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.