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Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

In part 1 of this series, I looked at the offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, but rather it’s their inability to prevent runs. In part 2 I looked at the defense and found it to be missing some pieces but again not a huge problem. That leaves us with the pitching. This isn’t really a shocking conclusion. We all knew it was leading us there, but I think it’s instructive and helpful to get there step-by-step. The pitching neatly breaks up into two distinct parts: starting and relief. Today we’ll focus on relief.

Here is a chart showing the Royal relieves ERA and the league rank for the past few years.

Year ERA AL Rank
2011 3.69 5th
2010 4.46 14th
2009 5.02 14th
2008 4.26 10th
2007 3.89 6th

The Royals have clearly had a contending level relief core this year, but history shows that it’s a fickle thing. One year you can have a great bullpen and the next year it can be putrid. There’s a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Bullpens have high turnover, small inning sample sizes can skew the numbers, more players means more possibility for injuries or other changes and pitching is just a fickle art.

With all of these different possibilities it’s hard to make any concrete conclusions on whether or not the Royals will continue to have a contention level relief corps.  However, there are some things that can help guide us. Primarily age and team control. Here is the list of the important relief pitchers this season for the Royals and the year that they become a free agent

Player Free Agency Season
Joakim Soria 2015
Blake Wood 2017
Tim Collins 2017
Aaron Crow 2017
Louis Coleman 2017
Nate Adcock 2017
Greg Holland 2017
Everett Teaford 2017
Jeremy Jeffress 2017

Why am I just now realizing that other than Joakim Soria (and Mitch Maier of course) every relief pitcher of note is a rookie this season? The chart should make it clear that the bullpen shouldn’t turnover much based on free agency. That doesn’t mean that injury, trade or a move to the starting rotation won’t change things, but based on the results from this season and the youth, we can for the near future rule out the bullpen as a major area where the Royals should focus in order to improve their ballclub to make it a contender.

Next time we’ll get into the heart of the matter and discuss the starting pitching, and more importantly how to fix it.

 

 

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

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?

Gun Show

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I’ve said this several times in 2011: This is my favorite Royals team in recent memory. Bottom line, it’s just a fun bunch of position players to watch on a nightly basis. Part of the enjoyment comes from the gun show the Royals outfield produces on a consistent basis. Whether it’s Alex Gordon gunning down runners at the plate, Jeff Francoeur delivering perfect strikes to third or Melky Cabrera doing whatever it is he does, the trio of outfielders has been a defensive highlight reel. Amazing fun.

I suspect when we look back at 2011, one of the first things that will jump to mind is the plethora of outfield assists.

With that in mind, here are some cool stats on the Royals outfield:

— Twenty of the Royals outfield assists have come from Gordon in left field. That’s the most assists from that position in the majors. Houston is second with 14.

— We always say something like, “When will teams learn not to run on Gordon (and the Royals)?” when a runner is gunned down on the bases. Evidence shows the opposition is paying attention. Forty-four times this year a runner has been on second when Gordon has fielded the ball in left, and 24 of those times, the third base coach has thrown up the stop sign. That’s 55%. Only Cleveland left fielders are shown more respect, with runners stopping at third 60% of the time. (I have no reason why this would be the case.)

— Cabrera has thrown out only one runner at third this year, but he’s gunned down five runners at the plate.

— Royals right fielders (mostly Francoeur with some Mitch Maier spotted from time to time) have a 5.7% kill rate (defined by Baseball Reference as the percentage of plays where a baserunner was thrown out trying to advance.) That’s the highest percentage among right fielders.

— That percentage is second among all outfield positions. First place is held by Royals left fielders at 6%.

— Assists at home:

Royals LF – 10
Royals RF – 9
Angels RF – 7
Dodgers CF – 6
Royals CF – 5*

The five assists at home by Royals center fielders is tied with several other teams.

— Mitch Maier has one assist.

