Hillman Falls on the Sword for the Royals

Steve O Speak

No one will ever mistake Trey Hillman for Casey Stengel, but at the same time no one will ever mistake his tenure with the Kansas City Royals for the 1950’s Yankee teams Stengel managed. Maybe Hillman deserves to get the ax after compiling a 152-207 record in just over two seasons (including a 12-23 mark this season), but he was never given the requisite talent to work with.

Yes, many people will point to Zach Greinke as one of the best pitchers in the game, but he can’t do it himself. Greinke has just a 2.73 ERA in 52 innings pitched (which is among the league leaders), but has just a 1-4 record to show for it because the rest of the Royals are so bad. As for the Royals other four starters, they have ERAs of 5.18, 5.22, 5.65, 8.24. And to show how fluky wins can be those four pitchers have a combined record of 6-10, or about twice the winning percentage of Greinke. And while on talent alone that pitching staff isn’t normally that bad, this wasn’t exactly a collection of front of the rotation starters behind Greinke. Some of these guys would be starters on other teams for sure, but none would be higher than a 4th starter on just about any other team in the majors.

If possible the bullpen is in worse shape than the rotation. Joakim Soria is one of the better closers in baseball, but having a top notch closer on a bad baseball team is like having the best tight end on a bad football team, nice to watch and might even be worth a few wins, but won’t bring home any rings. Soria is surrounded by a hodgepodge of high priced veterans and AAAA pitchers, neither of whom have been consistently good under Hillman’s tender. Soria shows the biggest mistake bad teams make year in year out in keeping top notch closers while the rest of their team is in shambles. The Royals need to trade Soria to a contender and rebuild with the bounty.

As if having only two pitchers on your entire staff that you can rely on wasn’t bad enough, that is twice as many All Star pitchers that Hillman has (had) than hitters. Good bats in the Royals lineup are well, not few and far between, they just aren’t there. Billy Butler has emerged as a top young talent, and looks like a fixture for the Royals, but beyond that I wouldn’t put anyone at an All Star level. David DeJesus is a solid player and a good defender, but he is the 7th or 8th best hitter on a good team, for the Royals he is their third. Alberto Callaspo has gotten off to a solid start, but I don’t know if his power numbers are sustainable. If he reverts back to his career numbers he is a slightly below average third baseman, which wouldn’t be an issue, except for the fact he is leading the team in RBI’s. Outside of that, and the potential of SS Mike Aviles, the Royals bats are not just average or below average, but they are down right bad. The rest of their hitters either can’t get on base or hit anything more than a single (and some can’t do either). Their complete lack of talent squanders the opportunities that Butler, Callaspo and DeJesus produce, and have led to the Royals 12-23 record.

I think Hillman has gotten a raw deal with his firing, as he was never given the talent to come close to succeeding. Now when the Royals farm system finally looks up and should begin producing talent to supplement Butler/Greinke, Hillman will be watching from afar. Managers do matter, don’t get me wrong, but they can only be responsible for so many of the wins. And unfortunately the Royals have gotten older and worse during Hillman’s time in Kansas City and that led to his downfall.

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