Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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.

I arrived in Phoenix and had a choice to make.  I had to either go and see the Royals big club play a game in Tempe against the Angels or head to Surprise and try to find my way around the Royals camp and hopefully get a glimpse of some minor leaguers.  Since I will soon be able to see the Royals in action in Kansas City, I decided to head to Surprise.  When I arrived in Surprise, there were lots of cars piling into the parking lot and so I figured the Rangers were playing.  What I really wanted to do was see the Royals minor leaguers which people had told me was easy to do, but I was a little confused.  I bought a ticket for the game because I figured that I would need it to get into the spring training facilities.

The ballpark in Surprise is reminiscent of many AA ballparks.  The facility is extremely nice with a large grass outfield for lounging.  I bought myself an adult beverage and set out in search of minor league camp.  I made my way completely around the stadium and the closest I came to my goal were a couple of batting cages .  The Rangers vs Rockies game was about to start so I hit the outfield grass to watch my first game of the year.

After a few innings of the game I decided to ask one of the many friendly ushers how I could get to the back fields.  He told me to walk outside the gate and down a ways I would find a gate in the fence, which would be the entrance.  I got my hand stamped for re-entry and was on my way.

I found the barely marked gate and began walking into the Royals spring complex.  I was hoping that there was still some baseball being played on the back fields.    I heard some gloves popping and knew that there was at least something to see.   I saw some activity on a couple of fields and as I got closer I could see there were two games against Padres minor leaguers going on.

When I arrived at the games, I felt like I had stepped into a private party.  Frank White was the first face I recognized.   He was talking with some Royals front office folks and not far from him stood John Wathan.  The stands at the fields are literally smaller than the ones at the stadium where I play softball.   They may have room to hold 50 people or so.  However, you can stand right up against the fence and get extremely close to the action.  The group of people watching was an odd mixture of Royals employees, attractive young women and baseball nerds.

I am not a particularly good scout of players, but here are some quick notes on what I saw:

Ernesto Mejia and Clint Robinson are huge.  Johnny Giavotella and Kurt Mertins are not.  However, the four of them look like they would make a pretty good basketball team with Giavotella and Mertins manning the back court with Mejia and Robinson in the front court.

I noticed that recently signed Nicaraguan prospect Cheslor Cuthbert was playing on one of the fields.  I had never seen him and wanted to get a close look for myself.  He was playing third and I only saw one ball hit to him.  He didn’t field it cleanly, but he knocked it down and threw the runner out at first.  His arm seemed average, but I only got to see him make that one throw.  He was about average height, and he wore his jersey a little baggy so I could not really tell what kind of build the kid had.  At the plate he looked lost.  He flailed pretty wildly at pitches out of the zone and seemed like he had major problems hitting off-speed pitches.  I contacted Greg Schaum at www.royalsprospects.com to check my report against what he knew.  He agreed with the scouting report, however he said that Cuthbert hasn’t seen much quality pitching and is very much a diamond in the rough.  It is worth remembering that Cuthbert is only 17 years old or so and will take some time to develop.  He will likely have some struggles in the next year or two adjusting to a higher level of competition and American Culture.

The experience for me was second to none.  If you are at all into watching prospects, then spring training is a slice of heaven.  I got to chat briefly with Omaha Royals Manager Mike Jirschele, Special Advisor Ned Yost and former Kansas City Athletic and current pitching coordinator Bill Fischer.  Fischer was hilarious and seemed to have something to say about every player on the field.  He and Ned Yost traded stories of being inducted into the Wisconsin Hall Of Fame.

With the small amount of people who are at the camp hanging around, it is pretty easy to snag a foul ball.  One literally bounced right in my hands, so I grabbed it with the intention to bring it home to my son.   When I was standing next to Bill Fischer, he asked me if I wanted him to sign the ball.  I said “go for it.”  He took it and signed it:

“Bill Fischer, Wisconsin Hall of Fame.”

It kind of summed up the casual nature of the whole experience.  Players are just wandering around and if you are an autograph kind of person, they are very easy to approach.  Coaches, managers and former players are just milling about.  It was kind of like being able to step into their world for a brief moment, being allowed into the back halls of the exclusive professional baseball society.  I know not everyone gets a chance to spend some time at Spring Training, but if you ever can you absolutely should.  It is truly an experience like no other.

