Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in AL Central

In part 1 of this series, I looked at the offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, but rather it’s their inability to prevent runs. In part 2 I looked at the defense and found it to be missing some pieces but again not a huge problem. That leaves us with the pitching. This isn’t really a shocking conclusion. We all knew it was leading us there, but I think it’s instructive and helpful to get there step-by-step. The pitching neatly breaks up into two distinct parts: starting and relief. Today we’ll focus on relief.

Here is a chart showing the Royal relieves ERA and the league rank for the past few years.

Year ERA AL Rank
2011 3.69 5th
2010 4.46 14th
2009 5.02 14th
2008 4.26 10th
2007 3.89 6th

The Royals have clearly had a contending level relief core this year, but history shows that it’s a fickle thing. One year you can have a great bullpen and the next year it can be putrid. There’s a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Bullpens have high turnover, small inning sample sizes can skew the numbers, more players means more possibility for injuries or other changes and pitching is just a fickle art.

With all of these different possibilities it’s hard to make any concrete conclusions on whether or not the Royals will continue to have a contention level relief corps.  However, there are some things that can help guide us. Primarily age and team control. Here is the list of the important relief pitchers this season for the Royals and the year that they become a free agent

Player Free Agency Season
Joakim Soria 2015
Blake Wood 2017
Tim Collins 2017
Aaron Crow 2017
Louis Coleman 2017
Nate Adcock 2017
Greg Holland 2017
Everett Teaford 2017
Jeremy Jeffress 2017

Why am I just now realizing that other than Joakim Soria (and Mitch Maier of course) every relief pitcher of note is a rookie this season? The chart should make it clear that the bullpen shouldn’t turnover much based on free agency. That doesn’t mean that injury, trade or a move to the starting rotation won’t change things, but based on the results from this season and the youth, we can for the near future rule out the bullpen as a major area where the Royals should focus in order to improve their ballclub to make it a contender.

Next time we’ll get into the heart of the matter and discuss the starting pitching, and more importantly how to fix it.

 

 

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

The Kansas City Royals are not a contending team –news to nobody, I’m sure. However they are closer than they’ve been to a contender in quite some time. I’m going to embark on a series of articles which will shed some light on how the Royals can become a contender and what the pitfalls will be. Before that though, I need to establish the single most important thing that this team needs to do to become a contender. This is all going to seem a bit elementary, but I want to start down a logical path that will eventually lead us to a solid conclusion.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about the improvement that this team has shown, especially in regard to the offense. The numbers from then still hold true. The Royals continue to score at a rate of 4.33 runs per game, which is good for 6th in the American League. They still struggle mightily with allowing runs and have dropped to 4.84 runs per game, placing them 12th in the AL.

For the Royals to become contenders, they have to find some way to score more runs than they allow. In the abstract, you can either try and score more runs, or you can try and prevent more runs in an effort to improve your team. To score more runs, the Royals will need to upgrade their lineup. To prevent more runs, the Royals can improve their starting rotation, their defense and their bullpen.  See, I told you this would be simple stuff.

We’ve established that currently the Royals have the 6th best scoring offense in the American League. Assuming that “contending” means to have a shot to win a division, and there are around 2 contenders in each division it seems appropriate that a top 6 offense is certainly of that caliber. Offense can and will fluctuate, so the Royals cannot get complacent. Looking at the current offense, there are a few factors which would lead me to believe that this isn’t an aberration and they can actually improve on their position.

The most important factor is their age. The 2011 Royals offense according to Baseball-Reference has a weighted age of 26.2. That is the second youngest team offense in Royals history next to the 1969 expansion team. It’s also the youngest in the American League by 1.6 years. It isn’t a guarantee that these players will all improve as they get older and enter their prime years, but it’s a better bet than they will decline.

Another factor is there isn’t anyone leaving anytime soon. Players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Johnny Giavotella, Salvador Perez are all very young and under team control. Other productive players like Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Melky Cabrera all have at least one year left if not three or four. There is no eminante departures for any of these players.

