Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

Yesterday afternoon, Jonathan Broxton notched his 18th save of the year (good for fourth in the American League) and with it secured a winning road trip for the Royals.   He did so in what has become typical Broxton fashion, allowing two baserunners before finally getting his team out of the inning.

So far in 2012, Broxton has had 21 save opportunities and blown (generally in spectacular fashion) three of them.  Obviously, in those three, Jonathan allowed baserunners.   In the 18 successful saves, Broxton has retired the side in order just five times.   Broxton has had some other perfect innings, but in non-save situations. 

In the remaining 13 saves, Broxton has allowed just one baserunner six times, two baserunners six more times and loaded the bases once.   Is that normal? 

In 2008, we saw Joakim Soria in this prime just dominate.  He went seven straight appearances without allowing any baserunners and had another stretch where he did not allow a baserunner in eight out of nine appearances.  Soria blew three saves that entire season.   In 2006, division rival Joe Nathan blew two saves all season and in 21 of his 36 successful save conversions, threw perfect innings.

Those are two very good closers in probably their two best years, however.  Where does Broxton stand right now?  Is he getting just plain lucky and due for a series of devastating team gutting blown saves?  Or is this how it is across baseball?   Royals’ arch-enemy Chris Perez leads the league in saves, let’s take a look at what he has done.

Perez has converted 22 out of 23 save opportunities.   He had a one out save, which we will sort out of the equation.  Of the 21 remaining saves, Perez was perfect in 9 of those.   He allowed one baserunner in 6, two baserunners in 5 and three baserunners in the other.   It is noteworthy that while Broxton has not allowed a run in any of his 18 successful saves, Chris Perez has three times allowed  a run to score, but had enough cushion to still get the save.   In comparing Perez vs. Broxton, we see a few more flashes of dominance out of Perez, but also some poorer outings as well:  not a tremendous difference, frankly.

The Orioles Jim Johnson is second in the league in saves and has allowed just 15 hits in 31 innings of work.   Johnson has converted 20 of 21 save opportunities and been perfect in 9 of those 19 saves.   He has allowed one baserunner eight times, two on three occassions and never has put three runners on base.   Johnson has, however, allowed a run and still gotten the save twice.  It is also noteworthy that in his last six save opportunites, Jim has blown one and been perfect the other five times.

 The only other closer in the AL with more saves than Broxton is Tampa’s Fernando Rodney.  Two of his twenty saves (the first two actually) were just one out saves and Rodney has blown one save opportunity as well.  Of the remaining 18 saves, Rodney has been perfect in 12 of them.   He allowed one baserunner in four (along with an unearned run), two baserunners just once and three baserunners once (along with a run).

I am going to skip down a couple of spots to the most established closer type on the leaderboard:  Joe Nathan.  The Rangers’ closer has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities and been perfect in 10 of those.   In the other five saves, Nathan has allowed one baserunner four times and two runners just once.  He has not allowed a run in a successful save situation.

Now, baserunners happen.  Allowing one batter to reach base in the ninth inning is hardly a sign of the apocalypse (at least I don’t think so, the Mayans are hard to figure out), so let’s forgive all those outings for the guys we are looking at and compare the number of multiple runners on in save situations:

  • Perez – 6 out of 21 (1 blown save)
  • Johnson – 3 out of 20 (1 blown save)
  • Rodney – 2 out of 18 (1 blown save)
  • Broxton – 7 out of 18 (3 blown saves)
  • Nathan – 1 out of 15 (1 blown save)

Quick and dirty research tells us that Broxton’s success, if not lucky, has come in a manner different than that of the other save leaders in the league.   That said, closers are all different (I mean, most of them are really, really different) maybe Broxton has always been this way.

Well, in 2009, Broxton had a career high 36 saves, striking out 114 in 76 innings.   He allowed more than one baserunner in just 7 of those 36 successful saves, but he also suffered six blown saves.   In 2010, he was 22 of 27 in save opportunities and allowed multiple baserunners in five of his 22 successful saves.  It is noteworthy that his 2010 performance resulted in Broxton losing his closer job in August.

In his prime, Broxton did not walk the high wire to quite the extent he has thus far for the Royals (although he was still prone to the blown save).  That does not mean that Jonathan will not be able to continue:  the ability to throw 98 mph can help offset runners on base.   However, the odds would seem to suggest that Broxton might be running out of wiggle room.

There is, however, one additional consideration.   Broxton is really just two and one-half months back from injury.   He has spent the better part of the last two years getting lit up.  Could this all be just part of ‘getting back’?  I think that is a very real possibility and the truth is, if Broxton ends up saving 36 games this year, blowing six and taking us on a ride in half of those 36 successes, that is still going to be a pretty decent year.

It’s not dominant and it’s not ideal, but not everyone can be Joakim Soria.   Heck, Joakim Soria wasn’t Joakim Soria the last couple of years.

xxx

I have to be totally honest.  My Sunday started before seven o’clock with a two and one-half hour drive, followed by seven hours of watching girls’ tennis (with bad cell service so no MLB Gameday), followed by a two and one-half hour drive home and immediately continuing on for four more hours into the bowels of Iowa for a business meeting Monday morning.   I know, I hear you:  shut up, we don’t care about your personal life. 

Fair enough.   All I was getting to in a roundabout way was that I missed the entire 15 inning Royals’ win today.   In doing so, I missed what has to be one of the most exciting, excruciating, maddening, thrilling, bizzare and euphoric of the past five years.   Pick an adjective, any adjective, and I bet you can make it apply to this game.

