Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Bruce Chen

We’re about at the midway point of the post season, so it’s probably as good a time as any to rehash Dayton Moore’s year.  The goal of this exercise is to examine all of his “key” moves and deliver a simple verdict – either a win or a loss.  (“Key” being a subjective term.  I’m using it to apply to any move that shaped the 25-man roster.) Obviously, some of these verdicts can change.  (Like, Chris Getz could become an All-Star.  No, I don’t believe that.)  Keep in mind the judgement is how the deal should currently be viewed.

Since the GM makes a ton of moves throughout the year, we’ll break this into a few different parts.  Part one today covers November and December of 2009.  We know GMDM likes to dash right out of the gate, so keep his November moves in mind as the World Series winds down in a couple of weeks.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the first off season deal for the third consecutive year.

November
Traded cash and 3B Mark Teahen to Chicago White Sox for 2B Chris Getz and 3B Josh Fields.

The Royals needed to shave some cash from the payroll and found a candidate in Teahen, who was eligible for his third year of salary arbitration after earning $3.5 million in 2009.  Getz started 59 games at second for the Royals, but his season was bookended by injury.  He missed time in April with a strained oblique and then finished the year on the sidelines after suffering a concussion.  In between it seemed like both Trey Hillman and Ned Yost didn’t exactly trust Getz to produce.  I can’t really say that I blame them.  He finally got an extended look in August, but hit just .217/.280/.246.

Fields seemed to be the odd man in this deal, as at the time, it didn’t seem like the Royals had a spot for him.  In the end, it didn’t really matter as he lost most of his season as he recovered from hip surgery.  With Betemit and Aviles at third and Gordon and DeJesus manning the corners, he still doesn’t seem to have a place on the active roster.

The White Sox compounded their problems by extending Teahen for an additional two years beyond 2010, bringing his total contract to three years, $14 million.

This was basically a deal where the Royals shed one below average bat and glove in exchange for two below average bats, one below average glove, and one average glove – although Getz is definitely a better defender than Teahen, he didn’t do anything this year to make me think he’s anything special.  And even though the Royals bundled $1.5 million of their own into this deal, they still saved money.

With Fields eligible for arbitration starting this winter and Getz becoming eligible following 2011, and since Teahen is locked into the South Side, we will definitely revisit this deal a few more times.

Verdict: Neither win or loss.

Declined option on Miguel Olivo.

This needed to happen.  Olivo was a horrible fit on this team and Exhibit A that Dayton Moore doesn’t really believe OBP is important.  Fans were ticked when Olivo got off to a hot start in Colorado, but his .193/.225/.313 line post All-Star break was all the proof needed the Royals made the correct decision.  Plus, his extreme home and road splits (.318/.349/.556 at home vs. .211/.276/.322 on the road) provide proof the Coors Effect still lingers.

Verdict: Win

Minor league free agent signings:  Wilson Betemit, Brad Thompson, Bryan Bullington, Josh Rupe

Bullington’s amazing start against the Yankees on August 15 aside, this group of pitchers had as much success as you would expect random, bottom of the barrel, free agent pitchers… Not much.  Thompson lived around the plate and was extremely hittable.  He was gone by June.  Rupe had a promising debut raising a false level of confidence and was out by mid-May.

Of course, the real prize in the November free agent feeding frenzy was Betemit.  His glove was awful, but his bat was something else.  We can only imagine how many runs the Royals lost offensively from keeping him in the minors for so long.  We can only imagine how many runs the Royals saved defensively from keeping him in the minors for so long.  To be fair, no one predicted anything remotely close to this kind of offensive season for Betemit.  And there really was no room for him on the big league roster.  He finally got his chance because the Royals decided to ship Alberto Callaspo to the Angels.

Verdict:  This represents a 25% success rate, so since your basically talking about minor league free agents, this grades out as a win.

