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Looking Ahead: 2011 Catchers

October 29, 2010 3 comments

I realized that I inadvertently left the catchers out of my look ahead to the 2011 season, so they’ll go here before I get into the outlook for the minors next week. The catchers as a whole are a pretty boring bunch, highlighted by paying way too much for a now injured Jason Kendall. If only somebody would have thought to mention that it’s a bad idea to ride a catcher in his mid-30s, never giving him a day off… Well regardless of what has happened in the past, the 2011 season still must go on and somebody has to catch the ball thrown by the pitchers. This, like the relievers post, will be done a little bit differently because there’s a chance that neither of the two who finished the season behind the plate for the Royals in 2010 will be back in 2011.

Brayan Pena: In my mind, Pena should be given every opportunity to start next year for the Royals and catch five days a week. While it’s a debate if the fans or Pena suffered more from Kendall’s constant playing time, I’ll give Pena the benefit of the doubt and say that he suffered the most. Prior to Kendall’s injury, Pena hit .186/.280/.233 in 50 plate appearances. Yes, 50 plate appearances through August 7. for a backup catcher. Yikes. As soon as Kendall went down and Pena started getting the bulk of the playing time, he hit .278/.317/.374 which, of course, is no great shakes, but for a catcher, it’s really not bad. Plus we know that Pena has more than that in him.

Lucas May: I’m not exactly sure what to expect out of Lucas May. What I know is that I’m extremely happy the Royals were able to get somebody who may have some value for Scott Podsednik. May is a converted shortstop who was in his fourth year of catching in 2010. From what I saw, he appeared to be about average behind the plate. He has a good arm and a decent release and seemed to understand how to call and command pitches. Offensively, he has some pop as he hit 25 homers in one of his minor league seasons, but he’s nothing fantastic. He’s a guy who you may be able to expect to hit .250/.310/.400 which, again, for a catcher is pretty good.

Unfortunately I don’t see the Royals going with May and Pena both next year. I think it’ll be one or the other. They have a few options, but really only one in the minor league system.

Manuel Pina: Pina is a catch and throw guy. He’s definitely defense first, though his offense took a big step in 2010 toward respectability. It isn’t hard to believe that his bat is developing as catchers’ bats often time longer to come around. Between AA and AAA he caught 42% of runners who attempted to steal and reports indicate that he is a very good receiver. His bat will lag a bit, but he’s the only option the Royals have in the high minors who could possibly be on the 2011 roster on Opening Day.

Because there’s very few options in the system (though catcher is actually becoming strong in the organization in the lower levels), the Royals may look elsewhere and I’ve identified three guys who fit the bill of what the Royals are looking for.

Rod Barajas: Barajas has been around awhile and has a strong defensive reputation. He’ll hit some homers, but has just a .284 OBP for his career. He wouldn’t be a terrible option on a one year deal with an option. He’s a stabilizing force behind the plate and hitting toward the bottom of the order, his lack of OBP won’t kill the offense. He’ll be 35 in 2011, so if they sign him, hopefully the Royals learned their lesson with mid-30s catchers and will give him a day off or two every week at least.

Ramon Castro: Castro has never been THE MAN in his career, but when his spots are chosen wisely, he’s a very good offensive contributor. He’s pretty good defensively and has an excellent arm. He’ll work a walk or two and hit a homerun here and there so he’s not hurting the team too much. He will also be 35 in 2011, but has much less wear and tear than Barajas.

Gerald Laird: The Rangers were always hopeful that Laird would develop into a good bat at catcher, but he’s just never found the tools to allow him to hit well. He’s got very occasional power which has dwindled every year and struggles to get on base, but he commands a game well. For his career, he’s caught 38% of attempted base stealers and allowed just 42 passed balls, which is roughly four innings for a guy like Miguel Olivo. I kid because I love.

So those are the options. Pretty slim if you ask me. Personally, I’d just stick with Pena and May and hope for the best.

