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Deconstructing The Process

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The end of the season is really sneaking up on me.   There are only six games remaining for the Royals in the 2010 season.  I admit, even for a Royals blogger it gets harder and harder to really watch a lot of Royals games at this point in the season.  I tend to drift to some football games, some more important baseball games or a TV show like Mad Men to fill my time rather than a Royals game.  I doubt I am alone in this, it’s only natural.  The team is currently in line for the 4th overall draft pick (that’s my glass half full mindset), and while I thought that the teams coming into the K to end the season would be playing for something important, it seems that the playoff picture is nearly complete in the American League.  However, there are still interesting things happening on the field and with the team.

Jarrod Dyson hit his first Major League homerun last night.  It’s always a cool moment for a rookie to get  that under his belt.  However, it was extremely unlikely that it was going to happen for Jarrod Dyson last night.  Why?  Dyson hit one homerun in 1,245 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues.  It didn’t happen until his 5th season when he was in AAA.  He even had 315 plate appearances with AA Northwest Arkansas, where he played at one of the most homerun friendly parks in the Texas League, and had zero homeruns.  I seriously doubt that Dyson has found his power stroke, and his limiting factor in being an everyday player for the Royals is his bat.  However, stranger things have happened than a guy figuring out how to improve his hitting at the Major League level.  I am a big Jarrod Dyson fan and I sincerly hope he figures it out.

I remember once-upon-a-time there was some chatter about how great Yuniesky Betancourt is, particularly compared to other shortstops.  Oddly, that kind of talk has been quiet.  It probably has to do with the fact that the only player that has played for the Royals this year with a lower OBP is rookie catcher Luke May.  Or it possibly could be some of the following ranks he holds among qualified shortstops:

Batting Average: 15th of 22
On Base Percentage : 21st of 22
Slugging Percentage: 10th of 22
wOBA: 16th of 22

I know that you have to put someone at shortstop and there are possibly worse options than the Yunigma, but if you are going to feed me crap, just tell me it’s crap.  Don’t cover it in flower and call it a donut.

Joakim Soria is the best reliever in baseball.  He is better than Mariano Rivera, and I don’t even think its debateable.  He notched his 42nd save last night to match a career high.  The Royals as a team have won 64 games.  A little quick math tells me that Soria has saved two thirds of the Royals wins this year.  Two thirds, think about that.  Soria needs three more saves to get into a tie for the Royals single-season lead.  Here are the top 5 Royals seasons for saves:

1.(tie) Jeff Montgomery (1993) – 45
1.(tie) Dan Quisenberry (1983) – 45
3. Dan Quisenberry (1984) – 44
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2008) – 42
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2010) – 42

I think it would be really cool if Soria could end on 45 and the trio of great Royals closers could all share the single-season lead.

Billy Butler raised his batting average by a point last night to .321 by going 2-for-4.  That ranks him 5th in the Major League.  Yes, he isn’t a good defender and yes, he hits into a lot of double plays, but the kid can flat out hit the ball.  It’s not just his ability to hit the ball either.  Butler has been getting on base to the tune of a .390 OBP which ranks 6th in the American League.  I hear a lot of people bemoan his lack of power, but from day one, I’ve been beating the drum that Billy Butler is a hitter, not a masher.  I think he has the ability to become Tony Gwynn-esque, I don’t think anyone would quibble with that.

Kila Ka’aihue has struggled since being called up from the Minors, but there are indications he is starting to find his way.  He has hits in 7 of his last 9 games.  Since being called up, Kila has 2 more walks (19) than Mike Aviles (17) and is only two shy of the Yunigma (21).  Ned Yost continues to give him time to get acclimated and I believe will do so throughout the 2011 season.  Kila is a cheap player who has a great opportunity to produce in areas the Royals are sorely lacking, OBP and power.  I don’t get it, but there is a segment of Royals fans who seem to get giddy when Kila struggles.  I don’t know if it is some kind of odd desire to see Mike Jacobs come back, or if in Kila they have found some way to channel their anger at people who like the statistical side of baseball.  Either way, it confuses the heck out of me.

