Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Once upon a time, John Lamb was a top twenty prospect….in all of baseball. A six foot four lefty with a monster curve. A steal in the fifth round.  A future top (or near to the top) of the rotation starter.  Somewhere back in those heady times, some writer (me) projected Lamb to be the Opening Day starter in 2015 (or maybe even 2014, I can’t remember).  In case you’re having a hard time keeping up, I was wrong – even if it was 2015.

If you want to gauge John Lamb’s career, Google him.  Weed out the ESPN, Yahoo ‘player pages’ and then start checking the dates of actual articles.  Lots of information, scouting reports and what not.  Now, find one from sometime after April of 2014.

That’s what happens when you have Tommy John surgery 13 starts into your AA career, struggle to get back and spend an agonizingly long period of time after you do throwing your fastball 84 mph. It’s not fair, but baseball has a tendency to be like that.

Now, let’s focus on one thing:  John Lamb is still only 24 years old.

Last season, Lamb threw 138 innings at AAA and, after striking out just over five batters per nine innings in 2013, John’s strikeout rate rose to 8.5 K/9 (albeit at the expense of the highest walk rate of his career).  A 3.97 earned run average in AAA doesn’t scream major starter, but it doesn’t scream give up, either.  Lamb’s velocity had crept back up to the high eighties and even into the low nineties.

In July, Lamb struck 11 and allowed just one run over seven innings and followed that up with a two hit-six inning start. After a rocky four innings after those two stellar outings, Lamb then spun seven innings of one hit ball on July 30th. That was enough to generate a little buzz, a little hope.

Unfortunately, Lamb made it through six innings only once after that: allowing 24 earned runs in 33 innings (and six more unearned runs if you are skeptical of minor league scoring).  End of buzz.  End of hope?

John Lamb is still just 24 years old.

There is still time for Lamb to get back, or at least get to the majors.  Maybe he won’t be at the front of a major league rotation anymore, but maybe he could fit in a rotation somewhere.  Maybe.

While it is all part of the game and hardly rare, I hate it when young guys with promise get hurt.  Lamb not only struggled to return from Tommy John, but fought other injuries as well on the way back. He lost most of 2011 and 2012. The 2013 campaign was pretty much just a debacle of ‘well, he’s got to pitch somewhere’.  Maybe 2014, average as it was, is just enough success to get Lamb back on track.

Maybe.

Maybe next spring, John Lamb’s profile will be more about the promise of the future and less about the past.

Sometimes, elections to a Hall of Fame requires no debate. Such was the case on Wednesday when the Royals announced Mike Sweeney was the latest inductee into the Royals Hall of Fame. A no-doubt, slam dunk if ever there was one.

Let’s just lay some bullet points out there to summarize his career with the Royals:

— A .299 batting average, third-highest in franchise history.

— His .369 OBP is tied with George Brett for seventh place.

— Sweeney’s .492 slugging percentage is second-highest in team history, trailing only Danny Tartabull’s .512.

— His 197 home runs are second most as a Royal.

— He tallied 2,296 total bases with the Royals. That’s the sixth most in team history behind guys like Brett, Otis, White, McRae and Wilson.

— Finally, his adjusted OPS+ is 120, which is seventh-highest all-time for the Royals.

Quite a resume.

Sweeney had the misfortune of playing for some of the most dreadful teams in Royals history. He took a ton of grief for his contract, which kicked in to maximum value around the time his body started to break down. But he cared, he worked hard, and he gave everything he had to the team, his teammates, and this city. I wish it could have turned out differently for him. I wish he could have played on some decent Royals teams. But the guy still had a stellar career.

I spotted Sweeney on the field at The K before one of the World Series games and was thrilled he made it back. Although he never played in the postseason as a Royal, for me he’s an inner-circle Royal. One of the greats who stands along side Brett, White, Otis, Saberhagen and Appier. For him to remain connected to this organization is important.

It turns out, Sweeney is going through a difficult time. His father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer on New Year’s Eve and is currently undergoing treatment. Cancer sucks. We rooted for Sweeney for several years. Now it’s time to root for his dad. As happy as I am for Sweeney to get into the Royals Hall, I’m hopeful that his father will be healthy enough to accompany Mike and his family to The K on the date he is officially honored. That would make the ceremony complete.

Watch this video from The Kansas City Star to see how much this honor means to Sweeney.

