Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

I’m told this weekend is the unofficial start to summer. It appears it’s also the unofficial point where a third of the baseball season is past. Strange dichotomy, that.

Seems as though now is as good a time as any to check some league wide numbers and see how the Royals are comparing offensively. I’m looking at slash stats and dropping in sOPS+ for the numbers. Just a rough measuring stick of how the Royals are getting production out of their infield positions when looking at the scope of the entire league.

Catcher
League AVG – .239/.310/.389
Royals – .244/.274/.359, s OPS+ 76

Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero have combined for 15 doubles, tied for the top number in the AL. They’ve also combined for a single home run. Believe it or not, that’s not the worst in the league. Thanks to the Oakland A’s.

It’s also worth noting that Pena and Quintero have drawn just six walks between them. But they’ve only struck out 18 times. I suppose if we were going to make a blanket statement here it would be Royals catchers make contact. It’s not good contact, but it’s contact.

First Base
League AVG – .242/.317/.406
Royals – .203/.279/.360, sOPS+ 72

The Royals slash line would be worse if not for Country Breakfast who has collected 13 plate appearances while spelling the struggling Eric Hosmer. In that limited action, Butler has hit .400/.538/.800, which is enough to add 14 points to the collective batting average and 19 points to the OBP.

Second Base
League AVG – .245/.311/.372
Royals – .272/.318/.380, sOPS+ 102

There you have it… No clue how this is happening, but it is. The first four weeks of the season, Betancourt was taking walks and Getz actually hit a couple of doubles. Since then, the Yunigma has hit the DL and Getz started struggling before he took his turn on the sidelines.

And then Irving Falu comes up and starts hitting like he’s the second coming of Joe Morgan. OK then. I’m going to assume that Falu comes back to Earth (or Omaha) and Betancourt is close to a return and there’s no way he can keep his current slash line at .289/.347/.422. Still, a nice opening to the season from a position thought to be an offensive black hole.

Worth noting I suppose that in 13 plate appearances as a second baseman, Johnny GIavotella has yet to collect a base hit.

Shortstop
League AVG – .256/.313/.369
Royals – .310/.347/.437, sOPS+ 132

When I’m writing about shortstops, I’m writing about Alcides Escobar. He’s played every game but one at short. And his offensive production has been nothing short of phenomenal. His 13 doubles are second best among AL shortstops and is sOPS+ (which represents his OPS+ when compared to all shortstops) is the third best behind only Derek Jeter and Asdrubal Cabrera.

And he’s doing this while playing his usual exceptional defense. Sadly, his UZR isn’t reflecting that. (Am I crazy? I haven’t noticed him getting to fewer balls this year. Or an otherwise general malaise in his glove work. Really strange.) Otherwise, he’s probably be pushing Mike Moustakas for the team lead in fWAR. As it is, he’s second at 1.1 fWAR.

Third Base
League AVG – .254/.311/.406
Royals – .288/.337/.497, sOPS+ 130

Moooooooose.

At this point, he’s you’re Royals All-Star. Hopefully he’ll keep it going through June. The Royals need someone like Moustakas representing the team. Better him than a middle reliever.

He powers the Royals third basemen to a sOPS + that is fourth best among AL hot corners. The teams they trail: Tampa (Evan Longoria), New York (A-Rod), Detroit (Miguel Cabrera). Yeah, that’s pretty solid.

I’ll check back in next week with a look at the outfield and DH. Have a great (long) weekend.

Early in the spring, I theorized that Johnny Giavotella would win the job as the Royals starting second baseman. I went further and speculated he would struggle out of the gate with his bat (and glove, naturally) and he would fall out of favor for the Prodigal Royal, Yuniesky Betancourt.

It wasn’t like I was sticking my neck out on a line… The signs have been there all along that the Royals aren’t Giavotella’s biggest fans. Why else would you sign the Yunigma? ($2 million!) You’re not paying him that kind of scratch if he’s going to sit in the dugout. And despite the Royals claiming that Betancourt possessed some sort of defensive versatility, the plan was always for Yuni to play second base.

So Gio made the trek up I-29 and set up shop in Omaha. Of course, having crushed Triple-A pitching in 2011, he went to work straight away. In 152 plate appearances for the Storm Chasers, he hit .331/.408/.504. Minor league baseball is easy for Johnny Giavotella. He has now played 141 games in Omaha – roughly a full minor league season. And he’s put up a line of .336/.394/.486 in 655 plate appearances. Easy.

While Gio was laying waste to Triple-A pitching, the Royals second base tandem of Betancourt and Chris Getz actually formed a bright spot in what was a dismal April for the club.

Betancourt, despite playing on a bad wheel the entire season, hit .280/.333/.420 until he landed on the disabled list on May 2. He made contact on an amazing 90 percent of his swings and ultimately took more walks than he had strikeouts. Crazy. Meanwhile, on May 3, Getz was hitting .326/.354/.500. (Seriously, he was slugging .500. Even in a small sample size… Chris Getz!) With the dynamic duo hitting so well (and playing adequate defense) even with an opening due to the injury to the Yunigma, it seemed like it could open the door for Gio to make his return to the big leagues.

Except the Royals recalled Irving Falu.

Look, nothing against Falu. He’s a great story. Drafted in the 21st round, over 4,000 minor league plate appearances covering 10 years, he finally gets a chance to play in the bigs… Who doesn’t like that kind of perseverance? Allegedly, the Royals brought him up because of his versatility. Although they had the Yunigma on the roster for that same (alleged) reason, at the point where Betancourt hit the DL, Alcides Escobar had played every inning at short and Mike Moustakas had played all but eight innings in the field at third. Versatility, indeed.

Anyway, Falu has acquitted himself quite well. He’s played three games at third and even had a game at short, to go along with his time at second. He picked up single in the third inning of Tuesday’s game and now has at least one hit in each of his first nine games. Great start. Glad for the guy. He’s done everything the Royals have asked.

Meanwhile, the Royals finally recalled Giavotella when Jonathan Sanchez got hurt. OK. Now they have Gio and Getz and Falu… Three guys who play second. Although at least Falu does have the versatility to play other positions. But why bring up Gio at this point?

Apparently, it was so he could be the designated hitter.

What?

