Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

As the heat begins to descend upon the Paris of the Plains, so does baseball begin to trickle from the lips. Conversations around grills and between sips of Boulevard beer drift towards the Boys in Blue.

“How about that Moustakas?”

“Hosmer will come around. I’m not worried”

“We really need some starting pitching”

“Luke Hochevar is just terrible”

Some variation of that last comment is typically thrown around while heads nod in agreement. Depending on my willingness to disagree with the person, which is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol imbibed, I’ll retort. Because while on occasion, Luke Hochevar has an epically disastrous outing, he is not in fact That Bad.

Just last week, I crowned Felipe Paulino the Ace of the staff. However, if you look at his numbers they aren’t a far cry from those of Luke Hochevar. Paulino strikes out 9.9 batters every 9 innings while Hochevar whiffs 7.4. Paulino clearly has his number here, but he also is superior to every other American League starter not named Max Scherzer.* Hochevar’s rate is just below Jared Weaver’s and just above Josh Beckett’s. It’s a very respectable strikeout rate.

* Former member of the recently crowned Big 12 baseball Champions, natch.

The yin to the strikeout’s yang is of course the dreaded base on balls. Paulino gives out 3.5 free bases every 9 innings compared to just 3.1 for Hochevar. These rates are not as highly ranked as their respective strikeout rates, but they aren’t completely dreadful. Hochevar this time nestles between Hiroki Kuroda and Max Scherzer. It seems walks are always an issue with the Royals, and while there is improvement needed, it’s not a huge issue with Luke Hochevar.

So he has pretty good numbers of two of the Three True Outcomes, and his runs given up are poor, so it must be what’s left: home runs. Once again, lets start with staff ace Paulino. He allows 0.9 home runs per 9 innings, while Hochevar surrenders 0.7. Once again he tops Paulino in an important statistical category. In fact Hochevar ranks 9th in the American League in home runs given up per 9 innings. The list of pitchers in the top 10 is like a who’s who of starting pitching: Lowe, Millwood, Sale, Verlander, Hammel, Wilson, Weaver, Price, Hochevar and Hernandez. I know, right?

In three important categories, Hochevar is very similar to Felipe Paulino and other quality starting pitchers. However, under his name on gigantic outdoor LCD screens everywhere, is plastered his ERA of 6.19 which is good for 2nd worst in the American League. It’s this number which gets people angry at Luke and suggest he be kicked out of the rotation in favor of…well I honestly don’t know who.

The thing about Luke Hochever, and this won’t be a surprise to anyone, is that he gives up a bunch of runs in a single inning. He has taken the disaster inning to a new artistic height. Everyone in the ballpark knows it’s going to happen, yet we’re glued to the game to find out how. I’ve been calling him “Big Inning Luke” for a couple of years now. It’s just his thing. Some people point to it being mental, whatever that means. But it doesn’t seem like it’s something that’s going to go away any time soon.

The question though, is how much does it really matter? If Hochevar goes out and implodes every few games and surrenders 9 runs, but then pitch as a well-above average starting pitcher the rest of the time, is that acceptable? It kind of seems like it is to me. Runs don’t carry over to the next game, so if Hochevar gives up 29 runs in the 4th inning of a game on Tuesday, it has no impact on the game that Sunday. It certainly mars his ERA and his adoration by fans, but so?

Anyone spending their Tuesday looking at this blog already knows that what Hochevar seems to have a very special knack for is surrendering lots of runs. Championships aren’t given out to the team with the most strikeouts or fewest walks. It’s the runs that matter. They can be deceiving however when used to rate a pitcher. Once the ball leaves his hand, the game is out of his control. Poor defense, bad luck, a small ballpark, these are situations the pitcher cannot control. What a pitcher can control are his strikeouts, walks and home runs. Those are called the Three True Outcomes. In those, Luke Hochevar is a good pitcher.

The question as to whether he can survive giving up as many runs as he does, well only time will tell. The bottom line is that he isn’t just another Kyle Davies. A pitcher who had stuff, but no results. Hochevar has some good results, but they’re disguised by some abhorrent results. He still unfairly carries the baggage as a Number One Overall Draft Pick, however he got paid a lot of money for the burden.