A great player. An even better man. I hope there’s a full house at The K when Sweeney is inducted. He and his family deserve this tribute.

Moose bunts

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Did you hear the news? Mike Moustakas is going to bunt more to beat the shift in 2015.

David Schoenfeld had some great numbers at ESPN’s Sweetspot blog. For instance, Moustakas hit just .154 in 2014 when he hit a grounder. That was the third worst ground ball batting average among players who hit at least 100 ground balls last summer. For perspective, major league hitters posted a cumulative .248 batting average when hitting a grounder. So Moustakas was almost 100 points worse than league average in this split. That’s… not healthy.

Sadly, that batting average on ground balls wasn’t out of the ordinary for Moustakas. Although it didn’t used to be that way. Here are his batting averages over his career when hitting a ground ball.

2011 – .254
2012 – .245
2013 – .172
2014 – .154
Career – .202

Interesting that the numbers peaked in his first season and have been sliding ever since. That runs parallel with his offensive performance taken as a whole. It also coincides when opposing teams started deploying the shift. Although it should be noted he was only shifted 23 times in 2013. Maybe the shift just got in his dome. Or something.

Also of note was the fact Moustakas was shifted 290 times last year, which, according to Schoenfeld, was the ninth most in baseball. That was in 500 plate appearances. A whopping 58 percent of the time, Moustakas was shifted. From Brooks Baseball, here is the ugly spray chart for his entire 2014 season.

Moustakas2014Spray

We know Moustakas has always been a pull hitter. Guys with his power potential usually fall into that category. However, he was really pulling the ball on the ground last summer. The next chart is a spray angle. The lower the plot, the more he pulled the ball put in play. Basically, his response to the shift? Moustakas hit more ground balls to the right side, and into the shift. That seems counterproductive.

MooseAngle

(I was struck by the outlier of August of 2013, his month of most extreme ground balls. It also coincides with one of his finest months of his major league career, where he hit .301. It also coincides with one of his lowest ground ball rates in a month of his career.)

I’m not sure what bunting will solve. Sure, it may add a few points to his batting average, but let’s not pretend he’s going to reach a respectable number. Last year, Moustakas collected 97 hits in 457 at bats. If he successfully laid down a bunt 10 times, that gets his batting average to .234, a modest boost of 22 points. In theory that sounds like it will work. I just question his ability to actually convert those bunt attempts into actually reaching base. Look at the spray chart again. Moustakas hits the ball so rarely to the left on the ground, if he starts showing bunt, the third baseman can play in and the shortstop can move to the hole between first and second. He pulls the ball so much, and makes such weak contact, the second baseman can just cheat closer to the first base side which could even cause opposing defenses to eschew the shift altogether. Therein lies the real problem with Moustakas: He rarely makes quality contact. His grounders are easy to defend because they lack punch.

Here’s a novel idea: Maybe Moustakas can make hard contact, hit fewer grounders, and really drive the ball. That would be fun. And incredibly unlikely.

Alex Gordon tested his surgically repaired wrist on Monday and reported no issues. He was cleared to take some “dry” swings as the next step, meaning he will swing the bat but won’t make contact with a baseball. (Or as I termed it, he will be using The Francoeur Method.)

That’s some good news. Gordon was also in the news over the weekend as he told McCullough that he may not be so quick to exercise his player option for the 2016 season.

Perhaps a quick recap is in order.

Gordon’s current contract contains a player option for 2016, valued at $14 million. Late last summer, as the Royals geared up for their charge to the Wild Card, Gordon indicated he was going to exercise that option.

Cooler heads have since prevailed.

As fun as it was to hear Gordon pledge his allegiance to the Royals for another season, I didn’t buy it for one moment. Not that he’s ingenuine. Nothing of the sort. I think he was caught up in the moment of the pennant race and said what he felt – and believed – at the time. The Royals are the only organization he’s ever known; a franchise he grew up rooting for as a kid. Of course he would want to stay.

But to exercise that option would be lunacy.

Gordon isn’t a flashy player, but he’s incredibly solid in all facets of the game. You know this. You also know that what Gordon brings is incredibly valuable. Even if he doesn’t play a “premium” position. In the landscape of today’s game, he’s definitely one of the most valuable players in the league. And he’s been in the conversation for the last four seasons.

