Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Aaron Crow

I have been on vacation since June 3rd: out of the country kind of  vacation and hence quite removed from the Royals.   While managing to check the box scores late at night and marginally keep up with roster moves, it was all pretty superficial stuff.   The night before leaving and a full week before Mike Moustakas got the call, I wrote this, so my internet persona remained somewhat topical.

While Craig and Nick carried the load of the MLB Draft, Moustakas and a four game sweep at home to the Twins, I reemerge to a reality where the Kansas City Royals are only six and one-half games out of first place.   What would you have said back in March if told that the Royals would be in that position in the middle of June?   Due to how this situation has transpired, most of us have passed through the euphoria of contending and back into the status quo of wait until next year.

Think about it this way:  since calling up Eric Hosmer, the Royals have gone 12-23 yet lost only two games in the standings.   Those two games, however, have certainly turned the tide (probably correctly) from ‘hey, we can win this!’ to ‘let’s not worry about wins and losses and get set to be somebody next year’.   Listen, I don’t have any idea where this team is going this year, but I am certain that the call-up of Moustakas signals Dayton Moore’s intention to at least be in and stay in the conversation, not in 2013, but instead in 2012.

To Close Or Not to Close

In the span of ten days, Joakim Soria surrendered the closer role, got and back and then notched two saves (one pretty, one not).   In between, Soria pitched five perfect innings, albeit with just one strikeout, but perfect nonetheless.

Alas, Aaron Crow’s career as a Royals’ closer came and went without an opportunity, which was probably good considering he has allowed three runs and four walks in his last five plus innings.    Probably just a little case of rookieitis, but Crow could be possible use a couple of low leverage stints to right the ship.

Right now, is the best pitcher in the Royals’ bullpen Greg Holland?

Rotation, rotation, rotation

What happens this year, next year and the year after that really pretty much comes down to the starting rotation, doesn’t it?

I thought Craig had a very interesting piece on Danny Duffy last week and one has to wonder if maybe a sub-par outing on Tuesday versus a bad Oakland lineup might signal the southpaw’s return to Omaha for a little more work.   I don’t have a big problem with Duffy continuing to grind here in the majors, but could certainly see the logic in return him to AAA as well.    Doing so would also ‘game’ Duffy’s service time as well, but Dayton Moore does not seem to be running the organization with that as a primary concern this year.

The interesting pick-up in the rotation is Felipe Paulino, who was not particularly good over the weekend, but has been quite solid thus far.   In the past, Paulino has had stretches of starts like this, so any expectations for him going forward need to be tempered, but he certainly has done enough to warrant staying in the rotation when Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies return.

With Chen and Davies beginning their rehab assignments, what does this rotation look like in a couple of weeks?   Chen obviously gets back in, probably at the expense of Vin Mazzaro.   Despite seven shutout innings yesterday, Mazzaro’s zero strikeouts versus five walks and a hit batter probably will spell another trip up I-29 (assuming it’s not flooded).

How about Davies?   Does he get back in the rotation and, if so, at who’s expense?

Fun With OBP

We’ll finish up with some ‘did you know?’ on-base information (and yes, I realize most of you actually DO know):

  • Second best OBP of a regular on the Royals?   Matt Treanor’s .361, trailing only Billy Butler.
  • Chris Getz has a better OBP than Jeff Francouer and trails that of Melky Cabrera by one point.
  • In his first three games Mike Moustakas,  not know for taking a walk, has three of them.
  • Not really an OBP factoid, but Eric Hosmer has grounded into just one less double play than Billy Butler.

Tell the truth, how excited are you to have Moustakas and Hosmer at the corners for the remainder of 2011?

The biggest fear of people who claim to be anti-statistics is the idea that there will be no room for the human element in baseball — no strategic decisions, nothing based on the mental side of the game or the intangibles inherent in human players, or there will be some kind of robot making decisions based on human players.  It seems like an absurd notion, but that day arrived years ago.

One of the silliest accusations of people who say they don’t like statistics is that “the game isn’t played on a spread sheet”. A statement which is as condescending as it is obvious. However, it’s not the advanced-statistics crowd that needs the preaching, it’s the Major League mangers and general managers. It’s they who continually run this simple program on a loop:

IF I = 9

AND 4 > L > 0

THEN INSERT C

WHERE

I = INNING

L = LEAD

C = CLOSER

It’s almost astonishingly simple, this program. The only pieces of information needed are the inning and the difference in team scores. In a game that can be as complex as baseball, where there are millions of variables it’s amazing that managers continually rely on something so simple. With apologies to Occam and his razor, the simplest solutions aren’t always the best.

