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IT’S HERE!!!!!!

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Today is the day we have all been waiting for. We’ve been waiting since the 2010 season mercilessly came to a close. The off-season was awfully kind to Royals fans. Sure, they signed a couple of guys who have been ridiculed since the day they signed, but this off-season brought notoriety to the Royals and their prospects. All those players who are so highly regarded and playing in the minor league system right now are so tantalizingly close to the Majors that we, as fans, can envision them in Royal blue. We can see them starting double plays and making diving catches in the outfield and hitting tape measure home runs. We can see them pitching two-hit shutouts and turning a nine inning game into a six inning affair. We can see them throwing runners out trying to steal and it not being close. We are so close to the baseball revolution in Kansas City, and 2011 is the beginning of that.

The team that will take the field today is not going to confuse anybody with a World Series contender, although stranger things have happened. The Padres were left for dead last year and they led their division most of the season before relinquishing that lead on the last weekend. I’m not saying that the Royals can do that, but I am saying that it’s not entirely impossible. Highly improbable, yes, but not impossible. But Opening Day is for optimism. It’s for thinking that your team could potentially be the exception and not the rule. It’s for dreaming about better days from a franchise that has been essentially dead for over 15 years.

I don’t think this team is going to be as bad as many people think. The starting pitching is rough around the edges, but there is a big difference that I see between this team and, say, the 2006 team that featured Scott Elarton on Opening Day. The difference is that all the starters but Bruce Chen have a legitimate chance to improve big time. Chen can improve, but he’s in his 30s and well past his prime. I don’t hate Chen in the rotation, he’s just not in the same category of guys who are under 30 and someone who is coming off a shoulder injury and working his way back into form. There’s every chance the starting rotation puts up a cumulative 5.50 ERA, but I think there’s also a chance they put up a 4.00 ERA as a staff. We’ve seen Hochevar flash potential, the same with Davies. Mazzaro is a bit of an unknown to Royals fans, but he’s young and put up good numbers (though fluky) with Oakland last year. Francis was the ace of a World Series team. It could happen.

But here’s the beauty of the 2011 Royals: if any one of them flounders we are so close to having a prospect ready to replace them. If Hochevar goes on the DL in June, we can say hello to Mike Montgomery. If  Francis just can’t get guys out anymore, Danny Duffy is a phone call away. If the Royals get sick of giving Kyle Davies chances, Aaron Crow just needs a few weeks to be stretched out in the bullpen. I think we’re about to enter an era of truly amazing Royals baseball. It may all flop, but there’s just so many of these prospects that something good just has to come of it all. Right? Please?

Yost has come out with his lineup and it’s fairly different from the one he put out a few days prior.

1. Aviles, 3B
2. Cabrera, C
3. Gordon, LF
4. Butler, DH
5. Ka’aihue, 1B
6. Francouer, RF
7. Escobar, SS
8. Treanor, C
9. Getz, 2B

I have to say that I like it. I ran the numbers based on spring training, just for fun, and this lineup would have produced about eight runs per game. Now, I’m not sure that it’s likely for Gordon and Cabrera to maintain their almost .500 OBPs, but it’s still fun to look at. The thing I like about this lineup is there is depth in it. If Escobar comes around like I think he can, there’s a lot of depth in it. When Moustakas comes up and effectively replaces Getz, there’s A TON of depth in it. No superstars yet, but a 3-4-5 of Gordon, Butler, Ka’aihue has a chance to be one of the best hearts of the order in Royals history.

Back in mid-January, I put some projections together that I had hoped to use on this blog. I knew that it was pretty early and I might have been a little optimistic. I was, as it turns out, but I also think I was pretty realistic in what to expect from some players. So here are a few of the highlights of what I put together.

