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So when Clark, Nick and I were binge drinking divvying up the 40-man roster assignments, I drew Jonathan Broxton. That’s great. Because I pretty much already put the keyboard to the internet and laid down my thoughts.

Some highlights…

– From 2005 to 2009, Broxton was one of the dominant relievers in the National League. First as a set up man, then as the closer for the Dodgers. In those four-plus years (he made only 14 appearances in 2005), Broxton had a 2.92 ERA with a 420 strikeouts in 317 innings.

Yeah… Dominant.

– In 2010, he was off to the best start of his career with a 0.83 ERA and a 13.2 SO/9 through June 26. Let’s go to the Royals Authority archives for the rest of the story…

Now, back to the Dodger game on June 27, 2010. In that game, LA held a lead against the Yankees 6-2 in the top of the ninth when Broxton made his appearance. Strange that he would pitch in this game, since it wasn’t a save situation. Stranger still given the fact that Broxton had thrown 19 pitches over 1.1 innings in a 9-4 Dodger blowout the night before. You probably know the story of the June 27 game by now. Broxton retired the first batter before allowing the next five to reach as the Yankees tied the game.

Especially notable was how then manager Joe Torre sat on his hands and allowed Broxton to pile up 48 pitches in that appearance. Combine that with his 19 the day before and you see that Torre allowed his closer to throw 67 pitches in about 24 hours.

And as the story goes, Broxton hasn’t been the same since.

The numbers certainly bear this out.

Before Injury – 2.73 ERA, 12.0 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9

After Injury – 6.31 ERA, 7.4 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9

– He returned to pitch in 2011, but struggled with his command, walking nine and striking out 10 in 12 innings of work. Yeah, that’s a small sample, but it’s the only thing we have. At any rate, it’s notable because the control issues that plagued him the second half of 2010 were still an issue in 2011.

Broxton hit the DL in early May with fluid on his elbow. He tried to rehab in July and finally had surgery in September to remove a bone spur and other loose bodies that were said to be hampering his attempts to recover.

– At his peak, Broxton was pumping 97 mph gas. On average. Last year, his average fastball was 94 mph. Before he had elbow surgery. This chart best illustrates his drop in velocity. What’s interesting is that even while Broxton was having a great start to his 2010 season, his velocity was down from his previous year.

Now, his agent is throwing around phrases like “reinventing himself.” Hmmm…

– Broxton will make $4 million in base salary with an additional $1 million in incentives based on appearances. That’s down from the $7 million he made last year with the Dodgers in what would have been his final year of arbitration.

The Broxton move gives the Royals options. He can provide cover for Joakim Soria if he has difficulty staying healthy. He can serve as a reliable set-up man. He can be trade bait at the deadline. Or Soria could be dealt if he reestablishes his value. It also allows the Royals to try last season’s relievers like Aaron Crow or Everett Teaford in the rotation.*

*Not a huge fan of the asterisk, but I need to have one here. The entire proceeding paragraph is valid only if Broxton is healthy and has regained his control.

Broxton represents a $4 million gamble. But you know what? That’s what gamble’s cost on the open market. If Broxton was a sure thing, he’d be looking at a multi-year deal where he would be cashing a $12 million check per annum.

The bullpen – on paper at least – looks to be a strength. Assuming an eight man pen, because Yost won’t be able to resist…

Soria – closer
Broxton – 8th inning set-up
Holland – 7th inning set-up
Coleman – ROOGY
Mijares – LOOGY #1
Teaford – LOOGY #2
Herrera – general relief
Random long reliever

Again, that’s on paper. Best case scenario. However we know bullpens are notoriously fickle creatures. Last year’s pen was a strength. At least GMDM seems intent to build a better one. I’m still not sold on the strategy that you survive on your starters and thrive on your pen. But with the arms Moore has collected, it will be interesting to see how this great experiment works.

Louis Coleman was drafted twice before landing with the Royals in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. He was selected by the Braves in 2005 in the 28th round (a Dayton Moore connection that is often overlooked) but turned down a contract to play for LSU. He was then picked by the Nationals in the 14th round in 2008, but decided to stick in Baton Rouge for his senior year. I’d say that decision paid off as he was on the mound for the final out of LSU’s National Championship (a swinging strikeout) and improved his draft status.

Throwing four years in college, sped up his minor league timetable, and Coleman was one of 12 Royals to make his major league debut last summer, and he didn’t waste much time. He opened the 2011 season in Triple-A, but after dominating hitters – striking out 16 of the 30 batters he faced in his first six games – Coleman earned his call-up to KC.

Once in Kansas City, Coleman had himself a fine – if perhaps unappreciated – rookie season. He inherited 39 runners last year, but allowed only five to come around to score. While it may not have been readily obvious, Ned Yost quickly decided he could trust his young reliever. His average leverage index was around 1.23, which was the fourth highest on the team.

Basically, in 2011, Coleman was the best reliever on the team that wasn’t named Greg Holland.

Coleman brings a sidearm delivery, dropping down and slinging his pitch in a crossfire motion. With that low arm angle, Coleman doesn’t feature an overpowering fastball – averaging just a tick under 90 mph – but his slider has a venomous bite. The result is a high strikeout rate of 9.7 SO/9, second only to Greg Holland and his 11.1 SO/9. The interesting thing (to me, at least) is that an overwhelming majority of the batters Coleman punches out, go down swinging. Last summer, over 83% of all his strikeouts came where the hitter offered at strike three. Compare that to the league average of around 75%. As you would expect from this information, Coleman misses bats. According to numbers compiled by Baseball Reference, 22% of his strikes are when the batter swings and misses. Again, that outpaces the league average of 15% by a large margin. If you pool all the relievers in the American League who appeared in at least 40 innings, Coleman’s swing and miss rate ranks him 10th. (Holland ranked third.)

While he sacrifices some velocity with the sidearm release, he comes at right handed hitters with plenty of deception. The slider moves away and off the plate from the right handed hitter. And it’s released at roughly the same point as his fastball. I’ve looked at a ton of charts from Texas Leaguers, but I’ve rarely seen one with a release this extreme.