This solution has worked pretty well for the Royals for the past few seasons as the pitcher they used as their closer was one of, if not the best relief pitcher in baseball. Rare though, is the pitcher who can stay dominant for season after season. Short bursts of brilliance followed by mediocrity are far more common. At the time, nobody believes it will happen. Typically while in the moment, people tend to project the future based on the present. Few and far between were the analysts and fans predicting the downfall of Eric Gagne when he was mowing down hitters in the 9th inning for the Dodgers. It’s just as impossible to find anyone who predicted a fall to earth by the suddenly human Joakim Soria. But that’s exactly what has transpired.

Speculation as to the reason for Soria’s sudden fall from grace are numerous and rampant. The most significant seems to be his lack of curveball command. His once devastating, knee-buckling curve ball is now a shell of it’s former self, mirroring in some ways the ice-cold Mexican saves leader himself.

Once upon a time in the not so distant past, when Soria would have his opponent behind in an 0-2 count, everyone in the ballpark, including the batter knew that the curve was coming. 12-6 didn’t do justice to just how much movement and how little speed was on the pitch. It froze hitters and left them shaking their heads. It made spectators turn to each other and mutter “wow”. Now, it’s barely thrown and when it is, it’s rarely in the strike zone. The old curve would seemingly drop out of a batters chin and be perfectly placed in the catcher’s mitt, giving the umpire an easy “STRIKE!” call.

But for whatever reason, that pitch isn’t effective now and neither is Joakim Soria. Nobody should be ready to proclaim the end of a still young career or even a still young season. Pitchers go through periods of struggle and many recover. It seems obvious that at the very least he shouldn’t be in the game during important, potentially-game-changing moments.

We  now return to our simple program from above. There’s very little room in it for adjustment, for as long as Joakim Soria is designated the “closer” then he is brought into the game in the save situations. It’s the kind of closed-minded thinking that the stat crowd despises and it’s the managing to some in-human equation that the anti-stats crowd decries.

Managers see only the opportunity to get a (S) in the boxscore next to his most valuable reliever’s name. The general manager sees merely an opportunity to prove to the next free-agent closer that joining his team will get the closer more saves on his resume so he can put more money in the bank. It’s a scenario which is as ironic as it is maddening. Baseball managers create “closers” by giving them a big number in the spreadsheet column labeled “save” so that the closer can earn more money and so that the general manager can go out on the market and pay exponentially more for some other guy who has received the same treatment from another team.

Luckily, baseball in general is still a merit based game so while closers may command an over-inflated price they typically are the best relief pitchers. But there is little doubt that being tagged with the term closer for a general manager is tantamount to a brand-name clothing designer to a teenager. In many  cases that tag denotes a higher quality, but make no mistake that tag is what creates the value.

For teams that not only can afford to pay the higher prices commanded by closers, but actually set the market for them by paying extraordinary prices there isn’t near as much risk. But for small-market teams like the Royals, trying to play the same game as the large-market teams is a game that’s rigged against them.

Teams like the Royals have to make up the difference in revenue with smarts. They aren’t afforded the luxury that the born-wealthy teams like those in New York, Los Angeles and Boston are. They have to work harder and smarter to over-come their inherent deficiencies. Being outside the scrutiny of major market teams though does provide some benefits.

Nobody is forcing them to play the same game the Yankees and Red Sox play. There isn’t anything in any rule book saying that every team must do things in a certain way. The rules in regards to roster construction and player use in fact are extremely open and free. Yet the Royals, like every other team in baseball just do what every other team does. Change comes glacially. The Royals, in an attempt to do things exactly like every other team in baseball, have handed wins over to their opponents.

Just looking at the statistics from this year, the Royals have been putting their worst relief pitcher in the most important situations. They’ve taken leads into the 9th inning on a number of occasions and looked to the bullpen have essentially said “bring out our least effective guy and see what happens”. At this point it’s bordering on insanity, but because this is what baseball teams do the Royals can continue to do it without fear of criticism. Because how can a team be criticized for doing what everyone else does? It’s not those that melt into the crowd who get noticed, but those that stand out.

So the Royals choose to try and hide behind their baseball brethren in terms of relief pitcher usage and those actions have cost them wins.  Of course there is more statistical information than what is at hand this year and Joakim Soria hasn’t just been a good relief pitcher, he’s been one of the best for the past three seasons. So I’m going to assume that when manager Ned Yost makes the call to the pen in the 9th he’s actually thinking “send out one of the best relief pitchers in the past few years who has struggled this season and let’s hope he’s figured it out.”

It’s perfectly acceptable to do that for a time, but eventually it had to end. That end came yesterday as the Royals replaced Joakim Soria with Aaron Crow in the role of closer. But it didn’t have to come to that. Had they just avoided using the term closer they could have put both pitchers in situations where they had a better opportunity to succeed. As one out-performs the other, he gets shifted towards more important situations. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be the need for an embarrassing demotion from the invented role of closer.

