Friday, June 03, 2005

Ready for the Weekend

A quick post as we prepare for the run to KC tomorrow for two Royals games, dinner and drinks down on the plaza and a fair share of adult beverages.

Here is hoping that either Lima (okay, stop laughing) or Greinke can give us a solid 7+ innings this weekend. As well as our starters have done during this four game winning streak, we have asked our bullpen to provide 14 pressure innings over the last four days. That is a pretty heavy load.

Now, neither Sisco nor MacDougal threw an outlandish number of pitches tonight, and with Wood and Stemle good to go for a couple of innings a piece behind Lima (I'm afraid we'll need at least four before we get to the back of the bullpen guys) we are not in horrible shape. However, from a mental standpoint, if not physical a well pitched game where the starter goes deep in addition to the off-day on Monday would be a much welcome respite.

Count me as officially on the MacDougal bandwagon. He has not been perfect, but he has been uncharacteristically resilient - not to mention that filthy third strike to Soriano tonight. Plus, it looks like Andrew Sisco has made his adjustments to the league and is once more an effective late inning setup guy. Whether in the pen or the rotation, the ceiling on Sisco is somewhere beyond my line of sight.

In two games, Shane Costa has yet to do anything that would make me want to take him out of the lineup. I really like his approach at the plate and can really see him being a solid everyday player once he gets some at-bats under his belt.

We'll be in Section 103 tomorrow and up in the Club Level 207 on Sunday. I will probably be in the only one in a Harvey jersey (hey, it's the only Royal white jersey I have and it is going to be hot) and my wife will be in a Randa jersey. We were going to wear a Beltran Mets jersey and a Randa Reds jersey, but decided that would just be too bitter.

I have every intention of not wanting to and not being able to type tomorrow night, so look for something more relevant and informative (hey, it could happen) on Monday morning. Let's make it six in a row by then!

Draft Update

Just a quick alert to a nice article about Alex Gordon (not so nice about the Royals, but that's life) on CBSsportsline.com.

Nebraska plays at 1:00 today in the first game of the regional they are hosting. Should they win this region, they will also host the Super Regional next week, by which time us Royal fans will hopefully be cheering for our newest number one draft pick.

Will KC Ever Lose Again?

Well, yeah.

As a quasi-pessimist it is likely to be this weekend when my wife and I make the first of three pilgrimages to Kansas City to take in the weekend games. As an aside, I cannot say that I will miss Bob Davis' play by play on the Royals Television Network. I like Splitorff, but Davis is just pretty awful.

With regard to the sweep of the Yankees, I am not going to overanalyze any of it because it just feels good to feel like we have an ACTUAL BASEBALL TEAM for once. The Royals were not perfect by any means, but they strung together three very solid all around games. Assuming that MacDougal was unavailable last night, I can't really disagree with any of the pitching moves made. All that happened in the ninth reinforced what I have said for a month: Burgos is going to be a great relief pitcher....someday. For now, he needs to go down to Omaha for more seasoning. Right now, he is mostly a thrower (albeit throwing nasty, nasty stuff) and not much of a pitcher.

No great secret here, but the Royals have become a dramatically better offensive team as of late. Some of the credit has to go to Bob Schaefer for simply freeing the guys from the overbearing idea that they had to work the count, but a lot goes simply to younger guys getting their feet under them. If you simply compare April stats versus May stats you will find that every 'regular' player has improved across the board except for DeJesus, Stairs and Long. In the case of DeJesus, he had an outstanding April (302/375/453/828), had some nagging injuries and a couple of dry spells - I have no worries about him. The kid is going to hit 280-310 for the next 10 years. Stairs is roughly equal, his average and on-base percentage are higher in May, but his slugging (and hence OPS) are lower. Still, Matt had an OPS in April of .897 and in May of .857, not bad at all. With Terrance Long...well, who cares?

Now for the improvers. First you have Sweeney, who went from good numbers in April (.760 OPS) to 'remember-Mike-Sweeney-the-All-Star?' numbers in May (337/370/651/1021). He just looks like a guy who, for the first time in two years, not only feels healthy but actually believes he is healthy. Angel Berroa's improved production has been well documented since Schaefer moved him to the lead-off spot, but his overall May numbers are just a smidge better than his April numbers. Angel is Angel: he will never be as good as we think he should be and he will never be as bad as we think he is.

