Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Danny Duffy

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

The catchers and pitchers (well, all of them with working visas, anyway) have reported to camp in Surprise, Arizona and it won’t be too terribly long now before we have actual baseball games to evaluate and battles for roster spots will move from winter time speculation to spring time results.

While the Royals’ starting rotation is generally considered as one of the weakest units on the team, it is one that is still relatively set heading into spring ball.  Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez are all locks to open the season in the rotation, while Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy are heavy favorites to be the fourth and fifth members of the group.

Ah, the fifth starter.  While it is often true that teams open the season with just four starters on their roster due to off-days early April, the Royals will have no such luxury this year.

Beginning with Opening Day in Anaheim versus the Angels on April 6th, Kansas City will play six straight games.   That means that a fifth starter will be needed on April 10th: day five of the season.   Assuming Luke Hochevar is the number one man, he will make his second start of 2012 on April 11th and the Royals will have an off-day on Thursday the 12th.   They then play six more games starting on Friday the 13th (Opening Day at the K).

Should the club choose to utilize off-days to get their top pitchers more starts – something I am not sure should or need to be done given this team lacks a true get-him-on-the-mound-as-much-as-possible guy at the front of the rotation – they could bring Hochevar back in the number five starter’s spot on April 16th.   Even then, however, the fifth starter would be needed the very next day.

Another off-day comes on Thursday, April 19th and provides the team an opportunity to bump the rotation again, bringing back Hochevar AND Chen (or whomever is the number two starter) on normal rest before having to go the fifth starter again.  Still, the respite is temporary as the schedule demans a fifth starter on April 24th.   After that, Kansas City embarks on a string of twenty games in twenty days and the five man rotation will be in full effect.

As we can see, this season’s schedule requires a fifth starter three times in the first 18 days.  Not only will the Royals be required to carry the fifth man from basically day one, but they will have little opportunity to use him in any role but as a starter.   Let’s say Danny Duffy is the fifth starter, he cannot pitch in relief in the first four games of the year, then starts game five and has to come back exactly one week later and then a week after that.   While there is extended rest between all of his starts, the period is not long enough for Ned Yost to comfortably insert Duffy into a game out of the pen in between.

Now, given that Duffy might have a bit of an inning’s limitation this year, having three starts by April 24th as compared to Hochevar’s five makes a lot of sense.    Duffy threw 147 innings between AAA and the Majors in 2011, so conventional baseball wisdom says he maxes out at 175 or so this year.     Chances are, Duffy doesn’t get much beyond that even without skipping starts, but having a couple less in April probably doesn’t hurt.

Of course, if you are talking innings limited guys, the Royals could give the five spot to Aaron Crow.   They could use the three early April starts as an extended look at what he might do as a starter, let Duffy get tuned up in Omaha and make a real decision about who they want to go with in late April.   Should he succeed as a starter, Crow will be under a real innings crunch, so any starts saved will be useful.

The third legitimate contender for this spot is the out of options Luis Mendoza.  It is hard to ignore what he did in the hit happy PCL last year, but equally hard to forget how truly, truly awful he was in the majors the year before.   Still, a good spring by Mendoza might intrigue the Royals enough (not to mention that both Dayton Moore and Ned Yost have expressed a fear of losing Luis without seeing what they’ve got) to go with him in the five spot. 

I am a huge advocate of Danny Duffy continuing his development in the major leagues.  I am not sure that the problems Danny encountered as a rookie can get solved by doing anything but pitching to major league hitters.   That said, a couple of tune-up starts in Omaha to start the year while the Royals figure out where they are going in early April would do little harm.  

It will be interesting to see how Kansas City handles the rotation battle this spring, but you now know one thing:  they will need a fifth starter immediately.    The luxury of saving the roster spot decision for later in April is not one the Royals enjoy this year.

xxx

Who is DannyDuffy?

Is he the twenty-two year old who entered 2011 as the 68th best prospect in all of baseball?   The guy who obliterated minor league competition, striking out 407 batters in just 350 innings?   The guy who allowed just seven hits per nine innings and less than three walks per nine?

Or is he the twenty-two year old who could not get the third strike against major league hitters?  The guy who allowed almost four and one-half walks per nine innings, struck out just over seven batters per nine and was tagged for 119 hits in just 105 innings of major league work?

What we currently know about Danny Duffy is that he has marvelous pure stuff.   His major league fastball averaged over 93 mph and touched 95 easily.  He brings a big curve, at times devastating and a decent changeup.   He is a pitcher who got two strikes against batters more often than C.J. Wilson did and who probably was somewhat unlucky given that his xFIP of 4.53 was considerably better than the 5.64 earned run average that will forever reside on the back of his baseball card.

Who is Danny Duffy?  Is he a future top of the rotation guy like Tom Glavine?

Glavine was, stuff wise, a far different type of pitcher than Duffy is, but in the low minors he was a guy who averaged more than a strikeout per inning and saw his walk rate rise as he rose through the minors.   He broke into the majors at the age of 21, making nine starts in 1987 and was simply awful (5.54 ERA, 5.9 BB/9, 3.6 K/9).   Glavine was only slightly better in 1988:  starting 34 games at the age of 22, throwing 195.1 innings, walking 2.9/9, but striking out just 3.9/9 on his way to a pedestrian 4.56 ERA.   

In 1989, Glavine shaved nearly a full run of his ERA and his walk rate fell to its lowest mark of his minor and major league career.   He regressed some in 1990, but still threw 214 innings and then, in 1991 won the Cy Young Award.   He finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1992 and third in 1993 and was basically a number one/number two type (probably not an ace) pitcher for more than a decade.

Who is Danny Duffy?  Is he John Danks?

Danks also broke into the majors at age 22, starting 26 games and allowing 160 hits and 28 home runs over just 139 innings.  Danks finished that 2007 season with an ERA of 5.50, an xFIP of 4.76, a walk rate of 3.5/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.1/9.   For his minor league career, Danks had struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings and walked 3.3.

As a 23 year old in 2008, John started 33 games, threw 195 innings and posted an ERA of 3.32 (xFIP 3.82).   While his strikeout rate was basically unchanged (and has remained unchanged in the three seasons since), Danks dropped his walk rate considerably in 2008, down to 2.6/9.   What Danks really did, however, was keep the ball in the park and, after being tagged for 10.4 hits per 9 innings as rookie, held it under 8.5/9 from 2008 through 2010.

