Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published in June, 2012

A few weeks ago, Clark, Nick and myself learned that Will McDonald of Royals Review was going to be turning in his Hot Pockets, exiting his mom’s basement and entering the real world. He was leaving the blog he founded many years ago. How did we know this? The powers that run the SB Nation baseball blogs approached us about joining their network. The idea was to bring our group to the SB Nation platform, get together with the remaining writers at the Review and form a larger, stronger collective to deliver the ultimate Royals website.

We accepted.

So you are reading our final post at Royals Authority. We’re closing up shop and moving down the street to Royals Review. It’s a larger neighborhood with a pretty damn strong infrastructure.

The move is not without some trepidation. Will McDonald is a force. A talent. We’re not going to Royals Review to replace him. His style is incredibly unique. We are going there to be ourselves. To use our voices to continue to cover the Royals the only way we know how. It will be fun. And maddening. And sometimes a little strange.

Change happens. It’s necessary. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to get used to the new order. We are not going away… The only thing that’s changing is the name of the website and the URL where you will find us. That’s it. Our content isn’t going to change. I suspect a large number of you visit Royals Review daily. Consider this our effort to make your life easier. One bookmark, all the info you’ll need. In the off chance you’re not aware of Royals Review, we urge you to follow us down the road and see what it’s all about. You’ll like it.

The three of us have been a team at Royals Authority for a long time. We’re still a team. This is really about changing our address and joining forces with three outstanding writers that love the Royals. If this was an ad, at this point, I’d tout this as being “50 percent more!” With the amount of writers on staff, the goal moving forward is to post several times a day. With our roster, I’m thinking that won’t be a problem. So if at Royals Authority you’ve been visiting once a day knowing you’ll likely be reading that day’s output, at Royals Review we’ll have several stories each day as well as game threads and recaps. You’ll want to return again and again.

Our hope is to provide you with the best landing spot on the internet for Royals news and views.

Making a move like this isn’t easy. In the last couple of years, we’ve been fortunate enough to build a community of our own. We have countless commenters whom I immediately recognize. (I don’t want to name names, because I’ll inevitably forget someone.) Your comments and efforts at community have been greatly appreciated. We hope you will hop on the moving van and join us at the new digs. The commenting system may be intimidating at first glance, but if you jump in I think you’ll find it welcoming. Plus, the comments are threaded. Threaded! This provides a great opportunity to have an actual internet conversation.

Yes, it will take some getting used to. For all of us. For the last week or so, Clark, Nick and myself have been wandering around the inner sanctum of Royals Review, learning the software and trying to get comfortable with the new platform. If you aren’t a member of the Royals Review community, I suggest you head over there and sign up so you can start commenting. If you don’t want to comment, sign up anyway… Each time you visit the site, it tells you how many “new” comments have been posted since your last visit. It’s so damn easy to follow along with the community. And they’re constantly evolving the software to make things better. It’s a great landing place for us and for the blog.

Still, this move is bittersweet.

In 2005 I started a Royals blog and called it Warning Track Power. At the exact same time, a couple hundred miles away, Clark opened shop in his corner of the internet with a blog called the Royals Op-Ed Page. In July of that year, we were approached by Evan Brunell, the owner of the now-deceased Most Valuable Network. The idea was to join forces and create a Royals blog for his network.

Royals Authority was born.

We opened for business July 14, 2005. (Holy crap… We’ve been doing this for almost seven years. That’s an eternity in internet years.) I don’t remember our first post or any of the details of the first couple of weeks. It seems I’ve blocked out entire years. (Just like Dayton Moore.) I do know that we’ve grown our daily readership from the hundreds to the thousands. That’s pretty cool. And it’s something neither of us dreamed was possible when we started.

Thank you.

Still, this being the internet, we haven’t been standing still. After a few years, we jumped from MVN to Bloguin to be their featured Royals blog. After around a single year on that platform, we added Nick to our lineup and angled our way into the arms of ESPN and their fledgling SweetSpot Network.

In the meantime, we tried to host a bulletin board, self-published two books – the second of which was really good, but nobody bought – and learned how to design our own site. It’s been fun. Believe me, if it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t be doing this.

