Saturday, July 30, 2005

Trade Weekend

Latest rumor I've read:

Matt Stairs to the Red Sox? If the blockbuster with the Mets and Rays falls through, Stairs is an acceptable alternative to Aubrey Huff. The problem with this deal is that AB needs to end his fixation with a corner outfielder, since the Red Sox have none.

Personally, I would love to see the Royals enter the proposed 3-way deal by offering Sweeney, Stairs and MacDougal or Affeldt in place of the Rays' offer. Sweeney is better than Huff, and MacDougal is the equal of Baez (who is also a flake). Stairs would fit a need for the Red Sox. If the Royals could get Petit, Milledge, Anibal Sanchez and Kelly Shoppach (as the deal has been reported), I don't see how the Royals could turn it down. That's FOUR blue-chip prospects. This deal would be a coup for the Rays or the Royals if they can pull it off.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Birth of Blog

Please welcome David's Royals Blog to the party (that's the third David I know who is blogging the Royals, including myself). David has posted some comprehensive assessments of the Royal franchise in a number of different ways, including some excellent analyses of the Royals financial situation, especially regarding the arbitration status of some of the Royals' key youngsters come 2007-8.

As always, godspeed.

p.s. This is going to be a rough loss to the D-Rays after squandering a 5-run lead against a good young pitcher. I'm not impressed at all with Kyle Snyder. He's extremely hittable and doesn't have an out pitch. I'm even less impressed with Jimmy Gobble. His star has fallen more quickly than any pitcher I can recall.


Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts has a very good piece today tracing the minor league history of recent Royal acquisition Chip Ambres, comparing his path and future with recent OF promotees Jeff Francoeur (Braves) and Matt Murton (Cubs), who are much younger.

Also, Baseball Prospectus is offering a free preview of their premium content through August 3. There's also a live chat with Billy Beane tomorrow (Friday) at 2 pm EDT.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Gameday Blog

-- Inning 2: Elvys has solid command through 2, allowing just 1BB with 2Ks, but the Royals have been equally inept against Jon Garland. Carl Everett has already gotten himself tossed for arguing balls and strikes. Even with Everett, the White Sox lineup looks really weak, especially with Konerko on the bench. Frankly, I don't think today's Sox lineup is that much better than the Royals' lineup, which is scary for a team that's 29 games over .500. I can't imagine how the White Sox will stand pat without adding an impact bat at the trade deadline. Otherwise, this team isn't going to score any runs against the solid pitching teams in the playoffs.

I hear Mike Sweeney is available, despite JoePo's protestations.

-- Inning 3: Man, that was an extremely fast 3 innings.

Something positive about the youngsters:
OPS by Month, April to July

Player April May June July
Mark Teahen .627 .673 .675 .749
John Buck .520 .693 .699 .727
David DeJesus .828 .643 .810 .922
Ruben Gotay .560 .772 .833 .465
Granted, all but DeJesus are starting from a low base, and I don't know WHAT'S happened to Gotay in July (!), but the overall trend is positive. I've been down on Buck all season, but I think its probably time I let up a bit. I can see that Teahen is turning into a ballplayer. Gotay has some competition in Murphy, which will be good for both of their performances. DeJesus' needs a big second half, and he's started on fire.

Elvys, shutout through 4. He's pitched so well lately, he's earned a 10-day vacation. Looks like this is going to be a fast, low-scoring affair. The Royals need to take the lead before the 7th inning, or that dynamite Sox bullpen is going to shut them down.

Inning 4 and Beyond: Thanks to the less-than-stellar performance of Blogger, I wasn't able to post anything else about what was a very exciting game and an excellent win for the Royals. Yeomen work from the bullpen -- even Affeldt, even if he did make me nervous once again. The Royals had many chances to win the game, so I was surprised they were able to get away with squandering so many shots to win it.

25-26 under Buddy Bell. Its still a small sample size, and I find it hard to believe that the Royals would be near .500 if Buddy were the manager the entire season. But the fact is that this team has won about as much you could expect under Bell given their difficulties with things like, oh, hitting and pitching.

Up next: The Battle of the Dregs. Series like these are always a good test for the Royals, since Tampa Bay is a team the Royals should be able to beat 3 out of 5 times. I'm looking for a split on the road, but I'm not confident about the opener with Kyle Snyder on the mound.

The trade deadline is just 4 days away.

Off the Schneider

50 game Buddy Bell mark: 24-26. How can a team that hits so poorly, pitches so poorly and fields so...ordinarily... be a .500 baseball team? Does Buddy Bell deserve any credit? Rob and Rany think he's a tactical moron, but there has to be more to a manager than just in-game decisions.

Although we're all still traumatized by his horrificity in the first half of the season, Jose Lima is quietly getting the job done. I remember reading about an interview with Former Royal Great Brent Mayne (!) earlier in the season, who said Lima's success depends entirely on getting a large strike zone from the home plate umpire. Without it, he gets hammered every single time. With six straight quality starts (which is a dubious measure, but apt in Lima's case), the Zone must be getting as large as Leon.

-- This is a good AP photo of Teahen's swing on the extremely rare "triple cum inside-the-park grand slam":

I also read this morning in the New York Times that Billy Beane's method of evaluating a rookie (or, at least what he says in public) is not to measure absolute performance as much as a) the number of games played, b) finishing the season in the same role as you started it, and c) performing better in September than April. Barring injury Teahen will probably satisfy all of those criteria. John Buck's dismal 2005 is a reminder that these criteria don't always ring true, but Teahen has made steady strides from April to July, both with the glove and at the plate.