Let’s start with the fact that the Royals, after asking for seven plus innings out of their bullpen on Saturday, needed a good start from Luis Mendoza.   They got exactly that, as Luis went six innings and allowed just two runs (back to back homers to Halladay and Craig when he was ahead in the count – I consider 2-2 to be ‘ahead for the pitcher’).   All that and the bullpen still had to toss nine innings!

Mendoza’s performance comes on the heels of allowing just one run in six innings in his last start, which came after he gave up just two runs in five innings in relief of Felipe Paulino.   Now, I’m not ready to sign Mendoza to a long term contract or even to say that he will still be in the rotation by the end of July, but damn, Luis, well done.

Speaking of the bullpen, they went seven innings after Mendoza without allowing a run, surrendering just three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.   The key guy, obviously, was Tim Collins, who went three perfect innings to allow Ned Yost to avoid having to call on Roman Colon for a third straight day or a used up Bruce Chen.

The Royals also got two innings of work out of closer Jonathan Broxton:  one more than they wanted.  Broxton, who makes a living dancing the high wire in save opportunities, fell off on Sunday and gave up the tying run in the bottom of the 14th.  Redemption came in the 15th, however, when Broxton struck out two (Cardinals pinch-hitting pitcher Joe Kelly is no Bruce Chen) on his way to a 1-2-3 inning and finally, thankfully, the win for Kansas City.

Of course, Broxton would not have had the save opportunity to blow or the chance at redemption had it not been for Yuniesky Betancourt.  The Yunigma, despised and reviled generally, gets to be the toast of the town for tonight.  A run scoring double in the 14th and a two run homer in the 15th after going 0-5 in his first five at-bats.   Of course, how often does a non-starter get SEVEN at-bats in one game?

Backing up to the 14th inning, Betancourt fouled the first pitch off while attempting to bunt.  Was that a call from the bench or Yuni acting on his own?  As you know, the sacrifice bunt is not a popular item around these parts, but I don’t hate it in this situation.  However, I’m not sure I like it with Yuni up.  The one occasional skill Yuni brings to the plate is some pop (you know like extra inning doubles and homers), so I am glad that either he cut it out or Ned called the bunt off after one attempt. 

But then, Yuni would not have had his chances if it had not been for Billy Butler turning around 99 mph fastball on an 0-2 count with two outs in the top of the ninth to tie the game in the first place.   I not sure everyone has noticed, but Billy Butler kinda knows how to hit a baseball.

This game featured, among other things:

  • FIVE walks by Alex Gordon.
  • Back to back intentional walks with no one on and two outs.  Sounds crazy, but it was the 14th inning, the Royals were out of bench players, Bruce Chen already had gotten his pinch hit knock, so the Cards gave free passes to Moustakas and Escobar to get to Nate Adcock.
  • As alluded to a twice already, we saw the first Royals pitcher to get a pinch hit when Bruce Chen, batting for Tim Collins singled.  I’m amazed that is the first time it has happened.   You would have thought that back before the DH, some Royals pitcher (Jim Rooker for example) would have gotten one in some wild game.

I bet you can list three or six or nine more things about Sunday’s game that deserve a bullet point:  it was simply that kind of game.  The kind of game that, more often than not, the Royals have ended up losing in the past.  Progress or just dumb luck?  Not sure, but I’ll take five out of six in any form.    Especially with three at Houston coming up.

The Royals are not really a contender, not yet.   They, however, are not exactly not contenders, either.   I bet you didn’t expect to see that when they were losing 12 in a row.

xxx

 

 

Two on, two out, bottom of the ninth with the Royals down by two.  It looked and felt like many other nights this season:  the trailing Royals would do enough in the ninth to make it interesting, but ultimately not get the big hit.   We have seen all too often.

Then, John Axford threw his fourth straight 97+ mph fastball to Alcides Escobar and Escobar, as he has a tendency to do with fastballs drilled it for a game tying triple.   A couple innings later, Mike Moutaskas drew his third walk of the game to ‘drive’ in the winning run.   Say what you want about the level of play (at times very good, at times pretty bad), but these two games with Milwaukee have been interesting.

Back to Escobar.

At the end of April, Alcides was hitting .295/.329/.449.   I don’t think anyone really expected him to slug at that rate for an entire season and he didn’t.   By the end of May, Escobar’s triple slash was .303/.344/.404 and after last night, it stands at .292/.330/.392.   Let’s get one thing clear:  Alcides Escobar can hit .292/.330/.392 from here until the end of his contract and I will have not one complaint about it.

There is starting to be a growing body of evidence that Escobar might be able to hit at something resembling that clip.   Starting at June 1st of last year, Escboar finished out 2011 at a .274/.310/.391 pace.   Certainly nothing special there, but a vast improvement over the .216/.252/.253 line he sported on May 31, 2011.

Now, we have bandied about the ‘arbitrary set of dates’ line fairly often around here.   If you look hard enough, you can string together a start and end date for just about any player to make them look as good or bad as you want to.   Fox Sports KC are experts at that:  Yuniesky Betancourt leads all American League right handed second baseman in batting average with a runner on second and the temperature above 81 degrees.

However, I did not arbitrarily pick June 1, 2011 as a nice place to start out.  Not to be THAT guy, but I have been told by someone who was there, that in the first week of June last season, Alcides Escobar was given a ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk about needing to change what he was doing at the plate.   It’s outstanding to be a great fielding shortstop, but this is not 1965 and no team can carry anyone who hits .200 and slugs .250.

