Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

This is a column I started  last weekend and it has simmered through a week that saw the Royals lose five straight in a myriad of different ways.   In the span of a week we saw Zack Greinke lose 1-0, the Royals come back from an 8-0 deficit and lose and then saw Greinke have the audacity to give up three earned runs and lose again.   In addition, we saw Gil Meche throw 128 pitches, Yuniesky Betancourt drop a pop fly and ended one game with Jose Guillen in rightfield and Mitch Maier at first base.

Is this really working or is it time for drastic action?  

Actually there has already been talk of such action.   The ‘trade Zack Greinke’ discussion following the 1-0 loss in Tampa.   While the idea of trading your team’s best player away does (and should) bring up plenty of emotions, one is forced to contemplate the worth of one player (no matter how great) when the team goes 1-6 in his starts.   Given what Greinke has done this year and in 2009, it is certainly NOT his fault the Royals cannot win, but it does not erase the fact that Kansas City is still just 18-22 in games he has started since the beginning of 2009.

Sure, the Royals are considerably worse in games not started by Zack, but the point is that they are not even a .500 team with him on the mound.  

This is not all about just chiming in on the Greinke trade discussion, however.  Instead, if the Royals decide to head down this path, shouldn’t they really look at making wholesale trades?  

If you are going to tell me that this lineup is going to compete in 2010, then this column is not for you.   Should you be in the camp that the current roster is going to be lucky just to stay out of last place, then you have to ask yourself just how far away is this organization?

Pitching wise, Greinke at the start and Soria at the end is a pretty good foundation for a staff, but how soon can the Royals fill in the gaps?  It is conceivable that we might see Aaron Crow later in 2010 and maybe Mike Montgomery sometime next season, but debuts and dominance seldom go hand in hand.   As such, I think a realistic expectation would be for a lot of promise to be seen later this year and through 2011 from both pitchers, with each ready to be above average to very good starters by 2012.     That year happens to be last year of Greinke’s contract.

So, in 2012, the Royals could field a rotation of Greinke, Crow, Montgomery, Luke Hochevar and somebody else.   The organization has a ton of arms in the system and some of the really good ones (Melville, Dwyer, Lamb, Herrera, etc.) will be about ready to make debuts right around then, too.   Heck, maybe Daniel Duffy will have rediscovered a love for the game and be ready to go, too.   Bottom line, the rotation could be pretty good, but on the verge of likely losing its ace at the end of the 2012 season.

The bullpen, with Soria under contract all the way through 2014, probably cannot help but be better.   One would hope that Blake Wood would be up and established well before 2012 with additional help coming from Louis Coleman, Greg Holland, Blaine Hardy, Patrick Keating – again, there are a ton of arms who have thus far enjoyed nice minor league careers.   I think it is fair to believe at least three of them will develop into competent major league relievers by 2012.

So, if the pitching looks good by 2012, what about the offense?  

The Royals have David Lough in Omaha, who is basically looking like the next David DeJesus and might be ready to fill that role next year.   Derrick Robinson is off to a nice start in AA, but does he profile out as much more than a faster, younger Scott Podsednik?     Basically, we can run through guys like this all day long and get a competent major league lineup:  the truth is, the offensive future of the organization lies on the shoulders of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers.   When will those three be up and, more importantly, when will they become good maybe great major leaguers?

Best case, in my opinion, has Moustakas making his major league debut at some point in 2011 and possibly ready to be good in 2012 and hopefully powerful in 2013.   Hosmer, who is showing that it helps to actually be able to see  and play without a broken finger, is probably a half-season behind Moustakas.  Myers is behind them both, but likely will gain some ground assuming he can handle the duties behind the plate.  That puts all three up and producing by 2013, which happens to be Billy Butler’s last year before free agency (barring a new contract for him prior to that point).

Let’s go back a bit and ask these two questions:

1.  Do you believe all of the above described development will happen?

2.  Are you prepared to wait until 2012 to be a legitimate contender and knowing that it might be a pretty narrow window of opportunity if Greinke leaves after 2012, Butler after 2013 and Soria after 2014?

Let me be honest, here, I don’t know my own answers to these two questions.  However, if the Royals are not going to be truly competitive until 2012, would it make sense for them to be competitive for a long period of time thereafter as opposed to go for broke in 2012 and maybe 2013?   If the answer to that is yes, then it might make sense for the organization to blow the current roster up.

Such drastic action starts with trading Zack Greinke.

What’s interesting about discussing such an idea is that there are some tremendous comparable trades that have taken place in the last year.   Cliff Lee has been traded twice and Roy Halladay has been dealt as well.   Now, I don’t want to turn this into a Greinke is better than Lee, Halladay is better than Greinke debate.   Suffice it to say that all three are among the top ten starting pitchers in baseball…maybe even the top five.      Halladay has the better career record, but is older and more expensive.   Lee is also older and was/is much closer to free agency.

At any rate, Cliff Lee was traded (along with Ben Francisco) in the middle of last season to Philadelphia for four of their top ten prospects (according to BaseballAmerica):   Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp.   I don’t have a good way of quantifying the value of Francisco in this trade, but let’s throw out Knapp (#10) from the equation and call it Lee for the first three.

After the season, the Phillies dealt Lee to Seattle for Phillipe Aumont (#3), Juan Ramirez (#5) and Tyson Gillies, a super fast outfielder with a .407 career on-base percentage at AA and below.    At about the same time, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay (maybe you heard) and in exchange gave up their numbers five, six and seven prospects:  Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud.

No matter how you value age versus track record versus contract status, it seems pretty obvious to me that the market rate for an ace pitcher is at least three top prospects.   We could go back and analyze the Johan Santana and Erik Bedard deals, but I think we might come out in roughly the same place.   

