Monday, May 5, 2008

Royals Today: 5/5/2008

So it's come to this: the Royals start the longest homestand of the season by getting seven brilliant, shutout innings from their fifth starter...and it's completely wasted. For the fourth time in their last 23 games, the Royals were shut out. They've scored one run four times in that span, and two runs four times. Which means in 12 of their last 23 games, the Royals have been held to two runs or less. They're 2-10 in those games.

It's driving me nuts, because a month into the season, it's possible to argue that the Royals have built a championship-caliber pitching staff. The team has a 4.37 ERA, but that number is a little deceptive because they've given up only 5 unearned runs all year, tied for the fewest in baseball. Unearned runs are partly the responsibility of the defense - and the Royals have made just 12 errors, also tied for the fewest in the majors - but also partly the responsibility of the pitchers - good pitchers surrender fewer unearned runs as well as fewer earned runs.

More than that, if you just look at the 10 key pitchers on the roster - the current rotation and the five most important relievers - those guys have pitched 85% of the team's innings, and more than 90% of the team's relevant innings. The combined ERA of those 10 pitchers is 3.51, which is sensational. The fact that John Bale, Yasuhiko Yabuta, Joel Peralta, and Hideo Nomo have allowed 42 runs in 41.1 innings is almost irrelevant. One of those guys is gone, one is hurt, and the other two are pitching in strictly low-leverage situations (or will be, given how Peralta pitched after entering a 1-0 game in the ninth tonight.)

But the offense is still on pace to score 559 runs, and nearly a fifth of the season has been played. The pitching staff is good enough, and the division is weak enough, that if the Royals had an offense that ranked, say, 10th in the league in runs scored, they ought to be in contention all season. Instead, they're still struggling to keep pace with the Giants on offense, and they're struggling to stay out of last place (though still just 2.5 games out of first.)

Dayton and Trey have to do something. I propose:

- Fire Mike Barnett. Immediately. I haven't discussed the performance of the hitting coach that much because I'm not really sure how much impact a hitting coach can have.

I have rarely been more excited as a Royals fan than the day the Royals hired Jeff Pentland, famous for turning Sammy Sosa from brain-dead hacker into a patient power hitter. Here are Sosa's unintentional walks, from 1996 to 2002: 28, 36, 59, 70, 72, 79, 88. His home run totals over that span went 40, 36, 66, 63, 50, 64, 49.

We used to think that the former begat the latter, but 1) Nate Silver's PECOTA research has shown that many times it's the latter that drives the former, i.e. as a hitter hits for more power, pitchers are less willing to challenge him, leading to more pitches out of the strike zone and more walks; and 2) the general consensus is that the key to Sosa's power surge lay in something other than improved plate discipline.

In retrospect Pentland's impact on Sosa may have been overstated. Anyway, Pentland was a bit of a flop in Kansas City, although among the Royals of that era it's impossible to tell who was a legitimate flop and who was simply a victim of awful circumstances.

Hitting coaches may or may not be able to significantly help a team, but I believe they are able to significantly hurt one. Barnett is hurting the Royals. He was hired as hitting coach on May 1st, 2006, and the Royals finished that season 12th in the league in runs scored. Last year they were 13th. This year they're 14th. If Barnett stays around another year I'm convinced they'll find a way to finish 15th.

Managers are, for the most part, not wholly good or bad - they all have strengths and weaknesses, and the man who is a poor fit for one team might be a good fit for another. I suspect hitting coaches are the same way. Barnett was the Blue Jays' hitting coach from 2002 to 2005, and they finished in the top five in runs scored twice in those four years. (On the other hand, they still fired him after the 2005 season anyway.) Regardless, this is a results-based business, and someone needs to take the fall here. If Jose Guillen's contract wasn't guaranteed, I'd vote for him. But it is, so Barnett needs to go.

