Friday, May 14, 2010

Hillman Shit-canned By Royals, Yost To Man The Helm Of A Sinking Ship

After the seemingly universal outcry calling for Trey Hillman's head a la Alfredo Garcia, it would appear that David Glass could no longer withstand the cacophony of nay-sayers and forced Dayton Moore to kick his hand-picked manager to the curb.

As the three remaining Royals fans piss themselves in glee, the spurned mass of fans who deemed the team no longer worth the hassle look around, see that Ned Yost has been fingered to right the ship, roll their eyes, and return to pouring over their short list of teams that they are going to become fans of.

The reason the switch is so underwhelming at first glance is that Ned Yost was fired in the heat of a pennant race with two weeks to go in the regular season. That Brewers club he managed ultimately made the playoffs, but his management of the team was deemed so detrimental to the team that Doug Melvin & Co. had no other recourse but to fire him. All of this happened less than two full years ago.

I guess only the Royals could have the only two viable in-house candidates for an interim manager be Ned Yost or the man who challenged Shea Hillenbrand to a fight in the clubhouse. In all fairness, Gibbons's freak out seemed somewhat justified. After all, Sheas are the segment of the populace third-most likely to be douchebags after men named Chase* and Camaro owners.

*Apologies to Mac (the pertinent segment starts at the 2:09 mark)

"There's no right context."

Now the firing of Hillman came hot on the heels of the dreaded but especially effusive vote of confidence from Dayton Moore. I was just joking with Scott Lucas of The Ranger Rundown and The Newberg Report on Wednesday night that I would be surprised if Dayton Moore knew what generally came after the vote of confidence. It would seem as though Glass laid down the law. For those of us worrying about Glass being too hesitant to can Moore when the situation becomes untenable (which many of us would argue has already happened), this should be slightly encouraging.

As far as the Hillman versus his replacement argument is concerned, Yost did manage his team to a winning record on more than one occasion. Yost also still has the interim tag in front of his title, so there isn't as much of a permanency of the nightmarish managerial practices he has proven capable of in the past. Really, we have to take solace in the fact that Hillman will no longer be the one making egregious mistakes on a daily basis.

Whether Yost fails or not, at least it won't be the ineffectual Hillman meandering out to the mound to chit-chat with Meche as his pitch count approaches 130 with no sign of relief. Beggars cannot be choosers, so we just have to be grateful that SABRTrey is gone.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

This is the first of a few catch-up posts for the Reading Rainbow segments of the blog here. I know the Reading Rainbow stuff is probably the area of the blog that y'all are the most indifferent* to, but whatever.

*And, yes, I'm using the degree of indifference as a qualifier, as we all know that this entire blog is met with an indifference that can only be categorized as resounding.

Let's begin.

Moneyball is one of the most compelling non-fiction books I've read in ages. One part business, one part baseball, ten parts awesome.

Why I hadn't read it yet is baffling to me, but I hadn't and am upset with myself for taking so long to get around to it.

For those not familiar with the book at all, its primary goal is to show how the Oakland Athletics under General Manager Billy Beane managed to exploit the market inefficiencies in baseball to field a playoff-caliber team while having the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball. While that may not seem all that interesting on the surface, there is a reason why Michael Lewis finds himself atop the non-fiction bestsellers lists routinely. He is a great writer and manages to intertwine 30 pages of loosely related tangents engagingly and with ease.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, this book is enthralling.

Billy Beane is a fiery former prospect who flamed out when he got to the Majors. Rather than continue on as a player at a certain point in his career, he went and asked his General Manager if he could take a job as an advance scout (if I remember correctly). As he worked his way up through the ranks of the front office, his quest to discover what sort of players actually succeeded at the ML-level in relation to the tools they possessed began to be supported by the writings of Bill James (as he discovered them - they were written before Beane retired as a player), or the theorizing of Voros McCracken.

As Beane becomes united with Paul DePodesta, it becomes clear that this Athletics front office was head and shoulders above the rest in baseball.

