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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Bruce Chen

Although the Royals official website lists Bruce Chen as the probable starting pitcher on Sunday, I do not believe that is correct.  At this point in this season, there is no reason to bring back Chen on short rest.  Not to mention, for all that he has done for Kansas City the past two years, this is still Bruce Chen we are talking about:  a solid contributor to the rotation, but not a pitcher you want on the hill so bad that you bring him back on three days rest.

The last we heard from Ned Yost, lefty Everett Teaford is the tentative starter for the Sunday game, ‘unless the Royals need him to win a game between now and then.’   First off, Ned, your quest to get win number 63 is decidedly secondary to preparing for next year:   just forget Everett is out in the pen (you’ve done that before) and let him start on Sunday.

Assuming Teaford does actually get to start on Sunday, that would put him in line to get two additional starts before the season’s end.   Both of those would be on Saturdays and both would be against the White Sox.   Now, after the current four game set with Seattle, the Royals are going to be playing the Twins, White Sox and Tigers.   Detroit comes in for just a two game set, so 12 of the last 14 are against Minnesota and Chicago.

With the Sox currently nine back of Detroit, nobody the Royals play is likely to be very interested and their lineups might be sprinkled with a fair number of September call-ups.   Still, if starts two and three are against the same team, usually a daunting task for any starter, it might tell us more than a little about Everett Teaford’s future as a starter.  At least, it might give us an idea, which is more than we have now.

Royals’ fans have been stung by September starts before, of course.   Kyle Davies made millions by have a stellar September and Dayton Moore traded Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs under the false assumption that an 18-8 September meant the Royals were ready to contend the following season, so we need to be careful.   That said, IF Teaford is granted the three starts he would currently be in line for, it would give us some indication of whether he might fit at the back of the 2012 starting rotation.

Some, mind you, and far more than we will have based on the one start that Luis Mendoza, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan might get after the AAA playoffs are over.   Truthfully, I don’t care if they do get a start or share a start or whatever.   It is quite possible that should Luis Mendoza take the mound for the season’s final game on September 28th that he will be facing a Twins’ lineup that is not as good as what he just faced in the first game of the AAA playoffs.  

And it will be just one start.   If three Everett Teaford starts gives us just an inkling, than one does one Mendoza start give us?  

The Royals have talked a fair amount about getting a look at Mendoza, Mazzaro and SOS this September in an effort to ‘see what they’ve got’, but the truth is they won’t really know anything.  Not off of one start or even two against teams with nothing to play for.

That is not to say the Royals should not give them a start.   After all, Hochevar is at a career high in innings, Paulino has a bad back and veterans Francis and Chen have shouldered their share of the load in 2011.   Heck, if the Royals wanted to trot out a rotation of Teaford, Adcock, Mendoza, O’Sullivan, Mazzaro the last couple of weeks of 2011, I would not have a huge problem with it.

Organizations are not supposed to say it outloud, but would it not be better in the long term to win 65 games and pick third in next June’s draft than to win 70 and pick eighth?

Whatever the Royals decide to do with their rotation from here on out is not going to raise my ire in any respect.  If you are asking, I think they should try to get as many starts for the unknowns as possible.   The limited number of innings, however, won’t really tell us anything…or at least not very much…but maybe something….sort of.

It feels like we’re on the edge of some excitement… The calm before the storm that is the trade deadline.

Although I’m not so certain there’s going to be much action where the Royals are involved.

It seems to me the team has four trade candidates.

Jeff Francoeur

The Frenchman is playing at his expected level of .264/310/.448, but with sterling defense in right field. Several teams are looking for a right-handed bat, so you would expect some level of interest.

However, we can’t discount GMDM’s past relationship here. And the fact there is a mutual option believed to be in the neighborhood of $4 million.

I think Frenchy not only hangs with the team for the full year, I think both parties are interested in being together in 2012. As fun as it is to watch Braves fans freak out about the possibility of a Francoeur return, they need to take a deep breath and relax. He’s going to be a Royal for the next 18 months.

Melky Cabrera

Under normal circumstances (i.e. a barren organization from top to bottom) the rebirth of the Melk Man would have Royals fans dancing in the aisles at the K. A line of .294/.331/.456 with a 1.9 rWAR is pretty solid from a player we didn’t expect that much from in 2011.

But here we are… Melky is doing fine and based on the service time rules, the Royals control him for the 2012 season. Cabrera will be a third year arbitration eligible player this winter.

Again, this would be fine… Except Lorenzo Cain is languishing in Omaha where he’s tearing up Triple-A.

Given the contract situation, Cabrera should attract serious interest from a contender looking to patch a long-term hole. (Long term meaning through next season.) Again, I think GMDM holds steady. Cain has already spent his entire summer in Omaha, another month won’t kill him. He can come up in September and we can watch as Ned Yost tries to juggle a four man outfield… Meaning Cain will get fewer plate appearances that that one guy… I forget his name because we never see him… Mitch Something. I think.

Bruce Chen

I hear all this talk about Chen being the Royals “ace” or “stopper.” He’s not. That’s Felipe Paulino. But I digress…

With a 3.30 ERA, Chen is having a nice enough season, although his 4.44 xFIP is on the high side. He would be a decent candidate for a contender looking for a left-handed arm in the back of the rotation.

