Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Roman Colon

I have been doing research for a far different column than the one you are getting today.    My original column idea was based on the belief that the Royals, as they have so many times before, would go to Tampa Bay and get their heads handed to them in the four game series.    What happened this weekend, while not earth shattering, was enough to forestall my original idea – at least until Thursday – and instead review a number of comings, goings and happenings since the team left Kansas City.

After taking an 11-1 drubbing on Thursday night, the Royals rebounded to hold one of the hottest teams in baseball to just five runs over the next three games.   Of course, in typical Royals’ fashion, they somehow managed to lose one of those three games and, of course, that game happened to be pitched by Zack Greinke.

Yesterday, Greinke was simply awesome, taking just 87 pitches to fly through eight innings.   In that time, Zack walked no one, struck out six and hung one curveball to Evan Longoria and lost because of it.   As Tampa manager Joe Maddon observed, ‘Grenke could have thrown 15 innings on Sunday’ and I have to agree.  

Greinke threw more than 12 pitches in an inning just once on Sunday, was still throwing ninety-three miles per hour on his last pitch and only threw twenty balls out of the strike zone all day.   For that, Zack was rewarded with his second complete game 1-0 loss in less than a year.     Did you know there had not been a 1-0 game in the American League all year?    I don’t know if Zack Greinke drinks, but this is the kind of stuff that will make a guy start.

The much maligned bullpen had a nice weekend, too:  allowing three runs in 12.1 innings of work.     If you discount the cameo appearance by Victor Marte (how much do you make being in the majors for 24 hours?) and an irrelevant Kyle Farnsworth sighting, the reliever allowed just one run when it mattered and that was by Joakim Soria.   Does that mean all is well out in the pen?  I doubt it, but a little success can’t hurt.

That said, the organization felt good enough about the bullpen to ship off a pitcher who many of us on stage and screen have been clamoring for:  Carlos Rosa.   Greg Schaum had a nice rundown of the trade here.   One organizational stance seemed to be that ‘Rosa does not have an out-pitch and the lowest strike percentage in AAA’.       Okay, I can see that, and the player acquired is twenty year old Rey Navarro who was a former third round pick with a metric ton of upside,  but you have to wonder if a team struggling to hold leads should really be trading away a guy who can throw 97 mph.   By the way, what exactly do Brad Thompson, Bruce Chen, Kyle Farnsworth, etc. have that IS considered an ‘out-pitch’.

What can we really read into the Rosa trade?   Well, it is certainly possible that it is ‘Dayton Moore I’m tired of hearing everyone talk about Rosa’ move, but we can hope it is:

  • that the organization is looking towards the future (which plays nicely into by original idea for a column)
  • that Blake Wood is progressing nicely in Omaha and took Rosa’s place as the ‘power arm of the future’
  • that the likes of a Ferderico Casteneda, Greg Holland and Louis Coleman (to name a few) are soon to be better potential relievers than Rosa
  • Rey Navarro is the next Omar Vizquel and we have robbed Arizona once more

Frankly, I will settle for Wood being the primary setup man in Kansas City by June 15th and worry about the rest of the above later.   However, if Navarro becomes Vizquel and Chris Getz turns into Brian Roberts, we’ll all have a Merry Christmas.

Speaking of Chris Getz (who I still like, but am slowly getting a bad feeling that he is going to ‘do all the little things’ and end up hitting .227.), he was activated on Friday which moved Alex Gordon to the bench and, by Sunday, all the way to Omaha.  

Since 2007, I have been in the camp of thinking that what Gordon needed to learn about hitting could only be taught at the major league level.  That said, at this point, I don’t have much of a problem with Alex being sent to Omaha.   It worked for Mark Teahen once – well, it worked for three months better than the next two years, but it did cause improvement.     Playing everyday at this point and hopefully feasting on lesser pitching is probably a better plan for Gordon than having him see sporadic time in the majors.

