Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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Billy Butler went three for five last night with two doubles and two runs batted in.   By the end of the evening, his slugging percentage was higher than it has been since May 5th:  continuing a rise from an unsatisfactory .406 on July 15th to its current mark of .465. 

Currently, Butler’s on-base percentage of .370 is second only to Alex Gordon.  His slugging is basically in a tie for second with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur, again trailing only Alex Gordon (not sure if you noticed, but Alex Gordon is really, really good this year).   Billy leads the team in walks, is one of four regulars with more than 30 doubles and is in the heated race to be the team’s home run leader.   Admittedly, leading the Royals in home runs is right there with being the tallest midget, but it still counts.

When it comes to the corpulent Mr. Butler, he has a three year run that looks like this:

  • 2009:  .301/.362/.492 with 51 doubles, 21 home runs and an OPS+ of 125
  • 2010: .318/.388/.469 with 45 doubles, 15 home runs and an OPS+ of 134, cutting his strikeouts by 25 from 2009 and increasing his walks by 11 in virtually an identical number of plate appearances
  • 2011: .295/.370/.465 with 32 doubles, 16 home runs and an OPS+ of 132

If Butler continues to hit as he has over the past six weeks, he will end up with somewhere around 42 doubles and 21 home runs by season’s end.   Along the way this year, Billy has grounded into just 12 double plays after apparently bringing us all to the bring of Armegeddon in 2010 by grounding into a league leading 32.

We all know that Butler is a poor fielder, but luckily the Royals play in a league that allows you to bat a guy who doesn’t have to play in the field – not even once!   So yes, Butler’s overall value to the Royals is not as great as that of Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur given that he brings nothing to the statistical arena when it comes to fielding, but every team in the AL plays with a designated hitter.   Ten of those teams basically have full-time designated hitters and among those ten, Billy ranks:

  • 2nd in home runs
  • 2nd in doubles
  • 3rd in RBI (just for Ryan and Frank)
  • 4th in batting average
  • 3rd in on-base percentage
  • 3rd in slugging percentage

Analyzing the DH position as a whole (each team’s cumulative totals for whomever has appeared there – for the Royals that is Butler in all but five games), the Royals rank:

  • 3rd in batting average
  • 2nd in on-base percentage
  • 3rd in slugging
  • 2nd in OPS+

So, what will it take for Billy Butler to be loved by Royals’ fans?

Yes, Billy is ridiculously slow – one of his doubles last night would have been a triple for at least 80% of the league – and it doesn’t seem as though Butler runs as hard as he used to.   Probably, at some point, Billy realized that no matter how hard he runs, he is still slow:  he is never going to beat out an infield single or stretch a double into a triple.   Billy is not ‘Jose Guillen it’ out there, but he may not be busting it down the line as he did in 2009.   I don’t know that there was even an instance this season where I thought if Billy was running harder that he would have been safe.   Butler is slow, no debate there, but I don’t see it as the devastating liability that some do.

Yes, Billy has seemed grumpy this season.   He doesn’t like being a full-time DH and whines about it on occasion when he probably should just keep quiet.   Guys grumble all the time, however.  My guess is there are three people in any of your offices or classes right now bitching about something – that’s life.   Considering that a sector of this fanbase thought David DeJesus ‘smiled too much’, they ought to tolerate a bit of a grump.

Billy Butler is slow and a little grumpy and HAS AN OPS+ OF 132:  maybe we can cut Billy a little slack.  Sure, we would love to have a designated hitter who has an OBP of .370 or better and hits 40 home runs, but then every team in the American League that does not have David Ortiz can say the same thing.   I am not sure that the prototypcial DH type exists these days (Jim Thome is a part time player, Adam Dunn can’t hit anymore and Travis Hafner is hurt) and if that is the case, then Billy Butler is easily one of the top three designated hitters currently in the league.  

If that truly is the case, then again, what will it take for Billy Butler to be loved?

You could see this coming a couple of weeks ago… When Mike Moustakas began making “loud” outs. He was hitting the ball with authority, but hitting them right at fielders. In the last week, those “loud” outs have (finally) turned into base hits. With another multi-hit game Tuesday night, Moose is batting above .500 with an on base percentage north of .600 over his last six games. That’s raised his cumulative line from .182/.237/.227 to .212/.270/.267.

It’s only a good week, but it’s a positive sign from a player who’s been struggling mightily over the last couple of months. Looking at the Pitchf/x data applied to hitters, we can see how Moose has transformed his approach at the plate over the last week. Take this with a grain of salt because we’re dealing with obviously small sample sizes.