The Evolution of Kauffman Stadium

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve always had a very strange affliction for architecture, particularly sports architecture. I have an uncanny ability to waste time at ballparks.com. Some people can get lost in YouTube. Me, I get lost looking at how many suites are going to be in the Marlins new ballpark. I love ballpark intricacies. Every other sport has a uniform playing surface, but not baseball. Every stadium is different. Well, with the exception of the 70s and 80s when the cookie cutter stadiums were all the rage.

With that introduction, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the evolution of Royals Stadium/Kauffman Stadium.

1973:

The original

I love this picture. It just shows me Royals Stadium in its purest of times. You don’t notice advertisements on any portion of the stadium with the exception of in front of the fountains. Speaking of the fountains, they’re only on one side. Left field seems barren. I always have enjoyed the open look of stadiums and while I’m somewhat of a fan of what they’ve done to Kauffman Stadium in the current renovations, I’m somewhat partial to no seats in the outfield. Obviously we’re still looking at artificial turf, which was probably the key to many of the great Royals teams who got by on speed. While the game has passed this artificial turf by, it still remains a great memory of Royals fans, right up there with the powder blue uniforms.

In 1973, the Royals also played host to their only All-Star game (until 2012). Lots happened in the original incarnation of then Royals stadium aside from the All-Star game. It saw no-hitters, post-season games including World Series games and just generally the glory days of Royals baseball. For the fans who are unhappy with the renovations at Kauffman Stadium, I’d bet good money that they’d like it a lot more if there was a better product on the field. A stadium’s charm comes a lot from the game being played on its field.

The stadium stayed mostly the same over the next 18 years with small changes. My favorite changes came in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1985 and 1986 as new flags were added to the grassy hill in left field. The big change came in 1991 when a state of the art video board was added to in the left field area over the new second set of fountains. It was the biggest video board in the United States.
Ahh, the simpler days of The K.

The picture above, of course, is after the decision of all of Major League Baseball to retire Jackie Robinson’s #42. Prior to that, the Royals had retired three numbers of a few of the greatest all-time Royals. The numbers were George Brett (5), Dick Howser (10) and Frank White (20). Those numbers were originally highlighted only in the Hall of Fame behind the seats, but were eventually placed below the scoreboard where they were visible to everybody who entered the park. Two years after the JumboTron was put in, the stadium was renamed from Royals Stadium to Kauffman Stadium in honor of great owner Ewing Kauffman.

1995 brought the very best change of all to Kauffman Stadium and that was natural grass.

Ahh finally, baseball the way it was meant to be played.

So now the most beautiful stadium in America had gotten more beautiful. Over the course of the next 13 years, the fences were moved in to favor hitters. When the team realized that their pitchers were forced to throw in a complete band box, the fences were moved back to their original distances of 330 down the lines, 385 in the alleys and 410 to dead center. It was a big park and part of the Royals identity was building a team who could play well in that size stadium.

Then in 2008, renovations on the stadium began.

This is what we were told "The New K" would look like.

The team essentially played on a baseball diamond that was surrounded by a construction site. Luckily, the brand new scoreboard had been installed (though without crown), so we were able to view the beauty of the largest scoreboard in North America* while looking at workers. From homestand to homestand, the look of the stadium would change.

*Darn Cowboys and their ridiculous 60 yard scoreboard!

The New K Developing before our very eyes.

Finally, opening day 2009 arrived and the Royals had their brand new stadium.

The opening!

Another beautiful view

And that’s where we sit today with our beautiful stadium. It is truly amazing to me how well it has held up throughout the years (with some help of course). It’s a place I’m proud to call home for my team.

Side note: I’d like to thank Nick Scott of Royals Authority for linking to my Top 10 Royals of All-Time article yesterday. I really appreciate it!

Top 10 Royals of All-Time

October 27, 2010 1 comment

Yeah, it’s that big of a post. Okay, maybe not. It’s just one man’s opinion, but that’s what this blog is for! Any number of approaches can be taken in submitting a best of all time list when it comes to anything. I chose to utilize the franchise encyclopedia on Baseball Reference. From there, I looked at a number of statistics in compiling my list. For a franchise that hasn’t been relevant in 25 years, there are some serious talents. Just a reminder to look at the OPS+/ERA+ which each player’s stats as they tell the story of their production relative to the era. For example, Mike Sweeney had an .861 OPS, which is .004 higher than George Brett, but who do you think was the better player? Obviously, good ol’ number five is the better player and his OPS+ reflects that at 135 to 119.

