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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged SABR Trey

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

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

A couple of thoughts:

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

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

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

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

:http://royals.server310.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Dayton-Moore_PressMP3.mp3|titles=GMDM

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

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

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

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

:http://royals.server310.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Hillman_Press.mp3|titles=Hillman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See if this sounds familiar.  From 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trey Hillman is out.

Ned Yost is in.

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

UPDATE #1:

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

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

Once Yost was onboard, GMDM pulled the trigger.

From the release:

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

More later…

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

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

Just the latest in a bizarre week for SABR Trey.

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

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

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

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

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

Which is exactly what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You would hope your first baseman would catch that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bullpen wasn’t the story on Thursday.  Kind of difficult when the starter coughs up nine runs on 11 hits in just under three innings.

How do you think Luke Hochevar reacted when he saw who is right fielder was?  Here’s another thing I can’t figure… Conventional wisdom holds that when you have a player with a history of leg issues, you keep them off the artificial turf.  At this point, I just shake my head, give a Frank White-like chuckle and say, “That’s Trey Hillman.”

Anyway, if you’re following me on Twitter, you may recall a Tweet from last week about my good fortune.  I was knocking around a used bookstore in Westport, where I discovered a no less than five copies of The Bill James Baseball Abstracts from 1983 to 1988.  (Missing is the 1986 edition, featuring a recap of the Royals World Series title.  Damnit.)  So, I’ve been revisiting these books and decided I’d start with the oldest and work my way forward.

It’s surprising how relevant this material remains after almost 30 years.  I’m going to probably glean three or four posts from this… At least.  Here’s number one…

In his section recapping the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, James ponders the importance of bullpens and exactly how often a game is decided in the late innings.  That Brewers team had future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers in the back of the bullpen for most of the season.  (He missed most of September with an injury.)  James discovered that the Brewers actually lost some ground the longer the game progressed.  Through six innings, the Brewers were ahead 90 times and behind on only 50 occasions (with 23 ties) giving them a +40.  As James pointed out, had the Brewers split the ties, they would have finished with over 100 wins.  They did not and actually lost ground after the sixth inning.  Their final record was 95 wins and 67 losses, giving them a +28.  Looking at their position following every inning, we come up with a graph that looks like this:

The Brewers were a good offensive team, jumping out to early leads – they were ahead 65 times after the second inning and 80 times after the third – and had a bullpen that generally held those leads.

The ’82 Brewers were a playoff team.  The ’10 Royals most assuredly are not.  Fortunately, James studied a bad team to see how they fared in the later innings. In this case, the ’82 Reds ahead 60 times and behind in 89 contests (with 13 ties) through six innings, which gave them a -29.  They finished with 61 wins and 101 losses for a final score of -40.  That year, Cincinnati’s bullpen wasn’t very good, but neither was their rotation.

There’s an interesting dip from the fifth to the sixth inning, but that wasn’t the fault of the bullpen.  Reds starters threw an average of 6 innings per start.  Don’t get me wrong… The ’82 Cincinnati bullpen wasn’t that good, but they weren’t horrible either.

Remember, James did this exercise to see if he could determine when games were decided.  And his study at this point was admittedly cursory.

I just think the graphs are interesting.  On the surface, it certainly looks as though the majority of games are decided by the sixth inning.

That leads us to the Royals.  Here’s their chart:

This boggles the mind.  The Royals are playing over their heads offensively but they should at least be above .500 for April.

Here are the raw numbers.

This isn’t anything new. To those of us who have followed this disaster of a team, it’s quite obvious.  As the bats begin their drift to hibernation (and make no mistake – they’re headed for an extended drought) the graph will shift south in the early innings and the Royals will lose their positive marks.

I suspect by the end of the year, the 2010 Royals graph will look really close to the 1982 Reds.  At least by then, the bullpen is largely irrelevant.

What can you say anymore?

The bullpen stinks.  How’s that?  Oh, we’ve already said that…

The latest transgression was a doozy.

Zack Greinke, after a couple of wobbly starts, threw just a brilliant game.  Six hits through seven innings where he seemed to gain strength as the game progressed.

I thought the Mariners got their best swings at Greinke in the first.  That was when Ichiro led off with a deep fly to center and Franklin Gutierrez went the other way deep to right.  Both balls had warning track power, and fortunately both balls died in the gloves of the outfield.

