Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Tim Collins

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.

Saturday night, Bob Dutton provided us with some tremendous insight into the Royals’ bullpen competition.  What makes Dutton solid, in my opinion, is his ability to dance along the company line while also providing true glimpses of what the organization is actually thinking.  In this case, for those of us love the art of roster construction, this article gives us a number of interesting observations.

First off, for those of you out there that agonize over having a lefty or two, you will be delighted to once more hear confirmation that Ned Yost prefers to have two lefthanders in his bullpen.   I have always opted for a good righthander over an average lefthander (although a great lefty is always preferable), but in this case the Royals appear to have the luxury of at least one southpaw who is also likely to be an effective member of the pen:  Tim Collins.

After Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda (both locks according to The Star’s article, by the way), Collins was the next name on most everyone’s bullpen projections over the winter.   Nothing has happened this spring to change any of that and, despite not currently in ownership of a 40 man roster spot, Tim Collins is now closest thing to a lock in this competition.

Although some commenters here have speculated at various times that Danny Duffy or Blaine Hardy might make the team out of spring training, I have always thought the field was too contested and both too inexperienced to actually get a spot.   That, however, was before the zest for a second lefthander became so prevalent. 

If Dutton’s comments are true insights into the soul of the Royals’ organization then this tidbit is rather telling: “The other lefty spot, assuming there is one, shapes up as a battle between Danny Duffy and Blaine Hardy unless the Royals choose to push one of their highly regarding starting prospects into the mix. 

Given that I always counted Duffy as one of those ‘highly regarding starting prospects’, I found that statement rather interesting.   Is that a sign that the Royals view Duffy as less of a prospect than Montgomery, Lamb and Dwyer?   Did his sabbatical from baseball last spring change the team’s perspective of him?   Or, is it truly just a way to get Duffy on a different experience level from the other three?

That last question is what Dutton suggests and is also something I have been advocating since last fall (and it wasn’t exactly rocket science then!).    While the modern philosophy of baseball has moved away from having young starters begin their major league careers as relievers, it seems a good way to get Duffy experience ahead of some of the other prospects and also not expose him to a ton of innings.   Remember, Duffy only saw action in 62 regular season innings last year:   having him get 80 or 90 big league innings in 2011 might be preferable to 140 in the minors.

In the end, it is not cut and dried that the Royals will actually break camp with two lefty relievers and it is very possible that Blaine Hardy will be the second as opposed to Duffy.   If we go with Yost for now, however, then that leaves room for three righthanders behind Soria and Tejeda.   By all accounts, Jeremy Jeffress has a solid hold on the first of those spots, which is fine by most anyone who cares about the final few spots in the bullpen of a team that will not contend in 2011.

Right now, the top three contenders for the final two spots are apparently Greg Holland, Kanekoa Texiera and Louis Coleman.   The interesting thing about that list is who is not on it:  Blake Wood.   

After appearing in 51 games for Kansas City last season and finishing strong (18 strikeouts in his last 18 innings), I figured Wood to be a lock to open 2011 in the big league pen.    As it turns out, Wood’s inability to control the running game is so poor that it could actually keep him off the big league roster.   After some major rework at the big league level last year, Wood allowed just three steals in four attempts in August and September – down from six in seven attempts in the month of July.     If you put stock in the organization’s opinion, that improvement may well have been statistical only.   This is one we will definitely have to defer to the ‘baseball men’.   I think we will see a lot of Wood in 2011, but probably not in April.

The idea that both Holland and Coleman might break camp with the Royals delights me.   Both were college draftees picked with the idea that both would be relievers and both would move quickly through the system.   There is nothing better than when a plan, or a process, works out.  

Holland didn’t really impress anyone in a brief trial late last season, but he has a history of initial struggles at each level followed by a long stretch of effectiveness.    The guy has 243 strikeouts in 229 minor league innings and could be a valuable middle to late inning reliever if he can harness his control.   If anything, it appears Holland might have been throwing ‘too hard’ last year and has been much more accurate this spring.

Coleman has simply gotten people out at every level in his quite brief professional career and has continued to do so this spring.   Getting back to my ‘spread the experience out’ theory, I am all for breaking camp with a handful of rookies in the pen so that when the young starters begin to surface they have a quasi-veteran pen behind them.

The Royals like Texiera more than anyone else in baseball.   To be fair, Kanekoa pitched a fair part of last season hurt, but as a minor league nerd and a Process believer the likes of him, Jesse Chavez and Luis Mendoza getting mentioned as possible relievers seems a little too much like buying retread tires.   Given that both Texiera and Mendoza have been very good this spring, they might well make the team.   Perhaps, as Ned Yost observed, Mendoza will be this year’s ‘Chen’, but I will be surprised to see either make it through June.

