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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jonathan Broxton

Yesterday afternoon, Jonathan Broxton notched his 18th save of the year (good for fourth in the American League) and with it secured a winning road trip for the Royals.   He did so in what has become typical Broxton fashion, allowing two baserunners before finally getting his team out of the inning.

So far in 2012, Broxton has had 21 save opportunities and blown (generally in spectacular fashion) three of them.  Obviously, in those three, Jonathan allowed baserunners.   In the 18 successful saves, Broxton has retired the side in order just five times.   Broxton has had some other perfect innings, but in non-save situations. 

In the remaining 13 saves, Broxton has allowed just one baserunner six times, two baserunners six more times and loaded the bases once.   Is that normal? 

In 2008, we saw Joakim Soria in this prime just dominate.  He went seven straight appearances without allowing any baserunners and had another stretch where he did not allow a baserunner in eight out of nine appearances.  Soria blew three saves that entire season.   In 2006, division rival Joe Nathan blew two saves all season and in 21 of his 36 successful save conversions, threw perfect innings.

Those are two very good closers in probably their two best years, however.  Where does Broxton stand right now?  Is he getting just plain lucky and due for a series of devastating team gutting blown saves?  Or is this how it is across baseball?   Royals’ arch-enemy Chris Perez leads the league in saves, let’s take a look at what he has done.

Perez has converted 22 out of 23 save opportunities.   He had a one out save, which we will sort out of the equation.  Of the 21 remaining saves, Perez was perfect in 9 of those.   He allowed one baserunner in 6, two baserunners in 5 and three baserunners in the other.   It is noteworthy that while Broxton has not allowed a run in any of his 18 successful saves, Chris Perez has three times allowed  a run to score, but had enough cushion to still get the save.   In comparing Perez vs. Broxton, we see a few more flashes of dominance out of Perez, but also some poorer outings as well:  not a tremendous difference, frankly.

The Orioles Jim Johnson is second in the league in saves and has allowed just 15 hits in 31 innings of work.   Johnson has converted 20 of 21 save opportunities and been perfect in 9 of those 19 saves.   He has allowed one baserunner eight times, two on three occassions and never has put three runners on base.   Johnson has, however, allowed a run and still gotten the save twice.  It is also noteworthy that in his last six save opportunites, Jim has blown one and been perfect the other five times.

 The only other closer in the AL with more saves than Broxton is Tampa’s Fernando Rodney.  Two of his twenty saves (the first two actually) were just one out saves and Rodney has blown one save opportunity as well.  Of the remaining 18 saves, Rodney has been perfect in 12 of them.   He allowed one baserunner in four (along with an unearned run), two baserunners just once and three baserunners once (along with a run).

I am going to skip down a couple of spots to the most established closer type on the leaderboard:  Joe Nathan.  The Rangers’ closer has converted 15 of 16 save opportunities and been perfect in 10 of those.   In the other five saves, Nathan has allowed one baserunner four times and two runners just once.  He has not allowed a run in a successful save situation.

Now, baserunners happen.  Allowing one batter to reach base in the ninth inning is hardly a sign of the apocalypse (at least I don’t think so, the Mayans are hard to figure out), so let’s forgive all those outings for the guys we are looking at and compare the number of multiple runners on in save situations:

  • Perez – 6 out of 21 (1 blown save)
  • Johnson – 3 out of 20 (1 blown save)
  • Rodney – 2 out of 18 (1 blown save)
  • Broxton – 7 out of 18 (3 blown saves)
  • Nathan – 1 out of 15 (1 blown save)

Quick and dirty research tells us that Broxton’s success, if not lucky, has come in a manner different than that of the other save leaders in the league.   That said, closers are all different (I mean, most of them are really, really different) maybe Broxton has always been this way.

Well, in 2009, Broxton had a career high 36 saves, striking out 114 in 76 innings.   He allowed more than one baserunner in just 7 of those 36 successful saves, but he also suffered six blown saves.   In 2010, he was 22 of 27 in save opportunities and allowed multiple baserunners in five of his 22 successful saves.  It is noteworthy that his 2010 performance resulted in Broxton losing his closer job in August.

In his prime, Broxton did not walk the high wire to quite the extent he has thus far for the Royals (although he was still prone to the blown save).  That does not mean that Jonathan will not be able to continue:  the ability to throw 98 mph can help offset runners on base.   However, the odds would seem to suggest that Broxton might be running out of wiggle room.

There is, however, one additional consideration.   Broxton is really just two and one-half months back from injury.   He has spent the better part of the last two years getting lit up.  Could this all be just part of ‘getting back’?  I think that is a very real possibility and the truth is, if Broxton ends up saving 36 games this year, blowing six and taking us on a ride in half of those 36 successes, that is still going to be a pretty decent year.

It’s not dominant and it’s not ideal, but not everyone can be Joakim Soria.   Heck, Joakim Soria wasn’t Joakim Soria the last couple of years.

xxx

The Prodigal Greinke returns and on paper it’s a mismatch. One Cy Young Award winner against one PCL pitcher of the year. One who was dealt in a blockbuster in exchange for four players against one who was acquired for cash considerations. One who is one of the best starters in the NL against one who is an emergency starter used only because everyone else is hurt.

Yet it was Luis Mendoza who was the starter of the game.

Baseball is funny sometimes.

Mendoza finished with a Game Score of 68. That’s tied with almost every Felipe Paulino start this season for sixth best this season. (Seriously, Paulino has made three starts with a Game Score of 68. He’s awesome. He’s also hurt.) Here’s the top starts by Game Score:

It was a great start from Mendoza. It’s one off his best Game Score ever. Set back in 2008 when he was pitching for the Rangers and struck out eight in six innings. You won’t be surprised to learn that those eight strikeouts are the most he’s ever had in a start.

