Good Time For a Break

Losing a 2-1 game on a scorching day is a tough way to head into the All-Star break, but when you’re facing the hottest pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander, you sort of expect a loss. In his last  nine starts, Verlander is now 8-1 with a microscopic ERA of 0.75. He has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.4:1. If anything, the Royals did a better job against Verlander than other teams have throughout his amazing run as they hit .261 off him yesterday while the league had previously been hitting .179. All the hits were singles, but you take the victories where you can get them in cases such as these. After a game where the Royals can’t muster an extra base hit and never seem to mount any serious attack, it would be easy to get upset about one thing or another, but it’s hard to get broken up about losing to a guy who hasn’t given up more than two runs in a start since before Memorial Day.

The one thing I am a little upset about is the way the Royals have run the bases lately. Way back in Spring Training, the Royals talked about how they were going to be more aggressive on the bases because that’s the way they’d have to be in order for their offense to be able to compete without the power that a lot of other teams have. Early in the year they were running the bases great with stolen bases, taking the extra base on lazy outfielders and all sorts of things that were helping the tam push across a run here and there that made the difference. It’s a big reason why they started off the season so well in the standings. I’m not sure what happened, but at some point they started making some terrible decisions. I don’t remember this exact situation, but the Royals were either down by one in the ninth or tied with Chris Getz on second with two outs, and he tried to steal third. He made, but are you kidding me? What a terrible decision. Yesterday, with the Royals down by one, Eric Hosmer doubled to lead off the ninth and then with one out and Mike Moustakas at the plate, he attempted a steal of third. This time he was caught.

There’s a lot of debate about that play as to whether or not Hosmer was safe. It was hard to tell for me, but through my blue colored glasses, he appeared to be safe. That’s not the point. The point is that it was a terrible decision to go for third with a runner like Hosmer. Don’t get me wrong, Hosmer isn’t exactly lead footed, but he’s no Jarrod Dyson either. I’m not sure who made that decision, but it was the absolute wrong one and it may have cost the Royals the opportunity to win a game that Justin Verlander started which would be quite an accomplishment. The point is that while the Royals do need to be aggressive on the base paths and steal runs from their opponents, they have to do it smartly because they’re taking runs off the board the way they have been running lately.

With all that, this is an excellent opportunity for the Royals to get away from baseball for a few days and regroup before coming back strong for the second half. The team is terrible record-wise, and every so often you wonder how they’re ever going to win another game again. I still maintain that they’re going to be a better team at the end of the year than at the beginning. The record may not reflect that, but I still believe that from about mid-August to the end of the season we’ll get to see some pretty good baseball out of the Royals that will make everybody a believer that 2012 will be a fun season. With so many young players, it’s tough to get out of team wide slumps. I think the Royals are a mentally tough team who can do it, but I think the All-Star break is a big help to them.

The person who I think can most benefit from the break is Mike Moustakas. He came up and he predictably struggled. I expected him to struggle with a little more power than he’s shown, but I think that’ll come soon. He just has to make a couple of adjustments at the plate and he’ll be fine moving forward. I think he’ll hit 12 homers after the break. The other group that will benefit from the break is the starting rotation as they get a chance to reset. They’re still not good, but they’re going from awful to somewhat mediocre, and as soon as Davies gets out of there, they might be all the way there. If Mike Montgomery replaces a potentially traded Jeff Francis in the rotation and pitches like he’s capable, then things will be starting to look up for the rotation.

It’s been sort of a wacky first part of the season. The Royals started off so well at 10-4 and then at one point at 17-14 and even being at .500 at 22-22. Obviously, the bottom has fallen out of the season since then, but this team is still entertaining to watch which is what everybody figured would be the case with all the young talent on the field for the team. Sometimes it can be extremely frustrating, but other times you see those glimpses of what the talent can do and you can’t help but dream of a pennant chase in a couple of years and a run through the playoffs and then maybe even a parade down the plaza like Dayton Moore had mentioned in his first few days in Kansas City. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to see that future, but then every so often, the Royals will have a game when Hosmer goes 4-5 with a homer and a double or Moustakas will get two doubles and three runs batted in or Duffy will go seven innings on 91 pitches and you think that once they all put it together at the same time that this team will be pretty darn special. Over this break, do yourself a favor as a Royals fan. Think about the future rather than the past. It’ll put a smile on your face.