First let’s look at the pitches Moose offered at from his debut to just before he started mashing the ball.

There are a couple of soft spots here that (most) pitchers are able to exploit. First, is the high cheese – the fastball up around the letters. According to FanGraphs, Moustakas has a -1.4 wFB/c (that’s fastball runs above average per 100 fastballs) meaning he is a currently below average fastball hitter. (This isn’t a predictive stat, it’s just a way of looking at a hitter and finding out which pitches he has the most difficulty with throughout the course of the season.) No doubt because he’s chasing that fastball up and out of the zone.

Second, note the number of low change-ups the Moustakas swings at in the course of a plate appearance. Also, while we have our eyes below the knees, notice the slider that is down and in that Moose has a difficult time avoiding. He owns a -2.78 wCH/c and -4.86 wSL/c, making those his two worst pitch types when it comes to finding success. From the chart, it’s not difficult to see why he’s having trouble with those pitches. He’s swinging and missing at 17% of all sliders he sees and only puts 12% of all change ups in play.

Basically, over his first two months in the big leagues, there’s been more than one way to kill a Moose, but this is how you get him out… Start him with a high fastball and finish him with a low off speed pitch. We all know that’s been an effective approach.

Now, onto our really small sample size… Here are the pitches Moustakas has swung at since he’s gone on his mini hot streak.

He’s laying off the high cheddar and isn’t offering at the low off speed pitches like he did over the first couple of months. Again, this is an extremely small sample size, but this is how hot streaks are conceived. Moose has shortened his strike zone, has become more disciplined and is refusing to chase pitches that had previously been his Kryptonite. Overall, he’s swinging at over 36% of all pitches he sees out of the zone, compared to the league average of 30%. I don’t know how he’s done in the last week, percentage wise, but we can see from the chart, it appears he’s offering at out of the zone pitches less frequently than the league average.

Again, take this for what it is: The smallest of small sample sizes. We’re dealing with a week’s worth of data here… Always dangerous when drawing conclusions.

This ignores what has become an alarming lack of power. Moustakas has a Getzian 10 extra base hits in 239 plate appearances. Maybe he’s turning the corner here… Three of them have come in the last week. Still, he hasn’t gone yard since his home run against Joel Piniero in his sixth career plate appearance. That was over 57 games ago.

However, this follows the Moustakas M.O. in that he starts slowly at each level, adjusts, then begins to rake. That’s why the Royals have largely left him alone since he was recalled in June. September will be a crucial month in his development as a major league hitter. He needs to turn this mini hot streak into something that continues to the end of the season to give everyone – himself, the organization and fans – the belief that he can be a major league hitter. It’s possible we’re witnessing the turning point of his early career. Mark this post down and revisit it at the end of the season. We’ll see if his new approach holds over the course of the season’s final six weeks.

Johnny G

Gia is running to KC. (Minda Haas/flickr)

I asked on Wednesday and it took less than 48 hours for the Royals to respond. According to Bob Dutton on Twitter, the Royals are calling up 2B Johnny Giavotella from Triple-A.

It’s the best kind of call-up because it’s one that’s absolutely deserved. Gia is hitting .339/.391/.481 in just under 450 at bats for the Storm Chasers.

The Royals had a spot open on the 40-man roster, so they don’t have to expose anyone to waivers, but they will obviously have to shed someone from the 25-man. And the Royals, as usual, are playing coy in announcing who gets shipped north on I-29. In my mind, there are three candidates.

First, would be Everett Teaford. He was called up to replace Kyle Davies, but the Royals dumped the six-man rotation and are now carrying 13 pitchers – eight in the pen. I know the starters are abysmal (collectively speaking) but to carry an eight man bullpen is still a heavy dose of crazy. (Unless you’re in St. Louis with the mastermind Tony LaRussa at the helm. He knows how to run a bullpen. Plus, he needs all those arms when he goes headhunting.) Many of us thought that Johnny G would get the call ahead of Teaford earlier in the week. After watching Teaford struggle on Tuesday, maybe the Royals have decided to make a change.

Second, would be Chris Getz. When you bring up Gia, he has to play every day. Has to. You don’t call up a youngster who was torching Triple-A pitchers just to ride the pine in the bigs. (If the Royals do something like this… I don’t even want to think about it.) So if Gia is playing second everyday, Getz immediately becomes surplus. The Royals picked up a younger, versatile player with more upside in Yamacio Navarro, so he’s the guy who you keep. Navarro can play three infield positions (plus the outfield, although that’s a stretch.) Getz is a second baseman (one with limited range) who can’t possibly back up short or third. He only has one position. It’s taken just two games for Navarro to show he’s hugely better at the plate than Getz. I haven’t a clue how Navarro would do at 2B, but since it looks like Getz often is wearing Alberto Callaspo’s cement shoes, I have to think he can’t possibly be worse. Getz has an option and can be sent down without being exposed to waivers.