What may be surprising to you is that Mendoza’s four strikeouts on Tuesday, was tied for second most in a start in his career. Hey, he’s made just 22 starts, but still… Wow.

(By the way, according to Game Score, Greinke had the better start. It was 69-68. Because Greinke strikes batters out.)

So we basically saw the best that Mendoza had to give. Not bad, really. His two seam fastball was really diving on both sides of the plate. He recorded six ground outs to go along with his four whiffs. Perhaps more key was the fact he got three pop-ups. Maybe the Brewers were thinking a dropping two-seamer was on the way and they got under a four-seamer. Whatever, Mendoza’s pitches were working. And working quite well.

These kind of starts are always welcome.

— Yes, you have to include the obligatory, “Greinke doesn’t get any run support at The K, no matter what uniform he’s wearing.”

— If you’re looking for an alternate player of the game, you’d have to give the nod to Alex Gordon.

I mean, how sweet was it for him to lead off the game for the Royals with a bomb? And then the throw to gun down Braun to keep the 1-0 lead? That’s the guy I remember from last year.

In our daily installment of “Fun With Arbitrary Endpoints,” I note that since Yosty stopped shuffling Gordon around and let him be in the leadoff spot, he’s hitting .306/.424/.429 with six doubles, three home runs and nine walks against nine strikeouts. Too damn bad Yosty freaked on Gordon after his slow start. His overall numbers would be a little better than where we are now. Just a suspicion I have.

— On BUNTS… Yosty attempted two sacrifices on Tuesday. The first one was in the fifth inning following a Moose leadoff double. With The Shortstop Jesus at the plate, he bunted foul. Now, long time readers know, this play drives me insane. You have a runner at second with no outs and you give up an out to get him to third. Moving that runner doesn’t appreciably add to your run expectancy enough to justify giving away the out.

Escobar lined out on the next pitch on a bullet up the middle that Greinke speared. Good work, good effort as they say in Miami.

Naturally, the next batter, Jarrod Dyson flies out to center. That would have scored Moustakas. Although I think there’s no way Greinke puts that pitch in a spot where Dyson can get it in the air. You may disagree, though.

Then in the eighth, Gordon doubles to leadoff and Getz moves him to third. That free out was rendered useless by the Billy Butler single up the middle that would have scored Gordon from second.

I hear all the damn time that Getz “plays the game right” and “does all the little things.” Fine. If he’s so hot, why can’t he take a full swing and put the ball on the right side? It could ultimately end with the same result – an out and an advanced runner – but at least in that case there’s the possibility that something like a base hit could happen. Again, moving the runner to third while surrendering one of your final six outs just isn’t a smart percentage play. And it didn’t work because Gordon would have scored anyway.

Oh, one last thing. From Fangraphs, the Royals Win Expectancy before the Getz bunt? 74 percent. The Royals Win Expectancy following the Getz bunt? 74 percent.

Exactly.

— The Jonathan Broxton Highwire Thrill Ride is kinda starting to piss me off. Single, strikeout, single, strikeout and a fielder’s choice. Never mind the cheap hits. Never mind the first pitch balls. It’s the pace that is just maddening. Pitch the ball, Jonathan.

According to the PITCH f/x data at Fangraphs, Broxton is the third slowest reliever in the game this year.

Must be something about having a first name that starts with a “J.”

Anyway, I’m with Denny Mathews when it comes to the pace of the game. I don’t mind the overall three hour contest. It’s the pitchers that just bring the game to an absolute halt that drive me nuts. Whatever. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I’ll live.

But it makes me dislike Broxton even more.

— Great win. Greinke got me nostalgic and A1 snapped me back to the present, while Broxton made me want to fire up my flux capacitor and look at the future where he’s closing games for another team.

From what I understand, there were some great Greinke quotes following the game. I’m sure we’ll have fun with those tomorrow.

The Royals return to The K where they look to build on their league worst 5-17 home record. Just about the most bizarre split I can remember since Brian Bannister dominated the day. In 22 home games, they’ve allowed 122 runs, or 5.5 per game. In 27 road games, they’ve allowed 97 runs, or 3.6 per game.

They’re scoring more on the road (4.3/g vs 3.8) but the spread isn’t as extreme. As always, it’s all about the pitching.

A couple of notes following an off day where we popped the champagne on a winning record in May…

Decisions, Decisions

The Royals will be looking to make a couple of decisions with their 25-man roster in the coming days. Both Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Sanchez are rehabbing in Omaha and look close to being activated.

For Sanchez, there’s no question… He’ll be slotted into the rotation as soon as humanly possible. Not because he’s anything great, but because he’s making $5.6 million and the Royals are still desperate for starting pitching. Like ugly girl in a bar at 2 am desperate. Neither scenario is something worth waking up to in the morning.

Sanchez threw 5.2 innings (of course he did) and struck out five while walking one in his first rehab start. He’s likely to get one more start before rejoining the team. Sanchez’s return still leaves the Royals with just four “definites” in the starting rotation: Chen, Hochevar, Paulino and Sanchez… That means your option for the fifth starter is either Will Smith, Luis Mendoza or Vin Mazzaro. Or they can add another starter from the minors.

Either way, this rotation is a hot mess.

Yosty seemed to be keeping his options wide open when he said Sanchez will “probably” make one more rehab start. If he stays in Omaha, it looks like Mazzaro will get the start on Sunday.

I’m not sure either option is a good one.

