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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Kyle Farnsworth

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.

Myself and many Royals fans were waiting with baited breath, in desperate hopes that they would move some of the unnecessary veterans on this team for some younger talent.  Moving Callaspo and Podsednik earlier was a nice start, but with guys like Guillen, Ankiel and Farnsworth on the team there was still lots of potential moves out there. Very few rumors had been floated at all today and I felt that portended no activity.  However at the very last moment, it was announced that the Royals traded Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel to the Braves for Gregor Blanco, Jessie Chavez and Tim Collins.  With the absolute dearth of information out there prior to this going down, I think we can safely assume that Dayton picked up his theories on loose lips from his old organization.

Other than keeping Guillen*, I think Dayton handled this trading deadline masterfully.  He clearly realized that there was a long list of players on this team who have no future with this team, so getting something, anything for them at this point in time was a net benefit to the organization.  Not only that, but it allows younger guys like Getz, Aviles, Gordon, Maier and dear God I hope Kila Ka’aihue to get some playing time.

*Guillen will likely be put through waivers in an attempt to trade him after the deadline, so he isn’t quite here to stay just yet.

So, what did the Royals get in this latest deal?

Jessie Chavez

Chavez is a 26 year old relief pitcher who hasn’t been particularly effective. He will probably move into the bullpen immediately to replace Farnsworth.  He has a good K/9 of 7.0 and also a good BB/9 of 3.33 in his 119 innings of work in the majors.  However he is a big-time flyball pitcher with 43% of the hits being of that variety.  That might play well at spacious Kauffman Stadium,  but it remains to be seen.  Right now he is just a bullpen guy who is cheaper than Farnsworth and under team control for longer.

Gregor Blanco

Blanco is a 26 year old lefty outfielder.  He has a higher carrer OBP .361 than Scott Podsednik .341.  He has never shown the ability to hit with power, but seems to be a leadoff type of guy.  His numbers show some speed and he has started more games at the leadoff spot than any other slot in the lineup.  My guess is that he will take the place of Ankiel on the MLB roster, and will be a filler or 4th outfielder type.

Tim Collins

Collins is clearly the most intriguing part of this trade.  He is listed at 5’7 155, but word on the street is that he is more likely 5’5.  So in a word, he is short.  But what he lacks in height he makes up for in stuff.   He has a 2.29 ERA this year  in 51 IP, with 87 strikeouts to 19 walks.  He can hit 93mph on the radar gun and has a nice curveball and changeup.  He projects as a potential setup man in the majors.  This is the guy who is most important in this whole trade.  He has the highest ceiling and the best chance at being an impact major leaguer.  Beyond that, can you imagine what kind of fan favorite a 5’5 fireballer out of the pen would be?  At the risk of blowing the papers headline pre-emptively, I see something like “Tiny Tim Saves The Day”.  For a good article about Collins read this.

All in all, I am completely happy with the return for a couple of months of Ankiel and Farnsworth.  However, it’s the big picture that is of more importance.  The Royals have added 7 players to their organization in return for Alberto Callaspo and 2 months of Podsednik, Farnsworth and Ankiel.   There has been lots of talk about the Royals youth movement (for a decade now), but this team was actually kind of old.  Jettisoning these veterans, giving younger guys a chance to prove themselves and continuing to stock the minors is the true beginning of this youth movement.

In an additional move, which suprised me, the Royals signed Ned Yost through 2012.  I was beginning to believe that the Royals wouldn’t sign Ned Yost, but I also couldn’t imagine that they would want to go through a manager search in the offseason.  I like Ned Yost more than Trey Hillman.  He has some things that annoy me (Kendall batting 2nd), but overall he is a fine manager in my eyes.  I don’t believe the manager does much in the way of strategy anyway, so how he handles the clubhouse is probably of the most importance.  I can’t pretend that I have any clue as to how he does at that job, but my guess is that Dayton does and signing him through 2012 should tell you what he thinks.

Busy day for the Royals, what do you think of the moves?

Most years, about this time, I write a column where I wake up one July morning and find myself General Manager of the Kansas City Royals.  To be totally candid, I wake up most mornings thinking I am in that position, but that’s a whole separate physiatric session.    The basic premise of this scenario is that one wakes up on July 22nd to find themselves as the GM, inheriting the situation ’as-is’ with all the perceived constraints of ownership, money and at least some basis of reality. 

This exercise lost any semblance of fun last summer with the  Yuniesky Betancourt deal and hence I did not bother.  The July, however,  before I donned the GM hat and traded Ron Mahay for Chris Carter (then with the  Red Sox), Kyle Davies for Nelson Cruz (at the time toiling in AAA) and Blake Johnson (plus someone else) for Joaquin Arias.   All in all, that would not have been a horrible summer simply based upon acquiring Cruz.    Let’s see how I do this July.

The first day of my reign at the top begins with the inheritance of a team that has won two of its last three games, but lost seven of its last nine.   The Royals are closer to last than to first and have done so with a roster that really is not that young.   My predecessor has left a farm system that is much stronger than what he inherited.   Frankly, dare we say it, ‘the process’ was starting to work – just not in 2010 and probably not for a fair portion of 2011.  

As a general manager, I find myself faced with two options (three, actually, if you are willing to stay drunk and high for three months and believe the Royals can contend this season).   So, two options:

  1. Stay the course and wait for Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers to become everyday regulars, while Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow move into my starting rotation.
  2. Try to accelerate ‘the process’ and, at the same time, buy a little insurance in case some of the highly touted prospects do not develop into major leaguers.

Pretty obviously, the answer is yes to both options:  stay the course, but push it along at a quicker pace if you can do so without jeopardizing the future.  Easier said that done, even for a blogger.

Prior to departing, Dayton Moore may have been presented with a couple of trade offers.   The first would have sent Alberto Callaspo to the Angels for Sean O’Sullivan and a ‘fringe’ prospect.   The second was David DeJesus to the Braves for Kris Medlen and a AAA reliever.   Neither offer quite rings my bell.