Each Hochevar start at the very least is going to provide entertainment and drama. Everytime a couple of batters get on base with soft singles, every one watching begins to think “Is this the Big Inning?” It’s like watching an episode of the Walking Dead, the scary moment is always just around the corner and even when it doesn’t come you get that thrill of expectation. So while Hochever might not be the best pitcher on the team, he’s surely the most entertaining.

 

- Nick Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moooooooose.

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

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

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

I have to admit, I was nervous the first time I went to New York.   All I had to do was get off a plane, get in a car driven by someone else and go to a meeting with four other people.  I imagine, Will Smith, whose first trip ever to New York included pitching to the Yankees might not have been on top of his game. 

Will Smith is not a prospect, that’s the primary reason he was on the mound instead of someone else last night, but he is also not the next Eduardo Villacis either: even if the results of their major league debuts in Yankee Stadium were freakishly similar.  The Royals will give Smith another shot next week and that may give us a better indication of what Will brings to the table.

Last night was simply not Kansas City’s night.   The Yankees batted around in one inning despite getting just one hit and that was a bunt single.   Think about that for a minute.   The Royals also failed to mount much offense despite being gifted, be it by lackadaisical Yankee defense or the kind heart of the baseball gods, at least five soft hits.   Eric Hosmer, whose three hits combined probably don’t reach the centerfield wall, rightly believes the baseball gods owed him, but in the end it all added up to just three runs.

The 2012 Kansas City Royals were not built to score three runs and win games.   Remember back in the spring?  This squad was going to score runs, a lot of runs, and stay in games despite poor starting pitching until their lockdown bullpen took over the game.  For the most part, the bullpen had done their job.   They may not be ‘lock down’, but they are pretty good most of the time.

The offense, however….

While sporting the fourth best batting average as a team in the American League, the Royals rank just 10th in runs scored per game at just 3.98 per contest.   Kansas City’s team on-base percentage of .315 is nothing to crow about, but it is 8th in the league (that’s despite being dead last by a lot in walks).   It’s not a case of the Royals not getting on base, it’s a matter of getting those baserunners around the diamond.

As a team, the Royals are slugging an even. 400, which is 7th best in the AL, but they rank next to last in home runs with just 33.   That hurts, even if Kansas City is second in doubles.  A home run is the quickest way to put up crooked numbers and the easiest way to avoid something bad happening.   You know, something like running into outs.

According to Fangraphs, Kansas City is the third worst baserunning team in the AL (Indians and Angels rank below them).  That stat does not factor in stolen bases, where the Royals are just 10th in the league in steals (24), but are second worst in being caught stealing (14 times).  The Rays lead the league in caught stealing with 16, bu have 39 successful steals.

The Royals are not running smartly or stealing effectively.    Their eight sacrifice bunts and seven sacrifice flies is middle of the pack stuff in the league, so little advantage is gained there as well.  Not that I’m advocating small ball, mind you.

Kansas City ranks fourth in percentage of balls outside of the strike zone that they swing at (31%), but I will point out that the Tigers and Rangers rank second and third in that category and those two teams score a run or two.   While you might be encouraged that the Royals are second in contact percentage, it is worth noting that the Twins, who can’t score at all, are first in that category.

No wonder Ned Yost changes the lineup every day. 

xxx

 

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

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

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

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

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

Except the Royals recalled Irving Falu.

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last night’s baseball contest was one of the more enjoyable I’ve watched this season. As I begrudgingly left my TV and couch for the more productive radio and riding lawn mower, I was enthralled and enthused by the rain-soaked game in New York. The victory brought the fellows in the Royal a half-game closer to first, but somehow a whole lot closer to respectability.

There was an element last night of being clubbed over the head by the Greatness Of The Yankees. Steve Physioc could barely contain himself and seemed as if he was just itching for someone to say something bad about Derek Jeter so he could rip their heart out of their chest and make the victim watch.

But however hard those paid to watch the game tried to tell me that I should bow down in the presence of what was clearly a superior grouping of men, it fell flat. It seemed as if the Royals got the same message. The Yankees aren’t a team to be feared, but rather a team that is over-paid and relying on their uniforms to do the work for them.

On the other side of the field, the less-storied and certainly less full of recent Greatness just did what they do. They played solid defense, they hit the ball and they had a lights out bullpen. The one unique item of note was a starting pitcher who pitched deep into the game and did so while dominating. Felipe Paulino was the star of the show last night.

