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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Joakim Soria

After winning four straight games in their last at-bat, one had to figure the Royals might be due for a rather gut wrenching loss.   The predictable randomness of baseball almost demands that if you spend the better part of a week beating up on other teams’ relievers then some team is sure to beat the crap out of your own.

The Royals’ bullpen, after allowing just four runs over twenty-three innings was tagged for eight runs in just over five innings by the White Sox on what originally appeared to be the makings of an exceptional Wednesday afternoon.  

While that may have been coming, that it happened after a second straight masterful performance out of Jeff Francis and a solid offensive game handed a three run lead to Joakim Soria was the true shock.   Even more-so, Soria recorded the first two outs of the ninth inning before allowing three singles, a walk and a double to not only blow the save, but put his team behind.

Bullpen meltdowns happen, even to very good bullpens, but if you want to register some concern it might be in the rather unimpressive 19 strikeouts in 28 innings of relief work thus far in 2011.   Here is a number for you:  THREE.   That is the number of bullpen strikeouts registered by non-rookies this season.   Given that the two best relievers on the Royals roster, Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda, traditionally average a strikeout per inning one has to hope  that is simply a statistical anomaly of small sample sizes.

On the subject of small sample sizes, it has felt like the Royals have filled the bases with runners in their first six games and done a somewhat sketchy job of scoring said runners.  In fact, including Wednesday’s loss, Kansas City has put 94 runners on base and scored 35 of them.    That 37.2% of runners scored is well ahead of the club’s 2010 pace of 33.1% and the major league average from last season of 35.6%.  

Those numbers could certainly be dramatically effected by even skewed date from just one game, but if the Royals could hold this four percentage advantage over last year that would translate into upwards of 80 more runs scored over 2010.  That number assumes no increase in the number of baserunners or decrease in the number of outs made on the bases.   Bump up the gross number and drive them in at a higher percentage and well, obviously, the Royals could venture into a truly impactful run producing territory.   Enough runs to take some pressure off a shaky starting rotation and to, on occasion, overcome a bullpen implosion.

Truthfully, the last five games did put an incredible strain on the bullpen.   Twenty-five innings over five games (even with a day off) is asking a lot even from an eight man pen.   Heck, being perfect through five straight outings is actually quite a lot to ask even from Joakim Soria.   Of course, given that he went 24 straight appearances without allowing a run at one point last season, it is still unexpected when Soria is tagged.    In this case, he was blasted for more runs than in any other outing in his entire career.

Do not get too discouraged, however.  Mariano Rivera was tagged for four runs in on July 16th, 1999 and gave up ONE more run the entire rest of the 1999 season.   He gave up three runs on June 6, 2009 and then just FOUR more the rest of that season.   In fact, the number of three and four run innings allowed by Rivera throughout his illustrious career surprised me and pointed out just how absolutely consistent Soria has been and, even though he has just one strikeout thus far in 2011, likely will continue to be.

The Royals have lived in the realm of comebacks and extra innings thus far in 2011 and the truth is, we don’t have any idea what this team is or will be, other than extremely interesting.   That alone, makes 2011 a season worth watching.

The Kansas City Royals rotation isn’t going to be great this year. That’s pretty much a given. It’s not, however going to be as bad as some hyperbolic fans and media would lead you to believe. If someone suggests this rotation is going to be historically bad, then that’s a good sign you should look elsewhere for well thought out baseball discussion. However, there is plenty of merit to the idea that the Rotation isn’t going to be the backbone of this year’s team.

The Kansas City Royals bullpen however, is looking like it’s going to be very good. Having the best relief pitcher in baseball alone is enough to ensure it won’t be a terrible pen. Beyond Joakim Soria, the Royals have a nice group of players including Robinson Tejeda, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress and Aaron Crow. It’s not a stretch to say that the Royals have one of the best bullpens in the American League.

This raises an interesting question. Can a team have a decent pitching staff with a lights out bullpen and a poor rotation?

In 2010 the average American League team ERA was 4.14 and the average team pitched about 1,444 innings of which about two thirds were thrown by the starting rotation. Using those numbers, I constructed the following table. The left column represents various ERA’s for the starting pitchers. The right column is the corresponding ERA that the relievers would have to put up in order for the team to have an ERA of 4.14. As a note of reference, the average AL starting rotation had a 4.26 ERA last year, while the average bullpen had a 3.89.

