Sunday, July 20, 2008

Royals Today: 7/20/2008.

If I may quote my White Sox beat writer friend from a few years ago…how the hell did we win this game?

Things certainly started out well enough, the exact opposite of Friday night’s death by a thousand singles. Teahen poked one up the middle, Aviles dropped one into the left-center gap, and DeJesus sliced one to left. DeJesus stole second base on the pitcher; A.J. Pierzynski didn’t even throw to second. Butler singled to center. The new lineup was looking good.

With one out Gordon drew a walk – he already has more walks this year than last – to load the bases, but Olivo struck out and John Danks was threatening to wiggle out of the inning. Until Ross Gload came through with a two-run single. 4-0, Bannister hasn’t even taken the mound – what could go wrong?

Well, Hillball could make an appearance. With two outs, men on first and third, and German at the plate…Gload lit out for second. He was only about by about ten feet.

I realize I’m spitting in the wind here – nothing against any of you fine readers, but none of you are flashing signs at first base – but can someone get through to Trey Hillman that the only threat Ross Gload poses on the bases is to his own team? Gload has now attempted 7 steals this season, and has been nailed on more than half of them. He’s 11-for-20 in his career.

The situation made the decision to run even worse. For one thing, there was a runner at third base – which raises the risks of getting caught stealing, because you end the inning with a man in scoring position already, but does not raise the rewards. You can calculate the break-even point for a stolen-base attempt using the run expectancy matrix. For instance, this season when there are men on first-and-third and two outs, the average team scores 0.458 runs the rest of the inning. With men on second and third and two outs (i.e. after a successful steal of second), that number rises to 0.616 runs. But if the runner is caught stealing, the number drops to zero, as the inning is over. If you do a little algebra, you can calculate that the break-even point for a basestealing attempt in this situation is 74.3% - you have to be successful more than 74.3% of the time to make the steal attempt worthwhile.

By comparison, with a man on first only and two outs, the break-even point is 67.3%. You already have a man in scoring position – why put two runners at risk of dying on the bases so that one runner might advance?

The second point has nothing to do with math and everything to do with psychology. John Danks has already given up four runs, and two men are on base – he’s obviously laboring, and you have a chance to ice this game against a struggling pitcher. Why hand him a free out? Hillman did, and it would hurt the Royals even more when German led off the second with a double into the gap – a double that probably would have scored Gload from first base anyway.

Ah, but the fun was just getting started. DeJesus was caught leaning the wrong way on first base, and got picked off (officially a caught stealing because he got caught in a rundown) to end the second. And in the fifth, Billy Butler – who I swear is trying to set the all-time record for most boneheaded baserunning outs in one season – casually assumed that Gordon’s line drive would get through the infield, and was almost to third base when Orlando Cabrera reached up and caught it. He could have crawled to the bag and had time to double up Butler.

So in the span of five innings, the Royals had made the final out on the bases three times. Meanwhile, Bannister’s transition to becoming a power pitcher hit another roadblock. He gave up two runs in the first inning (and left the bases loaded), and a game-tying three-run homer to Joe Crede in the third. Remarkably, he started both innings by retiring the first two batters. There’s a lot of good things to take from this outing – he struck out four batters, and aside from Swisher’s homer every other hit was a single. Much like Greinke, he just seemed to be giving up a lot of well-placed batted balls.

But there are still some adjustments he has to make. He threw 77 pitches in just three innings, and reached a full count on five batters. He seems to be trying to up his strikeout rate by nibbling at the corners – Bannister has not thrown strikes on more than 62% of his pitches in any of his last eight starts. By comparison, he threw more than 62% strikes in ten of his first 12 starts.

Meanwhile, the Royals couldn’t touch their old teammate D.J. Carrasco, but Horacio Ramirez was equally effective in the bottom halves of the inning. In the seventh, DeJesus took off for second base on a 2-2 count to Butler. It may have been a hit-and-run; Butler swung through a bad pitch, and DeJesus was out easily at second place for the inning-ending double play. That’s four unnecessary outs in seven innings.

In the bottom of the seventh, all the wasted opportunities came to bear when Swisher connected off Ramon Ramirez – shortly after Jim Thome doubled for his 2000th career hit – for a go-ahead homer. I’ll take the blame on this one; when Ramirez entered the game, I mentioned to the small but hardy group of Royals fans that joined me at the park today that he had not surrendered a home run all season.

And then, in the top of the 8th, came one of the weirdest managerial moves I’ve ever seen. After Grudzielanek struck out against Octavio Dotel, we watched as Alex Gordon trudged from the on-deck circle back to the dugout. We waited for him to return, perhaps with a new bat or helmet or something. We wondered why Jose Guillen was walking to the plate instead. We heard the PA announcer overhead informing us that Guillen was pinch-hitting for Gordon, but it didn’t register. Until at some point it did, and we all turned to each other, a row of Royals fans all with their mouths open but no sound coming out.

