Stats & Info: Kansas City Royals

Royals keep rolling

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10

Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesJames Shields threw a four-hit shutout to help the Royals win their sixth straight.
The Kansas City Royals continue to roll, pushing their win streak to six games thanks to a four-hit shutout from James Shields.

The shutout from Shields was the ninth of his career. That’s tied for third in MLB since 2008.

It’s the fifth time this season Shields allowed four hits or fewer – and he’s 5-0 in those starts.

And while he didn’t yield many baserunners to begin with, he was particularly sharp when runners were on base Saturday – the San Francisco Giants went 0-for-8 with runners on base against Shields.

In five starts since the All-Star Break, Shields is now 2-1 with a 1.77 ERA. He’s held opposing batters to a .217 average and has a 0.98 WHIP.

It was just another strong effort from the Royals pitching staff overall. They’ve allowed three or fewer runs in each of their past six games, a season-high streak.

While the Royals are currently the second AL Wild Card, they are back in the thick of things in the division race.

The Royals are 1 games back of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, the closest they’ve been to the Tigers since June 21.

In just a month’s time, Kansas City watched its division deficit grow as large as eight games on July 21. But the Royals have rebounded with a 14-3 run in their past 17 games, renewing hope in reaching their first postseason since 1985.

Royals win 10th straight

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19

ESPN Stats & InformationCatcher Salvador Perez has crushed pitches on the outer third since June 1.
The Kansas City Royals are as hot as they’ve ever been in the last two decades. For the first time since 1994 and just the fifth time in franchise history, the Royals have won 10 straight games. With the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season, Kansas City has reached the ALCS in each of the previous three seasons when it won at least 10 straight.

The streak
During the 10-game win streak, the Royals have an OPS of .878, which would easily lead MLB this season (Rockies currently top baseball with a .798 OPS).

Over the course of the streak, the Royals have four players batting better than .350: Billy Butler (.389), Salvador Perez (.385), Jarrod Dyson (.381) and Alcides Escobar (.378).

Perez has been an especially difficult out. Perez extended his hit streak to 12 games Wednesday, naturally on a pitch away.

He’s hitting .435 on pitches on the outer third of the plate since the calendar turned to June. In the first two months of the season, Perez batted a respectable .258 on pitches on the outer third or further -- but just slightly above league average.

But over the past two-plus weeks, he's hit .435 on those same pitches.

How Guthrie won
Meanwhile, the Royals got yet another strong performance from a member of their rotation.

Jeremy Guthrie logged nine strikeouts for the second consecutive start, marking the first time he’s accomplished that in his career. Here’s how Guthrie beat the Tigers on Wednesday:

• Guthrie got the Tigers to chase 32 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone, his second-highest rate this season.

• He did so by keeping hitters off balance, using both his fastball and changeup to finish off hitters. The Tigers were 1-13 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending in a fastball, and 1-6 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending in a changeup.

• Guthrie got ahead of hitters and put them away. The Tigers went 0-14 in at-bats that reached two strikes, his only start without allowing a hit in a two-strike count this season.

Great Royals SP during streak
Guthrie’s performance reflects a larger trend among Royals starting pitching during this win streak.

No starter has allowed more than three earned runs in the last 10 games, and the only home run they have allowed was a solo homer that Guthrie gave up in the seventh inning on Wednesday. Royals starters have 58 strikeouts compared to just 16 walks during the streak.

It’s pretty safe to call that a winning formula.

Royals Living That Fantasy

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
Eric Hosmer, Billy ButlerAP Photo/Duane BurlesonBilly Butler and Eric Hosmer, right, are raking for the red-hot Royals.
The Royals have taken no prisoners so far in their series in Detroit, battering Tigers aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer for a collective 17 earned runs in just 10 innings (15.30 ERA) en route to seizing first place in the AL Central. This is the latest in a season in which Kansas City sits atop its division for the first time since 2003.

KC Masterpiece
On Tuesday, the Royals extended their winning streak to nine games -- tied for their longest since the strike-shortened 1994 season -- by hammering the Tigers 11-4. That was the second straight 11-run output for a red-hot offense that has scored six or more runs in five consecutive contests, their longest stretch since 2002.

Kansas City has now won 12 of its 15 games in June for an .800 win pct. Over the full month, that would be far and away the best June in a proud franchise history that once featured the likes of George Brett, Willie Wilson and Bret Saberhagen but has been absent from the postseason for nearly three decades.