The problem here, as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently reminded us the other day, is that he’s “Bruce F’n Chen.” Although he’s pitched well enough the last two seasons, there aren’t many who believe in him. He tried to get a two year deal last winter and found no takers. Given that he returned to KC for a one year deal at $2 million, I doubt there were many interested for even a single season. Again, while he’s pitched OK (when healthy) he hasn’t done anything to change perception.

Jeff Francis

While Chen gets discounted, we hear stronger interest exists in Francis. Why? Neither one are that great, but if I was choosing between lefties, I’d go with Chen first.

Francis has a 4.62 ERA, but a 4.01 xFIP… Slightly better than Chen. Neither one strikes anyone out, and Francis owns the better control. Hell, I don’t know. Maybe this is a toss up.

He’s proved he’s fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of the ’09 season.

So those are the top four trade candidates. Who goes? Who stays?

I would bet at least one pitcher gets moved prior to the deadline, in return for another pitcher. That will allow the Royals to revert to a five man rotation. (Yeah! More Davies!) But like the Betemit deal, we need to temper our expectations. None of these guys are going to return a frontline or even a grade B prospect.

Whatever happens, next week won’t be boring, that’s for certain.

On to the pitchers…

We know the starters have, taken as a whole, been horrible. And we know the bullpen has been one of the strengths of this team. I don’t know how the rotation can improved in the second half. Aside from Danny Duffy, these guys pretty much are who we thought they were. Which is not good.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has overachieved. Many of the relievers have outperformed their xFIP and have incredible batting averages on balls in play and even more incredible strand rates. That points to the volatility of the bullpen. It’s still a strength of this team, but I’m not certain it will be as strong in the second half.

One area where you notice the chasm is in strikeouts. The Royals starters couldn’t pitch their way out of a paper bag. (When I talk about the “starters,” know that I’m excluding Duffy. He’s the Chosen One adrift in a sea of batting practice pitchers.) Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of flame throwers who have made missing bats a habit. There may be some regression to the bullpen mean in the second half, but the strikeouts will cushion the blow.

Luke Hochevar
2.9 BB/9, 4.6 SO/9, 5.46 ERA, 4.22 xFIP
0.6 WAR

Key Stat: Allowing opponents to hit .300/.379/.461 with runners on base.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Hochevar “frustrating.” That would imply we have expectations that he could actually be… good.

Instead, we’re teased with a pitcher who retires three or six or nine batters in a row and then implodes in a spectacular fashion. Read that key stat again… there’s something happening when Hochevar pitches from the stretch. Even more frustrating, when runners reach base, Hochevar slows to the game to a speed that resembles Billy Butler running the 100 yard dash… Stand. Still.

I read somewhere that the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger thought Hochevar is a victim of heightened expectations that come with being the team’s Opening Day (read, number one) starter. I just can’t buy into this theory. Mainly because I haven’t thought about Hochevar as the Opening Day starter since… Opening Day. I mean, even Hochevar has to know he was the “number one” starter only because there wasn’t anyone else.

Grade: D

Jeff Francis
1.7 BB/9, 4.4 SO/9, 4.60 ERA, 4.01 xFIP
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: His average fastball is 85 mph.

Francis was always one of the softer throwers in the game, but he’s lost a couple mph off his alleged fastball since returning from shoulder surgery. Having said that, he’s compensating by featuring the best control of his career. The issue with Francis – and it will always be an issue – is that when he catches too much of the plate, it’s easy for opposing batters to make solid contact. His line drive rate hovers around 20% and his BABIP is always north of .300, meaning his WHIP will always be elevated, even though his walks are under control.

Despite the warts, he’s having a pretty decent season.

Grade: B-

Bruce Chen
3.0 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9, 3.26 ERA, 4.37 xFIP
0.7 WAR

Key Stat: Chen has a 76.5% strand rate.

If you’re looking for a reason for Chen’s solid ERA, look no further than his strand rate. It’s about three percentage points better than his career rate. If he regresses to the mean, the second half could be a bit bumpy, but given the way he’s turned his career around, I’m not certain I would bet against him.

Bringing Chen back for 2011 was a good piece of business by Dayton Moore.

Grade: B

Kyle Davies
4.0 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 7.74 ERA, 4.78 xFIP
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has thrown three quality starts in 11 overall starts. The Royals have lost all three of those games.

Dreadful.

Grade: F

Sean O’Sullivan
4.4 BB/9, 3.0 SO/9, 6.92 ERA, 5.59 xFIP
-0.5 WAR

Key Stat: His 0.69 SO/BB ratio is the worst rate among pitchers who have started more than five games this season.

Double dreadful.

Grade: F

Danny Duffy
4.3 BB/9, 7.3 SO/9, 4.85 ERA, 4.20 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat:

Duffy is just a few adjustments away from moving to the front of the rotation. Really. It all comes down to location and an economy of pitches. These are things he can adjust. The successes have been there… there will be more in the near future.

