Sunday, August 15, 2010

Royals Today: 8/15/2010.

Watching the Royals these last two weeks, you can kind of get a sense for why Zack Greinke is so frustrated. It’s not that the Royals are losing, although they’ve lost 8 of their last 11; or that they’re not scoring, although they haven’t scored more than 4 runs in any of those 11 games. It’s that the roster that takes the field every night is still, after all this time, predominantly made up of stopgaps.

Of the 25 men on the active roster, the only players who are good bets to be on the Opening Day roster in 2012 are Greinke (if he’s not traded), Billy Butler, and Joakim Soria. Alex Gordon and Kila Ka’aihue might be if the Royals don’t find a way to dump them. Mike Aviles and Mitch Maier have a shot. One of the relievers, most likely Blake Wood, will probably still be around. Maybe Sean O’Sullivan.

But that leaves at least 16 roster spots, and probably closer to 20, where the Royals are just spinning their wheels. Those roster spots will probably remain functionally empty until sometime around next May, at which point, if everything goes to plan, you might see a new player shuffle into Kauffman Stadium on each homestand. Tim Collins might show up first…then Mike Moustakas…a left-handed starter (pick one) around Flag Day…then another one around the 4th of July…

The future is getting closer. But it’s still in the future. The present, meanwhile, consists largely of counting time. It’s not simply that the Royals are bad, although they are. It’s that they’re largely pointless to watch.

- The struggles of one of the above players, Kila Ka’aihue, has some wondering whether he has a future with the ballclub after all. This is the danger that the Royals were courting by waiting until August to cut ties with Jose Guillen and giving Ka’aihue an everyday job. If Ka’aihue had come out of the gate crushing the ball, then ultimately the extra time in the minors would have been more of an inconvenience than anything else.

But because Ka’aihue started 4-for-35, suddenly there’s a very real danger that the Royals won’t get an accurate assessment of his abilities this year because they’ll simply run out of time. The Royals have another 44 games left this season, which means at most Ka’aihue is going to end up with a little over 200 plate appearances. That’s hardly enough playing time to properly evaluate a player, particularly a player getting his first opportunity in the big leagues.

Travis Hafner, to pick a very similar player, hit .242/.329/.387 in a 70-plate-appearance audition in 2002, and then started 2003 hitting .230/.302/.415 through the end of July, in 44 games. At that point, Hafner was 26 years old, had 219 career plate appearances, and had an unimpressive career line of .234/.311/.406. It’s a fair bet that Ka’aihue’s career line, at the end of this season, may approximate Hafner’s numbers both in quantity and quality.

From August 1st through the end of the season, Hafner hit .276/.349/.545. In 2004, hit .311/.410/.585 and led the league in OPS+, the start of a 3-year run in which he was arguably the best hitter in the American League.

I am not saying that Ka’aihue will hit like Hafner did; in fact I find it distinctly unlikely. But by giving him such a small window of opportunity, the Royals run the risk of making a poor evaluation of Ka’aihue’s talents at the end of the year, and even if he is the next Travis Hafner, the Royals might wind up discarding him anyway before they find out.

He’s hit into some tough luck, no question; he missed a home run by just a few feet in his first two starts after his call up, and in his first 5 games back he was 2-for-20 despite just 2 strikeouts. But he seemed to press after that, striking out 3 times in a game against the Angels and then uncharacteristically swinging at bad pitches over the past few games. On Thursday night, facing lefty specialist Boone Logan in the 8th inning, he fouled off the first two pitches, both down at his shoetops, then watched as the third pitch ran right through the heart of the plate for strike three. I’ve seen this movie before, with Alex Gordon in the starring role.

Hopefully he’ll come out of it soon. On Saturday he mustered two hits, including one off of Logan. On Sunday…he was on the bench, against a right-handed pitcher, so that Willie Bloomquist could play third base.

