Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Brian Bannister

A week ago today, I wrote a column speculation on how many players the Royals would need to add right now to become a contender.   The number I came up with was eight.   Some commenters suggested nine (the ninth being a catcher) was the more reasonable number and that may well be true.

Be it eight players or nine players, I summarized that column by pointing out that it is possible that maybe all but one of those positions could be filled by the ever improving farm system.   There are two big problems with that sentence however:

  1. Not all prospects reach their potential.
  2. While prospects develop the major league roster changes.   You might fill one spot, only to have another open up due to contract issues, age, etc.   Basically, it is all fine and good that Mike Montgomery might well be an ace-type pitcher in 2013, but that won’t make the Royals any better if Zack Greinke left via free agency after the 2012 season.

In my mind, Greinke is the crux of the issue.   Unlike Carlos Beltran or Johnny Damon, it is not a lock that Zack will leave the Royals once his current contract expires.   If Kansas City is beginning to look like a winning organization during the 2011 and 2012 seasons and IF management is judicious in allocating salary, the possibility of resigning Greinke is relatively high in my opinion.      

Should the Royals still be floundering along at 70-92 and Greinke is still getting less run support than a college softball pitcher, what would be his incentive to stay?   Sure, he may not want to pitch in New York, but they score lots of runs in Anaheim, Texas, Tampa and Chicago.     

If you want to keep Greinke, then The Process has to be showing real signs of coming to fruition no later than the start of the 2012 season.   In fact, the Royals probably need to be at least looking like contender if not actually contending next season.   

The message:  don’t abandon The Process, but let’s get focused and hurry up.

Now, back to last week’s column.   The eight players that I thought the Royals needed were:

  1. Number two starting pitcher
  2. Number three/four starting pitcher
  3. Middle reliever
  4. A second middle reliever
  5. Impact, corner infield bat
  6. Good defensive middle infielder with an average-plus bat
  7. Good defensive centerfielder with an average-plus bat (or better)
  8. Impact, corner outfield bat

Where can the Royals afford to build from within and where do they need to be aggressive and go find someone to fill those spots from outside the organization?

If the Royals were a better offensive team and Gil Meche was healthy, they probably have a good enough starting five as it is.  That said, better than ‘good enough’ is preferable.  With the return of Danny Duffy (even if 2010 is pretty much a lost year), you have to like the idea of having him, Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow all within hailing distance of the majors.   I am content to wait for one of those three to emerge as that number two starter by the end of 2011.

The key to making that happen, however, is getting Gil Meche healthy and here’s why.   Meche has zero trade value right now.   The Royals would be wise to take months making sure Gil is really at full strength before running him out to the mound.     There would be nothing wrong with a healthy Gil Meche being your number two starter for the first three months of 2011.    When healthy and right, as he was in 2007 and 2008, Meche truly is a number two starter.   He would buy time for Montgomery and company.   Can he get healthy and right?  Hard to say, but you might as well keep Meche around to find out as opposed to dumping him for little or no value this year.   So, the plan for the number two starter is keep Gil Meche, while you wait for Montogmery, Duffy or Crow to take his spot.   Keep in mind, if this scenario plays out, Meche will have real allure as a trade chip next July.

As for the number four type starter, I again am content to wait for the three guys above to come to the majors.   Behind them comes the John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Tim Melville, Kelvin Herrera, etc. group of arms, who will also come into consideration as Hochevar, Bannister and Davies begin to become contract issues (or get worse, instead of better).

Truthfully, I like the Royals rotation of the future.   A 2011 crew of Greinke, Meche, Hochevar, Bannister, Montgomery/Davies would morph into a 2012 rotation of Greinke, Montgomery, Hochevar, Crow/Duffy, Bannister/Davies and frankly, if you resign Greinke, get better from there.   That statement allows for one of the Crow-Duffy-Montgomery trio to wash out and really counts on just one of the next group of young arms to truly develop into a major league starter.

Anyway, when it comes to the two starting pitchers the Royals need, I will ‘Trust The Process’ and do so without any hint of sarcasm.

