Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

 Luke Hochevar had a second strong start yesterday for the Royals as they finally found a way to beat the Rangers.   After his first start of the year, I wrote this post and now we find ourselves wondering if Luke can string not two starts together, but three.   That’s progress, but not the topic of today’s column.

Instead, with the Royals winning eight of their last thirteen games, it raises a question that periodically gets discussed throughout the media, amongst fans and, of course, the blogosphere:  how many players away are the Royals? 

By ‘away’, I refer to being in contention for the playoffs, playing meaningful games in September and generally being in the conversation as one of the better teams in the league.   By definition, ‘away from what?’  means the 25 guys on the roster right now.  Forget about the farm system, contracts and tradability for now, and even ignore specific players.  Instead look at the current roster and think about how many and what type of players would you need to put on the roster to reach contention.  

Currently, the Royals rank first in the American League (and all of baseball actually) with a .280 team batting average, yet they are just 8th in runs scored.  Kansas City is tied for fifth in the AL in on-base percentage and also fifth in slugging.   That all adds up to be ranked 6th in OPS, although the Royals do sport the lowest walk percentage in the league.

Kansas City’s starting pitching ranks twelfth in the American League in earned run average, eleventh in WHIP, thirteenth in strikeout to walk ratio and tenth in innings pitched.   The relief corp currently ranks thirteenth in ERA, thirteenth in WHIP, twelfth in strikeout to walk ratio and a respectable (and surprising) seventh in left on base percentage.

In the field, the Royals have committed more errors than all but three teams in the American League.   They rank fifth in Revised Zone Rating, are tied for last in outs made outside of zone and eleventh in UZR/150.

So, there’s your team right now.  What does it need to become a contender?

STARTING PITCHING

Zack Greinke may not win the Cy Young this year, but he still is a legitimate number one starting pitcher, which is a pretty good place to start.  If Gil Meche was pitching like he did in 2007 and 2008, I would be tempted to make an argument that the Royals could contend with the starting five they have right now.   Sadly, Meche is not that guy anymore and I just glanced at the paragraph above that showed the Royals’ rotation near the bottom of every category.

Given that, without question the Royals need another starting pitcher – a solid number two starter type.  That’s ONE.

Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies are an okay back three of a rotation,but if the intent is to stand toe to toe with the league’s big boys, they probably need someone better than either Bannister or Davies.   While the addition of a legitimate number two starter makes this rotation competitive, to truly make a solid playoff bid, a starter to slot in towards the back of the rotation is necessary.   That’s TWO.

BULLPEN

Like the rotation, having Joakim Soria at the back of your pen to close out games is a heck of a place to start.   In front of Soria, you have to like the looks of rookie Blake Wood, but other than that I can’t say I’m in love with anyone else.   That said, how many really solid late inning relievers does a contending team need?  

Frankly, in a seven man pen, the Royals can probably fill out three more spots with guys they already have.   Of course, the spots I am filling with existing personnel are the last three spots in the pen.  That means the Royals need to add two quality relievers to team with Wood to bridge gap between the starters and Soria.   That is player numbers THREE and FOUR.

INFIELD AND DESIGNATED HITTER

I am lumping DH in with the infield because two of the Royals’ best hitters, Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler, currently play the infield and neither ever makes me feel comfortable with a glove on one hand and a ball headed towards them.   That said, both of those guys can hit and, in the case of Butler, really, really hit.   Speaking of hitting, Mike Aviles is rapidly proving that 2009 was the fluky season, not 2008 and that gives the Royals three good bats on their infield right now.

With four infield positions and designated hitter to fill, the Royals pretty obviously need two more bats.   One of those hitters needs to be a power, impact type hitter.    Butler is going to hit for average, contend for the league lead in doubles and pound out 15-20 home runs per year, but Kansas City needs someone behind him that will routinely blast 30 balls over the fence and still be a respectable on-base guy, too.   That’s player number FIVE.

The second player probably needs to be a middle infielder who is a good defender and a solid hitter.   The Royals don’t need an All-Star here, but a guy who can, say, hit like a David DeJesus but be a plus defender at one of the two premium defensive positions.    Adding that player is number SIX.

Now, you might be tempted to say the Royals need one more here and I would entertain that argument (Callaspo is the guy who does not quite fit despite his ability to hit), but adding two better players would be enough to make this team a contender.

OUTFIELD

I have to admit that I do like all three guys the Royals have in the outfield right now.   Scott Podsednik is not great, but he isn’t bad and plays hard (I’m willing to ignore the horrific pick-off yesterday).  Mitch Maier is solid and David DeJesus, who I discussed on Monday, is better than most Royals’ fans want to admit.   That said, that trio is not good enough.

There are a lot of contract issues coming up in the outfield, not to mention the return of Rick Ankiel at some point, but we are taking that out of the equation.   For right now, one of any of those guys is okay and two might be alright if they were sandwiched around a true star.  You know, Podsednik and DeJesus on either side of a healthy Carlos Beltran is probably a ‘contending team’ outfield, but Beltran is not healthy, not a Royal and guys like that just don’t come around everyday.

If we are being realistic, the Royals need a true corner outfielder with pop  and an excellent defensive centerfielder who can hold his own at the plate.   Welcome in player numbers SEVEN and EIGHT.

CATCHER

Okay, I saved catcher for last because I really didn’t know what to do here.  Hard as it is to believe, IF the Royals added the EIGHT players above, Jason Kendall probably is good enough.  Heck, I know he’s good enough to bat ninth on a team with the above additions.   