Grade: C

Aaron Crow
4.2 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9, 2.08 ERA, 3.15 xFIP
0.5 WAR

Your 2011 All-Star!

There’s going to be a ton of talk over the next couple of months about moving Crow into the rotation. Personally, I’m on the record saying that everyone from the bullpen should be given a shot at starting. Seriously, the rotation is dreadful so something needs to be done.

Now, having said that, I don’t think that Crow will ever transition back to the rotation. Part of my reasoning has to do with his performance this season. He’s walking too many guys to be a middle of the rotation starter. Also, his success this year is built around an unsustainable 90% strand rate. Then, there’s also his track record from the minors. Don’t forget, he was demoted as a starter after getting raked to the tune of a 5.66 ERA in Double-A. He followed that with a 5.93 ERA in Single-A. Yikes.

Crow seems to have found his groove as a reliever and has emerged as a dependable set-up man. Why mess with a formula that’s been successful?

Grade: A-

Tim Collins
6.6 BB/9, 7.7 SO/9, 3.74 ERA, 4.86 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Lefties are hitting .215/.381/.354 against Collins. Right handers are batting .193/.316/.301.

Collins is an enigma in more ways than one. To start, there’s his reverse split described above. Then, there’s the fact he’s walking a metric ton of batters. No pitcher who has thrown more than 30 innings has a walk rate higher than Collins.

Sadly, those walks are going to catch up with Collins. And that’s probably going to happen in the second half.

Grade: C+

Blake Wood
2.7 BB/9, 8.0 SO/9, 2.89 ERA, 3.08 xFIP
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Wood is getting a swinging strike in 9.8% of all strikes thrown.

I don’t know how he’s doing it… With a fastball straighter than a piece of dried spaghetti. But Wood has become a dependable reliever out of the bullpen. It helps that his slider is much improved as well. Still, I can’t help but worry… I’m a Royals fan.

Grade: B+

Louis Coleman
4.3 BB/9, 10.9 SO/9, 2.01 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Opponents are hitting .167/.280/.361 against Coleman.

Coleman is off to a great start and has been a versatile arm out of the pen for the club. He’s pitched multiple innings in 12 of his 27 appearances and has thrown anywhere from the sixth inning on. With the lead, in a tie game, or with the Royals down… Yost is using him in just about any situation.

His BABIP is .200 and his strand rate is a whopping 96%. There’s no way he can keep those numbers for the second half. His xFIP suggests he’s had luck on his side.

Grade: A-

Felipe Paulino
2.3 BB/9, 8.9 SO/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.24 xFIP
1.3 WAR

A revelation…

Interesting story… At the Baseball Prospectus event at the K last week, Jin Wong talked about how one of the things his job entails is to identify potential talent. Basically, looking at fringe players and deciding if there’s some upside there. If there is, and that player becomes available, they pounce. According to Wong, the club identified Paulino early in the year as a potential guy for them because he throws 95 mph (on average), strikes out a fair number of hitters and can keep the ball on the ground. So, when Paulino struggled in 18 appearances out of the pen for the Rockies, and they let him go, the Royals were ready.

Great story… You hope it’s true. Paulino has never had an ERA lower – or even close – to his xFIP, so he was always a guy with upside. Good for the Royals for grabbing him off the scrap heap when the Rockies were ready to let him go.

The Royals will need to find a few more gems in the rough like Paulino. Capable middle of the rotation guy.

Grade: B+

Nate Adcock
3.7 BB/9, 5.9 SO/9, 4.91 ERA, 4.11 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Only 2 of 12 inherited runners have scored against Adcock.

Adcock was the Rule 5 pick and the Royals have been treating him with kid gloves. He completely disappears for extended stretches. Like right now… He last pitched on July 1.

I’d like for the Royals to use him a little more frequently, especially when their starters spit the bit in the early innings. Adcock isn’t doing exceptional, but when you consider he had never pitched above A-ball prior to this year, the Royals have to be pleased with the results.

Grade: C

Greg Holland
2.2 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9, 1.08 ERA, 2.35 xFIP
0.8 WAR

Key Stat: Only 60% of all plate appearances against Holland end with the ball in play.

Many felt Holland should have been in the bullpen at the start of the season. Many were correct. He’s been lights out. Like Crow and Coleman, his strand rate is north of 90%.

Easily, the best reliever in the Royals pen.

Grade: A

Vin Mazzaro
5.5 BB/9, 3.3 SO/9, 9.25 ERA, 5.97 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: The Royals sacrificial lamb.

It is the seminal moment of the 2011 season… Ned Yost leaving Mazzaro to get his brains beat in by the Indians, allowing 14 runs in 2.1 innings.

Grade: F

Jeremy Jeffress
6.5 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 4.70 ERA, 4.40 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: A 1.50 WHIP in 15 innings of work.

Jeffress has the potential, but until he finds his control, it will remain potential. It’s not going so well in Omaha as he’s walking 6.6 per nine.

Grade: D+

Everett Teaford
3.4 BB/9, 4.0 SO/9, 2.30 ERA, 4.56 xFIP
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has a 100% strand rate.

Teaford is pitching out of his mind. A .195 BABIP and that strand rate… That’s why his xFIP is over two runs higher than his ERA.

