Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

On Saturday night, with the Royals protecting a 6-2 lead, we got our first look at Jonathan Broxton as a Royal.   He faced four batters, allowing two hits and a run and, quite frankly, was not all that impressive.  

Throwing ten pitches, Broxton induced zero swinging strikes and one foul ball.  Torii Hunter bunted a 96 mph fastball for a single, which was the hardest pitch Broxton threw on Saturday.   Here is the complete pitch sequence for the outing:

Against Kendry Morales

  • 94 mph fastball – called strike
  • 86 mph slider – double

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – bunt single

Against Bobby Abreu

  • 74 mph curve – called strike
  • 95 mph fastball – ball
  • 92 mph fastball – ball
  • 88 mph slider – foul
  • 85 mph slider – sacrifice fly

Against Vernon Wells

  • 87 mph slider – ball
  • 95 mph fastball – ground ball into double play

Let’s not panic here, that isn’t horrible:  a double and a goofy bunt single when up by four runs, but it is hardly dominant.  Nothing happened on Saturday to make me think that Greg Holland won’t be the closer for the Royals by mid-May.

Then came Sunday.

Let’s run down the outing for Jonathan Broxton in the ninth inning of the series clinching game after Aaron Crow had allowed runners to reach first and second with no one out. 

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – foul
  • 96 mph fastball – swinging strike
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Vernon Wells

  • 99 mph fastball – ball
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 91 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 98 mph fastball – ball
  • 91 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Kendry Morales

  • 97 mph fastball – ball
  • 89 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 89 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 90 mph slider – swinging stirke

Okay, so maybe Greg Holland won’t be the closer by mid-May.   What you notice right away is that the velocity is up across the board – which is a great sign for a pitcher coming back from injury and working his second day in a row.  

On Sunday, Broxton threw five sliders, the slowest of which was faster than any of the four sliders he threw on Saturday.   Those five sliders induced one two foul balls and three swinging strikes.  Can you say ‘out’ pitch?    On top of that, Broxton’s nine fastballs were all as fast or faster than his high water mark on Saturday.

Same stadium, same time of day, same gun and basically the same hitters and Broxton when from so-so to freaking dominant in the span of 24 hours.  Maybe the more appropriate analogy is that we saw the 2011 Jonathan Broxton on Saturday and the 2009 version (when he struck 114 in 76 innings) on Sunday.    Who said you can never go back?

Now, 10 pitches on Saturday and 14 more on Sunday are not enough of a sample size to really come to any conclusions (other than Jonathan is better when he throws harder – duh!), but it is enough to get this writer more than interested.  An effective, borderline dominant Broxton, gives the Royals tremendous flexibility going forward.   Especially early on when the team’s relievers have a curious tendency to be very good coming into a game and very bad once they try to pitch a second inning.

If Broxton continues to perform as he did yesterday, Ned Yost will have the confidence to go early and often to the pen (even more than he does now), knowing that he won’t need to save a Holland or Crow to back-up Broxton.    Given the number of young, talented arms in Omaha (I mean, seriously, name me a Royals’ bullpen in the last decade that Louis Coleman wouldn’t be the second or third best pitcher), should Dayton Moore find himself in contention in late June he could confidently move a bullpen arm or two to plug a hole somewhere else.   Should the Royals not be a serious contender by then, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to someone like the Red Sox, for example?

Of course, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to the 2013 Royals?  Let’s remember, Broxton will just be 29 years old next year.   How would it feel as a Royals’ fan to start 2013 with this same bullpen, but add Joakim Soria (I’m expecting the Royals to opt out of his contract, but resign him to a more favorable deal) at some point during that season?

Okay, okay, okay, I have gotten ahead of myself.  Broxton likely is unavailable for tonight’s game against Oakland and might well come out of the gate on Tuesday throwing 93 and all of this will just be pie in the sky.  Still, if Broxton starts stringing together velocity numbers like those posted on Sunday, his somewhat controversial $4 million deal will look like another shrewd Dayton Moore reclamation project.

Anybody having fun, yet?

xxx

 

Well, if your hope was for the Kansas City Royals to play .500 ball this year, the team is right on schedule.

Like their fans, the Royals’ batters seemed just plain too amped up on opening night.  From Mike Moustakas basically playing defense on Alcides Escobar twice to the top four batters in the order striking out 10 times in 16 at-bats, the Royals were just too anxious.  Of course, Jared Weaver is, you know, freakishly good as well.   It is possible, let’s hope anyway, that Kansas City fans won’t see Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler string together a series of at-bats any worse than they did on Friday night.

Now Saturday, against Dan Haren (a pitcher I think is pretty awesome in his own right), the Royals did work at the plate.  Solid at-bats and outstanding results – with the exception of Gordon, who seems to be in a bit of funk to start the season.  Nothing better than having Hosmer and Moustakas go yard on a national broadcast.

On the mound, we saw the ‘weak’ portion of the roster come through with flying colors.   Bruce Chen had Angels hitters off-balance for six innings on Friday, while Luke Hochevar used some early inning luck (and a good portion of newfound composure) in combination with some 5th and 6th inning dominance to nearly duplicate Chen’s performance.  

Of course, baseball being the funny game that it is, the Royals’ perceived strength, the bullpen, was not exactly stellar. 

Aaron Crow pitched as dominant an inning on Friday as I can remember…from anyone, inducing 8 swinging strikes on his way to striking out the side.   He followed up with an ineffective start to the 8th and was followed by Greg Holland who allowed as many inherited runners to score in that one inning than he did in ALL of 2011.

I was surprised Ned Yost sent Crow back out for a second inning of work on Friday.  I certainly can understand why, given Crow’s dominance in the first inning of work, but it was unexpected and ended up working out horribly.   Such is the life of a big league manager.

