FREE CALVIN PICKERING! Redux
It's been about five months since KRB's campaign to FREE CALVIN PICKERING! proved to be a winner. While half of our crusade was vindicated by way of Ken Harvey spending his entire season at Triple-A Omaha, the other -- Calvin Pickering making the 25-man roster -- was a smashing success.
For two weeks.
On April 23, the Royals optioned Pickering to Omaha which, judging by his paltry .148/.226/.259, was the only move to make. The problem was that the Royals gave the big man only 27 at-bats to prove his worth, which is roughly seven games worth of plate appearances.
I think Allard Baird is a pretty intelligent man and GM, but he can't tell me that what he saw over a two-week stretch at the beginning of the season was solid-enough evidence against Pickering to send him back to the minor leagues. Unless he was doing terrible things like hiding the clubhouse remote control from the rest of his teammates, terrorizing the batboy, or trying to eat Mark Teahen, there was absolutely NO reason for a demotion. Those 27 at-bats could've been nothing more than a cold streak that was magnified because it happened at the beginning of the year when other numbers weren't around to mask it.
Fast-forward to September 6 and Pickering, after getting off to a very slow start, heated up during the summer months and started to mash minor league pitching once again, finishing with this line:
AB AVG OBP SLG OPS
331 .275 .385 .532 .917
Sure, it's possible that Pickering is nothing more than a tweener and can't hit Major League pitching despite being one of the most feared offensive players in the bus leagues. But although that may be the reality, my problem is that the Royals had enough patience to start Joe McEwing at first base eight times, but had absolutely no desire to give Pickering another chance. McEwing, by the way, has given the Royals a whopping .574 OPS in 158 at-bats and has the 11th-lowest VORP (-6.3) in the American League.
People are always going to question Pick's abilities as a baseball player because of his shape and penchant for striking out, but there's no question that he's earned another opportunity to play at the highest level. I'll be pulling for him no matter what, but sadly, it appears that an opportunity will only happen with a more visionary club like the A's, Red Sox, or White Sox. Calvin Pickering can hit, and still must be freed.
In the Greinke starts that I've been able to watch this year, one theme that's seemed to be a constant is that Zack's had a real hard time finishing off innings. In other words, it's seemed to me that he's had no problem getting the first out of the inning, but has had to really fight to get the second and final outs. While messing around with MLB.com's fantastic statistics engine, my feeling was verified:
Outs IP ERA SO BB
0 54.2 2.63 35 7
1 52.1 7.74 28 17
2 46.0 8.80 33 25
An 8.80 ERA with two outs in any inning? Wow. So, did he have the same problem last year?
Outs IP ERA SO BB
0 49.2 3.62 43 4
1 50.1 3.93 23 7
2 44.2 4.43 34 15
It should be noted that almost any pitcher's ERA rises as the number of outs increase because as the inning gets deeper, hitters reach base, and the base hits that are given up score runs. That's what happened to Greinke in his rookie year. However, what's happened to him in 2005 -- well, it simply fits with the rest of what's happened to him in 2005.
The question is why, although at this point all we can do is present unverifiable theories. Greinke's fall from being a Cy Young-caliber pitcher with nobody out to being a Cy Yuck-caliber pitcher with one and two out is disturbing. Not only has he allowed an inordinate number of runs with two outs especially, but his control has been terrible as well. He could be picking at the strike zone because of all the baserunners he's had to deal with, but it's definitely possible that he's suffered from a gradual loss of focus as an inning wears on, a trait that Greinke's critics have frequently pointed to as a cause for concern.
If there are any other Zack Greinke theories out there (and I know there are), fire up the Comments machine and discuss away! We'll solve the problems, whatever they are. Guy Hansen, eat your heart out.