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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Tim Collins

Well, if your hope was for the Kansas City Royals to play .500 ball this year, the team is right on schedule.

Like their fans, the Royals’ batters seemed just plain too amped up on opening night.  From Mike Moustakas basically playing defense on Alcides Escobar twice to the top four batters in the order striking out 10 times in 16 at-bats, the Royals were just too anxious.  Of course, Jared Weaver is, you know, freakishly good as well.   It is possible, let’s hope anyway, that Kansas City fans won’t see Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler string together a series of at-bats any worse than they did on Friday night.

Now Saturday, against Dan Haren (a pitcher I think is pretty awesome in his own right), the Royals did work at the plate.  Solid at-bats and outstanding results – with the exception of Gordon, who seems to be in a bit of funk to start the season.  Nothing better than having Hosmer and Moustakas go yard on a national broadcast.

On the mound, we saw the ‘weak’ portion of the roster come through with flying colors.   Bruce Chen had Angels hitters off-balance for six innings on Friday, while Luke Hochevar used some early inning luck (and a good portion of newfound composure) in combination with some 5th and 6th inning dominance to nearly duplicate Chen’s performance.  

Of course, baseball being the funny game that it is, the Royals’ perceived strength, the bullpen, was not exactly stellar. 

Aaron Crow pitched as dominant an inning on Friday as I can remember…from anyone, inducing 8 swinging strikes on his way to striking out the side.   He followed up with an ineffective start to the 8th and was followed by Greg Holland who allowed as many inherited runners to score in that one inning than he did in ALL of 2011.

I was surprised Ned Yost sent Crow back out for a second inning of work on Friday.  I certainly can understand why, given Crow’s dominance in the first inning of work, but it was unexpected and ended up working out horribly.   Such is the life of a big league manager.

On Saturday, Holland was much better, but Tim Collins allowed two inherited runners to score and Jonathan Broxton had a less than ‘slam the door’ kind of ninth.   Still, I remain confident that the bullpen will round back into form sooner rather than later.   Combine that with some maybe surprising starting pitching and the Royals might have a lot of fun in 2012.

More detailed (maybe) analysis on Monday.

xxx

 

The bullpen was one of the strengths of the 2011 Kansas City Royals and is perceived to be one again heading into 2012.  In fact, with the anticipation that the team’s five man starting rotation is likely to be average at best, the Royals have made moves to bolster their already strong relief corps in an effort to forge a ‘super bullpen’.

I am not going to get into the validity of whether a great bullpen can counterbalance a poor rotation.  I know a bad bullpen can wreck a good rotation, but whether it works the other way around is yet to be seen.   Suffice it to say, the Royals expect to have a top tier bullpen in 2012, which is logical given the fine level of performances they received from so many reliever last year.

Of course, relievers are among the most volatile creatures on the planet.   One day you are Brad Lidge, premier closer in baseball, and the next day your, ugh, Brad Lidge.  Any Royals fan that was around and aware in 1990 is keenly familiar with the spectacular disintegration of Mark Davis.   The list of lock down relievers who imploded is long and ugly and every team in baseball has a long one.   Add the factor of youth and the possibility for disappointing results from highly thought of bullpen arms becomes even more likely.

Kansas City, however, has a valuable commodity when it comes to overcoming the potential devastating volatility of a young bullpen:  a lot of arms.

Right now, the favorites to break camp in the pen are Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Jose Mijares, Aaron Crow and Luis Mendoza.   Based on what we have heard out of camp, I don’t know that you can make an argument on the first six (you can make an argument about the logic that leads to the first six and whether it is right or wrong, but you pretty much have to admit that those six names are at the top of a whiteboard in Dayton Moore’s office).  With Mendoza pitching well in camp to date (it is admittedly early), one gets the feeling that the Royals will want to keep him around, even if Paulino and Duffy win the final two rotation spots – which I think they will.

