Tagged: Kansas City

I’m not saying Trey Hillman is incompetent…

I’m just implying it as strongly as possible.  After seeing some of the ridiculous quotes from Trey Hillman in Bob Dutton’s KC Star article, I had to post a quick followup to yesterday’s post.  These are actual quotes from Trey Hillman following Thursday’s game against Detroit.  This was the game in which the bullpen blew a third consecutive save to start the year and finished up a series in which they allowed 16 runs in 9.1 IP, while the starters allowed 3
(2 ER) in 19.2 IP.

“We’ve got to give guys an opportunity to settle into roles,”

  He’s talking about an 8-man bullpen soon to be reduced to seven in which five of the guys were in the exact same role last year (Colon, Tejeda, Cruz, Farnsworth, and Soria).  They should be pretty well settled by now.  The only thing in question each night is which guy will go out and pour gas all over Kauffman stadium before lighting it on fire.

“We don’t have guys with a long history of being effective in the seventh and eighth innings.  We’re going to have to develop it.”

  Actually they have exactly the opposite.  They have many guys with a long history of failure in the seventh and eighth innings and apparently they’re not going to develop anything different at this point.  Cruz is in his 10th season and is 31 years old, Colon is in his 5th year and is 30, Tejeda is in his 6th year and is 28, and Farnsworth is in his 12th season and turns 34 next week.  Dusty Hughes might develop, but if these rubes were going to develop or become successful it would have happened by now.

The fact is that it’s been apparent for over a year that this bullpen is the biggest gaping hole in the roster, and yet it has not been in any significant way.  Contracts play a part, but the organization did nothing to change the makeup of this year’s bullpen in any significant way.

I realize he can’t come out and say that his guys are worthless and there’s no hope, but I feel like he really thinks they can turn a corner and suddenly start shutting people down.  The fact is that these guys have long track records showing their mediocrity and they’re unlikely to ever show anything else.  How the Royals can justify the fact that they addressed the problem in no tangible way this offseason is beyond me.

 

Royals Hope Old Arms Learn New Tricks

There’s a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  If that’s true, then Dayton Moore, Trey Hillman, and the rest of the crew running the Kansas City Royals should be carted off to the nut house.  Last year, the bullpen was the bane of the team’s (and the fans’) existence.  Aside from All-Star caliber closer Joakim Soria, who was hobbled by injuries, the group was a ragtag collection of cast-offs and no-names who combined to cause more heartburn and indigestion than Kansas City’s famed barbecue.

The group included Roman Colon (4.83 ERA in 50.1 IP), Juan Cruz (5.72 ERA in 50.1 IP), Robinson Tejeda (3.54 ERA in 73.2), and Kyle Farnsworth (4.58 ERA in 37.1 IP).  That’s a combined 4.55 ERA over 211.2 innings of relief, a performance that led the Royals to bring all four back to form the core of their bullpen again this year. 

That means the four most frequent offenders from last season’s disaster are back in their usual roles.  Various factors led to them being retained (including Farnsworth’s unforgivable contract given before the 2009 season), but the fact remains that Dayton Moore and his organization addressed their biggest flaw by doing precisely nothing.  They’re still counting on four proven failures to somehow bridge the gap to Soria.

Those four and Soria are joined this year by John Parrish (who missed all of 2009 recovering from arm surgery), Dusty Hughes (a promising youngster who debuted in 2009 with a 5.14 ERA in 14 IP), and  Luis Mendoza (who logged all of 1 IP in 2009 with the Rangers, allowing 4 ER and posted a robust 8.67 ERA in 63.1 IP in 2008). 

This motley crew is tasked with preserving the narrow leads provided by Kansas City’s typically anemic offense and allowing Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to accumulate his deserved share of wins, rather than the all too frequent quality start no decisions of 2009.

After only two games, though, it must be too early to tell how they’ll fair this year, right?  Perhaps several had strong springs to prove they’ve turned a corner.  Well, so far, through two games they’ve blown a two-run lead and cost Greinke a win, and managed to somehow turn a 7+ inning shutout performance by Luke Hochevar into a no decision, 11th inning, come-from-behind win credited to Farnsworth. Old reliable Kyle earned the W by allowing three straight hits to start the top of the 11th before weaseling his way out and letting the offense provide a dramatic walk-off victory in the bottom half of the inning.

