Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

A few thoughts as we get set to open another season at The K on Positive Friday. Hope the weather holds!

– Six games into the season, and I’m a little torn on how the bullpen has performed. Yeah, the Broxton meltdown was spectacular and that eighth inning on Opening Day was rough, but there have been some stellar individual performances. Aaron Crow has pitched two of the best innings I’ve seen a reliever throw in recent memory. Tiny Tim Collins has conquered his command problems for the time being. And Kelvin Herrera’s change-up gives me nightmares and I haven’t swung a bat in years.

Collectively, they posted a SO/BB ratio of slightly better than 4:1, which is fantastic. Their 12.1 SO/9 is the fourth best in baseball and trails only the Yankees in the American League. On the other hand, they have collectively inherited 12 runners and allowed five to score. And Broxton kind of has occasional control issues.

Overall, though, we have to be pleased, right? The bullpen had been advertised as a strength of this team and even though there have been a couple of speed bumps on the way, there’s nothing I’ve seen in the first week that would lead me to believe otherwise.

Speaking of the bullpen, has anyone seen Everett Teaford? Seriously, every reliever has been in three games – except Herrera who’s appeared twice. And Teaford hasn’t set foot out of the bullpen. Yosty has a full compliment of relievers, yet refuses to use a guy who figures to be an asset.

Maybe he forgot Teaford pitched in KC last year and figured him for a Rule 5 guy he’s obligated to bury. If anyone can figure out the logic behind Nervous Ned’s Bullpen Management Scheme, I’m listening… Because I’d really like to know.

– Country Breakfast has five extra base hits in his first six games. Stud.

– I had hoped removing him from the rain-soaked Bacon Tuesday game in Oakland was merely a precaution. Sadly, Lorenzo Cain’s groin strain was serious enough to land him on the 15 day disabled list.

It will be interesting to see how Yosty plays this. While I would love to see Our Mitch get the bulk of the playing time over the next couple of weeks, I get the feeling we will be acquainted with Jason Bourgeois. And we will also have the thrill of watching Jerrod Dyson pinch run for Billy Butler.

Actually, it sounds like Dyson is in the mix for some regular playing time. Yosty apparently likes the idea of Our Mitch coming off the bench. OK. And he’s thinking the right-handed hitting Bourgeois will get the starts against the lefties. That’s a solid idea. Check out Bourgeois’ career splits:

Vs. LHP – .326/.366/.411
Vs. RHP – .205/.253/.251

That’s so extreme we should probably consider checking Yost into Trey Hillman’s Unicycle Camp For Slow Learners if he ever decides to start Bourgeois against a right-handed pitcher.

So if Maier is on the bench and Bourgeois is the guys against southpaws, does this mean Dyson will get the starts against right-handers? Looks that way. He’s off to a decent start in Omaha, batting .364/.400/.485 in 37 plate appearances. He has 12 hit with three going for extra bases (two doubles and a triple.) And this is most important… He has six steals and has yet to be caught. If Ned Yost were a Playmate he would list “stolen bases” and “sac bunts” as turn-ons. (Sorry for the imagery.)

– The offense is in a bit of a slumber. Our leadoff hitter isn’t getting on base and has already been “rested” in an attempt to help get right. The team has been giving away outs on the bases as often as Lindsay Lohan has her probation revoked.

Here’s the real issue with all those outs on the bases. Currently, the Royals are scoring only 11 percent of their base runners. League average is roughly 14 percent. What the Royals are doing isn’t aggressive… It’s reckless. And it’s damaging their chances to win games.

The obvious news is things are going to balance out. The starting pitching can’t keep up this outstanding stretch and there’s no way the hitters will stay this cold. There will be more baserunners and (hopefully) fewer outs on the bases, which means more runs. Which the Royals will need to offset the starting pitching when it stumbles.

– Somehow, Chris Getz has yet to lay down a sac bunt. Probably because he’s too busy jacking the ball with all he newfound “power.”

Two weeks ago, I think the Royals’ community would have unamiously accepted a 3-3 start to the season.   That is what good teams do:   play .500 ball on the road and take care of business at home, right?  As ugly as yesterday’s 12 inning loss to Oakland was, Kansas City accomplished step one of that theory.    Sure, you hate to lose a game like that, but it is, after all ‘just one game’.

Except ‘just one game’ begins to add up after while.

I am not sure that Denny Matthews came up with this theory, but he refers to it from time to time and I think it makes some sense.   Denny will say that every baseball team plays 50 games that they win no matter what, 50 games that they will lose no matter what and the determination of a team’s season is what they do with the remaining 62 contests.

Using that theory, I think it is safe to say that the season opener against Jared Weaver was one of those 50 that the Royals were just plain going to lose.   The following two games, in my opinion, would both fall into the category of the 50 that the Royals were destined to win, ditto for the 3-0 rain shortened game on Tuesday night.  However, yesterday’s debacle and Monday’s 1-0 loss to Tom Milone have to fall into the critical 62 game column.   There, after just six games, the Royals are 0-2.

Let’s touch very briefly on Monday once more (because a little salt goes well with that open wound from yesterday afternoon).   Tom Milone is a promising young pitcher, don’t get me wrong.  If you pull up his minor league resume, you will be impressed.   However, one thing pops out when you do so is that Milone is something of a strikeout pitcher.   Two years ago in AA, Milone struck out 155 batters in 158 innings and then followed that up last year in AAA by striking out 155 in 148 innings.

