My criticism of Hillman’s decision to pinch-hit for Gathright with Olivo has attracted a fair amount of response, not all of it positive. I stand by the point I made – that it was the wrong move to make – but dedicating an entire post to the move gave it a prominence that it didn’t really deserve. It was the wrong move, but it wasn’t an egregious one; it might have lowered the Royals’ chance of winning by 2 or 3 percent. I wrote about it because I happened to be at my computer as the ninth inning played out, and because it’s interesting to write about all the different factors that go into a decision like that.
It’s not as interesting to say “the Royals should stop running so much,” in part because it’s so obvious. But Gordon’s decision to try to steal second with the tying run at third base in the 4th inning probably lowered the team’s win probability by something like 5 percent. More importantly, this was just the latest in a series of low-probability baserunning decisions that have cost the Royals outs. Outs that have cost the Royals runs. Runs that have cost the Royals wins.
Consider this: at this moment, the Royals and Indians have roughly the same caliber of offensive stats. The Royals have hit .275/.325/.370 as team; the Indians have hit .241/.336/.365. The Royals have basically exchanged 5 homers and 19 walks for a pair of doubles and 27 singles.
Yet in the same number of games, the Indians have 74 runs, and the Royals have 55 – a difference of over a run a game. The Indians have hit a little better with runners in scoring position; they’ve hit .264/.399/.408 as a team, while the Royals have hit .266/.331/.331 in the same situations. That’s worth a few runs, but just a few. The difference is that the Indians have stolen 9 bases and been caught twice; the Royals have stolen 14 bases but have been caught nine times.
It’s not just the frequency of the caught stealings – it’s the timing. The Royals have been thrown out five times with a runner already in scoring position. Three of those were guys thrown out trying to steal third base (Gathright twice, Gload once), and twice they were guys trying to steal second with a runner already on third.
And then there’s all the outs made trying to take the extra base. According to Craig Brown at Royals Authority, the Royals have made 10 additional outs on the basepaths – either pickoffs or what I call “discretionary outs”, outs made when attempting to take an extra base. That’s a total of 19 baserunning outs, more than one a game. That’s insane.
You can argue that the Royals are still 9-7, so it can’t have hurt them that much. On the other hand, they’re just a game over .500 even though they’ve given up the fewest runs in the league, and every other team has given up 0.75 runs more per game. It’s a fair statement to say that the Royals have already cost themselves a game with their baserunning tactics. It’s time to end the madness. Hillman seems like a smart guy, and I’m confident that he recognizes that the costs of his running game have far exceeded the benefits. If he doesn’t, well, maybe I’m wrong about him.
- It’s been two weeks since the Royals foisted their team calendar on the world, and I still can’t get over this photograph of Mark Grudzielanek (scroll down.) Who took this photo? Robert Mapplethorpe?
Unbelievable photo shoot! As the sports guy would say, it's off the charts on the unintentional comedy scale. If only I could have been a fly on the wall when they instructed Billy Butler to strip down to his undershirt, or to wrap John Buck in a wreath. My personal favorite is Brandon Duckworth in the third photo gallery. Wouldn't it be awesome to hit the town with that guy?
There's only one acronym that can describe both the Royals' baserunning and their team calendar--WTF?!
"It’s a fair statement to say that the Royals have already cost themselves a game with their baserunning tactics."
It's also fair to say the Royals have won a game with their baserunning tactics. There have been quite a few games where if there were no stolen bases then we would have lost. You're talking about a team that's just learning how to be aggressive. I don't see a problem with aggressive baserunning if you don't have the guy who's going to hit a three-run homer. You can't just teach people how to steal in ST and then, boom, they're perfect and know everything once the regular season starts. Case in point, a few games ago Hillman had a hit and run going with Buck at first and Pena at bat. Pena didn't make contact and everyone complained. Last night, Buck was on first and Pena at the plate. Another hit and run. Pena hits a chopper to second base. If Buck hadn't been running it would have been a double play. Instead, only Pena was out and DeJesus drove in Buck. After Buck scored, Grudz hit into a double play to end the inning. I didn't hear anyone complain about that because it worked.
