Saturday, May 3, 2008

State of the Royals: May 2008.

I had this idea of doing a summation of where the Royals stand at the end of each calendar month, only to find when I woke up yesterday that Sam Mellinger had pretty much the same idea. Which goes to prove that great minds think alike. Also, that Sam can be very annoying. (On the other hand, his take on the Bissinger mess was excellent. If you guys aren’t Buzzed out by now, I might give you mine at some point.)

Anyway, I figured I’d go ahead with one anyway. The Royals are 12-16, a .429 winning percentage virtually indistinguishable from last year’s .426 mark. Moreover, whereas last year’s team scored 704 runs and allowed 788, leading to a Pythagorean record of 74-88, this year’s team has scored 101 runs and allowed 131, which over the course of a full season would lead to a 60-102 record.

I wouldn’t be overly concerned. The Royals are not outperforming their Pythagorean record because of a flukish performance in one-run games. In fact, despite an excellent bullpen (and teams with excellent bullpens have been proven to do better-than-expected in one-run games), the Royals are just 3-3 in one-run games. They’re 1-5 in two-run games, so they’re record in games decided by two runs or less (4-8) is worse than their record otherwise (8-8).

The downfall of the team is that they’re 0-6 in games decided by 5 runs or more. That is a meaningful stat – the mark of good teams is that the ability to clobber the opposition – but the Royals’ inability to blow out their opponents may have more to do with their inability to score enough runs to qualify as a blowout no matter how good their pitching is. Twice the Royals have lost by 10 runs or more – take out those two games, and the team would be 12-14 with 98 runs and 103 runs allowed. In other words, the Royals are two games away from actually having a Pythagorean record that’s better than their actual record. Meanwhile, the Royals can’t have won any games by 10 runs or more, because they haven’t scored 10 runs in a game yet.

And that’s the crux of the problem. The Royals have scored 3.61 runs per game, and you can’t aspire to even .500 with that kind of an offense, no matter how good your pitching is. Put it this way: the sweet spot of run production is between 3 and 5 runs in a game. So far in 2008, the other 29 teams are 163-175 (.482) when they score between 3 and 5 runs per game. The Royals are 9-4. That’s an amazing record, and a testament to the quality of their pitching. The problem is that they’ve already played 10 games in which they’ve scored fewer than 3 runs, and they’re 1-9 in those games. (Also, they’re just 2-3 in games they’ve scored more than 5 runs, which is probably a fluke.)

You might remember, the Royals scored between 3 and 5 runs in each of their first 8 games, and were 6-2. Well, they’ve now gone 10 straight games without scoring between 3 and 5 runs; their runs scored have gone 1, 1, 6, 0, 8, 2, 2, 9, 9, 1. In six of their last ten games the offense has given the pitching staff no margin for error, and not surprisingly the Royals are 3-7 in that span.

- The pitching staff ranks 11th in the league in runs allowed per game, and despite what you might think, that’s not all Hideo Nomo’s fault. (If Nomo had given up 2 runs instead of 9 in his Royals stint, the Royals would still rank 10th in the league.) The pitching staff has been more schizophrenic than Sybil. Fourteen pitchers have toed the hill for Kansas City – five of them have ERAs under 2.40, seven of them have ERAs above 5.90, and only two (Bannister and Gobble) are in the middle.

Behold the power of the small sample size.

Taken as a whole, the team’s pitching staff gives reason for optimism. In 245 innings, the staff has walked just 81 batters (2nd in the league) with 181 strikeouts (7th in the league) and 25 homers allowed (7th in the league). The team ranks as poorly as it does in runs allowed because the staff has allowed 261 hits, ranking only 9th in that category, despite the fact that the Royals have played the fewest games in the league.

Early in the season I pointed out that the Royals ranked near the top of the league in defensive efficiency, despite no defensive upgrades that would explain such a ranking, and that the team’s defensive performance might be a fluke. Well, we have our answer: it was. The team’s Def-Eff is now .687, which ranks 3rd from the bottom in the majors, ahead of only the Pirates and Rangers. I didn’t believe the Royals top-five ranking was legitimate then, and I don’t believe their bottom-five ranking is legitimate now. The defense should do a better job of turning batted balls into outs as the season goes on, which means that we can expect the pitching staff to hold steady or possibly improve even as the weather warms up.

