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Lesky’s Notes: Go National League Team!

Another Astros/Yankees ALCS shows that sometimes chalk does win and it’s fun to root against chalk.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Guardians Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The postseason is an overreactor’s dream. On the National League side, there were three 100-win teams entering the tournament and all three were eliminated in their first series. The Padres took down two of them and the Phillies the other, so now they’re battling for the right to go to the World Series. Of course, that led to all sorts of conversations about the regular season being meaningless now and all of that. And yes, expanding the postseason dilutes the regular season and reduces teams who were dominant over the long season to a short series where anything can happen. But that’s always been the case. The best team to start the postseason has reached the World Series in either league nine times since 2010. That’s 12 postseasons. In only two of them did the best team make it from both leagues. I also found it interesting when the team with the better record found themselves on the winning end of three of the first four AL series and nobody mentioned that. The point is that the playoffs are a crapshoot. There is a degree of luck with every single champion. It’s gotten harder with more teams and it will continue to get harder when they add two more in a few years because you know they will. The only thing we need to focus on as a country is to root for anyone but the Astros and Yankees.

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Manager chatter

I just wanted to throw an update here to some things I’ve heard about the vacant manager’s seat in the Royals dugout. I guess technically all the seats are vacant right now, which is one of the reasons why they fired Mike Matheny, but you know what I mean. I continue to hear that the organization absolutely LOVES Matt Quatraro from the Rays, and I think that name makes a lot of sense. He’s been a minor league manager in the Rays organization and then was a big league coach with the Guardians and overlapped some with John Sherman’s time as minority owner there. And then he’s been with Kevin Cash since the 2018 season and has been his bench coach since 2019. There is a lot to like. He’s not the only name to keep an eye on, though. You probably saw the news yesterday that Dusty Wathan is interviewing for the job. And from what I understand, he might be a favorite for the role. There’s obvious interest since he’s interviewing, but I’m told the Royals love the idea of either him or Quatraro.

As you probably saw yesterday from Max and read in my managerial article back when Matheny got fired, Wathan seems like someone who makes a whole lot of sense. He’s been lauded for his communication skills but additionally his incorporation of analytics in everything he does. I love that part of it, but when you think about the role of today’s manager, I love how much his players love him more. It seems like he’s been tough but fair in his minor league managing career and has earned fans at every level because of that. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has ties to the organization as the son of John Wathan. I went into my research on managerial candidates not really thinking about him and now that we’re here, I kind of love the idea. On the flip side of all of this, it sort of sounds like Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson, while both confirmed candidates are getting courtesy interviews and Grifol may not even need it with the jobs he’s interviewing for. I’ve also heard that Alec Zumwalt, who was not considered a candidate initially, may actually be one but I’m not 100 percent sure on that.

Catching on

In The Kansas City Star on Wednesday, Lynn Worthy wrote that the Royals are looking to add to their catching core as a backup to Salvador Perez. Take that for however you’d like. In the article, Worthy mentions that MJ Melendez is the everyday left fielder. I’ve said a few times that if the Royals are really going to operate differently, you need to look at players who other organizations would be willing to deal. I, personally, think Melendez is a guy who other organizations might trade for pitching. But whatever the plan is with him, whether it’s to keep him as a full-time outfielder and occasional catcher, it does appear the team is on the hunt for someone to back up Perez a little more often. They do have Sebastian Rivero who is regarded as an excellent catch and throw guy, but doesn’t hit very much. So I wonder a little if they go after someone who has a bit more bat and can be counted on to do things well that Cam Gallagher did as Perez’s backup for so many years.

