Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

It’s a done deal. We knew it was going to happen, but frankly, I’m kind of surprised it happened so fast. Once Victor Martinez re-signed with Detroit, the DH dominoes started to fall, so maybe the news shouldn’t have come as such a rapid surprise.

Billy Butler has left Kansas City for Oakland.

Initial reports have the A’s paying Butler a total of $30 million over three years. If the Royals thought Butler was worth $10 million per year, I’m guessing they would have bit the bullet on the $12.5 million option and I wouldn’t be writing this post. The Royals would have brought him back, but they were looking at a maximum two year commitment at an AAV of between $6 and $8 million. That was where they valued him.

On a related note, I saw a tweet from Dave Cameron asking if Butler’s contract was going to be this high, why wouldn’t the Royals have worked out a trade and then picked up his option? Similar to the situation with Ervin Santana a couple years ago. My guess is the Royals were worried they couldn’t make a trade and it wasn’t worth the risk. I mean, the guy’s name has come up in rumors for years but nothing has happened. It isn’t like the Royals haven’t tried to get rid of the guy. There just hasn’t been a good fit for whatever reason. So the Royals fear was they would owe $12.5 million to a guy they valued around $7 million. That’s quite a gamble.

As it is, Butler is going to need to produce around 4.4 WAR over the next three years to be worth the $30 million investment. (I’ve heard rumblings of a $5 million signing bonus, which is insane. But this is free agency, so you can’t rule anything out. For the meantime, I’m working with just what we know. Which is 3/30.) Given that Butler has accumulated 9.6 fWAR in eight seasons – an average of 1.2 fWAR a year – it’s going to be close.

Butler has topped only 2 fWAR in a season on two occasions – 2010 and 2012. In between, he hit 1.3 fWAR in 2011. But he was a different hitter then. Butler’s batted ball profile had been extremely consistent over the first six years of his career. He was good for a grounder around 47 percent of the time, a fly ball 34 percent of the time and about 19 percent of his balls put in play were line drives.

That profile has changed over the last two years. Now, Butler hits grounders about 51 percent of the time, fly balls 27 percent of the time and line drives account for 22 percent.

More line drives, that’s good, right? Yes, but not when it comes at the expense of more ground balls. Butler has become a ground ball machine.

And his 2012 season where he hit 29 home runs? Clearly an outlier, built upon a 19.9 percent HR/FB rate that was unsustainable. His second highest HR/FB rate was in 2013 at 11.7 percent.

And we can’t let Butler go without acknowledging his poor baserunning. He advanced from first to third on a base hit just one time all year. That’s pretty difficult to do. According to Bill James, his net baserunning score was a -31, worst in baseball. Remove Butler from the Royals in 2013 and as a team, they are the fourth best baserunning team in the majors. With Butler, they were the tenth best. To say he was an anchor on the base paths is an understatement.

Butler is probably going to play some first base in Oakland. At least more than he would in Kansas City. That will probably boost his value since his defense is nowhere as awful as his detractors would have you believe. In fact, this part of his game has improved a great deal. I’m not going to delve into the defensive metrics here because of a minuscule sample size, so let’s just do the old eye test. His footwork around the bag, a key component for a first baseman, is much stronger. When he first came up, he played first base like a three legged stool missing one leg with the remaining two mismatched lengths. His poor defensive reputation was earned. Credit to Butler that while Ned Yost would rather be an astronaut than play Butler at first, Butler worked on his defense. It showed when he filled in for Eric Hosmer in August. Sure, he made a few blunders. (Most notably the two out, ninth inning error against Cleveland at the end of the month that led to a Royals loss in 10.) Overall, he played a solid, if unspectacular defense. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove, but as overrated as Hosmer is with the glove, Butler is may be just as underrated. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

The Royals now have a right-handed hole to fill in their lineup. Ideally, they would sign someone like Yasmani Tomas, who hits from the right side and plays right field. That’s going to cost some serious cheddar, but if the Royals were going to pay a guy they viewed as a bat-only player around $8 million, surely they could spring a few extra dollars and get a glove to go along with the deal. But if the asking price hits $100 as rumored, there’s no way the Royals are involved in that.

Barring the signing of Tomas, I don’t see help in the free agent market. The Royals disagree and are apparently targeting Torii Hunter. If the Royals are serious, I wouldn’t give him more than a year at what they were willing to pay Butler. Hunter will turn 39 next year and is obviously in decline both offensively and defensively. Barring a free agent move, Dayton is going to have to work the room at the baseball meetings and find a dance partner for a trade. His two big trades have turned out well for the Royals. Can he pull of a third?

I’m a fan of the Royals and as such, I develop certain attachments to certain players. Damn the detractors, I’ve enjoyed Billy Butler, despite his shortcomings. It’s been a struggle to watch him hit so many balls on the ground the last couple of seasons, but I’ve always rooted for the guy. He loved Kansas City and, for the most part, Kansas City loved him back. I’ll never forget his reception at the 2012 All-Star Game, his curtain call after being removed from Game Two of the World Series for a pinch runner, and the big hits he provided along the way.

