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Deconstructing The Process

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It gets weirder and weirder every day in the Royals Universe.

Nine in a row.

First place in the Central. In mid-June. Over the Detroit juggernaut.

My head is spinning.

Before we go any further, let’s check the latest offensive numbers from this nine game stretch.

DBD_617

They are all hitting. And the home runs. I can’t get over the fact this group, so punchless in the early going, has clubbed 12 out of the park in the last nine games. In the first two months, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas hit six home runs combined. This month, they’ve already combined for seven. As I pointed out the other day, this is what a hot streak looks like.

The homers last night were glorious. Especially the Alex Gordon bomb. More on that in a moment.

According to ESPN, the Royals most productive June as far as winning percentage came way back in 1972 when they won 18 of 27, which is a .667 winning percentage. So far in this June, the team has captured 12 of 15. Ummm, that’s .800. That’s pretty good.

Another thing the Royals accomplished last night which should certainly be noted: They knocked the Tigers from the top of their AL Central perch for the first time since July 3. Yep. The Tigers held first place in the AL Central all season and for half (let’s face it, the really important half) of 2013. While I maintain my previous position that I don’t get giddy over being in first place on June 18, I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to see this:

Standings_618

Damn. I mean, look at the run differential. Only five teams are in the green and the Royals are one of them. After drubbing Detroit the last two nights, they’ve shifted to red. Even more impressive, this once anemic offense is now pretty damn robust. Again, it’s the peaks and valleys I discussed the other day. Everything levels out in the end. Except most teams don’t seem to experience the extreme highs and lows we see in Kansas City. The Royals have scored 301 runs. Or three runs fewer than the Tigers. Wow.

I guess all it took was a reassignment of a hitting coach.

I don’t know if the Royals can win their 10th in a row this afternoon. I do know if the winning streak ends today, it went out with an exclamation point of a seventh inning on Tuesday.

FG_WE_617

The Gordon home run following the Butler walk was a thing of beauty. I mean, most homers are, but this one was especially a bomb. Officially, it went 414 feet. Maybe that’s not so impressive, but it was hit to a part of Comerica where I haven’t seen many home runs land. And I thought it was cool. Doesn’t really matter. It was like a dagger in the heart of the Tigers. When Moustakas hit a hanging change over the fence in right, it felt like the Royals were again in control. To hang three more runs was gravy. It felt good.

Nine games. Winning. Yes.

There are a bunch of games left. In fact, there are 93. Far too many to start selling internal organs so you can afford playoff tickets. But maybe you should prepare for life with a single kidney.

This could be a fun summer.

Don’t panic! It’s going to be OK.

Here’s some kind of late breaking, instant analysis of what Prince Fielder signing with Detroit means for the Royals… You’ll feel better after you read this. Guaranteed, or your money back.

Delusional Defense
Miguel Cabrera isn’t a good defensive first baseman. Once upon a time, he played third and some in the outfield. Kind of difficult to imagine these days. With that kind of versatility, you’d think he was decent with the leather. Not so. He’s been pretty much awful at whatever defensive position he’s played. First base was his best spot if only because you can hide a poor glove there. Now, he moves to third – a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2007.

Now you have Fielder, who is a worse defender than Cabrera at first. Less agile and slower, it’s not surprising that he landed in the AL because he has “Future DH” stamped on his mitt. It’s surprising that a team signed him to weaken two positions in the process.

And the Tigers also have Jhonny Peralta at short. The only shortstop worse than Peralta would be Yuni.

Last year, Detroit was around the middle of the pack in Defensive Effiency. They are now an absolute lock to finish in the bottom five.

We’ve been down this road before.
Remember when the tigers were going to shatter the AL record for runs scored? Think back to 2008 when they stole Cabrera from the Marlins. One thousand runs was the prediction. Sky’s the limit.

Yeah.

Except they scored 821 runs. Fourth best in the AL.

The Tigers aren’t going to be hurting for runs. This isn’t the Mariners or Astros. But still… Baseball has a funny way of taking our expectations and smashing them to pieces.

They’re better… But not that much better
The Tigers grabbed Fielder because they lost Victor Martinez to injury. Just estimating, but I think VMart would be worth around 3 WAR. Prince will be worth around 5 WAR. Sure, the lineup is better when you replace Martinez with Fielder. But what lineup wouldn’t benefit from Fielder? At least in 2013.

Fine. The Tigers are improved. But some of the gains they realize offensively will be returned when they take the field. They haven’t improved enough that we can say they are a stone cold lock for the Central.