Then Getz goes on the DL with his ribcage contusion. Finally, this will be an opportunity for Gio to play everyday, right? Not so fast. Our man, Yosty says Giavotella will be the right-handed side of a second base platoon. As the Royals embarked on their first game without Getz, Johnny Giavotella didn’t leave the bench. Sigh.

To recap, since his recall, Gio has been the DH three times, started at second twice and pinch hit three times.

I believe this is what psychologists like to call a mentally abusive relationship. Witness…

– Giavotella has an uphill battle to make the team in spring training after the Royals bring Betancourt back for his second tour of duty to go along with Chris “Power Stance” Getz.

– Betancourt makes the Opening Day roster despite playing with an injury that will land him on the DL in a month’s time.

– Once Betancourt lands on the DL, the Royals bypass Giavotella in favor of a career minor leaguer.

– They finally recall Giavotella and immediately place him on the bench. Or use him as the designated hitter when Eric Hosmer needs time to find his game. So strange.

– Now Getz is on the disabled list and Gio still can’t get regular duty at second base.

– With Betancourt preparing to begin a minor league rehab assignment, I’d bet anything that once he’s activated it will be Gio who’s farmed out.

Look, there are people in the Royals front office who have scouted Giavotella for years. They know his game inside and out. Those people have obviously decided he can’t play at the major league level. Did they make that assumption based on his 187 plate appearances last year? Can’t say for sure, but it certainly feels that way. Gio can’t beat out Betancourt, Getz or even Falu to stake an outright claim to second.

OK… now I have to throw a disclaimer. Do not interpret this post as saying Johnny Giavotella is the difference between fourth place and a pennant. He’s not. The purpose of this post is to point out the symptom of a problem I’ve seen with the Royals front office going back to the Allard Baird days… The staggering reluctance to play a guy who projects to be a solid everyday player, while giving numerous opportunity to guys who are already established fringe major leaguers.

This season isn’t about competing for a division. (Spare me the standings… It’s May.) This season is about development and preparation for competition. Yeah, the timeline seems to be on the operating table getting a new ligament, but you still have to create major league players. Gio may be dreadful at the major league level. Destined to be a tweener. Quad-A. Or maybe he’ll be a solid contributor who hits with some power and is average with the glove. Can you tell me exactly the player Gio is going to be? No. Nobody can. The only way we can find out is if the Royals commit to him and give him the time to show what he can (or can’t) accomplish.

What the Royals are doing to Johnny Giavotella only makes sense if they have decided he has no future as a Kansas City Royal.

If you’re among those who think that Getz or Falu or Betancourt give the Royals a better chance to “win now,” that’s fantastic. As the Royals gun for 74 wins, what’s better… Giving Getz and Betancourt myriad opportunity to again show they’re not very good major league players, or allowing a young former prospect the chance to show what he can do? The combined WAR of Getz and Betancourt wouldn’t be that much higher than Giavotella’s on his own. Not enough to justify this treatment.

They gave Mike Moustakas plenty of time to figure things out, and have been rewarded. They’re giving Eric Hosmer a ton of leeway. (Rightly so in my opinion.) They’ve stuck by Escobar and were going all-in with Perez. Gio doesn’t have the upside of the first two. And he doesn’t have the defensive skills of the last two. But there’s plenty of reason to think he is the Royals current best option at his position.

The point is, we’ve seen Getz and Betancourt. We know what they can do. We’re not impressed. Falu is fun to watch, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know he’s not part of the future of this team. Just like Getz and Betancourt.

That leaves Giavotella. Shame the Royals aren’t interested in seeing what they have.

Games like the one the Royals played on Tuesday are fantastic. It’s a recipe for a great evening.

– They spotted Vin Mazzaro four runs before he ever took the mound. Wait… The Royals had a “big inning?” An inning where they scored more than one run and didn’t bunt? This is the Royals?

Adding to the confusion was leadoff man Jerrod Dyson clubbing the ball over the head of the right fielder for a leadoff double. What’s up with that? Joey Gathright never hit one off the wall.

Given the opportunity to play everyday, Dyson has exceeded expectations. That’s likely an understatement. On Tuesday, he reached base three times and saw a team high 24 pitches in five plate appearances. That is exactly the kind of stuff you want to see from your leadoff hitter. Oh, and all three times he reached… He scored.

Dyson is now hitting .304/.383/.362 in 81 plate appearances. He’s scored 17 runs in 18 games. And get this… Dyson is scoring 55% of the time he reaches base. No player in baseball with more than 80 plate appearances has scored as frequently as Dyson.

I know we’re still at least a month away from Lorenzo Cain returning from his hip flexor injury, but man… If Dyson can somehow keep this going, there’s no way Cain gets back into the lineup.

– I suppose lost in the “Eric Hosmer batting second” hubbub is that if Jerrod Dyson reaches base in the first inning, we can pretty much forget about Hosmer bunting him over. Although he did execute the swinging bunt in the first on the tapper back to Lewis. I guess what happened is an example of how speed affects the game, as Lewis looked Dyson back to second, then turned to first and lofted a flat footed throw over the head of Moreland.

– Hosmer then executed a boneheaded baserunning play when he broke for third on a ground ball in front of him. You don’t go for third in that situation… You just don’t.

More Royals running into outs.

– After a Jeff Francoeur double and Mike Moustakas was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Brayan Pena saw a meatball from Lewis and laced it into right for a two-run single. Does Pena love hitting in Arlington, or what?

– Finally, a nice job by Chris Getz to line the Lewis curve into center for the Royals final out of the inning. A slow, looping curve that didn’t exactly hang, but it was still in the “happy zone” when Getz drove it to center to bring home the Royals final run of the inning.

It also helps that the Royals were able to keep the pressure on, adding single runs in each of the next two innings. Again it was that leadoff man, Dyson, setting the table with a more Dysonesque base hit than in the first. The error on the pickoff allows him to advance to second, although I was surprised he didn’t go for third. Probably the right call since there weren’t any outs in the inning.

Then a nice piece of hitting from Butler to line the low and away pitch to right to bring Dyson home. That was the sort of inning that wasn’t happening during the first month of the season.