On Saturday, Holland was much better, but Tim Collins allowed two inherited runners to score and Jonathan Broxton had a less than ‘slam the door’ kind of ninth.   Still, I remain confident that the bullpen will round back into form sooner rather than later.   Combine that with some maybe surprising starting pitching and the Royals might have a lot of fun in 2012.

More detailed (maybe) analysis on Monday.

xxx

 

With the signing of Alex Gordon to a four year contract extension with a player option for a fifth a lot of talk and tweeting has gone on with regard to trying to get Eric Hosmer inked long-term as well.    Long-term is a relative term when talking about Hosmer.   Without doing anything but going to arbitration four times, the Royals will have Hosmer under team control through the 2017 season.

Given that, one might wonder why all the talk of a long-term deal.   After all, why not keep Hosmer on the cheap and spend money to fill other holes?   Why not make Hosmer truly prove himself over the next two to four years and then, once he is the superstar we think he will become, make a safer play for a long-term deal?

Well, first off, arbitration does not always equal cheap.   Ryan Howard, with two years of major league service under his belt, was awarded $10 million in arbitration back in 2008.  If Hosmer is the real deal, he could be the Royals’ highest paid player (on an annual basis) by 2014 despite what the Royals may want to do.

Secondly, Eric Hosmer’s agent is Scott Boras.   I have to be honest: I don’t hate Boras like many do.  If you were a player, you would freaking love Scott Boras.  If Scott Boras was your attorney, you would love him.  If you are a small market team, then Boras is not your guy.   He advocates playing the market:  if a player is good/great, go year to year and when you finally reach free agency, strike it big.

You want to wait until you are certain that Eric Hosmer is the real deal?  Then you have zero chance of signing him beyond 2017.   While Boras clients typically do not give up any of their free agency years, it is not an absolute.  Carlos Gonzalez signed a seven year $80 million deal with Colorado before the 2011 season with just over 300 major league games on his resume.   It can happen, but you better strike early.  Otherwise, the best the Royals can hope for is some two or three year deal that does not go beyond 2017 whose only purpose is to mitigate the arbitration hits.

You want Eric Hosmer in a Royals’ uniform beyond 2017?  Then you better strike early and you better strike big.   Scott Boras does not pick up the phone for a an 8 year/$80 million deal – not with Joey Votto’s new contract hanging out there in space.   Not when his client will be just 28 when he hits free agency after the 2017 season.   

Fast forward to 2017.   What do you think the Angels might pay for Hosmer as Albert Pujols slides into permanent DH territory?  Or the Yankees with Mark Teixeira deep into his late thirties?  What if 2017 happens to be one of the years where the Marlins are in ‘buy mode’?   Would they not love to bring the Florida born Hosmer back home for a championship run?  The market for what we hope to be a perennial All-Star by then could be ridiculously feverish.  Hell, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera will both be in their mid-thirties by then. What would Detroit pay to not have Hosmer bashing against them anymore?

We, of course, have no idea what the revenue situation will be in baseball in 2017 and more particularly what state the Royals will be in.   If The Process goes as planned, Kansas City will be a team that has contended for four or five years in a row.   Attendance will be up, merchandise sales will be up and, with any luck, the Royals will be one of the ‘hip’ teams, like they were in the seventies and eighties.   All of that will come into play, but that is then and not now.

What we know right now is what the Royals have committed in salary over the next few years:

  • 2013 – $33.75 million (Butler, Francoeur, Gordon, Chen, Arguelles, Escobar, Perez and 750k buyout of Soria)
  • 2014 – $23.5 million (Butler, Gordon, Arguelles, Escobar, Perez)
  • 2015 – $29.75 million (Butler, Gordon, Escobar, Perez – assumes club option exercised on Butler)
  • 2016 – $19.75 million (Gordon, Escobar, Perez – assumes Gordon exercises player option, club exercises Escobar option)
  • 2017 – $10.25 million (Escobar, Perez – assumes club option exercised on Perez)
  • 2018 – $5 million (Perez)

Obviously, that is some decent change for a small handful of players.   Throughout the 2013 to 2018 era, Mike Moustakas will hopefully emerge and could himself get costly via arbitration.  If Dayton Moore is living right, Lorenzo Cain will do the same and eventually Wil Myers.   Then there’s the pitching.  

What if Luke Hochevar really becomes the guy we saw in the second half of last season?  Do you lock him down for a three or four year period and, if so, at what cost?  One has to hope that someone from the Duffy/Montgomery/Dwyer/Lamb/Odorizzi group becomes good enough to get really expensive (I’ll take two personally and sell some Walmart stock to pay for them!).

All of the above (with the exception of Hochevar, maybe) are a step or two or even three behind Hosmer:  both in timing and potential.   If Hosmer emerges this season as a star, my inkling is that Dayton Moore has one winter to hit Scott Boras with a deal that he might consider.   One chance to make the most daring, easily the riskiest and yet possibly best deal of Dayton Moore’s career.

The Reds were not budget minded or logical, but they ensured that Joey Votto will be a Red for every meaningful year of his career.  They paid out the nose in no small part because they watched Votto post four big seasons before making their move.  The Royals could theoretically lock up Hosmer for ten years – ten younger years than Votto’s deal – and do so for much less money if they act sometime in the next ten months.

Ten years – $160 million.

That’s a number.  That is three times what the Royals would have ever committed to a player.   That is a number that just might make Scott Boras pick up the phone – especially if you call him at the end of July.   It is a horrible, horrible risk.   Hosmer could get pull happy and hit .231 in 2015.  He could suffer a lingering wrist injury that zaps his power and turns his upside into Casey Kotchman (no offense, Casey, you are fine major league ballplayer, but not worth $16 million a year).