Gordon was so close to being a “bust” is now on the precipice of a major payday. He should collect. He owes it to himself to explore avenues to get his maximum value. Is that an extension with the Royals? Or is it through free agency? We will know more in the next several months, but at this moment the only thing we do know is that Gordon is going to get paid a whole lot of money to play baseball for the next several years. Good for him.

The Royals are in an interesting place. It’s something I’ve thought about often as I’ve watched other, larger market teams, overextend in an effort to keep together a successful core. It’s unique for the Royals because in the current economic climate of the game, they have never had what you would consider to be a successful core. Or anything approximating that. Sure, there have been extensions here and there in the Dayton Moore era (Gordon included) that were designed to keep players around during their peak years. Now the Royals are facing the future with the heart of their club and deciding if they should stand by him (and pay him) for what are certain to be his declining years.

The fan in me is optimistic. Hopeful that the Royals will do something to keep Gordon in Kansas City for the remainder of his career. And with that optimism comes the hope that he can keep playing at an elite level and experience a minor decline phase for the next several season. Naturally. The realist in me is fretful that it’s going to cost so much money the prudent thing would be to move on. Let those decline years become someone else’s headache.

Should Gordon get a five year contract in the range of $90 million, he would need to average around 2.6 WAR per season. Perhaps my bias is showing, but that seems doable. Gordon has averaged 5.6 fWAR over the last four years. Last season, Gordon finished with a 6.6 fWAR. That’s an AAV of $18 million per season and well past any deal the Royals and Moore have handed out in the past.

For 2015, Steamer is projecting a 4.4 fWAR and ZiPS is looking at a 4.3 zWAR. That’s quite a tumble for a guy who has topped that mark in three of the last four seasons. Instead, I’ll save that 4.4 fWAR mark and project that forward for the 2016 season which Gordon will play as a 32 year old. With the WAR aging factor provided by The Book Blog, and by figuring a base amount of $6.5 million per win with some inflation factored into the equation, a fair market contract for Gordon would work out to around those five years and in the neighborhood of the estimated $90 million.

It’s a major commitment, with the danger of there being little upside.

As I’ve noted, if the Royals pickup the options on Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar, their 2016 payroll is already around $75 million for a total of 11 players (and buyouts.) Add an extension for Gordon and you are approaching $95 million for 12 players. Consider the Royals are looking at a payroll of $112 million for the entire 25 man roster for 2015 and you see the dilemma of the front office. Which is why if the two parties are to come to an agreement, it probably won’t be something straightforward like $18 million a year. I’m guessing the contract would be heavily backloaded to ease some of the burden of 2016.

Not that it gets any easier. Again, assuming the club picks up options on Davis and Escobar and also Sal Perez, the team has already committed $42 million to just five players (including buyouts) in 2017. The other two? Omar Infante and Jason Vargas. Oops. See how all these moves matter?

Gordon wants to stay in Kansas City. The Royals would love to have him remain a Royal. The question is, can they find a way that is fiscally acceptable to both parties?

One thing we do know is this isn’t a Billy Butler scenario. While Butler wanted to remain in Kansas City, the feeling wasn’t mutual. The only reason he played out his contract was because the Royals couldn’t trade him for a return they felt was acceptable. The Royals are aware of the value Gordon brings, so they will make an attempt to keep him around. It will be up to David Glass and the Royals brain trust to fashion a creative contract to keep Gordon forever Royal.

Eleven million dollars.

That is a manly bet.

Dayton Moore has made  just that on Alex Rios.  Thirty-four year old Alex Rios. Enigmatic, sometimes disinterested, Alex Rios. I play a lot of craps. I’ve got nothing on Dayton Moore when it comes to gambling.

There was a time when Alex Rios was being compared to the likes of Carlos Beltran. From 2006 through 2008, Rios was a force, by both traditional and advanced measurements. Rios was worth somewhere between 13 and 16 WAR in those three years (fWAR liked him better than bWAR, but they both liked him plenty).  He slugged, he ran, he got on base and he played defense. Alex Rios could play the game and he’s made $75 million doing it.

Along the way, however, things have changed. Maybe you can still compare him to Beltran, but only to the current Carlos whose body has let him down. Since being a legitimate All-Star, Rios has twice posted on-base percentages below .300. His defense has gone from an asset to a negative seemingly overnight…and stayed there for the past four seasons. Rios’ walk rate is almost half what it was during his days as a budding star.  Alex still runs and runs well, when he feels like it, but he also hit four (4) home runs last season….in Texas.

