Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Luke Hochevar

If you sort the qualified American League starting pitchers by ground ball rate, this is the list you end up with:

 

1. Trevor Cahill

2. Justin Masterson

3. Fausto Carmona (His fake name is too cool to stop using it)

4. Ricky Romero

5. Ivan Nova

6. Rick Porcello

7. Carl Pavano

8. Jon Lester

9. Felix Hernandez

10. Luke Hochevar

It’s not exactly a who’s who of AL aces, but it’s a list of some pretty solid pitchers. For the most part, guys that nearly any team would love to have on their staff. Our own Luke Hochevar makes the list along with a couple of elite pitchers. So why is it that Hochevar ranks 8th on the list in ERA and 7th on the list in xFIP? We all know that Hochevar is good at inducing ground balls, but he isn’t utilizing that skill to help him become a more elite pitcher. What makes him different from the guys on that list who are putting it all together.

One thing that jumps to mind is that he might be walking too many guys. While Luke isn’t exactly the stingiest with his walks, on this list he ranks 5th. Right in the middle. Sure he’s below Felix Hernandez, but he’s just below Justin Masterson and well above Jon Lester. It’s something I’d like to see Hochevar improve upon, but it isn’t absolutely critical.

The best way to ensure an at-bat ends in an out is to not let the guy leave the batters box. Strike a man out and there’s almost no chance he scores a run. Once the list of 10 is sorted by K/9 ratio, you start to see a more organized list of who is the most effective. Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester top the list and Luke Hochevar ranks 6th. Not terrible, but he’s hanging around a few too many 4+ ERA guys, it’s not the kind of company we wish our man to keep.

The comparison to Justin Masterson seems good for Hochevar. I’m pretty sure he isn’t turning into Hernandez or Lester, but can he be Masterson?  I don’t see why not. They seem very similar in styles of pitching and Masterson is just a tad better than Hochevar in all of these important categories. In terms of strikeouts, once again Hochevar is only 2 slots below him, however Masterson strikes out 0.75 more men every 9 innings than Hochevar. That is significant. Hochevar has a 5.82 K/9 rate and it seems that there is a real inflection point at about 6 to 6.25 K/9 for these players. If you can surpass that mark, combined with a great ground ball rate and effectiveness takes a giant leap.

What I’ve been looking at though so far is the entire season of 2011 and if you watched last year you know that there were two distinct versions of Luke Hochevar. The first half, aka “not good” version and the second half version. How does 2nd half Luke compare to the guys on this list?

The first thing is that his ground ball rate dropped precipitously in the 2nd half of the season. It’s possible that he took a look at the rather large dimensions at Kauffman and decided that he could allow more fly balls, but only if it helped him in another area, likely strikeouts. Did it work?

Luke Hochevar’s K/9 during the first half: 4.6

Luke Hochevar’s K/9 during the second half: 7.7

Yeah, I’d say that the tradeoff worked handsomely. The results bear it out as well since he dropped going into the All-Star game he had a 5.46 ERA and in the second half he posted a 3.52 ERA. A 7.7 K/9 rate would have crushed Justin Masterson’s 6.57 and would have surpassed guys like Dan Haren and Jared Weaver as well. That kind of strike out rate is bordering on elite, particularly combined with a high ground ball rate.

Unfortunately, the Luke who has found the Force and is able to strike guys out also came with the whiney ineffective Luke from Tatooine who allowed his family to get slaughtered by the Empire. We need the confident Luke who has the ability to fool is enemies into swinging and missing. Can he be that guy in 2012 or will he revert to his old self?

I don’t think Luke Hochever an important guy in the teams ability to contend in 2012. I think he’s THE most important player on the team. If Luke has the Force, the Royals can absolutely contend. If he doesn’t they might not stand a chance.

 

 

 

 

- Nick Scott
Follow @brokenbatsingle

 

 

While some might like Wins Above Replacement level (WAR) to be that magic ‘one stat’ that tells us which player is more valuable than another, it is not.  Brett Gardner is a fine player, but his fWAR (Fangraphs) was basically the same as that of Albert Pujols this season.  That does not mean that WAR is useless, just that it is not the ONLY stat when it comes to evaluating players.

That said, WAR is a very good tool.   For position players, it attempts to consolidate hitting, baserunning and fielding into a tidy little package that gives us a general idea of his overall value.   It is not a fail safe option when calculating team wins.  

In 2011, Kansas City compiled a total team fWAR of 39.1 and won 71 games.   Chicago had 40.3 total fWAR and won 79, while Cleveland totalled up just 30.1 fWAR yet won 80 games.  If you want to know how many fWAR your roster needs to contribute to get 94 wins, I can probably find you 15 different answers…in the last five years.   Like I said at the beginning, WAR (be it fWAR or bWAR or some other WAR…good god, y’all) is not the be all and end all of the statistical world.

Here is what I know, if you want to win the A.L. Central, you have to have more fWAR than the other four teams.    Detroit won 95 games the division in 2011 with an fWAR of 48.5 (8.2 better than anyone else).   Minnesota won in 2010 with 94 wins and a fWAR of 49.7 (6 better than Detroit and 6.7 better than Chicago).  Minnesota only won 87 games in 2009, but it was enough to take the Central and their 41.2 cumulative fWAR was 4 better than second place Detroit.

How many fWAR will it take to win the Central?  I don’t know.   How many will it take to win 92 games?  I don’t know.   What I do know, is that the Royals are almost certain to need more than last year’s 39.1.   If you take my approach of last week that Kansas City should not make any drastic off-season moves (unless someone drops a gem in their lap), then what are the possibilities for the current roster to improve on last year’s mark?

Let’s start with the position players, who provided 25.6 fWAR in 2011.   Alex Gordon (6.9), Melky Cabrera (4.2) and Jeff Francoeur (2.9) accounted for 14 of that total.   All three played everyday, Gordon and Cabrera set career high marks and Francoeur had his highest fWAR since 2007.   Kansas City also got 1.1 fWAR from Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.   If you believe the Royals’ outfield will total 15.1 fWAR again next year, then I have some start-up tech company stock to sell you.