When it comes to the two bullpen arms I believe this team needs, Robinson Tejeda might have already filled one of those spots, but let’s be greedy and add two more arms anyway.   Again, I like what the system has to offer in Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy among others.   Heck, considering I am talking about your fourth and fifth best bullpen arms, I might be willing to see if Dusty Hughes can continue to develop.  

Although Dayton Moore has done a lot the last two years to test my faith that ‘you can always find a competent middle reliever’, I am still going to stick with the organization to fill these roles or a low-cost veteran arm when the time comes.

Whether it is in July or October, the Royals are going to lose Jose Guillen and gain $12 million dollars.   When they do, someone should pin Dayton Moore down and tattoo ‘Kila Kaaihue is my designated hitter for 2011′ on his hand.   It is very possible that Kila might be only a modest (if that) improvement over Guillen, but Kansas City has to finally find out.    Spending time and money to fill this spot is simply a waste, given that one of your number one picks (Eric Hosmer)will be playing first base in AA come 2011.    While Kila is not really fill one of ‘the eight’, he fills a spot so that the organization can actually focus on ‘the eight’.

Mike Moustakas, on the other hand, IS one of ‘the eight’.   Is there anyone out there that is not hoping for a mid-season promotion to AAA, followed by an early season call-up to be the everyday third baseman sometime in 2011?   In the interim, Alberto Callaspo still hits and seems to annoy me a lot less in the field at third than he did at second.   The Royals can take their time with Moustakas, but they don’t have to be deliberate about it either.  I am content to rely on Moustakas to be my impact, corner infielder.

Since we are talking about impact bats, let’s move to the outfield corner.   Do we believe in Alex Gordon here or not?  Do we have a choice?   At some point this year, the Royals will bring Gordon up to play either right or left field.   When they do so, they had better be ready to give him 2011, too.     Kansas City pretty much has to give Alex one more chance to become that impact bat because there is no other outfielder anywhere close in the system that can fill this role.  

The downside to this year and one half commitment is pretty limited in my opinion.   Not only does Guillen salary come off the books this year, Meche’s will be gone after 2011.   Sure, other players (Greinke notably) will be getting paid more, but the Royals could still have some serious spare change in the cushions to go get an established free agent outfield bat after the 2011 season if Gordon washes out.

Okay, so now I am running the risk of being a Dayton Moore apologist, as I have filled six of my eight spots with homegrown talent.   I have done so, however, without counting on every pitcher to develop or speculating on a dramatic rise through the system by Eric Hosmer or Wil Myers.   I may be optimistic, but not euphoric…I don’t think, anyway.

Let’s stay in the outfield for a moment.   As I write this, it becomes clear to me that the Royals should keep David DeJesus and pick up his option for 2011.   We know what we will get from DeJesus and it is, frankly, pretty good baseball.   Having him around in 2011 gives Mitch Maier, David Lough and Jordan Parraz a little extra time to become, well, the next David DeJesus.   Hey, there is nothing wrong with one DeJesus in an outfield – two, however, is one too many.  That takes us to player number seven in our ascension to contention, who happens to be a centerfielder.

I am intriuged by Derrick Robinson, who spent four seasons proving to us that he could not hit, only to revert to his high school batting stance and suddenly pop the ball to the tune of .302/.394/.390 so far this year in AA.  Robinson brings tremendous speed and defense to the table, but two months in a hitters’ league does not a surefire prospect make.

That said, the free agent market the next two years is not exactly ripe with possibilities.   Next year, in fact, is pretty much without any real solution.   After the 2011 season, how do you feel about a 35 year old Carlos Beltran?   What about Nate McLouth or Grady Sizemore, assuming their options don’t get picked up?  I don’t know, man, I just don’t know.

This is a position that I think you go out and try to trade for a prospect or younger player that is, basically, a better prospect than Derrick Robinson.   That takes us back to getting Gil Meche healthy and a viable tradeable commodity at the deadline in 2011.   Perhaps you could package a Brian Bannister and Alberto Callaspo to fill this spot or do you same them for….