The final factor in the offense is the ability to back-fill. The Royals Minor League system has been touted for this entire year and a lot of that is due to the big time prospects like Hosmer and Moustakas. However, what makes them elite is the depth of the system. If Johnny Giavotella can’t make it, they have Christian Colon. If Melky falters they have Lorenzo Cain. If Francouer goes back to a pumpkin then they have Wil Myers. If Moustakas can’t figure things out they have Cheslor Cuthbert. They continue to fill the funnel as they spent another team record in the amateur player draft with players like Bubba Starling.

All of this combines to provide some reassurance that this offense will continue to produce at a contending level. Things will change, moves will have to be made but it’s not where the team should focus their efforts in attempt to bring another flag to Kauffman Stadium. In the next installment, I’ll lay out the run prevention side of things and get to the heart of the team’s problems.

(spoiler alert: It’s probably the starting rotation)


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

 

  • Bubba Starling signed last night for $7.5m. It’s  ridiculous that the Commissioners office won’t let over-slot deals through until the last moment. As one of my friends put it “That’s a lot of cheddar for an 18 year old.”  Yep. I hope he’s worth it. At first, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the pick, but as I learned more I’m fully supportive of it. I like the high-risk, high-reward thought process. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • Johnny Giavotella has four extra-base hits in 44 plate appearances, Chris Getz had 8 in 396. Why wasn’t this move made sooner?
  • Jim Thome hit his 600th home-run last night. While it seems like he’s hit about 550 of them against the Royals, the actual numbers surprised me. Here are the teams Thome has hit the most home runs against.

1. Detroit Tigers (65)

2. Minnesota Twins (57)

3. Kansas City Roayls (48)

4. Chicago White Sox (43)

5. Boston Red Sox (35)

  • You know what’s really frustrating? The fact that the Royals have scored more runs per game and given up fewer runs per game than the Minnesota Twins, yet they are still below them in the standings.  I can’t believe for one second that the Twins are better than the Royals. This is a mirage at the moment, and I think the Royals have a great shot at surpassing them before the end of the season.
  • One problem is that the Royals lead the American League in walks allowed. They’ve given up 432 walks this season. Compare that to league leader Cleveland who has given up only 309. I wouldn’t make a one-to-one relation on walks allowed to wins, but there certainly is some relation. You can’t give out free passes, it’s the worst thing you can do as a pitching staff.
  • Now that a good portion of the future is occupying spots on the Major League roster, guys in the Minors have been kind of over-looked. Wil Myers is likely the top position player in the Royals system, so how’s he doing?  His current slash line is .251/.350/.368. It’s nothing to go crazy over, but it’s good to see him have a high on-base percentage. Myers has an advanced approach and he has no problems taking a walk. I saw him walk at least four times in back-fields spring training games. He’s continuing to do that at AA, however I’d like to see a higher slugging percentage. If he’s laying off pitches until he gets a good one, I’d like to see him drive it out of the park.  Either way, I’m not concerned. The kid is still very young and very good.
  • The top pitching prospect in the minors is Jake Odorizzi, who has made 8 starts at AA after being promoted. He’s had an up-and-down go of it for the Naturals, but he’s still showing flashes of talent. The jump to AA is the second hardest in the game next to the jump to the Majors. It’s not unusual for a guy to have some struggles as he learns to pitch to a much higher level of competition. In his 8 starts, he has posted a 4.57 ERA while striking out 32 and walking 17.
  • Felipe Paulina pitched his worst game as a Royal last night against the New York Yankes, but he still holds a 3.76 ERA in blue. I hear lots of chatter about the Royals not trying to get starting pitching, yet they made one of the best starting pitcher acquisitions in baseball this season.
  • I wanted to mention the podcast hiatus I’ve been on recently. Basically, my life has been super-duper crazy lately and I just flat haven’t had time to do one. It pains me to not do them, but with all of my other responsibilities, it’s taken a back-seat. I’d like to find a way to do them more often, but for now it’s not feasible. They’re will be more, I promise.

 


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Episode #057 – In which I try and put this team’s record into perspective and discuss in detail why I’m still high on the franchise.