The biggest problem with this position is that outside of Joe Mauer and maybe a handful of others, every team’s catcher has warts.   Some can really field, but not hit.   Some can hit, but not field.   Some of the great blockers of wild pitches can’t throw worth a lick and some great throwers cannot call a decent game.   Even though this is something of a journey through fantasy, I can’t ignore that there are not any real solutions to great improvement across the board at the catching position.

Give me my eight players specified above and I will live with Jason Kendall and his contract.

THE SUM TOTAL

Eight players away from contention seems about right to me:  not overly pessimistic and not overly optimistic, either.  

Of those eight players, we are really looking for three pretty big time talents:  the number two starter, a corner outfielder with pop and an infielder (corner probably) with an impact bat, as well.   Those are the tough ones, obviously.

The number four starter (three would be better, but a fourth will do) is doable and, despite the Royals’ recent failings, finding two competent and steady middle relievers is not like finding the New World.    In fact, filling these three spots is probably much easier than finding the two plus defenders we need to man one middle infield position and centerfield.

TRUST THE PROCESS?

I have not said ‘trust the process’ without sarcasm in over a year, but I am doing so today.  Should we/do we?  Well, my guess is that you have already been thinking about names as you read through the above.  

Number 2 starter – Mike Montgomery

Number 4 starter – Aaron Crow

Middle reliever – Blaine Hardy (recently promoted to AAA)

Middle reliever – Louis Coleman, Greg Holland or any of a number of promising arms  in the minors

Impact bat infielder – Mike Moustakas

Power outfield bat – Alex Gordon

Centerfielder – Derrick Robinson

Middle infielder – Ahh, here’s a snag.   Is it Getz, Johnny Giavotella or an injured Jeff Bianchi?   Do you forego defense and install Kila Ka’aihue at DH or first, Moutakas at third and live with Callaspo at second?   Tough one, here.

All that said, if you trust the process or even kind of half believe, the Royals might actually be able to fill seven of those eight slots internally and do so not in eight to ten years, but in two.   We have done all that without mentioning Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers or Tim Melville, which is probably optimistic, but impressive nonetheless.

While that sounds fairly positive, we all know that the world is not going to sit still while the Royals wait for ‘their eight guys’ to develop.   Contracts will come up and injuries will happen and, let’s face it, great prospects don’t all become great players and good prospects often don’t make it at all.

On one hand, eight players away does not seem like all that many.  On the other, eight players might well seem like an eternity from contention – especially when two years from now, Zack Greinke’s contract expires.

Episode #019 – Nick is back from a short and unplanned podcast hiatus.  He discusses the Rangers series and previews the Red Sox series.  He also discusses some of the storylines worth following this season and which young players are performing well.  Also, do the Royals have a tradeable shortstop?

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs019.mp3|titles=BBS

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There were a number of great comments on my Kendall post from Friday.  One that caught my eye was from TJ:

“I would love to see a column on pitchers and stolen bases.  I think most people understand and can easily look up stats to see how a catcher impacts the running game.  But what about the pitchers?”

I thought that was a great (and valid) question.  I made an assumption that runners were attempting to steal against Kendall because they perceived they could be successful.  His attempted steals per nine (which is the highest rate in baseball at 1.6) struck me as the result of an aging catcher behind the plate who the opposition knew couldn’t cut down enough runners to make a difference.  Anyway, the comment prompted me to look at the Royals pitchers and the stolen base attempts when they are on the mound.

I found something extremely interesting.

Through games of the weekend, here’s where we stand, ranked by stolen base opportunities.

(SB Opp is the number of times a runner is on first or second with the next base open.  SB and CS are self-explanatory.  SB Att% is the percentage of stolen base attempts.)

What can we glean from this?

— We can add holding runners to things that Greinke is awesome at doing.  He’s always been good at it.  Last year, runners attempted a steal in just 4.4% of all opportunities.  That was actually kind of high for him.  For his career, runners are going on Greinke just 3.4% of the time.  Like I said, he’s kind of great.

(By the way, Greinke has more stolen base opportunities because he’s thrown 10 more innings than any other starter.  Aside from pushing Meche to the first Sunday of the season, the Royals have yet to skip – or substitute – a starter.  Greinke has now made 10 starts.)

— Meche is a problem.  He has really slowed his delivery with runners on base.  Last year, he was at 7.6% for his SB Att% and in 2008 he was at 4.3%.  I figured since runners were going crazy on the bases against Meche, it would mean he’s struggling from the stretch and hitters would be having a field day when they came to bat with runners on.  After all, the guy has a 6.75 ERA.  However, that’s not really the case.  The opposition is hitting .263/.377/.379 with men on base.  It’s the walks that prolong the inning.  Meche has walked 17 batters with a runner on base, but 12 of those have come with first base open.

Makes sense, I suppose.  He’s struggled with his command all year and has always featured a high leg kick from the stretch.  I went back and looked at some of his starts from this year.  Earlier in the season, his leg kick was about half of what it’s been lately.  Lately he’s been bringing his front leg all the way to his waist and hiding the ball behind his front knee.  This isn’t always the case… He will still take a lower kick and shorter stride.  For fun, I grabbed a couple of shots.  The one on the left is Meche’s first start of the season with the knee just below the waist.  The one on the right is Meche’s start against Texas earlier this month.  Note the knee above the waist.

I looked for a pattern… game situation, type of runner on base, etc and came up with nothing.  It seems pretty random when he uses his high kick compared to a lower one.  Either way, it’s not working.  He can take forever to deliver his pitch.