With just a 10 mph difference – on average – between his fastball and his slider, and with it coming from basically behind the right handed batter, I’d imagine Coleman gives hitters fits. On the other hand, he loses that deception against left handed hitters. As a result, he throws fewer sliders against lefties and will instead mix in a change-up – a pitch he almost never features to right-handers. He attempts to keep the change away from lefties, but it’s not what we would consider to be a good pitch.

From Texas Leaguers, here’s how his pitch movement looks from the top.

As far as the deception against the right handed hitters, the numbers back this up.

Vs. RHB: .180/.260/.360
Vs. LHB: .257/.371/.432

Even more interesting are his strikeout and walk splits. Against right handed batters, Coleman owns a 4:1 SO/BB ratio. Extremely impressive. But flip the hitter to the other side and Coleman becomes mortal, with a SO/BB ratio around 1. Right-handed batters have a disadvantage against Coleman because they can’t pick up the ball early in the delivery and it comes across their body. Left-handers have the advantage because they see the ball early in the delivery and it’s coming toward them. The pitcher’s “Catch-22.”

Coleman is certainly a factor in the Royals bullpen as we head into 2012. He lacks the overpowering stuff that would make him closer material, but he definitely has a role in whatever size bullpen GMDM crafts. Good thing, too. Because if Coleman and Holland can be the rarity among major league relievers and establish some consistency, the Royals have a foundation to build what could be one of the top bullpens in the majors.

Vin Mazzaro represents progress.

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

Done? Good. Here’s what I mean.

In year’s past, where the Royals traded a starter (and a good one at that in David DeJesus) for a pitcher with major league experience, it was pretty much automatic that the new pitcher would open the new season with the team and would log a substantial number of innings. (I’m thinking along the lines of Mike Wood, who got 17 starts after arriving from Oakland in the three team Carlos Beltran deal. Back when Billy Beane was a genius.)

Remember, Mazzaro was slated to open the season as the Royals fifth starter. He was sent to Omaha because the Royals had a couple of early open dates, got shelled in his first two starts for the Storm Chasers and was held back in Triple-A. He didn’t get a chance to appear in KC until Bruce Chen hit the DL in early May. He made one start, didn’t really distinguish himself, and then came May 16. A day that will live in Royal infamy.

2.1 IP, 11 H, 14 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 1 HR

Starter Kyle Davies pitched to four batters and walked three before leaving with an injury. Nate Adcock was supposed to be the Royals long man, but pitched only through the second innings. Burning his bullpen Ned Yost turned to Mazzaro.

It’s wasn’t his best moment.

But consider the dominos from this game. The Royals exiled Mazzaro and recalled Everett Teaford. And Mazzaro had been scheduled to start the next game, so Yost’s bullpen gambit meant an immediate rotation shuffle was in the cards and that brought about the major league debut of Danny Duffy. (See… Even in horrible circumstances I can sometimes find the silver lining.)

So after that outing Mazzaro returned to Triple-A and – other than a brief recall in June and another when the rosters expanded in September – spent his summer in Nebraska. His Triple-A numbers were underwhelming: In 123 innings, he had a 4.4 BB/9, a 7.8 SO/9 and a 4.29 ERA. The strikeout rate was surprising. Mazzaro has never been the type of pitcher to miss bats. Still, he was hampered by the walks and the ability of the opposing hitters to put the ball in play with great success. His Triple-A WHIP was a lofty 1.62.

Once upon a time, Mazzaro was a decent prospect. Baseball America rated him the eight best minor leaguer in the Oakland system prior to the 2009 season. This was coming off a season where he made 22 Double-A starts, posted a 1.90 ERA with a 2.4 BB/9 and won Texas League Pitcher of the Year honors. Here’s what they had to say:

Mazzaro’s hard sinker sits in the low 90s and touches 95, generating groundballs. He pitches off his fastball, and he shows the ability to sink, run or cut it. His control got significantly better in 2008, allowing him to keep hitters off balance by mixing locations and changing planes. He showed a greater willingness to challenge hitters than he had in the past.

Now, Mazzaro throws about 91 mph and his GB/FB ratio for his career is 1.08. As I said earlier, he doesn’t get a ton of swings and misses, so it would be in his best interest to used that sinker to rack up some grounders. That hasn’t happened yet at the major league level. And the control? Well, in 242 innings he’s averaging around 4 BB/9. That’s just not going to cut it. Especially when batters are squaring up the way they do against Mazzaro.

But like I said in the open, Mazzaro isn’t a huge concern because there are other pitchers in the pipeline – along with enough talent already on the 40 man roster – that he can return to Omaha to fill out the Triple-A rotation. The control he possessed in Double-A has deserted him as he’s moved up the ladder. Hitters don’t chase and his secondary pitches are lacking.

This seems to be his future… Organizational filler. Triple-A starter. Break glass only in emergency.

If you see him in Kansas City at any point in this season, you’ll know something has gone horribly awry with the rotation.

The 2012* Rose Bowl has just come to it’s conclusion and I’m supposed to be writing about newly acquired Royals left-hander Ryan Verdugo. I pulled open his Baseball-Reference page and see that he was born in Pasadena, California in April of 1987. It’s a great excuse to check in on the first Rose Bowl that young Verdugo would experience: 1988.

*It seems weird to write and read that number. Something about 2012 seems too futuristic to actually be happening. I didn’t feel that way about 2000 or any other year this millennium. 2012 doesn’t just look like a year that would have flying cars and jetpacks but that they should be relics. Happy New Year?

The 1988 Rose Bowl was a re-match of an earlier game that season between Michigan State and USC. Michigan State won a tight game by three points thanks to 17 unassisted tackles by Percy Snow** and a long catch by Andre Rison. I’m going to assume that young Verdugo was rooting on USC and head Coach Larry Smith. Those three names should be familiar as they all spent some time in the state of Missouri. Percy Snow was a Chief until he had a mo-ped accident. Rison was a Chief and had his house burned down by a singer who wore a condom over one eye. Smith was the head coach at Missouri when their fortunes started to turn around.

