Friday, May 27, 2005

Yikes

Did you know that Angel Berroa and Ruben Gotay are the only middle-infield combination in the majors to have not committed an error in May? Is that really true? Before the season started I did state that all I really wanted out of Berroa was great defense...but wait, that was BEFORE the ninth inning of last night's game. Not one, but two errors by Berroa that quite simply just gave the game away (you didn't really expect MacDougal to pitch well in the 10th did you?).

I have to be honest, I went to bed (yes, I'm getting old) after the Royals scored four in the top of the 9th to go up 8-3. My wife even said "we surely can't give up that big a lead". So luckily, I did not have to witness the debacle live and thus the whole event is somewhat surreal to me and less painful - thank, God.

The real shame is that a great effort by D.J. Carrasco was wasted. Although I think D.J. is better suited for the bullpen, he is showing signs of being a capable back of the rotation guy at least in the short term. Speaking of rotations, anybody else have a curiosity about what would happen if we gave Andy Sisco a start? I mean, exactly what do we have to lose?

For those of you interested, the Royals swung at the first pitch just under 40% of the time - probably a bit high, but they only took a called first strike on 42% of their remaining at-bats - pretty good. Yes, a portion of their 8 runs were a little lucky, but still it pays to start your at-bat ahead in the count.

Matt Stairs was quoted on KCRoyals.com that this team was very close to being very good. I have to admit thinking the same thing, sometimes, but those thoughts are getting farther apart. Much farther apart.

What happened to the Agression?

-Aggression-
When Bob Schaefer took over as interim manager, he advocated a new 'aggressive approach' at the plate and for the first week and a half it seemed to work. As many of you know, that got me to tracking first pitches and found that in that 11 game stretch where the Royals were hitting the ball quite well they really were NOT swinging at the first pitch any more than under Pena (30 to 32% of the time for both). What had changed was what the Royals did with first pitches they did not swing at (i.e. the other 70%) and there, under Pena, KC took strike one looking on 60%+ of those remaining pitches but under Schaefer they were taking the remaining first pitches for strikes only 45% of the time.

However, this week in Texas, everything went haywire. As reported earlier on Tuesday, Kansas City swung at the first pitch 44.7% of the time, and took 62% of the remaining pitches for strikes. Then on Wednesday and Thursday the Royals all of sudden got tentative:

First pitch swinging:
Wed - 22.9%
Thu - 28.6%

Remaining pitches taken for strikes:
Wed - 55.6%
Thu - 64.0%

All of the above resulted in a major league butt kicking in Arlington, Texas. We will have to see what happens in Anaheim this weekend. Were the first handful of games under Schaefer the rule or the exception? Are the Royals reverting to early season form or just did not have good at-bats in Texas?

-Lima-
Add me to the list of people who never want to see Lima Time again. Here's the runs allowed for all his starts: 5, 7, 5, 4, 1, 5, 5, 5, 7, 2, 8. Of course, prior to his last start, Jimmy Gobble had allowed 19 runs in 18 innings in AAA and Dennis Tankersely is, well, Dennis Tankersely, so making a move with the injuries to Bautista and Anderson is essentially saying we are going with Kyle Middleton straight from Wichita. I'd do it, only because it could not be much worse and then, there is Chris George......

-Rumors-
Buster Olney was on Sportscenter last night (at a sliver in time when they were not talking about the Yankees and Red Sox) and indicated that 'if it was not for the money issue' he thinks a deal moving Sweeney to Anaheim would already be done. Other than saying that the Angels wanted KC to pick up some of Sweeney's salary, he made no mention of players involved, nor could I find any with a quick scan of the morning sites. I am sure more will come up in the coming weeks.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

2003 Draft Pick Progress

With the Royals down 8-1, thanks to yet another Lima implosion, I continue turning my attention to the future. We looked at the top five picks from last year's draft earlier, so let's take a look at the first five from the 2003 draft.

