Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

I am a Royals fan.

That’s a rather straightforward declarative statement. Not a surprise, either. This is a Royals blog, after all. On the scale of “shocking development” to “no duh,” it gal

The last 25 years or so (I’ve lost count and really, it’s not all that important) the Royals as a team have presented us with little to be happy about. A nice run of games here or there – That 15-5 run from last year was pretty insane – but largely we are talking about some really dreadful teams. It’s been a struggle finding reasons to watch. Thankfully, there have been some individual performances of quality in the midst of some awful team efforts.

Happy Greinke Day was born in a season where the Royals lost 96 games and had Jose Guillen in the lineup. Horrible team. A great individual season gave us reason to watch at least every fifth day.

The 2011 team had 325 doubles, which was the second highest total in the league. It featured four guys – Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur – who all hit at least 44 two-baggers. They lost 91 games, but the offense could be kind of fun to watch.

Eric Hosmer’s second-half renaissance was equal parts amazing and enjoyable. Even if it wasn’t enough to rescue the Royals from the hole they dug for themselves in May.

Your mileage may vary on the positives above, but the point is, when you’re a fan of a dreadful team, you need to search for those kind of things. You need something to pull you to tune into the game. A favorite player. A good player. A sustained performance of the highest quality. Something. Anything. It’s about finding something fun to watch on an mediocre to poor baseball team.

For me thus far in 2014, it’s been all about Yordano Ventura.

Ventura has been Must-See TV. The fastball, the change and the curve. I can’t wait for every fifth day to roll around so I can watch him start. He isn’t as dominant as early ’09 Greinke, but that electric stuff is so fun to watch. The Royals offense is awful. Their pitching is keeping them around .500. And Ventura is the most entertaining of the bunch.

As I said above, this is just my personal preference. You may like James Shields. Or Greg Holland. Or Wade Davis The Reliever. Any of those (and others) are acceptable. But for me, Ventura has become my favorite Royal.

It was immediately obvious something was wrong with Ventura on Monday. Diminished velocity. Location was all over the place. He just wasn’t right.

This is his confrontation with Dexter Fowler, the third hitter in the game for the Astros. Gameday doesn’t do justice to how badly Ventura missed.

FowlerPA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the saddest image of all, Ventura’s velocity chart from Brooks Baseball:

Ventura_Velo525

 

That decline after around pitch 33. Oh, jeez.

The Royals announced during the game Ventura left with lateral elbow discomfort. He’s going for an MRI on Tuesday. A quick Google says lateral elbow discomfort is basically tennis elbow. Tennis elbow is treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication. At this point, we can consider this the best case scenario. If the Royals were incorrect in their initial diagnosis (or decided to float a smoke screen) and it’s the medial portion of the elbow… Yeah. We’re all baseball fans. We know what’s happened this year to basically every decent young pitcher. And we’re Royals fans, too. Total doomsday scenario.

I’m reserving my total freak out for when the announcement is made, but let me put it this way: I’m stockpiling like it’s Y2K. You can’t be a Royals fan without a touch of fatalism. What happened to Ventura on Monday is simply another notch on the bedpost of bullshit we have to endure as Royals fans. I’m not going to type the words, but I fear it’s coming. It’s just better to be prepared.

To add insult to injury, the same game Ventura leaves with elbow discomfort, the Astros young phenom George Springer goes 4-4 with five runs scored and a monster jack into the fountains in left. Sometimes, baseball just isn’t fair. Sometimes, it’s three decades of crap.

Nobody said baseball was fair. As Royals fans we’ve become accustomed to abuse. What happened Monday was just cruel. It’s not about Ventura pitching this team to October. He’s good, but he’s not that good. For me, it’s about watching a potentially great pitcher do his thing every fifth day. It’s about looking forward to a game. It’s about electricity. It’s about excitement. It’s about fun.

Hey… Looks like Alex Gordon is warming up.

So the schedule maker got a little freaky. The Royals just finished a seven game west coast swing a couple of weeks ago. Now, they head back to California for three games and a short road trip.

