In this series, I’ll be trying to look at what the Royals need in order to become contenders and how they should go about getting it. In part one of this series, I looked briefly at the Royals offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, and isn’t likely to be in the near future. Just look at last nights 18 hit barrage the Royals put to the Tigers for an example. No, we have to take a look at the other side of the game to find the Royals true weakness: pitching and defense.
I see preventing runs as three distinct components: starting pitching, relief and defense. All three are naturally tied together and if one is improved the other two are improved. Teasing out exactly how much each component plays into the overall number of runs given up is difficult, so any statistical analysis here will be of the quick and dirty variety.
Let’s start with the defense. It’s extremely difficult to measure defense and even with the advances made recently, the numbers for a single season are not the most reliable. Looking at UZR, the Royals rank 8th among American League teams in defense. From what I’ve seen watching this season, that sounds about right. I think they are an average team defensively. Going position by position based solely on what I’ve seen and heard I’d go with something like this.
Catcher – With Sal Perez, this position has improved and is in very good defensive hands in the future.
1st Base – Eric Hosmer is very good with the glove and could become an elite defensive first baseman.
2nd Base – Johnny Giavotella is probably a step down from Chris Getz (who seemed a bit over-rated defensively) and is likely a slightly below average defender who could be average.
3rd Base – Moustakas has a very good arm and some good instincts, but his range isn’t the greatest. I don’t see him becoming average defensively, but he is here for his bat not his glove.
Short Stop – Alcides Escobar is Shortstop Jesus. He’s about as good as you can get at the most important defensive position on the field.
Left Field – Alex Gordon has improved noticeably defensively. He still relies on athleticism to make up for mistakes that better defenders don’t make, but he has a great arm and has performed very well. He’s above average now and could get better.
Center Field – Melky Cabrera is a well below average center fielder. He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, but he can’t get to balls that other guys get to since he just cant cover that much ground.
Right Field – Jeff Francoeur has done a very good job in right field and has the arm to play the position. He’s at worst an average right field defender.
So adding that up we have 5 average to above-average defenders and three below average defenders. The reason that adds up to an average defense is that they have below average defenders at some key positions like 3b,2b and CF.
It’s pretty close if not on par with any contending level defense other than a significant upgrade at center field. and possibly 2nd base. The future of Melky Cabrera isn’t exactly clear and he’s only under team control for one more season. Behind him is Lorenzo Cain who is hitting very well in AAA and is a significant upgrade defensively. Johnny Giavotella is an all-around solid player who can hit the ball well. If he continues to hit, the Royals will be glad to live with his below average defense. However if he were to struggle, or the Royals felt that defense was more important they could look to converted shortstop Christian Colon to take his place.
This was a very rudimentary look at the defense, but the numbers and my eyes tell me that the team is adequate defensively and if it needs improvement then the pieces are available. It wouldn’t make sense for Dayton Moore and the Royals to spend significant (or any) resources in trying to improve the defense in the quest for a pennant.