Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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.

So Ned Yost is the new man on the hot seat. Honestly, I’m surprised Dayton Moore pulled the trigger this early in the season.  I fell firmly into the camp that Moore was convinced Hillman was his guy and he would give him the full three years.

Surprised, but happy.  The change simply had to be made.

A couple of thoughts:

— There are rumblings this firing came from above.  I suppose that’s possible.  The Glass family has been known to meddle from time to time.  However, if this is true and this was a Glass family hit, this is the first time since GMDM assumed his role that they have gotten involved in the day to day operations.

One reason GMDM took this job was because he had assurances that he could run the team his way.  What’s going through his mind if he was ordered to fire Hillman, less than 48 hours after declaring he was, “The right man for the job.”

If this is true, this can’t be a good sign for GMDM.  As a fan, I hope this was entirely Moore’s call because if the Glass family becomes involved in the day to day operations, this is going to get much worse before it will ever get better.

Whatever happened, GMDM was visibly upset… Taking a few moments to compose himself at the start of the press conference.  That was kind of bizarre.  You can listen to his comments here:


— Trey Hillman is an odd guy… The unicycle, the long walks alone in the outfield, However, there’s no denying he handled his firing with class.  Told the night before there was basically no way he could survive, he went out and managed (a win!) and faced the music following the game.

His press conference was strange – as you would expect.  He opened by discussing the game and then addressed his firing.  It was part Academy Award acceptance speech (he thanked the grounds crew) and part exercise in humility.

I’m glad he didn’t use the opportunity to drive the team bus over Billy Butler one more time.

I kid… It was a surreal, yet classy final exit.  Listen here:


— How about Ned Yost?  What do we know about the new manager of the Royals apart from the press release details?

Yost is remembered for the 2007 Brewers.  And not too fondly in Milwaukee.

That team charged to an eight game lead in late June, only to cough it all up with a dreadful July.  By August 1, they were tied with Cubs for first.  The two teams traded spots in the division for most of August and into September.  However, by the middle of the month, the Cubs had put some space between themselves and the Brewers.

With the Brewers fighting for their post season lives, trailing the Cubs by three games with seven left to play, the St. Louis Cardinals rolled into Milwaukee.  That’s when all hell broke loose.  Yost, who had been ejected in the Brewers game the Sunday prior and then blamed the umpires for his teams loss, was tossed while arguing a call at the plate involving current Royal Rick Ankiel.  The next evening, Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa thought the Brewers were throwing at Albert Pujols and Yost and LaRussa yelled at each other from their respective dugouts.

Since this was LaRussa, and LaRussa is a jerk, he needed retribution.  So he called on current Royal Brad Thompson to throw at Prince Fielder the following night.  Warnings were issued, but Yost wasn’t happy and he wasn’t finished.  He decided to get his pound of flesh and had Seth McClung plunk Pujols in the back later in the game.

This is where you have to question Yost’s thought process.  He’s going to engage in a beanball war? His team had just taken the first two games of the series and was just two games back of the Cubs.  The score was 3-2 in favor of the Cardinals, so while the Brewers were losing, they were still very much part of the game.  Of course, after McClung hit Pujols (and was ejected – along with Yost.  His third ejection in four games.) the bullpen couldn’t work around the base runner.  The Cardinals broke the game open with four runs. Had the Brewers and Yost controlled their emotions, they could have pulled to within a game of the Cubs, who lost that night.

The Brewers would go on to drop three in a row and eliminate themselves from contention.

Why in the world would Yost fall to LaRussa’s level?  And to the point where it possibly cost them games they absolutely had to win?  It was a foolish move.

There were plenty of fans who wanted Yost out following the collapse of ’07.  Not only did the Brewers bring him back, they exercised his option for 2009.

In 2008, the Brewers were once again in contention – this time for the Wild Card.  And once again, they were fading.

They entered September with a six and a half game lead, but after winning only three of 14 games – including a four game sweep at the hands of the Phillies who pulled even with Milwaukee in the wild card race, Yost got the axe.  It was an unbelievable move… No one could recall a team in a pennant race firing their manager with two weeks left in the season.

That the Brewers felt this firing was necessary now scares the hell out of me.  Basically, they thought he was choking away another post season.  Wow.

Yost frequently came under fire in Milwaukee for the way he used his bullpen.  Great.  Early in his 2007 season, he came up with a bullpen rotation that was initially successful.  That success faded in the second half as he leaned on his relief corps too heavily and they ultimately became ineffective.  Once the relievers started breaking down, Yost couldn’t come up with a way to patch together a successful bullpen and stuck to his plan for far too long.  Despite evidence that the bullpen was broken, Yost did little to shake up his reliever rotation.  This was a key reason the Brewers sputtered down the stretch.

See if this sounds familiar.  From 2008:

Ned Yost had used reliever Guillermo Mota 15 times this season in the eighth inning. So, when that frame rolled around Friday night with the Brewers holding a three-run lead, Yost made the call for Mota once again.

In the process, he removed the hottest pitcher in his bullpen, Carlos Villanueva, who cruised through a 10-pitch seventh inning with two strikeouts. The results were nothing short of disastrous.

I swear, change the names and you could be talking about the Royals.  This kind of reflexive bullpen management screams SABR Trey. (I had to drop that in there one final time.)