Jose Guillen was pinch-hitting for…Alex Gordon.

Alex Gordon, who’s hitting .280/.365/.492 against right-handed pitching.

Gordon, who’s just a tick behind David DeJesus as the best hitter on the team against right-handers.

With Guillen, who’s hitting .257/.275/.420 against RHP.

I dare say it’s unusual to deliberately give up the platoon advantage when pinch-hitting in any situation, unless the batter is a pitcher or his dad used to manage the club but quit in the middle of the night or something. But to pinch-hit for one of your best hitters in a key situation and surrender the platoon advantage at the same time…I’m sorry, but this doesn’t add up.

I suspect there is more to the story here. After the game Hillman said, “I didn’t really like the way Alex was swinging the bat today.” O-kay. If you say so, Trey. Gordon walked in the first inning. He struck out in the third inning – both those at-bats against a left-hander, and we all know Gordon has had trouble against left-handers this year. Against Carrasco in the fifth, he hit a soft line drive that Cabrera caught – not a screaming line drive, but certainly one that would have gotten through for a hit had it been placed better. Miguel Olivo, to that point, had a worse game than Gordon – and he’s garbage against right-handed hitters. But for some reason Hillman decided that Gordon was the problem.

There has to be more to the story here. Maybe Gordon wasn't showing enough effort, or he was insubordinate, or he made a pass at one of Hillman’s relatives. But somehow he has gotten on Hillman’s bad side. That’s the only explanation that makes sense here. Whatever the explanation is, it’s not good for Royals fans. Either we have yet another clubhouse crisis that needs to be defused, or our manager is just astonishingly stupid. There’s no way to spin this as a positive going forward.

But today, it was brilliant. Rarely in the annals of Royals history has such a clearly bad move played a more significant role in helping the Royals win. Guillen got hit by a pitch. He stole second base – yeah, it finally worked, Trey, and it still didn’t factor in the outcome. Gload worked a walk from Matt Thornton, against whom lefties are hitting .132 this year. And Esteban German, getting a chance to prove that the last two seasons were not a fluke, ripped one past Joe Crede, and Gload came around from first to score the go-ahead run.

If you think I’m done ripping on Trey Hillman, think again. As early as the sixth inning, I turned to the boys and said, “you know, if we have the lead in the 8th and Hillman doesn’t use Soria for two innings, he’s never going to use him for two innings.” Soria hasn’t pitched since the All-Star Game on Tuesday. His two set-up men, Ramirez and Mahay, both pitched yesterday. (In fact, Soria’s the only guy in the pen who didn’t pitch on Friday or Saturday.) The Royals’ starting pitcher didn’t make it past three innings for the second time in three days. Soria is the only fresh reliever in the pen. It’s a tight game on the road against a team that kills us in their park. The Sox have their leadoff hitter due up to start the 8th. If you’re not going to use Soria for the two-inning save here, when are you?

Mahay came in to pitch the 8th. Cabrera hit a line-drive right at DeJesus. Pierzynski hit a ground-rule double to right-center. Carlos Quentin walked. And only then did Soria get up in the pen and start throwing lightly.

Brian Anderson singled through the 5-6 hole to leftfield. And Trey Hillman got to play the genius, because replacing German (who had moved to third) in leftfield was Guillen – who launched a one-hop missile to the plate. Pierzynski didn’t even bother to slide – he just pulled up as Olivo tagged him. He looked more surprised than anything else, like he had just been the victim of the hidden-ball trick or something. Mahay struck out Thome, and that was it.

I mean, yeah, there was still an inning to play, but it was time for the Mexicutioner to restore order and sanity, and he did. Konerko managed to hit Soria’s first pitch of the ninth to medium-depth centerfield; the next two hitters both struck out on curveballs that were so wicked that Olivo had to tag both batters because each strikeout pitch bounced.

(Now that Soria has a nickname, is it time we named his pitches as well? At the very least, I propose we name the Mexicutioner’s weapon of choice – that ridiculous slow curveball that batters know they’re going to get with two strikes and still can’t resist – the Guillotine. Why the Guillotine? Because it’s sharp, it drops straight down, and it dispatches its victims with lethal efficiency.)

So the curse is broken. Despite my presence at the park, despite one of Hillman’s worst games in a season rife with bad ones, the Royals won. A special thanks to the guys who came to the game with me, and congratulations to Brian Sobek, who by virtue of outlasting the competition in the Obscure Royals Trivia contest I dreamed up, won himself a Mexicutioner T-shirt courtesy of my friends at 810 WHB.


