I had this idea of doing a summation of where the Royals stand at the end of each calendar month, only to find when I woke up yesterday that Sam Mellinger had pretty much the same idea. Which goes to prove that great minds think alike. Also, that Sam can be very annoying. (On the other hand, his take on the Bissinger mess was excellent. If you guys aren’t Buzzed out by now, I might give you mine at some point.)
Anyway, I figured I’d go ahead with one anyway. The Royals are 12-
I wouldn’t be overly concerned. The Royals are not outperforming their Pythagorean record because of a flukish performance in one-run games. In fact, despite an excellent bullpen (and teams with excellent bullpens have been proven to do better-than-expected in one-run games), the Royals are just 3-
The downfall of the team is that they’re 0-
And that’s the crux of the problem. The Royals have scored 3.61 runs per game, and you can’t aspire to even .500 with that kind of an offense, no matter how good your pitching is. Put it this way: the sweet spot of run production is between 3 and 5 runs in a game. So far in 2008, the other 29 teams are 163-175 (.482) when they score between 3 and 5 runs per game. The Royals are 9-4. That’s an amazing record, and a testament to the quality of their pitching. The problem is that they’ve already played 10 games in which they’ve scored fewer than 3 runs, and they’re 1-
You might remember, the Royals scored between 3 and 5 runs in each of their first 8 games, and were 6-2. Well, they’ve now gone 10 straight games without scoring between 3 and 5 runs; their runs scored have gone 1, 1, 6, 0, 8, 2, 2, 9, 9, 1. In six of their last ten games the offense has given the pitching staff no margin for error, and not surprisingly the Royals are 3-
- The pitching staff ranks 11th in the league in runs allowed per game, and despite what you might think, that’s not all Hideo Nomo’s fault. (If Nomo had given up 2 runs instead of
Behold the power of the small sample size.
Taken as a whole, the team’s pitching staff gives reason for optimism. In 245 innings, the staff has walked just 81 batters (2nd in the league) with 181 strikeouts (7th in the league) and 25 homers allowed (7th in the league). The team ranks as poorly as it does in runs allowed because the staff has allowed 261 hits, ranking only 9th in that category, despite the fact that the Royals have played the fewest games in the league.
Early in the season I pointed out that the Royals ranked near the top of the league in defensive efficiency, despite no defensive upgrades that would explain such a ranking, and that the team’s defensive performance might be a fluke. Well, we have our answer: it was. The team’s Def-Eff is now .687, which ranks 3rd from the bottom in the majors, ahead of only the Pirates and Rangers. I didn’t believe the Royals top-five ranking was legitimate then, and I don’t believe their bottom-five ranking is legitimate now. The defense should do a better job of turning batted balls into outs as the season goes on, which means that we can expect the pitching staff to hold steady or possibly improve even as the weather warms up.
- The offense is similarly schizophrenic, just at a much less ambitious level. Nine guys have played in 15 or more games this season. Four of them (Grudzielanek, Gordon, Teahen, and Butler) are hitting close to league average (OPS+ of between 97 and 114). Two guys (Buck and Gload) are doing poorly but not egregiously so (OPS+ of 82 and 83). Two guys flat-out suck (Gathright and Guillen, OPS+ of 52 and 46). And one guy is threatening to redefine offensive suckitude as we know it – Tony Pena’s OPS+ is 1, and he needed a two-hit game on Wednesday to get it out of negative territory.
Guillen’s performance to this point is the single most worrisome development of the season. He’s hitting .176/.212/.333. I realize he’s a streaky hitter, and you can argue that since starting the season 6-for-49 that he’s been on a hot streak the last 16 games. If .220/.258/.475 is Guillen’s idea of a hot streak, Dayton Moore just flushed 36 million dollars down the drain.
- You may not be happy with how the Royals are performing, but Guillen notwithstanding, if you’re a Royals fan you have to be happy with who is doing the performing.
Of the 13 men who have batted for the Royals this season, here’s how I would have ranked them at the start of the season in terms of their future importance to the Royals:
The first seven guys all project as starters in 2010; the other six are either free agents or probable backups at that point. So if you’re simply judging the Royals on how well they’re building a lineup for 2010, then you look at those top seven and you see two guys hitting extremely well in a small sample size (DeJesus and Callaspo), three guys hitting roughly as expected (Gordon, Butler, Teahen), one guy who’s a little disappointing (Buck), and then an outright disaster in Guillen.