I view John Danks as marginal number two/solid number three starter who has a chance to become even better.   At age 26, he has already contributed 16.3 career fWAR to the White Sox, gobbled up just under 1,000 innings and started 150 games.  The Royals could do a lot worse than have Danny Duffy become their John Danks.

Of course, maybe Danny Duffy is Randy Wolf.

Wolf emerged on the major league scene in 1999 at, you guessed it, the tender age of twenty-two.   In the minors, Wolf had struck out just under a batter per inning and had a career walk rate in 344 innings of 2.9/9.  He appeared in 22 games as a rookie, starting 21 and while his strikeout rate held, Randy walked five batters for every nine innings he pitched on his way to a 5.55 ERA  and a 5.14 FIP (he’s old enough that xFIP is not available at Fangraphs).

As a full-time rotation member in 2000, Wolf threw 206 innings, posting rates of 7.0K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 and shaved well over a run off his ERA down to 4.36 with a roughly equal FIP of 4.46.  The following season, Wolf’s strikeout rate went back up to his minor league levels, his walk rate dropped below three and his ERA and FIP dipped in the threes.

Over his 13 major league seasons, Randy Wolf has thrown 2,110 innings with an ERA of 4.09, an ERA+ of 103, a FIP of 4.34 and given his combined teams 24 WAR.  Injuries have been a bit of an issue and Wolf has thrown 190 innings or more seven times.  In 2009, at age thirty-two, Wolf had probably his best season and has since pitched over 210 innings in each of the last three years.

What is Randy Wolf?  A number three/four type starter?  Is that Danny Duffy’s destiny?

Or is Danny Duffy the next incarnation of  Kyle Lohse?

Guess how old Kyle Lohse was when he broke into the majors:  yeah, twenty-two.  Coming off a minor league campaign that saw Lohse strike out almost nine batter per nine innings and walk less than two per nine, Kyle was tagged for a 5.68 ERA (5.16 FIP) in his first 90 major league innings.  His strikeout rate fell to 6.4/9 (and frankly has never really come back) and his walk rate jumped up to almost 3 per 9 innings.

Lohse came back in 2002, threw 181 innings with an ERA of 4.23 (xFIP 4.72), which began a string of four seasons as a full-time member of the Twins’ starting rotation that would see him compile 9.3 WAR over that time.   Lohse has been better in the National League, but up and down enough to occasionally find himself in the minors.   Over 11 seasons and with 4 teams, Kyle has tossed 1,762 innings with an ERA+ of 94 and a career ERA of 4.64 and an xFIP of 4.51.   Lohse is your classic number four/five starter who every once in a while has a season where he becomes a solid mid-rotation guy.   He’s given his teams a combined 21 WAR over his career.

We would all be disappointed if we reach the next decade and Danny Duffy has given a Kyle Lohse like career, but it could be worse.

Danny Duffy could be the next Chris George.

At age 19, George had a very good season for High-A Wilmington.  He threw 145 innings, struck 142, allowed just under a hit per inning and walked 3.3 batter per nine frames.   The Royals moved him to AA at age twenty, where George was pretty good:  3.14 ERA in 97 innings.  He walked over four batter per nine, but struck out 7.4.   It was enough to push Chris up to AAA the same year and earn him status as the 21st best prospect in the game.   The following season, George started 20 games for AAA Omaha:  posting a 3.53 ERA and allowing just 103 hits over 117 innings despite seeing his strikeout rate drop to 6.4/9 while his walk rate continued to hover around four.

Those AAA stats were enough to earn Chris George his major league debut the same season (2001) at age twenty-one.   George started 13 games, threw 74 innings, struck out just 32 and floundered to a 5.59 ERA.  George was no better in six starts in 2002.  He was exceptionally awful (I mean worse than Kyle Davies at his worst!) in 93 innings in 2003, walking 44, striking out 39 and giving up 22 home runs and somehow managed to be worse in 42 innings of work the following season.  Chris George has not sniffed the major leagues since and racked up over 1,200 AAA innings in six organizations and Mexico.

I don’t think Danny Duffy is Chris George.   God, I hope he’s not Chris George.

Five different pitchers, five different career paths and while the styles vary, it is quite possible to envision Danny Duffy turning in any of the above careers.   I personally believe that Duffy will improve dramatically in 2012 and might well become a legitimate number two starter by the beginning of 2013.   To do that, Duffy needs to pitch in the majors, not Omaha, and continue the learning process of what it takes to put away major league hitters after getting ahead in the count.   That is, as we have discussed here before, a skill I don’t think he can acquire getting the Paulo Orlandos of the world to chase out of the zone fastballs in a 1-2 count.

The Royals, I believe, are convinced that Duffy is a major part of their future, but may not be sold that he is a lock for their 2012 rotation.   Maybe they are right and quite possibly, right or wrong, more AAA time for Duffy in 2012 likely won’t do any long term damage to his overall career.  

My preference, obviously, is for Duffy to get 32 major league starts in 2012.   Maybe then, we will be able to answer the ‘Who is Danny Duffy?’ equation.

xxx

 

 

 

While some might like Wins Above Replacement level (WAR) to be that magic ‘one stat’ that tells us which player is more valuable than another, it is not.  Brett Gardner is a fine player, but his fWAR (Fangraphs) was basically the same as that of Albert Pujols this season.  That does not mean that WAR is useless, just that it is not the ONLY stat when it comes to evaluating players.

That said, WAR is a very good tool.   For position players, it attempts to consolidate hitting, baserunning and fielding into a tidy little package that gives us a general idea of his overall value.   It is not a fail safe option when calculating team wins.  

In 2011, Kansas City compiled a total team fWAR of 39.1 and won 71 games.   Chicago had 40.3 total fWAR and won 79, while Cleveland totalled up just 30.1 fWAR yet won 80 games.  If you want to know how many fWAR your roster needs to contribute to get 94 wins, I can probably find you 15 different answers…in the last five years.   Like I said at the beginning, WAR (be it fWAR or bWAR or some other WAR…good god, y’all) is not the be all and end all of the statistical world.

Here is what I know, if you want to win the A.L. Central, you have to have more fWAR than the other four teams.    Detroit won 95 games the division in 2011 with an fWAR of 48.5 (8.2 better than anyone else).   Minnesota won in 2010 with 94 wins and a fWAR of 49.7 (6 better than Detroit and 6.7 better than Chicago).  Minnesota only won 87 games in 2009, but it was enough to take the Central and their 41.2 cumulative fWAR was 4 better than second place Detroit.

