Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Episode #051 – In which Nick discusses the callup of Louis Coleman, reviews the Rangers series, previews the Indians series and takes a look at who’s doing well for the Storm Chasers in Omaha.


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Music in this podcast:

Son Volt – Flow

Charles Mingus – Fables Of Faubus

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In honor of Good Friday, I’m going to take the easy route here and put together some bullet points. I really should think of something Royal or monarchy related instead of “bullets”, maybe you can suggest something. I like to start bullet posts off with a little music. So in honor of the Royals making a come back and also possibly in honor of some people predicting this would be the worst team in history admitting they were wrong here is some sweet smooth 70’s sound.


  • What great game last night that nobody got to see. I’m kind of shocked that a Thursday night game prior to a holiday was not televised. Fox Sports Kansas City is probably kicking themselves for that decision right about now. The ratings likely would have been fantastic. Below is the game graph from Fangraphs for a demonstration of how exciting the game really was.


  • If you add up all of the records of the teams in the Kansas City Royals organization from the MLB down to low A, their combined record is 42-32. That’s pretty darn good. If you’d like to get an almost daily email of the boxscores, and top performers each night from the organization, drop me an email and I’ll put you on the list.
  • If you missed Craig Brown on 810WHB this week, you can check out the podcast here.
  • The Royals are one game out of first place in the American League Central and they have a half game lead in the American League Wild Card. The latter is more impressive, if you ask me. They are trailing the Texas Rangers, who host the Royals for a three game set starting tonight.
  • Am I the only one who feels like the team is walking a tightrope concerning the starting pitching? I feel like at any moment the whole thing is going to come crumbling down to earth on the back of the starters. Luckily, I think there’s plenty of help if needed. It’s one thing that I felt was a real strength even before the season started.
  • One of my favorite things in all of baseball is watching guys make their Major League debut. Last night it was Louis Coleman. I didn’t get to see it live, but I did watch some of the highlights. He looked pretty good and I hope the former LSU Tiger can stick.
  • I’m not above shameless self-promotion, so if you’re interested, I posted an article at the Lawrence Journal-World yesterday on Kila and the difference between organization and team needs.
  • What else is on your mind out there in Royals land? Predictions for the Rangers series? How long this can last? Let it all out in the comments. You know you’re not working today anyway.

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

You can say one thing about Ned Yost:  he likes to get the new guys into action in a hurry.    Reliever Louis Coleman, called up to Kansas City yesterday morning found himself  pitching in a 2-1 game that the Royals really, really needed to win not more than eight hours later.

After Sean O’Sullivan allowed a single to lead off the seventh (by the way, Sean Freaking O’Sullivan! And I mean that in a good way), Yost called for Coleman, who threw three fastballs to Adam Everett before striking him out with a slider.    Next up was the red hot Grady Sizemore, who took a cut at the first pitch and flied out.    Asdrubal Cabrera saw two fastballs and then fouled out to Alex Gordon on a cutter.    That is a pretty nice major league debut.

To be fair, Coleman’s eight inning was not as spectacular and he left with a clean slate thanks to game hero Melky Cabrera and catcher Matt Treanor teaming up to cut down yet another run at home plate.   Still, good fortune looks exactly the same as dominance the next morning in the box score and I saw plenty in the twenty-four pitches Coleman threw last night to think this is another rookie who could stake a long-term claim to a setup role.

Speaking of dominance, Coleman’s fellow 2009 draftee Aaron Crow continues to roll along.   He allowed a double to Grady Sizemore in the 9th, but nothing else as he remains perfect on this young season.  Again, we will have to revisit the ‘Crow as a starter argument’, but what he has brought to the table in a late innings role makes one wonder what the value is of a lock-down set-up reliever versus an average starting pitcher.    

I am not sure the Royals have any intention of ever moving Crow out of the bullpen, but I am certain they will keep him right where he is until this team falls out of contention.    I agree with that plan of action.

