Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Chris Lubanski, Unplugged

Perhaps the biggest mystery in the minor league system this season is the performance of Chris Lubanski. His season line of .293/.337/.533 is solid but remains questionable given that he plays half of his games way up in the sky in High Desert, and the rest in parks collectively known for their benefits to hitters.

So, since Minor League Baseball doesn't provide anything resembling comprehensive statistics for minor league players, I've taken the painstaking effort of recreating his season statistics through daily lines. Be aware that my calculations of OBP aren't perfect, since I don't have the SF totals, but I think that would make a negligible difference anyway (numbers through August 29th).

Lubanski was terrible in both April and May, home or road:

April: .177/.235/.329
May: .227/.270/.429

Since June, however, Lubanski's line has been quite spectacular if you ignore the Angel Berroa-ish plate discipline:

(290 ABs): .342/.382/.619, 17HR, 20 BBs, 70K

Since June 1st, he hasn't been AWFUL on the road, but he's clearly getting a huge performance bump by spending half of his time in High Desert:

Home (157 ABs): .376/.430/.726, 13 HR, 15BB, 36K
Road (150 ABs): .307/.329/.507, 4 HR, 5BB, 34K

Lubanski also has somewhat better plate discipline at home (using that term loosely), while his BB/K ratios on the road are nothing short of terrible.

It's difficult to know how to assess these numbers. It would be nonsense to dismiss Lubanski's performance as only being a result of the friendly confines of High Desert. Plenty of players still don't hit nearly as well in the same park, and Lubanski is among the league leaders in a hitter's league in general. But at the same time it is difficult to get too excited about Lubanski, given the huge differences between his home and road performances and his poor plate discipline in general, which will not serve him well as the pitchers become more skilled at the higher levels. I certainly feel more positive about Lubanski than I did earlier in the season (when I considered him a non-prospect), and the fact that he's performed very well at such a young age (19) is a feather in his cap. but I still think we should withold judgment until he spends at least half a season in Wichita (another hitter's league, but not nearly in the same way).

Also, looking through the box scores Lubanski spent the better part of April and early May in the leadoff spot, but he struggled so mightily that they dropped him down to #6, which is where he finally put it all together. In the past several weeks, he's been batting #3 or #4. It's pretty obvious that with his plate discipline he's not anything close to an ideal leadoff hitter, and at least the Royals are acknowledging that by dropping him down in the order.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

September Callups

The Royals have some interesting players on the 40-man roster and at AAA who probably deserve a look. September is a good time to find out minor league players who aren't really prospects are AAAA players or potential contributors. Here's a look at some players who should get a September callup:

Justin Huber:
With Sweeney's injury and Stairs not competely healed, Huber will likely get the call. Huber had a pretty good major league debut, going 3 for 12 with a double and 3 RBIs. Hopefully, Huber can be a solid producer next year and eventually become a Sweeney-type hitter.

Matt Diaz:
Diaz is having a very good season at AAA, hitting .379/.408/.649. While AAA stats don't translate into major league stats, he's young enough to warrant a look. I'd rather the Royals didn't spend $3 million on a 4th outfielder next year if they already have a couple (and spend it on pitching).

Calvin Pickering:
Pickering has rebounded nicely after a very slow start. Pickering has hit 21 HRs in 309 ABs and has drawn 53 walks. Pickering would give the Royals a decent bat off the bench, or at least one more menacing than Joe McEwing or Denny Hocking.

Ruben Gotay:
If the Royals are serious about signing a free agent second basemen this offseason, they might as well see what Gotay can do before they write him off. At the very least, it would keep Hocking and McEwing out of the lineup, which is worth it. Ideally, the Royals should have signed a second basemen this offseason who could have let Gotay and Murphy develop. While they had Graffanino, he really isn't fit to be an everyday 2nd basemen.

Dennis Tankersley:
Tankersley has pitched well after a slow start. The Royals could try him as a starter or as a reliever. But, he's having a pretty good season and has good stuff.

Kyle Snyder:
The Royals might as well find out what Snyder can do. It can't hurt to have an extra arm in the bullpen to keep the burden off our top young arms.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Welcome Back

Kevin has returned from a summer-long hiatus to relaunch his own blog.

Freebird, man. Free-bird.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Has A Royals' Starter Ever Improved?

This was my mission for the night: to find out when was the last time a Royals' starting pitcher improved upon their rookie year. I don't think you'll be that amazed by the answer considering that the Royals have been terrible at developing their own starting pitching.

The last starter to improve upon their rookie year was Kevin Appier. Going back over the past 10-15 years' stats, I was unable to find any starting pitcher whose ERA improved after their rookie year with a couple exceptions (all failed shortly after improving). Not one really improved since Kevin Appier. You can make a case for Affeldt, whose ERA improved from 4.64 to 4.39, but he was later converted to a reliever. So, that doesn't count. If you want to count it, the Royals converted their only starter who improved over the past 15 years into a reliever. How smart is that? Chad Durbin's ERA improved from 8.23 to 4.92. Of course, the Royals ruined his career. This is a pretty remarkable feat, considering that none of the Royals' pitchers really set the bar that high during their rookie years. Of particular interest, the most recent ones:

Greinke 2004 3.97 2005 6.04
Hernandez 2003 4.36 2004 4.61 2005 5.03
Gobble 2003 4.61 2004 5.35 2005 6.98
Snyder 2003 5.17 2005 9.24
Affeldt 2002 4.64 2003 4.39 (as starter)
George 2001 5.59 2002 5.60 2003 7.11 2004 7.23

So, now the big question. Who's to blame and what must be done about it? Well, who's to blame?

The pitching coaches? Well, we've gone through a couple hundred in the past 10 years. They couldn't have all been THAT bad?

The manager? Well, Muser pretty much ruined Chad Durbin. But, the Royals have been very cautious with their young arms lately.

The general manager/scouting department? Well, here's where I lay the blame for this. The general manager hires the organizational personnel who develop the young pitchers. So, if the GM is hires ineffective pitching coaches, he should be to blame. The GM sets forth an organizaitonal philosophy in developing young starters, or in the Royals' case, destroying young starters.

The Royals' past 10 years of futility has largely been a result of bad starting pitching. While it was a problem before Baird arrived, he hasn't done anything to fix it. The Royals still cannot develop starting pitching. If you can't develop starting pitching or at least find it on the free agent market, you're pretty much screwed. Developing 2 or 3 top starters is a fast way to become a contender (A's) and if those 3 starters pitch exceptionally, you might just win a World Series (Marlins).

The point is that Allard Baird and company have not fixed the problem. This is not a problem the Royals can just ignore and convert every promising arm into a reliever to avoid ruining them. A great bullpen is useless unless the starters hand over a lead or at least keep it close. So, unless the Royals' future offense resembles the Texas Rangers (which is highly unlikely), or the Royals plan on using 12 relievers (couldn't be worse, could it?).

