Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Gil Meche

On Tuesday, we were treated to the folly of a Trey Hillman meltdown.  He came out to argue a successful double steal where there was a play on Grady Sizemore at third.  Jason Kendall’s throw beat Sizemore, but it was on the wrong side of the bag and Alberto Callaspo couldn’t get the tag down in time.  This was all obvious to everyone in the stadium but Hillman.  However, being a manager is often about image, and Hillman’s has taken a pounding the last week or so, so he felt the need to debate the call with the third base umpire.  Watching SABR Trey leave the dugout, the outcome of this confrontation was obvious even before it started – Hillman was there to show some fire (and grit, I suppose) and get kicked out.  It was his time to send a message.

The zaniness extended to the ninth when the Royals cleared their bench.  After using nine pinch hitters in their first 32 games, the Royals sent three to the plate in the bottom of the ninth:  Brayan Pena, Wee Willie Bloomquist and Chris Getz.  Seriously? No Kila Ka’aihue?

Just the latest in a bizarre week for SABR Trey.

It was a few days ago, but I’m still steaming over the Hillman managerial tour de force in Arlington last weekend.   I’m going to recap these for posterity.

The Fine
So Hillman saw fit to fine his shortstop and undisclosed sum because of the way he failed to catch a pop-up.  Really?  That seems… Old fashioned.  Then again, we are dealing with a manager who called a meeting at home plate after a spring training game to make a point.  Whatever point he was trying to make was lost because he was gathering his major league team together like they were high schoolers.

If you want to punish a player, why wouldn’t you take away his playing time.  Put him on the bench for a few games (or in Betancourt’s case, forever would be fine) because fining a millionaire $500 dollars is like any one of us losing a quarter in the cushions of our couch.

The Kila Monster
Who knew having Ka’aihue on the roster would create this kind of a problem.  Here’s the deal:  On Saturday, Hillman decided the new guy would bat cleanup and play first with Butler at DH.

Now the issue:  You knew if the game was close, that Hillman would remove Ka’aihue for a pinch hitter.  By playing him at first (with Butler as the DH) this severely limited his options, should he decide to remove Ka’aihue.

Which is exactly what happened.

Guillen pinch hits for the Kila Monster and then the circus music begins… Maier moves from center to first and now Guillen has to stay in the game at right field.  All this could have been avoided had Hillman simply filled out the lineup card with Kila at DH.

I harp all the time about Hillman not putting his players in a position to succeed.  He did it to himself on Saturday.

Gil Meche
I’ve documented the mishandling of Meche from the beginning… The complete game where he threw against the Diamondbacks last June 16 wasn’t the real killer.  It was how Meche was handled after he developed the subsequent dead arm that has drawn my focus.

Now, there’s another issue.  Who is calling the shots?

In that game last June, Hillman asked Meche how he was doing.  Meche answered that he wanted to finish the game and Hillman let him – despite the elevated pitch count.  Now, through all the arm troubles and control issues that have transpired since that afternoon almost a year ago, a similar scenario played out in Texas on Saturday.  Meche had thrown 103 pitches and walked five batters.  His control wasn’t there, but he gutted his way through seven.  His day should have been finished.  Somehow, he got back out on the mound.  He walked the first batter.  Then, he walked the second batter.  How much more do you need to see?  Hillman made a visit, asked how he felt.  Meche said he was fine and Hillman’s response? “Quit walking guys.” Unreal.

If Hillman is in charge, he needs to man up and get his starter.  I don’t care about Meche being a veteran or whatever kind of unwritten B.S. we’re following.  Removing him from the game is the right thing to do for Meche and for the team.  It was a 2-2 game and his starter was gassed.  Everyone watching knew it.  I’m pretty sure Meche knew it, but was too stubborn.  I’m pretty sure Hillman knew it, but he didn’t have the stones to stand up to the guy.

In the end, Meche threw 128 pitches.  That’s the most in the majors this year.  For a guy less than a year removed from arm troubles.  And the Royals lost.

The missed appeal
This one isn’t as dramatic as two outfielders jogging off the field while the third out lands between them.  It’s actually much worse.

