Last night was apparently one hell of a game to miss. I remember, while watching the Celtics-Pistons post-game, seeing the final score on the ESPN Bottomline and saying something to the effect of "that stinks." It looked like it had turned out to be a close slugfest, one that, given it went into extra innings, could have gone either way. It was only when "KC Greinke - 8.1 IP, 3 ER" scrolled across the bottom of the screen that I began to suspect that it had been a painful loss, and even then I really didn't know until I checked the box score this morning. ESPN, as everyone here knows, would prefer to show the Red Sox failing to hit Erik Bedard all night than show Twins-Royals highlights. However, I think that might be a good thing in this particular case. Anyhow, the "earned run" tag meant I had no idea exactly how much the Royals had been leading by going into the ninth. Of course, that Greinke was still in the game indicated that they had been leading, and so my first thought was that Soria had actually had a bit of a meltdown.
Of course, that's not the way it went. You all know as well as I know what happened in the ninth inning last night, with Ramon Ramirez getting singled out of the game and giving way to the now-thoroughly dejected Joel Peralta.
One thing that would not change this night, though, was the despair felt by Peralta -- not for himself, he said, but because he let his teammates down.
"I won't sleep tonight, for sure," he said.
Yes, that definitely sound like a pitcher who gave two home runs in the span of three betters to heavily contribute to what I have little doubt will be the Royals most memorable loss of the year. I should make it clear I'm not attempting to get everyone blaming manager Trey Hillman rather than Peralta by evoking pathos, as I find it hard to blame Hillman for Peralta not being able to get Craig Monroe out. Really, with Nunez now hurting, and with Soria having pitched two games in a row, the decision last night came down to Mahay, Peralta, Yabuta, or keeping Ramon Ramirez in the game. Ramirez wasn't pitching well, so it's easy to see why Hillman turned elsewhere. Yabuta has a 6.00 ERA with no good peripherals. Craig Monroe historically hits lefties better than righties, to the tune of more power and a better OBP. Ron Mahay is left-handed, so assuming Soria wasn't ready to go, Peralta was left as the best choice for a high leverage situation. He blew it, he knows, let's move on.
We've already discussed this game at length, anyway. I'm just pointing this out because I've been critical of Trey, and others here have been a lot more critical of our fearless leader, but I don't think he takes the fall for the ninth inning. You can, as loyal2sdad pointed out, make an argument that Hillman should have just pitched either Peralta or Ramirez through the whole inning. You can also wonder why Greinke was allowed to start the inning with such a high pitch count and a 5-run lead. But either way, it's speculation that really isn't an indictment of the moves that were really made. If we all want something to complain about in regard to Hillman, it's much more debatable whether Peralta should have remained in to pitch to Justin Morneau with Mahay on the roster. Or the Gload in the outfield thing.
But I didn't write this whole thing to bury Hillman anyway. I didn't write to praise him either, because this entire team is in a funk that you usually only see once a year. If you want the bare bones consolation, we will probably go the entire year without the Royals ever playing this badly for this long. Feel better? Yeah, me neither. Maybe I'll just shut up about last night and get to the stuff I really wanted to touch on.
Notes on the Red Sox-Royals Series
Thanks to the heroic intervention of the MLB Extra Innings package, very soon I'll have the opportunity to follow more KC games without having to enlist the highlight reels and gameday. However, the four game set between the Red Sox and the Royals allowed me for the first time this year to actually see more than one Royals game in a row. It was pretty cool despite the obviously disappointing results. And yes, they were disappointing. Those of you who have been on this blog for awhile are well aware of my "split loyalties," but I was really hoping that the series would be a split so both "my teams" could have their moments. Well, I suppose I don't feel that bad that the Red Sox kind of beat up the Royals now that the Royals are getting beat up by everyone, if that makes sense to anyone. Anyhow, I have other places to go in this article, so onto the stuff that I jotted down during the series:
- The improvements that Alex Gordon has made over last year were evident through the entire series, during which he was one of the few Royals offensive players who distinguished themselves. He looked more patient, more comfortable, and more disciplined than when I got to see him play last year.