Whomever pitches out of the bullpen this weekend in Texas will get a severe test against the Rangers’ powerful lineup.   Rightly or wrongly, I am excited to see it instead of dreading what might happen.

Arguably the most exciting part of the current Royals’ roster is the bullpen.   Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress and Tim Collins represent the tip of The Process iceberg.   One doesn’t have to squint very hard to see those three plus Joakim Soria locking down wins for a contending Kansas City team:  maybe not in 2011, but not too far into the future.

Some of the luster surrounding the rookie hurlers has worn off after a string of rough outings over the past week, but we all know that relievers – rookie relievers especially – are never perfect.  The question that crossed my mind after seeing Tim Collins implode the other night was how often should we expect a good reliever to, well, not be good?

Searching back over the past five seasons, I sorted pitchers by number of American League games in which they appeared in relief.  Starting with those with 200 or more appearances in that time frame, I removed the closers.  I do so because we hold closers to a different standard of perfection and they are used in what has by and large become a very controlled and similar situation in most of their appearances.   After that, I sorted their overall performance by xFIP, as ERA for relievers is a pretty poor way to judge them.

The above process left seven non-closers with 200 or more appearances over the past five years and an xFIP under 3.90.   Why 3.90?   Well, Shawn Camp – THAT Shawn Camp – was the next pitcher to come up if I went any farther down the list.   The appearance of that name followed in short order by Kyle Farnsworth screamed out ‘stop here!’.

From this point, very simply, I counted the number of appearances by each of the seven relievers in which they allowed a run.   The results were as follows:

  • Matt Thornton – 78  out of 342 appearances (23%)
  • Scott Downs – 56 of  323 (17%)
  • Rafael Perez – 65 of 266 (24%)
  • Grant Balfour – 56 of 213 (26%)
  • Darren Oliver – 78 of 294 (27%)
  • Joaquin Benoit – 58 of 241 (24%)
  • Jason Frasor – 70 of 290 (24%)

I don’t intend to get into a debate over whether we expect more out of Collins, Crow and Jeffress than the guys on the above list.   Suffice it to say that these seven pitchers have been effective enough middle relievers and set-up men to pitch in a large number of games over a five year period.

During that time, these seven gave up a run somewhere between once every four or five outings.  For the sake of boiling this into real life and not statistical decimal point dreamland, I think we could roughly say that a good non-closing reliever allows a run in two of every nine appearances.    The Royals’ Tim Collins, by the way,  has appeared in 10 games this season and allowed runs to score in two of them.

Without question, this is a pretty crude way to study the subject.   There is a big difference between being asked to get one or two batters out and being asked to pitch three innings and the data above makes no adjustment for an appearance where Matt Thornton was asked to retire one hitter with a runner and did so versus an appearance when he pitched two and two-thirds innings and allowed a solo run with his team up four.    

Defining who is a truly effective reliever is a much deeper study and the point of this quick analysis was simply to find out – in casual fan terms – how often one can expect even your best relievers to get dinged for a run.   The expectation among all of us when a reliever enters the game is for that pitcher to be lights out.  It is not realistic to expect that every time and we all know it, but we still expect it and agonize when it does not happen.   When the Royals are up 3-2 with a runner on first and one out in the seventh inning, we really don’t care what Aaron Crow’s WHIP is when the inning is over, we only care that no runs scored.

Of course, there is the second part of the scenario:  it’s not just runs charged to a reliever, but inherited runners he allows to score.   That data, noticeable to all, is not included in the above study (I’m not sure study is the right word for the small amount of research, but here at Royals Authority HQ we like to think so).

Going back to our list, we find the following numbers on inherited runners and inherited runners that ended up scoring on our seven pitchers:

  • Thornton – 93 of 296 (31%)
  • Downs – 54 of 163 (33%)
  • Perez – 43 of 174 (25%)
  • Balfour – 42 of 154 (27%)
  • Oliver – 57 of 171 (33%)
  • Benoit – 24 of 105 (23%)
  • Frasor – 48 of 156 (31%)

Using this group of relievers, it seems that allowing somewhere between one of every three and one of every four inherited runners to score is the norm.   While the sample size is so small as to be irrelevant, Tim Collins has allowed three of six inherited runners to score – two of those coming in last night’s seventh inning.     Jeremy Jeffress has inherited two runners and neither have crossed the plate while Aaron Crow has inherited SEVEN runners and has yet to allow one to score.