 

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs057.mp3|titles=BBS

 

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Never has a rainout come at a more opportune time for the Kansas City Royals.    After a feel-good series win in New York, the Royals had scored just one run in two games against the surging Detroit Tigers and were set to face Max Scherzer on Sunday.   Plain and simple, the Royals were reeling and the weather cut them some much needed slack.

The repreive, however, is very temporary.

A few weeks back, as the Royals were wallowing through an 0-6 road trip to Texas and Cleveland, I noted that the May schedule would probably determine if Kansas City was truly going to contend or not in 2011.    Counting the April 29th and 30th games against Minnesota and the June 1st game against the Angels, this 31 game (now 30 with the rainout) stretch looked pretty daunting.  

Could the Royals keep their heads above water during this stretch?  

Well, nearing the halfway point of this gauntlet, the Royals stand at 8-6 and have lost exactly one-half of a game in the standings.   Even with Detroit leapfrogging into second place, Kansas City is still ‘hanging around’.   I would settle for ‘hanging around’ in 2011, wouldn’t you?

Let’s take a look at the remainder of the May schedule:

Cleveland – May 16 & 17

Just as most of the baseball world is waiting for Kansas City to fall back to Earth, so too are they waiting for the Indians to do so as well.   Courtesy of a 15-4 home record, the Indians are a league best 24-13.   Cleveland and Kansas City have almost identical team batting numbers, while the Indians, of course, have a much better team pitching mark (no surprise there).   I like the Indians’ team, but there is no way they are playing .649 ball or anything close to that the rest of the way.

Texas – May 18 & 19

I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but Texas is pretty good, likely better than their 21-19 record reflects.   The Rangers will be without Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz when they visit Kansas City and have just a 6-10 record on the road.   It is a good time to catch Texas, if such a thing actually exists.

St. Louis – May 20, 21 & 22

Cardinals fans kind of annoy me, but not quite as much as the Royals fans who get all upset about Cardinals fans.  (Truthfully, is your life effected in any way by some guy in front of you in a different color jersey who thinks your team sucks?  Can’t we all just get along or, at least, just shut-up about it?)

Anyway, St. Louis has lost three in a row to fall to 22-19 on the season.  They have good starting pitching, a bullpen that has some issues and the best offense in the National League.  Currently, the Cardinals lead the NL in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging.    The way the Royals’ rotation is currently set would have them sending Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies and Vin Mazarro out to face them.    Whose stomach just got upset?

A 4-3 homestand would be great, in my opinion, and might be optimistic.  However, a weakened Texas lineup helps the situation.   It would be extremely helpful if the Royals’ offense came alive against Cleveland and got the team off to a good start.

At Baltimore – May 24, 25 & 26

The Royals have not been world beaters on the road, but taking two of three from New York has to help their confidence.   Baltimore has some nice pieces, but is not a team that should scare anyone.   They have won their last two to get back to within a game of .500, but play their next four against Boston and New York.   It would be nice if the Orioles struggle against Washington prior to the Royals coming in, but no matter what happens, this is a series the Royals should feel they can win.

At Texas – May 27, 28 and 29

The Rangers should be back to full strength by the time Kansas City visits Arlington for a second time.  This is a bad ballpark for the Royals to play in and, as mentioned above, Texas is pretty good.

After getting swept at Texas in April, the law of baseball averages almost dictate that Kansas City should win one against the Rangers.  If they could so and take two of three from Baltimore, that would be a pretty solid 3-3 road trip.  Admittedly, 2-4 is a more likely result, which would be acceptable if Kansas City can go 4-3 on the homestand preceding this trip.

Angels – May 30 & 31, June 1

After losing three of four to Kansas City to start the season, the Angels have gone 21-16 and currently lead the AL West.    They have scored 20 runs less than the Royals despite having played two more games, but sport the second best team ERA in the league.    The Angels’ bullpen, however, leads the league in walks.  It is not as bad as when the Angels came to town the first time, but you have to like Kansas City’s chances if they can get these games into the hands of the respective pens.

I respect the Angels a ton, but this is a series that I expect Kansas City to win two of three.   Of course, if the Royals are seven games under .500 by then, my expectations will be lowered.