I don’t think Yost is the right guy for this job.  While I like the fact he comes with major league managerial experience, it’s not like he’s won.  Yost inherited a team with veterans (Royce Clayton, Eric Young) and young players who never fulfilled expectations (Richie Sexson, Geoff Jenkins) with a rotation that had only one quality arm in Ben Sheets.  Sound familiar?  He didn’t approach .500 until his farm system started reaping the benefits of some quality drafts with Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.

But when he was twice on the verge of winning, his teams literally melted down.

However, when you are looking for a manager in the middle of May, there’s not a ton of available candidates.  And make no mistake.  Yost was hired back in January for this very reason.  He was GMDM’s safety.

While I’m not thrilled with this hire, this is more than the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs.  Hillman’s time played out.  He was finished.  Through a series of increasingly bizarre moves, he lost the fans and I’m certain he lost the players.  He had to go.

It’s possible Yost will have learned from his mistakes in Milwaukee and will be an improved manager. Time will tell.

Right now, this just feels kind of like a lateral move.  He’s going to have trouble with the bullpen, he’ll struggle to find time for guys like Kila and he’ll move his players around with no rhyme or reason.

Still, it was a move that had to be made.

Episode #018 – Nick talks about the Royals firing Trey Hillman, what else is there to talk about?  He discusses Ned Yost and what this means for Dayton Moore.  All that plus a review of the Indians series and a preview of the White Sox Series.


Music featured in this episode:

The Cure – Gone!

Hall & Oates – She’s Gone

The Cars – Since You’re Gone

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Trey Hillman is out.

Ned Yost is in.

Dayton Moore is having a difficult time getting through his press conference.  “There comes a point in time when you need to make changes.”


Apparently, Hillman was approached following the game on Wednesday and told his days were numbered.  In between rain delays, it felt to me that the Royals were lifeless… Moreso than usual.  I wondered if the team had quit on Hillman.  Despite Moore’s assertions that Hillman is a “great leader,” you have to wonder… This is a veteran team (why this is the case, I have no idea) and when the losses pile up, the older players start to question the direction of the team.  Moore was asked if the Texas series was the tipping point.  I think it was the first two Cleveland games.  This team laid down.

The one reason Hillman wasn’t axed after Wednesday’s game was because Moore didn’t have a replacement lined up.  He certainly had a pair of candidates in ex-managers Ned Yost and John Gibbons.  Yost is an obvious choice, given his pedigree, both as a former member of Bobby Cox’s staff and as a manager who has led a team to the post season.  Moore said he didn’t approach Yost until today about possibly taking over the team.

Once Yost was onboard, GMDM pulled the trigger.

From the release:

KANSAS CITY, MO (May 13, 2010) – The Kansas City Royals today dismissed Trey Hillman from his role as manager and he will be replaced immediately by Ned Yost, as announced by Dayton Moore, Royals Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager following Thursday’s game with Cleveland.
Hillman, 47, compiled a 151-207 record in two-plus seasons at the helm.  Kansas City was his first Major League managerial assignment after spending five seasons (2003-2007) with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan’s Pacific League, highlighted by three post-season appearances.
Yost, 55, joined the Royals as a Special Advisor to Baseball Operations on January, 13, 2010.  He was manager of the Milwaukee Brewers from 2003-08, compiling a 457-502 record (.477 winning pct.) before being relieved of his duties on September 15, 2008.  Yost had a combined 166-146 ledger his last two seasons at the helm in Milwaukee.
The Marietta, GA, resident served Atlanta’s Bobby Cox as bullpen coach from 1991-98 and as the third base coach from 1999-2002 before being named manager in Milwaukee. During his stint with the Brewers, Yost was part of Tony LaRussa’s National League coaching staff for the 2005 All-Star Game in Detroit.  He caught for parts of six seasons in the Majors from 1980-85 with Milwaukee, Texas and Montreal.

More later…

I struggled with a topic today or, to be more exact, with picking a topic for today.

We could have discussed Dayton Moore’s announcement that he was hired ‘to rebuild the farm system’.   Sure, that is true, but my guess is David Glass was probably delighted to find out the extra $25 million per year in payroll he has paid the past two years was simply to mark time in the majors.  Basically, Moore’s words sound a lot like a struggling college coach who brings up his team’s excellent graduation rate as his team flounders along at 3-11.

We could have reviewed last night’s loss.  You know, the one where the Royals went one for ten with runners in scoring position and where we saw Yuniesky Betancourt bat with two on in the eighth with Kila Kaaihue on the bench.

I even thought of going back two years to the trades of Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez and the nasty domino effect that has resulted from those.  How different would this team look right now had those trades not taken place?   That’s actually kind of a fun exercise, but we’ll save it for another time.

No, today, let’s look forward.   While it may not be comforting to diehard fans, at least it gives us something different to think about.

We are currently less than a month away from the amateur draft, where the Royals sit with the 4th overall pick.   Bryce Harper is THE name in this draft and likely will not fall past the Nationals at number one.   Just as well in my opinion.   If Harper happened to slip to the Royals, they would basically have to break the bank to sign him.   While the investment might well pay off, I would much prefer to have Harper gone and see the Royals make a good pick at number four (with the usual $5-$6 million signing bonus) and then have money to overpay in the second, third and fourth rounds on premium talents that slip due to signability issues.

