Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

You know, SABR Trey is just never going to get how to use his bullpen.  Leading by one run with six outs to go, you hand the ball to a waiver claim from the previous week who rumor has it, will be placed on waivers again to activate Gil Meche on Saturday?

Why wouldn’t you go with Juan Cruz or Roman Colon in that situation?  I’m not saying they would be better than Luis Mendoza – although if you want to go by history – they should be better.  The whole issue with the bullpen is it’s loaded to the brim with crap.  There are going to be a ton of games this year where they can’t hold a lead for Soria.  Hell, Soria himself couldn’t seal the deal in game two of the series. (Although that was one of the more insane at bats I’ve ever seen.)

Hillman will always be under the microscope when it comes to his handling of the bullpen.  Some of it will be unjustified because quite frankly, they don’t have the quality arms in relief.  However, I’m a firm believer that you put your players in the best position to bring them and your team success.  I just don’t see how using Mendoza in that situation does that.  That’s why I would have preferred Colon or Cruz.  (I’m assuming Robinson Tejeda was unavailable after throwing the night before.)

And then sending Mendoza back out there in the ninth, down a run, just feels to me like Hillman was waving the white flag.

Three games in and Hillman is already on the defensive:

“It’s disappointing, but I’ve seen a couple of other games on TV. There have been some other bullpens blow up with a lot higher payroll than ours and with a lot more guys established in the roles that they’re in.”

Really?  Are we supposed to care about “other bullpens?”  Hillman always says some crazy things, but when managers start deflecting, that’s trouble.

So here we are… three gems tossed by the starting pitchers and one win to show.  Groundhog year, anyone?

–Brian Bannister generally followed his 2009 script on Thursday afternoon.  Remember last year, how Bannister started to throw a cutter and a power change?  Turn to the Bannister entry in your Royals Authority Annual for a breakdown of how often he threw each pitch.  Nevermind… Here’s how often he threw each pitch last summer:

Fastball – 17%
Cutter – 52%
Change – 20%
Curve – 11%

Yesterday, his pitches broke down like this:

Fastball – 49%
Cutter – 26%
Change – 14%
Curve – 8%

The power change and the cutter are pitches with a lot of downward bite and the result last year was a 1.26 AO/GO ratio.  That was the first time in his career the majority of his outs came on the ground.  That’s why he was having such a strong year until he fell victim to Hillman’s Starting Pitcher Chainsaw Massacre.

Bannister turned more to his fastball on Thursday, but still mixed in plenty of cutters and change-ups.  However, the results couldn’t have been more different.  Here’s how he recorded his outs.

Strikeout – 3
Caught Stealing – 1
Ground Ball – 1
Fly Ball/Line Drive – 14

Whoa.  That’s less than ideal.

The Tigers got good wood on the ball a few times, but most of those were hit directly at the outfielders.  The wind was blowing strongly from right to left, but I don’t think the wind knocked anything down.  Magglio Ordonez’s home run in the sixth was the real deal.  A bomb.

As we know, Bannister is a student of the statistical side of the game, so I’m sure he’ll figure out luck played a major factor in his performance.  It will be interesting to see how he adjusts going forward.  Against a better lineup that the Tigers, his outing on Thursday could have been disastrous.

A couple of other thoughts from the series finale…

FREE MIKE AVILES

Really… Why bother putting him on the 25 man roster if he’s going to spend the first three games exercising his glutteal muscles on the bench?  There have literally been a ton of opportunities for him to be used as a pinch hitter.

If it’s all about building strength and confidence in his elbow, then shouldn’t he be in the minors to, you know… play?  And if you’re worried about his elbow, why not use him as a DH?  Or as a pinch hitter?  Instead, he enters Thursday’s game as a pinch runner.  With Wee Willie and Mitch Maier on the bench.  Jeez.  If I’m the manager, I bring in either one of those guys as the runner and use Aviles as a pinch hitter.  Don’t you think his bat would have been preferable to Yuniesky Betancourt’s in the eighth?

So frustrating…

–Speaking of Betancourt, him swinging at the first pitch with one out and the tying run at third in the bottom of the eighth is just a horrible, horrible approach in that situation.  Exhibit #4,396 of why Betancourt may have the tools the scouts rave about but he’ll never be anything but a terrible player.  His muff of the ground ball earlier in the inning is Exhibit #4,395

–After Getz stole second in the bottom of the fifth, why would SABR Trey have DeJesus bunt?  In other words, given the situation (no outs and a two run lead in the middle innings against a below average starter who has thrown 80 pitches) why would you play for one run?  I worry that this “small ball” mantra is clouding better baseball judgement.  When I say that, I’m thinking about Podsednik’s bunt attempt in the bottom of the first inning with no outs in the home opener.

We need a happy small ball medium here.

–I’m going to keep track of Dave Owen’s boneheaded coaching moves this year.  After his sending of the runner down four runs in the seventh inning with only one out, he’s left me with no choice.  The situation only partially describes how foolish that move was.  The runner he was sending was Jason Kendall.  And if he held Kendall at third, that would have brought up the tying run – Billy Butler.  The man simply has no feel for the situation. (No wonder he’s a FOST – Friend Of SABR Trey.)

More shenanigans from the third base coaching box on Wednesday when Kendall gets caught in a rundown to end the seventh – fortunately after the run crosses the plate.  But that wasn’t the worst – or the most bizarre.

In the 11th, after Callaspo tied it with his jack, Butler lines a single.  Wee Willie comes in to pinch run and the next batter, Rick Ankiel laces one to the gap in right-center. Wee Willie should score easily, but Owen puts on the brakes.  After his mistake in Game 1, he suddenly developed the yips in Game 2.  Ugh.  Fortunately, Bloomquist looks back to the ball while rounding third (something all good baserunners should do – pick up the location of the ball.)  When he does, he sees the Tiger second baseman fumble the cutoff and he sprints home with the winning run.

