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Deconstructing The Process

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Three feet more towards the middle, or hit a little harder or even not quite as hard, or if the ball had bounced a little more or not as much:  any of those things and Chris Getz would not have been a hero on Wednesday afternoon.   The game winning single was, after all, an infield hit into the hole at shortstop and let’s not kid ourselves, a left side of Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta is not exactly hitting into the teeth of an imposing pair of defenders. 

Still, as we wake up Thursday morning, a hit is a hit and Chris Getz earned all the luck he got when he drove in Mike Moustakas with two outs in the top of the ninth.   That was after Aaron Crow surrendered a two run homer, not to Cabrera or Prince Fielder or even Alex Avila, but instead to Brennan Boesch in the bottom of the eighth, allowing the Tigers to tie the game.  It was after the Royals left a runner on third base twice earlier in the game.   After they watched Alcides Escobar get thrown out attempting to steal and after they ended three other innings with a runner on second.

If you weren’t feeling impending doom entering the ninth inning yesterday, then you have not been a Royals’ fan very long.

So, here we are, top of the ninth with the game tied.  Mike Moustakas has rapped a one out double (with two strikes mind you) and moved to third on a Brayan Pena ground out.  Up strides Chris Getz.   Now, if you have been reading this site for any amount of time, you know that none of us who write here are particularly fond of Getz.   He is an average defender, a supposed on-base guy who doesn’t really walk that much and last year managed NINE whole extra base hits in 429 plate appearances. 

All that doesn’t matter right now.  Today, we should all be fans of Chris Getz…if only for a day.

On a team that has an at least perceived penchant for taking called third strikes in big late game situations (see the Twitter uproar regarding Alex Gordon a few weeks back), Chris Getz did not allow the umpire to decide his plate appearance.   Not with the go ahead run on third and not on a day when the team as a whole had a miserable time driving in runners who were ‘right there, 90 freaking feet away’.  Of course, Justin Verlander was on the mound for 8 innings and he is a legitimate superfreak.

Coming into the contest, Joaquin Benoit had struck out 16 batters in 9 innings of work.   He had not been particularly sharp, allowing 12 hits and 9 walks, this year, but he was still making guys swing and miss.   Outside of his ability to steal a base, it is possible that Getz’s best baseball attribute is the fact that he does not swing and miss much.    Still, you might well run down a pretty long list of names on the Royals’ roster that you want up in this situation before you get to Chris.

Pitch number one is a 91 mph four seamer right down the middle that Getz fouls off.

Pitch two is an 80 mph changeup down in the zone that Chris gets just a piece of.   No balls, two strikes and it is not looking good.

Number three is also a changeup, down and in.  It is a ball, but Getz swings and fouls it off.  Now, in hindsight, Chris should have laid off this pitch, but Benoit was throwing that change with a lot of movement and, for his part, Getz was not going to get caught looking.

In comes pitch number four.  It is a 95 mph fastball right at the top of the zone.  Pitch f/x says it is a strike, the umpire might have called it high, but with two strikes in the ninth you cannot take that chance.  Getz gets a piece of it and fouls off his fourth straight pitch.

Pitch number five is a 76 mph changeup, down the middle, but up in Getz’s eyes.  Another foul ball.  Here, probably, Getz should have taken, but you know that ball looked huge waffling in there slow and high.  Eric Hosmer might well have hit that 481 feet, Getz fouls it off.  We can’t all be poster boys.

Number six is a 95 mph four seamer down and away.   Benoit has been wild this year, but you have to think that was a chase pitch.  That’s good strategy in that you have a batter obviously hacking and maybe you get him to flail at this unhittable ball.  Getz, for the first time in the plate appearance, keeps the bat on his shoulder.  One ball, two strikes.

Benoit’s seventh offering is an 85 mph changeup dropping down out of the strike zone.  Getz stays with it for another foul ball.   With that pitch, you can take it and hope it does move out of the zone or you can foul it off.  

Number eight is a 94 mph fastball, low in the strike zone.   Getz hits it into the hole and runs….fast.   While Peralta fields the ball cleanly, he has not shot at getting Getz at first.  The run scores and the Royals are on their way to a win and a winning road trip.

As I said at the beginning, it was just an infield single, but it was hard earned infield single.   An inch here or there on the bat and Getz is not a hero, but what Chris Getz did do was give himself a chance.  Good at-bats don’t always result in line drives, but ground balls sometimes end up in the right spot.

Chris Getz had a good at-bat at a great time and fortune smiled on him and the Royals.  For at least one day, Chris Getz is alright in my book.

xxx

 

It was over almost before it began. It took Luke Hochevar eight batters to record his first (and second) out of the game on Tuesday. It was the second time in five starts he’s allowed the opposition to put up a crooked number in the first frame. It’s almost becoming habit.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a batter by batter breakdown of the carnage.