I'll try to LiveBlog today during the rubber game.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Quick Smack

-- Zack Greinke is an enigma, and even when he's successful he's entirely too hittable.

-- The Royals don't handle player movement very well. Mike Wood was obviously very upset that he was being sent to AAA and being converted to a starter, and it sounds like it was something they sprung on him without any warning. Where's the love?

Frankly, Mike hasn't been very good in his role in middle relief for the last 6 weeks, so perhaps a shake-up is in order.

-- Its hard not to believe in the White Sox when they keep spanking the Royals like this. Its not that the Royals are any reasonable barometer, but these games are really the only time I pay attention to the Sox. They're so vastly superior to the Royals in every aspect of the game.

Why wouldn't the White Sox be interested in Sweeney? Frank Thomas isn't able to stay off the DL (even moreso than Sweeney), and the White Sox could use a solid bat for the playoffs. Ken Williams isn't afraid to trade good prospects for players who can produce now, which would fit the Royals demands for a top talent in return.

Sounds like a good fit to me, except for whole "Don't trade in your own division" nonsense rule-of-thumb.

-- Will any team meet the Royals' asking price for their three tradable commodities - Affeldt, MacDougal or Sweeney? The deadline approacheth, and I'm guessing that one of them will be gone by Sunday. I think it will be MacDougal, but Baird will settle for lesser prospects than he originally demanded. I don't necessarily think this is a concession on the Royals' part; I agree with their strategy to ask for the moon but settle something..less....than...the...moon, whatever that may be. This is Mike MacDougal we're talking about here.

Question: Would you trust Mike MacDougal to be your closer if your team was in contention for the playoff? If not, would you trust MacDougal in any other role BESIDES closer?

I wouldn't, but a desperate team will try to make do, so I'm thinking a grade B+ and B prospect for MacDougal.

Or Affeldt.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Nice and Ugly

The Royal Faithful were treated to a rare morning game today, but we left with a dishonorable taste in our collective mouths. The Royals now stand at 4-4 on their road trip, which I still believe is a solid accomplishment. As bad as the Royals have been at home this season, they've been even worse on the road, so their post-Break performance away from the K is heartening.

-- J.P. Howell finally had a solid outing today, or at least as solid an outing as you can have giving up 4 runs in 6+ innings. He economized on his pitches, missed bats and didn't walk a single batter. Hell, he only yielded five hits, but unfortunately, two of them were home runs. Those are the ones that STING. Even allowing 4 runs, he lowered his ERA by nearly half a point.

-- I thought Leo Nunez had turned the corner on his meltdown mania, but he crapped out again on us this afternoon. I still wonder about Nunez' mental toughness, because he just seems to lack the ability to fight through outings when his stuff isn't the best. These are the kinds of outings which turn close games into blowouts and give the Royals no chance of winning, so that's a black mark against him, but fortunately games only count once: a 10-1 loss is the same as a 4-1 loss. A 7+ ERA would suggest that he's been ineffective basically all of the time (like Jose Lima and J.P. Howell), but its truly not the case. In fact, Nunez has been done in only by 3 truly atrocious outings:

3 outings (5/28, 6/9, 7/21)- 3.1IP, 16H, 17R, 4BB, 3K 45.95 ERA
23 outings (all others) - 30.1 IP, 30H, 12R, 5BB, 20K, 3.56 ERA

In nearly 9 out of 10 outings, Leo has been damn effective, showing excellent control and pretty good strikeout ability. In the other 3 outings, well, no pitcher could be any worse. We can't ignore the 3 horribly awful outings, but neither do you assume that he's been uniformly terrible this season by just looking at his 7.75 ERA and -2.1 VORP. With such a young pitcher, you live with the occasional awful outings and celebrate the fact that nine times out of ten he's a real asset to the team. The next step is to develop an ability to battle when he's not on top of his game (Elvys could teach him a thing or two about that).

-- Speaking of ugly, last night marked the fourth consecutive quality start for Jose Lima. He's quietly rebounded from being the worst pitcher in all of baseball the first half of the season into a perfectly decent #4 starter for this team. I don't expect much from a starter of his caliber, but I'd look for 6IP, 7H, 3R in a typical outing and except a poor performance every fifth start. I can't see the Royals trading Lima when they have no starting options available in his stead. He's here to stay unless the Royals can acquire another pitcher via trade on whom they can count to take the mound every 5th day for the rest of the season.

p.s. Lima's still last in VORP.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

And So It Begins

Tony Graffanino was the first to be jettisoned in the 2005 trading season, going to the Boston Red Sox for Class A P Juan Cedeno and Class AAA OF Chip Ambres. According to the report, the Royals will also receive another player to be named later.

Congratulations to Tony G. on his early parole. I hope he can contribute to a Red Sox run by the Yankees.

Now, what kind of bounty is this? I think we should temper our expectations, because after all, this is Tony Graffanino. But it seems to me the Royals made out pretty well:

Juan Cedeno, 2005 (Wilmington Blue Rocks): 80IP, 85H, 11HR, 37BB, 72K

Just 18 months ago, Cedeno was a hot prospect in the Red Sox (here is a nice diary of his progress/setbacks since late 2003). His 2005 performance hasn't been overwhelming, and perhaps his wildness made him somewhat expendable.