All of the above, FINALLY gets me to the point (yes, I ramble at times). The four young guys, and I'm lumping Emil Brown in here as he is 'unproven' if not 'young', all of whom struggled mightily in April have all shown improvement in May. Just take a look at the monthly splits:

Emil Brown April - 161/254/339/593
Emil Brown May - 313/389/506/895
Emil may not be '.895' good, but damn those are serious right handed power hitting corner outfielder numbers in May. Funny what happens when you let a guy settle in and play everyday.

Mark Teahen April - 200/294/333/627
Mark Teahen May - 250/286/388/673
Teahen was not healthy in April and his May numbers are not anything to be excited about, EXCEPT if he could make a similar jump by say July, you are looking at 290/320/430/725 and all of sudden you might start thinking 'well, where ARE we going to play Billy Butler and Alex Gordon?'. I also think Teahen is really, really good defensively - coincidence that Angel (save 2 horrible errors in Anaheim) has been much steadier in the field with Teahen playing well beside him?

John Buck April - 190/250/270/520
John Buck May - 222/265/429/693
As with Teahen, neither month is going to have you punching an All-Star ballot, but it is significant improvement. You really have to like the power numbers getting into a decent range. Buck is never going to hit .300, he might never get over .250, but if he can get close to the mid .200s with some power that will justify his position in the lineup.

Ruben Gotay April - 208/241/319/560
Ruben Gotay May - 279/362/410/772
I will take those May numbers for the next ten years out our second basemen. We might have put a little too much on Gotay's shoulders by hitting him second early in the year and then Pena jerked him around after that. Like Brown, playing everyday does wonders. I have not seen anything particularly horrendous defensively either (Graffanino has been worse). Ruben will never win a gold glove, he has neither the range nor the hands for it, but he is average at worst in the field. He may yet lose his job to Donnie Murphy (currently hurt in Wichita but playing well before that), but if you're getting an OPS of .772 out of your number nine hitter, you're not horrible.

Finally, speaking of young guys, I like the bat speed I saw out of Shane Costa last night. Check a previous post here with regard to his career to date and his ability to avoid the strikeout. He will walk some, but he is not going to pile up huge base on balls numbers. Costa is just a kid who can get the bat on the ball almost at will. He's a number two type hitter in my book - could DeJesus develop into a number three guy? Of course, I am a little ahead of the curve here, given Costa has all of one game under his belt, but I saw enough to AT MINIMUM platoon him with Diaz in left.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Everybody Works Hard for a New Boss

You would like to say that Buddy Bell had instilled a new focus, a new work ethic and just better ball playing in the 48 hours he has been manager of the Royals and hence that is why KC has taken two straight from the Yankees. All of us know that is probably not true. Like any business that gets a new boss or new supervisor, there is a short period of time where everyone has renewed focus and concentration. A time when all the internal disputes and supposed wrongs are forgotten. Basically, a time when everyone tries to impress the new guy.

Sadly, professional baseball players should have this focus and effort almost all of the time and these two games, more than anything else, show how little of those two key elements the Royals put forth on a regular basis. Hopefully, Bell will find a way to keep the concentration and effort at a high level as we have seen a glimmer over the last two days of what this team can do.

To be honest, the Royals have had their share of bloop hits and lucky bounces the last two days. However, give credit to Angel Berroa for being well around first base before either of his bloop doubles last night hit the ground. Berroa, along with DeJesus and Sweeney (yes Mike Sweeney) have been truly outstanding in the field over these two games. Two wins over the Yankees is two wins, I am not going to analyze them too much and lose the buzz. (Okay, just one criticism - do you think we might recognize that with a runner on 2nd and ball hit into the hole that Derek Jeter will ALWAYS throw to third base? KC has managed to get a runner thrown out on that play in both games, actually three runners but one was a force play).

