Friday, April 28, 2006

Elarton's Early Success

A Few Tidbits from Elarton's interview on 810 WHB:

Elarton came to Kansas City because of his relationship with Buddy Bell and Bob McClure. Elarton thinks the Royals are a couple of years behind Cleveland right now and he thinks the Royals can get to that level. Elarton attributes his recent success to his command of his offspeed stuff. He's usually a slow starter because his fastball command takes a while to develop, but it has arrived early this year.

Elarton has pitched very well for the Royals so far, posting a 3.16 ERA through 5 starts. Can he keep it up? I want to think so, but his K/BB is terrible, as he's walked 18 and only struck out 11. It's generally very difficult for finesse pitchers to be effective if they are walking a lot of hitters and not striking out very many. So, why is Elarton enjoying success at the moment? As Elarton mentioned, he's done a good job of hitting his spots well. Elarton will have to continue to hit his spots well, otherwise things will go downhill quickly. At the very least, it's nice to have a veteran starter in a Royals' uniform doing well.

Other notes: Last night's game was lost in typical Royals' fashion. Mark Redman couldn't get it out of the 2nd inning. Mike Wood did a nice job of mopping up some 4 innings and saving the bullpen for Joe Mays' 3-inning start tonight. The bullpen overall pitched well, giving Hudson and Gobble some needed innings. Joel Peralta has pitched well since being recalled from Omaha. Why Stemle made the team and not Peralta is still a mystery to me.

Berroa hit his first homerun of the season and raised his batting average to .296. Apparently his good batting average is getting him early attention from Royals' fans in the All-Star balloting, as he's one of the leaders in the Royals' balloting. I guess most Royals' fans don't realize that Angel's on-base percentage is just 10 points higher and he can't make routine plays.

If it's not bad enough that the Royals have to send someone to the All-Star game, can you imagine sending Angel Berroa? I guess we can see the youth of 2003 flourishing, with Ken Harvey and Mike MacDougal already becoming All-Stars and Angel Berroa ready to become one as well. Life as a Royals' fan...

On to some positive notes with less sarcasm. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler continue to feast on Texas League pitching. Alex Gordon hit his 5th homer of the season and is now tied with Billy Butler for the team lead. Chris Lubanski is starting to heat up as well, now owning a much improved OPS of .754. Mitch Maier has also hit well, with 4 HRs and 19 RBIs. The Royals have a nice group of outfielders here that should help improve the Royals' offense considerably over the next 2 seasons. Hopefully, with talents like Gordon and Butler, the Royals will have true All-Stars and not All-Stars by default.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Around the Minors

Here's a summary of how the Royals' farm teams and top prospects have done so far:

The Omaha Royals:

The Omaha Royals are off to a solid 11-8 start in the PCL. Justin Huber has been tearing up PCL pitching, with a 1.094 OPS. The bad news, 3 errors in 19 games. So, he's probably got quite a bit of work left defensively. Andres Blanco has taken a completely different form, sporting a .850 OPS. But, he also leads the team in errors with 8. Chip Ambres is off to a disappointing start so far.

JP Howell has pitched well for the Omaha Royals, recording almost a strikeout an inning and being stingy on the walks. Howell is probably still a couple months away from the majors and hopefully will take a spot away from Joe Mays eventually. I can't stand watching Mays pitch. Brian Bass hasn't pitched well, allowing an average of 2 baserunners per inning. Danny Tamayo has pitched exceptionally for Omaha, with a 1.69 ERA and 15 K's to 2 walks in 16 innings. Tamayo has an excellent changeup, and might be a candidate eventually for long relief. He's at least better than Joe Mays.

Wichita Wranglers

The Wranglers are off to a tough start, with a 6-13 record. Alex Gordon has hit AA pitching very well so far. Gordon has a team-high 8 doubles and along with 4 HRs and a team-high .963 OPS. The strikeouts are adding up for Gordon, but not a huge concern yet. Billy Butler continues to climb through the Royals' farm system and keeps on mashing. Butler leads the team in HRs with 5 and has an excellent .325/.360/.578 line. I still wonder how the defense is coming along though. Mitch Maier is off to a pretty good start as well, with 4 HRs and a .814 OPS. Chris Lubanski is off to his typical slow start, but has shown better plate discipline. It'll be interesting to see if last season was really a breakthrough season or not.

Juan Cedeno has struggled early on, allowing too many walks (12 in 18 IP). The 22-year-old lefty has the stuff to be a good starter down the road and that'll depend upon improved control. Leo Nunez has struggled so far, allowing 3 HRs and 7 walks in 9 innings. Another potential power arm for the bullpen, Ryan Braun, has pitched pretty well striking out 13 in 10 innings. Braun was injured for most of last season, so it's good to see him back on track.

High Desert Mavericks

The High Desert squad is off to an 11-8 start thanks to some quality pitching. Leading the staff is Billy Buckner, who has won all three of his starts. Buckner has struck out 23 in 22 2/3. Buckner possesses a great curve, which could be his ticket to the majors by 2008. Ditto on Danny Christensen, who has reattained prospect status. The lefty has a great K/BB (25/5) and an excellent WHIP (1.04). Luis Cota has struggled so far at High Desert, with a 7.17 ERA. However, his K/BB has been pretty good (18/7), so I suspect he's pitched better than his ERA indicates. Former 1st round pick Mike Stodolka is tearing up High Desert pitching so far. The former pitcher is sporting a .404/.491/.745 line. It'll be interesting to watch his progression. Let's just hope we don't see Zack Greinke doing the same thing in 3 years.

Burlington Bees

All signs so far point toward a very success 2005 draft with Gordon mashing AA pitching, Bianchi having a great debut in the Arizona Rookie League, and Chris Nicoll having a great start at Burlington. Nicoll has allowed just 2 runs in 12 innings and has an excellent K/BB. Chris McConnell is showing signs of coming through a huge slump. McConnell went 2 for 5 today with a double and 2 RBIs.

Overall, the Royals' pitching prospects are off to a good start. It appears the Royals' pitching depth is improving thanks to two solid drafts in the past season. The Royals have a strong group of potential impact bats in the upper minors which should produce a much improved offense by 2007. If the Royals' pitching depth continues to improve, then there may indeed be hope.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Weatherman Is Back

I'm finally back to UK after a great, but exhausting trip from Barcelona to Budapest. After living off box scores for 5 weeks, it's great to see baseball again (even if it's the tiny, pixelated feed that MLBTV provides). First, here are my thoughts on the season so far:

Pretty much business as usual for the Royals: An 11-game losing streak, lengthy disabled list, Glass saying he still supports Allard, Berroa blunders, and no pitching. The Royals 3-13 record shows how overmatched the Royals are in every aspect of the game. The Royals' bullpen, expected to be the bright spot this season, has failed to live up to expectations.

First, a few positive thoughts about the season. Baird's most important offseason signings have been a success so far. Scott Elarton has pitched well in 3 of his first 4 starts (16 walks in 22 innings is a big concern though). Mark Redman has also pitched well since coming off the disabled list. Joe Mays has been terrible, but that was expected. The success of the Joe Mays signing will be determined by how quickly the Royals can replace him. Overall, those signings has lived up to expectations and that has to be considered a success. Mark Grudzielanek and Reggie Sanders have also performed as expected. Sanders leads the team in HRs and RBIs.

Much of the offensive struggles have been due to the disappearance of Sweeney, DeJesus and Brown. DeJesus has already landed on the disabled list and Sweeney and Brown have OPSs just above .600. If those three can produce offensively as expected, the Royals offense will improve tremendously.

The Royals' rotation continues to be a major problem, even with two veterans pitching reasonably well thus far. Affeldt has not done much with his opportunity to start again. The remnants of the failed 2003 youth movement (Affeldt, MacDougal, Hernandez) are quickly fading. The Royals' small infusion of youth in the rotation hasn't fared much better. I have a feeling Bautista will never stay healthy long enough to contribute much. The rotation will get a much needed boost as Greinke, Bautista, and Madritsch come back. The Royals' top pitching prospects are also off to a good start (more on the farm system later). So, perhaps there is some hope, especially if a new regime takes off quickly. The return of Greinke can't come soon enough.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy Trails

That's it.

I'm done.

I've enjoyed my time writing about the Royals here at the Daily Lancer. It has been rewarding to build a small but loyal readership of fellow Royals fans. And I will be a lifelong Royals devotee, even living in the belly of the beast here in New York City. I am a Royals fan through and through.

But I just can't muster the level of energy and enthusiasm it takes to write about this team.

The Weatherman may be around to post when he returns from his European vacation, but the Daily Lancer is signing off.

Godspeed, Kansas City Royals.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Last Stand?

At the beginning of 2004, a season in which several prognosticators and plenty of fans thought the Royals held serious promise, I opined in this blog that one of the keys to a competitive season was the performance of Jeremy Affeldt. Affeldt promptly fell flat on his arse, burdened by both poor performance and injuries. He wasn't the only reason the team failed, but when measured against expectations he was one of the worst culprits. We got much the same from Affeldt in 2005, a mixture of tantalizingly effective performance, inconsistency and the periodic meltdown (on full display during his Yankee Stadium meltdown in July).

Jeremy Affeldt entered this season at a clear crossroads with this team - no defined role, no halo of potential stardom keeping his reputation afloat, and vastly reduced expectations that he could be a difference maker. He was the third option for closer behind MacDougal and Burgos, the second option for left-handed setup behind Sisco, and standing outside the small circle of penciled-in starters. Thanks to a rash of injuries, obesity and mental illness that have ravaged the incumbent starters, however, Affeldt is receiving another chance to prove himself as a starter.