Without further ado…

#10 Bret Saberhagen – Perhaps the most talented pitcher in Royals history, Saberhagen unfortunately did not go down as the best. He is, however, the most awarded with a Cy Young in both 1985 and 1989 as well as being a part of one of the most memorable snapshots in Royals history, a shared embrace with George Brett after the final out of the 1985 World Series was recorded. Saberhagen came up as a 20-year-old in 1984 and was very good, but he became a star in that fateful 1985 season, winning 20 games. After he was traded after the 1991 season, he was never quite as good, fighting injuries. He was at his best with the Royals. It’s just a shame that he never completely lived up to his talent.

#9 Carlos Beltran – Carlos Beltran may very well be the most talented player to ever don a Royals uniform. He could do it all and he did it all with a grace that we hadn’t seen in centerfield since Amos Otis. The Royals actually have a very distinguished line of centerfielders in their organizational history and Beltran may very well have been the most talented. Had he remained a Royal for longer, he could have challenged for one of the top two or three spots on this list. When he came up as a rookie, he was electrifying as a leadoff hitter and then moved into the third spot in the lineup. He stole bases at a fantastic rate, he had a great arm, played great defense, got on base and just about anything else. He was a part of the greatest outfield in Royals history that was wasted due to the lack of a pitching staff. Though Beltran’s Royals numbers pale in comparison to what he’s done in the National League with the Astros and Mets, he was a fantastic player for the boys in blue getting better every year he was here.

#8 Paul Splittorff – Many younger fans know Splitt as one of the voices of the Royals, a job he has been amazing at for as long as I can remember (let’s disregard his health issues the last two seasons in that analysis). Prior to that, though, he was and remains the franchise’s all-time leader in victories with 166. He spent his entire career with the Royals. His numbers were dragged down toward the end with a string of sub par seasons. The thing I find most interesting about Splitt is that there is no way today that he would even get the opportunity to pitch as long as he did. His strikeout rate was just way too low, but the game was different when he pitched. Never spectacular, but always solid and an excellent rotation option. He took the ball in big games and always performed admirably.

#7 Dan Quisenbarry – As good of a pitcher as Dan Quisenberry was, he was a better human being. When he passed away from a brain tumor, the world and the Royals family lost an amazing person. In his playing career, Quiz was a five time top five finisher for the American League Cy Young, and still holds the Royals records for saves in a single season, shared by Jeff Montgomery who also is the only Royal to have more saves in a career than Quiz does. Like Splittorff, Quisenberry didn’t get the strikeout all that often, but he never walked anybody and due to that was able to limit his baserunners. He was best known for his submarine delivery by most fans, but by those who perched themselves in right field during a Kansas City August, he was the man with the fire hose who cooled everyone down. Nobody, though, was cooler than Quisenberry.

#6 Hal McRae – McRae didn’t do any one thing amazingly other than play harder than everybody on the field. The rule in place in double play situations where a runner must be able to touch second base from his slide is known as the Hal McRae Rule because McRae would go so far out of the baseline to break up double plays. He was an incredibly solid hitter and one of the best designated hitters the game has seen. His career began with the Reds, but the Royals stole him (as they often did from other teams) and he became an integral part of a juggernaut. He still holds the Royals record for doubles in a season with 54 in 1977, though 1982 is probably his best overall season. He’s also probably the best Royals manager in the last 20 years, but that’s a story for another blog post.

#5 Willie Wilson – Just looking at the raw numbers, there were better Royals than Willie Wilson, but very few were as important. In his prime, Wilson could hit like crazy and steal bases like crazy with a career high of 83 in 1979. Pretty amazing for the fourth fastest guy in his neighborhood. He won a batting title in 1982, going down to the wire with Hal McRae before pulling it out. Wilson’s best years were with the Royals, though he had some controversy while here with a bit of a cocaine issue. One thing to remember about Wilson is that he wasn’t your typical slap hitter who could run. He had a little pop in his bat as evidenced by 40 homers, 241 doubles and 133 triples as a Royal. The inside-the-park homerun was his specialty.

