Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Royals Today: 7/2/2008.

If the Kentucky Derby is the fastest two minutes in sports, I’m about to give you the fastest 35 minutes in sportswriting - known around here as "lunchtime." The following may not be particularly insightful or well-written, but eating gruel every now and then just makes real food taste even better, no?

- I’ve ripped Hillman a few times for certain decisions he has made, and I can state with complete confidence that he has cost the Royals two games this season – June 10th against the Rangers, and May 28th against the Twins – when the Royals blew huge leads in the late innings because of bad choices about which reliever to use. But those two games have, I think, had a greater impact on the psyche of the team and the fan base than on the team’s record. Other than those two games, the Royals have lost just one game all season that they were leading after 7 innings.

Monday night, Hillman's decisions won the game. Some of his moves were, I thought, questionable, particularly pulling Greinke for Horacio Ramirez after just 86 pitches after Greinke got crushed for four runs in the fifth. But Horacio threw a scoreless inning, and brother Ramon threw two more.

Hillman made a risky call for an intentional walk in the bottom of the 8th, men on second and third, one out. I don’t usually like an intentional walk that loads the bases, because you’re banking that the next batter’s OBP will be less than the current batter’s batting average. And walking one right-handed hitter (Melvin Mora) for another (Ramon Hernandez) makes little sense.

But with the Royals down by a run already, the value of an insurance run in that situation is enormous (as forthcoming events would prove), and you can argue that putting the double play in order with a slow hitter at the plate justified the move. Ramirez isn’t a huge groundball pitcher – although he hasn’t allowed a homer in over 40 innings this year – but he got the one he needed in that situation, setting up Olivo’s heroics.

It may seem like a no-brainer in retrospect, but the mere fact that Olivo was batting in the ninth is the reason why Hillman, at the very least, has shown more managerial acumen than the man he replaced. Mark Teahen isn’t a great hitter, but neither is he the kind of hitter that’s routinely pinch-hit for in the ninth inning. Buddy Bell, I suspect, would have let him bat. Hillman, on the other hand, isn’t afraid of using all the bullets in his gun, and I love him for it. The Royals have a four-man bench, DeJesus was out, and by pinch-hitting Olivo in that spot necessitated using German on defense should the game continue, which meant that the only player left in reserve would be Tony Pena Jr. Then consider that Olivo’s your backup catcher, and burning him in that spot would lock John Buck into the game no matter how banged up he got – there are all sorts of reasons why Buddy Bell would find a reason not to use Olivo there.

The other field boss of a major professional sports franchise in Kansas City once said, “you play…to win…the game,” and has received an unbelievable amount of crap for that. And yes, on the surface what Herm Edwards said sounds like something Ralph Wiggum would have come up with. But it’s easy to miss Herm’s point. You play to win the game – you don’t play to not lose the game. A lot of managers would have left Olivo in reserve out of fear. And it’s not even a fear of losing the game, but the fear of losing embarrassingly, because of the one-in-a-thousand chance that Buck gets hurt and Ross Gload has to don the tools of ignorance or something. Managers don’t want to be embarrassed; some managers, I hate to say, would rather lose cleanly than gamble that they might lose ugly.

Hillman isn’t afraid. He needed a home run, his backup catcher happens to have a career .293/.324/.539 line against LHP with 28 homers in a little over 500 at-bats, and he took his shot. Make that 29 homers. Throw in two scoreless innings from the suddenly unhittable Ron Mahay, and it was only a matter of time before the Mexicutioner would mete out his punishment.

Hillman was given two right-handed hitting swing-from-the-heels catchers by his boss, and had to figure out how to use them such that he would continue to develop the incumbent while not offending the new arrival. Halfway through the season, Buck is on pace for over 400 plate appearances (more than last year, when his competition was Jason LaRue) - and Olivo is on pace for about 370. Hillman has found regular playing time for both of them, starting Olivo at DH 18 times even without a third catcher on the roster.

