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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Danny Duffy

Sure, it’s nice to take two of three from the White Sox, but the last thing you want to see is Danny Duffy exiting just three batters into the game.

Not good. Not good at all.

According to the Royals website, Duffy felt a “twinge” in his elbow on his second pitch of the game. He lasted 11 more pitches before he was pulled.

The warning signs have been there… He had a start skipped at the end of April and in his return against the Yankees on May 3, Ned Yost said Duffy, “couldn’t command his curveball at all, but he was overpowering with his fastball.” This jives with an elbow problem… The pitcher with a sore elbow has issues with location. Velocity isn’t usually affected. Indeed, much has been made of Duffy’s velocity this season. According to PITCH f/x data collected by FanGraphs, Duffy’s fastball is averaging 95.3 mph this season. That’s second only to Stephen Strasburg. (Impressive, although we have to note prior to Sunday, four of Duffy’s five starts have been at home, where the radar gun runs a little on the warm side.)

Anyway, after having difficulty commanding the curve in his first start since being skipped, Duffy really struggled in his next outing. Against the Red Sox on May 8, he walked five and consistently missed his spots up in the zone. He threw 102 pitches, but couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.

Then Sunday happened.

Now Duffy is back in Kansas City where he will get an MRI on the elbow. We hope for the best, but it’s likely he’s been dealing with this issue since his start against the Blue Jays on April 22. That start was like his outing against the Red Sox… Duffy walked five and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning while throwing 113 pitches.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think the MRI is going to bring good news. Best case scenario is a DL stint where rest is the prescription. Worst case… I’m not going to go there right now.

– The Duffy issue overshadows a late inning outburst where the Royal bats went berzerk hanging nine runs on the Sox in the final third of the game. Is it weird that the Royals have yet to have a double digit scoring game this year? Seems so. On Sunday, a ninth inning explosion where the Royals scored six runs and pushed their game total to nine, matched their previous high scoring game – a 9-11 loss against Cleveland. That was in the season opening homestand we no longer discuss.

The Royals didn’t have much life before Johnny Giavotella pinch hit for Chris Getz in the with two on and two out in the seventh.

For the record: I would much rather see Gio in the lineup instead of Getz. However, Getz has provided some value at the plate this year. He’s not a long term answer, but why not let him play everyday – even against the lefties. On the other hand, it doesn’t make any sense to call Gio up and not play him at least five or six times a week. But this is the Royals we’re talking about. Hardly any of their roster moves make sense. You already have Irving Falu up as your utility infielder, so why bring up another second baseman? It seems you either play Giavotella or find another platoon partner for Getz.

(Meanwhile, doesn’t all of this render The Yunigma irrelevant? Just a dreadful signing by GMDM and company. Actually, to call it dreadful doesn’t do it justice.)

– Yosty finally got around to shoving Eric Hosmer down in the batting order. About time. Hosmer got the day off in the finale of the Red Sox series to allow for two consecutive days away (the off day between Sox series) which made sense. Give him a mental break and a chance to simply think about getting in some work. Just like it makes sense to drop him in the order. Give him a few days with a different kind of look in the lineup and see what happens.

I know there’s a growing set of the fan base that advocates a trip to Omaha for Hosmer. I disagree. He showed last summer he’s a major league first baseman. Yes, this is a painful slump, but he needs to figure out how to work himself out of it at the major league level. He scorched Triple-A pitching last year for a month or so and more than held his own in the bigs.

Besides, don’t forget the guy still has a .171 BABIP. That number hasn’t moved in the last week. His strikeout rate is down. His walk rate is up. He just needs to have some of these hits fall in. They will.

– Jeff Francoeur hit his first home run of the year. Our long, national nightmare is over.

– Naturally, Luke Hochevar went out on Saturday and tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, walking a single batter while striking out five.

In my post from Friday, I noted that Hochevar’s issues were with his slider and how his release point shifted from the second half of last year. In the game on Saturday, his release point was fairly consistent with where it has been all season. And according to PITCH f/x, that was a relatively flat pitch. In fact, of the 21 sliders he threw, seven were put in play and five were fouled off. Hochevar didn’t get a single swing and miss with this pitch.

In this start, he recorded nine ground ball outs against seven fly balls. Hochevar lived around the plate and the Sox were up there hacking. On Saturday, it was a perfect storm of location, aggressive plate appearances and the damp, rainy afternoon.

– The Royals are 10-6 since that losing streak we don’t discuss.

Tons of interesting stuff in Tuesday’s game. Let’s dive in…

Where Duffy’s Pitch Count Explodes

Seriously, what’s the deal here? If felt like Duffy was getting squeezed, but really it was just the borderline calls that weren’t going his way. Whatever was happening, he piled up over 100 pitches in less than five innings. Given the way the rotation has gotten hammered in the last week, that’s just an unacceptable outing. I will put some of the blame at the mask of the home plate umpire. Duffy wasn’t getting the high strike called and there was one pitch in particular that was just an awful call. That can mess with a pitcher’s psyche. If he’s not getting calls, he starts to get too fine. He doesn’t want to serve it down the heart of the plate, but that’s basically what the ump is challenging him to do. It’s a helluva situation.

There was some speculation he was pitching hurt. It’s possible. His curve wasn’t effective again – he threw only 10 of them, and completely abandoned the pitch in the middle of his outing. He also generated only four swings and misses. Although his fastball had plenty of life, averaging a hot 95.5 mph on the Kauffman Stadium gun.

