Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Royals Today: 5/6/2009.

With last night’s win, the Royals’ total of GWWNHWITP (Games We Would Not Have Won In The Past) moves to three in the last four games, and four for the season as a whole (I would add the April 12th game against the Yankees, when the Royals started a three-run rally with two outs in the eighth.) I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m having more and more trouble discounting the way the Royals are playing as simply a hot start, or simply a one-man show.

As Sam Mellinger points out, the Royals are only 10-11 when Zack Greinke doesn’t start – but they’re 16-6 when Sidney Ponson doesn’t start. The best way to look at is this: when neither Greinke nor Ponson start, the Royals are 10-6. If the Royals can play over .500 when their 2-3-4 starters are on the mound, they’re going to be fine. Greinke is more good than Ponson is bad. More to the point, Greinke is more likely to pitch like he is than Ponson is to pitch like he is and stay in the rotation.

Last night, the Royals should have taken the lead in the bottom of the seventh, when home plate umpire Jerry Crawford blew a call at the plate when A.J. Pierzynski used his Jedi mind trick on him. (Seriously, how is that a player universally considered one of the dirtiest players in the game so consistently gets umpires to make calls in his favor? If I were an umpire, I’d call every close play against Pierzynski on pure principle. Then again, if I were an umpire I’d probably sucker-punch Pierzynski just for the fun of it.) Living in Chicago, I was forced to watch the White Sox feed of the game, which featured this exchange during the replay:

Steve Stone: “Pierzynski is in perfect position to make the catch, applies the perfect tag…” replay shows Maier’s leg gets in first “…and we caught a break.”

Hawk Harrelson: “I don’t know – Jerry Crawford is in perfect position to make that call.”

And that, my friends, is why Steve Stone is one of the best in the business. And why Hawk Harrelson is not.

- The Royals drew 11 more walks in the game (granted, two intentionally) and now rank 5th in the league in that category. Last night they scored the tying run in the sixth on a bases-loaded walk, three nights after they scored the go-ahead run in the 11th on a bases-loaded walk.

The Royals have three bases-loaded walks this season. They had five all of last year.

- Coco Crisp walked four more times. I’m running out of ways to describe how surreal this is to watch a leadoff hitter who spits on pitches two inches out of the strike zone. Crisp is just the fourth Royal this decade to walk four times in a game. (Alex Gordon set the team record with five last year – two intentionally – on August 30th. Like Crisp, he didn’t score in the game either.) Crisp also quietly tied a team record earlier this year by walking at least twice in four straight games, a feat last done by Jeff King in 1997.

He’s never done anything like this before, but at this point I’d be shocked if he returns to his previous career walk rates. Maybe there’s something in the water this year; one of the two players in the league with more walks than Crisp is Marcos Scutaro, who has 26 of them. Like Crisp, Scutaro has never drawn even 60 walks in a season before.

- You know whose plate discipline is even more startling than Crisp’s? Jose Guillen. Guillen has drawn eight walks in just 14 games. Guillen’s career high in walks is 41; he had 23 all of last season. He has a .414 OBP, people. How’s that portrait coming along?

- I’ll save more Greinke talk for another column - although Craig Brown as a nice column here about how Greinke is maintaining his stuff deep into games - but I did want to address the hysteria over Greinke’s ERA+, which is currently at 1170.

ERA+ is a wonderful stat, in that it adjusts ERA for the context of era and league and ballpark so that you can directly compare the performance of two pitchers from any point in baseball history. But ERA+ has a flaw which only manifests itself at the margins. This is not a flaw that is unique to ERA+. ANY statistic that involves dividing one number by another – in other words, any rate statistic – has this same potential flaw.

The problem with rate statistics is this: as the denominator in the formula decreases, the statistic increases at an ever faster rate – and when that denominator approaches zero, the statistic increases so fast that it quickly becomes unreliable.

An example may make this more clear. Consider three different pitchers, all of whom have pitched 240 innings in a season:

Pitcher A averages 16 innings per home run.

Pitcher B averages 80 innings per home run.

Pitcher C averages 240 innings per home run.

Looked at this way, it appears that the difference between Pitcher C and Pitcher B is far greater than the difference between Pitcher B and Pitcher A. But look at it the other, more traditional way:

Pitcher A surrendered 15 homers in 240 innings.

