Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Dismal.  

That is my complete analysis of the three game sweep at the hands of the Pirates.

Currently, Wil Myers is hitting .341/.388/.714 through right at 100 AAA plate appearances.    He has been playing centerfield in Omaha, but I have yet to get any definitve review of how he has been playing centerfield.   Is he Jeff Francoeur with a touch more range?  David DeJesus minus the instincts?  Melky Cabrera only…well, Melky Cabrera?   Maybe Myers will fall in with the Moustakas syndrome.  You know, we all thought that Moustakas might be passable defensively at third, only to see him be a very good defensive third baseman (at least preliminarily).  Maybe Myers could be the same sort of deal in center.  Maybe.

For fun, I did exhaustively comprehensive research in the last four and one-half minutes, and pulled the leaders in wOBA from Fangraphs and reviewed how many AAA plate appearances each of them had before hitting the major leagues.   The results, as you might imagine from such a small sample size is quite varied:

  • Joey Votto – 580 AAA plate appearances
  • Josh Hamilton – 0
  • Paul Konerko – 868
  • Carlos Gonzalez – 237 (Cargo played half a season with Oakland, then got 223 more AAA PA’s after getting traded to Colorado the next year)
  • David Wright – 134 (only 272 more in AA – all in the same season)
  • Mark Trumbo – 595
  • Ryan Braun – 134 (only 257 in AA as well)
  • Josh Willingham – 279 (Josh was 26 when he made the majors and was still playing A ball at age 24)
  • Carlos Beltran – 0 (just 208 in AA as well)
  • Bryan LaHair – 2,709

LaHair and Willingham are fun cases in that we often just discount those types of players as ‘too old for their level’ and ‘AAAA’ types.  Most times they are, but it is wise to remember that sometimes they are not. 

For our purposes, however, Wright, Beltran and Braun are noteworthy.  Myers already has more AA at-bats than any of them and is closing in on the amount of time Braun and Wright spent in AAA.   Beltran, who skipped AAA entirely, got a cup of coffee at the end of 1998 and then won Rookie of the Year honors in 1999.   He did end up spending some time in AAA in 2000, but that situation might apply more to a discussion on Eric Hosmer than Wil Myers.

Certainly and without question, those three players are elite level talents and highly thought of prospects on their way up.   However, isn’t that what most think Wil Myers might be?  Now, you could deal Ryan Braun out of the equation given that he was a college player prior to being drafted, but both Beltran and Wright were not and both were in the majors before age 21.   The point is not to call up Wil Myers this very second, but only to show a very few examples of some really good prospects who spent very little time in getting to the majors.

Of course, the Royals are not a ‘Wil Myers’ away from contention.  Had they drafted Chris Sale instead of Christian Colon and Tim Lincecum instead of Luke Hochevar (or Clayton Kershaw or even Brandon Morrow), then maybe the Royals would be just one player away.   The question is, just how many players away are they?

Let’s remember that even great teams don’t have great players at every position.  They all have a Jeff Francoeur or a Jarrod Dyson or a Johnny Giavotella in their lineup and a Hochevar in the rotation.   Truthfully, it is a bit unfair to even lump Frenchy in with the others.   He is not a good major leaguer, but he is a legitimate major league player:  decent enough to play right and bat seventh on a contending team.

For better or worse, the Royals are set at six spots in the lineup:  Gordon, Moustakas, Escobar, Hosmer, Butler and Perez.  If that core group does not perform over the next two to three years, then this discussion is irrelevant and Dayton Moore will not longer by your general manager.   That group is, as a unit, is not getting it done right now, but let’s pretend (if nothing else) that they will start doing so soon. 

In addition to that core, the Royals have a very good and very deep bullpen and one and one-half starting pitchers.  Bruce Chen is not a number one on any team, but he can certainly be a number four starter on a contender.   Felipe Paulino is good, when he’s healthy.   There is a pitcher like this on a lot of teams.  Hell, Jonathan Sanchez was that guy for the Giants when they won the World Series.

So, where are we?   Right back to where we all thought the Royals were in March?  Two good starting pitchers away from being decent?  Pretty much.

Truthfully, one really good starter and two ‘better than what they have now’ starting pitchers away from being pretty solid.   Throw in Wil Myers and you are getting there.   If Wil Myers can really handle centerfield, then Kansas City moves to very good.   Big ‘if’, but an intriguing if and one that should be explored once the Royals are willing to roll the dice on the Super Two timing as it relates to Myers’ service time.

Myers would make the Royals better and certainly more interesting, but the truth is it doesn’t matter when Vin Mazzaro and Luis Mendoza are your number three and four starters.   IF Paulino could get and stay healthy and IF Jake Odorizzi continues to appear to be and eventually becomes the ‘real deal’, then you could line up Odorizzi, Paulino and Chen in the rotation for the second half with the hope that Danny Duffy could be back by the middle of 2013 to be your number five starter.   That group has some hope.

Of course, that leaves a big blank spot at the top of the rotation.   Your move, Mr. Moore.

xxx

 

On Thursday, with the Royals off, those of us with Metro Sports in Kansas City were fortunate to get a viewing of the Omaha Storm Chasers. It was a Triple-A marquee matchup as Jake Odorizzi squared off against Roy Oswalt.