That said, what are the likely options for the Royals at number four?   In no particular order, let’s throw out some names:

  • Yasmani Grandal – This 6’2″, 210 pound switch-hitting catcher is in his third year at the University of Miami.   The Royals inquired on him when he came out of high school, but decided his bonus demand was a tad high, so the organization certainly is familiar with Grandal.   He hits with power and is an above average defender with a big arm.  If the Royals want to get Wil Myers’ bat to the majors quickly, they could draft Grandal to catch and move Myers to the outfield.
  • Manny Machado – Royals’ fans may not be in love with drafting another high school bat, but this shortstop out of Miami might be good enough to change their minds.    Manny is 6’2″ and 180 pounds and hits with natural power:  despite having done little to no weight training.  A smooth defender who can almost certainly stick at shortstop, you don’t have to be overly optimistic to project Machado into a Hanley Ramirez/Miguel Tejeda type shortstop down the road.
  • Jameson Tallion – A big righthander (6’7″ 230 lbs) out of The Woodlands High School in Texas, Tallion recently struck out 19 of 21 batters on his way to a seven inning no-hitter.   It is problematical that Tallion will even be available at number four, but he is the best high school arm in this draft.
  • Drew Pomeranz – A lefty out of Ole Miss, Pomeranz combines a mid-90’s fastball with a knuckle curve and occasional change to pile up strikeouts.   He might not be as polished as you might want from a college pitcher and hence could take a little longer to get to the majors than an Aaron Crow type player.
  • A.J. Cole – Another good high school arm with the classic ‘projectable frame’, Cole features a changeup already and a live fastball is the low to mid 90’s.    Although A.J. is 6’5″ tall, he weighs in at just 190 pounds and hence has scouts believing there is room to grow.
  • Dylan Covey – Yes, another right handed high school pitcher.   This one features a 95 mph fastball and good slider, plus a curve and change.   At 6’2″, 200 pounds, Dylan does not sport the ‘projectable frame’.  However, he exhibits good, clean mechanics and might well be the pick at number four.

There are some others that could sneak up here, too, and we may detail those if things change as we get nearer to draft day, but I wanted to move onto a couple of names to watch for in the second round.   Both of these players did not sign last year and are eligible to be drafted again in 2010.   There is a very good possibility that both will be gone by the time the Royals second pick comes around, but if not, I would be all for nabbing either one.

  • LeVon Washington – The speedy outfielder was picked number 30 overall by the Rays last year, but did not sign.  He is currently playing at Chipola Junior College and has run down several fly balls in the gap that his JC coach has simply never seen anyone get to before.   Basically, anyone Tampa Bay liked enough at 30th is good enough for the Royals this year.
  • James Paxton – The lefty pitched for Kentucky in 2009 and was the Blue Jays supplemental first round pick last year.  After not signing, he was set to go back to Kentucky, but there were eligibility concerns and Paxton is going to throw with the Grand Prairie Air Hogs until the draft this year.    The Air Hogs are in the same league as the Fort Worth Cats – the past home of Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow.   If the Royals go with a position player in round one, Paxton might be a nice complement with their second pick.

What direction the Royals take with the 2010 Draft remains to be seen and there is a lot of amateur baseball to be played between now and June, so things will change.     I am torn between Grandal and Machado myself, with a hope that Washington or Paxton is still around in round two (faint hope as it is).   If the Royals believe that Grandal can move quickly through the minors, he might make the most sense as it would allow the organization to slide Wil Myers to a different position and vault upwards towards the majors.

While the above capsules are not overly detailed, they give you a rough idea of some possibilities….and something different to think about than the present situation of the Kansas City Royals.

On Tuesday, we were treated to the folly of a Trey Hillman meltdown.  He came out to argue a successful double steal where there was a play on Grady Sizemore at third.  Jason Kendall’s throw beat Sizemore, but it was on the wrong side of the bag and Alberto Callaspo couldn’t get the tag down in time.  This was all obvious to everyone in the stadium but Hillman.  However, being a manager is often about image, and Hillman’s has taken a pounding the last week or so, so he felt the need to debate the call with the third base umpire.  Watching SABR Trey leave the dugout, the outcome of this confrontation was obvious even before it started – Hillman was there to show some fire (and grit, I suppose) and get kicked out.  It was his time to send a message.

The zaniness extended to the ninth when the Royals cleared their bench.  After using nine pinch hitters in their first 32 games, the Royals sent three to the plate in the bottom of the ninth:  Brayan Pena, Wee Willie Bloomquist and Chris Getz.  Seriously? No Kila Ka’aihue?

Just the latest in a bizarre week for SABR Trey.

It was a few days ago, but I’m still steaming over the Hillman managerial tour de force in Arlington last weekend.   I’m going to recap these for posterity.

The Fine
So Hillman saw fit to fine his shortstop and undisclosed sum because of the way he failed to catch a pop-up.  Really?  That seems… Old fashioned.  Then again, we are dealing with a manager who called a meeting at home plate after a spring training game to make a point.  Whatever point he was trying to make was lost because he was gathering his major league team together like they were high schoolers.

If you want to punish a player, why wouldn’t you take away his playing time.  Put him on the bench for a few games (or in Betancourt’s case, forever would be fine) because fining a millionaire $500 dollars is like any one of us losing a quarter in the cushions of our couch.

The Kila Monster
Who knew having Ka’aihue on the roster would create this kind of a problem.  Here’s the deal:  On Saturday, Hillman decided the new guy would bat cleanup and play first with Butler at DH.

Now the issue:  You knew if the game was close, that Hillman would remove Ka’aihue for a pinch hitter.  By playing him at first (with Butler as the DH) this severely limited his options, should he decide to remove Ka’aihue.

Which is exactly what happened.

