Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Nine things we know about the Royals and one we wish we didn't

Twenty games into the season seems like a good time to analyze what has already transpired. They are 10-10 and just a game out of first place. While it's still early I think we can see trends developing, for better or worse.

The nine things we know:
9. Mike Jacobs power is legit but so is his defensive reputation.

8. Coco Crisp does know how to get on base.

7. Mark Teahen thinks it's 2006.

6. John Buck thinks it's 2007.

5. The rotation is the best in the division.

4. Alberto Callaspo is a hitting machine.

3. Jamey Wright has been huge in the pen.

2. They need Alex Gordon's bat in the lineup.

1. Zack Greinke is not God but he's not exactly a mere mortal either.

And the one we wish we didn't:

1. Kyle Farnsworth, he's not good.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A little more Davies

So my last post I kind of hung my hat on Davies H/9 and K/9 but really didn't go to any more detail. I know he has improved tremendously in those areas this year but I became curious about two thing: 1) what where his minor league numbers? and 2)  how many people last season gave up less than 8 H/9 and while registering more than 8.5 K/9?

Year WHIP H/9 K/9
Minors 1.22 7.7 8.5
'05-'08 1.64 10.4 6.4
2009 1.29 7.9 8.6

I guess since the 2009 sample size is so small (24 innings) we don't know yet if it is sustainable but they do mirror his minor league numbers, which makes me believe that if in fact he has figured things out then he certainly can keep his H/9 and K/9 right where they are at. And though he has been around a while he still only just 25 so that is another point in his favor.

So how many pitchers last season gave up less than 8 H/9 while striking out more than 8.5 per 9? Four.
Edison Volquez
Jake Peavy
Tim Lincecum
Scott Kazmir

Ten players are on pace to do it this year (again, sample size) led by Johan Santana and Zack Greinke.
Speaking of Zack, he is awesome at interviews:
“So it’s a mistake. They’ll probably sell their least amount of magazines in a long time — except when NASCAR was on the cover.”

I like NASCAR but still find this hilarious. After all he has been through I doubt the SI jinx is going to get him.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Still a Davies believer

I'm still on the bandwagon, despite his ERA being 6.88 his last three starts. Davies had his proverbial breakthrough season last year when he went 9-7 with a 4.06 ERA and 105 ERA+. Though this year he at 4.88 and 98 (small sample size alert) he has improved dramatically in other areas.

Year WHIP H/9 K/9
2008 1.45 9.6 5.7
2009 1.29 7.9 8.6

Simply put he is allowing less base runners and striking more people out. That usually translates into being an above average starter, which I believe Davies has become. I thought before the season started that he would put up an ERA between 4.00 and 4.50 but if he keeps his H/9 and K/9 where they're at now I think he could end with it below 4. I'll let other more stat inclined bloggers dig deeper into other areas not that I don't want to, ok that's exactly it, I don't want to.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Notes from Wilmington

 The following post was written by Jason Kaul, a Wilmington Blue Rocks season ticket holder. He has offered to provide periodic updates about his experiences this year.
I wanted to let you all know that I was able to catch 2 of the 3 games against the Hillcats (Pirates Advanced A) this weekend, and it was VERY enjoyable!

Since I have season tickets, I was able to get into the park before the gates "officially" opened.  When I arrived opening day, the Hillcats were taking BP.  It gave me a chance to see the Pirates top prospect, and second overall pick in the '08 draft, Pedro Alvarez (I got a cahnce to meet him, and his family a couple days later... But more on that in a bit).  Simply put... the Rocks couldn't keep him off base all weekend long.  My guess is he'll actually get a call up to the big club in September... But I could be wrong.

As far as the Rocks go... They are a fun team to watch.  They play my kinda baseball (keeping in mind, I'm a Cardinal fan from the "Whitey Ball" era).  D-Rob, Li'l Papi (Adrian Ortiz), and Paulo Orlando are fun to watch on the basepaths. Moose and Johnny G Have been providing some nice pop, and new manager Brian Rupp really seems to know how to handle the team well.

The Rocks & Hillcats split the games that I saw, but the rocks won the series, taking 2 out of the 3 (good enough to be tied with the Hillcats for first in the Carolina League).

I got a chance to meet Johnny G, and got his autograph.  I'll have some for each one of you as the season progresses... I just didn't want to hit him up for several autographs all at once.  I've got a large lot of Moose's cards coming sometime this week.  I'll approach him for some autos when I get them. 

I also got a chance to talk with Brian Rupp for a minute.  I think he was a bit surprised that there was a Cardinal fan in the heart of Phillies country.  I offered to give him a couple of cards from his playing days, but he said he already had them all.  Instead, I just had him sign them for the kids that were close by.  I'm not 100% certain, but I believe my cousin played High School/American Legion ball with him back in the day... I'll have to ask my cousin to see if I'm right (small world, huh?).

I've got some good pictures (couple good ones of Moose, a nice panoramic of the stadium, and I think I got the winning run coming across the plate in extra innings from Sunday).  I'll be getting them developed later this week (yeah, I'm still using film).  When I get them developed and scanned, I'll send them your way.