O’Sullivan was the Angels’ number five rated prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season, but lacks a true out pitch and has struggled against better hitting.    While he did have a nice start upon his recent recall (6IP, 2ER) and I am faced with the looming spectre of Bryan Bullington starting on Sunday, the 23 year old O’Sullivan just doesn’t seem to offer enough potential for my tastes.    However, the Angels are truly interested in Callaspo and while he is a good hitter having a somewhat down year, I just don’t see Alberto as a building block for a contending team.

I counter the Angels’ offer by asking for pitcher Trevor Bell, their 10th rated prospect prior to this season who has been obliterated in brief appearances in the majors, and a ‘fringe prospect’.   Bell comes with a good fastball and good control and, if not an upgrade over Bannister and Davies, he is at least younger than both (23) and is almost certainly a better option than Bryan Bullington or Anthony Lerew.  

The discussion turns to the ‘fringe prospect’ and begins to bog down.   Every name I produce is not ‘fringy’ enough to the Angels and the line ‘well, if you want him, then you have to take O’Sullivan instead of Bell’ comes up often.   In the end, I remind myself that I am trading a third baseman with a .308 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage barely over .400.

The deal is made:  Callaspo to the Angels for Bell and a player to be named later.   When the dust settles, the PTBNL ends up being catcher Brian Walker.    Bell, for now, takes his place as the Royals number five starter, while Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles take up the bulk of the innings at third base.   This gives us a chance to see some more Chris Getz at second without taking Aviles’ bat out of the lineup.   Can Getz play or not, who knows?   This gives us a chance to find out.

Now, while I like Kris Medlen, I like David DeJesus a lot better.  Truthfully, any hopes/prayers of being competitive in 2011 probably include having DeJesus in the Royals’ outfield.    His option is affordable for next year and the compensation picks, while nice, would still be a player or players that are at least two years away from contributing in the majors.   Plus, DeJesus is still likely to be an effective everyday player for the next three or four years and seems like a guy that the Royals could resign after the 2011 season.   Heck, I might even entertain extension talks after the season to lock him down through the 2013 campaign.

Given that, we will continue to market DeJesus just in case someone gets really desperate and really silly, but the organizational thought will be to keep David, exercise the option and know that we have at least one major league outfielder set for 2011.

Although there has been interest in Joakim Soria, moving a closer of his effectiveness with what may be the best contract in baseball right now does not excite me at all.   Frankly, any hope of catching lightning in a bottle and contending in 2011 instead of 2012 includes having Joakim in the Royals’ pen.   Again, we’ll be happy to listen, but if the Yankees or whoever really want Soria, they will have to overpay by a factor of two to even make me answer the phone.

Of course, the real problem I have inherited is that Jose Guillen is blocking Kila Kaa’ihue, Scott Podsednik is blocking Alex Gordon and Rick Ankiel is healthy.   It would actually be so much easier if Guillen was limping along with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and not much power or Podsednik was hitting .270 instead of .300.   One could simply release the older players and ‘find out’ about younger players yet this year.    As it stands right now, however, both Podsednik (especially) and Guillen (to some extent) have some value to the Royals and have played just well enough to make even me think they ought to have some trade value as well.

I don’t dislike Podsednik: he is what he is on the field and is a good veteran guy in the clubhouse.   I’ll let his name float around as July 31st approaches.   In the case of Guillen, he would almost certainly pass through waivers and be tradeable in August, but the urgency is in getting Kila Kaa’ihue to the majors so I can find out if he can hit.     Yet, I have an owner who is not going to just release a player with 15 home runs and $5 million still coming.

I look once more to the evil empire because they have a gigantic hole at designated hitter, even with Jorge Posada spending most of the time there recently, - big enough to make Guillen’s .278/.339/.461 look appealing – and a clubhouse that could certainly contain any of Jose’s ‘quirks’.    What’s Jose going to do when he is not in the lineup for three days?   Spout off to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera?

After cornering David Glass in an elevator, I wear him down with the logic of giving up some money to move Guillen and open a spot for Kaa’ihue.   It helps that it was 105 degrees in the elevator and Glass  had to go the bathroom.   He agrees to pay $4 million of Jose’s remaining salary.

The deal is Jose Guillen to the Yankees for minor league outfielder Ray Kruml, a 24 year old still toiling in A ball.  Kila Kaa’ihue is promoted immediately and bats fifth on Sunday afternoon in Yankee Stadium.   Sure, he goes zero for four and Trevor Bell gives up five runs in four innings that day, but I still feel better.

The Royals return home on July 26th and I continue to work the phones.   The Reds are looking for bullpen help to ease the workload on their relievers.  Obviously, Kyle Farnsworth is the name I shop to them.  He has been much better this season and the last time he pitched in the National League (Braves-2005), Kyle fashioned a 1.98 earned run average in 27 innings of work.   Despite having signed Russ Springer and the ghost of Jason Isringhausen, the Reds are still interested.

Who I want in return is currently injured outfielder Chris Dickerson.  Now twenty-eight years old and nursing a bad wrist, some of the luster has worn off Dickerson, but not enough to net him straight up for Farnsworth.   The Reds, however, are in a pennant race and, for all his faults, Willie Bloomquist is a guy that would certainly have a spot on a National League team.   Bloomquist’s skill set also gloves nicely with the Reds’ other utility player, Miguel Cairo.

The deal gets done:  Farnsworth and Bloomquist to the Reds for Chris Dickerson.   While Dickerson’s injury pretty much means he will be in rehab mode for a while, he adds another player to the outfield mix for 2011.   Maybe it all comes together for Chris, maybe not, but the Royals have given up two free agents to be and the Reds have gotten a couple of veteran guys to help them in their pursuit of St. Louis without really damaging their future.

Veteran minor-leaguer Ed Lucas gets the call to replace Bloomquist and Blaine Hardy gets a shot to replace Farnsworth in the bullpen.   At the same time, Victor Marte is sent down in favor of Louis Coleman.   Getting a good look at Hardy and Coleman this year will go a long way in determining how much of the Royals’ precious resources will have to be devoted to the bullpen in the off-season.  The hope, obviously, would be ‘none’.

Now, the trade deadline is right in front of us and Boston, while still after every outfielder available has not been able to make a deal.   Sure, they would ‘love to take DeJesus’ off our hands, but the return is not enough.  My asking price starts with Casey Kelley and that generally grinds the conversation to a stop right there.  

