Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Alcides Escobar

As often mentioned recently, the Royals current roster will, for once, also make up the bulk of next season’s 2012 team as well.  I tweeted last month wondering when the last time was that the Royals batting lineup in August was the same as what it would be on Opening Day of the following season.   Not sure anyone came up with an answer (1998 maybe?).

Given the current situation, one I consider to be a positive situation for the most part, we can look forward to next season and actually start assessing what this team might be now as opposed to, well, six hours before the first pitch of the season.   Who will be better?  Or worse?   Let’s take a look.

The Sure Things

  • Billy Butler – He may never be the ‘prototypical DH’ that some crave, but even with a slow start in 2011, Billy has a wOBA of .358 and is likely to have 60+ extra base hits…again.   He won’t get any faster and his days of playing in the field are pretty much over, but Butler will hit.
  • Eric Hosmer – He won’t win rookie of the year, but I am pretty sure Hosmer is the one guy on the Royals that every single organization in the game would like to have.   His .283/.334/.450 line is a nice major league start for a guy who spent all of six weeks in AAA.  We have seen a lot of young players come and go, but Hosmer has the ‘it’ factor.

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

  • Alex Gordon – .303/.376/.502 was what we have all been waiting for, wasn’t it?   Gordon’s fWAR now stands at a spectacular 6.1, making him quite possibly the best leftfielder in the American League.  After four seasons that fell short of the high expectations for Gordon, the question is:  can he do this again?   My guess, my gut feeling is that THIS is Alex Gordon and he will continue on at this level or something near to it.   My heart wants to put him in the ‘sure thing’ category, but logic tells us to be just a shade more cautious.
  • Melky Cabrera – He could go 2-98 next year and still be one of Dayton Moore’s best free agent signings:  that is how good Melky has been this season.  Sure, he is overrated as a centerfielder because of his good arm, but he is not horrible, either.   Raise your hand if you thought Cabrera would be worth 3.3 fWAR.   No one?  Now, raise  them if you think he can do it again.  Yeah, I know, I can’t decide whether to put my hand up or not.
  • Jeff Francoeur – There is nothing wrong with .282/.330/.467 out of Frenchy.   You cannot expect much more and we should all be happy if he can sustain that for the next two years of his new contract.   Will he?  I’m a little skeptical in that Jeff has been prone to ‘fall off the cliff’ type seasons.  Again, it may or may not be logical to be almost certain a 27 year old Alex Gordon has ‘taken the next step’ and be equally skeptical that Francoeur and Cabrera (also 27) have not.  

Destined for Better Things?

  • Mike Moustakas – The swing looks better and the numbers have gone from awful to below average.   Along the way, Moustakas has played better than expected defense (although no one expected much in this area) and kept his confidence.  You would like to see something of a power surge here in September as a springboard to Mike becoming a 25+ home run guy (I doubt he will ever be a big average hitter), but even without a fall hot streak, I will be expected Moustakas to be more of an offensive asset than he has been in 2011.  Frankly, it would be hard for him not to be, right?
  • Alcides Escobar – I am ‘this close’ to buying an Escobar jersey, but am afraid the Fosler jersery jinx might send him into a .221 hitting, error laden 2012.   We saw Alcides have a nice run at the plate and a lot of what happens to him with the bat seems to be attributable to his approach and not actual ability.  In theory, that can fixed.   With the type of defense Escobar displays, he does not have to go much beyond his current .247/.281/.328 line to be good enough.   My gut feeling is that Alcides gets a little more consistent in 2012, but he might also be what he is, too.
  • Johnny Giavotella – Considering how poorly his defense was reviewed in the minors, he actually is not as bad as I thought.  Johnny makes some bad decisions (so does Hosmer by the way) and his hands are the problem.  Range-wise, he gets to most balls and has been working hard at improving himself in the field.   Listen, we have seen ‘brutal’ and it’s name is Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German:  Giavotella is already better than either of them were at second.   At the plate, he has looked better than his numbers reflect, for whatever that is worth and long term, .255/.293/.391 won’t cut it, but Giavotella is no Johnny come lately to successful hitting.   Having hit at every level on the way up, I think he might hit at this level as well.
  • Salvador Perez – I am biased, but Perez is the best young defensive catcher I have seen since – dare we say it – Ivan Rodriguez came up at an early age.  To date, Sal has held his own at the plate as well (in an admittedly small sample size), but truth is if he can totally negate an opponet’s running game and handle the staff he does not have to hit much.  

