Saturday, June 11, 2005

Is Zack Greinke Tipping His Pitches?

Last night was both a debacle, a triumph and a disappointment for the Royals. You have to be pleased that they continued to battle and fought their way back to an improbable 11-11 tie and extra innings. Although he did the same thing against the Angels in extra frames (the game where WE gave up the big lead), I would have thrown MacDougal out there too. However, sitting here watching the game on the Royals Network, I have one question to ask: Is Greinke tipping his pitches?

Okay, no one - not even once - has asked me to be their pitching coach. It has been 21 years since I put the finishing touches on a Legion baseball career that had an average much closer to Mendoza than Jeter. Additionally, I watched this game from the standard centerfield camera view, which no doubt is a different look than you get standing at the plate (I would wager almost the exact opposite view as I think about it), but still.....

After the first inning, when EVERY breaking pitch Greinke threw was crushed, I began guessing as he went into his windup if the pitch would be a fastball or off-speed pitch. Over the next two innings (until the family came home and made it difficult to concentrate) I maybe missed two pitches total, I think both changeups. What I was seeing (or thinking I was seeing) is that Greinke's windup, from taking the ball from the glove to release, is considerably quicker when he is throwing a fastball. Now, I am certain that all pitchers have some pace differential when throwing the fastball, but Russ Ortiz (no Hall of Famer) had nothing I could pick up with any degree of certainty. Greinke, however, WAS NOTICEABLY quicker - at least when viewed from centerfield.

Even with a pitcher who throws pitches as high as 93/94 and as low as 60, and pretty much every mile marker in between, it would be a great advantage to the hitter to at least know that it was going to be on the high end of the scale or the low end. Even if that knowledge came just a second before the pitch was released. My questions are simple:
a) Am I really seeing this?
b) Can the hitters see this from homeplate?
c) I readily admit Guy Hansen is smarter than me, does he see this?
d) Do any of you see this?

A couple of innings in one start may not be enough of a test, and all of us probably could have hit some of those middle of the plate, not so breaking breaking balls Zack served up last night, but it might be something to watch in his coming starts. Quite probably it is just something I imagined more than anything else, as I am sure Zack's starts are filmed from enough angles and analyzed by smarter baseball men than me that this flaw would have been revealed much earlier. However, it sure looked real to this blogger. And the 11 runs surrendered sure as hell were real.

Said Greinke, in response to what he was doing wrong, "A lot of things, I guess. If you ask my pitching coach, he'd say I'm leaving the ball up. If you ask guys on the team, they'll say I'm not throwing my best pitches. If you ask me, I'd say it's been both of it a little bit." (Courtesy KCRoyals.com)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Tell Me Why

A person should not be greedy, and honestly if you had told me four days ago we were going to win two of three against the Giants, I would have been delighted. Still, you hate to waste a 7 run performance on a loss.

There are a lot of places to look, but (sadly) you cannot hang this one on Jose Lima. Although far from stellar, Lima's velocity was up around 90mph on the fastball and his control was better (no walks and no home runs allowed). Sure, it took him 79 pitches to get through 5 innings and he was tagged for four runs, three of them earned, but Jose did strike out four. Additionally, Lima was the victim of some bad luck, particularly the ball popping out of DeJesus' glove on a great effort in the fifth inning, and some shaky defense (something we had not seen in the first two games of the series).

So, tell me why....DeJesus, Diaz and Berroa cannot seem to communicate. This is the same trio that were involved in the pop fly Angel dropped early in Sunday's game against Texas. For all of Angel's faults, that was not his ball. Yesterday, the ball that dropped in the midst of them would not have been an easy play for any of them, but Diaz clearly pulled up and reading his lips after the play, he said to DeJesus 'I thought you called it'. The one criticism I have of DeJesus right now is that he seems a touch tenatitive in the field when it comes to taking charge. He is the centerfielder and he needs to make the call, one way or the other. A similar play occurred later between DeJesus and Brown. Again, a difficult play for either player, but it once more appeared like they both peeled off the ball at the last moment.