What’s the real cost to the Royals of ignoring “roles”? They would be a less attractive spot for the high-profile free-agent closers? Is that something the Royals should really be concerned about? We’ve already established that high-profile closers command too much money in free-agency and the Royals have to be smarter than that. If they were to change the way they use their bullpen, they could possibly be a MORE attractive place to high quality relievers who are not tagged closers — guys who will get a chance to get some saves on their resume if they are pitching well — guys who are failing as starters, but still have the stuff to be decent bullpen guys. In other words, guys that are almost certainly under-valued in the baseball market. The Royals, by doing something different could position themselves into a destination for exactly the kind of players they need to acquire and at likely lower than market rates.

Yet the Royals persist in following the leader in a game that’s stacked against them. They say that if you’re at a poker table and you can’t identify the sucker, then it’s you. My guess is the Royals look around baseball and think “huh, not a sucker to be seen.”


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on  Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

After the Indian home run barrage on Tuesday, Royal pitcher now have served up 29 home runs… Most in the American League. Bruce Chen and last night’s starter, Luke Hochevar are responsible for more than half that total.

It took a few weeks, but as the team drifts closer to the .500 mark, it seems safe to say that this pitching staff is what we thought it would be as far as performance. However, while the bullpen has been a strength, it seems as though it is teetering as well.

It’s time to examine Ned Yost’s pattern of bullpen usage.

– Through the first 23 games of the season, Tim Collins has appeared in 13 games. That’s simply a workload that is unsustainable. At his current usage level, the diminutive left-hander will appear in 92 games. 92! That would have tied for the major league lead last season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Collins, but there’s absolutely no reason to use (and abuse) a 21 year old rookie like that.

So I’m a little confused why he entered the game last night.

I understand that the Cleveland portion of the lineup featured two left-handed hitters in Hannahan and Brantly. But in a 7-3 game, would Yost play the match-ups? (Probably best not to answer that.)

Plus, Collins is far from being a lefty specialist. With his delivery and stuff, he’s been much more effective against right-handed bats than those who bat from the left.

– Then, there’s Joakim Soria. Has anyone seen the Royals closer? Of course, there haven’t been any save situations in the last week. So the last time Soria appeared was way back on April 19th when he needed 23 pitches to lock down the save. This is something that could actually work in the Royals favor, as Yost leaned extremely heavily on Soria over the season’s opening two weeks. In the Royals first nine games, Soria threw seven times.

I don’t know what Yost is saving him for at this point. He needs work. The way the starting pitching has been going, there aren’t going to be many save opportunities around the corner.

– Has Aaron Crow done something to fall out of favor? I ask because he’s thrown a grand total of 20 pitches since April 18. Kind of weird after Yost leaned on him so heavily at the start of the season.

– Perhaps he’s been replaced in the pecking order by Louis Coleman. He’s looked great since his recall from Omaha on April 21 – that home run from Tuesday aside. Yost has called on Coleman to throw in three of the five games he’s been with the team.

– Nate Adcock finally got into a game last week… A mere 16 days since his last appearance.

I understand that Adcock is the Rule 5 guy and as such, must remain on the 25 man roster for the entire season. What I don’t understand is why you would burn a roster spot on a guy you don’t trust. He’s made three appearances on the season. Why wouldn’t Yost use a guy like this in a game like Tuesday? The Royals are down 7-3 in the eighth inning on the road… Seems almost tailor made. A perfect opportunity for the rookie to get some work. At the very least, you save a truly valuable guy like Collins.

This is going to sound like second-guessing (never done that before…) but I wasn’t happy to see Collins enter the game last night. It just seems like he’s Yost’s go-to guy, no matter the situation. Every manager is going to have favorites, especially in the bullpen where players run excruciatingly hot and cold. A good manager will resist the temptation of bias and will effectively balance a bullpen. Looking at the long view and all that.

It’s only April, but it really looks like Yost is failing this portion of his job description.

You can say one thing about Ned Yost:  he likes to get the new guys into action in a hurry.    Reliever Louis Coleman, called up to Kansas City yesterday morning found himself  pitching in a 2-1 game that the Royals really, really needed to win not more than eight hours later.

After Sean O’Sullivan allowed a single to lead off the seventh (by the way, Sean Freaking O’Sullivan! And I mean that in a good way), Yost called for Coleman, who threw three fastballs to Adam Everett before striking him out with a slider.    Next up was the red hot Grady Sizemore, who took a cut at the first pitch and flied out.    Asdrubal Cabrera saw two fastballs and then fouled out to Alex Gordon on a cutter.    That is a pretty nice major league debut.

To be fair, Coleman’s eight inning was not as spectacular and he left with a clean slate thanks to game hero Melky Cabrera and catcher Matt Treanor teaming up to cut down yet another run at home plate.   Still, good fortune looks exactly the same as dominance the next morning in the box score and I saw plenty in the twenty-four pitches Coleman threw last night to think this is another rookie who could stake a long-term claim to a setup role.