I heard the bitching about how your high-paid designated hitter needed to hit better. Sure. I get it. While Butler was probably the fifth-best regular bat in the Royals lineup in 2014, they’re going to miss a regular DH presence. Instead of bitching about a slow Billy Butler grounding into a double play, maybe we’ll meet back here to bitch about Carlos Peguro?

Butler finishes his Royals career with a slash line of .295/.359/.449. He hit 276 doubles. He ranks fourth in franchise history in batting average, is eighth in games played (1,166), is seventh in hits (1,273), and is seventh in total bases (1,938). He hit .262/.327/.333 this October against the A’s, Angels, Orioles and Giants. He will be in the Royals Hall of Fame someday.

As it seems fitting, here is his final double as a Royal:

 

At this price, it’s time for Butler to move to the next phase of his career. Dayton Moore was smart not to get in a bidding war, not that he ever would over Butler. Still, it’s the right move for the Royals to let Butler go for the amount of money he was able to earn on the open market. I wish him luck in Oakland and I congratulate him on his contract.

Some random managerial thoughts while scanning airline manifests for Yasmani Tomas…

McCullough reports the Royals are probably going to give Ned Yost an extension, but it’s on the back burner.

Perhaps the least surprising story of November. The only reason it’s not number one with a bullet is because of that silly back-burner. Come on. We are all adults here, right? Yost is signed only through next season. One month ago his team was a game from the nirvana of a Plaza Parade. This has the inevitability of snow in a Kansas City winter. Just do it, for crying out loud.

Since my Bill James Handbook arrived last week, I thought it would be an opportune time to look at some Ned Facts. Since he’s going to be the Royals manager until the next millennium. Or something like that.

Last year, Yost used 51 pinch hitters, the fewest in the majors.

The most frequently used pinch hitter? Come on down, Raul Ibanez. The old man got 10 pinch hit plate appearances. He walked once and hit a double. That’s it. Oof. That’s a .111/.200/.222 pinch hit line. Insert snark about “professional at bats” here. Meanwhile, the second most frequent pinch hitter for Yost was Billy Butler. Butler came up eight times, had one walk, was hit by a pitch and collected four hits – including a home run – in six official at bats.

Notable was the fact Yost used 14 of his pinch hitters in the 10 games the Royals played in National League parks.

Pinch hitting is difficult. It’s not surprising someone line Butler, used as a designated hitter for most of the season, can come into a game directly off the bench to do some damage. Collectively, the Royals pinch hitters produced a slash line of .209/.320/.395 in those 51 plate appearances.

Yost called for 63 pinch runners, the most in the majors. 

Again, we knew this. Or, if we didn’t know this, we had a pretty good idea. When you have a Jarrod Dyson as a fourth outfielder – and in September, a Terrance Gore – pinch running will happen. Royals pinch runners stole 15 bases and were caught just three times. That’s an 83 percent success rate. That’s pretty good.

American League average was 36 pinch runners. Yost was well above average.

Yost made 46 defensive substitutions. The fourth most in the AL.

Think about it. Yost inserts Dyson as a pinch runner and keeps him in the game as a defensive replacement. That counts as Dyson entering as a pinch runner. I really liked that Yost seemed to figure this out as the season came to it’s conclusion. Being able to bring Dyson in as a pinch runner is capitalizing on the two things he does well – run and play defense. I feel like Yost didn’t get enough credit for this.

Let’s talk managerial tactics for a moment.

The Royals attempted 189 steals under Yost, the most in the majors. 

I say “under Yost” because anyone who watches the games and listens to Yost’s post-game comments knows he gives certain guys green lights. With reason. So it’s safe to say Yost himself didn’t call for each one of the 189 stolen base attempts. I don’t think it matters. As the boss, he’s the guy who fostered the environment that encouraged the speedy guys to run when they sensed opportunity.

Get ready for the next one…

The Royals attempted 45 sacrifice bunts. League average was 40 sacrifice bunt attempts. 

Seriously. It only felt like the Royals attempted 45 bunts the final two weeks of September.

It’s amazing, right? The Royals tried to sacrifice once every four games, which was right around league average. And we collectively reacted as if he was throwing a basket of kittens in the river. “My God, man… Are you insane?” Turns out he wasn’t any more or less insane than any other American League manager.

According to Baseball Reference, the Royals were successful on their sac bunt attempts roughly 60 percent of the time, which was a little worse than league average. But still close.

I wish I had a breakdown of sacrifice bunt attempts by inning. I remain steadfast in my belief a sacrifice bunt in the first inning is criminal. Same for bunting a runner to third with no one out. I will listen to your logic for a bunt in the eighth or ninth inning. I will likely reject it, but I will listen. As it goes for Yost, the numbers don’t lie. Most major league managers aren’t different from their peers. Individuality has a place, but for managers, that place is the unemployment office. Easier to follow the lead than blaze your own trail. Bunts are going to happen. Maybe 45 is on the high side. Maybe you see that as giving away a game and three-quarters worth of outs. Eh. It’s a long season.

But the next time Alcides Escobar drops down a first inning bunt, look for me on Twitter. I’ll be the guy leading the meltdown.

Yost called for  just three pitchouts, the fewest in the American League.

I’m glad someone keeps track of this.

Yost ordered just 14 intentional walks, the fewest in the majors.