I think the likely scenario was that Duffy was unnerved by the home plate umpire. He reverted to his 2011 form where he was trying to be too fine – and failing. Hopefully, Duffy can shake this start off and move forward. Not much positive from this one.

Where Quintero Attempts To Steal

The Royals open the second inning down 2-0. Hosmer singles, Francoeur walks (!) and Moustakas grounds into a fielder’s choice at second to put runners on the corners and one out. Then the fun starts. Red Sox starter Daniel Bard balks not once, but twice! Chris Getz has a great plate appearance to drive home the run from third to tie the game. At this point, Bard is clearly melting down. Believe me, having watched Luke Hochevar pitch all these years, I know the symptoms.

The meltdown continued as Bard uncorked a wild pitch to move Getz to second. Escobar grounds out to move Getz to third and he scores the tie breaking run on Humberto Quintero’s single.

Then…

Quintero takes off for second.

Wait, what?

Quintero… He of one career steal. And three career attempts. Tried to swipe second base. With three runs home and the Red Sox starter on the ropes.

This was just all kinds of wrong. You have a pitcher on the ropes early in the game. And you let him off the hook by trying to steal with your slow footed backstop. What are you thinking, Yosty?

I thought this exchange was interesting in the post game.

Nate Bukaty: “Was Quintero going on his own there?”

Yosty: “Yeah, that’s a spot where you’re trying to pick their pocket. You know, you really cant lose. If he steals the base, then you’ve got a runner in scoring position. If he doesn’t steal the base, you’ve got your leadoff guy leading off the next inning. It was a spot we gambled. We just didn’t make it.”

Are you freaking serious? A Quintero attempted steal is a situation where you “can’t lose?” Just an asinine call.

I’m getting closer…

Where Yosty Reads His Starter The Riot Act

Duffy is nibbling in the third inning. Back to back walks after the Royals jump to a lead and he falls behind on the third hitter in the inning 2-1. Out comes Ned Yost with a purpose. He spends a few minutes laying down the law to Duffy. The result? A ground ball double play and a pop out. In just five pitches. Nice.

This is where Yost is valuable on a young team. His no-nonsense approach works well with players who may lose focus or otherwise don’t know how to handle certain situations. Duffy’s start was heading off the rails. Yost took initiative and kept him on track.

If someone challenged me to name a good thing Yost does as manager, that would be it. And that would probably be the only thing I could name.

Where You Can’t Assume A Double Play

After a one out double and a walk allowed by Duffy, he was pulled in favor of Kelvin Herrera. He got the grounder he was looking for, but Getz threw wide of the bag at first and it skipped by Hosmer. That allowed Gonzalez to score what was the go ahead run from second base. Ugh.

I know that Getz takes a ton of heat in this space (and others) but that play was entirely on Hosmer at first. Yes, Getz made the poor throw. But it was under duress. I’ll give him a pass as the Red Sox runner was bearing down on him – I think it caught Getz by surprise that he had so little time to make the pivot at second. Having said that, Hosmer was completely wrong in not coming off the bag to save the ball from skipping by him. The way he set his feet at first to receive the throw was correct… Because it would have allowed him to slide off the bag to block the ball. In that situation (tie game, middle innings) you have to do everything in your power to save the run. Hosmer went for the out, and it potentially cost the Royals the game.

That was an example of why the advanced defensive metrics didn’t take a shine to Hosmer’s D last year. He needs to make better decisions. He’ll learn.

Where Yosty Bunts His Way To Oblivion

According to the Run Expectancy Matirx, the average number of runs that score with runners on second and third and no out is 1.556. Not a bad place to be when you’re trailing by one run in the later innings. In fact, given that scenario, you can expect to score at least one run roughly 64 percent of the time.

And then Yosty gives away an out.

Now the Royals have runners on second and third with one out. Going back to the same Run Expectancy Matrix, the average runs that score in this situation is 1.447. So by giving away that out, you’ve basically decreased the total amount of runs you can expect to score. In the late innings of that one run game, that’s a pretty big deal. Now in this situation, you can expect to score 70 percent of the time. Yes, that’s higher than the previous situation, but I’m not sure the six point bump in percentage is worth the exchange of the out.

A big inning late in the game was what the Royals needed. (More on that obviously in a moment.) The situation was ripe for multiple runs. Yosty was playing for one and to tie the game. Managers who constantly feel the need to do something, often end up hurting their team. Yosty is that kind of manager. The right play was to let his hitters take their cuts.

I’m not sure what was going on with Alcides Escobar following the Getz bunt with one of his own. Was the SS Jesus freelancing there and bunting on his own? Yosty said he was. He said that Escobar was confused and thought the squeeze was on. How is that possible? How can you have a hitter, in a key situation late in the game, not understand what is supposed to happen. Color me livid. You are set up to score multiple runs and you’re basically playing for the single score. Besides, Frenchy was out at home and the Royals somehow didn’t score a single run in the frame. Unreal managing from Yosty.

I’m of the mind that a manager doesn’t generally win or lose the game for his team. Most of the decisions to be made during the game are elementary and rather benign. However, in this case, Yosty’s managing was definitely costing the Royals.

Closer…

Where Butler Saves The Day

After the Royals let Bard off the hook in the second, he started cruising. The strike zone seemed tight all night long, but the Royals never altered their approach at the plate. Of the 18 batters from the third to the seventh inning, only Chris Getz went more than three pitches without swinging the bat. And he drew a walk. Amazing how that works.

