Friday, April 30, 2004

This is a phenomenon that I don't understand. An article by Jacob Luft on suggests that the Pirates are shopping Kris Benson because he's in his walk year, and since the Pirates wouldn't be able to afford him on the free agent market, they will probably try to get something in return while they can. He draws an analogy to Jason Schmidt, whom the Giants picked up in 2001 from the Pirates, and the rest is history...

From the Pirates perspective, they should certainly be trying to deal Benson for prospects. Decent starting pitching is always in high demand at the trading deadline, so there should be several teams lining up to overpay for his services, assuming that he isn't injured or doesn't go in the tank at some point during the season. Benson offers the tantalizing possibility that the light may come on and he will dazzle from August to eternity. The Pirates won't sign Benson after the season, and assuming they aren't contending this year, they'd be crazy not to try to get a good deal for him. Of course, they could keep him and get draft pick compensation, but I'm sure as a winning organization they'll weigh that decision appropriately...

I digress. Luft suggests that the Pirates are planning to deal Benson because of their inability to offer him a "big money, multiyear contract". But why, exactly, should Pittsburgh or any other major league team do such a thing? Benson epitomizes the Baseball Prospectus adage "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect". His major league resume crystallizes the difference between potential and performance. He has never come close to the potential he allegedly had, and he has been injured-prone, to put it mildly He's been in the major leagues for 5+ seasons, and his record is, well, ordinary:

-- He's won a grand total of 37 games - slightly more than 7 wins per season. (I know, I know, wins aren't the best indicator of how good a pitcher is, but only 7 wins per season has to mean something, even on a bad team)
-- His career WHIP is a mediocre 1.42
-- His control has been average at best, walking an average of 3.6 per 9 innings in his career
-- He's strikeout rate has declined since 2000, down to 5.5 per 9 innings so far this year (and he's never been a top strikeout pitcher)

Pittsburgh, or any other team for that matter, would be out of their minds to offer Benson a big-money, multiyear deal. Of course, some high-revenue team will probably give him a 4-year, $35 million contract based on his "potential".

Jason Schmidt is a fun comparison because the situation is so similar -- he was a mediocre pitcher with the Pirates too. In his three full seasons with the Pirates (1997-1999), Schmidt had a strikeout ratio of 6.5K/9 inn, which was respectable but not stellar. He was injured for much of 2000 and 2001, so it would have been hard to accurately forecast his future prospects. In his two full seasons with the Giants, he's had 9.3K/9 inn, a dramatic improvement. I'd love to give Brian Sabean all of the credit for spotting this diamond in the rough, but generally speaking I don't think anyone could have expected this much improvement from Schmidt (and it may not last...we'll see).

But its always tough to make comparisons like this, because we're talking about ONE player -- Schmidt dramatically improved, but how many other pitchers with similar potential and history went on to continue with their perfectly ordinary careers? There really wasn't much in Schmidt's history to suggest that he was going to become so much better with the Giants after his stint with the Pirates, and the same goes for Benson -- except that Benson is a highly-touted, overall #1 draft pick.

Benson, of course, could transform himself into a great pitcher. Overall #1 draft picks will get the benefit of the doubt many times over, and he may not yet be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. He'd be a great pickup for the Royals with an incentive-laden contract, but I would recommend that he stay away for his safety. Given the Royals track record of recent years with pitchers, he'd be injured as soon as he put on the uniform.

Anyway, in more than five years in the Bigs, Kris Benson has demonstrated that he is certainly a major league quality pitcher, but he's not a star, and he's hasn't touched "dominant". At some point, a guy is what he is, and it would be a surprise to see Benson go on to anything besides continuing to be a journeyman major league starter for the rest of his career.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Post-Mortem to Post-Mortem: This was a BRUTAL loss. The Royals are headed out for a nine-game road trip, playing six with the Yankees and Red Sox, and they lose a game like this to finish the homestand. I haven't fretted much about individual losses this season, because to this point I've been looking for signs of progress rather than wins and losses. But this one was BAD. Spot starter, resiliient offense, great two-inning stint by Justin Husiman (12 pitches? Should he have pitched the 9th? I suppose no manager would do that), lots of comebacks...and an absolute disaster in the 9th by Leskanic.