SERA RERA
6.00 0.41
5.75 0.91
5.50 1.41
5.25 1.91
5.00 2.41
4.75 2.91
4.50 3.41
4.25 3.92
4.00 4.42
3.75 4.92
3.50 5.42

The bullpen has to be really, really good to make up for a poor starting rotation.  It takes a historically good bullpen to make up for a pretty bad rotation. So, in order to be competitive with a poor rotation, a team would have to have not only a good bullpen, but shift more innings to the bullpen. They could also have an offense good enough to overcome a below-average pitching staff, or some combination of those.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com. He also writes a weekly post at The Lawrence Journal-World.

For various reasons, I have been pretty much out of the Royals’ loop for the better part of the past two weeks.   Here’s what I apparently missed:

  • Ned Yost views Jarrod Dyson as the best lead-off option on the team and that no one else really fits the role.  Of course, even Ned intimates that Dyson has little chance to make the roster.   I pointed out the void of a true lead-off hitter within the organization earlier this month.  Is it good or bad to have an opinion much the same as the Royals’ manager?
  • Chris Getz’s head is okay now.   Although I kind of have a weird fascination with Getz, that feeling will last exactly as long as it takes the Royals to call up Mike Moustakas.   At that point, Getz will either stop playing or start taking time away from a far superior hitting Mike Aviles.  When that happens, fascination will no longer describe my feelings towards this player.
  • Everett Teaford’s truck was stolen.   That’s a shame.
  • Joakim Soria wants a new nickname.   I can see his logic, given what is going on in his native Mexico, but color be completely bored with this topic.   Nicknames, at least non-sarcastic ones, have never really been all that interesting to me and maybe, just maybe, when you are as good as Joakim Soria we could just refer to him as, well, Joakim Soria.
  • A number of pitchers had ‘the ball come out of their hands real good’ and a similar number of position players reported to camp ‘in the best shape of their lives’.
  • Of course, as Craig detailed yesterday, Jason Kendall confirmed my feeling that he is pretty much of a clown (not the funny type, mind you).   Listen, I don’t have any fond feelings for Nick Wright, but there was nothing in his questioning of Mike Moustakas that warranted intervention from anyone.   I guess we can thank Kendall for making just another ‘softball question-cliche answer’ standard baseball interview something interesting.   Certainly, what Kendall did is no worse than what George Brett did to a young television reporter on the golf course last year (or was it two?).   The difference is that George Brett is in the Hall of Fame and Jason Kendall never will be:  nobody said life was fair.

I guess all this column really does is remind all of us how non-eventful this time of year can be.    All that changes on Sunday as the games start.   You can make the argument that spring training stats do not matter, but spring training games certainly do.  

Count me as ready for some actual baseball.

And finally, the Ned Yost over/under stolen base contest.   In Tuesday’s Kansas City Star, Yost talked about the Royals renewed emphasis on baserunning (the team has been a woeful unit on the base paths the past few years) and in that article offered up the following thoughts on stolen base abilities:

  • Mike Aviles: 25 to 30
  • Lorenzo Cain: 25
  • Alcides Escobar: 40
  • Jeff Francouer: 15
  • Chris Getz: 40

“You just have to know how to do it.   You just have to work at it.” (Ned Yost via Kansas City Star)

Alright, which of the above (if any) reach those numbers?   And how many caught stealing do they incur getting there?

Boy, a guy leaves town for three days and he comes back to find that the Royals have signed Pedro Feliz.  

To be fair, the Royals are saying all the right things about the Feliz signing.   He is a ‘veteran presence in camp’, ‘insurance against injuries’ and ‘will not stand in the way of Mike Moustakas’.     All of which makes some sense, especially when just a year ago, injuries to Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon left the Royals with Willie Bloomquist as their opening day third baseman.  

Feliz comes with reputation of a good fielding third baseman (a career UZR/150 of 14.9), although he was below average statistically in 2010.   Offensively, Pedro does not offer much (career line of .250/.288/.410) other than some occasional power.   His slugging percentage has been in nearly perpetual decline for seven seasons:  not encouraging when that skill is all Feliz offers with the bat.