Those same Yankee admiring announcers leveled what is clearly the faintest of praise upon Paulino when suggesting that he had earned the role as Bruce Chen’s subordinate. Which begs the question of which planet said announcers have been inhabiting the past two years. This Paulino character is unquestionably the best pitcher on this baseball club and as they say in the parlance of the game –The Ace.

In his four starts this season, Paulino has given up earned runs in only one. Had he not started the season with an injury and continued on his current pace, he would be a top 5 pitcher in nearly every major statistical category. His name would be nestled in with the Verlanders and Greinkes of the world. But alas he resides within the large likeable shadow of Bruce Chen.

I’m sure there are some of you out there defending the surprisingly tall PanamAsian who is quick with the joke. It’s quite natural, and in fact he has been a great pitcher. However he has not been the equal of the more mysterious and not surprisingly tall Dominicano. While Paulino has no tag-line created by a generation dominating comedian, he does have the ability to strike out a batsman. Which in the game of baseball pulls a bit more weight.

Combining the past two seasons, Paulino leads his Royal brethren in fWAR, ERA, FIP,xFIP and K/9. These acronyms are the mark of an ace, certainly one on his own team and nearing one for the entire league. Yet alas, he is still a second class citizen to many. It was mere weeks ago that one paid blowhard suggested that Paulino would bring nothing to this team and that he was not even an average pitcher. It’s sadly an opinion shared by many.

It’s time to give Paulino what he has earned and crown him Ace. It’s time that we stopped taking our cues from the Jeter worshipers and the paid blowhards. Take a look at the results, they’re undeniable. Felepe. Paulino. Royal. Ace.

-Nick Scott

Ned Yost trotted out three radically different lineups this past weekend against Arizona and managed to get one win.  Hey, for this particular Royals team, any win at home is an accomplishment.  After a 4-1 road trip, we all expected a better result than a 1-4 homestand.   That result was made all the more bitter by the fact that the Royals seemed in control of the first three games, only to lose all of them.

What this team does or, more precisely, does not do at home is a topic for another column.  Let’s get back to the lineups.   They were basically just all over the place – kind of like that softball team you were on that was not very serious and the batting order was simply the order in which you showed up for the game.   Frankly, I don’t blame Yost for trying some things and, for right now, I like Escobar at or near the top of the order, but it is probably worth noting that the most traditional of the three lineups this weekend did happen to score the most runs.

Truth is, though, you can design just about any lineup you want and as long as Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are not hitting, it is likely to have production problems.   Just as the ball seems to find the weak defender, the circumstances of the game seem to put the slumping hitter in the eye of the storm at critical times.    Gordon, who is 1 for 25 in what Fangraphs describes as high leverage situations, seems to come up with two outs in the ninth every freaking night.    By contrast, Billy Butler has only 15 high leverage plate appearances thus far in 2012.

What’s going on with these two guys?

If you have been following the Royals at all this year, you have heard more than one reference to Eric Hosmer hitting in bad, make that horrible, luck.  That may sound like a copout, but the numbers back that up.

In 2011, Hosmer had a BABIP of .314 and a line drive percentage of 18.7%.   His 2012 line drive percentage is 17.6% (pretty much league average), but his BABIP is an almost bizarre .165.   You can’t make a living with a .165 BABIP, but you also should not have to endure a long stretch at that level if your line drive percentage is around league average. 

Those numbers are but one component of a player’s performance at the plate, but for a struggling hitter, Eric Hosmer does not exhibit any of the statistical evidence that would indicate that he is struggling.  His strikeout rate is down (14.6% in 2011, 11.6% in 2012)  and his walk rate is up (6.0% in 2011, 7.9% in 2012).     Hosmer is swining at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (almost 7% less than in 2011) and his overall contact rate is virtually identical to 2011.   Overall, after swinging at 48% of the pitches he saw as a rookie, Eric is swinging at 46% this year.  What the above shows is a player who is not hacking at everything, failing to make contact and losing his plate discipline.   

I don’t know what Eric Hosmer did, but he really pissed off the baseball gods.

Are pitchers approaching him differently this year?  A little is the answer.  Less fastballs, more changeups with everything else being thrown to him in roughly the same percentages as last year.   In 2011, Hosmer put 26.5% of changeups thrown to him into play, but in 2012 that percentage is just 15.4%.   More changeups, less balls in play, hmmm.

