Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in Game Review

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?

I have a hunch it was a pretty busy weekend for all of us.  College football was in full swing, the NFL started up and it was just about perfect weather just about everywhere in the Midwest.   On a far more important note, it was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which took up at least a few hours of most everyone’s weekend.

Along the way, the Royals were still playing baseball:  rallying from an 0-2 start against Seattle to win the final two games of the series.   A split with a team sporting a virtually identical poor record is not exactly front page news, particularly on a weekend like this past one.

It’s that time of year, folks.   The time when local sports radio might give you twenty minutes of Royals’ talk per show, if you’re lucky.   When the only baseball highlights (unless you can tolerate the ridiculous ‘look at how lively and funny we are’ Baseball Tonight show) revolve around teams that, you know, are still playing for something.    Short of Alcides Escobar catching a grounder in his hat and then drop kicking it to Eric Hosmer for the out, you won’t see a Royals’ highlight on any national media outlet until sometime next year.   Heck, you might not see many on any of the Kansas City stations!

I will have to admit that I paid minimal attention to the Seattle series myself.   We had a huge airshow up here in Lincoln (Blue Angels, baby!), the Huskers played at night, the deck had to be stained and Mom gave me an extra half hour each night before having to return to the basement.   All that said, the Royals did do some good things over the weekend:

  • Felipe Paulino struck out 11 batters over seven innings of work, allowing just two hits.   So much for concerns about his back.
  • My new prospect to hype, Everett Teaford, stepped up Sunday and threw five shutout innings in his first major league start.   Of course, Teaford was facing the Mariners who don’t sport a whole lot of anything offensively after Ichiro and Dustin Ackley, but it was a positive performance nonetheless.
  • By the time the dust settled Sunday, Alex Gordon was leading the AL in doubles with 45.  The last double on Sunday was his 70th extra base hit of the year.  For those of you new to the game, 70 freaking extra base hits is a lot.  When Gordon was a rookie, what were your expectations?  Something like .300/.400/.500 as a slash line?   Well, Alex stands at .299/.371/.500 right now.
  • Eric Hosmer hit home run number 17 in Seattle.   Get your prediction in now:  how many home runs will Hosmer hit in 2012?  I am setting the over/under at 29.
  • With a little luck, the Royals could end the season with four players who each have 40 or more doubles and 20 or more home runs.   While the offense has been somewhat spastic this year, it really is not the problem (which pretty much everyone knew already).
  • Neither has the bullpen.   After a bit of ‘rookie hitting the wall-itis’ the past few weeks, the Royals’ pen threw 12 innings in the Seattle series, allowing just 3 runs and 2 walks while striking out 22 batters.   They are not the problem, either, and are likely to be even better in 2012.
  • The problem, of course, is the starting rotation.  Again, we already knew that and in the coming months you can count on this writer coming up with six thousand and seven scenarios to make the rotation better.   I believe it is quite likely you will disagree with all of them.

I will leave you with one question for the day:  is the 2012 Opening Day starter on the current 40 man roster?

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.

It wasn’t a 22 run, 3 grand slam outburst, but if nine runs is enough for a win (as it should be) I’ll take it.

Some quick notes from Thursday’s game:

— All Clark has to do is write a nice post about the man we know as Country Breakfast, and he collects four hits in five plate appearances. Billy Butler’s .374 OBP is tops on the team and he’s second in wOBA at .364. The guy has been on fire the last month and a half. Not surprisingly, my Twitter feed is void of Butler hate.

— I don’t know that Johnny Giavotella would have been my first choice to bat leadoff with Alex Gordon out of the lineup, but Nervous Ned does so many things that defy logic, it wears me out to get irritated. Although the way the top of the order has been clicking, I don’t know who you would drop into that spot. Gio it is!

— By going with that 13 man bullpen, it exposes a thin bench whenever anyone needs to leave the game. It happened again last night when Jeff Francoeur got drilled right below the knee cap in the top of the ninth. That forced Alex Gordon, himself nursing a bruise after being hit by a pitch the previous night, into the field. The good news, we’re less than a week away from when the rosters can expand, so we won’t have to put up with this nonsense much longer. The bad news is, Omaha’s season ends September 5, and they’re probably going to the playoffs. It could be the middle of the month before we see anyone in Kansas City.

— Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game, his third in a row and fifth in his last eight games. Same approach as I wrote about on Wednesday… Laying off the high fastballs. The strange thing was, the Blue Jays didn’t give him a ton of off speed pitches down in the zone. Almost every slider he saw this series was up in the zone and they hardly threw any change-ups.

— I don’t know if I even want to discuss the disaster known as Joakim Soria. I was surprised to see him in the game in the non-save situation, but figured this was Yost’s way of getting him so low pressure work in an attempt to boost his confidence.