I might be something of a homer on this one, but given Greinke’s age and reasonable contract through 2012, he might well command a fourth prospect in the deal and even, if the Royals were to take on more prospects that were in A ball and below, a possible fifth player.   

At any rate, we know that in dealing with prospects, one organizationa’s number two prospect is not always equal to the number two in another system.   Plus, where those prospects are in the system values into the equation as well.  All that said, let’s just have a little fun with some possible combinations.

Greinke to the Mets - With Beltran coming back in the next month or so, this team might be thinking they have a shot at the Phillies.   How would you like to run into a series where you had to face Johan Santana and Zack Greinke on back to back days?   Would New York give up number one prospect Jenrry Mejia, currently working out of the big league pen?   I don’t know, it’s hard to find a trade that involves anyone’s number one.   Let’s pull back from that and submit a package of Jonathan Niese (#5 and in the Mets’ rotation right now), the disappointing yet intriguing Fernando Martinez (#3, OF), Wilmer Flores (#2) an 18 year old shortstop with a ton of promise and something else out of their system.

Greinke to the Yankees - It is hard to have a discussion like this without talking about the Yankees, but it is hard to see a great fit, here.   Four of the top ten prospects in the Yank system are catchers and two others are pitchers who are struggling mightily.    Would they part with number one prospect and catcher/DH Jesus Montero?   A package starting with him and pitcher Zach McAllister (#4) would be a start, but I am not sure where it goes from there.  Maybe you add Brett Gardner, but you would still need a couple of players beyond that in my opinion.

Greinke to the Red Sox - If the Yankees are interested, you can bet the Sox will make a call or two as well.    If the bidding got heated enough, I would like a package of outfielders Josh Reddick (#3) and Ryan Kalish (#5), pitcher Casey Kelley (#2) and maybe, just maybe, you could get them to throw in infielder Derrick Gibson (#10).   That’s a decent haul, in my opinion, although getting four top ten prospects may be unrealistic…or maybe not enough.

Greinke to the Angels – They could certainly use some pitching help right now and might be willing to offer their number two, three and four prospects:  Peter Bourjos (OF), Mike Trout (OF) and Trevor Reckling (P).  Trout’s in the low minors and Reckling has some control issues, so the Royals would be right to demand more, but those three are a starting point.

Greinke to the Brewers – Yes, I know the Brewers don’t quite fit in financially with the above teams, but they have made this leap before and would be getting two and one-half seasons of Greinke instead of just half a year of Sabathia.  Would you make the deal if the Brew Crew offered second baseman Brett Lawrie (#2), catcher Jonathon LuCroy (#5), pitcher Zach Braddock (#7) and outfielder Lorenzo Cain (#8)?  

These are all just pie in the sky musings, keep in mind, and some of you will certainly tell me that none of these organizations would part with those players and others will be certain that none of the above deals are enough for Greinke.  That said, let’s pick one for the purposes of this discussion.

I am going to say the Red Sox get aggressive to both keep Greinke away from the Yankees and try to run down the Rays.    Sure, they already have moved Tim Wakefield to the bullpen and their number five starter is Dice-K, but can you imagine a rotation of Greinke, Beckett, Lester, Lackey and Buchholz?   Plus, the Sox could then spin one of their SEVEN quality starting arms for offensive help for the stretch run.

So, having moved Greinke for Kelley, Reddick, Kalish and Gibson, do the Royals stop?  In my opinion, if you are going down this road, you go down it at full speed.   That means trading Joakim Soria as well.

Here it gets pretty dicey as to what Soria is worth (I actually proposed a scenario of Soria to the Phillies last off-season) as there really are not a lot of trades that involve closers.    Brad Lidge and Jose Valverde were both dealt in the past couple of years, but both were on the verge of free agency.   Soria, on the other hand, is under team control at a reasonable value through 2014.

George Sherrill was dealt last summer and netted the Orioles the Dodgers’ number eight prospect, Josh Bell, and a journeyman minor league pitcher.   Listen, if George Sherrill is worth one prospect, Soria is worth at least two – even after giving up back to back homers to Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerroro.   While that might seem a bit light to most Royals’ fans, my guess is that is the market rate.   If we are blowing this team up, we might as well blow it up good.

Soria to the Cardinals -  Really, how in love can you be with Ryan Franklin as a closer?  Would a package of Allen Craig (#7, OF), Eduardo Sanchez (#6, P) and catcher Charles Cutler intrigue the Royals?  It intrigues me, a bit.

Soria to the Angels – Would the Angels part with Hank Conger?  No, but I’d do it in a heartbeat if they offered.  That said, Fernando Rodney would certainly look better setting up Soria than closing for a team that considers itself a contender.   With Peter Bourjos blocked by Torii Hunter, his name comes up again.  Paired with pitcher and number nine prospect Jordan Walden, plus another prospect in the 11 to 20 range and this deal could get done.

Soria to the Rays – The Tampa bullpen has been okay, with Rafael Soriano holding down the closer role.   However, when you are trying to stay in front of the Yankees and the Red Sox, the thought of Soria at the back end might be appealing.  The Rays probably will not part with Desmond Jennings, given the uncertainty of being able to resign Carl Crawford, but they might part with pitcher and number two prospect Jeremy Hellickson simply because they have no room in the majors for him this year.    Add power prospect Matt Sweeney (third base) and maybe infielder Isaias Velasquez and this might be a deal.

Again, this is all just speculation (even as I typed it, I wondered if the Rays would even consider giving up Hellickson), but lets have a little fun and say the Rays, desperate to hold off the Yankees, take the bait and ship Hellickson, Sweeney and Velasquez to the Royals in exchange for Soria.     Can you imagine the public outrage?

Outrage aside, the Royals now have seven new prospects, five of whom were in the top ten of two organizations that are far more successful than their own.    That just might make sense.   Of course, why stop now?