#4 Frank White – Some may be surprised to see #20 not in the second spot on this list. No, it has nothing to do with his abilities as an announcer, though he needs to go back to doing anything but announcing. Again, another time. Frank White went from being a decent fielding shortstop who couldn’t hit to a great fielding second baseman who couldn’t hit to a great fielding second baseman who could hit cleanup in the World Series. That is quite a transformation. The majority of White’s value came from his glove, but that evened out as his career progressed and he became not only a competent hitter, but a marginally feared one. Twice he hit more than 20 homeruns in a season and ended his career with over 400 doubles. Everyone knows how cool of a story it is that Frank White made it as a star in Kansas City. He literally helped build then Royals stadium and then became the most successful member of the Royals Academy. Now his number is retired alongside George Brett and the late Dick Howser.

#3 Kevin Appier – Here might be the biggest surprise of my list. The fact that he is a surprise underscores just how underrated Appier was throughout both his Major League career and especially his Royals career. He made an instant impact in his rookie season and never looked back, leading the league in ERA in 1993 in a season in which he should have won the Cy Young. I suspect that if the voting had been conducted today he would have won, but Jack McDowell’s 21 wins were enough to sway the voters. Planet Appier won 115 games as a Royal in two separate tours of duty with a 3.49 ERA in an extreme hitter’s era. People never figured out exactly who he was talking to on the mound, and that made him one of the most colorful players in baseball. He struck batters out and he intimidated. He gave just about everything that could be wanted out of a first round draft pick.

#2 Amos Otis – I think the numbers two through four players on this list are somewhat interchangeable, but what Amos Otis brough to the table is what caused me to put him up this high. Amos Otis was the Carlos Beltran of the early days in Royals history. He was another player absolutely stolen from another organization. He was acquired in a trade for Joe Foy and became a star with the Royals, almost overnight. As a Royal, AO, as he was known in chants by the fans, hit 193 homeruns, drove in 992 runs, stole 340 bases and absolutely wowed the crowd. Everything he did looked effortless. Because of that, he was sometimes criticized, but he was going full tilt…just with some style. He was a five-time All Star, a three-time gold glover and received MVP votes in multiple seasons. He was the Royals first star.

#1 George Brett – Who else? If Otis was the Royals first star, George Brett is and was the Royals brightest. What’s there to say about George Brett that hasn’t already been said. I could talk about his 1980 season in which he threatened .400 and won the franchise’s only MVP award. I could talk about his 1985 season that was easily his second best. He carried a sub par offense in that season and led them to the playoffs and ultimately the world title. He remains the only man in the history of baseball to win batting titles in three different decades (1976, 1980 and 1990). I’m lucky enough to say that I was able to witness his last Major League homerun. He’s the Royals all-time leader in WAR, games played, at bats, plate appearances, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, homeruns, RBI, walks, runs created, times on base, sacrifice flies and intentional walks. In short, he is the Royals.

So there you have it. My top 10 all-time Kansas City Royals. As I mentioned above, this exercise just showed me how rich a history there is of baseball in Kansas City despite some very dry years in the recent past. Let’s hope the guys in the pipeline make this list even more difficult in the future!

World Series Preview, Part II

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

I didn’t even think about it when previewing the offenses for the little series the Giants and Rangers are playing starting tomorrow, but I left out the DH position, which is just a huge oversight. I’m not really sure who will do the duties for the Giants, but the way I see it the options are Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Pablo Sandoval, Jose Guillen or Aaron Rowand. I sure hope it’s not Guillen. No matter who they put in, though, Vladimir Guerrero (.300/.345/496) will have the edge because any of the first three are playing anyway and would need to be replaced by inferior players.

Edit: I didn’t realize that Jose Guillen cannot be on the World Series roster. Whoops. Scratch that option. Good.

Now on to the pitching. I’ll break this down starter vs. starter and then the bullpens as a whole.

Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43 ERA, 212.1 innings, 231 k, 76 bb) vs. Cliff Lee (12-9, 3.18 ERA, 212.1 innings, 185 k, 18 bb): This is an incredible matchup in a postseason full of incredible matchups. It is fully possible that Tim Lincecum can completely dominate this Rangers lineup. Vladimir Guerrero in particular seems to be a very poor matchup against Timmy. While the two pitchers are very different in their styles, I think they’re about each other’s equal. Having said that, I now fully expect a 19-14 final in the first game.
Advantage: Push
Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14 ERA, 223.1 innings, 177 k, 61 bb) vs. C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.31 ERA, 204 innings, 170 k, 93 bb): Originally I thought this was almost as even a matchup as the Lincecum/Lee battle, but now that I think about it, I think Matt Cain has a slight edge. There’s been a lot of talk in the last few days about how is numbers don’t match up to his peripherals, but that’s been the case for five years. At some point, we might have to accept that he is this good. Wilson concerns me as he’s in unchartered territory innings wise. He was the Rangers closer last season and now he’s pushing toward 230 innings. His high walk totals concern me a bit as well. Wilson’s good, but I think Cain is just a touch better.
Advantage: Giants
Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07 ERA, 193.1 innings, 205 k, 96 bb) vs. Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA, 201 innings, 196 k, 65 bb): This matchup comes down to command. Both of these pitchers will get you to swing and miss, but Jonathan Sanchez just walks too many hitters. He’s a good young pitcher, but his numbers are not indicative of his true talent level. Colby Lewis had a career revelation in Japan and has come back to the U.S. as a legitimate 2/3 on a World Series team. I’m just worried that Sanchez will walk the house and be out after two as he did in the NLCS. He has the stuff to dominate, but the Rangers lineup is too good to be wild.
Advantage: Rangers
Madison Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00 ERA, 111 innings, 86 k, 26 bb) vs. Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73 ERA, 128 innings, 68 k, 33 bb): The thing that concerns me about Tommy Hunter is his inability to miss bats. He doesn’t walk many, so that makes up for it, but it’s hard to get by striking out less than five per nine innings. Bumgarner is going to be a fantastic pitcher, but he might be wearing down as the season gets longer and longer, so it’s tough to be sure what you’ll get from him. This matchup might be a moot point as if either team is down 3-0 or 2-1 and feels a lot of pressure, they might bring back their ace on short rest.
Advantage: Push

The bullpens 
Rather than list each individual player, the bullpens are actually pretty evenly matched. The Giants do it with experienced guys while the Rangers rely on young arms to get the outs. Brian Wilson (1.81 ERA, 48 saves, 74.2 innings, 93 k) is an amazing closer and probably slightly better than young Neftali Feliz (2.73 ERA, 40 saves, 69.1 innings, 71 k). The setup men are roughly equal as this is the area where the Rangers actually go with experience with Darren Oliver. Both bullpens can get the strikeout when they need and both have a nice balance of lefties and righties. With the starting pitching in this series, I’m not sure how much the bullpen will matter in games 1, 2, 5 and 6, but it could play a role in the other games.
Advantage: Push

Managers
Every button that Bruce Bochy has pushed in this postseason has seemed to work. I’m a bit concerned about his tinkering, though. He has a good team, one that fought back from many games down in the regular season to secure a playoff birth and has now beaten the team to beat. His use of Mike Fontenot has a chance to really hurt him in the World Series as, despite his struggles, Pablo Sandoval is still the better player. Ron Washington has also taken a bit of heat for his decision making and somewhat head scratching moves he’s made. He has more talent to work with, though, on a day-to-day basis, so a lot of his decisions are made for him. He’s already said that Guerrero will play the outfield on one of the first two games in San Francisco. I recommend the second game so he doesn’t have to watch Vlad flail against Lincecum. Overall, I think Ron Washington is more a manager of people than a tactical manager, which might cost his team at some point in this series.
Advantage: Giants

Prediction
This has a chance to be one of the best series since the last time the Giants were in it in 2002. These two teams are pretty evenly matched, though I think the Rangers have the edge in talent if ever so slightly. Usually in a tightly matched series, I err on the side of the American League team as they’ve had a tougher battle throughout the season and are a little more battle tested. I’ll go with the Rangers in 7 in this series bringing the first World Series title to Texas.