So, when Milone throws eight shutout innings without striking out a single Royal, I have to think that is a missed opportunity.   Especially when the Royals ran into three outs on the bases that night:  two in a mind boggling inning in which Milone walked two batters and still needed just TEN pitches to get through the inning.  Yeah, let’s put that as a loss in the 62-game-decide-your-season column.

Then along came yesterday and our good friend Jonathan Broxton.

I raved about Broxton’s Sunday appearance in Anaheim on Monday.  His velocity was up, his slider was unhittable and certainly Jonathan’s confidence had to be high.    After the Royals scored in the top of the 12th thanks to a Billy Butler double and some smartly aggressive baserunning, my confidence was high as well.

Enter Broxton to save the game in the bottom of the 12th.   While his velocity was not consistently as high as it was on Sunday, he still greeted Daric Barton with a pair of 94 mph fastballs, got him to foul off a slider, showed him a 98 mph offering out of the zone, missed with a slider and then got Barton looking with 95 mph heat.   Good start, all is well.

Then the unthinkable occurred:  an Alcides Escobar error.   Okay, it happens.  Ozzie Smith made errors, you know.  Nobody on and Escobar botches Seth Smith’s weak offering at an 0-1 slider.  No big deal, Broxton.   It’s not like Escobar isn’t going to make that up to you in spades as the season goes on.   Except it must have been a big deal to Jonathan Broxton.

I mentioned that Broxton threw a slider (the third of his appearance) to Smith.   That is noteworthy because Broxton would only throw one slider the rest of the inning.   Four straight fastballs to Jemile Weeks for balls and, to be clear, they were not even that fast.   All four whistled in at 92 or 93 mph:  well below what Broxton was throwing in his dominant outing on Sunday.   At that point, you have to start to wonder what is going on and maybe, just maybe, Aaron Crow might be an option.

Eric Sogard enters the batter’s box and Broxton pumps the velocity up a little: seven straight fastballs between 94 and 96 mph.  Sogard never swings the bat and walks when Broxton misses with a 94 mph 3-2 fastball.  Okay, it is officially dicey at this point.   Bases are loaded, one out and Broxton has thrown 8 of his last 10 fastballs out of the strike zone.

Now, we all know the new improved rules of baseball demand that once you insert your closer, you are duty bound to live and die with him.  I hate the rule.  I hated it last year when Joakim Soria was struggling and I hate it even more when the Royals’ closer may or may not be the best arm in the bullpen.   Still, I have to admit that I don’t pull Broxton here, either.

Coco Crisp comes up, takes a 94 mph fastball for a strike, fouls off a 95 mph offering and then takes a 96 mph four seamer for a ball.   Okay folks, here it comes, the last slider of the day.  Crisp hacks at an 89 mph slider and hits a bouncer to second where the only play is at first for the second out and the tying run scores.  Hey, on another day, Crisp hits the ball to Betancourt’s right instead of his left and the Royals turn a game ending double play.   I hate the saying more often than not, but in this case, well, that’s baseball.

Now, runners on second and third, two outs and the game is tied.  Disappointing, yes.  Devastating, no.  Get the third out and let’s play inning number thirteen.

Yeonis Cespedes is up.  Yeonis Cespedes will swing and generally miss anything that breaks at all.  Hell, pretty sure he might swing and miss at Nick’s slider or Craig’s split-fingered fastball.   Feels like a slider here, doesn’t it?  Nope, Broxton throws a 95 mph fastball and hits Cespedes.   Hits him with the first pitch.   Hits a guy who would likely jump out of his shoes to swing big at something on the outer half or even something over his head.

Now, Broxton is 24 pitches into this inning, having walked two guys, hit another and forgotten that he actually has a second pitch.  I know Aaron Crow sometimes struggles with his control, but don’t you have to give him a shot here?  

Here is where I freely admit that in all the second guessing that the game of baseball was virtually designed to create, managers get absolutely and unfairly hammered for changing pitchers too late or too soon or too often or not often enough.   Hindsight is painfully obvious in baseball and quite honestly, how often do you see a pitcher hit two guys in a row?

One thing that does seem pretty common is for a pitcher to struggle to throw a strike after hitting a batter, however, and Broxton had not exactly been hammering the zone previously.   This was not fluke, Broxton was drowning out there and was treading into deep water pitch count wise.    I know, 24 pitches is not that many, but it is a lot for one inning and a big number for specialized one inning guys.

Bam! A 97 mph four seam fastball that The Flash could not have avoided and the winning run comes in on a hit batter.   End of game, end of story and the Royals are now 0-2 in the ‘season deciding column’.

A 3-3 road trip is good and probably we might have entered panic mode too soon, but when you have used the ‘it’s only one game’ TWICE in the first six games, I have to admit being a little concerned.   Young teams have a tendency to give away games, but they cannot afford to do so a third of the time.

If you want to be an aggressive baserunning team, do it, but do so with some intelligence.   If you have a dominant bullpen then use it and not just in the traditional baseball fashion.   Losses happen.  The Royals are not going to go 62-0 in the season deciders.   Young teams give away games.

Playing at home, the young Royals need to take some of the games back.

xxx

 

A few bullet points as we all experience rain-shortened West Coast Madness to open the season…

– First, helluva start by Danny Duffy on Tuesday in Oakland. Late in the game, Greg Schaum tweeted a question, asking if this was his best major league start. Easy answer…

Without a doubt that was Duffy’s major league start of his brief career.

