Thursday, April 20, 2006

Good News

You will not see me complaining about the Royals today. I already have, and so has everyone else, and I just don't see the need to pile on at this point. Besides, it's freakin' depressing.

No, instead I'm going to write happy news. There is some out there you know, even for the Royals, contrary to the usual litany of drudgery, crime, incompetence and melancholy that the mass media prefers to foist upon us. Today, I boycott all of that. Today, is a Good News Day.

  • Zack Greinke is back in extended Spring Training, and sounds a lot like someone who not only wants to pitch again, but is glad to be working for an organization that let him go work out his issues. He still looks to have some work ahead of him before he's ready to live a normal life again, let alone pitch effectively in the big leagues, but he made the first few critical steps, and that's the important thing. He is to be applauded for his effort so far. Good luck, Zack.
  • Alex Gordon, as advertised, is destroying the Texas League. He currently boasts an stat line of .345/.383./.618/1.002, and by all accounts he's playing a polished third base as well. Let him cook down there until June or so, then promote him to Omaha, where he will pack that stadium with Husker fans and face pitching that used to be in the big leagues, for the most part. By next Spring, he'll be primed to step into a regular spot with the big club.
  • The other reason to put Gordon in Omaha first is because they have started extremely well this season, and are currently leading the American South Division of the PCL. If they can make the playoffs, it would be invaluable experience for the youngsters to play in pressure packed games against good competition. Leading the charge in Omaha have been J.P. Howell and Justin Huber. Howell is 3-0 in his three starts, with a 2.65 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, not to mention a strikeout to walk ratio of 3-to-1, and nearly eight strikeouts per nine innings. Huber is simply raking, to the tune of .372/..481/.814/1.295. Both could easily be filling valuable roles in the Kansas City, but what would be the point of that? They would merely burn up service time and probably play irregularly. Keep them in Omaha where they can get regular work, develop their respective skills, probably face a playoff situation and save their major league service time for a day when the big club is ready to compete.
  • Other minor league bright spots include Mario Lisson in Burlington (.268/.392/.561/.953), Angel Sanchez in Wichita (.340/.448/.489/.938), Kyle Snyder in Omaha (0.73 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10-to-0 strikeout to walk ratio), Nate Moore in High Desert (1.00 ERA, 8-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, eight strikeouts per nine innings), and the unfortunately named Billy Buckner, also at High Desert (2-0, 3.86 ERA, 8.27 K/9IP; and remember this is an extreme hitters league). Even former first-round pitcher Mike Stodolka is doing well in his conversion to first base (.355/.417/.677/1.094). Sure, it's just high A ball, and it's a hitter's league, like I mentioned, but those are awfully impressive numbers for a guy who hasn't swung a bat in a few years.
  • Overall, the Royals four minor league affiliates sport a combined record of just 26-27, but that's misleading because Wichita's slow start of 3-10 drags those numbers down. The other three clubs are 23-17, a .575 winning percentage, and I'll take that, thank you very much.

See, happy stuff. It's out there, and on days like this it pays to go looking for it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Let me try to summarize the season so far. I need to do this as a sanity check.

First, our most prized young pitcher has emotional issues and walks out of camp, followed shortly thereafter by our closer hurting himself, our pre-ordained number two starter needing knee surgery, our next-youngest starter eating his way to the minor leagues, and our number three hitter and captain hurting his ankle and missing significant time again, prompting the Royals to name their disabled list after him.

Then, as camp broke, the GM and manager decided that the two extra bullpen slots should go to a career minor leaguer and a failed soft-tossing lefty starter with a career ERA of 5.27, rather than two guys who throw real heat, and sport enormous strikeout rates and genuine potential, even though cutting one of them loose exposed him to be returned to his former team. Plus, they had already determined that they were going to keep a 38-year old former outfielder/first baseman, even though they acknowledge that he can't really play outfield anymore, isn't needed at first base since the signing of Doug Mientkiewicz, and won't be the DH very often because that's where the team captain calls home. That move will cost them nearly $1.5 million in salary this year. On top of that, the club handed the fourth outfielder job to a rookie who has barely 400 career plate appearances above A ball even though the veteran he was battling is a much more accomplished hitter at every level, plays defense just as well, and hit .350 in Spring Training. As a cherry on this sundae, they grabbed a middle infielder off waivers despite having to pay him his entire $2 million salary and despite being forced to cut the guy they acquired in exchange for the very same middle infielder only the year before.

The season kicked of with their new erstwhile ace, Scott Elarton, actually pitching well above expectations in all of his starts, but being winless nonetheless because the team scored the whopping total of four runs in his first three starts. The new number two starter has been so terrible that when he allowed six earned runs in just over five innings yesterday, his ERA actually dropped to an obscene 11.68, a mark that looks more like the price of a marked-down DVD at Blockbuster than an ERA. The ERA of their new number three starter is even higher, meaning he's either a worse pitcher or a better movie. Their number four starter, a bright spot entering the year, has already been forced to the DL, despite the fact that he says there's nothing wrong with him.

The leadoff hitter and best all-around player pulled his hamstring. The captain hurt his hand and is still feeling the effects of his bum ankle. The bullpen's ERA is 8.27, and the American League is hitting .345 against them. One of the crappy relievers they kept decided to withhold the fact that his elbow was hurting until after he allowed six runs in just over two innings in Tampa to blow a lead. As a team, they are hitting .228, getting on base at a .287 "clip", and have a collective OPS of .667, all dead last in the majors, even behind all sixteen National League teams that have to let their pitchers hit. In fact, the pitchers for the Mets and Braves each have a higher average and OPS than the Royals do as a team.

The team has played four full series so far this young year and have been swept in three of them. They're dead last in offense, having scored only 45 runs, fully one per game less than the next-lowest team. But at least they're a balanced team; they're dead last in runs allowed as well. At this point last year, the Royals were 4-8, had scored 42 runs and allowed 72. That ratio projected to a winning percentage of .272, which translates to a record of 44-118. Now, obviously, they did better than that, so perhaps their is hope for this team after all. Right?

Um, probably not. This year, the team is 2-10, has scored 45 runs and allowed 91, a ratio that projects to a winning percentage of .216, and a record of 35-127. In other words, the Royals will have to play eight games ahead of their current pace just to avoid tying the record for most losses by a team in one season. They need to play 21-games better than their projection to avoid being the first team ever to lose 100 or more games for three straight years AND lose successively more games in each of those seasons.

Well, at least we can say we watched something historic.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Royals vs Devil Rays, 04-15-06

We're breaking out the running diary on the Royals side of the site. Is mojo transferable? We're about to find out.

Pre-Game: Half of our RSTN crew, Paul Splittorff, is interviewing Scott Elarton, which is a pretty boring combination, if I do say. I don't believe my brain retained a single thing either of them said. But after that, some good news. The perpetually injured David DeJesus will be in the lineup tonight, as will Mike Sweeney. The odds of this happening again this season: 50-to-1. And finally, Mike Wood will be our starting pitcher tonight. Do I expect him to do well? Not really, but I think he's several steps ahead of Jeremy Affeldt or Joe Mays at this point, so what the hell. Why not give him a try?

Before the first pitch, we had a really mediocre version of the national anthem sung by some melodramatic pre-pubescent girl. Yippee. Not quite as stirring as Opening Day, when an Academy Award winner threw out the first pitch, followed by a bonafide country singer belted out the anthem, which ended with a B-2 bomber flyover and Challenger the bald eagle swooping in from right field.

Top 1st: Seth McClung on the bump tonight for Tampa Bay, and there is no reason whatsoever why the Royals shouldn't hit him early and often....