Gordon – .286/.367/.494, 29 homers
Butler – .323/.411/.515, 51 doubles, 22 homers
Ka’aihue – .268/.370/.488, 30 homers, 93 walks
Francouer – .247/.291/.374
Escobar – .287/.322/.395

Hochevar – 13-10, 3.72 ERA
Mazzaro – 8-16, 4.19 ERA
Soria – 1.72 ERA, 46 saves

And now…the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I will unveil my season prediction for the Royals record. You ready? Are you sitting down? Ok…here it is. 71-91.

Predicting a losing record takes the shine off things, eh? Well, it’s probably the last time I’ll predict a losing record for awhile. Enjoy Opening Day. I’ll be at the K rain or shine. Here’s to a great season!

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American League Preview

March 30, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday I talked about the National League and how it seems that the leagues are beginning to converge a little bit and be slightly more evenly matched. While that is true, there is still simply more talent in the American League. That isn’t likely to change in 2011 as the biggest spenders in baseball were in the American League. The junior circuit continued to spend in this past off-season, and has altered the landscape to an extent. Based on talent movement and general year-to-year differences, the American League has a very real chance of seeing four different teams make the playoffs than a year ago. By the same token, I’m not sure it would shock anybody if the same four teams made the playoffs. It looks to be an interesting year.

In the American League Central, there is a very clear divide between the three teams who have a shot and the two teams who don’t. If you’re reading this blog, you know for certain that the Royals are one of the teams who do not have a shot. Never fear, faithful readers. There’s an entire day dedicated to them tomorrow. The Indians are the other team, of course. While both the Royals and Indians have some intriguing young talent, the real big boys in the division are the White Sox, Tigers and Twins.

I’ll start with the Tigers because on paper I think they’re the best team. It’s hard to match their solid starting rotation with a good bullpen and a nice offense. Adding Victor Martinez was huge for them, and if Miguel Cabrera can stay sober, those two will have a fun summer together. The White Sox also interest me because of their acquisition of Adam Dunn. Dunn is no Thome, but the Sox haven’t had a basher like that since Thome was there. It’ll be interesting to see if he can take the DH role. I think he will and he’ll hit 40 homers. The Twins are always there and always competitive, but I just don’t think this is their year as the White Sox take the division.

Onto the American League East, which might be baseball’s best division. Even the bottom tier teams in this division (Blue Jays and Orioles) have an opportunity to have nice seasons. The Blue Jays finished well over .500 last year and finished fourth. It’s tough to play in the East. I think they’ll be about as good and finish in the exact same spot. The Orioles are sort of on the right path as they have lots of young talent, but they’re still relying a little too much on veterans to fill holes. They’re in last place for one more year before they get competitive again. That leaves the three big boys, the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees.

The Rays figure to still be good this year in spite of losing what seems like 2/3 of their roster. They still have an excellent starting staff as well as a top five farm system to supplement talent. Their bullpen is going to be patched together, but if anyone can make do with that, it’s Joe Maddon. The Yankees are the Yankees. They’ve got power, they’ve got some speed, they have the potential to have a fantastic bullpen. Their weakness is their starters. If Burnett and Hughes pitch well, they’ll be fine. If they don’t, it could be a (relatively) long season in New York. I pick the Red Sox to win the division here, and the Rays (yes, the Rays) to take the Wild Card over the Yankees.

The American League West is quite possibly baseball’s most boring division. The Mariners are terrible, but seem to be on a weird every other year pattern of being decent. I don’t see that repeating again this year, although watching Felix Hernandez pitch is a lot of fun. The Angels are a team somewhat in turmoil. They seemingly went after everybody under the sun this past offseason and came up woefully short on almost everyone. That is until they were given the privilege of paying Vernon Wells way too much money to patrol left field. I get the feeling that will be one of those deals that ends up not looking terrible in the end, but right now it looks pretty bad. I just don’t see the Angels being especially good in 2011, though they have the available funds to make a move to improve as the season progresses. The A’s and the Rangers are, in my mind, the class of this division.