Heads up base running by Wee Willie.  And it turns out he did it all on his own.  Replays showed Owen, after he put up his arms to prevent Bloomquist from scoring, standing with his hands on his knees and his mouth closed during this sequence.  He gave no indication that Bloomquist should advance.  How was that possible?

Anyway, Owen emerged from Thursday’s matinee rather unscathed.  His body count for the 2010 season remains at two.

I started to write this column during the game last night, but after I had rewritten the opening paragraph three times and watched the Royals go from one strike away from a win to almost certain defeat back to winning, I decided a mental break was in order.  

We will start at the beginning and recap last night’s 3-2 extra inning win.

An effective Luke Hochevar is one of the top three keys to the Royals doing anything more than just keeping their heads above water this year.    Last night, we had a very effective Hochevar on the mound.    Now, we have seen this act before:  the one where Luke pitches so well that we all just know that he has finally turned the corner, only to see Hochevar stumble back into ineffectiveness.   What was different last night was the velocity with which Luke threw.

The Royals have seemingly been tinkering with the 2006 number one overall pick since the moment he signed on the dotted line.   They continued to do so this spring and were rewarded with an average fastball velocity of 95.2 mph on Lukes four-seamer and 94 mph on his sinker/two-seamer.   Last season, Hochevar’s average fastball velocity was 91.8 mph.   Now is the time to insert the obligatory ‘do we trust the gun?’ reference, but let’s believe until shown evidence otherwise.

Perhaps more important than raw velocity, was Hochevar’s ability to keep the ball down.  Sixteen of the twenty ‘in-play’ outs he recorded were ground balls.   Not only that, but all sixteen were fielded flawlessly by the Royals’ infield:  noteworthy simply for the rarity of that event last season.   

More of this from Hochevar and a healthy start from Gil Meche on Sunday will start to get me excited this year.

We here at the Authority certainly have dished out our share of criticism of Trey Hillman, but I have to give him a little credit for two pitching moves on Wednesday night.   First, Trey went to Joakim Soria for the final out of the 8th inning.   I liked this move for several reasons, not the least of which was that Hochevar was at 89 pitches in his first start of the year and  his velocity was slipping.    Secondly, Austin Jackson was in just his second major league game and probably has never encountered the likes of Soria in his entire life.    Third, I don’t trust another reliever in the bullpen.   It was the right move in a close game where his team really needed a win.

Miguel Cabrera is good, not lucky.  Let’s face it, two inches to the right or eighteen inches lower and Cabrera does not tie the game with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning.   That said, Cabrera knew that Soria could not get a grip on his breaking pitches last night and simply stood in and fouled off fastballs until he could get one in play.   For whatever reason (cold/rain/wind), Joakim simply could not get his curveball within four feet of the strike zone and it eventually caught up to him against Cabrera.

The second kudo to Hillman, goes for his replacement of Robinson Tejeda with lefty specialist John Parrish in the top of the tenth.    Not only was it a lefty on lefty matchup, but Johnny Damon was one for fourteen lifetime against Parrish.   Again, the proper move at the proper time:  noteworthy only because it seldom happened last season.

Why Kyle Farnsworth?  When the Royals trotted out Kyle Farnsworth to start the eleventh, I pretty much figured Hillman had decided it was too early in the year to play more than eleven innings.   Sure, Farnsworth had pitched an effective inning in the meaningless ninth on Monday, but we all know what the bespectacled one does in a tight game late.   If you don’t remember, check last night’s play by play:  three straight hits and the go ahead run.

I know there are really no options beyond Soria in the bullpen, but in a tie game Farnsworth is the worst option and we have history, stats and scouting reports to prove it.

A good night for The Process.  Dayt0n Moore had to be smiling after seeing after seeing his off-season acquisitions account for nine of the Royals’ twelve baserunners on the night.    Sure, it was Alberto Callaspo who tied the game and Billy Butler who (in the person of pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist) accounted for the game winning run, but there was Rick Ankiel bashing a double to the wall that triggered the winning run.    Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik each walked twice, Chris Getz drove in the first run of the night and bunted what could have been the winning run over in the tenth.   I am skeptical of all those guys except Getz, but on this night it was hard to argue with the results.

Overall, had the Royals lost, we could have gone negative pretty easily.  Why not a pinch hitter at some point in this game?    Why, after he made the last out of the tenth, not replace Podsednik and his awful arm with Mitch Maier for defense (magnified when the Tigers scored their run in the 11th on a single to left)?    

For today, however, the Royals did win on a night when their All-Star closer blew a save and Kyle Farnsworth pitched when it mattered.   While I have long ago given up on the idea of momentum in baseball, you simply have to take like that the Royals managed to pull this one out.

So the big announcement promised on Monday comes a few days late… The cat is already out of the proverbial bag at this point.  Anyway, just in case you didn’t hear:

Royals Authority has joined ESPN’s Sweet Spot Network as their Royals blog.

Clark, Nick and I are really pumped about this opportunity to partner with ESPN.  We have to thank Rob Neyer and the gang at ESPN for pulling everything together.  Rob made the announcement on Tuesday and kind of gave a State Of The SweetSpot laying out the reasons behind forming this network and his vision for the future.

Just because we’ve “gone corporate” doesn’t mean our coverage of our favorite team is going to change.  We are going to continue to break down The Process, piece by piece and while providing the same Royals coverage you (hopefully) enjoy on a daily basis.  It may sound corny, but you guys are the reason for our success.  We can’t thank you enough for reading and commenting.

Since the network is brand new, we’re still not sure about the total role we will play.  They’ll link to us from time to time and they’ve already used us for their Power Rankings.  We may get into an ESPN chat when the Royals are on the network.  (Not holding my breath on that one.)  If you are a basketball fan and you know about their True Hoop network, that is what we’re hoping to emulate.

One change you may have noticed is the navigation bar at the top of the site.  The pulldown menu features other bloggers on the network.  We also feature them on our sidebar. Visit them.  It’s a quality group.

