Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Our Ol' Buddy

"The Royals are playing much better under Buddy Bell." -- Daily Lancer


(Sidebar: Daily Lancer apologizes for covering the biggest Royal event this year in such a tardy manner. My other job is demanding these days.)

I'm nonplussed about the hiring of Buddy Bell. The agitators over on Scout.com seem pretty upset that Buddy Bell is the new manager, but as I've maintained all along I think the managerial pool shaped up as follows:

1) Bobby Valentine
2) Everyone else

So I'm not particularly upset that the Royals hired Buddy Bell, though I can't say that I'm entirely thrilled about it either. I thought all of the named candidates were warmed-over rejects - but with "experience" - so it doesn't really matter to me which of these guys got the job. I still think the Royals should have waited until after the season and made a strong push for Valentine, whom I thought was by far the best manager available. But for whatever reason they decided to make hiring a new manager a high priority - right before the June draft - and get it done now.

In my estimation, the situation hasn't changed - if the Royals don't produce talented players from their farm system, it won't matter who the manager is. I think Bobby V. was the only manager available who had a demonstrated knack for getting the most of his teams. I'm not so sure about Buddy. But if the clubhouse situation is as bad as Bob Dutton's article yesterday suggests it is, then perhaps the Royals need a manager who isn't afraid show some AUTHORATAY. At least Buddy has that reputation.

Many fans were howling for Art Howe. I know two things about Art Howe:

1) He managed EXTREMELY talented teams in Oakland with the Big Three pitching at their peak, two MVP type players in Giambi and Tejada, a budding young star in Chavez, etc. -- and the A's couldn't rush him out of town fast enough. On those teams, a superintelligent orangutan could have led those teams to the playoffs.

2) He managed considerably less talented teams in New York, was chronically ridiculed by the press for his mismanagement of the roster and games, and was fired unceremoniously.

Those are Art Howe's qualifications. Does his success in Oakland make him more qualified than Buddy Bell, who managed in two baseball sinkholes, Colorado and Detroit? I sure can't tell. Overall record, in my estimation, is a very crude measure of a manager's skill. Unfortunately, I don't think there are any good measures, so I'm still at a loss for evaluating managers. The only other way I have to judge this hiring is that it was done by Allard Baird and David Glass, and I have little faith in their abilities to get big decisions right. I'll wait and see.

-- I watched most of the game last night, thanks to the YES network. Greinke wasn't sharp - his control was shaky, his velocity wasn't impressive, and he didn't have an out pitch - lots of Yankee batters were able to extend their ABs fouling off pitches. But he gutted it out for 5 innings and managed to get a win after receiving some strong bullpen support from Wood, Sisco and Mac (his stuff is just so damn good, its a crying shame he can't control it consistently).

Revenge of the Schaef

Its all darkness and despair and stuff these days. Feels like the end of Episode 3 (which I finally saw on Sunday, and I thought it was pretty good. But the critics and pundits who were saying this was better than any of the original three movies are ker-azy).

After a six-game road shellacking at the hands of the Rangers and Angels (including a monumentally awful loss Friday night in the late innings against LA), the Royals now face the Yankees and Rangers at home over the next week. I'm thinking 2-4 on this 6 game stretch would be a miracle of minor proportions.

The fog's getting thicker, the sample sizes are getting larger and the Royals winning percentage now stands at .260, which puts the Royals on pace for a 42-120 season and would, of course, challenge the 1962 Mets all-time worst record of 40-120 (ok, the Spiders were even worse, but does that really count?).

Let us now fire the batting coach.

“I knew the task was going to be next to impossible.” -- Jeff Pentland
I thought Pentland would be the first to go this season until Tony made his surprise exit. Pentland can't turn crap into pie but this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone familiar with the Royals of the last few years. They haven't materially improved their philosophy to batting or their approach at the plate, and how else can you judge a batting coach? Pentland rode a wave of goodwill in 2003 when the Royals scored 836 runs, but unfortunately he didn't have the secret recipe for consistently hitting better with runners in scoring position (which was responsible for the flukish 2003 run total).

Anyway, I thought this move would have been made after the new manager was hired, but perhaps its just a precondition to the Royals hiring their new manager anyway, which appears to be just around the corner (My guess: Jerry Manuel).

Bobby Valentine is still waiting for a phone call, but it doesn't look like he's going to get one.

In other news, something is rotten inside the clubhouse. A very interesting article on several dimensions, but this is my favorite quote:
The effort in pregame stretch improved last weekend in Anaheim, but the losses kept piling up.

"Effort in pregame stretch"? I'm more concerned about the effort after the pregame stretch.

Anyway, this is one Bob Dutton's finer articles and it does a good job of pointing out how this kind of losing can poison a clubhouse. The Royals are a very intriguing test for how much influence a manager can have on the demeanor and performance of his players.

I'm having one of those gut feeling/wishful thinking/problem gambler moments: Zack Greinke picks up his first win of the season and the Royals pound Kevin Brown for an easy victory.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Daily Lancer Welcomes...

... The Pipeline to the Royal blogosphere. Our numbers grow stronger weeth each passing day!

Godspeed, Pipeline.

Warning Track Power has been around for a while, but I'm just now getting around to putting up a link.

Roster Move Time

The mini-buzz following Tony Pena's welcome departure has evaporated. After being swept by the Rangers, the Royals are now 5-10 under Bob Schaefer and are playing scarcely better than they were under Pena. I couldn't stand Pena's managerial style and I'm glad that he's gone, but the Royals' dismal record is primarily due to a poor roster, NOT the manager.

Given that this is a lost season, the Royals need to dump some dead weight, make a few changes to give themselves a chance to win more games and allow their prospects to develop at the proper pace.