Before we get too worked up, however, this is a minor league deal.  An $800,000 minor league deal, mind you, but minor league nonetheless.   Almost all these types of contracts have some sort of deadline date during the spring in which the team can cut the player loose and not have to pay much of the contract amount, so this is, as Dayton Moore said, ‘a no risk’ deal….theoretically.

Anyway, Feliz aside, it is a new month and time for another draft of the Royals’ Opening Day roster.   Gil Meche juggled the situation some for us and we now have Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen in our rotation.   Only Royals’ fans could be comforted by those two names, but we are who we are.     We are close enough to spring training that this exercise is becoming less guess and more fact, so let’s break it down.

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

Four months ago, I was certain Dayton Moore could not resist the allure of a veteran back-up catcher, but has managed to do so.   Some of that may have to do with reports that Jason Kendall is ‘ahead of schedule’.   I’m sure all of you are anxiously counting the days until his return.   Short of every other pitch going to the backstop with Pena and May behind the plate, I don’t think we’ll see any surprises here.

FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER – Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue

About the only question here is who will be where.   There has been some mention of Butler spending a lot more time at DH, but we will just have to see how it all plays out.   Everyone likes big, tall first basemen target wise, so I like Kila at first and Billy at DH, but won’t throw many fits if turns out to be the other way around.   My guess is they alternate and never really decide.   We know Billy will hit, we don’t know if Kila will, but at last we get to find out.

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

Mike Aviles is being ‘converted to third base full-time’, so that pretty much answers any questions here.   The Royals are going to take some time to find out what they have in Getz, which is a luxury they can afford this season.   My guess is the length of the ‘look’ is equal to the time it takes Mike Moustakas to hit 10 home runs in Omaha.  Once Moustakas is up, Aviles will likely knock Getz off second and that will be that.   Both Nick and I have a somewhat irrational ‘like’ of Getz, so we’ll be watching his progress (or lack thereof) closely.

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Hopefully he looks more like the 12th best prospect in baseball than the guy who used his jersey last year in Milwaukee.   Either way, we will see 150+ games out of him at this position.

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

This is likely Aviles’ job to lose as the club is horrified of Wilson Betemit’s glove and should be horrified of Pedro Feliz’s bat.   The Royals never really want to believe in Aviles, but he generally makes them, so I expect Mike to get the Opening Day nod here and hopefully steady duty until Moustakas gets the call.

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

The Royals have barely mentioned Betemit’s name this off-season.  I don’t know if they are afraid to jinx his outstanding offensive performance of 2010 by talking about it or simply don’t believe in him.   Although Wilson has played just about everywhere defensively, he is pretty much a butcher wherever – better than Esteban German, but then most of us are.   Look for Betemit to get some time at third and in the DH/first base rotation as well:  particularly against tough lefthanders in place of Kila.  

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

Lot’s of talk here, but I think the Royals know they have to give Alex one last shot to play everyday and, well, dominate.   It would be ludicrous for a team destined to win 74 games or less to not give Gordon all the at-bats here.

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

I know, you don’t like it.  I don’t like it, either, but it seems like destiny to me.   I just have a hunch that Lorenzo Cain starts the season in AAA.   That situation is annoying, but not the end of the world.   Kind of like having Melky Cabrera as your centerfielder.    Cain has this job by June if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

You’re all just a little curious to see what happens here, aren’t you?   Given Francouer’s ability to stay healthy, you are likely to get 160 games of this in 2011.

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

I can actually envision the team keeping Jarrod Dyson and using him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.   You do not see a lot of that anymore, but it almost makes some sense.   Probably, and barring a lust for Pedro Feliz which is very possible, Blanco and Maier both make this team to start with.   Either one of them probably gives us every bit of what Melky Cabrera does, but they don’t have ‘the name’.   Once Moustakas and Cain get the call, there is a real chance neither one is on the big league roster.   My advise to Gregor and Mitch:  be good savers.

STARTING ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies

This got easy in a hurry after Francis and Chen were signed, plus Davies’ rather amazing inking of a $3.2 million deal.   Sean O’Sullivan and others will get a courtesy look, but this is almost certainly your starting five.   The above listing is my guess at the order.

BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland, Nathan Adcock

I have to be honest, the end of that list is pretty much a guess coupled with my disdain for seeing Jesse Chavez and Kanekoe Texiera pitch.   After thinking Tejeda would be traded this off-season, it appears that will not happen and he, along with Wood and that Soria kid are locks.   After that I think Collins and Jeffress have inside tracks.   I don’t know what more Collins has to prove and my guess is the organization might want to give Jeffress some ‘big league supervision’.    Given where this team is and is going to be for much of 2011, there is little harm in carrying Rule 5 pick Adcock – at least for a while.   As for Holland, his minor league track record is one of an adjustment period at each level followed by outstanding pitching.   We saw some signs of that late in 2010 with Kansas City and I am expecting a big spring out of Greg this year.

An iffy starting rotation and a very young bullpen is something of a volitable combination and I can easily see the Royals shying away from it by going with veteran or quasi-veteran arms in the pen to start the year.   As always the last three spots in the pen are always the hardest to predict.

So, there is your twenty-five.   What’s the record by the end of May?

Yeah, it’s kind of cliche, but it’s not such a bad idea to take stock from time to time and give a little bit of thanks.  Despite the continuing struggles with the Royals and despite the fact that the 2011 season is shaping up to be kind of brutal at the major league level,  if you look close enough you can still find a few positives.

So with Thanksgiving just past, here’s what I’m thankful for as a Royals fan.

I’m thankful for…

- Billy Butler’s line drive ability and his proclivity for doubles.  Doubles… Not double plays.

- Joakim Soria’s amazing curve ball.  Described in these parts as “baseball porn.”

- Zack Greinke’s slider.  Even though he got a swing and a miss on it only 18.6% of the time last summer.  Compared to 2009’s swing and a miss rate of 23.4%.

- The Royals minor league system that suddenly is a source of optimism.

- This being the last season where I have to put up with watching Yuniesky Betancourt.  Unless GMDM does something colossally insane, like picking up his $6 million club option for 2012.

- Redundant waiver claims (Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadzki anyone?) because it gives me something to write about in November.

- Alex Gordon’s smooth transition to left and the fact there’s still a glimmer (however faint) that he can possibly put together a solid offensive season.

- Clint Robinson’s Texas League Triple Crown.  Sure it was Double-A, but a Triple Crown is a Triple Crown.  Cool that he earned a spot on the 40-man roster and a likely spot in Omaha with an eye on Kansas City next summer.

- Eric Hosmer’s swing being compared to Will Clark’s swing.

- Kila Ka’iahue.

- That someone will probably overpay Bruce Chen this winter, giving him at least a two year contract.

- The fact it won’t be with the Royals.

- Trey Hillman finding employment with the Dodgers.  Is there any way to set up an alert to let me know when Don Mattingly gets ejected from games?  I really want to watch Hillman manage a team I don’t care about, so I can gawk like a car crash.

- My colleagues and readers of Royals Authority.  This may sound cheesy, but it’s incredibly fun to be a part of the internet community that make up the fans of this team.

Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.  I hope you had an outstanding holiday.

Episode #036 – Royals Authority writer Craig Brown joins Nick in this episode of the podcast.  They talk about Dejesus, Upton, Greinke, the Storm Chasers, Sporting KC and how Clark is totally blowing it if he doesn’t see baseball in Puerto Rico.  All that plus some other random musings on the Royals and baseball.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs036.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Craig on Twitter @royalsauthority

Music used in this podcast:

The Replacements – I Will Dare

Sir Richard Bishop – Zurvan

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Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

How you vote on the Royals Pitcher of the Year reveals everything about how you value relievers (specifically closers) and starters.  If you believe a starting pitcher is inherently more valuable than a closer due to the superiority in number of innings pitched, I suppose you’ll go with Door Number 1.  On the other hand, if you view the closer as just as important as the starter and place all pitchers on equal footing so to speak, you are probably going to select Door Number 2.

Yes, it’s that straightforward.  In my mind, there were two pitchers on the Royals this year worthy of consideration for postseason accolades.  Two.

Here’s my ballot (and justification.)

1 -Zack Greinke

Well, the cat is out of the bag… You know where I stand on this whole “value” debate between a starter and a reliever.

Yeah, Greinke mentally checked out of some games and is struggling (along with the rest of us) to come to terms with The Process, but his team was really, really bad.

As usual, his team provided him with virtually no run support.  On average, the Royals scored 3.47 runs per start for Greinke.  Over the whole 162 game schedule, the Royals averaged 4.2 runs per game.  In 19 of his 33 starts, the Royals failed to score more than three runs.