The shrewd readers of the group will already be thinking that not every young player gets better – especially Royals’ young players, so the odds that everyone above improves or continues to ‘dominate’ are pretty slim.   The Royals’ offense, while inconsistent this year, has been pretty good.  If a player to two elevates and the rest simply hold the line, then this team will be better positionally speaking.

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: C-

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: C

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

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

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

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kila Ka’aihue
.195/.295/.317
-0.1 WAR

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

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

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

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

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

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

Grade: D-

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

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

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

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

So we’ve reached the midway point in what was supposed to be a transitional season. A season where the young guys would start to filter in and the Royals would stop finishing in last place. The young guys are here, but last place is still the reality. More than anything, I blame the Cleveland Indians, who are still playing way above their heads.

Normally, I’ll hand out a report card so to speak at the All-Star Break, which has always served as the de facto half way point, even if most of the time teams are on their 90th game of the season.

So while you breathlessly await my grades, I figured it was a good time to throw some second half predictions out there.

The Royals will hold on to Jeff Francoeur and both sides will exercise their mutual option for 2012 at $3 million and tack on another mutual option for 2013.

At the press conference announcing the deal, Dayton Moore will choke back tears as he talks about being in The Frenchman’s house when he signed his first professional contract.

Kyle Davies will finish the season in the Royals rotation.

And will promptly be arrested by Federal agents on the last day of the season on blackmail charges. The charges will be thrown out a month later when no evidence surfaces. “We just assumed he had dirt on Glass or Moore,” an FBI spokesman will tell reporters. “Because, otherwise who would choose to keep running that stiff out there every fifth or six day on their own free will?”

Melky Cabrera will be traded.

For some team’s #25th ranked prospect. The half fanbase will come to a near revolt that GMDM couldn’t pry away a Top 100 prospect stud for the Melk-Man. The other half will flood Facebook with messages of disbelief that GMDM would be insane enough to trade away our leadoff hitter.

Ned Yost will allow Sean O’Sullivan to surrender 21 runs in three innings to the Detroit Tigers in a September start.

“I thought he was a pitch or two of getting out of it,” Yost will tell the reporters.

Someone will refer to Billy Butler as a “baseclogger.”

That someone will be Ned Yost following a game where Butler reaches base five times but his teammates fail to drive him home.

Jason Kendall will make his return at the end of August and will start each of the final 35 games.

After the team celebrates his return with cake and ice cream in the clubhouse, Yost tells a reporter the team has missed Kendall’s leadership. “What’s our record without him? You think O’Sullivan would have been so crummy in that May start against Texas with Kendall behind the plate? Brayan Pena has a nice smile, but he can’t catch for crap.”

We will not see Johnny Giovatella this season.

Because that would undermine the team’s eventual campaign for “Chris Getz! Gold Glove Second Baseman.”

Luke Hochevar finishes with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Then demands $8 million in arbitration this winter because he was the team’s Opening Day starter.

Wilson Betemit and Mitch Maier will go missing for five days.

Nobody associated with the Royals will notice.

Alcides Escobar will have another hot streak with the bat that will last a couple of weeks and will continue to make outstanding defensive plays. He won’t win the Gold Glove.

And every time The Shortstop Jesus makes a sterling defensive play, four out of five Royals fans will say, “Damn, Betancourt wouldn’t have come close to that one.” The other one fan will complain about his lack of bat.