Getting Into The Swing With SveumAll of that offense seems to stem from a change in hitting coaches. On May 29, Kansas City relieved hitting coach Pedro Grifol of his duties, reassigning him to the position of catching instructor. In his place stepped former Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who has worked magic with what was inarguably the worst offensive team in the AL, turning them into an offensive juggernaut.

Prior to Sveum’s arrival, Kansas City ranked last in the AL in runs scored and slugging percentage and were 14th in on-base percentage. Since then, KC’s attack has been nearly off the charts, ranking first in the junior circuit in runs, while coming up second in the other two.

Triple Threat
During this streak the franchise-cornerstone trio of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler have combined for seven home runs. In the team’s previous 61 games they managed a total of six home runs. Moustakas even found himself in Triple A for an eight-game stint to straighten out a swing that has had his batting average under .180 all season.

Top Stats to Know: Royals vs. Cardinals

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2

Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsTop prospect Oscar Taveras homered Saturday in his major league debut.
The Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals face off Monday night, when power will be at a premium in St. Louis.

As the Cardinals fight to catch the division-leading Brewers and the Royals look to pull themselves out of the AL Central basement, both teams will be trying to add the long ball to offenses that have suffered power outages to start the season.

Power Problems for Both

The Royals and Cardinals rank last and second-to-last, respectively, in home runs this season. Much of their power struggles have come in the middle of the lineups.

Both teams have received three home runs from their third and fourth hitters in the lineup, tied for the fewest by any team this season. The Royals (0.099) and Cardinals (0.111) also rank last and second-to-last this season in isolated power, which measures extra bases per at-bat.

Chasing History . . . The Wrong Way

The Royals are on pace for 69 home runs this season, which would be their second-lowest total in team history and fewest since 1976 (65) in a non-strike season.

The Cardinals' home run totals are way down as well -- they are on pace to hit 85. That would be their lowest home run total in a non-strike season since 1991 (70).

Matt Holliday has hit only three home runs, the fewest he has had in his first 56 games of a season. Matt Adams, who was recently moved to the disabled list with a left calf strain, has averaged a home run every 64.7 at-bats this season. Adams averaged a home run every 17.4 at-bats last season.

Cardinals' Defense Delivers

The Cardinals lead the majors with 38 defensive runs saved, five more than the next closest team.

St. Louis' infield has been especially dominant defensively, with second baseman Kolten Wong tied with Ian Kinsler for the second-most defensive runs saved with six (Colorado's DJ LeMahieu leads MLB second basemen with seven).

Last season, the Cardinals' defense ranked 22nd in the majors with minus-39 defensive runs saved, while the Royals led the majors in 2013 with 93 runs saved.

KC looks for Infante to replicate success

December, 13, 2013
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsOmar Infante's specialty is making sure bat meets ball.
The Kansas City Royals made what they think is an upgrade to their infield by agreeing to a four-year deal with free agent second baseman Omar Infante on Friday.

They’re counting on two different things from Infante—that his offensive numbers from last season can be maintained, even though they’re a bit abberational, and that his defensive numbers from last season were an aberration, and will return to what they were in past seasons.

Infante hit .318, with a .345 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage last season. He had the fourth-highest batting average among anyone in the American League with at least 250 plate appearances last season.

He also ranked as the third-toughest hitter in the league to strike out, fanning in only 9.2 percent of his plate appearances last season.

Infante was among the game’s best two-strike hitters last season, hitting .272 with a .430 slugging percentage in those situations, each of which ranked fifth-best in the majors (among those with at least 100 two-strike plate appearances).

These numbers differ from his career totals and recent trends in a couple of ways. He hit .218 in two-strike situations from 2008 to 2012, and his five two-strike home runs were one more than he had from 2009 to 2012 combined.

Royals second baseman had a .243/.296/.304 slashline last season. Their .600 OPS at the position rated 28th among the 30 major-league teams. It marked the third straight season that Royals second baseman ranked in the bottom seven of the league in that statistic.

The one thing that the Royals did get out of their second baseman last season was defense. Their second basemen combined for 18 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of any team in the major leagues.

Infante normally rates as a steady second baseman. He had 13 Defensive Runs Saved at the position from 2010 to 2012. But last season, he finished with -5 Defensive Runs Saved.

Infante’s rating was hurt by issues handling line drives and popups. He may be helped moving to Kansas City and working with Royals outfielders Lorenzo Cain and David Lough, each of whom had positive ratings on balls hit to the shallowest parts of the outfield.