Finally, I will continue sending out the Royals Organization Report throughout the Fall.  I’ll be including the Arizona Fall League and the Pan Am Qualifying tournament, so drop me an email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com and I will add you to the list.

Contact Nick Scott via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via Twitter @brokenbatsingle or via Facebook .  If you would like to receive his daily Royals system boxscores via email, just drop an email and request it.  He will be sending out boxscores for both the Pan Am Games and the Arizona Fall League.

Outside of the rather bizarre debate swirling around Royal-land over the value of Yuniesky Betancourt (which at one point over the weekend seemed to devalue itself to the level of Betancourt giving more to the team than Billy Butler – you know, the Billy Butler with the OPS+ of 128), probably the biggest debate surrounding the Royals is when they will be in a position to contend.   Is it 2012 or 2014?   Is The Process a five year undertaking or eight?

After a feel good taking of two of three games from the White Sox in the span of less than 24 hours, I thought it might be time for a status check.   As our measuring stick, we will use Wins Above Replacement Level (courtesy Baseball Reference).

The Minnesota Twins won the 2009 American League Central with a cumulative WAR of 34.7.   This year, the Twins are leading the division with a cumulative WAR of 37.9.   The Kansas City Royals currently sport a WAR of 15.     That’s a wee bit of ground to make up. 

Given that the Royals, by most indications, will not have much money to spend this off-season and will probably not get much help, at least early in 2011, from its highly touted minor league system, let’s take a look at what is likely to be the 2011 roster and what it might yield in terms of WAR.

Position Players

  • Jason Kendall – Catcher.   Yes, he will be back.  Yes, he will play an inordinate amount of the time.  Yes, I would say the odds are that Jason hits second in at least 80 games next year.   Welcome to the world of Ned.   Anyway, Kendall is sporting a WAR this season of 0.9.   As recently as 2008, his WAR was 2.0 and back in his heyday, Jason put up WARs of 4.9 and 5.7.  It is no longer his hey day, however.   Can we really expect more that a 1.0 WAR in 2011?
  • Backup catcher.   Could be Brayan Pena, could be Lucas May or even someone else.  None will get enough of a chance to make a difference.
  • Billy Butler – 1b/DH.   Last year, Butler posted a WAR of 1.2.  This year, his WAR stands at 3.5. I am still trying to figure out why everyone is either down on him or thinks he is ‘getting a free pass from the fans’.   He is the best hitter on the team and likely will be next year, when I expect his WAR to be at least 4.0 or better.
  • Kila Ka’aihue – 1b/DH.  I do not know if Kila will actually be on the roster next season, but I wanted to use ‘in house’ guys for the purpose of this comparison.   He has not shown much to date, but then neither did Paul Konerko or Travis Hafner(or Schmidt or Brett or Manny Ramirez) after 59 plate appearances.   With so little data, I will not assign a WAR value for Kila’s 2011 campaign until later.
  • Chris Getz – 2B.   His current WAR is -0.4 after posting a 1.5 for Chicago last season.   I have a feeling the Royals are going to want him to be the second baseman next year.   I am kind of a Getz fan deep down, but have a hard time seeing him do any better than last year’s mark.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt – SS.  The arguments in support of Yuni from the organization and those close to it are coming with such frequency that ‘silliness’ is an apt description.   That said, Betancourt’s WAR of 1.3 and recent hot streak is enough to make one at least dream of Yuni reaching his career high of 2.2 (2007).
  • Wilson Betemit – 3B.  A 1.002 OPS will surely buy Wilson more time at third base while the Royals wait for Mike Moustakas.   As I detailed a week or so ago, there is not much statistical difference between the career of Betemit and Raul Ibanez at this stage.   Betemit already has a WAR of 1.2, which matches his career high back in 2005.
  • Alex Gordon – LF.  Is it wishful thinking or does Gordon look more comfortable this time around?   Back in 2008, Alex posted a WAR of 3.1.   Left field does not carry the defensive value of third base, but I could foresee Gordon hitting better than he did in 2008.
  • Gregor Blanco – CF.   Short of doing something substantial in the off-season, the Royals do not have a lot of options in centerfield.   This could be Mitch Maier, but you know the organization has never truly embraced him, so it feels like Blanco in 2011.   He was a negative WAR player in his only full season in the majors, but is currently at 0.4 – a career high.
  • David DeJesus – RF.  Despite not playing since mid-July, DeJesus is almost certain to still finish second in WAR amongst the position players (2.9).   Since 2005, DeJesus has never posted a WAR less of less than three.
  • Mike Aviles – INF.   The player who posted a 3.7 WAR in 2008 has shown little power and uneven defense this season on his way to a 0.1 WAR.   He is probably better than that, but maybe not as good as he showed in 2008 – not to mention that he probably won’t get the at-bats he did that season, either.
  • Mitch Maier – OF.  He is a 1.0 WAR player this season after being a 1.2 last year.   While Mitch has never quite reached everyday player status, he has amassed enough plate appearances to make you think this is pretty much what he is going to be.
  • Willie Bloomquist – UTIL.    Willie was a 1.0 WAR in 2008, 0.4 in 2009 and a dead replacement level 0.0 this season.  Sounds like the kind of guy the Royals will re-sign.