- Gil Meche looked as if he was starting to get turned around, K'ing 9 over seven innings and taking the hard luck loss in the second game of the series. Say what you will about the opposing points of view in the field of pitch count general pitcher workload research, but I think that poor Meche was suffering from a 200-inning, high-pitch count hangover that seems to finally be clearing up. It's like that time where I drank Ice 101 during finals week and didn't begin to function until approximately 2 PM the next morning. My god, that stuff is evil. Thanks to my friend Buddy, who recommended taking more shots of it than were necessary.
- Joakim Soria - great man, or greatest man? Even though Soria only appeared in one game...and stuggled with his control...in the rain, I could still see the awesome stuff that he has. I was sitting next to a rather skeptical Red Sox fan during his outing, who made fun of me for saying that Soria had great control because Joakim walked two people in the rain. I had a good chuckle when Soria escaped the jam and then Mike Timlin struggled with his control and walked one in the rain on his way to creating his own save situation in the ninth. Funny stuff.
- Contrary to whenever I saw him in the "highlights" earlier in the year, Jose Guillen had his timing down and more closely resembled the decent power hitter he's been in the past. You know this, but the difference was clearly visible.
- Brett Tomko is not a victim of bad luck when it comes to his hittablility. After seeing his stuff, I don't think he's got enough to keep his BABIP at league average. I just bring this up because, other than his H/9, he looks like he is underperforming his peripheral numbers. After seeing how mediocre his stuff is, I don't think he's playing by the "normal" .290-.300 BABIP rule.
- Billy Butler is sitting too far back in his stance, and almost never seems to get his weight forward into his swings. I know I'm not a scout, but it's odd to see a man that muscular trying to fight off pitch after pitch. In any case, he's a data point against the pitching coach. He looked completely lost in the Sox-Royals series.
- Ross Gload is done. He doesn't look capable of hitting major league pitching. His numbers are terrible, and he's older than you think.
- Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez both looked impressive in their outings. It's hard to believe that Nunez has come full circle and become a very good reliever, but he has. Ramirez looks like a good find, as if you look at his line in 2006 he was quite good before getting hurt last year.
That's about all the relevant stuff that I had. I'm not asking for everyone to agree, just sharing my thoughts on that series as a fan who actually got to see his team play four days in a row for the first time in an obnoxious length of time. And I know that the team's play is a sore subject right now, so sorry to bring that up. If only the series hadn't been a four game set against the Sox...having split loyalties during a baseball series (when you live by your baseball, as I do) is somewhat akin to developing interest in more than one significant other at the same time. Like that time in freshmen year in high school when I liked one girl who went to the prom with some senior, and I liked this other girl that got stolen by a smooth-talking, slick-fielding latino shortstop. I would just like to let both girls know that I am quite successful without them, so ha.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Well, technically they do. Despite our ridiculous cold streak, we're actually outperforming our pythagorean record by one game. What does this mean? That we're a lock to set the record for the most losses in a row in any sport. Look out, Washington Generals, Philadelphia Phillies, Vincent Spadea, and Tampa Bay Buccaneeers! Here we come.
Power by Mountain Dew: Thirst Quencer Because Some Fool Bought It Again And It's The Only Damn Thing In The Fridge That Isn't Cranberry Juice, on to to how your 2008 Kansas City Royals offense has failed this year:
It's been a really odd mix for the Royals at the keystone combo, as Hillman has mixed Mark Grudzielanek, Tony Pena Jr., Esteban German, and Alberto Callaspo together for curious "past, present, and future" infield.
2B Mark Grudzielanek - .290/.349/.361 (95 OPS+), .255 EQA, 4.9 VORP
Grudz would have to represent the "past" of the group, though it's still not clear that his bat is actually past its prime. Still solid defensively if nothing spectacular, at least according to the Hardball Times's Revised Zone Rating, Grudzielanek has been up over .330 with his batting average. While that's not a trick anyone should count on an aging second basemen to continue to pull, Grudzielanek continues to be an average-to-good option at second. Still, if the Royals get a good offer in the summer, he should be dealt. Second base is one of the few positions where the Royals have a couple viable candidates who could step in if the current starter is traded. If there's a red flag here, it's that Grudzielanek's Isolated Power (SLG - BA) is below one hundred, and that may suggest a decline is finally on its way. He's yet to homer this year.