Anonymous said...

The Guillotine. Me likey.

GTripp said...

It's easy to say from our perspective that Gordon should have hit in that situation, but I think it's critical to remember that he wasn't going to be facing a faceless RHP. He was facing Octavio Dotel, who a year ago today was a teammate of Alex Gordon.

Jose Guillen hadn't been used all series, and I think Hillman's reasoning might have been as simple as he thought Guillen was his best option to get something going in that inning. The perceived doghouse here might simply have been Trey Hillman not wanting to begin a critical inning with a Gordon strikeout.

After the game, I don't think he really had a defense for his decision. It was a statistically stupid move. But trailing by a run, I could understand why he wanted the two players on his roster who are most likely to homer to be the first two guys to bat in that inning.

Thus, if he didn't think Gordon could tie the game on a swing, he wasn't going to let him it. I really think it's that simple. And stupid. But mostly simple.

KC Lone Star said...

In the wake of my stunning/barely deserved victory in the Obscure Royals Trivia contest I have decided it's a good time to leave my first comment here...well more of an award acceptance speech. I'd like to thank the Mexicutioner for being nasty, Rany for allowing everyone one mulligan, and Juan Gone for finally helping to win something for a Royals fan...better late than never.


Nathan said...

First off, that ball really does drop like a guillotine. Excellent word choice.

Second, I'm surprised you didn't talk much about Este. If nothing else, this game shows what letting German bat a few times will do. Three hits and a walk? That man can see the pitch before it's even thrown! He can see the future!!!

I hereby suggest The Oracle as a nickname for German.

Nathan said...

Also acceptable would be "The Bones" or "The Magic Eightball."

Anonymous said...

Those pitches this afternoon from Soria were insane. "Guillotine" is a great choice, perfect.

Unknown said...

As far as Bannister goes, his main problem is his almost total loss of control. Without that he has nothing.

The attempted steal of Gload was interesting because I still haven't forgiven Hillman for sending him to third earlier in the year.

My main question from all of this is how many times must DeJesus be picked off of first base before they give it a second thought? It's happened at least 4 times this year minimum. His success rate in stealing bases is horrible at best. When does it sink in that maybe they shouldn't be so concerned about stealing second and more concerned about not being picked off?

Another question is when does Hillman acquire some basic statistics and use them in a game? I am willing to forgive decisions that can be debated. The decisions that have been made by Hillman this year can't be. They have been so wrong that it is obvious that stats are never a part of any decision that he makes.

No matter how bad your team is on paper, you can always plays fundamental baseball, keep your head in the game, and expect your manager to use common sense. Those things take no talent and can be the difference in 5 wins or more depending on how fundamentally unsound and stupid you are. When it's as easy as keeping your head in the game, you would think the Royals would jump at the opportunity if it would save them a few wins. No?

Matt S said...

OMG guillotine. Freaking awesome.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should call the pitch the "Waterboard" - as its effect is to leave the hitters gasping for breath on the edge of dying -- its more of a torture device...that pitch.

Unknown said...

Hillman pinch hitting Guillen for Gordon was one of the most mind-numbingly stupid decisions I have ever seen a manager make in a baseball game, ranking just behind numero uno: John Gibbons' decision to intentionally walk Tony Pena Jr. to get to David DeJesus.

Owd Müller said...

I wonder if there is some history between Dotel and Guillen? Maybe Trey suspected that the AB would end in HBP and that's why he pinch hit for Gordo.

Only excuse I could come up with.

RoyalPrick said...

I'm still upset that Brian said Juan Gone the round right before I was going to. I'm going to blame the loss on that.

Or to the fact that Desi Relaford wasn't obscure enough.

Now I have to buy a Mexicutioner T-shirt.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like everyone had a great time. I really would like to have gone except A) I hate the White Sux so much I refuse on principal to go into that stadium, and B)I went to a Cubs game earlier this year and the wife would have killed me for spending more money on another baseball trip (still trying to convert her to the sport).

I don't know what to think on Hillman anymore. I think on one hand that he's an upgrade over Buddy Bell, whom I despised almost as much as I despise Mark Davis. But on the other hand, it's like...dude, use some simple stats every now and then for crying out. loud. I'm no sabermetrician, but good grief, Charlie Brown.

I'm trying really hard to be more objective this year in judging the team. I was probably the world's biggest Teahen apologist until this year, for example. But I just can't decide on what to think about Hillman.

Oh, yeah - the Guillotine? That's freaking fantastic. Nice one, Rany. A buddy of mine posted in our fantasy league a term he proposes for the dictionary (since we're having fun with the "Mexicutioner" concept: "Mexicuted = swinging over a slow curveball."