Plenty of subplots, too… Sal Perez joined the team for his first rehab start as a designated hitter. And Chris Getz. (Yeah, I know.) Then there was the continuing saga of the Wil Myers Electric Power Show.

It was an opportunity for Kansas City based Royals fans to get a glimpse of the future. And it looks promising. Still.

So, when will the Royals call up Myers and Odorizzi? I know, I know… We’ve all been pondering that very question.

Let’s address Myers first.

Adding a grand slam to his prodigious power totals he now has 39 extra base hits (16 doubles, 2 triples and 21 home runs) in 212 at bats. Roughly an extra base hit every five at bats. Which could work out to roughly one a game. Awesome.

(Please… Don’t be extra impressed that the kid hit his slam off Oswalt. He’s not even close to being in “game” shape. Just be impressed that he hit another bomb. Good enough.)

In 35 games in Double-A, Myers hit .343/.414/.731. In his first 20 games since moving to Triple-A, he’s posted a line of .324/.375/.703. He hasn’t missed a beat in making the climb up the organizational ladder.

I think the “Super Two” status is a non-starter. It has been an issue because the new collective bargaining agreement expands the pool of super two eligibles from 17 percent to 22 percent. That pushes the date later in the season. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the cutoff for super two status in 2012 is going to be 134 days. Last year, it was 146 days. By my calculations, today is the 64th day of the 2012 season. A full season generally lasts 183 days. That means if a player makes his debut on Friday and stays in the majors the rest of the season, he will accrue 119 days of service time. (As a measuring stick, the Braves Tommy Hanson made his debut on June 7, 2009 and accrued 120 days of service time.) It looks like we’re past the cutoff. Although that cutoff wouldn’t apply to players called up this season. For a new callup, it comes into play in two and a half year’s time.

The Super Two date changes from season to season. Is two weeks a big enough pad? Who knows. I do know that waiting another couple of weeks to be safely past the cutoff would be smart business.

(I’m not fully at ease with the latest collective bargaining agreement. It’s important, though. If I got the previous graphs wrong, let me know in the comments and I’ll correct.)

I got into a discussion about this with David Lesky of Pine Tar Press and Michael Engel of Kings of Kauffman last night on Twitter. They both think the cut off for Super Two is early to mid July. If that’s the case, it’s nuts to call up Myers within a month of the cutoff date. I’ve never been about gaming a player’s service time, but for a small market team close to the deadline, it’s about fiscal prudence. You need to save money where you can. If that means a prospect is called up a month later, so be it.

Again, this whole Super Two thing in the new CBA is very confusing.

If Myers were to be called up, the Royals would have to place him on the 40-man roster. It’s currently full, so the Royals would have to designate someone for assignment to remove him from the roster.

Some interesting trivia… With Clint Robinson activated for Friday’s game, the Royals have had 38 players on their major league roster this year. (Ryan Verdugo didn’t make an appearance before getting farmed out.) That’s astounding. The only players on the 40-man roster who haven’t been in KC this year are Noel Arguelles, David Lough and Derrick Robinson.

Fortunately (or probably not) the Royals could make a move with Danny Duffy. He’s on the 15 day DL, so they could slide him to the 60 day DL and remove him from the 40-man roster. But then you face a roster issue when Sal Perez is ready to be activated as he’s currently on the 60 day DL. That problem is solved by sending Humberto Quintero back to Houston as his own PTBNL. Or just cutting him.

Myers has been playing center, so that solves an outfield puzzle. Sort of. Really, he projects more as a corner man. We know Alex Gordon isn’t going anywhere, so that leaves Jeff Francoeur. I suppose he could slide to center – his audition is this weekend – but really… You don’t move a below average right fielder to center. That’s defensive malpractice. Reports are Myers is passable in center. Not a butcher, but he’s not going to cover a bunch of ground. Passable. The Royals did play Melky Cabrera out there last summer. Myers can’t be much worse. He can stay there for a couple of seasons until Francoeur is inevitably named player-manager for the 2014 season.

Myers looks to be ready. This season has been easy for him. Almost too easy. I’d bet the blog that the Royals are waiting to see if he hits any kind of a slump. Just to see how he will handle it. Because when he gets to the majors, it’s not going to be this simple.

Yes, we look at the standings and see the Royals six or seven games out. But be realistic… This team isn’t contending this year. Calling up Myers isn’t going to help the Royals sneak into a pennant race. Unless he can pitch two or three times a week.

Myers needs to be up, but the Royals have the luxury of waiting. Today, there’s no need to force the issue. But as long as he doesn’t go in the tank, he should be up by the All-Star Break. For The Process to roll along, I think a key component is to bring the rookies up in mid season (like they did with Hosmer and Moose) let them get a feel for the league, and then turn them loose for a full season the next year. Of course, it doesn’t always work. Hosmer has struggled. Moose has raked. That’s baseball. But I’d sure feel better about 2013 if Myers had 250 plate appearances this summer.

Now on to Odorizzi…

He made his fifth appearance in Triple-A on Thursday, striking out 10 and walking 1 in 6.2 innings. In 27 innings for Omaha, he’s struck out 27 and walked 9. A 3:1 SO:BB ratio and a 9.0 SO/9? I like.

