Friday, May 20, 2005

High Minors Update

Not to be confused with a High Desert update.

When one really starts to analyze the situation, there is no great mystery as to who the Royals will call up to start the game. Here is the starting rotation in Omaha:

Ryan Jensen 4.30 ERA, 46 innings, 28 strikeouts, 16 walks
Chris George 5.31 ERA, 42 innings
Danny Tamayo 4.68 ERA, 42 innings
Jimmy Gobble 8.80 ERA, 29 2/3 innings
Dennis Tankersley 7.52 ERA, 26 1/3 innings

The above explains why Omaha is just 18-24 this year and also why we should expect Ryan Jensen to take the hill for KC on Sunday. Given that there will be a big crowd and the Cardinals can swing it a little, having a guy who has a fair amount of major league experience (and some success actually) is certainly preferable to say...well, Eduardo Villacis.

On the hitting side in Omaha, Aaron Guiel has gotten hot lately and raised his average to .291 with a .383 on base percentage and is slugging at .595 clip. Guiel, who can become a free agent on June 1, has 9 homers and 19 walks. Chad Santos, who was hot early, has gone in the opposite direction and is down to .264/.349/.535, roughly the numbers he compiled in Wichita last year. Big Cal Pickering is playing again and has registered 6 hits in 51 at-bats (2 homers). Pick has walked 12 times and struck out 24 times.

Anybody wonder why Justin Huber is still in Wichita? I sure have, but I am pretty sure the answer may reside in the SEVEN errors he has at first base. The Royals, correctly so, do not want to turn a young player into a designated hitter only this early in his career and my guess is as soon as Huber shows he can be average at this position he will be on the move upwards. Currently hitting .367/.472/.599 with 28 walks, 6 homer runs and three steals, Huber does not have to be great in the field, just better than Calvin Pickering.

Josh Pressley was hitting .325 with a .423 on-base percentage for the Wrangler before being suspended for violating the substance abuse policy. On the positive side, however, Cory Aldridge a left-handed hitting, 25 year old outfielder, has 10 home runs for Wichita while hitting .294. He has 36 strikeouts and 10 walks, which accounts for a very average .331 on-base percentage.

Pitching news of note from down south centers on a 'non-prospect' and two former number one draft picks. Kyle Middleton, despite a bad outing last night, has a 3.16 ERA in 57 innings of work and a good 31/12 strikeout to walk ratio. He has been pretty much off the radar prospect wise, but given the lack of starters above him, that may change if Kyle can keep posting numbers like this. Mike Stodolka is also starting in Wichita and has a 4.23 ERA in 38 innings of work. The former first rounder has just 16 strikeouts and 10 walks. And how about Colt Griffin? Well, decent 3.51 ERA in 16 relief appearances, but....21 walks in 25 innings with 15 strikeouts.

We will take a look at the A-ball teams next week, but for now, outside of an emergency callup for Sunday's start, I do not expect much to happen movement wise in the organization over the next couple of weeks. Donnie Murphy is still hurt for Wichita (hitting .304 before his injury), Huber is not being rushed (if only he was a pitcher - he'd be in KC right now) and my guess is the Royals think they can keep Guiel after June 1.

Wouldn't it be nice for Greinke to shutout the Cardinals tonight?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Little Criticism Never Hurt

Less than six hours after I basically trash the Royals bullpen and specifically Mike MacDougal, look what happens. Not only did they hold the lead (special commendation to Bob Schaefer for having the courage to yank Runelvys early - 6 walks, what was that?), but they absolutely dominated a very good offensive baseball team.

5 2/3 innings, 1 hit, no walks AND 7 strikeouts!

Mike MacDougal comes in and strikes out the side on 11 pitches. It may all be a tease, but one can always hope.

I am not sure what to make of Leo Nunez. He may very well just be so new and unknown that other teams do not have any sort of read on him - much like Andy Sisco early in the year, but the kid throws strikes and throws them pretty hard. Time will tell in regard to Nunez, but it is a nice start for the youngster.

The Impossibility of Holding a Lead

We split the atom, went to the moon and created the internet. Somewhere, there has to be someone who can figure out how to get the Royals to hold a lead. Alas....

