Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Chris Getz

I’m told this weekend is the unofficial start to summer. It appears it’s also the unofficial point where a third of the baseball season is past. Strange dichotomy, that.

Seems as though now is as good a time as any to check some league wide numbers and see how the Royals are comparing offensively. I’m looking at slash stats and dropping in sOPS+ for the numbers. Just a rough measuring stick of how the Royals are getting production out of their infield positions when looking at the scope of the entire league.

Catcher
League AVG – .239/.310/.389
Royals – .244/.274/.359, s OPS+ 76

Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero have combined for 15 doubles, tied for the top number in the AL. They’ve also combined for a single home run. Believe it or not, that’s not the worst in the league. Thanks to the Oakland A’s.

It’s also worth noting that Pena and Quintero have drawn just six walks between them. But they’ve only struck out 18 times. I suppose if we were going to make a blanket statement here it would be Royals catchers make contact. It’s not good contact, but it’s contact.

First Base
League AVG – .242/.317/.406
Royals – .203/.279/.360, sOPS+ 72

The Royals slash line would be worse if not for Country Breakfast who has collected 13 plate appearances while spelling the struggling Eric Hosmer. In that limited action, Butler has hit .400/.538/.800, which is enough to add 14 points to the collective batting average and 19 points to the OBP.

Second Base
League AVG – .245/.311/.372
Royals – .272/.318/.380, sOPS+ 102

There you have it… No clue how this is happening, but it is. The first four weeks of the season, Betancourt was taking walks and Getz actually hit a couple of doubles. Since then, the Yunigma has hit the DL and Getz started struggling before he took his turn on the sidelines.

And then Irving Falu comes up and starts hitting like he’s the second coming of Joe Morgan. OK then. I’m going to assume that Falu comes back to Earth (or Omaha) and Betancourt is close to a return and there’s no way he can keep his current slash line at .289/.347/.422. Still, a nice opening to the season from a position thought to be an offensive black hole.

Worth noting I suppose that in 13 plate appearances as a second baseman, Johnny GIavotella has yet to collect a base hit.

Shortstop
League AVG – .256/.313/.369
Royals – .310/.347/.437, sOPS+ 132

When I’m writing about shortstops, I’m writing about Alcides Escobar. He’s played every game but one at short. And his offensive production has been nothing short of phenomenal. His 13 doubles are second best among AL shortstops and is sOPS+ (which represents his OPS+ when compared to all shortstops) is the third best behind only Derek Jeter and Asdrubal Cabrera.

And he’s doing this while playing his usual exceptional defense. Sadly, his UZR isn’t reflecting that. (Am I crazy? I haven’t noticed him getting to fewer balls this year. Or an otherwise general malaise in his glove work. Really strange.) Otherwise, he’s probably be pushing Mike Moustakas for the team lead in fWAR. As it is, he’s second at 1.1 fWAR.

Third Base
League AVG – .254/.311/.406
Royals – .288/.337/.497, sOPS+ 130

Moooooooose.

At this point, he’s you’re Royals All-Star. Hopefully he’ll keep it going through June. The Royals need someone like Moustakas representing the team. Better him than a middle reliever.

He powers the Royals third basemen to a sOPS + that is fourth best among AL hot corners. The teams they trail: Tampa (Evan Longoria), New York (A-Rod), Detroit (Miguel Cabrera). Yeah, that’s pretty solid.

I’ll check back in next week with a look at the outfield and DH. Have a great (long) weekend.

Early in the spring, I theorized that Johnny Giavotella would win the job as the Royals starting second baseman. I went further and speculated he would struggle out of the gate with his bat (and glove, naturally) and he would fall out of favor for the Prodigal Royal, Yuniesky Betancourt.

It wasn’t like I was sticking my neck out on a line… The signs have been there all along that the Royals aren’t Giavotella’s biggest fans. Why else would you sign the Yunigma? ($2 million!) You’re not paying him that kind of scratch if he’s going to sit in the dugout. And despite the Royals claiming that Betancourt possessed some sort of defensive versatility, the plan was always for Yuni to play second base.

So Gio made the trek up I-29 and set up shop in Omaha. Of course, having crushed Triple-A pitching in 2011, he went to work straight away. In 152 plate appearances for the Storm Chasers, he hit .331/.408/.504. Minor league baseball is easy for Johnny Giavotella. He has now played 141 games in Omaha – roughly a full minor league season. And he’s put up a line of .336/.394/.486 in 655 plate appearances. Easy.

While Gio was laying waste to Triple-A pitching, the Royals second base tandem of Betancourt and Chris Getz actually formed a bright spot in what was a dismal April for the club.

Betancourt, despite playing on a bad wheel the entire season, hit .280/.333/.420 until he landed on the disabled list on May 2. He made contact on an amazing 90 percent of his swings and ultimately took more walks than he had strikeouts. Crazy. Meanwhile, on May 3, Getz was hitting .326/.354/.500. (Seriously, he was slugging .500. Even in a small sample size… Chris Getz!) With the dynamic duo hitting so well (and playing adequate defense) even with an opening due to the injury to the Yunigma, it seemed like it could open the door for Gio to make his return to the big leagues.