….player number eight:  the middle infielder.  

Again, I don’t see a ready solution in the system.  Somewhere between Mike Aviles, Chris Getz (yes, I said CHRIS GETZ), Jeff Bianchi and Johnny Giavotella, you have one solid middle infielder, but I’m not sure you want to base your playoff run on having two of them up the middle.   Maybe, but maybe not.

Truthfully, there is enough potential there that the Royals don’t have to panic (you know, go out and trade for Yuniesky Betancourt or something), but they ought to be looking around.   A guy like Yunel Escobar comes to mind, although his current mental state is pushing him closer to a Betancourt-type player than a real solution-type player.

In a stream of consciousness type of writing style, I find myself wondering what type of young player a team could net if the trade package was Meche (healthy and effective, mind you), Bannister AND Callaspo?   If the Royals made that trade in mid-2011 and the return was a potential star player in centerfield then maybe they can contend with a middle infield of Aviles and Bianchi in 2012.   Or, in the alternative, maybe they could live with Robinson or Lough in center if they had a star shortstop in the making.

Is it possible the Royals are six internal players, one star acquisition and a year and one-half away from contending for a period of years?   If so, is a healthy Gil Meche the single most critical piece of the entire puzzle?  

Honestly, all six of the prospects I am counting on to fill these positions won’t come through.  I think five is more likely, which puts this team one big, good trade and one rather expensive free agent away and all that without dealing with the catching situtation.   That said, I can actually see the future and, rose colored glasses or not, it looks promising. 

I am interested to hear what some of you think about the above scenario or feel free to propose one of your own.   Also, check back for the Royals Authority Annual Mock Draft coming this weekend.

That was a tidy ballgame.  You don’t often see 6-3 games clock in under 2:15 like Tuesday’s.  I hate to go all Denny Mathews on you, but I do enjoy the quick ballgame.  Credit to both starters who kept the game moving at a great pace.

Whenever I watch Brian Bannister pitch, I’m looking for groundballs.  Last night, he got a ton.  Eleven of his 16 outs came via the ground ball.

The runs he gave up in the second were soft.  I mean, they came on batted balls that weren’t struck especially hard.  Soft or not, they were line drives and those tend to fall for hits.  What was really frustrating about that inning was it came immediately after the Royals jumped ahead.  Is it just me, or does it seem like Bannister gives back his runs almost immediately?  I don’t have any numbers or stats to back this up, but it sure feels like everytime I watch him pitch and his bats give him a lead, Bannister immediately goes out and coughs it up.

He tried to give it back in the sixth inning (immediately after the Royals scored four runs in the fifth) when Macier Izturis led off with a home run.  Seriously?  Then Torii Hunter laced a single to right and Hideki Matsui launched a bomb that just missed tying the game by inches.

Time for the Good Tejeda-Wood-Soria Triumverate to bare it’s fangs once again.  This time, they retired 11 in a row.

Good Robinson Tejeda was simply electric.  When he uncorked his first pitch that was about helmet high, I worried that he wouldn’t be on his game.  Ha.  Once he got rolling, the Angels were helpless.  He couldn’t get his slider over for a strike and the Angel hitters weren’t biting, so he just brought the gas.  Hey, whatever works.

Brought in with runners on second and third and one out, to get out of that fix without allowing a run… That’s a save in my book.  A shallow fly and a strikeout got the job done.

Then Blake Wood… He threw his first nine pitches for strikes and only tosses his first ball after he jumed ahead of Torii Hunter 0-2 with two outs.  He’s still pitching to contact I suppose – his strikeout of Hunter was only his second this year and he’s faced 35 batters – but he’s jumping ahead.  He’s thrown a first pitch strike in over 70% of all plate appearances.  Major league average is 58%.  Nice.  If you’re going to let hitters get the bat on the ball, you may as well tilt the battle to your advantage as much as possible.