World Series Preview

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Since my prognosticating skills are so fantastic, I thought I’d put out a little preview/primer for the World Series matchup between the Rangers and the Giants and to congratulate Benjie Molina on his World Series ring that he’s now guaranteed.

Let’s take a look at the position by position breakdown.

Catchers
Buster Posey (.305/.357/.505) vs. Benjie Molina (.249/.297/.326)/Matt Treanor (.211/.287/.308):  The raw numbers offensively very clearly favor the Giants. It’s not quite that simple, though, it’s close. The Giants traded Molina to get Posey starts every day behind the plate and Posey responded with his receiving skills advancing as the season progressed. He’s still not on the level of Molina who many of the Giants pitching staff credit for their progression, but he’s good. Molina is on the team for his defensive ability and everything he gives on offense is a bonus. He’s been pretty good offensively, though, in the playoffs. Matt Treanor is a career backup who is C.J. Wilson’s personal catcher. I don’t like personal catchers, especially in the playoffs.
Advantage: Giants
First Basemen
Aubrey Huff (.290/.385/.506) vs. Mitch Moreland (.255/.364/.469):
Aubrey Huff had his second great season in three years, this time carrying the Giants offense for a time when they were struggling to score runs. Defensively, he’s not great, but he’s perfectly adequate there. He’s a legitimate middle of the order bat. Mitch Moreland is a young guy who just turned 25 and got his first taste of the Majors this year after Justin Smoak was traded and Chris Davis couldn’t stop striking out. I’ve seen a Todd Walker comparison, and that makes some sense. He’s a good hitter, especially for someone asked to hit in the bottom of the order.
Advantage: Giants
Second basemen
Freddy Sanchez (.292/.342/.397) vs. Ian Kinsler (.286/.382/.412):
Freddy Sanchez has always been a high average, low-ish power guy and that hasn’t changed at all this year. He can get a few hits, will walk every fourth or fifth game and will make the routine plays and some non-routine plays at second base. He’s a solid player. Ian Kinsler saw his power take a bit of a nosedive after hitting 31 homers last year, he hit just 9 (in 103 games) this season. His bat still possesses that pop plus he’s a very patient hitter.
Advantage: Rangers
Third basemen
Pablo Sandoval (.268/.323/.409) vs. Michael Young (.284/.330/.444):
I’m not sure what the Giants are going to do at third base in the World Series, and I’m not sure they know either. For now, though, I’ll go with the man who manned third base for most of the season. Kung Fu Panda, as he is known in San Francisco had a very tough follow-up to his breakout 2009 season. He struggles on the road and his defense has been pretty bad in the playoffs forcing Mike Fontenot into some starts. Michael Young, on the other hand, is the leader of the Texas Rangers. While others’ performance may surpass his, nobody is more respected in the clubhouse than Young. He’s a solid hitter whose power is dwindling as he ages, but he can still square up a ball and hit it a long way. He’s also very good defensively.
Advantage: Rangers
Shortstops
Juan Uribe (.248/.310/.440) vs. Elvis Andrus (.265/.342/.301):
Uribe had a typical Uribe season this year hitting for some pop and playing pretty decent defense. He’s not typically a difference maker, though his homer in Game 6 was the difference. He’s a good guy to have on a team, but not a superstar. Teams need guys like him, though. Elvis Andrus may one day be a superstar. He can hit a little and he’s got a dazzling glove, but he doesn’t have enough power to give defenses honest. He will work a walk and make his way on base and then he can wreak havoc with his speed.
Advantage: Push
Outfielders
Pat Burrell (.252/.348/.469)/Andres Torres (.268/.343/.479)/Cody Ross (.269/.322/.413) vs. Nelson Cruz (.318/.374/.576/Josh Hamilton (.359/.411/.633)/David Murphy (.291/.358/.449)/Jeff Francouer (.249/.300/.383):
I chose to bunch the outfielders together because the Rangers play their outfield as a unit and it’s easier to make comparisons this way. Overall, no outfield hits like the Texas outfield, led by Cruz and Hamilton. David Murphy is an excellent complementary piece to those two and Jeff Francouer if used correctly (only vs. lefties) isn’t a bad player to have either. The Giants outfield is pretty decent offensively, but Andres Torres appears to be running out of gas and Cody Ross just isn’t this good, so the slipper could come off him at any time. Pat Burrell has been a revelation since coming to San Francisco, but he can’t carry the outfield offense by himself.
Advantage: Rangers 3x