December
Released Mike Jacobs

Along with the Olivo release, this needed to happen.  With Billy Butler adequate with the glove at first and exceptional with the bat, Jacobs served zero purpose on this team because he would have been a horrible choice for DH.  And since he was eligible for arbitration, the Royals saved some cash by severing ties in December.

Verdict: Win.

Signed Jason Kendall to a two year, $6 million deal.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Exacerbated by the fact the Royals gave him well over 90% of the innings behind the plate.

The Royals are fond of pointing out in situations like this (and like with the Betancourt deal from the previous season) they don’t have a ton of options.  They declined the option on Olivo and they didn’t offer a contract to John Buck, so they needed a catcher.  Hey, I’m sympathetic to this…  It’s the second year that just turns my stomach.  Why basically acquire a stopgap and then tie your hands for the next two seasons.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

Verdict:  Loss

Signed minor league free agents Bruce Chen and Philip Humber.

Chen finished with the exact same ERA as our beloved Greinke.  I don’t know why I bring this up, except to point out his FIP was nearly two runs higher.  Ultimately, Chen was a serviceable, back of the rotation starter.  That he was the second best starter on the Royals, tells you all you need to know about the wretched condition of our rotation in 2010.

Still, like the previous month’s free agent signings, this was a 50% success rate for GMDM.

Verdict: Win

Royals non-tendered John Buck

This was the best stop-gap solution to the Royals catching conundrum.  Yes, he would have cost more money in 2010 than Jason Kendall, but he wouldn’t have cost that extra year.  And for the money, he would have provided much more offensive production.

Verdict: Loss

Royals signed Brian Anderson

We knew the Royals were looking for outfield help and this seemed like a relatively inexpensive option.  Then the Royals threw much more cash at Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel.  Then Anderson became a pitcher.  An off season in the life of a Royals fan.

He threw 17 innings in the minors, allowed 10 hits and five walks while striking out 17.  Overall, his minor league ERA was 2.08.  Intriguing start to his “new” career.  He will be a free agent, so I’m interested to see if he feels any gratitude toward an organization who handed him $700,000 for a handful of minor league innings.

Verdict: Loss

Summing up, the Betemit and Chen signings were positives, while the Olivo move was correct, the rest of the catching situation was a fiasco.  The Royals burned too much cash for a outfielder who became a pitcher and they resisted the temptation to cling to Jacobs.  And made a deal that had minimal impact on the big league roster.  Overall, a fairly pedestrian start to the 2010 season.

Next, we’ll look at the moves through spring training.

Prior to the 2010 season, many of us thought that the starting rotation might one of the Kansas City Royals’ strengths.   With the reigning Cy Young Award winner heading the staff and a healthy Gil Meche returning, it seemed that the Royals would have a one-two punch on par with anyone in the division.

Behind Greinke and Meche, there was a very reasonable chance that Luke Hochevar would take the next step and become a reliable number three starter while Brian Bannister was likely to remain a serviceable number four starter.   Plus, maybe this was the year that it all came together for Kyle Davies.   Even if Davies continued as he had been, he was still just the number five starter, anyway.

Well so much for that…

At our annual Royals Authority winter meetings in Bora Bora, we discussed that Zack Greinke’s ERA could go up an entire run and he still could be the best pitcher in the American League.   At the same time, we doubted that Zack would regress that much.   As it turned out, Zack’s ERA has gone up by just under two runs this year and while he is still a force to be reckoned with, Greinke is not dominating as he did in 2009.

That said, Zack is hardly the major issue with the Royals’ rotation.  Gil Meche started all of nine games and now, if he ever pitches again as a Royal, will do so out of the bullpen.   Luke Hochevar, who had shown signs of progress, was sat down for ‘a start or two’  on June 12th and has not been seen since.   Brian Bannister is currently sporting an ERA of barely under six and Kyle Davies remains Kyle Davies.

How bad has it been for the rotation this year?   Well, Bruce Chen, who found no takers for his services over the winter is arguably…not even arguably..IS the team’s number two starter and recently acquired Sean O’Sullivan, who has been tagged for 11 runs in 16 innings of work seems like an improvement over Bannister and Davies.