Check out this eerie premonition from BA's Jim Callis in a chat a few months ago:
Jim Callis: Cedeno still has a great arm, throwing 92-96 mph from the left side, but his secondary pitches lag behind his fastball and as a result he just doesn't miss bats. My guess is that he becomes trade bait.

His strikeout pace (8.1K/9) has increased from low A ball last season (5.8K/9), so it seems to me that he IS missing bats. He's also walking more batters (4.2BB/9 from 3.3BB/9), but he's still very young (21). The Red Sox thought enough of him to add him to their 40-man roster in November. Cedeno appears to be a nice haul for a player of Tony Graffanino's caliber even if he were the only player in the deal.

But that's not all!

Chip Ambres, 2005 (Pawtucket Red Sox): .294/.401/.495

Ambres has had an excellent season at AAA, showing excellent plate discipline, modest power and some stolen base ability (19 for 24). (Here's a very recent discussion thread about Ambres with some Red Sox fans, and here's a transcript of an interview with Chip a couple of months ago). He joined the Red Sox organization after spending six years with the Marlins. He was a former 1st round draft pick in 1998, but he never really developed in Florida, floundering for 4 years in A ball before finally showing some signs of life in AA.

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection on Ambres is available for some reason, and its worth checking out (though it doesn't account for his 2005 performance).

He's always demonstrated good plate discipline, but hasn't hit for much power until the last couple of years. His performance in 2005 whiffs of career-type performance, so it appears the Red Sox are selling high here. But Ambres appears to be a good fit for the Royals. He's demonstrated mastery over AAA pitching and he's not going to get a fair shot with Boston as long as they're in contention. He's not young (25), but the Royals don't really have any other OF prospects that close to the majors, so he should get his shot right away with the Royals.

Overall, I think this is a good trade for the Royals. Graffanino is a nice veteran to have on your team, but he's of marginal value on a team destined to lose 100 games. Acquiring one high risk/high ceiling young prospect and a lower ceiling outfield prospect for Tony Graffanino ain't too shabby.

-- Greinke has been great tonight, allowing just 4 hits and 1 walk with 4 strikeouts in 7 shutout innings. The Indians have hit some balls to the warning track, but Greinke's kept them in the park. I've listened to most of the game, and he's had much better command of all his pitches and has shown strong fastball hitting between 93 and 95. Royals up 4-0 heading to the 8th.

All-in-all, a rare good night to be a Royals fan.

Sizing Up our Foes

The Zack Greinke Rehabilitation Project resumes tonight on the road against the Indians. This is a tough test, because at this moment the Indians are a rising force in the AL Central. I don't think you can ever predict what a team's going to look like 3 years from now, simply because some players don't develop the way you expect, others are injured, and some players emerge from nowhere (but not for the Royals, of course). That said, the Indians are loaded with solid young players who are already contributing on the major league level.

Jhonny Peralta - .299/.349/.529 from the shortstop position, and only 23. This kid has the kind of plate discipline and power Old Man Berroa can only imagine.

Grady Sizemore - .282/.332/.458 He's taken a bit of a dive in July, but overall he's putting together a solid rookie season at the ripe age of 22. He doesn't have the same plate discipline as DeJesus, but he has more power potential and he's still nearly as productive, but 3 years younger. I like DeJesus, but I don't think he has the upside of Sizemore.

Victor Martinez - .246/.332/.386 Martinez has struggled with the bat in the second full season, but you have to love his approach at the plate (35BB, 36K). Not as young as the others (26) but still should be a very productive catcher for the next 5 years. John Buck, on the other hand, is a "good defensive catcher", which is an unflattering euphemism.

Travis Hafner - .310/.416/.578 Currently on the shelf with a woozy noggin, he's Mike Sweeney's from 5 years ago. His plate discipline has improved every year, and I don't think he's peaked. Is Justin Huber up to the challenge? Mike Sweeney isn't.

-- My favorite trade proposal: Jeremy Affeldt and Mike Sweeney to the Mets in exchange for Yusimero Petit, Victor Diaz and some other guy. Mets fill their two biggest needs - 1B and bullpen - and even if they don't compete this year, they'll have both Sweeney and Affeldt through 2007. Royals get a great pitching prospect, a 23 year old corner outfielder who can play right away, and some other guy.

More Updates

I've added a new chat features to the Daily Lancer, just to the right. I'm trying to build more interaction among regular (and new) Daily Lancer readers, so the chat is an experiment of sorts to see if it works. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Monday, July 18, 2005

A Slightly New Look

You'll notice that the site has been retooled a bit. I've considerably widened the main text spaces, which I think increases the readability of the site. I lost the rounded corners, but when it comes to my HTML skills, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

If the new style displeases you, please do not hesitate to tell me so. If there is a critical mass of consensus, I'll gladly change it back. And if you like this style better, I'd love to hear that, too.

An Eventful Weekend

First of all, the Royals did a fine job earning a road series split this weekend, capped by their first shutout of the season (albeit with four pitchers). They weren't especially competitive in games 2 and 3, and their bullpen floundered badly in game 2 (and was fairly shaky yesterday despite giving up no runs), but those are minor grievances. With this team, you take the small victories.

