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Royals Progress Report – The Hitters

June 30, 2011 1 comment

We have reached the exact halfway point of the season. That means that I have license to go with the lazy blog post of assigning letter grades to the Royals to determine how they are doing to this point. I’m going to give grades to the players who have seen enough playing time throughout the first half of the season to be evaluated. That means that when I get to the pitchers I’m not going to be giving Jesse Chavez the F that he deserves just for being him. Kanekoa Texeira will also be spared from my grading scale as he pitched in few enough games this season that I actually had forgotten he pitched for the Royals this year until I looked it up on Baseball Reference.

Without further ado, the offense…

Catchers
Matt Treanor – C; I gave Treanor a C because he has done a lot of things well. I have to admit, though, that I am liking him less and less as the season wears on. I love the fact that he’s willing to work a walk, but he can’t really hit and has no power to speak of. His lack of speed makes his walks a little bit less worthwhile, though still great that he can get on base as much as he does. My major beef with Treanor is that he has developed a habit of blocking pitches, but they get far enough away from him in front of him that runners are still able to move up. It’s frustrating.

Bryan Pena – C; The state of the catching position is pretty bad these days, so Pena also gets a C. I really wanted the Royals to give him the starting job, but they acquired Treanor very late in the spring. It turns out that the time for Pena to start at catcher was a couple of seasons ago. Pena’s bat is adequate for the catcher’s position, and his defense is not nearly as bad as some would want you to believe, but it’s still not good.

Infielders
Eric Hosmer – B-; That may be a bit of a harsh grade for Hosmer who has a 103 OPS+ as a rookie and is being graded as he’s in his first real slump. The fact is, though, that he’s done a really nice job both offensively and defensively. There have been a couple of mental lapses with when he’s made throws, but for the most part everything has been fundamentally sound. If he can learn to control his swing a little bit and lay off the high fastball he’ll be great. I have no doubt that will happen.

Alcides Escobar – C+; I know that it seems odd that I’d give Escobar this high a grade with how anemic his bat has been this year, but his defense has just been so good that he’s able to hide his bat for the most part. Of course, it took a ridiculously hot streak to get his bat to the point of acceptable, but the point is that it’s there. I love watching Escobar play shortstop and hope the bat comes around even more.

Mike Moustakas – C; Moustakas has struggled as expected in his first couple of weeks at the big league level. The power just hasn’t been there like we expected it to be, but it’ll all come eventually. Defensively, I’ve been surprised with how solid he is as we’d heard reports that he was an absolute butcher. I’m always a bit amused by how he sets up to throw to first as he really gets his entire body behind it, but he’s accurate and has a fantastic arm, so it’s not worth changing until it causes problems. In the interest of full disclosure, if Moustakas had more than 66 plate appearances, I’d be very worried by his numbers, but at this point, I’m not so concerned.

Wilson Betemit – C-; Betemit has been ice cold lately, and part of that is probably due to getting such sporadic playing time, but he started the year hot and was probably the Royals best bat for a time in May when everybody else was slumping. I like what he brings to the table, but it’s pretty clear that it’s time for him to be traded because he needs playing time in order to be an effective bat in a lineup.

Chris Getz – D; Getz hasn’t been as bad as I thought he would be, but I also thought he would be one of the worst players in baseball. Instead, he’s just been incredibly below average. I think his defense is overrated, and I’m sick of hearing about how he just knows how to get infield hits. Hitting the ball hard is a skill. Hitting 33 choppers to the shortstop is not. I maintain that there’s a certain second baseman in AAA who can provide way more than Getz can, but for now we have to live with Getz apparently.

Mike Aviles – D-; I couldn’t quite bring myself to give Aviles an F, and it might be some personal bias showing through because I really like the guy. He was terrible, though, for the Royals this season. The saving grace for him was that he had a power surge in late April that make his numbers look simply bad rather than abysmal. He’s been tearing things up in Omaha, so I’m almost positive he’ll be back at some point this season. We’ll see if he was just in a slump or if he reached his peak and is now on his way out.

Kila Ka’aihue – F; I was able to bring myself to give Kila the F that he deserves for his month plus in the big leagues this season. I’m more upset with the organization for the way Ka’aihue was handled, but at some point the player needs to produce and he didn’t. There’s not much to say about his start to the season other than that it was slightly embarrassing to be someone who championed so strongly for Kila to make his debut only to be proven wrong. That’s okay, though, because I think he will have a lucrative few seasons in Japan.

Outfield
Alex Gordon – A; And we have our first A. Last year, Gordon promised Kansas City that he would dominate in 2011. While I’m not completely sure that what he’s doing can be described as dominating, I am sure that what he’s doing is fantastic. He’s hitting .293/.363/.479 and playing very good defense in left field. He has 13 assists, which is huge. He has 37 extra base hits. Basically he’s becoming something like the player we all expected he would be in 2007 when he first came up. For the first time in his career, his at bats are ones I do not want to miss.