Finally, as I had previously mentioned, I got a chance to meet Pedro on Friday (he signed a card for me, and one for a good buddy of mine who is AN INTENSE Pirates fan).  I also waited near the bus Sunday afternoon.  While there I noticed a car with New York Plates, and a family wearing Pirates gear standing nearby (the younger girl looked suspiciously identical to Mr. Alvarez).  So, I struck up a conversation.  Turns out it was his Mom, Dad, and Sister visiting from NY.  Nice folks.  I got a picture with Pedro just as he was about to get on the bus.  Good kid, no ego (yet).  My guess is he won't be on the team when they come back to town in June... So I'm glad I got a chance to wish him luck.

Thanks again to all of you for the great blog.  I'll likely be checking in after each series.  Next up... Old School Rap Night on Monday against the Salem Red Sox (formerly the Avalanche, and formerly affiliated with the Astros).  Hate to tell you guys, but I'm a Sox fan (not quite as much as I am a Cardinal fan... but close), so I'll likely wear my Red Sox Jersey to the game one of the nights.

Good luck to you all... and GO ROCKS!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Soria sighting

Apparently he was in Cleveland the whole time.

What a Let Down!

The man has a 2.25 ERA. The man has a 7:1 K:BB. So the natural question is obvious: What is wrong with Joakim Soria?

Usage, usage, usage...

Is it fair to consider a game lost by three runs or less a close game? I'm going to try to divide up a couple of games into several different categories to determine various game types that can be considered a close game. The games will have to be decided in the sixth inning or later, therefore certain games that are decided by 3 runs or less wouldn't count because a bullpen ace in the third inning isn't reasonable (not that it shouldn't be done or that it has never been done) I also went with the sixth inning because a starter SHOULD be able to get you into the sixth (Sidenote: I once read a quote that 90 pitches should get you into the seventh inning. I believe it was Mike Arbuckle that said that, but no promises.)

I'm going to play a game of cherry-picking because it's really going to illustrate my point. The time that we really need a bullpen ace, which is much more important than a closer because they are not synonymns and games are often lost before the ninth frame, is when the team is at its very worst yet somehow is close in a game. The most obvious examples from Soria's 2008 are May and August.

In 27 August 2008 games, the Royals won seven of them. Joakim Soria pitched in seven games (in an entire month!) and was the final reliever in five of them. He managed 8.0 innings pitched and had a 4.5 ERA, 1 loss, 3 saves and 1 blown save. The loss and blown save and Soria's only HRA of the month were all in the same game, which was at Jacobs Field. In the other six games, he was Typical Soria. Out of 20 August losses:

1 was lost by the starter against the lower half (6-9) in the sixth inning (example)
1 was lost by the starter against the top half in the sixth inning
1 was lost by the starter against the lower half in the eighth inning
1 was lost by Fulchino in extra innings against the lower half (with losing months, this is a must win)
1 was lost by the man himself against the top half in the eighth
1 was lost by R. Ramirez in the eighth inning against the top half
1 was tied in the sixth off the starter (top half) and lost by Ramirez in the eighth against the top half

That's seven close games, six of them lost by pitchers inferior to Joakim Soria.

In May of 2008, the Royals decided to treat their fans to another extended losing streak, this one "only" 12 games. There were seven losses decided by three runs or less and only 2 of them featured Soria pitching. Two of these 12 games were decided in extra innings on back to back nights against a team that was 1.5 games out of first place!! Manager Trey Hillman was waiting for his offense to get a lead so he could in turn get Soria the save. Playing not to lose and playing to win are not the same thing. The first game was lost by Nunez, the second by Peralta.

Getting back to the format, the Royals played a total of 29 May games and lost 19 of them, 12 of them in a row. Soria pitched in 11 games and had an ERA of 2.19 with six saves and one home run allowed. His worst game was in Miami where he earned the save in the 6-5 win and gave up two ER to the one and tw0 hitters and then struck out the three and four hitters. The game didn't really get tense until after Soria made a mistake but it was a save situation when he got in the game. And that's the problem with save situations. They're most often not times when the game is on the line. It wasn't truly on the line until the relief ace gave up his first two runs of the season!

1 was lost by the starter against the top half in the sixth inning
1 was lost by the starter and Peralta against the lower half in the sixth inning (each P gave up a run)
1 was lost by the starter and Gobble against the lower half in sixth inning (9 batters batted)
1 was lost by Nunez in extra innings against the upper half
1 was lost by Peralta in extra innings against the heart of the order
1 was lost by the starter against the lower half

That is a grand total of 13 close games in two months fitting the above parameters. If the Royals go 6-6 in these games (excluding the game Soria faltered), they finish their season at 81-81. And this is a look at only a third of a season long method. If the relief ace is managed differently, is it so outlandish to suggest that maybe last year's Royals would have been even better than 81-81?

There are some obvious flaws when identifying the relief pitcher losing the game but not the starter losing the game. Obviously, losing a game in the sixth with Meche/Greinke pitching is a lot better than losing a game in the sixth with Bannister/Tomko pitching because going with the former means you're less likely to give up the runs, so it's not necessarily a wrong decision. Also, what isn't incorporated into this data is how much rest Soria had leading up to these thirteen games, which is important especially in the case of the Boston and Baltimore series that had several games that were close. Identifying the reliever shows the methods the manager uses in utilizing his bullpen. There should be no game ever on the line with pitchers like Fulchino and Peralta and Tomko and now Farnsworth in the game.