Except the Royals recalled Irving Falu.

Look, nothing against Falu. He’s a great story. Drafted in the 21st round, over 4,000 minor league plate appearances covering 10 years, he finally gets a chance to play in the bigs… Who doesn’t like that kind of perseverance? Allegedly, the Royals brought him up because of his versatility. Although they had the Yunigma on the roster for that same (alleged) reason, at the point where Betancourt hit the DL, Alcides Escobar had played every inning at short and Mike Moustakas had played all but eight innings in the field at third. Versatility, indeed.

Anyway, Falu has acquitted himself quite well. He’s played three games at third and even had a game at short, to go along with his time at second. He picked up single in the third inning of Tuesday’s game and now has at least one hit in each of his first nine games. Great start. Glad for the guy. He’s done everything the Royals have asked.

Meanwhile, the Royals finally recalled Giavotella when Jonathan Sanchez got hurt. OK. Now they have Gio and Getz and Falu… Three guys who play second. Although at least Falu does have the versatility to play other positions. But why bring up Gio at this point?

Apparently, it was so he could be the designated hitter.

What?

Then Getz goes on the DL with his ribcage contusion. Finally, this will be an opportunity for Gio to play everyday, right? Not so fast. Our man, Yosty says Giavotella will be the right-handed side of a second base platoon. As the Royals embarked on their first game without Getz, Johnny Giavotella didn’t leave the bench. Sigh.

To recap, since his recall, Gio has been the DH three times, started at second twice and pinch hit three times.

I believe this is what psychologists like to call a mentally abusive relationship. Witness…

– Giavotella has an uphill battle to make the team in spring training after the Royals bring Betancourt back for his second tour of duty to go along with Chris “Power Stance” Getz.

– Betancourt makes the Opening Day roster despite playing with an injury that will land him on the DL in a month’s time.

– Once Betancourt lands on the DL, the Royals bypass Giavotella in favor of a career minor leaguer.

– They finally recall Giavotella and immediately place him on the bench. Or use him as the designated hitter when Eric Hosmer needs time to find his game. So strange.

– Now Getz is on the disabled list and Gio still can’t get regular duty at second base.

– With Betancourt preparing to begin a minor league rehab assignment, I’d bet anything that once he’s activated it will be Gio who’s farmed out.

Look, there are people in the Royals front office who have scouted Giavotella for years. They know his game inside and out. Those people have obviously decided he can’t play at the major league level. Did they make that assumption based on his 187 plate appearances last year? Can’t say for sure, but it certainly feels that way. Gio can’t beat out Betancourt, Getz or even Falu to stake an outright claim to second.

OK… now I have to throw a disclaimer. Do not interpret this post as saying Johnny Giavotella is the difference between fourth place and a pennant. He’s not. The purpose of this post is to point out the symptom of a problem I’ve seen with the Royals front office going back to the Allard Baird days… The staggering reluctance to play a guy who projects to be a solid everyday player, while giving numerous opportunity to guys who are already established fringe major leaguers.

This season isn’t about competing for a division. (Spare me the standings… It’s May.) This season is about development and preparation for competition. Yeah, the timeline seems to be on the operating table getting a new ligament, but you still have to create major league players. Gio may be dreadful at the major league level. Destined to be a tweener. Quad-A. Or maybe he’ll be a solid contributor who hits with some power and is average with the glove. Can you tell me exactly the player Gio is going to be? No. Nobody can. The only way we can find out is if the Royals commit to him and give him the time to show what he can (or can’t) accomplish.

What the Royals are doing to Johnny Giavotella only makes sense if they have decided he has no future as a Kansas City Royal.

If you’re among those who think that Getz or Falu or Betancourt give the Royals a better chance to “win now,” that’s fantastic. As the Royals gun for 74 wins, what’s better… Giving Getz and Betancourt myriad opportunity to again show they’re not very good major league players, or allowing a young former prospect the chance to show what he can do? The combined WAR of Getz and Betancourt wouldn’t be that much higher than Giavotella’s on his own. Not enough to justify this treatment.

They gave Mike Moustakas plenty of time to figure things out, and have been rewarded. They’re giving Eric Hosmer a ton of leeway. (Rightly so in my opinion.) They’ve stuck by Escobar and were going all-in with Perez. Gio doesn’t have the upside of the first two. And he doesn’t have the defensive skills of the last two. But there’s plenty of reason to think he is the Royals current best option at his position.

The point is, we’ve seen Getz and Betancourt. We know what they can do. We’re not impressed. Falu is fun to watch, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know he’s not part of the future of this team. Just like Getz and Betancourt.

That leaves Giavotella. Shame the Royals aren’t interested in seeing what they have.

