Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in March

Without question, the most successful free agent signing of the Dayton Moore era was the five year/$55 million deal given out to Gil Meche.   That may sound like an odd statement given that Meche spent the last three months of the 2009 season fighting injuries and has an uncertain status surrounding him for the same reasons as we close in on Opening Day.

However, between his first Kansas City start on Opening Day of 2007 and that fateful 132 pitch shutout on June 16, 2009, Meche started 82 games for the Royals.   Over those starts, Gil threw 511 innings (averaging more than six innings per start), struck out 406 batters while walking 166 and posted a 3.74 earned run average.   During that stretch, the Royals were 39-43 (.475) in games Meche started and just 134-171 (.439) in games he did not start.  

Thirty-five times during that stretch of time, the Royals scored three runs or less.   Not once have we heard Gil Meche complain about lack of run support, despite knowing that over forty percent of the time his team gave him virtually none.   Meche has been a leader for the starting rotation and, perhaps lost in all the Greinke hoopla, he provided valuable stability at the top of the rotation while Greinke developed into a true ace.

I could make a case that if Gil never pitches again, this contract was still worth the money, but I firmly believe that if Gil posts just one more 200 inning season in the next two years there will be absolutely no debate as to the validity of Moore’s long-term commitment.

Therein, however, lies the problem.

To get Meche to Kansas City, Dayton Moore had to give Gil one more year than other teams were offering.   Teams were lined up to give him four years and a little over forty million dollars, but Moore ponied up that fifth year and got the deal done.    From that point forward, the ‘extra year’ has been Moore’s calling card in the free agent market.   He has used it with regularity and when, frankly, he did not need to.

After the 2007 season, Mike Sweeney was off the roster and his big contract thankfully off the books.  Moore was hellbent to sign a slugging outfielder or two.   He, like everyone else in the league, got blown out of the water by the Angels’ offer to Torii Hunter and the Royals dodged a bullet when Andruw Jones turned down their offer to sign with the Dodgers.   That left Jose Guillen as the ‘next best power bat available’.  

While the actual negotiations of a free agent deal are never really known, the widespread belief was that the competition for Guillen was limited.     Would the Royals have inked Guillen if they had offered just a one year deal?  Probably not, but two years might have gotten the deal done in an environment where the few offers out there were of the single year variety. 

Instead, Dayton Moore jumped in with more money per year and MORE YEARS.   If Allard Baird had made this signing, I could have chalked it up to an attempt to rectify losing Raul Ibanez in 2004 over offering two years instead of three.   In Moore’s case, the third year just seems like bad judgment. 

Forget 2008 and 2009, when Guillen was sometimes annoying, sometimes a distraction, often hurt and too commonly awful as a ballplayer.   The third year of this deal is what is killing the Royals.   Put it another way:  how much would having an extra $12 million and a roster spot mean to you right now?

On top of the Guillen signing came two curious multi-year deals the next off-season:  Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Now, Bloomquist gets his share of criticism on Royals’ sites, including this one, but it really is not his fault that Trey Hillman kept putting his name in the lineup last year.   Nor is it Willie’s fault that Dayton Moore gave him two guaranteed years instead of one with an option.   Here is where you can offer the ‘you don’t know what the competition was for Bloomquist’ and ‘Willie does not sign with KC unless he gets a two year deal’.   To that, I say: ‘so what?’

Scan the spring training notes of other ballclubs or read through a couple of pages of MLBTradeRumors and you can easily compile a pretty long list of ‘Willie Bloomquists’ that are available or could be had for basically nothing.   Heck, the Royals have a better Bloomquist in Wilson Betemit than Willie himself.   Frankly, if Bloomquist was not around and Betemit not available would long-time farmhand Irving Falu be that much of a drop off?   Furthermore, if the Royals had not offered the second year to Bloomquist and he had signed elsewhere, would not Tug Hulett have done a competent job in his place last year?

Truth is, you can always find utility infielders….and middle relievers.   Which brings us to Kyle Farnsworth, who is going to collect a cool $4.5 million in this, THE SECOND, year of his contract.   The only way that amount and, more specifically, that second year makes sense is if Kyle throws 165 innings as the teams fifth starter this year and that will validate the contract only thanks to simple dumb luck.

Sure, Dayton Moore had no way of knowing that Juan Cruz would still be available for less money two months after he signed Farnsworth (I’m even going to give Dayton a pass on Cruz’s TWO YEAR deal as it sure seemed like a good one at the time) , but no one other than the Royals were knocking down Kyle’s door.   A one year flyer on Farnsworth to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle was worth a shot, but two years?   Considering that the Royals already had a ‘better Farnsworth’ in Robinson Tejeda already on their roster makes that contract seem even sillier.

We can go back in time and remember that last spring many thought the Royals had a real chance at contention.  Dayton Moore certainly did.   That said, were Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth so key to the Royals’ plan to make a run to the playoffs that they had to commit extra years to deals just to sign those two players?

I am not even going to mention the Yuniesky Betancourt trade or the signing of Brian Anderson (a poor man’s Mitch Maier) this off-season to replace Mitch Maier.   I am willing to let the two-year Jason Kendall deal play out and leave Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik out for now, too.   Let’s just look at Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Between those three players and because of a superfluous year added to each of their contracts, the Royals had $18.2 million and three roster spots tied up before the first pitch was thrown this spring.  Ignore the money for now and focus on those three spots.

