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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Robinson Tejeda

Robinson Tejeda… Something isn’t right with this dude. Last year, his average fastball was around 94 mph with some serious life. Last night, he was living around 88-89 mph while sometimes dialing it up to 92. Interestingly enough, his fastest pitch was his last pitch – a 92.7 mph four-seamer he left right down the middle of the plate that was smoked for the game winning hit by Danny Valencia.

It was pretty clear from the four pitch walk to the second batter Tejeda faced (Michael Cuddyer) that this game was going to end in an ugly fashion for the Royals. What was Ned Yost thinking at this point? Unfortunately, it appears he wasn’t thinking at all. Ripping a page from the Trey Hillman Managerial Handbook, Yost sat on his hands while the game crumbled. Of course, the obvious gripe will be that Joakim Soria should have been in the game. Put me in this camp. Although I also understand that in an extra inning game on the road, you have to save him for the bottom of the inning just in case you take the lead in the top half of the inning. You just have to. (Emphasis added to underscore the sarcasm.) This argument is a dead horse. There are a lot of things about Yost that I like, but we can’t forget that he’s a major league manager, and as a major league manager he is expected to do things in a certain way. By The Book, if you will. Yost doesn’t strike me as a guy who would like to be tagged as an innovator. There’s just no way Soria will ever enter the game in that situation. Moot point.

Moving on, while Soria isn’t even going to warm up without a lead in extras, there was no reason Yost couldn’t have grabbed any warm body out in the pen. I don’t care who… Adcock, Jeffress, even Texeira. The point is, Tejeda was struggling (again.) If you’re truly trying to win the ballgame, you can’t watch what happened with the first two batters and do nothing. Yost fell asleep at the switch. I’m not going to say his inaction last night cost the Royals the game, but it didn’t help.

If you were managing like it was 2010, maybe you stick with Tejeda. He should be a better pitcher than the remaining guys in the bullpen. But this is 2011, and he’s not a better pitcher. At least so far in this young season.

Now we have to wonder what’s next for Tejeda. I’m thinking trip to the DL is happening, and I’m hoping it’s soon. He’s faced 26 batters this year, allowed 12 of them to reach base and has struck out just one.

Of course we wouldn’t be talking about any of this, had the Royals come through in the top of the seventh with runners on first and third and no one out. The Royals had just forced Brian Duensing out of the game after the Melk Man tagged him (literally) on a shot back up the middle. Enter Jose Mijares, a LOOGY who promptly overmatches left-handed hitting Alex Gordon on heat that was up and running away. Yes, you want Gordon to just put the bat on the ball in that situation, but it really felt like an unfair fight. The last pitch was up and probably out of the zone, but the action of it running away from the left-handed hitter made it a difficult pitch to handle. And given the moving strike zone all night (more on that in a moment) I can’t fault Gordon for the swing and the miss.

For me, the next at bat was much more frustrating because Matt Capps served up a couple of fastballs that Billy Butler really should have done something with. He was out in front of the first pitch and jerked it foul down the left field line, but that was a belt high fastball on the inner half. Right in his wheelhouse. If he had timed it right, it’s at least a sac fly, maybe more. The third (and final) pitch was just ridiculously hittable, and Butler dropped the barrel of the bat and popped out.

As frustrating as the first two outs… Jeff Francoeur. As I tweeted during the game, the Frenchy at bat carried an air of inevitability. Two outs, runner on third in a tie game and the three and four hitters had already failed. The pressure squarely on, Francoeur illustrated why you can’t count on him because his pitch selection is just so horrible. And of course, after he swings at a couple of pitches out of the zone, he takes strike three.

Before I’m blasted in the comments section about hating on Francoeur, let me talk about how much I liked his defense last night. Yes, he didn’t get to that ball in the 10th, but he had a long way to go and that wind was playing tricks. Good effort, and I really thought he had it. (Wouldn’t have made a difference with Yost sitting on his hands in the dugout.) Still, he recovered quickly and a strong throw prevented the game from ending right there. Then, there was the play on the Justin Morneau lineout where he was able to double Joe Mauer off first base. Solid. (And worth at least one point, I assume.)

