By Jason Wojciechowski on April 5, 2005 at 11:52 PM
I DVR'd the Kansas City-Detroit tilt yesterday, which was taking place while I was teaching, and watched it when I got home, having decided that if there's any reason to watch these two teams play, it's to get my first post of the season done about them.
Jose Lima started for the Royals and Jeremy Bonderman went for the Tigers. I wasn't expecting much out of either starter. On the one hand, it was Lima time, and on the other, Bonderman had an ERA just below five last year when half his games were at Comerica, so you can understand how I thought I might see a 9-7 final score. Thing is, though, I misjudged two things: the weakness of the Royal offense (weak!) and the continued development of Jeremy Bonderman. The latter is more relevant to this blog, since he is a former Oakland prospect and all.
We all know that Bonderman throws hard. What surprised me was the movement on his pitches. I haven't watched him in person much, if at all, so I don't know if this is a new development or if he's had a nice sink on some of his fastballs for a while. Either way, the down-and-in-to-righties bite on his hard two-seamer was effective all afternoon. The Royals weren't really putting the bat on the ball, as Bonderman struck out seven and gave up just six hits in his seven innings, but even on nights when the opposition is making contact, that pitch could generate a lot of ground balls. That said, Bondermans G/F ratio for the night was 6/8, so he either needs to harness his stuff a little more effectively or my eyes are fooling me as to the actual quality of his moving pitches.
Speaking of former A's, it sure seemed like there were a lot of them in this game. Besides Bonderman, the Tigers had Carlos Pena at first base, which makes sense because the two arrived in the same trade. The Royals, though, looked like Oakland Midwest: the bottom five hitters in the lineup had Matt Stairs in right field (Oakland juvenated the Hamster's career, of course), Angel Berroa at shortstop (part of the Johnny Damon deal), Terrence Long in left (let's just try to forget), John Buck at catcher (okay, so he wasn't really an Athletic, but he was part of the three-way deal last year that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston), and Mark Teahen at third (a former Moneyball draftee).
Teahen and Buck seem like they've got as good a shot at American League Rookie of the Year honors as anyone. It certainly seems as though the award favors those who play the whole year and rack up decent counting stats over those who are actually the most valuable. See Bobby Crosby last year if you don't know what I'm talking about. Both of the Royal Rookies seem like locks to get the majority of the playing time at their positions: the Royals aren't going anywhere, so they seem unlikely to let anything stop them from giving each guy upwards of 450 plate appearances this year. Buck's weighted mean PECOTA comes in at .263/.314/.432 with 12 homers in a little over 350 PA's. Teahen's projection is much less favorable, particularly given his position: .248/.317/.372 with seven homers in about the same number of trips to the plate as Buck. Buck's projected OPS of 746 is remarkably close to Crosby's 2004 mark of 745, and both are shaped similarly. Crosby, though, hit 22 homers, was playing on a contending team, and was regarded to posess excellent defensive skills (which Baseball Prospectus agrees with, having him at a 105 Rate for 2004).
One more point in Buck's favor, though, since I just deflated him like that? I swear he's a dead ringer for Jeff Kent. (Kent had a 742 OPS with 11 homers his rookie year, which he split between Toronto and the Mets. Spooky numbers!)
As much as I'll always prefer national announcers' supposed neutrality to the blatant homerism of local game callers, Gary Thorne had a tough night. I noted a number of game-calling mistakes (calling a ball instead of a strike, for example), he kept calling Angel Berroa "Angel Berroha," and he repeatedly insisted that Royals reliever (and former Cub prospect) Andy Sisco was 6'10", even after the ESPN graphic listed him at 6'8". To his credit, he pointed out that the NL West was a pretty good challenger for weakest division in baseball, echoing my protest when one of the analysts referred to the AL Central as taking that "honor."
I liked Alan Trammell as a player, though I wasn't really aware of baseball until he was already in his thirties, but he made some interesting decisions last night with his pitching staff. Knowing that he had the next day off and with the game already in hand going to the top of the seventh, Trammell could have gone to his bullpen earlier than he might usually and saved Jeremy Bonderman some work. Bonderman wound up throwing 102 pitches, hardly a ridiculous number, but had he been sat down at the end of the sixth, he'd have only thrown 85. I don't know whether throwing fewer pitches helps a pitcher stay fresher for the next game the same way that throwing too many hurts him down the road, but in an 8-1 ballgame, why not get some back-of-the-bullpen pitchers get some early innings and see if any of the might shake out to become useful guys later on?
Trammell, though, let Bonderman throw the seventh, then went to Ugueth Urbina, his top setup guy, in the eighth inning of a 9-1 game before finishing up with Troy Percival in the ninth with the score 11-2. Is it that important to let your star relievers throw on opening day that you have them pitch in 8- and 9-run ballgames? Yes, they have the next day off, so both pitchers should be available for their next game. But why take a chance? If you're going to replace Carlos Guillen at short with Jason Smith, someone who shouldn't see a meaningful inning of work this year if all goes well for the Tigers, shouldn't the same principle apply with your pitching staff?