1) Release Jose Lima, replace him in the rotation with Mike Wood. Jose Lima has a VORP of -20. MINUS 20. He is far and away the worst pitcher in major league baseball. The Royals have no chance to win when he pitches and the team is just sending him out there inning after inning simply to avoid using the bullpen (Daniel was right about that one). Lima has underperformed even my extremely low expectations.

He has no value to this team and any replacement level minor league pitcher would almost certainly outdo him. I'd rather see D.J. Carrasco, Ryan Jensen, Jimmy Gobble, Dennis Tankersley, hell even (gulp) Chris George starting games instead of Lima.

But Mike Wood is the clear choice here. Even if his performance suffers somewhat as a starter, he'll be miles ahead of Lima. And if the Royals really need Wood in the bullpen, then any of the aforementioned starters will do.

It was a mistake when he signed, and its an even bigger mistake now. End our collective misery, Allard. You did it last year with Leskanic, you can do it again.

2) Release Terrence Long, replace him with Aaron Guiel. TLong, sporting a hefty - 6.7 VORP, one of the the worst in all of baseball and the worst among outfielders, serves no purpose on this team. He can't hit, he's a lazy defender and a poor baserunner. He's only on this team due change-of-scenery exchange of bad contracts, but the change didn't do him any good. Release this man!

Meanwhile, Aaron Guiel is hammering the ball in AAA - 11 HRs, 13 doubles and even 4 triples. He's clearly recovered from his vision problems and has nothing else to prove in the minor leagues. Again, even at or near replacement level he's a huge improvement over Long. And I like Aaron Guiel.

3) Demote Leo Nunez and Ambiorix Burgos, replace them with Jaime Cerda and Jeremy Affeldt. Nunez and especially Burgos are hot prospects, and they've actually pitched pretty well overall. But they just aren't ready and are being severely rushed for no apparent reason. Both of them spent about 2 weeks in AA before their promotions. They both need to master their craft against AA and AAA quality opposition before cutting their teeth with the big club. I have no idea why the Royals are acting so desperate.

Affeldt's return is contingent upon his health, of course, but I'm working on the assumption that he'll be ready pretty soon given that he's making rehab appearances in Omaha. Cerda? Sure, his overall statistics have been terrible and he has control issues, but the Royals are completely clueless about using him properly. Cerda has a clear role in the major leagues - LOOGY - but the Royals insist on making him a 1 to 2 inning reliever. His splits are ridiculous:

Vs. Left: 11.1 IP, 9H, 2HR, 2BB, 10K, 0.97 WHIP
Vs. Right: 7.2 IP, 12H, 1 HR, 9BB, 8K, 2.74 WHIP

If the Royals just used him properly, he would be an effective major league pitcher. Perhaps you could make the argument that this team can't justify carrying a LOOGY on their roster, and I could go along with that, but that doesn't excuse the team from using him in ways that almost always end in failure.

4) Stop playing Eli Marrero against right handed pitchers. .091/.179/.152. His statistics against left handed hitters aren't very good either, but they dwarf his performance against right handers. He's a 150-200 AB platoon player and a solid right handed bat off the bench - no more (and a reason why it was ridiculous for the Royals to acquire him at his price tag).

5) Take the pressure off of Andy Sisco. Maybe it was overuse, maybe its dealing with late inning, close game situations. But my gawd the kid is 21 years old and fresh out of A ball. He's not handling the set-up role well at all. Just use him in long relief and mop-up, spot him occasionally in tight situations and ease the pressure a bit. I think this process is already happening to some extent (and he isn't pitching as often, which is a good sign), but its a point worth emphasizing: don't heap too much responsibility on an extremely young pitching prospect who wouldn't even be in the majors if he weren't a Rule 5.

6) Hire Bobby Valentine.
7) Draft Alex Gordon.

See Daily Lancer Wednesday.

8) Sell unsold tickets on Ebay. If you can fill an empty seat for $2 and bring in crowds of 30,000, why not? I've never seen a study on the impact of crowd size on player performance, but it couldn't hurt.

9 and 10) I'm still thinking.

Have a super weekend.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Credibility Moments

The Royals are steaming towards two important decisions for the franchise: the choice of their next manager and their selection with the #2 pick in the upcoming amateur draft. Now, I don't want to place TOO much stock in either of these decisions. I don't think a baseball manager is nearly as important as, say, a head football coach, and every baseball draftee is full of risk, regardless of how highly touted they are. Still, both decisions share something in common: the willingness of the Royals to make significant investments in places where they can afford to do so. The Royals might not be able to be serious players on the major league free agent market, but managerial hirings and top amateur draft picks are two areas where even a franchise like the Royals should be expected to act like big boys. Will they?

The Next Manager. I think there's little question that the Royals need to hire an experienced manager who has demonstrated competence at the major league level. The Royals have hired 5 consecutive managers without prior major league experience, all without success (on less-than-talented teams), so its high time the Royals stopped being a proving ground for managerial neophytes. The fan base (or at least this fan) cannot tolerate suffering through another Bob Boone, Tony Muser or Tony Pena.

I don't think the Royals will fail us on this measure; the team appears to be firmly committed to hiring an experienced manager. Plus, there is no shortage of candidates who would be happy to become the next skipper of the Royals. There are only 30 major league managerial positions, so each one of them is highly coveted, even if it is with the Royals. I have to wonder, though, if the Royals' prior decisions to hire rookie managers had as much to do with economics as anything else. I'm not sure if the market for managers is affected by signability, but it at least stands to reason that experienced managers would demand more money than inexperienced managers. It might be a non-issue, but given how miserly the Royals have been in other areas I question whether they'd be willing to pay top dollar for the best available managerial candidate. As a matter of credibility, its important that they land the guy they really want and not settle for a second choice simply because he's cheaper.