- Can we get Callaspo and Gload more playing time? Please? Callaspo is on pace for 199 AB, and German is on pace for 94 - all season. Yeah, he's 1-for-18; who cares? Do you trust 18 at-bats of data, or two seasons worth of evidence that says he's the best on-base threat on the team? I've talked about platooning Callaspo and Pena based on who the Royals' starting pitcher is, and stand by that still.

I think Hillman is coming around to the fact that Gload is not an everyday first baseman - tonight's the first time in five games he started over there - but platooning Gload and Olivo isn't enough. Why not start German at first base against RHP? German has only played one game at first in his career, but he's played all over the infield and outfield, so I hardly think it would be a difficult adjustment. (Jose Offerman, like German an OBP fiend who played a marginal second base, was moved to first base by the Royals and was an absolute defensive stud over there.) Who would you rather see at the plate in a tough situation - Gload or German?

Dayton blew it by not foreseeing the traffic jam of talent in the middle infield before the season began and not trading German when his value was at his highest. He can't compound it by letting one of the game's best utility players scrap for playing time all season.

- Add another hitter. I'm sorry to keep saying things I've said before, but the Royals don't seem to be listening, so...why do we need 12 pitchers? Hillman has so little faith in Yabuta that he has openly talked about optioning him to Triple-A. The rotation has averaged 5.99 innings per start, 6.08 innings per start if you take out Bale's three starts. Last year, by comparison, the Royals' starters averaged just 5.48 innings per start; in 2006 it was 5.24 innings per start.

So compared to the last two years, Royals' starters are getting roughly two additional outs per game - an extra 100 innings a year. A 12-man pitching might make some sense when your starters are going five-and-dive, but the current rotation might be the best one the Royals have had this century, especially if Cool Hand turns out to be for real. Jimmy Gobble is still on pace to throw fewer than 30 innings all season. Do we really need a 12th pitcher that bad?

The problem is that whoever the Royals call up won't do the team any good unless Hillman adjusts his roster approach to take advantage of the guys he already has. If he can't find a way to make use of German's talents, fat chance he'll use some Triple-A lifer in the right role. In an ideal world, the Royals would call up Mike Aviles, who's hitting .347/.375/.694 for Omaha, and can play shortstop badly and second base and third base passably - he's German with fewer walks and more power. Or they would call up Shane Costa, who's hitting .330/.368/.591 in Omaha, the third straight year he's absolutely raked in Triple-A. In an ideal world, the Royals would pinch-hit for Pena at every opportunity, sit for Jose Guillen against hard right-handers, find a way to get Callaspo's bat in the lineup every day.

The Royals are dead last in the league in runs scored, and the 14 hitters who are on the roster today are the only 14 hitters who have played for the Royals all season. Common sense dictates that when your hitters aren't hitting, you might want to try new hitters.

When the Royals score 3 runs or more this season, they're 12-7. Hell, they've won two of the four games in which they've scored just *2* runs. It's criminal to waste this much good pitching. If Dayton shakes things up a bit, if he can just coax the offense into scoring a few runs in every game, the pitching staff could keep the Royals in contention well into the summer. But hope is not a strategy. And neither is playing Tony Pena every day.


tookee said...

Love the blog. Long time royals fan. I have to agree with you about Pena. I don't know how much longer they can get by with his anemic hitting -- and it's not helping his confidence any to continue marching him out there with a 150+ avg. He needs to get his head straight in Triple-A. The team needs to make a move in the next week or so to let everybody know they are doing something to build a winner. That's been the problem with past teams -- letting failures go unanswered. Settling for mediocrity. Dayton's got to step up here if his team won't.

Anonymous said...

I was impressed at Tomko tonight myself... 7 K's in 7 IP while only allowing 4 base runners (2 H + 2 BB). If only... if only KC had some offense.

So I'm thinking the Royals will start looking to trade for a big bat, especially if they're anywhere near 1st place with this pitching come July 31st. But it would help them a lot if they could find one (or two) earlier. Makes me wonder what they have in Omaha. Do you know?