Tons of interesting stuff in Tuesday’s game. Let’s dive in…

Where Duffy’s Pitch Count Explodes

Seriously, what’s the deal here? If felt like Duffy was getting squeezed, but really it was just the borderline calls that weren’t going his way. Whatever was happening, he piled up over 100 pitches in less than five innings. Given the way the rotation has gotten hammered in the last week, that’s just an unacceptable outing. I will put some of the blame at the mask of the home plate umpire. Duffy wasn’t getting the high strike called and there was one pitch in particular that was just an awful call. That can mess with a pitcher’s psyche. If he’s not getting calls, he starts to get too fine. He doesn’t want to serve it down the heart of the plate, but that’s basically what the ump is challenging him to do. It’s a helluva situation.

There was some speculation he was pitching hurt. It’s possible. His curve wasn’t effective again – he threw only 10 of them, and completely abandoned the pitch in the middle of his outing. He also generated only four swings and misses. Although his fastball had plenty of life, averaging a hot 95.5 mph on the Kauffman Stadium gun.

I think the likely scenario was that Duffy was unnerved by the home plate umpire. He reverted to his 2011 form where he was trying to be too fine – and failing. Hopefully, Duffy can shake this start off and move forward. Not much positive from this one.

Where Quintero Attempts To Steal

The Royals open the second inning down 2-0. Hosmer singles, Francoeur walks (!) and Moustakas grounds into a fielder’s choice at second to put runners on the corners and one out. Then the fun starts. Red Sox starter Daniel Bard balks not once, but twice! Chris Getz has a great plate appearance to drive home the run from third to tie the game. At this point, Bard is clearly melting down. Believe me, having watched Luke Hochevar pitch all these years, I know the symptoms.

The meltdown continued as Bard uncorked a wild pitch to move Getz to second. Escobar grounds out to move Getz to third and he scores the tie breaking run on Humberto Quintero’s single.

Then…

Quintero takes off for second.

Wait, what?

Quintero… He of one career steal. And three career attempts. Tried to swipe second base. With three runs home and the Red Sox starter on the ropes.

This was just all kinds of wrong. You have a pitcher on the ropes early in the game. And you let him off the hook by trying to steal with your slow footed backstop. What are you thinking, Yosty?

I thought this exchange was interesting in the post game.

Nate Bukaty: “Was Quintero going on his own there?”

Yosty: “Yeah, that’s a spot where you’re trying to pick their pocket. You know, you really cant lose. If he steals the base, then you’ve got a runner in scoring position. If he doesn’t steal the base, you’ve got your leadoff guy leading off the next inning. It was a spot we gambled. We just didn’t make it.”

Are you freaking serious? A Quintero attempted steal is a situation where you “can’t lose?” Just an asinine call.

I’m getting closer…

Where Yosty Reads His Starter The Riot Act

Duffy is nibbling in the third inning. Back to back walks after the Royals jump to a lead and he falls behind on the third hitter in the inning 2-1. Out comes Ned Yost with a purpose. He spends a few minutes laying down the law to Duffy. The result? A ground ball double play and a pop out. In just five pitches. Nice.

This is where Yost is valuable on a young team. His no-nonsense approach works well with players who may lose focus or otherwise don’t know how to handle certain situations. Duffy’s start was heading off the rails. Yost took initiative and kept him on track.

If someone challenged me to name a good thing Yost does as manager, that would be it. And that would probably be the only thing I could name.

Where You Can’t Assume A Double Play

After a one out double and a walk allowed by Duffy, he was pulled in favor of Kelvin Herrera. He got the grounder he was looking for, but Getz threw wide of the bag at first and it skipped by Hosmer. That allowed Gonzalez to score what was the go ahead run from second base. Ugh.

I know that Getz takes a ton of heat in this space (and others) but that play was entirely on Hosmer at first. Yes, Getz made the poor throw. But it was under duress. I’ll give him a pass as the Red Sox runner was bearing down on him – I think it caught Getz by surprise that he had so little time to make the pivot at second. Having said that, Hosmer was completely wrong in not coming off the bag to save the ball from skipping by him. The way he set his feet at first to receive the throw was correct… Because it would have allowed him to slide off the bag to block the ball. In that situation (tie game, middle innings) you have to do everything in your power to save the run. Hosmer went for the out, and it potentially cost the Royals the game.

That was an example of why the advanced defensive metrics didn’t take a shine to Hosmer’s D last year. He needs to make better decisions. He’ll learn.

Where Yosty Bunts His Way To Oblivion

According to the Run Expectancy Matirx, the average number of runs that score with runners on second and third and no out is 1.556. Not a bad place to be when you’re trailing by one run in the later innings. In fact, given that scenario, you can expect to score at least one run roughly 64 percent of the time.

And then Yosty gives away an out.

Now the Royals have runners on second and third with one out. Going back to the same Run Expectancy Matrix, the average runs that score in this situation is 1.447. So by giving away that out, you’ve basically decreased the total amount of runs you can expect to score. In the late innings of that one run game, that’s a pretty big deal. Now in this situation, you can expect to score 70 percent of the time. Yes, that’s higher than the previous situation, but I’m not sure the six point bump in percentage is worth the exchange of the out.

A big inning late in the game was what the Royals needed. (More on that obviously in a moment.) The situation was ripe for multiple runs. Yosty was playing for one and to tie the game. Managers who constantly feel the need to do something, often end up hurting their team. Yosty is that kind of manager. The right play was to let his hitters take their cuts.