Finally Joakim Soria.  The 68 mph curveball he broke off to punchout Juan Rivera following a pair of 93 mph cutters was pure poetry.  I don’t think I’ve seen that pitch from him this year.  Then poor Mike Napoli couldn’t even get the bat off his shoulders, looking at five pitches and striking out to end the game.

Yost’s bullpen plan has mostly been letter perfect.  If Hillman had been so insightful (or fortunate) he’d probably still be employed.

Scott Podsednik hit leadoff for the 20th time last night.  Entering the game, he was hitting .286/.349/.351 at the top of the order, which isn’t horrible, but his sOPS+ of 89 indicates his performance there is below average.  You probably already knew that.

Last night he saw a grand total of seven pitches in his four plate appearances.  Seven pitches!  I really wish the Royals had someone else who could bat at the top of the order.

I suppose I’d prefer DeJesus at the top of the order, but Yost seems to have hit on something by dropping him to the third spot where he’s caught fire and hit .361/.451/.443 in the 16 games since he’s made the move.  Obviously, you’d like more power out of your number three, but I’m not going to be so picky.

In his short tenure, Yost has largely been golden.

I joked on Twitter before the game that the order that featured Betancourt, Getz, Podsednik and Kendall hitting eight through second could be called the Gauntlet Of Suck.  Ha.  All four hitters came through big… Kendall hit a double in the first that was probably the hardest ball he struck all year and scored the game’s first run.  Then Betancourt opened the fifth with a triple to left, scored on a Getz single and Podsednik kept the rally rolling as the Royals broke the game open with a four spot.

So maybe Gauntlet Of Suck was a bit harsh.  I dunno.  If you stack those four in a lineup 10 times, they’ll have a game like this maybe once.  Like I said… Golden Yost.

There were a number of great comments on my Kendall post from Friday.  One that caught my eye was from TJ:

“I would love to see a column on pitchers and stolen bases.  I think most people understand and can easily look up stats to see how a catcher impacts the running game.  But what about the pitchers?”

I thought that was a great (and valid) question.  I made an assumption that runners were attempting to steal against Kendall because they perceived they could be successful.  His attempted steals per nine (which is the highest rate in baseball at 1.6) struck me as the result of an aging catcher behind the plate who the opposition knew couldn’t cut down enough runners to make a difference.  Anyway, the comment prompted me to look at the Royals pitchers and the stolen base attempts when they are on the mound.

I found something extremely interesting.

Through games of the weekend, here’s where we stand, ranked by stolen base opportunities.

(SB Opp is the number of times a runner is on first or second with the next base open.  SB and CS are self-explanatory.  SB Att% is the percentage of stolen base attempts.)

What can we glean from this?

– We can add holding runners to things that Greinke is awesome at doing.  He’s always been good at it.  Last year, runners attempted a steal in just 4.4% of all opportunities.  That was actually kind of high for him.  For his career, runners are going on Greinke just 3.4% of the time.  Like I said, he’s kind of great.

(By the way, Greinke has more stolen base opportunities because he’s thrown 10 more innings than any other starter.  Aside from pushing Meche to the first Sunday of the season, the Royals have yet to skip – or substitute – a starter.  Greinke has now made 10 starts.)

– Meche is a problem.  He has really slowed his delivery with runners on base.  Last year, he was at 7.6% for his SB Att% and in 2008 he was at 4.3%.  I figured since runners were going crazy on the bases against Meche, it would mean he’s struggling from the stretch and hitters would be having a field day when they came to bat with runners on.  After all, the guy has a 6.75 ERA.  However, that’s not really the case.  The opposition is hitting .263/.377/.379 with men on base.  It’s the walks that prolong the inning.  Meche has walked 17 batters with a runner on base, but 12 of those have come with first base open.