Speaking of dominance, Coleman’s fellow 2009 draftee Aaron Crow continues to roll along.   He allowed a double to Grady Sizemore in the 9th, but nothing else as he remains perfect on this young season.  Again, we will have to revisit the ‘Crow as a starter argument’, but what he has brought to the table in a late innings role makes one wonder what the value is of a lock-down set-up reliever versus an average starting pitcher.    

I am not sure the Royals have any intention of ever moving Crow out of the bullpen, but I am certain they will keep him right where he is until this team falls out of contention.    I agree with that plan of action.

Whomever pitches out of the bullpen this weekend in Texas will get a severe test against the Rangers’ powerful lineup.   Rightly or wrongly, I am excited to see it instead of dreading what might happen.

Arguably the most exciting part of the current Royals’ roster is the bullpen.   Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress and Tim Collins represent the tip of The Process iceberg.   One doesn’t have to squint very hard to see those three plus Joakim Soria locking down wins for a contending Kansas City team:  maybe not in 2011, but not too far into the future.

Some of the luster surrounding the rookie hurlers has worn off after a string of rough outings over the past week, but we all know that relievers – rookie relievers especially – are never perfect.  The question that crossed my mind after seeing Tim Collins implode the other night was how often should we expect a good reliever to, well, not be good?

Searching back over the past five seasons, I sorted pitchers by number of American League games in which they appeared in relief.  Starting with those with 200 or more appearances in that time frame, I removed the closers.  I do so because we hold closers to a different standard of perfection and they are used in what has by and large become a very controlled and similar situation in most of their appearances.   After that, I sorted their overall performance by xFIP, as ERA for relievers is a pretty poor way to judge them.

The above process left seven non-closers with 200 or more appearances over the past five years and an xFIP under 3.90.   Why 3.90?   Well, Shawn Camp – THAT Shawn Camp – was the next pitcher to come up if I went any farther down the list.   The appearance of that name followed in short order by Kyle Farnsworth screamed out ‘stop here!’.

From this point, very simply, I counted the number of appearances by each of the seven relievers in which they allowed a run.   The results were as follows:

  • Matt Thornton – 78  out of 342 appearances (23%)
  • Scott Downs – 56 of  323 (17%)
  • Rafael Perez – 65 of 266 (24%)
  • Grant Balfour – 56 of 213 (26%)
  • Darren Oliver – 78 of 294 (27%)
  • Joaquin Benoit – 58 of 241 (24%)
  • Jason Frasor – 70 of 290 (24%)

I don’t intend to get into a debate over whether we expect more out of Collins, Crow and Jeffress than the guys on the above list.   Suffice it to say that these seven pitchers have been effective enough middle relievers and set-up men to pitch in a large number of games over a five year period.

During that time, these seven gave up a run somewhere between once every four or five outings.  For the sake of boiling this into real life and not statistical decimal point dreamland, I think we could roughly say that a good non-closing reliever allows a run in two of every nine appearances.    The Royals’ Tim Collins, by the way,  has appeared in 10 games this season and allowed runs to score in two of them.

Without question, this is a pretty crude way to study the subject.   There is a big difference between being asked to get one or two batters out and being asked to pitch three innings and the data above makes no adjustment for an appearance where Matt Thornton was asked to retire one hitter with a runner and did so versus an appearance when he pitched two and two-thirds innings and allowed a solo run with his team up four.    

Defining who is a truly effective reliever is a much deeper study and the point of this quick analysis was simply to find out – in casual fan terms - how often one can expect even your best relievers to get dinged for a run.   The expectation among all of us when a reliever enters the game is for that pitcher to be lights out.  It is not realistic to expect that every time and we all know it, but we still expect it and agonize when it does not happen.   When the Royals are up 3-2 with a runner on first and one out in the seventh inning, we really don’t care what Aaron Crow’s WHIP is when the inning is over, we only care that no runs scored.

Of course, there is the second part of the scenario:  it’s not just runs charged to a reliever, but inherited runners he allows to score.   That data, noticeable to all, is not included in the above study (I’m not sure study is the right word for the small amount of research, but here at Royals Authority HQ we like to think so).

Going back to our list, we find the following numbers on inherited runners and inherited runners that ended up scoring on our seven pitchers:

  • Thornton – 93 of 296 (31%)
  • Downs – 54 of 163 (33%)
  • Perez – 43 of 174 (25%)
  • Balfour – 42 of 154 (27%)
  • Oliver – 57 of 171 (33%)
  • Benoit – 24 of 105 (23%)
  • Frasor – 48 of 156 (31%)

Using this group of relievers, it seems that allowing somewhere between one of every three and one of every four inherited runners to score is the norm.   While the sample size is so small as to be irrelevant, Tim Collins has allowed three of six inherited runners to score – two of those coming in last night’s seventh inning.     Jeremy Jeffress has inherited two runners and neither have crossed the plate while Aaron Crow has inherited SEVEN runners and has yet to allow one to score.