I’m not sure what was going on with Alcides Escobar following the Getz bunt with one of his own. Was the SS Jesus freelancing there and bunting on his own? Yosty said he was. He said that Escobar was confused and thought the squeeze was on. How is that possible? How can you have a hitter, in a key situation late in the game, not understand what is supposed to happen. Color me livid. You are set up to score multiple runs and you’re basically playing for the single score. Besides, Frenchy was out at home and the Royals somehow didn’t score a single run in the frame. Unreal managing from Yosty.

I’m of the mind that a manager doesn’t generally win or lose the game for his team. Most of the decisions to be made during the game are elementary and rather benign. However, in this case, Yosty’s managing was definitely costing the Royals.

Closer…

Where Butler Saves The Day

After the Royals let Bard off the hook in the second, he started cruising. The strike zone seemed tight all night long, but the Royals never altered their approach at the plate. Of the 18 batters from the third to the seventh inning, only Chris Getz went more than three pitches without swinging the bat. And he drew a walk. Amazing how that works.

Then, in the eighth, Jerrod Dyson and Alex Gordon decided to take a few pitches. And they both walked. End of the line for Bard and in comes sinker ball pitcher Matt Albers to face Billy Butler. Albers gets a ground ball 54 percent of the time. And we all know about Butler and his proclivity for grounding into the double play.

Amazingly, Yosty resists the temptation to bunt.

And Butler gets wet.

Ironic, isn’t it? Yosty spends the entire game playing small ball and giving away outs, and it’s a three run home run that wins the game.

Somewhere Earl Weaver is smiling.

Wonder if we could get him to come out of retirement. I’m thinking a new manager would be nice.

It’s Mike Moustakas’ world. We’re just lucky to be living in it.

Moose put on a show on Thursday night, making a couple sparkling defensive plays (one to end the game), hitting a long home run to dead center and driving in two more on a bases loaded single.

It’s fun to watch a good ballplayer when he’s locked in and The Moose is all kinds of locked in right now. He’s leading the team in just about every meaningful offensive statistic and his defense is Platinum Glove quality.

– Danny Duffy pitched a solid game.

5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO

He threw 90 pitches, 52 for strikes. Nine of those strikes were swings and misses. It wasn’t exactly easy though, as the Yankees put a runner on second in three of his five full innings. Duffy did a great job battling and got the key outs when needed. (Duffy’s second run scored after he left the game for Nate Adcock.)

I was wondering the thought process in sending Duffy back out to start the sixth inning. It’s natural after living through the Gil Meche debacle. Why in the world would Yosty have his young starter who just had a start skipped due to elbow soreness return to the mound after throwing 86 pitches through five? As we saw in the Trey Hillman killing of Meche’s career, send a guy back out for one more inning and crazy stuff happens. It just felt like an unnecessary risk. Especially, as I mentioned, three of his innings were on the high stress side.

Of course, Duffy fanned Alex Rodriguez on three pitches to start the inning. That’s great and all, but still… Feels like you’re potentially sacrificing the future for a short-term gain.

And don’t think I’m comparing Duffy to Meche. I’m not. Just saying the situations are similar. After all, Meche…

A) Had a history of arm issues prior to his injury.
B) Was abused in back to back starts.

However, the Royals haven’t developed a decent starting pitcher in almost a decade. Just felt risky to me.

Other than the unnecessary sixth inning, Duffy pitched a helluva game. He averaged 96 mph with his fastball and was able to maintain his velocity throughout the start. From Brooks Baseball, we see Duffy started out all kinds of amped up before settling into a comfortable groove. It’s good to see he could have that kind of consistency with his velocity.

Yosty said he didn’t command his curveball very well and the data from Pitch F/X backs this up. Duffy threw 13 curves, only five of them for strikes. But the change in velocity from his fastball (96 mph) to his change (86 mph) to his curve (78 mph) was probably enough to keep the Yankee hitters off balance. Even if he couldn’t throw the curve for a consistent strike.

– Just an excellent double play turned by the combo of Getz – Escobar – Hosmer in the ninth inning. Major props to Getz for making a great stab on a grounder close to the bag at second to start the twin killing. His dive and subsequent quick flip to the Shortstop Jesus was the key to the how play.

– Speaking of Getz, he drove a ball to the warning track. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it. Mind blowing.

– The Jonathan Broxton Experience makes me extremely nervous.

Although the A-Rod at bat to end the game was hilarious. How he continually showed up the home plate umpire. I thought he was cracking under the pressure and looking to get run rather than face Broxton. Judging from his weak grounder, I may have been correct in my assumption.

– And it wouldn’t be a Royals game without stupid baserunning. This time, it’s Jeff Francoeur trying to steal third with one out in the eighth. Just a dumb, dumb play. He’s already in scoring position and the attempt doesn’t improve your chances of scoring a run enough to justify the risk at that point in the game.

