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Deconstructing The Process

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The Twins – who could use the bullpen help – thought so little of Jose Mijares that they cut him loose, rather than offer him arbitration. Meanwhile, the Royals – seeking to shore up one of the stronger aspects of their young team – saw an opportunity and plucked him from the free agent ranks. It’s an interesting look at how two AL Central rivals are positioning themselves for the 2012 season.

We know about Yost and how he wants to have two lefties in the bullpen. Well, in Mijares, he finally has that LOOGY he so often desired last summer. Check out his career splits:

Vs. RHB – .268/.353/.423
Vs. LHB – .212/.276/.331

Bullpens are by nature volatile. Mijares had his worst season by far as a major leaguer last summer… His walks were up, his strikeouts were down and his ERA ballooned to an unsightly 4.59. But even though his struggles, he was still able to get left-handed batters out. His line against lefties was .253/.330/.368. Again, those numbers were way off his career averages, but if Yost uses him in the proper context he’ll be a useful arm out of the pen.

The hope is, Mijares can rediscover some of his past success. What worked against Mijares last year was a notable drop in velocity – his fastball lost two mph over the last two seasons. There’s also the fact he threw a first pitch strike to only 51% of all batters. Major league average last year was a tick below 60%. Basically, he was falling behind way too often and then couldn’t get his fastball past hitters once he had to come back into the strike zone. His 93% contact rate was extremely elevated from his previous seasons.

The glimmer of hope in this was the fact Mijares’ strand rate was 68%, which is about 10% lower than his career average. Strand rate will fluxuate from year to year for relievers due to the small sample size, but his rate is so low, you have to figure he’s due for a positive adjustment.

Then, there’s the Mijares/Mauer kerfuffle from last summer. Mijares was brought in to the game to face Prince Fielder – who laced a two-run double – and wasn’t happy with Mauer’s game calling:

“I don’t know what’s going on with Mauer,” Mijares said. “He never put down a sign for breaking ball. Never. It was fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball.”

I’m pretty sure it’s against the law in Minnesota to speak ill of Mr. Mauer. Although I did enjoy his retort:

“Called for a fastball there,” Mauer said. “I didn’t call for it down the middle.”

Well said, Mauer.

Last season was a forgettable one for Mijares, but moving forward he’s worth the risk. The Royals have a deep bullpen, so if he bombs out early, Yost should be able to minimize the damage. And even if he pitches like last year, he’ll still be able to get left-handers out.

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I’m going to wrap this week with a couple of videos…

Rex Hudler met the KC media this week. I’m OK with The Wonder Dog – for now. I get the feeling I’m in the minority. I also reserve the right to change my opinion.

And we leave with this Gary Carter video. Growing up in an AL city, I didn’t have the opportunity to see much of Carter, but always enjoyed watching him on The Game of The Week or the postseason. I loved the way he played the game.

This is Carter’s final plate appearance of his last game. It’s awesome for so many reasons… I’ve watched this about 20 times. Pure Kid.

Awesome.

We all know that 2011 was not a vintage Joakim Soria campaign.   He blew seven saves, one more than in the two previous seasons combined.   Soria surrendered two runs or more in seven different outings in 2011:  again one more than in the two previous seasons combined.   Strikeouts were down, walks were up and home runs (1.04/9) were dramatically higher than at any time in his career.  To be fair, a home run rate that was nearly double his previous career average means that Soria gave up two more home runs than in 2008 or 2009, so let’s not read just a whole lot into that number.

 In a season that spawned high hopes for many players and saw several maligned acquisitions come through as only Dayton Moore could have imagined, Soria was one of the few dark clouds (which is kind of a funny thing to say when discussing a team that lost 90+ games…again).     The Royals’ closer’s issues were discussed by our own Craig Brown and by Jeff Zimmerman just a few weeks ago. 

Truth is, Joakim Soria had a very similar year to 2011 back in 2008.  Then, however, aided by an unsustainable .207 BABIP, Soria saved 42 games and sported a 1.60 ERA (against a 3.62 xFIP).  Fast forward to 2011, change the BABIP to .312 and you have the worst season of Joakim’s career.   Again, though, his xFIP was actually lower than in 2008 (3.38).   With a little luck and a couple less home runs and Royals fans might not have had discussion after discussion regarding their closer.

That said, as both Craig and Jeff document in the links supplied above, things were different.   Soria was throwing a cutter, especially early in the year and it simply was not an effective pitch.  Given that the cutter became Soria’s weapon of choice in lieu of his curveball from the middle of 2010 through the first half of 2011 and given how poor a pitch that cutter turned out to be, the answer to Soria’s problems might be that simple.   Ditch the cutter, give the curve another try and get back to being the Soria of old.

