Grumpy Old Man Notes – September Stretch Run Edition

Despite losing 5 of the last 6, our Royals are still firmly in control of the AL Central boasting an 11 game lead with a mere 23 games left…and that with most of our regulars getting off days during this stretch to hopefully help them be fresh for the final push. That’s not to say that our regulars don’t still need rest between now and then in order to be at their best when the ALDS begins, but securing the Central title is the primary objective for now. And with a magic number of 13 as of the moment of this writing, you would think that said goal should be attainable within the next 2 weeks. After that, a day off here and there wouldn’t go amiss. Beyond that home field advantage would be nice, but I don’t think it’s as important as some. Just consider last year…other than the Wild Card game, we didn’t have home field advantage until the World Series and things didn’t turn out too bad for our boys in blue.
There’s been a lot said lately about Johnny Cueto and his underwhelming performance of late. I’ve seen speculation that he’s injured but doesn’t want to sit down, he’s simply tired and needs to be skipped a time or two in the rotation and even heard someone suggest that he’s having difficulty with the pressure of playing purely for himself and his future, stipulating that as an absolute rent-a-player he doesn’t really have any vested interest in this team’s success. Pitching coach Dave Eiland has said his mechanics are off, as his left shoulder is opening up during his delivery causing problems with his pitch placement. How much of these theories are applicable is up for debate, but it’s important to take his personal history into account.
Throughout Cueto’s career, his ERA has gone up roughly a half run per game in September and October, telling me that at least part of his problem is the result of a tired or maybe even ‘dead’ arm. This could also be the cause for his mechanics issue that Eiland mentioned as he’s overthrowing in an effort to make up for his trouble. If we assume that this is at least part of his problem, then the logical solution is to skip him a time or two in the rotation to give his arm a chance to rest while working with Dave Eiland to correct his delivery issue. Fortunately, the boys in blue have the advantage of a large, some might even say insurmountable lead affording them the opportunity to give Mr. Cueto a little rest before the final push toward the postseason.
As for his PR problem following his personal appearance no show this week, I got nothin’. If he’s at all concerned with the fans perception of him, he needs to make a point of scheduling and actually showing up at a couple of meet and greets the next time the team is back in town…and oh yeah, winning would be great too.
Of more importance, at least in my opinion, is the question of Alex Rios. I think it’s safe to say that at this point that his chances of remaining in the lineup now that he’s recovered from his bout with chicken pox are slim at best. In truth, he was on the verge of losing his spot before his encounter with childhood illness, so really if it were up to me it might even be up in the air whether or not he made the postseason roster. Yeah, I know, it’s not my decision to make. That doesn’t mean I can’t voice my opinion (consider yourselves truly and thoroughly raspberried).
We do have a number of options beyond the aforementioned Mr. Rios after all. For example, Paulo Orlando has nearly identical numbers in terms of batting average, runs scored and RBI despite having roughly 100 at bats less than Rios. Additionally, Orlando is a clearly better fielder than Rios, making it obvious at least to me that Orlando or soeone else needs to supplant Mr. Rios, even once he’s recovered from his illness. Couple that with the arrival of Johnny Gomes, who is an inferior defender but an obvious upgrade offensively and it becomes incredibly difficult to return Alex Rios to the starting lineup. That said, I think we’d all be better off if someone would just hide Mr. Gomes’ glove so he can’t play in the outfield. Yeah, I think he’s that bad defensively.
That said if Rios, who had finally begun to show signs of life at the plate before the attack of the chicken pox, can manage to up his game at the plate he can at least be pulled late when Ned goes into “defend” mode, replacing him in the field with either Orlando or Dyson. Essentially what I’m saying is Alex Rios should consider himself on a relatively short leash, with his future in the Royals outfield dependant entirely on what he does at the plate in the very near future. He just needs to remember we have multiple options where it comes to filling his job.
I’ll admit, this has been a little less focused than my posts usually are for which I apologize. I guess that’s what happens when I put off writing about things, then try to cram multiple topics in one post. I would promise to not wait so long in between entries, but considering if procrastination was an Olympic event I’d be a perrenial medalist I don’t know how much such a promise should be believed. So I’ll just say I’ll try not to put my next post off for as long and say that’s that. Until next time, I’ll see ya at the ‘K.
Bill Heeter