Sorry to go off on another blame Allard tangent. But, I just don't see any reason why he should still have a job. He hasn't fixed the major problems that existed when he took over 5 years ago. If anything, they've just gotten worse. If anyone has a case for letting Baird keep his job, feel free to enlighten me.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Today is one of those days...

... you curse ever having been born a Kansas City Royals fan.

-- I may have failed to mention this before, but I think I'm building a pretty strong case that Jeremy Affeldt is the worst waste of pitching talent in the history of baseball. What an unbelievable head case. His first act, of course, was his customary walk - a leadoff walk, in fact, with a four-run lead. Brilliant. There were so many other things to point out about Affeldt's "performance", but none more lame than watching Affeldt make that pathetic, rushed throw to second base on Posada's comebacker, which should have been an EASY double play to end the game. Affeldt could have RAN to second base and beaten Giambi to the bag -- that's how much time he had to make the throw.

It was a thing of beauty in the baseball bizarro world - two players with the lowest collective baseball IQ in the major leagues joining forces to botch a simple play that led to the unraveling of a sure win. Indeed, Affeldt's throw was pathetic, but Berroa still should have caught it. Instead you could see that Berroa was consumed with getting the double play so he didn't do what smart players do - just make sure you catch the damn ball. Note to Angel Berroa: runner at 1st and 2 outs with the bottom of the order coming up is a whole different world than 1st and 2nd with 1 out. It's uncanny how similar Berroa and Affeldt are - two extremely gifted, physically talented players who have absolutely no idea how to play baseball.

In the 15% of the time he can actually throw pitches where he wants, Affeldt is SO tantalizing. Every Affeldt apologist focuses on that, and its certainly tough not to notice. It's the other 85% of the time that makes him the most nauseating Royal pitcher in recent memory.

-- I have absolutely no explanation for why Shawn Camp was brought into the game after Affeldt's usual horribleness. I'm eager to hear Bell's explanation for this one.

-- If anyone ever doubted the influence of the sabermetric revolution on the Royals' front office, you need look no further than J.P. Howell. The guy is 22 years old, and he does not throw any pitch harder than 85 (I take that back - he really overthrew one pitch today that was way outside and touched 86), yet he's been fast-tracked through the Royal minor league system like he's Felix Hernandez. The guy literally has Jamie Moyer's repertoire at half his age. I'm as performance analysis-oriented as anyone, and J.P. has been successful at all of his stops (but not, of course, his first stop with the big club), but is there ANY hope that a guy who throws as "hard" (I use that term loosely) as J.P. Howell can achieve sustained success in the major leagues? I seriously can't recall watching any starting pitcher in the major leagues in recent memory who consistently tops out at 85. Either the Royals are ahead of the curve in their thinking about major league pitchers, or Howell is not going to last very long in this league.

Curious to hear your thoughts.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Royals Come to My Kind of Town

Since the Royals are playing the Yankees this weekend, the game is on the YES network so I'm getting a relatively rare chance to watch a game on television (I follow most games on the radio, when I get a chance to listen).

Mike Wood Report. Mike Wood pitched quite well until running into trouble in the 6th, giving up 2 home runs thus far. He gets very good movement on his pitches in an unusual manner (he threw a pitch to Derek Jeter tonight that started out over the plate and tailed 2 feet to the right, which had Jeter bailing out with a terrible swing. He did this against Sheffield as well.) Wood also changes speeds effectively and understands how to use both sides of the plate. Wood obviously doesn't have overpowering stuff (he throws 88 max), but he gets enough movement and uses the plate well enough to succeed. However, Wood has a big problem: he doesn't have nearly the kind of control necessary to succeed with his ordinary repertoire. Not only does he issue far too many walks, but he misses in the strike zone far too often and gets hammered when he does. The two 6th inning home runs and several other well hit balls were on pitches that were strikes but well off Buck's target. Watching a sequence of 15 pitches in the 6th inning, he missed Buck's target 9 times. 9 TIMES. Some pitchers might be able to get away with that (Sid Finch, perhaps?), but not Mike Wood.

If he can learn to harness his stuff a little better, I don't see any reason why Mike Wood can't be an effective starter in this league for years. He KNOWS how to pitch, which is half the challenge. But to this point his right arm is not cooperating with his brain often enough, and if that trend continues Wood will find himself on the fringes of the major leagues in perpetuity. He kept the Royals in the game, but I thought he was lucky to give up only 3 runs.

-- Welcome back to the big leagues, Aaron Guiel. By the way, you're starting tonight against Randy Johnson (though I guess it doesn't hurt that he hit a HR against Johnson when he was with Arizona).

-- Speaking of Johnson, the Royals look positively anemic against the Unit. The Royals managed to scratch a run home in the 7th on Sweeney double and -- of all things -- a single by Angel Berroa after a long battle fouling off pitches. But the prospects are looking pretty bleak for a comeback on this night.

-- I knew, just KNEW we'd see both Joe McEwing and Denny Hocking on the roster at the same time. I don't know what else the Royals would do right now - they're no going to bring Gotay back up for the rest of this season, so there really isn't anyone else to play second base. But it nonetheless is embarrassing to have both of these players of my favorite team's roster.

-- Question: If Runelvys Hernandez was injured enough not to pitch, then why not let the appeal suspension drop and let him sit out 10 games AND rest his ailing back at the same, rather than putting him on the DL first? I suppose keeping an injured player on the active roster is only available to Mike Sweeney. J.P. Howell is back to take his obligatory spanking on Saturday, this time at the hands of the Empire.

-- I just finished reading The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz. For some reason, the publisher sent me a free copy and "suggested" that I post a review on this blog. I'm pretty sure it will make or break the sales volume of this book. I will post my review in the near future, but in a nutshell: it's worth reading.

AL Central Team Comparisons: Outfielders

Here's the last of the 4 position breakdowns.

AL Central Outfielders' OPS Rank:

1. Detroit Tigers
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Chicago White Sox
-OPS wasn't particularly useful here

Detroit Tigers

Magglio Ordonez-RF (2009, 2010/2011 options), Curtis Granderson (under control thru 2011), Craig Monroe-CF (under control thru 2008)

The Tigers have Ordonez and Monroe locked up for a while. Ordonez has been a disappointment for the Tigers. But, if he returns to his .300-30-100 form, that could provide a big boost to the Tigers' offense. Monroe has been productive for the Tigers, hitting about 20 HRs/year. Curtis Granderson is the Tigers' future in centerfield. He doesn't project as a future star, but is off to a nice start .277/.320/.553 after 47 ML at-bats.

Prospects: RF Jeff Frazier is having a good first full season, hitting .289/.353/.457. OF Brent Clevlen's stock has risen this year after hitting .300/.382/.483 in High A ball. Tigers' depth isn't particularly good here.

Cleveland Indians

Coco Crisp-LF (under control thru 2009), Grady Sizemore (under control thru 2010), Casey Blake-RF (2006, 2007 option)

Grady Sizemore has lived up to expectations, hitting 53 extra base hits so far in his major league debut. Coco Crisp is a solid producer in LF. Casey Blake's production has fallen off considerably from last year.