Pitcher B surrendered 3 homers in 240 innings.

Pitcher C surrendered 1 homer in 240 innings.

The raw difference between Pitchers B and C is just two homers, whereas the difference between Pitchers A and B is 12 homers. But the first method gives a false reading of Pitcher C’s ability because the method breaks down as homers approach zero. If Pitcher C had not surrendered any homers, then – like Greinke’s ERA+ before he gave up a run – his “innings per home run” would have been infinite.

Like I said, you can have this problem with any rate stat – which is why we have things like innings pitched and at-bat limits, so that someone who goes 2-for-2 doesn’t win the batting title and someone with a scoreless inning doesn’t lead the league in ERA. The problem with ERA+ and the example I presented is that the denominator isn’t expressed in terms of opportunities, but in terms of outcomes. If we reverse the formula – if we expressed their home run rates in terms of homers per inning instead of innings per homer – then the numbers look like this:

Pitcher A: 0.063 HR/IP

Pitcher B: 0.013 HR/IP

Pitcher C: 0.004 HR/IP

Which looks much more reasonable, and in fact, this is the way it’s normally presented (albeit in homers per nine innings, for obvious reasons).

Any stat which involves dividing by the outcome is prone to breaking down as the outcome approaches zero. When you extract the park and league adjustments from ERA+, the formula is essentially (league ERA/pitcher ERA). In this case, the closer a pitcher’s ERA is to zero, the closer his ERA+ gets to infinity. We can solve the problem by reversing the formula, making Greinke's ERA+ roughly 8, but custom has already dictated that with ERA+, like with OPS+, the higher the better. In this case, though, Greinke’s number is so high that it doesn’t mean much other than he’s been really, really good.

Sorry for the math digression.

- Brayan Pena cleared waivers, and I think it’s time I give up and admit that I’m out of my depth when it comes to figuring out which players are going to be claimed and which ones aren’t. You’d think that out of 29 other teams, one of them would want a 27-year-old switch-hitting catcher with a lifetime .303 average in the minors (and who has hit over .300 in all four of his seasons in Triple-A) making the league minimum. You would be wrong, as I was. I’m happy to have him. If he does nothing else for the Royals this year, he’s already earned all the ink I’ve spent writing about him with his game-altering pinch double against the Yankees on April 12th. I suspect we’ll see him again in September, if not sooner.

- I have a confession to make. I do a mean Guy Fieri impression.

- Finally, I’ve been meaning to address Luke Hochevar’s contract situation for awhile, and with Sidney Ponson making (hopefully) his last start tonight, now’s as good a time as any.

Hochevar came into the season with 1 year, 17 days of service time. The rules state that 172 service days = 1 full service year, so in order to keep Hochevar from being a free agent until after the 2014 season, the Royals can not afford to give him more than 154 days of service time this year.

Complicating things is that there are, I believe, 182 days (exactly 26 weeks) from Opening Day to the last Sunday of the season. This is why a player can get a full year of service time even though he’s not called up until a week into the season (see, for instance, Kerry Wood’s rookie year.)

Anyway, if you just count from the last day of the season and work backwards, the tipping point for Hochevar was May 4th. If the Royals had called him up before May 4th, then he would have qualified for free agency a year early. (This became a source of concern in the Jazayerli household when Gil Meche’s back acted up, and it looked like the Royals might need Hochevar to make Meche's next start – on May 3rd.) In other words, the Royals have no reason to keep Hochevar on the farm any longer purely from a service time standpoint.

There is the additional concern of trying to keep him from qualifying as a “super-two” player, a player who’s eligible for arbitration before he has three full years of service time. The math here is a little tougher to figure out, because the line that separates super-two players from the other players with 2+ years of service time moves from year to year. Generally, the dividing line falls between 120 and 140 days of service time. That means the Royals would need to keep Hochevar down on the farm for somewhere in the range of 5-7 more weeks.

This would be dumb, not only because the Royals need him, but because the benefits of avoid the super-two pale to the benefits of keeping a player out of free agency. If the player’s any good, then the couple extra million he’ll make that first year of arbitration is nothing compared to getting to keep a quality player for another season. If he’s not any good, then that first year of arbitration isn’t going to cost you much anyway.

