Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs016.mp3|titles=BBS

Music featured in this episode:

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Are You Real

Florence + The Machine – Kiss With A Fist

Air – Kelly Watch The Stars

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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.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs015.mp3|titles=BBS

Music featured in this episode:

Wood Brothers – Loaded

Gil Evans – Cry of Hungar

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What can you say anymore?

The bullpen stinks.  How’s that?  Oh, we’ve already said that…

The latest transgression was a doozy.

Zack Greinke, after a couple of wobbly starts, threw just a brilliant game.  Six hits through seven innings where he seemed to gain strength as the game progressed.

I thought the Mariners got their best swings at Greinke in the first.  That was when Ichiro led off with a deep fly to center and Franklin Gutierrez went the other way deep to right.  Both balls had warning track power, and fortunately both balls died in the gloves of the outfield.

The Mariners, like almost every other team this year, were laying Greinke’s slider.  They swung at that pitch just under 32% of the time.  He made up for that by getting swings 78% on both his curve (which just had some wicked break last night) and his change.  While I say the curve had wicked break, it was up in the zone enough that the Mariners were able to foul that pitch off (or pop it up.)  His money pitch was the change.  He threw it nine times, got two swinging strikes and only one batter put it in play all night.  And all of them were strikes.

Courtesy of Texas Leaguers, here’s how Greinke’s pitch selection looked last night:

You know what Greinke’s issue was last night?  Foul balls.  The Mariners fouled off 29 of his 119 pitches.  If just a handful of those pitches are put in play, his pitch count stays manageable and he is in the game in the eighth before he hands the ball to Soria in the ninth.

The Mariners aren’t a good offensive team at this point in the season.  They battled, though.  They didn’t always get good swings and were off balance most of the night, but they were difficult to put away.  I’m fairly certain that was the game plan.  Why wouldn’t it be?  Work the count by any means so you can get to the Royals bullpen.

So on to that bullpen…

It’s fairly clear at this point SABR Trey is just kind of an automatic kind of guy when it comes to his bullpen.  He desperately needs guys to have roles, so he can look at a chart in the dugout, apply the situation, and make the decision.  The problem is, he doesn’t have anyone to cover the “2-0 lead in the top of the eighth” situation.

The latest reliever who has garnered Trey’s affections is Josh Rupe.  He is the candidate for the simple fact he made three appearances in four days when he first joined the club and didn’t surrender a run.  I’ll admit, he did look good in those appearances.  However, you have to be leery of such decisions given the fact the Royals felt he wasn’t good enough to make the team out of spring training.

Then again, SABR Trey changes his favorite set-up reliever like a 13 year old girl who can’t decide which Jonas Brother they like.  (Is that a relevant pop culture reference?  I ask because my knowledge of such things pretty much ended in 1995.  The first draft of this article had a Hanson reference.)

Rupe looks good to start, getting Adam Wilson to strike out.  Then Ichiro reaches on a bunt single.  We’re still OK, but Rupe gets freaked out by Ichiro on first. (His run is really inconsequential.  I mean, you don’t want him to score, but he’s not the tying or lead run.)  Predictably, focus is lost and Chone Figgins walks on four pitches.  In my mind, that was just unforgivable.  Figgins is LOST at the plate.  The man is in a horrific slump, hitting .183/.322/.239 in his first 21 games.  He’ll certainly take a walk though.

After Rupe loads the bases, SABR Trey decides to go to his bullpen.  I know we’ve had just a ton of debate about when to use Soria.  Apparently, I’ve taken some heat from a certain corner of the interweb for advocating his use in the seventh inning.  (I’m a realist.  That’s not going to happen.  The conclusion drawn from that article was incorrect, anyway.  Hillmanesque in the way it missed the mark.)

However, if there’s ever a time to use your closer, your best pitcher out of the bullpen, it’s with the bases loaded and one out after your Cy Young award winning pitcher throws his best start of the year.

Instead, we got Robinson Tejeda.

Worst loss of the year.

