Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Royals Today: 4/9/2008.

Look, any team can start 3-0. And any team can start 6-2; the odds are about the same. (Using simple binomial theory, the odds that a .500 team will win its first three games is 1 in 8, or 12.5%. The odds that a .500 team will win at least six of its first eight games is 37 in 256, or 14.4%.)

But in eight games, the Royals have surrendered 18 runs. They have surrendered more than four runs in a game once. They have allowed one run or fewer in four of their eight games. The starting pitchers have a 2.88 ERA, and they’re being pwned by the bullpen with their 0.82 ERA. Almost as impressively, the defense has committed just one error in eight games, and that was simply an errant pickoff throw by Ron Mahay.

Five years ago, the Royals started 9-0, but four of those victories came against the Indians – who lost 94 games that year – and two more came against the Tigers, who went on to lose the most games in American League history. This year, the Royals have started 6-2 while playing Detroit – and their 1-8 record notwithstanding, that’s still a damn good team – and the Yankees a total of five times, winning all five. Both Detroit and New York are supposed to rank among the five best offenses in baseball this year; the Royals have held them to seven runs in five games.

So I ask again: are you excited yet? When I asked this a week ago, it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Now? If you’re not excited, you’re not paying attention. If you don’t harbor at least a smidgeon of hope that the Royals could actually win the division this year, you’re a heartless cynic, a grinch, a doddering old curmudgeon who’s letting the eyesore of the last 13 seasons block the reality of the 2008 Royals that’s staring us all right in the face. This team can win. I don’t think it can win 95 games and run away with the division, but it can win 85 games and make things very, very interesting. Catch a few breaks here and there, and who knows?

The Tigers, the trendy pick to win the division, are already five games out. More importantly, the fact that they’ve started 1-7 is a strong (but not overwhelming) indication that they’re not going to be the juggernaut that many people thought they were. On paper, neither the White Sox nor the Twins looked significantly better than the Royals before the season began – and before the pitching staff turned back the clock 23 years.

That leaves the Indians, who were my pick to win the division before the season began, and who are 2.5 games out at the moment. In the Royals’ favor is the fact that the Tribe’s bullpen has looked very vulnerable so far and C.C. Sabathia has carried his postseason struggles from last October into 2008. In the Indians’ favor is that, you know, we’ve played exactly eight games. I’m not advocating that anyone kidnap Grady Sizemore, stuff him in a box and ship him to Azerbaijan by UPS ground. I’m merely stating that the Royals’ playoff chances may hinge on whether Sizemore spends the summer enjoying the beautiful vistas of the Caucasus mountains.

On to the notes:

- I needed to come up with a name for these random postings and stick with it. I thought about “The Daily Royal”, except that would imply I was writing, you know, daily. So I’ll steal a column name from my friend Joe Sheehan and go with “Royals Today.” I’m always open to suggestions.

- Trey Hillman is living a charmed life. He sends Zack Greinke out there on a cold, miserable, wet day in April, with weather reports so bad that the Yankees didn’t even bother to go with scheduled starter Ian Kennedy to start the game, preferring instead to go with a reliever (Brian Bruney) and mix-and-match the rest of the game. The game not only doesn't get rained out, it goes a regulation nine. Despite battling both the Yankees and the elements, Greinke goes eight shutout innings. Remember when people said Greinke’s issues with depression meant that he didn’t have the mental toughness to succeed in the majors? Be happy Allard Baird and Buddy Bell didn’t listen to that claptrap. Greinke’s next two starts come against Seattle and Oakland – I see a big strikeout game in his future.

- For the second straight start, Hillman left Greinke in one inning too long. Greinke gave up a single and a double in the eighth, but a well-timed DP saved some runs – and just as importantly, some pitches on his arm. I’m glad the game has evolved to the point where forcing his starter to throw 107 pitches on a cold, rainy day is about the worst a manager is allowed to do anymore.

- Someone please inform Hillman that Jorge Posada was removed from Tuesday’s game after six innings because of a dead arm. Be sure to let him know that Jose Molina, his replacement, has thrown out 41% of attempted basestealers in his career, and 43% (79 of 185) of aspiring thieves over the past five years.

Apparently, Hillman did not notice, because after running crazy on Posada (four steals in six innings, three by Gathright, two on pitchouts), Hillman gave Ross Gload – Ross Gload! – the perpetual green light. With one out in the seventh, Gload took off for second before Ross Ohlendorf committed to the plate, and was somehow safe at second when Jason Giambi had trouble handling the pickoff throw. On the very next pitch, Gload lights out for third base – Molina had him dead to rights. Gload came into the game with eight steals – in his career. He’s a first baseman. Suddenly he thinks he’s Rod Carew?

Today, Alex Gordon (who at least has shown the ability to steal effectively in the past) was thrown out trying to steal second, and an inning later, Gathright (after stealing second) was thrown out trying to steal third even as Grudzielanek worked a walk. That cost the Royals at least a run. Eventually this kamikaze basepath commando approach is going to cost the Royals a game.

The Royals are now 10-for-15 in stolen bases, which is below the break-even point, and this doesn’t count the many, many baserunners eliminated because of overaggressiveness once the ball was put in play. The stolen base has a place: it’s a great tactic when limited to your best baserunners, and when utilized against weak-armed catchers or pitchers who are slow to the plate. Gathright vs. Posada? Good. Gload vs. Molina? Bad. Very, very bad. Come on, Trey. You’re smarter than this.

- John Buck, meet fountain. Fountain, meet John Buck. From 439 feet away. Through the rain. It’s just one swing, but it’s been a long time since any of Buck’s swings showed off the light-tower power he’s capable of.

- Can we all agree that Jose Guillen should bat no higher than 6th until he gets his average over .200? A 3-4-5-6 of Teahen, Butler, Gordon, and Guillen breaks up the lefties and righties nicely, and gets Butler’s insanely hot bat directly behind Teahen’s new-found patience.

- Speaking of Teahen…he walked three times tonight, and the Royals as a whole drew six, after five yesterday. Maybe it was the Twins’ pitching all along. But Teahen now has more walks than any two teammates combined, and more than that, it looks like it’s deliberate. He simply isn’t swinging at pitches that aren’t strikes, and seems to understand how important it is for him to get on base batting ahead of Guillen/Butler/Gordon. Teahen may very well be the fulcrum around which this lineup sinks or swims, and so far he looks a lot closer to his 2006 form than 2007.

- Tony Pena’s ugly blooper that won the game on Opening Day is still his only hit of the season. Bale goes tomorrow, and Pena should be out there for his defense. Come Friday, it’s time to give Alberto Callaspo another shot.

- Okay, now this is getting weird. The Royals’ run totals this year: 5, 4, 4, 3, 4, 3, 5, 4. I’m trying to find out if the Royals have ever had a stretch like that; I’ll let you know if I do.

- Allowing just 18 runs in an eight-game stretch seems almost historic, and it might be. But last year, over an eight-game stretch from June 24th to July 2nd, the Royals allowed just 19 runs. (And three of those games went extra innings.)

Which is to say: eight games means something, but not everything. Any team can start 6-2. Let’s get excited, people. But not too excited. (Yet.)

36 comments:

BillP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Glad to see you didn't ditch your loyal followers, Rany.

Anonymous said...

I really want to be excited about this team. So far the pitching staff is playing out of their minds. They are making "good hitting" teams look confused and lifeless. It really is fun ball to watch, but how much longer can they keep this up without putting up better offensive numbers? Lets hope for a breakout game VERY soon from these bats.

NYRoyal said...

Those crazed homers (like me) who predicted the Royals would be about a .500 team aren't looking so silly right now. PECOTA, who predicted a 2008 record worse than last year's Pythagorean win total isn't looking to good right now.

NYRoyal said...

In in further Dayton Moore is a genius news, a second Royals castoff has had Tommy John surgery. Last year it was Ambiorix Burgos. Now it is Andy Sisco. Looks like it is really taco time for Andy now.

Shelby said...

It may be a bit naive of me to ask this, but how possible is it that Greinke has been extremely lucky in these first two starts? He's given up 7 hits today and a handful in his last start....and he's given up a substantial number of walks while striking out only a handful.

Is there a way to statistically account for *luck*?

RickMcKc said...

On the attempts to steal third base ... I don't think I have ever seen a team try it as much as the Royals have this year. I wonder if Hillman is thinking it makes more sense to take a risk getting a guy to third in hopes of scoring him on any ball-in-play, versus waiting for a basehit while a guy is on second.

Are there any stats on a runner being scored from second compared to a runner making it to third and then scoring?

Great site - thanks for your effort!

Vygotcha said...

On the Royals' tv broadcast they showed Hillman having a long, long chat with Joey after the CS at third. Hillman clearly wasn't happy with that decision.

Anonymous said...

Rany, I would just like to say thanks for posting this blog. I'm not even a Royals fan, but I liked Neyer and have been following Rob and Rany for a while. Both of you are great writers, and it really is a pleasure to read something from you every day.

Seth Feldkamp said...

I thought the Gload attempt for third base was an ok gamble, after my initial wth are you doing outburst. Buck was at the plate with one out and he's not known for his high average (and we needed a safe hit of any kind to plate the run). If gload was successful, then he's at third base, with one out and buck still at the plate. If he stays at second and buck makes an out, the best you could hope for is an advance to 3rd with TP Jr at the plate. I think Trey had already decided to leave Pena in the game for his defense (we were leading late, that's a good decision), but knew he basically had no shot to drive in the run with Pena batting.

Now the question is gload v molina on a steal attempt a better gamble than Buck with a base hit? I think it was an ok gamble, the Yankees pitcher was ridiculously slow to the plate.

So far I've noticed that Trey is a lot more aggressive, and I think that explains the Royals consistency scoring runs. We haven't seen an 6 run games, but we have seen any 1 or 2 run games either. He's giving up some chances for more runs, but we're much better about plating enough to make us competitive in a game. That's working now, while the pitching staff is hot. It might not later, but I think it's the proper strategy for a team with a lack of power and an (apparently) dominant pitching staff.

Anonymous said...

Listened to the game on Yankees Radio, and they also mentioned the long chat Hillman had with Joey. They also repeatedly thanked Joey for trying to run the Royals out of the inning.

Joey mentioned a "trick" he's learned for recognizing when to run... I think Trey's given him the green light to do it, but not he has to learn to read the situations better instead of just taking off.

I also thought, with all the mud, running the basepaths must have been like running in quicksand... HAD to effect the runner's speed. With Molina behind the plate and a muddy infield, every player should have had the red light last night.

tza said...

too late. my not quite three-year-old runs around the house - "Let's go Royals - CHARGE!!". Last night, for bedtime prep she picked the game over Backyardigans; a nighttime staple. So there. We've been quarantined for Royals Fever, baby!

Anonymous said...

Shelby, for a statistical measure of "luck" check out BABIP.

Ryan said...

Guillen still batting 4th is starting to make me angry.

I don't think the pitching staff is playing out their minds. I think the pitching staff is playing what they're capable of. They obviously won't be this good all year, but how hard is it to believe we might have a decent all around staff this year?

Don't you think Hillman, after a weekend where the Royals didn't draw a walk in Minnesota, emphasized working the count a little bit before the Yankees series? That being said this is the pitch sequence against Farnsworth (who's always been awful since his days with the Cubs...he throws the straightes 97 mph fastball ever) came in the game.

Buck: 1st pitch fastball = Home Run
Pena: 1st pitch fastball = Bunt - Thrown Out
Gathright: 1st pitch fastball = Bunt - Safe at first.

Jon Soper said...

Gload will explode!

Anonymous said...

I believe and am excited -- heck, lets not forget that this team managed to play .500 ball for an extended stretch (two or three months if memory serves) even under Buddy Bell. Looks like they are a better team this year... so 85 wins.. why the heck not?

Brett said...

Guillen definitely needs to be hitting 6th right now. I'd like to see Callaspo playing SS twice a week for awhile to see if he's capable of handling it and to see if he hits like he has in AAA or if his major league stats aren't a fluke. I'm also not sure how Grienke has allowed so few runs. His ERA looks dominant, but he hasn't blown people away and he's been helped by a lot of double plays, but hey a 0.6 ERA is damn good.

Brett said...

Nosotros Creemos!

Gary said...

Most of us were into "Rob and Rany on the Royals" for years...even when you guys would go months without a post. Why change it from "Rany on the Royals"? It’s one of my daily reads.

I thought last night was a thing of beauty. As Ryan said yesterday, winning the games we are supposed to win is a good thing. Challenging a catcher on a muddy night is an aggressive play, in a hard nosed sort of way. If Molina had been throwing spitters into left field, we would be talking about how Hillman is a genius. More importantly, we didn’t make stupid baserunning errors…it was Cabrera running into the DP, not Butler.

"Teahen's new-found patience" is the most important thing I have seen for the future of this ball club so far this year. Perhaps he and Grudz could have a talk with TJ about the lovely Caucasus mountains.

Rany, I love you like brother. I’d take a bullet for you. But you are standing to close to the tetracycline if you think that after 8 games we should be talking playoffs. You made good points about our victims so far, but a great lineup playing dismally is still just a dismal team, and that is what we have been facing. This is essentially the same team we had last year, with a year of maturity, which seems to have stuck with them. Last year’s team was a better than .500 team, after the injuries of spring are removed. This team should be respectable and bring back the fans, but the Tigers will begin playing, the Tribe will grind out wins and we are down 2 to the Twinkies. The staff ERA will eventually settle around 3.5 if these guys are for real. In 2003, we finished .512 with a 5.06 ERA. We're slightly better this year, but I would take that again.

I will give in to the giddiness a little, though, and compare this team to the 1975 Royals. Not a bad team itself, but a herald of the years to come.

Anonymous said...

I think the Royals will make things interesting but I also don't see them breaking 80 wins with Tomko and Bale providing 2/5ths of the starts (or even with Hochevar taking a portion of those after he comes up from Omaha later in the year).

Alex said...

I think I sort of like kamikaze basepath commando approach until it costs us a game. Of course watching the play by play on espn.com’s game cast is a little different than, say, watching it on tv or something. I might feel a little different once I purchase mlb.tv. Be sure to let me know when to get too excited.

jonfmorse said...

Minor nitpick, Rany: Mahay's throwing error was on an attempt to field a bunt.

And don't get started on that whole "move Guillen down in the lineup" thing. I tried that Tuesday night, and NY and I argued about it all night long. ;)

As to the walks, I think it was a combination. I think some of our guys were in fact being hacktastic, while the Twins don't give up cheap walks. A few words about patience alongside not-so-snappy Yankee pitching, and all of a sudden we're forcing pitch counts. The number of 3-ball counts yesterday over and above the ones that ended up as free passes was insane.

The Tao said...

a little subject-verb confusion here:

"being pwned by" ...

I think you meant "the bullpen is pwning"

which is, actually, great use of the verb 'pwn.' Very appropriate.

Anonymous said...

It's not to early to enjoy the wins but it is too early to get excited about our long-term chances. We haven't played enough pivotal games yet. We've been in a single one-run game so far, and a single extra inning match. We're 1 and 1 in those games. We've won some games we were supposed to win, where we led the whole way, that sort of thing, and that's encouraging. But's I'm not ready to put our horse in the division race yet.

Devon said...

Last night when I saw the Royals actually beat the Yanks again, I couldn't believe it. Then, I suddenly felt like this year might not be an illusion. Maybe these Royals are the new Tigers... the AL Central team that goes from horrid to contender overnight.

Gary said...

Devon, that's the problem. You don't go from horrid to champion overnight with the SAME PLAYERS.

But, these same guys WEREN'T horrid last year. They played like talented but inexperienced young guys with poor management who didn’t show them how to win. But they played .500 ball, and that is good baseball. This year, they are the same guys, but 1 year smarter. If they play well, these same guys will be a .500 club again. If they get some breaks, never lose games they should win, and the entire team plays up to their potential, they will steal some games and finish .550.

AND THAT'S GREAT. Gordon, Butler, Teahen, Grudz and DeJesus are our team. Meche, Banny, Zach and Jack are our staff. These guys playing to their potential are going to be marvelous to watch. The downfall of the Blue Revolution is going to be if all of Kansas City expects the Royals to win the division THIS year and then refuse to support them when they don't. What we need to take from this start is the enthusiasm, the exposure, and the return of fans who still grumble about "the strike" and the lean years between owners.

If Dayton and Hillman keep us heading in this direction, we need about 2 years and 3 players to challenge for the division. But I would rather finish second or third with my Royals than finish first with all new "best money can buy" players.

It won't happen this year so don't be disappointed. But it's coming. Oh yeah, it’s coming.

Anonymous said...

I think that the aggressive baserunning is important, its sets a tone for the team, and its makes sure that the OTHER team is ALWAYS distratcted BY ANY baserunner AT ANY BASE... if they know we will run at any time, then it helps the batter at the plate---

the_natrix said...

Gary's got it, I think. Right on the nose. And isn't it an awful lot of fun to cheer on a developing team, and to enjoy the results of long-term commitments, on the part of management (as well as the fans)?

Royals fans gotta be loving life.

Anonymous said...

Q: Who's up after Guillen?
A: The other team.

Go Royals!

Ryan said...

To the point that this years squad is mostly the same as last year's squad.

The major difference is that we have a new manager. A manager can't change ability, but he can change attitude and the approach a player brings to the game. If he's bringing focus to "catching and throwing the baseball" and how to approach each at-bat and each chance on base as a unique entity, that mental approach could help the team win some tight games. It's something we might already be witnessing eight games into the season.

Even though we have the same ROSTER, things are definitely different this year.

-Gordon seems comfortable.
-Butler is the starting DH from game 1.
-Buck is main catcher it seems, and might stop looking over his shoulder and relax and hit.
-Pena has a year under his belt, and should be getting better defensively and (God help us) offensively by learning how to take some pitches.
-Gathright has learned how to use his speed to finally be able to steal some bases. He's been able to use it defensively, but finally able to utilize it offensively. If he can take that Omaha OBP to KC, we'll be in good shape.
-Teahen looks good and appears to be returning to 2006 form.
-Zac Greinke is in the starting rotation from day 1.
-Brian Bannister is in the starting rotation from Day 1. (I could be wrong, but didn't he start in the minors last year?)

Again same roster, but big growth steps and a sense of "these are our starters on day 1...we're gonna leave them alone and let the make mistakes and develop and try to win some games along the way."

***
This series reminds me of a Yankees series I attended several years ago. My buddy got four tickets four rows behind the Yankees on deck circle. We were sitting in the Crown seats so they could drink for free all night. I was the designated driver. My friends all picked two batters. If one of their batters hit a home run, they would have to drink mixed drinks the whole night. That night all of my friends had someone hit a home run by like the third inning. We didn't know it at the time, but it was the beginning of one of the best offensive teams in Royals history. Some of those young batters: Damon, Beltran, Dye, Sweeney, and Randa.

I also remember we kept peaking in the dugout and asking David Cone about how bad Irabu was. Cone kept shrugging at us.
***
The ride home was interesting.

***
Finally: Have you seen the Royals calendar? It's awful, awful, awful. The one thing about it that stuck out to me, however, was Alex Gordon's arms. The dude looks like a linebacker. He could definitely hit 37 home runs.

Royal Blue in Utah said...

I agree with you on Guillen. He needs to be dropped. It helped Gordon bounce back early. I'm sure it will take some pressure off Guillen and let him get back into form somewhat without costing us runs. I'd drop him below Buck. Right above Pena. If that dosesn't get him going nothing would. Personally I'm hoping he gets suspended to force Hillman's hand. Who would fill that spot? Would Dejesus be back and we have both Dejesus and Gathright out there?

Ryan said...

I found the Royals vs. Yankees game I went to. (Thank you, Baseball Reference)

April 30, 1999. Going into the game, the Yanks were 14-6 and the Royals were 8-11. Pettite was on the mound for the Yanks and Witasick was on the mound for KC.

Royals won 13-6.
HRs:
J Randa (3, off D Naulty; 6th inn, 0 on);
J Dye (6, off J Grimsley; 5th inn, 0 on);
T Spehr (2, off A Pettitte; 4th inn, 1 on);
C Febles (3, off D Naulty; 6th inn, 0 on);
C Beltran (3, off A Pettitte; 3rd inn, 1 on).

1999 was the year that Sweeney and Dye and Beltran blew up. All hit over 20 HRs for the first time. Damon batted sixth that game, because it looks like he'd been struggling. On top of the 5 HRs, Rey Sanchez had a triple and 4 RBIs.

Combine that with giving Jeter grief the whole game, that was the most fun I've ever had at a Royals game.

Anonymous said...

How about calling your posts "Royal Proclamations"?

Godot said...

Hmm cheesy names for random postings. Sounds up my alley.

Crow Royal
Royal Rumble
Cheers and Loathings from Casino Royal
Royale with Peanuts..
Screwing Around..Royally

I should have put a disclaimer before this post. Potential killer!

Adam said...

Some names for random royals posts:

Royal Musings
Royal Ramblings
Kauffman Update

kew said...

"...the fulcrum around which this lineup sinks or swims."

Huh?

(Love the blog, by the way.)