1 – Austin Jackson

Hochevar starts with a slider and falls behind 2-0 and 3-1 to the Tigers leadoff man. Once he fell behind to Jackson, Hochevar went exclusively to his fastball, except for a 3-2 cut fastball. That is pitch number six down the heart of the plate. I’m thinking Jackson fouled it off because he was looking fastball. That pitch was 88 mph, instead of Hochevar’s typical 92 mph heater.

The next pitch was thigh-high fastball that was grounded back up the middle for a single.

2 – Brennan Boesch

Hochevar actually makes a decent pitch – an 0-1 change that was low and away in the strike zone. Boesch was out in front and dribbles a ground ball to right. Yuniesky Betancourt was shading up the middle, but shows his amazingly horrible lack of range going to his left and can’t make a play. He should have made the play. Hochevar probably knows this. Instead of one out and a runner on second, we have two on with nobody out.

I cannot understate this – Yuniesky Betancourt is Public Enemy Number One.

3 – Miguel Cabrera

How dumb of a pitch is this?

The answer: Exceptionally dumb.

4 – Prince Fielder

As bad as the pitch was to Cabrera, the pitch to Fielder wasn’t bad. It was a curveball, down and out of the strike zone. And it should have resulted in an out. Except Eric Hosmer decided to make a play at the plate and airmailed the throw. Two runs score. Still no outs.

A really dumb decision from Hosmer. He double-clutched pulling the ball out of his glove and still tried to come home. And he was playing back. The correct play would have been to take the ball to the bag for the easy out. This isn’t hindsight, this is fact.

5 – Andy Dirks

A sinking fastball that hangs in the upper half of the strike zone. Dirks squares it up and Jarrod Dyson misplays the liner allowing Prince Fielder to score from second.

Going back, that was a big error by Hosmer. Had he gone to first to get Fielder out, a run would have scored but the Royals would have had an out in their back pocket. Another run would have scored on the Dirks liner, but at that point the Royals would have been down by three with one out. Instead, they were down four with no outs.

Tiger announcers were discussing how they thought Hochevar’s ankle was bothering him. He wasn’t comfortable landing on his left ankle and that was leading to him keeping the ball up in the zone. I’ll buy that.

6 – Alex Avila

Hochevar starts Avila out with a change-up taken down the heart of the plate. Good pitch because he had yet to throw a change to start an at bat. I say good pitch, but the location sucked. Had Avila been able to pull the trigger on that, he would have put it into orbit. The selection is what makes it a good pitch. Then he followed that with a cut fastball down the middle that Avila was able to drive into center.

The cutter was in Avila’s wheelhouse. He’s a low ball hitter, especially pitches down the center of the plate. Here is Avila’s chart detailing his hitting zones:

Just a horrible location for Hochevar.

7 – Jhonny Peralta

Discouraging because Hochevar had him down 0-2 with back to back curveballs. He went with a belt-high slider that Peralta went with and took to right field for a single and a five run lead.

Ahead 0-2, Hochevar controlled the at bat. By hanging a slider on the outer half to a right-handed batter, he essentially surrendered control.

8 – Ramon Santiago

Finally. Solid execution. Santiago can’t lay off the pitches high and away. And when he makes contact on those pitches, he doesn’t do much with them. Hochevar delivers two pitches up and away. Santiago takes the first one, but can’t resist the second.

Double play. I’m sure in the pregame planning session, the Royals told Hochevar to attack Santiago up and away. (At least they should have… As I said, that’s his weak spot.) Locate your pitches and good things can happen.

9 – Don Kelly

Nice sequence here from Hochevar. Starting Kelly high in the zone with a curve for a strike. Then following that with a pitch in the dirt. His 22nd pitch of the inning was popped to Mike Moustakas for the third out.

For the inning, Hochevar threw 17 strikes and five balls. Two of his strikes were actually hits on swings that likely would have been called out of the zone – the curve to Fielder and a curve to Peralta. Regardless, he was leaving just a ton of pitches in the meat of the plate. Just awful location.

The worst pitch was probably the meatball served to Cabrera. I really, really hate how the Royals announcers mention the small sample size of hitter versus pitcher matchups. But in the case of Hochevar versus Cabrera, it may be worth noting that in 31 plate appearances, the Tigers third baseman has collected 15 hits and owns a 1.376 OPS. If a good pitcher makes a mistake like Hochevar made to Cabrera, he’s going to punish the ball. And when he already has strong numbers against that pitcher… Yeah.

The best pitch was the double play ball delivered to Santiago. As I mentioned, that was the one plate appearance where Hochevar had what resembled a game plan.

