Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Two in a row! Winning streak!

In Thursday’s game, one of the crazier things that happened was Jeff Francoeur drove a runner home with a single. Because as poorly as this team has played in the last two weeks, Frenchy has stood out as perhaps the worst offensive performer on this struggling club. Seriously… Gordon hasn’t been good, but he’s still picked up some quality plate appearances every now and again. Hosmer has a dismal BABIP, but leads the team with five home runs. No, the worst hitter in this lineup has been Francoeur and it isn’t even close.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

Let’s dive a little deeper into The Francoeur Abyss…

Francoeur has always had a strike zone that was more about zip codes than focusing on anything crossing over the 18 inch wide slab he’s standing over. Except this season he’s descended into a special kind of free swinging hell. According to Fangraphs, here is the percentage of pitches that would be called balls by a “perfect” umpire that Francoeur is swinging at over the last five seasons:

2008 – 36.3%
2009 – 36.0%
2010 – 43.4%
2011 – 41.2%
2012 – 44.3%

He’s really upped the ante the last three seasons, hasn’t he? And it’s not surprising that in the small sample that is the 2012 season, he’s at his highest rate of his career. Because when a free swinger like Frenchy starts struggling, what usually happens? Right… He expands the zone. When he should be selective – because it’s the only way he can escape – he’s taking a rip at virtually any pitch in any situation.

The average major league hitter is swinging at 45 percent of all pitches he sees this season. Francoeur is swinging at 55 percent. He’s not doing himself – or the Royals – any favors.

The complete lack of discipline is illustrated from the graph of pitches he’s offered at. He is literally swinging at everything. Most major leaguers have a weak spot. Think Eric Hosmer last summer not being able to lay off the high fastball. Francoeur’s weak spot is whatever state he’s playing in that night. Yes, the entire state.

Behold…

Just for fun, here’s the swing chart from another Royal hitter. Notice the tidy cluster of swings on fastballs inside the strike zone. I thought about having a little contest… Name that swing chart or something. But then I thought, it’s too damn obvious. The only guy on this team with that kind of discipline and strike zone management is Billy Butler. Professional Hitter. Destroyer of Country Breakfasts.

Beautiful…

It’s not a fair comparison. One is a really good hitter, the other isn’t. I present them both merely to illustrate the extremes.

So not only is Francoeur swinging at more pitches outside the zone, his contact has been dreadful. I know the Royals broadcasters have been talking about how he’s “due” to hit a home run. Right. The only problem is, in order to hit a home run, you have to get the ball in the air. Currently, Francoeur has a 1.94 GB/FB ratio. Over half the balls he’s put into play have been on the ground. (52.3% of all balls in play have been grounders.) It might actually be preferable that he miss a pitch. Amazingly, that’s not a problem. The problem is the miserable contact that comes with taking miserable swings at miserable pitches.

The results have been incredibly maddening. He’s hit into four double plays in 20 opportunities (as defined by having a runner on first and less than two outs.) He has a grand total of four walks and four extra base hits. And he’s come to the plate with 44 runners on base and has brought home three. Three. That’s an RBI rate of 7 percent. That’s not good.

The Royals have won two games in a row where they have scored a total of 12 runs. Which is fantastic. But the allegiance to Francoeur and his place in the lineup needs to stop. Yosty won’t send him to the bench, but he needs to drop him to eighth or ninth in the order until he modifies his ridiculous approach and begins driving the ball in the air a little more. But asking Francoeur to be more selective at the plate is like asking a Kardashian to shun attention. Probably not going to happen. So at the very least, he needs to drop until he stops hitting so many damn ground balls.

Right now, this season feels like a replay of Francoeur’s 2010, when he hit .237/.293/.369 for the Mets before they had seen enough and shipped him to Texas for Joaquin Arias. If Francoeur is still performing at his current level when Lorenzo Cain comes back, (which is entirely possible, no matter how long Cain is out) the Royals shouldn’t hesitate… They should play Cain in center, Mitch Maier in right and sit Frenchy’s butt on the bench.

Last year’s free agent success turns into this year’s extension nightmare. Well played, Dayton. Well played.

Eight runs last night for the Kansas City Royals on four home runs.  That’s pretty much what one might have expected before the season started, right?  Billy Butler with two blasts, Eric Hosmer with his fifth of the year and Alex Gordon with the bomb to put the game away while the bullpen polished off the last two plus innings:  pretty much the pre-season gameplan.

While the offense stole the show in the streak stopper last night, Luke Hochevar had a fine outing.  The home opener disaster that Luke provide Royals’ fans on April 13th has tainted the view of him thus far in 2012.   Last night was his second very good start and third decent start out of four this season.  He’s no Bruce Chen, mind you, but Hochevar has actually been alright.

Luke opened the season throwing 6.1 innings against the Angels, allowing five hits and two runs.   After being knocked out, in more ways than one, in the home opener, Hochevar game back the following Friday to allow just two hits and a run in five innings of work.   Then last night, Luke tossed another 6.1 innings, allowing just four hits and two runs.  We may all want Hochevar to live up to that first overall draft pick status, but truth is that three out of four ain’t bad.

Let’s go back to last night. 

Pitch F/X via Brook’s Baseball classified Luke as throwing five different pitches last night (six in his first three starts):  four seam fastball, sinker, changeup, slider and curve.   The sixth pitch not used last night but used quite a bit by Hochevar in his first three starts was the cutter.   Now, you can call the sinker whatever you want (two seamer maybe?), but it is as fast or faster than Hochevar’s four seam fastball, and for the purposes of this column they are all fastballs.

