Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged John Parrish

Another series, another salvage of the final game.     Just a note for those that admire the grittiness of the Royals for hanging in:  teams that continually salvage the final game of a series end up with a 54-108 record.   Anyway, a lot did happen this weekend as the Royals dropped two of three to the Twins, so let’s get right to it.

The End of the Luis Mendoza Era

Okay, maybe not.   Mendoza, who was designated for assignment, will likely clear waivers, pitch in Omaha and likely end up back in Kansas City in the seemingly never ending cycle of never giving up on pitchers who have never shown any reason to warrant such consideration.

At any rate, Craig covered the designation of Mendoza and the release of Juan Cruz expertly was it happened last Friday, so I won’t waste a lot of time with it here other than to say that the release of Cruz was unexpected.    Outside of Joakim Soria, one can make a pretty good case for the release of everyone else in the bullpen, but Cruz did have a better track record (at least prior to coming to KC) than the others and was/is getting paid over three million this year.

That said, Trey Hillman had pretty much viewed Cruz as the pitcher of last resort most of the year and Juan had done little to change that mindset.  Perhaps this move was a ‘statement’ to the fans by Dayton Moore or a ‘wake-up call’ to the other members of the staff of maybe, simply, Hillman and Moore were tired of watching Cruz allow inherited runners to score.    I cannot say that releasing Cruz was a bad move, just a surprising one.

As far as the recall of Brad Thompson and Bruce Chen, it seems to point that the club wants veteran guys that it believes will throw strikes.   I assumed we would see Thompson at some point this year and he’s worth a look, but Bruce Chen?  Again? 

Gil Meche and the Mystery of Control

We have seen Gil have a three start stretch where he really struggles, but nothing like the first three starts of 2010.   Currently, Meche is averaging a walk per inning and sporting a robust 11.37 earned run average (most of it deserved).  You can analyze all the peripherals inside and out, but the simple fact is that Gil currently cannot consistently throw strikes.

Trey Hillman ‘does not see any mechanical or physical issue’ and my untrained eye sees Gil throwing hard with good movement (maybe he’s falling off to the first base side a bit?), so you have to pretty much just pray that Meche is still rounding into form from a sluggish and sporadic spring.  

One ray of hope is that Meche was pretty awful in April of 2008 (7.22 ERA, 15 walks in 34 innings) and was the ‘Meche of old’ the rest of that season.    Of course, he could simply be ruined, too.

An Ugly Saturday

Sure, it was an exciting 12 inning 9-7 loss for the Royals in the mist and rain, but this was not a pretty game.   Kansas City was tagged with three errors (one on a blown pop-up and another that cost them a double play).   The Royals also missed another pop-up and blew another double play that were not called errors.    Glad we focused on defense in the off-season.

Luke Hochevar pitched well early, but gradually (with some defensive ‘help’) let the Twins grind their way back into the game, but left with a two run lead with two outs in the seventh.   John Parrish came on to walk two hitters and surrender a Justin Morneau (he’s pretty good, by the way) home run.   After a great start, Parrish is suddenly looking like…well, a Royals reliever.

Kudos to Trey Hillman, by the way, for going to Soria at home in a tie game and letting him pitch two innings.   In doing so, he gave the Royals a two inning window to score a run while the one reliever the team can count on was shutting down the opponent.   The Royals, of course, did not score, but still it was worth a shot.

By the time umpire Greg Gibson had decided he was too wet and cold to be bothered to do his job correctly, the Royals had collected 18 hits and 5 walks, which was not enough to keep pace with the Twins.    An unearned run off Bruce Chen in the 11th was answered, but two more courtesy of an ineffective Robinson Tejeda in the 12th was too much.

As bad as Gibson’s call was – it may have been the worst I have ever seen – how many of you really thought the Royals were coming back in this one? 

Getz and the Roster

Chris Getz is about to begin a rehab stint in Omaha with all indications being that the Royals will activate him as early as Friday.   After watching Alberto Callaspo play second base, can you blame them?

