Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First Place! (For Now.)

This post may be partially outdated by the time you read this, as I’m writing this in the middle of the ballgame today – which means I may interrupt my writing as events warrant – and in between patients. (Including the Royals fan this morning who drove here all the way from Iowa (!) to see me. That’s dedication, folks. The rest of you need to step things up.) But any time I have the opportunity to write about the undisputed first-place Kansas City Royals…I’m going to take it.

Let’s try to keep things in perspective – last year the Royals started 6-2 and I was equally excited. (They then lost 11 of their next 14 games.) Still, there’s a lot to like here.

- You know all that concern about the quality of the team’s defense? The Royals seem to have hit upon a really effective solution to that problem – simply keep the defense from being involved. Through eight games, the pitching staff has struck out 76 batters – which leads the majors, comfortably – in just 71 innings. That is, in a word, sick. Just two years ago the Royals were next-to-last in the league in strikeouts; the year before that they were dead last. Last season the Royals ranked 7th in the league, which was their highest ranking since Cone and Appier led the Royals to 6th in strikeouts in 1994. From 1999 to 2006, the Royals ranked in the bottom three in the league in whiffs every single year.

They’re not going to continue to strike out more than a batter an inning, but this is a genuine power staff. The bullpen, in particular, is ridiculous – in 23 innings, they’ve whiffed 28 and surrendered just 14 hits. I’ve said this before, but in terms of “power stuff”, however that’s defined, Joakim Soria is only the fourth-most overpowering guy in the pen. If the Royals only have to rely on their defense for 65-70% of their outs instead of their usual 75-80%, suddenly the idea of Mark Teahen at second base or Mike Jacobs anywhere on the field is a lot more palatable.

- Ever since Gerald V. Hern coined a little ditty in the Boston Post about Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, sportswriters have felt the need to come up with cheesy slogans for any team that heavily relies on two starting pitchers. Hence, the 2001 Diamondbacks were “Johnson and Schilling and then, God Willing.”

For the Royals, we’ve got to come up with a rhyme that incorporates three pitchers. “Meche, Greinke, and Davies, then Hide the Women and Babies?” “Meche, Davies, and Greinke, then For Two Days We’ll Be Cranky”? Clearly, this is a work in progress. Just as clearly, we’re going to need a slogan before long. The Royals are 5-1 when the Big Three start, and collectively they’re 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA, 41 strikeouts in 37.2 innings, and no homers allowed. The Little Two are 0-2 with a 6.61 ERA.

- The Little Two might just be the Microscopic One. Sidney Ponson gave another yeoman’s effort this afternoon. The Royals may be in the market for another starter this summer – if the Royals are in the race, a trade of Kila Ka’aihue for a good starter in the last year or two of his contract is a distinct possibility – but in the short term, if Hochevar or Bannister (three hits in seven scoreless for Omaha yesterday) replaces Horacio Ramirez, I have no qualms with seeing Ponson in the #5 role in the near term.

Remember, the sensation that was Lima Time! in Kansas City stemmed from the fact that Jose Lima, a refugee from the Atlantic League, was effectively the team’s #2 starter down the stretch in 2003. Ponson isn’t likely to do much worse than Lima’s 4.91 ERA that year – yet Ponson is at best the team’s #4 starter. In case you were looking for a reason to take this team more seriously than the 2003 squad, there you go.

- You know what’s even more amazing than the strikeout ratio? The pitching staff has surrendered two homers in nine games – that’s as many all year as John Buck hit in one game. That’s two homers in 80 innings. Yeah, that won’t last. But it’s still impressive.

- Davies’ performance to date has been the most important development to date, but the goings-on behind the plate aren’t far behind. It got quickly lost in the shuffle with all the money thrown at HoRam and The Professor and The Spork, but the decision to bring Miguel Olivo back was mystifying at the time, and only more so today. Olivo and John Buck have remarkably similar profiles; Olivo has the much better arm, but Buck does everything else behind the plate just as well if not better. As hitters they have identical records, but Buck is younger, he has a clue about the strike zone, and he had those two months in 2007 that make you think, hmmm...throw in Brayan Pena, whose talents are such that the Royals have made room for him as their third catcher, and you have to wonder why the Royals didn’t just keep Pena as their backup to Buck, let Olivo walk, and pocket the difference.

