BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: Jeff Francoeur #21 of the Kansas City Royals is congratulated after he scored a run by teammate Melky Cabrera #53 in the 14th inning against the Boston Red Sox on July 26, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Tim Collins. Kila Ka'aihue. Jeff Francoeur. Melky Cabrera. This year's Royals have been giving an unexpected lesson in humility.
If the Internet is one thing, it's enormous. If the Internet is two things, it's f***ing enormous. If the Internet is three things, it's f***ing enormous and opinionated. In all corners of the Internet, covering all possible topics, people have opinions and they're not afraid to share them.
This, of course, extends to the baseball part of the Internet. You are currently participating in the baseball part of the Internet by reading this. Baseball people have opinions on baseball, and they share them, on message boards, on blogs and in comment threads.
Now, the baseball part of the Internet includes all types of baseball fans. And there are a lot of types. But featured prominently are the fans who are a little more into statistical analysis. You've got your FanGraphs. You've got your Baseball Prospectus and your Hardball Times. You've got so many hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of personal blogs that have referenced OPS or WAR or UZR. When I think "Internet baseball fan," I think "baseball fan who's aware of the numbers."
And so when I think "Internet baseball fan," I think likemindedness. This isn't a criticism. This is just the way it is. A lot of Internet baseball fans have a lot of the same opinions. That is an unavoidable consequence of so many people looking at the same information.
As with any subject, Internet baseball fans have their hot-button topics - topics that get them really charged up. These topics usually have to do with players or transactions, and it just so happens that this year's Royals have featured at least four of them. The Royals have Tim Collins, a short reliever Internet baseball fans have long thought could succeed in the majors, on account of his amazing minor-league statistics. The Royals have Kila Ka'aihue, a slugger Internet baseball fans have long thought could succeed in the majors, on account of his amazing minor-league statistics. The Royals have Melky Cabrera, an outfielder whose acquisition was widely panned for being a senseless waste. And the Royals have Jeff Francoeur, an outfielder whose acquisition was widely panned for being a senseless waste.
The Royals have had a number of players of considerable interest to Internet baseball fans. Players about whom Internet baseball fans have expressed some strong opinions. It's the middle of August, now. How have those players done?
Collins has gotten a chance. The reliever with better than 13 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors has appeared in 52 games for Kansas City. Over 54-1/3 innings, Collins has 43 strikeouts and a woeful 39 walks. Among all pitchers with at least 50 innings this season, Collins' strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks fifth-worst.
Ka'aihue kind of got a chance. The slugger with a history of dominating triple-A started 23 games out of the chute and posted a .612 OPS before getting replaced by rookie sensation Eric Hosmer.
Cabrera has been the everyday center fielder from the get-go. His OPS+ stands at a career-best 129, and he's already drilled 51 extra-base hits. He's played like one of the best center fielders in baseball.
And Francoeur has been the regular in right. Long a steady target of Internet ridicule, Francoeur has ripped 52 extra-base hits and posted a 118 OPS+ that just about ties him with Nick Swisher. He's crushed lefties, he's survived against righties, and he's been better in the second half than the first.
Four hot-button players. Four guys who have generated a lot of strong opinions. And four guys who, this season, have made those opinions look pretty silly. The two who were supposed to be bad have been good, and the two who were supposed to be good have been bad.
This isn't to say that the average Internet baseball fan was wrong. He was most certainly not wrong. There was every reason to want to see what Collins or Ka'aihue could do. There was every reason to think that Cabrera and Francoeur made little sense, and had little upside.
But what this is, is a lesson in humility, because ultimately this game will surprise you. Opinions are fine, but in baseball you'd best be careful about expressing them with near-certainty, because nothing is certain. You can never know who's going to be good and who's going to be bad, and this year's Royals are making sure everybody, with luck, keeps that in mind.