The discussion in the Kansas City Star was that the Getz activation might signal an Alex Gordon demotion to the minors.  Like me, Dayton Moore may have grown weary of watching Gordon pull outside pitches on the ground to the second baseman, so the move actually might make sense.

With Jose Guillen hitting and Alberto Callaspo doing the same (although both have played similar defense – Jose has just played his without actually taking the field), there is no regular spot in the lineup for Alex.   As much as Kansas City needs another bench player, you probably do not want Gordon playing two times per week. 

All things being equal, I would advocate activating Getz, sending Gordon to Omaha (unless he goes 8 for 16 this week), paring the bullpen down to seven pitchers (I don’t care who goes, I really don’t) and putting Wilson Betemit on the bench.   Betemit is a veteran guy, can play everywhere and has a little pop.  It makes more sense to have Betemit playing sporadically than to have Gordon cooling his heels on the bench.

The Salvage

Brian Bannister had a nice outing, the bullpen was shaky but just good enough and Jose Guillen went yard again as the Royals came away with the win on Sunday.    Kansas City committed two more errors, but did just enough to overcome those on Sunday.

We also learned that Josh Fields is out for the year with hip surgery.   It was hard to see where Fields fit on this roster so missing 2010 is probably good for everyone involved.  

Ever Onward

The Seattle Mariners come to town for three games starting tonight.    Felix Hernandez versus Kyle Davies:  who could ask for a better matchup?

Royals’ fans probably do not need any extra incentive to be enamored with Joakim Soria, but just in case, yesterday produced another moment.    

This moment has nothing to do with Soria retiring Justin Morneau with two out in the eighth and Joe Mauer on first in a two run game – although that was certainly big.   Instead, it has everything to do with what happened in the inning after that.

By then, of course, the Royals were comfortably in front 10-5 thanks to Alberto Callaspo’s second three-run homer of the day, so the pressure was off.  You can insert your ‘Trey Hillman leverage analysis here’.   Soria took to the mound in the bottom of the ninth and did something that every member of the pitching staff should have taken note of:  he didn’t mess around.

Facing Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young, the Royals’ closer threw twelve pitches, ten of which were cut fastballs and eight for strikes.   Basically, Joakim simply said, “I’m going to throw cutters for a strikes and I am pretty sure I’m good enough that you cannot string together enough hits to beat me.”   

What’s this?  Throw strikes?   Believe in your stuff?  Every member of this pitching staff from Greinke down to Mendoza (and that’s a long journey, my friends) would be wise to remember that simple mantra.

Of course, the biggest offenders are those that pitch in relief that are not named Soria.   As a team, and this includes Soria’s numbers, the Royals bullpen is dead last in baseball when it comes to throwing the first pitch for a strike:  tossing strike one just under fifty percent of the time.      When the bullpen throws a ball out of the strike zone, opponents take a cut at them just 20% of the time – again, dead last in baseball.

Does it come as any surprise that Joakim Soria and John Parrish both induce swings out of the strike zone 35% of the time, while no other reliever tops 20%?    Suppose it has anything to do with Parrish throwing 63% of his pitches for strikes and Soria tossing strikes at a 71% clip?

Yesterday was a big win for the Royals as they try to stay within hailing distance of .500.   They hit the ball well, Luke Hochevar battled and Josh Rupe did just enough to squelch the fire lit by Dusty Hughes (who has thrown 53 balls and 50 strikes this yea) to get the game to Soria.   I will also, once again, give credit to Trey Hillman for being willing to go to Soria in the 8th.   Overall, a good day when the team really needed one.

That said, the Royals have wasted two weeks of good hitting mostly because their bullpen has hurt more than helped.   Dayton Moore cleaned house in the pen after his arrival with the intention of getting strike throwers and yet, somehow, has ended up with a relief crew that is eerily similar (albeit better behaved) to that he inherited from Allard Baird.   Is twelve games into a 162 game schedule too early to clean house?  I don’t think so.