- The offense is similarly schizophrenic, just at a much less ambitious level. Nine guys have played in 15 or more games this season. Four of them (Grudzielanek, Gordon, Teahen, and Butler) are hitting close to league average (OPS+ of between 97 and 114). Two guys (Buck and Gload) are doing poorly but not egregiously so (OPS+ of 82 and 83). Two guys flat-out suck (Gathright and Guillen, OPS+ of 52 and 46). And one guy is threatening to redefine offensive suckitude as we know it – Tony Pena’s OPS+ is 1, and he needed a two-hit game on Wednesday to get it out of negative territory.

Guillen’s performance to this point is the single most worrisome development of the season. He’s hitting .176/.212/.333. I realize he’s a streaky hitter, and you can argue that since starting the season 6-for-49 that he’s been on a hot streak the last 16 games. If .220/.258/.475 is Guillen’s idea of a hot streak, Dayton Moore just flushed 36 million dollars down the drain.

- You may not be happy with how the Royals are performing, but Guillen notwithstanding, if you’re a Royals fan you have to be happy with who is doing the performing.

Of the 13 men who have batted for the Royals this season, here’s how I would have ranked them at the start of the season in terms of their future importance to the Royals:


The first seven guys all project as starters in 2010; the other six are either free agents or probable backups at that point. So if you’re simply judging the Royals on how well they’re building a lineup for 2010, then you look at those top seven and you see two guys hitting extremely well in a small sample size (DeJesus and Callaspo), three guys hitting roughly as expected (Gordon, Butler, Teahen), one guy who’s a little disappointing (Buck), and then an outright disaster in Guillen.

Here’s the same thought experiment with the pitchers:


(Greinke ranks as low as he does simply because he’s a free agent after the 2010 season. If Moore hasn’t already broached the subject of a long-term deal with Greinke’s agent, he’s not doing his job.)

As much as I love what Nunez and Ramirez have done this year, the reality is that middle relievers are fungible – the fate of the Royals’ pitching staff rests in the hands of the first five guys on that list. Meche has been a disappointment. The other three guys have, each in their own ways, vastly exceeded what most people thought they were capable of, Bannister because everyone thought his rookie season was a fluke, Greinke because people questioned whether he had the mental toughness to succeed, and Soria because it was hard to imagine that Soria could pitch any better than he did last year.

Bannister has a 4.04 ERA and Greinke has a 1.47 ERA, but there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference in their real performance this season. Against Bannister, opposing hitters are batting .224/.273/.343; against Greinke they’re at .215/.262/.348. The difference is that Bannister had to pitch in Arlington the night there were gale-force winds blowing to right field, and that with runners in scoring position this year hitters are 8-for-22 against him. (Against Greinke, they’re 3-for-34.) They’re both on pace to be among the 15 best starters in the league this year.

It’s hard to judge Hochevar so far, but in five starts between Triple-A and the majors, e was outstanding in four of them. And quietly, he has shown excellent groundball potential; in his two starts in the majors, 24 of the 38 balls put in play against him have been grounders, which is outstanding.

As important as performance is health. And none of the pitchers (or hitters for that matter) have suffered any kind of serious injury.

The Royals may only be 12-16, but would you be happier if they Royals were 16-12 but they were doing so because Grudz was hitting .380 and Miguel Olivo had won the starting job behind the plate and had banged 8 homers and Brett Tomko was pitching out of his mind? I think not.

If you’re focused on the Royals’ chances of winning this year – and given how wide-open the division has been so far, I can’t blame you – then they’re performance this season, purely in terms of wins and losses, is disappointing. But if you evaluate the team with an eye to the future…well, the future of the Royals is, by and large, playing well.


Other subjects…Bob Dutton got some choice quotes from Hillman on the subject of pitch counts, and many thanks to Bob for following up on the topic. At this point, I’m not concerned. Hillman said, “I thought pitch counts are very relevant; I just think we hold onto them too closely.” In all honesty, he might be right. Baseball’s position on pitch counts has moved so rapidly over the past decade that it might be time to take a breather and re-evaluate.