Mike Moustakas will drive in a run on a hit that is not a home run.

Really. It’s going to happen.

Alex Gordon will parlay his All-Star selection into a strong second half and finish the season with the best all around year of his career.

Yep… That’s going to happen, too.

The Royals will finish in fourth place.

Because I’m an optimist at heart.

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

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

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

.468/.500/.681

 

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

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

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

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

and

and

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

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

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


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

 

 

Rough game Thursday… 16 strikeouts and Jeff Francoeur batting third. Good thing it wasn’t on TV. So, let’s talk about something else. How about some stats?

In play percentage (IP%) is a useful stat in that it tells us how often a hitter is testing the defense. It’s not a measure of quality of at bats, simply it just is very straight forward… How often does a particular hitter make contact and keep the ball in the park. League average is 70%. Your Royal leaders:

Escobar – 82%
Getz – 78%
Aviles – 77%
Cabrera – 77%
Francoeur – 73%
Butler – 72%
Hosmer – 72%
Gordon 68%
Betemit – 66%
Treanor – 59%

Seven of the 10 Royals who have qualified for the batting title are above league average. Not surprising how the list shakes out as the power (relatively speaking) is toward the bottom since home runs are not counted as being in play. On the flip side, Escobar and Getz at the top isn’t a surprise, either. In fact, Escobar is tied for third in the AL for the highest in play rate.

IP% doesn’t mean a ton, but it is a good situational stat to know for the instances where you can’t have a strikeout and absolutely have to have the ball in play to advance (or score) a runner.

Speaking of scoring runners, here are the Royals and their percentage of base runners brought home (BRS%). This isn’t a stat about RBI, this is simply a percentage where runners scored is divided by total runners on base. League average is 14%.

Aviles – 21%
Cabrera – 20%
Gordon – 18%
Betemit – 16%
Francoeur – 16%
Butler – 15%
Hosmer – 14%
Getz – 13%
Treanor – 11%
Escobar – 9%

The Royals are scoring roughly 4.5 runs per game. It’s not difficult to see why. Their team base runners scored percent is 15%, only behind the Yankees in the American League. For as much crap as Aviles got, he was the most efficient at bringing base runners around. Even Butler – the subject of continued scorn for not being “productive” enough – is above league average. For the record, Mike Moustakas has yet to drive in anyone but himself. He’s 0-15 with runners on base.

To break down BRS% even further, Billy Butler has come to the plate 289 times this year. The average hitter who has come to the plate the same number of times, has had 175 runners on base. Butler has batted with only 166 runners on. The average major leaguer with 289 plate appearances has 30 RBI. Butler has 31. So even though Butler has come to bat with fewer runners on than we would expect, he has given us more RBI. That’s production.

By the way, an example of how statistics can domino… The reason Butler has come up with less than the number of average base runners is because Francoeur and Cabrera and to a lesser extend Hosmer, have been bringing more runners home. More production in the top half of the lineup, means fewer chances for Butler to drive home runs.

Here is a table designed to show how many base runners and RBI each player has, along with the average number of base runners and RBI given how many plate appearances that batter has. They are presented in what has become the normal batting order for the Royals.

The table just confirms what we’ve seen all year. The top six spots have been providing all the production. The lower third of the batting order has been an abyss. One thing that surprised me was how much higher than league average Escobar was when it comes to base runners when he’s at the plate. Credit to Coach Treanor I guess, who is walking 15% of the time. Getz’s numbers are a bit skewed because he’s spent time at the leadoff spot. I imagine if he’s spent all year hitting behind Treanor, his base runner number would be above average as well.

A couple of programming notes…

– On the sidebar, you’ll notice Nick was sent three DVD sets from A&E Home Entertainment celebrating the Royals 1985 World Series and we’re giving those away. I picked up the set last winter (you may recall some random Tweets I tossed out in the middle of January) and I can attest to the awesomeness of the DVDs. Included is the full broadcast of all seven games, along with some extras like the clubhouse celebration and features on George Brett and Bret Saberhagen.