In the third, it was the MooseBomb. All the dude is doing is hitting .310/.371/.540. Nice. It’s weird, but when Hosmer started crushing minor league pitching, he kind of shoved Moustakas to second tier prospect status. But if Moose wasn’t number one on those prospect lists, he was 1A. He’s a damn good ballplayer. Now if we could only get that other guy going…

– Speaking of Hosmer, he did pick up a pair of hits, one of which was an opposite field double. Opposite field hits are always a good sign, but he’s teased us before. Anyway, it was his first multi-hit game since May 3 – the first game of the homestand against the Yankees. And only his sixth multi-hit game of the year. When I say “multi-hit,” I mean two hit games… Because he’s yet to collect more than two hits in a game this season.

– Mazzaro was successful because he threw strikes. According to PITCH f/x, 14 of his 16 four seam fastballs were strikes as were 21 of his 34 two seamers. He doesn’t miss many bats – he only generated four swings and misses of his total 50 fastballs – which against the Rangers feels dangerous. Especially if you’re living in the zone as much as Mazzaro was on Tuesday. But for one night at least, it worked. It also helped that the Rangers seemed a little overzealous, chasing a number of pitches out of the zone.

Whatever… It worked. It also helps that Mazzaro limited any potential damage by walking just a single batter. His final line:

5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

If you had offered that line to me ahead of the game, I would have gladly accepted. Baseball is a funny game.

– And then the bullpen… What an effort. Timmay Collins set the tone by striking out five of the six batters he faced. That curve… Just devastating. He’s just been amazing this year. Collins was followed by Aaron Crow, Jose Mijares and a rejuvenated Greg Holland. Here’s the combined bullpen line of the evening:

4 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO

That’s how Dayton drew it up, right? Cobble together five half-decent innings from your mediocre starting pitcher and then have the bullpen lock things down for the next four? And hope like hell your lineup strings together enough runs to give your team a fighting chance?

It’s a wonderful thing when a plan comes together.

Sure, it’s nice to take two of three from the White Sox, but the last thing you want to see is Danny Duffy exiting just three batters into the game.

Not good. Not good at all.

According to the Royals website, Duffy felt a “twinge” in his elbow on his second pitch of the game. He lasted 11 more pitches before he was pulled.

The warning signs have been there… He had a start skipped at the end of April and in his return against the Yankees on May 3, Ned Yost said Duffy, “couldn’t command his curveball at all, but he was overpowering with his fastball.” This jives with an elbow problem… The pitcher with a sore elbow has issues with location. Velocity isn’t usually affected. Indeed, much has been made of Duffy’s velocity this season. According to PITCH f/x data collected by FanGraphs, Duffy’s fastball is averaging 95.3 mph this season. That’s second only to Stephen Strasburg. (Impressive, although we have to note prior to Sunday, four of Duffy’s five starts have been at home, where the radar gun runs a little on the warm side.)

Anyway, after having difficulty commanding the curve in his first start since being skipped, Duffy really struggled in his next outing. Against the Red Sox on May 8, he walked five and consistently missed his spots up in the zone. He threw 102 pitches, but couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.

Then Sunday happened.

Now Duffy is back in Kansas City where he will get an MRI on the elbow. We hope for the best, but it’s likely he’s been dealing with this issue since his start against the Blue Jays on April 22. That start was like his outing against the Red Sox… Duffy walked five and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning while throwing 113 pitches.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think the MRI is going to bring good news. Best case scenario is a DL stint where rest is the prescription. Worst case… I’m not going to go there right now.

– The Duffy issue overshadows a late inning outburst where the Royal bats went berzerk hanging nine runs on the Sox in the final third of the game. Is it weird that the Royals have yet to have a double digit scoring game this year? Seems so. On Sunday, a ninth inning explosion where the Royals scored six runs and pushed their game total to nine, matched their previous high scoring game – a 9-11 loss against Cleveland. That was in the season opening homestand we no longer discuss.

The Royals didn’t have much life before Johnny Giavotella pinch hit for Chris Getz in the with two on and two out in the seventh.

For the record: I would much rather see Gio in the lineup instead of Getz. However, Getz has provided some value at the plate this year. He’s not a long term answer, but why not let him play everyday – even against the lefties. On the other hand, it doesn’t make any sense to call Gio up and not play him at least five or six times a week. But this is the Royals we’re talking about. Hardly any of their roster moves make sense. You already have Irving Falu up as your utility infielder, so why bring up another second baseman? It seems you either play Giavotella or find another platoon partner for Getz.

(Meanwhile, doesn’t all of this render The Yunigma irrelevant? Just a dreadful signing by GMDM and company. Actually, to call it dreadful doesn’t do it justice.)

– Yosty finally got around to shoving Eric Hosmer down in the batting order. About time. Hosmer got the day off in the finale of the Red Sox series to allow for two consecutive days away (the off day between Sox series) which made sense. Give him a mental break and a chance to simply think about getting in some work. Just like it makes sense to drop him in the order. Give him a few days with a different kind of look in the lineup and see what happens.

I know there’s a growing set of the fan base that advocates a trip to Omaha for Hosmer. I disagree. He showed last summer he’s a major league first baseman. Yes, this is a painful slump, but he needs to figure out how to work himself out of it at the major league level. He scorched Triple-A pitching last year for a month or so and more than held his own in the bigs.

Besides, don’t forget the guy still has a .171 BABIP. That number hasn’t moved in the last week. His strikeout rate is down. His walk rate is up. He just needs to have some of these hits fall in. They will.

– Jeff Francoeur hit his first home run of the year. Our long, national nightmare is over.

– Naturally, Luke Hochevar went out on Saturday and tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, walking a single batter while striking out five.

In my post from Friday, I noted that Hochevar’s issues were with his slider and how his release point shifted from the second half of last year. In the game on Saturday, his release point was fairly consistent with where it has been all season. And according to PITCH f/x, that was a relatively flat pitch. In fact, of the 21 sliders he threw, seven were put in play and five were fouled off. Hochevar didn’t get a single swing and miss with this pitch.

In this start, he recorded nine ground ball outs against seven fly balls. Hochevar lived around the plate and the Sox were up there hacking. On Saturday, it was a perfect storm of location, aggressive plate appearances and the damp, rainy afternoon.

– The Royals are 10-6 since that losing streak we don’t discuss.