I'm afraid there could be a hangover from this loss, which will not serve them in this swing into New York and Boston. A 3-6 road trip will leave the Royals at 10-19, which may just bury them early in the season.

If you'd asked me how the first 20 games were going to go this season, I couldn't have predicted a worse start to the season. Let the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes begin...

Post-mortem: Curt Leskanic is getting blasted in the 9th. Two strikeouts, twisted between two home runs and a triple. I asked myself the question as the inning started, and now that he's promptly handed Texas the lead, I'll ask it again - why isn't Mike Mac closing this game? Isn't that his job?

Nice win last night, but the injuries to the Royals' starting pitchers are becoming a running joke. The number of pitchers that have sustained some type of injury is just astounding, which continues a disturbing trend of recent years. What is the culprit? Are the Royals incapable of signing and/or developing pitchers that are not injury prone, or b) is there something about the way that the Royals handle pitchers that makes them more injury prone than they otherwise would be? I understand that Jimmy Gobble had what he characterized as "cramps", but it would be refreshing to see the Royals go a week without a starting pitcher experience some kind of injury, major or minor. These injuries continue to force the Royals to start less-than-MLB quality players like Dennys Reyes, which has turned an eminently winnable matchup of Darrell May vs. Chan Ho Park (what happened to this guy? Who could have predicted he would become such a marginal major league pitcher after four solid seasons with the Dodgers? He is terrible.) into a likely loss (and the Royals find themselves down as I type), and wearing out a bullpen that has to pitch 4+ innings.

It was nice to Mike Mac back in uniform, and he promptly got his first save of the season. He's probably the second most important "what-if" on the team this year (behind Jeremy Affeldt), so we'll have to keep on eye on his first month. Curt Leskanic is a fine setup pitcher and a good spot closer, but it doesn't look like he's going to be able to consistently deliver strong ninth inning performances to close out games. The Royals are much better with him pitching in the eighth inning instead of the ninth, but that's going to hinge on Mac's nasty stuff and suspect control.

J. Gobble (1-0): 5.1IP, 10H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 1K.

What are the odds of a pitcher winning a game when they give up 10 hits in 5 innings and only strikeout one batter? JG bucked 'em last night, that's for sure.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Well, the Royals have the worst record in the American League after 18 games, which is slightly more than 10% of the season. Is this what we should expect for the rest of the season? Is there any reason to be optimistic?

J. Affeldt (0-2): 7IP, 9H, 3R, 2ER, 2BB, 4K

He scuffled, but giving up 3 runs in 7 innings is usually winning baseball in the AL Central. Its still a bit hard to understand why JA isn't striking out more batters, but I don't have the benefit of watching the games here in New York to see how he's pitching. Two winning performances in a row, though.

Rob and Rany's weekend recap (a personal fave) points out that the Royals have gone from the luckiest team in the major last year (when, according to their runs scored/runs against totals, they should have won 72 games) to the unluckiest team so far this year (as their record should be much better considering the way they've hit and pitched). As statistical theory suggests, these things have a way of evening out over the long run, so the Royals should eventually contend this year, but they've dug themselves a hole. The Royals' timing, as I pointed out last week, just seems to be off. I don't like the term, but they haven't "clicked". Still, I'm encouraged by the string of solid starting pitching performances, and the bullpen will be a strength of this team (along with a consistently good offense).

The Royals have lost a lot of close games, and some of them in disastrous fashion, but in general they seem to be playing pretty well. The Tigers, on the other hand, are playing way over their heads (Brandon Inge?), and will almost certainly settle into last place before all is said and done. Cleveland just isn't very good, and they are too young to contend.

