Thursday, July 14, 2005

BIG NEWS - BIG CHANGES

An exciting opportunity has presented itself to this humble writer, which will cause some changes in when I post here and where I post usually.

I, along with Craig over at Warning Track Power, have been asked to become part of the MostValuableNetwork.com. We will both be collaborating under the banner of Royals Authority.

Craig and I are planning to alternate posting days during the week, which will allow both of us to spend a little more time with each post as opposed to 'cranking' out a post each and every day. Those of you who read both Op-Ed and WTP will hopefully be delighted with our new site and product.

I have not forsaken the Op-Ed Page completely, however, and plan to post once every weekend and maybe another time during the week on the A.L. Central and baseball in general. For daily opinions, stats and flat out rants on the Royals from both Craig and myself, I hope all of you will join us over Royals Authority.

If you are typing in the link itself, here you go: http://royals.mostvaluablenetwork.com/

Thanks to everyone who has read this blog in the past and I hope you all join us over at The Authority.

Random Mumblings

Doesn't it seem like a month since the Royals have played? And does it make me a less than well balanced individual that I am actually excited about this team getting back on the field? Quite frankly, I am hoping Zack Greinke went out and did nothing but party himself into the ground for three days. I often think pitching is a lot like golf in that the more you think and analyze the more you chunk it off to the right or hook it into the pond on the left - sometimes you just need to clear your head and pitch.

Anyway, check out the KC Star article with a bevy of Buddy Bell quotes today. Nothing earth shattering like "Shane Costa will bat second and play everyday" or "Man, that Terrance Long is not all that good, is he?", but a lot of snippets from the manager that give you something of an idea of what he thinks about his individual players. Two really stick in my head: "Buddy appreciates Angel Berroa's steadiness at short" - yes that made about half of my brain convulse too - and "DeJesus had done about all you can ask him to do", which I totally agree with. Sure, we would all like David to figure out how to steal bases, but that may come with more experience.

Trade or not trade, I see no point in playing Long more than a couple of times a week, if that. He is not part of our long-term plans (like DeJesus), he is not really helping the team that much (like Brown) and we already know what Terrance Long can do on a major league field (which we don't know about Costa). Here's hoping that our we see Costa/DeJesus/Brown in the outfield every day for the rest of the season. Stairs can get his at-bats at 1B/DH, maybe in a platoon with Graffanino - assuming one or both of them is not traded. That would give you a veteran hitter plus Sweeney in the middle of the lineup and allow our young guys to get all the at-bats they need. When/if you make another trade, then you have an opening for Ken Harvey..........................just seeing if you are paying attention, that would actually create an opening for Justin Huber.

Everyone take note of what the Colorado Rockies, a team nearly as inept as our Royals, did last night? First they traded Preston Wilson, a talented but overpaid player, for a young pitcher (Zack Day) and a young outfield prospect (J.J. Davis). Then they shipped struggling Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick (yes, THAT Jay Witasick) to Oakland for Eric Byrnes. Here is what I like about those deals. The Rockies cleared some money so they have the flexibility to keep younger players (Byrnes, Barmes, Et.al.), but also acquired talent. Zach Day is no ace, but he can pitch in a major league rotation. J.J. Davis has power potential, which combined with Coors Field might be lethal (say speaking of that, playing in big Kaufmann Stadium should we really be looking for a power hitting outfielder or an outfielder with gap power and stolen base potential?). Byrnes is 29, so while not young and hip, he is still good and established and has years left to play. As I advocated several months ago (I think, maybe I just dreamt it), the Royals can be sellers AND buyers as the trade deadline approached. The Rockies, never noted as particularly well run, made in my opinion two very solid moves that will help their team in both the short and long run.

Let's hope Allard Baird is working under the same premise.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Who Gets Better & Who Gets Worse?

The question for today is: how do Royal hitters far against a pitcher throughout a game? I thought this a mildly intriguing question at first, but as I assembled the stats my interest rose. What we are looking at is batting against a pitcher the first time in a game, second time, third time...you get the picture. There are two flaws in these stats: first it does not take into account if the hitter had faced the pitcher previously in his career and second, by the time you get to facing the same pitcher 4 times in one game your statistical sample is rather small. Mark Teahen, for example, has NEVER faced the same pitcher 4 times in the same game and John Buck has done so only once. While DeJesus has 27 at-bats in this scenario and Berroa 22, no one else on the Royals has more than 13 (Sweeney). So, keep these factors in mind as we move on.