OK, as frustrating as the bunt can be, how about this nifty stat? The fewest intentional walks? Nice. As much as I abhor the bunt, I hold the intentional walk in equal disdain. Just two years ago Yost ordered 44 intentional walks which was the most in the AL. What changed? If I had a guess it would be a veteran starting rotation and a lock down bullpen with the ability to throw some heat to generate a strikeout. Neither James Shields or Jeremy Guthrie gave an intentional walk. Same for Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Jason Vargas led the staff with four. No one else had more than a pair.

Only three times after an intentional walk did it “bomb,” which means a double play did not result and multiple runs were scored after the intentional walk was issued.

What does all of this mean?

Maybe Yost isn’t the idiot made out by most – including the author of the post you’re currently reading. It’s often said, and I believe this to be true, that a manager’s mistakes are remembered and amplified multiple times more than his successes. Call for a steal and it works, it’s a credit to a speedster like Dyson. Call for a steal and the runner is thrown out, it’s the manager’s fault for running on a particular pitcher, or catcher, or pitch count. Whatever. You get the picture.

As I said above, I can live with an “average” number of bunts. I really (really!) like the lack of intentional walks. And I thought the way he managed his personnel down the stretch was extremely solid.

In the next month or so, Yost will get his extension and it will be deserved. A reward for an exceptional 2014 season and a promise for future days in Kansas City where he can continue to use what he has learned over an 11 year managerial career to his advantage.

RHP ∙ 2012—present

Between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Royals swapped outfielder Melky Cabrera, coming off a bounce-back year, for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez in the hopes that Sanchez would have a bounce-back year of his own. Instead, Sanchez was an absolute mess for the Royals. That bad situation ended better than anyone had reason to hope when in late July the Colorado Rockies agreed to take Sanchez in exchange for another pitcher who was struggling at the time, Jeremy Guthrie. Just moving on from Sanchez was a plus, but getting an actual useful player in return was a coup for GM Dayton Moore. Guthrie won’t ever set the league on fire, but he had some value for Baltimore for five consecutive seasons before 2012. Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland saw some things he thought he could tweak with Guthrie in the hopes of getting him back to that level or maybe even better. There was no reason not to take a flier. Guthrie said at the time, “…as I looked at what was in my future and I look at the Royals, I see a perfect fit there…I really hope to come in there and be a large part of good things that we can do here in the near future.”[i] Also, “I like the powder blue tops…I’m excited about that.”[ii]

Eiland wanted to just observe Guthrie for a couple of starts before tinkering, and those two games went just as badly as things had been going in Colorado. Then Eiland got to work. Guthrie’s next start was OK, and then things really clicked on August 8 in Chicago. Guthrie rolled through eight scoreless innings without allowing a walk, and then did not yield an earned run in either of his next two starts either. On August 19 he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The team won 10 of his last 11 starts that year. So what changed? “He’s made a couple of little tweaks in his mechanics that helps him load a little bit more, hide the ball a little bit more. Nothing major, just very subtle tweaks. He’s just comfortable, I think,” Ned Yost said.[iii]

Eiland adjusted Guthrie’s shoulder tuck, changed his foot on the rubber, moved his hands down, worked on his balance. “All that was designed to get him down in the zone and add a little deception,” Eiland said. “He bought into it right away and worked on it hard, and continues to work on it to this day every day. Now he’s down in the zone and when he misses, he misses down. Pitching from thigh to belt-high like he used to, when he missed he missed up. Now when he’s from thigh down, his misses are down. And he gained some confidence. And once a guy with that pitchability gains some confidence, this is what happens.”[iv]

Guthrie was a free agent after 2012, but after his two sterling months in KC, both sides wanted to keep him in the fold. A big three-year deal with a team option for a fourth was signed soon after the season. Two years later, Guthrie has filled an unglamorous but valuable role as an innings eater with average run prevention. Homers remain an issue, but Guthrie has kept walks in check and let his elite defense do their thing. 2013 was highlighted by his first and second career shutouts. He also set a team record with 18 straight starts without earning a loss (dating to the end of 2012).

His 2014 regular season featured fewer highs, but a continuation of that steady presence that is more often than not enough to get the team a win. The Royals are a surprising 48-31 in Guthrie starts from 2012—14. The highlight that year of course was the playoff run. Guthrie, at age 35, made his playoff debut in the third game of the ALCS in a start against Baltimore. He delivered with five innings and one run allowed. He took the mound again in game three of the World Series, and came through with another performance just good enough for the team to win. His turn came again in game seven, and he started with a perfect first inning. Things went haywire in the second as he loaded the bases before recording an out, but limited the damage to two runs in the frame. He seemed to have righted the ship with a perfect third, but got into another jam in the fourth with runners on the corners and one out before being lifted. “When I walked back into the clubhouse after game seven having lost the game 3-2 and feeling responsible personally because I gave up the three runs, I walked in with my head held high,” he said. “I expected to be a little more sad than I was, but I think there was really nothing more that I could have done.” And to the fans, “We had a blast doing it with you and had a blast doing it for you and hope to do it again very, very soon.”[v]

[i] Vinnie Duber, “Royals acquire Guthrie from Rockies for Sanchez,” http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120720&content_id=35241892&vkey=news_kc&c_id=kc, July 20, 2012.