If that is the seven man pen, then the Royals will have these familiar names starting the year in Omaha:  Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Blake Wood, Everett Teaford, Jeremy Jeffress and Nathan Adcock.  

In Herrera, you have the organization’s closer of the future (or at least back of the bullpen fixture of the future, anyway).   Possessing the best fastball in camp, the 21 year old would have been a lock to make virtually any bullpen of the past ten years. 

While Wood is something of a whipping boy amongst Royals fans, he did throw 69.2 pretty decent major league innings in his second season.  He also cut his home run allowed rate in half and upped his strikeouts per nine innings to 8.0 from 5.6 the year before, and did so without elevating his walk rate (which is still too high).    Blake is no star, but he has gone from THE 8th inning guy in 2010 to a pitcher who probably won’t make the club in 2012 while improving his game.

Last spring, Tim Collins was the darling of camp.  He was a strikeout machine in the minors and Tim got off to a quick start in the majors only to be undone by spotty (at best) control.   Still, Collins threw 67 innings last year, struck out 60 and allowed just 52 hits.   Early on this spring, he is showing much better ability to consistently throw strikes and, wait for it, he is lefthanded.  Like Wood and Herrera, he would have been a lock to make this team in most any other year – hell, he WAS a lock just last year.

While it is possible that Everett Teaford, another lefty, will start if sent back to Omaha, his big league future is probably as a reliever.  In 2011, Teaford appeared in 23 games out of the pen, started 3 more and basically did everything you could ask.    That is not enough to make this year’s bullpen.

There are four pitchers with experience (save for Herrera, who has the best arm of the bunch), who the Royals can draw on and barely miss a beat.

Broxton not healthy?  No problem, pull up Herrera or Wood.   Mijares not worth the trouble?  Go to Collins or Teaford. One can create quite a doomsday scenario and still have a hard time getting this bullpen down to average. 

Let’s say Joakim Soria is ineffective and Jonathan Broxton never healthy:  the Royals’ closer would become Greg Holland, with Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera setting him up.   At the same time, let’s say the league figures Louis Coleman out and Jose Mijares is a disaster.   Enter Tim Collins and Blake Wood.   That may make you a little nervous, but remember we are talking about sixth and seventh inning guys at this point.   Simultaneously, Luis Mendoza reverts to pre-2010 form or has to go into the rotation.   The Royals can call upon Everett Teaford (who might be a better options as the long man anyway).

All of the above could happen and the Royals would still have Nathan Adcock in Omaha, who frankly wasn’t bad in 2011 and probably will be better in 2012.   They also have an electric arm down there in Jeremy Jeffress.   Like many, I am not sure Jeffress will ever ‘figure it out’, but if you have to replace half your bullpen before you resort to calling up a guy who can throw 100 mph, that is pretty nice situation to be in.

All that and we have not mentioned any of the non-roster guys like lefties Tommy Hottovy and Francisley Bueno, the highly thought of Brandon Sisk (yes, another lefty) or the ‘other guy’ in the Melky Cabrera trade:  Ryan Verdugo.   Another lefty, Verdugo is a guy who would have gotten a serious look when the Royals were stocking their bullpen with the Jamey Wrights of the world.  Now, he has zero shot at making this team.

There are few real failsafes in the world, much less in baseball and certainly not when it comes to bullpens, but the 2012 Kansas City Royals’ group comes pretty close.   Depending on who is healthy and who is effective, they may not be great, but are almost certain to be good and, at the very worst, likely to be no worse than above average.

xxx

 

In part 1 of this series, I looked at the offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, but rather it’s their inability to prevent runs. In part 2 I looked at the defense and found it to be missing some pieces but again not a huge problem. That leaves us with the pitching. This isn’t really a shocking conclusion. We all knew it was leading us there, but I think it’s instructive and helpful to get there step-by-step. The pitching neatly breaks up into two distinct parts: starting and relief. Today we’ll focus on relief.

Here is a chart showing the Royal relieves ERA and the league rank for the past few years.