Toward the end of last season, I wrote about Luke Hochevar and how I felt he turned the proverbial corner in his underwhelming career. Success, I thought, hinged on the development of a slider as his out pitch. It was so impressive, I dubbed it the Atomic Slider.

Players go on streaks. They can fool fans into thinking a player is better (or worse) than he really is. Given Hochevar’s underwhelming career up to July 2011, it was easy to look at his solid second half and dismiss it as just a hot streak. A guy who made some quality pitches, got on a roll and rode it to a higher strikeout rate and a lower ERA. As someone who likes to look beyond the numbers, I thought there was more to Hochevar’s hot streak than just blind luck. It was the slider, damnit.

In the post from last year, I noted Hochevar began dropping his release point on the slider. This accomplished two things. First, it provided deception as it was leaving his hand at the same point as his sinking fastball. Second, the pitch had a tighter spin, therefore a stronger break.

The results were amazing. After getting a swing and a miss just 12 percent of the time on his slider in the first half, his swing and miss rate leapt to 23 percent once he dropped his release point. Even more impressive was that when Hochevar threw his slider in the second half, he threw it for a strike 74 percent of the time. It was a devastating pitch where his strikeout rate jumped from 4.6 SO/9 in the first half to 7.7 SO/9 in the second half.

So you can understand why I dubbed it the Atomic Slider.

Even better, because this was a mechanical change, I figured it was something he could repeat. This wasn’t blind luck. There was something concrete we could point to as a reason for success. Maybe he wouldn’t throw the slider for a strike three quarters of the time, but if he could keep that whiff rate above 20 percent, he would evolve into an anchor of what figured to be a shaky rotation. I never went so far to think Hochevar was a number one type (an ace, if you will) but I figured he could be a decent number two.

I was wrong.

Before we go further, let’s look at some charts from Texas Leaguers. The first one, is the release point of his slider in the first half of 2011.

Contrast that to the release points from the second half of last season:

You can see how he lowered his release point. Again, it was the key to his second half surge.

Now, we know how brutal Hochevar has been in 2012. Awful. Terrible. Pick a negative adjective and that’s our Hochevar.

That Atomic Slider? It’s a dud.

Here’s his release point in his starts so far this year.

He’s back to where he was to open the 2011 season. For the love of Steve Carlton, what has he done to his slider? Here are the vital stats on his Unatomic Slider:

The key takeaway from the above table is the horizontal movement – or the “slide” of the slider. Hochevar was getting a little over 2 feet of movement from release to the catcher’s glove at the start of 2011. When he dropped his arm angle, he added a half foot of movement. A huge jump. It should be noted that the average major league slider has a horizontal break of around 2.5. Suddenly, Hochevar possessed a pitch that hitters couldn’t reach.

This year, he’s lost his second half gains from 2011 and knocked off another quarter foot of movement for good measure. His above average slider is now decidedly below average.

Don’t believe me? Check the results on his slider:

Yes, he’s throwing his 2012 slider for strikes, but that’s because they’re catching more of the plate because they lack horizontal movement. His percentage of sliders fouled off and in play has increased. According to FanGraphs Pitch Type Linear Weights, his slider last year was worth 3.42 runs saved, making it his best pitch in his arsenal. This year, that number is 0.41.

This chart from FanGraphs puts the issue into a broader perspective. The red dots are the average horizontal movement per start of his slider. Note how low his movement was in 2009. Further, find the uptick in movement in the middle of 2011. Finally, look where he is in 2012. Not good.

Hochevar just can’t find the consistency of his slider, and it seems to be affecting the rest of his game. He doesn’t have the mental fortitude to battle through an outing where he struggles with what should be his best pitch. To me, it all falls back on the release point. And for some reason, looking at the above chart, if Hochevar’s slider is flat, all of his pitches are flat. If one pitch is crushable, all his other pitches are crushable. Awful.

While I’ve highlighted the decline of Hochevar’s slider, that’s not the only pitch he’s “lost.” His fastball and his change are getting hammered. His batting average on balls in play is an astronomical .385 and his strand rate is an abysmally low 50%. Obviously, those numbers will regress to the mean over the course of the next five months. But that’s dependent on Hochevar not pitching with his head jammed up his backside. Besides, in his case the mean is still a below average pitcher.

I’ve officially thrown in the towel on Hochevar. He found success, but can’t figure out how to repeat it. One step forward and two giant leaps back. It’s maddening. And frustrating. And just a pain in the ass. He’ll have a decent start at some point and the Royals PR machine will stumble into overdrive to tell us how Hochevar has turned the corner or some such nonsense. Don’t believe it.

Sadly, a winter where the largest addition to the rotation was Jonathan “Ball Four” Sanchez, there’s little alternative the Royals have but to keep throwing Hochevar and his Unatomic Slider out there every fifth day. I figure for the rest of the season we’ll see a pattern of one decent start, one of average quality and two stinkers. He just doesn’t have it within himself to be a consistent, successful starting pitcher.

Tons of interesting stuff in Tuesday’s game. Let’s dive in…

Where Duffy’s Pitch Count Explodes

Seriously, what’s the deal here? If felt like Duffy was getting squeezed, but really it was just the borderline calls that weren’t going his way. Whatever was happening, he piled up over 100 pitches in less than five innings. Given the way the rotation has gotten hammered in the last week, that’s just an unacceptable outing. I will put some of the blame at the mask of the home plate umpire. Duffy wasn’t getting the high strike called and there was one pitch in particular that was just an awful call. That can mess with a pitcher’s psyche. If he’s not getting calls, he starts to get too fine. He doesn’t want to serve it down the heart of the plate, but that’s basically what the ump is challenging him to do. It’s a helluva situation.

There was some speculation he was pitching hurt. It’s possible. His curve wasn’t effective again – he threw only 10 of them, and completely abandoned the pitch in the middle of his outing. He also generated only four swings and misses. Although his fastball had plenty of life, averaging a hot 95.5 mph on the Kauffman Stadium gun.

I think the likely scenario was that Duffy was unnerved by the home plate umpire. He reverted to his 2011 form where he was trying to be too fine – and failing. Hopefully, Duffy can shake this start off and move forward. Not much positive from this one.