How many fWAR will it take to win the Central?  I don’t know.   How many will it take to win 92 games?  I don’t know.   What I do know, is that the Royals are almost certain to need more than last year’s 39.1.   If you take my approach of last week that Kansas City should not make any drastic off-season moves (unless someone drops a gem in their lap), then what are the possibilities for the current roster to improve on last year’s mark?

Let’s start with the position players, who provided 25.6 fWAR in 2011.   Alex Gordon (6.9), Melky Cabrera (4.2) and Jeff Francoeur (2.9) accounted for 14 of that total.   All three played everyday, Gordon and Cabrera set career high marks and Francoeur had his highest fWAR since 2007.   Kansas City also got 1.1 fWAR from Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.   If you believe the Royals’ outfield will total 15.1 fWAR again next year, then I have some start-up tech company stock to sell you.

Almost universally, people think it is far more likely that Alex Gordon is more likely to sustain his 2011 performance than Melky Cabrera.   You can count me among them, although I readily admit there is not any real logical reason to have such a clear cut division on two players of basically similar age.   Kansas City can afford to have Melky falter, but they cannot make up for a big Gordon drop-off.   Simply put, if Alex Gordon is a 2.3 fWAR player next year, the Royals are going nowhere.   I don’t think he will drop that far, but I also cannot see Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur and Cain posting 15.1 fWAR in 2012, either.

Let’s set the outfield aside for a moment and look at three other positions:  third, first and DH.   Billy Butler was the Royals’ everyday DH and provided 1.8 fWAR – the lowest total in three years.   Hosmer provided 1.6 fWAR which we will use to quantify the first base position.  (Without getting too crazy, we know that Ka’aihue provided no value at first – fWAR speaking – and Butler played there when one of the outfielder’s took a half day and DH’d – it’s not exact, but close enough for this rough review).   At third, the Royals got 0.7 fWAR from Moustakas and 0.5 from Wilson Betemit for a total of 1.2.  All told, these three positions contributed 4.6 fWAR last season.

Hosmer is, well he HAS TO BE, the real deal.   It seems as though the question is not ‘will Hosmer progress in 2012?’, but instead is ‘how much will he progress?’.     In addition, Moustakas seemed to ‘get it’ as the season wore on and while he is not a lock to improve, I would say the odds are decent that he will.   I would also expect improvement from Butler, who probably won’t spend the first three months of the season being put off about not getting to play first base.

Is it realistic to say the the outfielder, corner infielders and designated hitter can contribute the same 19.7 fWAR as they did in 2011?  Certainly, the contributions might be weighted more heavily to the infielders than the outfielders in 2012, but I can envision Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler making up the difference from the expected regression (hopefully minor) of the three everyday outfielders.

If so, then the Royals would be looking to Alcides Escobar (2.2 fWAR), the catchers (2.9 fWAR total in 2011) and second base (1.1 fWAR total) to hold the line.   Salvador Perez, who provided 1.4 fWAR himself, might be hard pressed to get to 2.9 in his first full season as a regular, but one can hope that Escobar might hit just a little more and that second base might add a little more as well (not exactly sure how, but we can hope).

At any rate, all of the above considered, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Royals’ position players could contribute close to their 2011 output.  If they do that, then the pitchers need to hold up their end of the bargain.   Wow!  I bet you didn’t see that coming did you?

In 2011, the Royals’ pitching staff contributed a pretty awful 13.5 fWAR.   Felipe Paulino and Jeff Francis each contributed 2.6, Luke Hochevar 2.3, Greg Holland 2.0 and Bruce Chen 1.7 (remember, throwing innings is big part of fWAR for starters and Chen threw just 155).   Joakim Soria chipped in 0.9 fWAR, the lowest of his career (his previous marks were 2.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0).    Those pitchers right there get you to 12.1 of the 13.5 fWAR total.

Danny Duffy’s 0.6 is cancelled out by Sean O’Sullivans -0.5.   Kyle Davies, yes KYLE FREAKING DAVIES, provided 0.7 fWAR which was cancelled out by the negative contributions of Vin Mazzaro, Jesse Chavez and Robinson Tejeda.   WAR, in any form, really does not think much of relief pitchers – which points out how good Greg Holland was in 2011 – and as such, Louis Coleman gets a skinny 0.1, Aaron Crow 0.3 and Blake Wood 0.4.   I do believe that WAR undervalues the contributions of a relief pitcher, especially a non-closer, but that is a debate for another time.

Let’s get back to the starting rotation.   We pretty much know that Hochevar, Paulino and Duffy will be in the 2012 rotation.   Can they better their combined 5.5 fWAR?  To begin with, baseball history is full of young pitchers who are not very good as rookies and take a big step forward in year two.   I think Danny Duffy is likely to do the same.   I am not saying his going to become an ace, but it is reasonable (albeit hardly a sure thing) that he could become a 2.5 fWAR pitcher in 2012.   If Paulino can give the Royals another 2.5 fWAR and Hochevar finally, FINALLY, put it all together and become a 3.5 fWAR guy, the Royals could have 8.5 fWAR out of just three starters – that’s not horrible.  Problem is, that is just one win more than Francis, Paulino and Hochevar gave them last year.

Now what? 

Does bringing back Bruce Chen give you another two wins?  After that, can the number five spot, in combination with the spot starts and injury fill-ins from other starters, get you a ‘barely-head-above-water’ 0.5 fWAR?  You would certainly hope for better, but I am not sure logic will back us up on that one.  Let’s say that Kansas City does gleen 2.5 fWAR total out of the number four through eight starters.    Now, you are at 11 fWAR heading into the bullpen.

Can Joakim Soria bounce back?  If he can, Soria is probably good for 2.0 fWAR.   Then you have Greg Holland coming off a terrific year, Louis Coleman and Tim Collins (0.0 fWAR by the way) setting him up.   Combined, those three accounted for 2.1 fWAR in 2011, you have to get at least that much again in 2012.   Now, the Royals are at 15.1 fWAR out of their staff with the back of bullpen coming into play.   Basically, there was an entire negative win contributed by a bunch of arms last year, which is not uncommon, but it would be nice to avoid.   If the Royals would somehow not have the negative numbers and get another win out of Wood, Herrera, Crow (?) et.al. would that translate into a net gain of 2.0 fWAR?  Maybe….maybe just.