The A’s are the upstarts, which is just how they like it. They went out and acquired some offense in Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui. Those three seem to fit really nicely on an Oakland team with a lot of good players, but nobody outstanding. The pitching staff is where it’s at, though, for the A’s. Their starting rotation is young, good and ready to break out. I think they have a chance to have a similar story to the Giants of last season. In the bullpen, Billy Beane spent some money out there and built what looks to be an excellent unit. The A’s are going to be good. I just don’t think they’ll be as good as Texas. Yes, they lost Cliff Lee, but I have a feeling that their offense will pick up that slack as they’ve added Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli to an already potent attack. Plus, they now have the money to go out and get a guy for the rotation like they did last year. If the Brewers are out of it, don’t you think they might dangle a Zack Greinke? It’d be interesting. So I pick the Rangers to win the West again.

Should be an exciting season. I know I can’t wait for it to get going. Tomorrow is Opening Day and with it comes a plethora of Royals thoughts. Stay tuned…

National League Preview

March 29, 2011 4 comments

For a long time, the American League was clearly a superior league to the National League. Of course, this sort of thing goes in cycles, so we all knew it would turn around at some point. The funny thing is that many of the experts thought it had turned around a few years back when there was all sorts of young talent in the Senior Circuit. Guys like Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp had emerged in the meat of some the National League’s best lineups and all the talk was that the talent shift had begun and the National League would soon become the premier league while the American League sat back and watched. There’s a very easy explanation for the American League’s dominance over the past 15 or so years. Well, there are two. One is that there is just more money in the American League. The other is that the smarter minds in baseball just happened to work in the American League.

Well, things have begun to change. It sort of correlates with the young players who came up in the middle of the decade, but it also coincides with National League teams willing to spend money and the smaller market teams going out and getting some fantastic baseball minds. There’s way more to the explanation than that, but I think the two leagues are somewhat comparable now, though I’d still give an edge to the American League for at least a year or two. Not that it matters, but the National League finally won an All-Star game for the first time in quite some time last year and appear to be on the upswing. There’s tons of talent, a few very good teams and the potential for a couple of truly great teams.

In the National League Central, it appears to be a three horse race among the Brewers, Reds and Cardinals. No disrespect to the Cubs, Astros and Pirates, but they’re just not good enough. The Cubs have serious issues that stem from bad contracts. The Astros are finally starting to rebuild even if they aren’t doing it in the best way. And the Pirates are the Pirates, though they do have some young talent. I’d put them about a year and a half behind the Royals in their rebuilding efforts. The Cardinals, of course, lost Adam Wainwright to season ending surgery early on in spring training, but I’ve learned not to count them out often. Any team with Albert Pujols has a shot. The Reds won the division last year and have some solid young talent, but teams who take a big step forward often take a step back the following year. And the Brewers acquired two very good starting pitchers to team with Yovani Gallardo and a potent offense.

There are some concerns regarding Shaun Marcum’s arm and Zack Greinke broke a rib playing a pickup basketball game. People were very concerned about Marcum’s velocity in one of his spring starts, but I believe it was Keith Law who said that it was right in line with his average velocity last season. Greinke is expected to miss at least three starts, though they’re saying it could be more. Even if he misses six, he’ll still be around for enough of the season to have an impact on the Brewers and lead them to a division title. That offense is just too good. The Reds are good and they’ll have a whole season of Aroldis Chapman, and the Cardinals are always a threat, but I just think Milwaukee has too much talent.

Moving to the National League East, this is a division that I have had a lot of trouble handicapping. The Nationals will almost assuredly be better, but until Strasburg comes back, they’re not likely to make a ton of noise. The Mets are in such disarray that it’s almost impossible to count on them for anything, though they have a ton of talent. They also have a ton of non-talent. The Marlins are always talented and are the real sleeper in this division. I could see them winning anywhere from 75 to 93 games, which is a huge gap. They’re just tough to read. The two teams who everybody expects to be at the top of the division are the Phillies and Braves. After the Phillies signed Cliff Lee and forced Cole Hamels into the fourth starter role, it was pretty much decided that they would win the East and the National League and get to a third World Series in four years. A funny thing happened on the way there, though. They got a little old.