Tell me why....Thursday was Leo Nunez education day. There is debate as to whether Nunez was left in too long. One side saying we need to play to win a close game, the other saying that the youngster has to go through these things to develop. Would I have pulled him after three hitters? No. Would I have left him in to face 10 hitters? NO. Would I have at least had someone warming up in the pen PRIOR to hitter number 10 coming up? YES. The time to take Nunez out was either after the Feliz double to score the second and third runs of the inning or after the subsequent walk to Tucker. Part of learning in the majors is having a bad day and getting taken out in the middle of it, then coming back the next day. I don't think you learn anything knowing you're getting a full inning no matter how bad it gets (that's what the minors are for). I like Nunez, and I think he will be a very good pitcher, but yesterday was the first Buddy Bell era managerial move that really got under my skin. This was not an inning that got ugly in a hurry, it was a 10 hitter, 25 pitch, no home run death march during which no one was ever throwing in the pen. By the way, why not Sisco throwing in the pen to face the lefty Michael Tucker? Anyway, I hope Leo took copious notes.

Tell me why...as the Royals fought back valiantly in the top of the seventh both Mark Teahen and John Buck took called strike threes to end the rally. I mean, down the middle of the plate called strike threes (speaking of which, did anyone else think home plate was really hard to see on TV this series?). Yes, they were probably both looking for a pitch different from what they got, but you're down with runners on base - you have to expand the zone and be aggressive.

Tell me why...I can never be happy. Shane Costa and Matt Stairs both struck out swinging in the ninth on pitches well out of the zone. Maybe they should have been more patient, you have to be in that situation (just being sarcastic here). I think Costa has the curse of the quick bat, knowing that he can get contact on most anything inside, he went and missed for a pitch that had a chance of hitting him on the inside of his back ankle.

All in all, though, a very good road series for our Royals. Even yesterday, in a game where they frankly did not have a great 'team' day, they hung in and had a chance to win. Tonight will be a very telling night with regard to Zack Greinke. Will we see that 92-93 fastball with regularity? One can only hope.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

This LOOKS Like a Real Baseball Team

The Royals are getting good pitching, playing good defense (maybe even great) and getting timely hitting: Let's face it, other than a dismal weekend against Texas, this team is playing really good baseball right now.

Last night, they turned three pretty difficult double plays in three consecutive innings that kept the Giants from mounting a serious threat. Affeldt looked 'okay' and MacDougal really looked comfortable in the ninth. Lineup wise, and the Royals are hindered by no designated hitter, but I would like to see Shane Costa get some more at-bats. However, I have to be honest, you can't sit down Emil Brown and all Terrance Long does is getting multiple hits in every game AND I want to play Diaz too AND Graffanino is all of a sudden a dangerous hitter. It may all have to wait until we are back under American League rules, but I like Costa's approach at the plate and his quick bat. Additionally, there is no point in having him up here sitting on the bench: either play him five times a week or send him to Omaha to get more at-bats.

Now, how about Runelvys Hernandez? He may never get efficient enough with his pitches to consistently go deep into games, but his is averaging just over 6 innings per start and Runelvys appears to be finding his groove. Last night was a tough night to pitch and a tight strike zone to throw into, but Hernandez's control continues to be an issue (39 BB in 78.2 innings). Prior to surgery in 2003 Hernandez had issued 37 walks in 91.2 innings. Still, I see improvement mentally and his control has been off for one batter at a time as opposed to an entire inning as it had been earlier. I predict at some point this year, Runelvys will have a string of three or four 'lights-out' starts and a whole bunch more of 'decent' 6 inning stints. He is not an ace, probably not even a number 2 guy, but he is solid in our rotation.

If you want a little more on the 2005 draft, check the KCRoyals site for some organizational snippets on each pick. Also, check out RoyalsCorner for an interesting look at Justin Bristow - not your ordinary 22nd round pick. Here's hoping the Royals really commit to being better and pony up the money to bring in this 'bonus first rounder'.

Andres Blanco is playing second base at High Desert. Baird's explanation is that Berroa is our shortstop for the foreseeable future, hence Blanco was blocked. My concern is that Blanco, an outstanding defensive player, will never hit enough to justify the second base position. His .317 average last year in KC was mostly a mirage and he has consistently had the bat knocked out of his hands at virtually every level of minor league ball. Wouldn't it make more sense to have Blanco display his defensive skills at AAA Omaha at shortstop in an effort to market him as part of a trade package?

