Saturday, April 30, 2005

Quick Hits

Statistically, Mike Sweeney and Ken Harvey may be even defensively (see the blurb in the KC Star this morning) and in Tony Pena's mind, I'm sure they are, but please. Nevermind the error by Sweeney in the second last night - on a throw I'm not even sure you try to make, the man is virtually lost out there. Any ball hit in front of first is an absolute mystery to him. Had it not been for the athleticism of Zack Greinke on another play in the second inning, Sweeney would have been left holding the ball 50 feet from homeplate and looking at a bunch of safe baserunners. If he's playing first because we want to increase his trade value, fine. If he's playing first because Mike feels more comfortable playing both ways, then grow up and do what's best for the team, Captain. If he's playing first because Tony Pena really believes 'Mikey's doing a good job out there', then there's one more reason Tony won't survive the season.

Speaking of bad defense, how about that Emil Brown? First he plays tentatively on a ball hit over his head and slows down to watch it go directly over his head and bounce at the BOTTOM of the wall - an easy play, no, catchable, YES. Later Emil uncorks a relay throw to home that ends up being fielded by Grienke behind THIRD base. Hey, anywhere within a 90 foot radius is fine, Emil. And finally, a beautiful let-the-popfly-hit-you-in-the-chest error. Neither Sweeney or Brown's ineptness cost us the game last night (they didn't help), but do we have to look completely horrible when we lose?

Sometimes, I think Greinke is a little 'too cute' with his pitches. According to the RSTN radar, he never topped 91mph last night. I think a little more power and a little less finesse might be in order.

Mark Teahen is hitting well in Omaha on his rehab assignment and played back to back games last night for the first time with no ill effects. Question, who goes down when Teahen is activated? Emil Brown or Joe McEwing?

Speaking of Emil Brown (are you noticing a theme here?), why not Aaron Guiel in the outfield. He is hitting in the .250s in Omaha, but you know he will take some pitches and CATCH FLY BALLS. I was ready to be done with Aaron in spring training, but now, I see a place for him, maybe even batting second. Remember, he had a .345 OBP two years ago. On this club, that is a good number.

The forecast is for rain in Northern Ohio today - that may be the best result we can hope for at this point.

Friday, April 29, 2005

You can't win when...

Probably no one will be suprised to learn that the Royals are dead last in the American League in runs scored. This team is, and will continue to be, offensively challenged. Overall, the Royals are hitting .240 with a .300 on-base percentage, an anemic .367 slugging percentage and a not very impressive OPS of .667. Again, no suprise to learn that KC is last or next to last in all these categories.

Still, that said, five of the last eight losses have been by one run. Many of these games have been ones that we, as Royals fans, feel the team has 'blown'. Losing by one run makes you look at the pitching staff: focusing on the run you gave up, not the run you scored. Shawn Camp and Nate Field have, and thankfully so, paid the price of this. However, what does happen to the Royal's offense when the game is late?

Overall Hitting: 240/300/367/667
7th Inning & on: 202/276/340/616

In all four categories, the Royals are absolutely last in each and every one from the 7th inning on. If it was not for the Cleveland Indians (speaking of fans who must be less than utopic right now), the Royals would be last by miles in all these categories.

It gets worse if you go to game situations that are 'Late and Close':

Overall Hitting: 240/300/367/667
7th Inning & on: 202/276/340/616
Late & Close: 195/256/322/578

Kansas City has the pitching to stay close in a lot of games this year. We've seen it even through this disasterous start. The bullpen, which was horrendous early, is slowly getting better. I believe the more we put him in situations, the better Sisco will become at keeping inherited runners from scoring (his only real fault so far). Burgos and Snyder just have too good a stuff not to be effective and Cerda and Wood, while not great, are decent. Yet, all that said (and hoped for), you have to score runs....and in close games you have to score runs late. You have to add an insurance run when you're up 3-2 in the 8th, you have to score two in 9th to win - not one to tie.

When you're hitting .240 as a team, you have to be better in crunch time then you are early. The White Sox are, the Twins are, even Cleveland is. Going down to 11 pitchers gives KC more offensive options late (maybe not better, but more anyway) and someday, someday, someone will get a pinch hit (Royal pinch hitters are currently 0-11).