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Along Came Ben

I admit it. When news of the Zobrist trade came out, I was probably the only one in Kansas City who wasn’t completely thrilled. It’s not that I don’t think Ben Zobrist is a good player, because I actually think he’s very good. My primary reason for reluctance was the inevitable shouts from the masses for him to replace Omar Infante post haste. And no, even two weeks later I still am reluctant to make such a lineup change. Let me explain…
Ben is a very good utility player. He provides adequate defense at a number of positions…and by adequate I mean average or slightly below average at each of the infield and outfield positions…while giving his team solid, professional at bats. The problem lies with the fact that while on some teams adequate defense is good enough, with the Royals it’s not. In trying to defend my position, I dug through a lot of statistics and metrics, affirming my belief that I’m right in my original position.
Let’s look at our second base options. Referencing the subjective metric of “defensive runs saved”, we find that Omar Infante is considered an above average second baseman with 4 Defensive Runs Saved this season. Ben Zobrist by comparison is considered a below average second baseman with a DRS of -4. Just so everyone is on the same page here, a zero DRS is average. As to why I consider this important, my interpretation has always been that every defensive run saved equals 2 runs the offense doesn’t have to score to maintain a lead. By using this extremely simplistic…and I’m sure sabremetricians out there will be quick to point out any flaws in my logic…this tells me that Infante has made it so the offense had to produce 8 fewer runs this season than would have been necessary to achieve the same record with an average second baseman. By following the same logic, playing Zobrist as the regular second baseman would make it so our offense would need to score 8 more runs than with an average defender, giving us a spread of 16 runs. Maybe Ben’s bat is productive enough to cover that spread, but this isn’t the only reason to keep Infante at second base.
We’re in a unique and enviable position over the course of the next month and a half. We have a substantial enough lead that we can take advantage of Zobrist’s abilities as a “super-sub” to allow all of our regulars to rest enough for everyone to be fresh for October. We could actually throw the Infante haters a bone by having Zobrist play a couple of games per week at second, as well as one each week at third base, shortstop, and both of the corner outfield spots. Come the final week or so of the regular season, a decision can then be made about how Ned Yost wants to get Ben’s bat in the lineup for the playoffs.
I believe that come playoff time, where Zobrist plays should be determined by who is slumping worse;Infante or Alex Rios. Assuming everything else is equal, I think the better place would be to plug him into right field…and here’s why.
Alex Rios is the least proficient defender on the Royals. Referencing the same Defensive Runs Saved statistic, Rios has been a -3 DRS defender, while Zobrist in very limited time in right field has been a 0 DRS player, although his overall outfield DRS is -5. Given that information, I would think that unless Rios gets really hot offensively and carries that through the end of the season, Zobrist will best serve the Royals in right field come October. Basically, it’s a lot easier to tolerate a weak bat when you’re getting outstanding defense.
I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there who will disagree with my assertion and that’s okay. After all, the whole idea behind my blog is to hopefully inspire conversation about our boys in blue. Until next time, I’ll see ya at the ‘K.
Bill Heeter