Mitch Maier – B; He has had such limited playing time, but has been very good when called upon, getting on base and playing his usual strong outfield defense. With more playing time, I’m not confident he’d be able to keep a B, but he’s apparently in the perfect role for him.

Melky Cabrera – C+; If you had asked me prior to the season if I’d give Melky a grade better than a D at the mid-season point I’d have said you were crazy to think that I’d be lazy enough to do a grades post. I also would not have expected that Cabrera would be so effective. He’s grossly miscast as a leadoff hitter, but he’s provided some decent power and a good arm in center field. He takes terrible routes to balls and doesn’t have the speed to cover center in Kauffman Stadium, but he hasn’t been nearly as bad as I expected.

Jeff Francoeur – C-; Francoeur is living off his April numbers as he’s slumped badly since early May, but he has provided some value to the Royals. His defense has been better than advertised. He’s also been able to provide some much needed power in the Royals lineup with 31 extra base hits, second only to Alex Gordon. If Francoeur was hitting seventh or eighth, I think I might be okay with him being in the lineup every day. As a middle of the order hitter, though, he lacks.

Jarrod Dyson – C-; Dyson hasn’t really done much to deserve this grade as he’s been mostly used for his legs, but I just can’t get the image of him getting picked off by Neftali Feliz after he entered as a pinch runner. In his limited at bats this season he’s been pretty bad, but his speed and defense make up for him. Realistically, he should get an incomplete, but I make the rules.

Designated Hitter
Billy Butler – B+; This grade might actually be a little hard on Billy as he’s had a fine offensive season, upping his walk rate. For someone who doesn’t provide defensive value, though, he needs to provide at least a .900 OPS to be considered for an A. Still, I love what Billy brings to the table and I don’t want the Royals trade him. He’s one of their only proven hitters in the lineup and provides punch from the right side that nobody else does. It drives me crazy when people bash Billy for what he’s not without recognizing what he is. He’s just a hitter and he’s fantastic at it.

So those are the grades for the bats. Tune in tomorrow to see the the pitching grades. If you have a weak stomach, you don’t have to read tomorrow.

 

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Nervous Ned’s Return

When the Royals hired Ned Yost last season, most of us saw it as a huge improvement over the previous manager, Trey Hillman. Not to take anything away from Yost, but dryer lint would have been a huge improvement over Trey Hillman. After hearing from pretty much everyone that the Royals had to make a change and they chose a guy who had a very sound baseball mind, some people began coming out of the woodwork to tell fans of the Royals exactly what was wrong with Ned Yost. I remember stories about how he used the same batting order for a month straight, but only sort of. You see, it turned out that it was just the fielding positions that were the same while the players changed sometimes, even if they didn’t fit well into that spot in the batting order. We heard how he was terrible with a bullpen and how he snapped at reporters and that was why he lost his job. He had gotten nervous. You get the feeling that Yost is nervous again.

Personally, I can’t figure out why he would be. I think he has the ultimate job security through at least next season. The Royals were not expected to be good this year. In fact, the Royals were expected to be terrible this year. The way they’re playing right now, they’re living up to that billing and then some. The true test for Ned Yost and his managerial ability will come next season when the Royals may not compete, but they better finish near .500. If they lose 95 games this season, I think everyone will look the other way for the most part. Next year, though, if they lose more than, say 83 games, I think that Ned Yost’s job is in jeopardy. I’m not sure if that’s entirely fair considering the pitching will still be pretty bad, but it is what it is.

My problem with Yost the last few days is his tactical decisions, which may or may not be a problem going forward. The funny thing about managers is that when they have talent to work with, they do less stupid things. You might remember that there was a bumbling idiot who managed a few teams to a less than stellar record before the Yankees hired him and he won four titles in five seasons. It’s amazing what having good players can do for your managerial career. So, I wonder what will happen in three years (if Yost is still around) when a situation like Monday night comes up and the Royals need a pinch hitter and they have better options than Dyson, Betemit and Maier. I really like Mitch Maier. I think he’s a fantastic fourth outfielder and a good guy, but he’s not a great hitter. Jarrod Dyson is really fast and, right now, that’s about it. And Wilson Betemit has been absolutely brutal at the plate since late May and now he’s not even playing because of the promotion of Mike Moustakas.

Yes, Yost chose the worst of those three to pinch hit, but it’s not like the worst was significantly worse than the others. It doesn’t make it any less of a terrible decision, but mediocre at best players tend to be what makes the manager look silly. It doesn’t help when he furthers that himself, but it will always be the players who make the manager look good or bad in the end.

