Friday, July 20, 2012

Pitching Development and Dayton Moore - The Braves Edition

Hot on the heels of Retro's piece yesterday, which if you missed it (and if you did miss it, click on that link) detailed just how little Dayton Moore has gotten in the way of starting pitching through the draft, it seemed appropriate to look at whether or not we should actually have hope in regards to his ability to develop starting pitching. After all, the Royals' starting rotation is the object of scorn (amongst fans) and ridicule (amongst, well, everyone).

Is Dayton Moore actually equipped to develop the starting pitching that the Royals so desperately need to cultivate to compete in the American League Central? Given that his experience in Atlanta was both instrumental in getting hired in the first place and formative in a philosophical sense, it makes sense to learn what exactly happened in Atlanta while Dayton Moore was in the front office.

I inadequately explored this issue in two parts (one and two) in January of 2010 after Clint Scoles posted this FanShot, which included a transcribed portion of a Baseball America podcast in which Jim Callis and especially John Manuel railed against the Royals and their cluelessness as it pertained to developing pitching following their kerfuffle with Mike Montgomery over long-toss. This had marked the second time in as many years that the Royals had come to blows with one of their highly touted prospects over long-toss, as this incident came roughly a year after Danny Gutierrez (a fellow Boras client) and the Royals brass squabbled over off-season training programs. If you don't feel like going back to the FanShot, this is the dialogue that Clint faithfully transcribed:
I don't trust their ability to develop pitchers. I don't think the Royals have a clue about pitching. Guess what between the time the Braves developed Jason Schmidt and Kevin Millwood in the late 90's and the time Dayton Moore left the farm system there is a gap between the late 90's and 2000's when the Braves didn't develop any pitching. Basically those guys get out Tommy Hanson doop Kris Medlen doop, Braves start developing pitching again. I don't think it's a coincidence the guys that were in Atlanta during that time and in Kansas City now don't know how to develop pitching.
Fast-forward 30 months and a crowning of the Royals' farm system as the best in the history of whatever and the dearth of Royals pitching prospects that had prospect hounds drooling in the twelve months to follow this rant have yet to substantiate themselves in any meaningful way. The steps forward that the likes of Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Danny Duffy were to take in 2010 following Manuel's statement have just as quickly been offset by serious control issues and Tommy John surgeries. Aaron Crow has been relegated to the bullpen with any hope for the development of a third pitch to get to left-handed hitters being extinguished with each month that passes in which he is called upon to only throw his fastball and slider.

No one has ever questioned Moore's scouting acumen, but development is a different matter altogether. As Manuel was getting at above, the Atlanta Braves--the organization that Moore came up in and has, by and large, modeled this franchise after--were woefully unable to develop their own starting pitching during Moore's tenure there. While I would not deign to place the blame of the entire Atlanta Braves organization's inability to develop starting pitching solely on Dayton Moore's shoulders, there is very little evidence to support that (judging by his on-the-job training in Atlanta and his six-year tenure in Kansas City) developing quality starting pitching is something of which he is capable.

Retro covered the Royals side of the issue in regards to Moore's ability (or perhaps more appropriately inability) to develop pitching. Now, let's look at what the Braves actually did while Dayton Moore was in prominent player development and scouting positions. In August of 1996, Dayton Moore was promoted from the position of being an area scouting supervisor to being an assistant in baseball operations. In November of the same year, Moore he was named Assistant Scouting Director. In 1999, he added the title of Assistant Director of Player Development. He was promoted to Director of International Scouting in 2000 and in 2002 was again promoted, this time to Director of Player Personnel, a position he held until he was given the Senior Vice President - Baseball Operations / General Manager position in Kansas City on May 30, 2006.

This is about to get a bit unwieldy, so we'll do this in parts.

