...on this new morning with you.
(From "New Morning," New Morning)
Well, I didn't intend to take a whole month off, but I ended up doing so. Of course, nothing much was happening in Royal land, and while the start of spring training is exciting to baseball geeks like me, it's not usually filled with newsworthy happenings. But now the calendar has turned to March, and things are starting to get interesting. A few thoughts on spring training so far...
- I was hoping to post something once the Royals signed Orlando Hudson, but it was such a downer when he ended up with the Dodgers, I couldn't bring myself to write about it. He would have solved the Royals' second base problem, which I believe is the team's biggest concern right now. I don't know if the Mark Teahen Second Base Experiment is over, but the early returns were not encouraging. Two errors in his first game at second, plus another double play he could have turned but didn't. And now he leaves for the World Baseball Classic (Go Team Canada, eh!), where he will probably play third base. The Royals are obviously not sold on Alberto Callaspo, since they never would have tried Teahen at second if they thought they had a starter there. My biggest fear is that Willie Bloomquist's grit and hustle will so impress Trey Hillman that "Bloomie" will be run out there 120 times at 2B this year, and his .234 average won't get him out of the lineup. The Royals are not good enough as a team offensively to be below-average anywhere on the field. You'd think the experience of having Tony Pena Jr. sinking the Royals' offense last year would have taught Hillman something. I don't expect Bloomquist to be TPJ bad, but he will in all likelihood be a drag on KC's offense.
- Speaking of offense, I spent some time recently playing with the Lineup Analysis tool at baseballmusings.com (http://www.baseballmusings.com/cgi-bin/LineupAnalysis.py). Using last year's numbers and putting Teahen at 2B, the site predicted this lineup would score 4.98 runs/game: DeJesus, Aviles, Butler, Jacobs, Gordon, Olivo, Guillen, Teahen, Crisp. Since the AL average was 4.78 R/G last year, that's a good sign. It has this lineup scoring 5.06 R/G: DeJesus, Aviles, Crisp, Jacobs, Gordon, Olivo, Guillen, Butler, Bloomquist. Now, you and I both know that a lineup with Jose Guillen batting seventh is a lineup that's going to create an angry, sulking Jose Guillen. Also, Trey Hillman is highly unlikely to bat Butler eighth or Gordon fifth. So I plugged in what I think will be the lineup: Crisp, Aviles, DeJesus, Guillen, Jacobs, Gordon, Butler, Olivo, Bloomquist. That gives the Royals 4.96 R/G.
- That makes me cautiously optimistic for 2009. Most projections I've seen have the Royals winning about 75 games again. But they also show the AL Central to be a tightly bunched division. Right now, I'd say every team can make a case for why they can win it, even the Royals. Here's my case: that 4.96 R/G on offense and the fact the Royals allowed 4.82 R/G last year. I think Brian Bannister will bounce back from his nightmarish 2008 and that should make KC's pitching a bit better. Say that offensive projection holds up (sure, some of those players' numbers will go down, but younger players like Gordon and Butler should improve). Then say KC's runs allowed goes down to 4.75 per game. That translates to 803 runs scored for the season against 770 allowed. Using the Bill James pythagorean winning percentage, that projects to an 84-78 record. I don't think the Royals will be that good, but the difference between 78-84 and 84-78 is slim. It's not hard to believe that if Gordon and/or Butler come into their own, this could be an interesting summer. Remember, the Royals aren't chasing 95-win juggernauts like Boston and Tampa Bay.
- I like the Juan Cruz signing. A lot. A guy who throws hard, gets strikeouts and doesn't give up homers. That last part is what distinguishes him from Kyle Farnsworth, who hopefully now will be pitching 6th or 7th innings, not the 8th. This is the kind of move Dayton Moore has excelled at since becoming GM: finding the power arm for the bullpen and signing them to a relatively inexpensive contract. Suddenly a bullpen of Doug Waechter, Farnsworth, Cruz, Ron Mahay, Jimmy Gobble and Joakim Soria looks pretty good. Waechter and the Farns can cover the middle innings, Gobble can face lefties in key spots (and ONLY lefties), Mahay can work the 7th, Cruz the 8th and Soria can slam the door in the 9th.
- One final thing: this story in today's Star about a survey saying the Royals rank dead last among MLB teams in popularity in their market. I have an opinion on this survey: pure crap. A sample size of 200? Seems rather small to me, although I admittedly am not a marketing person. I really question the survey since it ranks the Chiefs 25th of 32 NFL teams. Despite two solid years of crappy football, the Chiefs still draw a lot of interest (check out their TV ratings sometime). And I believe KC still cares a lot about the Royals. I was around in 2003 when the team's hot start led to a summer-long pennant race. People talked about them all summer. I am waiting and hoping for another summer like that soon.