Since that point in time, Escobar started to hold his own at the plate.    Carrying that into 2012, Escobar has done more than that with the bat and I think you could call him an average offensive player.

Escobar’s current fWar is 1.1, his wOBA is .326 and his OPS+ is 98.   He has ten steals in eleven attempts.   Although the defensive metrics don’t like him as much as most of us like him, I have to believe that will even out as the year goes on.  It sticks in my head that early on last season, Alcides has some unappealing fielding metrics too, but ended up well into the positives by season’s end.  Of course, I’m old and drink a lot, so that might not be true.

For what the Royals are paying him through 2017, if Alcides Escobar is a 2.2 WAR player each year it will be a tremendous contract.   Buy your jerseys now, kids, because Alcides Escobar might end up being the best shortstop in Royals history when all is said and done.

xxx

 

Dismal.  

That is my complete analysis of the three game sweep at the hands of the Pirates.

Currently, Wil Myers is hitting .341/.388/.714 through right at 100 AAA plate appearances.    He has been playing centerfield in Omaha, but I have yet to get any definitve review of how he has been playing centerfield.   Is he Jeff Francoeur with a touch more range?  David DeJesus minus the instincts?  Melky Cabrera only…well, Melky Cabrera?   Maybe Myers will fall in with the Moustakas syndrome.  You know, we all thought that Moustakas might be passable defensively at third, only to see him be a very good defensive third baseman (at least preliminarily).  Maybe Myers could be the same sort of deal in center.  Maybe.

For fun, I did exhaustively comprehensive research in the last four and one-half minutes, and pulled the leaders in wOBA from Fangraphs and reviewed how many AAA plate appearances each of them had before hitting the major leagues.   The results, as you might imagine from such a small sample size is quite varied:

  • Joey Votto – 580 AAA plate appearances
  • Josh Hamilton – 0
  • Paul Konerko – 868
  • Carlos Gonzalez – 237 (Cargo played half a season with Oakland, then got 223 more AAA PA’s after getting traded to Colorado the next year)
  • David Wright – 134 (only 272 more in AA – all in the same season)
  • Mark Trumbo – 595
  • Ryan Braun – 134 (only 257 in AA as well)
  • Josh Willingham – 279 (Josh was 26 when he made the majors and was still playing A ball at age 24)
  • Carlos Beltran – 0 (just 208 in AA as well)
  • Bryan LaHair – 2,709

LaHair and Willingham are fun cases in that we often just discount those types of players as ‘too old for their level’ and ‘AAAA’ types.  Most times they are, but it is wise to remember that sometimes they are not. 

For our purposes, however, Wright, Beltran and Braun are noteworthy.  Myers already has more AA at-bats than any of them and is closing in on the amount of time Braun and Wright spent in AAA.   Beltran, who skipped AAA entirely, got a cup of coffee at the end of 1998 and then won Rookie of the Year honors in 1999.   He did end up spending some time in AAA in 2000, but that situation might apply more to a discussion on Eric Hosmer than Wil Myers.

Certainly and without question, those three players are elite level talents and highly thought of prospects on their way up.   However, isn’t that what most think Wil Myers might be?  Now, you could deal Ryan Braun out of the equation given that he was a college player prior to being drafted, but both Beltran and Wright were not and both were in the majors before age 21.   The point is not to call up Wil Myers this very second, but only to show a very few examples of some really good prospects who spent very little time in getting to the majors.

Of course, the Royals are not a ‘Wil Myers’ away from contention.  Had they drafted Chris Sale instead of Christian Colon and Tim Lincecum instead of Luke Hochevar (or Clayton Kershaw or even Brandon Morrow), then maybe the Royals would be just one player away.   The question is, just how many players away are they?

Let’s remember that even great teams don’t have great players at every position.  They all have a Jeff Francoeur or a Jarrod Dyson or a Johnny Giavotella in their lineup and a Hochevar in the rotation.   Truthfully, it is a bit unfair to even lump Frenchy in with the others.   He is not a good major leaguer, but he is a legitimate major league player:  decent enough to play right and bat seventh on a contending team.

For better or worse, the Royals are set at six spots in the lineup:  Gordon, Moustakas, Escobar, Hosmer, Butler and Perez.  If that core group does not perform over the next two to three years, then this discussion is irrelevant and Dayton Moore will not longer by your general manager.   That group is, as a unit, is not getting it done right now, but let’s pretend (if nothing else) that they will start doing so soon. 

In addition to that core, the Royals have a very good and very deep bullpen and one and one-half starting pitchers.  Bruce Chen is not a number one on any team, but he can certainly be a number four starter on a contender.   Felipe Paulino is good, when he’s healthy.   There is a pitcher like this on a lot of teams.  Hell, Jonathan Sanchez was that guy for the Giants when they won the World Series.

So, where are we?   Right back to where we all thought the Royals were in March?  Two good starting pitchers away from being decent?  Pretty much.

Truthfully, one really good starter and two ‘better than what they have now’ starting pitchers away from being pretty solid.   Throw in Wil Myers and you are getting there.   If Wil Myers can really handle centerfield, then Kansas City moves to very good.   Big ‘if’, but an intriguing if and one that should be explored once the Royals are willing to roll the dice on the Super Two timing as it relates to Myers’ service time.

Myers would make the Royals better and certainly more interesting, but the truth is it doesn’t matter when Vin Mazzaro and Luis Mendoza are your number three and four starters.   IF Paulino could get and stay healthy and IF Jake Odorizzi continues to appear to be and eventually becomes the ‘real deal’, then you could line up Odorizzi, Paulino and Chen in the rotation for the second half with the hope that Danny Duffy could be back by the middle of 2013 to be your number five starter.   That group has some hope.