There is much to like about the Royals’ young bullpen this season.   Ignoring the Crow should be a starter argument for now, I truly can see this group being a ferocious bridge between what we hope will be a powerful young rotation and a back-to-normal Joakim Soria for years to come.  As good as they might be or become, however, the above shows that perfection simply does not happen.

Shocking. Davies gave up a HR. Again (Minda Haas)

]I’ll probably take some grief for this, but even after Monday’s start, I haven’t been happy with the performance of Kyle Davies this year. Hell, I haven’t been happy with his performance for most of the time since he joined the Royals. I started looking at his career numbers. They aren’t pretty.

142 G, 135 GS, 726.2 IP, 822 H, 476 R, 349 BB, 511 SO, 93 HR

Broken down into rates:

10.2 H/9, 4.3 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 1.61 WHIP

And factoring in earned runs:

5.54 ERA, 78 ERA+

Those numbers are dreadful. Just frighteningly horrible.

To determine exactly how bad Davies has been throughout his career, we need to find some historical perspective. For help, I turned to the Baseball Reference Play Index. The great thing about the Play Index is you can set parameters… Things like innings pitched, number of starts, etc.

For this exercise, I’ll examine all pitchers who started at least 90% of all their appearances (Davies has made a start in 95% of his appearances) and pitched at least 700 innings. Notice those numbers don’t match Davies career totals exactly. Casting a wider net allows some latitude for Davies… It should make it easier to find a pitcher who has been worse than him over roughly the same amount of work.

To begin, let’s start with the basics – ERA. Here is the list of starting pitchers who have posted an ERA greater than 5.40.

Kyle Davies

Yep. That’s right. Going all the way back to 1901, no starting pitcher (remember this is for pitchers who started at least 90% of their games) has thrown more than 700 innings with a worse ERA than Davies. In fact, only five pitchers in the history of the game meet the workload criteria and have an ERA greater than 5:

Kyle Davies – 5.54
Jason Bere – 5.14
Daniel Cabrera – 5.10
Mike Maroth – 5.05
Sidney Ponson – 5.03

Jeez… That’s just dreadful. Davies is lapping the field like Secretariat at the Belmont.

OK, let’s move on. Longtime readers know I like dealing with WHIP since that essentially measures the number of baserunners allowed per inning of work. Again, using the same workload parameters, here’s the list of pitchers who’s career WHIP tops 1.58:

Kyle Davies

Uh-oh. I begin to sense a pattern…

If I expand the net to include pitchers with a WHIP of greater than 1.5, we find a total of nine pitchers. Here are the five worst:

Kyle Davies – 1.611
Daniel Cabrera – 1.573
Bobby Witt – 1.569
Pat Rapp – 1.550
Jason Bere – 1.549

Again, Davies blows away the rest of the field. Remember, even though all the name on the previous lists are fairly contemporary, the search at Baseball Reference goes all the way back to 1901. Cabrera was always thought of as an awful pitcher… But he’s no Kyle Davies.

Davies performs a little better when we narrow the search and examine only the walks. A total of 21 pitchers in our group have posted a walk rate of greater than 4.0 BB/9. Davies and his 4.32 BB/9 ranks at number 10. Four pitchers have actually topped 5 BB/9.

Daniel Cabrera – 5.24
Oliver Perez – 5.08
Jason Bere – 5.07
Bobby Witt – 5.02

Finally, there is ERA+. Here is the list of starters who have thrown at least 700 innings who possess an ERA+ of less than 82.

Kyle Davies


A couple more… How about starters ranked by percentage of quality starts.

