Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in Lineups

As often mentioned recently, the Royals current roster will, for once, also make up the bulk of next season’s 2012 team as well.  I tweeted last month wondering when the last time was that the Royals batting lineup in August was the same as what it would be on Opening Day of the following season.   Not sure anyone came up with an answer (1998 maybe?).

Given the current situation, one I consider to be a positive situation for the most part, we can look forward to next season and actually start assessing what this team might be now as opposed to, well, six hours before the first pitch of the season.   Who will be better?  Or worse?   Let’s take a look.

The Sure Things

  • Billy Butler – He may never be the ‘prototypical DH’ that some crave, but even with a slow start in 2011, Billy has a wOBA of .358 and is likely to have 60+ extra base hits…again.   He won’t get any faster and his days of playing in the field are pretty much over, but Butler will hit.
  • Eric Hosmer – He won’t win rookie of the year, but I am pretty sure Hosmer is the one guy on the Royals that every single organization in the game would like to have.   His .283/.334/.450 line is a nice major league start for a guy who spent all of six weeks in AAA.  We have seen a lot of young players come and go, but Hosmer has the ‘it’ factor.

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

  • Alex Gordon – .303/.376/.502 was what we have all been waiting for, wasn’t it?   Gordon’s fWAR now stands at a spectacular 6.1, making him quite possibly the best leftfielder in the American League.  After four seasons that fell short of the high expectations for Gordon, the question is:  can he do this again?   My guess, my gut feeling is that THIS is Alex Gordon and he will continue on at this level or something near to it.   My heart wants to put him in the ‘sure thing’ category, but logic tells us to be just a shade more cautious.
  • Melky Cabrera – He could go 2-98 next year and still be one of Dayton Moore’s best free agent signings:  that is how good Melky has been this season.  Sure, he is overrated as a centerfielder because of his good arm, but he is not horrible, either.   Raise your hand if you thought Cabrera would be worth 3.3 fWAR.   No one?  Now, raise  them if you think he can do it again.  Yeah, I know, I can’t decide whether to put my hand up or not.
  • Jeff Francoeur – There is nothing wrong with .282/.330/.467 out of Frenchy.   You cannot expect much more and we should all be happy if he can sustain that for the next two years of his new contract.   Will he?  I’m a little skeptical in that Jeff has been prone to ‘fall off the cliff’ type seasons.  Again, it may or may not be logical to be almost certain a 27 year old Alex Gordon has ‘taken the next step’ and be equally skeptical that Francoeur and Cabrera (also 27) have not.  

Destined for Better Things?

  • Mike Moustakas – The swing looks better and the numbers have gone from awful to below average.   Along the way, Moustakas has played better than expected defense (although no one expected much in this area) and kept his confidence.  You would like to see something of a power surge here in September as a springboard to Mike becoming a 25+ home run guy (I doubt he will ever be a big average hitter), but even without a fall hot streak, I will be expected Moustakas to be more of an offensive asset than he has been in 2011.  Frankly, it would be hard for him not to be, right?
  • Alcides Escobar – I am ‘this close’ to buying an Escobar jersey, but am afraid the Fosler jersery jinx might send him into a .221 hitting, error laden 2012.   We saw Alcides have a nice run at the plate and a lot of what happens to him with the bat seems to be attributable to his approach and not actual ability.  In theory, that can fixed.   With the type of defense Escobar displays, he does not have to go much beyond his current .247/.281/.328 line to be good enough.   My gut feeling is that Alcides gets a little more consistent in 2012, but he might also be what he is, too.
  • Johnny Giavotella – Considering how poorly his defense was reviewed in the minors, he actually is not as bad as I thought.  Johnny makes some bad decisions (so does Hosmer by the way) and his hands are the problem.  Range-wise, he gets to most balls and has been working hard at improving himself in the field.   Listen, we have seen ‘brutal’ and it’s name is Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German:  Giavotella is already better than either of them were at second.   At the plate, he has looked better than his numbers reflect, for whatever that is worth and long term, .255/.293/.391 won’t cut it, but Giavotella is no Johnny come lately to successful hitting.   Having hit at every level on the way up, I think he might hit at this level as well.
  • Salvador Perez – I am biased, but Perez is the best young defensive catcher I have seen since – dare we say it – Ivan Rodriguez came up at an early age.  To date, Sal has held his own at the plate as well (in an admittedly small sample size), but truth is if he can totally negate an opponet’s running game and handle the staff he does not have to hit much.  

The shrewd readers of the group will already be thinking that not every young player gets better – especially Royals’ young players, so the odds that everyone above improves or continues to ‘dominate’ are pretty slim.   The Royals’ offense, while inconsistent this year, has been pretty good.  If a player to two elevates and the rest simply hold the line, then this team will be better positionally speaking.