Be glad it’s not the Royals
These are the kinds of contracts that hamstring a franchise. Nine years? If you believe the Tigers weren’t even involved in the Fielder sweepstakes prior to the Martinez injury, this is just a staggering overplay by the Tigers. It kind of reminds me of 1993 when Ewing Kauffman opened his checkbook to bring David Cone back to Kansas City. Kauffman knew his time was limited and he desperately wanted to bring a winner back to KC. Cone was the guy and Mr. K personally got involved and ponied up the cash. From what I understand, the Tigers owner Mike Illich is doing the same thing. He’s getting along in years and his team has two studs on the roster in their primes, so if the Tigers are going to win, now is the time. He’s going for it. Brass ones.

But there were better gambles out there… Fielder could be out of baseball before his contract is over. Odds are strong his decline will be sudden… And steep.

Although the Angels will probably trade for him in four years.

The Royals are done shopping this winter.
The Tigers were the favorites before the Fielder deal, so nothing changes on this front. Short-term, the Tigers are the team to beat. Meanwhile, the Royals have always focused on the long term. While it’s possible GMDM could have been tempted to add a free agent arm like Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt in an effort to make a run at the title, he will now be content to throw this group on the field to see how they stack up the Beasts of the Central. If they’re in the hunt this summer, he’ll make a move. Otherwise, he’ll stand pat.

Don’t lose focus.
If you thought the Royals were going to contend this year, consider this signing a gift. And a reality check. Because the Royals were going to need several things break their way for them to win the Central in 2012. Don’t get that confused with me being a pessimist, or me thinking they’re not improving. I’m not and they are. But if you’re being rational, you understand you’re looking for a 15 to 20 win improvement for the Royals to be contenders. And that’s without addressing the rotation.

Short term, it makes it difficult for the Royals to contend. That’s fine. But this is why they play the games. We have no clue what’s going to happen in 2012, or the year after or the year after. Fielder could break down, Verlander could demand a trade, Cabrera could be in jail… Meanwhile, the Royals could have added three quality starting pitchers, signed Hosmer to an extention following his MVP year and seen a zero failure rate in the next wave of The Process.

To quote my favorite mental case, Joaquin Andjuar: “Baseball can be summed up in one word: Youneverknow.”

What a game, what a game…

Billy Butler is a late scratch because of the flu, so the number three hitter is Eric Hosmer. All The Hos does is go 5-5 with an opposite field BOMB, putting the finishing touches on a six-run fourth inning.

I tweeted this at the time, but it bears repeating… Opposite field power in a young player is rare. And it’s usually a harbinger of a productive career. Courtesy of Hit Tracker, here are the landing spots of Hosmer’s home runs.

For simplicity, I would slice the field into thirds at the 105 mark and the 75 mark. That would give The Hos four home runs to left (last night’s blast isn’t charted here), six to center and eight to right. This power to the opposite field is something to get really excited about. I’ll break all this down in a later post, but it’s safe to say we have a beast on our hands.

Tuesday’s game was the kind of game I will watch this winter, to warm up against the chill of a few months without baseball. It was that good.

For all the warm, fuzzy feelings I have over this game, I still can’t get past the fact the Royals like Luis Mendoza. His Omaha performance was aided by a .268 BABIP and a 75% strand rate. With a 1.5 SO/BB ratio, there’s just no way he’s going to duplicate his performance in the majors. Yet GMDM is worried he has another Humber Situation (where he’ll release Mendoza and he’ll hook up with another team and find success.) I think that’s just a long shot. More on the rotation in a moment.

Watching these young players over the second half of the season has been a blast. April, 2012 is a long way away… But Opening Day can’t get here fast enough.

Meanwhile, a couple of interesting comments on Tuesday from the Dayton Moore chat session with the Kansas City Star…

Comment From Guest
All of us hope that we learn from our mistakes. What do you think is the biggest mistake you have made as Royals’ GM, and what did you learn from it?

Dayton Moore:
Since I began in baseball, we all make mistakes every year, no matter your role, that someone could justify you being replaced. There have been mistakes I’ve made personally, from hiring personnel to signing players. We focus on when we do make mistakes, we try to fix them and move forward. At the time, when decisions were made based on the information that I had, we felt and I felt it was the right thing to do for our baseball team. You always look back and evaluate what you did wrong, where you got off track and try not to repeat the same mistakes. I was probably over-aggressive the first two, three years in free agency. But I felt we needed to chance the perception on how we did business. We needed to demonstrate that we were going to be very aggressive in every talent pool. Certainly, free agency is one of them. But I was probably over aggressive, tried to force things too much. Have tried to be patient over last 2-3 years. Honestly, not be so defensive about the critical nature of I or we do things as an organization. Just focus on the task at hand.

