Friday, May 13, 2005

Bob Schaefer - Baseball Genius

Okay, not really.

We all wish it was that easy: change managers, go from scoring 2 runs in two games to 16 runs in the next two games. Teams would be chaning managers every other week. The number of variables that can cause such a dramatic offensive turnaround/blip/anomaly are almost too numerous to mention. Did the managerial switch just get guys more focused? Is the new batting order the reason? Did Emil Brown just need to play everyday? Is it bad pitching? Is it just one of those 'baseball things'? The list goes on and on, and it frankly may just be a case of the team getting hot, as all teams, good and bad, do.

One thing mentioned is that Schaefer did say he wanted the Royals to be more agressive at the plate. So I did a VERY unscientific review of Tony Pena's last two games and Bob Schaefer's first two games (yes, I know, two games in baseball is pretty much like predicting a presidential election by asking the first three people I see on the street). The focus of my review was what Royal hitters did on the first pitch of each at-bat, because it felt like the Royals were being more agressive the past two games.

In Pena's last two games, KC sent 67 batters to the plate and they swung at the first pitch 25 times (37.3%). Of the remaining 42 batters who did not swing at the first pitch, 22 strikes were taken (52.4%). Overall, the Royals averaged 3.34 pitches per at-bat in this two game sample.

Now, in Schaefer's first two games, the Royals sent 73 batters to the plate and they swung at the first pitch 22 times (30.1%). The remaining 51 batters took 22 first pitch strikes (43.1%). Here, the Royals have averaged 4.51 pitches per at-bat.

So, in the last two games, the Royals have swung at the first pitch less and looked at strikes (i.e. good pitches) less: in effect, been more patient. These numbers are no doubt affected by the less than stellar pitching facing the Royals the last two games, but still it is moderately intriguing.

Did the constant preaching of being patient and working the count under Pena actually lead to the Royals swinging more and taking more good pitches? Does Schaefer's 'aggressive' approach actually lead to a better judging of when to swing and when not to? A four game sample is hardly enough to answer that question and it is just a likely that KC will revert to swinging early and taking strikes, but it will be an interesting stat to watch.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

So, You're the Manager of the Royals...Now What?

Your dream just came true and Allard Baird had tapped you as the captain of this sinking vessel known as the Royals. The GM has even allowed you a say in player personnel moves. So, now what do you do?

First off, there's trade talk about, but let's hold off on that. First, two of the tradeable 'commodities' are hurt, Anderson and Affeldt. Second, the value of your other two realistic tradees, Sweeney & Stairs, will probably go up as teams find themselves in the thick of the fight in mid-July. Besides, you HAVE to score SOME runs in the interim.

Now, what about this crew in the majors? If there is a 'sense of entitlement and comfort' in the clubhouse, as has been reported by some - then you need to identify the group of players who feel this way, pick the one everyone likes the most, and send him down. Okay, you've sent your message, now what?

You've got Sweeney and DeJesus to play everyday and Stairs to play against the righties. The organization is committed to Buck behind the plate and Teahen at third - fine, throw them out there and find out who can play. For now, you're stuck with Berroa and Gotay up the middle (quit this Graffanino/McEwing crap) because both Andres Blanco and Donnie Murphy, the only viable options in the system, are hurt. If it takes Berroa hitting lead-off to stay interesteed, that's fine - DeJesus is a better number two hitter anyway. Let Gotay bat ninth and see if he can figure this out. When Murphy/Blanco get healthy, then you can start thinking about moves there.

Now, though, you've got Harvey and Long and Marrero and Brown and you're stomach is starting to turn because none of these guys is giving you much of a warm fuzzy. Maybe Brown can hit, probably not, but while you're trying to get your feet on the ground you throw him out on the field because you might as well catch that lightning in a bottle that Allard told you about.

Okay, but what is there in the system to help? You've got Matt Diaz hitting 382 in Omaha with a 447 OBP and a salty 724 slugging percentage. Yeah, he was less than impressive earlier in the year in KC, but it was not much of a chance. Aaron Guiel is down there, too, hitting 274 but getting on base at a 365 clip. He's a stopgap at best, too, but maybe you could use those walks and he's been here before. So there's a couple of options in the outfield. What about Chad Santos? Well, he's cooled off to just hitting 255. Big Pick? He's an unenthused 1-21 in Omaha with 10 strikeouts.

