Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: 2012 is Opportunity Time
by Jeff Herr,posted Jun 11 2012 6:14PM
After the Athletics left Kansas City in 1967 KC’s baseball future was uncertain. It wasn’t until Ewing Kauffman stepped up and founded the Royals that we knew where baseball was going in this town. KC baseball was back on the map and within just a few years the Royals were one of the class organizations in baseball. You could make the argument that from 1976 to 1985 this was the best franchise in the majors. They made the playoffs seven out of 10 years, made the World Series twice and won once.
When Kauffman was running the show the Royals were an innovative organization that was consumed with winning. Recently, Brad Fanning did a story (http://www.kctv5.com/story/18644635/royals-baseball-academy) on the Royals baseball academy. The goal was to find players that other teams didn’t. Some of the baseball purists of the time didn’t like the idea and thought it would never work. Despite those detractors Royals decided they were going to do what they needed to do to succeed.
According to Art Stewart from the article, this was something that was 40 years ahead of its time. It found future 8-time Gold Glove winner and 5-time All Star Frank White, among other undiscovered talent. Even though Kauffman was told this wouldn’t work he forged ahead. It was revolutionary at the time and can its effects still be seen today.
After Kauffman died in 1993 it seems that the innovation of this organization died with him. Since Kauffman passed away, nearly twenty years ago, this organization has been behind the curve on nearly every front.
Recently, under the guidance of Dayton Moore they have made huge strides in their talent evaluation and scouting. Even so, before Moore got there they were way behind the curve in those areas. They might be one of the best at it in the league, but they are just now seeing results since they were so far behind to begin with.
That is where things end when it comes to the Royals being league leaders in any area. They can find the talent but in all other aspects it appears they are still stuck in 1995.
This season was supposed to be different. All the issues of the past were supposed to be put behind them as we were ushered into a new era of Royals baseball. With a farm system still stocked even after losing a lot of talent to their own major league squad, the Royals were a chic pick to surprise. Yet, they currently sit at 24-34 and only a half game out of last place in front of the woeful Twins.
This season is on the verge of slipping away and the Royals need to take the rest of 2012 as an opportunity. They need exploit areas where they have the advantage.
Take their bullpen for example. They currently have the sixth best bullpen ERA in all of baseball. By wins above replacement (WAR) they are fifth. Moore spent the offseason building this team to have the best bullpen in the majors. In terms of relievers the Royals might have more talent between the minors and the majors than any other team.
Despite all of that, they are pitching their starters to avoid using their bullpen. They are putting pressure on their starters to go into the 7th inning or further, when it usually ends up hurting them. Why not switch methods and take the starter out sooner, even if they are having a good start? Maybe with less pressure on players like Luke Hochevar, they won’t have the implosion innings we’ve come to expect.
There are obviously concerns about putting that many innings on the bullpen, but if that’s the case then the Royals should simply change the training methods of their relievers so they can be stretched out more. This would be a way for the Royals to take advantage of the biggest strength this team has.
It doesn’t have to stop there either. The Royals spent nearly a quarter of the season trying to find the right spot for Alex Gordon in the lineup because he doesn’t quite “look like” a leadoff hitter. Even though that’s where he produced his career year last year and has stated he’s most comfortable, the Royals lagged in putting him there. Gordon may not have started on such a big slump if they just put him there to start the season.
It seems Moore and manager Ned Yost feel that baseball has to be played a certain way. They are both “old school” baseball men and run this organization in that manner. The two of them and the rest of the organization cite how hard it is to compete in a small market in baseball, how everyone’s not on the same level, and then try to compete on that very level with the methods that they’ve been using for years. They took advantages they could find n the draft and scouting, but that hasn’t carried over to any other area.
The Royals don’t have to be a conventional baseball team. They don’t have to abide by any antiquated notions of how they “should” play. The Royals need to stop concentrating on what baseball says they should do, look at their team and do whatever THIS team needs to do to win games. People may think methods are unconventional, but if they win then that’s all that matters.
If they are having problems with starting pitching, instead of just hoping things get better they need to take steps to mitigate that weakness and utilize their bullpen better. If they’re having problems on defense maybe they need to try some more extreme shifts to get their better defenders in better position. If their fastest player can’t hit, then he doesn’t have to be leadoff just because he’s the fastest. They don’t have to abide by convention to win ball games in Kansas City.
After a poor weekend showing by this team, the fan base at a season-low for positivity, and the injuries piling up, this is the perfect opportunity for the Royals to prove they can innovate. The Royals don’t have to wait until they must change to change, they can jump right out in front and be the leader.
Wouldn’t it be great if the Royals did something other teams would copy in a few years? Such a thing would make Kauffman proud, and who knows, they might even win a few more games in the process.