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Deconstructing The Process

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So I’m thinking of just giving up and joining the French Quarter section in right field and becoming a member of the Jeff Francoeur Fan Club.

Why not? The guy continues to rake. A game-tying home run in the bottom of the sixth and the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth… Good enough for me.

It’s not going to last… Not with a walk rate of 5.7% and a 15.6% HR/FB rate. We can talk all we want to about an alleged change in approach, but I don’t think he’s doing anything differently. Just getting some big hits.

Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the show.

And maybe I’m a sucker, but after watching a couple of inept fielders patrol right field for the last several seasons, it’s nice to see a guy who can actually play some defense. He made a nice play going back on a ball last night and collected another assist.

Really, you can’t have a much better game than the one Francoeur had last night.

I’m on board. For now.

Meanwhile, I’m really starting to question what goes on in a Ned Yost dugout. I’ve criticized him for his bullpen management and for what I consider to be over management at times with excessive pinch runners and some other odd in-game decisions.

Last night was simply inexplicable for other reasons.

How in the world do you let Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz bat with the winning run in scoring position? Fortunately, Escobar hit the ball on the nose and produced a sharp grounder to short that Robert Andino couldn’t handle. (Really too bad the official scorer didn’t throw Escobar a bone and give him a hit. I was driving around last night and heard Denny at one point say, “Escobar is 0-2 tonight.” Denny has probably said that sentence about 25 times this season.)

So at this point in the game, you have the winning run on third with one out. To let Getz walk to the plate in this situation is managerial malpractice. In a situation where you need at least a fly ball to score a run, you’re letting a guy with a 30% fly ball rate try to bring him in. Nevermind the fact that the odds of Getz collecting a base hit are long. And as we saw, even a ground ball wasn’t enough to get the run home for the win. Crazy.

Sometimes, I like to give the manager the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he wants to play the percentages with the lefty Getz hitting against the right-handed Jason Berken. Only one problem with that line of thought… Both Kila Ka’aihue and Mitch Maier are on the bench. And as we know, both are left-handed batters.

Again, this inactivity from Yost defies logic. He must have taken a nap in the ninth.

Of course, it could be argued that Brayan Pena – who was on second for Escobar and third for Getz should have been lifted for a pinch runner. Namely Maier. How big of an uproar would there have been had Getz muscled a fly ball to shallow right, only to have had Pena gunned down at the plate. We all know if there was going to be a pinch runner Yost has to have Jarrod Dyson. Despite the ankle sprain, the Royals insist he’s available. I have to differ with this assessment. If he was healthy, he would have been on second practically before Pena touched the bag on his double.

– At the end of the night, the Royals had four hitters with an OPS north of .900. Alex Gordon (.913), Billy Butler (.917), Jeff Francoeur (.956) and Wilson Betemit (.902) form a comfortable middle of the order. Part of why everyone is so giddy about this start is because we’ve finally got a middle of the lineup that can actually, you know… produce.

Of course, it might not always be this way. Still, it’s real easy to enjoy.

– The question has been making the rounds… When do we start to worry about Escobar’s bat. Still love the defense, but after last night, his OPS dipped to .498. Not good.

– For those who are worried about Soria, the good news is, he missed a couple of bats last night. Including a swinging strikeout on Nick Markakis. For those of you who lean to the pessimist side of the equation, it’s not that big of an accomplishment to get Markakis out on strikes. At least this season. That guy is in a horrible, horrible place, hitting just .207/.276/.288 in his first 28 games.

Soria also looked to have better command of his curveball. Although he wasn’t able to get the strike call.

For those of you keeping track (and who isn’t?) that was the fourth time this season the bullpen has coughed up a lead in a Zack Greinke start.  Four times in nine starts.  Unreal.  And the Royals are now 2-7 in Greinke’s starts in 2010.

On Tuesday, it was Blake Wood’s turn to gack the lead.  Wood’s been with the team for what, a week?  He earned his stripes tonight, blowing Greinke’s game.  You aren’t a full fledged member of the Royals bullpen until you contribute to the destruction of a Greinke quality start.

So for that matter, Bryan Bullington got his membership papers as well.

Brutal.

Thoughts… Some random… Some not… All with a point…

If you’re Zack Greinke, are you pissed when the new manager rolls out a lineup that excludes Mike Aviles?

There are three hitters who have carried the Royals to their six wins this month.  Three.