The Royals may end up being a better offensive team than most of us expected, but they are not going to hit like this forever.   Dropping Colon and bringing up Josh Rupe is a start, but more changes need to follow.  

I heard a comment on talk radio last week referencing potential bullpen help that went along the lines of ‘the guys in the minors obviously didn’t show enough to make the team in the spring, can we expect them to help now?’   Well, ‘the guys’ who decided who should make the team broke camp with Roman Colon as the primary setup man.   Perhaps it is time to reevaluate the evaluation.

Rumors are out that Dayton Moore is looking to trade Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth and eat some/most of their salaries along the way.  Hey, it’s worth a try, but better pitchers have simply been released in the last couple of weeks so I am not holding my breath.

Truth is, Cruz has been incredibly hittable this season and Farnsworth cannot pitch in any situation with any sort of leverage (actual or Trey Hillman imagined).    They are a waste of time and, sadly, a waste of games, too.  

You want to make a statement about throwing strikes?   Drop Cruz, Farnsworth, Hughes and Mendoza and pull up Bryan Bullington, Matt Herges, Blake Wood and Brad Thompson.   Truthfully, does anyone think the bullpen would be any worse?   If it turns out being so, then the Royals still have Carlos Rosa, Greg Holland and Chris Hayes to try after that.

Basically, Dayton Moore and the Royals can sit and talk about throwing strikes and getting better production or they can actually make some moves to give this team a chance at respectability.  The time is now.

Remember, back in Spring Training, when I presented a Daily Hillmanism?  Just random nuggets of knowledge from our fearless leader.  It had pretty much run its course and I was prepared to let it go.  Then he unleashed a doozy.

Asked by the traveling reporters if he considered bringing closer Joakim Soria into Tuesday’s seventh inning, Hillman offered this:

“There’s a thought there but, No. 1, it’s a very unusual time for Joakim Soria to pitch in a ballgame. No. 2, you’ve still got those same bats coming up in the ninth in a higher-leverage situation — because it is the ninth, even if there are no runners on base.”

I added the emphasis because Hillman’s use of term “high leverage” is impressive.  It would be more impressive if he knew what the hell he was talking about.

Following his logic, the higher the inning number, the higher the leverage.  Sometimes, it actually works that way.  Other times, like Tuesday, not so much.

To prove this, I’ll present to you the game log, courtesy of FanGraphs.  The bars at the bottom of the graph represent the leverage of that particular plate appearance.  The larger the bar, the greater the leverage.  The red bar means WARNING! high leverage situation.

You’ll see the inning with the highest leverage index was the seventh.  When the bullpen spit the bit.  The top of the ninth had some decent leverage, but it wasn’t even as high as the eighth inning leverage.  This is because in the eighth inning the Royals had more chances to win the game.  There were still six outs remaining.  By the time the ninth inning rolled around, the leverage index dipped just a bit because there were fewer outs, meaning fewer chances for the Royals to take the lead.  Fewer chances meant less pressure on the Tigers to close out the game.

Hillman’s assertion that the ninth inning brings the highest leverage because it’s the ninth inning is just absurd.  Even when Soria nails down a save, the ninth inning doesn’t always bring the highest leverage.  Case in point, Wednesday’s game:

Again, the seventh inning brought the highest leverage.  It was Miguel Cabrera’s at bat with two runners on in a 5-3 ballgame.  He grounded out to end the threat.  The leverage was lower in the eighth in a similar situation because the Royals tacked on another run in their half of the inning.  Leverage is fluid and is dictated by the score and situation of the game.  Two things Hillman has shown an inability to grasp.  No wonder he couldn’t discuss it properly.  Unfortunately, to the casual fan, it probably sounded intelligent.  Kind of like when Dayton Moore says he values on base percentage.