I have stated before that I thought D.J. Carrasco's future was in the bullpen, and it may very well be, but after last night I am having a change of heart. In the first inning he threw pitches ranging from 75 mph to 93 mph and I do not think D.J. could throw something straight if his life depended on it (and I mean that in a good way). Yes, he struggles with his control, walking as many as he strikeouts. Carrasco ususally misses down in the zone and often not by much which has me thinking that as he piles up innings and experience his control problems will be a nuisance instead of a problem. With Brian Anderson out until after the All-Star Break (July 20th is his scheduled return date now), Carrasco will have a decent amount of time to solidfy his position in the back of the rotation. Remember, D.J. is still just 28 and could be a very good number 4 starter for the next two to three years while we let our younger starters (Howell, Campbell, Cota) develop in the minors unhurried.

Couple of other notes....
Bell was quoted as saying they were toying with putting Kyle Snyder into the rotation once he returns from the DL (Snyder is throwing batting practice next week, so I assume he is getting close to ready). With Stemle and Wood pitching well out of the pen, Sisco seeming to be getting back to his early season effectiveness and Affeldt nearing a return shortly, I am in favor of this move. I mean, how often to you REALLY want to see Ryan Jensen pitch? (that ought to ensure he pitches well tonight).
Even if you only allow Snyder to throw 60 or 65 pitches a start, he could fill that role until Bautista comes back, go to Omaha and increase his arm strength and be ready to go for full starter duty in 2006.

Aaron Guiel (see the KC Star article) is content to wait it out in Omaha for now. As you probably remember, he had the option to become a free agent June 1st if the Royals had not called him up to KC yet. Guiel reports that Baird told him to be patient and wait for 'some things to resolve themselves' with the big club. Not sure what that means (moving Terrance Long?). With Emil Brown pretty much nailing down every day duty in right and Costa getting the callup from AA (he did not get called up to sit - nor did Matt Diaz), it is hard to see where another outfielder (left handed hitting to boot) fits into the picture.

I am still waiting for a 'Buddy Bell' lineup. I am certain Bob Schaefer is still doing the bulk of the managing - who else would bat Graffaniono fifth? I expect, given logic and the comments from Bell, that he really won't start making changes until after the one on one player meetings that are supposedly taking place today. I was however, encouraged to learn that before Wednesday's game, Bell had the team out early working on fundamentals. If nothing else, this 2-0 start proves that Bell has some good kharma.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Costa Gets the Call

Shane Costa jumped from AA Wichita to the big leagues yesterday, replacing Eli Marrero on the roster (thank God, by the way). Anyone else think that escaping from Omaha might be roughly akin to escaping from Alcatraz? Anyway, last week in discussing the 2003 Draft (see post somewhere below this one) I talked briefly about Costa and projected that he could be competing for a job sometime in 2006. Well, the time is apparently now.

There are three things that probably pushed Costa to the big leagues:
1) He played three years at Cal-State Fullerton (big time college baseball), so he came to the organization with some maturity
2) Unless you're calling up Aaron Guiel, there is no one in Omaha worth giving a shot.
3) Shane does not strike out, almost never - a unique trait for Royal hitters - i.e. he has the plate discipline that Baird craves.

Here are Costa's numbers (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS):
01 - Cal St. Ful - 380/452/504/956 - 12 strikeouts in 149 plate appearances
02 - Cal St. Ful - 365/462/567/1029 - 18 strikeouts in 279 plate appearances
03 - Cal St. Ful - 374/442/556/998 - 26 strikeouts in 311 plate appearances
03 - Rookie AZ - 386/444/580/1024 - 7 strikeouts in 95 plate appearances
04 - Wilmington - 307/364/418/782 - 43 strikeouts in 492 plate appearances
05 - Wichita - 272/337/432/769 - 9 strikeouts in 176 plate appearances

Although he won't strike out, Costa had not yet shown that he is going to accumlate walks to huge degree either. At Cal-State Fullerton he walked 38 times in three years and was hit by a pitch 57 times. Shane's is more a doubles/triples hitter as opposed to a true power hitter and he has some speed (9 steals at Wilmington last year). I envision kind of a DeJesus like hitter, maybe a touch more power.

His exposure to major league pitching is a grand total of 4 at-bats in spring training, so there is going to be a pretty extensive transition period here. However, with Maier and Butler pushing from High A, I think the Royals have decided to find out about Costa here and now. Given that he is not strike out guy and is 23 already, I think this is a good gamble. I also wonder if perhaps Bell has seen or knows something about Costa given the timing of the callup. Of course, Buddy may simply have despised Marrero as much as the rest of us.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Money Trades and the Results

A common lament among Royal fans is that any young players we develop never stay around. By and large, that is true and an unfortuneate part of modern day baseball. As a result, the Royals have often found themselves in the position of having to move a productive ballplayer for something before losing that player for nothing on the free agent market.