That said, the other big decision of the last few days is a bit troubling as well. I’m not sure who is responsible for this decision, but the choice to go with a six man rotation is one of which I am not a fan. I’m not as down on it as many others are, but it’s a bit annoying that people are bashing the Royals so heartily for this decision when just a month or so ago they were praising the White Sox. Now, I get that the White Sox had to go to a six man rotation because they had too many good starters, but they were still praised for thinking outside the box. My issue with it is not the tactical aspect of it, but rather the reasoning behind the decision. Why create a rotation spot for Kyle Davies? I think that Davies is, right now, the worst of the six starters on the staff.

From one viewpoint, though, it does make sense. This allows Danny Duffy to stay in the Major Leagues where he’s shown vast improvement over his last couple of starters. It allows him to stay up in the big leagues as a starter as well, which I think is something that is important to the organization for his development. And, finally, it allows him to limit his innings and potentially continue to pitch for the rest of the season. Personally, I’d rather stick with the five man and shut him down whenever he reaches his innings limit. It’s not like the Royals need him to compete this season because they’re sure as hell not competing this season.

So now the Royals rotation looks like this:

1. Hochevar
2. Francis
3. Paulino
4. Chen
5. Duffy
6. Davies

My guess is that this rotation lasts for approximately one month until one or both of Francis and Chen are traded. If it’s both, you can bet that Montgomery ran off a stretch of great starts in AAA, which is sorely needed in this organization and he comes up to take one of the spots. All I know is that I guess I’d rather see Davies pitch every sixth day instead of every fifth day. I’m trying to be more optimistic here.

One last thing I want to talk about is Felipe Paulino. I’ve discussed him a couple times in the past, but I just continue to be impressed by him. He has been outstanding since the Royals picked him up. He now has thrown 42 innings and given up less hits than innings pitched, struck out 36 and walked just ten. Just when I was starting to lose some of the faith that Dayton Moore had built up in the offseason, he goes and gets someone like this. If Paulino continues to pitch like this, there’s a spot in a playoff rotation for him. Let’s just hope that we see the playoffs sometime in his lifetime.

Monday Notes

After a terrible start to the week and the home stand, the Royals righted the ship somewhat by winning the final two games of the weekend against the Cubs. Of course, the Cubs are a team the Royals need to be beating if they’re trying to take that next step to respectability, but the Cubs could say the same about the Royals. The games over the weekend were pretty similar to what you’d expect out of two of the worst teams in baseball with some sloppy decision making, a few sloppy plays and the occasional hung curve ball. While the Royals won two out of three and a win is a win, I think it’s a bit more accurate to say that the Cubs lost two out of three than the Royals won them. Neither team played well at all throughout the course of the weekend, but the Royals seemed to actually be a little more disciplined.

Onto the notes…

  • Chris Getz has to go. Some will argue that his defense is enough to carry him as long as he’s hitting at least around where he is now, but I don’t think the people who say that quite understand how bad of a hitter he is and how decidedly average a defender he is. Then, a situation like Friday night happens where you realize that if he’s going to hit .262/.328/.302 then he has to make the plays that he completely failed to make on Friday. A chopper was hit right to him that would have easily accounted for an inning ending double play with the score tied. The ball took a perfect hop, right to where his glove was waiting. And he missed it. The Cubs ended up scoring two that inning and won 6-4. Who knows what would have happened if he had successfully made that play? I’ve been trumpeting for Johnny Giavotella since opening day, so Getz admittedly doesn’t have much leeway in my mind, but what happened on Friday was absolutely ridiculous. I’d love to have him as a backup because of the tools he does bring, but he can only play one position, so even that seems like a waste of a roster spot. It’s been time for him to go for some time, but with Giavotella hitting .321/.375/.441 and playing reportedly improved defense, the Royals need to see what he can do now. The defense might be a little shaky, but with Escobar at short and Hosmer at first, there’s plenty of range around him.
  • Alex Gordon is an All-Star this season. It hasn’t been announced, but I don’t see any way that Alex Gordon gets passed over this season. He leads the Majors in outfield assists with 12. The eye test indicates that he’s become a pretty good left fielder overall, though the stats at Fangraphs disagree somewhat. That’s something to pay attention to over the next few weeks, by the way. Offensively, it’s hard to argue with what he’s provided to the team in what is now three different spots in the batting order. He’s hitting .293/.362/.482. It helps him in terms of getting on the team that he’s getting hot at the right time, but it also helps that he’s playing on a team without a ton of other options for the team. If I had told you in spring training of 2007 that Alex Gordon would make his first All-Star team in 2011 as an outfielder, I’m pretty sure someone would try to have me committed.
  • Joakim Soria is back. The numbers aren’t all the way because he just dug himself such a huge hole with that rough game in April and those rough games at the end of May. Still, he’s now pitched 34 innings this year with 31 strikeouts and 12 walks. The walk rate is still a bit elevated and the strikeout rate is still a bit deflated, but they’re working their way in the right direction. He’s not giving up hits at the rate he was earlier in the year and he’s finally generating some swings and misses. Of course, with his return to dominance, many are speculating that it might be time for the Royals to trade him, and they might be right. I’ve always held the belief that while a dominant closer is a luxury on a bad team, it’s a necessity on a good team. I still hold that belief. My thought was that Soria was a luxury now, but that the Royals wouldn’t be a bad team for much longer and they’d have to have someone like him back there. Well, now that I’ve seen the Royals bullpen this season and the arms they have coming through the system, I think they’d be okay if they traded him. It helped me to get to this point to see him as something less than super human. I’m not saying I’m fully on board with the idea, but I’m saying that it might not be the worst idea in the world.
  • Danny Duffy looked like a big league pitcher on Saturday night. He was finally able to economize his pitches, and you could tell from the first inning that he was trying to do just that. The problem that had been prevalent with Duffy is that he’d be throwing a couple miles per hour harder in the first than he would in the fifth. He was probably amped up coming out of the bullpen. What I noticed on Saturday was that most of his fastballs in the first were at 93-94, which is a couple miles per hour less than he usually sits at in the first inning. He did pump a couple up to the upper 90s, but that’s why you pace yourself. It allows you to reach back whenever you want it. The result was seven innings pitched for the first time in his career, and he did it on just 91 pitches. Of course, that now gives the Royals an incredibly difficult decision to make when Kyle Davies comes off the disabled list on Friday. Well, it’s not difficult if you really think about it, but the Royals are committed to starting Davies for some reason. So what do you do? The Royals say they are looking at three or four different options, but every time I look at it, I seem to think Duffy is the odd man out at this point. I think the only way he stays is either a trade or a DL stint for one of the other four starters. And personally, while I hate to see Duffy go after pitching so well, it would allow the Royals to avoid Super 2 status and to limit his innings a little better. It’ll be interesting to see what route they take.
And now the Royals head to San Diego, home of Ron Burgandy. Like the series in Oakland a couple of weeks ago, this will be a nice opportunity for Royals pitchers to get some quality games under their belts as Petco Park is probably the best pitcher’s park in the game and the Padres offense is pretty inept. This is a good time for the Royals to work to get back to respectability this season as the Padres are a beatable team. Of course, like the Cubs, they’re saying the same thing about the Royals. It was nice to see a couple of wins over the weekend finally. Let’s see three more in San Diego!

