Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Score Board: 4/4/13.

Nothing like early April to turn a two-game losing streak into widespread panic.

Fortunately, an 0-2 stretch to start the season counts the same as an 0-2 stretch in mid-August. Two games. Nothing to worry about. There might be reason to be concerned if the Royals had been blown out in both games. But they lost the first game 1-0 because Tyler Flowers heard me mock him on The Baseball Show as not fit to wear A.J. Pierzynski’s jock, and because Salvador Perez hit a bullet that just wasn’t quite high enough to clear the fence in left field.

They lost the second game 5-2 because Alex Gordon set up on the fence about three inches to the right on Dayan Viciedo’s home run. If he were just the slightest bit to the left, he makes an epic catch, the game is tied going into the bottom of the 7th, and there’s no way that Ned Yost goes to Luke Hochevar with the score tied in that situation. (Right? Right?)

If you’re looking for one reason why the Royals started 0-2, you can start with this: four times they batted with the bases loaded, and four times they made out, without driving in a run. You can rail about “they can’t hit in the clutch!” all you want, but aside from the fact that there’s miniscule evidence that “hitting in the clutch” is a real skill: it’s four at-bats.

Two games. Two close games. No reason to panic yet. But yeah, I was awfully relieved when they won this afternoon as well.

- The story so far for the Royals is their inability to generate offense. Five runs in three games, and no homers in maybe the best home run park in the American League, is a little concerning.

In their defense: it’s cold out. It was very cold on Monday and Wednesday, a little warmer this afternoon, when the Royals finally put together a three-run rally (sparked by a walk. Who knew?)

Also, the funny thing about the first series of the season is that you’re pretty much supposed to face the opposing team’s top three starters. Chris Sale is one of the best left-handed starters in the game. Jake Peavy won a Cy Young Award once, and last year (when he was an All-Star) was his best season since then. Struggling to score runs against those two guys isn’t a huge indictment of your offense. Today the Royals faced Gavin Floyd, a perfectly reasonable mid-rotation starter, and got to him for three runs.

So yes, of the ten hitters who have started a game for the Royals, one (Alex Gordon) has an OPS of even 600. But let’s wait until the Royals have actually seen a fourth or fifth starter before we get too concerned.

- Speaking of starters, given that I wrote here that Ervin Santana’s success is directly tied to his ability to keep the ball in the park, it’s not exactly the best omen in the world that he gave up three home runs in his first start. Yes, US Cellular Field is a terrible fit for Santana – but the White Sox were dealing with the same weather conditions the Royals were.

In Santana’s defense, he walked one batter and struck out eight, and if you do that every time out you’re going to have a good year no matter how many home runs you surrender. (Not that I want to test the limits of that prediction. If Santana gives up three homers every start, the previous sentence is invalid.) The homers are concerning, but I see no evidence that Santana is going to go full Jonathan Sanchez on us.

The bigger concern is that, according to Jeff Zimmerman’s research over at Royals Review, Santana’s fastball has been losing velocity all spring, and is now 2 mph slower than it was last year. This is, obviously, a concern, particularly since two of the three homers he gave up were on fat, 89 mph fastballs right down the middle.

Early April sample sizes will be the death of all of us. It’s just one start. But it definitely bears watching.

- If you’re going to panic over Santana giving up three home runs in his first start, then you have to be equally excited over the fact that in his first start, Jeremy Guthrie struck out nine of the 24 batters he faced.

After all, if Santana’s weakness is the gopher ball, Guthrie’s weakness is that, despite a pretty good fastball velocity-wise, he has always had a low strikeout rate in a game in which that is increasingly becoming untenable. His career high K% is 17.0%, and he hasn’t hit even 15.0% since 2008. Meanwhile, the league-wide average jumped all the way to 19.8% last season.

So even though it’s just one start, given that strikeout rates stabilize much quicker than other stats, it’s a good sign that Guthrie missed so many bats. It’s just the sixth time in 184 career starts that he’s whiffed nine or more batters. And just once in his career has he struck out a higher percentage of batters in a start, that coming way back in 2007, when he struck out 10 of 25 hapless Nationals hitters.