Then there was the defense behind Greinke.  With Wilson Betemit and The Yunigma teaming up to see who could move the least amount of distance, a league leading 17 runners reached on an error against Greinke.  I noted before that errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but still… That is an incredibly high number of free base runners.

2 – Joakim Soria

Soria was his usual nasty self, but I just have a difficult time throwing a ton of weight behind a closer for any kind of Pitcher of the Year award.  I can’t get past the reduced number of innings pitched for starters.  And I also can’t get past the fact a number of closers (Soria included this year) enter the game with no one on base.  Overall, Soria inherited nine base runners this year and allowed three of them to score.  I present this, not as an indictment of Soria… Rather it’s a critique on the modern closer.

Besides, I don’t really have the stomach to try to work up some alleged deficiencies in Soria’s game… Because I pretty much think he’s awesome.  Just when there’s an alternative in the starting rotation, I’ll usually lean to the alternative.

I know there are times we like to armchair quarterback the bullpen usage, but Soria’s 2.2 Leverage Index (a measure of the “pressure” a pitcher faced) was tops on the team.  Sure, there are times when it would make sense to bring the closer in a little earlier in the game, but for the most part, I can’t quibble with the ninth inning usage of your best reliever.

So you know how I feel about spots number one and two… The real question is who did enough to win your third place vote?   I’m going to need to turn to some advanced metrics for some help.

I understand there is a debate about WAR and which one to use… Do you prefer Fangraphs or Baseball Reference?  I know the difference in WAR for batters hinges on how each formula calculates defensive contributions.  For pitchers?  I’m not sure.

Here’s what I do know…  The top three Royals pitchers according to WAR from Fangraphs:

Zack Greinke – 5.2
Joakim Soria – 2.1
Kyle Davies – 2.0

WHAT?

I love and respect the work they do over at Fangraphs, but this is all kinds of jacked up.  Kyle Davies, the third best pitcher on the Royals?  And within a whisker of Soria for second?  Shenanigans!  Davies was barely better than Sean O’Sullivan.  And O’Sullivan was so horrible I remain unconvinced he should receive a look in spring training 2011 for a spot in next season’s rotation.

For fun and balance, here are the top three Royals pitchers according to Baseball Reference WAR:

Joakim Soria – 3.8
Zack Greinke – 2.4
Bruce Chen – 2.1

That’s a little better I suppose, but I have an extremely difficult time buying that Bruce Chen was almost as good as Greinke.  Greinke allowed far fewer base runners per inning and posted a superior strikeout rate.  While they posted identical ERAs of 4.17, Greinke owned a 3.76 xFIP, while Chen had a 5.01 xFIP.  Even non-tender candidate Brian Bannister had a lower xFIP at 4.86, yet people want to resign Chen.  Alright…

So my third place vote goes to…

3 – Kyle Farnsworth

That’s right, Kerosene Kyle.  He gets the nod for a couple of reasons.  One, he really did pitch exceptionally well for the Royals.  Of course, it helped his Leverage Index was 0.9, which ranked him 10th highest among Royal relievers.  We all know what happens when you bring The Farns into a pressure situation.  Yes, his strikeout numbers were down, but so were his walk and home run rates.  He kept runners off the bases and balls in the yard.  While the Royals bullpen was featuring the likes of Josh Rupe, John Parrish and Luis Mendoza, Farnsworth actually provided some… (gulp!) stability.

The second reason I would vote him third was for the simple fact he pitched well enough to net the Royals a bona fide prospect in left-handed reliever Tim Collins.  Collins posted a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 IP in Omaha while striking out 20 batters and walking eight.  He pitched seven innings in the qualifiers for the Pan Am games, limiting hitters to a .208 batting average against while allowing five hits and two runs.  He has the chance to be an impact reliever for the next six years for the Royals.

If Tim Smith is Farnsworth’s legacy in Kansas City, I can give him a third place vote.