Nobody has been run on more than Gil Meche.  Nobody.

— Runners have always stolen against Hochevar.  His stolen base attempt percentage has gone up each year he’s started in the majors.  From 8.3% in ’08 to 10.6% in ’09 to this year’s 13.1%.  Runners have attempted to steal third base four times with Hochevar on the mound – that number leads the league.  Three of the four have been successful.

We’ve known almost since he was drafted that Hochevar had difficulty keeping the running game in check.  Statistically, it looks like he’s getting worse.

— Bannister and Davies are run on more than the average pitcher (ML average is a SBAtt% of around 6.5%), but compared to Hochevar and Meche, it seems like they know what they’re doing in controlling the running game.

— Finally, I lumped the relievers into a group for simplicity.  No reliever stands out as being easy to steal on and the game is different in the later innings – managers take fewer risks on the bases.  Robinson Tejeda and Kyle Farnsworth have both had two successful steals against them in three attempts.  Both steals and attempts are tops in the relief corps.  No one has attempted a steal in 25 opportunities against Joakim Soria.

So to revisit my Kendall post from Friday, it now seems to me that runners are going more on Hochevar and Meche.  Over 46% of all stolen base attempts against the Royals have come with those two on the hill.  They’ve only thrown 24% of the Royals innings this year. In other words, it’s a highly disproportionate number of stolen base attempts.  I can’t blame the catcher for the fact that Royals games have turned into one way track meets.  This rests on the starting pitchers (Greinke excluded, naturally).  Especially Meche and Hochevar.

I still think Kendall is pretty average defensively (although he’s definitely an improvement over the previous catching duo), and Matt Klaassen has the numbers that back up my assumptions. But he took too much heat for what ultimately was the failings of his pitching staff.

Sorry, Kendall.

Sometimes when a team is playing poorly, a great individual performance can go relatively unnoticed even amongst the fan base.  So if you haven’t noticed, Billy Butler is tearing the cover off of the ball.  He is currently hitting .341 which puts him fourth in the American League.

I realize that this isn’t 1986 anymore and that there are much better ways of measuring players against each other, like OBP and wOBA, but batting average still carries weight.  The .400 season will always capture the attention of baseball fans and a .300 hitter will always be looked upon in a good light.  Statistics are good for more than just comparing one player to another overall, they tell a story.  Batting average tells you how often a guy puts wood on the ball and ends up on base and as fans, hits are exiting to watch.

In Royals terms, how significant is this season so far?  Here are the top 10 individual batting average seasons in Royals history:

Player Average Year
1 George Brett .390 1980
2 Mike Sweeney .340 2002
3 George Brett .335 1985
4 George Brett .333 1976
4 Mike Sweeney .333 2000
6 Hal McRae .332 1976
7 Willie Wilson .332 1982
8 George Brett .329 1990
9 George Brett .329 1979
10 Johnny Damon .327 2000

Every Royal fan knows, or should know that George Brett’s 1980 season where he hit .390 is the bench mark.  Not very many teams have a player with a .390 or better season in their history.  Suffice to say, I don’t think Butler is going to reach that record this season.  However, he is currently above .340 so I think there is certainly a chance he could end up in the top five of this list if he keeps hitting.

I wanted to see where Butler stacked up after 45 games with some of these great seasons.  I plotted the batting averages for the top five seasons on a per game basis.

Click To Enlarge

On the left axis is the batting average and on the bottom axis isa running total of the players games played that season.  I drew a line at 45 to see where Butler ranked.  There is some very interesting information on this chart:

  • George Brett did not play a whole lot of games in 1980 when he was making his run at .390
  • In 1985 Brett was hitting .317 which was the lowest of all the seasons on the chart after 45 games
  • Somewhere right around 45 games the batting averages stop fluctuating wildly, indicating it is a pretty significant sample size
  • In general at around game 30, the batting averages start a steady rise, which peaks around game 82 or so and then begins a decline up until the end of the season

So it appears that at this point, Billy is on pace or better than on pace for a top five season in Royals history.  The next forty games likely will be the difference maker.  It seems that in this pretty small sample, being at or above .350 at the peak of the season is the key to having a .333 or better season.  I don’t know if all good batting average seasons look like this chart, but there is a definite pattern in this one.

It is still early in the season, but it doesn’t look like we are going to be rooting for a contender.  However there are good story lines within the team, and possibly a historic batting performance for a young Royal.

Player Average Year
1 George Brett .390 1980
2 Mike Sweeney .340 2002
3 George Brett .335 1985
4 George Brett .333 1976
4 Mike Sweeney .333 2000
6 Hal McRae .332 1976
7 Willie Wilson .332 1982
8 George Brett .329 1990
9 George Brett .329 1979
10 Johnny Damon .327 2000

There was some trade talk discussion on the radio both before and after the Royals’ shutout loss to Jeff Francis and the Rockies.   Much of it centered around Jose Guillen, some more on Joakim Soria and then these two comments with regard to David DeJesus:

“DeJesus is a fourth outfielder.  You are getting nothing for him, end of story.”

“David DeJesus is a fourth outfielder on a contending team.”

The first comment came from Saturday’s pre pre-game show and rankles me for three reasons.   One, I dislike arguments that a person begins with one sentence and ends the discussion in the same paragraph.   Two, I really like David DeJesus.   Three, two weeks ago, during a column on trading Greinke, Soria AND DeJesus I put a fair amount of research into deciding that the Royals might be able to get a legitimate prospect in exchange for him.