So root for a slugfest tonight – the Mariners are cooperating by sending Carlos Silva to the mound – and hope that the Royals pull out the game despite, not because of, Ponson. And maybe we’ll finally get around to the rotation we should have started the season with in the first place.

43 comments:

jello said...

I'm running towards thinking (hoping) that Ponson does OK and they consider sending Davies down for a bit. Ponson is a "sunk cost" Davies could be important moving forward. And something seems broken there.

Of course Davies getting right from here on out would be the best, but, if you hang on to Ponson and he works out reasonably well, send Davies down to work on what ails him, you have him in Omaha as back up in case of injury, Ponson meltdown or what not.

I'm not a fan of Ponson, but, if we release him he is likely gone.

JeffO

Shira said...

No comment on the managerial decisions?
1. Replacing two of your best hitters with pinchrunners in a tie game.
2. Not using Soria last night.

Scott Hammond said...

Davies has an option to omaha, so perhaps a trip up I-29 would do him so good. He's been bad since his first two starts.
Bring up Luke.

jjspringer said...

I know you're a busy guy, but I would love to see more ink on the trainwreck that was the Guy Fieri interview.

And does Greinke earn a separate contract for serving as his own closer?

Anonymous said...

what is this introducing yourself to joel business about? is there a story here?

Jeff said...

You know what? A lot of people seem to be upset with Hillman's decision to put in the pinch runners last night. I'm normally never the guy that defends him, I'm totally in the camp that he's cost us 3 very valuable wins so far this year. But I'm defending him here.

Bases loaded, nobody out, and he saw an opportunity to try to maximize our chances of getting two runs. Guillen has been extremely slow, so barring a deep flyball, he wasn't going to tag. It it wasn't deep then it was going to require a basehit. As for Butler, I would have waited until he was at 3rd to do the pinch running, simply because if we did get a basehit from callaspo and it wasn't enough to score Butler, then we'd still have the bases loaded with nobody out, plus a one run lead, and that's when you make the switch.

Even still, he was replaced with Bloomquist, and while I know that he's playing out of his head right now and there's no way he keeps this up over the season, I do believe in hot streaks in baseball, and Bloomquist is definitely in one of those. He even got the hit and run down later in the game.

Hillman did a bold move, and it didn't work out (although it should have if the call on Maier was correct). I'm fine with that. It's the weird moves with no discernible logic that get me all mad.

Curtis said...

Shira, if the Royals take the lead in the seventh inning, we are yanking Guillen for Maier anyway for defensive purposes. Putting Maier in to pinch run makes it more likely that we are going to get the lead, and the probability of scoring at least one run with the bases loaded and no outs is very, very high. I think it would be nuts not to run for Guillen in that circumstance. And on the one in one hundred innings you don't score anymore, you just have to regroup.

The decision to replace Butler with Bloomquist is somewhat different. I don't think it is as clear cut that you would make the change defensively. And even if you definitely would make that change, the trade-off is between a better chance of a 2 run lead and better defense versus a more productive offense later in the game. I think it was a very close call. My instinct at the time was that it was a bad move. I thought that with Cruz and Soria both having Monday night off, that the first run was by far the biggest, and you could postpone the decision one batter on Bloomquist and Butler. There were two situations where Butler's speed would hurt you: first, if there was a single to the outfield and he couldn't score but the Spork could have, and second, if there was a sacrifice fly deep enough to score Maier and advance Bloomquist but not deep enough for Billy. In the first case, you still have bases loaded with none out, and a lead, and you can make the substitution now without worrying about it remaining tied. And the second one just sucks, but such is life.

So, after all that, I like the move to replace Guillen, and dislike the move to replace Butler, but only a little, and I am really glad that both Mitch and Willie redeemed the decision in the 11th.

john j said...

About the walks, I took a look at the "Beane Count" to see if KC was at least in the middle of the pack (I don't think I've ever seen them higher than 13th). Guess what? They are number 1 in the AL. I was stunned.

Sean said...

