Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

There has been a ton of discussion about the offense at this point in the season.  With the team jettisoning dead weight like Rick Ankiel, Scotty Pods and Jose Guillen, this club has experienced a pretty thorough lineup makeover.

But what about the rotation?

I ask because on Tuesday in Anaheim, Bryan Bullington went six innings in his first major league start since 2008 and pitched well.  His final line:

6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

He threw 91 pitches and finished with a Game Score of 53.  Solid, if unspectacular.  In other words, just what the Royals needed from Brian Bannister’s spot in the rotation.

Bullington pitched well as a starter for Omaha this season.  Appearing in 20 games (15 starts) he posted a 2.82 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP – strong numbers for your PCL fantasy team.  In 105 innings, he had a 4.06 FIP and whiffed 6.2 batters per nine innings.  He gets a ground ball 49% of all balls put in play and was probably a little lucky as his BABIP in Omaha was a tidy .268.  However, he walked just 2.4 batters per nine.

Command has always been Bullington’s strong point.  He’s never had a walk rate higher than 3.0 BB/9 in the minors.  The issue with him has always been his hittability.  Bullington works around the plate so much, his mistakes are over the heart of the plate.  However, because he’s a ground ball pitcher, he doesn’t give up an extreme number of home runs, rather his mistakes seem to be big innings where opposing hitters string together a series of singles and doubles.

Bullington turns 30 at the end of the season.  I don’t think I’m understating it when I say he’s no longer a prospect.  However, with the maturity he’s gained and with the proper coaching (to continue to make the right adjustments) there’s no reason to think (hope?) he can’t be a contributor to the back of the rotation.

The same could be said for Philip Humber, who came on in relief of Bullington and threw two scoreless innings on Tuesday.

While Humber has never possessed Bullington’s command, he flashed excellent control in Omaha this year, walking just 20 batters in 118 innings.  That works out to a 1.5 BB/9.  Nice.  The other numbers weren’t so great, though.  His strikeouts are down, from 7.8 K/9 in 25 Triple-A starts in 2007 to 6.1 K/9 in 20 starts this year.  He’s also prone to the home run, allowing 17 this year.  Over the last four years (all time spent in Triple-A, mostly as a starter) he’s coughing up a 1.3 HR/9.  That’s a bit much.

This year for Omaha, Humber posted a 4.47 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.  He had a .302 BABIP, so it would seem his numbers haven’t been touched by luck – either good or bad – and that’s reflected in his 4.62 FIP.

So while the Royals lineup has been overhauled, I advocate slotting these two in the rotation for a couple of turns.  Let’s kick the tires, so to speak.

Bannister has moved to the bullpen, ostensibly to work on his mechanics.  Or maybe he’s just working on not sucking.  That would be nice.  Whatever he’s doing, it’s time he stays out there.

Because Bannister has pretty much been an outright disaster this season.  Next year, he will be eligible for his third year of arbitration and will land a contract in the neighborhood of $2.5 million.  That’s not a horrible amount to pay – if you’re paying that to a serviceable fifth starter.  Bannister seems to be more in the mold of a sixth or seventh starter.  (No, I don’t know what that means.  Except that he’s really not good enough to be in the rotation.)

Davies needs to take a trip to the pen as well.  Whatever it is he thinks he’s doing, it’s not working.  Not working at all.  His control is just miserable.  Then, when he falls behind hitters he just grooves one because he doesn’t want to give up another walk.

He has made 76 starts for the Royals covering parts of the last four seasons.  It’s not working.  It’s not going to work.  He’s going to make around $2 million next year, while giving you nothing.  Seriously, Dayton… Time to punt.

A rotation of Greinke, Chen, O’Sullivan, Bullington and Humber?  Sure, that puts a knot in my stomach, but why not?  It makes as much sense as hitting Kendall second or playing Bloomquist in right.

I know Bullington and Humber really don’t have a future for the Royals.  Still, why sit through another Davies five walk epic or another Bannister night start where he coughs up six runs?  We’ve seen Davies and Bannister and we know what they can’t do.  There is really no reason to start them over the last month and a half of the season and there’s no reason to offer them a contract this winter. Put the new guys in and see how they fare.  See if they can give us a fifth starter at a quarter of the cost for the 2011 season.  We’re really talking placeholders here.  Guys who can slot into the rotation until the young arms in Double-A and Single-A are ready.  Isn’t that what Bannister and Davies are?

The revolving door needs to keep revolving.

