Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Royals Today: 4/22/2009.

Podcast’s here.

Also, I’ve figured out how to subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, if you’re looking for a way to take the podcast with you on your iPod. Open up iTunes, go to “Advanced” at the top, and select “Subscribe to Podcast”. Then enter this URL: http://www.stationcaster.com/stations/whb/rss/?c=377

(Late update: reader Brad comments in my last post that he has requested that iTunes add the show to their list of available podcasts. It doesn’t appear to be up yet, but hopefully in my next post I’ll have instructions on that.)

- In its own way, last night’s game was every bit as frustrating as Sunday’s, if not more so. The Royals collectively batted 13-for-34, with four walks, a HBP, three doubles, and a homer – their line for the game was .382/.462/.559. Ordinarily that’s a line that should produce a double-digit run total – assuming you don’t ground into a franchise-record six double plays in the game.

Even so, the Royals scored seven runs, which is enough to win most nights – and would have been enough to win every game the Royals had played up to this point. The Royals had not surrendered more than six runs in a game all season, but Sidney Ponson matched that total by the fourth inning, and frankly he was lucky it wasn’t worse. For the game the Indians actually had more batters reach safely (19) than the Royals did (18), thanks to nine walks, and left nine runners on base compared to the Royals’ six.

Every one-run loss eats at you in a different way, and the Royals are now 1-3 in one-run games this year. But I’m a lot more upbeat after this game than after Sunday’s. This time we didn’t lose because of managerial incompetence*; we lost because our batters, while very productive overall, hit ground balls at infielders at the most inopportune times. Productivity is a lot more consistent than serendipity. The 18 baserunners who reached, the way the Royals mounted threats in almost every inning, the way they battled back to score six runs in two innings off the Indians’ bullpen – that tells us more about what the Royals are capable of going forward than the fact that they hit ground balls with a man on first and less than two outs in six straight innings.

*: I have no significant issue with Hillman bringing in Juan Cruz to pitch the eighth with the Royals down a run, even though Cruz wound up giving up a two-run homer to Victor Martinez that proved crucial to the outcome. Cruz is clearly our second-best reliever, and he just picked a bad time to give up his first two runs of the season. Still, it must be said: Joakim Soria has not pitched in nine days. Since Soria last pitched, Kyle Davies and Sidney Ponson have both started TWICE. And for the second straight game, if Soria had been called upon to pitch in the eighth inning of a one-run game, the Royals likely would have won.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s important to remember that while the Royals should have a better record than 7-6…the Royals should have a better record than 7-6. We still have over 90% of the season left ahead of us. The fact that the Royals have underachieved to this point is frustrating, but it’s also exciting, because it means that the Royals are above .500 and tied for first place while underachieving. The Royals have scored 57 runs and allowed 46 runs, a run differential which, when plugged into the Pythagorean formula, yields a .605 winning percentage. (Using the slightly more accurate Pythagenport formula, we get a projected .595 winning percentage.) That projects to either 7.9 or 7.7 wins so far this year, which means the Royals have lost roughly one game more than they should have based on their run totals.

That win may well be crucial – but the greater point here is that the Royals have basically played like a .600 team so far this year. There’s still 149 games left; if they play like a .600 team the rest of the season, they’re going to win 95 games and we’re probably not going to care all that much about a couple of April losses.

They’re not going to play like a .600 team the rest of the way, unless Meche-Greinke-Davies continue to combine for a 1.69 ERA all season. But the Royals have a winning record, and it’s not a fluke. That’s something to build on. (And keep in mind, the Tigers have an even better run differential (72 RS, 55 RA) and the same 7-6 record. We’re not the only ones underperforming so far.)

- Thank God at least one member of the Royals’ brain trust is able to admit when he’s made a mistake. The Horacio Ramirez Starter Experiment lasted exactly one start before he was shuttled off to the only role he’s shown himself capable of filling: left-handed long reliever. He’s vastly overpaid for the role, obviously, but the money’s spent either way. The Royals do need a second lefty in the pen, so maybe Ramirez can work his way up to being the LOOGY that the Royals need, freeing Ron Mahay up for less specialized work.