Eddie Lopat – 28.9%
Kyle Davies – 32.6%
Vic Raschi – 35.7%
Daniel Cabrera – 41.3%
Jason Bere – 42.4%

***Note: As several commenters pointed out, the QS% for Lopat (and Raschi) is incorrect. This is the report I ran at B-Ref. Click the link and you will see what I used. Apologies for the discrepancy. Although the Davies QS% is all too real.

And finally by WAR:

Mal Eason – -2.7
Chappie McFarland – -2.7
Kyle Davies – -1.9
Scott Olsen – -0.2
Jason Bere – 0.3

That’s right… Only four starting pitchers in the history of the game have thrown 700 or more innings as a starter and posted negative WAR. And our Davies is one of them. By the way, Eason and McFarland pitched around the turn of the 20th century. So let’s just say that in the last 100 years, there hasn’t been a starting pitcher quite as horrible as Davies.

Make no mistake. It is quite possible that every time Kyle Davies takes the mound we are witnessing the worst starting pitcher in the history of the game. Never before has a pitcher so awful been given so many chances. Sure, he’s capable of throwing a “gem” like he did on Monday where he went six scoreless innings. Unfortunately, those performances are extremely rare.

Sadly, to bring this up at this point is a little like shutting the barn door after the livestock have escaped. Davies is in his final year under club control and will be a free agent following this season. He’ll be a distant memory when the Royals are ready to contend. That Davies is still on the club and has been given so many opportunities points out how deep Dayton Moore’s Atlanta ties run and how flawed The Process has been to this point. Just plucking a random pitcher out of Triple-A would likely yield better results than what Davies has been providing.

Normally, a pitcher as bad as Davies has been ends up either in the bullpen or out of baseball altogether well before he’s allowed to throw 700 innings as a starter. Sadly, the Royals haven’t reached the point where they feel they can move him out of the rotation. To be fair, Davies made a third of his starts for the Braves. The good news is, he’s improved since his time with Atlanta. The bad news is, he hasn’t improved enough to be even an average major league starter. His 0.5 WAR is the worst among all starters since Davies joined the Royals.

While the 2011 season has started on a positive note, there are still one or two reminders that GMDM struggled with his own Process in his first couple of seasons. Thankfully, the minors are stocked and we won’t have to endure starts from pitchers of Davies’ ability for much longer. Oh well… If you’re going to make a mistake, you may as well make one king size.

Honestly, I didn’t set out to do a hatchet job on Davies. I knew he was awful, but I figured there had to be starters who has been worse. I was kind of caught off guard at his complete and thorough grip on horribleness. And it’s not like this is some small sample size. This covers six years and more than 700 innings over 135 starts. This exercise yields an undeniable result…

Kyle Davies is the worst starting pitcher in the history of the game.

That was a crazy start to the Cleveland Indians series. The game started out as a nicely played game by both teams and then just took a left turn into bizarro land as soon as the bullpens got involved.

Kyle Davies looked really good last night. He went 6.0 innings, struck out 7 and walked none. He was working quickly on the mound and pounding the strike zone. He also threw one of the sickest breaking balls I’ve seen all season. Just an absolute beast of an un-hittable pitch. Davies has become one of the whipping boys for the Royals fanbase, but guys who can put together that kind of start have value in many rotations. He isn’t going anywhere this season and he shouldn’t.

There was a ball hit into the corner over Alex Gordon’s head and he overplayed it. He got too close to the wall and didn’t wait for the carom. The ball scooted away from him and allowed a runner to score. He’s been playing pretty good defense, but as Corey Ettinger remarked on Twitter, he is rounding off his routes and has to overcompensate by diving for balls. He’s still learning the position and he has the athleticism to make up for some of the mistakes, but it’s going to cost the Royals some bases or as was the case last night, runs.

There was a crazy play at second base last night involving umpire Joe West (shocker). Billy Butler was sliding into second and it seemed clear that Asdrubal Cabrera touched the base long before Butler got there. Joe West signaled safe, but it seems he didn’t announce it very loudly. Butler walked off the base and was tagged out. It ended up being a huge play because it would’ve meant the bases were loaded with no outs rather than first and third with two outs.