Almost universally, people think it is far more likely that Alex Gordon is more likely to sustain his 2011 performance than Melky Cabrera.   You can count me among them, although I readily admit there is not any real logical reason to have such a clear cut division on two players of basically similar age.   Kansas City can afford to have Melky falter, but they cannot make up for a big Gordon drop-off.   Simply put, if Alex Gordon is a 2.3 fWAR player next year, the Royals are going nowhere.   I don’t think he will drop that far, but I also cannot see Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur and Cain posting 15.1 fWAR in 2012, either.

Let’s set the outfield aside for a moment and look at three other positions:  third, first and DH.   Billy Butler was the Royals’ everyday DH and provided 1.8 fWAR – the lowest total in three years.   Hosmer provided 1.6 fWAR which we will use to quantify the first base position.  (Without getting too crazy, we know that Ka’aihue provided no value at first – fWAR speaking – and Butler played there when one of the outfielder’s took a half day and DH’d – it’s not exact, but close enough for this rough review).   At third, the Royals got 0.7 fWAR from Moustakas and 0.5 from Wilson Betemit for a total of 1.2.  All told, these three positions contributed 4.6 fWAR last season.

Hosmer is, well he HAS TO BE, the real deal.   It seems as though the question is not ‘will Hosmer progress in 2012?’, but instead is ‘how much will he progress?’.     In addition, Moustakas seemed to ‘get it’ as the season wore on and while he is not a lock to improve, I would say the odds are decent that he will.   I would also expect improvement from Butler, who probably won’t spend the first three months of the season being put off about not getting to play first base.

Is it realistic to say the the outfielder, corner infielders and designated hitter can contribute the same 19.7 fWAR as they did in 2011?  Certainly, the contributions might be weighted more heavily to the infielders than the outfielders in 2012, but I can envision Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler making up the difference from the expected regression (hopefully minor) of the three everyday outfielders.

If so, then the Royals would be looking to Alcides Escobar (2.2 fWAR), the catchers (2.9 fWAR total in 2011) and second base (1.1 fWAR total) to hold the line.   Salvador Perez, who provided 1.4 fWAR himself, might be hard pressed to get to 2.9 in his first full season as a regular, but one can hope that Escobar might hit just a little more and that second base might add a little more as well (not exactly sure how, but we can hope).

At any rate, all of the above considered, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Royals’ position players could contribute close to their 2011 output.  If they do that, then the pitchers need to hold up their end of the bargain.   Wow!  I bet you didn’t see that coming did you?

In 2011, the Royals’ pitching staff contributed a pretty awful 13.5 fWAR.   Felipe Paulino and Jeff Francis each contributed 2.6, Luke Hochevar 2.3, Greg Holland 2.0 and Bruce Chen 1.7 (remember, throwing innings is big part of fWAR for starters and Chen threw just 155).   Joakim Soria chipped in 0.9 fWAR, the lowest of his career (his previous marks were 2.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0).    Those pitchers right there get you to 12.1 of the 13.5 fWAR total.

Danny Duffy’s 0.6 is cancelled out by Sean O’Sullivans -0.5.   Kyle Davies, yes KYLE FREAKING DAVIES, provided 0.7 fWAR which was cancelled out by the negative contributions of Vin Mazzaro, Jesse Chavez and Robinson Tejeda.   WAR, in any form, really does not think much of relief pitchers – which points out how good Greg Holland was in 2011 – and as such, Louis Coleman gets a skinny 0.1, Aaron Crow 0.3 and Blake Wood 0.4.   I do believe that WAR undervalues the contributions of a relief pitcher, especially a non-closer, but that is a debate for another time.

Let’s get back to the starting rotation.   We pretty much know that Hochevar, Paulino and Duffy will be in the 2012 rotation.   Can they better their combined 5.5 fWAR?  To begin with, baseball history is full of young pitchers who are not very good as rookies and take a big step forward in year two.   I think Danny Duffy is likely to do the same.   I am not saying his going to become an ace, but it is reasonable (albeit hardly a sure thing) that he could become a 2.5 fWAR pitcher in 2012.   If Paulino can give the Royals another 2.5 fWAR and Hochevar finally, FINALLY, put it all together and become a 3.5 fWAR guy, the Royals could have 8.5 fWAR out of just three starters – that’s not horrible.  Problem is, that is just one win more than Francis, Paulino and Hochevar gave them last year.

Now what? 

Does bringing back Bruce Chen give you another two wins?  After that, can the number five spot, in combination with the spot starts and injury fill-ins from other starters, get you a ‘barely-head-above-water’ 0.5 fWAR?  You would certainly hope for better, but I am not sure logic will back us up on that one.  Let’s say that Kansas City does gleen 2.5 fWAR total out of the number four through eight starters.    Now, you are at 11 fWAR heading into the bullpen.

Can Joakim Soria bounce back?  If he can, Soria is probably good for 2.0 fWAR.   Then you have Greg Holland coming off a terrific year, Louis Coleman and Tim Collins (0.0 fWAR by the way) setting him up.   Combined, those three accounted for 2.1 fWAR in 2011, you have to get at least that much again in 2012.   Now, the Royals are at 15.1 fWAR out of their staff with the back of bullpen coming into play.   Basically, there was an entire negative win contributed by a bunch of arms last year, which is not uncommon, but it would be nice to avoid.   If the Royals would somehow not have the negative numbers and get another win out of Wood, Herrera, Crow (?) et.al. would that translate into a net gain of 2.0 fWAR?  Maybe….maybe just.

If the above scenario played out, Kansas City would have 17.1 fWAR from their pitchers and another 26 from the position players for a total of 43.1.   Would that translate into a division title?  That is hard to tell, but it almost certainly would get the Royals around or above .500, maybe even into the high 80′s in wins. 