There has been lots of talk about the Royals minor league system lately, partly because the Big League club isn’t performing very well, but also because of the plethora of talent and the very real possibility that they might have the best system in all of baseball.  I figured I would take a quick snapshot of how each individual team in the system compared statistically to the other teams in their league.  The Royals affiliate is bold and surrounded by a thick black box.  Each statistical category is ranked via a heat chart with red being the best and green being the worst.   Each chart is sorted by batting average, so you can see the team in the league with the highest batting average is in red, the worst is in green and the colors are shaded in between.

I know that some of this is relatively meaningless.  But I think it can give us a guide as to how deep the system may be and how well the system is doing at producing power, speed or other offensive attributes.  Let me know in the comments if anything sticks out at you.

The Pacific Coast League (AAA)

Texas League (AA)

Carolina League (A+)

Midwest League (A)

Appalachian League (Rookie)

Pioneer League (Rookie)

Arizona League (Rookie)

Dominican Summer League (Rookie)



You can contact Nick via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via twitter at @brokenbatsingle or on facebook

Nineteen year old Wil Myers went three for seven over the weekend for High-A Wilmington and saw his on-base percentage go down.  You know you are having a good year when a .428 on-base weekend is a negative.

Through his first 33 games in the Carolina League, Myers has posted a rather amazing line of .393/.493/509.    He has done that playing in the same league and same home ballpark that made Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer look like something less than top prospects.    He has virtually the same OPS (.990) in Wilmington as he does away from it (.997) and while Myers has yet to hit a Carolina League home run, he does have 11 doubles already.

Prior to Wil’s promotion to Wilmington, he also tore up the Low-A Midwest League to the tune of .289/.408/.500 with 19 doubles and 10 home runs.   Not bad for a high school draftee in just his first year of full season baseball.   

For the 2010 season combined, Myers has a batting line of .322/.435/.503 with 30 doubles, 10 home runs and 67 walks versus 74 strikeouts.   He has done so playing in the cold spring of Burlington, Iowa and the cavernous ballpark of Wilmington, Delaware.

To provide a little perspective, a nineteen year old Billy Butler playing in the launching pad that was High Desert put up a line of .348/.419/.636 in his High A debut.   As 18 year old rookies in Idaho Falls, the Butler and Myers each ripped the opposition:

  • Butler – .373/.488/.596
  • Myers – .426/.488/.735

Even without adjusting for ballparks, Myers is at least even with Butler, if not already ahead statistically.      While you might be hoping for more from Wil Myers in the future than a Billy Butler-like career, there is nothing wrong with being compared to a guy who at age 21 posted an OPS+ of 108 in the majors.

If you are not a numbers guy, you don’t have to go very far to find quotes from scouts and minor league pundits alike who rave about Myers at the plate.    The raves about Wil’s quick stroke and good plate discipline are many.  Often those glowing reports also come with the coveted ‘projectable raw power’ quote.  Face it, Wil Myers can hit the baseball.   He can hit it so well, that the Royals cannot afford to waste time developing him as a catcher.

As a catcher (a position that he did not play full-time in high school), Myers is athletic and has a good arm, having thrown out 32% of potential base stealers, but is still a long ways from being even an average defender.  One scout was quoted (and I think I stole this from Kevin Goldstein’s column) as saying ‘balls were bouncing back to the screen all the time’.   In 62 games behind the plate this season, Myers has been charged with 19 passed balls and 4 errors.  In a word: YIKES!

Now, as talented an athelete as Myers is, it is not a stretch to envision him becoming a decent defensive catcher over time.   Heck, as an 18 year old rookie, Joe Mauer had 11 passed balls in 19 games.   The next season, Mauer was charged with just 7 passed balls in 81 games and the following year only 5 in 99 games.   Could Myers, given time, become a good defensive catcher?   There is a decent chance, but it will take real time. 

From where Myers is today defensively to where he would need to be to handle a Joakim Soria cut fastball with a runner on third in Yankee Stadium is probably a three year project.   That means restarting 2011 back in Wilmington, a mid-season promotion to Northwest Arkansas and another mid-season promotion in 2012 to Omaha, plus a full season of handling pitchers in AAA in 2013.   At that point you might have a quality major league defensive catcher.

In the alternative, the organization could give Myers duty as Northwest Arkansas’ designated hitter the last week of August and the first week of September, convert him to right field over the winter and have him restart the year as the Naturals’ everyday rightfielder in 2011.  The way Wil has been hitting, he could be in Omaha by July of 2011 and in the majors as early as 2012:  probably two full seasons ahead of when he would likely be ready if the Royals’ keep him at catcher.

Of course, playing in a division with Joe Mauer, we would all love to have the Royals develop a top shelf catcher, both with the bat and with the glove, but is realistic to try to do that with Wil Myers?   Is it worth taking the time to do so and, in the process, lose as much of two seasons worth of Myers’ bat in the majors? 