Makes sense, I suppose.  He’s struggled with his command all year and has always featured a high leg kick from the stretch.  I went back and looked at some of his starts from this year.  Earlier in the season, his leg kick was about half of what it’s been lately.  Lately he’s been bringing his front leg all the way to his waist and hiding the ball behind his front knee.  This isn’t always the case… He will still take a lower kick and shorter stride.  For fun, I grabbed a couple of shots.  The one on the left is Meche’s first start of the season with the knee just below the waist.  The one on the right is Meche’s start against Texas earlier this month.  Note the knee above the waist.

I looked for a pattern… game situation, type of runner on base, etc and came up with nothing.  It seems pretty random when he uses his high kick compared to a lower one.  Either way, it’s not working.  He can take forever to deliver his pitch.

Nobody has been run on more than Gil Meche.  Nobody.

– Runners have always stolen against Hochevar.  His stolen base attempt percentage has gone up each year he’s started in the majors.  From 8.3% in ’08 to 10.6% in ’09 to this year’s 13.1%.  Runners have attempted to steal third base four times with Hochevar on the mound – that number leads the league.  Three of the four have been successful.

We’ve known almost since he was drafted that Hochevar had difficulty keeping the running game in check.  Statistically, it looks like he’s getting worse.

– Bannister and Davies are run on more than the average pitcher (ML average is a SBAtt% of around 6.5%), but compared to Hochevar and Meche, it seems like they know what they’re doing in controlling the running game.

– Finally, I lumped the relievers into a group for simplicity.  No reliever stands out as being easy to steal on and the game is different in the later innings – managers take fewer risks on the bases.  Robinson Tejeda and Kyle Farnsworth have both had two successful steals against them in three attempts.  Both steals and attempts are tops in the relief corps.  No one has attempted a steal in 25 opportunities against Joakim Soria.

So to revisit my Kendall post from Friday, it now seems to me that runners are going more on Hochevar and Meche.  Over 46% of all stolen base attempts against the Royals have come with those two on the hill.  They’ve only thrown 24% of the Royals innings this year. In other words, it’s a highly disproportionate number of stolen base attempts.  I can’t blame the catcher for the fact that Royals games have turned into one way track meets.  This rests on the starting pitchers (Greinke excluded, naturally).  Especially Meche and Hochevar.

I still think Kendall is pretty average defensively (although he’s definitely an improvement over the previous catching duo), and Matt Klaassen has the numbers that back up my assumptions. But he took too much heat for what ultimately was the failings of his pitching staff.

Sorry, Kendall.

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

The End of the Luis Mendoza Era

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

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

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

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

Gil Meche and the Mystery of Control

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

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

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

An Ugly Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

Getz and the Roster

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

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

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

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

The Salvage

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

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

Ever Onward

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

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

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

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

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

Three games in and Hillman is already on the defensive:

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, his pitches broke down like this:

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

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

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

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

Whoa.  That’s less than ideal.

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

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

A couple of other thoughts from the series finale…

FREE MIKE AVILES

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

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

So frustrating…

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

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

We need a happy small ball medium here.

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

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

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

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

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

One of the first Spring Sunshine stories comes via Brian Bannister who reports his shoulder feels great and he s in top physical condition.

It really shouldn’t be a surprise his shoulder is feeling good. Once it was determined (by a doctor outside the Royals organization) that he didn’t need surgery, it was fairly obvious that a winter of rest followed by a conditioning program would whip his shoulder back into shape. He was suffering from a dead arm. When that happens during the season, the pitcher normally takes a start or two off from the rotation – and in extreme cases can land on the DL for a couple of weeks – before returning as if nothing happened. When the dead arm occurs at the end of the season, like it did with Bannister, the rest period can be followed by conditioning to build strength and stamina.

It really wasn’t a surprise Bannister ended the season on the shelf. Thanks to Trey Hillman s Starting Rotation Chainsaw Massacre, Bannister was pushed to the limit last year. In five starts beginning July 10, he averaged over 111 pitches per start. Previously, he had averaged 95 pitches per start.

