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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jason Kendall

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This whole Jeckyll and Hyde thing with Brian Bannister cracks me up.  The day and night splits… It’s something that’s been going on for a long, long time.  Just for fun, here are his career splits:

Night – 5.43 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 1.68 SO/BB
Day – 3.87 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.00 SO/BB

And his splits from this year:

Night – 7.66 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 1.65 SO/BB
Day – 2.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 2.25 SO/BB

I love it that people (i.e. reporters) feel the need to get to the bottom of this anomaly.  Just because Bannister is a smart guy, he’s supposed to have the answers.  Hilarious.

I’m not a smart guy, but here’s my guess at the answer:

It’s a strange coincidence.  You know, sometimes things just happen.  Did you know that Bannister has been much better at home this year than on the road?  Look at this:

Home – 3.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.56 SO/BB
Road – 7.30 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 1.47 SO/BB

So he struggles at night, yet he was at home where he’s thrived this year.  Someone needs to figure this out!

This is just a bunch of noise.  Pick your split to fit your game story.  I suppose if Bannister had dominated the White Sox, we would have read something about how he likes sleeping in his own bed.

Look, Bannister is a back of the rotation starter.  His xFIP is 4.62, which is right in line with his career mark of 4.82.  He generally allows a bunch of base runners and has difficulty keeping them from crossing the plate.  A full 31% of all runners are scoring against him this year.  And that’s among the best rate of his career.

Last year, he kept the ball down and enjoyed some success.  This year, he’s elevating a bit more and has been touched for about three home runs for every two games. That’s not good.  Not good at all.  His strikeouts are down.  His walks are up.  He’s not having a good year.  Yet, he’s having a Brian Bannister kind of year.

He’ll have good starts.  He’ll have bad starts.  Some will come during the day.  Some will happen at night.  Based on his skill set, he’ll have more bad than good – no matter the time of day.  Not by a ton.  But a few to make a difference.  Enough to keep him in the back of a rotation.

Let’s quit trying to pinpoint Bannister’s issues with meaningless splits.

– Speaking of meaningless splits, did you know the Royals are something like 1-10 this year on Saturday.  Did you know if Bannister starts a night game on Saturday on the road, the universe could explode?

– Kendall Watch:  Fair is fair, so I’m obligated to point out Kendall has strung together a handful of decent offensive games and is now hitting .222/.301/.259 as a number two hitter.  Maybe I should give him a break since his OBP is above .300.  Plus, he only has one fewer extra base hit than Jose Guillen since June 3.

– Apparently, Guillen’s power has been suffering due to a blister on his foot.  So he’s been playing more outfield.  Makes sense.

– Blake Wood is getting a swing and a miss in around 7% of all strikes thrown.  Yet he enticed Paul Konerko to flail at three pitches last night.  That was kind of fun.

The Ned Yost Bump is officially over.  Part of it is the team’s natural regression.  They aren’t a .500 team.  They just aren’t.  It was nice of them to win 17 of Yost’s first 32 games in charge or whatever, but that wasn’t going to last.  They’ve now rolled off five straight losses to teams from the National League East.  I thought the Royals kicked NL ass.  Guess not anymore.

– I was mildly impressed by Anthony Lerew on Tuesday.  He gave up a couple of solo home runs (which apparently is how the Royals plan to handle the Nats in this series) but worked out of his only real rough patch in the fourth by allowing only one run. I wouldn’t want him making 30 odd starts for this team, but he did a nice job in a spot start.

He threw 71% of his fastballs for strikes which was setting up a few swing and misses on his change.  He mixed in a handful of sliders, but otherwise he relied on his fastball/change combo.  His fastest pitch on the night was his second to last offering – a 93 mph fastball to Alberto Gonzalez that was fouled off.  Mix a rain delay in, and it was a good start for Lerew.

The Royals have been lucky.  They’ve received some quality starts from Bruce Chen and Lerew while Luke Hochevar and Gil Meche have been on the DL.  OK… I’ll point out the obvious:  Chen and Lerew have outpitched the guys they replaced.

That’s what you would call a bonus.