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Progress

The Royals lost last night, which is not anything particularly new for them. It wasn’t a very eventful game. The Tigers hit a two-run homer in the top of the second and the Royals scored in the bottom of the fifth using some pretty nice situational hitting to get the run home against a very good Max Scherzer. I say a very good Max Scherzer because at times this year he has not been so good, but last night he was throwing strikes and throwing well. The Tigers scored a run in the top of the ninth off Aaron Crow (who has struggled mightily in his last two appearances since being named an All-Star) to make it 3-1 and that’s how the game ended. It seems like a pretty ho-hum regular loss that happens a lot over the course of a long baseball season, but it counts as progress toward Danny Duffy’s development as a big leaguer.

A few starts ago, I made the comment that Danny Duffy works way too slow. I don’t think a pitcher has to pitch at the pace of Mark Buehrle in order to be successful, but it helps if he takes less than 30 seconds between pitches. His defense benefits, his command benefits, the fans benefit. In that start in which I commented on the glacial like speed with which he works, Duffy went four innings, gave up five runs on eight hits, walked four and struck out just one batter. At that point, he had worked 30.1 innings, allowed 33 hits, walked 21 batters and struck out just 20 while posting a 5.55 ERA through six starts. I’m not insinuating that the Royals or Duffy read this blog, but after that post that I made, things have changed for Duffy. The results haven’t been demonstrably better on the runs allowed front, but the peripherals have gotten much better, which indicates better times ahead for Duffy and the Royals.

Since that game, Duffy has made five starts and gone 27.2 innings. It’s a modest uptick from the number of innings he had thrown per start over his first six, but still an uptick. Some will point to the fact that he left with an injury after just 3.2 innings in St. Louis, but he had thrown so many pitches that at most he would have gone five that day. In order to be successful in the big leagues, you have to average at least six innings, and that’s the very bottom of the barrel. Still, he’s been much better since that game against the Blue Jays in which children were able to take naps between pitches. He has posted his first big league win, but more importantly, in those 27.2 innings, he has struck out 25 and walked eight. You can with that kind of ratio. Most pitchers with that kind of ratio do win, and it’s huge that Duffy has taken a big step in harnessing his command because it shows that his stuff is good enough that when it is in the strike zone it is deadly. In those five starts, he has a 4.23 ERA which is not great, especially not in run depressed 2011, but it’s a huge improvement.

When Duffy first came up, I could tell that he was ready. His stuff was better than anybody’s on the Royals pitching staff and better than many of the pitchers who rolled into Kauffman Stadium. It was pretty obvious, also, that his problems were not going to be solved by going back to AAA and watching those hitters flail away at his pitches a foot off the plate. He needed to be in the big leagues to learn that he can’t just put a breaking ball off the plate and have a strikeout. He had to work to get big league hitters out. Some pitchers figure that out quicker than others, and it looks like Duffy is on his way to figuring that out. I don’t think he has ace type stuff, but I do think he can be an outstanding number two in a future Royals rotation. If things work out like everyone hopes and he ends up being the  Royals number three starter, then you might as well just start printing playoff tickets. Of course, it’s not so simple as that, but it’s good to see Duffy getting going.

There’s also serious progress being made in the minor leagues with Danny Duffy’s former rotation mate, Mike Montgomery. This might be the best development of the season. As you all know, Montgomery has struggled big time this season, getting hit hard, walking batters and giving up runs in droves. After being ranked the Royals top pitching prospect and the number 18 prospect in all of baseball, many believed that Montgomery would be the first starter to the big leagues and would already be at least holding his own in Kauffman Stadium. He pitched very well in spring training, and you got the impression that the Royals seriously considered starting the year with him on the roster. When the Royals held the future’s game earlier this year, he was just so good and dominant that people thought it wouldn’t be long before he was a fixture in the rotation. Then he was bad in AAA. It was a bit of a concern. I think I mentioned in this space a fairly cryptic tweet from Greg Schaum that Montgomery was working on some things and that he would be back in top prospect form in a couple of starts.