My opinion is no.   I have come to believe that Myers is, probably by far, the best hitting prospect in the organization.   The time to move Wil Myers to the outfield and fast-track his bat to the majors is right now.

Even when something is inevitable, it can still feel great when it actually happens.

The Royals designated Jose Guillen for assignment on Thursday.

Kick ass.  Great news.

Let’s check the carnage:

340 games
1383 plate appearances
.256 batting average
.308 on base percentage
.420 slugging percentage
45 home runs
94 OPS+
-2.0 WAR

The epitome of replacement level.  At a cost of $36 million.

Buh-bye.

Let’s flashback to December of 2007.  Rumors were flying around everywhere about the Royals and their involvement with Guillen.  He was signed.  Then he wasn’t.  Then the Mets were involved.  It seemed to drag forever.  Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but I really don’t want to see the Royals sign Guillen.  It flies in the face of everything Dayton Moore has laid out as his vision for the Royals.  GMDM is preparing to commit too much cash to a player who is already in the decline phase of his career.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something will happen to put a kibosh on this deal.

Score one for the blogger!

About that decline phase?

I chose ISO because Guillen was brought to Kansas City under the assumption he would provide power.  This is just one graph but they all look like that.

Guillen was Dayton Moore’s second big free agent acquisition, but it hasn’t been the only time GMDM has bought high, only to be sold a bag of bricks. He bought high because he viewed Guillen’s 2007 season where he hit .290/.353/.460 to be in the neighborhood of his true production.  I can’t say I know that for a fact.  But if it wasn’t GMDM’s expectation, why would have signed him to such a deal?

To be fair, GMDM wasn’t really throwing money around like a crazy person that winter. Guillen was viewed by many as one of the better bats available.  In August of that year, Dave Cameron at USS Mariner thought the Mariners should re-up Guillen for three years at $30 million.  By the time free agency rolled around, it was thought the best Guillen could do would be a two year contract in the neighborhood of $10 to $12 million per year.  GMDM worked his magic and got him the extra year, just like in the Meche deal.  Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

I had what was probably a typical Royal fan relationship with Guillen.  I was annoyed when he showed up to his first spring training with the team out of shape.  I enjoyed his random outbursts.  I defended him against those who said he didn’t hustle.  Then I got tired of his lack of baseball ability.

While it’s a great thing Dayton Moore recognizes a sunk cost and is willing to cut the cord, we must remember who gave him a three year contract in the first place.  Hopefully, this is a sign he’s learned a lesson from this fiasco – it’s never a good idea to give a multi-year deal to a player whose best days are in the rearview mirror.  Never.

The joy of the Guillen departure means Kila is finally free.  Like I’ve said about Alex Gordon, there is no excuse for Ned to pencil Ka’aihue’s name into the lineup almost every single game from now until the end of the season.

We are now inching closer and closer to the ideal lineup for the rest of the season.

C – Pena
1B – Butler/Ka’aihue
2B – Getz
SS – Aviles
3B – Betemit
LF – Gordon
CF – Blanco
RF – Maier
DH – Ka’aihue/Butler

I know that the whole Brayan Pena should get playing time thing is a lost cause.  I’m not going there.  But I’d like to see it.

However, you’re next, Betancourt.

Of course the Guillen news was eclipsed by Zack Greinke presenting the Royals with his Nuclear Option:

“It’s not real exciting to have to go through it again,” he said. “It’s been six years with me, and most people (who are Royals fans) have been through a lot more than I have. But for me, it’s the third complete re-start/rebuilding phase.”
Would he be happier elsewhere?
“I like Kansas City,” Greinke said. “It’s a town that fits me pretty well. But I don’t know…at least put a team together that has a fighting chance (to win).”

I know there’s going to be a huge uproar over his comments, but did he really say anything we should be surprised about?  Put yourself in his shoes – or any Royal who signs a multi-year deal.  They all want to win (everyone, except for Rick Ankiel) so the only reason – the only reason – they sign with the Royals is because they buy the sales pitch offered by GMDM and the rest of the front office brain trust.  In Greinke’s case, he committed to the team because he thought they were making progress.  Of course, this street runs both ways – in order for the team to be competitive, Greinke has to do his share.  I’d say he’s delivered.  The brain trust?  Not so much.

So I can’t blame the guy for saying what we all figured was on his mind:  Losing sucks, no matter how much money you make.

Besides, we all know how uber-competitive Greinke is.  Apparently, he’ll turn anything into a competition.  He signed a four year deal with the expectation this team would compete.  They aren’t any closer to .500 than the day he signed his contract.

Also, he spoke to the elephant in the room.  Banking on prospects is risky business:

“There’s no reason for me to get real excited about it,” he said, “because the chance of more than one of them making a major impact by the time my contract is up is pretty slim.”