The Red Sox have been decimated by injuries and currently bat Darnell McDonald in the lead-off spot and are playing Bill Hall (.735 OPS) at second base.   While McDonald has been decent and Daniel Nava a revelation, is Theo Epstein really ready to make a run at the playoffs with them?   You see, I’ve got a guy with a World Series ring who happens to play leftfield and bat lead-off that just might be of interest to him.

By now, we are deep into the morning of July 31st and the Red Sox have pretty much stood pat as they tried to make ‘the big deal’.  It has become obvious that the asking prices for top shelf outfielders are exorbitant and so we begin to discuss Podsednik.  The match-ups don’t seem to be working out until we begin to include middle infielders in the discussion. 

I snicker when I offer Yuniesky Betancourt and Epstein flat out laughs and calls me an unprintable name.  However, the real name in the discussion is Mike Aviles.   I love Aviles, love his story and think he is likely to gravitate towards a performance line somewhere in between his fabulous rookie season and what he is doing for the Royals right now.   He can fill in at second until Dustin Pedroia is healthy and help out at shortstop where the Sox have turned to rookie Jed Lowrie.

What’s Podsednik AND Aviles worth to you, I ask?   Not Jose Iglesias is the first answer.

However, how about pitcher Kyle Weiland?  Now, that’s a start.

The name of AA outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin comes up at my prompting.   He is a cut below the prime outfield prospects in the Sox system (Westmoreland, Kalish and Fuentes), but is 21 year old in AA who has as many walks as strikeouts.  

There is some hemming and hawing on the other end as the clock ticks closer to the deadline.  Finally, the deal is done:  Podsednik and Aviles for Che-Hsuan Lin and Weiland.   With that, the trade deadline comes to a close.

When the dust has settled, the Royals have an August 1st roster of:

C – Kendall, Pena

1b – Butler, Kaaihue

2b – Getz

ss – Betancourt

3b – Betemit (as we await the September call-up of Mike Moustakas)

Util – Ed Lucas

OF – DeJesus, Maier, Ankiel (sorry), Gordon (to replace Podsednik) and hopefully Dickerson in short order.

SP – Greinke, Chen, Bannister, Davies, Bell (with Hochevar & Meche hopefully soon to follow)

RP – Soria, Tejeda, Wood, Hardy, Coleman, Hughes, Texeira

The minor leagues have been strengthened with the addition of Weiland and Lin, plus some organizational depth in Kruml and Walker.

Perhaps most importantly, it gives us two full months to gauge whether Kaa’ihue, Gordon, Hardy, Coleman and even Dickerson can be projected as regulars on a major league roster building to contend.   Simply knowing those answers will allow me, as general manager, to have a pretty accurate guide as to what needs to be fixed in the off-season.  

Now, it’s your turn, tell me if this makes sense or not?   Are the Royals in better shape after these moves or just ‘more of the same’?

So, we’re about 10 days from the trade deadline, so why not handicap the Royals and the chances they’ll be moved in the next week and a half.

Kyle Farnsworth – 35%

Kerosene Kyle has been effective out of the pen this year and teams are always looking for relief.  He could get dealt for a grade C prospect.

Jose Guillen – 5%

It’s not that Dayton Moore won’t trade him.  It’s that he can’t trade him.

Alberto Callaspo – 20%

Reports on Tuesday had the Angels offering Sean O’Sullivan and a fringe prospect.  Once upon a time, O’Sullivan was the Angels fifth rated prospect, but has struggled since moving past Single-A.  I don’t blame Dayton – if the reports are true and he turned this offer down.  However, if that’s the best bounty Callaspo will bring, he’s not going anywhere.  Although the Angels seem like a fit.

Willie Bloomquist – 15%

He would return a PTBNL.  At most.

Zack Greinke, Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies – 0%

The rotation is thin with Gil Meche and Luke Hochevar on the DL.  There’s absolutely zero chance Dayton guts his rotation.

Joakim Soria – 5%

He’s signed at to a club-friendly deal and is a closer.  Both points matter a great deal to management.  Those Soria to New York rumors (and for Jesus Montero!) were so laughable, I’m not even sure they need to be addressed.

Bottom line: This is baseball’s silly season.  I get the feeling there are a few national writers who scour losing teams for quality players on low dollar contracts.  In other words, bargains.  And those writers immediately throw those names into the trade cauldron.  We get it… The Royals are the chum and the Yankees are the sharks.  It’s lazy and unprofessional and total B.S.  It’s like closing your eyes and throwing a dart and guessing where it will land.  So the Yankees covet Soria.  Really?  If I had to guess, I’d say there are 28 other teams who covet the guy.

Soria isn’t going anywhere. Yet.

David DeJesus – 20%

This is the one guy who the Royals are willing to part with (although no one on this team should be “untouchable”) and he’s the one who would net the greatest return, so his odds are the highest outside of Farnsworth.

I could see him headed to Tampa or the Giants.  And yes, I could see him in Boston.  The Royals will have to lower their asking price though.  No, he’s not a fourth outfielder, but he’s much more valuable to the Royals than he would be to say the Rays.  That’s not a knock on DeJesus, it’s just a fact.  And because that’s the case, teams aren’t going to want to give up a ton.  Although if Jeff Passan’s report that the Royals are seeking a major league ready prospect and a mid level prospect is accurate, that seems fair to me.

It will take a savvy GM to get a team to pony up what the Royals are looking for.  I don’t think we have that GM.

The Field – 15%

Overall, I think the odds that GMDM and the Royals make a trade is around 15%.  I just don’t see much happening at the deadline.

I hope I’m wrong.

—————————————————————————————————————

Really not much to analyze in a 13-1 beatdown.

– It was one of those nights when Anthony Lerew looked like a Triple-A pitcher and the Blue Jays looked like the team leading the AL in home runs and second in slugging.  The Jays were ripping Lerew all over the park.  It was the Laser Show prelude to the Lightening Show.

It was only a matter of time before someone lined one up the middle and off the pitcher.  Honestly, Lerew was throwing BP out there – he probably should have had the screen in front of him.  At the time, I thought that was the last thing the Jays wanted to do… Why knock out the pitcher who has nothing?  Turns out it didn’t hurt as Kanekoa Texeira wasn’t any better, allowing both inherited runners to score before allowing two more to plate in the third inning.

