Monday, June 23, 2008

Royals Today: 6/23/2008.

Powered by the biggest win of the season Sunday, and the random sight of a Royals fan wearing his powder-blue Billy Butler Kauffman Stadium giveaway jersey as I drove by the corner of Grand and Wabash in downtown Chicago after the game, it’s time for a notes column. This one is set to the chronological rhythms of yesterday’s game.

- 5-0 San Francisco, middle of the 2nd.

I haven’t written about him much, if at all, so far this season. But if you really think that Kyle Davies has turned the corner in 2008…well, think again. Going into yesterday’s game, he had a 1.46 ERA – and as many walks (12) as strikeouts. Even after his performance yesterday his ERA stands at 3.12, the best in the rotation. It’s a fraud. He’s thrown 26 innings, he’s walked 14 and struck out 13, and he’s allowed 29 hits. The results have been as good as they have for two reasons: he hasn’t allowed a home run yet, and opposing hitters are batting .367 with no one on, but just .216 with men on base.

Davies is not a groundball pitcher, so the home run rate can’t hold, and the performance from the stretch is also unsustainable. Even in Omaha, where he had a 2.06 ERA this season, his peripherals were uninspiring (37 Ks, 20 BBs, and any ratio under 2-to-1 in the minors is not the hallmark of a good pitching prospect.) His age and track record suggest he can be better than this, and I’m happy to have him as a fifth starter, but expect more starts like yesterday’s in the future.

- 10-3 San Francisco, middle of the 5th.

Jeff Fulchino isn’t the most unlikely player the Royals have ever called up, but he has to be on the short list. I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the farm system or anything, but I take it to be a bad sign when the Royals call a player up and my first reaction is, “who?” Nothing compares to the immortal Eduardo Villacis, of course, but Fulchino ranks up there with Steve Stemle, a strike-throwing non-entity who was called up in 2005, and spent most of the next two years drawing a major league paycheck on the DL. (Hey, good for him – I’m always happy when a minor league lifer makes some major league coin.)

Fulchino’s a veteran minor league starter who spent 7 years with the Marlins before the Royals signed him as a reliever. This is where I’m supposed to write, “and he was a different pitcher out of the bullpen,” only that’s not really the case. In 38 innings for Omaha this year, he had a 3.99 ERA, allowed 44 hits and 16 walks – this isn’t the second coming of Francisco Rodriguez. This may have been a reaction to Joel Peralta and the Royals wanting a pitcher who wouldn’t surrender a home run every three innings – but if so, it was an overreaction. Fulchino does not resemble a major league pitcher, so until MLB awards bonus points for degree of difficulty in coming back from seven runs down, he has no place on this team. There are half a dozen guys in Omaha I’d rather see manning the last spot in the bullpen.

(Late update: after due consideration, it appears the Royals have re-considered their position. Fulchino was sent down, and Peralta is back. Just keep Joel off the mound when the tying run’s at the plate in the ninth.)

Oh, and remember when people were saying that Yasuhiko Yabuta was coming around? Yeah, not so much. He’s got a 5.46 ERA, and hitters are batting .297/.377/.492 against him. His ex-teammate in Japan, Masahide Kobayashi, has a 3.03 ERA for the Indians – I guess there’s a reason Yabuta was the set-up man and Kobayashi was the closer. Yabuta’s facing an uphill battle to even survive to the end of his contract next year without being released.

- 10-5 San Francisco, end of the 5th.

The Royals’ modest two-run rally was capped by another RBI single off the bat of Jose Guillen. I’m sure you all know this, but to reiterate:

Jose Guillen through May 5th: .165/.198/.306
Jose Guillen since: .377/.389/.640, 19 doubles, 9 homers, and 43 RBIs in 43 games.

Guillen deserves a column all on his own, but the point I want to make is that even as Guillen has turned his season around, his plate discipline (never good to begin with) has declined to non-existent. He had five walks through May 5th, just two since, and the last one came May 15th. Since then, he has hit .356 with a .611 slugging average in 152 plate appearances, and thanks to a couple HBPs he has a .362 OBP.

Jose Guillen has gone almost 6 weeks without a walk – and in that time he has a .362 OBP. He’s threatening to single-handedly destroy one of the prime directives of sabermetrics. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but I can’t help but be impressed. I mean, Vladimir Guerrero would be impressed.

- 10-10 tie, end of the 6th.

