Rewinding to April 3rd, the lost Q&A

Let’s rewind back to before the 2010 season.  Back on March 26th, I was approached by one of the writers for the New York Mets site, Mets Paradise, to answer some questions about the Kansas City Royals.  Always willing to talk Royals, and always willing to provide thoughts on our team to anyone who is willing to listen or read them, I gladly accepted. At the time of the request I was immersed in all things related to Call to the Pen as I prepared for that site’s launch, but found time to write and send back the following on April 3rd.

The series that my responses were intended for, Around The Blogs In 30 Days, seems to have died off as their focus has turned to other things.  I don’t blame them in the least for moving on from the series, and I must say that they do an excellent job covering the Mets on a daily basis.  That said, it seems like a shame to not share my responses somewhere so I thought I’d publish them here.  If nothing else it has been fun to look back at my responses before the season started in relation to where things stand with the Royals today.  I hope you enjoy reading the following questions and answers which appear exactly as they did when I sent them back to Mets Paradise back on April 3rd.

1. I have to start with Zack Greinke. Obviously he won the AL Cy Young last year. He made a name for himself last season. What makes him so good?

Zack is a unique cat to say the least. Plenty of pitchers in professional baseball have either the raw stuff or an understanding of the art of pitching. Greinke is such a special talent, because he has both the incredible raw stuff and a very advanced understanding of how to pitch. He reacts to even the most stressful game situations with a calm demeanor and analytical approach that also help to separate him from his peers. To answer your question more directly, Zack Greinke is so good because he is the complete package. He has absolutely everything you would want in a major league ace.

2. I’ve also heard that Greinke uses sabrmetrics in some way to help him win games. For example, he knows by the numbers he’s most likely to get someone out by getting him to fly out to centerfield to David DeJesus, so he pitches to make that happen. Have you heard anything about this, and what do you think about it?

In various interviews Greinke has discussed his knowledge of sabermetrics like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and how he applies them to his craft when he is out on the mound. Bannister has also talked about how Greinke has integrated his understanding of stats like zone rating to pitch guys in certain ways to generate a specific outcome. The case of David DeJesus that you reference in your question is an example of that. This got a lot of national attention after he won the Cy Young award, but there is absolutely no doubt that Greinke has become a full-blown student of sabermetrics. Much of this is thanks to the guidance and teachings of rotation-mate Brian Bannister, who is widely regarded as the most statistically-inclined pitcher in major league baseball. It doesn’t hurt that Greinke, like Bannister, is an extremely intelligent individual. It is one thing to learn about and understand sabermetrics, but it is a different thing entirely to be able to apply that knowledge out on the mound. Like I said earlier Greinke is truly the complete package as a pitcher and is also a unique and fascinating person.

3. Alex Gordon is a guy we’ve heard about for awhile. He’s been up in the big leagues for the past few years. But he missed a lot of last season with an injured hip. What are your expectations for him this coming season?

There’s no doubt that Alex Gordon has failed to live up to the expectations of the team’s fanbase. Those expectations were fueled by the fact that he was the 2nd overall pick in the 2005 draft and was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the year in 2006 after hitting 0.325/.427/.588 with 29 HR and 22 SB in Double-A that season. The fact that he was born in Lincoln, NE, grew up a Royals fan, and starred at the University of Nebraska only added to the pressure that was placed upon him and that he surely placed upon himself. His incredible 2006 season landed him on the Royals opening day roster in 2007. He got off to a terrible start and clearly wasn’t ready, but the organization stuck with him instead of sending him down to Triple-A for more seasoning. What gets lost is the fact that in his rookie season he played in 151 games and finished the season with an OPS+ of 90. It wasn’t the Rookie of the Year campaign that everyone expected, but he stayed healthy, improved in the second half, and held his own as a 23-year old in the majors despite just one season of AA on his professional resume. Gordon had some minor injury issues in 2008 but he managed to play in 134 games and continued to make progress. He cut his SO rate, improved his BB rate, and improved all three of his slash stats (BA, OBP, and SLG). He didn’t break out and have the monster year everyone was still looking for, but it was a nice step forward and his OPS+ finished at 109 making him an above league average offensive player at 24 years old. Last season, he hit a home run in Chicago on opening day, but he would collect just one other hit in his first seven games while dealing with the hip injury that proceeded to sideline him for the next three months. He came back in mid-July but was nowhere near 100%. The 2009 season wound up being a wash. With that background in place, my expectation for Alex Gordon in 2010 is nothing less than to see him continue to build upon the progress he showed in 2008. From the moment he was drafted, Gordon became the local hero expected to evolve into the savior of the Royals franchise and star as the next George Brett. Many people have written him off, but I am not among them. I still believe that Alex can play at an All-Star level for many years, but he needs to stay healthy to do so. To quantify my expectations, I expect Alex Gordon to hit 0.270/.360/.450 and break the 20 HR barrier.