The Draft. This is the most important draft pick the Royals have had in ages, and perhaps in their entire history. I don't think its important in the sense that the team is in a position to draft their next superstar. I think its plain that there are no Lebron James' in the baseball draft. Even the best prospects have a less than 50/50 chance of achieving sustained success in the major leagues, and its foolish to expect otherwise. Daric Ladiner is hit-or-miss, but let's give the Royals their due - they picked up a player many thought was a reach and signability pick last year in Billy Butler, and he's emerging very quickly as a monster hitting prospect and one of the best picks of the 2004 draft (for now). So its CONCEIVABLE that the Royals could identify some other player who is a better draftee than Alex Gordon. We at least have to acknowledge that possibility.

That being said, the Royals must draft Alex Gordon (or Justin Upton), if for no other reason than to demonstrate to their fans (at least those who pay attention to things like baseball drafts) that they are willing to fully commit their resources where they are in a position to do so. I don't think any serious analysts of this team expects them to raise payroll to $80 million anytime soon, but we damn well expect the Royals to hand out $3.5 million to the consensus best player in the draft, especially after dropping payroll by several million from the 2004. If Gordon fails as a prospect and the Royals waste $3.5 million, so be it. I don't like systems that reward players for potential rather than performance any more than the Royals do. But that's irrelevant; the structure is what it is, and the Royals must make that commitment if they hope to retain any shred of credibility in the eyes of the last bastions of diehards.

Then they'll get to test their mettle all over again next year, when they'll most likely have the #1 overall pick.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bobby Vever

I'm pleased to see that Joe Posnanski and Rob and Rany have hopped on my Bobby Valentine Lovewagon. If only I could just call up Bobby Valentine and ask him about the vacancy like Joe Po. Maybe someday.

Anyway, I think without question he's the best manager available (to the extent that an employed manager is available) and I hope the Royals think of him seriously as a candidate. It doesn't sound like they are, though.

Back from the Saddle

Its always tough (snicker) leaving the Royals behind for a few days, but I managed. In fact, I even caught (on TV, mind you, not literally) Mark Teahen's first home run of the season on Saturday, a game the Royals eventually lost, of course.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of movement these days. The Royals are playing better (5-7) since Tony Pena's departure, but that merely upgrades their condition from "dead" to "I don't think he's dead", so I don't take much stock in that. The interim skipper is supposedly in the running for the new actual skipper job, among a list of luminaries that includes Art Howe and Terry Collins. I guess they couldn't find Bobby V.'s phone number. Vonage has great rates to Japan, by the way.

Catching up on news you've already heard:

-- Ken Harvey DL'd. I guess he's not a savior after all!

Game 1: 1HR, 4RBI
Games 2 to 10: oHR, 1RBI

-- Leo Nunez is experiencing the joys of opposing batters wondering "Who the hell is this guy?"

8.1 IP, 3H, 0BB, 6K, 0.36 WHIP

I'm waiting for the Andy Sisco Turn:

A. Sisco
April (Mop-Up Man): 17IP, 8H, 6BB, 20K, 0.82 WHIP
May (THE Man): 8.2IP, 9H, 10BB, 11K, 2.19 WHIP

I love the fact that the Royals have some talented young pitchers on their roster. I'm more excited about this crop than any in recent memory. I just think we need to keep reminding ourselves that they're going to struggle mightily for at least 2 years before they become consistent major league pitchers. It took Ben Sheets four years, which is my mental benchmark, so I have no reason to believe these young talents are any different.

-- When I look at Mike Wood's season line, I'm shocked:

26.1 IP, 18H, 3HR, 10BB, 20K, 1.06 WHIP

I can't believe his statistics show that he's doing this well. It seems like everytime I catch his performances live, he stinks.

-- I'll give Jose Lima one thing: he's eating innings. That's the only aspect of his job description he's fulfilling.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


I'll be out on vacation for a while, so I probably won't be posting until next Tuesday...

Who's Next?

"Pick the right manager, and the Royals could thrive. Pick the wrong one, and they might as well put a down payment on last place."
-- Jeff Passan, Kansas City Star, 5/17/05

Let's make sure we understand one thing: this team will not thrive this season and probably will not thrive next season. No manager dead or alive could prevent this team from losing 100 games this season, and unless the Royals' offense breaks out in a seriously unexpected way next year I don't think they'll lose less than 90. I think the net impact of a manager on a team's performance is on the order of +/- 3 or 4 wins, which could be crucial for a team on the verge of contention but doesn't particularly matter for this team right now.

But it IS important that the Royals hire a good manager, if for no other reason than to signal to the public that they care about building a winning organization. PR wise, the last thing this team needs is to hire another greenhorn or "promoted-from-within" manager. The second-to-last thing the Royals need is to hire another in-game micromanager who is addicted to destructive intervention at every possible opportunity.

My problem is that I find it difficult to evaluate a manager's credentials. In journalistic circles, Joe Torre is hailed as a premier motivator, confidante, and overall managerial genius; in the performance analysis subculture, he's ridiculed for his poor roster and in-game management. The truth is probaby somewhere in between, but the fact is that he's been managing some extremely talented Yankee teams. That's not to say that anyone can do it, but it just makes things fuzzy. The evaluation process in basketball and football is simpler, I think, because its easier to decipher which are the good and bad coaches, for two reasons:

1) The team concept is much more important in those sports, so a coaching strategy and philosophy can make a big difference in team performance;

2) Every team operates under a salary cap, so there is a reasonably level playing field in terms of talent acquisition resources.

So how to decide on the Royals' next manager? Allard Baird is contacting a number of experienced candidates, but frankly I'm loathe to evaluate a manager on the basis of his record alone, since it is very much an artifact of the team he inherits -- Grady Little, for example, has a winning record in his managerial career but he managed a team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball.

