Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Episode #012 – Nick reviews the series with the Twins and looks forward to the series with the Blue Jays. He touches on Podsednik’s lead, Guillen’s “contract” year, a new look on the off-season and some of the moves made this week. All of that, plus around the minors and this weeks heroes and goats.

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


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Perhaps the gun in Minnesota’s new Target Field is slow, but data from last night’s game shows that Zack Greinke did not top 94 mph with his fastball and averaged a modest 91.2 mph for the game.    In fact, Zack hit 94 mph just once and that pitch resulted in a Michael Cuddyer double.

As we all know, a big part of Greinke’s elevation from potential to actual dominance as a starter was his realization that he could and should throw 96, 97 and even 98 mph at times.   That Zack is ‘subtracting’ more than ‘adding’ to his fastball may well be a sign of a pitcher aiming instead of throwing.    The reduced velocity has done nothing for Greinke’s control and, in fact, six of the eight straight balls he threw to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the third inning were fastballs.

If Greinke is going to use his changeup to a greater extent (he threw 22 last night), then pumping up his fastball to last season’s level will also be important.   At one point last night, Greinke threw a 89 mph changeup.   That is simply not enough disparity from the fastball velocity Zack was showing.  

Of course, none of the above matters if Zack is only going to throw strikes fifty percent of the time.    Perhaps it was just a bad night, or a bad approach or maybe even just a slow gun.    Whatever the reason, the Royals cannot be anything but awful if Greinke continues to struggle.

Speaking of awful, how about that bullpen?

I teased on Thursday that Kyle Farnsworth was the only reliever to not have issued a walk thus far.   Well, Kyle rectified that in a hurry by walking the second batter he faced on Friday night and hitting the next:  on an 0-2 count.   

While a quick look at the box score shows that Dusty Hughes followed with an inning and a third of scoreless relief, let’s not fool ourselves.   Relieving Farnsworth with the bases loaded an no out, Hughes got two outs on drives to the warning track and the third when Justin Morneau simply missed on a changeup that was well up in the zone.

The usual bullpen performance (at least when John Parrish and Joakim Soria don’t pitch) was topped off by simply bad appearances by Robinson Tejeda and Juan Cruz.    I actually feel bad for Trey Hillman at this point.   He correctly would like to save Parrish and Soria for games in which the Royals are protecting a lead (or at least close), but every other pitcher in the pen enters the game carrying his own personal gas can and lighter.   Something tells me Josh Rupe is not going to solve that problem.

This afternoon, we get our second look at Gil Meche and our first look at Alex Gordon.

The first bullpen domino has tumbled…

Colon was always a fringe guy in my mind.  (Aren’t they all?)  He wasn’t helped by a low strikeout rate and the fact he evolved into a fly ball pitcher the last couple of years.  He was designated for assignment.  That was a poorly spent $665,000.  Based on the dollars, it seems surprising Luis Mendoza is still around.

Josh Rupe was signed by the Royals as a minor league free agent last November.  He had thrown five scoreless innings for Omaha, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out four.  Rupe, like Colon, carries a low strikeout to walk ratio, but keeps the ball in the park.

This isn’t a bullpen fix, but something had to be done.  This is a welcome change from last year where the team seemingly refused to address the bullpen issues by dipping into the minors.  And the Royals are still carrying 13 pitchers.

In other news today, Alex Gordon was moved to Omaha to continue his rehab.  He hit .235/.548/.412 in Wilmington.  His lofty OBP is the result of nine walks and four HBP in 31 plate appearances.  He had four base hits – three doubles.  Hopefully, he’ll get an opportunity to swing the bat in Triple-A.  He could return by the end of the month.

Remember, back in Spring Training, when I presented a Daily Hillmanism?  Just random nuggets of knowledge from our fearless leader.  It had pretty much run its course and I was prepared to let it go.  Then he unleashed a doozy.