But Odorizzi has been in Triple-A for less than a month. Yes, he pitched great for Northwest Arkansas with a 3.32 ERA and a 11.1 SO/9 and 2.4 BB/9, but he struggled in his first turn through the Texas League in 2011. In 12 starts last year, he finished with a 4.72 ERA, a 7.1 SO/9 and 2.9 BB/9. It’s great that he made adjustments, and yes, he’s pitching really well in the PCL, but the majors are a different animal.

The control is something to get excited about. In his start on Thursday, I saw an explosive fastball that had late movement. To me, it looked like he was locating extremely well. That will play in the bigs.

I’m excited about Odorizzi as a future Royal, but I think he needs more seasoning in Triple-A. Like Myers, lets see him struggle and make the necessary adjustments. But like Myers, we need to see him in Kansas City sometime in August so he can get a taste of the bigs.

There’s also the roster crunch in play here. Who do you remove from the 40-man? Lough? Derrick Robinson? Since the Royals have used every pitcher on their 40-man not named Arguelles, I doubt they’d remove an arm. I just don’t think the Royals have the roster flexibility to bring up Odorizzi. Sure they can cut The Yunigma or ship Getz to Omaha, but let’s be realistic… That’s not going to happen. It will probably take a trade to free up a roster spot. And that will likely happen at the end of July.

What would you do if you decide both are ready? You’d have to promote Odorizzi, right? We’re desperate for starting pitching, so he’d fit the bill. I suppose it’s possible he arrives in KC ahead of Myers.

Either way, I expect both to make their debuts this season. Yet I’m content to be patient. For now. But I expect some movement in about a month. Keep the revolving door of youth moving along. And maybe next year will be Our Time.

It is starting to feel like the Royals are slowly slipping into anonymity:  not good enough to be noteworthy and not bad enough to be made fun of.

Last night, Kansas City had to go to their bullpen for eight plus innings of work and quite honestly got decent enough results.   Luis Mendoza allowed an inherited runner to score in the first, gave up two more runs in the fifth and Kelvin Herrera was touched for another in the seventh.  That is not lock down work obviously, but it should have been good enough against Nick Blackburn and four Minnesota relievers.  It wasn’t.

On a six game homestand against maybe the two weakest teams in the American League, the Royals managed to plate just 17 runs in six games on their way to a disappointing 3-3 record.  All three wins came when the much maligned starting rotation combined with the much heralded bullpen to toss shutouts.    Before the season, I bet you didn’t expect three shutouts in six games at any point against anyone.

Sadly, the one night that the Royals’ offense actually did have some life (Monday’s 10-7 loss to the Twins), Ned Yost pulled back on the reigns and had Alcides Escobar sacrifice with no one out to give Jarrod Dyson and Humbo Quintero a chance to drive in two runners in a tie game…in the fourth inning.   Last night, as putrid as  the offense  performed, was still a good dose of rotten luck as the Royals, enjoying a marked advantage in the starting pitcher matchup for one of the few times all year, saw Felipe Paulino exit after facing just three batters.  Monday night, however, was the crippling game of this homestand. 

Four and two and all is right with the world.  Three and three seems so much worse.   Such is life when you are stuck in mediocrity.

Anyway, onto Pittsburgh, where the Royals are bravely forging ahead with Jeff Francouer in center, Eric Hosmer in right, Billy Butler at first and the Yunigma surely somewhere on the diamond.   To be fair, even if Ned Yost goes with Giavotella at second over Betancourt,  the entire right side of the diamond has the potential to look a lot like the right side of your slow-pitch softball defense.    That said, why not?

The Royals aren’t hitting and, quite honestly, haven’t played stellar defense in center or exhibited great range in right.   Maybe, just maybe, some quirky new defensive positions for three games might shake the cobwebs out of a lethargic offense.   I don’t hate this move as much as the statistical side of me says I should.   If Lorenzo Cain, who I think is dramatically better than Dyson defensively, was healthy my guess is I would hate it.   As it stands, let’s give it a whirl.

The thought crossed my mind, that moving Alex Gordon to center made more sense than putting the Frenchman there, but Gordon is far less experienced and then you have four guys in different positions instead of three, plus whoever wants to throw their glove at the ball playing second.   The real downside of this three game lineup changes is that Yost is likely to be more paranoid about the defense than most of us.   I can see him pulling the trigger on Dyson to center, Frenchy to right, Hosmer to first as early as the sixth inning, which obviously shuffles Billy Butler out of the batting order for what might well be crucial late inning at-bats.

The other interesting news of this short trip is that it appears Clint Robinson might get called up to the bigs.  Now, given the Royals are playing a first baseman in right field and a designated hitter at first, calling up another first baseman/DH type seems, at first, kind of silly.    One might have opted for the versatile Irving Falu, who can play just about anywhere and would allow Yost all sorts of managerial options.   Maybe that’s what Dayton Moore is trying to avoid?!

However, the Royals are likely looking to Robinson to simply pinch-hit.   I don’t know of Clint Robinson can hit major leauge pitching (and getting 2 or 3 pinch hitting chances as your debut is not a very good way of finding out), but I do know he is more likely to park one than Falu or Maier or Dyson or…you get the point.   If the Royals were moving to the NL for the summer, than Falu is the guy.   For three games in Pittsburgh, why not Robinson?

This trip could be fun for the Royals, but it might also be a bumbling disaster.  It won’t, however, be boring.

xxx

What can we say about Bruce Chen?

The guy is simply a freak of nature.