I have no problem with a pitcher hitting 100 pitches regularly, and I have no problem with a veteran pitcher throwing 110-120 pitches regularly. Beyond 120, I do get nervous. But the reality is that, as Bob pointed out, aside from Meche’s long outing no Royals pitcher has thrown more than 111 pitches in a start. We’ll have to see how Hillman handles the staff as the weather warms up. But if the Royals’ pitch counts continue to resemble their April numbers all season, I will have no objections.

- When The Baseball Jonah was a rookie, I compared him to Bret Saberhagen as much for his precocity as for his pitching style, which was all about control. But I think the obvious comparison now is to Curt Schilling. I already connected the two together a few weeks ago when I mentioned how the two pitchers are among the stingiest in baseball history at giving up unearned runs. There’s a good reason for that. Greinke is on the verge of emerging, like Schilling, as a pitcher with a fantastic strikeout-to-walk ratio, but who can be beat with the long ball. Greinke’s last outing (7 4 2 2 0 9, 2 HR) looks like it was ripped right out of Schilling’s game log. Schilling didn’t become vintage Curt Schilling until he was 30 years old, but then, Greinke has always pitched with the moxie of a much older man.

The Schilling approach happens to be perfectly suited for Kauffman Stadium. Greinke lost on Thursday because he gave up 2 solo homers, because he had the misfortune of pitching in Arlington. Kauffman Stadium is one of the toughest home run parks in baseball, which neutralizes Greinke’s biggest weakness.

- It’s easy to diss Hochevar for not being Tim Lincecum or Joba Chamberlain. But on draft day, 2006, the consensus #1 player in the draft was neither Seabiscuit nor Joba. It was Andrew Miller.

Today, who would you rather have?

Hochevar was a disappointment in the minors last year, mostly because of a high ERA, but his peripherals were pretty good. Throw in his three good starts in Omaha this year, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors is 166 to 55, a tick better than 3 to 1. In 23 major league innings, he has a 3.86 ERA and has allowed one homer.

Miller, on the other hand, has a 6.57 ERA in 100 major league innings, including a 9.12 ERA this year, with 48 hits surrendered in just 26 innings. True, Miller had better minor league numbers, and no question has been hurt by being rushed to the majors. And yes, the Marlins defense has done him no favors this year.

But still…would you trade Hochevar for Miller right now? I’m not saying I wouldn’t. I’m just saying I’m not sure I would. Of course, Hochevar might get rocked by the time you read this.

- You are working on a long-term contract with Greinke’s agent, right, Dayton?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Royals Today: 5/1/2008.

Sometimes, you sit down to write a column with an idea of where the column is going, only to find that the evidence veers you off course. You had an axe to grind, a vendetta to fulfill, but the data simply didn’t cooperate.

What do you do? If you’re, I don’t know, Gerry Fraley or something, you just plow on ahead, logic and facts be damned. But the whole creed of sabermetrics is that you go where the evidence takes you.

I sat down last night planning to rip on Trey Hillman for his bizarre usage of Joakim Soria. Here’s what I wrote:

“I was a fan of the decision to hire Trey Hillman, and I still think that he has the makings to be a fine manager, the best we’ve had in a long time. But more and more I’m becoming concerned that, while he may be an asset in the clubhouse, he’s not a competitive advantage when it comes to making tactical on-the-field moves. In order to have a competitive advantage on your opponents, you have to do things differently than your opponents. Hillman has shown some signs of that, most notably his decision to occasionally play the entire outfield shallow in the hopes that the doubles and triples which get past them will be more than made up for by the many would-be singles that don’t fall in.

When Andruw Jones was at his absolute defensive peak – at which time he was probably one of the five greatest defensive centerfielders of all time – the key to his success was that because he was so good at reading balls off the bat, and had such a quick first step, that he could play 30-40 feet shallower than other centerfielders and still go back to catch flyballs hit over his head. In exchange, the combination of shallow positioning and great instincts made him death to Texas Leaguers, ducksnorts, looping flyballs in no-man’s land. In 1999 Jones made 493 putouts in centerfield, which meant he caught 96 more flyballs than any other centerfielder in the land (Steve Finley, with 397.) No amount of park factors or pitching staff tendencies or durability can account for 96 more putouts; Jones was playing centerfield on a completely different plane than everyone else.