Asked by the traveling reporters if he considered bringing closer Joakim Soria into Tuesday’s seventh inning, Hillman offered this:

“There’s a thought there but, No. 1, it’s a very unusual time for Joakim Soria to pitch in a ballgame. No. 2, you’ve still got those same bats coming up in the ninth in a higher-leverage situation — because it is the ninth, even if there are no runners on base.”

I added the emphasis because Hillman’s use of term “high leverage” is impressive.  It would be more impressive if he knew what the hell he was talking about.

Following his logic, the higher the inning number, the higher the leverage.  Sometimes, it actually works that way.  Other times, like Tuesday, not so much.

To prove this, I’ll present to you the game log, courtesy of FanGraphs.  The bars at the bottom of the graph represent the leverage of that particular plate appearance.  The larger the bar, the greater the leverage.  The red bar means WARNING! high leverage situation.

You’ll see the inning with the highest leverage index was the seventh.  When the bullpen spit the bit.  The top of the ninth had some decent leverage, but it wasn’t even as high as the eighth inning leverage.  This is because in the eighth inning the Royals had more chances to win the game.  There were still six outs remaining.  By the time the ninth inning rolled around, the leverage index dipped just a bit because there were fewer outs, meaning fewer chances for the Royals to take the lead.  Fewer chances meant less pressure on the Tigers to close out the game.

Hillman’s assertion that the ninth inning brings the highest leverage because it’s the ninth inning is just absurd.  Even when Soria nails down a save, the ninth inning doesn’t always bring the highest leverage.  Case in point, Wednesday’s game:

Again, the seventh inning brought the highest leverage.  It was Miguel Cabrera’s at bat with two runners on in a 5-3 ballgame.  He grounded out to end the threat.  The leverage was lower in the eighth in a similar situation because the Royals tacked on another run in their half of the inning.  Leverage is fluid and is dictated by the score and situation of the game.  Two things Hillman has shown an inability to grasp.  No wonder he couldn’t discuss it properly.  Unfortunately, to the casual fan, it probably sounded intelligent.  Kind of like when Dayton Moore says he values on base percentage.

Soria faced a high leverage situation the first week of the season, protecting a one-run lead.  Even then, it wasn’t the highest leverage of the game.  The highest leverage occurred in the eighth, when the Royals rallied for two runs off Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard thanks to a Rick Ankiel single.

There were two outs in the inning when Ankiel came to the plate and the Sox were nursing that one run lead.  I wonder if Terry Francona considered bringing in Jonathan Papelbon?

Maybe I should be concerned that SABR Trey doesn’t understand the concept of leverage.  What does it say about my opinion of him when I’m not the least bit surprised he doesn’t get it.  He just doesn’t get it.  And there’s plenty of evidence he never will.  He’s more concerned about Scotty Pods laying down a sweet sac bunt in the first inning, than he is about leverage.

This brings me to a great side point:  The Royals bullpen is currently stocked with eight pitchers.  Eight!  Do you have any idea how absolutely insane that is, to have a total of 13 pitchers on a 25-man roster?  And only a handful of them are worth anything.  It’s almost as if GMDM and SABR Trey realized they don’t have the quality, so they went with the quantity.  Exactly how is that a solution?

“Hey, most of our relievers suck, what should we do?”

“I know… Let’s add more!”

Finally, I’ll again point this out in defense of the manager:  Hillman had no idea that what conspired in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game would turn out to be the highest leverage situation of the game.  No one did.  We certainly knew it was important, and quite possibly pivotal to the outcome of the game.  But we couldn’t know that a similar situation may evolve in the ninth inning – because we can’t see the future.

However, this is the trap too many managers fall into – they don’t manage the moment, the manage for the future.  They give up outs and sacrifice a big inning for a single run.  Or they keep their closer in the bullpen just in case they need him in the ninth.

Hillman is worried he’ll burn Soria in the seventh (and probably eighth) inning and nursing a one run lead in the ninth, he’ll look to his bullpen and see… Kyle Farnsworth.  Yeah, that should scare the hell out of you.

More from Dutton (who has to thank the newspaper gods everyday for covering the Royals, and not some boring team like the Astros):  Jose Guillen says he almost died from blood clots in his legs last winter.