There was some talk about his “hustle” double to leadoff the inning and I didn’t have a problem with that. He needed to get into scoring position and Curtis Granderson – who doesn’t have a strong arm – was running around the ball to make the throw to second. He needed time to set and throw. Frenchy was thinking two all the way, so he was running hard… It was risky, but enough factors were in his favor it was worth the risk.

The attempted steal of third though… Jeez.

– The Yunigma hit the DL with a high ankle sprain he suffered back in spring training. I thought we were done with these kind of shenanigans. You know, where the injured player is allowed to “play through” his injury, only to miss significant time after it doesn’t actually heal. Not that it matters so much with Betancourt. The Royals won’t exactly miss him. Still, it’s a little unnerving they allowed a guy to play with a bad wheel for an entire month.

The injury means Irving Falu gets the call to the big club. I’m happy for Falu, who gets the nod ahead of Johnny Giavotella due to his “versatility.” What a load of crap. Versatility. Remember how they sold us The Yunigma based on that. What’s happened? Well, Escobar has played every defensive inning at short this year and Moose has played all but eight defensive innings. And with Escobar always playing quality defense and with Moose the best player on the team right now, you’re not exactly looking for ways to get either of those guys out of the lineup.

I just wish the Royals were honest with us. Tell us you have crazy GetzLove and you don’t want to call up Giavotella to ride the pine. Or tell us you think the Betancourt DL time will last the minimum and it doesn’t make sense for Gio to come up for two weeks and ride the shuttle back to Omaha. Or just say you’re rewarding a career minor leaguer who’s paid his dues by giving him a couple of weeks on a major league bench. Just don’t feed me a line of B.S. about versatility. It insults our intelligence as a fanbase. We deserve better.

Three feet more towards the middle, or hit a little harder or even not quite as hard, or if the ball had bounced a little more or not as much:  any of those things and Chris Getz would not have been a hero on Wednesday afternoon.   The game winning single was, after all, an infield hit into the hole at shortstop and let’s not kid ourselves, a left side of Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta is not exactly hitting into the teeth of an imposing pair of defenders. 

Still, as we wake up Thursday morning, a hit is a hit and Chris Getz earned all the luck he got when he drove in Mike Moustakas with two outs in the top of the ninth.   That was after Aaron Crow surrendered a two run homer, not to Cabrera or Prince Fielder or even Alex Avila, but instead to Brennan Boesch in the bottom of the eighth, allowing the Tigers to tie the game.  It was after the Royals left a runner on third base twice earlier in the game.   After they watched Alcides Escobar get thrown out attempting to steal and after they ended three other innings with a runner on second.

If you weren’t feeling impending doom entering the ninth inning yesterday, then you have not been a Royals’ fan very long.

So, here we are, top of the ninth with the game tied.  Mike Moustakas has rapped a one out double (with two strikes mind you) and moved to third on a Brayan Pena ground out.  Up strides Chris Getz.   Now, if you have been reading this site for any amount of time, you know that none of us who write here are particularly fond of Getz.   He is an average defender, a supposed on-base guy who doesn’t really walk that much and last year managed NINE whole extra base hits in 429 plate appearances. 

All that doesn’t matter right now.  Today, we should all be fans of Chris Getz…if only for a day.

On a team that has an at least perceived penchant for taking called third strikes in big late game situations (see the Twitter uproar regarding Alex Gordon a few weeks back), Chris Getz did not allow the umpire to decide his plate appearance.   Not with the go ahead run on third and not on a day when the team as a whole had a miserable time driving in runners who were ‘right there, 90 freaking feet away’.  Of course, Justin Verlander was on the mound for 8 innings and he is a legitimate superfreak.

Coming into the contest, Joaquin Benoit had struck out 16 batters in 9 innings of work.   He had not been particularly sharp, allowing 12 hits and 9 walks, this year, but he was still making guys swing and miss.   Outside of his ability to steal a base, it is possible that Getz’s best baseball attribute is the fact that he does not swing and miss much.    Still, you might well run down a pretty long list of names on the Royals’ roster that you want up in this situation before you get to Chris.

Pitch number one is a 91 mph four seamer right down the middle that Getz fouls off.

Pitch two is an 80 mph changeup down in the zone that Chris gets just a piece of.   No balls, two strikes and it is not looking good.

Number three is also a changeup, down and in.  It is a ball, but Getz swings and fouls it off.  Now, in hindsight, Chris should have laid off this pitch, but Benoit was throwing that change with a lot of movement and, for his part, Getz was not going to get caught looking.

In comes pitch number four.  It is a 95 mph fastball right at the top of the zone.  Pitch f/x says it is a strike, the umpire might have called it high, but with two strikes in the ninth you cannot take that chance.  Getz gets a piece of it and fouls off his fourth straight pitch.

Pitch number five is a 76 mph changeup, down the middle, but up in Getz’s eyes.  Another foul ball.  Here, probably, Getz should have taken, but you know that ball looked huge waffling in there slow and high.  Eric Hosmer might well have hit that 481 feet, Getz fouls it off.  We can’t all be poster boys.

Number six is a 95 mph four seamer down and away.   Benoit has been wild this year, but you have to think that was a chase pitch.  That’s good strategy in that you have a batter obviously hacking and maybe you get him to flail at this unhittable ball.  Getz, for the first time in the plate appearance, keeps the bat on his shoulder.  One ball, two strikes.