Third, would be Mike Moustakas. We all know Moose has been miserable at the plate the last month or so. If he got sent back to Triple-A to build confidence, it would be difficult to argue against that move. However, the Royals stated that Moose was taking a couple of days off to work with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and would assume his role at third. Just a working vacation to clear his head and smooth out his approach at the plate. I like this approach and hope the Royals hold the course here. Moose has nothing left to prove in Omaha and has been a slow starter at every level. Keep him in KC where he can work with the hitting savant Seitzer and give him time to get right. Honestly, it seems to go against the direction of this organization to send Moose down. The new M.O. is to call up the prospects and keep them up, struggles be damned.

As I write this early Friday morning, I think Teaford gets the axe. But I hope it’s Getz.

The good news is Giavotalla is here. Finally. Think about this… A Hosmer-Gio-Escobar-Moose infield.

The future really is now.

EDIT: Bob Dutton is reporting that it looks like Navarro is being shipped out. Robert Ford from the Royals radio post game thinks it’s to give him regular time as the Royals think he can be an everyday second baseman.

Gut reaction: This makes no sense. But it is the Royals.

The All-Star Break means it’s time to hand out the annual Royals Authority first half report cards.

There are no exams or assignments… Grading is subjective and based on a soft curve. Players are listed in a positional order from Baseball Reference with their slash stats and Fangraphs WAR.

Matt Treanor
.220/.354/.308
0.9 WAR

Key Stat: Treanor leads the team with a 15% walk rate.

Coach T has been everything the Royals could have hoped when they acquired him from Texas prior to the start of the season. He calls a good game, throws out runners (he’s thrown out 29% of would be base stealers) and is currently third on the team in OBP. Remember, the Royals picked up Coach T only when they came to the realization that Jason Kendall isn’t the most awesomest catcher in the whole wide baseball world, and would have to miss the start of the season. Now that Kendall is down for the year, Coach T will, at the age of 35, post a career high for plate appearances sometime next month.

Grade: B+

Eric Hosmer
.268/.317/.431
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: He’s hitting a home run once every 29.9 at bats, second best rate on the team.

How do you give a grade to a player like this when expectations where so sky-high. Hosmer has yet to live up to the hype, but that’s OK, because he’s going to have a long career ahead of him.

If there’s one thing about Hosmer that’s bothered me in the early stages of his career, it’s his defense. I’ve seen him do some strange things in the field. Take Saturday’s game, when he ole’d a ground ball that really should have been fielded. Sure it was a hard hit ball, but it went right between his body and his glove. The kind of play the Royals minor league defensive player of the year should be making. While I’m on the negative, let’s add the dude needs to lay off the high strike a little more frequently.

Still, he’s 21 years old and holding his own in the big leagues. There’s something to be said for that. This grade is a reflection there is still plenty of work to be done.

Grade: B-

Chris Getz
.259/.320/.291
0.8 WAR

Key stat: He’s scored a run 43% of the time he’s reached base, tops among regulars.

Sigh… Every team has a Chris Getz. He doesn’t do anything notable, except he Plays The Game The Right Way. So managers and front office guys love him. He’s not that good, yet he’s somehow overrated. How exactly does this work?

Don’t pay a word to the Royals when they talk about his defense. Fact is, he’s average to below average with the glove. He has a slow first step and has difficulty moving to his right. His ability to turn the double play is below average as well… He’s converted just 47% of all double play chances this year.

Offensively, Yost has thrown him into the leadoff spot, where he’s horribly miscast. As the leadoff hitter, Getz is managing a line of .183/.266/.220. True, this team doesn’t have a guy who fits the traditional mold of a leadoff man, but we have enough evidence to know that it isn’t Getz. But he has 17 steals, so I suppose we have that going for us.

Aviles would provide more value over an entire 162 game season.

Grade: C-

Alcides Escobar
.250/.290/.328
1.4 WAR

Key stat: Hitting .343/.393/.509 since June 7.

Sometime early in the season, I sent out a Tweet proclaiming Escobar The Shortstop Jesus. I figured it was fitting because he was saving all those runs. (Get it?) (And yes, I realize I’ve ripped off Bill Simmons who refers to Larry Bird as The Basketball Jesus. I’m a polytheist.) His defense has been mouthwatering for much of the 2011 season. It’s been so good, I can’t even remember the name of that stiff who used concrete on his hands and feet at shortstop the last couple of seasons.

