While the top of these standings have remained relatively steady over the past week, there has been serious movement among the last two spots, which have been relinquished by Jonathan Broxton and Alex Gordon (respectively) after wholly substandard weeks.
The good news? We have in-house candidates who are actually deserving of those spots. Remember, as I stated last week, that these ranking are largely subjective. They are based primarily off overall performance, although extra credit is passed out for those who are playing well now and who have, by proxy, earned greater expectations moving forward.
1. Mike Moustakas – (Last Week: .250/.323/.571)
Moustakas hit three home runs last week, drove home four RBI, and scored six runs. He’s been as consistent a presence in the line-up as anybody. Moustakas’ overall slash line for the season rests at .295/.351/.525, and he continues to lead AL third basemen in some major offensive categories. As of Tuesday afternoon, Moustakas ranked first among AL third basemen with his .876 OPS, tied for first with 11 doubles, second in Slugging Percentage, and third place with his seven home runs. Moustakas may not have the same cache as some of his contemporaries, but right now he’s putting up enough production to trump cache.
There was no way he was going to slip down the rankings this week.
2. Billy Butler – (Last Week: .440/.516/.760)
Speaking of hot streaks, Billy Butler is scorching right now. Butler hit two home runs last week, but also put up 11 hits and, more importantly, walked four times against just three strikeouts. Butler has hit with authority for most of the season, but one flaw (for the nit-picker) had been his reduced walk rate. Even with the positive week, Butler has only walked 11 times this season, against 26 K’s. Butler’s season slash line is now an impressive .308/.369/.528, and it seems like a few more walks are the only thing keeping him from raising his OPS above .900.
Butler’s surge has catapulted him above Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion in the all-important American League designated hitter OPS chase, as Butler’s .897 mark rests below only Chicago’s Adam Dunn and Boston’s David Ortiz among the league’s DH’s.
Ortiz is a certifiable lock, both for his present performance as well as his lifetime achievement within the game (insert PED joke here). Dunn, though, is coming off of a god awful season, and has struck out 62 times this year while sporting a .247 batting average. Obviously, Dunn’s 14 home runs and .596 Slugging Percentage are more important indicators of his success this season than batting average. But there is at least an outside chance that Ron Washington can be persuaded to choose Butler, since the game is in Kansas City.
A guy can dream, right?
3. Alcides Escobar – (Last Week: .321/.387/.321)
Escobar didn’t really do anything to lower his ranking in this list, although he didn’t hit an extra base hit all of last week. For the season he sits at .301/.342/.418, which is excellent for a shortstop with his defensive skills. Furthermore, can Royals fans be any happier with Escobar’s play? Even when he isn’t hitting the ball with authority, he manages to put together professional at-bats. If I had told you during the off-season that Escobar would have a .760 OPS in late May, wouldn’t you be jumping for joy?
I don’t want to put too much pressure on Escobar, but screw it, I’ll ask anyway. Doesn’t his play this season, combined with the great early returns from farmhand Jake Odorizzi, justify the Zack Greinke trade? And what if Lorenzo Cain eventually comes back healthy and posts a productive season? Is it time to give Dayton Moore credit for dealing Greinke for peak value while under difficult circumstances? Should I just stop asking questions and move on?
4. Felipe Paulino – (Last Week: 2 games started, 13.2 innings pitched, 0.00 ERA, 17 K’s, 4 Walks)
Ok, one more question. Remember during spring training when people wondered whether it would be prudent to start Paulino in the bullpen so the organization could get an extended look at Luis freaking Mendoza? Me neither. I’ve blocked it out of my memory, like the the Jim Pittsley era and any movie featuring Paul Walker.
That spring training “dilemma” seems like eons ago now that Paulino has come off the D.L. like gangbusters, throwing 97 mph heat along with a devastating, knee-buckling, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t slider to a revolving door of confused and hapless batters.
Here’s a crazy (and somewhat discouraging) stat for you: after four starts for the Royals, Paulino is now tied for third on the team with 29 strikeouts, only nine behind team leader Bruce Chen.
It may seem like a long shot now, but if Paulino continues to blow away hitters he can become a surprisingly viable All-Star candidate for what has been a battered rotation.His 1.42 ERA and 10.30 K/9 ratio look shiny, especially compared to the rest of the starters on staff.
5. Tim Collins – (Last Week: 4.2 innings pitched, 9 strikeouts, 2 hits, 2 walks, 0.00 ERA)
Filthy. That’s the only adjective to describe Collins’ performance over the past week. Collins deserves to surpass closer Jonathan Broxton in these rankings, because frankly, he has been the better pitcher this season. And this is not all about Broxton blowing another save against the Orioles last Wednesday. Sure, that had a lot to do with it. But it wasn’t everything.
No pitcher on the team has had me shouting expletives of joy more often this season than Collins. Over the course of the past week alone, he’s probably made five or six hitters look utterly hopeless. I mean, swinging a foot over a falling curve ball hopeless.
In a bullpen full of electric arms, the diminutive Collins has pitched 21.2 mostly high-leverage innings, posting a 2.91 ERA and striking out 32 batters while only walking seven. The strikeouts put Collins second on the team, miraculously, and his 13.29 K/9 ratio is borderline ridiculous.
If another token reliever is chosen to represent the Royals at the All-Star game this season, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be Tim Collins.
Honorable Mention: Bruce Chen (deceptively steady), Jonathan Broxton (free-falling but not out of consideration yet).