Then there’s Betancourt. He has progressed to Omaha after a brief stint in Northwest Arkansas and went 2-4 with a home run in his lone appearance for the Storm Chasers. According to Ned Yost, he could be activated this weekend.

This is where things will get interesting.

Do the Royals keep Johnny Giavotella with the big club? Or do they ship Irving Falu back to Triple-A? Since the Royals have need eight pitchers in the bullpen, they have a three man bench. It’s possible they ship a pitcher out and keep all three, but that seems really unlikely. In my heart, I’d like them to keep Giavotella and just let him play second. Yeah, he’s unimpressive with the glove, but just give him a couple of months and see what the kid can do. Betancourt isn’t a long-term solution. (God help us all if the Royals seem him that way.) Neither is Falu. Is Gio? Maybe… Maybe not. But while we’re certain about the futures of the other two players, the jury is still out on Giavotella. At least it should be.

I’d keep Falu, too. He has proven his value as a utility player. And he could provide the Royals with a late inning defensive replacement for Gio.

Of course, I never would have signed The Yunigma is the first place. So maybe I’m biased. Biased against bad ballplayers.

We’ve covered this topic at length. And after all the bandwidth we’ve filled, I still haven’t a clue as to what the Royals will do. I know what I hope they’ll do. This situation is beginning to feel like Christmas morning when I was 10… Full of hope and anticipation, but ultimately a day of disappointment when I opened a gift from Radio Shack.

Numbers

The Royals have used 20 pitchers through the first two months of the season. Nine of them have started a game. By comparison, last year the Royals used 23 pitchers and 10 starters.

Here are the top five teams ranked by bullpen innings:

Royals – 190
Orioles – 174.2
Twins – 172.1
Rockies – 165.2
Brewers – 163.1

It’s a damn good thing this bullpen is a strength of the team. Their collective 3.13 ERA is tied for the seventh best mark in baseball. Right now, if you asked me to name the Royals Pitcher of the Year, I would vote for “Bullpen.” Quantity and quality.

A1 Back On Top

According to Dutton’s notes column, Alex Gordon feels like the leadoff spot in the lineup is a “fit.” That’s cool. I don’t think lineup position matters at all, but I do understand that some players have a certain approach and state of mind when it comes to hitting leadoff. Hey, if Gordon is able to focus a little better because he’s feeling it in the leadoff spot… More power to him.

In the last four games since Yosty returned him to the top spot, A1 has added 10 points to his average and eight points to his OBP.

Works for me.

Winning The Month

About that winning month of May. The Royals finished two games above .500 at 15-13 despite scoring and allowing the exact number of runs. The offense crossed the plate 117 times while the pitchers surrendered the same amount. We don’t need an advanced degree in sabermetrics to know that the Royals Pythag record in May was 14-14.

Their overall Pythagorean record stands at 22-27, just a game off their actual record of 21-28. Remember during their losing streak how they were something like five games off their Pythag record? Over the course of a long season, these things have a way of finding a balance.

Time To Win

The Royals next six home games are against Minnesota and Oakland. You can’t find two worse run scoring offenses in the American League. (They follow this homestand with three against the Pirates. Their offense is dreadful. Like deadball era bad.) This is a chance to pick up some wins. Success will be defined as six wins in their next nine, including four out of six on the homestand.

I’m still not a believer in contention. I am a believer in development. And development, like contention, means winning ballgames. This is a real chance for the Royals to inch closer back to the ever elusive .500 mark. If they’re going to make a move at any time this season, it has to be over the next week and a half.

Play ball.

A few thoughts as we get set to open another season at The K on Positive Friday. Hope the weather holds!

— Six games into the season, and I’m a little torn on how the bullpen has performed. Yeah, the Broxton meltdown was spectacular and that eighth inning on Opening Day was rough, but there have been some stellar individual performances. Aaron Crow has pitched two of the best innings I’ve seen a reliever throw in recent memory. Tiny Tim Collins has conquered his command problems for the time being. And Kelvin Herrera’s change-up gives me nightmares and I haven’t swung a bat in years.

Collectively, they posted a SO/BB ratio of slightly better than 4:1, which is fantastic. Their 12.1 SO/9 is the fourth best in baseball and trails only the Yankees in the American League. On the other hand, they have collectively inherited 12 runners and allowed five to score. And Broxton kind of has occasional control issues.

Overall, though, we have to be pleased, right? The bullpen had been advertised as a strength of this team and even though there have been a couple of speed bumps on the way, there’s nothing I’ve seen in the first week that would lead me to believe otherwise.

Speaking of the bullpen, has anyone seen Everett Teaford? Seriously, every reliever has been in three games – except Herrera who’s appeared twice. And Teaford hasn’t set foot out of the bullpen. Yosty has a full compliment of relievers, yet refuses to use a guy who figures to be an asset.

Maybe he forgot Teaford pitched in KC last year and figured him for a Rule 5 guy he’s obligated to bury. If anyone can figure out the logic behind Nervous Ned’s Bullpen Management Scheme, I’m listening… Because I’d really like to know.

— Country Breakfast has five extra base hits in his first six games. Stud.

— I had hoped removing him from the rain-soaked Bacon Tuesday game in Oakland was merely a precaution. Sadly, Lorenzo Cain’s groin strain was serious enough to land him on the 15 day disabled list.

It will be interesting to see how Yosty plays this. While I would love to see Our Mitch get the bulk of the playing time over the next couple of weeks, I get the feeling we will be acquainted with Jason Bourgeois. And we will also have the thrill of watching Jerrod Dyson pinch run for Billy Butler.