Let’s tally up a possible 2011 WAR in optimistic terms:

Kendall (1.0), Butler (4.0), Getz (1.0), Betancourt (2.0 – see I AM being nice), Betemit (2.0), Gordon (3.0), Blanco (0.5), DeJesus (3.5), Aviles (0.5), Maier (1.0), Bloomquist (0.0), for a total of 18.5 WAR without factoring in Kila Ka’aihue or whomever might occupy that spot.

Pitchers

  • Zack Greinke.   He was a 9.0 WAR pitcher last season and we may never see that again.   However, we likely will see better than the 2.0 mark Zack currently sports right now.  In 2008, Greinke sported a 4.2 WAR and that or better is certainly doable in 2011.
  • Joakim Soria.  Yes, we are doing the easy ones first.   Soria is at 2.9 WAR right now, after a 2.7 campaign in 2009 and 3.4 WAR in 2008.   He may be the surest bet on the team to post a WAR above 3.0 next year.
  • Robinson Tejeda.  When you are projecting the staff for 2011, it sure seems like Tejeda is the third safest bet to be in on it.  He posted 1.5 WAR in 2009 and was 0.8 this season before the injury.  There will be a two or three week period when Robinson is awful in 2011, but he will be very good the rest of the time on his way to a WAR somewhere above one.
  • Luke Hochevar.  I am beginning to lose faith here, but Luke did improve from a -1.1 WAR in 2009 to 0.2 this year.  Being hurt for three months does nothing for your development curve so just getting above replacement level will be a step for Luke in 2011.
  • Sean O’Sullivan.  The difference between Bannister, Davies and O’Sullivan?  Age.   If the Royals are lucky (for once), O’Sullivan will prove it is more than that over time.  Still, tough to see him making a huge impact on the WAR front in 2011.
  • Bruce Chen.  He is your number two starter in 2011 as it stands right now.   Once upon a time in 2005, Chen produced a WAR of 3.2 and he has been something of a revelation this year (of course, nothing like Yuni, right Nate?), but his WAR is still just 0.5.  
  • Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, Bryan Bullington.  Well, somebody has to start on the fifth day.   Bannister has gone from a 3.3 WAR pitcher in 2007 to -0.7 this year and appears to still be digging.   Davies’  WAR as a Royals has descended from 1.7 to 0.6 to the dreaded zero.   Bullington?  Who knows.
  • Rest of the Bullpen.   After Soria and Tejeda, it could be virtually anyone.   Kanekoa Texeira has a WAR of 0.2, Dusty Hughes 0.0, Blake Wood -0.5, Jesse Chavez 0.3…you get the picture here.   Oh yeah, Gil Meche will supposedly be there in 2011, too.   I love Gil, I really do and it is worth mentioning that he gave the Royals a 4.9 WAR in 2007 and 3.8 in 2008 and even managed to stay above replacement level in 2009 (0.7), but those number are long gone and that’s too bad.