A couple of other notes…

- It will be interesting to see the lineup for this afternoon’s game. It made sense to sit Kila Ka’aihue against the left-handed starter, especially given how he’s struggled in the early going. Mike Aviles isn’t doing much better, but Wilson Betemit has to be in the lineup from here on out. Maybe we’ll start to see a Kila/Aviles platoon until one of these guys comes around. If this is the case, Kila will be out today against Francisco Liriano.

- Loved the Tim Collins/Jim Thome matchup last night. The camera angle from Target Field really showed where Collins is (or isn’t) on the rubber. He’s practically throwing from the third base dugout.

- Aaron Crow is quickly becoming one of my favorite relievers because the guy works fast and doesn’t nibble. I get the feeling he knows what he wants to do with the next pitch before he’s done with the one he’s currently delivering. There might be some temptation to shift him to the rotation, especially given how Kyle Davies has performed and we’re a couple of days away from a Sean O’Sullivan start. The Royals will be wise to keep him in the bullpen for a couple of reasons. One, he projects as a reliever. That’s just his strength. And two, he’s a rookie. Let him learn how to pitch in the majors coming out of the bullpen. I love that old school philosophy. This way, it’s possible he could contribute to the rotation down the road.

- Presented without comment… Last night’s strike zone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

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

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

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

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

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

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

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

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

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

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

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

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

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

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

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

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

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

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: The Royals have reportedly agreed to terms with Jeff Francis to a one-year deal, pending a physical.  I mention Francis later in this post in regards to the team’s payroll. It will be interesting to see how much he will be making next year, but as you’ll see… It really doesn’t matter.  Read on…

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The Royals and Luke Hochevar agreed to terms on Wednesday, avoiding arbitration.  According to reports, he’s set to make $1.76 million next season.  While that’s hardly chump change, according to Cot’s that is the exact same amount he made in 2010. Hochevar is represented by Scott Boras, so I found it kind of interesting that they reached this sort of an agreement.  Even though he was hurt and missed a large chunk of the season, Hochevar did improve on his overall performance.  Trust me… You have to look closely, but he did.

Hochevar has added seven pounds of muscle (one of the first “Best Shape of his Life” stories of 2011… Spring Training is close.) in an attempt to avoid further injury.  I’m always ambivalent about these reports.  Will more muscle result in better performance, or will it take something away?  I guess we’ll know about a year from now when the story is either “Hochevar Trims Down” or “Hochevar named Mr. Universe.”

With Hochevar under contract, that leaves Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Robinson Tejeda and Kyle Davies as the Royals remaining arbitration-eligible players.  Given Dayton Moore’s track record – he’s never gone to arbitration in his tenure in KC – I’d bet all four reach agreements before the team reports to Surprise.

So let’s take a look at the Royals current payroll.  Here are the names and the numbers we know.  These are all the Royals under contract for 2011.  All numbers are in millions.

That is a lean total for a baseball payroll about a month from the opening of camp.

Now, let’s look at the guys who haven’t been locked in for 2011.

Butler will get a nice raise to avoid arbitration.  I’m thinking somewhere in the $3 million neighborhood.  Gordon will probably be in line with last season’s $1.15 million.  There is no way Davies should make more money than Hochevar, but he was at $1.8 last year, so let’s pencil him in for that again.  And Tejeda will probably double his salary from last year and make around $2 million.  These numbers are just off the top of my head.  I’m confident about the Gordon and Davies guesses, less so about Butler and Tejeda.  Still, let’s figure an additional $8 million for the remaining arbitration guys.  That pushes the total payroll to about $35 million.