In the season opener, Greinke battled his way through six innings against the tough Detroit offense and allowed only 1 ER.  He left with a 4-2 lead, thanks to a surprising offensive outburst against Detroit ace Justin Verlander.  Before he could even find a seat in the dugout, however, Colon, Tejeda, and Cruz teamed up to post a 6-hit, 1 BB, 6 ER performance in the sixth inning to put the game out of reach and leave Zack with nothing to show for his hard work on Opening Day.

Luke Hochevar followed suit the next day throwing an oustanding 7.2 IP, 5 hits, 1 BB, 0 R and leaving with the lead only to see Soria cough it up and Farnsworth allow a run before a miraculous comeback in the bottom of the 11th brought the Royals a win.

As I began this post, that’s all the damage the bullpen had done this year, but during the course of my writing they managed to do it again.  Today Royals starter Brian Bannister tossed a fine outing, going 6 innings and allowing only 1 run, leaving with the lead.  Hughes went 1 inning, allowing the tying run before giving way to Mendoza who posted a 1.2 IP, 5 ER performance. 

It seems there’s a different guy each day, but no matter who Trey Hillman beckons from the pen, it always ends in disaster, and the fact that all of the main pieces were brought back and no attempt at change was made is a fault of those running the organization.  This bullpen should have been completely dismantled and rebuilt, but Dayton Moore did nothing and Hillman allowed it to happen.

Hillman may soon be on his way out, but it won’t matter who’s filling out the lineup card as long as this embarrassment of a bullpen remains intact.  For that reason, perhaps Dayton Moore should be feeling the heat more than Hillman for failing to address the biggest gaping hole on his team.

Big Shakeup in AL Central

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With the news that Twins closer Joe Nathan has a
“significant tear” in the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing
arm the AL central race has
suddenly been changed dramatically.  It’s not a certainty yet that Nathan
will get surgery, an operation that would likely put him out for the entire
season, but it appears that the Twins are suddenly without their biggest
pitching weapon and the entire division may be turned on its head.

At first glance it seems ludicrous to claim that a pitcher who appeared in only
70 games and pitched less than 70 innings could affect an entire division with
his absence (especially coming from a self-proclaimed closer hater), but Nathan
is one of only a handful of superstar closers in Major League Baseball and his
presence means more than his impressive number of saves and strikeouts. 

In a division without a dominant team and without a lot of overpowering
pitchers, he was perhaps the division’s most important arm.  That’s most
important, not best.  Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young last year, but his
team still finished last and may likely see the same result whether he
duplicates his 2009 success or not.  The loss of Nathan, on the other hand,
not only dramatically alters Minnesota’s
end-of-game strategy, but it kills their swagger and belief that no matter
what, if they led after 8 innings, they were going to win.  The entire
dynamic of the team will be affected knowing that they don’t have their
shutdown ace to slam the door in the late innings.  

The Twins are hoping Francisco Liriano can reclaim the magic in his left arm,
but he’s still a work in progress as is the rest of their young staff, which
seems to take a step backward with every gain they make.  Even the success
of Nathan’s bullpen mates, Jon Rauch (7-3, 3.60, 17 holds) and Matt Guerrier
(5-1, 2.36, 33 holds) can partially be attributed to the knowledge that they
only had to get three outs and pass things off to Nathan in the 9th.  Now
they’ll be shuffled into unfamiliar roles, and nothing seems to cause more
chaos in a bullpen than shuffling roles.  It’s part of the stupidity of
modern bullpen use, but it’s true nonetheless. 

With Nathan at the back end of the Twins bullpen, Ron Gardenhire could manage a
game much differently than he will with an average or unproven closer or
closing committee.  The Twins were able to shorten games and could rely on
Nathan game after game.  Since he came to Minnesota
and became a full-time closer in 2004, Nathan has converted 246 of 271 save
chances, just over a 90% clip.  Compare that to the gold standard of
closing dominance, Mariano Rivera who’s converted 243 of 261 (93%) over the
same span and you see how important Nathan is to a team who needs every single
win.  Remember, two years running the Twins have had to play one-game
playoffs to decide the division.  This is a team who’s playoff hopes could
live and die with a single blown save.

As for the other teams in the division, they’ve now got an added incentive to
get into the Twins ‘pen, knowing it’s down a man.  No longer will opposing
hitters be hoping they scratch something out against one of the game’s
best.  Instead they’ll go to the plate in a close game late knowing that they’re
facing an inexperienced arm who hasn’t faced the game-ending pressure nearly as
often as Joe Nathan. 

With Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and a few key offseason additions the Twins
will still be a top team in the AL Central, but the loss of Nathan will be felt
later in games.  In a division as close as this one figures to be, every
game could come down to the bullpen and the Twins just lost their ultimate
trump card.  I think hitters in camp for the Tigers, Sox, and even the
Indians and Royals might step in the cage today with a little more bounce in
their step knowing they just might not have to hear “Stand Up and
Shout” blaring from the Target Field sound system until 2011.

Greinke Dazzles on Monday Night

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You’ll probably be able to find almost a dozen different
articles Tuesday about Zack Greinke’s latest exceptional performance.  He absolutely owned the White Sox in a
complete game, ten strikeout, zero walk, masterpiece.  At no time during the night did he appear
troubled or particularly challenged.  He
scattered a few broken bat singles, but little else.  The three run lead may as well have been
eight.  However, I don’t want to discuss
all that or his season in total today. 

 

I want to provide a different perspective in two ways:  First, I was there in person and got to
experience the magic with my own eyes. 
Secondly, I want to focus only on two specific sequences that I feel sum
up everything that defines a dominant pitcher in three at-bats.

 

The first sequence that I cannot stop thinking about is
Greinke’s strikeout of Alexei Ramirez to begin the third inning.  Greinke fell behind 1-0.  The next pitch was a 93 mph fastball inches
below Ramirez’s chin that sent him sprawling to the ground and his bat rolling
in the dirt.  After picking himself up
and dusting himself off Ramirez decided he’d rather be anywhere in the world
than at Kaufmann Stadium in the batter’s box. 
Greinke had pinpoint control all night (0 BB) and several times brushed
hitters back with high heat, but none were as effective as that pitch to
Ramirez.  The next pitch was a 72 mph
curveball on the outside corner for a strike, followed by a 75 mph curveball on
the inside corner that had Ramirez buckling like a little leaguer.  The final pitch was a slider away at about 86
mph that Ramirez waved at weakly.  It was
the most overmatched I’ve ever seen a Major League hitter.  Greinke dominated the inner half of the plate
all night, clearly sending a message that he was not to be challenged and prodigious
hitters Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and A.J. Pierzynski offered no more of a challenge
than young Alexei, striking out four times between them.

 

The second occasion of sheer brilliance came in the eighth
inning, the only time the White Sox appeared to challenge Greinke at all.  The inning began with back-to-back singles,
bringing the tying run to the plate with no outs.  I’d been watching Greinke’s velocity all
night, noting that he hit 96 mph on the first hitter of the game and then
pitched at 92-94 all night, seemingly on cruise control through the
ballgame.  Now, however, he reached back
and found that extra gear that only the elite pitchers seem to have available
for special occasions.  The next four
pitches were 95, 96, 96, and 95.  These
yielded a double play and put Greinke at 1-1 on pinch hitter Wilson
Betemit.  He followed with two straight curveballs
that broke onto the shoetops of the left-handed hitter.  Betemit swung and missed on both, missing the
ball by a combined total of about five feet.

 

These two isolated instances are all that’s necessary to
understand just what kind of confidence and command Greinke has through his
first six starts.  By looking at these
three at-bats alone one would know exactly how the White Sox fared on this
night.  All the best pitchers throughout
the history of the game have had three traits that allowed them to pitch out of
any jam, against any hitter, at any time. 

 

The first is the ability to control the inner part of the
plate.  Greinke shows a willingness to do
this more than any other young pitcher today. 
He has pinpoint control allowing him to come inches from a hitter’s chin
without hitting him and then he can use his ridiculously varied breaking
pitches to turn great hitters into floundering buffoons. 

 

Secondly, Greinke can throw any pitch in any count in order
to get an out.  His curveball, ranging
from 62-82 mph is almost a repertoire in itself.  Add to that a hard slider and mid-90s
fastball and his mix of pitches is equal to anyone throwing in the bigs right
now.  Hitters, even when ahead in the
count, cannot sit on anything.  Greinke
loves to throw first pitch breaking balls, putting the hitter on the defensive
and allowing him to do whatever he wants the rest of the at-bat.

 

Finally, Greinke has the ability to reach back and find a
vital 2-3 extra mph for game-changing at-bats. 
He looked completely at ease, like a man in a rocking chair throwing 92-94
through seven innings Monday.  Then, just
when it seemed he might be tiring and the Sox may be catching up the third time
through the lineup, he pumps four straight four-seam fastballs and earns a
tailor-made double play and sets up another hitter for his wicked slider to
punctuate the eighth inning and essentially put the game on ice.  The ninth was the cherry on top.  More for the crowd to stand, applaud, and take
in the atmosphere of a truly phenomenal pitching performance.