Of course, as I have often written, the end result of 2010 is not so important as building this team for the future.   In that respect, the Royals have plenty to look forward to when it comes to the rotation.   The AA level of the system boasts Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer – all potential Top 100 prospects by the time those rankings come out this winter.   Behind them is disappointing, but still talented, Aaron Crow, who is joined by another slew of good young arms in Tim Melville,  Tyler Sample, Brian Paukovits and Will Smith.   The system is positively bubbling with potential major league starters.

Here’s the bad news:  if you throw out Crow’s 119 innings of work at Northwest Arkansas and Will Smith’s bizarre trip through three levels of the Angels’ system this season, the rest of the guys we just named COMBINED, have 60 innings of experience above A ball.      That’s no one’s fault, just a result of some minor injuries, a two month ‘retirement’ and the simple fact that these pitchers are all very young.

Sixty innings of combined AA experience makes it highly unlikely that we see any of these hurlers in Kansas City before September of 2011.    That bodes well for the rotation in 2012 and beyond, but it doesn’t do much for next year’s starting five.

Here is what we know about the 2011 rotation:  Zack Greinke will be the number one starter and Gil Meche won’t be in it.

Long pause….

Chances are, and given the Royals’ recent performance/luck at getting major league starting pitchers healthy, it is just a chance, Luke Hochevar will be in the rotation, too.      Before he went down in June, Luke had shaved over a run and one-half off his 2009 ERA (and yes, I think ERA is still a decent if somewhat crude measurement of the effectiveness of  a starting pitcher) and gone six or more innings in nine of his thirteen starts.   Should Hochevar make it back for even just a handful of starts yet this season, we could once more make a reasonable assumption that he might be able to take that ‘next step’ and settle in as a legitimate number three or number four starter.

After that, the Royals’ options to fill out the rotation are Bruce Chen, Brian Bannister, Sean O’Sullivan and, sigh, Kyle Davies.  

Chen’s a guy that will be interesting to watch the rest of the year.   After moving into the rotation, Bruce allowed 16 earned runs in his first 39 innings, but has been tagged for 20 runs in his last 25 innings.   That is a bad trend, which if not reversed means Chen is not a realistic option in 2011.

Bannister’s performance has degraded to the point that the Royals are skipping his next turn in the rotation.   Getting skipped in a rotation that includes Chen, O’Sullivan and Davies is not exactly a good trend, either.   I don’t know what you do with Bannister, I really don’t.   He is pretty much posting the worst numbers of his career across the board and getting worse as the season goes on.  

Kyle Davies now has 641 innings on his major league resume and they pretty much all look the same.  He is not horrible – well, not in comparison to Bannister or that guy who was wearing Gil Meche’s jersey earlier this year – but he is not anywhere near good, either.   Frankly, I think you could put Kyle’s game logs for the last couple of seasons next to those of Odalis Perez during his Royals’ career and not be able to tell them apart.  I don’t really view that as a ringing endorsement.

That brings us to Sean O’Sullivan, whose best asset at the moment is that he is just 22 years old.   What we have seen out of Sean to date is in line with what the scouting reports indicated:  a competitor, decent stuff and control, lacks a true out pitch and loses effectiveness the second and third time through a batting order.  As many have pointed out, O’Sullivan is not the picture of physical conditioning, so it may be a case of simply maturing and getting in better shape.     Frankly, I like O’Sullivan and could see him developing into a real number four starter (i.e. better than Bannister or Davies), but that might just be the ‘we always like the new guy syndrome’ at work there.

The options in AAA right now are pretty much Philip Humber, Gaby Hernandez and Edgar Osuna.  Of the three, Osuna is intriguing, having pitched extremely well in AA with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.162 WHIP.   He was pounced on pretty good in his first AAA start, but is worth watching in August.   If Chen or Bannister continue to crumble or Ned Yost just gets as bored with Kyle Davies as I am, it might be worth three or four starts in September to get a feel for what Osuna has to offer.