Seriously though, I though D.J. Carrasco battled and did about all you can ask of a fill-in for your number five starter: keep you in the game. His future is not as a starter, in my opinion, but he has shown enough in his two starts to give us some confidence that he could be a competent middle reliever for the bullpen.

Ah, the bullpen. I have become someone fixated on it only because I think there is hope to at least making it better. You can't make Jose Lima 25 again, you can't accelerate Denny Bautista two more years into his career, and you can't turn D.J. Carrasco into Brad Radke. What you can do, is assemble a consistent core of relievers to take the pressure off your lesser starters.

Bullpen by committee, closer by committee, by its very nature has a disorganized feel to it and that is not necessarily bad. A little over a week ago, I advocated going to just such an approach, simply to find out who can pitch and who can't. Whether he is finding out for himself or for the next 'real' manager, Schaefer has taken the right approach in putting different guys in different situations. Can you use this approach for an entire season? My answer is no, not unless you suddenly have the reincarnation of Dibble, Myers and Charlton circa 1990.

So, where are we headed? First, Mike Wood has pretty much proven that he can be an above-average middle reliever. He is not a closer, not full time anyway, as he just doesn't have that kind of explosive stuff, but he can pretty much fill any role you want. There has been some talk of moving Wood into the rotation (mostly amongst us fans), but I think that is a mistake. At best, he could be a serviceable back of the rotation guy, while as a reliever he can be really good.

Although the sample size is very small (just 2 starts), I think D.J. Carrasco could fill a similar role as Wood. I think he was starting out of necessity in Omaha and he is certainly starting for KC out of necessity. Again, he could be servicable, but in the bullpen he could be above average.

Andy Sisco is beginning to look less like Mariano Rivera and more like a Rule V guy. He is still okay, but probably needs to be kicked back to his early season role: a long reliever, garbage innings, etc. He has not thrived, actually he's struggled, in pressure situations. He will get a lot of work for the Royals as a long reliever and that is what he needs: simply to pitch and pitch a lot. Like most people, you have to think he is a starter down the road. Hell, I would be tempted to start him Sunday just out of curiosity.

Okay, so in my world and once everyone gets healthy, we have Sisco has the long man with Wood and Carrasco as my middle relievers. That is a decent base. After that we have questions marks.

At least until Affeldt comes back, you have to keep throwing Burgos out there. Perhaps the light will come on and he establishes himself in the next few weeks. If not, once Affeldt is up to speed, you send the kid to Omaha and let him dominate for a few more months. THEN, he may actually be ready. At this point, and it is a stretch, you have to count on Affeldt to come back and be the closer. I do not see any other viable option. Besides you have to a) prove he's healthy, b) find out if he really can be a dominant closer and c) showcase him as trade bait.

That leaves us with a whole bunch of guys with potential and a mountain of questions. You would hope Snyder will get healthy and revert to spring training form. That gives you a third middle reliever and allows you to push Wood into more of a pure setup role. Cerda is not good, but he is also not bad, and at times can get you a couple of really good innings. I would like to see the Royals actually use Cerda as a lefty specialist only as, over the past three years lefthanders have hit just .223 against him, while righties are hitting .266.

I have nothing left to say about Mike MacDougal. He has worn out my patience and hope at least four different times in the last two and half seasons. If he has any value, trade him now and end our misery. I don't know how it is possible that someone with that kind of stuff can be so totally lacking in self-confidence, but I no longer care.

So, that leaves us (again once healthy), with a bullpen of Sisco, Carrasco, Snyder, Cerda, Wood and Affeldt, with Burgos in the wings. I may be optimistic (as I was with the bullpen we started the season with), but I would be willing to slot these six into the roles defined above and run them out there for a couple of months. Frankly, they could not do any worse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Quick Post on DeJesus

Not much talk about the foot bruise that kept David DeJesus out of the lineup last night. A blurb on the Royals site indicated it was something 'he woke up with' and was caused by David compensating for the bruise he suffered in late April.

To me, not knowing anything more than that, it sounds like a trip to the disabled list might be in the works. If one foot is hurt and then the other gets hurt to compensate, I don't know how you get over that problem without simply resting. If that turns out to be the case, there goes our second best player.

My opinion is this would open up a spot for Aaron Guiel, who the Royals have to do something with by June 1st or he can become a free agent. Obviously, I'd rather have a healthy DeJesus, but it would allow us to keep Guiel in the fold - what with Terrance Long hitting all of 215. Just speculating....

Ughh

Are we sure that's not Chris George in a Jose Lima custume out there? Maybe that's a bit harsh, after all Chris George won 9 games in 2003, mainly because he could usually (barely) protect 6 run leads. I was being patient with Lima, thinking that as we got into the season he would establish some consistency, but at this point I have seen enough. Unfortuneately, with Bautista and Anderson both on the the DL, there is no ability to make a move with regard to Lima. Not that the Royals would make such a drastic move, but they won't even consider it right now.

Speaking of seeing too much, Mike MacDougal has driven me insane for the last time. I do not care how many good outings he strings together, I will not ever once count on him again. I have no burning desire to see much more of Jaime Cerda, either, but somebody had to be in the bullpen. Apparenty, 12-8 losses make me bitter. There are no great solutions to the bullpen other than to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we don't have, nor will we have, a 'shut down' pen. Getting Affeldt and Snyder back will at least provide some more options.

First pitch studies continued:
I went back in time and compiled my first pitch numbers on Tony Pena's last six games (210 batters total). What I found is that under Pena, the Royals swung at the first pitch 31.0% of the time and on the remaining at-bats, looked at strike one 60.7% of the time.

In the first six games under Bob Schaefer (207 batters) and his new 'aggressive' approach at the plate, we find the Royals are swinging at the first pitch slightly more: 32.9% of the time. Here's the big difference, and probably a good reason as to why the Royals have been somewhat more potent at the plate. Of the batters that did not swing at the first pitch, only 43.2% looked at strike one - basically 28 at-bats. In essence, 28 batters who started out behind in the count under Pena are starting out ahead in the count under Schaefer. All that without swinging at the first pitch at an appreciably higher level.

I have had little to quibble about Schaefer's lineups so far, partially because he has had very little wiggle room with all the injuries. I was, however, disappointed that Matt Diaz did not get a start last night. I do not see the point in playing Marrero, Long AND Graffanino, three guys who we know what they are, at the expense of a player like Diaz who we need to find out about.

By the way, Ken Harvey had not played for a WEEK now, what would have been the harm in putting him on the 15 day disabled list and getting Schaefer another stick to play with? Even if he was 'not hurt that bad', we would really only forfeit maybe 6 or 7 days of his availabilty....and it is Ken Harvey after all.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Alex Gordon

With speculation heating up on the upcoming amateur draft, in which the Royals have the second overall pick, I though I would offer up some information on a player who is easily one of the top five prospects available and who happens to play in my town.

Alex Gordon is a 6'1", 215 pound junior third baseman, born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska who has started 170 of 174 games since arriving on campus as a freshman. He is a career .342 hitter with a .401 average with runners in scoring position. Here's a quick look at his career stats (Batting Ave/On-base Pct/Slugging Pct):

2003 - 319/425/495 - 7 home runs, 29 walks in 62 games.
2004 - 355/493/754 - 18 home runs, 47 walks, 12 stolen bases in 59 games.
2005 - 388/548/732 - 15 home runs, 52 walks, 20 stolen bases in 53 games (so far).

In 2004, Gordon was the Big 12 player of the year, and appears poised to be only the second position player to earn that award twice. There is really good baseball in the Big 12, so I think this conference gives good players an solid base from which to go into the professional ranks. In Big 12 play, Alex hit .299 in 2003, .297 in 2004 and this year is hitting a whopping .380 in conference games with a .574 on-base percentage and a .684 sluggling percentage. Nearly 40 percent of the runs he has driven in have occurred via two-out hits and he has quite frankly been the best player on three very good baseball teams in his team here at the University of Nebraska.

Gordon also played on TEAM USA last summer and hit .388 with four homers in 24 games. He was named the top offensive player at the FISU World University Baseball Championships where he went 11-21 in 8 contests.

