Thursday, September 18, 2008

Royals Today: 9/18/2008.

Well, this was unexpected.

A week ago today, a BP colleague sent me a message, unbidden, just to rail about the Royals' unprofessional approach at the plate.

"17 outs in 18 batters on 53 pitches. That's less than three pitches a batter. I don't care who you're facing...that's a team quitting right in front of you.

Maybe the Dayton Moore Era should be the end of baseball in Kansas City. I'm sorry, Rany, but if you contracted the Marlins and Royals, MLB would probably be a better place.”

What could I say? No team should make 17 outs in the span of 53 pitches unless the stadium is on fire and they need to evacuate. But the Royals won that game, amusingly enough, beating Francisco Liriano thanks to five shutout innings from the bullpen. They lost the next night, but still managed to score five runs off Cliff Lee, only the fourth time this year that’s happened. They still managed to see just 98 pitches all game, and I wrote then that I hoped “we’ll look on September 12th, 2008 as the day the team’s persistent and criminal neglect of plate discipline finally reached its nadir.”

They haven’t lost since. They’ve won seven games in a row for the first time since Jeremy Affeldt and Runelvys Hernandez shared the mantle of staff ace, since Carlos Beltran manned center field, since Angel Berroa was a budding Rookie of the Year. Today, they completed a sweep of the Mariners with a 12-0 beating, and drew eight – count ‘em, eight – walks.

Yeah, I didn’t see that coming.

In the process, the Royals may have changed the story arc of their season. Suddenly the Royals have matched last season’s win total of 69 with nine games left to go. Before the season I predicted 73 wins, then upped that total to 75 wins after Greinke had a terrific spring training (an adjustment that seems prescient in light of how well he’s pitched.) At 69-84 with nine games left, 73-89 is well within reach; 75-87 is a worthy goal to shoot for. With two more wins, the Royals will have had their first winning September since 1996.

A week ago, we had good reason to worry that Trey Hillman was losing the clubhouse. Today, we can at least hold out hope that whatever damage has been done to his reputation with his players is not irreversible. Teams that have tuned out their manager don’t win seven straight games in September. Hillman didn’t handle his latest spat with Jose Guillen optimally – if he was sick, then say he’s sick, and if he’s not, you still say he’s sick – but at least he handled it better than in his previous attempts, which essentially amounted to holding Guillen to a different standard than the other 24 guys in the locker room.

A seven-game winning streak cures a lot of ills. And these seven wins haven’t been barnburners either – all seven wins have been by 3 runs or more, and two were by double digits. The Royals have outscored their opponents, 55 to 15, in that span. If this streak happened to start on Opening Day, we’d all be lining up to buy playoff tickets now. It’s probably best that it’s come in the middle of September, when we have the context to put it in the proper perspective.

And let’s not overlook the fact that the last four wins have come against the Mariners, who are hurtling towards 100 losses and a permanent place on the list of Worst Teams For The Money Of All Time. (The Mariners’ payroll on Opening Day clocked in around $117 million.) The Royals’ other hot stretch this season – winning 11 of 12 in June – came exclusively against NL teams. So all we’ve learned is that the Royals can beat up on inferior opponents. That’s certainly progress – the Royals couldn’t beat up on anybody the last four years – but it’s just the first step.

No one has been more impactful over the last week than Ryan Shealy, who – I know you guys all knows this – has hit twice as many homers (6) since he was called up two weeks ago as Ross Gload as hit (3) all season. Shealy has hit five homers in the seven-game winning streak, and thanks to him, the aggregate numbers for the team’s first baseman in all games this year - .281/.324/.400 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs – are merely bad instead of execrable. (As a team, the Royals are neck-and-neck with the Rangers’ first basemen (.245/.310/.415) in OPS, and well ahead of Seattle and Oakland. A’s first basemen – mostly Daric Barton – have combined to hit .222/.307/.348.)