In 2011, Hosmer swung at over half the changes thrown to him, whiffing just 11.3% of the time.  While Eric is not swinging at the change as much in 2012 (41%), he’s missing it almost 17% of the time.   I am not going to tell you that the changeup is the reason for all of Hosmer’s struggles, we are talking about just 15% of the pitches he has seen and, as the numbers above show, Eric’s overall plate performance has not really taken a hit.  The changeup is an issue, but it is hardly the only reason Hosmer is buried beneath the Mendoza line.

Here is what I will tell you:  I don’t believe you learn to hit major league changeups in AAA and I don’t think you really consider sending Hosmer down until his strikeout rate jumps and his percentage of swings at balls outside of the strike zone increased dramatically.

If the solution for Hosmer is to keep sending him out there and bank on the odds turning in his favor (it works in Vegas, right?), then what about Alex Gordon?

After a sensational 2011 campaign, we wake up this morning to find Alex Gordon hitting .231/.320/.363.   Triple slash lines are hardly detailed analysis, but that ain’t what the doctor ordered.  Is Gordon striking out a lot?  He is, 21% of the time, but Gordon always has struck out a lot.   In 2011, when he was one of the better players in the American League, Alex struck out 20% of the time.   Plus, if you are about plate discipline, Alex’s walk rate is up from 2011.

Going down the same path as we did with Hosmer, we find that Gordon’s line drive percentage thus far in 2012 is 23.8% (it was 22% in 2011), but his BABIP is just .280 compared to a robust .358 in 2011.   Gordon had some good fortune last year, but he is having some misfortune so far this season.

Now, if you are like me, the thought on Gordon might be that he back to trying to pull everything.   Much as it seems like Gordon is always up with two outs in the ninth, it also seems like he grounds out to second base pretty much every at bat.   Truth is, Gordon is pulling the ball less than he did last year.

Here is how the balls in play breakdown for Alex in 2012:

  • Pull – 38%
  • Center – 41%
  • Opposite – 21%

And how it broke down in 2011:

  • Pull 44%
  • Center  – 31%
  • Opposite – 25%   

Basically, Alex is pulling less, going to the opposite field less and hitting up the middle more.  Using the middle of the field is generally considered to be a good thing, but in Gordon’s case it does not seem to be helping.

How about Hosmer?   Here is the breakdown for 2012:

  • Pull – 32%
  • Center – 38%
  • Opposite – 30%

And 2011:

  • Pull – 39%
  • Center – 34%
  • Opposite – 27%

Hosmer was pulling the ball considerably more in 2011 with considerably more success.   Maybe it is not such a good thing when we see Eric take a ball to the opposite field? That’s an oversimplification to be sure, but pulling the ball and being aggressive worked in 2011.   Would you tolerate a few more strikeouts for some more pop (or any pop for that matter) out of Hosmer? 

What’s the bottom line of all of this?  Pick a spot in the order for both of them, leave them there and wait it out.

xxx

 

Eight different pitchers have started a game for the Kansas City Royals thus far in 2012.  That’s eight different starters in just 37 games…..in a schedule that has included five off-days (that includes rainouts).   Along the way, the Royals have employed thirteen different relievers:  fourteen if you want to include Mitch Maier.

While those numbers are really quite shocking given we are not quite a quarter of the way through the season, they are not unexpected to most Royals’ fans.   Going in, we knew the starting pitching was problematical and the bullpen would be relied upon heavily.   We also knew that there was considerable bullpen depth, even after Joakim Soria went down and Blake Wood and Greg Holland.

Of the many criticisms that can be leveled at Ned Yost and Dayton Moore, one has to compliment them on the ability to manage the merry-go-round between Kansas City and Omaha.  They have maneuvered the roster admirably.  We may have laughed at the idea of two, sometimes three, long men in the pen, but damn if they weren’t needed…often less than 24 hours after being called up.

The problem, and Ned Yost has already said as much, is that the bullpen simply cannot keep up this pace.  Even as the Royals, with the recall of Everett Teaford and Louis Coleman, cycle through the second time around the bullpen ride they still have Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Jose Mijares all on a pace to pitch almost 80 innings.  The return of a hopefully healthy and effective Greg Holland will ease that burden some, but it is still going to be a grind for the relief corp.