Billy Butler has a bruised hand (thanks, Rush for the info on that) and the organization has now broken down and admitted they are going to work him out in left field. That does open a spot later this year in High Desert for a third baseman - say a first round draft pick? Not sure if we will start Gordon that high, but I would be tempted.

It's Lima Time this afternoon.....well, two out of three on the road isn't bad.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Carrasco, the Draft and More

D.J. Carrasco continues to shine in the starting rotation. Besides some nasty stuff, I really like his approach on the mound. He does not panic or get frustrated when falling behind in the count, plus you can see he has a plan. I particularly like that as he gets into the order for the third time, D.J. occasionally drops down to a sidearm delivery. Entering the game last night with 7 walks and 7 strikeouts, Carrasco walked none and struck out three. If D.J. can continue to master his control, he could be a very effective number three starter. Carrasco started ahead in the count (i.e. threw a first pitch strike) to 19 of the 32 batters he faced Tuesday night, about the right mix in my book. Too many first pitch strikes and you're Zack Greinke last Sunday, not enough and you're Kirk Reuter last night.

Speaking of Kirk Reuter, the Royals did a masterful job of excercising patience against him, swining at just 12 of 42 first pitches. At times this blog has railed against being too patient, but last night that patience paid off.

Hey, somebody actually wanted Eli Marrero! And just when you thought the Orioles had it all figured out. In exchange for the right handed hitter of no one, KC received Pete Maestrales, who was assigned to Class A Burlington. Maestrales played college ball at Delaware University, then in the Giants organization, then two years in the Atlantic League. This year, he had played pretty much every position. If there is such a thing as kharma, this guy turns into Frank Mennechino, or for us older guys, Bill Pecota (see I don't ask for much, just little).

The second day fo the 2005 Draft is winding down, but at this point the Royals have drafted FOUR MORE CATCHERS (did I miss the memo that we have 5 rookie league teams this year or something?), and, of course, a slew of pitchers. Notables from day two so far are:

Kevin Bulger, P, College of Charleston - 6'4", 195 lbs, with a heavy sinking fastball and a slurve

Nikolas Lowe, CF, Enterprise H.S. Alabama - The ball is said to 'jump' off his bat and he consistently makes hard contact. When scouts say the ball jumps off your bat, it is never a bad thing.

Nicholas Romero, SS, Eastlake H.S., California - A switch-hitting shortstop with strong arms. Sounds like a guy who could turn into a power hitting second basemen.

Justin Bristow, SS, Miles Goding H.S. Virginia - Another big shortstop (6'4, 220) who bats right handed with raw pull power and a quick bat. Also noted was good plate discipline (for a high schooler) and his ability to drive the ball to all fields. Anyone else picturing a right handed power hitting corner outfielder?

Finally, loyal readers to this blog will note that the only two games the Royals have lost since Buddy Bell took over are the two that I physically attended. As a true Royals fan and humanitarian in general, I pledge not to watch all the games on TV until at least mid-July.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Draft 2005 - Day One

Kansas City did not go cheap with the second overall pick, nor did they go for the 'toolsy' high school phenom. Instead, the Royals took exactly who they should in Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon. Here's a quick rundown of the day one picks (and I apologize for the incomplete research - I'm on jury duty this week, so I am slacking off a little):

First - Alex Gordon, 3B, Nebraska
There is an excellent summary of Gordon over at Royals Corner and a less comprehensive one back on few days on this blog. Bottom line, this kid can hit and then he'll hit some more. He is better defensively than he was his first two years here at Nebraska, but he still may project out at first base in the long run. The Royals think Gordon can make the big time in 'one and a half to two years'. Bank on him for April 2007.

Second - Jeffrey Bianchi, SS, Lampeter HS PA
Ranked as the 126th best prospect by Baseball America (BA for short) and described as very athletic and agile by MLB.com. He was the best prep talent in Pennsylvania and Bianchi's high school coach is the brother of KC Minor League instructor Jeff Garber. He could very well be a good player down the road (say about 2009 when Berroa's contract is running down), but I wonder if maybe the Royals opted for signability with this pick.