 

The results are obvious to any casual fan.  He went all nine, gave up nothing, struck out
ten and walked none.  However, it’s his
sequencing, his mental acuity, and his feel for the game that separate his
performances from others; the subtleties of this performance that can be truly
appreciated by students of the game.  The
ability to know when to knock a man down, when to find that extra gear, and
when to drop in a sub-70 mph floater are the signs of a developing artist who’s
refining his craft and just beginning to realize the potential of his wealth of
talent.  Greinke’s outings are not be
missed by anyone with a love of baseball and an appreciation for the
indescribable skill of the game’s greatest players.

Farnsworth suffering from whiplash, day-to-day

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This morning on the front page of MLB.com one of the main
stories is about the surprising teams two weeks into the season.  The Marlins are 11-1 and ripping through the
NL East right (or at least Washington),
the Mariners are 8-5, and the Royals are 7-5 and tied atop the AL Central.  How much better would that story be if the
Royals were 10-2 and coming off their third series sweep out of four to start
the year? 

 

Keep in mind that I understand one pitch, play, or player
cannot win or lose a baseball game, but he sure can do a lot of the work and
when late-inning leads disintegrate as quickly as the scoreboard can launch its
celebratory fireworks everyone is going to peer through the smoke at the guy on
the bump.  In Kansas
City, as in Chicago,
Detroit, and New
York, and Atlanta
before, that guy is Kyle Farnsworth, the one man grease fire.

 

Every pitcher is going to have those days when things just
go wrong.  Sometimes you can’t find the
strike zone, sometimes you can’t hit anything but bats, and there’s no way to
avoid it if you play the game.  From
personal experience, I gave up a walk-off bomb in an NCAA Regional game after
our ace shut down a team for 8 innings. 

 

The problem is that Farnsworth has those days about every
third time out.  This isn’t a kid who’s
going through some growing pains or that the league has caught up to.  This also isn’t an All-Star getting off to a
slow start.  Since 1999 Farnsworth has
been proving that this is who he is, a hard-throwing, gas-can toting nuclear
meltdown.  He has 617 career appearances,
that’s what we call a significant sample size. 

 

This isn’t second-guessing the Royals decision to sign him
or Trey Hillman’s insistence to use him. 
In this case foresight was
20/20, or even 20/10.  As a lifelong Cubs
fan and current KC resident, I’ve seen enough of this guy to know what to
expect.  He has a career ERA of 4.53 and
only 4 times has he been under 4.00 for a season.  He will always walk too many hitters and will
always give up homeruns at an alarming rate. 
Unfortunately, it appears the Royals will continue to use him in an
attempt to justify his absurd contract. 

 

What they need to realize is that that is a sunk cost.  The contract is on the books and they’re
stuck with it whether he pitches or not. 
At this point they have two options. 
They can pay Farnsworth $5M, and watch him implode 8-10 times and cost
them vital wins in a spandex-tight AL Central. 
Or they can pay Farnsworth $5M and refuse to use him in close games,
opting instead to use their better options and attempt to win games without
him.  Either way, the money is gone.  They might as well bite the bullet, let him
steal his salary, and keep him the hell away from the mound.  Every win is precious in this division, and
the Royals finally have a shot at contention, but Farnsworth has already blown
3 leads late in games and is sporting an 18.90 ERA.

 

Here’s an example of how Farnsworth’s reputation should have
preceded him to Kansas City.  My dad is a huge baseball fan who’s seen
Farnsworth throw live once, on Opening Day in Kansas City
when he struck out the Yankees in order. 
He mentioned that Farnsworth seemed like the type of guy who would
dominate when the game isn’t close and wilt under pressure.  Well let’s look at his 2009 appearances so
far.

 

Check it out:

5 appearances, 0-3, 18.90 ERA

Opening Day vs. White Sox:  Royals lead 2-1 in 8th.  IP, 3 ER, L,
game losing HR to Thome

Home Opener vs. Yankees: Royals losing 4-1 in 7th.  IP, 3 K, strikes out
side in order

April 13 vs. Indians: Royals lead 4-0 in 8th.  IP, 0 H, 0 R

April 15 vs. Indians: Royals lead 2-1 in 7th. 1/3 IP, 2 H, BB, 3 ER, L, blows
lead

April 19 vs. Rangers: Game tied 5-5 in 9th.  0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, L, walk-off
HR to Young

 

 

He blows two leads and a tie:
1.1 IP, 7 H, BB, 7 ER, two game-losing HR

When the Royals are losing or winning big:
2 IP, BB, 0 H, 3 K, 0 R.