Okay, what’s our tally for the pitching staff in 2011?

Greinke (5.0), Soria (3.5), Tejeda (1.5)…umm….well……can the other four starters and five relievers at least combine to NOT be negative?   Let’s hope for the best and assign an arbitrary and unscientific WAR of 1.5 to the other four starters and a net 1.0 to the rest of the relief corp.   That brings us to a total pitching staff WAR of 12.5.

Summing it Up

Our 2011 projection puts us at a total WAR of 31.0, which probably is not enough to threaten for the A.L. Central, but enough to make us interested and less bitter and hopefully debate something other than how Yuniesky Betancourt is third amongst AL shortstops in home runs.   Of course, that 31.0 WAR is banking on, if not career years, improved season from almost everyone on the team.

On the flipside, however, we have allotted nothing for whomever fills the last corner spot on the team (Kila Ka’aihue or someone else) and not made any allowance for just one starting pitcher to break out and be decent.

Without getting into a big debate over individual players, let’s just start with the idea that the current roster is going to produce 31 wins above replacement level in 2011.   What do you do in the off season?   Do you just hang on, save some money (knowing Meche’s $12 million comes off the books the following winter) and wait for your AA pitching staff to mature into major league arms in 2012?   Do you go get one more bat this winter or wait for Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers?

I will be honest and say I don’t have the answer here, or even an opinion at this point.    I have been around a long time (I remember the Royals’ FIRST playoff game for godssake) and find my patience wearing thin to get back to contender status.   That said, I am also a realist (sort of) and know that the smartest course of action might just be to hold the line for one more year before trying to do something big via free agency or trade.

This quandry is one I imagine is felt by most Royals fans, old and young, and probably, when they are not busy defending Betancourt, one that occupies the minds of many in the Royals’ organization.    It will be interesting to see which way Dayton Moore and crew decide to go this winter.

In the offseason, I did a postmortem on the Royals offense which I broke down by position.  I then compared that to how other teams in the AL and within the division did.  It was enlightening to see exactly where each teams excelled and failed.  It was instructive to see where the Royals and the other AL Central teams should focus their efforts to improve.  Since we are a month into the season already, I figured I would take a look at how things look from that perspective in 2010.*

*The statistic I will be using is wOBA, which is explained here.  All statistics come from Fangraphs and are up to date as of Tuesday, May 4th.

Catchers

Here is how the AL Central looks when ranked by wOBA at the catching position.  It’s no surprise that the Twins are first with uber talent Mauer. However, what is suprising is the fact that the Royals are ranked second.  These numbers are due almost exclusively to Jason Kendall who has caught nearly every inning this season.  The Royals catchers are ranked eighth in the American League, which is respectable and frankly much better than I had anticipated.

First Baseman

At this point in the season, the AL Central has some pretty darn good hitting first basemen.  The Twins, White Sox and Tigers own the top three spots in the league.  Morneau, Cabrera and Konerko are certainly formidable bats for their teams.  I should have expected to see where the Royals first baseman aka Billy Butler ended up.  He is a good hitter, but compared to his brethren at the position he is roughly average.  This is what I found after the 2009 season as well.  The Indians combo of Laporta and Brayan hasn’t quite been what their team had hoped so far.

Second Baseman

The Twins own yet another category with their free agent acquisition Orlando Hudson.  Detroit rookie Scott Sizemore has been holding his own as well.  After those guys the numbers fall off a cliff.  The Royals like Chris Getz’s defense and he is still developing at the plate (hopefully).  Valbuena of the Indians is currently hitting .167, and after a decent rookie season for the White Sox Gordon Beckham currently has an OPS of .599.

Third Baseman

The Indians surprisingly lead in three positions, and third base is one of those.  Jhonny Peralta may only be hitting .229, but his OBP is .340 and he is slugging .398.  The Tigers and Twins third baggers are pretty close to average.  The Royals should improve with the solid hitting Callaspo now entrenched at the position.  Mark Teahen hasn’t played as well as I had anticipated for the White Sox, I still think that when the weather warms up, he will have more of his hits land for home runs at The Cell.