Last night, as I watched Billy Butler launch another home run (his 7th in his last 56 plate appearances) I couldn’t help but wonder if Country Breakfast was developing into a power hitter.

I’ve written about this at length, and I’ve always been skeptical given his proclivity to the ground ball and his opposite field approach. There’s been some movement on the latter issue… Albeit minor. But it may be enough to push Butler north of the 20 home run plateau for the second time in his career.

To start, here is the breakdown of where he put his balls in play in 2010:

Compare that with his chart from 2011:

It’s a subtle change, to be sure. But we can safely say Country Breakfast is pulling more balls to the left side. And for a young hitter – if he’s going to hit with power – that’s something he has to do.

Check out his home run landing plots for this year. Last year, four of his 15 home runs were to the right side of center field. This year, nearly all of his home runs have been in his happy zone to the pull field.

Butler as a power hitter is still a work in progress. And I can’t imagine he’s ever going to hit over 30 home runs in a season. Still, his ever so slight push to the pull field is an encouraging development for a hitter who is still just 25 years old.

Country Breakfast, indeed.

There has been a proliferation of statistics and new metrics over the last several years. FIP, WAR, wOBA, SIERA… These measurements serve to flummox the old school and sate the new school. Like many who strive to survive on a steady diet of Hot Pockets and PepsiMAX (endorsed by Frank White!) I have long had the desire to develop a stat that is both easy to understand and revolutionary. Something to unify the communities. Besides, when you blog, you’re nothing unless you create a statistic. It’s “publish or perish” for the basement subset.

I’ve finally done it. Months of research. Miles of spreadsheets. It’s time to unveil my statistical baby…

Introducing GRIT.

What is GRIT? Well, it’s a kick ass acronym:
Gutty
Resilient
Intense
and
Tenacious

Oh… You want to know what it measures? Ultimately, GRIT is the measurement of a player’s determination and steely resolve. Ever wonder how much a player wants to win? Or how dirty he keeps his uniform? Or just how much he busts his ass whether its in batting practice, during a game or while eating a burrito from Chipotle?

Wonder no more.

GRIT is the most accurate snapshot of the player who wills his team to victory… Drives it to win through sheer determination. It is about the little things that don’t show up in the box score. It’s about the beauty of a well placed grounder to the right side that moves the runner to third. It’s about a bunt that forces the first baseman to charge and make a throw. It’s about hustle, busting your ass and being a great teammate. It’s about getting things done.

The formula behind GRIT is straight forward:


(BB%+SO%) * (SB + 1)
_____________________
(ISO*wOBA)

I will break down the formula, so it’s easy to understand and follow.

(BB%+SO%)

This is a rudimentary way to figure how often a hitter puts the ball in play. You cannot exhibit GRIT if you look at pitches. GRITty players swing the bat, put the ball in play and make the defense work. A walk IS NOT as good as a hit… It’s a lazy plate appearance. A strikeout is rock bottom. A strikeout looking is like death. GRIT is about players who make things happen. In order to make things happen, you must swing the bat.

(ISO*wOBA)

Power is so overrated in today’s game. They used to say chicks dig the longball. But girls are stupid. Home runs are rally killers. There is no way you can GRIT out a win by hitting three-run home runs. A single, stolen base, sac bunt and sac fly is a much more efficient way to score a run, because you are making things happen. Force the issue and keep the defense on their heels. GRIT freaks the defense out. When they worry about the stolen base and the sacrifice bunt, they forget to play with their own GRIT. When one team loses focus and loses GRIT, they will lose the game. Guaranteed.

wOBA is used because, like power, getting on base is overrated. Sure, reaching base is fine and good, but if all you’re doing is setting up the double play for the batter behind you, that is a worthless plate appearance. And if you reach first and aren’t thinking about stealing second or advancing on a kick ass sac bunt, you are a base clogger. Base cloggers are the pond scum of our game and the antithesis of GRIT.

(SB+1)

Just like sunsets, Oklahoma Joe’s french fries and the ability to jump over cars, stolen bases are beautiful. The sac bunt is great, but the steal is the lifeblood of GRIT. We add the plus one to the steal total because there are some base cloggers who won’t budge off the bag and have yet to steal a base this season. (Obviously, the number one reason Kila Ka’aihue is in Omaha is because he did not attempt a single stolen base. Unacceptable. Mike Moustakas is on notice.) Because of these players who are dead weight, we have to add the one so we won’t have a broken formula.

Basically, GRIT is a cumulative measure of offensive awesomeness. The GRITtier a player, the higher the GRIT score. The higher the GRIT score, the higher the player’s value. Perfection.