Felipe Paulino

At first glance, last night’s start from Felipe Paulino was nothing special at all. It appears that he gave up too many runs and too many hits over eight innings and was, thus, tagged for the loss. The fact that he went eight innings gives away a little bit that it wasn’t quite as bad as it appeared on the surface, but if you didn’t see the game, you missed something that was pretty amazing. It didn’t take long into the first inning for the hits to begin, and the Diamondbacks were not hitting them cheaply. Two of the first three batters reached, then an out moved them to second and third before a solid two-out single plated both of them. Only a good throw from Gordon to Treanor to second base to retire Chris Young got the Royals out of the inning.

The second inning saw things begin with a towering home run followed by a line drive single. A strike out and a double play did the trick to get Paulino out of the second, but it was pretty clear at this point that he didn’t have it. In the third, the Diamondbacks started with two straight line drive singles and then made it to second and third with one out on a wild pitch. Drew doubled, which somehow only plated one on an absolute bullet to the gap in right center field and at this point, Paulino had gone 2.1 innings, given up four runs and seven hits and had just one strikeout. Nate Adcock began throwing in earnest in the bullpen, and the feeling we had from the first inning was beginning to come true.

Bob McClure made a visit to the mound and apparently told Paulino to trust his fastball more. It’s a fantastic fastball with velocity and life on it. The fact that he has to be told to trust it is quite possibly what led to him being absolutely terrible at his previous two stops in Houston and Colorado. Because he had excellent command last night, Paulino’s pitch count was still relatively low, so you had the feeling that if he could somehow get things right that he’d be able to pitch six or so. After McClure’s visit, Paulino coaxed a fly ball to center where Cabrera threw an absolutely perfect strike to Treanor to get Kelly Johnson trying to tag up and score. So now Paulino was out of the third and it was his second double play, which was helping to keep his pitch count down.

From that point through the eighth inning, Paulino allowed just one run on one hit, a Juan Miranda homer and, at one point, retired ten in a row. He was at 107 pitches after eight innings, and in my mind he had done his job for the day. After a very shaky start to his outing, he was absolutely outstanding. The mistake I believe Yost made was that he sent Paulino out for the ninth, and he gave up a single and a walk. It seemed silly at the time, but I can at least understand the defense of him being such a big guy and it being a fantastic night to pitch. Teaford and Holland cleaned up the mess to give the Royals an opportunity to win it in the bottom of the ninth, which they of course did not do.