Shortstops

Another category which is led by the Indians.  Asdrubal Cabrera is a solid bat at the lightest hitting position in the field other than catcher.  Betancourt started hot, but has fallen off of a cliff offensively.  If Aviles can be anywhere near 2008 he is easily the best hitting SS in the division.  Hardy, Everett and Ramirez are much better known for their gloves than for their bats on the Twins, Tigers and White Sox respectively.

Left Fielders

It looks like the Tigers made a good decision in signing Johnny Damon as they hold the lead in LF, although he has been moved mostly to DH in favor of Brennan Boesch.  Austin Kearns is another good free agent signing so far for the Indians.  His slash line is .333/.405/.561, I had no idea he was doing so well.  As hot as Podsednik was, I figured the Royals would be in a better position than 7th in the AL.  Super bust Delmon Young and the Twins left fielders are a tad below league average and the White Sox’s Juan Pierre is still Juan Pierre.

Center Fielders

Tigers rookie Austin Jackson has significantly outperformed Curtis Granderson who he was traded for in the offseason. Alex Rios the CF for the White Sox is suddenly looking like he did when he played for the Blue Jays.  Ankiel and Maier are below league average, which isn’t surprising.  The Twins Span is slightly under performing at this point.  What happened to Grady Sizemore? He has been a very good hitter since he entered the league, but in 2009 he hit below his career numbers and in 2010 has an OBP of .286.

Right Fielders

Is Shin-Soo Cho0 the most underrated player in the division?  What about the entire AL?  He is the best hitting RF in the AL this year and from 2008-2010 has an OPS of .904.  Oh and he is only 27.  Cuddyer has been a very good hitting RF for the Twins.  Magglio is getting old, but can still swing the bat.  Carlos Quentin hasn’t hit the ball very well, but Andruw Jones has hit when he plays RF, so he boosts the numbers for the White Sox.  Surprisingly, the Royals RF shapes up as the worst in the division right now.  Part of that is how strong the position is within the division and the other is the fact that RF is where teams like to stash good hitters who are marginal fielders.

Designated Hitters

The lone category where the Royals lead is DH, and they actually lead the entire AL.  This is a far cry from 2009 when the Royals had by far the worst DH crew in the league.  Guillen has hit for some pretty good power and has been a welcome surprise.  The Twins have used a combination of Kubel and Thome so it isn’t a shocker that the pair rank 2nd in the division.  The Tigers have been using Johnny Damon as the DH lately and he has hit pretty well so far.  Hafner is only batting .208 for the Indians, and the White Sox can’t figure out who to use as a DH and it is pretty clear why.

More Graphs and Tables

In my look at the 2009 season I utilized a polar graph, which I thought really brought it all together.  It is a little unwieldy to look at initially, but it does bring the data out. So basically, what you are seeing is a graphical representation of the tables above.  You will notice the positions arrayed outside of the circle.  Each colored line represents a team in the AL Central, for example the blue line represents the Royals.  Where they are on the circle is a representation of where they rank in the AL in wOBA at that position.  The outside edge of the circle is 1st place, the innermost is 14th place.  You can see the Royals were 1st at DH.

Clearly, to have a good offense you need a couple of division leading categories, but the real key is not having any particular positions that kill you.  Notice that the Twins are not last in any category, and their worst position is a defensive first position in CF.  The Tigers are the same with their worst offensive position at catcher.  Oddly the 2B position is almost ranked exactly like the division standings, not only in order but in the magnitude.  The Twins and Tigers have a dominant position while the Royals, White Sox and Indians all lag near the league basement.  Maybe the secret is having a great 2B (I don’t think so, its just a funny coincidence)

Finally, one more table.  This is a ranking of every position in the AL Central by wOBA with the Royals highlighted.

It kind of surprised me to see that the lowest Royals wOBA was 14th to last.  That is a significant upgrade over 2009.  The Royals are much closer to having an average offense when they don’t have complete offensive holes weighing them down.