With the rational explanation out of the way, let’s take a look at the Royals leaders in GRIT for 2011:

Chris Getz – 359.7
Alcides Escobar – 101.3
Jeff Francoeur – 58.5
Melky Cabrera – 51.9
Matt Treanor – 40.2
Mike Aviles – 39.4
Alex Gordon – 39.3
Wilson Betemit – 33.5
Mitch Maier – 17.1
Eric Hosmer – 16.2
Mike Moustakas – 15.1
Billy Butler – 11.9

A couple of observations:

– Chris Grit Getz should have his number retired. He should have a statue in the outfield playground. And he should have part-ownership is a dry cleaning chain. Seriously. If the Royals had more players like Getzie, they wouldn’t be in the cellar of the AL Central. They would be printing playoff tickets. Getz is a ballplayer.

Take Tuesday’s game… Getz was picked off and caught stealing in the seventh. That is a great play, because Getzie was making things happen. He’s a riverboat gambler on the bases. His game may be three card monte, but that’s fine because he’s forcing the issue.

Getz is the Royals MVP.

– Alex Gordon did not make the All-Star team because the coaches and fan voters could see he doesn’t play with enough GRIT.

– Alcides Escobar is surprisingly GRITty.

– Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera shouldn’t be traded. You can’t part with two of your top five in GRIT.

– Mitch Maier has accumulated his GRIT with extremely limited playing time. If he played everyday, he would probably be the second GRITtiest player on the team. I can’t believe Ned Yost hasn’t figured this out. He’s usually on the ball in situations like this.

– Billy Butler is what would happen if OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony had a baby. He is the devil. The worst player on the team. The. Worst. Because he’s a base clogger. Base. Clogger.

I think GRIT has tons of potential. I’ll be petitioning Baseball-Reference to include this stat on player and team pages. And you can bet I’ll be keeping track of the scores of the Royals through the rest of the season.

Ned Yost revamped the batting order for last night’s game and was rewarded with 11 hits, but only two runs.   A massively changed order is, of course, easy fodder for a column.   However, after Yost inserted Melky Cabrera and his .315 on-base percentage into the leadoff spot and was rewarded with two hits and a walk, what is one to say?

Melky Cabrera, after hitting .255/.317/.354 in an unenthused, out of shape campaign for Atlanta in 2010, was not greeted with much anticipation by the Royals’ fan base this off-season.   I think to a lot of followers, Cabrera has been a nice surprise thus far.    He did show up in shape, seems to play hard and has hit better than most of us expected.

That said, Melky is currently sporting a line of .277/.319/.435 for a career high OPS+ of 111.   Still, that really is basically what Melky Cabrera has always been.   Throwing out 2010, he compiled a career line with the Yankees of .269/.331/.385.  If Melky’s power surge (his current slugging percentage is also a career high) continues throughout the season he will certainly enjoy the best year of his career, but nothing dramatically greater than what he did as a 21 year old rookie five years ago.

Now, do not take this as a criticism of the Royals’ centerfielder.   He has, quite frankly, been fine this year, but don’t get carried away.   Cabrera remains basically the same player Allard Baird tried to trade Reggie Sanders for twice only to be derailed by Sanders incredibly poorly timed bouts with hamstringitis.

With a current WAR (per Fangraphs) of 1.7, Cabrera has already tied his career high in that category, so kudos to Dayton Moore for what is a nice, cheap off-season pickup, but again let’s not get carried away.   Melky Cabrera is who he is, with a little more power.   In the field, he is David DeJesus with a better arm and a better reputation.   At the plate, he is a hitter who has not topped a .336 on-base percentage in five years.   He is who he is – just like Jeff Francouer.

Certainly as likeable player as anyone on the roster for the past decade, Francouer started 2011 on a hot streak and endeared himself to almost all of us with some timely hits and great outfield throws.    Still, we wake up this morning to find Jeff hitting .257/.304/.429.   His career line is .267/.309/.425.   Francouer is Francouer, no matter the uniform.

So, the Royals sit here in late June, out of the race once more with two 27 year old outfielders with serious time on their major league resumes who are basically performing exactly as they always have:  maybe even a little better in the case of Cabrera.   What do you do?

Should the Royals keep them both and avoid the Facebook outrage over ‘always trading our best players!?###’, move one or move both?  Is there even a market for Melky and the Frenchman?

Due to their age and reasonable contracts, both have some allure in that you get a player in his supposed physical prime, but with a long history in the majors.   Contenders like to know what they are getting and in both players they have a pretty good idea.   That makes both a somewhat safe option for a successful team looking to fill a void on their mid-season roster.