OPS vs Pitcher 1st time in Game
Sweeney .908
Brown .807
DeJesus .749
Stairs .737
Buck .702
Gotay .681
Graffanino .664
Berroa .660
Long .660
Teahen .654
No big suprise at the top, with arguably the Royals 4 best hitters performing best. Oddly, Graffanino leads the team on on-base pct in this category at .366, however his slugging percentage the first time against a pitcher is a paltry .298. Matt Stairs ranks 4th despite a .248 batting average, thanks to 18 walks (a trend that continues the second time around).

OPS vs Pitcher 2nd time in Game
DeJesus .911
Berroa .908
Sweeney .825
Stairs .768
Brown .750
Teahen .723
Graffanino .608
Buck .589
Gotay .551
Long .488
Yeah, Angel Berroa at .908 (329/376/532) and that's with a decent sample of 85 plate appearances. Stairs sports an on-base pct of .393 the second time he faces the same pitcher, but only a .229 batting average. Once again, Graff has an odd lack of power in this category (.289 slugging, .289 average).

OPS vs Pitcher 3rd time in Game
Graffanino 1.233
Stairs 1.059
Sweeney .940
Long .906
Gotay .892
Brown .747
DeJesus .666
Teahen .584
Berroa .497
Buck .488
Hmmm, the four veteran hitters in the lineup are all dramatically better when they get a third crack at a guy - what a shock! What I find interesting in this category is Ruben Gotay who suddenly jumps from not very good to a major threat. Does this mean all he really needs is to gather more experience?

OPS vs. Pitcher 4th time in Game
Graffanino 1.500
Brown 1.300
Sweeney 1.038
DeJesus .826
Long .818
Gotay .762
Berroa .401
Stairs .282
Buck 0-1
Teahean 0-0
Remember, by now these numbers are pretty thin. Brown, Graff, Stairs have just 10 appearances like this and Long only 11. You can draw some conclusions from DeJesus, who is 8-27 and Berroa, who is 3-22 (that's 136/174/227 fans). What it does tell us if that given the opportunity to bat a fourth time against a pitcher, our veterans + DeJesus and Gotay, will light them up.

Essentially, the Royals can be boiled down into three groups for these categories. Guys who are pretty consistent the 1st time they see a guy all the way through the 4th time they see a guy. Players who get better the more they face one pitcher and finally, players that get worse.

The Consistent Ones (1st through 4th time vs. Pitcher OPS)
Emil Brown (807/750/747/1300)
David DeJesus (749/911/666/826)
Matt Stairs (737/768/1059/282)
Mike Sweeney (908/825/940/1038)
I give Stairs a pass on the 4th time through as he has just 10 at-bats and DeJesus, while hitting just .250 the third time up does still have a .338 on-base percentage. Again, these four have been our most consistent hitters, so this is no suprise.

The Improvers
Ruben Gotay (681/551/892/762)
Tony Graffanino (664/608/1233/1500)
Terrance Long (660/488/906/818)
Interesting how Graff not only improves the more he sees a pitcher, but hits with more power (7 extra base hits in 45 appearances). Does he change his approach once he gets familiar with a pitchers stuff on that particular day? Gotay has just 6 at-bats in the 4th time category, but his 11-34 with 2 homers the third time he faces a pitcher are encouraging numbers.

The Decliners
Angel Berroa (660/908/497/401)
John Buck (702/589/488/000)
Mark Teahen (654/723/584/na)
Angel is a freaking all-star in his 85 plate appearances against pitchers he is facing for the second time in one game (329/376/532/908) and an absolute minor leaguer after that (17-89, 3 BB, 18 K). His first time up numbers pretty much mirror his career numbers, so I have no idea what this means. Does it mean that the second time up, Angel sees the pitcher better, but by the next time the pitcher knows what Angel will swing at (anything)? Or does it mean that bad ball hitters get their bats on the ball 1 out of 4 times and it just happens to occur the second time around?
I am slightly discouraged by Buck and Teahen, who unlike Gotay, decline in performance as the pitcher sees them more. Those numbers indicate to me that there is a flaw in either their approach or swing that is being consistently exploited as pitchers work deeper into games.

Overall, these numbers simply reinforce what we already knew. Sweeney and DeJesus et.al can hit. Graff and Long are veteran journeymen that get better if they can get a two or three hacks at a guy (that might also explain why they are journeymen and not regulars). Berroa is Berroa and Gotay has a chance to get a lot better. As for Buck and Teahen, well, the jury is still out on them. Here's hoping for a better second half.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

All-Star Ho Hum

I should be excited about the All-Star Game, I used to be, but I have to admit little more than a passing interest in the contest the past few years. A passing interest in how Mike Sweeney and some former Royals perform is about all I will muster. Maybe when we are contending in 2007 and homefield advantange might mean something...

Anyway, for today, just a few tidbits stolen from various sources.

