Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Photo Credit: Flickr user daveynin via Creative Commons license)

Kauffman Stadium is one of the nicer parks in the league I hear, especially after they renovated the place a year or two ago. Ben will be there for all three games this week, but alas, I’ll be watching on the ol’ idiot box. These two clubs met in New York earlier this season, with the Royals taking two of three. They won the first game in extra innings thanks to Buddy Carlyle, and the other by pounding Ivan Nova.

What Have The Royals Done Lately?

Yesterday’s loss to the White Sox was their second straight loss and their sixth in their last seven days. They’ve also lost eight of their last ten. The Royals are 50-71 overall with a -55 run differential, occupying the bottom spot in the AL Central.

Royals On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Kansas City has a pretty legit offense, though the lineup is top heavy. Alex Gordon (.298/.372/.480) is their best all around hitter (and player) and leadoff guy, and former Yankee Melky Cabrera (.311/.343/.478) has settled into the number two spot. Billy Butler (.284/.363/.445) bats third and rookie Eric Hosmer (.275/.328/.425) cleans up. Hosmer hit his first career homer in Yankee Stadium earlier in the season, and he’s hitting a stout .293/.354/.469 over the last six weeks or so. Jeff Francoeur soaks up the fifth spot with his .272/.323/.460 batting line. Those five are the only players on the team with double digit homeruns, and all of them except Hosmer have either 14 or 15 (Hosmer has ten).

The rest of the lineup is pretty iffy. Recent call-up Johnny Giavotella is guaran-damn-teed to be that pain in the butt player this series, and he’s hitting .289/.325/.474 in limited time. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is having trouble after making the jump from hot shot prospect to big leaguer (.184/.242/.232 in a small-ish sample), and another recent call-up (Salvador Perez) has taken over behind the plate (.264/.250/.333 in four games). Alcides Escobar is in the lineup for his glove (+8 UZR, +11 DRS), not his bat (.251/.288/.332).

That group of players up their represent their regular lineup, and like the Yankees, the Royals only have three players on the bench. That’s backup catcher Brayan Pena (.262/.302/.364), backup infielder Chris Getz (.256/.315/.285), and backup outfielder Mitch Maier (.253/.364/.360). Kansas City is one stolen base behind the Yankees for the AL lead, and they have five players with at least ten steals (Getz, Escobar, Gordon, Melky, and Frenchy). It’s a better offense than you may realize.

Royals On The Mound

Monday, RHP Felipe Paulino (vs. A.J. Burnett): Claimed off waivers from the Rockies earlier this season, Paulino (a former Astros) has quietly performed like a borderline ace for the Royals in a dozen starts. His strikeout (8.23 K/9) and walk (2.90 BB/9) rates are very good, and although 44.8% grounders isn’t great, it’ll get the job done with those walks and whiffs. Paulino brings the heat, legitimately sitting in the mid-90’s with his fastball and throwing his slider in the high-80’s. He’s also got a changeup and curveball, but they’re distant third and fourth offerings. Unsurprisingly, he does have some trouble with lefties. The Yankees have never faced Paulino, and he’s allowed more than three runs just four times as a Royal. He’s sneaky good.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons license)

Tuesday, LHP Danny Duffy (vs. Nova): Another guy the Yankees have never faced before, Duffy was one of nine top 100 prospects the Royals boasted coming into the season. He’s been below-average in 15 starts since being called up, walking too many (4.41 BB/9), getting too few ground balls (39.4%), and throwing too many pitches (averaging 97 pitches and just 5.1 IP per start). Duffy’s a hard-throwing lefty, sitting in the 92-94 range with his four-seamer and a touch below that with his two-seamer. A big-breaking mid-70’s curveball is his bread and butter pitcher, and his low-80’s changeup is a decent offering as well. Duffy certainly has the ability to shut the Yankees down, but I’d like to think that they’ll punish a rookie pitcher with walk and fly ball issues.

Wednesday, LHP Bruce Chen (vs. Bartolo Colon): For some reason I thought Chen shut the Yankees down last year, but he made just two starts against them and neither was all that great: 6 IP, 5 R and 5 IP, 3 R. He’s having a similar season to last year but is just a bit worse across the board, with underwhelming strikeout (5.59 K/9), homerun (1.16 HR/9), and ground ball (37%) rates. His walk rate (3.28 BB/9) is fine though. Chen is a total soft-tosser, sitting 84-88 with a variety of fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter). A low-80’s slider is his top secondary offering, and he’ll also mix in a high-70’s changeup and low-70’s curve. Chen’s been pretty good since coming off the DL in late June, allowing three or fewer runs in six of nine starts. He did cough up ten runs just three starts ago, though.