The bad break was on the curve to Fielder. He got him to chase – which was what he wanted – and his defense let him down.

I’ve written about Hochevar at length and bought into the fantasy that he had altered his delivery in a manner that would bring him continued success. Cliff’s Notes version: He dropped the arm angle when he threw his slider which resulted in a tighter spin, which meant more break, which equalled second half success. The arm angle is still there. The results are not.

This is now the second time in five starts Hochevar has plunged his team into the depths of a first inning hole. It was as if the seven pitch at bat to Jackson took something out of him… It was the first seven pitches of the freaking game. Check out Hochevar’s velocity chart (courtesy of Brooks Baseball) and see how his speed dips immediately following the first batter.

How does that happen? He delivers three pitches to Jackson 92 mph or higher and can’t reach that speed until he gets the double play ground ball against Santiago. Meanwhile, Tiger batters are having their way with him. Again, how does that happen?

Yes, there was some bad luck involved in this inning. But a good pitcher can overcome something like that to regain control. Hochevar needed eight batters to right the ship on Tuesday night. By then, the ballgame was over.

Unacceptable.

Eight runs last night for the Kansas City Royals on four home runs.  That’s pretty much what one might have expected before the season started, right?  Billy Butler with two blasts, Eric Hosmer with his fifth of the year and Alex Gordon with the bomb to put the game away while the bullpen polished off the last two plus innings:  pretty much the pre-season gameplan.

While the offense stole the show in the streak stopper last night, Luke Hochevar had a fine outing.  The home opener disaster that Luke provide Royals’ fans on April 13th has tainted the view of him thus far in 2012.   Last night was his second very good start and third decent start out of four this season.  He’s no Bruce Chen, mind you, but Hochevar has actually been alright.

Luke opened the season throwing 6.1 innings against the Angels, allowing five hits and two runs.   After being knocked out, in more ways than one, in the home opener, Hochevar game back the following Friday to allow just two hits and a run in five innings of work.   Then last night, Luke tossed another 6.1 innings, allowing just four hits and two runs.  We may all want Hochevar to live up to that first overall draft pick status, but truth is that three out of four ain’t bad.

Let’s go back to last night. 

Pitch F/X via Brook’s Baseball classified Luke as throwing five different pitches last night (six in his first three starts):  four seam fastball, sinker, changeup, slider and curve.   The sixth pitch not used last night but used quite a bit by Hochevar in his first three starts was the cutter.   Now, you can call the sinker whatever you want (two seamer maybe?), but it is as fast or faster than Hochevar’s four seam fastball, and for the purposes of this column they are all fastballs.

Last night, Hochevar threw 47 fastballs, 29 sliders, 13 curves and 8 changeups.    Off his fastball offerings, 28 were strikes, and 22 of his 29 sliders were strikes with six of those being whiffs.   Luke only found the strike zone once with his change and half the time with his curveball.  

This season, the changeup has mostly been a ‘here’s something to think about pitch’ for Hochevar.   In his four starts, Luke has thrown it 4, 9, 9 and 8 times and hence it is not a huge part of his game.    So, let’s take that out of the equation for now as well.

The cutter, not used at all according to the data last night, was a good pitch for Hochevar earlier.  He threw it 14 times for 8 strikes (2 whiffs) on April 7th and threw it for virtually identical numbers in his third start.   In the debacle that was Friday April 13th, Hochevar offered it up seven times for five strikes.  An effective cutter helped Hochevar in his good start on the 7th an decent start on the 20th, but was not a part of his good outing last night.    Now, it is also possible that the cutter gets classified as a slider or vice-versa, but we could add them all together and only add more to the point that I am about to make below.

So, now we’re down to fastballs, curveballs and sliders. 

Compare the pitch counts of these pitches from Hochevar’s starts on April 7th (shown first) and last night:  two very good and very similar nights.

  • Fastballs – 43/47
  • Sliders – 21/29
  • Curves – 13/13

Okay, now look at the pitch usage from the awful start on the 13th:

  • Fastballs – 41
  • Sliders – 6
  • Curves – 7

Here is the interesting thing about the dramatic disparity in pitch selection:  the strike percentage of those three pitches is actually almost the same between the starts on the 7th, 13th and last night.   While Luke was getting lit up in Kaufmann Stadium, he three five of six sliders for strikes, 29 of 41 fastballs for strikes and three of seven curves.   Of course, ‘hits’ are considered strikes, so it is possible that Luke threw some pretty crappy sliders and fastballs (well, it’s not possible, he DID) on the 13th.

What should not be lost in this equation is when Hochevar offers up sliders somewhere at or above 20% of the time, he has been very effective this season.   Looking back at 2011, Hochevar barely threw the slider at all in April, May and June of that season (less than 5%), but gradually started using it more and more after that and was throwing it 18% of the time in September.