Never before had he allowed fewer than two runs in a start. And his eight strikeouts were just one off his career best.

Also, if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know how I like to use Bill James’ Game Score as a measure of a strong start. On Tuesday, Duffy posted a final Game Score of 74. That total was miles better than his previous best of 63, posted last July against the White Sox.

It was an absolute gem from the Duffman.

For posterity’s sake:

6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 8 SO

Yeah, the walk total wasn’t ideal, but the elements were harsh. Obviously, they were harsh for the hitters as well, but each time Duffy walked a batter, he was able to get the outs that were needed. Especially in the fifth when he walked a pair of batters, but closed out the inning with a strikeout of Chad Pennington.

Overall, he threw 103 pitches, 62 of them for strikes. And of those 62, 16 of them were on swings and misses. Including five in a row to open the second inning.

He opened the game throwing heat, reaching 96 mph, before settling into the 93 mph range with his fastball. Here’s his velocity chart from the game…

Just another in a line of strong starts to open the season for the Royals.

– One of the big outs following a Duffy walk came in the second inning when Lorenzo Cain ran at least three miles to track down a Daric Barton flyball. After crashing into the wall, Cain got the ball to the relay man and the Royals doubled off Collin Cowgil to end the inning.

We had heard about Cain’s magnificent range. That was the first time I saw it in action. It was a thing of beauty.

After the catch though, he had to leave the game after experiencing pain in his groin. I’m hopeful the Royals were playing it safe and he’s OK. The elements were nasty last night in Oakland and the field was in horrible condition, so it’s totally understandable that the Royals err on the side of caution and remove him from the game. He was scheduled for a day off this afternoon, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that rest is the solution.

– Alex Gordon went hitless (again) but he hit the ball hard in a couple of plate appearances (again). Yeah, the .000 batting average looks ugly on the in-stadium scoreboard, but he’s fine. He’s getting good hacks for the most part, but has been unlucky. Baseball is a game of averages so we can expect a hot streak lurking just around the corner.

– The Royals made two more outs on the bases last night, pushing their total for the season to nine. That’s three innings worth of outs they’ve given away.

Last night was typical. The first out was a Billy Butler caught stealing. You may be pausing right now, scratching your head. Well, it was on a 3-2 pitch. That’s the only way I can possibly justify what he was doing in that situation. But with the muddy track, for Butler to run was just nuts. No other way to put it.

I wish I knew who decided it was a good idea for Country Breakfast to run. Did he go on his own? Or was it ordered by the dugout?

Naturally it ended with a strikeout/throw out double play.

The other out was the Master Of Grit, Chris Getz getting picked off first with a caught stealing. He was definitely going, left early and the left-handed Jeremy Blevins was able to throw to first to start the out.

The beauty of this out on the bases was Getz sliding head first into the muck at second and getting a mouthful of mud. I wonder when he figured out that he was in trouble trying to slide?

On a night like Tuesday with those field conditions, it baffles me anyone would try to steal a base. Not our aggressive Royals, though.

– Clark and I will be keeping track of outs on the bases by the Royals this year. We’re in the early stages of our system, so we’ll see how everything shakes out. What we’ll be tracking is pickoffs, caught stealings, players doubled off base, making an out when trying to take an extra base or an out trying to advance on a fly ball.

It’s going to be awesome.

There was very little (anything?) to like about the game last night. The Royals should have entered into Oakland coming off of a series win against the heavily favored Anaheim Angels with some swagger and confidence. Instead they limped in with easily the worst lineup they could put on the field. For posterity, lets put it down here and then the amount of times each guy got on base last night:

Bourgeois LF – 1
Cain CF – 0
Hosmer 1B – 2
Butler DH – 0
Francoeur RF – 1
Betancourt 3B – 1
Pena C – 0
Escobar SS – 1
NeuGetz 2B – 0

The entire starting lineup got on base 6 times. Let me get out the slide-rule…..carry the one….adjust pocket protector….yep that’s not very good. So the team was terrible at getting on base, it happens from night to night and with these particular players (Yuni, Getz, Bourgeois, Escobar, I’m looking at you) it will happen more often than not. That’s why when the guys actually get on base they need to make the best of those opportunities.

Unfortunately the Royals didn’t do that either. Hosmer was caught stealing 3rd base (not a typo), Francoeur was caught trying to steal second AND he was picked off at first. I’ll ignore Bourgeois getting caught at third, it was an amazing throw and worth the effort. So the starting lineup gets on base 6 times and they give up half of those baserunners by making boneheaded decisions on the basepaths.

The real shame of it all is that the Royals only needed 2 runs to win the game. It’s impossible to say that if the Royals had started their best offensive team that they would have put those runs across, but there is certainly a higher probability. Had the Royals let Gordon play left, Moustakas at third or if they had kept Kevin Kouzmanoff rather than Getz, they could have put up more of a fight. Instead Ned Yost wants to keep his bench involved in the game and he is scared to death of letting Moustakas hit a lefty. The Royals sacrificed their chance to win in order to make sure Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Bourgeois don’t get a little rusty. Priorities, guys, priorities.

So let’s turn to what happened on the mound for the Royals. In the ultimate results category, Mendoza had a heck of a game. The Royals only allowed 1 run in the 5.2 innings he was pitching. However, it wasn’t a pretty 1 run and it portends bad things. Mendoza allowed 5 hits and 4 walks while striking out only 2. That’s a WHIP of 1.59, which is not good. A pitcher can not survive long giving up that many baserunners. Eventually the regression to the mean specter will come calling.