The contract
Infante will reportedly net $30.25 million over the course of the deal. He joins Jason Vargas, who received $32 million over four years, as the team’s two primary free-agent signings. It’s the first time in Royals history that they’ve signed two free agents to contracts worth $30 million in the same offseason.

He’s the 11th free agent this offseason to agree to a contract worth $30 million. The last offseason with more such deals was in 2006-2007, when there were 14.

Top stats to know: 2013 Gold Glove Awards

October, 29, 2013

USA TODAY Sports/Getty ImagesYadier Molina and Dustin Pedroia have Gold Gloves to go along with a World Series appearance.

The Gold Glove Awards were announced on Tuesday, with this year’s field featuring a nearly even mix of first-time honorees and repeat winners.

For the first time, a statistical component factored into the voting -- the SABR Defensive Index accounted for 25 percent of the vote. The remaining votes came from major league managers and coaches.

Royals, Orioles take home the most Gold
The Royals and Orioles each won three Gold Glove Awards. First-time winners Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer joined Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who won his third straight.

Manny Machado, who led the majors in Web Gems at third base, joined repeat winners J.J. Hardy at shortstop and Adam Jones at center field for the Orioles.

With a statistical component comprising part of this year’s vote, Jones wasn’t necessarily expected to win this year. He was the only Gold Glove winner with a negative defensive runs saved total for the season, but he passed the eye test, garnering enough votes to beat out Lorenzo Cain of the Royals and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox.

Another one for Molina
Yadier Molina became the fourth catcher to win six straight Gold Gloves, joining Ivan Rodriguez (13), Johnny Bench (10), Bob Boone (7) and Jim Sundberg (6).

Molina’s current streak is the best for an NL catcher since Bench won 10 in a row from 1968 to 1977.

Molina’s teammate, pitcher Adam Wainwright, won his second Gold Glove. They are the second pitcher-catcher combo to win the Gold Glove together more than once. The other is Kenny Rogers and Rodriguez, who won as teammates in 2000 and 2006.

Victorino, Phillips win again
Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino and Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips each won their fourth Gold Gloves.

Victorino, who had won three previous times with the Phillies as a center fielder, joined second baseman Dustin Pedroia as Red Sox winners. Victorino finished with a major league-best 23 defensive runs saved in right field, the highest total in any season in his career.

Phillips has won the award four times in six seasons. His four wins are one shy of Hall of Famer Joe Morgan for the most by a Reds second baseman.

New winners becoming a tradition
The corner infield spots in the National League were won by a pair of first-timers: Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.

Goldschmidt is the NL’s fifth different winner in the last five years at first base. Arenado is the sixth different winner in six years at the hot corner.

It’s been a long time
Some notable droughts were broken with Tuesday’s awards. Among them:

Perez became the first Royals catcher to win a Gold Glove since Bob Boone in 1989.

Hosmer became the first Royals first baseman to win a Gold Glove. Hosmer beat out a field that in past years would have been led by Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez. With Teixeira and Pujols injured and Gonzalez now in the National League, the field was wide open at that position.

Machado became the first Orioles third baseman to win a Gold Glove since Brooks Robinson in 1975.

Andrelton Simmons became the first Braves shortstop to win a Gold Glove and the first Braves infielder to win one since Terry Pendleton in 1992.

Carlos Gomez became the first Brewer to win a Gold Glove since Robin Yount in 1982 and the first Brewers outfielder to win one since Sixto Lezcano in 1979. Gomez led the majors with five home run robberies. No other player had more than two.

Top stats to know: Gold Gloves preview

October, 29, 2013

Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesAndrelton Simmons and Manny Machado are among the favorites to win Gold Gloves tonight.
The Rawlings Gold Glove Awards will be handed out at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Here are some of the top statistical storylines that Adnan Virk and Nomar Garciaparra will be talking about during the broadcast.

A new generation of defensive stars
If the winners match up with the advanced defensive stats, a number of young players will be taking home some hardware.

Of the eight players with at least 20 defensive runs saved at their respective positions, five were in either their first or second major league season and four are finalists (the exception being Mets center fielder Juan Lagares).

Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons tied Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra for the major league lead with 41 defensive runs saved, the most by a player in a single season in the 11-year history of the stat.

Second-year third baseman Manny Machado of the Orioles was not far behind, leading all players at his position with 35 defensive runs saved; he also led the majors in Web Gems. In the National League, Rockies rookie Nolan Arenado led third basemen with 30 defensive runs saved.

