We talk a lot about how spring training statistics don’t mean anything, and they really aren’t all that important, but that’s not entirely true. We most definitely should never be looking at the stats from spring games and making judgments based solely on them, but as spring progresses, they do have some meaning. I think a lot about Alex Gordon in 2017. The numbers on the surface looked like he might be on his way to a solid season, but when you really think about them, you saw a .468 SLG in an environment that favors hitters and realized how weak a lot of the contact was. That’s just one example in a sea of many, but it’s a place where you can see the stats and take some context clues to make some judgments. 
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the numbers now that we’re about halfway through the spring and look at if they’re real or fake.
Alex Gordon
Might as well start here since he was the early example. He’s hitting .133/.229/.167. When a player is coming off a bad season and then has numbers like this, you start to worry a little bit. He has one extra base hit in 30 at bats, and in the time we’ve seen him play, it’s been a lot of weak ground balls. He talked about a new approach, but it sure looks like more of the same to me during the first few weeks of spring games. He’s been hitting at the top of the lineup a lot early on, and I think the reason is to get him at bats because if this is him, he’s a number nine hitter again.
Verdict: He’s not this bad, but I think the numbers are real in that they suggest last year might not have been a fluke.
Whit Merrifield
After a breakout year, Merrifield is hitting .484/.484/.968. He as three doubles, three triples and two home runs in 31 at bats. You can see by the average and OBP that he hasn’t walked any, but coming off the year he did and seeing him sting the ball seemingly every time he makes contact is really encouraging for Merrifield to continue to grow. His extra base hit numbers prorate to about 150 per 600 at bats, so that probably won’t hold, but he’s basically looked as good as the numbers suggest.
Verdict: He’s not this good, but I think the numbers are real in that they suggest last year might not have been a fluke.
Michael Saunders
Up until Jorge Bonifacio got popped for PEDs, I didn’t really focus much on Saunders, but now that he has a chance to make the team, it’s easy to look at his .304/.385/.391 line and think that he could maybe be something to help this team. He hasn’t played as much as the starters, so his sample is even smaller than the other small samples, but this is a similar situation to Gordon’s last year. He has two doubles, and one of them was in the ninth inning of a game against a guy who is most certainly a minor leaguer and the other one was a well placed gap shot that I don’t believe even reached the warning track. He hasn’t swung and missed much, but he’s looked like someone who doesn’t really have it anymore, which supports his 2017 season and 2016 second half.
Verdict: The numbers are sadly misleading.
Jake Junis
Did you really think I’d write an article about spring and not talk about my crush? Junis only has two appearances, so who knows what’ll happen, but he’s thrown six innings, allowed one home run (right down the line) and two hits with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. His fastball has been 93-95 and his slider has been unreal. His last outing he looked about as good as I’d seen him at any point last season. Yes, it’s just spring, but it’s hard not to be excited about him after the way he finished the season. The way some of his teammates talk about him, you wouldn’t be surprised if he pitched above what many believe his ceiling will be. I don’t think Junis is quite this dominant, but he’s a really solid pitcher, and this spring is showing it so far.
Verdict: It’s real and it’s spectacular.
Danny Duffy
He gave up seven runs in 3.2 innings yesterday against the A’s, who seem to bludgeon the Royals no matter where they play. Prior to that, he’d allowed two runs on three hits in five innings. One bad outing can skew stats so much without much of a sample that you don’t want to get all that worried, especially about a guy who has made at least 24 starts in each of the last four seasons and has a 3.47 ERA and 3.87 FIP in that time. For a veteran with the track record Duffy has, you don’t worry about a bad spring and especially not a bad spring start. It happens.
Verdict: He’s earned the stats, but nah.
Burch Smith
There was a lot to be excited about with the Rule 5 pick given the big fastball and former top prospect rankings before injuries just destroyed Smith. He’s still a great bet to make the team because they don’t want to lose him, but a 7.88 ERA is is met with eight walks in eight innings. And the numbers could be even worse, but three of the runs are unearned, and some of that is from an error he made himself. From what I saw, the fastball isn’t nearly as big as it’s been in previous seasons and it has seemed awfully straight, a la Brandon Maurer. Maybe he can develop, but it’s been a rough go.
Verdict: The stats are, sadly, real.
The samples are still tiny, so it’s pretty easy for the narrative to turn around, but what we’ve seen in the first three weeks of spring training is starting to give us an idea of what this team might look like. I think with the free agent additions, the offense is going to be a bit better than we expected when spring started, but still not especially good. I think the pitching staff is about what we all thought. The starters have shown flashes of being solid to good while the bullpen has proven inconsistent. That seems about right to me. With 13 spring games to go before the game in Omaha and many of the starters getting some more at bats over them, we’ll see if the stats hold up for the guys I think are real and if they catch up for those who I think are not.