I know, it’s one game in April. The Royals only lost by 1 run and it was on the road. There’s a whole lot more games to come and it’s a lot to expect the best 9 to play 162. There was just a whole combination of things last night that had me thinking about how many things can go wrong and how much has to go right for the Royals to contend.

They just can’t give away a game to a team like the A’s in this fashion. They can’t put the happiness of Getz over the welfare of the team. They absolutely can NOT run into outs and walk from the batters box to the dugout at this rate. Fortunately today is a new day and the Royals get another shot at the A’s. Maybe, just maybe the team and management were given their copies of Moneyball (sent from a nice doctor in the Chicagoland area) and realized how important outs are and that they should cherish them at all costs.

In the quest for the postseason every game is important. That includes tonight’s game.

- Nick Scott


On Saturday night, with the Royals protecting a 6-2 lead, we got our first look at Jonathan Broxton as a Royal.   He faced four batters, allowing two hits and a run and, quite frankly, was not all that impressive.  

Throwing ten pitches, Broxton induced zero swinging strikes and one foul ball.  Torii Hunter bunted a 96 mph fastball for a single, which was the hardest pitch Broxton threw on Saturday.   Here is the complete pitch sequence for the outing:

Against Kendry Morales

  • 94 mph fastball – called strike
  • 86 mph slider – double

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – bunt single

Against Bobby Abreu

  • 74 mph curve – called strike
  • 95 mph fastball – ball
  • 92 mph fastball – ball
  • 88 mph slider – foul
  • 85 mph slider – sacrifice fly

Against Vernon Wells

  • 87 mph slider – ball
  • 95 mph fastball – ground ball into double play

Let’s not panic here, that isn’t horrible:  a double and a goofy bunt single when up by four runs, but it is hardly dominant.  Nothing happened on Saturday to make me think that Greg Holland won’t be the closer for the Royals by mid-May.

Then came Sunday.

Let’s run down the outing for Jonathan Broxton in the ninth inning of the series clinching game after Aaron Crow had allowed runners to reach first and second with no one out. 

Against Torii Hunter

  • 96 mph fastball – foul
  • 96 mph fastball – swinging strike
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Vernon Wells

  • 99 mph fastball – ball
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 91 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 98 mph fastball – ball
  • 91 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – swinging strike

Against Kendry Morales

  • 97 mph fastball – ball
  • 89 mph slider – swinging strike
  • 89 mph slider – foul
  • 97 mph fastball – foul
  • 90 mph slider – swinging stirke

Okay, so maybe Greg Holland won’t be the closer by mid-May.   What you notice right away is that the velocity is up across the board – which is a great sign for a pitcher coming back from injury and working his second day in a row.  

On Sunday, Broxton threw five sliders, the slowest of which was faster than any of the four sliders he threw on Saturday.   Those five sliders induced one two foul balls and three swinging strikes.  Can you say ‘out’ pitch?    On top of that, Broxton’s nine fastballs were all as fast or faster than his high water mark on Saturday.

Same stadium, same time of day, same gun and basically the same hitters and Broxton when from so-so to freaking dominant in the span of 24 hours.  Maybe the more appropriate analogy is that we saw the 2011 Jonathan Broxton on Saturday and the 2009 version (when he struck 114 in 76 innings) on Sunday.    Who said you can never go back?

Now, 10 pitches on Saturday and 14 more on Sunday are not enough of a sample size to really come to any conclusions (other than Jonathan is better when he throws harder – duh!), but it is enough to get this writer more than interested.  An effective, borderline dominant Broxton, gives the Royals tremendous flexibility going forward.   Especially early on when the team’s relievers have a curious tendency to be very good coming into a game and very bad once they try to pitch a second inning.

If Broxton continues to perform as he did yesterday, Ned Yost will have the confidence to go early and often to the pen (even more than he does now), knowing that he won’t need to save a Holland or Crow to back-up Broxton.    Given the number of young, talented arms in Omaha (I mean, seriously, name me a Royals’ bullpen in the last decade that Louis Coleman wouldn’t be the second or third best pitcher), should Dayton Moore find himself in contention in late June he could confidently move a bullpen arm or two to plug a hole somewhere else.   Should the Royals not be a serious contender by then, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to someone like the Red Sox, for example?

Of course, what would an effective Jonathan Broxton mean to the 2013 Royals?  Let’s remember, Broxton will just be 29 years old next year.   How would it feel as a Royals’ fan to start 2013 with this same bullpen, but add Joakim Soria (I’m expecting the Royals to opt out of his contract, but resign him to a more favorable deal) at some point during that season?

Okay, okay, okay, I have gotten ahead of myself.  Broxton likely is unavailable for tonight’s game against Oakland and might well come out of the gate on Tuesday throwing 93 and all of this will just be pie in the sky.  Still, if Broxton starts stringing together velocity numbers like those posted on Sunday, his somewhat controversial $4 million deal will look like another shrewd Dayton Moore reclamation project.

Anybody having fun, yet?

xxx

 

Well, if your hope was for the Kansas City Royals to play .500 ball this year, the team is right on schedule.

Like their fans, the Royals’ batters seemed just plain too amped up on opening night.  From Mike Moustakas basically playing defense on Alcides Escobar twice to the top four batters in the order striking out 10 times in 16 at-bats, the Royals were just too anxious.  Of course, Jared Weaver is, you know, freakishly good as well.   It is possible, let’s hope anyway, that Kansas City fans won’t see Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler string together a series of at-bats any worse than they did on Friday night.