Last night’s start was, in a way, the most impressive that Paulino has made for the Royals. The fact that he was able to fix whatever his problem was during his outing and then turn in such an outstanding performance to both rest the bullpen and keep the team in the game was just beautiful, and it makes you wonder if the Royals really found a diamond in the rough with this guy. The problems with his command appear to not be a problem in Kansas City as he’s only walked just 2.3 per nine inning while striking out 7.5. At this point in time, it’s conceivable to say that Paulino is the Royals best starter. Now, I don’t think his ceiling is as that of an ace for the Royals, but if the Royals made a discovery of this magnitude, it could be huge for their future.

The rotation that we expect to see in 2012 and beyond is already expected to be a little lefty heavy, and Felipe Paulino could be the Royals version of Colby Lewis last season. Sometimes it takes a little luck to find a guy who can start 32 or 33 games for you over the course of the season. Not every productive starting pitcher is signed to a mega-deal or drafted in the first round. Just look at the last few World Series champions. The Giants had Jonathan Sanchez who they drafted in the 27th round and developed. The Red Sox have been reaping the benefits of Tim Wakefield since the Pirates discarded him in the early 90s and they haven’t looked back. The Cardinals picked up Chris Carpenter off the injury scrap heap and watched him turn into what he was supposed to be with the Blue Jays, one of the best pitchers in baseball. In order to put together a successful rotation, you need a little luck sometimes. It looks like the Royals may have quite the find in Felipe Paulino.

———————–

Because this was such a big deal to people, I thought I’d talk briefly about Yost’s comments following Wednesday night’s game regarding Eric Hosmer. Yost called Hosmer’s decision to swing at the first pitch a bad choice and re-addressed the issue yesterday by saying that it’s elementary that you have to take there. Leaving aside the actual strategy, I wasn’t a huge fan of the way Yost handled the situation by taking it to the media, but I’m also not as up in arms about it as many in the media seem to be. I do agree with Danny Parkins of 610 who believes that if Yost was so adamant about taking the first pitch that he should have put the take sign on. Other than that, I think people are making too big a deal of this and that it’s not a problem in the least. That said, Yost has a history of unraveling in the manager’s chair, so if we start to see that happen, then this incident is most certainly part of it. Until then, though, it’s nothing to worry about.

Lineup Shifts

June 23, 2011 1 comment

So as you all know, Ned Yost came out with a new lineup last night for the Royals that shifted everybody to a new position, but Mike Moustakas and whoever was playing catcher. Yost has impressed upon both the media and the fans that he’d like to have a set lineup, and the fact that he’s made two fairly major lineup shifts during the season indicates against that, but I do sort of agree with the concept of what he did. I’m not sure I completely agree with the movement, but that’s a matter of opinion for the most part. I generally think Yost is the best manager the Royals have had in quite some time. Yes, that’s damning with faint praise, but it’s a fact that remains true. He’s past the honeymoon point, though, as many fans have entirely repressed the thought of Trey Hillman and his goatee managing the Royals at all, so they don’t remember the sheer stupidity that accompanied him.

Ultimately, lineup construction doesn’t mean much from game to game and even week to week. What does matter about lineup construction is that you want to have your best hitters bat more than your worst hitters. As an example, in spite of Alcides Escobar coming off about the hottest road trip I can remember from a Royals hitter, you still know that he’s one of the worst hitters on the team (for now). For that very reason, you don’t want him batting first. Each lineup spot gets something like 30 more plate appearances throughout the season than the spot below it, so it’s important to have your best hitters first.

Traditionally, a lineup is constructed thusly:

1. Fast guy who can get on base and wreak some havoc on the bases
2. Guy who can handle the bat, maybe has a little speed and can really bunt
3. Best hitter for average and power
4. Best power hitter
5. 2nd best power hitter
6. Good hitter for average and power, but not great by any stretch
7. Sort of a light version of the #6 hitter
8. Guy who maybe isn’t so great offensively
9. Sort of a combo of the leadoff and #2 hitter, but not nearly as good as either

Well that thinking has changed somewhat, the basic tenets of that have remained the same. There’s some advocates that your number three hitter is not, in fact your best hitter but rather your leadoff hitter is, but for the most part there’s not a ton of change here.  I plugged last night’s lineup into the lineup analysis tool and found that last night’s lineup could be expected to produce about 4.5 runs per game. Considering that just four American League teams are averaging that many runs per game this season, the lineup seems to have some merit. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that using the lineup analysis tool has some serious flaws in it. It doesn’t take into account anything regarding sample size, so Mike Moustakas, for example, has the numbers he has, but the computer has no way of knowing if he has those statistics in 10 at bats and 300 at bats or 1,000 at bats.

The interesting thing to me when playing around with this is to see what they think the best lineup would be based purely on the numbers. Obviously, there’s no real world implications when you’re looking only at numbers, so they’re to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, the best Royals lineup according to runs per game and the statistics has Billy Butler leading off. While I wouldn’t be terribly upset if the Royals tried that at some point, I don’t think it would be a good idea. The analysis tool has no idea that Billy Butler runs like he’s dragging a grand piano, and while I don’t subscribe to the notion that the leadoff hitter absolutely has to have incredible speed, it would be nice if the leadoff hitter could score from first on a double routinely. Butler cannot do that.