Instead, they not only kept Olivo, they anointed him the starter – or at least, the dominant half of a job-sharing arrangement. Given the context, then, what’s happened during the first nine games has a lot of significance. As I write this, Olivo is 3-for-21 with 13 strikeouts – and he looks so lost at the plate that I’m beginning to wonder if the LASIK doctors operated on the wrong patient this winter. Buck, given precious few opportunities to start, has taken every advantage, homering and doubling in his second start, and homering twice in his third. He’s back in the lineup as the DH against a lefty today, but he’s poised to take over the lion’s share of the duties behind the plate if Olivo doesn’t learn to wait until the pitcher has actually released the ball before deciding whether he should swing at the pitch. I wrote barely two weeks ago that “If the Royals do go to the playoffs, I’m guessing Buck, not Olivo, will be the starter behind the plate.” No reason to delay the inevitable.

- I was all for getting Brayan Pena more playing time in my last post, but starting him at DH wasn’t what I meant. But hey, it worked out. Pena’s double off of Phil Coke on Sunday, with a man on first and the Royals down a run in the eighth, is probably the biggest hit of the season to date. According to baseball-reference.com, prior to Pena’s at-bat the Royals had a 24% chance of winning the game – and the odds were certainly less when you consider the Royals were one out away from facing the greatest reliever of all time in the ninth. After his hit, the odds improved to 58%. Instead of being swept at home in the first series at the Kougar (hat tip: Sam), the Royals got back to .500.

What’s easy to forget about the three-run rally that inning was how it started: with two outs and no one on, Billy Butler pinch-hit for Mike Jacobs against Jose Veras…and walked. Credit Trey Hillman for the move – Jacobs was due to face Damaso Marte, who has been annihilating left-handed hitters for most of the decade. Butler against a generic right-hander represented better odds there, and for all the talk about how Jacobs was going to play every day this year even though he’s never hit left-handers, Hillman hasn’t been shy about limiting his reps against lefties. The Royals have faced five left-handed starters in their first nine games, and Jacobs has been benched twice (including today) in addition to getting pulled in that key situation.

But if Butler expands his strike zone (as pinch-hitters are wont to do) and gets himself out, then Mariano Rivera pitches the ninth and the rally never materializes. Instead, the Royals got their first three-run inning of the season. The next time they came to the plate – in the first inning against Fausto Carmona on Monday night – Crisp and DeJesus walked in the first, and both of them came around to score in the Royals’ second three-run inning of the season. Then last night, with the Royals trying to add some insurance runs in the eighth inning, Alex Gordon walked to load the bases and set up Buck’s grand slam. In today’s game, the Royals staged a two-run rally in the sixth on a leadoff walk by Coco Crisp, a single by Willie Bloomquist, a run-scoring grounder – and then after Buck whiffed with a man on third and two out, the Royals got consecutive walks from Mark Teahen, Jacobs (returning the favor as a pinch-hitter for Butler), and Gordon again to force in the tying run. It doesn’t look like it will be enough, thanks to Farnsworth, but the Royals never put rallies like these together in the past – at least, their hitters never did.

- A double, a popout, a tie-breaking single, a balk, and a walk. Ladies and Gentlemen, Kyle Farnsworth! I can’t pin this one on Hillman; it’s a tie game in the seventh inning, Juan Cruz threw two shutout innings last night, and someone has to pitch. No, Dayton Moore can try to dodge the overripe vegetables this time around. That sound you hear is Farnsworth sliding down the reliever totem pole; the next time the Royals need a middle reliever in a tie game in the middle innings, I suspect Robinson Tejeda will be that someone.