Now, about the bat… As cold as Escobar was early in the season, (he was hitting .203/.237/.241 on June 6) he’s been scorching hot ever since. It’s a remarkable turnaround. If he can push his OBP another 30 points higher, we’ll really have something. That might be asking a bit much. Last year in Milwaukee, he hovered around the .300 mark until a September swoon dropped him to his final resting place of .288. But after digging that deep hole early in the season, to get back to a .300 OBP would be a heck of an accomplishment.

I still think it’s hilarious Zack Greinke forced his way out of Kansas City and ended up with the Yunigma as his shortstop as those of us actually loyal to the Royals now have a defensive human highlight reel at short. That gets him a couple points right there…

Grade: B-

Wilson Betemit
.285/.345/.415
0.5 WAR

Key Stat: Hitting .301/.360/.466 vs RHP and .241/.305/.278 against LHP.

Are the Royals a better team with Betemit in the lineup? Right now… Probably. But that’s exactly the kind of short-sighted mess that’s plagued this franchise for 25 years. Once the Royals decided it was time for Mike Moustakas, Betemit had to grab some pine.

Of course, this torpedoed any trade value Betemit may have had, but that value was going to be limited for the key stat listed above. He’s probably best suited as a platoon guy or left-handed bat off the bench. (I know he’s a switch hitter… But if I was a manager, I’d never use him against left handed pitching unless absolutely necessary.)

For some reason, his power is way down this year. He has a 4.3% HR/FB rate compared to last year’s 12.1% HR/FB. As a result, he’s homered once every 66 at bats this year. Last summer, he parked one once every 21 at bats.

Grade: C

Alex Gordon
.299/.367/.483
3.4 WAR

Key Stat: As long as he stays healthy, he will post career highs in every offensive category you can imagine.

He’s dominating… And I love it. Should have been an All-Star, but he can take solace in his grade…

Grade: A

Melky Cabrera
.293/.332/.455
3.0 WAR

Key Stat: Cabrera is walking in just 5.4% of all plate appearances.

The Melk-Man is having the kind of season GMDM dreamed about when he signed him. Just a year ago, he finished at .255.317/.354 and a -1.0 WAR and was cut loose by the Braves. The Royals took a chance that he would be motivated and would rebound, and he certainly has.

The downside of this is he is blocking Lorenzo Cain in Omaha who is hitting .313/.379/.529 for the Storm Chasers. And, Cabrera is a third year arbitration eligible, meaning if he plays a full season in KC, the Royals retain his rights for 2012. Fans may be looking at Cabrera as trade bait, but I’m not so certain the Royals will be offered what they consider “fair value.”

The Royals face an interesting decision on the Melk-Man.

Grade: A-

Jeff Francoeur
.265/.308/.443
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: 37% of all his base hits have gone for extra bases.

The Frenchman has done what we all expected and reverted to his career norm following a hot start where it seemed like he was in the middle of every late game rally for the Royals. Check the numbers… In his career, Francoeur is a .268/.310/.427 hitter. There will probably be a couple of warm streaks from here to the end of the year and a couple of cool stretches as well. He is who he is.

Obviously, he’s playing great defense in right. I have no idea why other teams think it’s a good idea to run on the Royals outfield.

Overall, he’s been a decent enough player for the Royals. His WAR is the 3rd best on the team and for you stolen base perverts, he’s already swiped a career-best 15 bases.

There’s a mutual option for 2012, and the early smart money is that if The Frenchman isn’t dealt, that option will be exercised by both parties. We’ll see…

Grade: B-

Billy Butler
.294/.390/.415
1.1 WAR

Key Stat: Butler’s .352 wOBA is the second best on the team.

Butler is having another Billy Butler season. In other words, he’s doing a damn fine job with the bat.

One thing that’s hampering Butler this season is the fact he’s batting more ground balls. For his career, he has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio, but this year he’s at 1.66 GB/FB. That’s effected his power numbers, as his ISO has cratered to .121. It also hasn’t helped that opposing pitchers are pitching around Butler. His 10 intentional walks are tops on the team. After hitting in the 3rd spot for most of last year, he’s been in the cleanup or fifth spot with no protection behind him in the lineup.

The average DH makes $9 million this year. Butler is earning $3 million. His production is pretty much in the middle of the pack among the nine regular DHs. While the power isn’t there, he’s ripping a line drive 24% of the time he puts a ball in play. Sure, a few more home runs would be nice, but the guy is having another solid season with the bat.

