Alright, that’s it, I’m done – no more positive posts the rest of the season.
If we’re not losing six games in a row immediately after I write Game On, we’re losing four in a row – the last two by shutout – after I write about the Game of the Year. I realize that pride goeth before a fall, but this is ridiculous.
(As an aside: the next time someone talks to you about the importance of “momentum” in sports, point them to the events of the past week. The Royals staged their biggest ninth-inning comeback in over five years on Tuesday, against a team that had been blowing late-inning leads all year long. Any definition of momentum worth its salt would have you believe that the Royals, playing on an emotional high, would crush the distraught Indians over the next two games. Instead, the Royals were the ones that blew a 3-0 lead the following day. And after they got to Kerry Wood in the ninth, loading the bases on walks with one out…Wood suddenly found his breaking ball and struck out the next two batters. The Royals lost again the next day despite having Greinke on the mound and a lead after six innings.
Momentum means NOTHING. Momentum is a post ipso facto term: it’s a term that explains things after the fact, not in the moment. Momentum is used to describe which team has played the best in the immediate past – the problem is that people use it to predict which team will play the best in the immediate future. Yes, it’s true that the Royals had the “momentum” after Tuesday’s game, but what people mean when they say the Royals have momentum is that the results of Tuesday’s game make the Royals more likely to win on Wednesday. And that is bunk. It should be patently obvious to any serious sports fan that momentum is a ridiculous concept, but it’s not, for one simple reason: when the team that has the momentum suddenly stops playing so well, we say THE MOMENTUM HAS SHIFTED. Momentum can switch at the turn of a dime – but if momentum can shift back and forth so easily, doesn’t that imply that it’s meaningless?
People who believe in momentum remind me of conspiracy theorists, who argue that the fact that every NASA official denies that Neil Armstrong’s moon landing was filmed on a sound stage is proof of just how big the conspiracy is. Momentum believers will argue that the fact that
And in fairness, I should point out that I was the one who argued after Tuesday’s game that it might have buried
So anyway, for the second straight year the Royals have watched their season crumble before their eyes in late May. Last season, the Royals went into
But I would submit that these are two very, very different things. I know that half of Royals Nation is ready to throw in the towel, but this is nothing like 2008. As I write this, the Royals stand 21-22. Last season, at the start of their 12-game losing streak, the Royals were 21-22. They went into
(The Royals really can’t afford to lose the series with
Yes, the Royals have the same record after 43 games that they had last year. But to argue that this means they’ve made no progress is as silly as arguing that they’re going win more than 102 games because – as Martin Manley points out – they have a better record after 43 games than the 1977 Royals did. Last year, after losing 12 games in a row I wrote this. Today, I'm writing this. There's a big difference.
I planned to write about the moves that the Royals needed to make to shake themselves out of their slump, but since the Royals went ahead and made a bunch of transactions after yesterday’s game, I’ll talk about those instead.
Robinson Tejada to the DL, John Bale promoted.
The first transaction I was going to recommend was for the Royals to promote Bale and release Horacio Ramirez. Bale has been a rumor for most of his two-plus years in
The thing is, when he has pitched out of the bullpen, he’s pitched awfully well. He had a solid 4.05 ERA in 2007, with 42 Ks and 17 walks in 40 innings (and just one homer allowed), and threw 11 scoreless innings in relief upon his return last season. This season was once again delayed by health issues, this time for an overactive thyroid, but in six appearances in Double-A this month he has allowed just one earned run and five baserunners in 6.2 innings. He doesn’t have a huge platoon split, so like Ron Mahay he’s not ideally suited for a LOOGY role, but he’s competent enough against both sides of the plate that he makes for a nice second lefty in the pen.
The problem is that he’s not replacing Ramirez, who has been tried both as a starter and as a reliever and found wanting in both roles. I may have been wrong about the merits of signing Willie Bloomquist, and I’ll even accept the argument that the judgment is still out on Kyle Farnsworth, even though it so happens that his scoreless streak has come almost entirely in low-pressure situations. But I (and every Royals fan I know) was dead right about HoRam, whose $1.8 million contract looks even dumber today than it did when he first signed it. Ramirez’s ERAs in his last four stops look like this: 7.16, 2.59, 7.62, 7.64. The fact that the second number in that sequence came with the Royals is no excuse for ignoring the first and third numbers. The Royals did anyway, which is why the fourth number has also come in a Royals uniform. Ramirez is an inexcusable waste of a roster spot, and an even more inexcusable waste of money.
But Ramirez stays for now, though hopefully not for long. Instead, the Royals lose the services of Tejeda, who has probably been their best reliever all season – he leads the bullpen in strikeouts, and ranks second behind Jamey Wright in ERA, only Wright has given up seven unearned runs to Tejeda’s zero. Despite pitching well all year, Hillman has been extremely reluctant to use him in tight situations. Baseball Prospectus has a stat called “Leverage” for relievers, which measures the importance of the game situation in which a reliever is brought in to pitch. Of the nine relievers the Royals have used this year, Tejeda’s Leverage ranks seventh, ahead of only Farnsworth (barely) and Doug Waechter, who pitched in only three games. I mean, Sir Sidney has a higher Leverage score than Tejeda. Hillman has made a lot of mistakes with the bullpen in the micro sense, but in the macro sense, no mistake looms larger than his complete refusal to use one of his best relievers in important situations.
Hillman won’t have to worry about making that mistake for a while, because Tejeda is out with a “strained rotator cuff”. This injury comes out of the blue, and the Royals did backdate his DL stint to his last appearance, but let’s be honest: “strained” and “rotator cuff” are not words that you like to see connected. Tejeda’s the kind of maximum-effort pitcher that is prone to this kind of an injury. If we see him back before July, I’ll be surprised.
Luke Hochevar to
Yeah, I don’t like this one much at all. Hochevar didn’t pitch particularly well yesterday, but neither he did pitch all that bad, particularly after the first inning – he did get 12 groundball outs, which is a sign that his sinker was working. The Royals picked an awfully strange time to send him back to
(Oh, and the next time the Royals make a statement about one of their players, feel free to believe the exact opposite. Let’s face it: honesty isn’t always the strong suit of this front office. Joakim Soria wasn’t hurt, except that he was. Twenty-four hours after
It doesn’t help that the Royals are replacing him with Roman Colon, a.k.a. Latin Bowel, who Moore has had a fetish for since his Atlanta days, even though Colon’s major league record is mediocre at best. In three major league seasons,
The upside to this transaction is that it opens up a spot in
Mike Aviles to the DL, Tug Hulett promoted.
Now this move I can get behind.
In his place, Hulett is a nice use of a roster spot. He’s a left-handed hitting middle infielder, which in itself is a nice mix of talents, but he can actually hit - .296/.381/.461 this year, .298/.380/.518 last year. He’s played mostly second base in Omaha this year, but last season made 45 starts at shortstop in Triple-A. Given that Willie Bloomquist isn’t the world’s greatest shortstop to begin with, it would be nice to see the Royals add some pop to the lineup by starting Hulett at shortstop against right-handers. Sadly, this may require more creativity than Hillman is capable of.
The short story here is this: I wouldn’t panic by the fact that the Royals are in the midst of a tough stretch. But I would worry that the Royals’ response to this slump is to make a bunch of moves that don’t materially improve the ballclub. The Royals are still capable of getting things in gear – but instead they seem content to spin their wheels.