Now Saturday, against Dan Haren (a pitcher I think is pretty awesome in his own right), the Royals did work at the plate.  Solid at-bats and outstanding results – with the exception of Gordon, who seems to be in a bit of funk to start the season.  Nothing better than having Hosmer and Moustakas go yard on a national broadcast.

On the mound, we saw the ‘weak’ portion of the roster come through with flying colors.   Bruce Chen had Angels hitters off-balance for six innings on Friday, while Luke Hochevar used some early inning luck (and a good portion of newfound composure) in combination with some 5th and 6th inning dominance to nearly duplicate Chen’s performance.  

Of course, baseball being the funny game that it is, the Royals’ perceived strength, the bullpen, was not exactly stellar. 

Aaron Crow pitched as dominant an inning on Friday as I can remember…from anyone, inducing 8 swinging strikes on his way to striking out the side.   He followed up with an ineffective start to the 8th and was followed by Greg Holland who allowed as many inherited runners to score in that one inning than he did in ALL of 2011.

I was surprised Ned Yost sent Crow back out for a second inning of work on Friday.  I certainly can understand why, given Crow’s dominance in the first inning of work, but it was unexpected and ended up working out horribly.   Such is the life of a big league manager.

On Saturday, Holland was much better, but Tim Collins allowed two inherited runners to score and Jonathan Broxton had a less than ‘slam the door’ kind of ninth.   Still, I remain confident that the bullpen will round back into form sooner rather than later.   Combine that with some maybe surprising starting pitching and the Royals might have a lot of fun in 2012.

More detailed (maybe) analysis on Monday.

xxx

 

Finally.

After an endless winter, it’s time for some meaningful baseball. I love the game and I love this team. When baseball is in season, things just feel right. The beer is a little colder, the BBQ is a little tastier and life is just a little better.

Opening Day. Nothing better.

Some housekeeping before we dissect the Opening Day lineup…

The Royals tabbed Jonathan Broxton as The Closer. If you’re surprised by that, you aren’t really following the Royals. Experience trumps performance. I’m not complaining – because I’m fine with Broxton in the ninth inning role – but you would think after the two years Greg Holland has had – and the fact he hasn’t missed time because of injury – he would be first choice.

Remember… I’m not complaining about this.

Broxton looked good this spring and convinced the Royals he’s healthy. He was hitting in the mid to upper 90s on the radar gun and had some sick, explosive movement. Holland would be a great pick, but he’s an outstanding choice for the set-up role. And if anything happens, Holland will be ready to step into the ninth inning slot.

If you’re going to judge off the spring numbers, I think you give the nod to Holland. Fourteen whiffs and just one walk in 11 innings is pretty sick. Broxton did fine, too… Eleven strikeouts, but four walks in eight innings. Broxton had the better ERA, but he allowed five unearned runs. And if I remember correctly, Holland’s ERA went up a run or two when someone couldn’t close out an inning after he left with a couple of runners on base.

This is one area where the Royals truly have depth. It’s kind of a nice problem to have.

Opening Day payroll will be roughly $60.9 million according to USA Today. That’s way up from last year’s $35.7 million. However, it still ranks the Royals fourth from the bottom, ahead of only Houston, Oakland and San Diego.

I’ll be changing the Payroll tab at the top of the page over the weekend.

By the way, if you haven’t clicked on any of those tabs at the top, you should. Especially the Dayton Moore history page. It details every trade, free agent signing and waiver pickup he’s ever made. A useful resource.

George Brett was named an All-Star Ambassador.

What, you were expecting Frank White?

Seriously, a cool honor. He’ll be perfect.

Here are some spring training stat leaders:

BA – Billy Butler – .414
OBP – Butler – .461
SLG – Lorenzo Cain – .743
Hits – Eric Hosmer – 33
HR – Cain/Hosmer – 5
SB – Jason Bourgeois – 7

ERA – Luis Mendoza – 0.47
SO – Mendoza/Luke Hochevar – 21
BB – Aaron Crow – 8
WHIP – Greg Holland – 0.86

That LoCain slugging percentage is insane. Even for the small sample size. And even for Arizona. Hope he packs some of that thunder for the regular season.

Here’s the Royals lineup for The Opener:

LF – Gordon
CF – Cain
1B – Hosmer
DH – Butler
RF – Francoeur
2B – Betancourt
3B – Moustakas
C – Pena
SS – Escobar

Remember how I doubted that The Yunigma was really signed to be a “backup” infielder? I never, ever bought that the Royals would shell out $2 million to one of the worst players in baseball simply to warm the bench. And remember how so many stressed that in the Big Picture, it didn’t matter. Because if the Royals say he’s the backup, he’s only going to play one or two games a week.

Sometimes, I don’t like being right.

Because if Betancourt is starting against Jered Weaver on Opening Day – and batting 6th… Wow.

The right-handed hitting Yunigma had a bizzaro split last year where he posted a .249 wOBA against southpaws pitching and a .288 wOBA versus right-handed pitching. Neither mark is good, but still… In his career Yuni owns a .314 wOBA against lefties and a .290 wOBA against pitchers from the right.

So if Yosty is trying to play the platoon splits, he’s doing it wrong.

Facepalm.