Here’s the situation, just in case you haven’t heard:  Bottom of the third with runners on first and third and one out.  Vladi Guerrero up and he lifts a fly to short left.  Podsednik has a play at the plate, but the throw is offline and Kendall can’t catch it.  On the play, Josh Hamilton (who was on first) goes halfway, but when the throw comes home, brain cramps and moves up to second instead of back to first.  He didn’t tag up.

The attentive baseball team would make an appeal at first.  The Royals are fundamentally unsound and it turns out, they fall asleep during games.  It cost the Royals two runs.

After the game, Hillman took the opportunity to point the finger at his first baseman. It’s amazing we can see Butler’s number on his back given the frequency his manager and GM throw him under the bus.

You would hope your first baseman would catch that.”

Actually, I agree with this.  It was Butler’s fault.  To his credit, he stepped up following the game.

“That’s my priority,” Butler said. “You can put that one on me.

Butler is a bigger man than his manager.  The manager who is about protecting his players would step in front and assume responsibility.  Besides, teams usually assign someone on the bench to watch for things like this where you can basically steal an out.  (Although you have to value outs on defense and there’s plenty of evidence that the Royals don’t.)  Yes, Butler should have noticed this, but it just points to further fundamental breakdowns.

And why couldn’t Hillman have spoken in general terms?  Something like, “We have 25 guys not including our coaching staff. You would hope someone would catch that.”

Third base coach
Dave Owen is a FOT (Friend of Trey) which is the only reason he’s employed by this team.  His antics on Thursday where he played stop and go with Mike Aviles is simply a microcosm of how ill-suited he is at his job.

According to Bill James, the Royals are already at -23 on base running gain.  Dave Owen’s Kill Count stands at 13 on the year.  And rising.

This missteps were just a single weekend of folly.  To document all the boneheaded moves from SABR Trey over the last two years would require so much bandwidth, it could shut down the internet.

Remember when the Royals felt the need to act quickly on Hillman because the Yankees were in the market for a manager?  God, what I wouldn’t give to turn back time to see how that would have worked.

This brings the following question: Is Hillman coming to the end of his time in KC?  Hillman has had two years and change to show he understands the game and how to manage.  Dayton Moore has had two years and change to assess his hire.  You tell me.

Unfortunately, I’m of the school that subscribes to the theory that Moore is loyal to his guys.  Hillman is Moore’s hire.  Plus, Moore is big on continuity.  To fire the manager midseason would be disruptive to the team and to The Process.  Therefore, Hillman finishes his contract.

Last weekend was a disaster, but we’ve seen this kind of stuff before.  Eventually, it will all add up and GMDM will be forced to act.  Although I have a feeling it will take until at least September before we have the kind of action we’re looking for in this situation.

I have been doing research for a far different column than the one you are getting today.    My original column idea was based on the belief that the Royals, as they have so many times before, would go to Tampa Bay and get their heads handed to them in the four game series.    What happened this weekend, while not earth shattering, was enough to forestall my original idea – at least until Thursday – and instead review a number of comings, goings and happenings since the team left Kansas City.

After taking an 11-1 drubbing on Thursday night, the Royals rebounded to hold one of the hottest teams in baseball to just five runs over the next three games.   Of course, in typical Royals’ fashion, they somehow managed to lose one of those three games and, of course, that game happened to be pitched by Zack Greinke.

Yesterday, Greinke was simply awesome, taking just 87 pitches to fly through eight innings.   In that time, Zack walked no one, struck out six and hung one curveball to Evan Longoria and lost because of it.   As Tampa manager Joe Maddon observed, ‘Grenke could have thrown 15 innings on Sunday’ and I have to agree.  

Greinke threw more than 12 pitches in an inning just once on Sunday, was still throwing ninety-three miles per hour on his last pitch and only threw twenty balls out of the strike zone all day.   For that, Zack was rewarded with his second complete game 1-0 loss in less than a year.     Did you know there had not been a 1-0 game in the American League all year?    I don’t know if Zack Greinke drinks, but this is the kind of stuff that will make a guy start.