CHRIS LUBANSKI, OF - Although picked number five overall, Lubanski was quite frankly a budget pick and has performed along those lines for much of his young career. At 6'3" and 180 lbs, the 20 year old outfielder was projected as a 'Willie Wilson type'. In his rookie season in Arizona, Chris did hit 326/382/452 - basically playing like a first round pick. Since then, the slow-starting Lubanski has struggled posting these numbers in low A Burlington last year: 273/298/364. While other Royal prospects have prospered this season in High Desert, Lubanski has these paltry hitting numbers to his credit: 213/262/416. Chris does have 8 homers and 4 steals this year in High-A, but it is hard to visualize him as anything more than a journeyman, especially if 2004 first rounder Billy Butler is moved to the outfield (if I say it enough it just might happen).

MITCH MAIER, OF - The 6'2" 195 lb 23 year old was drafted 30th overall out of Toledo and had pretty much peformed like a true first round pick. Taking the move from catcher to third base to the outfiled all in stride, Mitch slugged away in Arizona rookie ball at a 350/403/507 clip. His 2004 season in low-A Burlington was equally successful at 300/354/432 and 34 steals. Getting the call at mid-season to move to high-A Wilmington posed a challenge and Maier's numbers dropped to 259/323/388. However, Mitch has rebounded nicely this year at High Desert (still High-A ball) and is at 345/385/579 currently. Given his half season at High A last year, it might be logical to look for Maier to get a call to Wichita later this year. Like Butler (see 2004 Draft Pick Progress Post), it is likely we'll see Maier by 2007 in a big league uniform.

SHANE COSTA, OF - A second round pick out of Cal State Fullerton, the 6'1" 205 pound lefty hitter stared 2005 in AA Wichita. He lit up the rookie league in 2003, pounding out hitting numbers of 386/444/580 and followed up last year in High A Wilmington with a very good 307/364/418 line with 32 walks and just 43 strikeouts. This year in Wichita, Shane has rebounded from a slow start is is currently at 272/337/432 and just 9 strikeouts in 176 plate appearances. Although overshadowed by Butler, Maier and Lubanski, it is not out of the question that Costa could compete for a job in early 2006, when he will already by 25 years old.

ROBERT MCFALL, OF - Drafted out of junior college, the 6'3" 205 lb 21 year old first base/outfielder has had an up and down career to date. Struggling in his first year in rookie ball to the tune of 220/296/403, McFall then dominated in advanced rookie Idaho Falls posting a line of 359/432/611 with 23 steals and 14 homers. That peformance earned him a late season promotion to Burlington where a disasterous 172/270/219 line came out of 151 at-bats. Understandably, Robert remained in low-A Burlington to start this year and continues to struggle. Currently his line is an unimpressive 218/326/355 with 5 steals.

MIGUEL VEGA, 3B - A fourth round pick in 2003 straight out of high school, the 19 year old checks in at 6'3" 205 and hits from the right side. Year one of Arizona rookie ball ended up at 220/296/403 and brought Vega back for a second year in the same league, where he improved to 275/328/515 with 10 homers. The year in Burlington, Miguel has 28 strikeouts in 93 plate appearances and checks in at 258/295/393. Like McFall, Vega is in danger of being passed up in the system heiarchy by younger and better performing prospects.

Other notables from this draft year are MIKE AVILES, a shortstop out of Concorida College Michigan who was drafte in the 7th round and is already in Wichita, hitting 273/323/448 after a 2004 Wilmington campaign that featured 39 doubles and a 303 batting average. Luis Cota was drafted in the 10th round as a 'draft and follow player', and he struck out 40 in 48 innings last year in Idaho Falls. This year in Burlington, Cota has 1.95 ERA in 50 innings (9 starts) with 58 strikeouts and 25 walks.

Conceivably, you could have two regulars (Maier and Costa), a backup (Aviles) and a starter (Cota) out of this class, with Lubanski being a complete wild card. This, coupled with 2004, is a pretty decent two years worth of drafting. Tomorrow we'll look at the 2002 draft (three guesses as to the who the first pick of the Royals was - and the first two don't count).

2004 Draft Pick Progress

The Royals drafted 53 players in the 2004 Amateur Draft, most of whom we will never hear of or about. However, with five picks in the first two rounds, 2004 was a critical phase in the continuing development of the farm system. Perhaps more importantly, with an eye towards being contenders in 2007, Kansas City needed to make good choices with those first five picks.