Pirates left fielder Starling Marte had 20 defensive runs saved, the most for anyone at that position. He’ll be competing with past winner Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies and former Rockies utility man, Eric Young Jr. of the Mets.

Royals, Diamondbacks best of the best
The Royals and Diamondbacks were the top two teams in defensive runs saved and each had significant individual success, as well.

The Royals have five finalists, three of whom led the American League in defensive runs saved at their respective positions: Salvador Perez at catcher, Lorenzo Cain in center field and Alex Gordon in left field. Their other nominees are first baseman Eric Hosmer and shortstop (and Web Gem regular) Alcides Escobar.

The Diamondbacks had three players earn finalist honors: Parra, as previously mentioned, tied the record for most defensive runs saved in a season as an outfielder. Paul Goldschmidt had the second-most defensive runs saved among first basemen, and Patrick Corbin had the most among any pitcher.

Another one for Molina?
Yadier Molina has won five straight Gold Gloves and will contend with Pirates catcher Russell Martin and Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis for a sixth.

Only four catchers have won at least six Gold Gloves -- Ivan Rodriguez (13), Johnny Bench (10), Bob Boone (seven) and Jim Sundberg (six).

Molina’s current streak is the best for an NL catcher since Bench won 10 in a row from 1968 to 1977.

Two other finalists will be vying for their fifth Gold Glove -- Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle (who is competing with teammate R.A. Dickey and Tigers pitcher Doug Fister) and Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, who goes up against Machado and Evan Longoria.

A new statistical component
Rawlings introduced a new statistical component, SDI (SABR Defensive Index), to account for approximately 25 percent of the vote (the rest of the votes are from major league coaches and managers).

The SDI combines five advanced defensive metrics (including the one ESPN uses most frequently, defensive runs saved) that evaluate a fielder’s ability to convert batted balls into outs and make other plays (such as convert double plays and deter baserunner advancement) relative to others at his position.

Breaking down chances for AL wild card

September, 23, 2013

Jason Miller/Getty Images
The Indians enter the season's final week with a 1 1/2-game lead for the second AL wild card spot.

All together, six teams are still mathematically in the mix for the two American League wild card spots. The Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians sit atop the bunch, with the Rays a half-game ahead of the Indians for the top spot.

Here’s a reason to be optimistic, and not so optimistic, about those six clubs down the stretch. Also included is their percentages to make the postseason based on mathematical modeling by

Tampa Bay Rays (86-69) – 87% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Rays close with a pair of three-game series against the Yankees and Blue Jays. Rays starting pitchers have an ERA under 3.00 against five teams this season, and the Yankees and Jays are among those teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: Each of the Rays' final six games are on the road. Tampa is 36-39 on the road this season, 16th in all of the MLB and third-worst among teams currently with a winning record.

Cleveland Indians (86-70) – 81% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Indians' final six games are against the White Sox and Twins, teams they’ve beaten up on this year. They are 23-8 against those two opponents and 63-62 against all other teams.

• Reason to feel nervous: The power has disappeared for the Indians lately. In their last seven games, they’ve hit just four home runs (no more than one in a game) while slugging just .380.

Texas Rangers (84-71) – 30% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Much like the Indians, the schedule sets up well for Texas. Their remaining seven games are against the Astros and Angels, who they are 25-6 against this year. Against all other teams, they’re under .500 (59-65).

• Reason to feel nervous: The Rangers are 5-15 in September, the second-worst mark in the MLB behind only the White Sox, who have the third-worst overall record in the majors.

Kansas City Royals (82-73) – 1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: Although a long shot to make the playoffs, the Royals can lean on their bullpen down the stretch. Their 2.54 bullpen ERA is the best in the American League, and second-best in the majors behind the Braves (2.46).

• Reason to feel nervous: K.C. closes the season with a three-game road series against the White Sox. The Royals have averaged just 2.6 runs per game with a .215 batting average against the Pale Hose this season.

New York Yankees (82-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: If the Yankees can stay alive, they’ll close the season with three against the team with the worst record in the majors: the Astros. This season, the Astros have played 12 teams that currently have winning records, and have losing records against all 12, with an 18-70 combined record.

• Reason to feel nervous: With an elimination number of three, the Yankees will have to survive a three-game series with the Rays starting Tuesday. In their last seven games against the Rays, Yankees starting pitching has gone 0-5, with a 6.05 ERA and a .311 opponents’ batting average.