- Olivo saved the Royals from a heaping dose of what-ifs. They stranded 11 guys, and after singling his first two times up, Billy Butler rolled into a double play (complete with a questionable call at first) in the sixth right before the next four batters reached base against (need I say it, ex-Royal) Ryan Bukvich. Greinke gave up three consecutive two-out RBI hits before closing out the fifth.

The formula nonetheless worked so well that the Royals tried again last night, spotting the O’s a five-run lead after six innings. The comeback fell two runs short, but the mere fact that the Royals aren’t laying down after falling well behind is a comforting, and unusual, sight to see.

- Mike Aviles’ momma said there’d be days like this. He single-handedly killed the comeback, by flying out to shallow center with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth, then rolling into a double play after the first two batters reached in the 7th. In those two innings the Royals had six hits (including a homer) and a walk…and scored one run. Aviles hit into two double plays in the game, doubling his career total.

But it’s the two defensive misplays that have to worry you – the failure to throw out a runner at the plate in the second, the bizarre fielder’s choice-but-everyone’s-safe play in the third that allowed the Orioles to score four two-out runs. They have to worry you, because while the Royals realize Aviles is never going to be a defensive standout, if he doesn’t play shortstop any better than Pena handles the bat, they’ll move on to someone else.

I think the Royals should ride out the season with Aviles as the starter, but if you’re going to keep Pena on the roster, don’t you think you ought to use him? Pena hasn’t so much as stepped on the field in the last six games. A few months ago I advocated a platoon of sorts between Pena and Callaspo, which would translate very well to Aviles. Pena should start when Hochevar is on the mound, given Luke’s groundball tendencies. Aviles starts when Meche and Greinke, both power pitchers who get flyballs, start. Either one can start when Bannister or Davies are on the mound, after taking into account the opposing starter, prevailing wind conditions, and a Ouija board.

But at the very least, Pena should be out there every fifth day. If he had been out there last night, the Royals likely would have won.

Thirty-five minutes. Close to 1200 words, and absolutely nothing consequential to say. Yeah, I’d say I was made to be a blogger.

35 comments:

ksuim4u said...

Yesterday, I had the blessing and curse of watching the Orioles broadcast (MLB.TV doesn't give you the option). Their announcers weren't horrible (like the White Sox guys are), but I always prefer my Royals broadcasters. Anyway, the point is that they pointed out something that should be obvious. On the play where Aviles didn't throw home in time, it's Gordon and Grudzielanek's job to TELL him where to go with the ball (and I would add the catcher to that as well). NO ONE did. It wasn't Mike's fault - as the O's broadcaster said "he has his back to the play, there's no way for him to know the runner had rounded third." SOMEONE has to be yelling FOUR, FOUR, FOUR in that situation. If they don't, you can't blame the SS, the guy who can't see what's going on behind him, for not throwing the ball to the right place.

dhroyal4life said...

I don't want to see TPJ at ss ever again. Let Mike play and see what he does with the rest of the season. I like TPJ as much as the next guy but I can't stand watching him in the batter's box. It's time to move on.

Matty said...

I love posts like this. They confirm what I've been thinking, which we don't get enough of with the Royals. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting that Hillman pinch hit Olivo for Teahen to try and tie it, but would not pinch hit Buck for Gordon with the same implications.

I know, Buck for Gordon SOUNDS like a stupid idea, but honestly, take a look at Gordon's splits this year, and tell me Buck wouldn't have had a better chance at a dinger. Teahen has fared better vs the lefties this year than Alex.

Just saying.....

Anonymous said...

What's striking me most as I read the box scores is that the Royals are actually drawing walks.

Walks per game,
1st 7 games of June:
2-1-3*-2-0-2-1

Most recent 7 games:
4-0-2-5-6-6*-4

* = extra innings

Is this a real trend, or a statistical hiccup?

Mark LaFlamme said...

Wow, 35 minutes? That's a quality outing, son. Lots of good stuff in there.
I know Hillman is doing a good job because 95 percent of the time, he does exactly what I instruct him to do by yelling at my television set.

Anonymous said...

The other thing about the Aviles non-throw to home plate was it appeared to me that Gordon was actually in his way. Does anyone else think that?