There is a school of thought that the organization is already looking at Gordon moving to first and Butler to DH as soon as Jose Guillen is off the roster.   Have they given up on Alex?  I don’t think so, but the Royals have certainly changed their way of thinking when it comes to him.

Mike Aviles replaces Gordon on the roster and would seem to be a better fit should Trey Hillman actually deviate from his set lineup…ever.   Aviles played shortstop every day his last week in Omaha, which I’m hoping means he is ready to handle the left side of the infield.   Given that Yuniesky Betancourt is gradually regressing into himself, it would be nice to see Mike get three or even for starts per week spread between second, short and third.    It is very possible that Aviles, once Guillen cools off, is the second best bat on the team next to Billy Butler, and it would be a shame to see Hillman just let him rot on the bench.

Speaking of comings and goings, the Royals have (or are about to) sell the rights of Roman Colon to Korea.    What’s the IRS form number for selling a human to another country?   While this may be an opportunity for Colon to throw more, I have to believe Kansas City to Omaha to Korea is not the ideal career path.

The Royals move on to Chicago tonight and we will see a struggling Gil Meche pitch against a struggling Jake Peavy.   Gil, who is so out of sync that he is worried about when he takes the ball out of his glove during his delivery, really needs to have a good start or this season is going to go from wounded duck status to actual awfulness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first bullpen domino has tumbled…

Colon was always a fringe guy in my mind.  (Aren’t they all?)  He wasn’t helped by a low strikeout rate and the fact he evolved into a fly ball pitcher the last couple of years.  He was designated for assignment.  That was a poorly spent $665,000.  Based on the dollars, it seems surprising Luis Mendoza is still around.

Josh Rupe was signed by the Royals as a minor league free agent last November.  He had thrown five scoreless innings for Omaha, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out four.  Rupe, like Colon, carries a low strikeout to walk ratio, but keeps the ball in the park.

This isn’t a bullpen fix, but something had to be done.  This is a welcome change from last year where the team seemingly refused to address the bullpen issues by dipping into the minors.  And the Royals are still carrying 13 pitchers.

In other news today, Alex Gordon was moved to Omaha to continue his rehab.  He hit .235/.548/.412 in Wilmington.  His lofty OBP is the result of nine walks and four HBP in 31 plate appearances.  He had four base hits – three doubles.  Hopefully, he’ll get an opportunity to swing the bat in Triple-A.  He could return by the end of the month.

Who do you blame?

Do you blame Trey Hillman?

Roman Colon isn’t a guy to bring in to a game in a pressure situation, but he was handed a 5-1 lead and asked to get two outs.  That’s not exactly pressure.  I get what Hillman is doing here, which is basically throwing a guy to the lions (or Tigers) while hoping, against all odds, that he survives.  Unfortunately, this isn’t any kind of a strategy.

Three batters later, Hillman tries to employ a platoon strategy, so enter Dusty Hughes to face Johnny Damon.  Hillman is playing the percentages here – lefty vs. lefty.  But in his brief time in the majors, Hughes allows a higher average against hitters from the left side (.250) than the right (.223).  In the minors, here are his splits:

Vs LHB – .263
Vs RHB – .272

Yeah, it’s a difference, but in reality, Hughes isn’t a LOOGY.  Hillman should know this.  He should also know John Parrish likewise doesn’t own crazy platoon splits.  Here’s how he’s done in his major league career:

Vs LHB – .253
Vs RHB – .269

Again, not a huge split.  Not enough to bestow upon him LOOGY status.  However, all things equal, who would you rather send to the mound to protect a two run lead in the seventh?  Hughes, who has all of 17 major league innings under his belt and has yet to prove he can get hitters out at this level?  Or Parrish, a ten year veteran who’s logged 275 innings in his major league career?  And Parrish has been the second best reliever on this team in the first week.

Yeah, Hillman chose wrong.  I’m sure Hillman didn’t want to use Parrish because he threw 20 pitches the day before, but what’s the harm in letting him face Damon – one batter?  Parrish has been summoned from the pen five times this year and before Monday, faced exactly one hitter each time.

