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Spring Training 2020: What we know - Soft platoon edition

Catching up from another week of exhibition baseball.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Chicago Cubs Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

You hear the term soft platoon rarely, if ever, but there go the Royals. If they weren’t exactly at the forefront of the sabermetric revolution, they seem to be leading the way in coming up with some oddly specific jargon regarding how they plan to split time between the Two Ryans at first base.

(A cursory Google search does reveal the Rangers deployed a soft platoon with Joey Gallo in 2017. Perhaps my head is so deep in the spreadsheets, I miss the revolutionary turns of phrases.)

With the Ryan O’Hearn/Ryan McBroom tandem at first base, the Royals don’t seem to want to use a straight platoon, even if the past numbers suggest it’s a solid idea. And if they were going to use the Cactus League to figure out who should get the lion’s share of playing time, the duo are giving the Royals plenty to think about.

First Base, Designated Hitter or Pinch Hitter Table
2 McBroom, Ryan 6.6 32 29 7 10 3 0 3 8 3 5 .345 .406 .759 1.165 22
3 O'Hearn, Ryan 6.8 32 29 3 9 2 0 3 6 3 7 .310 .375 .690 1.065 20
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/9/2020.

This is insane, in a good way. And it’s pretty much been this way for the entire camp. Neck and neck headed for a photo finish.

So the soft platoon seems to give the edge to O’Hearn, whom, by all appearances, Mike Matheny favors. It’s not that much of a leap. O’Hearn has been referred to as a starter in all the articles about position battles in camp. It would seem the Royals are pushing for a scenario that isn’t a true platoon and would give O’Hearn some opportunity to ply his trade against left-handers, while not playing him against all lefties, and creating a scenario where questions are raised when he’s on the pine for a tough southpaw or two. It’s nice for the Royals to want to give him a chance. The career MLB numbers for O’Hearn suggest it may be smart to ditch the soft part of this platoon.

Platoon Splits
vs RHP 438 387 49 90 22 3 23 62 48 108 .233 .320 .483 .803 187 .261 115
vs LHP 102 90 6 13 1 0 3 6 11 36 .144 .235 .256 .491 23 .192 35
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/9/2020.

You are probably aware of these numbers and the Royals most certainly are. But it never hurts to see them presented in this fashion. O’Hearn will have to show better than the numbers against lefties above otherwise the soft platoon will become a little more... concrete.

Meanwhile, McBroom is creating a ton of hard contact. And it brings us to the best quote I’ve seen from Matheny this spring, courtesy of Jeffery Flanagan:

“This is what I expected last year from McBroom. He has really worked on putting good at-bats together. But I thought last year, as he made that adjustment to cut down on swings and misses, he maybe let some opportunities pass to really drive the ball. I think this year he’s going out there with some bad intentions and making the ball pay.

Good things can happen to a hitter with bad intentions.

What hasn’t been a question throughout the Royals’ camp in Arizona has been the starting rotation. The first four at least. It’s been nice to see Danny Duffy shove in his outings, going four strong in his appearance over the weekend.

On Monday, it was Mike Montgomery who twirled four solid innings, allowing just four hits against four whiffs and no walks. A two-run home run by Kole Calhoun was the only damage on the afternoon.

It was the Royals’ first trip to Salt River Fields this spring, so it provides us with the first opportunity to parse some real, actual Statcast data. I have to admit that at first, it was slightly concerning that the gun had him hovering around 90 mph on both the two and the four-seamer. After all, Montgomery averaged around 92 mph last summer. That worry gave way once I was able to see his outing in full from Statcast.

You know what they say about minor league prospects: don’t scout the stats. They should say something similar about pitching data… don’t scout the Statcast. Hell, let’s do it anyway. It’s spring training. Get crazy. What stands out from Montgomery’s start was he was able to maintain that velocity the entire afternoon. It’s a snapshot of a starter building up his workload and his power in the middle of what is a lengthy process to get prepared for the regular season. Montgomery threw 52 pitches, 26 strikes. The strike number is a little on the low side, but he was living around the zone, so it’s not anything to fret about in March.

Statcast aside, what could cause a little agita would be the other two members of the aforementioned starting four in the rotation.

Jakob Junis was a scratch from his previously scheduled start with lower back stiffness the Royals said was mild. He threw on the side last week and was scheduled for a simulated game on Sunday. He is supposed to make a start later this week. Brad Keller, who is tentatively penciled in as the Opening Day starter, has been wrecked in two Cactus League starts. Granted, he’s given up dingers to Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado and there’s absolutely no shame in that. But he’s also generally struggled in both his appearances.

Speaking of health, Adalberto Mondesi is officially on the clock when it comes to being ready for Opening Day. The Royals are talking a good game about Mondesi being in the lineup in Chicago in two weeks, but the reality is starting to set in that it probably ain’t happening. As mentioned earlier in this piece, spring training is far too long, and Mondesi has been getting work in, but you have to wonder how many Cactus League games he needs (and wants) to get his timing down. The doctors say he’s on schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery, but he’s already behind all the pitchers he would see at this point, so it would figure to possibly be a bit of a struggle to get back to game speed.

The Royals have been uber cautious of Mondesi the last couple of years, stressing the importance of bringing him along slowly and giving him plenty of opportunity for rest in order to keep him healthy. It didn’t work so well last summer as he hit the IL twice, the last stop with the torn labrum in his left shoulder shut him down right at the end of the season.

This week is a critical one if he’s to be at shortstop on Opening Day.