Early word on Lerew was a bruised rib cage and bicep.  I bet.  He’s feeling the pain right about now.

– Speaking of BP, that was exactly what Blake Wood was throwing.  That 95 mph on a string… No way a slugging team like the Jays doesn’t just crush the ball against a pitcher like Wood.  And crush him they did.  Bautista smoked a double off the Royals reliever and Lind hit a liner that bounced off the top of the wall for a home run.  In both instances, the hitters were sitting fastball.  In both instances, Wood obliged.

– If you were a major league player and your best chance at getting on base was to make like a fastpitch softball player and execute a swinging bunt, would you be embarrassed?  Just asking…

–  There was a Brayan Pena sighting as he entered the game in the eighth as a pinch runner for Jose Guillen with the Royals down by 10 at that point.  Love the strategic maneuvering.  Gotta keep Guillen fresh.  And it was muddy out there, too.  Gotta keep him safe.

–  If you love spectacular defensive plays, this was your game.  The Jays had Web Gems all around the infield on Tuesday.  And Alberto Callaspo turned in a couple of nifty plays to his left as well.

– The Blue Jays had 16 hits, while the Royals had 11.  Yet the Jays scored 13 runs, while the Royals could only muster a run.

Perhaps the difference was that the Jays had 10 extra base hits to the Royals one.

That seems to be the story of the Royals offense in a nutshell.

When I hear someone say Kevin Seitzer has done a great job with this team, I just shake my head.  Not that he’s done anything wrong or horrible… But he hasn’t done anything to really make a bit of difference with this offense.

The point of the offense is to score runs.  The end.  I could care less that the Royals are leading the league in batting average.  They’re second to last in walks and their 4.37 runs per game are 10th.  They rank seventh in OBP (at .335, which is actually a surprise given the lack of walks… And a good thing) and 11th in slugging at .402.

It’s not like Seitzer can teach guys power, so I’m not going to dock him points for the Royals team slugging percentage.  But when you depend on guys to string together three singles to score one run, it’s going to be difficult to get the runs across the plate.

The Royals pitching hasn’t been good this year.  Fact.  Oh, there have been some quality performances here and there.  And the bullpen is certainly improved following their disaster known as April.  Still, you can’t ignore the numbers.

The Royals are allowing 4.97 runs per game.  Only Cleveland (5 R/G) and Baltimore (5.3 R/G) are worse.

Their collective WHIP is 1.43.  Only Cleveland (1.51 WHIP) and Baltimore (1.51) are worse.

The Royals collective SO/BB ratio is 1.84.  Only Baltimore (1.7 SO/BB) and Cleveland (1.43 SO/BB) is worse.

Royal pitchers have surrendered 100 home runs.  Only Baltimore (101 HR allowed) is worse.

The Royals ERA+ is 89.  Only Cleveland (86 ERA+) and Baltimore (86 ERA+) are worse.

Get the idea?

This is supposed to be the year of the pitcher, but the Royals didn’t get the memo.

(Do you want me to blame Jason Kendall for this?  Because I can.)

(That was a joke.)

Actually, I’m surprised the numbers are so negative.  I know the starters haven’t been that great and the bullpen didn’t start the season well, but I thought the pitching had been a little better.  The numbers say otherwise.

Let’s start with the rotation to see how things grade out in the first half of 2010…

Zack Greinke
1.7 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
113 ERA+

No one expected to repeat his stellar 2009 season… That would just be too much to ask.  However, we sure expected him to at least come close.

My main concern with Greinke has been his decline in strikeouts.  Last year at the break, he owned a rate of 9.1 SO/9.  Losing a strikeout and a half from one season to the next is kind of a big deal.  It hurts a little less because Greinke’s rate was so high to start, but this isn’t really something that should go unnoticed.

Why the change?  For starters, hitters began laying off his slider, which was his huge strikeout pitch.   At this time last year, Greinke was getting a swing and a miss 25% of the time when batters offered at his slider.  This year?  He’s getting a swing and a miss just 16% of the time.  (Just 16%?  That’s still a sick number, but compared to last year, it’s not so impressive.)

I’m not bringing up Greinke’s declining strikeout rate to bag on the guy or anything… I’m merely pointing out the biggest difference between this year and last.  He’s still the ace and is still one of the top 10 pitchers in the AL.

Thankfully, Greinke’s xFIP has improved as the season has chugged along.

April: 4.30 xFIP
May: 4.39 xFIP
June: 2.88 xFIP
July: 2.18 xFIP

Of course, that July number is based on seven innings of work since he didn’t make his scheduled start on the Sunday prior to the break.  Still, that outing was vintage Greinke… Probably his best one of the year:

7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO

I think Greinke is poised for a big second half.  Pay attention to those strikeouts, though.  They’ll let us know how he’s doing.

GRADE: B+
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Brian Bannister
3.0 BB/9, 5.3 SO/9, 1.6 HR/9
75 ERA+

I’m glad Bannister is a smart guy because his numbers this year are just a freaking mess.  His decent April (3.48 ERA) was built on the back of an unsustainable strand rate of almost 85% (meaning just 15% of all base runners scored while he was on the mount.  League average is around 25%.)  He posted big – for him – strikeout numbers in May and June, but hitters pounded him for a .325 batting average.

Through everything, he’s surrendered 18 home runs.  Ick.  Even worse, 11 of those allowed the opposition to either tie or take the lead.

GRADE: D+
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Kyle Davies
4.2 BB/9, 5.7 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
75 ERA+

Davies can’t seem to pitch deep into games and he can’t seem to find any consistency.  The good kind of consistency, I mean.  He’s been pretty awful for most of this season.  Again, though, he’s sprinkled just enough decent starts – one hit in six innings against Seattle in April or one run in seven plus innings against the Angels in July – to make the Royals think he’s one bullpen session from putting it all together.

Uhhh… That’s never going to happen.
He and Bannister don’t belong in the rotation.