There is much to like about the Royals’ young bullpen this season.   Ignoring the Crow should be a starter argument for now, I truly can see this group being a ferocious bridge between what we hope will be a powerful young rotation and a back-to-normal Joakim Soria for years to come.  As good as they might be or become, however, the above shows that perfection simply does not happen.

That was a crazy start to the Cleveland Indians series. The game started out as a nicely played game by both teams and then just took a left turn into bizarro land as soon as the bullpens got involved.

Kyle Davies looked really good last night. He went 6.0 innings, struck out 7 and walked none. He was working quickly on the mound and pounding the strike zone. He also threw one of the sickest breaking balls I’ve seen all season. Just an absolute beast of an un-hittable pitch. Davies has become one of the whipping boys for the Royals fanbase, but guys who can put together that kind of start have value in many rotations. He isn’t going anywhere this season and he shouldn’t.

There was a ball hit into the corner over Alex Gordon’s head and he overplayed it. He got too close to the wall and didn’t wait for the carom. The ball scooted away from him and allowed a runner to score. He’s been playing pretty good defense, but as Corey Ettinger remarked on Twitter, he is rounding off his routes and has to overcompensate by diving for balls. He’s still learning the position and he has the athleticism to make up for some of the mistakes, but it’s going to cost the Royals some bases or as was the case last night, runs.

There was a crazy play at second base last night involving umpire Joe West (shocker). Billy Butler was sliding into second and it seemed clear that Asdrubal Cabrera touched the base long before Butler got there. Joe West signaled safe, but it seems he didn’t announce it very loudly. Butler walked off the base and was tagged out. It ended up being a huge play because it would’ve meant the bases were loaded with no outs rather than first and third with two outs.

It’s easy to place blame on Billy Butler for walking back to the dugout, but from what I could see he didn’t do anything wrong. It seemed from the TV angles that he was out by a mile. But even if he isn’t, the umpire has a responsibility in situations like that to make sure everybody knows full well what the call is. I can’t imagine he yelled “SAFE” and Butler just walked away from the bag. It likely ended up costing the Royals runs, but I can’t fault Butler. Players don’t usually hang around bases double-checking every call, especially ones that look that obvious.

I know that Craig isn’t concerned about Joakim Soria, but I’m a little bit worried. I’m not sounding the alarms or anything. I’m not about to demote him from the closers role, but I need more information to allay my fears. He only missed one bat last night and that’s just not typical Soria. I really hope my concerns are just an over-reaction, but at this point I just don’t know.

There were some chinks in the armor of the bullpen last night. Jeremy Jeffress was wild. He doesn’t really have an out pitch, so if he isn’t locating that super-sonic fastball then he’s kind of stuck. He really could use a nice changeup or a better curve ball. Tim Collins just had a blow up. Those happen, it’s not something that gives me less confidence in the kid. The concern that he might be over-worked is certainly legitimate. He could probably use a couple of days to recoup.

On the other hand, Aaron Crow continued throwing lights out. He is just nasty coming out of the pen.  Right now, he is unquestionably the pitcher I have the most confidence putting in high leverage situations. He has really come into his own in relief. As a starter last year he struggled mightily. I think he’ll get another shot at starting, but I don’t know that he’ll stick there. For now, I’ll just sing Crow-lay-o-lay-o-lay-0-lay Crow-lay Crow-lay when he comes into the game. It’s either that or the chicken dance from Arrested Development.

Kila Ka’aihue is clearly struggling, he could probably use a day or two off, but the Royals need to keep running him out there. It is extremely normal for guys to struggle when they start their Major League careers. Lots of great players started out looking lost at the plate for an extended period of time. The Royals are within striking distance of first place now, but they still need to use their Major League at bats to develop young players like Kila. Eric Hosmer is not coming up soon, and I don’t believe the Royals will give Clint Robinson a chance either. Kila needs the time to work out his difficulties and the Royals should afford that to him.

The game was interesting, but the real highlight of yesterday came from manager Ned Yost. Before the game he was asked if he liked hearing that Butler still wants to play first base. His response:

“Sure I do, but you know what, I’d like to be an astronaut”

Every baseball fan questions decisions made by the manager. It’s just what we do. But regardless of any issues I have with the things Ned Yost does on the field, the man can put out a good quote. I think we lack interesting personalities in baseball and Ned Yost seems to be thoughtful, honest and he says some great things. It’s why I’m a huge fan of the Yostronaut.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Robinson Tejeda… Something isn’t right with this dude. Last year, his average fastball was around 94 mph with some serious life. Last night, he was living around 88-89 mph while sometimes dialing it up to 92. Interestingly enough, his fastest pitch was his last pitch – a 92.7 mph four-seamer he left right down the middle of the plate that was smoked for the game winning hit by Danny Valencia.