The problem, obviously, is the rotation.   The Royals can pretty much count on Bruce Chen to get them innings (that’s right, I believe in Chen) and it looks highly likely that Felipe Paulino is going to be a guy that gets the Royals six innings, maybe into the seventh, on a regular basis.  After that…

Well, are you going to buy back in on Luke Hochevar after one excellent start and one good start?  I’m not.  I’m done, remember?  Hochevar’s problem, as we are all keenly aware, is that when he is bad, he is a bullpen destructor.   You get a start, and believe me there’s one coming, where Luke gets blown up in the third inning, followed by a short start by Luis Mendoza or Jonathan Sanchez (when he comes back..and he will, like it or not) and the bullpen merry-go-round has to shift gears into a higher range.

What’s the solution?   Well, better planning by Dayton Moore leading up to this point is a warranted criticism.   Still, two years ago you just know the organization was certain that the group of  Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and even Chris Dwyer  would have produced at least two quality big league starters for the 2012 rotation.   Well, now Duffy and Lamb have both had or about to have Tommy John surgery.   The club has turned Aaron Crow into a reliever:  a very good reliever, but a reliever nonetheless and Mike Montgomery has spent his AAA career struggling.

Out of that entire group, the guy who might well emerge as a solution to one spot is Jake Odorizzi, who was not even in the organization back then.  In Odorizzi, Royals’ fans have to hope that this, finally, at long last is a rookie pitcher who is going to come up and be very good right away.  It happens sometimes…to other organizations, but maybe the Royals are due for some good luck.

I have pondered what the Royals should do in the short-term.   They are not playing particulary well, especially at home, but yet they are not buried in the standings and not resigned to going 70-92.   This team is not a contender in the truest definition of the word, but they are good enough to not be blown up.

The rotation was not good before the season started and now it is a mess.  Quick, can you even name the rotation right now?   Can you tell me what it will be past Sunday afternoon?

So, what do the Royals do right now?   

Nothing.

That may well make you right some bad things to me in response.   Go ahead, you might be right, but doing nothing is my response. 

First off, are  you really willing to trade Wil Myers or Mike Moustakas or, quite frankly, one of those two and a couple of other guys not named Clint Robinson or Johnny Giavotella (or Irving Falu) to get a starting pitcher that another team is willing to part with? 

Secondly, while the merry-go-round is starting to spin pretty fast, the bullpen actually can survive at this pace for at least another month.  Maybe with a little luck and a hot streak by Teaford or Mendoza or Adcock or Mazzaro (okay, I threw that last one in for comedy relief), the pen might make it intact and effective to the All-Star Break.

By then, you hope Salvador Perez is back (sounds doable according the latest), Eric Hosmer is hitting, Lorenzo Cain is back (my sanity craves a centerfielder who can, you know, field the position), Eric Hosmer is hitting, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar continue to perform as they have, Eric Hosmer is hitting and, oh yeah, Eric Hosmer is hitting.

One good way to milk an extra inning out of a borderline starter is to score six runs instead of four.  The above will certainly, hopefully, go a long ways towards accomplishing that.

In the interim, you can hope that either Odorizzi or Montgomery begins to blow AAA hitters away with consistency.  Heck, you want to dream, go ahead and hope BOTH of them do.   The baseball world does not have to be all sunshine and roses for the Royals to have a dramatically better roster by mid-July than they do right now.  It will not be a roster that will truly contend, but it should be better. 

Doing nothing, other than spinning the roulette wheel of relievers every other day, is the kind of thing that rankles the fans of a 15-22 team.  I get that and, listen, I am right there with all of you on the frustration train, but I do not see the ‘big move’ to be made right now.  Roy Oswalt is not coming to Kansas City and may not be a big help even if he did.  The Phillies are not trading Cole Hamels (not right now anyway) and the Royals sure as heck don’t need to trade for Josh Beckett and his contract.

Doing nothing sucks for a fanbase that has sniffed contention once since the 1994 strike.  Doing nothing for the next six weeks or so, is exactly what the Royals should do.

xxx

 

Nate Adcock had a hell of a start last night, making just one mistake in five innings of work.   Unfortunately, Adcock’s ‘start’ began in the 11th inning and his one mistake, a rotund slider to Adam Jones, ended up costing the Royals the game.   While Adcock gets the loss, it is hard to put much blame on him.   The Royals had this game thanks to seven shutout innings from Felipe Paulino (18.2 innings over 3 starts now, with just 5 runs allowed) and two timely hits only to see Jonathan Broxton blow the save by giving up two runs in the ninth.