Soria faced a high leverage situation the first week of the season, protecting a one-run lead.  Even then, it wasn’t the highest leverage of the game.  The highest leverage occurred in the eighth, when the Royals rallied for two runs off Hideki Okajima and Daniel Bard thanks to a Rick Ankiel single.

There were two outs in the inning when Ankiel came to the plate and the Sox were nursing that one run lead.  I wonder if Terry Francona considered bringing in Jonathan Papelbon?

Maybe I should be concerned that SABR Trey doesn’t understand the concept of leverage.  What does it say about my opinion of him when I’m not the least bit surprised he doesn’t get it.  He just doesn’t get it.  And there’s plenty of evidence he never will.  He’s more concerned about Scotty Pods laying down a sweet sac bunt in the first inning, than he is about leverage.

This brings me to a great side point:  The Royals bullpen is currently stocked with eight pitchers.  Eight!  Do you have any idea how absolutely insane that is, to have a total of 13 pitchers on a 25-man roster?  And only a handful of them are worth anything.  It’s almost as if GMDM and SABR Trey realized they don’t have the quality, so they went with the quantity.  Exactly how is that a solution?

“Hey, most of our relievers suck, what should we do?”

“I know… Let’s add more!”

Finally, I’ll again point this out in defense of the manager:  Hillman had no idea that what conspired in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s game would turn out to be the highest leverage situation of the game.  No one did.  We certainly knew it was important, and quite possibly pivotal to the outcome of the game.  But we couldn’t know that a similar situation may evolve in the ninth inning – because we can’t see the future.

However, this is the trap too many managers fall into – they don’t manage the moment, the manage for the future.  They give up outs and sacrifice a big inning for a single run.  Or they keep their closer in the bullpen just in case they need him in the ninth.

Hillman is worried he’ll burn Soria in the seventh (and probably eighth) inning and nursing a one run lead in the ninth, he’ll look to his bullpen and see… Kyle Farnsworth.  Yeah, that should scare the hell out of you.

More from Dutton (who has to thank the newspaper gods everyday for covering the Royals, and not some boring team like the Astros):  Jose Guillen says he almost died from blood clots in his legs last winter.

This is an amazing story, but I have a couple of questions.

— Why did he develop these blood clots?  Were they related to his other injuries from last year? Clearly, this isn’t something that normally happens to an athlete in his mid 30s.

— Guillen didn’t return to the Dominican until late December and his weight dropped to 180 pounds.  He’s listed at 215 pounds and reported to camp on time at the end of February.  I’m assuming he needed a little time to recover before he started what would amount to a rehab.  He didn’t hit for any power this spring, but what did he do to get in shape so quickly?

— Guillen says he was dying and says the doctor started talking about dying (Derrick Thomas is invoked in the story, which is indeed frightening) but I’d like some more context.  I’m sure Guillen felt like he was dying, but was he really on death’s door?  In other words, do we need to look at 2010 as Guillen’s “miracle season?”

I don’t doubt Guillen was ailing and had blood clots.  And I don’t doubt the situation was serious.  It’s just his version of the story just seems… dramatic.

Just another off day for the Royals.

Even great baseball teams are generally happy to win two out of three on the road, which is exactly what the Royals accomplished with Wednesday’s 7-3 victory over the Tigers.   Still, after blowing a 5-0 lead in the seventh on Tuesday, I have a feeling that many Royals’ fans (this one included) are not all that ecstatic with the recent series’ results.

Years of losing have jaded many a Royals fan, but the simple logic is that this team is just 4-5 despite:

  • Hitting a league leading .307
  • Slugging a robust .450, good for 3rd in the AL
  • Reaching base at a .362 clip, again good for 3rd
  • Having their starting pitchers post quality starts in seven of nine games (and winning one of those that they did not)
  • Trotting out a regular lineup where seven of the nine players are hitting .300 or better and one who is not, Alberto Callaspo, is more likely to end up hitting .300 than the rest of them

Let’s face it, while the starting rotation might be very good most of the season, Scott Podsednik is not going to hit .457 this year and Jose Guillen really won’t hit a home run in every game.   