I’m surprised that the Royals went with Brian Bannister in his place rather than Luke Hochevar, but I can understand the reasoning, even from a non-financial perspective. Hochevar has the better ERA in Omaha (1.89 vs. 3.46), but ERA is almost meaningless as an indicator of quality over the span of three starts. Bannister has walked one batter and struck out eight in 13 innings of work, and in his last two starts has worked nine scoreless innings with three hits and no walks. Hochevar has just five walks in 19 innings – but also has only nine strikeouts. Cool Hand doesn’t need strikeouts to be effective, given his groundball tendencies, but it’s still a sign that he’s not exactly dominating the competition.

It’s a coin-flip, basically, so if you’re the Royals, why not – despite Dayton Moore’s protests to the contrary – let the non-baseball factors make the decision for you? Hochevar came into the season with 1 year, 17 days worth of service time. However, there’s a cushion of about 10 days built into the season – you only need 172 days of service time to get credited with a full year, but there’s something like 183 days in the season. So if the Royals keep Hochevar in Triple-A for about 28 days, they can delay free agency by a full year. The Royals are going to deny that as a consideration for obvious reasons, but really, shouldn’t it be a consideration? Hochevar’s a Boras client – you don’t think he’s going to use his leverage to go to the highest bidder as soon as he hits free agency?

This is the way the game is played – both sides use whatever leverage they have. I thought it was silly to send Hochevar to Triple-A at the beginning of the year because he was better than two of the guys that were picked to be starters. But now one of them is in the bullpen, and if Ponson pitches like he did last night again, he’ll probably be gone in a few weeks. At which point the deadline has passed, and the Royals can go back to the five-man rotation they had last year – the rotation I’ve argued they should have had all along this year.

- As atrocious as Hillman’s bullpen management is, he’s always done a pretty good job of getting his bench players involved, and yesterday is a terrific example of this. In the eighth inning, with the score 6-1, the Indians brought in the sidearmer Joe Smith to pitch against Mike Aviles. Aviles has struggled in the early part of the season, but still, he’s the guy who hit .325 last year. Still, Hillman did the right thing, calling on Brayan Pena to get the platoon advantage against a pitcher where the platoon advantage is almost as important as actually being able to hit. Pena doubled, the first of five Royals to reach base in a row and the start of a four-run rally.

- What ended that rally was a groundball double play from Miguel Olivo, and what’s sad is that the most remarkable thing about the outcome was that Olivo actually made contact with the baseball: he has whiffed in nearly half of his plate appearances (13 of 28) so far this year. His OPS+ is 9, which is approaching Tony Pena Jr. territory.

He’s better than this in terms of outcome, but this is who he is in terms of style: someone whose mid-range power can’t compensate for his appalling command of the strike zone, and someone who has never hit right-handed pitching in his career. This is one of those Common Sense Tests that Hillman has been struggling with all month: do you continue to use the catcher hitting .143/.143/.286 more often than the catcher hitting .409/.480/.909? Sometimes when a question seems to have an obvious answer, it’s a trick question. Sometimes, the answer really is that obvious. John Buck needs, and deserves, to start behind the plate at least 60% of the time. No, Buck can’t throw. But Olivo can’t hit, and one skill is more important than the other.

Zack Greinke reportedly loves working with Olivo, which is fine: make Olivo his personal catcher. I’m not typically thrilled with the “personal catcher” meme, but for the Royals it works, because Olivo and Buck have similar enough skill sets that there’s no point in picking Olivo’s starts based on the opposing pitcher or ballpark or whatever. Besides, if Greinke wants Olivo to catch him, I think I speak for all Royals fans when I say, MAKE OLIVO HIS STARTING CATCHER.

If Greinke wants Willie Bloomquist to start at first base, make it so. He wants his centerfielder to be a lucky fan selected from Section 107 before the game? Cool. He wants to set up a Chipotle serving table in the dugout? I recommend the green chili. He wants Kyle Farnsworth to close for him? I know a good facial reconstructive surgeon – Zack will never know the difference. (Though we’ll have to come up with a good excuse for how Farnsworth lost two inches and fifty pounds, and now speaks with a Mexican accent. We’ll need an even better excuse to explain how Farnsworth now throws strikes and doesn’t give up homers in every inning.)