4. Brian Bannister went to the Royals in a trade from the Mets in exchange for Ambiorix Burgos. He never worked out for the Mets, had off the field issues. But how has Bannister worked out for the Royals?

To say that Burgos never worked out for the Mets is quite an understatement, but I’ll leave that one alone. Outside of a disappointing season in 2008, Bannister has been an average to slightly above average major league starter and for a team like the Royals, that in itself is worth its weight in gold. His value however extends beyond the days that he’s pitching. Not only has his understanding and grasp of sabermetrics helped him maximize his own natural talents, he has also willingly shared his knowledge with other pitchers on the Royals staff. While Greinke is the notable standout in the group, guys like Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies have also benefited from Bannister’s teachings.

5. Luke Hochevar is a former first overall pick. Since then we haven’t heard a ton about him. What would you consider a successful season for him this year?

Last year his performance was all over the map. He threw multiple clunkers similar to his September 28th (8 runs on 12 hits in 6 innings) and August 15th (6 runs and 12 hits in 4 innings) starts, but he also threw some absolute gems including his 3-hit complete game shutout on September 18th and his 80-pitch complete game 3-hitter that he turned in on June 12th. He struck out 13 in 7 innings on July 25th, but also had 7 starts where he only struck out one or two guys. Of all the guys in the Royals rotation last season, Luke was the most unpredictable. His ability and potential stuff put him behind only Zack Greinke. There is a reason he was the first player taken in the 2006 draft after all, but three years into his major league career, I still have no earthly idea who Luke Hochevar is or what type of pitcher he can become. The only thing I know for certain is that he has conquered Triple-A and he is capable of being a successful 2 or 3 starter in the majors. When it comes to Luke Hochevar you can throw out the stats, good or bad, at the end of the year. I’ll consider his 2010 season a success if he simply shows some consistency and figures out what type of pitcher he is going to be. If he’s consistently terrible that’s fine, then at least the Royals can consider moving on. If he’s consistently good to great, even better as the team will have a long-term option in their rotation to pair with Greinke.

6. Billy Butler had a good season for the Royals last year at first base. He’s also a former first round pick. At just 23 years old, what do you think his ceiling is? He’s still really young.

Billy Butler is a hitting machine with a ton of upside. I think his offensive ceiling is that of Mike Sweeney in his prime, back when Sweeney was one of the best right-handed hitters in all of baseball, but with more power. Much has been made about the elite company that his 50 double-20 home run season before the age of 24 put him in and I myself have dedicated a lot of writing time to his achievement. The group that he is now a part of (A-Rod, Hank Greenberg, Albert Pujols, Grady Sizemore, and Miguel Cabrera) speaks to the Billy’s talent level. For 2010, I expect him to hit over 0.300 with at least 40 doubles and 30 home runs. If Butler can stay healthy, Steve Balboni’s single season team HR record of 36 could fall as early as this year.