He used Alex Gordon as an example.  And it’s a fair one.  No matter how highly ranked these prospects are, ultimately no one has a clue how they will actually fare once they get to the majors.  Greinke also pointed to Delmon Young.  Young was in Gordon’s rookie class.  They were both supposed to compete for the Rookie Of The Year Award.  Neither of them did, and now, four years later, Young is finally beginning to fulfill his promise.  Gordon?  We all know the jury is still out on that one.

Some people are going to complain, and say that Greinke should keep his mouth shut.  He’s paid to pitch, not play GM, they’ll say.  I would counter by saying Greinke, as the leader and longest tenured Royal, has his opinions and has the right – and the obligation – to speak to those opinions. I think Greinke would commit to another extension, but he will need to see some definite progress.  I can’t say that I blame him. The problem for the Royals – his contract is running out which means the window for GMDM to prove this team is making progress  is closing.  No one who plays the game wants to end up like Mike Sweeney – hanging on well past his prime before hooking onto a potential contender in a utility role.

The only thing Greinke did on Wednesday is speak the truth.

Prior to the 2010 season, many of us thought that the starting rotation might one of the Kansas City Royals’ strengths.   With the reigning Cy Young Award winner heading the staff and a healthy Gil Meche returning, it seemed that the Royals would have a one-two punch on par with anyone in the division.

Behind Greinke and Meche, there was a very reasonable chance that Luke Hochevar would take the next step and become a reliable number three starter while Brian Bannister was likely to remain a serviceable number four starter.   Plus, maybe this was the year that it all came together for Kyle Davies.   Even if Davies continued as he had been, he was still just the number five starter, anyway.

Well so much for that…

At our annual Royals Authority winter meetings in Bora Bora, we discussed that Zack Greinke’s ERA could go up an entire run and he still could be the best pitcher in the American League.   At the same time, we doubted that Zack would regress that much.   As it turned out, Zack’s ERA has gone up by just under two runs this year and while he is still a force to be reckoned with, Greinke is not dominating as he did in 2009.

That said, Zack is hardly the major issue with the Royals’ rotation.  Gil Meche started all of nine games and now, if he ever pitches again as a Royal, will do so out of the bullpen.   Luke Hochevar, who had shown signs of progress, was sat down for ‘a start or two’  on June 12th and has not been seen since.   Brian Bannister is currently sporting an ERA of barely under six and Kyle Davies remains Kyle Davies.

How bad has it been for the rotation this year?   Well, Bruce Chen, who found no takers for his services over the winter is arguably…not even arguably..IS the team’s number two starter and recently acquired Sean O’Sullivan, who has been tagged for 11 runs in 16 innings of work seems like an improvement over Bannister and Davies.

Of course, as I have often written, the end result of 2010 is not so important as building this team for the future.   In that respect, the Royals have plenty to look forward to when it comes to the rotation.   The AA level of the system boasts Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer – all potential Top 100 prospects by the time those rankings come out this winter.   Behind them is disappointing, but still talented, Aaron Crow, who is joined by another slew of good young arms in Tim Melville,  Tyler Sample, Brian Paukovits and Will Smith.   The system is positively bubbling with potential major league starters.

Here’s the bad news:  if you throw out Crow’s 119 innings of work at Northwest Arkansas and Will Smith’s bizarre trip through three levels of the Angels’ system this season, the rest of the guys we just named COMBINED, have 60 innings of experience above A ball.      That’s no one’s fault, just a result of some minor injuries, a two month ‘retirement’ and the simple fact that these pitchers are all very young.

Sixty innings of combined AA experience makes it highly unlikely that we see any of these hurlers in Kansas City before September of 2011.    That bodes well for the rotation in 2012 and beyond, but it doesn’t do much for next year’s starting five.

Here is what we know about the 2011 rotation:  Zack Greinke will be the number one starter and Gil Meche won’t be in it.

Long pause….

Chances are, and given the Royals’ recent performance/luck at getting major league starting pitchers healthy, it is just a chance, Luke Hochevar will be in the rotation, too.      Before he went down in June, Luke had shaved over a run and one-half off his 2009 ERA (and yes, I think ERA is still a decent if somewhat crude measurement of the effectiveness of  a starting pitcher) and gone six or more innings in nine of his thirteen starts.   Should Hochevar make it back for even just a handful of starts yet this season, we could once more make a reasonable assumption that he might be able to take that ‘next step’ and settle in as a legitimate number three or number four starter.

After that, the Royals’ options to fill out the rotation are Bruce Chen, Brian Bannister, Sean O’Sullivan and, sigh, Kyle Davies.  