A couple of starts later was July 1. Montgomery went 6.2 innings, gave up no runs on two hits, struck out seven and walked three. The walks were still slightly up, but manageable and he gave up next to nothing hit-wise. Then his last start was a couple of days ago when he went five innings, gave up one run on five hits, struck out five and walked nobody. He was pulled after 59 pitches because of a rain delay, so you know he could have gone longer and probably continued pitching extremely well. I’ve got news for you. If Montgomery is back as a top prospect and pitches well over his next three or four starts, I wouldn’t be shocked to get him four or five starts in the big leagues before they shut him down for the year. He’s thrown 90.1 innings this year, and I assume the Royals don’t want him going over 160 or so based on what he threw last year in the minors and the AFL. If he starts four more times in AAA and throws 25 innings then he’d have about 45 or 50 innings to show what he can do in the big leagues.

Mike Montgomery figuring things out is a giant development in the world of the Royals. He, along with Danny Duffy, form the hope that the Royals can compete in 2012. Well, that’s not entirely true. The scrap heap pickup of Felipe Paulino may prove to be one of the best moves of the Dayton Moore era if he continues to pitch as well as his peripherals indicate he would. A month ago, on June 9, the Royals pitching future seemed pretty bleak. Duffy was struggling at the big league level, Montgomery was struggling at the minor league level and no pitcher under 30 was excelling for the Royals. Now, it seems like there’s some pitching hope and I’d call that progress.

What’s Next?

We’ve passed Independence Day and the halfway point of the season at about the same time, and the Royals find themselves in a familiar position. They are in last place by a familiar margin, and every night seems like an uphill battle just to get the occasional win. We’ve been here before as fans. This is the time when fan attention usually shifts to next year. Maybe some pundits start talking about the draft while others take a look at who might be prime for a September callup. Most of all, though, people are talking which of the Royals pieces who are not a part of the future can be traded for pieces who may be. That’s much easier said than done, of course, because in order to trade for someone good, a team typically has to give up someone good. There are exceptions like trading Farnsworth and Ankiel and getting Tim Collins in return, but even then it is hard to argue that Farnsworth was having a nice season.

After promoting two of the top hitting prospects, one of the top pitching prospects and a slew of young relievers, the farm system is coming down a bit from its lofty status at the beginning of the season. Still, there is talent in the minors, and the rest of the season should be devoted to getting that talent moving through the system. Things already started when the Royals promoted Jake Odorizzi to AA where he’ll make his first start tonight. If he does well in AA, he becomes a candidate to be a member of the 2012 staff at some point. If he struggles, then his timeline stays at 2013. Either way, that movement is good. It allows the Royals to get a look at him at a higher level and see what they truly have in him. I’d love to take a drive down to Northwest Arkansas and see him pitch sometime myself.

Of those who could make the jump to the big leagues, the major players in this game are Lorenzo Cain, Johnny Giavotella and Mike Montgomery. Cain and Giavotella appear ready while Montgomery needs to show me a few starts like the one he had on Friday before I feel good that he’s completely ready. I’ve rallied for Giavotella many times in this space. Why I want him in the big leagues isn’t entirely because of my love for him, though I am quite enamored with him as a prospect. It’s more for who he would be replacing in the Royals lineup. When your second baseman is Chris Getz and the second baseman you have in the minors is hitting .321/.376/.456 it’s sort of a no-brainer to most teams. There are those out there who believe Giavotella isn’t ready for the big leagues. Realistically, many of these people are much smarter than me, but I just strongly dislike Chris Getz and don’t see Giavotella as a guy who will wilt under the pressure. I could be wrong. It’s happened before. Anyway, I’d like to see Giavotella up here ASAP and plugged into the starting lineup at or near the top. But then, if you’ve read this blog in the past, you knew that already.

Lorenzo Cain is a different story. I haven’t seen him play in Omaha, but assuming his strikeouts are something that just won’t be changed, he’s ready for the big leagues. He hit well in his Major League debut last season and is hitting extremely well in AAA to the tune of a .311/.377/.524 line. The one aspect of his game that he had not yet really displayed prior to the trade is power and he’s got a .213 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average). That’s excellent, and just furthers the comparisons to Torii Hunter. Right now Hunter is overpaid significantly, but if the Royals had him in center field for the last ten years, I don’t think anyone would be complaining too terribly much. Cain supposedly plays very good defense and is a great guy in the clubhouse.