The Mariners, like almost every other team this year, were laying Greinke’s slider.  They swung at that pitch just under 32% of the time.  He made up for that by getting swings 78% on both his curve (which just had some wicked break last night) and his change.  While I say the curve had wicked break, it was up in the zone enough that the Mariners were able to foul that pitch off (or pop it up.)  His money pitch was the change.  He threw it nine times, got two swinging strikes and only one batter put it in play all night.  And all of them were strikes.

Courtesy of Texas Leaguers, here’s how Greinke’s pitch selection looked last night:

You know what Greinke’s issue was last night?  Foul balls.  The Mariners fouled off 29 of his 119 pitches.  If just a handful of those pitches are put in play, his pitch count stays manageable and he is in the game in the eighth before he hands the ball to Soria in the ninth.

The Mariners aren’t a good offensive team at this point in the season.  They battled, though.  They didn’t always get good swings and were off balance most of the night, but they were difficult to put away.  I’m fairly certain that was the game plan.  Why wouldn’t it be?  Work the count by any means so you can get to the Royals bullpen.

So on to that bullpen…

It’s fairly clear at this point SABR Trey is just kind of an automatic kind of guy when it comes to his bullpen.  He desperately needs guys to have roles, so he can look at a chart in the dugout, apply the situation, and make the decision.  The problem is, he doesn’t have anyone to cover the “2-0 lead in the top of the eighth” situation.

The latest reliever who has garnered Trey’s affections is Josh Rupe.  He is the candidate for the simple fact he made three appearances in four days when he first joined the club and didn’t surrender a run.  I’ll admit, he did look good in those appearances.  However, you have to be leery of such decisions given the fact the Royals felt he wasn’t good enough to make the team out of spring training.

Then again, SABR Trey changes his favorite set-up reliever like a 13 year old girl who can’t decide which Jonas Brother they like.  (Is that a relevant pop culture reference?  I ask because my knowledge of such things pretty much ended in 1995.  The first draft of this article had a Hanson reference.)

Rupe looks good to start, getting Adam Wilson to strike out.  Then Ichiro reaches on a bunt single.  We’re still OK, but Rupe gets freaked out by Ichiro on first. (His run is really inconsequential.  I mean, you don’t want him to score, but he’s not the tying or lead run.)  Predictably, focus is lost and Chone Figgins walks on four pitches.  In my mind, that was just unforgivable.  Figgins is LOST at the plate.  The man is in a horrific slump, hitting .183/.322/.239 in his first 21 games.  He’ll certainly take a walk though.

After Rupe loads the bases, SABR Trey decides to go to his bullpen.  I know we’ve had just a ton of debate about when to use Soria.  Apparently, I’ve taken some heat from a certain corner of the interweb for advocating his use in the seventh inning.  (I’m a realist.  That’s not going to happen.  The conclusion drawn from that article was incorrect, anyway.  Hillmanesque in the way it missed the mark.)

However, if there’s ever a time to use your closer, your best pitcher out of the bullpen, it’s with the bases loaded and one out after your Cy Young award winning pitcher throws his best start of the year.

Instead, we got Robinson Tejeda.

Worst loss of the year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know… Let’s add more!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just another off day for the Royals.

Who do you blame?

Do you blame Trey Hillman?

Roman Colon isn’t a guy to bring in to a game in a pressure situation, but he was handed a 5-1 lead and asked to get two outs.  That’s not exactly pressure.  I get what Hillman is doing here, which is basically throwing a guy to the lions (or Tigers) while hoping, against all odds, that he survives.  Unfortunately, this isn’t any kind of a strategy.

Three batters later, Hillman tries to employ a platoon strategy, so enter Dusty Hughes to face Johnny Damon.  Hillman is playing the percentages here – lefty vs. lefty.  But in his brief time in the majors, Hughes allows a higher average against hitters from the left side (.250) than the right (.223).  In the minors, here are his splits:

Vs LHB – .263
Vs RHB – .272

Yeah, it’s a difference, but in reality, Hughes isn’t a LOOGY.  Hillman should know this.  He should also know John Parrish likewise doesn’t own crazy platoon splits.  Here’s how he’s done in his major league career:

Vs LHB – .253
Vs RHB – .269

Again, not a huge split.  Not enough to bestow upon him LOOGY status.  However, all things equal, who would you rather send to the mound to protect a two run lead in the seventh?  Hughes, who has all of 17 major league innings under his belt and has yet to prove he can get hitters out at this level?  Or Parrish, a ten year veteran who’s logged 275 innings in his major league career?  And Parrish has been the second best reliever on this team in the first week.