This is an amazing story, but I have a couple of questions.

– Why did he develop these blood clots?  Were they related to his other injuries from last year? Clearly, this isn’t something that normally happens to an athlete in his mid 30s.

– Guillen didn’t return to the Dominican until late December and his weight dropped to 180 pounds.  He’s listed at 215 pounds and reported to camp on time at the end of February.  I’m assuming he needed a little time to recover before he started what would amount to a rehab.  He didn’t hit for any power this spring, but what did he do to get in shape so quickly?

– Guillen says he was dying and says the doctor started talking about dying (Derrick Thomas is invoked in the story, which is indeed frightening) but I’d like some more context.  I’m sure Guillen felt like he was dying, but was he really on death’s door?  In other words, do we need to look at 2010 as Guillen’s “miracle season?”

I don’t doubt Guillen was ailing and had blood clots.  And I don’t doubt the situation was serious.  It’s just his version of the story just seems… dramatic.

Just another off day for the Royals.

Episode #011 – Nick looks back at the Tigers series and previews the upcoming Twins series.  He also talks about  Guillen’s great but surprising week.  All that plus a look at the bullpen and some positive notes.


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Even great baseball teams are generally happy to win two out of three on the road, which is exactly what the Royals accomplished with Wednesday’s 7-3 victory over the Tigers.   Still, after blowing a 5-0 lead in the seventh on Tuesday, I have a feeling that many Royals’ fans (this one included) are not all that ecstatic with the recent series’ results.

Years of losing have jaded many a Royals fan, but the simple logic is that this team is just 4-5 despite:

  • Hitting a league leading .307
  • Slugging a robust .450, good for 3rd in the AL
  • Reaching base at a .362 clip, again good for 3rd
  • Having their starting pitchers post quality starts in seven of nine games (and winning one of those that they did not)
  • Trotting out a regular lineup where seven of the nine players are hitting .300 or better and one who is not, Alberto Callaspo, is more likely to end up hitting .300 than the rest of them

Let’s face it, while the starting rotation might be very good most of the season, Scott Podsednik is not going to hit .457 this year and Jose Guillen really won’t hit a home run in every game.   

Even with the robust offensive statistics, the margin for error for this team is extremely thin.   If this team settles in and hits .285/.345/.425 then cannot expect to overcome some of the poor baserunning and curious decision making that has become all too common early this season.   Yesterday, we had two more examples:

  • In the top of the 7th inning, the Royals had runners on first and second with two out.   Jason Kendall taps a ball out to shortstop and Mitch Maier, running from first, beats the throw to second.   However, Alberto Callaspo simply ran through 3rd base and is thrown out.   Absent mindedness on the part of Callaspo?   Where was Dave Owens, by the way?
  • The very next inning, up 5-3, the Royals get the first two runners on.   David DeJesus, who had six hits in the series, three of them for extra bases, is asked to bunt.   Sure, David should be able to get a bunt down, but do you really have one of your best hitters still attempt to sacrifice when he has two strikes?   Really?!

Yes, I know the calls of being overly pessimistic and just downright negative ‘all the time’ are coming, but are those two instances are a warning sign.   Particularly since yesterday was hardly the first time in this young season we have seen similar occurrences. 

Again, it is all fine and good when you are hitting .307, but what happens when the Royals are not collecting 17 hits in a game or scoring 22 runs in a three game series?   How inconsequential are those plays then?

Two Man Bullpen

The Royals’ actual bullpen was used yesterday:  all two of them.   That is really what Trey Hillman has at his disposal right now.    We all knew that Joakim Soria was among the best in the game, which he showed yesterday in going an inning and a third for the save.   We didn’t know that John Parrish would be lights out, but thank goodness he has been in not allowing a run or a hit in six appearances (4.1 innings).    Small sample size for sure, but certainly a welcome emergence from the cesspool that comprises the rest of the arms that take up space on the bullpen bench.