I doubt it was coincidence that in his two starts following his stretch of five where he was overworked, he threw a total of 10 innings and allowed 14 runs on 16 hits while striking out only four batters. Hillman didn’t notice anything was amiss or he was negligent as hell as he kept sending Bannister out to work long outings while getting his brains beat in. Bannister finally reached his breaking point on September 2 when he lasted only 1.1 innings. That was four days after he threw a season high 119 pitches in a start in Seattle.

Bannister has exhibited what we ll call a lack of stamina in the past. In his rookie season in 2007, he simply ran out of gas in September when he posted a 7.30 ERA and struck out only six batters while walking eight in his final 25 innings. In 2008, he was pitching OK through June 23 when he had a 4.47 ERA, allowing 11 home runs in 99 innings to that point. However in that start in late June he threw 113 pitches. That came just two starts after throwing a career-high 127 pitches against the Rangers. From that point on, he wasn’t the same pitcher. Over his final 84 innings, he had a 7.29 ERA and allowed 18 home runs.

I could be way off, but I really think the accumulation of starts with high pitch counts hurts Bannister. Say what you will about how pitchers are treated, but understand that not all pitchers are created equal. While someone like Zack Greinke can throw 120 pitches and feel fine, someone like Bannister can throw 100 pitches and feel exhausted.

It s an indictment against the Royals that they apparently haven t figured this out.

More notes:

– Jose Guillen arrived late to camp due to the death of a sibling. Never an easy situation, but apparently the death was unexpected, which can make it even more difficult to deal with. Positive thoughts go out to Guillen and his family.

– Apparently, we’re going to get a new lineup everyday from SABR Trey and the Royals. Maybe they’re using us as a focus group. Here s the latest as reported by Dutton:

Podsednik – LF
Kendall – C
DeJesus – RF
Butler – 1B
Ankiel – CF
Callaspo – DH
Gordon – 3B
Betancourt – SS
Getz – 2B

Honestly, that makes my head hurt.

Hillman just seems kind of slow, doesn t he? No reasonable follower of baseball would construct a lineup like that. However, Hillman will throw that order out for a couple of games in April, the Royals will score less than two runs a game and we ll never see it again.

It s kind of like when he hit Mike Jacobs and Miguel Olivo back to back early last year. That lasted a handful of games before Hillman realized he was short-circuiting any kind of potential rally with a couple of out machines together in the lineup.

He gets it. Eventually.

Yesterday, Clark posted his over/under scenarios for the regular season. Today, I present some questions I have as camp gets set to open. We ll find out some answers almost immediately and others will take a bit longer to sort out.

Hey, the good news is, baseball is in the air. About damn time. On with the questions.

Are Gil Meche and Brian Bannister healthy and ready to make 32 starts for the Royals?

Although both pitchers were felled by Trey Hillman’s Starting Pitcher Chainsaw Massacre, Meche’s troubles began in his first spring training start last year when he reported a stiff back following a one inning outing. If both are healthy and Meche returns to the form he flashed in his first two seasons with the Royals and Bannister can continue to refine his cutter he developed last year, this team has the foundation of a quality starting rotation. As many have pointed out, the CHONE projections have the Royals rotation ranked as the 6th best in baseball.

Take those projections with a grain of salt. Zack Greinke has the highest projected WAR among all pitchers and CHONE is making the assumption that both Meche and Bannister are healthy and at the top of their game. Certainly, the potential is there, but let s not get carried away just yet.

Where will Alberto Callaspo play?

Did you see the Star’s rundown of the 40 man roster on Sunday. Nothing huge, just little capsules on each player along with a one-liner about how they fit on the team. For Chris Getz, the line read, Second base is his job to lose.

Really?

I know Callaspo leaves a lot to be desired with his glove, but this is a team in desperate need for offense, which is something Callaspo provides. If Getz is the starting second baseman, will the Royals slide Callaspo over to DH? I’d be fine with that, but then what happens with Jose Guillen? Honestly, I could care less about what happens with Guillen, but do we really want to hear the inevitable stories about how he’s pissed off? Oh well, this is his last season here, so he may as well go out with some fireworks.

Speaking of Guillen, is there any chance the Royals will get some production out of him in 2010?