The other option in the worlds sexiest platoon features the slugger, Chris Getz. Like Betancourt, Getz had bizzarro splits last summer. A .287 wOBA against left-handers and a .269 wOBA against righties. Unlike Betancourt, the left handed hitting Getz has overall bizarro splits for his whole career.

Betancourt has consistently ranked near the bottom in wOBA every season he’s played. And he’s batting sixth.

Look, I realize this is like a presidential election… We’re choosing between the lesser of two evils. But 6th place in the lineup? Yuck.

And why in the world would you bat Moustakas between Betancourt and Pena? You’re doing your young 3B no favors here. To quote the best two word review of all time:

“Sh!t sandwich.”

Finally, here’s where we call our shot. Every year I ask for the number of wins the Royals will have – and a couple of other categories.

Here’s what I want this year…

– Wins by the Royals.
– Place the Royals finish in the division.
– Who represents the team at the All-Star Game.

I’ll start

– 74 wins
– 4th place
– Alex Gordon and Greg Holland

Your turn… Leave your answers in the comment section.

Play ball.

With the signing of Alex Gordon to a four year contract extension with a player option for a fifth a lot of talk and tweeting has gone on with regard to trying to get Eric Hosmer inked long-term as well.    Long-term is a relative term when talking about Hosmer.   Without doing anything but going to arbitration four times, the Royals will have Hosmer under team control through the 2017 season.

Given that, one might wonder why all the talk of a long-term deal.   After all, why not keep Hosmer on the cheap and spend money to fill other holes?   Why not make Hosmer truly prove himself over the next two to four years and then, once he is the superstar we think he will become, make a safer play for a long-term deal?

Well, first off, arbitration does not always equal cheap.   Ryan Howard, with two years of major league service under his belt, was awarded $10 million in arbitration back in 2008.  If Hosmer is the real deal, he could be the Royals’ highest paid player (on an annual basis) by 2014 despite what the Royals may want to do.

Secondly, Eric Hosmer’s agent is Scott Boras.   I have to be honest: I don’t hate Boras like many do.  If you were a player, you would freaking love Scott Boras.  If Scott Boras was your attorney, you would love him.  If you are a small market team, then Boras is not your guy.   He advocates playing the market:  if a player is good/great, go year to year and when you finally reach free agency, strike it big.

You want to wait until you are certain that Eric Hosmer is the real deal?  Then you have zero chance of signing him beyond 2017.   While Boras clients typically do not give up any of their free agency years, it is not an absolute.  Carlos Gonzalez signed a seven year $80 million deal with Colorado before the 2011 season with just over 300 major league games on his resume.   It can happen, but you better strike early.  Otherwise, the best the Royals can hope for is some two or three year deal that does not go beyond 2017 whose only purpose is to mitigate the arbitration hits.

You want Eric Hosmer in a Royals’ uniform beyond 2017?  Then you better strike early and you better strike big.   Scott Boras does not pick up the phone for a an 8 year/$80 million deal – not with Joey Votto’s new contract hanging out there in space.   Not when his client will be just 28 when he hits free agency after the 2017 season.   

Fast forward to 2017.   What do you think the Angels might pay for Hosmer as Albert Pujols slides into permanent DH territory?  Or the Yankees with Mark Teixeira deep into his late thirties?  What if 2017 happens to be one of the years where the Marlins are in ‘buy mode’?   Would they not love to bring the Florida born Hosmer back home for a championship run?  The market for what we hope to be a perennial All-Star by then could be ridiculously feverish.  Hell, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera will both be in their mid-thirties by then. What would Detroit pay to not have Hosmer bashing against them anymore?

We, of course, have no idea what the revenue situation will be in baseball in 2017 and more particularly what state the Royals will be in.   If The Process goes as planned, Kansas City will be a team that has contended for four or five years in a row.   Attendance will be up, merchandise sales will be up and, with any luck, the Royals will be one of the ‘hip’ teams, like they were in the seventies and eighties.   All of that will come into play, but that is then and not now.

What we know right now is what the Royals have committed in salary over the next few years:

  • 2013 – $33.75 million (Butler, Francoeur, Gordon, Chen, Arguelles, Escobar, Perez and 750k buyout of Soria)
  • 2014 – $23.5 million (Butler, Gordon, Arguelles, Escobar, Perez)
  • 2015 – $29.75 million (Butler, Gordon, Escobar, Perez – assumes club option exercised on Butler)
  • 2016 – $19.75 million (Gordon, Escobar, Perez – assumes Gordon exercises player option, club exercises Escobar option)
  • 2017 – $10.25 million (Escobar, Perez – assumes club option exercised on Perez)
  • 2018 – $5 million (Perez)

Obviously, that is some decent change for a small handful of players.   Throughout the 2013 to 2018 era, Mike Moustakas will hopefully emerge and could himself get costly via arbitration.  If Dayton Moore is living right, Lorenzo Cain will do the same and eventually Wil Myers.   Then there’s the pitching.  

What if Luke Hochevar really becomes the guy we saw in the second half of last season?  Do you lock him down for a three or four year period and, if so, at what cost?  One has to hope that someone from the Duffy/Montgomery/Dwyer/Lamb/Odorizzi group becomes good enough to get really expensive (I’ll take two personally and sell some Walmart stock to pay for them!).

All of the above (with the exception of Hochevar, maybe) are a step or two or even three behind Hosmer:  both in timing and potential.   If Hosmer emerges this season as a star, my inkling is that Dayton Moore has one winter to hit Scott Boras with a deal that he might consider.   One chance to make the most daring, easily the riskiest and yet possibly best deal of Dayton Moore’s career.