Anonymous said...

Rany, your frustration is clearly on display in this post. I will add that it doesn't even adequately state the level of frustration most of us Royals fans have. Jeepers!!!

I also think it is "criminal" to waste this much good pitching. I have also been wondering how long Barnett can hold his job with the absolute ineptness of this offense. Then I though of failures of the training staff and it occurs to me that we might be stuck with Mike for a LONG time. *sigh*

I am almost to the point of being desperate so it is probably better that cooler heads will prevail. Otherwise, I might actually advocate some radical thoughts like bringing up Berroa and signing Bonds. 8^)

Go Royals!!! C-ya, AusSteveW

Anonymous said...

I would snatch my head bald, eat rocks and sacrifice a Red Sox fan by the light of the full moon if I thought it would help the Royals wake up the dead sticks in their hands. Why, I ask you, why?
They get lead off runners more frequently than they should and those runners die on the bases they've claimed. They have one big inning every four games and then sort of blink out again as though they fear it was all a dream. It seems like everyone on the team slumps at once and for long stretches. Maybe it's voodoo, I'm open to all suggestions.
Love the blog, Rany. It's a nice safe place to talk myself down when I feel like going all John Bale on the walls.

jsolo said...

I wonder if Dayton thought he had a deal in place for German (with LA?) and the team was stuck with 2 somewhat similar players when/if the deal fell through. And doesn't Aviles project to be a similar sort of player to German and Callaspo? Presumably, Callaspo will be a serviceable second baseman defensively (and apparently that's not the case with German and Aviles) but I just don't understand what Dayton's goal is here considering the logjam.

I think it's clear that the Royals need to draft a polished power hitter in the draft even if Crow is available. Wouldn't a guy like Smoak seem like the perfect fit for this offense? Could he possibly be ready for majors by September call up time?

Hitting depth is definitely a weakness in the farm system, but pitching really seems to be coming along nicely. Rosa looks like a total stud in AA right now along with a few others down there (unfortunately Rowdy hasn't adjusted yet...) Given the current state of the Royals pitching staff (is it really possible the team has 4 legitimate long term starters?) and the fact that Davies is looking pretty good in AAA, isn't it time for Dayton to consider trading some of the pitching depth for some quality hitting prospects?

Finally, I hate to say it, but how much better would this lineup look if Bonds was hitting cleanup instead of Guillen? (Guillen could ply his expertise of striking out consistently or making an out on the first pitch of the AB from the 7 or 8 spot.)

Anonymous said...

Rany, I'm surprised at no mention of not using our best reliever with the game on the line last night. Man on third, Ramirez somehow gets out #1 without the lead run scoring and in comes...Jimmy Gobble? I've got nothing against Gobble, he's proved to be a valuable LOOGY, but why not bring in Soria in that situation? We all agree Soria has "electric" stuff, and if you're not going to walk Kotchmann, then does your best chance for a strikeout of a pop-up come from him or Soria? I am so tired of managers thinking they can only use their closer in "save" situations. The game was (maybe) on the line right there, and you're trying to protect a scoreless tie with Jimmy Gobble instead of Soria. Grated, the Royals may not have scored a run for the next 17 innings, but that's not the point, you HAVE to live and die with your best reliever in that situation.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you just SWEPT us because our offense (and defense) sucked bigger rocks than your team's. I see your Brett Tomko and offer up two Aaron Laffeys (his previous start against the Yankees turned debacular as well, arguably also because of subpar infield defense).

My favorite game of the weekend came Friday, because I didn't have to write about it.

We'll trade you Derek Shelton for Mike Barnett.

(Signed, Cleveland Fan)

P.S. -- you're right about Pena, though: he simply isn't a major-league hitter.

Anonymous said...