Hillman deserves all kinds of credit for being aggressive in the bottom of the inning, pinch-hitting for Callaspo with the score 10-6, two on and none out, and getting a key single to continue the rally. And DeJesus just continued what to this point has been his best season; he’s hitting .309/.370/.470, including a .364/.427/.616 mark since May 27th. Last season was the worst of his career, the result of his batting average dropping 35 points for no reason – he didn’t strike out any more than usual, and his power and walk rate were roughly in line with previous years. It looked like a fluke then, and it looks like a fluke now. I’m thinking my trade proposal that would have sent him to the Cubs for Pie and Cedeno may not have been such a good idea…

…particularly because with Mike Aviles, who needs Cedeno? His two-out, two-run double tied the game. He’s hitting .328 with a .625 slugging average. He has more total bases in 64 at-bats (40) than Pena has in 164 AB (32). It’s been years, maybe over a decade, since any hitter came up and made this dramatic an impression in the first 2-3 weeks of his career with the Royals. I’ll let those of you who go to the games respond – is he a hit with the fans at the park? There was pandemonium when he tied the game yesterday, but that’s to be expected when you come back from seven runs down.

Aviles doesn’t have a nickname yet – yes, I owe you a report on that – and our friends at Royals Review are debating a nickname for Aviles while making fun of my hair. (Just as you’re not supposed to field between hops, apparently I’m not supposed to be photographed between haircuts. This photo is a few years old; I’ve since given up and go with the nearly-shaved-head look. Or as we call it at Baseball Prospectus, “The Carroll.” Also, “The Goldstein.” Or if you want, “The Sheehan.” Keith Woolner didn’t leave us because the Indians offered him a job – he got out while he still had his hair.) Where was I…oh, yeah, you can vote on a nickname here. Though none of these grab me just yet.

Aviles is not going to keep hitting like this. If he settles in as a .280 hitter with 30 doubles and 10-15 homers a year, he can play every day. If he settles in as a .260 hitter with 25 doubles and 8-10 homers a year, Moore will find a glove to replace him. More and more, I’m betting on the former.

- 11-10 Kansas City, middle of the 8th.

I think I’ve said this before, that one of the most compelling reasons why I’m such a big fan of Dayton Moore is that the vast majority of his moves look far better six months after the fact than they do at the time they’re made. It looks like he’s fooled me again. I didn’t like the Ron Mahay signing at all. I didn’t think the Royals needed to spend $4 million a year on a situational reliever, but specifically a left-handed situational reliever. The Royals had Jimmy Gobble, John Bale, and Neal Musser already on hand, and adding a fourth lefty specialist to the pile made no sense whatsoever.

Except that John Bale made a stunningly successful transition to the rotation in spring training, and then was stunningly unsuccessful in the regular season, both in terms of pitching and in remembering to take his frustrations out with his non-throwing hand. And then Jimmy Gobble decided to see how far he could push the envelope with the concept of the LOOGY, as he’s been deadly against LHB (.118/.167/.265) but is reaching the point with RHB (.410/.510/.744) that has left-handed hitters debating the merits of trying to switch-hit for the first time in their lives. Ignore his 8.15 ERA – Gobble’s usage is so bizarre that many of the runs charged to him are the fault of other relievers, and many of the runs that are his fault are charged to other relievers. But you can’t expect to get a full inning out of him, and by and large Hillman hasn’t tried.

Mahay, on the other hand, went two scoreless innings yesterday to get the win, the day after he went 1.1 scoreless to earn the hold. He has pitched more than an inning 15 times in his 32 appearances, which is almost unheard of in this day and age for a left-handed reliever. The reason for this is that he has almost no platoon split – for his career, RHB hit .249/.340/.394, LHB hit .229/.309/.391, and much of that OBP difference is explained by intentional walks. This year LHB are hitting much better than RHB, although that’s a sample size fluke.

One of the biggest criticism I have of the LaRussa-ization of bullpens is that so many relievers, particularly lefty relievers, have been pegged as one-sided specialists even though they have the ability to get both sides out. Mahay is too good a pitcher to be limited to one-batter appearances. Gobble is not. Hillman has correctly differentiated between the two, which is why Gobble is averaging 3.4 batters per appearance, and Mahay is averaging a fraction over 5.

I still believe there should be a spot on the roster for Neal Musser, who in Omaha the last two seasons has thrown 95 innings, allowed 64 hits and 32 walks, struck out 100, and has an ERA of 1.89. But Mahay has, more than anyone, kept the bullpen from falling apart since Nunez got hurt and Ramirez hit a rough patch. He’s justified his contract, and then some.

