"It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about nowadays saying things against one, behind one's back, that are absolutely and entirely true."-Oscar Wilde on the Buddy Bell haters.
Yesterday I realized that if you're a fan of Kansas City sports teams, this could very well be the worst month of your year. Not only are we at Royals Review currently being subjected to amazingly annoying six-game slide--what with avoiding a hundred losses one win away--but there's also the cherry on top in the form of Buddy Bell (or whatever Sith Master is writing out the line-up card by controlling Bell's brain. The force gives you power over weak minds, dontcha know) getting barely any playing time for the handful of interesting call-ups that the Royals brought into the fold at the beginning of the month. I mean, Justin Huber might not be a great hitter or even a good one at the major league level, but he must have peed in Bell's coffee on September 1st to get this little playing time on a 62-81 team. More on this later.
On the football side of it, any Chiefs fans here are being subjected to another year of the ever-entertaining-but-never-good Herm Edwards coaching the local football squad. I mean, the Texans? Maybe the Texans are better this year, yeah, but they're the Houston Texans. If Larry Johnson doesn't have some superstar mojo left over after carrying the ball 839 times last year, the Chiefs are going to be out of things right quick. Sure, Bell and Edwards have their good sides, but I can't say that either one is particularly good at his job (I love Edwards's quotes, but I can't get excited about him coaching a football team). You can agree with me or disagree with me on these two guys, but I'm taking big time consolation in the fact that the one who is screwing up with team I write about is going to be gone soon. Just nineteen more games before a new era begins.
Problem: "I Need More Thunderbolts!"
The Royals, if they are to make some noise next year, need to get more power production. It's not just a small defiency, it's been a glaring weakness of the boys in blue this season. Brown's batting average sunk, but his power is way down even if you give him a hypothetical BA boost. Teahen's lack of power is well-documented, and we're all hoping his shoulder is a hundred percent next year and that portends more power from him. DeJesus is fine in center, but he did not break out in the power department. Gathright is a nifty little player who does not hit home runs. Shane Costa is Shane Costa. Grudzielanek and German are good hitters for their roles, but neither is a middle of the order hitter obviously. Tony Pena Jr. does not believe in driving the ball, I guess. Mike Sweeney's looked like a shadow of his former self, unsurprisingly. Ross Gload is a great bench player/spot start but not a solution at any of the positions he plays. John Buck is is easily leading the team with dingers at 18, and no one's going to catch him.
Now, next year we can reasonably expect better power production from Alex "Smirky McSmirkerson" Gordon and a full season of Billy Ray Butler should do wonders for this offense, but no one else is a lock to improve. I'm onboard the "Teahen will slug .450" bandwagon, but no one else looks like they could improve. This means that will need more power or, if you will, more thunderbolts. And yes, that is a reference to Zeus. It's September, and I'm calling up my minor league references. Where there's a problem, there needs to be a solution. So let's see...
Solution: Sign Adam Dunn
Dunn is hitting .263/.381/.543 this season, with 36 home runs to his name. He's definitely one of the better potential FAs available, and if Butler could play some first base he'd be a great fit to play an outfield corner and DH some. The problem? Well for one, he'd be expensive. Another problem is that the consensus is that not even Krivsky will be dumb enough not to pick up Dunn's option for 2008.
Solution: Trade for Adam Dunn
Not only would this be counterproductive as we'd only get him for one year, but our relief pitchers are too good for Krivsky to want to acquire.
Solution: Kidnap Adam Dunn, disguise Shane Costa as him, send Costa to Cincy, and hope the Reds don't notice
It's really tempting, but it's a bit of a logistical nightmare.
Solution: "Hey! Don't we have some September call-ups?"
Amazingly enough, it's totally possible we could have part of the solution to the thunderbolt issue coming up from the minors! Surprising no one, Bell has ignored the September call-ups almost entirely. The artist known as Bell has also worked on amazing pieces such as the "Buck-LaRue platoon" and "Pinch Hitting Tona Pena for anyone." Honest to gosh, folks, I really don't think Bell's that bad of a bullpen managers and that's a big part of the job, but under his watch there have been some screwy things that I can't pass off as okay by saying "an average manager isn't that different from a great one." Bell seems to me to be neither great nor average, in fact.