Year ERA AL Rank
2011 3.69 5th
2010 4.46 14th
2009 5.02 14th
2008 4.26 10th
2007 3.89 6th

The Royals have clearly had a contending level relief core this year, but history shows that it’s a fickle thing. One year you can have a great bullpen and the next year it can be putrid. There’s a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Bullpens have high turnover, small inning sample sizes can skew the numbers, more players means more possibility for injuries or other changes and pitching is just a fickle art.

With all of these different possibilities it’s hard to make any concrete conclusions on whether or not the Royals will continue to have a contention level relief corps.  However, there are some things that can help guide us. Primarily age and team control. Here is the list of the important relief pitchers this season for the Royals and the year that they become a free agent

Player Free Agency Season
Joakim Soria 2015
Blake Wood 2017
Tim Collins 2017
Aaron Crow 2017
Louis Coleman 2017
Nate Adcock 2017
Greg Holland 2017
Everett Teaford 2017
Jeremy Jeffress 2017

Why am I just now realizing that other than Joakim Soria (and Mitch Maier of course) every relief pitcher of note is a rookie this season? The chart should make it clear that the bullpen shouldn’t turnover much based on free agency. That doesn’t mean that injury, trade or a move to the starting rotation won’t change things, but based on the results from this season and the youth, we can for the near future rule out the bullpen as a major area where the Royals should focus in order to improve their ballclub to make it a contender.

Next time we’ll get into the heart of the matter and discuss the starting pitching, and more importantly how to fix it.

 

 

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.

Headlines bedevil me at times, but given that last night’s 3-2 loss to the Orioles seemed to hinge on a ball getting stuck under the padding of the outfield wall, the title seems appropriate. 

As detailed in many places, Baltimore’s Adam Jones made a heads-up play and the correct play in signalling for a ground rule double on what would have been a Mike Aviles triple.  He doesn’t have to try to get the ball, nor does it matter that he could have easily gotten the ball.    Rules are rules and smart baseball is smart baseball (and also fair, by the way).    The Royals have a ton of late and close wins this year, think of last night as a little retribution for the baseball gods.

Kyle Davies had a very ‘Daviesish’ sort of outing:  6.1 innings, 3 runs, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks, 2 hit batters and allowing SEVEN Orioles to reach base after he had recorded two outs in an inning.  I don’t know, Kyle was competent and kept his team in the game into the seventh inning, but man he is hard to love, isn’t he?    

Do you send Davies out to start the seventh inning?   I ask that as a genuine question as, in real time, I debated with myself whether I do or not.  One factor in Ned Yost’s thinking had to be that he had used virtually the entire bullpen the night before and, rightly or wrongly, Yost has been loathe to use his young reliever on back to back days.   Well, unless you are Tim Collins and then you WILL PITCH EVERY GAME.

Speaking of Tim Collins, the lefty has 13 strikeouts versus 4 walks when facing right-handed batters.   Against lefthanders, however, Collins has 8 strikeouts versus 13 walks.   Regardless, Yost brought Collins in specifically to face a left-handed hitter for the second consecutive night.  

With two more hits last night, one would think that Mike Aviles has to be close to reestablishing himself as part of the Royals’ everyday lineup.   After a dismal start, Mike is up to a line of .262/.289/.548/.837 with 5 home runs and 6 steals.     No, he is not a prototypical lead-off hitter (just 3 walks and 17 strikeouts) and no, he is not the defensive equal of Chris Getz.    The question, however, is not Aviles v. Getz, it is or at least should be, Getz v. Ka’aihue.

The Royals need pop in the lineup to try to offset their very marginal starting rotation.   Aviles brings a six somewhat competent bat into the lineup at the expense of some defense (not a lot in my opinion) and some speed (again, not all that much).   Not to mention that he is one guy in this whole equation that actually has a track record of hitting major league pitching.