I don’t know that there is a specific conclusion to draw from all of this.  Mostly it was an exercise to see where the offense was coming from within the division and to see if the Royals had improved thus far.  Prior to the season, I predicted that the offense would be improved over last season.  So far that seems to be the case.  I don’t think they will have a great offense, but they seem to have upgraded the major holes they had last season primarily at DH, RF, CF and SS.  All four of those positions in 2009 ranked in the bottom seven in the AL Central last season.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single, likes orange juice and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

Team Pos wOBA MLB Rank
Twins 1B 0.440 1
White Sox 1B 0.430 2
Tigers 1B 0.428 3
Royals 1B 0.347 7
Indians 1B 0.240 14

Who do you blame?

Do you blame Trey Hillman?

Roman Colon isn’t a guy to bring in to a game in a pressure situation, but he was handed a 5-1 lead and asked to get two outs.  That’s not exactly pressure.  I get what Hillman is doing here, which is basically throwing a guy to the lions (or Tigers) while hoping, against all odds, that he survives.  Unfortunately, this isn’t any kind of a strategy.

Three batters later, Hillman tries to employ a platoon strategy, so enter Dusty Hughes to face Johnny Damon.  Hillman is playing the percentages here – lefty vs. lefty.  But in his brief time in the majors, Hughes allows a higher average against hitters from the left side (.250) than the right (.223).  In the minors, here are his splits:

Vs LHB – .263
Vs RHB – .272

Yeah, it’s a difference, but in reality, Hughes isn’t a LOOGY.  Hillman should know this.  He should also know John Parrish likewise doesn’t own crazy platoon splits.  Here’s how he’s done in his major league career:

Vs LHB – .253
Vs RHB – .269

Again, not a huge split.  Not enough to bestow upon him LOOGY status.  However, all things equal, who would you rather send to the mound to protect a two run lead in the seventh?  Hughes, who has all of 17 major league innings under his belt and has yet to prove he can get hitters out at this level?  Or Parrish, a ten year veteran who’s logged 275 innings in his major league career?  And Parrish has been the second best reliever on this team in the first week.

Yeah, Hillman chose wrong.  I’m sure Hillman didn’t want to use Parrish because he threw 20 pitches the day before, but what’s the harm in letting him face Damon – one batter?  Parrish has been summoned from the pen five times this year and before Monday, faced exactly one hitter each time.

When Hughes can’t retire Damon, that has to be the end of his afternoon.  One batter, that’s it.  There’s no way you can let him face Magglio Ordonez.  Yet, our fearless leader does just that.  Would you be surprised to hear that Ordonez slugs 60 points higher against left handers?  Or that he owns an OBP 15 points higher against leftys?  I wonder if Hillman knows.  This was set up for fail, but the only good thing that happened in the Ordonez plate appearance was the fact he didn’t swing the bat.  Five pitches, four balls.  By walking Ordonez, Hughes very generously allowed Hillman to dodge a bullet.

I would have brought Juan Cruz in to face Ordonez.  That’s probably the proper strategy, but when Hillman finally goes to him one batter later, he coughs up a walk and a double.

Bye-bye five run lead.  Here’s how Fangraphs saw it:

Herein lies the issue:  Hillman is damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.

I’m not a Hillman apologist.  Far from it.  He mismanaged the bullpen in this game.  It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.  Yet, the moves he got correct, still blew up in his face.  That’s the way it seems to always go with SABR Trey.  The guy can’t catch a break. Nevermind, most of the time this happens because his previous bad decisions put his team at a disadvantage in the first place.  You’d think a little dumb luck would fall in his favor once or twice.  I guess you could say the same for us Royals fans.

Of course… And this is the killer… As the Tigers rallied in the seventh, the Royals had one guy in the bullpen who had a better chance of anyone to stop the carnage.  One guy who could have stepped up and slammed the door on the Tigers.

Yet Joakim Soria never got the ball.