Guillen pinch hits for the Kila Monster and then the circus music begins… Maier moves from center to first and now Guillen has to stay in the game at right field.  All this could have been avoided had Hillman simply filled out the lineup card with Kila at DH.

I harp all the time about Hillman not putting his players in a position to succeed.  He did it to himself on Saturday.

Gil Meche
I’ve documented the mishandling of Meche from the beginning… The complete game where he threw against the Diamondbacks last June 16 wasn’t the real killer.  It was how Meche was handled after he developed the subsequent dead arm that has drawn my focus.

Now, there’s another issue.  Who is calling the shots?

In that game last June, Hillman asked Meche how he was doing.  Meche answered that he wanted to finish the game and Hillman let him – despite the elevated pitch count.  Now, through all the arm troubles and control issues that have transpired since that afternoon almost a year ago, a similar scenario played out in Texas on Saturday.  Meche had thrown 103 pitches and walked five batters.  His control wasn’t there, but he gutted his way through seven.  His day should have been finished.  Somehow, he got back out on the mound.  He walked the first batter.  Then, he walked the second batter.  How much more do you need to see?  Hillman made a visit, asked how he felt.  Meche said he was fine and Hillman’s response? “Quit walking guys.” Unreal.

If Hillman is in charge, he needs to man up and get his starter.  I don’t care about Meche being a veteran or whatever kind of unwritten B.S. we’re following.  Removing him from the game is the right thing to do for Meche and for the team.  It was a 2-2 game and his starter was gassed.  Everyone watching knew it.  I’m pretty sure Meche knew it, but was too stubborn.  I’m pretty sure Hillman knew it, but he didn’t have the stones to stand up to the guy.

In the end, Meche threw 128 pitches.  That’s the most in the majors this year.  For a guy less than a year removed from arm troubles.  And the Royals lost.

The missed appeal
This one isn’t as dramatic as two outfielders jogging off the field while the third out lands between them.  It’s actually much worse.

Here’s the situation, just in case you haven’t heard:  Bottom of the third with runners on first and third and one out.  Vladi Guerrero up and he lifts a fly to short left.  Podsednik has a play at the plate, but the throw is offline and Kendall can’t catch it.  On the play, Josh Hamilton (who was on first) goes halfway, but when the throw comes home, brain cramps and moves up to second instead of back to first.  He didn’t tag up.

The attentive baseball team would make an appeal at first.  The Royals are fundamentally unsound and it turns out, they fall asleep during games.  It cost the Royals two runs.

After the game, Hillman took the opportunity to point the finger at his first baseman. It’s amazing we can see Butler’s number on his back given the frequency his manager and GM throw him under the bus.

You would hope your first baseman would catch that.”

Actually, I agree with this.  It was Butler’s fault.  To his credit, he stepped up following the game.

“That’s my priority,” Butler said. “You can put that one on me.

Butler is a bigger man than his manager.  The manager who is about protecting his players would step in front and assume responsibility.  Besides, teams usually assign someone on the bench to watch for things like this where you can basically steal an out.  (Although you have to value outs on defense and there’s plenty of evidence that the Royals don’t.)  Yes, Butler should have noticed this, but it just points to further fundamental breakdowns.

And why couldn’t Hillman have spoken in general terms?  Something like, “We have 25 guys not including our coaching staff. You would hope someone would catch that.”

Third base coach
Dave Owen is a FOT (Friend of Trey) which is the only reason he’s employed by this team.  His antics on Thursday where he played stop and go with Mike Aviles is simply a microcosm of how ill-suited he is at his job.

According to Bill James, the Royals are already at -23 on base running gain.  Dave Owen’s Kill Count stands at 13 on the year.  And rising.

This missteps were just a single weekend of folly.  To document all the boneheaded moves from SABR Trey over the last two years would require so much bandwidth, it could shut down the internet.

Remember when the Royals felt the need to act quickly on Hillman because the Yankees were in the market for a manager?  God, what I wouldn’t give to turn back time to see how that would have worked.

This brings the following question: Is Hillman coming to the end of his time in KC?  Hillman has had two years and change to show he understands the game and how to manage.  Dayton Moore has had two years and change to assess his hire.  You tell me.

Unfortunately, I’m of the school that subscribes to the theory that Moore is loyal to his guys.  Hillman is Moore’s hire.  Plus, Moore is big on continuity.  To fire the manager midseason would be disruptive to the team and to The Process.  Therefore, Hillman finishes his contract.

Last weekend was a disaster, but we’ve seen this kind of stuff before.  Eventually, it will all add up and GMDM will be forced to act.  Although I have a feeling it will take until at least September before we have the kind of action we’re looking for in this situation.

If you are even mildly a fan of baseball outside of the Royals sphere, then you are aware that Dallas “Get Off My Mound” Braden threw a perfect game the other day.  The story was made more dramatic with the fact that Braden’s grandma, who had raised him after his mother passed away was in attendance and to make the story sufficiently Hollywood-esque, it was Mother’s Day.  While that is all interesting, it is best left to be written about by someone other than myself.

What I was much more interested in, however was the angle that Joe Posnanski took.  He wrote about how Braden was never a prospect and how part of that is because he didn’t have a particularly high speed fastball.  He goes on to say that Braden is effective because he has good control and throws lots and lots of strikes.  For awhile now, I’ve been thinking that teams should spend less time focusing on the radar gun and more time on the strike zone.  If there is anything we’ve learned from Kyle Farnsworth, it’s that major league hitters will hit the snot out of a fastball if it is straight, regardless of its velocity.  On the flip side, watching Soria is like seeing a magician.  His fastball is decent, but it doesn’t light up the gun, yet he is able to throw the pitch right by the batter, and if you didn’t know better you’d think he hit 100+ on the gun.