Games are not strictly won or lost in the ninth inning. When you have an offense that collectively hits .269/.320/.397, you cannot let a game get away in the 5-8th innings simply because your best pitcher wouldn't be able to get a save in those situations. The oddest thing that comes to my mind now is that a lot of people that back the "9th inning is for the closer" mantra are often the people who abhorr a stat-based account of the game. When looking at the entire Royals dynamic, where you have 2 good starters, one starter coming into his own and two cringe-worthy starters added to a below average line-up and a strong bullpen with several good options, it becomes even more important to use your best reliever in this situation because you can back him up if you need your best for innings 6 and 7. I wrote about the ideal usage situation from my point of view a few days ago on Royalboard.

In one-third of the season, the Royals completely blew away any faint chance they had to have a really good season by going 17-39, which is a .304 winning percentage. When the team was in its most dire need, it pitched its greatest relief pitcher in at least a decade a grand total of 18 times for 20.1 innings. Please, please re-read that sentence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Farnsworth conspiracy and a Bannister tie-in

How do you get fans to clamor for the jersey of a guy who is 0-3 with an 18.90 ERA only two weeks into the season? Easy, you just give him the number 40 during the season you are celebrating your 40th anniversary. I suppose for the 20,000 fans lucky enough to get one they can take it to a print shop and have the name of a former player with that number put on such as Steve Busby or Bud Black. Or even better they can get WORTHLESS added instead. It was bad enough to throw over nine million dollars at him and then worse to actually trust him to pitch in close games but this is just an insult to Royals fans intelligence. OK that may be a bit much I guess but still wouldn't it have made sense to leave that number vacant for 2009? Or is it possible that Farnsworth took less money so he could have #40? I hope not but you have to admit it's all just just really bizarre. I doubt there will be the demand for the jersey as there was for Billy Butler's last season when the Royals put on a clinic on how not to run a promotional jersey night. I was there, I went home empty handed, yes I'm still bitter.

Hat tip to Ross Martin (Asst Sports Editor, St. Joseph News Press) for making the connection I apparently missed. Ross also offered the Royals promotion department an idea I feel that is worthy enough to be passed along here. And it begs the question, Albie Lopez anyone?

The only question left now is which was worse, Tony Pena, Jr. bobblehead day, or Kyle "The Gas Can" Farnsworth jersey day? Maybe they should start a Hall of Fame for crappy relievers who couldn't get anyone out and stick their numbers on "The Party Deck."

Brian Bannister (who wore #40 in 2007, see what I did there?) will get the Wednesday night start due to Doug Waechter's trip to the DL. This will keep Ramirez in the bullpen (for now) so that's good news. I have mixed feelings about this because I do want Bannister to succeed but at the same time I'm a Hochevar guy. Hoch is scheduled to pitch Saturday and I would rather they have waited until then to use a fifth starter again. He'll be up soon enough I suppose when one of Bannister or Ponson implode. Plus there's the whole delaying arbitration and free agency but we aren't supposed to talk about that.
But given the choice between Bannister and HoRam I'll take Bannister every time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

And the Royals lose another one because Hillman is still clueless....

For crying out loud everybody saw this coming. This is now the third loss you can lay at the feet of Hillman because he hasn't the slightest idea how to use his bullpen. He is the only person on the planet who would rather Jamey Wright pitch with the tying run in scoring position over Soria. He is the only person on the planet who would pitch Farnsworth in a close game, not coincidently KC has lost all THREE games he has pitched with the game on the line. He is the only person on the planet that doesn't realize that Juan Cruz is their second best reliever and should always pitch the 8th inning when KC has a small lead. He is the only person on the planet that doesn't know it's ok to let Soria get four outs. And why take Cruz out when Hamilton was up? Rightys have owned him this series, I swear does Hillman even watch the games?

KC should be 10-2 but instead are sitting  at 7-5 all because of Trey Hillman. Cruz 8th, Soria 9th - it's not that hard to figure out. I predicted KC would win the division but now I'm not sure Hillman will let them.

Vintage Zack!!!!

I think we can dispense with the Bret Saberhagen and David Cone comparisons because Zack Greinke has arrived. 34 scoreless innings dating back to last year and now sporting a nifty 3-0 0.00 line with 26 strikeouts in 20 innings this season. Last night's gem only took him 111 pitches which can be partially attributed to the Rangers swinging at anything and everything. What is amazing about Greinke this year is that when he needs a strikeout he gets a strikeout and when Butler doubled home Crisp (who reached via a walk again, that's 11 in 11 games) I was fairly confident that one run lead would hold up. Olivo later homered (about time he used that wooden thing in his hands) to give Greinke a more than enough two run lead.

And as much as I mock Trey I do have to give him some props for letting Greinke go the distance. I'm sure somewhere somebody was screaming about his pitch count and how Soria was fresh but you know what sometimes you got to let a guy finish his masterpiece. It actually would have been logical for Trey to take Greinke out when the tying run came to the plate and I would have understood it but he did the right thing by leaving him in there. For that reason alone I will ignore the fact that Bloomquist started in rightfield instead of Maier.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Offensive explosion

I mentioned in my last post the common theory that good pitching beats good hitting and that is what played out last night as Gil Meche tossed six shutout innings. Texas came in averaging nearly eight runs a game and were held to only three (all of which came when the game was no longer in doubt) that came off Waechter and HoRam (more on him later), Juan Cruz and Joakim Soria they are not.