Of course, that is easier said than done.  The curve was a horrible pitch for Soria in 2010.  He could not throw it for strikes and could not get the swing and miss when he did.   It was actually better in 2011, but by then Joakim had moved onto the cutter and was throwing the curve half as often as he had in past years.

It is odd, but for a guy who was among the best closers in the game for three straight seasons, Soria spent much of 2011 lost; searching for answers when he probably did not need to be asking any questions in the first place.   It happens:  the classic ‘outhink yourself’ maneuver.

The burning question, of course, is was 2011 just a dip in the road or the start of a career implosion.  Baseball has seen its share of closers seemingly overnight go from dominant to awful.   Any of us who lived through the Mark Davis nightmare can attest to that.   To that end, Soria was not consistently awful in 2011.   He had stretches of outstanding effectiveness interspersed with gut wrenching implosions, so there is a lot of evidence that Soria might well be dominant once again in 2012.

Thus we come to the burning question of the off-season:  to trade Soria or not to trade Soria? 

The contract has progressed from great to merely good and is no longer the bargaining chip it used to be.   The Royals have Soria under control through the 2014 season and a vintage Soria, no matter how good Greg Holland is, looks awfully good finishing out important games in 2013 and 2014.   Provided, of course, that the Royals HAVE the vintage version of Soria those two years and not a deteriorating shell of that guy.

Let’s be clear, you are not getting an established number two starter in exchange for Joakim Soria:  there is no precedent that should make anyone think any team gives that up for a closer.   The Royals might get some organization’s version of Mike Montgomery in return, but not two of those (as Dayton Moore reportedly asked the Yankees for at some point).  That’s your return, so start there if you want to debate whether the prudent move is to trade Soria.

That statement comes off as a ‘don’t trade Soria’ argument and I am not really in that camp.  I think there is a 20% chance that Joakim Soria’s days as an elite closer are over, so there is a risk going into 2012.   The argument that a closer is an uneccesary luxury on a non-contending team holds water and likely will apply to the Royals in 2012, but hopefully not after that.

Do you leverage the risk that Soria’s value might continue to decline against the risk that a prospect you trade for washes out?   The downside for the Royals is trading Soria, who remains effective for his new team, for a player or players who do not help Kansas City win in 2013 or 2014 and find yourself a closer away from the playoffs through the bulk of Eric Hosmer’s run with the Royals.

In my opinion, the Royals should stick with Soria, at least through July:  hoping he returns to dominant form and is either helping Kansas City stay in contention or jumping his trade value to a higher level.    There are a lot of teams that expect to contend that have less than solid closer situations right now.   Come July, if Greg Holland is still lights out and the Royals are not in the race, maybe then you pull the trigger and get more than a prospect, however good, in return.

xxx

 

Everett Teaford is a guy that in the past would have been penciled into the starting rotation while I hoped that he could harness his potential and help win games. Of course the past is a nightmare in baseball terms and it’s starting to look like there is hope on the horizon. In the 2012 version of the Royals Everett Teaford, who had a solid minor league career as a starting pitcher comes in as just another bullpen arm.

I’m not going to dismiss Teaford or his talents though. He was one of the most effective relief pitchers on the team in 2011. His 1.136 WHIP was only surpassed by Greg Holland while his 2.9 B/9 was matched by Holland and surpassed by Joakim Soria. His 5.7 k/9 rate was pretty pedestrian compared to the rest of the pen, but he countered that with a lowwer H/9 rate. On another team he may be considered a potential setup man. On this roster filled with bullpen arms, he’s just another guy.

Teaford brings more than a bullpen arm to the table, however. He has started 99 games in the minors and could be leaned on to start games for the Royals if he’s needed. While having a top flight #1 and #2 starter can propel a team, having depth is the next best thing. In a 162 game season, pitchers will get hurt, they will start to lose their tough and they will need to be replaced.

None of us are used to following a team in the pennant race, but it’s a different animal than a regular old losing season. Imagine this scenario: The Royals are holding a slim 1 game lead in September and are making a trip to 2nd place Detroit. Bruce Chen is scheduled to start game one but has a tweaked shoulder. These are must win games, and in the past there was nobody but scrubs waiting in the wings. This season, they could pull Teaford in to start, or Crow or someone quality from Omaha.

It’s these little things that combine to create one big thing. I don’t know if Everett Teaford can continue to pitch well for the Royals. He may spend the season in Omaha. He may never get a start. But he is a quality pitcher and one of many on the team. He’s flexible and can help the team out in a pinch. It’s something new, at least for the Royals. And who knows, he just may find himself starting one of the most important games of the season if the above scenario comes to fruition. I trust him a hell of a lot more than Eduardo Villacis. Don’t you?