The final piece to this late inning puzzle, in my opinion, is probably moving Emil Brown out in favor of Aaron Guiel, who has a history of being a decent clutch hitter, and probably further movement by mid-season to bring up a solid stick in Justin Huber. Even if we have to DH Huber this season (George Brett commented on WHB that Huber was pretty much lost at first base) we need his bat, because we need runs. Man, do we need runs.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Looking Ahead

I am tired of this team, right now. Instead of writing about Brian Anderson taking the mound in the 7th or Shawn Camp taking the mound ever (well at least that's over for now) or Mike MacDougal and his incredible lack of intestinal fortitude or another one run loss get the picture. Instead, I decided to take a shot at the KC lineup for opening day 2007. Maybe this will make us feel better.

NOTE: Numbers shown are BA/OBP/SLG for the current year)
NOTE 2: I'll save the 2007 pitching staff for another day when I am depressed.

John Buck 196/250/286 (surely he'll get better)
Paul Phillips 257-316-314 in Omaha
Buck is here to stay and will hit for power if not average. Phillips will be a solid backup.

First Base
Justin Huber 369/481/600 in Wichita
You'll note that Mike Sweeney is not on this projection, simply because I think he will be traded this year or in the offseason. Huber does something few in the organization do - get on base. By 2007, he will have at least a season in majors under his belt and be ready to be one of the keys to the offense.

Second Base
Ruben Gotay 259/292/397 (by 2007 will he be one of the top 5 offensive 2b in the A.L.?)
If Gotay hits 259 for the entire year, then it is likely Donnie Murphy will be in this spot. You hope that Ruben hits like we all think he can.

Angel Berroa 220/256/329 (by 2007 MAYBE he'll be back to 2003 form)
I have not given up on Angel yet and I projected before the season started that he may end up with numbers more in the range of 2004 than in 2003, but that he would get back to his ROY form in 2006. If so, he could be a solid bottom of the lineup hitter and hopefully a defensive stabilizer. (Yes, I know that's a little odd sounding, but I really do think he could be great defensively and No, Angel will still not be taking a walk in 2007).

Third Base
Mark Teahen 200/294/333
Probably not an All-Star, but should be a doubles hitting machine by then and hopefully by that point will form a very good defensive left side of the infield with Berroa.

Donnie Murphy 308/392/415
Mike Aviles 289/316/500
Murphy is a great defensive second bagger who is hitting well early in Wichita. If he suddenly becomes a force offensively, look for Gotay to be moved in a trade.
Aviles is a solid, fiesty player who is also hitting will early in Wichita. A shortstop by trade, he might be a younger (and better) Graffanino by 2007.
I am assuming Andres Blanco will be in another organization, or Angel Berroa will be and Blanco will be at short by 2007.

Left Field
Mitch Maier 342/402/553 at High Desert
He has not stolen bases in High Desert but has in the past. Could be a leadoff type, allowing DeJesus to hit 2nd or 3rd in the order. My guess is he will be a rookie in 2007. Butler probably, too, but a rookie on either side of DeJesus is better than we're throwing out there right now.

Center Field
David DeJesus 315/390/466
Still won't be able to steal a base, but who cares? This guy is a player - I expect a .390 OBP, 40 doubles and 15 homers season after season. As I mentioned above, I think he may develop enough as a hitter to hit 2nd or 3rd in the order.

Right Field
Billy Butler 368/455/671 at High Desert
Yes the California League is pretty much slo-pitch softball, but this guy can absolutely rake. Maybe the DH, but you hate to pencil in a 22 year old at that position and I've put him in right just because you have to him in the lineup. Again, this might be Butler's rookie season, but he sure seems like the kind of guy that is just going to hit and hit and hit some more.

Fourth Outfielder
Chris Lubanski 173-229-333 at High Desert
He started slowly last year, too. May not be an every day guy ever, but he's better than Emil Brown. Shane Costa figures into the mix here, too, and he's also off to a slow start this year. Truthfully, the four and five spots in the outfield would very likely be filled by veterans if, in fact, Butler and Maier are both starting in 2007.

Designated Hitter
Ken Harvey 375/403/569 in Omaha
Yes, I can hear the howls already, but he may yet turn the corner and be serviceable.