Here’s the same thought experiment with the pitchers:
(Greinke ranks as low as he does simply because he’s a free agent after the 2010 season. If
As much as I love what Nunez and Ramirez have done this year, the reality is that middle relievers are fungible – the fate of the Royals’ pitching staff rests in the hands of the first five guys on that list. Meche has been a disappointment. The other three guys have, each in their own ways, vastly exceeded what most people thought they were capable of, Bannister because everyone thought his rookie season was a fluke, Greinke because people questioned whether he had the mental toughness to succeed, and Soria because it was hard to imagine that Soria could pitch any better than he did last year.
Bannister has a 4.04 ERA and Greinke has a 1.47 ERA, but there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference in their real performance this season. Against Bannister, opposing hitters are batting .224/.273/.343; against Greinke they’re at .215/.262/.348. The difference is that Bannister had to pitch in
It’s hard to judge Hochevar so far, but in five starts between Triple-A and the majors, e was outstanding in four of them. And quietly, he has shown excellent groundball potential; in his two starts in the majors, 24 of the 38 balls put in play against him have been grounders, which is outstanding.
As important as performance is health. And none of the pitchers (or hitters for that matter) have suffered any kind of serious injury.
If you’re focused on the Royals’ chances of winning this year – and given how wide-open the division has been so far, I can’t blame you – then they’re performance this season, purely in terms of wins and losses, is disappointing. But if you evaluate the team with an eye to the future…well, the future of the Royals is, by and large, playing well.
Other subjects…Bob Dutton got some choice quotes from Hillman on the subject of pitch counts, and many thanks to Bob for following up on the topic. At this point, I’m not concerned. Hillman said, “I thought pitch counts are very relevant; I just think we hold onto them too closely.” In all honesty, he might be right. Baseball’s position on pitch counts has moved so rapidly over the past decade that it might be time to take a breather and re-evaluate.
I have no problem with a pitcher hitting 100 pitches regularly, and I have no problem with a veteran pitcher throwing 110-120 pitches regularly. Beyond 120, I do get nervous. But the reality is that, as Bob pointed out, aside from Meche’s long outing no Royals pitcher has thrown more than 111 pitches in a start. We’ll have to see how Hillman handles the staff as the weather warms up. But if the Royals’ pitch counts continue to resemble their April numbers all season, I will have no objections.
- When The Baseball Jonah was a rookie, I compared him to Bret Saberhagen as much for his precocity as for his pitching style, which was all about control. But I think the obvious comparison now is to Curt Schilling. I already connected the two together a few weeks ago when I mentioned how the two pitchers are among the stingiest in baseball history at giving up unearned runs. There’s a good reason for that. Greinke is on the verge of emerging, like Schilling, as a pitcher with a fantastic strikeout-to-walk ratio, but who can be beat with the long ball. Greinke’s last outing (7 4 2 2 0 9, 2 HR) looks like it was ripped right out of Schilling’s game log. Schilling didn’t become vintage Curt Schilling until he was 30 years old, but then, Greinke has always pitched with the moxie of a much older man.
The Schilling approach happens to be perfectly suited for Kauffman Stadium. Greinke lost on Thursday because he gave up 2 solo homers, because he had the misfortune of pitching in
- It’s easy to diss Hochevar for not being Tim Lincecum or Joba Chamberlain. But on draft day, 2006, the consensus #1 player in the draft was neither Seabiscuit nor Joba. It was Andrew Miller.
Today, who would you rather have?
Hochevar was a disappointment in the minors last year, mostly because of a high ERA, but his peripherals were pretty good. Throw in his three good starts in
Miller, on the other hand, has a 6.57 ERA in 100 major league innings, including a 9.12 ERA this year, with 48 hits surrendered in just 26 innings. True, Miller had better minor league numbers, and no question has been hurt by being rushed to the majors. And yes, the Marlins defense has done him no favors this year.
But still…would you trade Hochevar for Miller right now? I’m not saying I wouldn’t. I’m just saying I’m not sure I would. Of course, Hochevar might get rocked by the time you read this.
- You are working on a long-term contract with Greinke’s agent, right,