A more "objective" method would be to compare the actual vs. Pythagorean record over managerial careers to see if there is any kind of net effect of managerial (in)competence. I'd expect fluctuation from season to season based more on baseball metrics (for example, Tony Pena was Manager of the Year in 2003, but the real reason they won more than expected was that the Royals led the league in BA with RISP, which led to considerably more runs than expected). But over the course of several years you'd expect these performance fluctuations to smooth out and that the net +/- effect would be something closer to resulting from managerial skill. Batter's Box created conducted just such an analysis for managers beginning their careers from 1980 to 2003, and found this:
Cumulative Pythagorean +/-
Manager Team(s) Seasons +/-

Bobby Valentine Tex,NYM 13 +22
Dusty Baker SF,ChC 11 +18
Felipe Alou Mtl,SF 10 +13
Ron Gardenhire Min 2 +13
Pete Rose Cin 5 +12
Jim Frey KC,ChC 3 +11
Mike Hargrove Cle,Bal 12 +10
Art Howe Hou,Oak,NYM 13 +10
Jim Tracy LA 3 +9
Kevin Kennedy Tex,Bos 4 +8

And the worst:

Manager Team(s) Seasons +/-

Jimy Williams Tor,Bos,Hou 10 -27
Jim Riggleman SD,ChC 7 -23
Buddy Bell Det,Col 5 -21
Larry Dierker Hou 5 -16
Lee Elia ChC,Phi 4 -16
Phil Garner Mil,Det 10 -14
Doug Rader Tex,Cal 5 -13
Bud Harrelson NYM 2 -10
Gene LaMont ChW,Pit 7 -10
Tom Trebelhorn Mil,ChC 6 -9
(And what do you know: there's my guy, Bobby V., and the top of the list! Come on down, Bobby!)

What other criterion could we use? Experience probably matters, but it isn't a substitute for sound managerial strategies and tactics. I don't care that Jimy Williams and Larry Dierker are experienced; they've both demonstrated that their managerial acumen is poor and that their teams consistently underperform expectations.

The Next Big Thing in baseball management should be the development of a new SABR-oriented managerial class that embraces the translation of objective performance analysis into managerial strategy and tactics. Tony Pena claimed to be part of that revolution when he was hired by Allard Baird, but First-Inning Bunt Tony was eventually exposed for the unyielding traditionalist that he is. But unfortunately that day isn't here yet, so the Royals are going to have to settle for an experienced manager who demands the most from his players, protects his young pitcher's arms and understands the basic tactical nuances of the game, if not the most efficient path to run creation and prevention.

I'd love to see Bobby Valentine as the next manager of the Kansas City Royals.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hell Gets Mighty Cold

The Royals actually won a series. I'm tempted to write "Well, it WAS the Devil Rays", but beating ANY team 3 out of 4 is quite an accomplishment for this club.

The Royals must lead the league in balked-in runs (2), which turned out to be the decisive run yesterday. Ambiorix Burgos actually struck out the side in the ninth; however, he also issued 2 walks and his third strikeout was also a wild pitch that allowed the batter to reach base. Burgos is extremely tantalizing but very unsteady. Mike Wood made things interesting before recording his second save of the series (how many Mike Wood pickups will there be today in fantasy baseball?)

Zack Greinke - another fantastic performance. Sounds like the early buzz about Denny Bautista displacing Greinke as the staff ace was a wee bit premature. He's been even better than advertised this season.

6.2 IP, 8H (all singles), 1ER, 1BB, 7K. Season ERA: 3.09.

He remains winless, though, as Greinke's run support is the worst in the majors: 0.68.

-- It was also DL Weekend, as Denny Bautista and Kyle Snyder find themselves on the shelf with (gack) shoulder problems. The Royals claim both moves are essentially precautionary, but I don't believe I'll take that at face value. Get well soon, fellers. As a result, Matt Diaz is back with the big club. Please, PLEASE, let this guy play. He has nothing more to prove at AAA. Either he's a AAAA washout or a decent major league outfielder. The Royals have absolutely no excuse not see which is true.

-- The Royals are carrying just 10 pitchers right now, which should be remedied once Jeremy Affeldt returns from his rehab assignment.

-- There was also a piece in the Star today about Missouri state legislators' failure to approve maintenance funding for the Truman Sports Complex, which could ultimately void the Royals' and Chiefs' leases. I find it hard to believe it will come to that, and the Chiefs aren't going anywhere anyway. The Royals? There will be suitors...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Royal Blogerati Reshuffles

A couple of prominent fellow Royal bloggers are linking up with some baseball blogging networks and goin' corporate, er, moving onto greener pastures (no resentment here, NO!).

-- Kevin Agee of Kevin's Royals Blog has moved his operation over to All-Baseball, where he'll write for Kauffman Confidential along with Bill Heeter, formerly of Royals Court -- where I'll be posting on occasion.

-- Will McDonald of Royals Nightly has joined the Sportsblog Nation with his new site, Royals Review.

Godspeed, gentlemen.

My, How the Meek Have Fallen

I just re-read BP's synopsis of the Royals in their 2004 edition. I didn't recall the piece being quite so optimisitic, which of course explains why the experts at BP were so WRONG about so many things. The sunny feeling surrounding this team entering 2004, even if it was based on a mirage 2003, was real.

Most of the synopsis was focused on the development of Allard Baird as a general manager, whom they claimed joined the SABR revolution. AB has been covered ad naseum here, especially as a free agent talent evaluator, but the conventional wisdom is that AB is at a crossroads.

Overall Outlook
"In the long term, baseball in Kansas City look rosier than it has since the Royals put away the Cardinals in 1985."

I don't think this quite captures the sentiment these days.

Free Agents 2004
"Happily, the market for mid-tier free agents has cratered, and the Royals were one the few to take advantage of it."

Just change that sentence from "to take advantage" to "to be taken advantage of" and that assessment was on the money. They were correct that none of those deals locked them into long-term commitments, a point I echoed not long into the 2004 season.