First, take a read of Joe Posnanski's column in the KC Star this morning. I ususally don't listen or read the whining about how the Royals are not able to keep their players and the whole unequal balance of baseball thing. That's the field we can surely figure out how to play on it just as Minnesota and Oakland and Cleveland and Washington have already done. However, I did find this morning's column interesting in that he compiled a roster of all the stars, sort of stars, decent players that we have traded or let go and came up with a payroll of just $75 million. I say just even though it is twice what the Royals are spending this year, because the average team salary is $73 million. I am in no way saying the Royals could have or should have spent the money, but it is interesting that number is not higher.

Allard Baird was on WHB this morning and indicated that if Alex Gordon does not sign within the next week, it would 'be difficult to start him in Wichita'. I found it interesting that when asked about college guys who spend little or no time in the minors, Baird responded that it was unlikely that Gordon could make the majors yet in 2005. We all assumed that, but it was interesting that Allard offered that instead of 'unlikely until late 2006' or something along that timeline.

Exactly what is the point, by the way, of Billy Butler playing any more in A-Ball? Yes, the California League is a hitters paradise, but c'mon .359 with 22 homers? I am pretty sure he has learned all there is to learn in High Desert. Besides, learning to catch fly balls in Wichita cannot be much different than where he is now.

If you want some opinions on team grades at the break, check out Warning Track Power and Daily Lancer. Also, keep a close watch here, as the Op-Ed should have some quais-exciting news in the next week or so.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the All-Star Break

Not long ago (not even a week ago - maybe a day if you read this blog), the Royals were thought to have an upcoming starting rotation logjam after the All-Star Break. Both Denny Bautista and Brian Anderson were due to return, as was Kyle Snyder. It was widely assumed that Lima Time would come to an end, but then what? J.P. Howell would be well on his way to becoming a rookie phenom and Zack Greinke, well, he would surely be back to future ace form by then, right?

Well, today we learn that Brian Anderson is done for the year and Bautista is 'out indefinitely'. The KC Star also speculates that given Snyder's 80 pitch limit, that he will be optioned to the minors following his rehab stint. I think the Star is out of touch on that one - Snyder will be in the post-break rotation if for no other reason than J.P. Howell is doing a very good Chad Durbin imitation this days. Let us assume that, but then where is all the pitching depth?

What if Greinke continues to struggle? Quite frankly, that makes Jose Lima your third best pitcher....in the organization.....YIKES! All joking aside, can the Royals really trade Lima (assuming there is a trade to be made)? If you say that Howell is not ready (he isn't), then who would you bring in to take Lima's spot?

Jimmy Gobble has maybe found a niche in the bullpen and Jeremy Affeldt might just throw a gigantic hissy fit if KC moved him back to the rotation (not to mention that he himself is likely traded AND never really got it going as a starter anyway). Mike Wood, like Gobble, is probably more suited for relief work, and if we are building for 2007 there is no point in putting any of the above three into roles as a stop-gap measure - keep them working where you will need them in 2007.

So....now we're talking about Chris George (4.82 AAA ERA), Dennis Tankersly (4.84) and Danny Tamayo (5.44) in Omaha. How thin is the Omaha starting staff? These three are the only pitches with more than 10 starts in AAA. Shawn Camp, for godssake, is starting for Omaha. Maybe you give George his fifth last chance (I keep forgetting the guy is still just 25 - that's pretty amazing - check his birth records), or maybe you live dangerously and see if Tankersley finally 'gets it'. I think we know what happens here, might as well keep Howell up then, I guess.

What about AA Wichita? Well, unlike the offensive side where every Wrangler appears ready for the jump, none of the pitchers are probably there. Kyle Middleton (3.97 AA ERA) is the staff ace, but he's in his second AA season and is not viewed as a prospect (but then neither was Shawn Sedlacek). You have actual prospects in Brian Bass (5.67) and Mike Stodolka (5.90) who obviously do not appear to be ready, nor does Derrin Ebert (5.76). Intriguing numbers have been put up by Ryan Baerlocher, who sports a 2.59 ERA in 5 AA starts, but again, why rush him at this point? Might was well stay with J.P. Howell.

The next wave of pitching prospects in the system are all the way down in A ball: Kaanoi, Buckner, Gragg & Hughes in High Desert and Cota, Campbell and Christensen in Burlington. Although they are basically in the same draft as Howell, none of them are close to moving through the system like J.P. did (although you can debate whether he should have, but that's another column).

So, pick your poison. Stay with Lima. Trade Lima, for minimal value, and live with Howell growing up in the majors. Trade Lima, send down Howell, and take a chance on a minor league veteran (George, Tank) or a non-prospect (Middleton) or rush another prospect (Baerlocher or Bass). Frankly, and I cannot believe I am saying this, if Bautista is not coming back to much later in the season and given what little we might get in return for Jose, I stick with Lima Time - at least there will be some entertainment.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Post Break Rotation - What Do I Know?