Yeah, Hillman chose wrong.  I’m sure Hillman didn’t want to use Parrish because he threw 20 pitches the day before, but what’s the harm in letting him face Damon – one batter?  Parrish has been summoned from the pen five times this year and before Monday, faced exactly one hitter each time.

When Hughes can’t retire Damon, that has to be the end of his afternoon.  One batter, that’s it.  There’s no way you can let him face Magglio Ordonez.  Yet, our fearless leader does just that.  Would you be surprised to hear that Ordonez slugs 60 points higher against left handers?  Or that he owns an OBP 15 points higher against leftys?  I wonder if Hillman knows.  This was set up for fail, but the only good thing that happened in the Ordonez plate appearance was the fact he didn’t swing the bat.  Five pitches, four balls.  By walking Ordonez, Hughes very generously allowed Hillman to dodge a bullet.

I would have brought Juan Cruz in to face Ordonez.  That’s probably the proper strategy, but when Hillman finally goes to him one batter later, he coughs up a walk and a double.

Bye-bye five run lead.  Here’s how Fangraphs saw it:

Herein lies the issue:  Hillman is damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.

I’m not a Hillman apologist.  Far from it.  He mismanaged the bullpen in this game.  It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.  Yet, the moves he got correct, still blew up in his face.  That’s the way it seems to always go with SABR Trey.  The guy can’t catch a break. Nevermind, most of the time this happens because his previous bad decisions put his team at a disadvantage in the first place.  You’d think a little dumb luck would fall in his favor once or twice.  I guess you could say the same for us Royals fans.

Of course… And this is the killer… As the Tigers rallied in the seventh, the Royals had one guy in the bullpen who had a better chance of anyone to stop the carnage.  One guy who could have stepped up and slammed the door on the Tigers.

Yet Joakim Soria never got the ball.

Sure, it’s unorthodox strategy to bring your “closer” into a game in the seventh inning, but I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to beat this drum… Why wouldn’t you put your best pitcher out there with the game on the line?  I’d make a bigger issue out of this, but this is the state of baseball today.  It probably never crossed SABR Trey’s mind to use Soria in the seventh… Because it would have meant a seven out save!  Ahh… but I’m not talking about doing that.  I’m talking about using the closer as a “fireman.”  Remember those days?  It sounds so easy, except then what do you do for the remaining outs?  Because you can’t clone Soria.

Luis Mendoza in the eighth?  That’s like waving the white flag.  Somehow, he was the best reliever of the day.  That’s not a good thing.

Do you blame Dayton Moore?

Remember back when we thought GMDM’s best attribute was his ability to cobble together a bullpen out of spare parts and castoffs?  Yeah, that’s not working so well anymore.

Kyle Farnsworth, Hughes, Mendoza, Colon?  This cast of characters would have difficulty against a run of the mill Triple-A team.  Cruz has been horrible since jumping to the AL.  Just dreadful. I don’t trust Robinson Tejeda.  Don’t trust him at all.

The Royals have eight relievers.  Only one of them can be described as better than average – Soria.  I’ll give Parrish the benefit of the doubt and call him average.  The rest of this motley crew?  Below average.  Way below average.

And that has to be on the general manager.  He built a bullpen, tore it down for some bats, tried to restock via free agency and lately has dipped into the minors and the free agent scrapheap in hope he can recapture his past success.

He’s finding it’s a little more difficult than he probably thought.

Last year, I was worried a shaky bullpen and an inept manager would cause the starters to be overworked.  Now, I have to worry the Royals will carry 13 pitchers all year because 10 of them are disasters.  Three years into the Moore/Hillman regime and we have yet to find a balanced roster.

So my answer to the blame game is, I blame both.  I blame Dayton Moore for building this craptastic bullpen and I blame Trey Hillman for failing to figure out how to put his pitchers in the best situation to succeed.  The losers here?  Us.  Most of us have stuck with this team through thin and thin the last 20-plus years.  We deserve better than this.  I wish I could offer some encouraging words and tell you there is some promise on the horizon.  That things are looking up.  But I can’t.

My advice is to stock up on your drink of choice.  It’s going to be a cruel summer.

You know, SABR Trey is just never going to get how to use his bullpen.  Leading by one run with six outs to go, you hand the ball to a waiver claim from the previous week who rumor has it, will be placed on waivers again to activate Gil Meche on Saturday?