Prospects: Aside from good pitching depth, the Indians' have a strong group of OF prospects. Franklin Gutierrez is an excellent defensive outfielder who projects to hit for plus-power and could take Casey Blake's job. Brad Snyder has hit 16 HRs in 269 ABs at AA. Snyder gives the Indians' a second potential CF near the majors.

Minnesota Twins

Shannon Stewart-LF (2006), Torii Hunter-CF (2006, 2007 option), Jacque Jones-RF (2005)

Torii Hunter has been the guy in the Twins' offense and is a good all-around player. Jacque Jones has been a steady producer as well. Shannon Stewart has been alright in LF. The Twins have a good prospect almost ready for the majors, but not much else on the way.

Prospects: Jason Kubel has had some injury problems. He has a good quick swing and should hit 20-25 HRs.

Kansas City Royals

Terrence Long (2005-can't wait to get him out of here), David DeJesus (under control thru 2010), Emil Brown (arbitration eligible, service time unknown)

The Royals outfield features David DeJesus, who has become a steady producer and a fan favorite in CF. DeJesus has good on-base skills, solid gap power (31 doubles), and plays good defense. Terrence Long is out of the picture after this year. If a better option is found in free agency, Emil Brown will likely have the job in RF. Chip Ambres or Shane Costa will likely compete for the LF spot.

Prospects: The Royals are fairly deep at the outfield position in the minors, assuming Billy Butler remains an OF and especially deep if Gordon becomes an OF. Billy Butler is one of the best hitters in the minors. Shane Costa, Mitch Maier, and Chris Lubanski will give the Royals some options over the next couple of years, but none of them appear to be impact players.

Chicago White Sox

Scott Podsednik-LF (2006), Aaron Rowand-CF (2006, 2007 option), Jermaine Dye-RF (2006, 2007 option)

The White Sox have their outfield locked in through 2006. Podsednik has excellent speed and sets up the White Sox offense well. Aaron Rowand's production dropped considerably this year. Jermaine Dye has been a productive bat for the White Sox, hitting .260 with 22 HRs. The White Sox should have some good options once those contracts expire.

Prospects: Brian Anderson is hitting .295/.360/.470 at AAA. Anderson should hit for power and could play CF. OF Ryan Sweeney is the White Sox other top prospect. Sweeney has high potential as a hitter, considered to be a very natural hitter. But, Sweeney hasn't shown much power so far. OF Chris Young has an excellent combination of power and speed. Young has hit 24 HRs and stolen 26 bases at AA this year. Young may end up being the best of the 3 outfielders.

Future Outfield Rankings:

1. Chicago White Sox (steady performers with good prospects to replace them)
2. Cleveland Indians (Sizemore has had a great debut; Indians have a solid OF with 2 near-ready OF prospects)
3. Detroit Tigers (Ordonez, Monroe, and Granderson should be a productive group)
4. Kansas City Royals (Butler and possibly Gordon give the Royals good upside; however, both most complete the conversion process first)
5. Minnesota Twins (Hunter gives the Twins a solid CF; Twins don't have good OF depth and have to resign or replace Jacque Jones)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Thank You, Blogger

Methinks the Weatherman is blessed, as I've been trying to post all day with no success. Today's comments are getting moldy, so here's the SuperBrief edition:

-- Chip Ambres (notwithstanding last night and the small sample size) is an asset to the organization. I love his approach at the plate, as foreign as it must seem to this bunch. His acquistion probably says more about the organizational depth of the Red Sox, though, than shrewdness on the part of Allard Baird. Ambres was easily expendable to the Red Sox when they needed to package him for a competent second baseman. Anyway, I'm glad he's here.

-- Jeremy Affeldt stinks, in case you haven't noticed or read. The Royals made a mistake not trading him at the deadline, if all of the rumors about his trade value were true. It's only going to get worse from here.

-- Not sure what D.J. Carrasco brings to any rotation. He has the trifecta of ineffectiveness: not enough strikeouts, terrible control and well below average stuff. Its a miracle that he able to achieve 6 weeks of relative success given the horrible defense behind him.

-- I think the Royals will score some runs off Curt Schilling tonight, who deserves to be hit hard because he can't keep his mouth shut about practically anything.

AL Central Team Comparisons: Infielders

Current Infielder OPS Rankings

1. Tigers .813
2. Indians .811
3. White Sox .766
4. Twins .740
5. Royals .705

The Tigers and Indians have the best overall infield offenses in the division. The Tigers don't really have any star infielders, but steady producers all-around. The Indians have two great young infielders with Peralta and Martinez.

Detroit Tigers

Ivan Rodriguez-C (signed thru 2007, 2008 option), Chris Shelton-1B (under control thru 2010), Placido Polanco (2009), Carlos Guillen (2007), Brandon Inge (under control thru 2007), Dmitri Young-DH (2005, 2006 option)

The Tigers have their infielders pretty much under their control thru 2007. Rodriguez is on the downside of his career. Guillen had a very good 2004, but his numbers have fallen off. Polanco and Inge should give the Tigers steady production. Chris Shelton is having a nice season, hitting .319/.385/.535. in 260 ABs.

Prospects: SS Tony Giarratano is a good defender and has pretty good speed. He's hitting .266/.334/.373 at AAA. Ryan Raburn is an offensive-minded 2B prospect. Raburn has 18 HRs and .257/.328/.447 at AAA. Tigers' depth here isn't good.

Cleveland Indians

Martinez-C (2009, 2010 option), Hafner-1B/DH (2007, 2008 option), Broussard (under control thru 2008), Belliard-2B (2005, 2006 option), Peralta (under control thru 2010), Boone (2006, 2007 option)

The Indians have two of their best infielders pretty well locked up. The Indians have 3 stars (Hafner, Martinez, Peralta) and some steady performers, making this the best group of infielders in the division.

Prospects: The Indians are pretty thin at the infield positions. 1B Michael Aubrey has good on-base skills and is a good fielder at 1B. But, he's had trouble staying healthy and doesn't have great power. C/1B Ryan Garko has had a good offensive season at AAA this year, hitting .300/.377/.493 with 18 HRs. With Martinez a virtual lock behind the plate, Garko could be tradebait or could challenge Broussard for a spot. Middle infield depth is an issue.

Chicago White Sox

Pierzynski-C (2005), Konerko-1B (2005), Iguchi-2B (2006, 2007 option), Uribe-SS (2007, 2008 option), Crede (under control thru 2008)

The White Sox will have to resign or replace their two most productive infielders after this season. Iguchi has had a good US debut, hitting 12 HRs and stealing 14 bases so far. Uribe has regressed this year and Crede hasn't been as productive as the White Sox have hoped. If they don't resign Konerko and Pierzynski, the White Sox may struggle offensively.

Prospects: 3B prospect Josh Fields is the White Sox best infield prospect. In his first full season, Fields is hitting .260/.346/.422 with 16 HRs at AA. Fields could be an alternative to Crede. C Francisco Hernandez has regressed some this year, but has good potential behind the plate. The White Sox have some options, but don't have great depth in their system at the infield spots.