That’s a number and a commitment that will make the grumpy old baseball men grumble and spit.  It is a number that might make the bloggers miles from ‘the dirt’ wonder exactly how you fill out the rest of the roster.   It is  a number that cannot be calculated using Polk Points and would be difficult to rationalize on the side of a Pop Tart carton.

Yet, it is a contract, that could be an absolute steal for the Kansas City Royals.   Even better if Moore could convince Boras and Hosmer to take a little less in 2013 and 2014 (say $7 million) and a little more in the last two years.   It is a contract that could change the face of the franchise and how it is thought of throughout the rest of the country.

Assuming Eric Hosmer has a big season in 2012, it is a contract that I would offer well before the start of next spring.

xxx

 

Hang on everyone, we are finally, FINALLY in the final week of spring training.  It is a good feeling to know that next Monday I will have actual regular season games to write about!  I am pretty sure that there is not a Royals’ fan out there who isn’t tired of debating roster moves, nicknames, and what spring training really means, so let’s have a little fun today and throw out some over/unders for the coming season.

Eric Hosmer Home Runs

Anyone not think Hosmer is the real deal?  We have all fallen prey to overestimating the potential of more than one prospect over the years, but I am not sure any one player has seemed so destined for stardom in a Royals’ uniform since we saw Carlos Beltran come up.   There has been a lot of talk about Hosmer threatening Steve Balboni’s club record of 36 homers and I think that one year either Hosmer or Mike Moustakas probably will bust through that long standing number.  However, I don’t think 2012 is going to be the year.

The over/under on Hosmer homers is 29.

Alex Gordon’s OPS+

I know some of you are not all that keen on sabermetrics, but it is a tidy way to quantify a player’s offensive contributions relative to the rest of the league.  Last year, Gordon posted a rather impressive OPS+ of 140.   For reference, his OPS+ from his rookie season forward were: 90, 109, 87 and 84.

Was 2011 a freak occurrence or the long awaited realization of Gordon’s potential?  I think the latter, but I also know that Gordon had a little bit of good fortune when it came to the beloved BABIP.   He might regress, but not a lot (at least I sure hope it is not a lot!).

The over/under for Gordon’s 2012 OPS+ is 129.

Luke Hochevar’s Innings Pitched

A couple of things come into play here.  The first is that 2011 was basically the first year Luke managed to go through the entire season without an injury.  The second is that unless you are the late Jose Lima, it is hard to pile up a lot of innings if you are not effective.   In my mind, the number of innings Hochevar throws will be a direct correlation to his effectiveness.

Last season, Luke threw 198 innings, using a strong second half to get his ERA to a marginally tolerable 4.68 by season’s end.  The Royals expect and quite frankly really, really, really need Hochevar to build on the success he enjoyed after the All-Star Break in 2011.  I’m cautiously optimistic.

The over/under on Hochevar’s innings pitched is 208.

Greg Holland’s Saves

Ned Yost has yet to commit to a full-time closer to replace the injured Joakim Soria and looks to be headed towards an early season combination of Holland and Jonathan Broxton.  I don’t mind that, but I think we may see Holland simply take the role over by sheer overpowering effectiveness sooner rather than later.  You have to give Dayton Moore credit on this one:  he drafted Holland in the 10th round with the idea that Greg would get to the majors quickly and be a possible closer.    You have to love it when a plan comes together.

The over/under on Mr. Holland’s saves is 31.

Billy Butler’s Extra Base Hits

I don’t agonize over Butler’s home run total like many do and I quite possibly could be wrong to not do so.  I do, however, monitor Billy’s overall extra base hit total.  Last season, Billy hit 63, the year before 60 and in 2009 he smacked 73 extra base hits.  The Royals could certainly use a big number in this category as Billy should see Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer on base when he comes to the plate with great regularity.  My hunch says that Billy amps it up this year.

The over/under is 71.

The Royals Starting Pitchers

Last season, Kansas City had 11 different pitchers start a game.  Let’s eliminate the September call-up situation to get to the crux of the issue.   How many pitchers will start a game prior to September 1st this year and, quite frankly, is it good or bad to have a higher number? 

There will certainly be an injury or two along the way, so you know Felipe Paulino gets some turns which puts you at six out of the gate.  Do we see Mike Montgomery?   Does Everett Teaford get a start or two or ten? 

The over/under is 8.

Alicdes Escobar’s on base percentage

With Salvador Perez out until June or so and not a single second baseman in the organization can seem to, you know, hit the ball, the Royals really need Escobar to improve his offensive game to keep the bottom of the order from becoming the ‘now’s a good time to go to the bathroom and get some nachos’ part of the game.   Escobar is never going to be Troy Tulowitzki at the plate, but he has to do a little more than get on base at a .290 clip.  We saw some signs of improvement over the latter half of the season, although much of that was due to one magical hot streak.

If Escobar focuses at the plate like he does in the field, stays within himself and goes with the pitch, he could emerge as at least a ‘hold your own’ type of guy at the plate.  The Royals really need him to do so.

The on-base percentage over/under for Escobar is .322.

Salvador Perez

Could the Royals have taken an injury hit in a worse area?  With Perez out with knee surgery, Kansas City will struggle at the catching position.  Imagine the boost if the Royals can hang around .500 into the summer and then have Perez return healthy to the lineup.

Nothing is better than being young and in shape, so I am hoping for a quicker than expected return out of Perez.

The over/under on the number of games Salvador Perez will catch in 2012 is 81.

And Finally, The Only Number That Matters

How many games will Kansas City win in 2012?  A lot of projections this spring put that number anywhere in the seventies.   We are all certainly hoping for better, but is that logical?   This is a young team with sketchy starting pitching and one that has already suffered two big injuries.    Almost everyone seems to think the Royals will hit, but truthfully Billy Butler is the only offensive player who is truly proven over time.   We all think the bullpen is lockdown solid, but relievers are just plain unpredictable.