Well, it wasn't a 1-2-3 inning thanks to a Sweeney single, but it was the next best thing. DeJesus saw three pitches, Mark Grudzielanek saw two, Sweeney saw two and Reggie Sanders saw four, for the whopping grand total of eleven pitches for McClung in the first inning. Um, guys, a little plate discipline would be nice. I mean, the guy's career ERA is 6.26 and he walks over five men per nine innings, so you can afford to be a little selective. Trust me.

Bottom 1st: Wood isn't throwing a ton of strikes. Everything appears to be low, and with the second batter still in the box, Wood has already thrown as many pitches as McClung. Still, he's getting swings and misses, and K'd the first two guys on full counts, which is a refreshing change for a Royals starter already. He was nearly decapitated by Travis Lee, but got out of the way in time, allowing a well-positioned Angel Berroa to make the play for the third out. Sixteen total pitches, not good, but not awful either, making him the third-best starter in the rotation already.

Top 2nd: Before the action begins, anyone want to take bets on the first time Splittorff refers to someone's ERA as "4 point" instead of just plain "four"? I'm thinking it already happened and I just missed it while typing. Really, really annoying habit...

Mientkiewicz has taken the first three pitches! Stop the presses! Sure, he lined out on the fifth pitch, but he hit it hard, largely because he worked the count a little and forced McClung to throw a strike. Some things aren't as hard as they look...

Except for Emil Brown, who swung at the very next pitch and hit a fly ball for out number two. Oh well, I guess it's a learning curve...

Teahen, pitch number two, liner to center, out number three. Eight total pitches, three more outs, and now McClung has gone through two innings on less than 20 pitches. That's Seth McClung. Seth Freaking McClung.

Bottom 2nd: Jonny Gomes leading off for Tampa, and an extra year in the big leagues hasn't improved his style at all. He still looks like a slob. Whatever happened to this guy?

I guess it doesn't matter, he was smart enough to draw a walk to lead off the inning, promptly followed by a double-near-homer by Russell Branyan, so it's now second and third, no one out. Uh-oh...

Groundball to short for out number one, but it gets in Slob Gomes for the first run, 1-0 Devil Rays...

And now The Omen occurs; an infield hit by the catcher. That's never good news. By the way, Wood is up to 29 pitches already. That's right, the Devil Rays are more patient than us now...

Bob Davis just mentioned that the Royals have walked 27 hitters (or is it walkers?) in the last four games. Oh joy...

Well, the good news is that Wood got out of the inning with just the one run scored, but the bad news is that it took him 24 pitches, so he's up to 40 through just two innings. Looks like we will be exploring the depths of the dreaded Royals bullpen again tonight.

Top 3rd: Let's see how many pitches the Royals see this inning. I'm going to say twelve, not because I have faith in our hitters but because I don't have faith that McClung can consistently be in single digits each inning...

Two pitches to Berroa before he managed an infield hit on number three. A hopeful first step...

Have no fear, John Buck popped out on pitch number two, so we're still only up to five for the inning...

Well, McClung earned my lack of faith, but in a uniquely different way. He threw away a pickoff attempt down the right field line, letting Berroa get all the way to third base with just one out and DeJesus hitting. Hope again?...

Wow, DeJesus just got lucky. He watched strike three, but the ump called it a ball, and he then walked on the next pitch. Unless Grudzielanek hits into a double play on the next pitch, McClung will blow through my prediction of twelve total pitches...

Ball one on pitch number twelve, so there goes that prediction. I'm not sure if I underestimated the Royals or overestimated McClung...

Grudzielanek just whiffed on about the most obvious ball ever swung at. It was a curve that started off the plate and just kept going, none of which deterred Grudzielanek from swinging and missing by three feet, sort of like a Little League player, only paid better. So it's up to Sweeney, our oft-injured captain...

Actually, it's up to Reggie Sanders, because Sweeney just walked to load the bases. Five career grand slams for Reggie, whose middle name is Laverne, by the way. Warrants mentioning. The Laverne thing, not the grand slams...

Line drive, caught for out number three. So even though the Royals drew two walks (be still my heart) and had a single and a two-base throwing error, putting a man on third with only one out and their best hitters coming up, they failed to push a run across. Ladies and gentlemen, your Kansas City Royals!...

Bottom 3rd: Here's a good quote from the TV crew. "And there's a leadoff walk to one of the fastest runners in baseball (Carl Crawford). That can't be good." Well said, Bob. Well said.

A double for Jorge "The Helmet" Cantu, a.k.a. The Man With No Eyes, but miraculously it didn't score Crawford from first, despite the fact that he "can literally fly" according to Bob Davis. Really Bob? He can literally fly? I think I'd like to see that...

Ball four, bases loaded, no one out, with Slob Gomes coming up, and out comes the pitching coach for the first time today. I think we're going to be very familiar with the intricacies of Bob McClure's stride to the mound before this year is over...

Wow, a strikeout of The Slob. Now all we need is a double play to get out of the inning unscathed...

Never mind. Branyan just hit a sacrifice fly to...the shortstop. It was really shallow, and it looked like Emil Brown either wasn't going to get there or lost the ball in the Tropicana Field roof, so Berroa had to make the catch with his back to the plate. With Crawford on third ("he can literally fly"), he scored easily. Still, a grounder ended the damage there, so it's only 2-0 D-Rays, despite the 63 pitches Wood has thrown...

Top 4th: Oooh, the Aflac Trivia question. Who are the only three KC relievers to record ten wins and ten saves in the same season. I'm going with Tom Burgmeier, Steve Farr and Ted Abernathy. Mark it down...

Hey , a leadoff double for Minky, whose name is too long to type out every time. Now I just need a nickname for Grudzielanek. I think his teammates call him Grud. Done...

And an infield single for Brown. No advance for Minky, because the ball was hit right to third base, but now we've got runners at first and second with no one out. Come on Teahen...

4-6-3. Ugh. Thanks Teahen...

Berroa just picked him up with an infield single to score the run anyway, 2-1 Rays. Not as much damage as I would have liked, but I'll take runs any way I can get them. If Buck could get hold of one here. I like the way he's been swinging so far this year...

I jinxed him. No sooner had I typed that last remark when he launched one nearly into the second deck...but foul. Damn...

Buck just let a curveball go by to make the count full, and I'm certain he would have whiffed on that pitch last year. Yes, he popped out to shallow right field to end the inning on the next pitch, but it was a much more professional plate appearance than he's shown his first couple of years. Hey, you take your hope wherever you can find it...

Bottom 4th: And the Aflac answer is...Dan Quisenberry (1980), Doug Bird (1977)and Moe Drabowsky (1969). In other words, I was completely wrong. Thank you, I'll be here all week. Remember to tip your waitress...

Did you know that speed shows up to the ballpark every day? It never slumps. That Paul Splittorff is just a cornucopia of baseball cliches, bless his heart...

Much better inning for Wood. He walked a guy, but still threw just ten pitches to retire the side. He needed that badly...

Top 5th: This game is full of odd occurrences. Tomas Perez just took a header into the front row trying to catch a foul ball. He nearly took out Andy Sisco in the process, as he vaulted over the Royals bullpen bench. Perez is fine, but if Sisco got hurt there it would have been a fitting symbol of Royal luck...

Hey, I haven't heard the Devil Rays' obnoxious fan tonight. I wonder where he is. And there hasn't been a single shot of Dick Vitale either. Seeing, or hearing, those guys in the stands is the only reason to even watch a game played in Tampa.

Another 1-2-3 inning for McClung, on eleven pitches this time. He's thrown just 73 through five innings, largely because the Royals are acting like their facing Nolan Ryan tonight...

