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Weekend Rumblings - News for July 29, 2023

Asian Baseball Midseason Check, Part III: NPB

Kansas City Royals v Chicago White Sox
There are four images for “Alen Hanson” and “Royals” in the archive. This is one of them.

Ed note: As mentioned in yesterday’s comments, Max and I swapped Fri and Sat so you’re basically getting a Friday Rumblings on Saturdays. Lucky (or unlucky) you! Also, a bunch of this was written Thursday so do with that what you will.

If you haven’t had enough of the stadium debate, KMBC9 has a rough overview on where we’re at. There’s not really any new news, but local news is going to reach a broader audience than some outlets.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’m not familiar with City Scene KC, but Kevin Collison is reporting something a bit new. While the city has been saying the Royals are the holdup, his sources point to another stumbling block:

Last month, Royals owner John Sherman expressed frustration about “waiting on a few people” who didn’t share the team’s urgency about negotiating a downtown ballpark deal. Turns out, that negotiating ball has literally been in Jackson County’s court since at least mid-June, according to senior-level sources close to the concept with the Royals and County Hall.

That’s when the Royals sent Jackson County what’s called a term sheet outlining what the club wants in a long-term lease for a proposed ballpark at the East Village and extending the existing 3/8th cent county sales tax to help pay for it. They’ve been waiting for a response ever since and sources say part of the hold-up has been with Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr.

Business reporter Kevin Hardy at The Star extols the virtues of the North Kansas City location.

“Four or five months ago, I think everybody would have thought we were getting played to leverage Jackson County,” said Jason Withington, a Western at-large Clay County Commissioner. Now, he says that has changed.

“We’ve had meetings with the Royals ownership and Clay County is a serious contender,” Withington said. He thinks the sheer size of the North Kansas City site is the clearest draw for the Royals and developers wanting to build out the ballpark district. He expects the state would work to revamp interstate on and off ramps for easier access to the stadium. “I honestly believe if the Royals build in the East Village they’re going to have regret and they’re going to wish they were in North Kansas City,” he said.

Look, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. Nor am I very observant - just ask my wife. But, between those last two stories, ever feel like you’re just pawns or rubes in this game used by billionaires to extract extra taxes from you? I mean, the first is a hit piece about how Frank White is the big hold up and then the second one uses a business reporter to write a puff piece extolling a second site that we all kindof know isn’t as good as the first. However, since they don’t want us to go “but Kauffman is good the way it is”, this will make us feel better about getting the “right choice” when we hand over a pile of money to people who have more money than they know what to do with but still want to get higher on the scoreboard.

Also, at the Star, Sam McDowell looks at the Royals trade position:

The three conclusions instead:

• This last-place team does not really have many assets to sell. Granted, it already traded one back-end reliever, but if we’re debating when and where a bullpen arm with a 5+ earned run average might go, what remains is thin.

• We ought to hold the Royals to their own words — that they will be more transactional under this regime than the last— but the real test isn’t now. It will arrive later.

• The Royals might call this an evaluation year, a term that should not excuse the 29-75 record, but they’ve already needed to make a conclusion on the evaluation of the core group, even if it’s subject to change. And we should pay close attention to what it is.

Transaction time?

From the blog side of things, Drew Osborne of Royals Farm Report looks at “The high octane arms of NWA”:

Currently, if you mention the gas in the Naturals bullpen, the question has to be which one? The Naturals pen is now full of guys who are described as “hard-throwers”. A lot of these guys were flyers who have found their way to AA in a roundabout way. Many times, guys with huge velo have huge control issues and many of these guys are not strangers to the base on balls. They are still learning to harness their velocity, but they are improving each time out as the quest for triple digits continues...

These guys will come and go either up or down a level or two but the Royals have made an intentional effort to get high velocity guys into their bullpen. This is evident at NWA and will likely be a continued trend as the team goes forward. Guys that can throw hard always get a chance. If the Royals can get a few of these guys to get their control locked in and continue to develop, we could see several of them in KC (or on other MLB teams) over the next few seasons.

David Lesky rolls through a number of topics:

I know I’ve written this before in this space and certainly in the other spaces I’ve written in the past, but this whole team reminds of me of 2012 Eric Hosmer. He had such a promising rookie year and then actually came out of the gates with two homers in his first three games. The race to superstardom was on. Even through nine games, he was hitting .216/.310/.432 but with five walks and just six strikeouts. He was hitting into some rotten luck. After 18 games, he was hitting .225/.321/.465 with five homers and 10 walks with 12 strikeouts. His BABIP was .204. Things started cratering from there.

