Wherein I weigh in on some of the debates taking place in the comments section, while wondering why Barack Obama doesn't just end this thing by naming Joakim Soria as his running mate. Because no one closes the deal like Jack.
- Should Soria have come in to pitch the 9th last night? I said no at the time, for the simple reason that he had pitched two nights in a row, and I really don't like the idea of using a reliever three nights in a row unless it's absolutely necessary. He did so once already this year, pitching on April 26th after pitching on both the 24th and 25th, but in that case he came in to protect a one-run lead.
I do think that teams do not use their closers in tie games nearly enough, and as a general rule of thumb that's an ideal situation to use your closer. Especially at home, because when a home game is tied after the 8th, it is physically impossible for a save situation to occur in the game - if the home team takes the lead, the game is over.
If memory serves, this is the first time the Royals were tied after eight innings since Opening Day, and Soria didn't come into pitch the ninth that time either. Of course, Leo Nunez did, and his two scoreless innings set Soria up to pitch the 11th with the lead. If Yabuta had pitched the ninth last night we'd have a legitimate beef, but let's be real: as good as Soria has been, both Nunez and Ramirez have been outstanding as well, and I'll take either of them in the ninth inning of a tie game without hesitation.
Credit Hillman for at least thinking about bringing in Soria (and regretting not doing so): "I could have made a better decision. I didn't put Soria in. Typical rule of thumb simply because it would have been three days in a row," Hillman said. "Ramirez has been pretty effective. Unfortunately, he left a ball out over the plate."
Talk is cheap, but if this means Hillman won't hesitate to use Soria the next time he's faced with a tie game, that's certainly good news.
- A lot of you have complained about Hillman using Gobble to pitch to Casey Kotchman with the go-ahead run at third and one out, given that Kotchman has hit LHP better (.313/.383/.403) than RHP (.268/.341/.438) over his career. It's a fair point, but not all LHP are created equal, and ever since Gobble went three-quarters against LHB last May, he's been much tougher on lefty hitters than their righty counterparts. Lefties hit .241/.325/.398 against Gobble last year, righties hit .319/.377/.532. Prior to facing Kotchman, Gobble had held LHB to one hit in 14 at-bats this year. Just as importantly, six of those ABs ended in strikeouts, and with a man on third, one out, and a great contact hitter at the plate, Gobble may have been the one guy who had a shot at keeping the runner on third. It didn't work out, but I understand the thinking.
The argument that Hillman should have bypassed Kotchman entirely, given him the free pass and tried to get the GIDP with Hunter...yeah, I can see the point. I generally hate the intentional pass, but if ever there was a situation that called for one, it was this: winning run at third, a great contact hitter at the plate, just one out, and nobody on first base (i.e. the DP wasn't in order.) Hillman would have been better off leaving Ramirez into pitch to Hunter with men on first and third, betting on either a strikeout or a groundball.
Hopefully Hillman will consider an intentional walk the next time he faces a similar situation. But don't bet on it. Last year, Buddy Bell ordered 54 of them, or one every three games. You know how many times Hillman has called for the free pass in his first month on the job? Once. In fact, of all the tendencies that we label managers with - likes to run, likes to platoon, likes to use 7 relievers a game - I think this might be the one tendency that we can definitely pin on Hillman after just one month on the job: he's not a fan of the intentional walk.
Hey, if the alternative is the John Gibbons approach - the dumbest intentional walk of modern times - I'll take Hillman's approach, thanks. Tony Pena has as many intentional walks as all the Royals' opponents combined.
But about that one intentional walk...it came with Gil Meche on the mound on April 11th, and Hillman held up four fingers with Justin Morneau, a tough left-handed hitter, at the plate with a man on third and one out. The next batter, the right-handed Delmon Young, hit into a double play. I'm just saying...
- About Bonds...too soon. Signing Bonds only makes sense if you're playing for this year. As much as I love our pitching, and as much as I think Bonds can completely change the complexion of our offense, I'm not sure that adding Bonds makes us a contender. I am sure that adding Bonds will bring a level of media scrutiny to the Royals that they haven't had in a long time. That might not be a bad thing, in all honesty. But it's too soon. Plus, Bonds really only helps you if he can DH, and the jury is still out on Butler's glove.
Now, if the Royals are still 2 games out at the end of June, and if Billy Butler continues to play first base well enough that the Royals think he can play there every day...the calculus changes.