If want to lump the slider and cutter together as one ‘genre of a pitch’, Hochevar threw 35 on the 7th, 33 on the 20th and 29 last night, but only 13 on April 13th.  Call it what you want, but Hochevar need to command it and throw it often to be successful.

You can go back into 2011 and note that in the first three months and find that twenty percent of Hochevar’s pitches were being classified as cutters.   If you add that to the sliders, the percentages really don’t change that much over 2011, but something did change.   Starting in July of 2011, Hochevar either threw the slider more or changed his cutter enough to make the data reflect a change in pitch.  Hey, if the computers see it different, so do the hitters.

The change worked last season and, through four starts this year, when Hochevar uses that pitch often he is effective.   It was not used often or effectively on April 13th and we all saw the results.   Throw the slider, Luke, throw it often.

xxx

 

 

 

I figured that Jonathan Sanchez would have outings where he bordered on horrible. His lack of command combined with his electric pitches, mean he can strikeout a ton of hitters while giving away free bases. It’s like he’s a member of the Flying Wallendas.

Sanchez entered the game averaging 89.6 mph on his fastball this year. On Tuesday in Cleveland, 89 mph was his maximum velocity as he averaged just 87.2 mph. To go along with the drop in speed, Sanchez is moving away from that pitch. Of the 115 magnificent pitches he threw, only 30 of them were classified as fastballs. That’s just 26 percent. Unreal. He’s going away from the fastball in favor of his change-up. As Hudler pointed out in the key at bat against Jack Hannahan, when Sanchez is throwing almost exclusively off speed stuff, they just wait… And wait… And wait.

Sigh. More on that plate appearance in a moment.

Not that Sanchez is any kind of great pitcher. He’s not… Because he can’t locate consistently. However, it’s baffling as to why he would move away from the fastball. Is this a coaching call? Or is this something he’s doing on his own? In the postgame, he simply said he “didn’t have his fastball.” Velocity, location… All of the above. I suppose in the grand scheme it’s accurate that he didn’t have his fastball. He didn’t generate a single swing and miss of the 30 he threw and only 12 of them were strikes. That’s just a brutal pitch. Here’s his velocity chart from Tuesday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

That’s the profile of a starter who didn’t leave the bullpen with a full tank of gas.

So the game on Tuesday can be boiled down to two key moments. The first, I already alluded to – the Sanchez matchup against Hannahan with runners at the corners with two down and the Royals trailing by a run.

At that moment Sanchez had surrendered three walks in the inning. It was the second time in the game he had walked three batters to load the bases. Read that previous sentence again… It was the second time in the game Sanchez walked the bases loaded.

OK… So the guy can’t locate. He’s in trouble. And at this point, he’d thrown around 109 pitches and he had practically stopped throwing his fastball entirely. Aside from an Asdrubal Cabrera double in the first inning, he had scattered a few hits… but that’s largely because he wasn’t around the strike zone. Sanchez was fortunate the Indians hadn’t broken the game open by this point.

So in a nutshell, your starter isn’t throwing in a manner he which he normally pitches. He’s deep into a pitch count and losing what little steam he brought with him to the mound. He’s somehow kept the Royals in the game, with a deficit of just a single run. Do you…

A) Stick with him. It’s his jam, let him get out of it.
B) Thank your lucky stars you’re still in the game and pull him for another lefty that’s warm in the bullpen – Tim Collins.

Everyone probably chooses “B.” Except Yosty. He’s such a contrarian.

And as previously noted, a steady diet of change-ups and Hannahan hits a bases-clearing double.

Later in the game you have this situation… Royals are trailing 4-1. Hosmer walks to leadoff the inning, advances to second on a ground out and moves to third on a Moustakas single. Quintero whiffs, so we have runners on the corners and two out. All we’ve heard about is how the Royals have failed with runners in scoring position. Failing to get “The Big Hit.” Naturally, Our Mitch delivers a line drive down the right field line. Hosmer, of course, walks home. Moustakas is busting it around second and heading for third… This is a sure-fire double. And look! Shin Soo Choo – while he has a strong throwing arm – isn’t exactly flying to the corner to field the ball. This looks like a perfect opportunity to put two on the board and cut the deficit to a single run.

Screeeeeech!

Third base coach Eddie Rodriguez throws up the stop sign. Now, it’s difficult to tell from my couch, but it sure looked like Moustakas was at third the moment Choo fired the ball in from the corner. Meaning there was an outstanding chance that Moose scores. A better than outstanding chance.

Yet he was held at third.

Apparently, third base coaches get tight, too.

Unreal. The Royals have been running stupid all season and they now they back off? When they’re scuffling to score and are presented an opportunity on a silver platter? You absolutely have to send the runner in that situation. Have. To.