BILLY BUTLER, 3B - Every Royals fan has heard this name, and most cannot wait for him to make his way to Kansas City. Widely regarding as one of the best hitting prospects in all of the minors, the 6'2", 225lb nineteen year old had not disappointed at the plate. Last year at Idaho Falls, Billy dominated: .373/.488/.596, 22 doubles and 10 homers. This year is no different as Butler is hitting .356/.444/.638 with 12 doubles and 12 homers in High Desert. The one concern is where he fits defensively as Butler has 16 errors at third so far this year. However, when you have his kind of bat, teams will find somewhere to put you and I would be suprised if Butler is not in AA sooner rather than later and in Kansas City by late 2006 (if not sooner).

MATT CAMPBELL, LHP - Matt was the first of a trio of college pitchers drafted by KC. At 6'2", 170 lbs, the 23 year old is a left handed starter who is currently trying to find his way in low-A ball at Burlington. Currently Campbell has an 0-5 record with 4.60 ERA. In nine starts covering 47 innings, Matt has walked 28 and struck out 34 while allowing 58 hits. Last year, in 4 Idaho Falls starts, he was symettrical if nothing else: 11 innings, 11 hits, 10 runs, 10 walks, 10 strikeouts. Obviously, control is something of an issue right now, but we are a long way from calling him the next Colt Griffin.

J.P. HOWELL, LHP - A sandwich pick between rounds 1 and 2, Howell is the first of this class to make it to AA. The 6'0" 180 lb, 22 year old earned a promotion to Wichita just last week. Pitching in a 'hitters' league' in High A High Desert, all Howell did in 8 starts was compile a 1.96 ERA in 46 innings. He struck out 48 while walking 24 and allowed just 33 hits. In his first AA start, J.P. went 5 1/3 innings and gave up 3 runs on 4 hits (2 home runs), while striking out 5 and walking 3. Not a bad first start at a higher level. Last year for Idaho Falls, Howell was equally impressive in 26 inning of work, allowing just 16 hits, striking out 38 and walking 12. I do not think it is unreasonable to consider Howell a contender for the 2007 starting rotation.

BILLY BUCKNER, RHP - This second round pick is the biggest of the three pitchers at 6'2", 215 and the youngest (four months younger than Howell). Buckner is currently in Burlington with Matt Campbell. Buckner's forte is control as evidenced by his 2004 Idaho Falls' numbers of just 4 walks and 37 strikeouts in 30 innings of work. This year in Burlington, Buckner has a 4.08 ERA over 46 1/3 innings. Again, 46 strikeouts to just 13 walks, but he has allowed 55 hits. He strikes me as a 'grinder', someone who will work his way up the ladder steadily and would project out as a middle to end rotation guy. Barring something unforeseen, we're at least a two to three years away from seeing Buckner with the big club.

ERIK CORDIER, RHP- The Royals returned to their roots and just HAD to draft a high school pitcher with their second pick in the second round (I think Allard Baird gets a rash if he goes more than a round without drafting a high school arm with 'upside'). Just nineteen years old and staning 6'3" and 195lbs, Cordier pitched in the Arizona rookie league last year and compiled less than resplendent numbers: 35 innings pitched, 38 hits, 22 strikeouts, 21 walks and a 5.19 ERA. Pretty much what you would expect from a high school pitcher. I suspect he will be part of the Idaho Falls team this summer (their season does not begin until June 26th), but the Royals are just starting to announce the roster for this squad so we do not know for sure. FYI: We do know that Enrigue Barrera, the 5th round pick of 2004 and a right handed pitcher will be part of the Idaho Falls staff.

Quite obviously, the jury is still out on the 2004 draft and will be for another five years. It is highly likely that Howell and Butler will be making impacts sooner rather than later and just as likely that someone picked in round 25 will be knocking on the big league door before some of the guys named above. I do not really have a 'feel' for what is reasonable to expect from a draft class, but I would think a regular postion player and a front line starter for your big league club three seasons after you draft is a good start.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Impatient or Too Patient

Just a quick note today, more later.