Then, in the eighth, Jerrod Dyson and Alex Gordon decided to take a few pitches. And they both walked. End of the line for Bard and in comes sinker ball pitcher Matt Albers to face Billy Butler. Albers gets a ground ball 54 percent of the time. And we all know about Butler and his proclivity for grounding into the double play.

Amazingly, Yosty resists the temptation to bunt.

And Butler gets wet.

Ironic, isn’t it? Yosty spends the entire game playing small ball and giving away outs, and it’s a three run home run that wins the game.

Somewhere Earl Weaver is smiling.

Wonder if we could get him to come out of retirement. I’m thinking a new manager would be nice.

It’s Mike Moustakas’ world. We’re just lucky to be living in it.

Moose put on a show on Thursday night, making a couple sparkling defensive plays (one to end the game), hitting a long home run to dead center and driving in two more on a bases loaded single.

It’s fun to watch a good ballplayer when he’s locked in and The Moose is all kinds of locked in right now. He’s leading the team in just about every meaningful offensive statistic and his defense is Platinum Glove quality.

– Danny Duffy pitched a solid game.

5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO

He threw 90 pitches, 52 for strikes. Nine of those strikes were swings and misses. It wasn’t exactly easy though, as the Yankees put a runner on second in three of his five full innings. Duffy did a great job battling and got the key outs when needed. (Duffy’s second run scored after he left the game for Nate Adcock.)

I was wondering the thought process in sending Duffy back out to start the sixth inning. It’s natural after living through the Gil Meche debacle. Why in the world would Yosty have his young starter who just had a start skipped due to elbow soreness return to the mound after throwing 86 pitches through five? As we saw in the Trey Hillman killing of Meche’s career, send a guy back out for one more inning and crazy stuff happens. It just felt like an unnecessary risk. Especially, as I mentioned, three of his innings were on the high stress side.

Of course, Duffy fanned Alex Rodriguez on three pitches to start the inning. That’s great and all, but still… Feels like you’re potentially sacrificing the future for a short-term gain.

And don’t think I’m comparing Duffy to Meche. I’m not. Just saying the situations are similar. After all, Meche…

A) Had a history of arm issues prior to his injury.
B) Was abused in back to back starts.

However, the Royals haven’t developed a decent starting pitcher in almost a decade. Just felt risky to me.

Other than the unnecessary sixth inning, Duffy pitched a helluva game. He averaged 96 mph with his fastball and was able to maintain his velocity throughout the start. From Brooks Baseball, we see Duffy started out all kinds of amped up before settling into a comfortable groove. It’s good to see he could have that kind of consistency with his velocity.

Yosty said he didn’t command his curveball very well and the data from Pitch F/X backs this up. Duffy threw 13 curves, only five of them for strikes. But the change in velocity from his fastball (96 mph) to his change (86 mph) to his curve (78 mph) was probably enough to keep the Yankee hitters off balance. Even if he couldn’t throw the curve for a consistent strike.

– Just an excellent double play turned by the combo of Getz – Escobar – Hosmer in the ninth inning. Major props to Getz for making a great stab on a grounder close to the bag at second to start the twin killing. His dive and subsequent quick flip to the Shortstop Jesus was the key to the how play.

– Speaking of Getz, he drove a ball to the warning track. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it. Mind blowing.

– The Jonathan Broxton Experience makes me extremely nervous.

Although the A-Rod at bat to end the game was hilarious. How he continually showed up the home plate umpire. I thought he was cracking under the pressure and looking to get run rather than face Broxton. Judging from his weak grounder, I may have been correct in my assumption.

– And it wouldn’t be a Royals game without stupid baserunning. This time, it’s Jeff Francoeur trying to steal third with one out in the eighth. Just a dumb, dumb play. He’s already in scoring position and the attempt doesn’t improve your chances of scoring a run enough to justify the risk at that point in the game.

There was some talk about his “hustle” double to leadoff the inning and I didn’t have a problem with that. He needed to get into scoring position and Curtis Granderson – who doesn’t have a strong arm – was running around the ball to make the throw to second. He needed time to set and throw. Frenchy was thinking two all the way, so he was running hard… It was risky, but enough factors were in his favor it was worth the risk.

The attempted steal of third though… Jeez.

– The Yunigma hit the DL with a high ankle sprain he suffered back in spring training. I thought we were done with these kind of shenanigans. You know, where the injured player is allowed to “play through” his injury, only to miss significant time after it doesn’t actually heal. Not that it matters so much with Betancourt. The Royals won’t exactly miss him. Still, it’s a little unnerving they allowed a guy to play with a bad wheel for an entire month.

The injury means Irving Falu gets the call to the big club. I’m happy for Falu, who gets the nod ahead of Johnny Giavotella due to his “versatility.” What a load of crap. Versatility. Remember how they sold us The Yunigma based on that. What’s happened? Well, Escobar has played every defensive inning at short this year and Moose has played all but eight defensive innings. And with Escobar always playing quality defense and with Moose the best player on the team right now, you’re not exactly looking for ways to get either of those guys out of the lineup.