Even with the robust offensive statistics, the margin for error for this team is extremely thin.   If this team settles in and hits .285/.345/.425 then cannot expect to overcome some of the poor baserunning and curious decision making that has become all too common early this season.   Yesterday, we had two more examples:

  • In the top of the 7th inning, the Royals had runners on first and second with two out.   Jason Kendall taps a ball out to shortstop and Mitch Maier, running from first, beats the throw to second.   However, Alberto Callaspo simply ran through 3rd base and is thrown out.   Absent mindedness on the part of Callaspo?   Where was Dave Owens, by the way?
  • The very next inning, up 5-3, the Royals get the first two runners on.   David DeJesus, who had six hits in the series, three of them for extra bases, is asked to bunt.   Sure, David should be able to get a bunt down, but do you really have one of your best hitters still attempt to sacrifice when he has two strikes?   Really?!

Yes, I know the calls of being overly pessimistic and just downright negative ‘all the time’ are coming, but are those two instances are a warning sign.   Particularly since yesterday was hardly the first time in this young season we have seen similar occurrences. 

Again, it is all fine and good when you are hitting .307, but what happens when the Royals are not collecting 17 hits in a game or scoring 22 runs in a three game series?   How inconsequential are those plays then?

Two Man Bullpen

The Royals’ actual bullpen was used yesterday:  all two of them.   That is really what Trey Hillman has at his disposal right now.    We all knew that Joakim Soria was among the best in the game, which he showed yesterday in going an inning and a third for the save.   We didn’t know that John Parrish would be lights out, but thank goodness he has been in not allowing a run or a hit in six appearances (4.1 innings).    Small sample size for sure, but certainly a welcome emergence from the cesspool that comprises the rest of the arms that take up space on the bullpen bench.

With a day off today, the Royals can look forward to having both Parrish and Soria ready to go again on Friday behind Zack Greinke.   The problem, of course, comes on Saturday when Hillman will have to look at the other SIX pitchers in the pen and decide who is going to suck the least.  

I am not saying anything here, just throwing this out:  Kyle Farnsworth is the only reliever who has yet to walk a batter.

Speaking of Zack Greinke

He continues to ‘adjust’ this season.   That begs the question as to why, after so thoroughly dominating in 2009, that Zack felt the need to adjust anything, but there is some marginally sound reasoning behind all this.     Adding more changeups to his repertoire certainly makes sense, but Zack is also going away from his slider under the premise that hitters are recognizing and laying off that pitch.   The numbers seem to bear that out (again, small sample size alert):

Greinke in 2009:  59% fastballs, 20% sliders, 14% curves, 6% changeups

April 5, 2010: 57% fastballs, 21% sliders, 11% curves, 10% changeups

April 10, 2010: 62% fastballs, 15% sliders, 14% curves, 9% changeups

If you purchased the 2010 Royals Authority Annual (still on sale, by the way) and read Jeff Zimmerman’s article on Pitch F/X, you know that from 2007-2009, Zack’s slider induced a 40% swing and miss rate (only Soria’s curve had a higher percentage).    Basically, the slider is just plain nasty.

Given that fact, why go to the curve more instead of just throwing the slider for strikes once in a while?  Sure, major league hitters adjust and have made a real effort to lay off the slider this year.   How much will they lay off if a couple of them take a called third strike slider?   If Zack throws the slider for strikes a little more often,  hitters will have to adjust to him once more.

Without question, I know about 800 times less about pitching than Bob McClure and Greinke (and that’s being charitable), but I have a hard time believe that Jeremy Hermida and Jason Varitek go back to back yard if thrown sliders in strike zone versus curveballs.    

Sometimes, a pitcher is simply good enough to throw his best pitches over and over and still win.   One has to think that Zack Greinke is one of those guys and, as much as we rave about Zack’s cerebral approach to the game, this may be a case of thinking less and just throwing the good stuff.   