A few names stand out on the free agent market. Omar Narvaez had a rough year offensively, but he rated as one of the better pitch framers in baseball and has been a really solid offensive catcher for most of his career. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some starting job offers based on his history. He did hit .266/.342/.402 in 2021. But if he’s willing to be a backup, he’d be a nice fit. Additionally, Curt Casali has been okay defensively, though he struggled with framing this past season. He hasn’t hit much, but he’s shown power at times. Austin Hedges is a phenomenal defender, but I’m not sure the Guardians move on from him unless they trade for Sean Murphy. Jason Castro and Sandy Leon are also out there on the free agent market. Catching is obviously a thin position everywhere, but I wonder a little if backing up Perez isn’t quite as big of a turnoff to free agents as it may have once been. He only started 74 games behind the plate in 2022 and 120 in 2021 even in a year he played almost all 162. He started 33 of 60 in 2020 and missed all of 2019. He plays and he plays a lot, but the backup catcher in KC is probably a twice a week job now at least, so there’s some attraction to it.

The arms have it

There’s some sort of irony, I think that the Royals had so much trouble pitching in 2022 while their defense was basically great arm after great arm behind them. Maybe one of them should try their hand (arm?) at pitching. Okay, maybe not. We saw what happened to Michael A. Taylor after he aired it out in that one game before the break. If you’re not familiar, Baseball Savant has included an arm strength leaderboard, which is pretty cool. It’s also pretty cool that at the top of that list is one Nate Eaton. But if you sort by team, the Royals are at or toward the top of most of the positions. Their max arm strength is the best. At first base, they’re eighth, they’re third at third base, ninth at shortstop, fourth in left field (even with Andrew Benintendi for most of the season), sixth in center and 11th in right field. For a team that struggles with getting the swing and miss and putting so many runners on, at least this is something they can do to neutralize that in a very, very small way.

It should be no surprise that Bobby Witt Jr. rated well at third and at shortstop, sitting in the top 10 of both those positions. Melendez found himself at the top in left field, and I still believe he can figure out how to be at least an average defender there with some offseason work. Michael A. Taylor, a gold glove finalist for the second straight year, showed out well once again there. And Drew Waters was number 17 in right field, so I think it’s fair to say that the Royals defense should find themselves able to throw well again in 2023. Again, it’s not a weapon that you necessarily take over something else, but having those kinds of arms all around the diamond is actually a weapon that can be useful.

Royals in the AFL

We’re now 15 games into the Arizona Fall League schedule, so it seems like a good time to give an update on how some of the Royals who are there are doing. Of the three position players, the one I was most excited to see was Tyler Gentry, but even after a 1 for 4 effort with a walk yesterday, he’s not faring too well. He’s hitting just .147/.216/.353 with two home runs that both came in the same game. On the bright side, he’s only struck out 16.2 percent of the time. The outfielder who I was told back around mid-season was making some big fans in the organization was John Rave. The acquisition of Drew Waters muddied the…waters…for him, but he’s actually been excellent in Arizona, hitting .310/.394/.621. And Samad Taylor, who I saw years ago and liked in a small sample, is there too but, like Gentry has struggled to the tune of a .179/.286/.286 line. It should be noted that Gentry has the most plate appearances of the three with 37, so the sample size is impossibly small. I believed heading into the AFL season that Gentry needed a strong showing to really boost his chances at the Opening Day roster. I thought it was a long-shot anyway, but this hasn’t helped.

On the pitching side, there’s been some good with the bad. Christian Chamberlain has struck out nine in 7.1 scoreless innings with just one hit allowed. But he’s also walked five batters. Jonah Dipoto has a very good six to one strikeout-to-walk ratio in four innings, but he has given up a home run. TJ Sikkema has a 2.45 ERA in three starts spanning 11 innings, but has struck out just nine and walked six. Walter Pennington has also been solid with four scoreless innings. I spoke with a scout who saw Sikkema’s start on Tuesday when he struck out six and walked one in four innings and he said that on that particular day, he looked like he could pitch in the big leagues. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, of course, but that’s pretty encouraging. He also saw him pitch the week before that and liked what he saw, but thought he looked like a AA arm. It’s nice to see him succeeding in the Royals organization at all, though, because he did struggle quite a bit in his AA debut after getting traded. The season goes through the second weekend in November, so there are still a handful of games left to see what more some of these guys can do.