I’ll take Santana’s homers if it comes with Guthrie’s strikeouts. Santana may yet prove a turkey like Sanchez was – but like Sanchez, he’s only under contract for this season, and if he’s truly terrible the Royals can cut their losses in June and move on. But the Royals sunk a three-year commitment into Guthrie. They gambled $25 million that his perennially low strikeout rate wouldn’t come back to haunt them. They have to breathing a little bit easier after his performance today. I know I am.

- The importance of a good bullpen is generally overstated, but when you have a bullpen like the Royals do, you can understand why. It took the Royals 24 innings to get their first lead of the season, but when Guthrie turned over a two-run lead with nine outs to go, the relievers did their job. Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland may all be among the top 50 relievers in the game (along with Tim Collins, although we haven’t seen him yet and he struggled some in spring training).

It’s not exactly news that the Royals have a very good bullpen, or at least a very good top half, which is what matters most. Last year those four guys combined for a 2.99 ERA, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they improved on that mark this season.

But the real difference this season isn’t that the Royals have the bullpen to shut opponents down when they have the lead after six innings – it’s that they have a rotation full of starting pitchers who are capable of throwing six innings. In each of their first three games of the year, they got six innings from their starter – and keep in mind that managers sensibly don’t want to stretch out their starters too much at this point in the season, particularly in cold weather.

Six innings from your starter each night may not sound like much, until you remember the disaster that was last season. Last year, the Royals didn’t get three consecutive starts of six innings or more until June 17 through 19. They didn’t complete their first four-game streak until August. This is the Royals’ whole strategy this year: get six innings from your starter that don’t suck, and then let your relievers take over. It’s not a bad strategy, so long as your starters don’t suck, and your bullpen takes over.

Oh, and that your offense scores more than five runs in a series. But remember, it’s early.


BobDD said...

I wondered if "small sample size" would inhibit early season blogging, but no, Rany goes with trends, velocity, and walks. Way to go! Feed me Seymour!

Chris said...

So the Royals won't cut Hochevar but they might get rid of a pitcher who will still be owed about 6-7 million at midseason?

Rany, you trusting soul.....

Roy in Omaha said...

The last sentence of the entire post was the most telling.

This offense will not score runs. That was the bigger problem (than the pitching) last season and will remain so this one.

Getz and Francouer in your lineup are two black holes. If Hosmer and Moutakas don't have much improved seasons and unless Cain and Perez are what they "appear" to be, the Royals are going to have a hard time scoring much more than 700-725 runs. No matter the staff improvements, that isn't a (winning) playoff level offense.

The first 3 games are already a dire warning sign reminiscent of last season at the plate for this team. How many games are you going to win with 5 hits (as they did yesterday)? The Royals won 3 last season, 3 the season before, and 1 the season before that. Winning that game was a fluke, basically.

The Royals are already dead last in the AL in runs scored, a position I expect them to be at or near all season.

Jayboid said...

Perhaps the highest compliment.

Rany, you are the best of the best!

"Turn up the radio" my wife just shouted, Why? Well..... Rany is on the radio.
So 810 and Petro is now blasting in our home.

Never happens with any other media in our media loaded society.

I'm lucky, so lucky to have a wife whom likes baseball....I wish all of you Royal fans the luck of a great wife who follows local baseball.

She enjoys the Royals so much we boycotted the big team and took trips to watch the AA NWArk club a few years ago.

This in lieu of another season of kicking at the dog while swearing at a inanimate picture box.

No K games,no handing enough in parking money to feed a family of 8, not one MLB overpriced wienie that year. ummmmm Royals dog! This boycott included a 10 day stretch with AA home and away games.

Michael said...

I guess all that talk of offensive woes were a little too early. They sure looked good today!

MTW in KC said...

Agreed that it is too early to panic too much, but there is reason to be concerned even after the strong run production in Philadelphia. Royals were last in league in plate discipline last year. They are 23rd out of 30 teams this year. The lower half of the teams have a .355 winning pct, and the upper half has a .643 winning pct. Bottom line, this team still swings at too many balls outside the zone and not nearly enough at ones inside the zone. Time will tell if they can change this. If it doesn't change, the prognosis is not good.