Last night, Hochevar threw 47 fastballs, 29 sliders, 13 curves and 8 changeups.    Off his fastball offerings, 28 were strikes, and 22 of his 29 sliders were strikes with six of those being whiffs.   Luke only found the strike zone once with his change and half the time with his curveball.  

This season, the changeup has mostly been a ‘here’s something to think about pitch’ for Hochevar.   In his four starts, Luke has thrown it 4, 9, 9 and 8 times and hence it is not a huge part of his game.    So, let’s take that out of the equation for now as well.

The cutter, not used at all according to the data last night, was a good pitch for Hochevar earlier.  He threw it 14 times for 8 strikes (2 whiffs) on April 7th and threw it for virtually identical numbers in his third start.   In the debacle that was Friday April 13th, Hochevar offered it up seven times for five strikes.  An effective cutter helped Hochevar in his good start on the 7th an decent start on the 20th, but was not a part of his good outing last night.    Now, it is also possible that the cutter gets classified as a slider or vice-versa, but we could add them all together and only add more to the point that I am about to make below.

So, now we’re down to fastballs, curveballs and sliders. 

Compare the pitch counts of these pitches from Hochevar’s starts on April 7th (shown first) and last night:  two very good and very similar nights.

  • Fastballs – 43/47
  • Sliders – 21/29
  • Curves – 13/13

Okay, now look at the pitch usage from the awful start on the 13th:

  • Fastballs – 41
  • Sliders – 6
  • Curves – 7

Here is the interesting thing about the dramatic disparity in pitch selection:  the strike percentage of those three pitches is actually almost the same between the starts on the 7th, 13th and last night.   While Luke was getting lit up in Kaufmann Stadium, he three five of six sliders for strikes, 29 of 41 fastballs for strikes and three of seven curves.   Of course, ‘hits’ are considered strikes, so it is possible that Luke threw some pretty crappy sliders and fastballs (well, it’s not possible, he DID) on the 13th.

What should not be lost in this equation is when Hochevar offers up sliders somewhere at or above 20% of the time, he has been very effective this season.   Looking back at 2011, Hochevar barely threw the slider at all in April, May and June of that season (less than 5%), but gradually started using it more and more after that and was throwing it 18% of the time in September.

If want to lump the slider and cutter together as one ‘genre of a pitch’, Hochevar threw 35 on the 7th, 33 on the 20th and 29 last night, but only 13 on April 13th.  Call it what you want, but Hochevar need to command it and throw it often to be successful.

You can go back into 2011 and note that in the first three months and find that twenty percent of Hochevar’s pitches were being classified as cutters.   If you add that to the sliders, the percentages really don’t change that much over 2011, but something did change.   Starting in July of 2011, Hochevar either threw the slider more or changed his cutter enough to make the data reflect a change in pitch.  Hey, if the computers see it different, so do the hitters.

The change worked last season and, through four starts this year, when Hochevar uses that pitch often he is effective.   It was not used often or effectively on April 13th and we all saw the results.   Throw the slider, Luke, throw it often.

xxx

 

 

 

I figured that Jonathan Sanchez would have outings where he bordered on horrible. His lack of command combined with his electric pitches, mean he can strikeout a ton of hitters while giving away free bases. It’s like he’s a member of the Flying Wallendas.

Sanchez entered the game averaging 89.6 mph on his fastball this year. On Tuesday in Cleveland, 89 mph was his maximum velocity as he averaged just 87.2 mph. To go along with the drop in speed, Sanchez is moving away from that pitch. Of the 115 magnificent pitches he threw, only 30 of them were classified as fastballs. That’s just 26 percent. Unreal. He’s going away from the fastball in favor of his change-up. As Hudler pointed out in the key at bat against Jack Hannahan, when Sanchez is throwing almost exclusively off speed stuff, they just wait… And wait… And wait.

Sigh. More on that plate appearance in a moment.

Not that Sanchez is any kind of great pitcher. He’s not… Because he can’t locate consistently. However, it’s baffling as to why he would move away from the fastball. Is this a coaching call? Or is this something he’s doing on his own? In the postgame, he simply said he “didn’t have his fastball.” Velocity, location… All of the above. I suppose in the grand scheme it’s accurate that he didn’t have his fastball. He didn’t generate a single swing and miss of the 30 he threw and only 12 of them were strikes. That’s just a brutal pitch. Here’s his velocity chart from Tuesday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

That’s the profile of a starter who didn’t leave the bullpen with a full tank of gas.

So the game on Tuesday can be boiled down to two key moments. The first, I already alluded to – the Sanchez matchup against Hannahan with runners at the corners with two down and the Royals trailing by a run.

At that moment Sanchez had surrendered three walks in the inning. It was the second time in the game he had walked three batters to load the bases. Read that previous sentence again… It was the second time in the game Sanchez walked the bases loaded.

OK… So the guy can’t locate. He’s in trouble. And at this point, he’d thrown around 109 pitches and he had practically stopped throwing his fastball entirely. Aside from an Asdrubal Cabrera double in the first inning, he had scattered a few hits… but that’s largely because he wasn’t around the strike zone. Sanchez was fortunate the Indians hadn’t broken the game open by this point.

