Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tentative Royals Fumble to Loss

Last night on the south side of Chicago the Royals looked, for the first time in a while, like a last place team.

A bright spot in my mind was Zack Greinke, whose line ended up far worse than he pitched. Greinke hefted the fastball up there at 94 mph several times and did a very good job of mixing in a variety of off-speed pitches instead of relying almost solely on the 65 mph curve. When Zack is throwing 92-94 with the fastball and coming back with a low 80's slider and mid 70's curve and change up and he can be very effective.
Yes, he still threw too many pitches (94 in 5 1/3 innings) and his control is not back to what it has been in the past, but it was a major improvement over his last two starts. Particularly, Greinke's arm speed and delivery pace was virtually identical pitch to pitch (after Op-Ed's well documented theory of the disaster in Arizona). What last night showed is that maybe Greinke has decided to be Zack Greinke instead of trying to be Greg Maddux.
One warning sign that I saw was that from the fifth inning on, Greinke topped 90 mph only once, after routinely doing so in the first four innings. Was this an attempt to vary the pace the third time through the order? Or does Greinke have something of a stamina problem? Time will answer that question.

Although charged with 5 earned runs, Greinke probably did not deserve to be charged with any. In the fifth inning, one out and runners on first and third, Greinke induced a ground ball to Matt Stairs at first. Turning a 3-6-3 double play is never easy, but this had a very definite chance at being just that. Instead, Stairs muffed the ball and got only the out at first, leading the way to a two run inning. Then, in the sixth inning after a tiring Greinke loaded the bases with one out, Andrew Sisco induced a sharp grounder to Teahen at third. This was, without a doubt, an inning ending double play ball, but Teahen muffed this one and got only the out at third, opening the door for the Sox' other three runs. Now, the Royals were inept offensively last night, but by not converting two potential double plays, they essentially allowed the opportunisitc Sox to score ALL of their runs.

How about that ineptness? Well, first off Jon Garland is all of sudden really good (and by the way, the poster child for being patient with a young pitcher), but Kansas City was also very tentative at the plate. Off the 33 Royal plate appearances last night, our hitters swung at the first pitch only 9 times (27%), and three of those nine were in the top of the ninth inning. Worse, they took called first pitch strikes on 14 of the remaining 24 appearances (58%). Those are Tony Pena era 'work the count' numbers.
Continuing on, if you exclude balls in play and foul balls after two strikes, Garland and Marte threw 41 strikes. Of those 41, the Royals took 28 of them looking (68.3%).

Regular readers will remember that I tracked the Royals first pitch swinging, first pitch strike looking numbers for a few weeks after Pena resigned and Kansas City immediately started hitting. What we found back in May was that aggressive hitting did not mean measurably more first pitch swinging, but instead led to swinging at first pitch strikes more. During that study (if you can call it that), the Royals swung at the first pitch somewhere in the 31-34% range and took strike one looking in the remaining at-bats at a rate in the low 40 percentile. What happened last night was a reversion to early season form: swinging less, taking more, resulting in less (or no) offense. Let's hope it was just a good pitcher throwing on one of our off nights.

One final parting shot, and I hate to be bitter but this has rankled me all season: Mark Teahen, with two strikes and the Royals trailing - swing the freaking bat! (Editors Note: Mr. Teahen took two (the only two) called third strikes last night)


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