So, what do you do in 2011 if you are running the Royals?   Do you hold the line, trust the process (no sarcasm intended…for once) and wait for your truly impact arms to reach the bigs in 2012?   Probably that is the smart course of action.

If Greinke rebounds from simply good back to dominant, Hochevar comes back healthy and effective (yikes, that probably jinxed him right there!), O’Sullivan matures and improves and you find two guys who are this side of awful out of Osuna, Chen, Bannister and Davies, then you have an ‘okay’ rotation.   I don’t think the Royals can contend with that rotation, but those thoughts might not be realistic for next season, anyway.

Now, if you cannot tolerate a season of that rotation or you believe contending is a real possibility in 2011, then one has to look to free agency.   The list of free agents this off-season can be found here, and there are a number of interesting names on the list.   That said, how many that are upgrades can the Royals reasonably afford?  

As you can see, projecting the 2012 starting rotation will be a lot more fun than doing so for 2011.   What would you do?

The Royals pitching hasn’t been good this year.  Fact.  Oh, there have been some quality performances here and there.  And the bullpen is certainly improved following their disaster known as April.  Still, you can’t ignore the numbers.

The Royals are allowing 4.97 runs per game.  Only Cleveland (5 R/G) and Baltimore (5.3 R/G) are worse.

Their collective WHIP is 1.43.  Only Cleveland (1.51 WHIP) and Baltimore (1.51) are worse.

The Royals collective SO/BB ratio is 1.84.  Only Baltimore (1.7 SO/BB) and Cleveland (1.43 SO/BB) is worse.

Royal pitchers have surrendered 100 home runs.  Only Baltimore (101 HR allowed) is worse.

The Royals ERA+ is 89.  Only Cleveland (86 ERA+) and Baltimore (86 ERA+) are worse.

Get the idea?

This is supposed to be the year of the pitcher, but the Royals didn’t get the memo.

(Do you want me to blame Jason Kendall for this?  Because I can.)

(That was a joke.)

Actually, I’m surprised the numbers are so negative.  I know the starters haven’t been that great and the bullpen didn’t start the season well, but I thought the pitching had been a little better.  The numbers say otherwise.

Let’s start with the rotation to see how things grade out in the first half of 2010…

Zack Greinke
1.7 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
113 ERA+

No one expected to repeat his stellar 2009 season… That would just be too much to ask.  However, we sure expected him to at least come close.

My main concern with Greinke has been his decline in strikeouts.  Last year at the break, he owned a rate of 9.1 SO/9.  Losing a strikeout and a half from one season to the next is kind of a big deal.  It hurts a little less because Greinke’s rate was so high to start, but this isn’t really something that should go unnoticed.

Why the change?  For starters, hitters began laying off his slider, which was his huge strikeout pitch.   At this time last year, Greinke was getting a swing and a miss 25% of the time when batters offered at his slider.  This year?  He’s getting a swing and a miss just 16% of the time.  (Just 16%?  That’s still a sick number, but compared to last year, it’s not so impressive.)

I’m not bringing up Greinke’s declining strikeout rate to bag on the guy or anything… I’m merely pointing out the biggest difference between this year and last.  He’s still the ace and is still one of the top 10 pitchers in the AL.

Thankfully, Greinke’s xFIP has improved as the season has chugged along.

April: 4.30 xFIP
May: 4.39 xFIP
June: 2.88 xFIP
July: 2.18 xFIP

Of course, that July number is based on seven innings of work since he didn’t make his scheduled start on the Sunday prior to the break.  Still, that outing was vintage Greinke… Probably his best one of the year:

7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO

I think Greinke is poised for a big second half.  Pay attention to those strikeouts, though.  They’ll let us know how he’s doing.