Refreshing, no?

GMDM didn’t say anything we didn’t already know, but still… It’s nice to hear it from the big boss himself. And he’s right. All GM’s make bold moves and some of those moves don’t work. (Can you believe some people in Boston are going after Theo Epstein? All that guy has done is deliver two World Series titles. Red Sox fans are officially more obnoxious than Yankee fans. Yipeee… Another title for Boston.)

I’ll continue defend the Gil Meche signing. It was a good deal until Trey Hillman ran him through the meat grinder.

It’s been apparent he learned a huge lesson from his aggressiveness on the free agent market. Jose Guillen scared him straight. And that’s been a very good thing. But the pendulum swings both ways. GMDM can’t shy away from making moves. Like the Mendoza situation. He’s gone on the record saying he doesn’t want to repeat the Humber deal. That’s a scared GM. And that’s a very bad thing.

There’s a happy medium to be found, and I’m not sure Moore is comfortable enough to make that discovery. His issues building the 25 man roster make me think he still has plenty to learn. At least there’s been some learning, though. We are making progress.

On to Q & A number two…

Comment From Heath
Would it be your preference to land an ace in the offseason or two #2’s (or a #2 and a #3)?

Dayton Moore:
All of the above. That being said, I doubt there will be a No. 1 starter available. It’s very important to build on our strengths, which is potentially our bullpen, and continue to be aggressive with strengthening our rotation through our current group of players, including the pitchers who are performing at the minor-league level. We will pursue opportunities through trades.

This pleases me. A lot.

The Royals are going to stay with their internal options as the primary course of filling their rotation and failing that, then they will look to swing a trade.

I’m not going to list all the potential free agent starting pitchers who will hit the market this winter – that’s what MLB Trade Rumors is for – but I will say, there’s not much there. Except for the carcass of Dontrelle Willis.

So read between the lines… GMDM says he “doubts there will be a number one starter available.” That certainly includes free agency. Of the impending free agents, CC Sabathia and CJ Wilson are the cream of the crop. Those guys are nice (and can be called legit aces) but they’re not coming to Kansas City. Wilson has made it clear he wants to return to Texas and Sabathia has an opt-out clause in his contract that’s basically a way for him to get some more pocket change from the Yankees. Sabathia is a non-starter and it will take $100 million to bag Wilson.

There’s not even much of a second tier of free agent starters. Edwin Jackson or Mark Buehrle would be the highlights, I guess. Neither one overwhelm me. Buehrle works fast, so we know who Denny Matthews wants the Royals to sign. The Sox apparently want him back, but he’s talked about retirement in the past.

I don’t want to get too deep into the game of “Who Should They Sign.” I just wanted to underscore that there won’t be a number one starter available and the remaining starters will cost way more than they will deliver on return. When GMDM discusses strengthening their rotation with their current players, I believe him.

Now watch… He’ll make a trade for a starter within 12 hours of the last out of the World Series.

— Finally, the Royals ended their evening by announcing the recall of Vin Mazarro, Sean O’Sullivan, Lorenzo Cain, Jerrod Dyson, Manny Pina and Kelvin Herrera.

I guess that’s the penalty of playing on a good Triple-A team… You don’t get the call to the majors until you season ends. In this case, there’s just one week to go. I guess that’s enough time to get one Mazarro and one O’Sullivan start. Sigh.

I assume Cain will get a couple of starts in center and Pina may make an appearance behind the plate. Dyson gives Yost his beloved pinch runner for Country Breakfast.

The Herrera recall is the interesting one, because the Royals will need to open a spot on the 40 man roster. Do the Royals finally kiss Kila goodbye?

That was… Interesting.

A tough loss is a tough loss. It really doesn’t matter if you’re contending, rebuilding or rolling along with The Process. It’s no fun to cough up a 1 run lead and lose a well played game by a 2-1 count.

That being said, eyes on the prize, people. Eyes on the prize. Yes, Tuesday’s loss sucked, but remember what this season is all about. There will be a few more nights like that over the season’s final month. It’s going to happen. This is a young team that plays a ton of close games. Much has been made of the Royals record in one run contests, but that ignores the larger point that good teams don’t really play in that many one run games. Because they’re blowing teams out on a regular basis. The Yankees have an under .500 record in one-run games. But they’ve played only 34 games decided by a single run. The Royals have played 51 one run games.

You don’t find yourself in a pennant race because of your positive record in one-run games. You find yourself in a pennant race when you can avoid as many of those one-run games as possible.