I have no idea how much of Jones’ brilliance came from his talents and how much came from his positioning, but since then I’ve always wondered whether teams really have positioned their outfielders in an ideal manner. We now have enough data on batted balls to figure out whether moving outfielders 10 feet closer to home plate might prevent enough singles to make up for the doubles and triples. Someone who’s good at massaging that data should definitely make a study out of it. (If that study has already been done, please let me know.) But I’m glad Hillman’s at least thinking outside the box to improve his defense.

I digress. For as much as Hillman might be willing to think outside the box with his defense, his handling of his pitching staff is pure, unadulterated conventional wisdom. I speak specifically to his philosophy on using Joakim Soria, a philosophy that to this point seems predicated on extracting as little value from his best pitcher as possible.

Joakim Soria has pitched in 11 games this season. In all 11 games he came in at the start of the inning. This in itself is a little bothersome – if you’ve got a pitcher that never gets into a jam of his own, why not use him to clean up other people’s messes either? If a first-and-third, one-out jam in the eighth doesn’t call for Mr. Incredible, what does?

Anyway, Soria completed all 11 innings, and in every game he was the final Royals pitcher – 11 games, 11 games finished. He has faced 38 batters this year; not only have none of them scored, but only one of them – the aforementioned Clete Thomas – has reached third base. Aside from Thomas, the only one to reach second base is Milton Bradley, who reached on a Grudzielanek error last night. Soria has retired 33 of 38 hitters, including 24 straight at one point. He’s given up a double, two singles, a walk, and the ROE. Opposing hitters are hitting .083/.108/.111 against him this year.

So if you’re the manager, and you have the perfect fail-safe weapon in your arsenal, how would you deploy it? You’d use that weapon as much as possible, and you’d use it in the most critical situations, right?

Soria has thrown 11 innings in 26 games; he’s on pace for 68.2 this season. That’s a little lower for a 24-year-old reliever, but I’ll let that slide.

Let’s break down those innings. Nine of the 11 appearances were in the ninth inning, one was in the 11th inning (Opening Day), and one was in the 8th. As we said before, Soria has been used exclusively to close out games. That’s what closers do.

Now look at the score when Soria came in:

Leading by four: 3
Leading by three: 2
Leading by two: 1
Leading by one: 3
Tied: 0
Losing by one: 0
Losing by two: 1
Losing by five: 1

Twice Soria has been used when the Royals losing, including once in a pure mop-up role; both appearances were purely to get Soria some playing time after he hadn’t pitched in a while.

Six times Soria has pitched in a save situation, although two of those were when the Royals were leading by 3 runs, the softest save situation of all and one that drives us analyst types batty.

And three times Soria has pitched with the Royals leading by four runs, including last night.

I got this information from Soria’s page at, which also lists Soria’s “leverage” factor for each game. Leverage is a statistical tool that measures how much the game was on the line when a pitcher came into the game. A leverage score of 1.00 means that the leverage for that appearance was the equivalent of the start of the game, i.e. a 0-0 score in the first inning. The whole point of having a closer is that, while a closer might only throw 60-80 innings all year, he’s being used to protect small leads in the late innings, where the impact of a run allowed is huge. Typical closers will have Leverage scores around 2.

Four of Soria’s 11 appearances this year – basically, the four times he came in protecting a lead of one or two runs – have been high-leverage situations. His other seven appearances all had leverage scores of less than one. In nearly two-thirds of his appearances this year, Soria was used in a situation that had so little on the line that he would have been more helpful starting the game and then leaving after an inning.

That’s a criminal mis-use of resources. Why the hell do we need Soria to protect a four-run lead in the ninth? Yasuhiko Yabuta will protect a four-run lead 90% of the time. Hell, Hideo Nomo would get three outs before surrendering four runs 60-70% of the time. I’m not asking for Hillman to taunt the opposition by using the last man in his pen – just go with Leo Nunez, or Jimmy Gobble, and save Soria in the event they get into a real jam.

So far this year, Soria’s overall leverage – using the Baseball Prospectus measurement, which probably differs from the bb-ref stat a little – is just 1.41.”

Everything I wrote above is factually correct, but when I started looking at the facts a little deeper, I realized that as inefficient as Soria’s usage has been, I’m not sure how Hillman could have done much better.

I went through the box scores of every game this season, looking for high-leverage situations from the 7th inning on in which Soria could have pitched. In particular, I wanted to figure out why, from April 8th until April 24th, a span of 14 games, Soria pitched just twice – on the 15th and 16th. He had six days of rest, pitched in consecutive games, then had seven days of rest again. There had to be situations in which Hillman could have made better use of his best pitcher, right?