Then there are the guys with less that three years of service time.  The club can (and will) automatically renew their contracts for either the minimum ($414,000) or slightly above.  On the Royals, that includes the following players:

Nathan Adcock
Jesse Chavez
Greg Holland
Jeremy Jeffries
Vin Mazzaro
Sean O’Sullivan
Lucas May
Mike Aviles
Alcides Escobar
Chris Getz
Kila Ka’aihue
Gregor Blanco
Lorenzo Cain

OK… I’ve left out some players who could be on the 25 man roster Opening Day.  That’s not the point.  Because if one of these 13 guys isn’t on the team at the start of April, he will be replaced by someone with a similar level of experience.

Since not everyone listed above will make the bare minimum, let’s just round up and assign everyone a contract of $425,000.  That adds an extra $5.525 million to the payroll.

That brings our rough estimate of the Royals Opening Day payroll to $40.525 million.  Throw in the $1 million they owe The Yunigma and that edges the team payroll to just over $41 million.

Wow.

Quite the reduction from the $70 million plus payrolls the Royals opened the year with in 2010 and 2009.

I know there will be a focus on the team payroll and most of it will be negative.  Ignore that noise.  A payroll this low means that while GMDM doesn’t totally get it, he’s learning.  He’s learning that you don’t need to throw mega-millions at a broken down outfielder or a reliever in order to finish in fourth or fifth place.  This is a good thing.  With The Process in full swing, there’s no need to bloat the payroll today.  The eyes are on the future.

On the other hand, I’m worried that the money is smoldering in GMDM’s pocket.  Obviously the Royals need pitching and Kevin Millwood seems like the kind of guy he would overpay, just to bring him to KC.  How GMDM approaches this need in the next month will speak loudly about exactly how much he has learned.

However, it’s all a slippery slope.  Don’t spend money and you’re cheap and running the team on a Wal-Mart budget.  Spend money on guys like Millwood and you’re basically throwing cash away.  Still, there’s not a much (really, any) quality remaining on the free agent market.  All that’s left are injury risks (Chris Young, Jeff Francis) and guys who… aren’t very good. (Jeff Suppan, Nate Robertson)

Myself, I’d rather GMDM resist the temptation to throw the cash just because he has it.  I know that a million saved in 2011 doesn’t mean anything in 2012.  Still, just once I’d like Moore to do the prudent thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After yesterday’s 12 inning win, I know of at least one loyal commenter to this site who is delighted and one big league manager who is smirking at everyone right now.   Not to mention at least one writer on this site who is delighted with Kila Ka’aihue’s home run, double and two walk game yesterday.

Given that Ned Yost did the unthinkable by batting Willie Bloomquist third (even national guys were chiming in on Twitter with sarcastic comments), then guaranteed that Willie would get two hits and THEN actually saw the guy do it, including the game winning homer, who am I to criticize?   Frankly, I don’t even know what to say.

Instead, let’s take a quick look at what the expanded roster in September might include.   Who, if anyone, will get a call-up and of those, who will actually get a real look?  

We’ll start with the easy ones:  veteran players who have been on the disabled list:

  • Gil Meche – all signs point to Gil getting a look out of the bullpen next month.  The Royals will be careful with him at this point, so we won’t see him even every other day, but I imagine six or seven appearances at least.  The snag here is that Gil is on the 60 day disabled list (which does not take a 40 man roster spot) and a spot would have to be made on the 40 man roster to accommodate his activation.
  • Luke Hochevar – if you can believe the organization, Hochevar will make a rehab start or two shortly, which would put him on pace for a couple of September starts.  Part of me says that is a good idea, the other part of me says that Hochevar should just shut down and come back 100% next spring.
  • Brian Bannister – probably could be pitching right now if the Royals really wanted him to.   Made a two inning appearance in Omaha earlier this week and will be back up in September.   Brian’s September starts – he might well step into a regular rotation spot for the month – will likely determine if he has a future with the Royals.
  • Robinston Tejeda – supposedly will be ready in early September.   If he is, Tejeda will step back into the late inning setup role that currently makes him the third most stable member of the entire staff.
  • Josh Fields – remember him?  He has been on a rehab assignment in Northwest Arkansas after spending the season the 60 day disabled list.     Like Meche, someone has to go if Fields comes off the 60 day DL.
  • David DeJesus – there was talk of getting him back in the final couple weeks of the season, but I have not heard much about that as of late.  You kind of wonder why the rush given that DeJesus is clearly the best outfielder in the organization and not exactly a mystery as to what he will give you when healthy in 2011.