They’re headed to Anaheim, former home of Steve Physioc, Rex Hudler and Jason Vargas. They will face an Angels team that is hot, winners of 18 of their last 30.

This is a pretty complete team. They lead the majors in team WAR and has an offense that ranks among the top of the AL.

Angels_Offense523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Angels offense is all about Mike Trout. And that Albert Pujols guy is close to being that Albert Pujols guy. And Josh Hamilton is on the disabled list. Basically, this is the team you figured the Angels could be at the start of the season. This is how MLB Depth Charts sees the lineup:

Angels_Lineup523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course Mike Scoscia would hit one of his lowest OBP guys first. David Freese is struggling and Raul Ibanez is eligible for carbon dating. So, like any lineup there are some holes. But the weapons are pretty powerful. The bench is useful, too.

Angels_Bench523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pitching isn’t too shabby, either.

Angels_Pitching523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few more walks than league average, but sweet strikeout numbers and the xFIP is looking good. This is a team that if they keep their crap together will be in the mix for the postseason. Oh, yeah. The Royals will face their top two starters this weekend.

Angels_Rotation523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m probably most excited to see the opening game. Just to see how Danny Duffy follows up his last outing that was so great.

Finally, it’s all about the runs. The Royals are hanging around because of their pitching. But you knew that. The Angels? Based on what I’ve shown you above, their run differential is positive and spectacular.

Angels_Runs523

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s going to be a difficult series for the Royals, but one that comes at a good time for this team.

Have a great holiday weekend. Thanks for the warm welcome back. I said in the comments last night, it’s great to see so many familiar names pop up in the last couple of days. There may be a post this weekend, but don’t count on it. We’ll talk to you again on Tuesday.

 

Well, Ned Yost did, but that’s not the point.

However, I think there is a plan when it comes to Mike Moustakas.   I am not saying it is a good plan, but Mr. Moore might have an idea.  Hell, Moustakas is hitting – more accurately not hitting – to the tune of a .152/.223/.320 triple slash:  there needed to be some kind of plan for something!

One would assume the Moore plan is based on the Alex Gordon model that eventually turned a spiraling downward third basemen into a Gold Glove All Starish left fielder.  That excludes a couple of key facts:

  • When Gordon was sent down for real in 2010 (he was demoted in 2009 as well, under the guise of injuries/rehab), Alex was hitting just .194/.342/.323 on May 1st.  For his career, 1,399 plate appearances, Alex sported a .249/.311/.360 triple slash.  (Yes, I’m using triple slashes here – you don’t get advanced metrics Mr. Moustakas until you routinely top the Mendoza line).   Moustakas has been worse that Gordon, even in his best year, at least offensively.
  • When Alex Gordon came back later in 2010 as an outfielder, he managed to hit just .218/.311/.360.  Two months in Omaha where he hit .315/.442/.577 did not a major league hitter make.
  • Only after an off-season of a complete swing rebuild (this remains Kevin Seitzer’s most valuable contribution to the Kansas City Royals) did the player we see now actually emerge.

The more accurate ‘plan’ would be the Mark Teahen experience.   Teahen was floundering as well when sent down in May of 2005 with a season mark of .195/.241/.351 and career line of .237/.297/.369 in just under 600 plate appearances.   He proceeded to smack AAA pitching around to the tune of .380/.500/.658 in just under 100 plate appearances and then just kept on going in the majors.

For one beautiful summer, Mark Teahen was tremendous, hitting 50 extra base hits in just 82 starts (including 16 home runs) and raking to the tune of .313/.384/.557.   Of course, Mark went into decline after that, but 2014 is the ‘go for it year’, so who cares about 2015 right now?   Could Moustakas do the same as Teahen?  I could see it, sure.  Sadly, I could see him come back no better as well.

He could be Andy Marte.

You might remember Marte as the 2004 #11 prospect in baseball.  And #9 in 2005 and #14 in 2006.  Trust me, Mark Teahen was miles better in the majors than Marte and Mark doesn’t have a job anymore.