So in a nutshell, your starter isn’t throwing in a manner he which he normally pitches. He’s deep into a pitch count and losing what little steam he brought with him to the mound. He’s somehow kept the Royals in the game, with a deficit of just a single run. Do you…

A) Stick with him. It’s his jam, let him get out of it.
B) Thank your lucky stars you’re still in the game and pull him for another lefty that’s warm in the bullpen – Tim Collins.

Everyone probably chooses “B.” Except Yosty. He’s such a contrarian.

And as previously noted, a steady diet of change-ups and Hannahan hits a bases-clearing double.

Later in the game you have this situation… Royals are trailing 4-1. Hosmer walks to leadoff the inning, advances to second on a ground out and moves to third on a Moustakas single. Quintero whiffs, so we have runners on the corners and two out. All we’ve heard about is how the Royals have failed with runners in scoring position. Failing to get “The Big Hit.” Naturally, Our Mitch delivers a line drive down the right field line. Hosmer, of course, walks home. Moustakas is busting it around second and heading for third… This is a sure-fire double. And look! Shin Soo Choo – while he has a strong throwing arm – isn’t exactly flying to the corner to field the ball. This looks like a perfect opportunity to put two on the board and cut the deficit to a single run.

Screeeeeech!

Third base coach Eddie Rodriguez throws up the stop sign. Now, it’s difficult to tell from my couch, but it sure looked like Moustakas was at third the moment Choo fired the ball in from the corner. Meaning there was an outstanding chance that Moose scores. A better than outstanding chance.

Yet he was held at third.

Apparently, third base coaches get tight, too.

Unreal. The Royals have been running stupid all season and they now they back off? When they’re scuffling to score and are presented an opportunity on a silver platter? You absolutely have to send the runner in that situation. Have. To.

So in our two situations we have one where the Royals gave away two runs on a slow hook and failed to capitalize on a sure-fire run scoring opportunity. That’s a net loss of three runs.

Ballgame.

An all too familiar refrain.

The bats are still ice-cold and aside from Maier, nobody is delivering with runners in scoring position, but I’ll hang this loss on the coaching staff. Yost’s slow trigger and Rodriguez’s bizarre decision cost this team a great opportunity to break this slide. Instead it continues.

And I adjust the doomsday clock one minute closer to midnight.

My primary responsibility as a commentator is to put things into context. I try and keep things on an even keel. If people get too high or low on one thing or another, I’m there to point out why they need to take a step back. I like finding some interesting things in the numbers to bring a new fact to light. I really enjoy and take pride when I can have someone say that they hadn’t thought of it that way. But what am I supposed to do with this, this, this….hell I can’t even come up with an adjective….this streak?

Last week I said it was too early to make conclusions. It’s still too early, but things have become worse and it’s not as early. Here at RA, we’ve run the gamut. We’ve nitpicked games to focus on the micro level and we’ve said there are a lot more games and focused on the macro level. We’ve focused on the positive, the comical, the farcical and the minors. I don’t know what’s left. I’d consider this close to rock bottom, but I’ve written THAT article at least twice already.

This baseball team has problems. We all knew that. It had holes in the rotation, the lineup and on defense. We expected the bullpen to be great, but they lost one of the most effective relievers in baseball and everyone knows the bullpen Gods are fickle. But this? 3-13? No wins at home? Former Royals starting at shortstop for the Red Sox and throwing perfect games? It’s too much.

We’ve endured this for a long time. Too long. We deserve better. Baseball is supposed to be enjoyable and right now it just seems exhausting. I feel like we’re watching an endless loop of an episode of Addiction. It’s a train-wreck of self-destructive habits which don’t seem like they will ever stop. Then there is a promised change, a hint of hope and then an epilogue saying that the hopeless soul has gone back to providing sexual favors at the truck stop for some meth.

It’s not fair to us as fans because we do our part. We provide free tax money to the team, we pay absurd amounts to park our cars, eat a hot dog and get a little drunk. That’s the entire burden placed on us and in my opinion we do it damn well.

The rest of it, the building of the team, the hitting and catching of the ball. That’s on others, people we don’t have control of. Their actions and decisions effect our psyches 162+ nights a year. Their obsessions with giving up outs on the bases, fast players who can’t hit or overweight shortstops who at one time were thought to have plus–plus hands, they have an effect on us. They shouldn’t, but they do.

There is no getting around the fact that a whole series of incompetent decisions have lead us to where we are. The only thing that we can do is acknowledge it, voice our frustrations and get on with our lives. It seems bad now, but honestly, letting a dozen millionaires in uniforms ruin our night or week is absurdity. We’ve proved that we love baseball regardless of the quality of play provided for us. We enjoy the ballpark, the great plays, the bad plays and everything in between. There are still some reasons to watch this team, they’ll still provide some really amazing moments this year.

Just like the family members of the woeful addicts, we hope for a change. We will yell and scream till we’re blue in the face about why, why WHY they aren’t like they were in the old days. We remember when you were someone great. We know you can do it again. You just need to straighten out your life and stop doing these awful things to yourself.

Baseball will go on. In fact there is another game tonight. It’s another day for the Royals to prove that they can put their old ways behind them. It’s a fresh start for all of us, because it will be a 3 hour distraction from everything else. We’ll sit in our homes spending another lonely night in front of the tv, or we’ll stand around a radio after our softball game is done, or we’ll sit with our sons and daughters teaching them the game the way it was taught to us. Win or lose, we’ll still be Royals fans. We’ll still love baseball. And we’ll still pay for overpriced parking and get a little drunk at a few games each year. All doing our part beyond just hope that we’ll see that team we remember. The one who not so long ago could accomplish anything, if only they’d stop this addiction to losing.