The end of the season is really sneaking up on me.   There are only six games remaining for the Royals in the 2010 season.  I admit, even for a Royals blogger it gets harder and harder to really watch a lot of Royals games at this point in the season.  I tend to drift to some football games, some more important baseball games or a TV show like Mad Men to fill my time rather than a Royals game.  I doubt I am alone in this, it’s only natural.  The team is currently in line for the 4th overall draft pick (that’s my glass half full mindset), and while I thought that the teams coming into the K to end the season would be playing for something important, it seems that the playoff picture is nearly complete in the American League.  However, there are still interesting things happening on the field and with the team.

Jarrod Dyson hit his first Major League homerun last night.  It’s always a cool moment for a rookie to get  that under his belt.  However, it was extremely unlikely that it was going to happen for Jarrod Dyson last night.  Why?  Dyson hit one homerun in 1,245 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues.  It didn’t happen until his 5th season when he was in AAA.  He even had 315 plate appearances with AA Northwest Arkansas, where he played at one of the most homerun friendly parks in the Texas League, and had zero homeruns.  I seriously doubt that Dyson has found his power stroke, and his limiting factor in being an everyday player for the Royals is his bat.  However, stranger things have happened than a guy figuring out how to improve his hitting at the Major League level.  I am a big Jarrod Dyson fan and I sincerly hope he figures it out.

I remember once-upon-a-time there was some chatter about how great Yuniesky Betancourt is, particularly compared to other shortstops.  Oddly, that kind of talk has been quiet.  It probably has to do with the fact that the only player that has played for the Royals this year with a lower OBP is rookie catcher Luke May.  Or it possibly could be some of the following ranks he holds among qualified shortstops:

Batting Average: 15th of 22
On Base Percentage : 21st of 22
Slugging Percentage: 10th of 22
wOBA: 16th of 22

I know that you have to put someone at shortstop and there are possibly worse options than the Yunigma, but if you are going to feed me crap, just tell me it’s crap.  Don’t cover it in flower and call it a donut.

Joakim Soria is the best reliever in baseball.  He is better than Mariano Rivera, and I don’t even think its debateable.  He notched his 42nd save last night to match a career high.  The Royals as a team have won 64 games.  A little quick math tells me that Soria has saved two thirds of the Royals wins this year.  Two thirds, think about that.  Soria needs three more saves to get into a tie for the Royals single-season lead.  Here are the top 5 Royals seasons for saves:

1.(tie) Jeff Montgomery (1993) – 45
1.(tie) Dan Quisenberry (1983) – 45
3. Dan Quisenberry (1984) – 44
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2008) – 42
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2010) – 42

I think it would be really cool if Soria could end on 45 and the trio of great Royals closers could all share the single-season lead.

Billy Butler raised his batting average by a point last night to .321 by going 2-for-4.  That ranks him 5th in the Major League.  Yes, he isn’t a good defender and yes, he hits into a lot of double plays, but the kid can flat out hit the ball.  It’s not just his ability to hit the ball either.  Butler has been getting on base to the tune of a .390 OBP which ranks 6th in the American League.  I hear a lot of people bemoan his lack of power, but from day one, I’ve been beating the drum that Billy Butler is a hitter, not a masher.  I think he has the ability to become Tony Gwynn-esque, I don’t think anyone would quibble with that.

Kila Ka’aihue has struggled since being called up from the Minors, but there are indications he is starting to find his way.  He has hits in 7 of his last 9 games.  Since being called up, Kila has 2 more walks (19) than Mike Aviles (17) and is only two shy of the Yunigma (21).  Ned Yost continues to give him time to get acclimated and I believe will do so throughout the 2011 season.  Kila is a cheap player who has a great opportunity to produce in areas the Royals are sorely lacking, OBP and power.  I don’t get it, but there is a segment of Royals fans who seem to get giddy when Kila struggles.  I don’t know if it is some kind of odd desire to see Mike Jacobs come back, or if in Kila they have found some way to channel their anger at people who like the statistical side of baseball.  Either way, it confuses the heck out of me.

Finally, I will continue sending out the Royals Organization Report throughout the Fall.  I’ll be including the Arizona Fall League and the Pan Am Qualifying tournament, so drop me an email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com and I will add you to the list.

Contact Nick Scott via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via Twitter @brokenbatsingle or via Facebook .  If you would like to receive his daily Royals system boxscores via email, just drop an email and request it.  He will be sending out boxscores for both the Pan Am Games and the Arizona Fall League.