Although the Royals did hit the ball pretty well last night, the results were still another one run loss. Kansas City was particularly inept at advancing and scoring the many baserunners they had. In watching the game, I thought our hitters looked somewhat 'out of sync' - which is a little odd considering they rapped out 10 hits, but in checking the numbers, things were different.

In general under Bob Schaefer, the Royals have swung at the first pitch of an at-bat roughly 32-34% of the time. Last night, they swung at 17 out of 38 first pitches, 44.7%. Further, the Royals had been taking a first strike looking on the rest of their at-bats in the low 40% range, compared with around 60% under the Pena/Baird work the count approach to no offense. Last night, the Royals took 13 strikes looking - 62% of the at-bats in which they did not swing early. Bottom line, Kansas City hitters were working behind in the count at much higher rate than usual.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Off-day Rumblings

The Mike Sweeney trade rumors are beginning to get life again. As many of you know, I have gone from trade him-trade him now-I don't care for who, to don't trade him-we need his offense-we need it next year. I base this on the fact that even at $11 million a year, we can afford to keep Sweeney AND add payroll and more importantly because the Royals would be so much more potent to ADD a corner outfielder than to TRADE Sweeney for one.

However, I have a hunch that the conventional wisdom will take precedent and Sweeney is on the block. The one team I have heard mentioned (most of the buzz is generic 'the Royals will and can move Sweeney' with no options stated) is the Angels of wherever it is they are now saying they play.

So, if the Angels were to be a trading partner, what do they have to offer? They just brought up their prize pitching prospect: Ervin Santana, but I doubt he is available and given the number of young arms the Royals already are cultivating, I do not know that you really want to or need to add another youngster into the mix. Looking at their position players, the one major league player that fits the Royal profile (young, right handed, power hitting corner outfielder) is Juan Rivera, whom the Angels got via Montreal/Washington in the off-season. Rivera is a 6'2", 205 pound, 26 year old who in 391 at-bats with Montreal last year clubbed 12 homers and posted the following batting numbers: .307/.364/.465/.829. I'd take Rivera, but we would have to get more. How desparate are the Angels? Probably not desperate enough to part with Casey Kotchman, their first baseman at AAA Salt Lake City. The Angels have a trio of 26 year old outfielders in AAA, Nick Gorneault among them (.310/.355/.566), but Kotchman is THE prospect. Anyway, it will probably become more apparent as the weeks go by and the Angels level of interest is most likely somewhat dependent on the seriousness or non-seriousness of Vladmir Guerroro's shoulder injury.

Other notes today:

Jeremy Affeldt is set to pitch for Omaha this week. I think the Royals have really ticked Jeremy off by being so cautious with this injury, which is good. Affeldt NEEDS to get ticked off and stay ticked off - every power closer in the world spends most of their days angry (or should anyway). The progression of the current group of youngsters in the bullpen, coupled with Affeldt's performances over the next month, will have a great deal of bearing on Royal trade plans.

An article on one of the minor league sites today regarding two players from Hawaii currently playing for the Royals' High A club at High Desert: Jason Kaanoi and Micah Kaaihue. If you are interested here is the link:
http://www.minorleaguebaseball.com/app/news/article.jsp?ymd=20050518&content_id=6947&vkey=news_milb&fext=.jsp

Speaking of our bullpen, now is the time for Andy Sisco to make HIS adjusments and start being effective again. As is often said, baseball is all about adjustments: the league adjusted to Sisco, not it's his turn. I will be curious, now that scouts have had a couple of looks at Leo Nunez, to see if he remains dominant over the next few weeks.

And finally, put me in the camp of Terry Collins as the Royal's next manager, if only because of this quote in the Kansas City Star this morning:

“I care about how the game is played. I want it done correctly. I don't accept stupid plays. And if you do them, you'll hear about it, and then I'll try to teach you what went wrong.”

Monday, May 23, 2005

It's All Mental

Hitting that is...it has to be mental. You really cannot explain the Royals' newfound ability to score runs any other way. Under Pena this year, the mantra was work the count, sacrifice, manufacture runs and Kansas City struggled mightily. In Pena's last seven games, they scored three runs or less SIX times.