In my opinion, getting an eight at the front of your win total and hoping for some luck and good breaks in 2012 is better than stretching to make a risky deal in a skinny off-season market.   I would rather the Royals shop for that one arm to put them over the top coming off an 84 win 2012 campaign than to do so now, coming off a 71 win season.

xxx

 

 

We’re getting closer to firing up the hot stove, so this seems to be a great time to look at the Royals contract obligations for the upcoming season.

Guaranteed Money
Billy Butler – $8 million
Jeff Francoeur – $6.75 million
Aaron Crow – $1.1 million

The Butler contract hits the second year arbitration escalator. And if that number seems hefty for a player with that kind of service time, remember he signed for less that he submitted to the Royals prior to the arbitration process last year. According to FanGraphs, Butler’s production was worth $8.1 million. And that was probably the least productive year of his last three. Still a good piece of business by GMDM, I say. Even if he clogs the bases. That number does not include what is thought to be a pro-rated signing bonus of $500k.

The Frenchy money is an estimate based on his two-year, $13.5 million extension.

The Crow deal is a leftover from his major league deal signed after the 2009 draft.

Options
Joakim Soria – $6 million ($750k buyout)

No-brainer. The option would have escalated to $6.5 million if he had become a starter. But he didn’t.

First Year Arbitration Eligible
Mitch Maier – $459k
Chris Getz – $443k
Aaron Laffey – $432k

Laffey, as I wrote earlier, is insurance. The deadline to offer contracts for the 2012 season is December 12. If GMDM isn’t able to bring in a couple of bullpen arms by then, Laffey will get tendered a contract. Simple as that. He could be gone before then if the Royals are super aggressive and need the room on the 40-man roster.

Maier would probably get around $650k, I imagine. That’s not too much for a fourth outfielder. Do the Royals want to dip into the prospect pool for the fourth guy? I don’t think so. They know what they have in Maier… A guy who shows up, works hard and doesn’t complain. (And when they’re short an arm, he can pitch!) If they’re really looking to save a few bucks, the could bring up David Lough. Clearly, they don’t think of him as anything more than a fourth outfielder at this point. I’d rather they spend a few hundred thousand more and keep Our Mitch around for another season.

And you know my opinion on Getz. There’s no reason for him to be tendered a contract. He’s a utility player without utility. The Royals picked up their 2012 utility guy when they grabbed Yamaico Navarro from the Red Sox. He may play with less GRIT, but he can play more positions.

Second Year Arbitration Eligible
Brayan Pena – $660k
Felipe Paulino – $790k
Luke Hochevar – $1.76 million

Pena is an interesting case. He stands to make around $800k next year, but has confirmed that he can’t play defense and the lone reason for him to be kept around – his OPB ability – has vanished. Manny Pina would be an adequate backup and the Royals have gone on the record saying they don’t think they need to have a veteran catcher on the roster. Besides, with new bench coach Chino Cadahia in the fold, there’s the catching experience right there. I don’t think Pena will be tendered a contract.

Paulino and Hochevar are no-doubters. MLB Trade Rumors has Paulino doubling his salary to around $1.6 million. Given he proved to be a durable and decent starter for the Royals, I can’t argue with that. Hochevar will get a nice raise as well. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million.

Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Alex Gordon – $1.4 million

This is where the Royals are going to have to reach for their pocketbooks. Gordon was worth $31 million on the open market based on his 2011 production. Obviously, he’s not going to get that kind of coin, but it just gives you some perspective at how good he was for the Royals last year. Domination.

Gordon lacks a solid track record and that’s kept his salary depressed as he enters his third go around on the arbitration wheel. It will continue to hurt him here, as he stands to get a raise somewhere around $5 million. That’s assuming the Royals don’t do the right thing and extend him.

Fourth Year Arbitration Eligible
Melky Cabrera – $1.25 million

Cast off from the Braves last year, the Melk-Man took a hefty pay cut to play for the Royals. He made $3.1 million in 2010. Look for him to bounce to the $4 million range.

Free Agents
Bruce Chen
Jeff Francis
Jason Kendall

Sigh… Another Kendall sighting. Last one. Promise.

Chen projects to be a Type B free agent which means the Royals could be in line for some compensation if they offer him arbitration. Last winter, Chen shopped for a two-year deal, but returned to the Royals when it was obvious he couldn’t find a taker. He’ll be looking for something similar this time around. And again, I think he will have some problem finding what he’s looking for. He’s proven himself, but as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently put it, it’s “Bruce F’n Chen.”

I think the Royals will offer Chen arbitration. At least, they should. If he accepts, the Royals have a serviceable starter for around $3.5 million. If he declines, they get a supplemental. Win-win.

Assuming Getz and Pena are non-tendered, and assuming Laffey sticks and Chen departs as a free agent, the Royals are somewhere in the range of $38 million for their guaranteed and arbitration contracts. Add another $7 million for the remaining 15 players filling out the roster (assuming each of the remaining players have less than three years of service time), and you have a current projected payroll of close to $45 million. Probably a little more because they will certainly have a couple of guys on the 25 man roster that aren’t currently in the picture.

Of course, this is all extremely preliminary. Trades will be made. It’s possible a free agent may be lured to KC. What this represents is a snapshot in time of where the Royals are with their payroll. I’ll revisit this from time to time this winter. It will be interesting to see how the off season payroll evolves.

So Luke Hochevar has become a fairly decent pitcher in the second half, hasn’t he? Don’t believe me… Believe the splits:

Wow.

There’s a bunch that jumps out from that table. He’s shaved two whole runs off his ERA. He’s striking out three more batters per nine innings. He’s cut down on his base runners. And he’s done it all while walking the batters as roughly the same rate as before.

