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.


At 11:09 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

While I don't think Baird should avoid blame for the organizational problems with pitching (and everything else, too), you have to realize -- the Royals system as far as pitching was a husk of nothingness when he took over, and it was pretty much nothing on the position player side of things, too.

Nothing. He had nothing to work with. Five years later, there's...not much in the pitching department, but there's something. The system now has some position players -- a few we're finding out about now, and a few hopefuls on the way.

You want to blame Baird for everything, but give him no credit for anything that is here now and on the way within the next year or two. Building some organizational depth in five years from nothing is positive to me.

Baird should stay until 2007. If after that year there's still little to no hope, get him outta there. But changing course in the organization at this point will do nothing positive right now, and may even screw up the direction the team is moving towards, which I really believe is taking aim at 2007 as a point to become competitive and remain competitive for a number of years afterwards.

But hey, I don't really fault you for thinking that way -- you've been following for years and seeing no progress. It's easy to blame Baird, and not completely wrong, obviously.

At 1:27 PM, Blogger DL said...

Daniel, I just don't see why we have much reason to be optimistic about the pitching situation, nor why we should be giving Baird any credit for progress in that area.

-- Greinke has been much worse this season than last. Only a blind optimistic wouldn't be discouraged about his future right now. Baird made the decision to promote him to the big leagues at age 20.

-- Bautista has been injured most of the year, and he was highly inconsistent when did pitch - AND wasn't ready for the big leagues anyway.

-- Hernandez has been the Royals' most effective pitcher this season, but his peripherals stink and I question his prospects beyond a #4 starter.

Everyone else on the major league level has been an abject failure, veteran and youngster alike. The young pitching prospects - Burgos, Nunez, Howell - were rushed to the major leagues for no reason whatsoever. Jimmy Gobble has been completely mishandled by Baird - even with his low strikeout totals, he'd still be the Royals' best starting pitcher this season even if he just matched his 2004 numbers. Now he's a lost in the bullpen.

In the minors, who is on the way to help? Luis Cota? Still in A ball. J.P. Howell? Should still be in AA, and he throws like Johnny Damon. Billy Buckner? Long way off and just another soft tosser. Who else? I just don't see any organizational depth. If Sisco and Burgos are made back into starters (a must), then the starting pitching depth looks better but the bullpen suffers. And while Baird deserves credit for plucking Burgos (but BIG demerits for rushing him to the majors), how much credit should we give Baird for making a very easy Rule 5 pick in Sisco? Anyone would have made that selection.

I simply don't see the case for defending Baird's handling of pitchers. Other areas, maybe, but not pitching. And its pitching that has been and will continue to be the downfall of this franchise.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger SoonerRoyal said...

He didn't exactly have nothing to work with. The 2000 team that he took over had far more polished talent on the big league team than the Royals have now. The Royals had a great outfield with Beltran, Dye, and Damon. The Royals also had two very solid producers at the corner infield spots with Randa and Sweeney. I will be impressed if Butler, Gordon, Huber, DeJesus and Sweeney can produce the offense that those five did (not all of them will pan out). That team had some respectable pitching, with five starters with ERAs under 5.

The farm system was ranked #5 by Baseball America, so it's hard to believe that the Royals had no depth. I think most publications would rank the Royals' farm system in the bottom 3rd right now. The Royals have very little pitching depth or quality in the farm system. The Royals still have holes at catcher and 3rd base (until Gordon signs).

The early returns on the "youth movement" aren't good. Even the players who are producing (Burgos and Sisco) are going to wasted in middle relief. Most of the youngens are hitting .220-230 with little power and poor defense. Greinke has stepped back bigtime. It isn't looking good at all, hence the W-L record, which will likely break the franchise record for losses for the third time during the Baird era. So, I just don't see it. I wish I could, but until the Royals fix these major issues (particularly player development), they aren't going anywhere. I just don't see enough progress being made or how the Royals' situation now is any better than 2000.

Meanwhile, over in Cleveland and Minnesota, both organzations have had a successful youth movements in less than 5 years.


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