Well, that really sucked.
If there’s one weakness I have as an analyst – humor me here, I know I have a lot more than one – it’s that no matter how hard I try, I always give early season results more meaning than I should. This is a weakness that carries over into other areas of life as well – in any kind of debate I’m always inclined to agree with the last argument. I’m a little too trusting of my fellow man, I think, when I should have my bulls**t detector on. That goes for small sample sizes as well as arguments. I know I shouldn’t have been excited when the Royals were 6-2, but I was. And now that the Royals have gone 3-9 since, it’s hard not to abandon ship. It helps to remember the words from that sage philosopher, Rob Neyer: “a team is never as good as it looks when it’s winning, and it’s never as bad as it looks when it’s losing.”
Which is a good thing. Because the Royals looked as bad as they ever have last night, losing 15-1. In their last five games, they’ve been outscored 46-15. The Tigers were outscored 44-
Small sample size or no, these guys are worrying me:
- I’m not that concerned about The Epic, even though he does have an ERA of 8.00 after five starts. He’s given up a couple more homers than you’d like, and his control hasn’t been there yet, but most of his problems stem from the .337 BABIP, which should come down over time.
But looking over the long term, keep in mind that after starting last season with a 1.91 ERA in his first nine starts, he had a 4.36 ERA the rest of the way. Breaking up seasonal stats by month and trying to explain the trend is usually a fool’s errand, as the best explanation is almost always “dumb luck”. (The main exception to this is with a rookie making his major league debut. While I haven’t seen research done on the topic – it’s probably been done, I just haven’t seen it – I’m almost certain that players, on the whole, need an adjustment period of about 100 plate appearances before they find their true talent level in the majors, and so an improvement after that point might be for real. Exhibit A: Alex Gordon.)
But over the last 11 months and 30 starts, Meche has a 4.90 ERA. Should we be concerned? In 182 innings over that span, he has 60 walks, 129 Ks, and 21 homers – not great peripherals, but not 4.90 ERA bad either. He’s given up 195 hits, which are more than you’d expect from his other peripherals. Like I said, I’m not concerned. And I still think he’s been an excellent signing. But it would be nice if he would put up a Game Score of better than 51 at some point – that’s his best score in five starts this year.
- We don’t have the equivalent of Game Score for relievers, so allow me to invent a completely useless stat on the spot: a “Dominant Outing”, or DO. A DO occurs when a reliever:
1) Does not surrender a run;
2) Strikes out at least one man per inning pitched;
3) Surrenders no more than one baserunner (walk + hit) per inning pitched;
4) Has at least as many strikeouts as baserunners allowed.
This is something you can figure out from the box score line.
1 1 0 0 0 1 is a DO. 0.2 1 0 0 0 1 is not.
1.1 1 0 0 0 2 is a DO. 1.2 1 0 0 1 2 is not.
This doesn’t have any analytical value at all; the point is simply to say whether a reliever has shown the ability to overpower hitters in a short outing. Joakim Soria, for instance, had 3 DO’s in his first five major league appearances – a pretty good sign that he had the potential to be dominant. Soria had 28 DO’s in 62 appearances last season; I suspect anything close to 50% is amazing. (Jonathan Papelbon had 30 DO’s in 59 appearances as a rookie.)
What worries me about Yasuhiko Yabuta isn’t that he walked four batters in less than an inning last Friday. It’s that in seven appearances so far, he hasn’t had a Dominant Outing, and really hasn’t come close. I want to see some sign that plucking him out of
I loved the decision to sign Yabuta, because while there have been a fair number of starting pitchers from Japan who turned out to be busts, the vast majority of relief pitchers have turned out well. Here’s a list of every native Japanese pitcher with 40 or more relief appearances (and no more than 10 starts) in the majors:
Shigetoshi Hasegawa: 124 ERA+
Masao Kida: 81 ERA+
Hideki Okajima: 225 ERA+
Akinori Otsuka: 170 ERA+
Takashi Saito: 240 ERA+
Kazuhiro Sasaki: 138 ERA+
Shingo Takatsu: 137 ERA+
Keiichi Yabu: 103 ERA+
While there have been other relief pitchers who washed out before they made 40 appearances, in almost every case those were marginal guys who weren’t expected to do much in the first place; Kuwata, for instance, was 39 years old and essentially unwanted back home. None of them were signed to multi-year deals, like Yabuta was. So of the eight guys to whom Yabuta can be directly compared, Kida was a mistake, Yabu has been barely average (though he was 36 when he came over, and also lightly-regarded), and the other six have been sensational.
Saito, in particular, ranks among the greatest free-agent signings in history. He was thought to be over the hill back home, and was so lightly regarded here that he signed for the league minimum back in 2006. Instead, he’s delivered a 1.88 career ERA to date in 149 innings, with 191 strikeouts and just 86 hits allowed – those are Playstation numbers.
Given the track record of Japanese relievers, it’s fair that we should expect Yabuta to be a solid-average set-up man at the very least. You can argue that the success of Japanese relievers has led major league teams to scrape further down the barrel, and you might have a point. Three relievers came over from
So maybe the Royals reached for a reliever who’s not in the same tier as Okajima and Sasaki and the like. The problem is that they’re paying him like he is; you don’t spend 2 years and $6 million for a mop-up man. Credit Hillman at least for realizing before Opening Day that while Yabuta was signed to be a set-up man, the job belonged to Leo Nunez on merit. It’s still very early, but the signs are there that Yabuta may prove to be a waste of cash.
- Speaking of wastes of cash…Jose Guillen. My goodness. We heard that the possibility of a suspension was weighing on his mind. We heard that he just can’t hit in cold weather. Well, the suspension was waived over a week ago, and the weather here in the
There’s no question in my mind that, whatever his performance has been, the Royals overpaid for Guillen. I say that because they were essentially bidding against themselves; there were never any other credible other offers for Guillen that were reported. I think it’s very telling that after hemming and hawing about the Royals’ offer, the minute the Royals dropped the rumor into the media that they were changing gears and trying to sign Andruw Jones instead – Guillen signed the next day. Given how quickly the market dried up after Guillen and Carlos Silva signed, I’m quite certain the Royals could have signed him for $8 million a year instead of $12 million. And they might have been able to go lower than that.
All that is money under the bridge at this point. What isn’t is Guillen’s performance, which is awful six ways from Sunday. It’s almost like he’s afraid to draw walks – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him calmly take pitches until he had three balls, then start swinging at 3-1 and 3-2 pitches at his ankles or up at his neck.
I looked through his career numbers trying to find a month in which he batted this poorly with at least 50 plate appearances. Only two months come close: September 2005, when he hit .151/.264/.219 in 87 plate appearances, and April 2001, when he hit .203/.213/.220 in 61 PA.
He missed half of the 2001 season with an injury, but from May 1st to the end of the year he did hit .329/.393/.500, albeit in just 84 plate appearances. And in
(Late update: apparently Guillen’s not in the lineup tonight. Hillman can read the numbers as well as we can.)
- For those of you with satellite radio, I’ll be appearing on my friend Jeff Erickson’s show tomorrow (Thursday) morning at around