In that respect, the Royals have done a reasonable job at least making some type of trade, good or bad. Only Paul Byrd and Raul Ibanez come to mind as players the Royals did not trade AND wanted to resign, but subsequently wound up not signing. We can debate players they let go on their own accord (i.e. Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, et.al.) another time. For now, let's take a look at the trades made for or because of money.

You can make a case to go back farther than 1999, which is where we are starting, specifically back to the 1995 David Cone trade. However, the Royals were still making ACTUAL BASEBALL TRADES after 1995, acquiring the likes of Bip Roberts, Jeff King, Jay Bell, Dean Palmer and others in the mid to late nineties. As the 1999 season dawned, however, the Royals had become sellers at the trading deadline because of economics, hence that is where we'll start.

July 31, 1999 - Kevin Appier traded to Oakland for Blake Stein, Brad Rigby and Jeff D'Amico
Appier was coming off surgery during 1998 and sported just a 9-9 record with a 4.87 ERA in 1999 for the Royals, but he was still eating innings and regaining his effectiveness. Appier won 115 games for the Royals prior to the trade and KC definitely got more mileage out of him than the A's, Mets and Angels combined (54-45), but Ape had three good seasons from 2000 to 2002 - seasons the Royals could have used when they were scoring runs by the bushel and giving up runs by the truckload.
In return, the Royals got 92 games and a 5.02 ERA out of Stein before releasing him in late 2002. Brad Rigby appeared in all of 4 games before being shipped to Montreal in early 2000 for Miguel Batista. Batista was young, wild and sometimes effective, and ended up with a 7.74 ERA in 57 innings for the Royals. He was let go at the end of the 2000 season and since then has been an useful, sometimes dominating-sometimes erratic swingman for Arizona and Toronto. Jeff D'Amico would have been a great find, if it was the Jeff D'Amico that came up with Milwaukee - he was not.
Had the Royals held onto Batista, they would have gotten some decent value out of this trade (albeit in a roundabout way). Instead, Kansas City failed to help themselves at all in trading Appier and by September 2002 had nothing to show for the trade.

January 8, 2001 - Johnny Damon & Mark Ellis to Oakland for Roberto Hernandez, A.J. Hinch and Angel Berroa
Damon was coming off his two best seasons in 1999 and 2000 when he posted an OPS of .856 and .877. With five and one-half years with Royals, he was also going to be a free agent at the end of 2001. Damon also had made it quite clear he was unlikely to resign (nor were the Royals likely to pay) with the team and thus a Money Trade was made. Although Damon has hardly dropped off production wise, his OPS in 2004 of .857 was the only season since leaving the Royals in which he topped .800.
Mark Ellis has played second base for Oakland in 289 games (missing all of 2004 with an injury) and hit .260 with 53 doubles and 15 home runs. A solid player, who could have helped Kansas City after the decline of Carlos Febles and not forced Ruben Gotay to be rushed to the majors, Ellis was an unfortuneate add-on to this trade.
Now, keep in mind that the Royals were the second best offensive team in the league in 2000, but had blown 26 (TWENTY-SIX) save opportunities. With that frame of reference, getting an aging yet effective Roberto Hernandez was more a baseball move than a money move. Although never popular in KC and definitely at the end of his run as a closer, Hernandez did save 54 of 67 games for the Royals before being let go at the end of the 2002 season and still performs well in a set-up/middle relief role.
A.J. Hinch was a low average/occasional power catcher at Oakland, he was the same in 117 games over two seasons for the Royals and has not improved since (and struggled to find/keep a job, by the way). I have no idea if this trade would have gone down with KC keeping Ellis and Oakland keeping Hinch, but that sure would have been a better deal.
Angel Berroa...well, we all know Angel. We know he aged two years shortly after the trade, we know he won Rookie of the Year, we know he faltered and we know he can be frustrating/brilliant/horrible/invaluable. We don't know if he will, during the life of his long-term deal with KC, develop into the player many of us think he could be.
As it stands now, this trade boiled down to Damon for Berroa (we'll say Hernandez & Ellis cancel one another out). It could have been worse, it could have been Neifi Perez.