Last year, the Royals sat way atop the division early in the season and through the All Star break, but their lead was slowly whittled away as they were exposed as an inferior ballclub (which they were). Here's hoping that the Royals can play the role of the chasing team this year.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Considering all of the optimism surrounding the Royals entering this season, this has been about as bad a start as you could imagine.

The mounting losses are the most obvious indicator of the bad start, but I'm not one to worry about the way things go in a 15 to 20 game period. The Yankees have been awful, too, and no one expect that they still won't win 100 games this year. The Royals are better than they've shown, but their problem has been the lack of complementary pitching - the starters began the season about as bad as they could be, while the bullpen pitched well. In the past week, the starters have been solid, but the bullpen has been terrible.

The injuries are more damaging. Since spring training began, four starting pitchers have been hurt - Snyder and Ascencio are out for the season (although they were already damaged goods coming into camp), and now May and Appier are hurt - and my gut tells me that Appier will not make a meaningful contribution this season. May's injury may not turn out to be anything, but this team has no margin for error anymore with starting pitching.

I like that the Royals have bit the bullet and brought up David DeJesus. Rich Thompson really has no business playing the majors except that he has speed - since he hasn't used it, he's a wasted roster spot. Aaron Guiel is going through a big-time slump, and though I think he's better than he's shown, DeJesus is probably the better player. With DeJesus playing everyday and Guiel playing spot outfield duty 3 or 4 times a week, the Royals are a better team.

A good outing for Anderson today, if we could erase the third inning. Assuming there are no more injuries (!), I actually feel better about the team at this point than I did when they were 4-2, which was the result of good luck and lots of drama. Every starter has pitched well in the past week, injuries notwithstanding, which is a very encouraging sign going forward.

Its still April...say it with me.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Quick - how many fans out there think that Kevin Appier will have a meaningful impact on this season?

Odds Against a Meaningful Contribution: 10-1
Odds Appier's Season is Over: 3-1

Ape's cameo as a SP notwithstanding, another fine "starting" performance wasted:

J. Gobble (0-0): 6IP, 6H, 0R, 0BB, 1K

Again, its always great to see your young, prized pitching prospects throw well. Taking the long view, I'd rather see Affeldt and Gobble pitch well and lose than see them pitch terrible and the Royals somehow manage to win. Wins will come with good starts, but losses will surely pile up with bad ones. Baseball gold right there, folks!

That being said:

S. Sullivan (2-0): .1 IP, 2H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 0K
C. Leskanic (0-2): 1 IP, 1H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 1K
D. Reyes (0-0): .1 IP, 0H, 0R, 3BB, 0K

(Reasonable question: why is Dennys Reyes on this team while Jaime Cerda is in AAA?)

SIX walks in 2 innings with a 4-run lead in the eighth inning. I don't reckon that's what you call "winning baseball". Throw a strike! Geez.

OK, say it with me: I...miss...Mike MacDougal? Swallow. Shudder.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Inhale....exhale. Jeremy's not broken.

J. Affeldt (0-1): 7IP, 2H, 2R, 0ER, 2BB, 4K

Yeah, it stinks that the Royals lost this game because the bullpen (read: Grimsley, who BTW was the worst reliever in the AL last year according to Baseball Prospectus inherited run stats) didn't hold up in the clutch and the offense didn't take advantage of 14 trips on base.

But the most important thing to come out of this game is that Jeremy Affeldt had an effective and a close-to-dominating start. He's still not throwing enough strikes (he's nibbling), but this was an important performance for a guy who didn't fool anyone in his first two starts. He's clearly the key to this season. He needs to emerge as the consistent #1 starter that the Royals have desparately lacked since Ape's first tour of duty all those years ago.

Now, taking recent Royals history into perspective, it is shocking how not one of their highly touted pitching prospects has ever amounted to anything for the Royals or any other team. "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect", but is it too much to ask for ONE LEGITIMATE BIG LEAGUE STARTER to come from our minor league system, either via the draft or via minor league trade? Affeldt, Gobble, and Greinke are promising, but so were Dan Reichert, Jim Pittsley, Chad Durbin, Glendon Rusch, and host of others who tantalized and teased, but never made it - anywhere.

Starting with Ape, lets trace our first round draft picks in the past several years:

Players Drafted in the First Round

1987 - Kevin Appier
1988 - Hugh Walker
1989 - Brent Mayne
1990 - none
1991 - Joe Vitiello
1992 - Jim Pittsley
1992 - Michael Tucker
1993 - Jeff Granger
1994 - Matt Smith
1995 - Juan Lebron
1996 - Dee Brown
1997 - Dan Reichert
1998 - Jeff Austin
1998 - Matt Burch
1999 - Kyle Snyder
1999 - Mike MacDougal
2000 - Mike Stodolka
2001 - Colt Griffin
2002 - Zach Greinke

These top draft picks have produced a grand total of two regular (but marginal) major leaguers, and not one pitcher. Baseball drafts are notoriously unreliable, but many, many great players come from the first round of th draft, and this just underscores the point - in the span of 15 years, shouldn't the Royals minor league system have produced ONE solid major league pitcher?

I'm just so desparate for a Royals pitcher - any pitcher - who can show any kind of long term consistency at all. I was in Boston a few years ago for a Royals game where Dan Reichert was just filthy - he gave up something like 2 hits in 8 innings. Boston fans were wondering about "that guy". But he could never deliver anything close that with any kind of consistency, so look where he is now - on the scrap heap with every other "promising" pitcher the Royals have brought to the bigs since Kevin Appier.

But Jeremy...the kid's all right for now.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Ring the bell! Bling, bling!

KC 15 Cle 5
B. Anderson (1-0): 6IP, 7H, 4R, 2ER, 2BB, 2K
Roger Clemens it ain't, but I'll take it.

The SuperStartStatoMeter (I'll change the name of this measure with every post until I figure out what I likes the best) total has just jumped 50% from 2 to 3!

Odds of moving the SuperStatoMeter from 3 to 4 tonight: Even (Affeldt is due for a good start; he's too talented to not pitch well at least once in three games).

Ryan and Denny pointed out on the radio broadcast that Brian Anderson has the third lowest BB/9 INN in the majors in the past year (maybe longer, I'm not sure). He's walking way too many this year, but that could be due to April showers.

And what a game for Carlos Beltran:

1-2, 3 BB, 4R, 3SB

Its not a sexy line, but you just can't be any more productive than that on a baseball diamond. Productive baseball players get on base and move well around the bases - bottom line. Bill James is probably right that the stolen base usually isn't a great tactic because most players get caught too often, but Carlos doesn't fall into that category, because he NEVER gets caught.

Its going to be a damn shame to see him leave KC, because if he stayed he'd probably become the second greatest Royal of all time, and maybe even approach George for top billing. Plus, he's genuinely fun to watch. I worry that his career will suffer in a place like New York, where he'll suffer under the pressure and scrutiny. He seems like a quiet sort who shies away from the spotlight, which is why I ultimately think he'll end up somewhere besides New York (Seattle?). But the Yankees will push awfully hard for him - they "need" a center fielder ("need" and "Yankees" sound ridiculous in the same sentence), and they'll surely pay.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Another day, another pathetic starting pitching line:

D. May (0-3): 5.1, 9H, 6R, 4ER, 3BB, 8K.

Will the Royals EVER get a starting pitching performance that gives them a chance to win a game? 8 strikeouts is encouraging, until you realize that practically every Twin who put the bat on the ball had a base hit. This is approaching folly of epic proportions:

Number of Starts: 12
Number of Winnable Starts: 2 (and not ONE by the "top three" pitchers)

Last year, our starters were relatively decent, considering all of the injuries. There were plenty of times they put the team in a position to win, only to see the (overused) bullpen lose the game. This year, the trend is the opposite but equally disturbing: the starters are going to turn our relatively strong 'pen into a weakness if they require them to pitch 4+ innings every game.