All through Spring Training there was a lot of belly aching about the fifth slot in the rotation.  It wasn’t  unique to the Royals, nearly every team had some sort of issue surrounding the final starting pitcher.  I heard multiple people in the media act outraged that Kyle Davies was going to be a starting pitcher for the Royals.  We kept hearing how he didn’t deserve it, and he hadn’t earned it and that he frankly wasn’t any good.  My opinion from the beginning was that Davies was a perfectly fine fifth starter (I also thought Tejada was a fine option too, oops).  Especially considering there weren’t many other viable options.

Fast forward to last night when Davies threw an absolutely brilliant game.  He threw five and a third no-hit innings until an Ichiro Suzuki infield single.  He ended up completing the sixth inning and the few fans in attendance on a cold and rainy night gave him the best ovation they could.

After the game (when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to write an article about no-hitters), I began to ponder the fifth starter.  So I gathered up the statistics from the AL fifth starters to see where Davies ranked.*  I put the numbers into a heat chart to get a better visual representation of where each starter ranked in each particular category.

*For this excercise, a fifth starter is the guy who got the very first fifth start of his team this season.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the fifth starters have been pretty good.  Only five of them have an ERA above 4.00 and I am pretty sure Bonderman will end up with better than a 6.79.  Davies lies pretty much right in the middle in terms of ERA, however is just 0.05 points behind the only other guy with 4 starts.  Three of his four starts have been Quality Starts, which tie him for the lead.

However, it is Kyle Davies walk rate which really seems to be the impetus for his success.  It is obvious to anyone watching Davies pitch that he has some really excellent pitches, but it is command which makes the difference.  In 2008 when he put up a very respectable 4.06 ERA in 22 starts, he had a BB/9 rate of 3.4.  In 2009 he started losing his command and his BB/9 rose to 4.8 and with it rose his ERA to 5.27.  If Davies can continue to limit the walks he hands out, his success should continue.

Looking at that list, how many of those guys would you trade Davies straight up for?  I see two maybe three guys that I would rather have.  The fifth spot in the rotation is merely a matter of perspective.  Compared to the rest of the AL, Davies is a respectable if not elite 5th starter.  It’s always interesting to discuss and break down the final rotation spot during Spring Training, but as usual the chatter was a little overblown.

Team Name QS GS IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
Twins Francisco Liriano 3 3 21 7.29 3.86 1.29
Yankees Phil Hughes 1 2 12.1 11.68 5.11 2.19
Indians Mitch Talbot 2 3 20 2.70 3.60 2.25
Rays Wade Davis 1 3 17 6.88 5.82 2.65
Red Sox Clay Bucholz 1 3 16.2 9.72 3.78 2.70
Angels Matt Palmer 0 1 13.2 5.27 7.24 3.29
Mariners Jason Vargas 3 4 25 6.84 2.16 3.60
Royals Kyle Davies 3 4 24.2 6.20 3.30 3.65
Athletics Gio Gonzalez 2 4 22 7.77 4.91 3.68
Blue Jays Dana Eveland 2 4 21.2 5.00 4.20 4.57
Orioles David Hernandez 2 4 22.1 5.64 4.03 4.84
Rangers Mattt Harrison 2 4 23 5.90 3.10 5.72
White Sox Freddy Garcia 2 3 17 6.35 5.29 5.82
Tigers Jeremy Bonderman 1 4 20.2 7.40 3.90 6.79

Another series, another salvage of the final game.     Just a note for those that admire the grittiness of the Royals for hanging in:  teams that continually salvage the final game of a series end up with a 54-108 record.   Anyway, a lot did happen this weekend as the Royals dropped two of three to the Twins, so let’s get right to it.

The End of the Luis Mendoza Era

Okay, maybe not.   Mendoza, who was designated for assignment, will likely clear waivers, pitch in Omaha and likely end up back in Kansas City in the seemingly never ending cycle of never giving up on pitchers who have never shown any reason to warrant such consideration.

At any rate, Craig covered the designation of Mendoza and the release of Juan Cruz expertly was it happened last Friday, so I won’t waste a lot of time with it here other than to say that the release of Cruz was unexpected.    Outside of Joakim Soria, one can make a pretty good case for the release of everyone else in the bullpen, but Cruz did have a better track record (at least prior to coming to KC) than the others and was/is getting paid over three million this year.