The much maligned bullpen had a nice weekend, too:  allowing three runs in 12.1 innings of work.     If you discount the cameo appearance by Victor Marte (how much do you make being in the majors for 24 hours?) and an irrelevant Kyle Farnsworth sighting, the reliever allowed just one run when it mattered and that was by Joakim Soria.   Does that mean all is well out in the pen?  I doubt it, but a little success can’t hurt.

That said, the organization felt good enough about the bullpen to ship off a pitcher who many of us on stage and screen have been clamoring for:  Carlos Rosa.   Greg Schaum had a nice rundown of the trade here.   One organizational stance seemed to be that ‘Rosa does not have an out-pitch and the lowest strike percentage in AAA’.       Okay, I can see that, and the player acquired is twenty year old Rey Navarro who was a former third round pick with a metric ton of upside,  but you have to wonder if a team struggling to hold leads should really be trading away a guy who can throw 97 mph.   By the way, what exactly do Brad Thompson, Bruce Chen, Kyle Farnsworth, etc. have that IS considered an ‘out-pitch’.

What can we really read into the Rosa trade?   Well, it is certainly possible that it is ‘Dayton Moore I’m tired of hearing everyone talk about Rosa’ move, but we can hope it is:

  • that the organization is looking towards the future (which plays nicely into by original idea for a column)
  • that Blake Wood is progressing nicely in Omaha and took Rosa’s place as the ‘power arm of the future’
  • that the likes of a Ferderico Casteneda, Greg Holland and Louis Coleman (to name a few) are soon to be better potential relievers than Rosa
  • Rey Navarro is the next Omar Vizquel and we have robbed Arizona once more

Frankly, I will settle for Wood being the primary setup man in Kansas City by June 15th and worry about the rest of the above later.   However, if Navarro becomes Vizquel and Chris Getz turns into Brian Roberts, we’ll all have a Merry Christmas.

Speaking of Chris Getz (who I still like, but am slowly getting a bad feeling that he is going to ‘do all the little things’ and end up hitting .227.), he was activated on Friday which moved Alex Gordon to the bench and, by Sunday, all the way to Omaha.  

Since 2007, I have been in the camp of thinking that what Gordon needed to learn about hitting could only be taught at the major league level.  That said, at this point, I don’t have much of a problem with Alex being sent to Omaha.   It worked for Mark Teahen once – well, it worked for three months better than the next two years, but it did cause improvement.     Playing everyday at this point and hopefully feasting on lesser pitching is probably a better plan for Gordon than having him see sporadic time in the majors.

There is a school of thought that the organization is already looking at Gordon moving to first and Butler to DH as soon as Jose Guillen is off the roster.   Have they given up on Alex?  I don’t think so, but the Royals have certainly changed their way of thinking when it comes to him.

Mike Aviles replaces Gordon on the roster and would seem to be a better fit should Trey Hillman actually deviate from his set lineup…ever.   Aviles played shortstop every day his last week in Omaha, which I’m hoping means he is ready to handle the left side of the infield.   Given that Yuniesky Betancourt is gradually regressing into himself, it would be nice to see Mike get three or even for starts per week spread between second, short and third.    It is very possible that Aviles, once Guillen cools off, is the second best bat on the team next to Billy Butler, and it would be a shame to see Hillman just let him rot on the bench.

Speaking of comings and goings, the Royals have (or are about to) sell the rights of Roman Colon to Korea.    What’s the IRS form number for selling a human to another country?   While this may be an opportunity for Colon to throw more, I have to believe Kansas City to Omaha to Korea is not the ideal career path.

The Royals move on to Chicago tonight and we will see a struggling Gil Meche pitch against a struggling Jake Peavy.   Gil, who is so out of sync that he is worried about when he takes the ball out of his glove during his delivery, really needs to have a good start or this season is going to go from wounded duck status to actual awfulness.

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

The End of the Luis Mendoza Era

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

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

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

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

Gil Meche and the Mystery of Control

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

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

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

An Ugly Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

Getz and the Roster

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

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

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

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

The Salvage

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

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

Ever Onward

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

Without question, the most successful free agent signing of the Dayton Moore era was the five year/$55 million deal given out to Gil Meche.   That may sound like an odd statement given that Meche spent the last three months of the 2009 season fighting injuries and has an uncertain status surrounding him for the same reasons as we close in on Opening Day.