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts:

First of all, Rany is absolutely right when he says that if Pena is on the roster, he needs to be used. I can think of no better argument for Pena's immediate release than that - that it would eliminate forever the possibility of him ever wasting another at-bat.

The reason you don't pinch hit Buck for Gordon is simple. The only player who Buck should be able to pinch-hit for is Pena, or perhaps Hochevar. Buck's OPS is nearly 100 points lower than Olivo's this year, and Buck may be regressing yet again.

IMO, it's about time to end the Joey Gathright experiment as well. .249 BA with a .567 OPS equals minor league material. Maybe it's time to give Mitch Maier a shot.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

Someone may have pointed this out on here before, but I don't remember seeing mention of it. I just don't see why everyone takes for granted that TPJ is a great (or even above average) defensive shortstop. Of all regular short stops in the AL (players who have appeared in at least 50 games), TPJ is SECOND TO LAST in range factor. The only SS behind him is Julio Lugo. I mean, he's trailing freaking Derek Jeter for cripe's sake. Even last year, his range factor was about average among short stops.

I know fielding statistics are not completely definitive of a player's ability, but let's not get carried away with TPJ's defense. He's not the next Ozzie Smith. He may not even be the next Ozzie Guillen. There is simply no reason why a shortstop that 1) sports a worse batting line than the Cardinal's pitching staff and 2) is worse defensively than Derek Jeter, should be on a major league team.

Isaac said...

First, in response to Andrew, I look at range factor as being on the same level with win-loss record. In other words, worthless. It says nothing about your range as I understand it but simply how many balls are hit to you in a game. What does that say about a player's fielding.

In regards to Hillman. I was thinking the very same thing as Olivo stepped to the plate. That it was a very good move. As you stated Rany, it really was common sense but whenever a manager performs common sense we mistake it for genius.

The problem I have is that in the next day's game, he moved the infield in with a one run lead in the first inning. Now this did not end up hurting us but the hitter (Markakis I think) hit a chopper through the drawn in infield which would have been fielded if they were back.

It's these moves along with IBB in the third inning and the like that makes me wonder if he is actually using his head when he pinch hits Olivo or if he is just lucky on that one occasion.

Right now we have two players who could be no closer to worthless to this team clogging roster spots. Pena and our 12th man in the pen. Neither are needed and I hope to see at least the 12th man disappear when Nunez returns.

Scott said...

I did not see much of Tuesday's game, but I have seen replays of the two plays from that game that have been the subject of much talk radio discussion here in KC. Both of them hinge on what was said or not said on the field. None of us who weren't there know for sure, but it doesn't seem to stop all of the talk radio accusations.

First is Aviles' delayed throw home. Hillman was quoted after the game saying that Gordon was yelling "FOUR, FOUR, FOUR!" If so, he was clearly close enough to be heard, and if so, Aviles is not blameless.

Second is Jose Gulllen's failure to move on a fly ball to the gap in about the 3rd inning. Kevin Keitzman and Jack Harry spent a lot of time on Wednesday breaking down this play. The ball was hit to deep left center, about 1/3 of the distance between Guillen and Gathright. Guillen did not move (and in fact, even started toward the dugout before Gathright caught the ball), and Gathright moved over into left field to catch the ball. Hearing the talk on the radio before the replay, I expected something horrible, but it looks to me like Gathright may have called Guillen off very early. Even though Gathright ran much further than Guillen would have had to run, is that so bad? (Remember Emil Brown running over DeJesus multiple times over the last two years?)

Rany, I'd love to hear your take on Guillen's effort and off-field behavior, since that seems to be the hottest topic on talk radio in KC right now.

Anonymous: the jinxing on this site continues. After your post about Royals newfound plate discipline, the they fail to draw a walk against a pitcher tied for third in walks in the AL.

Eric said...

The reason why Herm Edwards got ripped for saying what he said is
because he doesn't follow his own
advice - he constantly plays not to
lose instead of playing to win.

In the meantime the R's lost again
to Daniel Cabrera. There seem to be too many of these guys out there
that the Royals don't deal with very well. And their record in Tampa isn't very good, either, so we may be looking at a long weekend. At least this year it would be to a good Rays team instead of one that's fighting with us for the first overall pick in the draft.