 

- Nick Scott


Ten straight losses.   Nine straight at home.  New and inventive ways to lose every day.  A player to the disabled list every week. Welcome to the 2012 Kansas City Royals, ladies and gentlemen.

There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong through 15 games.  In fact, at one time or another, almost everything has gone wrong.  Enough, in fact, to have Ned Yost remark that changes may be on the horizon.  It is a deep, dark hole and there really is no way around it.   Losing 12 of 15, while accentuated by having it happen to start the season, would be a bad stretch and extremely noticeable at any time in the season.   Three and twelve is three and twelve, folks.   If you are not panicking just a little, then you are just being a contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

All that said, the Kansas City Royals could reach .500 by the end of the season by simply winning two more games than the lose in each month.  Of course, that assumes they right the ship and manage to play it even until we get to May Day.  Sadly, that is a rather optimistic, sunshine pumping assumption right now.

As bad as the 2012 campaign has begun, some things have gone right. 

  • Mike Moustakas, with three hits on Sunday, raised his average to .269 and now has eight extra base hits.  Along the way, Sunday’s error was the first blemish on what has been a very good defensive start for him.   One cannot trust defensive stats this early in the year (or a player’s career), but the stats and the eyes certainly are pointing to Moustakas being a far better defender than was originally thought when he was coming up.  Decent or better fielding coupled with a pace that puts Moustakas on track for fifty plus extra base hits is indeed something good.
  • Speaking of good fielding.  Well, let’s be serious, really good and probably great defense.  Even after an 0 for 3 on Sunday, Alcides Escobar is hitting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage.  Those numbers don’t get you in the Hall of Fame, but when combined with Escobar’s impact on defense, they are more than enough to get him deep into the positive side of the ledger.  Sure, he has a somewhat fortutious .341 BABIP, but it is not crazy lucky.  Prior to the season, if you were told that Escobar would have four doubles, a triple and a home run by game number 15, would you have even asked how often he was getting on base?  Oh yeah, he has four stolen bases without being caught.
  • Billy Butler.  I almost didn’t put Billy on this list because he has done exactly what we expected:  hit.  You have arrived when an early wOBA of .394 gets you a ‘yeah, that’s Billy, he can hit’ response.
  • I will probably draw some ire here, but I am not going to expound on the early season runs of Yuniesky Betancourt, Humberto Quintero or Mitch Maier’s .370 on base percentage.  Maybe it’s bias, but I see Butler, Escobar and Moustakas building on their good starts and see the first three players in this bullet point falling.  Yes, they have all three had moments and, quite frankly, more moments than many on the roster.  Long term, I don’t see Yuni, Humbo and Mitch as answers to anything.  I will make a deal with you:  if Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS over .800 May 23rd, I will write 1,000 words of something nice about him.
  • Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy.  While Duffy had a rough day on Sunday, he was outstanding in his first two starts and I think most of us would be delighted if Danny could produce two good starts out of every three in his sophmore season.   As for Chen, I give up, he appears to be the next Jamie Moyer and, for right now anyway, the Royals can sure use him.
  • Not a lot has gone right in the bullpen.  What was supposed to be a ‘Super Pen’ has been decidedly average.  While both Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have been tagged for some runs, both have had some really outstanding outings as well.  Maybe the biggest positive of the entire pen has been Collins’ 12 strikeouts to just 1 walk in his first 8.2 innings of work.  With the injuries to Soria and Holland, the deep pen is no a bit shallow and being able to rely on Collins and Crow (who has allowed 5 hits in 8 innings) is a nice fallback.

I know, some of this is reaching for sunshine.  Perhaps this column should have been used to take  some shots at Yost (who should just pick a batting order and let the guys settle in – this team is thinking too much, give them at least one less thing to think about!) or Moore or Glass or the coaching staff or just about anyone.  We could truly panic and call for Johnny Giavotella, Nate Adcock and whomever else is someone different than Jason Bourgeois, but it is just a fraction too early.  Not by much, mind you, but a week or two weeks too soon.

There are some positives and some really bad luck (entering Sunday’s game, Alex Gordon had a BABIP of .235, Hosmer just .163).   The Royals have played horrific ball, but they don’t look like a team that should be this bad.   This 3-12 start almost certainly means that Kansas City won’t win the division this season, but it does not doom them to laughingstock…at least not quite yet.

xxx

 

The Small Sample Size rule says these stats don’t mean a thing. Still, I found them interesting.

Hitting

– The Royals are second in the league with 29 doubles and second in the league with three triples. Yet, rank tenth in the league with 168 total bases.

– Royal batters have been hit by a pitch four times. Two of those led to the benches clearing. Alcides Escobar has been hit twice, but has yet to instigate a bench clearing incident. He must be a coward.

– Unfortunately, Escobar is tied for the team lead in grounding into double plays with three. He’s tied with Jeff Francoeur, who is looking slower than Country Breakfast on the bases.

– Alex Gordon has struck out in just over 30 percent of his plate appearances. Yes, that’s a crazy, high rate. But for his career he whiffs in almost 22 percent of his PAs.

– Here something only The Yunigma could accomplish… Even in a small sample. He currently leads all Royals by putting the ball in play in 88 percent of all plate appearances. Yet his line drive rate is a wee four percent. And his ground out to air out ratio is 0.5.