Grade: B

Joakim Soria
2.8 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9, 4.03 ERA, 3.57 xFIP
0.2 WAR

I maintained all along that Soria would be OK… It took a “demotion” for him to find his closer mojo. That, and losing one of his cut fastballs.

Whatever, it was an ugly start. Can’t deny that. He’s already matched his career high for home runs allowed (five) and is still down about two whiffs per inning on his strikeout rate. This serves as a cautionary tale that you should never, ever overvalue your closer. Unless his name is Mariano Riveria. Had the Royals dealt Soria last winter, his value would have been at it’s maximum. According to reports, the GMDM is still asking for everything under the sun when teams call inquiring about Soria.

Hopefully, he can pitch lights out in the second half and restore some of that trade value.

Grade: C

Over the break, Dayton Moore made the proclamation that the Royals were still in the race for the AL Central. I had no idea he was an outpatient at the Menninger Clinic. The bats are in decent shape and the bullpen is strong, but the starting pitching will continue to drag this team to what will be a top three pick in next year’s draft.

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

A show of hands of all those enjoying being a Royals’ fan right now.   Deep down, you are probably still thinking that this team will not approach 80 wins this season, but for now this is kind of fun isn’t it?

The Royals opened the weekend by just plain getting beat on Friday, returned the favor on Saturday and took advantage of a sloppy Detroit performance to blast the Tiger on Sunday.   Not only is two of out three not bad (yes, I am watching Celebrity Apprentice this season), but it is very good indeed for a young team on its first road trip of the year.    Sure, the Royals did manage to miss the top part of the Detroit starting rotation, but it was still a nice series win.

There are a number of topics we will touch on this morning in lieu of detailed, comprehensive research (all those nasty facts get in the way of my opinion), so let’s start it off….

Chris Getz led off for three games and the world continued to turn.

Ned Yost opted to sit Mike Aviles down after Wednesday’s zero for seven day dropped Mike to just three for twenty-six on the year.   Aviles, a personal favorite of mine, has looked, at best, uncomfortable at third and, at worst, just plain bad, so a day off to clear the cobwebs seemed appropriate.     One day off turned into two and the next thing we knew, Mike Aviles did not make an appearance in the entire series.

Now, if you have told be that Friday morning, you can bet I would have envisioned writing an entirely different, probably scathing, column today.   As it is, however, you can hardly fault Ned Yost for sticking with Getz as his leadoff man in Detroit after he went 4-10 for the series with 3 walks and 2 sacrifice flies.  All Wilson Betemit did during that time period was go 6 for 11 with 3 doubles and 2 walks.   

I doubt that Yost and the Royals were truly planning on sitting Aviles the entire series.   After all, we are talking about a guy who hit .325/.354/.480 and .304/.335/.413 in his two healthy major league seasons.    Despite having become the whipping boy of the casual fandom and overly criticized by those who should know better, I doubt the Royals have truly given up on him after six bad (and they were bad admittedly) games.  That said, look for no outrage (not even a sarcastic tweet) from me if Getz leads off tomorrow in Minnesota and Betemit is back at third.

While I am an unabashed ‘Aviles guy’, I am also something of a closet ’Getz guy’ as well.  Back when the Royals acquired Chris in exchange for Mark Teahen, I offered that there were a number of big time major league second baseman who had minor league numbers similar to or even worse than Getz’s .286/.363/.380 over 381 contests.   Last season, pretty much deflated my hope that Getz could become Brian Roberts (minus the PEDs), but I have a little glimmer of hope.

IF Getz can continue to get on base at something resembling his minor league numbers and IF Getz truly is an above average defensive second basemen and IF he can steal bases with the success he has shown in limited attempts thus far:  well, that is a guy that fills a void in the batting order and can help this team be better in the short term.

Pending the arrival of Mike Moustakas, I don’t have much problem with Yost playing the hot hand at second and third with whomever among Aviles, Betemit and Getz is playing the best at a given time.    I would be surprised if Aviles does not yet end up being the best hitter of the three after 100 games, but no harm in getting them all at-bats for now so long as Yost does not ‘fall in love’ with any one of the three.   The idea would be to play the hot hand, not stick with Getz everyday at leadoff if he goes three for twenty-six.

Alcides Escobar passes the eye test.

The Royals’ new shortstop can, at times, be quite painful to watch bat, but he is truly fun to observe on defense.   After being overloaded with plus hands, plus feet, good arm, nice instinct crap from the front office in talking about a slew of shortstops who were, at best, league average in the field, it is nice to ACTUALLY SEE what those look like in action.  

Nine games does not a great defender make, but Escobar looks like the real deal in the field.   Enough so to get me wondering how much the Royals need him to hit to justify keeping his glove on the diamond.    I looked to the A’s Cliff Pennington, who posted a UZR/150 of 8.8 last season, which put him in the top five defenders in baseball using that system.   Despite hitting just .250/.319/.368, Pennington still posted a 3.7 WAR (Fangraphs’ number) by virtue of his defense.