I am pretty sure the organization wants to see what Meche looks like coming out of the bullpen, so he will be activated from the 60 day DL.   They could make space on the roster for him by shifting DeJesus to the 60 day list or Hochevar if they decide to shut him down until next spring.   If the Royals also want to bring Fields up, then they will need another spot cleared.    They could make room by putting Jeff Bianchi on the 60 day list, as he has not played yet this year or Noel Arguelles, who is apparently not going to pitch this season, either.

Now, what about other guys that might get a look in September?   We will start with players who are on the 40 man roster now and would not require any correponding roster move to come up to the majors:

  • Victor Marte – I put him here only because he is on the 40 man roster and the organization still seems to have some attraction to him.   Now, given that with the above veteran activations, the Royals’ staff could already be at 15 pitchers, they might just call it good.   I have no burning desire to see Marte again and would, in fact, advocate his removal from the 40 man in favor of calling up someone else.
  • Brian Anderson – if you look at the Royals website, Anderson is listed under outfielders, but he has transitioned quickly into a relief pitcher.   Playing at three levels this year, after a lengthy instructional stint in Arizona, Anderson has thrown 13.1 innings, struck out 14 and allowed just six hits.  In three innings thus far in AAA,  Brian has been perfect.   That the Royals already have him pitching in AAA tells me they don’t want to waste any time with Anderson.  I think he comes up and gets a handful of September appearances once Omaha’s season is over.  The O-Royals, by the way, are in the hunt for a playoff berth, so they could conceivably be playing into the teens of September.  I don’t imagine anyone on that roster gets the call until that is wrapped up.
  • Amongst position players, the other guys already on the roster that might get consideration are catcher Lucas May and outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Jordan Parraz.   I could see May getting a call ‘just to get a feel for the majors’, but if he does he will not play much.   If Trey Hillman was still manager, Dyson would probably be up now, but he is hitting just .257 in Omaha and the organization would be better served by getting a true look at Gregor Blanco this September.   As for Parraz, his season was probably not enough to warrant a spot on the dugout bench.

Now, it gets interesting, as the players we are going discuss might well deserve a look, but would require making a 40 man roster move to get them to the majors:

  • Mike Moustakas – .273/.294/.453 in AAA probably cooled any front office ideas of giving Mike a look this year, but he has improved over time at this level (including an .856 OPS the last 10 games).  That said, with the Royals wanting to see what they have in Wilson Betemit and likely to take a look at Josh Fields, I imagine Moustakas’ major league career will start sometime next summer instead of this fall.
  • David Lough – A slow start this year has kept Lough’s numbers in Omaha to a modest .279/.343/.440, but he has exploded in August with a 1.006 OPS.   This is a guy who could truly factor into the Royals’ future, especially if 2011 turns out to be DeJesus’ last year with the club.   Who would you rather see, Lough or Victor Marte?   There’s your roster move if you want a look at Lough.
  • Louis Coleman – It’s always nice when a plan works and the Royals’ plan for Coleman after drafting him in 2009 was to ‘fast track’  him as a reliever.   Just over one year later, Coleman is in AAA with 39 strikeouts in 33 innings and opponents batting just .214 against him.   If Lough in place of Marte, why not Coleman?   If the future of the bullpen is Coleman and Greg Holland (who has struggled thus far in the majors, but has a habit of doing so the first couple weeks at a new level before become pretty decent) are the future of the pen in front of Tejeda and Soria, the Royals would be wise to make that move this September.
  • Blaine Hardy – He was dominant as a reliever, I mean flat-out dominant, at four levels including AAA before the Royals moved him into a starting role.    Blaine has been just okay as a starter (7 starts) but probably is not ready for major league action in that role.  I would expect some fall/winter work with an eye towards him getting a shot at the number five starter role next spring. 
  • Ed Lucas – He has played pretty much every position and hit .304/.394/.500 this year in Omaha, but I don’t know what the Royals do with him in the majors this September.   They want to get a good look at Getz, will not impinge on the Yunigma’s playing time and already have Aviles and yesterday’s hero Bloomquist.   It would be nice to reward Lucas for a good season with a major league salary for part of the month, but the Royals probably don’t want to mess with the 40 man roster just to be nice.