I still believe that Ka’aihue is going to be an above-average hitter in the majors. Check that: I believe Ka’aihue already is an above-average hitter, and just needs enough of a sample size to prove it. But the Royals have made his path needlessly difficult, and they aren’t doing him any favors by sitting him on the bench against opposite-side pitching.

- Speaking of Guillen, I have tried and failed to come up with a permutation of “cash considerations” or “player to be named later” which would cause the Royals to come out on the short end of the trade with the Giants. Perhaps if “cash considerations” meant “one billion dollars” – or worse, if the PTBNL was…Jose Guillen. Otherwise, the Royals got something for nothing. Don’t expect the PTBNL to be a real prospect, but even so, the Royals saved a quarter-million dollars. That’s enough to pay for a decent prospect out of the Dominican.

- I don’t think Bryan Bullington is ever going to live up to even a fraction of the expectations that come with a #1 overall pick. There’s no evidence to suggest that his Sunday start was anything more than the vagaries of baseball showing themselves, a reminder that it is baseball, not football, where on Any Given Sunday the worst team can beat the best team, even with a 29-year-old journeyman in search of his first career win on the mound.

But what a win it was. By Game Score, Bullington’s start was the best one of the season by a Royal. (Although tellingly, the Royals had six starts that were better than this in 2009.) It was just the third time in their history that the Royals had beaten the Yankees 1-0. (Amazingly enough, the other two times occurred in the same series – on June 9th and June 11th, 1972. Jim Rooker and Dick Drago threw shutouts; Paul Schaal and Amos Otis drove in the only runs.)

Most impressively, Sunday was the first time ever that the Royals shut out the Yankees on two hits or less.

I still don’t think that Bryan Bullington has any more upside than to be another Brian Bannister-type. But I’d say he’s earned another start. With the original Bannister not doing too well these days, the Royals could do worse than to let Bullington prove whether they’ve found a successor.

- Bullington’s performance was a testament to the veteran influence of Jason Kendall, who called a brilliant game, sagely guided his inexperienced hurler through the gauntlet of one of the game’s toughest lineup, and even threw out the speedy Brett Gardner trying to steal second base in the sixth inning.

Or at least, I’m sure Kendall would have done all those things had he actually started the game. Instead, Brayan Pena did.

In Pena’s last four starts behind the plate, the pitching staff has been so traumatized that they’ve given up a total of 9 runs. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to destroy the canard that the Royals need Kendall behind the plate for the sake of the pitching staff, but if the fact that the team is dead last in the AL in ERA wasn’t enough, the performance of their pitchers with Brayan Pena is just another data point.

Ned Yost, to his credit, seems to have noticed that Pena doesn’t call a fastball down the middle on every pitch, and that he’s even thrown out 5 of 13 potential basestealers. Yost has said that Pena will start almost every day game from now until the end of the season, and a few other assorted games, which should add up to about a third of the games on the remainder of the schedule. On any other team, allowing a 36-year-old washed-up catcher to play two-thirds of the remaining games for a last-place team would incite all kinds of protests. On the Royals, we call this progress.

- Well, it would be progress if Brayan Pena could actually hit. Instead, he’s now 1-for-his-last-23, and has grounded into 4 double plays in that span. After hitting an impressive .273/.318/.442 last season, he’s down to a line of .161/.238/.196 this year, and has struck out nearly as many times as he did last year, in barely one-third of the at-bats. If I didn’t know better, I’d say getting to play twice a month is bad for a player’s development.

- Twenty-one of the Royals’ next 24 games come against divisional rivals. Now’s the perfect time to make their move.


Anonymous said...

I liked the last point. We're coming for you Tigers!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone else is skeptical of Kendall's pitch-suggesting abilities. I'm amazed the pitchers don't shake him off every other pitch.

Timba said...

