Monday, September 28, 2009

Trey Hillman: Doing Us A Solid, Better Late Than Never

I've been pretty hard on Trey Hillman this year.

We all have been.

While I do not think the criticism levied against him is baseless or without cause, I will say that I am completely behind his decision to bring Joakim Soria in for a two-inning save behind another gem of a Zack Greinke start.

I am not even especially upset that Hillman let Soria throw 46 pitches en route to closing it out. After all, he is not going to be needed until Greinke's last start.

At this point, there is only one thing that matters for the Royals (the reasons behind that fact are too depressing to dwell on today): Zack Greinke getting the Cy Young he so rightfully deserves (even if he doesn't seem to want the recognition).

Thankfully, Trey seems to sense that we all need this.

At the end of Sam Mellinger's aforelinked article, Greinke's manager acknowledges the problems the Royals have had supporting their ace:
“Just look at the statistics,” he said. “This is an individual award. It should not be held against you if you’re the individual going for the award because you’ve lacked a severe amount of run support. Zack could have 20 wins, easily.”
While it may be too late*, it is nice to see the effort on Trey's part to assure that a victory seemingly in hand was not going to slip away as so many others have.

*I am still not sold on the BBWAA actually awarding the CY to the best pitcher in the game. Hopefully, this win over his Twins pushed that 'number' into a realm in which Patrick Reusse could fathom voting for Greinke...

The gesture, as simple as it may have been, should not go without a little acknowledgment.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Royals Front Office Has Won The Battle of Who Could Care Less

- I've got this great idea. Why don't we pitch it to the Franklin fuckin' Mint?

I'd like to preface what I am about to say with a short qualification. What follows could very likely come across as being self-aggrandizing. It may even seem like I am trying to add a degree of importance to this thing that I do as a hobby.

Let me assure you, I have mixed feelings about this blogging thing that I have taken to. It is a medium by which we (by "we", I mean "I") can say virtually whatever we want with little or no repercussions. In anger, I am sure I have crossed a line here or there.

Furthermore, when I tell people that I write a blog about the Royals, it is not without a more than proportionate amount of shame and embarrassment. Not all of those negative feelings have causes that can be attributed to the shameful team that I unfortunately am a fan of.

I certainly have no delusions of grandeur insofar as my status in the world is concerned.

Now that I have hopefully made all that abundantly clear, I will say that amongst a sports franchise's fan base, there are not that many who feel so strongly about their team that they elect to write at length about that team. It is an endeavor that is not for the weak of heart. The dedication it takes to spend countless hours expounding upon the performance of a franchise both on and off the field is nearly immeasurable.

For fans of some teams, the time and dedication is rewarded by success in the win-column. It wouldn't be difficult to find the time to write about a team like the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Cardinals. Their on-field performance warrants such dedication.

Admittedly, this is an inexact exercise, but the simple google search of "Boston Red Sox blog" turns up 8,080,000 results. When interchanging "Kansas City Royals" for "Boston Red Sox", 1,240,000 hits pop up.

This is no coincidence.

While Kansas City is certainly a smaller market than Boston, its fan base has been depleted by years of neglect and losing.

Despite this September surge, this has been the most disappointing season I can remember. The losing has been hard to handle, to be sure. More disturbing by far has been the fact that it would seem no one is at the helm of this aimless ship.

When combining the atrocious roster moves, the wasted money, the squandered start, and the lack of vision, it is not surprising that many of those dedicated Royals bloggers have lost interest.

The vitriolic, anti-stat Dr. Thunder and Southern Lightning at Hapless Royals have jumped ship.

The thoughtful Michael A. Molde over at Undying Royalty hasn't been able to bring himself to write an entry since May 22nd.

Levi "Tug" Payton over at Everything Royals essentially hung everything up on August 2nd.

Only six of H.G. Miller's 28 posts this year over at Royal Reactions have come since June.

The stellar Jeff Parker at Royally Speaking (who also writes for Dugout Central and Hardball Cooperative) hasn't passed the 10 post mark in a month since May.

Guys like Joe Bomello at New Blue Tradition, Royals Nation at The Royal Treatment, and Clint over at Royal Report Card haven't posted in months.