There's more than one way to look at how we could have won or lost a game, and I have to disagree with you. I think we would be under .500 now without aggressive baserunning.
I agree with you Rany, aggressive is good, but some of these gaffes are borderline stupidity. the game where it stuck out to me was the one the Royals won 3-2 over the Angels...it didn't cost them the game obviously, but it easily could have.
1st instance was in the top of the first, Gathright gets on and immediately gets picked off, then the Royals go on to collect 4 or 5 hits and two runs, so that cost AT LEAST a run. The moral is...its the FIRST inning, this is 2008 American league Baseball, At least give the pitcher a chance to show you that he ain't gonna give up many runs before you start manufacturing! stay close!!
second instance was Gathright on second, Teahen(?) on first with BB at the plate and Gafferight tries to take 3rd. Know the situation, Joey...do not underestimate the confidence boost a pick off on the pads gives the opposing pitcher...I'm not saying it helped him get BB out, but you never know...
"You can argue that the Royals are still 9-7, so it can’t have hurt them that much."
No you can't. Unless "that much" means seven losses, the fact that the team has only lost seven games doesn't meant their baserunning can't have hurt them that much. Don't give your hypothetical critics so much credit!
Rany, I feel strongly both ways:
We can easily make too much of these minor errors and attribute many of them to young guys growing up, and a cagey manager used to a distinctive style. I don’t see how you can quantify losses attributable to the base running errors: runs sure; but runs that actually cost games? Not sure we can point to specific games that were lost due to specific base running errors.
On the other hand, this team has won games by pitching lights out and playing great defense. That won’t last for 162 games and, as BB said, “the offense is going to have to win some games”. This offense will win games by making fewer mistakes and making something out of nothing. They can’t do that by turning something into nothing on the base paths.
I think Dayton hired the right guy and I think Hillman figured out what had to be done, in spring training, and that is to make things happen. The offense is playing well for the talent they have. They have run into outs, but they have had a steady solid attack for a group without a slugger. If they are going to finish over .500, they will have to maximize the runs they manufacture, pitch well enough and tenaciously defend their slim leads. They will have to learn to take pitches that they can’t hit hard, even if they are strikes. They will have to learn (Oh Lord PLEASE) to hit mistake pitches hard. They will have to learn to play the game better on the margins better than any other team in the league.
In other words, they will have to play the hated small ball and play it flawlessly. Thus, our “mountains out of molehills” regarding offensive errors is right and proper. Continued offensive errors will be the ruin of this team.
What do you mean by "the hated small ball"? If you mean singles and doubles, with the occasional steal when somebody fast finds the right moment, and the occasional but or hit-and-run with Gathright, Pena or Callaspo batting, I agree with you. If you mean putting runners in motion almost every time we get somebody on base, which seems to be Hillman's strategy so far, I have to say our hitters aren't *that* bad. There aren't a lot of homers here, but DeJesus, Grudz, Teahen, Butler, Guillen, Gordon and maybe Buck are good enough hitters that we shouldn't sacrifice outs (and hence the chance at a big inning) just for one run.
Monica wrote: "You're talking about a team that's just learning how to be aggressive."
Exactly. I doubt that many of these guys played this style of ball anywhere else. Butler, in particular, seems to not be able to gauge the speed of the game on the basepaths. Why not? Obviously, he hasn't been asked to do so before in his career.
I admit it's hard to watch right now, but this approach fits our strengths (and weaknesses) better than anything we've seen in recent years. My hunch is that Butler and the rest of the team will improve their skills with continued instruction and repetition.
Now, if we could just replace Nomo and Yabuta with Bale (when he returns) and Peralta ... and call up Hochevar, THAT would be exciting.
Great blog, Rany. Thanks for doing it!
Concerning Friday's game, we have a decent season going, but it is on the verge of a downward spiral with our bad Japanese pitchers, bad hitting coach, stupid overaggressive base running coach, wake up Trey and Dayton and do your jobs before we lose this season, I know that last year Dayton wanted 40 games to assess, but we have a chance to be decent this year and he has seen enough to make some decisions, it hurts the team to not make the decisions we need to keep getting better. Trey needs some help from Dayton, we need to cut out these coaching mistakes. Also, wrong for Trey not to pinch hit for Pena in the 8th and Grud in the 9th last night, game was over, Pena's D horrible, Callaspo and German need the at bats. Team (and fans) are going to start to lose confidence in Trey unless Dayton coaches him on some of these problem areas (Butler's base running, Teahan's fielding), and team and fans are going to start to lose confidence in Dayton if he keeps trotting Nomo and Yabuta (and perhaps Bale) out there when we have better options. We need good managing and coaching as well as players to keep this going, everyone has to do their part. God has blessed us with set up men from no where, swallow the ego and money and let Yabuta go, hope that someone claims him and this salary, otherwise let him be humbled and let him see if he can go figure it out in Omaha.
I don't think this can simply be chalked up to a young team learning to be aggressive. Look at the Marlins' stolen base numbers. I'm having trouble finding stats on baserunning outs beyond CS. Does the Royals' 10 lead the league? This is a style, properly executed, that will help win games.
That calendar is the white elephant gift of the century. I've got 10 on order as we speak.
Chris Vleisides, the photographer of the calendar.
This might be kind of long, so I apologize in advance...
Steve Y said:
-"...wrong for Trey not to pinch hit for Pena in the 8th and Grud in the 9th last night, game was over, Pena's D horrible"
-"...Trey needs some help from Dayton..."
-"...Team (and fans) are going to start to lose confidence in Trey unless Dayton coaches him on some of these problem areas (Butler's base running, Teahan's fielding), and team and fans are going to start to lose confidence in Dayton if he keeps trotting Nomo and Yabuta (and perhaps Bale) out there when we have better options."
To your points, Steve, in order they are listed:
-With the score that lopsided, I agree that Pena could have yielded some at-bats there, however, he's also trying to get his swing going and he needs at-bats right now as well, what with his struggles with the bat so far these first two weeks. Which takes me another point: Pena's defense is terrible? I completely disagree. Pena's defense is terrific. Point in fact, it's so good that it allows us to play him on a regular basis over German and Callaspo (sp?), who have more proven hitting ability. I think Royals fans got spoiled last year by Pena's bat (because he wasn't even supposed to have one when we got him) and are now expecting him to hit like last year (which wasn't really even all that good, honestly). Last year was a fluke. If you get a .230 avg and/or a mediocre on-base % from Pena, it's icing on the cake.
-What do you mean? And what do you propose? GM's assemble the team, managers run the players out there and do the coaching. What kind of help could Dayton give Trey?
-Again, what do you mean? Dayton needs to coach Trey? Trey IS the coach - not Dayton. But that's not even what stands out the most from your remarks. To your point about fans losing confidence: if fans are going to lose confidence in a new manager after two weeks - a WINNING two weeks - of a six month season then those people aren't really fans, in my opinion. I say this because since 1995 this team has averaged 93 losses a season (92.6 - I rounded up). If you can sit through 13 years of virtually 100 losses every year, then you can stomach some over-aggressive base-running during two weeks of winning baseball without losing confidence in the manager (while he waits for "coaching from Dayton").
Rany: Huge fan.
You're not going to believe this:
Pena in 08: .120 batting average, .135 OBP, .150 SLG.
NL Pitchers in 08′: .112 batting average, .146 OBP, .143 SLG.
I looked up the rule. We cannot use the DH to replace the shortstop in the batting order.
My discontent of the Royals at this point has absolutely nothing to do with their record. Their won-lost record is actually good, even now after a 3 game losing streak. I never expected them to be a .500 team and I still don't.
It has nothing to do with certain players not performing up to their expected level. For instance, I don't have a problem with Guillen at this point. He's been frustrating at times but I don't doubt that he will turn things around eventually. I don't have a problem with the lack of extra base hits by the team as a whole as I think that will even out as the season moves on.
I don't disagree with some of the occasions where we have gotten thrown out on the base paths. For instance, in the Angels series, Gordon was thrown out at second on a line drive that Kotchman slowed down with his glove. That was an understandable attempt at taking an extra base, even against Vlad's arm.
Where my problems with this team exist is in the area that Rany is talking about. Having a guy like Nomo, who has absolutely no value to this team or its future even if he was good, is something I have a big problem with. He will not be with us at the beginning of next year and we have guys who have proven themselves at the major league level (Peralta and Musser)that are sitting down in the minors because of it. That makes no sense to me at all and would love if someone could tell me a way in which it does make sense.
Pena bothers me. There is something to be said for a defensive shortstop. I was a big fan of having Rey Sanchez on our team and thought we should give him his extra year instead of trading for Neifi before the trade was made. However, there is a point where a lack of hitting outweighs the advantage of a player's defense. Where is that point for the Royals? Does the lack of hitting for this team as a whole cause that point to be raised or lowered? For me it causes that point to be raised but I can see where the Royals might feel that it makes good fielding even more important. I don't see Pena breaking the Mendoza line with his average this year and I realize that it is still early. His OBP will not get close to .300 and his SLG will most likely not break .330. We got his career year last year and I doubt we will get what we expected this year. I don't see him being that .220 hitter we thought we were getting. In addition to this, he is far and away the worst bunter I have ever seen among players who would be expected to bunt. In other words, you wouldn't put Guillen or Butler in that list but you would put DeJesus in that list.
Finally, I don't understand the baserunning as has been mentioned by Rany. I support a more aggressive style of baseball as Hillman has wanted. However, if it is not working, you pull back the reins. We have not done that.
The decisions made both by players and Hillman have been extremely poor. The best example of that would be asking Gload to steal third but others are just as bad or close to it. Calling for the hit and run with Buck at first and Pena at the plate is maybe the worst case scenario for doing that I have ever seen. Butler at first and a pitcher at the plate would make it worse but not by much as was mentioned by the guy above me.
Watching players get picked off first or thrown out by a mile on the basepaths is difficult to take. Watching Gathright try to steal third with Butler at the plate is an awful decision on Gathright's part. Not to mention he had an awful lead on that play.
When everyone on the Royals message boards that I frequent see that something is not working before the manager or GM does, it scares me. The last time I saw such a unanimous decision on a message board was when the rumor of the Dye for Neifi trade got out prior to the trade. That same unanimity is apparent now with Nomo being on the team or the lack of playing time that Callaspo is getting. It also exists for the base running errors by the players and by Hillman.
My question is when will the Royals see what has been obvious to everyone else? Our record is irrelevant as long as we play good baseball and don't make stupid decisions on the field or have mental errors. I think our number of mental errors have declined from previous years but it has been replaced by an increase in stupid decisions by the manager or GM and by the players on the field.
Sorry for the length of this vent.
I agree wholeheartedly with Isaac.
Though I think our record DOES matter....for morale.
Yo Rany, anybody home?
C'mon buddy, it's not that bad. The pitchers just aren't uncounsious anymore. The bats are doing about what we should expect. The A's aren't that good, they just got every single bloop to fall. I mean really, have you ever seen an entire series go so well for a team??!! Everything they hit found a hole.
Look at it this way: now that Zach got touched up, it makes Tomko's outing look pretty good. In the end, this could be a good indication that Brett is possibly going to be a solid citizen in the rotation.
They're still the same bunch of boys they were last week. Most importantly, Trey is saying the right things. Mostly that means he isn't making excuses. He knows things aren't what they should be so they know they have to fix something. Gotta admit that's a refreshing change from the last 8 years.
Now, I'm afraid this streak could easily go 7 games. I don't think it will, but let's just be prepared. But let's realize that this is still way better than last year. They're going to be OK.
You gonna make it?
I'm not trying to pick on you, but what on Earth does Grienke's outing tell us about Tomko that we didn't know before. The fact that Zack got touched up means Tomko is a solid citizen in the rotation? That does not compute.
Could this skid in both pitching and hitting be the league has a book on the Royals now and they are having a hard time adjusting back.
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