– Kendall Watch: In 77 plate appearances since assuming the number two spot in the lineup on June 3, Jason Kendall is hitting .176/.237/.191. The 12 RBI are nice, but he’s made three outs on the bases during this time and scored only three runs.

If Ned Yost wants me to turn against him, his diabolical plan is working.

There is just no reason for him to a) play Kendall every freaking day and b) hit him second.  Enough.

– Jose Guillen picked up a pair of hits on Tuesday and has now hit in 17 consecutive games.  If you follow the Royals PR people and the beat writers on Twitter, they’re always quick to point out these hitting streaks.  For some reason, that’s annoying me these days.

Look, I appreciate that Guillen has raised his batting average almost 30 points this month.  It’s great that he’s getting on base at a .385 clip during this streak.  However THE STREAK glosses over a very important fact:

Guillen’s power has once again disappeared.  Vanished.

Yes, he’s swinging a hot bat.  A hot singles bat.  This month he’s collected just five extra base hits – two doubles, a triple and a pair of home runs.  His last extra base hit was back on June 11.  His last home run was June 6.

So while it’s great that Guillen is stringing together a bunch of hits, we need to keep this in perspective.  Something is sapping his power.  I’m thinking he won’t start on Wednesday (day game, Strasburg pitching… all that) but playing in the field for five consecutive days is going to take a toll as well.  Is it a coincidence that his power took a vacation when Guillen started playing in the field?  I don’t know about that, but in this case, the numbers don’t lie.

I still think the impending Guillen Winter is going to be particularly harsh.  I figure once his streak ends, he’ll go completely into the tank.  If there are any trade offers out there after the Royals have “showcased” him in right, they have to pull the trigger.  Take whatever you can get and move on.

– Wednesday is Strasburg day.  I’m looking forward to this game.  I’ve watched a couple of Strasburg’s starts and the hype is justified.  It will be interesting to see how the Royals fare.  Let’s keep expectations low.

Well that was certainly interesting.

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

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

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

That’s why they play the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….player number eight:  the middle infielder.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his short tenure, Yost has largely been golden.

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

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

 Luke Hochevar had a second strong start yesterday for the Royals as they finally found a way to beat the Rangers.   After his first start of the year, I wrote this post and now we find ourselves wondering if Luke can string not two starts together, but three.   That’s progress, but not the topic of today’s column.

Instead, with the Royals winning eight of their last thirteen games, it raises a question that periodically gets discussed throughout the media, amongst fans and, of course, the blogosphere:  how many players away are the Royals? 

By ‘away’, I refer to being in contention for the playoffs, playing meaningful games in September and generally being in the conversation as one of the better teams in the league.   By definition, ‘away from what?’  means the 25 guys on the roster right now.  Forget about the farm system, contracts and tradability for now, and even ignore specific players.  Instead look at the current roster and think about how many and what type of players would you need to put on the roster to reach contention.  

Currently, the Royals rank first in the American League (and all of baseball actually) with a .280 team batting average, yet they are just 8th in runs scored.  Kansas City is tied for fifth in the AL in on-base percentage and also fifth in slugging.   That all adds up to be ranked 6th in OPS, although the Royals do sport the lowest walk percentage in the league.

Kansas City’s starting pitching ranks twelfth in the American League in earned run average, eleventh in WHIP, thirteenth in strikeout to walk ratio and tenth in innings pitched.   The relief corp currently ranks thirteenth in ERA, thirteenth in WHIP, twelfth in strikeout to walk ratio and a respectable (and surprising) seventh in left on base percentage.

In the field, the Royals have committed more errors than all but three teams in the American League.   They rank fifth in Revised Zone Rating, are tied for last in outs made outside of zone and eleventh in UZR/150.

So, there’s your team right now.  What does it need to become a contender?

STARTING PITCHING

Zack Greinke may not win the Cy Young this year, but he still is a legitimate number one starting pitcher, which is a pretty good place to start.  If Gil Meche was pitching like he did in 2007 and 2008, I would be tempted to make an argument that the Royals could contend with the starting five they have right now.   Sadly, Meche is not that guy anymore and I just glanced at the paragraph above that showed the Royals’ rotation near the bottom of every category.