The (Former) Manager
"...Pena himself admitted to Baird...that his inability to control the strike zone was his biggest weakness as a player. He fully supported an organizational approach to better plate discipline...Two years later, Pena is reigning manager of the year, while Showalter can't get along with the best player in the league."

I guess Tony was just living a lie in 2003.

Player Evaluations. This is where it gets plain sad.

1) Angel Berroa: "Berroa is is the AL Rookie of the Year. It's hard to say that Baird got taken by Billy Beane when he ended up with the best player in the deal...If he can simply maintain his rookie performance from now until free agency, he'll be the best shortstop in franchise history."

2) Jeremy Affeldt: "His propensity for blisters is the only reason Affeldt is not yet a household name...[I]f his procedure is successful, he's a great candidate to grab the staff ace mantle and 15-18 wins this season."

I guess that procedure didn't remove the blisters from his head.

3) Miguel Ascencio: "While Affeldt [gets] a lot of the hype, Ascencio...is a breakout candidate of his own."

4) Jimmy Gobble: "Gobble, who had followed the Chris George career track since he was drafted, smartly diverged from the path last season. He throws harder and has a much better curveball, and he showed flahses of greatness after being abruptly thrown into a pennant race straight out of AA last August."

5) Mike MacDougal: "His breaking ball - somewhere between a curve and a slider - may just be the best pitch in baseball. [I]t's a...good sign that, from July 27 on, MacDougal walked only five batters in 20 innings. If MacDougal can maintain similarly impressive control in the future, he's going to be a stud."

These don't require much commentary. Berroa, Affeldt and Gobble have been the biggest disapppointments, since each have regressed continuously since the start of the 2004 season. Affeldt may still have some trade value, but Berroa (with his backloaded contract) and Gobble (who has fallen from top pitching prospect to has-been faster than any Royal in recent memory, which is saying a lot) are pretty useless right now.

Ascencio, of course, was lost to injury, which is just another piece of bad luck. Maybe he'll figure it out in San Diego (I think he's there).

I don't think many of us bought into the hype about MacDougal, even if he did freeze Bonds and Pujols with his awesome breaking ball. It's just painful to see his incredible pitching talent go to waste because he can't throw the ball where he'd like to throw it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

America: More is Better!

Organizational Announcement: The Man Behind the Daily Lancer (MBDL, pronounced "Um-buh-dull") is going to start contributing to Royals Court about once per week. Please be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

That is all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Youth League

I can't say for sure if its better for pitchers to cut their teeth on big league pitching at a young age or to season them as much as possible in the minor leagues. Jeremy Bonderman suffered two years of growing pains at a very young age before finally getting it together the final 2 months of last season and has not looked back. Jimmy Gobble was brought to the Royals in the middle of a fading pennant race as a highly touted prospect and has steadily declined to the point of irrelevance at the ripe age of 23. Pick your poison.

The Royals are proceeding with the "youth shall burn" strategy, and in fact our young pitchers have provided the most promising moments in this most dreadful of seasons. Today was one of those days, though, when you remember why you questioned the strategy of bringing up all of your young pitchers to learn their trade in the major league crucible:

Bautista: 2.1 IP, 5ER, 5H, 5BB, 0K. Left game with "right shoulder stiffness".
Sisco: 1IP, 0R, 0H, 3BB, 2K
Burgos: 0.1IP, 5H, 5R (4ER), 0K, 1HR

The current staff is comprised of ALL of our best organizational pitching prospects, and most of them have no business being here:

-- Bautista wasn't ready when the season started.
-- Sisco is only on the roster as a Rule V, and never spent a day above high A before this season. -- Burgos and Nunez have collectively spent 4 weeks in AA.
-- Greinke is only 21. Well, there are exceptions...

Its shameful. Its ridiculous. Sure, its exciting to see young players show flashes of brilliance, but more often than not they're going to wilt from intense in-game pressure pitching against the best baseball players in the world. Take Andy Sisco. The Royals have to keep him on the roster, of course, and they'd be crazy to give him up. He's a great talent with a wonderful upside. And when the Royals were using him in mop-up, he excelled. But because the Royals have no other reliable arms in the bullpen they've been relying on him FAR too much, and not surprisingly he hasn't performed nearly as well in his last few outings: he has 8 walks in his last 4.2 innings. The Royals are so damn desperate for decent arms that they put all of the pressure on pitchers who shouldn't have any pressure on them at this stage in their careers. Abomination!

The Royals need some veteran pitchers to ease the constant pressure. Where they come from, I don't know. I and Allard Baird are open to suggestions.

Holy Frijoles!

Pena quits! I feel a bit cheated. The only thing I had to look forward to this season was Pena's humiliating public dismissal, but I suppose this will have to do.

Anyway, what happened to our sunny, eternal optimist? Hey, if you're feeling blue, just jump in the shower in your uniform! Beg Jose Lima to whip up some his patented zany antics! Play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey!

"I can't take it anymore."


I never think a manager or head coach just "quits". More than likely he was feeling the pressure to leave anyway, so his move was likely just a pre-emptive strike. I can't believe that Baird wasn't considering Pena's dismissal with the way the Royals are playing. The Royals had low expectations, but they were still underperforming.

I don't there's much reason to rehash Pena's troubled reign in Kansas City. He was a terrible in-game micromanager, placed way too much importance on gritty-yet-highly-unproductive players like Desi Relaford, etc. In the end, though, the Royals of 2002 to 2005 simply weren't very talented or experienced, and despite the 2003 miracle fluke, Pena managed teams that were destined for 100-loss seasons no matter his or any other manager's interventions. Pena simply made it worse with his nauseating sunniness and had aggravating in-game skills.

So what's next? Hell, I don't know. I don't follow the baseball manager free agent market very closely, and I have no clear idea of what constitutes a good manager. I just know that Tony Pena is not one of them. Pena kinda screwed the Royals by quitting in May, forcing the Royals to undertake a manager search mid-season. The "big" names are Larry Dierker, Bob Brenley, Tom Kelly, Jim Leyland, etc. but I can't imagine why any name manager would want to manage in such a baseball backwater if they feel they have better options on the horizon. I'd prefer that the Royals hire someone who has actual major league managerial experience, but the Royals will probably not do so. Frank White is the obvious internal candidate, and I'm confident that he'll at least make it into the final pool. Can Frank be our Ron Gardenhire?

For other opinions on the final journey of Tony Pena, take a gander at Kevin on his blog and Bill over at Royals Court.

UPDATE: Oh, yes, I forgot: I'd like the Royals to hire Bobby Valentine. He's a solid, highly professional baseball manager.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


I leave for ONE weekend and...nothing happens.

Royals lose 3 of 4 (including Monday), barely escape a monumental collapse on Sunday and continue to swing the bats like drunken samurais. We've played 20% of the season already, and the Royals are on pace for a record of 41-121 (+/- 1) and could challenge the 1917 Philadelphia Athletics for the worst all time winning percentage (.235). Well, probably not.

One positive: media-wise it is better for the Royals to historically bad rather than merely bad. Your team receives much more coverage, even if it is all bashing.

-- The big news upon my return from lovely upstate New York was the arrival of Leo Nunez, representing the latest manifestation of the Rush-n-Ruin Program the Royals implemented earlier this season. Nunez, just two weeks removed from his promotion to AA, now assumes a prominent Royals in the bullpen alongside Ambiorix Burgos, who was also promoted after spending about two weeks in AA (and he was lights out on Sunday, by the way). At least this Nunez is better than the Nunez who was supposed to be the Royals' starting right fielder.

Appalling as it is to have 3 pitchers barely out of A ball on the major league staff, I must admit it does add some excitement to this moribund season, though, to see the best Royal pitching prospects (Bautista, Greinke, Sisco, Burgos, Nunez) all on the roster.

Gut feeling: Brian Anderson is out for the season. That'll be a rough blow, because he could have made decent trade bait at the deadline.

-- Jamie Cerda, this is the final boarding call for flight 4321 non-stop service to Omaha, one-way. I was skeptical about Cerda's success last year, because his peripherals were quite poor (except his extremely low HR rate). As is always the case, pitchers with poor control are eventually exposed. Cerda will (ok, should) be gone just as soon as Affeldt returns from the DL.

-- Andy Sisco is in permanent relief, apparently. Whatever. I trust the Royals' word on "permanent" pitching roles as much as I trust Mike Macdougal to protect a 1-run lead in the 9th inning. Let's see what they say next month. Anyway, I wouldn't mind seeing Sisco get an opportunity to start, but I've been mighty impressed with how he's performed in the bullpen (the last couple of outings notwithstanding). He simply might be suited for a bullpen role, and if the Royals have found a late inning dominator who will give the team 80-85 quality innings for the next 6 years, then why worry? When was the last time the Royals had a pitcher like that? Conspiracy theorists who believe Sisco is being kept in the bullpen so they won't have to pay him are not only crazy, they're just plain silly.

C'mon! Sisco is a Rule 5 draft pick. 6 weeks hence most of us thought he was just going to rot on the bench for the entire season. What's that they say about gift horses? Let us not be greedy -- yet. Give the Royals credit for picking him up, hope he keeps pitching well and worry about his ultimate role later.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Someone Get Some Erythropoietin...

...because the Royals' offense is anemic.

Hey, it worked for Lance Armstrong. (kidding!)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Pena on Pena

The story of the day is once again Tony Pena's management, and Pena was insistent that he did the right thing yesterday pulling Greinke in the 8th:
"This kid, he was throwing the ball real well. But then he walked a guy and he hit a batter. Right away, that tells you something. That shows you this kid is starting to go in a different direction. When that happens, and you have a fresh guy in the bullpen, you have to go with the reliever.”
I don't expect Pena to say anything differently. He's not going to second guess himself everytime something goes wrong. But I have no idea what he's talking about. So Greinke had some trouble with a couple of hitters after having NO trouble whatsover through the first 7 innings? Hell, he faced the MINIMUM through 7 inning, allowing 2 hits that were both erased o on the basepads.

Why is that grounds to believe Greinke's "going in a different direction"? Again, I'm just having a hard time giving Pena the benefit of the doubt right now. His gut feeling management style is producing nothing but vomit.

And a strong case can be made that Andy Sisco is NOT fresh. Someone over on Kevin's blog pointed out that Andy Sisco is on pace to through 110 innings this season as a middle reliever, and his workload has ramped up even more in past two weeks. Pena HAS done a good job of protecting his young pitchers' arms and I can understand that he doesn't really trust any other relievers but Sisco right now. But he's threatening injury by overusing Sisco.

Hopefully Affeldt will be able to take some of the pressure off when he returns, but if not its incumbent upon AB to find a serviceable bullpen arm for the rest of the season. As of now, I'd rather have D.J. Carrasco on the roster than Joe McEwing unless the team can find a better position player to occupy the 25th roster spot (Pick?). I highly doubt Steve Karsay (designated for assignment by the Yankees) would play for the Royals when he'd pretty much have his pick of teams, but it would be nice to have his veteran arm in the 'pen to work the 7th and 8th. He's injury prone, but there's very little downside for the Royals.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Avert Your Eyes

Just a brutal, BRUTAL loss today. Where to begin. Brutal.

-- Jose Contreras, a notoriously wild pitcher, manages to issue only 1 walk in 8 innings. Does this team understand who's on the mound? Make the guy throw strikes.

-- The Royals fail to score runs with 2 runners on base in both the 7th and 9th innings.

-- And the coup de grace - 3 consecutive walks with 2 outs in the 8th to yield the tying and winning runs. Its hard to tell exactly what went down from MLB Gamecast, but I think Pena yanked Sisco in the middle of an at-bat, putting incredible pressure on Burgos, who came in already down in the count with the bases loaded. Wow.

Look, the pitchers failed to perform in the crunch again. Sisco bombed, and Pena can't pitch for them. But Greinke was throwing a gem today - 7.1 IP, 2H, 1BB, 5K, 85 pitches - and Pena panicked by sending in Sisco, who is overworked and doesn't fare well with inherited runners yet. Greinke was completely in control today, and despite a couple of blips in the 8th, he earned the right to try to get out that jam. He was at 85 PITCHES.

Pena just can't get out of his own way. He gets no benefit of the doubt from me - everytime he makes a decision that results in a loss, even though its the players who ultimately fail, I'm going to blame him.

Margin of Error

Runelvys Hernandez on the latest Royal loss:

“That was the game right there,” Hernandez said. “A flat slider to Dye. That was a bad pitch. To Pierzynski, my change-up was flat. That was a real bad pitch.”

That's it: A Joe Crede homer (where you just tip your hat to Crede for hitting a good pitch) and two bad pitches in one inning. Otherwise, Elvys was very effective.

These are rough days for Royal starting pitchers. The Royal (no) offense puts so much pressure on them. Will it help these pitchers in the long run to constantly have to pitch under close game pressure, knowing that their offense is not going to provide high-scoring games very often?

Thee Three (Greinke, Bautista, Hernandez)

93.2 IP, 95H, 32BB, 59K (5.6K/9), 1.36 WHIP, 4.52 ERA

Not exactly matching the performance of the trio formerly known as the Big Three, but collectively these are pretty decent #3/#4 starter type performances.

Greinke has a .295 BABIP, which is a bit higher than the .270 BABIP he compiled last season. Some analysts suggested that Greinke was getting lucky with his BABIP last year and he would suffer somewhat once his average regressed to the mean (under the assumption that this average is essentially random and NOT under the control of the pitcher).

So how do the Royals' worst pitchers fare on BABIP?

Shawn Camp: .400
Nate Field: .480
Jaime Cerda: .474

Are Camp, Field and Cerda merely unlucky on BABIP? Of course not. Opposing hitters creamed the ball all over the park against these three, which is the reason why Camp and Field are in AAA right now (and Cerda won't be far behind). I assume over the course of the games they pitch they will face a relatively random sample of hitters of different quality levels. I have sympathy for the DIPS notion that pitching outcomes are to a large extent determined by defense (and the Royals have a terrible defense, for sure), but I'm also sure that bad pitching, all other things being equal, is hit much harder on average more than good pitching, which increases the likelihood of a ball-in-play becoming a hit.

The Hardball Times has tried to refine DIPS theory by measuring line drive %, a proxy for the quality of the opponent's ball in play (they were also the crew who predicted a slight decline for Greinke based on his relatively high LD% and relatively low BABIP).

Unfortunately, they don't have 2005 stats available yet. It would be interesting to test the relationship between BABIP and LD% for the 2005 Royals.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Gotay Report

Ruben Gotay is in a serious funk. He's just 1 for his last 19, but more importantly he has just 2 extra base hits in his last 18 games (4 all season). He's shown little plate discipline and even less command of the strike zone, drawing just 3 BBs against 19 Ks this season in 76 ABs. His .211/.241/.316 line translates into an equivalent average of .196 and a -3.7 VORP, worst on a poor hitting team and among the worst in baseball among regulars. Apparently, opposing teams have figured out that he can only hit fastballs, not unlike Pedro Cerrano some year ago (I had no idea he was the same guy who is in "24".)

On the other hand, Gotay has far exceeded expectations defensively - despite some well publicized flaps, his range factor leads all second baseman in MLB and his zone rating is respectable.

I thought Gotay was a darkhorse ROY candidate at the beginning of the season, given his hitting prowess at second base. Right now he's the second coming of Andres Blanco. It sounds like he's going to have to become considerably more selective at the plate if he wants to start making solid contact, but I admit I haven't seen him play in quite a while. Right now, he's a liability at the plate and an asset in the field - words I dared not utter just one short month ago.

Quick Post

Two things:

1) Royals blow late lead, lose again, etc etc. Great to see Mike Sweeney developing his power stroke, if only to begin building value ahead of trading season.

Time to send Sisco to AAA! (snicker). Sisco actually pitched very well again - after recording the first out, he gave up two weakly hit singles to center and right. His only mistake of the inning came on Carl Everett's (smash) double that scored the winning runs. Sisco perservered by striking out the final two batters to limit the damage.

Yes, he gave up a big hit to Everett, but he was very unlucky on the two prior balls put in play (aided by the Royals' porous defense, no doubt). The White Sox remind me of the Royals of 2003 - absolutely nothing can go wrong for them right now, but they're not nearly as good as their record.

The AP writer put a strange spin on Sisco's performance this season, implying that a) he's a closer, and b) his performance hasn't been very good this season:
It was the third blown save of the season for Sisco, acquired by Kansas City in the winter meeting draft.
Despite all of Sisco's "blown saves", I'm glad the Royals picked him up in the "winter meeting draft".

2) Mark Teahen activiated, Matt Diaz sent down. I can sorta understand why the team kept Emil Brown rather than Diaz, since Diaz still has an option, and Brown is out of options, and is reasonably due 1/2 season to see if he can play (so far, not good). And the Royals would be keeping 6 outfielders by keeping Diaz (well, 5.5, since Marrero plays 1st as well).
“This gives us a little more time with Brownie,” general manager Allard Baird said. “Let's see where it takes us."
If Emil's name weren't Brown, AB would be going the way of the Oklahoma baseball coach...