I don't have much to say about the brawl, other than generally speaking they're not very interesting. Elvys was certainly trying to brushback or hit Guillen with that second pitch, though I highly doubt he was trying to hit him in the head. Guillen had every reason to be upset, and despite Elvys' protestations he should be suspended.

I was most interested, though, in the behavior or Kyle Farnsworth. Why did he go after Affeldt? Is there some kind of personal history there (highly doubtful), or did Affeldt say something that set him off (even more doubtful)? No, I just think Farnsworth is a testosterone-laden thug who was looking for someone to tackle, and Affeldt was an easy target, standing alone and off to the side. Farnsworth should receive the longest suspension; his actions were completely unprovoked and their only purpose were to cause harm to another player.

-- Mike MacDougal's demons are starting to get the best of him. Yesterday marked the fifth straight appearance in which he's allowed baserunners, but thus far he's escaped unscatched. The silver lining is that he's learning to battle and keep his focus when he's not going well, but eventually this is going to catch up to him. Here's hoping he'll be putting fans for another team on edge in a couple of weeks.

-- Jeremy Affeldt, despite receiving a small amount of sympathy for being at the business end of a Kyle Farnsworth tackle, continues to annoy the hell out of me for pitching sequences like this:

Wild pitch
Wild pitch
Line drive double play

Face it folks, Jeremy Affeldt is just not very good. He's a flake on the mound. Its time to drop the wishful thinking and recognize Affeldt for what he is: a tremendously talented headcase who will never fulfill his promise (reminds me a bit of his newly minted nemesis, Kyle Farnsworth). I REALLY hope AB can trade him to a desperate GM for a nice prospect.


1) I really need to start editing my posts more carefully, and/or hire an editor.
2) Jayson Stark said in an chat that Jeremy Affeldt is the best set-up man available. He must be thinking of another Jeremy Affeldt.

Friday, July 15, 2005

More Reshuffling

The ever-evolving Royal blogosphere has reshuffled once again. Our friends at Warning Track Power and Royals Op-Ed Page have joined forces to rid the world of tyranny AND write about the Royals at the newly minted Royals Authority, which begat Royals Court, which was a brief and unproductive stomping ground for the Man Behind the Daily Lancer.

Godspeed, gentlemen. Godspeed.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Compressed Greinkanalysis

OK, so there was no free preview of MLB Extra Innings tonight, which makes me a liar.

Anyhoo, Greinke was pretty substandard again tonight; his control wasn't very good again and he got himself into several jams and couldn't escape from all of them. But he's in line for a win, because he's finally getting some run support. The Royals are still batting in the 8th and let's hope they can break this game wide open.

A Whole New World

Now that we've washed ourselves clean of the first half stink that was the Kansas City Royals, circa April - July 2005, its time to get ourselves dirty again. MLB Extra Innings is offering a free preview this weekend, so I plan to watch (or at least DVR) Zack Greinke's start tonight and see how he kicks off the second half of the season. I'll post my analysis of his start tomorrow.

I HOPE to see a focused Zack Greinke who reestablishes his pinpoint control, changes speeds effectively, maintains low HR totals and builds to a more respectable strikeout rate. That is job #1 in the second half of the season, and one of 5 things I want to see from the Royals until September.

The others:

2) David DeJesus takes his performance to a higher level, not merely replicating his performance from 2004. He's a pretty decent center fielder right now, but I want to see him to start hitting the ball with more authority and hasten the development of Johnny Damon II. Having a skilled leadoff hitter and center fielder are cornerstones of a solid baseball team, and DeJesus has the ability to provide both of those things.

3) Runelvys Hernandez to demonstrate that he can be an effective and healthy pitcher for an entire season, which would mark the first time in a long while that a promising young Royal pitcher was able to do so (except Greinke last season). There's probably nothing more important to this franchise than to develop at least two starters the team can rely upon to deliver a winning performance 8 out of 10 starts (I'm assuming ZG will be the other). That's a key steppingstone to a brighter future.

4) John Buck to show a pulse. I'm not optimistic, but I still see something in that sweet swing of his that encourages me. I don't expect Johnny Bench; I do expect Greg Zaun with a cannon.

5) Denny Bautista and Ambiorix Burgos to get healthy and resume pitching this season -- in the minor leagues. They carry the two finest arms in the Royal system and they are the future of this franchise. The Royals need their Johan Santana and Joe Nathan to be successful, and these are the guys to do it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Carnage Continues

And now, the pitchers. There are so many of them this season I'll limit myself to those who have pitched for a "decent spell.

Runelvys Hernandez
The Royals' most consistent pitcher of the first half is settling into a perfectly decent #3/4 bulldog. His success is a bit perplexing, since many of Hernandez' core peripherals aren't good (5.4K/9, 4.2BB/9, flyball pitcher (0.84 G/F). He doesn't give up many home runs (8 in 109.1 innings), which helps, but there is an intangible quality to his pitching that isn't easily revealed in statistics - he IS a bulldog on the mound. He maintains his focus in jams, works to limit damage in tough situations and keeps him teams in the game. He's a Minefield Magician. That's a veteran quality that you wouldn't necessarily expect out a player with as little experience as Elvys.

Grade: B

D.J. Carrasco
Yet another Royal starter whose success has defied expectations. He doesn't strike anyone out (3.7K/9) and his control is suspect (3.1BB/9). But he's an extreme groundball pitcher (2.2 G/F) who has managed to avoid the long ball to an unusual extent (3HR in 68IP). I'm not bullish on Carrasco, as I think some of his success has been based on luck and that will start to wear out. But there's no need to interrupt a hot streak, and he's going to remain a starter the rest of season since the Royals have a severe shortage of healthy arms anyway.

Grade: B

Brian Anderson
Let's see...

Year 1: Worst pitcher in baseball first half of the season, decently mediocre down the stretch.
Year 2: Missed the entire season with injury.

Hard to compete in this league when your team makes investments as poor as this one. Brian seems like a stand-up guy and I hope he can resurrect his career elsewhere, but the fact remains he's been an unmitigated disaster for the Royals.

Grade: F

Jose Lima
Lima has been tortured enough at The Daily Lancer, countless other blogs and the mainstream press about his performance. We all know how awful he's been. What separates Lima from the rest is his constant insistence that he's a good pitcher in spite of how many runs he yields every game. I recognize that you must be confident and probably a little cocky to be successful in the big leagues of any sport, but its also important to recognize when you're not doing things well. Lima's stubborn insistence that he's pitching well in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary leads me to believe that he's not willing to change anything he's doing to improve his performance.

Grade: F (if there such a thing as F-, I'd give it).

Zack Greinke
It's been a tale of two seasons for Zack Greinke.

First 8 starts: 46.2 IP, 44H, 3HR, 9BB, 28K, 3.09 ERA
Last 10 starts: 50.2 IP, 82H, 8HR, 17BB, 32K, 9.06 ERA

82 hits in 50+ innings is unbelievable for a guy who had given up fewer hits than innings pitched prior to his last 10 starts. His overall K rate (5.4/9) is slightly down from last season, while his BB rate (2.4/9) is still low but still higher than last season and an important indicator for Zack's success. When his location is off, he really suffers because he doesn't have "get away with it" good stuff. He's not yielding as many home runs thus far this season, but when you're giving up nearly two hits per inning it doesn't really matter very much.

Some analysts argued that Greinke was lucky last year with his BABIP, and that he would experience a regression this season as more of those outs would become hits, simply as a result of regression to the mean. I think that's probably happened to certain extent, but that doesn't explain it all. Greinke's just been pounded on many occasions; Greinke's line drive % of 21.7 is the 3rd worst in baseball, but take that statistic with a grain of salt as a lot of effective pitchers (Jon Garland, for example) yield a relatively high percentage of line drives. In any case, our eyes tell us that Greinke isn't fooling anyone these days, so these hits aren't just dribblers sneaking by Ruben Gotay.

Sabermetric stats are being put to the test by Zack Greinke. Despite the fact that we all see Greinke struggling mightily and sporting a 1-11 record, his FIP (fielding independent pitching) rating is better than Brad Radke, who is sitting at 6-8 and a 4.15 ERA. Indeed, these two profile very similarly - good control, modest strikeouts, give up a lot of hits - but the season outcomes have been very different for these two pitchers. In the end, Radke has been killed by home runs this season (20 already), which is probably why Greinke remains in the conversation.

What to expect from Greinke in the second half? I expect marked improvement. There are grumbles that he isn't open to instruction and is aloof, but I don't really care about that. I'm not thrilled at the prospect of any Kansas City Royals authority figure trying to teach anyone how to pitch anyway. If Greinke can improve his command, he'll be fine in the second half, even though his record will not reflect it.

Grade: C

In the 'Pen
Collectively, the bullpen has been the Royals' strongest area this season, despite the rash decision to promote several pitchers who are here before their time.

Andy Sisco has defied all expectations as a very young Rule 5 draft pick and has been the Royals' most consistently effective/dominating pitcher all season. His high BB rate (5.4/9) needs improvement, but that's really a minor beef for a kid who spent all last season in A ball.

Grade: A- (no A's!)

Mike MacDougal has a bumpy start, but has been a pretty good closer since Buddy Bell took the reins. Like Sisco, he's a strikeout demon (9.5/9) and he's really improved his command, at least for Mike MacDougal. He's still not a top-tier closer -- he gets rattled too easily with runners on base, and I still shudder to think of him on the mound in games that are actually important. But there are enough teams out there desperate for a power bullpen arm to give up something good to acquire him, and if they use him properly (starting an inning fresh) he could make an effective pitcher for a contending team. Maybe.

Grade: B (rises to A if the Royals trade him for a good prospect)

Mike Wood
The most ineffective, effective pitcher I've seen pitch this year. His overall contribution to the Royals has been a net positive, but he's starting to struggle with his control, which is a problem I did not see from Wood earlier in the season and one I did not expect from him. He'll remain effective if he can put the ball where he wants, but if he keeps up the walk party he'll be on the business end of some big innings.

Grade: B-

Jeremy Affeldt
When he pitches, he's pretty damn good. He still aggravates by walking batters unnecessarily when he should just be throwing strikes. He just won't stay healthy. I still think the Royals should trade him if they can get something valuable in return; I'm fairly convinced that he's not going to get it done here. I can see the merit in keeping him around if only because he may finally solve his injury problems, but he's going to start getting expensive. Soon.

Grade: D

Leo Nunez, Ambiorix Burgos, J.P. Howell, Denny Bautista
I like these pitchers very much. They all represent the future of the franchise, and they all have what it takes to be successful -- someday. But they're not ready, especially Nunez and Howell. But its not their faults they're here. No grades. Let's hope that Nunez and Bautista's shoulder injuries work themselves out quickly.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Its The Thing to Do

'Tis the season for midseason report cards, and since I loathe grade inflation I will spare no player from my fury. This has been a dreadful season, even beyond my initial muted expecations, other than the Royals' 15-game Buddy-fueled inspiration.

Offense today, pitching tomorrow.


Mike Sweeney (.318/.355/.547)
I'm happy that Mike made a big splash in the run-up to his undeserved All-Star appearance, but overall I'm quite unimpressed with his performance. He's on pace to play in 117 games, putting him slightly ahead of his lineup availability the past two seasons, but I'm under no illusions that he'll play more than 105-110 games. He's hitting with more power this season (his .547 slugging percentage is his highest since 2002), but I think its because he's hacking away more than ever. His OBP is in a tailspin, sitting at a very mediocre .355 because he rarely walks these days. Perhaps he's feeling the pressure to swing that since he's the only sturdy performer in this sorry lineup, but I think its a sign of a player in decline.

All told, Mike provides middle-of-the-road production for a 1B/DH type player, and doesn't justify his $11 million per year salary. The Royals are a better team with him in the middle of the lineup, though, so I hope he can find a way to stay healthy for the rest of the season. The ideal scenario would see him traded away to another team so they can watch him decay in 2007, but I'm not counting my breath or holding my chickens.

Grade: C+

Emil Brown (.287/.355./.455)
A bully for Emil Brown? He arrived in camp as a long-shot non-roster invitee, pounded the hell out of the ball for weeks, and managed to displace the mighty Abraham Nunez and merciful Aaron Guiel. His spring prowess did not translate to April performance once the pitchers became serious, but to his credit he righted himself and was a solid performer in May and June. He's not a sluggerrrr: Emil has just 8 home runs and 16 doubles, so despite the fact he can hit trucks in batting practice he's basically just a glorified singles hitter. His July peformance thus far ( .212/.278/.242) gives me pause, but its probably just a blip.

Let's not pretend that he's something that he's not: he's a bottom-tier right fielder with occasional lapses in fielding judgment. But Emil's better than anything the Royals could have hoped for from Abraham Nunez, much less any of the other outfield dregs the Royals have available to them.

Grade: B-

John Buck (.228/.271/.358)
There's no question that John Buck has to be the Most Disappointing Performer for the Royals this season. Rather than building upon the consistent improvement he demonstrated in a promising 2004, he's just been consistently awful the entire season. He's not hitting for average, he's not hitting for power (on pace for 11 home runs) and his plate discpline is deplorable (4 K's for every walk). The common defense of John Buck is that he's a great defensive catcher, but I have no idea how to (a) judge that compared to other catchers in the league or (b) quantify its importance to a major league baseball team. If he's such a great catcher and "calls a good game", then why do the Royals pitch so poorly? Are people suggesting that the Royals' pitching would be even worse if Buck were not behind the plate? I think his net contribution as a defensive catcher is neutral, and even if he were truly great behind the plate his anemic offensive performance dwarfs it.

And John Buck isn't a greenhorn; he's 25 years old. He doesn't have the excuse of players like Greinke, Burgos and Nunez. I thought Buck was going to be linchpin to the Beltran trade, and his 2004 performance inspired much confidence. But he's taken a huge step back this year, much like Berroa did following his encouraging rookie campaign.

Grade: F

Speaking of which...

Angel Berroa (.265/.303/.366)
Even a recent flurry of strong performance following Buddy Bell's merciful decision to drop him in the lineup can't help improve the look of Berroa's offensive line. Its the same story: zero plate discipline (5K's for every walk), very little power, no hope. Berroa has one saving grace: his defensive performance his improved immeasurably this season after falling off markedly in 2004, and while that's valuable at SS it still isn't enough to overcome his awful performance with the bat.

Angel Berroa, already 27 years old, has two potential career paths ahead of him: the Cristian Guzman-type slick glove/no bat or the Omar Vizquel late-developing-hitter-track/slick glove. I see no evidence to expect further offensive development to this point, so my money is on Guzman II. And the Royals will have the pleasure of paying Berroa $10.5 million from 2006 to 2008 for his slickness to the right of second base and his .650 OPS. Yet another big decision made by Allard Baird that has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Grade: D

David DeJesus (.288/.357/.420)
DeJesus, despite a May swoon, has been the Royals' most consistent offensive performer this season. He has good plate discipline for second year player, and I expect that to improve over time. He's going to eventually develop 15 HR power with 40 doubles - a .475 slugger type. He plays a solid if not spectacular center field. Its clear that he doesn't steal bases very well, but thankfully he's only attempted 1 stolen base in since May (and was successful). I still don't think DeJesus compares all that well to his center fielders throughout baseball right now, but not everyone can be Andruw Jones. He plays within himself, which is all you can ask.

He's not going to be a superstar, but he has all the makings of a solid professional baseball player. I think the Johnny Damon comparisons are apt. He's also the kind of player the Royals need to keep around beyond arbitration years, because he can be counted on to provide consistent performance at a reasonable price. The Royals have 4 more years to figure that out.

Grade: B+

Ruben Gotay (.244/.305/.376)
Ruben's overall numbers are surprisingly mediocre, because my perception of him as a player is much greater. He's basically bookended two solid months in May and June with poor performances in April and July. I don't feel as worried about Gotay as I do about some of the other young players, because I think this guy knows how to handle the bat and has played a surprisingly solid second base. His plate discipline is going to improve but he's already shown an ability (and willingness) to take a walk. Plus, he's only 22.

Grade: C

Mark Teahen (.252/.303/.354)
I'm not going to grade Mark Teahen, for two reasons. First, he shouldn't even be on the roster in the first place. The Royals, ever willing to alter their plans, abandoned the Chris Truby (what happened to him?) experiment after he was injured and have since thrown Teahen into the fray when he's clearly not ready. Second, he missed about 20 games with a leg injury.

I wish he were playing this season in AAA this season, and its an indictment of the Royals' roster and talent woes that he's been forced to muddle through in the big leagues because the Royals have no one else to play third base.

Grade: INC

Part-Time Players

Tony Graffanino and Matt Stairs are exactly the kind of players you trade at the deadline for solid B prospects. They're seasoned professionals who provide a good team with lineup flexibility and solid bats off the bench, and they're cheap with contracts that expire at the end of the season. Terrence Long is a lesser degree of the same type of player. Its a perfect storm of experience, production and economics, and because their talents are pretty much wasted on the Royals, so I'm really hopeful that other teams will compete for their services. AB has shown a knack for doing well in these deals, so let's hope he keeps it up.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Weekend in Review

Tough loss yesterday, though there was no shame in the way the Royals played. The Royals just had a few breaks late in the game, which cost them dearly. The Royals stand at 30-57 at the Break, the second worst record in all of baseball. They're on pace for a 56-106 record, which would mark two consecutive seasons with sub-60 wins and no relief in sight.

I don't think it's going to get much better in the second half. The offense is pathetic; they don't hit for average, they don't have plate discipline, they don't hit for power and they don't even run the bases very well. But that's a constant. The main reason I think the Royals are going to have a very difficult second half of the season is their starting pitching. The Royals have at least two starting pitchers - Jose Lima and J.P. Howell - who do not give the Royals a chance to win when they pitch. Greinke hasn't been much better, frankly. Carrasco and Hernandez have been the only semi-consistent performers in the rotations, but they're both #3/#4 type starters anyway (and I'm still amazed how Carrasco has been able to succeed given his rotten K/BB ratios).

Even worse, there isn't any help on the horizon. Brian Anderson reaggravated his elbow injury over the weekend and is probably out for the season. Denny Bautista continues to experience shoulder problems and the Royals will (smartly) keep him on a protective leash the rest of the season. There are no starting pitching prospects in the minors worthy of a call-up right now either other than Kyle Snyder, who is also on injury rehab (story of his life).

Sadly, I think the Royals have little choice but to keep Lima in their rotation for the rest of the year. He's not injury prone and does provide some innings, and I'd rather see him filling that spot instead of another rushed minor leaguer (and he's been a bit better of late). Howell needs to be sent down to AAA posthaste before his confidence is completely shattered; he's just not ready, physically or mentally, to handle major league pitching. Howell has provided Clear Example #2 in 2005 of why no one should ever try to glean anything from one performance (the first being Denny Bautista). I expect the Royals will probably try to replace Howell in the rotation with Kyle Snyder, though its hard to know how much to expect out of Snyder. Unfortunately, the Royals just don't have many options right now.

-- Joe Nathan's lifetime line against the Royals:

15.2 IP, 8H, 3R (2ER), 1HR, 5BB, 23K, 0.83 WHIP, .145 BAA

And that's AFTER Sweeney finally broke through against him yesterday.

Damn, Nathan is good. Why can't the Royals make trades like that? The Twins get Joe Nathan, the Royals get Eli Marrero.

-- I think it was Fred White who was calling the game today with Ryan, and wow, he is bad. He has a very, very hard time keeping up with what's happening in the game. Throughout baseball, it seems like its very hard to let go of a broadcasting legend. Here in New York, the Mets suffered with Bob Murphy's incoherence for years, but he was such a Met legend that they really had no choice but to let him leave on his own terms or face a media and PR backlash. He finally retired a couple of years ago, well beyond his usefulness as a radio broacaster (and passed away soon therafter, R.I.P).

Fred White is indeed a Royal legend, and as such should have been allowed to retire on his own terms or at least eased out behind the scenes with as little pressure as possible, allowing him to leave with his grace and dignity intact. Of course, the Royals dismissed him unceremoniously a few years ago, only to bring him back when people following the inevitable media and PR firestorm. It was a classless move by the Royals, but I at least can sympathize with the thought: Fred's just not capable anymore (and at least he only does spot broadcasts). Perhaps the Royals will do right by him this time and open the door for him this time, rather than kicking him through it.

Friday, July 08, 2005

12 Singles

Dark cloud in the Royals' recent respite: the Royals have put together a tidy 3-game winning streak in spite of themselves, scoring 21 runs on 26 singles, 3 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run. Yes, a grand total of 5 extra base hits in 3 games, including none last night in an 8-run outburst fueled by bloops and seeing eyes.

The Royals are fortunate to win at all with this offense. Be prepared for many more long losing streaks this season.