We can be fairly certain that, with Lorenzo Cain in Omaha, Dayton Moore is certainly listening on Melky Cabrera.   His personal affinity for Jeff Francouer makes it less certain he would deal Frenchy.    Truthfully, I would market Francouer, who brings a clubhouse presence, more certain defense and the ability to tatoo left-handed pitching.    Even though Cabrera is the better player, I have a hunch Francouer might actually bring a better return in a trade.

I could live with an outfield of Gordon-Cain-Cabrera this summer.   Heck, I can live with Gordon-Cain-Francouer, too.  At this point

Well, what is one to say or write about last night’s extra inning loss?    More specifically, what is one to write that has not already been written, tweeted or said?

Eleven innings, back to back pick-offs of pinch runners, 13 walks, a run scoring wild pitch, 5 stolen bases allowed, a 9th inning game tying homer by rookie Eric Hosmer, the debut of rookie Danny Duffy and another Joakim Soria bad outing.   Whew!  I cannot decide whether we should spend this column dissecting last night’s loss or try to forget it.

Obviously, in a game in which the manager empties his bench and his bullpen, there are many instances where we could second guess Ned Yost.   My only comments on Yost last night are that I would have stuck with Louis Coleman for a second inning of work and probably Aaron Crow for a second inning as well.  You’ll have to take my word that I was thinking that Crow should work the 9th inning as well before Soria surrendered a run, although going to Soria in the 9th is hardly managerial malpractice.  An extra inning out of both Coleman and Crow keeps Yost from having to go to Jeremy Jeffress in the 11th.

My other complaint is that the Royals need some sort of ‘for godssake don’t make an out on the bases!’ sign.    I know the organization is all about aggressive baserunning, but after Jarrod Dyson is picked off in the 9th, don’t you have to tell Mike Aviles to take a two step lead and hope Wilson Betemit drives the ball into the gap?   Yes, Aviles should damn well know that he can’t get picked off, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing up a ‘STOP’ sign to reinforce the issue.

Anyway, the Royals had their chances and, frankly, the Rangers had more chances.  It was a discouraging loss and one that certainly feels like ‘old times’ for us Kansas City fans.  That’s a few more words about last night than I thought, let’s go inside the numbers for a bit:

  • 30 – The number of pitches Danny Duffy threw AFTER getting two strikes on a hitter.
  • 1 - Total number of passed balls charged to Matt Treanor in 2011:  relevant because it happened last night.
  • 5 – Outings in which Joakim Soria has allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings at this time in 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings after May 19, 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Total combined hits before last night from Mike Aviles and Chris Getz in the last two weeks.
  • .630 - Billy Butler’s OPS in May.
  • .515 - Alex Gordon’s OPS in May.
  • 3.26 - Luke Hochevar’s May earned run average.
  • 7 - May strikeouts by Hochevar.
  • 7 - May walks by Hochevar.
  • 3 - Minimum number of games the Royals need to win through this current homestand to have even a hope of getting back to and staying at or over .500 by the end of May.

I will give kudos to Ned Yost for shaking up the lineup last night – even if it didn’t really pan out.  My original plan for a column was about having to do that very thing and, I have to be honest here, Ned shook it up much more boldly than I would have.    It will be interesting to see if Yost sticks with last night’s batting order or if it was a one time thing.

Okay, question of the day:  When do you call up Mike Moustakas?

According to UZR/150 (courtesy Fangraphs), the best defensive second baseman in baseball last season was Chase Utley with +12.9 mark.   The worst was Skip Schumaker with a -17 UZR/150.    You can make what you want of UZR/150 or any other defensive metric:  they all have flaws and they are all subject to small sample sizes.   The common theme amongst the sabremetric community these days is that it takes three years of defensive statistics to equal one year of offensive data.

If you are into zone ratings when it comes to defense, Utley had a Revised Zone Rating of .840 in 2010 – good for 5th overall.   Schumaker’s was a horrid .769, which was dead last once again.  

Interestingly, both players manned second base for almost an identical amount of innings:  Utley played 1007 innings, Schumaker 1014.   Combining putouts, assists and errors, Utley made a defensive play 5.23 times per nine innings.   Schumaker made a defensive play 5.19 times per nine innings.   It is an admittedly simplistic sampling, but it sure appears that second basemen, the good, the bad, the indifferent,  generally all have about five fielding chances each game.

We can delve into double plays started, double plays turned, positioning, passing eye tests, plus hands, plus feet, plus instincts….you name it, you can factor that into whatever defensive analysis you want to rely upon, but I am going to take the very lowbrow route.