SS Tony Pena Jr. - .161/.180/.200 (4 OPS+), .104 EQA, -15.9 VORP
Not since Alex Gordon started last year 5-for-forever can I remember writing out such an ugly batting line. Well, hold on, there's Ryan Shealy too. Anyhow, Tony Pena Jr. rates by RZR as being in the middle of the pack this year defensively, primarily, it would seem, because of some highly visible errors on relatively routine plays. The reality is that he's still a fine defensive shortstop, and that by the end of the year he'd probably rate higher if he weren't the worst starter in MLB when it comes to the bat. Pena has had his chance, he has the dreaded vote of confidence from Hillman, and he's on his way out. For now, he's the present...a stopgap that has stopped working. He could, as numerous people have mentioned, be a fine glove-first utility infielder. He's just not a starter.
UTIL Esteban German - .132/.209/.132 (-4 OPS+), .128 EQA, -5.6 VORP
Given that German has been a supersub in the infield based on good OBPs and decent middle-infielder power in the past, he really hasn't done anything useful this season. The tough thing here is that what this is is a 5-for-38 slump, but that can be the end for a utility infielder. However, the Royals are familar with Estey's previously solid body of work so he probably has more leeway than most players in his situation. The thing is, there aren't enough at-bats for German to really turn it around in Kansas City this year, and his trade value is nerfed. And yes, his OPS+ is worse than Pena's. On a per PA basis, though, he has "surged" 24 EQA points ahead of a guy who could never hit in the first place. Count the lack of quality production off the bench from German as yet another thing contributing to the Royals absymal offense.
UTIL Alberto Callaspo - .278/.350/.319 (85 OPS+), .237 EQA, 0.6 VORP
It's difficult for many veteran players to thrive in a utility role, but it seems like younger players have a particularly hard time dealing with infrequent at-bats. That might help explain Callaspo's neat reverse slash trick - his OBP is higher than his SLG - and that .350 OBP is still a positive. When the Royals finally ditch Pena, I'm of the opinion that Callaspo should take his fielding lumps at SS so that he can as many PAs as possible and play his way into the Royals future plans. He has a track record of decent doubles power and plate discipline in the minors, and without his rough debut with Arizona--which probably means nothing long term--he might be thought of as a better prospect.
On the plus side, one side of the infield has Alex Gordon. That's all the positives we can really take out of three positions that are supposed to produce good slugging averages. Where have you gone, Ryan Shealy?
3B Alex Gordon - .289/.369/.431 (118 OPS+), .277 EQA, 9.5 VORP
He's not hitting for as much power as we'd like, but after his rough first months and given that he only slugged .411 last year, it's a nice line to see. Gordon's primary gains have manifested in batting average, though, as his IsoP remains about the same as last year. However, his nice OBP now has more to do with taking more walks than last year...as opposed to in 2007 when he kept getting plunked.
1B/DH Billy Butler - .263/.330/.339 (84 OPS+), .242 EQA, -0.1 VORP
Butler should not be a replacement level hitter, and yet here he is. Having gone from last year's List of Undeniable Positives to someone who is having one heckuva time trying to get an extra base hit. As I've mentioned before, Butler's stance, approach, and swing all appear off. If there's any bigger indication the Barnett is doing his job very well, I've yet to see it. This is the kind of slump that coaches get credit for breaking. At least his plate discipline remains relatively intact. However, a .339 SLG from your primary DH will kill you faster than drinking Drano. Did I mention that he apparently still can't play defense?
