Sunday, March 30, 2008

Final thoughts before the real O-Day

I can’t tell any of you to do anything; I’m just a kid with a computer. But if I could call something “required reading,” the 2008 baseball edition from the KC Star might be it. It’s pretty much a full evening’s worth of reading to finish getting us all primed for the Best Day of the Year. I am seriously in love with the Star; I really think we as Royals fans have some fantastic, insightful, thoughtful, daring writers (which Rany* covered pretty masterfully here).

I grew up with a typical small-town paper (not always very good journalism) with a painfully bad sports section. I mean…really bad. I was misquoted and misattributed quite a few times, and I was only a minor player on one team (golf); I can’t imagine how many times this happened to big shot, four-sport kids. A lot of times, reading the wrap-ups made me wonder if the sports guy had watched the same game as I had. I worked for this paper as a carrier for five years, and I never came to appreciate their style of “journalism.” But what that paper’s sports section gave me was a greater appreciation for anyone who is better. So I thank heavens that the Star is available online for my daily Royals fix.

*By the way, I noticed that Rany’s header mentioned that he fully endorses David Cook on American Idol because he’s a Royals fan. I made that exact proclamation last week when my roommate and I watched Idol. “Oh my gosh, is that a Royals hat?!? I liked this guy somewhat before, but I LOVE him now!” And yes; I watch Idol every week, and I love it. Don’t judge me.

I’m having a hard time believing the real baseball season is finally here. No more Spring Training games, no more wondering if the stats our boys put up are reflections of who they really are as players, or if they’re doing well (or poorly) because “it’s only spring.” This is great. The Royals website has replaced the countdown to O-Day with a posting of Monday’s probables (which I always mentally pronounce as pro-bah-blays, like the Spanish pronunciation), and we can now finish counting in terms of hours and minutes, not months and days. Major League’s finest pitchers (and Odalis Perez) are gearing up to throw the beginning of a new era, or the continuation of past success, or the end to mockery from failures long gone.

Which all means I should probably get around to sharing some predictions for individual Royals, which I will try to do in a readable manner while I’m watching Davidson and Kansas. (I always multi-task to some extent, even if one of the “tasks” is listening to music*. I really hate the few activities that don’t allow multi-tasking, because I have all kinds of things to accomplish and enjoy, and not a terribly large number of hours in which to do everything.) In one of my NCAA pools (for which there was a five- umm, matchstick, not dollar, entry fee, my Final Four is intact, but in the other one with the same matchstick entry fee my Big XII homerism cost me a slot in the Top 3 with Texas’ loss to Memphis today. I’m not a big time gambler, or obsessive better or anything, but I like to come away from this tournament with some number of dolla—matchsticks.

*Current musical obsession: RENT, in preparation for seeing it live for the first time. As much as I love the movie, I’m sure the stage version will be a million times better. But the songs are all soooooo catchy, so I can listen to them pretty much any time.

Thoughts on some of our pitchers:

Gil Mehce – This guy can’t escape big off-season questions and doubts. Last year it was “$55 million – for him? Are you kidding me?” and this year it’s “Is Meche a one-hit wonder or is he worthy of all five years of his contract?”
I think he can be. Eric J Seidman, using his SP Effectiveness System, ranks Gil Meche as a true ace in his Sabermetric Year in Review of the Royals.
“In my system, to be a #1 SP in the AL one needs to score a +47 or higher, and Meche scored a +47 on the nose. At least the first year of that 5/55 paid off.”

At some point a few weeks ago, I realized how much I missed watching Meche’s curveball. I loved the nights when that pitch was on; those pitches are why the DVR remote has the Replay button. It’s why we use words like “nasty” in the pitching vocabulary. And it’s why I think Meche will keep earning the big paychecks this year.

Zack Greinke
– Another dearth of questions. Does he have it together? Can he give us a complete season as a starter? Can we trust him?

Yes, yes, yes.

I really don’t like putting down specific numbers before a baseball season. I’m not an expert; I’m just a passionate fan. I don’t have Bill James’ brains, I don’t have fancy ways of projecting anything for the entire season ahead. The season is long, the variables are abundant, the unknowns are countless. But I’m willing to put the number twenty on the table for Greinke this season. There’s no reason this year isn’t his year, and I’m perfectly comfortable discussing the possibility of “Zack Greinke, 20-game winner.”

My favorite, Brian Bannister – I have loved every word that has been written about Brian the Brain this winter (including a piece in the Star’s baseball edition today!). It makes for such great drama, the way the numbers he studies so heavily are the very things that could deter him from more success like he had in 2007. As much as I love him, I'd rather see him at #3 than #2 in the rotation. But I still think he can put up 14-15 wins.

Luke Hochevar – I’d be shocked (like, jaw on the floor) if he spent more than 8-10 weeks in Omaha this year. He seems to be making that last bit of progress into big-league ready, and based on what I’ve read about his mental makeup, he might dominate in AAA by sheer force of will, and make the front office call him up. I will enjoy watching him while we have him in Omaha (Don’t forget to come to the season opener this Thursday!), but I’m not anticipating seeing him there for long.

Joakim Soria – He’ll continue to do his thing, and people will continue to suggest moving him into the rotation. I’m really hoping and praying that some other reliever (Ramirez maybe?) shows the ability to be a closer, so Soria could be eased into a starter’s role. I’d love to see his 4-pitch arsenal unleashed for more than 1-2 innings at a time.

Random Matt Wright mention, just because I can. He had better make the Majors.

Now, about that offense:
Alex Gordon – (WAIT! Side note: Kansas JUST held on to beat Davidson to advance to the Final Four. Why was it this close? Goodness, I was scared that my Final Four would be reduced to three there in my bracket whose Four was still whole.) I guess the question about Gordon isn’t whether he’ll perform, but whether he can be the “face of the Royals.” To me, that’s a silly thing to question. He was the face of the Huskers; he was the face of the Royals in last year’s season previews. No matter what his personality, he’ll still be that face as long as his bat does what we all figure it will do and his defense is the way we have always expected it to be.

Billy Butler – I’m pumped for him. He’ll rake; more than 25 homers wouldn’t surprise me. The defense will still suck, but I don’t even care at this point. That is all.

David DeJesus – This will be the hardest DDJ will have to work for approval since the aftermath of Beltran’s departure. He ought to deliver; I’m hoping to see his OBP in the .360s and his batting average much closer to .300. Steals will be another thing I’ll be watching for from DeJesus, and I really want him to far exceed his career best of 10 (from last year). I’d love to see him swipe 20, actually.

Side note: I love all the attention Joey Gathright has been getting this spring. Doesn’t he look like a completely different player this year than he did when he first came over from the Halo Rays? I love how Hillman and Kuntz are making it so that he is not a guy who is fast but has nothing else to offer.

(Again, I'm preemptively labeling this with the "Eating my words" tag, in case this all goes wrong.)

I would love to do more, but my status as a successful (Dean’s list, baby!) full-time student rests in my ability to occasionally leave the computer and study. As per local custom, I’ll leave you with some links. former Royal catcher Benito Santiago was allegedly part of a cocaine ring!

JoePo Q&A with Rob Neyer.

HAPPY (real) OPENING DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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