So you look to Wichita. Yeah, you wanted to call up Murphy, his gold glove and his 304 batting average, but he's hurt. Aviles, the shortstop, is having a nice run, but he's not ready. Allard told you not to say it, but you do anyway: Justin Huber. Good lord, he's hitting .393 and has 26 freaking walks! No, he still get's confused about which base is first, but can't we teach him that in winter ball? Yes, that's who you want a DH and you want him there now. There are other guys down there, too: Matt Tupman the catcher, Josh Pressley, Shane Costa...maybe next year.

Farther down you go, to High Desert where everyone is hitting the cover off the ball. Billy Butler is hittin .333 with a .421 obp and 12 errors. You can see him in left field....maybe even next year. Mitch Maier (.328/.372) is there so is Lubanski (starting to get hot) and Kaaihue, but you don't even dare mention them to Baird. Although you once more talk about bringing Huber in to KC to DH and let Butler DH in Wichita, just to see what kind of hitter the kid can be.

So, you've pulled Huber in to DH and called up an outfielder/maybe two from Omaha to play. You're not going to become a juggernaut on offense, but maybe you can get some runs for Greinke now and then.

Oh, pitching, what about that pitching? Greinke is good, Hernandez will battle, Bautista will drive you nuts and Lima will scare the hell out of you, but there are worse rotations in the league. Anderson is hurt and Wood is actually somewhat reliable (for this team) out of the pen, so the organization is bringing in D.J. Carrasco to start...interesting. Of course, you don't want Chris George or Ryan Jensen or Dennis Tankersley...maybe Carrasco gives you some decent 5 inning starts and when Anderson comes back you then have another piece of the puzzle in the bullpen.

The bullpen, ugh. Burgos has a golden arm, but he's not ready....not ready to dominate like he will for you in 2006. Put him in Omaha, let him get settled down. Same with Nunez, maybe you put him in Wichita, doesn't matter. They are both up here too soon. Patience you tell yourselft as Burgos hit 100 on the radar gun. You almost have to wait for Affeldt to come back before you can send out Burgos, maybe by then.... You have to keep Sisco up, but he's faltering in a setup role. Mix it up a little...mop up, set up, close...doesn't matter with this team. Wood, Snyder, Sisco, use them interchangeably. Takes the pressure off everyone, just pitch guys - stop thinking so much. Cerda and MacDougal are out there too, and a shiver goes up your spine.

Anything in the minors? Justin Huismann has a 2.33 ERA in Omaha, but 9 walks and 9 strikeouts. Byron Embry was in the Northern League last year, but isn't horrible, especially if you ignore one disasterous outing. Field and Camp....no, don't even say it. Santiago Ramirez had 7 strikeouts and zero walks, but 11 hits in under 7 innings. Steve Stemle is nobody, but he has not given up an earned run in 12 innings. Wichita...no, High Desert...no.

So, you send down Burgos and Nunez and bring up Embry and Stemle. If they don't work, you bring in Ramirez and one of your previous rejects. You hope Affeldt comes back and pitches well and maybe you don't wait all the way to 2006 to bring Burgos back, but you give him a couple of months. You find out what Tony Pena already should have known....ride your starters as long as you can and hope you can pick the hot hand out of the pen when you absolutely have to and not a moment before.

By the way, don't look at the standings for a couple of months, it will be bad for your ego.

Sensory Overload

A blown lead, a new lineup, a managerial search, Wood staying in the bullpen.....too much for this feeble mind to digest and not enough time for anything reasonable anyway.

One thought for the day, and I'll endeavour to have something better this evening:

What about keeping Schaefer as the interim manager for the rest of the season? My reasoning is that it might be easier to get a top flight manager type if he knows he gets to start fresh - with a full off-season and spring training to get 'his' team ready. Whomever takes over right now is certain to suffer another two months of not very good baseball, before their changes have any real impact, not something a lot of guys would want to take on.

Let's assume this team is going to get better as the season progress (it can't get worse, tell me it can't get worse). Actually it should, being as young as this team is. So, instead of taking over an 8-26 disaster, a new manager could take over a 60-102 team that played better as the season went on - something to build on.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

And I didn't know what to write about today...

I was at a loss (pun intended). Another well pitched game, another pathetic offensive show, another set up mistakes, another loss for the Royals. I did not feel like, nor did anyone probably feel like reading another rant on how bad this team seems to be. The thought of breaking down some prospects or maybe options for the upcoming amateur draft drifted through my mind, but then Tony Pena actually did something I liked this year: RESIGN.