With all that said, here is the lineup that the tool indicates would score the most runs at 4.671 per game.

1. Billy Butler
2. Alex Gordon
3. Mike Moustakas
4. Melky Cabrera
5. Eric Hosmer
6. Jeff Francoeur
7. Bryan Pena
8. Alcides Escobar
9. Chris Getz

With Matt Treanor in the lineup, things change a little bit:

1. Billy Butler
2. Alex Gordon
3. Chris Getz
4. Melky Cabrera
5. Mike Moustakas
6. Jeff Francoeur
7. Eric Hosmer
8. Alcides Escobar
9. Matt Treanor

Of course, the generator doesn’t know that Mike Moustakas and Chris Getz couldn’t be farther from the same player in spite of their statistics being similar. It doesn’t know that in spite of Matt Treanor’s .350+ OBP that he might be a worse runner than Butler. Like I said, there are flaws to using this, but it’s fun to take a look at things. The two “optimal lineups” should score about 4.670 runs per game, which compared to the lineup that was trotted out there last night is an improvement. The first thought many have is that it’s about a tenth of a run per game more, but it’s much more than that. Over the course of a 162 game season, it would give the Royals about 24 more runs. Generally, ten runs is worth a win. This year it makes no difference. A year in contention, though, it makes a big difference. I’d sure hate to finish the season two games out of first because lineup decisions were a problem.

Overall, I liked what Ned Yost did to shake things up. I was a big fan of Gordon in the leadoff spot, but I can see the need to get him into a run producing spot and take advantage of his power. The biggest problem I had was who he chose to lead off with. Melky Cabrera ended up having a great game, but a guy with an OBP that close to .300 should not be the person to start things off for a team. Now, I could be totally wrong and his OBP was a result of his approach from the second spot in the lineup, but I’m not sure that I’ll believe that considering his career OBP is just .327. What I did like a lot was Hosmer in the second spot. He’s been slumping big time and last night didn’t change that, but I like the idea of finding a way to get him going while keeping his confidence. I also am impressed that Yost dropped Francoeur in the order.

This lineup will continue to be a work in progress as long as the best team in the organization isn’t on the field at Kauffman Stadium. I’m of the belief that adding Giavotella and Lorenzo Cain to the lineup  will give Ned Yost much more to work with, although he still would not have a true leadoff hitter. I think the Royals were hoping that Alcides Escobar would be a little quicker to come around with the bat and he could take that role, but I don’t see that happening too soon. Their other hope was that Lorenzo Cain could be a leadoff hitter, but he’s now looked at as more of a middle of the order guy because of his strikeouts. I think the answer in the short term will be Giavotella, but for now it’ll be a mix and match fest. The Royals could go out in the off season and see about getting a leadoff hitting second baseman, but the only one who remotely fits the bill is Kelly Johnson, and he’s so wildly inconsistent from season to season that he’s probably not worth blocking Giavotella or Colon. I like the new lineup, but I don’t like the new leadoff hitter. I’m interested to see what transpires.

Weekend Thoughts

June 20, 2011 1 comment

So the Royals concluded another series loss to the Cardinals in which they won the first game but dropped the subsequent two. It’s frustrating to have lost that series, and the one prior in Oakland, but you can see signs of definite progress on the team as the season is progressing. It isn’t resulting in wins like we would hope, but this has always been a season of maturing and developing, so it’s tough to get too carried away and upset over losses when you see such strong progress being made. Of course, the road trip finishing at 4-5 was a disappointment after winning three of the first four games, but the Royals are a young team, and struggling on the road is hardly a new proposition for a young team. There are 19 games before the All-Star break, and I think that the Royals can make a decent move in those 19 games based on the schedule. I don’t think 12-7 is completely out of the question, though it will be difficult.

Now onto some thoughts:

  • This is the first thing on my mind, so it’ll be the first thing I talk about. Albert Pujols got what was coming to him. No, I don’t wish injury upon anyone. Well, not ultimately. Occasionally, I get a little carried away and wish for an injury to a player who was a jerk in some way, but in the end I realize that it’s wrong to wish injury on someone. Anyway, the wrist injury Pujols suffered is karmic justice. A Cardinals fan on Twitter yesterday who struggles with reading comprehension seems to think that I was upset about the homer Pujols hit and the way he admired it. And I was, but that wasn’t the issue. My issue came on the pitch prior where Louis Coleman came inside on Pujols and brushed him back. Albert Pujols barked at the rookie as if he thought Coleman was trying to throw at him, which was clearly not the case. I think it’s deplorable that Pujols thinks he’s so much better than everyone that he has the right to be upset over a pitch inside. Then, on his home run, I do admit that his admiration of it was a little over the top, but I don’t care so much about that. The following inning when he was injured, it definitely seemed like justice was served. They’re calling it a sprained wrist, but I think there’s a chance it’s broken, so we’ll see what happens.
  • Danny Duffy pitched about as brilliantly and as terribly as any Royals starter this year, all in one. He had way too many three ball counts and left too many pitches in the fat part of the plate. On the other hand, he struck out nine batters in 3.2 innings. He left the game in the fourth inning due to a leg cramp, but the problem was that he wouldn’t have been able to go much longer anyway due to an increasing pitch count. I love the aggression he was showing by going after hitters with his plus fastball, but the fact that twice, he went to three balls on the opposing pitcher is what has to stop. Strikeouts are great, but when they all come during a seven pitch at bat, he’s not going to be long for a game. He seemed to be working a lot quicker, but he has a lot of stuff to work on before he can be counted on to give seven good innings in a game for the Royals, which is what they need out of him.
  • Some might look at this as burying the lede, but Alcides Escobar has been nothing short of amazing over the last 15 games. Following the Royals June 3rd game against the Twins, Escobar was hitting .204/.239/.239. He had just seven extra base hits and 41 total hits. He had stolen five bases, but had been caught four times. Yes, his defense had been outstanding, but there comes a point when nobody’s defense is good enough to leave in the lineup when they hit like that. From June 5 to today, Escobar has hit .444/.474/.630 with 24 hits, seven of which have gone for extra bases including his first triple and first home run of the year. He has also stolen seven bases and been caught just once. He went from an offensive liability in just about every facet of the game to a force in a span of just over two weeks. Now, I’m smart enough to know that he’s not this good, but I’m also smart enough to know that he has the capability of hitting. Yesterday’s homer in the ninth inning is hopefully the springboard for him to bigger and better things. It was sort of the culmination of his red-hot hitting. I want to throw in his numbers on the road trip just because they’re fun to look at: .545/.583/.848.
  • I’m a little disappointed with the way Yost used the bullpen on Saturday night. I’m not sure this is hindsight from my end because I remember mentioning it to a friend when watching the game, but I’m not a huge fan of how he has pushed Crow aside for Holland in the eighth inning. I’m aware that Crow hasn’t been as amazing as he was in the early going of the season, but he also hasn’t been terrible aside from a little trouble with the long ball. More importantly, I think Holland has excelled based on the way he was used by Yost in the last few weeks. He has been outstanding this season with striking hitters out, avoiding hits and avoiding walks. I’m not sure that the eighth inning necessarily changes anything, but I really liked the idea of Holland as the fireman arm out of the bullpen who could strike out the side with the bases loaded if need be. I guess I’m not terribly disgusted by the decision to use Holland in the eighth, but I’m not a huge fan of it.
  • Finally, I love Tim Collins, but it might be time for him to go to AAA and get a little work to get better command. He’s been dreadful so far in June with an 8.59 ERA, but that’s not the concerning part to me as samples are so small for relievers that a bad week can ruin a season. The concerning part is his strikeout rate which was once well above one per inning as dropped to less than that while his walk rate has stayed pretty steady. That’s a concern because it shows that he’s trouble getting the ball by hitters and tricking them with his location. As a result, he’s given a couple of homers this month including yesterday’s game winner. I think Tim Collins is going to be a real asset in the bullpen for the next few years, but he might need some time to collect himself and get going again in AAA.
Big homestand for the Royals coming up as they have games against the surprising Diamondbacks and the perennial disappointing Cubs. I think they have the opportunity to do really well this week as the young guys return home and Mike Moustakas gets to play his first game in front of the home crowd. This weekend’s series was extremely competitive and either team could have had a sweep, but it’s time to start turning competition into victories.

 

Billy Becomes a Pinch Hitter

Ahh, the return of interleague play is back today. We get a taste of it in May when Major League Baseball forces a “rivals” weekend down our throats, but now it’s back for the next 15 games. For the Royals, nine of those games will be played in National League parks which means that a decision has to be made about what to do with Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler. Of course, if you’re reading this blog you probably already know that Ned Yost has decided Billy Butler would be relegated to pinch hitting duties in nine of the next 15 games. My guess is that Hosmer gets one day off in this stretch for Billy to play first, but Yost seems to really dislike Butler’s defense around the bag, so it may not happen.

I was prepared to write a post today about what the Royals could do to get everybody in the lineup on any given day during interleague play. Of course, Yost proclaiming that Butler will come off the bench sort of put the halt on those plans, but I would like to talk a little bit about Yost telling the media before he told Butler. I don’t think it’s really that big of a deal in itself, but Yost’s handling of Butler is, at the very least, curious. It started back earlier in the season when Yost made his now famous comment about how Billy Butler wanting to play first base regularly was akin to Yost wanting to be an astronaut. Contrary to what some might think, I don’t believe Yost has any sort of problem with Butler, but I do think that he might need to choose his words a little more wisely in the future. The thing about Butler is that it’s been established that he’s somewhat of the clubhouse punching bag in a fun-loving way. I don’t think it used to be a fun-loving way, but it is now, and I don’t think Butler minds (of course I don’t know the man, so I’m just making off the wall assumptions). I wonder if Yost sees it and is just being “one of the guys” when he pokes fun at Butler. It may not be a big deal, but it may be a situation where the manager needs to separate himself a little better.