Benoit’s seventh offering is an 85 mph changeup dropping down out of the strike zone.  Getz stays with it for another foul ball.   With that pitch, you can take it and hope it does move out of the zone or you can foul it off.  

Number eight is a 94 mph fastball, low in the strike zone.   Getz hits it into the hole and runs….fast.   While Peralta fields the ball cleanly, he has not shot at getting Getz at first.  The run scores and the Royals are on their way to a win and a winning road trip.

As I said at the beginning, it was just an infield single, but it was hard earned infield single.   An inch here or there on the bat and Getz is not a hero, but what Chris Getz did do was give himself a chance.  Good at-bats don’t always result in line drives, but ground balls sometimes end up in the right spot.

Chris Getz had a good at-bat at a great time and fortune smiled on him and the Royals.  For at least one day, Chris Getz is alright in my book.

xxx

 

Finally.

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

Opening Day. Nothing better.

Some housekeeping before we dissect the Opening Day lineup…

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

Remember… I’m not complaining about this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Brett was named an All-Star Ambassador.

What, you were expecting Frank White?

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

Here are some spring training stat leaders:

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

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

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

Here’s the Royals lineup for The Opener:

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

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

Sometimes, I don’t like being right.

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

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

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

Facepalm.

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

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

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

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

“Sh!t sandwich.”

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

Here’s what I want this year…

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

I’ll start

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

Your turn… Leave your answers in the comment section.

Play ball.

So, anything happen this weekend?

I know, it was hard to keep track of everything, what with Nebraska hiring a new basketball coach and all…

In all seriousness, you have to give Ned Yost and Dayton Moore some credit for not being afraid to make a decision, and make it early.   The due determined their position players – starters and bench – with ten spring training games left to play.  

Second base?  That will be Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt in the Hillman-esque ‘mix and match’ scenario.   Fifth outfielder?  Well, we all are going to have to learn how to both say and spell Jason Bourgeois as Jarrod Dyson was sent down before Sunday’s game as well.

Now, on the Dyson front the reason was not so thinly veiled by Ned Yost:  “He still hits too many fly balls.”  To me, that is a pretty obvious indication that the Royals want Dyson to slap and run and Jarrod still wants to swing away.   Some guys never get it, some guys turn into Willie Wilson (and it took Willie a good two years to figure that out as well).  While Bourgeois does not bring that late inning, game changing ability that Dyson does in the role of pinch runner extraordinaire, he theoretically gives the Royals better bench flexibility (right handed hitter and some idea where to stand at second or third base).

We are talking the fifth outfielder and pinch runner on a team that is hoping to win half its games this year:  not a big deal one way or the other.

The stunning news, of course, was the demotion of Johnny Giavotella.  Over the past week to ten days, I had the feeling that someone other than Johnny was going to man second base to start the season, but I was surprised that the decision came this early.  We can micro-analyze/criticize Yost’s public comments on this, as they are conflicting at times, but that is not going to get us anywhere.

The truth is, the Royals opted for defense over potential.   Sure, Chris Getz has a new approach at the plate and looks like a different ballplayer and, well, who doesn’t love Yuniesky Betancourt?   The truth, however, is that Getz still has just one extra base hit this spring and Yuni’s on-base percentage is still a very reminiscent .283.   While Giavotella posted similarly uninspiring offensive numbers, Yost himself said that ‘there is no question Giavotella will hit’.

This all came down to defense.   And let’s not get carried way here:  we are talking about just competent defense.  Chris Getz is an average second baseman in the field, who committed a couple of noteworthy gaffes turning the pivot on late inning potential double plays early last season.   I can find a metric that says Getz is below average and another that says he is a little above.   We all watch the games (contrary to what some might believe) and Chris Getz, to the untrained eye, is a very average defensive second baseman.

Few of us have seen Yuniesky Betancourt play second, but he has impressed Yost at that position.  He would certainly not be the first poor defensive shortstop to move across the bag and become a good second baseman (Mark Grudzielanek anyone?), so I am going to assume Yost is not just blowing sunshine in this respect.   The fact remains, Yuni better be a good defender because that .280/.290 OBP is going to suck the life out of the lower third of the batter order no matter how many grand slams he hits. 

Therein, lies the bottom line:  Dayton Moore loves pitching and defense.   The Royals are going to be extremely solid up the middle defensively.  We know what Alcides Escobar can do and Humberto Quintero is an excellent defensive catcher.   Nothing has happened thus far to lead us to believe that Lorenzo Cain will not be an upgrade in the field over Melky Cabrera and, at minimum, Getz/Betancourt should be average at second.   That’s great, except that all four have to bat as well.

Lorenzo Cain has mashed this spring and sports a minor league resume that would support that the man can hit.  That said, there is concern that Cain has long swing and long swings have holes and holes get exploited (get your mind out of the gutter) at the major league level.   I have high hopes for Cain, but how comfortable are you banking on the fact that he is the surest thing offensively of the four up the middle defenders?