So the Phillies have amazing starting pitching, but their offense is a mess right now. Ryan Howard is on the decline right as he begins his ridiculous contract. Chase Utley is out for an undetermined amount of time. Jimmy Rollins is trying to rebound from one of his worst seasons. They lost Jayson Werth to free agency. Placido Polanco has an injury that he’ll play through, but nobody knows how serious it is. And their bullpen has a chance to be explosive, but not in a good way. Let’s put it this way, the Phillies are really going to have to pitch. The Braves, on the other hand, are a much more complete team. Of course, their offense is pretty dependent on staying healthy with Chipper Jones and Jason Heyward making up a big portion of the offense. Their addition of Dan Uggla to go along with Jones, Heyward, McCann and rookie Freddie Freeman are going to make them tough to beat. I’m going to go off the beaten path and pick the Braves to win the division and I have the Phillies as the Wild Card.

Onto the West, this looks to me to be a two team race between the Giants and Rockies. I love what the Padres did last year, but with Mat Latos out to start the season and Adrian Gonzalez on the Red Sox, I just don’t see how they can keep pace. The Dodgers have the feel of an 82 win team while the Diamondbacks are working their way out of a hole and won’t get out until at least next year. The Giants look pretty darn good to me even if Jonathan Sanchez’s control problems of the playoffs seep into the regular season. They have Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner, which is an excellent front three. Their bullpen is deep and if they allow Brandon Belt to start the year in the Majors, their offense will be difficult to stop as well. I think Sandoval will have a big bounce-back year as well. The concern for the Giants is their defense, which might be rough around the edges with Sandoval, Miguel Tejada and an aging outfield.

The Rockies, on the other hand, have all the tools to be the best team in baseball. Their starting rotation isn’t terribly deep, but it’s pretty good. Their offense is excellent and their bullpen has a chance to be one of the very best in baseball. I don’t put Troy Tulowitzki on the Albert Pujols level yet, but I do feel that any team he’s on has a chance to compete. Add in Carlos Gonzalez and a really nice supporting cast, and they have the feel of an excellent team. Jim Tracy is their weakness, though, which is why I think I have to pick the Giants to repeat in the West. The only thing that has me hesitating about that decision is that teams who reach the World Series have a bit of a regression the next year because their pitchers threw so many innings the previous season. Still, they’re my pick, but it’ll be a close division race.

Tomorrow we’ll look into the American League. I don’t want to give anything away, but I don’t have the Royals winning the Central.

The Starter/Reliever Debate

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

The fact that Aaron Crow has made the Royals Opening Day roster began circling around the internet yesterday, and it looks like barring some injuries that he’ll be starting out of the bullpen. That is true for at least the beginning of the season, but could be a permanent thing. There are some people who believe Crow’s future is in the bullpen because he has two fantastic pitches and not a ton else. There are some who believe his future is in the bullpen because he has the mentality of a reliever more than he does that of a starter. I guess there are two prongs to this debate. One is whether or not Crow is a reliever long-term and the other is whether or not it is beneficial to put a starter in the bullpen at the beginning of his career.

We’ll start by looking at the latter. Starting pitchers used to very often begin their careers in the bullpen as a way of getting acclimated to the Major Leagues. Earl Weaver of the Orioles used to love to get a pitcher’s feet wet with his technique and let him learn the intricacies of the Majors. I think this is a great way of seasoning certain pitchers, but not others. For guys who simply need innings to work on things and need set schedules, then I think this method of developing a pitcher is a waste of time and will do nothing more than stunt their development. A guy like Mike Montgomery, for example, needs innings and starts in order to get the most out of his development. Had he not gotten hurt last year, I probably would have been okay with him in the bullpen, but he just didn’t get enough innings last year to limit his innings this year.