I don’t know why I remember this, but he got the day off in the last game of a series in Boston and it was after a couple of days when he just stopped hitting the ball hard. We didn’t have exit velocity data back then, but it was pretty clear he was hitting ropes and was terribly unlucky. He had a .179 BABIP and a ground ball rate that wasn’t as bad as it would get. And he changed his approach. He never found the magic again that season and then, only sporadically throughout the rest of his career. That was a long way of saying what the 2023 Royals feel like, but I hope they find it where Hosmer couldn’t find it enough. I’m sure some would argue, but there is talent on this team. They have to figure out how to get more out of it, though.

Blog roundup:

After looking at the CBPL and KBO the last two weeks, we finish off our Asian baseball midseason check with the NPB. Here was our season preview for the NPB.

Our timing was perfect for the last two leagues with the second half starting the same day as our update. Alas, it didn’t work the same way in the NPB as the All-Star Games were on the 19th and 20th and the second half resumed last Saturday on the 22nd so we’re 6 days in. Not only that, but I wrote most of this Thursday night. So there might be some discrepancy with the stats - if I say “first half stats” or the like, it might include a few games from the second half but let’s just all pretend that we’re starting the second half of the season tomorrow, capisce?

Speaking of the All-Star Games(s), yes, plural - let’s start there. The Pacific League won both games, 8-1 and then 6-1. Tensions are high in Japan just as they are here for the All-Star Game. In the second game, Yutaro Sugimoto charged the mound after a pitch went behind him (watch the video, seriously). That said, here’s the headline from that second game:

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Chusei Mannami homered for the second straight day, going deep off DeNA BayStars pitcher Trevor Bauer, as the Pacific League clubbed the Central League 6-1 Thursday to sweep Nippon Professional Baseball’s two-game All-Star series.

You might noticed a familiar name there. Trevor Bauer is 7-3 with a 3.29 ERA and made the All-Star game. His teammate, closer Yasuaki Yamasaki threw all knuckleballs in his inning in the first All-Star Game. He’s also one of a number of players to take Bauer to task for acting unconventionally in the NPB. DeNA is in 3rd place in the Central League and 5 GB. If you’re curious who their favorite Pokemon are, well...

Atop the Central League standings are the 52-38 Hiroshima Carp and the Hanshin Tigers at 49-37-3. The Yomiuri Giants are hanging around at 7.5 GB, in striking distance for that 3rd and final playoff spot. Our Yakult Swallows and the Chunichi Dragons are bringing up the rear at 14 and 15.5 GB. Nori Aoki is hitting .268/.380/.335. However, teammate and 2-time reigning Central League MVP Munetaka Murakami has “only” 17 HR so far and is carrying around a .238/.355/.447 line. That .802 OPS is the lowest of his career.

Over in the Pacific League, we can follow up on some of the other players we mentioned in the preview. Roki Sasaki continues to throw fire of the 103mph variety. At 7-2 with a 1.48 ERA and 130 Ks in... 85(!!) IP, he started the first All-Star Game for the Pacific League and picked up the win. His Chiba Lotte Marines are 2nd in the league, 3.0 GB of the Orix Buffaloes. I also mentioned their ace, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, in the preview and he followed Sasaki in the first ASG. He’s 9-4 with a 1.78 ERA and “only” 107K in 101 IP. That’s tied for 2nd in the NPB with Sasaki’s Marine teammate Atsuki Taneichi. However, Taneichi and the rest of the Marines will have big shoes to fill as Sasaki was injured a couple of days ago and is expected to miss 2 months.

The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks are in the driver’s seat for the league’s final playoff spot at 6 games back and the only other team above .500. The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, Saitama Seibu Lions and Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters are all well off the pace. Seibu is where Brooks Kriske went after the Royals released him.

Speaking of futility, just a couple of short weeks ago, on July 4th, the Fighters were muddling along at 35-40. But then they lost 5-1. They proceeded to lose the next 7 games by 1-run! They took a 10-game losing streak into the All-Star Break and eventually ran the losing streak to 13 in a row. On Wednesday, they were up 2-0 in the 8th when reliever Takahide Ikeda gave up a 2-run home run to tie the game and their fans thought “here we go again”. But former Pirate, White Sock, Giant, and Blue Jay Alen Hanson homered in the 9th to end the streak for the Fighters.

That’s all for our midseason look at Asian baseball. We’ll check back after the playoffs.

With a lot of time spend on the NPB, once again, we’re going to revisit another old game. This time, it’s Project X Zone and the theme for the evil organization Oros Phlox. I still love how they made the music for the game sound a lot like the older games they were mashing together for this game.