So, the situation really comes down to who do the Royals think will eventually hit?   Getz or Ka’aihue?  Does Chris Getz bring enough with the glove at second to justify putting his career Royals line of .235/.308/.279 in the batting order?   Do you have enough belief in Ka’aihue’s impressive minor league resume to keep writing down his name in hopes that this .195/.295/.317 start is just a rough patch soon to be erased by a pile of walks and home runs?

Frankly, the Royals do not even have to decide.   They can alternate or swap those two players in out of the lineup at will.  A batting order with both Getz and Ka’aihue in it, however, simply is one with two many weak spots.   One or the other, not both.

Who knew that it would take a four game losing streak for Nervous Ned to go into full meltdown mode?

Maybe meltdown is a little harsh, but you have to question what’s going through the manager’s mind when he moves Alex Gordon from left field to first base for two games in a row. One game… OK. Whatever. Two games… You start to wonder what’s going on. Is this a move to jumpstart a lethargic lineup, or is this some sort of larger plan?

Short-term, basically what Yost is doing is replacing Kila in the lineup with Dyson. Even though Kila is struggling (looking at strikes down the middle of the plate and then swinging at off speed pitches in the right-handed batters box qualifies as struggling) he’s still a better bet for the Royals than Dyson. Nothing against the guy, but I’ll take Kila’s power potential over Dyson’s speed.

Really, I don’t have an issue playing Gordon at first. But the Royals have Billy Butler, who is jonesing for some defensive playing time. Not that Butler is ever going to win a Gold Glove, but throw the guy a bone… He’s put in the work, why not let him get some time in the field if you want to give Kila a break. It’s not like Butler is a long-term solution with Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings. That makes this move even more bizarre. If the Royals didn’t have stud first base prospect a couple of months away, maybe this makes a little bit of sense. Otherwise, no.

Here’s why you don’t jack with Gordon and his glove. First, he’s proven himself to be above average defensively. Yes, he gets some bum jumps every now and then, but he’s athletic enough to recover and make plays. I can’t remember a time when I felt he did something wrong out there. This is not the Mark Teahen situation where the guy consistently took poor routes. Gordon is legit. Second, his arm is a weapon. When you have a guy with a gun like that, why the heck would you waste it at first? His arm is so strong and accurate, I’d have zero problem if he played right field. But first? Just wasteful.

For the record, I don’t think this defensive shift is why Gordon is 0-fer his last two games. He’s been rolling with the bat, so a move with the glove shouldn’t have any kind of impact. But Nervous Ned put himself and Gordon in this position to second guess because of the hitting streak and Gordon’s hot start. It’s coincidence that Gordon didn’t get a hit in the last two games. But Yost is going to take some heat for this.

This move proves that SABR Trey didn’t corner the market on managerial crazy. Managers will do nutty things sometimes to jump start a lethargic lineup, but moving Gordon defensively weakens the lineup. This really shouldn’t go any further. It needs to stop now, please.

My dislike for Kyle Davies as a starter has been well documented. Last night, Kyle proved that regression was an evil bitch as he coughed up four home runs. Given his propensity to put runners on base, he’s fortunate all four were solo shots. I saw on the post game where Yost said he made good pitches. Bull. Three of the four were right in the happy zone. Belt high and center of the plate.

Still utterly confused by the Tim Collins usage. Another game, another appearance. This time, Yost used him for 2.2 innings in a game where the Royals were trailing 8-0. So does this mean Collins is the mop-up guy now? He appeared in four of the six games on the road trip.

The Royals didn’t hold the lead once during their road trip. This is a trend that is going to happen from time to time given the (lack of) starting pitching. Entering the season, we figured this would happen. The hot start masked some inefficiencies and fooled a lot of people. With a winless roadtrip, the bandwagon is down to three wheels and the axle is threatening to come off altogether.

I can’t get too down about this rough patch. Yost may be panicking, but this was expected. This seems like a good time to remind ourselves that this season is about transition. There will be more rough games ahead. Keep your eyes on the big picture. The only thing that should be troubling at this point is a manager who seems to be freaking out.