[ii] “Guthrie excited to be part of Royals’ rotation,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/35319822/, July 21, 2012.

[iii] “Guthrie looking to make winning fit with KC,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/36758860/, August 15, 2012.

[iv] Dick Kaegel, “Guthrie enjoys marked turnaround under Eiland,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/46674802/, May 5, 2013.

[v] Roxie Hammill, “Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie shares his faith at church homecoming in Platte City,” http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/community/816/article3558841.html, November 4, 2014.

I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming ‘Don’t swing at the high fastball, Sal!’

The last at-bat by any Royal of the year was the disaster that saw Salvador Perez continuing to swing as Madison Bumgarner (who is pretty good, by the way) just kept throwing fastballs above the strike zone. It was agonizing and, sadly, it was really nothing new.

Perez swings at pitches.  Most all the pitches, really.

This is courtesy of Brooks Baseball and the chart is from the catcher’s point of view:

 

Perez Swing Rates

 

 

All the pitches.

Now, Perez has managed to put a pretty successful career line at the plate (especially for a catcher) of .285/.315/.433 with a wOBA of .325 and a RC+ of 104.  With his defense and, dare we say it, presence, Perez has certainly been a valuable piece of the Royals puzzle.

That said, the Royals’ stated desire to get Perez some rest from behind the plate but ‘still keep his bat in the lineup’ seems to lack any real standing in reality.  Starting with his partial 2011 rookie season and moving forward, tell me if you see a trend here:

  • Batting Average: .331 to .301 to .292 to .260
  • On-base Percentage: .361 to .328 to .323 to .289
  • Slugging Percentage: .473 to .471 to .433 to .403
  • wOBA: .363 to .340 to .329 to .303
  • wRC+: 126 to 114 to 106 to 92
  • Games Played: 39 to 76 to 138 to 150

Two things and they are obvious:  Perez’s numbers have declined with the more games he played in a season AND the longer he has played in the majors.  I think rather obviously, Salvador’s steadily eroding offense is a combination of the league figuring out that he will swing at pretty much anything thrown between the two dugouts and also with Ned Yost’s obsession with having Sal behind the plate pretty much every day.

As the ultimate free swinger, Perez’s basic offensive numbers will be tremendously effected by BABIP.  The real difference between a solid 2013 and a less than stellar 2014 at the plate can be traced to an unlucky .278 BABIP.   While Sal’s line drive percentage was actually higher in 2014, his ground ball rate plummeted and while we grimace at the Mike Moustakas popup machine, take note that Sal’s infield fly percentage has jumped from 5% as a rookie to over 17% in 2014.

The chart above is the percentage of pitches Perez has swung at (career), here is one that shows those that he swung at AND missed:

Perez Whiff Rates

Perez has a pretty good ability to put the bat, in some fashion, on the ball pretty much anywhere, but seriously, 57 pitches up and away from him, Perez swung 18 times and he only missed once!  Can’t be all bad, can it? Can’t be all good, either.

One last chart (as charts are easier than writing and have pretty colors).  This one shows Sal’s batting average in the same zones:

Perez Batting Ave

Let’s go back to the up and away corner of the zone:  Sal swung at 18 pitches up there, missed one, fouled off eight more and hit .444 on the remaining nine he swung at.  Like I said, he can put the bat on the ball…sometimes.

All of this is not a take down of Salvador Perez.  I love having Perez as the Royals’ everyday catcher for the foreseeable future.  Even if his contract was not so team friendly, I would still love having him back there for years.  I have no real desire to ever see him DH.

There is nothing in the numbers or the charts that should make you lust for multiple games with Perez at designated hitter when those games would be much better served by having Perez completely rest.

If Perez is red hot – as he gets now and then – and you have a day game after a night game – then, sure throw him in at DH a couple (THAT’S TWO, NED!) times a season, but no more.  The Royals and Perez would be much better served by having Salvador behind the plate 130 games per year and live without his bat in the lineup for most of the other 32 contests.

That and reminded him that trying to hit the ball before it hits the dirt is likely not a positive swing thought.

 

 

 

 

 

This is not your time of year if you deal strictly in black and white, hard facts and pure fiction and generally have somehow managed to wander through the world dealing only in absolutes.  Good for you if you have, I guess, maybe.

This is speculation and here say and conjecture and flat out random guessing season.  I love it, frankly, because the discussions (sans those that are just offended by the whole idea of anything not 100% factual – yes, I have an ax today) are both interesting and entertaining.

Ryan Howard to the Royals?  Really?  Listen, I think it is highly likely that the Royals did ‘internally discuss’ the fading Phillie’s slugger.  I think it is highly likely they have also discussed, Torii Hunter, Jon Lester, Evan Gattis, net-neutrality, Obamacare, ebola, the latest episode of ‘How To Get Away With Murder’, several Koreans, a Cuban, the weather and Oxford commas.  Did I use one? I don’t care and I don’t know why anyone does.

Ryan Howard is not the guy we all wanted on our fantasy teams five years ago.  He’s not even Billy Butler (the 2014 Billy mind you, not the 2011 guy that was so good).  He has no positional flexibility, which is something the Royals seemingly crave this off-season.  Discussed?  Probably, in a ‘hey did you see that rumor that we are supposedly looking at Ryan Howard?’ way.