Baltimore Orioles (81-74) - <1% chance to make playoffs
• Reason to feel good: The Baltimore bullpen has been solid against their final two opponents. They allowed no runs in 7.2 IP in their last series against the Blue Jays, and no runs in their last four games (13.1 IP) against the Red Sox.

• Reason to feel nervous: If the Orioles stay alive, they close with three against the Red Sox. In their last eight games vs Boston, they’ve hit just .183, scoring 2.5 runs per game.

Sweep keys: Long-distance power, pitching

August, 16, 2013
It was less than a week ago that we told you that the Kansas City Royals arms were in their finest form, as part of a 16-3 run that got them back into the AL Central and AL wild-card races.

Then came a three-game losing streak. But Friday served as a bounce-back day, with the team’s second-ever doubleheader sweep in Detroit and its first since 1984.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that the six hits allowed by the Royals were the second-fewest they’ve ever allowed in a doubleheader (the fewest was five against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1977).

Elias also noted that it’s the fewest hits by the Tigers in a doubleheader in nearly 47 years. The last time they had six hits or fewer was Sept. 10, 1967, against the White Sox, a day in which they were no-hit in the opener by Joe Horlen.

With that bit of history out of the way, let’s take a look at the key performances for the Royals on Friday.

Hosmer with a little pop
Eric Hosmer became the first Royals player to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Dean Palmer in 1998.

Hosmer’s homer in Game 1 was his first against Justin Verlander. His 29 at-bats against Verlander were his most against any pitcher without hitting a homer.

His homer in Game 2 was calculated at 424 feet by ESPN’s Home Run Tracker team.

The Royals' first baseman is averaging 422.2 feet per homer this season, the longest average home-run distance for anyone with at least 10 homers this season.

Hosmer has taken greater aim at hitting the ball in the air in the second half of the season. His ground-ball rate before the All-Star break was 55 percent. It’s 48 percent since then.

How they won: Danny Duffy
Making his second start after recovering from Tommy John surgery, lefty Danny Duffy allowed only one hit in six innings in Game 1.

Duffy averaged 93 mph with his fastball, down about one mile-per-hour from what it registered in his season debut. But the pitch was much more effective. He used it to retire 11 of 13 hitters, compared to his first start, in which his fastball yielded eight baserunners and netted seven outs.

How they won: James Shields
Shields continues to pitch at a high level. He threw seven scoreless innings and improved to 5-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his past eight road starts. He’s pitched at least seven innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his four starts against the Tigers this season. The Royals have won three of those four games.

Tigers hitters were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Shields, with two ground outs, two pop outs and two fly outs fielded by a Royals defense that ranks second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved.

Opponents are 3-for-32 against Shields with runners in scoring position over his past five starts.

Royals starters have now made seven straight starts of at least six innings. In those seven starts, they have combined to allow only nine earned runs in 46 innings.

Royals streaking, flush with strong arms

August, 11, 2013
For the first time in a decade, the Kansas City Royals are making noise in August and threatening to make the AL Central a three-team race for first place.

Following their 4-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, the Royals have won 16 of their last 19 games since July 23, the best record in the AL in that span.

It is the first time the Royals have won at least 16 games in a 19-game span since they won 16 of their first 19 games in 2003, but it’s the first time they’ve had a run like this in August or later since 1989.

During this stretch they have gone from 10 games back in the Wild Card standings following a loss on July 22 to 4 games back in the Wild Card race, leapfrogging the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees.

The Royals one-run win on Sunday was no fluke for this team, which has won its last 10 games that have been decided by one run, including five during this 16-wins-in-19-games stretch.

According to Elias, that ties the second-longest such streak in team history (record is 11 in 1973), and is the second-longest streak in MLB this season behind the Dodgers (11 games).

What has fueled this recent surge?
The pitching staff has allowed more than three runs just four times in 19 games. Their 2.27 ERA since July 23 is the third-best in the majors behind the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers (entering Sunday night’s game).

The bullpen, which tossed three hitless innings on Sunday, has been nearly unhittable the last three weeks. Since July 23, their ERA of 1.21 is behind only the Braves, and they have allowed only one run in 20 innings on this homestand.

Alex Gordon was the sparkplug in Sunday’s win, going 3-for-4 and driving in two runs. All three of his hits on Sunday came on fastballs, marking just the second time this season he’s had three hits off fastballs in a game and the first time since May 15.

