Monday, May 03, 2004

OK, after a easily-predicted sweep at the hands of the Yankees this weekend, we've reached the end of April, so let us take stock of where we are.

-- Starting Pitching: The starters went three weeks without a win, and have only given this team a chance to win in 1 of every 3 starts. GRADE: F

-- The bullpen has been terribly unreliable for most of the season, and even more so over the last three weeks. We have no closer of record, and our reliable veteran middle relievers have been mostly awful. GRADE: F

-- Fielding: Defense is something you have to see to evaluate, and since I don't get the Royals on TV very much, its hard to tell. In my rough estimation, defense has been average, but is certainly not the strength of the team that some hoped it would be. GRADE: C

-- Offense: The offense has been the only bright spot, but they don't seem to be coming up big when needed (example was yesterday, when they pounded Mike "87 mph fastball" Mussina for eight hits in four innings, but only managed two runs, and were predictably shut down for the rest of the game). GRADE: C+

-- Coaching: It would be easy to pin the blame on Tony Pena for this team's rough start, but he's just the captain of leaky ship. He received too much credit for the Royals playing over their heads last year, and although he doesn't deserve too much blame for the astoundingly poor performances of his players this year, he will certainly get his share. GRADE: C

-- Front Office: After what was universally regarded as an outstanding offseason by Allard Baird, no one could blame the Royals' front office for their terrible start. The front office should be judged on their approach to putting the team together, rather than the short-term actual results, since a $40 million payroll is always going to produce a lot of unreliabilty in the results. Taking the long view, the Royals are much, much better now at putting their team together than they were just a few years ago.

But I have to pin the blame for this team's disgraceful record of injuries on the organization as a whole, and that starts with the front office. This isn't a matter of bad luck; there is something insidiously and systematically wrong with the way Royals evaluate the injury risk of players, treat players who become injured, and/or the development of organizational practices that attempt to prevent injury. A team without payroll flexibility and no stable of major-league ready starters in the minors needs to make the maximum possible investment in the prevention, evaluation, and treatment of injuries, and it is clearly not being done. GRADE: F

-- OVERALL: The Royals are 7-16, holding the worst record in the AL and the second worst in the ML, if you count the MLB company team, Montreal, which probably shouldn't even count in the standings. Cannot point to one positive thing this year, except that Carlos Beltran will be very, very rich next year when he leaves. GRADE: F-

Its an obvious thing to say, but its sadly true: this team and its fans probably couldn't have imagined a worse start to this season. At 7-15, Tony Pena guaranteed the Royals would win the Central, but he's loco. He may believe, but the odds are devastating low - the Royals will have to win 88 games to have a chance to win this division. The Royals (currently .304 winning %) will have to go 81-58 (.583 winning %) over the final 139 games of the season to finish 88-74. A .583 winning % over the course of a full season would equal 94 wins, and even the most optimistic Royals fan could not expect the Royals would have been able to play at that level all year. There is certainly reason to believe the Royals will play better this year, but at their maximum efficiency they just aren't capable of playing nearly .600 ball for 140 games.

I was so excited about this season. The Royals overachieved last year, and won a lot more games than they should have considering they were actually outscored for the season, so we could expect a regression towards the mean in that respect. But the additions and subtractions from 2003 to 2004 more than offset that good luck from last year, so we had every reason to believe they could be about as good or better in a very weak division.

But here we are, one month into the season on May 3, and the Royals are done. Its over. The mathematics are undeniable - the Royals have virtually no chance to win this year. The kind of baseball they would have to play to compete for the playoffs this year is hard to achieve by a good team, and by no reasonable measure are the Royals a good team. The Royals had plenty of "what-ifs" going into the season, and not one of them has turned out well - Affeldt is 0-3, Berroa hasn't lived up to his ROY credentials, Juan Gonzalez hasn't done much, the "revamped" bullpen is as bad as ever, and injuries, injuries, injuries.

I'm going to have to think about what the Royals should do now.


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