So in our two situations we have one where the Royals gave away two runs on a slow hook and failed to capitalize on a sure-fire run scoring opportunity. That’s a net loss of three runs.

Ballgame.

An all too familiar refrain.

The bats are still ice-cold and aside from Maier, nobody is delivering with runners in scoring position, but I’ll hang this loss on the coaching staff. Yost’s slow trigger and Rodriguez’s bizarre decision cost this team a great opportunity to break this slide. Instead it continues.

And I adjust the doomsday clock one minute closer to midnight.

Article titles are overrated, don’t you think?

A sixth straight loss at home and a third straight game where the Royals had runners on base in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to extend or even win the game.  As I said on Monday, almost every team losses five out of six at some point and even three straight at home, but I am not convinced that every team is going to lose eight out of nine and six straight at home.  I could be wrong, probably am, and certainly the losing is exacerbated by it coming at the beginning of the season.  

The Royals were hoping for big crowds this year and, from a public relations standpoint, this losing streak could not come at a worse time.   The fans will flock back to Kaufmann when (if) the winning starts, but it will take a lot of wins for the pre-season excitement felt throughout the Royals’ fandom to be rekindled.   That’s a shame.

As for last night’s six straight loss, two divergent sources offered up some pretty good commentary on the night.  Jeff Zimmerman at Royals Review broke down the bottom of the seventh inning and Lee Judge, who decided not to take a jab at stats, bloggers and anyone who has not been paid to play baseball, and instead offered up a decent rundown of the loss as well.  

I will chime in with a few notes as well:

Ned Yost had an awful night as manager.  Virtually every decision he made blew up.  While I am not a huge Yost fan, he had truly terrible luck last night.   While it is sometimes hard to determine who is actually to blame (player, coach, manager or just plain good baseball by the other team), in the end it all falls on the manager.   Bad luck or bad managing, you can call last night either or both, but no manager survives a whole lot of games like last night.

On back to back at-bats, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder beat defensive shifts for singles.  Without the shift, probably both of those balls are outs and no runs score.  Now, the best defensive team in baseball the past five years has been the Tampa Bay Rays and they probably shift defensively more than any team, so there is obvious value in shifting.  That said, if your pitchers don’t pitch to the shift then you lose the advantage.  I don’t know, but it is hard for me to believe that with Alcides Escobar playing on the right field side of second that Ned Yost wanted Jose Mijares to throw a pitch outside to Prince Fielder.

Obviously, teams shift to some extent on almost every hitter and sometimes with every pitch, but the dramatic defensive shifts are what gets Joe Maddon a ton of credit and Ned Yost, at least for now, a ton of criticism.   In my tortured mind, it would seem that if you believe that you have a great bullpen and good defense (which I think the Royals do believe) then you would shift less dramatically.   Hindsight is 20-20 and there are certainly games in the past that Kansas City has likely won in no small part due to a dramatic defensive shift against a good hitter, but last night the Royals probably win by just playing straight up defense.

Also of note last night, Alex Gordon was caught stealing third.  It was a very good play by the Detroit battery of Gerald Laird and Max Scherzer.   Laird made the call for the Tiger pitcher to throw the second and caught Gordon leaving early.   As I said above, sometimes the other team just makes good plays and I am inclined to believe that was the case here.

However….

Why are the Royals obsessed with stealing third base?   I am going strictly from memory here, but I believe Kansas City has stolen third three times this year and been caught (or picked off second) at least three times.   Both of those numbers might be higher, but I know neither is lower.   Three for six doesn’t get it done when it comes to stealing third and the sheer number of attempts tells us that it is a strategic decision on Yost’s part to steal third often.

The general theory would be that if a runner gets to third, he can score on any hit, most fly balls to the outfield, a portion of ground balls and, of course, a wild pitch.   That all makes some sense, of course, except this Royals team, while it has not shown it, is generally expected to hit.   If you have a team that you expect to hit and score runs, then why risk giving away outs at third base?

Keep in mind, we are not just talking about last night, the Royals came out of the gate stealing third base.   It is easy to justify trying to manufacture a run when you have scored just one in two straight games, but Ned Yost came out hell bent on stealing third and bunting from day one.  On day one of the season, everyone in baseball assumed the Royals could and would hit and score runs.   Despite this, Yost insists on ‘being aggressive’, which thus far has translated into less runs and more outs.

Last night, Gordon may well have been running on his own, but it was done based upon the club’s philosophy of running the bases.    Sure, Eric Hosmer is in a ridiculous slump, but I still like the odds of him singling in Gordon from second as opposed to risking making an out trying to steal third.  Heck, Yuniesky Betancourt has been known to run into a baseball and drive it on occasion (actually fairly often thus far).  I like my chances there (and you know I’m no Yuni-fan) better than risking the out.