If the above scenario played out, Kansas City would have 17.1 fWAR from their pitchers and another 26 from the position players for a total of 43.1.   Would that translate into a division title?  That is hard to tell, but it almost certainly would get the Royals around or above .500, maybe even into the high 80′s in wins. 

In my opinion, getting an eight at the front of your win total and hoping for some luck and good breaks in 2012 is better than stretching to make a risky deal in a skinny off-season market.   I would rather the Royals shop for that one arm to put them over the top coming off an 84 win 2012 campaign than to do so now, coming off a 71 win season.

xxx

 

 

Tuesday night was our last chance to see Danny Duffy throw this year. With the rookie approaching 150 innings on the season between Omaha and Kansas City – Duffy’s career high and most since he threw 126 in High-A ball in 2009 – the Royals rightly decided to shut him down for the rest of September. As a final start, it was a good one, I suppose. Although it was decidedly Duffy…

6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO

Modest strikeout numbers, but one suspects it could (and should) have been higher… Too many walks… Managable hit total… And he pitched into the seventh inning for just the fourth time in 20 starts.

His Game Score was 54, which was tied for his fourth highest score of the year. Overall, not a bad performance for the swan song of ’11.

Since this was to be Duffy’s final start in 2011, I guess Ned Yost figured he’d throw away the pitch count clicker (or whatever they use to track pitches in the dugout.) Entering Tuesday’s game, Duffy had surpassed 100 pitches in a start just seven times with his high-water mark coming in a start against Detroit in early August when he tossed 105 pitches. Frankly, the Royals and Yost did a good job of managing the young pitcher. For some reason, Duffy was back in the game in the seventh even though he had matches his career high for pitches through six full frames.

It was Hillman-esque.

Sorry, I just don’t see the reasoning behind letting a young starter begin an inning after he’d thrown 105 pitches. Especially somone like Duffy, who has shown an extreme tendency to nibble at times and has had extreme difficulty managing his pitch count. Unless you’re willing to let him throw 130 pitches, why bother in that situation? And more importantly, why do you handle him in a particular manner for 19 starts, but suddenly decide to change the plans for start 20?

If we know anything about Duffy’s 2011 season, one of his goals for next year should be to pace himself during each start. His velocity map from last night’s start is a prime example where he hit his peak velocity in the second inning. From that point on, he had difficulty consistently matching his speeds from his first two frames.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll say it again… I do think Duffy can figure out how to accomplish this. The reason is, although he was unable to match his velocity of his first 40 pitches with his final 80, he did settle into a groove where he was throwing a consistent 92 mph. Even with a season-high number of pitches. Seems to me that it’s just a matter of maturity and strength for him to build the kind of repitoire where he can maintain something close to a peak velocity for an entire start.

Of course, Duffy will also have to figure out how to cut down on the walks. His final tally on the season was 4.4 BB/9 which is just way too high. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, that mark would be the highest among starting pitchers in both leagues. Again, that goes back to his tendency to nibble. It just seemed like he’d get two strikes on the batter, and then he’d abandon his aggressive game plan that got him to that point in the count for something a little more… tricky, I guess. Like a called third strike on the corner was what he was fishing for in that situation. No clue why.

Overall, although his first season in the big leagues wasn’t what we expected, Duffy has certainly shown some promise. I’m more than comfortable with him in the front end of the rotation for 2012 and beyond.

Squeezed

14 comments

Who hates the Yankees? Me! A couple of notes from last night’s marathon loss.

– Obviously, the Yankees are poised for another October run, but color me unimpressed with their starting pitching. Ivan Nova and AJ Burnett just don’t look like they should be in the rotation of a team with post season dreams. But when you’re scoring 5.4 runs per game, I suppose you can live with that. Plus, it seems like Girardi has his bullpen rotation down. He’s gone Logan, Soriano, Robertson and Rivera – in that order – both nights of the series.

– It stinks that seven runs isn’t enough.

– I loved the Ned Yost ejection in the fourth inning. One of my favorite things is baseball is when the manager makes a visit to the mound, not to talk with his pitcher, but to give the home plate umpire and earful when he comes to break up the meeting.

At this point in Tuesday’s game, Danny Duffy was hot. He was getting battered around by the Yankee lineup like speed bag and on top of that, he was getting squeezed by home plate umpire Kerwin Danley. Let’s be honest… Danley was awful behind the plate. Here is how MLB Gameday charted Duffy’s pitches to Russell Martin in the second inning:

I’m not entirely sure what Duffy had to do to get the low strike. I’m sure that was on his mind in the fourth when he didn’t get a borderline call against Mark Teixeira on what would have been strike three. (To be fair, Duffy was lucky the plate appearance got that far. His first pitch was a fat, juicy hanging curve that Teixeira was out in front of and yanked foul. Yanked is the wrong word… He crushed that pitch.)

Anyway, Duffy is frustrated and you could see it. Yost comes out to give his starter the pep talk and uses the opportunity to give Danley a piece of his mind as the two were walking off the mound and gets run. Loved it. Yost was out there protecting his pitcher. Duffy thought he was getting squeezed, was getting hacked off (you could see it in his body language) and that was good enough for his manager. I know I criticize Yost a ton, but that was necessary and perfect.

– Danley’s zone was awfully tight. I know we’re not supposed to take these charts as gospel, but it sure looks like he missed a ton of pitches that were in the zone.

– Duffy struggled in a way we haven’t seen recently. He threw a total of 90 pitches and got just three swing and misses.

Of course, the back breaker was the 12 pitch at bat to Robinson Cano immediately following the Yost ejection that culminated with the ball leaving the yard. Cano fouled off four consecutive fastballs, two sliders and another fastball before he crushed a flat slider that was about belt high.

– With summer winding down, it seems like I spend a ton of time in the car, so I’ll tune into the opposing team’s radio broadcast to see what they’re saying about the Royals. Sometimes, I’ll really enjoy the rival announcers. (Plus, I need relief during the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings… Why, those are Bob Davis’ innings!) Other times, I revel in the train wreck of awfulness. As huge as the Yankees are, you would think they would have a decent announcing tandem. You would think wrong. Things I learned listening to the Yankee broadcast, courtesy of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman:

1- Alex Gordon has a “awful” arm in left field. Yes, Sterling actually said this. They then discussed how this was possible given he used to play third base, and you would think a third baseman would have a strong arm.

