Sunday, April 01, 2007

Opening Day Thoughts

This is the time of year when all baseball fans get to be optimistic. Deep down, Royals fans know that the evil Yankees have a $200 million payroll. And we know that we are in the toughest division in baseball. And we know that we’ve lost 100 games four of the last five seasons. But 2003 gave all of us hope. Maybe too much. And maybe it was false hope. But numerous small market teams have proven over the years that they can compete. So, why can’t 2007 be the Royals’ year?

The major reason is pitching. Nearly every small market team who competes does so because it has developed an outstanding starting rotation. I don’t think anybody in the know would consider our current five outstanding. The truth is, they are probably slightly below average. And the problem with rotations that are slightly below average is that you have guys like Gil Meche matching up against number one guys on other teams. And you have guys like Odalis Perez matching up against number two guys. In reality these are middle of the rotation types of guys, but they are the best we could do for right now.

Help does appear to be on the way. Luke Hochevar may be in Kansas City by the break, and certainly he’ll be in KC as the Royals break camp next season. Brain Bannister appears to be a good young talent who needs a bit more time in the minor leagues. Zack Greinke appears to be on the verge of developing into legitimate major league starter. And every time you turn around, Dayton Moore is adding more arms to the system. We’re not there yet, but there’s hope.

In addition to having a less than average rotation, our current bullpen is full of question marks. Thankfully, Moore completely dismantled the pen that blew 31 saves last year and ranked as one of the worst pens in major league history. The new version includes Ryan Braun, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, Joakim Soria, Todd Wellemeyer, David Riske, and Octavio Dotel.

Let’s start with middle relief. Jimmy Gobble has settled in nicely as a long reliever. His ERA is under control and he’s striking guys out. He looks comfortable in the role and I think he’ll be fun to watch this season. Ryan Braun has had success at the minor league level and he had a great spring. But he’s unproven at the major league level. Joel Peralta has shown that he has major league stuff. He has a 4.24 ERA in 92 career appearances and his strike out to walk ratio is nearly 3-to-1 (87 K to 31 BB). Todd Wellemeyer is coming off a good season with the Royals (3.63 ERA in 28 appearances). He had a bad spring, but if he can find a way to stay healthy, and if he can repeat his success from last season, he’ll be counted on heavily. Joakim Soria is a Rule 5 guy with outstanding stuff. He had a good spring (3.12 ERA, 18 K, 3 BB), but he’s a bit of a wildcard because of his lack of experience.

As for the back end of our pen, David Riske will probably be the primary set up guy. He’s proven himself in 328 career appearances. He has a 3.59 ERA and he strikes out two guys for every guy he walks (346 K to 152 BB). Unfortunately, he’s been bit by the injury bug the past couple of seasons and he hasn’t pitched more than 35 innings in a season since 2005. Octavio Dotel is another guy who has proven himself (71 saves, 3.75 ERA, 732 K, 270 BB in 395 appearances), but he too has had injury problems in recent seasons. In fact, he’s already battling an injury with an oblique muscle and it sounds like he might be headed for the DL. If that happens, Riske will probably become the temporary closer and Wellemeyer and Soria will pitch later in games.

Overall, I feel better about our pitching, but it still contains too many question marks, and I’m not all that convinced that our rotation will be able to compete against other rotations on a regular basis. With that said, I don’t think the Royals are going to struggle to score runs this season. The Royals were 20th in runs scored in the major leagues last season. With the addition of Alex Gordon, a full season from Ryan Shealy, and the subtraction of Angel Berroa, surely the Royals will score more runs than last season. And if you want to dream a little, you can think about a healthy Mike Sweeney or Reggie Sanders filling the DH role, and maybe a more productive offense can make up for sub-par pitching. But only if it is sub-par, not atrocious, as it has been the past several seasons.

Things won’t be easy for the Royals in April. They play Boston, Detroit twice, Toronto, Minnesota twice, and Chicago. They still need to get off to a decent start though. I’ve already gone on record with my 2007 prediction. I’m saying that the Royals will go 74-88 and unfortunately, in the AL Central, that’s good for last place. But if their many pitching “ifs” work out for the best, who knows, right?

So, what’s your prediction for Royals record in 2007?

5 comments:

Casey said...

I'm looking for the Royals to climb out of the cellar this year.
It may be..that by adding Gordon to the line-up...his youth...plus exceptional skills...may be the "nth" factor that motivates the rest of the team to want to prove to the young gun (Gordon)that no way are they gonna be considered the weakest link on the team.
I am also extremely excited about Greinke. He's looked strong this spring.
I think it is possible that the Royals could win 80 games.
I see the Tigers as being slightly over-rated (having played over their head last year) and Cleveland another.
My concern is can Bell truly coach?
Anyway...one game at a time guys!
Play ball!..and keep posting your blog.

Lee Warren said...

Thanks for your prediction Casey. No other takers? Come on. I know you are out there.

bizz22 said...

I haven't been this optimistic about the Royals chances breaking camp since 2003. I've been down to spring training several times (Go to Arizona once before you die. It's a baseball fan's dream.) I know that it is a small glimmer of hope for us this year, but, like Casey, I think we can crawl out of the cellar of the best division in baseball this season. I know that doesn't sound like much, but a definite improvement over the last few years.

More importantly, I think that Dayton has the right combination of skills and an unwavering sense of optimism that will put this franchise on the right track. Talents like Hochevar, Butler, Lumsden, Maier, Tupman, Bannister, and Bianchi are beginning to flood the minors. It almost feels like how my dad used to tell me about watching George Brett, Saberhagen, and Gubicza come through Omaha on their way to the show. I hope that they can get back to the success of the eighties and early nineties.

I'm rooting for 81+ wins this season, and setting ourselves up for more future success. Hope springs anew with each opening day, and I think that I'm not just being overzealous this year.

Anonymous said...

I'll go with 76 wins and no I won't justify it.

Anonymous said...

73-89. Starting pitching could be a major weakness this year, although I do expect good things from Meche and Greinke.

 
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