Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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A good writer creates an interesting topic, fleshes it out with solid research, expands on it with creativity and presents it with fluid prose.  Today, you get none of that.  NO SOUP FOR YOU!

I have an assortment of topics, which either are not quite robust enough to warrant a column on their own or which would require research and thought beyond my appetite.  

The Royals Made A Lot of Money Last Year

Forbes reported that the Kansas City Royals turned a $28.5 million profit last season, second only to the Cleveland Indians in all of baseball.  At best, that is an educated guess by Forbes, if not just a straight out shot in the dark.   I have no doubt that this revelation will stir up a bit of outrage among certain portions of the fanbase.

The truth is, however, that the Royals did not go cheap last year:  they went young.   If you believe David Glass and the team roughly broke even in past years with higher payrolls, then the Forbes’ number makes some sense.   It is nothing that should be used as an indictment of the Glass ownership, but simply a profitable portion of a very logical business cycle.

Now, the test is whether that $28.5 million (or whatever it actually was – my guess is something a little less than that) comes into play next off season or the season after that.  If Glass did make $28.5 million in 2011 and basically breaks even when the Royals’ payroll is around $70 million, then will a hopefully talented and contending Royals’ team in 2014 or 2015 be able to carry a payroll somewhere north of $80 million?   Basically, did David Glass bank the $28.5 million or, as my wife certainly would do, did he go on a bunch of really nice vacations and get four new cars…and a jet…and a boat?

Do Sabermetrics Undervalue Relief Pitchers?

In 2011, Craig Kimbrel had the highest WAR (according to Fangraphs) of any reliever in baseball:  3.2.   Thirty-eight starting pitchers posted an fWAR higher than Kimbrel’s.  In fact only seven relievers in the game would appear in the top 74 fWAR posted by pitchers in 2011.  One of those was the Royals’ Greg Holland, by the way.

Now, WAR has a lot to do with ‘showing up’.  A position player can have tremendous stats, but if he missed 25 games with an injury, his WAR will take a hit.   We may all disparage the ‘Replacement Player’, but not even Albert Pujols is better than Mr. Replacement if Albert is sitting on the bench.   When it comes to pitching, innings matter.

Jeff Francis was more valuable (in WAR terms) than any Royals’ relief pitcher last year based almost completely on the fact that Jeff ground his way through 183 innings of work:  nearly three times what any reliever pitched.  Now, the argument exists and I cannot really dispute the general theory, that a run in the third inning is really the same as a run in the ninth inning, but it sure does not feel that way.

I don’t think anyone would argue that a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever.   In fact, one can pretty effectively argue that an average starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever and, quite possibly, more valuable than even a great reliever.  However, WAR really tells us that a below average starting pitcher (Jeff Francis) is more valuable than almost every reliever in the game.

My current allotment of grey matter does not properly equip me with the ability to dive into the internal mechanizations of fWAR and debate that fact.   Nor does the fact that my gut disagrees with the above assessment invalidate the value of WAR as a statistic.   Baseball is certainly a game of numbers, but it is also a game of feel.

I know, I know, we are dancing our way into the world of intangibles where Jason Kendall and Dayton Moore sit amongst the clouds and lord over the baseball world, but there is something to it.   Baseball players and fans, as well, are conditioned that they will give up runs.  A starter gives up three runs and leaves the game tied after six innings and we applaud the effort.   The team feels good:  he gave them a chance to win, after all.   Everyone’s happy, until a reliever gives up a solo homer in the bottom of the 8th and the Royals lose.    Of course, if the starter had stranded on of those three runs in the fourth, the solo homer would not have triggered the loss, but in the clubhouse, the starter did his job and the reliever did not.

That run in the eighth inning may not be statistically different than a run in the fourth, but it certainly feels different and, I have to believe, it affects the team differently.  If your bullpen does that on a regular basis it can tremendously batter the collective psyche of the team.   Conversely, if your bullpen is truly a lock-down unit it can buoy that same team is a tremendously positive way.   

WAR may never truly love a good bullpen, but I have to believe that a good bullpen is more valuable than the sum of it’s WAR.

Catchers, Catchers, and More Catchers

Should Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero every bat after the seventh inning? 

As Craig detailed yesterday, Quintero is a legendarily poor hitter and as I pointed out in the comments and on Twitter, Brayan Pena has spiraled into something that more closely resembles Quintero at the plate than Mauer.  The Royals are hoping for more offense out of Alcides Escobar (and I think they will get it), but one can only expect so much and the team may not get a whole lot of punch out of the second base position, either.   Given that, should the Royals take a big step outside of the box and plan on pinch-hitting for the catcher almost every night?

Now, I know this won’t really happen and I also admit that this theory falls back on the possibly flawed idea that a run in the eighth is more important than a run in the third, but let’s take a quick look anyway.