It was pretty clear from the four pitch walk to the second batter Tejeda faced (Michael Cuddyer) that this game was going to end in an ugly fashion for the Royals. What was Ned Yost thinking at this point? Unfortunately, it appears he wasn’t thinking at all. Ripping a page from the Trey Hillman Managerial Handbook, Yost sat on his hands while the game crumbled. Of course, the obvious gripe will be that Joakim Soria should have been in the game. Put me in this camp. Although I also understand that in an extra inning game on the road, you have to save him for the bottom of the inning just in case you take the lead in the top half of the inning. You just have to. (Emphasis added to underscore the sarcasm.) This argument is a dead horse. There are a lot of things about Yost that I like, but we can’t forget that he’s a major league manager, and as a major league manager he is expected to do things in a certain way. By The Book, if you will. Yost doesn’t strike me as a guy who would like to be tagged as an innovator. There’s just no way Soria will ever enter the game in that situation. Moot point.

Moving on, while Soria isn’t even going to warm up without a lead in extras, there was no reason Yost couldn’t have grabbed any warm body out in the pen. I don’t care who… Adcock, Jeffress, even Texeira. The point is, Tejeda was struggling (again.) If you’re truly trying to win the ballgame, you can’t watch what happened with the first two batters and do nothing. Yost fell asleep at the switch. I’m not going to say his inaction last night cost the Royals the game, but it didn’t help.

If you were managing like it was 2010, maybe you stick with Tejeda. He should be a better pitcher than the remaining guys in the bullpen. But this is 2011, and he’s not a better pitcher. At least so far in this young season.

Now we have to wonder what’s next for Tejeda. I’m thinking trip to the DL is happening, and I’m hoping it’s soon. He’s faced 26 batters this year, allowed 12 of them to reach base and has struck out just one.

Of course we wouldn’t be talking about any of this, had the Royals come through in the top of the seventh with runners on first and third and no one out. The Royals had just forced Brian Duensing out of the game after the Melk Man tagged him (literally) on a shot back up the middle. Enter Jose Mijares, a LOOGY who promptly overmatches left-handed hitting Alex Gordon on heat that was up and running away. Yes, you want Gordon to just put the bat on the ball in that situation, but it really felt like an unfair fight. The last pitch was up and probably out of the zone, but the action of it running away from the left-handed hitter made it a difficult pitch to handle. And given the moving strike zone all night (more on that in a moment) I can’t fault Gordon for the swing and the miss.

For me, the next at bat was much more frustrating because Matt Capps served up a couple of fastballs that Billy Butler really should have done something with. He was out in front of the first pitch and jerked it foul down the left field line, but that was a belt high fastball on the inner half. Right in his wheelhouse. If he had timed it right, it’s at least a sac fly, maybe more. The third (and final) pitch was just ridiculously hittable, and Butler dropped the barrel of the bat and popped out.

As frustrating as the first two outs… Jeff Francoeur. As I tweeted during the game, the Frenchy at bat carried an air of inevitability. Two outs, runner on third in a tie game and the three and four hitters had already failed. The pressure squarely on, Francoeur illustrated why you can’t count on him because his pitch selection is just so horrible. And of course, after he swings at a couple of pitches out of the zone, he takes strike three.

Before I’m blasted in the comments section about hating on Francoeur, let me talk about how much I liked his defense last night. Yes, he didn’t get to that ball in the 10th, but he had a long way to go and that wind was playing tricks. Good effort, and I really thought he had it. (Wouldn’t have made a difference with Yost sitting on his hands in the dugout.) Still, he recovered quickly and a strong throw prevented the game from ending right there. Then, there was the play on the Justin Morneau lineout where he was able to double Joe Mauer off first base. Solid. (And worth at least one point, I assume.)

A couple of other notes…

- It will be interesting to see the lineup for this afternoon’s game. It made sense to sit Kila Ka’aihue against the left-handed starter, especially given how he’s struggled in the early going. Mike Aviles isn’t doing much better, but Wilson Betemit has to be in the lineup from here on out. Maybe we’ll start to see a Kila/Aviles platoon until one of these guys comes around. If this is the case, Kila will be out today against Francisco Liriano.

- Loved the Tim Collins/Jim Thome matchup last night. The camera angle from Target Field really showed where Collins is (or isn’t) on the rubber. He’s practically throwing from the third base dugout.

- Aaron Crow is quickly becoming one of my favorite relievers because the guy works fast and doesn’t nibble. I get the feeling he knows what he wants to do with the next pitch before he’s done with the one he’s currently delivering. There might be some temptation to shift him to the rotation, especially given how Kyle Davies has performed and we’re a couple of days away from a Sean O’Sullivan start. The Royals will be wise to keep him in the bullpen for a couple of reasons. One, he projects as a reliever. That’s just his strength. And two, he’s a rookie. Let him learn how to pitch in the majors coming out of the bullpen. I love that old school philosophy. This way, it’s possible he could contribute to the rotation down the road.