Of course, that leaves a big blank spot at the top of the rotation.   Your move, Mr. Moore.

xxx

 

It is starting to feel like the Royals are slowly slipping into anonymity:  not good enough to be noteworthy and not bad enough to be made fun of.

Last night, Kansas City had to go to their bullpen for eight plus innings of work and quite honestly got decent enough results.   Luis Mendoza allowed an inherited runner to score in the first, gave up two more runs in the fifth and Kelvin Herrera was touched for another in the seventh.  That is not lock down work obviously, but it should have been good enough against Nick Blackburn and four Minnesota relievers.  It wasn’t.

On a six game homestand against maybe the two weakest teams in the American League, the Royals managed to plate just 17 runs in six games on their way to a disappointing 3-3 record.  All three wins came when the much maligned starting rotation combined with the much heralded bullpen to toss shutouts.    Before the season, I bet you didn’t expect three shutouts in six games at any point against anyone.

Sadly, the one night that the Royals’ offense actually did have some life (Monday’s 10-7 loss to the Twins), Ned Yost pulled back on the reigns and had Alcides Escobar sacrifice with no one out to give Jarrod Dyson and Humbo Quintero a chance to drive in two runners in a tie game…in the fourth inning.   Last night, as putrid as  the offense  performed, was still a good dose of rotten luck as the Royals, enjoying a marked advantage in the starting pitcher matchup for one of the few times all year, saw Felipe Paulino exit after facing just three batters.  Monday night, however, was the crippling game of this homestand. 

Four and two and all is right with the world.  Three and three seems so much worse.   Such is life when you are stuck in mediocrity.

Anyway, onto Pittsburgh, where the Royals are bravely forging ahead with Jeff Francouer in center, Eric Hosmer in right, Billy Butler at first and the Yunigma surely somewhere on the diamond.   To be fair, even if Ned Yost goes with Giavotella at second over Betancourt,  the entire right side of the diamond has the potential to look a lot like the right side of your slow-pitch softball defense.    That said, why not?

The Royals aren’t hitting and, quite honestly, haven’t played stellar defense in center or exhibited great range in right.   Maybe, just maybe, some quirky new defensive positions for three games might shake the cobwebs out of a lethargic offense.   I don’t hate this move as much as the statistical side of me says I should.   If Lorenzo Cain, who I think is dramatically better than Dyson defensively, was healthy my guess is I would hate it.   As it stands, let’s give it a whirl.

The thought crossed my mind, that moving Alex Gordon to center made more sense than putting the Frenchman there, but Gordon is far less experienced and then you have four guys in different positions instead of three, plus whoever wants to throw their glove at the ball playing second.   The real downside of this three game lineup changes is that Yost is likely to be more paranoid about the defense than most of us.   I can see him pulling the trigger on Dyson to center, Frenchy to right, Hosmer to first as early as the sixth inning, which obviously shuffles Billy Butler out of the batting order for what might well be crucial late inning at-bats.

The other interesting news of this short trip is that it appears Clint Robinson might get called up to the bigs.  Now, given the Royals are playing a first baseman in right field and a designated hitter at first, calling up another first baseman/DH type seems, at first, kind of silly.    One might have opted for the versatile Irving Falu, who can play just about anywhere and would allow Yost all sorts of managerial options.   Maybe that’s what Dayton Moore is trying to avoid?!

However, the Royals are likely looking to Robinson to simply pinch-hit.   I don’t know of Clint Robinson can hit major leauge pitching (and getting 2 or 3 pinch hitting chances as your debut is not a very good way of finding out), but I do know he is more likely to park one than Falu or Maier or Dyson or…you get the point.   If the Royals were moving to the NL for the summer, than Falu is the guy.   For three games in Pittsburgh, why not Robinson?

This trip could be fun for the Royals, but it might also be a bumbling disaster.  It won’t, however, be boring.

xxx

Probably before the Royals take the field on Monday night, almost certainly by the time they have lit up the Twins for three runs in the bottom of the first, Kansas City fans will know who the next big prospect in their system will be.   It is nothing new for the Royals picking early in round one, but not much else about the 2012 Draft is familiar.

Gone are the recommended slots from the commissioner’s office with the only penalty for not adhering to them was a mean look from Bud Selig.   In their place comes a prescribed bonus pool for each team’s picks in the first ten rounds.   The penalty for exceeding them by even just five percent is a punitive tax and the spectre of the loss of draft picks in future drafts.   Personally, I think this is probably a bad development for the Royals, but no one really knows how this new system will play out.

What we do know is that Kansas City has a total of $6.1 million to spread across Rounds 1 through 10, during which time the Royals have ten picks.  While the Royals first round pick is assigned a value of $3.5 million, they can spend as much or as little of their total allotment of $6.1 million as they want on that pick.  

There are two kickers to this process.   First, if a team does not sign one of their picks in the first ten rounds, the value of that pick goes away and cannot be used on another.  If the Royals are unable to sign their 8th round pick, as was the case last year with Evan Beal, the $139,000 assigned to that pick is deducted from the allotted total of $6.1 million.   In addition, any bonus in excess of $100,000 given to any pick from Round 11 on counts against the first ten round allotment.   There will be no more $750,000 signing bonuses to a 16th round pick like Kansas City did last year to sign Jack Lopez away from his college commitment.