I just wish the Royals were honest with us. Tell us you have crazy GetzLove and you don’t want to call up Giavotella to ride the pine. Or tell us you think the Betancourt DL time will last the minimum and it doesn’t make sense for Gio to come up for two weeks and ride the shuttle back to Omaha. Or just say you’re rewarding a career minor leaguer who’s paid his dues by giving him a couple of weeks on a major league bench. Just don’t feed me a line of B.S. about versatility. It insults our intelligence as a fanbase. We deserve better.

Ten straight losses.   Nine straight at home.  New and inventive ways to lose every day.  A player to the disabled list every week. Welcome to the 2012 Kansas City Royals, ladies and gentlemen.

There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong through 15 games.  In fact, at one time or another, almost everything has gone wrong.  Enough, in fact, to have Ned Yost remark that changes may be on the horizon.  It is a deep, dark hole and there really is no way around it.   Losing 12 of 15, while accentuated by having it happen to start the season, would be a bad stretch and extremely noticeable at any time in the season.   Three and twelve is three and twelve, folks.   If you are not panicking just a little, then you are just being a contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

All that said, the Kansas City Royals could reach .500 by the end of the season by simply winning two more games than the lose in each month.  Of course, that assumes they right the ship and manage to play it even until we get to May Day.  Sadly, that is a rather optimistic, sunshine pumping assumption right now.

As bad as the 2012 campaign has begun, some things have gone right. 

  • Mike Moustakas, with three hits on Sunday, raised his average to .269 and now has eight extra base hits.  Along the way, Sunday’s error was the first blemish on what has been a very good defensive start for him.   One cannot trust defensive stats this early in the year (or a player’s career), but the stats and the eyes certainly are pointing to Moustakas being a far better defender than was originally thought when he was coming up.  Decent or better fielding coupled with a pace that puts Moustakas on track for fifty plus extra base hits is indeed something good.
  • Speaking of good fielding.  Well, let’s be serious, really good and probably great defense.  Even after an 0 for 3 on Sunday, Alcides Escobar is hitting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage.  Those numbers don’t get you in the Hall of Fame, but when combined with Escobar’s impact on defense, they are more than enough to get him deep into the positive side of the ledger.  Sure, he has a somewhat fortutious .341 BABIP, but it is not crazy lucky.  Prior to the season, if you were told that Escobar would have four doubles, a triple and a home run by game number 15, would you have even asked how often he was getting on base?  Oh yeah, he has four stolen bases without being caught.
  • Billy Butler.  I almost didn’t put Billy on this list because he has done exactly what we expected:  hit.  You have arrived when an early wOBA of .394 gets you a ‘yeah, that’s Billy, he can hit’ response.
  • I will probably draw some ire here, but I am not going to expound on the early season runs of Yuniesky Betancourt, Humberto Quintero or Mitch Maier’s .370 on base percentage.  Maybe it’s bias, but I see Butler, Escobar and Moustakas building on their good starts and see the first three players in this bullet point falling.  Yes, they have all three had moments and, quite frankly, more moments than many on the roster.  Long term, I don’t see Yuni, Humbo and Mitch as answers to anything.  I will make a deal with you:  if Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS over .800 May 23rd, I will write 1,000 words of something nice about him.
  • Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy.  While Duffy had a rough day on Sunday, he was outstanding in his first two starts and I think most of us would be delighted if Danny could produce two good starts out of every three in his sophmore season.   As for Chen, I give up, he appears to be the next Jamie Moyer and, for right now anyway, the Royals can sure use him.
  • Not a lot has gone right in the bullpen.  What was supposed to be a ‘Super Pen’ has been decidedly average.  While both Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have been tagged for some runs, both have had some really outstanding outings as well.  Maybe the biggest positive of the entire pen has been Collins’ 12 strikeouts to just 1 walk in his first 8.2 innings of work.  With the injuries to Soria and Holland, the deep pen is no a bit shallow and being able to rely on Collins and Crow (who has allowed 5 hits in 8 innings) is a nice fallback.

I know, some of this is reaching for sunshine.  Perhaps this column should have been used to take  some shots at Yost (who should just pick a batting order and let the guys settle in – this team is thinking too much, give them at least one less thing to think about!) or Moore or Glass or the coaching staff or just about anyone.  We could truly panic and call for Johnny Giavotella, Nate Adcock and whomever else is someone different than Jason Bourgeois, but it is just a fraction too early.  Not by much, mind you, but a week or two weeks too soon.

There are some positives and some really bad luck (entering Sunday’s game, Alex Gordon had a BABIP of .235, Hosmer just .163).   The Royals have played horrific ball, but they don’t look like a team that should be this bad.   This 3-12 start almost certainly means that Kansas City won’t win the division this season, but it does not doom them to laughingstock…at least not quite yet.

xxx

 

A few bullet points as we all experience rain-shortened West Coast Madness to open the season…

– First, helluva start by Danny Duffy on Tuesday in Oakland. Late in the game, Greg Schaum tweeted a question, asking if this was his best major league start. Easy answer…

Without a doubt that was Duffy’s major league start of his brief career.

Never before had he allowed fewer than two runs in a start. And his eight strikeouts were just one off his career best.

Also, if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know how I like to use Bill James’ Game Score as a measure of a strong start. On Tuesday, Duffy posted a final Game Score of 74. That total was miles better than his previous best of 63, posted last July against the White Sox.

It was an absolute gem from the Duffman.