Maybe Braden is an anomaly, maybe he is just lucky or one-of-a-kind.  That theory might hold some weight, but he isn’t the only one.  There is a long list of effective pitchers who don’t have amazing fastballs; guys like  Mark Buehrle, Doug Davis, Jamie Moyer, Livan Hernandez and Justin Duchscherer to name a few recent examples.  Most of those pitchers are lefties, which certainly helps them get a chance in the majors.  However for the most part, these are also extremely durable pitchers.  It’s a pretty simple correlation to make that throwing in the upper 80’s rather than the upper 90’s is much better for a pitchers arm and shoulder.

It seems that if given a chance, a pitcher who likely is a lefty and can pound the strike zone, can be effective and durable.  Two very nice attributes to have in a pitcher.  I put together a few stats from those previously named pitchers in the MLB and the minors, to see what they had in common.

Player BB/9 K/9 FB Speed MILB BB/9 MILB K/9 Round Drafted
Moyer 2.56 5.38 81.6 2.6 6.9 6
Braden 2.76 5.65 87.5 2.4 10.1 24
Davis 4.06 6.71 85.6 2.8 8.6 10
Hernandez 3.09 5.60 85.3 4.5 7.9 FA
Duchsherer 2.40 6.87 85.9 2.2 6.8 8
Buehrle 2.06 5.16 86.3 1.4 5.2 38
2010 mlb avg 3.50 7.00 91.0

Pretty much what I expected.  These pitchers have slow fastballs, decent strikeout rates and fantastic walk rates.  Other than Doug Davis, these pitchers had extremely good walk rates in the minor leagues, and other than Buehrle, they had very good strikeout rates as well.

The other interesting fact was that all of the players drafted were low, to very low round draft picks.  That shouldn’t be too big of a surprise, high velocity fastballs get scouts excited and are also easy to quantify in a short visit.  Scouts don’t really get a chance to watch pitchers day in and day out.  They get into town, scout a guy and move on.  They have to, its part of their job.  So if they see a guy who has a fastball in the upper 80’s, they mark it on their sheet and move on.  They probably don’t get a chance to see that over the course of 10 starts that pitcher walked only 10 guys, and that he has pinpoint control.  So when draft day comes along, the fire throwing pitchers go first and the low velocity guys get picked up as organizational filler in the later rounds.

Clearly there are lots of slow tossing pitchers who don’t make the majors because they aren’t effective. However, it could also be a case of guys not really getting a chance to perform in the majors.  It seems that so far there are some real benefits to soft tossing starters: they can be effective, they are durable and finally they are cheap.  A 10th round selection costs very little money or resources from the club.

The question then kind of begs itself: Do the Royals have any guys who fit this bill?  Check out this current Royals minor leaguer’s statistics.

Year Age Level ERA BB/9 SO/9
2006 18 Rk 0.92 0.5 8.2
2007 19 Rk 2.47 1.8 10.9
2008 20 A 3.38 2.2 9.7
2009 21 A+ 4.33 1.7 6.9
2009 21 AA 3.72 2.4 5.7
2010 22 AA 1.09 0.8 6.8
Total 3.18 1.9 8.2

Good walk rate: check.  Good strikeout rate: check.  Lefty: check.  But does he have a weak fastball? Here are some scouting reports on this as yet unnamed pitcher:

“he is a “soft tossing” lefty that exhibits an 85-87 mph fastball with a refined curveball and change up.” – Royals Revival

“He doesn’t throw hard at all. Topping out at 88-90 he doesn’t have much room for error and he profiles like a lot of other soft tossing lefties who have gotten hitters out in the minors (but not necessarily the majors).” – Talking Chop

If you haven’t figured out who this unnamed minor league pitcher is yet, it’s Rule V pick Edgar Osuna, who is currently tearing up competition for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in AA.  I am not saying he will throw a perfect game like Buehrle and Braden, or that he will have the longevity of Moyer and Hernandez; however, he could be an effective and durable left handed starter for the Royals in the future.  Personally, I hope he gets a chance to show what he can do at the highest level, despite not having a big time fastball.  It all goes back to the old fable: “The Colt Griffen and the Mark Buerhle”…errr I mean “The Tortoise and the Hare”.  Fast guys don’t always finish first.

Year Age Level ERA BB/9 SO/9
2006 18 Rk 0.92 0.5 8.2
2007 19 Rk 2.47 1.8 10.9
2008 20 A 3.38 2.2 9.7
2009 21 A+ 4.33 1.7 6.9
2009 21 AA 3.72 2.4 5.7
2010 22 AA 1.09 0.8 6.8
5 Seasons 3.18 1.9 8.2

Episode #017 – Nick reviews the series with the Rangers and previews the series with the Indians.  He also discusses letting Meche go 128 pitches, the role of the manager, Yuniesky’s punishment, the young guns on the team and when is the right time to fire a manager?  All of that, plus Around the Minors and the Heroes & Goats segment.