We owe Evan a great deal of gratitude. He’s told me on more than one occasion that bringing the two of us together was one of his better success stories in the time he operated MVN. That’s pretty cool. There have also been a ton of great writers along the way who have encouraged us and motivated us. Joe Hamrahi at Baseball Prospectus has been a huge champion of this site and I personally owe him a ton. I’ll try to pay it off the entire All-Star weekend. Marc Normandin at SB Nation has been instrumental in our move. He’s another guy who has done far too much in helping us advance our work. Geoff Young of the recently departed Ducksnorts has always been ready to help with advice and provided the motivation for the Royals Authority Annuals.

And the mainstream media in Kansas City has always been extremely welcoming to us. Joe Posnanski wrote the foreword to our first Annual. Sam Mellinger has been fantastic to exchange emails with from time to time. Bob Dutton is always available to answer a question… We probably don’t bother him enough. Kevin Kietzman at WHB has become a huge champion of this blog. So has Todd Leabo. It’s possible one of these guys directed you to our blog. They didn’t have to do that, but they did. And we appreciate it.

Thanks also have to go out to Rob Neyer, who was instrumental in bringing us on board at ESPN. As you probably know, he’s since moved to SB Nation as well. We’re stalking you, Rob. Also, thanks to David Schoenfeld, who took over the reins as ESPN’s lead SweetSpotter. Both guys have been instrumental in championing our work, linking to it with regularity and helping drive our audience.

And of course we have to thank you, the readers. Every day we get countless comments, emails and Tweets. It’s astounding to the three of us that we have created something that has become part of a daily ritual for so many. Too cool. There’s something about this Royal fanbase… We’ve been beaten down for so long, we need each other to survive. Yet we remain strangely hopeful that someday this team will turn it around and will get back to the summit. Personally, when that happens, I’m going to blow the internet up. I can’t wait.

What will happen to Royals Authority? We own the domain, and I suppose I’ll keep renewing it. The writers and commenters have wrung our hands and occasionally celebrated for the last couple years at this spot. It’s been our hangout. Our little corner of the Royals web. I have no clue how often our archives are visited, but I figure it’s worth it to keep those open. Plus, maybe I’ll get around to updating the Payroll tab at the top of this page and this site can continue to be a resource.

But we’re moving on… To a new look Royals Review

This isn’t the end. It’s a beginning. One that we’re excited about. We hope you are, too.

We are looking forward to working with Jeff Zimmerman, Old Man Duggan, Royals Retro and the entire community of Royal Review. And we wish Will the best of luck in his endeavors in the real world.

This new beginning is going to be great. I hope you’ll join us.

Reports are Sal Perez is on his way to Kansas City.

About time.

It’s strange to think this way, but it just feels like the Royals are already Sal’s team. He’s the guy. The one they can’t afford to have out of the lineup.

I mean, we’re talking about a guy with 158 career major league plate appearances. How the hell can he be the big kahuna on a major league team with so little experience?

All I know is what I’ve read and heard discussed from various players and team officials. The guy oozes professionalism and commands respect.

As a writer with a SABR bent, I’m supposed to mock the leadership angle. (Francoeur? Too easy.) But there is no denying that something really cool started last summer when the young guys were brought up to the majors. And it kind of feels like it’s been placed on hold while Perez has been rehabbing. It’s been interesting to me to see the amount of respect he holds within the realm of the clubhouse. Leadership won’t get you wins, but there’s something about it that makes it crazy fun to watch.

Is Sal the Savior? I don’t think so. Defensively, he’s going to be awesome. As long as his knee holds. And I seriously doubt the Royals would be putting him behind the plate if he wasn’t 100 percent ready.

I know many of you are excited by his offensive performance from last season, but there was nothing in his minor league history to indicate he was capable of that. He finished with a line of .331/.361/.473, which was just insane. Yes, he was hitting .340/.365/.380 in Omaha, but I really don’t think we can insert him into the lineup and expect those kind of numbers.

He will be a huge upgrade over the Pena/Quintero tandem, though. And that’s good enough for me.

If Sal is behind home plate tonight, it will feel like Opening Day, Part 2. Welcome home, Sal.

The Bases Are Drunk. A lot.

Jonathan Sanchez has faced 15 batters with the bases loaded – defined as “grand slam opportunities” by Baseball Reference. That’s the second most in the American League this year. The Rangers Yu Darvish has the most in the AL with 16. Interesting. Especially given the fact that Sanchez has thrown 36 innings. Darvish has twirled 89 innings.