1. The Draft

While Dayton Moore was still an area scouting supervisor when the draft actually took place in the 1996 season, he was certainly in front office while the development of these players took place, so let's start with 1996 and go through the 2005 draft. From each year's draft class, I'll list the pitchers drafted and signed by the Braves who actually made appearances in the Majors. The pitchers whose names have been struck through (like so) never made a start in the Majors. The pitchers whose names are in bold (like so) produced a zero or negative rWAR in the Majors. Pitchers with nothing done to their name were positively productive starting pitchers at the Major League level.
Player Year Drafted Round Overall Pick
Jason Marquis 1996 1s 35
Joe Nelson 1996 4 122
Aaron Taylor 1996 11 332
Joey Nation 1997 2 80
Horacio Ramirez 1997 5 172
Matt Belisle 1998 2 52
Scott Sobkowiak 1998 7 221
Steve Smyth 1998 13 401
John Ennis 1998 14 431
Tim Spooneybarger 1998 29 881
Brad Voyles 1998 45 1349
Andrew Brown 1999 6 204
Ben Kozlowski 1999 12 384
John Foster 1999 25 774
Adam Wainwright 2000 1 29
Blaine Boyer 2000 3 100
Zach Miner 2000 4 106
Chris Waters 2000 5 160
Trey Hodges 2000 17 520
Macay McBride 2001 1 24
Kyle Davies 2001 4 135
Willie Collazo 2001 10 315
Anthony Lerew 2001 11 345
Kevin Barry 2001 14 435
Dan Meyer 2002 1s 34
Charlie Morton 2002 3 95
Chuck James 2002 20 605
Luis Atilano 2003 1s 35
Jo-Jo Reyes 2003 2 43
Matt Harrison 2003 3 97
Sean White 2003 8 247
Jonny Venters 2003 30 907
Daniel Stange 2003 33 997
James Parr 2004 4 131
Sean Doolittle 2004 39 1181
Joey Devine 2005 1 27
Tommy Hanson 2005 22 677
Joey Nation made two starts, so we'll not talk any further about him. Chris Waters was granted free agency as a minor leaguer and signed with Baltimore, where he made 11 starts in 2008 and 1 in 2009, totaling 0.4 rWAR. It's safe to eliminate him from the list as well.

Tommy Hanson did not sign his name to a contract until May 26, 2006. While Moore could certainly claim some credit for having scouted and drafted Hanson, the four days between when Hanson signed a contract with the Braves and when Dayton Moore took the General Manager position in Kansas City cannot have played a substantial part in Hanson's development.

Having cut the wheat from the chaff, the following pitchers are starting pitchers drafted by the Atlanta Braves who started in the Majors:
Jason Marquis 13 282 13.4 8.8 4.60 4.80 4.59 5.15 4.73 7.7 12.2
Horacio Ramirez 8 105 10.6 8.8 4.65 4.94 3.92 5.69 5.01 1.1 3.8
Matt Belisle 9 43 17.6 5.5 4.29 3.92 3.75 4.65 3.66 5.2 8.3
Adam Wainwright 7 137 20.2 6.9 3.16 3.37 3.58 3.46 3.69 20.3 20.4
Zach Miner 4 35 14.0 9.4 4.24 4.49 4.65 4.78 4.70 2.9 3.5
Chuck James 5 55 17.2 9.4 4.53 5.52 5.05 5.54 4.93 2.1 0.0
Matt Harrison 5 80 14.1 7.9 4.12 4.19 4.30 4.98 4.51 6.4 8.4
Starting at the top of the list, there is Jason Marquis, a back-of-the-rotation starter at best. It should probably be noted that much of Jason Marquis's value is tied into two absurd offensive years. His career rWAR as a pitcher is just 4.1, and was actually -0.2 in the four seasons he logged playing time in Atlanta. His 3.6 Wins with his bat account for 46.75% of his total value. If I'm reading FanGraphs' WAR calculations correctly, 5.1 of his 12.2 Wins are from his bat, good for a slightly lower but still important 41.80% of his value. His time in Atlanta also marked the only time he spent any substantive time in the bullpen. Granted, they were his Age-22-through-25 seasons, but three of his four seasons saw him making more than half of his appearances from the pen.

The Inglewood High School product Horacio Ramirez pitched in the Majors for a total of eight seasons. In that time, he made 105 starts and appeared in relief another 64 times with 89.93% of his innings coming as a starter. His career value: 1.4 rWAR, 3.8 fWAR. While FanGraphs is much kinder to Ramirez, there is little here to suggest that he has been anything other than a bad Major League pitcher, as any Royals fan with a recollection of his 2009 stint in Kansas City can recall with disturbing clarity. He had one season in which he accumulated more than 1.0 WAR (by either measure) and averaged less than half a win per season over his career.

