Great Lakes Royals

May 2, 2010 7:22 PM

Zack Greinke Can't Buy a Victory, Gordon Optioned to Omaha

Pitchers can start many years in the major leagues without recording an elusive 8 IP complete game.  For one thing, complete games are a pretty significant accomplishment, particularly in an era where 100 pitches operates as an unofficial limit to a pitcher's day.  Still, those who pitch economically, and receive just a bit of batted ball luck can expect to make it through an entire game a few times in their career, and the best pitchers in baseball will go the distance a few times per year.

Rarely will the ability to stay in the game long enough to pitch all game coincide with giving up enough runs to lose.  All pitchers have days where they just don't get run support, but generally, in cases where the pitcher is trailing late, he's not often stretched out to finish what he started.

Zack Greinke remains the exception to every rule.  In only 87 pitches, Greinke went through 8 innings, allowing just 5 base runners, and a single solo homer as his only blemish.  Greinke, of course, just didn't pitch well enough to win.  The Royals couldn't scratch anything across the plate, which meant that Evan Longoria's pop fly home run in the 4th inning was a game clincher.  This isn't even the first time in the last 365 days that Zack Greinke pitched a complete game and lost, as the Angels and Joe Saunders did the same thing to him this very week one year ago.  At that time, Greinke entered the game unblemished at 6-0.  This year, Greinke took the loss to remain winless at 0-3.

Perhaps the Longoria homer can be viewed as a blessing in disguise.  While another Zack Greinke CG loss catches the eye of the national baseball media, if Greinke had instead gone 9 shutout innings for a no decision, it's almost impossible to envision a situation where the Royals actually win that baseball game.  Wade Davis was flat out dealing for his first five innings (and the Royals let him down easy after that), and the Royals never had a runner get so far as third base the entire game.  They got three hits.  There weren't many, if any, good at bats the entire day.  That game could have easily gone 15 innings without the Royals scoring.

Anyway, Greinke's start led to this overreaction by the usually excellent David Pinto, who wasn't impressed with Greinke's ability to strike out 6 guys in 8 IP, throwing only 87 pitches.  Maybe when he does it against a team that's a bit more competitive than the Rays, he'll "be right."  Joe Posnanski wrote this after Zack's last start, but you know, sometimes the conclusions just write themselves.  Here's his analysis of the Angels game last year, the last time Greinke threw a complete game and lost:

May 9, 2009: Greinke, with a 6-0 record, allowed one run in a complete game against the Angels. Unfortunately, that was an eight-inning complete game because Joe Saunders threw the only complete game of his career (at least so far).

Davis is a much better pitcher than Saunders, but that's about right.

Gordon Optioned, Aviles Recalled

It's a move that had to be done, with the Royals making the (not wrong) decision to make Alberto Callaspo the everyday first baseman.  I don't think Aviles is going to get the nod at SS over Yuni until he starts butchering the ball at short like he did mostly all of last year, but Betancourt is one of about four Royals who is making sure to never, ever put together a good at bat.  With Callaspo entrenched at 3rd, where his bat still plays and he offers an average to above average glove, the team would have to be incredibly creative to get Gordon 4-5 starts a week.

Not that they shouldn't be doing this.  You could sit Gordon twice per week (against lefties if you wish), but the Royals could essentially have 10 "everyday" starters and get Gordon four MLB starts by sitting Callaspo once, Guillen once, Butler once, and Chris Getz once a week.  Giving players a day off is such a novel concept.  I don't have any problem with starting Gordon twice a week at third, once a week at first, and once at DH, but it's the same lack of creativity that is keeping Kila Ka'aihue in the minors that is forcing Gordon off the major league roster. 

Gordon and Ka'aihue are pretty much the same player at this point in the eyes of the organization, and, if you're not a Royals fan, you might wonder how two players with above average offensive value can't get playing time on the Royals.  Well, unless either can learn to play the outfield, there's not really room for either one on the MLB roster right now, and there won't be room for both of these guys next year.  The Royals have no room for these guys because Jose Guillen and Billy Butler are starting every game of the season at DH and 1B respectively.  I think, and it's probably a fallacy to lump Butler (a future tenet of the organization) with Gullien (no future value), but if all I'm going to get out of these guys is a single skill (hitting for average in the former, hitting for power in the latter), I definitely don't see a reason that the Royals are better off with Butler or Guillen vs. Ka'aihue or Gordon, and though this all might be unfair to Butler, who still might be the team's best everyday hitter, I think it's clear that Butler is earning a pass under a standard that is blocking two of the organizations best hitters in triple A.

Complains about the structure and creativity of the team aside, the team NEEDS Mike Aviles a lot more than it needs Alex Gordon right now.  At the beginning of the year, I cited Aviles' reemergence as an absolute necessity for the Royals to compete this season.  The team managed to get a strong offensive month out of Yuni Betancourt, but with his batting average on a regression, the team can't continue to trot out Jason Kendall (who will continue to start), Maier/Ankiel, and also Betancourt.  It's not a mistake that the Royals scored all of 5 runs in regulation innings in four games against the Rays, the team is actually this bad.  I think if the team is going to wait out cold streaks by Podsednik and Guillen in the hopes that they can finish the year as 800 OPS guys, they can't afford to have three out of the four guys at the bottom of the order being automatic outs.  Playing Aviles seems like the trump card here.

It's unequivocally a good thing that Mike Aviles is back in the majors, and perhaps in the short term, there was not a better roster move than moving Alex Gordon to Triple-A temporarily because he still has options left.  The Royals certainly don't NEED Alex Gordon to win right now (they do need to get a run, by definition), but I don't blame fans or observers for really not seeing where "the Process" is at work here.  The Omaha Royals have one heck of a middle of an order right now.  The Kansas City Royals...not so much.

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