I could keep going because there are many others (The Tao and Keith to name but a couple more) who have fallen by the wayside as this Royals team has made us question everything our fandom means to us. But surely no one has summed up our collective discouragement as the most prominent Royals blogger, Rany Jazayerli, did on what is to be his last post for quite some time.

Through all of this one thing becomes increasingly clear. While Dayton Moore & Co. continue to take umbrage with any criticism lobbed in their direction, many of the Royals most dedicated and passionate fans are simply giving up.

While Billy Butler's season has been cause for a little hope, and Joakim Soria has still been The Mexicutioner, there is really only one reason to watch this team ever. Meaningless September wins are not going to change this.

Dayton Moore, this season has worn your fans out. As much as we know you want to win, we no longer have the belief that we will ever see that happen. We are collectively giving up.

So if your goal was to defeat the Royals fans who might be voices of dissent when things have gone so far awry, you have won that battle, Mr. Moore.

It seems clear that we've all lost steam.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Another Greinke Start, Another Royals Letdown

Honestly, this article could write itself after almost any Greinke non-win this season.

The awful team on the field behind him finds a way to squander another Greinke gem.

Two hits and no runs allowed through six are proven to be immaterial, as the hapless Royals strand runners, ground into double plays, fall astray on the basepaths, and subvert his best efforts on defense.

There was Miguel Olivo getting caught in a run down between third and home after getting greedy on the basepaths on a DeJesus single to second. Of course, he also fell down after rounding first on the single that landed him on base in the first place. And that single on which Olivo tried to score from second base may or may not have actual crossed a line drawn directly from first to second base.

Then in the bottom half of that same inning, "Gold Glover" David DeJesus misplays a ball off the wall in the left field corner. As Shin-Soo Choo rounded second base, DeJesus further screws Greinke by attempting to pick the gently rolling ball up with his glove rather than his bare hand, flipping the ball about ten feet further away, and allowing Choo to reach third with ease on a "triple".

After inducing a weak pop fly just into foul territory at first base, Greinke was further undermined by the aforementioned left fielder. Diving nearly directly forward, DeJesus found a sinking liner off the bat of Travis Hafner making its way past his glove and onto the grass.

Choo scored with ease, while Greinke had to resign himself to striking out the villainous Luis Valbuena.

Shockingly, Trey Hillman exercised restraint in not bringing Greinke back out in a tie game in the eighth. Unfortunately, that special stat that could have helped Greinke in his quest to convince some of the more antiquated CY-voting mindsets was already out the window.

With each game that this writer watches, it becomes increasingly harder to find reasons to not outright loathe this team.

Only some of those reasons are derived from how the rest of this team (Jack Soria notwithstanding) is directly responsible for there even being a conversation about who the Cy Young Award should go to in the American League. I think the poll I put up a few articles ago answers that question.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Just What Did The Royals Get For Danny Gutierrez? Scott Lucas, of The Newberg Report, Helps Us Out

By chance, I know Scott Lucas, who does a fantastic job of covering the Rangers farm system for the preeminent Rangers blog, The Newberg Report.

Rather than give my reaction to the Danny Gutierrez trade, I decided it would be best to ask Scott the following via email:

So the reports (which at this point have not been verified by the Rangers' brass, but surely will by the time this goes up) are that the Royals have traded RHP Daniel Gutierrez to the Rangers for catcher Manuel Pina and outfielder Tim Smith. As Royals fans, we knew Gutierrez as a player who has been suspended for violation of team rules in 2007 and missed most of this 2009 season while rehabbing an inflamed right shoulder away from the team reportedly under the instruction of his agent Scott Boras. We also knew him as a high-ceiling prospect with a plus curve and solid command of both his curve and fastball. On nearly every organizational pre-season prospect ranking list, Gutierrez was a top 10 prospect.

Meanwhile, both players the Royals received do not appear to have been nearly as lauded. Most analysis seems to be falling somewhere in the neighborhood of both projecting out as role players on the Major League level--at best--with Pina seeming to fit the mold of the defense-first catcher and Smith being likened to David DeJesus in the Royals' blogosphere.

All that being said, what can the Royals say they got back for their problematic prospect?

Are these initial reactions to who the Royals are getting back accurate?

In your estimation (and obviously with prospects there is going to be a heartier degree of uncertainty), did the Rangers come out ahead in this deal?