**It makes me feel old that I can distinctly remember a guy being drafted the year that a guy on the Royals roster was born. Everyone who was a Chiefs fan at the time remembers Percy Snow. He was a sure-fire, can’t miss prospect. It was the first time I recall in my young sports fandom that guys were not always who they were hyped to be and that sports is a series of disappointments and surprises.

Little did the young Verdugo know that he would find himself sent to Missouri just like the linebacker and wide-receiver who broke his young heart. He was packaged with Jontathan Sanchez in an off-season trade for Melky Cabrera. I bring this all up becase basically there isn’t much to say about Verdugo and it’ll likely be the only opportunity for me to ever bring up Percy Snow.

That isn’t to say I don’t like him or think he won’t be valuable. He has shown a propensity to strike out a ton of guys. On the other hand, he also gives up a lot of walks and hits. In the minors he has an 11.2 SO/9 rate to go along with 4.5 BB/9 and 7.9 H/9 rates. His WHIP last year was 1.366 in Double-A, however it was his first season as a starter in professional baseball.

I’m a big fan of guys who can get guys to strike out. You know who “pitches to contact?” Guys who aren’t making a living playing as pitchers. Striking batters out is a must-have skill for a Major League player. Ryan Verdugo isn’t likely going to be a great player, but he provides some nice depth and is flexible enough to start or come out of the bullpen. The fact that he was a throw-in along with Jonathan Sanchez for a year of Melky Cabrera basically makes him house money.

Verdugo’s role this season will be dictated on the needs of the club. If there is an open spot in the Omaha rotation, then he’ll find himself there. If the Royals need an arm in the pen due to injury or ineffectiveness, then he’ll be called upon for that. He may even find some starts at the Big League level if things pan out a certain way.

This kind of depth is something the Royals have been lacking for some time and the Melky Cabrera move last season is one that is now paying dividends.  Full disclosure: I was not a big fan of the Melky move initially. I’m glad I was wrong.

 

 

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

 

Jeremy Jeffress was part of the trade that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee in December of 2010. A power arm out of the bullpen, the Royals hoped Jeffress could fill that role at the major league level.

The only thing about Jeffress that we can say with any certainty, is he’s consistently inconsistent. That’s a fancy way of saying the guy really has a difficult time finding the strike zone. Sure, he strikes out plenty of batters. That’s thanks to his electric fastball. Unfortunately, with that electricity, comes an inability to harness that current. His best walk rate at any stop (more than 15 IP) is 4.6 BB/9. And that was at A-ball back in 2007.

Jeffress was a starter his first three full seasons as a pro, but moved to the bullpen for the 2010 season. It was kind of a hail mary on the part of the Brewers as Jeffress’ walk rate spiraled out of control in 2009 at Double-A when he posted a 10.9 BB/9 (yes, 10.9 BB/9) in eight starts covering 27 innings. The walks didn’t disappear when he moved to the pen, but there were signs his control was improving.

Still, he’s yet to master the strike zone.

Perhaps a longshot to join the pen at the outset of the 2011 season, he did nothing to win a spot. Nevertheless, the Royals decided to bring Jeffress with the big club. That was with eight walks and eight strikeouts in 12 Cactus League innings. It was a strange decision given the fact he had pitched only 10 innings at the big league level prior to the season. And there was that pesky control issue.

While he made the team, I can’t figure out the reasoning behind his usage last summer. Immediately, Ned Yost threw him into the proverbial fire, pitching Jeffress in two extremely high leverage situations in his first three appearances for the Royals. He did well in those two outings, working out of a jam with two runners on in the 12th inning versus Chicago (thanks to a pickoff) and then worked a scoreless 10th inning a day later, striking out two batters in the process. Yost didn’t call for him over the next six days, but when the bell finally rang in the bullpen, Jeffress responded with a couple of scoreless outings, including picking up a two-inning save in an appearance in Minnesota on April 13.

Then the trouble started.

He walked three batters, committed a throwing error on a pickoff throw and added a wild pitch for good measure in failing to protect a one run lead in the seventh against Cleveland on April 18. A week later he entered the game with two runners on, let them both score and added two more of his own for good measure. He steadied himself over his next four outings, throwing 4.2 innings of scoreless baseball where he allowed just one hit and no walks. You’d think he got back on track, but at that point, Yost put his young pitcher on the shelf for the next 10 days. He next appeared in the Vin Mazzaro debacle against the Indians where he was roughed up for two runs (and allowed all three runners he inherited from Mazzaro to score.) He made one more appearance where he walked three of the five batters he faced before he was farmed out to Omaha.

The struggles continued in Omaha where Jeffress posted a 6.8 BB/9 and had a 1.875 WHIP on his way to a 7.12 ERA. The Royals decided to drop him to Double-A and placed him in the rotation. Again, the results just weren’t there. He posted a 6.3 BB/9 in 32 innings with a 4.26 ERA. Most alarmingly, his strikeout rate experienced an extreme tumble down to 5.7 SO/9.

So, where do we go from here?

Jeffress is a two pitch pitcher – fastball and curve. And while the fastball is a heater in the true sense – it averaged 96.7 mph last year – he doesn’t miss a lot of bats. He had just a 9.9% whiff rate on his four seamer last year and overall, had a swing and a miss in just 7.6% of all swings, which was below league average. Also, he threw a first pitch strike in 48% of plate appearances. Again, that was below the league average which was just above 59%. That’s an enormous gap – on the wrong side of the average.

From the next chart, it’s easy to see how he walked a ton of batters. When he missed – he missed by quite a bit. Here’s every pitch Jeffress threw for the Royals last year.

Now, I’m no Bob McClure, but I’d have to think part of the problem with Jeffress is the lack of a repeatable delivery. His release point is all over the place. There’s the pitchers who are consistent in their release, those who vary their release (like Bruce Chen) and then there’s Jeffress.

That can’t be ideal.

Going forward, I don’t think the Royals know what to do about Jeffress. They’d like him to stick in KC as part of the bounty for Greinke, but the control issues aren’t going to disappear. Plus, he lacks the arsenal to start, so he’s going to have to make a living coming out of the bullpen. Given the arms Dayton Moore has collected for the Royals relief corps this winter, there’s no way Jeffress cracks the pen this spring. At this point, he’s organizational depth. From what we’ve seen, that’s probably his ceiling.