-- The Mike MacDougal rumors are hot! I suspected that Mike would the be the Royals' most valuable trading commodity, and the early buzz has it going that way. I hardly ever believe rumors specific to a deal being "close", but the Royals are clearly shopping Mac and there are no shortage of teams looking for bullpen help. It seems like the chances of Mac being traded are high, so it'll be interesting to see if his new team will use him effectively. He pitches much better starting an inning than he does coming into a game with inherited runners.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Free Agent Frenzy!

Its a thin crop.

1) Mike MacDougal. It might seem hasty to trade the Royals' most effective reliever, but the bottom line is that I do not trust MacDougal to achieve any sustained success over the long term. Fool me won't fool me again. However, his 2005 performance and excellent arm MUST be tantalizing to contending teams in need of bullpen help. The Royals hold all the leverage here - they don't need to move MacDougal to save any salary, and the worst that could possibly happen is that he stays and maintains his success - so they should be in a position to hold out for a pretty good prospect or two.

Potentials: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston
Prospect Grade Minimum: B
Chances of Trade: 60%

2) Jeremy Affeldt. I wouldn't suggest that Jeremy Affeldt is a clubhouse cancer, but he's not afraid to let the Royals know that he's not happy with his role or even place on this team. As I've stated numerous times, he hasn't earned the right to grumble given his putrid performance and propsenity for injury. Any team that acquires Affeldt would be taking a flyer on a guy who's been on the DL for most of the year and isn't getting any better, but GMs are suckers for hard-throwing left handers. Affeldt is into his second arbitration year so the Royals will be on the hook for a seven-figure salary next season if he stays, which doesn't help ABs leverage but probably doesn't hurt it very much either. I just think Affeldt needs a change of scenery to reach his potential.

Potentials: Boston, Toronto, Texas
Prospect Grade Minimum: B
Chances of Trade: 30%

3) Terrence Long. Long is probably an average fourth outfielder, but he's a veteran who will play hard for a team in contention. I wouldn't have any problem if Long stayed the rest of the season, but I could understand moving him if it meant that a player like Matt Diaz would finally get a chance to play in 70 games to see if he's worth anything at all. Probably not going to happen, though.

Potentials: I don't rightly know
Prospect Grade Minimum: C
Chances of Trade: 40%

4) Jose Lima. Who else would acquire the worst starting pitcher in baseball besides the Dodgers, where at least achieved a modicum of success last season?

Potentials: Los Angeles Dodgers
Prospect Grade Minimum: Just leave, Jose
Chances of Trade: 110%

5) Others:

Tony Graffanino will probably be an attractive target as a utility infielder/bench bat for a contending team as well. He has no power but gets on base at a reasonable clip and has pretty decent discipline. Mike Sweeney is virtually untradable, both due his contract and the because the Royals seem to harbor a misguided notion that a Sweeney trade would somehow alienate their fan base even more than it already is.

Maybe Later?

Its a busy day on the business side of the Daily Lancer (you know, the side that pays the bills), so I'll have to post my trade preferences later this evening.

Until then...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Ryan Franklin Barometer

The Royals' performance against Ryan Franklin is a telling barometer of their pitiful play. Ryan has appeared two times during the course of the season to remind us how terrible the Royals are when they're not playing well. In two starts against the Royals this season, he's pitched 17.2 innings and given up 2 runs, winning both games. He's 2-10 against the rest of the league.

Anyhoo, it's trading season, and I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on who the Royals should trade.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Swing Low

It's astounding how quickly the optimism fades in Kansas City.

The conventional wisdom when Buddy Bell was hired was that he was being setup for disaster. The Royals should have given their manager a fresh start at the beginning of next reason rather than plunging him knee deep into the 2005 quagmire, because there was nothing good that could come out of it. (They also should have hired Bobby Valentine - zing!)

For two weeks, Buddy Bell defied those expectations. It wasn't just that they were finally winning baseball games; he had the team playing with discipline, intensity and professionalism. It was the complete antithesis of the final days of Tony and every Royals fan could see it. After Buddy's hot start, I felt that he'd earned enough respect and credibility as a manager to last him through the rest of the season and into next year. The only way this wouldn't happen was if the Royals were to somehow collapse again, which seemed extremely unlikely given the improved approach the Royals were taking with each game.

Buddy's on the verge of squandering his currency:

First 15 games: 11-4
Runs Scored / Game: 5.8
Runs Allowed / Game: 4.7

Last 15 games: 2-13
Runs Scored / Game: 2.9
Runs Allowed / Game: 6.0

It was patently ridiculous to expect the Royals to maintain a high level of play with the dearth of talent and experience they have on the roster. Perversely, though, Buddy changed the expectations of the fan base when the Royals started playing well for 2 weeks, and now that they've returned to the awful level of baseball with which we'd familiarized ourselves for 2 months he's probably going to suffer some ill will as a result. The culprit, as usual, is offense. While the Royal pitching has been worse over the recent poor stretch, its the hitting that has returned to the usual levels of suckitude. With or without Buddy, when your cleanup hitter is Emil Brown, you're going to have a hard time scoring runs on a consistent basis. The lineup is chock full of vitamins, nutrients and easy outs.

The lineup card debacle, even if it was just an innocuous mistake, simply reinforces the perception that the Royals are a second-rate organization and a cut-rate-punching-bag.

-- Happy birthday, U.S.A. The longest-running, largest-scale social experiment in world history continues into its 230th year. How 'bout that.