Craig was optimistic on Friday and it has rubbed off on me.

The over/under on 2012 Kansas City wins is set at 82.

xxx

 

In the blink of an eye, the Royals solved another of their roster mysteries yesterday by placing Felipe Paulino on the 15 day disabled list.  With that, Luis Mendoza became the fourth starter and Danny Duffy secured a roster spot and the role of fifth starter.

Paulino, who had been anything but sharp this spring, might be eligible to come off the disable list as early as April 10th.   The way the Royals’ early season schedule flows, he could theoretically return in time to take the fifth starter’s second turn, but it seems unlikely he will return that quickly.

To begin with, Paulino was put on the disabled list with the rather mysterious ‘sore elbow’, which we have seen could be anything from ‘just a little sore and we don’t like how you’re pitching and anyway we really want time to look at these other two guys’ to ‘sorry, you’re having surgery’.   My guess is the Royals really are not sure why Paulino’s elbow is sore and hence have no desire to rush him back.   

The benefit of this hopefully mild injury is that is delays having to send Danny Duffy to AAA or figuring out what to do with the out of options Luis Mendoza (Paulino is also out of options). 

Although he has struggled mightily this spring, Duffy probably has the best stuff on the current rotation and I really want to see if he has figured out how to a) throw more strikes and b) get strike three against major league hitters.   In Mendoza, even us critical, jaded spirits here at Royals Authority are now curious as to what this guy can really do in real major league games that are not played when the leaves are falling off trees.

Listen, as Craig mentioned yesterday, while spring training stats don’t mean much, Mendoza’s are so good that, coupled with his excellent AAA season in what is basically a hitters’ league, the Royals almost have to see what he can do.   I will be curious to see how long the leash is on Mendoza.   Do the Royals really, really believe in him now or, like many of us, do they remain skeptical that Luis has turned himself into a legit major league starter?

xxx

 

So, anything happen this weekend?

I know, it was hard to keep track of everything, what with Nebraska hiring a new basketball coach and all…

In all seriousness, you have to give Ned Yost and Dayton Moore some credit for not being afraid to make a decision, and make it early.   The due determined their position players – starters and bench – with ten spring training games left to play.  

Second base?  That will be Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt in the Hillman-esque ‘mix and match’ scenario.   Fifth outfielder?  Well, we all are going to have to learn how to both say and spell Jason Bourgeois as Jarrod Dyson was sent down before Sunday’s game as well.

Now, on the Dyson front the reason was not so thinly veiled by Ned Yost:  “He still hits too many fly balls.”  To me, that is a pretty obvious indication that the Royals want Dyson to slap and run and Jarrod still wants to swing away.   Some guys never get it, some guys turn into Willie Wilson (and it took Willie a good two years to figure that out as well).  While Bourgeois does not bring that late inning, game changing ability that Dyson does in the role of pinch runner extraordinaire, he theoretically gives the Royals better bench flexibility (right handed hitter and some idea where to stand at second or third base).

We are talking the fifth outfielder and pinch runner on a team that is hoping to win half its games this year:  not a big deal one way or the other.

The stunning news, of course, was the demotion of Johnny Giavotella.  Over the past week to ten days, I had the feeling that someone other than Johnny was going to man second base to start the season, but I was surprised that the decision came this early.  We can micro-analyze/criticize Yost’s public comments on this, as they are conflicting at times, but that is not going to get us anywhere.

The truth is, the Royals opted for defense over potential.   Sure, Chris Getz has a new approach at the plate and looks like a different ballplayer and, well, who doesn’t love Yuniesky Betancourt?   The truth, however, is that Getz still has just one extra base hit this spring and Yuni’s on-base percentage is still a very reminiscent .283.   While Giavotella posted similarly uninspiring offensive numbers, Yost himself said that ‘there is no question Giavotella will hit’.

This all came down to defense.   And let’s not get carried way here:  we are talking about just competent defense.  Chris Getz is an average second baseman in the field, who committed a couple of noteworthy gaffes turning the pivot on late inning potential double plays early last season.   I can find a metric that says Getz is below average and another that says he is a little above.   We all watch the games (contrary to what some might believe) and Chris Getz, to the untrained eye, is a very average defensive second baseman.

Few of us have seen Yuniesky Betancourt play second, but he has impressed Yost at that position.  He would certainly not be the first poor defensive shortstop to move across the bag and become a good second baseman (Mark Grudzielanek anyone?), so I am going to assume Yost is not just blowing sunshine in this respect.   The fact remains, Yuni better be a good defender because that .280/.290 OBP is going to suck the life out of the lower third of the batter order no matter how many grand slams he hits. 

Therein, lies the bottom line:  Dayton Moore loves pitching and defense.   The Royals are going to be extremely solid up the middle defensively.  We know what Alcides Escobar can do and Humberto Quintero is an excellent defensive catcher.   Nothing has happened thus far to lead us to believe that Lorenzo Cain will not be an upgrade in the field over Melky Cabrera and, at minimum, Getz/Betancourt should be average at second.   That’s great, except that all four have to bat as well.

Lorenzo Cain has mashed this spring and sports a minor league resume that would support that the man can hit.  That said, there is concern that Cain has long swing and long swings have holes and holes get exploited (get your mind out of the gutter) at the major league level.   I have high hopes for Cain, but how comfortable are you banking on the fact that he is the surest thing offensively of the four up the middle defenders?

Like me, the Royals are looking for Cain to hit and Escobar to hit better than he did.   Like me, they are prepared to live with Quintero’s bat to get his glove behind the plate until Salvador Perez comes back (I have to believe that Quintero will be playing a lot more than Pena by the time we get to May).   Unlike me, the Royals have placed enough of a premium on defense at second to not get another potential offensive bat into their lineup in Giavotella.