Couple things...Great article as usual. This team has been amazing to watch especially the last few weeks the way they battle. Here is my biggest concern about Hochevar at this point. What if he comes up now and becomes a stud the next few years. You dont think he and Boras will use this bs treatment against the Royals when he is up for free agency? I dont see how we could sign him now if he becomes a front of the rotation type of guy. He clearly pitched his way on the club in spring training and has dominated in AAA. Now he continues to stay down there as Ponson continues to get tatoo'd. The only reason Ponson pitches deep into games is because Hillman wont take him out. I'm a big Hoch fan more because I have to be and I want to see the number 1 pick succeed. Maybe the kid has a great head on his shoulders and loves KC in the next 4 years or so come negotiations, but my guess is that he'd have to fire Boras to get it done after the backdoor treatment management has given him upto this point.

D.W. said...

Great stuff as always, Rany! I too am starting to get the feeling this is actually a good team, especially when I see them win games they used to lose regularly. I'm 33 and don't remember ever seeing a Royals team display patience at the plate like this. Could be an interesting summer...

Anonymous said...

Sorry to nitpick an otherwise stellar post, Rany, but King played for us in '97.

jonfmorse said...

Curtis - perfect explanation. I would add that Hillman was taking advantage of a beautiful situation, and had it worked out (ahem, it did work out, Maier was safe, but never mind that) Maier and Bloomquist never would have come to the plate later.

I think people see moves like this in home games and forget that if you take and hold the lead, you've only got one inning at bat left. It was a good managerial move. (Although I will still never forgive his inability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of his players and the opposition, so Gobble/Kotchman and Farnsworth/Thome are things he's going to have to do a lot to counteract in my mind.)

Nick said...

A suggestion, Rany: You're a doctor, fer chrissakes! Shell out the $20 per month for MLB TV. I do, and it's well worth it to not have to hear Hawk spout his stupidity. You're reminding me of Alex Gordon saying that he couldn't watch the games while he was rehabbing in Vale.

That said, I'll add that I was very close to shutting it off when the Royals were down 5-1 last night. I caught myself and didn't succumb to the "Royals-can't-pull-this-one-out" mentality that we've all suffered with for so long. Glad I stayed with 'em.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why anyone would think that not using Soria last night was a bad move. Wright and Cruz have been great for us, and did a great job last night. If he had put in Farnsworth, that would be a different story. You'll notice that Hillman hasn't put Farnsworth into a critical situation for the last couple of weeks. An trust me, as long as we're in first place, Hillman ain't going anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Rany. Please tell everyone at 810 that May 23 has no bearing at all on Hochevar's service time. Some misguided listener "calculated" that May 23 was the magic number for Super 2 status, and everyone is running with it.

Also, isn't Kyle Davies out of options? By my count he was optioned in 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Matt Berger said...

I agree, I'm fine with Soria not being used. But I'm definitely not okay with pinch running for Guillen in that situation, if we need the speed why not pinch run for Guillen as soon as he got on base. Mitch probably would have scored on Butler's double. Though I have to admit Maier was safe at home and Guillen would have assuredly been out so from that aspect Hillman made the right move pinch running for Guillen, he just should have done it sooner.

Anonymous said...

I am craving juice.

Anonymous said...

Soria was not available last night per Hillman.

Anonymous said...

jjspringer... FYI, that wasn't Guy Fieri. It was a dude who lives in KC and has made himself into a look-a-like.

Nathan said...

Soria is our best reliever and hasn't been used much this season. Now, it could be there's something wrong with him physically or mechanically that explains not using him in high-leverage spots. But if he's right, don't you have to get him involved in an extra-inning game?

Hillman has shown a perplexing tendency to reserve Soria for what Ryan Lefebvre calls a "true Soria situation" -- i.e. a save opportunity. There are lots of times when the game is more on the line than in save situtations, and Hillman needs to find ways to get Soria involved when it'll make the most difference. It could easily be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Wright and Cruz have been excellent so far, but gives us a better chance to win than a healthy Soria. If this were just one game, I wouldn't complain, but all appearances are that the Royals are poised to waste their second or third best arm this year. That's inexcusable on a team with playoff aspirations.

AxDxMx said...

I dislike Hillman, but I am starting to come around. Last night there was nothing there to fault him for. The subs were an excellent idea that was wasted by the 3rd base coach being aggressive/the umpire blowing the call.