Bottom 5th: Leadoff walk with the heart of Tampa's order coming up, and that spells the end for Woods' night. Sorry Mike. I'd like to say something nice here like "He sure battled out there", but the reality is that five walks in four-plus innings isn't going to get it done. On to Luke Hudson...

Who promptly induces a double play ball, followed by a strikeout. Nice...

Top 6th: Well, we're in business. Reggie led off with a single, and after a fly ball out from Minky, Emil roped a double to left field, giving us second and third, one out. Up comes Teahen, who has hit the ball hard all night...

Fly ball to left, the run comes in, tie ballgame, 2-2. Good job Mark...

Whiff by Berroa to end the inning. Still just 85 pitches for McClung, who has lowered his ERA for the season by 4.50 runs tonight....

Bottom 6th: Hey, another whiff for Luke Hudson. Other than his appearances this week against the Yankees, he's looked very good since the Royals picked him up...

He let up a single, but otherwise had a clean inning. It was probably his last, since Andy Sisco was warming up in the bullpen. Good job Luke. By the way, Hudson, in his face at least, looks exactly like Kyle Farnsworth, but I won't hold that against him...

Well, I see the resemblance at least...

Top 7th: Solid leadoff single for John Buck. Like I said, he's swinging the bat pretty well. Now if the top of the order can earn their pay...

Solid single for DeJesus, off the glove of Travis Lee, and Buck went all the way to third. Now it's Grud's turn...

Bang, deep fly ball on the first pitch, 3-2 Royals. Who said swinging on the first pitch was bad?...

Miraculously, McClung is now creeping toward 100 pitches, which would have been a good sign. Unfortunately, Mike Sweeney just did two typical things. First, he hit into a double play to end the inning and drop his batting average for the year to .107. Second, he pulled up a little lame after crossing the bag, bending over to grab his lower left leg. Heaven forbid he play three or four games in a row...

Bottom 7th: And here we have the "logic" of Buddy Bell at play. Despite having said just this past week that he can't blow out his bullpen by allowing guys to throw more than a couple of innings at a time, out trots Luke Hudson for his third inning, despite having thrown 26 pitches already, seven more than Elmer Dessens had thrown in New York a few days ago when he was lifted prematurely. I'm okay with leaving Hudson in, but I'm baffled by the inconsistency...

Joey Gathright just greeted Hudson with a double that could have been a triple with a more aggressive third base coach, followed by such a perfect bunt by Carl Crawford that there are now runners on first and third with no one out. Honestly, I wonder if Buddy is leaving Hudson in to prove a point to all dumb writers like myself about leaving relievers in too long. I wouldn't put it past him...

By the way, Gathright is looking very Negro Leagues the way he's wearing his pants tonight. I'll post a picture when I find one...

The Man With No Eyes draws a walk to load the bases with none out, prompting Bell to finally call on Sisco. He promptly whiffs Travis Lee after running the count full. I gotta say, Sisco is always an adventure...

Slob Gomes now batting, he takes the first three pitches for balls, ensuring another exciting at bat... Ball four, tie ballgame, 3-3. That's seven walks for the staff tonight, and 34 walks in the five games on this road trip. Holy mackerel. Here's what I'm wondering; if the Royals know that it's bad for our staff to walk the other team, why don't they recognize that it's bad for the other team if we draw walks too? They have a first-hand example of how devastating it is to a team to give up walks, yet they make almost no attempt to draw more themselves. Maddening, isn't it?...

Well, the wildness caught up with him even further. After being challenged by Bell to throw more strikes, Sisco did just that. He whiffed Damon Hollins, a pinch-hitter, but grooved one down the middle, belt high, to Ty Wigginton, who raked it into center field for a two-run single. 5-3 Rays. Oh well, it was nice to have a lead for 15 minutes...

Top 8th: New pitcher for Tampa, former Royal Shawn Camp...

Reggie Sanders coming up, Reggie Sander going down, on three straight curveballs that he never came close to hitting. Thanks Laverne...

Followed by Minky tapping back to the pitcher on the second pitch. I'm getting pissed...

Emil Brown is hacking away from the outset, but is called out looking on the third pitch. How infuriating. Here we are, needing a baserunner desperately in order to get the tying run to the plate, and three veteran hitters let a brand new pitcher get them out on eight total pitches. Shouldn't these guys have gone up there looking to take a couple of pitches from the new guy, maybe coax a walk out of him? This isn't Mariano Rivera, it's Shawn Friggin' Camp, Royal castoff, someone for whom the team should have a perfect scouting report. Look, I'm okay with us bringing in some veterans to give the kids some development time down on the farm, but I thought you said we were going to see more professional play on the field? Well, this inning is about the last thing I would call professional from these veterans. It was much closer to pitiful...

Bottom 8th: On comes our closer, Ambiorix Burgos, who must resort to getting an inning of work while trailing by two runs because we have no idea when he'll ever have a lead to protect again...

To his credit, Burgos looks dominant again, starting off the inning with a pair of strikeouts, effortlessly pumping fastballs up there are 95 and 96. He'd be an awfully pretty site in the ninth inning of a game where the Royals actually had a lead...

I jinxed him, too. No sooner had I typed that when Burgos walked Gathright, losing his composure when the home plate ump called timeout in the middle of one delivery because Gathright wasn't ready for it. A steal and a double later (Carl Crawford's first extra-base hit of the year), and suddenly we need three in the ninth to tie it up...

Top 9th: I'll say this; at least Teahen went up there taking some pitches, trying to coax a walk, making Camp work a little. He's got a full count on him now...and drew that walk. Nicely done...

Wow, even Angel Berroa is taking pitches. Amazing what a three-run deficit in the ninth will do for plate discipline...No matter, Berroa hit into a double play anyway, no doubt reinforcing for himself that being patient is stupid...

Amazing. Bell is sending Matt Stairs up to hit for John Buck. Hey, I like Stairs, but if you're going to send him up there, send him up for Teahen, who has struggled all year. Buck is actually swinging the bat better than just about anyone else on the team, and has enough pop to get us back a run pretty quickly. I can almost guarantee that he wouldn't have grounded out on the first pitch, like Stairs just did to end the game.

This was a really, really frustrating game. And it proved that my running diary mojo just doesn't work for teams that seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot.

Friday, April 14, 2006

More Of The Same

So, what exactly did we learn from the Yankees series? A few things, mostly bad, but I'll try to hit the highlights first.

  • Denny Bautista can pitch. No, he didn't have the prettiest line ever yesterday (5 innings, 6 hits, 4 runs, all earned). But these were the New York Yankees, in the Bronx, getting every close call from the umps as they always do, and he still walked just one man and struck out seven. Over the long haul, that kind of ratio will serve him well. More importantly, he didn't look to be intimidated at all, a wonderful sign for the future.
  • The team shows signs of being decent offensively. Not great, and maybe not even good, but decent. They averaged five runs per game against the Yankees, and while it's true that New York's pitching is simply not that good, it's also true that the Royals played most of the series without either of their two best hitters, David DeJesus or Mike Sweeney. Two of the new additions, Reggie Sanders and Mark Grudzielanek, are playing as advertised, and I also like what I've seen from Esteban German. Get everyone healthy and in the lineup at the same time, and I'll be somewhat hopeful that they won't embarrass themselves this year.
  • Elmer Dessens is special. That guy is a lock-down middle reliever, and Lord knows he's needed in the Royals' bullpen given the way most of those guys have looked. He looks to be a nice signing by Allard Baird this off-season.

Now for the anti-highlights.