— Baseball Info Solutions has a number called Outfield Arms Above Average. Basically, it’s a look at the number of runs above average the outfielder was worth based on his baserunner kills and baserunner advances. Here are the leaders for 2011:

Alex Gordon – 11
Jeff Francoeur – 8
Rick Ankiel – 8

Six players are tied at six runs above average.

— Melky is at -1. That’s surprising if you just look at the number of runners he’s thrown out. But the fact is, more runners take chances against Cabrera in center than either of the Royals corner outfielders.

The Gun Show has been one of the more impressive and enjoyable developments of 2011. The good news: The Show will be held over for the 2012 season. We’ll get a chance to enjoy it all over again.

Although the Royals official website lists Bruce Chen as the probable starting pitcher on Sunday, I do not believe that is correct.  At this point in this season, there is no reason to bring back Chen on short rest.  Not to mention, for all that he has done for Kansas City the past two years, this is still Bruce Chen we are talking about:  a solid contributor to the rotation, but not a pitcher you want on the hill so bad that you bring him back on three days rest.

The last we heard from Ned Yost, lefty Everett Teaford is the tentative starter for the Sunday game, ‘unless the Royals need him to win a game between now and then.’   First off, Ned, your quest to get win number 63 is decidedly secondary to preparing for next year:   just forget Everett is out in the pen (you’ve done that before) and let him start on Sunday.

Assuming Teaford does actually get to start on Sunday, that would put him in line to get two additional starts before the season’s end.   Both of those would be on Saturdays and both would be against the White Sox.   Now, after the current four game set with Seattle, the Royals are going to be playing the Twins, White Sox and Tigers.   Detroit comes in for just a two game set, so 12 of the last 14 are against Minnesota and Chicago.

With the Sox currently nine back of Detroit, nobody the Royals play is likely to be very interested and their lineups might be sprinkled with a fair number of September call-ups.   Still, if starts two and three are against the same team, usually a daunting task for any starter, it might tell us more than a little about Everett Teaford’s future as a starter.  At least, it might give us an idea, which is more than we have now.

Royals’ fans have been stung by September starts before, of course.   Kyle Davies made millions by have a stellar September and Dayton Moore traded Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs under the false assumption that an 18-8 September meant the Royals were ready to contend the following season, so we need to be careful.   That said, IF Teaford is granted the three starts he would currently be in line for, it would give us some indication of whether he might fit at the back of the 2012 starting rotation.

Some, mind you, and far more than we will have based on the one start that Luis Mendoza, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan might get after the AAA playoffs are over.   Truthfully, I don’t care if they do get a start or share a start or whatever.   It is quite possible that should Luis Mendoza take the mound for the season’s final game on September 28th that he will be facing a Twins’ lineup that is not as good as what he just faced in the first game of the AAA playoffs.  

And it will be just one start.   If three Everett Teaford starts gives us just an inkling, than one does one Mendoza start give us?  

The Royals have talked a fair amount about getting a look at Mendoza, Mazzaro and SOS this September in an effort to ‘see what they’ve got’, but the truth is they won’t really know anything.  Not off of one start or even two against teams with nothing to play for.

That is not to say the Royals should not give them a start.   After all, Hochevar is at a career high in innings, Paulino has a bad back and veterans Francis and Chen have shouldered their share of the load in 2011.   Heck, if the Royals wanted to trot out a rotation of Teaford, Adcock, Mendoza, O’Sullivan, Mazzaro the last couple of weeks of 2011, I would not have a huge problem with it.

Organizations are not supposed to say it outloud, but would it not be better in the long term to win 65 games and pick third in next June’s draft than to win 70 and pick eighth?

Whatever the Royals decide to do with their rotation from here on out is not going to raise my ire in any respect.  If you are asking, I think they should try to get as many starts for the unknowns as possible.   The limited number of innings, however, won’t really tell us anything…or at least not very much…but maybe something….sort of.