 

So when Clark, Nick and I were binge drinking divvying up the 40-man roster assignments, I drew Jonathan Broxton. That’s great. Because I pretty much already put the keyboard to the internet and laid down my thoughts.

Some highlights…

— From 2005 to 2009, Broxton was one of the dominant relievers in the National League. First as a set up man, then as the closer for the Dodgers. In those four-plus years (he made only 14 appearances in 2005), Broxton had a 2.92 ERA with a 420 strikeouts in 317 innings.

Yeah… Dominant.

— In 2010, he was off to the best start of his career with a 0.83 ERA and a 13.2 SO/9 through June 26. Let’s go to the Royals Authority archives for the rest of the story…

Now, back to the Dodger game on June 27, 2010. In that game, LA held a lead against the Yankees 6-2 in the top of the ninth when Broxton made his appearance. Strange that he would pitch in this game, since it wasn’t a save situation. Stranger still given the fact that Broxton had thrown 19 pitches over 1.1 innings in a 9-4 Dodger blowout the night before. You probably know the story of the June 27 game by now. Broxton retired the first batter before allowing the next five to reach as the Yankees tied the game.

Especially notable was how then manager Joe Torre sat on his hands and allowed Broxton to pile up 48 pitches in that appearance. Combine that with his 19 the day before and you see that Torre allowed his closer to throw 67 pitches in about 24 hours.

And as the story goes, Broxton hasn’t been the same since.

The numbers certainly bear this out.

Before Injury – 2.73 ERA, 12.0 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9

After Injury – 6.31 ERA, 7.4 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9

— He returned to pitch in 2011, but struggled with his command, walking nine and striking out 10 in 12 innings of work. Yeah, that’s a small sample, but it’s the only thing we have. At any rate, it’s notable because the control issues that plagued him the second half of 2010 were still an issue in 2011.

Broxton hit the DL in early May with fluid on his elbow. He tried to rehab in July and finally had surgery in September to remove a bone spur and other loose bodies that were said to be hampering his attempts to recover.

— At his peak, Broxton was pumping 97 mph gas. On average. Last year, his average fastball was 94 mph. Before he had elbow surgery. This chart best illustrates his drop in velocity. What’s interesting is that even while Broxton was having a great start to his 2010 season, his velocity was down from his previous year.

Now, his agent is throwing around phrases like “reinventing himself.” Hmmm…

— Broxton will make $4 million in base salary with an additional $1 million in incentives based on appearances. That’s down from the $7 million he made last year with the Dodgers in what would have been his final year of arbitration.

The Broxton move gives the Royals options. He can provide cover for Joakim Soria if he has difficulty staying healthy. He can serve as a reliable set-up man. He can be trade bait at the deadline. Or Soria could be dealt if he reestablishes his value. It also allows the Royals to try last season’s relievers like Aaron Crow or Everett Teaford in the rotation.*

*Not a huge fan of the asterisk, but I need to have one here. The entire proceeding paragraph is valid only if Broxton is healthy and has regained his control.

Broxton represents a $4 million gamble. But you know what? That’s what gamble’s cost on the open market. If Broxton was a sure thing, he’d be looking at a multi-year deal where he would be cashing a $12 million check per annum.

The bullpen – on paper at least – looks to be a strength. Assuming an eight man pen, because Yost won’t be able to resist…

Soria – closer
Broxton – 8th inning set-up
Holland – 7th inning set-up
Coleman – ROOGY
Mijares – LOOGY #1
Teaford – LOOGY #2
Herrera – general relief
Random long reliever

Again, that’s on paper. Best case scenario. However we know bullpens are notoriously fickle creatures. Last year’s pen was a strength. At least GMDM seems intent to build a better one. I’m still not sold on the strategy that you survive on your starters and thrive on your pen. But with the arms Moore has collected, it will be interesting to see how this great experiment works.

Louis Coleman was drafted twice before landing with the Royals in the fifth round of the 2009 draft. He was selected by the Braves in 2005 in the 28th round (a Dayton Moore connection that is often overlooked) but turned down a contract to play for LSU. He was then picked by the Nationals in the 14th round in 2008, but decided to stick in Baton Rouge for his senior year. I’d say that decision paid off as he was on the mound for the final out of LSU’s National Championship (a swinging strikeout) and improved his draft status.

Throwing four years in college, sped up his minor league timetable, and Coleman was one of 12 Royals to make his major league debut last summer, and he didn’t waste much time. He opened the 2011 season in Triple-A, but after dominating hitters – striking out 16 of the 30 batters he faced in his first six games – Coleman earned his call-up to KC.