However, between his first Kansas City start on Opening Day of 2007 and that fateful 132 pitch shutout on June 16, 2009, Meche started 82 games for the Royals.   Over those starts, Gil threw 511 innings (averaging more than six innings per start), struck out 406 batters while walking 166 and posted a 3.74 earned run average.   During that stretch, the Royals were 39-43 (.475) in games Meche started and just 134-171 (.439) in games he did not start.  

Thirty-five times during that stretch of time, the Royals scored three runs or less.   Not once have we heard Gil Meche complain about lack of run support, despite knowing that over forty percent of the time his team gave him virtually none.   Meche has been a leader for the starting rotation and, perhaps lost in all the Greinke hoopla, he provided valuable stability at the top of the rotation while Greinke developed into a true ace.

I could make a case that if Gil never pitches again, this contract was still worth the money, but I firmly believe that if Gil posts just one more 200 inning season in the next two years there will be absolutely no debate as to the validity of Moore’s long-term commitment.

Therein, however, lies the problem.

To get Meche to Kansas City, Dayton Moore had to give Gil one more year than other teams were offering.   Teams were lined up to give him four years and a little over forty million dollars, but Moore ponied up that fifth year and got the deal done.    From that point forward, the ‘extra year’ has been Moore’s calling card in the free agent market.   He has used it with regularity and when, frankly, he did not need to.

After the 2007 season, Mike Sweeney was off the roster and his big contract thankfully off the books.  Moore was hellbent to sign a slugging outfielder or two.   He, like everyone else in the league, got blown out of the water by the Angels’ offer to Torii Hunter and the Royals dodged a bullet when Andruw Jones turned down their offer to sign with the Dodgers.   That left Jose Guillen as the ‘next best power bat available’.  

While the actual negotiations of a free agent deal are never really known, the widespread belief was that the competition for Guillen was limited.     Would the Royals have inked Guillen if they had offered just a one year deal?  Probably not, but two years might have gotten the deal done in an environment where the few offers out there were of the single year variety. 

Instead, Dayton Moore jumped in with more money per year and MORE YEARS.   If Allard Baird had made this signing, I could have chalked it up to an attempt to rectify losing Raul Ibanez in 2004 over offering two years instead of three.   In Moore’s case, the third year just seems like bad judgment. 

Forget 2008 and 2009, when Guillen was sometimes annoying, sometimes a distraction, often hurt and too commonly awful as a ballplayer.   The third year of this deal is what is killing the Royals.   Put it another way:  how much would having an extra $12 million and a roster spot mean to you right now?

On top of the Guillen signing came two curious multi-year deals the next off-season:  Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Now, Bloomquist gets his share of criticism on Royals’ sites, including this one, but it really is not his fault that Trey Hillman kept putting his name in the lineup last year.   Nor is it Willie’s fault that Dayton Moore gave him two guaranteed years instead of one with an option.   Here is where you can offer the ‘you don’t know what the competition was for Bloomquist’ and ‘Willie does not sign with KC unless he gets a two year deal’.   To that, I say: ‘so what?’

Scan the spring training notes of other ballclubs or read through a couple of pages of MLBTradeRumors and you can easily compile a pretty long list of ’Willie Bloomquists’ that are available or could be had for basically nothing.   Heck, the Royals have a better Bloomquist in Wilson Betemit than Willie himself.   Frankly, if Bloomquist was not around and Betemit not available would long-time farmhand Irving Falu be that much of a drop off?   Furthermore, if the Royals had not offered the second year to Bloomquist and he had signed elsewhere, would not Tug Hulett have done a competent job in his place last year?

Truth is, you can always find utility infielders….and middle relievers.   Which brings us to Kyle Farnsworth, who is going to collect a cool $4.5 million in this, THE SECOND, year of his contract.   The only way that amount and, more specifically, that second year makes sense is if Kyle throws 165 innings as the teams fifth starter this year and that will validate the contract only thanks to simple dumb luck.