Music Featured in This Episode:

Cubanismo – Mambo UK

Frank Zappa – Black Napkins

Frank Black & The Catholics – I’ve Seen Your Picture

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This is a column I started  last weekend and it has simmered through a week that saw the Royals lose five straight in a myriad of different ways.   In the span of a week we saw Zack Greinke lose 1-0, the Royals come back from an 8-0 deficit and lose and then saw Greinke have the audacity to give up three earned runs and lose again.   In addition, we saw Gil Meche throw 128 pitches, Yuniesky Betancourt drop a pop fly and ended one game with Jose Guillen in rightfield and Mitch Maier at first base.

Is this really working or is it time for drastic action?  

Actually there has already been talk of such action.   The ‘trade Zack Greinke’ discussion following the 1-0 loss in Tampa.   While the idea of trading your team’s best player away does (and should) bring up plenty of emotions, one is forced to contemplate the worth of one player (no matter how great) when the team goes 1-6 in his starts.   Given what Greinke has done this year and in 2009, it is certainly NOT his fault the Royals cannot win, but it does not erase the fact that Kansas City is still just 18-22 in games he has started since the beginning of 2009.

Sure, the Royals are considerably worse in games not started by Zack, but the point is that they are not even a .500 team with him on the mound.  

This is not all about just chiming in on the Greinke trade discussion, however.  Instead, if the Royals decide to head down this path, shouldn’t they really look at making wholesale trades?  

If you are going to tell me that this lineup is going to compete in 2010, then this column is not for you.   Should you be in the camp that the current roster is going to be lucky just to stay out of last place, then you have to ask yourself just how far away is this organization?

Pitching wise, Greinke at the start and Soria at the end is a pretty good foundation for a staff, but how soon can the Royals fill in the gaps?  It is conceivable that we might see Aaron Crow later in 2010 and maybe Mike Montgomery sometime next season, but debuts and dominance seldom go hand in hand.   As such, I think a realistic expectation would be for a lot of promise to be seen later this year and through 2011 from both pitchers, with each ready to be above average to very good starters by 2012.     That year happens to be last year of Greinke’s contract.

So, in 2012, the Royals could field a rotation of Greinke, Crow, Montgomery, Luke Hochevar and somebody else.   The organization has a ton of arms in the system and some of the really good ones (Melville, Dwyer, Lamb, Herrera, etc.) will be about ready to make debuts right around then, too.   Heck, maybe Daniel Duffy will have rediscovered a love for the game and be ready to go, too.   Bottom line, the rotation could be pretty good, but on the verge of likely losing its ace at the end of the 2012 season.

The bullpen, with Soria under contract all the way through 2014, probably cannot help but be better.   One would hope that Blake Wood would be up and established well before 2012 with additional help coming from Louis Coleman, Greg Holland, Blaine Hardy, Patrick Keating – again, there are a ton of arms who have thus far enjoyed nice minor league careers.   I think it is fair to believe at least three of them will develop into competent major league relievers by 2012.

So, if the pitching looks good by 2012, what about the offense?  

The Royals have David Lough in Omaha, who is basically looking like the next David DeJesus and might be ready to fill that role next year.   Derrick Robinson is off to a nice start in AA, but does he profile out as much more than a faster, younger Scott Podsednik?     Basically, we can run through guys like this all day long and get a competent major league lineup:  the truth is, the offensive future of the organization lies on the shoulders of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers.   When will those three be up and, more importantly, when will they become good maybe great major leaguers?

Best case, in my opinion, has Moustakas making his major league debut at some point in 2011 and possibly ready to be good in 2012 and hopefully powerful in 2013.   Hosmer, who is showing that it helps to actually be able to see  and play without a broken finger, is probably a half-season behind Moustakas.  Myers is behind them both, but likely will gain some ground assuming he can handle the duties behind the plate.  That puts all three up and producing by 2013, which happens to be Billy Butler’s last year before free agency (barring a new contract for him prior to that point).

Let’s go back a bit and ask these two questions:

1.  Do you believe all of the above described development will happen?

2.  Are you prepared to wait until 2012 to be a legitimate contender and knowing that it might be a pretty narrow window of opportunity if Greinke leaves after 2012, Butler after 2013 and Soria after 2014?

Let me be honest, here, I don’t know my own answers to these two questions.  However, if the Royals are not going to be truly competitive until 2012, would it make sense for them to be competitive for a long period of time thereafter as opposed to go for broke in 2012 and maybe 2013?   If the answer to that is yes, then it might make sense for the organization to blow the current roster up.

Such drastic action starts with trading Zack Greinke.

What’s interesting about discussing such an idea is that there are some tremendous comparable trades that have taken place in the last year.   Cliff Lee has been traded twice and Roy Halladay has been dealt as well.   Now, I don’t want to turn this into a Greinke is better than Lee, Halladay is better than Greinke debate.   Suffice it to say that all three are among the top ten starting pitchers in baseball…maybe even the top five.      Halladay has the better career record, but is older and more expensive.   Lee is also older and was/is much closer to free agency.

At any rate, Cliff Lee was traded (along with Ben Francisco) in the middle of last season to Philadelphia for four of their top ten prospects (according to BaseballAmerica):   Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp.   I don’t have a good way of quantifying the value of Francisco in this trade, but let’s throw out Knapp (#10) from the equation and call it Lee for the first three.

After the season, the Phillies dealt Lee to Seattle for Phillipe Aumont (#3), Juan Ramirez (#5) and Tyson Gillies, a super fast outfielder with a .407 career on-base percentage at AA and below.    At about the same time, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay (maybe you heard) and in exchange gave up their numbers five, six and seven prospects:  Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud.