2 – Joakim Soria has been “horrible” this year and has been on the DL twice. Twice. I don’t know… I follow the Royals fairly closely, so it comes as a complete shock to me that I missed the Soria transactions. Besides, while it has been far from Soria’s best season, but horrible seems to be a strong adjective. He has a 2.22 ERA since June 1 with 27 strikeouts in 28 innings.

Anyway, they used the Soria character assassination as a springboard to discuss the greatness of Mariano Rivera.

3 – Both Sterling and Waldman spend half their time clearing their throat. Jeez… Invest in a lozenge or something.

– Finally, the Royals are now 4-11 in the month of August. They have scored 58 runs (3.9 R/G) and allowed 71 (4.7 R/G). Their .309 OBP this month is their worst mark of the season. Remember, OBP is life…

On to the pitchers…

We know the starters have, taken as a whole, been horrible. And we know the bullpen has been one of the strengths of this team. I don’t know how the rotation can improved in the second half. Aside from Danny Duffy, these guys pretty much are who we thought they were. Which is not good.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has overachieved. Many of the relievers have outperformed their xFIP and have incredible batting averages on balls in play and even more incredible strand rates. That points to the volatility of the bullpen. It’s still a strength of this team, but I’m not certain it will be as strong in the second half.

One area where you notice the chasm is in strikeouts. The Royals starters couldn’t pitch their way out of a paper bag. (When I talk about the “starters,” know that I’m excluding Duffy. He’s the Chosen One adrift in a sea of batting practice pitchers.) Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of flame throwers who have made missing bats a habit. There may be some regression to the bullpen mean in the second half, but the strikeouts will cushion the blow.

Luke Hochevar
2.9 BB/9, 4.6 SO/9, 5.46 ERA, 4.22 xFIP
0.6 WAR

Key Stat: Allowing opponents to hit .300/.379/.461 with runners on base.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Hochevar “frustrating.” That would imply we have expectations that he could actually be… good.

Instead, we’re teased with a pitcher who retires three or six or nine batters in a row and then implodes in a spectacular fashion. Read that key stat again… there’s something happening when Hochevar pitches from the stretch. Even more frustrating, when runners reach base, Hochevar slows to the game to a speed that resembles Billy Butler running the 100 yard dash… Stand. Still.

I read somewhere that the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger thought Hochevar is a victim of heightened expectations that come with being the team’s Opening Day (read, number one) starter. I just can’t buy into this theory. Mainly because I haven’t thought about Hochevar as the Opening Day starter since… Opening Day. I mean, even Hochevar has to know he was the “number one” starter only because there wasn’t anyone else.

Grade: D

Jeff Francis
1.7 BB/9, 4.4 SO/9, 4.60 ERA, 4.01 xFIP
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: His average fastball is 85 mph.

Francis was always one of the softer throwers in the game, but he’s lost a couple mph off his alleged fastball since returning from shoulder surgery. Having said that, he’s compensating by featuring the best control of his career. The issue with Francis – and it will always be an issue – is that when he catches too much of the plate, it’s easy for opposing batters to make solid contact. His line drive rate hovers around 20% and his BABIP is always north of .300, meaning his WHIP will always be elevated, even though his walks are under control.

Despite the warts, he’s having a pretty decent season.

Grade: B-

Bruce Chen
3.0 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9, 3.26 ERA, 4.37 xFIP
0.7 WAR

Key Stat: Chen has a 76.5% strand rate.

If you’re looking for a reason for Chen’s solid ERA, look no further than his strand rate. It’s about three percentage points better than his career rate. If he regresses to the mean, the second half could be a bit bumpy, but given the way he’s turned his career around, I’m not certain I would bet against him.

Bringing Chen back for 2011 was a good piece of business by Dayton Moore.

Grade: B

Kyle Davies
4.0 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 7.74 ERA, 4.78 xFIP
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has thrown three quality starts in 11 overall starts. The Royals have lost all three of those games.

Dreadful.

Grade: F

Sean O’Sullivan
4.4 BB/9, 3.0 SO/9, 6.92 ERA, 5.59 xFIP
-0.5 WAR

Key Stat: His 0.69 SO/BB ratio is the worst rate among pitchers who have started more than five games this season.

Double dreadful.

Grade: F

Danny Duffy
4.3 BB/9, 7.3 SO/9, 4.85 ERA, 4.20 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat:

Duffy is just a few adjustments away from moving to the front of the rotation. Really. It all comes down to location and an economy of pitches. These are things he can adjust. The successes have been there… there will be more in the near future.

Grade: C

Aaron Crow
4.2 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9, 2.08 ERA, 3.15 xFIP
0.5 WAR

Your 2011 All-Star!

There’s going to be a ton of talk over the next couple of months about moving Crow into the rotation. Personally, I’m on the record saying that everyone from the bullpen should be given a shot at starting. Seriously, the rotation is dreadful so something needs to be done.

Now, having said that, I don’t think that Crow will ever transition back to the rotation. Part of my reasoning has to do with his performance this season. He’s walking too many guys to be a middle of the rotation starter. Also, his success this year is built around an unsustainable 90% strand rate. Then, there’s also his track record from the minors. Don’t forget, he was demoted as a starter after getting raked to the tune of a 5.66 ERA in Double-A. He followed that with a 5.93 ERA in Single-A. Yikes.

Crow seems to have found his groove as a reliever and has emerged as a dependable set-up man. Why mess with a formula that’s been successful?

Grade: A-

Tim Collins
6.6 BB/9, 7.7 SO/9, 3.74 ERA, 4.86 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Lefties are hitting .215/.381/.354 against Collins. Right handers are batting .193/.316/.301.

Collins is an enigma in more ways than one. To start, there’s his reverse split described above. Then, there’s the fact he’s walking a metric ton of batters. No pitcher who has thrown more than 30 innings has a walk rate higher than Collins.

Sadly, those walks are going to catch up with Collins. And that’s probably going to happen in the second half.

Grade: C+

Blake Wood
2.7 BB/9, 8.0 SO/9, 2.89 ERA, 3.08 xFIP
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Wood is getting a swinging strike in 9.8% of all strikes thrown.

I don’t know how he’s doing it… With a fastball straighter than a piece of dried spaghetti. But Wood has become a dependable reliever out of the bullpen. It helps that his slider is much improved as well. Still, I can’t help but worry… I’m a Royals fan.

Grade: B+

Louis Coleman
4.3 BB/9, 10.9 SO/9, 2.01 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Opponents are hitting .167/.280/.361 against Coleman.

