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Avoiding 100

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Hooray for 63 wins!

It’s come to this.  A celebration of avoiding 100 losses.

Sigh.

Don’t blame me if I kept the champagne on ice last night.  The Royals have never really been in danger of hitting the century mark this season.  In fact, the Royals will really have to go into the tank if they are to match last season’s total of 65 wins.

For a quick refresher, here are the team winning percentages since Dayton Moore took over:

2007 – .426
2008 – .463
2009 – .401
2010 – .414

For the team to match ’07, they will have to win six of their last ten.  Come on, boys!  Or something.

— Sean O’Sullivan got the “win” (which if you’re spending any time on the baseball internets these days means he pitched a better game yesterday than Felix Hernandez) but wasn’t exactly sharp.  He put the leadoff man on base in five of the seven innings he started and threw a total of 92 pitches in six innings.  His final line:

6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 SO

O’Sullivan was bailed out by an inept Indian offense.  Philip Humber came on in relief and allowed both of his inherited runners to score.  Of course, it would help if Billy Butler could catch a pickoff throw.

— Why did it take 12 days to get Humber some work?  Is it any wonder he struggled to find his rhythm? Of course, he’s not that good to begin with, but still…

— If you’re looking for something to do today, head to Royals Prospects and check out some of the videos Greg uploaded from his recent trips to Northwest Arkansas and Burlington.  Watching guys like Johnny Giavotella and Eric Hosmer, you can’t help but get excited.

— Minda Haas at Royal Blues had an interesting post where she looked at the Royals win to save ratio and found it to be the highest in the majors this season.  I’m not surprised.  The Royals have one of the top three closers in the game in Joakim Soria.  And they have been involved in 55 one-run games, which is the most in baseball.  For awhile, they had the most wins in one-run games, but a late season run of futility has dropped them to fourth – behind the Rays, Twins and Rangers.

— In Dutton’s Friday notes article, he reports the Royals won’t make any changes to their coaching staff with the exception of replacing first base coach Rusty Kuntz who resumed his role as special advisor to the GM for player development.  Following GMDM for the duration of his tenure, this doesn’t come as a shock.  He values loyalty and continuity on his staff.  Obviously, the coaches (particularly the Kevin Seitzer and Bob McClure) haven’t had a ton of talent at their disposal.

Seitzer’s accomplishments this year would include leading the league in total hits and finishing last in strikeouts.  Their 84% contact rate (a percentage of swinging strikes that are either fouled off or put in play) is the best in baseball as well.  On the negative side of the ledger would be the fact Royal batters see an average of 3.73 pitches per plate appearance, which ranks them 26th and their 7.5% walk rate is 27th.

As for McClure, this year has been kind of a disaster.  Kyle Davies and Brian Bannister have been stagnant in their development.  Royals pitchers posted a 1.85 SO/BB ratio, second worst rate in baseball, their team ERA of 5.04 is the highest in the AL and the same goes for their ERA+ of 84.  Looking for positives there were some minor individual success stories… Luke Hochevar was showing improvement before he missed most of the second half of the season with injury.  Kyle Farnsworth improved to the degree GMDM was actually able to get value in a trade.  Bruce Chen became a serviceable starter.

We all know the influx of youth will begin next season and will roll into 2012 and beyond.  GMDM obviously has confidence in his staff and their ability to work with young players.  I’ve seen enough from the pitching and hitting coaches to think they at least deserve a chance. The successes were limited this year because the talent was limited.  This is an area where we will simply have to trust The Process.

There has been a ton of discussion about the offense at this point in the season.  With the team jettisoning dead weight like Rick Ankiel, Scotty Pods and Jose Guillen, this club has experienced a pretty thorough lineup makeover.

But what about the rotation?

I ask because on Tuesday in Anaheim, Bryan Bullington went six innings in his first major league start since 2008 and pitched well.  His final line:

6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

He threw 91 pitches and finished with a Game Score of 53.  Solid, if unspectacular.  In other words, just what the Royals needed from Brian Bannister’s spot in the rotation.