The problem is not so much of a problem as it is a roadblock. The Royals outfield is full right now. While I did not support the Melky Cabrera signing, and I maintain that his play of late is pretty fluky, he’s playing well right now and might be worth something on the trade market. Because of that, the Royals have to play him. I’m just hoping they don’t see him as the center fielder of the future and decide to trade Cain. Well, that’s not true. If the Braves are still enamored with Cain and are willing to give up Minor or Beachy, then that’s a trade I’d support fully. Short of something like that, I think Cain is the future in center for the Royals and will be a very big part of the next good Royals team.

The other roadblock for Cain is Jeff Francoeur. More and more, I’m liking the idea of trading Francoeur for whatever the Royals can get in return and shifting Cabrera over to right while Cain comes up to play center. That is, of course, if the Royals can’t get anything good in return for Cabrera. The thing about Melky is that the Royals have him under team control for next season if they so choose, and they don’t really have a right fielder in the pipeline who will be ready to come up before mid-season. Wil Myers may have been ready for Opening Day next year before injuries carved up his first half in AA. It’s no secret that I dislike Francoeur. I love what he brings to the table defensively, but I think that value could be replaced by Cain. If the Royals trade both, I wonder if they’d bring up David Lough and plop him in right field or if they’d go with Dyson in center and Cain in right. I hope they wouldn’t jerk around the organization’s center fielder of the future like that.

And the last piece who I mentioned above is Mike Montgomery. After struggling for much of the season, he came out on Friday with a performance worth noting. Greg Schaum had mentioned a couple weeks back that he was working on some things and in two more starts would be back to the Montgomery who was shooting up the prospect charts. Well, he was dead on. Let’s hope he continues to be right because I think four or five straight good starts gets him to the big league rotation. There are a few trade candidates in the rotation and some dead weight that needs to be dropped. I think it’s vital to get Montgomery to the big leagues for at least six weeks this season in order to get him acclimated to the Majors. If the Royals are going to be good, he’s going to be a number one or number two starter by 2013. Six weeks this year plus all of next season will go a long, long way toward making that happen.

Sometimes when the big league club is struggling so much, it’s very difficult to see the forest through the trees. I’m guilty of that as much as anybody. When I see a guy like Eric Hosmer swing at the third high fastball in a row to strike out, I think that the Royals can ruin anybody. It’s helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture, though. The talent is there. There’s money to be spent on pitching. I still believe this team is going to be good, and it’s going to be pretty darn soon.

From the Kansas City Royals…

July 5, 2011 1 comment

Aaron Crow.

Yes, I’m a day late with reporting this, but I took yesterday off from blogging, so I figured I’d talk about it today. One thing I can tell you that this post will mostly not be about is the flaw in the All-Star system. It’s been overdone. The other thing I didn’t want to write about was the outcome of last night’s game. I feel compelled to talk briefly about it, though. The fact of the matter is that what Crow did in the bottom of the ninth was in fact a balk. That said, he had done it four other times in his almost two inning stint and was not called on it. Typically, if a human being does something multiple times and gets the desired feedback (in this case not being called for a balk), they feel they are safe to do it again. Of course, Ed Rapuano decided to put the game in his hands rather than the hands of the players. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make a difference, but it’s frustrating when umpires feel the need to become the story.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s talk about Aaron Crow. What a story he is. You all know that he was drafted in the first round by the Nationals in 2008 and elected not to sign with them. He pitched in the Independent League for a year just like another first round draft pick on the Royals staff. The next season, he fell three spots from his previous draft position and was taken twelfth overall by the Royals. Fans were excited about his ace potential with his fastball and slider combination.  The knock on Crow at the time was that he didn’t really have a third pitch and if he didn’t develop one that he might end up as a reliever in the big leagues. When he was drafted, I was confident he’d be able to learn a changeup and add it to his repertoire in time to become a big league starting pitcher. Of course, when a player is drafted, it’s hard to see anything but the absolute top of the line ceiling for him.

Because he was no longer in college, the August 15 signing deadline did not apply to Crow, and negotiations actually went into September before he finally signed on the 17th of that month. His first professional season was 2010 and to say he was bad would be an understatement. In AA Northwest Arkansas, he put up a 5.66 ERA in 119.1 innings. That was discouraging, but not nearly as much as the fact that he only struck out 90 batters and he walked 56. This was supposed to be a guy who had a chance to be in the big league rotation by August and he couldn’t even get AA hitters out. The Royals shockingly demoted him to A ball where he continued to struggle, but in a much different way.