7. Gil Meche didn’t quite have the season he would’ve liked to in 2009. He was very good for the Royals in his first 2 years with the team, but he battled injuries all last season. Is it as simple as staying healthy for Meche this season, or were there other problems he was having?

Meche’s problems in 2009 were entirely the result of injures and overuse by manager Trey Hillman. He fought through back pain from spring training on and was on track to have another very good season with the team. Then he threw a 132 pitch 4-hit complete game shutout on June 16th, a game which came on the heels of starts where he threw 110 and 115 pitches. On June 16th, his ERA was 3.31. Shortly after that outing he started complaining of a “dead arm” but Trey Hillman let him go 121 pitches on July 1st and followed that up by letting him go 114 pitches on July 6th. He’d make one more start on July 11th and then was lost for a month. His ERA at that point was still only 4.50. Inexplicably the team brought him off the DL to make 4 starts in August. He got hammered in all 4 of those starts, his ERA ballooned to 5.09 and he was finally shut down for the season. Prior to that fateful June 16th outing, Meche was having the best season of his career. Injuries were the symptom, but Trey Hillman was the cause that lead to Gil’s disappointing season.

8. Jose Guillen is a little bit of enigma. He was linked to steroids in the Mitchell Report. There was once an incident where he removed an ingrown toe nail himself, getting himself suspended. He’s played for 10 different clubs. What do you think about this guy? Does he make up for it on the field?

I’ve been in the camp that he should have never been signed to a 3-year $36 million contract the day that it happened. Jose Guillen has done nothing in the last two seasons to change my mind. Now that he is entering the final year of his deal, I think the Royals should eat the $12 million and release him outright. He can’t run, he’s terrible defensively in RF, his bat has slowed down significantly, and he has caused problems in multiple clubhouses including the Royals over his career. Even if he had the best personality and reputation in all of baseball, he’d be hard pressed to justify a spot on the roster. The Royals are going nowhere this season and they would be better off without him.

9. What are your expectations for the Royals this season? How much do you expect them to improve?

I’ll restate what I just said, the Royals are going nowhere this season. In terms of record I expect them to improve upon their 65-97 record from 2009 but that’s not saying much. I’m projecting them to finish the year with a 68-94 record which will land them in 4th or 5th place in the AL Central depending on how badly the Cleveland Indians pitching staff winds up being this year. I’m thinking it’s going to be really bad, so I’ll say the Royals finish in 4th place a game or two ahead of the Indians.

I was hoping Dayton would use the offseason to acquire younger talented guys who, for whatever reason, had fallen out of favor with their organizations and he’d couple those acquisitions by giving players like Brayan Pena, Kila Ka’aihue, Mitch Maier, and Carlos Rosa significant playing time to see if they could be a part of the team’s future in 2011 and beyond. 2010 should have been an “evaluation” year, but instead he signed Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, Brian Anderson (who decided he wants to be a pitcher now), and Jason Kendall. As a result of those moves, Rosa and Ka’aihue are back in Triple-A, Pena is blocked by Kendall who the organization wants to play everyday, and Maier will likely spend his time getting spot starts and relying on an injury to one of the other outfielders to get a chance at regular playing time. He also traded for 2B-Chris Getz, an acquisition that I support, but even that had a potentially negative result as it displaced the team’s second best hitter, Alberto Callaspo. While I don’t anticipate the major league team will find much success, I’ll be watching every game regardless because I love baseball and I love the Royals. Even in the darkest days I can still look forward to watching three young players (Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, and Joakim Soria) continue to prove that they are among the best players in baseball.

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Tags: Alberto Callaspo Alex Gordon Billy Butler Brayan Pena Brian Anderson Brian Bannister Carlos Rosa Chris Getz David DeJesus Gil Meche Jason Kendall Joakim Soria Jose Guillen Kila Kaaihue Kyle Davies Luke Hochevar Mike Sweeney Mitch Maier Rick Ankiel Scott Podsednik Trey Hillman Zack Greinke

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