Hey, if they keep winning, I’ll keep writing. Does that make me a fair-weather fan?
- You all realize that if the Royals had not blown a 4-0 lead on the Giants last Friday, they’d currently be riding their longest winning streak (11) since 1994?
As it is, 10 of 11 ain’t bad. I almost prefer it this way – an 11-game winning streak might focus attention on the fact that the Royals aren’t a laughingstock anymore. I prefer sneaking up on people. Or in the case of the Indians, sneaking past them.
A few weeks ago I wrote that you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing, and you’re never as good as you look when you’re winning. We need to remember that adage now that we’re on the other side. At one point in tonight’s broadcast, Denny Matthews said, “the baseball gods have really been smiling on the Royals the last few weeks.” That’s probably the first time you could make that statement about the Royals since 2003, but it bears repeating: for as good as the Royals have been playing, they’ve gotten some breaks as well. The biggest, of course, being that they’ve been playing Quintuple-A (not quite Quadruple-A, not quite major league) teams for the past two weeks.
- You know things are going well when Ross Gload is keying the offense. He went 2-for-4 on Sunday, including a pivotal single in the five-run sixth; he walked and hit his first homer of the season on Monday; a pair of singles on Tuesday, both of which keyed rallies; and he went 3-for-3 tonight, scoring the team’s first run after a double and then driving in the last two runs with another double.
Since June 14th, when this streak began, Gload is 14-for-42 (.333) with three doubles and a homer. He was hitting .239/.277/.276 prior to then. Mike Aviles became the starting shortstop on June 6th, and since the 14th he’s 16-for-44 (.364) with six doubles and two homers. It would be an overstatement to claim that the only reason that the Royals are playing so much better than before is because they are getting some semblance of production from shortstop and first base. It would be an overstatement, but not by much. The Royals spent almost two months trying to compete with a seven-man lineup. If anything Gload’s hot streak only serves to remind us what a difference it makes to have a first baseman who can, you know, hit. If only we had one of those somewhere…
- Counting the brief and ineffective cameos that Callaspo and German have made at the position, Royals shortstops other than Aviles have hit .153 (32-for-209) this season, with six extra-base hits. You want to know how bad that is?
Royals SS: 209 AB, 32 H, 4 D, 2 T, 0 HR, 10 BB, 10 RBI, .153/.191/.191
Cardinals P: 161 AB, 30 H, 6 D, 0 T, 2 HR, 10 BB, 21 RBI, .186/.233/.261
The Royals’ numbers above don’t count
So there you have it: the difference between the Royals of June and the Royals of April and May is Michael Anthony Aviles. Long may he reign.
- Coming into the season, Luke Hochevar projected to be a league-average starter, and that’s exactly what he’s been: in 13 starts, he’s 5-5 with a 4.60 ERA, which is as average as they come. But league-average pitchers come in all shapes and sizes, and the particular shape of Hochevar’s performance has surprised me. Specifically, I had no idea back in April that he was such a groundball pitcher. The talk about Hochevar was that he had four pitches that graded out at average or better, not that he had an outstanding sinker. Today, we know better.
Tonight was a virtuoso performance, one unseen in these parts in a long, long time. Hochevar struck out just 3 of 31 batters he faced, but he was nonetheless brilliant. He got 17 groundball outs, against just three flyball outs. He got two key double plays. Groundballs are less likely to go foul than flyballs, which is why groundball pitchers tend to be more efficient with their pitches – and Hochevar threw just 95 pitches in eight innings. Only once in the last five seasons had a Royal thrown 8+ innings with 95 pitches or less. (You won’t guess right in a million years – Jorge de la Rosa, last April, threw 94 pitches in eight innings.)
Counting tonight’s performance, Hochevar has allowed 140 groundballs and just 71 flyballs this season, a ratio of 1.97 which would rank him 11th among major league starters (min: 60 IP) this season. The three guys directly above him on the list are Greg Maddux, Chien-Ming Wang, and his opposing starter tonight, Aaron Cook. That’s excellent company for a starter to be in, particular a starter who doesn’t have a huge strikeout rate. We’ve come to grips with the fact that Hochevar won’t be an ace befitting his draft status, but he seems to be on the career track of a guy like Cook or Derek Lowe, a guy who can give you 200 innings a season and keep his ERA a little below league average. There are a lot of #1 overall picks who would have loved to have a career like that.
- The similarities between Greinke and Schilling continue to amaze me. I’ve previously documented the pair’s stinginess when it comes to the unearned run. On Tuesday night Greinke struck out 10 and walked none, but somehow still managed to surrender 9 hits in 6 innings – that’s the sort of start Schilling is famous for. (Although Zack will be hard-pressed to match this start.)
Greinke is the exact opposite of Hochevar - he gets lots of strikeouts and lots of flyballs, and you pretty much have to beat him with the home run, which makes him a perfect fit for Kauffman Stadium. I’m not sure I’d agree with the sentiment that “If you asked me which pitcher will be the most successful over the next seven years I would take Zach [sic] Greinke.” But between now and the end of the season, the single most important step Dayton Moore can take in securing the future of the franchise is to get The Baseball Jonah signed to a long-term deal.
- Last Thursday I was watching the afternoon game from work through my MLB.com connection, which is high-quality for streaming video but still a little choppy. The Royals were nursing a one-run lead in the top of the ninth when Teahen batted with a man aboard. As the 1-0 pitch reached the plate the feed flickered for just a millisecond, enough that I could not see the impact of bat on ball. But in the fraction of a second before the cameras showed the trajectory of the ball, my synapses flashed, “that’s a home-run swing.” And that impression means more to me going forward than the fact that the ball cleared the right-field fence.
Teahen’s plate approach has been discussed and dissected by far greater writers than myself, including both Posnanski and Michael Lewis, to the point where even soccer fans in
The simple fact is that Teahen has been an above-average hitter exactly one time in his career – the one time (2006) when he hit for power. A corner outfielder who doesn’t hit for power has to hit .310-.320 consistently to have much value, and that high a batting average requires either blazing speed or an excellent contact rate. Teahen is fast but not that fast, and he’s averaged 133 Ks per 162 games in his career. He’s a .270 hitter, and that’s not going to change.
What can change is his power, but he’s not going to hit for power until he starts pulling the ball in the air (Monday’s impressive opposite-field homer notwithstanding.) Teahen has the talent, and he has the track record, even if it was just a three-month span two seasons ago. Last Thursday, he showed the kind of swing that we need to see a lot more of. He’s hit five homers this month, and if his power barrage continues, I may withdraw my standing request that hitting coach Mike Barnett be dismissed.
- For the record: I think the acquisition of Robinson Tejeda is intriguing. Tejeda has a 5.01 career ERA in over 260 innings, but he’s just 26 and has a power arm. But what really gives me reason for optimism is that he’s never really been tried as a reliever, either at the major or minor league level. In ten pro seasons he has made just 35 relief appearances. All pitchers have a tendency to pitch better in relief, and as I mentioned a while back when talking about Soria, the pitchers who tend to show the most improvement are Three True Outcome pitchers, i.e. guys who get lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, and lots of homers. That’s pretty much Tejeda in a nutshell. Let’s see what Bob McClure can do with him; “better than Yabuta” would be a nice, and easily reachable, first step.