Programming note: Royals Authority is at a new host and that means a new RSS feed.  If you subscribe to the posts via RSS, you will need to re-subscribe with the new feed.

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)

Without question, the most successful free agent signing of the Dayton Moore era was the five year/$55 million deal given out to Gil Meche.   That may sound like an odd statement given that Meche spent the last three months of the 2009 season fighting injuries and has an uncertain status surrounding him for the same reasons as we close in on Opening Day.

However, between his first Kansas City start on Opening Day of 2007 and that fateful 132 pitch shutout on June 16, 2009, Meche started 82 games for the Royals.   Over those starts, Gil threw 511 innings (averaging more than six innings per start), struck out 406 batters while walking 166 and posted a 3.74 earned run average.   During that stretch, the Royals were 39-43 (.475) in games Meche started and just 134-171 (.439) in games he did not start.  

Thirty-five times during that stretch of time, the Royals scored three runs or less.   Not once have we heard Gil Meche complain about lack of run support, despite knowing that over forty percent of the time his team gave him virtually none.   Meche has been a leader for the starting rotation and, perhaps lost in all the Greinke hoopla, he provided valuable stability at the top of the rotation while Greinke developed into a true ace.

I could make a case that if Gil never pitches again, this contract was still worth the money, but I firmly believe that if Gil posts just one more 200 inning season in the next two years there will be absolutely no debate as to the validity of Moore’s long-term commitment.

Therein, however, lies the problem.

To get Meche to Kansas City, Dayton Moore had to give Gil one more year than other teams were offering.   Teams were lined up to give him four years and a little over forty million dollars, but Moore ponied up that fifth year and got the deal done.    From that point forward, the ‘extra year’ has been Moore’s calling card in the free agent market.   He has used it with regularity and when, frankly, he did not need to.

After the 2007 season, Mike Sweeney was off the roster and his big contract thankfully off the books.  Moore was hellbent to sign a slugging outfielder or two.   He, like everyone else in the league, got blown out of the water by the Angels’ offer to Torii Hunter and the Royals dodged a bullet when Andruw Jones turned down their offer to sign with the Dodgers.   That left Jose Guillen as the ‘next best power bat available’.  

While the actual negotiations of a free agent deal are never really known, the widespread belief was that the competition for Guillen was limited.     Would the Royals have inked Guillen if they had offered just a one year deal?  Probably not, but two years might have gotten the deal done in an environment where the few offers out there were of the single year variety. 

Instead, Dayton Moore jumped in with more money per year and MORE YEARS.   If Allard Baird had made this signing, I could have chalked it up to an attempt to rectify losing Raul Ibanez in 2004 over offering two years instead of three.   In Moore’s case, the third year just seems like bad judgment. 

Forget 2008 and 2009, when Guillen was sometimes annoying, sometimes a distraction, often hurt and too commonly awful as a ballplayer.   The third year of this deal is what is killing the Royals.   Put it another way:  how much would having an extra $12 million and a roster spot mean to you right now?

On top of the Guillen signing came two curious multi-year deals the next off-season:  Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Now, Bloomquist gets his share of criticism on Royals’ sites, including this one, but it really is not his fault that Trey Hillman kept putting his name in the lineup last year.   Nor is it Willie’s fault that Dayton Moore gave him two guaranteed years instead of one with an option.   Here is where you can offer the ‘you don’t know what the competition was for Bloomquist’ and ‘Willie does not sign with KC unless he gets a two year deal’.   To that, I say: ‘so what?’

Scan the spring training notes of other ballclubs or read through a couple of pages of MLBTradeRumors and you can easily compile a pretty long list of ‘Willie Bloomquists’ that are available or could be had for basically nothing.   Heck, the Royals have a better Bloomquist in Wilson Betemit than Willie himself.   Frankly, if Bloomquist was not around and Betemit not available would long-time farmhand Irving Falu be that much of a drop off?   Furthermore, if the Royals had not offered the second year to Bloomquist and he had signed elsewhere, would not Tug Hulett have done a competent job in his place last year?

Truth is, you can always find utility infielders….and middle relievers.   Which brings us to Kyle Farnsworth, who is going to collect a cool $4.5 million in this, THE SECOND, year of his contract.   The only way that amount and, more specifically, that second year makes sense is if Kyle throws 165 innings as the teams fifth starter this year and that will validate the contract only thanks to simple dumb luck.