Voila! Bob Schaefer says be aggressive, play for the big inning and in his first 11 games the Royals have failed to score more than three runs only ONCE. Mired well to the bottom of the American League in virtually every category (every good category anyway), Kansas City is slowly creeping upwards. Although still 13th in slugging and average, the Royals are up to 11th in both on-base percentage and OPS. More importantly, they are now 11th in runs scored, but just 4 runs shy of being ninth. The two teams that were run challenged at the same level of despair as the Royals just two weeks ago (Cleveland & Oakland) are now 20+ runs behind Kansas City.

You could say that this is simply a matter of the Royals happening to get hot and that may very well be true. However, as we have examined, Schaefer's new approach at the plate had led to the Royals (despite swinging at first pitches at virtually the same rate as Pena's team) to not taking such a high percentage of first strikes looking. Does just the talk of the Royals being more aggressive lead to opposing pitchers throwing balls out of the zone on the first pitch? Does a more aggressive mindset at the plate actually lead to better strike zone judgment?

I don't really know and truthfully 11 games out of a baseball season is not enough to tell much of anything, but over the last seven days, Kansas City has hit .277 as a team, with an on-base percentage of .341, slugging of .427 and an OPS of .768. A month of that kind of hitting will get this team some wins and these fans some hope.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Missed Opportunities Once More

Let's not fool ourselves, the Cardinals are a good baseball team, even without Scott Rolen. Still, after two consecutive one run losses (making it 12 so far this year), Royals fans have to be lamenting missed opportunities to have a 2-0 lead in this series.

Friday night was particularly annoying to this writer simply because two veteran players were the culprits. In the bottom of the first, Tony Graffanino hit an odd little backspinning bouncer out towards second that forced Berroa. That was not what drew my ire, it was that Tony apparently stopped to buy a donut on his way to first base. Graff has often been described as a hard-nosed, hustling competitor, but this year (and it may be because his precense in the lineup over younger players with more potential just angers me to begin with) it appears that he will take a play off now and then. Perhaps worse, was Eli Marrero's at-bat to end the first inning (with two on and two out, despite the double play). Eli swung at two pitches that Angel Berroa probably would have laid off of - pretty much as if he had already decided that the twilight and Mark Mulder was just too much.

In the 5th inning on Friday night came the play that everyone was talking about. Bases loaded, no outs, Graffanino on 3rd base and a wild pitch, one that I think he has a 80% chance of scoring on. You know, that is Mark Mulder out there and we are the Royals, you have to take risks. I do NOT think it was a smart baseball play to avoid making the first out at home. Worst case, Graffanino's out, the runners move up and Eli Marrero's subsequent double play ball (another nice at-bat, Eli, thanks) instead is a run scoring groundball, runner on third and just one out.

Bottom line, that's four plays in a one run loss. A different outcome on just one of the four makes this a different game. Plays that continue to add to my theory that the Royals' problem is not being too young, but is instead that our 'veteran players' are not very good.

Moving onto Saturday night, Emil Brown made easily one of the most awkward defensive plays of the last five years in boxing around the ball in the right field corner that led to two runs in the top of the 5th inning. I am not sure Ken Harvey could have been that bad...well, maybe, but you get the point. Brown is not a gifted outfielder, but has at least been hitting some lately and players are not perfect, but all he had to do was not fall on his ass (fielding the ball cleanly would have been nicer, but I don't want to be greedy) and the Cardinals score one less run in that inning. ONE LESS RUN, hmmm, that was the difference in the game come to think of it.

Another missed opportunity game in the bottom of the same inning, after the Royals had scored two runs (okay, so maybe I am greedy), when both Mike Sweeney and Matt Stairs struck out with runners on 1st and 3rd. Now, it is hard to be too mad about those two guys, as they are two veterans how have been performing well for a bad team, but still you would like to think Sweeney gets a ball in the air somewhere to score ONE RUN...argghhh, there's that phrase again - one run.

Today we have Ryan Jensen going - hey, it could be good or horrific. No word on the roster move, I suspect either it will be Harvey to the DL (about two weeks too late), McEwing waived or Matt Diaz shanked around once more and sent to Omaha.