Actually, it sounds like Dyson is in the mix for some regular playing time. Yosty apparently likes the idea of Our Mitch coming off the bench. OK. And he’s thinking the right-handed hitting Bourgeois will get the starts against the lefties. That’s a solid idea. Check out Bourgeois’ career splits:

Vs. LHP – .326/.366/.411
Vs. RHP – .205/.253/.251

That’s so extreme we should probably consider checking Yost into Trey Hillman’s Unicycle Camp For Slow Learners if he ever decides to start Bourgeois against a right-handed pitcher.

So if Maier is on the bench and Bourgeois is the guys against southpaws, does this mean Dyson will get the starts against right-handers? Looks that way. He’s off to a decent start in Omaha, batting .364/.400/.485 in 37 plate appearances. He has 12 hit with three going for extra bases (two doubles and a triple.) And this is most important… He has six steals and has yet to be caught. If Ned Yost were a Playmate he would list “stolen bases” and “sac bunts” as turn-ons. (Sorry for the imagery.)

— The offense is in a bit of a slumber. Our leadoff hitter isn’t getting on base and has already been “rested” in an attempt to help get right. The team has been giving away outs on the bases as often as Lindsay Lohan has her probation revoked.

Here’s the real issue with all those outs on the bases. Currently, the Royals are scoring only 11 percent of their base runners. League average is roughly 14 percent. What the Royals are doing isn’t aggressive… It’s reckless. And it’s damaging their chances to win games.

The obvious news is things are going to balance out. The starting pitching can’t keep up this outstanding stretch and there’s no way the hitters will stay this cold. There will be more baserunners and (hopefully) fewer outs on the bases, which means more runs. Which the Royals will need to offset the starting pitching when it stumbles.

— Somehow, Chris Getz has yet to lay down a sac bunt. Probably because he’s too busy jacking the ball with all he newfound “power.”

Two weeks ago, I think the Royals’ community would have unamiously accepted a 3-3 start to the season.   That is what good teams do:   play .500 ball on the road and take care of business at home, right?  As ugly as yesterday’s 12 inning loss to Oakland was, Kansas City accomplished step one of that theory.    Sure, you hate to lose a game like that, but it is, after all ‘just one game’.

Except ‘just one game’ begins to add up after while.

I am not sure that Denny Matthews came up with this theory, but he refers to it from time to time and I think it makes some sense.   Denny will say that every baseball team plays 50 games that they win no matter what, 50 games that they will lose no matter what and the determination of a team’s season is what they do with the remaining 62 contests.

Using that theory, I think it is safe to say that the season opener against Jared Weaver was one of those 50 that the Royals were just plain going to lose.   The following two games, in my opinion, would both fall into the category of the 50 that the Royals were destined to win, ditto for the 3-0 rain shortened game on Tuesday night.  However, yesterday’s debacle and Monday’s 1-0 loss to Tom Milone have to fall into the critical 62 game column.   There, after just six games, the Royals are 0-2.

Let’s touch very briefly on Monday once more (because a little salt goes well with that open wound from yesterday afternoon).   Tom Milone is a promising young pitcher, don’t get me wrong.  If you pull up his minor league resume, you will be impressed.   However, one thing pops out when you do so is that Milone is something of a strikeout pitcher.   Two years ago in AA, Milone struck out 155 batters in 158 innings and then followed that up last year in AAA by striking out 155 in 148 innings.

So, when Milone throws eight shutout innings without striking out a single Royal, I have to think that is a missed opportunity.   Especially when the Royals ran into three outs on the bases that night:  two in a mind boggling inning in which Milone walked two batters and still needed just TEN pitches to get through the inning.  Yeah, let’s put that as a loss in the 62-game-decide-your-season column.

Then along came yesterday and our good friend Jonathan Broxton.

I raved about Broxton’s Sunday appearance in Anaheim on Monday.  His velocity was up, his slider was unhittable and certainly Jonathan’s confidence had to be high.    After the Royals scored in the top of the 12th thanks to a Billy Butler double and some smartly aggressive baserunning, my confidence was high as well.

Enter Broxton to save the game in the bottom of the 12th.   While his velocity was not consistently as high as it was on Sunday, he still greeted Daric Barton with a pair of 94 mph fastballs, got him to foul off a slider, showed him a 98 mph offering out of the zone, missed with a slider and then got Barton looking with 95 mph heat.   Good start, all is well.

Then the unthinkable occurred:  an Alcides Escobar error.   Okay, it happens.  Ozzie Smith made errors, you know.  Nobody on and Escobar botches Seth Smith’s weak offering at an 0-1 slider.  No big deal, Broxton.   It’s not like Escobar isn’t going to make that up to you in spades as the season goes on.   Except it must have been a big deal to Jonathan Broxton.

I mentioned that Broxton threw a slider (the third of his appearance) to Smith.   That is noteworthy because Broxton would only throw one slider the rest of the inning.   Four straight fastballs to Jemile Weeks for balls and, to be clear, they were not even that fast.   All four whistled in at 92 or 93 mph:  well below what Broxton was throwing in his dominant outing on Sunday.   At that point, you have to start to wonder what is going on and maybe, just maybe, Aaron Crow might be an option.

Eric Sogard enters the batter’s box and Broxton pumps the velocity up a little: seven straight fastballs between 94 and 96 mph.  Sogard never swings the bat and walks when Broxton misses with a 94 mph 3-2 fastball.  Okay, it is officially dicey at this point.   Bases are loaded, one out and Broxton has thrown 8 of his last 10 fastballs out of the strike zone.

Now, we all know the new improved rules of baseball demand that once you insert your closer, you are duty bound to live and die with him.  I hate the rule.  I hated it last year when Joakim Soria was struggling and I hate it even more when the Royals’ closer may or may not be the best arm in the bullpen.   Still, I have to admit that I don’t pull Broxton here, either.

Coco Crisp comes up, takes a 94 mph fastball for a strike, fouls off a 95 mph offering and then takes a 96 mph four seamer for a ball.   Okay folks, here it comes, the last slider of the day.  Crisp hacks at an 89 mph slider and hits a bouncer to second where the only play is at first for the second out and the tying run scores.  Hey, on another day, Crisp hits the ball to Betancourt’s right instead of his left and the Royals turn a game ending double play.   I hate the saying more often than not, but in this case, well, that’s baseball.

Now, runners on second and third, two outs and the game is tied.  Disappointing, yes.  Devastating, no.  Get the third out and let’s play inning number thirteen.

Yeonis Cespedes is up.  Yeonis Cespedes will swing and generally miss anything that breaks at all.  Hell, pretty sure he might swing and miss at Nick’s slider or Craig’s split-fingered fastball.   Feels like a slider here, doesn’t it?  Nope, Broxton throws a 95 mph fastball and hits Cespedes.   Hits him with the first pitch.   Hits a guy who would likely jump out of his shoes to swing big at something on the outer half or even something over his head.

Now, Broxton is 24 pitches into this inning, having walked two guys, hit another and forgotten that he actually has a second pitch.  I know Aaron Crow sometimes struggles with his control, but don’t you have to give him a shot here?  

Here is where I freely admit that in all the second guessing that the game of baseball was virtually designed to create, managers get absolutely and unfairly hammered for changing pitchers too late or too soon or too often or not often enough.   Hindsight is painfully obvious in baseball and quite honestly, how often do you see a pitcher hit two guys in a row?

One thing that does seem pretty common is for a pitcher to struggle to throw a strike after hitting a batter, however, and Broxton had not exactly been hammering the zone previously.   This was not fluke, Broxton was drowning out there and was treading into deep water pitch count wise.    I know, 24 pitches is not that many, but it is a lot for one inning and a big number for specialized one inning guys.

Bam! A 97 mph four seam fastball that The Flash could not have avoided and the winning run comes in on a hit batter.   End of game, end of story and the Royals are now 0-2 in the ‘season deciding column’.

A 3-3 road trip is good and probably we might have entered panic mode too soon, but when you have used the ‘it’s only one game’ TWICE in the first six games, I have to admit being a little concerned.   Young teams have a tendency to give away games, but they cannot afford to do so a third of the time.

If you want to be an aggressive baserunning team, do it, but do so with some intelligence.   If you have a dominant bullpen then use it and not just in the traditional baseball fashion.   Losses happen.  The Royals are not going to go 62-0 in the season deciders.   Young teams give away games.

Playing at home, the young Royals need to take some of the games back.

xxx

 

On Saturday night, with the Royals protecting a 6-2 lead, we got our first look at Jonathan Broxton as a Royal.   He faced four batters, allowing two hits and a run and, quite frankly, was not all that impressive.  

Throwing ten pitches, Broxton induced zero swinging strikes and one foul ball.  Torii Hunter bunted a 96 mph fastball for a single, which was the hardest pitch Broxton threw on Saturday.   Here is the complete pitch sequence for the outing:

Against Kendry Morales

  • 94 mph fastball – called strike
  • 86 mph slider – double

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – bunt single

Against Bobby Abreu

  • 74 mph curve – called strike
  • 95 mph fastball – ball
  • 92 mph fastball – ball
  • 88 mph slider – foul
  • 85 mph slider – sacrifice fly

Against Vernon Wells

  • 87 mph slider – ball
  • 95 mph fastball – ground ball into double play

Let’s not panic here, that isn’t horrible:  a double and a goofy bunt single when up by four runs, but it is hardly dominant.  Nothing happened on Saturday to make me think that Greg Holland won’t be the closer for the Royals by mid-May.

Then came Sunday.

Let’s run down the outing for Jonathan Broxton in the ninth inning of the series clinching game after Aaron Crow had allowed runners to reach first and second with no one out. 

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – foul
  • 96 mph fastball – swinging strike
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Vernon Wells

  • 99 mph fastball – ball
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 91 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 98 mph fastball – ball
  • 91 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Kendry Morales

  • 97 mph fastball – ball
  • 89 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 89 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 90 mph slider – swinging stirke

Okay, so maybe Greg Holland won’t be the closer by mid-May.   What you notice right away is that the velocity is up across the board – which is a great sign for a pitcher coming back from injury and working his second day in a row.  

On Sunday, Broxton threw five sliders, the slowest of which was faster than any of the four sliders he threw on Saturday.   Those five sliders induced one two foul balls and three swinging strikes.  Can you say ‘out’ pitch?    On top of that, Broxton’s nine fastballs were all as fast or faster than his high water mark on Saturday.

Same stadium, same time of day, same gun and basically the same hitters and Broxton when from so-so to freaking dominant in the span of 24 hours.  Maybe the more appropriate analogy is that we saw the 2011 Jonathan Broxton on Saturday and the 2009 version (when he struck 114 in 76 innings) on Sunday.    Who said you can never go back?

Now, 10 pitches on Saturday and 14 more on Sunday are not enough of a sample size to really come to any conclusions (other than Jonathan is better when he throws harder – duh!), but it is enough to get this writer more than interested.  An effective, borderline dominant Broxton, gives the Royals tremendous flexibility going forward.   Especially early on when the team’s relievers have a curious tendency to be very good coming into a game and very bad once they try to pitch a second inning.

If Broxton continues to perform as he did yesterday, Ned Yost will have the confidence to go early and often to the pen (even more than he does now), knowing that he won’t need to save a Holland or Crow to back-up Broxton.    Given the number of young, talented arms in Omaha (I mean, seriously, name me a Royals’ bullpen in the last decade that Louis Coleman wouldn’t be the second or third best pitcher), should Dayton Moore find himself in contention in late June he could confidently move a bullpen arm or two to plug a hole somewhere else.   Should the Royals not be a serious contender by then, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to someone like the Red Sox, for example?

Of course, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to the 2013 Royals?  Let’s remember, Broxton will just be 29 years old next year.   How would it feel as a Royals’ fan to start 2013 with this same bullpen, but add Joakim Soria (I’m expecting the Royals to opt out of his contract, but resign him to a more favorable deal) at some point during that season?

Okay, okay, okay, I have gotten ahead of myself.  Broxton likely is unavailable for tonight’s game against Oakland and might well come out of the gate on Tuesday throwing 93 and all of this will just be pie in the sky.  Still, if Broxton starts stringing together velocity numbers like those posted on Sunday, his somewhat controversial $4 million deal will look like another shrewd Dayton Moore reclamation project.

Anybody having fun, yet?

xxx

 

Well, if your hope was for the Kansas City Royals to play .500 ball this year, the team is right on schedule.

Like their fans, the Royals’ batters seemed just plain too amped up on opening night.  From Mike Moustakas basically playing defense on Alcides Escobar twice to the top four batters in the order striking out 10 times in 16 at-bats, the Royals were just too anxious.  Of course, Jared Weaver is, you know, freakishly good as well.   It is possible, let’s hope anyway, that Kansas City fans won’t see Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler string together a series of at-bats any worse than they did on Friday night.

Now Saturday, against Dan Haren (a pitcher I think is pretty awesome in his own right), the Royals did work at the plate.  Solid at-bats and outstanding results – with the exception of Gordon, who seems to be in a bit of funk to start the season.  Nothing better than having Hosmer and Moustakas go yard on a national broadcast.

On the mound, we saw the ‘weak’ portion of the roster come through with flying colors.   Bruce Chen had Angels hitters off-balance for six innings on Friday, while Luke Hochevar used some early inning luck (and a good portion of newfound composure) in combination with some 5th and 6th inning dominance to nearly duplicate Chen’s performance.  

Of course, baseball being the funny game that it is, the Royals’ perceived strength, the bullpen, was not exactly stellar. 

Aaron Crow pitched as dominant an inning on Friday as I can remember…from anyone, inducing 8 swinging strikes on his way to striking out the side.   He followed up with an ineffective start to the 8th and was followed by Greg Holland who allowed as many inherited runners to score in that one inning than he did in ALL of 2011.

I was surprised Ned Yost sent Crow back out for a second inning of work on Friday.  I certainly can understand why, given Crow’s dominance in the first inning of work, but it was unexpected and ended up working out horribly.   Such is the life of a big league manager.

On Saturday, Holland was much better, but Tim Collins allowed two inherited runners to score and Jonathan Broxton had a less than ‘slam the door’ kind of ninth.   Still, I remain confident that the bullpen will round back into form sooner rather than later.   Combine that with some maybe surprising starting pitching and the Royals might have a lot of fun in 2012.

More detailed (maybe) analysis on Monday.

xxx

 

Finally.

After an endless winter, it’s time for some meaningful baseball. I love the game and I love this team. When baseball is in season, things just feel right. The beer is a little colder, the BBQ is a little tastier and life is just a little better.

Opening Day. Nothing better.

Some housekeeping before we dissect the Opening Day lineup…

The Royals tabbed Jonathan Broxton as The Closer. If you’re surprised by that, you aren’t really following the Royals. Experience trumps performance. I’m not complaining – because I’m fine with Broxton in the ninth inning role – but you would think after the two years Greg Holland has had – and the fact he hasn’t missed time because of injury – he would be first choice.

Remember… I’m not complaining about this.

Broxton looked good this spring and convinced the Royals he’s healthy. He was hitting in the mid to upper 90s on the radar gun and had some sick, explosive movement. Holland would be a great pick, but he’s an outstanding choice for the set-up role. And if anything happens, Holland will be ready to step into the ninth inning slot.

If you’re going to judge off the spring numbers, I think you give the nod to Holland. Fourteen whiffs and just one walk in 11 innings is pretty sick. Broxton did fine, too… Eleven strikeouts, but four walks in eight innings. Broxton had the better ERA, but he allowed five unearned runs. And if I remember correctly, Holland’s ERA went up a run or two when someone couldn’t close out an inning after he left with a couple of runners on base.

This is one area where the Royals truly have depth. It’s kind of a nice problem to have.

Opening Day payroll will be roughly $60.9 million according to USA Today. That’s way up from last year’s $35.7 million. However, it still ranks the Royals fourth from the bottom, ahead of only Houston, Oakland and San Diego.

I’ll be changing the Payroll tab at the top of the page over the weekend.

By the way, if you haven’t clicked on any of those tabs at the top, you should. Especially the Dayton Moore history page. It details every trade, free agent signing and waiver pickup he’s ever made. A useful resource.

George Brett was named an All-Star Ambassador.

What, you were expecting Frank White?

Seriously, a cool honor. He’ll be perfect.