Bill said...

I know this has NOTHING to do with Migues Olivo or Tony Pena Jr.--but, hey--I'm eating lunch!!

Lets have a discussion-another discussion-about the Roayls signing Barry Bonds--as a positive move for the rest of this season.

Regardless of his personal issues...
1. He has not spent the night in jail ..unlike at
least 1 current Royal!
2. His offensive stats last year were amongst the best in all of
baseball--slugging, OBP, and HR's--and he now has had 9 months off--so
he should be in the best physical shape he has been in for years!
3. Put in the 3 or 5 hole for the Royals--and you know what--we could
be contenders.
4. He can DH--or, unless I missed something--he played the OF the
last 20+ years--he's got to be as good as Esteban German in the OF!!
5. He will put people in the seats--I think, LOTS of people--so he
will pay for himself PLUS make the Royals some $$$ that they can use
to sign all 3 of the their #1 picks-Hosmer , Montgomery and Melville( no matter what it says, Melville is a #1 pick!)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...runner at first and a ball goes into the left field corner (which is slightly bobbled). I'm going out as the cutoff from ss. I wonder where my play will be? Is there any reasonable way you believe there will be a play at second? Sure, it would be nice for someone to yell some help, but c'mon. His first thought should have been home, even before he turned his back to the plate. Not mentally into the play.

Kevin said...

I heard Rany on 810 in KC and the topic was broached: IS ALEX A BUST? Well, he's been OK but he's not stepping up the way he was pegged and that is my biggest concern about this team-- Was A Gord rushed? Did he need some seasoning in AAA to learn to hit those breaking balls?

AC said...

I agree with Anonymous (boy he/she posts many entries) . . . man on first, sure double hit down the left-field line, high school infielders know that the play is going to be at home. Aviles is at fault, no question . . . but we KNEW there was a reason he is getting his first shot in the Bigs at age 27 . . .

Kevin B said...

It's kind of weird. Last year Bell was criticized for constantly tinkering with the lineup. Hillman has done it too and been criticized. Lately he's at least settled on TPJ NOT playing and now we're going to criticize? I don't think the guy deserves to play. I don't think he seriously tries to improve his batting skills (although Barnett being bad could factor in also). I am now worried since they played TPJ tonight and he hit a home run. So, that'll reinforce in his mind that "See, I can hit home runs and need to keep my huge, long swing."

Kevin B said...

What's the deal with the Royals blue jerseys? I never understood why they added black to the uniforms several years back and am glad it's gone. But, these blue jerseys look like practice jerseys or something. And, I can't understand when/why they wear them - doesn't seem consistent same day or whatever. I assume it's just to make another jersey to sell to fans. But, I much prefer the traditional look gray road jerseys. I accept the Sunday powder blues but let's dump the practice jerseys and try to look professional.

paul said...

My argument for moving Soria to a starter: He is more better (hear me out on this) as a starter than kyle davies/brett tomko than he is as a closer to ramirez, leo nunez, ron mahay, etc. Let's give Soria an 8 as a starter and davies and tomko are 0's. A difference of 8 points. Soria is a 10 as a closer but those other guys could be a 6 or 7. They are too good to be 0's. Let's move him out of the closer role slowly this year and move him to the rotation. If he flops, you know where you can put him back, but he's got too good of stuff with too many pitches to flop. I'm thinking: 16-8 3.80 era, 1.29 whip, with 180 k's. That is royals ace stuff.
Hey, maybe billy butler reads these posts. Ever since coming back from omaha he is hitting the cover off the ball. I've been outspoken about how much I don't think he's very good-hopefully he'll prove me wrong.

Anonymous said...

Who was it that wanted to trade David DeJesus? He looks like he is finally starting to play up to his potential. An isn't it amazing how the Royals offense has improved over the last few weeks?

Anonymous said...

