June 29, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon hits a double in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

The Monday Rant - Butler Is An All-Star, Gordon Continues To Star, Francoeur Still Struggles

The Royals lost three games over the weekend to the Twins and in all of those losses the glaring deficiencies of the roster shined through and displayed themselves for the reason the Royals lose so many games.

Sure, you could make the argument that losing games – in any sport, at any level – has to do mostly with the deficiencies of the roster and/or the flaws of management strategies, but with the Royals over the past six years (or 25 years) the same story gets written far too often during a loss. It’s just how it is.

What’s started to happen though is while there are fans that are upset with watching the same base running mistakes, the same awful plate discipline, and the same pitch-to-contact bad starting pitching, there are also those that point endlessly to the positives (of which there are many) as a reason for hope.

It’s understandable, and in some ways admirable, but when the rays of hope are continually clouded out by the storms of unoriginal bad baseball, there shouldn’t be much of a reason to fault the many that are still skeptical of progress.

This isn’t about the Royals, it’s about a fan base that has grown tired and weary from all the losing.

While trying to think of a proper opening to this week’s Rant I kept finding myself coming back to that phrase as a way of justifying, – no, explaining – the feelings and tensions among most Royals fans after a loss. No fan base likes losing and when the losing turns to being just as laughable as it is predictable, there’s often nowhere else to turn with the disgust than to continually point to all the other (losing) instances that look the same, and categorizing it as such. It would be like watching a Farrelly Brothers movie: the jokes are the same, the writing is the same, and inevitably, the ending is the same.

Is there progress? Yes. Billy Butler has turned on the power this year and is finally being recognized for the truly special hitter he is, and is an All-Star. Despite Alex Gordon’s first three weeks of the season, he’s been great and continues to get on-base at a ridiculous rate (non-Joey Votto Division) and play terrific defense. Mike Moustakas has exceeded expectations and the bullpen has been spectacular. Alcides Escobar deserved an All-Star nod as well.

All of these things are points of progress and reasons that the future looks bright. Presumably. But there are still questions.

Questions about the roster construction,* questions about the rotation now and looking ahead, questions about this teams ability and lack of concern for walks on offense. To completely ignore these questions because either a) the Royals won a few games last week or b) because there are still positives out there, is irresponsible to the overall cause of the process.

*Why is Jason Bourgeois on this team?

One of my many complaints of sports media and the state of journalism in general in today’s landscape is the unwillingness of the writer or broadcaster to ever ask “why”, or challenge the status quo with the pertinent questions. Questions that, if posed correctly, are needed to hold those accountable that need to be so. Questions that if asked to the Royals would hold them accountable for a brand of baseball that still far too often looks like it did six years ago.

Teams lose games all the time. Good teams don’t lose games the same way all the time. And good franchises don’t lose games the same way all the time, for years and years in a row.

As a whole, the Royals fan base does tend to be a negative one, I think we can all admit that. I’m guilty, other writers on this site are guilty, and certainly writers on other sites are guilty. But that’s about a fan base that has grown tired and weary of all the losing.

The Royals will win a few games this week. The Royals will probably win a few games next week too. But when another three-to-four game stretch like the one that was just played in Minnesota happens (and it will happen), the “negativity” will not be the fault of an overzealous, ignorant, jump-to-conclusion fan base; the fault will be of an organization that continues to lose games the same way it has for six years.

The Good

As much fun as it is to continually drive the Alex Gordon bandwagon, I can understand that it does tend to wear on the reader from time-to-time. I can.

But I also don’t think it gets talked about enough just how good a player Gordon is, or that this year’s version of the Royals would look far different, and far worse, if he were not on the team.

Gordon is currently sixth among all American Leaguers in fWAR, and according to advanced metrics (take those for what they’re worth on a two-plus-month sample) he has been the best defensive player out of any position. Holy schnikes.

Since finally breaking the .200 batting average mark on April 26, Gordon has hit .296/.388/.438 in 59 games.

Even though the power isn’t where it was a year ago, Gordon’s plate discipline and walks have far exceeded his career norm, making him almost the perfect type of leadoff batter. Plus, with the improved discipline, there’s more hope that the power will come too, putting him back into the “star” category that he was in a year ago.