With a day off today, the Royals can look forward to having both Parrish and Soria ready to go again on Friday behind Zack Greinke.   The problem, of course, comes on Saturday when Hillman will have to look at the other SIX pitchers in the pen and decide who is going to suck the least.  

I am not saying anything here, just throwing this out:  Kyle Farnsworth is the only reliever who has yet to walk a batter.

Speaking of Zack Greinke

He continues to ‘adjust’ this season.   That begs the question as to why, after so thoroughly dominating in 2009, that Zack felt the need to adjust anything, but there is some marginally sound reasoning behind all this.     Adding more changeups to his repertoire certainly makes sense, but Zack is also going away from his slider under the premise that hitters are recognizing and laying off that pitch.   The numbers seem to bear that out (again, small sample size alert):

Greinke in 2009:  59% fastballs, 20% sliders, 14% curves, 6% changeups

April 5, 2010: 57% fastballs, 21% sliders, 11% curves, 10% changeups

April 10, 2010: 62% fastballs, 15% sliders, 14% curves, 9% changeups

If you purchased the 2010 Royals Authority Annual (still on sale, by the way) and read Jeff Zimmerman’s article on Pitch F/X, you know that from 2007-2009, Zack’s slider induced a 40% swing and miss rate (only Soria’s curve had a higher percentage).    Basically, the slider is just plain nasty.

Given that fact, why go to the curve more instead of just throwing the slider for strikes once in a while?  Sure, major league hitters adjust and have made a real effort to lay off the slider this year.   How much will they lay off if a couple of them take a called third strike slider?   If Zack throws the slider for strikes a little more often,  hitters will have to adjust to him once more.

Without question, I know about 800 times less about pitching than Bob McClure and Greinke (and that’s being charitable), but I have a hard time believe that Jeremy Hermida and Jason Varitek go back to back yard if thrown sliders in strike zone versus curveballs.    

Sometimes, a pitcher is simply good enough to throw his best pitches over and over and still win.   One has to think that Zack Greinke is one of those guys and, as much as we rave about Zack’s cerebral approach to the game, this may be a case of thinking less and just throwing the good stuff.   

Of course, this is Greinke.   He is likely to throw 35 curveballs on Friday night and throw a shutout.   Whatever he throws, we will all be interested.

Who do you blame?

Do you blame Trey Hillman?

Roman Colon isn’t a guy to bring in to a game in a pressure situation, but he was handed a 5-1 lead and asked to get two outs.  That’s not exactly pressure.  I get what Hillman is doing here, which is basically throwing a guy to the lions (or Tigers) while hoping, against all odds, that he survives.  Unfortunately, this isn’t any kind of a strategy.

Three batters later, Hillman tries to employ a platoon strategy, so enter Dusty Hughes to face Johnny Damon.  Hillman is playing the percentages here – lefty vs. lefty.  But in his brief time in the majors, Hughes allows a higher average against hitters from the left side (.250) than the right (.223).  In the minors, here are his splits:

Vs LHB – .263
Vs RHB – .272

Yeah, it’s a difference, but in reality, Hughes isn’t a LOOGY.  Hillman should know this.  He should also know John Parrish likewise doesn’t own crazy platoon splits.  Here’s how he’s done in his major league career:

Vs LHB – .253
Vs RHB – .269

Again, not a huge split.  Not enough to bestow upon him LOOGY status.  However, all things equal, who would you rather send to the mound to protect a two run lead in the seventh?  Hughes, who has all of 17 major league innings under his belt and has yet to prove he can get hitters out at this level?  Or Parrish, a ten year veteran who’s logged 275 innings in his major league career?  And Parrish has been the second best reliever on this team in the first week.

Yeah, Hillman chose wrong.  I’m sure Hillman didn’t want to use Parrish because he threw 20 pitches the day before, but what’s the harm in letting him face Damon – one batter?  Parrish has been summoned from the pen five times this year and before Monday, faced exactly one hitter each time.