GRADE: D+
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Luke Hochevar
3.2 BB/9, 6.6 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
85 ERA+

Hochevar is quietly having the best season of his career.  I say quietly, because I’m certain you were hoping for more than a 1.39 WHIP and a 4.23 xFIP from our former number one draft pick.  Still, it’s an improvement.

Last year, hitters put up a line of .364/.422/.649 against Hochevar with runners in scoring position.  This year, he’s allowing a line of .333/.425/.486 in the same situation.

As you can tell from the difference in the slugging percentage from one year to the next, he’s finally figured out how to keep the ball in the park.  It’s been kind of frustrating to watch a sinker ball pitcher get taken deep with alarming regularity.  And in previous seasons, a lot of those bombs came with runners on base.  Eleven of his 23 home runs last year came with runners on, to be precise.  This year, not only is he allowing fewer home runs – just six all year – only one of those have come with a runner on.

If he keeps this up, he could develop into a solid number three starter.  If I recall correctly, that seemed to be his upside when he was drafted.

GRADE: B-
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Gil Meche
6.3 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 1.3 HR/9
63 ERA+

Just an absolute disaster.  When Bruce Chen takes your place in the lineup and people are thankful… Well, you’ve pretty much stunk up the stadium.

I know, I know… It’s not really his fault.  He’s hurt and remains the $55 million victim of Trey Hillman’s Starting Rotation Massacre.  If only Hillman had the guts to tell Meche he was out of a game…

GRADE: F
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Bruce Chen
4.7 BB/9, 7.4 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
110 ERA+

So the only Royal starters with an ERA+ of over 100 is Greinke and Chen?  Who would have guessed that at the start of the season.

Wanna know why he’s been successful (relatively speaking) this year?  Check out these two graphs from texasleaguers.com.  First, features his release point from the entire 2009 season.  The pitch classifications aren’t important.  Just the single big blob.

Here’s the chart illustrating his release point for 2010.  This year, he has two blobs.

For Chen, it’s all about the release point.  By alternating – and throwing all his pitches – from different angles, he’s been able to keep hitters off balance.  His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2003 when he was primarily a reliever.

A couple of concerns though:  For some reason, in his last start, he was only throwing his slider from the lower arm angle.  That’s probably why he struggled and was pulled so early.  Also, he’s still a fly ball pitcher.  Over 50% of all batted balls are fly balls against Chen.  His home run rate is almost certainly going to go up in the second half.  And he’s walking too many batters.

Still, he’s been the surprise in the rotation.  I’m still shaking my head over this development.

Come on, Chen!!!

GRADE: B-
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Anthony Lerew
2.5 BB/9, 5.8 SO/9, 2.9 HR/9
56 ERA+

Yes, Lerew has thrown more gopher balls than walks.

His two good starts have been at home.  His three bad ones have been on the road.  I’m sure the guy who gets to use the lone computer at the K has this one sorted out.

GRADE: D

OK, now to the relief corps…

Blake Wood
3.6 BB/9, 2.9 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
107 ERA+

Double check that strikeout rate again… Make sure I didn’t mess that one up.  Nope… He really has whiffed just eight batters in 25 innings.  For some reason Yost has been using him primarily as an eighth inning guy in close games.  He’s blown a couple of games and coughed up a few runs in a tie game a few weeks back, but otherwise he’s done what the manager has asked.

It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the year.  Once it’s solved, it’s not going to end well.

GRADE: C-
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Dusty Hughes
3.7 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 0.9 HR/9
106 ERA+

Lefty, but not just a LOOGY.  Hillman used him in tight games, but Yost doesn’t trust him.  Since Yost took over, Hughes has made 16 appearances and pitched just once with a lead – and that was with seven runs.  He has entered two tie games, though.

He gets a higher grade than Wood because he can actually strike a batter out.

GRADE: C
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Kyle Farnsworth
2.4 BB/9, 7.2 SO/9, 0.5 HR/9
175 ERA+

His strikeouts are down (he whiffed 10 batters per nine last year) but Kerosene Kyle is having his finest season since 2005.  Really.

I give him grief for not being able to pitch in pressure situations and the Royals have done a fair job of keeping him out of the fire.  According to Baseball Reference, he’s appeared in 14 low leverage situations, five medium leverage situation and 10 high leverage situations.  Here are the results:

High Leverage: .259/.286/.407
Med Leverage: .212/.297/.242
Low Leverage: .231/.302/.346

Keep bringing him into the game in the sixth or seventh inning.  I’m fine with that.

Currently, the most likely Royal to be dealt at the deadline.

GRADE: A-
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Robinson Tejeda
4.9 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9, 0.2 HR/9
126 ERA+

Tejeda will spend the entire season digging out of his miserable April where he held a 12.96 ERA through his first 10 appearances.  Since then, he’s been awesome… A 0.84 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 32 innings and he’s limiting hitters to a .171 batting average.  He’s faced 124 batters and allowed four extra base hits.

He’ll still walk a guy – or three – and that will always keep him from being the top of his class.

GRADE: B+
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Joakim Soria
2.3 BB/9, 11.1 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
182 ERA+

Stud.

Should have appeared in the All-Star Game.

He’s also another reliever who’s improved since Yost took over as manager. (I know… there’s been a ton of talk about how the bullpen is improved because Yost keeps guys in their assigned roles.  And Soria was always the closer.  Still, the numbers are what they are.)  Soria has a 1.35 ERA since mid-May and hasn’t allowed a home run since May 11.

GRADE: A

There you go… Time to have your turn in the comments.

Now the draft is complete, we can focus on the next date on the Royals calendar… The trade deadline.

My task for you is to rank the top three in order, from most likely to be traded to least likely.  Here are the candidates:

Jose Guillen

No one runs hotter or colder than Guillen.  He’s been decent of late, with a line of .246/.367/.523 over his last 19 games. Of course, that only means that starting about June 15 or so, he’s going to go into hibernation until the All-Star Break.

And whether you like it or not, Guillen is the premier power threat on this team.  He leads the Royals with a .229 ISO and his 13 home runs are almost double the second place hitter (Alberto Callaspo has seven.)

The Royals would have to eat the balance of his salary and would probably net a B-level prospect at best.  I don’t think GMDM has the stomach to get so little in return.