More likely real discussions, but only slightly better than actually discussion Howard, have probably centered around Torii Hunter. We all know Dayton Moore’s desire to have good clubhouse leaders and no doubt he sees a void with the departure of James Shields, but one would like to think a good leader is only worth it when, you know, they are still valuable on-field contributors as well.

Hunter, who put up 17.5 fWAR with the Angels – who outbid the Royals and others back then – was worth just 0.3 fWAR last season for Detroit.  Don’t like the fancy new-fangled numbers?  How about a .319 on-base percentage, which was his lowest since 2003.  His defense, both sabremetrically and via the vaunted eye-test, has at worst declined and might have gone directly into the dumpster out back.  It would have been fun to have Torii Hunter back in 2008, not so much in 2015.

The interest in Hunter, other than the good clubhouse guy thing which I put some but not a ton of stock in, is his affordability.  At thirty-nine, he likely won’t demand nor get more than a two year deal.  A more interesting target like Melky Cabrera is likely set to get more years and more dollars.  Michael Cuddyer just got $21 million for two seasons with the Mets.   Hunter will be cheaper, Cabrera longer and more expensive.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m on board with any of those options.  Of course, I have an off fascination with Alex Rios, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

The other big ‘conversation’ centered around Ervin Santana.  I like Santana, if only because I thought he would have a bounce back year for the Royals in 2013 and he did, feeding my need for validation.  He followed up his 2013 with a very similar 2014.  His strikeout rate was much higher for the Braves in 2014, but he had some bad BABIP luck.  In the end, Santana was worth 2.8 fWAR in 31 starts for Atlanta last year and 2.9 fWAR in 32 starts for Kansas City in 2013.

Turning thirty-two shortly, Santana will not get Shields money, but he will get multiple years.  If I’m a 32 year old starting pitcher who has pitched for three teams in three years, I would give up a little per annum for a contract that spanned past the following Christmas.  Would he fit with the Royals on a three year deal?  Do we want him to fit with the Royals?

Quite obviously, Kansas City needs to add an arm to the rotation.  Even if you believe in Ventura and Duffy, you almost have to accept some regression from the combination of Vargas and Guthrie.  Those four combined for 9.2 fWAR in 2014 (Shields was worth 3.7, by the way) and those four combining for a tremendous amount more  than that number in 2015 is probably not a logical expectation.

With Kyle Zimmer nowhere close, Brandon Finnegan and all 30 innings of professional pitching experience the next best option and then, well, then who?  The Royals need another starter first and foremost.   Rushing to sign Torii Hunter because he’s a great guy and then being hamstrung when it came to adding a quality arm to the rotation would be a horrible mistake.  Particularly when you could find a platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson and be just as good in the outfield in 2015.

Of course, all of that discussion might just be speculation.

A.J. Burnett wants to play for a contender and, for the first time since I had hair, that does not eliminate the Kansas City Royals from consideration.

Now, I don’t have any inclination positive or negative that the Royals should actually pursue Burnett, it’s just nice to not be automatically out of the running.  This is going to be a different kind of winter than we are used to.

Many of the options and perceived targets have been discussed here, there and everywhere, but I’ll throw my two cents in for some Friday distraction.  You didn’t really want to work today anyway, did you?

A qualifying offer was made to James Shields and lip service given to trying to resign him: standard baseball stuff.  The Royals want the draft pick that comes with Shields signing somewhere else and probably are not and definitely should not be serious about throwing five or six years at over $100 million at Shields.  That’s not a knock on Shields, a great guy and excellent pitcher.  It’s just common sense.

Turning thirty-three and coming off EIGHT straight seasons of over 200 innings, you have to wonder just how much James has left.  If the baseball world was turned upside down and you could get Shields for two years, that would make sense.  That ain’t happening.  How comfortable are you about a five or six year deal for Shields and the type of pitcher he might be in years four, five and six of that deal?  Pull up Roy Halladay’s page on Baseball Reference and then answer the question.

Hometown discount?  You want to know the one thing that would make me NOT like James Shields?  Giving a hometown discount, that’s what.

Sure, Shields has made $40 million playing baseball thus far and people will say ‘how much money do you need?’.  Why not sign for $85 million to play for the Royals as opposed to $125 million with the Yankees?  What’s $40 million when you already have that much?  Well, it’s forty freaking more million dollars!  It’s the difference between every kid in your extended family getting to go to the college of their choice and every grandchild of every kid in your extended family picking the college of his or her choice.

Not feeling giving?  It’s the difference between decadence and crazy, stupid, fun decadence.  Forty extra million allows you to routinely use the phrase “Call the jet, will ya?”  Don’t underestimate the ability to say that ten times a month and never once worry about the cost of fuel.

James Shields does not strike me as an idiot.  He won’t and should not take a hometown discount.  Besides, you really should not want him to, either.

Okay, Billy Butler is a free agent as well.  His option was in an amount that did not make any sense.  The Butler we knew from 2009 through 2012 is not the Butler we see now.  There are a number of minor annoyances that the organization has with him, not the least of which is that he can only play first base and only do that marginally.  On a team known for its athleticism, Butler sticks out like a sore thumb.  Maybe he comes back on a sweetheart deal and tries to rebuild his value as a hitter – there’s still time for Billy to get one more big contract – but I don’t think that is Plan A or B in Dayton Moore’s notebook.  The Royals want flexibility and like the current hip and happening ‘rotating DH’ idea.