But do the Royals REALLY need two utility infielders?

We have too many outfielders,” Peña said. “It came down to that. I'd rather carry the extra infielder. That extra outfielder is not going to have the chance to play.”

Position Player Transaction Log

a) McEwing for Teahen (3B for 3B/Util)
b) Diaz for Pickering (OF for DH)
c) Harvey for Camp (1B for P)
d) Teahen for Diaz (3B for OF)

Net of these moves - Harvey for Pickering, McEwing for pitcher. Question for roster constructors, assuming that the Royals would not want to carry 6 outfielders and that there are no other viable infield candidates to keep instead of McEwing (save Pickering, who is just a DH):

For the 25th player on the roster, is it better to have an ultra-light hitting, second utility infielder or a 12th pitcher (say, D.J. Carrasco)?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Footnoted Gammons on the Royals

A Royal mess

The most disappointing team in April was likely the Royals. "I know a lot of our fans are disappointed and frustrated," K.C. general manager Allard Baird says. "But we have to build the right way. This is the way we have to go, and if anyone has to be fired, then fire me."

(DL: How can a Royals team that was widely regarded as the worst team in baseball heading into the season be characterized as "disappointing"? They've accomplished that goal, and worst will simply be a matter of degree - "seasonal" or "historical". Disappointing would imply there was a glimmer of hope, but alas, there was none.)

Baird is encouraged by his young pitching. Zack Greinke, Denny Bautista and Runelvys Hernandez (who still is getting his command back after undergoing Tommy John surgery) are the core of a future rotation, while Andy Sisco (20 strikeouts, two earned runs allowed in 18 innings pitched) was a great Rule V pickup from the Cubs, and Ambiorix Burgos shot out of Double-A hitting 98 mph on the radar gun.

(DL: Indeed.)

Come July, the Royals will be looking to make some deals for young players. Mike Sweeney would love to go to the Dodgers. Brian Anderson could be available, as could Jeremy Affeldt, who will be a fourth-year arbitration case at the end of the season.

(DL: Sweeney might love to go to the Dodgers, but I can't imagine the feeling is mutual, unless the Royals are buying. Right now, who would want to trade for Jeremy Affeldt?)

Baird's problem is that ownership doesn't breed relationships with young players. Affeldt had to go to arbitration over a $200,000 difference. Ken Harvey was shipped to Triple-A Omaha to open the season for arbitration reasons. That undermines what Baird and manager Tony Pena are trying to accomplish.

(DL: True, its important that the franchise breed good relationships with their young players. No players want their team run like Rachel Phelps, and making nice MIGHT help the team's chances of getting a hometown discount when their accomplished players lurch towards free agency (but retaining expensive free agents isn't the goal anyway). But wake me when Gammons focuses on players that have actually contributed something. Jeremy Affeldt has gotten progressively WORSE since his major league debut. He's a major disappointment. Why are the Royals obligated to simply pay what he's asking? Does Affeldt bear no responsibilty for not coming to a compromise, perhaps by acknowledging that he hasn't been good?

No need to even comment about the importance of building a strong relationship in order to retain Ken Harvey. But managing service time properly is ESSENTIAL for a small-market franchise. Does Gammons not recognize this?)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Punchin' Tickets

Royals 2005 - We Don't Lose Ten Straight to Nobody! (Are there any job openings in the Royals' PR department?)

Bautista had a solid outing, Eli Marrero and the rest of the offense finally busted out against a pretty decent starting pitcher in Cliff Lee, and Cerda...well, there's always a black cloud, right?

D. Bautista, 2005

29.2IP, 25H, 1HR, 10BB, 23K, 1.18WHIP. .233 BAA

Considering how poor the Royals' are defensively, I amazed at the batting average against. He has more walks that you'd like, but I love that he doesn't give up home runs, which the Royals of recent history have given away by the bushel (in fact, the Three Young Starters have given up a total of 4 HRs all season). All in all, he's been the Royals' most effective starting pitcher thus far. Every quality start he makes puts to shame my (and others') argument that he should have started the season in AAA.

A. Sisco, 2005

17IP, 8H, 6BB, 20K, 0HR, 0.82 WHIP, .138 BAA

22 years old, absolutely dominating. You have to wonder if he'd have made these kinds of strides pitching in AA ball with Chicago this season. He's simply flourished in this role. The question is whether Sisco should be made a starter at some point or should he continue doing what he's doing. It would be great, of course, if he COULD pitch as effectively as a starter, but maybe he's just found his niche. There are worse things than having a dominating middle reliever.

You gotta hand it to Ken Harvey - the guy knows the importance of starting with a bang. If Cal Pick had at least started the season with a few long hits and RBI, I'm certain he'd still be here. Ken has mastered the art of impression management, and probably bought himself a Stay Out of Nebraska Free card for the next couple of months.

I think we'll be seeing this mug for a spell...

Value Add
  • In other news, Apparently Jeremy Affeldt will be out a "few more weeks" with his groin strain. Its just not gonna happen for this guy, is it?

  • Bud Selig's acting tough and stuff. He's proposed a 50-game suspension for a first-time steroid offender. Second-time offenders would receive a 100-game suspension, and third-timers would be BANNED FOR LIFE. He's also recommended an amphetamine ban, which by all accounts are much more commonly used than anabolic steroids. I would think that this severely punitive approach would at least make players think 5 times about using "steroids", or at least drive users to find new substances not on the list. Opportunistic Congressmen, who receive training to not feel any shame, are taking credit.

  • The Royals have an excellent pretty good reasonable opportunity to win this series today, as the Royals face a pitcher even worse than Jose Lima in Scott Elarton. Lima has been fairly decent in his last 3 starts, actually, so maybe its time to ring the bell and give Lima his first victory of the season.