Wednesday, April 14, 2010

You Can't Make A Bullpen Out Of Bull****.

Eight games into the season, we should be talking about how impressive the offense looks. The Royals have scored 38 runs in eight games, ranking fifth in the league; they’re hitting .290/.348/.438 as a team. Jose Guillen has four homers and is slugging .781. Rick Ankiel had hits in 8 straight at-bats at one point. Jason Kendall has started all eight games (no surprise) and has an 8-game hitting streak (big surprise). Scott Podsednik is hitting .452 and is on pace for 121 steals.

And yet the Royals are 3-5, because they’ve allowed the second-most runs in the league. They’ve done so even though their rotation has a perfectly respectable 4.21 ERA. The bullpen, on the other hand, has a 7.96 ERA, and has allowed more than two baserunners per inning.

Karl Marx once wrote that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Marx never delineated the third step, which is unfortunate, as we entered the farce stage sometime last summer. And speaking of Communism, when your poor beleaguered beat reporter suggests that the best way to deal with your bullpen is “lining them all up like the Romanovs” – you might have a problem. (A more recent version of that article has softened the opening line a bit. Bob Dutton has watched damn near every Royals game this century; I wouldn’t blame him one bit if he finally snapped.)

That the Royals have a massive bullpen problem should not be a surprise to anyone. They finished last season with a massive leaking hole between their starters and Joakim Soria, and then over the offseason, while they were signing hitters like they were a kid in an outfielder store, they didn’t make a single move to address their bullpen. Every single member of their bullpen today was in their bullpen at the end of last season, with two exceptions: Luis Mendoza, who was picked up right before the season after he couldn’t make the Rangers staff, because the Royals felt that one Roman Colon just wasn’t enough; and John Parrish, a left-hander who missed all of 2009 with arm surgery.

It’s telling that Parrish has been the only middle reliever who’s been even remotely effective. Parrish has retired all 10 batters he’s faced, including a host of tough left-handed hitters he was brought in specifically to face: he made four one-batter appearances before being left in to pitch two perfect innings in his last outing.

It’s also telling that Soria has also faced only 10 batters all season – along with Parrish, the fewest of any reliever on the roster. Colon has faced 14 of them. Robinson Tejeda has faced 21 batters (and walked only 6!). LUIS MENDOZA has faced 18. But the best reliever on the squad by a factor of about 100, one of the three best relievers in the history of the franchise, has faced only ten. If he doesn’t pitch again soon, the Royals may need to shut him down for the rest of the season to keep him healthy.

So the problems with the bullpen should not be a surprise. Nor should it be a surprise that finding solutions to this problem are awfully difficult in mid-April. Trading for middle relief is almost always a fool’s enterprise, and while there are a few decent free agents still looking for a home, I’m not aware of any quality relievers who are still on the open market. (If there were, Ed Wade would have signed them already.)

Nevertheless, there a few simple things that can be done:

Stop carrying eight relievers. This might be the funniest sub-plot of the Royals’ bullpen – that the Royals think that quantity can somehow substitute for quality. It brings to mind the old woman’s complaint to a restaurant that “the food is terrible, and the portions are so small.” Maybe we don’t have any good relievers – but at least we have lots of bad ones!

It’s not like the Royals have a rotation that needs coddling. With the exception of Meche’s disaster start, the team’s starter has gone at least 5.2 innings in every start. The idea that any team needs eight relievers to get the last ten outs of each ballgame is laughable. The idea that a team needs an eighth reliever more than a fourth bench player is repugnant.

The solution here is obvious. Luis Mendoza has a career 8.32 ERA in the majors. He has a career 4.67 ERA IN TRIPLE-A. He has a career 5.06 ERA IN DOUBLE-A. I could pull out a host of more advanced statistics, but really, does anything more need to be said? He sucks. The Royals have nothing invested in him. Designate him for assignment, and if by some miracle another team claims him – count your blessings.

In his place, bring up a hitter. I know that Kendall’s hitting .310 at the moment, but between him and Betancourt, there are going to be a lot of opportunities for opposing teams to use a tough right-handed pitcher on two of the weakest hitters in baseball. In six games in Omaha, Kila Ka’aihue already has three homers and eight walks. He would give opposing pitchers fits as a lefty Three True Outcomes hitter off the bench, occasional fill-in at first base at DH, and give the Royals an opportunity to evaluate him as a potential everyday player next year.

Replacing Mendoza with Ka’aihue is an astonishingly common-sense move to make. Which is why I don’t expect it will happen.