Maybe there is not a plan.   There’s a chance that Yost and Moore just got fed up with Moustakas and wanted a change of scenery for all involved.   However, as this whole string of words started out, my guess is they are hoping for a big month in Omaha out of the former star prospect while Danny Valencia rides a hot streak in the majors, followed by a triumphant return to KC for Mike (maybe they’ll have a parade, too).

Reasons and plans, or lack thereof, aside:  this was an actual big boy baseball move.  One that admits that the Royals pinned their hopes on a guy who simply was not getting the job done.   In a small way, it makes the Royals seem like an organization thinking first of getting better instead of making themselves appear to be the smartest kid in the class.

 

As an aside, great to be back here at Royals Authority.   While I had fun over at Royals Review, a more casual and less corporate environment made all the sense in the world to both Craig and myself.  We are, after all, just a couple of grumpy old men, sitting in the lobby of Authority HQ smoking cigars and leering at the receptionist.  

 

The move had the inevitably of the Sonny Corleone hit, yet the subtlety of that time Jerry bashed Tom over the head with a sledgehammer. Or an axe.. The Royals finally closed their eyes and did what was long overdue. They sent Mike Moustakas to Omaha.

There is much rejoicing amongst Royals fans. Finally. Finally, they are doing the right thing. Maybe this is the opportunity for Moustakas to rebuild his career the same way Alex Gordon and Billy Butler did theirs.

I’m not so sure about that. Three things stand out in my mind. First, while both Gordon and Butler struggled mightily at times early in their careers, neither player hit the depths where Moustakas currently resides. In 2008 when Butler was farmed out, he was hitting .263/.330/.339. Not so much power – just one home run and 11 doubles in 206 plate appearances – but he wasn’t an automatic out. Gordon, who you could argue had his development hampered by injury, was hitting .194/.342/.323 after returning from a thumb fracture suffered in spring training when he was sent down. Again, not an automatic out.

The difference is Moustakas is a career .236/.290/.379 hitter. That covers over 1,600 plate appearances. And he’s getting worse. Going back to the start of 2013 he’s hitting .216/.273/.355. That’s in 653 plate appearances. Gross.

Second, both Gordon and Butler are mentally strong. Gordon is a workout animal and I don’t think Butler has ever doubted his ability to hit the baseball. Yeah, it’s a bummer getting demoted and you never know how anyone will react. Ahead of his demotion, Gordon looked absolutely lost. Like he wanted to be anywhere but the diamond. The demotion and subsequent position change seemed a true last-ditch effort on the part of the team and the player. It doesn’t feel all that dissimilar to what’s happening now with Moustakas. But one thing we’ve learned over time is Gordon works tirelessly at his craft. Butler just seems irritated whenever he doesn’t barrel the ball. He’s always taken a ton of pride from his hitting. (I know I’m going all “body language” on you here, but it goes to mental state. Which is important in a player who has the tools but is struggling.) Fortunately, Gordon and Butler responded.

Will Moustakas? I’m not sure. We know he doesn’t watch video and while I haven’t heard anything negative about his work ethic, I haven’t heard raves either.

And third, Gordon and Butler possessed a more rounded hit tool than Moustakas. Both players were hitters, if that makes sense. Moustakas came through the organization as a power hitting prospect. The projections were always along the line of he won’t give you a high average and the OBP will be on the lower side of acceptable, but he could challenge the Steve Balboni Record. As I showed above, when Butler and Gordon went down, both were contributing offensively by getting on base. Moustakas isn’t contributing at all offensively.

Now what? I assume the Royals gave Moustakas some sort of idea of how long he will be in Triple-A. Now it’s up to him to pull his head out and perform. My reservation is even if he does well in Omaha, it won’t stick. We’ve been down this road before in spring training and Venezuela. He’ll hit great against lesser competition, but when it comes time to put it together in The Show he hits a rough patch and all the good quickly becomes undone. I hope that’s not the case. Because the Royals need a power bat in the lineup. They need Mike Moustakas to reach his potential.

I’m just afraid we’ve already seen his ceiling.