That said, Trey Hillman had pretty much viewed Cruz as the pitcher of last resort most of the year and Juan had done little to change that mindset.  Perhaps this move was a ‘statement’ to the fans by Dayton Moore or a ‘wake-up call’ to the other members of the staff of maybe, simply, Hillman and Moore were tired of watching Cruz allow inherited runners to score.    I cannot say that releasing Cruz was a bad move, just a surprising one.

As far as the recall of Brad Thompson and Bruce Chen, it seems to point that the club wants veteran guys that it believes will throw strikes.   I assumed we would see Thompson at some point this year and he’s worth a look, but Bruce Chen?  Again? 

Gil Meche and the Mystery of Control

We have seen Gil have a three start stretch where he really struggles, but nothing like the first three starts of 2010.   Currently, Meche is averaging a walk per inning and sporting a robust 11.37 earned run average (most of it deserved).  You can analyze all the peripherals inside and out, but the simple fact is that Gil currently cannot consistently throw strikes.

Trey Hillman ‘does not see any mechanical or physical issue’ and my untrained eye sees Gil throwing hard with good movement (maybe he’s falling off to the first base side a bit?), so you have to pretty much just pray that Meche is still rounding into form from a sluggish and sporadic spring.  

One ray of hope is that Meche was pretty awful in April of 2008 (7.22 ERA, 15 walks in 34 innings) and was the ‘Meche of old’ the rest of that season.    Of course, he could simply be ruined, too.

An Ugly Saturday

Sure, it was an exciting 12 inning 9-7 loss for the Royals in the mist and rain, but this was not a pretty game.   Kansas City was tagged with three errors (one on a blown pop-up and another that cost them a double play).   The Royals also missed another pop-up and blew another double play that were not called errors.    Glad we focused on defense in the off-season.

Luke Hochevar pitched well early, but gradually (with some defensive ‘help’) let the Twins grind their way back into the game, but left with a two run lead with two outs in the seventh.   John Parrish came on to walk two hitters and surrender a Justin Morneau (he’s pretty good, by the way) home run.   After a great start, Parrish is suddenly looking like…well, a Royals reliever.

Kudos to Trey Hillman, by the way, for going to Soria at home in a tie game and letting him pitch two innings.   In doing so, he gave the Royals a two inning window to score a run while the one reliever the team can count on was shutting down the opponent.   The Royals, of course, did not score, but still it was worth a shot.

By the time umpire Greg Gibson had decided he was too wet and cold to be bothered to do his job correctly, the Royals had collected 18 hits and 5 walks, which was not enough to keep pace with the Twins.    An unearned run off Bruce Chen in the 11th was answered, but two more courtesy of an ineffective Robinson Tejeda in the 12th was too much.

As bad as Gibson’s call was – it may have been the worst I have ever seen – how many of you really thought the Royals were coming back in this one? 

Getz and the Roster

Chris Getz is about to begin a rehab stint in Omaha with all indications being that the Royals will activate him as early as Friday.   After watching Alberto Callaspo play second base, can you blame them?

The discussion in the Kansas City Star was that the Getz activation might signal an Alex Gordon demotion to the minors.  Like me, Dayton Moore may have grown weary of watching Gordon pull outside pitches on the ground to the second baseman, so the move actually might make sense.

With Jose Guillen hitting and Alberto Callaspo doing the same (although both have played similar defense – Jose has just played his without actually taking the field), there is no regular spot in the lineup for Alex.   As much as Kansas City needs another bench player, you probably do not want Gordon playing two times per week. 

All things being equal, I would advocate activating Getz, sending Gordon to Omaha (unless he goes 8 for 16 this week), paring the bullpen down to seven pitchers (I don’t care who goes, I really don’t) and putting Wilson Betemit on the bench.   Betemit is a veteran guy, can play everywhere and has a little pop.  It makes more sense to have Betemit playing sporadically than to have Gordon cooling his heels on the bench.

The Salvage

Brian Bannister had a nice outing, the bullpen was shaky but just good enough and Jose Guillen went yard again as the Royals came away with the win on Sunday.    Kansas City committed two more errors, but did just enough to overcome those on Sunday.

We also learned that Josh Fields is out for the year with hip surgery.   It was hard to see where Fields fit on this roster so missing 2010 is probably good for everyone involved.  

