Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Zack Greinke: Unknown Pleasures and Substituting Allegory for Superlatives

Honestly, it is getting pretty hard to write about what Zack Greinke is doing. Each game he keeps raising the bar. To see an earned run scored off Zack is shocking, frankly. When he steps to the mound, regardless of how inept the Royals offense (or even the defense) is, it seems like all is right in the world.

The echelon to which Zack Greinke is ascending is tantalizing.

The long dormant desires that Royals fans are becoming reacquainted with every fifth day could be likened to an person afflicted with Alzheimer's suddenly being rid of the memory loss altogether. After years of persevering the malaise of confusion and loss caused by Royals fandom, a beacon of clarity not only breaks through but tears us from the chains that bind us, freeing us to enjoy sports as so many others have gotten to in this long drought.

Immediately after Zack Greinke sates the success-starved Royals fan, the drought begins again. The fans are left to weather the storm that follows, hoping that someone--anyone can provide us with that taste that we need.

To conflate this allegory with metaphor, Zack Greinke is our heroin, and the four days of withdrawal between fixes can be trying to say the least. Over these past few weeks, the symptoms of withdrawal have been getting increasingly ugly.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Time to Face the Strange Ch-ch-changes

Well, that was fun, Luke. We'll see you again in a month or so?...

The Royals sent Luke Hochevar back down to Omaha after a fairly rocky stretch of three starts. In his three start run, Hoch threw more than 3.1 innings exactly once. His ERA sat at 10.80. His FIP, while better, was still 6.92. His K:BB ratio was 3:7. Clearly his success in the PCL did not translate over these three games.

In conjunction with the Hochevar demotion, the Royals place Robinson Tejeda and Mike Aviles on the DL. The Tejeda move to the DL clears up the whispers inquiring as to why Trey Hillman wasn't using him more recently. Gamesmanship rears its head again. The Aviles injury and struggles that came with that injury are well-known. The Royals have to hope that the injury is truly what was wrong with Aviles, not that he is Angel Berroa v. 2.0.

With these three roster moves, the Royals brought up middle infielder Tug Hulett, right-handed power reliever Roman Colon, and the much talked about lefty-specialist John Bale.

These moves seem to point towards Sidney Ponson reclaiming the fourth spot in the rotation. By reclaiming, I mean that Hochevar played his way out of it, of course; by fourth spot in the rotation, I am by no means valuing him as such, as he is the fifth-best starter in this rotation.

Obviously, Luke Hochevar's performance in his most recent stint with the Royals was nothing to keep him in the rotation right now. With the team struggling as much as it has been for the past two weeks, they could not afford to keep giving away games. For all his faults, Ponson pitched well enough to have kept the Royals in the game in four of his six starts.

Hopefully the return of John Bale (I cannot believe I am actually looking forward to his return) means that Horacio Ramirez will see his appearances limited to absolute blowouts. The Colon promotion should also be seen as a means by which the Royals want to give themselves more power in the bullpen. Tejeda's availability would seem to have been limited over the past few weeks, and the team has suffered as they trotted out soft tossers, Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez out there in relief.

A change was clearly necessitated by the disappointing play that has been on display since the Angels series. This was supposed to be the stretch by which the Royals were able to put some separation between them and the rest of the Central. No such thing has happened. During today's game, the Royals find themselves a mere 1.5 games better than the fourth place White Sox and .5 games better than the Twins. The Tigers have gone on a tear to coincide with the Royals poor play and are now four games out in front.

Let us hope that this change sparks something.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cardinals Draw First Blood, Young Wide-Eyed David Caruso Next To Die

After giving up two runs in the bottom of the first inning, Kyle Davies calmed down working very efficient home halves of the second through fifth innings. From the two-out two-run Nick Stavinoha single that drove in Brian Barden and Albert Pujols, Kyle Davies retired every Cardinals hitter until the dragon slayer, Albert Pujols batted with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, whereupon Pujols yanked a line drive single into shallow right. Along the way, Davies struck out seven.

Of course, the Royals struggled mightily to score runs, going scoreless through seven--finally driving the previously hittable Todd Wellemeyer from the game after putting the first two runners (Mike Jacobs and John Buck) on in the top of the seventh without recording an out. Jason Motte quelled the best chance for a Royals rally with two outs after David DeJesus sacrifice bunted the two-slowest-Royals-not-carrying-the-surname-Guillen to second and third by striking out pinch-hitters Willie Bloomquist and Billy Butler on nothing but mid-to-high 90s fastballs.

Horacio Ramirez gave up an opposite-field gopher ball in the bottom of the seventh to Tyler Greene of all people, which extended the Cardinals lead to 3 - 0. After the Royals failed to put any runs on the board, Ramirez came back out in the eighth inning and promptly gave up a single to left-handed hitter Skip Schumaker followed by a double by right-handed Brian Barden that was stopped quickly enough by David DeJesus that Schumaker still stood at third.

Riding an 11-game scoreless appearance streak, Kyle Farnsworth came in to clean up a bases loaded (Pujols was intentionally walked before Chris Duncan popped out in foul territory to Mark Teahen) situation and immediately gave up a two-run single to Khalil Greene. His streak is still in tact, and with the way the Royals' bullpen has been lately, two runs allowed in that situation is about as good as you could hope for. It is vaguely reminiscent of the early season issues he had, unfortunately.

While the Cardinals offense was putting five runs on the board, the Royals offense managed exactly zero runs. Those zero runs were off Todd Wellemeyer and the St. Louis Cardinals. That is the same Todd Wellemeyer who had pitched well enough to carry a 5.87 ERA and 1.74 WHIP into action. The same Todd Wellemeyer who had more earned runs allowed than strikeouts (30 to 27).

Obviously, Wellemeyer's .349 BABIP heading into action factored into his struggles, but the fact remains that the previously pedestrian Wellemeyer thoroughly dominated the Royals.

The sweep is out of the picture now, but one has to start to wonder when the Royals will begin to put things back together again. They have now squandered three straight quality starts with offensive ineptitude (not that the bullpen has done them any favors either, of course).

Kansas City's hopes for contention cannot weather this storm much longer. They need to start scoring runs.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I thought Cleveland's bullpen was supposed to be the bad one...

After an epic win like the one on Tuesday night, one would have hoped that the Royals would build on that momentum and close out the last place Indians in a three-game sweep. Then the bullpen happened.

On both this afternoon and last night, the Royals top two starters, Gil Meche and Zack Greinke, left with the lead. On both occasions, the bullpen--led by the sterling performances of Jamey Wright, Horacio Ramirez, Ron Mahay, Sidney Ponson, Robinson Tejeda and Juan Cruz (and in case you weren't paying attention, that's nearly the whole bullpen). One name shockingly left off that list is Kyle Farnsworth, who will officially be removed from the Shit List as soon as this post is completed.

While Farnsworth is not currently imploding every time he steps on the mound, it seems like everyone else is. Most disturbing is Jamey Wright. The reason this is most disturbing is that he had been one of Hillman and McClure's go-to men. If one were to simply glance at Wright's stats on the season, his 2.42 ERA with a K:BB ratio of 15:6 and a WHIP of 1.26 would lead the average person to think he's been pretty effective. Unfortunately, the ratios are a bit of a mirage. In his four holds, he has allowed two earned runs twice. Speaking of runs allowed, he has also allowed seven unearned runs to his six earned runs. Granted, some of this can be attributed to his ground ball tendencies, but two of those unearned runs came during the complete meltdown in Anaheim which featured him airmailing a throw to center field that should have resulted in an inning ending double play. In his next appearance out of the pen, the Royals were down one run when Jamey Wright came in with one out and Adam Kennedy standing on first base. He proceeded to give Kennedy second on a wild pitch, walk Bobby Crosby, have Orlando Cabrera reach on a Mark Teahen error to load the bases, plunk Kurt Suzuki with the bases loaded, induce a Jason Giambi foul out, allow an infield single plating the runner at third, and proffer a pitch to Jack Cust which was promptly crushed for a three-run double. In case you missed it, he recorded one out in that sequence and allowed an inherited runner to score on a hit by pitch. Today, Wright came in to face Jhonny Peralta with a runner on and immediately gave up another RBI double, this time in a tie game. To say his appearances of late have been rocky would be a gross understatement.

This is not to say that there are not others without fault. Ron Mahay came in today with two inherited base runners from one of the messier Juan Cruz appearances of the season (in one-third of an inning, Cruz's ERA jumped from 1.45 on the season to 3.32) and gave up a double to Victor Martinez. Yes, V-Mart is hitting somewhere around .700 this season, but the inability to clean up a mess left by another pitcher has been a problem on more than one occasion for Mahay as well.

Mahay and Wright are pieces of the bullpen puzzle that are probably vital to the Royals success this season. I could start focusing on guys like Horacio Ramirez and Sidney Ponson, who took the blown save/loss designation these last two games but were both undermined by fellow bullpen mates and the defense behind them, but they are essentially going to be needed for spot starts and mop up duty. The nature of the Royals bullpen is such that the effectiveness of Mahay and Wright would seem integral to the Royals' ability to hold leads late.

Their sketchy outings of late do raise the question is it time for Kyle Farnsworth to be brought out of the doghouse. Yes, in high leverage situations this season, he has been a catastrophe. No, I am not a masochist by nature (despite my Royals and Chiefs fandom). The fact of the matter is Kyle Farnsworth has now gone 11 straight appearances without allowing a run. Over that stretch of time, he has allowed seven hits and two walks while striking out 11 in 12 innings. Obviously, such a proposition is a scary one, but as a different piece of the pen crumbles around him, the Professor stands tall. It is hard to ignore what he has done over his last eleven times out there. Moreover, is there anything that we Royals fans are afraid of Farnsworth doing that isn't already being taken care of by the "more reliable" arms in the bullpen?

As much as it pains me to say this, I think it is time to test the waters with Kyle Farnsworth again. If you want to read that as being an act of desperation, dropping six of nine against last place teams has reduced me to that.

With the Tigers suddenly looking like the team they were supposed to be last season when they were going to dominate all of baseball, the Royals cannot mess around any longer.

At least, Jake Peavy nixed the offer that would have sent him to the White Sox. That was scary for me as a Royals fan and a Jake Peavy fantasy owner.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In-Game Musings of a Madman - Updated Throughout Tonight's Game

All Times CDT (eat it right or left coasters)

7:05 pm
- Well, I'm going to try this out to see how it goes. Seeing as though my DVR makes me a demigod, I'll be able to rewind anything I miss while typing. This by no means will be an everyday thing. An undertaking of that enormity would be my undoing. The Royals have taken my life over enough as it stands.

7:09 pm - I've gotta say, Brian Bannister's goatee is getting more and more formidable. If that goatee were an actor from yore, it'd be Lee Marvin.

7:12 pm - Despite choking up on the bat as high as a nine-year-old, Asdrubal Cabrera rips a double over DeJesus' head. It seems like there are a lot more balls that David DeJesus is not getting to that, say, Willie Bloomquist would have in his place.

On Sizemore's fly-out to the warning track, I had a moment of concern wherein Asdrubal Cabrera might be able to tag up from second and actually make it home on Coco Crisp's arm, or lack thereof.

And there's a run...

Nice throw to the cut-off man Coco.

And Banny paints the corner to get Mark DeRosa out looking. Damage limited to one run. Slight sigh of relief is breathed.

7:20 pm - Good Lord, Billy Butler is getting good wood on the ball every time he's up. With Alex Gordon sidelined, this was definitely a necessity if the Royals were to weather that storm.

On the 1 -1 pitch to Jose Guillen, I had a flashback to last season in which he would have swung at that ball inside and looked foolish. Granted, he flew out to center on the next pitch, but at least that was a strike. His discipline in the batter's box this year is absolutely shocking to me. So much so that I feel compelled to talk about it incessantly.

7:27 pm - Well, at least Bannister got Matt LaPorta swinging on the pitch after the "checked" swing. Two Ks. Throwin' rocks tonight, boys.

And the second inning is in the books with Bannister having looked quite a bit more in control than in the first. I guess that's the thing with the no-seam that you can't really control...

7:35 pm - Those Mark Teahen numbers against Cliff Lee have to all be from 2007, right? .368 with 2 socked dongs and only 5 Ks in 38 at-bats. That's hard to fathom.

I guess he picks him up will though because he got a bead on that one. Hell, Mike Jacobs scored from first on that one.

And he runs into an out on the basepaths again. Hasn't Ben Francisco already thrown him out at least once this season? I know you're a good base runner, Mr. Teahen, but come on. You've been thrown out at least four times in this early season while trying to stretch out hits and advancing on fly balls.

7:43 pm - I thought Burl Ives was dead.

Three Ks! Qadry Ismail, look out! There's a new Missile.

Quick work in the third. Always nice when Bannister's on the mound.

7:50 pm - And... Another out on the basepaths. Why, Alberto? Why? Bert Calypso strikes again.

7:54 pm - Glad that Shin-Soo Choo fly ball was hit right at Guillen. If it weren't, Choo would be standing on at least second base.

You get the sense that the Royals need to hand it to the Indians in this series to make their claim on the AL Central. With Detroit facing the red-hot Rangers concurrently, it would seem that now is the time to make up that game and make a statement after a less than impressive six games against cellar-dwellers Oakland and Baltimore. That statement needs to be, "We do not let lesser teams beat us."

Back to the game, that Coco dive was pretty close all things considered. It's too bad Callaspo's relay to the plate wasn't a little more to the third base side of the plate. They may have had a play...

8:04 pm - With these Royals, you never know what kind of night you're going to get offensively, but you have to be pleased when Cliff Lee doesn't reecord a strikeout until the fourth inning. Now that Mike Jacobs is in the batter's box, I suppose the odds for that second one going in the books are pretty good. Yep. Two Ks now.

Oh, shit. I haven't had a beer yet. What is wrong with me?

Inning over. Guillen stranded at first. Beer time.

8:10 pm - No beer? Dammit.

Bunts? Back-to-back? Play like men, Cleveland.

Weird double play. Out at first. Run down between first and second. Then Luis Valbuena tries to deck Miguel Olivo with Olivo jumping up ready to go. Might not be the guy you wanna fuck around with there Valbuena. He will pummel you until your kidneys are pudding and your heart prunes up.

8:17 pm - The question here is: Is Olivo going to be motivated enough to take this ball yard? Well, he harnessed his rage and laced a single between third and short. Watch out, catcher on the basepaths. Will he steal home with a full count and two outs (after all, we all know he's getting to third)?

DeJesus takes care of advancing Olivo to second. Anticipation builds.

Bloomquist's deep fly to right center takes care of third base. The tension is palpable with the lefty Lee's back turned. Do it, Miguel. Do it.

You ruined it, Mr. Crisp. First pitch? Argh!

8:24 pm - Whiskey time. Glenrothes Select Reserve to be exact. Two fingers, neat, in a tumbler. Not as American as a can of Schlitz, but what can you do?

It's always weird for me to think that Mark DeRosa is like 34 years old. It must be rough to wait for that long before becoming an everyday player. I guess that's the curse of playing on a good team for so long.

Man, Callaspo and Bloomquist were both so close on that DeRosa grounder over the second base bag.

As Teahen elects to turn two rather than try to take the out at home, one gets the sense that this game is over in the top of the sixth with the Indians up two.

And as the game feels like it's slipping away, news of eight innings of one-hit ball from Dontrelle Willis against the Rangers comes across the screen.

With that hit-by-pitch that Matt LaPorta drew, you almost hope that he broke something there.

If a 3 - 1 lead wasn't insurmountable, it sure feels like this 5 - 1 lead is...

Banny, Dorn has come in from third, and he's telling you to "Strike this [awkward TV edit] guy out." Looks like you listened to Psych's dad. Good work. It'd be better if that two-run moonshot wasn't mixed in there, though.

8:36 pm - Sonic Slam time. Make up for that base running gaffe here, Bert. Oddly, six of his 11 strikeouts on the season have come in the last ten games. Is something amiss, Senor Calyspo? Relax. Stop pressing. You'll stay in the mix for the doubles crown. How was Choo playing right there? He's clearly using black magic.

Billy "Bam-Bam" Butler knocks a double off the wall and suddenly hope stirs in the heart of this miserly Royals fan.

Warm the cockles of my heart, Jose Guillen.

The ball drops, and it is bobbled! With Guillen on second, it will only take a double to plate him.

Mostly irrelevant as Mike Jacobs is sure to blast a home run into the fountain here. Or inadvertently make contact on a checked swing grounding out to the pitcher about fifteen feet from the plate.

Teahen lines out to short, and the Royals are only down three. Lee's pitch count is so low, that it is hard to get too hopeful for four more runs scored tonight.

8:46 pm - In comes The Game Changer, Horacio Ramirez, to face the top of the Indians order.

Asdrubal? Done.

Sizemore? Downsized.

AL Batting Average Leader Victor Martinez? Apparently, he grew up wanting to be Ozzie Guillen (shortstop not an outspoken hot-head--or at least I assume that he wasn't aspiring to be a hot-head, as that seems like an odd dream). Walk. Don't give them base runners, Herr Ramirez.

Choo? Eaten.

Indians, you've been Horacio Ramirezed. That's like getting posterized by Shawn Bradley, the best player in the history of the NBA.

8:54 pm - Panic and the specter of sitting two games down in the Central to the Tigers are both starting to settle in. Maybe I need to stop caring about sports. It will surely make me insane.

Olivo Time!

Apparently Willis only went six and a third--a little less imposing, I guess.

Post-script on Olivo Time: More often than not, this equates to a strikeout. Our wildest dreams were fulfilled on that one.

David DeJesus is up with eight outs left. With the way he is--or rather, isn't hitting, you know what this means. Pop fly. The defensively-challenged Matt LaPorta need not leave his comfort zone to get to that ball.

Hope lies on the shoulders of Willie Bloomquist. Mariners fans, Bill Bavasi, and Asdrubal Cabrera chuckle at the thought, and Bloomquist grounds out to short.

9:01 pm - Note to Heineken: Putting a Biz Markie sing-along in your ads cannot cover up the fact that your product is a substandard domestic lager packaged in a lame green bottle and marked up because it was shipped across an ocean.

HoRam comes back out to take it to the streets, Michael McDonald-style, beard and all. And to Matt LaPorta he says, "I ain't blind and I don't like what I think I see." Sit down.

9:08 pm - Coco Crisp's strike zone judgment is insane. He is laying off pitches that are so close and not getting burned often. Perhaps his eye is keeping him from going after balls he would have gotten hits off of last year, but his OBP more than makes up for the putrid AVG.

Regardless, three straight fly balls to Choo, and I'm looking for things to throw.

9:13 pm - The Professor makes his way to the mound. Nine straight scoreless outings seems impossible after that first week or so.

Billy Butler's glovework elicits a "Nice grab" from the old lady.

Another ground ball to the right side of the infield. Another out for Farnsworth in the Bizarro Kougar.

David DeJesus front crawls* to that could-have-been gapper off the bat of Cabrera.

*Also, the product of the old lady's viewership.

9:21 - Kerry Wood comes out and if his last outing against the Royals is an indicator of what is to come, the bottom of the ninth is a mere formality.

Guillen comes up and just as quickly as he got there is out with a whimper.

3 - 1 to Jacobs. Crush it. Crush it. Full count. For about 70 days.

CRUSHED!

MARK TEAHEN CRUSHES ANOTHER. CUE EPIC MUSIC. BACK-TO-BACK! AND THEY'RE BOTH ON MY FANTASY TEAM! THAT SHIT IS GOLDEN.

Olivo to make it three? He's sure swinging for the fucking fences. Faked out on that breaking ball inside. Wait, Miguel Olivo is working the count? Jack Attack chalks it up to lamest facial hair ever on the chin of one Kerry Wood. This is fashion crime karma, Wood.

DeJesus with a clutch triple with one out. Hope is not dead. Hope is very much alive. One out. Willie Bloomquist comes to the plate. You've got to think he's going to drive this run in.

Ballgame? That wild pitch almost did it.

Willie Ballgame... 3 - 1. That's it. Sac fly. Ball game.

Fuck yeah!

9:35 pm
- So I guess I picked the right game to do this on. A roller coaster ride if I've ever seen one. The Royals throw down the gauntlet in the bottom of the ninth, come back from the dead, erase a three-run lead, and DeJesus scores on a deep Bloomquist sacrifice fly to the strong-armed Choo after driving in the game-tying run on a triple the play before.

This Royals fan is pretty damn happy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Indefensible Defense - With Addendum

After worrying prematurely that the Rockets/Lakers game would tear me away from another depressing Royals game, the Rockets find themselves down 20 at the half and the Royals hold a one-run lead having seized the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Of course, as soon as I wrote that, Ron Mahay was undermined by the defense behind him (a recurring theme in this dark period of the 2009 season), and swing-and-miss inducer Juan Cruz came in with runners on first and third with no outs. Through no real fault of Cruz's, the runner on third scored as the combination of Teahen, Callaspo*, and Butler failed to turn the double play quickly enough to catch Nolan Reimold.

*The special lady friend of this blogger has taken to calling him Bert Calypso, which is pretty awesome.

Today's win over the Orioles covered up the fact that the Royals had four errors leading to two unearned runs. The seventh inning of the final of two games against the A's saw an error lead to five unearned runs allowed in a 7 - 2 loss. In the game prior, a 12 - 2 rout, Ponson allowed two unearned runs. With a chance to take a game from Anaheim, Kyle Davies's solid outing was blown as Jamey Wright allowed three runs, two unearned in a 4 - 3 loss.

In the midst of their 2 - 7 stretch they find themselves in, the Royals have allowed 11 of their 21 unearned runs. Obviously, the offense has been missing in action for much of this time, but the defense has certainly been sketchy as well. With an offense as prone to impotency as this one has been of late, the Royals cannot weather a defense that allows more than an unearned run a game.

As could be expected, the Royals pitchers with higher ground Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratios are the ones bearing the brunt of the unearned run damage. Jamey Wright, the most extreme GB/FB hurler with a 1.54 ratio heading into the Royals win this afternoon, has allowed seven unearned runs to four earned. Meche (1.28), Ponson (1.11), and Bannister (0.81) have allowed three, two, and three unearned runs and are the only Royals pitchers other than the aforementioned Wright and Kyle Davies--who has yet to allow an unearned run despite some subpar defense fielded in his support as well--who sport GB/FB ratios higher than the league average of 0.76.

We all knew coming into this season that the infield defense could be problematic. Callaspo has forced his way into the lineup every day with his bat, meaning his limited range has found its way onto the field every day. Of the Royals positional starters, only Billy Butler and Mike Aviles find themselves with RF/9s better than league average. Admittedly this is a slightly inadequate stat, but the point remains that the Royals defense is much like RF/9 is as a statistic. As far as UZR/150 is concerned, Aviles is sporting a -11.6, Callaspo a -5.3, while Butler and Teahen are at least in the positives with a 4.4 and a 2.1, respectively. So judging by both RF/9 and UZR/150, Billy Butler is the only above average defensive infielder. Color me shocked.

Regardless, if the Royals offense continues to rank in the bottom third of teams in runs scored (they were 11th heading into action on Sunday), they cannot afford to give away runs at this clip.

Editor's Note - I am officially taking Trey Hillman's bullpen management off of the shit list. Farnsworth is not far behind. We've got a new pair of things on there, though, and one's a personal problem.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In Game Prediction

Is it just me, or after the top of the third did you get the sense that Zack is deadset on destroying the Orioles tonight? The deep urge to dominate seemed to surface in his eyes right there. I would be surprised if more than two more Orioles reached on Greinke.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cold in California

The fact that Detroit's concurrent run at mediocrity has allowed the Royals to maintain a share of first place (although they are second by percentage points) offers little consolation after an embarrassing road trip to California.

While losing to a pitching-depleted Angels team is somewhat understandable given the Angels aggressive style of play and solid offense, getting drilled on back-to-back nights in Oakland by one of the worst offensive teams in baseball is deflating. Worse yet, the Royals offense was able to muster a mere five runs to Oakland's 19, and this in a good start by Bannister until he came unhinged in the sixth, with the shoulder stiffness that caused him to leave the game mid-batsman.

The Royals offense came up against Trevor Cahill and Josh Outman and were summarily shut down. One of the two Royals' runs tonight was an inconsequential solo shot by Jacobs with two outs in the ninth during mop-up duty by Andrew Bailey.

Royals pitching was undermined again by the defense. This time it was Mark Teahen booting not one, but two grounders in support of Jamey Wright. Now only one was ruled an error (oddly it was not the one he charged in front of the shortstop to field but rather the hot shot down the line that was ruled as such), but both easily could have been. This does illuminate something I've been feeling for a while. Maybe I've been watching too much baseball, but it really feels like there are a lot of balls getting by Teahen at third. Surely I may be reacting a little hastily, but there seem to be an inordinate amount of balls that will skip under a diving Mark Teahen. I am relying solely on my biased eyes here, as I've not yet become especially well-versed in the defensive metrics as they have little effect on my fantasy baseball life. It only counts half as much as offense anyway, right?

As for Wright, it has been a bit of a rough week for Wright. Tonight was no walk in the park as he recorded a solitary out while allowing one to reach on an error, one walk with the inherited runner, Adam Kennedy, already having advanced to second on a wild pitch, a hit batsman with the bases loaded, and two hits--one of which was a bases clearing double by Jack Cust. None of the four runs that he allowed (or the inherited runner he allowed to score when he plunked Kurt Suzuki in the hip) were charged to him, but after blowing the lead and taking the loss in Kyle Davies start in Anaheim, he is riding a two-straight-appearance rough patch in which he was the worst pitcher for the Royals. I hope this is a blip on the radar, but you can officially consider me concerned.

The state of the bullpen in the past few weeks have me entertaining whimsical notions of seeing if Farnsworth can pitch again. Clearly, sanity is dwindling to dangerous lows here at Royalscentricity. Another few losses, and the doctors will come in with the straight jacket, if only to make sure that Royalscentricity doesn't hurt himself.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What the fuck? Is it 2005 again?

Jesus.

12 - 2 now.

Jacobs hitting the second solo shot of the night for the Royals in a debacle.

Not that the defense helped him at all, but Luke Hochevar made it all of two innings, allowing eight runs--all earned.

The A's, by nearly every measure of offensive evaluation, are the worst offensive team in the AL. Hochevar had us all hoping that his domination of the PCL would translate to the bigs, but one game in and his ERA sits at 36.00. I'm willing to let him prove himself, but this was bad.

If I write any more about this game, I am going to have an aneurysm.

This is the first time I have wanted to turn the Royals off in disgust.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Welcome Back, Luke

Following a disheartening sweep at the hands of the Angels punctuated by a late-inning lead squandering thanks almost entirely to defensive miscues, the Royals placed Joakim Soria on the DL retroactive to May 8th. That appearance on May 8th was not a smooth one to say the least, so his trip to the DL was on the minds of many before any announcement was made.

So after a weekend of pretty bad news for the Royals, it is time to look at the silver lining. Following the unfortunately short series against the Athletics, the Royals face the Orioles and Indians at home. Yes, the Orioles have seemed to have the Royals' number over the past few years, but those three series are against last-place teams. Oakland is just 6 - 10 at home, and Cleveland and Baltimore are a combined 9 - 20 on the road.

If Soria had to go on the DL, it would seem that now would be as good a time as any for that to happen, especially with Hochevar looking unstoppable in the PCL and Ponson's start coming up on Tuesday. Hochevar takes Ponson's spot in the rotation with Ponson moving to the bullpen following a very good start against the floundering Mariners. This is probably the ideal situation for Ponson having to move to the bullpen. He goes there out of necessity--there was no other pitcher who could have gotten called up, and Hoch's development was not going to be altered by throwing him in the pen this season--and with a little bit of confidence (not that one ever got the sense he was lacking in that even after a rough outing) to carry over from his last start.

Even with Jack the Mexicutioner heading to the DL, there is hopefully little to worry about until the St. Louis series when Soria is eligible to come off the DL assuming a clean bill of health.

Hopefully.

After that, the Royals get to try to take care of business themselves, facing Detroit and Chicago at home in two weeks--the latter facing the tough task of going to Toronto and Anaheim and getting Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and the surging Twins at home.

Friday, May 8, 2009

More Balls

Over the last two seasons in Florida, Mike Jacobs registered walk rates of 6.8 and 7.0%. This season (coming into the first game in Anaheim), Jacobs BB% is 9.6% leading to a rise in OBP to .333. Remember, his OBP last season was .299, which was admittedly that OBP was tainted by his absurdly low BABIP of .264--a career low by .035.

Coming into their loss in Anaheim, Jose Guillen's BB% on the season was 12.7%. This stands out in a career full of seasons that peaked at 6.5%. He walked again tonight, which certainly does not hurt his walk rate. Obviously, the sample size of his statistics this season are smaller than the rest of the Royals as he spent 15 days on the DL, but his OBP through the first 29 Royals games (he has played in 16) was .409. While his average of .291 is by no means aberrant in relation to some of Guillen's other standout seasons and his BABIP (.295) is within the parameters of his career numbers, his OBP is more than .050 points higher than his three best seasons in the mid-.350s.

Coco Crisp has been incredibly unlucky with a BABIP of .258 thus far. His ISO is .210, he's fast, but his average sits at .234. Regardless of his low average, his OBP is .367. It would stand to reason that this will come up as some of those hit balls start to drop and his BABIP corrects itself. His OBP is driven up, of course, by his BB% of 16.7 heading into action Friday night. In 28 games, Crisp has drawn 21 walks. He drew another off of Matt Palmer in the first. His BB/K rate was 1.50 heading into tonight's game.

While Willie Bloomquist's numbers are obviously skewed by his absurd hot streak he is currently enjoying, his BB/K is over 1.00 for the first time in his career.

Billy Butler's average is very much in line with the rest of his career numbers. In 2007, Billy posted a previous career best OBP of .347 in 92 games. His walk rates in 2007 and 2008 were 7.6 and 6.9%. Thus far this season, his BB% is 12.5. His 13 walks through 27 games played are a mere 20 fewer than he collected in 124 games last year.

It isn't just these players. Mark Teahen is enjoying a career-best BB%. Callaspo's BB% of 9.8 is higher than his 7.9% career mark that the 9.8% is currently raising.

Sure, Mike Aviles and David DeJesus are having their struggles, but I think everyone expected Aviles to take a step back from the lofty heights he reached last year in large part through smoke and mirrors.

The loss to Matt Palmer notwithstanding, the Royals offense has gotten through rough stretches in large part thanks to their newfound commitment to getting on base through the free pass.

I think we all know who to thank for this paradigm shift for Kansas City's offense: hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.

Apparently, you can teach someone to walk.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

An Official Apology to Willie Bloomquist

Dear Mr. Bloomquist,

When Dayton Moore signed you, I was not happy. I said some things. I thought I knew who you were.

He signed you to a contract that I didn't think was wise. I thought that your ability to aptly cover multiple positions was your only saving grace with your on-base percentage of 2007 being a mirage. An outlier. You only had one extra-base hit last year. I thought you were Joey Gathright with more versatility but less speed and no upside.

These past few weeks you have proven me wrong. For this I am humbly offering my apology.

You have played so well thus far that I cannot even get upset with you over the couple of gaffes with the leather you have had. Your bat has been a big part in the Royals success. You have been working counts for walks, stealing key bases, shooting grounders between the infielders, and getting extra-base hits. Color me shocked. Continue to do what you are doing, William. Even if you do not manage that, you have already earned your paycheck for the season as far as I am concerned.

Your fan,
Old Man Duggan

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Officially Concerned

All right.

Kyle Davies is officially starting to worry me. He has been falling behind way too many hitters over the past three starts or so. This was clearly his worst start of the season, but I don't think we can count on Bannister to continue to mystify both hitters and naysayers, and no one expects much from Ponson (well, except to get sent down after his start tomorrow). If the big three becomes the the big two, then there are some fairly big potential problems. Even with Hoch tearing up the PCL, he has still yet to pitch to anywhere in the vicinity of even the most tempered of expectations at the Major League level.

The alarmist in me is shitting my pants right now.

Oh, wait.

Sorry, be right back.

All right, I'm back...

Quick item of consolation: Did you see that Mike Jacobs bomb? Sweet Jesus that was far!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Is It Too Early to Draw Comparisons to Pedro in His Prime?

All right.

Zack Greinke is now 6 - 0.

In six starts.

Half of those starts are complete games. Two of those three were complete game shutouts.

He has struck out 10 in half of those starts as well.

He has given up three runs all season, only two of which were earned.

Of the six hits he "allowed" in this last start, three went in and out of the gloves of infielders. Another was a bloop single that Alexei Ramirez hit well out of the strike zone. Another was a Jayson Nix double that landed in fair territory by six inches at most. The White Sox could very well have been one-hit.

He has struck out 54 in 45 innings. Those 54 strikeouts not only lead the Majors, but outnumber the baserunners he has allowed by 15 (30 hits, 8 walks, 1 hit batsman).

His WHIP is 0.84.

His ERA is 0.40.

His ERA+ before this start was 941. After another six-hit shutout, it is hard to imagine that going down too much.

I dare say his dominance is reminiscent of Pedro Martinez, and at no point did Pedro ever string together six consecutive starts in which a total of two earned runs were allowed. I can honestly say that I have never seen a pitcher dominate like Zack Greinke has so far. Something's got to give at some point, but holy shit is he amazing right now.

If this is the future, then I am glad I was on board through the trying times.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Royals Thwart a No-Hit Bid, Still Sit Atop the Division

The Royals are coming home having stolen two late-inning come-from-behind victories from the grips of divisional rivals, the Minnesota Twins.

They went into the historically unfriendly confines of the Metrodome knowing that they would be trotting out the back two-thirds of their rotation before having Gil Meche come to the mound having had to leave his previous start early with back pain. None of these starting pitchers were without their question marks.

Sidney Ponson pitched poorly up against Kevin Slowey. Now Slowey is obviously the better pitcher in this matchup. It is no stretch to say that Slowey is the Twins' third-best starter, and that is when Scott Baker pulls things back together. After Ponson's blow-up, the Royals had too far to climb, despite clawing back into the game.

Brian Bannister pitched fairly well but was absolutely undercut by his defense, as I spoke of yesterday in my entry written during the game. But in the late innings the Royals--driven by Willie Bloomquist of all people--came back to beat the Twins in a game they usually do not win.

Today, Scott Baker no-hit the Royals for six innings. He wasn't baffling hitters, but only Jose Guillen had reached base against him, on a walk of all things. Gil Meche wasn't dominant and walked to the dugout behind 4 - 0 with Horacio Ramirez warming up, but then a funny thing happened. The Royals scored five runs in the top of the seventh, all credited to Scott Baker, who was unable to retire a single Royals batter before ceding the mound to the Twins own version of Kyle Farnsworth, Luis Ayala. As predictably as if Farnsworth had taken the mound to protect a lead with runners on, Ayala gave up a double to Bert Callaspo (who ran into an out trying to stretch his ML-leading 12th double into a triple). The Royals scored a total of seven runs in the final three innings. Horacio Ramirez pitched effectively against left-handed hitter to earn a hold. Jamey Wright continued his solid pitching. Jack Soria recorded his first save in, what, three years? But the Royals strung together a rally after being summarily shut down for the first two-thirds of the game, and took two of three against the Twins on the road.

Another week has passed, and the Royals--after a trip to Minnesota--find themselves half a game up on the Tigers (and the White Sox, if they should happen to come back on the Rangers), all alone in first. It is early, but not too early to hold onto hope.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Month (and Two Days) in Review

First off, apologies for the absence. I've watched the last four games but have not gotten around to writing about them or the Royals.

April came and went and as it left us the Royals miraculously sat atop the American League Central with a half-game lead over the White Sox and the Tigers. Their success can largely be attributed to their stellar starting pitching. After one month, Zack Greinke has established himself as the early front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award. Gil Meche's ERA sits at 3.77 and that is after dealing with back issues in at least one start, and this fan is not convinced it wasn't affecting him the start before.

As the 12 -10 record coming out of the month (12 - 11 with the outcome of the second game of their series not yet decided) would indicate, the young season has not been without its ups and downs. There have been bullpen blowups, injuries to key players, suspect defense, and cries from the masses calling Trey Hillman's bullpen decision-making into question (not that those cries were entirely defensible in retrospect).

The alarm that struck us all when Horacio Ramirez broke camp in the rotation was quickly dispelled, as Horacio is pitching only in mop up time. While Sidney Ponson's ERA is 7.16, he has actually been cursed with some fairly suspect defense behind him and has pitched well on two occasions. Obviously, we all would love Hochevar to be pitching with the Royals who are not playing their home games in Omaha, but I don't mind seeing him dominate Triple-A hitter for a bit as it is something he had yet to really do in his time with the Royals. Brian Bannister has persevered the demotion to the minors, come back, and pitched pretty well (tonight's effort being undermined by putrid defense and a bogus HBP that was a foul ball off the butt of the bat, but the Royals gave him a lead to work with again in the top of the sixth only to have that lead relinquished by a Cuddyer homer to lead the next inning off).

Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, and David DeJesus have started very slowly, but all of them have shown signs of life in the past few games. Mark Teahen and John Buck have played (at least offensively) beyond expectations, with Teahen's new hairdo possibly having led to fans across the heartland unearthing those fond memories of 2006 that they had tried to repress after two straight seasons of underachieving. Alberto Callaspo has been so valuable offensively that I have a hard time justifying any argument against his substandard glove being somewhere on the field. Jose Guillen has wowed everyone with his speed in right after coming off the DL. For those unable to detect sarcasm, that last statement was rife with it. However, as Joe Crede can attest to, Guillen's arm is still completely there.

As for the new pieces, Mike Jacobs power is as legit as his glove is illegit. Coco Crisp has been the defensive presence Dayton Moore wanted--although the weak arm is routinely run on. He has also been the lead-off man the Royals coveted, currently ranked amongst the league leaders in walks. While his speed has yet to truly be unleashed on the basepaths, expect the steals to come at some point. Willie Bloomquist, who I was very critical of after Moore signed him, has actually been pleasantly surprising so far. We all know the season is long, but Willie has three times as many extra-base hits as he did all of last season two games into May with a mere 33 at-bats, including his first home run since 2007 just this evening. Even one month of production at this level is more than I expected.

The addition no one seems to have been wrong about--well, except for Dayton Moore--was Kyle Farnsworth. He certainly has not been worth the price tag, or even what Doug Waechter has been worth. Luckily, Jamey Wright and Robinson Tejeda have picked up some of the slack that Farnsworth, and to an extent Ron Mahay have given (Mahay has shown signs of turning it around his past few outings). And the addition of Juan Cruz is one that no one is complaining about, as he is certainly a formidible set-up man.

All in all, the Royals have given us bloggers positive reasons to keep up these labors of love, and as Aprils have come to their ends in years past, we generally would not get to have said that. So despite my sporadic indignation over something relatively minor, I have to say that I am happy with where things sit right now. It is not often we get to say the Royals are in the mix of things as the season rolls into May.