As The Trade Winds Blow

First of all, to the three and a third people who’ve cared about my absence of late, I assure you that while I haven’t been posting anything new I have not abandoned the cause. Actually, since my last post I’ve started five different entries that failed to survive my own rigorous, if sometimes delusional editing process. First I was working on something about Alex Rios, then Omar Infante, the Alex Gordon injury, Yordano Ventura’s difficulties and Jason Vargas’ impending Tommy John. While none of them ultimately saw the light of the web-o-shpere, I felt each of those topics were fully and completely flogged within an inch of their lives by the plethora of other writers floating around the interwebs.
Now here we are in the aftermath of the momentous Johnny Cueto trade, which marks more than anything else a shift in philosophy within the inner circles of our Royals’ front office. For years, we found ourselves on the seller’s side of the fence, then as our team began to be competitive we became the team least likely to make a big splash at the trade deadline, opting instead to operate under the radar, so to speak, picking up ancillary pieces to plug in around our existing core during the season while depending on offseason transactions to add frontline players like James Shields and Wade Davis. The addition of Mr. Cueto amplifies the “win now” position the boys in blue have been doing all they could to back up with their play. All that said, in the best of all possible worlds Dayton would no doubt to try to get an extension worked out with our newest ace, but since Johnny Cueto will likely prove to be too expensive to bring back next season, we’ll just havee to hope that the addition of Cueto will allow us to make a deep enough October run to make his acquisition worth parting ways with our southaw collection.
Now the question becomes “Will he manage any more deals?” I’m trying to avoid addressing the myriad rumors currently making the rounds, but I do believe there are a couple of spots where this trade market could improve our Royals in preparing for this season’s playoff run. Second base is obviously a position where an improvement coule be made, since while Infante has been solid defensively, with the occasional exception he’s proven to be a step above being a black hole in our batting order. If…and for me that’s a huge if…we can pick up someone who brings both comparable defense and an upgrade at the plate, then short of giving up Raul Mondesi we have to take a look at the possibility of making that trade.
Of far less importance is possibly picking up a corner outfielder. I say it’s of less import because Alex Rios seems to have found his way back to form, while the platoon of Dyson and Orlando has been fairly successful at filling in for the injured Alex Gordon. Honestly, if we were to bring in another outfielder, we would likely have some difficult decisions when Gordon does come back.
What it comes down to is that whether Dayton Moore makes any more deals or not, he’s undoubtedly improved this ballclub from where they were just a few days ago, and that after all is the whole idea. Until next time, I’ll see ya at the ‘K.
Bill Heeter

An Open Letter to the American League

Okay boys and girls, let’s take a deep breath here. If the hyperbolic rhetoric flying around the internet all willy nilly is to be believed, the fact that there are eight Royals leading all star voting at their positions is the worst scandal to hit the game of baseball since the Black Sox threw the World Series. It’s been deemed worse than the drug scandals of the 1980’s and the proliferation of the use of steroids in the 90’s and 2000’s combined. At least, that’s what the national media and a very vocal group of non-Royals fans would have you believe.
The first thing those detractors seem to have wrong is their argument that the fan voting for the All Star game is not a popularity contest. The fact is, that’s exactly what it is. It always has been, whether they want to admit it or not. Detroit fans, for example wouldn’t be making a fuss if they had several players leading the fan vote, but let Miguel Cabrera not be the top vote getter at first base and all of a sudden the voting is a joke according to them. Sorry guys, that argument is flawed in a major way, and not just because you’re spending time griping and moaning about the results thus far instead of voting for their guys like Royals fans have been.
Somewhere along the way it was decided that the only way the current situation could possibly be taking place is by old fashioned ballot box stuffing on behalf of the Royals. Even if there has been some of that going on, it can’t possibly explain the sheer number of votes received by Salvador Perez. I mean really, if this were all just a case of people voting blindly for the Royals, wouldn’t Omar Infante, Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales have just as many votes as Perez? Instead, Perez’s 7 million votes give him a lead amongst catchers of nearly 4 million votes ahead of second place Steven Vogt…Infante and Morales have a little over 4 million total votes each while Alex Rios has just under 4 million. Yes, there are some fans who have voted an all Royals ticket to show support for the boys in blue, but there’s more going on here than can be explained by just that, like NL fans casting votes for the AL guys they remember seeing this past postseason.
Do I really think Omar Infante deserves to be an All Star? Umm, no. The same probably goes for Alex Rios, but various media members and fans of other AL teams bellyaching about the voting results thus far only spurs on Royals nation to continue casting votes in response. So if fans in Detroit, Houston or Baltimore et al want to change the outcome, they’d best get voting…and voting, and voting. Until next time, I’ll see ya at the ‘K.
Bill Heeter

Will The Real KC Royals Please Stand Up?