The second comment came from Robert Ford (who does a very good job in a difficult position) on the Royals’ post-game show.  His comment makes some sense and my dispute with it may simply be a matter of semantics.    The premise might be that if a contender will not trade for DeJesus to replace an existing outfielder, then that means he is a fourth outfielder.  

My perspective is:  could David DeJesus be a starter on a contending team?   If the answer  is ‘yes’, then I think it is an error to label him a fourth outfielder.   Let’s use Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to find out.

Thus far in 2010, DeJesus is off to a bit of a slow start with a batting line of .272/.354/.428.   His career mark is .285/.357/.425.   Across the board, those numbers are  a tick above average for a major league regular.   A scout will tell you that DeJesus is ‘average-plus’, which right there might be enough to debunk the fourth outfielder argument.  

To date, DeJesus has a WAR of 0.5 in 2010, which ties him for 20th among American League outfielders.  That’s one spot behind Scott Podsednik and tied with B.J. Upton, Ryan Sweeney, Delmon Young and Juan Pierre.   That David is tied with Upton, makes the Tampa Bay Rays one of two teams that have three outfielders with equal to or higher WAR this season.  The other is the Tigers.  

Given that we have not named the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Rangers, Blue Jays or Twins in the above discussion, I’m inclined to say that DeJesus probably is much more than a ‘fourth outfielder’…even on a contending team.   That, by no means, indicates that a team like the Twins, for instance, would go out and offer something good to acquire David.  It simply points out that DeJesus is on-par with starting outfielders on good teams.

Of course, injuries and a small sample size can taint the 2010 numbers, so let’s go back over the past couple of seasons and run the same comparison.

In 2009, DeJesus posted a WAR of 3.3,  good for 15th among American League outfielders.  Four teams had two players in their outfield better than DeJesus under this criteria:  the Rays, Mariners, Red Sox, Yankees.  None had three.

In 2008, DeJesus’ WAR was lower (2.6), but his rank was actually higher (13th).     The Tigers and Mariners each had two outfielders better than David, but again, no team had three.   Explain to me again how DeJesus is just a fourth outfielder on a good team?

Now, none of the above speaks to the marketability of DeJesus come the trade deadline.   The option on his contract for 2011 carries a $6 million price tag, which makes David affordable, but not a bargain.   Will a team view DeJesus as enough of an upgrade to part with a legitimate prospect and a secondary pitching prospect (the current rumored asking price)?  That is a tough one to figure, but strange things happen in the front offices of teams three games out on July 15th with an outfielder on the disabled list or in a prolonged slump.

The second question, barring the lack of a summertime trade, becomes should the Royals pick up DeJesus’ option for 2011?  While that decision technically does not have to be made until this current season is over, it is one the Royals’ front office probably should have already decided.  

If six million dollars is too much for a below average team to spend on an average-plus outfielder (and it might be), then the asking price for DeJesus come July 31st will need to be adjusted.     The Royals are playing better under Ned Yost, but they are not going to run down the Twins.   A little respectability in August because Kansas City has hung onto David DeJesus is not worth a thing.

Maybe you don’t get the Giants’ number eight prospect (currently in A ball), plus a middle reliever that is major league ready, as I proposed last week, but you might as well get something if your intention is not to pick up the option.    Sometimes, other organization’s ‘non-prospects’ turn into Alberto Callaspo or Brian Bannister.  

If you believe David DeJesus is worth six million dollars, then you hold out for a good deal.   If you do not believe he is worth that in 2011, then you make a deal – even one that does not seem to bring value for value back.  The Royals need to make that decision right now and then work the phones for the next two months.

If there’s one thing us Royal fans like to do (besides watch old videocassettes of vintage games) it’s to keep tabs on departed players.  We can’t help it.  It’s part of Our Process… The guys who got away.

So you probably know how our two former catchers are doing.  In a word: Excellent.  Check out their numbers along with the new Royals catcher (for this year and next!) Jason Kendall:

Miguel Olivo – .284/.348/.549, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 23.5% SO%
John Buck – .279/.336/.595, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 11 2B

Jason Kendall – .286/.351/.336, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 7 2B

Photo courtesy Minda Haas/flickr

Ahem.

On base wise, Kendall has the edge.  That’s the only place he has the edge.  And I’m pretty certain he’s not going to own that edge for long.  Since his hot start ended he’s hit .250/.310/.300 in his last 87 plate appearances.

I think everyone was certain he wouldn’t match Buck and Olivo offensively.  Defensively… That’s where Kendall was supposed to help this team.  Let’s look and see how that’s working.

Four catchers have appeared behind the dish for more than 300 innings this year, and Kendall leads them all with 337.1 innings played (through Wednesday’s games.)  He leads all catchers with 16 caught stealing.  That’s great!  But he also leads the league with 44 steals against.  That’s bad!

Hang on a sec and let’s try to put this in the proper context.

Since Kendall is the dean of American League catchers when it comes to playing time, it’s unfair to look at his 44 stolen bases against and pass judgement.  Same can be said for his 16 caught stealings.  He has played so much (started every game but two and has appeared in 92.6% of all defensive innings for the Royals) that counting stats like this will be extremely skewed.

So let’s normalize things, so to speak.  By taking the total of stolen bases and caught stealings, multiplying them by nine and dividing that number by total innings played in the field we come up with what I call Stolen Base Attempts per 9 (SBA/9).  This doesn’t pass judgement on who is good (or bad) at throwing out base stealers.  It’s a simple way to measure how often baserunners try to take advantage of a particular catcher.  My theory is one of perception:  Base stealers will run on catchers they perceive as having a weak arm.  Thus, the catchers with the highest rate of SBA/9 are the catchers who many believe have the worst arms.