As for your ERA+ argument Rany, I don't think this breaks down at all unless Greinke has a 0.00 ERA. ERA+ just gives you an idea relative to 100 of how effective a pitcher has been against league average. So has Greinke been about 12 times better than league average? I'd say it's not a stretch considering he's in some pretty rare company with the kind of start he has made. If Greinke didn't give up another run this season, I would argue that ERA+ might undervalue him!

Sean said...

I have to comment on this as well. Where does Joel Goldberg get off asking to see credentials? Too funny.

Chris said...

I, too, live in Chicago.
I had quite literally the exact same reaction to that "commentary" by Hawk Harrelson. I've already been classically conditioned to become angry when I hear his voice.

Last night's game was a complete turning point for me as a fan. The feeling of confidence was completely novel, but welcomed.

Anonymous said...

Hail, Sir Sidney!!

Unknown Royals Fan said...

7-1/3 innings, 8 hits, 1 earned run, only one strikeout, but only one walk. 85 pitches. The truth - Sidney barely let the Mariners play until the sixth inning. In five days, you'll see him again. Sidney has had six starts - three were quality starts by the stats. The home opener should have been a quality start, but for some horrendous defense. And two were awful. The key seems to be keeping Ponson from getting comfortable and losing focus.

I'm still not participating in the hate-fest. And I'm still not sold on Hochevar as the answer; I think he needs more time at Omaha. How much different is he now from the pitcher who was pretty bad last year?

Douglas said...

No way the Royals win this game in the last ten years. The walks, the comeback, the determination, clutch pitching. I'm a believer. And when Ponson goes and Hochevar arrives, I'll be looking for more than just a .500 third place finish. I grew up in KC in the 70's so I'm spoiled. It's been a long haul.

Nathan said...

There's no doubt the Royals are playing like a playoff team. It isn't a fluke, in the sense that the results so far derive from performance, not luck. The real question is: can they keep playing like this? Coco Crisp and Jose Guillen, in particular, have long histories of being much easier outs than they've been so far. Are they really better than they used to be, thanks to personal determination or some Seitzerian spell? Or will they revert to form? The same question can be asked, to a lesser extent of others, even including Greinke.

I was hopeful before the season, and am even more so now. It's too early to be sure it's here to stay, but this is the first time this century the Royals have played like this. Exciting times!

rey rey said...

Nathan, the Royals dont have to keep playing like this to have a good chance of wining the Central. If they play .500 from here on out, they will end up with 87 wins...what most 'experts' thought could take it.

We need to give DM credit with his 'lousy' offseason. His 3 position acquisitions are doing EXACTLY what they were brought here for. CoCo getting on base at the top of the order and playing good D. Jacobs hitting hr's (on pace for 30)and Bloomy, while certainly over-achieving, is a solid player. And dont forget all the talk coming out of Spring Training regarding the leadership these guys have brought to the clubhouse.

Anonymous said...

SO WHAT IF THEY ARE .500 WHEN SOMEONE BESIDES ZACK PITCHES !!!!

Doesn't that mean we make the playoffs? Do the Math people. We play .500 ball when someone besides Zack pitches, & when Zack pitches we win 75% of those games. Royals end up with a record of 88-74. (Zack pitches 34 games Royals are 24 & 10. Leaving 128 games for the rest of the staff. That makes us 64-64 when someone other than Zack pitches. Add 24 W's and 10 L's. 88-74)

I think it is underachieving at this point but I WILL TAKE IT.

Old Man Duggan said...

Nick,

Rany was in market in Chicago, therefore having the game blocked out on MLB.tv. Extra Innings packages also block out the opposing broadcast, so being in Chicago, he was stuck, as I was living in Texas when the Royals played the Rangers.

Anonymous said...

After every game, I look for a new entry in this blog. I'm always disappointed when I don't see one.

Anonymous said...

Ponson shut down the mighty Mariners. Now what? A friend made a comment to me that his first place Mariners are facing my first place Royals, what kind of alternate universe are we in? Had me thinking about how "for real" each of these teams is in terms of their current standing. Last night's Ponson vs. Silva 9-1 beating answered that question. Anyone else think it's hilarious that Seattle is paying Silva more than what Meche is making (avg $/yr) after the Meche signing was the laughingstock of baseball?

Curtis said...

Matt, I still agree with the decision not to run for Guillen after he led off.