July 25, 2001 - Jermaine Dye leaves KC, Perez joins KC in a three way trade
Ahhh, this is the trade people really, really hate. At the time, Dye was coming of a 2000 season where he hit .321/.390/.561/.951 with 33 homers and 188 rbi. He was even open to the idea of resigning with Kansas City, albeit at a salary number the Royals were unlikely to consider. Dye was the right handed power hitter we have always wanted at a corner outfield spot. However, after hitting a combined .282 with 26 homers and 106 rbi for KC and Oakland in 2001, Dye has never hit over .265 since. His OPS has never topped .800 and his on-base percentage has been .333 or below. Like Damon, his 1999-2000 run remains the most productive point of his career.
Neifi Perez was really never very good outside of Coors Field. He had missed only 3 games in three years (98-00) for Colorado and was a .280 hitter with on-base percentages that in the very low .300's. He had hit some doubles (39 in 2000) and some triples (11 twice) and a little power (31 homers in three seasons) - Neifi, well, was a poor-man's Angel Berroa (YIKES!!!!). Almost instantly hated (with good reason) in Kansas City, Perez played 145 games in 2002 and posted putrid numbers of .236/.260/.303/.563 with an attitude to match. He has since gone on to perform with similar results for San Francisco and the Cubs.
In short, the Royals got nothing from Perez when he was in KC and have nothing to show for Jermaine Dye. Dye, however, has not produced for either Oakland or the White Sox like he did for Kansas City. Although the Royals should have been able to get so much more than Neifi Freaking Perez, they lost little in terms of production from Dye.

July 31, 2001 - Rey Sanchez traded for Brad Voyles and Alejandro Machado
Not going to spend a lot of time here. Sanchez was a steady performer for the Royals at short, but was on the back side of his career at this point (and we had Neifi Perez for godssake!). He has never played regularly since the trade, nor been the .290 hitter that he was for KC.
Brad Voyles bounced between Omaha and KC, was never very effective and I believe ended up in Japan or Korea where I assume he remains erratic at best. Alejandro Machado was traded for Curtis Leskanic on July 2, 2003 as the Royals tried to make a run in the A.L. Central. Leskanic was good in 2003, killed us in early 2004, ended up in Boston and helped them (or at least didn't keep them from winning) a championship. Machado has some promise, but has never risen above AA.
All in all, this was not a horrible as Leskanic was more help in late 2003 than Sanchez would
have been.

2004 - Grimsley & Beltran
It is obviously too early to tell on these two trades that I am assuming we don't have to rehash. With Grimsley out with an injury and probably on the backside of his career, you have to like the potential of Denny Bautista. This trade was something of a head scratcher on the Baltimore side when it went down. Imagine what it could look like if Bautista becomes a front line starter in the coming year.
The one thing you can say about the Beltran trade is that all three guys are playing for the Royals right now. Mike Wood is probably destined to be a middle reliever, but an effective one and a guy the Royals will most likely be able to hold onto as long as they want to. John Buck has been ordained the catcher of the future, has some pop and may yet hit above .250. Mark Teahen is very good defensively, shows signs at the plate and could develop into....well, Joe Randa (only younger).

BOTTOM LINE
Boiling down all of the above, the Royals currently have Angel Berroa, Denny Bautista, John Buck, Mark Teahen and Mike Wood to show for their money trades. The got two decent seasons out of Roberto Hernandez and rented Curtis Leskanic for a half a season and pretty much nothing else from the rest. This is not a condemnation of the organization, as they pretty much had to make these trades or get absolutely nothing in return (possibly excepting Dye and Sanchez). Kansas City does have five young guys who could/should/might get better, while giving up six guys, five of whom are likely to get worse (i.e. older).
Did the Royals do a great job of getting value for their Money Trades? No. Did they get killed? No. Right now, they are somewhere in the middle. Basically, Neifi Perez aside, they could have done worse.

Quick Hits

I am working on a better post for later this morning, but wanted to get in a few notes before then.

First, if you have not read the KC Star either the traditional way or via the web, you need to do so this morning. A fairly grim article by Bob Dutton on the mental status of the team, particularly with regard to apparent splits in the clubhouse between veterans and young players and also between Latin players and American players. Specific reference is made to the Latin pitchers either segregating themselves from the team or being segregated. Any of you who don't like Matt Stairs, will like him after reading his quotes.