The downside to all of this is that under the current Elias rankings as provided by MLB Trade Rumors, the Royals wouldn’t get any compensation for Guillen when he departs as a free agent this winter.  Not that they would anyway… Even if Guillen were classified as a Type A or B, the Royals would have to offer arbitration.  And since there’s no way Guillen will top $10 million in salary next year, there’s no way he’d turn that down.  This is the ultimate lose-lose situation.

David DeJesus

The Royals hold the option on DeJesus next year at $6 million.  He’s already a two win above replacement (WAR) player this year, so at that price tag, if he can maintain his level of performance, he’s a bargain.

Here’s an interesting thought.  Currently, DeJesus is a Type B free agent.  Suppose he goes on a tear and pushes his ranking to a Type A.  Don’t you think it would be possible the Royals decline the option and offer him arbitration instead?  If DeJesus rejects arbitration, he becomes a free agent at a time his value really couldn’t be higher.  That would be the smart play for DeJesus… He could get a three year deal at $20 million, couldn’t he?  Then, the Royals could snag an extra first round pick in a draft that is supposed to be much, much deeper than the one just completed.

Hmmm…

Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria

I listed them together because I can just imagine the riots at the K if either one of them were dealt.  We’ve hashed this out before, but Soria has club options through 2014 so there’s absolutely no way the Royals are sending him anywhere.  2013 and 2014 are the new 2008 and 2009… Years when the team is supposed to contend.  As the only current member signed through those years, he’s going to stick around.

Rick Ankiel

Isn’t this always the way… Do Royal general managers walk around the Winter Meetings with a “kick me” sign taped to their back?  It’s like Reggie Sanders all over again… A “veteran” spare part with no value to a good team, signed to a deal in the hopes the team can spin him to a contender at the deadline, only to miss a huge chunk of the season with an injury.

Albatross.

Yuniesky Betancourt

I wish.  The only GM who thinks he’s any good already has him on his team.

Kyle Farnsworth

His name never comes up in these discussions.  Probably because we like to pretend he isn’t on the team.  I suppose he could net a C level prospect from a team desperate for relief pitching.

Prediction: Whoever trades for him won’t make the playoffs.

Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies

Both are coming up on their third year of arbitration eligibility.  Both are serviceable, back of the rotation starters.  Either one has some (limited) value.

However, I don’t think the Royals will deal either one.  When you have to bring Bruce Chen into your rotation when one of your starters goes down, that’s a serious indication you lack starting pitching depth.  Those guys will stay at least another year until the young arms are ready.  GMDM is keeping his fingers crossed this will be in 2012, because there doesn’t appear to be a backup plan in place.

Willie Bloomquist

Ha!

I left Billy Butler, Mike Aviles and Callaspo out on purpose.  These three aren’t going anywhere.  I could be wrong, so if you disagree, let me know why.

If you forced me to rank the top three, here’s my list:

Guillen
Farnsworth
???

Kind of lame, but I really have no idea.  That’s probably because I put the odds of the Royals making a deal at less than 25%.
Get to ranking.  I’m interested to see what everyone thinks.

Royals’ fans probably do not need any extra incentive to be enamored with Joakim Soria, but just in case, yesterday produced another moment.    

This moment has nothing to do with Soria retiring Justin Morneau with two out in the eighth and Joe Mauer on first in a two run game – although that was certainly big.   Instead, it has everything to do with what happened in the inning after that.

By then, of course, the Royals were comfortably in front 10-5 thanks to Alberto Callaspo’s second three-run homer of the day, so the pressure was off.  You can insert your ‘Trey Hillman leverage analysis here’.   Soria took to the mound in the bottom of the ninth and did something that every member of the pitching staff should have taken note of:  he didn’t mess around.

Facing Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young, the Royals’ closer threw twelve pitches, ten of which were cut fastballs and eight for strikes.   Basically, Joakim simply said, “I’m going to throw cutters for a strikes and I am pretty sure I’m good enough that you cannot string together enough hits to beat me.”   

What’s this?  Throw strikes?   Believe in your stuff?  Every member of this pitching staff from Greinke down to Mendoza (and that’s a long journey, my friends) would be wise to remember that simple mantra.

Of course, the biggest offenders are those that pitch in relief that are not named Soria.   As a team, and this includes Soria’s numbers, the Royals bullpen is dead last in baseball when it comes to throwing the first pitch for a strike:  tossing strike one just under fifty percent of the time.      When the bullpen throws a ball out of the strike zone, opponents take a cut at them just 20% of the time – again, dead last in baseball.

Does it come as any surprise that Joakim Soria and John Parrish both induce swings out of the strike zone 35% of the time, while no other reliever tops 20%?    Suppose it has anything to do with Parrish throwing 63% of his pitches for strikes and Soria tossing strikes at a 71% clip?

Yesterday was a big win for the Royals as they try to stay within hailing distance of .500.   They hit the ball well, Luke Hochevar battled and Josh Rupe did just enough to squelch the fire lit by Dusty Hughes (who has thrown 53 balls and 50 strikes this yea) to get the game to Soria.   I will also, once again, give credit to Trey Hillman for being willing to go to Soria in the 8th.   Overall, a good day when the team really needed one.

That said, the Royals have wasted two weeks of good hitting mostly because their bullpen has hurt more than helped.   Dayton Moore cleaned house in the pen after his arrival with the intention of getting strike throwers and yet, somehow, has ended up with a relief crew that is eerily similar (albeit better behaved) to that he inherited from Allard Baird.   Is twelve games into a 162 game schedule too early to clean house?  I don’t think so.

The Royals may end up being a better offensive team than most of us expected, but they are not going to hit like this forever.   Dropping Colon and bringing up Josh Rupe is a start, but more changes need to follow.  

I heard a comment on talk radio last week referencing potential bullpen help that went along the lines of ‘the guys in the minors obviously didn’t show enough to make the team in the spring, can we expect them to help now?’   Well, ‘the guys’ who decided who should make the team broke camp with Roman Colon as the primary setup man.   Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the evaluation.

Rumors are out that Dayton Moore is looking to trade Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth and eat some/most of their salaries along the way.  Hey, it’s worth a try, but better pitchers have simply been released in the last couple of weeks so I am not holding my breath.

