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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Royals First Quarter Appraisal

You may have noticed I haven't blogged much about the Royals since the season started. Primarily that's because there has been little good to write about but since we're now one fourth of the way through the season I thought I'd give a quick run down of the season thus far:

Record: 13-27, worst Royals start ever.

Offense: The Royals are 12th in the league in offense having scored only 180 runs or 4.5 runs per game in what is normally a very good hitters park (at home they've scored only 76 runs in 18 games). In OBP they are 13th (.316 against right handed pitchers) and 12th in SLUG (12th in OPS) and have the second fewest number of plate appearances.

From an individual perspective only Beltran can be said to be having a good year and his average has now plummeted to .274. He is also the only Royal slugging over .500. The only regular hitting over .300 is Ken Harvey who is hitting his usual very soft .300 with an OPS of just .804. What has hurt them most is the lack of production in the leadoff spot where Berroa has an OBP .242 and Guiel .279 with Relaford at .300. The organization gave up on Guiel too soon. His average was down but his walks and power were there and would have turned it around.

Bringing up DeJesus failed as he went 1 for 23 before getting shipped back to Omaha. The idea of having the speedster Rich Thompson on the squad was a luxury they couldn't afford and now Brandon Berger is on the roster to hit left-handers. Meanwhile Calvin Pickering has 15 homeruns in Omaha with a .465 OBP in 100 at bats. Juan Gonzales and Mike Sweeney have also not played to their ability thus far, particularly in the power numbers, although on the plus side both have been in the lineup playing 37 and 33 games respectively. Bottom line is that they don't have a leadoff hitter, have little patience and so don't generally get on base, and haven't shown the power to drive runners in. On the bright side I would expect the offense to improve since no one save Beltran has gotten hot at all yet.

Pitching: Well, what can you say? They started the year with injuries to Synder, Acenzio, and Appier and since then Appier has been put back on the shelf. MacDougal finally recovered from his flue in spring training but only pitched 3.1 innings before being sent back down. Leskanic also suffered an injury and is on the DL. That leaves Brian Anderson who has now given up 103 baserunners and 13 homeruns in 54.2 innings on his way to a 1-6 record and 7.41 ERA in 10 starts and Darrel May 71/45.1/1-6/5.76 in 8 starts. So the two starters coming out of spring training they were relying on are 2-12 with an ERA over 6. Affeldt pitched better but not well going 0-3 with an ERA around 5 before being named the closer this weekend (he blew his first save although Berroa was partly to blame). Jimmy Gobble has been the most consistent in his 8 starts going 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA. Now it appears Dennis Reyes who has thrown the best in 22.2 innings of work will get a starting spot as will 20-year old Zack Grienke who pitched 5 innings last night giving up 2 runs in a no-decision. It remains to be seen how much Grienke will pitch though since he was on an 85 pitch limit and was being thrown every 6 days or more at Omaha. So the rotation now is Anderson, May, Gobble, Reyes, and Grienke with spot starts by someone else. There's no question that's a better rotation than they had coming out of spring training. Outside of MacDougal and Leskanic the bullpen hasn't been too bad with good work by Nate Field, Grimsely, and Huisman and so-so work by Camp and Sullivan.

But if you add it all up its not pretty. A 5.12 ERA, 12th in the league, last with only 198 strikeouts, and 13th in homeruns given up with 51 while blowing 8 of 14 save opportunities. The 198 strikeouts is particularly alarming. Although we knew coming out of spring training that the Royals would have three starters who were soft tossers, only Darrel May has struck out as many as 1 batter every 2 innings and as I documented in a previous post that may be an indication that he's not throwing his game. The ratios are:

K/9 Innings
Anderson 3.48
Affeldt 4.09
Gobble 2.25
May 7.00

Affeldt particularly should be around 8 although it doesn't seem to bother Pena that he's not. Anderson has pitched effectively in the past at around 4 to 5 but I doubt that any starter in the modern era has every been successful striking out 2.25 batters per 9 innings. That makes me think that Gobble has been more lucky than good thus far. In one game I scored for Gobble got exactly one swinging strike in over 5 innings of work. More balls put in play mean more hits, its as simple as that.

Overall, I wouldn't fault Baird or Pena for much they've done with the pitching staff thus far except in the handling of Affeldt (and the Yankee Stadium anomaly - see below). How could they have known their top two starters would start so slowly? Even with Grienke the key to the rest of the season is how well Anderson and May pitch from here on in.

Fielding: 31 unearned runs leads the league. They have DHs playing first (Sweeney, Stairs) and RF (Gonzales, Stairs) and LF (Stairs) much of the time. Enough said.

Management: The major problem with this team has been underperformance of players not of management. I think the team had a good plan going into the season but the player simply have not performed. That said they could should have stuck with Guiel a little longer, not confused Affeldt into thinking he was a finesse pitcher, brought up Pickering to add some power to the lineup or actually given him the look he deserves in spring training, and perhaps tried Jamey Wright in the rotation at some point. Inexplicably they gave a start in Yankee Stadium to a AA pitcher (Eduardo Villacis) who was predictably bombed in less than 4 innings. I might also call into question bringing up Grienke and losing that year of service time in what looks right now to be a lost season. That's especially the case if you're not going to really put him in the rotation but continue to protect his arm.

Outlook: They are better than a 13-27 team but not that much better. Their Pythagorean winning percentage is .379 indicating they should have won 15 games instead of 13. They will improve if:

  • Affeldt can hold down the closer role and give them at least a 70% chance of closing save opportunities.

  • They can find someone to leadoff with an OBP over .350

  • Sweeney and Gonzales get hot for a good stretch

  • May and Anderson bounce back and pitch like they are able

  • These are not lofty goals and so I look for the Royals to play a bit over .500 the rest of the way and finish with around 75 wins. Coming into the season they didn't have much room for error and so now the hole they've dug is likely too big to overcome this year.

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