I think the state of this team right now speaks to the importance of a quality clean-up hitter. I think the main reason DM brought Guillen in was the same reason he brought in Meche, namely to label him as "the guy" to take the pressure off the younger guys. It has been very successful for the pitching staff, but, so far, disastrous for the offense. It seems like Guillen's ineptitude has caused Gorden and Butler to press a little to the point where their production is in the deciline.

The scary part is that it appears that Jose doesn't give a damn. He rips past 0-2 pitches like they're 3-1 pitches and then casually walks to the dugout like he's relieved that he doesn't have to run around those darn bases. It just seems like he has one of those bad attitudes that only gets worse as he struggles and he refuses to listen to any coaching. I hope I am wrong because it is that type of cancer that turns above average teams into below average teams in a hurry.

If he was performing only slightly below expectations the Royals might be in first and we would not be having any discussions about Gload and Pena. If either one of these guys were performing above expectations, I doubt their impact on the bottom line would be that significant.

All that said, i wish Jose would take note of Vlad's at bat last night, one where he swung through an 0-1 (i think) pitch like he was trying to get into Guiness, then recocnized the count and slapped the 0-2 pitch to right. Vlad might be a bad example because he swings at a lot of bad pithces...the one in question included, but at least he reconizes count and understands that he doesn't need to swing for the fences every time.

Anonymous said...

Slap-hitting Johnny Damon has as many home runs as Gordon and Butler combined. I'm beginning to think both of these guys might be busts.

Why not bring up Berroa? Fans will soon be ready to run Pena out of town.

Anonymous said...

Rany - This sounds crazy but my biggest concern is with our BEST hitter, Billy Butler. I would love to see the satistics on how many times he swings at the first pitch. He has got to be in the top ten in the majors. Butler is such a pure hitter. If he would be more selective I can only imagine how productive he would be. As for changes, I believe Dayton has June 1st as his 'fish or cut bait' date. That's a full two months into the season. Dayton doesn't care about big contracts or hurt feelings. He will pressure Hillman to make wholesale changes on 6/1.

Anonymous said...

Here are some notes i have taken on a few of the hitters:

"D-Jesus": solid approach on most at bats, has work counts when it is necessary, but is also willing to hit fastballs early in the count when the pitcher misses his spot.

Grud: see above.

Teahen: It seems as though he has noticed that he has only one homerun and has decided to become pull friendly which is playing into the pitchers game plan.

Guillen: WAY BEHIND ANY FASTBALL ABOVE 90 MPH! Most hits are on off speed where he seems to be fooled. Over swinging.

Gordon: See Teahen.

Butler: Solid approach, but he has not been squaring the ball on the bat like he did early in the year.

Buck: Over swinging. Needs to try to hit the ball to right center. When he does that, it keeps him back, shortens his swing, and allows him to drive the ball up the middle.

Pena: Has no approach. It looks as though he decides to swing as the pitcher raises his leg. Can't make solid contact.

Olivo: He has had good at-bats and seems to square the ball up better than anyone else on the team. He needs to be in the line-up almost every day.

Best Royals lineup:
1. Callaspo - SS
2. Grud - 2B
3. Dejesus - CF
4. Olivo - 1B
5. Butler - DH
6. Gordon - 3B
7. Teahen - RF
8. Guillen - LF
9. Buck - C

This line-up gives you high contact guys at the top with Olivo getting the RBI opportunities. Guillen would be the 2nd clean-up at the bottom where his high K-rate would have less impact at the bottom of the order. With Butler/Teahen/Gordon at the 5/6/7 you are giving them fewer at-bats, but you are clustering streaky hitters which could lead to a couple of good innings. If Guillen continues to struggle, you could bench him for Gathright and swap him and Buck in the order.

KCDC said...

Speaking of replacements at 1B, at what point do we start to get excited about Kila Kaaihue? Dude's tearing up at Double-A so far to the tune of a .930 OPS and 21:13 BB/SO (14:1 in his last 10 games).

KCDC said...

and even better against righties--.956 and 18:8. If he can keep up at that pace into the summer, do you start considering an Olivo/Kaaihue platoon at 1st?