How do you win one of these? Easy. Just tell us a great baseball story about your relationship with the Royals. That’s a pretty general idea, so it’s up to you and your creativity to run with it. We’ll publish the winners.

Entry deadline is June 21, so get on this. Email your submissions here. Good luck.

– Second item is also on the sidebar, and it’s the Baseball Prospectus meet at the K on Saturday, July 9. There are a ton of great baseball people attending: Kevin Goldstein is BPs prospect guru, Jeff Euston is the brains behind Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Joe Hamrahi is a graduate of Royals scout school and the CFO of BP and Rany Jazayerli. Since I’ve been writing about fantasy baseball there for the last two years, I’m there as well. I’m going for a guilt by association thing here… Stand close to the smart people and everyone will think you’re smart as well.

For $30, you get a ticket to the game against the Tigers in The French Quarter in right field in front of Rivals, a $15 coupon to be used when you sign up or renew your BP subscription, a meet and greet with someone from the Royals (to be determined) and just a chance to hang out with people who love baseball just as much as you do. Space is filling up, so sign up now.

The first day of June and the fact we’re already a third of the way through the season seems like as good a time as any for a quick review of how the season has gone so far.

Thumbs up…

To Eric Hosmer. His recall energized the fanbase, even if it was only for a few games. With a line of .274/.314/.505 through his first 102 plate appearances, he’s doing just fine, thank you. He spent the first month plus of the season in Omaha, but with five home runs, he’s closing in on Jeff Francoeur and the team lead of nine. He’ll get there. And stay there. For years.

Thumbs down…

To Joakim Soria as the closer. It’s been dissected and deconstructed by every Royals site in the universe – including this one – so there’s no reason to rehash it here. Although I will say I don’t agree with the decision to demote him. I’m of the thought there is something physically wrong. And that’s with the manager saying he doesn’t know if it’s mechanics. (I’m working on process of elimination here of the possible issues. That, and a declining strikeout rate and doubling walk rate.) It’s not going to serve the Royals and Soria any purpose in having him throw a few innings in mop-up duty. He needs some rest and a mental break from the closing grind.

Thumbs up…

To Alex Gordon’s start. The month of April was his best month as a major leaguer. Through his first 27 games, he posted a line of .339/.395/.541. It was fun to watch.

Thumbs down…

To Alex Gordon’s slump. From May 3 to May 21, he went into a tailspin that had many of us mutter to ourselves about the Old Alex Gordon. He hit an anemic .169/.250/.262 which included several horrific plate appearances. It was vintage 2007 Gordon. That was a very bad year.

Thumbs up…

To Alex Gordon’s recovery and power surge. His on base percentage has stabilized for now, but the impressive thing is he’s found a home run stroke. On Tuesday, he blasted his fifth home run in his last nine games. The power was something that was missing from his hot start, so it’s good to see it’s return.

Thumbs down…

To the starting rotation as a whole. Yes, there have been some solid performances, but that’s been the exception, rather than the rule. Their starters ERA is a whopping 5.22, which is the highest in the AL and it’s not even close. They also don’t strike anyone out. Their 184 strikeouts as a staff is, again, the worst in the league. They’re the only rotation with fewer than 200 strikeouts.

Thumbs up…

To Danny Duffy. Yes, he’s struggled at times with command, but we can all see why he’s up in Kansas City well ahead of schedule. He’s struck out 14 batters in 15 innings, making him the Royals starter most likely to get three strikes on a hitter.

Thumbs down…

To Dayton Moore’s recent trades. Sean O’Sullivan’s starts make me want to skin baby seals and Vin Mazzaro’s relief appearance where he was allowed to get sodomized was the stuff of legend. O’Sullivan and his 3.0 SO/9 strikeout rate would be the lowest since Chien-Ming Wang finished with a 3.1 SO/9 back in 2006. I want to wholly buy into The Process (really, I do) but when the GM is actively acquiring pitchers like O’Sullivan and Mazzaro to round out a pitching staff, you have to wonder.