Now thirty-four, it is getting harder to distinguish between whether the lack of production is a result of Rios’ disinterest and the simple fact that he just might be getting old or that a thumb injury is to blame.  The Royals are betting that Alex Rios on a one year deal (with an option of course) will be motivated, rejuvenated, focused…all that, maybe even some grit.  It might be a bad gamble or it might be a Melky Cabrera resurgence.

As many of you know, Baseball Reference has a Similarity Score which is mostly just fun.  I took some heat for noting that their formula compared Eric Hosmer to Keith Hernandez at the same age, so we’ll proceed with caution. Now, if Hosmer is an MVP winner this season, like Hernandez was at the same point in their careers then Baseball Reference will laugh at you and your little dog.

I bring this up because Alex Rios has a fun list on his Similarity Score, starting with the top name:  Amos Otis.  After Amos, comes Claudell Washington, Andy Van Slyke, Chet Lemon, Marquis Grissom, Gary Maddox and Dusty Baker.  That’s a good list and testament to what Rios has done, however sporadically and how far in the past it may have been.

Otis was solid in his age 34 season (it was strike shortened) and average at age 35, but done after that.  Washington was not good at age 34 and done after that. Van Slyke put up good numbers at age 34, but didn’t play after that. Chet Lemon had a poor age 34 season, but a decent age 35 campaign (albeit minus all power), but was then done. Grissom had an awful age 34 season, but then posted two of his best three power years at age 35 and 36 (although his on-base percentage was in decline). Gary Maddox had not been an above average offensive performer since he was 29 and did nothing from 34 on to change that. Dusty Baker, an All-Star at 33, was a part-time player by age 35.

As good as the list under Alex Rios’ Similarity Score may be, the guys on it were in decline or basically done when they were the same age as Rios will be in 2015.  Like I began, it’s a helluva a gamble.

 

The streak remains intact. All hail the streak.

The Royals and Eric Hosmer reached an agreement to avoid arbitration less than 24 hours prior to his scheduled hearing in Florida. The contract not only settles the issue of 2015, it also clears the matter for 2016. In sum, Hosmer will be paid $13.9 million for the next two years of work. He earns $5.65 million for next season and $8.25 for 2016.

The Royals entered this winter with nine players eligible for arbitration. All nine reached agreements before going through with a hearing. Dayton Moore has yet to go fully arbitration monty. The last Royal to have a hearing was Jeremy Affeldt back in 2005. For you stat geeks, the Royals have had 19 hearings total dating to 1974, winning nine.

This contract represents a small gamble for the Royals. Small. If Hosmer stumbles again – think 2012 stumble – the Royals will ultimately lose money on the deal. Obviously, the hope is Hosmer can put together a full season where he is locked in at the plate. Think the last four months of 2014 (excepting August when he was injured, but you get the point) extending for the full year and erasing the stench of April and May. If that happens, then the Royals will come out slightly ahead.

The projections are somewhat bullish.

PECOTA – .278/.332/.419 with a .274 TAv and 1.9 WARP

ZiPS – .293/.346/.443 with a .344 wOBA and 2.0 zWAR

Steamer – .278/.337/.437 with a .339 wOBA and 2.3 fWAR

The consensus is Hosmer will have his second best offensive season of his career. Such are the nature of projections for an inconsistent hitter like Hosmer. No computer is willing to go out on a limb and predict a breakout simply because he’s never put together six consecutive months of at least average offense. The streaks run deep.

Will he fully realize his power potential? Last year he hit just nine home runs and finished with a .398 slugging percentage and a career-low .127 ISO. Among qualified first basemen on the Fangraphs leaderboards, Hosmer’s ISO ranked 19th out of 23. (The 20th was Billy Butler who had a .107 ISO.) If he is going to be worth his contract, he’s going to have to find that power stroke. Let’s be real, though. He’s not going to challenge the Royals franchise record for home runs. It sure would be nice if he could hit more than 20 in a year, though.

Hosmer was eligible for arbitration for the first time last winter as a Super Two. The Royals purchased his second and third year of arbitration with this deal, leaving the fourth year unsettled. Should Hosmer progress (remember, everyone is supposed to get better!) he will truly earn the megabucks in 2017. Then, free agency ahead of the 2018 season and he will make Powerball money.