Maybe this has been addressed before elsewhere, but I don't understand why Kendall is always batting 2nd. He's a catcher with a .260 average, little speed, and ZERO home runs to date. He's a good enough catcher I guess, but he's the turd in the punch bowl when it comes to batting order as far as I can tell. I don't understand it.

Timba said...

Professional baseball is notorious for it's minor league wonders who fall flat at the major league level. Kila has great instincts at the plate, and some quality numbers in the minors to justify his chance in the majors. The Royals need to give him a decent chance, but he needs to step it up. If I were Yost, I'd have him in the line up every day til the end of the season. He deserves the chance to prove that he's not just another minor league wonder. And what better team on which to prove himself?

Anonymous said...

Thank God someone else has noticed Kendall's one-fingered approach to calling a game. It's brutal to watch, especially with Zack on the mound, who has some of the best breaking stuff in the game.

kcghost said...

Kila needs to start producing or GMDM will throw him on the trash heap.

Signing Kendall was dumb and playing Kendall is even dumber. The guy hits for a little bit of average, but that's it hit. My god we're running a guy out there everyday like he is a god and he is posting a .625 OPS.

Anonymous said...

I hope that you are wrong about Bullington. He has two quality starts in a row now. I know this isn't much but it is about two more than Bannister has had all season. His motion is very fluid and he appears to have figured out how to pitch at this level. (At least temporarily)

Sean said...

Kendall is so so bad. We still have another year of 130 starts of his to watch. Man I hope that changes. I welcome Bullington or any other starter not named Davies or Bannister trying to keep the game under 6 plus runs through 4. Kila in my opinion hasn't been even close to as bad as the numbers have shown. I see alot of quality at-bats/swings, balls hit hard in play, etc. Some of that could be just wanting him to be good, but at the same time you can see why he succeeded in AAA. He has a professional approach. What's there left to see in Bloomquist? Are we really showcasing him for a trade? Like there's not a team out there who doesnt know what he does and doesnt bring to the table? Kila sitting under any circumstance besides injury makes me lose confidence that mgmnt will EVER know what they are doing with player personale nor that Kila is going to get a fair enough look.

Anonymous said...

Jason Kendall should commit seppuku!

Anonymous said...

Is this team a Carl Crawford away from contending?

What will the lineup look like on opening day?

What FA's are a possibility or should even rate consideration?

setupunchtag said...

Ever notice how managers tend to overvalue players who shared the traits THEY had as a player?

For example, Tony Muser was a good fielding 1b who couldn't hit, and he always put an inordinate importance of defense at 1b, so we got a lot of Dave McCarty. It's like they try to validate their middling to poor career by emphasizing a similar player on his current roster.

Yost was a poor hitting C (.566 career OPS), so I think he finds no problem with Kendall, much less trotting him out in the 2-hole every freaking night. In Yost's mind (the dime-store psychologist is 'in'), Kendall is a sort of proof that Yost's career was meaningful the way Dave McCarty made Muser feel good, and the way Jarrod Dyson (who has never been in the majors) made Hillman (who also had never been in the majors) feel warm and toasty. And Kendall is also probably the kind of C Yost WANTED to be, so he may have an affinity, there.

I also think the reason so many managers like the 'gamer' type player is because that's the type of player most managers were; the HOF-ers rarely manage or make good ones, but the guys who came up for a cup of coffee or skuffled around for a few years are more often those who take the helm and have success, it seems.

People often like people who remind them of younger versions of themselves, and I think it's a common trap for baseball managers to fall into, especially when the manager was a particulary lousy player (because now the bar is set REALLY low).

Sorry if this post has drifted into the psychological but that's the only way to explain Kendall's continued overuse, because it's certainly doesn't make logical, developmental, or statistical sense.

Anonymous said...

Come on Rany - 200 PAs is PLENTY to evaluate a guy


The Calvin Pickering Development Team

Anonymous said...