Far be it for me to splash the cold water of reason on the giddy excitement over Shealy’s performance, but I remain skeptical. This is the same guy who hit .221/.286/.308 in nearly 200 plate appearances last year. More to the point – since Shealy was dealing with some injury issues last year – this is the same guy who hit .283/.376/.503 in Omaha this year, and those numbers don’t translate to much more than a .250 hitter with some walks and 15-20 homer power. Two hot weeks in the majors doesn’t change the calculus that much.

In 155 major league games, Shealy has a career line of .274/.335/.435. That’s a reasonable expectation of what he’ll do over a full season. It’s not awful, but it’s not anything to get excited about.

There is at least some reason to hope that a healthy Shealy is capable of better than that, given that he played hurt last season, and given that he hit just .222/.295/.470 through the end of May this year before turning it on in Omaha. Two days ago, I wrote to a friend, “I’m happy to see Shealy playing and playing well, but color me skeptical until he hits a home run off someone who can throw 95, as the knock against Shealy has been that he has a slow bat. His four shots this year have come off Jeremy Sowers, Tom Mastny, Brian Bullington, and Gio Gonzalez. Not exactly flamethrowers.” That night, Shealy went deep against Brandon Morrow, who throws 95 and then some. So maybe Moore’s not just blowing smoke when he talks about Shealy having better bat speed this year.

I have previously argued strenuously that the Royals should be giving Kila Ka’aihue more playing time, and I stand by that argument. But the crux of that argument was that playing Gload over Ka’aihue (or Shealy) was a case of criminal negligence. The Royals know what they have in Gload; they have no idea what they have in Ka’aihue, and they need to find out. But they also need to find out what they have in Shealy, and with even more urgency given his age.

I remain intensely curious to see what Ka’aihue can do with the stick, and his brief appearances this year (4 hits in 11 at-bats, two walks and just one strikeout) only whet my appetite further. But I can see the wisdom of sending him back to Omaha next season and proving that he can do it again, while giving Shealy one last shot as an everyday player in the majors. If Shealy flops like he did in 2007, Ka’aihue can be plugged in as the starter come June. So long as Gload continues to be used much the way he’s been used in September (13 plate appearances all month), there’s no wrong answer here.

Maybe that’s why I can’t get all that enthused about Shealy. Not because he’s not playing well, or that he can’t continue to play well, but simply that his performance this month simply reminds us how ridiculous it is that the Royals waited until September to see what he could do. Moore and Hillman simply could not find a place on a 25-man roster for Shealy – they had to wait until rosters expanded to 40, because how could they find a place for a first baseman who can hit for power when they’re carrying Gload and Joey Gathright and Tony Effing Pena?

The Royals started the season 23-37 before they decided that maybe they should find a replacement in the lineup for Pena and his .156 average. Mike Aviles became the starting shortstop on June 6th, and the Royals would win 14 of their next 20 games; overall the Royals are 46-47 since Aviles took over at shortstop. The Royals were 57-79 at the end of August, when they decided that maybe they could do better than Gload and his three homers at first base. Since then, they’re 11-5, and even that record is deceptive, because Gload has started four times this month and the Royals won just one of those games. Shealy has started 11 games for the Royals since he was called up – the Royals are 10-1 with him in the lineup.

And that’s what all this is about, right? It’s about winning games. It’s not about having the best glove at first base or at shortstop – it’s about scoring more runs than your opponents, and a run created on offense is as valuable as a run saved on defense. If Pena’s glove was really so valuable, the Royals wouldn’t have won more games when he was replaced. If Gload’s glove was so valuable, the Royals wouldn’t have gone on a hot streak the moment he was benched.

Never underestimate the power of common sense. It never ceases to amaze me how much time teams devote to details like “fundamentals”, and how little time they devote to big-picture issues like, say, the fact that you can’t win with a shortstop whose batting average peaked at .200 on Opening Day, and hasn’t been over .182 since, or the fact that you can’t win with a first baseman who hits .270, walks once a week, and hits a home run every other month.