So, in the end, the September roster likely will swell quite a bit, but not with any player all that exciting.   Meche, Hochevar, Bannister, Tejeda and Fields are almost certainties.   With a pretty good chance that May and Anderson get a call, if not much of a look, once Omaha’s season wraps up.    After that, the club could get imaginative and bring up Coleman or Lough, or stay the course and look to Victor Marte once more for no other reason than he has been in the majors this year and has a 40 man roster spot.

Truthfully, the players the Royals really need to get a feel for are already up and playing in Kansas City.   That is progress right there over previous years under this regime.

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+
——————————————————————————————————-
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+
——————————————————————————————————-
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+
——————————————————————————————————-
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-
——————————————————————————————————-
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
——————————————————————————————————-
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-
——————————————————————————————————-
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-
——————————————————————————————————-
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
——————————————————————————————————-
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-
——————————————————————————————————-
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+
——————————————————————————————————-
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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….player number eight:  the middle infielder.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his short tenure, Yost has largely been golden.

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

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

Fine.  It wasn’t really a massacre.  However, it was an interesting game last night for a couple of reasons.

First the walks.  I have said numerous times that I just can’t bear to watch Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch.  The time he takes between pitches, the long windup when he actually gets around to throwing the ball and the fact he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, to borrow a phrase from Crash Davis.

(Yes, I’m aware I sound like Joe West.  That guy is taking a beating isn’t he?  Deservedly so.  His strike zone was as fine an example of umpiring malpractice I’ve ever seen.)

So the Royals draw eight walks in total – all from Dice-K.  They grab just four base hits, yet score four times.  One run on a bases loaded walk, one run on a passed ball and a pair of runs on a pair of David DeJesus base hits.

The eight walks for the Royals sounds like a ton, and it is.  We’re talking about a franchise that hasn’t valued the walk since 1995.  Somehow, it’s not entirely uncommon for the Royals to walk at least eight times in a game – they’ve done it 38 times since 2000 and did it five times alone last year.  In fact, the last team the Royals had at least eight walks against was the Red Sox last September.  Tim Wakefield started that game.

And what about the bullpen?  Has Blake Wood been awesome or what?  He was consistently hitting 96 mph on the radar gun.  Throw in Good Robinson Tejeda and the ever reliable Joakim Soria and you have three innings of no-hit relief.

Going forward, I hope that Ned Yost flip-flops Tejeda and Wood in the bullpen pecking order.  Good Tejeda is simply overpowering and will blow hitters away.  On the other hand, Wood has decent velocity, but he doesn’t miss enough bats for my liking.  Plus, through his first 8.2 innings, he owns a .146 batting average on balls in play.  I don’t think I need to tell you, there’s absolutely no way he can keep that number that low.  I’d advocate using the pitch to contact pitcher earlier in the game.

And how about that WEB GEM from Billy Butler last night?  Oh, the vertical!  If that rocket from Varitek goes down the line, it’s the tying run on second with one out.  Obviously, Soria is in the game, so my confidence level would still be high.  In this case though, I think it’s better we didn’t have to deal with that situation.

Finally, big congratulations to David DeJesus who celebrates his first game back with the team after becoming a father with a pair of hits and two RBI.  He’s had a solid first two months and could be on the path to a career year.