James Shields won his first home game since April 30, snapping a streak of nine straight winless home starts during which he posted a 4.70 ERA.

On Sunday he relied on his changeup to get both lefties and righties out. He threw 26 changeups (15 to lefties, 11 to righties) vs the Red Sox, which netted him a season-high-tying nine outs and only two baserunners allowed.

Did you know?
By taking three of four games from the Red Sox, the Royals have now won seven straight series since the All-Star break.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it is the team's longest series win streak since 1991, and the fifth-longest streak in team history.

"Inside" the numbers: Eric Hosmer

August, 6, 2013
The Kansas City Royals' patience with Eric Hosmer has paid off.

Hosmer had three hits and five RBI as the Royals made it 12 wins in 13 games with their 13-0 rout of the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.

Over the last two-and-a-half months, Hosmer has averted the issues that led to a sophomore slump and carried over into the start of 2013. Let’s take a closer look at the results of his work.

The basics
Hosmer is hitting .315 with a .496 slugging percentage 11 home runs and 42 RBI in his last 70 games, far outweighing the minimal damage he did in his first 37 games.

In that span, he hit .247 with a .333 slugging percentage and only one home run.

The numbers in this current stretch are a little better than Hosmer’s rookie season of 2011, as noted in the chart displayed on the right. There were high expectations for a big 2012 from Hosmer, but his numbers parachuted.

Much of Hosmer’s improvement coincided with George Brett’s brief tenure as hitting coach (during which Hosmer hit .308 and slugged .525). But it has carried over since Brett’s resignation.

Hosmer went 0-for-4 the day Brett resigned, but is 16-for-43 (.372 batting average) since then, with three straight multi-hit games.

The inside scoop
All three of Hosmer’s hits tonight came on pitches over the inner-half of the plate, or just off the inside corner.

That coincides with the area in which Hosmer has made the biggest improvement in this 70-game tear.

From the start of the 2012 season until just prior to this successful run, Hosmer missed on one of every five swings against those pitches. He’s now missing at a rate of one of every seven swings.

The pitches he was missing and fouling off, he’s now doing significant damage against. Hosmer's rate of hitting ground-balls was 59 percent through the end of June. It is 51 percent since then.

Baseball Prospectus’ (and ESPN Magazine contributor) Sam Miller and ESPN’s Keith Law each wrote about Hosmer’s issues getting around on fastballs.

Wrote Miller: “I can’t stress enough how overmatched he looked by good fastballs—anything over 92, really …”

Since July 3, Hosmer is 15-for-32 with three homers against pitches thrown 93 mph or harder, including his home run on Monday, which came against a 93 mph fastball.

Hosmer’s improvement can also be seen in his WAR.

He entered June 6 with a Wins Above Replacement of 0.3 this season.

In two months, that has climbed to 2.2. The only Royals position player with a bigger jump over that time period is outfielder Lorenzo Cain, an improvement that is largely defense-based.

Did You Know?
The Royals hadn’t had a first baseman with a three-hit, five-RBI game in nearly five years.

The last was Ryan Shealy in 2008.

Brett's royalty extends beyond pine tar

July, 24, 2013

Rich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesGeorge Brett swings at a pitch at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri circa 1982.
Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of perhaps the most famous tirade in baseball history, when George Brett came charging out of the dugout to dispute being called out for using too much pine tar on his bat.

The indelible visual of Brett's rage may be the first that comes to mind when his name is mentioned, but don't forget that he was one of the sport's all-time greats.

His number five has been retired by the Kansas City Royals, and Baseball-reference says in terms of WAR, Brett is the second-best player to wear number five for at least five seasons, behind only Albert Pujols.

In honor of Brett and his infamous anniversary, here are five notes from his on-the-field accomplishments...

• In his 21 seasons, Brett won three batting titles, 1 of 10 players to do that in AL history. Although it's a fluky calendar stat, he's the only player to win a batting title in three different decades (1976, 1980, 1990).

More impressively, his 14 years between his first and last batting titles are tied with Stan Musial for the second-most of any player in major-league history. Only Ted Williams has a longer span between his first and last batting titles, with 17 years from 1941 to 1958.

• Brett's finest season was 1980, when he won his only MVP award as he hit .390, the highest batting average in a full season by any player since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.

Brett reached .400 for the first time on August 17, and was hitting .400 as late as September 19, the latest any player has hit .400 since Williams in 1941.