But there is also the matter of bad hitting beating bad pitching, KC entered the game averaging 3.44 runs a game and hung a dozen on the Rangers pitching staff (which came into the game with a 6.49 ERA). The twelve runs currently represent 28% of their season total, which speaks to how bad their offense was and how bad Texas pitching is. Their team OPS+ went from 75 to 93 - nothing heals an ailing offense like Rangers pitching.

Coco Crisp (.235/.409/.647) and Mike Jacobs (.290/.371/.710) continue to impress me. It is encouraging to see Crisp taking his leadoff duties so seriously, ten walks in ten games, yeah I'll take that. The batting average will go up so it may be possible for him to sustain that OBP when his walk rate decreases (and it will, he's not going to walk 162 times). Jacobs has big time power and Balboni's team record of 36 home runs is in grave and immediate danger. I really don't care if Jacobs strikes out 150 times as long as he keeps his OBP north of .325 and keeps hitting bombs.

John Buck and Miguel Olivo both have 21 PA' on the season and the differences couldn't be more glaring. Buck (1.476 OPS) is hitting over his head while Olivo (.333 OPS, 13 K's) is swinging at pitches over his head. The decision to bring back Olivo was a bad one but to anoint him the starter was even worse.

The Royals are going to miss Gordon but one good thing that will result is they are finally forced into seeing what they have in Callaspo. I covered this in a little more detail at Baseball Digest.

It was encouraging to HoRam give up three hits and a run in his inning of work last night, that marked his second relief appearance in which he has struggled. He was signed in the offseason and given 1.8 million dollars due to his 24 innings of relief with KC last season so if he struggles in that role this year they may be less apt to return him to the rotation when the schedule calls for a fifth starter. Here's hoping  they do the right thing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Royals/Rangers, opposites collide

Royals 5-4 3.26/146 .216/.297/.373/75
Rangers 4-5 6.49/75 .291/.361/.556/134

Well how is that for polar opposites?  The Royals can pitch but can't hit while the Rangers can hit but can't pitch. This should be an interesting series for both teams. Ian Kinsler has more RBI's (13) than Jacobs/Aviles/Gordon/Butler have combined (12). Kris Benson has given up more runs than Meche/Greinke/Davies combined, so has Vicente Padilla.

If the common held theory of good pitching beats good hitting holds then KC should do pretty well this series and it doesn't hurt that they are running their top three starters out there. Meche starts things off tonight against lefty Matt Harrison, who will probably cause KC's predominantly left handed lineup problems. I kind of expect a low scoring least until Farnsworth enters a game.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gordon DL'd

Well this isn't good. At least we know what it takes for them to get another outfielder in KC, hip surgery for the starting third baseman. I somehow wouldn't have been surprised had they called up a middle infielder. Gordon's injury would be a bigger deal if he weren't batting .095/.269/.238/36. Presumably Teahen will play third and Mitch Maier will take over right field duties until Guillen comes back.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Trey lets the Tribe escape KC with a win

Bizarre. That's the only word I can think of to describe Trey Hillman's handling of the bullpen. Today was the second time this year that he has entrusted Kyle Farnsworth in a critical spot and for the second time Farnsworth let him down. Note to Trey; Farnsworth shouldn't be pitching in close or tied games. I thought he learned his lesson on opening day but I have a feeling this is going to be year long problem. He then almost made things worse by bringing in Horacio Ramirez to pitch the 9th with KC down by a run. Is that not the very definition of waving the white flag? No damage was done thanks to Robinson Tejeda bailing HoRam and Trey out.

We witnessed this sort of thing constantly last year, it's as if he is bound and determined to make the wrong decisions just to prove what an outside the box thinker he is. It is beyond frustrating. And his bullpen mismanagement overshadowed a pretty good start by Sidney Ponson - just two earned runs in six innings. I don't know if Ponson has rolled the calendar back to 2003 but whatever he's doing it is working. He put KC in a position to win today and Trey blew it. My feeling is that when Ponson pitches like this you need to do everything you can to win because at some point Ponson is going to remember that it's 2009 and he's not this good.

Everybody's favorite offseason punching bags Crisp and Jacobs have combined for three home runs and eleven walks. Boy wonders Butler and Gordon are at one and six. I think its actually promising for KC to be 5-4 with the way Butler/Gordon have struggled because when they start hitting, and that's when not if, the offense will improve dramatically.

Off day tomorrow which means Farnsworth will be rested and ready to go Friday.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I give it an A (for awesome)

Here are a few of the pics I took of the K, it looks fantastic. 
Facebook users can click here to see all of them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going to check out the K tonight (weather permitting)

I'll get my first look at the renovated K tonight and hope to get plenty of great pics. I'll also be twittering during the game my innermost thoughts and feelings lineup rants and bullpen mismanagement thoughts, or maybe not. It's possible Trey will surprise me. Any thing's possible.
Plain Dealer reporter Dennis Manoloff answered some questions for us that AL Central fans have been wondering about.