I’ve heard various reports about his health and fitness this winter. It’s ranged from good to bad to horrible, so how he’s doing health-wise is anyone s guess.

My hope is, he reports to camp fat and hurt and the Royals decide to immediately end the Guillen era and give him his unconditional release. Hey, we’re out $12 million for 2010 anyway.

Has anyone heard if the Royals found someone to play the part of Sluggerrrr? Maybe the Royals can get their money s worth by having Guillen don the costume. That would be great, but can you imagine the liability when he s performing at a birthday party, drops a handful of f-bombs and then tears his groin while shooting hot dogs?

Is Billy Butler still motivated?

The knock on Butler prior to last season was he lacked a certain amount of maturity that would push him to realize his potential. All he did to dispel that notion was to work all winter on his defense and report to camp in excellent shape.

My question then, did he do something similar this off season? Sometimes, success creates a comfort level and some athletes aren’t able (or willing) to push themselves to maintain that success.

I m not saying Butler is a candidate for regression. There s no evidence he decided to take the winter off and rest on his laurels. I m just saying I hope he’s still working just as hard as he worked last year. I just get the feeling he could have a monster year if he put in the proper work this winter.

Who will set-up Soria?

The Dayton Moore era has been marked with bullpen uncertainty almost since day one. Sometimes, it all works out like it did in 2008. Other times not so much, like last year. Juan Cruz will be looking to bounce back but with Kyle Farnsworth and Robinson Tejeda auditioning for a starting role, there aren t many known commodities currently residing in the back of the bullpen.

(Hopefully the Royals understand Farnsworth isn’t an option to be a set-up man. I fear when it becomes apparent he can t start, the Royals will undoubtedly try him in this role once again.)

Will Alex Gordon be ready for the season?

Last year was supposed to be his breakout year, but now like his free agency, it s been delayed a season.

With newly acquired third baseman Josh Fields in the fold, is it possible the Royals picked him up to apply some pressure to Gordon? The parallels between the two are interesting in that both were highly touted prospects coming out of college and have yet to come close to that potential in the majors. Fields represents a true alternative should Gordon once again falter (through injury or poor performance.) That s something the Royals have never really had at third. Certainly, Teahen could have been that but during his last three years with the team, his services were needed at other positions. This year, Fields doesn’t really fit anywhere on this team.

I think it would be super cool if they threw the third base job wide open. Fields versus Gordon, may the best man win. It’s not like your going to piss Gordon off more than you already have. Besides, competition is healthy. That alone would make spring training infinitely more interesting.

There you go. A few questions for you to ponder as the equipment trucks and players roll into Surprise to get ready for the season.

This morning, I am going to run through a quick exercise in constructing the Royals’ twenty-five man roster for the coming season. My guess is that almost everyone who reads any Royals’ blog has already done this in one form or another, but I have serious doubts that the Royals’ front office has.

Okay, sure, we know that is total sarcasm, but seriously I think the Royals have a firm idea on the 40 man roster, but only a vague ‘things will work themselves out’ idea as to the 25 they will break camp with. You can make an argument that this is the perfect way to go into spring training and I would generally agree, but I do wonder if a ‘small budget’ club like the Royals can assemble and pay for 30+ guys to compete for their 25 spots?

The catching position is pretty simple: Jason Kendall starts, Brayan Pena watches. The hope is that Kendall is an upgrade defensively and in handling the pitchers, while not just destroying you at the plate. If he can get on base at even a .340 clip, throw runners out and get along with Greinke and Meche, he might be tolerable. In Pena, the Royals have a switch-hitter who might log some time at DH. I wish the team had given Pena two months of everyday duty last year to find out if he really is THAT bad behind the plate, but that ship has sailed. Manny Pina, acquired from Texas last year, is the next in line, but his bat is not ready for the bigs (and may never be). He is, should everything go to hell, probably the best defensive catcher in the organization. At any rate, it’s Kendall and Pean: that’s two.