Even without taking the drastic action above, it is no secret that the Royals are shopping Jose Guillen, have shopped Alberto Callaspo, would shop Gil Meche and just recently began offering David DeJesus.   Until Meche is truly healthy and effective, his value is limited.   How to quantify Jose Guillen in a trade is problematical (maybe Seattle would offer Dan Cortes – just joking).  I think the possibility of Guillen ending up somewhere else sooner rather than later is realistic, speculating on the return is probably a waste of time.   Whatever the Royals get, they get:  it’s better than nothing.  

While David DeJesus is not going to garner a package of prospects like Greinke or Soria, he does have value.   Last summer, the Braves gave up two top ten prospects (Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke) along with Charlie Morton to get Nate McClouth.   Now, McClouth is younger, has more power and a better defensive reputation than DeJesus, but we can maybe use this deal as a guide.   Would a desperate contender part with one top ten prospect (probably a few years away from the majors) and a lesser player?

DeJesus to the Giants – Have you seen what Mark DeRosa is hitting this year?   Would they give up a young arm, already in the majors, like Dan Runzler?   Would you make that deal?   Perhaps a more palatable (likely?) scenario would see the Giants give up shortstop and number eight prospect Ehride Adrianza along with pitcher Steve Edelfsen.   That’s a deal that I would do.

Now, we have moved three players for nine prospects.   Too much?  Too little?  Or do you trust the process?

When I take a step back and put on my optimistic glasses, I can see Montgomery becoming the next Greinke, backed by Aaron Crow.   When Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar move on, they are replaced by Tim Melville and Kelvin Herrera.   Alex Gordon flames out?  No problem, Mike Moustakas becomes a star.   Butler leaves?   Well, Hosmer is coming up soon:  bigger, better and faster than his predecessor.   David Lough and Derrick Robinson ably slip into the outfield next year, only to be pushed out a few years later by the even better Hilton Richardson and Alex Llanos.    That’s the process.  

The problem is, the process is run by guys who throw a struggling Gil Meche 128 pitches, move Alex Gordon to left and are scared to death that Kila Kaaihue might actually be able to hit major league pitching.   It is these guys that dismiss prospects with bad attitudes, but sign Jose Guillen for three years.    Mike Aviles had to hit .325 to get even get a chance and then, one year after an injury, prove himself all over again.   Can you trust a process run by people you no longer trust?

If you cannot or will not, then blowing up this team might be the best course of action.  If nothing else, nine more high level prospects gives this group a greater margin for error.    The way it is shaping up right now, the Royals can use all the margin they can get.

In this game:

- The Royals fell into a 8-0 hole after three innings.

- Scott Podsednik hit one into the upper deck.

- Jason Kendall drove one to the base of the wall in right-center.

- Yuniesky Betancourt walked.  Twice.

- After a Rangers pitcher walked back to back hitters, Willie Bloomquist took two cuts at pitches out of the zone and then looked at strike three right down the middle. (OK, that wasn’t crazy.)

- Dave Owen almost caused Mike Aviles’ hamstring to explode by doing a funky stop and go kind of thing as he was rounding third. (That wasn’t crazy either.)

- KILA MONSTER.

- Joakim Soria gave up back to back home runs for the first time since forever.

- Neftali Feliz is disgustingly filthy.

It was like some crazy heavyweight title fight.  I half expected the ghost of Howard Cosell to make an appearance.  It would have been appropriate.

Even though the Royals lost in just a horrific manner, that was the most fun I’ve had watching a game since last May.  (Remember when they came back against the Indians with four runs in the ninth?  Remember how they then lost 16 of their next 20?  Sorry.)

Personally, I think Trey was guilty of a little over management by not letting Good Robinson Tejeda finish the eighth.  It’s not second guessing… I brought it up in the ESPN Baseball Tonight chat the moment he pulled Tejeda.  It’s difficult to argue that bringing in Soria at any point is a bad move, but Tejeda had thrown only 14 pitches.  I’m not going to scream and carry on that Hillman cost the Royals the game – he didn’t – Soria made the pitches.  I’m just saying I don’t understand why he felt a need to bring his closer in at that particular moment.

We’ve been agitating all year that Hillman needs to use Soria more in key (or high leverage) situations.  Two outs in the eighth with a one run lead on the road certainly qualifies.  However, there was no danger at that point and time… No runners on, and you had a pitcher who was dealing.

Hillman gets second guessed in some quarters (which I suppose I’m doing now) but that’s because many of his moves are indefensible.  All managers come with a certain amount of goodwill and trust.  When that gets frittered away (like it has in Hillman’s case) even the right moves come under scrutiny.  It’s a large part of what makes Hillman a lame duck.

He went with his best pitcher and got burned.  It happens to managers all the time.  But when you’ve lost the trust of the fanbase, you’re going to catch heat no matter what.

In the offseason, I did a postmortem on the Royals offense which I broke down by position.  I then compared that to how other teams in the AL and within the division did.  It was enlightening to see exactly where each teams excelled and failed.  It was instructive to see where the Royals and the other AL Central teams should focus their efforts to improve.  Since we are a month into the season already, I figured I would take a look at how things look from that perspective in 2010.*

*The statistic I will be using is wOBA, which is explained here.  All statistics come from Fangraphs and are up to date as of Tuesday, May 4th.

Catchers

Here is how the AL Central looks when ranked by wOBA at the catching position.  It’s no surprise that the Twins are first with uber talent Mauer. However, what is suprising is the fact that the Royals are ranked second.  These numbers are due almost exclusively to Jason Kendall who has caught nearly every inning this season.  The Royals catchers are ranked eighth in the American League, which is respectable and frankly much better than I had anticipated.