1. Is Hafner back?

I wouldn't say so yet, but the early regular-season returns are encouraging for Tribe fans. His homer Sunday against the Blue Jays was a flashback to his days as Pronk. It showed the slimmed-down physique can still drive the ball 400-plus. The key, as with most hitters, is bat speed. It clearly was not up to snuff the past couple of years. The right shoulder, operated on in the offseason by the great Dr. James Andrews, no doubt had a lot to do with it.

2. Can the Indians really depend on Pavano and Wood?

Pavano -- no. I think Pavano's best days are behind him, even if he's healthy. He's certainly not a No. 3.
Wood -- probably. Wood was lights-out in the ninth Sunday (three K's on 13 pitches). I've always liked Wood. I realize his injury history could fill a few volumes, and the Indians probably will have to confront it at some point, but he was worth the risk. He also brings a swagger this club needs.

3. Would the lineup be more productive with Sizemore batting third?

Not necessarily. No. 1, the Indians don't really have a replacement. Some have mentioned Asdrubal Cabrera, but he's got work to do to become a legit ML hitter. No. 2, Sizemore's BA is not what you'd like but his OBP is. Combine it with his SLG and speed, and he's a dynamic presence at the top. I like the pressure he puts on the opposition out of the gate.

A special thanks to Dennis for taking the time. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not real surprising

HoRam versus CC, yeah that went about the way you thought it would. So far this series the Yanks have started two of the best pitchers of the last ten years while KC started two of the worst, not real surprising that the evil empire has taken the first two games.

HoRam continued his spring magic by giving up eight hits and 6 runs in less than five innings of work. Ponson shocked me and pitched reasonably well but Ramirez delivered what I think will be a typical performance. Tejeda and Waechter came in and pitched 4.2 innings of 1-hit relief. Tejeda was especially impressive striking out six. Personally I'd rather see him in the #5 slot in the rotation but since he's not left handed.........

The offense continues to struggle - eight runs in five games now, ugly. Trey did change the lineup up a bit but still Bloomquist started in right field. You know you have a messed up roster when your starting second baseman is also your fourth outfielder and backup third baseman. Why are TPJ and Brayan Pena on this team? Wouldn't Lubanski/Maier and Shealy be of better use off the bench? Or am I just oversimplifying things? These are the questions I'd like DM to answer.

It should be noted that KC has faced four really good lefties in their five games and while they may have handled them last year the '09 team will struggle against southpaws. They finally face a right hander today but unfortunately he is real good - the stars have aligned for Joba to pitch the game of his life. Hopefully Meche can keep them in it but he is going to have to pitch a shutout for the Royals to win.

I'll be so glad when the Yankees leave town.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Home opener thoughts

Well after all the outrage Ponson turned in a solid effort. Defense let him down a couple times or it would have been better (but at the same time he's Sidney Ponson so it also could have been worse, much worse). Four runs in six innings isn't great but he kept them in the game, which is all about we can expect from him. And for anyone who will take that line every game just keep in mind that ERA comes out to 6.00 - which would be almost a run higher than the 5.04 he had last season.

The offensive woes followed them from Chicago and Trey didn't help any with the lineup he tossed out there. He made the curious decision to bat DDJ, Teahen, and Gordon in the 3,4,5 spots against lefty Andy Pettite. Yes the same Pettite that held LHB's to a .203/.241/.286 line last season. Predictably the trio went a combined 1/12 with four strikeouts. The offense is in a funk and putting out lineups that ignore reality is counterproductive to winning.

DM's choice to start the season without a true fourth outfielder has backfired already. The starting 2nd baseman (Teahen) is forced to play outfield to cover for the DL-bound Jose Guillen. I'd like to see TPJ released and Chris Lubanski brought up to play everyday. He offers more upside than Maier (who probably gets the promotion) and has some power, something this team desperately needs. And let's face it he's a 1st round draft pick so it's time to see what he can do in Kansas City.

Ponson on my mind

The rematch of the 1980 LCS begins today with Sidney Ponson making his Royals debut in the newly renovated K. Mark Feinsand has a higher opinion than I do of Sir Sidney and agreed to answer a few Royals/Yankees questions. Feinsand has covered the Yankees for nine years, the last three with the NY Daily News. You can read more of his writing here.

How excited are you that the Yankees will get to face Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez in the three game series?

I certainly sense your sarcasm here, but I happen to like Ponson a lot. He's not a frontline starter by any means, but he gives a good effort every time and is one of the most accountable pitchers I've ever covered. As long as he stays out of trouble. Which he did in New York, I think he can eat some innings and be an asset to the Royals. That said, I'm sure the Yankees hitters are licking their chops at the prospect of facing him.

We certainly differ on Ponson and I really hope you are right.

I thought the same you do about Ponson until I covered him. He stayed clean in NY and was actually a great clubhouse guy. Could be okay at the back end of the rotation.

I've seen 2009 predictions for New York that range from the World Series to the 3rd place in the AL East. Where do you think they'll finish?

In our season preview, I predicted a 97-65 season and a first-place finish in the AL East for the Yankees, with the Red Sox winning the wild card and the Rays missing the playoffs.

I have the Indians winning the Central, though I have the Royals finishing third behind the Twins and ahead of the Tigers and White Sox.