The difference between having Pena and Gload start every day in April, and having Aviles and Shealy start every day in September, is on the order of 100 runs (and 10 wins) over the course of a full season. That’s the difference between a 65-win team and a 75- win team. If the Royals can figure out a way to squeeze another 10 wins from somewhere else, they’ll be over .500 and closing in on contention. The next 10 wins will be a lot harder, of course, although finding a catcher who can hit and making sure Joey Gathright never bats 300 times again is a good place to start. But at least the easy part is over. At least it seems like it was easy. Something this easy shouldn’t have taken the Royals almost an entire season to figure out.

(I spent 30 minutes trying to get this article to post right, and I've still ended up with an article where the font size and line spacing changes three or four times for no reason. If anyone has any tips on how to use Blogger better - or a suggestion on a better service to use - I'm all ears.)

37 comments:

bluewaver said...

RE: formatting. According to the html source code of your entry, the very first statement ("Well, this was unexpected.") doesn't have a paragraph tag that the subsequently properly formatted paragraphs do.

Similarly, the paragraph beginning "A seven-game winning streak..." does not have a paragraph tag.

I'm not sure how much control you have over formatting with Blogger. If you can make formatting adjustments, the lines mentioned above would be places to start experimenting.

Anonymous said...

I've been concerned all year with how a marginal team with such mediocre talent can afford to waste 3 or 4 roster spots on players who clearly don't belong in 'the plan.' At bats are a 'currency' in the equation of winning---how you spend them says a lot about the vision and commitment of management.

Gload: 400
Gathright: 300
German: 200
Pena: 200

That's a ton of AB's spent with personnel that aren't a part of the future. Not only did you have sub-par AB's you didn't figure anything out about players you need to know about. Spend AB's wisely!!

Anonymous said...

GMDM and Hillman have both overvalued our "talent" on the ML roster and undervalued the "talent" on the Omaha roster all year (Pena vs. Avilas, Gathright vs. Maier, Gload vs. Shealy.) Perhaps it's because in their previous organizations (Braves and Yankees) there was a big jump in quality between Triple A and 'the show.' That's just not the case in KC/Omaha situation. Talent became so scarce during the Baird years (and before) that the difference is negligible (read: they all suck, to a large degree.) They have to get away from the mindset of the mystique of the ML roster. In KC, you just haven't got that much to lose (besides another hundred games) by experimenting and taking risks. Loosen up.........

kcghost said...

How bad is a team's farm system that it thinks having Gathright, Gload, and Pena on its major league roster is the best choice. Yikes!!

Unknown Royals Fan said...

Regarding the formatting - I use Wordpress.com, and I'm pretty happy with it. It includes WYSIWYG editing, which helps a novice blogger like me a lot. I know some HTML code, but I'm not particularly happy with using it.

Your comments on Shealy (particularly comparing his career numbers to what he's likely to do in a full season) are pretty much what I said on my blog - unknownroyalsfan.wordpress.com. (On my blog, Gload is known as Ross Frickin' Gload.) The good news, Rany, is that both of us can write some positive stuff, even in September!

Max said...

I put a < p > before all the text, and < / p > after all the text to format it all in paragraph form.

The Mad Rabbi said...

I'm glad to finally see someone write (in a public forum) the common-sensical approach to baseball in plain terms. Score more runs than your opponent. And... a run scored on offense is as good (if not better, IMHO) as a run saved on defense.

I've NEVER understood why Gload, Pena, Gathright and even Teahen are on our roster. They've proven nothing and won't prove anything. I'm really really really hoping that GMDM's recent comments on "having seen enough" of our roster's talent means he's turning the corner on evaluating these players and is ready to go get ones that will actually produce.

Blake said...

Love your Blog and have been following you since the beginnings with R&R on the Royals and your entry Thursday may be the best yet -- its funny, sometimes the most obvious things can just be missed -- i pray that Moore's eyes will see your entry -- considering his position, I think Gload's performance is the worst for an everyday player in Royals history

Jack Campbell said...