Here are the top five catchers this year in SBA/9.

Kendall – 1.6
Martinez – 1.4
Napoli – 1.3
B. Molina – 1.2
Doumit – 1.1

Quite simply, runners believe they can swipe a base with Kendall behind the plate.  The funny thing is, that’s not necessarily true.  Kendall has caught 27% of all would be base stealers, which is a decent rate.  It’s an example of where perception doesn’t match reality.  Kendall’s caught stealing rate is just a hair below the current league average of 28%.  (Honestly, I don’t know why more runners aren’t taking advantage of Doumit.  The guy is horrible at cutting down base stealers.  He’s caught only three of 35 runners.)

We know how horrible John Buck and Miguel Olivo were at stopping balls in the dirt last year.  The conventional wisdom in replacing the Scare Pair with Kendall was that our catchers would stop giving away random, extra bases.  While Kendall is better at blocking the ball in the dirt, my initial thought when looking at SBA/9 is that whatever gains the Royals make in preventing the extra base via the passed ball or wild pitch, they’re giving back (and then some) because the opposition is running against Kendall at seemingly every opportunity.

To see if this is in fact the case, let’s look at how often base runners advance with certain catchers behind the plate.  For that, we’ll look at past balls, wild pitches and stolen bases.  Of course, not all of this is on the catcher.  If Gil Meche is bouncing balls on the left side of the plate to a right handed hitter, there’s not a lot a catcher can do except go to the backstop and pick up the ball.  Still, we heard all winter about how great Kendall was behind the plate at controlling the running game, this is part of that.

Again, the formula is normalized to eliminate the handicap of too much playing time.  Here are the top five catchers in bases taken per nine

Martinez – 1.68
Napoli – 1.67
B. Molina – 1.53
Kendall – 1.50
Buck – 1.29

There’s Buck.  I knew if I ran enough defensive numbers (and focused on the negative) he’d end up on one of these lists.

Basically, Kendall is giving runners three free bases every two games.  Most of that damage does come from the massive number of attempted steals.  He’s allowed just 12 passed balls and wild pitches.  Just for fun, here are the leaders in the PBWP/9 category:

Napoli – 0.73
Buck – 0.60
Olivo – 0.53
B. Molina – 0.51
Marson – 0.51

That’s more like it.  Of course Buck and Olivo are making more trips to the backstop than anyone not named Mike Napoli.  Kendall owns a 0.32 PBWP/9 which ranks him seventh best in the league among catchers who have logged at least 220 innings behind the plate.  That’s solid, and exactly as advertised.

It’s the enormous amount of stolen bases that are hurting Kendall defensively.  For the amount of time he’s played, he’s doing a great job blocking the ball in the dirt.  However, there’s a perception that you can run on him.  And for the post part, that perception is true.

It’s difficult to look at what the former Royal catchers are making this year because the collective bargaining agreement limits the depth of a pay cut when a player remains with his old team.  For the Royals to have gotten one (or both) back at the rates they eventually signed for – Olivo signed for one year at $2 million (with a $2.5 million club option for 2011) while Buck signed for one year at $2 million – the team would have had to have signed them as free agents.

Instead, the Royals threw a total of $6 million at Kendall for two years.  They paid a higher rate for what amounts to less overall production offensively. And defensively as far as allowing the free base, it’s really too close to call.

Process Fail.

Late start for me this morning, early start for the Royals (11:30 Central), so I am just going top touch on some random topics to get us primed for the getaway game.  

  • The Royals left eleven runners on base last night and were an overall 5 for 20 with runners in scoring position.  That has been a common thread for much of the season, but surprisingly, Kansas City is tied for ninth in the AL in team OPS with runners in scoring position.   Ninth is not good, but it certainly is not as bad as I thought it would be.   For the record the American League average slash line with RISP is .254/.345/.392/.737.   The Royals’ line is .255/.328/.366/.694.
  • Currently, Kansas City is 7-11 at home and 9-14 on the road.   While the records do not reflect it, does is just seem like the Royals play a little better on the road?  While the jury is out on that and the statistical sample is small, Kansas City is average 4.3 runs per game on the road versus just 3.9 at home.    Over the course of 81 games, that comes out to 32 runs – how much would Zack Greinke give for 32 more runs this year?
  • While ignoring some problems I have with lineups, pitcher usage and pinch hitting, Ned Yost is off to a nice 4-2 start as manager of the Royals.   So far, Yost is a refreshing change from Trey Hillman if for no other reason than he does not unload a theosaurus of crap on us each time he opens his mouth.   Be wary, however, Buddy Bell also started off 4-2 as manager and Hillman jumped out to a 6-2 start.