Given that, without question the Royals need another starting pitcher – a solid number two starter type.  That’s ONE.

Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies are an okay back three of a rotation,but if the intent is to stand toe to toe with the league’s big boys, they probably need someone better than either Bannister or Davies.   While the addition of a legitimate number two starter makes this rotation competitive, to truly make a solid playoff bid, a starter to slot in towards the back of the rotation is necessary.   That’s TWO.

BULLPEN

Like the rotation, having Joakim Soria at the back of your pen to close out games is a heck of a place to start.   In front of Soria, you have to like the looks of rookie Blake Wood, but other than that I can’t say I’m in love with anyone else.   That said, how many really solid late inning relievers does a contending team need?  

Frankly, in a seven man pen, the Royals can probably fill out three more spots with guys they already have.   Of course, the spots I am filling with existing personnel are the last three spots in the pen.  That means the Royals need to add two quality relievers to team with Wood to bridge gap between the starters and Soria.   That is player numbers THREE and FOUR.

INFIELD AND DESIGNATED HITTER

I am lumping DH in with the infield because two of the Royals’ best hitters, Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler, currently play the infield and neither ever makes me feel comfortable with a glove on one hand and a ball headed towards them.   That said, both of those guys can hit and, in the case of Butler, really, really hit.   Speaking of hitting, Mike Aviles is rapidly proving that 2009 was the fluky season, not 2008 and that gives the Royals three good bats on their infield right now.

With four infield positions and designated hitter to fill, the Royals pretty obviously need two more bats.   One of those hitters needs to be a power, impact type hitter.    Butler is going to hit for average, contend for the league lead in doubles and pound out 15-20 home runs per year, but Kansas City needs someone behind him that will routinely blast 30 balls over the fence and still be a respectable on-base guy, too.   That’s player number FIVE.

The second player probably needs to be a middle infielder who is a good defender and a solid hitter.   The Royals don’t need an All-Star here, but a guy who can, say, hit like a David DeJesus but be a plus defender at one of the two premium defensive positions.    Adding that player is number SIX.

Now, you might be tempted to say the Royals need one more here and I would entertain that argument (Callaspo is the guy who does not quite fit despite his ability to hit), but adding two better players would be enough to make this team a contender.

OUTFIELD

I have to admit that I do like all three guys the Royals have in the outfield right now.   Scott Podsednik is not great, but he isn’t bad and plays hard (I’m willing to ignore the horrific pick-off yesterday).  Mitch Maier is solid and David DeJesus, who I discussed on Monday, is better than most Royals’ fans want to admit.   That said, that trio is not good enough.

There are a lot of contract issues coming up in the outfield, not to mention the return of Rick Ankiel at some point, but we are taking that out of the equation.   For right now, one of any of those guys is okay and two might be alright if they were sandwiched around a true star.  You know, Podsednik and DeJesus on either side of a healthy Carlos Beltran is probably a ‘contending team’ outfield, but Beltran is not healthy, not a Royal and guys like that just don’t come around everyday.

If we are being realistic, the Royals need a true corner outfielder with pop  and an excellent defensive centerfielder who can hold his own at the plate.   Welcome in player numbers SEVEN and EIGHT.

CATCHER

Okay, I saved catcher for last because I really didn’t know what to do here.  Hard as it is to believe, IF the Royals added the EIGHT players above, Jason Kendall probably is good enough.  Heck, I know he’s good enough to bat ninth on a team with the above additions.   

The biggest problem with this position is that outside of Joe Mauer and maybe a handful of others, every team’s catcher has warts.   Some can really field, but not hit.   Some can hit, but not field.   Some of the great blockers of wild pitches can’t throw worth a lick and some great throwers cannot call a decent game.   Even though this is something of a journey through fantasy, I can’t ignore that there are not any real solutions to great improvement across the board at the catching position.

Give me my eight players specified above and I will live with Jason Kendall and his contract.

THE SUM TOTAL

Eight players away from contention seems about right to me:  not overly pessimistic and not overly optimistic, either.  

Of those eight players, we are really looking for three pretty big time talents:  the number two starter, a corner outfielder with pop and an infielder (corner probably) with an impact bat, as well.   Those are the tough ones, obviously.