Coleman is off to a great start and has been a versatile arm out of the pen for the club. He’s pitched multiple innings in 12 of his 27 appearances and has thrown anywhere from the sixth inning on. With the lead, in a tie game, or with the Royals down… Yost is using him in just about any situation.

His BABIP is .200 and his strand rate is a whopping 96%. There’s no way he can keep those numbers for the second half. His xFIP suggests he’s had luck on his side.

Grade: A-

Felipe Paulino
2.3 BB/9, 8.9 SO/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.24 xFIP
1.3 WAR

A revelation…

Interesting story… At the Baseball Prospectus event at the K last week, Jin Wong talked about how one of the things his job entails is to identify potential talent. Basically, looking at fringe players and deciding if there’s some upside there. If there is, and that player becomes available, they pounce. According to Wong, the club identified Paulino early in the year as a potential guy for them because he throws 95 mph (on average), strikes out a fair number of hitters and can keep the ball on the ground. So, when Paulino struggled in 18 appearances out of the pen for the Rockies, and they let him go, the Royals were ready.

Great story… You hope it’s true. Paulino has never had an ERA lower – or even close – to his xFIP, so he was always a guy with upside. Good for the Royals for grabbing him off the scrap heap when the Rockies were ready to let him go.

The Royals will need to find a few more gems in the rough like Paulino. Capable middle of the rotation guy.

Grade: B+

Nate Adcock
3.7 BB/9, 5.9 SO/9, 4.91 ERA, 4.11 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Only 2 of 12 inherited runners have scored against Adcock.

Adcock was the Rule 5 pick and the Royals have been treating him with kid gloves. He completely disappears for extended stretches. Like right now… He last pitched on July 1.

I’d like for the Royals to use him a little more frequently, especially when their starters spit the bit in the early innings. Adcock isn’t doing exceptional, but when you consider he had never pitched above A-ball prior to this year, the Royals have to be pleased with the results.

Grade: C

Greg Holland
2.2 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9, 1.08 ERA, 2.35 xFIP
0.8 WAR

Key Stat: Only 60% of all plate appearances against Holland end with the ball in play.

Many felt Holland should have been in the bullpen at the start of the season. Many were correct. He’s been lights out. Like Crow and Coleman, his strand rate is north of 90%.

Easily, the best reliever in the Royals pen.

Grade: A

Vin Mazzaro
5.5 BB/9, 3.3 SO/9, 9.25 ERA, 5.97 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: The Royals sacrificial lamb.

It is the seminal moment of the 2011 season… Ned Yost leaving Mazzaro to get his brains beat in by the Indians, allowing 14 runs in 2.1 innings.

Grade: F

Jeremy Jeffress
6.5 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 4.70 ERA, 4.40 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: A 1.50 WHIP in 15 innings of work.

Jeffress has the potential, but until he finds his control, it will remain potential. It’s not going so well in Omaha as he’s walking 6.6 per nine.

Grade: D+

Everett Teaford
3.4 BB/9, 4.0 SO/9, 2.30 ERA, 4.56 xFIP
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has a 100% strand rate.

Teaford is pitching out of his mind. A .195 BABIP and that strand rate… That’s why his xFIP is over two runs higher than his ERA.

Grade: B

Joakim Soria
2.8 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9, 4.03 ERA, 3.57 xFIP
0.2 WAR

I maintained all along that Soria would be OK… It took a “demotion” for him to find his closer mojo. That, and losing one of his cut fastballs.

Whatever, it was an ugly start. Can’t deny that. He’s already matched his career high for home runs allowed (five) and is still down about two whiffs per inning on his strikeout rate. This serves as a cautionary tale that you should never, ever overvalue your closer. Unless his name is Mariano Riveria. Had the Royals dealt Soria last winter, his value would have been at it’s maximum. According to reports, the GMDM is still asking for everything under the sun when teams call inquiring about Soria.

Hopefully, he can pitch lights out in the second half and restore some of that trade value.

Grade: C

Over the break, Dayton Moore made the proclamation that the Royals were still in the race for the AL Central. I had no idea he was an outpatient at the Menninger Clinic. The bats are in decent shape and the bullpen is strong, but the starting pitching will continue to drag this team to what will be a top three pick in next year’s draft.

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

The Royals possess the worst record in the American League, but they at least seem better than some of Kansas City teams of the near past.   This group fields better, runs better and pretty much hits better than probably any Royals’ team of the past eight or ten years.   Despite being dinged for two losses over the weekend and a less than perfect Joakim Soria, the team’s bullpen is viewed as a strength right now and likely to become even better.   Alas, as we all are well aware, there exists a big, gaping, borderline hideous void on this team called the starting rotation. 

Nine different pitchers have started games for the Royals and they have combined for an American League worst 5.13 ERA, more than a half run worse than the next worst starting rotation (Toronto, by the way).   They have struck out just 214 batters, 52 less than the next lowest total compiled by Baltimore and opposing hitters have hit .290 against KC starters, 14 points higher than against any other team.

As bad as the rotation has been, Royals’ fans have been able to comfort themselves with the thought that help was on its way.  After all, Kansas City began the season in possession of baseball’s best farm system:  an analysis whose foundation was largely based on the talent and number of good, young arms in the system.

Nearing the halfway point of the season, things have not exactly gone as planned when it comes to many of the young starters and left many of us wondering if help is truly on the way.  

Here to Help Now – Danny Duffy

There is an ever growing possibility that Duffy might be sent back to Omaha to make room for the apparently inevitable return of Kyle Davies to his birthright:  a spot in the Royals’ rotation.   While more Davies is hardly a good thing, sending Duffy back to AAA is not the end of the world, either.

Having thrown just 62 regular season innings in 2010, Duffy is likely to run into a major inning’s crunch as the season progresses.   Between Omaha and KC thus far he has already thrown 70 innings and one would think the Royals really cannot feel comfortable pushing the 22 year lefty much beyond 120 innings total in 2011.

No matter where Duffy gets his work, he has gotten a taste of major league action.   While you might wonder if, given what we have seen out of Danny thus far, actually qualifies as ‘help’, you might be interested to see what a few other pitchers did in their first seven major league starts:

  IP HITS RUNS BB SO ERA
DUFFY 34 39 19 22 29 5.03
SABATHIA 37.1 34 16 15 21 3.86
LATOS 37.1 34 20 16 29 4.82
HAMELS 37.2 37 23 20 35 5.50
HAREN 38 42 17 13 27 4.03
KERSHAW 33 33 16 22 29 4.36

At minimum, Duffy has gotten 34 innings closer to hopefully translating his minor league numbers into major league success.   The stuff is undeniable – it seems like Duffy gets two strikes on virtually everyone (one in five hitters have fallen behind him 0-2) – but has yet to translate that into consistent success.  