We saw the bullpen both present and future in action last night, securing the win after Bruce Chen labored through five innings.   They did so using Gil Meche, Blake Wood, Robinson Tejeda and, of course, Joakim Soria each for an inning.   Combined, the four allowed two hits and no runs over four innings, striking out five along the way.

The above is not meant to bag on Bruce Chen.   He is what he is and as long as the Royals can figure out a way to make Bruce their number five starter next year instead of their number two, he can allow three runs over five innings 32 times next season without complaint from me.

Last night’s performance was simply outstanding and likely a preview of what we can expect to see out of the pen in 2011.  

Soria and Tejeda were locks to be on the roster, but the reincarnation of Gil Meche as a reliever and the rebound of Blake Wood pretty much solidify the core of the Royals bullpen for 2011.  

In Wood, the Royals have a 24 year old hard thrower who spent the first month of his major league career basically being lucky (allowing no runs, but striking out no one), then pretty much got the crap hit out of him most of the summer.  

Somewhat curiously, the Royals were tweaking Wood’s delivery at the major league level, but the results seem to have paid off.  After taking a ten day break near the end of August, Wood has come back to strike out 8 batters in his last six appearances spanning just 5.1 innings.   Now, that is a very small sample, but considering Wood struck out just 16 hitters in his first 38 innings, it is still a big enough jump to get me interested.

If the choice is banking on a 24 year old Wood in the sixth and seventh inning next season or spending the precious few resources the Royals have this off-season on a ‘veteran’ middle reliever, the choice is obvious to me.

In the case of Gil Meche, you can view him however you want, but the truth is he is going to make $12 million next year no matter what.   He could have gone the route of surgery and never pitched for the Royals again and still cost the Royals exactly the same amount of money.   Let’s all get over the ‘$12 million set-up guy quips’ and focus on what is salvageable on the back half of this contract.

In five relief appearances, Meche has allowed five hits over six innings.   Along the way, he has been tagged for just one run, allowed just one walk and struck out five batters.  

Certainly, Meche will have to handled gingerly throughout 2011.   Probably the Royals will not use him on back to back days, nor rush him to warm-up to enter in the middle of an inning.   Assuming that Wood can continue to strike hitters out as he has over the past couple of weeks, it really should not be a problem to accommodate Meche’s ‘fragile’ status.

While this column is making two rather large assumptions (Meche staying healthy and Wood maintaining his new strikeout rate), it certainly looks like the Royals might have the makings of a pretty good bullpen for 2011.     Of course, you would be wise to point out that a good bullpen on what is likely to be sub-.500 team is a luxury item.  

However, the beauty of that foursome is that Joakim Soria is almost silly affordable through 2014.      Blake Wood is under team control all the way through 2015, while Robinson Tejeda won’t be a free agent until 2013.   Plus, after his contract expires next season, Gil Meche is not going to cost $12 million.    Even if Meche is dominant out of the pen and healthy all season, he likely will not command anything more than three or four million per year on the open market.

Again, a couple of big ‘ifs’ in this equation, but the Royals could conceivably have an effective and stable foursome in the back of their bullpen not just next season, but for the next two years after that (if not more).    Perhaps it is building a team backwards to have a good bullpen before the rest of the squad is ready to compete, but when one falls in one’s lap, you might as well capitalize on it.

In my mind, the only mistake Dayton Moore could make this off-season with regard to his relief corps would be to spend one ounce of energy or one penny on adding anyone from outside the organization to this unit.

Well, that was bound to happen sooner rather than later.  Frankly, I’m surprised Blake Wood hasn’t coughed up more leads.  Thursday was only the fourth blown “save” in 40 appearances this year.

(I put save in quotes because we all know Wood isn’t the closer, so it’s not up to him to earn the save.  Although by pitching late and in close games, he often enters the game in save situations.  Thus, the blown save stat.)

A couple of things stood out to me about his appearance:

-  That was only the third time all year Wood appeared in three consecutive games.  The  other time was way back in Trey Hillman’s last game and carried into Ned Yost’s first two games in charge.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, Wood gave up two hits and a run in blowing a lead in that third game.

To be fair, it wasn’t like he had been overworked the previous two appearances.   He threw 10 pitches on Tuesday and just two pitches on Wednesday.  Still, something has to be said for getting a pitcher up three days in a row, warming him up in the bullpen and then bringing into a game.  There’s a certain amount of stress involved in this routine, pitch counts be damned.