Why wouldn’t you go with Juan Cruz or Roman Colon in that situation?  I’m not saying they would be better than Luis Mendoza – although if you want to go by history – they should be better.  The whole issue with the bullpen is it’s loaded to the brim with crap.  There are going to be a ton of games this year where they can’t hold a lead for Soria.  Hell, Soria himself couldn’t seal the deal in game two of the series. (Although that was one of the more insane at bats I’ve ever seen.)

Hillman will always be under the microscope when it comes to his handling of the bullpen.  Some of it will be unjustified because quite frankly, they don’t have the quality arms in relief.  However, I’m a firm believer that you put your players in the best position to bring them and your team success.  I just don’t see how using Mendoza in that situation does that.  That’s why I would have preferred Colon or Cruz.  (I’m assuming Robinson Tejeda was unavailable after throwing the night before.)

And then sending Mendoza back out there in the ninth, down a run, just feels to me like Hillman was waving the white flag.

Three games in and Hillman is already on the defensive:

“It’s disappointing, but I’ve seen a couple of other games on TV. There have been some other bullpens blow up with a lot higher payroll than ours and with a lot more guys established in the roles that they’re in.”

Really?  Are we supposed to care about “other bullpens?”  Hillman always says some crazy things, but when managers start deflecting, that’s trouble.

So here we are… three gems tossed by the starting pitchers and one win to show.  Groundhog year, anyone?

–Brian Bannister generally followed his 2009 script on Thursday afternoon.  Remember last year, how Bannister started to throw a cutter and a power change?  Turn to the Bannister entry in your Royals Authority Annual for a breakdown of how often he threw each pitch.  Nevermind… Here’s how often he threw each pitch last summer:

Fastball – 17%
Cutter – 52%
Change – 20%
Curve – 11%

Yesterday, his pitches broke down like this:

Fastball – 49%
Cutter – 26%
Change – 14%
Curve – 8%

The power change and the cutter are pitches with a lot of downward bite and the result last year was a 1.26 AO/GO ratio.  That was the first time in his career the majority of his outs came on the ground.  That’s why he was having such a strong year until he fell victim to Hillman’s Starting Pitcher Chainsaw Massacre.

Bannister turned more to his fastball on Thursday, but still mixed in plenty of cutters and change-ups.  However, the results couldn’t have been more different.  Here’s how he recorded his outs.

Strikeout – 3
Caught Stealing – 1
Ground Ball – 1
Fly Ball/Line Drive – 14

Whoa.  That’s less than ideal.

The Tigers got good wood on the ball a few times, but most of those were hit directly at the outfielders.  The wind was blowing strongly from right to left, but I don’t think the wind knocked anything down.  Magglio Ordonez’s home run in the sixth was the real deal.  A bomb.

As we know, Bannister is a student of the statistical side of the game, so I’m sure he’ll figure out luck played a major factor in his performance.  It will be interesting to see how he adjusts going forward.  Against a better lineup that the Tigers, his outing on Thursday could have been disastrous.

A couple of other thoughts from the series finale…

FREE MIKE AVILES

Really… Why bother putting him on the 25 man roster if he’s going to spend the first three games exercising his glutteal muscles on the bench?  There have literally been a ton of opportunities for him to be used as a pinch hitter.

If it’s all about building strength and confidence in his elbow, then shouldn’t he be in the minors to, you know… play?  And if you’re worried about his elbow, why not use him as a DH?  Or as a pinch hitter?  Instead, he enters Thursday’s game as a pinch runner.  With Wee Willie and Mitch Maier on the bench.  Jeez.  If I’m the manager, I bring in either one of those guys as the runner and use Aviles as a pinch hitter.  Don’t you think his bat would have been preferable to Yuniesky Betancourt’s in the eighth?

So frustrating…

–Speaking of Betancourt, him swinging at the first pitch with one out and the tying run at third in the bottom of the eighth is just a horrible, horrible approach in that situation.  Exhibit #4,396 of why Betancourt may have the tools the scouts rave about but he’ll never be anything but a terrible player.  His muff of the ground ball earlier in the inning is Exhibit #4,395

–After Getz stole second in the bottom of the fifth, why would SABR Trey have DeJesus bunt?  In other words, given the situation (no outs and a two run lead in the middle innings against a below average starter who has thrown 80 pitches) why would you play for one run?  I worry that this “small ball” mantra is clouding better baseball judgement.  When I say that, I’m thinking about Podsednik’s bunt attempt in the bottom of the first inning with no outs in the home opener.