I also predicted that the Angels would win the World Series, though that was before John Lackey's arm trouble popped up. If Lackey isn't healthy, the Yankees would become my pick to win it all.

The Yankees aren't the youngest team in baseball so are there any prospects that will come up and make a splash this year?

Brett Gardner is the starting center fielder, and while his stats won't be too flashy, he should hit .260-.270, steal 40 bases and play good defense.

Phil Coke is also someone to watch, a power lefty out of the bullpen. Phil Hughes is opening the year at Triple-A, but he'll be the first one up if a starting pitcher gets hurt.
I also asked Journal News writer Peter Abraham the same questions over at Baseball Digest, you can read that here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Starting pitching dominates Sox

Can't get any better than this: 20 IP, 13 hits, 1 ER, 21/5 K/BB. This of course is the combined line of Meche, Greinke, and Davies in the Sox series. I think a lot of people half expected Davies to lay an egg as there was talk that last season was a mirage. Today he answered some questions that have been lingering since last September - he has the stuff to be a stud #3 starter.

Coco Crisp put on a Beltran-like show with a nice running catch in the 8th inning and then the game winning home run in the 9th. I know I wasn't the biggest supporter of that trade but the early returns are awful encouraging.

Nothing more frustrating than a leadoff single followed by three strikeouts. I hate hearing how strikeouts are just another out because it simply isn't true and I've yet to hear a compelling argument that convinces me otherwise. KC needs to start making contact or low scoring games will be the norm this summer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This could end up being a good thing

The sooner Trey Hillman learns what the rest of us already know the better - Kyle Farnsworth is not a viable 8th inning option. And he definitely shouldn't be allowed to face a left handed power hitter with runners on base. In fact when Thome came up (who else had visions of Sam Horn?) it would have been a great time to bring in either Mahay, Cruz, or Soria, all fare better against leftys than Farnsworth. But Trey can be frustratingly stubborn at times and stick with a guy for far too long (TPJ, Gload, and Tomko all come to mind) so maybe a lesson wasn't learned today.

Farnsworth's implosion overshadowed a great start from Gil Meche - 7 innings, 1 er, 6 strikeouts, and 0 walks. And more impressively he did it all in just 91 pitches. In 2008 Meche had zero starts where he completed seven innings with fewer than a hundred pitches so this is a nice sign that Meche can build upon his '07 and '08 success.

And in case you are wondering Thome's OPS against Jimmy Gobble is .393 (8 PA's, but still).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

ALC Preview Part 2

Part 2 in our AL Central roundtable dicussion. Part 1 can be read here.

4. Name the player most likely to have a breakout season.

John - Last year saw some great breakouts in the AL Central from Cliff Lee to Carlos Quentin. I still have faith in the future outcome of heralded prospects Alex Gordon in Kansas City and Delmon Young in Minnesota. I also expect big things from Cleveland's Shin-Soo Choo who really turned it on at the end of the year when he got to play the outfield full time. The AL Central breakout player however will be the Twins' Scott Baker. Baker has quietly turned into a very solid pitcher for Minnesota, and as the designated "ace" of the staff in 2009 I think Scott will put his name on the map.

Andrew - Jerry Owens, Chicago White Sox. Owens will have an OBP around .335 and steal somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 bases which, by recent White Sox standards, will be nothing short of unbelievable for a leadoff hitter.

Andy - Alex Gordon. Third baseman. Kansas City Royals. This is the year. For reals. I always thought people were a little too high on him as a rookie but couldn’t help from buying into the hype. Same goes for last year. But with the way he’s been mashing in “meaningless” spring training games, I think he’s finally come into his own, and I refuse to believe that he does anything less than 25 home runs and 80 RBIs. Plus double-digit steals for good measure. One side note, though. Can we please dispense with all the George Brett comparisons? It’s unnecessary. And unfair.

5. What division newcomer will disappoint his new team?

John - I love to see Kansas City's GM Dayton Moore shake up his roster this offseason and prove that he's committed to winning. I truly believe the Royals will be in the middle of the AL Central cluster until about August, but my newcomer disappoint award goes to the Royals new first baseman Mike Jacobs. To a smart baseball mind this will come as no surprise, but to a casual fan expecting a monster year of 35 homeruns and 100 RBIs be prepared for disappointment. A .299 OBP and a .247 average in the middle of the lineup will start to hurt after awhile. I'm curious to see how Mark DeRosa does for Cleveland in 2009. Was his 2008 year a fluke or did the Indians acquire a steal from the Chicago Cubs?

Ray - So since he was already in the division Farnsworth doesn't count ? I'll say Edwin Jackson just because there's not really a whole lot of newcomers.

Andrew - "Disappoint" is a tough term, since the Jeff Marquezes and Coco Crisps of the world don't exactly come with too much in the way of expectations. That said, there's something about the Indians putting all their stock in Kerry Wood as closer that makes me smile. Look for Woody to get hurt at least once down the stretch and carry at least 40% of the responsibility for the Indians missing the playoffs.