Once in Kansas City, Coleman had himself a fine – if perhaps unappreciated – rookie season. He inherited 39 runners last year, but allowed only five to come around to score. While it may not have been readily obvious, Ned Yost quickly decided he could trust his young reliever. His average leverage index was around 1.23, which was the fourth highest on the team.

Basically, in 2011, Coleman was the best reliever on the team that wasn’t named Greg Holland.

Coleman brings a sidearm delivery, dropping down and slinging his pitch in a crossfire motion. With that low arm angle, Coleman doesn’t feature an overpowering fastball – averaging just a tick under 90 mph – but his slider has a venomous bite. The result is a high strikeout rate of 9.7 SO/9, second only to Greg Holland and his 11.1 SO/9. The interesting thing (to me, at least) is that an overwhelming majority of the batters Coleman punches out, go down swinging. Last summer, over 83% of all his strikeouts came where the hitter offered at strike three. Compare that to the league average of around 75%. As you would expect from this information, Coleman misses bats. According to numbers compiled by Baseball Reference, 22% of his strikes are when the batter swings and misses. Again, that outpaces the league average of 15% by a large margin. If you pool all the relievers in the American League who appeared in at least 40 innings, Coleman’s swing and miss rate ranks him 10th. (Holland ranked third.)

While he sacrifices some velocity with the sidearm release, he comes at right handed hitters with plenty of deception. The slider moves away and off the plate from the right handed hitter. And it’s released at roughly the same point as his fastball. I’ve looked at a ton of charts from Texas Leaguers, but I’ve rarely seen one with a release this extreme.

With just a 10 mph difference – on average – between his fastball and his slider, and with it coming from basically behind the right handed batter, I’d imagine Coleman gives hitters fits. On the other hand, he loses that deception against left handed hitters. As a result, he throws fewer sliders against lefties and will instead mix in a change-up – a pitch he almost never features to right-handers. He attempts to keep the change away from lefties, but it’s not what we would consider to be a good pitch.

From Texas Leaguers, here’s how his pitch movement looks from the top.

As far as the deception against the right handed hitters, the numbers back this up.

Vs. RHB: .180/.260/.360
Vs. LHB: .257/.371/.432

Even more interesting are his strikeout and walk splits. Against right handed batters, Coleman owns a 4:1 SO/BB ratio. Extremely impressive. But flip the hitter to the other side and Coleman becomes mortal, with a SO/BB ratio around 1. Right-handed batters have a disadvantage against Coleman because they can’t pick up the ball early in the delivery and it comes across their body. Left-handers have the advantage because they see the ball early in the delivery and it’s coming toward them. The pitcher’s “Catch-22.”

Coleman is certainly a factor in the Royals bullpen as we head into 2012. He lacks the overpowering stuff that would make him closer material, but he definitely has a role in whatever size bullpen GMDM crafts. Good thing, too. Because if Coleman and Holland can be the rarity among major league relievers and establish some consistency, the Royals have a foundation to build what could be one of the top bullpens in the majors.

Vin Mazzaro represents progress.

I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

Done? Good. Here’s what I mean.

In year’s past, where the Royals traded a starter (and a good one at that in David DeJesus) for a pitcher with major league experience, it was pretty much automatic that the new pitcher would open the new season with the team and would log a substantial number of innings. (I’m thinking along the lines of Mike Wood, who got 17 starts after arriving from Oakland in the three team Carlos Beltran deal. Back when Billy Beane was a genius.)

Remember, Mazzaro was slated to open the season as the Royals fifth starter. He was sent to Omaha because the Royals had a couple of early open dates, got shelled in his first two starts for the Storm Chasers and was held back in Triple-A. He didn’t get a chance to appear in KC until Bruce Chen hit the DL in early May. He made one start, didn’t really distinguish himself, and then came May 16. A day that will live in Royal infamy.

2.1 IP, 11 H, 14 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 1 HR

Starter Kyle Davies pitched to four batters and walked three before leaving with an injury. Nate Adcock was supposed to be the Royals long man, but pitched only through the second innings. Burning his bullpen Ned Yost turned to Mazzaro.

It’s wasn’t his best moment.

But consider the dominos from this game. The Royals exiled Mazzaro and recalled Everett Teaford. And Mazzaro had been scheduled to start the next game, so Yost’s bullpen gambit meant an immediate rotation shuffle was in the cards and that brought about the major league debut of Danny Duffy. (See… Even in horrible circumstances I can sometimes find the silver lining.)