The pitches who do well with this sort of development are guys who don’t have a ton to learn in the minors and don’t need to have their arms stretched out in the minors. Even though there’s not much left for them in the farm system, they’re still not exactly ready to start in the Majors. I think Aaron Crow actually fits this description perfectly. His mindset is not quite there to be a top of the rotation starter in the big leagues, but his stuff is already big league ready. Not only will pitching out of the Royals bullpen give him the opportunity to get acclimated to Major League life, but it should give him the chance to have success at the top level, so if the Royals put him into the rotation at some point he will know what success tastes like.

The other side of the argument with Crow is one that many associated with the Royals are familiar with, but you have to change the name from Aaron Crow to Joakim Soria. There are some obvious difference such as the fact that Soria is a bona fide star as a closer at the big league level. Still, though, the debate has raged about whether or not Soria should be moved to the rotation. His long-term contract with the Royals has done nothing to quell those arguments as his incentives are listed in both games finished and games started in case the move is made. I think after some of his injuries in 2009, his fate was sealed as a closer, but there are still some who can’t understand why the Royals don’t make the transition with him.

The Rangers are going through the same thing right now with their second year pitcher, Neftali Feliz. As you probably know, Feliz was very good as the Rangers closer last year, but he had come through the minors as a starter. The thought was that he would pitch out of the bullpen as a way of getting him used to the Major Leagues. Well, ineffectiveness of others and injuries pushed him into the closer’s role last season and he took the reigns and made it his role. Coming into spring training this year, it was widely expected that he would make the move from the closer’s role to the starting rotation and he was beginning to embrace that change when Ron Washington decided that he needed an established closer too badly. At the point of the spring that he made that declaration it was too late to find one, so Feliz is back in the closer’s role for one more season at least.

Both of these situations aren’t quite the same as Crow, who has done nothing to prove anything, but they do bring up the point of how much more valuable a starter is than a reliever. It’s pretty simple. A starter gives you 180-220 innings while a reliever gives you 60-80.  That alone is reason enough that if a pitcher can start, he should. Of course it’s not quite as cut and dry as that, but with a guy like Crow who has not tasted success anywhere but spring training, it really is. I think that Aaron Crow should be a starter until he proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he can’t. I wouldn’t even have a problem if the Royals came to that conclusion by late May, but I feel that he should get one more shot at the rotation.

I’m not trying to make excuses for Crow last season, but he had to have been rusty after essentially sitting out in 2009. His numbers do not resemble anything close to a two-time first round draft pick, but you could tell that the stuff was there based on his strikeout numbers and all his other peripherals. I’d like to see if after being back on the mound for an entire year if he can start in 2011. It shouldn’t take long to figure out. If he goes out in the first two months and posts a 5.22 ERA, then you convert him to the bullpen. It’s just that it is much easier to go that way than to go the other way and have to stretch his arm back out. I sort of like the idea that Crow is going to be a Royal when the season begins on Thursday. I also sort of believe that his future is in the bullpen no matter what, but in a season that is basically lost before it starts why not give the guy two months to find out if all those people are right. I’d just hate to lose out on a number three starter in order to fill the role of the seventh or eighth inning guy.

Things To Watch For

March 25, 2011 2 comments

Finally, tonight is the night that we actually get to watch the Royals live on television. I know that there’s some other game in some other sport, but I’m a baseball fan first, and the box score for that other sport’s game will be available at some point. I’m not too worried about missing it. I’m going to be on the lookout for a few things when I watch tonight and pretend to be a scout who actually understands something about deliveries and swings and all that stuff.

