Manager: Trey Hillman General Manager: Dayton Moore
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Kauffman Stadium (103/104)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Jose Guillen replaces Emil Brown and Shane Costa (minors)
Alberto Callaspo replaces Jason Smith
Miguel Olivo replaces Jason LaRue
Billy Butler takes over Mike Sweeney's playing time
Ross Gload takes over the playing time of Ryan Shealy (minors)
Zack Greinke takes over the starts of Kyle Davies (minors)
John Bale takes over the starts of Odalis Perez and Billy Buckner
Brett Tomko replaces Jorge de la Rosa (minors) and Scott Elarton
Joakim Soria takes over Octavio Dotel's save opportunities
Yasuhiko Yabuta replaces David Riske
Ron Mahay replaces John Bale's relief innings
Ramon Ramirez replaces Joel Peralta (minors)
Hideo Nomo replaces Brandon Duckworth (minors)
1B - Ross Gload (L)
2B - Mark Grudzielanek (R)
SS - Tony Peña Jr. (R)
3B - Alex Gordon (L)
C - John Buck (R)
RF - Jose Guillen (R)
CF - Joey Gathright (L)
LF - Mark Teahen (L)
DH - Billy Butler (R)
R - Esteban German (IF)
S - Alberto Callaspo (IF)
R - Miguel Olivo (C)
L - David DeJesus* (OF)
R - Gil Meche
R - Brian Bannister
R - Zack Greinke
L - John Bale
R - Brett Tomko
R - Joakim Soria
R - Leo Nuñez
R - Yasuhiko Yabuta
L - Ron Mahay
L - Jimmy Gobble
R - Ramon Ramirez
R - Hideo Nomo
15-day DL: R - Luke Hudson
*DeJesus sprained his ankle on Opening Day and hasn't played since.
L - Joey Gathright (CF)
R - Mark Grudzielanek (2B)
L - Alex Gordon (3B)
R - Jose Guillen (RF)
R - Billy Butler (DH)
L - Mark Teahen (LF)
L - Ross Gload (1B)
R - John Buck (C)
R - Tony Peña Jr. (SS)
For all the talk about how the Royals are finally headed in the right direction under the stewardship of Dayton Moore, and they are, only two teams in all of baseball lost more games than Kansas City last year (Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh). This year the Royals are off to a solid 4-2 start under new manager Trey Hillman, but their season-opening three-game sweep of the Tigers looks less impressive now that Detroit is 0-6. As much as the Royals do indeed seem to be making smarter decisions--hiring highly-regarded first-time manager Hillman out of the Japanese leagues rather than going with another retread such as Buddy Bell, giving their top prospects an opportunity to succeed in the majors as soon as they're ready, putting players in roles in which they can succeed rather than hoping they'll become something they aren't--there's still not a lot here. Only two teams (the Expos/Nationals and Brewers) have had longer playoff droughts than the Royals, who haven't participated in the postseason since their championship season of 1985, and I only see a handful of players on the above roster who are likely to be a part of the next Royals' playoff team.
Twenty-four-year-old third baseman Alex Gordon and 22-year-old DH Billy Butler are already hitting in the heart of the lineup and are the offensive core around which the Royals hope to build. Zack Greinke, who starts against Ian Kennedy tomorrow, is still just 24 and, after missing nearly all of 2006 due to emotional problems, posted a 2.26 ERA with 69 Ks over his final 71 2/3 innings of last season, which encompassed 26 relief outings and seven starts. Closer Joakim Soria, a Rule 5 jackpot from a year ago, is also just 24 and posted a 2.48 ERA while striking out 75 in 69 innings last year. If the Royals do return to the postseason in the first half of the next decade, these are the players who will get them there.
Players with an outside chance to participate in the next Kansas City playoff berth are staring pitchers Gil Meche, who is in year two of his five-year deal, and 27-year-old Brian Bannister, who faces Phil Hughes in this afternoon's home opener, reliever Leo Nuñez, who at 24 is hoping to emerge as Soria's fireballing setup man, and 25-year-old second baseman-in-waiting Alberto Callaspo, who is a career .317/.370/.437 hitter in the minor leagues, but is on his third organization in four years.
The rest of the above roster is here just to keep things afloat, the fans interested, and perhaps allow the team to win enough to convince a few free agents to sign on for the coming seasons. The good news is the eight players I mentioned above are all quite compelling. Bannister, who is surely the least talented of the bunch, may actually be the most interesting. From his player comment in Baseball Prospectus 2008:
Bannister is a cum laude graduate of USC . . . While on the DL with the Mets in 2006, he made several appearances on the Mets' post-game show as an analyst, even though he had made all of eight career major league appearances. He owns a photography studio and his work has appeared in the New York Times. In Gil Meche's words "I have never met a guy as smart as him in baseball."
The comment goes on to say that "intelligence may have split the atom and put a man on the moon, but it can't sustain a .264 BABIP," meaning that batting averages on balls in play naturally correct toward the league average (about .300), thus Bannister is set up for a fall after his hit-lucky debut season with the Royals.
Here's where Bannister really gets interesting: he's out to prove BP wrong about that. As first discussed in part three of this January interview with Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, Bannister not only knows what BABIP is and what his 2007 mark suggests for his performance this season, but he's digging deeper into his own stats in order to find a way to sustain that abnormally low BABIP. From that interview:
Because I don't have enough of a sample size yet (service time), I don't claim to be able to beat the .300 average year in and year out at the Major League level. However, I also don't feel that every pitcher is hopelessly bound to that .300 number for his career if he takes some steps to improve his odds--which is what pitching is all about.
Bannister continues in considerable detail to say that he believes the key to his success is getting ahead in the count and forcing batters to swing at his curveball in two-strike counts.
One might think that by having stated his strategy so plainly, Bannister might have undermined his own efforts by letting hitters know what he's up to, but the Tigers didn't appear to have been tipped off in his first start. They managed just two hits and no walks against him over seven innings. Bannister faced 22 batters in that game and his first pitch to 15 of them was either a strike or put in play (the one time that first pitch was put in play, it was a fly out). He got to 0-2 or 1-2 counts 11 times, and retired the batter on that pitch five times (two by strikeout, three on balls in play). The two hits he allowed came on 2-1 and 1-1 counts. Tigers' skipper Jim Leyland raved about Bannister's location after the game.
Yankees approach today thus becomes clear: Be aggressive and look for that curve when you fall behind in the count. Incidentally, the Yanks broke Bannister in his only prior start against them, which took place last September in the Bronx. They scored seven runs on seven hits and three walks in his five innings in that game. Included among those hits were a pair of homers by Alex Rodriguez and a third by Johnny Damon. In that game, Bannister threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 24 men he faced, but only seven of those men were retired (including one first-pitch fly out). All three homers came in 3-1 counts.
As for Phil Hughes, his only previous start against the Royals came at the Stadium in his first outing after coming off the DL last August. He was hit pretty hard in that game, but that was likely to happen regardless of the opponent. Hughes was sharp in his season debut against the Blue Jays last week, getting 11 of his 18 outs via groundball or strikeout, allowing just five baserunners in six innings, and needing just 87 pitches to get through six full. Here's hoping he builds on that today and gets the win for his efforts. Weather permitting, of course.
Jason Giambi is back at first base today, and Shelley Duncan is back on the bench having served his suspension. Wilson Betemit starts at shortstop with Robinson Cano moving into the number-two spot in the lineup. The hot-hitting Hideki Matsui remains in the fifth spot despite Giambi's return, and Jorge Posada is back behind the plate and hitting sixth.