That leads us to the outfield, where all indications are that Nori Aoki is not coming back.  Aoki ended up being the exact player the Royals thought they were getting and he has value, but he is also replaceable as well.   Especially if the Royals actually allow themselves to commit to playing Jarrod Dyson any time a right handed pitcher starts a game.

I have come around on Dyson as he defense has become more than a fast guy who can outrun mistakes to an outfielder who is simply excellent.  He is not a better centerfielder than Lorenzo Cain, but Cain is almost certainly a better rightfielder than Dyson, so if the Royals want to continue that little dance, so be it.  Pair Dyson with a right hand hitting (preferably power hitting) guy who can mash lefties makes good sense and, quite frankly, won’t cost tons of money, either.

In a perfect world, the Royals sign a player who not only platoons with Dyson in the outfield, but who can also handle right handed pitching well enough to be the designated hitter when Dyson is playing.  On days when a southpaw starts, the Royals could rotate their regulars into the DH spot.  Of course, the more said player (Michael Cuddyer for example) can do that, the more he costs.

How about Alex Rios on a one year deal to rebuild his value?   Motivated to get that one last big contract, could we get the ‘good and interest Rios’ instead of the lollygagging guy that played for the Rangers this past season?  LOLLYGAGGERS!!!!

In the end, this off-season comes down to the obvious:

  • A starting pitcher – go big for a front of the rotation kind of guy or put your faith in Ventura/Duffy and add another Vargas/Guthrie type to the back end?
  • Rightfield/DH – one player or two?  Big money or on the cheap?  Established or the next Melky Cabrera?
  • HDH – should they stay or should they go now?

It’s fun to be thinking about getting BACK to the World Series.  It’s intriguing to think about building from 89 wins instead of 73. If Dayton Moore thought the off-season was nerve wracking trying to build The Process, he has not seen anything yet.

Remember how, about 18 months ago, Dayton Moore made some comment about the Royals being a team capable of winning 15 out of 20 games? Remember how they did it? Remember how a little over a week ago the Royals were in the seventh game of the World Series? And remember how we all wondered if maybe Moore knew what he was doing with The Process and all that?

Most of all, do you remember how I said that October of 2014 pretty much gives Dayton (and Ned Yost) some goodwill so to speak. Should they say or do something crazy, it would be kind of strange to be critical. You know… Game Seven and all that.

Damn if Dayton isn’t testing that pledge. From McCullough:

“With every young player, they’re going to go through ups and downs,” Moore said during a news conference on Wednesday. “But we feel Moose has a chance to potentially win an MVP some day. That’s how we feel about his ability. I think in the postseason, you saw him embrace the moment. A lot of big hits.”

The above quote is the equivalent of me saying I quit blogging and then having a dump truck full of Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts overturn in my driveway. Well, hello… I mean it’s freaking Royal blogger catnip.
Mike Moustakas has 1,993 regular season plate appearances in his major league career. In that time, he’s hit a collective .236/.290/.379 with a RC+ of 82. I’m going to use Baseball Reference’s Play Index, so I’ll also note his OPS+ during that time is 82.
Since Moustakas’s debut in 2011, here is the complete list of players who have accumulated over 1,990 plate appearances and posted an OPS+ less than or equal to 82:
Mike Moustakas
Alcides Escobar
Gordon Beckham
Seriously. That’s the list.
It’s amazing the Royals have two of the three players. But let’s not question The Process.
Anyway, Moustakas is not a very good major league hitter. In fact, he’s pretty awful at that. Which seems kind of key when you’re talking about a potential MVP. The next table is even more alarming. Moustakas’s career numbers:
Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2011 22 89 365 338 26 89 18 1 5 30 22 51 .263 .309 .367 .675 86
2012 23 149 614 563 69 136 34 1 20 73 39 124 .242 .296 .412 .708 91
2013 24 136 514 472 42 110 26 0 12 42 32 83 .233 .287 .364 .651 77
2014 25 140 500 457 45 97 21 1 15 54 35 74 .212 .271 .361 .632 74
4 Yrs 514 1993 1830 182 432 99 3 52 199 128 332 .236 .290 .379 .668 82
162 Game Avg. 162 628 577 57 136 31 1 16 63 40 105 .236 .290 .379 .668 82
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/6/2014.
Do you notice something? Do you notice how all of his batting average and OPB have declined every single season. And his slugging percentage has dropped in each of the last two years? We’re talking about his age 22 to age 25 seasons. When he’s supposed to get better. And his production has declined almost every year. Declined. In his mid twenties. You can do all the searches you want for similar players who have done such and such through the first four years of their career or their first 2,000 plate appearances. But I would wager you would have a difficult time finding someone who has had so many chances at playing time and had their production drop from well below average to so far below average you need a telescope to find him.
Second, let’s talk about October Moustakas for a moment. Yes, he hit some big home runs. Yes, he is the new Royals home run leader for most home runs in a single postseason. And yes, his defense was outstanding and provided one of the signature moments of the entire month.
He hit .231/.259/.558 for the entire postseason.
If we learned anything from October, it’s that postseason production is magnified in a way that is similar to April. Hit five home runs in the first two weeks of the season and people sit up and take notice. Hit five home runs in July and it’s not really a big deal. Hit five home runs in October and you are a potential MVP candidate. And so it goes.
Now, he also had some really good plate appearances. He seems to be working the count better. But he’s still swinging at too many pitcher’s pitches and getting himself out. That’s what he does. It’s who he is.
This is simply a theory and I have no proof either way, but it seems to me a when a team goes deep in the postseason it creates a kind of off-season stasis. Something obviously worked, so why mess (too much) with success. Moustakas is under team control for the next three seasons. The Royals won the pennant. Moustakas hit home runs and played quality defense. Therefore, there’s no reason to look for an upgrade at third. I don’t think Moustakas is going to markedly improve. He may better his numbers, but with nearly 2,000 plate appearances under his belt, this is who he is. Certainly, it’s possible something “clicks” and grows leaps and bounds beyond where he is currently. But given his track record of declining production, I view that as unlikely.
The Royals do like to talk up their players. And they have a pennant. They do know what they’re doing. So I’m not criticizing. I’m disagreeing.
The single caveat to all this is Dayton Moore said it. So despite every bit of evidence to the contrary, I fully expect Moustakas to be your 2015 AL MVP.