I’m also not a huge fan of Yost telling the media before he told Butler. Of course, that might also not be entirely true. Yost could have had an ongoing dialogue with Butler about what he was thinking about doing and then when he was asked for the 23rd time by the media, he just gave the answer. Ultimately, the decision is Yost’s and Yost’s alone, but it would have been nice for him to tell Butler his final decision first. The fact that I’ve devoted this much space to it is probably going to ultimately be a waste of my time, but I thought it was at least worth mentioning.

The real issue I have with this weekend and the six subsequent games being played in National League parks is that the Royals have to make this decision. Teams have to build for the majority of their schedule. That’s why the Red Sox like to have power lefty arms in order to neutralize the right field short porch in Yankee Stadium. It’s why the Rays have to load up on pitching to neutralize the high scoring offenses in the American League East. And it’s also why American League teams spend money on a player who may not be capable of playing the field with any sort of grace. The Royals have become a team that has to suffer for playing National League rules over the next couple of weeks. The example that people have mentioned more often is with the Red Sox who have a fantastic defensive first baseman who can also really, really hit and a DH who isn’t really suited to play anywhere but first base (and even that in a pinch) but can also really, really hit. They certainly can’t sit their MVP candidate first baseman, so David Ortiz will be a highly paid pinch hitter in National League parks.

The Royals situation is like a poor man’s version of the Red Sox situation. For one, Eric Hosmer is not yet Adrian Gonzalez. For another, Billy Butler is not David Ortiz, at least not this season. And for a third point, Eric Hosmer is probably capable of playing a corner outfield position for a few games in order to keep both bats in the lineup. Still, the Royals are reluctant to give Gordon or Francoeur too many days off, so Hosmer is strictly a first baseman, which doesn’t bother me all that much. Personally, I’d make it a point to give Hosmer two days off in the nine National League park games and give Francoeur and Gordon one each with Hosmer shifting to the outfield. That way, Butler is relegated to pinch hitting duties for just five out of nine games instead of all nine. Alas, that won’t happen, so we’ll have to hope that Yost uses a pinch hitter more often in the NL parks than he typically does. I think he probably will with a potent bat like Butler’s on the bench.

This may surprise you, but I don’t really have a strong opinion about the designated hitter rule. I do like the rule, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a huge fan of seeing some guy who has no intention of hitting stand at the plate and flail aimlessly at three pitches and then sit back down. I think my dislike for the pitcher hitting isn’t in the rules themselves as much as the players who are in the games. Watching a guy like Carlos Zambrano hit is fun. Watching Mike Hampton hit in his prime was an awful lot of fun. Watching Luke Hochevar strike out without lifting the bat off his shoulder is not. I understand why teams don’t want to put their high priced arms in harm’s way by swinging the bat. Their value is in their arms while a guy like, say, Albert Pujols has value in his bat. Still, the devolution of the pitchers’ ability to hit is most certainly not made up for in the extra strategy involved in a National League game.

Interleague play, in my mind, has run its course. That’s why I’m such a big opponent of the realignment proposal that came out regarding evening out the leagues and playing an interleague series every day. The novelty has completely worn off, and it has become just another way that the schedule can favor one team over another. As a Royals fan, it hasn’t ultimately mattered too much, but one day it could, and if the Royals miss the playoffs by a game because they played the Cardinals six times while the Tigers played the Pirates six times (though the Pirates are over .500 right now and are actually heading in the right direction), then I’m going to scream bloody murder about the schedule. With two sets of rules, the National League benefits in both parks. In their own park, they hit with pitchers who take batting practice year round, and while they might not be superstars with the bat, they know what they’re doing. American League pitchers started taking batting practice about three weeks prior to their first National League game. When National League teams come to American League parks, they get the opportunity to give a half-day off at times and get a bat into the lineup they otherwise wouldn’t have had. That’s why I think that if interleague play must continue in its current format, then a designated hitter is necessary in all games.

To wrap up a rambling post, the Royals are headed to St. Louis and, for the first time in awhile, I just don’t really care that they’re playing the Cardinals. I cared when they were here, and I think I will for as long as they play each other, but I just don’t see a rivalry there. The Cardinals are good, the Royals are not. It’s just the way things are. This weekend is just another game. I’ll admit, though, that I wouldn’t be too upset if the Royals swept the Cardinals, but it’s more to rub it in the faces of their smug fans.