For the first couple of years of this new system, I think teams will be focused a great deal on the signability of a player at or near the value assigned to that pick.   One never knows exactly how a system works and hence, how to work said system, until one actually sees it in action.   Until the teams figure out the nuances of this, or Scott Boras figures it out for them, my guess is the picks are going to sign right around the value assigned or not at all.   Three times in the Dayton Moore era players picked by the Royals in the first ten rounds have not signed, it will be interesting to see if that number increases.

It will also be interesting to see if drafting of college seniors with no leverage who will sign for $1,000 returns.  The Royals got Mike Aviles that way, but not a lot else.  However, if you want to sign this year’s Wil Myers (and no, I have no idea who that is) it may require using your round eight through ten picks on guys who will sign for next to nothing.   Again, I’m not a fan of the new system, but don’t really know enough to hate it, either.  I know a Jack Lopez is likely playing shortstop for the University of Miami this spring instead of being in the Royals’ system if the 2011 Draft had been subject to the new agreement.   Good for college baseball, I suppose.

The big plus of the new system is the signing deadline is in mid-July instead of mid-August.   That means that we will get to see almost every signed draftee play at some level yet this year.   Going back to 2011, that would mean Bubba Starling (if he had signed, which may have been unlikely) would already have a half season of rookie ball under his belt and likely two months in Kane County by now instead of still playing instructional ball in Arizona.   Starling is not a great example, because he probably slides even further in the draft based on signability and ends up playing football instead.

Anyway, ifs, buts, candies and nuts.   How about the players?

It is no secret that the Royals are looking at advanced starting pitching.  It’s a slippery slope when teams start drafting for need over talent, but in this case the need and the talent might coincide nicely.  Greg Schaum at Pine Tar Press, Baseball America, and many others spend much more time actually watching and analyzing these guys than me, but with three good college right handers near the top of the board, the Royals would seem to be in nice shape to take a talented player at a position of great need with the number five pick.

The options are Mark Appel of Stanford (who is likely to go either first or second), Kevin Gausman of LSU and Kyle Zimmer of San Francisco.    All three throw hard, sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher with their fastballs.   Appel follows up with a slider and developing changeup.  Gausman brings along a good changeup and two seam fastball,  and offers both a curve and slider with mixed results.   Zimmer, who became a full-time pitcher just last year, couples his fastball with a hammer curve and developing changeup.

Any of you who follow the draft at all have read more in-depth analysis of these three.   Of the three, particularly knowing that Appel is likely to be gone by number five, I prefer Kyle Zimmer.   John Manuel of Baseball America compared him to Jesse Foppert, which is both good and bad.   Foppert, just a year after being drafted, was ranked as the top prospect in the Pacific Coast League and was in the majors a year and one half after signing.    For those keeping score at home, a similar path would put Zimmer in the majors by Opening Day of 2014.   Now, Foppert’s story does not have a happy ending, as he went under the knife and never made it back from Tommy John surgery, but therein lies the hazard of drafting pitchers.

Now, anything can happen and we only have to look back to last summer when the Royals, hell bent on taking the best of what was left of five talented arms, saw them all go in a row and ended up with Bubba Starling.  It seems unlikely that Appel, Gausman and Zimmer will all be gone before Kansas City picks, but it is possible.    Should that happen, the organization will be faced with taking an arm that is, at least in some circles, thought to be a step down from the three mentioned above (Max Fried, Lance McCullers Jr. and Marcus Stroman are among names that have come up) or seize on one of the three top position players in the draft.

Those three are high school outfielder Byron Buxton (who it would seem almost impossible that he will still be there), Florida catcher Mike Zunino and Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa.   All three are excellent prospects, but all three reside in positions of non-pressing need for the Royals.   Here is your slippery slope, folks, do you start sliding because your major league rotation is problematical at best and your minor league pitching prospects have not come along as quickly as expected?

Is there a play to get a pitcher at five, who might sign for less than the value of that slot and use the extra money to get talent with some signability issues later on round two or three?  There is some logic to that approach, but it is risky as well.

How the Royals, and the rest of baseball, manage this new era of drafting will be almost as interesting as who Dayton Moore and his braintrust actually end up selecting on Monday night.

xxx

With a 6-3 win over Cleveland yesterday, the Kansas City Royals completed a quite successful 5-4 road trip.   That is five out of nine against the then leaders of both the AL East and Central divisions, plus the New York Yankees.   That’s five out of nine after starting out the trip by losing three of the first four games and going through a five game stretch where the Royals scored only 15 total runs.

Frankly, if prior to the start of the trip, I told you the following would happen, what would you have pegged the nine game record to be?

  • The Royals would commit 12 errors
  • Starting pitchers would go five innings or less in five of the games.
  • Opposing baserunners would steal 14 bases in 15 attempts

I don’t know, 2-7 probably?

Instead the Royals, whose 16-11 road record trails only that of the division leading Orioles, White Sox and Rangers, came home a happy 5-4.  Oh yeah, five wins on this road trip is equal to the number of home wins the Royals have compiled ALL year.  This team is anything but boring.

This road trip really underscores that you don’t need to play perfect to play decent baseball.  The Royals are not going to go on any fifteen game winning streaks playing like they did the past week and a half, but when they make the plays at the right time, they can slowly climb back to .500….despite themselves.