Also, ESPN.com is reporting that Buddy Bell will be the next manager of the Royals. His track record is not very good, although he has never been in charge of teams that had much hope. To be honest, he was far from my first choice (I pretty much wanted the meanest, most abrasive guy we could find), but any change is exciting when you are in the midst of a disaster like this season. Whether Bell is the new manager, or someone else actually is, the first step they need to make is change EVERYTHING in the clubhouse simply for the sake of changing things. It is very apparent to me that this team needs a gigantic kick in the ass.

Finally, Jeff Pentland got the axe this weekend. My guess is that either he was viewed as not buying into Baird's idea of plate discipline or whomever they have lined up as the next manager does not like Pentland to begin with. If I was more ambitious, I would do some research as to who Pentland had worked with in the past that is on our list, but it IS the day after a holiday weekend and I'm not feeling that energetic.

More later.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Scoring Efficiency and other Notes

There are a myriad of baseball statistics, probably too many (unless you're Billy Beane or Bill James) and number of which you can use to pretty much define any circumstance any way you want to. However, in the end you pretty much just have to score more runs than you give up. Which got me to wondering if the Royals are efficient in their use of baserunners.

To score runs, obviously, you have to get runner on base and in that category we all know that the Royals are dead last in the American League with an on-base percentage of .303. Now, if you are not going to get a bunch of guys on base, then you have to be very efficient at scoring those that you do have. The American League average right now stands at 37.58% of all runners that get on, go ahead and eventually score. The leader percentage wise is the Texas Rangers who score 43.59% of their runners. Oakland is the worst, scoring just 31.58%. The Royals? Well, they are 10th in the league at 36.48%. Here's the complete list:

TEX 43.59%
BAL 40.34%
LAA 39.64%
NYY 39.57%
TOR 38.69%
TAM 37.93%
BOS 37.85%
CHI 37.50%
SEA 36.79%
KCR 36.48%
DET 35.98%
MIN 35.02%
CLE 34.15%
OAK 31.58%

THE GOOD NEWS - For the month of May, Kansas City has scored an even 40% of their baserunners, a very good number.
THE BAD NEWS - Over the last seven days, Kansas City has scored just 30.98% of their baserunners, a very bad number.

Sadly, although the Royals have been an above average offensive team for the majority of May, their good pitching of April has all but evaporated. Given the injuries to the pitching staff, this may be a situation that will not soon be rectified.

RANDOM NOTES
Speaking of injuries, it appears that Brian Anderson will not be back in the rotation until August. This all but eliminates him from being possible trade bait and also will make it even harder for the Royals to cut ties with The Imploder Jose Lima.

Gabe DeHoyos, a former Northern League pitcher for Schaumburg, earned a promotion for Low A Burlington all the way up to AAA Omaha, where he promptly got tagged for 4 earned runs in 1/3 of an inning of work. His number were outstanding in Burlington: 1.52 ERA, 35 strikeouts in almost 30 innings with just 11 walks, so it may have been just one of those nights for DeHoyos. Like Byron Emby (currently on the Omaha DL), DeHoyos has paid his dues. In his last season and a half for Schaumburg and his two half seasons in Burlington, Gabe has never allowed more hits than innings pitched and has averaged just over a strikeout per inning. My take on this huge jump up the ranks is that the Royals may be contemplating going with some veteran journeymen (Stemle, DeHoyos, et.al.) in the pen and give youngsters like Burgos and Nunez time to mature in the minors.

You'll note a link to The Pipeline over on the right. This is a great site for those of you who want some detailed and virtually daily updates up and down the Royals farm system.

One more farm note. J.P. Howell was very good in his second start for Wichita and Kyle Middleton followed up with another good start the next night. These two have been, by far, the best starters in the system this year. Howell is certainly on the fast track, but Middleton is not well into his second AA season. Although generally regarded as a non-prospect and possessing stuff that is at best ordinary, I think it is time to push Middleton to AAA and see if he continues to be effective. Jimmy Gobble's ERA is over 7.00 and Chris George and Dennis Tankersely are still themselves, so what do we have to lose?