It was just two pitches, but when the first bad pitch is a low cutter over the middle of the plate (That was absolutely ripped. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ball squared up like that.) and that’s followed by a slider up in the zone… Well, that’s how two pitches turn into two runs. Although, it should be noted the slider was away and Encarnacion basically muscled it to the opposite field.

Soria is still striking out hitters, but when he’s missing, he’s been way too high in the zone – like he was to Encarnacion. It’s not a coincidence that his worst two months of the season (May and August) have seen more fly balls in play against Soria than ground balls.

— Strong showing from Jeff Francis even if the wheels came apart in the seventh. His pitch count after six was relatively low, so I wasn’t surprised Yost sent him back for the top of the inning. I was surprised Yost let Greg Holland throw two innings in that situation. Unfortunately, by throwing 45 pitches, he’s going to be unavailable for the start of the Cleveland series.

— Two Royals wins and zero appearances by either Aaron Crow or Tim Collins. When was the last time that happened?

Squeezed

14 comments

Who hates the Yankees? Me! A couple of notes from last night’s marathon loss.

— Obviously, the Yankees are poised for another October run, but color me unimpressed with their starting pitching. Ivan Nova and AJ Burnett just don’t look like they should be in the rotation of a team with post season dreams. But when you’re scoring 5.4 runs per game, I suppose you can live with that. Plus, it seems like Girardi has his bullpen rotation down. He’s gone Logan, Soriano, Robertson and Rivera – in that order – both nights of the series.

— It stinks that seven runs isn’t enough.

— I loved the Ned Yost ejection in the fourth inning. One of my favorite things is baseball is when the manager makes a visit to the mound, not to talk with his pitcher, but to give the home plate umpire and earful when he comes to break up the meeting.

At this point in Tuesday’s game, Danny Duffy was hot. He was getting battered around by the Yankee lineup like speed bag and on top of that, he was getting squeezed by home plate umpire Kerwin Danley. Let’s be honest… Danley was awful behind the plate. Here is how MLB Gameday charted Duffy’s pitches to Russell Martin in the second inning:

I’m not entirely sure what Duffy had to do to get the low strike. I’m sure that was on his mind in the fourth when he didn’t get a borderline call against Mark Teixeira on what would have been strike three. (To be fair, Duffy was lucky the plate appearance got that far. His first pitch was a fat, juicy hanging curve that Teixeira was out in front of and yanked foul. Yanked is the wrong word… He crushed that pitch.)

Anyway, Duffy is frustrated and you could see it. Yost comes out to give his starter the pep talk and uses the opportunity to give Danley a piece of his mind as the two were walking off the mound and gets run. Loved it. Yost was out there protecting his pitcher. Duffy thought he was getting squeezed, was getting hacked off (you could see it in his body language) and that was good enough for his manager. I know I criticize Yost a ton, but that was necessary and perfect.

— Danley’s zone was awfully tight. I know we’re not supposed to take these charts as gospel, but it sure looks like he missed a ton of pitches that were in the zone.

— Duffy struggled in a way we haven’t seen recently. He threw a total of 90 pitches and got just three swing and misses.

Of course, the back breaker was the 12 pitch at bat to Robinson Cano immediately following the Yost ejection that culminated with the ball leaving the yard. Cano fouled off four consecutive fastballs, two sliders and another fastball before he crushed a flat slider that was about belt high.

— With summer winding down, it seems like I spend a ton of time in the car, so I’ll tune into the opposing team’s radio broadcast to see what they’re saying about the Royals. Sometimes, I’ll really enjoy the rival announcers. (Plus, I need relief during the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings… Why, those are Bob Davis’ innings!) Other times, I revel in the train wreck of awfulness. As huge as the Yankees are, you would think they would have a decent announcing tandem. You would think wrong. Things I learned listening to the Yankee broadcast, courtesy of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman:

1- Alex Gordon has a “awful” arm in left field. Yes, Sterling actually said this. They then discussed how this was possible given he used to play third base, and you would think a third baseman would have a strong arm.

2 – Joakim Soria has been “horrible” this year and has been on the DL twice. Twice. I don’t know… I follow the Royals fairly closely, so it comes as a complete shock to me that I missed the Soria transactions. Besides, while it has been far from Soria’s best season, but horrible seems to be a strong adjective. He has a 2.22 ERA since June 1 with 27 strikeouts in 28 innings.

Anyway, they used the Soria character assassination as a springboard to discuss the greatness of Mariano Rivera.

3 – Both Sterling and Waldman spend half their time clearing their throat. Jeez… Invest in a lozenge or something.

— Finally, the Royals are now 4-11 in the month of August. They have scored 58 runs (3.9 R/G) and allowed 71 (4.7 R/G). Their .309 OBP this month is their worst mark of the season. Remember, OBP is life…

One of the more interesting moments from Thursday’s fourth and final loss to the Rays came in the top of the seventh inning. At this point, the Royals were down 3-1 and got a leadoff single from Melky Cabrera.