As one who has published a monthly update on the projected 25 man roster since last November, Dutton’s article scrambled my thoughts on the bullpen considerably.   As an unabashed, borderline over the edge Royals’ follower, the idea of breaking camp with a bullpen that includes Collins, Duffy, Holland, Jeffress and Coleman is actually quite exciting.   It will be interesting to see if the Royals are as excited about that idea as I am.

As you probably heard, the first batch of the 2011 PECOTAs were released on Monday.  The first wave includes a spreadsheet that lists each player and their weighted mean projection for the upcoming season.
A quick word about PECOTA and projections:  They’re fun.  Not gospel.  Just because PECOTA says Kila Ka’aihue will bash 25 home runs, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  And it’s not a failure of the system if he doesn’t hit 25 home runs.  One of the great things about PECOTA is, it breaks down their projections by percentile.  It’s kind of a best case versus worst case scenario for each player.  The percentiles will be on the Baseball Prospectus website in a few weeks.  For now, all we have to play with are the weighted means.

I’m partial to PECOTA because they’ve been around forever (and continually fine tuned)and because I’m an employee of the company.  (Full disclosure and all that.)  I had nothing to do with the projections because I have nowhere near the brain power required to crunch the numbers… Let alone launch Excel.    Just because I like PECOTA doesn’t mean I ignore the other systems that are out there.  They all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses.  Probably the best thing to do is throw all  the projections into a pot, stir ‘em up and see where the numbers fall.

Kila Ka’aihue
.262/.387/.473
25 HR
1.2 WARP

I posted his home run and on base projections to Twitter the other day and got quite the response.  One of the weaknesses of PECOTA I think is found in it’s projections of players who don’t have a ton of major league experience.

When I saw these numbers, I immediately thought of the percentiles, because this seems awfully optimistic to me.  The funny thing is, Bill James shares PECOTAs optimism, projecting 22 home runs and a .375 OBP for the Hawaiian Punch.  Marcel… Not so much.  Just 10 HR (although in about half the plate appearances) and a meager .325 OBP.  (That’s one of my issues with Marcel.  I don’t want to extrapolate projections for an entire season.  Just assume each player with projections will play a full compliment of games.  Projecting playing time is even more speculative than projecting performance.  Especially when it comes to a player like Kila.)

This gives me an opportunity to mention his slider bat speed.

Melky Cabrera
53% Improve Rate
.267/.323/.375
0.6 WARP

According to Baseball Prospectus, Improve Rate is the chance a hitter will improve at all based on his three previous seasons.  An improve rate of 50% means he will perform the same as in the past. That doesn’t mean that Cabrera only has a 3% chance of improvement.  Rather, it means he’s more likely to build on his performance from the previous three years.  I know… Semantics.

The Melk Man’s Improve Rate is the highest on the team.

One of his comparable players is Gregg Jeffries.  This delights me, because I really disliked Jeffries.  I have the feeling I’m going to feel the same about Melky.

Tim Collins
11.4 K/9

Maybe I just have an irrational affinity for short left-handers, but I’m really excited to see what Collins can do at the big league level.  While I mentioned PECOTA struggles with players with not much major league experience, it’s probably a little easier to come closer for projections with relief pitchers.  Collins’ strikeout rate is projected a tad on the high side for my taste, but I don’t think it’s way out of line.  If he gets 60 innings or so, there’s no reason to think he won’t top 60 punch outs.

I’m extremely hopeful he opens the season in Kansas City.

Bruce Chen
6.5 K/9
Luke Hochevar
6.2 K/9
Jeff Francis
5.7 K/9
Kyle Davies
6.2 K/9
Vin Mazarro
5.8 K/9

PECOTA (and other projection systems I’m sure) nailed this trend that will develop throughout the summer in Kansas City – the Royals just don’t have the horses in the starting rotation to rack up the strikeouts.  This is going to be a problem.

Thankfully, the Yunigma is gone and Lorenzo Cain (if he gets playing time in CF) mean the defense up the middle will be stronger than the last couple of seasons.

Believe me, the defense is going to play a huge role on this team.

Alex Gordon
Comparable Players:  Steve Kemp, Barry Bonds, Roger Maris

This is where PECOTA gets some heat… And deservedly so.  Ignore for a moment that Alex Gordon was listed in the same breath as Barry Bonds.  He was mentioned with Bonds and Steve Kemp?  Seriously?  PECOTA must have been on some sort of 80’s acid flashback.