Adrian said...

Hey, Jacque Jones is available. Compare Jones' career line to Guillen's--.278/.327/.451 for Jones and .271/.322/.443 for Guillen. Jacque is probably looking at Guillen thinking, "that could have been me."

And bringing in Gobble to face Kotchman was a questionable decision, by the numbers. After yesterday's game Kotchman is .268/.341/.438 against righties and .313/.383/.403 against lefties in his career. This season, in 24 plate appearances, he's hitting .545/.583/.864 against lefties.

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Who's leading the Japanese league in homers?... Craig Brazelle. The same guy who tore up AAA last year FOR THE ROYALS, and never got a shot. Just because he hadn't been labeled a "hot prospect" before then. We've got to stop believing our own hype (or lack thereof) and play players based on performance, not expectation.

Anonymous said...

One of our problems is that the 2 guys struggling the most at the plate bat 4th and 9th. In virtually every rally, either Guillen or Pena will come up in the middle of it. Since they are both hitting about .160, they have been killing every potential rally we have. Guillen will come out of it. Pena won't. Also, it's a bad sign when your leading home run hitter is your second string catcher.

Anonymous said...

The Royals have lost 17 games this year. In only one of those games have the Royals ever had more than a 2 run lead at any point in the game. That was the game against the As where Greinke got off to a 4 run lead. The Royals have never had a lead later than after the 5th inning in any of those games.

Anonymous said...

Rany, Rany, Rany... no comment on Hillman bringing in the lefty to face a guy whose career platoon split is 40 points -- the WRONG way? Kotchman's 40 points better against lefties, and he's been destroying them this year (better than .525).

He should have left Ramon in, walked Kotchman, and had Ramon (or Soria, I don't care which) try and get Hunter to hit into a double play. Instead, he made the absolutely WRONG percentage call.

My faith in Hillman was permanently shattered in that one moment.

Beetle said...

Looks like you transposed Gload and German's names.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree a little. As bad as Pena has been (and his average is actually been rising steadily, although slowly), the biggest problem is Guillen. Either get him out or drop him to 8th. Once he starts hitting you can move him up but for now put him somewhere where he is less likly to damage whatever RBI chance we have. Guillen has more at bats than any other Royal. That needs to change.

Anonymous said...

I'd make 3 changes effective immediately.

1. Sit Pena and start Callaspo. If the game reaches the 8th and Royals are ahead, Pena comes in. The defense will suffer some but defense and great pitching doesn't mean much if you can't score.

2. Olivo in for Buck. Buck's last at bat was atrocious. He got 5 pitches. None were in the strike zone. First was inside and fouled. Second in the dirt but swung at it. Third was in the dirt but no swing this time. Fourth was high but swung and fouled. And finally another in the dirt that was swung at. Olivo's D isn't as good as Buck's but Olivo is delivering on offense and that's what matters most right now.

3. If Guillen is in the lineup, he CANNOT bat 4th. If it isn't a strikeout, it's a DP grounder. He has to drop to at least 6th or 7th in the order. When a righty like Santana is in there, Guillen should get a day off for Joey.

Anonymous said...

Little comment on Collaspo. That guy has been getting on in all situations and getting big hits when given the opportunity. What gives, I ask you?

Anonymous said...

Bonds Bonds Bonds Bonds Bonds Bonds Bonds Bonds Bonds Bonds.

Seriously, those of you concerned about the "baggage": get real.

Signing Bonds would be NOT EVEN as bad as what Joe Hardy did for his beloved Senators to beat the hated Yankees.

Granted, we Royals fans may not have been suffering quite as long as Washington's once did - but isn't it close enough? Besides, signing a steroid user can't hurt us nearly as much as selling our soul to the devil, can it?

Anonymous said...