The Royals were recently linked, via rumor, to lefty reliever George Sherrill.   At first, this seemed a little odd to me given the Royals recently signed Jonathan Broxton to an already crowded bullpen picture.     However, we all know that Ned Yost loves to play the match-ups with his relievers.  Why use two relievers when four makes it so much more interesting?

In Sherrill, should the Royals actually make a run at him, Dayton Moore will have acquired the true lefty specialist that Yost spent 2011 hoping Tim Collins would become.   Last season for Atlanta, yes Atlanta, Sherrill faced 81 left handed batters and struck out 32 of them.    By the way, of those 81, George walked exactly ONE of them.   Contrast that to his 11 walks and 6 strikeouts against 68 right handers he faced and you can see that the 34 year old has truly morphed into a LOOGY.   Sherrill actually had some bad luck last year as left handed hitters managed an astounding .422 BABIP against him.  Yet, they still managed a rather weak line of just .256/.273/.333.   Imagine what lefthanders would do against Sherrill if they had a more reasonable BABIP number in 2012?

That the Royals are even linked to another free agent reliever indicates to me that Dayton Moore is leaning ever more towards breaking camp next April with eight relievers in the pen.  As a quasi-old guy, I can remember the days of ten, even nine, man pitching staffs and so the superficial reaction to EIGHT freaking relievers is one of disdain.

That said, Kansas City will use it’s fifth starter for the fifth game of the 2012 season and really only has the opportunity to skip a start once, maybe twice, in April.   Without a true ace, it is hard to imagine Yost and company jerking the rotation around for minimal gain:  especially since they will need to come out of Arizona with five starters on the roster anyway.

Not only will the Royals break camp with five starters, they will do so with five starters unlikely to eat major innings.   Let’s assume the rotation is Hochevar, Chen, Paulino, Sanchez and Duffy.   If I told you that they would go on average seven, six, six, five plus and five innings respectively each time through the rotation would you be surprised.   Frankly, that might be a good sign for Kansas City, but it would also require their bullpen to provide 16 innings of work every time through the rotation.   If that holds for an entire season, the Royals would need 518 relief innings in 2012:  that is a load of work for the guys out in the pen.

If signing a true LOOGY allows Yost the ability to run Tim Collins a couple of innings an appearance instead of one or less or save Everett Teaford, should he not end up starting in either KC or Omaha, for long relief than it will save the more important arms in the bullpen for more critical situations.    The last place the Royals want to be in August is somewhere around contention, 450 innings into its bullpen and have to trot out Collins with two on and no out in Detroit because Holland, Coleman and Broxton threw in the three games prior.

An eight man pen seems almost silly, but it may fit for this particular team at this particular time.  It’s uncoventional, but that does not make it necessarily wrong.  If the sentiment inside and outside of the organization is to hoard the prospects (notably Wil Myers and Mike Montgomery) and not trade for a front-line starter, then this appears to be the best option.

Carrying an eight man pen, of course, requires just a three man bench and that effects who the Royals decide to utilize as their utility infielder.   Specifically, it requires someone who can play second, short and third, which might well eliminate a number of names we have already heard linked to the Royals.

So, is the eight man bullpen logic or lunacy?

xxx

 

After the flurry of Colby Rasmus rumors the night before, we should have known something was up. Smoke screen style.

Because really, who saw the Jonathan Broxton signing?

No one, that’s who.

My initial reaction to the trade was this is exactly the kind of thing Dayton Moore has done over the last couple of years… Kick the tires on a relatively low cost guy with a bit of upside. Most recently, he did the trick with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur. With the Melk-Man, it netted the Royals a starting pitcher. With The Frenchman it bought us two more years of the French Quarter in right field.

Hopefully, the Royals will get fair value for their efforts here.

Yet there’s considerable risk involved. The guy hasn’t pitched since last May 3. And that was the feather in a whole cap of ugly that stretched back to the end of June in 2010. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Last May, when Broxton exited the Dodgers game against the Cubs in early May he had been brought in to hold a 1-1 tie, retired the first batter, but was pulled after missing the strike zone with eight consecutive balls. Following the game, Dodger manager Don Mattingly affirmed Broxton was still his closer, but he hit the DL the following day, with fluid buildup in his elbow. He also revealed that in 2010 he had an MRI that revealed a bone spur.

Ah… 2010. Now, back to the Dodger game on June 27, 2010. In that game, LA held a lead against the Yankees 6-2 in the top of the ninth when Broxton made his appearance. Strange that he would pitch in this game, since it wasn’t a save situation. Stranger still given the fact that Broxton had thrown 19 pitches over 1.1 innings in a 9-4 Dodger blowout the night before. You probably know the story of the June 27 game by now. Broxton retired the first batter before allowing the next five to reach as the Yankees tied the game.

Especially notable was how then manager Joe Torre sat on his hands and allowed Broxton to pile up 48 pitches in that appearance. Combine that with his 19 the day before and you see that Torre allowed his closer to throw 67 pitches in about 24 hours.

And as the story goes, Broxton hasn’t been the same since.

The numbers certainly bear this out.

Before Injury – 2.73 ERA, 12.0 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9
After Injury – 6.31 ERA, 7.4 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9

The numbers are so polar that you would think there had to be signs of an impending collapse. Except there weren’t any signs. From 2005 to 2009, Broxton had been as consistent as you would hope from a relief pitcher. Entering the pitch count game in 2010, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA, a 13.2 SO/9 and a 1.4 BB/9. He was enjoying the best season of his career. Then it all changed.

So did the high pitch count damage Broxton? Impossible to say, but like Gil Meche, I’d bet there were problems lurking underneath the surface before the extended (and unnecessary) outings. The bone spur was evidence that something structurally was wrong. And they apparently were present in the elbow around this time.