All of the above assumes Sweeney is traded at some point, but assumes no starting player in return - which is probably unlikely. A better scenario has a Kevin Mench or (insert your favorite corner outfielder here) in right or left, with Butler sliding to DH or Maier getting another year in the minors - something along those lines.
To be contending with this group, we are banking on DeJesus being very good (highly likely), Huber being very good (pretty likely), Teahen becoming the solid, if unspectacular, hitter and 3b we traded for (likely), Berroa returning to form (somewhat likely), Gotay developing into an offensive force (maybe), and the organization developing not one, but two, good corner outfielders (the track record says unlikely - but Butler and Maier really look like they can play).
Keep in mind, this team will STILL be young in 2007 - no one under 30 is listed above - but it will have some experience by then.
At least, you can see some hope to be a good offensive team by then - something that you can't really hope for this year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Little Things Once More

Another one run loss, another string of unfortunate events, another day in the life of the Royals.

Once again, KC was undone by a number of factors. First young Burgos, who quite frankly had the best stuff I have seen in a long, long time, gives up two broken bat singles. His only real mistake was the one out walk. Backing up a step, I probably stick with Sisco in the ninth, only because he has shown that once he gets by one or two hitters, he pretty much becomes unhittable. However, at the time, I had no real problem with the change and really can't fault it even now.

However, in that horrid ninth inning (are there any other kind for the Royals?), another 'little thing' cropped up that is truly the root of the problem for this team. Runners on first and second, one out, a ground ball to McEwing at third. Not a great ball to try to turn a double play on, but Shannon Stewart did have a bad wheel. McEwing makes a good, and smart, play and tags the bag at third to get the lead runner....then he uncorks a bad throw to first. Bad decision? Maybe - probably. Bad throw? Definitely. Wild throw? No.
Marrero, once again playing first base with his boxing gloves on, come well off the bag, positions himself to catch the short hop, and promptly kicks in around long enough for Minnesota to end up with runners on first and THIRD, instead of first and second. Lew Ford, the next batter, as we all know, loops a 107 foot self defense looping girly hit just over Graffanino to score the go ahead run.
Now, McEwing could have held the ball or set himself and made a better throw (I'm not sure we get Stewart no matter how good of a throw he might have made) or Marrero could have stopped the ball (it was not that hard of a play). Any one of those three things, just one, and the runner is at second and probably does not try to score on the Ford single or maybe gets thrown out (Emil Brown fielded the ball about 14 feet from second base, running towards home plate).
My point is, all the bad luck and young pitching in the world, might not have hurt the Royals had two veterans made one out of three good, not great, decisions or plays.

Second 'little thing', and I have to admit that it did not dawn on me until after the play occured, so it is hard to really assess any blame here (but then, I am writing this blog and Tony Pena IS managing the Royals, so maybe I can blame him).
Two outs in the bottom of the 8th, the Twins intentionally walk Sweeney to get to Marrero (who actually had TWO hits by the way). Marrero grounds to the shortstop, kind of a squirrely ground ball that he does not field clearly and throws Sweeney out at second on a very close play. Question: Sweeney is the DH, should Gotay have been running for him? Would Ruben, who has to be two steps quicker than Sweeney, have beaten the throw to second and kept the inning alive? Just a thought and a pretty deep one given that I have almost never seen a manager pinch run for the trailing runner. Well, except for Ron Gardenhire doing exactly that for Shannon Stewart in the next inning.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Five Steps to Fix the Royals

The title line may be a bit misleading in that nothing is going to turn this 5-14 team into a 91-71 team THIS season, but this is where we could start on the road to being the team we all envision/hope/pray for in 2006/2007.

STEP NUMBER ONE - Fundamental Accountability

I have discovered from watching and talking sports that there are two sects of fans: those who believe the coach has a great deal of effect on the outcome and those who think it is almost all the players who decide the outcome. I like to think of myself as somewhere in between. However, a football team that has a load of penalties, is continually rushing to get a play off and is loathsome on special teams is one I consider poorly coached. Likewise, a baseball team that misses signs, blows routine plays and generally is sloppy in field is also poorly managed.
Yes, the players are the ones that have to execute, but throwing to cutoff men, covering bases on a bunt, running down runners who have been picked off base are things that good teams do. Actually, bad Little League teams do these things most of the time.
If I was in charge (I am in my own mind, but that's another issue), I would sit down with Tony Pena with a simple ultimatum: Two weeks from today, I start keeping score. Every time we blow a sacrifice bunt, miss a hit and run, generally screw up something that is FUNDAMENTALLY basic to the game of baseball, Pena loses a point. I would even be generous and give him one 'free' screw up a game (these are humans, not machines out there). Every time we do something fundamentally correct in the same vein, he gains a point. Under this scoring system, I would think a score of 7 or above was 'good baseball'. At the All-Star Break, we would sit down and evaluate that score - THAT WOULD BE THE SINGLE CRITERIA UNDER WHICH TONY PENA EITHER CONTINUES TO MANAGE THE ROYALS OR IS FIRED.