I don’t care what the score is, just plus or minus five runs either way (basically any situation short of a Mitch Maier getting ready to pitch scenario), but what if the Royals simply assumed that any time the catcher came up in the sixth inning or later, they would pinch-hit for him?   Pena starts, his turn comes up in the sixth, and Maier pinch hits.   Quintero enters the game, comes up in the eighth, and Bourgoeis pinch hits, but then what?

Ah, you need to carry three catchers.  To do that AND pinch hit for said catchers, the Royals would have to carry three catchers AND a five man bench.  That forces them into breaking camp with just six relievers, which I know sounds like disaster when the starting rotation is what it is.   Except, given there is really nothing to prevent Kansas City from pitching the hell out of Louis Coleman and Tim Collins for three weeks, then sending them to Omaha to pitch sparingly while Kelvin Herrera and Everett Teaford come to KC to throw for two or three weeks.

The whole concept is dicey, unconventional and truthfully won’t work for any extended period of time.  Not to mention that the Royals’ options for pinch hitters are only slightly more productive than letting Pena, Quintero and even Cody Clark hit.  Right there, is the real problem with virtually any scenario that heavily involves using the Kansas City bench players.

Option 2013

With Joakim Soria headed towards a second Tommy John procedure, the question of whether the Royals should pick up Soria’s $8 million 2013 option will be a recurring theme throughout the season.   Personally, that eight million looks a lot better put toward an Eric Hosmer contract or, for that matter, even an Alex Gordon extension.

Sure, the Royals are on the hook for Soria’s six million this year, but does knowing that they might have an extra eight million available next year grease the wheels to getting Gordon locked down and out of the way?  Let’s also keep in mind that no one is going to be throwing money at Soria next winter.   Unless Joakim gets offended by the Royals turning down his option, there is nothing that says he could not come back on a lesser deal.  It seems like a no-brainer at this point.  I feel bad for Soria, but the game is a business and the Royals cannot afford to gamble with eight million bucks.

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

 

500 Innings

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In 2011, the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen threw 508 combined innings.   That number was the eighth highest in all of baseball (Baltimore led the way with 565 innings, the Rays pitched the fewest with just 391).   Going into 2012, most people would assume, correctly I believe, that this year’s pen will likely throw a similar number of innings.

As good as the bullpen was in 2011 and is likely to be in 2012, the less Ned Yost needs to use the pen the better.   That is one of the most obvious statements in baseball and the reason that an average starting pitcher makes way more than an average outfielder and, even more so, the reason horrible starting pitchers get multiple chances.

Five hundred innings is a load no matter how you slice it.   A seven man pen has to average over 71 innings per pitcher to reach the 500 mark:  that is just not going to happen.   The Royals, as will every other team, will use more than seven relievers in 2012 no matter if they need 500 innings or 400 innings of relief work.   Still, if the starters can go just one out farther than last year in every game (one freaking out), that translates into 54 fewer innings the bullpen will have to pitch.   That translates into just under 65 innings per man in a seven man pen.

Last season, Joakim Soria, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Greg Holland and Aaron Crow all pitched at least 60 innings out of the pen.    Combined they threw 378 total innings and that was with Wood, Holland and Coleman all spending some time in Omaha.

Projecting forward to 2012, one would have to think that a combination of Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Holland and Coleman will provide a minimum of 250 innings of work.   The Royals would be halfway to 500 with just their best (theoretically) four relievers.   When you have a roster where you are four deep in your bullpen before you have mentioned Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, and two guys (Wood and Collins) who threw almost 70 innings a piece for you in 2011, that is a pretty sweet situation.   It makes 500 innings seem pretty doable and gives one hope that a high percentage of those 500 innings will be quality appearances.

The missing Jose Mijares comes into play, as does valuable swingman Everett Teaford who could gobble up innings in big chunks and do so more effectively that Jimmy Gobble ever did.  (Sorry, too easy).    Also coming into play would be Luis Mendoza should the Royals opt to both keep him and not give him a rotation spot.   All that, and we have not even mentioned non-roster invitees (seems like one always makes the bullpen to start the season, doesn’t it?) or any of the talented minor league arms still populating the AAA and AA bullpens. 

The Royals will likely be demanding a ton of relief innings this season.    Going with a seven man pen, as Ned Yost mentioned yesterday, will require some shuffling of tired arms to the minors throughout the season.   Other than the top four guys mentioned above, I can see almost every pitcher spending some time in Omaha (mostly watching) as the team keeps the bullpen fresh throughout the summer and it would have nothing to do with how effective they are.

The good news is that Kansas City has the arms to just about flat-out abuse the bullpen and still enjoy effective relief pitching for the entire 2012 season.   To be honest, I am not sure the model of a suspect starting rotation being overcome by a dominating bullpen is one that leads to true contention, but the Royals are more than stocked to give a go.

xxx

 

 

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.

 

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