Yeah, the Twins offense is dreadful (except on Monday when it was pretty good) but whenever a starter puts up a line like this…

7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 SO

You’re thrilled.

Chen threw 88 pitches and 62 of them were strikes. He was cruising.

And they were largely low stress innings. The Twins put a couple of runners on second, but both reached there with two down – a double by Dozier and a single and a steal by Mastroianni.

I was surprised Yosty didn’t send him back out for the eighth inning. At only 88 pitches and with Chen being a low effort kind of guy (not exactly a flamethrower who runs out of gas) and with those low stress innings, it seemed like an opportune time. Save Greg Holland for another night and let Chen go eight before turning it over to the ninth inning guy.

Shows you what I know when Holland comes on and simply punches out the side.

Nice.

– The Royals gave their free baserunning out away early in this one when Alex Gordon was picked off first in following his first inning walk.

– Chen evened the ledger when he scored a pickoff of his own. Looked extremely close to a balk to me where the lefty isn’t allowed to bring his right leg past the pitching rubber, but it wasn’t called so good enough. Dozier was going on movement, so nice job by Chen to get the ball to first to start the out.

– The Royals seemingly had an opportunity to tack on an insurance run in the eighth when Gordon laced a one out double. Although he was the giver of the Royals Free Out on the bases in the first with his pickoff/caught stealing (that’s how it’s scored) I can’t hang a baserunning blunder on A1 in this situation. The ball was sharply hit, Gordon was going on contact when he saw it wasn’t hit to the left side of the infield, took two steps and was caught in a proverbial no man’s land. Maybe the proper play was to freeze until you saw the ball get by the pitcher, but I’m betting Gordon was thinking about getting a good jump so he could score on a single up the middle. With one out and Butler up, maybe he should have played it safe, thinking Butler could at least get him home with a fly ball. Dunno.

– The Jonathan Broxton highwire act came on in the ninth. Really, the only true scoring opportunity for the Twins all night came in the ninth inning. Antacid time. A double and a walk with one out and he gets a pair of fly balls to end the game. The Dyson grab was a little unnerving. He hasn’t exactly inspired confidence out there when asked to run far to make a grab.

Whew.

– The Royals now have three wins on the homestand. More importantly, they are still on track to win six of their nine games against the A’s, Twins and Pirates.

– Speaking of Pirates, with the glory of interleague the Royals will be forced to play Eric Hosmer in right, slide Jeff Francoeur to center in order to keep Butler’s bat in the lineup at first.

Seriously, with an interleague game scheduled every day of the season next year with the Astros moving to the AL, it’s time to put the DH in the National League. It’s laughable that the Royals construct their team the way they do and then are told they can’t use it in that fashion.

Fix it, Bud.

The Royals did two very important things yesterday, they selected Kyle Zimmer as their 1st pick in the draft and they exposed Ned Yost as almost certainly unworthy to manage this, or any Major League team.

Let’s start with the newest of Royals: Kyle Zimmer. First I think it would be cool to call him Kyle “The Don” Zimmer. It works for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s the mascot of the University of San Francisoco where he played. Second, it sounds like Don Zimmer the pre-historic but culturally relevant baseball player, manager and bench-coach. When it comes to analysis this is really all I’ve got. I’ve never seen him pitch and can’t pretend I have a scouting report. Instead, I’ll present you with a couple of videos for you to peruse:

 

The Royals say that he was the top pitcher on their board. I can’t exactly believe them because they would say that and should say that about anyone they get at this position. The bottom line is that the draft is a risk, pitchers are a bigger risk, but they are essential to winning games. We’ll watch his development and hope he becomes a front line starter.

While the front-office was working the draft room, the soldiers and their leader Ned Yost took the field in contest against the Twins of Minnesota.  The Twins took an early lead and going to the bottom of the 4th were up by a score of 4-1. It was at this point that the Twins and Royals had a Judge Reinhold – Fred Savage moment where their bodies seemed to switch.

The Royals hit a couple of singles, the Twins looked like they had never fielded a ball before and then the young stud Mike Moustakas blasts a two-run double. Still no outs. Then Francoeur and Hosmer reach on astonishing errors by the Twins the last of which allows Mike Moustakas to score.

Tie game.

No outs.

Opposing pitcher on the ropes.

Warm, run-scoring wind blowing.

Third most effective hitter this season at bat, followed by two of the worst.

Ned Yost thinks to himself and calls out for a

BUNT!

Escobar gives up a free out, the next two batters strike out and the Royals lose.

I need to preface this by saying that I’ve rarely been critical of Ned Yost. I don’t always agree with him, but overall I’ve been pretty pleased by what he does. But that decision was one of the worst decisions I’ve seen a Royal manager make. It was astounding in it’s ineptitude. There is absolutely no good reason to help the Twins in that situation. None.

Time and time again it’s shown that the one precious commodity in a game are outs. They are to be preserved and hoarded. Regardless of what the past-worshiping, numbers-hating, critical thinking deprived folks tell you, that was a horrendous decision by Ned Yost. If on some magical planet I were the General Manager, I’d tell Ned Yost that if he does that again he’s fired. If he objects he’s gone that day.

This mistake isn’t just about screwing his team over for one single game. It’s about an inability to understand some basic truths about baseball and a refusal to understand core concepts of strategy. The way teams did things in 1903 is not correct and the fact that they did it in the 1950′s is not proof to the contrary.