For posterity’s sake:

6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 8 SO

Yeah, the walk total wasn’t ideal, but the elements were harsh. Obviously, they were harsh for the hitters as well, but each time Duffy walked a batter, he was able to get the outs that were needed. Especially in the fifth when he walked a pair of batters, but closed out the inning with a strikeout of Chad Pennington.

Overall, he threw 103 pitches, 62 of them for strikes. And of those 62, 16 of them were on swings and misses. Including five in a row to open the second inning.

He opened the game throwing heat, reaching 96 mph, before settling into the 93 mph range with his fastball. Here’s his velocity chart from the game…

Just another in a line of strong starts to open the season for the Royals.

– One of the big outs following a Duffy walk came in the second inning when Lorenzo Cain ran at least three miles to track down a Daric Barton flyball. After crashing into the wall, Cain got the ball to the relay man and the Royals doubled off Collin Cowgil to end the inning.

We had heard about Cain’s magnificent range. That was the first time I saw it in action. It was a thing of beauty.

After the catch though, he had to leave the game after experiencing pain in his groin. I’m hopeful the Royals were playing it safe and he’s OK. The elements were nasty last night in Oakland and the field was in horrible condition, so it’s totally understandable that the Royals err on the side of caution and remove him from the game. He was scheduled for a day off this afternoon, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that rest is the solution.

– Alex Gordon went hitless (again) but he hit the ball hard in a couple of plate appearances (again). Yeah, the .000 batting average looks ugly on the in-stadium scoreboard, but he’s fine. He’s getting good hacks for the most part, but has been unlucky. Baseball is a game of averages so we can expect a hot streak lurking just around the corner.

– The Royals made two more outs on the bases last night, pushing their total for the season to nine. That’s three innings worth of outs they’ve given away.

Last night was typical. The first out was a Billy Butler caught stealing. You may be pausing right now, scratching your head. Well, it was on a 3-2 pitch. That’s the only way I can possibly justify what he was doing in that situation. But with the muddy track, for Butler to run was just nuts. No other way to put it.

I wish I knew who decided it was a good idea for Country Breakfast to run. Did he go on his own? Or was it ordered by the dugout?

Naturally it ended with a strikeout/throw out double play.

The other out was the Master Of Grit, Chris Getz getting picked off first with a caught stealing. He was definitely going, left early and the left-handed Jeremy Blevins was able to throw to first to start the out.

The beauty of this out on the bases was Getz sliding head first into the muck at second and getting a mouthful of mud. I wonder when he figured out that he was in trouble trying to slide?

On a night like Tuesday with those field conditions, it baffles me anyone would try to steal a base. Not our aggressive Royals, though.

– Clark and I will be keeping track of outs on the bases by the Royals this year. We’re in the early stages of our system, so we’ll see how everything shakes out. What we’ll be tracking is pickoffs, caught stealings, players doubled off base, making an out when trying to take an extra base or an out trying to advance on a fly ball.

It’s going to be awesome.

For the last couple of seasons, March has been… Well, it’s been a testy month here at Royals Authority. Maybe it’s the change of seasons. Maybe it’s the grind of meaningless spring training baseball. Whatever it is, this has been a month where everyone is on edge.

They say spring is a time for optimism. I’ll freely admit I’m not an optimist. Can’t do it. Not after lo these many years. But I’m not a pessimist either. I consider myself a realist. (Right now, there are people reading this paragraph at 1 Royals Way and coughing, “Bulls#!t.”) It’s true. I’m a realist at heart. You may disagree, but I like to think I call things like I see them. It’s an honest take of the team I love. It’s just that the negative sometimes outweighs the positive.

That’s unfortunate.

We’re so caught up in the Chris Getz Story and the knowledge that somehow the Royals are going to find a way to give Yuniesky Betancourt 500 plate appearances that we tend to overlook a few things. It’s the nature of the beast. We know Eric Hosmer is going to play and play well. What is there to say about him? He’s great. On the other hand, we have someone like Getz. Why? Sadly, the Royals have given us plenty of ammo.

Please don’t get caught up in my previous paragraph. You want to bitch about Getz today. Go someplace else. You want optimism? This is your place for Friday.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to in 2012…

– The continuing development of Eric Hosmer. When was the last time the Royals had a player with a ceiling of MVP?

– The possibility that Luke Hochevar truly turned the corner in the second half of 2011. For some reason, I’m irrationally bullish on Hochevar. By altering his arm angle ever so slightly, he’s added the deception – and movement – necessary to be a quality starter.

– The SS Jesus. Can’t wait for him to range to his left to snare a grounder up the middle, plant, spin and throw to beat the runner by a couple of steps.

– Brayan Pena smiling and giving his teammates high fives. If this was basketball, we would be describing Pena as a “glue guy.”

– The Lorenzo Cain Show. I am thrilled that this guy, who was buried all of last season (justifiably so, given the performance of the Royals outfield), is kicking ass in Surprise. I hope he brings some of those hits north with him next week.

– A1. Domination. The Sequel.

– Johnny Giavotella tearing up Triple-A pitching.

– The continued development of Danny Duffy. I just have this feeling that he’s this close to putting everything together. Needless to say, we can expect improvement over his 4.4 BB/9 and 4.82 FIP. There will be moments where the kid is going to struggle again this summer, but it won’t be as frequent. And the lows won’t be as low.

– The young arms of the bullpen. I thoroughly enjoy watching Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman and Kelvin Herrera pitch. It helps that they could be pretty good relievers. (Side note: I’m not upset that Coleman was sent to Omaha. Surprised, but not upset. The bullpen is a fungible beast. He’ll be back. Probably before the end of April.)