Tuesday night was our last chance to see Danny Duffy throw this year. With the rookie approaching 150 innings on the season between Omaha and Kansas City – Duffy’s career high and most since he threw 126 in High-A ball in 2009 – the Royals rightly decided to shut him down for the rest of September. As a final start, it was a good one, I suppose. Although it was decidedly Duffy…

6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO

Modest strikeout numbers, but one suspects it could (and should) have been higher… Too many walks… Managable hit total… And he pitched into the seventh inning for just the fourth time in 20 starts.

His Game Score was 54, which was tied for his fourth highest score of the year. Overall, not a bad performance for the swan song of ’11.

Since this was to be Duffy’s final start in 2011, I guess Ned Yost figured he’d throw away the pitch count clicker (or whatever they use to track pitches in the dugout.) Entering Tuesday’s game, Duffy had surpassed 100 pitches in a start just seven times with his high-water mark coming in a start against Detroit in early August when he tossed 105 pitches. Frankly, the Royals and Yost did a good job of managing the young pitcher. For some reason, Duffy was back in the game in the seventh even though he had matches his career high for pitches through six full frames.

It was Hillman-esque.

Sorry, I just don’t see the reasoning behind letting a young starter begin an inning after he’d thrown 105 pitches. Especially somone like Duffy, who has shown an extreme tendency to nibble at times and has had extreme difficulty managing his pitch count. Unless you’re willing to let him throw 130 pitches, why bother in that situation? And more importantly, why do you handle him in a particular manner for 19 starts, but suddenly decide to change the plans for start 20?

If we know anything about Duffy’s 2011 season, one of his goals for next year should be to pace himself during each start. His velocity map from last night’s start is a prime example where he hit his peak velocity in the second inning. From that point on, he had difficulty consistently matching his speeds from his first two frames.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll say it again… I do think Duffy can figure out how to accomplish this. The reason is, although he was unable to match his velocity of his first 40 pitches with his final 80, he did settle into a groove where he was throwing a consistent 92 mph. Even with a season-high number of pitches. Seems to me that it’s just a matter of maturity and strength for him to build the kind of repitoire where he can maintain something close to a peak velocity for an entire start.

Of course, Duffy will also have to figure out how to cut down on the walks. His final tally on the season was 4.4 BB/9 which is just way too high. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, that mark would be the highest among starting pitchers in both leagues. Again, that goes back to his tendency to nibble. It just seemed like he’d get two strikes on the batter, and then he’d abandon his aggressive game plan that got him to that point in the count for something a little more… tricky, I guess. Like a called third strike on the corner was what he was fishing for in that situation. No clue why.

Overall, although his first season in the big leagues wasn’t what we expected, Duffy has certainly shown some promise. I’m more than comfortable with him in the front end of the rotation for 2012 and beyond.

As often mentioned recently, the Royals current roster will, for once, also make up the bulk of next season’s 2012 team as well.  I tweeted last month wondering when the last time was that the Royals batting lineup in August was the same as what it would be on Opening Day of the following season.   Not sure anyone came up with an answer (1998 maybe?).

Given the current situation, one I consider to be a positive situation for the most part, we can look forward to next season and actually start assessing what this team might be now as opposed to, well, six hours before the first pitch of the season.   Who will be better?  Or worse?   Let’s take a look.

The Sure Things

  • Billy Butler – He may never be the ‘prototypical DH’ that some crave, but even with a slow start in 2011, Billy has a wOBA of .358 and is likely to have 60+ extra base hits…again.   He won’t get any faster and his days of playing in the field are pretty much over, but Butler will hit.
  • Eric Hosmer – He won’t win rookie of the year, but I am pretty sure Hosmer is the one guy on the Royals that every single organization in the game would like to have.   His .283/.334/.450 line is a nice major league start for a guy who spent all of six weeks in AAA.  We have seen a lot of young players come and go, but Hosmer has the ‘it’ factor.