A manager of a winning baseball team needs to be able to motivate his players and deal with multimillionaire 20 somethings with giant egos. But he also needs to be aware of the latest research and understanding of the business he is in. This is true of all managers, not just of the baseball variety. Sure, maybe it was cool to call a female colleague “toots” in the 1950′s, but that is not acceptable now and it’s something that can get you fired. In baseball it’s something celebrated and I’m at a loss as to why.

It’s time for Ned Yost to make some changes, to get up-t0-date and to help this team win games. He needs to get out of the way and allow baseball players to make baseball plays. The game does not need his interference, this isn’t the brain-washed National League where some fans believe that watching a manager make decisions is interesting. We’re here to see baseball, let it happen.

- Nick Scott

Just like last year, the 2012 draft was turned upside down. In 2011, it was the Mariners selecting a starting pitcher with the second overall pick. This time, it was the Astros passing on a starting pitcher.

By the time the Royals were on the clock, two college arms they thought to have targeted remained on the draft board – Kyle Zimmer and Mark Appel.

Appel was the one generally thought to be the top selection overall, so it looked as though the Royals struck gold… Yet they selected Zimmer. The Royals say he was their top pitcher in the draft all along. So if that’s the case, good for them.

Surely some of this has to do with Appel, his agent (Scott Boras) and his demands. Under the new rules, the Royals have a total budget of $6.1 million for their selections in the top 10 rounds. That includes $3.5 million budgeted for the fifth overall pick. Had Appel been selected number one overall, the Astros have $7.2 million to spend. Or $1.1 million more for that pick than the Royals have for the entire first 10 picks. Do you think a Boras client will happily accept $3.7 million less? Don’t think so.

(Appel went to the Pirates who have a total draft budget of $6.5 million and $2.9 slotted for their top pick. Good luck, Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, congrats to Lonnie Goldberg and the Royals scouting department, who got the arm they coveted. Under the new rules he should be signed by July and hopefully the Royals will have him start his professional career later this summer.

Game on.

Probably before the Royals take the field on Monday night, almost certainly by the time they have lit up the Twins for three runs in the bottom of the first, Kansas City fans will know who the next big prospect in their system will be.   It is nothing new for the Royals picking early in round one, but not much else about the 2012 Draft is familiar.

Gone are the recommended slots from the commissioner’s office with the only penalty for not adhering to them was a mean look from Bud Selig.   In their place comes a prescribed bonus pool for each team’s picks in the first ten rounds.   The penalty for exceeding them by even just five percent is a punitive tax and the spectre of the loss of draft picks in future drafts.   Personally, I think this is probably a bad development for the Royals, but no one really knows how this new system will play out.

What we do know is that Kansas City has a total of $6.1 million to spread across Rounds 1 through 10, during which time the Royals have ten picks.  While the Royals first round pick is assigned a value of $3.5 million, they can spend as much or as little of their total allotment of $6.1 million as they want on that pick.  

There are two kickers to this process.   First, if a team does not sign one of their picks in the first ten rounds, the value of that pick goes away and cannot be used on another.  If the Royals are unable to sign their 8th round pick, as was the case last year with Evan Beal, the $139,000 assigned to that pick is deducted from the allotted total of $6.1 million.   In addition, any bonus in excess of $100,000 given to any pick from Round 11 on counts against the first ten round allotment.   There will be no more $750,000 signing bonuses to a 16th round pick like Kansas City did last year to sign Jack Lopez away from his college commitment.

For the first couple of years of this new system, I think teams will be focused a great deal on the signability of a player at or near the value assigned to that pick.   One never knows exactly how a system works and hence, how to work said system, until one actually sees it in action.   Until the teams figure out the nuances of this, or Scott Boras figures it out for them, my guess is the picks are going to sign right around the value assigned or not at all.   Three times in the Dayton Moore era players picked by the Royals in the first ten rounds have not signed, it will be interesting to see if that number increases.

It will also be interesting to see if drafting of college seniors with no leverage who will sign for $1,000 returns.  The Royals got Mike Aviles that way, but not a lot else.  However, if you want to sign this year’s Wil Myers (and no, I have no idea who that is) it may require using your round eight through ten picks on guys who will sign for next to nothing.   Again, I’m not a fan of the new system, but don’t really know enough to hate it, either.  I know a Jack Lopez is likely playing shortstop for the University of Miami this spring instead of being in the Royals’ system if the 2011 Draft had been subject to the new agreement.   Good for college baseball, I suppose.

The big plus of the new system is the signing deadline is in mid-July instead of mid-August.   That means that we will get to see almost every signed draftee play at some level yet this year.   Going back to 2011, that would mean Bubba Starling (if he had signed, which may have been unlikely) would already have a half season of rookie ball under his belt and likely two months in Kane County by now instead of still playing instructional ball in Arizona.   Starling is not a great example, because he probably slides even further in the draft based on signability and ends up playing football instead.

Anyway, ifs, buts, candies and nuts.   How about the players?

It is no secret that the Royals are looking at advanced starting pitching.  It’s a slippery slope when teams start drafting for need over talent, but in this case the need and the talent might coincide nicely.  Greg Schaum at Pine Tar Press, Baseball America, and many others spend much more time actually watching and analyzing these guys than me, but with three good college right handers near the top of the board, the Royals would seem to be in nice shape to take a talented player at a position of great need with the number five pick.