Listen, I understand the arguments against Giavotella and I will not really dispute them.   The guy might just be THAT horrible defensively and yes, he has yet to show he can hit major league hitting.  Quite frankly, neither has Getz or Betancourt, but I digress.  What I will disagree with is the general theory behind it all.

The 2012 season was going to be a tenuous flirtation with contention, if the Royals even sniffed it all, but whatever hopes were based on this young team scoring a lot of runs.   It is assumed that Alex Gordon will be who he was in 2011 and that Eric Hosmer will blossom into a star.  You can pretty much bank that Billy Butler will hit .300 with an on-base percentage pushing towards .400.  It was assumed that Jeff Francouer will maintain the production he gave the team last year and that Mike Moustakas will add pop.

That is a LOT of assumptions before you even get to Escobar, Cain and Giavotella, but if you are going to assume to have offense, why not go the entire way?  If you have a suspect rotation and a great bullpen, as the Royals do, that bullpen can have a lot more impact if your offense has five runs on the board by the sixth inning.  That is really the scenario that gets the Royals on a winning record:  score enough runs to be in the game when it goes to the bullpens and get the game to the other team’s bullpen as soon as possible.

The Phillies can plan on winning 3-1 games with regularity, the Royals cannot.  They need to play (and win) 7-5 games.  If that is the way to win games for this team, this year, then it would make sense to put your best offensive potential onto the field as often as possible.   I will freely admit, that Johnny Giavotella is ALL potential at this point and has yet to offer any ACTUAL production, but he does offer potential.

The upside to letting Giavotella try to hit major league pitching somewhere into mid-summer (and potentially help the Royals ‘hang around’ the top of the division) would seem to outweigh the downside of his poor defense.   If the Royals get to July with Cain hitting, Moustakas hitting, Escobar not flailing and Perez coming back,  and Giavotella is still floundering along at .231, then they could opt for defense at that position, but it seems odd to make that move now.

Getz has an option and Betancourt was going to be on the team no matter what, so there were no roster considerations in this scenario like there are when it comes to the starting rotation.   The Royals could have found out about Giavotella’s bat and maybe it would have helped them catch lightning in a bottle to start the year and still have Getz and Betancourt as fallback options this summer.

Certainly, sending Giavotella to Omaha to work on his defense is not the worst thing in the world, but the Royals are banking heavily on the bottom four of Moustakas, Getz, Quintero and Escobar being able to produce something..anything.   If 2012 is all about potential and building for 2013, it would seem that not giving Johnny Giavotella a shot to start the season is counter to The Process.

xxx

 

 

A good writer creates an interesting topic, fleshes it out with solid research, expands on it with creativity and presents it with fluid prose.  Today, you get none of that.  NO SOUP FOR YOU!

I have an assortment of topics, which either are not quite robust enough to warrant a column on their own or which would require research and thought beyond my appetite.  

The Royals Made A Lot of Money Last Year

Forbes reported that the Kansas City Royals turned a $28.5 million profit last season, second only to the Cleveland Indians in all of baseball.  At best, that is an educated guess by Forbes, if not just a straight out shot in the dark.   I have no doubt that this revelation will stir up a bit of outrage among certain portions of the fanbase.

The truth is, however, that the Royals did not go cheap last year:  they went young.   If you believe David Glass and the team roughly broke even in past years with higher payrolls, then the Forbes’ number makes some sense.   It is nothing that should be used as an indictment of the Glass ownership, but simply a profitable portion of a very logical business cycle.

Now, the test is whether that $28.5 million (or whatever it actually was – my guess is something a little less than that) comes into play next off season or the season after that.  If Glass did make $28.5 million in 2011 and basically breaks even when the Royals’ payroll is around $70 million, then will a hopefully talented and contending Royals’ team in 2014 or 2015 be able to carry a payroll somewhere north of $80 million?   Basically, did David Glass bank the $28.5 million or, as my wife certainly would do, did he go on a bunch of really nice vacations and get four new cars…and a jet…and a boat?

Do Sabermetrics Undervalue Relief Pitchers?

In 2011, Craig Kimbrel had the highest WAR (according to Fangraphs) of any reliever in baseball:  3.2.   Thirty-eight starting pitchers posted an fWAR higher than Kimbrel’s.  In fact only seven relievers in the game would appear in the top 74 fWAR posted by pitchers in 2011.  One of those was the Royals’ Greg Holland, by the way.

Now, WAR has a lot to do with ‘showing up’.  A position player can have tremendous stats, but if he missed 25 games with an injury, his WAR will take a hit.   We may all disparage the ‘Replacement Player’, but not even Albert Pujols is better than Mr. Replacement if Albert is sitting on the bench.   When it comes to pitching, innings matter.

Jeff Francis was more valuable (in WAR terms) than any Royals’ relief pitcher last year based almost completely on the fact that Jeff ground his way through 183 innings of work:  nearly three times what any reliever pitched.  Now, the argument exists and I cannot really dispute the general theory, that a run in the third inning is really the same as a run in the ninth inning, but it sure does not feel that way.

I don’t think anyone would argue that a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever.   In fact, one can pretty effectively argue that an average starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever and, quite possibly, more valuable than even a great reliever.  However, WAR really tells us that a below average starting pitcher (Jeff Francis) is more valuable than almost every reliever in the game.

My current allotment of grey matter does not properly equip me with the ability to dive into the internal mechanizations of fWAR and debate that fact.   Nor does the fact that my gut disagrees with the above assessment invalidate the value of WAR as a statistic.   Baseball is certainly a game of numbers, but it is also a game of feel.