– The return of Salvador Perez. I’m counting down the weeks. So is every other Royals fan.

– Our Mitch. Because it wouldn’t feel like the Royals without him.

– Billy Butler’s annual pursuit of 50 doubles. Quite simply, Butler is the most consistent hitter on this team. And it’s not even close.

– Jeff Francoeur punching his teammates in the nuts after a walkoff. Crazy eyes!

– The late game tandem of Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland. Holland is nails and you know I’m bullish on Broxton. It’s probably just my wide-eyed optimism that I think Broxton can be a servicable closer.

– The development of Mike Moustakas. He’s not the “sure thing” Hosmer is, so there’s a bit of a risk here, but we really need him to be the Moose of September and not the Moose of every other month.

Those are my positive thoughts heading into 2012. Fire away in the comments. Although in the spirit of optimism, I’ll ask that you only leave positive comments. Thanks.

In the blink of an eye, the Royals solved another of their roster mysteries yesterday by placing Felipe Paulino on the 15 day disabled list.  With that, Luis Mendoza became the fourth starter and Danny Duffy secured a roster spot and the role of fifth starter.

Paulino, who had been anything but sharp this spring, might be eligible to come off the disable list as early as April 10th.   The way the Royals’ early season schedule flows, he could theoretically return in time to take the fifth starter’s second turn, but it seems unlikely he will return that quickly.

To begin with, Paulino was put on the disabled list with the rather mysterious ‘sore elbow’, which we have seen could be anything from ‘just a little sore and we don’t like how you’re pitching and anyway we really want time to look at these other two guys’ to ‘sorry, you’re having surgery’.   My guess is the Royals really are not sure why Paulino’s elbow is sore and hence have no desire to rush him back.   

The benefit of this hopefully mild injury is that is delays having to send Danny Duffy to AAA or figuring out what to do with the out of options Luis Mendoza (Paulino is also out of options). 

Although he has struggled mightily this spring, Duffy probably has the best stuff on the current rotation and I really want to see if he has figured out how to a) throw more strikes and b) get strike three against major league hitters.   In Mendoza, even us critical, jaded spirits here at Royals Authority are now curious as to what this guy can really do in real major league games that are not played when the leaves are falling off trees.

Listen, as Craig mentioned yesterday, while spring training stats don’t mean much, Mendoza’s are so good that, coupled with his excellent AAA season in what is basically a hitters’ league, the Royals almost have to see what he can do.   I will be curious to see how long the leash is on Mendoza.   Do the Royals really, really believe in him now or, like many of us, do they remain skeptical that Luis has turned himself into a legit major league starter?

xxx

 

The whole Opening Day starter thing is waaaaay overblown. Who really cares? I mean, other than the starter?

There is one thing that kind of bugs me about Chen getting the ball for Opening Day. One would assume it’s a reward handed to the best pitcher on your staff. In the Royals case, there isn’t exactly a stand out starter in the rotation. Fine. All winter the Royals have said there were three locks for the rotation: Hochevar, Chen and Sanchez. Understandable. Those three represent the three pillars of roster building: The high draft pick. The big money free agent.* And the big trade.

Given the pedigrees and the financial commitments, it’s no wonder these three guys were “locks.”

*Please bear with me here. When I say “big money” free agent, it’s relative. Although Chen did represent Dayton Moore’s most aggressive foray into the free agent market since 2008 when he splashed the cash on Kyle Farnsworth. So yes, Chen was a big free agent signing. And yes, that’s sad.

So what bothers me about Chen as the Opening Day starter is the fact he’s been horrible this spring. (At least before his start on Tuesday when he pitched six strong innings before faltering in the seventh.) It’s part of baseball’s caste system I suppose, where a guy like Johnny Giavotella has to battle Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt for a roster spot – and is ultimately demoted for a sub-par spring. Meanwhile, Chen owns an 11.25 ERA in 18 innings where batters are hitting .405 against him and he gets the Opening Day carrot. Ahh… the luxury of being the veteran.

Big picture, it’s not a huge deal. We’ve seen Chen pitch the last two summers and while he’s not overwhelming, he’s at least been adequate. And I really can’t concern myself with spring stats for veteran pitchers. They work on certain things and pitch to prepare for the season. Completely different mindset as opposed to the real games. His command has been fine – just two walks with 12 strikeouts – so I’m not too worried about Chen. He’ll be underwhelming, win a few games and everyone will think he’s awesome.

And is it me, or does the whole “stack the rotation so it goes LHP-RHP-LHP-RHP-??? not really make a huge difference. I suppose there will be series where you throw a pair of lefties against a weaker side of a platoon, or vice-versa, but I just don’t really see how this matters. Really, what difference does a rotation make at all? Ideally, you want your best starters to make the most appearances. So if your each member of your rotation didn’t miss a single start all year, starters one and two would make 33 starts while three through five would toe the slab 32 times. Ho-hum. Certainly, at some point a manager could juggle the rotation to make sure his best two starters gained those extra starts.

And you have to love the people who worry about matching up their number one starter with the other team’s top guy. Because it doesn’t always happen that way.

Quick example: if the A’s decide to use a fifth starter in the first week of the season (anything can happen with the A’s since they’re opening the season Wednesday in Tokyo) that pitcher would match-up against Chen. In his second start of the season.