Fortunately, in each grand slam opportunity, Sanchez has kept the ball in the yard. Still, 15 opportunities in 36 innings… And you thought Jonathan Broxton pitched on a tightrope.

Sanchez has contributed the lion’s share of the Royals league leading total of pitching with 74 grand slam opportunities. Fortunately, they’ve surrendered just a single slam.

The Twins – with the worst pitching in the league – have faced just 42 grand slam opportunities.

I have no idea what this means…

High Leverage Pen

Not only is the Royals bullpen really good, they’ve been doing it under tremendous pressure. According to Baseball Reference, the bullpen’s average Leverage Index (aLI) is 1.094, which is tops in the league. In fact, only three bullpens have an aLI greater than 1, which is “average” pressure.

Royals – 1.094
Tigers – 1.058
Orioles – 1.054

The Orioles have the best bullpen in the league, according to ERA at 2.38. I’m thinking the high leverage combined with the quality of performance is a huge reason the O’s are leading the uber competitive AL East. The Tigers bullpen ERA is 3.89, which is the second worst rate in the league, better than only the Indians. So I’m thinking the high leverage combined with the poor performance (relative to the league) is a reason the Tigers are scuffling.

The Royals may blow that hypothesis out of the water. Their bullpen ERA of 2.93 is seventh best in the AL, yet they’re nipping at the heels of the Tigers.

It boils down to the offense. The Royals are plating just 3.88 runs per game, while the tigers are scoring 4.4 per contest. That difference of 0.5 runs per game may be enough to offset the Royals bullpen advantage.

I still think the Tigers are the favorites in the Central. But they’ll need their pen to improve. Meanwhile, in a weak division, it’s the pen keeping the Royals in the hunt. If they can get their offense to pick up, they’ll be able to prevent the Tigers from gaining separation.

It’s a simplistic analysis, but sometimes the simple things help you gain the most clarity.

I may be coming around on this whole contention thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxx

Knowing that Luke Hochevar was on the mound for the Royals in their second game of the Astro series, I prepared two leads:

Luke Hochevar was awful on Tuesday.

Or…

Luke Hochevar was brilliant on Tuesday.

It just seems like there’s no middle ground with this guy.

And by now, you know he was brilliant. Brilliant, as in, best start of the season, brilliant.

His curve was just outstanding. While his fastball was averaging 92 mph his curve was the perfect compliment, coming in at 79 mph with a ferocious break. Hochevar weaved both pitches in and out, throwing 33 fastballs and 32 curves. He got 22 strikes with each pitch. Excellent. Just excellent.

Hochevar is featuring his curve more than ever. It’s accounted for 16 percent of his pitches this year, compared to around eight percent two seasons ago.

In his post game presser, Yosty said that Hochevar was “getting back to being the pitcher we know he can be.” Yosty stressed Hochevar has three “core” pitches: Fastball, change and curve. And with those three working, Hochevar can be nasty.

Then, Yosty dropped this nugget: “He was relying too much on his cutter which was burning him.”

Oh, really?

I know we want to believe and buy into the “New and Improved” Hochevar, but please… The Royals keep throwing crap against the wall and hoping it sticks.

From the “he’s tipping his pitches” claim to the issues with runners on base, the Royals have identified (or made up) myriad reasons for why Hochevar has been awful. Have they addressed how his eyelids get jammed? It’s hysterical how many different ways the Royals have approached the guy.

So about that new, over-reliance on the cutter…

In Hochevar’s start for the Royals in the home opener – you know, the one where he stunk up the joint in the first and exited after giving up seven runs in four innings – he threw 70 pitches. Seven cutters.

In his start on May 1 against the Tigers where he allowed nine runs in four innings – and finished with a Game Score of 1 – he threw 75 pitches. Four cutters.

And in his start in his next turn in the rotation where he was knocked around by the Yankees in 2.1 innings to the tune of nine runs, Hochevar threw 51 pitches. Five cutters.

Look, I was fooled too. I thought it was his slider and his arm slot when throwing said slider. He’s not doing that anymore and seems to have moved away from his slider in his recent starts. He’s done pretty well in a couple of those. Hell, Hochevar has frustrated me so much, I don’t know what to think anymore.

And neither do the Royals.