Third - Chris Nicoll, RHP, UC-Irvine
Although picked 32 spots lower than Bianchi at number 82, Nicoll was actually rated slightly higher by Baseball America (121). Here's some numbers you will like: 111 innings pitched, 113 strikouts and just 24 walks. Here's a comment you many not via BA: 'saavy pitcher makes hitters swing and miss with average stuff'. Baird refers to him as a strike thrower who could move through the system quickly. You would maybe like someone with a more electric arm this high, but if he truly is 'saavy' and not a 'nibbler', Nicoll could be a major leaguer at some point.

Fourth - Joseph Dickerson, OF, Esperanza High CA
At 6'1", 190 you have to like the frame on this high schooler. A left handed hitter who played centerfield, probably projects in left in the majors.

Fifth - Shawn Hayes, SS, Franklin Pierce College
This left hander stands 6'4" and weighs 220 lbs, making one think he may not end up at shortstop when he starts playing for money. He is an athlete who projects with gap power and then some. You have to question his exposure to upper level talent at a small college, but you have to like the potential.

Sixth - Ryan DiPietro, LHP, Eastern Connecticut State
Skinny, or 'narrow' according to MLB.com, at 6'0" 170 lbs. Something of a finesse pitcher, again it all comes back to is he nibbling or working the plate? Basically, does he think like Darrel May or more like Jamie Moyer.

Seventh - Brent Fisher, LHP, Tolleson Union High AZ

Eighth - Nicholas Doscher, C, Moore Catholic High NY
The first of three pitchers taken in a row to 'fill an organizational need'. I'm not so sure picking catchers is a more inexact science than pitchers. At any rate, the Royals have a bunch to pick from now.

Ninth - Kiel Thibault, C, Gonzaga University
6'0" 200 lbs sound like a catcher to me. Has quick defensive skills and a good arm, with solid leadership skills. That's pretty much the description for 97% of all the catchers in America.

Tenth - Jeffery Howell, C, Florida Southern
Same size as Thibault, line drive hitter, good hands. I don't think John Buck needs to be looking over his shoulder at any of these guys...maybe Adam Donachie should be, but not Buck.

Eleventh - Michael Penn, RHP, Michigan
Big kid, 6-4 200 lbs, from a major college program. You have to have guys on the mound in Rookie ball and I always favor the big guys from the big schools, if only because they have faced other big guys from big schools.

Twelfth - James Harkcom, RHP New Mexico JC
Fastball/slider pitcher who sounds good on paper. A fast worker, which I always thinks indicates a pitcher instead of a thrower. Of the pitchers drafted to this point, this guy could be a suprise once they start playing. I guess I am annointing James as the Royals Op-Ed draft sleeper.

Thirteenth - Andrew Larsen, OF, NYU-Stonybrook
Hard nosed player, agressive in the field and at the plate with a quick bat. Again, the talent level question comes up, but this guys does not sound like someone who will give up easily.

Fourteenth - Antonio Sabatini, OF, Erskine College SC
With that name you ought to able to play.

Fifteenth - Brady Everett, C, Washington State
Because you need four catchers.

Sixteenth - Mario Santiago, RHP, Baton Rouge CC

Seventeenth - Miguel Vasquez, SS, DeWitt Clinton High Bronx NY
Supposedly has great range in the field and is a solid character guy. It's touch and go down in this part of the draft, but that does not mean we will never hear of these guys again. We didn't hear much about Ruben Gotay when he was drafted in the 31st round and I like guys that can play defense, so maybe Vasquez is another sleeper.

Eighteenth - Paul Ragilone, RHP, Grant High OR

Draft Day

Good morning and welcome to draft day! I wonder if fans of teams with records over .500 are as interested as we are about their team's picks? In case you missed it, I did review the top picks from both the 2003 and 2004 drafts a few weeks ago. Today, I thought we would take a look at the Royals' past drafts as a whole. To clarify a couple of headings used below: 'On the Verge' is a player who could get the call to the majors at any moment based on ability, not injuries. 'Major Prospects' are players who I believe have a very good chance of being starters in the majors at some point in the future. 'Have a Chance' are players who I think will get a taste of the majors and could be solid contributors, but maybe not everyday players.