Having entered the game with a 14-0 record when leading after 8 innings, so the odds were that something bad was due to happen.    What the team does in the aftermath will determine if Wednesday night’s loss was ‘just baseball’ or a punch in the gut that sends this team into a funk.

Back to Adcock, however.   Despite or actually, because of his excellent five innings of work last night, Nate may well find himself heading back up I-29 to Omaha this afternoon.   A roster move is likely and Adcock’s the guy that is out of commission for at least the next three days.  He can wave at Everett Teaford as they pass…probably not the last time that is going to happen this year.

When it comes to roster moves, however, that one is not the eye catcher.   Before yesterday’s game, the Royals announced that Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi had both been promoted from Northwest Arkansas to Omaha.   Those moves, very simply, mean that both could make their major league debuts by the All-Star Break and almost certainly puts them in position (with good performances, of course) to break camp with the big club for Opening Day 2013.

Myers was hitting .343/.414/.731 in 152 plate appearances this year in AA, after struggling through a .254/.353/.393 2011 campaign at the same level (416 plate appearances).     By comparison, Eric Hosmer had a career total of just 211 AA plate appearances, where he hit .313/.365/.615.  The other big bat in the organization, Mike Moustakas, spent 259 plate appearances in AA (absolutely destroying that league).   If you want to erase the better part of Myers’ 2011 season, writing most of  it off to nagging injuries, you could make the leap that Wil has spent about as much healthy time in AA as both Hosmer and Moustakas did.

Hosmer was promoted to Omaha over the off-season and enjoyed just 118 plate appearances there at the beginning of last season (.439/.525/.582) before heading to Kansas City.   Moustakas, on the other hand, was promoted in the middle of 2010 and hit .293/.315/.564 over 236 plate appearances to finish out that year.  He returned to the Storm Chasers to start 2011, hit .287/.347/.498 and was promoted to KC after another 250 plate appearances.

Now, both Hosmer and Moustakas played positions for which the Royals had openings at the big league level.  Wilson Betemit was playing third in Kansas City and Kila Ka’aihue was playing first.  Neither was hitting very well and neither was one of the organization’s darlings.   Both were easy moves to make.

Myers, on the other hand, would be pushing out an outfielder.   They just signed Alex Gordon to a long term deal, Jeff Francoeur has a two year deal that makes him hard to trade (and he’s FRENCHY for gods-sake!) and the team has Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain in center.   Not to mention, that I don’t know that Myers could really handle center on an everyday basis in the majors.

Bottom line, I don’t know where Myers fits in this lineup without a drastic move or a big leap of faith (i.e. playing him in center).  Despite that, the Royals did not promote him just for fun.  Myers will likely amass 250 AAA plate appearances by the end of July, twice as many as Hosmer had and as many as Moose had in 2011.   If he stays in Omaha all year, he will come pretty close to getting as many PA’s as Moustakas did in total.

Where he fits, I don’t know, but if Myers hits AAA pitching, we may well find out before the kids head back to school.

The obvious comp for Odorizzi is Danny Duffy.    Danny threw 40 innings at AA in 2010, 42 in Omaha to start 2011 and was in Kansas City.  By contrast Odorizzi threw 69 uneven innings in AA last year and then fired out 38 more this year at the same level.  Jake struck out 47 batters in those 38 innings, walked just 10 and allowed only 27 hits.   He was certainly ready to move up.

The Royals, of course, were more than ready for him to move up as well.   With Danny Duffy down with Tommy John surgery and Mike Montgomery still struggling to find consistency, finding room for Odorizzi is not the problem.   You can certainly make the case that Duffy might have been rushed, but Odorizzi (assuming he is effective) will have as many AAA innings as Duffy had by early July and should have 10 or 11 AAA starts under his belt by the end of that month.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jake Odorizzi, if effective in Omaha (and that is not an ‘if’ to be ignored), will be in Kansas City no later than August.   There is no reason for him not to be.

From a service time perspective, when either Myers or Odorizzi comes up this year will have no effect on when they become eligible for arbitration or free agency.  The only gaming of service time that the Royals would consider would be to keep them both in the minors until late May of next year.   That is not something to be discounted, but also something that does not need to be decided right now, either.