Chen’s a guy that will be interesting to watch the rest of the year.   After moving into the rotation, Bruce allowed 16 earned runs in his first 39 innings, but has been tagged for 20 runs in his last 25 innings.   That is a bad trend, which if not reversed means Chen is not a realistic option in 2011.

Bannister’s performance has degraded to the point that the Royals are skipping his next turn in the rotation.   Getting skipped in a rotation that includes Chen, O’Sullivan and Davies is not exactly a good trend, either.   I don’t know what you do with Bannister, I really don’t.   He is pretty much posting the worst numbers of his career across the board and getting worse as the season goes on.  

Kyle Davies now has 641 innings on his major league resume and they pretty much all look the same.  He is not horrible – well, not in comparison to Bannister or that guy who was wearing Gil Meche’s jersey earlier this year – but he is not anywhere near good, either.   Frankly, I think you could put Kyle’s game logs for the last couple of seasons next to those of Odalis Perez during his Royals’ career and not be able to tell them apart.  I don’t really view that as a ringing endorsement.

That brings us to Sean O’Sullivan, whose best asset at the moment is that he is just 22 years old.   What we have seen out of Sean to date is in line with what the scouting reports indicated:  a competitor, decent stuff and control, lacks a true out pitch and loses effectiveness the second and third time through a batting order.  As many have pointed out, O’Sullivan is not the picture of physical conditioning, so it may be a case of simply maturing and getting in better shape.     Frankly, I like O’Sullivan and could see him developing into a real number four starter (i.e. better than Bannister or Davies), but that might just be the ‘we always like the new guy syndrome’ at work there.

The options in AAA right now are pretty much Philip Humber, Gaby Hernandez and Edgar Osuna.  Of the three, Osuna is intriguing, having pitched extremely well in AA with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.162 WHIP.   He was pounced on pretty good in his first AAA start, but is worth watching in August.   If Chen or Bannister continue to crumble or Ned Yost just gets as bored with Kyle Davies as I am, it might be worth three or four starts in September to get a feel for what Osuna has to offer.

So, what do you do in 2011 if you are running the Royals?   Do you hold the line, trust the process (no sarcasm intended…for once) and wait for your truly impact arms to reach the bigs in 2012?   Probably that is the smart course of action.

If Greinke rebounds from simply good back to dominant, Hochevar comes back healthy and effective (yikes, that probably jinxed him right there!), O’Sullivan matures and improves and you find two guys who are this side of awful out of Osuna, Chen, Bannister and Davies, then you have an ‘okay’ rotation.   I don’t think the Royals can contend with that rotation, but those thoughts might not be realistic for next season, anyway.

Now, if you cannot tolerate a season of that rotation or you believe contending is a real possibility in 2011, then one has to look to free agency.   The list of free agents this off-season can be found here, and there are a number of interesting names on the list.   That said, how many that are upgrades can the Royals reasonably afford?  

As you can see, projecting the 2012 starting rotation will be a lot more fun than doing so for 2011.   What would you do?

Alex Gordon struck out twice last night.

(He also hit an opposite field bomb and “doubled” leading off the ninth to key the one run rally that carried the Royals to victory.  I put doubled in quotes, because if you were up late enough to see the play, you know the A’s first baseman jumped over the ball like he was running the hurdles.  Double was a generous ruling.)

Don’t worry, I’m not here to bag on Gordon for striking out.  Hopefully, you’ve been reading long enough to know that I view strikeouts like I view any other out.  I want to talk about the treatment Gordon has been getting from the home plate umpires.

Watching the games, it sure seems at times like there are two strike zones.  One for everyone and one for Gordon.  Exaggeration?  Probably.  Still, it often looks like Gordon doesn’t get the borderline calls.  (There’s a ton of talk about his negative body language and all that other kind of voodoo… This seems to be a factor.  Gordon is battling in a key spot, takes a pitch on the outside and it’s called a strike… He gets discouraged and he can’t hide his feelings.  This has been happening ever since he was a rookie.  Can’t hardly blame him.)

Anyway, thanks to Pitch f/x, there are a number of ways to examine Gordon and the calls on balls and strikes in his plate appearances.  I decided to visit Texas Leaguers to pull some graphs to determine if Gordon is truly getting hosed by the home plate umpires.

First, let’s look at the calls Gordon has received since his return from Omaha exile:

OK… Now we need to compare his chart with someone.  Ideally, we’d look at a left handed batter who played in most of the same games as Gordon.  In other words, control the study to the best of our ability.

Searching through box scores, the first name that jumped out was Rick Ankiel.  Here’s how his calls have been going over this same frame of time.

Interesting.  Ankiel seemed to get the benefit of the doubt on several calls that could be considered borderline.  Ankiel has been around longer, so maybe that could explain why he’s getting some calls Gordon is not.