When the Royals started off the season on such a hot streak offensively, it made our players a little, for lack of a better word, lazy. Their hot streak went on long enough that they abandoned the very thing that made them successful…speed. They stopped stealing bases, stopped pressuring the opposition’s pitching and defense with the threat of taking extra bases, hit and runs and sacrifices and started thinking they could win playing what I’ve always thought of as "Orioles" baseball…station to station playing for the three run homer.
It’s not that they’ve completely forgotten ‘That’s what speed do’, but they’ve become somewhat complacent…not everyone apparently or all the time, but enough that they’ve forgotten to fully embrace the offensive identity that got them to Game 7 of the World Series last October. The result of all this? A team-wide slump.
All that said, that’s not the only thing that’s gotten in the way of the boys in blue winning ballgames of late. As the offense has gone into it’s slump, the starting pitching has stumbled into one of it’s own the last few days, but honestly it’s hard to blame them. For the week previous to their current woes, the starters did all they could to give their team a chance to win with the only exception being Jeremy Guthrie’s Memorial Day Massacre. I suspect that much of the rotation’s difficulty has been the result of trying too hard to make up for the offense’s inability to put runs on the board.
So what’s the best way for the Royals to get back to putting games in the W column? Run, baby, run, and if they start manufacturing runs again it should let the starters stay within themselves instead of trying to be who they aren’t…and chances are that’ll result in wins.
PS…I wrote the above during Sunday’s pregame and although it was just one game, for today we caught a glimpse of our "Runnin’ Royals", and it was glorious. All that’s left now is to find out if they’ve turned the corner, or if Sunday’s win was a fluke? Here’s hoping that corner’s been turned.
Until next time, I’ll see ya at the ‘K.
Bill Heeter

Kratz vs. Butera: The Grudge Match – Loser Leaves Town!

LIVE AT KAUFFMAN STADIUM…IN THE STEEL CAGE, IT’S ERIC KRATZ VS. DREW BUTERA, LOSER LEAVES TOWN…oh, wait a minute. I don’t think it’ll actually be that interesting.
As Eric Kratz nears the time for him to come off of the disabled list, it appears that Dayton Moore has a decision to make concerning our backup catcher spot…but is there really a question? Kratz brings good power to the offense and is completely serviceable as a backup to Salvy, but Drew Butera, who we acquired when Kratz went on the disabled list is clearly a superior defender while providing a serviceable bat off the bench. So, who would you pick?
Looking at the playing time as our first clue, Butera has the upper hand. Kratz had 4 at bats in 4 games before his injury while Drew has logged seven at bats in 3 games including starting behind the plate for Jeremy Guthrie’s last 2 starts. What do I infer from this information? It would seem that nobody would choose having Kratz behind the plate in order to allow Salvador Perez the chance to take a day off here and there, which is a must if we want to avoid having him fade in September and October like happened last season. It would appear that J Guts has enough confidence in Butera’s work behind the plate at least to allow Salvy time off on his days in the rotation.
As I said, Kratz has more power and if all we were looking for was a bat off the bench he’d be the obvious choice. Howeveer, since that’s only a part of the job in question defense, pitch calling and the comfort and confidence levels of the pitching staff have to be taken into account and while all we have to work from is at best consequential evidence, it points to Butera being the better fit for our Royals. So if we assume that what we’re deducing from the evidence is accurate, chances are Eric Kratz could find himself on the waiver wire in the near future. Time will tell.
Following Saturday’s rain shortened victory the boys in blue find themselves boasting a 3 game lead over Detroit, but more importantly in the unusual position of having exactly twice as many wins as losses. Why do I call tht unusual, you ask? Well, first of all I find myself thinking about something I heard Denny Matthews talking about on numerous occasions over the years, that being that the baseball season can fairly accurately be divided into thirds; pretty much all teams can be expected to win one third of their games and lose one third. It’s what happens in that remaining third that will determine whether the season will be considered to have been a success or not.
Now, I can almost guarantee that the Royals won’t be able to maintain their current success rate…after all, as of last night they had won two thirds of their games this season, which is a ridiculous clip. Okay, so it’s not historic or anything, but if by some stretch of the imagination they managed to continue that pace and finished the season with a record of 108-54…that’s like practically 1998 Yankees territory, who were among the top ten seasons in history.
Anyway, I mentioned all this just to try to put into perspective how well the boys in blue are currently playing. Pretty cool, huh? Of course the most important part is the fact that we’re in first place roughly a quarter of the way through the season. So how about we continue to pray to the baseball gods that our Royals can continue to hold the AL Central lead?
Okay, I’ve vebally rambled aimlessly for long enough, so I’ll just say until next time, I’ll see ya at the ‘K.
Bill Heeter