(Now, why the Royals just called up Horacio Ramirez instead of Musser…I have no answer for that.)

- 11-10 Kansas City, final.

What more can I say about Joakim Soria? I know he’s the Mexicutioner, and I don’t want to discourage poster Jack Jester from his hard-hitting reporting on the crime wave sweeping the nation, but I really would like to call him Mr. Sandman. Not the Sandman in the Mariano Rivera, “Enter Sandman” way, but more like the “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream” way. He’s the guy who puts everyone into a tranquil sleep when he comes in, no matter how wild and crazy the game was before he showed up. Before Soria, would any Royals fan have felt safe in the ninth inning yesterday? Of course not. A seven-run comeback, both teams scoring in double digits, 30 hits, 13 walks, a game that took nearly four hours to play…why would anyone expect the ninth inning to be easy?

But when Soria came out for the ninth, were any of you worried? I know I wasn’t. And that’s what Soria provides – a sense of tranquility that hasn’t been seen in these parts in over ten years. He's not just ridiculously effective – he’s also ridiculously composed. On a day like Sunday, it's like he’s the only sane man in an insane world. He never appears to be caught up in the tension of the moment – he never even appears to be aware of the tension. I noticed this in his very first save opportunity, a week after his major league debut, when he struck out the final two Blue Jays to end the game. You’d expect a rookie in his fourth appearance to be a little pumped, a little psyched, a little stoked. Soria trudged off the mound and exchanged…no, make that he accepted high-fives from the other Royals. He was acknowledging that his teammates were happy for him, but he personally didn’t see what the fuss is about.

I know Mariano Rivera has the Sandman name locked up, but Mr. Sandman would have been perfect for Soria. But so long as he continues to make hitters look positively stupid every time he takes the mound, I suppose the Mexicutioner will do just fine.

29 comments:

THEbobhamelin said...

Rany..

Soria = NyQuil..just go with it. all yours. haha

great read. and great game.

Anonymous said...

On the ESPN boards, Aviles has been refered to as "The Answer". It's not my idea, I think it was the poster named imann, but I think "The Answer" is just epic.

meatless said...

I don't know about "The Answer." Isn't that Allen Iverson's nickname?

Jeff said...

I like Sparkplug for Aviles.

Anonymous said...

Heal Us Aviles.....from my son who texted me the other night that 'Aviles will heal us'

Isaac said...

Personally, I think that Gobble has been misused/overused. A lot of that has to do with the loss of Nunez and the bad pitching of our other relievers.

Guillen has been incredible and doesn't appear like he wants to stop anytime soon.

I was a huge fan of the Mahay deal. Granted, we pay him a lot for a reliever but we also watched our payroll go down this year. He has put up good numbers over the past couple years and he was just the guy to replace Riske in my mind. Most disagreed with it but I can now say I told you so.

I am imann on the ESPN board and "The Answer" was not my idea either. It seems to have caught on over there though. Even though Iverson may have that nickname it isn't as important since he is in a completely different sport.

My question for everyone is why do Split and Ryan have to talk about Pena for a minimum of 10 minutes a night even when he isn't playing and why do they write an article about him on the ROyals site? My guess is that they have no intention of getting rid of him and they want to change people's opinion of him so that when he becomes the everyday SS again, people will somehow miraculously like him.

Devon said...

The Royals are the best team in the National League so far! I love it! Now only if we could switch divisions with Milwaukee, maybe that would really count for something. Anyway... as for Aviles... how 'bout calling him "Rolex" for his timely hitting? Mike "Rolex" Aviles.

Kevin said...

As to nicknames, how about The Quiet Man for Gordon. I like Alex and all but what's up with him. At the plate he seems terribly one dimensional and not very versatile. His swing is visually beautiful but it is always the same. It seems to me that he can only hit the ball if it happens to be down and in and can only pull. I sure hope he can mature into a more scrappy hitter. Similar to Pena he needs to shorten his swing-or at least become able to do so situationally.

skeptic said...

DeJesus is hot, but he shouldn't step off first base until the ball's in play. Otherwise he'll get picked off.

Hillman seems obsessed with the hit and run. How many times has it worked this year vs. having runners being thrown out?

Anonymous said...

I know the Guillen post is coming, but shouldn't he be getting All-Star hype by now?

JayhawkOwensJunior said...