No matter how you value age versus track record versus contract status, it seems pretty obvious to me that the market rate for an ace pitcher is at least three top prospects.   We could go back and analyze the Johan Santana and Erik Bedard deals, but I think we might come out in roughly the same place.   

I might be something of a homer on this one, but given Greinke’s age and reasonable contract through 2012, he might well command a fourth prospect in the deal and even, if the Royals were to take on more prospects that were in A ball and below, a possible fifth player.   

At any rate, we know that in dealing with prospects, one organizationa’s number two prospect is not always equal to the number two in another system.   Plus, where those prospects are in the system values into the equation as well.  All that said, let’s just have a little fun with some possible combinations.

Greinke to the Mets - With Beltran coming back in the next month or so, this team might be thinking they have a shot at the Phillies.   How would you like to run into a series where you had to face Johan Santana and Zack Greinke on back to back days?   Would New York give up number one prospect Jenrry Mejia, currently working out of the big league pen?   I don’t know, it’s hard to find a trade that involves anyone’s number one.   Let’s pull back from that and submit a package of Jonathan Niese (#5 and in the Mets’ rotation right now), the disappointing yet intriguing Fernando Martinez (#3, OF), Wilmer Flores (#2) an 18 year old shortstop with a ton of promise and something else out of their system.

Greinke to the Yankees - It is hard to have a discussion like this without talking about the Yankees, but it is hard to see a great fit, here.   Four of the top ten prospects in the Yank system are catchers and two others are pitchers who are struggling mightily.    Would they part with number one prospect and catcher/DH Jesus Montero?   A package starting with him and pitcher Zach McAllister (#4) would be a start, but I am not sure where it goes from there.  Maybe you add Brett Gardner, but you would still need a couple of players beyond that in my opinion.

Greinke to the Red Sox - If the Yankees are interested, you can bet the Sox will make a call or two as well.    If the bidding got heated enough, I would like a package of outfielders Josh Reddick (#3) and Ryan Kalish (#5), pitcher Casey Kelley (#2) and maybe, just maybe, you could get them to throw in infielder Derrick Gibson (#10).   That’s a decent haul, in my opinion, although getting four top ten prospects may be unrealistic…or maybe not enough.

Greinke to the Angels – They could certainly use some pitching help right now and might be willing to offer their number two, three and four prospects:  Peter Bourjos (OF), Mike Trout (OF) and Trevor Reckling (P).  Trout’s in the low minors and Reckling has some control issues, so the Royals would be right to demand more, but those three are a starting point.

Greinke to the Brewers – Yes, I know the Brewers don’t quite fit in financially with the above teams, but they have made this leap before and would be getting two and one-half seasons of Greinke instead of just half a year of Sabathia.  Would you make the deal if the Brew Crew offered second baseman Brett Lawrie (#2), catcher Jonathon LuCroy (#5), pitcher Zach Braddock (#7) and outfielder Lorenzo Cain (#8)?  

These are all just pie in the sky musings, keep in mind, and some of you will certainly tell me that none of these organizations would part with those players and others will be certain that none of the above deals are enough for Greinke.  That said, let’s pick one for the purposes of this discussion.

I am going to say the Red Sox get aggressive to both keep Greinke away from the Yankees and try to run down the Rays.    Sure, they already have moved Tim Wakefield to the bullpen and their number five starter is Dice-K, but can you imagine a rotation of Greinke, Beckett, Lester, Lackey and Buchholz?   Plus, the Sox could then spin one of their SEVEN quality starting arms for offensive help for the stretch run.

So, having moved Greinke for Kelley, Reddick, Kalish and Gibson, do the Royals stop?  In my opinion, if you are going down this road, you go down it at full speed.   That means trading Joakim Soria as well.

Here it gets pretty dicey as to what Soria is worth (I actually proposed a scenario of Soria to the Phillies last off-season) as there really are not a lot of trades that involve closers.    Brad Lidge and Jose Valverde were both dealt in the past couple of years, but both were on the verge of free agency.   Soria, on the other hand, is under team control at a reasonable value through 2014.

George Sherrill was dealt last summer and netted the Orioles the Dodgers’ number eight prospect, Josh Bell, and a journeyman minor league pitcher.   Listen, if George Sherrill is worth one prospect, Soria is worth at least two – even after giving up back to back homers to Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerroro.   While that might seem a bit light to most Royals’ fans, my guess is that is the market rate.   If we are blowing this team up, we might as well blow it up good.

Soria to the Cardinals -  Really, how in love can you be with Ryan Franklin as a closer?  Would a package of Allen Craig (#7, OF), Eduardo Sanchez (#6, P) and catcher Charles Cutler intrigue the Royals?  It intrigues me, a bit.

Soria to the Angels – Would the Angels part with Hank Conger?  No, but I’d do it in a heartbeat if they offered.  That said, Fernando Rodney would certainly look better setting up Soria than closing for a team that considers itself a contender.   With Peter Bourjos blocked by Torii Hunter, his name comes up again.  Paired with pitcher and number nine prospect Jordan Walden, plus another prospect in the 11 to 20 range and this deal could get done.

Soria to the Rays – The Tampa bullpen has been okay, with Rafael Soriano holding down the closer role.   However, when you are trying to stay in front of the Yankees and the Red Sox, the thought of Soria at the back end might be appealing.  The Rays probably will not part with Desmond Jennings, given the uncertainty of being able to resign Carl Crawford, but they might part with pitcher and number two prospect Jeremy Hellickson simply because they have no room in the majors for him this year.    Add power prospect Matt Sweeney (third base) and maybe infielder Isaias Velasquez and this might be a deal.