It’s easy to place blame on Billy Butler for walking back to the dugout, but from what I could see he didn’t do anything wrong. It seemed from the TV angles that he was out by a mile. But even if he isn’t, the umpire has a responsibility in situations like that to make sure everybody knows full well what the call is. I can’t imagine he yelled “SAFE” and Butler just walked away from the bag. It likely ended up costing the Royals runs, but I can’t fault Butler. Players don’t usually hang around bases double-checking every call, especially ones that look that obvious.

I know that Craig isn’t concerned about Joakim Soria, but I’m a little bit worried. I’m not sounding the alarms or anything. I’m not about to demote him from the closers role, but I need more information to allay my fears. He only missed one bat last night and that’s just not typical Soria. I really hope my concerns are just an over-reaction, but at this point I just don’t know.

There were some chinks in the armor of the bullpen last night. Jeremy Jeffress was wild. He doesn’t really have an out pitch, so if he isn’t locating that super-sonic fastball then he’s kind of stuck. He really could use a nice changeup or a better curve ball. Tim Collins just had a blow up. Those happen, it’s not something that gives me less confidence in the kid. The concern that he might be over-worked is certainly legitimate. He could probably use a couple of days to recoup.

On the other hand, Aaron Crow continued throwing lights out. He is just nasty coming out of the pen.  Right now, he is unquestionably the pitcher I have the most confidence putting in high leverage situations. He has really come into his own in relief. As a starter last year he struggled mightily. I think he’ll get another shot at starting, but I don’t know that he’ll stick there. For now, I’ll just sing Crow-lay-o-lay-o-lay-0-lay Crow-lay Crow-lay when he comes into the game. It’s either that or the chicken dance from Arrested Development.

Kila Ka’aihue is clearly struggling, he could probably use a day or two off, but the Royals need to keep running him out there. It is extremely normal for guys to struggle when they start their Major League careers. Lots of great players started out looking lost at the plate for an extended period of time. The Royals are within striking distance of first place now, but they still need to use their Major League at bats to develop young players like Kila. Eric Hosmer is not coming up soon, and I don’t believe the Royals will give Clint Robinson a chance either. Kila needs the time to work out his difficulties and the Royals should afford that to him.

The game was interesting, but the real highlight of yesterday came from manager Ned Yost. Before the game he was asked if he liked hearing that Butler still wants to play first base. His response:

“Sure I do, but you know what, I’d like to be an astronaut”

Every baseball fan questions decisions made by the manager. It’s just what we do. But regardless of any issues I have with the things Ned Yost does on the field, the man can put out a good quote. I think we lack interesting personalities in baseball and Ned Yost seems to be thoughtful, honest and he says some great things. It’s why I’m a huge fan of the Yostronaut.

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

The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

There’s been just a little bit of worry regarding Joakim Soria in the early going this season. For starters, there’s that ugly blown save last week against the White Sox where he coughed up a three run lead. Then, there was his following appearance where he surrendered yet another run (yet still got the all-important save) against the Tigers. My Twitter feed practically exploded after that one… The consensus being that something wasn’t right with the Royals closer.

A couple of things seem to be happening here…

First, Soria has begun to mix a cut fastball that is a notch slower than his normal cut fastball. I was alerted to this point by Pitch F/x guru Mike Fast who mentioned he introduced a cut fastball that averaged around 87 mph in August of last year. That’s quite a bit slower from his normal cutter that lives around 91 mph. However, Mike doesn’t seem to think the reduced velocity is an issue for the closer – the slower cutter actually has a little more action to it.

In other words, don’t sweat the speed difference. If you check his player page at Fangraphs, you’ll notice he has, in fact, lost a couple of mph off his average cut fastball. If he truly introduced this slower version of his pitch last August, then the loss in velocity may not be anyting to worry about, as long as he still has his cutting movement. The last two months of the season Soria posted a 0.79 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 22.2 innings.