In other site news, as part of our goal to be a one-stop for Royals information, we’ve added a few new pages at the top of the site.  The first link is 2010 Payroll, which breaks down the contracts of the 25 players on the roster and the three currently on the DL.  There’s also a graph that charts the Opening Day payroll going back five years to 2006.

We also added a page dedicated to Dayton Moore and the moves he’s made as General Manager.  It’s a resource that lists every trade, waiver claim and free agent he’s brought to Kansas City.  It will continue to be updated throughout the year.  It’s not meant to be a commentary, rather it’s a reference.  If you can’t remember who was involved in his first ever trade (Brandon Duckworth) or who his most frequent trade partner is (White Sox – 4 deals) you can hit his page and see for yourself.

Finally, on a personal note, I am currently writing about fantasy baseball at Baseball Prospectus.  I’m just as excited and enthused about this development as I am our partnership with ESPN.  Plus, I get to talk about RBI.  My latest piece is about cleanup hitters.

It’s been quite a month at Royals Authority.  Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Luke Hochevar vs. Max Scherzer on Wednesday. We’ll get to see how Hochevar fares after taking that comebacker off his ankle in his final spring start.  There’s also the matter of his new changeup.  Should be interesting.  It always is.

There is no regular season game in baseball more watched, attended and therefore dissected than Opening Day.  For most baseball writers, the story the next day writes itself.  If your team wins, then you write about how it’s important to get off to a good start.  If your team loses, then you write about how the season is a marathon and not a sprint.  Both statements are equally true, so the stories are fine for most teams.  However, what happened yesterday was for Royals fans just another in a long line of disappointing games.  I know that the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, but it seems this marathon has been going on for decades and at some point it has to end.

As Royals fans we can curse our lot in life.   We can blame the fact that the team is in one of the smallest markets in baseball.  We can blame the fact that the team is at a disadvantage because of the way baseballs revenue system is structured.  Yes, those things have an effect, but they are not the sole cause of the current state of Royals baseball.

I am sure by now most if not all people reading this blog know what happened yesterday.  If not, then you can check out a great graph of the game here.  Greinke was Greinke and held the Tigers to only 2 runs in 6 innings.  However in the 7th, the bullpen came in and gave up 6 runs which effectively destroyed the Royals chances to win and dashed thousands of fans hopes for a decent season.

But it didn’t have to be this way.  When SABR Trey was running out the bullpen parade yesterday, I was thinking to myself about the 2009 offseason.  It was in that offseason that Dayton Moore made two extremely short-sighted and ill-fated moves which compounded into more problems in 2010.  In 2009 the Royals traded Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez for Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp respectively.  Nunez and Ramirez were young bullpen arms who were very good, cheap and under team control for a few more years.  In 2008, both guys had sub 3.00 ERAs in a combined 116 appearances.  Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp amounted to rent-a-players who were neither young nor cheap.   In a way the moves symbolize everything that I think the current front office is doing wrong.

The Royals seem to value tenure over talent.  Somehow the Royals expected Crisp’s experience in the Big Leagues to somehow translate into wins on the field for the Royals and overcome the potential loss of one of the best young relievers in baseball.  This tenure over talent mantra is manifesting itself again in the 2010 ballclub.  It was apparent when Mitch Maier, who has been one of the hottest hitters this spring, was on the bench in favor of Ankiel and Podsednik.  It also showed up when Kendall was signed, started Opening Day and was even at bat in a crucial late game situation.

The Royals also seem to ignore metrics in favor of intangibles and avoid playing their best players.  Those poor trades in 2009 showed clearly that the Royals were not really evaluating the talent they were receiving.  Mike Jacobs was a strikeout machine who hit with some power but couldn’t reach 1st base if he had to.  The current Royals roster is again filled with guys who can’t get on base and they don’t seem to mind.  They seem to think a guys gritty determination or his veteran leadership can somehow overcome his inability to actually do things during the game to help his team win.  Again, this problem wasn’t just evident in the Mike Jacobs acquisition.  In 2010, the Royals got Mike Jacobs pt 2 in Rick Ankiel and promised him center field.  He is probably the 4th best center fielder on the team and like Jacobs he can’t get on base.  Either the Royals don’t care or they are unable to properly analyze the situation.    It was also obvious yesterday when Kila Ka’aihue was unavailable to pinch hit because he was on his way to Omaha.

The last thing that those moves symbolized to me was that the front office doesn’t understand exactly how damaging a couple of poor moves can be.  Destroying the bullpen meant the Royals had to go out into the free agent market and pick up Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth.  They had to spend a pretty penny to get those guys and are hamstrung financially in 2010 when both guys are still on the roster.  Crisp and Jacobs are both gone, which meant they also had to be replaced this year.  In the meantime the bullpen in 2009 was a complete disaster and from the looks of yesterdays game might be so again in 2010.

It was still only one game.  There are 161 more this season and maybe I am overreacting.  Maybe if the Royals had Nunez and Ramirez yesterday, they still would have lost that game.  I know it’s easy to use hindsight to judge the decisions made by Dayton Moore.  There were some positives coming from the game yesterday and I still have some hope that this team can have a decent season.  It is just frustrating to see a bullpen come into the game and destroy what could have been an amazing Opening Day, and think to myself “It didn’t need to be this way.”

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 will be providing up to the minute analysis of the Royals Vs Tigers Opening Day game.  Refresh this post in your browser for the most up to date entry (F5 button).

Final Score: Tigers 8 – Royals 4

6:18 – Pods grounds out.  Game over Royals lose.  0-1 on the season.  Very disappointing afternoon.  I said earlier the bullpen would decide the game and so it was.  Thats the end of the live blogging folks.  I hope you enjoyed it somewhat, even with the way the game turned out.  161 more games to go.

6:17 – Full count on the Pod.

6:16 – Anyone wish Kila was available to pinch hit for Pods?