Justin Huber at Omaha: .276/.336/.517 in 286 ABs
Well, whaddaya know? He missed a month with a hamstring pull, but still managed eightteen homers when he managed to get on the field. A .336 is nothing special (around average, in fact), but Huber's done better than that in the past (.350s last year in Omaha) and he slugged over .500 this season. Looking around the Royals roster, we have...um...uh...carry the...plus...we have zero players on this team that have slugged .500 this year. Maybe Huber isn't a starting solution but for heaven's sake WE ARE NEVER GOING TO KNOW UNLESS THEY PENCIL HIM INTO THE LINE-UP. Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projected Huber to hit .271/.348/.452 if the Royals gave him a shot, which would have had Huber tied for second on the team with Butler, right behind the studly John Buck. The guy can stand around in an outfield corner, play first, or DH. Are you telling me that we can't find a spot for him to play? Are we going to hurt Emil Brown's feelings? Is Ross Gload our new first baseman of the future? Is Mike Sweeney going to kill someone if we sit him for a game?
Craig Brazell at Omaha: .307/.337/.605
Everything I've said for Huber could go for Brazell as well, except he can't play the outfield, he's older, and has no history of better plate discipline than this. Still, 32 home runs in AAA suggest that perhaps Brazell's hada breakthrough of sorts. Marcus Thames, Carlos Pena, and Brady Clark are all examples of players who reached their prime late after being ignored or shunted to the minors, so maybe Brazell is one of those guys who is improving at AAA while no one notices. It's possible this is just a massive fluke, but it's also 32 home runs. 32 home runs. 32 home runs. One can only imagine the reception Brazell got when called up to a team whose lead slugger has 18...
Brazell: Hey guys, I'm Craig Brazell! I slugged .605 in AAA and hopefully I can contribute-
Buddy Bell: We're out of spots on the bench. Sit on the floor.
Brazell: Well, actually I was hoping to maybe get in the game and-
Bell: Hmm, need to pinch hit. Son, can you hit?
Brazell: Well, OPSed 942 at-
Bell: What? You're PMSing? Forget it. Pena!
Tony Pena Jr. leaps up, eager to please his manager and get his .276 OBP into the line-up.
Bell: Junior, you're pinch-hitting.
Pena: What? Oh. Sure coach!
Sprints towards the plate.
Justin Huber: Tony! Don't you want a bat?
Bell:No making fun of Pena, Huber! I'm sick of your attitude! Just for that, get in there and pinch run!
Huber: Um, okay.
Huber waves to family in the stands enthusiastically, as this is the first and last time he will be seen on the field this season.
Pena: Okay, a bat. A bat. A bat?
Brazell (sitting on the floor): Well, okay. I'll just stay here and twiddle my thumbs.
Bell: Is LaRue in the game already or can he hit next?
The Royals lose.
Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but I simply don't get why we can't give either of those guys some starts. Brazell's walk is the lone plate appearance between the two of them, and my Huber PAs guess of 29 is starting to look ridiculously high. This really is a bit ridiculous, considering how the Royals really are out of the play-off race and have nothing better to do than see where they stand for next year. Or, if you prefer an extended metaphor rather than blatant statements, I have a bunch of younger siblings, and as a result I still here god knows how many stupid stories about high school people being afraid to ask a potential boyfriend/girlfriend out. It always make me laugh, because the two answers are "yes" and "no." Either way, at least you know what to expect from then on. They date you, or they don't. The thing is, if no one ever asks the other out, that possible "yes" answer is never an option. It will "no" every single team. Logic dictates which way you should go on this one.
Huber and Brazell are the Royals' potential dates. If they are "asked out" or "played," they can answer "yes" by "producing" or "no" by "not producing." If they're never played, they'll never give them the option of dating Buddy Bell. No, wait, if they're never played, they'll never have a chance to produce and give us all a chance to see if they can be a part of next year's team. This is such a fundamental part of September that it's hard to believe even Bell doesn't get it.
The Jason LaRue Update!
Ahem. There. Is. No. Reason. To. Play. Jason. LaRue. Now that I have those sentence fragments over with, I have to say that the Buck/LaRue playing time divide annoys the hell out of me. Buck has proven this year he's an above average starter, and LaRue has proven his bat is dead. I can't say there's been any other Bell move since I started writing these article that has pissed me off so much, and I barely get to see LaRue's out-making thanks to my lack of Extra Innings.