First Baseman

At this point in the season, the AL Central has some pretty darn good hitting first basemen.  The Twins, White Sox and Tigers own the top three spots in the league.  Morneau, Cabrera and Konerko are certainly formidable bats for their teams.  I should have expected to see where the Royals first baseman aka Billy Butler ended up.  He is a good hitter, but compared to his brethren at the position he is roughly average.  This is what I found after the 2009 season as well.  The Indians combo of Laporta and Brayan hasn’t quite been what their team had hoped so far.

Second Baseman

The Twins own yet another category with their free agent acquisition Orlando Hudson.  Detroit rookie Scott Sizemore has been holding his own as well.  After those guys the numbers fall off a cliff.  The Royals like Chris Getz’s defense and he is still developing at the plate (hopefully).  Valbuena of the Indians is currently hitting .167, and after a decent rookie season for the White Sox Gordon Beckham currently has an OPS of .599.

Third Baseman

The Indians surprisingly lead in three positions, and third base is one of those.  Jhonny Peralta may only be hitting .229, but his OBP is .340 and he is slugging .398.  The Tigers and Twins third baggers are pretty close to average.  The Royals should improve with the solid hitting Callaspo now entrenched at the position.  Mark Teahen hasn’t played as well as I had anticipated for the White Sox, I still think that when the weather warms up, he will have more of his hits land for home runs at The Cell.

Shortstops

Another category which is led by the Indians.  Asdrubal Cabrera is a solid bat at the lightest hitting position in the field other than catcher.  Betancourt started hot, but has fallen off of a cliff offensively.  If Aviles can be anywhere near 2008 he is easily the best hitting SS in the division.  Hardy, Everett and Ramirez are much better known for their gloves than for their bats on the Twins, Tigers and White Sox respectively.

Left Fielders

It looks like the Tigers made a good decision in signing Johnny Damon as they hold the lead in LF, although he has been moved mostly to DH in favor of Brennan Boesch.  Austin Kearns is another good free agent signing so far for the Indians.  His slash line is .333/.405/.561, I had no idea he was doing so well.  As hot as Podsednik was, I figured the Royals would be in a better position than 7th in the AL.  Super bust Delmon Young and the Twins left fielders are a tad below league average and the White Sox’s Juan Pierre is still Juan Pierre.

Center Fielders

Tigers rookie Austin Jackson has significantly outperformed Curtis Granderson who he was traded for in the offseason. Alex Rios the CF for the White Sox is suddenly looking like he did when he played for the Blue Jays.  Ankiel and Maier are below league average, which isn’t surprising.  The Twins Span is slightly under performing at this point.  What happened to Grady Sizemore? He has been a very good hitter since he entered the league, but in 2009 he hit below his career numbers and in 2010 has an OBP of .286.

Right Fielders

Is Shin-Soo Cho0 the most underrated player in the division?  What about the entire AL?  He is the best hitting RF in the AL this year and from 2008-2010 has an OPS of .904.  Oh and he is only 27.  Cuddyer has been a very good hitting RF for the Twins.  Magglio is getting old, but can still swing the bat.  Carlos Quentin hasn’t hit the ball very well, but Andruw Jones has hit when he plays RF, so he boosts the numbers for the White Sox.  Surprisingly, the Royals RF shapes up as the worst in the division right now.  Part of that is how strong the position is within the division and the other is the fact that RF is where teams like to stash good hitters who are marginal fielders.

Designated Hitters

The lone category where the Royals lead is DH, and they actually lead the entire AL.  This is a far cry from 2009 when the Royals had by far the worst DH crew in the league.  Guillen has hit for some pretty good power and has been a welcome surprise.  The Twins have used a combination of Kubel and Thome so it isn’t a shocker that the pair rank 2nd in the division.  The Tigers have been using Johnny Damon as the DH lately and he has hit pretty well so far.  Hafner is only batting .208 for the Indians, and the White Sox can’t figure out who to use as a DH and it is pretty clear why.

More Graphs and Tables

In my look at the 2009 season I utilized a polar graph, which I thought really brought it all together.  It is a little unwieldy to look at initially, but it does bring the data out. So basically, what you are seeing is a graphical representation of the tables above.  You will notice the positions arrayed outside of the circle.  Each colored line represents a team in the AL Central, for example the blue line represents the Royals.  Where they are on the circle is a representation of where they rank in the AL in wOBA at that position.  The outside edge of the circle is 1st place, the innermost is 14th place.  You can see the Royals were 1st at DH.

Clearly, to have a good offense you need a couple of division leading categories, but the real key is not having any particular positions that kill you.  Notice that the Twins are not last in any category, and their worst position is a defensive first position in CF.  The Tigers are the same with their worst offensive position at catcher.  Oddly the 2B position is almost ranked exactly like the division standings, not only in order but in the magnitude.  The Twins and Tigers have a dominant position while the Royals, White Sox and Indians all lag near the league basement.  Maybe the secret is having a great 2B (I don’t think so, its just a funny coincidence)

Finally, one more table.  This is a ranking of every position in the AL Central by wOBA with the Royals highlighted.

It kind of surprised me to see that the lowest Royals wOBA was 14th to last.  That is a significant upgrade over 2009.  The Royals are much closer to having an average offense when they don’t have complete offensive holes weighing them down.

I don’t know that there is a specific conclusion to draw from all of this.  Mostly it was an exercise to see where the offense was coming from within the division and to see if the Royals had improved thus far.  Prior to the season, I predicted that the offense would be improved over last season.  So far that seems to be the case.  I don’t think they will have a great offense, but they seem to have upgraded the major holes they had last season primarily at DH, RF, CF and SS.  All four of those positions in 2009 ranked in the bottom seven in the AL Central last season.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single, likes orange juice and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

Team Pos wOBA MLB Rank
Twins 1B 0.440 1
White Sox 1B 0.430 2
Tigers 1B 0.428 3
Royals 1B 0.347 7
Indians 1B 0.240 14

The Royals aren’t good at figuring out this roster business, are they?