GMDM has always stated in the past that he waits 40 games into a season before drawing any firm conclusions (i.e., making any significant changes to fix obvious problems)

Fear not, Rany - Game 40 is scheduled for May 15th. At that time, if we are still only a few games out of 1st like we are now, I think he will have to consider fixing the offense for the SHORT TERM, not just the long term. He owes that to the fans, right?

What is the best way to fix the offense without giving up current players and without mortgaging the future by giving up prospects? Pretty obvious - SIGN BONDS.

Bonds can either play LF, with Teahen shifting to 1B, or he can DH with Butler playing 1B the majority of the time. Combine that with Callaspo replacing Pena, and the offense would DEFINITELY scratch across 1 - 1.5 more runs per game. As you point out, with the pitching we are getting, that improvement could easily vault the team into true contender status.

bbxpert said...

I had been against signing Bonds, but now I think it is the thing to do. Aside from his obvious home run potential, he can at least show our trigger happy Royals hitters that it is OK to take a pitch.

Anonymous said...

Please stop the Bonds talk now!!!

We would be the laughing stock of the entire league...actually, of the entire sports world, to take that loser on.

The Royals have done this in so many past seasons...singing old, past their prime players and then we get maybe a year out of them at best.

It would be a lame, groveling attept to make something happen. We would be viewed as desparate.

Have some pride people!

TychNine said...

Come on Royals fans, stop being so negative.

Building a complete team takes time, and the Royals are obviously headed in the right direction. I don't think anyone can argue that the young nucleus of players are not in place. Now, let them develop and mature. Here in a couple years (if we still do not have a playoff caliber team) then I will eat my words and the griping can begin. As for now, be thankful for the good, and swallow the bad. Just remember we are heading in the right direction.

Instead of analyzing everything from the glass half empty point of view, let's focus on the quality changes taking place throughout the first 1/5 of the season.

1. Starting pitching - I remember the days (only a few years ago) when Darryl May was our pitcher of the year. Look how far we have come. 4 solid starters that can compete against the best teams any given night.

2. Bullpen - Need I remind anyone of the Burgos walk days, or the Jason Grimley debacle in Boston 2 years ago. How much more solid do you expect these guys to be. I can honestly say there are maybe a handful of teams with more quality arms in the pen, not to mention their youth.

3. Young Hitting - We have the people in place. Now, let patience prevail. Let these young guys develop and mature, and let's make a judgement here in a couple years when we have our 3 or 4 best players in their prime (if we can re-sign them, which is another issue in itself).

4. Trade Bait - Before jumping to judgement on moves Mr. Moore will make lets take a look at potential bait we will be throwing around to teams desperately trying to stay in the race in the near future.
- Angel Berroa (the Rockies could use him now)
- Esteban German (there is always a need for a "perform under pressure" pinch hitter, especially one that can be used all over the field)
- A plethora of young arms (This is the most intriguing bait. With so much young productive talent taking the mound either starting or relieveing, the Royals have a number of options to consider. Mr. Moore will certainly have trade options in which he holds the leverage for some quality power hitters).

Let's let the season progress. Baseball is a game of patience. Those who seek immediate results will more than likely end up dissapointed. Have faith Royals fans, the future is bright!

Anonymous said...

Despite his age, Barry Bonds is most definitely NOT past his prime.

To whomever posted that, take a minute and look at his numbers from last season.

Good God, the Royals could wait until the All-Star Break to sign him, and he STILL would be the favorite to lead the team in homeruns!

Anonymous said...

Have you seen our offense?

Perhaps being seen as "desperate" is nothing to be ashamed of. Perhaps, instead, it is the APPROPRIATE RESPONSE to such a woeful collection of offensive stiffs. For chrissakes, we are struggling to match some NL teams in runs scored - and they don't even have the DH.

Anonymous said...

You know, Greinke has always said that he loved hitting and the fact that he can't take any at-bats or get a chance to play more often is part of his depression. So let's sign Greinke long term, let him hit during his starts, and let him DH and play first every so often. We can't score any less, and at least someone will be happy because of it.