6:15 – Dejesus advances runners with an infield out.  First base open, I would love to see pods take a walk and get Billy up with the chance to tie with one swing.

6:12 – Concrete wall be damned.  I have hope.

6:11 – Now Getz reaches and Kendall grits his way to second by taking out the 2nd baseman.  Top of the order coming up.

6:10 – Kendall takes a walk, only the second of the day for the Royals.

6:07  – Betancourt hits a ball hard down the third base line, but he is thrown out.   And Kendall comes to bat, of course he does.

6:05 – That Betancourt HR seems like it was a long time ago.  With Kendall and Getz set to bat in the 9th will Hillman pinch hit?

6:04 – Pretty good outing by Farnsworth.  He actually had a decent 2009 eyond the epic failures he had in the first week or so of the season.  I wouldn’t be shocked if he was one of the best relievers for the Royals this season.

Midle of the 9th Inning: Tigers 8 – Royals 4

6:01 – The Farns is in.  He gets Ordonez to ground out, he strikes out Cabrera and gets Guillen to ground out.  Everybody gets some innings today.  With an off day I guess that makes sense.

End of the 8th Inning: Tigers 8 – Royals 4

5:58 – Bloomquist strikes out.  Callaspo chats with Mitch maier on the bench.

5:58 – Guillen grounds out.  Kila books ticket to Omaha

5:56 – Ankiel grounds out going 0-4 on the day.  Mitch Maier has a nice view of the action.

Middle of the 8th Inning: Tigers 8 – Royals 4

5:51 – The bullpen parade continues with Parrish getting into the game.  The Royals had a solid lead going into the 7th inning and their best Reliever and arguably three of their best bats remain on the bench.

5:49 – I am still in shock over what I’ve been seeing.  I know I shouldn’t.  Before the game I think on 610 AM, they were talking about how Bloomquist said something like “Insanity is banging your head on a brick wall expecting a different result.”  At the time I didn’t realize how that quote would define the day.

End of the 7th Inning: Tigers 8 – Royals 4

5:43 – So let me recap.  Dave Owen waves Kendall home on a ball that was barely out of the infield when the Royals were down by 4 runs and Butler is on deck.  Genius.

5:40 – Pods with a Texas Leaguer and Kendall makes an out at home with 1 out and down 4 runs.  He had absolutely no business trying to score on that play.  Am I the only person who realizes the Royals are down by 4 and not 1?

5:38 – For the love of Whitey, why is Dejesus squaring to bunt here?  We need 4 runs not 1.  Then an infield fly.

5:36 – Getz reaches base.   The Royals can rally.  We can’t let the Opening day optimism die.

5:34 – The Royals bullpen gave up 6 runs and the best relief pitcher in the AL is sitting on the bench.

5:33 – The first five innings just flew by, now everything has slowed to a crawl.  Maybe Einstein was right about time being relative.

5:31 – Kendall still in the game.  I guess it was too much to ask to get Pena in the game.  I know managers hate having no catchers on the bench.  Then Kendall makes me look stupid and reaches.  It ain’t over folks.

Middle of the 7th Inning: Tigers 8 – Royals 4

5:29 – Royals finally out of that disaster of an inning.

5:28 – Hey, it’s still a good day here at Royals Authority.  Has anyone noticed the top of the page today?  You should still buy a Royals Authority Annual and check out the Broken Bat Single Podcast.  /pitch

5:26 – I am not going to lie.  Live blogging is much more fun when the Royals are winning.  But I am going to grit it out and keep giving you my thoughts.  Although I imagine the vast majority of the audience has hit the whiskey by now and isn’t sitting at an interweb machine.

5:24 – Inge strokes a double scoring another run.  Royals down by 4 with two of their best bats on the bench.  I am now watching to see how Hillman manages his bench.  My intuition suggests “poor to quite poor”.

5:23 – First batter to face Cruz gets a hit.  Still only 1 out.  Did Inge always have this many tattoos on his arms?

5:22 – Fangraphs now has the Tigers with a 29.7% Win Expectancy.

5:20 – The Tigers score their fourth run of the inning on a Cabrera single.  Juan Cruz is in the game.  It’s a bullpen parade.  It all really happens here.

5:16 – The Royals are going to need some offense.  Aviles and Callaspo are on the bench.  They need to get into this game and soon.

5:15 – And Damon drives in two runs.  Tigers take the lead.  Sigh.  Still no outs.  Greinke gets screwed out of his 1st win of the season.

5:14 – Royals still don’t have an out yet.  I really, really miss Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez.

5:12 – Tejada replaces Colon.  Immediately he gives up an Austin Jackson single which leads to a Tigers Run.

5:10 – Colon leaves the game after the first two men he faces reach base.  I am starting to wish I had drank something more calming than all of that Mountain Dew this afternoon.

5:08 – If it were April 1st, I wouldn’t believe it but apparently the MLB blackout rules have changed.  This could be very good news for Royals fans in Iowa and Arkansas.

5:06 – Colon walks Sizemore on 5 pitches.  My nerves begin to start.

5:03 – Greinke done.  Colon in.  Greinke’s line: 6ip 6h  1er 1 bb 4so.  Parrish and Tajeda now warming up.  Tajeda might be the setup guy.

End of the 6th Inning: Tigers 2 – Royals 4

5:01 – I blinked and missed that half inning. Royals only saw 7 pitches.

5:00 – Joel Zumaya in for the Tigers.

4:58 – According to Fangraphs Royals Win Expectancy is 83.7%

Middle of the 6th Inning: Tigers 2 – Royals 4

4:55 – Parrish now warming up in the pen.  Bloomquist with another solid play to end the inning.  Is Greinke done?  He has 96 pitches.

4:53 – Bloomquist continuing his redemption with a nice play at third to get the lead runner.  There is lots of people upset with Bloomquist getting as much playing time as he does, but he really is a solid guy to have on the bench for occasions just like this.  Remember he is plan D for third today: A: gordon B: Callaspo C: Fields D: Bloomquist.