The Reds were not budget minded or logical, but they ensured that Joey Votto will be a Red for every meaningful year of his career.  They paid out the nose in no small part because they watched Votto post four big seasons before making their move.  The Royals could theoretically lock up Hosmer for ten years – ten younger years than Votto’s deal – and do so for much less money if they act sometime in the next ten months.

Ten years – $160 million.

That’s a number.  That is three times what the Royals would have ever committed to a player.   That is a number that just might make Scott Boras pick up the phone – especially if you call him at the end of July.   It is a horrible, horrible risk.   Hosmer could get pull happy and hit .231 in 2015.  He could suffer a lingering wrist injury that zaps his power and turns his upside into Casey Kotchman (no offense, Casey, you are fine major league ballplayer, but not worth $16 million a year).

That’s a number and a commitment that will make the grumpy old baseball men grumble and spit.  It is a number that might make the bloggers miles from ‘the dirt’ wonder exactly how you fill out the rest of the roster.   It is  a number that cannot be calculated using Polk Points and would be difficult to rationalize on the side of a Pop Tart carton.

Yet, it is a contract, that could be an absolute steal for the Kansas City Royals.   Even better if Moore could convince Boras and Hosmer to take a little less in 2013 and 2014 (say $7 million) and a little more in the last two years.   It is a contract that could change the face of the franchise and how it is thought of throughout the rest of the country.

Assuming Eric Hosmer has a big season in 2012, it is a contract that I would offer well before the start of next spring.

xxx

 

A minor Twitter kerfuffle erupted on Tuesday when Deadspin published excerpts from each of the 30 team chapters of the latest Baseball Prospectus Annual. Publishing excerpts isn’t exactly noteworthy. Except in this case, they were accompanied by a projected win/loss record.

And the Royals were projected to finish with a 68-94 record.

Ouch.

That’s three wins less than last year’s total. And the lowest projected total in the American League.

PECOTA hates the Royals. And PECOTA probably hates you.

Full disclosure: You may know, I’ve written off and on at Baseball Prospectus for the last two years. This year, I wrote the player profiles and the team essay for the Royals. Undoubtedly the highlight of my blogging career.

Many Tweets encapsulated anger and a feeling of injustice. (As much as you can in 140 characters, counting hashtags.) It was like watching someone mourn a lost loved one. All the stages of grief were there:

Denial – Oh, no… Baseball Prospectus released some projections. They hate the Royals… I’m not going to click that link. If I don’t click, maybe it will go away.

Anger – 68 wins? Who the hell do these geeks think they are? I will kick their collective, scrawny ass. Then, I will trash them anonymously on Twitter. Screw Baseball Prospectus.

Bargaining – Maybe the projections are wrong. I mean, they’re not always right, are they? I’ll give someone my All-Star Game ticket if we could just finish at .500.

Depression – Players are hurt, Chris Getz is starting and we still have no starting pitching… we’re going to suuuuuuuck.

Acceptance – If the Royals only win 68 games, there’s no way Ned Yost returns in 2013. Maybe that’s no so bad.

Really, there are gajillion different variables that go into the PECOTA projections. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I kind of doubt it. Even though I’ve written at BP, I’m not allowed in the secret room with the formula. If I nudge a decimal, the Earth shifts off it’s axis and becomes one of Saturn’s moons.

Here’s a brief explanation as to why PECOTA hates the Royals.

– The starting pitching will be awful. PECOTA pegs the Royals staff as allowing 855 runs. That’s epically awful. Last year, Baltimore coughed up more runs than any team in baseball with 860. The Twins were second worst at 804 runs allowed. No other team surrendered more than 800 runs. There’s no way the Royals can compete for anything but a high draft pick if they land anywhere near this number.

Among starters, PECOTA feels that only Jonathan Sanchez and Bruce Chen will be above replacement level. They have Chen at a 0.0 WARP and Sanchez at 0.3 WARP. For reference, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander had a 6.0 and 5.8 WARP, respectively. Danny Duffy had a 0.5 WARP.

The starting five rounds out with Duffy at -0.1 WARP, Luke Hochevar at -0.3 WARP and Luis Mendoza at -0.7 WARP. That’s just a really bad starting rotation.

The funny thing is, I don’t agree with any of it.

First of all, PECOTA thinks that Sanchez will be the Royals top starter. No way. In fact, I’d wager of the five listed above, he’s the fourth or fifth best. They expect a steep drop from Chen and virtually no improvement from Duffy. I’m betting that Chen takes a step back in ’12, but I think it’s a small one. And Duffy… Man, I just don’t see how he doesn’t pitch better this season.

This is something that gets all the Lee Judge acylotes in an uproar… Projections don’t account for changes of a mechanical nature. Take Hochevar, for example. Last summer, Hochevar shifted his arm angle on his slider and developed that pitch into something that could be called above average. As I said before, I’m not privvy to the secret sauce of PECOTA, but I’m fairly certain it’s not taking into account his new arm angle, or the fact he upped the percentage he threw his slider. Instead, it’s looking at things like ballpark, age and past performance. I think if a player struggles in the first half, but has a strong second part of the season, but his overall numbers are weak, projections systems have a difficult time with that player.