Now Berroa's on the DL with headaches. I have one too.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Welcome back Kevin Appier! Kevin has demonstrated that he will fit in very nicely with the Royals by giving up 5 earned in 3 innings, walking 3 with 2 wild pitches. After Matt Stairs pops out to short left field, we can officially update the Start-O-Meter. But I just can't wait:

Quality Start-O-Meter Current Count: 2

4-7. 2 decent starts in 11 games. SABR-types would point to the "small sample size" problem, noting that 11 games is not enough to get a representative picture of what to expect for the rest of the season from the starting pitching. But just for fun, let's go to the tote board:

-- 11 starts
-- 0 (ZERO) wins
-- 7.54 ERA (which will actually go up after Planet Ape's brilliant performance)
-- 25 walks to 24 strikeouts
-- Opposing batters have a .560 slugging .392 OBP (.952 OPS), suggesting that everyone who bats against the Royals is Albert Pujols, but not quite Barry Bonds

Is there ANY reason to be optimistic at this point? ZERO wins for starting pitchers in 11 games. ZERO. Is too much to ask this line?

6 IP, 5 hits, 4K, 1 BB, 2 R, 2ER

On the other hand, Carlos Beltran is demonstrating to rest of the league just how great he is. It'll be fun to watch him playing center field for the Yankees in August...

Friday, April 16, 2004

To say that the Royals are lucky to be just one game under .500 is an understatement; two dramatic come from behind victories means we're just this close to being 2-7 right now. Otherwise, this team has held to form so far:

-- The offense has been very good. The Royals are near the top of the league in runs, home runs, and OPS. Berroa hasn't produced, and we can nitpick about Juan Gone's run production,but overall this lineup will be a force all season, barring injury (jinx!).

-- The bullpen has been as good as expected, except for the blown save by Leskanic the other day. Don't know if Nate Field and D.J. Carrasco, two marginal major leaguers, can continue to pitch well, but so far I don't have any complaints. What more can you expect?

-- Oh, Sally, the starting pitching. All 7 of the people who REALLY care about the Royals knew this IS the weak link of this team. But who knew it would be this bad? The Royals Our bodacious top three of:

-- Brian "I'm Really a #4 Starter, But I Play #1 on the Royals!" Anderson
-- Darrell "Is One Good Season REALLY Worth a Few Million Dollars?" May, and
-- Jeremy "if he could just overcome those damn blisters he'd win the Cy Young!" Affeldt (everyone's pre-season darling)

have been spectacularly terrible, producing a grand total of ZERO quality starts between them. Brian Anderson did only give up 5 earned in 6 2/3 the other night, and in the process watching his ERA plunge to 8.62. It makes for top-notch trivia that the Royals have had all left-handed starters, but must they all SUCK at the same time?

Mathematically speaking, we're in good shape, though -- because it cannot get any worse than ZERO quality starts. We only have room for improvement - this is a bonafide fact. Mr. Gobble gave us one excellent start, and Reyes filled in well for another (though his four walks in 5 innings suggest his future is in the bullpen and later on waivers). The scary thing about this beginning is this team has NO starting pitching depth - Snyder, Ascencio, Hernandez all out for this season and beyond. Where do you go from here?

Anyhoo, the starting pitching cannot be this bad all season, so there is hope yet. If they are just merely "below average" rather than "historically bad", the Royals may yet win 75 games!

But I'm an optimist! Let's watch JGob string together his second consecutive quality starts tonight in Cleveland! Maybe. Probably not...

Welcome to the Daily Lancer, a daily posting on the state and prospects of my MLB favorites, the Kansas City Royals. Its a curse to be a Royals fan, not only for the obvious reasons -

-- They've stunk for the past 19 years
-- They have no money
-- They have no fan base
-- They have a beautiful but outdated stadium that doesn't produce enough revenue
-- Etc., etc., etc.

- but also because I live in New York City, where I have no one who can commiserate, and I'm stuck between obnoxious Yankees and Mets fans.

But I manage to keep up, and enjoy writing about the Royals, so we'll see how it goes.