Bullpen: Three men on the bench means eight guys on the bullpen. Closer Joakim Soria has dug himself out of an early season rut, pitching to a 2.22 ERA with 27 strikeouts and just four walks in 28.1 IP since the calendar flipped to May. His primary setup man these days is righty Greg Holland (2.56 FIP), though Aaron Crow (3.85 FIP) will also get some late-inning work as well. Louis Coleman (3.69 FIP) is a side-arming righty without much of a platoon split, but that’s because he hasn’t been up all that long. Tim Collins has gaudy minor league numbers but also some major walk problems (6.66 BB/9 and 4.74 FIP). Blake Wood (4.13 FIP), Nathan Adcock (4.45 FIP), and Everett Teaford (7.13 FIP in a small sample) fill out the rest of the bullpen, doing everything from long relief to middle innings work. Collins and Teaford are the two lefties.

Recommended Royals Reading: Royals Review

Fan Confidence Poll: August 15th, 2011

Record Last Week: 3-2 (29 RS, 21 RA)
Season Record:
72-46 (632 RS, 457 RA, 77-41 pythag. record), 0.5 GB in AL East, 8.5 up for wildcard
Opponents This Week:
@ Royals (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Twins (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:172}

Mailbag: Johnny Damon

Still insane. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Cory asks: Word is Johnny Damon cleared waivers, is he worth looking at to fill the DH role? It seems like he would be at the least a slight upgrade over Chavez/Jones, but would pretty much close the door on Montero being any more than a bench option this season.

Damon did clear waivers, at least according to Jayson Stark. That means the Rays are now able to trade him to any team for a player that a) also cleared waivers, b) was claimed off waivers by the Rays, or c) is not on the 40-man roster. Money really isn’t an issue here, there’s less than $1.5M left on Damon’s contract this season. He does have some weird incentives tied to attendance, but I think those go away if traded since they’re dependent on Tampa’s attendance. Either way, it’s only another $750k at most.

So the real question is this: Is Johnny actually better than what the Yankees already have at DH? Even with his Friday homer off CC Sabathia, he’s still hitting jut .261/.315/.395 with ten homers in 481 plate appearances. The Trop is one of the more extreme pitchers’ parks in the game, so it’s not a surprise that Damon has a .356 wOBA on the road and a .270 wOBA at home. The current cast of DH’s for the Yankees is Eric Chavez (.323 wOBA vs. RHP in 81 PA) and Andruw Jones (.380 wOBA vs. LHP in 103 PA), though we should also include Jorge Posada in that mix (.351 wOBA vs. RHP in 228 PA). Damon’s platoon split is basically non-existent (.315 wOBA vs. RHP and .309 vs. LHP), and based on just this season’s numbers, he’s not an upgrade anywhere. Unless you believe he’ll hit like he has on the road for the rest of the season.

There’s also the roster space issue. Someone would have to get the axe to make room for Damon, and frankly both Chavez and Jones have proven to be very useful in their prescribed roles. Eduardo Nunez can’t go anywhere because he’s the backup middle infielder, and they’re not going to cut ties with Posada. They’re just not. The Yankees could get a little creative and swing a trade for Damon on the night of August 31st, so they wouldn’t need to play with a wonky roster for an extended period of time because of September call-ups the next day. Of course, there’s basically no chance the Rays will go along with that, and they’ve already shown an unwillingness to trade within the division.

Johnny’s still a good player, but he’s no longer great or even very good. He’s basically an average hitter these days, which is an upgrade over what the Yankees were getting out of their DH’s for most of the year. I think I’d rather have the Chavez-Jones tandem going forward, unless they can finagle something on the 31st and use him as an extra bat in September. There’s a pretty good chance that if he wasn’t a former Yankee, we probably wouldn’t even consider Johnny a viable option. There’s some nostalgia afoot.

Betances promoted to AAA after a rainy day

Dellin Betances was promoted to Triple-A Scranton, which was expected. Congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. Doubleheader tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (4-2 loss to Harrisburg)
Austin Krum, LF & Ray Kruml, DH: both 1 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB – Kruml drove in a run
Jose Pirela, 2B, Rob Lyerly, 1B & Melky Mesa, CF: all 0 for 4, 2 K – Pirela scored a run … Lyerly committed an error on a missed catch
Zoilo Almonte, RF: 0 for 3, 1 K
Yadil Mujica, SS: 1 for 3, 1 K, 2 E (fielding, throwing)
Addison Maruszak, 3B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
R.J. Baker, C: 0 for 2, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) – Corban Joseph pinch-hit for him late and drove in a run with a single
Graham Stoneburner, RHP: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 9-1 GB/FB – 58 of 105 pitches were strikes (55.2%) … he’s getting ground balls, but still seems a little off since being activated off the DL
Brad Halsey, LHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 23 of 33 pitches were strikes (69.7%)
Pat Venditte, SwP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 17 pitches, and 16 were strikes … wow

[Read more…]

Sunday Night Open Thread

Summer Sundays without the Yankees are just weird. I slept in, headed out for a late breakfast, then settled in for a game that was never played. I had no idea what to do with myself. I had this four hour block of … nothing. Oh well, at least I managed to actually be productive around the house during the downtime. The Yankees, meanwhile, are off to Kansas City, and there’s a decent chance they’re already there. Alex Rodriguez won’t be in the lineup, but hey, we can always re-live his three homer game in Kauffman from last season.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is in St. Louis for Rockies-Cardinals (Esmil Rogers vs. Edwin Jackson), but feel free to talk about anything here. You all know what to do, so have at it.