The number four starter (three would be better, but a fourth will do) is doable and, despite the Royals’ recent failings, finding two competent and steady middle relievers is not like finding the New World.    In fact, filling these three spots is probably much easier than finding the two plus defenders we need to man one middle infield position and centerfield.

TRUST THE PROCESS?

I have not said ‘trust the process’ without sarcasm in over a year, but I am doing so today.  Should we/do we?  Well, my guess is that you have already been thinking about names as you read through the above.  

Number 2 starter – Mike Montgomery

Number 4 starter – Aaron Crow

Middle reliever – Blaine Hardy (recently promoted to AAA)

Middle reliever – Louis Coleman, Greg Holland or any of a number of promising arms  in the minors

Impact bat infielder – Mike Moustakas

Power outfield bat – Alex Gordon

Centerfielder – Derrick Robinson

Middle infielder – Ahh, here’s a snag.   Is it Getz, Johnny Giavotella or an injured Jeff Bianchi?   Do you forego defense and install Kila Ka’aihue at DH or first, Moutakas at third and live with Callaspo at second?   Tough one, here.

All that said, if you trust the process or even kind of half believe, the Royals might actually be able to fill seven of those eight slots internally and do so not in eight to ten years, but in two.   We have done all that without mentioning Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers or Tim Melville, which is probably optimistic, but impressive nonetheless.

While that sounds fairly positive, we all know that the world is not going to sit still while the Royals wait for ‘their eight guys’ to develop.   Contracts will come up and injuries will happen and, let’s face it, great prospects don’t all become great players and good prospects often don’t make it at all.

On one hand, eight players away does not seem like all that many.  On the other, eight players might well seem like an eternity from contention – especially when two years from now, Zack Greinke’s contract expires.

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

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

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

I found something extremely interesting.

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

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

What can we glean from this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Kendall.

If there’s one thing us Royal fans like to do (besides watch old videocassettes of vintage games) it’s to keep tabs on departed players.  We can’t help it.  It’s part of Our Process… The guys who got away.

So you probably know how our two former catchers are doing.  In a word: Excellent.  Check out their numbers along with the new Royals catcher (for this year and next!) Jason Kendall:

Miguel Olivo – .284/.348/.549, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 23.5% SO%
John Buck – .279/.336/.595, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 11 2B

Jason Kendall – .286/.351/.336, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 7 2B

Photo courtesy Minda Haas/flickr

Ahem.

On base wise, Kendall has the edge.  That’s the only place he has the edge.  And I’m pretty certain he’s not going to own that edge for long.  Since his hot start ended he’s hit .250/.310/.300 in his last 87 plate appearances.

I think everyone was certain he wouldn’t match Buck and Olivo offensively.  Defensively… That’s where Kendall was supposed to help this team.  Let’s look and see how that’s working.

Four catchers have appeared behind the dish for more than 300 innings this year, and Kendall leads them all with 337.1 innings played (through Wednesday’s games.)  He leads all catchers with 16 caught stealing.  That’s great!  But he also leads the league with 44 steals against.  That’s bad!

Hang on a sec and let’s try to put this in the proper context.

Since Kendall is the dean of American League catchers when it comes to playing time, it’s unfair to look at his 44 stolen bases against and pass judgement.  Same can be said for his 16 caught stealings.  He has played so much (started every game but two and has appeared in 92.6% of all defensive innings for the Royals) that counting stats like this will be extremely skewed.

So let’s normalize things, so to speak.  By taking the total of stolen bases and caught stealings, multiplying them by nine and dividing that number by total innings played in the field we come up with what I call Stolen Base Attempts per 9 (SBA/9).  This doesn’t pass judgement on who is good (or bad) at throwing out base stealers.  It’s a simple way to measure how often baserunners try to take advantage of a particular catcher.  My theory is one of perception:  Base stealers will run on catchers they perceive as having a weak arm.  Thus, the catchers with the highest rate of SBA/9 are the catchers who many believe have the worst arms.

Here are the top five catchers this year in SBA/9.