4:50 – Roman Colon warming up in the pen.  I guess my prediction of him being the setup man was wrong.  I guess Cruz is the setup guy then?  Is it too much to think that the Royals aren’t going with that kind of strict bullpen jobs and instead are getting ready to bring in their best non-Soria reliever for an important situation?

4:47 – Three straight Tigers hits with no outs leads to a Tigers Run.

End of the 5th Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 4

4:43 – Ankiel strikes out to end the inning.  It isn’t going to be the last time that happens.

4:41 – Royals score 2 on Butler single!  Is it to early too predict Buter gets 3,000 hits in his career?

4:40 – Zumaya warming up in the pen.  With Verlander hitting 100mph, I don’t see the Royals having to adjust much to his heat.

4:38 – Butler up with bases loaded and two outs after The Pod takes a walk.  First walk of the day for the Royals I believe.

4:36 – Pods up to bat with 2 outs and two men on.  This is why I like to have a very good hitter in the 2 hole, not just a guy who can move runners by making “productive outs”

4:33 – Everett snags a ball up the middle that not very many SS get to and saves a run.  It’s plays like that which makes UZR a great stat.  The only way to tell how many guys get to that ball is by watching every play in the majors, which is what the UZR folks do.

4:31 – I think that Getz is wearing the Xprotex base running glove.  It looks odd, but had Gordon been wearing it he would be playing instead of Bloomquist today.

4:30 – Finally another man on base for the Royals.  Getz with a nice single up the middle.  I think we are going to like Getz at 2B as long as it doesn’t keep Callaspo on the bench.

4:27 – Kendall should have leaned into that pitch.  He needs to get a quick start to get the record.

Middle of the 5th Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 2

4:23 – Greinke with another strikeout.  I am running out of adjectives to describe him.   He is scrumtrulescent.

4:21 – Greinke strikes out Everett on a nasty slider.  That pitch is unhittable.

4:18 – If you are wondering about the weird yellow gloves that Sizemore is wearing, I am pretty sure those are the Xprotex gloves.  They will be the next big thing in the majors.

4:16 – Robert Ford and Sam Mellinger remarking on Twitter about the number of beach balls at the stadium.  There are lots of things at the game that can annoy me, but I like beach balls.

End of the 4th Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 2

4:15 – Royals go 1-2-3 to end the inning.  The pitching battle has begun.  This game will be won/lost by the bullpens.

4:12 – Any Pro Fishing fans out there?  Ankiel is Mike Iaconelli’s doppelganger, right?

Middle of the 4th Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 0

4:09 – It seems like every year there is a new baseball phrase which gets over played, this years: Slider Bat Speed.  Geinke gets his second K.  He is still nasty.

4:08 – A little redemption for Bloomquist.  He starts a nice double play.  Excellent play by Getz too.

4:05 – Royals showing off the latest giveaway Jersey.  Those things are nice.  They have to be the best giveaway in the MLB.  Get there early to get one.

End of the 3rd Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 2

4:03 – Butler grounds out.  Another quick inning for Verlander.  Is it just me or is this game flying?

4:00 – Dejesus strikes out.  Podsednik is wearing high socks.  If I were a team owner that would be the first team rule.  Everybody wears high socks.  No pajama pants on my team.  In Surprise, I noticed that the vast majority of the minor leaguers wore high socks.  Pods strikes out.  Maybe the bunt wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

Middle of the 3rd Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 2

3:55 – Very quick inning for Zack.  Only 10 pitches.  Is it possible that Greinke is underrated even amongst Royals fans?  I mean we are clearly watching the best pitcher in the history of the ball club right?

3:52 – Good to hear Split back in the booth.  I have really missed his excellent commentary.  Just once, I would like to hear Denny on TV.  Vin does it.   Greinke gives up another fly ball to Damon, but its caught for out number 1.

End of the 2nd Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 2

3:50 – Getz flies out, but the Royals are ahead!

3:48  – Well I’ll be damned.  Betancourt with a HR to take the lead 2-1. Gotta give credit where credit is due.  That was a great at bat by Betancourt.

3:46  – Commenter TJ says “Last year, on pitches 1-15, OPS against of .691. On pitches 61-75, OPS against of .461. Don’t worry yet.” I feel a little better now. Thanks.  Yuni with an epic at bat right now, already seen 8 pitches.  Not bad.

3:42 – Verlander hitting upper 90s with the fastball regularly.  I don’t think anyone would be out of line if they picked him as the AL Cy Young winner.

3:41 – On cue, Guillen gets a single up the middle and makes me look smart, kind of.

3:40 – Guillen up to bat.  Call me crazy, but I am cautiously optimistic about him this season.

Middle of the 2nd Inning: Tigers – 1 Royals – 0

3:37 – Greinke with a short inning, but still lots of wood on his pitches.

3:35 – Greinke so far only has only induced one swinging strike.  Am I being unnecessarily nervous?

3:32 – Somebody please explain to me why the Royals bunted in that scenario.  Why do you give a free out to the other team?  If you could start an inning with one out and a man on 2nd or no outs and a man on 1st, do you really take the former?

End of the 1st Inning : Tigers 1 – Royals 0

3:29 – Butler grounds out and Ankiel grounds out to end the inning.  I am shocked that the bunt didn’t work out. 

3:27 – Podsednik bunting away in the 1st inning down by 1 run.  Old timers rejoice, guys living in their mothers basements cringe.  By the way, where is she with my meat loaf?  I am hungry.

3:26 – Dejesus being Dejesus.  Nice base hit up the middle.  Having the leadoff man on base is a very good thing.

3:25 – Greinke threw 23 pitches in the 1st.  I don’t think we see a CG coming today.  Oh wait…Hillman is still the manager?  Nevermind, my bad.

