Five to watch after the break

The bad news is self-evident: the Kansas City Royals first-half woes leave them on pace for the worst record in team history.

That’s pretty bad news though.

But if there’s a silver lining in every cloud, it’s that some of the principals involved in the first-half malaise should be better, and the bounce-back could start as soon as this weekend.

Just in time for them to be traded to a contender for spare parts and nothingness, but still. It’s the effort, and the potential to not lose 110 games, that counts.

Some of these guys have a future in Kansas City. With any luck, most don’t. But for these five, the second half is an audition, both for now and in the future. Will they need luck? Tons. Patience from fans, media and front-office alike? Absolutely. Could this work out for everybody? That’s a firm maybe.

Salvador Perez

Pretty rare to consider an All-Star—a starter!—to be a candidate for a bounce-back. And yet here we are.

David did a considerable dive into Salvy a couple of days ago, how even with his results-based numbers down across the board he’s still one of the better hitters on the team from a raw skill standpoint. Offensively, he may not rake—once Mike Moustakas is traded, there’s really no protection in this lineup for him. But he’ll draw walks and get on base and be generally productive, if for no other reason than because opponents have no incentive to pitch to him at all.

Aside from the walks, which should help out that (frankly ghastly) .259 OBP he posted in the first half, I’d suspect his slugging will get back up over .400 and his OPS will settle somewhere north of .700 and we’ll probably forget that his first half was bad (boy, was it) at the plate because he’s still in a prime year and there’s little historical precedent for a consistent All-Star to completely crater at the dish. His contemporaries through age-27—Brian McCann, Benito Santiago, Matt Wieters—each managed to hit 30 before Father Time started whacking them over the head with a pool cue.

What would be good for Salvy, both to ease him into a later-career stage where he doesn’t catch every day and to mitigate his wear and tear in a lost season would be to let him play first some, DH more often and give Drew Butera, Cam Gallagher and others some extended looks behind the plate. The Royals won’t do this, but they should. I know that catcher ERA is a dumb stat, and I’d never deign to lay most of the pitching staff’s struggles on Perez, but the staff has a collective 5.17 ERA with him back there. They could get throwing to Butera, or Gallagher or you, if you’re available and if they’re gonna do that, they might as well save Perez’s knees.

Jorge Bonifacio

Is it Jorge’s fault he was suspended for the first 80 games of the season? Well… yeah, that’s what happens when you use them performance-enhancers. So consider this a bounce more than a bounce-back.

Even though we’re less than 500 at-bats into Jorge’s career, it already feels like the clock is ticking a little bit. This season has obviously been a wash after losing 80 games. Last season’s inexplicable burying of Bonifacio for Melky Cabrera after the trade deadline, which saw him net less than 100 at-bats over the season’s final two months, were a crucial waste of his development for no reason at all. He won’t have a more stress-free environment to prove what he’s all about than the next two-plus months when all the Royals are trying to do is avoid 120 losses.

I’m optimistic on Jorge for a couple of reasons. First, he’s going to get chances—a great move would be to situate him near Perez in the batting order, forcing pitcher’s to pitch to Bonifacio if they want to dance around Perez. Since his return from suspension, Bonifacio has been pretty good (.288, seven extra-base hits in 52 at-bats); he’s still striking out too much, but his contact has been solid (average exit velo up to 88.9 mph, launch angle up to 16.9 degrees, with a hard-hit percentage right on the career average, and all these things well above the MLB average) and he’s due. For what remains to be seen.

Lucas Duda

I was a big advocate of bringing Duda in during the offseason, and I stand by all of those reasons. If you’re going to play a guy without a ton of pop but considerable fielding acclaim at first, I’d rather pay Lucas Duda a fraction of what I’d have to pay Eric Hosmer to do it in 2018.

So far in 2018, when Duda hasn’t been injured he’s been ineffective, as a man nearing 33 years old might be expected to become. Like Perez, Duda has slapped when it comes to the StatCast numbers; unlike Perez, he’s whiffing at a considerably higher rate (32.0 percent) and his 70.0 percent contact rate (via FanGraphs) is a career-low. Over the last month, since returning from a plantar fasciitis thing, he’s been rancid–.188, three homers, seven RBI.

Despite matching .241 career averages over the first and second half of a season, Duda has always been something of a second-half guy—his wRC+, wOBA, ISO power, OPS and other numbers tend to tick up as July begins giving way to August, and all projection models have him predicted to be (marginally) better in the second half. With Hunter Dozier able to do all the things Duda does, the 32-year old is imminently expendable; the hope is that he’ll be given the chance to put together a stretch to catch some contenders eye first.

Brandon Maurer

At a certain point, things like spin rate and perceived velocity and vertical release point have to go by the wayside. We have to accept that which is and cope with that which isn’t.

Brandon Maurer is not going to be as bad at baseball as he has been for most of his tenure in Kansas City forever, because it’s impossible to be that bad for that long unless the Monstars are real and for some reason they wanted/needed the powers of a slightly above-average reliever from Newport Beach, California. At some point, Maurer is going to progress to the mean because a continued regression would eventually be some kind of Rick Ankiel/Steve Blass case of the yips.

For the yips to befall a guy whose 40-game tenure in Kansas City blue has yielded a 9.66 ERA is just more than I’m willing to bear.

I don’t think Maurer is good. I don’t think you can convince anyone otherwise based on anything aside from a decent 2015 season. But with 11 days until the deadline (and that no real deterrent to trading in this day and age), a few good outings could thrust Maurer from the obscurity of Kansas City’s woe-begotten 2018 into something resembling a playoff chase.

Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Ian Kennedy

Ian Kennedy, 21-game winner, is gone (also, pitcher wins is a dumb stat). Ian Kennedy, Useful Starter, is probably gone.

Ian Kennedy, Intriguing Reliever? I am listening.

Here’s the thing about Kennedy: his stuff is GOOD. His fastball has sat just a tick below 93 mph on average this season, well above his career average. His changeup has been unhittable (20 strikeouts, .123 opponent average via Brooks Baseball) and his curve has been good (.246 opponent average).

One time through the order, Kennedy’s stuff still plays. Opponents are slashing .220/.278/.413 the first time through the order, a number that jumps to .367/.416/.662 the second time through.

(Brooks showed something intriguing. Against both lefties (31 percent) and righties (24 percent), Kennedy goes to curve once he gets ahead the first time through the order. The second time through, the number falls against lefties (25 percent) and craters against righties (11 percent). Why is a good question to ask here.)

So obviously, move him to the bullpen. Yes, I know he makes money, money that doesn’t make sense if you insist on thinking of it in terms of being paid to a reliever. Think of it instead as money that is being spent regardless and all of a sudden this makes more sense.

The Royals have to pay Kennedy regardless. They could keep paying for this crappy version that can’t effectively get out of the fifth inning, or they could pay for a late-inning super-reliever that they could market to a contender as “A Poor Man’s Andrew Miller”; if I’m hoping to find a sucker to take the contract, I know what’s going to be more attractive, and it’s a role I think Kennedy could make into something. Now give him a chance.

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3 comments on “Five to watch after the break”

Chris Lee

Great points about Mauer and Kennedy. Brandon, wouldn’t you like to pitch in the 6th inning for a contender? Show us some heart! Royals fans, there are still narratives to follow.

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