I’m almost certain the Royals will trot out the “they were the only pitchers available” defense. That was the same justification they used when they foisted the awfulness that was Yuniesky Betancourt. Sorry, it doesn’t work. Not every trade needs to be a home run. We only ask they don’t make history for being awful.

Thumbs up…

To the bullpen. For the most part, they have kept this team in games, which is why so many contests have gone extra innings. Their 3.92 bullpen ERA is close to league average and has them in the middle of the pack in the AL. The fact this happened with Soria struggling is nothing short of a miracle.

Thumbs down…

To John Lamb visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum. While the prospect of Tommy John surgery isn’t the end of the world – or a pitching career – it’s a cold reminder that The Process and our stocked minor league is no guarantee of future success.

Thumbs up…

To Jeff Francoeur and his late inning performances. He’s come to the plate 67 times from the seventh inning on and is hitting .346/.448/.577 with eight extra base hits and 10 walks. Several of those plate appearances have come in extremely high leverage situations.

He can still frustrate the hell out of me, expanding the strike zone at the most inopportune times, but he’s been much better than I thought he would be. Since we’re this far in the season, he can still go in the tank, but we’ll have fond memories of at least his first two months.

Thumbs down…

To Kila Ka’aihue’s performance. Come on, dude… As one of your biggest advocates, I took this personally. And now that Hosmer is here, you’ll probably never wear a Royals uniform again.

Thumbs up…

To Alcides Escobar’s defense. The guy is simply electric with the glove. Part of the fun of watching him play the field are the plays he makes on instinct. After being force fed the dreck that was the Yunigma, this is an extremely refreshing change.

Thumbs down…

To Alcides Escobar’s offense. A .258 on base percentage and 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio isn’t helping. I’m not asking for a world class bat, but this is crazy. His glove will only take him so far.

Thumbs up…

To the Royals base running game. They are much improved on the bases, giving away fewer outs as a team. Still, there are moments… But for the most part, they’re doing a good job.

Thumbs down…

To cancer. Nice tribute by the RoyalVision crew at Monday’s game honoring Splitt. He will be missed.

It is always nice to see your team battle back from a big early deficit as the Royals did yesterday, but let’s face it:  Sunday’s 10 inning loss to the Cardinals was just plain brutal.

Thirteen walks, a hit batter, two errors, two ejections and another base-running blunder – just awful.   Home-plate umpire Angel Campos did the Royals no favors, but he is hardly the first umpire to have a ridiculous strike zone and an apparent ax to grind and teams manage to get through a game without giving their opposition SIXTEEN free base runners.

The truly awful thing about Sunday’s loss, which capped a 2-5 homestand, was that this seems to be more than just one loss.   To begin with, it knocks Kansas City to two games below .500 for the second time this season and does so as the team is about to embark on six game road trip to Baltimore and Texas.   One could envision a Royals team coming off a come from behind series win over St. Louis going on the road and winning three of six, holding firm at the .500 mark and still, however marginally, in the conversation when it comes to contending in the AL Central.

After losing yesterday, it seems far more likely that the Royals, 5-11 on the road thus far in 2011, might well flail their way to something like a 1-5 road trip and entrench themselves in the lower half of the division for the rest of the year.   Certainly this may be an overreaction on my part and perhaps yesterday really is just one game out of 162, but it had the feel of one of those ‘tipping point’ games.

Now, a number of writers and commenters throughout the Internet whom I respect have long held true to the line that the Royals would not contend in 2011 and, even when they were near or at the top of the standings, that the Royals were really not contenders.   Those opinions would seem to be closer to getting validated as the month of May begins to wind down, but those opinions don’t really matter.