The decision was basically that if we took the lead, we wanted Maier in right. If the game remained tied, we wanted Guillen in the game. Since he had reached base with none out in the seventh, he was guaranteed another at bat unless there was a double play or the Royals won without batting in the ninth.

At the time of Guillen's hit, the Royals were still behind 7-6 and had Teahen on second and Guillen on first with none out with Butler at the plate. We have a good chance to take the lead in this inning, but it is not a lock or even a near lock. I would say it was closer to a 50-50 proposition. Putting in Maier now means it maybe goes to a 55-45 proposition, but I doubt the increase is even that significant.

The other thing to remember is because Teahen was ahead of him, he was not being held on by the first baseman, and could get a bigger lead, and so his lack of speed was somewhat less of a liability for that reason.

After Butler's double, now the game is tied, and there are runners on second and third with no outs, so we are overwhelmingly likely to take the lead. No lock, as we found out, but the probability has to be something in the neighborhood of 95%. So maybe the Maier switch now changes it from 95% to 96%, and now I think the extra one percent is worth making the move now even though I didn't think the extra 5% was worth it.

Imagine if instead of the double, Butler hits a one-hopper to short for an easy 6-4-3. It wouldn't have mattered if it was Guillen or Maier, we could have ended the inning behind, and taken one of our best bats out of the game.

No, this is one I think Trey handled perfectly.

The decision to run for Butler, not so much.

Daniel Wesley said...

Rey Rey, the Royals are currently 17-11. If we went .500 from this point on, we'd end up with a record of 84-78, not 87-75.

Anonymous said...

Well Sir Sidney has 3 quality starts out of 6 and he should have 3 wins to show for it.

If anybody is heading out of here it should be Davies (who is reverting back to the Davies we're all familiar with).

Tulsaslim

Nathan W said...

Hawk is horrible Even my girlfriend thinks he ridiculous and she could generally care less. Every out the White Sox make are line drive bullets snagged by superhero defenders playing over their head. Every Royals hit is a "duck snort" that finds a hole somewhere despite being hit on the end of the bat. The sad part is he truly embodies the disposition of all White Sox fans, which is why they annoy me to no end.

Nathan W said...

Hawk is horrible Even my girlfriend thinks he ridiculous and she could generally care less. Every out the White Sox make are line drive bullets snagged by superhero defenders playing over their head. Every Royals hit is a "duck snort" that finds a hole somewhere despite being hit on the end of the bat. The sad part is he truly embodies the disposition of all White Sox fans, which is why they annoy me to no end.

Drew said...

Rany,
Can't find you on twitter? What's your name again...sorry. Rany and Jazayerli aren't coming up in the search.

Rany said...

Drew,

Yeah, that's weird. Nothing comes up when I type "jazayerli" into the search engine, even though my follow name is @jazayerli. Anyone have a clue what's wrong?

Olentangy said...

Uh oh, KK on 810 is off on a tangent about how he doesn't want to know what a player's total stat package is, he only wants to evaluate them on what they do when the game is on the line. Someone needs to send him a copy of that book outlined in the Star today about randomness.

Nick said...

Old Man Duggan,

>>Rany was in market in Chicago, therefore having the game blocked out on MLB.tv. Extra Innings packages also block out the opposing broadcast, so being in Chicago, he was stuck, as I was living in Texas when the Royals played the Rangers."<<

The game was played in KC. How can Rany be in market in Chicago?

That said, as an MLB TV subscriber, I'd like to go on record as saying that it sucks that they don't include the pre/post game parts of the broadcasts they make available. No reason not to, as far as I can tell.

Nick said...

Old Man Duggan,

Oops. Just re-read what you posted (and what I posted). Been drinkin', but I'm still pissed about the pre/post game stuff.

Brian B said...

I don't understand why you would root for Ponson to pitch poorly. No, I'm not an idiot or -- worse -- a Ponson believer, but it strikes me that the best outcome for the Royals is Ponson pitches well beyond is underlying abilities for another 5-7 weeks, obviating the immediate need for Hochevar and avoiding Super 2 status as well as delaying free agency. Wouldn't that be dandy? If Ponson sucks and they need Hochevar, then so be it, but I'm happy to watch Ponson spin more starts like the other night and then get dumped a little later. A win is a win is a win.