Watching Bannister on Friday was the same crock. The first batter he went 0-2 on, then nibbled for 3 straight, then grooved a strike to give up a hit. Good pitchers either hit corners when they nibble, or don't even bother to nibble, just going after the hitter aggressively. All of our pitchers seem afraid to attack after getting 2 strikes.

Anonymous said...

Really, anonymous, do ALL Royals pitchers nibble when they get 2 strikes? Is that what Soria does? Is that what Grienke does? Yes, Meche does, and Banny always nibbles - not just 2 strikes. But they don't all nibble.

Shelby said...

Now is the PRIME TIME to trade David Dejesus!

He looks good. He looks good, but we know the truth--we've seen him struggle ad nauseum in years past.

Should we trade him for a prospect or two or a proven #3 or #4 starter?

qm............(Quentin Marsh) said...

Rany,

'Mexicutioner' is blowing up. Its in print all the time, 810 is producing T-shirts, Split even dropped it last night on FSN.

Its an understood unit of the lexicon around here.

Throw me a bone, give me a little credit here (see my May 19th post) so I can at least silence my nay-saying buddies, who knows maybe even fall backwards into a free jersey or some decent tickets.

Anonymous said...

Does ANYBODY teach our guys the basics in the minors? Butler not only can't get a decent bunt down, he also can't even conceive of situational hitting. The Twins and White Sox do it...Tampa Bay does it...why can't we just play smart?

paul said...

ram ram just balked the go ahead run in the 8th-damn.
The media is picking on butler and we all know that I have picked on our portly dh as well. but why does alex gordon get a pass? he is (or should be) a platoon player. he looks foolish vs lhp. i know esteban german is nobody's favorite player, but if the object is to win games, you shouldn't put gordon out there against a southpaw. and don't give me any slack about how he's the future blah blah blah. when is the future gonna be now?
gload with a hit, first and second nobody out down by one.
and our portly dh is up....
lefebre beat me to the line-"i bet he doesn't lay down a bunt."

konza847 said...

What is really galling and discouraging about this team is that three of the players who are supposed to be the nucleus of the contender in a couple of years have REGRESSED.

The plan has to count on Gordon, Teahen, and Butler to be better than average major league players at their positions. None of them is as good as they were last year.

You would think that with all of his experience as a minor league manager, Hillman would be able to develop these young players. Thus far, he and his staff have FAILED.

These guys are the key to rebuilding this franchise. Without them, the rebuilding starts over. Greinke departs as a free agent- who wants to stay with this bunch of losers? Free agents don't come to Kansas City. We take up permanent residence in the cellar.

I've been a Royals fan since 1980. I'm rapidly losing hope- and interest.

Jon in Dallas said...

Did anyone see the home plate ump wink at one of the white soxs players are he got in he face of aviles? Honestly, this is the worst crew in the entire league.

This is becoming absolutly depressing watching this team make mistake after mistake. I am now at the point that Rany must be at. The thing that is killing me is that i forked over the money to DirectTV to watch these games from Dallas in HD. Although, HD does really bring the mistakes into clear focus! Instead of counting our win loss record, from this point forward I am going to keep a record of mistakes for each game. The Royals only have 70 games left at this point. How many of those games do you think they will make less mistakes than the other team? I am setting the over-under at 27.5.

Jon in Dallas said...

qm,
I tried to give you credit by emailing 810WHB and giving them the Birthdate information for the "Mexicutioner", but they did not mention it on the air. I tried. I even sent them the link to the May 9th? comments and gave them the time it was posted.

Anonymous said...

Not much of a blog if Rany only comments less than once a week.

Anonymous said...

Gordon vs. RHP - .855 OPS, 11 HR, 39 RBIs

Gordon vs. LHP - .410 OPS, 0 HR, 5 RBIs

Horrendous.

Shelby said...

Butler and Gordon, so far, SUCK.

B

U

S

T

S

Anonymous said...

Finally got one back after handing them two at home. Living in Chicago, it's pretty painful having to listen to the White Sox guys spew their swill, but last night their tone towards the Royals was almost pitiful. That is, until the 8th inning. Rany or anyone else out there, was is the word on club house chemistry? Do these guys like hanging out with each other or what? Just curious.

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