Minnesota Twins

Joe Mauer-C (under control thru 2010), Justin Morneau (under control thru 2010), Nick Punto (under control thru 2008), Jason Bartlett (under control thru 2010), Michael Cuddyer (under control thru 2009)

The Twins have a young group of infielders under their control thru the end of the decade. The Twins have good defense up the middle, but not much offense from Punto and Bartlett. Morneau and LeCroy have been alright offensively at 1B/DH, but Morneau hasn't been quite the power hitter the Twins thought he'd be. Mauer has been productive, hiting .301, but his power has declined, hitting just 9 HRs this year. If Mauer and Morneau develop as the Twins project them to, the offense would improve considerably. If not, it will continue to be a weak offense.

Prospects: The Twins have two pretty good infield prospects, Matt Moses and Trevor Plouffe. But, neither are close to the majors. The infield could be an issue for the Twins and they may have to look to free agency to improve their team.

Kansas City Royals

John Buck-C (under control thru 2010), Mike Sweeney-1B (2007), Ruben Gotay/Donnie Murphy-2B (under control thru 2010/2011), Angel Berroa-SS (2008, 2009 option), Mark Teahan-3B (under control thru 2010)

The Royals also have a core of young infielders under their control through the end of the decade. Like the Twins, the Royals haven't gotten much production from their middle infielders. The Royals' could feature the best 1B/DH combo in the division in 2006/2007 with Sweeney and Huber. Gotay, Murphy, Buck, and Teahan haven't shown much yet, but they haven't had enough time to write them off yet.

Prospects: The Royals' best infield prospect is Justin Huber. Huber has great on-base skills and could be a Mike Sweeney-type hitter. Alex Gordon projects as an All-Star third basemen and could be a significant upgrade, if he signs. Jeff Bianchi and Chris McConnell are playing very well in the Royals' short-season leagues. The Royals have the best depth in the division here.

Future Infield Rankings:

1. Cleveland Indians (great young players and solid producers)
2. Detroit Tigers (solid producers all-around, not much upside)
3. Chicago White Sox (Uribe and Crede need to rebound, have to resign two biggest producers)
4. Kansas City Royals (could move up if Gordon stays at third; not very promising debuts of infield prospects keeps Royals here)
5. Minnesota Twins (will probably have to look outside the organization; need Morneau and Mauer to develop more power)

The Royals and Twins could easily move up if their young players develop well. The Tigers and White Sox don't have much in the farm system, but have the financial resouces to bring in good players through free agency or trades.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

AL Central Team Comparisons: Bullpen

Current ML ERA Rankings

1. Cleveland Indians (2.82)
3. Minnesota Twins (3.13)
4. Chicago White Sox (3.13)
10. Detroit Tigers (3.65)
25. Kansas City Royals (4.83)

Even with the great young arms in the bullpen, the Royals are still near the bottom of the majors. But, that should improve as Sisco, Burgos, Nunez, Wood, Bayliss, etc. improve. The Royals have the makings of a potentially strong bullpen. Unfortunately, every team in the division already has a very strong bullpen, with 3 of the best bullpens in baseball in the division.

Cleveland Indians

Bob Wickman CL (signed thru 2005), Bob Howry (under control thru 2005), Andrew Brown (under control thru 2011), Fernando Cabrera (under control thru 2011), David Riske (under control thru 2006), Scott Sauerbeck (2005), Rafael Betancourt (under control thru 2009), Arthur Rhodes (2006)

The Indians have the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors. But, their bullpen has quite a few older veterans whose contracts end after this season or after 2006. So, the Indians probably can expect for their bullpen to decline over the next few years. However, they do have a few good young arms. Fernando Cabrera possesses an arsenal similar to Burgos with a little less heat (FB mid-90s) and he might the Indians' future closer. The 23-year-old has had a good debut with the Indians, with a 1.08 ERA with 16 K's in 16 2/3 innings. Although the Indians don't have many young relievers, they will likely continue to find effective veteran relievers.

Minnesota Twins

Joe Nathan CL (signed thru 2007; 2008 option), JC Romero (2006, 2007 option), Juan Rincon (under control thru 2008), Jesse Crain (under control thru 2010), Terry Mulholland, Matt Guerrier (under control thru 2010)

Nathan has been one of the best closers in baseball, saving 75 games in 81 opportunities over the past 2 years. Nathan, Romero, and Rincon form a solid core at the back of the Minnesota bullpen. Jesse Crain has an excellent mid-90s fastball and an excellent slider. Crain might be the Twins' future closer. The Twins should have a solid bullpen for the next few years.

Chicago White Sox

Dustin Hermanson CL (signed thru 2006, 2007 option), Neal Cotts (under control thru 2009), Damaso Marte (2006, options in 2007 & 08), Cliff Politte (2005, 2006 option), Luis Vizcaino (under control thru 2007), Bobby Jenks (under control thru 2011), Jon Adkins (under control thru 2009), Shingo Takatsu

Hermanson has had great success as the White Sox closer, ending any debate about the closer's job. Cotts, Marte, and Politte give the White Sox a strong core setting up Hermanson. Bobby Jenks has plenty of upside, throwing triple-digit heat and a good curve. The farm system has a few potential setup candidates, but nothing outstanding. The White Sox bullpen will probably decline some because of aging.

Detroit Tigers

Troy Percival CL (signed thru 2006), Fernando Rodney (controlled thru 2009), Jaime Walker (2005, 2006 option), Franklyn German (controlled thru 2009), Roman Colon (controlled thru 2010), Chris Spurling, Craig Dingman, Vic Darensbourg (last 3 who cares)

The Tigers have a makeshift bullpen that's worked out quite well. Percival is injured and Urbina and Farnsworth were traded. With all of those relievers leaving, it has left the Tigers with an unintriging group of relievers. Fernando Rodney is having a good year out of nowhere and is now the closer. The Tigers will need to make some additions this offseason. They have a few young arms, but not enough to fill out the bullpen.

Kansas City Royals

Mike MacDougal CL (under control thru 2009), Jeremy Affeldt (under control thru 2007), Andrew Sisco (under control thru 2010), Ambiorix Burgos (under control thru 2011), Mike Wood (under control thru 2010), Leo Nunez (under control thru 2011)

The Royals have the youngest bullpen in the league and the most upside. With the exception of Affeldt, these young relievers will be together through 2009. Sisco and Burgos both have the stuff and makeup to be closers. Give all the talent in the bullpen and the relatively cheap price of middle relievers, it might be wise to convert Sisco and Burgos into starters. Affeldt and MacDougal should be an effective back of the bullpen.