- Has anyone else noticed what a crazy year Robinson Tejeda is having? So far this season he has faced 20 hitters. Two of them have hit fly ball outs; one of them grounded out. Those are the only three batters to put the ball in play. Of the other 17, 10 struck out, five walked, and two were hit by a pitch. Tejeda has also balked once, thrown two wild pitches, and picked up another out when the runner on third tried to score on another wild toss but was thrown out at the plate.

Last night’s game was a masterpiece. His line reads: hit by pitch, wild pitch (scoring an inherited runner), strikeout, strikeout to end the fourth. Then in the fifth, walk, balk, strikeout, and walk, before he was lifted. I believe tonight’s game will be delayed a few minutes to accommodate Tejeda’s induction into the Three True Outcomes Hall of Fame.

Tejeda has been as effective as anyone in the bullpen this year, but eventually he’s going to give up a hit, so unless he learns to curb the other base runners, and to curb the free bases to the guys already on base, he’s due for a blowup. Still, it’s hard to believe the Texas Rangers put this guy on waivers less than a year ago.

- Mike Jacobs is a remarkable player in many ways, as Joe Posnanski has pointed out, but the most remarkable thing he has done is to make me write a sentence I’d never thought I’d write: the Royals need Billy Butler’s glove in the game. Jacobs’ NC-17 defense on a routine grounder by Hank Blalock on Sunday was the turning point in the loss. Jacobs has only one major league skill, but fortunately it’s the most important skill in baseball: he can hit right-handed pitching. They need to let him focus on that skill, and leave everything else to the professionals.

- It’s early, but Kevin Seitzer is earning his keep so far. The Royals have drawn 43 walks in 13 games, on pace for 536 for the season (after drawing 392 last year), and ranking a respectable 9th in the league. Bam Bam isn’t hitting for power yet, but for the first time he’s showing the plate discipline (7 walks in 41 AB) he had in the minors. Coco Crisp has 11 walks in 13 games; on top of his spring training performance, it is quite possible that we’re seeing a dramatic change in his plate approach.

- Finally – and I’m sure I’ll regret this – I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and opened a Twitter account. I have no idea what it’s for or what the hype is about, but then I’m still trying to figure out what’s the point of Facebook, other than (because everyone else is signing up) I’ve been able to locate a bunch of friends I went to school with 20 years ago. (It’s not like we actually say anything to each other – but still, I know where to find them.)

So if you’re into Tweeting, then you can find me at Jazayerli. I have no idea if I’m going to use it yet or not, though if I do it will probably be to talk about the Royals. (In 140 characters or less? Seriously? I haven’t finished clearing my throat in 140 characters or less.) So feel free to follow me if you like. If you don’t, don’t worry: you won’t miss anything worthwhile.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rany,

I love that I can randomly check for an update at anytime day or night, and now and then am pleasantly surprised by another fabulous blog!!

Collin said...

I tried to find you on twitter but couldn't. I know it doesn't matter, but I'd like to follow your tweets.

Great post today. I do pull my hair out when thinking about Hillman's bullpen usage... but you do point out that he's great about using the bench. I guess I should give him some props for that.

Thanks, Rany!

Blake said...

Collin, here's a link.

http://twitter.com/jazayerli

Keith Law said...

I've got a bit of a problem with the use of Pythagorean formulae on samples of 13 games. The formula has a healthy track record when used over 162-game samples, but 13 games? I'm guessing that Pythagoras or Pythagenport aren't accurate to that fine a degree over such a small sample.

Rany said...

Keith,

I have no doubt that the error bars get bigger as the number of games decreases. But I have no reason to think that the expected winning percentage should change. It strikes me as mathematically inconsistent that a team that, say, scores and allows the same number of runs would be expected to play .500 over the span of 162 games, but not over the span of 13 games (except that a team can't go 6.5-6.5, but you get the idea).

djclung said...