Sure, it’s unorthodox strategy to bring your “closer” into a game in the seventh inning, but I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to beat this drum… Why wouldn’t you put your best pitcher out there with the game on the line?  I’d make a bigger issue out of this, but this is the state of baseball today.  It probably never crossed SABR Trey’s mind to use Soria in the seventh… Because it would have meant a seven out save!  Ahh… but I’m not talking about doing that.  I’m talking about using the closer as a “fireman.”  Remember those days?  It sounds so easy, except then what do you do for the remaining outs?  Because you can’t clone Soria.

Luis Mendoza in the eighth?  That’s like waving the white flag.  Somehow, he was the best reliever of the day.  That’s not a good thing.

Do you blame Dayton Moore?

Remember back when we thought GMDM’s best attribute was his ability to cobble together a bullpen out of spare parts and castoffs?  Yeah, that’s not working so well anymore.

Kyle Farnsworth, Hughes, Mendoza, Colon?  This cast of characters would have difficulty against a run of the mill Triple-A team.  Cruz has been horrible since jumping to the AL.  Just dreadful. I don’t trust Robinson Tejeda.  Don’t trust him at all.

The Royals have eight relievers.  Only one of them can be described as better than average – Soria.  I’ll give Parrish the benefit of the doubt and call him average.  The rest of this motley crew?  Below average.  Way below average.

And that has to be on the general manager.  He built a bullpen, tore it down for some bats, tried to restock via free agency and lately has dipped into the minors and the free agent scrapheap in hope he can recapture his past success.

He’s finding it’s a little more difficult than he probably thought.

Last year, I was worried a shaky bullpen and an inept manager would cause the starters to be overworked.  Now, I have to worry the Royals will carry 13 pitchers all year because 10 of them are disasters.  Three years into the Moore/Hillman regime and we have yet to find a balanced roster.

So my answer to the blame game is, I blame both.  I blame Dayton Moore for building this craptastic bullpen and I blame Trey Hillman for failing to figure out how to put his pitchers in the best situation to succeed.  The losers here?  Us.  Most of us have stuck with this team through thin and thin the last 20-plus years.  We deserve better than this.  I wish I could offer some encouraging words and tell you there is some promise on the horizon.  That things are looking up.  But I can’t.

My advice is to stock up on your drink of choice.  It’s going to be a cruel summer.

With about a week remaining until camps open, now is as good a time as any to take stock of the AL Central and see how the Royals rivals have done this winter. We know all about the Royals additions Scotty Pods, Ankiel, the South Side duo of Getz & Fields (or Fields & Getz) and the Punchless One behind the plate. How do the Royals moves stack up against their division rivals? Has anyone done enough to run away with the title, or will it be another close one?

And most importantly, how will everything shake out once the dust settles in October.

What follows is a brief capsule of each team in the Central and how the moves they’ve made effect their title chances. At the end of the article, you’ll find my current (in other words, subject to change) picks for the order of finish.

Chicago White Sox

This is where the strongest rotation in the Central lives. Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and a healthy Jake Peavy will be difficult for any other division rival to top. Hell, that could be the best rotation in baseball. Plus, those four can rack up the innings so if the Sox can get some quality work out of newcomer JJ Putz in the eighth and Bobby Jenks in the ninth, they’re going to get some wins no matter how bad the offense is.

Speaking of the offense, what exactly is going on here? Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel are all newcomers who will certainly have some impact on the team, but it s not going to be positive. Pierre will have the most opportunity to do some damage as he figures to slide into left and will certainly bat leadoff. He s a player only Ozzie could love. Jones and Vizquel are backups although it s not difficult to imagine Jones could get some playing time if Alex Rios can t rediscover his stroke.

Once upon a time, I had a man-crush on Rios. I really bought into the hype that he was going to be one of the best young outfielders in the game. Now? Not so much. That’s what back to back underwhelming seasons will get you at Royals Authority – no more respect. And since Rios was downright horrible last year after his move to the South Side (.199/.229/.301 in 154 plate appearances) he s the leading candidate for Ozzie Guillen s Dog House. How great would it be if Jones reports to camp fat and Rios continues to forget how to hit? Imagine the quote gold we’d get from Guillen. And that it would be happening to the White Sox would be a bonus.