What just kills me about this organization is that they think they can throw some BS out there and just because Yosty or GMDM says it, it’s true. Cutters? My ass. That has as much to do with Hochevar’s struggles as the financial problems in Greece and Spain.

(Although I would love for Yost to say something like, “Hochevar’s really been troubled by his investments in the Euro zone, particularly the south. Hell yes, it’s affecting his performance.” Don’t think that can’t happen.)

Hochevar has been fixed more times than Joan Rivers’ face.

Yet the Hochevar fix is never permanent. Rivers is frozen in time. Both scare the hell out of me.

I’ve come to accept Hochevar for what he is: A maddening starting pitcher where he’s liable to be brilliant in one start and awful in the next. On Tuesday he was brilliant. His best start of the season. It saved the bullpen and got the Royals the win, pulling them closer to .500. Huge.

And he did it on the back of 17 cutters.

He gets the gold star, but don’t try to sell me that he can do this on a consistent basis. Because he can’t.

On contention

Shortly after the final out was recorded, my Twitter feed exploded with celebratory notes about being 4.5 games out of first.

Hold on…

I understand where we’ve come from with this team. All these years of losing baseball wears you down. When you’re within sniffing distance of first, you tend to get giddy.  Excited. However, there’s a couple of issues we have to deal with before we can discuss contention.

For starters, the Royals current .455 winning percentage is the third worst in the AL. Yes, the Central sucks, but there’s a certain crazy amount of parity going on in the league. That will happen with the unbalanced schedule and the three division setup.  They have to leapfrog three teams. Not an easy task. Besides, entering play on Tuesday, the Royals playoff odds stood at 0.8 percent. There’s still a ton of baseball to be played.

Also, the starting pitching still has a long, long way to go. If you are throwing Sanchez, Mazarro and Mendoza out there you’re fighting an uphill battle. We’ve beaten this dead horse until it became reincarnated and died again, but this is a huge issue. You can’t win without decent starting pitching.

And finally, the offense has been… Not good. They rank ninth with a .318 OBP and ninth with a .394 slugging percentage. They’ve brought home 13 percent of all baserunners, among the worst rates in the league. They’ve also run into 28 outs on the bases, the most in the league. The Royals are scoring 3.9 runs per game, second worst in the league. I know everyone thinks Sal Perez is going to be some sort of offensive savior, but that’s not likely. Nor is it likely Wil Myers can rake in Kansas City the way he’s doing in Omaha. At least initially.

There are some serious holes with this club. Yes, they are 4.5 games out despite these problems. But baseball has a way of leveling the field, so to speak. Teams can’t survive the full 162 games on smoke and mirrors.

So ask yourself… Is this team developing, or are they built for contention? Answer honestly.

The stakes are enormous. You can’t afford to be wrong in your assessment. Most of us should remember 2003 when the Royals effectively went all in. We convinced ourselves we were close. Allard Baird was convinced. David Glass was convinced. Turns out we weren’t so close. And it set us back in a bad way. We thought they were built for contention.

Myself, I think this team is still developing. They need to get Wil Myers up sometime in July and – this is tremendously important – they need to get some starting pitching. Internal, free agent, trade… Whatever. This has to happen. If Dayton Moore attacks the market this winter (a prospect that makes me tremendously nervous) the timetable could be bumped to 2013. If Moore chooses to wait on his internal options (which appear to be shrinking) the timeline moves to 2014.

I still have the Tigers as the prohibitive favorites in the division. They’ve won seven of their last 10 and are showing signs of life. Someone is going to go on a roll and move ahead of the rest of the teams in this division. That team will have to have power and starting pitching. I don’t think that team will be the Royals. My money is still on the Tigers.

I know my opinion won’t be popular with some of you. Don’t confuse my thoughts of contention with a dislike of this team. I love the way they’ve battled back recently. And I love the way they’ve seemingly erased the brutality of that 12 game losing streak. There’s plenty to like on this team. But there’s still some epic holes.

I’m still with my team. I just think they’re still a year or two away.

I didn’t watch much of the game last night. I briefly turned it on and saw a ball go past Billy Butler and the man on first score while Butler stopped and had some popcorn with fans and watched. My wife asked me if I’d prefer to watch a movie. It was then I realized that I hate National League ball, I hate Jonathan Sanchez and there was a 100% chance Ned Yost was going to make an asinine decision which would infuriate me.  I saved my anger and watched a pretty good movie. Nick 1 – Royals 0.