I know, I know, we are dancing our way into the world of intangibles where Jason Kendall and Dayton Moore sit amongst the clouds and lord over the baseball world, but there is something to it.   Baseball players and fans, as well, are conditioned that they will give up runs.  A starter gives up three runs and leaves the game tied after six innings and we applaud the effort.   The team feels good:  he gave them a chance to win, after all.   Everyone’s happy, until a reliever gives up a solo homer in the bottom of the 8th and the Royals lose.    Of course, if the starter had stranded on of those three runs in the fourth, the solo homer would not have triggered the loss, but in the clubhouse, the starter did his job and the reliever did not.

That run in the eighth inning may not be statistically different than a run in the fourth, but it certainly feels different and, I have to believe, it affects the team differently.  If your bullpen does that on a regular basis it can tremendously batter the collective psyche of the team.   Conversely, if your bullpen is truly a lock-down unit it can buoy that same team is a tremendously positive way.   

WAR may never truly love a good bullpen, but I have to believe that a good bullpen is more valuable than the sum of it’s WAR.

Catchers, Catchers, and More Catchers

Should Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero every bat after the seventh inning? 

As Craig detailed yesterday, Quintero is a legendarily poor hitter and as I pointed out in the comments and on Twitter, Brayan Pena has spiraled into something that more closely resembles Quintero at the plate than Mauer.  The Royals are hoping for more offense out of Alcides Escobar (and I think they will get it), but one can only expect so much and the team may not get a whole lot of punch out of the second base position, either.   Given that, should the Royals take a big step outside of the box and plan on pinch-hitting for the catcher almost every night?

Now, I know this won’t really happen and I also admit that this theory falls back on the possibly flawed idea that a run in the eighth is more important than a run in the third, but let’s take a quick look anyway.

I don’t care what the score is, just plus or minus five runs either way (basically any situation short of a Mitch Maier getting ready to pitch scenario), but what if the Royals simply assumed that any time the catcher came up in the sixth inning or later, they would pinch-hit for him?   Pena starts, his turn comes up in the sixth, and Maier pinch hits.   Quintero enters the game, comes up in the eighth, and Bourgoeis pinch hits, but then what?

Ah, you need to carry three catchers.  To do that AND pinch hit for said catchers, the Royals would have to carry three catchers AND a five man bench.  That forces them into breaking camp with just six relievers, which I know sounds like disaster when the starting rotation is what it is.   Except, given there is really nothing to prevent Kansas City from pitching the hell out of Louis Coleman and Tim Collins for three weeks, then sending them to Omaha to pitch sparingly while Kelvin Herrera and Everett Teaford come to KC to throw for two or three weeks.

The whole concept is dicey, unconventional and truthfully won’t work for any extended period of time.  Not to mention that the Royals’ options for pinch hitters are only slightly more productive than letting Pena, Quintero and even Cody Clark hit.  Right there, is the real problem with virtually any scenario that heavily involves using the Kansas City bench players.

Option 2013

With Joakim Soria headed towards a second Tommy John procedure, the question of whether the Royals should pick up Soria’s $8 million 2013 option will be a recurring theme throughout the season.   Personally, that eight million looks a lot better put toward an Eric Hosmer contract or, for that matter, even an Alex Gordon extension.

Sure, the Royals are on the hook for Soria’s six million this year, but does knowing that they might have an extra eight million available next year grease the wheels to getting Gordon locked down and out of the way?  Let’s also keep in mind that no one is going to be throwing money at Soria next winter.   Unless Joakim gets offended by the Royals turning down his option, there is nothing that says he could not come back on a lesser deal.  It seems like a no-brainer at this point.  I feel bad for Soria, but the game is a business and the Royals cannot afford to gamble with eight million bucks.

xxx

 

The Royals enjoy an off-day today at what is basically the halfway mark of spring training.  Without a doubt, how a player performs in the second half of spring training is much, much more important than how he performed in the first half, but enough has transpired for us to know that the Kansas City Royals we thought we would see on April 6th are going to look a little different.

The consensus prior to camp was that the Royals would open up with this lineup:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Johnny Giavotella 2B
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Salvador Perez C
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Now, and admittedly it is still a long time until Opening Day, the lineup might well look like this:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Yuniesky Betancourt 2B
  • Brayan Pena C
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Obviously, the injury to Salvador Perez and the revelation that he might not be back until deep into June, has thrown that position into uncertainty.   Whereas we thought Brayan Pena and Manny Pina would battle for the backup spot, we now have Pena entrenched as the starter, Pina hurt and minor league veteran Cody Clark the odds on favorite to backup Pena.   You have to kind of root for the 30 year old Clark, who is touted as an excellent handler of pitchers and good defender, but a tandem of Brayan Pena and Cody Clark does not excellent make the Royals strong behind the plate.

At minimum, the Royals have touched base with free agent Ivan Rodriguez, who at 40 years old is a shadow of the guy who tormented Kansas City for years.   I would not be completely surprised to see Pudge in a Royals’ uniform come April, once he realizes that the phone is not going to ring anymore.  Frankly, not a bad gig for a 40 year old:  play regulary for two and a half months, then enjoy the big league lifestyle for the summer and catch one a week.   In my mind, a Pudge/Clark tandem seems stronger than a Pena/Clark or Pena/Max Ramirez unit, but you would not be off base to disagree.

Of course, the Internet and Royals blogosphere consortium erupted with Ned Yost’s revelation that Yuniesky Betancourt was firmly in the mix for the regular second base job.  Many of us sensed that the Betancourt signing as a utility infielder would morph into 500 Yuni at-bats in 2012 and we may be looking right down the barrel of such an occurrence.