First Place Pitching Woes?

First, I’d like to apologize for my absence the past few weeks. Probably the best way to explain things is to say I’ve been on the disabled list thanks to a bulging lumbar disc which has left me in a bit of a drug addled state that isn’t terribly conducive to forming cogent thoughts. Now, I’m still fairly heavily medicated but couldn’t hold my tongue…er, fingers…any longer. I’ve been reading what everyone has been saying about our Royals starting rotation woes and felt like I needed to put in my 3/4 cents worth.
People have been screaming for Guthrie and/or Vargas to be replaced in the rotation by Chris Young…a situation that has at least temporarily been resolved by Jason Vargas’ current stint on the disabled list. I must admit, I understand where these folks are coming from, at least in part. Young has been stellar in his three starts while the rotation we left Arizona with has had far more than it’s fair share of issues.
Now the screams have turned their attention to Danny Duffy, who has struggled to find any semblance of consistency in his last few starts. On this issue I have to respectfully disagree with the unwashed masses of the interwebs vehemently. First of all, the boys in blue are in no position to remove Duffy from the rotation at the moment because of Vargas’ injury status. There just isn’t anyone to fill another rotation spot at the moment and even if there were a viable option available, sending Duffy to Omaha would be a mistake of monumental proportions because in order to work through his problems he’s going to need to work with pitching coach Dave Eiland; something that can’t happen if they aren’t together. A move to the bullpen might have been an option if we weren’t neck deep in a season long battle for the Central division crown and/or playoff berth.
In case you missed it, in Saturday’s outing against the Yankees Duffy, while incredibly inefficient was at least moderately effective until that home run that essentially ended his day, as prior to that he’d held the boys from the Bronx to one run by working his way out of numerous messes of his own devising. To expect anything more than that from a starter is a little unreasonable, particularly on the heels of his previous couple of starts where he’d had rough outings while trying to work his way out of his slump. As I said, Saturday he seemed to be on the verge of getting things back on track despite the loss, so this is without question the worng time to pull him from the rotation. Let him work his way through things so he can (hopefuly) get back on track.
Obviously, a compelling argument could be made for Chris Young to remain in the rotation, especially now that it appears recently called up Joe Blanton may be able to fill Young’s bullpen position as long relief/spot starter. Maybe when Vargas is once again ready to pitch the quesiton of just who should be in our rotation can and should be revisited, but until then we need to stick with the five guys we’re currently counting on, for better or worse. So how about until then, we give the "(Insert name of starter here) needs to be sent down/pulled from the rotation" a break…particularly while we’re still in first place.
Hopefully, the next time you hear from me I’ll be feeling a bit better and will be able to form more cogent arguments on the Royals topics of the day. so until then I’ll see ya at the ‘K…at least in spirit.
Bill Heeter