GRADE: B+
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Brian Bannister
3.0 BB/9, 5.3 SO/9, 1.6 HR/9
75 ERA+

I’m glad Bannister is a smart guy because his numbers this year are just a freaking mess.  His decent April (3.48 ERA) was built on the back of an unsustainable strand rate of almost 85% (meaning just 15% of all base runners scored while he was on the mount.  League average is around 25%.)  He posted big – for him – strikeout numbers in May and June, but hitters pounded him for a .325 batting average.

Through everything, he’s surrendered 18 home runs.  Ick.  Even worse, 11 of those allowed the opposition to either tie or take the lead.

GRADE: D+
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Kyle Davies
4.2 BB/9, 5.7 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
75 ERA+

Davies can’t seem to pitch deep into games and he can’t seem to find any consistency.  The good kind of consistency, I mean.  He’s been pretty awful for most of this season.  Again, though, he’s sprinkled just enough decent starts – one hit in six innings against Seattle in April or one run in seven plus innings against the Angels in July – to make the Royals think he’s one bullpen session from putting it all together.

Uhhh… That’s never going to happen.
He and Bannister don’t belong in the rotation.

GRADE: D+
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Luke Hochevar
3.2 BB/9, 6.6 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
85 ERA+

Hochevar is quietly having the best season of his career.  I say quietly, because I’m certain you were hoping for more than a 1.39 WHIP and a 4.23 xFIP from our former number one draft pick.  Still, it’s an improvement.

Last year, hitters put up a line of .364/.422/.649 against Hochevar with runners in scoring position.  This year, he’s allowing a line of .333/.425/.486 in the same situation.

As you can tell from the difference in the slugging percentage from one year to the next, he’s finally figured out how to keep the ball in the park.  It’s been kind of frustrating to watch a sinker ball pitcher get taken deep with alarming regularity.  And in previous seasons, a lot of those bombs came with runners on base.  Eleven of his 23 home runs last year came with runners on, to be precise.  This year, not only is he allowing fewer home runs – just six all year – only one of those have come with a runner on.

If he keeps this up, he could develop into a solid number three starter.  If I recall correctly, that seemed to be his upside when he was drafted.

GRADE: B-
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Gil Meche
6.3 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 1.3 HR/9
63 ERA+

Just an absolute disaster.  When Bruce Chen takes your place in the lineup and people are thankful… Well, you’ve pretty much stunk up the stadium.

I know, I know… It’s not really his fault.  He’s hurt and remains the $55 million victim of Trey Hillman’s Starting Rotation Massacre.  If only Hillman had the guts to tell Meche he was out of a game…

GRADE: F
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Bruce Chen
4.7 BB/9, 7.4 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
110 ERA+

So the only Royal starters with an ERA+ of over 100 is Greinke and Chen?  Who would have guessed that at the start of the season.

Wanna know why he’s been successful (relatively speaking) this year?  Check out these two graphs from texasleaguers.com.  First, features his release point from the entire 2009 season.  The pitch classifications aren’t important.  Just the single big blob.

Here’s the chart illustrating his release point for 2010.  This year, he has two blobs.

For Chen, it’s all about the release point.  By alternating – and throwing all his pitches – from different angles, he’s been able to keep hitters off balance.  His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2003 when he was primarily a reliever.

A couple of concerns though:  For some reason, in his last start, he was only throwing his slider from the lower arm angle.  That’s probably why he struggled and was pulled so early.  Also, he’s still a fly ball pitcher.  Over 50% of all batted balls are fly balls against Chen.  His home run rate is almost certainly going to go up in the second half.  And he’s walking too many batters.

Still, he’s been the surprise in the rotation.  I’m still shaking my head over this development.

Come on, Chen!!!

GRADE: B-
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Anthony Lerew
2.5 BB/9, 5.8 SO/9, 2.9 HR/9
56 ERA+

Yes, Lerew has thrown more gopher balls than walks.

His two good starts have been at home.  His three bad ones have been on the road.  I’m sure the guy who gets to use the lone computer at the K has this one sorted out.