So let’s look at someone who hasn’t played as much, but again hits left handed and played in most of the same games as Gordon during this stretch.

How about Chris Getz?

A little closer, but still… It’s pretty clear that Getz receives more “favorable” calls on balls and strikes than Gordon.

(Interesting, though, that the umpires seem to miss the strike on the inside corner for everyone.  We bemoan the lost art of working the hitter inside and usually blame the pitchers for lacking the “guts” or “nerve” to work on the inner half.  Maybe they’re not doing this because they know they won’t get the call.  That’s an article for another day…)

This isn’t a complete or comprehensive study.  It’s not meant to settle an argument… It’s just a snapshot.  A tiny one at that.  Although I do believe it supports my initial hypothesis that Gordon isn’t getting any favors from the home plate umpire.

For the season, when Gordon strikes out, he’s going down looking 40% of the time.  If that sounds high, that’s because it is.  Here are the top six hitters in the AL ranked by percentage of looking strikeouts:

Marco Scutaro – 67%
Denard Span – 45%
Brett Gardner – 45%
Daric Barton – 43%
Alberto Callaspo – 40%
Scott Podsednik – 39%

If Gordon had the at bats to qualify, he’d have the fifth highest rate in the league.  I’m intrigued by the inclusion of two Royals in the top six.  Are the Royals as a team getting worked over by the home plate umps?  I wonder.  Callaspo has never had a looking strikeout percentage that high.  And in his 40 plate appearances since moving to the West Coast, he has yet to be called out on strikes.  Pods, on the other hand, usually has a high looking strikeout rate.

(By the way, no clue what the deal is with Scutaro.  67%!?!  I checked and he’s always been over 50% on looking strikeouts.  Weird.)

Anyway… Back to Gordon…

Overall, I’m usually pretty happy with his plate discipline.  Here are his percentage for chasing a pitch out of the strike zone:

2007 – 25.8%
2008 – 24.1%
2009 – 24.7%
2010 – 21.5%

He’s always had a decent idea about the strike zone and he’s certainly improved his knowledge as he’s progressed.  Here are his walk rates:

2007 – 6.8%
2008 – 11.6%
2009 – 11.1%
2010 – 12.2%

Of course, the last two years aren’t really “complete” as he has less than 200 plate appearances in both seasons.  Still, we are seeing a player become more comfortable at the plate.  Someone who is gaining knowledge of the strike zone.  Not to beat the same old drum, but the guy simply needs to play every day.  I wasn’t entirely opposed to his exile to Omaha because I felt he needed to sort some things out and regain some confidence.  Since it appears he will be in the lineup almost every day from now until the end of the season, I expect Gordon to finally make some strides beyond the foundation he’s been building the previous four seasons. He’s also been a victim of some rotten luck this season.  Last night’s double was a rare break for a player who has a .226 BABIP.  That’s crazy low.  Especially for someone with a 19% line drive rate.

I think Gordon is going to have a strong final two months of the season.  His luck is bound to change (maybe last night was a sign it’s already turning) and his average, walks and power numbers are all going to increase.

Now, if he could just catch a break from the umps.

August 2nd, 2010.  In many ways it was just another day in baseball.  The Royals got beat by 6 runs in Oakland.  Brian Bannister wasn’t effective. Chris Getz let a runner score while he was arguing with the umpire.  A perfectly executed hit and run was busted up when the shortstop caught the line drive while moving to cover 2nd base.  Kila Ka’aihue got one pinch hit plate appearance.  However in the bottom of the 8th inning, Greg Holland made his major league debut and as you may or may not know, Holland is the first draft pick by Dayton Moore to play for the Royals.

On the mound he seemed stiff and uncomfortable, which isn’t all that surprising for a 10th round draft pick out of Ball State Western Carolina University facing big league hitters for the first time.  I’d imagine standing on a major league mound is a pretty intense experience the first time you do it.  Things started off well when he got Rajai Davis to ground out.  However, he followed that up by walking Gabe Gross and giving up back to back singles by Cliff Pennington and Coco Crisp which allowed Gross to score.  Holland then loaded the bases by walking Daric Barton.

I would assume that the young mans mind was racing at this point.  His entire baseball career might have been flashing before his eyes.  I am sure he knows all about players who merely got their cup of coffee, got sent back down and never made it back to the majors.  It was impossible not to see it on his face.  Royals manager Ned Yost then emerged from the dugout instead of the pitching coach.  Normally that means a new pitcher is coming into the game.  Again, I’d imagine Holland thought his debut was over just like that.  However, Yost went out there to offer some words of encouragement, not pull him from the game.