Sure, Dayton Moore had no way of knowing that Juan Cruz would still be available for less money two months after he signed Farnsworth (I’m even going to give Dayton a pass on Cruz’s TWO YEAR deal as it sure seemed like a good one at the time) , but no one other than the Royals were knocking down Kyle’s door.   A one year flyer on Farnsworth to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle was worth a shot, but two years?   Considering that the Royals already had a ‘better Farnsworth’ in Robinson Tejeda already on their roster makes that contract seem even sillier.

We can go back in time and remember that last spring many thought the Royals had a real chance at contention.  Dayton Moore certainly did.   That said, were Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth so key to the Royals’ plan to make a run to the playoffs that they had to commit extra years to deals just to sign those two players?

I am not even going to mention the Yuniesky Betancourt trade or the signing of Brian Anderson (a poor man’s Mitch Maier) this off-season to replace Mitch Maier.   I am willing to let the two-year Jason Kendall deal play out and leave Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik out for now, too.   Let’s just look at Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Between those three players and because of a superfluous year added to each of their contracts, the Royals had $18.2 million and three roster spots tied up before the first pitch was thrown this spring.  Ignore the money for now and focus on those three spots.

Without being tied to Guillen and Bloomquist, the Royals could break camp with Mike Aviles (admittedly not ready to play short full-time, but he could DH or play second) on their active roster.   They would have more time to evaluate Mitch Maier to see if that hot spring really is indicative of improved performance in the regular season or at last give Kila Kaaihue a shot.  

Without Farnsworth, the team could easily stash Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna in the bullpen.   Instead of keeping two out of Josh Rupe, John Parrish, Brad Thompson, Anthony Lerew and Blake Wood, they could keep three.  I don’t know if that makes the club any better, but it certainly makes them no worse – not to mention $4.5 million cheaper.    (Really don’t want to go with Robinson Tejeda as a starter if Meche can’t go?  Bet you can find someone better at starting than Farnsworth for that $4.5 mil)

Adding just one more year got the Royals a good starting pitcher who helped and hopefully will continue to help the team.   Sadly, the same strategy has tied Kansas City to three players that it simply does not need in 2010.   The next time you hear anyone from the Royals comment on lack of payroll flexibility we should all remember that they only have themselves to blame.

It was not exactly a stellar day for the Royals yesterday.   There was a split-squad day-night sweep at the hands of the Angels and Giants, but actually seemed secondary to what transpired earlier in the day.

Of course, I am referring to the sudden announcement that pitching prospect Danny Duffy had essentially quit baseball.    Greg Schaum tells you all you need, or at least all there is, to know.   The young left-hander was in every-one’s Top 10 of Royals’ prospects, with a real chance at competing for a big league rotation spot as soon as next spring.  

While that damages the club’s long-term rotation plans, the recurring shoulder stiffness of Gil Meche might well devastate the current rotation plans.   Yesterday, as I sat in the Arby’s drive thru lane, I heard Soren Petro and Frank Boal on WHB radio discussing the Meche situation.   Both intimated that there was at least one school of thought during the off-season that Meche should have had surgery, but that Gil himself refused and intended just to ‘pitch through it’.  Let’s just say that bit of knowledge, coupled with the news that Meche’s next trip to the mound will be in a ‘controlled simulation’ this weekend.   Last time I checked, healthy pitchers don’t take their turn in the rotation on a back mound somewhere pitching in a controlled environment.  

That brings us back to the state of rotation right now, with or without a healthy Meche, and specifically the fifth starter spot.  

We have watched Kyle Davies, Robinson Tejeda, Kyle Farnsworth and now Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna all compete for this position, with none of them really doing anything to actually win the job.   The state of this competition is such that Kyle Davies is considered the front-runner based upon having ONE good outing this spring.  Given the situation, it begs the obvious question:  How often do the Royals really need a fifth starter?

Below, you will see that I have run the schedule, pitching the first four starters on normal rest and skipping the fifth starter where I could.  

***Table removed***

In April, all of the first four starters make five starts a piece, but the fifth starter only makes three.    In May, the schedule tightens up some.