I'm glad to see one of my other favorite writers (KLaw) also reads ROTR

Anonymous said...

Was Bannister's start encouraging or what?

Anonymous said...

Have all of Soria's saves ended with him striking out the last hitter with the same pitch?

Anonymous said...

Butler is starting to look like a first baseman.

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

Butler should have buried the catcher on that play at the plate.
And Cliff Lee, after 'throwing' to the Royals, has ='d his loss total for last season.

Calif Fan said...

Things I worry about:

1-- Why does it seem like Soria has to put every game in jeopardy before getting the final out?
2-- Regarding Sunday's game, why not let pitchers (e.g., Farnsworth who actually had an easy inning) go a couple of innings as Wright did tonight? Isn't there something to be said, as to middle inning guys, that the more people you put out on the mound, the more likely somebody will be having a bad night?
3-- What is with this Olivo day after day?

Steve Cusumano said...

Rany - Good to see you on Twitter, looking forward to following you (I'm @MizzouCus...and so you know, the @ sign is used to show that the name following it is a Twitter handle).

Got an idea for the podcast. Think you could convince the station of giving you your own podcast feed? The one you provided gives us the "Additional Content" for the station, which lumps things like content covering MIAA in with your outstanding podcast. If they were to devote a feed to your podcast, it would make it easier for us to subscribe and get exactly what we're wanting to listen to, and not have to skip/delete the ones we don't want (no offense to MIAA, of course).

AxDxMx said...

Cliff Lee will not repeat as Cy Young winner. He can't. He went 5-0 against the Royals last year, and already the lowly Banny has bested him. Greinke for CY!

And Rany, Twitter is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Its easy to root for a guy like Bannister, but I can't imagine he can last through the season with the Royals infield defense. As far as I'm concerned if we can win a game that Bannister starts its gravy, just as losing when the big three pitch is a shame.

Mac said...

Well then you better ladle some more gravy on top of your mashed potatoes because Banny just got his swerve on tonight.

Matt S said...

Rany I think you summed up the usefulness of Facebook for about 90% of everyone over 30, maybe 25.

djclung said...

Re: Calif Fan

Soria was the top reliever last year in 1-2-3 innings, if he was used more often maybe he wouldnt be rusty

scagnetticon said...

I need instant Royals, and @jazayerli should become a beacon for those in need.

I've been silentnon these boards, but the tweete will be complete. They serve as conversations as can come to sentient beings can without speaking or writing. Total hybrid.

Yeah can't say that I believe all that. But it sure will be nice to read another Royal sufferer bemoan Farnseworthless WHILE it's happening.

Go! Live Brief Rany Update Tweet Things!

Fight Fire With Fire said...

i don't blame the reluctance to twittter.. the ego involved in assuming people want to know what you're up to all the time , or worse that they SHOULD know is a pretty huge turnoff to me. i like my privacy thanks, i don't need it invaded constantly by an update from someone. i would use it if it directly applied to work i guess.

Anonymous said...

Will someone--anyone--please start the firetreyhillman.com website?

Anonymous said...

I see that Hillman brought in his situational left-hander, Ron Mahay. Oops, that's right. He's not the situational left-hander.

Anonymous said...

royals 8-3

hillman 0-4


why not cruz-soria for the final 2 innings?????

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with him starting Meche in the 8th. He was on a roll. But after 3 straight hits and some questions as to whether Meche was injured on the previous play, one would think that would be the time to get the hook.

Brian said...

Perhaps someone can get Trey a copy of the 2003 ALCS game 7...maybe set up a conference call with Grady Little, to discuss the finer points of removing your starter when he's out of gas.

But hey, at least Soria is getting plenty of rest...

Nathan said...

Hi Rany,

I have an idea for the Royals. It's the sort of thing you might suggest in a column or on the show, or just tell me is idiotic and hare-brained.

Rumor has it (via Jayson Stark) that Pedro Martinez still wants to pitch, but doesn't know if he can make it through a whole year. Why don't the Royals make a pitch to Martinez to sign him right away, but not use him until July? Then, they'd use him as the closer, with Soria moving to the rotation. That way, we'd be able to keep a talented pitcher in that role, while easing Soria into one where he's more valuable to the team. This would also keep Soria's innings down much more than just moving him to the rotation at the beginning of the year would have. Finally, it would poise the team for an exciting playoff run, and give fans a reason to come out to the ballpark.