I’ll dive into the pitching and the coaching/managing tomorrow. Tune in then!

The Rangers in the World Series

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

As I watched last night’s game, I found myself becoming more and more excited for the eventual Rangers win. After the sixth inning, the Denny Matthews in me began counting down the outs as I noticed many Rangers fans were doing as well. I got really into it. As a baseball fan, I don’t think that’s terribly abnormal, but I found myself transforming. I was becoming a Rangers fan. Maybe. It also could’ve been the old adage that can be adapted team to team of “I have two favorite teams. The Royals and whoever’s playing the Yankees.” That might be it. Even though I promised a short post yesterday and gave you 1,400 words about a bad team’s bullpen, this one really will be short. Congratulations to the Texas Rangers and their fans who have waited a long time for this. Bring a title to Surprise!

Looking Ahead: 2011 Bullpen

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

For the bullpen portion of my look at the Royals roster, I’m going to do things a little differently. Bullpens are so fickle and the Royals always seem to break camp with one guy who most have either never heard of or didn’t look like he had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster. Yet there he is, giving up three runs in the eighth inning of a tie game in April as the Royals record drops to 4-11. For this portion, I’ll talk about the key guys and then give brief synopses of guys who could play a role throughout the early part of the season.

Joakim Soria: Surprisingly, Soria isn’t the biggest no brainer in the bullpen because there’s a chance, albeit small, that he could get traded prior to the season. What more can I say about the man Ned Yost calls Jack that hasn’t already been said? I truly believe he’s the best closer in baseball. This past season he Montgomeryed us a little by getting in what seemed like more trouble than we had become accustomed to, but he was almost always able to wriggle out of it and secure the save. He throws strikes, he doesn’t give up tons of hits, he’s surprisingly durable for a guy with a history of arm trouble and he’s unflappable. His idol is Mariano Rivera and, quite frankly, the student has become the teacher in that relationship.

Gil Meche: This is the biggest no-brainer in the bullpen. His contract can’t be moved in a trade and he’s making too much money to be released. Though, I think he’ll actually be really good in the relief role. He looked fantastic at the end of 2010 and he might be in the process of reinventing himself. We all know he has great stuff and stuff typically plays up when planning for one or two innings rather than seven to nine.

When the announcement was first made the Meche would return as a reliever, I was initially pretty upset that he wasn’t giving it a go again as a starter. Then I started thinking about it and realized that for $12 million, the Royals could get absolutely nothing while Meche rehabs before his next contract with another team or he could provide at least some value out of the bullpen. If he bombs, his 2011 season could join the annals of Luis Mendoza and the like. If he’s good, he could be a trade chip or might even become a valuable member of future Royals bullpens. Playoff teams need dominant setup men, too. If Meche can fill that role, that’s one more hole that can be filled internally.

Robinson Tejeda: If you recall, Tejeda was absolutely pitiful early on in the season. His traditional numbers mirrored those of 2009, but as was pointed out on Royals Authority a couple of days ago, the way he got to those numbers was different. He became more hittable, struck out less hitters, but lowered his walk rate. He’s still overpowering and can get the strikeout when he needs, but he’s not starting every inning with a walk anymore. My initial thought likes this, but then I think about the fact that he’s giving up about the same number of baserunners and I’d sort of rather have the high strikeout, high walk guy because a hit can score a runner from second whereas a walk most certainly cannot. Either way, Tejeda is a valuable member of the bullpen and is pretty reliable when he’s not in one of his mini slumps.