In an article from September in the LA Times, Broxton’s agent, BB Abbott speculated that Broxton and the Dodgers were a tad too optimistic when he reported to a rehab assignment in July. His agent also revealed he had elbow soreness after his first rehab appearance and chose to keep it under wraps.

(This is so damn typical. Pitch through the pain. Somehow this never works. It also raises the question about his earlier health. Did Broxton have pain back in 2010 and try to work through it? This seems increasingly possible.)

Abbott’s take on his client is somewhat… Strange.

“The days of Jonathan Broxton throwing 99 and 100 [mph] might be over,” Abbott said. “But I think he can reinvent himself. He’s still going to be 93-97. He’s relied on one thing and that’s power. … He’s going to have to be a chameleon. It might be a power slider or a power cutter. He’s going to have to transition.”

I’m not too sure I’ve heard an agent so candid about one of his players. “Transition” and “reinvent” aren’t words those guys throw around. Mainly because they aren’t exactly the things GMs like to hear when they’re considering their client.

Enough about Broxton. How does the affect the Royals? (Everything from here on out assumes Broxton will be healthy.) What GMDM did for the Royals on Tuesday was, in one large stroke, create a ton of flexibility for his team. The Royals were already going to try Aaron Crow and Everett Teaford in the rotation, and now they have cover if either one of these guys makes the move. If not, then the Royals strongest part of the team just got a little stronger. Imagine a healthy Joakim Soria in the ninth, preceded by Broxton in the eighth, who was preceded by Greg Holland in the seventh. That is a nasty, nasty bullpen.

And if everything works out, then the Royals can either contend (Yessssss!) or they can flip Broxton to a lucky contender at the deadline and pick up a prospect in return.

I saw a bunch of Tweets following the Broxton announcement speculating that Soria could move to the rotation. (From the national media, naturally.) There is absolutely no way that will happen. Zero. Chance. For a number of reasons. One, he’s never, ever been remotely stretched out in the majors. Two, his injury history makes him a risk to break down under a heavier workload. Three, his pitch selection has become limited in the closer role and prone to breakdown under repeated viewing. And four, the Royals love him as the closer.

There’s also speculation that this means the Royals could move Soria. Again, this deal has no impact on Soria’s future. As I pointed out, Broxton is far from a sure thing. If the Royals are trying to contend in the Central, they’d be gambling on their closer in a big way if they dealt Soria. No way this happens. Besides, after Soria’s struggles and ailments last summer, trading him now would be selling at his ultimate low point. Uh-uh. Not going to happen.

I know GMDM said this wasn’t a precursor to another deal, but if not, it’s difficult to understand why the Royals would chose to throw money at what was one of the stronger parts of their team last year. Especially when that part is the bullpen, which is always in flux as far as performance goes. There were reportedly five to six teams interested in Broxton, and since he’s coming here as a setup guy to reestablish his value, it’s safe to say the Royals offered the most cash. Probably by a lot. Bob Dutton tweeted that the Royals strategy seems to build the best bullpen they can because that’s more affordable that picking up a starting pitcher. The theory is good, I guess. But we’ve seen how investing in a bullpen can be a fiscal gamble. Plus, your bullpen doesn’t mean a thing if your starting pitchers can’t stake you to a lead. GMDM bought himself some flexibility. Now he needs to leverage that to his advantage. Something he hasn’t usually been able to do.

And the Royals still need a quality starting pitcher if we’re thinking about contention in 2012.

Given the money involved, this isn’t a bad deal for the Royals. But it’s a strange one. GMDM is a bit of a gambler, whose bets paid off in 2011. We’ll see if he still has the touch in 2012.

This is the worst time of year to blog about a perennial also-ran. October baseball means another post season spent on the sidelines and it also means front office inertia. I don’t mean that the Royals brain trust has shut down for the month… Just, there’s not much happening that is actually newsworthy.

– The Royals announced their player of the month for September and gave it to Eric Hosmer. Interesting choice if only because there was an actual plethora of excellent candidates from which to choose. When was the last time we could say that? Check some of these numbers.

Mike Moustakas – .352/.380/.580, .227 ISO
Sal Perez – .375/.400/.513, 14 runs
Eric Hosmer – .349/.360/.557, 5 HR, 21 RBI
Jeff Francoeur – .329/.345/.600, 5 HR, .271 ISO

And we can’t forget Billy Butler who hit 10 doubles, or Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar who both had identical .367 OBPs. I cannot remember a month like this where seemingly everyone in the lineup was a difficult out. (Except when Yost was playing for one run and sac bunting. Small Ball!)

What a month for the hitters.

That was a tough ballot for the writers. For sure. I can make a case for any of those guys.

Allow me to climb on my soapbox for a moment: The monthly awards are voted on by “Kansas City media.” I assume that means dudes from the Star with press passes who attend the game where the ballots are distributed and the odd TV guy who just happened to be at the stadium that night. The Royals made an effort to include “social media” this year, but it’s time for them to open this voting to include the blogs. There are a bunch of writers out there who follow this team as close as any professional writer. It would be a heckuva gesture if the Royals opened up their voting.

– Having said that, if I had a vote, I’d give it to Alex Gordon for Player of the Year. I don’t think that is a shock to anyone who regularly reads this blog. The guy lead the team in OBP and slugging, OPS+ and WAR. And outfield assists. Can’t forget the assists.

To me, it’s a no-brainer.

– For Pitcher of the Year, I’d give my vote to Greg Holland. The guy was absolute nails coming out of the bullpen, with an 11.1 SO/9 and 1.80 ERA.

Sure, it’s a little unorthodox to give a pitcher of the year award to a set-up guy, but since the closer struggled for most of the season and the starting rotation was… Let’s be nice and call it inconsistent, Holland is my guy.

I’m sure Chen will get some consideration because he led the team in Wins (Old School!) and ERA, but Hochevar, with his strong finish, posted stronger overall numbers and Paulino was better as well.

Nope… The bullpen was a strength of this team for the most part, so the award has to go to a reliever.

– Actually saw Trey Hillman’s name mentioned in connection with the vacancy in Boston. Then, Pete Abraham, who is the Red Sox beat writer for the Globe, brought it up again on Tuesday:

When the Red Sox last hired a manager, in 2003, general manager Theo Epstein went with a 44-year-old bench coach who had a background in player development and a brief, unsuccessful run as a major league manager.