  • I want to see Alex Gordon’s new swing in action. I’ve seen videos, but I haven’t actually seen it live. The results have been impressive this spring, and I’m hopeful that he’s playing tonight so that I can see it. While I’m not even close to ready to give up on Gordon, it’s the sort of thing where seeing is believing. If he keeps both hands on the bat and has the level swing that I’ve seen in videos during batting practice, then I’m going to feel pretty good about predicting a big year.
  • Vin Mazzaro is pitching, and he should be going about six innings just like the rest of the starters have over the last few days. I wasn’t a huge fan of him when he was with the A’s because I just didn’t feel like his style was terribly conducive to long-term success, but now that he’s a Royal I’m obviously giving him a second (and third and fourth and fifth…) chance to prove me wrong.
  • In the same vein, I’m really excited to see Alcides Escobar at shortstop again. I watched the tape delay games that were shown by MLB Network earlier in the spring and he impressed me. I’m not sure if that’s the fact that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing guys like Yuni manning shortstop or if he’s really that good. From reports, he’s really that good. Plus, he’s been hitting like crazy over the last few days. I maintain that he has the body type of someone who could actually have some power as he develops. I don’t think we’d be looking at anything prodigious, but I could see 10-15 homers per year.
  • This is sort of like the car crash idea, but I badly want to see Jeff Francouer flail away at some pitches tonight. He’s had a rough spring, but has come around as of late. I think Francouer has a chance to have a decent season by his standards, but that still isn’t good. I want him to be good, I really do, but I just don’t think he will be. I just want to see it for myself.
  • I really, really, really hope Tim Collins pitches tonight because I love to watch that guy pitch whether it’s in videos or live. I’m mostly confident that we’ll get to see him at the big league level to start the season, but you never know with the Royals if they’ll make a last second trade for a minor league reliever with bad numbers and then stick him on the roster in Collins’ place. Yeah, I’m looking at you from last year, Luis Mendoza.

As the spring winds down and we’re sick of exhibition baseball, I have to say that this has actually been one of the most enjoyable spring trainings that I have ever experienced in my time as a Royals fan. Well, that is including springs I can recall. I’m too young to remember spring trainings when the Royals actually were expected to contend. It’s not the fact that they’ve won a lot of games this spring or anything. It’s that we’ve seen the future of the Royals and it’s incredibly bright. This is somewhat of a hollow victory, but when it was Royals prospects against other teams’ prospects, the Royals were head and shoulders better than the other teams. It’s no coincidence that their spring record went south as soon as a lot of the prospects were sent to minor league camp.

We’ve learned that Mike Montgomery is way closer to the Majors than we thought coming into camp. We’ve learned that Eric Hosmer is also perhaps a little closer than we originally thought, and maybe even better than we thought, which is a tough task. We’ve learned that Tim Collins and Louis Coleman have a chance to be fixtures in what I hope is one of the American League’s best bullpens for the next few seasons. We’ve learned that Kila Ka’aihue might have a future in this league as a masher, slider speed bat speed or not.

It won’t happen in April and probably not in May, but somewhere between June and September, this big league team is going to be incredibly fun and exciting to watch. They’re going to have speed, power, plate discipline, defense, arms. Things are starting to fall in place, and I can’t wait to head to Surprise next year to see it even more. I’ll be there cheering for the 2011 Royals on Opening Day this year, but my heart lies with the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Kane County Cougars and all the minor leagues because those are the teams who have the players who are going to lead the Royals to the promised land. I have a feeling that this is the last spring where the Royals leave Surprise knowing they don’t have a shot to win. Things change soon and I, for one, cannot wait.

One Week Away Thoughts

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Today, I’ve just got some quick hit thoughts about things going on in camp and with the Royals. It’s a pretty darn boring time of the year for the Royals as their roster is fairly well set and the prospects are mostly gone. The fun of the early part of the spring is essentially gone and now we’re in a holding pattern until we can finally get to Opening Day so we can have the chance to see some real baseball. Man am I excited for that!