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

  • Alex Gordon – .303/.376/.502 was what we have all been waiting for, wasn’t it?   Gordon’s fWAR now stands at a spectacular 6.1, making him quite possibly the best leftfielder in the American League.  After four seasons that fell short of the high expectations for Gordon, the question is:  can he do this again?   My guess, my gut feeling is that THIS is Alex Gordon and he will continue on at this level or something near to it.   My heart wants to put him in the ‘sure thing’ category, but logic tells us to be just a shade more cautious.
  • Melky Cabrera – He could go 2-98 next year and still be one of Dayton Moore’s best free agent signings:  that is how good Melky has been this season.  Sure, he is overrated as a centerfielder because of his good arm, but he is not horrible, either.   Raise your hand if you thought Cabrera would be worth 3.3 fWAR.   No one?  Now, raise  them if you think he can do it again.  Yeah, I know, I can’t decide whether to put my hand up or not.
  • Jeff Francoeur – There is nothing wrong with .282/.330/.467 out of Frenchy.   You cannot expect much more and we should all be happy if he can sustain that for the next two years of his new contract.   Will he?  I’m a little skeptical in that Jeff has been prone to ‘fall off the cliff’ type seasons.  Again, it may or may not be logical to be almost certain a 27 year old Alex Gordon has ‘taken the next step’ and be equally skeptical that Francoeur and Cabrera (also 27) have not.  

Destined for Better Things?

  • Mike Moustakas – The swing looks better and the numbers have gone from awful to below average.   Along the way, Moustakas has played better than expected defense (although no one expected much in this area) and kept his confidence.  You would like to see something of a power surge here in September as a springboard to Mike becoming a 25+ home run guy (I doubt he will ever be a big average hitter), but even without a fall hot streak, I will be expected Moustakas to be more of an offensive asset than he has been in 2011.  Frankly, it would be hard for him not to be, right?
  • Alcides Escobar – I am ‘this close’ to buying an Escobar jersey, but am afraid the Fosler jersery jinx might send him into a .221 hitting, error laden 2012.   We saw Alcides have a nice run at the plate and a lot of what happens to him with the bat seems to be attributable to his approach and not actual ability.  In theory, that can fixed.   With the type of defense Escobar displays, he does not have to go much beyond his current .247/.281/.328 line to be good enough.   My gut feeling is that Alcides gets a little more consistent in 2012, but he might also be what he is, too.
  • Johnny Giavotella – Considering how poorly his defense was reviewed in the minors, he actually is not as bad as I thought.  Johnny makes some bad decisions (so does Hosmer by the way) and his hands are the problem.  Range-wise, he gets to most balls and has been working hard at improving himself in the field.   Listen, we have seen ‘brutal’ and it’s name is Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German:  Giavotella is already better than either of them were at second.   At the plate, he has looked better than his numbers reflect, for whatever that is worth and long term, .255/.293/.391 won’t cut it, but Giavotella is no Johnny come lately to successful hitting.   Having hit at every level on the way up, I think he might hit at this level as well.
  • Salvador Perez – I am biased, but Perez is the best young defensive catcher I have seen since – dare we say it – Ivan Rodriguez came up at an early age.  To date, Sal has held his own at the plate as well (in an admittedly small sample size), but truth is if he can totally negate an opponet’s running game and handle the staff he does not have to hit much.  

The shrewd readers of the group will already be thinking that not every young player gets better – especially Royals’ young players, so the odds that everyone above improves or continues to ‘dominate’ are pretty slim.   The Royals’ offense, while inconsistent this year, has been pretty good.  If a player to two elevates and the rest simply hold the line, then this team will be better positionally speaking.

With another home run, Eric Hosmer continues his power surge and what looks like a late season run at collecting some hardware… Namely, the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.

In his last 10 games, Hosmer is hitting .350./430/.730 with five home runs and seven RBI. (Is it strange that he last hit a double on August 16? He hit just three doubles over the entire month.)