Release Roman Colon. I’ve already called Roman Colon “the Yuniesky Betancourt of the bullpen”, and frankly that might not be fair to Yuni. Betancourt, at least, was at one time a reasonably useful player whose skills have simply regressed over the past 3 years. Colon, on the other hand, has never been a usable major-league pitcher. In 2004, he had a 3.38 ERA in all of 19 innings for the Braves, and that was his high-water mark. The following year he had a 5.58 ERA; in 2006, he had a 4.89 ERA; and he spent all of 2007 and 2008 in the minors. (Where he was basically kicked out of the Tigers’ organization after breaking a teammate’s jaw in a fight, remember. Classy.)

While in the minors he was no better – he had a 4.43 ERA in 2007, and a 4.74 ERA in 2008. He was better in 2009, with a 2.84 ERA for Omaha, but only pitched 25 innings before the Royals hustled him to the majors.

Colon has not remotely approached a major-league caliber pitcher in at least six years – but the Royals have treated him like God’s Gift to Pitching since the moment they acquired him, overlooking both his off-field incident and the fact that he doesn’t get anyone out. This spring, the Royals raved about his new slider and boasted that it would take him to a new level.

Well, that slider has been so intimidating that of those 14 batters he’s faced, he’s struck out exactly one of them. He’s walked two, hit a batter, and allowed 5 hits. The Royals are right: he’s not the same pitcher he was last year. He’s worse.

The same scouting eye that tells the Royals that Yuniesky Betancourt’s lateral range is just fine must be the same eye that tells the Royals that Roman Colon’s stuff is good enough to get hitters out. The difference is that the Royals haven’t guaranteed millions of dollars to Colon. Ship him out, and bring in someone who has actually proven he can retire major-league – or at least minor-league – hitters.

Bring up Carlos Rosa. The Royals have many intriguing minor-league relievers, but Rosa is probably the only one who is ready for the majors.

Blake Wood has seen his stuff improve significantly since moving to the pen this spring, but he has all of eight relief appearances in his career.

Chris Hayes would be the third- or fourth-best reliever on the roster immediately, but he has not pitched at all this season. One source has told me that he’s on the minor-league DL. Another source, though, swears that Disco isn’t hurt at all, and that the Royals are playing shenanigans with the DL because they don’t have enough Triple-A roster spots and they deemed Hayes to be expendable. The Royals have gone out of their way to avoid giving Hayes an opportunity, so this wouldn’t surprise me at all.

The idea of giving Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery an apprenticeship in the bullpen before graduating to the rotation is an inspired one. But both are still a few months away from being ready for that sort of promotion, and I’d worry that success in that role would only tempt the Royals into keeping them in a relief role for the long term.

I don’t trust Victor Marte one bit, and Greg Holland needs more seasoning. Louis Coleman and Brandon Sisk are very intriguing but not quite ready. That leaves only Rosa.

Rosa made the move from the rotation to the bullpen last season, and was terrible at first; through the end of June he gave up 21 walks and 5 homers in 38 innings. But from July onward he was much better, allowing just 11 walks and one homer in 34 innings, while striking out 39. This year he has thrown four scoreless innings, though he blew the save in his last outing by allowing inherited runners to score. He has a very live fastball in the mid-90s, but his secondary stuff needs work. He’s not going to be a savior, or even a primary set-up man at first, but at least he can come in with a 5-1 run lead in the seventh inning and get some outs, unlikely the guy he would be replacing.

Pray. Maybe Juan Cruz will start to pitch like he did prior to becoming a Royal. Maybe Kyle Farnsworth will pitch as well with the game on the line as he does in garbage time. Maybe Robinson Tejeda will throw strike one. Maybe Joakim Soria can throw 150 innings this year. At this point, all we can do is put our faith in God that things will get better. Because we can no longer put faith in our front office.

30 comments:

Spanky McGee said...

Don't worry Rany! Take solace that if nothing else (as you pointed about our hitting), we lead all of the Majors in hits at this exact moment in time! Small victories...

smh said...

Indeed. Small victories!! I like the photo in the Star of Tejeda feeling low. He should. He is awful.

Elder Eddie said...

What about Thompson?

Riles said...

I wonder if Trey knows the season has started, and the games count now? It's almost like he's treating these games as a bullpen audition.

Nathan said...

You mention that Soria has faced just ten batters, so I'd add one more thing to your list of what can be done: stop managing by the save rule.

Relegating your best reliever (and second best pitcher overall) to a single, low-leverage, sporadically appearing situation is idiotic. The fact that other teams do it too is no justification for a practice so plainly harmful to the team.