– Speaking of line drive rate, Eric Hosmer is at five percent. That’s the kind of stat I look at and immediately think a correction is coming. And when it does, it’s going to be a helluva hot streak.

– Royal batters are seeing 3.66 pitches per plate appearance. League average is 3.87.

Baserunning

– The Royals have stolen six bases in 13 attempts. A 46 percent success rate. Or a 54 percent fail rate.

– Counting the caught stealings and the pick offs, the team has made 12 outs on the bases. Since we can do simple math, that’s one out on the base per game. And as we saw on Gordon’s ill advised attempt at third in Wednesday’s game, these baserunning outs usually come back to bite you in the ass.

– Hosmer has scored 50 percent of the time he’s reached base. Too bad his OBP is at .259.

Pitching

– Royals starters have a 4.41 ERA. Their 63.1 innings pitched by starters is tied for the third least among all teams. Cleveland and Pittsburgh have thrown 61.2 innings.

– Tim Collins has whiffed 35 percent of all batters. And walked just 3.5 percent.

– Jonathan Sanchez has pitched in 17 double play opportunities where a runner is on first with second base open and less than two outs. He has yet to get one.

– After allowing just two of 33 inherited runners to score last year, Greg Holland has allowed four of his five inherited runners to cross the plate this year.

– Bruce Chen has thrown a first pitch strike to 69 percent of all batters.

There you go… Remember this is not an endorsement of the small sample size. Merely somethings I found interesting.

Positive Friday, people. The streak ends today.

Article titles are overrated, don’t you think?

A sixth straight loss at home and a third straight game where the Royals had runners on base in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to extend or even win the game.  As I said on Monday, almost every team losses five out of six at some point and even three straight at home, but I am not convinced that every team is going to lose eight out of nine and six straight at home.  I could be wrong, probably am, and certainly the losing is exacerbated by it coming at the beginning of the season.  

The Royals were hoping for big crowds this year and, from a public relations standpoint, this losing streak could not come at a worse time.   The fans will flock back to Kaufmann when (if) the winning starts, but it will take a lot of wins for the pre-season excitement felt throughout the Royals’ fandom to be rekindled.   That’s a shame.

As for last night’s six straight loss, two divergent sources offered up some pretty good commentary on the night.  Jeff Zimmerman at Royals Review broke down the bottom of the seventh inning and Lee Judge, who decided not to take a jab at stats, bloggers and anyone who has not been paid to play baseball, and instead offered up a decent rundown of the loss as well.  

I will chime in with a few notes as well:

Ned Yost had an awful night as manager.  Virtually every decision he made blew up.  While I am not a huge Yost fan, he had truly terrible luck last night.   While it is sometimes hard to determine who is actually to blame (player, coach, manager or just plain good baseball by the other team), in the end it all falls on the manager.   Bad luck or bad managing, you can call last night either or both, but no manager survives a whole lot of games like last night.

On back to back at-bats, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder beat defensive shifts for singles.  Without the shift, probably both of those balls are outs and no runs score.  Now, the best defensive team in baseball the past five years has been the Tampa Bay Rays and they probably shift defensively more than any team, so there is obvious value in shifting.  That said, if your pitchers don’t pitch to the shift then you lose the advantage.  I don’t know, but it is hard for me to believe that with Alcides Escobar playing on the right field side of second that Ned Yost wanted Jose Mijares to throw a pitch outside to Prince Fielder.

Obviously, teams shift to some extent on almost every hitter and sometimes with every pitch, but the dramatic defensive shifts are what gets Joe Maddon a ton of credit and Ned Yost, at least for now, a ton of criticism.   In my tortured mind, it would seem that if you believe that you have a great bullpen and good defense (which I think the Royals do believe) then you would shift less dramatically.   Hindsight is 20-20 and there are certainly games in the past that Kansas City has likely won in no small part due to a dramatic defensive shift against a good hitter, but last night the Royals probably win by just playing straight up defense.

Also of note last night, Alex Gordon was caught stealing third.  It was a very good play by the Detroit battery of Gerald Laird and Max Scherzer.   Laird made the call for the Tiger pitcher to throw the second and caught Gordon leaving early.   As I said above, sometimes the other team just makes good plays and I am inclined to believe that was the case here.

However….

Why are the Royals obsessed with stealing third base?   I am going strictly from memory here, but I believe Kansas City has stolen third three times this year and been caught (or picked off second) at least three times.   Both of those numbers might be higher, but I know neither is lower.   Three for six doesn’t get it done when it comes to stealing third and the sheer number of attempts tells us that it is a strategic decision on Yost’s part to steal third often.

The general theory would be that if a runner gets to third, he can score on any hit, most fly balls to the outfield, a portion of ground balls and, of course, a wild pitch.   That all makes some sense, of course, except this Royals team, while it has not shown it, is generally expected to hit.   If you have a team that you expect to hit and score runs, then why risk giving away outs at third base?

Keep in mind, we are not just talking about last night, the Royals came out of the gate stealing third base.   It is easy to justify trying to manufacture a run when you have scored just one in two straight games, but Ned Yost came out hell bent on stealing third and bunting from day one.  On day one of the season, everyone in baseball assumed the Royals could and would hit and score runs.   Despite this, Yost insists on ‘being aggressive’, which thus far has translated into less runs and more outs.

