Sorting Things Out

Is it me, or does it seem like the Royals have been snakebit (it IS the Cactus League, after all…) by injuries this spring?  Alex Gordon’s broken thumb.  Jeff Bianchi’s elbow.  Danny Duffy had stiffness in his elbow before retiring/taking leave.  Rick Ankiel’s still battling an ankle injury.  Wally’s already looked at Gil Meche’s shoulder problems now and dating back to last year.  And now Alberto Callaspo’s dealing with a sudden oblique problem. I’ll just stop talking about it now so as to not jinx any other important players on the roster.

The Royals’ response to the possibility of Meche opening the year on the DL does show their intent regarding the starting rotation. For one, Kyle Davies is a near-lock for the fourth or fifth spot (depending on Meche’s health). If Meche isn’t ready to go, however, the front-runner seems to be Kyle Farnsworth for the final spot. There have also been unofficial tryouts for Anthony Lerew, Brad Thompson, Brian Bullington and rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna.

An interesting omission in the discussion is last September’s buzzsaw, Robinson Tejeda. How do you turn away a pitcher who dominated all of September?

There may be a few things the Royals have seen that go against Tejeda. First, his walk rate has never impressed, as he walks 5.2 batters per 9 innings for his career. He’s fortunate to miss a lot of bats, so he strands a lot of those runners with strikeouts, but being exposed on the mound for a few trips through the order could catch up to him.

For instance:

I Split G BB SO SO/BB OPS BAbip tOPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 53 51 99 1.94 .682 .250 88
2nd PA in G, as SP 53 57 71 1.25 .786 .295 118
3rd PA in G, as SP 48 39 32 0.82 .833 .318 131
4th+ PA in G, as SP 6 3 0 0.00 1.917 .333 425
1st PA in G, as RP 70 66 107 1.62 .600 .253 67
2nd PA in G, as RP 10 1 4 4.00 .673 .182 84

These are Tejeda’s career splits as a starter and a reliever. Regardless of his role, he’s always walked people, but you’ll notice his K/BB ratio, OPS, OPS+ and BABIP all increase with each turn through the lineup as a starter. He misses less bats the longer he’s in a game, and with his noted lack of control, that adds up to a dangerous situation of adding runners, wasting pitches and extending innings.

It makes sense that a starter will have less success with each trip through the lineup. They tire, maybe lose a couple ticks off their fastball, and the batters have already seen them once or twice and have an idea how to adjust. In Tejeda’s case, he’s better in short stints:

I Split G BB SO SO/BB OPS BAbip tOPS+
Pitch 1-25 123 81 135 1.67 .679 .268 88
Pitch 26-50 86 55 91 1.65 .661 .244 83
Pitch 51-75 57 45 55 1.22 .796 .295 120
Pitch 76-100 49 32 26 0.81 .884 .316 145
Pitch 101+ 14 4 6 1.50 .687 .417 92
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/27/2010.

So Tejeda looks better suited for a middle relief role, and could fill in as an emergency starter if necessary. And for a pitcher with a live arm like his, that’s the best role for him.

Farnsworth, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to be a much better fit for the rotation either. At least according to the same measurements from above:

I Split G BB SO SO/BB OPS BAbip tOPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 26 20 49 2.45 .759 .283 101
2nd PA in G, as SP 25 30 21 0.70 .919 .268 144
3rd PA in G, as SP 24 11 15 1.36 .861 .281 127
4th+ PA in G, as SP 9 3 1 0.33 1.079 .355 184
1st PA in G, as RP 626 273 684 2.51 .729 .310 95
2nd PA in G, as RP 13 5 9 1.80 .488 .263 35
3rd+ PA in G, as RP 1 0 1 .000 .000 -100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/27/2010.
I Split G BB SO SO/BB OPS BAbip tOPS+
Pitch 1-25 652 268 670 2.50 .730 .309 95
Pitch 26-50 117 39 74 1.90 .791 .312 110
Pitch 51-75 29 23 19 0.83 .874 .229 131
Pitch 76-100 23 9 14 1.56 .875 .286 131
Pitch 101+ 12 3 3 1.00 .799 .286 113
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/27/2010.

As you can see, that OPS+ shows Farnsworth to be just about average the first time through the lineup as a starter for his career, and a little better than average as a reliever the first time facing a batter. So let’s call it a wash and call him just average. Which is fine. Average for a reliever won’t hurt you too much, though it won’t help you much either.