When Hughes can’t retire Damon, that has to be the end of his afternoon.  One batter, that’s it.  There’s no way you can let him face Magglio Ordonez.  Yet, our fearless leader does just that.  Would you be surprised to hear that Ordonez slugs 60 points higher against left handers?  Or that he owns an OBP 15 points higher against leftys?  I wonder if Hillman knows.  This was set up for fail, but the only good thing that happened in the Ordonez plate appearance was the fact he didn’t swing the bat.  Five pitches, four balls.  By walking Ordonez, Hughes very generously allowed Hillman to dodge a bullet.

I would have brought Juan Cruz in to face Ordonez.  That’s probably the proper strategy, but when Hillman finally goes to him one batter later, he coughs up a walk and a double.

Bye-bye five run lead.  Here’s how Fangraphs saw it:

Herein lies the issue:  Hillman is damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.

I’m not a Hillman apologist.  Far from it.  He mismanaged the bullpen in this game.  It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.  Yet, the moves he got correct, still blew up in his face.  That’s the way it seems to always go with SABR Trey.  The guy can’t catch a break. Nevermind, most of the time this happens because his previous bad decisions put his team at a disadvantage in the first place.  You’d think a little dumb luck would fall in his favor once or twice.  I guess you could say the same for us Royals fans.

Of course… And this is the killer… As the Tigers rallied in the seventh, the Royals had one guy in the bullpen who had a better chance of anyone to stop the carnage.  One guy who could have stepped up and slammed the door on the Tigers.

Yet Joakim Soria never got the ball.

Sure, it’s unorthodox strategy to bring your “closer” into a game in the seventh inning, but I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to beat this drum… Why wouldn’t you put your best pitcher out there with the game on the line?  I’d make a bigger issue out of this, but this is the state of baseball today.  It probably never crossed SABR Trey’s mind to use Soria in the seventh… Because it would have meant a seven out save!  Ahh… but I’m not talking about doing that.  I’m talking about using the closer as a “fireman.”  Remember those days?  It sounds so easy, except then what do you do for the remaining outs?  Because you can’t clone Soria.

Luis Mendoza in the eighth?  That’s like waving the white flag.  Somehow, he was the best reliever of the day.  That’s not a good thing.

Do you blame Dayton Moore?

Remember back when we thought GMDM’s best attribute was his ability to cobble together a bullpen out of spare parts and castoffs?  Yeah, that’s not working so well anymore.

Kyle Farnsworth, Hughes, Mendoza, Colon?  This cast of characters would have difficulty against a run of the mill Triple-A team.  Cruz has been horrible since jumping to the AL.  Just dreadful. I don’t trust Robinson Tejeda.  Don’t trust him at all.

The Royals have eight relievers.  Only one of them can be described as better than average – Soria.  I’ll give Parrish the benefit of the doubt and call him average.  The rest of this motley crew?  Below average.  Way below average.

And that has to be on the general manager.  He built a bullpen, tore it down for some bats, tried to restock via free agency and lately has dipped into the minors and the free agent scrapheap in hope he can recapture his past success.

He’s finding it’s a little more difficult than he probably thought.

Last year, I was worried a shaky bullpen and an inept manager would cause the starters to be overworked.  Now, I have to worry the Royals will carry 13 pitchers all year because 10 of them are disasters.  Three years into the Moore/Hillman regime and we have yet to find a balanced roster.

So my answer to the blame game is, I blame both.  I blame Dayton Moore for building this craptastic bullpen and I blame Trey Hillman for failing to figure out how to put his pitchers in the best situation to succeed.  The losers here?  Us.  Most of us have stuck with this team through thin and thin the last 20-plus years.  We deserve better than this.  I wish I could offer some encouraging words and tell you there is some promise on the horizon.  That things are looking up.  But I can’t.

My advice is to stock up on your drink of choice.  It’s going to be a cruel summer.

After watching the first seven games of the season, it has seemed to me that the Royals have had better approaches at the plate.  I felt like they were seeing more pitches than they have in years past.   I know we are only looking at a handful of games, and therefore some small sample sizes but I can’t wait until the All Star break to start digging into the stats.