(Let me join the crowded chorus of those who continue to be amazed at the career renaissance experienced by the Melk Man. A line of .306/.339/.471 currently represents a career high in batting average and slugging, and it’s his second highest OBP since his rookie year in 2006 when he finished at .360. His current wOBA of .354 is the highest of his career. Well done, Dayton Moore… Cheap and productive.)

After Billy Butler flied out to right for the first out of the inning, the Rays went to the bullpen to play the platoon match-up and brought in the left handed JP Howell to face Eric Hosmer. Howell threw two pitches, Hosmer swung at both and on the second pitch, knocked it into the opposite field for a single, putting runners on first and second with just one out.

(Absolutely the right call to bring the lefty in to face Hosmer, who does the majority of his damage against right-handed pitching. He’s batting .300/.356/.508 against right-handers and just .220/.271/.250 versus the lefties. Obviously, in that situation you don’t want to give up a game-tying home run. It likely wasn’t going to happen with Howell on the mound. All 10 of Hosmer’s homers have come against right-handers.)

The Royals have a little something going now in the late innings, and this brings up Jeff Francoeur. The Rays go back to the bullpen for Joel Peralta. Here’s the pivotal point in the game for the Royals.

The Frenchman works the count to 2-2 and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, Cabrera and Hosmer are off and running. Francoeur swings through strike three and Hosmer is thrown out at second to end the inning. Just like that, what looked like a promising inning is over.

According to data from Pitchf/x, Peralta threw pretty much the exact same pitch five consecutive times to The Frenchman. All five pitches were recorded as 91 mph fastballs, yet, he couldn’t so much as get his bat on the ball. Francoeur has earned his reputation as a free-swinger, but his strikeout totals reflect someone who more or less makes contact. He’s whiffed in just over 17% of his at bats this year and makes contact on 80.8% of his swings. (League average contact rate is 80.9% so he’s right there.) It’s his walk rate that we have an issue with, but we knew in that situation, he was up there swinging.

(He took a walk in the first and his walk rate for 2011 is now a career best 6.4%. File that one under “Miracle, Minor.”)

Of Francoeur’s 85 strikeouts this year, here’s how they breakdown according to Bill James’ Baseball IQ:

Swinging 80%

Swinging out of the strike zone – 49%

So The Frenchman doesn’t get cheated. When he goes down, he goes down swinging. Now, half the time he’ll chase out of the zone, but I would imagine that’s pretty close to league average. With two strikes, you have to expand the zone.

As you can see from Gameday, Peralta pounded the zone. He wasted the first pitch up and away then threw a pretty good pitch low and away for strike one. He missed the same spot for ball three and then attacked with a fastball up and in for the second strike. He finished him off with a pitch that was down the heart of the plate in the lower third of the zone. Francoeur may have gone up there to swing, but he wasn’t undisciplined.

I guess they were decent pitches, but Peralta was living dangerously. After the first strike, the next two where in areas where The Frenchman makes his living. Here are his hitting zones from Inside Edge. Notice that Francoeur second best hitting quadrant is in the exact spot where he swung and missed against Peralta. And Francoeur doesn’t do too shabby against that inside high strike, either. Given this data, along with the location of pitches he saw in that at bat, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t at least put the ball in play.

Swinging in the strike zone – 31%

Finally, The Frenchman doesn’t swing and miss at a “true” strike all that often. And for Francoeur to swing and miss at that pitch – in that location – for a third strike… Well, let’s just say the result of that plate appearance was surprising. Usually, if he’s swinging and missing at the third strike, it’s when the pitcher busts him up and in. He hardly ever misses the pitch that was in the location of the third strike from Peralta. Again, from Baseball IQ, here is the heat map of the location of third strikes against Francoeur.

If you want to strikeout The Frenchman, you attack him high in the zone or get him to chase low and away. You don’t leave a pitch where Peralta left his. Yet, as we’re reminded, this is baseball and execution actually counts. My gut told me it was a dumb play to put the runners in motion with The Frenchman at the plate late in a game, looking at the data, I’m not sure it was as crazy as it seemed at the time. Peralta left a pitch in a great location for Francoeur, and he just failed to execute like he usually does given the location of the pitch. It happens. So while my gut told me it wasn’t the right move to put the runners in motion, after looking at the data, it doesn’t seem like such a bad call after all.

Sadly, it was the last chance for the Royals to avoid the sweep.

Last night’s five run debacle in the bottom of the ninth brought back memories of some really, really bad Royals’ teams of the past.   Although charged with just one error in the inning, the Royals committed enough gaffes and bobbles to make one wonder if the ghost of Chip Ambres was not lurking somewhere near.

Let’s start at the beginning.  