While it could have been an insular story just about baseball, Lewis's Moneyball is a compelling, character-driven story about how an organization does more with less.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Trey Hillman: Killing the Royals Softly

For those not familiar with the in-game management genius of Trey Hillman, let me lay it out for you in bullet points:
  • Gil Meche threw 128 pitches last night. Fortunately for Meche, he got the last batter he faced (David Murphy) on one pitch. Yes, with two down and runners at second and third, Hillman let Meche pitch to David Murphy having already thrown 127 pitches. Moreover, Meche had begun to struggle with control again in the eighth, walking the first two batters he faced. The offense is so egregious that it bears re-stating; having walked seven and two in that inning, Hillman let Meche face another batter with a pitch count that had already hit 127.
  • SABRTrey pinch-hit for first baseman Kila Ka'aihue with Jose Guillen in the top of the seventh inning in a game tied at two runs apiece. Nevermind that the differences in Ka'aihue's career platoon splits in the minors were nominal (.275/.398/.423 vs. LHP, .266/.395/.486 vs. RHP). Nevermind that there are multiple candidates for being pinch-hit for sitting lower in the line-up than the rookie who in his first start since being recalled from Omaha was batting clean-up.
  • In the bottom of the seventh, Hillman left Guillen in the game, inserting him into left field and shifting Mitch Maier to first base. For those not in the know and who weren't watching the first six innings of the game, Maier is clearly their best defensive outfielder. He had two stellar plays in center in this game alone. SABRTrey, who is historically averse to shifting players from one position to another within the bounds of a single game, put a range-less designated hitter in right field, shifted the man that the organization decided didn't have enough range to play center in 2009 to that very position, and moved their very good center fielder to first base. WTFuck?
  • "What could go wrong now?" you might be asking yourself. Well in the eighth inning of a tie-game with two outs and runners on the corner, the ball is hit to right. Were a right fielder with any range whatsoever (read: David DeJesus) sitting in right, disaster is averted. Instead the ball falls because a player who should never be on the field is standing in right. Now, yes, Jose got hosed on the call at third, and his throw was ridiculous, but the run still scores if Josh Hamilton is correctly called out at third and Meche's pitch count is only spared one pitch. The go-ahead run can be directly attributed to Trey Hillman's attempt to "manage" the team.
  • Defensive wizard Chris Getz booted a grounder at second in the eighth. I'm not asserting that one play is a large enough sample size to evaluate a player defensively, but Getz has not looked like a world beater in the least.
  • The day after Yuniesky Betancourt dropped a two-out pop fly in shallow center leading to an unearned run, the fined shortstop was still starting at short.
  • What those last two bullet-points also meant was that Mike Aviles was not in the starting line-up on Saturday. Remember when Trey Hillman said that Mike Aviles was their "most fundamentally sound infielder?" That sounds like a guy who should be in the game in a tight spot. Or always.
One thing I would like to touch on is the abuse of Gil Meche. It was great to see him pull things together after a rough first two innings. The problem is we all know what 132 means when someone throws out that number in a conversation about Gil Meche. Since that historic start, Meche has had an 8.37 ERA. Opposing batters have hit .328/.423/.593 off Meche since June 21st of last year. In short, since Hillman effectively ruined Gil Meche on June 21, 2009, Meche has allowed all opposing hitters to put up Pujolsian numbers.

In the first start since June 6, 2009, Meche had a start with a game score over 50. Having not learned his lesson at all, Hillman rode Meche's arm to 128 pitches, and it could have easily been more. Yes, Meche clearly muttered, "Fuck me," as Hillman walked up to the mound in the eighth, but it is not Hillman's job to just listen to his starter and let him throw nearly 130 pitches in what has been the only encouraging start for the $11 Million Man thus far this season. Listening to his former star pitcher is what got them here in the first place.

While the bullpen has not been Trey Hillman's fault, days like this seem to reinforce the fact that Trey Hillman is best suited for something other than managing the Royals.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gordon Demoted, Rosa Traded, Aviles Recalled, Heads Scratched

It's been a fairly eventful two-plus weeks since I last posted here. Having not grown up in the Kansas City area (unlike my father, whose fandom I unfortunately inherited), my in-person Royals experiences have been mostly limited to seeing them play the Twins at the Metrodome or seeing Omaha play the Round Rock Express. While visiting my sister in Lawrence, I got to see the Royals where one is meant to see them. At Kauffman.

When the lead Brian Bannister held was handed over to the bullpen (along with inherited runners) on that cold Sunday afternoon, I decided to excuse myself from my seat and take in the Royals Hall of Fame. The Hall was great. A Mecca for a Royals fan both geographically and temporally displaced from an ideal notion of sports fandom.