The Royals remain on track to open with a payroll around $112 million, give or take a few dollars. That will be a record. I’m not sure I understand the two-year deals handed out to Hosmer and Kelvin Herrera beyond giving the Royals cost certainty heading into 2016. It’s nice they’re under contract and all, but how does that benefit either side? Both deals are well within range of what they would make in 2016. Neither player figures to regress, but the system pretty much guarantees a solid raise for each regardless. I’m guess this is all about cost certainty and the players willingness to lock in for another season. Or maybe the Royals simply believe Hosmer is about to breakout in a big way and this is how they save a few coins ahead of 2016.

I was looking for financial comps to get some perspective on this contract. This winter, David Freese was eligible for arbitration for a third time. Freese has better offensive numbers (not by much) for his career, but is five years older. He will earn $6.425 million next year. Chase Headley is another who comes to mind. (I know I’m looking at third basemen here, but I really can’t find a comparable first baseman. So corner infielder and all that. If you think of a first baseman I’ve overlooked, leave it in the comments.) His numbers were slightly better than Hosmer, is closer in age and he made $10.25 million for his third year of arbitration eligibility. Headley also had a Gold Glove to his credit. The Braves bought out the second year of Freddie Freeman’s arbitration at $8.5 million. His third year cost $12 million. Todd Frazier will earn $7.5 million for his second year of arbitration eligibility. I guess the lesson here is the $8.25 due Hosmer in 2016 isn’t crazy money, or out of scope for a corner infielder of his status. Just we can’t pass judgement on the deal until we see how the 2015 season plays out for him.

Looking large picture, what’s going to happen for the Royals in 2016? Assuming the Royals will pick up the options on Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar, the Royals are already committed to over $77 million in player contracts and buyouts for the 2016 season. If Alex Gordon makes good and exercises his player option, that total nudges to $90 million for 12 players who will actually play for the Royals and three players they would buy out of their options. With Greg Holland, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy and Mike Moustakas all on the arbitration merry-go-round again, the club would be in record territory with 16 players under contract. They are set to blow past the $115 million mark for 2016. Are they prepared to handle that fiscal burden?

Either way, the manner in which this team is built, the expanding payroll is inevitable. The cost of doing business. The team is going to need some creativity going forward and if there’s one thing Moore, Jin Wong and the rest of the front office have shown is the ability to construct contracts that actually do give the team some financial flexibility. (That’s not to say they spend wisely. Those are two separate issues. Longtime readers know where I stand on how they spend.) There’s a method to their two-year deal madness. It will just take a little bit of time before the larger picture becomes clear.

The next several months will be very interesting and will tell us much about the future of this team.

Wade Davis is the key to The Trade.

I’m convinced I wrote something like that. Probably about two years ago. And I probably thought I was damn clever. After all, the Royals had James Shields for only two years before he was moving on to greener free agent pastures. The Royals hold three affordable team options on Davis, who would be with the club for five years total if they are exercised. Yes, that made him the key to the trade.

Let’s get right to the numbers. Because they are damn impressive.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2014 KCR 9 2 .818 1.00 71 3 72.0 38 8 8 0 23 109 279 399 1.19 0.847 4.8 0.0 2.9 13.6 4.74
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2015.

I mean… Just look at those. Then look at them again. They are almost impossible to comprehend. They’re video game numbers. That’s it. Wade Davis set the difficulty level to “rookie” and played an entire season.

It’s the Wade Davis Experience.

Davis scrapped his sinker, relying on his fastball, curve and cutter.

DavisUsage

The fastball has gained a couple ticks of velocity since moving full-time to the bullpen. His heater averaged 91-92 mph as a starter. Last year as a reliever, he brought the fastball at 96.7 mph. It’s a true weapon, generating a swing and miss over 16 percent of the time. As you can see from the graph above, it gained velocity as the season progressed. Opposing hitters managed just a .161 batting average against his fastball and in 135 at bats that resolved with that pitch, Davis yielded just three extra base hits – a pair of doubles and a triple.

The cutter is a ground ball machine. Over 73 percent of the balls put in play on his cutter are ground balls. Is it any surprise that opposing hitters managed a minute .115 batting average against. Oh, and not a single batter managed an extra base hit against the cutter. Davis features the pitch to both lefties and right-handed batters, but it’s his go-to secondary pitch to same side batters when he’s ahead in the count. Doesn’t matter that hitters may know what’s coming. They’re not going to touch that pitch.