Just a few days after a speculated with certainty that the Royals would start of the post all-star break schedule with Runelyvs Hernandez and then D.J. Carrasco, we learned earlier today that Zack Greinke will get the nod on Thursday, follwed by Carrasco, then Lima and THEN Hernandez. The reasoning is that Runelvys' 109 innings so far may be putting him on a pace for a larger workload than the Royals think is wise having just come off arm surgery.

I am not sure, I buy that logic - particularly given that Runelvys' 1,752 pitches thrown so far this year is already three hundred more than he has ever thrown in a season. One could reason that if Hernandez was going to have arm trouble crop up again, it would have already happened. You could also, however, reason that somewhere on the road to 200 innings and 3300 pitches the Royals would be pushing their luck. I have no reason to doubt Kansas City's intentions - after all Runelvys has been their only season long consistent starter - but one might wonder why the organization did not start worry about that sometime earlier instead of routinely letting Hernandez top 100 pitches in his starts for three plus months.

Anyway, how about that post break rotation? Let's look at what opposing batters do against our five starters as they stand now, using my favorit string of 4 batting stats (BA,OBP,SLG,OPS):

Hernandez - 266/347/409/756
Carrasco - 270/344/365/706
Greinke - 309/364/476/834
Lima - 311/371/545/913
Howell - 330/444/534/974

D.J. & Runelvys numbers are fine...for your number 3 and 4 starters - the problem is that our perceived number one guy (Greinke) is pretty much turning opposing lineups into Mike Sweeney and our number two guy (Bautista) is hurt, young and enigmatic. That said, I am puzzled that we are sending Greinke out to start on Thursday - as if all he needs is a boost of confidence and off he goes. That could not be farther from the truth.

Zack, for all his talent, spent the early season getting guys out be being cute - exactly how many slow curves can you throw major league hitters? Apparently about two months worth. In relying more and more on his breaking, dare we say trick, pitches, Greinke managed to so screw up his mechanics that sitting at home watching on TV, this blogger (and his career .200 high school batting average) could call fastball or offspeed before the ball left Zack's hands. He has since gone more and more with the harder fastballs (a good thing), but Greinke's control in and out of the zone has paid the price. Would there really be any harm in sending him to Omaha for two weeks? Essentially missing one start for the big club and getting two in AAA to get 'right' again? Look, it was not just that horrible night in Arizona: for June, Greinke had an ERA of 10.08 in five starts, with opponets hitting .383 against him. July, so far, has been little better: 8.44 ERA and .400 opponet average in two starts. Maybe a few days off and a quasi-installation as staff ace really is all it will take, I hope so, but I am skeptical as to what we will see on Thursday.

A few other disturbing mini-trends to digest over the break. After a June in which Hernandez allowed opponets to hit just .185 in five starts (2.37 ERA), opponets have jumped him for a .347 average in his two July starts. You have to give Runelvys credit, though, despite that high average his ERA for those two starts is still just 3.65. You wonder if that is just a blip or a trend.

D.J. Carrasco has fared similarly in July, allowing 20 hits in 12 innings of work. Like Hernandez, D.J. too manages to allow far less runs than his periphals would indicate. Those two July starts came after a June in which his ERA was 2.84 and opponets hit only .245 against him. Again, both Hernandez and Carrasco fight you tooth and nail and they may just be guys who are better than their numbers would indicate, it is important that they continue to perform in the second half.

As for Lima (who instead of making all opposing batters Sweeney, instead makes them Vlad Guererro), the reasoning behind his start is simple. One, he has a 4.26 ERA over his last two starts and probably is two more average starts from at least becoming somewhat marketable. Second, J.P. Howell, he of 25 runs allowed in 26 innings, has pretty much done everything but drive himself to Omaha. I have no doubt that J.P. will someday be a valuable member of the KC rotation - maybe even as early as September 1 - but right now he needs to go somewhere and get his stuff under control. No one, especially lefties throwing less than 90 mph, survive walking more runners than they strike out.

The worst kept secret in KC is that Kyle Snyder will join the rotation after the break. No doubt in Howell's spot, although I would not be suprised is Snyder starts the Saturday or Sunday game in Detroit - bumping Hernandez and/or Lima back a day. I am excited about having Kyle back in the rotation, but we also need to temper our enthusiasm (we did not just call up Randy Johnson) and know that Snyder will be giving us 5 maybe 6 innings at best for most of the season as I am sure he will operate under a very tight pitch count.

Here's hoping this somewhat grim post on the starters spurs a string of good starts after the break. Hey, it has happened before.