Where Quintero Attempts To Steal

The Royals open the second inning down 2-0. Hosmer singles, Francoeur walks (!) and Moustakas grounds into a fielder’s choice at second to put runners on the corners and one out. Then the fun starts. Red Sox starter Daniel Bard balks not once, but twice! Chris Getz has a great plate appearance to drive home the run from third to tie the game. At this point, Bard is clearly melting down. Believe me, having watched Luke Hochevar pitch all these years, I know the symptoms.

The meltdown continued as Bard uncorked a wild pitch to move Getz to second. Escobar grounds out to move Getz to third and he scores the tie breaking run on Humberto Quintero’s single.

Then…

Quintero takes off for second.

Wait, what?

Quintero… He of one career steal. And three career attempts. Tried to swipe second base. With three runs home and the Red Sox starter on the ropes.

This was just all kinds of wrong. You have a pitcher on the ropes early in the game. And you let him off the hook by trying to steal with your slow footed backstop. What are you thinking, Yosty?

I thought this exchange was interesting in the post game.

Nate Bukaty: “Was Quintero going on his own there?”

Yosty: “Yeah, that’s a spot where you’re trying to pick their pocket. You know, you really cant lose. If he steals the base, then you’ve got a runner in scoring position. If he doesn’t steal the base, you’ve got your leadoff guy leading off the next inning. It was a spot we gambled. We just didn’t make it.”

Are you freaking serious? A Quintero attempted steal is a situation where you “can’t lose?” Just an asinine call.

I’m getting closer…

Where Yosty Reads His Starter The Riot Act

Duffy is nibbling in the third inning. Back to back walks after the Royals jump to a lead and he falls behind on the third hitter in the inning 2-1. Out comes Ned Yost with a purpose. He spends a few minutes laying down the law to Duffy. The result? A ground ball double play and a pop out. In just five pitches. Nice.

This is where Yost is valuable on a young team. His no-nonsense approach works well with players who may lose focus or otherwise don’t know how to handle certain situations. Duffy’s start was heading off the rails. Yost took initiative and kept him on track.

If someone challenged me to name a good thing Yost does as manager, that would be it. And that would probably be the only thing I could name.

Where You Can’t Assume A Double Play

After a one out double and a walk allowed by Duffy, he was pulled in favor of Kelvin Herrera. He got the grounder he was looking for, but Getz threw wide of the bag at first and it skipped by Hosmer. That allowed Gonzalez to score what was the go ahead run from second base. Ugh.

I know that Getz takes a ton of heat in this space (and others) but that play was entirely on Hosmer at first. Yes, Getz made the poor throw. But it was under duress. I’ll give him a pass as the Red Sox runner was bearing down on him – I think it caught Getz by surprise that he had so little time to make the pivot at second. Having said that, Hosmer was completely wrong in not coming off the bag to save the ball from skipping by him. The way he set his feet at first to receive the throw was correct… Because it would have allowed him to slide off the bag to block the ball. In that situation (tie game, middle innings) you have to do everything in your power to save the run. Hosmer went for the out, and it potentially cost the Royals the game.

That was an example of why the advanced defensive metrics didn’t take a shine to Hosmer’s D last year. He needs to make better decisions. He’ll learn.

Where Yosty Bunts His Way To Oblivion

According to the Run Expectancy Matirx, the average number of runs that score with runners on second and third and no out is 1.556. Not a bad place to be when you’re trailing by one run in the later innings. In fact, given that scenario, you can expect to score at least one run roughly 64 percent of the time.

And then Yosty gives away an out.

Now the Royals have runners on second and third with one out. Going back to the same Run Expectancy Matrix, the average runs that score in this situation is 1.447. So by giving away that out, you’ve basically decreased the total amount of runs you can expect to score. In the late innings of that one run game, that’s a pretty big deal. Now in this situation, you can expect to score 70 percent of the time. Yes, that’s higher than the previous situation, but I’m not sure the six point bump in percentage is worth the exchange of the out.

A big inning late in the game was what the Royals needed. (More on that obviously in a moment.) The situation was ripe for multiple runs. Yosty was playing for one and to tie the game. Managers who constantly feel the need to do something, often end up hurting their team. Yosty is that kind of manager. The right play was to let his hitters take their cuts.

I’m not sure what was going on with Alcides Escobar following the Getz bunt with one of his own. Was the SS Jesus freelancing there and bunting on his own? Yosty said he was. He said that Escobar was confused and thought the squeeze was on. How is that possible? How can you have a hitter, in a key situation late in the game, not understand what is supposed to happen. Color me livid. You are set up to score multiple runs and you’re basically playing for the single score. Besides, Frenchy was out at home and the Royals somehow didn’t score a single run in the frame. Unreal managing from Yosty.

I’m of the mind that a manager doesn’t generally win or lose the game for his team. Most of the decisions to be made during the game are elementary and rather benign. However, in this case, Yosty’s managing was definitely costing the Royals.

Closer…

Where Butler Saves The Day

After the Royals let Bard off the hook in the second, he started cruising. The strike zone seemed tight all night long, but the Royals never altered their approach at the plate. Of the 18 batters from the third to the seventh inning, only Chris Getz went more than three pitches without swinging the bat. And he drew a walk. Amazing how that works.

Then, in the eighth, Jerrod Dyson and Alex Gordon decided to take a few pitches. And they both walked. End of the line for Bard and in comes sinker ball pitcher Matt Albers to face Billy Butler. Albers gets a ground ball 54 percent of the time. And we all know about Butler and his proclivity for grounding into the double play.

Amazingly, Yosty resists the temptation to bunt.

And Butler gets wet.

Ironic, isn’t it? Yosty spends the entire game playing small ball and giving away outs, and it’s a three run home run that wins the game.

Somewhere Earl Weaver is smiling.

Wonder if we could get him to come out of retirement. I’m thinking a new manager would be nice.

It’s Mike Moustakas’ world. We’re just lucky to be living in it.

Moose put on a show on Thursday night, making a couple sparkling defensive plays (one to end the game), hitting a long home run to dead center and driving in two more on a bases loaded single.

It’s fun to watch a good ballplayer when he’s locked in and The Moose is all kinds of locked in right now. He’s leading the team in just about every meaningful offensive statistic and his defense is Platinum Glove quality.

– Danny Duffy pitched a solid game.