Another powerful piece written by Dick Kaegel this morning on Gregor Blanco is adjusting to the leadoff role with KC. That's nice to know. Shouldn't it read, "Billy Butler is adjusting to coming up in the first inning with 2 outs and nobody on?"

The Albanian said...

mesa duket 2011 do të jetë një vit i keq

One Royal Way | Travis said...

I would be perfectly happy with Bullington's performance if he can match the 4.50 ERA that Brain Bannister told us he would put up himself. To me, that ERA would be a success.

Re: Kendall/Pena: Let us not forget... In the MLB, the pitcher actually calls the game, not the catcher. The catcher's role is to predict the pitch the pitcher wants to throw and keep the momentum and rhythm of the game going. It is both the pitcher's and catcher's job to break down the hitters and know tendencies of hitters, but again... The pitcher is the one throwing the ball, not the catcher.

Anonymous said...

@ Travis, huh?

The pitcher calls the game? Where do you get that? Maybe with Grienke on the moound, but even then the catcher (and the manager relaying in signals)is more responsible for most games than the pitcher.

Have you ever watched a game where a pitcher is constantly shaking off a catcher and the catcher goes out to gently encourage him to pay attention to the pitch as it is called?

Come on bud, watch the game.

MoCrash said...

I'm afraid if Kila is not an immediate success, the media will be all on him by the end of the season and goad the Royals' FO into a knee-jerk reaction. Haven't seen that too many times, have we? Give the kid a full season or trade him to someone who will.

I tend to agree that this is a fluke for Bullington, but not due to lack of ability. He throws the ball fine, when he stops trying to throw the perfect pitch every time. His biggest enemy is his own head, a lack of confidence (he sounded tentative in post-game interviews, like he could hardly believed he was deserving of winning a MLB game). He needs to recapture whatever special inner quality that made him the No. 1 overall pick.

Banny's problem is also his head. He overanalyzes. He needs to get outside himself more, away from the field as well as on it. I know his passion is SABRmetrics, but I think that detracts from the naturalness it takes to play this game well.

I've never been as down on signing Kendall than everybody else in KC, mainly because it was a cheap ($2.25m) stop-gap for an organization that is catcher-shy (and hasn't developed one in ages). But the Royals have to sh*t or get off the pot with Pena; if he's part of the picture in 2011, get him in the line-up -- despite his recent performance. Sheesh, after what he showed at the plate last year, you'd think he'd be worth investing more than 10 starts at C rather than running out the aged Kendall 108 times. The Royals have done a good job retarding Pena's development, when starting him every third or fourth game throughout the season may have done both him and Kendall a lot of good. Even his rookie year, playing behind Mike Matheny -- a Gold Glover -- and in the thick of a pennant race, Yadier Molina (still a year younger than Pena) started 39 games for the Cardinals. Until they find a Molina-type prospect, the Royals need to develop Pena.

Anonymous said...

Is there no need for Alex Gordon anymore, not going to be a HOF, but (if he can learn to field adequately) a 15-20 hr, .250 guy can provide some benefit.

Anonymous said...

"Im Done".

-Rany, 2009

Maybe the article meant he was "done" going to the gym? Or "done" with his diet?

Nathan said...

Anyone who's ready to give up on Alex Gordon after two disappointing seasons needs to spend some quality time with Mike Sweeney's baseball card.

FAst Eddie said...

I see Bloomquist is getting the night off tonight.

Jason Kendall said...

I should play all 162 games! I am the Cal Ripken of catchers! Play me or trade me, Dayton Moore!

Joe said...

Why isnt being a skilled game calling catcher more sought after than it is?


COULD YOU PLEASE ANALYZE OUR NEW 2nd and 3rd round prospects we just signed. Your opinion is the only one i really care to listen to.
I would make you gm

Anonymous said...

This article makes me do we impeach or force Dave Glass and family to sell the team. He says the word and a group of KC families could get this deal done quickly.

Grain of Salt said...

...but Hafner was the Steroid Poster Child.