After Melky Cabrera mashed a three run homer in the top of the ninth to give Kansas City a four run lead, Ned Yost opted to go with Aaron Crow instead of Joakim Soria to start the bottom of the inning.    Soria, who had not pitched since throwing 11 pitches on Sunday, was already warm when the decision was made to switch to Crow.  I can only assume that the primary driver behind this decision was that the bottom of the ninth was no longer a save situation.  

I did not like this move at the time (my wife will sign an affidavit stating such).    Crow jumped ahead of both Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon 0-2, but yielded ground ball singles to both.   Does Chris Getz get to Joyce’s ground ball?  Maybe, but more on that in a minute.

In comes Soria, entering a game in the middle of an inning for just the fourth time this season and just the second time since April.   Now, it should not matter to an expeirenced reliever when they come in, who is on and who is up.  In the convuloted world of closers and bullpen management, however, relievers seem to have all sorts of comfort zones and I am pretty sure the Royals were outside of Soria’s at this point.

Don’t get me wrong, going to Soria was the right move at this juncture.   The problem was that Yost should have stuck to his plan despite Cabrera’s home run and let Soria start the ninth inning (particularly considering Crow has been nursing a dead arm or sore shoulder or whatever we are calling it this week).  

Okay, Soria is in and promptly is tagged on a ‘double’ by Evan Longoria.  I note the ‘double’ in that Melky Cabrera, who had spent the ninth inning changeover yapping at some fans who had been razzing him, fielded the hit and threw to third instead of second.   Does Longoria go to second if the throw is headed that direction instead?  The angle on television I saw was not clear, but both Ryan Lefevbre and Frank White (two guys who make a living generally making excuses for the players) seemed to think that Cabrera threw to the wrong base and allowed Longoria to turn a single into a double.

The relevancy of that play immediately came to light when Ben Zobrist grounded out to second baseman Johnny Giavotella.  There are a lot of variables that come into play, but there was a chance that, had Longoria been standing on first this was a double play ball.   I don’t know, the defensive positioning, the pitch selection and likely Zobrist’s approach at the plate all are different given where Longoria is on the bases, but I do know that there is a much better chance to turn a double play if the runner is on first instead of second.

Next up is Casey Kotchman who grounds to Giavotella’s right and right into the play that, according to Lee Warren  is the most troublesome for the rookie second baseman.   Johnny bobbles the backhand, turns and jump throws to first to give Kotchman a hometown infield single.  Again, not sure Chris Getz does or does not make that play:  Chase Utley does and probably a fair portion of major league regulars at the position do as well.

After Soria strikes out B.J. Upton (easily one of the most dislikable players in the league), Sam Fuld triples into right center.   Fuld is fast and that ball was a triple from the beginning even with Jeff Francoeur fielding the caroom well and firing a strike to cut-off man Johnny Giavotella.

Now, Giavotella is young and just failed to make a play and, as you might expect, tries to make up for it.   His throw to third was good right up until the time that it hit the sliding Fuld’s foot.   The two good throws gave the Royals a slight, slight mind you, chance to throw out Fuld, but I’m pretty sure he’s safe regardless.   Let him have his triple and hope that Soria gets Kelly Shoppach and the Royals at least get to play more baseball.

At any rate, here is a question that I don’t have the answer to.   Where was Joakim Soria in all of this?  Obviously, he would have been moving to back up home as soon as Fuld hit the ball, but once the play started heading towards third, should Joakim have been up the line to back up an errant throw to that base?

I will be honest in that one replay of what happened was enough for me to turn off the television before seeing if I could locate Soria on any of the replay angles.   I do know that in the bottom of the eighth, in a similar situation, Greg Holland could be seen busting his tail up from behind home up to third to back up a possible play there.   Again, not so much a criticism as a question and, honestly, maybe not even a relevant one.

At any rate, it was simply a horrific display of baseball in the bottom of the ninth, but these sorts of innings even happen to good teams sometimes and to young teams more often.  The latter, of course, is what the Royals are:  young.

Ned Yost could have inserted Chris Getz into the game for defense in the ninth, but that does not do Johnny Giavotella any good in 2012.   I know, a lot of you are tired of playing for next week or next year or the year after that, but the Royals need Giavotella to learn what he can and cannot do and when he should and should not do it.     That is what this seven week experience is all about for both him and Salvador Perez:  getting used to making big league decisions in the big leagues.

Let’s face it, with the possible change of one outfield position, last night’s lineup is going to be the 2012 lineup and could very well be the 2013 lineup as well. They are going to have some ugly innings out there.   That they do post a stinker more often than we would like is not an indictment of the lineup or, dare we say it, The Process.

Last night sucked and there might be others like it as the Royals play out the string in 2011, but I can live with that if this same group or something close to it makes the move from ‘young and promising’ to ‘youthful and good’ by next year.

%d bloggers like this: