June 17, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton (51) is congratulated by catcher Brayan Pena (27) after closing out the fifteenth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Royals won 5-3 in 15 innings. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

The Monday Rant

In the midst of preparing for today’s Rant I went out to have a nice dinner with the lady friend at one of our favorite places that sits atop a hill looking out at the Pacific Ocean. During what was supposed to be a peaceful meal with a couple of drinks watching the end of the US Open and the NBA Finals, she happened to overhear a guy at a table over from us explain to his young offspring:

“It takes a different kind of skillset to play baseball. You don’t have to be a good athlete to be good at baseball.”

Originally this was supposed to be a post about Kyle Zimmer and why I love the pick, and the potential of the athlete, so much. I was going to break down his delivery and his stuff (with some help from some Internet friends) and project his future from my rather limited perception of him. However after overhearing what I was sure was just a father repeating some Neanderthal narrative about how the kind of physical shape baseball players are in, I couldn’t think of anything else.

In that instant amidst, Tweeting something obnoxious and having our grocery list recited to me, my brain called an audible and I couldn’t get the phrase “you don’t have to be a good athlete to be good at baseball” out of my head. I was stuck.

Everything that I had ever fought, every traditional mindset, every head-in-the-sand nonsensical outlook on the training of pitchers and baseball players was summed up in that father’s seemingly insignificant sentence.

Too often people confuse athleticism with strength or the ability to jump high, or run fast. Those traits do play a role in being an athlete for sure, but to mischaracterize baseball players as “non athletes” or “not very athletic” because you don’t see them at an NFL-style combine in their underwear running and jumping does not mean they’re not athletes. They’re some of the best athletes.

Baseball is a stagnant sport. There’s lots of standing around, lots of explosive movements required from a standing start, and lots of hip flexibility and reactionary skills that a “non athlete” couldn’t do. Do not confuse physical shape, or how a player looks with how athletic he is.

As I mentioned on the podcast I was on recently, in my opinion the true definition of athleticism is how well someone controls his or her body.

In order to generate the necessary torque to throw a baseball or swing a bat, the level of body control to fire reflexes and the body sequencing required to turn on a 99 mph fastball to hit it 400 feet is super athletic. The ability to repeat pitching mechanics to generate high velocities with control is super athletic.

Stop it with the idea that baseball players aren’t athletes. And if you’re having this opinion, please don’t repeat it out loud, there might be someone the next table over who just wants to enjoy a quiet night with his wife.

The Good

Well, winning is a lot more fun than losing. After the horrific start culminating in a 12 game losing streak, the Royals have been one of the better teams in baseball (at least record wise) and have pulled themselves to within 5 games of the division lead. How’s about that?

In the Rant a couple weeks ago I said that June (admittedly an idea stolen from someone else) would be a huge month for the Royals because the schedule turned in their favor, and the offense couldn’t be that bad for very long. Well, the offense still isn’t great, but with Alex Gordon going all on-base machine since returning to the leadoff spot, the offense has turned things around to help the bullpen win some games.

Yes, the bullpen.

Because, this is going to be the theme of the entire season, the bullpen continues to be amazing. Simply. Amazing.

Led by Tim Collins (imagine that visual) the revolving door of the final three-to-four spots in the bullpen haven’t been as big a detriment as one would normally associate with the taxi squad. Stability in Collins, Aaron Crow, Jonathan Broxton, Jose Mijares, and now Greg Holland, has allowed the Royals to not only stay in games to come back to win late, but have logged multiple innings to protect leads.

For all the negative things I’ve said about Dayton Moore’s roster construction over the last year-and-a-half on this site, one big positive has been his ability to put together a bullpen. And this year, he’s done one helluva job.

The Bad

For all the talk about Billy Butler not being “clutch”, and for all the talk about how Billy Butler doesn’t drive in runs, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot being said about how Jeff Francoeur only has 18 RBI, and we’re more than two months into the season.

Sure there are some things to like about Francoeur’s game like his arm or his occasional hot streaks, but his negative points get overshadowed by the media perception of him being such a great guy/baseball player, for what really only amounts to him having a recognizable name.

While I don’t pay much attention to stats with runners in scoring position they’re still fun to look at, especially when they can be manipulated to prove the point I’m trying to make.

During his career Francoeur has hit .270/.325/.419 with runners in scoring position. For Butler, during his career, he has hit .309/.392/.471 with runners in scoring position.

You know what’s great about those numbers? With runners in scoring position Butler’s stats are actually better than his career numbers (.297/.360/.462), contrary to what the narrative would have you to believe because of some arbitrary RBI total.

I only bring this up because the highly esteemed, and incredibly readable Jeff Parker brought up yesterday how during the broadcast, the Royals announcers went completely out of their way to talk about how Butler went a stretch of eight games without registering an RBI. Meanwhile, as Jeff pointed out, nothing is ever said of Francoeur for what he doesn’t do well.

This isn’t yet another way to sneak a Butler post into a post about something else (or maybe it is), and this is probably much to do about nothing. The reason Butler gets so much scrutiny from fans and the Royals might be because he has the potential to be one of the very best hitters in baseball (he already is), and the reason Francoeur skates by with nary a word of his deficiencies is because he has the potential to be merely one of the very average players in baseball (he already is).

Francoeur shouldn’t be given the pass that he seemingly is, and he shouldn’t have his spot in the lineup granted to him without competition, also like he seemingly is.

Jeff Francoeur is what he’s always been: a player that should probably be platoon-only as a lefty-masher that plays some decent defense. And if he’s the reason for either a) keeping Wil Myers in Triple-A or b) forcing Wil Myers to a position he mostly can’t handle everyday at the major league level, then the Royals need to find a different reason.

The Upcoming

It would be foolish not to mention the weekend home series against the Cardinals, but I’m sure we’ll have enough of that here over the course of the week to more than fill the readers’ appetite.

What has to be mentioned though is how the Royals are this close to playing really meaningful games again, and despite the depletion of the bullpen and the lack of production from the rotation, six more against NL opponents and three of those being against a team that on paper they’re better than (Houston), leaves even me optimistic.

And for me, that’s saying something. This is starting to get really fun.

Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Billy Butler Greg Holland Jeff Francoeur Jonathan Broxton KC Royals Rant The Rant Tim Collins

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