  • Congratulations to Kyle Davies and his wife as they had their first child, who was actually due on his scheduled start date of April 2. I maintain my thought that Royals’ wives are among the most fertile in all of baseball. Aside from the good news of having a child, the good news for Royals fans is that players who have children tend to have fantastic seasons. It dates back to when Johnny Damon was in Kansas City. He was struggling mightily until his twins were born. From that point on, he hit something like .375 over the course of the season. Since then, Royals players have had their best seasons following the births of their children. Hopefully that pattern holds true.
  • In somewhat related news, Sean O’Sullivan really screwed the pooch yesterday in giving up three runs and allowing the Indians to score a come from behind victory. The reason this is related is that I got the distinct impression that he was left on the roster in the bullpen because of the possibility that Kyle Davies may miss his first start to be there for the birth of his child. Now that the baby has been born, I’m not sure that Sean O’Sullivan really has a spot on this team, especially if it’s at the expense of someone who actually deserved the spot. We’ll see if the Royals change their mind now that they don’t need the insurance policy in their bullpen.
  • Nathan Adcock had his first struggle yesterday as well giving up a couple of runs in his two innings. It was bound to happen as his peripheral statistics just didn’t indicate that he would be able to keep up his 0.00 ERA. When you strike out only three in nine innings, you’re not exactly on track for future success to be predicted. Ultimately, I think he might be a nice piece out of a bullpen as the long man, a la D.J. Carrasco, but I just don’t see that the time for that is now.
  • The other guy the Royals have to keep on the roster all year is Robert Fish. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I don’t see the allure. He doesn’t throw strikes and he doesn’t get people out. It’s cool that he’s left-handed, but that doesn’t give you a license to suck and still be in the big leagues. Hopefully he doesn’t make it out of spring training. I’m totally fine with the Royals swinging a deal to keep him and try to fix him, but anything more than that attempt in the minors is a waste of time.
  • Ned Yost came out with a lineup a couple of days ago. I’m not much for lineup discussions because the lineup itself doesn’t mean much. Well that’s not entirely true. Lineups mean a lot over the course of the season, but not over the course of an individual game. For example, in Yost’s lineup he has Getz and Escobar platooning in the number two spot. It may work, and I may be proven wrong, but the problem here is that the Getzy/Escy platoon (yes, that’s right, those are the nicknames he used) will end up getting the second most at bats of anybody throughout the course of the season.

    I mentioned this on Royals Corner yesterday, but you want your best players getting the most at bats. This doesn’t do that. When the Royals had Beltran hitting second years ago in those very good lineups was possibly the most creative the Royals had ever been. They very easily could have put him third and dropped everyone down one while putting a speedy guy who could bunt, but they hit him second and it helped the Royals to have one of their best offenses in team history. I advocate hitting Gordon second for that very reason. He’ll benefit from having a runner on first with his pull tendencies and he has the requisite OBP to get on base for the big boys. Of course, in Yost’s lineup, one of the big boys is Melky Cabrera. Scary stuff here.

  • I sort of wonder if we’ve ever had as big a drop-off from number one starter to number one next year. I’m on record that I think Luke Hochevar will have a very good year, but he’s no Zack Greinke. The nice thing is that Greinke wasn’t great last season which makes him a little bit less of a loss from season to season, but he was still a legitimate ace. Hochevar is a legitimate three, right now, at best. He could ascend to the role of ace, but right now he’s just not there. This rotation is as scary as Melky hitting fifth. Luckily, there doesn’t appear to be the usual train wreck that appears in most Royals’ rotations. Just a lot of guys who range from below average to slightly above average.
  • In non-performance news, I know that the Royals have a huge drop-off in quote quality from their ace. Greinke gave some gems. Hochevar says, ‘you know’ a lot and uses a ton of clichés. Love Greinke or hate him, but he was fun to watch in an interview. Unless Hochevar tells us that he’s in a tree again, he’s a pretty boring interview, ya know?

That’s it for today. Just a few more spring games, including one on television tomorrow night! I complain about Frank White in the booth, but it’ll be nice to hear his voice since it means that the season is just around the corner. Now if we can just get that forecast to predict 70° and sunny and be right…

The Dog Days of March?

