Royals' midseason report card

By Steve Sell
July 14, 2014

It’s regarded as the midway point of the season, a time to take stock and reflect.

In actuality, it’s a misnomer. The All-Star break comes well after the halfway point of the season.

Take, for example, the Kansas City Royals. They have well surpassed the 81-game halfway mark, as they take a good, but-not-great, 48-46 record into this week’s hiatus.

Considering where the Royals were last year at this time, it’s a cause for celebration. They are 6 1/2 games back of Detroit, not an insurmountable deficit, yet the general consensus is they are realistically playing for one of the two wild-card berths under the playoff format that was expanded last year.

The Royals have vexed their fans with roller-coaster-like play. They pitch as well as any team in the majors and have reduced games to seven innings because of lights-out set-up man Wade Davis and lockdown closer Greg Holland, the best 1-2 punch in baseball.

But a straining, scratching offense keeps the Royals from being mentioned with the elite teams, of which there aren’t that many as major league baseball has been polluted by parity. There are so many teams still with hope, which is one of the positives of 10 teams now making the playoffs.

Here’s a midseason report card, player-by-player:

C — Salvador Perez. On his way to becoming the best catcher in the game, already in the Top 3. A solid hitter, an even better defender. His biggest problem is his overeagerness at the plate, as he gets too amped up in clutch situations and also hits into way too many double plays. Still, a shining star. Grade — A.

1B — Eric Hosmer. He hasn’t taken over yet as the face of the franchise like many thought he would this year. His horrendous plate discipline seemingly has improved in the last dozen games or so and he’s riding a 13-game hitting streak. But a .268 average, 6 homers and 42 RBIs hitting No. 2 or 3 most of the year is paltry for a player of his tremendous upside. Grade — C+.

2B — Omar Infante. Infante has been a huge upgrade over the raft of underachievers who previously occupied the position. He’s been up and down with the bat, but is a solid pro. His 46 RBIs lead the club, an indicator how the Royals’ alleged big bats have failed. Grade — B.

SS — Alcides Escobar. The break comes at a good time because he looks tired and has slid some the past 10 games. But he’s erased last year’s bad memory, hitting .282 with 22 steals in 24 tries, while flashing a Gold Glove. Grade  — B+.

3B — Mike Moustakas. After 240 at-bats and a brief refresher course in Omaha, Moustakas is still hitting under .200 and has been one of the fans’ whipping posts. But he’s played relatively good defense and has hit 10 homers, which reinforces my theory of the blind squirrel. Still he is supposed to be a cornerstone for the next 10 years. Grade — D.

LF — Alex Gordon. A late 3-for-41 slide dropped his average to .268 and he always seems to have one of these filthy funks during the year. There’s no questioning his defense as he’s the best-fielding left fielder in the game. Maybe the hardest player to grade because he does so many things well and leads by example. Grade — B.

CF — Lorenzo Cain — One of the big surprises of the year. Anybody with a brain would put him on the Gold Glove team, he’s been even better than Gordon. But he doesn’t have the name recognition and will be lost in the shuffle. He’s hitting .307 with 12 steals in 15 attempts. But he provides little power and strikes out way too much. Still, he’s been a pleasant surprise. Grade — B+

RF — Nori Aoki. Kind of the forgotten man recently because of his injury, but even when he was healthy he was having a forgettable season. Not the player he was last year in Milwaukee. He was thought to be the perfect leadoff man for this year, but his on-base percentage is dramatically less than expected. Grade — C-

DH — Billy Butler. If there was a given before the season it was that Billy Butler would hit close to .300, club about 20 homers and drive in 85 to 90 runs. But somebody has kidnapped Country Breakfast and replaced him with a player whose bat speed has diminished, whose power is non-existent and has been a rally-killing machine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player decline so quickly. Critics argue he’s hitting .273, but it’s been like tissue paper. Three homers and 19 doubles. There’s a very good chance he won’t be back next year given the size of the option on his contract. Grade — D.

U — Jarrod Dyson. He’s made strides, but his mind still drifts with mindless gaffes and he’s under the delusion that he’s a power hitter. But going forward, I would start him and put Aoki on the bench. You take the good with the bad with “Speed Do.” Grade — C.

U — Danny Valencia. The Royals probably made a mistake by not giving him enough playing time early in the season when Moustakas was spitting up all over himself. Great against lefties, so-so against righties. But he never complained when he had every right to. Grade — B.

U — Brett Hayes. Rarely plays because Salvador Perez is an iron man. Has really struggled at the plate. I’m kind of surprised the Royals haven’t brought back old favorite John Buck as a backup as he’s unemployed.

U — Raul Ibanez. The Royals were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle from an old fan favorite from 10 years ago. After two solid games, he’s been almost an automatic out. Grade — D-.

SP — James Shields. He had a great start, but has fallen some since May. He’s still considered the stopper and the guy you’d want to pitch a playoff opener. But he’s on the last legs of his Royals career as they can’t afford him anymore. Grade — B.

SP — Jason Vargas. It’s too bad he’s out for several weeks because of an appendectomy. Arguably the best starting pitcher this season. Has done what the Royals wanted from him, eat up innings and be a professional. Grade — B+.

SP — Jeremy Guthrie. Maybe the easiest starting pitcher in baseball to hit, but he’s gritty and gives a professional effort every time out. Bottom line, though, the Royals need to score four or five runs when he pitches. Grade — C.

SP — Yordano Ventura. He’s a guy I’d pay to watch pitch. Electric stuff and hasn’t had a lot of support. When he keeps his calm, he’s the best pitcher on the staff. Oodles of potential. Grade — B.

SP — Danny Duffy. When I watch him pitch, I always wonder what goes through his head. He seems to struggle with his emotions. He hasn’t been running up his pitch counts into the 70s and 80s in the third and fourth inning like he used to. Still a pitcher who could be a 15-game winner at some point. Grade — B-.

RP — Greg Holland. He’s no fluke people. One of the best closers in the game. Grade — A.

RP — Wade Davis. Once he accepted the fact he wasn’t going to start, he has been almost unhittable. Grade — A.

RP — Kelvin Herrera. If he would ever harness all his talent, he’d be the seventh-inning man and turn games into six-inning affairs. Wildly erratic. Grade — C.

RP — Aaron Crow. Can’t seem to come through in the clutch. Fine in blowouts, but folds when the pressure is on. Grade — D.

RP — Francisley Bueno — An upgrade over Tim Collins as the lefty specialist because his control is better. Still too hittable against right-handers. Grade — C.

RP — Louis Coleman. Not the pitcher he’s been in the past. Grade — D.

RP — Bruce Chen. Still valuable to have. Just his clubhouse presence ups his grade. Grade — B -.

RP — Scott Downs — A recent addition, another lefty specialist. He’s been through the wars, but righties light him up. Grade — C.

M — Ned Yost. I still don’t think he’s the guy who can lead this team to the playoffs. Worries more about his players’ feelings and getting them individual stats. Also manages too much by the book. Grade — C.

Team Grade — This was a team expected to finally come of age offensively. But the young guns are struggling and nobody saw Butler’s jaw-dropping decline coming. Does anybody besides me notice how this team can’t recognize pitches? It seems to swing at everything. Thank goodness for the pitching. Grade — B-.