Should Escobar, who posted a 4.7 UZR/150 last year at short, continue to play like he has in the field, which would lead me to believe his defensive metrics will approach those of Pennington, can he hit similar numbers?   With two hits yesterday, let’s hope Alcides can pick up his hitting numbers to the modest ‘Pennington-like’ level.    Anything beyond that and the Greinke trade starts to look really good.

Another guy who has looked good in the field is first baseman Kila Ka’aihue.  Unfortunately, there isn’t enough defense to be had at first base to justify 13 strikeouts and just one home run  in 41 plate appearances.   As bad as Kila looked over the weekend, he did manage two walks, two hits and a sacrifice fly, so I am hardly ready to give up on him….except when Phil Coke is pitching.

That’s Not My Process

Alex Gordon is hitting .357/.400/.548 out of the number three slot.   Billy Butler is blasting away at a .394/.512/.667 clip batting clean-up.   That is The Process in action.  Except, that is Allard Baird’s Process, not that of Dayton Moore.  

Pretty much said Baird drafted Gordon in 2005, the real plan for the Royals was to have Alex and Billy blasting away in the middle of the order.   Even with the coming emergence of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, the Royals certainly look much better with Gordon and Butler doing what they are doing right now.   We can pretty much bank on Butler continuing to hit, but we are still in the ‘hoping’ mode when it comes to Gordon.

Still, you have to love it when a plan comes together, even if it is not your own.

Who said this was a bad rotation?

Well, pretty much all of us.

Still, after Bruce Chen used the elements and a generous strike zone to throw six shutout innings and strike out seven on Saturday, and Luke Hochevar went seven strong innings that included six strikeouts, the rotation gets a gold star for the weekend.

Hochevar was dinged for three home runs that led to all the runs scored against him, but otherwise looked very good.   Obviously, you cannot go through life giving up three homers per game, but if two of those end up on the warning track (like they did for Nathan Adcock on Friday) instead of the stands…..   Ifs and buts, I know, but I came away from Hochevar’s start in a positive frame of mind.

Not so much when it comes to Kyle Davies’ Friday outing.   The Royals have played nine games and have not had a wild pitch or passed ball in eight of those.   In Kyle’s start on Friday, he uncorked THREE wild pitches in what was an outright atrocious start.    Of course, you don’t really want to look at the minor league starts of Jeff Suppan and Vin Mazarro, either.

Speaking of Nate Adcock, he tossed a big three plus innings of shutout ball on Friday to save the bullpen for the weekend.   He did not strike out a batter, but did not walk one either.   Nate was tagged for four hits and six of his outs were in the air, so it was not dominating by any means, but did the one thing you want a long reliever to do:  throw strikes.    While I think there was some good fortune in Adcock’s Friday performance, it was good enough to warrant continued looks at the major league level.

Onto Minnesota

Right now the Royals, and particularly Ned Yost, are on a roll.   Other than trying to steal with Billy Butler, pretty much every move Yost makes or doesn’t make seems to be working.   The Royals scored nine runs yesterday despite going just two for seventeen with runners in scoring position.    

The starting pitching has been, by and large, competent.   The bullpen has been very good with the two biggest concerns being Robinson Tejeda and Joakim Soria.   I think both those pitchers get back in the groove sooner rather than later and might well turn a very good bullpen into an absolute lock-down bullpen.    The offense is averaging over five runs per game despite starting three players who are hitting below the Mendoza line.

Will it hold?  Who cares?  Enjoy the ride.

Ever since Major League Baseball has been classifying pitch types and publishing that data on the web, I’ve been fascinated with it. It’s not perfect, but it gives us an idea of how good each pitcher is at each particular pitch he throws. Fangraphs has taken the data a step further and attempted to quantify some of this data futher. There are numerous ways to slice and dice that data, and I’ve attempted one below.

I decided that I wanted to visualize how each of the projected Royals starters in 2011 threw each pitch in 2010. What you’ll find below is a graph I put together using Google Gadgets which attempts to do this. Each dot represents a pitch thrown by one of the 2011 Royals projected starting rotation in 2010. The size of that dot represents how often he threw that pitch. The left axis represents the velocity of the pitch. The bottom axis is the weighted value of the pitch per 100 times thrown from Fangraphs (basically how good the pitch is). If you hover your pointer over each dot, you will see whose pitch it represents. The Gadget also lets you change some of the parameters or just look at certain data points.

What I learned is that no pitcher in the 2011 rotation has a good fastball–every one of them lies in the negative territory. Vin Mazzaro has a good slider and changeup and Hochevar should probably be throwing his slider and changeup a little bit more than he does. What jumps out at you?

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

As you probably heard, the first batch of the 2011 PECOTAs were released on Monday.  The first wave includes a spreadsheet that lists each player and their weighted mean projection for the upcoming season.
A quick word about PECOTA and projections:  They’re fun.  Not gospel.  Just because PECOTA says Kila Ka’aihue will bash 25 home runs, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  And it’s not a failure of the system if he doesn’t hit 25 home runs.  One of the great things about PECOTA is, it breaks down their projections by percentile.  It’s kind of a best case versus worst case scenario for each player.  The percentiles will be on the Baseball Prospectus website in a few weeks.  For now, all we have to play with are the weighted means.