So after that outing Mazzaro returned to Triple-A and – other than a brief recall in June and another when the rosters expanded in September – spent his summer in Nebraska. His Triple-A numbers were underwhelming: In 123 innings, he had a 4.4 BB/9, a 7.8 SO/9 and a 4.29 ERA. The strikeout rate was surprising. Mazzaro has never been the type of pitcher to miss bats. Still, he was hampered by the walks and the ability of the opposing hitters to put the ball in play with great success. His Triple-A WHIP was a lofty 1.62.

Once upon a time, Mazzaro was a decent prospect. Baseball America rated him the eight best minor leaguer in the Oakland system prior to the 2009 season. This was coming off a season where he made 22 Double-A starts, posted a 1.90 ERA with a 2.4 BB/9 and won Texas League Pitcher of the Year honors. Here’s what they had to say:

Mazzaro’s hard sinker sits in the low 90s and touches 95, generating groundballs. He pitches off his fastball, and he shows the ability to sink, run or cut it. His control got significantly better in 2008, allowing him to keep hitters off balance by mixing locations and changing planes. He showed a greater willingness to challenge hitters than he had in the past.

Now, Mazzaro throws about 91 mph and his GB/FB ratio for his career is 1.08. As I said earlier, he doesn’t get a ton of swings and misses, so it would be in his best interest to used that sinker to rack up some grounders. That hasn’t happened yet at the major league level. And the control? Well, in 242 innings he’s averaging around 4 BB/9. That’s just not going to cut it. Especially when batters are squaring up the way they do against Mazzaro.

But like I said in the open, Mazzaro isn’t a huge concern because there are other pitchers in the pipeline – along with enough talent already on the 40 man roster – that he can return to Omaha to fill out the Triple-A rotation. The control he possessed in Double-A has deserted him as he’s moved up the ladder. Hitters don’t chase and his secondary pitches are lacking.

This seems to be his future… Organizational filler. Triple-A starter. Break glass only in emergency.

If you see him in Kansas City at any point in this season, you’ll know something has gone horribly awry with the rotation.

The 2012* Rose Bowl has just come to it’s conclusion and I’m supposed to be writing about newly acquired Royals left-hander Ryan Verdugo. I pulled open his Baseball-Reference page and see that he was born in Pasadena, California in April of 1987. It’s a great excuse to check in on the first Rose Bowl that young Verdugo would experience: 1988.

*It seems weird to write and read that number. Something about 2012 seems too futuristic to actually be happening. I didn’t feel that way about 2000 or any other year this millennium. 2012 doesn’t just look like a year that would have flying cars and jetpacks but that they should be relics. Happy New Year?

The 1988 Rose Bowl was a re-match of an earlier game that season between Michigan State and USC. Michigan State won a tight game by three points thanks to 17 unassisted tackles by Percy Snow** and a long catch by Andre Rison. I’m going to assume that young Verdugo was rooting on USC and head Coach Larry Smith. Those three names should be familiar as they all spent some time in the state of Missouri. Percy Snow was a Chief until he had a mo-ped accident. Rison was a Chief and had his house burned down by a singer who wore a condom over one eye. Smith was the head coach at Missouri when their fortunes started to turn around.

**It makes me feel old that I can distinctly remember a guy being drafted the year that a guy on the Royals roster was born. Everyone who was a Chiefs fan at the time remembers Percy Snow. He was a sure-fire, can’t miss prospect. It was the first time I recall in my young sports fandom that guys were not always who they were hyped to be and that sports is a series of disappointments and surprises.

Little did the young Verdugo know that he would find himself sent to Missouri just like the linebacker and wide-receiver who broke his young heart. He was packaged with Jontathan Sanchez in an off-season trade for Melky Cabrera. I bring this all up becase basically there isn’t much to say about Verdugo and it’ll likely be the only opportunity for me to ever bring up Percy Snow.

That isn’t to say I don’t like him or think he won’t be valuable. He has shown a propensity to strike out a ton of guys. On the other hand, he also gives up a lot of walks and hits. In the minors he has an 11.2 SO/9 rate to go along with 4.5 BB/9 and 7.9 H/9 rates. His WHIP last year was 1.366 in Double-A, however it was his first season as a starter in professional baseball.

I’m a big fan of guys who can get guys to strike out. You know who “pitches to contact?” Guys who aren’t making a living playing as pitchers. Striking batters out is a must-have skill for a Major League player. Ryan Verdugo isn’t likely going to be a great player, but he provides some nice depth and is flexible enough to start or come out of the bullpen. The fact that he was a throw-in along with Jonathan Sanchez for a year of Melky Cabrera basically makes him house money.

Verdugo’s role this season will be dictated on the needs of the club. If there is an open spot in the Omaha rotation, then he’ll find himself there. If the Royals need an arm in the pen due to injury or ineffectiveness, then he’ll be called upon for that. He may even find some starts at the Big League level if things pan out a certain way.