***Table Removed***

 Even with just two off-days between April 23rd and the end of May, the Royals could still be in a position to use Zack Grienke 7 times in May, Gil Meche (please be healthy, please be healthy)and Luke Hochevar for six starts, Brian Bannister for five and the fifth starter for five more.  

In all, my May 31st, Greinke could have 12 starts under his belt compared to just 8 by whoever the fifth starter turns out to be.  Now, you can run the numbers using just a straight five man rotation and discover that Greinke would get 11 starts by the end of May without any juggling of the rotation at all.  The fifth starter, however, would start 10 times instead of just 8.   I do not think we even need to look up any stats to decide that more Greinke and less Davies is good for the team.

All of the above, of course, assumes that Gil Meche is healthy.   I would offer that if Meche is more injured than the club is letting on, then juggling the rotation to avoid the fifth spot is even more critical.   Keep in mind, an injured Meche means that the fifth starter is the runner-up in the current competition.

Gil Meche took the mound yesterday against the White Sox in his fourth start of Spring Training. He was pulled after four innings after giving up three runs on four hits while walking one and striking out one. After the game he said that he was having shoulder stiffness:

“I just kinda have some shoulder stiffness, you know. It’s nothing serious, through all the tests, checked me out, shoulder is strong but the tightness is there. I don’t feel real loose when I’m pitching.”

It is important to note that Meche missed the final 29 games of the 2009 season with shoulder trouble, so this is a little bit more concerning than merely some of the usual spring tightness that plenty of pitchers go through.  I wanted to see if Meche’s shoulder tightness had any effect on his fastball speeds. So I looked at every pitch which he threw that was classified as a fastball by mlb.com and charted the speeds over his four spring training starts. The left axis of the graph is speed in MPH and the bottom axis is the pitch count for the spring. The red vertical lines separate each outing.

There has been a noticeable decrease in his fastball speeds over time, and particularly in his last two starts. Part of that could be the fact that he knew he would be throwing more pitches, so he needed to pace himself. However in his post game comments when asked if he had felt the tightness previously he responded by saying:

“It’s been there a little bit.”


When he was asked if he was concerned he said:

“There’s no pain going on or anything, so I’m not worried about it.”


Ok, no big deal right? He isn’t feeling pain, he isn’t worried. It is just typical tightness and the team is being cautious with their #2 starter.

Let’s take a trip back in time. It’s April 4th 2009, Opening Day. Arizona Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb takes the hill and after four innings leaves the game with tightness in his right shoulder. The headline on MLB.com the next day was:

Webb not worried by shoulder stiffness

To contrast, here is the headline on Royals.com today:

Meche stiff after outing, but not worried

After throwing a bullpen session a few days later, Webb reported no pain. Sound familiar? Those four innings were the only innings Webb threw all season. I am not a doctor and I have no idea if what Meche has is anything close to what Webb had, but the point is that this is certainly something to worry about. Whether or not Meche is feeling any pain is irrelevant, whether he is personally worried or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is what is going on in his shoulder and inside those muscles and ligaments. That is what will have a profound effect on the Royals this season.

The biggest strength of the Royals team this year is likely to be the starting pitching. It is the part of the ball club which can keep them competitive. If anyone harbors any ideas that this team has a shot at contention, it is completely based upon the starting pitching being excellent. Zack Greinke is unquestionably the ace of the staff, but he can only go out every five days. Gil is supposed to be the guy who can go out in the wake of Greinke and put together a solid outing. Without him, the Royals will be forced to pick two guys from the group of Davies, Tejeda, Farnsworth and Osuna to be in the rotation rather than just one. That isn’t a particularly pleasing thought.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

Well, this was not exactly the best weekend in the history of the Royals, was it?

We will start with the good news from the weekend, which you can basically boil down to more good pitching. After Greinke’s outstanding start on Friday, Gil Meche pitched a healthy and effective two innings on Saturday (albeit taking 41 pitches to get through two innings). He was followed by a two inning-three strikeout performance from last year’s first round pick, Aaron Crow.