Kind of a problem for a baseball team.

News came down yesterday afternoon that the Royals placed Rick Ankiel on the 15 day DL with his quad strain.  The move was retroactive to May 2.  Of course, the move could have been made retroactive to April 24, except SABR Trey used him twice as a pinch hitter in the Tampa series.  Two at bats, two strikeouts.  Awesome.

Big picture, it doesn’t mean anything.  Ankiel isn’t good at baseball, but he’s good for the Royals.  Allegedly.  Really, Mitch Maier is a better defender in center (minus the arm) and is better at getting on base.  So Ankiel’s return will be May 18th at the earliest.  Big deal.  The guy is fragile anyway… I’m betting he won’t be ready to be activated on that date.

Still, it reeks of incompetence that the manager uses a guy who’s not in the starting lineup because of injury as a pinch hitter just prior to landing on the DL just a few days later.  Par for the course when you’re following the Royals.

So Kila Ka’aihue gets the call.  It’s deserved.  The dude is banging .304/.466/.620 this year in Omaha with 7 HR, 24 BB and 17 SO in 103 plate appearances.  Solid.

I know there are a huge number of readers who are members of the Free Kila Society, so I don’t mean to be a downer, but I just get the feeling this guy has been recalled to be Justin Huber, Version 2.0.  Remember back in 2006, when Huber was recalled when Iron Mike Sweeney hit the DL?  We were all excited… Huber was a quality hitting prospect who had done good things in Omaha and the thought was the Royals were going to give him an extended look.  Except the Royals were committed to Doug Mientkiewicz and Matt Stairs.  Huber had 11 plate appearances and was shipped back to Omaha.  Out of site, out of mind.

Of course, those were different times in Kansas City.  The Royals, for some strange reason, thought they had the talent to compete.  Look at some of those lineups.  Dreadful.  With Allard Baird was calling the shots and Buddy Bell was absorbing the losses, it was decided it wouldn’t be fair to Dougie to hand some of his playing time to the rookie Huber.

That brings us to today.  Things are different… sort of.  The names have changed.  We now have Dayton Moore calling the shots and Trey Hillman absorbing the losses.  The team is still old, and they are still under the illusion they can compete, but they really can’t.

Ka’aihue is joining the team, but can he breakthrough a lineup that includes stalwarts such as Jose Guillen?  I guess this is where things are different from 2006.  Guillen is the DH and Billy Butler is the first baseman – the two positions where Ka’aihue plies his trade.  Butler deserves his time and is part of the future.  Guillen has been playing well, but isn’t part of the future.

So where does Kila fit?  The Royals management is a thick bunch, but even they know Butler needs to get as many innings at first as possible.  They’re not about to remove Guillen from the lineup, either.  They could play him in right, but damn that’s just painful to watch.  If they moved Guillen to right, they could slide DeJesus over to center and bench Maier.  That really weakens the outfield defense.  Ideally, they would platoon Ka’aihue and Guillen.  Let Ka’aihue hit against the right handers and Guillen can square off against the lefties.  A solution like this would likely piss Guillen off something fierce, but it’s something the Royals can afford to do since, you know, Guillen is in the final year of his contract and isn’t part of the future. Sadly, I doubt the Royals agree.  Guillen homered on Tuesday, so he remains a valuable cog in the wheel of mediocrity.  He stays in the lineup, Ka’aihue sits.

Keep those corks in your champaign bottles, Kila Krew.  He’s with the big club, which is good.  But with Guillen on the roster, he doesn’t have a spot, which is bad.

Anyway, I’m more interested in Mike Aviles, who is way, waaaaaay better than his counterpart, Yuniesky Betancourt.  Quite the triumphant return for Aviles, bagging three hits including a home run.

Aviles and the rest of the Royals offense overcame a slow start on Tuesday.  In the first three innings, the Royals had a total of eight runners on base with no outs.  Unique way to look at it, no?

Top of the first – DeJesus doubles to lead off followed by a Podsednik bunt single.
Top of the second – Kendall walks, Aviles singles, Maier singles.
Top of the third – Guillen singles, Callaspo singles, Kendall walks.

And of the cavalcade of base runners, the Royals scored exactly two runs.  Two.  One run came on a Billy Butler double play.  The other scored in the second when Chris Getz hit a bases loaded single to plate Kendall.

Offensive malpractice like that normally bits teams in the ass.  A strong performance by Luke Hochevar and a pair of late inning home runs rendered that moot.  More on Luke later in the week…

Well, Alex Gordon has been sent to Omaha to learn to be a first baseman and outfielder while Alberto Callaspo has become the full time third baseman.  Once this whole situation sunk in for me, the first thought that came to my mind other than “What the heck are they doing with Gordon?” was “At what point does Alberto Callaspo truly become a Royal?”  It seems like an odd question considering Callaspo officially became a Royal on April 4th 2008 when he pinch hit for Tony Pena Jr. in the 8th inning against the Twins.

While technically at that point he was a Royal, ever since then he’s seemed like a visitor, a temporary part of the team, a guy who had some potential but represented a stop-gap. Even the Royals seem to have treated him like he was not very important to the team.  He was always rumored in trades, including heavily during this year’s Spring Training.

You would think that after 253 games, back to back .300+ hitting seasons and being one of the most productive offensive players on an offensively anemic team he’d be more than just a figurative Royal in my mind; he’d be a bonafied team stud.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Callaspo, but he just hasn’t seemed like a true Royal.  For some reason it just hasn’t happened yet…until now.