If a second baseman gets on average five defensive chances per game and plays 140 games, that comes out to 700 chances per year.   Using last year’s numbers, Utley’s zone rating implies that he got to 7% more balls than Schumaker and one time every 180 chances or so, Schumaker made an error that Utley would not have made.   In this very crude analysis, those differences, spread over 140 games would mean that Chase Utley made plays on 49 more balls than Skip Schumaker and that Skip would boot six more balls.

That makes for a grand total of 55 plays at second base that seperate the best defensive second baseman of 2010 from the worst.   All around, I can actually feel far better statistical analyzers than myself shivering at the absolute crudeness of the above math!

Now, what does this have to do with the Royals and their very important, very thrilling, oddly played win last night?  Not a whole lot, other than in regard to the lineup that Ned Yost trotted out and then stuck with for eleven innings.  Chris Getz got another start at second base over Mike Aviles, after getting the start over Wilson Betemit the night before.

We’ll ignore the Betemit part of this equation for simplicity sake (after the above fielding analysis, simple is the word of the day) and just compare Getz and Aviles:

  • Getz 2011: .220/.310/.275/.585, 4XBH, 7SB, 14BB, 12SO
  • Aviles 2011: .265/.299/.531/.830, 14XBH, 8SB, 4BB, 21SO

And for their careers:

  • Getz: .248/.314/.313/.628
  • Aviles: .295/.325/.432/.756

IF Chris Getz was the best fielding second baseman in the game and IF Mike Aviles was the worst, Getz turns 55 balls into outs over 140 games that Aviles does not:  basically two plays every five games, four plays every ten games.

In those ten games in which Getz makes four defensive plays Aviles does not (again assuming Getz is the best defender in the game and Aviles the worst), Aviles would not only get a hit, but get an EXTRA BASE HIT five more times than Getz would.   So, what is more valuable?   Four defensive plays made or five extra base hits?

What if, really NED what if, Chris Getz is not the best defensive second baseman on the planet?   Is he better than Aviles?  Yes.   Is he 55 plays better than Aviles?  My guess is that it might be half that number.   If that is truly the case, then the equation becomes two defensive plays versus those five extra base hits.  Simple math, but a simple answer as well.

Of course, Chris Getz and Mike Aviles do not play in a vacuum.   They play second base next to a player who, right now, is a defense only shortstop.  Alcides Escobar, to date, has played superb defense.   He is a joy to watch in the field, but he makes us all wince when at the plate.

Escobar is going nowhere:  the Royals believe in him (so do I, actually) and they have no real option to replace him even if they did not.   Alcides Escobar and his .532 OPS are in the lineup to stay.   Als0 in the lineup will be the offensive liabilities of the Matt Treanor, Brayan Pena and, at some point, Jason Kendall. 

Name a contending team that didn’t have good defense up the middle?  Name one that had three guys up the middle with OPS below .650?   (Yes, I know Treanor is above that mark right now, but if you want to bet on that lasting…). 

I am all for good defense, but the Royals are currently struggling to score and Mike Aviles is a guy who can simply hit.  Sure, he does not walk enough, but he is about to overtake Getz in on-base percentage as it is.   How big a penalty are you willing to pay for Getz’s defense and better, but not tremendously better, base running?

Long term, neither is the ‘solution’ at second base, but not every change has to be ‘the final solution’.  The Royals give up too much when they play Chris Getz at second base and sit either Aviles or Betemit.   If we were talking about shortstop or catcher, the two most important defensive positions, then this column might have a different angle.   We are talking, however, about second base.

Aviles may not even be average in the field, but he is not a butcher (a/k/a Alberto Callaspo).  Getz is probaly above average in the field, but he is not a gold glover.   The difference, when factoring in the times one can effect the game with their glove, is not enough to justify keeping the bat of Mike Aviles on the bench.

Are the Royals playing to win this year or are they hoping that Chris Getz can nudge his OPS over .700 and be an average player sometime down the road?

Headlines bedevil me at times, but given that last night’s 3-2 loss to the Orioles seemed to hinge on a ball getting stuck under the padding of the outfield wall, the title seems appropriate. 

As detailed in many places, Baltimore’s Adam Jones made a heads-up play and the correct play in signalling for a ground rule double on what would have been a Mike Aviles triple.  He doesn’t have to try to get the ball, nor does it matter that he could have easily gotten the ball.    Rules are rules and smart baseball is smart baseball (and also fair, by the way).    The Royals have a ton of late and close wins this year, think of last night as a little retribution for the baseball gods.

Kyle Davies had a very ‘Daviesish’ sort of outing:  6.1 innings, 3 runs, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks, 2 hit batters and allowing SEVEN Orioles to reach base after he had recorded two outs in an inning.  I don’t know, Kyle was competent and kept his team in the game into the seventh inning, but man he is hard to love, isn’t he?    

