Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Luis Mendoza

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.

You know, SABR Trey is just never going to get how to use his bullpen.  Leading by one run with six outs to go, you hand the ball to a waiver claim from the previous week who rumor has it, will be placed on waivers again to activate Gil Meche on Saturday?

Why wouldn’t you go with Juan Cruz or Roman Colon in that situation?  I’m not saying they would be better than Luis Mendoza – although if you want to go by history – they should be better.  The whole issue with the bullpen is it’s loaded to the brim with crap.  There are going to be a ton of games this year where they can’t hold a lead for Soria.  Hell, Soria himself couldn’t seal the deal in game two of the series. (Although that was one of the more insane at bats I’ve ever seen.)

Hillman will always be under the microscope when it comes to his handling of the bullpen.  Some of it will be unjustified because quite frankly, they don’t have the quality arms in relief.  However, I’m a firm believer that you put your players in the best position to bring them and your team success.  I just don’t see how using Mendoza in that situation does that.  That’s why I would have preferred Colon or Cruz.  (I’m assuming Robinson Tejeda was unavailable after throwing the night before.)

And then sending Mendoza back out there in the ninth, down a run, just feels to me like Hillman was waving the white flag.

Three games in and Hillman is already on the defensive:

“It’s disappointing, but I’ve seen a couple of other games on TV. There have been some other bullpens blow up with a lot higher payroll than ours and with a lot more guys established in the roles that they’re in.”

Really?  Are we supposed to care about “other bullpens?”  Hillman always says some crazy things, but when managers start deflecting, that’s trouble.

So here we are… three gems tossed by the starting pitchers and one win to show.  Groundhog year, anyone?

–Brian Bannister generally followed his 2009 script on Thursday afternoon.  Remember last year, how Bannister started to throw a cutter and a power change?  Turn to the Bannister entry in your Royals Authority Annual for a breakdown of how often he threw each pitch.  Nevermind… Here’s how often he threw each pitch last summer:

Fastball – 17%
Cutter – 52%
Change – 20%
Curve – 11%

Yesterday, his pitches broke down like this:

Fastball – 49%
Cutter – 26%
Change – 14%
Curve – 8%

The power change and the cutter are pitches with a lot of downward bite and the result last year was a 1.26 AO/GO ratio.  That was the first time in his career the majority of his outs came on the ground.  That’s why he was having such a strong year until he fell victim to Hillman’s Starting Pitcher Chainsaw Massacre.

Bannister turned more to his fastball on Thursday, but still mixed in plenty of cutters and change-ups.  However, the results couldn’t have been more different.  Here’s how he recorded his outs.

Strikeout – 3
Caught Stealing – 1
Ground Ball – 1
Fly Ball/Line Drive – 14

Whoa.  That’s less than ideal.

The Tigers got good wood on the ball a few times, but most of those were hit directly at the outfielders.  The wind was blowing strongly from right to left, but I don’t think the wind knocked anything down.  Magglio Ordonez’s home run in the sixth was the real deal.  A bomb.

As we know, Bannister is a student of the statistical side of the game, so I’m sure he’ll figure out luck played a major factor in his performance.  It will be interesting to see how he adjusts going forward.  Against a better lineup that the Tigers, his outing on Thursday could have been disastrous.

A couple of other thoughts from the series finale…

FREE MIKE AVILES

Really… Why bother putting him on the 25 man roster if he’s going to spend the first three games exercising his glutteal muscles on the bench?  There have literally been a ton of opportunities for him to be used as a pinch hitter.

If it’s all about building strength and confidence in his elbow, then shouldn’t he be in the minors to, you know… play?  And if you’re worried about his elbow, why not use him as a DH?  Or as a pinch hitter?  Instead, he enters Thursday’s game as a pinch runner.  With Wee Willie and Mitch Maier on the bench.  Jeez.  If I’m the manager, I bring in either one of those guys as the runner and use Aviles as a pinch hitter.  Don’t you think his bat would have been preferable to Yuniesky Betancourt’s in the eighth?

So frustrating…

–Speaking of Betancourt, him swinging at the first pitch with one out and the tying run at third in the bottom of the eighth is just a horrible, horrible approach in that situation.  Exhibit #4,396 of why Betancourt may have the tools the scouts rave about but he’ll never be anything but a terrible player.  His muff of the ground ball earlier in the inning is Exhibit #4,395

–After Getz stole second in the bottom of the fifth, why would SABR Trey have DeJesus bunt?  In other words, given the situation (no outs and a two run lead in the middle innings against a below average starter who has thrown 80 pitches) why would you play for one run?  I worry that this “small ball” mantra is clouding better baseball judgement.  When I say that, I’m thinking about Podsednik’s bunt attempt in the bottom of the first inning with no outs in the home opener.

We need a happy small ball medium here.

–I’m going to keep track of Dave Owen’s boneheaded coaching moves this year.  After his sending of the runner down four runs in the seventh inning with only one out, he’s left me with no choice.  The situation only partially describes how foolish that move was.  The runner he was sending was Jason Kendall.  And if he held Kendall at third, that would have brought up the tying run – Billy Butler.  The man simply has no feel for the situation. (No wonder he’s a FOST – Friend Of SABR Trey.)

More shenanigans from the third base coaching box on Wednesday when Kendall gets caught in a rundown to end the seventh – fortunately after the run crosses the plate.  But that wasn’t the worst – or the most bizarre.

In the 11th, after Callaspo tied it with his jack, Butler lines a single.  Wee Willie comes in to pinch run and the next batter, Rick Ankiel laces one to the gap in right-center. Wee Willie should score easily, but Owen puts on the brakes.  After his mistake in Game 1, he suddenly developed the yips in Game 2.  Ugh.  Fortunately, Bloomquist looks back to the ball while rounding third (something all good baserunners should do – pick up the location of the ball.)  When he does, he sees the Tiger second baseman fumble the cutoff and he sprints home with the winning run.

Heads up base running by Wee Willie.  And it turns out he did it all on his own.  Replays showed Owen, after he put up his arms to prevent Bloomquist from scoring, standing with his hands on his knees and his mouth closed during this sequence.  He gave no indication that Bloomquist should advance.  How was that possible?

Anyway, Owen emerged from Thursday’s matinee rather unscathed.  His body count for the 2010 season remains at two.