Like me, the Royals are looking for Cain to hit and Escobar to hit better than he did.   Like me, they are prepared to live with Quintero’s bat to get his glove behind the plate until Salvador Perez comes back (I have to believe that Quintero will be playing a lot more than Pena by the time we get to May).   Unlike me, the Royals have placed enough of a premium on defense at second to not get another potential offensive bat into their lineup in Giavotella.

Listen, I understand the arguments against Giavotella and I will not really dispute them.   The guy might just be THAT horrible defensively and yes, he has yet to show he can hit major league hitting.  Quite frankly, neither has Getz or Betancourt, but I digress.  What I will disagree with is the general theory behind it all.

The 2012 season was going to be a tenuous flirtation with contention, if the Royals even sniffed it all, but whatever hopes were based on this young team scoring a lot of runs.   It is assumed that Alex Gordon will be who he was in 2011 and that Eric Hosmer will blossom into a star.  You can pretty much bank that Billy Butler will hit .300 with an on-base percentage pushing towards .400.  It was assumed that Jeff Francouer will maintain the production he gave the team last year and that Mike Moustakas will add pop.

That is a LOT of assumptions before you even get to Escobar, Cain and Giavotella, but if you are going to assume to have offense, why not go the entire way?  If you have a suspect rotation and a great bullpen, as the Royals do, that bullpen can have a lot more impact if your offense has five runs on the board by the sixth inning.  That is really the scenario that gets the Royals on a winning record:  score enough runs to be in the game when it goes to the bullpens and get the game to the other team’s bullpen as soon as possible.

The Phillies can plan on winning 3-1 games with regularity, the Royals cannot.  They need to play (and win) 7-5 games.  If that is the way to win games for this team, this year, then it would make sense to put your best offensive potential onto the field as often as possible.   I will freely admit, that Johnny Giavotella is ALL potential at this point and has yet to offer any ACTUAL production, but he does offer potential.

The upside to letting Giavotella try to hit major league pitching somewhere into mid-summer (and potentially help the Royals ‘hang around’ the top of the division) would seem to outweigh the downside of his poor defense.   If the Royals get to July with Cain hitting, Moustakas hitting, Escobar not flailing and Perez coming back,  and Giavotella is still floundering along at .231, then they could opt for defense at that position, but it seems odd to make that move now.

Getz has an option and Betancourt was going to be on the team no matter what, so there were no roster considerations in this scenario like there are when it comes to the starting rotation.   The Royals could have found out about Giavotella’s bat and maybe it would have helped them catch lightning in a bottle to start the year and still have Getz and Betancourt as fallback options this summer.

Certainly, sending Giavotella to Omaha to work on his defense is not the worst thing in the world, but the Royals are banking heavily on the bottom four of Moustakas, Getz, Quintero and Escobar being able to produce something..anything.   If 2012 is all about potential and building for 2013, it would seem that not giving Johnny Giavotella a shot to start the season is counter to The Process.

xxx

 

 

The Royals enjoy an off-day today at what is basically the halfway mark of spring training.  Without a doubt, how a player performs in the second half of spring training is much, much more important than how he performed in the first half, but enough has transpired for us to know that the Kansas City Royals we thought we would see on April 6th are going to look a little different.

The consensus prior to camp was that the Royals would open up with this lineup:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Johnny Giavotella 2B
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Salvador Perez C
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Now, and admittedly it is still a long time until Opening Day, the lineup might well look like this:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Yuniesky Betancourt 2B
  • Brayan Pena C
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Obviously, the injury to Salvador Perez and the revelation that he might not be back until deep into June, has thrown that position into uncertainty.   Whereas we thought Brayan Pena and Manny Pina would battle for the backup spot, we now have Pena entrenched as the starter, Pina hurt and minor league veteran Cody Clark the odds on favorite to backup Pena.   You have to kind of root for the 30 year old Clark, who is touted as an excellent handler of pitchers and good defender, but a tandem of Brayan Pena and Cody Clark does not excellent make the Royals strong behind the plate.

At minimum, the Royals have touched base with free agent Ivan Rodriguez, who at 40 years old is a shadow of the guy who tormented Kansas City for years.   I would not be completely surprised to see Pudge in a Royals’ uniform come April, once he realizes that the phone is not going to ring anymore.  Frankly, not a bad gig for a 40 year old:  play regulary for two and a half months, then enjoy the big league lifestyle for the summer and catch one a week.   In my mind, a Pudge/Clark tandem seems stronger than a Pena/Clark or Pena/Max Ramirez unit, but you would not be off base to disagree.

Of course, the Internet and Royals blogosphere consortium erupted with Ned Yost’s revelation that Yuniesky Betancourt was firmly in the mix for the regular second base job.  Many of us sensed that the Betancourt signing as a utility infielder would morph into 500 Yuni at-bats in 2012 and we may be looking right down the barrel of such an occurrence.