Second, is his swinging strike percentage. Long time readers will know I’m all about missing bats. (Perhaps it’s a natural reaction to the Royals “pitch to contact” scheme of the early 90’s.) Here are Soria’s swing and miss rates from the last three seasons:

2009: 13.2%
2010: 9.5%
2011: 4.2%

A trend like that is never positive for a pitcher, no matter the role.

Perhaps this is a matter of location. Check out the plane of his “average” cutter from a period of a couple of weeks in September of last year:

Compare that to the plane from his first several appearances of 2011:

He appears to be catching a little more of the plate. So it makes sense that he’s not missing as many bats.

The good news about his location is he started almost exactly the same way last season. If you remember, his first 12 or so outings were very average – for him at least. And his rough patch culminated with surrendering back to back home runs in that wild game against Texas. His ERA at that point was a gaudy 4.15. From then to the rest of the season it was a more Soria-like 1.20.

And even when he was dominating in mid summer last year, he would go through occasional stretches where he wasn’t missing many bats. Usually, the reduction in swings and misses would begin to appear when he was used frequently. There was a stretch in mid-August where his swing and miss rate was around 6%. That was in the same stretch where he pitched six times in ten days.

So, yes, Soria’s swing and miss rate is lower in the early going this season, but he’s been used seven times in the Royals first nine games. That’s a lot of usage. Fortunately, it’s early in the season where there are a few off days built into the schedule. He didn’t pitch in the opener but from the second game to the ninth, he got three days of rest – two of those days were off days for the team. Blame the rash of extra inning contests and late game rallies by the Royals.

What I’m trying to say is it’s a little to early to start worrying about Soria. He will go through patches like this from time to time and the increased workload certainly hasn’t helped. If we get to the end of May and he’s still not missing enough bats, then maybe I’ll start to worry.

Episode #050 – In which I discuss the news concerning the Royals, review the series with the Minnesota Twins and speak with special guest J.R. Lind about a fascinating article about the mid 1980’s Kansas City Royals contracts. I also answer a couple of listener emails and bring up an insane statistic.


Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Check out J.R.’s article Royal Flushed: How a Nashville apartment building contributed to a baseball franchise’s misery.

Music in this podcast:

Jellyfish – New Mistake

Ray Charles – Thre Quarter Time

Frank Zappa – Peaches En Regalia

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Yesterday was Kyle Davies’ 89th start as a Kansas City Royal and it marked the twenty-first time in that span that Kyle has surrendered five runs or more.   His career earned run average with the team now stands at 5.27 and is trending in the wrong direction.

Davies’ three starts this season have yielded a run per inning, 23 hits allowed in 14 innings, and just one more strikeout than walk issued.   Perhaps this is just a slump accentuated by the fact it comes at the very start of the season.   After all, in 11 of his last 15 starts in 2010, Kyle provided a level of performance that all of us would likely accept at this point.   (The were not all ‘quality starts’, but if they were decent enough to give his team a chance to win).    Stop me if you have heard this all before.

Kyle Davies is something of a conundrum.   He truly has ‘stuff’ and, at times can be remarkably effective.   As referenced above, Davies at times can string together six and seven inning starts where he allows three runs or less and, you know, generally looks like a bonafide major league starting pitcher.  

Last season, Davies posted the second worst earned run average in baseball among qualifying pitchers (only Jeremy Bonderman was worse).   Davies’ walk rate was 88th out of the 92 qualifying pitchers, his strikeout rate was 70th and his percentage of runners left on base 87th.   In a weird twist of fate, Zack Greinke’s LOB% was 90th, by the way.  Kyle was 80th in FIP, second to last in xFIP, but manged to get up to 72nd in WAR (2.0).   That WAR number is telling in that it points out the best thing about Kyle Davies’ 2010 season:  he took the ball every fifth day and managed to pile up 183 innings of work.

Nick wrote this column last August in quasi-support of Davies and it makes a lot of sense, or at least it should, but the problem is I have run out of patience.