Anyway, as The Hos heats up, so inevitably does the talk of him being named the top rookie in the American League. But before we can bestow the accolades, we need to see how he measures among his peers.

To narrow down the candidates for the award, I created a table of the top position players with at least 200 plate appearances. I bolded the numbers that are leading the rookie pool in their respective categories.

One name is missing from this table that is certainly in the discussion – Desmond Jennings. You think the Royals waited too long to call up somebody like Johnny Giavotella? How in the world could the Rays have decided they needed to get Jennings more at bats in Triple-A?

If I’m going to arbitrarily set the cut off at 200 plate appearances for one table, I may as well do another at a similarly arbitrary cutoff of 150 plate appearances. Here’s how that one looks.

Well, that’s no fun. Going back to the first non-Jennings table, it would appear that the race would be run between Ackley and Carp. Ackley has the advantage in the on base department and the True Average, while Carp owns the batting average, slugging and wOBA. Of course, throwing Jennings into the mix simply adds another candidate. Jennings has been flat out awesome since joining the Rays. Had he played a full season at anything close to his current level, he’d be a stone cold lock for the honors.

But that’s the problem. Not only with Jennings’ candidacy, but with Ackley’s and Carp’s as well.

In the last 30 years, only one position player has won the Rookie of the Year award with fewer than 350 plate appearances. Ryan Howard appeared in 88 games for the 2005 Phillies and came to bat 348 times. Ackley will approach that number of plate appearances, while Carp and Jennings will certainly fall short.

I suppose that’s due to the reliance of voters on the old “counting” stats. Home runs and RBI have long been justification for this kind of exercise. And you can’t rack up those bombs and rib-eyes if you don’t play. If that’s the case, the favorite this year has to be Trumbo. His 24 bombs and 73 RBI lead all AL rookies. Ditto for his 58 runs scored. Notice from the table above, he does lead in one category I chose to cite… Plate appearances. Get the connection?

Anyway, the conventional wisdom has Trumbo as the front runner. Disagree. His sub .300 OBP disqualifies him in my mind.

Of course, I’ve ignored pitchers throughout this exercise. That’s because they’re sub-human. (Apologies… I’ve seen far too much of the Royals bullpen this week.)

For voters, three things count when making their selection for the rookie of the year. Saves, Wins and ERA.

I listed saves first, because only two starting pitchers have collected the AL Rookie of the Year since 1976… Justin Verlander and Mark Fidrych. Since then, Gregg Olson (27 saves), Kazuhiro Sasaki (37 saves), Huston Street (23 saves), Andrew Bailey (26 saves), Neftali Feliz (40 saves) have won the award as relievers. In the modern game, it is simply too difficult for starting pitchers to collect enough wins to be considered. This year, two rookies have double-digit wins, with a third one threatening. And there’s that closer lurking…

Ivan Nova – 14 wins, 3.96 ERA
Jeremy Hellickson – 11 wins, 3.01 ERA
Michael Pineda – 9 wins, 3.71 ERA
Jordan Walden – 2.70 ERA, 26 saves

Nova, supported by the Yankee offensive juggurnaut, has only four losses, while both Hellickson and Pineada are both just a game over .500 with their record. I point this out only because of the recent advancements in the sabermetric cause which has led to voters properly devaluing wins when selecting worthy candidates for post season hardware. In the past, voters would have discarded someone with a .500 record. Today, that’s doubtful. Walden doesn’t get consideration from me because I have closer bias and there is plenty to choose from among the candidates previously listed.

If I were ranking only the pitchers, I would place them in inverse order of wins. Pineda has a superior xFIP, strikeout rate and the best walk rate. He’s the cream of the rookie starter crop. (And please, don’t even talk to me about Walden. Rookie relievers should only get consideration if there are literally no other rookies who appeared in the league that year. I’m not kidding.)

