keyboard_arrow_uptop

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Hyun-gry for Runs: Byung-Hyun Kim could be starting to regret his decision to move into the rotation. He’s pitched very well there, with an RA of 4.00 and an opponents’ OPS of just .696 after six starts. But good pitching hasn’t stopped him from accumulating a 1-5 W/L record, the second unluckiest record in the majors. (The full list of unlucky starters can be found here.)

    Of course, that 1-5 record has little to do with Kim, and a lot to do with the anemic Arizona offense. Kim has received the third-lowest run support in the majors (behind the Tigers’ Adam Bernero and the Dodgers’ Darren Dreifort).

    And poor Diamondback run support is not limited to Kim. The Arizona rotation as a whole ranks second-to-last in the majors in luck, behind only the hapless Tigers. Diamondback starters have pitched well enough to have a collective record around .500, but their actual record is a dismal 7-13.

  • Problems at the Plate, Problems on the Basepaths: Father Time may have finally caught up with the geriatric Diamondbacks, especially at the plate. Clay Davenport’s metrics rank Arizona as the sixth-worst offense in the majors in 2003, with a .246 EqA. They’re getting sub-replacement-level performances out of many of their senior citizens, including Matt Williams, Steve Finley, Mark Grace, and (honorary senior citizen) Tony Womack.

    To add insult to injury, Clay’s ratings also show that the Diamondbacks have scored 10 fewer runs this year than their already poor component numbers would predict. Often, discrepancies like that are just due to bad luck, but with Arizona, many of those missing runs can be attributed to baserunning outs. Only the Braves have been thrown out stretching for extra bases more than the Diamondbacks this year, and, because the Diamondbacks have made their outs in higher-leverage situations, those outs have cost more runs than anyone’s. Here are the leaders in the league in terms of runs cost with baserunning outs (see last year’s “Running on Empty” column for more on where the cost comes from):

    Team         Outs  Runs Cost
    Diamondbacks   8      6.9
    Dodgers        8      5.8
    Braves        10      5.6
    Athletics      7      5.2
    Devil Rays     7      4.7
    

    Arizona’s aggressive out-making on the bases continues a trend they started last year–the 2002 D’backs finished third in the majors in runs cost with baserunning outs.

  • Sizzling Bullpen: The Diamondbacks’ early season has been full of bad news–the latest being that Randy Johnson will miss another several weeks–but the bullpen has been one of the team’s few bright spots. Closer Matt Mantei is filling Kim’s shoes respectably, rookie Oscar Villareal has been spectacular out of the gate, and Mike Koplove is well on his way to succeeding fellow sidearmer Scott Sullivan for the title of “Best Reliever No One’s Ever Heard Of.” Koplove and Villareal are two of the top 10
    relievers in the league
    in preventing runs, and the Arizona bullpen ranks seventh in the majors at the team level.

Kansas City Royals

  • Outstanding Performance: This space had already been written and filled with effusive praise for the bullpen…but in order to avoid a “Dewey Defeats Truman” PR disaster, we’ll switch gears and talk about Runelvys Hernandez instead.

    Before his bullpen gave up eight runs in two innings on Sunday, Hernandez was on target to become the first Royal pitcher ever to win five games before the end of April. He is still 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA, second in the AL to Esteban Loaiza, and batters are hitting just .173 against him.

    That can’t last. Hernandez has struck out just 21 batters in 39.2 innings of work, and even though he does a good job keeping the ball in the park (just two homers allowed so far), his success is as much a product of luck as skill. His opponents’ average on balls-in-play is .190, which is about as sustainable as a cease-fire in Kashmir. Hernandez gets plaudits for having excellent command of four pitches, but his lack of a true out-pitch keeps his strikeout rate humble and leaves him reliant on his defense. Sooner or later, they’re going to let him down.

  • Wretched Performance: I knew we could fit the bullpen in here somewhere…over the past three games, the Royals’ bullpen has blown a seven-run lead in the eighth, a one-run lead in the sixth, and a two-run lead in the ninth. Before Sunday, the Royals had the second-ranked bullpen in all of baseball according to Michael Wolverton’s ARP statistic; now, they’re barely in the top 10 and falling fast.

    More specifically, Mike MacDougal is turning into a pumpkin before the Royals’ eyes. His 10-for-10 start in save opportunities was built on a freakish collection of baserunning errors–no less than five opposing baserunners ran themselves into needless outs in his first 10 appearances. His two blown saves are testimony to the fact that MacDougal simply doesn’t throw enough strikes to be a reliable ninth-inning option. For the season, his strike percentage is less than 54%, which is down in Mitch Williams territory.

    The Royals would be well-advised to let MacDougal figure out his control issues in middle relief, and move Jason Grimsley into the glamour role. Assuming, that is, that Grimsley still has control of his extremities. He’s appeared in 16 of the Royals’ 24 games, a 108-game pace for the season.