It might have something to do with the fact that he wasn’t a part of the Royals minor league system.  He was acquired via trade for pitcher Billy Buckner.  It was a pretty heavily debated move at the time if I remember correctly.  Regardless, there wasn’t time to develop an affinity for him while watching his stats in the minor league.  He wasn’t one of our guys – he was thrust upon us.

The other part of the equation is that he hasn’t really been given a full time position.  He has played primarily at second base, logging 203 of those 253 games there.  But even with that many games at a single position, he hasn’t exactly been installed as the true starter and trusted in that role.  In 2008, Mark Grudzielanek was the full-time second baseman at the beginning of the season; however he had an ankle injury late in the season and the position ended up going to Callaspo nearly by default.

Before the 2009 season, the Royals attempted to make Mark Teahen a second baseman.  That experiment lasted 3 games until Jose Guillen had to go on the DL with a hip injury.  Again, the Royals reluctantly put Callaspo back at second base, this time however he started 142 games at the position.

Then, before the 2010 season, the Royals traded Mark Teahen for Chris Getz: a fast, light-hitting, decent fielding second baseman.  The Royals made no secret of the fact that they were shopping Callaspo. They were openly looking for potential trade partners but they either didn’t find one or didn’t get an offer they liked.  And in what’s looking like a pattern, Getz goes on the DL and Callaspo heads to his old position once more.

Finally, in what seems like a drastic move, the Royals send Gordon to Omaha in order to learn to be a 1B or an OF and finally give Callaspo a full time position, but this time it was at third base.  The club has seemingly placed their full faith in Alberto Callaspo.  So after acquiring Callaspo, moving him around the diamond, trying to get rid of him and attempting to replace him twice in the last two years, Callaspo seems to have worn down the organization.  They have finally decided that his bat is worth having in the lineup, and  they had to find a place to put him.

Alberto Callaspo is in his third season with the Royals, and he is continuing to produce offensive numbers.  He has finally been given a full time job at third base, and more importantly, seemst to have the full faith of the organization behind him.  It finally feels like he’s a Royal, well at least to me.  Welcome home Alberto, welcome home.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

I have been doing research for a far different column than the one you are getting today.    My original column idea was based on the belief that the Royals, as they have so many times before, would go to Tampa Bay and get their heads handed to them in the four game series.    What happened this weekend, while not earth shattering, was enough to forestall my original idea – at least until Thursday – and instead review a number of comings, goings and happenings since the team left Kansas City.

After taking an 11-1 drubbing on Thursday night, the Royals rebounded to hold one of the hottest teams in baseball to just five runs over the next three games.   Of course, in typical Royals’ fashion, they somehow managed to lose one of those three games and, of course, that game happened to be pitched by Zack Greinke.

Yesterday, Greinke was simply awesome, taking just 87 pitches to fly through eight innings.   In that time, Zack walked no one, struck out six and hung one curveball to Evan Longoria and lost because of it.   As Tampa manager Joe Maddon observed, ‘Grenke could have thrown 15 innings on Sunday’ and I have to agree.  

Greinke threw more than 12 pitches in an inning just once on Sunday, was still throwing ninety-three miles per hour on his last pitch and only threw twenty balls out of the strike zone all day.   For that, Zack was rewarded with his second complete game 1-0 loss in less than a year.     Did you know there had not been a 1-0 game in the American League all year?    I don’t know if Zack Greinke drinks, but this is the kind of stuff that will make a guy start.

The much maligned bullpen had a nice weekend, too:  allowing three runs in 12.1 innings of work.     If you discount the cameo appearance by Victor Marte (how much do you make being in the majors for 24 hours?) and an irrelevant Kyle Farnsworth sighting, the reliever allowed just one run when it mattered and that was by Joakim Soria.   Does that mean all is well out in the pen?  I doubt it, but a little success can’t hurt.

That said, the organization felt good enough about the bullpen to ship off a pitcher who many of us on stage and screen have been clamoring for:  Carlos Rosa.   Greg Schaum had a nice rundown of the trade here.   One organizational stance seemed to be that ‘Rosa does not have an out-pitch and the lowest strike percentage in AAA’.       Okay, I can see that, and the player acquired is twenty year old Rey Navarro who was a former third round pick with a metric ton of upside,  but you have to wonder if a team struggling to hold leads should really be trading away a guy who can throw 97 mph.   By the way, what exactly do Brad Thompson, Bruce Chen, Kyle Farnsworth, etc. have that IS considered an ‘out-pitch’.

What can we really read into the Rosa trade?   Well, it is certainly possible that it is ‘Dayton Moore I’m tired of hearing everyone talk about Rosa’ move, but we can hope it is:

  • that the organization is looking towards the future (which plays nicely into by original idea for a column)
  • that Blake Wood is progressing nicely in Omaha and took Rosa’s place as the ‘power arm of the future’
  • that the likes of a Ferderico Casteneda, Greg Holland and Louis Coleman (to name a few) are soon to be better potential relievers than Rosa
  • Rey Navarro is the next Omar Vizquel and we have robbed Arizona once more

Frankly, I will settle for Wood being the primary setup man in Kansas City by June 15th and worry about the rest of the above later.   However, if Navarro becomes Vizquel and Chris Getz turns into Brian Roberts, we’ll all have a Merry Christmas.

Speaking of Chris Getz (who I still like, but am slowly getting a bad feeling that he is going to ‘do all the little things’ and end up hitting .227.), he was activated on Friday which moved Alex Gordon to the bench and, by Sunday, all the way to Omaha.  

Since 2007, I have been in the camp of thinking that what Gordon needed to learn about hitting could only be taught at the major league level.  That said, at this point, I don’t have much of a problem with Alex being sent to Omaha.   It worked for Mark Teahen once – well, it worked for three months better than the next two years, but it did cause improvement.     Playing everyday at this point and hopefully feasting on lesser pitching is probably a better plan for Gordon than having him see sporadic time in the majors.