Do you send Davies out to start the seventh inning?   I ask that as a genuine question as, in real time, I debated with myself whether I do or not.  One factor in Ned Yost’s thinking had to be that he had used virtually the entire bullpen the night before and, rightly or wrongly, Yost has been loathe to use his young reliever on back to back days.   Well, unless you are Tim Collins and then you WILL PITCH EVERY GAME.

Speaking of Tim Collins, the lefty has 13 strikeouts versus 4 walks when facing right-handed batters.   Against lefthanders, however, Collins has 8 strikeouts versus 13 walks.   Regardless, Yost brought Collins in specifically to face a left-handed hitter for the second consecutive night.  

With two more hits last night, one would think that Mike Aviles has to be close to reestablishing himself as part of the Royals’ everyday lineup.   After a dismal start, Mike is up to a line of .262/.289/.548/.837 with 5 home runs and 6 steals.     No, he is not a prototypical lead-off hitter (just 3 walks and 17 strikeouts) and no, he is not the defensive equal of Chris Getz.    The question, however, is not Aviles v. Getz, it is or at least should be, Getz v. Ka’aihue.

The Royals need pop in the lineup to try to offset their very marginal starting rotation.   Aviles brings a six somewhat competent bat into the lineup at the expense of some defense (not a lot in my opinion) and some speed (again, not all that much).   Not to mention that he is one guy in this whole equation that actually has a track record of hitting major league pitching.

So, the situation really comes down to who do the Royals think will eventually hit?   Getz or Ka’aihue?  Does Chris Getz bring enough with the glove at second to justify putting his career Royals line of .235/.308/.279 in the batting order?   Do you have enough belief in Ka’aihue’s impressive minor league resume to keep writing down his name in hopes that this .195/.295/.317 start is just a rough patch soon to be erased by a pile of walks and home runs?

Frankly, the Royals do not even have to decide.   They can alternate or swap those two players in out of the lineup at will.  A batting order with both Getz and Ka’aihue in it, however, simply is one with two many weak spots.   One or the other, not both.

Wow, just a few things went on this weekend.   We had the NFL Draft, a guy named bin Laden was erased from the face of the earth and the Royals swept the Twins.  Now, if we have to debate which of the three is the most important story, then I will pick up my toys and go home.   

You might have noticed over the years, that this is not a world affairs blog nor do we talk about the NFL.   As such, we can discuss a very big sweep over Minnesota and just generally think happy thoughts throughout this off-day.

I think a lot of us thought Kansas City was about to go into ‘the big slide’ that we have so often seen in the past.   After leaping out of the gates by winning ten of their first fourteen games, the Royals had floundered all the way to a game under .500.    They had been swept in back to back road series, looking very 2006-ish in getting drubbed in Cleveland.

The here-we-go-again feeling certainly had overtaken me.   One could almost feel a stretch of games coming that would see the Royals drop twenty out of twenty-five and sink once more out of the collective national baseball consciousness.     Instead, however, we saw this team right itself and sweep the Twins:  obliterating them in the final two games of the series. 

At this point in time, the Minnesota Twins are an injured, hapless bunch, but there is something to be said for beating teams that are not playing well.    There is also something to be said for playing baseball in your home park.

In 2010, the average home record of American League teams was 45-35 (yes, I know that doesn’t add up to 81) and the average road record was just 36-44.   Only four teams had losing records at home, while five teams managed to post a winning record on the road.   In 2009, the averages are similar: 46-35 at home and 35-45 on the road.  Like in 2010, four teams posted losing home records, but only two were overall winners on the road.

There is nothing earth shattering in those numbers and, without looking, I have to imagine that we could go back a great number of years and generally see similar results.   Quite frankly, Dorothy, there is no place like home.  For the Royals, that seems particularly true through the early part of the 2011 schedule.

On their way to posting a 12-5 home record, the Royals have average 5.6 runs per game and posted a robust team slash line of .278/.355/.446.   The pitching staff has held opponents to a .256 batting average on their way to posting a 3.64 earned run average and allowed less than one home run per game (14 in 17 contests).

On the road, Kansas City is just 3-8 and averaging only 4.5 runs per game.   The offense has hit just .268/.318/.410 and the pitching staff has posted a 5.95 ERA and allowed the opposing teams to hit .307.  The pitchers have also given up 21 home runs in just 11 games, despite posting a better strikeout to walk ration (1.97 on the road as opposed to just 1.51 at home).