Yesterday, the Royals got only five marginally effective innings out of Bruce Chen.  They were picked off twice, while Cleveland ran wild on the bases.  Kansas City bailed a befuddled and disgruntled Jennmar Gomez out of trouble when Johnny Giavotella was picked off first base with Billy Butler at the plate.   Later in the game, after rookie Scott Barnes loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter, Jeff Francoeur bailed him out of trouble by popping out on the FIRST pitch he saw.   And, let’s not even get into what Jonathan Broxton did in the ninth.

The day before the Royals committed three errors behind rookie Will Smith (who also walked the first two batters of the game) and the team still cruised to an 8-2 win.   On Sunday in Baltimore, Luke Hochevar did not make it out of the fifth, but the Royals still won 4-2 and the day before that, Felipe Paulino walked five in five innings and the Royals won that game, too.   A team doesn’t have to be perfect to play winning baseball.  In the Royals case, on the road at least, they don’t have to even come close to perfect.  

Over the last thirty games – basically a fifth of a baseball season – the Kansas City Royals are 16-14.   They have done so with a starting rotation so jumbled that the occupants of  both the fourth and fifth starter slots are almost always in a state of flux.  Although the lineup and, more particularly, the batting order has recently settled down, but for most of those thirty games it has been a roulette wheel every night.   Let’s put it another way, the best two starting pitching performances of the road trip were turned in by two guys who did not make the rotation out of spring training and the biggest hit in yesterday’s game came from a player who was sent out to the minors with two weeks left in spring camp.

This is not the Royals team most of thought we would have in 2012.  No one, no matter how correctly skeptical of the rotation, envisioned this team being 5-17 at home.   Of course, this Royals team is not ’5-17 bad’.   The very basic whims of the baseball gods means the Royals are due for some good luck at home, it not actually destined to, you know, play better baseball on their own field.

The White Sox, by virtue of an 8 game winning streak, have surged to the lead in the Central with a 29-22 record.  However, they don’t really strike one as a team that is going to play .560 baseball all year.  I could be wrong – it’s been known to happen – but the longer the Tigers flounder about the more it seems like the Central Division is in play for whichever mediocre team wants to back into it.

The Royals have begun to see signs of life, or at least signs of better luck, from Eric Hosmer.   Alex Gordon has started to get on base again and Mike Moustakas is emerging as a middle of the order impact bat.    Is Salvador Perez as savior?  Not sure, but I like him in the Royals lineup way more than Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero and that is going to happen before the end of June.  

While the Royals don’t really know what they have in Lorenzo Cain and likely won’t find out for at least another month, I still believe he is an upgrade in centerfield.  Could Wil Myers find a place by mid-summer?  How about Jake Odorizzi?  What if Will Smith pitches another strong outing this weekend? 

At the end of that awful 12 game losing streak, most of us had this season as being effectively over.   Times have changed.   The Royals don’t need to be perfect to win baseball games.   The season is far from over.

xxx

 

 

I have to admit, I was nervous the first time I went to New York.   All I had to do was get off a plane, get in a car driven by someone else and go to a meeting with four other people.  I imagine, Will Smith, whose first trip ever to New York included pitching to the Yankees might not have been on top of his game. 

Will Smith is not a prospect, that’s the primary reason he was on the mound instead of someone else last night, but he is also not the next Eduardo Villacis either: even if the results of their major league debuts in Yankee Stadium were freakishly similar.  The Royals will give Smith another shot next week and that may give us a better indication of what Will brings to the table.

Last night was simply not Kansas City’s night.   The Yankees batted around in one inning despite getting just one hit and that was a bunt single.   Think about that for a minute.   The Royals also failed to mount much offense despite being gifted, be it by lackadaisical Yankee defense or the kind heart of the baseball gods, at least five soft hits.   Eric Hosmer, whose three hits combined probably don’t reach the centerfield wall, rightly believes the baseball gods owed him, but in the end it all added up to just three runs.

The 2012 Kansas City Royals were not built to score three runs and win games.   Remember back in the spring?  This squad was going to score runs, a lot of runs, and stay in games despite poor starting pitching until their lockdown bullpen took over the game.  For the most part, the bullpen had done their job.   They may not be ‘lock down’, but they are pretty good most of the time.

The offense, however….

While sporting the fourth best batting average as a team in the American League, the Royals rank just 10th in runs scored per game at just 3.98 per contest.   Kansas City’s team on-base percentage of .315 is nothing to crow about, but it is 8th in the league (that’s despite being dead last by a lot in walks).   It’s not a case of the Royals not getting on base, it’s a matter of getting those baserunners around the diamond.

As a team, the Royals are slugging an even. 400, which is 7th best in the AL, but they rank next to last in home runs with just 33.   That hurts, even if Kansas City is second in doubles.  A home run is the quickest way to put up crooked numbers and the easiest way to avoid something bad happening.   You know, something like running into outs.

According to Fangraphs, Kansas City is the third worst baserunning team in the AL (Indians and Angels rank below them).  That stat does not factor in stolen bases, where the Royals are just 10th in the league in steals (24), but are second worst in being caught stealing (14 times).  The Rays lead the league in caught stealing with 16, bu have 39 successful steals.

The Royals are not running smartly or stealing effectively.    Their eight sacrifice bunts and seven sacrifice flies is middle of the pack stuff in the league, so little advantage is gained there as well.  Not that I’m advocating small ball, mind you.

Kansas City ranks fourth in percentage of balls outside of the strike zone that they swing at (31%), but I will point out that the Tigers and Rangers rank second and third in that category and those two teams score a run or two.   While you might be encouraged that the Royals are second in contact percentage, it is worth noting that the Twins, who can’t score at all, are first in that category.