2004 - This is obviously incomplete with these guys just having a year under their belts.
In the Majors - None
On the Verge - J.P. Howell
Major Prospects - Billy Butler, Bill Buckner, Matt Campbell
Have a Chance - Too many too note
Overview - Way too early to tell, but you have to like this crop of players so far, especially Howell.

2003
In the Majors - Shane Costa
On the Verge - None
Major Prospects - Mitch Maier, Luis Cota
Have a Chance - Chris Lubanski, Robert McFall, Mike Aviles
Overview - Costa probably doesn't get the early callup on a good team, but he has potential. Maier is moving fast through the system and Cota looks like a steal, although he's a year away at best. By 2007, this draft could be providing the Royals with everyday left and right fielders, a starting pitcher and two quality reserves.

2002
In the Majors - Zack Greinke
On the Verge - Donnie Murphy
Major Prospects - Jonah Bayliss, Micah Kaaihue, Jason Kaanoi
Have a Chance - Matt Tupman, Adam Keim
Overview - Greinke, current problems aside, makes any draft look good. Murphy could develope into an above average second basemen, either with KC or somewhere else, and is almost ready. The rest are a ways away yet, but there is potential...and more young arms.

2001
In the Majors - None
On the Verge - Danny Tamayo (it's a reach but he IS in Omaha)
Major Prospects - None
Have a Chance - Colt Griffin, Mel Stocker, Devon Lowery
Overview - Ughhh, best describes this draft. Tamayo is nothing to get too excited about, Griffin still can't throw strikes, Lowery melted down and Stocker is serviceable. You can blame this draft for the reason we experimented with Eli Marrero, Jose Lima and Terrance Long.

2000
In the Majors - David DeJesus, Ruben Gotay
On the Verge - None
Major Prospects - Brian Bass
Have a Chance - Michael Stodolka, Darren Fenster, Justin Gemoll
Overview - Gotay was picked in the 31st round and DeJesus will play centerfield for KC until we decide we can't pay him anymore. Bass has been slow in coming but could be helpful. Fenster and Gemoll probably won't ever be regulars but they could be McEwing and Graffanino only ten years younger (and thus, less annoying). Ryan Bukvick and Mike Tonis were part of this draft.

1999
In the Majors - Kyle Snyder, Mike MacDougal, Ken Harvey
On the Verge - Jimmy Gobble
Major Prospects - None
Have a Chance - Kyle Middleton (49th round pick), Ryan Baerlocher
Overview - Really a pretty decent draft, especially if you remember that Mark Ellis and Wes Obermueller were also part of this crop.

1998
In the Majors - None (with the Royals)
On the Verge - None
Major Prospects - None
Have a Chance - Paul Phillips, Chris George (stop laughing)
Overview - Not very good, and the best of the bunch we traded (Shawn Sedlacek).

1997
In the Majors - Jeremy Affeldt
On the Verge - None
Major Prospects - None
Have a Chance - None
Overview - That's right, after Affeldt (unless you want to count Kris Wilson) there is nothing left from 1997.

In looking at 1997 and 1998 you can see why the Royals' system was so down and 2001 did not help either. Although such a quick review is skewed toward making the more recent years look better (as there is still time to hope), it does appear that KC has done a better job of drafting recently. Here's hoping that trend continues today.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Minors and Drafts and Moves - Oh My

With an off-day to catch our breath and regroup and collect ourselves over the outrage of Franciso Cordero disprecting the Royals (sarcasm intended), I have some random thoughts on tomorrow's draft and some minor league notes.

First the draft, where everyone seems to think that Kansas City should take Alex Gordon out of Nebraska. I agree, this kid can hit and could be in the majors as early as spring 2007. He could play third base adequately if Teahen does not work out by then, but I think his future is at first. There is also talk that he is athletic enough to move to the outfield, but who knows. The Huskers won their regional yesterday and play Miami here in Lincoln in the Super Regional. So there's a good chance you may be able to catch him on ESPN this weekend.

If the Royals do not take Gordon, for whatever reason, I would lobby for taking Troy Tulowitzki. He is a shortstop out of Long Beach State and was rated as 'the most major league ready player in the draft'. In my mind, Gordon & Tulowitzki are the only two legitimate choices if the Royals are looking for someone to help them early.