See what I mean?

It’s understood that Yosty is stacking his rotation so Hochevar gets the home opener against the Indians. That’s cool, I suppose. Personally, I’d much rather pay to see a Hochevar start instead of Chen. At least while I’m still intrigued to see if Hochevar can carry over his second half success from last season.

Somebody has to start Opening Day. Might as well be Chen.

More pressing is the same question we’ve been asking all spring: Who will hold down the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation? The fact the Royals and Dayton Moore obviously crush on Luis Mendoza – not to mentions that the dude is out of options – means he gets one of the two. I’d like to disagree, but damnit, he’s pitched well enough to earn a shot.

My hunch is the fifth spot goes to Felipe Paulino. I will stand by this prediction: Put the guy in the rotation, let him make 30 to 32 starts and at the end of the season he will have been the best starter on the staff. I truly believe that. Like Mendoza, he is out of options. This is a case where the option situation will save the Royals from doing something foolish. Yeah for rules!

So that leaves Danny Duffy as the odd man out. Sucks for Duffy, but I would bet that he goes down to Triple-A, dominates, and is back in the Royals rotation by May. He can take the place of Chen.

The Royals have done their part to stay in the news on the true opening day of the NCAA Tournament (Michigan State, by the way, ended up winning my bracket – because I know that was what you all were waiting for).   Let’s just round up some of the goings on.

SALVADOR PEREZ

Yesterday I said not to panic and even today, we probably should not.  A torn meniscus is the cause for knee surgery for the Royals’ catcher of the present and future.   We have heard no firm timetable, but the absolute best case is four weeks and the worst case seems to be somewhere along the lines of eight weeks.  Add at least a week of rehab appearances, maybe two if Perez ends up taking closer to eight to get healthy and Kansas City is realistically looking at an early May return for Salvador.

Assuming my made up logic is anywhere close, I don’t think the Royals need to jump through any hoops to find a catcher to handle the bulk of the playing time.  Brayan Pena is sub-par behind the plate and Max Ramirez is something worse than that, but both have played in the majors and both can hit a little.   I would advocate laboring through the 23 games in April with those two as the catching tandem and hope Perez returns when the Yankees and Red Sox come to Kansas City in early May.

Now, if a veteran dropped in the Royals’ lap and was willing to play everyday for a month or so and then sit the bench the better part of the year for a million bucks (yeah, that’s right, Ivan Rodriguez is exactly who I am talking about) that would be great.  I think it is unlikely and certainly do not believe Dayton Moore should be trying to trade for such a player, but it does not hurt to keep an ear to the ground.

On a long-term note, this is not a bad knee injury and while anything regarding ‘knees’ and ‘catchers’ gets one nervous, Salvador has youth on his side.  Until something begins to tell us otherwise, I think the Royals can assume Perez will come back ready to assume the heavy workload they had planned for him when he signed the contract extension this spring.

SPEAKING OF CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

By now you have  all heard that shortstop Alcides Escobar has inked a four year contract extension that will pay him a cool million in 2012 and then three million per year each of the next three seasons.   The Royals also hold team options for 2016 ($5.25 million) and 2017 ($6.5 million) with a $500,000 buyout.

Now, if Escobar never hits, but continues to be an elite fielder, this guaranteed four years of this deal probably average out at about market rate.   However, if the shortstop Jesus does hit some or, let’s dream a little, hits decently, then this is a great deal for the Royals.   The downside is that Escobar’s bat gets even worse and his defense goes with it (see Berroa, Angel), but Kansas City has to take some leaps of faith and fix some costs for the future, while also hopefully securing talent with that fixed cost.

That is what the Escobar, Perez and to some extent Billy Butler’s extension of last year does.  Nothing about any of those deals is roster wrecking if they don’t pan out and maybe, in some small part, the combination of these helps grease the wheels of future, more important and more expensive, contracts.

ONE DOWN

One possible, albeit longshot contender for the starting rotation was sent to minor league camp yesterday:  Mike Montgomery.   After his struggles at AAA last year, the demotion of the Royals’ number one pitching prospect was no big surprise and certainly a very rational move.   The lefty pitches in Kansas City this year, it is just a question of when.   I put the over/under at July 5th.

Also going down was Wil Myers, Nathan Adcock and Ryan Verdugo.  I bring up the latter two only because they had very, very, very outside shots at making the bullpen.  Adcock will almost surely start in Omaha, by the way, and might be number one in line to get a call-up if an injury occurs early in the season.   For Myers the only question this spring was where he goes, Omaha or NW Arkansas?   Consensus seems to be the south, but I kind of have a hunch that maybe Omaha might be his destination, especially if Jarrod Dyson makes the big league roster.

SPEAKING OF THE ROTATION

Neither Aaron Crow or Felipe Paulino did a whole lot to help themselves last night, so the door is open today for Danny Duffy – dominant his first time out – to stake a deeper claim on the two open rotation positions.  I am and have been a ‘Duffy guy’ since he started out striking out just about everyone in Low A ball, so count me squarely in his camp when it comes to this battle.

If the Royals are hell bent on not losing Luis Mendoza (remember, he is out of options) than I really believe the proper move is Duffy and Paulino in the rotation, Mendoza and Crow in the bullpen.   Paulino has a nightmarish performance record as a reliever, so I don’t see the point of putting him back in that role.  If he continues to flounder through spring training and carries that into three or four April starts, then you pull Paulino out of the rotation and go to Mendoza, but I don’t think you make that move any sooner than that.

xxx

 

 

That is the latest tweet from Danny Duffy.  It’s cool to have him say it, but let’s not over think it.