And the curve? It features the 12-to-6 break and like the cutter, is an infielder’s friend. Davis gets a ground ball on about 63 percent of his curves put in play. That’s the pitch he throws to left-handed batters when he’s ahead in the count.

I try to avoid hyperbole, but I’m not sure we have seen anything quite like Davis’s 2014 performance in a Royals uniform.

As you would imagine for an eighth-inning guy, Davis had the second-highest leverage index on the team at 1.59. (Any thing above 1.0 is considered “high” pressure.) At this time last year, we were debating the merits of sticking Davis back in the rotation for another shot, or moving him to the bullpen. There will be no such debate this spring. The question this time around is: Can he repeat his performance?

I don’t see why not. His pitches are nasty, his ground ball rate is lofty and the Royals will place a fine infield defense behind him once again. His 87 percent strand rate looks like it’s due to regress, but given the small sample size of the relief pitching game, it wouldn’t be crazy if the correction was minor. He struck out 39 percent of all batters faced. His command was impeccable. There was no smoke and mirror component to Davis’s 2014 season. No fluke or outlier that will be difficult to duplicate.

Wade Davis’s 2014 was real, and it was spectacular.

Davis is signed for $7 million for 2015 and the team holds another option for $8 million in 2016 and $10 million for 2017. That’s a fair amount of coin for a reliever, but considering Greg Holland is going to earn $8.25 million in his second year of being eligible for arbitration, Davis’s contract isn’t extreme in the least. What could be extreme is the Royals committing over $15 million to two relievers. Granted, the pair are among the best (if not THE BEST) in the game at what they do. The Royals actually have both on what the industry would view as team-friendly deals.

As much as you’ll hate to hear this, I think the Royals need to explore a trade. Either Davis or Holland. The return the Royals get for either of the relievers would justify making this move. Especially as we move through spring training and teams are assessing their needs as Opening Day approaches. There will be trade partners and some will reek of desperation. The Royals bullpen is an embarrassment of riches that should be leveraged for the greater good. Trade Holland and Davis can slide into the closer role. Trade Davis and Kelvin Herrera can move up an inning. There are so many options concerning this bullpen. I get the appeal of standing pat. It’s easy and we saw how excellent it was last season. Another October run would totally justify keeping the pen together. But can the Royals recapture the magic from last fall? That’s a post for another day. For now, the bullpen is a nice problem for Dayton Moore to have. He just needs to make the right decision on how to deal with it in the way that gives the team the maximum benefit.

Over the past four seasons, Alcides Escobar has played more games at shortstop than anyone else in the majors. To my eyes, Escobar has played the position well.  Yes, there are some mental gaffes on routine plays here and there, but there is also a long list of outstanding, eye-popping, just damn good highlight plays.

While you should probably just trust my judgment, a more reality based approach would lead you to the defensive metrics. Those like, but don’t love, Alcides Escobar.  Over the past four years – a decent sample size from which to view these – Escobar is 8th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and 9th in Ultimate Zone Rating.  Good, not great.

Don’t like the above metrics? Think maybe all the shifting that goes on these days has bled into inconsistent data?  Possible, likely, a little, shut up? You want to go old school?  Alcides Escobar, over the last four seasons, ranks 8th in Fielding Percentage (a stat that tells you pretty much how often a guy makes a play that the official scorer can in no way manufacture something that made said play even slightly challenging).

Inside Edge Fielding is a little more interesting, but subjective in that a human decides if the chances of making a play is remote, unlikely, about even, likely or almost certain. In these categories – based on data from the last three seasons – Alcides Escobar has made a higher percentage of the ‘remote’ category plays than any other shortstop. He ranks third in those deemed unlikely and fifth in those where the chances were considered about even.  There are your highlights and, not surprisingly, the reason the metrics don’t love Alcides is that he is just 18th in percentage of plays that are considered ‘almost certain’ to be made.

That said, we all know defense is not the issue with Alcides Escobar.  He is without question better than average in the field.  Almost certainly at least good with the glove and, quite possibly, great at it.  Pretty clearly, Alcides Escobar can more than do the job at shortstop.

Another thing that is not a problem with Escobar is baserunning. His skills there get overshadowed by the pure speed of Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson and the incredible athleticism of Lorenzo Cain, but Escobar is outstanding.  Using Fangraphs BsR metric for baserunning, Escobar was 12th in the majors last season and ranks 6th over the past four seasons combined. That ain’t bad, kids.