Middle of the 1st Inning: Tigers 1 – Royals 0

3:23 – Greinke strikes out Inge for the first K of the season.  End of Inning

3:22 – Mark it down.  First time Ryan Lefebvre gushes about Kendall for blocking a ball in the dirt.  It won’t be the last, that I can promise.

3:19  – Oh dear lord.  Bloomquist misses an infield fly ball.  Five players were right by it.  The wind does not seem that bad here at my house.  That was pathetic.  Tigers score making it 1-0. That was the third out of the inning.

3:17 – Greinke with what looked like a non-intentional intentional walk to Cabrera with 1st base open.  I hope that is the case, since those balls missed the zone quite a bit.

3:15 – Ordonez smacks a double off of Zack.  He hasn’t missed many bats yet today.

3:14 – Jackon flys out to Dejesus in LF, Damon get some boos and grounds out to Getz.  Now the sun arrives.  Looks like a beauty at the park.  Why did I decide to live blog this again?

3:12 – And we are off.  First pitch for a ball from Greinke.

Top of the 1st Inning

3:09 – Time for a quick plug.  Check out my latest podcast which went up this morning if you are into that kind of thing.

3:07 – Not Royals related, but seriously:  watch the play Buehrle made today.

3:06 – David Cook with the National Anthem.  This guy actually won a singing competition?

3:05 – Sam Mellinger just tweeted that Farnsworth was booed.  Seems a tad premature for that.

2:59 – Royals will be rocking the powder blue uniforms with the new powder blue hats.  I like the look quite a bit.  I still think going full on powder blue with pants and all would be great.

2:57 – The big board is now showing a very digi intro with various stats for things surrounding the franchise.  Like amount of dirt on the field, length of fountains, number of World Series and such.  That was really well done.

2:55 – I do like seeing the Royals embrace the teams history though.  There really is a lot of history within this franchise that people should be aware of.

2:53 – Just checked Jamie Blumas stats.  He pitched in 17 games in only 1 season for the Royals.  He did have an ERA+ of 141 though.

2:52 – The Royals are bringing out former players to represent past eras and they start with Jamie Bluma?

2:50 -Oh my, what is this.  There is a band using autotune playing and wearing Royals outfits.  This might be the worst song I’ve ever heard in my life.

2:49 – Video board montage.  Smooth guitar music, interspersing old time vs modern footage.  Reminds me of a wedding slide show.

2:47 – Pitchers are of course Greinke vs Verlander.  Best pitching matchup of the day.

2:45 – Royals Lineup

D. Dejesus – RF
S. Podsednik – LF
B. Butler – 1B
R. Ankiel – CF
J. Guillen – DH
W. Bloomquist – 3B
Y. Betancourt – SS
J. Kendall – C
Getz – 2B

2:43 – Tigers Lineup

A. Jackson – CF
J. Damon – LF
M. Ordonez – RF
M. Cabrera – 1B
C. Guillen – DH
B. Inge – 3B
G. Laird – C
S. Sizemore – 2B
A. Everett – SS

http://backporch.fanhouse.com/2010/04/05/mark-buehrle-makes-the-play-of-the-year-on-baseballs-first/

Best Case

Eighty-eight victories might be enough to win the AL Central, so no team can truly be considered a non-contender.  Another Cy Young season out of Zack Greinke coupled with a once more healthy and effective Gil Meche would go a long way towards a successful 2010 for the Royals,   They will also need break-out years from two former first round picks:  Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar.   While the return of Mike Aviles somewhere on the infield would be a bonus the Royals were not counting on, the club will be most dependent on GM Dayton Moore being validated by the acquisitions of the likes of Yuniesky Betancourt, Jason Kendall and Rick Ankiel.

Worst Case

The Royals could take a huge step backwards in 2010 if Zack Greinke reverts to being a mere mortal, while Gil Meche and Alex Gordon can never get healthy for an extended period of the season.   Should the signings of Ankiel, Kendall and Scott Podsednik blow up in Dayton Moore’s face and Jose Guillen blow up the Royals clubhouse (all legitimate possibilities), this team could pack it in early.   While much was made of improving the team’s defense during the off-season, it is possible that none of the off-season moves truly did so.   An already weak offensive team could also be inept in the field and a patchwork bullpen could doom the Royals to another disasterous season.

I am going to try and live blog the Opening Day game on Monday against the Tigers. That, plus the coming announcement means you should be sure to stop by Royals Authority on Monday and stick around the whole day. Consider us your digital companion for Opening Day.

Time for our annual exercise where we look into the crystal ball and sort out the future.

Year’s past, some of the categories have included “Impact Pitcher” and “Impact Hitter.”  Those seem kind of irrelevant to me this spring.  Not irrelevant… Just obvious.

So this year, to keep things simple – and to encourage participation – there are just three questions.

How many wins will the Royals have?

Where will they finish in the Central?

Will Trey Hillman last the entire season?

That’s it.  Easy.  Just leave a comment, giving us a number for the first question, another number for the second and a simple yes or no for the third.  Of course, if you want to expand (or explain) your answers, feel free.  It’s blog democracy!

On Monday, we’ll reveal the results.  This is a fun project, that really helps take the pulse of the readers of this blog.  As a group, are we an optimistic bunch, or pessimistic?  Or are we somewhere in between.  I hope you’ll participate.

Oh yeah… We’ll also have that huge announcement on Monday we’ve been teasing for the last month or so.

Opening Day… I can feel it.

On Tuesday, I had yet another choice to make.  The Royals were playing the Indians at 6:00 and the Royals minor leaguers would be playing at 6:30.  I figured that I would be able to see the big club play 162 times starting in about a week, so I would primarily focus on seeing the prospects.

I started at the main stadium to catch some batting practice at the cages, which are a very cool feature, because they are right inside the stadium and the guys are about 3 feet away taking BP.  I wanted to get a look at Ankiels ankle to see if he would be ready to go.  I am certainly no doctor, however he looked like he was fine to me.  He was taking full swings and not easing up at all.  I watched his ankle closely and when he turns to rotate his body, he rolls up on the outside of his foot.  I don’t know if that is how he injured his ankle, but it looks like It would certainly cause some stress.