Obviously, just 17% of the way through the schedule, the imbalance of who the Royals have played at home versus the teams they have faced on the road versus who was hot and who was hurt all skew the results.   Still, those are pretty dramatic differences on both sides of the ball.   Given the youth of this team and type of starting pitching they employ, none of us are probably overly surprised by the split, but I found it interesting.

It also gives me some  hope that despite a tough 31 game stretch that began with the Twins’ series, with 19 of those games at home, the Royals might be able to stick around that .500 mark through the end of May.   Should they manage that feat, then the discussion gets extremely interesting on many fronts.   Defending the home field over the next six games against Baltimore and Oakland will be critical.

Now a couple of bullet points to finish up:

  • As has been discussed in many locations, the inclusion of Jarrod Dyson on the 25 man roster is a somewhat curious decision.    While he has made an impact in the role this year, there just are not a lot of pinch-runner/defensive replacement guys being carried by anyone these days, but I was envisioning the scenario wherein doing so makes sense and also does not cripple a manager’s ability to make in-game moves.  It would seem to me, that having good enough pitching to go with an 11 man staff instead of 12 is the key.  In the Royals’ case, that would allow them to carry an extra infielder.   On days when the lineup includes Getz, Aviles and Betemit (one of the latter two DHing), you would still be able to pinch hit for Escobar or Getz.   I am not really against having Dyson on the current roster, just thinking how a ‘Dyson-like’ role fits on a logical 25 man set-up.
  • Speaking of defense, I have a hard time justifying a weak bat at any position other than catcher and shortstop.   Simply put, it does not seem to me that any other position effect the defense enough to carry a sub .700 OPS.   I bring that up, because Mike Aviles is hitting and Chris Getz is not.    The Royals have no real options but to play Alcides Escobar (whose defense is great, but he really needs to post an OPS well above his current .516), and the two catchers and they remain loyal to Kila Ka’aihue and probably should for another three or four weeks.   They have an option at second to add another offensive weapon and should use it on an everyday basis, even if it does mean weaker defense.
  • Finally, I am pretty ambivalent when it comes to Mitch Maier, but it was nice to see him have a big day on Sunday after replacing Jarrod Dyson.   Mitch now has a grand total of 11 plate appearances in 2011.  It is tough duty to be the last guy on the bench and easy place to lose focus.  To his credit Maier has been a true professional and kept himself ready to play even though he knows the odds are that he seldom will.  That is a subtle addition to clubhouse chemistry that should not be overlooked.

Is four of the next six a realistic goal?  I would like to think so, although Royals pitchers will not be able to walk 17 batters in a series and get away with it very often.

Who knew that it would take a four game losing streak for Nervous Ned to go into full meltdown mode?

Maybe meltdown is a little harsh, but you have to question what’s going through the manager’s mind when he moves Alex Gordon from left field to first base for two games in a row. One game… OK. Whatever. Two games… You start to wonder what’s going on. Is this a move to jumpstart a lethargic lineup, or is this some sort of larger plan?

Short-term, basically what Yost is doing is replacing Kila in the lineup with Dyson. Even though Kila is struggling (looking at strikes down the middle of the plate and then swinging at off speed pitches in the right-handed batters box qualifies as struggling) he’s still a better bet for the Royals than Dyson. Nothing against the guy, but I’ll take Kila’s power potential over Dyson’s speed.

Really, I don’t have an issue playing Gordon at first. But the Royals have Billy Butler, who is jonesing for some defensive playing time. Not that Butler is ever going to win a Gold Glove, but throw the guy a bone… He’s put in the work, why not let him get some time in the field if you want to give Kila a break. It’s not like Butler is a long-term solution with Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings. That makes this move even more bizarre. If the Royals didn’t have stud first base prospect a couple of months away, maybe this makes a little bit of sense. Otherwise, no.

Here’s why you don’t jack with Gordon and his glove. First, he’s proven himself to be above average defensively. Yes, he gets some bum jumps every now and then, but he’s athletic enough to recover and make plays. I can’t remember a time when I felt he did something wrong out there. This is not the Mark Teahen situation where the guy consistently took poor routes. Gordon is legit. Second, his arm is a weapon. When you have a guy with a gun like that, why the heck would you waste it at first? His arm is so strong and accurate, I’d have zero problem if he played right field. But first? Just wasteful.

For the record, I don’t think this defensive shift is why Gordon is 0-fer his last two games. He’s been rolling with the bat, so a move with the glove shouldn’t have any kind of impact. But Nervous Ned put himself and Gordon in this position to second guess because of the hitting streak and Gordon’s hot start. It’s coincidence that Gordon didn’t get a hit in the last two games. But Yost is going to take some heat for this.

This move proves that SABR Trey didn’t corner the market on managerial crazy. Managers will do nutty things sometimes to jump start a lethargic lineup, but moving Gordon defensively weakens the lineup. This really shouldn’t go any further. It needs to stop now, please.