  • There are at least two, and possibly as many as four, pitchers on this staff who do not belong in the major leagues. The two I know about are Jimmy Gobble and Steve Stemle, as I've written before, but at least we know that there are options in the minors who can replace Stemle (Joel Peralta, Steve Andrade), and Gobble will soon be gone once Mark Redman is ready to go. That appears to be scheduled for this weekend, when Redman returns, Jeremy Affeldt moves to the pen, and Gobble goes bye-bye. The other two who might not belong are Luke Hudson, who I'm giving a pass to since he looked good before the Yankees series, and Joe Mays, who is having a really hard time pitching with that giant fork sticking out of his back. Please, Runelvys, narrow down that wide keister of yours and give the team an excuse to let Mays wander off into the sunset.
  • Speaking of Affeldt, he's got to be just about the most disappointing Royals prospect in recent memory. I've seen his stuff, and there's just no way he should be getting tattooed as badly as he has the past couple of years. Sure, sure, the Royals have played yo-yo with his role, and I'm sure that didn't help. But he wanted to be a starter this year, the club gave him every opportunity to do just that, he broke camp in the rotation and promptly bombed. Just a terrible waste of talent to this point in his career.
  • Mike Sweeney and David DeJesus are the most fragile S.O.B.'s in baseball. I swear, at this point I think all it would take is a menacing look to keep Mike Sweeney on the bench, and DeJesus seems to have no concept of how to take care of himself at all. At his age and experience level, not to mention his injury history, you'd think the last thing that would sideline him is a hamstring pull, since he should be spending about 45 solid minutes before each game loosening up his easily-damaged muscles. I can't help but wonder if he's the latest victim of the Royals suspect training staff.
  • Buddy Bell isn't a big outside-the-box thinker. His stated reason for pulling Elmer Dessens out of Tuesday's game was that Dessens is a two-inning pitcher, period. He had pitched two innings already, ergo he had to be removed. It's as if he has no idea or interest in the fact that Dessens threw a total of just 19 pitches in those two innings, and as a former starter could have easily gone out for the eighth inning. Maddening.

All in all, we got definite confirmation that the Royals are nowhere near the Yankees' class, the front office mistakes in putting together the bullpen are terribly, terribly real, the injuries to the rotation are showing the club's overall lack of pitching depth, the manager isn't a real deep thinker and no amount of veteran presence from the Sanders' and Grudzielanek's of the world can make this team competitive.

In other words, same old Royals.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Head Scratcher

"Opportunities multiply as they are seized." - Sun Tzu

Somehow, I have the sinking feeling that Buddy Bell never read The Art of War. If he had, perhaps he would have wandered across the above quote, and taking note of its inherent wisdom, applied it to his chosen profession. In that case, we could have avoided such debacles as the one that occurred in New York today.

There stood the lowly Royals, despite a wretched performance by their starting pitcher, poised to defeat the vaunted Yankees in their home opener, before a full house of 55,000 that included dignitaries, legends, celebrities and Billy Crystal. They did it in a manner so un-Royal-like as to induce doubletakes, slack-jawed amazement, and a chorus of what the hells. Their best player didn't even play. Their best hitter never reached base. They hit two home runs, including one by a rookie who had only sixteen in his entire minor league career. They had clutch hits, including a game-tying double by John Buck, a career .240 hitter who had played all of two career games in hallowed Yankee Stadium. Hell, they even got a walk from....Angel Berroa, a.k.a. The Man Who Swung Too Much. It was as if the Earth had cracked open, allowing a group of Bizarro Royals to take the field.

After our hideous starting pitcher, Joe Mays, departed for good in the fifth inning, the bullpen shut the Yankees down. Mike Wood, who should have Mays' rotation spot by this weekend, held the Yankees scoreless through the sixth, thanks in large part to a savvy defensive play by that same Angel Berroa, another minor miracle. Having thrown 38 pitches in over two innings, Wood was pulled in favor of Elmer Dessens. This move was okay with me, though it could be argued that Wood, a wannabe starter, easily could have gone another inning without taxing his arm, and since the pen would be asked to throw over six total innings today, getting an extra one from Wood might have been critical to keeping the rest of the arms fresh for the remainder of the series.

No matter, as it happens, because the man brought in from the bullpen was Elmer Dessens, and he was electric. The Yankees simply couldn't touch him, as he allowed no hits, no walks and struck out two, including a called strike three against Alex Rodriguez that was so beautiful that A-Rod simply dropped his helmet and walked to his position without complaint, the first time in recent memory that any Yankee has failed to complain about a called third strike. In his two innings, Dessens threw just 19 total pitches, 16 of them for strikes. It was a masterful performance.

And then, the hand of Buddy Bell befell them, and returned us all to our accustomed state of Royal heartburn as he snatched defeat from victory.

Despite his brilliance and low pitch count, despite his rubber arm that allows him to be available on back-to-back days, despite being well-rested having not pitched since Saturday, despite his ERA of 0.00 for the season, despite his career mark against the Yankees, which was also 0.00, despite his seven strikeouts in just six innings this season, and his microscopic 0.50 WHIP, despite being a 35-year old veteran who was not intimidated by Yankee Stadium's masses, Dessens was pulled before the eighth inning by Buddy Bell in favor of Andy Sisco. The Andy Sisco who had never pitched on an Opening Day in Yankee Stadium before. The Andy Sisco who just turned 23 this January. The Andy Sisco with the 10.13 ERA this season. That Andy Sisco.

To recap, the Royals had an eighth inning lead against the New York Yankees on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium. I'm thinking maybe this is one of those opportunities that should be seized. What would build a young team's confidence more that a victory such as this? Claiming a win of this magnitude would reap exactly the kind of multiplied opportunities in the future that Sun Tzu referenced. Knowing that they could beat the Yankees under the most difficult circumstances possible would have been an enormous boost to the team's ego, and surely would have paid future dividends. This was one of those games that Bell simply couldn't let get away.

In response, Bell pulled a successful veteran with an ERA of 0.00 who had only thrown 19 pitches in two innings in favor of a shaky rookie with an ERA over 10.00. He did it because he's not the most nimble thinker in the world, and he's locked into the thought that Andy Sisco is his eighth inning guy and, by God, he's gonna use him in the eighth inning. Prior performance of Sisco or those who pitched before him be damned.

All of which makes me think of another quote from that book.

"If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

Flanagan Strikes Again

Ordinarily, I would post this under the Damn Fool of the Week, but frankly it's getting old to slap Jeffrey Flanagan with that title. Yeah, he deserves it, but I think the point has been made that he's an embarrassingly bad "journalist".

I do, however, want to address something he wrote today, in case anyone out there believed it. Flanagan decided to spend a few of his precious 500 or so daily words in speculation about the fences at Kauffman Stadium. He wonders whether or not the Royals' decision to move the fences back to their original depth two years ago may have something to do with their recent poor records, and goes so far as to call up the Royals to ask if their new renovation plans include moving the fences back in.

When I read this kind of thing, I always wonder what his contacts with the Royals think of him. They must just shake their heads and sigh at this point, chalking each new call up to Flanagan's burgeoning senility.

You see, there is no reason why this tidbit ever should have appeared in your daily newspaper. Sure, it's a decent thought to have at first, but most reporters, when such a theory strikes them, would do a little thing called "research". Flanagan's theory begs an obvious question - did the Royal's home record get worse after the fences were moved? And how does it compare to their road record? Pretty basic, right? I think so, but those questions obviously never occurred to Flanagan, or else he chose to ignore them because he needed to fill his word quota for the day. If he had investigated at all, he would have found that his speculation is utterly and completely groundless.

Looking at a 10-year window since the Royals originally moved the fences in after the 1995 season, the Royals' home record has been pretty stable. In the eight years before the fences were moved back out, 1996-2003, the Royals averaged 36 home wins. In the two years since the fences were moved they have averaged 34. I'm not a math major, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that those two extra losses weren't the root cause of the Royals' recent poor records. I'm thinking that the problem is on the road.

Sure enough, looking at the team's road records for these years, we find that they averaged 35 road wins from 1996 to 2003, but just 23 in the past two seasons. I think Flanagan would have a hard time blaming the Royal's road problems on the new fences in their home stadium.

In fact, if we look at some additional data, we find that they new fences have actually served their purpose. Remember, they were moved back before the 2004 season in order to help the young pitchers. Deeper fences meant fewer home runs and more flyballs caught for outs by theoretically fast outfielders like Carlos Beltran and David DeJesus. All of this would give the pitchers more confidence to throw strikes and let their defense get outs for them.

Well, that plan actually worked. Before moving the fences out, Kauffman Stadium played as an extreme hitters park, and the Royals posted a higher team ERA at home than on the road in six of those eight seasons. In both 2004 and 2005, the team had a better ERA at home than on the road, and by significant amounts of about a half a run per game. In fact, their home ERA of 5.33 in 2004, the year after the fences were moved back, was the best mark the team posted since 1996.

No, the problem isn't the fences. The problem is that these guys just aren't good pitchers. Even as their home performances have improved, they're still terrible. To give you a comparison, the Colorado Rockies, of Coors Field fame, had a home ERA of 5.18 last year, nowhere near the Royals mark of 5.58, and you can't tell me that Coors Field doesn't have as severe an impact on the pitchers who play there as Kauffman Stadium. The Royals' road ERAs of 5.84 and 5.99 the past two years bears this out. That's just bad pitching, fences be damned.

Wouldn't it have been nice if Jeffrey Flanagan had done this research before publishing this crap citywide in the local newspaper? Aren't journalists supposed to report the facts?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Plate Discipline


No, not the number of balls needed for a walk, a seemingly foreign concept for the Royals. It's also not the number of bases you need to score a run, nor is it the number of runs you get for a grand slam. In other circumstances any of those may be true, but not for our Royals. Not today.

No, the four I'm referring to is the number of pitches it took Mark Buehrle to get three outs from the Royals in the fourth inning today. Four. F-O-U-R. Quatro. Just plain four.

That would be ridiculous under any circumstances, but what made it even worse for the Royals was the hitters who came to the plate that inning. They were none other than Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Sweeney and Reggie Sanders, the three most experienced hitters in the lineup. Three hitters who have above average career on-base percentages. Three veterans, each of whom is supposed to know a little bit about baseball. They're supposed to know that when the opposing pitcher enters the fourth inning having thrown only 33 total pitches, you're supposed to make him work a little. Even if that means taking the first two pitches for strikes, you're supposed to make the guy put in some effort.

You're particularly supposed to do this if you're losing by two runs, and even more so if your own pitcher has labored by throwing 64 pitches himself through the first four innings. You're not supposed to go up there hacking at the first pitch you see, which is exactly what Grudzielanek did when he grounded out to lead off the inning. And when the leadoff hitter does do something foolish like that, your number three hitter, Sweeney, is supposed to know better than to hack away at the second pitch he sees, but that's exactly what he did as he hit a fly ball for out number two. And your 38-year old cleanup hitter is supposed to know that when the first two hitters have seen just three pitches, and your own pitcher is still trying to catch his breath in the dugout, the last thing you're supposed to do is hack at the first pitch you see. But that's exactly what Reggie Sanders did, tapping out softly to the pitcher for out number three.

Four pitches, three outs, from the most experienced hitters in the lineup, the guys who are supposed to be showing the younger players what it means to be big league hitters. Obviously, they failed miserably, and it showed all day long. The next inning Buehrle needed just ten pitches to retire the side, and that included a hit. In the sixth, he got the first out on one pitch, and the second just four pitches later, when yet another veteran, Tony Graffanino, was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. Grudzielanek then capped off this ugly little chain of events by being picked off first base to end the inning.

Buehrle's pitch count through six full innings? Fifty-six. Just about nine per inning, putting him on pace to throw a complete game shutout on just over 80 pitches. As it happens, he was inexplicably pulled after eight innings and 88 pitches. In contrast, Mark Elarton, who settled down and was pitching well, started the seventh inning with his pitch count already at 85, against a White Sox team that hacks away as badly as the Royals on most days. That's a respectable number, just over 14 pitches per inning, and yet it was nearly 30 pitches more than the Royals had made Buehrle throw through the same number of innings. Of the Royals' 33 total plate appearances, just about half, 16, were over after one or two pitches. Half. "I don't think we had a great plan today," said Buddy Bell after the game. "We helped him out a little bit," echoed Tony Graffanino. Gee, d'ya think?

Yes, Mark Buehrle is a good pitcher, but that doesn't excuse the Royals from being labeled with the only word that describes their hitters today.


.500? What's That?

So here we are, at .500. And it only took 364 days to get back here.

Still, I'm not complaining. Break-even is a good place for this team. Are there warning signs that this is a mirage? You bet. Take away one 11-run outburst and the offense is averaging less than three runs per game. Jeremy Affeldt and Joe Mays make us long for Mark Redman and Runelvys Hernandez, a depressing thought. Andy Sisco seems to be struggling. David DeJesus is hurt again. The team has been outscored 27-19, and at that pace they can be expected to finish with a winning percentage of .345, which would give them exactly the same terrible 56-106 record that they had last year.

But there are just as many reasons for optimism. The other half of the rotation, Scott Elarton and Denny Bautista, have combined for and ERA of 2.31, and an acceptable WHIP of 1.37. If Bautista can get his command under control, he can be a star. At least three members of the bullpen - Ambiorix Burgos, Elmer Dessens, and Luke Hudson - look to be outstanding. Angel Berroa seems to have found his way at the plate (though he has yet to draw a walk). John Buck hit a couple of pitches for RBI doubles that he would have fanned on last year. The defense is clearly better (minus Emil Brown's continued shenanigans).

All of these observations are based on really small sample sizes, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the team can hang around .500 for a while. Do I expect it? No. But I'm sure going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Other Royals Notes:
  • Retaining Jimmy Gobble and Steve Stemle in the bullpen looks like it's going to cost the Royals both on the field and in terms of compensation as well. Gobble and Stemle were equally terrible in their only appearances, combing for an ERA of 22.50, while Joel Peralta pitched a 1-2-3 inning for a save in Omaha's opener. Now we hear that the team is trying to swing a deal that will allow them to retain the rights to Steve Andrade as well. As a Rule 5 selection, the team has to offer Andrade back to Toronto now that he has cleared waivers, but the Royals like him enough that they'd like to give the Blue Jays something to keep him, probably a prospect. If he'd simply been retained on the roster, the Royals wouldn't have to give up anything, and Stemle or Gobble would be in Omaha, where they belong. It's a pretty slick move when you weaken your big league roster and your minor league system at the same time.
  • Wichita is 0-3, but no one can blame the bats. As expected, the Wranglers have no pitching, so they've surrendered 25 runs thus far. But the bats have performed as advertised, averaging over 6 runs per game. Alex Gordon has posted an OPS of 1.221 in his first three games of his professional career. No doubt, this is going to be a fun bunch to watch this summer, if only they can stay interested as their pitchers allow the opposition to post nine runs each game.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Good News, Bad News

First the good news about today's game. Luke Hudson looked great today. I feel much better about him being in the pen, even though I would have preferred either Joel Peralta or Steve Andrade to have his spot. He seems to have embraced a bullpen role, and is throwing much better in relief than he ever did as a starter for Cincinnati. Some guys are just better suited to the shorter role, and maybe Hudson is one of them.

Now the bad news. Everything else.

To be specific:

  • The hitters were swinging at everything. With the exception of David DeJesus, no one tried to work the count on Jeremy Bonderman. Through six innings, he had thrown just 75 pitches, and the entire lineup failed to draw a walk against either Bonderman or the Tigers' bullpen.
  • DeJesus was stranded at third base despite leading off the game with a triple and having three veterans coming up behind him. If the three most professional hitters in your lineup can't drive in a run from third base with no one out, you have trouble on your hands my friend.
  • For the second straight game, Mike Sweeney was booed by the home fans. (And deservedly so, I might add.)
  • Royal hitters managed to get just four balls out of the infield against Bonderman. Yeah, I know he's a good pitcher. But four? That's it?
  • Joe Mays was as awful as he showed himself to be his last few years in Minnesota, surrendering three runs and a wild pitch before the Tigers' sixth hitter had reached the plate in the first inning.
  • It took Steve Stemle until his fifth hitter before his ERA dropped below infinity. The decision to keep him over Peralta or Andrade look to be every bit as terrible as I thought it would be.
  • After another dose of The Jimmy Gobble Experience (another inning, another homer allowed), the team's most reliable long reliever, Mike Wood, not only came in and got creamed, by allowing homers to two of the first three batters he faced, but he then completely lost his cool and plunked Craig Monroe on his next pitch, earning an early shower,
  • Angel Berroa was up to his old tricks. After botching a ground ball for an error in the top of the sixth inning, he led off the bottom half of the inning with a double before promptly getting caught off second base when the next batter hit a ground ball to third base.

Folks, I know it's been only two games, but this looks like it could be another ugly year.

High Expectations

Praise the Lord! The stadium tax passed! Can we move on now?

Seriously, I'm one of those who would have much preferred a plan to put a new stadium downtown, near the new Sprint Center and KC Power & Light entertainment district. Turning a few blocks of abandoned warehouses into a ballpark and some shopping and lofts would have been a nice thing. Alas, that proposal was never made, and since I'm not a Jackson County resident I wouldn't have been allowed to vote for it anyway, so I'm okay with the alternate plan.

Sure, I think there's no way the Royals can spend over $200 million to upgrade Kauffman Stadium. A good chunk of that money is probably going straight into David Glass' pocket. And sure, the rolling roof thing failed, making the renovations to Arrowhead Stadium a bit stupid as well as overpriced, since there will now be no Super Bowl to offset the cost. But overall I'm glad it passed, for two main reasons.

First, now we don't have to talk about this anymore. I'm sure the roof will be proposed again, and it would be nice to get a Super Bowl, so I'm sure there will still be that talk for a while, but otherwise all of the talk radio guys can finally give this thing a rest. The tax has passed, there will be no downtown baseball, the teams are locked into 25-year leases, and that's that. Maybe we can finally talk about sports again.

The larger reason why I'm glad this thing was approved is because now David Glass has no excuses. The fans of his team have spoken loud and clear. We love baseball, we love the Royals, and we'll pay our own money to keep them here and make them competitive. Mission accomplished.

So now, Mr. Glass, it's put up or shut up time. You will soon have a state of the art stadium that will include a restaurant and a 9,500 seat pavilion to attract other events. An All-Star Game will be coming to town as soon as all the work is done. I'm sure there are a posse of beancounters in your employ who have already made multiple projections of the added revenue your team can expect from all this. Spend it. All of it. Pay big bonuses to the players you draft. Hire better front office personnel so we know those draft picks will actually be made wisely. Build new minor league facilities. Hire great instructors at every level. Attract veteran players who want to come to the safe, friendly Midwestern town with the state of the art ballpark and the faithful fans. And win, period.

Don't give me excuses about it being years before all of this added revenue is realized. Do it on spec. The voters did. They pledged to give you over $200 million of their hard-earned money even though the team is currently lousy. They did it even though there is little semblance of a plan coming out of the Royals' front office to make the team better. They acted on faith.

Some immediate return on that investment would be appreciated.

Monday, April 03, 2006

...The More They Stay The Same

First, the positive. I'll give Scott Elarton credit; he pitched a pretty good game. If not for Chris Shelton being out of his mind (and officially making it to my Pesky Bastard list), Elarton wouldn't have given up a run in almost six innings. And only another solo homer given up by Andy Sisco kept the bullpen from being perfect. Good, solid outing for the staff all around, a nice sign.

Let me also take a moment to give credit to the Royals' promotions staff, who put on a first class group of pre-game festivities. Any time you get an Oscar winner (Chris Cooper) to throw out the first pitch, and both a bald eagle and a B-2 bomber to simultaneously hit their cues exactly on time as The Star Spangled Banner ended, it looks really, really good. Throw in Buck O'Neil as honorary manager, perfect weather, and the usual stellar work of the Royals' grounds crew to make the field look gorgeous, and all signs pointed to victory.

Alas, the same old Royals hitters showed up, and that's never a good thing. One extra-base hit and one walk. That, ladies and germs, is a recipe for disaster, and sure enough, the team managed only one run. I'll give them a minor pass this time because Kenny Rogers is a crafty S.O.B. unless he's dealing with cameramen, and rookie Joel Zumaya was downright filthy. But the Royals have got to be more patient and show more punch or this season is over before it started.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bullpen Bull

As you can tell from the title of the post, I am not thrilled with the latest decisions regarding the composition of the Royals' bullpen. What once looked to be the sole strength of the team entering the season now looks to be muddled, at best. I will grant that much of the problem stems from injury to Mike MacDougal, but nearly every move made in the shuffle to fill his closer spot looks to be wrong.

Moving Ambiorix Burgos to the closer role was fine, but it created a trickle down affect. Burgos' promotion meant a new hole was created in short relief, and power arms are always preferable in that capacity. Andy Sisco will be returning as the left-handed short man. The righty, in Burgos' place, could have been Joel Peralta or Steve Andrade (who, you will note, The KC Star refers to as "Shane"), but it won't be. Peralta was sent out yesterday, and Andrade was designated for assignment, likely to be reclaimed by the Blue Jays since he was a Rule 5 guy. The Royals kept neither guy, going instead with Steve Stemle, a converted starter who has only been pitching in relief since 2004 and has a career major league ERA of 5.06.

Sorry, I don't get it. Either Peralta or Andrade would have been a better fit, particularly because the other four guys who will start the year in the bullpen are all better suited to be long relievers. Elmer Dessens, Mike Wood, Jimmy Gobble, and Luke Hudson are all former starters, and one of them, Hudson, is probably still best served by being in Omaha's rotation. A pen of Burgos as closer, Sisco and Peralta as the lefty-righty team to get through the 7th and 8th innings, with Andrade as an extra arm for those situations, and Wood and Dessens as long relievers who can spot start is far more attractive.

Yes, it means Jimmy Gobble would have to go through waivers, since this pen only calls for six arms instead of seven and Gobble is out of minor league options. But I've got news for you; Whether he's demoted now or in the future, he's always going to be out of those options and will therefore always have to go through waivers. And let's be clear, Jimmy Gobble WILL be demoted eventually. He's a known quantity, a soft-tossing lefty with a career major league ERA (5.27) significantly higher than his career mark for strikeouts per nine innings (4.18). He's no great loss if some other team wants him.

As it is, Gobble will be the seventh man in a seven-man pen, getting only slop innings. And Hudson and Stemle, two unproven guys as relievers, will be taking innings away from a proven big league pitcher, Peralta, and one with a lot of promise, Andrade. We can only hope that upon MacDougal's return, one of these guys will be cut loose and the pen will revert to be a source of hope instead of heartburn.

Other Royals Notes:

  • Chip Ambres turned down the chance to be a free agent and accepted a minor league assignment in Omaha. That's good news, because having a pair of guys in Triple A (Ambres and Aaron Guiel) with major league experience buys the youngsters in Double A Wichita some extra time to develop and limits Allard Baird's temptation to do something like call up Billy Butler in June. And I'm all in favor of any move that reduces Allard's opportunities to be stupid.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Apocalypse is Nigh

I don't believe I've been ambiguous about this, but let me be explicit. I think it's a joke that someone like Jeffrey Flanagan has a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. His baseball knowledge is laughable, at best. I've read more moronic baseball perspectives from him than from any other writer for a major newspaper. And that includes Jason Whitlock, who at least has the good sense not to write about baseball often as an admission of the fact that he knows nothing about it.

Flanagan, on the other hand, seems to think that he actually knows what he's talking about. He's arrogant beyond belief for someone who knows so little. He once offered me a wager by email that the Royals would release Emil Brown during this past off-season and no other team would pick him up as anything other than a fourth outfielder. My reply, word for word, was this:

"A lower-revenue team looking for cheap production will sign him for $1 million or so and stick him in left field every day."

Which, of course, is exactly what happened, with the Royals themselves playing the part of the lower-revenue team. Flanagan was "surprised", but he's the bozo who gets to decide which players should be remembered for eternity in the Hall of Fame. Just another entry in the Life is Unfair file, I suppose.

I mention all of this because I now fear that the end of the world is upon us and I wanted to give you all warning. You see, Flanagan wrote something today about baseball that I actually agree with, and I don't recall that happening before. To me, that's an ominous portent, and I suggest you all begin sandbagging your homes and hoarding food. Our only hope is that he stole those thoughts from my previous posts, which is possible since I published them before him. Or maybe he stole them from some of the other Royals blogs out there. If they were his original ideas, and I suspect they were, we're all in trouble. Make peace with your God.

Other Royals Notes:
  • There have been more indications that Zack Greinke may be on the verge or finding his happy place, which is obviously good news for all concerned. That said, I disagree with the thought of getting him back in Kansas City's rotation quickly. Let him spend a solid two or three months in Omaha, where he can build some confidence and build relationships with guys who will likely be his teammates for a few years.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Head Scratching Move

Okay, now I'm confused. Just one day after releasing Chip Ambres, making it really clear that Aaron Guiel all but had the fourth outfielder job nailed down, the Royals cut Guiel, handing that job to Shane Costa instead.

Nothing against Costa, but I don't understand this move at all.

Look, they can both play all three outfield spot and they both bat left-handed, but that's where the similarities end. As talented as he is and as powerful a physique as he's built, Costa simply hasn't proved he can play in the major leagues. In his entire minor league career, his 6'1", 205-pound frame has managed the grand total of just 16 home runs in over 800 at-bats. His minor league slugging percentage is a lukewarm .440, and Costa's on-base percentage at his last five stops in the minors have been on a downward trend - .444, .400, .364, .349, .188.

Costa is still just 24-years old, and can certainly benefit from being a regular outfielder in Omaha. The guy tallied less than 400 at-bats last year despite being one of the organization's more highly touted outfield prospects, and has only one other season, 2004, where he cracked that barrier. He could use some repetitions, preferably with a hitting coach that helps him develop a power stroke. Sitting on the bench in Kansas City and getting three plate appearances each week isn't going to do anything toward developing this kid.

Meanwhile, Guiel is cheap enough, his teammates like him, fans love him (you don't find many Canadian bench players with their own fan club website), and, most importantly, he's better than Costa. He's long since proven that Triple A pitching is no match for him, racking up minor league on-base numbers like .371, .438, .516, .500, .408 and .443, and a career slugging percentage of .515. Last year, between Omaha and Kansas City, Guiel hit 34 homers, drove in 102 runs while scoring 112, got on base at a .368 clip and slugged .522. Putting a 33-year old Guiel back in Triple A is like putting Tom Hanks in some community theater production of "Same Time Next Year". Been there, done that, nothing left to prove.

I don't get this move at all.

Other Royals Notes:
  • On a more positive note, the Royals staff during Spring Training posted the fewest walks per game of any team in Arizona. To steal from new pitching coach Bob McClure, "That's huge", in more ways than one. First, there are the obvious performance benefits to having fewer base runners, more alert defenders, and so on. Just as importantly, it might mean that McClure is a pitching coach who can stay more than one or two seasons. The carousel at that post in recent years has been embarrassing, and almost certainly has contributed to the organization's habitual failure to develop young pitchers. They need guidance, guys, so stop finding new coaches with new philosophies every year.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Welcome Back Tony!

As many have pointed out, the Royals have essentially traded Tony Graffanino for himself and cash by claiming him off waivers today and simultaneously releasing Chip Ambres. That's not literally true, because the Royals also got Juan Cedeno in the deal, who may become something one day, but for now that's what it boils down to. Odd. Really odd.

That said, I'm happy with the move. I like Graffanino, and he's a major upgrade as a utility player over The Scrappy Joe McEwing. The Royals acquiring upgraded talent should never be criticized unless the cost is just a back breaker, but Graffanino's $2 million doesn't qualify.

In addition, releasing Ambres now leaves Aaron Guiel as the only viable option as a fourth outfielder, and that's a good thing. When his eyes are working, Guiel is the better player, both offensively and defensively. Plus he's a lefty, which is now needed because Graffanino and Esteban German both are righties, as are six of the nine regulars in the lineup. A good lefty off the bench is critical, and Paul Bako dosen't qualify. (Sorry Gabor). Matt Stairs qualifies, but who knows how long his beer league softball body will hold up. Besides, why settle for one blond, thirtysomething, lefty Canuck outfielder on the bench when you can have two?

Other Royals Notes:
  • As much as I like the Graffanino claim, I'm just as puzzled by the pickup of Steve Andrade. He's a career minor leaguer who is already 28, well past the point of being called a prospect, and he's only thrown a handful of innings above Double A. This is his fourth team in the last year, which could mean that a lot of teams see something there, or could mean that he's not good enough to stick with three previous clubs (including the Devil Rays - uh-oh). While he's been pretty good in his minor league stints (11-7, 2.15 ERA, a whopping 13.20 K/9IP, 4.41 K/BB), he's also a Rule V guy who can't be dropped from the major-league roster all year. And he's a righty in a bullpen that currently projects to have either no lefties or just the known mediocrity that is Jimmy Gobble. Is he better than Steve Stemle as a seventh arm in an already-crowded pen? Sure. But can he pitch at this level? Beats me, and probably beats Allard Baird too.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Elvis Has Left The Building

Some things are just too funny not to laugh about, no matter how politically incorrect they are. This is one of them.

The Royals' projected #2 starter, Runelvys Hernandez, has been placed on the disabled list and will start the season in the minor leagues because....he's fat.

Now, they didn't say he was fat. What they said was he has a "stamina" problem. That's code for fat. I wish they would have just said that, because it's indisputable. Hernandez showed up in Spring Training weighing, get this, 280 pounds on his 6'1" frame. That's pitiful.

Hernandez isn't some 6'7" giant like C.C. Sabathia, who can carry a lot of weight because of his natural frame without having it affect his performance. Sabathia weighs 290 according to his ESPN card, and it doesn't affect him a bit. He's got a .605 career winning percentage on mostly poor teams and a respectable 4.10 ERA. If Hernandez posted numbers that even approached that, the Royals surely wouldn't care if he came to camp with a chain of chocolate doughnuts around his neck.

But Runelvys doesn't have numbers like that. He's a guy with a 5.00 career ERA, and 19-23 record. He's a guy with a reconstructed elbow that could probably use some help from his legs, if only they weren't too busy trying to hold up his massive bulk instead of driving off the mound.

I'm glad the Royals sent him the message that he can't let himself get into such crappy condition and still expect a roster spot.

Other Royals Notes:
  • Speaking of doughnuts, apparently Shane Costa had to miss a game because of an allergic reaction he had to a couple of soy-containing doughnuts he ate. Only on the Royals.
  • Don't look now, but the Royals are raking in Arizona. The scored another fifteen runs today in slaughtering the Giants, and show a lot of signs of being a decent offensive club this season. The key thing to watch is the percentage of the team's plate appearances that go to players with above average on-base percentages. Last year, the Royals were really bad at sending players to the plate who were good at getting on base. Only Matt Stairs, David DeJesus, Emil Brown, Mike Sweeney, Tony Graffanino, Aaron Guiel, and Denny Hocking posted a better OBP than the league-wide mark of .330. Throw in a handful of plate appearances from Jose Lima nd Zack Greinke, who were also above that mark, and the Royals totaled just 41.52% of the total plate appearances from players with above average on-base ability. That was the second-worst mark in the league, barely trailing only the 41.48% posted by the White Sox. Bear in mind that the White Sox were not a good offensive ballclub last year, scoring only 4.57 runs per game, 9th in the league, a mark they manage only because they hit 200 homers, a figure the Royals couldn't even dream of reaching. Without any real power to speak of, the Royals simply have to get runners on base this year. They have a chance at being much better at it than last year, not only because Sweeney and DeJesus should both be in the lineup more, but because two of the three new regulars in the lineup, Mark Grudzielanek and Reggie Sanders, were also above-average in OBP last season, and Doug Mientkiewicz's career mark is .359. Throw in the development of Mark Teahen, whose entire offensive reputation in the minors was based upon him being a patient hitter, and the Royals could suddenly have a lineup on most days that sports seven guys with above-average ability to reach base. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Temporary Reprieve

Mercifully, it looks like the Royals will be going with an eleven-man staff to start the season. For now, that appears to be a temporary move, and as soon as they need a fifth starter they will bring up Denny Bautista or activate Mark Redman, and one of the bench players will be given his walking papers.

As I have written before, I think that's foolish. With three guys slated for bullpen duty who can each work 3+ innings if needed (Jimmy Gobble, Mike Wood and Elmer Dessens), and a set group of back-end guys in Mike MacDougal (when he returns), Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos and Joel Peralta, the extra arm is simply not going to have enough work to keep sharp. I'd love to see Luke Hudson, the most likely candidate to be pitcher #12, in a pretty deep Omaha rotation with Bautista, J.P. Howell, and possibly Zack Greinke if he ever screws his head on again. Having him sit in the bullpen getting an inning per week would be a waste.

For now, it looks like we'll be spared that scenario. What I'm hoping is that whoever they keep as the extra bench player will get off to a hot start, and Bell will start hounding Baird to let him keep the longer bench. If not, once Redman gets healthy and the fifth rotation spot is needed, we're going to see some poor guy about three times each month, and every time he trots in from the pen we're going to say, "Oh yeah, him. I forgot he was on the team."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Royal Pains

I really enjoy Buster Olney's daily baseball blog, not only as an invaluable source of baseball links, but also for the insight he regularly provides. Unfortunately, he said something today that I suspect is wrong.

In pointing out the recent shoulder problem for Mike MacDougal that will keep him out for several weeks, Olney said the Royals were simply unlucky. I beg to differ. They may well be unlucky, like when Mark Quinn lost a karate fight with a chair, but MacDougal's injury isn't an example of that. To me, it's just another in a long line of silly injuries like strains and pulls and blisters that have befallen Royals players in recent years, and often for no good reason. Mike Sweeney, Jeremy Affeldt, MacDougal and others have missed time for a lot of things that other clubs regularly avoid. And they have a really disturbing trend of major arm injuries to young pitchers. I mean, just take a look at the team's first-round picks of pitchers in recent years:

2002 - Zack Greinke: Rushed to the big leagues, now AWOL with emotional problems.
2001 - Colt Griffin: Rotator cuff surgery in August, 2005.
2000 - Mike Stodolka: Tommy John surgery in 2003, now converting to first base.
1999 - Kyle Snyder: Tommy John surgery in 2000; Surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2003 and 2004.

And that doesn't even count the arm problems suffered by Denny Bautista, Miguel Ascencio, Runelvys Hernandez and others who weren't first-round picks. Isn't it time we started looking at whether or not the Royals know what they're doing when it comes to managing the health of their players?

Other Royals News:
  • Speaking of MacDougal, I'm perfectly comfortable with Ambiorix Burgos in the closer's role. We need an audition from him in that role anyway
  • Perhaps my favorite quote thus far in the Buddy Bell Era: "I’m not really into errors and all that stuff. For me, it’s about range. Take away hits. Make the good plays. Turn the big double play." Hallelujah! A major league manager who recognizes that it's more important to get to a lot of balls and make a few errors than it is to get to few balls and make no errors. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Bell's career range factor at third base was over 20% above league average, while his fielding percentage was less than 1% above average. I think we know where he spent his practice time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Rotation Changes

It looks like Denny Bautista is going to fill the rotation slot vacated by Zack Greinke, and I'm okay with that. Bautista will be 26 this August, so he's not some kid who needs to be coddled. I realize that he's coming off an injury, but he appears to be back to his normal throwing motion and free of pain. Plus, remember that this guy was in the rotation to start last season, too, and had three quality starts in his first five games, all against playoff contenders (Chicago, Cleveland, and Los Angeles) before his arm trouble made him shut it down. If he can find that groove again, he may well be the best starter on the team, and takes a lot of pressure off the Royals to rush Greinke back

On that subject, if Greinke ever comes back, I think he should go back to Triple A first. This guy's head is pretty fragile, and the last thing he needs is to come back into the pressure of major league baseball. Let him go to Omaha, re-establish some confidence, and get his head screwed back on right. Plus, he's still only 22, and won't be 23 until after the season ends. There shouldn't be any urgency about wasting his prime in the minors because his prime hasn't arrived yet. Take some pressure off the kid and let him blow away some Triple A hitters until June

Other Royals Notes:
  • I have bashed the Royals enough, and it's time I game them some props. I couldn't be happier about the new contract they gave David DeJesus. He earned it, it was relatively inexpensive, it's long enough to get the team through all of his arbitration eligibility, and it gives them the option to extend the deal past his first year of free agency. Love it. Love it, love it, love it. This made sense in every facet, and Allard Baird should be given a lot of credit.Now, if he can actually draft and develop real pitchers this June, I may start to consider that he shouldn't be fired.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Greinke's Departure Understandable

So Zack Greinke's decided to take his ball and go home. As he would say, "Cool".

My only reaction to this news is that this is so typical of the Royals. They found a flaky high school phenom pitcher and forced him to the majors at age 20 because they desperately needed good publicity and didn't have anyone better anyway. Despite the fact that he was an undeniably immature head case, they let him suffer through some hideous outings in the middle of a lost season, rather than putting him back in Omaha where he could regain his confidence and, incidentally, stop his major league service time clock. They habitually ripped away his security blanket by changing pitching coaches (Bob McClure will be his fourth in less than two full years of major league service), and refused to recognize the fact that he's a terrible pitcher (7-21, 6.04 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) when throwing to the team's principle catcher, John Buck, and a pretty good pitcher (6-7, 3.40 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) when he throws to anyone else.

You know what? If I was in Greinke's position, I might go home to live in my parents' basement and play some golf, too.