Truth is, Cruz has been incredibly hittable this season and Farnsworth cannot pitch in any situation with any sort of leverage (actual or Trey Hillman imagined).    They are a waste of time and, sadly, a waste of games, too.  

You want to make a statement about throwing strikes?   Drop Cruz, Farnsworth, Hughes and Mendoza and pull up Bryan Bullington, Matt Herges, Blake Wood and Brad Thompson.   Truthfully, does anyone think the bullpen would be any worse?   If it turns out being so, then the Royals still have Carlos Rosa, Greg Holland and Chris Hayes to try after that.

Basically, Dayton Moore and the Royals can sit and talk about throwing strikes and getting better production or they can actually make some moves to give this team a chance at respectability.  The time is now.

Even great baseball teams are generally happy to win two out of three on the road, which is exactly what the Royals accomplished with Wednesday’s 7-3 victory over the Tigers.   Still, after blowing a 5-0 lead in the seventh on Tuesday, I have a feeling that many Royals’ fans (this one included) are not all that ecstatic with the recent series’ results.

Years of losing have jaded many a Royals fan, but the simple logic is that this team is just 4-5 despite:

  • Hitting a league leading .307
  • Slugging a robust .450, good for 3rd in the AL
  • Reaching base at a .362 clip, again good for 3rd
  • Having their starting pitchers post quality starts in seven of nine games (and winning one of those that they did not)
  • Trotting out a regular lineup where seven of the nine players are hitting .300 or better and one who is not, Alberto Callaspo, is more likely to end up hitting .300 than the rest of them

Let’s face it, while the starting rotation might be very good most of the season, Scott Podsednik is not going to hit .457 this year and Jose Guillen really won’t hit a home run in every game.   

Even with the robust offensive statistics, the margin for error for this team is extremely thin.   If this team settles in and hits .285/.345/.425 then cannot expect to overcome some of the poor baserunning and curious decision making that has become all too common early this season.   Yesterday, we had two more examples:

  • In the top of the 7th inning, the Royals had runners on first and second with two out.   Jason Kendall taps a ball out to shortstop and Mitch Maier, running from first, beats the throw to second.   However, Alberto Callaspo simply ran through 3rd base and is thrown out.   Absent mindedness on the part of Callaspo?   Where was Dave Owens, by the way?
  • The very next inning, up 5-3, the Royals get the first two runners on.   David DeJesus, who had six hits in the series, three of them for extra bases, is asked to bunt.   Sure, David should be able to get a bunt down, but do you really have one of your best hitters still attempt to sacrifice when he has two strikes?   Really?!

Yes, I know the calls of being overly pessimistic and just downright negative ‘all the time’ are coming, but are those two instances are a warning sign.   Particularly since yesterday was hardly the first time in this young season we have seen similar occurrences. 

Again, it is all fine and good when you are hitting .307, but what happens when the Royals are not collecting 17 hits in a game or scoring 22 runs in a three game series?   How inconsequential are those plays then?

Two Man Bullpen

The Royals’ actual bullpen was used yesterday:  all two of them.   That is really what Trey Hillman has at his disposal right now.    We all knew that Joakim Soria was among the best in the game, which he showed yesterday in going an inning and a third for the save.   We didn’t know that John Parrish would be lights out, but thank goodness he has been in not allowing a run or a hit in six appearances (4.1 innings).    Small sample size for sure, but certainly a welcome emergence from the cesspool that comprises the rest of the arms that take up space on the bullpen bench.

With a day off today, the Royals can look forward to having both Parrish and Soria ready to go again on Friday behind Zack Greinke.   The problem, of course, comes on Saturday when Hillman will have to look at the other SIX pitchers in the pen and decide who is going to suck the least.  

I am not saying anything here, just throwing this out:  Kyle Farnsworth is the only reliever who has yet to walk a batter.

Speaking of Zack Greinke

He continues to ‘adjust’ this season.   That begs the question as to why, after so thoroughly dominating in 2009, that Zack felt the need to adjust anything, but there is some marginally sound reasoning behind all this.     Adding more changeups to his repertoire certainly makes sense, but Zack is also going away from his slider under the premise that hitters are recognizing and laying off that pitch.   The numbers seem to bear that out (again, small sample size alert):

Greinke in 2009:  59% fastballs, 20% sliders, 14% curves, 6% changeups

April 5, 2010: 57% fastballs, 21% sliders, 11% curves, 10% changeups

April 10, 2010: 62% fastballs, 15% sliders, 14% curves, 9% changeups

If you purchased the 2010 Royals Authority Annual (still on sale, by the way) and read Jeff Zimmerman’s article on Pitch F/X, you know that from 2007-2009, Zack’s slider induced a 40% swing and miss rate (only Soria’s curve had a higher percentage).    Basically, the slider is just plain nasty.

Given that fact, why go to the curve more instead of just throwing the slider for strikes once in a while?  Sure, major league hitters adjust and have made a real effort to lay off the slider this year.   How much will they lay off if a couple of them take a called third strike slider?   If Zack throws the slider for strikes a little more often,  hitters will have to adjust to him once more.

Without question, I know about 800 times less about pitching than Bob McClure and Greinke (and that’s being charitable), but I have a hard time believe that Jeremy Hermida and Jason Varitek go back to back yard if thrown sliders in strike zone versus curveballs.    

Sometimes, a pitcher is simply good enough to throw his best pitches over and over and still win.   One has to think that Zack Greinke is one of those guys and, as much as we rave about Zack’s cerebral approach to the game, this may be a case of thinking less and just throwing the good stuff.   

Of course, this is Greinke.   He is likely to throw 35 curveballs on Friday night and throw a shutout.   Whatever he throws, we will all be interested.

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

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

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

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

Therein, however, lies the problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Davies finally had a decent spring outing on Saturday and, in a weird way, somewhat clarified the bullpen situation for the Royals. Bob Dutton, who is always on the case, touches on this subject as well in his Sunday article in the Kansas City Star.