The options are Mark Appel of Stanford (who is likely to go either first or second), Kevin Gausman of LSU and Kyle Zimmer of San Francisco.    All three throw hard, sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher with their fastballs.   Appel follows up with a slider and developing changeup.  Gausman brings along a good changeup and two seam fastball,  and offers both a curve and slider with mixed results.   Zimmer, who became a full-time pitcher just last year, couples his fastball with a hammer curve and developing changeup.

Any of you who follow the draft at all have read more in-depth analysis of these three.   Of the three, particularly knowing that Appel is likely to be gone by number five, I prefer Kyle Zimmer.   John Manuel of Baseball America compared him to Jesse Foppert, which is both good and bad.   Foppert, just a year after being drafted, was ranked as the top prospect in the Pacific Coast League and was in the majors a year and one half after signing.    For those keeping score at home, a similar path would put Zimmer in the majors by Opening Day of 2014.   Now, Foppert’s story does not have a happy ending, as he went under the knife and never made it back from Tommy John surgery, but therein lies the hazard of drafting pitchers.

Now, anything can happen and we only have to look back to last summer when the Royals, hell bent on taking the best of what was left of five talented arms, saw them all go in a row and ended up with Bubba Starling.  It seems unlikely that Appel, Gausman and Zimmer will all be gone before Kansas City picks, but it is possible.    Should that happen, the organization will be faced with taking an arm that is, at least in some circles, thought to be a step down from the three mentioned above (Max Fried, Lance McCullers Jr. and Marcus Stroman are among names that have come up) or seize on one of the three top position players in the draft.

Those three are high school outfielder Byron Buxton (who it would seem almost impossible that he will still be there), Florida catcher Mike Zunino and Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa.   All three are excellent prospects, but all three reside in positions of non-pressing need for the Royals.   Here is your slippery slope, folks, do you start sliding because your major league rotation is problematical at best and your minor league pitching prospects have not come along as quickly as expected?

Is there a play to get a pitcher at five, who might sign for less than the value of that slot and use the extra money to get talent with some signability issues later on round two or three?  There is some logic to that approach, but it is risky as well.

How the Royals, and the rest of baseball, manage this new era of drafting will be almost as interesting as who Dayton Moore and his braintrust actually end up selecting on Monday night.

xxx

The Royals return to The K where they look to build on their league worst 5-17 home record. Just about the most bizarre split I can remember since Brian Bannister dominated the day. In 22 home games, they’ve allowed 122 runs, or 5.5 per game. In 27 road games, they’ve allowed 97 runs, or 3.6 per game.

They’re scoring more on the road (4.3/g vs 3.8) but the spread isn’t as extreme. As always, it’s all about the pitching.

A couple of notes following an off day where we popped the champagne on a winning record in May…

Decisions, Decisions

The Royals will be looking to make a couple of decisions with their 25-man roster in the coming days. Both Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Sanchez are rehabbing in Omaha and look close to being activated.

For Sanchez, there’s no question… He’ll be slotted into the rotation as soon as humanly possible. Not because he’s anything great, but because he’s making $5.6 million and the Royals are still desperate for starting pitching. Like ugly girl in a bar at 2 am desperate. Neither scenario is something worth waking up to in the morning.

Sanchez threw 5.2 innings (of course he did) and struck out five while walking one in his first rehab start. He’s likely to get one more start before rejoining the team. Sanchez’s return still leaves the Royals with just four “definites” in the starting rotation: Chen, Hochevar, Paulino and Sanchez… That means your option for the fifth starter is either Will Smith, Luis Mendoza or Vin Mazzaro. Or they can add another starter from the minors.

Either way, this rotation is a hot mess.

Yosty seemed to be keeping his options wide open when he said Sanchez will “probably” make one more rehab start. If he stays in Omaha, it looks like Mazzaro will get the start on Sunday.

I’m not sure either option is a good one.

Then there’s Betancourt. He has progressed to Omaha after a brief stint in Northwest Arkansas and went 2-4 with a home run in his lone appearance for the Storm Chasers. According to Ned Yost, he could be activated this weekend.

This is where things will get interesting.

Do the Royals keep Johnny Giavotella with the big club? Or do they ship Irving Falu back to Triple-A? Since the Royals have need eight pitchers in the bullpen, they have a three man bench. It’s possible they ship a pitcher out and keep all three, but that seems really unlikely. In my heart, I’d like them to keep Giavotella and just let him play second. Yeah, he’s unimpressive with the glove, but just give him a couple of months and see what the kid can do. Betancourt isn’t a long-term solution. (God help us all if the Royals seem him that way.) Neither is Falu. Is Gio? Maybe… Maybe not. But while we’re certain about the futures of the other two players, the jury is still out on Giavotella. At least it should be.

I’d keep Falu, too. He has proven his value as a utility player. And he could provide the Royals with a late inning defensive replacement for Gio.

Of course, I never would have signed The Yunigma is the first place. So maybe I’m biased. Biased against bad ballplayers.

We’ve covered this topic at length. And after all the bandwidth we’ve filled, I still haven’t a clue as to what the Royals will do. I know what I hope they’ll do. This situation is beginning to feel like Christmas morning when I was 10… Full of hope and anticipation, but ultimately a day of disappointment when I opened a gift from Radio Shack.