Of course, it is the bat that makes us all wonder.  You can sum up Escobar just by looking at this graph comparing his on-base percentage to the league average:

chartObviously, throw out 2008 as there is simply not enough data to be worth talking about it, but since then you see Escobar flirt between league average and below average.  This is on-base percentage, but pick a stat, any stat and you get a graph that looks similar.  I’m not joking, average, slugging, ISO, wOBA…whatever.

The driver is BABIP, which is no surprise.  When Escobar’s BABIP is over .300 as it was in 2012 (.344) and 2014 (.326), his offense flirts with league average.  That, combined with his defense and baserunning, then makes him a valuable commodity (2.2 and 3.4 fWAR).  When the BABIP sags, so does the offense and Alcides becomes considerably less valuable.

The thing about Escobar’s batting average of balls in play is that there seems to be little reason for the fluctuations.  His line drive percentage over the last three years (2 average and 1 below average offensive campaigns) are remarkably close. If you feel like 2014 was a ‘turn the corner’ offensive season for Alcides, you might want to be mindful that his groundball rate was at a career low, as was his walk rate.

One can hang their hat on a marginally lower swing percentages on pitches outside the strike zone in his two good years (2012 and 14).  However, while 2014 sported his highest contact percentage on pitches in the zone, Escobar recorded his lowest contact percentage in the zone in his other good offensive season. If BABIP is a reflection of luck, then Alcides Escobar may be its poster child. With 3,200 plate appearances on his resume, the Royals’ shortstop is unlikely to suddenly blossom into a consistent on-base guy year in year out and probably that is okay.

Slated to earn $3 million in 2015, Escobar will be worth the money strictly on his ability to run the bases, play the field and, yes, bunt.  That is only half sarcastic, by the way, as Alcides is an excellent bunter.  He was 11th in the majors in bunt hits in 2014 and 12th in that category over the last four seasons.  Over the past four seasons, Escobar is 2nd in sacrifices and was 7th in the majors last year.  Ned Yost smirks in your general direction.

In the new landscape of baseball, where defense and pitching have overtaken hitting the ball over the wall in importance, the 2014 version of Alcides Escobar works just fine. Take heed, my friends, because just the season before, your World Series lead-off hitter posted an on-base percentage of just .259.  He was still worth 1.1 fWAR that season, but I’ll take the 3.4 fWAR of 2014 if you ask. Given their off-season, the Royals need the 2014 Escobar to make a repeat performance in 2015.

 

You figured the Royals would find a way to extend at least one of their arbitration eligible players. On Thursday, the team announced they signed Kelvin Herrera to a two-year, $4.15 million deal.

I profiled Herrera a few weeks ago. You can read it here.

Herrera qualified for arbitration as a super-two, so with the two year deal he just inked, he still has two trips through the process before he becomes a free agent.

The numbers haven’t exactly been broken down as of this writing, so let’s make some assumptions. Herrera asked for $1.9 million and the Royals came back with $1.15. The midpoint is $1.525 million. A good starting point. Let’s round down just for fun (and since most of these deals sacrifice some cash in the short-term for longer-term stability) and say he will make a cool $1.5 million for this upcoming season. That leaves him in the neighborhood of $2.65 million for 2016.

The arbitration process loves what we would call the “traditional” stats. For relievers that means appearances, ERA and saves. Things like strikeout rate and leverage are probably included, but certainly don’t carry the same weight. Should Herrera remain in the seventh (or even if he moved to the eighth inning role) he would lack the saves needed to impress the process. I would bet a second year reliever with his track record would be looking at an arbitration number around $3 million, give or take a few hundred thousand dollars. So for the Royals, this move strikes me as simply getting some payroll certainty on the books going forward. It’s an increasingly tricky landscape with a large number of players still eligible for arbitration, plus six options that must be settled.

On the surface, this strikes me as a good deal for both sides. Herrera finished with 1.4 fWAR last year, which Fangraphs calculated was worth $7.5 million in real dollars. For the amount the Royals are paying him over the next two years, he needs to earn less than 1 fWAR to provide a return on that investment. On the other side, Herrera has a couple of years where he doesn’t need to worry about his contract. Yet if something happened (say where Greg Holland was traded and he shifted to the closer role) it gives Herrera the opportunity to get paid a little more for the 2017 season.