What do you think? All I know for sure is that we need to find some way of getting Soria into more than ten innings a month. If the Royals aren't willing to use him as an old-fashioned ace reliever, the rotation is the place for him. Also, eliminating the worst of Ponson-Hochevar-Bannister from the rotation mix is probably the single biggest thing I can think of that would enhance our chance at the playoffs.

Nathan said...

Oh, and I would guess KLaw's problem with using the Pythagorean formula over small samples has more to do with the meaningfulness of the results than with their validity. You could calculate the temperature of a 100,000 atoms of gas by measuring the motions of ten atoms. The result would be valid, but not useful. If you start making thermodynamic calculations (or baseball decisions) based on such information, you'll wind up skating with Luis Castillo on ice that's thinner than you thought.

Anonymous said...

Nathan- I don't think Soria could get his arm prepared to be a starter in the middle of the season

Nathan said...

You might have to send him to the minors for a few weeks, or use him as a swingman. But I think getting his arm ready to start the 2nd half of the season would be easier than getting him ready to throw 200 innings would've been before the season started. I'm not an expert on things like this; presumably the Royals (as well as Rany and some of the readers here) have experts they can inquire of.

I know there would be some risk involved. The question is whether the risk is worth it, since starting Soria would significantly enhance the Royals' chance of making the playoffs, and greatly enhance their chances of succeeding in them.

Anyway, even if the rotation isn't the answer, something has to be done to get innings for one of the five best pitchers in the division.

Anonymous said...

I thought I had heard, and I don't remember where I heard it now, that the Royals could've signed Pedro, but more or less said "no thanks".

Anonymous said...

Isn't the ability to hit right-handed pitching the *second* most important skill in baseball, after the ability to "miss bats"?

Darrel said...

OK, Rany. I'm beginning to think you're becoming the Sports Illustrated cover jinx for the Royals. You put a tongue-in-cheek headline about Soria being injured and then.......................he is. Hope this is just a temporary thing.

Nathan said...

Wonder how Soria's injury relates to his recent period of disuse? I doubt it's a coincidence, but it's hard to say which caused the other.

Chris Berry said...

Zach is awesome.
Any word on who the temporary closer is till Soria comes back?
I think every team in the ALC will win between 79-88 games.
It's going to be an exciting year.

Anonymous said...

This might not be the best place to post, but man, the new K is clearly not capable of handling a sell-out, which is somewhat ridiculous. Actually, I'm not sure it can handle 25,000 based on the previous two games I've attended.

I'm not sure if it's just the slow help working behind the counters (definitely a big part of it), or poor design, but if you were there last night, you wouldn't know they'd widened the concourses, lowered capacity, and added concessions and bathrooms, because it was pretty much impossible to get around, and I missed about half the game standing in line (once) for some food for the GF. So much for buck night and (cancelled) fireworks fun. I think my new plan will be to never go to a game where I expect more than 20,000 people, or just spend my retirement funds on fancy club tix to avoid the madness.

Also, I love beer to an unhealthy degree, but I think I am ready for a family section (even though I have no children), or a lower tolerance for drunken college students at the K.

Still, way to go, Zack! MVP!

Anonymous said...

Family section? Maybe you should try Disney On Ice next weekend instead of going to a ballgame. We all want the Royals to be competitive and bring back sell-out crowds.....until its crowded and inconvenient for you to get your fourth hot dog of the night. Some of you people can be ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

No kidding! I have 2 kids and even I'm not ready for a family section. Drunken college kids are part of the atmosphere. If I wanted a family section I'd stay home and watch the game with my wife and in-laws.

Anonymous said...

Stumbling around drunk and swearing is not what I'd call atmosphere, personally. Just me, I guess, don't let me ruin your day or anything... Hopefully the service will improve as the year goes on, and hopefully the ballclub will also continue to improve.