- Since Opening Day, Hillman has done a very solid job with the bullpen. Some may question having Ron Mahay start the ninth with a 4-0 lead on Monday, then switching to Soria after the first two batters reached base and lefties coming up. I’m fine with this move, though. Soria is more effective against lefties than righties, and Mahay doesn’t have a huge platoon split, so this is a situation where platoon considerations take a backseat to the game situation – and with the tying run on deck against an intradivision rival, a rival who was considered the favorite to win the division when the season started but who are three outs away from being 1-5…I say you go for the jugular. And what better weapon is there to cut the jugular than The Guillotine?

Cruz has now pitched two full innings twice this season, which is more times than he pitched two innings all of last year. To repeat: the cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers approach to the bullpen is the worst thing about baseball strategy today. If a reliever has the hot hand, why not ride him? Hillman did, and he got a second shutout inning each time.

- If Bloomquist and Tony Pena are ever in the same lineup again, there better be a good reason. Like, say, a breakout of impetigo in the clubhouse. Granted, with Ponson on the mound the infield defense is a greater consideration than usual – and with the Royals losing, Hillman pinch-hit for both of them to give us the much more imposing Mike Aviles-Alberto Callaspo combination late in the game.

- Mike Jacobs has done the impossible: he’s made Royals fans excited to see Billy Butler playing first base. And Butler has done the impossible: he’s giving us reason to think he might actually progress to adequate out there. I’ve been advocating all winter that Butler should be allowed to start at first base – he hasn’t played the position long enough to prove he can’t play it, while Jacobs has. He’s made enough good plays this month to prolong this experiment a little longer – like, say, all season. If the Royals approach the aesthetic ideal of using Jacobs purely as a DH, and solely against RHP, the Jacobs acquisition almost starts to make sense.

- Teahen has the reputation (at least with Royals fans) of being an excellent baserunner, and deservedly so, but…man. Getting thrown out trying to extend a single when you’re down two runs in the eighth is just dumb. Doing so immediately before Jacobs hits another homer is just heart-breaking.

It’s a tough loss. But the Royals were never going to go undefeated in one-run games this year. They’re still in first place. They put together rallies in three straight innings and just fell a run short. If I may tempt fate and quote Herm Edwards, the Royals can build on this. I just hope they also learn not to let Farnsworth destroy it.

(Tomorrow, 7 PM CDT, 810 WHB. And be ready to call in.)

48 comments:

Luke-a-Duke said...

Farnsworth = bad times waiting to happen. I want to like the guy, but man... awful. Here's hoping that these two brainfarts for him are just that and he can start being worth all that moolah he was given.

Master Shake said...

I am optimistic about this start because of the pitching. I am surprised by the pitching of Ponson the first few games. Today he really pitched well. Up until the 5th inning almost every ball hit into play was a ground ball. That is a very good sign for someone towards the back of the rotation..and, he gave us a chance to win.

As for Farnsworth....ouch. Stopped landing on the toe again, I take it. Thought we fixed that. Anyway...

I am going to say that I think Teahen is "who we think he is". Going into the season (if he was going to be on this team) he was going to be a super sub. A position that is nice for him. However, an inflated spring training homerun total got everyone excited (including me). I don't see consistent power (doubles or homers) in that swing. I just dont. Hot streak...o.k. Sustained worthwhile production from a bad defensive 2nd baseman? No.

I know that Callaspo has a wrap for not bringing much to the table besides hitting. However...his OBP capabilities along with an average 2nd base make him a decent option. His ability to see pitches and show a solid batting eye make him a GOOD fit for this lineup. with guys like Olivo, Gordon, Teahen, Jacobs (and Butler of late) whiffing at alarming rates we need some good hitters to tip the scales.

Let's go get two of three from Texas. With Meche, Greinke and Davies going I like our shots to be in some of those ballgames with a chance to win!

I'm happy with the start to this season. Let's keep plugging forward.

Lastly....Jacobs seems to be getting his timing down. Man...can that guy hit the ball a long way when he connects?!?! Legit power.

chjohn said...

Last night, I was thinking Farnsworth should have been in the game to close out the blowout in the 9th. Then he couldn't be used today.
Also, might be time to send Gordon to AAA, and move Teahen to 3B for awhile. Call up Maier to fill the roster spot. We cant have Gordon strike out every 4th at bat. I like the guy a lot, but he's not helping the team at all.