The Major League Game

I grabbed my seat for the start of the game so I could watch at least the first inning or so before heading off to the back fields.  I guess the Royals were intent on helping me out, since they scored 5 runs in the first and let me see everything I wanted to see.

The first thing I noticed was that I was seeing the battle of 5th starters.  Talbot for the Indians and Davies for the Royals.  Every single team is “concerned” about their 5th starter, but I was reminded that it could be worse.   Davies had his fastball hitting 93 consistently and an off sped pitch at 82.  Talbot was sitting at 89 and 83 respectively.  Both guys didn’t command the ball particularly well, but Talbot was all over the place walking 3 Royals, which in itself is quite a feat.  The bottom line is that Davies looked better than Talbot and is a perfectly fine 5th starter regardless of some of the chatter you hear.

I also wanted to get a look at Aviles and Kila.  Aviles absolutely crushed a ball to the wall with Dejesus on second and Podsednik at first.   Dejesus scored and Podsednik was hustling right behind Dejesus, he was looking to get a sign from the third base coach and wasn’t getting one.  He was clearly motioning to the coach asking whether he should score or not and finally stopped at third.  It would have been a close play for Podsednik at home, and stopping him in Spring Training is probably the right call, but it was just odd that the coach was not decisive in the situation and made Podsednik ask for the sign.  I wanted to see Kila hit, but it was kind of perfect to watch him walk.  Kila also saved a double play by picking a throw from Yuniesky out of the dirt.  Brayan Pena’s home run was a bomb and afer him came Yuniesky Betancourt, time to hit the minor league camp.

Minor League Camp

The Royals and Rangers minor leaguers were playing a rare night game and had four simultaneous games going on.  The games weren’t posted, so big thanks to Adam Foster at Project Prospect for giving me the details about the games.  The first thing I saw was a huge crowd at one of the fields.  I moved over and realized Neftali Feliz was pitching for the Rangers.  He had pitched the previous day in the Rangers v Rockies games, so I was pretty shocked to see him.  I got to see Ernesto Mejia face off against Neftali which was extremely entertaining.  Mejia is a big dude and really held his own versus one of the best pitching prospects in the MLB.  He ended up striking out, but he fouled off some of Feliz’s sick curve balls and probably saw 10 pitches in the AB.

I moved over to the field that the  A ball team was on and saw Tim Mehlville pitching.  I moved in behind Adam Foster and jotted down the radar gun readings for Mehlville.  His fastball was 89 or 91 mph pretty consistently and he occasionally hit 93 and 94.  However, his command was less than spectacular.  I don’t recall seeing a single ground ball hit off of him, while there were plenty of fly balls due to leaving the fastball up.  His curveball on the other hand was extremely good and he commanded it better than his fastball.  He seemed to change speeds with the curve quite a bit as well going anywhere from 72 to 79 mph.  Mehlville is still young and can certainly improve.  I was impressed with what I saw, but he will need to work on his fastball command to become an elite pitcher.*

*Special thanks to Adam Foster for pointing some of these things out to me and letting me use his radar gun.  www.projectprospect.com is a great site.  Check it out.

Earlier in the day I had a chance to see Cheslor Cuthbert take fielding practice with Buck Coats, Kurt Mertins and Malcom Culver.  Cuthbert seemed to be the best fielder in that group.  He didn’t miss a single ball, while all the other guys did.  He exhibited very good range and good instincts.  It was only one practice, but I was impressed with his fielding.

Hosmer didn’t get on the field at all in the games I saw and there was some talk that he is maybe coming off of a slight injury.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to him or confirm this.  He was the bat boy in the A ball game and seemed to be moving around fine, so if he is injured it doesn’t seem serious.

There was one other player who impressed me: Patrick Norris.  He played CF for the A ball team and showed great speed on the bases, threw a guy out at home and played with some good range in the outfield.  He is a switch hitter who pulled the ball with a quick bat from the left side and poked one the opposite way from the right side.  It is of course  a small sample size but I liked him a lot.  He doesn’t get much love around the prospect rankings, and that is probably for a good reason.  But I will be keeping my eye on him this year.

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)

As spring training winds down, there’s not much to get excited about with our Royals.  Alex Gordon and Gil Meche won’t break camp with the team (although Meche is scheduled to start the April 11 game against the Red Sox.)  Alberto Callaspo has a strained side and the Royals – who have a history of downplaying the severity of injuries – are making noise he will miss the opener.  Jason Kendall still figures to start 130-odd games at catcher.  And Rick Ankiel will hobble around center.

Hey!  Snap out of it.  Spring is a time for optimism.

I hear you.

In the spirit of hope, optimism and all things that can be great, I present today’s post on the Royals brightest ray of light – Billy Butler.

We know the story.  We embrace the story.  2009 will be remembered for two things: Zack Greinke’s dominance and Butler making THE LEAP.

Greinke’s Cy Young wasn’t a surprise for us.  Hell, I even called it in the annual Hardball Times prediction.  (I also said David Wright was going to be the NL MVP.  Can’t win ‘em all.)  Butler’s emergence… We all knew he had the potential.  We just didn’t know it would come this soon.

For Butler, THE LEAP was mighty impressive.  He added 40 points to his on base percentage, 90 points to his “slug” and 65 points to his isolated power.  Take a peek at how he’s grown as a hitter in his three years in Kansas City:

Year

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

OPS+

WAR

2007 .292 .347 .447 .155 108 0.6
2008 .275 .324 .400 .124 93 0
2009 .301 .362 .492 .191 124 2.5

This is old news.  However, it’s necessary to lay the foundation so we can pose the important most important question regarding Butler:

Can he continue to improve?

To answer this question, let’s look at some key aspects of his game.