Listen, by all accounts, Pena is a good guy and someone to be respected, but he was not a good manager...he was not even average. His mistakes, his almost mysterious reasoning for strategic moves, were evident on an almost daily basis. Even in the impressive 2003 season, Pena truthfully cost us games - critical games in late July and August. All fine and good when you're delivering the first winning season since 1994. All horribly annoying when you're losing 104 games. In my opinion Tony is a good 'number two guy': a bench coach or third base coach. A perfect fit to be the buffer between players and manager. The guy the players talk to and complain to - just not the guy who makes the final decisions. The Royals say they will keep Pena in the organization (roving instructor? morale officer?).

So, now we REALLY have something to work on: who will be the manager? It is well known that the last five managers the Royals have hired all were major league novices (Pena, Muser, Boone, McRae & Wathan), who had mixed success at best. Wathan and McRae, for the most part, had winning ballclubs, but could never get over the hump. Boone was too enamored with his own intelligence to ever let the club settle down and play (remember the season that Johnny Damon batted in every slot in the batting order?). Muser never meshed and Pena, well we all know about Pena. That is not to say that a rookie manager is not out of consideration. Certainly Frank White and George Brett will get a lot of discussion thrown their way.

First off, I would be shocked if Brett took the job. I do not think he wants to work that hard or travel that much. I think he enjoys being involved with the organization, working with selected young kids, and still being able to spend time with his family. I have no idea what kind of manager Brett would be, my hunch is pretty good, but I doubt that he has a true desire to take the job.

I like Frank White. Here is a guy who made himself a player. You will remember he came up as a great defender with no bat. By the time Frank was done, he was still a great defender, but had become a dangerous hitter, also. By and large, White also played on winning teams, teams that expected to win and did the little things to make sure they did so. All of those are good signs that he could be a good manager. However, I am not sure that a) Frank has the right personality for this team at this time and b) I wonder if the Royals might be gun shy about hiring a 6th rookie manager. I really think that White would be an ideal fit for a veteran ballclub, given his personality.

The KC Star reported bounced these names out there of 'veteran' available managers: Larry Bowa, Bob Brenly, Buck Martinez and Jimy Williams. Brenly and Martinez have broadcasting gigs, which I think are probably the best and easiest jobs in baseball. I am not sure a sane person gives that up for this team. Exactly how old is Jimy Williams? Aren't he and Bobby Cox both about 124? That said, Williams is a 'baseball guy', who has had his share of success (and failure). If you brought on Williams or a guy like that, could you pair him with a Frank White as a bench coach? The idea being after a couple of years, the older manager would want out anyway and White would be ready to step in. Pure speculation on my part - it all sounds good on paper, but everyone has a personality and an ego.

Larry Bowa, the choice of Kevin Kintzman (sp?) on WHB radio, is either loved or hated. If you want fire, this is your guy. I am not against Bowa, if only because I think there are a lot of guys on this team that need a kick in the lower rear area. Plus a guy with that personality probably would be okay with a young team - a 22 year old takes be yelled out a lot better than a 34 year old whose been in the league for 10 years. That said, some 22 year olds cannot function in that environment and lose their confidence. I am not sure I care if we have young players who cannot take the heat. I know this team is too soft.

Probably the real problem with Bowa, or any other vetaran guy, is simply that they may not want to take over a ballclub that probably will be horrible most of the year. Sure, you can see some light however faint, at the end of the tunnel, but it's hard to lose 6 out of 10 for months on end.

So, where does that leave us, I have absolutely no idea. I am, however, instantly reinvigorated over the idea of having different leadership for this ballclub. Any direction Baird/Glass decide to go, will at least be a different direction that where we were headed. A better direction? Time will answer that question, but for now, different is enough.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Another Game, Another Run

I don't have the energy to lament the Royal's lack of offense, once again. Or, for that matter, I have nothing to offer on Pena and his incessant babying of starting pitchers. No, this team is wearing me down. Anyway, for today, just some random notes and thoughts.

Two interesting blurbs in the KC Star this morning:
1. The Royals have not won a game all year in which they have scored less than 6 runs. That is a very bad sign for a team pretty much built to play 3-2 games.
2. Donnie Murphy hurt his ankle in Wichita and is expected to be out for 2-3 weeks. The Star reports that the Royals were about to call him up to replacing slumping Ruben Gotay. Now, I am not quite ready to give up on Gotay, but would not have been against such a move as Murphy has been hitting very well in Wichita (304/365) and is a plus defender (see I can talk just like Allard Baird). With McEwing getting the start at second last night in Toronto, it appears that Pena has seen enough of Gotay and he's not going to learn how to hit breaking balls sitting on a big league bench.