- Presented without comment… Last night’s strike zone.

The Kansas City Royals rotation isn’t going to be great this year. That’s pretty much a given. It’s not, however going to be as bad as some hyperbolic fans and media would lead you to believe. If someone suggests this rotation is going to be historically bad, then that’s a good sign you should look elsewhere for well thought out baseball discussion. However, there is plenty of merit to the idea that the Rotation isn’t going to be the backbone of this year’s team.

The Kansas City Royals bullpen however, is looking like it’s going to be very good. Having the best relief pitcher in baseball alone is enough to ensure it won’t be a terrible pen. Beyond Joakim Soria, the Royals have a nice group of players including Robinson Tejeda, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Crow. It’s not a stretch to say that the Royals have one of the best bullpens in the American League.

This raises an interesting question. Can a team have a decent pitching staff with a lights out bullpen and a poor rotation?

In 2010 the average American League team ERA was 4.14 and the average team pitched about 1,444 innings of which about two thirds were thrown by the starting rotation. Using those numbers, I constructed the following table. The left column represents various ERA’s for the starting pitchers. The right column is the corresponding ERA that the relievers would have to put up in order for the team to have an ERA of 4.14. As a note of reference, the average AL starting rotation had a 4.26 ERA last year, while the average bullpen had a 3.89.

SERA RERA
6.00 0.41
5.75 0.91
5.50 1.41
5.25 1.91
5.00 2.41
4.75 2.91
4.50 3.41
4.25 3.92
4.00 4.42
3.75 4.92
3.50 5.42

The bullpen has to be really, really good to make up for a poor starting rotation.  It takes a historically good bullpen to make up for a pretty bad rotation. So, in order to be competitive with a poor rotation, a team would have to have not only a good bullpen, but shift more innings to the bullpen. They could also have an offense good enough to overcome a below-average pitching staff, or some combination of those.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com. He also writes a weekly post at The Lawrence Journal-World.

We spend a lot of time discounting spring training results and, for those organizations that traditionally are out of it by then, we even view September statistics with a skeptical eye.   An 18-8 September?  Let’s not jump to conclusions.   A great spring?   So what.

Yet, come Opening Day, that one game out of 162 seems to be more than enough for many to draw immediate conclusions:

  • Alex Gordon went zero for five with three strikeouts – same ol’ Alex.
  • Mike Aviles had an error and another misplay at third – that’s going to be a problem, he’s all bat and no glove
  • Kila Ka’aihue didn’t have a hit – he might just have slider bat speed.
  • Aaron Crow struck out three of the four hitters he faced – he’s fantastic, best draft pick ever!

You get my point…or my sarcasm and many of you reading this site know better.   Still, there is that nagging thought in the back of many an astute minds (and my non-so-astute one) that this did feel a lot like the same old Royals.

Although the Royals scored on solo home runs in both the 7th and 8th innings, they also stranded seven runners over the last three frames.  Prior to that, Kansas City was simply throttled at the plate;  not getting a runner past second until the 7th inning.  They committed three errors and allowed the Angels to post their third and fourth runs after getting the first two batters out in the top of the sixth.   Yep, eerily similar to the teams of the past.

That said, it is important to remember that Jered Weaver is good and, against the Royals, he is really, really good.   Over his career, Weaver has a 2.64 earned run average over the 58 innings pitched against Kansas City.    Counting yesterday’s start, Weaver has allowed TWO runs to the Royals over his last 28 innings.   This was going to be a tough day at the plate that just so happened to be Opening Day.

Opening Day, for all it’s excitement and celebrations, is just one game.

Other observations from the Royals 4-2 loss, made with full knowledge that it is, say it with me, just one game:

  • Royals hitters walked six times and struck out ten, while Royals pitchers walked only one and struck out nine.   This team will strike out a lot, so it would be nice if the ability to take a walk also holds and those big strikeout numbers don’t hurt as bad if the hurlers are posting similar numbers on the opposite side of the ledger.
  • Melky Cabrera had three hits and looked (dare we say it?) fit.  Trade him now, his value will never be higher!  I kid…
  • Mike Aviles, a favorite of mine, did kind of do a Bizzaro-Callaspo at third base yesterday.   Let’s remember that Mike has not played a ton of third base – 14 games in the majors, 164 in the minors – and not panic.   Besides, we are just a Moustakas hot streak away from seeing Aviles back at second, anyway.
  • We pretty much knew what to expect from Jeff Francouer and we got it.   A big home run to get the Royals on the board and hideous bases loaded strikeout on a pitch well out of the zone.    We also saw him throw out Jeff Mathis at the plate after the Angels rather strangely challenged the one true plus-skill Francouer possesses.
  • Four hitters does not a career make, but it was fun to watch Aaron Crow slice and dice the Angels wasn’t it?
  • I thought Luke Hochevar had a solid start.   If, as is my hope, Luke is to turn into Gil Meche (the good one, not the wrecked version), then this is the kind of start he needs to post time after time.   He simply is not going to be the guy to stand toe to toe with a Weaver and win.  Hopefully as soon as next year that will not be his role.