In Wilmington, Crow found both his strikeout pitch and his control, striking out 53 and walking just six in 44 innings. He still had a miserable ERA of almost six, but it looked like he might have been starting to figure some things out. In 2010, very few things went wrong for the Royals organization in terms of their prospects, but Aaron Crow was most definitely one of them. In an organization where everybody was flying up the prospect charts, Crow was sliding down them like they were a fire pole and he was on his way down. It was disheartening for Royals fans because the sentiment when he was drafted was slight concern based on the way Luke Hochevar had been for the Royals.

Still, he was on the 40 man roster so he was invited to Spring Training this past year. A funny thing happened to him in Spring Training. He was really good. I have no way of knowing this as fact, but my guess is that the Royals expected him to be among the first few cuts. At best he’d make it to March 22 or so and he’d be shipped out to Omaha where they’d hope he could put things together and his problem was just rust from the time off. But he just kept pitching so well that they couldn’t send him down. Finally, the announcement was made that Crow would be one of the many rookies in the Royals Opening Day bullpen. A lot of fans were excited, but it stirred a lot of debate about whether or not he should continue to develop as a starter. At the time, I think it was Bob McClure who did an interview and made the good point that some guys need to develop in the bullpen at the big league level while some guys need to develop in the rotation at the minor league level. I always believed that Crow was one of those guys who would be just fine to develop at the big league level out of the pen. In his side sessions he could continue to work on the changeup. I still believe that he should be tried in the rotation, but I’ll get to that.

So he makes the team, and you guys all know how good he has been throughout the season, yesterday’s hiccup notwithstanding. He’s gotten strikeouts, limited hits and been extremely effective. He’s had occasional issues with his control, but I think that’s pretty normal for a rookie. His selection is pretty controversial because he just hasn’t pitched very many innings, and while they’re highly effective innings, they’re still not many. Though I have to say that in watching the selection show, I’m not sure there are worse analysts than Cal Ripken, Jr., David Wells and Dennis Eckersley. They said something about Crow having the lowest inning total of anybody selected in the last 17 years. I wasn’t paying full attention, so there may have been another qualifier in there, but he has more innings this year alone than any of the other four American League relievers.

Anyway, the controversy over Crow was less about him and more about who should have come from the Royals if they were only going to have one All-Star in 2011. Many believed that Alex Gordon should have been the Royals representative. He’s having a great season, especially when you compare him to American League left fielders where he’s far and away the best. Of course, the All-Star game only designates the position as outfield, so a team could conceivably have three center fielders get voted in and four more get counted as reserves. Ron Washington is an idiot. I’ll get that statement out there right now, but his sheer stupidity is not what left Gordon off the roster. It was the rule that every team must have one representative.

I used to like that rule a lot, when I was a kid. See, I grew up in the shadow of the Royals glory days, so I was used to waiting to find out who the one Royals representative would be. And then I’d watch the game and I couldn’t wait for Kevin Appier or Jeff Montgomery to pitch. They’d get their inning in. Maybe. And then I’d usually go to bed. I’m at the point in my life now, though, where I honestly don’t care if a Royal gets in. I think the rule is stupid. I think it’s even dumber considering the fact that the game counts for which league gets home field advantage in the World Series. So while that rule was the reason that Ken Harvey and Mark Redman were All-Stars, it’s now the reason why Alex Gordon is not because Minnesota had to have a representative and Michael Cuddyer, outfielder, was the choice.

That leads me to my final point. Alex Gordon is in the running for the final spot on the team along with Paul Konerko, Victor Martinez, Adam Jones and Ben Zobrist. He’s currently in third place, so click here and vote for him. It’s unlimited voting, so vote for him all the time. Take a couple of days off work and just continue to vote. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for the children.

If I didn’t make that clear, CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR ALEX GORDON.

As for Crow, congratulations to him on his All-Star game nod. I fully expect him to not get into the game, but that’s okay. It’ll just be cool to hear his name announced.