What I missed seemed to be a mildly boring game until a 10 run outburst in the last two half-innings. What is most amazing about this team is how coordinated the pitchers and hitters seem to be. I’m not sure who exactly to give the credit to. Does Seitzer tell the batters to try and hit weak grounders just until the pitchers begin to collapse?  And just at the moment where the pitchers have given up enough runs to lose the game, then storm back and score just enough to come up short. At least that’s the way it all plays out in my head.

The real reason I decided that watching this game wasn’t on my priority list was that Jonathan Sanchez was pitching. He just flat refuses to throw strikes. Walk after walk and hit after hit. A Royals game featuring Jonathan Sanchez seems to have them on defense 90% of the time and batting 10%. Now some of that credit goes to the amazing impatience of the Royals batters, but still. It’s an unbearable game.

Beyond Sanchez, there was another reason I didn’t feel last night’s game was a must-watch. I still don’t know what this team is. They’ve been muddling through for a couple months now and aren’t exactly in it and aren’t exactly out of it. It seems like one step forward and two steps back. Just when they are a nice little run away from getting involved, they lose in spectacular fashion.

In fact they remind me of Beau Hossler who just played a heck of a weekend at the U.S. Open. They’re young, awkward and nobody believes they have a shot. We’re all just waiting for the inevitable win so we can pat them on the back and get on with our lives. Last night’s game was a boring par 4 where you three put for bogey and everyone watches saying “I figured that would happen”.

 

- Nick Scott

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This game featured, among other things:

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

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

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

xxx

 

 

Mitch Maier leads off the inning against John Axford and makes like a cricket batsman.

Axford threw a wicked googly. A little too wicked.

Really, no clue what Maier was doing, but whatever… Down a run in the ninth you have to do whatever it takes to reach base. That qualifies.

Mike Moustakas follows with a rocket down the first base line that first baseman Cody Ransom kicks and his only play is at first. Not an error because he got an out, but it had the makings of a 3-6-3 double play. Moose hit it hard enough and Ransom could have stepped forward to make the throw – he’s left handed, so it would have been a quick transfer – and returned to the bag in time to get Moose. Maybe, maybe not.

So the tying run moves to scoring position. Wednesday’s hero, Alcides Escobar can’t do it two nights in a row and strikes out on a nice slider.

That brings up Jarrod Dyson. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Dyson is a nice player if he’s your 25th man on the bench. I can live with him as a pinch runner and a defensive replacement for a Melky-like outfielder. The dude is striking out looking in 54 percent of his strikeouts. Not good. Tells me the guy isn’t seeing the ball worth a damn. Or isn’t confident in his abilities to make contact.

Thankfully, the bat didn’t leave his shoulder. I mean, if I’m a Brewer fan, that would kill me. Axford has to throw strikes in that situation and the game is over. No way Dyson is making contact and the odds are strong he won’t even attempt to swing. And Axford wasn’t even close.

Which is key because the Royals speed merchant is the winning run.

Thankfully the Royals pinch hit Brayan Pena for Quintero. Pena swings at a high strike, then goes with a fastball and lines it into right left. Maier scores easily, but Pena is going to get hung up between first and second. That was going to be a base running blunder to send the game to extras. Except the Brewers second baseman can’t handle the throw… Dyson had stopped at third and breaks for home. Late throw…

Pandemonium.

Awesomeness.

(I had a moment of clarity this morning on my daily run… There were two outs in the inning and Pena’s run didn’t mean a thing. Maybe the correct play there is for the shortstop to put the ball in his back pocket. To not force the play. Sure, they could have gotten the out, and sure the top of the order was due up for the Royals, but the risk was going to be there that they couldn’t make the play. Which is exactly what happened… However, with first base open, the Brewers could have walked Gordon to pitch to Getz. Pena forced the issue… As I’ve always said, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. There wasn’t going to be any grey area on Pena’s going to second. Turned out aggressive worked… For once.)

It’s possible the end overshadowed a fine performance by Luke Hochevar. I’ve dissected and given up on Hochevar, but give credit where credit is due… His performance was outstanding.

And he did it without his slider. According to PITCH f/x, Hochevar threw a total of three sliders on Thursday. Three. It was his curveball that did the heavy lifting.