Truthfully, right now, the Royals are a team full of players trying too hard and managed by a manager who is trying to impact the game too much.   Pick a batting order and a second baseman, Ned, and just let it be.   Take the extra base on hits, but put a premium on not making outs on the bases.   Aggressive baserunning has translated into reckless baserunning on this team.   For now, pull back the reins a bit and let your hitters hit.

If you believe you are a good offensive team, the runs will come without handfuls of stolen bases and sacrifice bunts.  Oh, and by the way, Eric Hosmer may never have bunted in his life.   Slump or not, he should not be trying to do so last night.

The season is far from over and many teams over the years have overcome starts just like this to have good seasons.  With every mistake laden loss, however, the situation gets a little closer to desperation.   As a group, the Royals are already playing and managing with a certain sense of desperation:  that’s no way to play this game.

xxx

 

 

 

 

The dust and, hopefully, the emotions have settled from a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.   I tire of the constant ‘baseball is a long season’, the Royals have not yet played the equivalent of one NFL football game kind of talk, but there is truth to it.   Every team will go through a stretch where they lose six of nine games.   Every team will be swept at some point this season and a fair portion of teams will get swept at home.   Yes, it is important to remember all of that.

Still….

FRIDAY

The Kansas City Royals will play somewhere around 1,460 innings this year and might well have played the single worst one of the bunch at the worst possible time from a public relations standpoint.   In front of an emotional packed house, Luke Hochevar could not locate the right parts of the strike zone, Yuniesky Betancourt could not reach a ground ball and Jarrod Dyson could not find a deep fly ball.   Boom, 7-0 in the top half of the first inning of the first home game of the year.

If either Betancourt or Dyson make a play, the Royals get out of the first down 2-0 or 3-0.   Given that after Hochevar was smacked on the ankle by a line drive, Everett Teaford came in to pitch four spectacular innings of relief, that could have meant a lot.  Unfortunately, the Royals banged into three double plays on their way to turning 13 baserunners and two wild pitches into just three runs.

SATURDAY

The Royals started out the game by playing three and a half innings of just crappy baseball (that’s a scientific term, by the way) and then followed it up with some inspired play that turned a 9-2 deficit into a 9-9 tie.  The Royals lost when their best reliever, Greg Holland, surrendered two singles and a wind aided double that Jarrod Dyson (who did not have a good two games in the field) just could not quite reach.   That one hurt, folks.

Of course, the news of Saturday really was the two bench clearing brouhahas that netted the Indians three ejections, the Royals some badly needed adrenaline and spawned a Twitter war that eventually included John Rocker and Chris Perez (two great minds at work there).  

Hey, I don’t mind Shin-Soo Choo jawing at Jonathan Sanchez after being hit.  It was Sanchez who obliterated Choo’s season by hitting him last year.  Sure, it was not intentional and yeah, Choo overreacted, but I get it.   Hell, Al Cowens once charged Ed Farmer after grounding out for similar reasons.    I also don’t mind Mike Moustakas jawing at Jennmar Gomez after the retaliatory beanball.

What I do mind, however, is a career .232 hitter in Jack Hannahan injecting himself squarely into the middle of both situations.  Obviously someone did something bad to Jack prior to the game as he was in the middle of both jawing sessions immediately and with great fervor.   It might well be that Hannahan was doing his job as a good veteran and upholding all the unwritten rules of baseball: notably, standing up for your teammate and then smacking down a young player running his mouth.  I freaking hate baseball’s unwritten rules, mainly because the enforcers of said rules are usually bad ballplayers with .232 career averages like Jack Hannahan.

SUNDAY

A bad call at first that should have ended the third inning, coupled with a missed foul ball by Eric Hosmer, turned into a six run debacle for the Royals.  That was followed by three more two out runs in the fifth and the next thing you know, Mitch Maier is pitching.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ROTATION

but you knew that already…

The Royals scored 18 runs in a three game series at home and were basically blown out of two of those games and it all really comes down to starting pitching.   After a dynamic first time through the rotation, the Royals starters have dug deep and early holes for their team the second time through.

We will give Bruce Chen a pass here as he was hardly great in Oakland, but did get through five innings allowing three runs:  that’s far away the best second start performance.   Since then, Hochevar, Sanchez and Mendoza combined to throw 10.2 innings and allowed 24 hits, 17 earned runs (21 total), 9 walks and logged just 5 strikeouts.   That required the bullpen to throw another 17.1 innings in which they were tagged for 11 more runs. 