Saturday’s game also saw shutout appearances from Blake Wood, Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna and non-roster invitee Josh Rupe. We will ignore the almost total lack of offense, for now, as we have plenty of other ‘not all that positive’ news to discuss. The old baseball adage is that pitchers start out ahead of hitters, so we will just rely on that for another few games in hopes of seeing some sort of production with the bats.

Of course, it was injury news that caught all the headlines this weekend; especially since the Sunday game was rained out, taking with it a ‘B’ game that was going to be Joakim Soria’s spring debut as well as that of Willie Bloomquist (we were all waiting for that, I’m sure) and Mike Aviles.

Injury number one did not make a lot of news. To make room for newly acquired Gaby Hernandez, the Royals placed reliever Henry Barrera on the 60 day disabled list. Barrera’s 2009 was washed out with Tommy John surgery and he is still in “rehab” mode. Barrera can post seriously ridiculous strikeout numbers when he’s on and is eligible to come off the list in early June. All this really accomplished was to get Hernandez on the 40 man roster without having to drop anyone.

This weekend, we learned that prized left-handed prospect Danny Duffy is being shut down for the time being due to elbow stiffness. The Royals claim he is ‘medically sound’ and they are just being cautious. Other than being jaded by past history, I have no reason toquestion the team statement. Still, how many times have we heard a player ‘just needs a little rest’ and nextthing you know he’s under theknife?For now, we will simply have to hold our breath and hope we see Duffy ready to goin Northwest Arkansas this April.

While the seriousness of Duffy’s injury is in question, there is no doubting the injury to 2005 second round pick,Jeff Bianchi. After struggling with a back problem in his first two professional seasons andfighting some wrist issues in 2008, Bianchi finally broke out in 2009. He made the40 man roster and there was talk of him opening the season in AAA.Scratch all that: Bianchi is done for the season with reconstructive elbow surgery.

The silver lining here is that Bianchiwill likely be moved tothe 60 man disabled list any time, which opens up a40 man roster spot. While that does not help the Royals with the many players on the bubble who are out of options, it doesgive them the ability to add a non-roster player whoimpresses enough to make the 25 man roster or evensnag one last free agent at a bargain price without having to worry about dropping acurrent member of the roster. I know, I’m reaching here for something positive, but it is ‘something’.

The big news of the weekend was the broken thumb of Alex Gordon. Instead of talking about Alex getting a Saturday start at first base, we instead have this to discuss.

Gordon broke the thumb slidingheadfirst into second base (what are going to hear more on the Royals’ broadcasts this year? Broken bats or headfirst slides discussions?)and will be out three to four weeks. During that time, Alex will not be able to swing a bat or throw, so while he may be healthy in four weeks, he will not be baseball ready.

Here’s the silver lining.

I wrote just last week that Gordon may need a good spring training more than anyone else on this team in hopes of rebuilding his confidence. While missing all of spring training goes against that statement, having a couple of weeks of extended spring training and a few more on a rehab assignment in Omaha might be just the ticket. That assumes, and it is a big assumption, that the Royals don’t rush Gordon back to the majors. They have the luxury of time here and should use as much of April as possible getting Alex healthy and confident before bringing him back to the majors.

In addition, this injury gives Alberto Callaspo a regular playing spot to start the season. I fully believe that Dayton Moore made the Teahen for Getz/Fields trade fully intent on flipping Callaspo in the off-season. The offers, if there truly were any, did not meet expectations and hence the Royals have a crowded roster (not all bad, mind you).

With Callaspo playing third, presumably, to open the season, that allows the Royals do showcase him and Jose Guillen in the month of April. While it may be a longshot, it certainly cannot hurt one’s ability to move either player by having both playing everyday to start the season.

Worst case, the Royals reach the end of April with Gordon back on the roster with Callaspo and Guillen fighting for at-bats: basically right where they started off this spring. Best case, Guillen hits a little and Callaspo looks good at third base, increasing their marketability, however slightly.

Gordon going down is certainly not the best case scenario, but there are some minor benefits, too. Overall, for a non-contending team like Kansas City, this is not the worst thing that could happen. It buys them some time and flexibility in trying to improve the team.

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

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

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

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

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

Where will Alberto Callaspo play?