5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO

He threw 90 pitches, 52 for strikes. Nine of those strikes were swings and misses. It wasn’t exactly easy though, as the Yankees put a runner on second in three of his five full innings. Duffy did a great job battling and got the key outs when needed. (Duffy’s second run scored after he left the game for Nate Adcock.)

I was wondering the thought process in sending Duffy back out to start the sixth inning. It’s natural after living through the Gil Meche debacle. Why in the world would Yosty have his young starter who just had a start skipped due to elbow soreness return to the mound after throwing 86 pitches through five? As we saw in the Trey Hillman killing of Meche’s career, send a guy back out for one more inning and crazy stuff happens. It just felt like an unnecessary risk. Especially, as I mentioned, three of his innings were on the high stress side.

Of course, Duffy fanned Alex Rodriguez on three pitches to start the inning. That’s great and all, but still… Feels like you’re potentially sacrificing the future for a short-term gain.

And don’t think I’m comparing Duffy to Meche. I’m not. Just saying the situations are similar. After all, Meche…

A) Had a history of arm issues prior to his injury.
B) Was abused in back to back starts.

However, the Royals haven’t developed a decent starting pitcher in almost a decade. Just felt risky to me.

Other than the unnecessary sixth inning, Duffy pitched a helluva game. He averaged 96 mph with his fastball and was able to maintain his velocity throughout the start. From Brooks Baseball, we see Duffy started out all kinds of amped up before settling into a comfortable groove. It’s good to see he could have that kind of consistency with his velocity.

Yosty said he didn’t command his curveball very well and the data from Pitch F/X backs this up. Duffy threw 13 curves, only five of them for strikes. But the change in velocity from his fastball (96 mph) to his change (86 mph) to his curve (78 mph) was probably enough to keep the Yankee hitters off balance. Even if he couldn’t throw the curve for a consistent strike.

– Just an excellent double play turned by the combo of Getz – Escobar – Hosmer in the ninth inning. Major props to Getz for making a great stab on a grounder close to the bag at second to start the twin killing. His dive and subsequent quick flip to the Shortstop Jesus was the key to the how play.

– Speaking of Getz, he drove a ball to the warning track. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it. Mind blowing.

– The Jonathan Broxton Experience makes me extremely nervous.

Although the A-Rod at bat to end the game was hilarious. How he continually showed up the home plate umpire. I thought he was cracking under the pressure and looking to get run rather than face Broxton. Judging from his weak grounder, I may have been correct in my assumption.

– And it wouldn’t be a Royals game without stupid baserunning. This time, it’s Jeff Francoeur trying to steal third with one out in the eighth. Just a dumb, dumb play. He’s already in scoring position and the attempt doesn’t improve your chances of scoring a run enough to justify the risk at that point in the game.

There was some talk about his “hustle” double to leadoff the inning and I didn’t have a problem with that. He needed to get into scoring position and Curtis Granderson – who doesn’t have a strong arm – was running around the ball to make the throw to second. He needed time to set and throw. Frenchy was thinking two all the way, so he was running hard… It was risky, but enough factors were in his favor it was worth the risk.

The attempted steal of third though… Jeez.

– The Yunigma hit the DL with a high ankle sprain he suffered back in spring training. I thought we were done with these kind of shenanigans. You know, where the injured player is allowed to “play through” his injury, only to miss significant time after it doesn’t actually heal. Not that it matters so much with Betancourt. The Royals won’t exactly miss him. Still, it’s a little unnerving they allowed a guy to play with a bad wheel for an entire month.

The injury means Irving Falu gets the call to the big club. I’m happy for Falu, who gets the nod ahead of Johnny Giavotella due to his “versatility.” What a load of crap. Versatility. Remember how they sold us The Yunigma based on that. What’s happened? Well, Escobar has played every defensive inning at short this year and Moose has played all but eight defensive innings. And with Escobar always playing quality defense and with Moose the best player on the team right now, you’re not exactly looking for ways to get either of those guys out of the lineup.

I just wish the Royals were honest with us. Tell us you have crazy GetzLove and you don’t want to call up Giavotella to ride the pine. Or tell us you think the Betancourt DL time will last the minimum and it doesn’t make sense for Gio to come up for two weeks and ride the shuttle back to Omaha. Or just say you’re rewarding a career minor leaguer who’s paid his dues by giving him a couple of weeks on a major league bench. Just don’t feed me a line of B.S. about versatility. It insults our intelligence as a fanbase. We deserve better.

It was over almost before it began. It took Luke Hochevar eight batters to record his first (and second) out of the game on Tuesday. It was the second time in five starts he’s allowed the opposition to put up a crooked number in the first frame. It’s almost becoming habit.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a batter by batter breakdown of the carnage.

1 – Austin Jackson

Hochevar starts with a slider and falls behind 2-0 and 3-1 to the Tigers leadoff man. Once he fell behind to Jackson, Hochevar went exclusively to his fastball, except for a 3-2 cut fastball. That is pitch number six down the heart of the plate. I’m thinking Jackson fouled it off because he was looking fastball. That pitch was 88 mph, instead of Hochevar’s typical 92 mph heater.

The next pitch was thigh-high fastball that was grounded back up the middle for a single.

2 – Brennan Boesch

Hochevar actually makes a decent pitch – an 0-1 change that was low and away in the strike zone. Boesch was out in front and dribbles a ground ball to right. Yuniesky Betancourt was shading up the middle, but shows his amazingly horrible lack of range going to his left and can’t make a play. He should have made the play. Hochevar probably knows this. Instead of one out and a runner on second, we have two on with nobody out.

I cannot understate this – Yuniesky Betancourt is Public Enemy Number One.

3 – Miguel Cabrera

How dumb of a pitch is this?

The answer: Exceptionally dumb.

4 – Prince Fielder

As bad as the pitch was to Cabrera, the pitch to Fielder wasn’t bad. It was a curveball, down and out of the strike zone. And it should have resulted in an out. Except Eric Hosmer decided to make a play at the plate and airmailed the throw. Two runs score. Still no outs.

A really dumb decision from Hosmer. He double-clutched pulling the ball out of his glove and still tried to come home. And he was playing back. The correct play would have been to take the ball to the bag for the easy out. This isn’t hindsight, this is fact.