Although he has improved defensively at third base, that is certainly not the strong point of Gordon's game. As a freshman Alex committed 11 errors for a .919 fielding percentage. In both 2004 and 2005 his fielding percentage (take that statistic for what it's worth) has been .935, with 12 errors in 2004 and 11 more in 2005. Gordon played first base for TEAM USA last summer. Gordon is a good athelete with a solid work eithic and could probably make himself into an average defensive major league third basemen.

The question becomes, should the Royals draft Gordon, what position do you put him at? Darrin Erstad was a number one overall pick out of Nebraska in 1995 as a junior, basically at the same developmental level as Gordon, and he played 114 games in A and AAA before reaching the majors (one and one-half seasons). Putting Gordon on a similar track that would put him in Kansas City by NEXT summer or spring of 2007 at the latest. You have Teahen at third, who is showing signs of being absolutely marvelous with the glove and who you hope will be a solid .290 hitter with a load of doubles by next year. We're projecting Huber as our first baseman sooner rather than later and you've got to play Billy Butler by 2007 also (probably at DH).

So...can you play Gordon in the outfield? I have heard nothing on this matter and Nebraska is making a run at the College World Series (they are currently ranked 5th in the country), so they're not about to start shifting guys around just out of curiosity. My guess, given Gordon's athleticism and work ethic is that you could turn him into a left fielder. Purely speculation on my part, but not without some merit.

Now, will the Royals draft him, given that he will probably want a pretty decent signing bonus. My hope is that they will, or at least sign someone who warrants the number 2 pick. There has been speculation that Kansas City will make a 'budget pick' and that is an absolute waste of such a high pick. If you're down below 10th in the draft, then I think signability and money are legitimate factors. When you are this high in the draft, then you have to bite the bullet, draft and pay for the talent.

A good point was made on the KC Star discussion board with regard to the large number of 1st and 2nd round picks the Royals had last year and what they spent (something over $5 million) to sign five players. This year, KC has just one first rounder and one second rounder and logically could afford to pay a big bonus ($4.5 million has been bandied about, I think mostly from the Upton camp, but it has been assumed that Gordon will want the same). If you can draft a guy that could help your offense as early as mid 2006 or 2007, you have to do it. You have to even if you know he has a difficult agent (I have not heard who or if Gordon has an agent yet) and even if you know that after 6 years in the majors you have no chance of keeping him (ala Carlos Beltran). That is the nature of the beast, some guys you can hold onto to, some guys you can't get rid of, and some guys you just have to use and enjoy while you have them.

The Royals made money last year, they will make money this year. Do not be cheap this year, Mr. Glass, open the checkbook and pay the bonus for a legitimate prospect. You might be amazed what happens in the coming years.

Monday, May 16, 2005

A Good Weekend, for a change

I don't care if it was just Tampa Bay, three out of four is three out of four. Just five games back of the Indians. Hey, you have to start somewhere.

Let's take a quick look at my pet project before I get into our bullpen. Yesterday, in scoring 4 runs, the Royals swung at the first pitch 9 times (29.0%) and of the remaing at-bats took called first strikes 32.3% of the time. Now, four runs is not exactly an offensive explosion, but those numbers continue a mini-trend under Bob Schaefer of swinging at the first pitch less and taking first pitch strikes less.

Now, about the bullpen, that was good, bad, effective and ineffective in this series. I am moderately frightened when Mike MacDougal was the steadiest of performers this weekend, but good for him. I continue to believe that mentally he just does not have 'it' when it comes to closing games, although a couple of more outings like this weekend and he will get another shot.

Statistically, Andy Sisco is still the dominant pitcher in the pen, but he has struggled with control and with the league getting a 'book' on him. Despite recent control problems, Sisco's WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched) is still a decent 1.21. Opponets are batting just .167 against him with a paltry .490 OPS. Five of twelve inherited runners have scored against Sisco, but for a young guy who should be in AA, that's not too bad, either. Probably a shift of roles between Sisco and MacDougal might be in order if Mac continues to pitch well and Sisco does not get back to his early season effectiveness. Starter or reliever, two years from now Andy Sisco will be very, very good.

Mike Wood has sort of stumbled into two saves in two consecutive games, but two saves is still two saves. He's got less talent than anybody on the staff, save Lima probably, but Wood competes and I have always thought he had a decent idea of how to pitch. Early on, Mike has a good 1.20 WHIP and has held opponets to a .208 batting average. At 6.23 strikeouts per 9 innings, he pales in comparison to Sisco (11.69), Burgos (11.42) and MacDougal (9.17) when it comes to 'sizzle factor', but Wood is a good solid guy - probably a middle reliever for the Royals for seasons to come.