This kind of depth is something the Royals have been lacking for some time and the Melky Cabrera move last season is one that is now paying dividends.  Full disclosure: I was not a big fan of the Melky move initially. I’m glad I was wrong.

 

 

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.

 

Jeremy Jeffress was part of the trade that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee in December of 2010. A power arm out of the bullpen, the Royals hoped Jeffress could fill that role at the major league level.

The only thing about Jeffress that we can say with any certainty, is he’s consistently inconsistent. That’s a fancy way of saying the guy really has a difficult time finding the strike zone. Sure, he strikes out plenty of batters. That’s thanks to his electric fastball. Unfortunately, with that electricity, comes an inability to harness that current. His best walk rate at any stop (more than 15 IP) is 4.6 BB/9. And that was at A-ball back in 2007.

Jeffress was a starter his first three full seasons as a pro, but moved to the bullpen for the 2010 season. It was kind of a hail mary on the part of the Brewers as Jeffress’ walk rate spiraled out of control in 2009 at Double-A when he posted a 10.9 BB/9 (yes, 10.9 BB/9) in eight starts covering 27 innings. The walks didn’t disappear when he moved to the pen, but there were signs his control was improving.

Still, he’s yet to master the strike zone.

Perhaps a longshot to join the pen at the outset of the 2011 season, he did nothing to win a spot. Nevertheless, the Royals decided to bring Jeffress with the big club. That was with eight walks and eight strikeouts in 12 Cactus League innings. It was a strange decision given the fact he had pitched only 10 innings at the big league level prior to the season. And there was that pesky control issue.

While he made the team, I can’t figure out the reasoning behind his usage last summer. Immediately, Ned Yost threw him into the proverbial fire, pitching Jeffress in two extremely high leverage situations in his first three appearances for the Royals. He did well in those two outings, working out of a jam with two runners on in the 12th inning versus Chicago (thanks to a pickoff) and then worked a scoreless 10th inning a day later, striking out two batters in the process. Yost didn’t call for him over the next six days, but when the bell finally rang in the bullpen, Jeffress responded with a couple of scoreless outings, including picking up a two-inning save in an appearance in Minnesota on April 13.

Then the trouble started.

He walked three batters, committed a throwing error on a pickoff throw and added a wild pitch for good measure in failing to protect a one run lead in the seventh against Cleveland on April 18. A week later he entered the game with two runners on, let them both score and added two more of his own for good measure. He steadied himself over his next four outings, throwing 4.2 innings of scoreless baseball where he allowed just one hit and no walks. You’d think he got back on track, but at that point, Yost put his young pitcher on the shelf for the next 10 days. He next appeared in the Vin Mazzaro debacle against the Indians where he was roughed up for two runs (and allowed all three runners he inherited from Mazzaro to score.) He made one more appearance where he walked three of the five batters he faced before he was farmed out to Omaha.

The struggles continued in Omaha where Jeffress posted a 6.8 BB/9 and had a 1.875 WHIP on his way to a 7.12 ERA. The Royals decided to drop him to Double-A and placed him in the rotation. Again, the results just weren’t there. He posted a 6.3 BB/9 in 32 innings with a 4.26 ERA. Most alarmingly, his strikeout rate experienced an extreme tumble down to 5.7 SO/9.

So, where do we go from here?

Jeffress is a two pitch pitcher – fastball and curve. And while the fastball is a heater in the true sense – it averaged 96.7 mph last year – he doesn’t miss a lot of bats. He had just a 9.9% whiff rate on his four seamer last year and overall, had a swing and a miss in just 7.6% of all swings, which was below league average. Also, he threw a first pitch strike in 48% of plate appearances. Again, that was below the league average which was just above 59%. That’s an enormous gap – on the wrong side of the average.

From the next chart, it’s easy to see how he walked a ton of batters. When he missed – he missed by quite a bit. Here’s every pitch Jeffress threw for the Royals last year.

Now, I’m no Bob McClure, but I’d have to think part of the problem with Jeffress is the lack of a repeatable delivery. His release point is all over the place. There’s the pitchers who are consistent in their release, those who vary their release (like Bruce Chen) and then there’s Jeffress.

That can’t be ideal.

Going forward, I don’t think the Royals know what to do about Jeffress. They’d like him to stick in KC as part of the bounty for Greinke, but the control issues aren’t going to disappear. Plus, he lacks the arsenal to start, so he’s going to have to make a living coming out of the bullpen. Given the arms Dayton Moore has collected for the Royals relief corps this winter, there’s no way Jeffress cracks the pen this spring. At this point, he’s organizational depth. From what we’ve seen, that’s probably his ceiling.