Unknown said...

you are so full of shit rany, Im watching Santana's 2nd start and he is throwing 95 in the 1st inning. You and zimmerman can f*ck eachother

Also, KC's offense has 22 runs in the last 2 games....OVERREACT MUCH?!

You suck period. I am convinced your arrogance has poisoned your brain

Unknown said... he is throwing 96

AlcidesEscobarJustWantsToDance said...

Why do I feel like Ben James and maybe 2 other people in the world do not fully appreciate what Rany brings to the Royals community while the rest of us most certainly do. If you can't respect his insight, wit, and overall class, do us all a favor and start following the White Sox, seems like you would fit in well with that group of a holes. Perhaps you are a Royals fan from way back and are an expert on baseball yourself, I can't know that because I don't know you from Adam, but anyone who starts a post the way you did reveals just how ugly they are. And by the way, I never do this, calling out individuals on the web, but hating on Rany is unforgivable in my book. I thank the lord someone of Randy's talent takes his precious time to help us understand our team just a little bit better. I welcome your thoughts/fire backs. Go Royals!

Dr. Funkenstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Funkenstein said...

Ben, grow up and act like an adult. Disagreeing with someone doesnt need to be personnel. Unless you are a 10 year old

ChrisInKC said...

Still panicked?

ChrisInKC said...

Wow, you are one classy guy. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? What kind of person goes on the internet to spread vile garbage like that? Rany's credentials are well known, how about yours?

Fast Eddie said...

Jonathan Sanchez ERA: 12.96 with Pittsburgh. When will people learn?

Kenneth said...

C'mon guys, Ben James is obviously just unknown's love child. He is only trying to impress his father by taking it up a notch.

Rany, thanks for the articles. Hope to hear from you again.

Kenneth said...

C'mon guys, Ben James is obviously just unknown's love child. He is only trying to impress his father by taking it up a notch.

Rany, thanks for the articles. Hope to hear from you again.

Unknown said...

I know you are busy with your Board re-certification - just had to do so recently myself, and I have no idea how you can do that while managing all of the other eggs in your basket. I am totally stoked about the Royals' start. These are not your 2000-2012 Royals...Comment when you can - sometimes "life" takes a front seat to other things, and I totally understand that.

twm said...

No longer a Royals concern, but I am a bit upset with Carlos Quentin today. Remember when he broke his own hand or wrist during his White Sox days? What a hot head.

twm said...

Quentin is a clown. He says he charged because of their history and because of what Greinke.

First, I don't know what Greinke said, and I haven't found the camera angle to show me his face, but most of that is irrelevant: Quentin had already taken a step or two toward the mound, what was Greinke supposed to do, apologize, look away in deference and in shame? This is just silly, if you step toward the mound pitchers are going to jaw at you. If you are Carlos Quentin and you lead the league in HBP almost every season, you are definitely going to hear a few choice words.

Second (and way to go Rany and Joe, I used the play index at baseball reference!), as you might expect of a guy who has been hit 116 times, Greinke is not the only pitcher to have plunked Quentin more than once. Here is a quick rundown of the pitcher, the number of times they have plunked Quentin, and the number of plate appearances between them and Quentin:

Nick Blackburn: 4/37

Greinke: 3/31
Lester: 3/15
Bedard: 3/9

Verlander: 2/40
Guthrie: 2/22
Liriano: 2/19
Davies: 2/18
Westbrook: 2/17
Price: 2/16
Lackey: 2/15
Chen: 2/14
Millwood: 2/14
Niemann: 2/13
Perkins: 2/13
Brett Anderson: 2/12
Carlos Silva: 2/11
Jim Johnson: 2/8

Obviously being plunked three times by the same guy is not a consistent threshold for Quentin as three other pitchers have achieved that plateau, including maybe my favorite bit of pitcher history on that list: Eric Bedard has hit Quentin in 33% of their plate appearances.

I don't want to belabor this too much. Obviously the situation was not one that screamed "intentional hit by pitch". Yes, Quentin and Greinke have history, but Greinke is not known as a head hunter and Quentin has similar histories with 17 other pitchers.