Hopefully, this was a strike. (Minda Haas/Flickr)

(WPA is Win Probability Added. It’s a cumulative number and is basically how many wins a player adds over the course of the season given his performance against “average” teams. Pitching God Roy Halladay is roughly worth 4.5 wins this season for the Phillies.)

Well done, Hochevar. Well done.

We know Hochevar. We’ve followed him since the Royals made him the number one overall (number one!) draft pick back in 2006. This run of quality outings is not only unprecedented, it’s entirely unexpected. He’s never, ever put together a string of starts like this. We saw it early in the season in a microcosmic fashion, when he could give five or six really strong innings… And then implode so spectacularly it rivaled one of those Sunday morning stadium demolitions (thinking Kingdome) for the fallout.

Now? The implosions (and the fallout) are seemingly in the past. A remnant of the first half.

The question then, is how has he done it? How has he pumped his strikeout rate and sliced his ERA?

The answer is simple. I’m going to boil it down to one word to you. Just one word. Are you ready?

Sliders.

Yes, it’s Hochevar’s slider that has become a weapon on par with weapons-grade plutonium. I will now refer to it as the Atomic Slider.

Before the All-Star break, Hochevar threw the slider roughly 11% of the time. According to PitchF/X, it was his fifth most used pitch. (PitchF/X is a little muddy on the types of pitches Hochevar throws. I suspect it’s a common issue with pitchers who throw a cut fastball and sinking fastball. According to their classifications, Hochevar throws a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a sinker, a curve, a slider and a change. I’m not worried about how to break down his fastballs and sinkers… The focus here is only on the slider.)

After the break, Hochevar has gone to the Atomic Slider over 18% of the time. It is now his second most used pitch.

It makes sense he’s leaning more heavily on his slider. According to data compiled by FanGraphs, it’s always been his best pitch. The raw numbers support this. Batters hit .163 this season when they put Hochevar’s slider in play. They are over .300 on all other pitches. It’s a pitch he should be throwing more frequently. He used to throw it a lot. He’s finally decided to return to his bread and butter.

OK… Hochevar is throwing more sliders since mid-July. So what? He was so horrible up to that point, just by throwing that one pitch more frequently can’t possibly explain his success. You’re skeptical. I don’t blame you.

Would you be surprised if I told you there was more to the slider than just an increase in times thrown? How about we discuss how Hochevar is throwing his best pitch.

From the excellent Texas Leaguers, here is a side by side comparison of Hochevar’s release point when throwing his slider. The chart on the left is his release point before the break. The chart on the right is his release after the break.

Notice, he’s lowered the arm slot on his slider, which may have something to do with it’s increased value. The new release point has allowed him to get a tighter spin on the pitch, so it has a greater horizontal break. Think of it as more of a sweeping motion, running away from right handed hitters. It’s also allowed him to add a full mph to the pitch. Before the break, his slider averaged 84.4 mph. Post break, he’s throwing the pitch at an average of 85.6 mph. It’s a small bump, but by bringing the velocity of his slider closer to the velocity of his sinking fastball, it allows Hochevar a little more deception in his arsenal. And as any pitcher will tell you, deception is the key in getting hitters out. In fact, where he is releasing his slider now… It’s almost exactly where he’s releasing his sinking fastball.

Compare the results Hochevar has experienced his slider from before and after the break…

Wow. Just wow.

Not only does he have the deception working for him, this slider is now a pitch he can really, really control. Almost three quarters are thrown for strikes… Are you kidding? And he’s getting a swing and a miss on almost a quarter of them? That just reinforces my theory… hitters see the low release point, quickly pick up the speed of the pitch… and think the ball is going to sink. Instead, it slides away (from right-handed batters.) All they can do is give up about halfway through their swing. And take their seat on the bench.

Again, look at the results. Here were Hochevar’s five most common plate appearance resolutions before the All-Star break:

Groundout – 25.3%
Single – 14.1%
Flyout – 13.9%
Strikeout – 11.8%
Walk – 7.3%

Compare those to his five most common resolutions post-break:

Groundout – 22.5%
Strikeout – 21.5%
Flyout – 14.2%
Single – 12.9%
Walk – 6.3%

The single and the strikeout have flip-flopped and the strikeout rate (as we previously discussed) experienced a crazy-huge increase. That’s why he’s been the best Royals starter in the second half. And it all goes back to his Atomic Slider.

We’ve seen crazy improvements from mediocre pitchers before. The question is always, “Can the improvement be sustained.” I was skeptical that Hochevar had really found true improvement. (In fact, I tweeted about him being another September tease, a la Kyle Davies in his second to last start.)

I think I was wrong about the whole “September tease” aspect. I think this improvement sticks.

Hochevar has changed his mechanics when throwing his best pitch and has made that pitch even better. It’s repeatable… It’s not the product of luck, or defense, or playing second division teams. This is something Hochevar should be able to do again and again. Because of that, we can reasonably expect him to give us something approximating his second half results in 2012.

On Thursday, the Royals announced they were shutting Hochevar down for the rest of the season. Not a bad idea for a couple of reasons. One, he’s thrown 198 innings, a career high by over 55 innings. And two, he’s had a great run of success. After going seven consecutive starts with over 100 pitches, he wasn’t as sharp his last time out against the Twins. There’s probably not much left in the tank. Don’t ruin a good second half because the guy is on fumes. It’s good to quit while he’s ahead.

Finally, does all this mean Hochevar morphed into the ace we’ve been missing all season? Not necessarily. But it does, in my mind, make him a solid number two or number three starter. And when Dayton Moore goes shopping for pitching this winter, that’s a very big deal. Think back to where we were at the start of the season… A bunch of number fours and fives. With Hochevar figuring out how to master his slider, the Royals have upgraded their rotation without having to explore the trade or free agent markets. Like I said, it’s a big deal.