After the Indian home run barrage on Tuesday, Royal pitcher now have served up 29 home runs… Most in the American League. Bruce Chen and last night’s starter, Luke Hochevar are responsible for more than half that total.

It took a few weeks, but as the team drifts closer to the .500 mark, it seems safe to say that this pitching staff is what we thought it would be as far as performance. However, while the bullpen has been a strength, it seems as though it is teetering as well.

It’s time to examine Ned Yost’s pattern of bullpen usage.

– Through the first 23 games of the season, Tim Collins has appeared in 13 games. That’s simply a workload that is unsustainable. At his current usage level, the diminutive left-hander will appear in 92 games. 92! That would have tied for the major league lead last season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Collins, but there’s absolutely no reason to use (and abuse) a 21 year old rookie like that.

So I’m a little confused why he entered the game last night.

I understand that the Cleveland portion of the lineup featured two left-handed hitters in Hannahan and Brantly. But in a 7-3 game, would Yost play the match-ups? (Probably best not to answer that.)

Plus, Collins is far from being a lefty specialist. With his delivery and stuff, he’s been much more effective against right-handed bats than those who bat from the left.

– Then, there’s Joakim Soria. Has anyone seen the Royals closer? Of course, there haven’t been any save situations in the last week. So the last time Soria appeared was way back on April 19th when he needed 23 pitches to lock down the save. This is something that could actually work in the Royals favor, as Yost leaned extremely heavily on Soria over the season’s opening two weeks. In the Royals first nine games, Soria threw seven times.

I don’t know what Yost is saving him for at this point. He needs work. The way the starting pitching has been going, there aren’t going to be many save opportunities around the corner.

– Has Aaron Crow done something to fall out of favor? I ask because he’s thrown a grand total of 20 pitches since April 18. Kind of weird after Yost leaned on him so heavily at the start of the season.

– Perhaps he’s been replaced in the pecking order by Louis Coleman. He’s looked great since his recall from Omaha on April 21 – that home run from Tuesday aside. Yost has called on Coleman to throw in three of the five games he’s been with the team.

– Nate Adcock finally got into a game last week… A mere 16 days since his last appearance.

I understand that Adcock is the Rule 5 guy and as such, must remain on the 25 man roster for the entire season. What I don’t understand is why you would burn a roster spot on a guy you don’t trust. He’s made three appearances on the season. Why wouldn’t Yost use a guy like this in a game like Tuesday? The Royals are down 7-3 in the eighth inning on the road… Seems almost tailor made. A perfect opportunity for the rookie to get some work. At the very least, you save a truly valuable guy like Collins.

This is going to sound like second-guessing (never done that before…) but I wasn’t happy to see Collins enter the game last night. It just seems like he’s Yost’s go-to guy, no matter the situation. Every manager is going to have favorites, especially in the bullpen where players run excruciatingly hot and cold. A good manager will resist the temptation of bias and will effectively balance a bullpen. Looking at the long view and all that.

It’s only April, but it really looks like Yost is failing this portion of his job description.

Arguably the most exciting part of the current Royals’ roster is the bullpen.   Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress and Tim Collins represent the tip of The Process iceberg.   One doesn’t have to squint very hard to see those three plus Joakim Soria locking down wins for a contending Kansas City team:  maybe not in 2011, but not too far into the future.

Some of the luster surrounding the rookie hurlers has worn off after a string of rough outings over the past week, but we all know that relievers – rookie relievers especially – are never perfect.  The question that crossed my mind after seeing Tim Collins implode the other night was how often should we expect a good reliever to, well, not be good?

Searching back over the past five seasons, I sorted pitchers by number of American League games in which they appeared in relief.  Starting with those with 200 or more appearances in that time frame, I removed the closers.  I do so because we hold closers to a different standard of perfection and they are used in what has by and large become a very controlled and similar situation in most of their appearances.   After that, I sorted their overall performance by xFIP, as ERA for relievers is a pretty poor way to judge them.