Sure, Dayton Moore had no way of knowing that Juan Cruz would still be available for less money two months after he signed Farnsworth (I’m even going to give Dayton a pass on Cruz’s TWO YEAR deal as it sure seemed like a good one at the time) , but no one other than the Royals were knocking down Kyle’s door.   A one year flyer on Farnsworth to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle was worth a shot, but two years?   Considering that the Royals already had a ‘better Farnsworth’ in Robinson Tejeda already on their roster makes that contract seem even sillier.

We can go back in time and remember that last spring many thought the Royals had a real chance at contention.  Dayton Moore certainly did.   That said, were Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth so key to the Royals’ plan to make a run to the playoffs that they had to commit extra years to deals just to sign those two players?

I am not even going to mention the Yuniesky Betancourt trade or the signing of Brian Anderson (a poor man’s Mitch Maier) this off-season to replace Mitch Maier.   I am willing to let the two-year Jason Kendall deal play out and leave Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik out for now, too.   Let’s just look at Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Between those three players and because of a superfluous year added to each of their contracts, the Royals had $18.2 million and three roster spots tied up before the first pitch was thrown this spring.  Ignore the money for now and focus on those three spots.

Without being tied to Guillen and Bloomquist, the Royals could break camp with Mike Aviles (admittedly not ready to play short full-time, but he could DH or play second) on their active roster.   They would have more time to evaluate Mitch Maier to see if that hot spring really is indicative of improved performance in the regular season or at last give Kila Kaaihue a shot.  

Without Farnsworth, the team could easily stash Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna in the bullpen.   Instead of keeping two out of Josh Rupe, John Parrish, Brad Thompson, Anthony Lerew and Blake Wood, they could keep three.  I don’t know if that makes the club any better, but it certainly makes them no worse – not to mention $4.5 million cheaper.    (Really don’t want to go with Robinson Tejeda as a starter if Meche can’t go?  Bet you can find someone better at starting than Farnsworth for that $4.5 mil)

Adding just one more year got the Royals a good starting pitcher who helped and hopefully will continue to help the team.   Sadly, the same strategy has tied Kansas City to three players that it simply does not need in 2010.   The next time you hear anyone from the Royals comment on lack of payroll flexibility we should all remember that they only have themselves to blame.

You probably noticed some downtime here at Royals Authority over the weekend.  This was caused by our move from Bloguin over to our new platform, which is the precursor to some even more interesting news that we will be ready to announce in the next week or two.

For now, we are still something of a work in progress as we (and be ‘we’, I mean mostly Craig) continue the process of moving our archived posts over to this new platform and tweak the look and feel of the site.   It appears that your comments from the previous platform will not make the migration over to this one:  it’s a technical issue, not a case of us being jerks.  

As always, Craig, Nick and myself appreciate all our readers and the time you spend here and hope you will continue to visit Royals Authority in the coming days and years.

In the bottom of the first this afternoon, Chris Getz was hit by a pitch, stole second and was bunted over to third by Jason Kendall.  I expect the announcement that  Getz is the new lead-off hitter, Kendall will bat second and David DeJesus will bat 7th to be forthcoming.  

I kid because….well, because there’s no crying in baseball.

Anyway, I thought I would chime in with a few random notes and thoughts this afternoon, if only because it is better than working.

From the ‘try again, only this time do it right’ section:

The Royals announced yesterday, to no one’s surprise, that Alex Gordon would open the season on the disabled list.   Alex likely will not really be able to handle all the tasks of playing a baseball game in the modern era until at or shortly before April 5th and will certainly need extended spring training.   Unlike last year’s hip injury that the Royals seemed to rush Gordon back from with dire results, they have a chance here to keep Alex on the disabled list for the majority of April, making sure he is both healthy and prepared to play.   The organization could then run Gordon through a twenty-day rehab assignment in Omaha, where he might be able to build some confidence and momentum .  

At this point, I cannot imagine that Gordon is anything but a mentally fragile ballplayer who would benefit from every day the Royals can bleed out of the rules before being inserted back into the everyday major league lineup.

From the ‘hindsight is 20-20′ department:

Alex Romero remains an available free agent signee.   Click on his name and eyeball the minor league numbers the outfielder has piled up.   Doesn’t he seem like someone more valuable than Brian Anderson?   Of course, the organization could have been content with Mitch Maier as their fourth outfielder, but that ship has sailed.