Went to the game on Saturday. Nearly a full house (Gordon bobblehead night), meaning the casual fans probably outweighed the die-hards even more so than usual. Unsurprisingly, I didn't really get that there was much of a buzz for Aviles, just more of a "who is that guy" or a "I've vaguely heard of that guy" vibe. The cheers got a little louder in later ABs, of course, because Aviles spent the afternoon knocking the ball all over the park.

Side note--Tony Pena Jr. bobblehead night is September 6th. So he has to be with the team then, right? Right?

Anonymous said...

We keep hearing that "Aviles can't keep up this pace of hitting." OK. When, exactly, will he start regressing? I've seen him hit the low outside slider that he's supposed to not be able to hit. I've seen him make some great plays that a lousy shortstop isn't supposed to make. And then I hear Frank White, a guy that I trust as a judge of talent, say, "No, you're seeing the real Mike Aviles right now." An Aviles that could hit .300 with an .800 OPS (very realistic, even correcting his AAA numbers down) could be an everyday SS in Kansas City for quite awhile.

Mike Fast said...

Rany,

I enjoy your blog. I'm a longtime fan of your writing on the Royals, and I'm glad you're doing this on a regular basis now.

I don't comment often, but I wondered why you worry about Gobble's last 49 plate appearances (.410/.510/.744) against right-handed hitters? His major-league career doesn't show that kind of split at all (.282/.349/.469), and it covers over 1200 plate appearances against right handers.

Anonymous said...

I was at the game Sunday and enjoyed the comeback as well as the giveaway Monarchs cap.

This was the first time I ever saw Tim Lincecum pitch. This kid has one of the coolest deliveries I've seen. I can't believe someone so small can throw so fast.

Anonymous said...

Tomko had 40 strikeouts and only 13 walks. I guess we should have kept him over Davies.

Anonymous said...

To follow up on the Lincecum comment, it looks like we could have taken him in 2006, but we took Hochevar instead. Was he even on our radar?

Anonymous said...

One reason we probably did not take him is that while his delivery may look neat, it scares people who are (rightly) concerned about the possibility of injury. Hoch may not be as intriguing, but it's likely that Lincecum will have spent a lot more time on the DL in the next years than Hochevar will.

Anonymous said...

The best nickname for Aviles right now is "Write-In."

Anonymous said...

Mike Aviles nickname ideas:

OMUS (Offensive-Minded Undersized Shortstop) Aviles or

Lutheran Lumberjack (Concordia College is a Lutheran College) or

my personal choice:

"The Royal Clipper" - this is a hybrid based on his college mascot (Concordia Clippers) and the great "Yankee Clipper" Joe DiMaggio.

Any thoughts?

Jon

Also is anyone else sick of hearing "Souvenir City"? That is terrible.

Anonymous said...

His nickname should be Buenos Noches. Any time he comes in the game it's good night.

Shelby said...

Rany:

I think Guillen reads your blog. He's got two walks tonight and we're only in the 4th inning.

Shelby said...

I also think Buenas Noches is a great nickname for Soria.

The Mexicutioner is lame, by my estimation. And I don't have a good reason for this. I just don't like it. Sounds vaguely derogatory or something.

Shelby said...

14 strikeouts? Are you kidding me?

Greinke with 10 through 6 inning...that projects to 15 through 9.

He's a badass.

Anonymous said...

Zack had no walks and racked up the K's. However, he did give up quite a few hits. I am surprised by this.

qm said...

Love it or hate it, 'The Mexicutioner' made print. Dutton dropped it in his sports page cover story yesterday.

Anonymous said...

i don't see how Mexecutioner is degrogatory. you don't think Joakim is proud to be Mexican?

was it degrogatory when Trey said, "he's not just tough, he's Mexican tough"?

Jack Jester said...

shelby, word of warning...
the Mexecutioner likes his alias and he has ways of obtaining your address.

SconieRoyal said...

I hope Pujols plays this weekend so he find's out what it's like to be Mexicuted.

Generally people are blindfolded when they face the Mexicutioner, because this is their best chance to hit the ball.

Thank you, thank you, be sure to tip your waitress.

Shelby said...

Buenas Noches is more clever. It's cleverer. Mexicutioner is menacing and has negative connotations I would expect white sox fans and their ilk to appreciate.

Buenas Noches is cute. And it will help educate the masses.

And it was Buddy Bell who coughed up the idiotic "mexican tough" line.

Disclosure: I like Buddy Bell