Scott was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to respond with the following:

Neither Smith nor Pina ranked among Texas's Top 30 in Baseball America's preseason rankings. I rated Pina 41st and Smith 46th entering the season. Now, I'd probably have Smith in the low 20s and Pina more-or-less unchanged.

Pina owns a good, though not great, defensive reputation. Texas has promoted him pretty aggressively despite modest offensive development. He's shown a little more power this year, but in general he's a .260 hitter light on secondary skills. He's just 22, so there's time, but he'll need to step up just to be an adequate backup. Pina hit a totally uncharacteristic .400/.452/.600 through mid-May in AA, after which he's batted a paltry .199/.254/.305.

Smith was Texas's 7th rounder in 2006 out of Arizona State.
He played a little CF in his rookie season but is best suited to the corners. Smith makes good contact and has shown developing power and patience plus decent speed. That said, his upside isn't high; perhaps he becomes a fourth outfielder. Smith's all-out playing style has compared favorably to David Murphy and the revered Rusty Greer. If he tops out in AAA, it won't be for lack of hustle. A broken rib ended his season early, he played a couple of rehab games in Arizona and is now with Team Canada.

Odds are that both will provide quality organizational depth rather than Major League talent. Pina will be Rule 5-eligible if not placed on the 40-man roster this winter. Smith's doesn't require protection until 2010.

The trade certainly does not balance the pitcher-heavy quality of Texas's minor-league system. Still, the Rangers probably see it as gaining a "B" prospect for two "Cs" and an affordable risk.

Obviously, there were some issues between Gutierrez and the Royals' front office, but the returns for a nearly unanimous pre-season top 10 prospect within the organization seem middling, at best.

Thanks again for your time and help, Scott.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Review of Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

If there has been one good thing about the Royals* only being watchable once every five games or so, it has been that I have found myself with slightly more free time on my hands. Past a cursory look at the standings to see where the Royals are in the running for the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes and trying to catch Greinke’s starts, my time devoted to baseball is shrinking to microscopic proportions.

*I think it is obvious that we’re using the plural form of Royal out of politeness here.

Granted, I now work somewhere in the 70 hours per week neighborhood, so the term 'free time' is being applied loosely here, but that luxury would be virtually nonexistent if the product on the field at the Kougar were even remotely entertaining.

What I have spent my last week or so doing is reading the new—we’re talking books here, so a couple months old is still new, right?—Satchel Paige biography by Larry Tye. If for some reason you are not familiar with the man who may well have been the greatest pitcher in the history of the game, here is a link to the book’s author speaking about Paige at Amazon.

Now, I am hardly a man who keeps abreast of what is atop the best-sellers lists. In fact, the only reason I even knew the book had been published was because of NPR. But the instant its existence was illuminated for me was the instant I knew I had to read the book.

When I was a child, my dad—a Kansas City native, whose childhood home is almost entirely responsible for my years of sports-fan-derived misery—found one of my uncle’s old books on Satchel Paige and read it to us at bedtime while staying at my grandparents’ house. Between my uncle—whose rabid baseball fandom—and my dad—whose Royals fandom has since waned as things like real life have taken up the space that a less complicated life used to allow for—my fate as a baseball fan was sealed.

Satchel Paige was a mythic figure to me as a child.

Larry Tye’s new book does nothing to undermine the mythos that I have so long associated with the hazy figure from my childhood memories.

To be able to say that about something from my childhood is refreshing, given that nearly everything I remembered as being awesome from my youth has not held water (i.e., Short Circuit or “MacGyver”).

Larry Tye’s thoroughly researched and obviously passionate account of this larger than life Negro League superstar is at all times captivating. While the facts are painstakingly separated from the legend, the reader is taken on an historian’s voyage through the muddled annals of Negro League history—one rife with hyperbole and unburdened by a need for accuracy in reportage. What those facts elucidate is the life and work of one of the greatest unsung figures of the 20th Century.

The importance of Leroy “Satchel” Paige in terms of what his fame, skill, and persona did to sew fertile seeds in the growing of goodwill between the races is never more aptly drawn up as it is here.

And reading about the man himself with his homespun aphorisms and colorful peccadilloes is a blast for the duration of the 300 pages.

It is a quick read, imbued with love for the subject and his time and imminently worth the effort put into it.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…