Royals Progress Report – The Pitchers

And now we move on to the bipolar unit of the Royals where the starters are terrible, but the relievers are fantastic. It’s been a pretty strange season so far, but it’s been odd all season for the pitching to be both a strength and a weakness at times.

Let’s not waste any more time…

Starting Pitchers
Felipe Paulino – A; I’m not sure if Paulino entirely deserves an A or not, but he’s been pretty darn good since the Royals acquired him and put him into the rotation. On a team so desperate for starting pitching, a run of starts like this has been nothing short of fantastic for the team. As a starter, he has 33 strikeouts and just ten walks. My guess is that he hits at least one rough patch between now and the end of the season, but to this point he’s been as good as the Royals have.

Bruce Chen – B; Chen was re-signed for a modest amount in the off-season and has done exactly what he was asked to do. Well, almost exactly. He missed time with an injury, which was not helpful, but he’s been good when he’s been on the mound. Chen is doing it a little bit with smoke and mirrors right now, but it’s better than nothing and it’s among the best the Royals have in the rotation. I wouldn’t count on him maintaining a 3.46 ERA, but he does have decent enough peripherals to maintain something in the 4’s.

Jeff Francis – C-; The Royals starters as a whole don’t strike out enough batters, and Jeff Francis is the poster boy for that. He’s also the poster boy for allowing very few walks. In spite of striking out just four per nine innings, he still has more than twice as many strikeouts as bases on balls. He’s given the Royals some innings and some really nice performances this season. He’s also given the Royals some real stinker performances, but all in all, he’s been decent for the Royals.

Danny Duffy – C-; Duffy gets the same grade as Francis, but I rank him a little lower because he’s just got so much more talent than Francis. I’m not upset at all by the growing pains we’ve seen from Duffy because they are to be expected, and it’s part of why the Royals were so eager to bring people up. Get the growing pains out of the way now so they’ll be ready to be good next year and beyond. Duffy works maddeningly slow at times, but we’ve seen flashes that he’s going to be very good. The next step is turning those flashes into consistent results.

Luke Hochevar – D; This D might be a bit of an emotional reaction to a guy who I thought would break out this year with a much better defense behind him. Early in the season, his high ERA was a bit of bad luck because he wasn’t walking hitters, but that has changed recently and he’s been getting back to his old ways on the mound. Hochevar is one of the most frustrating pitchers I’ve ever watched pitch in my life. He can be perfect – literally perfect – for five innings and then just absolutely implode. He’s providing value in the way of innings this season, which really is worth something. It’s not the number one overall pick, that’s for sure.

Sean O’Sullivan – F; O’Sullivan is a terrible pitcher. He doesn’t strike anybody out, he walks too many and he gives up too many hits. He was providing a little value to the Royals before his arm injury came out and the fact that he’d had it for three or four starts, which is why he’s not dead last among the starters. O’Sullivan is the type of guy bad teams trot out there regularly, which makes total sense considering the Royals are, in fact, a bad team.

Vin Mazzaro – F; Mazzaro as a starter actually hasn’t been that terrible, but his grade has to include the debacle against the Indians. He’s had a 4.50 ERA as a starter, but he’s yet another pitcher who strikes out too few, walks too many and gets hit too hard. I think Mazzaro has the ability to become a good back of the rotation starter, but he’s definitely not there yet.

Kyle Davies – F; I suppose since this is my blog that I could have created a grade lower than an F for Davies, but I decided to spare him a little bit since his peripherals haven’t been nearly as bad as his actual numbers. Still, the fact that the Royals felt the need to actually make room for him is pretty troubling. The funny thing is that the big thing people tout about him is his ability to give you innings, and even taking away his last start where he left after one batter, he’s giving about five innings per start this year. It’s not enough. It makes it worse when in those five innings, he’s giving up ten or 11 base runners. It’s definitely time to end the Kyle Davies experiment.

Relievers
Aaron Crow – A; What is there to say about Aaron Crow that hasn’t been said? He’s been an absolute revelation out of the bullpen for the Royals this season. I remember when we all found out he was making the team and pretty much everybody was floored. I still think the Royals need to try him in the rotation next year, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that his home is out of the pen. Hopefully he can develop that changeup and become as good a starter as he is a reliever and give the Royals that right handed arm at the top of the rotation that they’ll need during a playoff run.