Whatever Yost said; it worked.  Holland quickly got the next batter, Kurt Suzuki to ground into an inning ending double play.  Just like that, Greg Holland was out of a bases loaded jam.  The team was still down six to nothing, but things didn’t get much worse.

It’s probably a little bit cheesy to use a single relief pitching appearance as a metaphor for the Dayton Moore regime, but I am going to do it anyway.  Holland entered a game which the Royals had little hope of winning,which isn’t much different from what Dayton Moore inherited when he showed up as General Manager.  He had some early success and made some odd moves which seemed a little like a guy finding his sea legs.  Then things turned sour and the results were not as advertised.  Finally, he got a reminder that he had a plan, just trust what you have and do what got you to where you are.  Finally, something goes right and the current predicament is over.

The story isn’t written on Greg Hollands major league career just yet, and neither is the one on Dayton Moore.  Things haven’t gone as well as anyone had hoped, its been rocky and ugly.  There has been a handful of bright spots, but they’ve been overshadowed by numerous dark ones.  Regardless of how many good individual pitches a pitcher makes, if you load the bases, you load the bases.  However, it can be completely erased by a single double play ball.

Whatever unfolds in the future for Dayton Moore and the Royals, the possible excuses for not building a winning ballclub are dwindling.  Just like a pitcher, it doesn’t matter what kind of stuff you have if you can’t get guys out.  Both Holland and Dayton Moore will be judged by their results on the field.  Personally, I hope both succeed wildly but we will have to keep watching and see.

Episode #028 – Nick discusses all of the deadline trades, Ned Yost through 2012, Meche’s decision to not have surgery, whats going on in the minors and should the Royals focus on a window of winning.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs028.mp3|titles=BBS

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The trades made by Dayton Moore this weekend pointed out the wide disparity of opinions that one fan base can have.   While the majority of us blogging about the team and those who read what we spew out were in favor of moving veterans like Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, it was interesting to read or hear the reactions of many other fans (casual or serious) who hated the moves.  

While finding a united opinion amongst a fan base might be impossible, I would wager that if you went back in time to early 2007, we Royals’ fans had visions of lots of series like this:

  • Friday night – a walkoff home run by Alex Gordon
  • Saturday night – a two run go ahead homer by Billy Butler in the 8th
  • Sunday afternoon – a run scoring double in the first from Butler and a home run from Gordon in the fourth

Never mind that the games were against the Orioles and never mind that the sweep only got the Royals within 15 games of .500:  THIS is what we thought/hoped would be the norm by now.   Maybe it was just a good weekend against a bad team, but maybe, just maybe, it is the start of something good.

At any rate, for most of us, this was a fun weekend to be a fan of the Kansas City Royals.   In addition to the Gordon-Butler heroics, we saw the organization, for maybe the first time, really embrace the future as opposed to paying it just lip service.

Alberto Callaspo and Scott Podsednik were both good enough players that the Royals could have kept them, ran out the ‘not enough value coming back to trade’ line and ground out a couple of more wins between now and October, but instead they shipped them out for four younger players.   One of those younger players is Sean O’Sullivan, who 11 innings into his Royals’ career, I am already more confident in than Brian Bannister or Kyle Davies.

What the above two moves really did, however, was solidify an everyday spot in the lineup for Alex Gordon’s next last chance and opened up third base for Mike Moustakas whenever he is ready to take on major league pitching (the over under is May 22, 2011, who’s in?).

Dayton Moore followed up those two deals by doing what all the old crusty columnists say cannot be done:  trade garbage for value.   Nothing personally against, Ankiel and Farnsworth, but they have enough warts on their professional baseball resumes that trading them seemed pretty illogical.   Instead, Moore went to the Braves’ well once more and pulled out an unconventional reliever with real upside (Tim Collins) and a serviceable centerfielder (Gregor Blanco), plus another reliever.   Return aside, the upside of that deal is that it clears out one more veteran who was just going to take at-bats from players who need them (Maier, for example) and another who was in the way of letting the Royals have a look at the crop of young relievers coming up in the system.

After all that, the Royals still found themselves with one Jose Guillen too many, but that did not deter them from recalling Kila Kaa’ihue from Omaha.   The long awaited and much deserved promotion was welcome news, even if the plan to get him at-bats was less than pleasing.   

This will be a test of what Ned Yost is about as, fresh off signing a two year deal to manage the Royals, he should be ready to find at-bats for Kaa’ihue at the expense of Jose Guillen and, to a smaller extent, Willie Bloomquist (which means Guillen in right field, but who doesn’t need to see that a couple times a week?!).    With the trade of Podsednik, it’s easy to put Gordon in left and ‘find out’, but it’s going to take a little intestinal fortitude to right Kaa’ihue in the lineup everyday with Jose Guillen glaring at you from across the locker room.