Numbers

The Royals have used 20 pitchers through the first two months of the season. Nine of them have started a game. By comparison, last year the Royals used 23 pitchers and 10 starters.

Here are the top five teams ranked by bullpen innings:

Royals – 190
Orioles – 174.2
Twins – 172.1
Rockies – 165.2
Brewers – 163.1

It’s a damn good thing this bullpen is a strength of the team. Their collective 3.13 ERA is tied for the seventh best mark in baseball. Right now, if you asked me to name the Royals Pitcher of the Year, I would vote for “Bullpen.” Quantity and quality.

A1 Back On Top

According to Dutton’s notes column, Alex Gordon feels like the leadoff spot in the lineup is a “fit.” That’s cool. I don’t think lineup position matters at all, but I do understand that some players have a certain approach and state of mind when it comes to hitting leadoff. Hey, if Gordon is able to focus a little better because he’s feeling it in the leadoff spot… More power to him.

In the last four games since Yosty returned him to the top spot, A1 has added 10 points to his average and eight points to his OBP.

Works for me.

Winning The Month

About that winning month of May. The Royals finished two games above .500 at 15-13 despite scoring and allowing the exact number of runs. The offense crossed the plate 117 times while the pitchers surrendered the same amount. We don’t need an advanced degree in sabermetrics to know that the Royals Pythag record in May was 14-14.

Their overall Pythagorean record stands at 22-27, just a game off their actual record of 21-28. Remember during their losing streak how they were something like five games off their Pythag record? Over the course of a long season, these things have a way of finding a balance.

Time To Win

The Royals next six home games are against Minnesota and Oakland. You can’t find two worse run scoring offenses in the American League. (They follow this homestand with three against the Pirates. Their offense is dreadful. Like deadball era bad.) This is a chance to pick up some wins. Success will be defined as six wins in their next nine, including four out of six on the homestand.

I’m still not a believer in contention. I am a believer in development. And development, like contention, means winning ballgames. This is a real chance for the Royals to inch closer back to the ever elusive .500 mark. If they’re going to make a move at any time this season, it has to be over the next week and a half.

Play ball.

With a 6-3 win over Cleveland yesterday, the Kansas City Royals completed a quite successful 5-4 road trip.   That is five out of nine against the then leaders of both the AL East and Central divisions, plus the New York Yankees.   That’s five out of nine after starting out the trip by losing three of the first four games and going through a five game stretch where the Royals scored only 15 total runs.

Frankly, if prior to the start of the trip, I told you the following would happen, what would you have pegged the nine game record to be?

  • The Royals would commit 12 errors
  • Starting pitchers would go five innings or less in five of the games.
  • Opposing baserunners would steal 14 bases in 15 attempts

I don’t know, 2-7 probably?

Instead the Royals, whose 16-11 road record trails only that of the division leading Orioles, White Sox and Rangers, came home a happy 5-4.  Oh yeah, five wins on this road trip is equal to the number of home wins the Royals have compiled ALL year.  This team is anything but boring.

This road trip really underscores that you don’t need to play perfect to play decent baseball.  The Royals are not going to go on any fifteen game winning streaks playing like they did the past week and a half, but when they make the plays at the right time, they can slowly climb back to .500….despite themselves.

Yesterday, the Royals got only five marginally effective innings out of Bruce Chen.  They were picked off twice, while Cleveland ran wild on the bases.  Kansas City bailed a befuddled and disgruntled Jennmar Gomez out of trouble when Johnny Giavotella was picked off first base with Billy Butler at the plate.   Later in the game, after rookie Scott Barnes loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter, Jeff Francoeur bailed him out of trouble by popping out on the FIRST pitch he saw.   And, let’s not even get into what Jonathan Broxton did in the ninth.

The day before the Royals committed three errors behind rookie Will Smith (who also walked the first two batters of the game) and the team still cruised to an 8-2 win.   On Sunday in Baltimore, Luke Hochevar did not make it out of the fifth, but the Royals still won 4-2 and the day before that, Felipe Paulino walked five in five innings and the Royals won that game, too.   A team doesn’t have to be perfect to play winning baseball.  In the Royals case, on the road at least, they don’t have to even come close to perfect.  

Over the last thirty games – basically a fifth of a baseball season – the Kansas City Royals are 16-14.   They have done so with a starting rotation so jumbled that the occupants of  both the fourth and fifth starter slots are almost always in a state of flux.  Although the lineup and, more particularly, the batting order has recently settled down, but for most of those thirty games it has been a roulette wheel every night.   Let’s put it another way, the best two starting pitching performances of the road trip were turned in by two guys who did not make the rotation out of spring training and the biggest hit in yesterday’s game came from a player who was sent out to the minors with two weeks left in spring camp.

This is not the Royals team most of thought we would have in 2012.  No one, no matter how correctly skeptical of the rotation, envisioned this team being 5-17 at home.   Of course, this Royals team is not ’5-17 bad’.   The very basic whims of the baseball gods means the Royals are due for some good luck at home, it not actually destined to, you know, play better baseball on their own field.

The White Sox, by virtue of an 8 game winning streak, have surged to the lead in the Central with a 29-22 record.  However, they don’t really strike one as a team that is going to play .560 baseball all year.  I could be wrong – it’s been known to happen – but the longer the Tigers flounder about the more it seems like the Central Division is in play for whichever mediocre team wants to back into it.