This has been hashed over a number of times, but with names like Fred Lewis and Jason Repko now becoming available for probably not a whole lot in return, not to mention Romero, you have to wonder if Dayton Moore’s outfielder shopping extravaganza of Podsednik, Anderson and Ankiel might have been a worse miscalculation than overpaying for Jason Kendall.    Kendall, by the way, may turn out to be of value behind the plate and in the clubhouse, but probably, with some patience, would have eventually signed for a couple of million less.

From the ‘don’t read anything into it’ section:

Mike Aviles is starting for the second straight day at shortstop this afternoon.   While that gets all of us a little excited at the prospect of the Royals actually being savvy enough to realize Aviles (if healthy) is a far better option than Yuniesky Betancourt, keep in mind that Yuni is away from camp for the next three days working out some ‘citizenship issues’.

I think a more likely scenario is that the Royals trade Willie Bloomquist in the next two weeks and break camp with Betancourt, Aviles and Chris Getz on the roster.   How likely that is, I’m not sure, but it is more plausible than Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman benching Betancourt.

We are now into the fourth inning in Arizona, where Edgar Osuna gave up four runs in three innings:  all with two outs.   A guy named Mike Sweeney has homered, Blake Wood has balked and Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler have done exactly what three and four hitters are supposed to do:  drive in runs.   I kind of forgot what that looked like over the years.

It was not exactly a stellar day for the Royals yesterday.   There was a split-squad day-night sweep at the hands of the Angels and Giants, but actually seemed secondary to what transpired earlier in the day.

Of course, I am referring to the sudden announcement that pitching prospect Danny Duffy had essentially quit baseball.    Greg Schaum tells you all you need, or at least all there is, to know.   The young left-hander was in every-one’s Top 10 of Royals’ prospects, with a real chance at competing for a big league rotation spot as soon as next spring.  

While that damages the club’s long-term rotation plans, the recurring shoulder stiffness of Gil Meche might well devastate the current rotation plans.   Yesterday, as I sat in the Arby’s drive thru lane, I heard Soren Petro and Frank Boal on WHB radio discussing the Meche situation.   Both intimated that there was at least one school of thought during the off-season that Meche should have had surgery, but that Gil himself refused and intended just to ‘pitch through it’.  Let’s just say that bit of knowledge, coupled with the news that Meche’s next trip to the mound will be in a ‘controlled simulation’ this weekend.   Last time I checked, healthy pitchers don’t take their turn in the rotation on a back mound somewhere pitching in a controlled environment.  

That brings us back to the state of rotation right now, with or without a healthy Meche, and specifically the fifth starter spot.  

We have watched Kyle Davies, Robinson Tejeda, Kyle Farnsworth and now Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna all compete for this position, with none of them really doing anything to actually win the job.   The state of this competition is such that Kyle Davies is considered the front-runner based upon having ONE good outing this spring.  Given the situation, it begs the obvious question:  How often do the Royals really need a fifth starter?

Below, you will see that I have run the schedule, pitching the first four starters on normal rest and skipping the fifth starter where I could.  

***Table removed***

In April, all of the first four starters make five starts a piece, but the fifth starter only makes three.    In May, the schedule tightens up some.

***Table Removed***

 Even with just two off-days between April 23rd and the end of May, the Royals could still be in a position to use Zack Grienke 7 times in May, Gil Meche (please be healthy, please be healthy)and Luke Hochevar for six starts, Brian Bannister for five and the fifth starter for five more.  

In all, my May 31st, Greinke could have 12 starts under his belt compared to just 8 by whoever the fifth starter turns out to be.  Now, you can run the numbers using just a straight five man rotation and discover that Greinke would get 11 starts by the end of May without any juggling of the rotation at all.  The fifth starter, however, would start 10 times instead of just 8.   I do not think we even need to look up any stats to decide that more Greinke and less Davies is good for the team.

All of the above, of course, assumes that Gil Meche is healthy.   I would offer that if Meche is more injured than the club is letting on, then juggling the rotation to avoid the fifth spot is even more critical.   Keep in mind, an injured Meche means that the fifth starter is the runner-up in the current competition.

Danny Duffy, the Royals number eight ranked prospect, according to Baseball America, has decided to quit baseball to “reassess his life priorities” according to assistant GM JJ Picollo.

Duffy had a 2.98 ERA in Wilmington last summer and was slated to open 2010 in Double-A.

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