The Braves flipped Matt Belisle to bring Kent Mercker back into the fold, dealing him to the Cincinnati in August of 2003 where he made a total of 43 starts over parts of five seasons, almost all of which (30) came in 2005. Belisle hasn't started a game since 2008 and never started one in as a Brave. As a starter, he had a 5.38 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 5.98 K/9, and a 2.58 K/BB. Counting his time as both a reliever and starter, Belisle has accumulated 4.9 rWAR and 8.3 fWAR. By the most generous measure, Belisle has still been worth less than a win per season over his career.

Now we come to Adam Wainwright, the belle of the ball. Wainwright was traded to St. Louis along with Jason Marquis and Ray King for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. The future Cy Young first- and second-runner-up had advanced to Double-A through the Braves system, with his prospect star shining the brightest after his stint in high-A ball before dimming with a less dominant run in his last year in the Braves system. Then, of course, he went to St. Louis where the Cardinals' pitching coach is a savant named Dave Duncan. The Braves certainly get at least partial credit for developing Wainwright, but they didn't get him all the way there, and he never did anything meaningful in a Braves uniform.

In July of 2005, the Braves packaged Zach Miner and fellow future Royal Roman Colon together to net other future Royal Kyle Farnsworth. He, too, never pitched a game in the Majors for the Braves. Judging by the numbers above, Miner has been a pedestrian starting pitcher at the Major League level and, like everyone but Wainwright above, has been worth less than 1.0 WAR per season.

The most there is to say about Chuck James is that rWAR dislikes him slightly less than fWAR. Simply put, he's not good. And it's starting to feel repetitive, but James has been worth less than 1.0 WAR per season.

And then there's Matt Harrison. Not unlike Adam Wainwright, the Braves traded Harrison away after getting him up to Double-A, this time they sent a slew of players (Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz, Beau Jones, and Elvis Andrus) to Texas for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. Harrison's value to the Braves was essentially limited to his value as a commodity. It also took until 2011 for Harrison to have an year in which he put up a positive rWAR. There was a three-and-a-half season lag between when Harrison was in the Braves system and when he actually contributed in a meaningfull (read: positive rWAR) way. fWAR is slightly more forgiving of Harrison, but it still took him until 2011 to crack the 1.0 barrier.

Of the seven starters that the Braves system produced through the Draft in the ten seasons that Dayton Moore was in the front office and accordingly privy to and to varying extents involved in their development, the Braves got a total of 5.4 rWAR* (-0.2 Marquis, 2.9 Ramirez, 2.7 James) and 4.8 fWAR (1.6 Marquis, 3.1 Ramirez, 0.1 James) from starting pitchers in Braves uniforms.

*Ignoring contributions with the bat, which actually costs the Braves 0.6 rWAR.

2. In-House Talent

Obviously there are limitations in looking solely at the Draft as a means by which the Braves developed starting pitching talent during Dayton Moore's tenure in their front office. There was talent in the lower levels of the organization. While Moore was not necessarily involved in their development or privy to their development plan from the beginning, it does seem slightly unfair given the focus of this piece to not mention these players and give partial experiential credit where partial experiential credit is due.

Kevin Millwood is a prime example. Millwood was a rookie in the 1997 season for Atlanta. Having been drafted in 1993, Millwood had already logged 231.2 professional innings before Moore enters the front office picture, but in 1996 Moore was an area scouting supervisor and would at least likely have had at least second-hand knowledge of what the development plan for Millwood would have been, even if it is unlikely that he was intimately involved in its formulation and/or execution.

Millwood produced 12.2 rWAR and 20.3 fWAR in his six seasons as a Brave and 25.5 rWAR and 49.2 fWAR (and counting) in his career. His is by far the most successful stint of any of the homegrown starting pitchers that actually wore a Braves uniform with whom Moore was in the front office to see their debut.

Like Millwood, Bruce Chen came into the organization in 1993 as an international amateur free agent. In three partial seasons in which he was still often pitching out of the pen, Chen produced 0.5 rWAR and 0.3 fWAR before being packaged with Jimmy Osting to acquire Andy Ashby from Philadelphia.

The Braves system also produced Odalis Perez having gotten him as a Latin American free agent in 1994. Of course, Perez was not particularly good while wearing an emblazoned tomahawk across his chest, managing a -1.1 rWAR and 2.7 fWAR over his three partial seasons in Atlanta before being dealt to the Dodger with Brian Jordan and Anthony Brown to get Gary Sheffield.

Perez and Chen both were somewhere in the close proximity to replacement level while in Atlanta, but both proved more valuable in different environs.

In 2001, Damian Moss came up and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. The then-25-year-old Aussie produced 2.0 rWAR and 0.9 fWAR in a Braves uniform over just barely more than one season in the Majors before being shipped off to San Francisco along with Merkin Valdez for Russ Ortiz. Moss was an international signing in 1993 and struggled with his control throughout his ascent through the minors--one that was waylaid by Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the entire 1998 season and halted his progress at Double-A.

3. International Free Agents Signed

Neftali Feliz is the first (and only unless I missed someone scouring their transactions from 1996 to the midway point of the 2006 season) International Amateur Free Agent signing to get to the Majors, average more than 1.0 fWAR per season. Having been signed out of the Dominican on June 6, 2005, Feliz was been sent to Texas in the aforementioned deal that netted Teixeira. Feliz has finally transitioned into a starter at the Major League level, but having pitched fewer than 60 innings with the Braves organization--none of which were above Rookie Ball--makes it hard to credit them with much more than the scouting eye to grab him. His development owes very little to them.

Having scoured the Braves' transaction list from 1996 through 2010 to cover my bases regarding International Amateur Free Agent signings that were dealt later on down the line, that is everyone of note (barring a strange oversight) that this system had a hand in producing.

What should we make of all of this information?

Aside from Millwood's successful development (a good portion of which happened before Moore was in the front office as an assistant in baseball operations in August of 1996), this was not a franchise that experienced an acceptable amount of success in developing starting pitching. The starting pitchers that were dealt away and became successful elsewhere were still few and far between, and one doesn't have to take a great leap to make the assumption that those pitchers--particularly Wainwright, Marquis, Harrison, and Feliz--achieved thanks in part to their development in their new environs. The slew of left-for-dead pitchers who Dave Duncan alone has breathed life into is staggering. That's not to say that Wainwright could not have been successful at the Major League level for the Atlanta Braves, but only so much credit can be given to the Braves for his actual development into a front-line Major League starter.

There is also the matter of where the Braves were as a franchise during this stretch of time. They were in a constant state of trying to reload to sustain success. As such, their need for a starting pitching staff built from within was less pronounced. Unfortunately the fact remains that regardless of their relative lack of need for self-developed starting pitching, the Braves were still unable to develop more than 6.0 WAR of in-house starting pitching that came into the organization over the course of the ten years that Dayton Moore was in their front office.

What we are left with is a significant question: What about Dayton Moore's experience developing starting pitchers, both as he was involved with in the Atlanta Braves organization from whence he came and with the Royals organization he now runs, should give us hope for the future?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Royalscentricity Giveaway - Willie Mays Aikens: Safe at Home by Gregory Jordan

Loyal reader,

I have four copies of the brand new biography Willie Mays Aikens: Safe at Home by Gregory Jordan. I just got them in the mail today and will have a review of the book up as soon as I finish it. Here is the press release that was sent with the books:

The man who went from Major League stardom to solitary confinement and his struggle for redemption
In 1980, Willie Mays Aikens became the first Major League Baseball player to hit two home runs in one game twice in a World Series and was tabbed by many as the "next Reggie Jackson." But ignoring the advice of his wiser teammates, Aikens drove himself out of baseball and into one of the longest prison sentences ever given to a professional athlete - 20 years and eight months. The culprits: his neediness and gullibility, crack cocaine, and a criminal justice system dead set on punishing, rather than rehabilitating.
Willie Mays Aikens: Safe at Home is as intimate and culturally significant a biography of an athlete as we have ever had. Using extensive interviews with Aikens himself, his family, friends, teammates, cellmates, and dealers, author Gregory Jordan has woven Willie's incredible life story with unique intensity. Jordan goes on a journey inside Aikens' impoverished childhood in a slow-to-desegregate South Carolina town, to the rollicking Kansas City Royals' locker room and the go-go drug culture of the 1980s, behind the prison gates of Leavenworth, and lands into the lap of a nuclear family that Aikens finds himself currently trying to keep intact.
Willie Mays Aikens is a story of unbelievable triumph and tragedy, stocked with villains and heroes - and angels, including Hall of Famers George Brett and Pat Gillick - where you least expect them. At once an exploration of Major League Baseball in the 1980s and the great Royals teams of yesteryear, as well as a sobering look at the United States justice and penal systems, Willie Mays Aikens proves that even if you are lost for many years, you can always find your way home.
About the Author:
Gregory Jordan has written about sports, movies, politics, and books for The New York Times, Crisis Magazine, and The Hill. Jordan worked with Mark Shriver on A Good Man, Mark's biography of his father, Sargent Shriver, due out in June 2012. Jordan has also collaborated on books with former NFL player Joe Ehrmann and attorney Ron Shapiro. He lives in Sherwood, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay.

It sounds great. All you have to do is send me an email at joshua (dot) d (dot) duggan (at) gmail (dot) com giving me a reason why you should get one of the four copies I have. I will pick the best four reasons for getting the book and send them out. Please only people living in the United States or someone who has a permanent address in the U.S. that I can send the book to, as I am paying postage out of pocket and am not going to send a parcel overseas. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Ryan Verdugo and Will Smith

I'm not going to bother with another 1,700 word treatise on starts from Ryan Verdugo and Will Smith because they're not Mike Montgomery. I'll also not really even talk about the Nate Adcock start, which was simply serviceable.

Verdugo was pretty much who I thought he would be. I was surprised by how slow his fastball ran. He seemed to sit pretty consistently in the 88-91 range. He may have run it up as high as 93 or 94, but I couldn't tell you if he did or didn't as I wasn't watching with baited breath and/or taking notes like I was for Montgomery's start. If memory serves me correctly, he had a change-up and a curve. I couldn't be bothered to pay that much attention to pitch location/velocity from where I sat that day. I can tell you that he seemed to successfully limit quality contact. There must have been late rise to his fastball because he was inducing a ton of weak pop foul/pop fly contact from the Express line-up. Of his outs not recorded via the strikeout, he had only one ground out while having six outs in the air.

As far as Verdugo's outs not in the field of play were concerned, he struck out eight in five and a third. He also allowed only one hit. One would assume that he game a dominant start, but the fact that he didn't make it out of the sixth should raise a red flag. To go with that one hit, he walked another four batters. Sure, more than half of the outs he recorded were via the K, but he also walked nearly a hitter per inning. When he was pulled after recording an out with the only batter he faced in the sixth, his pitch count sat at 85 with only 53 of the pitches being strikes. That he only allowed one hit and it still took him 85 pitches to get to one out in the sixth is a bit worrisome, especially on a night when it seemed like Round Rock could not square up anything he was throwing.

Two nights later, southpaw Will Smith took the mound. Like Verdugo, Smith was a prospect from the lower minors who Moore netted when trading off Major League pieces with Smith being the minor league lefty that they got along with Sean O'Sullivan in the Alberto Callaspo deal.

Tonight, it took Smith 11 outs recorded before he got his first strikeout. His fastball sat 88-92, touching 93 in most innings, but in the seventh with his pitch count still low (and likely having been told this inning would be his last) his fastball was sitting 92-95 and touched 96. 63 of the 90 pitches he threw were strikes. Through the sixth, he had only struck out two, Brad Nelson--if ever there were a man whose nickname needed to be "Big Country," it is Brad Nelson--both times. Through the first four innings, Round Rock managed one base runner, with Yangervis Solarte recording a single back up the middle that almost took off Will Smith's head.

In the fifth, having angered the BABIP Gods, Smith allowed two runs with one out on two singles, a double, and a sacrifice. He limited the damage of having had Irving Falu let an infield fly drop in the sixth and then came out all guns a-blazin' in the seventh. Smith really was a different pitcher in the seventh. His fastball was coming in consistently in the mid-90s, and he blew it by Matt Kata, Joey Butler, and Michael Bianucci.

As for his secondary offerings, much like Montgomery on the previous evening, Smith threw virtually nothing other than his fastball for the first two-plus innings. He started to mix in a curve that was sitting in the 75-78 range. He also had at least one offering in the low-80s. As I've said before, my pitch recognition isn't the best, especially from higher up in the stands. I was in the 16th row tonight to the left of home plate. I'm assuming he was throwing a change-up that was sitting in the 80-83 range, but there were a couple of pitches that dropped in at about 85 that seemed to have significant break, making me wonder if he wasn't also throwing a slider. If he wasn't throwing a slider at 85, it would seem that on a couple of occasions he may have been overthrowing his change when he was working with his fastball in the first six innings. In the seventh, however, that pitch at 85, whether a slider or a change, was the pitch that did in Michael Bianucci for the final out of Smith's start.

Seeing Smith in the seventh, when he wasn't holding back for another inning was a different pitcher entirely. Unlike Neil Ramirez on Tuesday night, who similarly was amped up in his last inning of work, Smith's command didn't seem to suffer on account of his adding a few ticks to the fastball.

These are just thoughts on two of the four starters I saw throw this week. If anyone has anything to add, particularly about Will Smith's repertoire, please have at it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Night with Mike Montgomery

On the half-hour drive up to the Dell Diamond in Round Rock, I threw on Dirt Farmer to mentally prepare myself to write a sincere piece drawing comparisons between the death of Levon Helm, whose music I loved, and the death of Mike Montgomery's prospect star, whose potential I loved. After a rocky first inning in which Montgomery walked two and struggled to find the strike zone with half of his 20 pitches failing to find the strike zone, I had no reason to believe that I wouldn't still be writing that piece.

By the end of the seventh inning, any notion of needing to conjure up a prospect obituary was dead and buried.

It is probably instructive to look at that first inning. In that inning, Montgomery threw 20 pitches. Of those 20 pitches, he threw his fastball at least* 18 times. Of the 18 pitches that were definitely fastballs, ten missed the strike zone. He started off the inning by walking Julio Borbon on five pitches. Two pitches later, Montgomery induced what should have been a double play ball off the bat of Luis Hernandez--yes, that Luis Hernandez--that Johnny Giavotella got into his glove and flipped to Tony Abreu who failed to catch the ball. The error was credited to Abreu, but it didn't look pretty on either end. On the next pitch, Montgomery broke Leonys Martin's bat on a fastball in, inducing a grounder to Giavotella who got the force at second. Express first baseman Michael Bianucci followed Martin's example and went after the first pitch he saw, shooting a flare single into shallow centerfield, scoring Borbon. Designated hitter Brad Nelson weakly tapped the only curveball thrown in the first up the first-base line, which Montgomery fielded and threw to first for the out. Facing Matt Kata (who will basically be on the Express until the day he chooses to hang up his cleats as he's married to Reid Ryan's sister-in-law) next, Montgomery missed on four straight pitches, with the last two appearing to just miss up and away. With Joey Butler up next, Montgomery finally recorded his first strikeout of the evening.

*I say "at least" because I was sitting in the 13th row behind home plate and was sitting too high to be able to tell if his pitches were breaking at all. On one pitch in the first the stadium radar sign in the outfield failed to register a speed. It is likely that the one question mark in the first was in fact a fastball as it was his first offering to Joey Butler, who fouled it off.

That was a long paragraph largely because it was a fairly long inning--Montgomery's longest of the night. He was undermined by his defense to be sure. Had Giavotella and Abreu successfully completed the exchange, Montgomery likely would have gotten out of the first having spent just eight pitches on the first three batters. Regardless of what his defense should and shouldn't have done, Montgomery was missing Clark's spots fairly frequently with his fastball, which was sitting 89-92 and touched 93 twice in the Butler at-bat. The one definite curve he threw clocked at 77 and induced extremely weak contact from a guy coming off a 2011 season in which he hit 24 homers and slugged .501. Sure, 29-year-old Brad Nelson is a long ways away from the days in which he was considered a top prospect, but he can hit in Triple-A.

Montgomery's second inning went significantly smoother despite the fact that his strikes thrown stayed at 50%. There were three pitches in this inning that didn't have speed read-outs on the sign out in left center, so I am unable to identify the first two pitches to Yangervis Solarte and the first offering to Julio Borbon. Everything he threw in the second that I can identify was a fastball. In the second, it sat 90-92, once hitting 94 and once reaching up to 96. He struck quasi-prospect Tommy Mendonca out swinging on a 2-2, 94 mph fastball. He then induced a 2-0 pop foul to the catcher, and after missing in (presumably with a fastball) he got Borbon to chop a grounder to Abreu for the final out of the inning.

Facing the order for the second time through in the third, Monty started to mix in his secondary offerings a bit. Here, his change-up made its first verifiable appearances, sitting in the 81-83 mph range. His fastball was coming in a lot harder in the third, only twice registering below 93. It was sitting 93-95 and touched 96 once. With the change-up looking good, he was able to set up a high fastball at 95 that Bianucci was unable to lay off of for his second strikeout of the inning, bringing his total up to four. For the other two outs of the inning, he endured a seven-pitch Luis Hernandez at-bat before inducing a grounder to short and got legitimate Cuban prospect Leonys Martin looking on a 95 mph heater after two fastballs at 93 and a possible curveball that was in the dirt low and away.

After three innings, his pitch count was at 46 with a K/BB of 4/2. For the first time in the game, he had thrown more strikes than balls in an inning with 10 of his 16 pitches landing in the zone. He mixed in three change-ups, one curve (with a possible second), and the rest were fastballs.

With the offense having spotted him a 7-1 lead through the top of the fourth, Montgomery could really relax. Just as he did in the second and third innings, Montgomery sent the Express down in order in the fourth. Facing Nelson for the second time, he threw a 90 mph fastball in off the plate, then got consecutive called strikes--first on another 90 mph fastball, then on a 76 mph curve--before getting a swing-and-miss on a second straight curve, this time at 78. Kata popped a 2-1 offering (no mph reading) to shallow left-center field where Terry Evans made the catch with ease, and Joey Butler finished an eight-pitch at-bat with a ground out to Abreu at short.

After four, he sat at 62 pitches with a 5/2 K/BB. Nine of his 15 pitches went for strikes.

He needed just eight pitches to get through the fifth, despite facing four batters. With Mendonca coming up first, he mixed in all three pitches in a four-pitch strikeout swinging. Solarte grounded to short on the second pitch he saw, Borbon ripped a single past a diving Clint Robinson, and Hernandez popped a likely off-speed offering into the Express dugout which Kevin Kouzmanoff snagged.

Through five, his pitch count was a much more preferable 70. His fastball was coming in pretty consistently at 91 in the fifth, but he was mixing in his off-speed stuff with a lot more consistency in this inning. Two of the eight pitches were unidentified, but I'd guess they were both change-ups. He threw one definite curve at 76, the knockout pitch to Mendonca. Having added another strikeout to his line, his K/BB had moved up to 6/2. Of his eight pitches, only two were balls.

The sixth inning was very reminiscent of the one that came before it. Seven pitches. Seven strikes. Four fastballs, two change-ups, one curve. Once again, the once curve was the punch-out pitch, this time to Bianucci. Sandwiching the K were two grounders, which were fielded easily by Giavotella. Montgomery's fastball was registering at 91-93 this inning, his changes came in at 81 and 84, and the curve was a 77 mph puzzler that left Bianucci standing there, bat on shoulder. For those keeping track at home, his pitch count was at 77, and 42 of those pitches had fallen in for strikes.

Despite only needing 12 pitches to get through the seventh and having thrown a mere 89 total pitches with the inning in the books, it would be Montgomery's last. Living in the zone again, he threw nine strikes to three balls. With his fastball sitting 90-92 and touching 93 once, he got Kata to line out fairly weakly to short on a 2-1, 92 mph fastball. Butler followed with a double to the deepest part of the field, the gap in left center field. Mendonca chopped a 76 mph curve to second, advancing Butler to third, marking the Round Rock's second straight two-pitch at-bat. Solarte grounded the first pitch he saw up off the mound up the middle, plating Butler before Montgomery recorded his final out, getting Borbon to ground out to second on an change at 82. He threw the change twice this inning, both at 82, and mixed in two curves, one at 76 and one missing at 73.

Just like with his Omaha counterpart from the previous night (Ryan Verdugo), the Round Rock Express had serious problems squaring up what Montgomery had to offer them. Where the Express had been sending Verdugo's pitches skyward weakly, ten of the 21 outs Montgomery recorded were on the ground, with the should-have-been double play ball in the top of the first also coming on the ground. With seven more outs coming via the strikeout, only four outs came in the air, one a weakly hit liner to short and two more weak pop outs that never traveled further than 90 feet from the plate. While their starting pitcher was in the game, the Omaha outfield touched the ball five times. One was a double that was ripped in the seventh. One was a screamer that Borbon pulled past Robinson in the fifth. Righties Bianucci and Kata (switch-hitter) both sent weak flares to shallow center. The last time was a grounder ripped up the middle.

With only one high profile prospect in the line-up (Martin) and a line-up that otherwise consists of organizational filler with a smattering of Quad-A players and pseudo-prospects like Julio Borbon, Joey Butler, and Tommy Mendonca, Montgomery coasted. After two innings with an equal amount of balls and strikes thrown, Montgomery began finding the strike zone more consistently from the third inning on and eventually got his strikes thrown to 64%. He worked down in the zone with a lot of success. His fastball command was shaky early on, but he only missed with four fastballs from the fourth inning on. His curve consistently found the strike zone, missing only two of the verifiable eight times it was thrown. With the change-up, he actually missed the zone more than he hit it.

Obviously, this is just one start, but after roughly a year of disappointment, seeing Montgomery finally put together a pretty dominant start was a breath of fresh air--hell, having anything in Royals Land going right is aberrant this year--and for at least a couple of hours helped the world, or at least this writer, forget about the death of Levon Helm.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Futility Infielder in the Mix at Second

The quote:

"There's always that chance," manager Ned Yost said, adding: "He's played extremely well defensively over there. In order for our pitching to get better, we need to have a solid defense behind them."
"Yuni's come in and looked phenomenal at second, Getzy's a different player than he was last year, I mean a totally different player [offensively]," Yost said. "It's going to be a tough call there because all three of them are neck and neck."

The reaction:


Friday, February 24, 2012

Yours Truly Makes A Podcast Guest Appearance to Talk Royals

Phil Naessens, contributor at The Baseball Page, author of A NY Mets Fanatic in Europe, and host of The Phil Naessens Show at the MLBlog Network asked me to be a guest on his podcast to discuss the upcoming Royals season. We recorded earlier this evening. Hopefully, I didn't embarrass myself too badly.

The clip is roughly half an hour, and can be found here:

Or if you want a direct link to the audio, go here:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Similarities Between Poker and Baseball

In recent years, there has been a new game slowly croppingup as a regular pastime of not only Americans, but of people all over theworld.  It is the game of poker.  In many ways, poker very much resembles thegame of baseball.  Today we will look atsome of those similarities.

First, anyone that follows baseball knows that there is animmense amount of strategy that is required in playing baseball.  Many times, you have to think on the fly andtake into account not only the ability of your players, but also those of theother team.  Poker is much the sameway.  Every time a poker player sits downto the table, they have to not only play according to their strengths andweaknesses, but also to the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.

Also, players must be able to think on the fly in a pokergame.  Every hand can present a uniquesituations and they must be constantly evaluating their opponents.  Think about Baseball for a moment.  A good manager can spot when their player ora player on an opposing team is struggling or not playing their best game.  Adversely, they can spot when a player isstreaking.  Poker players have to be ableto make these same types of decisions on a daily basis, and sometimes multipletimes during a game depending on how many players trade out from the table.

Next, poker and baseball both have long periods ofinactivity followed by fierce action. For example, if you read sites like Pokerlistings.comand others during a final table,  youwill see hand after hand where there is a simple raise and fold.  This goes on for hours sometimes.  Then, all of a sudden a big pot can brewbetween two players and the fans really get into it.  The same happens when a player goes all-infor his tournament life and gets called. The fans erupt into cheers and get on their feet to find out what thehands are and where their favorite players stand. 

The above are just a few ways that poker and baseball aresimilar.  It should come as no surprisethat some former Major League players like Orel Hersheiser and Jose Cansecohave taken up the game on a serious level, from taking stage on the World Series to the World Series of Poker.  Poker will likely never become the nationalpastime like baseball has, but it is a game that is enjoyed by Millions andwill continue to grow in popularity.