The morning show on WHB radio was kicking around the idea of trading for Ryan Howard of the Phillies. I just caugh the end of the discussion, so I have no idea how it started or where it came from, other than ESPN.com's Rumor Mill reported yesterday that the Phillies would look to move Howard before the trading deadline. Howard is a young and hits for power (actually I think the technical term is 'mashes'), but he also plays first base. A trade for him would mean that Sweeney was gone (something I am now against) and that the Royals have officially given up on Harvey and Pickering (well, I pretty much have, haven't you?). Under that scenario, you would have a 1b/DH combo of Howard and Justin Huber. HOWEVER, the Phillies would not do a Sweeney for Howard trade as they have nowhere to play Sweeney - there's a guy named Thome at first for Philadelphia, maybe you heard of him.

I know I have ranted on and on about the need for more offense in KC, but if we were to trade 'value', but not Sweeney, I would rather it be a trade for a guy that play beside Sweeney and Huber not instead of them. Plus, if we did trade Affeldt and Gobble, just names thrown out to make a sentence I have no info that those would be the guys involved, for Ryan Howard, then the rest of baseball would know we intended to move Sweeney and diminish the value we could get for him in return.

All of this conjecture assumes that Justin Huber can and will hit major league pitching - something I am pretty much taking for granted. Maybe we should bring him up and find out sooner rather than later?

Monday, May 09, 2005

2 Out Hitting (or the lack thereof)

David DeJesus had a two out run scoring single in the Top of the 4th on Sunday in Baltimore. It was the only two out rbi the Royals had in a 10-8 game (albeit the balk was with 2 outs). That lack of 'clutch' hitting is not new for this team.

Including yesterday's game, Kansas City has had 127 plate appearances with two outs and runners in scoring position. To begin with that is tied for 12th in the league with the Angels (four ahead of last place Detroit). Boston leads the league with 156 plate appearances in that situation.

The Royals have driven in 29 runs with those 127 appearances. By contrast the Angels have driven in 41 runs and Detroit, despite 4 less chances, has driven in 38. Boston, with the most opportunities have driven in 41 runs as well.

Here is a look at the batting average and on-base percentage of these four teams in a runners on/two out situation:

Boston - 181/333
Detroit - 315/398
Angels - 273/370
Royals - 231/291

First off, although Boston is hitting an extremely poor average in these pressure situations, they are also amazingly patient, as evidenced by their .333 on-base percentage. The Sox have 1.17 BB to K ratio in this circumstance. What is the Royals BB to K you ask? Try 0.34, dead last in the league and by a large margin. Tampa Bay is next to last at 0.46.

So, the problem is two fold: the Royals are not very good at getting men in scoring position and once, there, not very good at getting them in. That is certainly not news to any Royal fan who has watched Ken Harvey take third strikes and Angel Berroa swing at third strikes (just two of many culprits). Never a good 'on-base pct' team, the Royals regress to futility in pressure situations.

The solutions are many, but can truly be boiled down to either a) getting more runners on or b) getting better at hitting in clutch situations. In fact, if the Royals could become more patient at the plate and then translate that patience into better at-bats in all situations, they would actually solve both a) and b) at once.

The problem as I see it is simply that many on the current unit do not seem to have the apitude or ability to do so. Ken Harvey had turned patience into not swinging (he was struck out looking both Friday & Saturday in critical situations). Angel Berroa will never, not even once, be a patient hitter - he simply is not that kind of player. He may hit .280 with some pop, but he just won't walk.

David DeJesus does show decent plate discipline and works counts pretty well for a young player - particularly the opening at-bats of a game. So, there's hope there. Sweeney has relaxed some (funny what hitting .339 does for a guy!) and probably, along with Stairs, is a guy you don't want to be too patient as SOMEONE has to drive in runs.

Right now, despite generally good pitching, the margin for error is way to fine for the Royals. They must turn the tables some and soon to keep this season from turning from bad into a disaster. Again, you have to look first to the minors for players like Justin Huber, Matt Diaz, Aaron Guiel (he'll take a walk), maybe Pickering a platoon situation, maybe even Chad Santos. The Royals need guys to get on base, to not only take pitches, but take the RIGHT pitches (Berroa's pitches for plate appearance are not all that low, only because he's pretty good at fouling off balls out of the strike zone).

Sunday's ten run outburst was nice, but somewhat flukish, too. Certainly, nothing happened to make me think we are all of a sudden going to start scoring runs in droves. The old addage you can't score if you don't get on is, of course, obvious and true. The Royals need to score more, that's not exactly a revelation, and it starts with getting runners on base.