Kyle Davies has 134 major league starts under his belt, totalling 721 innings of work (300 more than Luke Hochevar).   His Baseball Reference career page reveals remarkably similar peripheral numbers from year to year.    While Chris Carpenter appears in his Top Ten comp list on that page, said list is topped by Jamey Wright and Brian Meadows.     Anybody want to replay those former Royals?   How about Jeff Suppan, who comes in as Davies’ number four comp?

How about Jeff Suppan?

See, therein lies the current issue with the Kansas City Royals.    If, like me, you would rather spend your days selling American flags in downtown Tripoli than watch Kyle Davies nibble his way through another start, your most likely option to replace him is Jeff Suppan.

After being signed to a minor league deal recently, Suppan was torched for seven runs in his first AAA start, but did rally last night to allow just one run over five plus innings, albeit with just two strikeouts.    Starting in 1999, Jeff started thirty or more games for eleven straight years.     He had a nice little run in the National League for a time, but over the last three seasons Suppan’s hits per 9 innings have soared over the 10.5 mark, his walk rate is creeping up and his always modes strikeout totals are not getting any better.    While Suppan had a decent run at the end of last season with the Cardinals, a lot of that was due to a good September.   Hey, if I’m going to fill the Royals rotations based upon good Septembers, then Kyle Davies is my man…oh, wait.

Truthfully, the allure of Jeff Suppan right now is simply that he is NOT Kyle Davies…or Sean O’Sullivan.   Therein lies the real Royals’ rotation issue:  the guy that won the fifth starter job, Vin Mazarro, was so bad in his AAA tuneup that Kansas City is going with the guy Mazarro beat and who was pretty awful last season.    The Royals have two problems in their starting rotation right now (being charitable saying that) and they at least know that Kyle Davies, once in a while gets some guys out.

Now, if O’Sullivan, who is still just twenty-three, comes out of nowhere and starts giving the Royals five solid innings out of the number five spot or Mazarro, who is just twenty-four, rallies in Omaha and forces his way into the majors, then Kansas City will start looking at Kyle Davies.   

As pointed out by commenters and tweeters alike, Kyle Davies has been given more chances by this organization than anyone, I have a hard time believing Dayton Moore is going to stop giving him chances now in favor of an aging Jeff Suppan.   

Face it, the Royals are stuck with Kyle Davies for now.    The options are simply not there.   

Aaron Crow is likely the primary set-up man in the bullpen and excelling in this early phase of the season.  Draft status and what ‘Crow should be’ aside, I like Crow in that role and, quite frankly, without a third pitch HE is going to resemble Kyle Davies more than Zack Greinke if the Royals were to push him into the rotation.

Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy are probably a couple of months away yet from getting serious consideration for a major league call, not to mention they are both a little shy on innings.   Montgomery threw just 93 regular season innings in 2010, while Duffy threw only 62.     Everett Teaford was blasted bad enough in spring training that I imagine it will take the organization a good half season to have any faith in him and, after all, it is Everett Teaford we are talking about.

I am open to suggestions and, my guess is, Ned Yost and Dayton Moore are at least thinking about options when it comes to Kyle Davies.   As much as Davies may be ‘their guy’, they cannot enjoy watching starts like yesterday very much, either.

For now, I do not see a scenario that does not involve simply gritting our collective teeth and enduring more Kyle Davies’ starts.  He could, as he has in the past, string together three or four decent starts, which would buy the entire organization some time before Kyle’s next string of inevitable implosions.   That is really the best case scenario – coupled, of course, with continued good outings from Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen.

The saving grace of this patched together rotation is that is sits in front of the organziation’s greatest strength:  young starting pitching.   Help is on the way, it is just a little further away than we would like it.   That would not be a big deal if this team had not lept out to a nice 7-4 start.   Since they have, however, we find ourselves agonizing over the not so new ineffectiveness of Kyle Davies and dreading the Saturday start of Sean O’Sullivan. 

Truthfully, that is a good thing.   It will be a much better thing when Mike Montgomery is starting some Saturday in July.

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