The Forgotten Reliever

Jeter, Teixeira...... Wade, Nunez. (copyright Amanda Rykoff)

There are lots of cool things about Yankees pitching, AJ Burnett’s terrible hair notwithstanding. Mariano Rivera. Bartolo Colon. CC Sabathia. But you know what? These are all pretty big names in the scale of baseball, and especially when talking about general Yankee successes. When you consider the good fortune that Yankees pitching has had so far, there also needs to be some consideration given to some slightly smaller pitching names as well. I’m not even talking about strikeout/leverage machine (and 2011 All-Star) David Robertson or never-a-top-100 prospect (but 10-game winner) Ivan Nova.

How about Cory Wade? On the scale of successful ballplayers on the Yankees that no one talks about, he’s gotta be up at the top or near it. Wade was drafted in the 10th round by the Dodgers in 2004 and pitched a full reliever’s season in 2008 in the bigs, posting a pretty 2.27 ERA in 71 IP. However, after a slightly less impressive 2009, he spent the year bouncing between the Dodgers (where he posted a 5.53 ERA in 27.2 IP) and AAA Albuquerque. He was granted free agency after that and signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in November of last year, then was assigned to AAA Durham. There, he worked in relief, posting a sparkling 1.23 ERA and a pretty nice 3.34 FIP, to go alone with a K/BB ratio over 5. He did all of this in about 40 innings, and then used a clause in his contract to opt out on July 11th. This is where it gets good.

Let me set the scene for you. Rafael Soriano has just gone on the DL with elbow soreness and is not expected back until the All-Star Break. Joba Chamberlain has just gone on the DL two days before, with a strained flexor. Currently taking their places are the ever famous Jeff Marquez (minor league ERA: 3.97, FIP: 4.37) who has just been claimed off waivers from the White Sox, and Amauri Sanit (ERA: 5.21, FIP: 4.73) from AAA. Meanwhile, you are Brian Cashman, and your arch-enemies, the Rays, have just released a really good reliever from their system. That’s exactly what you need! Excellent! The Yankees signed Wade two days later, had him pitch 1.2 innings in SWB and then called him up to the big leagues.

Since then, Wade’s been nothing short of awesome. He’s a perfectly solid middle-reliever and has handled both high-leverage situations and garbage time equally well. In fact, out of his 21 appearances, he’s only posted a negative WPA in 4 of them, and has gone 2-0. His other numbers are similarly impressive, albeit the small sample of only 23.1 IP is worth nothing: 2.31 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 3.32 xFIP, 6 ER, 18 Ks. His 1.5 BB/9 and 6.9 K/9 are good for a healthy 4.5 K/BB ratio. His 79.2 LOB% is a bit high, but certainly within reason, and his .254 BABIP is the highest he’s ever had. 40.6% groundballs contributes.

Part of it is mental: as a Yankees fan, I feel comfortable watching Cory Wade pitch the sixth or the seventh in a one-run game. I feel like he is a safe guy to give the ball to despite the fact that I’ve never heard his name before this. But part of it is in the numbers: those are legitimately strong stats. He’s racked up about half a win in fWAR, which is nice to have in only 23 innings. He’s given up only six earned runs in that span. Plus, he’s not yet valuable enough to where Girardi is considering him a one-inning guy only: he’s had three outings where he threw two innings, and one more outing when he threw three. He also isn’t constrained to a particular role, such as an eight-inning guy or a closer. In a way, his namelessness contributes even more to his success.

As has been mentioned before, the Yankees have been extremely successful and extremely lucky when it comes to pitching this year, and this makes for endless words for us bloggers looking for something to talk about. As the season winds down, we’ll see more and more of how these players shape up come September and eventual October/playoff baseball. Cool thing is, your name doesn’t have any correlation to have could you can be. Throw strikes, get batters out, win. It all works the same no matter who you are: Mariano, Sabathia, or a castoff from the Rays.

(Yankees Baseball Daily helped me think this up. Check it out.)

A-Rod continues rehab with simulated game

After asking to DH yesterday, Alex Rodriguez continued his road back from knee surgery in a simulated game today. He got 13 at-bats, then did some situational work at third base and more extensive defensive drills after that. The plan is for Alex to get Monday off, then travel north and join Triple-A Scranton to continue his rehab on Tuesday. The Yankees still want him to play two full nine inning games before activating him, and there’s still a chance A-Rod will be activated in time for Thursday’s opener at Target Field.