As The Process evolves, the overall number of one run games should drop considerably. If it doesn’t, The Process isn’t working.

While I’m not going to get too worked up over the loss, at some point this has to stop. Today, it’s a learning experience. If you’re not careful, tomorrow, it’s a habit. The question is when do we raise the bar of expectations? Probably not September because too many crazy things happen with expanded rosters. Is it next April? Dunno, because we may not have the arms to contend again. How about April of 2013? Hell, by then it could be habit. At least we’ll still have Francoeur.

— I don’t understand why they keep pulling Johnny Giavotella for defensive purposes. If they’re emphasizing his need to work on defense (he told Steve Stewart on the pregame show on the radio he’s been doing a ton of extra infield work before games) why wouldn’t the Royals keep him in the field for the full nine innings? Besides, we’ve said this so many times… Getz is not a significant defensive upgrade. At last check, he was at -7 on the Fielding Bible +/- system on balls to his right and was turning fewer than 50% of his double play opportunities. Gio is raw defensively, but Getz isn’t appreciably better that he should be the go-to guy in the late innings when the Royals have the lead. Besides, this is a transitional year. There’s no pennant race and there’s no October baseball. Winning a game (like last night) would be nice, but in the big picture, it really doesn’t matter. Not yet, anyway.

Let Gio stay in the game. Removing him isn’t doing him, or the team, any favors.

— I’ve been as big a critic as anyone on Ned Yost and his bullpen management, but I’m not sure he had a ton of options last night. Strike that… He had plenty of options. None of them were good. Greg Holland being the exception.

Maybe part of this boils down to how Yost handled the pen in the early part of the season. Remember how Aaron Crow was on pace to appear in something like 110 games? Yost and the Royals are paying for that now, as Crow has allowed six runs in six innings this month. Opponents are hitting .346/.485/.577 against him this month. Yikes. And this is after the Royals acknowledged he battled a sore (or stiff) shoulder following the All-Star Break.

After Louis Coleman lost his mind (and his control) to walk the bases loaded with two outs in the ninth, I tweeted that this would be an ideal time to use the closer. I was only half serious because Joakim Soria is far from a slam dunk. (Honest. If there was ever a situation tailor made for a closer, I would think it’s in the ninth inning of a tie game with the bases loaded and two outs.) Yost turned to Crow, which turned out to be a good choice.

— I’m sure Yost would have preferred to use Blake Wood in the ninth and into the tenth, but Wood, like Holland, is on Yost’s good side. Wood had thrown 61 pitches while making appearances in three of the last four games. I’m thinking he was available only as a last resort on Tuesday.

— By the way, is it time to be concerned about Coleman? His last four appearances:

8/21: 0.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO
8/24: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, 1 HR
8/27: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO, 1 HR
8/30: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO

He’s thrown 60 innings this year, after throwing over 90 last summer, so it’s not like we can use the excuse he’s been worked more than in the past.

Whatever is wrong with him, the way Yost drops relievers, we may not see him for awhile. It will be the perfect opportunity for him and Nate Adcock form a bullpen friendship.

— Speaking of Adcock, he last appeared in a game on August 19. He was named as one of the Royals who will play in the Arizona Fall League. I guess they need someone to keep the seats in the bullpen warm in Arizona.

— Other Royals named to the Surprise Saguros in the AFL are Jeremy Jeffress, Brendan Lafferty, Bryan Paukovits, Clint Robinson, Christian Colon and Wil Myers.

— August 19 was also the last time Everett Teaford saw action. And the Royals have a 13 man bullpen because?

If the Royals aren’t going to use Teaford in the majors, shouldn’t he be working in the minors? Stretch him out and let him make a couple of September starts when the rosters expand. The Royals are going to need someone because they’re going to shut Danny Duffy down for the winter in a couple of weeks. Seriously, it does Teaford no favors when his butt is glued to the bullpen.

This is the second post in a series of articles looking at the 2010 Kansas City Royals position by position.  In the first post, on catchers, I had an introduction which you can read here.

Below is the list of guys who had more than 20 plate appearances for the Royals while playing first base. Willie Bloomquist, Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier combined for 7 plate appearances.  I left them off this chart, but their numbers are included in the combined position table below.

Click to Enlarge

Not a gigantic surprise here.  Billy Butler got the bulk of the duties with Kila Ka’aihue coming in second.  I really liked how much time they gave Kila at first base after his call up.  I think that we already know what Butler has defensively, and it gives him the opportunity to spend some time learning the role of designated hitter.  For Kila, it was a chance to see what he could do as an every day player in the Big Leagues.  I don’t believe that 34 games is enough of a sample size to really tell what he can do and I expect him to be a regular in 2011. I heard some worries about whether or not Ned Yost would stick with Kila even if he struggled, but those questions were answered.  I think his willingness to understand sample size and to give guys an extended look are some of the best attributes of the Royals Manager.