Rany more or less made this point in his post, so I’m not trying to pass it off as an original idea, but here’s why Shealy makes me sigh. Shealy is like the moderately attractive girl who the Royals won’t break up with because she’s nice enough...but she’s also sort of vanilla. And then someone you think maybe has the upside to be the love of your life enters the room... Alright, that’s high praise for Kila, but on the other hand, when was the last time you’ve seen numbers like the ones he put up this season (and I’m talking about the walks here even more than the homers). The guy is straight out of moneyball (well, at least for one season). He is a quintessential example of what Rany and the people over at baseball prospectus and Bill James and Theo Epstein and Billy Beane have all been preaching about amidst the sabremetric revolution: he’s a guy who displays what is starting to be recognized as maybe the most important skill a ballplayer can possibly have. Pitch recognition. The man recognizes the difference between a ball and a strike better than anyone in our minor league (and probably major league) organization; he knows when to swing. Combine that with his strength and size (6’3”, 230 lbs) and, who knows, maybe you do have Ryan Howard. Hell, maybe you have Frank Thomas (somebody dig up Thomas’ minor league numbers). He’s a minor league player, he’s only done it for one season (he sucked before this year), I know, I know, I know.

But you’d like to find out if he’s Tino Martinez. I know you want to know.

So do I. But here’s the problem. Shealy is going to come in next year as the incumbent first baseman and he is going to hit .270/.340/.480 with around 20 homers and around 80 RBI. And with these numbers he’s going to lock down a vice grip on the first base position for the next 3 years, mainly because Shealy also happens to be a good first baseman (if Gload can own first base with his numbers this year, Shealy can build a house there). So guess what? The only way we’ll ever know if Kila is a monster—and let me tell you, I have this feeling he’s a 6 headed beast from some Hawaiian saga—is if he’s doing it for another team.

Alright, alright, he might not be a 6-headed beast. But we’re not going to find out, that’s for sure.

Hey, we have a conservative, play-it-safe team.

Micah Fries said...

Rany-

As to formatting, in my opinion Blogger is the Yugo of blogging platforms. It's ridiculously poor. Purchase a hosting package through someone like Bluehost for less than $90 a year and install Wordpress - I'm telling you it will be much better for you.

Jack Campbell said...

Ryan Howard is a terrible name to throw in there as an example of pitch recognition, I'm aware of this

Pastor Suff (Steve Suffron) said...

They should send Shealy to fall ball to run around the outfield a little to see if he can play a passable LF, in my opinion, just to give them options if he and Butler and Kila all come out swinging next year. It seems to me Shealy is the best option of the three for the OF. Teahen can move into what Gload's role should have been (sort of German's role)--someone who can handle the outfield and the corner infield and gets semi-regular (250-300) ABs in situations where he is best suited to succeed.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of plate discipline, I was at the K on Tuesday night, and watched the Royals take TWO WALKS IN A ROW (Gordon, then Ka'aihue). Neither was intentional. I just about dropped my Super Nachos after Kila took ball four. Do you suppose that happens a lot on other baseball teams? It was kind of fascinating.

Re: Blogger. Can't help you, Rany. All I can say is that it blows. If it wasn't for the free, easy access, and general ease of use, no one would bother with it.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I was advocating the same "why don't we see what we have with Shealy now back in the middle of the summer at Royals Review. Frankly, between Gload, Pena, Gathright, and the treatment of Billy Butler, I do get the idea that Moore isn't overly anxious to give shots and extra rope to players that aren't "his guys." He wouldn't be the first GM to do it, but it is still frustrating. Well, I guess Shealy is his guy, but still... he would be replacing "DMGM's kind of player": the namesake of the Gload Glove.

I'm sure you know this, but, in the eagerness we all feel about the win streak, keep in mind that the Royals are 3 games over their Pythag record at the moment. I guess that's a testimony to Forrest Hillman's managerial genius.

keith jersey said...

Shealy got off to a very slow start in Omaha. Then he got better. Then he got hurt. Then he came back and starting getting hot again, but by then it was August so why not just wait another couple of weeks til september to call him up to avoid an unwanted roster move. So I am ok with them waiting til now to give him another try. Players have more freedom to make adjustments in the minors and maybe if he had come up in july he would not have been as successful as he is so far in september.

As for Kila, he is only 25 next year. Let him show at Omaha that this year is no fluke for April and May and then the Royals will HAVE to find a place for him at the major league level.