Approach: Making Contact

For such a young player (and one trying to prove himself at the highest level) Butler has a good command of the strike zone.  Consider his swing percentages over his first three years.

Year

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Swing%

2007 23.6% 69.4% 46.6%
2008 24.8% 63.0% 44.7%
2009 24.9% 63.4% 43.3%

The above table suggests to me we’re looking at a player extremely confident and comfortable in his approach at the plate.  It also suggests a player who is learning.  Check his Swing% and how it’s declined over the three years.  Butler was already plenty selective, but now he’s becoming even more choosy.  He knows what he wants as a hitter and he’s willing to wait.

And that’s fine.  Last year, Butler hit .247/.285/.430 when he had two strikes on him with 10 home runs which was an excellent showing.  You may think his slash line is low, but when a batter has two strikes, the pitcher definitely has the upper hand in the confrontation.  Compare Butler’s slash numbers with two strikes to the league averages of .190/.262/.289 last year.  Further, compare that to Butler’s 2008 season when he hit .186/.232/.224 with two strikes.  We’re looking at a player who is increasingly comfortable with the bat in his hands, no matter the situation.

The proof is in the results.  Last year, his walk rate jumped to 8.6% – up from his ’08 walk rate of 6.9%  OK, his strikeouts were up, too.  He whiffed 15.3% of the time last year compared to 11.9% in 2008.  I’m fine with the strikeouts… They’re not a big deal for a couple of reasons:

1- The increase in K’s comes with his increase in walks.  His SO/BB ratio actually improved last year.  From 1.73 in 2008 to 1.78.

2- Butler remains a good situational hitter.  Last year, he came to the plate 42 times with a runner on third and less than two outs and drove that runner home 22 times.  It was a 52% success rate which is right in line with major league averages.  He also drove in 18% of all base runners.  That’s a really good rate.  Last year Joe Mauer led the AL at 20% and league average is 15%.

Type Of Contact

Butler has also been crazy consistent over his three seasons in types of balls put in play.

Year

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

2007 1.43 20.7% 46.7% 32.6%
2008 1.41 16.5% 48.8% 34.6%
2009 1.37 18.1% 47.3% 34.6%

The results are remarkably similar when he puts the bat on the ball, but last year something changed.  Butler developed some serious pop.

We all know about the 51 doubles.  (Still excellent.)  Obviously, Butler has what the player evaluators call “gap to gap” power.  But he also hit 21 home runs which was his best total for a season where he didn’t play most of his games in High Desert.  Look at how his HR/FB rate has evolved in his three years in KC:

2007 – 6.3%

2008 – 6.3%

2009 – 8.8%

Butler was hitting fly balls at the exact same rate as the year before, except this time, he was hitting with more POWER.  Maintaining a consistent HR/FB rate is tricky business.  Albert Pujols owns a 6 point difference between his best and worst seasons, for example.  Butler’s initial numbers were so low, it has to be considered a positive development that he improved.  It’s possible there will be a hiccup along the way, but given his age (he turns 24 April 18) it’s a number that should continue to climb for the next couple of years.

Consistent approach, consistent contact… The man is a hitting machine.  Love that.

The Little Things

Remember how Butler just seemed kind of clueless on the bases in 2008?  How many times was he out at second on an ill advised attempt at stretching a single into a double?  He may have had success doing that in Double-A or something, but he’s not fast enough and major league outfielders are too good for him to regularly attempt something like that.

The good news was, he learned from his mistakes.  In 2008, he made nine outs on the bases.  Last summer, he cut that number down to four.  Progress.

Of course, no one will ever mistake Butler for Willie Wilson, but he is developing into a smarter baserunner.  In 2008, he scored from second on a single 50% of the time.  Last year, he crossed the plate from second on a single 55% of the time.  And that’s after doing it just 22% of the time in his rookie season.

Then, there’s his glove work.

I’m reminded of Dayton Moore’s ridiculous statement that Butler needed to become adept at turning a 3-6-3 double play.  GMDM has some good zingers every once in a while.

Let’s take a look at the top five AL first basemen ranked by defensive plate appearances:

Name

PA

BIP%

FLD

F2O%

+/-

UZR/150

Cabrera 5687 76% 307 93% +2 3.1
Teixeira 5599 74% 272 93% 0 -4.1
Morales 5540 78% 319 96% +9 5.0
Butler 5494 75% 269 91% -7 -7.4
Pena 4958 76% 236 92% -5 -6.2

A few things to take away from this table.  First, there’s a correlation between number of balls fielded (FLD), plate appearances and balls in play (BIP%).  It’s opportunity.  Second, you can’t avoid the facts – when comparing Butler to other first basemen in the league, he doesn’t match-up well.  Among regular first basemen, he’s last in +/- and UZR.  And depending on whether or not you include Chris Davis as a “regular” first baseman (he made 93 starts for Texas), Butler is last in converting chances into outs.

Since this is supposed to be an optimistic post, let’s look at it another way: Yes, Butler is a poor defensive first baseman, but he’s not that far from clawing his way off the bottom – Carlos Pena is firmly in his sights.  And sure, Butler could get more outs from his fielding chances, but at 91%, he’s pretty close to the league average of 93%.

Is their room for improvement with the glove?  Certainly.  But compared to his peers, he’s not that far off in the field.  We can live with Butler’s defense.

End Game

Butler’s success last year was the real deal.  It was the culmination of his approach and a certain maturity that comes with experience from playing baseball at the highest level.  You can see from the tables above that Butler always had the necessary tools.  Last year, he finally realized how to put those tools to their optimum use and had the ability to execute.

Now comes the tough part – building on last year’s success.  As I outlined above, Butler remains on the right track to again take a step forward.  Again, it all comes down to execution.  Going forward, with his tools and continued experience and development there’s no reason to think he can’t once again have an outstanding year.  It’s not only possible, it’s extremely likely that his 2010 season will top his successful 2009 campaign.

I think he can do it.

I can’t wait to watch.

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