Overall, the above scenario has the Royals going 4-3 at home, 2-4 on the road and the 2-1 at home, for a record of 8-8 to finish out the month with a 28-27 record.    Assuming Cleveland starts to regress and the Tigers stop winning every freaking game they play, that mark would definitely put Kansas City in the ‘hanging around’ category if not right in the middle of contention.

If that scenario puts Kansas City five games back of first with an eight game homestand with Minnesota and Toronto, hopefully with Danny Duffy in the rotation by then, then the hopes for something special this season will continue on.

You can also get additional Royals Authority this morning at the Sports Radio 810 WHB website by clicking here.

My mantra lately has been “The Royals are contenders for as long as they are in contention.” I still think that 76 wins is a likely target for this team, but until such a date when they no longer have a shot at winning the American League Central or the American League Wild Card, then I’m going to believe. There’s certainly a realistic part of my brain saying “this isn’t real”, but who cares? The Royals are winning and baseball is suddenly a whole lot more fun than it’s been in a long time. I’m riding this wave for as long as it lasts.

There is, however one major obstacle that seems bound and determined to ruin everything for Royals fans: the Cleveland Indians. The other team in the AL Central that nobody picked to be any good is doing its best to run away and hide with the division lead. It seems like the Royals haven’t been able to gain any ground on the Indians  and are just spinning their wheels. It seems that if the Royals win, then the Indians win and if the Royals lose, then the Indians lose. On the bright side, no ground is lost, but then again no ground is gained either. To illustrate the point, I’ve put together a small chart of how the two teams have fared since their last meeting.

It’s clearly not just something I’m imagining. The Royals and Indians have matched each other game for game since they last met on April 28th. The Royals have remained exactly 4.5 games out of first place every day since then. The whole idea of caring what another team in the division is doing is kind of foreign to me as a Royals fan, and it gives me just a little bit of concern that not everything is within the team’s control. However, it definitely adds a whole other dimension to watching baseball. As soon as the Royals game is complete, I’m immediately going to the Indians game to see where they stand.

It’s highly unlikely that these two teams continue matching each other, so eventually something has to change. Neither team has an easy road between now and next Monday when they play each other again though the Royals schedule looks to be the tougher of the two. The Indians play the Tampa Bay Rays and the Seattle Mariners at home, while the Royals go on the road to face the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.

The next six games just might illuminate the American League Central division race and give some clarity to whether the Royals and Indians are for real or just playing over their heads. It’s not make-or-break yet, but for the Royals, keeping pace is going to be important. If the recent past is any indicator, they will do just that.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Recently, I’ve been reviewing the 2010 Royals offense position by position.  You can go back and read the individual position articles for catcher (including a series preview), first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field and designated hitter.  Each individual post looked at the players who played the position and how the entire unit hit compared to the rest of the American League.  It’s certainly instructive to see where the Royals rank within the entire league, but in reality they only have to compete with the teams in the American League Central in order to win a coveted spot in the playoffs. Below is a series of graphs and charts which will allow you to see more clearly how the Royals ranked compared to their peers and where exactly the offense needed the most help to compete within the division.

For this exercise, I’ll be using the statistic wOBA, which I gathered from Fangraphs.  You don’t really need to understand how the statistic is calculated, just know that a higher number represents better offense.

First, let’s look at a heat chart that shows every position in the American League Central and ranks them according to wOBA.  Red represents the best in that statistical category and green the worst, with the colors ranging in the middle.

As usual, middle infielders and catchers are towards the bottom and corner infielders and outfielders are towards the top.  What always surprises me when I do these exercises is how poor some teams utilize their designated hitter.  For a position that’s supposed to be nothing but offense, teams consistently have middle of the pack numbers at the position.  It seems kind of crazy, but I think that finding a better hitter at DH could really help some teams out.  For instance, the White Sox got more offensive production out of their shortstop and catcher than they did out of their DH, while the Tigers got more offense out of their second baseman.The Royals have a pretty standard looking distribution.  They got the worst production from catcher, shortstop and center field, while getting better production from first, third and designated hitter.

Now, I’ll separate it out position by position and provide where each team ranked in the American League at that position.  Again, these are sorted by wOBA.