So if I’m not going to vote for Trumbo and if voting closed today, (and I had a ballot) I would vote Jennings, Ackley and Carp. In that order. Maybe Pineda. That flies in the face of conventional wisdom (that you have to play a majority of your team’s games) but we need to work on expanding the pool of candidates to find the cream of the crop. Besides, if you play enough to lose your rookie eligibility for the following season, you’ve done enough to earn consideration. (That reasoning is why Brett Lawrie isn’t among my candidates, even though he’s hitting .326/.381/.674. With just 89 at bats, if the season ended today, he would still be considered a rookie in 2011.) Longevity does count though… There’s something about being consistent over more than a couple of months. I’m satisfied with the time Carp and Ackley have played… Jennings will ultimately play less than half a season. I struggle with this, but I think given how he’s outperformed the field, it’s enough. For now.

So where is Hosmer in all of this? He’s close. Fourth or fifth. That’s near enough that a few torrid weeks could catapult him into contention. He’ll need some help, though. The top three will need to experience a bad month. Remember, my ballot is based if the season ended today. It can (and probably will) change. I think the race is so close, the last 25 games (give or take) will be crucial to deciding this vote.

It can be done, though. Hosmer can force his way into the discussion. Ackley had a difficult August and Jennings can’t possibly continue his pace. At least I don’t think he can… He has a .386 BABIP and just a 17% line drive rate. Likewise, Carp has .389 BABIP and Pineda will be shut down after a couple more starts. Fingers crossed, right?

Really, it seems to me you can build an objective argument for any of the contenders. They all have negatives, as well. This could be the zaniest post season award vote we’ve seen in some time. Unfortunately, Nova’s wins, Walden’s saves and Trumbo’s home runs may just carry the day among real voters.

It’s possible Hosmer puts together a sweet September while his rivals falter and storms to the award. That would be ideal. There’s still plenty of baseball to be played…

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.

In this series, I’ll be trying to look at what the Royals need in order to become contenders and how they should go about getting it. In part one of this series, I looked briefly at the Royals offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, and isn’t likely to be in the near future. Just look at last nights 18 hit barrage the Royals put to the Tigers for an example. No, we have to take a look at the other side of the game to find the Royals true weakness: pitching and defense.

I see preventing runs as three distinct components: starting pitching, relief and defense. All three are naturally tied together and if one is improved the other two are improved. Teasing out exactly how much each component plays into the overall number of runs given up is difficult, so any statistical analysis here will be of the quick and dirty variety.

Let’s start with the defense. It’s extremely difficult to measure defense and even with the advances made recently, the numbers for a single season are not the most reliable. Looking at UZR, the Royals rank 8th among American League teams in defense. From what I’ve seen watching this season, that sounds about right. I think they are an average team defensively. Going position by position based solely on what I’ve seen and heard I’d go with something like this.

Catcher – With Sal Perez, this position has improved and is in very good defensive hands in the future.

1st Base – Eric Hosmer is very good with the glove and could become an elite defensive first baseman.

2nd Base – Johnny Giavotella is probably a step down from Chris Getz (who seemed a bit over-rated defensively) and is likely a slightly below average defender who could be average.

3rd Base – Moustakas has a very good arm and some good instincts, but his range isn’t the greatest. I don’t see him becoming average defensively, but he is here for his bat not his glove.

Short Stop – Alcides Escobar is Shortstop Jesus. He’s about as good as you can get at the most important defensive position on the field.

Left Field – Alex Gordon has improved noticeably defensively. He still relies on athleticism to make up for mistakes that better defenders don’t make, but he has a great arm and has performed very well. He’s above average now and could get better.

Center Field – Melky Cabrera is a well below average center fielder. He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, but he can’t get to balls that other guys get to since he just cant cover that much ground.

Right Field – Jeff Francoeur has done a very good job in right field and has the arm to play the position. He’s at worst an average right field defender.