Last night, Gordon may well have been running on his own, but it was done based upon the club’s philosophy of running the bases.    Sure, Eric Hosmer is in a ridiculous slump, but I still like the odds of him singling in Gordon from second as opposed to risking making an out trying to steal third.  Heck, Yuniesky Betancourt has been known to run into a baseball and drive it on occasion (actually fairly often thus far).  I like my chances there (and you know I’m no Yuni-fan) better than risking the out.

Truthfully, right now, the Royals are a team full of players trying too hard and managed by a manager who is trying to impact the game too much.   Pick a batting order and a second baseman, Ned, and just let it be.   Take the extra base on hits, but put a premium on not making outs on the bases.   Aggressive baserunning has translated into reckless baserunning on this team.   For now, pull back the reins a bit and let your hitters hit.

If you believe you are a good offensive team, the runs will come without handfuls of stolen bases and sacrifice bunts.  Oh, and by the way, Eric Hosmer may never have bunted in his life.   Slump or not, he should not be trying to do so last night.

The season is far from over and many teams over the years have overcome starts just like this to have good seasons.  With every mistake laden loss, however, the situation gets a little closer to desperation.   As a group, the Royals are already playing and managing with a certain sense of desperation:  that’s no way to play this game.

xxx

 

 

 

 

After the outrage and invective that emanated from Twitter in the moments following the Royals sixth consecutive loss – and fifth straight at home – I was tempted to just cut and paste Nick’s post from yesterday.

Look, I understand the frustration. It sucks. There are a bunch of problems with this team and with this organization. They didn’t magically disappear in February and March. They didn’t suddenly reappear in April. They’ve always been there.

Clark has talked about the 62 games that can go either way… Win or loss… And how the season really hangs in the balance of those games. Catch some breaks and things look good. Have things go against you and it turns to crap in a hurry. We’re neck deep in crap.

Maybe I’m numb to the whole “Royals as a losing entity” thing. Twenty-seven years of horrible baseball can have that effect. In any case, I’m trying to keep my sanity and part of that is writing this blog. And part of that is telling myself that in the big picture, this team isn’t as bad as the first 11 games have represented.

Here’s why I feel this way…

– The Sal Perez injury. I never know how much to believe when you hear the Royals talk about character and clubhouse presence. But I do know it’s rare when those types of accolades are showered upon a 21 year old catcher. The kid is a special blend of talent and personality. His going down with the knee injury hurts this team in so many ways defensively. And it probably hurts the starting staff in ways that are difficult to quantify.

– Alex Gordon is slumping. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. He’s hitting .140 and for the second consecutive evening, made the final out when he could have either tied or won the game. If the Royals are going to have any kind of offensive attack, they have to get him going at the top of the order. Without him, we’re going to see a bunch of games like the one we’ve seen the last two nights with extremely depressed run totals.

– Eric Hosmer is lost. He is fishing for the pitches low and away. He is getting tied up inside. And he has one hit in six balls put in play that were in the dead center of the plate. Not the start we hoped for from the guy regarded as the future of the franchise.

– The Lorenzo Cain injury. After the Jerrod Dyson Experience in center field over the weekend – which was crazy because he is not as bad in the field as he looked – it’s safe to say we miss Cain’s glove. The question about Cain was all about the bat, so with the early injury the jury is still out. As much as I love Our Mitch, he’s not an every day player. And Jason Bourgeois doesn’t inspire confidence. Plus, his arm gives me Johnny Damon flashbacks.

– Greg Holland isn’t himself. Last year, Holland stranded 31 of 33 runners he inherited. This year, he’s stranded just one of five. For a guy who’s being used in extremely high-leverage situations, this is a combination of a judo chop to the stomach and a knee to the groin.

The Royals aren’t built to weather the slumps and injuries. It’s a thin team. I suppose we could point the finger at the architect – and many will – but these things happen. Center field has been an issue in this organization for years. Last year, maybe we could have gotten by if Melky Cabrera had gone down because we had Cain in Omaha. This year… Cabrera is in San Francisco because the Royals had a need at starting pitcher. Which now leaves us thin at CF. Tough cycle. Same with catcher – although the Royals have gotten decent production from the backup tandem of Pena and Quintero. Bullpens are notoriously finicky from one year to the next. Slumps happen. Etc, etc, etc…

The bottom third of the order has the potential to be abysmal. So when they play to their potential and the big guns are struggling, this team is in serious offensive trouble. Three of the five starters make Kyle Davies look like an All-Star. And the bullpen has had it’s share of hiccups. Unfortunately, if the Royals get a good start from Chen or Duffy, the bats go silent. If the starters get torched, the bats light up and mount a comeback that falls short. And the bullpen is no longer a strength… It’s a wild card.

The offense is striking out once every 5.5 at bats. That’s the second worst mark in the league. And they’re hitting a home run once every 48.1 at bats. Again, that’s the second worst mark in the league. Their line drive percentage is 16 percent – worst in the league.

Of course, the base running has been abysmal. Bourgeois got picked off on Tuesday… Another out made on the bases. When your team is reaching base at a sub .300 clip, every out is precious. The Royals have never, ever understood that there is a fine line between aggressive and reckless. And they’re not even coming close to that line.

I don’t think I’m some kind of optimist, but I still target Royals to finish with 74 wins. This isn’t 2004 all over again… Remember that one? Where we bought into the contention fantasy, only to have that team lose 104 games? This team isn’t going to be in the hunt for the pennant as “Our Time” would suggest, but they will right the ship and regain respectability.