Interesting side note, the Royals would have swept all three series that
Farnsworth gagged away.  They could be 10-2 with 3 of 4 series sweeps.

 

Anybody can come in after a tough loss and hammer the
manager for a dumb move, but in this case, anybody who didn’t see this coming
needs to get fitted for some Kyle Farnsworth-esque rec specs.  Giving up devastating game-losing HR in big
games is what he does…that’s just Kyle being Kyle.

Don’t get me started on closers…

This started as a rant on how the closer is possibly the most
overvalued position in baseball. The definition of a save and the way
in which current closers are used has become a joke. They are often
saved for only specific situations when the game is not in doubt and
they merely finish off what the starter and middle relievers have
started. The idea that closers can be judged and ranked according to
their ability to accumulate saves is false.

Last year, Frankie Rodriguez racked up a single-season record 62
saves. He was widely considered the best closer in baseball and many
felt it wasn’t close. However, when you compare his stats to those of
fellow AL All-Star closer Joakim Soria of the Kansas City Royals you’ll
find something different. It’s clear that saves are not an accurate
measure of closer effectiveness, but more a measure of his team’s
ability to be leading going into the late innings and his ability to
keep from screwing it up.

The Angels played in a horrible division and won more games than
anyone, while the Royals finished 4th in the AL Central, thus K-Rod had
many more chances to rack up saves. Let’s look at the stats, give me a
minute…


W

L

ERA

G

S

OPPS

IP

H

R

ER

BB

K

K-Rod

2

3

2.24

76

62

69

68.1

54

21

17

34

77

Soria

2

3

1.60

63

42

45

67.1

39

13

12

19

66

Soria had a better ERA by .64 and only one less inning despite 13
fewer games, meaning he pitched longer per game and therefore provided
more value per appearance.

K-ROD AVERAGED 2.70 OUTS PER APPEARANCE. LESS THAN ONE INNING EACH
TIME HE CAME INTO A GAME. Soria averaged 3.2 outs per appearance, not
Gossagian, but substantial over a full season, particularly when
factoring in the other KC relievers who were largely horrible. Every
extra out Soria could get was HUGE in the scope of their overall
record.

Soria also blew only 3 of 45 save chances (OPPS) for a 6.23 BS% (blown saves/save chances) while K-Rod blew 7 of 69 chances for a 10.14 BS%. K-Rod blew 1 of 10 while the Mexecutioner blew only 1 of 15 chances.

Look at hits, and remember K-Rod managed only three more outs than Soria over the year.

K-Rod: 54 in 68.1 IP or 7.11 H/9 IP

Soria: 39 in 67.1 IP or 5.21 H/9 IP

The near-equality of innings means you can throw out any debate over sample sizes. The samples are the same!

BB

K-Rod: 4.48/9 IP

Soria: 2.54/9 IP

Since Soria was better in both H/IP and BB/IP this one’s obvious, but for the record:

WHIP

K-Rod: 1.29, very very tough

Soria: .86, Mexican tough

Batting Average Against

K-Rod: .216

Soria: .169

Slugging Percentage Against

K-Rod: .316

Soria: .255

K-Rod does get one category…

K-Rod: 10.14 K/9 IP

Soria: 8.82 K/ 9 IP

but remember all those walks?

K-Rod: 2.26 K/BB

Soria: 3.47 K/BB

Soria wins all but two major statistical categories, arguably the
two least important. Save is an arbitrary definition of holding a lead
after a certain point in a game, and strikeouts, though important,
aren’t as important as simply recording outs. Hitters were more
successful and had a higher percentage of extra base hits off of K-Rod
than they did off of Soria. The sample sizes are nearly identical, and
they both play in the American League with the DH and similar
opponents.

There is overwhelming statistical evidence that Soria was the more
effective reliever last year. Fewer hiters reached base either by hit
or walk, fewer hitters got extra base hits, fewer runners scored, his
ratio of K/BB was higher, he blew a lower percentage of save chances,
and he recorded more outs per appearance. We have every reason to
believe that had K-Rod and Soria switched places, Soria would be the
saves record holder. The only difference is that the record would
likely be 65 rather than 62.

I knew K-Rod (and his save record and saves in general and closers
overall) were overrated, but I can’t believe the total statistical
dominance of Soria over him. If saves can’t even tell us who’s the more
effective closer within one season, how can they possibly be used as an
indicator of reliever performance between decades or for Hall of Fame
conisderation?