Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Random Post: April 8th, 2008.

Sorry for turning the lights out over here at RotR the last few days. That's going to happen every now and then in my line of work. Anyway, my friends over at Royals Review and Royals Authority have been busy keeping up with the plot lines over the past few days. To wit:

- The bullpen is ridiculous.
- The edict to take more walks has, um, been slow to sink in. The team went an entire series in Minnesota without drawing a walk, and while the Twins emphasize control with their pitchers more than any other team in baseball, that's still sort of sad.

Other thoughts:

- Six games in, and Gil Meche has been the worst pitcher so far, which is less a reflection of him than the rest of the staff. Meche and John Bale are the only two pitchers (out of 11) with an ERA above 2.70. I am impressed.

- The offense has somehow made up for a lack of punch with incredible consistency. Runs scored in the first six games: 5, 4, 4, 3, 4, 3. Three to five runs is a team's sweet spot for offense, but that's a little ridiculous. Amazingly enough, the Royals also had a stretch last season (May 1st to 6th) where they scored between 3 and 5 runs in six straight games, but nonetheless that's a pretty rare feat. More to the point, if they continue to score 3.83 runs per game, they're eventually going to score so few runs that not even their pitching staff can bail them out.

- Joakim Soria is filthier than Jake Peavy's pitching hand. He closed the game out on Sunday by striking out the side on 12 pitches. It's probably not the most dominant inning in Royals history (Jeff Montgomery once struck the side out on 9 pitches, an event that is literally rarer than a no-hitter) - but it's close. He struck out Justin Morneau, who I'm told is a well-respected hitter, on three pitches: a fastball on the corner low and outside, 91 mph; a changeup to the exact same spot that dropped six inches at the last moment as Morneau swung over it, 84 mph; a slow, looping curveball to the exact same spot that Morneau was about 3 feet in front of, 68 mph. That's three pitches, thrown to the perfect spot on the outside edge at the knees, at three different speeds and with three different trajectories.

It's strange to say this, but Soria resembles the rookie Zack Grienke more than Greinke himself does. The Mariano Rivera comparisons are suddenly sprouting everywhere - Buster Olney had a good article on this at ESPN.com - but while Soria throws a great cutter, he's the exact opposite of a one-pitch pitcher. And the more I see his repertoire, the more I think he could be equally successful in the rotation. It will take some cojones for the Royals to mess with success. Especially this much success.

- After raving about Hillman's use of Callaspo as a late-inning pinch-hitter for Tony Pena on Friday, Hillman went one better the next day and started Callaspo at shortstop against Livan Hernandez. The results were mixed; Callaspo tripled, scored and drove in a run, but also was unable to snare a line-drive off the bat of Matt Tolbert cleanly leading off the sixth, which keyed a 3-run Twins rally. Pena's advantage with the glove almost exactly balances Callaspo's advantage with the stick, which means the Royals will get the most out of the position by mixing and matching their talents. Using Callaspo to pinch-hit when the Royals are losing late (or using Pena as a d-rep when they're holding a lead) is obvious. Beyond that, Callaspo is a switch-hitter, and so should start against "hard" right-handed pitchers - RHP who have bigger than normal platoon splits.

But more than just platooning based on the opposing starter, Hillman should strongly consider "platooning" Pena and Callaspo depending on his own starting pitcher. When Bale starts, Pena should always be out there - Bale is the sole left-hander in the rotation, and a groundball pitcher to boot, which means a ton of balls to the left side. But the other four starters are all right-handers, and three of them (Greinke, Bannister, and Tomko) are flyball pitchers, meaning the Royals could start Callaspo and not suffer all that much defensively.

As I write this, the Royals have secretly replaced Brian Bannister with Daniel Cabrera. Through four innings, The Professor has walked four and struck out five, and he's already thrown 84 pitches. He seems to be fighting the cold, the Yankees hitters, and the umpire all at once - and he's battling them to a draw so far.

The Royals have returned the favor, with four walks of their own. You know it's a weird day when the Royals end a streak of 125 consecutive plate appearances without a walk - and the streak is broken by Pena.

- Finally: Rock chalk, Jayhawk. I believe this is the first championship of any significance for the locals since Wichita State won the College World Series in 1989. That was so long ago that the starting catcher for the Shockers was Eric Wedge. Yeah, that Eric Wedge.

18 comments:

Adrian said...

Not only did those Jayhawks win their last title twenty years ago, it was twenty years ago this very day that Floyd Bannister threw 98 pitches, 56 for strikes, walked 4, and allowed 2 earned runs en route to a victory in his first start as a Kansas City Royal. Today, son Brian threw 97 pitches, 58 for strikes, walked 4, and allowed 2 earned runs...

Curtis Ruder said...

How hard is it to put the following on the lineup card:

Gathright
Grudz
Teahen
Butler
Gordon
Guillen
Gload
Buck
Pena

Guillen has been nothing short of garbage so far, so why not take some pressure off, and alternate the side of the plate? What am I missing here?

Ryan said...

I guess Gathright has learned how to steal bases.

Three today.

Three.

Collins for three.

Chalmers for three.

Rock chalk.

Curtis Ruder said...

I hope one trend doesn't continue. So far we are 5-0 in day games and 0-2 in night games.

Anonymous said...

We lost on Saturday which was a day game so we are actually 5-1 in day games and 0-1 in night games.

Also, I still hate the kU jayhawks but congrats anyways. Nice job on the academic fraud and championship.

Anonymous said...

So far the season is shaping up a lot like 2003: the Royals were the last team to lose a game (and if memory serves, every other team had a loss by their third or fourth game, as well) and their win total is artificially inflated because they beat up on a woeful Tigers team.

Chaz said...

Ranny,

My man, I cannot thank you enough for all of the great writing you do for my team. I lived in Kansas City my whole life and growing up have struggled through the years (especially the last few), but still stuck with them and went to every game that I could. Unfortunaltey, as fate would have it, I have move to Dubai, UAE 2 months ago (very convienient) so I can't easily watch the boys. It is your superb writing that keeps me connected with the team and players on a level you can only get by watching. Thank you.

Charles F. Blaschke IV
Dubai, UAE

Zach said...

Mike Fast's series on Bannister mentioned that his fastball tends to generate a lot of groundballs to short and flyballs to right field off of right handed batters. With more balls in play and the increased likelihood of ground balls to short, Pena should definitely be in the field when Bannister is pitching.

Carlton said...

I am torn on what the Royals should do with Soria. It has been so nice to know with him coming out of the pen to close it out that we will win more often than not. I remember the days of Roberto Hernandez, Ricky Bottalico, Ambiorix Burgos, and the later years of Monty when no lead was safe. The phrase "If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it" keeps resonating through my head. I guess I'm just worried they'll try to change something and it will screw Soria up. I've seen the Royals screw up enough talented pitchers in my time.

Great work on the Blog - keep it up!

Gary said...

I'm going to have to wait for the Royals to start doing things different before I believe we are onto something sustainable here.

Detroit isn't playing good ball for a college team right now. The Yankees are banged up like its late September. The Twins smacked us around like they always do...by playing better fundamentals and making every little thing count.

A heroic, but unsustainable, pitching performance. Good hitting, but not good enough unless the pitching is heroic. Still poor plate discipline. Some pretty silly base-running errors. 5 stolen bases against a catcher with a sore arm don’t tell us anything.

Muser, Pena and Bell tried to manage this team like we were just another high payroll MLB team. We're not. We have to make the difference in the margins. We have to make every pitch count, keep every inning alive as long as possible, make the other team scratch for every base. We cannot continue to let a pitcher throw 48 pitches in the first two innings and leave after 7 innings with 84 total. That is just bad baseball and it is what we're known for.

We won't beat the Yankees again this season in a game where the strike zone is the size of a bar of soap...especially if we continue to swing at 3-0 pitches and hit them into double plays. Other teams have the players to mash the ball. We have to play smart.

I love what I see so far, but we are not there yet. And the only real test so far, the Twins, didn't make me believe things have changed significantly...yet. Hopefully Trey will send TJ up there without a bat one time to send him a message.

On the positive side, I will say that Grudzielanik continues to move up on my Favorite Royals of All Time list. I don't think he will ever catch Freddy Patek, but if he gives another butt chewing for a base running error, and he just might!

KCDC said...

We have players to mash the ball too. Billy Butler is hitting .414, and I don't think I've seen him bloop in a hit yet. I'm not saying he's going to finish the year north of .400, but I doubt he'll finish the year without a HR either.

And he's on the cheap. Smaller payroll doesn't mean the players are less talented. It means they're paid less. It's on the GM to make less money turn into more talent.

Michael A. Molde said...

I was at the game at the Metrodome on Saturday. I'm not sure if you were able to see Callaspo's attempt to snare that line drive, but it would have been a highlight-reel play, and simply amazing. In other words, it was NOT a simple line drive that he should have caught, which then led to the three-run inning by the Twins. IF he had made that catch, it would have been one of the better catches I've ever witnessed in person.

Ryan said...

In reference to Gary's post, yes the Tigers and Yankees are struggling. It should still count for something that we win those games, while still having a lot to improve on. It's certainly better than LOSING to struggling teams, which we are certainly capable of.

Gary said...

Ryan, excellent point. I didn't intend to diminish a 5-2 record.

KCDC, Cheaper means either "not as talented", or "too young to be a free agent". Unfotunately, young usually means not as experienced and savvy. We have to make sure that they play up to their talent level while they are still on the team. As soon as Butler and Gordon and Grienke are eligible, they will follow the money like Damon, Beltran and Dye. Since we don't have a full lineup that are stars in the making, we have to play smarter, mostly by maximising OBP through exceptional plate discipline and at the same time wearing down opposing starting pitchers. To get back to Rany's blog, Butler is a great natural hitter who is more effective as an OBP beast than as an HR machine. So instead of wanting Butler to hit dingers, we need him to be an OBP beast again (his OBP is his AVG and he won't maintain .414 AVG), and teach Gordon, Teahan and Gathright to do the same.

Husker Dave said...

I guess the Nebraska Huskers' 3 NCs in the 90s count for nothing. Remember, more Husker alumni live in KC than live in the state of Nebraska minus Lincoln/Omaha. And when there is any sporting event with the Huskers in KC they represent well. Except the basketball tournament. I would also venture to guess that among Husker fans, a plurality are Royals fans.

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