Finally, in the ‘who would have thought’ category, Ned Yost used two pinch runners, a pinch hitter and three starters ended the game at different defensive positions.   All that and Matt Treanor plays all nine innings.   Given that Treanor had a single and a walk, this really is not a criticism of Yost.   I am willing to bet, however, that if I gave you that scenario prior to the game, you would almost certainly have to assume that Treanor was the subject of one of those switches.   Baseball, as you may have heard, is a funny game.

Assuming you are not too crestfallen from yesterday, we get a look at Jeff Francis tonight against Dan Haren (who has a 1.99 ERA against the Royals in 50 innings of work).  If Kansas City is going to have something resembling a decent season, Francis being effective is a must.  

Remember, no matter what happens tonight, it is just TWO games out of 162.

News out of the Royals camp has Ned Yost refiguring his lineup and moving Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon to the second and third spots respectively.  I’m not thrilled with the Melk-Man hitting so high in the order – I don’t care how he was swinging the bat in Arizona.  Still, I’ve opined plenty of times in this space that the Royals lack a true number two type of bat.  (Along with myriad other deficiencies.)  So as much as I’d like to work up outrage over Cabrera hitting second, it’s a helluva lot better than Jason Kendall.  Besides, I’ll save it for when Cabrera is dragging down the Royals offense.

I’m a little more perturbed that Yost has pushed Gordon to the third spot, mainly for the fact that this shifts Billy Butler to the cleanup position.  I’m of the school where you don’t screw with two players at once when one of them has established a comfort zone.  Butler profiles as a number three hitter.  He just does.  He’s not a cleanup hitter by any stretch of the imagination.  That could be Kila Ka’aihue based on past performance in Omaha.  Why not shift Gordon to the fifth spot and leave your three and four alone?  Especially when you’re dealing with a guy like Gordon who hasn’t exactly done anything in his entire career to warrant such a move.  Hey, if he’s hitting the snot out of the ball on May 1, then go ahead and make the move.  Right now, it feels a little premature.

Here’s your Opening Day lineup:

Aviles
Cabrera
Gordon
Butler
Ka’aihue
Francoeur
Escobar
Treanor
Getz

I put Coach Treanor there because you just know the guy is the second coming of Kendall.  He’s going to get the majority of the time behind the plate.  Not 92% or whatever Kendall was getting last year prior to his injury, but I see him getting 60-70% of the innings.

Yes, Escobar had a fine spring, but if he can’t keep that going, the bottom third of that lineup has serious black hole potential.

So the bullpen is finally set with Kaneoka Texeria and Jeremy Jeffress the last two in place.  They join the locks (Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda) the prospects (Aaron Crow and Tim Collins) and the whatevers (Sean O’Sullivan and Nate Adcock.)  I honestly thought Luis Mendoza would make the team ahead of Jeffress.  It’s nice that the Royals aren’t sticking with waiver retreads.

Plus, I’m glad they are using the bullpen as the first place to work in the young pitchers.  Many thought Crow was drafted to be a starter, but his strength projects him as a reliever.  Yeah, it’s not ideal, but he could transition into an above average set-up guy or even closer.

There’s been a bunch of internet chatter about the Royals keeping Jarrod Dyson and getting rid of Gregor Blanco.  I’m surprised given that Dyson has options and would benefit from playing every day.  With the Promised Two (Francoeur and Cabrera) along with the new number three hitter, Gordon, and the uber-backup in Mitch Maier, I don’t see where he’s going to get the at bats.  This just feels like one of those classic Royal moments where they’re setting their player up for failure… He won’t play enough to get into any kind of rhythm, he’ll hit poorly, get shipped to Omaha and we won’t hear from him again.  I just don’t get it.  Plus, I think over the entire season Blanco would contribute more than Cabrera.  This one is just a head-scratcher.

I hope the Royals are able to sneak Blanco through waivers, but I doubt that’s going to happen.

With T-minus one day to the Opener, it’s time for the annual exercise known as Calling Your Shot.  Time to get on the record with your predictions for the upcoming 2011 season.

Since this season is all about transition in The Process, I thought it would be interesting to add a little spice in the form of a few over/unders based on totals from the 2010 season.  It’s an interesting way to gauge expectations.

Here are the categories, presented with last year’s totals:

1) Wins – 67

2) Team OBP – .331

3) Team SLG – .399

4) Steals – 115

5) Team ERA – 4.97

6) Team BB/9 – 3.5

7) Team SO/9 – 6.5

Leave your predictions in the comment section.

Play ball.

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