5 – Andy Dirks

A sinking fastball that hangs in the upper half of the strike zone. Dirks squares it up and Jarrod Dyson misplays the liner allowing Prince Fielder to score from second.

Going back, that was a big error by Hosmer. Had he gone to first to get Fielder out, a run would have scored but the Royals would have had an out in their back pocket. Another run would have scored on the Dirks liner, but at that point the Royals would have been down by three with one out. Instead, they were down four with no outs.

Tiger announcers were discussing how they thought Hochevar’s ankle was bothering him. He wasn’t comfortable landing on his left ankle and that was leading to him keeping the ball up in the zone. I’ll buy that.

6 – Alex Avila

Hochevar starts Avila out with a change-up taken down the heart of the plate. Good pitch because he had yet to throw a change to start an at bat. I say good pitch, but the location sucked. Had Avila been able to pull the trigger on that, he would have put it into orbit. The selection is what makes it a good pitch. Then he followed that with a cut fastball down the middle that Avila was able to drive into center.

The cutter was in Avila’s wheelhouse. He’s a low ball hitter, especially pitches down the center of the plate. Here is Avila’s chart detailing his hitting zones:

Just a horrible location for Hochevar.

7 – Jhonny Peralta

Discouraging because Hochevar had him down 0-2 with back to back curveballs. He went with a belt-high slider that Peralta went with and took to right field for a single and a five run lead.

Ahead 0-2, Hochevar controlled the at bat. By hanging a slider on the outer half to a right-handed batter, he essentially surrendered control.

8 – Ramon Santiago

Finally. Solid execution. Santiago can’t lay off the pitches high and away. And when he makes contact on those pitches, he doesn’t do much with them. Hochevar delivers two pitches up and away. Santiago takes the first one, but can’t resist the second.

Double play. I’m sure in the pregame planning session, the Royals told Hochevar to attack Santiago up and away. (At least they should have… As I said, that’s his weak spot.) Locate your pitches and good things can happen.

9 – Don Kelly

Nice sequence here from Hochevar. Starting Kelly high in the zone with a curve for a strike. Then following that with a pitch in the dirt. His 22nd pitch of the inning was popped to Mike Moustakas for the third out.

For the inning, Hochevar threw 17 strikes and five balls. Two of his strikes were actually hits on swings that likely would have been called out of the zone – the curve to Fielder and a curve to Peralta. Regardless, he was leaving just a ton of pitches in the meat of the plate. Just awful location.

The worst pitch was probably the meatball served to Cabrera. I really, really hate how the Royals announcers mention the small sample size of hitter versus pitcher matchups. But in the case of Hochevar versus Cabrera, it may be worth noting that in 31 plate appearances, the Tigers third baseman has collected 15 hits and owns a 1.376 OPS. If a good pitcher makes a mistake like Hochevar made to Cabrera, he’s going to punish the ball. And when he already has strong numbers against that pitcher… Yeah.

The best pitch was the double play ball delivered to Santiago. As I mentioned, that was the one plate appearance where Hochevar had what resembled a game plan.

The bad break was on the curve to Fielder. He got him to chase – which was what he wanted – and his defense let him down.

I’ve written about Hochevar at length and bought into the fantasy that he had altered his delivery in a manner that would bring him continued success. Cliff’s Notes version: He dropped the arm angle when he threw his slider which resulted in a tighter spin, which meant more break, which equalled second half success. The arm angle is still there. The results are not.

This is now the second time in five starts Hochevar has plunged his team into the depths of a first inning hole. It was as if the seven pitch at bat to Jackson took something out of him… It was the first seven pitches of the freaking game. Check out Hochevar’s velocity chart (courtesy of Brooks Baseball) and see how his speed dips immediately following the first batter.

How does that happen? He delivers three pitches to Jackson 92 mph or higher and can’t reach that speed until he gets the double play ground ball against Santiago. Meanwhile, Tiger batters are having their way with him. Again, how does that happen?

Yes, there was some bad luck involved in this inning. But a good pitcher can overcome something like that to regain control. Hochevar needed eight batters to right the ship on Tuesday night. By then, the ballgame was over.

Unacceptable.

Two in a row! Winning streak!

In Thursday’s game, one of the crazier things that happened was Jeff Francoeur drove a runner home with a single. Because as poorly as this team has played in the last two weeks, Frenchy has stood out as perhaps the worst offensive performer on this struggling club. Seriously… Gordon hasn’t been good, but he’s still picked up some quality plate appearances every now and again. Hosmer has a dismal BABIP, but leads the team with five home runs. No, the worst hitter in this lineup has been Francoeur and it isn’t even close.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

Let’s dive a little deeper into The Francoeur Abyss…

Francoeur has always had a strike zone that was more about zip codes than focusing on anything crossing over the 18 inch wide slab he’s standing over. Except this season he’s descended into a special kind of free swinging hell. According to Fangraphs, here is the percentage of pitches that would be called balls by a “perfect” umpire that Francoeur is swinging at over the last five seasons:

2008 – 36.3%
2009 – 36.0%
2010 – 43.4%
2011 – 41.2%
2012 – 44.3%

He’s really upped the ante the last three seasons, hasn’t he? And it’s not surprising that in the small sample that is the 2012 season, he’s at his highest rate of his career. Because when a free swinger like Frenchy starts struggling, what usually happens? Right… He expands the zone. When he should be selective – because it’s the only way he can escape – he’s taking a rip at virtually any pitch in any situation.

The average major league hitter is swinging at 45 percent of all pitches he sees this season. Francoeur is swinging at 55 percent. He’s not doing himself – or the Royals – any favors.

The complete lack of discipline is illustrated from the graph of pitches he’s offered at. He is literally swinging at everything. Most major leaguers have a weak spot. Think Eric Hosmer last summer not being able to lay off the high fastball. Francoeur’s weak spot is whatever state he’s playing in that night. Yes, the entire state.

Behold…

Just for fun, here’s the swing chart from another Royal hitter. Notice the tidy cluster of swings on fastballs inside the strike zone. I thought about having a little contest… Name that swing chart or something. But then I thought, it’s too damn obvious. The only guy on this team with that kind of discipline and strike zone management is Billy Butler. Professional Hitter. Destroyer of Country Breakfasts.

Beautiful…

It’s not a fair comparison. One is a really good hitter, the other isn’t. I present them both merely to illustrate the extremes.