There is a school of thought that the organization is already looking at Gordon moving to first and Butler to DH as soon as Jose Guillen is off the roster.   Have they given up on Alex?  I don’t think so, but the Royals have certainly changed their way of thinking when it comes to him.

Mike Aviles replaces Gordon on the roster and would seem to be a better fit should Trey Hillman actually deviate from his set lineup…ever.   Aviles played shortstop every day his last week in Omaha, which I’m hoping means he is ready to handle the left side of the infield.   Given that Yuniesky Betancourt is gradually regressing into himself, it would be nice to see Mike get three or even for starts per week spread between second, short and third.    It is very possible that Aviles, once Guillen cools off, is the second best bat on the team next to Billy Butler, and it would be a shame to see Hillman just let him rot on the bench.

Speaking of comings and goings, the Royals have (or are about to) sell the rights of Roman Colon to Korea.    What’s the IRS form number for selling a human to another country?   While this may be an opportunity for Colon to throw more, I have to believe Kansas City to Omaha to Korea is not the ideal career path.

The Royals move on to Chicago tonight and we will see a struggling Gil Meche pitch against a struggling Jake Peavy.   Gil, who is so out of sync that he is worried about when he takes the ball out of his glove during his delivery, really needs to have a good start or this season is going to go from wounded duck status to actual awfulness.

Episode #016 – Nick reviews the series with the Rays and previews the series with the White Sox.  He discusses the Rosa trade, the Gordon demotion, the Aviles promotion and even praises the bullpen.  All of that plus Around the Minors and Heroes and Goats.

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The bullpen wasn’t the story on Thursday.  Kind of difficult when the starter coughs up nine runs on 11 hits in just under three innings.

How do you think Luke Hochevar reacted when he saw who is right fielder was?  Here’s another thing I can’t figure… Conventional wisdom holds that when you have a player with a history of leg issues, you keep them off the artificial turf.  At this point, I just shake my head, give a Frank White-like chuckle and say, “That’s Trey Hillman.”

Anyway, if you’re following me on Twitter, you may recall a Tweet from last week about my good fortune.  I was knocking around a used bookstore in Westport, where I discovered a no less than five copies of The Bill James Baseball Abstracts from 1983 to 1988.  (Missing is the 1986 edition, featuring a recap of the Royals World Series title.  Damnit.)  So, I’ve been revisiting these books and decided I’d start with the oldest and work my way forward.

It’s surprising how relevant this material remains after almost 30 years.  I’m going to probably glean three or four posts from this… At least.  Here’s number one…

In his section recapping the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, James ponders the importance of bullpens and exactly how often a game is decided in the late innings.  That Brewers team had future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers in the back of the bullpen for most of the season.  (He missed most of September with an injury.)  James discovered that the Brewers actually lost some ground the longer the game progressed.  Through six innings, the Brewers were ahead 90 times and behind on only 50 occasions (with 23 ties) giving them a +40.  As James pointed out, had the Brewers split the ties, they would have finished with over 100 wins.  They did not and actually lost ground after the sixth inning.  Their final record was 95 wins and 67 losses, giving them a +28.  Looking at their position following every inning, we come up with a graph that looks like this:

The Brewers were a good offensive team, jumping out to early leads – they were ahead 65 times after the second inning and 80 times after the third – and had a bullpen that generally held those leads.

The ’82 Brewers were a playoff team.  The ’10 Royals most assuredly are not.  Fortunately, James studied a bad team to see how they fared in the later innings. In this case, the ’82 Reds ahead 60 times and behind in 89 contests (with 13 ties) through six innings, which gave them a -29.  They finished with 61 wins and 101 losses for a final score of -40.  That year, Cincinnati’s bullpen wasn’t very good, but neither was their rotation.

There’s an interesting dip from the fifth to the sixth inning, but that wasn’t the fault of the bullpen.  Reds starters threw an average of 6 innings per start.  Don’t get me wrong… The ’82 Cincinnati bullpen wasn’t that good, but they weren’t horrible either.

Remember, James did this exercise to see if he could determine when games were decided.  And his study at this point was admittedly cursory.

I just think the graphs are interesting.  On the surface, it certainly looks as though the majority of games are decided by the sixth inning.

That leads us to the Royals.  Here’s their chart:

This boggles the mind.  The Royals are playing over their heads offensively but they should at least be above .500 for April.

Here are the raw numbers.

This isn’t anything new. To those of us who have followed this disaster of a team, it’s quite obvious.  As the bats begin their drift to hibernation (and make no mistake – they’re headed for an extended drought) the graph will shift south in the early innings and the Royals will lose their positive marks.

I suspect by the end of the year, the 2010 Royals graph will look really close to the 1982 Reds.  At least by then, the bullpen is largely irrelevant.

The Royals’ bullpen took another loss yesterday afternoon.   How bad has it gotten?   Well, there are at least two guys, maybe three, that enter the game with a greater sense of impending doom than Kyle Farnworth.   Keep in mind, I sat next to a scout last year that actually laughed at Kyle Farnsworth, so I do not take a Farnsworth appearance lightly.

We can make some legitimate arguments over when and how Trey Hillman might use Joakim Soria and I might offer that Hillman has (rightfully) gotten so paranoid about his relievers that he might be pulling them too often.   The Josh Rupe appearance on Tuesday night comes to mind:  perhaps giving Rupe at least one more hitter to settle in might have made sense.   After all, if you have seven guys out there you don’t trust, how many do you really want to see on one night?

At any rate, it seems more obvious everyday that this group of relief pitchers simply is not good enough.   You can match them up anyway you want, assign whatever roles you can think of, and the fact is they are an implosion waiting to happen.   Realistically, what are the Royals’ options?  