All that matters, is that the Royals thought they were contenders.  Yes, they can spin the ‘Eric Hosmer was ready and we would have made the move no matter what the standings said’ line all they want and use the same logic with the Danny Duffy promotion, but the truth is the organization was going for it in 2011.

Without question, Eric Hosmer was ready for a promotion and there is validity in the idea that you can keep a player at one level for too long, but the only reason to promote Hosmer when the Royals did (as opposed to waiting three weeks to avoid Super Two status) was that Dayton Moore believed this team had a chance to compete.    I think it was worth the risk and am not criticizing the move at all.   In fact, in some rough plotting of future Royals’ payrolls, you have to go out a long ways before Hosmer’s salary, no matter how outrageous an award he may receive in arbitration, actually begins to be a hindrance to the organization making additional moves.   The only problem with the plan was that someone forgot to clue Ned Yost into the updated situation.

I do believe it is possible to ‘build’ and ‘compete’ simultaneously, but sometimes you have to sacrifice a little of one to do the other.  Case in point:  Alcides Escobar hitting with two outs in the bottom of the 1oth yesterday with the tying run on base.

While we all know that Yost had been ejected earlier in the game, we also all know that the ejected manager usually goes exactly one step beyond visual range in the dugout tunnel.   Certainly, if Ned had wanted to pinch-hit for Escobar in this situation, he could have made his thoughts known to bench coach John Gibbons.     That he did not, forces us to rely on Yost’s stated position of a week or so ago that ‘Escobar needs to learn how to hit in those situation’.   Well, of course he does, but Escobar doesn’t necessarily need to learn how to hit in every one of those situations. 

I say that, knowing that Escobar has been hitting better lately (5 for his last 17 at-bats), that he was 2 for 4 on the day, and that the pinch-hitting option was Melky Cabrera (5 for 39 in his career as a pinch hitter and, after all, Melky Cabrera), but I like Cabrera better than Escobar in this situation.    For all his faults, there was certainly a much better chance that Melky catches a ball flush and drives it than there was for Escobar to do the same. 

If the Royals were 24-21 entering Sunday afternoon (or 19-26 for that matter), than by all means let the kid hit and try to figure it out, but yesterday was a big game and I don’t know that you can spin it as anything but a big game.   You make the move for Cabrera and hope he ties or maybe even wins it with one swing.  If it is a tie and you have to play the 11th with your defensive whiz shortstop on the bench, then so be it:  at least you are playing the 11th instead of taking a shower.

The entire plan is a bit of mystery to me as Yost, in other situations, has clearly focused on the now.  He moved Hosmer into the three spot in the order, opting to bolster the offense over protecting the rookie, and Yost has squarely put Aaron Crow into the ’8th inning setup man’ role to the exclusion of any other development in order to win games.   Those are moves made to win now that run counter to things like not pinch-hitting for Escobar and continuing to rotate Wilson Betemit with the Aviles/Getz mess in order to get both of the second baseman at-bats.

Pick a course of action and go with it.   If you are determined to bat Escobar in critical late-inning situations, then it would seem reasonable to try to stretch Aaron Crow out now and then.    Again, it is very possible to devise a plan under which you try to win in 2011 and develop your team for 2012 and beyond, but I am not sure I can envision any plan that has Alcides Escobar batting in the 10th inning yesterday.

What a game… Dead for eight plus innings, the Cardiac Royals plate one in the ninth and one in the tenth. Unreal.

They won, despite the reappearance of the the 2009 vintage of the Royals. Not the team I once called, “Fundamentally worse than a junior varsity high school team.”

But, damn if they aren’t back. At least on the bases.

– In the first, Alex Gordon was caught stealing with Eric Hosmer at the plate.

– In the sixth, Melky Cabrera was picked off first when he broke for second too early against the left-handed throwing Holland.

– In that same inning, Jeff Francoeur was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double.

