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.


At 5:46 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Baird is going to get a pass on the failures of the pitching staff because of the injuries: Hernandez, Snyder, Bautista.

Do I think this is legitimate?, not quite. But am I ready to fire Baird over it?, not quite.

I am ready to replace the training staff -- why Nick Schwartz is still around baffles me -- and I'm ready to look at the pitching coaches in the minor league system and make changes where necessary there.

But Baird? Not yet, but ask me again after 2007.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger DL said...

I've had my fill with tinkering. This GM simply can't develop starting pitching, and while I'm certainly willing to acknowledge that Baird has his strengths, this is a fatal flaw for someone who is in charge of the entire organization. We're heading down the same path as several years ago when Damon, Sweeney, Dye and Beltran began to mature. Those teams could hit and catch the ball, but the starting pitching and especially the bullpen couldn't do anything right. The best that bunch could muster was 77 wins, which would have been 90 had the Royals saved even half their games that season. The same thing is going to happen when this young team starts to mature in 2007-2008 - 75 to 80 wins, no chance of contending because they won't enough quality starters.

At 8:07 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Agreed on pretty much all counts, but I'd also doubt the wisdom of changing this moment in time. It's not as if the organization is headed in the right direction, but there's the possibility of it being ~pointed~ in the right direction.

Problem is, we won't really be able to tell until about 2007. The starting pitching is a huge issue, to be certain, but like I said -- besides acquiring the talent, I'm not sure how much influence Baird has afterwards. The Royals have been ruining pitchers since the late 90's, years before Baird was hired (see: Reichert, Dan, and Rosado, Jose).

Problems producing starting pitchers is a problem the entire organization has at its feet, not just Baird's. Replacing just one man won't get the job done, even if it is the GM.

At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bring back John Schuerholz.


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