The above process left seven non-closers with 200 or more appearances over the past five years and an xFIP under 3.90.   Why 3.90?   Well, Shawn Camp – THAT Shawn Camp – was the next pitcher to come up if I went any farther down the list.   The appearance of that name followed in short order by Kyle Farnsworth screamed out ‘stop here!’.

From this point, very simply, I counted the number of appearances by each of the seven relievers in which they allowed a run.   The results were as follows:

  • Matt Thornton – 78  out of 342 appearances (23%)
  • Scott Downs – 56 of  323 (17%)
  • Rafael Perez – 65 of 266 (24%)
  • Grant Balfour – 56 of 213 (26%)
  • Darren Oliver – 78 of 294 (27%)
  • Joaquin Benoit – 58 of 241 (24%)
  • Jason Frasor – 70 of 290 (24%)

I don’t intend to get into a debate over whether we expect more out of Collins, Crow and Jeffress than the guys on the above list.   Suffice it to say that these seven pitchers have been effective enough middle relievers and set-up men to pitch in a large number of games over a five year period.

During that time, these seven gave up a run somewhere between once every four or five outings.  For the sake of boiling this into real life and not statistical decimal point dreamland, I think we could roughly say that a good non-closing reliever allows a run in two of every nine appearances.    The Royals’ Tim Collins, by the way,  has appeared in 10 games this season and allowed runs to score in two of them.

Without question, this is a pretty crude way to study the subject.   There is a big difference between being asked to get one or two batters out and being asked to pitch three innings and the data above makes no adjustment for an appearance where Matt Thornton was asked to retire one hitter with a runner and did so versus an appearance when he pitched two and two-thirds innings and allowed a solo run with his team up four.    

Defining who is a truly effective reliever is a much deeper study and the point of this quick analysis was simply to find out – in casual fan terms - how often one can expect even your best relievers to get dinged for a run.   The expectation among all of us when a reliever enters the game is for that pitcher to be lights out.  It is not realistic to expect that every time and we all know it, but we still expect it and agonize when it does not happen.   When the Royals are up 3-2 with a runner on first and one out in the seventh inning, we really don’t care what Aaron Crow’s WHIP is when the inning is over, we only care that no runs scored.

Of course, there is the second part of the scenario:  it’s not just runs charged to a reliever, but inherited runners he allows to score.   That data, noticeable to all, is not included in the above study (I’m not sure study is the right word for the small amount of research, but here at Royals Authority HQ we like to think so).

Going back to our list, we find the following numbers on inherited runners and inherited runners that ended up scoring on our seven pitchers:

  • Thornton – 93 of 296 (31%)
  • Downs – 54 of 163 (33%)
  • Perez – 43 of 174 (25%)
  • Balfour – 42 of 154 (27%)
  • Oliver – 57 of 171 (33%)
  • Benoit – 24 of 105 (23%)
  • Frasor – 48 of 156 (31%)

Using this group of relievers, it seems that allowing somewhere between one of every three and one of every four inherited runners to score is the norm.   While the sample size is so small as to be irrelevant, Tim Collins has allowed three of six inherited runners to score – two of those coming in last night’s seventh inning.     Jeremy Jeffress has inherited two runners and neither have crossed the plate while Aaron Crow has inherited SEVEN runners and has yet to allow one to score.

There is much to like about the Royals’ young bullpen this season.   Ignoring the Crow should be a starter argument for now, I truly can see this group being a ferocious bridge between what we hope will be a powerful young rotation and a back-to-normal Joakim Soria for years to come.  As good as they might be or become, however, the above shows that perfection simply does not happen.

That was a crazy start to the Cleveland Indians series. The game started out as a nicely played game by both teams and then just took a left turn into bizarro land as soon as the bullpens got involved.