Again, this is all just speculation (even as I typed it, I wondered if the Rays would even consider giving up Hellickson), but lets have a little fun and say the Rays, desperate to hold off the Yankees, take the bait and ship Hellickson, Sweeney and Velasquez to the Royals in exchange for Soria.     Can you imagine the public outrage?

Outrage aside, the Royals now have seven new prospects, five of whom were in the top ten of two organizations that are far more successful than their own.    That just might make sense.   Of course, why stop now?

Even without taking the drastic action above, it is no secret that the Royals are shopping Jose Guillen, have shopped Alberto Callaspo, would shop Gil Meche and just recently began offering David DeJesus.   Until Meche is truly healthy and effective, his value is limited.   How to quantify Jose Guillen in a trade is problematical (maybe Seattle would offer Dan Cortes – just joking).  I think the possibility of Guillen ending up somewhere else sooner rather than later is realistic, speculating on the return is probably a waste of time.   Whatever the Royals get, they get:  it’s better than nothing.  

While David DeJesus is not going to garner a package of prospects like Greinke or Soria, he does have value.   Last summer, the Braves gave up two top ten prospects (Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke) along with Charlie Morton to get Nate McClouth.   Now, McClouth is younger, has more power and a better defensive reputation than DeJesus, but we can maybe use this deal as a guide.   Would a desperate contender part with one top ten prospect (probably a few years away from the majors) and a lesser player?

DeJesus to the Giants – Have you seen what Mark DeRosa is hitting this year?   Would they give up a young arm, already in the majors, like Dan Runzler?   Would you make that deal?   Perhaps a more palatable (likely?) scenario would see the Giants give up shortstop and number eight prospect Ehride Adrianza along with pitcher Steve Edelfsen.   That’s a deal that I would do.

Now, we have moved three players for nine prospects.   Too much?  Too little?  Or do you trust the process?

When I take a step back and put on my optimistic glasses, I can see Montgomery becoming the next Greinke, backed by Aaron Crow.   When Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar move on, they are replaced by Tim Melville and Kelvin Herrera.   Alex Gordon flames out?  No problem, Mike Moustakas becomes a star.   Butler leaves?   Well, Hosmer is coming up soon:  bigger, better and faster than his predecessor.   David Lough and Derrick Robinson ably slip into the outfield next year, only to be pushed out a few years later by the even better Hilton Richardson and Alex Llanos.    That’s the process.  

The problem is, the process is run by guys who throw a struggling Gil Meche 128 pitches, move Alex Gordon to left and are scared to death that Kila Kaaihue might actually be able to hit major league pitching.   It is these guys that dismiss prospects with bad attitudes, but sign Jose Guillen for three years.    Mike Aviles had to hit .325 to get even get a chance and then, one year after an injury, prove himself all over again.   Can you trust a process run by people you no longer trust?

If you cannot or will not, then blowing up this team might be the best course of action.  If nothing else, nine more high level prospects gives this group a greater margin for error.    The way it is shaping up right now, the Royals can use all the margin they can get.

In this game:

– The Royals fell into a 8-0 hole after three innings.

– Scott Podsednik hit one into the upper deck.

– Jason Kendall drove one to the base of the wall in right-center.

– Yuniesky Betancourt walked.  Twice.

– After a Rangers pitcher walked back to back hitters, Willie Bloomquist took two cuts at pitches out of the zone and then looked at strike three right down the middle. (OK, that wasn’t crazy.)

– Dave Owen almost caused Mike Aviles’ hamstring to explode by doing a funky stop and go kind of thing as he was rounding third. (That wasn’t crazy either.)


– Joakim Soria gave up back to back home runs for the first time since forever.

– Neftali Feliz is disgustingly filthy.

It was like some crazy heavyweight title fight.  I half expected the ghost of Howard Cosell to make an appearance.  It would have been appropriate.

Even though the Royals lost in just a horrific manner, that was the most fun I’ve had watching a game since last May.  (Remember when they came back against the Indians with four runs in the ninth?  Remember how they then lost 16 of their next 20?  Sorry.)

Personally, I think Trey was guilty of a little over management by not letting Good Robinson Tejeda finish the eighth.  It’s not second guessing… I brought it up in the ESPN Baseball Tonight chat the moment he pulled Tejeda.  It’s difficult to argue that bringing in Soria at any point is a bad move, but Tejeda had thrown only 14 pitches.  I’m not going to scream and carry on that Hillman cost the Royals the game – he didn’t – Soria made the pitches.  I’m just saying I don’t understand why he felt a need to bring his closer in at that particular moment.

We’ve been agitating all year that Hillman needs to use Soria more in key (or high leverage) situations.  Two outs in the eighth with a one run lead on the road certainly qualifies.  However, there was no danger at that point and time… No runners on, and you had a pitcher who was dealing.

Hillman gets second guessed in some quarters (which I suppose I’m doing now) but that’s because many of his moves are indefensible.  All managers come with a certain amount of goodwill and trust.  When that gets frittered away (like it has in Hillman’s case) even the right moves come under scrutiny.  It’s a large part of what makes Hillman a lame duck.

He went with his best pitcher and got burned.  It happens to managers all the time.  But when you’ve lost the trust of the fanbase, you’re going to catch heat no matter what.

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