Of course, the idea of trading Guillen in August is very much alive.   With all the activity over the weekend, there are teams out there who woke up Sunday morning and wondered if they could have/should have done more.   Guillen will clear waivers and hence tradable all the way through August to whomever might be in panic mode.   The key for Yost and Moore is to not wait for Guillen to be moved before installing Kaa’ihue in the everyday lineup.    

Hey, no one said being general manager or manager of a major league team is all sunshine and roses (although it has to be pretty sweet gig).   Sometimes you have to get called an SOB by an angry veteran for the good of the team’s future.    You got the new contract Ned – now go out there and write down the lineup that will help you win meaningful games in 2011 and 2012 and not meaningless games this August.

Myself and many Royals fans were waiting with baited breath, in desperate hopes that they would move some of the unnecessary veterans on this team for some younger talent.  Moving Callaspo and Podsednik earlier was a nice start, but with guys like Guillen, Ankiel and Farnsworth on the team there was still lots of potential moves out there. Very few rumors had been floated at all today and I felt that portended no activity.  However at the very last moment, it was announced that the Royals traded Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel to the Braves for Gregor Blanco, Jessie Chavez and Tim Collins.  With the absolute dearth of information out there prior to this going down, I think we can safely assume that Dayton picked up his theories on loose lips from his old organization.

Other than keeping Guillen*, I think Dayton handled this trading deadline masterfully.  He clearly realized that there was a long list of players on this team who have no future with this team, so getting something, anything for them at this point in time was a net benefit to the organization.  Not only that, but it allows younger guys like Getz, Aviles, Gordon, Maier and dear God I hope Kila Ka’aihue to get some playing time.

*Guillen will likely be put through waivers in an attempt to trade him after the deadline, so he isn’t quite here to stay just yet.

So, what did the Royals get in this latest deal?

Jessie Chavez

Chavez is a 26 year old relief pitcher who hasn’t been particularly effective. He will probably move into the bullpen immediately to replace Farnsworth.  He has a good K/9 of 7.0 and also a good BB/9 of 3.33 in his 119 innings of work in the majors.  However he is a big-time flyball pitcher with 43% of the hits being of that variety.  That might play well at spacious Kauffman Stadium,  but it remains to be seen.  Right now he is just a bullpen guy who is cheaper than Farnsworth and under team control for longer.

Gregor Blanco

Blanco is a 26 year old lefty outfielder.  He has a higher carrer OBP .361 than Scott Podsednik .341.  He has never shown the ability to hit with power, but seems to be a leadoff type of guy.  His numbers show some speed and he has started more games at the leadoff spot than any other slot in the lineup.  My guess is that he will take the place of Ankiel on the MLB roster, and will be a filler or 4th outfielder type.

Tim Collins

Collins is clearly the most intriguing part of this trade.  He is listed at 5’7 155, but word on the street is that he is more likely 5’5.  So in a word, he is short.  But what he lacks in height he makes up for in stuff.   He has a 2.29 ERA this year  in 51 IP, with 87 strikeouts to 19 walks.  He can hit 93mph on the radar gun and has a nice curveball and changeup.  He projects as a potential setup man in the majors.  This is the guy who is most important in this whole trade.  He has the highest ceiling and the best chance at being an impact major leaguer.  Beyond that, can you imagine what kind of fan favorite a 5’5 fireballer out of the pen would be?  At the risk of blowing the papers headline pre-emptively, I see something like “Tiny Tim Saves The Day”.  For a good article about Collins read this.

All in all, I am completely happy with the return for a couple of months of Ankiel and Farnsworth.  However, it’s the big picture that is of more importance.  The Royals have added 7 players to their organization in return for Alberto Callaspo and 2 months of Podsednik, Farnsworth and Ankiel.   There has been lots of talk about the Royals youth movement (for a decade now), but this team was actually kind of old.  Jettisoning these veterans, giving younger guys a chance to prove themselves and continuing to stock the minors is the true beginning of this youth movement.

In an additional move, which suprised me, the Royals signed Ned Yost through 2012.  I was beginning to believe that the Royals wouldn’t sign Ned Yost, but I also couldn’t imagine that they would want to go through a manager search in the offseason.  I like Ned Yost more than Trey Hillman.  He has some things that annoy me (Kendall batting 2nd), but overall he is a fine manager in my eyes.  I don’t believe the manager does much in the way of strategy anyway, so how he handles the clubhouse is probably of the most importance.  I can’t pretend that I have any clue as to how he does at that job, but my guess is that Dayton does and signing him through 2012 should tell you what he thinks.

Busy day for the Royals, what do you think of the moves?

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