(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
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
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.
- 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.