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

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

Is Billy Butler still motivated?

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

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

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

Who will set-up Soria?

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

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

Will Alex Gordon be ready for the season?

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

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

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

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

There have been some over/under type topics on other websites and comments, so apologies to anyone who thinks I stole their idea (it’s possible that I did!).

Here are ten numbers that I think will have a very distinct impact on what the Royals’ 2010 season might become. Hitting the overs on these would, without question, surpass all expectations anyone has for the team this coming season.

  • Zack Greinke’s Win Total

Wins are a horrible indicator of how good a starting pitcher really was (see Zack Greinke circa 2009), but if the Royals are going to have at least an acceptable season, Zack will need to pitch well and be rewarded for it. How many games did he leave last year after giving up two runs or less in six plus innings of work and not get a win? EIGHT.

The over/under for Greinke wins: 18

  • Gil Meche’s Innings

Another key to the Royals’ in 2010 is simply a healthy Gil Meche. You can spin it anyway you want to (and there is major portion of the Royals’ fanbase that simply refuses to believe Meche is good), but not a lot of pitchers can match Meche’s two year run through 2007 and 2008 for innings and performance. Comfortably settled in as the number two pitcher and hopefully healthy, Meche grinding up major innings with an earned run average in the upper threes is a necessity and a very real possibility.

The over/under for Meche innings: 200

  • Alex Gordon Home Runs

Will 2010 be the year that Alex actually breaks out? If not, the chances that there ever will be a breakout season will pretty much be gone. There are a lot of factors that define ‘break out’: on-base percentage, lower strikeouts, a decent average, but if Gordon hits with power and posts a big number in this area, I have to believe all those other things will have fallen in line, too.

The over/under for Gordon home runs: 27

  • Mike Aviles Games Played

Unlike so many other players, Aviles will not get to play unless he is actually performing (a novel concept, I know). Plus, playing in a number of games will mean he is truly healthy. Given that a number of organizational favorites that are between Mike and playing time, he will truly earn whatever appearances he is granted. The more Aviles the better, in my book.

Over/under on Aviles games played: 105

  • Chris Getz On-Base Percentage

I am on the Getz bandwagon, for better or worse. Assuming he is the everyday second baseman, which I think is almost pre-ordained, his ability to get on-base is key.

Over/under on Getz OBP: .360

  • Rick Ankiel Slugging Percentage

Ankiel is going to play, barring injury, and his calling card will be power. I don’t care if it’s doubles or home runs and I think we would be be delusional to believe whatever power Rick hits with would be accompanied by batting average and on-base percentage.

Over/under on Ankiel’s ‘Slug’: .500

  • Joakim Soria’s Saves

Again, in the world of pitching, saves is not a tremendous indicator of performance. When taken in terms of the team concept, your closer getting major numbers of saves is an indicator of good starting pitching, solid setup and at least enough offense to keep you in the game. In this case, Soria getting enough save opportunities (that he converts them is as safe a bet as there is) will mean that void that existed in innings seven and eight last year has been filled.

Over/under on Soria’s saves: 40

  • Billy Butler’s Doubles

We expect a lot out of Billy this year and with good reason. He might have ‘batting title’ potential. He might hit a ton of home runs. He might be the total hitting package. In the end, if Butler has a ton of doubles, everything else will likely take care of itself.

Over/under on Billy’s doubles: 55

  • Luke Hochevar’s ERA

How nice would it be for Hochevar to simply become solid? I’m not asking for the moon here, just for the former number one pick to settle as a nice middle of the rotation guy. We will assume that Hochevar will get the ball every fifth day this year, so posting something reasonable in this category would be big for the Royals.

Over/under on Hochevar’s earned run average: 4.30

  • Jose Guillen’s Games Played

You can hope that Jose is healthy, content and gets off to a good start, making him tradable or at least tolerable. However, since I tend to live in the real world, I think the best thing that can happen is that Jose simply does not play a lot for whatever reason. Unlike the other nine over/unders, this one is all about hitting the under.

Over/under on Guillen games played: 24

Make the first nine overs and hit the last under and Kansas City might not be a contender, but they at least will be interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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