Now, I am not going to get all wrapped up in angst over this just yet.   First, we don’t know that this will actually come to fruition:  a big couple of weeks at the plate for Giavotella could still net him the job.   Still, we know the club is concerned about Johnny’s defense and various reports from those who have been to spring training games (several of them who I know are Giavotella supporters) reinforce those concerns.   As Royals’ fans, we have seen Esteban German and Alberto Callaspo mangle second base, but Alberto did so while cracking almost 70 extra base hits that year.   The Royals have to see enough this spring to indicate that Giavotella is really going to hit (not just hit better than Getz) or they simply will not put up with his ‘no play is routine’ defense.

When I first heard of the Betancourt in the second base mix scenario, my initial thought was that the Royals were thinking Betancourt at second, Giavotella to Omaha, with Getz on the bench.  When they wanted to actually utilize Yuni in his ‘utility role’, then Getz would play second and Yuni third or short, but would that work to essentially rest Mike Moustakas against tough left handed pitching when it required inserting the left-handed hitting Getz into the lineup.   While I bristle at the idea of Yuni at second and Getz on the roster, I will admit that Chris Getz has higher career numbers versus lefties than against righties (.280/.330/.327 vs. LHP).

Now, what I really wonder, however, is IF Betancourt is the regular second baseman and IF Getz is on the bench, THEN does that mean that right handed third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff makes the roster over the fifth outfielder (either Maier or Dyson)?   Kouzmanoff, who has a career line versus lefties of .279/.322/.453, and carries a pretty good defensive reputation at the hot corner might make sense on this particular version of the roster.  Let me stop for a moment and offer that I am not onboard with this shift.  The Royals need to find out if Johnny Giavotella can hit enough major league pitching to justify his iron glove and the first couple of months of 2012 is a far better time see about that than the first couple months of 2013.

So, the position players that just ten days ago seemed almost locked in, could not break camp in a rather drastically different form than we expected.   We say that, without even mentioning the ongoing struggles of Mike Moustakas (a notoriously slow starter, by the way).   One backup outfielder, two backup infielders (both of whom play one just one position) and at least one catcher we did not even consider as a possibility last week.  Yep, things are different and then, Joakim Soria walked off the mound yesterday.

Soria, who has not gotten anyone out all spring as it is, left the game with a twinge or a pull or an ouchie in his elbow.  It frankly does not sound good.   Again, it could be nothing, but that is not how the Royals’ spring has been going.    Given that Soria has been dramatically ineffective this spring, Kansas City may well utilize this injury, however minor, to buy Joakim some extra time in Arizona to figure out what the heck is going on.

Such a move thrusts Jonathan Broxton or Greg Holland or, more likely, both of them into a closing role and opens up a spot in the bullpen for a Tim Collins and/or Everett Teaford.  I wrote last week about the tremendous depth the Royals enjoy in the pen, so this really does not weaken them at all.   It also would allow the team to keep Luis Mendoza on the roster AND carry a second lefty.   If there is a bright side to your All-Star closer not being healthy, I guess that is it.

To be honest, before Salvador Perez went down, I was pretty confident that I had the 25 players who would break camp down to the very last name.   Now, I am confident in about 20 or 21 of those names and that is without even mentioning the struggles of Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez (again, it’s early and veteran starters tend to come on late in the spring).   Without question, things have changed down in Surprise and are likely to continue to surprise (pun intended) as we edge closer to April 6th.

xxx

 

 

The Royals have done their part to stay in the news on the true opening day of the NCAA Tournament (Michigan State, by the way, ended up winning my bracket – because I know that was what you all were waiting for).   Let’s just round up some of the goings on.

SALVADOR PEREZ

Yesterday I said not to panic and even today, we probably should not.  A torn meniscus is the cause for knee surgery for the Royals’ catcher of the present and future.   We have heard no firm timetable, but the absolute best case is four weeks and the worst case seems to be somewhere along the lines of eight weeks.  Add at least a week of rehab appearances, maybe two if Perez ends up taking closer to eight to get healthy and Kansas City is realistically looking at an early May return for Salvador.

Assuming my made up logic is anywhere close, I don’t think the Royals need to jump through any hoops to find a catcher to handle the bulk of the playing time.  Brayan Pena is sub-par behind the plate and Max Ramirez is something worse than that, but both have played in the majors and both can hit a little.   I would advocate laboring through the 23 games in April with those two as the catching tandem and hope Perez returns when the Yankees and Red Sox come to Kansas City in early May.

Now, if a veteran dropped in the Royals’ lap and was willing to play everyday for a month or so and then sit the bench the better part of the year for a million bucks (yeah, that’s right, Ivan Rodriguez is exactly who I am talking about) that would be great.  I think it is unlikely and certainly do not believe Dayton Moore should be trying to trade for such a player, but it does not hurt to keep an ear to the ground.

On a long-term note, this is not a bad knee injury and while anything regarding ‘knees’ and ‘catchers’ gets one nervous, Salvador has youth on his side.  Until something begins to tell us otherwise, I think the Royals can assume Perez will come back ready to assume the heavy workload they had planned for him when he signed the contract extension this spring.

SPEAKING OF CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

By now you have  all heard that shortstop Alcides Escobar has inked a four year contract extension that will pay him a cool million in 2012 and then three million per year each of the next three seasons.   The Royals also hold team options for 2016 ($5.25 million) and 2017 ($6.5 million) with a $500,000 buyout.

Now, if Escobar never hits, but continues to be an elite fielder, this guaranteed four years of this deal probably average out at about market rate.   However, if the shortstop Jesus does hit some or, let’s dream a little, hits decently, then this is a great deal for the Royals.   The downside is that Escobar’s bat gets even worse and his defense goes with it (see Berroa, Angel), but Kansas City has to take some leaps of faith and fix some costs for the future, while also hopefully securing talent with that fixed cost.