I keep reading that Butler is going to slim down this offseason. I wonder if the Royals have given up on him as a 1b given his lack of ability and/or shealy and kila's development. Is it possible they want Butler to play LF again? He did tinker around with the OF in his minor league days.

Jenn said...

My husband is a big fan and reads your blog daily. I have a fitness-related blog and use blogger for it. I seriously threw a 20-minute fit this morning because blogger kept screwing my post's formatting up. Even when I wrote in the HTML section it would revert back to this weird stuff. Unnerving.

Glad I'm not the only one, and I'm glad you have readers with some know-how on what to do to remedy the exasperating situation. Thanks!

chuck said...

I don't mind Shealy. They are paying Guillen 13 million a year to put up the same numbers. He sure is an upgrade over gload . Hell if he hits 20 homers and posts a 750 ops. ill be happy for now. At least he is not wasting at bats.

Chuck said...

To answer a former comment they didn't bring Shealy up earlier because he was out of options. If he sucked it up, they would of had to have him clear waivers to get back to the minors.

Isaac said...

Based on the Royals interest in Shealy this month, I really don't understand why they wouldn't try him prior to September. The fact that he has performed since he got up here makes it even more annoying.

Regarding Shealy overall, I don't have a lot of hope for him. He isn't 29 and still in AAA because his number wasn't picked.

When I see a guy like Aviles come in and do so well, it makes me wonder why a guy like Pena is still on the roster. If we didn't need that extra shortstop before Aviles got there then why have why needed it ever since?

Hillman made a move that I couldn't believe the first time he made it for a second time against the Mariners. He had a player sac bunt in the 3rd inning of a scoreless game with no outs. He did it against Texas the first time which is even worse than doing it against the M's.

I really really really wish they were focusing on fundamentals like you say. You could probably add a good 5 runs just with that as bad as it has been. I agree with you that it would be nice if they would recognize the obvious as well though.

As far as Hillman's control of the clubhouse goes, wait until the next 7 game losing streak and then we'll see what happens.

GeorgeM said...

The mention by Anonymous about "Gload Glove" is the first I've seen. Is that floating out there somewhere, or is this a first mention, because I think it would be a great name for an award. The Gload Glove Award goes to the player who's overrated glove work gives him far more playing time than his bat deserves.

Ryan said...

Chuck, this was Shealy's last option year. He can be sent back to the minors as many times as the Royals want without clearing waivers.

Shealy has played very well on defense and we had already known that he plays an above average 1B (it's easy enough to stretch for bad throws when you're 6'5", but besides that his defense is still above average). I've been railing against the Gload plays good defense so let's start him argument all year on RoyalBoard. Shealy's defense is just as good as Gload's and his bat is a lot better.

TatchForce said...

So, tonight (Friday the 19th) I was at the ball park, and who is sitting directly behind me? None other then old Billy James. Him and a buddy spent the first two innings rapping about the Royals, and it was by far the coolest two innings of baseball I have ever experienced.

The entire time, I was freaking out, you know, slyly texting my fantasy dork friends, but being completely cool on the exterior.

So, what happens? Old Jimmy Jackass comes up behind James, and starts butting into the banter between James and his buddy. They quickly look at each other, get up, and leave.

So, thanks Jimmy Jackass for ruining my magical night.

Kevin said...

Bannister. As much as you gotta like the guy, I don't know. When is this experiment going to be over? I really don't think he's going to amount to anything. And we'd trade Greinke away?

J said...

I cannot say how glad someone has finally mentioned Shealy. I've been writing about this all year to the paper and royal website. Why not give him a chance? Keeping him off roster for Gload? Please!

Mark said...

Word Press.com is free, and by far the best platform--definitely try it out

Chuck said...

Thanks for the correction about Shealy, Ryan. Well I guess the Royals really didn't have an excuse to leave him down there all year then. I had been wanting him to have a shot all year. I hope he has success in the MLB level. And I loved the comment about the Gload Glove. Priceless. It seems like a Tony Musser award.