No wonder Ned Yost changes the lineup every day. 

xxx

 

Ned Yost trotted out three radically different lineups this past weekend against Arizona and managed to get one win.  Hey, for this particular Royals team, any win at home is an accomplishment.  After a 4-1 road trip, we all expected a better result than a 1-4 homestand.   That result was made all the more bitter by the fact that the Royals seemed in control of the first three games, only to lose all of them.

What this team does or, more precisely, does not do at home is a topic for another column.  Let’s get back to the lineups.   They were basically just all over the place – kind of like that softball team you were on that was not very serious and the batting order was simply the order in which you showed up for the game.   Frankly, I don’t blame Yost for trying some things and, for right now, I like Escobar at or near the top of the order, but it is probably worth noting that the most traditional of the three lineups this weekend did happen to score the most runs.

Truth is, though, you can design just about any lineup you want and as long as Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are not hitting, it is likely to have production problems.   Just as the ball seems to find the weak defender, the circumstances of the game seem to put the slumping hitter in the eye of the storm at critical times.    Gordon, who is 1 for 25 in what Fangraphs describes as high leverage situations, seems to come up with two outs in the ninth every freaking night.    By contrast, Billy Butler has only 15 high leverage plate appearances thus far in 2012.

What’s going on with these two guys?

If you have been following the Royals at all this year, you have heard more than one reference to Eric Hosmer hitting in bad, make that horrible, luck.  That may sound like a copout, but the numbers back that up.

In 2011, Hosmer had a BABIP of .314 and a line drive percentage of 18.7%.   His 2012 line drive percentage is 17.6% (pretty much league average), but his BABIP is an almost bizarre .165.   You can’t make a living with a .165 BABIP, but you also should not have to endure a long stretch at that level if your line drive percentage is around league average. 

Those numbers are but one component of a player’s performance at the plate, but for a struggling hitter, Eric Hosmer does not exhibit any of the statistical evidence that would indicate that he is struggling.  His strikeout rate is down (14.6% in 2011, 11.6% in 2012)  and his walk rate is up (6.0% in 2011, 7.9% in 2012).     Hosmer is swining at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (almost 7% less than in 2011) and his overall contact rate is virtually identical to 2011.   Overall, after swinging at 48% of the pitches he saw as a rookie, Eric is swinging at 46% this year.  What the above shows is a player who is not hacking at everything, failing to make contact and losing his plate discipline.   

I don’t know what Eric Hosmer did, but he really pissed off the baseball gods.

Are pitchers approaching him differently this year?  A little is the answer.  Less fastballs, more changeups with everything else being thrown to him in roughly the same percentages as last year.   In 2011, Hosmer put 26.5% of changeups thrown to him into play, but in 2012 that percentage is just 15.4%.   More changeups, less balls in play, hmmm.

In 2011, Hosmer swung at over half the changes thrown to him, whiffing just 11.3% of the time.  While Eric is not swinging at the change as much in 2012 (41%), he’s missing it almost 17% of the time.   I am not going to tell you that the changeup is the reason for all of Hosmer’s struggles, we are talking about just 15% of the pitches he has seen and, as the numbers above show, Eric’s overall plate performance has not really taken a hit.  The changeup is an issue, but it is hardly the only reason Hosmer is buried beneath the Mendoza line.

Here is what I will tell you:  I don’t believe you learn to hit major league changeups in AAA and I don’t think you really consider sending Hosmer down until his strikeout rate jumps and his percentage of swings at balls outside of the strike zone increased dramatically.

If the solution for Hosmer is to keep sending him out there and bank on the odds turning in his favor (it works in Vegas, right?), then what about Alex Gordon?

After a sensational 2011 campaign, we wake up this morning to find Alex Gordon hitting .231/.320/.363.   Triple slash lines are hardly detailed analysis, but that ain’t what the doctor ordered.  Is Gordon striking out a lot?  He is, 21% of the time, but Gordon always has struck out a lot.   In 2011, when he was one of the better players in the American League, Alex struck out 20% of the time.   Plus, if you are about plate discipline, Alex’s walk rate is up from 2011.

Going down the same path as we did with Hosmer, we find that Gordon’s line drive percentage thus far in 2012 is 23.8% (it was 22% in 2011), but his BABIP is just .280 compared to a robust .358 in 2011.   Gordon had some good fortune last year, but he is having some misfortune so far this season.

Now, if you are like me, the thought on Gordon might be that he back to trying to pull everything.   Much as it seems like Gordon is always up with two outs in the ninth, it also seems like he grounds out to second base pretty much every at bat.   Truth is, Gordon is pulling the ball less than he did last year.

Here is how the balls in play breakdown for Alex in 2012:

  • Pull – 38%
  • Center – 41%
  • Opposite – 21%

And how it broke down in 2011:

  • Pull 44%
  • Center  – 31%
  • Opposite – 25%   

Basically, Alex is pulling less, going to the opposite field less and hitting up the middle more.  Using the middle of the field is generally considered to be a good thing, but in Gordon’s case it does not seem to be helping.

How about Hosmer?   Here is the breakdown for 2012:

  • Pull – 32%
  • Center – 38%
  • Opposite – 30%

And 2011:

  • Pull – 39%
  • Center – 34%
  • Opposite – 27%

Hosmer was pulling the ball considerably more in 2011 with considerably more success.   Maybe it is not such a good thing when we see Eric take a ball to the opposite field? That’s an oversimplification to be sure, but pulling the ball and being aggressive worked in 2011.   Would you tolerate a few more strikeouts for some more pop (or any pop for that matter) out of Hosmer? 