He threw 23 curves, 17 for strikes. Five of those were put in play and he recorded three ground outs (one was a double play), one fly out and one lonely single. Yes, he coughed up a couple of home runs, but I’m going to cut him some slack. He was pitching so well and keeping runners off the bases that those bombs were solo shots.

In innings one through six, the most pitches he threw in an inning was 13. The model of efficiency.

His final line:

7.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO

That 7.1 innings pitched represents the longest outing by a Royals starter this year. Five times had a starter thrown seven innings (Bruce Chen has done it three times. Felipe Paulino and Hochevar each have one outing.) That’s unreal. This rotation…

And now that the bats have gone back into hibernation, starts like Hochevar are necessary to keep this team in the game. Yeah, I’m Captain Obvious, but if Hochevar has one of his patented meltdown innings, this walkoff doesn’t happen.

But it did.

So there.

Sweep.

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

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

Back to Escobar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxx

 

The Prodigal Greinke returns and on paper it’s a mismatch. One Cy Young Award winner against one PCL pitcher of the year. One who was dealt in a blockbuster in exchange for four players against one who was acquired for cash considerations. One who is one of the best starters in the NL against one who is an emergency starter used only because everyone else is hurt.

Yet it was Luis Mendoza who was the starter of the game.

Baseball is funny sometimes.

Mendoza finished with a Game Score of 68. That’s tied with almost every Felipe Paulino start this season for sixth best this season. (Seriously, Paulino has made three starts with a Game Score of 68. He’s awesome. He’s also hurt.) Here’s the top starts by Game Score:

It was a great start from Mendoza. It’s one off his best Game Score ever. Set back in 2008 when he was pitching for the Rangers and struck out eight in six innings. You won’t be surprised to learn that those eight strikeouts are the most he’s ever had in a start.

What may be surprising to you is that Mendoza’s four strikeouts on Tuesday, was tied for second most in a start in his career. Hey, he’s made just 22 starts, but still… Wow.

(By the way, according to Game Score, Greinke had the better start. It was 69-68. Because Greinke strikes batters out.)

So we basically saw the best that Mendoza had to give. Not bad, really. His two seam fastball was really diving on both sides of the plate. He recorded six ground outs to go along with his four whiffs. Perhaps more key was the fact he got three pop-ups. Maybe the Brewers were thinking a dropping two-seamer was on the way and they got under a four-seamer. Whatever, Mendoza’s pitches were working. And working quite well.

These kind of starts are always welcome.

– Yes, you have to include the obligatory, “Greinke doesn’t get any run support at The K, no matter what uniform he’s wearing.”

– If you’re looking for an alternate player of the game, you’d have to give the nod to Alex Gordon.

I mean, how sweet was it for him to lead off the game for the Royals with a bomb? And then the throw to gun down Braun to keep the 1-0 lead? That’s the guy I remember from last year.

In our daily installment of “Fun With Arbitrary Endpoints,” I note that since Yosty stopped shuffling Gordon around and let him be in the leadoff spot, he’s hitting .306/.424/.429 with six doubles, three home runs and nine walks against nine strikeouts. Too damn bad Yosty freaked on Gordon after his slow start. His overall numbers would be a little better than where we are now. Just a suspicion I have.

– On BUNTS… Yosty attempted two sacrifices on Tuesday. The first one was in the fifth inning following a Moose leadoff double. With The Shortstop Jesus at the plate, he bunted foul. Now, long time readers know, this play drives me insane. You have a runner at second with no outs and you give up an out to get him to third. Moving that runner doesn’t appreciably add to your run expectancy enough to justify giving away the out.

Escobar lined out on the next pitch on a bullet up the middle that Greinke speared. Good work, good effort as they say in Miami.

Naturally, the next batter, Jarrod Dyson flies out to center. That would have scored Moustakas. Although I think there’s no way Greinke puts that pitch in a spot where Dyson can get it in the air. You may disagree, though.

Then in the eighth, Gordon doubles to leadoff and Getz moves him to third. That free out was rendered useless by the Billy Butler single up the middle that would have scored Gordon from second.

I hear all the damn time that Getz “plays the game right” and “does all the little things.” Fine. If he’s so hot, why can’t he take a full swing and put the ball on the right side? It could ultimately end with the same result – an out and an advanced runner – but at least in that case there’s the possibility that something like a base hit could happen. Again, moving the runner to third while surrendering one of your final six outs just isn’t a smart percentage play. And it didn’t work because Gordon would have scored anyway.