Antonio said...

Funny. I thought if a player was bad and out of options, you sent him to the unemployment line, not Triple-A.

Ryan said...

I'm living a mile west of Wrigley. Cubs just clinched.

Two important questions weigh on me.

1) How do you mute a neighbor's pug dogs.

2) Is Kyle Davies for reals? My TV is on WGN, and the Royals are winning 3-0 in bottom of the 7th. Davies has thrown 61 strikes out of 91 pitches.

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

And holy crap, Kila Ka'aihue just turned on a 91mph fastball like he was in hitting a h.s. pitcher. His first home run ever. And man he has a pretty swing.


And Billy Butler has a big blown up piece of bubble gum sitting on the top of his head thanks to TPJ.

Kevin said...

Yeah! Kila did look pretty good. And so did Davies - against a good team too!

Unfortunately, check out this article: http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080920&content_id=3514400&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc

Just because Teahen has a minor hot streak they think it's because he played a few games at third and needs to be a part of the future - at third. So, now we have Gload, Shealy, Butler, Kila, and Gordon to battle for first. What?

The only hopeful thing I see in this is perhaps it could finally push Gload aside. Now, I'm sure they'll start Kila in Omaha. But still, Teahen? I'm sorry I think it's time to give up on this guy and ship him or make him into a utility bench guy. He's better than Gload in that roll, or any roll.

Casper said...

Tatchforce,

That's cool about Bill James on Friday. When I first read your post I thought you might have been a buddy of mine from work because he texted me that night from the game also and was telling me he was 12 feet from Bill James. Apparently, he and his buddy had quite the eclectic conversation, ranging from the Royals lack of plate discipline to Dustin Pedroia to (if memory serves correctly from his text message) Gates BBQ.

All I know is I'm utterly jealous of both you and my friend. Why the hell can't we get Bill James to come back home where he belongs? Lord knows we need him.

Anonymous said...

Teahen only started a third base because Gordon was injured. Now Hillman apparently thinks of Gordon as the second coming of Wally Pipp. Be very afraid.

Casper said...

Just saw Kila's first ML shot on KCRoyals.com. Before I say anything about the bomb itself, let me first say that I've reserved judgement on Kila, much the same way I reserved judgement on Aviles all year (I basically take the show-me-something-before-I-actually-get-excited-about-you approach). So prior to this video clip, I was only going off of everyone else's hype over the kid and the numbers printed in the paper that he'd produced this year. So when I say "WOW!" in reference to the torque he produces with his bat speed, please understand my full meaning. That was an impressive swing. And I didn't realize the kid was so freaking BIG! He's built like a brick sh!t house! My GOD, what the hell was Hillman THINKING by playing Gload all year???

Anonymous said...

"Funny. I thought if a player was bad and out of options, you sent him to the unemployment line, not Triple-A."

No, you put him at first base for the Royals and let him get about 400 AB's in a season apparently.

Anonymous said...

Rany, we need an analysis on opponent's pitches. I think I have the spreadsheet skills, but I don't know how to go about getting the data (or am too lazy).

Tonight, we swung at the first three pitches of the game (although with good results - DeJesus triple and Aviles "hit"). I still can't get over the 5 pitch inning we had against Petitte earlier this year (Gload leadoff double and 3 ground outs).

Anyway, it would be interesting to see how many 4-5-6-7 pitch innings we've had on offense, as well as a look at number of pitches per game, per at-bat (which I've seen discussed elsewhere).

Of course, Hillman started the year saying OBP was important, so maybe its on the players and the hitting coach, and not entirely the GM and manager.

Chance said...

RainMan, I have had it with Hillman. He hasn't been able to convince the players, and he hasn't been able to convince me either. He lost the clubhouse, no doubt, and there is NO getting it back. I have a friend who insists that the Royals, because of their high % of hispanic players, need a hispanic manager. That person would ideally have MLB experience (to provide him clout) and be able to control Guillen, because like it or not, we are stuck with him. Wasn't there a hispanic minor league manager from the Braves organization that was rumored to be favored by GMDM when he chose Hillman?