One word about the caught stealings… The Royals no longer use advance scouts. Instead, they rely on video. I recommend they invest in an internet connection. One quick check of Baseball Reference reveals that Derek Holland has had 84 stolen base opportunities against him this season. Meaning, there have been 84 instances where a runner has been on either first or second and the next base has been open. Of those 84 chances to steal, opposing runners have made the attempt only two times. Two out of 84. In other words, nobody is running against Holland this year. And when they do… they’ve been caught. That’s right. There hasn’t been a successful steal against Holland all year.

If the Royals only had internet connection at the K, they could have avoided two outs on the bases. If only…

So of course, three batters into the game, the Go-Go Royals try to run. Of course.

There’s aggressive base running and there’s stupid base running. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. And guess which side of the line the Royals have been falling over the last week.

Sure, those pickoffs in the ninth on Wednesday’s game were balks. But Aviles should have been aware of what was going on. Then, I just have a real difficult time moving past Coach Treanor getting picked off of second base on a snap throw by the catcher on Tuesday. I can understand it happening at first… But second? Seriously?

While the base running has been fundamentally awful, the defense has been solid with Alcides Escobar taking charge up the middle. That play in the fifth where Betemit knocked down a line drive and Escobar came over from short to pick the ball up and get the force at second was just the kind of heads up play we never used to see. This kid is worth the price of admission to watch him with the glove.

The outs on the bases and lack of scoring overshadowed the best start of the year for Luke Hochevar. The only blemish was a fat second inning pitch to Chris Davis who sent it into the right field bullpen. The thing was, Hochevar seemed to get stronger over the final third of the game. He retired nine in a row before a soft single in the ninth – and then a rocket finally chased him from the game.

He struck out only four – two of them in the top of the ninth – so I wouldn’t call his performance dominant. But he was doing a great job of locating his pitches and setting up hitters all night. His sinker was doing it’s job – he got 11 ground balls compared to nine in the air – and it was enough to get him through 8.2 innings on a season-high 113 pitches.

It was a savvy performance. Good to see.

Then there was the ninth…

Hosmer led off with a single that was scorched up the middle. Hammered. Dustin Pedroia thinks he used to put on Laser Shows? He has nothing compared to Hos. Then, Francoeur reaches on a single. That was practically a given. In 15 ninth inning plate appearances this year, Frenchy has four hits, five walks and two sac flies. A nice piece of hitting where he went with the pitch and lined it to right.

That sets everything up for Billy Butler… I thought he was on track with a seventh inning single. Sadly, it was not to be as he elevated just a bit too much on a late swing (although he was likely trying to send the ball to right) and hit a soft fly out. Then Feliz ran the count to 3-2 on both Betemit and Aviles. Aviles had a 10 pitch at bat where every Feliz offering was between 97 and 100 mph. Straight gas and Aviles hits a perfectly placed dribbler back up the middle to score Hosmer to tie the game. Tons of credit to Aviles there. His last hit was Saturday in Detroit. He battled, fouling off heater after heater before just putting the ball in play. Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Back to back blown saves for Feliz. He won’t get a chance for a third… Not after throwing 32 pitches to get two outs.

And the tenth…

The second best thing about the tenth was the fact we got to see another Escobar highlight pick at short. And Hosmer flashing the leather on the short hop was something to see as well. Just a fine defensive play from those two. I can see that happening several times over the next six or seven seasons.

The best thing about the tenth was the fact the Royals had the top of the order… This was there chance. I just can’t say enough about Hosmer. That kid is just ice. And then Frenchy… I don’t want to, but I love the guy.

The team was frustrated for eight plus innings, but Hochevar kept them in the game and they pushed through in the ninth and tenth. Just a great game. Really – aside from the boneheaded base running – an outstanding game to watch.

No balks tonight. Just a win.

So I’m thinking of just giving up and joining the French Quarter section in right field and becoming a member of the Jeff Francoeur Fan Club.