What, you thought that winning the AL Pennant made time stand still?

On Saturday, the Royals declined the $12.5 million option they held on Billy Butler.

This move can be filed under “I” for “inevitable.” Butler hit .271/.323/.379 in 640 plate appearances in 2014. Each one of those numbers in his slash line was a career low which translated to a -0.3 fWAR. As I’ve written, his batted ball profile, once a model of consistency, tilted heavily toward the ground ball side of the ledger starting in 2013. His ground ball rate normalized a bit in the second half of 2014, but his power remained depressed. Although with a 6.9 FB/HR rate, we could expect him to at least club double-digit home runs next summer.

Both the Royals and Butler expressed a desire to return to Kansas City. I believe Butler. I don’t believe the Royals.

Dayton Moore has attempted to deal Butler myriad times since 2008 and from what I understand, had a trade cobbled together to send the DH to an AL East team as recently as last winter. Let’s just say Butler doesn’t fit the “profile” of your pennant winning Royals. While I believe Butler’s defensive shortcomings have been exaggerated, the Royals are committed to Eric Hosmer at first, which keeps Butler as the DH. Although the argument can be made, he’s a nice insurance policy at first in case Hosmer gets injured.

At any rate, it’s impossible to fault the Royals for walking away at this moment. The cost of $12.5 million is elite designated hitter money and Butler clearly isn’t elite. According to Fangraphs, he’s been worth more than that amount only once in his career – 2012 when he hit .313/.373/.510.

Butler can return to Kansas City, but I’m hearing numbers around two years and $12 million. He made $8 million last year, but I don’t know that he will take that kind of pay cut. At first, I speculated he could get two or three years at an AAV of around $10 million. On reflection, that seems high. Maybe two years and $16 million gets it done. Seattle is looking for a right-handed bat and have been linked to Butler numerous times. Including the infamous potential Butler-Yuniesky Betancourt swap.

On Monday, the Royals made James Shields a qualifying offer.

This is where things seem to get confusing. It’s really simple. Shields is a free agent. The Royals have submitted a qualifying offer, meaning they basically tendered Shields a contract of one year at $15.3 million. Shields figures to get more for multiple years on the open market, so he will turn down the offer, which he has to do by next Monday.

When he turns down the offer, the Royals will be in line to receive a compensatory draft pick in next June’s amateur draft. They do not get the pick from the team that signs Shields. They simply get a “bonus” choice in between the first and second rounds.

Early rumblings have Shields at $18-20 million AAV. That’s a huge payday for a number two starter with a ton of miles on his arm. Plus, the fact he will be 33 at the start of next season.

But Shields has been a very good value the last four seasons. He’s averaged 4.2 fWAR, which has been around $20 million per year in value. As always, the free agent gamble is paying on past performances which is a risky bit of business.

There’s no way the Royals re-sign Shields.

Then, the Royals picked up the 2015 option on Wade Davis.

Again, no surprises here. The Wade Davis Experience was unreal in 2014, earning 3.1 fWAR out of the bullpen. Read that last line again. The only other reliever in his league was Dellin Betances of the Yankees.

Now, the question is: With Greg Holland looking at around an $8 million payday as a second-year arbitration eligible pitcher, does it make fiscal sense for the Royals to spend $15 million of the back end of the bullpen. Oh, throw in a healthy raise for Kelvin Herrera as well and the Royals could be committing close to $20 million for three relief pitchers.

It’s not so crazy given the Royals brain trust believes the bullpen was a massive reason for their success in 2014. Both in the regular season and in October. The scary thing is bullpens are temperamental creatures. Last summer’s success story is this summer’s burnout. But Davis and Holland have been fairly consistent in the quality they’ve delivered out of the bullpen. It’s a gamble, but a good one. (Bookmark this post. Just in case.)