He’s still not a power hitter and probably will never hit for the power fans crave. Get over it. He’s good.

Grade: A-

Jarrod Dyson
.172/.294/.172
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Running 43% of the time there is an open base ahead of him.

Dyson is an electric player, but so was Joey Gathright. They’re the same guy. Except, as far as I know, Dyson hasn’t jumped over a car.

He doesn’t belong on this team. He doesn’t belong on any major league team, although you could make the case to have him on a roster if he could pinch run for a hacking designated hitter type… A guy like Mike Jacobs. Where if you inserted Dyson in a tie game and that spot came up in the lineup with the game on the line in extras, you wouldn’t be kicking yourself for taking out a good hitter and letting weak sauce swing the stick.

And he really doesn’t belong on a team with fourth place aspirations.

Grade as a hitter: F
Grade as a runner: A

Kila Ka’aihue
.195/.295/.317
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Brought home only four base runners out of a total of 72. That’s a 6% conversion rate. That’s awful.

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

Mitch Maier
.294/.410/.412
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

It was clear from the start that Maier would have a difficult time cracking the lineup… Especially after Melky and The Frenchman were promised playing time prior to inking their respective contracts. Not that Maier would be an upgrade, but given the fact he’s rarely moved his butt off the bench, he’s done quite well.

Grade: B

Mike Aviles
.213/.257/.391
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Aviles’ has a .178 ISO, which for a full season, would be the highest rate of his career.

In a little over two months, Aviles had three streaks: Sadly, only one of those could have been classified as “hot.” That landed him back in Omaha once the Royals decided to launch the Moose era in Kansas City. I’m convinced he’ll be back at some point, but it will most likely take a trade to Betemit to have this happen.

As it is, he’s the ultimate Replacement Player for 2011.

Grade: D-

Mike Moustakas
.228/.294/.283
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Moose has brought home just three of 72 base runners.

Moose has struggled since he was called up from Omaha. I don’t think there was anyone surprised by this development. He doesn’t have the natural ability that pushed Hosmer to the head of the Royals prospect class, but he’ll be fine once he sorts things out at this level.

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

We’re beyond the half-way point in the Major League Baseball season, but the All-Star break is a great time to take a breather and see where the Royals stand. What I’ve done is take a look at the Royals wOBA position-by-position and compared it to their American League Central opponents and the rest of the AL. I’m using wOBA because it’s a simple and powerful offensive measuring tool. If you’d like to take a look at the nuts and bolts of the metric you can check out FanGraphs, but all you really need to know is that a higher number is a better number.

It’s valuable to measure the Royals against the AL Central because in reality that is their only competition. To be in the playoffs, the Royals don’t have to be better than the Yankees, Red Sox or Rangers, they just have to be better than the Twins, White Sox, Tigers and Indians.

The first chart is a list of every American League Central team’s position and it’s sorted by wOBA. So as you can see below the Tigers first-basemen (no surprise) is the most productive offensive position in the division. The colors in the chart sort each column from best (red) to worst (green) so you can get an idea of where some of the outliers are. The numbers are the total of all plate appearances for that position.

 

Some of the interesting things that stick out at me with this chart are the fact that no team is immune from having a low ranking offensive position. The Tigers have a 2b and 3b that are performing worse offensively than Alcides Escobar. Somewhere along the way there is this crazy idea that all playoff contenders have top-level talent at all 9 positions, which just isn’t the case.

Now, let’s break it up into individual positions. Again the numbers are sorted by wOBA and this time I’ve added the rank of the team in the American League at that position. So in the below chart, the Royals are 4th in the AL Central and 8th in the AL in regards to catcher wOBA.

 

The AL Central is pretty stacked in terms of offensive catchers. The combination of Matt Treanor and Brayan Pena is roughly an average offensive unit. Yep, that kind of shocked me too. Also, Alex Avila is really good.

First base is also a position of strength in the division. While the Royals are near the bottom offensively they’re still weighed down by the terrible start that Kila Ka’aihue had. Eric Hosmer is posting a .323 wOBa and would put the Royals as an average team in the AL. Not to bad for a very good defensive shortstop who is barely able to legally buy a beer.

So Chris Getz might not actually be as big of a problem as we all think. He’s received the lion’s share of playing time at second and the team is sitting at roughly league average offensively for the position. I agree with Craig that he probably isn’t as good with the glove as he’s touted, but he’s actually a fine player at the position compared to his peers in 2011. I do believe that teams aren’t getting enough offense out of this position in general though.