Billy Butler – .367/.418/.517
Mike Aviles – .377/.377/.509
Alberto Callaspo – .303/.313/.485

Let’s identify some tangible ways these three have effected the Royals this month.

May 1 – Callaspo hits a double in the top of the 11th, scoring two.  Royals beat the Rays 4-2.
May 4 – Aviles collects three hits, including a home run.  Butler and Callaspo chip in with two hits each.  Royals beat White Sox 7-2.
May 13 – Callaspo hits a three-run home run to tie the game and Butler adds a run scoring double in the two run seventh to get Greinke his first win of the year.  Royals beat the Indians 6-4.
May 14 – The stars of this game were actually Yuniesky Betancourt and Mitch Maier.
May 16 – Aviles and Butler each reach base in rallies in the fourth and fifth innings as the Royals erase a 2-0 deficit to beat the White Sox 5-2.
May 17 – Butler singles to drive in the first run of the game, then doubles home an insurance run in the seventh.  The Royals need it as they edge the Orioles 4-3.

Key roles in five of the six wins.  It’s no surprise to us… We’ve seen these guys play.  They are clearly the three best hitters the Royals have.

So why wouldn’t you play them in games where your best pitcher is starting?

And the only time Jason Kendall should ever hit second is if they start cloning humans and we end up with eight Betancourts by mistake.

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Speaking of Greinke, his strikeouts are down this year.  He was whiffing 9.5 batters per nine innings last year and is down to 7.5 per nine this season.  We’re a quarter of the way through his season, so for him to be down two strikeouts a game qualifies as big news.

Greinke’s five most common plate appearance outcomes, through his first eight starts in 2009:

Strikeout – 28.6%
Fly Out – 17.2%
Ground Out – 16.7%
Single – 11.9%
Double – 5.3%

Zack Greinke’s five most common plate appearance outcomes, through his first eight starts in 2009:

Strikeout – 19.6%
Fly Out – 19.6%
Single – 16.4%
Groundout – 15.9%
Walk – 4.6%

So what’s the difference?  Hitters are really laying off his slider.  We all know about Greinke’s devistating slider – how it breaks down and away, out of the zone.  It’s a great strikeout pitch, because it can rarely be touched.  That was the case last year, when the opposition offered at 54% of all sliders Greinke threw and missed on 25% of those swings.

This year, hitters aren’t taking as many swings at his slider, moving the bat only 44% of the time when Greinke throws that pitch.  And since he’s getting a miss on only 12% of those swings, I’m guessing most hitters have an idea when that slider is going to fall out of the zone.

Greinke struck out six tonight.  His season high for strikeouts in a game this year is eight, which he’s reached twice.  Last year at this time, he had struck out eight or more in a game six times.

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Ned Yost has shown a couple of things that I liked since he became manager.  But it was almost as if the Ghost of Trey Hillman was piloting the ship on Tuesday.  First, as noted above, the lineup was destined for failure.

Second, the “by the numbers” use of the bullpen meant Wood was the eighth inning guy based on his past week of strong work.  Really, he’s been great since his call-up.  But this was his third day of work in a row and he’s now appeared in five of the seven games since he arrived.  That seems a little excessive.  And a little SABR Trey-esque.  SABR Ned?

Third, the bullheaded resistance to using your best pitcher in a tie ballgame.  Honestly, when you’re on the road and the game is tied in the late innings, forget about the freaking save opportunity.  Think about keeping your team in the game.  Please.

Fourth, the stubborn refusal to use the bench.  Basically, I never, ever want to see Chris Getz or Yuniesky Betancourt with a bat in their hands in the late innings of a tie game.  Please.  Yost should have pinch hit Mike Aviles for Betancourt with one out and if he had reached, he could have brought up Brayan Pena.  Then defensively, he could have left Aviles in at short and bought Wee Willie Bloomquist in to play second.

How in the hell can you go down in a one run game to the worst team in the AL and not use your hottest hitter?  Frustrating.

The four items I outlined above were all hallmarks of Hillman’s failed tenure.

I know I wrote an article last week, knocking Yost as being more of the same.  I was hoping he would prove me wrong.  (Although, let’s be honest… Most managers are going to manage a ballgame exactly the same way.  There’s little room for free thinkers or innovators in dugouts across the country.  I was hoping he would do more things like pull Gil Meche when he was clearly out of gas.  That was nice.  More, please.)

There’s still time, but Yost is going to have to do some heavy lifting to bring me on board.

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