 

The Omaha Royals had an off-day on Wednesday, so Alex Gordon’s line remained at .385/.536/.750/1.286.  I might have managed that type of line…once…in slo-pitch….over 35 league…when I was really just 32.    Anyway, Gordon has been raking and, at least by the organization’s reports, playing a pretty solid left-field.    However, I was wondering what type of pitching Gordon has encountered along the way, so here is a quick look at the opposing starting pitchers:

  • Guillermo Moscoco – 2.95 ERA in AAA this year.  Pitched half a season at this level in 2009, plus logged 14 passable major league innings, too.
  • Michael Kirkman – 2.68 ERA in AAA, his first at this level and sixth season overall in the Rangers’ system.
  • Jorge Sosa – 3.76 ERA this season in AAA.    Sosa has 736 big league innings under his belt and has fashinoned a 4.72 ERA during that time.
  • Brad Stone – Has bounced between AA and AAA the last two seasons.   Basically pretty dominant at AA and below, but has a career 4.70 ERA at the AAA level.
  • Bryan Augenstein – Last year, in nine AA starts, Augenstein fashioned a 0.99 ERA.   That got him promoted to AAA, where he allowed a 5.50 ERA in eight games.  This season, similar numbers  – 5.76 ERA and .290 opponent batting average.
  • Billy Buckner – The formal Royals prospect has a fairly unimpressive 130 major league innings (5.66 ERA), but has been decent in 367 AAA innings.
  • Kevin Mulvey – Has a 4.38 ERA this year and was part of the Johan Santana trade.   He’s been blasted in 27 major league innings scattered over the past four years, but owns a career minor league ERA of 3.61.
  • Matt Torra – Currently sports a 2.83 ERA in AAA after posting a solid 3.75 mark in 180 innings in AA last year. 
  • Brad Mills – Got two starts with Toronto last season and did not fare well.   Posted a combined 1.95 ERA across three levels in 2008 (147 innings) and has a 3.93 ERA over the past season and a quarter at AAA.
  • Reidier Gonzalez – Solid numbers in his first five years in the Blue Jay system, but has allowed 36 runs in 41 innings this year in AAA.
  • Lance Broadway – Has logged 55 innings in the majors with a plus five ERA.   He has 448 AAA innings, almost all of them below average.
  • Mark Rzepcynski – Was on a rehab start gone bad (11 hits, 9 runs in 2.1 innings) when the O-Royals faced him.   Last year, posted a 3.67 ERA in 11 starts for Toronto and has owned every minor league level in his quick rise to the majors.

Obviously, Gordon has faced a slew of relievers in his time in Omaha as well, but the above list of starters gives you something of an idea of who Alex is beating up on right now.    You have some journeyman AAA types, some great young arms and  a couple of guys who have seen their share of big league action.   

It is worth noting that twelve of the Gordon’s fourteen games have been played against pitching staffs that rank eleventh or below in ERA in the Pacific Coast League.   In addition, Omaha opens a home stand against Salt Lake (13th in ERA), Colorado Springs (15th) and Round Rock (10th), so we may not see Alex taking on the top tier of AAA pitching for a while yet.    

As for now, what’s better than day baseball in Cleveland?

For those of you keeping track (and who isn’t?) that was the fourth time this season the bullpen has coughed up a lead in a Zack Greinke start.  Four times in nine starts.  Unreal.  And the Royals are now 2-7 in Greinke’s starts in 2010.

On Tuesday, it was Blake Wood’s turn to gack the lead.  Wood’s been with the team for what, a week?  He earned his stripes tonight, blowing Greinke’s game.  You aren’t a full fledged member of the Royals bullpen until you contribute to the destruction of a Greinke quality start.

So for that matter, Bryan Bullington got his membership papers as well.

Brutal.

Thoughts… Some random… Some not… All with a point…

If you’re Zack Greinke, are you pissed when the new manager rolls out a lineup that excludes Mike Aviles?

There are three hitters who have carried the Royals to their six wins this month.  Three.

Billy Butler – .367/.418/.517
Mike Aviles – .377/.377/.509
Alberto Callaspo – .303/.313/.485

Let’s identify some tangible ways these three have effected the Royals this month.

May 1 – Callaspo hits a double in the top of the 11th, scoring two.  Royals beat the Rays 4-2.
May 4 – Aviles collects three hits, including a home run.  Butler and Callaspo chip in with two hits each.  Royals beat White Sox 7-2.
May 13 – Callaspo hits a three-run home run to tie the game and Butler adds a run scoring double in the two run seventh to get Greinke his first win of the year.  Royals beat the Indians 6-4.
May 14 – The stars of this game were actually Yuniesky Betancourt and Mitch Maier.
May 16 – Aviles and Butler each reach base in rallies in the fourth and fifth innings as the Royals erase a 2-0 deficit to beat the White Sox 5-2.
May 17 – Butler singles to drive in the first run of the game, then doubles home an insurance run in the seventh.  The Royals need it as they edge the Orioles 4-3.

Key roles in five of the six wins.  It’s no surprise to us… We’ve seen these guys play.  They are clearly the three best hitters the Royals have.

So why wouldn’t you play them in games where your best pitcher is starting?

And the only time Jason Kendall should ever hit second is if they start cloning humans and we end up with eight Betancourts by mistake.

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Speaking of Greinke, his strikeouts are down this year.  He was whiffing 9.5 batters per nine innings last year and is down to 7.5 per nine this season.  We’re a quarter of the way through his season, so for him to be down two strikeouts a game qualifies as big news.

Greinke’s five most common plate appearance outcomes, through his first eight starts in 2009:

Strikeout – 28.6%
Fly Out – 17.2%
Ground Out – 16.7%
Single – 11.9%
Double – 5.3%

Zack Greinke’s five most common plate appearance outcomes, through his first eight starts in 2009:

Strikeout – 19.6%
Fly Out – 19.6%
Single – 16.4%
Groundout – 15.9%
Walk – 4.6%

So what’s the difference?  Hitters are really laying off his slider.  We all know about Greinke’s devistating slider – how it breaks down and away, out of the zone.  It’s a great strikeout pitch, because it can rarely be touched.  That was the case last year, when the opposition offered at 54% of all sliders Greinke threw and missed on 25% of those swings.