Terry Francona did not seem like a particularly inspired choice at the time. But he proved to be the most successful manager the Red Sox ever have had.

Assuming Epstein remains with the Red Sox, he’s going to stick with the plan that worked so well the first time.

“In respect to the qualities that we’re looking for, this is a tough job,’’ Epstein said. “I think I’ll use the same process that we used eight years ago when we identified and hired Tito. Looking back at that process eight years ago, I think we found the right guy and hired the right guy.’’

One potential candidate who fits largely the same profile that Francona did is Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman.

When it comes to baseball, I’m a pretty forgiving guy. I believe in second chances and that managers (and players) can sometimes experience a reawakening when given a change of scenery.

However, in the case of SABR Trey, I’ll lay it out there… There’s no way he can ever be a successful major league manager. The guy had plenty of time in Kansas City to prove he learned something… Anything. Yet he was as horrible at his job the last day as he was on the first. When I say that, Hal McRae comes to mind for the opposite reason. When he took over as manager, he had an extremely difficult time adapting. Yet, by the time he was fired in 1994, he had evolved as a manager. He was not the same guy who came into the position as a rookie a couple of years earlier. He learned and he improved. You can’t say the same about SABR Trey.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Hillman getting another managerial job. In fact, I welcome it. Let another fan base experience the wonder of the Trey Hillman Experience. They’ll love it in Boston.

The Royals held their end of the season press conference and used it as an opportunity to announce pitching coach Bob McClure wouldn’t return for the 2012 season. Ned Yost had the honors:

“We threw too many balls, we walked too many hitters. We fell behind in the count too much. McClure did a phenominal job here for many, many years. Had a great working relationship with these young pitchers. We just felt as an organization it was time for a different voice.”

Yost is absolutely correct on this count. Royals pitchers threw a grand total of 24,376 pitches this year. No team in baseball threw more pitches. League average was 23,595. Think about that one for a moment… Royals pitchers threw almost 1,000 more pitches than the average major league pitching staff. That’s like playing a 170 game schedule.

Taking this further… Royals pitchers threw a strike 62% of the time. Although major league average is 63% (and all teams threw a strike between 65% and 62% of the time) the Royals tossed the fewest strikes percentage-wise of all teams in baseball. Here’s the list:

Oakland – 62.5%
Toronto – 62.4%
Baltimore – 62.3%
Houston – 62.2%
Kansas City – 62.1%

To be the team with the highest number of total pitches and the lowest percentage of strikes… Yeah, that’s not so good.

So who swung the hatchet and sent McClure to the unemployment line?

“There’s a lot of input from Dayton. Dayton and I talk about everything. I trust Dayton. Uh… As much as I could trust anybody in this business. We started really talking about it the last six weeks and thought it through and made sure it was the right decision for our organization.”

Make no mistake… Yost was the triggerman on the McClure hit. I think Yost had been unhappy with McClure for a long time and started putting this move in motion shortly after the All-Star Break. Here’s what GMDM had to say.

“I like Bob’s style. The most important trait of a pitcher is toughness and poise. At the same time you have to think through the process. You have to overcome so many things. It’s gotta be a very tough, tough thing to be able to succeed in that role. I think McClue has that. Ned certainly has a vision for what he wants. He’s with the players every single day. He knows what they need and we’ve gotta trust his opinion there. And that’s what we’ll do. We’ll find somebody that compliments our coaching staff and someone who works very well with Ned and somebody that can give our pitchers the extra boost they need right now. Make no mistake, Bob McClure has created a great foundation on and off the field on all these pitchers.”

McClure was a holdover from the Baird regime (Buddy Bell brought him over from Colorado prior to the 2006 season), but clearly had a fan in GMDM. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have lasted six seasons. GMDM is loyal to his guys. To a fault, I think. If it had been solely his call, I doubt this move would have happened.

I know a bunch of people looked to McClure as the scapegoat, but honestly, I have no idea how much effect a pitching coach has on a major league staff. Bruce Chen seemed to figure out how to change arm slots and has had a small dose of success. Is that McClure? Danny Duffy struggled in his debut season. Is that McClure? Luke Hochevar put together a solid second half after turning to his slider. Is that McClure? Some guys showed up in KC and pitched well… Some guys didn’t. Happens all the time.

Having said that, six years is a long time for a pitching coach to be on a team that isn’t winning. Yost wasn’t happy with the results, he wants his guy and GMDM wants Yost to feel comfortable. Both want someone who can work with young pitchers since that’s the next wave of The Process. Maybe McClure couldn’t communitcate with the youth. Maybe Hochevar figured out how to be successful on his own and maybe he could just never reach Duffy.

So Yost wanted McClure gone. As I said, GMDM is loyal, but ultimately his style is to hire his people and let them do their jobs. It’s a standard organizational ladder. If one of the higher-ups wants someone beneath them gone… It’s done. Will at Royals Review thinks this is a sign that Yost is the long-term guy as manager. I don’t necessarily read it that way. Yost is under contract through next season. I suppose an extention could happen, but I see this as GMDM basically giving his manager what he wants. (Kudos to whomever asked Yost about his contract. Without an extension, he’s a lame duck manager in 2012, so this is a fairly important issue. And thankfully, Karen Kornacki got in a question about Santa Claus. Seriously. She freaking name-dropped Santa at a baseball press conference.) Everything could change by this time next year. It’s baseball. Just ask Terry Francona.

Similarly, Yost will play a huge part in the hiring of the next pitching coach. And he knows exactly what he wants…

“I’m looking for a guy that has energy, a guy that has competitive spirit, a guy that is focused on teaching mechanics and a guy that can formualte an idividual game plan for each pitcher on each particular day. You know, I learned a lot with Mike Maddux when we were together for 6 years. I watched how he did it, and he was pretty good.”

Maddux is currently the pitching coach for Ron Washington’s Texas Rangers.