1B, "RF" Ross Gload - .243/.288/.279 (56 OPS+), .196 EQA, -6.7
About the only nice thing I have to say about Gload's extension is that it was hard to see Gload falling apart this badly...this quickly. Unless, of course, you recognize that johnny-come-lately journeymen don't necessarily stay later than people who break in on a more standard career path. Oh, wait...I seem to have preached that as if it will make me money. Anyway, I'm not here to mumble "I told you so, Dayton" but I am here to say that Gload, at age 32, has bat speed to match his foot speed. Was this that hard to see coming? Average/below average player? Check. Wrong end of defensive spectrum? Check. Batting average driven offense? Check. What's odd is how Moore realized that Emil Brown was officially in decline, and yet thought Ross Gload had three more years in him.
The outfield was terrible to start the year, with a no-hit Joey Gathright subbing in center for an injured David DeJesus, and Jose Guillen struggling to hit his--apparently considerable in April--weight. Mark Teahen was the one outfielder who started out hitting well, and so it's rather fitting that he's fallen off as the other outfield options have warmed up. Right now, the Royals are getting close to average production out of left and center field since Guillen is out of his slump. Teahen and Gathright have done very little to help the cause, however, despite a recent hot streak by the Gator. The overall package is still well below what the team expected out two power positions.
Jose Guillen - .246/.257/.427 (89 OPS+), .239 EQA, 0.3 VORP
Guillen's power is right in line with last year, so it's his batting average and plate discipline that are out of whack. Not a guy with a particularly slow bat, you would expect that batting average to come up. It's more of a matter of if Jome Run Jose--seriously, can someone help me get this nickname going? Or is it just too lame?--can start working the count, even up to the low standards he's set in the past. Jose Guillen is not a walk-drawing machine, but he walked 41 times last year in ~650 PAs. This year, he's walked 7 times in over 200 PAs, and he's striking out more than usual. Here's hoping that April represented a down month, and not the beginning of a decline. For now, he's hit enough recently that the safer bet is on the former. His arm is apparently still good, so that's a positive too.
David DeJesus - .281/.340/.370 (94 OPS+), .248 EQA, 0.9 VORP
DeJesus is not that exciting of a player, and he is officially in his decline phase as he seems to be settling in as a player who might aspire to a .400 slugging percentage. Given that he still keeps his batting average up, plays better defense than Gathright in CF (RZR has them at 927 and 909 respectively), and isn't making a lot of money, he's firmly in the "not the problem" territory so long as he remains in center. He also started the year hurt and has had less opportunity to amass VORP than most of the other regulars.
The thing is, DeJesus is not so good that I wouldn't bet on him being around much after his 30th birthday. The Royals may be better off trading him before his contract is up, even though it's hard to say who would replace him looking at the farm system right now. Andruw Jones, anyone? (This is not a serious suggestion)
One strike against Hillman has been the way he's deigned to give DDJ "days off," most recently moving DDJ to right or left and putting in Joey Gathright in center. According to the RZR stats, this makes our defense worse in two outfield positions and highlights the fact that DDJ's offense is only acceptable if he is, in fact, a centerfielder. Then, there's also the problem that...
Joey Gathright - .269/.310/.299 (68 OPS+), .232 EQA, 0.5 VORP
...cannot hit at any appreciable level. No one who has had to battle his whole career to slug .300 is someone that you should work to get into the line-up, and yet Gathright has over 140 PAs so far this year. His defense has improved in center to the point where he's fine as a back-up outfielder, which is all he'll ever be. When he posted a .371 OBP last year, it was in about half the PT a regular gets and because of a .300 BA he's never been able to maintain. Now that his batting average has regressed to the mean and he's made progess in any other capacity (he's 27), hopefully we're out of the "Gathright is a potential starter" phase.
Mark Teahen - .251/.338/.361 (91 OPS+), .253 EQA, 0.1 VORP
You know the story here. Slugged well before shoulder surgery. Hasn't since. Plays good defense at corner positions. Can't--apparently--hit well enough to be a net gain.
I was hoping to add more about the players in Omaha (not to mention the catchers on this team) that people have been clamoring for, but that will have to wait for another post because I have been yanked out the door to substitute for some stupid lifeguard who should have called me earlier.
Anyway, questions/comments are welcomed/encouraged, happy reading. Or...you know, marginally less sad reading than usual. Or something.