Note: I noticed a couple of starts ago that Hochevar was having more success with his slider. That point was reinforced in a Tweet sent last week from Keith Blackburn (@doublestix) that caught my eye because we were thinking the same thing. There are several Royals fans out there with a keen eye and he’s one of them.

Consistency. It’s probably the most over used and therefore worthless term used in the baseball lexicon. “If only pitcher X could be more consistent, then he’d really be something.” When used, it’s also the most obvious. Yes, if a pitcher could pitch as well as his best game, every game, then he’d be Roy Halladay. Not surprisingly, there’s only one Roy Halladay because pitching, by it’s nature is an inconsistent art. What can happen from time to time is a pitcher will increase the number of games where he is highly effective and also limits the damage when he isn’t. Luke Hochevar last night pitched another example of his “A” stuff and since the All-Star break, he’s been pretty, well, consistent (seriously, I’m not using that word again, starting…….now).

During the All-Star break there was some rumblings about Luke Hochevar making some adjustments that would make him more effective. The rightly-skeptical public greeted this with a believe-it-when-we-see-it mentality. I’ve been calling Hochevar “Big-Inning Luke” for years now, because that’s exactly what he’s produced. He’ll be cruising along, just mowing down batters and then WHAM, five runs in an inning out of nowhere.

The arm-chair Freud’s out there posited that Luke Hochevar was a mental case. Everyone without a better explanation thought it sounded reasonable and so it became accepted. Many people believed and stated out loud that a guy who had pitched his way to a top College program and then into the Major Leagues, was a mentally strong pitcher until he decided to freak out on the mound in front of the same 30,000 fans he’d been pitching in front of for the four previous innings.

I had gone along with this same thinking until I decided to look for more logical and rational reasons for these big-inning collapses. My thoughts ran like this: In order to give up a big inning, you have to allow a lot of base runners. When you allow base runners, you completely change your motion from the wind-up to the stretch. Small adjustments can make a big difference in the effectiveness in the pitcher.  Viola! Luke Hochevar isn’t good at pitching out of the stretch!

Granted, I have as much evidence at this point to prove this hypothesis than those who claim he’s a crazy-person. But when forced to choose between mental issues and mechanical, I’ll go mechanical every single time. So, let’s see if Luke Hochever is worse than the average pitcher with runners on base.

  Empty Men On %Diff
Luke Hochevar .711 .834 17.30
AL Average .704 .731 3.84
Luke Career .716 .873 21.93

So Luke Hochevar is significantly worse with runners on base than he is when they are empty. This doesn’t lead us to a cause, but it does support the hypothesis somewhat. One piece of anecdotal evidence that contributes to my theory is that I’ve seen him on a couple of occasions go to the wind-up when there is a runner on third and no other runners on. That tells me that he’s willing to give up the slight advantage to the runner so he can be more comfortable and possibly effective out of the wind-up. It’s a small sample size but in 2011 with a runner only on 3rd, Luke gives up an OPS of .708. Could mean nothing with only 24 plate appearances, but it’s something to ponder.

Back to the adjusments that were alluded to over the All-Star break. Since that time Luke Hochevar has started five games and posted an ERA of 2.41 with an OPS against of .582. It’s only five games, so it could just be a hot or lucky streak.

Whether Luke Hochever continues to pitch like the top-of-the-rotation starter that the Royals believed him to be is unknown. For now, he’s been effective since the Royals claimed he made an adjustment. Sure, maybe he went on prozac and had an intimate 0ne-on-one conversation with Dr. Laura to cure his mental instability. I think it’s more likely that he improved the way he pitches out of the stretch and has been able to limit the big innings he was known for. Regardless of the fix, the question is whether he’ll be more consistent (damnit).


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

On to the pitchers…

We know the starters have, taken as a whole, been horrible. And we know the bullpen has been one of the strengths of this team. I don’t know how the rotation can improved in the second half. Aside from Danny Duffy, these guys pretty much are who we thought they were. Which is not good.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has overachieved. Many of the relievers have outperformed their xFIP and have incredible batting averages on balls in play and even more incredible strand rates. That points to the volatility of the bullpen. It’s still a strength of this team, but I’m not certain it will be as strong in the second half.

One area where you notice the chasm is in strikeouts. The Royals starters couldn’t pitch their way out of a paper bag. (When I talk about the “starters,” know that I’m excluding Duffy. He’s the Chosen One adrift in a sea of batting practice pitchers.) Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of flame throwers who have made missing bats a habit. There may be some regression to the bullpen mean in the second half, but the strikeouts will cushion the blow.

Luke Hochevar
2.9 BB/9, 4.6 SO/9, 5.46 ERA, 4.22 xFIP
0.6 WAR

Key Stat: Allowing opponents to hit .300/.379/.461 with runners on base.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Hochevar “frustrating.” That would imply we have expectations that he could actually be… good.

Instead, we’re teased with a pitcher who retires three or six or nine batters in a row and then implodes in a spectacular fashion. Read that key stat again… there’s something happening when Hochevar pitches from the stretch. Even more frustrating, when runners reach base, Hochevar slows to the game to a speed that resembles Billy Butler running the 100 yard dash… Stand. Still.

I read somewhere that the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger thought Hochevar is a victim of heightened expectations that come with being the team’s Opening Day (read, number one) starter. I just can’t buy into this theory. Mainly because I haven’t thought about Hochevar as the Opening Day starter since… Opening Day. I mean, even Hochevar has to know he was the “number one” starter only because there wasn’t anyone else.

Grade: D

Jeff Francis
1.7 BB/9, 4.4 SO/9, 4.60 ERA, 4.01 xFIP
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: His average fastball is 85 mph.

Francis was always one of the softer throwers in the game, but he’s lost a couple mph off his alleged fastball since returning from shoulder surgery. Having said that, he’s compensating by featuring the best control of his career. The issue with Francis – and it will always be an issue – is that when he catches too much of the plate, it’s easy for opposing batters to make solid contact. His line drive rate hovers around 20% and his BABIP is always north of .300, meaning his WHIP will always be elevated, even though his walks are under control.