When Hughes can’t retire Damon, that has to be the end of his afternoon.  One batter, that’s it.  There’s no way you can let him face Magglio Ordonez.  Yet, our fearless leader does just that.  Would you be surprised to hear that Ordonez slugs 60 points higher against left handers?  Or that he owns an OBP 15 points higher against leftys?  I wonder if Hillman knows.  This was set up for fail, but the only good thing that happened in the Ordonez plate appearance was the fact he didn’t swing the bat.  Five pitches, four balls.  By walking Ordonez, Hughes very generously allowed Hillman to dodge a bullet.

I would have brought Juan Cruz in to face Ordonez.  That’s probably the proper strategy, but when Hillman finally goes to him one batter later, he coughs up a walk and a double.

Bye-bye five run lead.  Here’s how Fangraphs saw it:

Herein lies the issue:  Hillman is damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.

I’m not a Hillman apologist.  Far from it.  He mismanaged the bullpen in this game.  It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.  Yet, the moves he got correct, still blew up in his face.  That’s the way it seems to always go with SABR Trey.  The guy can’t catch a break. Nevermind, most of the time this happens because his previous bad decisions put his team at a disadvantage in the first place.  You’d think a little dumb luck would fall in his favor once or twice.  I guess you could say the same for us Royals fans.

Of course… And this is the killer… As the Tigers rallied in the seventh, the Royals had one guy in the bullpen who had a better chance of anyone to stop the carnage.  One guy who could have stepped up and slammed the door on the Tigers.

Yet Joakim Soria never got the ball.

Sure, it’s unorthodox strategy to bring your “closer” into a game in the seventh inning, but I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to beat this drum… Why wouldn’t you put your best pitcher out there with the game on the line?  I’d make a bigger issue out of this, but this is the state of baseball today.  It probably never crossed SABR Trey’s mind to use Soria in the seventh… Because it would have meant a seven out save!  Ahh… but I’m not talking about doing that.  I’m talking about using the closer as a “fireman.”  Remember those days?  It sounds so easy, except then what do you do for the remaining outs?  Because you can’t clone Soria.

Luis Mendoza in the eighth?  That’s like waving the white flag.  Somehow, he was the best reliever of the day.  That’s not a good thing.

Do you blame Dayton Moore?

Remember back when we thought GMDM’s best attribute was his ability to cobble together a bullpen out of spare parts and castoffs?  Yeah, that’s not working so well anymore.

Kyle Farnsworth, Hughes, Mendoza, Colon?  This cast of characters would have difficulty against a run of the mill Triple-A team.  Cruz has been horrible since jumping to the AL.  Just dreadful. I don’t trust Robinson Tejeda.  Don’t trust him at all.

The Royals have eight relievers.  Only one of them can be described as better than average – Soria.  I’ll give Parrish the benefit of the doubt and call him average.  The rest of this motley crew?  Below average.  Way below average.

And that has to be on the general manager.  He built a bullpen, tore it down for some bats, tried to restock via free agency and lately has dipped into the minors and the free agent scrapheap in hope he can recapture his past success.

He’s finding it’s a little more difficult than he probably thought.

Last year, I was worried a shaky bullpen and an inept manager would cause the starters to be overworked.  Now, I have to worry the Royals will carry 13 pitchers all year because 10 of them are disasters.  Three years into the Moore/Hillman regime and we have yet to find a balanced roster.

So my answer to the blame game is, I blame both.  I blame Dayton Moore for building this craptastic bullpen and I blame Trey Hillman for failing to figure out how to put his pitchers in the best situation to succeed.  The losers here?  Us.  Most of us have stuck with this team through thin and thin the last 20-plus years.  We deserve better than this.  I wish I could offer some encouraging words and tell you there is some promise on the horizon.  That things are looking up.  But I can’t.

My advice is to stock up on your drink of choice.  It’s going to be a cruel summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, at this point, here is the bullpen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

%d bloggers like this: