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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Ned Yost

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A sixth straight loss at home and a third straight game where the Royals had runners on base in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to extend or even win the game.  As I said on Monday, almost every team losses five out of six at some point and even three straight at home, but I am not convinced that every team is going to lose eight out of nine and six straight at home.  I could be wrong, probably am, and certainly the losing is exacerbated by it coming at the beginning of the season.  

The Royals were hoping for big crowds this year and, from a public relations standpoint, this losing streak could not come at a worse time.   The fans will flock back to Kaufmann when (if) the winning starts, but it will take a lot of wins for the pre-season excitement felt throughout the Royals’ fandom to be rekindled.   That’s a shame.

As for last night’s six straight loss, two divergent sources offered up some pretty good commentary on the night.  Jeff Zimmerman at Royals Review broke down the bottom of the seventh inning and Lee Judge, who decided not to take a jab at stats, bloggers and anyone who has not been paid to play baseball, and instead offered up a decent rundown of the loss as well.  

I will chime in with a few notes as well:

Ned Yost had an awful night as manager.  Virtually every decision he made blew up.  While I am not a huge Yost fan, he had truly terrible luck last night.   While it is sometimes hard to determine who is actually to blame (player, coach, manager or just plain good baseball by the other team), in the end it all falls on the manager.   Bad luck or bad managing, you can call last night either or both, but no manager survives a whole lot of games like last night.

On back to back at-bats, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder beat defensive shifts for singles.  Without the shift, probably both of those balls are outs and no runs score.  Now, the best defensive team in baseball the past five years has been the Tampa Bay Rays and they probably shift defensively more than any team, so there is obvious value in shifting.  That said, if your pitchers don’t pitch to the shift then you lose the advantage.  I don’t know, but it is hard for me to believe that with Alcides Escobar playing on the right field side of second that Ned Yost wanted Jose Mijares to throw a pitch outside to Prince Fielder.

Obviously, teams shift to some extent on almost every hitter and sometimes with every pitch, but the dramatic defensive shifts are what gets Joe Maddon a ton of credit and Ned Yost, at least for now, a ton of criticism.   In my tortured mind, it would seem that if you believe that you have a great bullpen and good defense (which I think the Royals do believe) then you would shift less dramatically.   Hindsight is 20-20 and there are certainly games in the past that Kansas City has likely won in no small part due to a dramatic defensive shift against a good hitter, but last night the Royals probably win by just playing straight up defense.

Also of note last night, Alex Gordon was caught stealing third.  It was a very good play by the Detroit battery of Gerald Laird and Max Scherzer.   Laird made the call for the Tiger pitcher to throw the second and caught Gordon leaving early.   As I said above, sometimes the other team just makes good plays and I am inclined to believe that was the case here.

However….

Why are the Royals obsessed with stealing third base?   I am going strictly from memory here, but I believe Kansas City has stolen third three times this year and been caught (or picked off second) at least three times.   Both of those numbers might be higher, but I know neither is lower.   Three for six doesn’t get it done when it comes to stealing third and the sheer number of attempts tells us that it is a strategic decision on Yost’s part to steal third often.

The general theory would be that if a runner gets to third, he can score on any hit, most fly balls to the outfield, a portion of ground balls and, of course, a wild pitch.   That all makes some sense, of course, except this Royals team, while it has not shown it, is generally expected to hit.   If you have a team that you expect to hit and score runs, then why risk giving away outs at third base?

Keep in mind, we are not just talking about last night, the Royals came out of the gate stealing third base.   It is easy to justify trying to manufacture a run when you have scored just one in two straight games, but Ned Yost came out hell bent on stealing third and bunting from day one.  On day one of the season, everyone in baseball assumed the Royals could and would hit and score runs.   Despite this, Yost insists on ‘being aggressive’, which thus far has translated into less runs and more outs.

Last night, Gordon may well have been running on his own, but it was done based upon the club’s philosophy of running the bases.    Sure, Eric Hosmer is in a ridiculous slump, but I still like the odds of him singling in Gordon from second as opposed to risking making an out trying to steal third.  Heck, Yuniesky Betancourt has been known to run into a baseball and drive it on occasion (actually fairly often thus far).  I like my chances there (and you know I’m no Yuni-fan) better than risking the out.

Truthfully, right now, the Royals are a team full of players trying too hard and managed by a manager who is trying to impact the game too much.   Pick a batting order and a second baseman, Ned, and just let it be.   Take the extra base on hits, but put a premium on not making outs on the bases.   Aggressive baserunning has translated into reckless baserunning on this team.   For now, pull back the reins a bit and let your hitters hit.

If you believe you are a good offensive team, the runs will come without handfuls of stolen bases and sacrifice bunts.  Oh, and by the way, Eric Hosmer may never have bunted in his life.   Slump or not, he should not be trying to do so last night.

The season is far from over and many teams over the years have overcome starts just like this to have good seasons.  With every mistake laden loss, however, the situation gets a little closer to desperation.   As a group, the Royals are already playing and managing with a certain sense of desperation:  that’s no way to play this game.

xxx

 

 

 

 

Rumors, news and notes from the Winter Meetings in Dallas…

— Ned Yost says the Royals will, “Play much better than .500.

And I’d like to be an astronaut.

What Yost just said is, he thinks the Royals are going to be contenders. Because “much better than .500” in the Central, means you’re in the hunt. As much as I like the idea of Project 2012, I think the smart money is on using this year (again) as a developmental year and targeting 2013. I’d be more optimistic if the starting rotation wasn’t so unsettled.

Yes, I think the 2012 team is going to be better than the 2011 version, but 10 games better? I don’t think so. Not yet anyway. I’m good with Hochevar and Chen is fine. I’m not a fan of Sanchez and I’m a little surprised at the talk that Paulino has to “earn” his spot. Right now I see three middle of the road starters, a back of the rotation guy in Sanchez and a wild card for the last spot.

Besides, it’s a little early to be placing markers on win totals. Talk to me in March when there is some clarity to the pitching situation. Right now, I’d peg the 2012 Royals at 76-80 wins.

— Jayson Stark says the Royals are listening on Joakim Soria, but want a young, controllable, front line starter.

Given how the market for closers has unfolded, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. It would be better if Soria hadn’t struggled with his mechanics (according to Yost) for a good part of the season. Teams will use that to try to drive down the Royals asking price, but the Royals are so infatuated with their closer (and his team-friendly contract, that is about to become a little less friendly) that they will hold on.

I’ll bet that Soria opens the year with the Royals.

— Within the same Tweet, Stark said the Royals were balking at the idea of moving Wil Myers.

Good.

If you trade Myers now, you would be selling at near his low value as a prospect. His performance in the Arizona Fall League helps a little, but like with Soria, his last season was a disappointment. Yes, a number of factors worked against him, but the numbers are what teams will point to when trying to drive down the price.

— Billy Beane reportedly shot down the Gio Gonzalez to Royals rumors.

Good. Earlier in the day we saw the A’s were asking for either Myers, Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer. Uh… What? Sorry, but I see Gonzalez as overrated. The walk rate is too high, and he trends to the fly ball. He’s benefitted from playing in a home park where foul territory is so expansive, it comes with mile markers. I just don’t see more than a number three starter.

Yeah, I know there’s upside. He’s 26 and has 89 career starts under his belt. He’s also gained velocity each season he’s appeared in the big leagues. There’s a lot to like, but that’s why he’s overvalued, in my opinion. He’s shown no indication he can tame the control issues and that’s going to hold him back. Too many base runners, plus a HR/FB rate that will regress to the mean… That doesn’t hold my interest.

I’m more interested in his teammate, who was mentioned in rumors, Trevor Cahill. Huge ground ball rate and he can throw in the strike zone. Plus, he’s signed for four years with two club options. If the options are picked up, the deal totals around $55 million. And at the end of the contract, he’ll be 30.

Now does that warrant a “top” prospect. Given the contract, yes it does. I’d try like hell to avoid trading Myers, but this one is tempting.

If we’ve learned anything from all this there are two things teams overvalue: Prospects and pitching. That makes a deal awfully difficult.

— The Royals were linked to Carlos Guillen.

Once upon a time, I was a huge Guillen fan. Each year from 2000 to 2006 he improved his batting average. I thought that was kind of cool. (Kind of big if you’re playing fantasy baseball.) Reportedly, five teams are in the hunt and view him as a utility-type of player. He will come on the cheap because his performance has been declining since 2006 and because he hasn’t played in more than 81 games at any point over the last three seasons. But he is a switch hitter who has played all the infield positions at some point in his career. Those pesky injuries though have really cut down on his range.

I’m not against this signing (for only a year and for minimal salary) but I’d rather the Royals stay in house (i.e. cheap) on this. The infield is set and hopefully the only reason you’d need a utility guy is to have the bat off the bench and to give the infield guys an occasional day off.

I definitely wouldn’t get pulled into a bidding war for Guillen.

The Royals held their end of the season press conference and used it as an opportunity to announce pitching coach Bob McClure wouldn’t return for the 2012 season. Ned Yost had the honors:

“We threw too many balls, we walked too many hitters. We fell behind in the count too much. McClure did a phenominal job here for many, many years. Had a great working relationship with these young pitchers. We just felt as an organization it was time for a different voice.”

Yost is absolutely correct on this count. Royals pitchers threw a grand total of 24,376 pitches this year. No team in baseball threw more pitches. League average was 23,595. Think about that one for a moment… Royals pitchers threw almost 1,000 more pitches than the average major league pitching staff. That’s like playing a 170 game schedule.

Taking this further… Royals pitchers threw a strike 62% of the time. Although major league average is 63% (and all teams threw a strike between 65% and 62% of the time) the Royals tossed the fewest strikes percentage-wise of all teams in baseball. Here’s the list:

Oakland – 62.5%
Toronto – 62.4%
Baltimore – 62.3%
Houston – 62.2%
Kansas City – 62.1%

To be the team with the highest number of total pitches and the lowest percentage of strikes… Yeah, that’s not so good.

So who swung the hatchet and sent McClure to the unemployment line?

“There’s a lot of input from Dayton. Dayton and I talk about everything. I trust Dayton. Uh… As much as I could trust anybody in this business. We started really talking about it the last six weeks and thought it through and made sure it was the right decision for our organization.”

Make no mistake… Yost was the triggerman on the McClure hit. I think Yost had been unhappy with McClure for a long time and started putting this move in motion shortly after the All-Star Break. Here’s what GMDM had to say.

“I like Bob’s style. The most important trait of a pitcher is toughness and poise. At the same time you have to think through the process. You have to overcome so many things. It’s gotta be a very tough, tough thing to be able to succeed in that role. I think McClue has that. Ned certainly has a vision for what he wants. He’s with the players every single day. He knows what they need and we’ve gotta trust his opinion there. And that’s what we’ll do. We’ll find somebody that compliments our coaching staff and someone who works very well with Ned and somebody that can give our pitchers the extra boost they need right now. Make no mistake, Bob McClure has created a great foundation on and off the field on all these pitchers.”

McClure was a holdover from the Baird regime (Buddy Bell brought him over from Colorado prior to the 2006 season), but clearly had a fan in GMDM. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have lasted six seasons. GMDM is loyal to his guys. To a fault, I think. If it had been solely his call, I doubt this move would have happened.

I know a bunch of people looked to McClure as the scapegoat, but honestly, I have no idea how much effect a pitching coach has on a major league staff. Bruce Chen seemed to figure out how to change arm slots and has had a small dose of success. Is that McClure? Danny Duffy struggled in his debut season. Is that McClure? Luke Hochevar put together a solid second half after turning to his slider. Is that McClure? Some guys showed up in KC and pitched well… Some guys didn’t. Happens all the time.

Having said that, six years is a long time for a pitching coach to be on a team that isn’t winning. Yost wasn’t happy with the results, he wants his guy and GMDM wants Yost to feel comfortable. Both want someone who can work with young pitchers since that’s the next wave of The Process. Maybe McClure couldn’t communitcate with the youth. Maybe Hochevar figured out how to be successful on his own and maybe he could just never reach Duffy.

So Yost wanted McClure gone. As I said, GMDM is loyal, but ultimately his style is to hire his people and let them do their jobs. It’s a standard organizational ladder. If one of the higher-ups wants someone beneath them gone… It’s done. Will at Royals Review thinks this is a sign that Yost is the long-term guy as manager. I don’t necessarily read it that way. Yost is under contract through next season. I suppose an extention could happen, but I see this as GMDM basically giving his manager what he wants. (Kudos to whomever asked Yost about his contract. Without an extension, he’s a lame duck manager in 2012, so this is a fairly important issue. And thankfully, Karen Kornacki got in a question about Santa Claus. Seriously. She freaking name-dropped Santa at a baseball press conference.) Everything could change by this time next year. It’s baseball. Just ask Terry Francona.

Similarly, Yost will play a huge part in the hiring of the next pitching coach. And he knows exactly what he wants…

“I’m looking for a guy that has energy, a guy that has competitive spirit, a guy that is focused on teaching mechanics and a guy that can formualte an idividual game plan for each pitcher on each particular day. You know, I learned a lot with Mike Maddux when we were together for 6 years. I watched how he did it, and he was pretty good.”

Maddux is currently the pitching coach for Ron Washington’s Texas Rangers.

“I’m looking for a guy that pitched in the big leagues for a long time with mediocre stuff. Mike Maddux had mediocre stuff, but he pitched 15 years in the big leagues. Because he knew how to pitch, he understood mechanics, he understood the importance of fielding your position, he understood the importance of controlling the running game, he understood the importance of knowing the signs and the situations at all times. And those guys that have to work real hard at their game and have longevity in their game usually make dynamic pitching coaches.”

McClure had a 19 year major league career that spanned over 1,150 innings. With an ERA+ of 102, I’d call him mediocre. I’d also call him left-handed, which surely helped him pitch into his forties.

Using Yost’s criteria, I did a search for pitchers who played at least 15 years, finished with an ERA+ between 95 and 105 and threw at least 1,000 innings. Here are some candidates for the Royals pitching coach job:

Bruce Kison
Milt Wilcox
Andy Hassler
Doyle Alexander
Bob Forsch
Mike Norris
Bob Knepper
Rick Sutcliffe
Floyd Bannister
Jim Clancy
Rick Honeycutt
Dennis Lamp
Dan Schatzeder
Juan Berenguer
Mike Morgan
Bruce Hurst
Danny Jackson
Kevin Gross
John Burkett
Dave Burba
Chris Hammond
Scott Erickson

I have no clue who on this list is active in baseball and who’s been working on their golf game. It would be kind of fun if the Royals next pitching coach was one of these guys.

The Royals had a decent second half and Yost is flexing his muscles. McClure and Gibbons were his call. No mistake. And the next hires will be his guys. Again, no mistake. So at this time next year if the pitching staff has taken a step forward, we can give Yost some of the credit for bringing in his guy. He’ll have to take the blame if things get worse.

Meanwhile, John Gibbons, the bench coach got the axe as well. Yost has someone in mind for his replacement and says he will come from within.

“I’m looking for somebody with catching experience. A really good teacher. A real good catching coach, that can work with these young catchers.”

All indications are the Royals will look to Chino Cadiha who is currently a special assistant to the Royals player development staff. Prior to that he was… Hold on… a bench coach with the Braves. He worked with GMDM as the Braves roving catching instructor and was a minor league field coordinator.

There was plenty more from GMDM’s press conference, but this post is already running long. Look for a weekend post. Special edition.

The off season has begun…

Episode #056 – In which I discuss Ned Yost’s comments regarding Eric Hosmer and break down the options for the Royals All-Star Game representative. Also, special guest Jon Schieszer stops by to discuss comedy, being a Royals fan in L.A., the Dodgers and his upcoming show in Kansas City.

 

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs056.mp3|titles=BBS

 


 

Check out Jon Schieszer live in Kansas City

 

Music used in this podcast:

Afro Cuban All Stars – Tumba Palo Cocuye

The Aggrolites – 5 Deadly Venoms

Modest Mouse – Dramamine

 

How to Get the Podcast:

Click here to be taken to the site to download directly.

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The biggest fear of people who claim to be anti-statistics is the idea that there will be no room for the human element in baseball — no strategic decisions, nothing based on the mental side of the game or the intangibles inherent in human players, or there will be some kind of robot making decisions based on human players.  It seems like an absurd notion, but that day arrived years ago.

One of the silliest accusations of people who say they don’t like statistics is that “the game isn’t played on a spread sheet”. A statement which is as condescending as it is obvious. However, it’s not the advanced-statistics crowd that needs the preaching, it’s the Major League mangers and general managers. It’s they who continually run this simple program on a loop:

IF I = 9

AND 4 > L > 0

THEN INSERT C

WHERE

I = INNING

L = LEAD

C = CLOSER

It’s almost astonishingly simple, this program. The only pieces of information needed are the inning and the difference in team scores. In a game that can be as complex as baseball, where there are millions of variables it’s amazing that managers continually rely on something so simple. With apologies to Occam and his razor, the simplest solutions aren’t always the best.

This solution has worked pretty well for the Royals for the past few seasons as the pitcher they used as their closer was one of, if not the best relief pitcher in baseball. Rare though, is the pitcher who can stay dominant for season after season. Short bursts of brilliance followed by mediocrity are far more common. At the time, nobody believes it will happen. Typically while in the moment, people tend to project the future based on the present. Few and far between were the analysts and fans predicting the downfall of Eric Gagne when he was mowing down hitters in the 9th inning for the Dodgers. It’s just as impossible to find anyone who predicted a fall to earth by the suddenly human Joakim Soria. But that’s exactly what has transpired.

Speculation as to the reason for Soria’s sudden fall from grace are numerous and rampant. The most significant seems to be his lack of curveball command. His once devastating, knee-buckling curve ball is now a shell of it’s former self, mirroring in some ways the ice-cold Mexican saves leader himself.

Once upon a time in the not so distant past, when Soria would have his opponent behind in an 0-2 count, everyone in the ballpark, including the batter knew that the curve was coming. 12-6 didn’t do justice to just how much movement and how little speed was on the pitch. It froze hitters and left them shaking their heads. It made spectators turn to each other and mutter “wow”. Now, it’s barely thrown and when it is, it’s rarely in the strike zone. The old curve would seemingly drop out of a batters chin and be perfectly placed in the catcher’s mitt, giving the umpire an easy “STRIKE!” call.

But for whatever reason, that pitch isn’t effective now and neither is Joakim Soria. Nobody should be ready to proclaim the end of a still young career or even a still young season. Pitchers go through periods of struggle and many recover. It seems obvious that at the very least he shouldn’t be in the game during important, potentially-game-changing moments.

We  now return to our simple program from above. There’s very little room in it for adjustment, for as long as Joakim Soria is designated the “closer” then he is brought into the game in the save situations. It’s the kind of closed-minded thinking that the stat crowd despises and it’s the managing to some in-human equation that the anti-stats crowd decries.

Managers see only the opportunity to get a (S) in the boxscore next to his most valuable reliever’s name. The general manager sees merely an opportunity to prove to the next free-agent closer that joining his team will get the closer more saves on his resume so he can put more money in the bank. It’s a scenario which is as ironic as it is maddening. Baseball managers create “closers” by giving them a big number in the spreadsheet column labeled “save” so that the closer can earn more money and so that the general manager can go out on the market and pay exponentially more for some other guy who has received the same treatment from another team.

Luckily, baseball in general is still a merit based game so while closers may command an over-inflated price they typically are the best relief pitchers. But there is little doubt that being tagged with the term closer for a general manager is tantamount to a brand-name clothing designer to a teenager. In many  cases that tag denotes a higher quality, but make no mistake that tag is what creates the value.

For teams that not only can afford to pay the higher prices commanded by closers, but actually set the market for them by paying extraordinary prices there isn’t near as much risk. But for small-market teams like the Royals, trying to play the same game as the large-market teams is a game that’s rigged against them.

Teams like the Royals have to make up the difference in revenue with smarts. They aren’t afforded the luxury that the born-wealthy teams like those in New York, Los Angeles and Boston are. They have to work harder and smarter to over-come their inherent deficiencies. Being outside the scrutiny of major market teams though does provide some benefits.

Nobody is forcing them to play the same game the Yankees and Red Sox play. There isn’t anything in any rule book saying that every team must do things in a certain way. The rules in regards to roster construction and player use in fact are extremely open and free. Yet the Royals, like every other team in baseball just do what every other team does. Change comes glacially. The Royals, in an attempt to do things exactly like every other team in baseball, have handed wins over to their opponents.

Just looking at the statistics from this year, the Royals have been putting their worst relief pitcher in the most important situations. They’ve taken leads into the 9th inning on a number of occasions and looked to the bullpen have essentially said “bring out our least effective guy and see what happens”. At this point it’s bordering on insanity, but because this is what baseball teams do the Royals can continue to do it without fear of criticism. Because how can a team be criticized for doing what everyone else does? It’s not those that melt into the crowd who get noticed, but those that stand out.

So the Royals choose to try and hide behind their baseball brethren in terms of relief pitcher usage and those actions have cost them wins.  Of course there is more statistical information than what is at hand this year and Joakim Soria hasn’t just been a good relief pitcher, he’s been one of the best for the past three seasons. So I’m going to assume that when manager Ned Yost makes the call to the pen in the 9th he’s actually thinking “send out one of the best relief pitchers in the past few years who has struggled this season and let’s hope he’s figured it out.”

It’s perfectly acceptable to do that for a time, but eventually it had to end. That end came yesterday as the Royals replaced Joakim Soria with Aaron Crow in the role of closer. But it didn’t have to come to that. Had they just avoided using the term closer they could have put both pitchers in situations where they had a better opportunity to succeed. As one out-performs the other, he gets shifted towards more important situations. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be the need for an embarrassing demotion from the invented role of closer.

What’s the real cost to the Royals of ignoring “roles”? They would be a less attractive spot for the high-profile free-agent closers? Is that something the Royals should really be concerned about? We’ve already established that high-profile closers command too much money in free-agency and the Royals have to be smarter than that. If they were to change the way they use their bullpen, they could possibly be a MORE attractive place to high quality relievers who are not tagged closers — guys who will get a chance to get some saves on their resume if they are pitching well — guys who are failing as starters, but still have the stuff to be decent bullpen guys. In other words, guys that are almost certainly under-valued in the baseball market. The Royals, by doing something different could position themselves into a destination for exactly the kind of players they need to acquire and at likely lower than market rates.

Yet the Royals persist in following the leader in a game that’s stacked against them. They say that if you’re at a poker table and you can’t identify the sucker, then it’s you. My guess is the Royals look around baseball and think “huh, not a sucker to be seen.”


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

Well, what is one to say or write about last night’s extra inning loss?    More specifically, what is one to write that has not already been written, tweeted or said?

Eleven innings, back to back pick-offs of pinch runners, 13 walks, a run scoring wild pitch, 5 stolen bases allowed, a 9th inning game tying homer by rookie Eric Hosmer, the debut of rookie Danny Duffy and another Joakim Soria bad outing.   Whew!  I cannot decide whether we should spend this column dissecting last night’s loss or try to forget it.

Obviously, in a game in which the manager empties his bench and his bullpen, there are many instances where we could second guess Ned Yost.   My only comments on Yost last night are that I would have stuck with Louis Coleman for a second inning of work and probably Aaron Crow for a second inning as well.  You’ll have to take my word that I was thinking that Crow should work the 9th inning as well before Soria surrendered a run, although going to Soria in the 9th is hardly managerial malpractice.  An extra inning out of both Coleman and Crow keeps Yost from having to go to Jeremy Jeffress in the 11th.

My other complaint is that the Royals need some sort of ‘for godssake don’t make an out on the bases!’ sign.    I know the organization is all about aggressive baserunning, but after Jarrod Dyson is picked off in the 9th, don’t you have to tell Mike Aviles to take a two step lead and hope Wilson Betemit drives the ball into the gap?   Yes, Aviles should damn well know that he can’t get picked off, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing up a ‘STOP’ sign to reinforce the issue.

Anyway, the Royals had their chances and, frankly, the Rangers had more chances.  It was a discouraging loss and one that certainly feels like ‘old times’ for us Kansas City fans.  That’s a few more words about last night than I thought, let’s go inside the numbers for a bit:

  • 30 – The number of pitches Danny Duffy threw AFTER getting two strikes on a hitter.
  • 1 - Total number of passed balls charged to Matt Treanor in 2011:  relevant because it happened last night.
  • 5 – Outings in which Joakim Soria has allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings at this time in 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings after May 19, 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Total combined hits before last night from Mike Aviles and Chris Getz in the last two weeks.
  • .630 - Billy Butler’s OPS in May.
  • .515 - Alex Gordon’s OPS in May.
  • 3.26 - Luke Hochevar’s May earned run average.
  • 7 - May strikeouts by Hochevar.
  • 7 - May walks by Hochevar.
  • 3 - Minimum number of games the Royals need to win through this current homestand to have even a hope of getting back to and staying at or over .500 by the end of May.

I will give kudos to Ned Yost for shaking up the lineup last night – even if it didn’t really pan out.  My original plan for a column was about having to do that very thing and, I have to be honest here, Ned shook it up much more boldly than I would have.    It will be interesting to see if Yost sticks with last night’s batting order or if it was a one time thing.

Okay, question of the day:  When do you call up Mike Moustakas?

So I’m thinking of just giving up and joining the French Quarter section in right field and becoming a member of the Jeff Francoeur Fan Club.

Why not? The guy continues to rake. A game-tying home run in the bottom of the sixth and the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth… Good enough for me.

It’s not going to last… Not with a walk rate of 5.7% and a 15.6% HR/FB rate. We can talk all we want to about an alleged change in approach, but I don’t think he’s doing anything differently. Just getting some big hits.

Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the show.

And maybe I’m a sucker, but after watching a couple of inept fielders patrol right field for the last several seasons, it’s nice to see a guy who can actually play some defense. He made a nice play going back on a ball last night and collected another assist.

Really, you can’t have a much better game than the one Francoeur had last night.

I’m on board. For now.

Meanwhile, I’m really starting to question what goes on in a Ned Yost dugout. I’ve criticized him for his bullpen management and for what I consider to be over management at times with excessive pinch runners and some other odd in-game decisions.

Last night was simply inexplicable for other reasons.

How in the world do you let Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz bat with the winning run in scoring position? Fortunately, Escobar hit the ball on the nose and produced a sharp grounder to short that Robert Andino couldn’t handle. (Really too bad the official scorer didn’t throw Escobar a bone and give him a hit. I was driving around last night and heard Denny at one point say, “Escobar is 0-2 tonight.” Denny has probably said that sentence about 25 times this season.)

So at this point in the game, you have the winning run on third with one out. To let Getz walk to the plate in this situation is managerial malpractice. In a situation where you need at least a fly ball to score a run, you’re letting a guy with a 30% fly ball rate try to bring him in. Nevermind the fact that the odds of Getz collecting a base hit are long. And as we saw, even a ground ball wasn’t enough to get the run home for the win. Crazy.

Sometimes, I like to give the manager the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he wants to play the percentages with the lefty Getz hitting against the right-handed Jason Berken. Only one problem with that line of thought… Both Kila Ka’aihue and Mitch Maier are on the bench. And as we know, both are left-handed batters.

Again, this inactivity from Yost defies logic. He must have taken a nap in the ninth.

Of course, it could be argued that Brayan Pena – who was on second for Escobar and third for Getz should have been lifted for a pinch runner. Namely Maier. How big of an uproar would there have been had Getz muscled a fly ball to shallow right, only to have had Pena gunned down at the plate. We all know if there was going to be a pinch runner Yost has to have Jarrod Dyson. Despite the ankle sprain, the Royals insist he’s available. I have to differ with this assessment. If he was healthy, he would have been on second practically before Pena touched the bag on his double.

— At the end of the night, the Royals had four hitters with an OPS north of .900. Alex Gordon (.913), Billy Butler (.917), Jeff Francoeur (.956) and Wilson Betemit (.902) form a comfortable middle of the order. Part of why everyone is so giddy about this start is because we’ve finally got a middle of the lineup that can actually, you know… produce.

Of course, it might not always be this way. Still, it’s real easy to enjoy.

— The question has been making the rounds… When do we start to worry about Escobar’s bat. Still love the defense, but after last night, his OPS dipped to .498. Not good.

— For those who are worried about Soria, the good news is, he missed a couple of bats last night. Including a swinging strikeout on Nick Markakis. For those of you who lean to the pessimist side of the equation, it’s not that big of an accomplishment to get Markakis out on strikes. At least this season. That guy is in a horrible, horrible place, hitting just .207/.276/.288 in his first 28 games.

Soria also looked to have better command of his curveball. Although he wasn’t able to get the strike call.

After the Indian home run barrage on Tuesday, Royal pitcher now have served up 29 home runs… Most in the American League. Bruce Chen and last night’s starter, Luke Hochevar are responsible for more than half that total.

It took a few weeks, but as the team drifts closer to the .500 mark, it seems safe to say that this pitching staff is what we thought it would be as far as performance. However, while the bullpen has been a strength, it seems as though it is teetering as well.

It’s time to examine Ned Yost’s pattern of bullpen usage.

— Through the first 23 games of the season, Tim Collins has appeared in 13 games. That’s simply a workload that is unsustainable. At his current usage level, the diminutive left-hander will appear in 92 games. 92! That would have tied for the major league lead last season.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Collins, but there’s absolutely no reason to use (and abuse) a 21 year old rookie like that.

So I’m a little confused why he entered the game last night.

I understand that the Cleveland portion of the lineup featured two left-handed hitters in Hannahan and Brantly. But in a 7-3 game, would Yost play the match-ups? (Probably best not to answer that.)

Plus, Collins is far from being a lefty specialist. With his delivery and stuff, he’s been much more effective against right-handed bats than those who bat from the left.

— Then, there’s Joakim Soria. Has anyone seen the Royals closer? Of course, there haven’t been any save situations in the last week. So the last time Soria appeared was way back on April 19th when he needed 23 pitches to lock down the save. This is something that could actually work in the Royals favor, as Yost leaned extremely heavily on Soria over the season’s opening two weeks. In the Royals first nine games, Soria threw seven times.

I don’t know what Yost is saving him for at this point. He needs work. The way the starting pitching has been going, there aren’t going to be many save opportunities around the corner.

— Has Aaron Crow done something to fall out of favor? I ask because he’s thrown a grand total of 20 pitches since April 18. Kind of weird after Yost leaned on him so heavily at the start of the season.

— Perhaps he’s been replaced in the pecking order by Louis Coleman. He’s looked great since his recall from Omaha on April 21 – that home run from Tuesday aside. Yost has called on Coleman to throw in three of the five games he’s been with the team.

— Nate Adcock finally got into a game last week… A mere 16 days since his last appearance.

I understand that Adcock is the Rule 5 guy and as such, must remain on the 25 man roster for the entire season. What I don’t understand is why you would burn a roster spot on a guy you don’t trust. He’s made three appearances on the season. Why wouldn’t Yost use a guy like this in a game like Tuesday? The Royals are down 7-3 in the eighth inning on the road… Seems almost tailor made. A perfect opportunity for the rookie to get some work. At the very least, you save a truly valuable guy like Collins.

This is going to sound like second-guessing (never done that before…) but I wasn’t happy to see Collins enter the game last night. It just seems like he’s Yost’s go-to guy, no matter the situation. Every manager is going to have favorites, especially in the bullpen where players run excruciatingly hot and cold. A good manager will resist the temptation of bias and will effectively balance a bullpen. Looking at the long view and all that.

It’s only April, but it really looks like Yost is failing this portion of his job description.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a guy who likes to look at the numbers, the first month or so of the season always presents difficulties. Jeff Francoeur is hitting .296/.345/.444 with an OPS+ of 118? Yeah, those numbers are going down. (For the interested readers, I am now contractually obligated to drop at least one anti-Frenchy note in the first five graphs. Got this one out of the way early.) And Jeff Francis isn’t going to keep his ERA below 3.00 all year.

That just makes trends a little more difficult to identify. I don’t know how long the following will continue, but here are a couple of trends that will be fun to watch as the season unfolds.

Balanced Lineup

Go look at the team page at Baseball Reference… As of today, each of the regulars has contributed between two and four RBI. Now you know I’m not a fan of the RBI as a statistic, but in this case it tells me that there is some balance across the lineup. Guys are getting on base and guys are driving them home. The guys at the top and bottom of the order (Aviles, Escobar and Getz) each have two RBI while the rest of the gang has four.

We know there have been a bunch of timely (not clutch… timely) hits. Along with good pitching – and we know that aside from the Soria Debacle on Wednesday – the bullpen has been pretty great – that’s basically how winning stretches of baseball are played out.

The Royals have scored 5.8 runs per game, behind only Texas and Chicago. Again, it’s way too early to jump to any conclusions, but it is interesting to note how they got there.

Running Wild

When Ned Yost was talking about running more in spring training, he wasn’t kidding. Everyone is running… All the time. Collectively, the Royals have 14 stolen bases, by far the most in the American League. Even more impressive, they’ve been caught only once. That’s 15 attempts total. The second place team – the Angels – have run a total of nine times.

Of course, the team leader in steals is Jarrod Dyson, who must be a clone of Herb Washington. Dyson has played only a single inning of defense, has just one plate appearance where he sacrificed, so he doesn’t even have an official at bat, yet has scored two runs and has those steals.

If Dyson keeps up his current pace, he’ll finish the season with 78 steals and 26 sacrifice bunts. And no at bats.

Like I said, early baseball…

First Place

So we’re basically through a week of games and the Royals sit in first place. I can’t lie, I have a real difficult time looking at the standings this time of the year. I guess my only concern would be if they lost their first six games. (PANIC RED SOX NATION!!! PANIC!!!) It’s a good start, maybe even a great start, but every team has at least one stretch in the season where they will win four of six games. Certainly, the games the Royals have played have all been great on one level or another.

Quick aside: Seriously Red Sox fans… we as Royals fans have been here before. Trust me, this is the beginning of your death spiral. Stock up on bottled water and canned goods because you are about to embark on a 20 year long odyssey to baseball’s hinterland.

So one week in, this looks like a fun team. The starting pitching (aside from Francis) hasn’t been that great, but we knew that going in. The bullpen is going to be solid as long as they don’t develop Hillmanitis and all land on the DL from overuse because the starters fail. The lineup is going to score runs. They’re going to steal bases and they’re going to hit a few doubles. They aren’t going to stay in first all year and they aren’t going to continue winning games at a 67% clip, but that’s not really the point…

The point is, the most positive trend is baseball in Kansas City looks to be on the rise. I still think The Process will be slow and steady, but it will be noticeable and really damn enjoyable.

It’s early, but so far, it’s all working. It’s all working…

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