That’s about it for the guys who are the backbone of the bullpen. Everyone else is pretty much interchangeable. These lists are in alphabetical order.

Lefties
Tim Collins:
Tiny Tim Collins at just 5’7″ (as listed) but he can really bring it. He strikes out tons of batters and he works from a bit of a funky deliver that helps with his deceptiveness. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the bullpen at some point in 2011 playing a huge role.

Danny Duffy: He’s a guy who I think might be ready for Major League action and can be broken into the Majors the old-fashioned way out of the bullpen. His ultimate future with the organization is as a starter, but I wouldn’t be at all opposed to seeing him in the bullpen to start the season to get his feet wet.

Blaine Hardy: He’s an option. His 2010 season in the minors was fantastic, but some question his ability to be a Major League pitcher due to just average stuff. I’d much rather see him given a chance than Hughes. We know what we have in Hughes, not so much with Hardy.

Dusty Hughes: He’s your standard LOOGY who just isn’t that good. He’s eminently hittable and walks too many batters while not striking out enough. He’s also not that great against lefties, which makes him worth a small amount. He’ll make the team if there are no other options.

Edgar Osuna: Last year’s Rule V pick was very good in AA flashing amazing control with an ability to get more strikeouts than expected from a low 80s fastball. His stuff probably doesn’t play in the Majors, but like Hardy I wouldn’t be terribly opposed to finding out.

Everett Teaford: I advocate him for the rotation, but if he’s not there, he’s a bullpen candidate. As a starter his stuff played up in 2010, so there’s reason to believe it would play up even more in the bullpen. He can get out both lefties and righties, so he’s a strong option.

Righties
Jesse Chavez: He’s only first because this is alphabetical. I think he’s a non-tender candidate, but if he’s still on the 40 man, he’ll probably be in the pen. He doesn’t strike enough guys out and walks too many. I’m not sure what the team sees in him.

Louis Coleman: I think Coleman has an outside shot to start the season with the big club. 103 strikeouts in 91 innings is excellent and to add to the equation he walked just 25. If he doesn’t start the year in KC, he’ll almost certainly be up soon.

Aaron Crow: I think he’s got a pretty good shot to debut in 2011 if he can put his 2010 behind him. He’s got excellent stuff that some believe will play better in the bullpen. He’ll obviously be given every chance to start, but I like the path they took with Hochevar for Crow which is getting him going in the bullpen before transitioning him to the rotation.

Greg Holland: Holland is a guy who always took a little while to adjust to a new level and the same is true with his time in the Majors this year. While the raw numbers don’t look good, he struck out 23 in just 15 innings and was much better after settling in. I’m not sure how big a role he’ll play in bullpens of the future, but I think he’ll play a big role in 2011.

Phillip Humber: I’ve always liked Humber, maybe irrationally. He’s a bust as a first round draft pick, but is good insurance on a minor league deal.

Patrick Keating: I’m not so sure he’ll be up in 2011, but he very well could be. 101 strikeouts in 70 innings can help punch a ticket quite quickly. He’s just one of many bullpen arms drafted in the middle rounds by Dayton Moore, a strategy I really like now that colleges are specializing their pitchers almost as much as professionals.

Kaneoka Texeira: He came over from the Mariners after they made him their Rule V pick in 2010. I like him a bit more than some others do as I saw some movement on his pitches that with some refinement could make him a guy who can come in to some trouble and clean things up. I’m not sure he has a huge future, but he’s a guy who I like and might surprise in 2011.

Blake Wood: Of all the players who are not locks, Blake Wood is the closest thing. He came up in May and was excellent, but he was doing it with smoke and mirrors. After a tweak to his delivery he was much better and figures prominently in the Royals bullpen plans for both 2011 and the future.

The 2011 bullpen actually has a chance to be an excellent unit from top to bottom with a nice mix of veterans, retreads and prospects. There are certainly more options than in years past to plug in if need be. If I had to pick one facet of the game that the Royals will excel in during 2011, it would almost definitely be the relief pitching. Having Joakim Soria doesn’t hurt that in the least, but the supporting cast actually looks pretty good for a change.