I’m partial to PECOTA because they’ve been around forever (and continually fine tuned)and because I’m an employee of the company.  (Full disclosure and all that.)  I had nothing to do with the projections because I have nowhere near the brain power required to crunch the numbers… Let alone launch Excel.    Just because I like PECOTA doesn’t mean I ignore the other systems that are out there.  They all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses.  Probably the best thing to do is throw all  the projections into a pot, stir ‘em up and see where the numbers fall.

Kila Ka’aihue
.262/.387/.473
25 HR
1.2 WARP

I posted his home run and on base projections to Twitter the other day and got quite the response.  One of the weaknesses of PECOTA I think is found in it’s projections of players who don’t have a ton of major league experience.

When I saw these numbers, I immediately thought of the percentiles, because this seems awfully optimistic to me.  The funny thing is, Bill James shares PECOTAs optimism, projecting 22 home runs and a .375 OBP for the Hawaiian Punch.  Marcel… Not so much.  Just 10 HR (although in about half the plate appearances) and a meager .325 OBP.  (That’s one of my issues with Marcel.  I don’t want to extrapolate projections for an entire season.  Just assume each player with projections will play a full compliment of games.  Projecting playing time is even more speculative than projecting performance.  Especially when it comes to a player like Kila.)

This gives me an opportunity to mention his slider bat speed.

Melky Cabrera
53% Improve Rate
.267/.323/.375
0.6 WARP

According to Baseball Prospectus, Improve Rate is the chance a hitter will improve at all based on his three previous seasons.  An improve rate of 50% means he will perform the same as in the past. That doesn’t mean that Cabrera only has a 3% chance of improvement.  Rather, it means he’s more likely to build on his performance from the previous three years.  I know… Semantics.

The Melk Man’s Improve Rate is the highest on the team.

One of his comparable players is Gregg Jeffries.  This delights me, because I really disliked Jeffries.  I have the feeling I’m going to feel the same about Melky.

Tim Collins
11.4 K/9

Maybe I just have an irrational affinity for short left-handers, but I’m really excited to see what Collins can do at the big league level.  While I mentioned PECOTA struggles with players with not much major league experience, it’s probably a little easier to come closer for projections with relief pitchers.  Collins’ strikeout rate is projected a tad on the high side for my taste, but I don’t think it’s way out of line.  If he gets 60 innings or so, there’s no reason to think he won’t top 60 punch outs.

I’m extremely hopeful he opens the season in Kansas City.

Bruce Chen
6.5 K/9
Luke Hochevar
6.2 K/9
Jeff Francis
5.7 K/9
Kyle Davies
6.2 K/9
Vin Mazarro
5.8 K/9

PECOTA (and other projection systems I’m sure) nailed this trend that will develop throughout the summer in Kansas City – the Royals just don’t have the horses in the starting rotation to rack up the strikeouts.  This is going to be a problem.

Thankfully, the Yunigma is gone and Lorenzo Cain (if he gets playing time in CF) mean the defense up the middle will be stronger than the last couple of seasons.

Believe me, the defense is going to play a huge role on this team.

Alex Gordon
Comparable Players:  Steve Kemp, Barry Bonds, Roger Maris

This is where PECOTA gets some heat… And deservedly so.  Ignore for a moment that Alex Gordon was listed in the same breath as Barry Bonds.  He was mentioned with Bonds and Steve Kemp?  Seriously?  PECOTA must have been on some sort of 80’s acid flashback.

The comps are a known problem.  Before you flip out (or decide that Gordon has the potential to hold the single season record for home runs… Wait… That would be flipping out) just realize that this is an area that is continually being fine tuned.  And there’s a lot of work to be done.

The moral of this story:  Enjoy the projections, but take them with a grain of salt.  They’re something fun to look at to pass the time before pitchers and catchers report and the games start.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sometimes, they’re crazy accurate.  And sometimes they’re so far off the mark it’s like the numbers were run on an overworked Commodore 64.

Either way, it’s just another sign that the new season is almost here.  Thank god.

Boy, a guy leaves town for three days and he comes back to find that the Royals have signed Pedro Feliz.  

To be fair, the Royals are saying all the right things about the Feliz signing.   He is a ‘veteran presence in camp’, ‘insurance against injuries’ and ‘will not stand in the way of Mike Moustakas’.     All of which makes some sense, especially when just a year ago, injuries to Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon left the Royals with Willie Bloomquist as their opening day third baseman.  

Feliz comes with reputation of a good fielding third baseman (a career UZR/150 of 14.9), although he was below average statistically in 2010.   Offensively, Pedro does not offer much (career line of .250/.288/.410) other than some occasional power.   His slugging percentage has been in nearly perpetual decline for seven seasons:  not encouraging when that skill is all Feliz offers with the bat.

Before we get too worked up, however, this is a minor league deal.  An $800,000 minor league deal, mind you, but minor league nonetheless.   Almost all these types of contracts have some sort of deadline date during the spring in which the team can cut the player loose and not have to pay much of the contract amount, so this is, as Dayton Moore said, ‘a no risk’ deal….theoretically.