This year, hitters aren’t taking as many swings at his slider, moving the bat only 44% of the time when Greinke throws that pitch.  And since he’s getting a miss on only 12% of those swings, I’m guessing most hitters have an idea when that slider is going to fall out of the zone.

Greinke struck out six tonight.  His season high for strikeouts in a game this year is eight, which he’s reached twice.  Last year at this time, he had struck out eight or more in a game six times.

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Ned Yost has shown a couple of things that I liked since he became manager.  But it was almost as if the Ghost of Trey Hillman was piloting the ship on Tuesday.  First, as noted above, the lineup was destined for failure.

Second, the “by the numbers” use of the bullpen meant Wood was the eighth inning guy based on his past week of strong work.  Really, he’s been great since his call-up.  But this was his third day of work in a row and he’s now appeared in five of the seven games since he arrived.  That seems a little excessive.  And a little SABR Trey-esque.  SABR Ned?

Third, the bullheaded resistance to using your best pitcher in a tie ballgame.  Honestly, when you’re on the road and the game is tied in the late innings, forget about the freaking save opportunity.  Think about keeping your team in the game.  Please.

Fourth, the stubborn refusal to use the bench.  Basically, I never, ever want to see Chris Getz or Yuniesky Betancourt with a bat in their hands in the late innings of a tie game.  Please.  Yost should have pinch hit Mike Aviles for Betancourt with one out and if he had reached, he could have brought up Brayan Pena.  Then defensively, he could have left Aviles in at short and bought Wee Willie Bloomquist in to play second.

How in the hell can you go down in a one run game to the worst team in the AL and not use your hottest hitter?  Frustrating.

The four items I outlined above were all hallmarks of Hillman’s failed tenure.

I know I wrote an article last week, knocking Yost as being more of the same.  I was hoping he would prove me wrong.  (Although, let’s be honest… Most managers are going to manage a ballgame exactly the same way.  There’s little room for free thinkers or innovators in dugouts across the country.  I was hoping he would do more things like pull Gil Meche when he was clearly out of gas.  That was nice.  More, please.)

There’s still time, but Yost is going to have to do some heavy lifting to bring me on board.

Dear Ned Yost,

Congratulations on becoming the manager of the Kansas City Royals.  I know you likely feel pretty happy to be getting a second chance at managing a big league ball club.  I am still not sure what to make of the end of your tenure in Milwaukee.  On the surface it seems like you may have been a sacrificial lamb, but I wasn’t close enough to the situation to know.  Regardless, you have a very coveted position, even though the club you’ve inherited isn’t particularly good.

You are in a very unique and interesting situation.  You will be the manager for a good portion of the 2010 season, which is relatively rare for an “interim” manager.  So, my guess is you have a decent chance of becoming more than the interim if you do a good job for the remainder of the season.  I know that Dayton Moore is a loyal guy and he very well could tap you as the full time manager for 2011 and beyond.

However, beyond Dayton Moore you will be evaluated by the extremely dedicated fans of the Royals and the extremely hard-working and talented media.  I know that in many ways, a manager is hired merely to be fired but nobody wants that to be the case.  Both fans and media usually want the newest manager to become the next Bobby Cox or Whitey Herzog.

You’ve been given a very extraordinary set of circumstances to manage.  First, your team is already in last place and at this point, very little is expected of them.  Also, you are not officially the full-time manager of the team but you have a lot of games to manage this season.  So, I thought I would send you some advice in how to take the best advantage of the situation and hopefully endear yourself to the fans, the media and maybe even Dayton Moore, because let’s not kid ourselves.  Even though this team isn’t very good, you want to become the full time manager.

First, you HAVE to play the young guys and you need to play them a lot.  That means Aviles, Ka’aahue, Pena, Maier and Getz.  Trey lost a lot of fans when he continued to play veterans day after day after day when they weren’t performing, the team wasn’t winning and there were younger options who could have made a difference.  We both know that this team isn’t built to win today and guys like Ankiel, Guillen, Podsednik and Betancourt are not a part of this franchises future.  I understand if Dayton is forcing you to play those old guys in hopes that he can swing a trade, but you still manage the club day to day and you need to run the lineup out that is best for the franchise.

I’ve read that one of the things you tend to do is run a guy out there for a long period of time, even if he isn’t performing.  You know what, I get that.  It’s a statistical thing, we call it sample size.  You need to have a guy get enough innings pitched and enough at bats to really know if he can hack it.  We are totally cool, with that…as long as it is with young guys.  If you put Kila out there and he struggles for a month, but you keep running him out there for another month. I can promise you that you won’t find many people who will be angry with that.  Heck, I will post your praises at this very site.

Protect your pitchers.   You have a bullpen full of guys, so use them.  Gil Meche does not need to be throwing 130 pitches this season.  If this were a playoff run and getting another good inning out of him was the best move in a game, then go for it.  But what is one inning in this season, for this team?  Protect the pitchers for 2011 and beyond.  Heck, maybe you will be the manger then and you might need Gil.

Experiment.  Try things you’ve always wanted to try.  Again this is a lost season, so you don’t really lose anything by trying out things to see how they work.  Oh, and if you do this…admit it.  Tell the media that you are trying something different.  Say you want to change the game and this might be something that works.  What the hell, right?  I know we talked earlier about you becoming the full time manager later but it may never happen.  But I can tell you that if you try something different and it works, your chances of continuing in the job are better than being a clone of every other manager out there.