STEP NUMBER TWO - Feet to the Fire in the Bullpen

I have stated before that many of us, myself included, expect perfection from every relief pitcher every time they come into the game. Obviously, this is not realistic. However, I also think that the Royals have, to some extent, coddled the relief pitchers that they think are really good. Sure, the Baird express between Omaha and KC is always full of relief pitchers, but I am not talking about the Shawn Camps of the world that every team has five of and constantly is shuttling around to find the two that have the hot hand. (Not really intended to insult Camp, here, but he is what he is - an adequate middle relief guy, nothing more)
No, my focus here is Mike MacDougal, Jaime Cerda, Jeremy Affeldt and to some extent Burgos and Sisco. In my opinion, MacDougal is a mental wimp - consistently waiting for something bad to happen. Let's find out right now if this guy 'has it'. Give MacDougal two weeks to pitch in every save situation and every tie or close game (within reason). Simply put, I would say "Mike, you have two weeks to show me you're worth any more time". If he performs great, if not, he's gone. I would do the same for Cerda. Put all the pressure in the world on them and see if they can perform.
Once Affeldt came back and got himself healthy. I would do the same, maybe even worse, as I am tired of hearing and seeing all this potential and not getting any real results out of it. I think Jeremy might just respond to this time of 'tough love' and maybe develop that closer mentality that he needs and is quite frankly currently lacking.

STEP NUMBER THREE - Trade Mike Sweeney
“We don't have a team like the New York Yankees where we just go out there and roll our gloves and bats out and blow people away,” Sweeney said. “We have to do the little things to win games. Getting guys over to second and third with no outs. Getting guys in with one out. Making the plays defensively. Right now we aren't doing any of it.”

This is the type of comment that Sweeney always breaks out that always makes me mad. I don't want my team captain telling me how much better another team is than we are. Besides, have you watched Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez play baseball? They are pretty darn good fundamentally.
Sweeney is an $11 million a year designated hitter. Yes, he is by all accounts a good guy. Yes, he can rake when he's healthy. No, he could not field his way out of wet paper sack. No, he is not a good leader - not for a young team, anyway (we need Brett and McRae scaring the hell out these guys, not some easy-going 'it will all work out' guy).
His contract escalates with a trade, but sometime between now and July, a contending team will need a right handed bat like Mike's. You won't get three everyday players for him as we did with Beltran. You might get a decent corner outfielder (Kevin Mench) and a prospect. You have to be willing to take the NFL approach (best talent available) as opposed to trying to plug a specific hole.
Make the deal, save the money, sign the younger players who have earned it (DeJesus, Greinke, and move forward. There are 42 first base/dh types in the farm system, somewhere between Harvey, Santos, Huber, Butler, etc. there is an impact bat to fill this void in the coming years.

STEP NUMBER FOUR - Pick a Lineup, Any Lineup

Eli Marrero was brought in to face left handed pitching. Eventually Eli Marrero will hit lef handed pitching. Eli Marrero has never hit right handed pitching. Eli Marrero will never hit right handed pitching. That is why he is Eli Marrero and not Bobby Abreu.
Define the roles, throw out your lineup and let it play for a couple of months. Managing by 'feel' is not getting it done.
If Long and Marrero are platooning in left, then play it that way. If Gotay is your second basemen, then he plays second all the time. Is he going to bat second? Fine, put him there for two months and find out if he can hit enough to make up for his defensive shortcomings. If we don't have the right combinations to keep Matt Stairs off the field when a lefty is throwing, bring up someone who fits into that role.
155 lineups per year did not work for Bob Boone - and it won't work for Tony Pena.

STEP NUMBER FIVE - Reconcile yourself that you are not smarter than everyone else.