Third base isn’t exactly a position that fans will want to keep their eye on in this division. There just isn’t much offensive talent in the American League central there. It surprised the hell out of me that the Royals are getting the most production of of the position within the division. Playing Mike Moustkas right now over Wilson Betemit is dragging the number down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right move.

The Indians are getting a whole lot of production out of their shortstop and it’s a big reason they’re an ok offensive team. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Alcides Escobar rounds out the bottom of the division, but it’s encouraging that there are teams struggling even more than the Royals. Defense is not included in this breakdown at all, but if it did, I think we’d find that Escobar is at worst an average shortstop.

Alex Gordon is dominating.

This is very illustrative of why Melky Cabrera is a valuable trade chip. He’s one of the top 5 offensive center fielders in the American League. He’s no great defender, but his game will play on a number of contending team. His contributions at the plate are also a big reason the Royals offense is league average right now.

I bet you thought that this position would rank higher. Jeff Francouer had a hot start to the season, but he has cooled off significantly. That’s not to say he hasn’t provided some value. He’s solid defensively and holds his own offensively. For a team struggling to get to 82 wins, they could use a lot more league average players on their roster than they’ve had in the past.

Now here comes Billy Butler. The guy that so many believe isn’t good enough to be a DH, yet he’s one of the top 5 in the American League. Someone on Twitter told me that he was no Edgar Martinez. After looking at the numbers, I completely agree. This is Billy Butler’s age 25 season and he’s played in 622 games with an OPS+ of 119. Edgar Martinez played in 27 games through his age 25 season and if you add in the 65 games he played when he was 26 his OPS+ was 93.

 

Finally, I like to put together this radar graph because it looks cool. You’ll see the positions around the circle and then a color coded line representing each team. If the line is on the outside of the graph that means the team had the highest wOBA in the league at that position and then lower for each rung going to the middle. It’s just a way for me to have all the information in one picture so you can see where teams are in terms of each other.

 


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.

Generally, I care almost not at all about who gets picked to play in the All-Star Game and that includes whomever gets the required nod from the Royals.   Over the past couple of years, it was fun to have Joakim Soria on the team as he both deserved it and had the possibility of playing a prominent part in the game’s outcome.

In the end, however, who goes and who doesn’t really is not of great interest to me.   To be honest, I have not watched an All-Star Game start to finish in at least five years if not longer.   Perhaps, if all goes well in a couple of years and the roster contains three or four Royals instead of the mandatory one, my interest in the mid-summer classic will come back.

The Royals’ All-Star selection this year (and there will only be one) is kind of interesting in that the team has a player who probably could make a case to be selected even if the league didn’t require every team to have a representative and that player is one who many were ready to give up on before the season began.   Of course, I am talking about Alex Gordon.

Let’s check out Gordon’s resume to date:

  • 11th in the American League with a WAR of 2.8 (Fangraphs)
  • 19th in batting average, 16th in on-base percentage and 20th in slugging
  • 6th in total hits
  • 18th in runs scored
  • 3rd in doubles
  • 6th in triples
  • 1st in outfield assists and zero errors
  • 9 home runs and 5 steals, just as a bonus

Certainly, those are not MVP numbers, but they reflect an all-around good season.   Are there three outfielders in the American League having clearly better seasons than Alex Gordon?  Yes.   Are there six?  Maybe not.

As Royals’ fans, we may have expected too much out of Gordon when he came up;  so much so, that now that he is posting a .293/.362/.482 line with 36 extra base hits that we still have a tendency to say ‘well, that’s okay, I guess’.    I have done it myself, but it might be wise to remember that Carlos Beltran’s career line as a Kansas City Royal was .287/.352/.483.

Now, Alex Gordon is no Carlos Beltran, but he is a heck of a lot closer to being that kind of player now than he was just three months ago.    By the end of his run in KC, Beltran had added power and was routinely slugging over .500, but that would seem to be something Gordon might be capable of as well.

Nope, Gordon is not Beltran, but he should be an All-Star.

 You can also check out my ramblings on going to a six man rotation over at Sports Radio WHB where we provide exclusive Royals Authority content each week.

When Thomas Gray wrote “where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” in his poem Ode On A Distant Prospect of Eton College, he was ruminating on how blissful his years were prior to becoming wise. In my life as a Royals fan, I’ve been blissfully ignorant of the true joy of watching an elite defensive shortstop. I wasn’t completely ignorant, I knew that Angel Berroa, Tony Pena Jr. and Yuniesky Betancourt weren’t great defenders, but I didn’t really know, not until I got to see Alcides Escobar. It may be folly to be wise, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun. Especially when for the moment, Alcides Escobar is the best player on the planet.