GRADE: D

OK, now to the relief corps…

Blake Wood
3.6 BB/9, 2.9 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
107 ERA+

Double check that strikeout rate again… Make sure I didn’t mess that one up.  Nope… He really has whiffed just eight batters in 25 innings.  For some reason Yost has been using him primarily as an eighth inning guy in close games.  He’s blown a couple of games and coughed up a few runs in a tie game a few weeks back, but otherwise he’s done what the manager has asked.

It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the year.  Once it’s solved, it’s not going to end well.

GRADE: C-
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Dusty Hughes
3.7 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 0.9 HR/9
106 ERA+

Lefty, but not just a LOOGY.  Hillman used him in tight games, but Yost doesn’t trust him.  Since Yost took over, Hughes has made 16 appearances and pitched just once with a lead – and that was with seven runs.  He has entered two tie games, though.

He gets a higher grade than Wood because he can actually strike a batter out.

GRADE: C
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Kyle Farnsworth
2.4 BB/9, 7.2 SO/9, 0.5 HR/9
175 ERA+

His strikeouts are down (he whiffed 10 batters per nine last year) but Kerosene Kyle is having his finest season since 2005.  Really.

I give him grief for not being able to pitch in pressure situations and the Royals have done a fair job of keeping him out of the fire.  According to Baseball Reference, he’s appeared in 14 low leverage situations, five medium leverage situation and 10 high leverage situations.  Here are the results:

High Leverage: .259/.286/.407
Med Leverage: .212/.297/.242
Low Leverage: .231/.302/.346

Keep bringing him into the game in the sixth or seventh inning.  I’m fine with that.

Currently, the most likely Royal to be dealt at the deadline.

GRADE: A-
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Robinson Tejeda
4.9 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9, 0.2 HR/9
126 ERA+

Tejeda will spend the entire season digging out of his miserable April where he held a 12.96 ERA through his first 10 appearances.  Since then, he’s been awesome… A 0.84 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 32 innings and he’s limiting hitters to a .171 batting average.  He’s faced 124 batters and allowed four extra base hits.

He’ll still walk a guy – or three – and that will always keep him from being the top of his class.

GRADE: B+
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Joakim Soria
2.3 BB/9, 11.1 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
182 ERA+

Stud.

Should have appeared in the All-Star Game.

He’s also another reliever who’s improved since Yost took over as manager. (I know… there’s been a ton of talk about how the bullpen is improved because Yost keeps guys in their assigned roles.  And Soria was always the closer.  Still, the numbers are what they are.)  Soria has a 1.35 ERA since mid-May and hasn’t allowed a home run since May 11.

GRADE: A

There you go… Time to have your turn in the comments.

It’s been awhile since I did some bullets.  Since my time is stretched very thin this week and I am stuck in Red Sox land, I figure it is a perfect time to load the chamber.