It all begins tonight as Affeldt faces the defending champs. He has roughly 4 to 6 weeks to prove himself before Hernandez, Redman and eventually Greinke make their way back to Kansas City. If he performs well, the Royals will find it much easier to jettison Joe Mays to long relief and Denny Bautista back to AAA to work on his control and consistency. But if he flounders, he'll be stuck in the back of the bullpen with practically zero hope he'll ever make a meaningful contribution to the Kansas City Royals.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The K

The season opened yesterday with a whimper for the Royals, but the big news on this day is the stadium renovation vote. Jackson County residents will be asked to bear most of the financial burden for renovating both Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums. This represents the third attempt by the Royals and Chiefs (Bistate I and II, R.I.P.) to secure public financing for the refurbishment of their stadiums.

The Big Guns are a-blazin' with this vote, as the leaders of Major League Baseball, the National Football League and even the NCAA have all but promised their grandest events if the measures pass. I read somewhere yesterday that the proponents of this measure have outspent opponents by something on the order of $1.2 million to $500. And we think baseball PAYROLLS are inequitable.

I expect the measure to fail, not because of the relative merits of proposal but because American taxpayers are generally loathe to impose any new taxes on themselves. Normally I would be among those opposing stadium deals, because they rely too heavily on taxpayer support (I think taxpayers should bear some burden for the privilege of having a major league franchise in their town, but the majority of the costs should be paid by the owners and leagues) and because stadium spending has no measurable benefit on the performance of the team itself. The Royals are not going to improve as a result of this stadium package unless it generates enough new revenue to allow the Royals to spend like the large market teams. It won't, so the Royals will still be overwhelmingly reliant upon drafting and developing to build their team.

But anyway, I'd like to see this measure pass. Kauffman Stadium is a gem but it is old and needs a facelift. If taxpayers have to spend money, I'd probably prefer it to be a downtown stadium, but if the Royals can save $100 million by bringing the K up-to-date for the next 20 years rather than building new, then I see no problem with that.

But mostly I'd just like to see the issue settled so the Royals secure a future in this city.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

2006 Dreams

Hello Royals fans. Daily Lancer here. Its been a long while, but I thought I should at least check in at the start of the season to offer a few thoughts and hopes for 2006.

Overall, I think we're looking at a 95-loss team at least, and quite likely into the triple digits once again. The Royals will have one of the worst starting pitching staffs, worst lineups and a below average defensive squad (though not as historically awful as last year). It would take far, far too many things that break the right way for the Royals to be anything close to competitive this season. So we're looking at another long one, I'm afraid.

2007 and beyond look more promsing, but oh, man, that starting pitching. Without a major infusion of pitching (and defensive) talent, we're looking at 70 to 80 win teams when the Gordon-Huber-Butler-Bianchi quartet make their onto the major league scene. There's still time, but Allard Baird is not the man to make it happen (more on that in a moment).

Anyway, here's hoping that...

Jeremy Affeldt remains a starter and develops at least a modicum of mental toughness to complement that golden (but fading) arm. Jeremy, if a batter gets on base, take a deep breath. Then another. Then forget about it. Never seen a head case quite like Jeremy Affeldt.

Jimmy Gobble is eventually released so he can pitch in an organization that understands what he is - a young, potentially decent starting pitcher who needs time and patience to figure out how to be successful in the major leagues. Look, the kid is only 24 years old and has the potential to contribute at the back end a rotation. He's not going to be a star pitcher with his weak strikeout ability, but he CAN be successful. The Royals have completely screwed up putting him in the bullpen and trying to turn him into something he's not. He is emblematic of all of the problems the Royals have developing pitchers. Jimmy, pray you're DFA'd sometime soon.

David DeJesus plays at least 150 games and lasts the entire season without a significant injury.

By June, Mark Teahen develops into a .275/.360/.440 baseball player and makes it difficult for the Royals to bring up Alex Gordon this season.

Mike Sweeney is traded by the deadline to make way for Justin Huber (who despite his poor showing in late 2005 and sluggish spring is ready) to replace him.

The Royals draft Andrew Miller with the first pick in the amateur draft, assuming he isn't injured.

Zack Greinke finds the proper mix of anti-depressants and gets himself back on the mound again. Without the incessant tinkering of Guy Hansen, I think Greinke will return to 2004 form.

If the Royals are going to be bad, just be really bad and get the #1 pick again. Its so much more valuable than any other pick that its actually worth it for the Royals to completely tank to get it. Seriously.

Burgos and Sisco accomplish two things - achieve a modest improvement in their BB/K ratio and avoid serious injury. I expect these two to mature into pitchers (instead of fireballers who occasionally find the plate) by 2007.

The April 4th ballot initiative passes. I'd prefer a downtown stadium, but I'm weary of the stadium cloud hanging over the head of the franchise. I'd rather just see the issue settled so we can all stop worrying about it. A downtown stadium isn't going to be an elixir for this franchise anyway; it won't improve the product on the field and it won't draw any more fans (past the novelty of the first season anyway) as long as the baseball team keeps losing 95 games.

Any one of Scott Elarton, Joe Mays or Mark Redman at least MEETS expectations. Forget exceeds - just meets. If so, hallelujah Allard Baird - finally.

The Royals finish well below .5o0, so the Baird regime ends thankfully (as promised by David Glass) and the Royals undertake a complete overhaul of their organizational management and baseball philosophy.

That said...

Go Royals.