The Royals have begun to see signs of life, or at least signs of better luck, from Eric Hosmer.   Alex Gordon has started to get on base again and Mike Moustakas is emerging as a middle of the order impact bat.    Is Salvador Perez as savior?  Not sure, but I like him in the Royals lineup way more than Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero and that is going to happen before the end of June.  

While the Royals don’t really know what they have in Lorenzo Cain and likely won’t find out for at least another month, I still believe he is an upgrade in centerfield.  Could Wil Myers find a place by mid-summer?  How about Jake Odorizzi?  What if Will Smith pitches another strong outing this weekend? 

At the end of that awful 12 game losing streak, most of us had this season as being effectively over.   Times have changed.   The Royals don’t need to be perfect to win baseball games.   The season is far from over.

xxx

 

 

Last Friday, I went around the infield and looked at how the Royals offensive production at each position compared to league average. Today, it’s time for the outfield (and DH) to get the similar treatment.

Left Field
League Average – .243/.320/.412
Royals – .230/.324/.364, sOPS+ 85

Alex Gordon’s numbers look very much like the ’09-’10 version of Alex Gordon. That’s the version we thought we’d left behind. At least, we had hoped that version had been left behind after the Royals penned him to a contract extension just ahead of the season opener.

If you’re into arbitrary end points, Gordon did have a fine stretch of 19 games where he hit .321/.398/.487 from April 25 to May 16. That was when we collectively exhaled. Great. Except in the 11 games since then, he’s hit .146/.255/.220.

Although Gordon won’t admit it, I wonder if he’s been unsettled by Yosty’s Revolving Lineup Card. Gordon opened the year as the leadoff hitter (where he had most of his success last year), but when he was slow out of the gate, he was dropped to second, then third, then cleanup and even spent a few games in the sixth spot. In the last three games, he’s returned to the leadoff spot and has picked up four hits in 13 plate appearances. There’s still time for him to salvage his season, but it’s been much more of a grind.

Center Field
League Average – .268/.333/.432
Royals – .236/.312/.322, sOPS+ 70

Aside from the DH spot, the most productive position in the American League so far this year has been center field. And it’s where the Royals have struggled to get any production at all. Jerrod Dyson has seen the most appearances in center, with Mitch Maier with the second most. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Bourgeois have also seen time at the position.

Dyson’s production has been solid as far as reaching base. With a .252/.328/.331 line, he’s proven himself adept at working the count and drawing the base on balls. He still doesn’t hit enough to justify the leadoff spot in the lineup, but like I said… He’s pretty close to league average when it comes to OBP. That makes him a decent fourth outfielder to have on your roster. Look out, Mitch.

Still, this feels like a lost season for Cain. He was supposed to get most of the reps in center, but the injury bug bit him hard. Cain is in extended spring training rehabbing from a torn hip flexor. He’s probably a good three to four weeks away from returning. At which time, the Royals will have a decision to make: Will they hand him back his everyday job in center, or will they write off this season and rotate him with Dyson and/or Maier? Maier is buried so far on Yosty’s bench, he could be the odd man out.

Oh… At this point, I’m supposed to ask, “Got Melk?”

Right Field
League Average – .258/.326/.434
Royals – .276/.320/.443, sOPS+ 96

We know from watching the Royals several certainties: Ned Yost will call for myriad sac bunts in situations where they won’t help his team. The Royals will give the opposition at least one free out per game. And Jeff Francoeur will hit fifth.

Like most of the Royals, The Frenchman got off to a slow start, but picked up the pace of late. In May, he’s hit .327/.371/.582. Most impressive have been his seven walks this month. Currently, he’s walking in 6.2 percent of his plate appearances, which is the highest rate of his career. I think it has something to do with the Mayans. Or a Kardashian. And with five home runs this month, he’s knocking one out of the yard about every 36 at bats, which is very close to his career mark of 32 AB/HR. And this for a guy who didn’t hit his first bomb until May 13 and didn’t hit his second until May 21.

Nice road trip.

Designated Hitter
League Average – .259/.333/.450
Royals – .290/.345/.505, sOPS+ 118

The Royals have utilized two designated hitters all year: Billy Butler and… Johnny Giavotella. Ummm, OK.

We all know about Country Breakfast. And long time readers will know about my affection for the man. Dude can rake. And he’s the only thing – the only thing – that you can count on in the Royals lineup. He will show up every year, drill line drives to the gaps and put up a line around .300/.370/.470.

Except this year, he’s hit a few more home runs.

The party line from the Royals is Butler is finally hitting for more loft. Sounds great, except he’s not. His fly ball percentage is 32.2 percent which is the lowest of his career. The lowest. Yet, the ball is flying out of the part and he’s become the number one threat to wipe Steve Balboni from the Royals record book. How? Maybe it’s because he’s stronger. It doesn’t look like he’s changed his approach as the Royals would like you to believe. He’s swinging at pitches at roughly the same rate. It’s just that the fly balls have a little more charge in them this year.

It’s a nice development.

And as I Tweeted a few weeks ago, if you don’t like Billy Butler, I don’t have a lot of time for you. Sorry. I think he’s a great hitter. And the kind of guy you need on your team.

Country Breakfast is awesome.