The Royals were only last in the division at the position of catcher, probably one of the better spots to be last in, especially in a division with some good hitting catchers.  The tables are a nice reference, but I think putting them into a radar graph is really the best way to visualize the information.  In the graph below, each line represents a team in the AL Central, for example the blue line is the Royals.  Along the outside of the graph are each offensive position, for example catcher is at the top. Each of the different levels represents a rank in the American League in wOBA at that position, with the outside being 1st place and the inside being 14th place.  So staying with catcher you’ll see that the Twins had the 2nd best catcher by wOBA, then a few slots below is the White Sox, then the Indians, then the Tigers and finally the Royals.  It takes a minute to really let the information jump out at you, but if you just kind of relax your eyes it comes to you.

You can see that the Royals posted the best offensive numbers at third base in 2010, but they were a tad above average across the American League.  It’s also interesting to see where teams are stacked and where they need help.  Just think how bad things could have been for the Indians without Shin-Soo Choo playing right field.  The outfield was clearly a concern for the Royals last year, and it’s obvious why Dayton Moore decided he needed some help out there.  It can bring into focus why some other teams made offseason moves.  Whether the Tigers utilize Victor Martinez at catcher, designated hitter or both, he’ll be a mighty offensive upgrade.

The Royals still have a long way to go to become an offensive powerhouse in the American league, but 2010 was a mild improvement over 2009.  The offense is shaping up in 2011 to be an improvement on 2010 as well.  The pitching, well that’s another story.  I like taking stock in the offseason to see where the team and organization sit within the Division.  Things seem to be moving in the right direction, although at a seemingly snail-like pace.  Lots of new faces will be taking the field next season, including some highly touted Minor League talent.  I’m very interested in seeing how these charts look next offseason.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Royals podcasts and is proud to be a writer here at The Royals Authority.  You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on facebook.

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catcher (including a series preview),  first base, second base and third base.

First, let’s take a look at some of the players who played shortstop and how they hit while they played the position.

Willie Bloomquist got one game at short and Mike Aviles got thirteen, but the real story of the position is Yuniesky Betancourt.  Betancourt played the position day after day and he was never put in any other spot.  The numbers that we’ll see below come almost exclusively from Yuniesky, so he’s the one guys stats above.  The case of Betancourt is extremely interesting.  His existence on the team is representative of so many different things depending on who you ask.  Some people will tell you that he represents the absolute failure of Dayton Moore at the Major League level.  Others believe he is representative of the absolute trainwreck that the shortstop position has been for the Royals.  Still others will tell you he’s one of the best players on the team and and they’ll be countered with arguments that are nearly the polar opposite.  Those discussions will rage on as long as he’s on the team, and they’ve been analyzed at this site as well.  So, let’s just try and look at the numbers without the bias of our feelings towards the Yunigma.

One thing you can say is that Betancourt was durable.  He played 151 games at a position which gets a lot of work during a season.  Sometimes I forget about the durability issue with players, and I think that as a whole we underrate it.  The ability to stay healthy, whether it’s luck, conditioning or some combination could be in my mind the 6th tool for a baseball player.  Beyond durability, Yuniesky showed decent homerun totals for a shortstop by mashing 16 bombs.  He still doesn’t get on base at a rate which is respectable, and the combination of a burst of power and his lack of getting on base translated into an average offensive shortstop.    Lets see how the Royals shorstops compared to the rest of the league.

Clearly, with 151 of 162 games Yuniesky’s numbers mirror those of the entire Royals shortstop corps.  The numbers rank right about in the middle, not spectacular but not terrible.    What’s odd are that the very stark differences in the Royals numbers with those surrounding them.  Yuniesky is an extreme hitter, which makes the extreme as well.    The Royals shortstops had the lowest strikeout rate in the AL (shocked me), and the second lowest walk rate (didn’t shock me).  That clearly translated into a low OBP (11th) and an ok batting average (8th), but the one skill which propelled the Royals to the middle of the pack was the SLG (4th).