As for Billy Butler, well I think he might be one of the most underrated players in the American League.  More than that I believe he is the most underrated player amongst Royals fans.  Usually a guy will get respect locally but not as much run nationally as he should (see Shin Soo-Choo), however Butler gets a lot of grief from the local fan base.  I don’t know exactly what to ascribe that to.  Maybe it’s that he plays at best average defense, or that he hasn’t hit for as much power as some people had projected, he certainly got a lot of heat for hitting into a ton of double plays.  But what he does well, he does extremely well.  Which brings me to the heat chart.

Red = highest in category, Green = lowest

As a group the Royals first basemen were 5th best in the American League offensively.  A couple of things jump out at me from this chart.  First, the AL Central has some really good first basemen.  Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau and Paul Konerko are certainly no slouches.  Maybe that is why Butler gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, his peers in the division are world-class.  Using the heat chart, the strikeout rate for Royals first basemen really jumps out.  It’s the lowest in the American League.  Royals first basemen struck out 90 times all season, the next team on the list, the Detroit Tigers struck out 112, or 24% more often.

Billy Butler is just getting to arbitration and Kila Ka’aihue should get another long look at first base next year.  With the results put up in 2010, there doesn’t seem to be any need to improve the position offensively.  Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson are the guys knocking on the door from the minors, but I’d figure the earliest either make it to Kansas City barring injury is September 2011.  The production at first could drop in 2011 if Butler gets more time at designated hitter and Kila plays more at first.  It’s my preferred setup because Kila is the more polished defender.

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.

Who do you blame?

Do you blame Trey Hillman?

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

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

Vs LHB – .263
Vs RHB – .272

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

Vs LHB – .253
Vs RHB – .269

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Joakim Soria never got the ball.

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

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

Do you blame Dayton Moore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know, SABR Trey is just never going to get how to use his bullpen.  Leading by one run with six outs to go, you hand the ball to a waiver claim from the previous week who rumor has it, will be placed on waivers again to activate Gil Meche on Saturday?

Why wouldn’t you go with Juan Cruz or Roman Colon in that situation?  I’m not saying they would be better than Luis Mendoza – although if you want to go by history – they should be better.  The whole issue with the bullpen is it’s loaded to the brim with crap.  There are going to be a ton of games this year where they can’t hold a lead for Soria.  Hell, Soria himself couldn’t seal the deal in game two of the series. (Although that was one of the more insane at bats I’ve ever seen.)

Hillman will always be under the microscope when it comes to his handling of the bullpen.  Some of it will be unjustified because quite frankly, they don’t have the quality arms in relief.  However, I’m a firm believer that you put your players in the best position to bring them and your team success.  I just don’t see how using Mendoza in that situation does that.  That’s why I would have preferred Colon or Cruz.  (I’m assuming Robinson Tejeda was unavailable after throwing the night before.)

And then sending Mendoza back out there in the ninth, down a run, just feels to me like Hillman was waving the white flag.

Three games in and Hillman is already on the defensive:

“It’s disappointing, but I’ve seen a couple of other games on TV. There have been some other bullpens blow up with a lot higher payroll than ours and with a lot more guys established in the roles that they’re in.”

Really?  Are we supposed to care about “other bullpens?”  Hillman always says some crazy things, but when managers start deflecting, that’s trouble.

So here we are… three gems tossed by the starting pitchers and one win to show.  Groundhog year, anyone?

–Brian Bannister generally followed his 2009 script on Thursday afternoon.  Remember last year, how Bannister started to throw a cutter and a power change?  Turn to the Bannister entry in your Royals Authority Annual for a breakdown of how often he threw each pitch.  Nevermind… Here’s how often he threw each pitch last summer:

Fastball – 17%
Cutter – 52%
Change – 20%
Curve – 11%

Yesterday, his pitches broke down like this:

Fastball – 49%
Cutter – 26%
Change – 14%
Curve – 8%

The power change and the cutter are pitches with a lot of downward bite and the result last year was a 1.26 AO/GO ratio.  That was the first time in his career the majority of his outs came on the ground.  That’s why he was having such a strong year until he fell victim to Hillman’s Starting Pitcher Chainsaw Massacre.

Bannister turned more to his fastball on Thursday, but still mixed in plenty of cutters and change-ups.  However, the results couldn’t have been more different.  Here’s how he recorded his outs.

