The wait is over: Rany on the Radio returns this evening at 6 PM. We’ve tried to make an effort to give the show a consistent time slot this year – last year we’d be on Thursday unless the Royals were playing, in which case it would be Wednesday, unless it was a day game on Thursday…it got to be like a third-rate network sitcom that bounced around to accommodate the rest of the schedule. This year, the hope is that you can find us every Thursday at 6 PM on 810 WHB. (This is why we didn’t start last week – evidently some non-baseball sports league was holding a draft or something. Stupid NFL.)
Some quick thoughts before the show tonight:
- It appears that all the talk about Luke Hochevar’s improved fastball was an illusion after all. As Greg Hall recounts here, even the pitching staff thinks the radar gun at the K is hot, and as Jeff Zimmerman analyzes the data here, they’re right – the gun is about 2 mph faster than at other parks. I don’t know how the Pitch F/X data could be this off, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Royals, it’s that they can make the impossible seem commonplace.
- Greg Schaum is reporting that the Royals are putting John Parrish on the DL and calling up Victor Marte. Let me be the first to say: Marte is not the answer. If he goes back down in a couple of days when Chris Getz returns, this is no big deal. But if the Royals send down Alex Gordon instead…well, they are the Royals. They have a reputation to live up to.
- Speaking of Gordon…I’ve defended Trey Hillman to an extent for his handling of the bullpen. But that doesn’t mean his overall body of work is anything to be proud of. Case in point: last night, with the Royals down a run in the 8th, after Alberto Callaspo singled with two outs, Hillman pinch-ran for him with Gordon.
Meanwhile, Willie Bloomquist was still in the lineup at second base, and was due to bat in the 9th.
This is amazing on several levels:
1) Hillman decided that it was more important to upgrade from Callaspo to Gordon on the basepaths than to upgrade from Bloomquist to Gordon with the bat.
2) Bloomquist was in the starting lineup, I suppose, because the Mariners started a lefty on the mound. It so happens that the Mariners’ closer, David Aardsma, is right-handed.
3) Jason Kendall was at the plate when Gordon pinch-ran. If the point of bringing Gordon in to run was so that he might be able to score on a double in the gap, wouldn’t it make sense only if the batter could actually hit a double? We’re talking about the player with the lowest slugging average in the majors last year. Kendall has 3 extra-base hits so far this season, and had just 23 all of last year.
4) Rick Ankiel is supposedly available to pinch-hit, but he stayed on the bench in the 9th, while Bloomquist naturally made an out. So either Ankiel really isn’t available and the Royals are pulling our leg (never!), or Hillman really thought Bloomquist was his best option in the 9th.
- I know that Yuni is hitting .325, and we’ve been subject to the requisite articles that he’s become a better, more disciplined hitter. Pardon me if I wait a little longer before acknowledging defeat. His new-found discipline has translated into exactly one walk all season. Last night, he worked the count to 3-1 with two outs in the ninth, prompting Frank White (himself a fair swinger) to recommend that Yuni take a pitch and try to work a walk. He fouled off the 3-1 pitch, then swung on a 3-2 pitch that was high and a foot outside to end the game.
According to Fangraphs, Betancourt has swung at 56% of the pitches he’s seen this season – by far the most in his career. He’s swung at 46% of pitches outside the strike zone – last year he swung at just 31%, and his career high is 34%. All the evidence suggests that he’s LESS disciplined at the plate this season.
This lack of discipline has been most galling when it comes to situational hitting. Seven times this season Betancourt has batted with a man on third base and less than two out, i.e. a situation where you just want to put the ball in play. He has one hit in those seven at-bats, but the problem is that in his other six at-bats he didn’t bring the runner home even once. This cost the Royals the game on Saturday night, when he struck out with the game-winning run on 3rd base in the 10th (he saw four pitches, all of them out of the strike zone, and swung at three of them). It might have cost the Royals the game on Tuesday, when he grounded out weakly with Mitch Maier on third base and one out after Maier had tripled in the game’s first run. Maier didn’t score; the Royals lost 3-2. The major league average for bringing home a runner on third with less than two out is in the 55-60% range. For Yuni so far this year, it’s 14%.
So yeah, he’s hitting .325, but his approach hasn’t changed at all; if anything, it’s gotten worse. Batting average is a notoriously variable statistic, and even a bad hitter can hit .325 for a month. Just look at Betancourt himself:
July 2006: .374
May 2007: .327
August 2007: .317
April 2008: .301
August 2008: .305
September 2008: .343
Hell, Betancourt batted .303 last April, and by June the Mariners were desperate to get rid of him. Because even when Betancourt hits .300, his complete lack of walks and modest power makes him only marginally useful. And when he hits .214, like he did last May, he’s a lineup killer.
If Betancourt is hitting .325 at the All-Star Break, call me. Until then, call me a skeptic.