Jason LaRue: .141/.236/.269 - -12.5 VORP
John Buck: .234/.323/.464 - 14.1 VORP
John Buck's EQA (BP's all-encompassing non-counting offensive stat) is .276. LaRue's is an astoundingly bad .172. And if you're like me or RR, you believe that Buck's sporadic playing time has hurt his batting average and thus his overall offensive output. We've been fed a steady diet of "neither guy is hitting well" all season, and it's been total bullshit most of the time. I, for one, will be happy to see LaRue leave at the end of the year because whoever replaces him may be bad (Paul Phillips, for example), but with any luck he won't be paid seven-figure salary to take a full win off the board with his hitting.
The Non-Obvious Stuff
I'll forgive you if you read the Buck-LaRue section and thought "you said that 9347 times this year," even if I'm still right. Earlier I said Bell's been pretty good at managing the bullpen, but I have to say there's a couple indications that Bell's playing with fire with some of the team's pitching assets.
This one is a little questionable, but Bannister is now up to 174 innings including his time with Omaha. That's 19.1 innings more than his previous career high. Bannister is twenty-six and has seemed to get better as the year's gone on, so perhaps he's just immune to the injruy nexus at this point. That said, he's out-VORPed Meche now for the best pitcher on the team, has a 3.27 ERA in the American League, walks no one, and comes off as a very intelligent pitcher (as addressed in a recent diary). Do you want to risk his future by pushing him in meaningless September games? With four or five more starts left, the Royals need to be careful with him. It wouldn't be a very nice parting gift from Buddy Bell to have Banny exhausted by the end of year: a pitcher with a 4.28 K-rate needs to be fresh, because there's not much more room for that figure to drop. If the Royals send Bannister to play winter ball or something, get ready for a rough 2008.
Fun fact: Bannister has been over 110 pitches three times in his first full season in the bigs, and over 100 ten times.
Maybe you don't see Peralta as all that valuable, but he's definitely been useful this year, posting a 3.76 ERA, a 18.6 VORP, and he's walked only 1.88 batters per nine innings while cutting down on his home run rate and keeping his k-rate around seven. All and all, that's a nice contributor to any bullpen, even if lefties do seem to solve him rather well.
So what's the problem? He's already up to 81.1 IP in 55 appearances. Now maybe he's one of those guys who can shrug off the hangover from pitching a lot of innings in relief, but a lot of relievers have trouble the year after a 90-100 innings workload, getting shelled in April while the organization and the fans wonder "what happened to this guy?" Peralta pitched 33 innings in the first two months, and his workload hasn't been cut down enough to mitigate pitching so often at the beginning of the year. The end result is that with nineteen games left, appearing in nine or ten of those games could easily get him up over ninety innings and, what with the way Bell has used him, possibly more. Don't say I didn't warn you if Peralta is ineffective early next year and/or scrags his arm. And don't say Bell has an excuse, he's got plenty of servicable relievers on this team. Riske has 64.1 IP, and Soria has 60.2 IP if you were wondering.
As if you couldn't see it coming, Meche is first on the Royals in innings and Pitcher Abuse Points. Meche is 20th in the league BP's PAP this year, and while you might think "well, there's nineteen starters above him and he's our number one, big deal," I suggest you look through the first page of the PAP list and find another guy who's had labrum surgery. Meche had never been above 186 innings pitched in a full season, and he looks like a lock to go over 200 this year, which just doesn't seem like a great risk to take on the surface of it. Then you get to the nature of the innings he's pitched: Meche has thrown more than 110 pitches (category three) in twelve starts, and been over a hundred pitches in twenty out of thirty starts. While more worrying about Banny's workload might be a little paranoid, I am very worried about the possible impact this could have on Meche next year. His injury history makes it even worse. Would it have to killed Buddy to limit Meche's workload a little here and there? This is a guy who we're invested in long-term for $44 million dollars after 2007, and we did not contend this year, so what the hell is the rationale for running a dog-tired Meche out there start after start? You guessed it: there isn't one. Meche's ERA after the break is 4.34, up from 3.54 in nineteen pre-break starts.
These are the three most glaring cases, and it's a little distressing that Meche and Bannister are two of them. I mean, Peralta is probably replaceable, and he's cheap. Bannister has been the best starter on the Royals by a narrow margin, and Gilgameche has beaten PECOTA projection by a run-and-a-half en route to paying off in his first year as a Royal. Those are two things you don't want to mess with, and if they look gassed next March or April, we can definitely say that Buddy Bell's lasting impact on the team is one of ineptitude.
Thanks to all who gave me suggestions for the last couple SB articles during the regular season, I will try to get in as many of your suggestions as possible. Spreadsheet Baseball will return next week, and, of course, comments/questions are welcome/encouraged for this week's article. Happy reading.