The Royals were recently linked, via rumor, to lefty reliever George Sherrill.   At first, this seemed a little odd to me given the Royals recently signed Jonathan Broxton to an already crowded bullpen picture.     However, we all know that Ned Yost loves to play the match-ups with his relievers.  Why use two relievers when four makes it so much more interesting?

In Sherrill, should the Royals actually make a run at him, Dayton Moore will have acquired the true lefty specialist that Yost spent 2011 hoping Tim Collins would become.   Last season for Atlanta, yes Atlanta, Sherrill faced 81 left handed batters and struck out 32 of them.    By the way, of those 81, George walked exactly ONE of them.   Contrast that to his 11 walks and 6 strikeouts against 68 right handers he faced and you can see that the 34 year old has truly morphed into a LOOGY.   Sherrill actually had some bad luck last year as left handed hitters managed an astounding .422 BABIP against him.  Yet, they still managed a rather weak line of just .256/.273/.333.   Imagine what lefthanders would do against Sherrill if they had a more reasonable BABIP number in 2012?

That the Royals are even linked to another free agent reliever indicates to me that Dayton Moore is leaning ever more towards breaking camp next April with eight relievers in the pen.  As a quasi-old guy, I can remember the days of ten, even nine, man pitching staffs and so the superficial reaction to EIGHT freaking relievers is one of disdain.

That said, Kansas City will use it’s fifth starter for the fifth game of the 2012 season and really only has the opportunity to skip a start once, maybe twice, in April.   Without a true ace, it is hard to imagine Yost and company jerking the rotation around for minimal gain:  especially since they will need to come out of Arizona with five starters on the roster anyway.

Not only will the Royals break camp with five starters, they will do so with five starters unlikely to eat major innings.   Let’s assume the rotation is Hochevar, Chen, Paulino, Sanchez and Duffy.   If I told you that they would go on average seven, six, six, five plus and five innings respectively each time through the rotation would you be surprised.   Frankly, that might be a good sign for Kansas City, but it would also require their bullpen to provide 16 innings of work every time through the rotation.   If that holds for an entire season, the Royals would need 518 relief innings in 2012:  that is a load of work for the guys out in the pen.

If signing a true LOOGY allows Yost the ability to run Tim Collins a couple of innings an appearance instead of one or less or save Everett Teaford, should he not end up starting in either KC or Omaha, for long relief than it will save the more important arms in the bullpen for more critical situations.    The last place the Royals want to be in August is somewhere around contention, 450 innings into its bullpen and have to trot out Collins with two on and no out in Detroit because Holland, Coleman and Broxton threw in the three games prior.

An eight man pen seems almost silly, but it may fit for this particular team at this particular time.  It’s uncoventional, but that does not make it necessarily wrong.  If the sentiment inside and outside of the organization is to hoard the prospects (notably Wil Myers and Mike Montgomery) and not trade for a front-line starter, then this appears to be the best option.

Carrying an eight man pen, of course, requires just a three man bench and that effects who the Royals decide to utilize as their utility infielder.   Specifically, it requires someone who can play second, short and third, which might well eliminate a number of names we have already heard linked to the Royals.

So, is the eight man bullpen logic or lunacy?

xxx

 

After the flurry of Colby Rasmus rumors the night before, we should have known something was up. Smoke screen style.

Because really, who saw the Jonathan Broxton signing?

No one, that’s who.

My initial reaction to the trade was this is exactly the kind of thing Dayton Moore has done over the last couple of years… Kick the tires on a relatively low cost guy with a bit of upside. Most recently, he did the trick with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur. With the Melk-Man, it netted the Royals a starting pitcher. With The Frenchman it bought us two more years of the French Quarter in right field.

Hopefully, the Royals will get fair value for their efforts here.

Yet there’s considerable risk involved. The guy hasn’t pitched since last May 3. And that was the feather in a whole cap of ugly that stretched back to the end of June in 2010. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Last May, when Broxton exited the Dodgers game against the Cubs in early May he had been brought in to hold a 1-1 tie, retired the first batter, but was pulled after missing the strike zone with eight consecutive balls. Following the game, Dodger manager Don Mattingly affirmed Broxton was still his closer, but he hit the DL the following day, with fluid buildup in his elbow. He also revealed that in 2010 he had an MRI that revealed a bone spur.

Ah… 2010. Now, back to the Dodger game on June 27, 2010. In that game, LA held a lead against the Yankees 6-2 in the top of the ninth when Broxton made his appearance. Strange that he would pitch in this game, since it wasn’t a save situation. Stranger still given the fact that Broxton had thrown 19 pitches over 1.1 innings in a 9-4 Dodger blowout the night before. You probably know the story of the June 27 game by now. Broxton retired the first batter before allowing the next five to reach as the Yankees tied the game.