David DeJesus is never going to steal bases. He will be an excellent player, maybe a two hitter instead of leadoff. Stop thinking you can make him into one. Long and Marrero are platoon players, you can't make them suddenly stars. Angel Berroa is always going to swing at bad pitches - some guys are like that - Tony Pena was like that. Bat him low in the order, let him be aggressive, because sometimes those bad pitches go over the fence.
Not every pitcher needs to be 'adjusted'. Abraham Nunez will never be a major league player, Emil Brown probably won't either.
Find the talent (Butler, Huber for example), put the talent somewhere where they can comfortably play (not 3rd base for godssake!) and let them be who they are. The Royals have this tendency to believe they can take castoffs and make them good. They constantly believe they have the 'steal' of the amateur draft, when in reality 4 out of 5 'steals' are really just guys that everyone else already decided can't play.
In short, stop this bottom feeder mentality and realize that you are seeing the same things that every other team sees when they look at players. Go get, and keep, players that everyone knows are good. Don't be the guy in the fantasy league that his always scouring the second page of available players for the one guy who will hit two home runs in a game and 1 the rest of the season.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Andres Blanco Update

Late last week someone on a discussion board wondered about Andres Blanco being moved to second base. I dutifully reviewed the Omaha box scores, found that Blanco had played all of his games at shortstop and dismissed the fan as uninformed.

Low and behold, Allard Baird commented this weekend that Blanco was 'working out' at second base as his way to the majors was blocked by Angel Berroa. To me, this tells me they are thinking of making Blanco a utility infielder. First, Blanco doesn't hit enough to play second base in the majors, he may not even hit enough to play shortstop. Second, Ruben Gotay (despite a 3-20 slump) appears to be locking down the second base job and if he falters, Donnie Murphy is hitting the ball in AA and is a far better defender.

Although he dazzled Royal fans last year with his great defense and suprising .317 average in his short stint in KC, Blanco had committed four errors for Omaha already this year and is currently hitting .196 with a .268 on-base percentage. Blanco has never hit with any sort of 'impressiveness' at any level - not a good fit on a team already struggling to score runs.

Does working out at second make Blanco a more attractive piece of a trade puzzle? Or does it signal his move from 'prospect' to 'utility guy'?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

So close yet so far

Four of the last five Kansas City losses have been by one run - two in extra innings. On the positive side, you can say that they have played tooth and nail with the dominant team in the A.L. Central for the last three years and the hottest team in either league to start this season. On the negative side, you can say that not only have the Royals lost 4 of 5, but they have given away four of five.

Truth told, it is a fair share of each. This team, thanks to most any pitcher under the age of 25, can hang around against just about anyone. Subtract the first inning from both Greinke's and Bautista's last starts and they were nothing short of brilliant. Andy Sisco, except for a hiccup Sunday afternoon, had been easily the best relief pitcher on the team. Burgos has all of one inning under his belt, but certainly looks like someone to be excited about and Mike Wood has settled nicely into his role. Even Runelvys Hernandez, who was actually convinced he was going to die from exposure Friday night, battled himself and the White Sox but never gave up.

What is frustrating for Royal fans is that there was not just one bad/stupid/unbelievable play in each of the 4 one run losses that cost the team victory, but at least three of these horrific plays. If the Royals had avoided just one in each of these four games, they probably win them all - three for sure.

There have been mental errors: Gotay late covering first on a bunt, Diaz trying to score on a wild pitch, Berroa trying to steal third with two out in the ninth (still have not heard if this was Angel or Tony's doing). There have been ridiculous physical errors: MacDougal throwing the ball into centerfield when he had Torii Hunter dead to rights at second, Berroa simply not coming up with a tailor made double play ball, wild pitches at the worst possible times. There have been the unbelievable: Letting Podsednik slip out of a rundown after being picked off first, Joe Brinkman blowing a call when the Royals actually did execute on a pickoff call.

The Royals are on anything but a roll and baseball is a game of rolls and luck as much as skill and execution. Every jammed batter seems to be able to fist a ball into the outfield for a single while the Royals' line drives are always at someone. Eli Marrero always seems to be up with runners on base and a right hander pitching.

In short, I should be more disappointed than I am after the past week, but I optimistically believe things can and will get better. The White Sox walked 6 today and made 4 errors, and still won, not so much a sign of anything but good kharma. Hits will come in key situations and players will make plays when it matters for the Royals....sometime, eventually.