RECAP: Make the whole rotation out of Jake Junis

So what we had on this night was an answer to my previous query of, “When should Brandon Maurer pitch?”

A: Any game the Royals are up or down by nine or more runs.

Maurer got that opportunity thanks to Jake Junis, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh and generally looked the part of No. 1 Starter-In-Training as he, combined with an out-of-nowhere offensive explosion, took down the Mariners in a 10-0 drubbing of the visitors on frigid night at Kauffman Stadium.

A one-word summary of Junis’ night would be “economical”; His pitches per inning:

  • First: 10
  • Second: 16
  • Third: 10
  • Fourth: 22
  • Fifth: 11
  • Sixth: 4
  • Seventh: 19

Final tally: barely 90 pitches required in a one-hit, seven-inning affair. He didn’t have the strikeout stuff; he induced contact, getting two-thirds of his outs via either the slider or the sinker as batter after batter simply couldn’t barrel up. Only David Freitas (fifth-inning liner right to Paulo Orlando) and Robinson Cano (sharp sixth-inning grounder to Mike Moustakas) showcased an exit velocity above 100 mph against Junis; no batted ball had better than a 61 percent chance of being a hit, and that wasn’t even Dan Vogelbach’s seventh-inning single that finally broke up the no-hitter, it was Freitas’ liner.

The offense helped take the pressure off in the first inning. As has happened quite often through the first eight games, the bats jumped out with some runs in the first, tagging Marco Gonzales for two runs before he ever recorded an out thanks to Moustakas’ line drive over the head of an inexplicably drawn-in Dee Gordon, scoring Jon Jay and Whit Merrifield after they led off the Royals night with back-to-back singles. Moose would score on a Jorge Soler single and Gordon error (not his finest moment) and chase Gonzales after 2.1 inefficient innings.

(Also helpful: A quickly-turned 6-4-3 double play in the third that cut down Dee Gordon on a close play at the bag. Gordon, one of the fastest players the game has ever seen, is a one-man rally on the basepaths; limiting his chances to take off on Junis, whose control was not impeccable by any means with two walks and three hit batters.)

Casey Lawrence was little better; entering with an out and runners on second and third, he surrendered an Alcides Escobar groundout to score Soler, then allowed a five-spot in the fourth that went Merrifield single, Moustakas flyout, Cheslor Cuthbert walk, Merrifield steal, Soler walk, Orlando grounder to score Merrifield, Cam Gallagher double to score Cuthbert, Escobar single to score Orlando, Drew Butera double to clear the bases. By the time he induced a Jon Jay flyout, Lawrence’s ERA stood at 10.38 and the score was 9-0.

To review: Casey Lawrence allowed the first RBI of the season to Esky, Paulo and Cam Gallagher. Usually people who do that find another line of work sooner rather than later is what I’m saying.

It’s here I feel compelled to talk about Jorge Soler, because he went 2-for-3 again Monday night; his average has gone from .000 to .278 in just over 24 hours. And unlike his performance in the finale against Cleveland, which consisted of dink-and-dunk hits and seeing-eye singles, Jorge’s balls in play exited at 107 mph (first-inning single), 108.9 mph (third-inning single) and 111.2 mph (grounder to short). Perhaps rumors of Jorge Soler’s demise were slightly exaggerated.

Nobody, not even Brandon Maurer, was gonna screw up a nine-run lead and to his and Brian Flynn’s credit, they both tossed scoreless innings in mop-up time (lowering Maurer’s ERA to 15.00 and Flynn’s to 11.57), while Moustakas slammed his season’s first homer in the ninth to help the Royals reach double-digits. Since I’ve got nothing else to really add there, I think it’s fair to point out that Moustakas’ first homer was not of the lucky, wall-scraping variety, and I’ll do it with this handy chart because Lesky turned me onto Baseball Savant and I’m a huge dork.


Bright Spots: Eight of the nine players in the lineup got a hit, and the only one who didn’t—Cuthbert—walked three times. The staff combined for a two-hitter. Whit, Moose, Soler and Orlando collected multiple hits. The defense was solid. Other than that, pretty garbage night.

The Nadir: Having the, “Look, I don’t care how bad he is, Maurer can’t screw THIS up, right?” conversation. That’s no fun. And something called Chasen Bradford threw three scoreless innings in relief for Seattle, although it was 9-0 at the time and everybody looked cold.

The Next Step: Can I interest you in King Felix (hey, thanks FSKC for giving me disinformation I could’ve corroborated for myself during Sunday’s broadcast; I was hyped for Felix-Junis) vs. Eric Skoglund in a game that could give the Royals (gasp!) a series win? I could? Cool, kicks off at 7:15 p.m. (CT), Tuesday.

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