Andy - Closers Brandon Lyon and Kerry Wood, to a lesser degree, have tall tasks ahead of them. Both were splashy free-agent signings and will have to make the adjustment to American League hitting after lengthy stints in the NL. Both relinquished their jobs last season for one reason or another – Lyon for getting shelled while Wood found new and exciting ways to land on the DL. The only difference between the two? Wood can still bring it. Godspeed, Mr. Lyon. Other than his 26 saves in Arizona last year, his numbers were awful. Look 'em up. Expect the closer turmoil to heat up in Detroit by the time Lyon blows more than half a dozen saves by the All-Star Break.

6. Who will win the AL Central?

John - There is a very good chance that like the past two years the central crown may not be awarded until the final day of the season (or perhaps it'll take game 163). I believe that Detroit and Chicago have aging lineups with too many question marks in their rotations. Kansas City continues to improve slowly and surely, but still too slowly. I think Cleveland and Minnesota will be in a gridlock battle through most of the 2009 campaign. If Minnesota's young players step forward and Mauer and Morneau stay healthy I like the Twins in 2009! However, if that young rotation falters the Indians will be there to snatch the 2009 AL Central crown.

Ray - I'm going to say Twins win it and then we all wonder how they did it.
Sox second,Royals third, Tigers forth, and Indians last after a few midseason trades.
Ok I'm not sure at all and the division is really up for grabs this year so.
Remember last year and don't bet on my picks.

Andrew - I have a feeling this will be the lamest division race in all of baseball, with an 87-win team taking the division by two games but the fourth place team only finishing five games out. That said, as much as I hate them, right now it looks like the team most capable of taking the consolation prize that is the 2009 American League Central is none other than the Minnesota Twins. No, that's not right: no other team looks like a winning team, but the Twins look like a totally average team and took fewer steps back than everyone else in the division.

Andy - If I were a betting man (which I’m not, especially in this economic climate), my hypothetical money’s on the Twins. Look around the league, and you’re going to find serious question marks in regards to pitching on almost every single team. Minnesota’s the only club that’s got both its staff and bullpen shored up. Plus they’ve got a knuckleballer now. That's fun. The division race should be heated, for sure, but the Twins have got just enough hitting to complement their stockpile of arms and should come away with their first AL Central title since 2006.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A historic and horrifying stat that should keep you awake at night

Seasons with 200+ plate appearances and an OPS+ below 10:
2008 - Tony Pena Jr. (235, 7)
1912 - Frank O'Rourke (216, -11)
1911 - John Black (201, 6)
1911 - Bill Bergen (250, -4)
1910 - Bill Killefer (215, 9)
1910 - Bill Bergen (273, 6)
1909 - Bill Bergen (372, 1)

Bloomquist and Pena?

Wow DM and Trey are really doing a number on me. I can see the rationale behind having Bloomquist OR Pena on the team but I can't see any reason whatsoever to have both. This makes no sense and tripled with the inexplicable Ponson/HoRam moves makes me wonder what direction (if any) this organization is headed. This takes us back to the pre-DM days when they were just going in circles and making moves that were counter productive to winning.

Yes, my early optimism for the 2009 season has taken a massive hit. (Some thought it was misplaced and misguided to begin with.)

Quotes like this will not bring it back:
“Tony is on,” Hillman said. “I like his offensive approach much better than he had at this time last year. Obviously, we all love what he brings to the table defensively. That’s a premier position, so he has a lot of value.”

Did anybody else flashback to Allard Baird and Neifi Perez? Seriously though, a guy with a .237/.255/.312 major league line didn't just figure it out in the course of one off season. He is a good defensive shortstop but he is not Ozzie Smith and depending on which metric you use he isn't even Mike Aviles. I assumed the Bloomquist signing signaled the end of TPJ era but that was deluded thinking.

I should have known that the regime that brought us Sidney Ponson starting the home opener would have one more surprise for us but still.....

I wasn't prepared for this.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

AL Central preview.....with a little help from my friends (Part 1)

The AL Central is wide open this season and with question marks everywhere each team should be considered a contender. I'm already on record as stating that I believe the Royals will take the division, a belief that they are trying to test with the unfortunate decision to place Sidney Ponson in the rotation.

So like last year I've solicited some help from various division writers and we tackle the pressing questions facing the 2009 American League Central. I rounded up the usual suspects plus one newcomer and asked them to make some predictions ranging from the top players to who will win the title. Due to length I will once again break it into two parts.

John Meyer  - Twins MVB (Twins blog that has exploded in the last year)
Ray Wachter  - Royals on Radio etc (the Larry King of Royals bloggers)
Andrew Reilly - The 35th Street Review (Very funny White Sox blogger and not president of the Nick Swisher fan club)
Andy Meyer - St. Joseph News Press (A newspaper that has an underrated sports page with some talented writers)

1. Who do you think will be the Centrals top hitter?Top pitcher?

John - This division really boast some great young stars with Grady Sizemore in Cleveland, the emergence of Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez in Chicago, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in Minnesota, Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, and I still think that Alex Gordon has a bright future in Kansas City. Mauer is the best pure hitter winning his 2nd AL batting title in 2008, but I'm expecting a monster year from Cabrera in Detroit. It took Cabrera awhile to settle into the AL but he still set career highs in homeruns and RBIs and in case you forgot is still only 25 years old.

Ray - Tough one.... Why start with a tough one ?
I'd go with pitcher Cliff Lee, I think he'll have another solid year also look for a strong year from Zack Greinke and a rebound year for Verlander. Of course we all know last year my pick was the kiss of death to one D-Train.
As for hitter look for a big year form Miguel Cabrera, I also like Morneau and Thome to put up big years like always.