– Six of the nine Royal regulars are projected to have a sub .325 on base percentage. Last year the league average was .321 OBP. Of the lineup, only Hosmer, Butler, Gordon and Chris Getz will top that mark. (Relax, Getz is the lowest of the four with a .324 projected OBP.) That’s a reversal from last summer, where six regulars topped a .329 OBP.

Gordon is projected to drop 24 points, which isn’t surprising given his past performance. Last year was his breakout, and projection systems have a difficult time buying into a guy who had over 1,600 plate appearances and outperformed his career averages by a large margin.

Meanwhile, Butler is projected for a .360 OBP, just one point below his 2011 mark. The last three seasons, Butler has been Mr. Consistent. His projected slash line of .294/.360/.453 almost exactly matches his career line of .297/.360/.458. While a player like Gordon is difficult to project due to the circumstances surrounding a “breakout” season, a player like Butler is the opposite. He’s so steady, it’s difficult to miss by much.

– Kansas City is going to experience another power outage. No Royal is projected to top 20 home runs. Hosmer and Gordon are the team leaders with 19 bombs and Butler and Moustakas are right behind them with 17. Last year, the Royals had five players top 18 long balls.

That combination of sub-par on base percentage and almost non-existent power means the Royals will struggle to score runs. PECOTA has them for 716 runs scored. That’s actually just off the 730 they scored last season.

Again, I don’t agree with all of the offensive projections. Butler aside, most of them seem very conservative.

Any projection system has hits and it has misses. And if you search hard enough, there are tons of projections available this time of year. If you must, look until you find one that fits your selection bias. In the meantime, take PECOTA for what it is… A projection. It’s something that can be fun to look at, but don’t take it at face value. Investigate. Try to decide if you agree or disagree. Dig around and see how they arrived at their projection. Most of all, be constructive in your criticism. “PECOTA sucks because they say the Royals are only going to win 68 games,” isn’t helpful. But if you say, “I disagree with PECOTA because I think our pitching is going to be better than they project, because…”

Do I think the Royals are better than a 68 win team? Yes. Do I think they’ll win 80? No. I’m still kicking around some win totals in my mind. That post comes on Friday… Opening Day, when we call our shot.

Play ball.

On the off season list of priorities, signing Alex Gordon to a contract extension was probably at the top. You may even say it was A1 on the list. (Groan… I know.)

With the clock counting down on spring training, the Royals and Gordon finally got the extension done last Friday, announcing a four year deal, valued at $37.5 million. There is a player option for a fifth year. Last Friday, on Twitter, I introduced something called #PositiveFriday. It was an attempt to only Tweet the positive as the Royals were striving toward the finish line of spring training.

Positive Friday, indeed.

Overall, this is another deal that is a win for both sides. It’s a win in that Gordon gets guaranteed cash, and it’s a win that the option for the fifth season is his. It’s a win for the Royals in that they signed one of their top three hitters to a deal that won’t break the bank. Or more importantly, prohibit them from pursuing a long term extension for Eric Hosmer at any point in the next three years.

And it’s a win for Dayton Moore. Since he’s become General Manager, Moore has signed Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and now Gordon to a long-term deal. Basically, anyone worthy of a deal has signed one. While the ink has yet to dry on the Perez, Escobar and now Gordon deals, each one of these contracts seems to be a good piece of business on the part of the Royals.

(Yes, Soria is going to miss the entire season, but according to FanGraphs, he’s provided $20.3 million in value for the first three years of his contract. That’s while making $8 million. I’m going to assume the team has insurance on Soria and I’m also going to assume his contract is either renegotiated for next year or not picked up at all.)

It’s natural to frame the Gordon extension as how it affects Hosmer. There’s an interesting alignment happening. On one side, you have super agent Scott Boras who rarely signs a long-term deal before testing the free agent market. On the other side, you have Moore, who has yet to allow any of his quality players to test said market. It’s a good, old-fashioned standoff… Who blinks?

It’s funny how all of this works. Two years ago, Gordon was a bust. A first round pick who couldn’t get healthy and who couldn’t catch a break. There were rumblings of how he was completely lost – both as a hitter and a fielder. And there was talk of him needing a “fresh” start. Perhaps a trade to another organization where he wouldn’t be saddled with so much baggage.

Now, he’s the leadoff hitter, Gold Glove outfielder and one of the cornerstones of the franchise. He may not match the offensive or defensive production from his stellar 2011, but if he can stay healthy, you know he will come close.

Sure, his .358 BABIP points to a correction, but it’s one that shouldn’t be too drastic. Anyway, he’s a high strikeout guy (he whiffed in 20% of his at bats last year) with some power. We know those types of players often have an inflated BABIP. Also, his 22% line drive rate shows how well he can square up on the ball. I would bet if he can maintain his line drive rate, his BABIP will be north of .325. That’s good enough for me.

(If you want an example of how he couldn’t catch a break, look at his rates from 2010. He had a 23% line drive rate, but an insanely low .254 BABIP. That was some rotten luck. And it couldn’t help but translate to his overall stat line.)

The only concern I have going forward is the player option for 2016. He’ll be 32 that season, so it naturally carries a bit of a risk for the club.

I had assumed the deal would break down where Gordon would get around $10 million for his final year of salary arbitration, along with $12 million per for each year of free agency. That meant I figured a four year deal would total around $46 million. What I didn’t expect was that the Royals would tear up his current contract, bump his 2012 salary by about $1.25 million and cover just two years of free agency. So while it looks my guesstimate was off, I’m still calling it a win.

Because I can do that.