he insists he’s good to go if you know better - just ask Terry Collins and Matt Harvey.
Ned Yost didn’t just allow or command Duffy to pitch that day - and let’s be real, with what know of Duffy it was almost certainly “allow” - but he allowed him to throw 101 pitches in only 4.1 innings while allowing 6 runs. It was Duffy’s fourth straight appearance of 100+ pitches in what ended up being a streak of six games. That’s simply terrible decision-making on Ned’s part. There was no reason to let Duffy pitch on short rest. There was especially no reason to let him throw more than 100 pitches while he was at it.
Duffy might not share the exact circumstances with those other pitchers, but he does share another characteristic. All three of the others had been pitching pretty well before they were overworked. Duffy’s lines are, of course, small sample sizes but here’s what they look like, per FanGraphs:
Before April 21: 3.86 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 2.09 K/BB, .203 AVG against
April 21 and after (Including Thursday night): 7.41 ERA, 6.82 FIP, 1.69 K/BB, .319 AVG against
And, of course, if you want to point to Thursday night as proof there were definitely some mitigating factors. For one thing, Texas has a below average offense this year and were missing some of their best hitters against left-handed pitching, this year. They were forced to start four left-handed batters against Duffy which is the first time that’s been allowed to happen, all year.
I could be wrong, I suppose, but this has all the appearances of another pitcher who was overworked for little to no reason. One thing I’m still not wrong about, though...
Alex Gordon is still going. Still.
Alex has calmed down since his hot stretch got his batting average up over .300 and convinced everyone he might be worth 5 wins above replacement, this year. But he’s still hitting acceptably well, especially compared to a lot of the other players with whom he regularly shares a lineup card. No, he’s not on pace for 5 WAR, anymore, but he’d still be at least as valuable as he was in 2016. I definitely remember a lot of people saying that they’d be happy to just get 2016 Alex back after the disaster that was last year, so that should be OK.
The odd thing, perhaps, is how poorly rated his defense is and how that’s affecting his value. FanGraphs currently suggests that he’s been below average in left and a complete disaster in center. Of course, if the Royals really want to get the most out of his bat it seems they need to play him in center. He has a 151 wRC+ when Ned pencils CF next to his name and only an 88 wRC+ as a left fielder. He should, under no circumstances, be allowed to DH anymore, though. He has a -66 wRC+ and has struck out in more than half of his plate appearances when he has to take his at-bats without otherwise getting on the field. If they aren’t going to play him in center they probably need to at least bat him sixth. He does significantly better when he’s allowed to bat there as he did in the final two games of the Cardinals series which saw him get 5 hits in 8 at-bats including that solo home run. In his last 10 games batting sixth and/or playing center he’s reached base in 18 of 40 plate appearances with 3 home runs. He’s reached in 7 of 40 with 1 home run in his last 10 games that don’t match either of those criteria.
The reality is that it probably doesn’t mean anything. Unless it does. It is possible that this seemingly unrelated factor actually matters a great deal, after all. Billy Butler claimed to be more comfortable as a hitter when he played in the field rather than just as a DH and the stats bear him out; He had a career 125 wRC+ as a first-baseman and only a 109 wRC+ as a DH. The split was even more pronounced from 2014 on: 131 wRC+ as a fielder versus 89 wRC+ as a DH.
Speaking of guys we would like to DH more...
Salvador Perez is proving to be more valuable than ever
Salvy has a long-standing reputation in KC as one of their better hitters and an amazing defender. But he hasn’t been a positive as a hitter over a full season since 2013 and the defensive metrics suggest his skills behind the dish took a steep nose-dive last year to something slightly above average instead of remarkably good.
This year, though, he’s really hitting so far. He’s only played in 30 games and he already has 8 home runs. If he continues that pace he’ll hit 32, this season, which would set a career mark for him for the eighth consecutive season out of 8 seasons played. The thing is, he’s also walking at a career-high rate - still only 5.8% of the time, but that is more than 50% better than his career mark - and he’s bringing the strikeouts down a bit, too, while the ISO is higher than ever.
His 113 wRC+ would easily be a career-high over the course of a full season and the defensive metrics are happy with him, again, too. But he might not even be playing at his full potential either. His .250 BABIP so far is 38 points below his career average but he’s hitting the ball harder than ever while maintaining the high FB% and low GB% he’s had the last few years. He could get even hotter before he’s done.
Many analysts, even here at Royals Review, have long wondered if Royals fans’ perceptions of his trade value were a bit out of whack. He’s got a bit of a reputation around town as being KC’s answer to Yadier Molina and while he’s been as good as Yadi in the years they’ve played the fact of the matter is that Yadi was in the decline phase of his career while Salvy was in the prime of his. But if Salvy really has found a new level and can maintain this over the remainder of the year he might have legitimate trade value, after all.
I mean, probably less valuable than you’re thinking because he’ll be 29 next season with a growing history of injury. But valuable all the same.