Not really.

On April 4th, the Royals trailed by one run from the fourth inning until the game ended. The next day they would trail by two runs in the seventh and eighth. Soria had pitched on April 2nd and 3rd, and would pitch on the 6th, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t pitch in these two games.

On April 12th, the Royals trailed 1-0 going into the seventh, and 2-0 thereafter.

On April 19th, the Royals were tied 4-4 going into the bottom of the 7th before the A’s scored two runs; the Royals would score a run in the ninth but fall short.

And…that’s pretty much it. The Royals have now played 27 games, and in only four of them did they have a one or two-run lead to protect in the late innings. Soria pitched the ninth, and got the save, in all of them.

Just five of the Royals’ 27 games have been decided by one run; they’re 3-2 in those games. That’s a very low total for any team, but especially the Royals, who are both scoring and allowing fewer runs than the league average, and the less run-scoring you have, the more likely you are to have a game decided by one run. There have been a total of 209 runs scored in the Royals’ first 26 games, an average of 4.02 per game per team.

To get an idea of how often the Royals should be playing one-run games, I went back to the 1985 NL, which averaged 4.10 runs per game. The 12 NL teams averaged 53 one-run games, ranging from 42 to 64 per team. So the Royals should expect to play a one-run game about a third of the time, but so far they’ve played far fewer than that.

(I ran these numbers before the mini-slugfest in Arlington last night, which increased the team’s runs per game figure to 4.24. That doesn’t change the expectations that much.)

They have now played six two-run games, but they’re 1-5 in those games. More importantly, every one of those five losses, and one of their two one-run losses, were games in which the Royals were down early and never came back to even tie the score.

For whatever reason – or more likely, no reason at all – the Royals simply haven’t had many close leads to protect in the late innings. When they have had the lead, they haven’t coughed it up, Soria or not. Do you know how many times the Royals have lost a game in which they were leading after four innings?

Twice. On April 18th, when Bannister nursed a 2-1 lead into the sixth before coughing up four runs, and the next day, when the Royals had a 4-0 lead after four innings, but Greinke gave up three in the fifth, Ramon Ramirez gave up the tying run in the sixth, and the A’s scored the winning runs in the 7th. That’s the only loss the Royals’ bullpen has had all season.

There are only two other games the Royals have lost in which they were tied after four innings, and in both of those games it’s because the Royals didn’t score any runs after the fifth inning. On April 27th the Blue Jays broke a 2-2 tie with a run off Meche in the fifth, and won 5-2; on April 24th the Indians and Royals were scoreless until the Indians got to Bannister for two runs in the 7th.

The reason Soria hasn’t pitched more in high-leverage situations is simply that the Royals haven’t had many high-leverage situations. I mentioned before that Soria’s leverage score is 1.41. Well, Leo Nunez’s score is 1.56, which is higher than Soria’s (it’s not unusual to have a set-up man with a higher Leverage score than his closer) but not particularly high either. More importantly, every other reliever on the team has a Leverage score below one. The Royals have a great bullpen – well, a great top-half of a bullpen – and no opportunity to really use them so far.

And it’s hard to argue that Hillman’s usage of Soria has cost the Royals ballgames, because the Royals have yet to lose a game they were leading after 7, and have lost only two games were losing after 4.

It’s a lot more emotionally satisfying to throw stuff at my TV set when Hillman brought Soria in to pitch the ninth in a 9-5 game on Tuesday night. But looking at this rationally, we simply can’t evaluate Hillman’s use of his closer fairly at this point, because the season has so far conspired to give him precious few opportunities to do so.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"The Epic" Is Supposed to Refer to His Name, Not His Workload.

I know there’s a lot of topics I should cover since we last spoke, but first things first. 129 pitches? Really?

Even before the season began I was a little worried that Trey Hillman might bring with him, of all the philosophical differences between Japanese and American baseball, the one Japanese viewpoint that I disagree the most vehemently with: the cavalier attitude towards pitcher workloads. We’ve all heard the stories of how Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches in leading his high school team to the Koshien championship, or how Matsuzaka and many other Japanese starters would be pulled from the game after throwing 140 pitches, only to go throw another 100 in a bullpen session immediately afterwards.