I’d imagine even the most die-hard Yuni supporter will admit that the power he showed in 2010 was likely an aberration, and therefore unsustainable.  The Royals are on the hook for $1.62m to Yuniesky in 2011, so it’s an almost certainty that barring injury he gets nearly the same number of games in 2011 that he got in 2010.  Mike Aviles’ arm has likely fully healed from his Tommy John surgery and could pick up some more time at SS as the Royals attempt to work out the third base and second base situations.  Christian Colon was drafted in the first round in 2010 and had a solid debut in his first professional season.  He’s unlikely to be ready to play in 2011, but he could be in the mix for 2012.

I admit, there is something nice about a regular contributor at shortstop who can hit for some power and who can play every day.  I don’t believe that Yuniesky is anything more than a stop-gap and what happens in the post-Yunigma era will be a very important decision for Dayton Moore.

This is the second post in a series of articles looking at the 2010 Kansas City Royals position by position.  In the first post, on catchers, I had an introduction which you can read here.

Below is the list of guys who had more than 20 plate appearances for the Royals while playing first base. Willie Bloomquist, Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier combined for 7 plate appearances.  I left them off this chart, but their numbers are included in the combined position table below.

Click to Enlarge

Not a gigantic surprise here.  Billy Butler got the bulk of the duties with Kila Ka’aihue coming in second.  I really liked how much time they gave Kila at first base after his call up.  I think that we already know what Butler has defensively, and it gives him the opportunity to spend some time learning the role of designated hitter.  For Kila, it was a chance to see what he could do as an every day player in the Big Leagues.  I don’t believe that 34 games is enough of a sample size to really tell what he can do and I expect him to be a regular in 2011. I heard some worries about whether or not Ned Yost would stick with Kila even if he struggled, but those questions were answered.  I think his willingness to understand sample size and to give guys an extended look are some of the best attributes of the Royals Manager.

As for Billy Butler, well I think he might be one of the most underrated players in the American League.  More than that I believe he is the most underrated player amongst Royals fans.  Usually a guy will get respect locally but not as much run nationally as he should (see Shin Soo-Choo), however Butler gets a lot of grief from the local fan base.  I don’t know exactly what to ascribe that to.  Maybe it’s that he plays at best average defense, or that he hasn’t hit for as much power as some people had projected, he certainly got a lot of heat for hitting into a ton of double plays.  But what he does well, he does extremely well.  Which brings me to the heat chart.

Red = highest in category, Green = lowest

As a group the Royals first basemen were 5th best in the American League offensively.  A couple of things jump out at me from this chart.  First, the AL Central has some really good first basemen.  Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau and Paul Konerko are certainly no slouches.  Maybe that is why Butler gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, his peers in the division are world-class.  Using the heat chart, the strikeout rate for Royals first basemen really jumps out.  It’s the lowest in the American League.  Royals first basemen struck out 90 times all season, the next team on the list, the Detroit Tigers struck out 112, or 24% more often.

Billy Butler is just getting to arbitration and Kila Ka’aihue should get another long look at first base next year.  With the results put up in 2010, there doesn’t seem to be any need to improve the position offensively.  Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson are the guys knocking on the door from the minors, but I’d figure the earliest either make it to Kansas City barring injury is September 2011.  The production at first could drop in 2011 if Butler gets more time at designated hitter and Kila plays more at first.  It’s my preferred setup because Kila is the more polished defender.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Introduction

The 2010 Kansas City Royals season was one that we would all likely want to forget.  It was another in a long string of losing seasons and there were pretty much no young prospects to see at the Major League Level.  Still, I think that it’s instructive to look back at the season and see exactly what worked and what didn’t.  I did this same exercise last off-season and I learned a lot during the process.  So here is quick primer on how I do this and what the statistics mean.  Each week, I’ll post an article looking at a single position almost exclusively through the offensive lens.  Quantifying defense is still pretty difficult, and even though there are great strides being made, how exactly to weight that compared to the offensive side of the ball is even more difficult.  So with that, I’ll almost completely ignore the defensive contributions at each position, so it’d be more accurate to say that the analysis more a position-by-position offensive breakdown.