What’s the bottom line of all of this?  Pick a spot in the order for both of them, leave them there and wait it out.

xxx

 

Eight different pitchers have started a game for the Kansas City Royals thus far in 2012.  That’s eight different starters in just 37 games…..in a schedule that has included five off-days (that includes rainouts).   Along the way, the Royals have employed thirteen different relievers:  fourteen if you want to include Mitch Maier.

While those numbers are really quite shocking given we are not quite a quarter of the way through the season, they are not unexpected to most Royals’ fans.   Going in, we knew the starting pitching was problematical and the bullpen would be relied upon heavily.   We also knew that there was considerable bullpen depth, even after Joakim Soria went down and Blake Wood and Greg Holland.

Of the many criticisms that can be leveled at Ned Yost and Dayton Moore, one has to compliment them on the ability to manage the merry-go-round between Kansas City and Omaha.  They have maneuvered the roster admirably.  We may have laughed at the idea of two, sometimes three, long men in the pen, but damn if they weren’t needed…often less than 24 hours after being called up.

The problem, and Ned Yost has already said as much, is that the bullpen simply cannot keep up this pace.  Even as the Royals, with the recall of Everett Teaford and Louis Coleman, cycle through the second time around the bullpen ride they still have Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Jose Mijares all on a pace to pitch almost 80 innings.  The return of a hopefully healthy and effective Greg Holland will ease that burden some, but it is still going to be a grind for the relief corp.

The problem, obviously, is the rotation.   The Royals can pretty much count on Bruce Chen to get them innings (that’s right, I believe in Chen) and it looks highly likely that Felipe Paulino is going to be a guy that gets the Royals six innings, maybe into the seventh, on a regular basis.  After that…

Well, are you going to buy back in on Luke Hochevar after one excellent start and one good start?  I’m not.  I’m done, remember?  Hochevar’s problem, as we are all keenly aware, is that when he is bad, he is a bullpen destructor.   You get a start, and believe me there’s one coming, where Luke gets blown up in the third inning, followed by a short start by Luis Mendoza or Jonathan Sanchez (when he comes back..and he will, like it or not) and the bullpen merry-go-round has to shift gears into a higher range.

What’s the solution?   Well, better planning by Dayton Moore leading up to this point is a warranted criticism.   Still, two years ago you just know the organization was certain that the group of  Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and even Chris Dwyer  would have produced at least two quality big league starters for the 2012 rotation.   Well, now Duffy and Lamb have both had or about to have Tommy John surgery.   The club has turned Aaron Crow into a reliever:  a very good reliever, but a reliever nonetheless and Mike Montgomery has spent his AAA career struggling.

Out of that entire group, the guy who might well emerge as a solution to one spot is Jake Odorizzi, who was not even in the organization back then.  In Odorizzi, Royals’ fans have to hope that this, finally, at long last is a rookie pitcher who is going to come up and be very good right away.  It happens sometimes…to other organizations, but maybe the Royals are due for some good luck.

I have pondered what the Royals should do in the short-term.   They are not playing particulary well, especially at home, but yet they are not buried in the standings and not resigned to going 70-92.   This team is not a contender in the truest definition of the word, but they are good enough to not be blown up.

The rotation was not good before the season started and now it is a mess.  Quick, can you even name the rotation right now?   Can you tell me what it will be past Sunday afternoon?

So, what do the Royals do right now?   

Nothing.

That may well make you right some bad things to me in response.   Go ahead, you might be right, but doing nothing is my response. 

First off, are  you really willing to trade Wil Myers or Mike Moustakas or, quite frankly, one of those two and a couple of other guys not named Clint Robinson or Johnny Giavotella (or Irving Falu) to get a starting pitcher that another team is willing to part with? 

Secondly, while the merry-go-round is starting to spin pretty fast, the bullpen actually can survive at this pace for at least another month.  Maybe with a little luck and a hot streak by Teaford or Mendoza or Adcock or Mazzaro (okay, I threw that last one in for comedy relief), the pen might make it intact and effective to the All-Star Break.

By then, you hope Salvador Perez is back (sounds doable according the latest), Eric Hosmer is hitting, Lorenzo Cain is back (my sanity craves a centerfielder who can, you know, field the position), Eric Hosmer is hitting, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar continue to perform as they have, Eric Hosmer is hitting and, oh yeah, Eric Hosmer is hitting.

One good way to milk an extra inning out of a borderline starter is to score six runs instead of four.  The above will certainly, hopefully, go a long ways towards accomplishing that.

In the interim, you can hope that either Odorizzi or Montgomery begins to blow AAA hitters away with consistency.  Heck, you want to dream, go ahead and hope BOTH of them do.   The baseball world does not have to be all sunshine and roses for the Royals to have a dramatically better roster by mid-July than they do right now.  It will not be a roster that will truly contend, but it should be better. 

Doing nothing, other than spinning the roulette wheel of relievers every other day, is the kind of thing that rankles the fans of a 15-22 team.  I get that and, listen, I am right there with all of you on the frustration train, but I do not see the ‘big move’ to be made right now.  Roy Oswalt is not coming to Kansas City and may not be a big help even if he did.  The Phillies are not trading Cole Hamels (not right now anyway) and the Royals sure as heck don’t need to trade for Josh Beckett and his contract.

Doing nothing sucks for a fanbase that has sniffed contention once since the 1994 strike.  Doing nothing for the next six weeks or so, is exactly what the Royals should do.

xxx

 

%d bloggers like this: