Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Belated Brief on a Greinke Start in Houston

Sorry for my nine-day absence Royalscentricity readers. I've taken on a third job, which means I'm up to 70 hours a week or so. This leaves little time for blogging, as I'm pulling doubles three days a week now.

That being said, I fully intend to keep going with this and my other blog, Inconsiderate Prick, along with my column at Sports Grumblings.

Now usually, I would have had a little time to shoot something off into the ether on Tuesday, but I drove to Houston to see Zack Greinke take on the Astros. I did intend to do a write up about the game but clearly did not get around to it in a remotely timely fashion.

Obviously, Greinke wasn't at the top of his game. The Astros were getting on-base at a fairly high clip and driving his pitch count up. His pitch count was pretty high after five (in the 70s, if memory serves me correctly), but he worked through his last three innings efficaciously and handed the ball off to Jack Soria to collect the save. Owning both in my keeper league, it was a very successful day in my book.

There were two key highlights in the game. The first was when Greinke struck Pudge Rodriguez out on a 63 MPH curve that had the Hall-of-Famer swinging so desperately that his bat ended up about four rows deep just past the visitor's dugout. The second was Billy Butler's 408-foot bomb that careened off the second panes of glass up the outfield wall in deep left field.

On a weird sidenote, we ran into Dayton Moore's sister in the parking lot a couple of blocks from the Juice Box. She was very nice but regaled us with tales of ruthless Astros fans. I am happy to report that I didn't have to whoop up on any out of line 'Stros fans. Everyone got along amicably. I'm sure if we were fans of a Major League team, we'd have taken some shit from people. We're Royals fans, though, and no one cares about us.

Just so you dear readers are aware, I will be out of town starting Sunday for a week. Little Brother is getting hitched. As such, I'll be back in Minnesota for a week and then working on the 4th back here in Austin. Luckily, the Royals are playing the Twins (albeit in KC) so I'll still get a chance to see most of their games.

Maybe that's not lucky for me...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Were Those Four Royals Wins Just Another Cruel Tease?

With the Royals having bludgeoned my hope nearly to death with that abysmal 6 - 23 stretch (or whatever it was--the prospect of actually looking that up is simply too depressing), it was becoming hard to motivate myself to write about the Royals.

Over that span of games, the Royals played embarrassingly bad on seemingly every front. Defensively, the Royals were throwing the ball all over the field, allowing runners to advance on ill-advised throws that were variously deemed errors or otherwise. The offense scuffled to put anything together. The bullpen imploded early and often.

Of course, there was management. Luis Hernandez pinch-hit for Tony Peña, Jr. despite the fact that Mark Teahen and Mike Jacobs sat on the bench at his avail. And TPJ had managed to get a hit earlier in that ballgame. The rationale for this seems to be that Trey Hillman will only replace someone in the lineup with another batter that can instantly take up that position out of fear that a multipositional player cannot handle switching spots on the field mid-game. Regardless, with a chance to start a rally, Trey turned, looked down his bench, sized up the situation, and let Luis Hernandez lead off the ninth in a tie game.

On multiple occasions, John Bale has proven that despite his apparent ability to pitch, his defense is atrocious. Since he often comes in during high-leverage situations to face lefties, this is worrisome as many of the balls put in play while he is in the game come to the right side of the infield meaning he finds himself in the middle of these plays.

Then interleague started and the Royals got to win a few games. Morale was on the rise. Everything was coming up Milhouse--er, Royals.

Gil Meche has caught was Zack Greinke had in April and May.

Luke Hochevar threw a shocking 80 pitch complete game.

The Royals draft went very well, netting Aaron Crow, Wil Myers, and Chris Dwyer with their first, third and fourth round picks. Crow was not expected to slip to the Royals, Myers was almost universally regarded a first-round talent, and Dwyer is a player teams shied away from for signability concerns. Respectively, they were the 7th, 31st, and 55th ranked players on the Baseball America list of Top 100 draft prospects for the '09 draft. I am by no means a prospecting guru (gold or otherwise), but it seems to me that on the surface these three picks are outstanding.

Zack Greinke was coming in to extend the winning streak to five games tonight.

The sun was shining down on Kansas City.

Then the Royals' defense got in the way.

Jose Guillen (a card-carrying member of The Extremely Limited Range Club) just barely failed to get to a fly ball in right, allowing Chris Young to advance from first to third on the Miguel Montero double. Young scored on a sacrifice fly on the ensuing at-bat, which would have been the third out of the inning were a fleet-footed man playing in right.

In the three-run fourth, Jose Guillen decided to hurl it towards home while off-balance, missing the plate by at least fifteen feet. On the next play, down 2 -1 at this point, Miguel Olivo was unable to corral a Mark Teahen throw to the plate, and both Chris Young and Miguel Montero scored on the fielding error.

With suitable defense, one of those four runs score.

Sure, the Royals offense was MIA once a runner got aboard tonight, but the fact remains that this defense does nothing but dig holes for an offensively challenged ballclub to try to claw out of.

Further exacerbating things is the fact that this suspect defense is costing the starting pitchers outs. How many times in the past weeks has Alberto Callaspo failed to turn the double play because he was unable to get the ball out of his glove? How many singles turn into doubles and triples when they're hit into right?

With seemingly everyone in the bullpen deadset on implosion, the starting pitchers need to go as long as possible. Giving the opponents extra bases, outs, etc., how can one reasonably expect that to happen?

On a side note: Luis Hernandez pinch-hit again tonight.