MacDougal has actually allowed only 3 of 11 inherited runners to score. Sure opponets have an OPS of .730 and his WHIP is 1.64 and until this weekend, Mike had pretty much disentegrated in every crucial situation he had been placed in, but hope springs eternal for guys who throw 95+ with nasty sliders.

Jaime Cerda had pitched better as of late as well. Opponets are hitting .250 against him with a .748 OPS. His WHIO is 1.70, not good, but Cerda strikes batter out at a rate of 8.03 per 9 innings, not bad. It is pretty much all about control with Cerda as it seems he seldom gets hit hard when he throws strikes. Too often, however, Jaime struggles with his control and then very bad things happen that make me swear at my TV.

Speaking of swearing, Ambiorix Burgos is quite the enigma, isn't he? This guy flat out has some of the nastiest, hardest stuff I have ever seen and he clearly, quite clearly, is NOT ready. Sure, he will strike out 11.42 batters per 9 innings and he has allowed just 1 of 6 inherited runners to score, but his WHIP is 1.73 and opponets have managed to hit .294 against him with an .872 OPS (anybody out there that would not trade for an outfielder who hit .294 with an .872 OPS?). Burgos will be our closer, probably as early as next year, but he really needs more seasoning in the minors (along with about 10 other guys, but that's for another day). At times, he has suffered from bad luck (bloop hits, etc.), but at times he has simply looked like a 21 year old with a great arm and very marginal idea of how to use it.

For now, like Bob Schaefer, I think you grit your teeth and put in whomever might be hot. Perhaps the lack of defined roles will take a little pressure off of everyone and allow them to just pitch. Chances are, in two weeks, we'll be right back to the start of the season plan: MacDougal setting up for Affeldt. If they both perform well in those slots for six weeks, I would trade them both for offense. We have the bullpen of the future in the system (Sisco, Burgos, Nunez) we just should not be thinking the future is now.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

First Pitches Continued

A busy weekend around here with graduations, etc., so just a quick add-on to Friday's unscientific look at what the Royals are doing with the first pitch of each at bat.

To review, in Pena's last two games, the Royals swung at the first pitch 37.4% of the time. When they did not swing, KC looked at strike one 52.4% of the time. In Schaefer's first two games, the Royals swung 30.1% of the time at that first pitch and took strike one on 43.1% of those pitches on which they did not swing.

So, Friday night, in scoring just 2 runs and registering just 4 hits, Kansas City hitters swung at the first pitch at a slightly higher rate of 35.3%. They took strike one looking on 40.9% of those remaining at-bats.

Saturday night, in a nice 6 run output, the Royals swung at the first pitch 30.6% of the time and took strike one looking just 36.0% of the time.

Once again, this is very scientific and the results could be effected by a number of variables. However, over the last six games, when the Royals have kept the first pitch swinging right around 30%, they have scored runs. When that percentage has crept up over 35% (and usually higher), they have scored four runs total in three games. Coincidence? Quite possibly, but something that has me curious enough to keep tracking.

Quick notes:
That is the Runelvys Hernandez we can probably expect: a grinder who will get you innings and keep you in the game, but who will need runs to get wins. He is probably the 'innings eater' that Allard Baird though Jose Lima would be.

How would you like to be Bob Schaefer, knowing that you probably get to manage the Royals for about 10 days, and have virtually no flexibility with the lineup because of nagging injuries? It has given Emil Brown a chance to get his bat started and he all of a sudden looks like a player that can help us score runs.

Sisco and Wood were hardly resplendent last night, but Sisco got credit for a hold and Wood the save. Such is the life of a major league bullpen. One night you are perfect for all but one pitch and lose, the next you pretty much are bad and still save the game.

Here's hoping Matt Diaz gets hot from the first at-bat this time up and takes hold of an everyday spot for a while. If Diaz could hit even 75% of what he was doing in Omaha and Emil Brown continues to heat up, all of a sudden our outfield does not look quite so impotent.