March 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Games like yesterday lead me to believe that Spring Training is just a little bit too long. The Royals are now 23 games into their spring schedule and without having seen the game, it looks like they’re just bored and ready to get to the regular season. At this point, the roster is looking pretty well set with just a couple of competitions for spots still up for grabs, and even those may not be competitions anymore. The bullpen looks to be pretty well set with the exception of maybe one spot. This isn’t 30 years ago (or maybe even more) when the players came to camp in February to get ready and in shape for the season. They come to camp in shape. They don’t need all this time to get their timing down. They’re ready.

Last night, the Royals committed five errors after not having committed more than two in any game this spring. Guys who don’t commit errors like that were the main culprits. Escobar committed one, Aviles two and Lorenzo Cain two. It just doesn’t happen for those guys, and it did last night. There has to be a lack of focus, and quite frankly I don’t blame them. One thing I like, strictly from the box score, is that Jeff Francis struck out seven in five innings of work. Keep in mind that he probably pitched with a pretty bland repertoire as he’ll be facing these same Angels in just over a week in the second game of the regular season. Obviously teams have scouting reports on him, but without checking, my guess is that the Angels haven’t faced very much of Jeff Francis throughout his career. It makes sense for him to stick to mostly fastballs and changeups so they can’t get an up close look at the stuff with movement.

I’m getting tired of Spring Training, too. The interesting storylines are mostly gone as the majority of the prospects are back in minor league camp. There is one potential interesting story with Aaron Crow still on the big league roster in Surprise, but my guess is that he’s one of the final cuts and goes to AAA. I’d personally rather see him continue to start rather than pitch out of the bullpen in the big leagues. Crow seems like the type of guy who might have a future in the bullpen, but I’d rather see him fail as a starter first before I have to do that. His stuff is just too impressive to limit to one or two innings at a time if you don’t have to.  Other than that, there was one positive last night and it was Robert Fish getting absolutely lit up. I haven’t written much about him because it didn’t seem to be worth the space, but he’s clearly in the mix for a roster spot, and that is a huge mistake. The other potential huge mistake in Luis Mendoza finally had a rough outing. It’s weird to root for guys to be bad, but if it’s the only way to keep them off the roster, then so be it.

We’ve talked a lot about positives this spring and what we’ve seen that has been good. Alex Gordon has been very encouraging, though we have to remember that he’s probably always going to be a streaky hitter. Kila Ka’aihue has been a bright spot in camp. Hopefully he can become a star at the big league level and force a decision soon. Some of the young pitchers have been outstanding, particularly out of the bullpen. In my mind, one of the biggest positives that we haven’t talked about is the fact that Alcides Escobar is hitting. After last night’s game he’s hitting .375 for the spring. He’s still not walking quite enough, but he also doesn’t strike out much at all, so that balances out pretty decently. He’ll probably never get on base quite enough to be a leadoff guy, but he’s hitting the ball with some authority as evidenced by his three home runs. Yes, one was inside-the-park, but it would have been a double if the outfielder didn’t slip. It seems weird to say, but the number nine hitter may be a big key in the Royals lineup.

As a team, the Royals aren’t walking nearly as much as they were in the early going, but they are still third in the American League in team walks this spring with 98 through 24 games. Combine that with their potent bats and they have a .375 team OBP, which is tops in the American League. They are also tied for third in the league in home runs through 24 games. The more amazing thing about that list is that the Orioles, who train in Florida, are the team they’re tied with. That Orioles offense might be potent, but they have to get Jake Fox at bats. Of course, the statistic that’s getting a lot of attention is the stolen bases, of which the Royals have 43. That’s an insane number. That extends out to 290 over the course of the season. If they’re going to do it in the regular season, they need to be more efficient, though, as they’re successful just 72% of the time.

All in all, if I learned anything from last night it’s that the players are just as anxious for the regular season to get underway as we are as fans. One of my favorite things to do after a game is look over the box score. I’m a stats nerd, so that shouldn’t come as any surprise, but I just love to examine and see if anything jumps out at me. You can’t do that with spring box scores. For one, they don’t mean anything and for another they’re always formatted a little bit differently. I’m ready for the regular box scores. Eight more days and we’ll have them.