It also makes sense if David Glass approves a payroll increase. If you bought a $50 hat or a $100 hoodie at The K this October, you know what I mean. Although picking up options today, does not preclude a trade tomorrow, I’ll bet the Royals do everything they can to keep their core three relievers intact. Besides, we know Ned Yost doesn’t like to think after the sixth inning. The less we have to worry about his brain, the better.

Also on Monday, the Royals selected the contract of Paulo Orlando and added him to the 40-man roster. 

This registers as a mild surprise, but it’s kind of humorous. It’s as if the Royals feel they’ve shown their cards and now are protecting the “profile” players. Speedy athletes who play plus defense are the new market inefficiency.

Orlando, acquired back in 2008 from the White Sox for Horacio Ramirez, hit .301/.355/.415 in Triple-A. He also stole 34 bases. Remember: Athleticism, speed and defense. This is the Royals Way. The Royals will take a look at him this spring. It may be a long shot, but with right field currently unsettled, stranger things have happened.

The best player on the field this World Series was not a Kansas City Royal.  That, my friends, pretty simply sums up why the Giants won and the Royals lost.

You are not supposed to be able to do what Madison Bumgarner did.  Maybe in 1924, but not in 2014. It is not a criticism of the Royals’ players at all.  Bumgarner was the best player on either team and the team with the best player won the World Series.

Last night’s Game Seven really came down to a pretty mundane fourth inning two strike flair off the bat of Michael Morse with Panda Sandoval and Hunter Pence on base, because, well, they were always on base.  It came off one of the Royals’ big three relievers, Kelvin Herrera, who turned in an outstanding performance nonetheless.

Both teams were firmly in their bullpens by then:  a situation generally thought to be an advantage for the Royals.  We just didn’t realize that the Giants had some sort of android named Bumgarner that can throw for apparently days on end.

Once Bumgarner was in, the game really came down to two moments in time.  The first was immediately upon his entrance into the game.

Omar Infante singled and Alcides Escobar came to the plate.  Escobar immediately looked to bunt, but took two pitches for balls (he really had not choice – even Salvador Perez thought those were well out of the zone).   A 2-0 count, with Bumgarner not yet settled in?  I don’t give up an out there.  Escobar remained steadfast in his belief that a bunt was in order, laid one down and moved Infante to second.

After the game, Ned Yost said that Escobar was bunting on this own. Okay, fine, except Yost had two pitches to give whatever sign the Royals have that means ‘cut that the hell out!’.  But anyway…

Nori Aoki followed the bunt by lashing a ball to left.  Baseball is all about second guessing and speculation (see below), but I can pretty much guarantee that Travis Ishikawa does not catch that ball and the game would be tied.  Problem was, Bruce Bochy didn’t start Ishikawa and instead opted for his more defensive minded left-fielder: Juan Perez. You know what happened and you also know that Bruce Bochy has managed a few games in his lifetime.

The Royals only other real chance came with two outs in the ninth.  Up comes Alex Gordon (my GOD, he comes up a lot with two outs in the ninth, doesn’t he?), who had driven in one Royal run and scored the other almost my sheer force of will. Gordon had looked hopeless against Bumgarner the other 4,000 times he had faced him in the World Series, but not here.  A sinking liner to left-center.

I was pretty sure the ball was going to get down, but it was either going to be a clean single or a nice running catch by Blanco.  Gordon would be on first and hope, however small, would still be alive. Except suddenly the ball skips by Blanco and bounces to the wall.  Gordon turns and heads to second and rounds the bag as the ball is fumbled once more.  He will easily make third.  Mike Jirschele has the stop sign up well before Gordon is to the third.  The ball is in cut-off man Brandon Crawford’s glove as Alex hits the bag.

Without question and without debate, stopping Gordon at third makes all the sense in the world.  In that situation, sending him home probably means he is out by 25 feet.  Except…Bumgarner.

Here’s the thing, if Jirschele is giving him the go sign as Gordon is on the way to third, Alex is likely three or four steps past the bag when the ball hits Crawford’s glove.  Sending him is still a likely out.  Chances are, Crawford makes a good throw – even an okay throw is probably good enough – and Posey probably makes the catch and applies the tag.  Even with Gordon further around third than he actually was, he’s still out nine times out of ten.

That said, the Giants had just fumbled the ball twice on that play and Perez’s throw to Crawford nearly short-hopped the Giant shortstop.  Bad plays have a tendency to perpetuate themselves and the very risky move of sending Gordon would have, at minimum caught the Giants by surprise.  Crawford has to make the throw from the outfield, Posey has to catch it and get the tag down.  Nine times out of ten, they’ll get the out easily.

One time out of ten, something happens and Gordon scores.  About the same odds of Perez getting a hit off Madison Bumgarner, in my opinion.

Listen, this is not saying the Royals did anything wrong here.  In fact, they handled that play the right way.  Still, Bumgarner was pitching and let’s face it, taking a stupid, crazy risk with the very final out of the World Series might have been Kansas City’s best shot.

Don’t agonize over it, because there is no right or wrong on that play.  Hell, don’t bemoan Salvador Perez’ swinging at the same pitch out of the strike zone over and over to end the season:  the Royals would not have made it past Oakland without Sal (or been there in the first place).

Have a beer, debate the play with your friends and think about next year.

This year, by the way, was one hell of a ride.

 

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