For a few brief moments, I was able to escape to a time in which the Royals competed against, get this, the Yankees to go to the World Series. Yeah, that's right. The Yankees. World Series. Apparently, they even won one. I know, I know. "Shut the fuck up, you crazy liar. The Royals never won a World Series. They're like, the worst team in baseball. They had the worst record in baseball in the '00s!"

But no. A long 25 years ago, the Royals actually won a World Series.

You are no doubt thinking about the illogical manner in which the franchise has been re-run into the ground by yet another regime in the Wal-Mart Royals Era and wondering to yourself how it is possible that a team that was once a perennial contender couldn't possibly find itself in this place. A laughingstock. A team whose fans have to resort to arguing whether or not their team is worse off than the likes of the Astros or *shudder* the Pirates.

Yet, here we sit, watching helplessly as Alex Gordon is optioned to AAA-Omaha while inept aged veterans constipate the daily lineup--while Carlos Rosa (an arguably Major League-ready relief pitcher) is shipped off to Arizona for an extremely raw shortstop who appears to be nowhere near the Majors meaning the Royals would be required to successfully develop him--while Mike Aviles is shuttled back and forth between Kansas City and Omaha, called up this time so that Trey Hillman can have him pinch-run twice a week as Yuniesky Betancourt ranges two-steps to his right or left for grounders at short and swings wildly at balls outside of the zone.

Should I continue?

Regarding the Gordon optioning, I can understand that he has been a disappointment against the unrealistic expectations that he was going to be the next George Brett. We were all guilty of setting those hopes too high, but the Royals are in no place to be abandoning hope on a 26-year-old third baseman with an above-average ability to get on base even if his defensive skills seem to be on the decline. Yes, his strike-outs are often ugly. His dry-spells can last for weeks. Still, when healthy, he is one of the Royals best three or four offensive players with the upside for more. Given this demotion, their aggressive promotion of Gordon in 2007 could conceivably stand as only the second-most egregious move that the organization has made in terms of the detriment done to the development of the player once regarded as the top prospect in all of baseball.

As for Rosa, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs indicates that Arizona pulled the trigger on this deal because they were desperate for relief pitching. Hold up a second, the Diamondbacks need relievers? What a coincidence, the Royals relief corps have been giving up leads like they were getting paid to lose games. Doesn't it seem like the Royals could use a relief pitcher? Now maybe Reynaldo Navarro pans out, but given the track record of this front office, I doubt any Royals fans are holding their breaths.

Now Mike Aviles gets recalled from Omaha, presumably to sit on the bench while the Royals' $3.3 million gloveless/batless shortstop gets all of the playing time. Even more aggravating is the fact that this organization seems to believe that Betancourt is actually the best option for them at short. Nevermind that they cannot align their outfield properly (Ankiel in right*, Maier in center, DeJesus in left, Podsednik on a different team for those catching up at home), in what world do the Royals exist in which Yuniesky Betancourt is a ML-caliber anything, let alone shortstop?

*Yes, The LOBster has been awful, and really, if they seem dead-set on playing Getz at second, then maybe the Royals should be thinking about working Gordon out at right, thus getting Getz, Callaspo, and Gordon into the lineup and a right-fielder's arm in right. If Ankiel is playing, though, it needs to be in right.

If Aviles weren't healthy, Betancourt still shouldn't be playing. Aviles is healthy, though. Betancourt has managed one walk in 98 plate appearances. His O-Swing% is 45.7%. His BB/K is an Olivo-ian 0.09. His UZR/150 is a predictably awful -22.7. All the talk of small sample sizes could apply here, if these numbers weren't in line with his past three seasons. Long story short: Yuniesky Betancourt sucks. Does anyone think that logic will set in and Betancourt will be riding the pine this week?

The likes of Jose Guillen, Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, and Yuniesky Betancourt should not be taking playing time away from players who need playing time at the Major League level to develop.

Oh, and I could ramble on about the inexplicable Juan Cruz release, but what's the fucking point?

Ewing Kauffman's Royals these are not.

Editor's Note (5/4/10 9:30 am) - Apparently the Royals plan on getting Gordon some time at first and left. Do they know that typically right fielders would have strong arms?