  • We all know the Royals love singles (not the movie with Bridget Fonda) however, they aren’t the biggest offender in that department. Both the Orioles (72.8%) and the Mariners (72.5%) have a higher percentage of their hits become singles than the Royals (72.4%).  However, there is clearly a correlation between no power and teams that are not winning lots of games.
  • The Royals are still tied with the Rangers for the highest team batting average in the majors at .283.  They are the only team in the top 7 in that stat category to not be in either 1st or 2nd in their division.  (see bullet point above)
  • Lerew and Chen combined have 58.2 IP, 3.83 ERA  and 1.79 K:BB ratio.  I don’t think you can ask for more out of two replacement starters.  If these guys had started the season in the rotation and pitched this well, the Royals would possibly have 5 more wins.  Sorry, Luke and Gil.
  • Chen and Lerew also have the lowest BABIPs in the rotation, and their FIP is higher than their ERA.  Translation from baseball nerd terms: give them enough time and they probably won’t keep up this production.
  • If you listen to my podcast, you know that I like to discuss the Hero and Goat of the week using the WPA statistic.  Based on most WPA added and subtracted, the guys who take home the award at this point in time are:
    • Heroes: Zack Greinke and Billy Butler
    • Goats: Kyle Davies and Alberto Callaspo
  • Not sure if you saw this a couple of weeks ago but the Royals are a terrible base running team and I doubt that has changed in the past two weeks.  What is doubly frustrating is that since the Royals have so many singles, then base running becomes much more important because they have further to run to score.  They are absolutely shooting themselves in the foot.  What is also funny is that the Angels are below the Royals, a team which people (a-hem stat hating announcers) gush all over because of the way they run the bases.
  • If you haven’t peeked at the standings (I can’t blame you), then you might not have noticed that the Twins are no longer in 1st place. They were passed by the Tigers.  However, the White Sox are also back in the race and have shown the Royals how to get back in it.  They just need to rattle off 11 wins or so.
  • There are fifteen, FIFTEEN! teams with a worse bullpen ERA than the Royals.  I need to fire up the flux capacitor and tell the me from April not to get too down on the bullpen, they will get it figured out.  Oh yeah, and lay money on Ghana vs U.S. in the World Cup.
  • This isn’t exactly Royals related, but I think it is hilarious that Joba Chamberlain has a 5.29 ERA.  And yes, the Yankees are one of the fifteen teams below the Royals in relief ERA.
  • Over 15,000 fans showed up to the ballpark last night to see the Royals Vs White Sox.  It was a Monday night following a sell-out weekend and the team was 9.5 games out of first and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1985.  Seriously, this is a baseball town filled with fans ready to win ball games.  It is going to happen, someday.
  • I keep hearing one question regarding the 2012 All-Star game.  Is it going to be affordable?  The answer: No.
  • I’ve been wanting to do a reader Q&A either in written form or podcast form.  However, in order to do that I need questions.  Send me your Royals related (if only slightly) questions to brokenbatsingle @ gmail dot com.  They can be serious, ridiculous, stat-based, SABRTrey or SABRNed related or whatever.

Well that was certainly interesting.

A lineup that not only features Jason Kendall hitting second… But Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt and Wilson Betemit in the lower third.  Somehow, they scrape together nine runs.  Nine runs!

Then somehow, Bruce Chen kept the Royals in the game with a masterful six innings.  Somewhere Zack Greinke is asking his teammates why they can’t score eight runs while he’s on the mound.

Before the game, I thought that lineup was awful.  Literally the worst combination you could possibly arrive at given the players.  No Billy Butler?  No Mike Aviles?  While I’m certain if you handed in that lineup card 100 times, they would struggle to score more than five runs in 95 of those games, Ned Yost struck gold last night.

That’s why they play the game.

A couple of quick thoughts from the second craziest game of the year.

– Although my self-proclaimed Gauntlet of Suck (Getz, Betancourt, Podsednik and Kendall – number 8, 9, 1 & 2… get it?) was a combined 3-18 with two walks, they each scored a run, which was useful.

– Jose Guillen is still on his current tear… three hits, one of which was a triple.  Just be prepared for the upcoming Guillen Winter, which should start in about a week.

– This is not a team that will hit many back to back home runs.  The combination of Mitch Maier and Betemit isn’t even close to the most unlikely duo.  I’d go with Getz and Wee Willie.  Or Pods and Kendall.

–  What can you say about Betemit offensive performance last night.  Two home runs, the last of which was the difference in the game.  Plus, he drew a walk.  Overall, he saw a team high 30 pitches last night – no small feat against the Twins pitching staff.

– According to Brooks Baseball, Chen relied on his change-up and slider last night while mixing equal parts of a two seam and four seam fastball.  He was also dropping his arm angle from time to time, which made things extremely difficult for the Twins hitters.  His final line won’t look impressive, but if Yost had pulled him after six, it would have looked completely different.  It didn’t help that Robinson Tejeda gave up hits to his first two hitters he faced, which allowed both his inherited runners to score.