We need a happy small ball medium here.

–I’m going to keep track of Dave Owen’s boneheaded coaching moves this year.  After his sending of the runner down four runs in the seventh inning with only one out, he’s left me with no choice.  The situation only partially describes how foolish that move was.  The runner he was sending was Jason Kendall.  And if he held Kendall at third, that would have brought up the tying run – Billy Butler.  The man simply has no feel for the situation. (No wonder he’s a FOST – Friend Of SABR Trey.)

More shenanigans from the third base coaching box on Wednesday when Kendall gets caught in a rundown to end the seventh – fortunately after the run crosses the plate.  But that wasn’t the worst – or the most bizarre.

In the 11th, after Callaspo tied it with his jack, Butler lines a single.  Wee Willie comes in to pinch run and the next batter, Rick Ankiel laces one to the gap in right-center. Wee Willie should score easily, but Owen puts on the brakes.  After his mistake in Game 1, he suddenly developed the yips in Game 2.  Ugh.  Fortunately, Bloomquist looks back to the ball while rounding third (something all good baserunners should do – pick up the location of the ball.)  When he does, he sees the Tiger second baseman fumble the cutoff and he sprints home with the winning run.

Heads up base running by Wee Willie.  And it turns out he did it all on his own.  Replays showed Owen, after he put up his arms to prevent Bloomquist from scoring, standing with his hands on his knees and his mouth closed during this sequence.  He gave no indication that Bloomquist should advance.  How was that possible?

Anyway, Owen emerged from Thursday’s matinee rather unscathed.  His body count for the 2010 season remains at two.

I’m going to put this at the top because I want to make sure everyone reads this…  To start, if you haven’t bought the Royals Authority 2010 Annual, I hope you consider picking it up.  Right now, Lulu (our publisher) is printing as the orders roll in and shipping pretty much the same day.  That means if you order this week, you’ll have the book in your hands in time for Opening Day.

Here’s the link to order.

Second, we’ve been hinting around at a big announcement for the last couple of months and expect to be able to make said announcement sometime next week.  In conjunction, we’re going to be tinkering with the website which could result in some down time.  Hopefully, all of this will take place on the weekend, but you never know… Just a heads up that if you visit and we’re not online.

And we’re really excited about what we’re doing.  Stay tuned…

On with today’s post…

So SABR Trey is getting closer and closer to figuring out his “ideal” lineup.  It looks something like this:

DeJesus
Podsednik
Callaspo
Butler
Ankiel
Guillen
Kendall
Betancourt
Getz

This is different from what Hillman has been doing for the first three weeks of spring training.  And it’s different from what he’s been talking about ever since the new guys were signed during the off season.

Here’s the good news:  Given the talent available, this is a pretty good lineup.

DeJesus absolutely belongs at the top of the order.  Forget about having speed (and steals) at the top of the order.  Those are nice qualities, but they’re not as important as getting on base.  And DeJesus will get on base more often than Podsednik.  DeJesus has a career OBP of .358 and a walk rate of 8.2%.  The walk rate is low for a leadoff hitter (ideally, it would be closer to 12%) but again… You work with what your GM gives you.  Podsednik has a career OBP of .340 and a walk rate of 8.1%.  Podsednik is 34.  DeJesus is 30.  Neither is thought of as a good base runner (I’m not talking about steals) and both make far too many outs on the bases.  Still, in my mind it’s fairly clear that the OBP (and age) edge belong to DeJesus.

It turns out SABR Trey has been thinking quite a bit about where DeJesus and Podsednik will hit.  He’s whittled his choices for both:  DeJesus will either hit first or third and Podsednik will appear as the leadoff man or will bat second.  I’m not going to argue against DeJesus hitting third, if only because the current lineup has him leading off, which as I said was a good choice.  I don’t care what Hillman’s thought process is, as long as he reaches a decent solution.

Although his thought process leads to Today’s Hillmanism:

“I really want to try to stay away from guys getting mental.  Quite frankly, reporters write about it (DeJesus’ struggles as the number two hitter) and these guys hear about it.  If these guys hear about it, they’re going to get more mental with it.  So honestly, I don’t want to put David in the number two slot.  I think he would slot there just fine, but he doesn’t have a history there, and he’s going to read about it, he’s going to hear about it, and I don’t think that’s a good combination.”

A couple of things to take away from this Hillmanism…

First, SABR Trey reads Royals Authority!  I mean, that’s the only conclusion I can draw after reading that quote.  I’ve been fairly vocal about keeping DeJesus out of the second spot.

Second, Trey is just priceless.  Seriously, his players are going to read the papers and devour the splits and decide they don’t belong in a particular spot?  Lame.  If this is the case, Hillman had better make sure Yuni isn’t translating this site into Spanish.  He won’t be able to get out of bed.

On to the rest of the order…

You have two quality hitters in this lineup: Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler.  That’s it.  One of those guys has to hit third.  Historically, the argument against Callaspo hitting in the top third has been something along the line of him not being comfortable hitting higher in the order.  Which is total bunk if you ask me.  Although his splits give some validity to the argument, but of his nearly 1,100 career plate appearances, only 200 or so have come in the top third.  In other words, we’re dealing with small sample sizes and the fact that no one has really given him an extended look.

I say, go for it.  He showed impressive power (or as SABR Trey calls it, “Slug”) and his new found extra base hit ability will play just fine at number three.  I will give Hillman credit for realizing he needs to get Callaspo as many at bats as possible.  That’s a good thing.

Further down the order, Guillen and Ankiel are going to give you the same value… which is not much.  Blah.  Although we can hope that when Gordon comes back from the broken thumb he can take Guillen’s spot in the order.

(Quick aside – I think we all agree Ankiel is the least suited of the outfield contenders to play center.  And now he has a sore ankle.  I know the Royals promised him the opportunity to play center, but this sure feels like a good time to break that stupid and ill advised promise.  Of course, no one in the organization has probably considered this.)

The bottom third of the proposed lineup is unspecified.  Betancourt, Kendall and Getz… If I’m at the game and I need a beer or a bathroom break, I’m targeting the inning when these guys are up.  There really no reason to watch at this point.  However, like Clark, I hold out hope that Getz’s high contact rate (89% last year) will eventually translate into more base hits.

So of all of SABR Trey’s lineups this spring (with most of them having Kendall at number two) this one is the best one I’ve seen.  Again, when I say it’s the best, keep in mind I’m thinking of the talent he currently has on his roster.

It’s a start.

I’ve been in Kansas City all winter. It’s been brutal. Cold, snowy, sub-zero wind chills. I hate winter.

Today winter is over. Today, the Royals play their first game of the SPRING.

About time.http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3054/2323207446_d93bb55ed5.jpg

SABR Trey posted his opening spring lineup. It looks like something we could see during the regular season.

LF Scott Podsednik
C Jason Kendall
1B Billy Butler
CF Rick Ankiel
RF Jose Guillen
DH Alberto Callaspo
3B Alex Gordon
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
2B Chris Getz

Don’t think I’m endorsing this lineup. I’m most certainly not. However, I did previously state that I think Hillman sometimes needs more trial and error to figure things out. Granted, you would think most of these things should be fairly obvious, but I guess It’s better late than never.

Anyway, this isn’t an especially good lineup. Kendall should never hit above seventh. And Guillen should lose his glove for the good of the team and just decide if he’s going to play, he’s going to DH. And Podsednik isn’t the best leadoff hitter.

To me, It’s good news that Hillman is trotting this lineup out during the Cactus League. It gives him an opportunity to see that It’s not really the best use of his resources.

Pitching-wise, it will be Kyle Davies, Robinson Tejeda, Phillip Humber, Anthony Lerew and Matt Herges. Of this group, I’m probably the most interested in seeing how Humber fares. I don’t have especially high hopes, but it would be nice if he could pitch consistently enough that he could be a long man out of the bullpen. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Tejeda. Not because I think he can be a starter. Rather, I just want to see if he can get through a couple of innings without walking more than two batters.

The Royals made a minor move yesterday, claiming Gaby Hernandez off waivers from the Red Sox. He had been claimed by Boston just a few weeks ago after spending all of last year in Triple-A Tacoma as a starter in the Mariner organization. He finished with a 5.23 ERA with 3.0 BB/9 and 6.0 K/9 in 146 innings. The K/BB ratio isn’t the best, and It’s been dropping a little too sharply since he made his professional debut as an 18 year old in 2004.

He’s been a starter for his entire career, but he could probably be a candidate for the bullpen for the Royals this year.

However, this is really just a move to create some depth. He’ll likely remain as a starter and open the year in Omaha. But anytime you can pick up a 24 year old pitcher who’s enjoyed even a little bit of success in the minors, you have to do it.

The temperature rose above 45 degrees this week in Kansas City and the Royals are playing ball.

Finally.

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