Kyle Davies looked really good last night. He went 6.0 innings, struck out 7 and walked none. He was working quickly on the mound and pounding the strike zone. He also threw one of the sickest breaking balls I’ve seen all season. Just an absolute beast of an un-hittable pitch. Davies has become one of the whipping boys for the Royals fanbase, but guys who can put together that kind of start have value in many rotations. He isn’t going anywhere this season and he shouldn’t.

There was a ball hit into the corner over Alex Gordon’s head and he overplayed it. He got too close to the wall and didn’t wait for the carom. The ball scooted away from him and allowed a runner to score. He’s been playing pretty good defense, but as Corey Ettinger remarked on Twitter, he is rounding off his routes and has to overcompensate by diving for balls. He’s still learning the position and he has the athleticism to make up for some of the mistakes, but it’s going to cost the Royals some bases or as was the case last night, runs.

There was a crazy play at second base last night involving umpire Joe West (shocker). Billy Butler was sliding into second and it seemed clear that Asdrubal Cabrera touched the base long before Butler got there. Joe West signaled safe, but it seems he didn’t announce it very loudly. Butler walked off the base and was tagged out. It ended up being a huge play because it would’ve meant the bases were loaded with no outs rather than first and third with two outs.

It’s easy to place blame on Billy Butler for walking back to the dugout, but from what I could see he didn’t do anything wrong. It seemed from the TV angles that he was out by a mile. But even if he isn’t, the umpire has a responsibility in situations like that to make sure everybody knows full well what the call is. I can’t imagine he yelled “SAFE” and Butler just walked away from the bag. It likely ended up costing the Royals runs, but I can’t fault Butler. Players don’t usually hang around bases double-checking every call, especially ones that look that obvious.

I know that Craig isn’t concerned about Joakim Soria, but I’m a little bit worried. I’m not sounding the alarms or anything. I’m not about to demote him from the closers role, but I need more information to allay my fears. He only missed one bat last night and that’s just not typical Soria. I really hope my concerns are just an over-reaction, but at this point I just don’t know.

There were some chinks in the armor of the bullpen last night. Jeremy Jeffress was wild. He doesn’t really have an out pitch, so if he isn’t locating that super-sonic fastball then he’s kind of stuck. He really could use a nice changeup or a better curve ball. Tim Collins just had a blow up. Those happen, it’s not something that gives me less confidence in the kid. The concern that he might be over-worked is certainly legitimate. He could probably use a couple of days to recoup.

On the other hand, Aaron Crow continued throwing lights out. He is just nasty coming out of the pen.  Right now, he is unquestionably the pitcher I have the most confidence putting in high leverage situations. He has really come into his own in relief. As a starter last year he struggled mightily. I think he’ll get another shot at starting, but I don’t know that he’ll stick there. For now, I’ll just sing Crow-lay-o-lay-o-lay-0-lay Crow-lay Crow-lay when he comes into the game. It’s either that or the chicken dance from Arrested Development.

Kila Ka’aihue is clearly struggling, he could probably use a day or two off, but the Royals need to keep running him out there. It is extremely normal for guys to struggle when they start their Major League careers. Lots of great players started out looking lost at the plate for an extended period of time. The Royals are within striking distance of first place now, but they still need to use their Major League at bats to develop young players like Kila. Eric Hosmer is not coming up soon, and I don’t believe the Royals will give Clint Robinson a chance either. Kila needs the time to work out his difficulties and the Royals should afford that to him.

The game was interesting, but the real highlight of yesterday came from manager Ned Yost. Before the game he was asked if he liked hearing that Butler still wants to play first base. His response:

“Sure I do, but you know what, I’d like to be an astronaut”

Every baseball fan questions decisions made by the manager. It’s just what we do. But regardless of any issues I have with the things Ned Yost does on the field, the man can put out a good quote. I think we lack interesting personalities in baseball and Ned Yost seems to be thoughtful, honest and he says some great things. It’s why I’m a huge fan of the Yostronaut.

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

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.

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