Without being tied to Guillen and Bloomquist, the Royals could break camp with Mike Aviles (admittedly not ready to play short full-time, but he could DH or play second) on their active roster.   They would have more time to evaluate Mitch Maier to see if that hot spring really is indicative of improved performance in the regular season or at last give Kila Kaaihue a shot.  

Without Farnsworth, the team could easily stash Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna in the bullpen.   Instead of keeping two out of Josh Rupe, John Parrish, Brad Thompson, Anthony Lerew and Blake Wood, they could keep three.  I don’t know if that makes the club any better, but it certainly makes them no worse – not to mention $4.5 million cheaper.    (Really don’t want to go with Robinson Tejeda as a starter if Meche can’t go?  Bet you can find someone better at starting than Farnsworth for that $4.5 mil)

Adding just one more year got the Royals a good starting pitcher who helped and hopefully will continue to help the team.   Sadly, the same strategy has tied Kansas City to three players that it simply does not need in 2010.   The next time you hear anyone from the Royals comment on lack of payroll flexibility we should all remember that they only have themselves to blame.

People are always telling me statistics can be made to show anything, but I completely disagree. Since statistics are numerical representatives of some actual thing, they are merely facts. However, I think I know what those people mean. They’re saying that people can pick and choose stats to support their particular argument, and that I actually agree with. This is why we should all be fully armed with statistical facts to counter the next naysayer who decides to throw something out that’s wrong or misleading. Something like Alex Gordon has been one of the worst Royals ever. My goal is to help build your arsenal of statistical facts.

Spring Training stats have to be the leader in the category of misused stats. They’re wrought with so many problems that It’s hard to know where to begin.

1. The sample sizes are usually very small.

2. The outcome of Spring Training games is meaningless.

3. Players often use Spring Training to work on a particular pitch, batting stance or scenario.

4. Arizona is a pretty good hitting environment.

5. Coming off a long winter break, the players are just getting warmed up

6. The sheer number of players being rotated in and out for evaluation doesn’t allow a player to get into a groove.

7. Spring Training rosters are overflowing with less than MLB talent.

I could go on, however I think these seven are sufficient. The paradox of Spring Training stats though, is that they can be extremely important. For the Billy Butlers of the world whose position on the team is assured, they aren’t that big of a deal. However, to someone like Blake Wood, Kyle Davies or Josh Fields stats can mean the difference between a spot on the MLB team or a spot in AAA the difference between a starter or a bench player or the end of your career.

Spring Training stats are also the first pieces of information that eager fans and media get their hands on. Who’s looking good? Who’s rusty? Which pitcher has the line on that 5th spot in the rotation? And so on. Arguments are made on behalf of guys, and careers are deemed to be over based on a handful of innings or at bats with the ever present problems outlined above. So people refute the arguments with something like Spring Trainings stats are worthless.

So then the real argument begins over whether Spring Training stats are completely worthless or a harbinger of what is to come. To be honest, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We all know that a bad Spring Training does not necessarily mean that a player will have a bad season forth coming. There are literally hundreds of stories of players who had terrible Spring Training stats and then tore it up in the regular season. Of course there are just as many stories on the flip-side, where the player with the bang up spring couldn’t find his way in the regular season.

Statistics do have some value to them. With all of the caveats above, we need to be aware that what we are dealing with are very flawed stats, but flawed does not mean worthless. Take them with a grain of salt. In every stat there is a story to be told, and just like any other story, it could be completely misleading or an indicator of a larger truth.

So with all of that said, let’s take a look at the Royals Spring Training stats*. What you will find below is a standard table of statistics, but with various colors. If you’ve read many of my blog posts at Broken Bat Single you know that I love heat charts. More likely you will be reading my work for the first time here at Royals Authority, so I want to take a quick second to explain the heat charts. In each column the red colored item is the best on the team in that category, green is the worst and yellow is in the middle. For example, the position players chart below is sorted by most to least AB, so you can see Butler has the most and his square is red, while Moustakas has the least and is green. As the numbers decrease the shade of color changes to reflect the players rank in that category. The idea is to give some visual clues as to who is doing well at what without having to look at each individual number or having to sort each column.

*Stats include all games played through March 15th

First, lets take a look at the position players. The chart is sorted by AB, and I cut off the # of players at 25.

Billy Butler, David Dejesus and Alberto Callaspo have some of the best hitting stats on the team, which is the first indication that spring stats are not completely worthless. However, on the other hand Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS of .921. The thing that really jumps out at me is how good of a spring Mitch Maier and Kila Kaaihue are having. Podsednik having a 50% success rate at stealing bases is another interesting, but not surprising item. Wilson Betamit and Irving Falu have been in the most games this spring.

Now the pitchers. This table is sorted by IP. For SO/BB I assumed that zero walks were one walk, so that I could avoid dividing by zero.

Greinke leads the royals in nearly every pitching category, so again it means that Spring Training numbers do mean something. However the sample size for pitchers is even smaller than for the position players so these are even less representative of accurate numbers. Davies and Tejeda are getting the most innings so that the Royals can try and figure out who should be the 5th starter, and so far neither has been good. However Tejeda has been striking guys out and has a better overall ERA than Davies so far. Bannister has yet to walk a guy, which is good considering he relies on his control more than any other pitcher on the staff. Ramon Colon is putting up some fantastic numbers in his time on the mound. Lerew (a personal favorite of mine), has a great SO/BB ratio, but has been torched.

I love finding the stories hidden in the statistics, and Spring Training stats are no exception. I hope the heat chart helped you visualize the information in a new way. Are there any particular numbers that stand out to you? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick blogs and podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

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