The comps are a known problem.  Before you flip out (or decide that Gordon has the potential to hold the single season record for home runs… Wait… That would be flipping out) just realize that this is an area that is continually being fine tuned.  And there’s a lot of work to be done.

The moral of this story:  Enjoy the projections, but take them with a grain of salt.  They’re something fun to look at to pass the time before pitchers and catchers report and the games start.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sometimes, they’re crazy accurate.  And sometimes they’re so far off the mark it’s like the numbers were run on an overworked Commodore 64.

Either way, it’s just another sign that the new season is almost here.  Thank god.

With the signings of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen this past weekend, the Royals have to make a couple of moves to free up space on the forty man roster for those two.   While this seems like a fairly easy process (for those of us who don’t have to call a guy and say, ‘Hey, how’s your winter going?  By the way, you’re being designated for assignment.  Take care.’), I have almost never guessed correctly which players Dayton Moore decides to remove.

A quick glance at the current roster probably would lead almost all us to think the decision comes down to a quartet of relievers:   Henry Barrera, Jesse Chavez, Dusty Hughes and Kanekoa Texeira.     Looking at pitching makes sense given that the two guys the Royals just signed are pitchers.    Taking a chance on losing relievers is logical given that Bruce Chen can pitch out of relief and also because the first wave of the actual Process that is going to reach the majors is predominately relievers.

It is very possible the Royals break camp this spring with Tim Collins in the bullpen.   Certainly, Blake Wood, now that he has learned it is okay to strike guys out, will be part of the twenty-five that go north.   They might well be joined by Louis Coleman and/or Greg Holland, with Blaine Hardy not far behind.   Those names are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to good bullpen arms in the organization.

Digressing just a moment, perhaps the impending arrival of a number of rookies (or near rookies in the case of Wood and Holland) in the bullpen is as good a reason as any for the Royals to sign Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis.   Signing those two veterans, even if they turn out to be Scott Elarton and Mark Redman revisited, buys time for the young starters we are all counting on.   Heck, it buys time for Sean O’Sullivan for that matter.  It also buys time for the young relievers.

Let’s say Danny Duffy makes his major league debut on August 1st.   He allows two runs through five plus innings, but gets into trouble in the sixth.   It makes a lot more sense to have Louis Coleman, with nearly a full season of experience under his belt, come in with two on and one out in the sixth than if he was also just weeks into his major league career.   Tim Collins, also with four months in the majors on his resume, would come in to pitch the seventh and Blake Wood, now with over a year of experience, would polish off the eighth.

That is a whimsical little scenario, of course, but what I am trying to illustrate is that the Royals have a chance to pair a very young 2012 starting rotation with a young, but experienced, bullpen corps.   I think there is genuine value in having that mix and doing so without spending four million on veteran relievers next winter.

Anyway, back to our 40 man roster dilemma – if you can call it that.  

Of the four pitchers mentioned above, Henry Barrera does one thing the others to not:  strike guys out (10.3/9 over his career).   Health has been an issue for him and with less than half a season above A ball, Henry is the only one of the four who has virtually no shot at being on the early season 2011 roster.   That said, I hang on to Barrera.

After that, designating either Hughes, Chavez or Texeira for assignment will not cause me to lose any sleep.   First off, there is a real chance that those guys do not get claimed by another team and end up right back in the organization just as Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadski did.   If not, does it matter in the long-term?   Does it even really matter in the short-term?

In the end, I would probably cut loose Texeira and Chavez simply because Dusty Hughes did manage to throw over 50 innings of marginally passable major league work in 2010.   If the Royals want to give Coleman, et.al. a month or so in AAA, then Hughes is the stop-gap guy they can turn to.      Left-handers who have pitched in the majors are also less likely to make it through waivers than right-handers who have yet to, you know, get anyone out.

While the long-term success of the Royals is hardly going to be effected by this decision, it is a roster decision that will give us an idea as to the make-up of the early 2011 bullpen.

Episode #037 – Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus joins me to discuss Royals prospects, Starcraft in Korea, Kane County Cougars and other baseball related issues.  I also touch on the Melky Cabrera and Jeffy Lockerroom signings.

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Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_goldstein also check out his Up & In podcast and his articles at Baseball Prospectus.  You should also pre-order the Baseball Prospectus 2011book for good measure.

Music used in this podcast:

Real Estate – Beach Comber

Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

Ahmad Jamal – But Not For Me

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Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.