Anonymous said...

Not to pile on about the Guillen pinch hit decision, but Rany, did you know Guillen was 1 for 8 with 6 Ks previously against Dotel? One of the most bizzare managerial decisions I've ever seen. In fact, it was so weird when I was watching it on TV, I automatically assumed Gordon got sick or something.

Speaking of TV, Ryan Lefebvre and Splitt have become nearly unwatchable. Finally, after YET ANOTHER awesome game from Aviles (how about the defensive play he made? WOW!), they FINALLY started to concede that perhaps Aviles has won the job from Pena. Good Lord. In other news, Ryan, the sun will rise in the East the rest of your days. Another thing that really peaved me was their practically GUSHING about the Royals running game, since they stole 3 bases for the 2nd day in a row. NARY A MENTION of getting caught stealing 3 times, and how much that may have cost the team. INCOMPETENCE.

Anonymous said...

I think it was Crede who hit the three-run shot off Banny, not Swisher.

Anonymous said...

I can imagine Silverio (or whoever the 3rd base coach is) thinking as he's signing the steal to Gload, "Why the heck are we sending him with two out and a guy on third? Whatever. You 'da boss, Trey".

Seems it would help if Hillman were instructed to bounce his wacky ideas off of a seasoned bench coach.

Reminds me of The Office episode where it was revealed that Pam fakes the transfer of incoming calls to Michael Scott the first time. The ratiionale being that Michael usually exorcises his unprofessional (over-the-top unfunny) greetings on the first try and subsequently comes up with a normal on when it really counts.

Anonymous said...

Woops. Should be "normal one" in the last sentence.

Anonymous said...

My wish list for the 2nd half:

Grudz (love him, but still) needs to be traded for whatever low-level prospect(s) Dayton can get from someone. German needs to start at 2B for the rest of the year, so you can confirm that he's got the bat he seems to (and maybe actually find a position for him). Plus, the Royals would then have one of the shortest and roundest middle infields in the majors. Awesome.

If you can also unload Gload (for anything up to and including a case of beer), do it. Call Shealy up to see what you've got before he wastes an entire year in AAA. Let he and Billy split the 1B/DH starts.

Ron Rollins said...

Do we actually need more reasons after yesterday's game about why Hillmman has no clue what he is doing and needs to go.

This isn't a great team, but they do have some talent. They aren't posting a better record because Hillmnan is the manager. They're doing it because they have better players this year who are playing some good ball. Hillman is only going to cost the Royals games.

And for all of those who are going to kiss Hillman's ass, if it isn't his fault, then who's is it?
Who's making the decision on all these baserunning outs, or who's not pulling the player aside to talk to them, or work with them before games to make them better.

In the 1980 playoffs, a 97-win Royals team went out before a game and practiced cut-off throws from the outfield. In the game that day, Willie Wilson threw out Willie Randoplh out the plate with a text-book relay from U.L. Washington. George Steinbrenner was so mad he fired Mike Ferraro and Dick Howser.

That's what manager's do. Make their players execute. Not sit back and blame thier players for not executing.

Maybe Hillman needs to watch some old video of what it used to mean to be a Royal. Because he sure doesn't know.

Unknown said...

Because of John Gibbons, Hillman will never be able to make the dumbest managerial decision of all time.

With pinch hitting Guillen, I have this weird opinion of it. It was obviously against the numbers pretty clearly. However, it isn't the same type of decision as sending a guy like Gload to third. I don't know why it doesn't bother me but it may just be because Hillman has done so many things that are beyond explanation that I have become numb to some things.

As Tom said, I have also thought about the idea of having a guy in the dugout with a computer who's only purpose is to make sure the best decisions are made or, more importantly, that the worst ones aren't made. I don't know why this isn't used more often as going on a hunch is probably going to result in a less than 50% success rate.

I just can't stop thinking about the fact that if you take out the blatant stupidity, you add 5 wins to our current record. Why do they insist on making things worse than they need to be.

ksuim4u said...

Well, while we're on the topic of Major League 2 (the naming of pitches - which didn't work out so well for Rick Vaughn, by the way), perhaps what happened with Guillen pinch hitting for Gordon was along the same lines - "Hey Guillen, didn't this guy used to pitch you inside? Go up there and lean into one!... if you want to get in the game, go do it!" Of course, for another inexplicable reason (that also worked out for the best) Guillen was allowed to run for himself...

Anonymous said...

Any chance Olivo (or Buck) to the Yankees with Posada out for the year?

Anonymous said...

OK so lets cut Gobble and put TPJ in the pen.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Pena Jr. looked pretty good on the mound.
Dude had some movement on his pitches.