Andrew - For top hitter, I'm going to cast my totally biased vote for Carlos Quentin, as he will become the first true four outcome in the history of baseball: walk, double, home run, or hit-by-pitch, making an OBP around .950 not unrealistic. Quentin will also become the division's top pitcher over the course the 8th inning of the Sunday, May 8th 14-1 drubbing of the Texas Rangers. In one inning of relief, Quentin will strike out two Rangers and, somehow, also strike out three White Sox (including Carlos Quentin).

Andy - With great talent comes great responsibility. Pardon me for altering Uncle Ben’s immortal words of wisdom, but I believe two of the best players in the majors – both 25 years of age – will live up to their immense potential this season. At the plate, no one in the division is scarier than Miguel Cabrera in the Motor City. Predictably, he struggled to adjust to American League pitching at the start of last year, but he got hot in July and finished on a tear. With his speed, Grady Sizemore might be a more complete player, but Cabrera’s going to rake against some of the awful pitching in the division this year. On the mound, Zack Greinke appears to have found his groove in KC and will be one of the best in the bigs despite his No. 2 status in the rotation. His arsenal is just so solid (200 strikeouts is a real possibility), and I don’t believe Cliff Lee can replicate the same magic he possessed year ago.

2. What team has the best rotation?

John - I think you have to give the nod to the young core of arms in Minnesota. I'm understandibly bias and questions of tiring and consistency remain for the young pitchers, but from top to bottom I think the Twins have the most complete staff with the potential to be a great staff. I like the trio of Jon Danks, Gavin Floyd, and Mark Buehrle in Chicago but I question Ken Williams dealing of Javier Vasquez.

Ray - I would say Twins but there still pretty young and may have a step back year, the Tigers look good with Verlander at the top but I'm not sold on Jackson or Bonderman (who now appears will miss the start of the season). The Sox (Not sold on Danks/Floyd/Contreras) and Indians rotations are iffy. The Royals have Meche/Greinke/Davies but the rest is yet to be known.
Bottom line most ALC teams have a good 1-2 but no one really has a rotation to blow you away.
I've got to go with the Twins.

Andrew - They're all pretty lame, but I have to go with Cleveland for overall rotation strength. The Royals may have the best 1-2 in Gil Meche and Zack Greinke, and the Sox certainly have a 1-3 to be proud of, but the Indians have the best chance to have a solid pitching effort each game out.

Andy - Minnesota and it’s not even that close. Let’s assume Scott Baker struggles a bit during his first year as the No. 1 starter and Francisco Liriano is nothing more than an above-average pitcher from here on out. Fine. The Twinkies still have Kevin Slowey and his crazy-good K/BB ratio waiting behind them. No matter which way you slice it, they’ve easily got three of the six best hurlers in the division starting for them. And the guys behind them –Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins – aren’t too shabby either. The worst part (unless you’re a Twins fan)? The entire lot of them are 27 or younger.

3. What team has the best offense?

John - The Twins surprisingly lead the division in runs scored with 829 thanks to a ridiculous RISP batting average. Minnesota's offseason will be solid again in 2009 but will not be as lucky. Detroit's offense was supposed to score 1,000 runs last year and every player not named Miggy underachieved, so they will certainly be better in 2009. However, my vote goes to the Indians. Grady Sizemore is a stud and I think there are some very good pieces around him in Cleveland.

Ray - What team SHOULD have the best offense, the Tigers: Cabrera, Magglio, Granderson, and company.
The White Sox are a close, close, second.

Andrew - Tough call, as Detroit can score 15 with the best of them, but the Twins have the kind that actually wins the games that matter. Still, this division most likely won't hinge on fundamentals so my vote goes to the Tigers.

Andy - Detroit was shockingly awful last year. I think we can all agree on that. That doesn’t change the fact that the Tigers still wield the best bunch of bats around. Just as it was last year, the heart of their lineup is terrifying. Only this time around, there’s no pressure to win 100 games. I’ve seen some folks predicting Detroit to finish in the Central’s basement for the second year in a row. That’s ridiculous. Even with a rotation held together by duct tape, they contend for a title thanks to their hitters – most of whom go well upwards of 100 in OPS+.


White Sox blogger Andrew Reilly asked me to participate in some pre-season predictions which I was more than happy to do. The end result is here. Long time readers of Royally Speaking know that I enjoy working with other bloggers whether it's here or on their blogs. The AL Central has a lot of fantastic writers with Andrew being one of them. He appeared here several times last season and will once again be a part of my AL Central preview roundtable, which I hope to have posted in the next day or two.

Other participants include Ray Wachter, John Meyer, and Andy Meyer. Ray and John are popular ALC bloggers while Andy is a sports writer for the St. Joseph News Press.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

There will be a little less grit in KC

Ross Gload is a Marlin and more importantly not a Royal. Gload probably does offer some value to an NL club where pinch hitting and double switches rule the land, you know that strategy stuff that only a mad genius like Tony LaRussa and his ilk know how to utilize. This move probably doesn't mean anything roster-wise for KC because Gload was a longshot to make the team but still its nice that the temptation has been removed.