Speaking of which, I know that there are a good number of people who bought into the Our Time campaign and the expectation that this team could play .500 baseball or even contend. You’re pissed. I get that. Fans want to desperately believe. It’s not foolish to think that this was “Our Time.” And it sucks that another slow start has happened. But given the fact that this team was not built for a championship, a stretch of bad baseball like we’re currently experiencing seemed inevitable. So my question is: If you were going to have a stretch where this team won just three out of 10 games, does it matter when it happens?

To me, no. It doesn’t matter when it happens. Although I do understand those who say it does. That April is an exciting time because it’s the start of the season and there’s the promise that this is finally a good year and a slow start dooms that promise.

All I can tell you is things will be OK.

There’s going to be a point in the season when the Royals reel off seven wins in 10 games. We’re not even eight percent through the season. I’m not ready to walk away from this team because of 11 games. No way. There’s too much potential here. There have been positives in this stretch…

– Bruce Chen has been really good in his three starts. Two walks and 14 strikeouts? A 0.83 WHIP? A 3.54 xFIP? I’ll take it.

– Danny Duffy is showing serious signs of development and intestinal fortitude to be an extremely good starting pitcher in this league. His performance on Monday was the best game I’ve ever seen him pitch. He was literally two pitches away from moving his start from “quality” to “freaking outstanding.”

– Mike Moustakas has been playing amazing defense at third base. I figured him as a solid defender, but he’s made some highlight-reel quality plays at the hot corner.

– Billy Butler is a hitting maniac. His plate appearances are worth the price of admission. Total professional hitter.

– Mitch Maier’s career ERA is still 0.00.

So I’m still on board. Maybe I’m crazy. Or maybe I’m some kind of masochist. But I really believe they will turn this thing around, catch some breaks and win some of these close games they’ve been losing.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel on my summer in mid-April.

The Royals are already 10 whole games into the season and it’s certainly safe to make some completely accurate assumptions about the team. Since there are only 152 more games in this season, it’s safe to say that there just isn’t enough time to make drastic changes in what has already transpired. What have we leaned from this season?

  • The Royals are a last place team. That’s a given. The team is 4 entire games out of first place with only 152 left to make up the difference. It’s just not enough. It’s true that they’re tied with the Minnesota Twins at the moment, but the Twins won last night and the Royals didn’t. That trend absolutely will continue. It’s over.

 

  • Humberto Quintaro is an offensive juggernaut. He’s hitting .368 and at WORST will have the 2nd highest single season batting average in Royals history. Although he sucks compared to…

 

  • Yuniesky Betancourt! Holy crap! The guy is hitting .389 and on pace to hit 27 bombs if he were to play in every game, which he absolutely should, I can’t see a reason not to. Another acquisition that the Royals should be proud of. Sure he has no walks, but when you hit .389 you can live without them.

 

  • Danny Duffy might win the Cy Young. He doesn’t get the benefit of pitching against the Royals like Weaver and Verlander, but his 2.13 ERA is very strong. His biggest competition is likely going to come from:

 

  • Bruce Chen, the man who will likely repeat Verlanders’s feat of MVP and Cy Young if only the Royals weren’t going to be in last place. A 1.64 ERA is amazing. That signing is a stroke of genius by the Royals, unlike…

 

  • Alex Gordon. The guy is terrible. He’s only hitting .128!?!? And he struck out to end the game last night? There’s a 100% guarantee that this contract is an abject failure and he will not ever come out of this slump. Even if he did, there’s a mere 152 games this season and 486 in the three following years. The impact of 10 games is too strong and he is what he is.

 

  • Finally, the bullpen. It was touted as being the strength of the team and has had  a bit of trouble. However we can unquestionably rank them based on this very valid sample size thusly:

1. Everett Teaford

2. Mitch Maier

3. Jose Mijares

4. Jonathan Broxton

5. Kelvin Herrera

6. Aaron Crow

7. Tim Collins

8. Greg Holland

9. Louis Coleman

 

It’s really a shame how this season has worked out. I had high hopes to see a young team take another step towards contention. I thought that .500 was a realistic goal based on their current talent level. Unfortunately, they’ll never have a chance to get the 4 games back they need to get there. Baseball is just like football, after 10 games you pretty much have all the information you need. I guess we’ll have to wait until 2013 for the Royals to snap out of their franchise slump. R.I.P. 2012 season.
- Nick Scott


The dust and, hopefully, the emotions have settled from a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.   I tire of the constant ‘baseball is a long season’, the Royals have not yet played the equivalent of one NFL football game kind of talk, but there is truth to it.   Every team will go through a stretch where they lose six of nine games.   Every team will be swept at some point this season and a fair portion of teams will get swept at home.   Yes, it is important to remember all of that.

Still….

FRIDAY

The Kansas City Royals will play somewhere around 1,460 innings this year and might well have played the single worst one of the bunch at the worst possible time from a public relations standpoint.   In front of an emotional packed house, Luke Hochevar could not locate the right parts of the strike zone, Yuniesky Betancourt could not reach a ground ball and Jarrod Dyson could not find a deep fly ball.   Boom, 7-0 in the top half of the first inning of the first home game of the year.

If either Betancourt or Dyson make a play, the Royals get out of the first down 2-0 or 3-0.   Given that after Hochevar was smacked on the ankle by a line drive, Everett Teaford came in to pitch four spectacular innings of relief, that could have meant a lot.  Unfortunately, the Royals banged into three double plays on their way to turning 13 baserunners and two wild pitches into just three runs.