Despite the warts, he’s having a pretty decent season.

Grade: B-

Bruce Chen
3.0 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9, 3.26 ERA, 4.37 xFIP
0.7 WAR

Key Stat: Chen has a 76.5% strand rate.

If you’re looking for a reason for Chen’s solid ERA, look no further than his strand rate. It’s about three percentage points better than his career rate. If he regresses to the mean, the second half could be a bit bumpy, but given the way he’s turned his career around, I’m not certain I would bet against him.

Bringing Chen back for 2011 was a good piece of business by Dayton Moore.

Grade: B

Kyle Davies
4.0 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 7.74 ERA, 4.78 xFIP
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has thrown three quality starts in 11 overall starts. The Royals have lost all three of those games.

Dreadful.

Grade: F

Sean O’Sullivan
4.4 BB/9, 3.0 SO/9, 6.92 ERA, 5.59 xFIP
-0.5 WAR

Key Stat: His 0.69 SO/BB ratio is the worst rate among pitchers who have started more than five games this season.

Double dreadful.

Grade: F

Danny Duffy
4.3 BB/9, 7.3 SO/9, 4.85 ERA, 4.20 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat:

Duffy is just a few adjustments away from moving to the front of the rotation. Really. It all comes down to location and an economy of pitches. These are things he can adjust. The successes have been there… there will be more in the near future.

Grade: C

Aaron Crow
4.2 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9, 2.08 ERA, 3.15 xFIP
0.5 WAR

Your 2011 All-Star!

There’s going to be a ton of talk over the next couple of months about moving Crow into the rotation. Personally, I’m on the record saying that everyone from the bullpen should be given a shot at starting. Seriously, the rotation is dreadful so something needs to be done.

Now, having said that, I don’t think that Crow will ever transition back to the rotation. Part of my reasoning has to do with his performance this season. He’s walking too many guys to be a middle of the rotation starter. Also, his success this year is built around an unsustainable 90% strand rate. Then, there’s also his track record from the minors. Don’t forget, he was demoted as a starter after getting raked to the tune of a 5.66 ERA in Double-A. He followed that with a 5.93 ERA in Single-A. Yikes.

Crow seems to have found his groove as a reliever and has emerged as a dependable set-up man. Why mess with a formula that’s been successful?

Grade: A-

Tim Collins
6.6 BB/9, 7.7 SO/9, 3.74 ERA, 4.86 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Lefties are hitting .215/.381/.354 against Collins. Right handers are batting .193/.316/.301.

Collins is an enigma in more ways than one. To start, there’s his reverse split described above. Then, there’s the fact he’s walking a metric ton of batters. No pitcher who has thrown more than 30 innings has a walk rate higher than Collins.

Sadly, those walks are going to catch up with Collins. And that’s probably going to happen in the second half.

Grade: C+

Blake Wood
2.7 BB/9, 8.0 SO/9, 2.89 ERA, 3.08 xFIP
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Wood is getting a swinging strike in 9.8% of all strikes thrown.

I don’t know how he’s doing it… With a fastball straighter than a piece of dried spaghetti. But Wood has become a dependable reliever out of the bullpen. It helps that his slider is much improved as well. Still, I can’t help but worry… I’m a Royals fan.

Grade: B+

Louis Coleman
4.3 BB/9, 10.9 SO/9, 2.01 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Opponents are hitting .167/.280/.361 against Coleman.

Coleman is off to a great start and has been a versatile arm out of the pen for the club. He’s pitched multiple innings in 12 of his 27 appearances and has thrown anywhere from the sixth inning on. With the lead, in a tie game, or with the Royals down… Yost is using him in just about any situation.

His BABIP is .200 and his strand rate is a whopping 96%. There’s no way he can keep those numbers for the second half. His xFIP suggests he’s had luck on his side.

Grade: A-

Felipe Paulino
2.3 BB/9, 8.9 SO/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.24 xFIP
1.3 WAR

A revelation…

Interesting story… At the Baseball Prospectus event at the K last week, Jin Wong talked about how one of the things his job entails is to identify potential talent. Basically, looking at fringe players and deciding if there’s some upside there. If there is, and that player becomes available, they pounce. According to Wong, the club identified Paulino early in the year as a potential guy for them because he throws 95 mph (on average), strikes out a fair number of hitters and can keep the ball on the ground. So, when Paulino struggled in 18 appearances out of the pen for the Rockies, and they let him go, the Royals were ready.

Great story… You hope it’s true. Paulino has never had an ERA lower – or even close – to his xFIP, so he was always a guy with upside. Good for the Royals for grabbing him off the scrap heap when the Rockies were ready to let him go.

The Royals will need to find a few more gems in the rough like Paulino. Capable middle of the rotation guy.

Grade: B+

Nate Adcock
3.7 BB/9, 5.9 SO/9, 4.91 ERA, 4.11 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Only 2 of 12 inherited runners have scored against Adcock.

Adcock was the Rule 5 pick and the Royals have been treating him with kid gloves. He completely disappears for extended stretches. Like right now… He last pitched on July 1.

I’d like for the Royals to use him a little more frequently, especially when their starters spit the bit in the early innings. Adcock isn’t doing exceptional, but when you consider he had never pitched above A-ball prior to this year, the Royals have to be pleased with the results.

Grade: C

Greg Holland
2.2 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9, 1.08 ERA, 2.35 xFIP
0.8 WAR

Key Stat: Only 60% of all plate appearances against Holland end with the ball in play.

Many felt Holland should have been in the bullpen at the start of the season. Many were correct. He’s been lights out. Like Crow and Coleman, his strand rate is north of 90%.

Easily, the best reliever in the Royals pen.

Grade: A

Vin Mazzaro
5.5 BB/9, 3.3 SO/9, 9.25 ERA, 5.97 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: The Royals sacrificial lamb.