Anonymous said...

hated to see that Teahan base running blunder, for sure. Liked the comments on the bullpen use -- sometimes the comments I hear seem to imply that pitchers can pitch every day, multiple innings.... At least Farnsworth is getting his role staked out. Would have loved the sweep, but taking series will get you a great season!
Sir Sidney did OK by us today; let's see what he's got over a few weeks. I too recall Lima time. As long as we recognize when the ride is over, then what the heck. A guy in a Royals uniform that's giving good effort will get my support. And can that Jacobs hit (which is good, since he sure can't field).

Anonymous said...

You spelled something wrong in your last paragraph. Properly spelled, The Royals "CAN BUILD ON THIS."

Nathan said...

Over at ball star, the 1,2,3 pitchers have been dubbed MGD (Meche Greinke Davies). I like this, and I have a proposition to follow this up with an explanation for the full starting line-up.

3.2 beer.

You LOVE the three part, but you really wish that two could bump up a litt.e

Bill said...

Lets see---we have our back up catcher hitting clean up, our back up to our back up 2B starting at 2b and hitting second, we have our back up SS ( gosh I hate saying that about Tony Pena Jr.) batting (anywhere is bad), we have our power guy who is now got his stroke , on the freakin bench, and we have Trey making rightie/leftie switches that are really rightie/rightie switches!!!?? How did we lose this game!! I was there and I still can't figure it out. My fear is, neither can Trey!!

Bill said...

Farnsworth took the loss Wednesday against the Indians by allowing three runs while recording just a single out.

Spin:
These types of blowups are inevitable with Farnsworth, but he still offers a strong K rate (though he didn't record a strikeout Wednesday) and a chance to close games should Joakim Soria go down. Consider Wednesday just the cost of doing business with Farnsworth.

This is the ESPN Fantasy analysis--where do they get these guys??? What would the s\"spin" have been if Kyle was pitching for Boston or New York??

LDM said...

HA! Good work Doc, your staff was wonderful too. It was worth the drive. The worst part of the day was checking the box score when I returned home. Farnsworth!

Its April 15 and Farns has allowed 6 ER in 3.1 and has two losses in his 4 appearances. Its a small sample, but does anyone really trust him going forward? Its just so frustrating to have him struggle and have such little hope of him turning it around. What is the "best case" scenario for him for the remainder of the season? I have no idea. I hope he can contribute and be a force in the 'pen, but I see more headaches coming.

In the meantime we can continue to enjoy the 4 man rotation for another turn.

Anonymous said...

Gil, Zack and Kyle then two days without a smile.

Triple stud, double dud rotation.

Three days of K'ing, two days of praying.

Three days of cruisin', two days of bruisin'.

Three days of flying, two days of crying.

Anonymous said...

There's no need to be negative about the back end of the rotation...non-committal should be good enough.

MGD and then we'll see.

Dave said...

Meche, Davies and Greinke ... then things get hinkey.

Antonio. said...

Check career stats again and then tell us there's no need for negativity... I'm sure a compelling case could be made.

Ryan said...

I already have emailed Mr. Mellinger to express to him my dismay about the "Kougar" moniker. Evidently, I'm the only one who dislikes it. I think Cougars are a) a passe term b)second rate and a negative term, which means we play in a second rate park and we're always second rate. The Royals need to get rid of that image. I'm totally kidding and deadly serious at the same time.

Also, "Farnsworth" is going to be my new swear word when I mess up. Like when I stub my toe, or nail my hand to a table, or commit a balk like a twelve year old.

Anonymous said...

I want to like Farnsworth really I do, I do. I thought he had the mechanic issue worked out?

We knew the Tribe was going to get it going at some point. There are too many hitters on that club.
We'll get them next week.

If we survive the seemingly offensive onslaught that is the T. Rangers right now.

AxDxMx said...

Looking at the replay of Teahen going into 2nd in slo-mo on DVR in HD, I don't think the fielder tagged him til he hit the base, but from the ump's angle on the other side, he definitely looked out. I don't think being aggressive is a bad thing, it just happened to cost us today. The real problem is Farnsworth. Why the hell did we sign him to begin with? And for that kind of money? What the hell was Dayton Moore smoking?