Here are some spring training stat leaders:

BA – Billy Butler – .414
OBP – Butler – .461
SLG – Lorenzo Cain – .743
Hits – Eric Hosmer – 33
HR – Cain/Hosmer – 5
SB – Jason Bourgeois – 7

ERA – Luis Mendoza – 0.47
SO – Mendoza/Luke Hochevar – 21
BB – Aaron Crow – 8
WHIP – Greg Holland – 0.86

That LoCain slugging percentage is insane. Even for the small sample size. And even for Arizona. Hope he packs some of that thunder for the regular season.

Here’s the Royals lineup for The Opener:

LF – Gordon
CF – Cain
1B – Hosmer
DH – Butler
RF – Francoeur
2B – Betancourt
3B – Moustakas
C – Pena
SS – Escobar

Remember how I doubted that The Yunigma was really signed to be a “backup” infielder? I never, ever bought that the Royals would shell out $2 million to one of the worst players in baseball simply to warm the bench. And remember how so many stressed that in the Big Picture, it didn’t matter. Because if the Royals say he’s the backup, he’s only going to play one or two games a week.

Sometimes, I don’t like being right.

Because if Betancourt is starting against Jered Weaver on Opening Day – and batting 6th… Wow.

The right-handed hitting Yunigma had a bizzaro split last year where he posted a .249 wOBA against southpaws pitching and a .288 wOBA versus right-handed pitching. Neither mark is good, but still… In his career Yuni owns a .314 wOBA against lefties and a .290 wOBA against pitchers from the right.

So if Yosty is trying to play the platoon splits, he’s doing it wrong.

Facepalm.

The other option in the worlds sexiest platoon features the slugger, Chris Getz. Like Betancourt, Getz had bizzarro splits last summer. A .287 wOBA against left-handers and a .269 wOBA against righties. Unlike Betancourt, the left handed hitting Getz has overall bizarro splits for his whole career.

Betancourt has consistently ranked near the bottom in wOBA every season he’s played. And he’s batting sixth.

Look, I realize this is like a presidential election… We’re choosing between the lesser of two evils. But 6th place in the lineup? Yuck.

And why in the world would you bat Moustakas between Betancourt and Pena? You’re doing your young 3B no favors here. To quote the best two word review of all time:

“Sh!t sandwich.”

Finally, here’s where we call our shot. Every year I ask for the number of wins the Royals will have – and a couple of other categories.

Here’s what I want this year…

– Wins by the Royals.
— Place the Royals finish in the division.
— Who represents the team at the All-Star Game.

I’ll start

— 74 wins
— 4th place
— Alex Gordon and Greg Holland

Your turn… Leave your answers in the comment section.

Play ball.

For the last couple of seasons, March has been… Well, it’s been a testy month here at Royals Authority. Maybe it’s the change of seasons. Maybe it’s the grind of meaningless spring training baseball. Whatever it is, this has been a month where everyone is on edge.

They say spring is a time for optimism. I’ll freely admit I’m not an optimist. Can’t do it. Not after lo these many years. But I’m not a pessimist either. I consider myself a realist. (Right now, there are people reading this paragraph at 1 Royals Way and coughing, “Bulls#!t.”) It’s true. I’m a realist at heart. You may disagree, but I like to think I call things like I see them. It’s an honest take of the team I love. It’s just that the negative sometimes outweighs the positive.

That’s unfortunate.

We’re so caught up in the Chris Getz Story and the knowledge that somehow the Royals are going to find a way to give Yuniesky Betancourt 500 plate appearances that we tend to overlook a few things. It’s the nature of the beast. We know Eric Hosmer is going to play and play well. What is there to say about him? He’s great. On the other hand, we have someone like Getz. Why? Sadly, the Royals have given us plenty of ammo.

Please don’t get caught up in my previous paragraph. You want to bitch about Getz today. Go someplace else. You want optimism? This is your place for Friday.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to in 2012…

— The continuing development of Eric Hosmer. When was the last time the Royals had a player with a ceiling of MVP?

— The possibility that Luke Hochevar truly turned the corner in the second half of 2011. For some reason, I’m irrationally bullish on Hochevar. By altering his arm angle ever so slightly, he’s added the deception – and movement – necessary to be a quality starter.

— The SS Jesus. Can’t wait for him to range to his left to snare a grounder up the middle, plant, spin and throw to beat the runner by a couple of steps.

— Brayan Pena smiling and giving his teammates high fives. If this was basketball, we would be describing Pena as a “glue guy.”

— The Lorenzo Cain Show. I am thrilled that this guy, who was buried all of last season (justifiably so, given the performance of the Royals outfield), is kicking ass in Surprise. I hope he brings some of those hits north with him next week.

— A1. Domination. The Sequel.

— Johnny Giavotella tearing up Triple-A pitching.

— The continued development of Danny Duffy. I just have this feeling that he’s this close to putting everything together. Needless to say, we can expect improvement over his 4.4 BB/9 and 4.82 FIP. There will be moments where the kid is going to struggle again this summer, but it won’t be as frequent. And the lows won’t be as low.

— The young arms of the bullpen. I thoroughly enjoy watching Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman and Kelvin Herrera pitch. It helps that they could be pretty good relievers. (Side note: I’m not upset that Coleman was sent to Omaha. Surprised, but not upset. The bullpen is a fungible beast. He’ll be back. Probably before the end of April.)

— The return of Salvador Perez. I’m counting down the weeks. So is every other Royals fan.

— Our Mitch. Because it wouldn’t feel like the Royals without him.

— Billy Butler’s annual pursuit of 50 doubles. Quite simply, Butler is the most consistent hitter on this team. And it’s not even close.

— Jeff Francoeur punching his teammates in the nuts after a walkoff. Crazy eyes!