Cleveland Indians

We’ve said it before, but it just has to suck to have surrendered CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and gotten so little in return. Matt LaPorta will get an opportunity to start, as will Lou Marson, so it’s probably still a little early to completely trash the trades, but still… Quite a bummer for Indian fans.

There’s still hope for Cleveland fans that Grady Sizemore will bounce back and Shin-Soo Choo can build off his breakout year. And maybe Travis Hafner can hit 20 bombs. Although he hasn’t done that since 2007. They picked up Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan on minor league deals, which I suppose could help at some point. Other than that, their big major league move was to sign Mike Redmond. In this case, big is a relative term.

But the pitching even with Lee for half the summer the Indians had the second worse staff in baseball. And now they tentatively have Jake Westbrook penciled in as their number one starter with Fausto Carmona as their number two. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer someone else at the top of the rotation other than a guy who hasn’t pitched in a year and a half after undergoing the Tommy John surgery. And with Kerry Wood at the back of the pen, this staff looks like it will once again flop to the bottom of the AL.

Oh, the Indians will likely have the lowest payroll in the division come Opening Day.

Detroit Tigers

The Verlander extension got a ton of ink, but that masks a simple fact about this team: They are extremely unbalanced with old players (Magglio Ordonez, Adam Everett, Brandon Inge) and newcomers (Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore are currently listed at the top of the Tigers depth chart in center and second, respectively.) That’s a potentially combustible mix.

I see some similarities with the Royals here: A lockdown top of the rotation ace (Verlander for the Tigers and Greinke for the Royals) and a big bat in his prime in the middle of the order (Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler.) The Tiger veterans are a little better than the Royal veterans, but that just means they cost more.

Further, it will be interesting to see where Max Scherzer figures into the Tigers pitching mix. For now, he’s slated for the rotation but many feel his future lies in the bullpen. One thing is for sure, with Verlander and Scherzer in the rotation the Tigers will be making a ton of hitters look foolish. While Porcello doesn’t pile up the strikeouts, he is developing into a talent. Beyond that, there are a ton of question marks for the rest of the staff. For Tiger fans that’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins overhauled the middle of their infield by trading for JJ Hardy in November and then acquiring free agent Orlando Hudson just last week. Both players represent upgrades from the players they are replacing. Hardy is superior with the glove and is a prime candidate for an offensive rebound from his dismal 2009. He has 20 home run power, but before we project any power numbers, it will be interesting to see how the Twins new outdoor stadium plays. Hudson is solid with the glove, with better range to his left than back up the middle. Offensively, this is a huge win for the Twins. Last summer, their 2B hit a combined .209/.302/.267. Yuck. That s Royals designated hitter territory. (Memo to Dayton: Check on the availability of Matt Tolbert!) Hudson will have no problem improving upon that production.

Last year, the Twins had an extremely productive offense – one of the best in the league. Their 5 runs per game was the fourth best rate in the AL, behind the other three playoff teams. (Yankees, Angels and Red Sox were one, two and three respectively.) I suppose we can expect a little less from MVP Joe Mauer and the Twins still are going to give some at bats to Delmon Young. Still, you have to admit the Twins have improved their offense.

The big mystery is the aforementioned Target Field. Past years, the Twins held a distinct home field advantage and knew exactly how to tailor their club to the Metrodome. Now, it’s anyone s guess.

Quick Summary

The division still belongs to the Twins who were able to upgrade an already solid offense. The Sox could pose a threat with their rotation, but haven’t replaced the power they lost when Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome left as free agents. It feels like the Tigers are looking toward the future and the Indians are hoping a pitching staff cobbled together with spit and duct tape holds up.

The Royals haven’t done much to improve their team but it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where they finish third. That’s an optimistic, if everything goes right, best-case scenario finish.

So here’s my predicted order of finish in the Central. I ll revisit this about a week before the season starts and make changes as necessary before submitting my final selection just prior to Opening Day.

1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Royals
5. Indians

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