Ever Onward

The Seattle Mariners come to town for three games starting tonight.    Felix Hernandez versus Kyle Davies:  who could ask for a better matchup?

Episode #014 – Nick reviews the Twins series, discusses the release of Juan Cruz, what happens when Getz is ready for action and what to do with Gil Meche.  All of that, plus a preview of the Mariners series.  He also goes around the minor league system and this weeks Heroes and Goats.

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

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs014.mp3|titles=BBS

Music featured in this episode:

Ghostland Observatory – Sad Sad City

The Stooges – Dirt

Okkervil River – Kansas City

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The Royals bullpen is not good.  I know this.  You know this.  SABR Trey and Dayton Moore know this.

Today, the Royals and their brain trust decided to shake things up by releasing Juan Cruz.  Also cut loose was Luis Mendoza.  (Mendoza never should have been on the roster in the first place.  Therefore, there’s no need to discuss this move.)

The Royals have eight relievers in the pen.  By releasing Cruz (and Mendoza) aren’t the Royals essentially saying they are the seventh and eighth best pitchers on the staff?  As noted, Mendoza makes sense.  He’s awful.  End of story.  But what about Cruz?  The guy the Royals are paying $3.25 million this year?

Here are the raw numbers for 2010:

5.1 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 7 SO, 3.38 ERA, 2.438 WHIP

Let’s just walk through this…  First, we’re dealing with a small sample.  It’s about a tenth of his season.  Having said that, the ginormous negative is the plethora of base runners he’s allowing.  That WHIP is just horrendous.  He’s never been a control pitcher, but the walks are high for the low number of innings.  The real issue is the base hits.  He’s projecting at 15 H/9.

Here’s where the Royals have fallen into the small sample trap.  Opponents are hitting .391 against Cruz with a .528 BABIP.  Those numbers are obscenely high.  If you give Cruz the work, they’ll come down.  They have to.  It’s simply the law of averages.  For his career, Cruz has allowed opponents to hit .238 with a .298 BABIP.

Cruz owns a 2.66 FIP and has whiffed 11.6 batters per nine.  This indicates he’s pitched better than his numbers would lead us to believe.  Maybe the Royals should have been a little more patient with Cruz.  After all, he’s earning some serious coin.  Had they kept their finger off the trigger for another month, he may have regressed to the mean, which in this case would have meant improvement.

It just feels like Cruz is being made a scapegoat for the bullpen.  I get the feeling they are making moves to appease the fan base. (“See? We’re making changes.  Given his salary, no one is safe.  Seriously.  No… Seriously!”) Unfortunately, when you act in this manner you rarely help the team.

Would Cruz have rebounded and pitched like he did in 2008 with Arizona?  Maybe not, but he certainly wasn’t as bad as his raw numbers suggested in 2010.

The Royals are making changes just for the sake of making changes when it comes to Cruz.  Except who else are they going to push out?  They want two lefties so Parrish and Hughes are safe.  Tejeda was dominant in his last outing.  Farnsworth makes even more money than Cruz. Rupe just got here and has done well enough he’s seemingly vaulted to the head of SABR Trey’s bullpen.

Someone had to go, so in the Russian Roulette that has become the Royals bullpen it had to be Cruz.

Here’s the nail in his coffin:  Cruz inherited six base runners and allowed all six to score.  Yeah, that’s not good.  But know this… He allowed those inherited runners to score in three of his five appearances.  Yet in only one appearance did those runners scoring directly lead to a Royal loss.  April 13 when Cruz entered the game with two outs and the bases loaded in that disastrous seventh inning trying to protect a two run lead.  A walk and a double cleared the bases and turned that lead into a deficit.

The Royals had been winning that game 5-0 entering the inning.  Brian Bannister had pitched well to that point, but a parade of Roman Colon, Dusty Hughes and Cruz couldn’t seal the deal.  Colon was the first domino to fall and now Cruz.

Left-handed or not, Hughes had better watch out.

As Royals fans, we’re used to grumbling about plate discipline.  Or rather the lack of plate discipline.  It’s a  story that is all too familiar.

Fortunately, we now have the on base machine known as Scotty Pods… Scott Podsednik.