— The late game tandem of Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland. Holland is nails and you know I’m bullish on Broxton. It’s probably just my wide-eyed optimism that I think Broxton can be a servicable closer.

— The development of Mike Moustakas. He’s not the “sure thing” Hosmer is, so there’s a bit of a risk here, but we really need him to be the Moose of September and not the Moose of every other month.

Those are my positive thoughts heading into 2012. Fire away in the comments. Although in the spirit of optimism, I’ll ask that you only leave positive comments. Thanks.

Turning 2 for the next 6 years. (Flickr/Minda Haas)

Count me among those on board with the Alcides Escobar extension. The Royals are making some smart fiscal moves with their young roster. Here are two reasons this works for the Royals:

First, they are going to have a ton of key guys hit arbitration at the same time. They aren’t going to sign all of their roster to these kind of deals, but by locking in some of the soon to be arbitration eligible players, they can focus on those future budgets. A huge deal for a team with resources like the Royals. Map out the future with low risk, high reward contracts and then shift the focus to the ultra key guys. If they sign, great. If not, the team still has the payroll flexibility to absorb the arbitration raises.

Second, they are targeting the easier guys to sign. Again, smart move. Escobar, like Sal Perez before him, were international free agents who signed for small bonuses. They lack the fiscal stability a guy like Eric Hosmer has, who banked $6 million before the ink was dry on his contract. The long term deals protect those players for the future. They have the motivation to sign. It makes all kinds of sense: Get the players under contract who benefit the most from inking long term deals, project a sense of commitment to the future and then bring on board everyone else.

Back to The Shortstop Jesus: We know that Escobar has some work to do offensively. In his two seasons as a regular, he has yet to post a wOBA greater than last summer’s .282. Yikes. Remember back to his player profile where I illustrated that Escobar’s approach at the plate changed on an almost weekly basis. If he’s going to improve with the bat, he’s going to need to figure out what works best for him and stick with it. He has to understand there are going to be streaks in his offensive game. Stay on track and the length of those streaks should shorten and we will see a more consistent hitter. We’re not asking for magic. If he could somehow post a .310 OBP and .300 wOBA, I’d be thrilled. Thrilled.

Yet, for all the issues with the bat, it’s the glove that got Escobar this contract. Last year, he had a 2.2 fWAR, built entirely on the strength of his defense. It’s his exceptional defense which is played at an exceptionally important position. And remember, anything above a 2.0 fWAR can be considered a solid everyday player. On the open market, Fangraphs values that kind of shortstop at around $10 million. Here’s how the Royals are breaking down his contract:

2012 – $1 million
2013 – $3 million
2014 – $3 million
2015 – $3 million

Escobar would have been eligible for arbitration beginning in 2013, so they’re committing $9 million to his arbitration years. By comparison, they’re paying Perez $7.5 million for his arbitration years. The team holds the options for 2016 and 2017, which are the first two years of his free agency time. If exercised, he’ll earn $5.25 million in ’16 and $6.5 million in ’17.

The SS Jesus can save runs. That’s what the Royals are paying for over the next several years. If his bat can come around, the rest is just gravy. Hopefully, Perez’s knee injury isn’t severe and he can make a complete recovery. With Perez and Escobar anchoring the defense up the middle for the next four to six years, the Royals have a solid foundation of glove work. That’s how winning teams are built.

Other notes from Surprise:

— With all the bad karma hovering over Surprise this week, I thought it would be prudent to point out a positive: Jonathan Broxton’s outing on Wednesday. In his first game action of the spring, Broxton was scintillating, throwing nine pitches, eight of them for strikes. And the ball he threw was in the dirt on an 0-2 pitch – clearly fishing for the punchout.

Even better than the control, was the fastball. Broxton was living around 94 mph with his fastball and on his strikeout pitch of Casper Wells, he tickled 96 mph on the stadium gun. Impressive velocity for a guy with his injury history. And even better than the velocity (yeah, it gets even better) was the fact that 96 mph pitch was a rising fastball that freaking exploded. Maybe my judgement is clouded (it was my first live baseball action of the spring) but that pitch just looked filthy. Wells had no chance.

From the Brooks Baseball player cards, this is a look at Broxton’s declining velocity the last couple of years. After his surgery, if he can throw like he did on Wednesday, that could be the bullpen bargain of the year.

The only question we’ll have is how will Broxton recover. It was only nine pitches, but he’ll need to be able to bounce back and hit the mound again. Since it’s spring, the Royals obviously have the luxury of taking it slow, but at some point they’ll need to test his power of recovery.

— Kelvin Herrera is having a solid spring with another strong outing on Thursday. He struck out four Dodgers in two innings and now has nine whiffs in six innings of work. Late arrival Jose Mijares had a typical inning of work… Three batters faced and three flyball outs. The good news with Mijares is he has yet to walk a batter in just under five innings of work. Last year, if you remember, his SO/BB ratio was an even 1.

— According to Bob Dutton, the Royals are looking at adding some catching depth. While it’s possible the Royals jump soon, I’d be surprised if they acted this weekend. They need to wait until Perez has his surgery on Friday and maybe even get a post-op report or two. If you bring in a guy like Ivan Rodriguez, you sign him for the full year. There’s no need to commit those kinds of resources to a veteran if Perez can make it back before June. Besides, this team isn’t built for 2012… The focus is on 2013. If the Royals didn’t go out and deal for another starting pitcher this winter, there’s no reason to think they’ll jump the gun for a temporary backstop.

Still, the Brayan Pena/Max Ramirez tandem does not exactly inspire confidence. I’m not sure either one of those guys actually owns a catcher’s mitt.

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