Miles said...

Greinke, Davies, Meche, who knows about the rest?

Matt Berger said...

It's true money may have been wasted on Olivo, but I do have to wonder if competition for playing time isn't whats fueling John Buck's surge. Either way, Buck's the better all around catcher, he'll draw more walks, hit for a higher average, and apparently maybe even slug better too.
p.s. I don't want to jinx anything but its nice to be relevant, screw you John Kruk we do matter.

Matt said...

oh and another thing, im looking forward to facing the Rangers, then we'll have a better idea as to what we've got in the Big Three (a better big three than the Celtics or the Cavs, and a better professional sport as Im sure all baseball fans would agree)

Ben said...

Meche, Greinke, and Davies...then anything else is gravy.

Ryan said...

I am wondering if this years Royals might be like the 1984 Royals in some ways. Although the back of rotation then was a Saberhagen, who started the year in the bullpen, and young Danny Jackson.

They couldn't produce runs for squat if I can remember.

Also, the problem with Farnsworth isn't he's not landing on his toe, it's that he keeps landing on his face.

Anonymous said...

I love Teahen's aggressiveness, and as soon as he hit the ball yesterday, I knew he was going to try to stretch it. Of course, so did Choo, and he does have a nice arm out there.

If that is the fifth inning, or if we are down by one, or if we are ahead or tied, then it becomes a good play - force the defense to make the play, and doff your cap if they are successful.

The calculus is similar to a stolen base. If you wouldn't think about trying to steal second in the circumstance, then you shouldn't be trying to stretch the single into a double.

Lefty said...

Greinke, Davies and Meche and at least the bullpen is fresh.

Tim said...

The problem with Farnsworth is that for every game like yesterday, you get a game like the 4-1 loss to the Yanks when he came in and blew away three straight hitters. This is probably the kind of performance that keeps garnering the guy millions of dollars.

I think that Yankees game was perfect scenario to use Farnsworth: put him in to keep a game close, but in no way do you put him in to hold a slim lead.

Anonymous said...

Please don't jump on the awful Kougar bandwagon.

Scott said...

Meche, Davies, Greinke, and two guys who are stinky?

Anonymous said...

kougar = lame
This will have appeal to teenage boys and those that share the same maturity so it will probably stick.
The ballpark is better than it ever was.

Anonymous said...

"kougar" is worse than the crappy powers of farnsworth and gload combined.

Ron Rollins said...

Ryan,

You are not the only one disappointed and disgusted by the 'Kougar' thing. It's despicable.

1) if it's not going to be called Kaufmann Stadium, then let's go back to calling it Royals Stadium. Or here's an idea, how about
'Waterfall Park'?

There enough good names to call the stadium without thinking of something so completely idiotic.

2) is 'Kougar' supposed to be a reference to the wild cat? Because that's spelt 'Cougar'. Are the kids in the country dumb enough as it is with text speak and not being able to read and write properly wihtout a JOURNALIST encouraging further stupidity


If he's just going to make up things, he should make up top-10 lists of why Moore and Hillman need to be fired. At least there is truth behind that.

Ryan said...

Gordon out with hip surgery.

That was the sound of the sky falling.

Shelby said...

Ryan:

a) It might not be that bad as it's arthroscopic.

b) Regardless, he sucks and is pretty much a bust.

Anonymous said...

I love the unintelligent people who say "Gordon sucks." Can't they think of anything more intelligent to say than that? Obviously, his hip problem is the reason he was off to a slow start. Gordon is a potential superstar. Unfortunately, this puts 2 regulars on the DL with hip problems. The pitching is going to have to step it up for the next couple of weeks.

Anonymous said...

K2 is a better nickname than Kougar.

Shelby said...

Anonymous:

Admittedly, you're right. "He sucks" doesn't add anything to any discussion.

But he swings the same way every single time. He can't adjust at all, or he just chooses not to. He swings at bad pitches. Is this something Seitzer can teach him to fix? I hope so.