Coming off a couple of tough defeats, the Royals needed a shot of adrenaline to jump start their club. Jeremy Guthrie was the man on Wednesday, throwing seven innings of three hit, one run ball to keep the Royals in the game before handing it off to the bullpen.

Guthrie is a confounding pitcher. A pitching wizard. Take Wednesday, for example. Guthrie delivered a performance of quality, but it’s a performance he won’t be repeating too frequently. It’s not difficult to see that when digesting some of the numbers.

— Twelve of Guthrie’s outs were recorded on the ground, compared to seven in the air. For the game according to FanGraphs, Guthrie posted a ground ball rate of 57 percent. Compare that to his seasonal rate of around 43 percent. We know Guthrie has a home run problem (and that’s being kind) so it behooves him to keep the ball on the ground. That’s something he doesn’t do, but he was able to on Wednesday.

— Guthrie threw first pitch strikes to 10 of the 26 batters he faced. That’s a rather thin 38 percent first strike rate. For the season, league average is around 60 percent and Guthrie has outpaced his counterparts, posting a 67 percent first strike rate. It reasons that he can’t afford to fall behind in the count. I mean, that’s kind of an obvious statement, but it applies double to a pitcher like Guthrie who doesn’t miss many bats. The league is hitting .301/.333/.603 against Guthrie when he starts the plate appearance with ball one. Ummm… That’s not good. Despite regularly falling behind in the count, he surrendered only two hits after throwing ball one to open the plate appearance.

— White Sox hitters swung and missed only four times. Guthrie threw an even 100 pitches. I love simple math. That’s a four percent swinging strike rate. For the season, he gets a swing and a miss just under six percent of the time. Not a huge difference, but there’s not far to go when you’re already at six percent.

— Guthrie gets most of his swing and misses against his change and slider. Both pitches generate a whiff around 10 percent of the time. On Wednesday, he threw 19 sliders and got one swing and miss. Tip your cap to the White Sox for laying off the slider. They swung only four times, according to Brooks Baseball. He also had a single swing and miss against his change, although he threw 14 of those.

From Brooks Baseball, Guthrie’s velocity chart is a model of consistency.

Guthrie Velo 521

Guthrie threw five curves all night, none after pitch number 48. The massive dip around pitch 79 is his slow curve he will play with on rare occasions. Pitch f/x classified it as an eephus. And it was awesome.

Guthrie Eephus 521

It was a masterful performance. You could say Guthrie drove Uncle Hud’s bus on Wednesday. (Even though that sounds kind of NSFW.) As much as I loved it and as much as the Royals needed it, but the numbers suggest this is a performance we won’t be seeing too frequently. But as I said at the top of the post, Guthrie seems to have a knack of coming up roses in important spots. I tip my blogging cap in his direction. And hope he continues pulling those rabbits out of his magic hat.

Maybe you read the news at Royals Review. Or maybe you just still have this site bookmarked after nearly two years of dormant activity and just happened along this post. Either way, it’s true.

We’re going to power this thing back up and see how it goes.

I can’t (and won’t) make any promises about posting frequency. We may just put something online when the mood strikes. Or we may strive to get a post up every day. I’ve spent the last few days getting under the hood of the blog, making some upgrades and such. We’re both kind of technological agnostics, so it’s possible something cracked. As long as you don’t get some sort of 404 error, then I think we’re good.

Reset your bookmarks. Update your RSS feed. (I think that may be working.) And make plans to make this a destination. We’re a pair of long-time Royals fans who, after nearly 10 years of blogging, still may have a thing or two to say from time to time.

Thanks. More soon.

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

We accepted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, this move is bittersweet.

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

Royals Authority was born.

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bases Are Drunk. A lot.

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

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

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

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

I have no idea what this means…

High Leverage Pen

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

Royals – 1.094
Tigers – 1.058
Orioles – 1.054

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

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

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

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

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

I may be coming around on this whole contention thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxx

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

Luke Hochevar was awful on Tuesday.

Or…

Luke Hochevar was brilliant on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And neither do the Royals.

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

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

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

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

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

And he did it on the back of 17 cutters.

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

On contention

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

Hold on…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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