Ryan said...

Hillman talks about the game on Tuesday and Omaha pitchers in this article. http://bit.ly/917ziJ

He claims that Soria isn't used to coming in in the 7th. (So? He's your best pressure pitcher. Tell him that you might start using him earlier so he can warm up/stretch earlier.)

Also, that the middle of the order would have been up in the 9th, and that's another "high leverage" situation. The thing about the 7th was that there two men on with no outs, when Hillman went to the bullpen. Having two men on with the middle of the order with a 4 run lead, is higher leverage than just having to get 3 outs with a 4 run lead in the 9th.

Also, he doesn't mentions Rosa's name of the Omaha pitchers, nor does he mention Bullington who just threw 7 shutout innings.

Jacob G. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd said...

I'd love to see Hayes pitching at Kauffman.

KW said...

Wouldn't the changes you suggest require the Royals' front office to admit they have been wrong in evaluating some players? Ain't happenin', Podna.

david said...

If the stress from work wasn't enough to make me go bald, watching this bullpen is. I have fits every time Trey trots to the mound. Not only that, or SP has been 1/2 way decent for the first time in... forever..

anyway, thanks for the good post...
keep them. coming!

Anonymous said...

Great post Rany.

A small attempt at humor...

Parrish and Soria
and oh lordy there ain't no glory...

I could see the Royals doing what you are saying with Hayes. What the hell??? There would be no problems with roster spots in AAA if you would get rid of Mendoza and Colon.

If your eyes tell you they have talent but they fail to ever get anyone out, lose some faith in your eyes for the love of goodness.

Chuck D said...

My biggest issue with both GMDM and Trey is their complete reluctance to admit mistakes. They seem to go as far as they can to validate themselves even when it has become apparent that they are wrong. You can see this with the bullpen, Kila, Yuni, and multiple other situations. I just want somebody in the media to ask Moore about this. I want to know his thoughts. I'm half tempted to stake out the parking lot at the K to ask him myself.

Anonymous said...

All of the Royals' relievers except Soria should drink hemlock!

Anonymous said...

Rany - Serious question. I have heard rumors that Hillman's religious beliefs effect his decisions in regards to who plays and who doesn't. Is this true?

Paul said...

Nathan- agree 100%.
No other stat in no other sport dictates what moves a manager/coach makes. Pretty frustrating.
Good win today, although I felt the way the Royals are swinging the bat- we should have swept.
Granted most of the hits were singles, but what did they get like 40 in the series?
I just don't see this team avoiding 85-90 losses. When the bullpen starts doing better, the hitters will go cold. When the hitters start to heat up, the starters won't be able to get past the 5th. I've seen this play before.

Anonymous said...

This team has the stench of players playing for money, respect, and security. They will come back to Earth, but hit rock? “Hilly” does in fact have respect from folks in the know. Perhaps he's lit a fire under some players. Guienie knows he has to play this year, money is all he cares about. His pocket book will be screaming if he repeats 09.

Kendelli could make as much as another 10 million or more after this contract if he develops a reputation of being the old reliable backstop. Jason is well off on this venture. Have you noticed how he hits the pitcher on ball returns​. Little thing, but I counted 10 perfect toss backs hitting Hokey on his second step backwards towards the mound during his last start.

Now mix in the 20 something group, which is larger than we think. We almost have an entire team of field position players who are directly the opposite of the Grudsie like players we've seen far too often. I've not given up on Gordo either, I predict All Star someday. As a right fielder.

It does look like the team is a team, which should never be underplayed.

kcghost said...

Obviously readers of Rany's blog are not going to be fans of the Royals front office and the "process". Maybe if we were less interested in facts and more interested in sound bites we would be more forgiving.

Our leadership has been on the job for almost four years and yet the only players in AAA worth discussing were in the organization when they arrived. They have one player at AA who might be ready late this year or early next (Crow). It just seems like in four years the farm system would be further along.

Chance said...

Good Lord, you have all forgotten the one guiding principle of this organization for 2010: "We don't expect to win this year, so we are not going to make any moves to improve THIS YEAR." No one is coming up to start service time running, and they are not going to trade to IMPROVE the club for THIS YEAR.Now, trading for prosepects taht will lanquish in the minors, maybe.

Wabbitkiller said...

Unfortunately it's a differet year, and the same old sh*t from the idiots in the front office. I'm almost to the point of wishing that Dayton Moore would simply DIE (okay, alien abduction, framing him for murder, etc would also work, but you get the point) so that the Royals could replace him with someone that's HOPEFULLY more competent than he is (which isn't saying much).