Future Bullpen Rankings:

1. Minnesota Twins (excellent closer and setup guys to go with young pitching)
2. Kansas City Royals (lots of upside in the young relievers could put this group up with the Twins)
3. Chicago White Sox (solid core thru 2006)
4. Cleveland Indians (aging bullpen and quite a few relievers to resign)
5. Detroit Tigers (based on what they have now, could easily go nuts in the FA market though)

The Royals have about as much potential as any bullpen in the division, but that has to be translated into results first. But, because of the upside of a bullpen with 5 guys who throw 94-99 mph with plus secondary pitches (Affeldt, MacDougal, Burgos, Sisco, and Nunez), I put them above the White Sox and Indians' aging, but effective bullpens.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

AL Central Team Comparisons: Starting Pitching

In this post, I'm going to breakdown the starting pitching of each team in the AL Central, including an in-depth look at each team's starting pitching prospects. There will be 3 subsequent posts detailing the bullpens, infielders, and outfielders. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of where the Royals stand talent wise, now and in the future.

Current ML ERA Rankings:

9. White Sox (3.86)
10. Twins (3.87)
13. Indians (4.37)
18. Tigers (4.45)
30. Royals (6.01)

As you can see, the Royals' starting rotation is not even close to anyone else in the division (not surprising).

Chicago White Sox:

1. Mark Buerhle (signed thru 2006; club option 2007)
2. Freddy Garcia (2007)
3. Jose Contreras (2006)
4. Orlando Hernandez (2006)
5. Jon Garland (2006)

The White Sox rotation is pretty well locked in through next year and the two aces are under contract through 2007 (Buerhle's option will likely be picked up). The White Sox rotation has been pretty solid and they were looking to add AJ Burnett near the trade deadline. I expect they'll try hard to get him this offseason, making this the best rotation in the division.

Farm System: The best SP prospect in the system is Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy projects as a No. 3 starter and has good control. His K/BB ratio throughout his minor league career is over 6. Gio Gonzalez is a 19-year-old lefty starter that has a good K/BB and averages over 1K/inning. Gonzalez is in high A ball and has a good feel for pitching. Sean Tracey throws a good mid-90s fastball and a plus slider. Tracey is probably the best arm in the system, but control has been a problem. This is one of the weaker groups of SP prospects in the division. But, they won't be hurting because of the rotation they already have.

Minnesota Twins:

1. Johan Santana (signed thru 2008)
2. Brad Radke (2006)
3. Carlos Silva (2006; option in 2007)
4. Joe Mays (2005; no way option is picked up)
5. Kyle Lohse (under control thru 2007)

The Twins rotation remains pretty solid. Santana and Radke are proven frontline starters and Silva and Lohse have had solid years. With the departure of Mays, the Twins have plenty of talent waiting to enter the rotation.

Farm System: The Twins' best SP prospect is Francisco Liriano, a lefty with Johan Santana-type stuff. Liriano has really come alive at AAA, with a 1.59 ERA in 79 IP with 93 K's to just 22 walks. The Twins organization is filled with pitchers with sick K/BB ratios. Scott Baker gives the Twins a second good arm waiting in the wings at AAA. Baker has 4 good pitches and like seemingly every Twins pitcher, an excellent K/BB ratio. Finally, JD Durbin, a RHP with a good mid-90s FB and a power slider, is having an okay season at AAA. Durbin has a 4.55 ERA with 48 walks and 74 K's in 87 IP. This is just the AAA team. The Twins have great depth here, maybe the best in baseball.

Cleveland Indians

1. Kevin Millwood (signed thru 2005)
2. CC Sabathia (2008)
3. Jake Westbrook (2006, 2007 option)
4. Cliff Lee (under control thru 2009)
5. Scott Elarton (2005)

The Indians' rotation was a bit of a surprise this year. Millwood was pretty mediocre last year, but is having a very good year. Cliff Lee is having a breakthrough year. Sabathia is having a bad year, but should rebound. The rotation features a lot of inconsistent starters, so it's hard to predict how good it will be. But, it should remain around league-average unless Millwood resigns, Lee maintains his current form, and Sabathia develops into a frontline starter.

Farm System: Adam Miller is the Indians' top pitching prospect. Miller can hit triple-digits with his fastball and has a good slider. Miller has the makeup to become a No. 1 starter, but he's had some injury problems this year. Jeremy Sowers is a polished college lefty has had a very good debut. Sowers has a 2.37 ERA at AA with 58 Ks in 68 innings and just 8 walks. The Indians have pretty good depth and some impact SP prospects in their system.

Detroit Tigers

1. Jeremy Bonderman (under control thru 2008)
2. Mike Maroth (under control thru 2008)
3. Jason Johnson (2005)
4. Sean Douglass (2005)
5. Nate Robertson (under control thru 2009)

The Tigers' rotation features 3 young arms that should form a core of the rotation. With two talented SP prospects ready to join the rotation in 2006, the Tigers will have a very young rotation. The Tigers' rotation should continue to improve.

Farm System: The Tigers have two of the best right-handed SP prospects in the minors. Justin Verlander has a good mid-90s fastball, a great curve, and a potential plus change. Verlander's pro debut has been outstanding, with a 0.28 ERA in 32 IP at AA and 1.67 ERA at High A in 86 IP. His command has been excellent as well. Joel Zumaya could give the Tigers a third ace. The 20-year-old righty has a mid-90s fastball and flashes a good curve. Zumaya has a 2.70 ERA with 47 K's in 40 IP. He's still somewhat raw, but very young.

Kansas City Royals

1. Jose Lima (2005)
2. Runelvys Hernandez (under control thru 2008)
3. Zack Greinke (under control thru 2010)
4. DJ Carrasco (under control thru 2009)
5. Mike Wood (under control thru 2010)

Now that's a scary rotation. If it lives up to its potential, it might win the Pacific Coast League championship! The only thing this rotation has going for it is Zack Greinke and Runelvys Hernandez. Everyone else pretty much shouldn't be there next year or in a No. 5 spot at best. The Royals have a couple more young arms who could contend for a rotation spot next year (Bautista, Howell, Sisco). The Royals can only improve, I think. The Royals have 4 potential starters with No. 2/3 starter abilities (Bautista, Greinke, Hernandez, Sisco). But, the Royals have to develop them (don't count on it). There isn't much help coming in the minors.

Farm System: This is as bad as it gets. The Royals' most talented SP prospect is in low A ball. Luis Cota is having a good season there, with a 3.82 ERA in 132 IP with 121 K's to 54 walks. He's 19 years old, but still a long ways away from the majors. JP Howell has had a good season in the minors. Howell breezed through short stints at High A and AA, but has struggled at AAA and the majors. Howell could eventually be a No. 3 or 4 starter. Billy Buckner earned a quick promotion from low A and has struggled some at High Desert. Buckner has a good curve and his fastball and change can still improve. But, in a best case, scanerio, he's probably a No. 4 starter. The Royals' starting pitching depth and impact potential is the worst in the division.

The Royals' starting pitching is well behind the other 4 teams in the division. Not only do the Royals already have the worst rotation in the majors, but their farm system is behind the other 4 teams in the division. So, if the Royals don't improve their farm system, they will only fall further behind, if that's even possible. The Royals' best bet is to develop Greinke, Bautista, Sisco, and maybe even Burgos. This is all the Royals have to work with for the time being.

Future Rotation Rankings:

1. White Sox (two aces, willing to add more)
2. Twins (good depth and good starters waiting at AAA)
3. Tigers (Bonderman, Zumaya, and Verlander could be a lethal trio)
4. Indians (future uncertain, but if Miller develops look out)
5. Royals (developing Greinke, Bautista, and Sisco would help a lot)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Time to fire Baird?

Allard Baird has been the GM of the Royals for over 5 years now. The Royals have set or tied the club record for losses 3 times and are on pace to shatter it this year. Baird took over as GM in June of 2000, and that team was 44-56 after he took over (although this really wasn't his team). In the 5 seasons during which he has had full control over the team, the results haven't been good.

2001 65-97
2002 62-100
2003 83-79
2004 58-104
2005 38-81 (on pace 52-110)

Total 306-461 .399

The only teams during this period who have been worse are Tampa Bay and Detroit. Both teams have made significant strides this year. Tampa Bay has some great young position players, although their record hasn't improved that much. The Royals' young talent hasn't shown much improvement this year, in spite of a declaration of a developmental year. While it's still too early to tell whether or not Greinke, Teahan, Buck, and others will work it, the early returns aren't good. Here's my rationale for why Baird should be fired at the end of the season:

1. Free Agent Disasters: Baird has done a terrible job of signing free agents. The infamous list of miserable signings: Lima, Anderson, May, Sullivan, Gonzalez, Santiago, Lopez, and Knoublach. This is one area he showed little improvement over his tenure. In 2004, with the team expecting to contend, all of Baird's free agent signings failed, and the team lost 104 games. With a low base payroll next year and plenty of money to spend, Baird could lock the Royals into some bad contracts that ruin a new GMs' ability to improve the ballclub.

2. Trades: Baird hasn't done as well in this area as most Royals' fans give him credit for doing. The Damon trade gave the Royals Berroa and a overpaid closer. Berroa continues to frustrate Royals fans with great tools, but his awful plate discipline and lack of focus in the field make him a below-average shortstop. The trade also sent Mark Ellis to the A's, who could have been a decent stopgap second basemen and allowed Gotay and Murphy to develop in the minors. The Jermaine Dye trade was terrible. The Beltran trade is still an unknown, but the early returns aren't good. Mike Wood looks like a tolerable No. 5 starter or long reliever. Mark Teahan, if he develops power, has the upside of being a Joe Randa-type 3rd basemen (don't count on it though). John Buck has struggled mightily, but has shown some promise. Overall, the Royals didn't acquire any impact players in any of these key deals. Would you trade Damon, Dye, Beltran and Ellis for Hernandez, Berroa, Perez, Teahan, Buck, and Wood? Baird has done well in some small deals: Huber for Bautista, Bautista for Grimsley, Nunez for Santiago, Graffanino for Cedeno and Ambres. Baird has also made some poor small deals, Graeme Lloyd for whoever, Eli Marrero for Jorge Vasquez, come to mind. Overall, I think Baird has done a below-average job in his trades.

3. Farm System: The Royals have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball. Aside from Butler and Huber, the Royals don't have any (short-season excluded) prospects who project as impact players. For a lineup with no pop to begin with, that's a problem. The Royals pitching depth is very poor. The Royals have just one SP prospect who has frontline starter potential, and he's a 19-year-old in low A ball. The Royals don't have good depth at 3rd base or catcher. Considering how much talent the Royals have given up over the past 5 years, the farm system should be pretty well replenished (or at least the big league team).

4. Drafts: Baird's first draft looks alright, obtaining DeJesus and Gotay. The 2001 draft yielded Colt Griffin, who will someday hold the Wichita record for walks. The 2002 draft looks good, assuming Greinke develops into an average starter or better. The 2003 draft looks pretty good with Cota, Lubanski, Costa, Maier, and Aviles coming out of that draft. The 2004 draft was good. Billy Butler looks like a future All-Star and Howell and Buckner could help the back-end of the rotation soon. If Gordon signs, the 2005 draft looks very good. Baird and his scouting department have shown noticeable improvement here.

5. Hiring Organizational Personnel: Baird hasn't done a very good job of this. The organization still ruins every starting pitching prospect they get their hands on. Pena wasn't a good hire and Bell isn't looking much better. The Royals have used numerous pitching coaches with no noticeable improvements.

6. Tunnel-vision: Baird has a serious case of tunnel vision. He constantly obsesses over one specific need instead of getting the best talent available. With good tradebait like Beltran, Baird needed to get premium talent, not average prospects. I'd almost like to see him fired just so I don't have to hear about this corner outfielder that he probably won't every find anyway.

7. Player Development: The Royals haven't done a good job of developing players. Ultimately, this falls on Baird's shoulders. He hires the coaches in the organization that help develop young players. Baird also decides when prospects are promoted. His tendency to rush players to the majors to fill holes on the team has backfired. Skipping AAA doesn't seem to be helping either.

Reasons to Keep Baird or Give Him More Time:

1. Baird has developed a core of young players that will be together for the next 4 or 5 years. Whether they are any good or not, only time will tell. But, the patience of Royals fans is running thin.
2. Firing Baird might alter the direction of the franchise. Hard to see that as a negative thing though.
3. The Royals had their only winning season since 1994 under Baird
4. He's a nice guy and a hard worker

Overall, it seems like Baird is a good scout and a bad general manager. He seems to have a good nose for projectable talent. But, when it comes to finding polished, major-league talent, he's struggled to find it. The Royals have made numerous changes to coaches/managers in the organization, but that hasn't helped. The results over the past 5 years speak for themselves. The 2005 team hasn't shown much improvement and the two guys that everyone was predicting to have very good years have regressed badly (Greinke and Buck). It's Baird's time to go.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Whose Head is Gonna Roll?

I'd rather run a marathon backwards and blindfolded than think about the Royals right now, much less write anything meaningful about them, but the question must be asked in the midst of an unprecedented 18-game losing streak - should Buddy Bell be fired, even after just a half season on the job? I've never placed much stock in the value of the manager, mind you; the talent and determination of the players is going to see a team through in the long run. But Buddy Bell is providing the ultimate test of that theory with this unbelievably awful performance.

If a manager has no other role, it is to get his players ready to play every day, to juggle the lineup to give the team a spark, make an impassioned (or calm) speech to rally the troops in the face of a crisis of confidence. Buddy is inspiring nothing but more losing; the team is stepping on the field every day believing it is going to lose. Under his watch, this team of young players has learned more about losing in 3 weeks than they'd probably experienced in their entire careers to this point. Buddy Bell, in short, is impotent; he has no power to stop this ridiculousness.

Buddy Bell is not going to be fired, if for no other reason than it would set a precedent that the Royals organization would never have the stomach to establish. But in a 3-week flash, Buddy has lost every bit of credibility he earned in his first two months with the club. He's entering next season as a lame duck who will not be given any slack by the Royal fan base, whatever is left of it. I, for one, a' tired of coddling imcompetence in the hope that it will improve over time if left to its own devices. At my own company, we hired a CEO and fired him 6 months later; rational, calculating organizations recognize their mistakes, part ways and move on. Why should a baseball team operate any differently?

A clean sweep of the Royal front office in the offseason, which is looking like a foregone conclusion no matter how you feel about Allard Baird, should also involve ending the brief Buddy Bell experiment. The Royals need to brush aside all of their associations with losing, and unfortunately Buddy Bell has already been branded with this unfortunate stain. Maybe I'm unfairly making Buddy the scapegoat, but in the aftermath of this historically rotten season, the Royals need more than one, and no one should be immune.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Developing Players

When you look at the other "youth movements" around the major leagues, it's hard not to be jealous of other teams young talent. The A's traded away their two prized starters and figured to be in a rebuilding year. The A's struggled at the beginning of the season. For a while, their record was almost as bad as the Royals. But, they've recovered and are leading the wildcard race right now. Their success is largely due to the development of good young talent on their team. The A's and the Indians have a core of young players that are producing and have some veteran players to add stability.

Why are the Royals so bad at develop young players? First of all, let's take a look at the last "youth movement" in 2003. This youth movement included Berroa, Harvey, MacDougal, Affeldt, Asencio, Carrasco, Snyder, Gobble, George, Hernandez, and Brown. That's a lot of young players to have on a team. So, how does that "youth movement" look 2 years later?

Miserable Failures: Harvey, Asencio, Snyder, Gobble, George, Brown
Questionable Future: Berroa, Carrasco (can he keep it up?), Affeldt (will he contribute before becoming a FA?)
Average Players: MacDougal, Hernandez

So, out of that group of 11 young players, 6 failured miserably, 3 are still here but not really in the future (at least if the team is going to be any good), and 2 have become average players. I think we have to consider that "youth movement" a bust. Except for developing centerfielders (Damon, Beltran, and DeJesus), this organization really hasn't done a good job at developing players.

The biggest problem has been the Royals' inability to develop starting pitching. The Royals have had plenty of talent to develop over the past 5 years after focusing on pitching in the draft. But, the Royals have developed one average starter (perhaps generously rated average) Hernandez. You can't win without good starting pitching. Free agent starting pitching is very expensive and has a high risk.

The Royals have done very little to correct this problem. Here are the major organizational flaws that have hurt the Royals ability to develop starters:

1. Rushing starters to the majors: This one is a big problem. The Royals have promoted many starters prematurely, without spending much, if any time at AAA. At AAA, young pitchers face guys like Pickering and Guiel who have major league experience and won't miss mistake pitches that a young hitter at AA might. Each of the Big Three spent significant time at AAA before joining the big league team.

2. Converting Starters into Relievers: The Royals seem to convert every talented pitcher that came up as a starter into a reliever. The trend started with Affeldt. Affeldt wasn't great as a starter, but he wasn't terrible. He was a league-average starter in his first two seasons as a starter (the Royals have developed one league-average starter). His blister problems had disappeared, so who knows what might have happened if he stays in the rotation. The Royals already converted their best young arms, Sisco, Burgos, and Nunez into relievers.

There's probably a lot more factors that have contributed to the Royals' failure to develop young starters and other young players. But, the Royals need to make some major changes. The Royals can add all of the talent they want. But, until they start developing good, young talent (especially in the rotation), the Royals will never be competitive. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that this youth movement really isn't different from the 2003 "youth movement". The only difference is that the 2003 team had some decent veterans who had career years and made that team pretty good.

On another note, the Royals lose their 17th straight game. The Royals need to make some serious changes this offseason.

16 is the Loneliest Number

I apologize for not posting much recently. I've been extremely busy at work, and, frankly, there isn't much to say about the Royals right now. I was hopeful that Felix Hernandez would pull a Denny Bautista impression in his second major league start to halt the streak at 15, but after seeing his performance last night one thing is clear - King Felix is no Denny Bautista.

I wrote a few times before that the only way Buddy Bell would lose the faith of the Royal fan base, given how "well" they've played under his management, was if the Royals were to suddenly go in the tank to the extreme. I never expected it to happen, but man-o'-man, here we are. Were the first 51 games under Buddy Bell - when the Royals were only 1 game under .500- a complete smoke-and-mirrors job?

I'm surprised that the Royals aren't getting more national media coverage for this streak. Its very difficult to lose 16 in a row, so the Royals are accomplishing something very special.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Farm System Update: Arizona Royals

The Arizona Royals are having a good season with several good debuts by 2005 draft picks. After a good 1st half, the Arizona Royals are 6-5. Here's a look at some of the players on the Arizona Royals.

Position Players:

Jeffrey Bianchi/SS/'05 2nd Round Pick: The most impressive debut has been shortstop Jeffrey Bianchi's. Bianchi has an amazing .411/.483/.758 line through 95 ABs, including 7 doubles, 4 triples, and 6 homeruns. Bianchi has good speed (5 stolen bases in 7 attempts) and has played well defensively (just 4 errors in 27 games). Ladnier said Bianchi was a five-tool shortstop, and Bianchi has demonstrated those abilities so far. Bianchi has already appeared on Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet.

Joseph Dickerson/CF/'05 4th Round Pick: Dickerson has also had a great debut. Dickerson is hitting .324/.415/.545 in 145 ABs with 10 doubles, 8 triples, and 2 HRs. According to the Royals, Dickerson's strength is his defensive abilities. Bianchi and Dickerson have been pleasant surprises.

Other Notables:

Jose Duarte/OF/Undrafted/20 years old: Hitting .345/.388/.518 in 110 ABs
Felix Peralta/OF/Undrafted/19 years old: Hitting .302/.357/.518 in 116 ABs


Rayner Oliveros/SP/Undrafted/19 years old: Oliveros leads the team in ERA at 2.08. His control has been outstanding, with just 4 walks in 52 IP. Strikeout rate is a bit low, with just 4.8 K/9 IP.

Brent Fisher/SP/'05 7th Round Pick: Fisher has shown great control in his debut as well as a high strikeout rate. Fisher has struck out 50 in 40 innings and walked just 7.

Angelo Morales/SP/Undrafted/19 years old: Morales has also demonstrated very good control like his teammates mentioned above. Morales has walked just 2 batters in 23 2/3 IP and struck out 17.

These 3 starters will be worth watching and hopefully can add some badly needed starting pitching prospects into the Royals' farm system.

Other Notables:

Henry Barrera/RP/'04 5th Round Pick: Barrera is still pretty raw, but has pitched better as the season has progressed. Barrera's fastball can reach the upper 90s.

Eric Cordier/SP/'04 2nd Round Pick: Cordier injured himself doing drills in the outfield. He's on a limited throwing program, so he probably won't see much, if any action this year.

Friday, August 12, 2005

New Organizational Chart

Let me be the second to welcome, belatedly, the arrival of a new blogger to the Daily Lancer. David is a Royals fan to his core and knows the organization inside and out. He's going to be a fantastic addition. Welcome aboard!

A New Record and A New Blogger

Greetings! I'm joining the Daily Lancer after starting my blog, David's Royal Blog, which was recently showcased on the Daily Lancer. Here's a little more about me:

First Name: David (now two Davids blogging here)

Area of Expertise: Royals' farm system, Organizational overviews (finances, needs, etc.)

Pet Peeves: Rushing talented, young arms to the big leagues and converting them into relievers, utility players playing OF positions, overusing Terrence Long

Favorite Positions to Play: Outfield, Pitcher

That's enough about me. Tonight, the Royals set the franchise record for longest losing streak, dropping their 13th straight game. I witnessed the Royals' record-setting game tonight at the "K". The Royals didn't play terribly. But, they lost a game that they certainly could have won.

The Royals had a good start to the game. DJ Carrasco pitched very well through 6 innings, allowing just 2 hits and no runs. The Royals scored 2 runs in the 3rd inning, with 4 hits by the 1-2-3-4 hitters in the lineup. But, that was all the offense could produce. The Royals' offense had its opportunities. In the 5th inning, DeJesus hit a leadoff double and Ambres moved him to third on a sac bunt. But, Sweeney popped up on the infield and Long grounded out, failing to score the runner. In the 6th inning, Emil Brown led off with a triple. Berroa hit a sharp grounder to the pitch and Brown got thrown out in a run down between third and home. Berroa managed to move up to third base and the Royals failed to score him as well. It always felt like this would come back to get the Royals, and it did.

In the 7th inning, Carrasco began to work through the lineup for a 3rd time. He walked the leadoff man (a classic sign of a tiring pitcher). The Royals began to stall, although there was no action in the bullpen. For a team that has lost 12 straight games, it might not have been a bad idea to get someone ready in the bullpen. Carrasco gave up a single and a sacrifice bunt to load the bases. After a visit to the mound by Hansen, the Royals finally start warming up Burgos in the bullpen. The next at-bat, Carrasco leaves a fastball right down the middle and Jeff Liefer hits a grand slam off of Carrasco. A disappointing inning indeed, ruining a very good start for Carrasco.

Then, the Royals offense collasped. The Royals used McEwing, Hocking, and Buck as pinch hitters, going 0 for 3. Matt Stairs wasn't available to pinch hit, but why would you pinch hit Joe McEwing for Terrence Long, even with a lefty on the mound? Joe McEwing has no business playing RF. Is Tony Pena still managing this team from wherever he's hiding? If that wasn't enough, the Royals pinch-hit Hocking for Murphy? First of all, if we're going to have 2 utility guys on the team, let's at least find one that can hit. How about having one utility guy for the middle infielders and another for the corner infielders? Perhaps Chris Truby, who has hit 17 HRs in 310 ABs, would be a better fit. Considering all of the times McEwing or Graffanino have played first, it'd be nice to have someone who can hit for power there. But, the Royals seem very inept at managing their roster.

Minor League Notes: JP Howell had a good start for Omaha, going 6 innings and allowing just 1 run, walking 3 and striking out 7. Huber went 3 for 4 with a HR (1) and a double (6). Billy Butler finds a way to contribute everyday. Butler went 0 for 4, but drove in a run.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Time for Perspective...or Not

Nothing like coming back from the serene tranquility of the great outdoors to see your favorite baseball team lose their last two games by a combined score of 27 to 1, capping what was most assuredly the best week I could have possibly picked to leave behind the Royals for a while.

I won't bother commenting on all of the roster moves the Royals made in the interim, since it's a) old news and b) not particularly newsworthy anyway. I just have two pieces of perspective, one of which is modestly comforting and another of which is inflammatory. You can choose which you'd like to follow in this time of crisis.

Soothing: This team is only 10 days removed from the warm-and-fuzzy glow of taking 2 of 3 from the White Sox and sitting at exactly 1 game under .500 in the Buddy Bell Era, so despite the rancor of the recent streak, this team is going to be ok. The most damning thing that has taken place in this streak was the 4 straight losses at Tampa Bay. That was completely inexcusable and far-too-typical for this franchise (see Colorado earlier this season). But there isn't too much shame in losing 3 straight to Boston on the road and 3 straight to an incredibly hot Oakland team. The manner in which they lost the last two games is demoralizing for sure, but the fact is that they were swept by two far superior teams. The Royals have been somewhat streaky under Buddy Bell, and I'm pretty confident that the Royals will run off a string along the lines of 9 of 13 to get back to respectability.
Toxic: There is nothing, I say NOTHING that illuminates the Royals' chronic organizational weakness like a long losing streak. That weakness, of course, is starting pitching. The Royals have nothing that remotely resembles a rotation "stopper", a starter whom you can count on to step to the mound and deliver 7 innings of 4 hit, 1 run baseball with a ton of strikeouts. Every Royal pitcher on this roster is too hittable (Greinke), too erratic (Hernandez) or just not good in practically every aspect of their game (Carrasco, Lima and a cast of thousands).

Let's take stock. Right now, the Royals have two young starting pitchers who we can probably say are "durable major league quality": Greinke and Hernandez. Greinke is not showing he can be anything more than a 2/3 type, and Hernandez is almost certainly a 3/4. Mike Wood might be a #5, but he's probably more valuable as a swingman out of the bullpen. Andy Sisco has #2/3 potential and should be made a starter next season, but with the Royals' annoying penchant for turning promising pitchers into relievers that hardly seems promising. No one else in the rotation currently has any chance of being a contributor down the road.

I look down into the organizational vault and I see Denny Bautista, J.P. Howell, Billy Buckner and Luis Cota. That's basically it. So, let's say the Royals have 8 relatively young starter candidates to work with over the next few years. Its impossible to know how they'll turn out, but we can probably be sure that half of them won't amount to much of anything, given the usual success/fail rate for pitchers and especially given the Royals' inability to develop pitchers. The others will "make it" but in some combination of exceeding, meeting or falling short of expectations. I don't see any of these pitchers having true #1 starter upside. Greinke and Bautista are probably closest to that, with Cota another possibility. No other starter has the physical ability to be more than a #3. Frankly, I don't think we have much reason to be optimistic. The Royals haven't developed an excellent starting pitcher since Kevin Appier. That was 15 years ago.

The Royals might have an exciting young power bullpen, and the offense will probably become league average when it matures, and the defense should get better with age as well. But this team ain't goin' nowhere without solid starting pitching, and I just don't see it happening without a major infusion of outside talent. And will the Royals give out the 4 year, $36 million contract necessary to bag a pitcher of A.J. Burnett quality? I just can't see it.

Allard Baird has continued the Royal tradition of failing to develop starting pitching, and I see no signs that its going to change soon. For that alone, he should be fired in the offseason.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Brief Respite

Royals fans,
I'm taking a bit of a break. I've been horribly ill for the past 4 days with bacterial tonsillitis (better known as strep throat), and I'm now recovering -- slowly. Plus, I'll be out of town and incommunicado from Thursday through Sunday. After last weekend's (not-so-shocking) debacle in Tampa Bay and deadline dud, I know I could use a break from this team for a spell. Please come back and visit again next Monday!