–  In the match-up against Asdrubal Cabrera (which tied the game), Wood threw eight pitches – all fastballs.  The fastest was clocked at 98 mph and the slowest was 96 mph.  These eight pitches were essentially identical.  The result was predictable.

For some reason, Yost trusts Wood in these high leverage situations like the one we saw on Thursday.  Here are the Royals leaders in Leverage Index who are currently on the roster according to Baseball Prospectus:

Joakim Soria – 1.97
Jesse Chavez – 1.68
Blake Wood – 1.44
Bryan Bullington – 1.01

In many ways, it’s good to see Soria at the top of the list.  It underscores the importance of the closer – something I have mocked in the past.  Of Soria’s 35 saves, 19 have been of the one run variety while eight have been in games with two run margins.  Pretty tight.

It’s a little surprising to see Chavez so high.  However in his seven appearances, he’s entered with the game tied twice, with the Royals ahead by one or two runs three times and with the team down by a run twice.  He’s not coming into the game in blowouts.  That’s not going to end well, either.  Chavez just doesn’t possess the command to be reliable late in close games.

And Bullington is now in the rotation.

Yost doesn’t have a ton of options in the bullpen.  Maybe that’s why he keeps turning to Wood.

By the time Yost turned to Dusty Hughes (who couldn’t get the left handed hitting Travis Hafner out) and by the time the inning was over, a three run lead turned into a two run deficit.  Ballgame.

It’s too bad because Kyle Davies awesome through seven innings.  Not being able to see the game (not on TV?  What’s up with that?  Maybe that’s a good thing… The Indians commit five errors, but win with seven runs over the last two innings?  It’s possible I would have chucked my Boulevard through the screen.) but knowing Davies threw only 84 pitches entering the eighth and had surrendered only four hits, it was probably the correct call by Yost to send him back to the mound.  According to Pitch f/x, his velocity was fine at that point and he had been effectively changing speeds all evening.  Plus, as  the fact he didn’t walk a batter all evening will attest, he was working in the zone.

And with the current state of the Royals bullpen, why not see if Davies can go eight before turning it over to Soria in the ninth?

Unfortunately, when Davies got into hot water, Yost didn’t have a reliable Plan B waiting in the bullpen.

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– Yuniesky Betancourt came to the plate four times and saw a grand total of nine pitches.  Stop with the “Betancourt is pretty good” talk.  Please.

Yes, it’s great he’s hitting for power.  That’s something no one saw coming this year.  And his home runs have been timely – seven of his 12 have given the Royals the lead or tied the game.  There have been times where I have been surprised at his ability to deliver in key situations.  Although I think Betancourt’s positive moments stand out because they’re infrequent and expectations couldn’t be much lower to start.  When the D student turns in an A paper, it kind of gets noticed.

What I fail to understand is how certain people around the Royals seem to delight in pointing out his offensive “excellence” while ignoring the fact his .290 OBP is the fifth lowest in the league this year and he continues to exhibit next to no discipline at the plate.  Last night was Exhibit A. The guy goes up there hacking, with no feel for the situation and with no ability to employ strategic situational hitting.

However, his defense is still in the bottom of the league among shortstops.  And don’t forget to factor Betancourt’s defense into his overall performance on the season.  He remains terrible by any metric you choose – UZR, +/- – you name it.  According to the Fielding Bible’s plus/minus system, Betancourt is currently a -9 on fielding plays.  Not good.  Especially for a shortstop.  Going a step further, the Bible has Betancourt at -7 for runs saved with his glove.  Again, not good.  That ranks him 32nd out of 35 shortstops.  Plus, his double play efficiency has really declined this year.  After converting about 62% of all double play opportunities over the last couple of seasons, he’s converting roughly 45% of all double play opportunities.  That ranks him 35th.

Of course, looking at (less than) a single season while using defensive metrics is sketchy.  Those in the know say you need to look at at least three seasons of defensive data before you draw a conclusion.

Going back to 2008, Betancourt has ranked dead last in the AL among shortstops in UZR.  My eyes see a lack of mobility and range.  While Betancourt can occasionally make a stellar play, for every one Web Gem, he neglects three or four makable fielding chances.  The numbers back this up.

Focus on the big picture.

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