Anonymous said...

You know how fans have those signs that say "Hit It Here"? Maybe Alex can have one made up saying "Throw It Here" so they throw it right in his swing plane.

Chris

Anonymous said...

Btw, Rany, loved the show tonight. Wish there was more time for calls at the end but w/ Goldstein and Carroll both on, I'll let it go.

Chris

Showtime said...

Ron,

If you don't know what a cougar is than I'm not going to be the one to tell you. And do you really not get the "Kougar" spelling?!? Cougar + The "K" (you know.....the place where we play) = Kougar! Jesus, its like playing cards with my brother's kids or something.....

Carl Willingham said...

Regarding the strikeouts, the local KC radio media and former player contingent has spent most of their waking hours over the last few days talking about how the Royals pitchers just have to cut down on their strikeouts so that they can work deeper into games. Pitch to contact, yada, yada, yada. I just hope our pitchers and especially our manager don't feel the same way. More Tejada, less Farnsworth. Farnsworth pitches 2 innings with 3 or more days rest. Only way to get good work out of him. Has been for awhile now.

Dave said...

I'm with "Anonymous" -- I much prefer "K2" to "Kougar."

"Cougar" is one of those annoying, faux titillating phrases that make me feel like we've turned into a junior high society -- always trying to come up with some new word or phrase to describe anything even remotely sexually related. (All the while giggling with our friends and feeling sure our parents have NO IDEA what we're talking about!)

K2 is also known as "The Savage Mountain" because of the high death rate of people who try to climb it. How great would it be if the Royals could turn Kauffman into that kind of treacherous environment for opposing teams?

Ryan said...

I love K2!

Ron Rollins feel free to never agree with me on anything again.

Shelby, it's way to early to call Gordon a bust. Rany, Joe and others have shown that his performance the first two years is equivalent to a lot of productive major leaguers. If he's having hip surgery, obviously his performance was affected this season because of it.

Matt Berger said...

Lets stop saying Gordon's hip is what's keeping him from being great (I hope I'm wrong) and lets stop saying he's a bust. Odds are he'll be an above average to good player in the big leagues for 10 or 12 years. He plays good defense at third, not great but good. He might hit above .300 once or hit 30 homers once or twice, maybe even make a couple all-star games, lets just stop expecting him to be George Brett. He clearly can't hit pitches low and away, everyone knows that, a pitcher with any control can exploit that, but he can still punish mistakes which isn't something to be disregarded, oh and he knows how to take a walk, something Olivo still doesn't see as something we're paying him to do.

Matt Berger said...

one more comment-
Meche, Greinke, Davis, then hide the women and babies Rany had the right idea initially. Lefty's idea isn't bad either but it works better if they're in order, my opinion anyway.

JPM said...

Greinke, Davies, and Meche then it's anyones Guess?

Nathan said...

Agree with Matt about Gordon. He's not a superstar, but he's an above average major-league starter. That's not a bust. And he still has breakout potential, to boot.

The real question is, how large a blow does the loss of Gordon deal to the Royals' already precarious playoff chances? Suddenly Teahen's bat goes from a gamble that might payoff at 2B to one we have to count on at 3B. Also, Callaspo is probably going to start most games for the next couple of months, and we still have no idea whether he can fulfill the promise of his minor league accomplishments.

This dream just acquired a distinctly pipe-ish hue.

Nathan said...

As for talk of Meche-Greinke-Davies...does Davies really belong in that category yet? Greinke and Meche are both in the top 30-40 starters in the majors. Davies has about as much going for him as Brian Bannister had around a year ago (albeit with much better stuff). I really want to see him succeed, and I do think he's probably one of the better 3rd starters around, but it's a wee bit early to start writing songs--or even dittys--about him.

Anonymous said...

hey, it's not like the royals are going to score any fewer runs with gordon and his .095 out of the lineup. i hope! i do like adding another switch hitter to the lineup, though. on base, alberto, on base!

Wabbitkiller said...

NOOOOOOOO! Don't EVER quote Herm Edwards again!

Anonymous said...

It's gotta be "MGD, then we'll see!"