Oh, one last thing. From Fangraphs, the Royals Win Expectancy before the Getz bunt? 74 percent. The Royals Win Expectancy following the Getz bunt? 74 percent.

Exactly.

– The Jonathan Broxton Highwire Thrill Ride is kinda starting to piss me off. Single, strikeout, single, strikeout and a fielder’s choice. Never mind the cheap hits. Never mind the first pitch balls. It’s the pace that is just maddening. Pitch the ball, Jonathan.

According to the PITCH f/x data at Fangraphs, Broxton is the third slowest reliever in the game this year.

Must be something about having a first name that starts with a “J.”

Anyway, I’m with Denny Mathews when it comes to the pace of the game. I don’t mind the overall three hour contest. It’s the pitchers that just bring the game to an absolute halt that drive me nuts. Whatever. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I’ll live.

But it makes me dislike Broxton even more.

– Great win. Greinke got me nostalgic and A1 snapped me back to the present, while Broxton made me want to fire up my flux capacitor and look at the future where he’s closing games for another team.

From what I understand, there were some great Greinke quotes following the game. I’m sure we’ll have fun with those tomorrow.

Prior to the season, I wrote of the Super Bullpen. A group of awesome bullpen arms and some suggestions on how to utilize such a group to help a less than impressive starting rotation. So far, the Royals have deployed their Super Bullpen in an extremely effective way. The entire pitching staff sports a 4.15 ERA*, which includes a 5.12 starting rotation ERA.

*ERA is an imperfect stat, but for clarity and simplicity, we’re using it today.

It’s not exactly a dominant staff, but in the Royals division it’s certainly competitive. The following chart shows each team in the AL Central’s staff ERA (ERA), Starters ERA (sERA) and Relief ERA (rERA).

Team ERA sERA rERA
White Sox 4.04 4.18 3.73
Royals 4.15 5.12 2.88
Tigers 4.29 4.37 4.15
Indians 4.38 4.56 4.05
Twins 5.05 5.99 3.61

The Royals have the 2nd best ERA in the division. That’s the definition of competitive. Even though there was wailing and gnashing of teeth over the rotation and how it could never be good enough to win games, that has thus far been proven a fallacy. The problem, unfortunately has been with the other side of the equation: the offense.

For awhile, it seemed like the Royals could hit the ball but just failed to score runs due to idiocy on the base-paths and black holes in the lineup. However that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, but rather the fact that the Royals offense is woeful. The following chart shows each team in the AL Central in a couple of categories.

Team wOBA ISO OBP
White Sox .325 .161 .324
Tigers .324 .152 .326
Indians .314 .129 .329
Twins .312 .135 .324
Royals .309 .137 .314

 

Last. That’s where the Royals show up in offense within their own division. This, not pitching is the reason they are not competitive right now. Here is the list of Royals who have played in 20 or more games and have a wOBA lower than the team average of .309. These are the gigantic sucks on the offense.

Name G PA wOBA
Jeff Francoeur 56 233 .306
Eric Hosmer 56 236 .295
Mitch Maier 24 67 .290
Jarrod Dyson 37 153 .282
Brayan Pena 32 105 .273
Humberto Quintero 33 119 .262
Johnny Giavotella 21 73 .234

There are a smattering of young players on here who I’ll give a pass because they need to spend time developing. However Jeff Francoeur is the most significant issue. His job is to provide offense and he is at this point in the season completely inept at his job. On top of that his defense has been borderline atrocious other than having a solid arm. I don’t know if I can go so far as to say that it’s time for Wil Myers, but it’s certainly time to ditch Jeff Francoeur. He is hurting the team on a daily basis and yet continues to run out there nearly every day.

Until the Royals can come up with some runs, the At This Point Competitive Pitching Staff will continue to sit on the losing side of the ledger along with the rest of the team. The Royals have endured some bad injury luck which have forced Maier, Dyson, Pena, Quintero and Giavotella into more active roles, however it’s not the only reason.

If there is any hope in salvaging this season, it lies in the bats. Can they come to life as the weather heats up? Can the At This Point Competitive Pitching Staff continue to be so? Time will tell, tonight is the first game of the rest of our lives.

-Nick Scott