Anyway, Feliz aside, it is a new month and time for another draft of the Royals’ Opening Day roster.   Gil Meche juggled the situation some for us and we now have Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen in our rotation.   Only Royals’ fans could be comforted by those two names, but we are who we are.     We are close enough to spring training that this exercise is becoming less guess and more fact, so let’s break it down.

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

Four months ago, I was certain Dayton Moore could not resist the allure of a veteran back-up catcher, but has managed to do so.   Some of that may have to do with reports that Jason Kendall is ‘ahead of schedule’.   I’m sure all of you are anxiously counting the days until his return.   Short of every other pitch going to the backstop with Pena and May behind the plate, I don’t think we’ll see any surprises here.

FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER – Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue

About the only question here is who will be where.   There has been some mention of Butler spending a lot more time at DH, but we will just have to see how it all plays out.   Everyone likes big, tall first basemen target wise, so I like Kila at first and Billy at DH, but won’t throw many fits if turns out to be the other way around.   My guess is they alternate and never really decide.   We know Billy will hit, we don’t know if Kila will, but at last we get to find out.

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

Mike Aviles is being ‘converted to third base full-time’, so that pretty much answers any questions here.   The Royals are going to take some time to find out what they have in Getz, which is a luxury they can afford this season.   My guess is the length of the ‘look’ is equal to the time it takes Mike Moustakas to hit 10 home runs in Omaha.  Once Moustakas is up, Aviles will likely knock Getz off second and that will be that.   Both Nick and I have a somewhat irrational ‘like’ of Getz, so we’ll be watching his progress (or lack thereof) closely.

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Hopefully he looks more like the 12th best prospect in baseball than the guy who used his jersey last year in Milwaukee.   Either way, we will see 150+ games out of him at this position.

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

This is likely Aviles’ job to lose as the club is horrified of Wilson Betemit’s glove and should be horrified of Pedro Feliz’s bat.   The Royals never really want to believe in Aviles, but he generally makes them, so I expect Mike to get the Opening Day nod here and hopefully steady duty until Moustakas gets the call.

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

The Royals have barely mentioned Betemit’s name this off-season.  I don’t know if they are afraid to jinx his outstanding offensive performance of 2010 by talking about it or simply don’t believe in him.   Although Wilson has played just about everywhere defensively, he is pretty much a butcher wherever – better than Esteban German, but then most of us are.   Look for Betemit to get some time at third and in the DH/first base rotation as well:  particularly against tough lefthanders in place of Kila.  

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

Lot’s of talk here, but I think the Royals know they have to give Alex one last shot to play everyday and, well, dominate.   It would be ludicrous for a team destined to win 74 games or less to not give Gordon all the at-bats here.

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

I know, you don’t like it.  I don’t like it, either, but it seems like destiny to me.   I just have a hunch that Lorenzo Cain starts the season in AAA.   That situation is annoying, but not the end of the world.   Kind of like having Melky Cabrera as your centerfielder.    Cain has this job by June if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

You’re all just a little curious to see what happens here, aren’t you?   Given Francouer’s ability to stay healthy, you are likely to get 160 games of this in 2011.

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

I can actually envision the team keeping Jarrod Dyson and using him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.   You do not see a lot of that anymore, but it almost makes some sense.   Probably, and barring a lust for Pedro Feliz which is very possible, Blanco and Maier both make this team to start with.   Either one of them probably gives us every bit of what Melky Cabrera does, but they don’t have ‘the name’.   Once Moustakas and Cain get the call, there is a real chance neither one is on the big league roster.   My advise to Gregor and Mitch:  be good savers.

STARTING ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies

This got easy in a hurry after Francis and Chen were signed, plus Davies’ rather amazing inking of a $3.2 million deal.   Sean O’Sullivan and others will get a courtesy look, but this is almost certainly your starting five.   The above listing is my guess at the order.

BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland, Nathan Adcock

I have to be honest, the end of that list is pretty much a guess coupled with my disdain for seeing Jesse Chavez and Kanekoe Texiera pitch.   After thinking Tejeda would be traded this off-season, it appears that will not happen and he, along with Wood and that Soria kid are locks.   After that I think Collins and Jeffress have inside tracks.   I don’t know what more Collins has to prove and my guess is the organization might want to give Jeffress some ‘big league supervision’.    Given where this team is and is going to be for much of 2011, there is little harm in carrying Rule 5 pick Adcock – at least for a while.   As for Holland, his minor league track record is one of an adjustment period at each level followed by outstanding pitching.   We saw some signs of that late in 2010 with Kansas City and I am expecting a big spring out of Greg this year.

An iffy starting rotation and a very young bullpen is something of a volitable combination and I can easily see the Royals shying away from it by going with veteran or quasi-veteran arms in the pen to start the year.   As always the last three spots in the pen are always the hardest to predict.

So, there is your twenty-five.   What’s the record by the end of May?

With the signings of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen this past weekend, the Royals have to make a couple of moves to free up space on the forty man roster for those two.   While this seems like a fairly easy process (for those of us who don’t have to call a guy and say, ‘Hey, how’s your winter going?  By the way, you’re being designated for assignment.  Take care.’), I have almost never guessed correctly which players Dayton Moore decides to remove.