– That ninth inning was a thrill ride, wasn’t it?  Mauer and Morneau are just awesome.  That’s all.  Swinging at the first pitch – because they know that’s how you attack Soria – and they both rap run scoring base hits.  Thankfully Cuddyer isn’t in the same class as his first pitch swing ended as a long fly ball out.

Whew.

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?

With Ron Mahay, John Bale and Horacio Ramirez gone from the bullpen scene, It’s no secret the Royals are scrambling for a left-hander to pitch some relief innings. Theyve assembled a group to compete for what’s likely to be a lone job in the pen. It’s a thin group.

Dusty Hughes pitched well enough in a September audition, throwing 14 innings with 15 strikeouts with a 5.14 ERA. He made 7 relief appearances (one start) and really had just one poor outing. He’s progressed through the minors and had a 3.50 ERA in Triple-A last summer, splitting his time between the rotation and the bullpen. He could be a swing-man for the Royals.

Another potential swing-man is Bruce Chen. I know, I know Do we really need to give this guy another shot? At 33, he should be finished as a rotation candidate, but perhaps he can help out of the pen. He’s not a power arm, but has decent control – his walk rate was 3.6 BB/9 last year which was right in line with his career rate. The problem with Chen is, the guy doesn’t miss enough bats. Last year the league hit .301 against him and made contact on 85% of his strikes. His contact rate and batting average against has been climbing steadily over the last several years. Pass.

Once upon a time, John Parrish was an effective reliever for the Orioles. From 2003 to 2005 he appeared in 84 games throwing 119 innings with a 3.10 ERA. That was despite walking over six batters per nine innings. But he kept the ball in the park (0.5 HR/9) and struck out roughly 8.5 batters per nine. The walks keep him out of high leverage situations, but he could chew up an inning or two. Parrish missed all of 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

The most intriguing name bandied about is Danny Duffy. Duffy, Baseball America’s eighth rated prospect for the Royals, has yet to pitch above high-A ball, but that hasn’t dampered enthusiasm for the young lefty. He projects as a starter, but the Royals could break him in through the bullpen. I’m as excited as anyone for the minor league pitching pipeline to start to produce, but I’m thinking that Duffy – who is 21 and in just his fourth professional season – needs a little more minor league seasoning. I have no problem with putting him on the fast track, but give him some time in the high minors before bringing him to the K.

Edgar Osuna was the Royals lone Rule 5 pick last December, which probably gives him the inside track on a bullpen job. Osuna has largely pitched as a starter and had a 3.72 ERA with a 2.33 SO/BB ratio in Double-A Mississippi last year. He’s just 22 and in his fifth season, which puts him slightly ahead of Duffy in the experience category. Osuna has outstanding control. In 350 minor league innings, he’s walked just 78 batters. In the lower levels of the minors, he simply blew hitters away, but as he’s risen through the ranks his strikeout rate has dropped. Last year he struck out 6.9 per nine in High A ball and 5.7 per nine following his promotion to Double A.

None of the guys the Royals have in camp profiles as a LOOGY (the left hander brought in only to face a single left handed batter). None of them own dominating platoon splits to be counted on for that role. That’s OK I guess, if SABR Trey can figure out how to juggle the match-ups and bring his lefty in at the proper times. You know, Jim Thome is still in the division…

A couple of other notes:

– The Tigers announced their pitching match-ups against the Royals for their first two games of the year. As expected Justin Verlander will start opposite Zack Greinke on Opening Day. They’ll be followed by Gil Meche and Max Scherzer in game number two.

Opening Day is great for a number of reasons. At the top of my list is it always features the top pitchers in the game. I can’t wait for the Greinke/Verlander match-up. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

– Today is a huge day for those of us who enjoy a video game from time to time as it’s the release day for MLB 10: The Show. Speaking of which, you absolutely have to watch this footage from the game. It starts off with a Betancourt error and features Kendall and Ankiel both striking out in a 12-1 pasting at the hands of the Rangers.

– We’ll have info soon on the 2010 Royals Authority Annual. You know Issues like cost and release date. Soon.

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