Especially notable was how then manager Joe Torre sat on his hands and allowed Broxton to pile up 48 pitches in that appearance. Combine that with his 19 the day before and you see that Torre allowed his closer to throw 67 pitches in about 24 hours.

And as the story goes, Broxton hasn’t been the same since.

The numbers certainly bear this out.

Before Injury – 2.73 ERA, 12.0 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9
After Injury – 6.31 ERA, 7.4 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9

The numbers are so polar that you would think there had to be signs of an impending collapse. Except there weren’t any signs. From 2005 to 2009, Broxton had been as consistent as you would hope from a relief pitcher. Entering the pitch count game in 2010, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA, a 13.2 SO/9 and a 1.4 BB/9. He was enjoying the best season of his career. Then it all changed.

So did the high pitch count damage Broxton? Impossible to say, but like Gil Meche, I’d bet there were problems lurking underneath the surface before the extended (and unnecessary) outings. The bone spur was evidence that something structurally was wrong. And they apparently were present in the elbow around this time.

In an article from September in the LA Times, Broxton’s agent, BB Abbott speculated that Broxton and the Dodgers were a tad too optimistic when he reported to a rehab assignment in July. His agent also revealed he had elbow soreness after his first rehab appearance and chose to keep it under wraps.

(This is so damn typical. Pitch through the pain. Somehow this never works. It also raises the question about his earlier health. Did Broxton have pain back in 2010 and try to work through it? This seems increasingly possible.)

Abbott’s take on his client is somewhat… Strange.

“The days of Jonathan Broxton throwing 99 and 100 [mph] might be over,” Abbott said. “But I think he can reinvent himself. He’s still going to be 93-97. He’s relied on one thing and that’s power. … He’s going to have to be a chameleon. It might be a power slider or a power cutter. He’s going to have to transition.”

I’m not too sure I’ve heard an agent so candid about one of his players. “Transition” and “reinvent” aren’t words those guys throw around. Mainly because they aren’t exactly the things GMs like to hear when they’re considering their client.

Enough about Broxton. How does the affect the Royals? (Everything from here on out assumes Broxton will be healthy.) What GMDM did for the Royals on Tuesday was, in one large stroke, create a ton of flexibility for his team. The Royals were already going to try Aaron Crow and Everett Teaford in the rotation, and now they have cover if either one of these guys makes the move. If not, then the Royals strongest part of the team just got a little stronger. Imagine a healthy Joakim Soria in the ninth, preceded by Broxton in the eighth, who was preceded by Greg Holland in the seventh. That is a nasty, nasty bullpen.

And if everything works out, then the Royals can either contend (Yessssss!) or they can flip Broxton to a lucky contender at the deadline and pick up a prospect in return.

I saw a bunch of Tweets following the Broxton announcement speculating that Soria could move to the rotation. (From the national media, naturally.) There is absolutely no way that will happen. Zero. Chance. For a number of reasons. One, he’s never, ever been remotely stretched out in the majors. Two, his injury history makes him a risk to break down under a heavier workload. Three, his pitch selection has become limited in the closer role and prone to breakdown under repeated viewing. And four, the Royals love him as the closer.

There’s also speculation that this means the Royals could move Soria. Again, this deal has no impact on Soria’s future. As I pointed out, Broxton is far from a sure thing. If the Royals are trying to contend in the Central, they’d be gambling on their closer in a big way if they dealt Soria. No way this happens. Besides, after Soria’s struggles and ailments last summer, trading him now would be selling at his ultimate low point. Uh-uh. Not going to happen.

I know GMDM said this wasn’t a precursor to another deal, but if not, it’s difficult to understand why the Royals would chose to throw money at what was one of the stronger parts of their team last year. Especially when that part is the bullpen, which is always in flux as far as performance goes. There were reportedly five to six teams interested in Broxton, and since he’s coming here as a setup guy to reestablish his value, it’s safe to say the Royals offered the most cash. Probably by a lot. Bob Dutton tweeted that the Royals strategy seems to build the best bullpen they can because that’s more affordable that picking up a starting pitcher. The theory is good, I guess. But we’ve seen how investing in a bullpen can be a fiscal gamble. Plus, your bullpen doesn’t mean a thing if your starting pitchers can’t stake you to a lead. GMDM bought himself some flexibility. Now he needs to leverage that to his advantage. Something he hasn’t usually been able to do.

And the Royals still need a quality starting pitcher if we’re thinking about contention in 2012.

Given the money involved, this isn’t a bad deal for the Royals. But it’s a strange one. GMDM is a bit of a gambler, whose bets paid off in 2011. We’ll see if he still has the touch in 2012.

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