My dislike for Kyle Davies as a starter has been well documented. Last night, Kyle proved that regression was an evil bitch as he coughed up four home runs. Given his propensity to put runners on base, he’s fortunate all four were solo shots. I saw on the post game where Yost said he made good pitches. Bull. Three of the four were right in the happy zone. Belt high and center of the plate.

Still utterly confused by the Tim Collins usage. Another game, another appearance. This time, Yost used him for 2.2 innings in a game where the Royals were trailing 8-0. So does this mean Collins is the mop-up guy now? He appeared in four of the six games on the road trip.

The Royals didn’t hold the lead once during their road trip. This is a trend that is going to happen from time to time given the (lack of) starting pitching. Entering the season, we figured this would happen. The hot start masked some inefficiencies and fooled a lot of people. With a winless roadtrip, the bandwagon is down to three wheels and the axle is threatening to come off altogether.

I can’t get too down about this rough patch. Yost may be panicking, but this was expected. This seems like a good time to remind ourselves that this season is about transition. There will be more rough games ahead. Keep your eyes on the big picture. The only thing that should be troubling at this point is a manager who seems to be freaking out.

I struggled with a topic today:  one of those ‘many ideas, none of them very good’ sort of things.   The thought of tempering the despair that is swirling around a .500 team that has dropped eight of its last ten games came to mind, but I pretty much did that earlier this week.   The idea to take a jab at the mainstream media for its inability to distinguish between random comments and actual bloggers was appealing as was a jab at some of our own who have quickly determined that, once again, there is likely no hope.   Of course, maybe they are just being contrarian or (gasp!) maybe they are just plain smarter than I and actually right.    That couldn’t be, could it?  Even if they are smarter, I bet the paneling in my mom’s basement is nicer than theirs!

None of the above topics get us anywhere.   The discussion around Alcides Escobar’s bat and glove has gone to such levels that I simply cannot offer one more sentence (other than this one) on that subject.  Ned Yost did insert both Mike Aviles and Wilson Betemit into the lineup last night, as I had hoped, benching Chris Getz and Kila Ka’aihue.   The Royals need offense, right now, and those two guys have a chance to bring them some.

Aviles, who became the fans’ whipping boy for having a bad six game stretch to open the season, gets to prove himself all over again (for the third time) and Betemit has hit so well since Kansas City called him up last summer that he has earned the right to prove whether he can keep doing it.  How long Yost stays with those two guys remains to be seen.   The public comments seem to indicate that last night’s lineup change was not a one and done sort of deal.

I would not have moved Alex Gordon out of left to play first base, opting instead to play Butler at first and DH Melky Cabrera.   Billy is not a good first baseman, he’s not even an average first baseman, but he has played there much more than Gordon and really, really wants to play in the field more.   To date, Gordon has played an excellent left field – albeit making some diving plays because of poor reads, but making them nonetheless – and it seems as if the Royals took a good fielder and put him at an unfamiliar position to keep, at best, a similar fielder in Melky Cabrera in his spot.

All that said, for a few games, I am not going to sweat the move.   Long term, Kansas City needs to stick Gordon in left and leave him be.   Short term, if they want to play Jarrod Dyson (who swung at eight of the first ten pitches he saw last night, by the way) and let Kila Ka’aihue sit, no big harm there, either.    Any reader to this site knows I was a huge proponent for Kila to get a legitimate shot in the majors, but even I could use a four or five game break from watching the big guy take pitches down the middle of the plate and flail at those diving away from him outside the zone.

When can discuss lineups all you want, but the truth is that Ned Yost does not have a lot of options.   Alcides Escobar will play shortstop every day this season and likely every day next season, no matter what he hits.   Neither Matt Treanor nor Brayan Pena has hit much at catcher and my call to upgrade the offense was based on getting Mike Aviles, currently hitting .234, into the lineup.   You do the math.

As discussed earlier this week, getting a couple of wins in Cleveland would have gone a long way towards launching the Royals on a positive start to what is going to be a rugged month of games.   That has not happened, obviously, and right now 2011 is beginning to feel a lot like 2010.   If juggling the lineup, even in a somewhat odd fashion, stops the bleeding however temporarily, then it’s worth a shot.

There is a pretty good chance the shake up will have little effect.   The possibility that Jarrod Dyson makes us all think that Alcides Escobar and Matt Treanor are not so bad at the plate is very real.   An infield that includes Betemit, Aviles and Gordon might be a defensive house of horrors and, frankly, unless the starting pitching reverts to early season form none of it will matter.

I give credit to Yost for trying something different.