Endear yourself to the statistics community.  Try things they’ve suggested and back up your actions with numbers.  Trust me, this will be very good for your public image.  So how about some examples?  Don’t just use your best relief pitcher as a closer.  It’s a dumb role, especially for this team.  Bring him in when the game is on the line, if it works great.  But sometimes it won’t. You need to stick with it though.  In the end, I think it makes your ballclub better.  Bunt only in situations where it can actually help your team (not the 1st inning).

Don’t throw your players under the bus.  We know when things are the fault of players, we aren’t stupid.  But you don’t need to say that they are at fault.  The role of any good superior is to take the blame when one of your employees does a bad job.  Then you bring him in and get him to change, or try someone different.  Nothing good comes from selling ones underlings up the river.

Have  a personality.  We don’t have enough personalities in baseball.  Yeah, we care when you make decisions we don’t agree with.  Yes we get upset when the team loses, and yes we probably blame it on you even though it mostly isn’t your fault.  But it is much harder to want to get rid of guys who have a good personality.  I am pretty sure that Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella have helped themselves out tremendously by having personalities.  I am not saying to be someone who you are not, but let the media and fans know who you are.  They will appreciate it and probably more likely be on your side.

Get kicked out of games.  Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t your style.  But you have to get kicked out of games.  Maybe it is a silly thing, but trust me.  Fans will say you have fire and really care if you get kicked out.   Even if you DO have fire and you DO care, but don’t like getting kicked out.  It does’nt matter.  Again, it’s silly.  But you have to do it.

Try and be cordial with the media.  They are just trying to do their job.  They are the guys who are there to ask the questions the fans have, and sometimes fans have stupid questions.  I can’t imagine how annoying it is to have a bunch of writers question your moves after a frustrating loss.  I imagine, that I wouldn’t be very good at that part of the job myself, but treat those guys with respect.  The fans will appreciate it, and the media will almost certainly help you out more as well.

I honestly hope that you will be a great Royals manager and can hold that job for the next 10 years or more.  We don’t like to have failed manager after failed manager at the helm of the team.

Sincerely,

Nick Scott

If you have ever gotten a new boss or been the new boss, you know that the first few days the new one always seems great.   Well, either that, or you resign immediately because you want to punch the new boss in the face.   Given that I have not heard anything about anyone wanting to physically accost new Royals’ skipper Ned Yost, I think it’s safe to assume he is officially in the honeymoon period of his job.

That, of course, has been helped in no small part by the fact that Yost won two of three in his first series at the helm –    Even if it was against the White Sox and even if it was accomplished basically using Trey Hillman’s lineup.    Still, you have to like what we have seen and, more particularly, heard just three short days into the Yost era.

  • On Friday night, Gil Meche had pitched an effective, if not efficient, six innings and signalled to Yost that he wanted to pitch one more inning.   Now, let me interject that I want pitchers on my team that don’t want to come out of games – too many guys these days are content to throw five or six innings and pack it in.   The key, of course, is having a manager who knows when to say when.     Yost did so by simply shaking his head ‘no’.
  • On Saturday, Yost left Luke Hochevar in as he struggled (and eventually lost the game) in the seventh inning.  Instead of a Hillman-esque cover-your-ass-for-godssake-don’t-tell-the-media-the-real-story sort of explanation, Yost simply announced that he had to manage both for the current situation AND the future.  Basically, if Luke Hochevar is going to develop into a real bonafide major league starter (in Ned’s words: a number two or three type starter), he needs to learn how to get out of jams without looking to the dugout for help.   It might have cost the Royals the game on Saturday, but it might pay off in the long run.
  • On Sunday, the Royals optioned Kila Kaaihue back to Omaha.   Now, the recall of Bryan Bullington to essentially take Robinson Tejeda’s bullpen spot due to Tejeda’s injury and the Royals certaintythat he does not need to be put on the disabled list is a whole other store, but what Yost said about Kila is telling.   Among other things, Yost indicated that it was ‘killing him’ to see Kaaihue sitting on the bench and also that Kila was definitely going to a part of the club’s future.   We didn’t have to hear about how Kila ‘needed more seasoning’ or ‘how they just wanted to give him a taste of the majors’.  Instead, we got the truth (or as much as can be reasonably told):  Kila was not going to play and it was far better to get him at-bats in Omaha than have him wear a sweatshirt in Kansas City.
  • Without question, the move most popular amongst the Royal fandom was the dismissal of Dave Owen as third base coach even before Yost managed a game.  No fanfare, no niceties, no ‘let me have a look with my own eyes’.   Simply, get out, you are not good at your job.

Of course, all that seems fresh and good and right with the world when one has not had a chance to see any of Ned Yost’s failings.  A month from now, on the heels of an eight game losing streak, we might well be lamenting Yost’s stubborn aversion to taking Hochevar out of a game or yanking Meche too early or not bunting (which Ned dislikes, by the way).

Come July, if the Royals have not traded Guillen and Kaaihue is still rotting in Omaha, we will no longer believe the Kila is ‘a big part of the future’ talk.   If we have actually forgotten what Brayan Pena looks like because Jason Kendall has caught 31 straight games and we are still hearing about how we all don’t understand just how good Yuniesky Betancourt really is in the field, than all the warm fuzzy Ned Yost feelings many of us have now will be long gone.

Without question, it is good to be the new guy, but the ‘new’ only lasts so long and in today’s modern world, it is a fairly short period of time.   We will get a better look into Ned Yost tonight in Baltimore as he has hinted at some lineup changes and with Kyle Davies on the moung, we will also get another look at his bullpen management style.   It is certainly possible what we see, we may not like.

For now, however, the first impression of Ned Yost is a good one.

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