- Craig Brazell is leading Japan in homers? Good for him. That doesn't change the fact that he was a longshot to ever be a productive first baseman in the majors. Akinori Iwamura hit 44 homers in Japan in 2004. He hit 32 homers in 2006. For Tampa Bay in 2007, playing in 123 games, he hit 7. Baseball is different in Japan; the parks are smaller, the ball is smaller, and translating numbers from Japan to the United States is a job that bedevils even the brightest of analysts. Brazell wouldn't hit 7 in the majors; he'd probably hit 20 homers if the Royals gave him the everyday first base job. With a .250 average and no walks. I'll pass, thanks.
- One commenter wants Buck to sit in favor of Olivo, which I disagree with vehemently. I have a feeling that Buck is getting closer and closer to figuring things out. He looked terrible yesterday, but he might have won the game for us on Sunday with his approach - he walked in his first two plate appearances even though he was down 0-2 his first time up and 1-2 his second time up. His second walk enabled Olivo to score when Casey Blake threw Pena's grounder into right field. Buck is tied with Gordon with 11 walks, behind only Teahen's 14, even though he has about 75% of the playing time of those two. He's made incremental improvements in his plate discipline pretty much every year he's been in the majors. I remain hopeful that eventually the improvement in plate discipline will lead to an improvement in power.
- The lack of a left-handed starter has never even crossed my mind. This is a classic example of conventional wisdom harping on "balance" for no clear reason. There is no evidence that dropping a southpaw in between two right-handed starters makes the right-handers more effective when they pitch. I'll go a step further and point out that the lack of a left-handed reliever is not a major impediment to winning. The 1994 Expos had the best record in baseball without one. The Angels won the World Series in 2002, and the only left-handed reliever they had was the immortal Scott Schoeneweis, who moved to the pen after bombing out of the rotation at the end of June.
Platoon splits are important, but they're not important enough to overcome the simple fact that good pitchers get hitters out more often than bad pitchers do. The idea that you can't win without left-handed pitching stems, I think, from the fact that the Yankees have won 26 championships, and they won all of them playing in Yankee Stadium, a park that was death on right-handed power hitters for so long (and is still tough on them today) that left-handed pitchers thrived there, from Herb Pennock to Lefty Gomez to Whitey Ford to Ron Guidry to Andy Pettitte. The Yankees may benefit from having left-handed pitchers; ordinary teams in symmetrical ballparks do not, or if they do, the benefit is minimal.
- Just FYI: I'm supposed to be on with Nate and Steven over at 810 WHB tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 7:30 CDT. Assuming I wake up in time. If I sound like I just rolled out of bed, well, I did.
- I don't know where else to put this, so I'll put it here. I bought my brother Roukan the Nintendo Wii last summer - it took forever to find one - but Roukan is a hard-core gamer, and the Wii just doesn't hold much appeal to people who need the hyper-realism of Call of Duty or the insane graphics of Halo 3. So it collected dust for six months until he gave it to me to play with my kids - Cedra, my oldest, is five and was clamoring for one. It's been a huge hit with my family; I came home from work the other day to find my wife battling Cedra in Mario Kart while our two-year-old Jenna looked on, which is the first time I've ever witnessed my wife playing a video game of her own free will.
Anyway, Cedra figured out the Wii Sports bowling game that comes with the console pretty quickly, and this weekend my in-laws came over. We thought it would be funny to let Cedra embarrass her grandparents by beating them in a video game - granted, she had practice, but it's funny anytime an adult loses to a five-year-old in any endeavor. But I was a little worried she might be nervous, playing in front of so many people, with her parents egging her on.
My fears were unfounded. She shot a 224.
Two twenty-four. She nailed five strikes in a row at one point. No subtlety, no spin, just a grip-it-and-rip-it approach - and she shot a 224. Granted, the game is not particularly challenging, but the next morning I felt compelled to play on my own for half an hour, working on different spins and ball placements, and the best I could do was a 205.
Is this unusual? Is there some trick to this game that I haven't figured out, or should I be signing my daughter up for the Junior Wii Bowling Championships (and if they don't exist, create one)? I thought I had another 7 or 8 years before I faced the specter of losing to my own progeny in a video game, but now I'm already feeling like I'm washed up.
On the other hand, I can totally obliterate her in Mario Kart.