It is the seminal moment of the 2011 season… Ned Yost leaving Mazzaro to get his brains beat in by the Indians, allowing 14 runs in 2.1 innings.

Grade: F

Jeremy Jeffress
6.5 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 4.70 ERA, 4.40 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: A 1.50 WHIP in 15 innings of work.

Jeffress has the potential, but until he finds his control, it will remain potential. It’s not going so well in Omaha as he’s walking 6.6 per nine.

Grade: D+

Everett Teaford
3.4 BB/9, 4.0 SO/9, 2.30 ERA, 4.56 xFIP
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has a 100% strand rate.

Teaford is pitching out of his mind. A .195 BABIP and that strand rate… That’s why his xFIP is over two runs higher than his ERA.

Grade: B

Joakim Soria
2.8 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9, 4.03 ERA, 3.57 xFIP
0.2 WAR

I maintained all along that Soria would be OK… It took a “demotion” for him to find his closer mojo. That, and losing one of his cut fastballs.

Whatever, it was an ugly start. Can’t deny that. He’s already matched his career high for home runs allowed (five) and is still down about two whiffs per inning on his strikeout rate. This serves as a cautionary tale that you should never, ever overvalue your closer. Unless his name is Mariano Riveria. Had the Royals dealt Soria last winter, his value would have been at it’s maximum. According to reports, the GMDM is still asking for everything under the sun when teams call inquiring about Soria.

Hopefully, he can pitch lights out in the second half and restore some of that trade value.

Grade: C

Over the break, Dayton Moore made the proclamation that the Royals were still in the race for the AL Central. I had no idea he was an outpatient at the Menninger Clinic. The bats are in decent shape and the bullpen is strong, but the starting pitching will continue to drag this team to what will be a top three pick in next year’s draft.

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

We have seen last night’s Luke Hochevar before.   He is the guy that gives Royals’ fans hope that the former number one overall pick is about to or already has turned the corner into becoming, if not an ace, a solid major league starter.

Despite not striking a batter out, Hochevar induced 13 ground ball outs and exited the game after allowing just single runs in the sixth and seventh innings.   Two runs, two walks, five hits over seven innings:  we will take that most any time out from Hochevar.   In fact, the Royals did get virtually the same performance in Hochevar’s previous start against Toronto, but therein lies the problem.

Hochevar will string together two, three and sometime four solid to good starts only to then fall back to simply not very good.   Take a look at just this season:

  • First two starts:  8 runs in 11.2 innings
  • Next two starts: 4 runs in 14 innings
  • Next two starts: 12 runs in 12 innings
  • Next four starts: 8 runs in 28 innings
  • Next three starts: 17 runs in 18 innings
  • Last two starts:  4 runs in 14 innings

Every starting pitcher, even the aces, have off days and certainly Hochevar, miscast as the Royals’ number one starter, falls under more scrutiny than others, but a good pitcher (even an average major league starter) does not follow four good starts with THREE bad ones.   That is the simple truth and a feat that Hochevar has never managed to avoid in what is now an 84 game career.

That four start streak above (8 runs in 28 innings) marks the longest ‘good’ start streak of Hochevar’s career and then was followed by a horrific three start run.  Yes, I know one of those three starts was six perfect innings sandwiched around an 8 run fourth in Baltimore, but that inning did happen, so it counts.  

Advanced metrics are not much kinder to Luke.   His 2011 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) stands at 4.84, up almost a full run from 2010 and exactly where it was during the 2009 season.   Luke’s xFIP is 4.25, up from 4.09 in 2010 and, you guessed it, almost identical to that of 2009.     Is Luke Hochevar treading water, getting worse or getting better?  

Hochevar is inducing ground balls this season at a higher rate (53.2% career high) and after allowing an almost freakish amount of home runs early in the season, he has not allowed a single dinger over his last five starts (32 innings).   At the same time, however, Luke has struck out just eight batters and currently is averaging less than four strikeouts per nine innings.   That is almost two strikeouts less than his career average.

While the Royals’ infield defense is much improved and Hochevar is generally at his best as a ground ball pitcher, I am not sure you can make a consistent living with a strikeout rate as low as his is this season.   The declining strikeout rate coincides with Hochevar’s injury last June.

Prior to that time, Luke was on a bit of a strikeout binge:  getting 31 strikeouts in the 35 innings leading up to his nearly three month stint on the disabled list.   He came back in September and struck out 14 over 25 innings and the decline then continued as the calendar turned to 2011.

Is this a warning sign or a change in approach?  Is it good or bad?  Who knows?   We are talking about Luke Hochevar here.   He could give up five runs in five innings the next time out or throw a shutout, neither would surprise me.

What a game… Dead for eight plus innings, the Cardiac Royals plate one in the ninth and one in the tenth. Unreal.

They won, despite the reappearance of the the 2009 vintage of the Royals. Not the team I once called, “Fundamentally worse than a junior varsity high school team.”

But, damn if they aren’t back. At least on the bases.

– In the first, Alex Gordon was caught stealing with Eric Hosmer at the plate.

– In the sixth, Melky Cabrera was picked off first when he broke for second too early against the left-handed throwing Holland.

– In that same inning, Jeff Francoeur was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double.

One word about the caught stealings… The Royals no longer use advance scouts. Instead, they rely on video. I recommend they invest in an internet connection. One quick check of Baseball Reference reveals that Derek Holland has had 84 stolen base opportunities against him this season. Meaning, there have been 84 instances where a runner has been on either first or second and the next base has been open. Of those 84 chances to steal, opposing runners have made the attempt only two times. Two out of 84. In other words, nobody is running against Holland this year. And when they do… they’ve been caught. That’s right. There hasn’t been a successful steal against Holland all year.

If the Royals only had internet connection at the K, they could have avoided two outs on the bases. If only…

So of course, three batters into the game, the Go-Go Royals try to run. Of course.