I think he will, probably sooner rather than later, and will likely take a spot firmly in the middle of the starting rotation, maybe even as a number two starter, for good to start the 2012 season.   Given the experience gained already and surely to be gained in some measure with additional major league starts this year (be it now or August), Duffy should be ready to pitch contending baseball.

With a Little Hope in Late 2011 – Mike Montgomery

Prior to the start of this season, the debate was not whether Mike Montgomery was going to make it, but whether he would be an ace or the team’s number two starter behind John Lamb.   Fast forward a few months and Lamb is having Tommy John surgery while Montgomery has allowed 51 runs in 78 innings, uncorked 10 wild pitches, hit 4 batters and walked 46 more.   In his last 51 innings, Mike has been tagged for 43 runs and 8 homers.

Certainly those numbers are discouraging, particularly since they seem to be getting worse not better.   However, after being completely lit on fire two nights ago, Greg Schaum tweeted that Montgomery was ‘working on some things’ and would be back to form in a couple of starts.   That is not an exact quote as I’m simply too lazy to scroll back and look, but it captures the essence of Schaum’s tweet and I have no reason to doubt that it has a factual foundation.   Truth is, I am going to put a  lot of stock in Schaum’s 140 characters simply because I don’t want to think about a 2012 rotation that doesn’t include Montgomery very early on.

Not lost in the Montgomery equation is the fact that the new ballpark in Omaha would seem to be shaping up as a hitter’s park and the league itself is a hitter’s league.   Time will tell when it comes to Werner Park, but simply by where it sits (I live 50 miles from Omaha) any Nebraskan will tell you the ball is going to jump out of there most nights of the summer.

All that said, even if Montgomery rights the ship, he will also run into an innings crunch having pitched just 93 frames in 2010.   Already at 78.2 for this season, one would logically assume that Mike probably does not have much more than another 70 or 80 innings left before it becomes less than prudent to have him log any more time on the mound.    That is just enough time to get things going in AAA and get Montgomery’s own seven or eight ‘first’ major league starts out of the way and make him a member of the 2012 rotation from day one.

Not shown on the Duffy chart above are guys like Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke who all hit the major leagues and were effective and often dominant from start number one.   The Royals could use something like that out of Mike Montgomery.   Frankly, the Royals have endured enough bad karma to have exactly that happen.

The Void That Is 2012

Okay, we have been optimistic with Duffy and Montgomery by projecting both to be legitimate major league starters by the end of 2011; here comes a dose of pessimism.

2012 was supposed to be the year that John Lamb would burst on the scene and challenge to be the ace of the Royals’ rotation.   Down with Tommy John surgery, that will not happen next year and likely we won’t be looking for Lamb until sometime in 2013.    He may still become the ace of the staff, it just won’t be next year or the year after that.

With Lamb down, the Northwest Arkansas rotation is led by Chris Dwyer (5.76 ERA), Will Smith (4.71 ERA, 94 hits in 71 innings) and Edgar Osuna (6.88 ERA).  Welcome to the world of pitching prospects, where a Top 100 prospect like Dwyer puts up Kyle Daveish numbers.

The upside on Dwyer is that he still is allowing less than one hit per inning and is still striking out close to a batter per frame as well.   His walk rate is up, like seemingly every other prospect in the organization, and Chris has buried 9 wild pitches in 66 innings of work.    Over his last two starts (11.1 innings), Dwyer has struck out 12 and allowed just one run.

Will Smith’s strikeout rate has dropped as he moves to higher levels in the minors while his hit rate has increased.   That doesn’t bode well for anyone.  Osuna, last year’s Rule 5 pick, had a nice 2010 campaign in AA and an atrocious time in AAA.   This year, Edgar has recreated his dismal AAA performance, only at the AA level.

If one is realistically looking for minor league help in 2012, your best bet is Dwyer, but more likely later in the season than early on.    Even that, that is taking an incredibly optimistic and likely unrealistic approach that three of the Royals’ top four pitching prospects actually come through

 

Projecting the Unprojectable

The Wilmington rotation has some exciting names, led by Jake Odorizzi and followed by Noel Arguelles, Tim Melville, Tyler Sample, Elisaul Pimentel, Justin Marks and Michael Mariot.   That said, when was the last time that Wilmington didn’t have a good rotation (remember Rowdy Hardy, Dan Cortes, Julio Pimental and Blake Johnson?) and how often have we seen great High-A seasons fade against poor AA and AAA careers?   As said by many before, counting on prospects is a gamble:  counting on pitching prospects is heartbreaking.

Odorizzi, part of the Greinke haul, is the guy who could jump to Northwest Arkansas this summer and get himself into a mid-2012 major league conversation.   He has struck on 93 batter ins 65 innings this year, after fanning 135 in 120 innings the year before.   Despite a BABIP against of a .363, Odorizzi has held opponets to an overall .233 batting average on his way to a 2.17 ERA and 1.161 WHIP.   This is the guy who looks and feels like the next big thing.

Of course, we said that about Lamb and Montgomery and Duffy and others.    So, take those seven pitchers I named at the top of this section and, realistically, project one to be good and another to be serviceable.    Maybe that’s more pessimistic than realistic, I’m not sure, but it seems to me that the Royals would consider themselves blessed to have Montgomery, Duffy and Odorizzi occupying three of the top four spots in their rotation by early 2013.

If Melville, who many in the organization believe is close to ‘putting it all together’ after a season and one-half of less than resplendent outcomes, does just that and is poised to join the party at some point in 2013 (or Arguelles, who we still don’t know much about or Jason Adam, currently in Kane County, or Yordano Ventura or Yambati or someone else – you get the point here), then Kansas Citians should be ecstatic.

Of Course, THAT’S 2013 and Beyond

Given that most young pitchers have a period of adjustments and struggles at the beginning of their major league careers, what the above tells us is that a homegrown rotation can a ‘contending rotation’ no sooner than early 2013 and more likely late 2013.   Do you wait that long?