  • Bryan Bullington- The former number one pick has tossed 22 innings in Omaha thus far, struck out 15 and walked just 4 batters.   Opponents are hitting just .187 against the 6’6″ righthander and he carries a WHIP of just .083.   Last year, working exclusively in relief for Las Vegas, Bullington struck out 43 in 38 innings and walked only 7 on his way to a 3.52 earned run average (not bad considering the home park).   Sure, Bullington has been a failure on the big league level, but he has had some success (albeit in AAA) working as a reliever.
  • Anthony Lerew – I kind of like Lerew, if only because he got two late season starts in an emergency last year and had to face the Yankees and Red Sox and held his own.   The club gave him a pretty good look in the spring and decided against keeping him on the roster – but then, do we trust the organization’s talent evaluation at this point?   Currently, Anthony has a 3.15ERA in 20 innings, having struck out 14 and walked 6.   Opponents are hitting .247 against him and Lerew’s WHIP of 1.20 is decent considering he has been used mainly as a starter.
  • Blake Wood - The twenty-four year old throws hard with good sinking action and made a run at the big league roster this spring.   After being a starter most of his minor league career, Wood has been moved into the pen – something that was mentioned even back when he was drafted.     He gave up one run in his first Omaha appearnce this year and two in his second.   After that, Wood held the opposition scoreless in his next five appearances (six innings), allowing just three hits along the way.  He was tagged for a two runs, just one earned, his last time out when he allowed no hits, but walked two in two innings of work.   Blake has posted a WHIP of 1.09 and opponents are batting just .211.   The organization likes Wood and expects him to be in the big leagues at some point this year:  tomorrow would be fine with me.
  • Carlos Rosa - The organization seems to have soured on Rosa and gave him a surprisingly brief look in spring training.   He has posted a 1.69 ERA in 10.2 innings for Omaha this year, with a warning flag of seven walks to go with his nine strikeouts.   Still, Rosa throws 97 easily and often and has been okay in two very brief major league stints in the past two years.   Last year, his first as a full-time reliever, Carlos struck out 80 and walked 32 in 71 innings of AAA work.   It is hard to see where there is not room for Rosa in a bullpen that is willing to tolerate Kyle Farnsworth and Robinson Tejeda.
  • Matt Herges - You have to love baseball to be forty years old and pitching in Omaha, which is exactly Herges’ situation.   He pitches off his changeup and was cuffed around pretty good in the spring.   Matt has had little success in Omaha, either, allowing AAA hitters to hit .394.     Still, last year in the majors, Herges held hitters to a .246 average over 35 innings, striking out 26 and walking 8.   If the Royals are scared to go to a pen full of young pitchers, than Herges (who has an out in his contract if not called up anyway) might be worth a look.   At this point, I’m willing to settle on simply different, if not better.

You may be looking for Chris Hayes to be on this list, but he started the year on the disabled list and has given up 11 hits in 5 innings since coming back.   We will have to revisit this submarining reliever in a few months.   Victor Marte is also on the Omaha roster, but something sticks in my head that he may be hurt right now.   Anyway, Marte reminds me too much of Roman Colon (who is also back in Omaha) to discuss any further.   Adam Bostick was on the roster and made a bit of an impression in spring training, but he recently drew a 50 game substance abuse suspension.

So, there are your basic options in Omaha, but there are a few more in AA Northwest Arkansas who could reasonably make the leap to Kansas City.

  • Edgar Osuna – The Braves did not think he was worth the $25,000 Rule 5 buy-back cost and the Royals were able to keep him.   In four starts spanning 23 innings, the lefty has allowed just 21 hits and 2 earned runs.   There have been SEVEN unearned runs in Osuna’s starts, by the way – who’s playing defense in AA?  Osuna has struck out 20 and walked only 2 as he has held hitters to a .236 average.   Having almost made the team in the spring, Osuna has to be on the club’s mind for bullpen help – or at least he should be.
  • Federico Castaneda – Just got the call-up to Omaha thanks to striking out 11, walking 1 and allowing only 4 hits in 9.2 innings of AA work.   He pitched a scoreless inning in his Omaha debut.   After an eight game stint in the rookie leagues, the twenty-six year old threw 27 innings in AA last year.  He struck out 27 and allowed just 20 hits in that stretch.   With all the retread relievers clogging the Omaha roster, that the organization promoted Castaneda would seem to indicate they are thinking he can help them sooner rather than later in the bigs.
  • Blaine Hardy – Has not allowed a run in 15 innings and only seven hits, but he pitched in Low-A Burlington last season.  Blaine is already on the fast track, but calling on him now would really be fast tracking.
  • Louis Coleman – Just drafted last summer, Coleman is already in AA and holding his own.   The Royals drafted him with the idea that he could move quickly as a reliever.   Like Hardy, Louis is probably someone we should revisit in June.
  • Aaron Crow – He has hit a bit of a flat spot recently and with just 12 strikeouts in 21 innings, plus 10 walks, needs more time.   Besides, it is one thing to rush Blaine Hardy, entirely another to rush Aaron Crow.

There are some other intriguing names in Northwest Arkansas, too (Brandon Sisk, Rowdy Hardy, Everett Teaford), but realistically those mentioned above would seem to be actual options in the near term.

Overall, there is some potential to make things better in the Royals’ pen.   At minimum, bringing up the likes of a Wood, Osuna and Rosa would at least give those two experience so next year’s bullpen would be at least be better.   At this point, you have to wonder what the Royals’ think they have to lose by making more changes?

Episode #015 – Special guest Adam stops in to talk about the Mariners series, whats up with Gil, can bad managers become good, moving to the National League and Maier vs Ankiel.  All of that, plus a preview of the Rays series.

Follow along with twitter @brokenbatsingle or email at brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

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