Kansas City Royals: The Future, Now or Never
To date, Zack Greinke's record is 0-0 and Kyle Farnsworth's is 1-0.
Things aren't always as they seem, though. Both of these pitchers took very different routes to get to this point.
Zack Greinke, while not dominant, cruised through six innings on Opening Day, giving up 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. Greinke turned a winnable game and a 4-2 lead over to the bullpen in the top of the seventh. The result: The Royals trailed by the bottom of the seventh.
The implosion was quick, precise, and drove Opening Day alcohol sales up dramatically at the K. The result was a Royals' loss and a no decision for Zack Greinke.
Monday's bullpen stats:
IP H BB ER
Ramon Colon: 0.0 1 1 2
Robinson Tejeda: 0.1 3 0 3
Juan Cruz: 1.1 2 0 1
Flash forward to Wednesday night, when Kauffman Stadium played host to the battle of 2006 draftees. Luke Hochevar (No. 1 overall) faced University of Missouri Alum Max Scherzer (No. 11 overall) and neither disappointed. Hochevar's incredibly efficient 7.2 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 2 K effort was matched by Scherzer's equally impressive 6 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 3 K.
This game would be decided by the bullpens—not a good sign for Royals fans.
Detroit flinched first, but Miguel Cabrera's excuse me style homerun—that hit the base of the right field fair pole in the ninth inning—would cause Joakim Soria to blow his first save of the year and send the game to extra frames.
Then, after each team danced around each other in the 10th, Royals' fans saw the worst sight possible. To sum it up, here is a snippet of the conversation I had with a friend at that very moment:
Me: Oh crap, it's Farnsy.
Friend: Great, Farnsworth.
Me: Ha, jinx. 1.5 runs: over/under on the inning?
<< Ordonez singles, Cabrera singles...1st and 2nd, 0 outs >>
Friend: 2.5 runs: over/under.
Me: Ha...come on...
<< C. Guillen singles home a run...1st and 2nd, 0 outs, 1 run in >>
Me: Under??? Wait, are we betting for real? Because I'm not so sure about this...
Kyle Farnsworth came in and "worked" the 11th inning, where he proceeded to do whatever he could to hand the game to the Tigers.
If it wasn't for a stupid double steal call by Jim Leyland, and Brandon Inge's efforts to expand the strike zone, it is quite possible that the over/under of 2.5 runs in the inning would have been over.
However "It All Happens Here," so this year's Royals obviously didn't quit.*
* Insert sarcasm font
Against veteran closer Jose Valverde, Alberto Callaspo led off the bottom of the 11th with a home run in nearly the same spot Miguel Cabrera hit his in the ninth. Then a Billy Butler single and a Rick Ankiel gap shot plated the winning run resulting in a "W" for the club and Farnsworth.
All of this leads me to my argument that statistics are flawed and may not always be the best guide for a rebuilding club. Sure, when comparing apples to apples advanced metrics are extremely handy and can contribute considerable insight. However, they can also be very misleading.
The shortstop situation in Kansas City is a position that fans have decided to put under the microscope, and it is doing nobody any favors.
Yuniesky Betancourt takes a beating from even the most knowledgeable baseball fans (see Joe Posnanski).
Advanced stats say he is (arguably) the worst defender in baseball and his bat is one of the worst non-pitching bats in the game. However, Yuni—starting his first full season in Royal blue after a much needed change of scenery—is off to a good start at the plate with hits in each of the first two games including a home run and two RBI.
Statistics do not measure the comfort level a player has with teammates, coaches, fans, playing time, and ballpark. The mental game is often as important as the physical game and if a player is able to let the outside distractions go and concentrate on the game itself, then improved performance is often the result.
That is not to say that Betancourt WILL succeed in Kansas City, but to compare the Seattle version of Yuni to the KC version is not exactly fair. He deserves a shot to prove what he can do in Kansas City.
Besides, he may be the only Royals infielder that can catch a pop-up.
Mike Aviles has been plagued by these advanced stats as well. Aviles, often regarded as a career minor leaguer, broke through in 2008 hitting .325, 10 HR, 51 RBI, .833 OPS. Then, after rehabbing his 2009 injury, he lit up the Cactus League this spring.
However, lingering thoughts that 2008 was a fluke and a built in excuse that his arm is still untrustworthy has relegated him to the bench so far this season. His benching on Opening Day in spite of the Royals' lack of a healthy third baseman was attributed to Willie Bloomquist being a more reliable option. There is a club wide lack of confidence in Aviless' abilities and an overconfidence in Bloomquist's.
The list of shunned players goes on—sometimes even when statistics indicate a player could be a success.
Kila Ka'aihue has deserved a chance each of the last two seasons, but is largely regarded as a AAAA player. Why?
In 21 career at bats he has a homerun and an OPS over .800 (two areas the Royals are in dire straights to improve). Was Mike Jacobs really performing so outstanding last season (.228, 19 HR, 61 RBI, .698 OPS) that Ka'aihue's bat wasn't needed? Do we not need it this year?
Again, I am not saying that given the opportunity all these ball players will succeed. I do believe, however, that a team in rebuilding mode needs to let their youngsters play so they can see what skill sets they already possess—not just take the word of some joker with a clipboard and a Jugs gun.
While I do believe that the signings of Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, and (to a lesser extent) Jason Kendall make the Royals a better team this season, their positions on the field may be better utilized evaluating prospects.
While I concede that many of the Royals' big name prospects (Derrick Robinson, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, etc) are simply not ready yet, and the maturation process is coddled better on the farm, there are still plenty of big league evaluations that the club needs to complete.
The Royals need to allocate playing time more effectively if they hope to succeed in their elaborate rebuilding process. The wasting of valuable innings on veteran fill-ins needs to stop or the ball club will never graduate the rebuilding process and become a contender.
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