Greg Holland – A; Holland may actually have been even a little bit better than Crow during his first half, but there just isn’t as much there to judge him on, so I gave Crow the slightly higher grade. Holland has done nothing wrong, though, as he’s striking batters out at a fantastic rate and limiting both walks and hits. A lot of people assume that if the Royals trade Soria that Crow will be the closer, but I’m not convinced that job wouldn’t go to Holland. He’s fun to watch out of the pen.

Louis Coleman – B+; Coleman should have made the team out of spring training. He’s been great since coming to the big league club. My only complaint is that he walks a few too many guys and seems to be pretty susceptible to the home run ball. He’s another one who is fun to watch out of the bullpen as he strikes guys out and limits hits. When a guy has a 2.59 ERA and it’s actually pretty sustainable and he’s still the fourth best guy in the bullpen, you know that the bullpen is a strength of the club.

Blake Wood – B+; I’ve never been a fan of Blake Wood, but he’s been quite good for the Royals since he was called up early in the season. He’s figured out how to limit his walks, which is obviously one of the most important things you can do as a pitcher. I love his ability to get a ground ball when needed. I wish he’d strike out a few more batters, but it’s hard to complain with three strikeouts for every walk.

Everett Teaford – B; I think this grade might be a little too high for Teaford because he didn’t strike many guys out in his innings at the big league level, but he did a pretty good job of limiting base runners. I like his future in the big leagues, but I’d like to see him tried again as a starter. Lefties who can hit the mid-90s are rare commodities.

Nathan Adcock – C; I like what Adcock has brought to the Royals, but I’m just not sure any of it’s sustainable until he starts to get some more strikeouts. Every so often it looks like he’s figured it out and he’ll strike out two guys in an inning, but then he reverts to not missing bats. I think he has a future at the big league level, and I don’t blame the Royals for keeping him on the roster, but he definitely needs some work in the minors.

Joakim Soria – D+; Wow. I never thought I’d give Soria that low of a grade, but he was horrendous at times during the first half of the season. He appears to be putting things back together and his numbers are slowly coming back to respectability, but you can’t discount those blown saves and tough outings. The real Soria appears to have returned, so that’s something that can allow fans to rest easy.

Tim Collins – D; I love Tim Collins. I really do. It’s scary to see him running out of that bullpen, though, because you never know what you’re going to get. I think he’s going to be a huge asset out of the bullpen on the next good Royals team, but he’s the guy I least want on the mound right now with runners on base because he just has so much trouble with his control. I love the strikeouts, but even those have decreased in recent weeks. The league appears to have adjusted to him, so his move is next. The good ones figure it out, and I’m confident that Collins will figure it out.

And a special two grades for the General Manager and Owner:

Dayton Moore – D; While everything at the minor league level went right for Dayton Moore last year, he’s not having that sort of luck this year. When you combine that with a big league club on its way to 90 losses yet again, it’s hard to give DM a good grade for the first half of this season. Some will say that his grade should be incomplete considering he hasn’t had the opportunity to see all his guys make it to the big leagues, but that’s ridiculous. Someone in his position is judged constantly, and does not get a free pass to see what the 18 year old kids he drafted three years ago can do. I remain skeptical that Moore can be the architect of a winning big league team, and this year has not changed that at all. His roster management is shaky at best, and his eye for big league talent has to be in question.

David Glass – C; The fact that the Royals payroll is so low is not the fault of David Glass being cheap, but I have a hard time giving him any higher grade than this due to his lack of presence within the organization. I saw him at Kauffman Stadium during the Cardinals series, but that’s it. Keep in mind that the Cardinals are his boyhood team. I don’t think David Glass is the terrible owner that some do, but I do think that he needs to be more visible than he has been throughout his tenure as owner. The fact that the Royals spend more in the draft than any other team is just one of the reasons we can put his cheapness to bed. Trust me, though. If the Royals are in a pennant race with a $75 million payroll and badly need a starter and one becomes available who will cost the Royals $10 million over the rest of the season and he nixes the deal because of money, I’ll be the loudest person screaming for his head.

So those are your Royals mid-season grades for 2011. The offense has been okay. The starters are terrible. The bullpen is great. Hopefully the next 81 are much better than the first.

 

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.

 

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.