With their second round pick, my hope is KC goes for another position player. With Howell (see more about him below), Campbell, Buckner and Cota all in the organization, the Royals really have no need to go get another young pitcher with this high a pick. Here are some names lingering at the bottom of the first round that could fall to us:
Cliff Pennington, SS - Texas A&M
Taylor Teagarden, C - Texas
Brandon Snyder, C-SS - High School (you have to like the athleticism of a guy who can catch AND play short)
Colby Rasmus, OF - High School

Onto the Minors. I mentioned yesterday that there were rumors that J.P. Howell would be the pitcher called up to start this Saturday versus Arizona. That rumor gains strength in my mind as Howell has been moved to Omaha and will start tonight - putting him on schedule to make the Saturday start. Last year at this time, Howell was getting ready to pitch in the College World Series. By the way, all he did in three Wichita starts was go 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA with 23 striketouts and ONE WALK.

Speaking of players on the move, Mitch Maier has been sent up to Wichita and is off to a 4 for 13 start. I am already thinking about an outfield of Costa, DeJesus and Maier on opening day NEXT year.

Justin Huber, everybody's favorite bat, has cooled some in Wichita but still sports a line of 321/421/514/935 with 16 doubles and 7 home runs. He does have seven errors at first base, but most of those occurred earlier in the year. Barring a trade of Sweeney (which I hope does not happen) I am beginning to think we won't see Justin in KC until September.

Billy Butler is currently sporting numbers of 355/440/650/1090 in High Desert with 15 homer runs and 18 errors. There is talk of him working out in left field, a move long overdue in my book. Butler has not played the last five games for High Desert, but I cannot ascertain if he is hurt or just being held out (maybe working on playing the outfield?).

Speakin of High Desert, Kila Kaaihue is hitting 357/445/552/997. He has 8 errors at FIRST BASE, so he fits right into the Kansas City mode of first basemen. Given that he is looking up at Sweeney, Harvey, Huber, Pickering (just threw that in for laughs), Pressley, Santos, maybe Butler, maybe Gordon, we may never see Kila in the bigs for KC, but if he keeps hitting he could be attractive trade bait down the road.

Everyone think Alex Gordon today. Perhaps all the mental energy will make it to Allard Baird.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Dismal Weekend Recap

A dismal weekend performance by the Royals - bordering on dreadful.

Saturday
Lima is typical Lima and surrenders a four run lead in about the time it took me to pay the beer man. Leaving after 3 2/3 innings to some boos, Lima responded by clapping toward the crowd. Save the act for then your ERA gets below 7.00, Jose. I just don't see him getting better as he was changing speeds but fooling no one.

The bullpen was due for a bad day and that's exactly what ensued. The sad thing was if we could have just stopped the bleeding we could have stayed in this game. Stemle & Wood were just horrible, but that is going to happen and both had been superb prior to this game. Affeldt looked a little rusty, but his stuff was there: 94/95 mph fastball and some nasty curves.

One downside on the offense's nine runs - we ended the 6th, 7th AND 8th innings with runners on base and the batter TAKING called third strikes. I would rather we strike out swinging at borderline pitches than leaving it in the hands of the umpire.


Sunday
Greinke decided to throw 88 mph fastballs instead of 92/93 and was just pretty much lit up. I think Zack overthinks pitching sometimes and tries to be too cute - that's what happened today against a good hitting team.

The offense was flat, at best - I didn't see any of the guys out on the town Saturday night at the Plaza, but they sure looked like they had been. By the way, can we end the Tony Graffanino batting fifth/playing first base experiment? This team had a load of guys who can play first, we don't need another one.

By the way, I don't think I wrote it here, but I did post on the KC Star discussion board that there was a chance that Jensen would get the axe once Affeldt came back. See - sometimes I do know what I am talking about - sometimes. Not sure I like the move that much, especially with Lima getting lit up again, but I do understand it given that we do not need a fifth starter the next round through the rotation.

Rumor had it that J.P. Howell could get the call to make a start on Saturday (the next time the fifth slot comes up). While that is probably the wrong move, it will make the game exciting. Of course, we can all hold out hope it will be Chris George.......