The corner infield positions are pretty clear: Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. What happens after that is a mystery. The Royals acquired Josh Fields as part of the Mark Teahen trade, making rumblings about Fields playing a corner outfield spot, but that has gone by the wayside with the signings of Podsednik and Ankiel. Out of options, Fields will be on the 25 man roster come April, likely as the backup third baseman and part-time designated hitter. That’s three more guys, for a total of five.

We will jump out to the outfield at this point. I shudder to think how the team is going to actually arrange David DeJesus, Rick Ankeil and Scott Podsednik defensively, but we all know that those will be the three outfielders and that they will play everyday. The signing of Ankiel brought out the semi-public announcement that Jose Guillen would be the club’s primary designated hitter – something Jose probably has not yet heard and won’t like when he does. While the ‘just cut him’ plan of action is certainly appealing and maybe even logical, it is hard to see the Royals doing so. There’s four players, four veterans mind you, that will be on the team in April, bringing us to a total of nine on our roster.

Okay, middle infield will be…deep breathe…Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop and somebody else. Of course, the Teahen trade also brought Chris Getz over and the expectation is that he will be an upgrade defensively at second over Alberto Callaspo. However, with Guillen moving to DH (not to mention Fields), playing Getz at second leaves few places for Callaspo to play. As much as I hate watching Alberto field, I do love watching him hit. The other glaring problem is that keeping Betancourt, Getz and Callaspo leaves no room for Willie Bloomquist. We all know that’s not going to happen (besides, Willie is the only one who can play short). The wild card in this equation is Mike Aviles. My guess is that Aviles will not be ready at the start of the season and will open the year on the disabled list.

We will assume that the Royals will open the year with a 12 man pitching staff or move to that sooner rather than later. Although he has options left, it is hard for me to believe Dayton Moore traded Mark Teahen for a bench player and a guy who is going to play in Omaha. That leaves Getz on the roster, with Callaspo and Bloomquist who, for all his faults, can fill the role of both fourth outfielder and utility infielder. With Betancourt, that makes four for a total of thirteen.

That means Brian Anderson, all $700,000 of him, is in AAA and Mitch Maier, out of options, might be somewhere else come April. The schedule might allow the team to open with eleven pitchers, so it could be Mitch and the organization a couple of weeks to sort out what to do, but by the end of April, barring a trade or simply cutting bait with Guillen, Mitch will be off the Royals’ big league roster.

Now, onto the pitching staff. The starting rotation right now will be Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Hochevar and either Kyle Davies or Robinson Tejeda. There are rumblings about the Royals fishing for a veteran, which would likely be the end of Davies and push Tejeda back to the pen. Right now, though, my money is on Tejeda as the number five starter. At any rate, that’s five guys, so we are up to eighteen total, now.

The bullpen will have Joakim Soria and Juan Cruz at the backend, with Kyle Farnsworth available for blow-out work (what a fine use of funds, by the way). Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna is all but guaranteed a spot, which fills four of the seven spots.

I would be pretty amazed if veteran journeyman Matt Herges does not get a spot. Just a hunch, but I think he will trade it that number 77 for a real baseball number by April. I am also hoping beyond all hope that the Royals give and Carlos Rosa earns a spot in the bullpen this year. Rosa, performing as I hope he might, is the guy who makes what Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth do irrelevant.

That leaves one final spot (assuming Tejeda is the fifth starter) up for grabs between Ramon Colon, Victor Marte, Dusty Hughes and all the non-roster invitees. Throw Herges into this mix if you want and say this group is fighting for two roster spots. It doesn’t much matter how it ends up, but that’s seven relievers, twelve pitchers and a 25 man roster.

Now, in reading all this, how likely do you think it is that all of Chris Getz, Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo break camp with the Royals? You could throw David DeJesus into that mix as well as he is likely the most tradable of all the Royals’ position players. Barring trades or another free agent signing, I would put pretty good money on the 25 players outlined above.

Part of me is pretty certain Dayton Moore has two more moves on his agenda that will make the real 25 man roster different from the above. All of me is hoping that is the case.