First, is it actually better to see more pitches in a plate appearance?  My intuition says yes, but let’s investigate the numbers to confirm.  The following graph plots the 2009 MLB teams with the x-axis being pitches per plate appearance and the y-axis being the runs scored per game.  The Royals are denoted by the red marker.

While it isn’t an absolute rule, the trend does show a good correlation of seeing more pitches and scoring more runs.  It makes sense.  The more pitches you see, the more likely you are to see a hittable pitch and then to face bullpen pitchers rather than starting pitchers.

So are the Royals actually seeing more pitches so far this year than last?  According to Baseball Reference, the 2010 Royals are seeing 3.97 pitches per PA while the 2009 Royals saw 3.79.  It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, however 3.79 was good for 23rd in the MLB last year and 3.97 would have been 2nd.

Finally, which players are seeing the most  pitches individually.

Player Pit/PA
Mike Aviles 9.00
Mitch Maier 4.60
Alberto Callaspo 4.56
David DeJesus 4.37
Chris Getz 4.26
Billy Butler 4.17
Brayan Pena 4.00
Jose Guillen 3.86
Scott Podsednik 3.79
Rick Ankiel 3.60
Jason Kendall 3.59
Willie Bloomquist 3.50
Yuniesky Betancourt 3.31

Aviles and Maier only have a very small handful of plate appearances, but it’s still another reason to want them in the lineup.  The top of the list is dominated by good patient contact hitters like Callaspo, Dejesus and Butler.  I’ve been very impressed with Chris Getz so far this season and part of that has been his good approach at the plate.  The bottom of the list is filled with free swingers like Ankiel and terrible hitters like Betancourt.  Hitters with power can overcome seeing fewer pitches by hitting the few that they do see out of the park.  Guys like Betancourt just end up hurting your team.

There is always talk of doing the “little things” right in baseball.  Usually that phrase refers to moving runners, playing smart defense and good baserunning, but I believe that seeing more pitches is in some ways a much more important “little thing”.  With only four percent of the regular season in the books, we cannot have a definitive confirmation that this team actually has a better approach at the plate on offense.  It is something to watch throughout the season though.

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)

Mike Aviles 9.00
Mitch Maier 4.60
Alberto Callaspo 4.56
David DeJesus 4.37
Chris Getz 4.26
Billy Butler 4.17
Brayan Pena 4.00
Jose Guillen 3.86
Scott Podsednik 3.79
Rick Ankiel 3.60
Jason Kendall 3.59
Willie Bloomquist 3.50
Yuniesky Betancourt 3.31

We are already underway in Detroit this afternoon with Luke Hochevar about to toe the rubber in the bottom of the first.   The big question with Luke this year deals not with his ability to have a good start now and then, but instead in his ability to string several good starts together.

Last year, Hochevar had three truly great outings, each of which was followed by a clunker…or two.  Have a look:

  • June 12th versus the Reds.   Hochevar throws just 80 pitches in a complete game that saw him allow just three hits and a run.   He followed that outing by getting lit up for six earned runs in just four innings.
  • July 25th versus Texas.   This was the game that we saw Hochevar fan 13 batters in seven innings of work, allowing just five hits and two earned runs.   In his next start, Luke allowed seven runs in six innings.
  • September 18th at Chicago.   Hochevar fired a complete game, three hit shutout.   He gave up six runs in five innings in his following start.

After throwing seven shutout innings in his first start of 2010, can Luke be effective again today?

I began doing a podcast about the Royals over at prior to Clark and Craig inviting me to join Royals Authority.  I’ve continued to do the podcast over there and it will continue to be the podcast homepage.  However, I will be posting a link to the show here every time a new one is up,  which has been about once a week.  The description of the show and links on how to subscribe and listen are below.  I hope you enjoy it.

Episode #010 – Nick recaps the first week of the regular season against the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox.  Aviles is sent to AAA, Meche has a bad outing, the bullpen and the number of bathrooms at the K. All of that plus a look around the minors and the heroes and goats of the week.

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