• He remains the only player wearing a Royals cap in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Brett is Kansas City's career leader in nearly every major counting stat, including home runs, doubles, runs and RBI.

His .305 batting average makes him the only Royal over .300 for his career (min. 2,000 plate appearances), and his career WAR of 88.4 is nearly double the nearest position player (Amos Otis at 44.6).

• Brett's fame extended beyond Kansas City to the national media as well. In his first year of eligibility, he received 488 of 497 votes (98.19%). That percentage is the fifth-highest in Baseball Hall of Fame history, trailing only Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ty Cobb.

• As for the career numbers that put Brett in the Hall of Fame, they're as impressive and well-rounded as nearly anyone's. His 3,154 hits rank 16th all-time, and he's sixth with 665 career doubles.

Brett is one of four players with 3,000 hits, 300 home runs and 200 stolen bases, along with Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Dave Winfield. And Brett is the only one of those four to also have 600 doubles and 100 triples.

Today George Brett is understandably remembered for his explosive tirade. His career numbers will make him remembered for even longer in the Hall of Fame.

Verlander's fastball not what it once was

July, 20, 2013
Justin Verlander's velocity has been trending downwards.

For a couple of starts at the end of June/early July, it looked like Justin Verlander had regained the fastball velocity that had been lower than normal in 2013.

But in his last two starts prior to the All-Star Break, Verlander’s heater has dropped again in speed.

Sometimes the pitch is still effective, like in his last start against the Texas Rangers, in which he took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning before departing with a tight quadriceps muscle.

But more often than not, it has failed to be the dominant pitch with which Detroit Tigers fans are familiar. Even in that game against the Rangers, Texas hitters had four well-struck fly outs against fastballs that Tigers outfielders were able to track down.

Opponents have a .299/.388/.460 slashline against Verlander's fastball, all numbers that would be his worst over the last five seasons if they held up for the duration of the season.

One of the things that has made Verlander so good is that he has four pitches with which he can finish off hitters. But Verlander has already allowed almost as many hits with his two-strike heater (31) as he did the last two seasons (36 in 2011, 33 in 2012).

Opponents have a .277 batting average against Verlander’s two-strike fastballs and have missed on 13 percent of their swings. By comparison, last year opponents hit .176 and missed on 20 percent of their swings against that pitch.

Verlander’s fastball isn’t the only pitch in his repertoire to suffer this season. His offspeed pitches have gotten hit, yielding four home runs, the same total he allowed with them last season. Opponents are hitting .218 against his breaking balls and changeup, 42 points higher than from 2009 to 2012.

Looking Ahead
Verlander has won his last six decisions against the Royals, whom he’ll face at 7 p.m. tonight.

He's 15-2 against them for his career, and Elias notes that the .882 winning percentage marks the fifth-best for any pitcher with at least 25 starts against a team in major-league history.
He’s gone at least seven innings and allowed three runs or fewer in nine of his last 10 starts against them.

In two starts against Kansas City this season, he’s allowed one earned run in 14 innings.

Keep an eye on how the Royals fare against his heater. The pitch has netted him 18 outs and yielded only three hits against Kansas City in those two games.

Mark Simon contributed research to this post

Kernels: One heck of a holiday

July, 7, 2013
Last week it was Friday that brought us a day full of oddities. July 4 historically provides some bizarre notes about the national pastime, so we should have known that this week, it would be Thursday.

Among the highlights:

• The Mets and Diamondbacks played a 15-inning epic in their series finale. The Diamondbacks had go-ahead RBI in three separate innings from the 13th on, the first to do that since the 1986 Cardinals.

• The loss was the Mets' third defeat of 15 innings or longer this season. In the expansion era (1961), only 13 teams have lost at least three 15-or-more-inning games in a single season, and five of those also won at least one along the way. The 2007 Astros were the last, losing a 15-, a 16-, and a 17-inning contest that season. The 1968 Mets (1-3 in games of 15 or more innings) were among the other squads to do it.

• The Reds and Giants had the 33rd postponed game of the season. There were only 20 postponed games in 2012. It was the first rainout of a July 4 game since 1994.

• The Athletics won their game over the Cubs 1-0 with the only run scoring on a passed ball by Welington Castillo.

If that seems unusual, it is. You might have heard on the Sunday morning Baseball Tonight that It hadn't happened in 20 years... exactly 20 years. The last time the only run of a game scored on a passed ball was another July 4 game, between the Dodgers and Expos on July 4, 1993.