Why not? The guy continues to rake. A game-tying home run in the bottom of the sixth and the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth… Good enough for me.

It’s not going to last… Not with a walk rate of 5.7% and a 15.6% HR/FB rate. We can talk all we want to about an alleged change in approach, but I don’t think he’s doing anything differently. Just getting some big hits.

Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the show.

And maybe I’m a sucker, but after watching a couple of inept fielders patrol right field for the last several seasons, it’s nice to see a guy who can actually play some defense. He made a nice play going back on a ball last night and collected another assist.

Really, you can’t have a much better game than the one Francoeur had last night.

I’m on board. For now.

Meanwhile, I’m really starting to question what goes on in a Ned Yost dugout. I’ve criticized him for his bullpen management and for what I consider to be over management at times with excessive pinch runners and some other odd in-game decisions.

Last night was simply inexplicable for other reasons.

How in the world do you let Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz bat with the winning run in scoring position? Fortunately, Escobar hit the ball on the nose and produced a sharp grounder to short that Robert Andino couldn’t handle. (Really too bad the official scorer didn’t throw Escobar a bone and give him a hit. I was driving around last night and heard Denny at one point say, “Escobar is 0-2 tonight.” Denny has probably said that sentence about 25 times this season.)

So at this point in the game, you have the winning run on third with one out. To let Getz walk to the plate in this situation is managerial malpractice. In a situation where you need at least a fly ball to score a run, you’re letting a guy with a 30% fly ball rate try to bring him in. Nevermind the fact that the odds of Getz collecting a base hit are long. And as we saw, even a ground ball wasn’t enough to get the run home for the win. Crazy.

Sometimes, I like to give the manager the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he wants to play the percentages with the lefty Getz hitting against the right-handed Jason Berken. Only one problem with that line of thought… Both Kila Ka’aihue and Mitch Maier are on the bench. And as we know, both are left-handed batters.

Again, this inactivity from Yost defies logic. He must have taken a nap in the ninth.

Of course, it could be argued that Brayan Pena – who was on second for Escobar and third for Getz should have been lifted for a pinch runner. Namely Maier. How big of an uproar would there have been had Getz muscled a fly ball to shallow right, only to have had Pena gunned down at the plate. We all know if there was going to be a pinch runner Yost has to have Jarrod Dyson. Despite the ankle sprain, the Royals insist he’s available. I have to differ with this assessment. If he was healthy, he would have been on second practically before Pena touched the bag on his double.

– At the end of the night, the Royals had four hitters with an OPS north of .900. Alex Gordon (.913), Billy Butler (.917), Jeff Francoeur (.956) and Wilson Betemit (.902) form a comfortable middle of the order. Part of why everyone is so giddy about this start is because we’ve finally got a middle of the lineup that can actually, you know… produce.

Of course, it might not always be this way. Still, it’s real easy to enjoy.

– The question has been making the rounds… When do we start to worry about Escobar’s bat. Still love the defense, but after last night, his OPS dipped to .498. Not good.

– For those who are worried about Soria, the good news is, he missed a couple of bats last night. Including a swinging strikeout on Nick Markakis. For those of you who lean to the pessimist side of the equation, it’s not that big of an accomplishment to get Markakis out on strikes. At least this season. That guy is in a horrible, horrible place, hitting just .207/.276/.288 in his first 28 games.

Soria also looked to have better command of his curveball. Although he wasn’t able to get the strike call.

Episode #052 – In which I take a look back at the Cleveland Indians series, discuss lineups, the inability of the pen to get out lefties and preview the series with the Minnesota Twins. Aaron Stilley drops by to talk about Jeff Francoeur’s approach and Alcides Escobar’s bat.

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Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Aaron on Twitter @kc_baseball and check out his articles on Francoeur and Escobar

Music used in this podcast

Phish – Wilson

Arcade Fire – Wake Up

RJD2 – Smoke & Mirrors

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