That is what the Escobar, Perez and to some extent Billy Butler’s extension of last year does.  Nothing about any of those deals is roster wrecking if they don’t pan out and maybe, in some small part, the combination of these helps grease the wheels of future, more important and more expensive, contracts.

ONE DOWN

One possible, albeit longshot contender for the starting rotation was sent to minor league camp yesterday:  Mike Montgomery.   After his struggles at AAA last year, the demotion of the Royals’ number one pitching prospect was no big surprise and certainly a very rational move.   The lefty pitches in Kansas City this year, it is just a question of when.   I put the over/under at July 5th.

Also going down was Wil Myers, Nathan Adcock and Ryan Verdugo.  I bring up the latter two only because they had very, very, very outside shots at making the bullpen.  Adcock will almost surely start in Omaha, by the way, and might be number one in line to get a call-up if an injury occurs early in the season.   For Myers the only question this spring was where he goes, Omaha or NW Arkansas?   Consensus seems to be the south, but I kind of have a hunch that maybe Omaha might be his destination, especially if Jarrod Dyson makes the big league roster.

SPEAKING OF THE ROTATION

Neither Aaron Crow or Felipe Paulino did a whole lot to help themselves last night, so the door is open today for Danny Duffy – dominant his first time out – to stake a deeper claim on the two open rotation positions.  I am and have been a ‘Duffy guy’ since he started out striking out just about everyone in Low A ball, so count me squarely in his camp when it comes to this battle.

If the Royals are hell bent on not losing Luis Mendoza (remember, he is out of options) than I really believe the proper move is Duffy and Paulino in the rotation, Mendoza and Crow in the bullpen.   Paulino has a nightmarish performance record as a reliever, so I don’t see the point of putting him back in that role.  If he continues to flounder through spring training and carries that into three or four April starts, then you pull Paulino out of the rotation and go to Mendoza, but I don’t think you make that move any sooner than that.

xxx

 

 

Don’t panic!  It’s just a headline.

Prior to yesterday’s game, Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez tweaked a knew.   That is the entire extent of what anyone currently knows: a ‘tweak’.  While he could still crouch, Perez left the field with a ‘noticeable limp’.   After examination today, we should know whether this is a minor day to day thing, a semi-minor week or two rest thingy, a somewhat major but not season altering might-effect-opening-day event or a gut wrenching see-you-later-this-year-maybe catastrophe.

Modern medicine has turned knee injuries into almost routine surgery.  What was once career ending might now wash out less than a season.  What was once season ending might only take six weeks.  That Salvador Perez is just twenty-one years old and a physical specimen can only help shorten the time frame of any recovery.

But, don’t panic.   For all we know, Salvador Perez need a night’s rest, some ice and an aspirin and will be behind the plate tomorrow.

Of course, besides the general excitement about the upcoming season fueling speculation on pretty much any news about anything regarding anyone at rates we are not used to here in Royalland, an injury to Salvador Perez is going to generate a pretty high level of anxiety.  This is the guy who was slated to catch 140+ games this year, just signed a long-term deal and was already perceived to be a leader on the club.   We get fairly snarky here in the blogosphere when it comes to terms like presence, leadership and intangibles, but Salvador Perez seemed to have his share of all of those.

So, yeah, pardon us if we get a little jittery when he limps off the field in March.

While an injury to Eric Hosmer would be a catastrophic public relations nightmare, not to mention the hole it would create in the lineup, the Royals were likely better prepared for an injury there – or anywhere else on the diamond – than they are for any extended absence by Salvador Perez.

Brayan Pena is the back-up catcher, but the prevailing thought was that should an injury strike Perez, another defensive whiz (Manny Pina) would probably take most of the innings.   The problem, as you well know, is that Pina is himself injured and not likely to get back on the field until around the time the Royals break camp.  

That brings us back to Pena: a great guy, a switchhitter and, sadly, a borderline terrifying defender.   His back-up, right now, would by Max Ramirez (“did you hear he’s hit 4 home runs this spring!”), who is a catcher in the sense that he knows how to put on the equipment and owns a catcher’s mitt.   

Quantifying defense is still the greatest challenge in the sabermetric world.   Defining catching defense is somewhere beyond that.  Undeniably, however, we all know (basement dwellers, small children, elderly mothers and true baseball men) that what the guy behind the plate does when his team is in the field is tremendously important.    Define it however you want, but Salvador Perez does it behind the plate.  Brayan Pena and Max Ramirez, by most accounts, do not.

So, let’s panic a little and go doomsday scenario.   We find out this morning that Salvador Perez is out for the bulk of the season, what do you do?  Should Dayton Moore just grit his teeth, remind himself that the 2012 Royals probably were not really contenders anyway, and watch Pena/Ramirez/Pina not field and maybe not even hit for a season?   Do you, gulp, suit up Jason Kendall and see if there are any fumes left in an already empty tank?  Or, do you go out and make a trade for someone to catch?

I don’t know who this year’s Matt Treanor is (maybe it’s Treanor), and I think it would be bad luck to look until we have to, but if Perez is out even until the All-Star Break, does Dayton Moore maybe have to go into the market and get one? If Lorenzo Cain can really hit, Hosmer becomes a star, Moustakas slugs home run after home run and the starting pitching suddenly becomes competent, the Royals might still be able to hang around even without Perez if they just had some level of moderate competency replacing him.

Without question, you are not going to find anyone close to what the Royals expected to get out of Perez, but it might be possible to get a veteran guy who can handle pitchers and maybe throw out the occasional baserunner.   Would you give up a reliever to get him? 

But, don’t panic.

Maybe Salvador Perez is jogging without pain into the clubhouse as we speak.    Maybe everything is fine…..but what if it’s not?

Okay, panic just a little.

xxx