• The White Sox walked off against Baltimore on Thursday when Adam Dunn launched his 23rd homer in the bottom of the 9th. It was Dunn's first walk-off anything since he homered for Washington in the final week of the 2010 season.

However, it was the third consecutive year that the White Sox had won their July 4 game on a walk-off.

The last team to win three consecutive Independence Day games via walk-off is somewhat of a statistical technicality. It happened for the Cleveland Indians, who played a doubleheader with the Tigers on July 4, 1962, and won both in extra innings. They then beat the Red Sox in 14 innings in the first game of a '63 double-dip.

But winning three straight years on July 4 via walk-off?

Since 1900, no team had ever done it. Until this week.

• The Pirates and Phillies finished their cross-commonwealth series on Thursday with an interesting pitching matchup. Pittsburgh starter: Gerrit Cole. Philadelphia starter: Cole Hamels. "Cole" ended up with both the win and the loss as the Phillies won 6-4.

There was one such "name game" matchup last season: June 16 when Oakland's Tyson Ross faced the Padres' Ross Ohlendorf in interleague play. But before that you have to go back more than 20 years to find an exact match. On April 13, 1991, Mike Scott of the Astros faced Scott Garrelts of the Giants. It didn't go well; San Francisco won 16-2. Darryl Kile also pitched for Houston in that game; 10 years later he would face Kyle Lohse on July 17, 2001.

• Thanks to eight walks and a hit batter, the Royals scored 10 runs on only six base hits in Thursday's 10-7 win over Cleveland. They're just the second team in the past 10 years to reach double digits on as few as six hits. The Twins also received eight free passes from the Tigers in a 10-2 win on September 5, 2008.

In Royals franchise history, they'd never before had a game-- of any linescore-- where their number of runs exceeded their number of hits by at least four.

• Erick Aybar's walk-off single capped a three-run Angels comeback in the ninth inning on Thursday as they downed the Cardinals 6-5. The Angels had been 1-38 when trailing after eight innings this season, and then they pulled off two wins in three days.

On Saturday night, they trailed the Red Sox 7-3 before piecing together four singles, a hit batter, and a Boston error to score four two-out runs to tie the game. Josh Hamilton eventually won it with a walk-off homer in the 11th.

Valverde Spoils a Verlander Gem

June, 12, 2013
The Detroit Tigers are at an impasse with their bullpen, specifically with closer Jose Valverde.

After another gem by Justin Verlander, Valverde surrendered a game-tying two-out, two-strike home run to Lorenzo Cain in the ninth inning in an eventual loss to the Kansas City Royals. How special was this start for Verlander? What exactly did Valverde do to spoil this effort?

How Justin Verlander Should Have Got the Win vs the Royals

Verlander had an overpowering fastball, fueled by superb movement. He got batters to swing at 38 percent of his fastballs thrown out of the zone, his highest fastball chase rate this season. Verlander’s fastball had its most movement of the season, setting season highs in both horizontal break (-7.4 inches) and vertical break (11.8 inches).

Verlander also kept hitters off balance, allowing zero "hard-hit" balls in play for the first time this season.

It’s the third time he has done that in a game over the last five seasons (also in 2009 and 2012).

To further illustrate how special this Verlander effort was, he did not face a batter with a runner in scoring position for the first time this season.

Royals were 0-for-8 and had five strikeouts with a man on first base against Verlander.

How Jose Valverde Blew the Save vs the Royals

Valverde pitched as pooly as Verlander pitched great. Cain's game-tying homer came on a splitter from Valverde, the only non-fastball he threw today.

Valverde has thrown 20 splitters in his last six games and allowed four homers among those 20 pitches. He allowed zero homers on the 21 splitters he threw in his first 12 appearances of the season.

Cain's homer also came on a pitch on the outer third of the strike zone. Righties were 1-13 (.077) vs Valverde in at-bats ending in a pitch thrown to that location this season before the homer, including a flyout by Salvador Perez for the first out of the ninth inning.


This was the sixth walk-off loss for the Tigers this season, tied with the Marlins and Mariners for most in the MLB.

Jose Valverde continues to struggle, as Wednesday marked his eighth blown save in last two seasons. In 2011, he was a perfect 49-for-49 on save opportunities.

This is the fifth time in his career that Justin Verlander has pitched at least seven scoreless innings and got a no-decision. No other Tigers pitcher in the Live Ball era (since 1920) has more than two such career games.

Verlander now has three losses in quality starts this season, already more than the two he had all last year.