A quick glance at the current roster probably would lead almost all us to think the decision comes down to a quartet of relievers:   Henry Barrera, Jesse Chavez, Dusty Hughes and Kanekoa Texeira.     Looking at pitching makes sense given that the two guys the Royals just signed are pitchers.    Taking a chance on losing relievers is logical given that Bruce Chen can pitch out of relief and also because the first wave of the actual Process that is going to reach the majors is predominately relievers.

It is very possible the Royals break camp this spring with Tim Collins in the bullpen.   Certainly, Blake Wood, now that he has learned it is okay to strike guys out, will be part of the twenty-five that go north.   They might well be joined by Louis Coleman and/or Greg Holland, with Blaine Hardy not far behind.   Those names are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to good bullpen arms in the organization.

Digressing just a moment, perhaps the impending arrival of a number of rookies (or near rookies in the case of Wood and Holland) in the bullpen is as good a reason as any for the Royals to sign Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis.   Signing those two veterans, even if they turn out to be Scott Elarton and Mark Redman revisited, buys time for the young starters we are all counting on.   Heck, it buys time for Sean O’Sullivan for that matter.  It also buys time for the young relievers.

Let’s say Danny Duffy makes his major league debut on August 1st.   He allows two runs through five plus innings, but gets into trouble in the sixth.   It makes a lot more sense to have Louis Coleman, with nearly a full season of experience under his belt, come in with two on and one out in the sixth than if he was also just weeks into his major league career.   Tim Collins, also with four months in the majors on his resume, would come in to pitch the seventh and Blake Wood, now with over a year of experience, would polish off the eighth.

That is a whimsical little scenario, of course, but what I am trying to illustrate is that the Royals have a chance to pair a very young 2012 starting rotation with a young, but experienced, bullpen corps.   I think there is genuine value in having that mix and doing so without spending four million on veteran relievers next winter.

Anyway, back to our 40 man roster dilemma – if you can call it that.  

Of the four pitchers mentioned above, Henry Barrera does one thing the others to not:  strike guys out (10.3/9 over his career).   Health has been an issue for him and with less than half a season above A ball, Henry is the only one of the four who has virtually no shot at being on the early season 2011 roster.   That said, I hang on to Barrera.

After that, designating either Hughes, Chavez or Texeira for assignment will not cause me to lose any sleep.   First off, there is a real chance that those guys do not get claimed by another team and end up right back in the organization just as Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadski did.   If not, does it matter in the long-term?   Does it even really matter in the short-term?

In the end, I would probably cut loose Texeira and Chavez simply because Dusty Hughes did manage to throw over 50 innings of marginally passable major league work in 2010.   If the Royals want to give Coleman, et.al. a month or so in AAA, then Hughes is the stop-gap guy they can turn to.      Left-handers who have pitched in the majors are also less likely to make it through waivers than right-handers who have yet to, you know, get anyone out.

While the long-term success of the Royals is hardly going to be effected by this decision, it is a roster decision that will give us an idea as to the make-up of the early 2011 bullpen.

Yeah, it’s kind of cliche, but it’s not such a bad idea to take stock from time to time and give a little bit of thanks.  Despite the continuing struggles with the Royals and despite the fact that the 2011 season is shaping up to be kind of brutal at the major league level,  if you look close enough you can still find a few positives.

So with Thanksgiving just past, here’s what I’m thankful for as a Royals fan.

I’m thankful for…

- Billy Butler’s line drive ability and his proclivity for doubles.  Doubles… Not double plays.

- Joakim Soria’s amazing curve ball.  Described in these parts as “baseball porn.”

- Zack Greinke’s slider.  Even though he got a swing and a miss on it only 18.6% of the time last summer.  Compared to 2009’s swing and a miss rate of 23.4%.

- The Royals minor league system that suddenly is a source of optimism.

- This being the last season where I have to put up with watching Yuniesky Betancourt.  Unless GMDM does something colossally insane, like picking up his $6 million club option for 2012.

- Redundant waiver claims (Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadzki anyone?) because it gives me something to write about in November.

- Alex Gordon’s smooth transition to left and the fact there’s still a glimmer (however faint) that he can possibly put together a solid offensive season.

- Clint Robinson’s Texas League Triple Crown.  Sure it was Double-A, but a Triple Crown is a Triple Crown.  Cool that he earned a spot on the 40-man roster and a likely spot in Omaha with an eye on Kansas City next summer.

- Eric Hosmer’s swing being compared to Will Clark’s swing.

- Kila Ka’iahue.

- That someone will probably overpay Bruce Chen this winter, giving him at least a two year contract.

- The fact it won’t be with the Royals.

- Trey Hillman finding employment with the Dodgers.  Is there any way to set up an alert to let me know when Don Mattingly gets ejected from games?  I really want to watch Hillman manage a team I don’t care about, so I can gawk like a car crash.

- My colleagues and readers of Royals Authority.  This may sound cheesy, but it’s incredibly fun to be a part of the internet community that make up the fans of this team.

Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.  I hope you had an outstanding holiday.