On an unrelated good news note(s): John Sickels seems to be pretty impressed with Jordan Parraz, the player netted in the Tyler Lumsden dump. Sickels also seemed fairly impressed by the Royals draft. As there may not be a writer out there I trust more on the prospects front, it is nice to see Sickels giving Piccolo & Co. props.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Juan Cruz: Royally Awful

It is getting harder and harder to pay attention to what is going on at the Major League level with this club right now.

Tonight I left for the gym with the Royals having presumably driven Cliff Lee from the game in the top of the sixth, working his pitch count up over 100. They were leading 4 - 0 and were about to get to work on the hapless Indians bullpen.

I got back, watched some basketball, got dinner, and then thought to look at the boxscore.

What. The. Fuck?

I don't even want to know how the Indians managed to come back, let alone score eight runs after having been held scoreless through five. Apparently, some of the blame lays at the feet of the Royals suspect defense once again, while the rest can be split up amongst the bullpen, chiefly Juan Cruz.

Cruz, whose signing I was very excited about, has been positively abysmal over his past seven outings. On May 17th, his ERA sat at a stellar 1.45. Since that game (but before this past debacle), his line was as follows:

6 G, 5.0 IP, 3 K, 10 H, 5 BB, 9 R (all earned), and opponents hit .455/.556/.727/1.283 off of him

If you would like the ERA and WHIP translated for you, that is 16.20 and 3.00, respectively. And that was in his six appearances before this past evening's. When you add in the 1/3 of an inning in which he allowed three earned runs on a single/fielder's choice/walk/hit-by-pitch sequence (all of whom of course scored on a Mark DeRosa grand slam off of Jamey Wright on the second pitch he saw), his ERA over his past seven outings is a whopping 20.26 and his WHIP is 3.37.

That ERA that worked its way down to 1.45 on May 17th is at 5.62 less than a month later. His WHIP that was under 1.00 at that point is now 1.42.

The more troubling thing is that before the shellacking on Tuesday, Cruz's BABIP was a scant .228 and his FIP 4.76. His K/BB was a worrisome 1.07. His K/9 is less than half of what it was last year and the year before. In fact, it is more than 1.50 lower than in any season.

While I am surely making too much out of a small sample size of stats, it is hard to write this all off as being especially unlucky. If anything, that BABIP indicates something very much to the contrary. Furthermore, the drop in strikeouts is deeply concerning.

Perhaps the most telling stat of all is his O-Swing%. In his exceptionally effective 2007 and 2008 campaigns, Cruz was inducing O-Swing%'s of 24.7 and 30.1. This season it is 18.9%, which makes me wonder if there is something amiss. Maybe he is tipping his pitches now. His Contact% is up to 76.1 from 66.0 last year.

Whatever is going on with Cruz is seriously concerning me, and I can only hope that it works itself out. He did cost the Royals their second-round draft pick, after all.

At least the draft is happening. That will give me something to write about that doesn't make me want to set myself on fire.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

There Is No Fucking Fight In This Team

It is official. The Royals are toast.

Every game any shred of hope that this team will snap out of it is summarily throttled by mind-numbingly bad play on the field. The offense has now made Jeff Niemann look superhuman. Add him to the list alongside the likes of Matt Palmer, Todd Wellemeyer, Aaron Laffey, and Josh Outman. That list, by the way, is the list of shamefully pedestrian pitchers who have dominated this Royals offense.

Goddammit.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Month Later Than Normal, Royals Done?

Now that Zack Greinke has had a start in which he looked vaguely human, the sky has completely fallen in on the Royals. Ray W at RoRetc is calling for heads (or rather, head) to roll. As Sam Mellinger points out, the bullpen has allowed 33 ER in their last 30 2/3 innings for an ERA of 9.63.

Mere weeks ago, the Royals sat atop the division at 18 - 11.

Now their record is 23 - 27.

Over that 5 - 16 stretch, their offense has been putrid, their defense abominable, the bullpen indefensible, and even their starting pitching has scuffled for the most part.

Who are the Royals then? The team that dazzled (in Royals terms at the very least) at 18 - 11? This awful product on the field?

The answer is probably both.

I don't think that this will be the only rough stretch this season. Another stretch of 18-and-11-ish ball is probably in the cards, too.

Health has certainly been an issue, with the bullpen hit more than maybe any other aspect of the team's makeup. The injuries to two of the Royals most effective relievers (Robinson Tejeda's walks be damned) have left them relying on the likes of Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez* far too often.

* Who Royals fans hope gets the pink slip with every roster move--maybe that collective wish will be granted this week when Soria is reactivated and Crisp is taken off the bereavement list.

The return of Soria, hopefully Tuesday, should move Cruz, Wright, & Co. into more comfortable territory, and the dregs of the bullpen into blowout only roles.

Injuries haven't just affflicted the team on the positional depth chart front either. While Coco Crisp and Mike Aviles have seen their performance suffer on the field as a result of their injuries, it is Gil Meche's struggles that have been most worrisome. While his last start was very encouraging, one cannot help but wonder whether Meche might have been best served doing a 15-day stint on the DL in the hopes of righting his ailing back.

One word, Gil: Yoga.

Regardless of all this, the Royals made an all right run at things for a month or so. Maybe they can keep themselves close enough to strike with a healthy Alex Gordon, but that is probably a longshot at this point. We got a couple of months this time around at the very least.

Now I guess we look forward to Disco ascending the ranks, and hopefully pitching where he needs to--Kansas City.