Bullington pitched well as a starter for Omaha this season.  Appearing in 20 games (15 starts) he posted a 2.82 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP – strong numbers for your PCL fantasy team.  In 105 innings, he had a 4.06 FIP and whiffed 6.2 batters per nine innings.  He gets a ground ball 49% of all balls put in play and was probably a little lucky as his BABIP in Omaha was a tidy .268.  However, he walked just 2.4 batters per nine.

Command has always been Bullington’s strong point.  He’s never had a walk rate higher than 3.0 BB/9 in the minors.  The issue with him has always been his hittability.  Bullington works around the plate so much, his mistakes are over the heart of the plate.  However, because he’s a ground ball pitcher, he doesn’t give up an extreme number of home runs, rather his mistakes seem to be big innings where opposing hitters string together a series of singles and doubles.

Bullington turns 30 at the end of the season.  I don’t think I’m understating it when I say he’s no longer a prospect.  However, with the maturity he’s gained and with the proper coaching (to continue to make the right adjustments) there’s no reason to think (hope?) he can’t be a contributor to the back of the rotation.

The same could be said for Philip Humber, who came on in relief of Bullington and threw two scoreless innings on Tuesday.

While Humber has never possessed Bullington’s command, he flashed excellent control in Omaha this year, walking just 20 batters in 118 innings.  That works out to a 1.5 BB/9.  Nice.  The other numbers weren’t so great, though.  His strikeouts are down, from 7.8 K/9 in 25 Triple-A starts in 2007 to 6.1 K/9 in 20 starts this year.  He’s also prone to the home run, allowing 17 this year.  Over the last four years (all time spent in Triple-A, mostly as a starter) he’s coughing up a 1.3 HR/9.  That’s a bit much.

This year for Omaha, Humber posted a 4.47 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.  He had a .302 BABIP, so it would seem his numbers haven’t been touched by luck – either good or bad – and that’s reflected in his 4.62 FIP.

So while the Royals lineup has been overhauled, I advocate slotting these two in the rotation for a couple of turns.  Let’s kick the tires, so to speak.

Bannister has moved to the bullpen, ostensibly to work on his mechanics.  Or maybe he’s just working on not sucking.  That would be nice.  Whatever he’s doing, it’s time he stays out there.

Because Bannister has pretty much been an outright disaster this season.  Next year, he will be eligible for his third year of arbitration and will land a contract in the neighborhood of $2.5 million.  That’s not a horrible amount to pay – if you’re paying that to a serviceable fifth starter.  Bannister seems to be more in the mold of a sixth or seventh starter.  (No, I don’t know what that means.  Except that he’s really not good enough to be in the rotation.)

Davies needs to take a trip to the pen as well.  Whatever it is he thinks he’s doing, it’s not working.  Not working at all.  His control is just miserable.  Then, when he falls behind hitters he just grooves one because he doesn’t want to give up another walk.

He has made 76 starts for the Royals covering parts of the last four seasons.  It’s not working.  It’s not going to work.  He’s going to make around $2 million next year, while giving you nothing.  Seriously, Dayton… Time to punt.

A rotation of Greinke, Chen, O’Sullivan, Bullington and Humber?  Sure, that puts a knot in my stomach, but why not?  It makes as much sense as hitting Kendall second or playing Bloomquist in right.

I know Bullington and Humber really don’t have a future for the Royals.  Still, why sit through another Davies five walk epic or another Bannister night start where he coughs up six runs?  We’ve seen Davies and Bannister and we know what they can’t do.  There is really no reason to start them over the last month and a half of the season and there’s no reason to offer them a contract this winter. Put the new guys in and see how they fare.  See if they can give us a fifth starter at a quarter of the cost for the 2011 season.  We’re really talking placeholders here.  Guys who can slot into the rotation until the young arms in Double-A and Single-A are ready.  Isn’t that what Bannister and Davies are?

The revolving door needs to keep revolving.

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