Through his first 13 games, Podsednik is hitting .449/.526/.469.  His batting average and on base percentage top the AL leaderboard.  Yes, it is a small sample size.  However, do not discount how difficult it is to even have a small sample size this good.

How is he doing this?

Start with his batting average on balls in play.  His BABIP is .512.  Holy cow.  Over half the balls he put in play are falling for hits.  If this is the case, he must be scorching line drives, right?  After all, it’s universally accepted that line drives fall for base hits roughly 70% of the time.  So if Podsednik is piling up the base hits like this, he must have an astronomical line drive rate, correct?

Not really.

Podsednik’s line drive rate is 28%.  It’s above his career rate of 20%, but still… Crazy.  How about his other hits?  Well, he is hitting a lot more ground balls this year.  His GB/FB ratio currently stands at 3.83.  To his credit, Podsednik has always seemed to understand his game… His legs will take him as far as he can go as a ballplayer.  His best opportunity to use those legs come when he hits the ball on the ground.  For his career, he owns a 1.72 GB/FB ratio.

(As I alluded to, one thing missing from his game is power.  He certainly won’t boost his slugging percentage by hitting ground balls up the middle.  And while his line drive rate is impressive, it’s not like he’s cracking the ball and splitting the outfielders.  No, most of his line drives are dropping in front of the outfielders.  In other words, we’re dealing with a singles hitter.  You know what?  No shame in that.)

So Podsednik his hitting more line drives and more ground balls.  Basically, he’s keeping the ball out of the air. – just 15% of his batted balls are classified as fly balls.    It’s an approach that is working.

Speaking of Podsednik’s approach… It shouldn’t come as a surprise he’s become incredibly selective at the plate.

Here are his percentages over the previous five seasons of how often he’s swung at a pitch that is in the strike zone:

2006 – 53.8%
2007 – 56.2%
2008 – 52.9%
2009 – 54.6%
2010 – 46.0%

He’s been fairly consistent through out his career, but now he’s really tightened his personal zone.  Based on his elevated BABIP and line drive rate, I would hypothesize Podsednik is laying off those pitches in the zone that he would have difficulty squaring up and driving.

Look at his contact rate when swinging at pitches in the strike zone:

2006 – 93.5%
2007 – 90.2%
2008 – 94.4%
2009 – 95.2%
2010 – 94.1%

He’s always made contact (in play or foul) when swinging at pitches in the strike zone.  Most hitters do.  Since his contact rate in this category hasn’t moved while his swing percentage has decreased, that further supports the idea he’s become incredibly selective.  His contact rates are unchanged, yet the results are increasingly positive.

The by product of this is Podsednik’s walk rate is through the roof (for him.)  He’s drawn a base on balls in 13% of his plate appearances this year.  Look how that compares over the previous few years:

2006 – 9.1%
2007 – 5.5%
2008 – 8.8%
2009 – 6.6%
2010 – 13.3%

So we have a hitter who’s become more selective at the plate, which has led to improved contact and an elevated walk rate.  This has all led to his astronomical on base percentage.

About the base running…  It’s true this isn’t a particular skill of his.  He’s already been picked off once, been caught stealing once and made one other out on the base paths.  At times, he just seems kind of clueless. Imagine how many bases he could take if he was actually comfortable out there.  At any rate, he’s not a particularly good base runner.  However, I will cut him some slack for the time being… Because he’s freaking getting on base 53% of the time.

Podsednik has hit second in the order every game except one where he hit leadoff.  Ideally, you’d have your best on base guy hitting at the top, but number two is just fine.  Every time Trey Hillman moves Alberto Callaspo in the top third and he goes 0-4, I start to believe just a little more that players do perform a certain way given their spot in the lineup.  (I still maintain Callaspo should hit higher in the order, but if Podsednik keeps outperforming expectations, this becomes a moot point.  Besides, if Callaspo gets mentally blocked or whatever by hitting up in the order, it kind of puts the kibosh on any potential gains.)

Will Podsednik maintain his level of offensive play?  No way.  There will be a correction. However, if he keeps his approach unchanged when the hits stop falling, any cold spell could be relatively short-lived.

Fingers crossed that Podsednik keeps this approach through the season.

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