When we talk about players who were the best in the game, we’re talking about in a certain period of time. Maybe it’s a decade, a season or the dead-ball era. I know that it’s an absurdly short period of time in baseball terms, but for the past two weeks, the best player on the planet has been Alcides Escobar.

I have a statistical interest in baseball, so I’m fully aware of sample sizes. But the results are the results. Whether they come from luck or an anomaly only matters in the context of future prediction. It’d clearly be folly to predict Escobar will continue hitting this well, but that’s not the point. Exactly how well has Escobar hit in the past 14 days? His triple-slash line in super-duper sized font for emphasis:

.468/.500/.681

 

Those are absurd numbers, the kind that only exist in short time-frames. But still, this is Alcides Freaking Escobar we’re talking about. His slash line after the first game of this time period was .207/.241/.240. So after 60 games of being absolutely woeful at the plate, Escobar goes all bizzaro-Escobar and starts getting hits in about half of his at-bats. In fact, lets watch a video of one of those hits just to prove that it actually happened:

That video is illustrative, because Alcides Escobar hasn’t been just collecting singles–seven of his 22 hits over this span have been for extra-bases.

But even with all of that, it’s not enough by itself to make him the best player on the planet for the past two weeks. Prince Fielder and Paul Konerko have both hit 7 homeruns and Adrian Gonzalez has taken walks and hit for power. Those three players are the only ones in baseball with a higher wOBA than Alcides Escobar. However there are two things that they don’t do which he does: steal bases and play defense. The stolen base thing is minor and nearly negligible, but Escobar has 6 of them over this span and has been caught just once.

The defense is a whole other story. Again, lets role some tape:

and

and

and because I can’t get enough of these, one more:

This is far from an exhaustive display of amazing plays he’s put together.  I can (and someday will) go on at length on the breadth of spectacular plays he’s made. In going back to the previous three players who have hit as well or better than Escobar in the past two weeks, it’s not going out on a limb to say that they don’t have those plays in their repertoire.

This offensive output is going to end, but it does provide a glimmer of what Acides Escobar may be. I was adamant in saying that he would eventually become a better hitter. Whether or not he does improve or goes back to his TPJ impression, he is the best player on the planet…for now.


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.

 

 

Alex Gordon is having a renaissance, right? He’s finally come into his own and is realizing his potential. So, what’s different this year? What indicators might lead to an improved Gordon and is it sustainable?

First let’s start with the result stats to be sure that there really is an improvement on the field.

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG
2007 23 151 600 543 60 134 36 4 15 41 137 .247 .314 .411
2008 24 134 571 493 72 128 35 1 16 66 120 .260 .351 .432
2009 25 49 189 164 28 38 6 0 6 21 43 .232 .324 .378
2010 26 74 281 242 34 52 10 0 8 34 62 .215 .315 .355
2011 27 64 294 263 38 75 20 3 7 27 61 .285 .354 .464
5 Seasons 472 1935 1705 232 427 107 8 52 189 423 .250 .332 .414
162 Game Avg. 162 664 585 80 147 37 3 18 65 145 .250 .332 .414

There’s clearly some improvement so far in 2011. Gordon is sitting on career highs in batting average, 0n-base percentage and slugging percentage. We’ve been told numerous times that Kevin Seitzer has him working on a new swing, but what in the numbers sticks out as an area of improvement?

Year HR% SO% BB% XBH% X/H% SO/BB GB/FB IP% LD%
2007 2.5% 22.8% 6.8% 9.2% 41% 3.34 0.58 66% 21%
2008 2.8% 21.0% 11.6% 9.1% 41% 1.82 0.46 63% 20%
2009 3.2% 22.8% 11.1% 6.4% 32% 2.05 0.78 61% 13%
2010 2.9% 22.1% 12.1% 6.4% 35% 1.82 0.59 62% 22%
2011 2.4% 20.8% 9.2% 10.2% 40% 2.26 0.66 67% 18%
5 Seasons 2.7% 21.9% 9.8% 8.6% 39% 2.24 0.57 64% 20%
MLB Averages 2.6% 17.8% 8.6% 7.8% 33% 2.06 0.79 69% 19%

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2011.

It seems as if Gordon is hitting about the same number of home runs and striking out a bit less. Neither of those numbers show much variation. However, he has shockingly been walking less but hitting a few more extra-base hits. If you compare this year to his best season of 2008, then there isn’t a whole lot different going on — he’s a few ticks higher in a couple areas, a few ticks lower in others. It seems that according to these numbers, he’s pretty much the same player he’s always been other than he’s putting more balls into play.