Now, we can pick and choose, take out the performance of Tim Collins and Louis Coleman and knock 7 runs off that bullpen total without breaking a sweat.   All the really does, however, is point out that when you go to the bullpen before the fifth inning for three straight games (and before the sixth in four straight), a manager is eventually going to find a guy who doesn’t have it that particular day.  If a good reliever is effective three times out of four and Ned Yost has to use 11 relief appearances in 3 days…well, you do the math.

The starting five is neither as good as they were in the first five games or as bad as they have been the last four  (I mean, they can’t be THAT bad, right?  RIGHT?!).   The strain of one very average start and three bad ones strung together is very apparent, however, and could not have come at a worse time for a young team trying to get off to a quick start. 

ONE YEAR IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER

Not a big fan of the ‘the Royals got off to good starts in past years and ended up with bad records so this isn’t that bad’ school of thought.  I will take ten years of good starts and you can take ten years of bad starts and I bet I end up with a better overall record than you do.

The 2012 Royals bear little resemblance to the April 2011 Kansas City squad and this young group was fired up and confident entering the season.   Now, they have been swept at home and lost the Oakland series in a gut wrenching and rather historical fashion.   Alex Gordon is hitting .118 and Eric Hosmer has swung for the fences all the way to a .216 start.

You can point to defensive miscues in each of the last four losses that have contributed mightily to the team’s downfall and baserunning errors before that which hurt the team as well.  This is a young team making mistakes and not finding a way to overcome them.   This is a team that is not hitting well when they pitch well and not pitching well when they do score runs.

It is just nine games into a 162 game grind.  Five point five percent of the season is gone.   Halfway through the fourth quarter of the first NFL game of the season.   Just past first stage separation on a journey to the moon.  Two-thirds of the way through the appetizer on a date (well before you figure out she’s weird and not even close to noticing that glob of eye shadow in the corner of her eye that will preoccupy and annoy you the rest of the night).

We get all that.   Even the most reactionary Royal fan gets that.  This is a young team from an organization that has no recent success to fall back on in hard times.  How many losses, misplays and flat out bad luck (I’m looking at you and your dink hits Shelley Duncan) can they absorb before all the swagger is gone?  

Yeah, it’s early, but this team could ‘it’s just one game’ itself into being ten games under .500 before the end of April.   Something good needs to happen to the Kansas City Royals and it needs to happen soon.   

Something good like Danny Duffy out-dueling Justin Verlander.

50-50-62

We talked about the 50 wins, 50 losses, 62 games that are up for grabs principal last Thursday.  I am trying to keep track of which games land in which category, but it is, of course, quite subjective.   For the record, Saturday’s extra inning loss certainly goes in the ’62’ column and, despite the end result of blow outs, I am tempted to put Friday and Sunday’s losses into the ’62’ as well.   Both of those games really turned on a missed defensive play (not to mention a bad call) which the Royals were unable to overcome.   That is where I will put them for now, pending a good argument to move one or both.

xxx

 

A few bullet points as we all experience rain-shortened West Coast Madness to open the season…

— First, helluva start by Danny Duffy on Tuesday in Oakland. Late in the game, Greg Schaum tweeted a question, asking if this was his best major league start. Easy answer…

Without a doubt that was Duffy’s major league start of his brief career.

Never before had he allowed fewer than two runs in a start. And his eight strikeouts were just one off his career best.

Also, if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know how I like to use Bill James’ Game Score as a measure of a strong start. On Tuesday, Duffy posted a final Game Score of 74. That total was miles better than his previous best of 63, posted last July against the White Sox.

It was an absolute gem from the Duffman.

For posterity’s sake:

6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 8 SO

Yeah, the walk total wasn’t ideal, but the elements were harsh. Obviously, they were harsh for the hitters as well, but each time Duffy walked a batter, he was able to get the outs that were needed. Especially in the fifth when he walked a pair of batters, but closed out the inning with a strikeout of Chad Pennington.

Overall, he threw 103 pitches, 62 of them for strikes. And of those 62, 16 of them were on swings and misses. Including five in a row to open the second inning.

He opened the game throwing heat, reaching 96 mph, before settling into the 93 mph range with his fastball. Here’s his velocity chart from the game…

Just another in a line of strong starts to open the season for the Royals.

— One of the big outs following a Duffy walk came in the second inning when Lorenzo Cain ran at least three miles to track down a Daric Barton flyball. After crashing into the wall, Cain got the ball to the relay man and the Royals doubled off Collin Cowgil to end the inning.

We had heard about Cain’s magnificent range. That was the first time I saw it in action. It was a thing of beauty.

After the catch though, he had to leave the game after experiencing pain in his groin. I’m hopeful the Royals were playing it safe and he’s OK. The elements were nasty last night in Oakland and the field was in horrible condition, so it’s totally understandable that the Royals err on the side of caution and remove him from the game. He was scheduled for a day off this afternoon, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that rest is the solution.