So adding that up we have 5 average to above-average defenders and three below average defenders. The reason that adds up to an average defense is that they have below average defenders at some key positions like 3b,2b and CF.

It’s pretty close if not on par with any contending level defense other than a significant upgrade at center field. and possibly 2nd base. The future of Melky Cabrera isn’t exactly clear and he’s only under team control for one more season. Behind him is Lorenzo Cain who is hitting very well in AAA and is a significant upgrade defensively. Johnny Giavotella is an all-around solid player who can hit the ball well. If he continues to hit, the Royals will be glad to live with his below average defense. However if he were to struggle, or the Royals felt that defense was more important they could look to converted shortstop Christian Colon to take his place.

This was a very rudimentary look at the defense, but the numbers and my eyes tell me that the team is adequate defensively and if it needs improvement then the pieces are available. It wouldn’t make sense for Dayton Moore and the Royals to spend significant (or any) resources in trying to improve the defense in the quest for a pennant.

 

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

The Royals played three consecutive one run games this past weekend, losing two of them.   That has become a common theme for this particular team during 2011 as they have now played 49 games decided by one run:  only the Angels, among American League teams, have played in as many.   While there are several teams in the National League that have played as many or more one-run games than the Royals, the game over there is a little different.  So, we’ll limit our discussion to the junior circuit for now.

In playing the most one-run games as anyone in the league, the Royals have also LOST more of those games than anyone.   Currently, Kansas City holds a 21-28 record in such contests the next closest teams to below the .500 mark are Oakland (17-22) and, suprisingly, Texas (16-21).

The contenders, are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the one-run game.   Check out the records of those teams over .500:

  • Boston 17-12
  • New York 15-18
  • Tampa 22-16
  • Detroit 21-15
  • Cleveland 22-23
  • Texas 16-21
  • Los Angeles 25-24

It might be a stretch at this point to consider the Indians a contender, so if you kick them out of the group and decide the Angels are just an outlier, what starts to come to light is not that good teams win more one-run games, but instead that good teams don’t play as many one-run games.   That was not completely true in 2010, but was in 2009 and for the most part in 2008 as well (although the Angels, who won 100 games in 08 still played in an above average number of one-run contests).

I bring this topic up, not so much to make some grand statistical analysis (it is not), but to point out that when Dayton Moore and Ned Yost preach ‘pitching and defense’ it is important to realize nobody consistently contends winning 3-2 games.  The Royals should not be thinking they are a ‘right’ Joakim Soria and a Mike Moustakas 35 home run season away from going 40-19 in one-run games.   Instead, they should be aiming to play a whole lot 5-2 and 7-4 games and not find themselves spending mulitple weekends like this last one.

In a sense, Dayton Moore’s statement to the Kansas City Star that he would be willing to move prospects for a top of the rotation starter this off-season is a reflection that he might already know that no one gets rich playing a bunch of close games.    It is optimistic, but also logical to project this group of position players to be as good and probably better (as a unit) offensively in 2012.

If the organization believed that all they needed was for Soria to lock down games like he used to and score an extra couple of runs four times a week, then Moore might well be well down the road of building up the rotation from within and hoarding his remaining top prospects like a protective mother bear.   What I sense from Moore’s comments is that he intends to score more runs AND stop the other team from scoring as well.   After all, you don’t reverse a 21-28 one-run game record by scoring just one run, you do it by scoring one more run and holding your opponet from scoring one as well.

What the Royals should be hoping to do in 2012 is to hand 5-2 leads to their talented young bullpen instead of 3-2 leads.   If you have the bullpen in place, which the Royals do, and you have the offense to score, which the Royals hope they will have by 2012, then you bolster the starting rotation sooner rather than later.  You do that, if you’re Dayton Moore, because you don’t want to play 49 one-run games before the end of August.

That, and you would prefer that your team would be playing games that matter this time of year.

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