Strikeout – 3
Caught Stealing – 1
Ground Ball – 1
Fly Ball/Line Drive – 14

Whoa.  That’s less than ideal.

The Tigers got good wood on the ball a few times, but most of those were hit directly at the outfielders.  The wind was blowing strongly from right to left, but I don’t think the wind knocked anything down.  Magglio Ordonez’s home run in the sixth was the real deal.  A bomb.

As we know, Bannister is a student of the statistical side of the game, so I’m sure he’ll figure out luck played a major factor in his performance.  It will be interesting to see how he adjusts going forward.  Against a better lineup that the Tigers, his outing on Thursday could have been disastrous.

A couple of other thoughts from the series finale…

FREE MIKE AVILES

Really… Why bother putting him on the 25 man roster if he’s going to spend the first three games exercising his glutteal muscles on the bench?  There have literally been a ton of opportunities for him to be used as a pinch hitter.

If it’s all about building strength and confidence in his elbow, then shouldn’t he be in the minors to, you know… play?  And if you’re worried about his elbow, why not use him as a DH?  Or as a pinch hitter?  Instead, he enters Thursday’s game as a pinch runner.  With Wee Willie and Mitch Maier on the bench.  Jeez.  If I’m the manager, I bring in either one of those guys as the runner and use Aviles as a pinch hitter.  Don’t you think his bat would have been preferable to Yuniesky Betancourt’s in the eighth?

So frustrating…

–Speaking of Betancourt, him swinging at the first pitch with one out and the tying run at third in the bottom of the eighth is just a horrible, horrible approach in that situation.  Exhibit #4,396 of why Betancourt may have the tools the scouts rave about but he’ll never be anything but a terrible player.  His muff of the ground ball earlier in the inning is Exhibit #4,395

–After Getz stole second in the bottom of the fifth, why would SABR Trey have DeJesus bunt?  In other words, given the situation (no outs and a two run lead in the middle innings against a below average starter who has thrown 80 pitches) why would you play for one run?  I worry that this “small ball” mantra is clouding better baseball judgement.  When I say that, I’m thinking about Podsednik’s bunt attempt in the bottom of the first inning with no outs in the home opener.

We need a happy small ball medium here.

–I’m going to keep track of Dave Owen’s boneheaded coaching moves this year.  After his sending of the runner down four runs in the seventh inning with only one out, he’s left me with no choice.  The situation only partially describes how foolish that move was.  The runner he was sending was Jason Kendall.  And if he held Kendall at third, that would have brought up the tying run – Billy Butler.  The man simply has no feel for the situation. (No wonder he’s a FOST – Friend Of SABR Trey.)

More shenanigans from the third base coaching box on Wednesday when Kendall gets caught in a rundown to end the seventh – fortunately after the run crosses the plate.  But that wasn’t the worst – or the most bizarre.

In the 11th, after Callaspo tied it with his jack, Butler lines a single.  Wee Willie comes in to pinch run and the next batter, Rick Ankiel laces one to the gap in right-center. Wee Willie should score easily, but Owen puts on the brakes.  After his mistake in Game 1, he suddenly developed the yips in Game 2.  Ugh.  Fortunately, Bloomquist looks back to the ball while rounding third (something all good baserunners should do – pick up the location of the ball.)  When he does, he sees the Tiger second baseman fumble the cutoff and he sprints home with the winning run.

Heads up base running by Wee Willie.  And it turns out he did it all on his own.  Replays showed Owen, after he put up his arms to prevent Bloomquist from scoring, standing with his hands on his knees and his mouth closed during this sequence.  He gave no indication that Bloomquist should advance.  How was that possible?

Anyway, Owen emerged from Thursday’s matinee rather unscathed.  His body count for the 2010 season remains at two.

There is no regular season game in baseball more watched, attended and therefore dissected than Opening Day.  For most baseball writers, the story the next day writes itself.  If your team wins, then you write about how it’s important to get off to a good start.  If your team loses, then you write about how the season is a marathon and not a sprint.  Both statements are equally true, so the stories are fine for most teams.  However, what happened yesterday was for Royals fans just another in a long line of disappointing games.  I know that the baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint, but it seems this marathon has been going on for decades and at some point it has to end.

As Royals fans we can curse our lot in life.   We can blame the fact that the team is in one of the smallest markets in baseball.  We can blame the fact that the team is at a disadvantage because of the way baseballs revenue system is structured.  Yes, those things have an effect, but they are not the sole cause of the current state of Royals baseball.