“I’m looking for a guy that pitched in the big leagues for a long time with mediocre stuff. Mike Maddux had mediocre stuff, but he pitched 15 years in the big leagues. Because he knew how to pitch, he understood mechanics, he understood the importance of fielding your position, he understood the importance of controlling the running game, he understood the importance of knowing the signs and the situations at all times. And those guys that have to work real hard at their game and have longevity in their game usually make dynamic pitching coaches.”

McClure had a 19 year major league career that spanned over 1,150 innings. With an ERA+ of 102, I’d call him mediocre. I’d also call him left-handed, which surely helped him pitch into his forties.

Using Yost’s criteria, I did a search for pitchers who played at least 15 years, finished with an ERA+ between 95 and 105 and threw at least 1,000 innings. Here are some candidates for the Royals pitching coach job:

Bruce Kison
Milt Wilcox
Andy Hassler
Doyle Alexander
Bob Forsch
Mike Norris
Bob Knepper
Rick Sutcliffe
Floyd Bannister
Jim Clancy
Rick Honeycutt
Dennis Lamp
Dan Schatzeder
Juan Berenguer
Mike Morgan
Bruce Hurst
Danny Jackson
Kevin Gross
John Burkett
Dave Burba
Chris Hammond
Scott Erickson

I have no clue who on this list is active in baseball and who’s been working on their golf game. It would be kind of fun if the Royals next pitching coach was one of these guys.

The Royals had a decent second half and Yost is flexing his muscles. McClure and Gibbons were his call. No mistake. And the next hires will be his guys. Again, no mistake. So at this time next year if the pitching staff has taken a step forward, we can give Yost some of the credit for bringing in his guy. He’ll have to take the blame if things get worse.

Meanwhile, John Gibbons, the bench coach got the axe as well. Yost has someone in mind for his replacement and says he will come from within.

“I’m looking for somebody with catching experience. A really good teacher. A real good catching coach, that can work with these young catchers.”

All indications are the Royals will look to Chino Cadiha who is currently a special assistant to the Royals player development staff. Prior to that he was… Hold on… a bench coach with the Braves. He worked with GMDM as the Braves roving catching instructor and was a minor league field coordinator.

There was plenty more from GMDM’s press conference, but this post is already running long. Look for a weekend post. Special edition.

The off season has begun…

On to the pitchers…

We know the starters have, taken as a whole, been horrible. And we know the bullpen has been one of the strengths of this team. I don’t know how the rotation can improved in the second half. Aside from Danny Duffy, these guys pretty much are who we thought they were. Which is not good.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has overachieved. Many of the relievers have outperformed their xFIP and have incredible batting averages on balls in play and even more incredible strand rates. That points to the volatility of the bullpen. It’s still a strength of this team, but I’m not certain it will be as strong in the second half.

One area where you notice the chasm is in strikeouts. The Royals starters couldn’t pitch their way out of a paper bag. (When I talk about the “starters,” know that I’m excluding Duffy. He’s the Chosen One adrift in a sea of batting practice pitchers.) Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of flame throwers who have made missing bats a habit. There may be some regression to the bullpen mean in the second half, but the strikeouts will cushion the blow.

Luke Hochevar
2.9 BB/9, 4.6 SO/9, 5.46 ERA, 4.22 xFIP
0.6 WAR

Key Stat: Allowing opponents to hit .300/.379/.461 with runners on base.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Hochevar “frustrating.” That would imply we have expectations that he could actually be… good.

Instead, we’re teased with a pitcher who retires three or six or nine batters in a row and then implodes in a spectacular fashion. Read that key stat again… there’s something happening when Hochevar pitches from the stretch. Even more frustrating, when runners reach base, Hochevar slows to the game to a speed that resembles Billy Butler running the 100 yard dash… Stand. Still.

I read somewhere that the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger thought Hochevar is a victim of heightened expectations that come with being the team’s Opening Day (read, number one) starter. I just can’t buy into this theory. Mainly because I haven’t thought about Hochevar as the Opening Day starter since… Opening Day. I mean, even Hochevar has to know he was the “number one” starter only because there wasn’t anyone else.

Grade: D

Jeff Francis
1.7 BB/9, 4.4 SO/9, 4.60 ERA, 4.01 xFIP
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: His average fastball is 85 mph.

Francis was always one of the softer throwers in the game, but he’s lost a couple mph off his alleged fastball since returning from shoulder surgery. Having said that, he’s compensating by featuring the best control of his career. The issue with Francis – and it will always be an issue – is that when he catches too much of the plate, it’s easy for opposing batters to make solid contact. His line drive rate hovers around 20% and his BABIP is always north of .300, meaning his WHIP will always be elevated, even though his walks are under control.

Despite the warts, he’s having a pretty decent season.

Grade: B-

Bruce Chen
3.0 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9, 3.26 ERA, 4.37 xFIP
0.7 WAR

Key Stat: Chen has a 76.5% strand rate.

If you’re looking for a reason for Chen’s solid ERA, look no further than his strand rate. It’s about three percentage points better than his career rate. If he regresses to the mean, the second half could be a bit bumpy, but given the way he’s turned his career around, I’m not certain I would bet against him.

Bringing Chen back for 2011 was a good piece of business by Dayton Moore.

Grade: B

Kyle Davies
4.0 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 7.74 ERA, 4.78 xFIP
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has thrown three quality starts in 11 overall starts. The Royals have lost all three of those games.

Dreadful.

Grade: F

Sean O’Sullivan
4.4 BB/9, 3.0 SO/9, 6.92 ERA, 5.59 xFIP
-0.5 WAR

Key Stat: His 0.69 SO/BB ratio is the worst rate among pitchers who have started more than five games this season.

Double dreadful.

Grade: F

Danny Duffy
4.3 BB/9, 7.3 SO/9, 4.85 ERA, 4.20 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat:

Duffy is just a few adjustments away from moving to the front of the rotation. Really. It all comes down to location and an economy of pitches. These are things he can adjust. The successes have been there… there will be more in the near future.

Grade: C

Aaron Crow
4.2 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9, 2.08 ERA, 3.15 xFIP
0.5 WAR

Your 2011 All-Star!

There’s going to be a ton of talk over the next couple of months about moving Crow into the rotation. Personally, I’m on the record saying that everyone from the bullpen should be given a shot at starting. Seriously, the rotation is dreadful so something needs to be done.

Now, having said that, I don’t think that Crow will ever transition back to the rotation. Part of my reasoning has to do with his performance this season. He’s walking too many guys to be a middle of the rotation starter. Also, his success this year is built around an unsustainable 90% strand rate. Then, there’s also his track record from the minors. Don’t forget, he was demoted as a starter after getting raked to the tune of a 5.66 ERA in Double-A. He followed that with a 5.93 ERA in Single-A. Yikes.

Crow seems to have found his groove as a reliever and has emerged as a dependable set-up man. Why mess with a formula that’s been successful?

Grade: A-

Tim Collins
6.6 BB/9, 7.7 SO/9, 3.74 ERA, 4.86 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Lefties are hitting .215/.381/.354 against Collins. Right handers are batting .193/.316/.301.

Collins is an enigma in more ways than one. To start, there’s his reverse split described above. Then, there’s the fact he’s walking a metric ton of batters. No pitcher who has thrown more than 30 innings has a walk rate higher than Collins.

Sadly, those walks are going to catch up with Collins. And that’s probably going to happen in the second half.

Grade: C+

Blake Wood
2.7 BB/9, 8.0 SO/9, 2.89 ERA, 3.08 xFIP
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Wood is getting a swinging strike in 9.8% of all strikes thrown.

I don’t know how he’s doing it… With a fastball straighter than a piece of dried spaghetti. But Wood has become a dependable reliever out of the bullpen. It helps that his slider is much improved as well. Still, I can’t help but worry… I’m a Royals fan.

Grade: B+

Louis Coleman
4.3 BB/9, 10.9 SO/9, 2.01 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Opponents are hitting .167/.280/.361 against Coleman.

Coleman is off to a great start and has been a versatile arm out of the pen for the club. He’s pitched multiple innings in 12 of his 27 appearances and has thrown anywhere from the sixth inning on. With the lead, in a tie game, or with the Royals down… Yost is using him in just about any situation.

His BABIP is .200 and his strand rate is a whopping 96%. There’s no way he can keep those numbers for the second half. His xFIP suggests he’s had luck on his side.

Grade: A-

Felipe Paulino
2.3 BB/9, 8.9 SO/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.24 xFIP
1.3 WAR

A revelation…

Interesting story… At the Baseball Prospectus event at the K last week, Jin Wong talked about how one of the things his job entails is to identify potential talent. Basically, looking at fringe players and deciding if there’s some upside there. If there is, and that player becomes available, they pounce. According to Wong, the club identified Paulino early in the year as a potential guy for them because he throws 95 mph (on average), strikes out a fair number of hitters and can keep the ball on the ground. So, when Paulino struggled in 18 appearances out of the pen for the Rockies, and they let him go, the Royals were ready.

Great story… You hope it’s true. Paulino has never had an ERA lower – or even close – to his xFIP, so he was always a guy with upside. Good for the Royals for grabbing him off the scrap heap when the Rockies were ready to let him go.

The Royals will need to find a few more gems in the rough like Paulino. Capable middle of the rotation guy.

Grade: B+

Nate Adcock
3.7 BB/9, 5.9 SO/9, 4.91 ERA, 4.11 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Only 2 of 12 inherited runners have scored against Adcock.

Adcock was the Rule 5 pick and the Royals have been treating him with kid gloves. He completely disappears for extended stretches. Like right now… He last pitched on July 1.

I’d like for the Royals to use him a little more frequently, especially when their starters spit the bit in the early innings. Adcock isn’t doing exceptional, but when you consider he had never pitched above A-ball prior to this year, the Royals have to be pleased with the results.

Grade: C

Greg Holland
2.2 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9, 1.08 ERA, 2.35 xFIP
0.8 WAR

Key Stat: Only 60% of all plate appearances against Holland end with the ball in play.

Many felt Holland should have been in the bullpen at the start of the season. Many were correct. He’s been lights out. Like Crow and Coleman, his strand rate is north of 90%.

Easily, the best reliever in the Royals pen.

Grade: A

Vin Mazzaro
5.5 BB/9, 3.3 SO/9, 9.25 ERA, 5.97 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: The Royals sacrificial lamb.

It is the seminal moment of the 2011 season… Ned Yost leaving Mazzaro to get his brains beat in by the Indians, allowing 14 runs in 2.1 innings.

Grade: F

Jeremy Jeffress
6.5 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 4.70 ERA, 4.40 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: A 1.50 WHIP in 15 innings of work.

Jeffress has the potential, but until he finds his control, it will remain potential. It’s not going so well in Omaha as he’s walking 6.6 per nine.

Grade: D+

Everett Teaford
3.4 BB/9, 4.0 SO/9, 2.30 ERA, 4.56 xFIP
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has a 100% strand rate.

Teaford is pitching out of his mind. A .195 BABIP and that strand rate… That’s why his xFIP is over two runs higher than his ERA.

Grade: B

Joakim Soria
2.8 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9, 4.03 ERA, 3.57 xFIP
0.2 WAR

I maintained all along that Soria would be OK… It took a “demotion” for him to find his closer mojo. That, and losing one of his cut fastballs.

Whatever, it was an ugly start. Can’t deny that. He’s already matched his career high for home runs allowed (five) and is still down about two whiffs per inning on his strikeout rate. This serves as a cautionary tale that you should never, ever overvalue your closer. Unless his name is Mariano Riveria. Had the Royals dealt Soria last winter, his value would have been at it’s maximum. According to reports, the GMDM is still asking for everything under the sun when teams call inquiring about Soria.

Hopefully, he can pitch lights out in the second half and restore some of that trade value.

Grade: C

Over the break, Dayton Moore made the proclamation that the Royals were still in the race for the AL Central. I had no idea he was an outpatient at the Menninger Clinic. The bats are in decent shape and the bullpen is strong, but the starting pitching will continue to drag this team to what will be a top three pick in next year’s draft.

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