With Herrera in the fold, just Holland and Eric Hosmer remain for the Royals arbitration eligible players. Expect some news on those two soon.

Just when you thought it was safe to visit Royals Authority, I come back.  I have been busy, lazy, working, traveling…hell, I even spent a week playing baseball in Arizona.  Basically, I haven’t written in a while and certainly did not need to as Craig has been more than capably running the ship.

Of course, once one returns, one certainly wants to make a splash.  Hence, let’s profile Paulo Orlando.

There was a time when I spent as much time following prospects and ‘maybe they might become prospects’ as I did the major league Royals. Even before the great run of last fall, I had become far less interested in who was coming up  and far more interested in how was already up. The Royals had become relevant, or at least somewhat relevant, and featured players in the majors who had actual potential as opposed to say, Terrance Long. While I fear disappointment this season, the situation is far better now than back when I was trying to squint hard enough to Paulo Orlando the next Willie Wilson.

Orlando is now twenty-nine years old and has yet to log an inning in the majors, or even sit the bench for a week or two in September. He has spent six and one-half of his nine professional seasons in the Royals organization and is coming off his second full year in AAA.  As far as Brazilian baseball players go, Paulo is one of the best. Sadly, Brazil is no Dominican Republic.

The long and lean outfielder enjoyed his best seasons in back to back years at Northwest Arkansas.  He batted .305 at AA in both 2010 and 2011, got on base at a clip north of .360 and showed power and speed.  In between his fine AA performances those two years, however, was a flameout in 58 games at the AAA level in 2011.  Which buried him back in AA for all of 2012.  That season, Orlando’s power disappeared and took the rest of his offensive game with it.

For lack of anything else to do with him, the Royals moved Orlando to Omaha again in 2013 where he was marginally okay and improved, in 2014, to at least decently league average in a hitter’s league. If you squint right, maybe you can see him as a fourth outfielder or platoon partner in the majors, but I quit squinting when Sal Perez and Eric Hosmer came up.

What I see now is a 29 year old outfielder who can play good defense at all three positions (Orlando has played more than half his games in center, most of the rest in right, but enough in left that it is not uncharted territory).  He can run and steal a base, although he is not in the class of Gore or Dyson…or Escobar and Cain for that matter.  If you think getting hit by a pitch is a skill, than Orlando has that in his tool chest and he can bunt a little, too.

Let’s face it, kids, if Paulo Orlando was born ten years earlier, he would have played in the majors for Kansas City:  taking a spot alongside Ruben Mateo and Abraham Nunez (not that one, the other one).  Those are times thankfully long gone.  The Royals’ fourth outfielder is Jarrod Dyson, who is a pretty decent ballplayer if used correctly (and okay even when not).  Guys like Paulo Orlando actually have to earn it these days.

To be fair, Orlando was a raw, raw player when he became a professional.  He has gone from striking out 28% of the time and walking just 3% of the time to a guy who struck out an acceptable 15.5% last season and walked at a 7% clip. He boasts a good BABIP throughout his career – no long enough to make you think it can’t all be luck, even in the minors.

Still, this is a right-handed hitting outfielder with good (really good) defense, good (not great) speed, some ability to do a smattering of the ‘little things’.  However, he is twenty-nine with vanishing power and is three years removed from his last ‘look at me’ minor league campaign.

Stranger things have happened in baseball than for Paulo Orlando to enjoy major league success.  Frankly, Mike Aviles was similarly stuck in the system and not really popping anyone’s eyes and had one great plus one decent season for the Royals. While I will take a shot or two or nine at the Royals’ organization, the fact that Orlando was given a 40 man roster spot at least indicates they see something of worth.

It is not outside the realm of impossibility.  An injury (or just plain disinterest – call it pulling a Juan Gone) to Rios could give Orlando a chance as a platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson.  Who knows?  He might hit.  There’s part of me that would like to see that.

Way back when I thought I knew prospects, back when Chip Ambres was infesting the outfield of my favorite major league team, I envisioned Paulo Orlando as a guy who could make the major league team better. Chances are that ship has sailed.

When Paulo reports for camp, his locker will likely be on the opposite side of the room from that of Alex Gordon.  The side where they put the guys who are not expected to make the big league club, where the guys with the offensive linemen numbers hang out.  After nine professional seasons and zero big league at-bats, that is where Paulo Orlando finds himself.

 

 

 

 

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