I am sure by now most if not all people reading this blog know what happened yesterday.  If not, then you can check out a great graph of the game here.  Greinke was Greinke and held the Tigers to only 2 runs in 6 innings.  However in the 7th, the bullpen came in and gave up 6 runs which effectively destroyed the Royals chances to win and dashed thousands of fans hopes for a decent season.

But it didn’t have to be this way.  When SABR Trey was running out the bullpen parade yesterday, I was thinking to myself about the 2009 offseason.  It was in that offseason that Dayton Moore made two extremely short-sighted and ill-fated moves which compounded into more problems in 2010.  In 2009 the Royals traded Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez for Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp respectively.  Nunez and Ramirez were young bullpen arms who were very good, cheap and under team control for a few more years.  In 2008, both guys had sub 3.00 ERAs in a combined 116 appearances.  Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp amounted to rent-a-players who were neither young nor cheap.   In a way the moves symbolize everything that I think the current front office is doing wrong.

The Royals seem to value tenure over talent.  Somehow the Royals expected Crisp’s experience in the Big Leagues to somehow translate into wins on the field for the Royals and overcome the potential loss of one of the best young relievers in baseball.  This tenure over talent mantra is manifesting itself again in the 2010 ballclub.  It was apparent when Mitch Maier, who has been one of the hottest hitters this spring, was on the bench in favor of Ankiel and Podsednik.  It also showed up when Kendall was signed, started Opening Day and was even at bat in a crucial late game situation.

The Royals also seem to ignore metrics in favor of intangibles and avoid playing their best players.  Those poor trades in 2009 showed clearly that the Royals were not really evaluating the talent they were receiving.  Mike Jacobs was a strikeout machine who hit with some power but couldn’t reach 1st base if he had to.  The current Royals roster is again filled with guys who can’t get on base and they don’t seem to mind.  They seem to think a guys gritty determination or his veteran leadership can somehow overcome his inability to actually do things during the game to help his team win.  Again, this problem wasn’t just evident in the Mike Jacobs acquisition.  In 2010, the Royals got Mike Jacobs pt 2 in Rick Ankiel and promised him center field.  He is probably the 4th best center fielder on the team and like Jacobs he can’t get on base.  Either the Royals don’t care or they are unable to properly analyze the situation.    It was also obvious yesterday when Kila Ka’aihue was unavailable to pinch hit because he was on his way to Omaha.

The last thing that those moves symbolized to me was that the front office doesn’t understand exactly how damaging a couple of poor moves can be.  Destroying the bullpen meant the Royals had to go out into the free agent market and pick up Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth.  They had to spend a pretty penny to get those guys and are hamstrung financially in 2010 when both guys are still on the roster.  Crisp and Jacobs are both gone, which meant they also had to be replaced this year.  In the meantime the bullpen in 2009 was a complete disaster and from the looks of yesterdays game might be so again in 2010.

It was still only one game.  There are 161 more this season and maybe I am overreacting.  Maybe if the Royals had Nunez and Ramirez yesterday, they still would have lost that game.  I know it’s easy to use hindsight to judge the decisions made by Dayton Moore.  There were some positives coming from the game yesterday and I still have some hope that this team can have a decent season.  It is just frustrating to see a bullpen come into the game and destroy what could have been an amazing Opening Day, and think to myself “It didn’t need to be this way.”

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

With about a week remaining until camps open, now is as good a time as any to take stock of the AL Central and see how the Royals rivals have done this winter. We know all about the Royals additions Scotty Pods, Ankiel, the South Side duo of Getz & Fields (or Fields & Getz) and the Punchless One behind the plate. How do the Royals moves stack up against their division rivals? Has anyone done enough to run away with the title, or will it be another close one?

And most importantly, how will everything shake out once the dust settles in October.

What follows is a brief capsule of each team in the Central and how the moves they’ve made effect their title chances. At the end of the article, you’ll find my current (in other words, subject to change) picks for the order of finish.

Chicago White Sox

This is where the strongest rotation in the Central lives. Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and a healthy Jake Peavy will be difficult for any other division rival to top. Hell, that could be the best rotation in baseball. Plus, those four can rack up the innings so if the Sox can get some quality work out of newcomer JJ Putz in the eighth and Bobby Jenks in the ninth, they’re going to get some wins no matter how bad the offense is.

Speaking of the offense, what exactly is going on here? Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel are all newcomers who will certainly have some impact on the team, but it s not going to be positive. Pierre will have the most opportunity to do some damage as he figures to slide into left and will certainly bat leadoff. He s a player only Ozzie could love. Jones and Vizquel are backups although it s not difficult to imagine Jones could get some playing time if Alex Rios can t rediscover his stroke.