Of course, this is Greinke.   He is likely to throw 35 curveballs on Friday night and throw a shutout.   Whatever he throws, we will all be interested.

With Ron Mahay, John Bale and Horacio Ramirez gone from the bullpen scene, It’s no secret the Royals are scrambling for a left-hander to pitch some relief innings. Theyve assembled a group to compete for what’s likely to be a lone job in the pen. It’s a thin group.

Dusty Hughes pitched well enough in a September audition, throwing 14 innings with 15 strikeouts with a 5.14 ERA. He made 7 relief appearances (one start) and really had just one poor outing. He’s progressed through the minors and had a 3.50 ERA in Triple-A last summer, splitting his time between the rotation and the bullpen. He could be a swing-man for the Royals.

Another potential swing-man is Bruce Chen. I know, I know Do we really need to give this guy another shot? At 33, he should be finished as a rotation candidate, but perhaps he can help out of the pen. He’s not a power arm, but has decent control – his walk rate was 3.6 BB/9 last year which was right in line with his career rate. The problem with Chen is, the guy doesn’t miss enough bats. Last year the league hit .301 against him and made contact on 85% of his strikes. His contact rate and batting average against has been climbing steadily over the last several years. Pass.

Once upon a time, John Parrish was an effective reliever for the Orioles. From 2003 to 2005 he appeared in 84 games throwing 119 innings with a 3.10 ERA. That was despite walking over six batters per nine innings. But he kept the ball in the park (0.5 HR/9) and struck out roughly 8.5 batters per nine. The walks keep him out of high leverage situations, but he could chew up an inning or two. Parrish missed all of 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

The most intriguing name bandied about is Danny Duffy. Duffy, Baseball America’s eighth rated prospect for the Royals, has yet to pitch above high-A ball, but that hasn’t dampered enthusiasm for the young lefty. He projects as a starter, but the Royals could break him in through the bullpen. I’m as excited as anyone for the minor league pitching pipeline to start to produce, but I’m thinking that Duffy – who is 21 and in just his fourth professional season – needs a little more minor league seasoning. I have no problem with putting him on the fast track, but give him some time in the high minors before bringing him to the K.

Edgar Osuna was the Royals lone Rule 5 pick last December, which probably gives him the inside track on a bullpen job. Osuna has largely pitched as a starter and had a 3.72 ERA with a 2.33 SO/BB ratio in Double-A Mississippi last year. He’s just 22 and in his fifth season, which puts him slightly ahead of Duffy in the experience category. Osuna has outstanding control. In 350 minor league innings, he’s walked just 78 batters. In the lower levels of the minors, he simply blew hitters away, but as he’s risen through the ranks his strikeout rate has dropped. Last year he struck out 6.9 per nine in High A ball and 5.7 per nine following his promotion to Double A.

None of the guys the Royals have in camp profiles as a LOOGY (the left hander brought in only to face a single left handed batter). None of them own dominating platoon splits to be counted on for that role. That’s OK I guess, if SABR Trey can figure out how to juggle the match-ups and bring his lefty in at the proper times. You know, Jim Thome is still in the division…

A couple of other notes:

— The Tigers announced their pitching match-ups against the Royals for their first two games of the year. As expected Justin Verlander will start opposite Zack Greinke on Opening Day. They’ll be followed by Gil Meche and Max Scherzer in game number two.

Opening Day is great for a number of reasons. At the top of my list is it always features the top pitchers in the game. I can’t wait for the Greinke/Verlander match-up. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

— Today is a huge day for those of us who enjoy a video game from time to time as it’s the release day for MLB 10: The Show. Speaking of which, you absolutely have to watch this footage from the game. It starts off with a Betancourt error and features Kendall and Ankiel both striking out in a 12-1 pasting at the hands of the Rangers.

— We’ll have info soon on the 2010 Royals Authority Annual. You know Issues like cost and release date. Soon.

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