The Crypt Keeper isn't going to fire him anytime soon, nor would HIS death bring any relief (Dan Glass, nuff said). Because of this as fans we're STUCK with this BS until Dayton Moore is removed from his post. I really hate to wish harm on ANYONE, but this is getting old. I'm sick of watching the front office constantly set new standards for stupidity and incompetence.

Chris Hayes is a good example of their blind stupidity. Sure, he doesn't throw very hard, and he may NOT be able to do much at the major league level, but at this point WHAT DO THE ROYALS HAVE TO LOSE? Hayes couldn't possibly do any worse than Colon or Mendoza, yet Dayton Moore and Co are too freaking stupid to understand this concept. On second thought, I'm NOT sorry for wishing that Dayton Moore would die...

Anonymous said...

Isn't Pedro still available?

Anonymous said...

I, too, was not happy with the Kendall signing. It has been the brunt of jokes on every baseball venue there is. But now I wonder how much Kendall has to do with the improvement in Bannister, Davies, and Hochevar. And yes, I realize that his influence isn't helping the bullpen, but he can't substitute talent level. I'm thinking that where there is some talent to bring out, his game calling is helping to maximize that talent. I may have to rethink my displeasure about his signing.

Anonymous said...

The starters started hot last year too. Give it some time before you give Kendall credit. They'll come back to earth.

setupunchtag said...

Rany, great points and history on Colon and Mendoza. Much like Tomko, there was nothing to suggest any of them would be successful.

People, say what you want about Baird, but he WAS able to find a couple low-cost high productiion guys (Ibanez, and to a lesser extent, Emil Brown). Moore has done nothing like that, especially in regards to hitting.

It's going to be a full four years, and maybe 4.5 to 5 before ANY of Dayton Moore's picks are ready to contribute to the Major League club, much less MAKE it to the bigs. How is this acceptable and not reason for termination?

As I've posted before on the Star site, Moore's trades of Affeldt, Nunez, Howell and Ramirez (which would currently comprise one of the best pens in the game) for Shealy, Jacobs, Gathright and Crisp are a quadruple whammy: 1) they traded good, productive talent 2) recieved lesser or unproductive talent(Yabuta, Farnsworth, Mahay, Bale, and Cruz) 3)traded cheap talent 4) and had to sign more expensive talent(Jacobs, Crisp,Yabuta, Farnsworth, Mahay, Bale, and Cruz) to replace it.

They also lost a 2nd round pick as compensation for Cruz. Add to that the fact the Royals had adequate options at the time in both CF (DeJesus, and later, Maier) and at 1B and DH in Butler, Kaaihue, and even Shealy, and the attempts at going after 1B and CF are indicative of a baseball mind that is unable to correctly diagnose what is plaguing his team and allocate resources accordingly. Devestating to a team with limited resources.

It's really hard to make a series of moves like that and not come up with SOME benefit, but Dayton Moore did it. "You're doin' a heckova job, Dayton".

So nice to be on a site with like-minds, and am thankful for both Rany AND 90% of posters with a handle or name...and about 50% of the anonymous posters' comments, as well.

Anonymous said...

I think we should just bite the bullet and sign that 18-year-old, sidearming, knuckleballing woman from Japan to strengthen the bullpen.

You know, Eri Yoshida.

It'd be brilliant:

Increased attendance? Check.
Increased merchandising? Check.
Plausible deniability when she's no better than the rest of the bullpen? Check.

Jim said...

Hi Rany,

re: "while they were signing hitters like they were a kid in an outfielder store, they didn’t make a single move to address their bullpen."
I don't know what you are talking about... they picked up future pen pitcher Brian Anderson at the Outfield Store. No other team saw the value there. I think that he is heading to Idaho Falls to get started. sigh...

24 years and counting said...

I imagine Trey in my head like the general from Full Metal Jacket, screaming about how he loves the smell of napalm in the morning as he watches our bullpen explode while he throws fire bomb after fire bomb at the problem.

Anonymous said...

They took Chris Hayes off the DL when Gordon was upgraded. I hope he comes out strong, and they have no choice but to bring him up. Then again, he could have a sub 1 ERA and they still might not do it. Y'know, because Moore hates him.

Anonymous said...

FIRE DAYTON MOOREON!

FIRE TREY HILLMAN TOO!

Anonymous said...

well...we suck again.... its going to be a long season,

Nick said...

Pedro Martinez is still out there, waiting for the ball.