SATURDAY

The Royals started out the game by playing three and a half innings of just crappy baseball (that’s a scientific term, by the way) and then followed it up with some inspired play that turned a 9-2 deficit into a 9-9 tie.  The Royals lost when their best reliever, Greg Holland, surrendered two singles and a wind aided double that Jarrod Dyson (who did not have a good two games in the field) just could not quite reach.   That one hurt, folks.

Of course, the news of Saturday really was the two bench clearing brouhahas that netted the Indians three ejections, the Royals some badly needed adrenaline and spawned a Twitter war that eventually included John Rocker and Chris Perez (two great minds at work there).  

Hey, I don’t mind Shin-Soo Choo jawing at Jonathan Sanchez after being hit.  It was Sanchez who obliterated Choo’s season by hitting him last year.  Sure, it was not intentional and yeah, Choo overreacted, but I get it.   Hell, Al Cowens once charged Ed Farmer after grounding out for similar reasons.    I also don’t mind Mike Moustakas jawing at Jennmar Gomez after the retaliatory beanball.

What I do mind, however, is a career .232 hitter in Jack Hannahan injecting himself squarely into the middle of both situations.  Obviously someone did something bad to Jack prior to the game as he was in the middle of both jawing sessions immediately and with great fervor.   It might well be that Hannahan was doing his job as a good veteran and upholding all the unwritten rules of baseball: notably, standing up for your teammate and then smacking down a young player running his mouth.  I freaking hate baseball’s unwritten rules, mainly because the enforcers of said rules are usually bad ballplayers with .232 career averages like Jack Hannahan.

SUNDAY

A bad call at first that should have ended the third inning, coupled with a missed foul ball by Eric Hosmer, turned into a six run debacle for the Royals.  That was followed by three more two out runs in the fifth and the next thing you know, Mitch Maier is pitching.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ROTATION

but you knew that already…

The Royals scored 18 runs in a three game series at home and were basically blown out of two of those games and it all really comes down to starting pitching.   After a dynamic first time through the rotation, the Royals starters have dug deep and early holes for their team the second time through.

We will give Bruce Chen a pass here as he was hardly great in Oakland, but did get through five innings allowing three runs:  that’s far away the best second start performance.   Since then, Hochevar, Sanchez and Mendoza combined to throw 10.2 innings and allowed 24 hits, 17 earned runs (21 total), 9 walks and logged just 5 strikeouts.   That required the bullpen to throw another 17.1 innings in which they were tagged for 11 more runs. 

Now, we can pick and choose, take out the performance of Tim Collins and Louis Coleman and knock 7 runs off that bullpen total without breaking a sweat.   All the really does, however, is point out that when you go to the bullpen before the fifth inning for three straight games (and before the sixth in four straight), a manager is eventually going to find a guy who doesn’t have it that particular day.  If a good reliever is effective three times out of four and Ned Yost has to use 11 relief appearances in 3 days…well, you do the math.

The starting five is neither as good as they were in the first five games or as bad as they have been the last four  (I mean, they can’t be THAT bad, right?  RIGHT?!).   The strain of one very average start and three bad ones strung together is very apparent, however, and could not have come at a worse time for a young team trying to get off to a quick start. 

ONE YEAR IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER

Not a big fan of the ‘the Royals got off to good starts in past years and ended up with bad records so this isn’t that bad’ school of thought.  I will take ten years of good starts and you can take ten years of bad starts and I bet I end up with a better overall record than you do.

The 2012 Royals bear little resemblance to the April 2011 Kansas City squad and this young group was fired up and confident entering the season.   Now, they have been swept at home and lost the Oakland series in a gut wrenching and rather historical fashion.   Alex Gordon is hitting .118 and Eric Hosmer has swung for the fences all the way to a .216 start.

You can point to defensive miscues in each of the last four losses that have contributed mightily to the team’s downfall and baserunning errors before that which hurt the team as well.  This is a young team making mistakes and not finding a way to overcome them.   This is a team that is not hitting well when they pitch well and not pitching well when they do score runs.

It is just nine games into a 162 game grind.  Five point five percent of the season is gone.   Halfway through the fourth quarter of the first NFL game of the season.   Just past first stage separation on a journey to the moon.  Two-thirds of the way through the appetizer on a date (well before you figure out she’s weird and not even close to noticing that glob of eye shadow in the corner of her eye that will preoccupy and annoy you the rest of the night).

We get all that.   Even the most reactionary Royal fan gets that.  This is a young team from an organization that has no recent success to fall back on in hard times.  How many losses, misplays and flat out bad luck (I’m looking at you and your dink hits Shelley Duncan) can they absorb before all the swagger is gone?  

Yeah, it’s early, but this team could ‘it’s just one game’ itself into being ten games under .500 before the end of April.   Something good needs to happen to the Kansas City Royals and it needs to happen soon.   

Something good like Danny Duffy out-dueling Justin Verlander.

50-50-62

We talked about the 50 wins, 50 losses, 62 games that are up for grabs principal last Thursday.  I am trying to keep track of which games land in which category, but it is, of course, quite subjective.   For the record, Saturday’s extra inning loss certainly goes in the ’62′ column and, despite the end result of blow outs, I am tempted to put Friday and Sunday’s losses into the ’62′ as well.   Both of those games really turned on a missed defensive play (not to mention a bad call) which the Royals were unable to overcome.   That is where I will put them for now, pending a good argument to move one or both.

xxx