Kendall – 1.6
Martinez – 1.4
Napoli – 1.3
B. Molina – 1.2
Doumit – 1.1

Quite simply, runners believe they can swipe a base with Kendall behind the plate.  The funny thing is, that’s not necessarily true.  Kendall has caught 27% of all would be base stealers, which is a decent rate.  It’s an example of where perception doesn’t match reality.  Kendall’s caught stealing rate is just a hair below the current league average of 28%.  (Honestly, I don’t know why more runners aren’t taking advantage of Doumit.  The guy is horrible at cutting down base stealers.  He’s caught only three of 35 runners.)

We know how horrible John Buck and Miguel Olivo were at stopping balls in the dirt last year.  The conventional wisdom in replacing the Scare Pair with Kendall was that our catchers would stop giving away random, extra bases.  While Kendall is better at blocking the ball in the dirt, my initial thought when looking at SBA/9 is that whatever gains the Royals make in preventing the extra base via the passed ball or wild pitch, they’re giving back (and then some) because the opposition is running against Kendall at seemingly every opportunity.

To see if this is in fact the case, let’s look at how often base runners advance with certain catchers behind the plate.  For that, we’ll look at past balls, wild pitches and stolen bases.  Of course, not all of this is on the catcher.  If Gil Meche is bouncing balls on the left side of the plate to a right handed hitter, there’s not a lot a catcher can do except go to the backstop and pick up the ball.  Still, we heard all winter about how great Kendall was behind the plate at controlling the running game, this is part of that.

Again, the formula is normalized to eliminate the handicap of too much playing time.  Here are the top five catchers in bases taken per nine

Martinez – 1.68
Napoli – 1.67
B. Molina – 1.53
Kendall – 1.50
Buck – 1.29

There’s Buck.  I knew if I ran enough defensive numbers (and focused on the negative) he’d end up on one of these lists.

Basically, Kendall is giving runners three free bases every two games.  Most of that damage does come from the massive number of attempted steals.  He’s allowed just 12 passed balls and wild pitches.  Just for fun, here are the leaders in the PBWP/9 category:

Napoli – 0.73
Buck – 0.60
Olivo – 0.53
B. Molina – 0.51
Marson – 0.51

That’s more like it.  Of course Buck and Olivo are making more trips to the backstop than anyone not named Mike Napoli.  Kendall owns a 0.32 PBWP/9 which ranks him seventh best in the league among catchers who have logged at least 220 innings behind the plate.  That’s solid, and exactly as advertised.

It’s the enormous amount of stolen bases that are hurting Kendall defensively.  For the amount of time he’s played, he’s doing a great job blocking the ball in the dirt.  However, there’s a perception that you can run on him.  And for the post part, that perception is true.

It’s difficult to look at what the former Royal catchers are making this year because the collective bargaining agreement limits the depth of a pay cut when a player remains with his old team.  For the Royals to have gotten one (or both) back at the rates they eventually signed for – Olivo signed for one year at $2 million (with a $2.5 million club option for 2011) while Buck signed for one year at $2 million – the team would have had to have signed them as free agents.

Instead, the Royals threw a total of $6 million at Kendall for two years.  They paid a higher rate for what amounts to less overall production offensively. And defensively as far as allowing the free base, it’s really too close to call.

Process Fail.

In this game:

- The Royals fell into a 8-0 hole after three innings.

- Scott Podsednik hit one into the upper deck.

- Jason Kendall drove one to the base of the wall in right-center.

- Yuniesky Betancourt walked.  Twice.

- After a Rangers pitcher walked back to back hitters, Willie Bloomquist took two cuts at pitches out of the zone and then looked at strike three right down the middle. (OK, that wasn’t crazy.)

- Dave Owen almost caused Mike Aviles’ hamstring to explode by doing a funky stop and go kind of thing as he was rounding third. (That wasn’t crazy either.)

- KILA MONSTER.

- Joakim Soria gave up back to back home runs for the first time since forever.

- Neftali Feliz is disgustingly filthy.

It was like some crazy heavyweight title fight.  I half expected the ghost of Howard Cosell to make an appearance.  It would have been appropriate.

Even though the Royals lost in just a horrific manner, that was the most fun I’ve had watching a game since last May.  (Remember when they came back against the Indians with four runs in the ninth?  Remember how they then lost 16 of their next 20?  Sorry.)