The Bad

Even though one of the strengths coming into this year was supposed to be the offense (though, not by me) and it has thus far been an extreme disappointment, there’s really only one position that can be looked at as the biggest problem of them all: right field.

The struggles of Hosmer at first and the never-ending Getz/Betancourt experience at second and the noodle-bat of Jarrod Dyson in center are bad in their own way. But, all of those positions don’t have a clear answer, and at least in one of those cases the season-beginning starter at least performed well – to some degree of “well” – before being lost to injury.

The right field problem continues to be a mystery though as Wil Myers continues to be a terror in Triple-A, and the only reason (or at least presumably only reason) that he’s not currently in a major league uniform is because he doesn’t have a natural position that isn’t already being occupied by either an a) equally talented player or b) by a player that is better suited to perform defensively.

There is the Super Two argument, to be sure, but what seemed before as something that was more monetary and cost controlled in reason, seems to border more on the absurd now that Jeff Francoeur continues to see every (freaking) day playing time with little justification to do so. Especially now, that Myers seems all but perfectly ready for the next challenge, and most likely Super Two is out of the picture.

Francoeur’s re-signing with the Royals at the time was incredibly perplexing not solely for the reason that a player with a history of being average-at-best was locked up to two-years guaranteed before the outfield market established itself, but that Dayton Moore and the Royals were paying on a player’s career BABIP-induced year and not his historic norm. Hey, it happens, and at the time when Melky Cabrera turned down the same contract to stay in Kansas City, it may have seemed prudent to keep Francoeur around on a similar deal if for no other reason than to have a legitimate, everyday big-leaguer in the lineup.

But that would also call into question Francoeur’s relevance to be an every day major league player.

This season he’s been down right dreadful, and there’s no arguing that. The fact that he’s batted fifth every day without change is comedy fodder alone, but also that he’s accumulated a negative fWAR to this point shows just how unproductive he has been at what is supposed to be one of the more offensive positions on the field.

What’s even more discouraging is that even though there are numerous stories out there now about Francoeur’s impending departure via trade, the Royals seem to not really know if giving up Francoeur at this time and replacing him with Myers would be beneficial to the club.

Aside from Francoeur’s two, two-week hot streaks each year that make his numbers seem better than they really are, there doesn’t seem to be much at this point that he offers in terms of real value over a younger, cheaper, more athletic, and better hitter in Myers. But, in the #OurMissionTime2012 season, the supposed leadership (and already committed marketing campaigns) Francoeur brings to the table was thought to be a difference maker. Well, it is, just not in the way the Royals, and probably Royals fans, had hoped.

This thought isn’t meant to be reactionary, though in some ways, it probably is. Even though the Royals peaked last week at just 4.5 games out of first place in the AL Central, the roster overall most likely isn’t good enough to compete or finish for the division crown. So dealing with Francoeur’s deficiencies with range, plate discipline, contact abilities, base running abilities, and consistency, may be buying an extra year of non-arbitration for Myers. May be.

But at some point it has to be about winning and winning now. Free passes are given far too often to players that are underperforming for the Royals organization, and this would appear to be another one of those occasions. Though, you could make the argument that the decision to continue to play Francoeur (though the decision to continue to bat him fifth is indefensible) is about winning – just winning three years from now while Myers has still yet to hit arbitration.

No matter the reason, a right fielder batting .256/.293/.387 (not all the far off from his career numbers, mind you) is killing the lineup.

The Upcoming

The Royals sure do know how to ruin a good thing. Just when it appeared the organization was back on track, there’s a hurdle thrown out in front of them and the players collectively fell over themselves. And it doesn’t get any easier.

After a favorable June schedule that resulted in another winning month for the club (14-12), July starts out with a punch to the stomach with four on the road in Toronto, and three on the road in Detroit before the All-Star break.

Next Royals Game Full schedule »

Tags: Alcides Escobar Alex Gordon Billy Butler Jeff Francoeur KC Royals Mike Moustakas Rant The Rant

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