Take a look at that second time through the lineup, though. That’s a pretty ugly spike in every way. And while the third time through the lineup seems to show Farnsworth calming down a little…the damage is done. It seems that 50-pitch threshold for both Tejeda and Farnsworth are where you can expect things to go downhill.

Granted, Farnsworth hasn’t started a game since 2000 with the Cubs, his second year in the majors. But perhaps ten years of experience against major league hitters has taught him a few things. Plus, there are reports of a changeup and improved two-seamer that give the Royals confidence in his abilities as a starter. I’m intrigued…but not optimistic. Farnsworth has a reputation of blowing up in high leverage situations leading to most of his work coming in mop-up duty.

Step one: Hope that Gil Meche’s shoulder is fine to start the season (or at least that he could act as the starting pitcher in the fifth game of the season).
Step two: Hope that Kyle Farnsworth’s changeup is as advertised and that maybe he’s learned a few tricks about getting outs.
Step three: Enjoy the fact that the discussion isn’t “Who’s following Chris Redman in the rotation?” or “Will Zack Greinke come back to baseball?”

I think the Royals are going to give Farnsworth a shot in that fifth rotation spot, but I don’t anticipate great results. It may be a similar experience to Sidney Ponson of last season, where he’d have one or two passable outings, one or two disastrous games, and maybe even sneak in one well-pitched, fool’s gold performance. And if the Kyle Farnsworth experiment turns out to be successful, it may be a blueprint for what some Royals fans have been calling for — Joakim Soria’s conversion to starter.

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  • Geist

    I’m one of few people not scared to death and horrible opposed to the idea of Farnsworth as a starter. I mean, this is the 5th guy in the rotation, and you already have the built in excuse of him only being in that slot due to Meche’s injury. I mean, if they can trot out Ponson and later Bruce Chen with a straight face, I don’t see why you can’t do the same with Farnsworth. If he gets killed, fine. If he tears up his shoulder, fine. After his disastrous start to the season last year, he may as well have been on the DL anyway, because they seemed so scared to get him back out there. I personally would much rather watch Farnsworth hurl that fastball high and tight than even think about watching Bruce Chen meander through another game.

  • Michael Engel

    Also forgot to add that Mike Moustakas slightly sprained his oblique last week and has yet to return to Minor League spring training.

  • Wally Fish

    Michael,
    I had never looked at the splits of Tejeda and Farnsworth in that fashion. A job well done!

    I’m in the Kyle Davies camp for the 5th spot, but it would appear that Davies’ has a spot in the rotation locked up. Unfortunately with Meche hurt, Davies is the #4 and the Royals need a #5. I’m not keen on the idea of Farnsworth in that role, but I can’t say the team really has any better options. I don’t buy the organizational spin about his “new” pitch, it’s never that easy, but I’ll roll with it till he proves he can’t cut it.

    Geist is right, after sitting through multiple Sidney Ponson starts last season, I don’t see how Farnsworth can fare much worse. This comparison doesn’t even bring up the batting practice train wreck that was Ho-Ram’s one start last season. That was about as bad of a performance as you are going to see from a starter. If things implode at least Farney can say he is better than Ho-Ram.

    If any of the above is poorly written, I blame the multitude of beers I consumed at a wedding reception tonight. I NEED to go to bed.

  • Michael Engel

    According to Mike Swanson, Gil Meche worked a solid simulated game today and experienced no discomfort, so hopefully, this entire article is rendered moot for the sake of the Royals staff.

    Wally, I’m back on the Davies train, especially if Meche remains healthy. Davies has a career OPS+ of 99, almost exactly average, which is perfectly acceptable for your final rotation spot. His K/BB could be better, I guess.

    And he’s not Horacio Ramirez. There’s always that.

  • Big Lee

    Let’s not rush Meche if there’s any doubt. He can be slotted back a few days, too. It appears the Royals are going to have a roster crush, anyhow, so carrying someone a couple of extra days on the roster may be useful.

  • Michael Engel

    Meche will have one more spring start to see how he feels. I agree he shouldn’t be rushed back. The “rest a week and get back out there” approach didn’t work very well for anybody who got hurt last season – Meche, Bannister, Soria, Aviles, Coco, Gordon…

    I like the idea of holding Meche back to pitch fifth in line – gives him a few extra days of rest to get himself right, assuming he doesn’t experience a setback and hit the DL before opening day.

    • Wally Fish

      If Meche is rushed back I’m gonna … I’m … well I don’t know what I would do. I’m not real confident we’re going to get much from Meche this year, but rushing him back is clearly not going to help. You’d think the organization and Trey would have learned from what they did to him last season, but you can never know for sure.

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