— Alex Gordon went hitless (again) but he hit the ball hard in a couple of plate appearances (again). Yeah, the .000 batting average looks ugly on the in-stadium scoreboard, but he’s fine. He’s getting good hacks for the most part, but has been unlucky. Baseball is a game of averages so we can expect a hot streak lurking just around the corner.

— The Royals made two more outs on the bases last night, pushing their total for the season to nine. That’s three innings worth of outs they’ve given away.

Last night was typical. The first out was a Billy Butler caught stealing. You may be pausing right now, scratching your head. Well, it was on a 3-2 pitch. That’s the only way I can possibly justify what he was doing in that situation. But with the muddy track, for Butler to run was just nuts. No other way to put it.

I wish I knew who decided it was a good idea for Country Breakfast to run. Did he go on his own? Or was it ordered by the dugout?

Naturally it ended with a strikeout/throw out double play.

The other out was the Master Of Grit, Chris Getz getting picked off first with a caught stealing. He was definitely going, left early and the left-handed Jeremy Blevins was able to throw to first to start the out.

The beauty of this out on the bases was Getz sliding head first into the muck at second and getting a mouthful of mud. I wonder when he figured out that he was in trouble trying to slide?

On a night like Tuesday with those field conditions, it baffles me anyone would try to steal a base. Not our aggressive Royals, though.

— Clark and I will be keeping track of outs on the bases by the Royals this year. We’re in the early stages of our system, so we’ll see how everything shakes out. What we’ll be tracking is pickoffs, caught stealings, players doubled off base, making an out when trying to take an extra base or an out trying to advance on a fly ball.

It’s going to be awesome.

There was very little (anything?) to like about the game last night. The Royals should have entered into Oakland coming off of a series win against the heavily favored Anaheim Angels with some swagger and confidence. Instead they limped in with easily the worst lineup they could put on the field. For posterity, lets put it down here and then the amount of times each guy got on base last night:

Bourgeois LF – 1
Cain CF – 0
Hosmer 1B – 2
Butler DH – 0
Francoeur RF – 1
Betancourt 3B – 1
Pena C – 0
Escobar SS – 1
NeuGetz 2B – 0

The entire starting lineup got on base 6 times. Let me get out the slide-rule…..carry the one….adjust pocket protector….yep that’s not very good. So the team was terrible at getting on base, it happens from night to night and with these particular players (Yuni, Getz, Bourgeois, Escobar, I’m looking at you) it will happen more often than not. That’s why when the guys actually get on base they need to make the best of those opportunities.

Unfortunately the Royals didn’t do that either. Hosmer was caught stealing 3rd base (not a typo), Francoeur was caught trying to steal second AND he was picked off at first. I’ll ignore Bourgeois getting caught at third, it was an amazing throw and worth the effort. So the starting lineup gets on base 6 times and they give up half of those baserunners by making boneheaded decisions on the basepaths.

The real shame of it all is that the Royals only needed 2 runs to win the game. It’s impossible to say that if the Royals had started their best offensive team that they would have put those runs across, but there is certainly a higher probability. Had the Royals let Gordon play left, Moustakas at third or if they had kept Kevin Kouzmanoff rather than Getz, they could have put up more of a fight. Instead Ned Yost wants to keep his bench involved in the game and he is scared to death of letting Moustakas hit a lefty. The Royals sacrificed their chance to win in order to make sure Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Bourgeois don’t get a little rusty. Priorities, guys, priorities.

So let’s turn to what happened on the mound for the Royals. In the ultimate results category, Mendoza had a heck of a game. The Royals only allowed 1 run in the 5.2 innings he was pitching. However, it wasn’t a pretty 1 run and it portends bad things. Mendoza allowed 5 hits and 4 walks while striking out only 2. That’s a WHIP of 1.59, which is not good. A pitcher can not survive long giving up that many baserunners. Eventually the regression to the mean specter will come calling.

I know, it’s one game in April. The Royals only lost by 1 run and it was on the road. There’s a whole lot more games to come and it’s a lot to expect the best 9 to play 162. There was just a whole combination of things last night that had me thinking about how many things can go wrong and how much has to go right for the Royals to contend.

They just can’t give away a game to a team like the A’s in this fashion. They can’t put the happiness of Getz over the welfare of the team. They absolutely can NOT run into outs and walk from the batters box to the dugout at this rate. Fortunately today is a new day and the Royals get another shot at the A’s. Maybe, just maybe the team and management were given their copies of Moneyball (sent from a nice doctor in the Chicagoland area) and realized how important outs are and that they should cherish them at all costs.

In the quest for the postseason every game is important. That includes tonight’s game.

Nick Scott


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More detailed (maybe) analysis on Monday.

xxx

 

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?

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