So not only is Francoeur swinging at more pitches outside the zone, his contact has been dreadful. I know the Royals broadcasters have been talking about how he’s “due” to hit a home run. Right. The only problem is, in order to hit a home run, you have to get the ball in the air. Currently, Francoeur has a 1.94 GB/FB ratio. Over half the balls he’s put into play have been on the ground. (52.3% of all balls in play have been grounders.) It might actually be preferable that he miss a pitch. Amazingly, that’s not a problem. The problem is the miserable contact that comes with taking miserable swings at miserable pitches.

The results have been incredibly maddening. He’s hit into four double plays in 20 opportunities (as defined by having a runner on first and less than two outs.) He has a grand total of four walks and four extra base hits. And he’s come to the plate with 44 runners on base and has brought home three. Three. That’s an RBI rate of 7 percent. That’s not good.

The Royals have won two games in a row where they have scored a total of 12 runs. Which is fantastic. But the allegiance to Francoeur and his place in the lineup needs to stop. Yosty won’t send him to the bench, but he needs to drop him to eighth or ninth in the order until he modifies his ridiculous approach and begins driving the ball in the air a little more. But asking Francoeur to be more selective at the plate is like asking a Kardashian to shun attention. Probably not going to happen. So at the very least, he needs to drop until he stops hitting so many damn ground balls.

Right now, this season feels like a replay of Francoeur’s 2010, when he hit .237/.293/.369 for the Mets before they had seen enough and shipped him to Texas for Joaquin Arias. If Francoeur is still performing at his current level when Lorenzo Cain comes back, (which is entirely possible, no matter how long Cain is out) the Royals shouldn’t hesitate… They should play Cain in center, Mitch Maier in right and sit Frenchy’s butt on the bench.

Last year’s free agent success turns into this year’s extension nightmare. Well played, Dayton. Well played.

I figured that Jonathan Sanchez would have outings where he bordered on horrible. His lack of command combined with his electric pitches, mean he can strikeout a ton of hitters while giving away free bases. It’s like he’s a member of the Flying Wallendas.

Sanchez entered the game averaging 89.6 mph on his fastball this year. On Tuesday in Cleveland, 89 mph was his maximum velocity as he averaged just 87.2 mph. To go along with the drop in speed, Sanchez is moving away from that pitch. Of the 115 magnificent pitches he threw, only 30 of them were classified as fastballs. That’s just 26 percent. Unreal. He’s going away from the fastball in favor of his change-up. As Hudler pointed out in the key at bat against Jack Hannahan, when Sanchez is throwing almost exclusively off speed stuff, they just wait… And wait… And wait.

Sigh. More on that plate appearance in a moment.

Not that Sanchez is any kind of great pitcher. He’s not… Because he can’t locate consistently. However, it’s baffling as to why he would move away from the fastball. Is this a coaching call? Or is this something he’s doing on his own? In the postgame, he simply said he “didn’t have his fastball.” Velocity, location… All of the above. I suppose in the grand scheme it’s accurate that he didn’t have his fastball. He didn’t generate a single swing and miss of the 30 he threw and only 12 of them were strikes. That’s just a brutal pitch. Here’s his velocity chart from Tuesday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

That’s the profile of a starter who didn’t leave the bullpen with a full tank of gas.

So the game on Tuesday can be boiled down to two key moments. The first, I already alluded to – the Sanchez matchup against Hannahan with runners at the corners with two down and the Royals trailing by a run.

At that moment Sanchez had surrendered three walks in the inning. It was the second time in the game he had walked three batters to load the bases. Read that previous sentence again… It was the second time in the game Sanchez walked the bases loaded.

OK… So the guy can’t locate. He’s in trouble. And at this point, he’d thrown around 109 pitches and he had practically stopped throwing his fastball entirely. Aside from an Asdrubal Cabrera double in the first inning, he had scattered a few hits… but that’s largely because he wasn’t around the strike zone. Sanchez was fortunate the Indians hadn’t broken the game open by this point.

So in a nutshell, your starter isn’t throwing in a manner he which he normally pitches. He’s deep into a pitch count and losing what little steam he brought with him to the mound. He’s somehow kept the Royals in the game, with a deficit of just a single run. Do you…

A) Stick with him. It’s his jam, let him get out of it.
B) Thank your lucky stars you’re still in the game and pull him for another lefty that’s warm in the bullpen – Tim Collins.

Everyone probably chooses “B.” Except Yosty. He’s such a contrarian.

And as previously noted, a steady diet of change-ups and Hannahan hits a bases-clearing double.

Later in the game you have this situation… Royals are trailing 4-1. Hosmer walks to leadoff the inning, advances to second on a ground out and moves to third on a Moustakas single. Quintero whiffs, so we have runners on the corners and two out. All we’ve heard about is how the Royals have failed with runners in scoring position. Failing to get “The Big Hit.” Naturally, Our Mitch delivers a line drive down the right field line. Hosmer, of course, walks home. Moustakas is busting it around second and heading for third… This is a sure-fire double. And look! Shin Soo Choo – while he has a strong throwing arm – isn’t exactly flying to the corner to field the ball. This looks like a perfect opportunity to put two on the board and cut the deficit to a single run.

Screeeeeech!

Third base coach Eddie Rodriguez throws up the stop sign. Now, it’s difficult to tell from my couch, but it sure looked like Moustakas was at third the moment Choo fired the ball in from the corner. Meaning there was an outstanding chance that Moose scores. A better than outstanding chance.

Yet he was held at third.

Apparently, third base coaches get tight, too.

Unreal. The Royals have been running stupid all season and they now they back off? When they’re scuffling to score and are presented an opportunity on a silver platter? You absolutely have to send the runner in that situation. Have. To.

So in our two situations we have one where the Royals gave away two runs on a slow hook and failed to capitalize on a sure-fire run scoring opportunity. That’s a net loss of three runs.

Ballgame.

An all too familiar refrain.

The bats are still ice-cold and aside from Maier, nobody is delivering with runners in scoring position, but I’ll hang this loss on the coaching staff. Yost’s slow trigger and Rodriguez’s bizarre decision cost this team a great opportunity to break this slide. Instead it continues.

And I adjust the doomsday clock one minute closer to midnight.