When I look at each position, I’ll do it individually and then combine the players into a single unit.  So primarily I’ll be looking at the offensive output of the Royals at a position.  The point is to see what spots on the field the Royals need to improve offense and where they can stand pat.  I would think that Dayton Moore is doing something similar and then comparing this information to the available free agents and the in house prospects.  It’s useful to look at it position by position because obviously the offensive output of a first basemen is different and not comparable to that of a shortstop.

I will be using some so-called “advanced statistics”, however in reality they are pretty simple so if you aren’t well versed or even very interested in advanced statistics, don’t let them scare you off.  Most of the numbers should be recognizable by any baseball fan, batting average, on-base percentage, hits, home runs etc.  However there will be two stats that I’ll lean on heavily that might be new to you. If you want an explanation of the stats, then keep reading but if not, all you need to really know is that I’ll be using wOBA and sOPS+ and the higher the number, the better the hitter is.

Stats Introduction (feel free to skip this part)

Quite simply, wOBA is an attempt to tell you how often a player gets on base and how far he got himself around those bases.  Many of you are probably familiar with OPS, well wOBA is like OPS but better.  If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, you can find one here or here.  The other statistic I’ll be using is sOPS+.    I know, it just looks confusing, but again it’s pretty simple.  In the most simple terms, sOPS+ just takes  OPS (on-base plus slugging) and then compares it to the rest of the OPS in the league and then normalizes them.  Yeah, I guess that wasn’t so simple, but the bottom line is that an OPS+ of 100 is essentially league average and every digit above or below is roughly a percent better or worse.  So a 120 ops+ is roughly 20% better than league average and 80% is roughly 20% worse.  The little s on the front means that instead of comparing it to the league, we’re comparing it to the split, in this case the positional split.  So in the first article, I’ll talk about the catchers and I’ll give their sOPS+.  That ONLY compares numbers when players were catching.  So a 100 would be a league average batter when he is catching.  I really thought I could make this simple, I guess I probably failed.  In the end, you don’t really need to understand the stats to get the gist of the articles, if you pick up one thing, its that the higher an sOPS+ or wOBA the better the hitter is.

The Catchers

To begin, let’s take a look at the players who caught this year for the Royals and how they hit when they were catching.

Click to Enlarge

Jason Kendal obviously got the lion’s share of innings at catcher, but his season-ending injury close near the end of the year gave Brayan Pena and Lucas May a chance to get some work in.  Jason Kendall actually got on-base at a clip higher than that of Pena, but Pena’s value really comes from his extra-base hits.  He had 10 doubles and 1 homerun compared to 18 doubles for Kendall in 330 more plate appearances.  Pena had an average wOBA and was pretty much a league average catcher at the plate in the games he played in.

How did the unit perform as a group compared to the rest of the AL?

Red = Highest in the category, Green = Lowest. Click to Enlarge

The Royals catchers as an offensive group were pretty poor in 2010.  They weren’t the worst in the American League, and in fact weren’t the worst in the AL Central.  The one thing that really held them back was their inability to hit for any power, only the Mariners had a worse slugging catching group.  The significant amount of playing time given to Jason Kendall drug down the offense, however the contributions from Brayan Pena single-handedly lifted the Royals catchers above the Tigers.

Last year, the Royals catching core of John Buck and Miguel Olivo was the second-best hitting group in the American League behind the Twins and Joe Mauer.  In fact, they hit eight more home runs than the Twins did from the position.  That’s was why it was baffling, from an offensive perspective that the Royals acquired Jason Kendall rather than keeping one or both of their catchers from 2009.  Predictably, the offense from the position suffered, and I’d find it pretty hard to believe that whatever defensive or clubhouse benefit Jason Kendall brought to the team, it was enough to overcome a fall of nine spots on the above chart.

The Royals need to be at least close to average at each position and then well-above average at a few positions in order to score enough runs to be a contending team.  They seem reluctant to believe that Brayan Pena can be the answer at catcher, but unless there is a major off-season move, he will get a shot to convince the Royals otherwise.  Based on his career numbers, I’d imagine that Pena could move the Royals catching unit up into the middle of the pack offensively, but his suspect defense may be his eventual downfall.  If I were the General Manager, I’d probably stand pat with Pena and May, hoping that one of them steps up to become a solid everyday catcher.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

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