So, what about those balls in play? His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season is .345. His career average including 2011 is .302. The point to measuring BABIP is that it can give you an idea of how lucky a player has been. Once a ball has been put into play, the player has very little control over what happens. Better players tend to have higher BABIP, but an abnormally high one can be an indicator of luck.  A player could be finding some gaps or having more bloop hits fall in. On the flip side, it’s possible that Alex Gordon has been extremely unlucky in his career.

I don’t want to downplay his new swing, or a change in approach. He does seem to have better at-bats and he seems more willing to foul a pitch off that was probably a ball but could be close enough to be called for a strike. It’s still too early to claim that Gordon has turned his entire career around. He got off to a very hot start, which has lingering effects on the fans and commentariat. If his BABIP slides back towards normalcy, we could see a return of the less-productive Alex Gordon.


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.

Is it possible that the most polished major league hitter in the Royals’ lineup is a 21 year old rookie who has played in just 24 career games?   Is that a plus for Eric Hosmer or an indictment of the rest of the Kansas City batting order?

I am in a glass half full sort of mood this morning.   The Royals have righted the ship by taking two straight from the Angels, Billy Butler hit a home run, Alex Gordon has rebounded, Alcides Escobar continues to make play after play…heck, even Chris Getz has not annoyed me for three or four days!    As such, I tend to believe that Hosmer is simply that good.

At last, perhaps, after suffering through the debuts of Kila Ka’aihue and Alex Gordon, to name just a couple, maybe the vision of a prospect coming up and, you know, actually hitting is so unique that it really, really stands out.   Enough so that I decided to see what some past homegrown Royals did in their first 25 games:

  • Eric Hosmer – .291/.327/.515/.842, 6 doubles, 5 homers, 17 RBI
  • Alex Gordon – .167/.314/.286/.599, 4 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBI
  • Billy Butler – .286/.315/.452/.767, 5 doubles, 3 homers, 14 RBI
  • Carlos Beltran – .300/.325/.455/.779, 6 doubles, 3 homers, 16 RBI
  • Johnny Damon – .330/.391/.534/.925, 7 doubles, 2 homers, 15 RBI
  • Mike Sweeney – .250/.369/.353/.722, 4 doubles, 1 homer, 10 RBI
  • Bo Jackson – .207/.286/.329/.615, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 9 RBI
  • George Brett – .216/.244/.338/.581, 6 doubles, 1 homer, 9 RBI

I took some liberties with the above; ignoring the sporadic playing time of the September call-ups of Beltran, Sweeney and Brett in their actual major league debuts, but using Bo’s September as he played basically everyday in the fall of 1986.    Also worth noting is that Johnny Damon also smacked 4 triples in his first 25 games – not sure if you remember, but Damon could really play.

I thought about pulling up the numbers of some of the once ‘sure-things’ that parlayed a good start or even a good rookie season into dismal failure.   However, looking back at Bob Hamelin, Mark Quinn and Angel Berroa runs counter to the ‘glass half full’ frame of mind we are using today.

Twenty-five games does not a career or, even a season make.   That said, Eric Hosmer is off to a better start than most of the other big Royals’ prospects of the past.  Yes, Mike Sweeney was not a big prospect when he came up, but I thought it was relevant to include him.

Some other quick notes:

Felipe Paulino has been fantastic for the Royals in his first two outings (9.1 IP, 0 runs, 0 walks).  Keep in mind, for those of you who think Bob McClure may have made some magical tweak, that Paulino had a stretch of 36 innings where he allowed just 7 runs just one year ago.   Obviously, you have to like what you have seen thus far out of the newly acquired pitcher, but the jury is still out on whether the can maintain it.

Baseball America is projecting the Royals will pick UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole with the number five pick on Monday.   I think that would be a great pick should he fall that far, with the theory being that Cole could make the majors as early as 2013.   While Bubba Starling would be a pick popular with the locals, he is three to four years away from the majors, the smart money would be to take the best college arm available…or Dylan Bundy.    Bundy is the high school pitcher from Oklahoma, who is more advanced than your usual high school arm.   Chances are that he will not even be there when the Royals’ turn comes, but he would also be fantastic pick.

In addition to a Homser coming up and having early success, something else new and unusual is happening for the Royals:  they have a prospect close to major league ready who is legitimatelyblocked by a player at the major league level.     We are all anticipating the arrival of Mike Moustakas, but what do you do with Wilson Betemit?  You know, the Betemit that is hitting .306/.370/.438.   The very same one who in 127 games with the Royals has a line of .300/.375/.484.    That is a nice problem to have and one that is unique in the recent history of Kansas City.

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.