Personally, I think Trey was guilty of a little over management by not letting Good Robinson Tejeda finish the eighth.  It’s not second guessing… I brought it up in the ESPN Baseball Tonight chat the moment he pulled Tejeda.  It’s difficult to argue that bringing in Soria at any point is a bad move, but Tejeda had thrown only 14 pitches.  I’m not going to scream and carry on that Hillman cost the Royals the game – he didn’t – Soria made the pitches.  I’m just saying I don’t understand why he felt a need to bring his closer in at that particular moment.

We’ve been agitating all year that Hillman needs to use Soria more in key (or high leverage) situations.  Two outs in the eighth with a one run lead on the road certainly qualifies.  However, there was no danger at that point and time… No runners on, and you had a pitcher who was dealing.

Hillman gets second guessed in some quarters (which I suppose I’m doing now) but that’s because many of his moves are indefensible.  All managers come with a certain amount of goodwill and trust.  When that gets frittered away (like it has in Hillman’s case) even the right moves come under scrutiny.  It’s a large part of what makes Hillman a lame duck.

He went with his best pitcher and got burned.  It happens to managers all the time.  But when you’ve lost the trust of the fanbase, you’re going to catch heat no matter what.

In the bottom of the first this afternoon, Chris Getz was hit by a pitch, stole second and was bunted over to third by Jason Kendall.  I expect the announcement that  Getz is the new lead-off hitter, Kendall will bat second and David DeJesus will bat 7th to be forthcoming.  

I kid because….well, because there’s no crying in baseball.

Anyway, I thought I would chime in with a few random notes and thoughts this afternoon, if only because it is better than working.

From the ‘try again, only this time do it right’ section:

The Royals announced yesterday, to no one’s surprise, that Alex Gordon would open the season on the disabled list.   Alex likely will not really be able to handle all the tasks of playing a baseball game in the modern era until at or shortly before April 5th and will certainly need extended spring training.   Unlike last year’s hip injury that the Royals seemed to rush Gordon back from with dire results, they have a chance here to keep Alex on the disabled list for the majority of April, making sure he is both healthy and prepared to play.   The organization could then run Gordon through a twenty-day rehab assignment in Omaha, where he might be able to build some confidence and momentum .  

At this point, I cannot imagine that Gordon is anything but a mentally fragile ballplayer who would benefit from every day the Royals can bleed out of the rules before being inserted back into the everyday major league lineup.

From the ‘hindsight is 20-20′ department:

Alex Romero remains an available free agent signee.   Click on his name and eyeball the minor league numbers the outfielder has piled up.   Doesn’t he seem like someone more valuable than Brian Anderson?   Of course, the organization could have been content with Mitch Maier as their fourth outfielder, but that ship has sailed.

This has been hashed over a number of times, but with names like Fred Lewis and Jason Repko now becoming available for probably not a whole lot in return, not to mention Romero, you have to wonder if Dayton Moore’s outfielder shopping extravaganza of Podsednik, Anderson and Ankiel might have been a worse miscalculation than overpaying for Jason Kendall.    Kendall, by the way, may turn out to be of value behind the plate and in the clubhouse, but probably, with some patience, would have eventually signed for a couple of million less.

From the ‘don’t read anything into it’ section:

Mike Aviles is starting for the second straight day at shortstop this afternoon.   While that gets all of us a little excited at the prospect of the Royals actually being savvy enough to realize Aviles (if healthy) is a far better option than Yuniesky Betancourt, keep in mind that Yuni is away from camp for the next three days working out some ‘citizenship issues’.

I think a more likely scenario is that the Royals trade Willie Bloomquist in the next two weeks and break camp with Betancourt, Aviles and Chris Getz on the roster.   How likely that is, I’m not sure, but it is more plausible than Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman benching Betancourt.

We are now into the fourth inning in Arizona, where Edgar Osuna gave up four runs in three innings:  all with two outs.   A guy named Mike Sweeney has homered, Blake Wood has balked and Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler have done exactly what three and four hitters are supposed to do:  drive in runs.   I kind of forgot what that looked like over the years.

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