There’s aggressive base running and there’s stupid base running. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. And guess which side of the line the Royals have been falling over the last week.

Sure, those pickoffs in the ninth on Wednesday’s game were balks. But Aviles should have been aware of what was going on. Then, I just have a real difficult time moving past Coach Treanor getting picked off of second base on a snap throw by the catcher on Tuesday. I can understand it happening at first… But second? Seriously?

While the base running has been fundamentally awful, the defense has been solid with Alcides Escobar taking charge up the middle. That play in the fifth where Betemit knocked down a line drive and Escobar came over from short to pick the ball up and get the force at second was just the kind of heads up play we never used to see. This kid is worth the price of admission to watch him with the glove.

The outs on the bases and lack of scoring overshadowed the best start of the year for Luke Hochevar. The only blemish was a fat second inning pitch to Chris Davis who sent it into the right field bullpen. The thing was, Hochevar seemed to get stronger over the final third of the game. He retired nine in a row before a soft single in the ninth – and then a rocket finally chased him from the game.

He struck out only four – two of them in the top of the ninth – so I wouldn’t call his performance dominant. But he was doing a great job of locating his pitches and setting up hitters all night. His sinker was doing it’s job – he got 11 ground balls compared to nine in the air – and it was enough to get him through 8.2 innings on a season-high 113 pitches.

It was a savvy performance. Good to see.

Then there was the ninth…

Hosmer led off with a single that was scorched up the middle. Hammered. Dustin Pedroia thinks he used to put on Laser Shows? He has nothing compared to Hos. Then, Francoeur reaches on a single. That was practically a given. In 15 ninth inning plate appearances this year, Frenchy has four hits, five walks and two sac flies. A nice piece of hitting where he went with the pitch and lined it to right.

That sets everything up for Billy Butler… I thought he was on track with a seventh inning single. Sadly, it was not to be as he elevated just a bit too much on a late swing (although he was likely trying to send the ball to right) and hit a soft fly out. Then Feliz ran the count to 3-2 on both Betemit and Aviles. Aviles had a 10 pitch at bat where every Feliz offering was between 97 and 100 mph. Straight gas and Aviles hits a perfectly placed dribbler back up the middle to score Hosmer to tie the game. Tons of credit to Aviles there. His last hit was Saturday in Detroit. He battled, fouling off heater after heater before just putting the ball in play. Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Back to back blown saves for Feliz. He won’t get a chance for a third… Not after throwing 32 pitches to get two outs.

And the tenth…

The second best thing about the tenth was the fact we got to see another Escobar highlight pick at short. And Hosmer flashing the leather on the short hop was something to see as well. Just a fine defensive play from those two. I can see that happening several times over the next six or seven seasons.

The best thing about the tenth was the fact the Royals had the top of the order… This was there chance. I just can’t say enough about Hosmer. That kid is just ice. And then Frenchy… I don’t want to, but I love the guy.

The team was frustrated for eight plus innings, but Hochevar kept them in the game and they pushed through in the ninth and tenth. Just a great game. Really – aside from the boneheaded base running – an outstanding game to watch.

No balks tonight. Just a win.

Well, what is one to say or write about last night’s extra inning loss?    More specifically, what is one to write that has not already been written, tweeted or said?

Eleven innings, back to back pick-offs of pinch runners, 13 walks, a run scoring wild pitch, 5 stolen bases allowed, a 9th inning game tying homer by rookie Eric Hosmer, the debut of rookie Danny Duffy and another Joakim Soria bad outing.   Whew!  I cannot decide whether we should spend this column dissecting last night’s loss or try to forget it.

Obviously, in a game in which the manager empties his bench and his bullpen, there are many instances where we could second guess Ned Yost.   My only comments on Yost last night are that I would have stuck with Louis Coleman for a second inning of work and probably Aaron Crow for a second inning as well.  You’ll have to take my word that I was thinking that Crow should work the 9th inning as well before Soria surrendered a run, although going to Soria in the 9th is hardly managerial malpractice.  An extra inning out of both Coleman and Crow keeps Yost from having to go to Jeremy Jeffress in the 11th.

My other complaint is that the Royals need some sort of ‘for godssake don’t make an out on the bases!’ sign.    I know the organization is all about aggressive baserunning, but after Jarrod Dyson is picked off in the 9th, don’t you have to tell Mike Aviles to take a two step lead and hope Wilson Betemit drives the ball into the gap?   Yes, Aviles should damn well know that he can’t get picked off, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing up a ‘STOP’ sign to reinforce the issue.

Anyway, the Royals had their chances and, frankly, the Rangers had more chances.  It was a discouraging loss and one that certainly feels like ‘old times’ for us Kansas City fans.  That’s a few more words about last night than I thought, let’s go inside the numbers for a bit:

  • 30 – The number of pitches Danny Duffy threw AFTER getting two strikes on a hitter.
  • 1 - Total number of passed balls charged to Matt Treanor in 2011:  relevant because it happened last night.
  • 5 – Outings in which Joakim Soria has allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings at this time in 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings after May 19, 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Total combined hits before last night from Mike Aviles and Chris Getz in the last two weeks.
  • .630 - Billy Butler’s OPS in May.
  • .515 - Alex Gordon’s OPS in May.
  • 3.26 - Luke Hochevar’s May earned run average.
  • 7 - May strikeouts by Hochevar.
  • 7 - May walks by Hochevar.
  • 3 - Minimum number of games the Royals need to win through this current homestand to have even a hope of getting back to and staying at or over .500 by the end of May.

I will give kudos to Ned Yost for shaking up the lineup last night – even if it didn’t really pan out.  My original plan for a column was about having to do that very thing and, I have to be honest here, Ned shook it up much more boldly than I would have.    It will be interesting to see if Yost sticks with last night’s batting order or if it was a one time thing.

Okay, question of the day:  When do you call up Mike Moustakas?