Even the most optimistic and aggressive projections for Duffy and Montgomery probably does not have them being true numbers one or two type starters in 2012.    Sure, there are worse things than a rotation of Hochevar, Francis or Chen, Duffy, Montgomery and someone else (Mazarro, O’Sullivan..don’t you dare say Kyle Davies!) next April, but it certainly would not be a strength of the team at that point.

Should Dayton Moore make a big move between now and next season to get an established arm into his rotation?   Do the Royals package prospects to acquire a legitimate number two or three starter who they think could become a number one?   Or do you wait, endure an up and down 2012, and hope that by 2013 the top of the rotation is Montgomery, Duffy and Odorizzi with John Lamb soon to come back and Jason Adam or Tim Melville in the wings?

That is a tough decision and a gamble no matter which way Dayton Moore decides to go.   Of all the decisions Dayton Moore has made and will make, this one will likely define his tenure as Royals GM.

.

As I get older, I learn to appreciate a few things that would have been unthinkable in my youth…

Add well pitched ballgames to the list.

That’s why I thought Tuesday night’s game was – for the first six innings – brutal.

Trevor Cahill in particular was just awful. He threw 96 pitches, but just 47 strikes. It was the worst pitching performance I’ve seen (non-Royal category) since any Daisuke Matsuzaka start over the last three seasons. And it wasn’t like Cahill was getting squeezed. He was all over the place… I mean, when he wasn’t throwing the ball 55 feet and bouncing it in the dirt, he was airmailing pitches to the backstop.

Cahill has struggled lately. He’s giving up home runs and walking batters like crazy. In his four starts prior to Tuesday, he had thrown 22 innings, allowed 14 walks, five home runs and 15 strikeouts. Opposing batters have been teeing off, hitting .337/.425/.551 against him during this stretch.

I wonder if the Royals knew about this. This is a question I’ll ask again and again, now that the team does all of their advanced scouting by video. What exactly are they watching on these videos? Because if they’re watching the TV broadcast feeds, they’re doing it wrong. I’m sure there are different camera feeds available, but how much of a pain is it to watch an entire game isolated on a starting pitcher to see how he’s standing on the mound, if he’s tipping his pitches, his delivery time to home, etc… And then have to switch to another feed to see how the infielders are positioned, or how the play is made in the outfield. I imagine, if you were doing a thorough scouting job, it would take you six hours to scout a single game by video.

I bring up this scouting issue again, because Royals hitters seemed to take the wrong approach from the beginning.

Take the first inning. Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer saw a grand total of eight pitches. That’s not exactly working the count. Gordon offered at a tough pitch out of the zone, Melky swung at a ball (shocking) and Hosmer offered at a pitch down and away on an 1-0 count that he would have been better off taking.

Not a good start.

The second was, in some ways, worse. That’s because after he walked Jeff Francoeur (which should be a warning sign for anyone watching a ballgame that this particular pitcher doesn’t have it) Billy Butler had an outstanding plate appearance. This was one of the few times of the night Cahill was spotting his pitches. The first three were low and away… off the plate for balls. These were pitches thrown with good intent in that if Butler makes contact with those and puts them in play, he’s grounding into a double play. The Frenchman negates that possibility by stealing second on the third pitch of the Butler at bat. Then, Butler takes two called strikes on pitches low and away, but deemed in the zone by the home plate umpire, Bill Welke. (I’m not sold on the first pitch, but the second one was good.) He fouls one off and then takes ball four.

You now have two hitters who have walked to lead off an inning against a pitcher who has had command problems in the past. You have a young hitter coming up and the lower third of the batting order coming behind him.

You make the call…

If you’re Nervous Ned Yost, you bunt.

Huh?

Bunting in the second inning with your rookie stud, against a starting pitcher with command issues and with Matt Treanor and Chris Getz immediately following? That’s mismanagement of the highest order.

(At least I’m assuming he ordered the bunt. We don’t know because neither the KC Star story or the MLB.com story has this info. I Googled, but couldn’t come up with the answer if the bunt was called by Yost or Moustakas freelanced. The fact that neither game summary included the word “bunt” is slightly surprising, considering the Royals sacrificed three times Tuesday.)

Instead of setting up for a potential big inning, you’re playing for one run in the second inning… Frustrating. And guess what? It worked when Coach T grounded out and brought Francoeur home.

The Royals encountered a similar situation in the fourth. Runners on first and second and no outs, but with Chris Getz at the plate. In that situation, I have no problem with asking Getz to sacrifice – which he did. Because letting Getz hit is a little like asking the pitcher to swing the bat. With a 91 percent contact rate and a 51 percent ground ball rate, he would seem to be a double play candidate. (Although a quick check of the numbers shows this isn’t exactly the case. In 34 double play opportunities this year, Getz has grounded into just one double play. Although it helps he’s sacrificed an AL leading 10 times.)

Again, this sacrifice worked as Alcides Escobar put the ball in play and hit a weak chopper to third. Moose, running on contact, was able to score easily.

I fear this sort of stuff is putting the wrong ideas in Yost’s head.

Anyway, Cahill’s struggles are issues for Oakland bloggers to address, but it seems we have our own problems with Danny Duffy. Everyone will make a fuss over his first major league win, but that glosses over the fact that he really labored in the fourth and fifth innings. In his first 39 pitches (innings one through three) he tossed 26 strikes. He wasn’t helped by his defense in the second when Moose made an error at third, but then was bailed out by The Frenchman and his cannon of an arm in right.

(I tweak the Royals for ditching their advance scouting department, but I wonder if other teams have done the same… Uhhhh, you don’t run on the outfield arms. Unless you want to be thrown out. Does anybody playing baseball ever watch baseball?)

Then in the fourth, after the Hideki Matusi home run, it all went to hell for Duffy. Over his final three innings, he needed 65 pitches and threw only 37 strikes. Not to mention, his velocity really dipped as the game progressed.

Was that the effect of adrenaline? His family and girlfriend made the trip from nearby Lompoc, his hometown. Who knows.

Still, it was a good night for the Royals at the plate. The Shortstop Jesus can suddenly hit and picked up three while driving in two runs. He looks like a different hitter at the plate. Hosmer broke an 0-fer with a pair of hits. And Moose got the first two-hit game of his career. The bullpen was solid as well. Greg Holland had a lock-down seventh, but wobbled in the eighth with a couple of bad breaks before Aaron Crow picked him up. Then Soria finished with a challenging, yet successful performance.

What we do know is that Duffy, despite getting that first win, has a ton of work to do. Same for the manager.

%d bloggers like this: