Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thoughts on the Game: April 4th.

We were going to lose eventually. It’s never fun to lose by one run, because you can always find half a dozen ways in which the game result turned on a split-second play or a questionable ball/strike call or a groundball with eyes. We beat the Tigers by one run on Opening Day, so call it even. And since the Tigers are more likely to be in the thick of the division race, so long as we’re all drinking the playoff Kool-Aid together you’d much rather have the win against Detroit.

I only caught the first inning of this game on TV, so most of these observations are off the play-by-play. Take them for what they’re worth.

- This was my first glimpse at the home broadcast (I watched the previous games on, which provided the Tigers’ feed) since Fox Sports picked up the TV rights. It’s obvious that the production values are higher, but what caught my eye were the commercials. I always thought the Royals’ commercials were the perfect synopsis of the team, because they were almost invariably poorly conceived and ham-handedly executed. Many of them were downright juvenile; it was like the team ran their commercials by a focus group made up of fourth-graders.

The commercials I saw today had an edge to them. Cue some foreboding music. Narrator speaks in a deep, gravelly voice: “Things change. It was the end of days for the Jumbotron. We brought it down” – as we watch Billy Butler taking batting practice – “with respect, and with batting practice” – as Butler’s home runs crash into the Jumbotron, evidently knocking it over.

I love the concept; it’s about time the Royals try marketing to grown-ups for a change. I have just one problem with the commercial: the special effects of the baseballs exploding on the scoreboard look like someone spent ten minutes on a Mac adding some video clip art to the scene. Come on, guys. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of making a commercial, don’t give us special effects that call to mind Luke Skywalker making his final approach on the Death Star.

- Man, Joey Gathright is fast. Bunt single, stolen base, run scored. That he was thrown out eight times in 17 attempts last season is just criminal. Someone needs to be fired for that.

- Man, Billy Butler’s hand-eye coordination is just sick. He battled Scott Baker for nine pitches in the first, at one point getting a piece of a fastball that was a foot inside immediately followed by a slider that was down and away. It’s getting to the point where his hand-eye coordination might be too good – he can hit just about any pitch, but he’s also swinging at just about every pitch. Butler was an OBP beast in the minors, and needs to get back to that.

- Of course, he finished the at-bat with a single right up the middle to plate Grudzielanek. He may not be an OBP beast, but he's a beast. Only, for the second time in three games, he was then thrown out trying to advance when the throw from the outfield was cut off. On Wednesday, the decision was defensible, because there was a play at the plate and decoying the cutoff man to plate an insurance run was a smart move. Tonight’s decision was not smart – Grudzielanek was going to be safe either way.

Teahen led off the second with a double which might have scored Butler, but you can’t really play that “what-if” game – for one thing, Gload’s flyout would have ended the inning and Teahen never would have scored. The one thing we know for sure is that the Royals would have had another out to play with. Would Joe Nathan have hung a slider to John Buck and given the Royals the lead? Probably not, but we won’t know because the game ended with him on deck. The most precious commodity in baseball are your 27 outs. The American League has already kindly alleviated you of the need to field, Billy – can we at least ask you to learn how to run?

- The Royals only got that second run thanks to a dumb decision by Matt Tolbert, the Twins’ rookie second baseman (no, I hadn’t heard of him either – Baseball America doesn’t list him among the Twins’ Top 30 Prospects.) With men on first-and-third, one out, Guillen hit a slow chopper to the second baseman, and Grudzielanek put on the brakes halfway between first and second. Tolbert chased Grudz back a few feet, but then instead of chasing him down he threw on to first, allowing Grudz to move up to second easily. You’re going to get one out either way – why wouldn’t you go for the lead runner? I’m not trying to be the fundamentals police here, but these things add up, a run here, a run there. This time, and roughly 40 times a season, one run decided the ball game.

- I don’t want to unduly alarm anyone, but the Royals scored three runs and have scored a total of 16 runs in 38 innings. More to the point, they didn’t draw a single walk tonight, and now have eight walks in four games. Neither Gordon nor Butler has drawn a walk yet. OBP, guys. No. Brainer.

- John Bale allowed ten hits and four runs in 6.1 innings, and struck out just two. Despite this, it looks to me like a pretty good start. He was a groundball machine – 13 groundouts to four flyouts, and seven of ten hits were on the ground as well, four of which were infield singles. He’s not going to give up four infield singles a game, not with this infield defense. As long as he keeps the ball down and it takes three hits to score a run, he’s going to be fine. If it’s going to take a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice squeeze to score the winning run against him every time out, he’s going to win more often than not.

- It’s early, but Hillman seems to favor the set lineup. Four games in, and with the exception of Gathright taking over for DeJesus after David reinjured his ankle, the lineup has been identical in all four games. Hillman’s lineup against the lefty Kenny Rogers was the same as against all three RHP. I would have thought Hillman would have used Matt Tupman one time, if for no other reason than to let the kid play in a major-league game before he returned to Omaha, but Buck got all four starts in Olivo’s absence. This is neither a compliment nor an insult, it’s just an observation at this point.

- We’ve held our breath waiting to see how Hillman would handle this situation, and the answer is: for the first time all season, Tony Pena was slated to bat with the Royals losing in the 6th inning or later – Hillman pinch-hit for him with Alberto Callaspo.

I can say, without a trace of hyperbole, that this is the best sign yet that Hillman knows what he’s doing. Pena is a legitimately excellent defensive shortstop, but his game-winning blooper on Opening Day is the only time all season he has reached base safely. Callaspo is a marginal major-league shortstop; there are a lot of managers who simply would not pinch-hit with him for Pena under any circumstances because they feel the defensive hit is too great. Hillman is not one of those managers. Thank God.

- Jimmy Gobble. My goodness. You guys saw this; all I see is three lefties up, three lefties walking back to the dugout. Three lefties named Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Justin Morneau. My goodness.

While many right-handed relievers were formerly failed starters, for whatever reason most of the lefty specialists in the majors were groomed as relievers in the minors or very early in the major league careers: from closers like Billy Wagner and B.J. Ryan to setup guys like George Sherrill and Damaso Marte to LOOGYs like Steve Kline and Trever Miller.

Gobble, on the other hand, wasn’t a full-time reliever until last season, his fifth in the majors. He really seemed to come into his own after he dropped more sidearm against LHB in late May. Now that he has a defined role, he might be ready to really flourish. I wouldn’t use an Arthur Rhodes comp – the reason it took Rhodes so long to move to the pen was because his stuff was so good that the Orioles were loath to waste it in relief. But Eddie Guardado might be a good comparison. Guarado was an immensely hittable starting pitcher at the start of his career, but he moved to the bullpen when he was 25 and soon became Everyday Eddie. Gobble, like Guardado, is a flyball pitcher who couldn’t strike anyone out as a starter but whose strikeout rate spiked in relief.

I may have said this before, but remind me again: why did we need to sign Ron Mahay?

- Ramon Ramirez completed the bullpen’s perfect day, which means that Carlos Guillen’s home run off Brett Tomko remains the only run given up by the bullpen in four games. Their combined line: 10.2 innings, five hits, one run, three walks, 16 strikeouts. As recently as 2006, the bullpen’s ERA for the year was 5.41. The ability to put together an effective bullpen on the cheap is one of the easiest ways to discern the good GMs from the bad ones. I guess that means you all know who’s going to be #1.


Ryan said...

I followed the early part of the game on ESPN's Gamecast, so I have a lot of time to kill. I too started looking at stats and kept seeing that everyone's BA is the same as their OBP. I started paying to the counts. Very few Royals were going deep in the count tonight at least early.

MizzouCus said...

I'm confused about the boneheaded play by Tolbert, where Grudz stopped en route to second base. Wasn't there a force out at second, and if so, wouldn't this by a double play situation? I'm confused why running from first to second, Grudz decided to start going back to first...this seems like a mistake you see in little league.

However, Tolbert's decision to chase Grudz towards first, and then eventually throwing to first, is even more baffling, because of the force at second. With the batter running towards first, its not like Grudz has the option of reaching first base safely, so there's no chance for a rundown cause he has to go to second.

Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

"On Wednesday, the decision was defensible, because there was a play at the plate and decoying the cutoff man to plate an insurance run was a smart move."

Of course, that's assuming the play Wednesday was deliberate (which I was hoping was the case). Given that he did it twice in two games, and Grudz was pissed at him for it last night, I now have doubts.

As far as him not drawing any walks yet, though, I'm off on another thoughtful tangent: what if he's decided he's just going to foul off anything he doesn't like -- and more frightening, what if he can actually keep doing it? If it results in him hitting .370 and slugging .550, hell, I'll put up with it. That said, I don't think he can, so he needs to start being a little more selective.

I think Bale had a good outing. No fewer than 6 Twins hits were inches away from being outs, and considering I can't recall any brilliant stops for outs, we can chalk that up to "bad luck". (Pena made one absolutely beautiful lunging grab of a grounder in the hole, but the throw was too late.)

As far as Gobble, he was nasty. For that matter, so was Ramirez.

ConGregation said...

I was dismayed at how we were swinging away last night. It was like 2007 all over again. Maybe that was their game plan, but once the offense dried up it was painful to watch. It sure seemed like an inordinate amount of first pitch swinging. One inning we were put down on 4 pitches!!

Anonymous said...

Steve, Grudz did the absolutely correct thing. Grudz has to assume he's going to be retired one way or the other, because he's the lead runner and one presumes the defense will do the rational thing. If he doesn't stop, Tolbert applies the tag without even having to make an effort, and it's an easy DP. By backpedaling, he should have forced Tolbert to either chase him down or make the throw to second, both of which were options that had a high probability of the batter being safe at first.

Of course, Tolbert threw a wrench in that by doing the Exact Wrong Thing in the situation.

Aaron said...

Ramon Ramirez has electric stuff; that power change has already made batters look absolutely foolish this year. Finding undervalued guys like Ramirez who are getting squeezed in their organizations, and then acquiring them at dirt-cheap rates, is proving to be one of Dayton's best talents.

Nathan Hall said...

The offense is a work in progress, but there's a lot of talent there. The starting pitching is at least nominally solid 1-4, though we still lack a true ace. But I think this is one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Royals might be the only team that would have Joel Peralta in AAA right now.

Old Man Duggan said...

I'm very all right with the Mahay signing. I know that any signing of any player could very well have meant having to get rid of Huber, but I'm certainly of the school of thought that I want a stockpile of arms. And lefties as a whole tend to be under demand, so if the Royals can either get a compensatory pick or deal him at the deadline to someone in need even that was worth it. I think he'll contribute enough to make him worth the signing, and you can never have too many legit ML-ready arms in the bullpen and high-minors. This bullpen is looking to be much stronger than I'd initially thought it could be. They've been pretty lights out, so far.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else think that the Royals should approach Soria NOW about a long-term deal buying out his arb years and maybe even a year or two of free agency? The kid is the real deal and has proven that already.

I know the inherent risks of signing pitchers to long-term deals but he could become very expensive in a couple of years and just MIGHT be willing to get rich now as opposed to richer later.

Go Royals!!! C-ya, AusSteveW

bbxpert said...

Through 6 games the Royals have drawn 8 walks, dead last in the major leagues. They have struck out 32 times. Only 2 teams have struck out fewer. That means they are putting lots of balls in play.

Beetle said...


I'm a doc too, and I totally am feeling your pain. Keep posting when you can, we'll be more than happy to get what we get. 6 and 2, woo! Totally stoked. Do you think that there could have been some value to throwing Greink in the 9th? I wonder if the bonus "between the ears," that the Royals might have gotten with a complete game shut out, MIGHT have been worth the extra effort on the arm. I'm happy with the results, and in many ways agree with the decision. Talking with my brother and friend and we have been struck with the fact that we have been able to predict many of Hillman's moves, BECAUSE THEY MAKE SENSE! I think my "dubya" called it best:

"I think Buddy Bell would have put in Nomo up 4-0 in the 9th. Reason being is 'We're up 4-0, what could go wrong?'"

Good times, I'll keep checking back