Danny Duffy, pitching as a 22 year old rookie last year, posted a 5.64 ERA over 20 starts.  He struck out over seven batters per nine innings, but walked almost four and one-half.   It was a typical, choppy, rookie season.   It was not bad enough to get the organization discouraged, but not good enough to lock Duffy in as a member of the 2012 starting rotation.

For fun (and to kill time in the week before the most anticipated spring training opening game in eight years), I thought it might be fun to see what some truly great pitchers did in their rookie seasons.   Using Baseball Reference’s career WAR leaders as a starting point, I eliminated pitchers who threw before 1950.  I mean, how do you compare anyone to Cy Young, who threw147 innings as a rookie and 423 the next year?  Or to Walter Johnson who, between the ages of 19 and 31, never posted an ERA above 2.22?

At any rate, taking the career WAR leaders and eliminating the ‘old guys’, let’s have a look at the rookie years of the remainder of the top twenty.

  • Roger Clemens (128.4 WAR) – As a 21 year old rookie, Clemens posted a decent 4.32 ERA over 20 starts, striking out 8.5/9 and walking just 2.0/9.  His 9.9 hits per nine innings that year was a career high.
  • Tom Seaver (105.3 WAR) – At age 22, Tom was truly Terrific.  Over 251 innings, he posted a 2.76 ERA.  In fact, from his rookie 1967 season all the way through 1978, Seaver posted ONE season with an earned run average over three. 
  • Greg Maddux (96.8 WAR) – The Professor threw 31 innings at age twenty in 1986, but in his true rookie campaing at age 21, Maddux threw up an unsightly 5.61 ERA over 27 starts.   The next year?  Just 249 innings with an ERA of 3.18, due in no small part to walking a full batter and one-half less than in his rookie season.  
  • Phil Neikro (96.8 WAR) – I can draw no comparison here, as Neikro spent his first four years splitting time between relief and starting.   That includes 1967 when Neikro started 20 games, relieved in 26 more and threw 207 innings to the tune of a 1.87 ERA.  Is that the best ‘swing man’ season in baseball history?
  • Gaylord Perry (96.3) – Like Neikro, Gaylord started just 56 of his first 135 major league appearances.  It didn’t keep him from throwing 206 and 195 innings in back to back years despite being just a part-time starter.   He posted an ERA north of four in three of his first four seasons.
  • Warren Spahn (93.4) – Spahn threw 15 innings at age 21, went to war for three years and then came back to post an ERA 2.94 in 125 innings in what was a delayed rookie campaign. 
  • Randy Johnson (91.8) – At age twenty-four, Johnson threw an impressive 26 innings (25 strikeouts, 2.42. ERA), but in his true rookie season he was not nearly as effective: 160 innings, 4.82 ERA, 7.3K/9 and 5.4 BB/9.   Beginning the next year (1990), Johnson was on his way to being…well..Randy Johnson.
  • Bert Blyleven (90.1) – Came up at age nineteen to throw 164 innings with a 3.18 ERA.   The following six seasons all came with an ERA of three or below and a silly, crazy amount of innings.   Men were men back then, boys.
  • Bob Gibson (85.6) – Here’s a fun one.   Gibson, at age 23, threw 75 innings (9 starts/4 relief) with a decent 3.33 ERA.  However, Gibson walked 4.6/9 and struck out just 5.7/9.  The following year (1960), he posted a 5.61 ERA in 87 innings split between starting and relieving.  Even in 1961, when Gibson began to be a bonafide front-line starter, he was still walking over five batters per nine innings.   From 1962 on, of course, Gibson was a force, but it took him the better part of 350 innings to become that.
  • Nolan Ryan (84.8) – We’ll ignore three innings in 1966 and instead start in 1968 when Nolan was twenty-one.  Despite walking five batters every nine innings, Ryan posted a 3.09 ERA over 134 innings.   The following three seasons were, dare we say it, Jonathan Sanchez-ish:  lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, not many hits and so-so numbers (especially for the era).  Ryan moved to California in 1972 (age 25)  and was that guy from then on.
  • Steve Carlton (84.8) – In 1965 at age twenty, Carlton threw 25 innings.  He tossed 52 the next year and 193 in 1967.  It didn’t matter, Carlton was good from day one and continued to be so until he reached age 41.
  • Fergie Jenkins (81.3) – Baseball was different not so long ago.  At age 23, a rookie Jenkins started just 12 games, but appeared in 61 total and threw 187 innings! His ERA was a solid 3.32 and the peripheral numbers virtually identical to those he would post in the next six seasons.  You know, the six seasons in a row where Jenkins won twenty games.

None of the above really tells us anything about what we might expect from Danny Duffy, but it does show you that great pitchers sometimes take time to develop.  Probably, Danny Duffy won’t end up on the top twenty list for career WAR amongst pitchers, so it would hold true that good (as opposed to great) pitchers are probably even more likely to struggle early in their career.

Even if Duffy finds himself back in Omaha in 2012, it does not foretell doom for his future or for the Royals as a whole.  It would be nice, though, if Danny Duffy’s legacy as a Royal…hell, let’s just say it…a Royal great begins in 2012.

Bury me a Royal?   Why not?

xxx