If the team is hanging around in July, both of these guys might be the added boost to make the second half of 2012 really exciting.  If the Royals have sunk into the ‘we might NOT lose 90 this year’ range, then maybe you keep them down and not start their clock until sometime in early 2013.   Certainly, Jeff Francoeur will be more tradable in 2013 than he is right now due to his contract.

Those are all considerations, but Dayton Moore really did not move prospects last year with those sorts of timing issues in mind (rightly or wrongly).  When the big names were ready, no matter how little time they had at AAA, Moore brought them up.  I think the odds are very good that both Myers and Odorizzi are in Kansas City before September of this year.

xxx

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Royals running into outs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, let’s get the bad news out of the way first.  Danny Duffy has a tear in his UCL, is out for the season and will need Tommy John surgery. Someday, I swear the Royals will have a string of extraordinary luck. It just has to even out.  The weirdest comment about the whole thing comes from an article by Dick Kaegel:

“[Royals Trainer Nick] Kenney said that Duffy has had a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament since 2010, but, like many pitchers, was able to adapt and continue pitching until Sunday.”

Should this be concerning? Is it common for pitchers to have some sort of tear in their UCL? Is it common to have them skip just one start after having a twinge in the elbow? It’s impossible to know but the important discussion should be around whether this could have been prevented or at least mitigated.

On the bright side, the Royals have and will be able to play good baseball and win games without Danny Duffy. He was one of the bright spots and he was clearly the most entertaining pitcher to watch. However, he only plays in less than a fifth of the games and in those he was pitching about half the innings. A single player can only have so much impact on the game, but he was a pretty significant player. On top of all that he was one of my favorite players on the team. I hope we see him compete on the highest level again.

Enough with the negative. There is a lot going on to be happy about right now. I present you with the following list of teams further out from first place than the Kansas City Royals:

Boston Red Sox

Minnesota Twins

Seattle Seahawks  Mariners

Los Angeles Angels

Philadelphia Phillies

Chicago Cubs

Houston Astros

Milwaukee Brewers

San Francisco Giants

Arizona Diamondbacks

Colorado Rockies

San Diego Padres

That’s 12 teams if you’re counting. Sure the Royals have one of the worst records in baseball but that is irrelevant. The only teams the Royals are competing against are the teams in their own division. The goal is to get to the playoffs and right now they are closer to that goal than a whole host of other teams.

The team is finally settling in on what we predicted them to be prior to the season. A decent offensive team with a solid bullpen, defense and a sub par starting rotation. Here are the A.L. ranks for a few categories:

Offense wOBA: 7th

Starter ERA: 12th

Relief ERA: 5th

Oh and just for fun, the Royals have a -2.8 UBR which is a base running stat. The only team worse are the Angels, which are another “aggressive” base running team. Again last night the Royals showed how inept they can be on the bases. It’s costing them runs regularly.

So the Royals have settled into where they should be. They’ve won or tied 7 straight series and are providing entertaining baseball on a regular basis. The 12 game losing streak is well behind them and it’s time to hop back on the bandwagon. They’re starting to show that they just might be able to get themselves into contention and stay there for the better part of the summer.

I’ve been kind of a Ned Yost apologist around here. I don’t think he’s the best manager or the manager I’d hire, but his moves are pretty typical of MLB managers. I’ve also long held that his in-game decision are about 20% or less of his actual job so it’s nearly impossible for me to actually judge his performance. I did however really like his move last night of putting Eric Hosmer in the 2 hole.

In an ideal world, players will take their optimum approach at every plate appearance regardless of where they are placed in the lineup. However in reality the perceptions of what a player needs to do changes based on where he is in the lineup. Ned Yost knows that and tried to take advantage to help Hosmer. The typical thoughts of a player in the 2 hole is that he needs to make contact and move runners. In other words, don’t try to hard. Make contact, get a single and let the 3,4,5 guys do the work. That is essentially just the advice that Eric Hosmer needs to bust out of his slump and putting him second can subtly suggest that.

The summation of all this rambling is that things finally seem to be going right (even when something really bad happens, natch) and last night was a gigantic win. If you’ve stepped away because of The Streak, well come on back. Things just might be getting good again.

- Nick Scott