When you read the club’s comments on Davies, you can clearly see how desperately the Royals want Kyle to have the fifth starter spot. He has teased the Royals for two years: sprinkling a good start, sometimes even a good month, in amongst a collection of pretty painful outings. After three basically awful appearances to start the spring, Davies came up with a nice one on Saturday and is suddenly the ‘clear frontrunner’ for the job.

We can discuss this calamity another day (my personal over/under on the number of pitchers who will occupy the 5th starter spot this season is 4), for now though we are talking bullpen.

Given the Royals’ predisposition to lean towards Davies, the fact that he is out of options and my own personal horror of seeing a player with Kyle’s control problems and propensity to mentally implode come out of the bullpen, let’s assume that he will be given the fifth starter role to start the season.

That pushes Robinson Tejeda, who is also out of options, into the pen as well as Kyle Farnsworth, who is too expensive to just drop. The Royals have to keep Tejeda, if only because Davies will eventually pitch his way out of the rotation, and because Robinson goes through stretches where he is pretty dominant. As for Farnsworth, the idea of ‘Bradeen Loopering him’ is intriguing, plus someone has to pitch in blowouts.

Also given a courtesy look at the number five spot was Rule 5 draftee Edgar Osuna. He has not been spectacular this spring, but he has not been horrible, either. Considering his Rule 5 status, the fact that he is only twenty-two and left-handed, Osuna is an almost certain lock to make the team. All things being equal, it certainly makes more sense to keep a young lefty who might help you in the future as opposed to an aging righty (or lefty) who might help you a little now.

While on the subject of virtual locks, we can add Ramon Colon to that list. Whether it is organization hype, spring training skewed optimism or really the result of finally being healthy, Colon is on the verge of locking down a primary set-up role. He is throwing harder than last season and has a new and improved slider that has thus far eluded spring training bats. Those of you longing for ‘good character guys’ won’t enjoy it, but I could really care less as long as he gets people out while simultaneously staying out of jail.

So, at this point, here is the bullpen:

  • Closer: Joakim Soria
  • Setup 1: Ramon Colon
  • Setup 2:
  • Middle 1: Robinson Tejeda
  • Middle 2:
  • Middle/Long: Kyle Farnsworth
  • Long: Edgar Osuna

Barring a trade and there have been rumors of such, Juan Cruz gets one of the two remaining spots. In Cruz and Farnsworth, the Royals are obligated to pay over six million this year, which is another topic for another day. For the purposes of this discussion, all that means is both their names will be on the 25 man roster come April 5th.

As for the trade rumors, I would be delighted if the Royals could move Cruz for a minor league position player, even if it meant picking up all of his salary. The money’s gone, let’s get someone that might help the team down the road or, at least, be around down the road. Given that Dayton Moore and David Glass do not seem to think that way, I doubt a deal gets done as the Royals will be looking for payroll relief more than anything else.

Frankly, despite his dismal 2009, has a far better track record out of the pen than anyone else on the roster not named Soria, so keeping him around is no big deal.The best case might be having Cruz excel as a setup man in the first half of the season and flipping him for a prospect in July.

The brings us down to one final opening in the bullpen with the following realistic contenders:

  • Blake Wood- The former third round pick is kind of the sexy choice for this last spot right now and has had an excellent spring to date. Wood throws hard and there has long been rumblings of his eventual destination being the back of the bullpen, despite having started 68 of 73 minor league games. That said, Wood has never pitched above AA and has struggled at that level more than succeeded. While there is certainly some allure to having Wood break camp with the Royals, the wiser course of action would be to give him a couple of months in AAA to get some more seasoning as a reliever.
  • Dusty Hughes- With 606 minor league innings under his belt, there is little left for Dusty Hughes to prove in the minors. Last year, the southpaw got a September look with the Royals: doing okay, but missing time with an injury, too. In AAA last year, Hughes held left-handed hitters to just a .208 average, but over his career Dusty has not had such a dramatic lefty/righty split. Trey Hillman has professed a need for a lefty specialist in the pen, which is laughable considering he had one in Jimmy Gobble two years ago and not a clue as to how to use him properly.
  • John Parrish- Another lefty, Parrish is 32 years old with a 174 major league games under his belt and three season ending injuries over the last eight years. He can post some strikeout numbers (7.3K/9 over his career), but also struggles with control (6.1BB/9). Another pitcher who has had a nice spring, the Royals are a little concerned about Parrish’s ability to pitch on back to back days.
  • Josh Rupe- The 27 year old right hander posted a 6.67 ERA in AAA for the Rangers last year, although it is noteworthy that his FIP was just 4.12. When he is keeping the ball down and inducing ground balls, as he did when Josh was a legitimate prospect back in 2004-2005, Rupe can be pretty effective. When he is not, opponents beat him up. Prior to a tough outing this weekend, Rupe had been lights out in spring. Like Parrish, he is another guy with a skepticism inducing K/BB career ratio of just 1.17. Unlike Parrish, this pitcher is not a strikeout artist by any means.
  • Brad Thompson- Resume wise, this 28 year old right hander brings the most to the table with 185 career major league appearances that include 32 starts with the Cardinals. Thompson averages just over four strikeouts per nine innings, but counters that by allowing only two walks per nine innings and inducing twice as many ground balls as fly balls. You have to like his versatility and experience, but you wonder how much Thompson will suffer going from the NL to the AL and pitching in front of the Royals’ infield defense as opposed to that of the Cardinals.

Roster-wise, there is no problem with any of these guys. Hughes and Wood are both on the 40 man roster and both have options. While Parrish, Rupe and Thompson are non-roster invitees, the Royals have a 40 man spot in their pocket as all they have to do is put Jeff Bianchi on the 60 day disabled list to free up a spot.

Of course, there are some other guys floating around camp with an outside shot, too. Notably Anthony Lerew and Gaby Hernandez, each of whom is out of options. I get the sense, however, that the real competition is between the five we detailed above.

As is often the case, the last spot in the bullpen is traditionally the last spot secured when a team breaks camp. I do not envision the Royals doing much to even thin the competition before the first week of April, so we have a couple more weeks to analyze this battle a little further.

While some may find this spot mostly irrelevant the battle mostly boring, I might remind you that Jamey Wright was probably the ‘last guy in’ in 2009 and ended up effecting the outcomes of a lot of games during the regular season.