  • Upcoming Schedule: If you’re wondering if the Royals are for real or not, you won’t have to wait much longer to find out. The Royals have just started a 13-game stretch of games against the Red Sox and Orioles. Starting May 12th, though, they play the following teams in succession: Minnesota, Toronto, Seattle, Oakland, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, Colorado, Arizona, San Francisco, Minnesota, and St. Louis. That’s 38 games, 32 against teams that had winning records in 2002, and 24 against teams that qualified for the playoffs last year.

    If the Royals are still in first place on June 22nd, you can start taking their playoff aspirations seriously. But not before.

  • Help on the Farm:
    Integral to the Royals’ chances of converting their opening stride into season-long contention is their ability to keep the starting rotation, which has performed admirably despite its inexperience, humming. But the Royals’ #3, #4, and #5 starters (Miguel Asencio, Chris George, and Darrell May) are all capable of sudden collapse at any moment, making the presence of appealing alternatives a necessity.

    Tonight, one of those alternatives makes his debut. Kyle Snyder, the seventh overall pick in the 1999 draft, is finally fully recovered from Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2000 season. He was widely considered the best collegiate pitcher in his draft–the A’s were prepared to take him with the ninth pick, only to settle for their backup option…Barry Zito. Snyder has yet to show outstanding K rates as a pro, but does a great job of throwing strikes with his sinking fastball. In 131 innings since returning from surgery, he has a K-BB ratio of 106-32. He’s just filling in for Jeremy Affeldt tonight, but don’t be surprised if he has his own spot
    in the rotation before long.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Star Performers:
    While Kevin
    Millwood

    has the gaudiest line on the resume so far thanks to his
    no-hitting the Giants, he is not the only distinguished pitcher in the
    starting rotation. Through the games of April 29th, Michael Wolverton’s
    SNWL report included three Phillies starters in the list of
    top
    30 pitchers

    in the majors, but those three were
    Brett
    Myers,

    Vicente
    Padilla,
    and
    Randy
    Wolf,
    not Millwood.

    The front office and coaching staff is giving Millwood a lot of credit for
    working with Myers, and someone certainly deserves credit. Previously Myers’
    response to things not going well was to start throwing his fastball
    harder and
    harder with less than desirable results, including a wretched 1.17 K/BB
    ratio
    last year. This year he’s using his off-speed pitches, primarily a knee-buckling curve but also a change-up that he’s working on, and has improved
    his K/BB ratio to a much healthier 2.58. His won-loss record is only
    2-2 but that
    is a reflection of run support, with the two losses being in 2-0 and 3-1 games.

  • Wretched Performers: Not only do the Phillies have multiple entries on the top 30 SNWL list,
    they
    also have two of the top three pitchers
    most
    hurt

    by their bullpens. Primary responsibility for this rests on the
    shoulders of
    Carlos
    Silva
    ,
    who has been the
    worst
    reliever

    in the majors in terms of allowing inherited runners to
    score. Silva managed to succeed last year despite a startlingly low
    strikeout
    rate, but very few pitchers can consistently put up good results that
    way unless
    they have far better control than Silva does.

    Indications are that after coming in with the bases loaded and two outs on
    Tuesday evening and allowing all of the runners to score, Larry Bowa has
    decided to move Silva to a long relief/mop-up role. However his replacement
    in the setup role is likely to be
    Turk
    Wendell
    ,
    who has something of an incendiary history himself. Another
    panic
    trade

    to bring in veteran relievers may be in the offing for the Phillies.

    On offense,
    Pat
    Burrell

    is not meeting the expectations created by his
    gigantic
    off-season contract
    . His power numbers are off, with only three
    homers so far,
    but far more worrying has to be the sub-.300 OBP. With
    Jimmy
    Rollins
    and
    Placido
    Polanco

    doing a surprisingly good job of getting on base at the
    top of the lineup (.359 and .441 OBP respectively) the Phillies could
    put up
    a lot of runs if Burrell returns to form.

  • Lineup Changes:
    Marlon
    Byrd

    has returned from the disabled list after the knee laceration
    suffered in a play at the plate, but as Joe Sheehan
    pointed
    out
    ,
    Ricky
    Ledee

    had a two-week stretch to make his case for increased playing time; there are
    indications that a possible platoon between Ledee and Byrd is in the
    works.
    However the Phillies should think carefully about the potential
    long-term consequences
    of this move. As the right-handed hitter of the pair, Byrd would get the short end of the
    playing time straw, and at 25 any developmental time lost could have a
    dramatic
    effect on his career. Furthermore Ledee’s career resurrection has been
    based primarily on the 60 plate appearances he made last July when he went
    .302/.500/.651. Outside of that he hit .206/.289/.356 last year. Marlon
    Byrd
    was the right call for starting center fielder before the season began, and
    he’s still the right call now.