Once upon a time, I had a man-crush on Rios. I really bought into the hype that he was going to be one of the best young outfielders in the game. Now? Not so much. That’s what back to back underwhelming seasons will get you at Royals Authority – no more respect. And since Rios was downright horrible last year after his move to the South Side (.199/.229/.301 in 154 plate appearances) he s the leading candidate for Ozzie Guillen s Dog House. How great would it be if Jones reports to camp fat and Rios continues to forget how to hit? Imagine the quote gold we’d get from Guillen. And that it would be happening to the White Sox would be a bonus.

Cleveland Indians

We’ve said it before, but it just has to suck to have surrendered CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and gotten so little in return. Matt LaPorta will get an opportunity to start, as will Lou Marson, so it’s probably still a little early to completely trash the trades, but still… Quite a bummer for Indian fans.

There’s still hope for Cleveland fans that Grady Sizemore will bounce back and Shin-Soo Choo can build off his breakout year. And maybe Travis Hafner can hit 20 bombs. Although he hasn’t done that since 2007. They picked up Austin Kearns and Shelley Duncan on minor league deals, which I suppose could help at some point. Other than that, their big major league move was to sign Mike Redmond. In this case, big is a relative term.

But the pitching even with Lee for half the summer the Indians had the second worse staff in baseball. And now they tentatively have Jake Westbrook penciled in as their number one starter with Fausto Carmona as their number two. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer someone else at the top of the rotation other than a guy who hasn’t pitched in a year and a half after undergoing the Tommy John surgery. And with Kerry Wood at the back of the pen, this staff looks like it will once again flop to the bottom of the AL.

Oh, the Indians will likely have the lowest payroll in the division come Opening Day.

Detroit Tigers

The Verlander extension got a ton of ink, but that masks a simple fact about this team: They are extremely unbalanced with old players (Magglio Ordonez, Adam Everett, Brandon Inge) and newcomers (Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore are currently listed at the top of the Tigers depth chart in center and second, respectively.) That’s a potentially combustible mix.

I see some similarities with the Royals here: A lockdown top of the rotation ace (Verlander for the Tigers and Greinke for the Royals) and a big bat in his prime in the middle of the order (Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler.) The Tiger veterans are a little better than the Royal veterans, but that just means they cost more.

Further, it will be interesting to see where Max Scherzer figures into the Tigers pitching mix. For now, he’s slated for the rotation but many feel his future lies in the bullpen. One thing is for sure, with Verlander and Scherzer in the rotation the Tigers will be making a ton of hitters look foolish. While Porcello doesn’t pile up the strikeouts, he is developing into a talent. Beyond that, there are a ton of question marks for the rest of the staff. For Tiger fans that’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins overhauled the middle of their infield by trading for JJ Hardy in November and then acquiring free agent Orlando Hudson just last week. Both players represent upgrades from the players they are replacing. Hardy is superior with the glove and is a prime candidate for an offensive rebound from his dismal 2009. He has 20 home run power, but before we project any power numbers, it will be interesting to see how the Twins new outdoor stadium plays. Hudson is solid with the glove, with better range to his left than back up the middle. Offensively, this is a huge win for the Twins. Last summer, their 2B hit a combined .209/.302/.267. Yuck. That s Royals designated hitter territory. (Memo to Dayton: Check on the availability of Matt Tolbert!) Hudson will have no problem improving upon that production.

Last year, the Twins had an extremely productive offense – one of the best in the league. Their 5 runs per game was the fourth best rate in the AL, behind the other three playoff teams. (Yankees, Angels and Red Sox were one, two and three respectively.) I suppose we can expect a little less from MVP Joe Mauer and the Twins still are going to give some at bats to Delmon Young. Still, you have to admit the Twins have improved their offense.

The big mystery is the aforementioned Target Field. Past years, the Twins held a distinct home field advantage and knew exactly how to tailor their club to the Metrodome. Now, it’s anyone s guess.

Quick Summary

The division still belongs to the Twins who were able to upgrade an already solid offense. The Sox could pose a threat with their rotation, but haven’t replaced the power they lost when Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome left as free agents. It feels like the Tigers are looking toward the future and the Indians are hoping a pitching staff cobbled together with spit and duct tape holds up.

The Royals haven’t done much to improve their team but it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where they finish third. That’s an optimistic, if everything goes right, best-case scenario finish.

So here’s my predicted order of finish in the Central. I ll revisit this about a week before the season starts and make changes as necessary before submitting my final selection just prior to Opening Day.

1. Twins
2. White Sox
3. Tigers
4. Royals
5. Indians

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