I’d like to think we’re a little more enlightened over here. We didn’t treat our pitchers that way when Hillman left for Japan 5 years ago, and we certainly don’t treat them that way today. But maybe Hillman missed the memo while he was gone.

In 1988, a starting pitcher threw more than 130 pitches in a game 211 times in the major leagues. In 2000, that number was down to 65. By 2004, it was 14.

Last year, it was zero.

Now, I’m not saying that a pitcher should never throw more than 130 pitches in a game, and frankly I’m surprised the pendulum has swung as far as it has the other way. A veteran pitcher, in a pennant race, in a tight game, with a shaky or overworked bullpen…there’s definitely a time and a place for 130+ pitches.

But in April? For a team that (realistically speaking) is unlikely to contend? It’s telling that, as David Boyce pointed out in the Star today, Meche had the highest pitch count of any Royals pitcher since July 28, 2001, three managers and a lifetime in the evolution of pitch counts ago.

That pitcher was Chad Durbin, who threw a complete game that day even though the Royals led 9-2 going into the ninth. Ah, the genius of Tony Muser. (The game I remember more than that one was the game on June 2nd, when Durbin was sent out to pitch the 8th in a 2-2 tie and gave up a single, a walk, and finally the deciding single on his 132nd and final pitch. What made that game so memorable was that the entire inning Denny Matthews was telling us how tired Durbin looked on the mound, how he was, in Denny’s words, “really fighting it.” Our radio announcer was a far better judge of pitcher fatigue than our manager, which summed the Royals up pretty well.)

It’s not a coincidence that Durbin, who was a well-regarded prospect and was in the Royals rotation at the age of 22, blew out his arm the next spring and took six years to re-emerge last season as a competent swingman. Now, Durbin probably never would have become anything more than a league-average innings-muncher even had he never been hurt. Jose Rosado, on the other hand, was a two-time All-Star by the time he was 24 when he was allowed to throw 120 pitches seven times in eight starts in the summer of 1999. When that streak started, Rosado had a 2.80 ERA in 15 starts; he would post a 4.71 ERA the rest of the season.

The next season he would gut out five starts in April despite pain in his shoulder; the Royals claimed they were monitoring it but refused to get an MRI (hey, they cost almost two grand a pop!) until, after his fifth start – which he won – the pain was so excruciating that he could not bear it any more. The MRI showed that he had basically destroyed his shoulder. He never threw another pitch in the majors.

So pardon us if we’re a little paranoid about the care of our starting pitchers, particularly one who is under contract for $11 million a year from now through 2011. Yes, I realize they do things a little different along the Pacific Rim. Some guys can handle it fine. You just said goodbye to Hideo Nomo, who was subject to a workload in Japan that bordered on criminal, and was still a great starting pitcher until he was 34 – when he lost his fastball overnight. (By the way, that was five years ago. I’m glad you finally noticed.) Some guys can’t. You might remember seeing Chin-Hui Tsao in camp this spring. Tsao was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball five years ago; now he’s struggling to make it out of Triple-A as a reliever. This might have something to do with it.

I realize I'm one of the leaders of the pitch count revolution, given that I've been writing about the subject for almost ten years. But I’m really not that concerned about one start, Trey. Meche is 29; his arm is fully-developed. He hasn’t had any major injury issues in six years. The Royals had a day off yesterday, so presumably he’ll get an extra day of rest before his next start. He had only thrown 83 pitches his last time out. Nunez and Soria had both pitched three days in a row, Ramirez had thrown two of the last three days, so maybe you asked Meche to gut it out in a close game rather than leave the game up to the bottom-feeders in the bullpen.

If that’s your rationale, I’m fine with it. If 129 pitches represents the rare confluence of a number of unusual factors, an anomaly that’s unlikely to be repeated any time soon, then I’m cool.

But I don’t know that for sure. (And my friends at the Star have not, to this point, asked you about it.) All I know is that, less than a month into your managerial career in North America, you let one of your most valuable commodities throw 129 pitches in an April game, the most pitches thrown by a starter in April since Curt Schilling threw 133 on April 25th, 2006. If you’re willing to do that in April, when most pitchers are still stretching out their arms and haven’t hit their mid-season stride, what are you going to do in July?