Now, I am not going to get all wrapped up in angst over this just yet.   First, we don’t know that this will actually come to fruition:  a big couple of weeks at the plate for Giavotella could still net him the job.   Still, we know the club is concerned about Johnny’s defense and various reports from those who have been to spring training games (several of them who I know are Giavotella supporters) reinforce those concerns.   As Royals’ fans, we have seen Esteban German and Alberto Callaspo mangle second base, but Alberto did so while cracking almost 70 extra base hits that year.   The Royals have to see enough this spring to indicate that Giavotella is really going to hit (not just hit better than Getz) or they simply will not put up with his ‘no play is routine’ defense.

When I first heard of the Betancourt in the second base mix scenario, my initial thought was that the Royals were thinking Betancourt at second, Giavotella to Omaha, with Getz on the bench.  When they wanted to actually utilize Yuni in his ‘utility role’, then Getz would play second and Yuni third or short, but would that work to essentially rest Mike Moustakas against tough left handed pitching when it required inserting the left-handed hitting Getz into the lineup.   While I bristle at the idea of Yuni at second and Getz on the roster, I will admit that Chris Getz has higher career numbers versus lefties than against righties (.280/.330/.327 vs. LHP).

Now, what I really wonder, however, is IF Betancourt is the regular second baseman and IF Getz is on the bench, THEN does that mean that right handed third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff makes the roster over the fifth outfielder (either Maier or Dyson)?   Kouzmanoff, who has a career line versus lefties of .279/.322/.453, and carries a pretty good defensive reputation at the hot corner might make sense on this particular version of the roster.  Let me stop for a moment and offer that I am not onboard with this shift.  The Royals need to find out if Johnny Giavotella can hit enough major league pitching to justify his iron glove and the first couple of months of 2012 is a far better time see about that than the first couple months of 2013.

So, the position players that just ten days ago seemed almost locked in, could not break camp in a rather drastically different form than we expected.   We say that, without even mentioning the ongoing struggles of Mike Moustakas (a notoriously slow starter, by the way).   One backup outfielder, two backup infielders (both of whom play one just one position) and at least one catcher we did not even consider as a possibility last week.  Yep, things are different and then, Joakim Soria walked off the mound yesterday.

Soria, who has not gotten anyone out all spring as it is, left the game with a twinge or a pull or an ouchie in his elbow.  It frankly does not sound good.   Again, it could be nothing, but that is not how the Royals’ spring has been going.    Given that Soria has been dramatically ineffective this spring, Kansas City may well utilize this injury, however minor, to buy Joakim some extra time in Arizona to figure out what the heck is going on.

Such a move thrusts Jonathan Broxton or Greg Holland or, more likely, both of them into a closing role and opens up a spot in the bullpen for a Tim Collins and/or Everett Teaford.  I wrote last week about the tremendous depth the Royals enjoy in the pen, so this really does not weaken them at all.   It also would allow the team to keep Luis Mendoza on the roster AND carry a second lefty.   If there is a bright side to your All-Star closer not being healthy, I guess that is it.

To be honest, before Salvador Perez went down, I was pretty confident that I had the 25 players who would break camp down to the very last name.   Now, I am confident in about 20 or 21 of those names and that is without even mentioning the struggles of Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez (again, it’s early and veteran starters tend to come on late in the spring).   Without question, things have changed down in Surprise and are likely to continue to surprise (pun intended) as we edge closer to April 6th.

xxx

 

 

How did he get here? (flickr/Keith Allison)

As much as sabermetricians and the “old-school” like to see their work in the starkness of black and white, they’re both wrong. Everything is gray.

My task today is to write about Chris Getz. I can’t think of any player more polarizing than Getzie. Some fans (and managers) love the guy because he plays the game the right way. Other’s loathe him because the numbers paint the picture of a player who is well below league average.

It’s funny to listen to the self-proclaimed “Old Schoolers” insist that what makes Getz so great doesn’t show up in the numbers. I’m going to put on my wizard hat, warm up a Hot Pocket and prove that there are numbers out there that support the theory that there are things that Getzie does does well.

– He avoids the double play.

This seems strange for a guy who puts the ball on the ground 51% of the time in his career, but last summer Getz came to the plate 71 times with a runner on first and less than two outs. He grounded into exactly five double plays. That’s an average of just 7%. For perspective, the league average is around 11%. So Getzie is better than average by quite a bit.

But there’s probably a reason he hit into so few twin killings last year. It’s probably because there’s something else he does well…

– He can get a bunt down.

According to Baseball Reference, Getz attemted to sacrifice 16 times last year and was successful in 14 of those attempts. (To clarify, BR defines an unsuccessful attempt as bunting for a sacrifice and getting youself out. Attempting early in a plate appearance and then swinging away doesn’t count as a sac attempt. So it’s likely he attempted to sacrifice more than 16 times.) That puts Getz at an 88% success rate. Again, way above league average, which in this case was 69%.

– He can put the bat on the ball.

Believe me, this is huge. Getzie makes contact when he swings 90% of the time. It’s probably because he’s what I would call a patient hitter. While he doesn’t take a ton of walks, he doesn’t go up there hacking at the first pitch he sees, either. Last year, Getz swung at the first pitch just 15% of the time. To me, that’s an astonishing rate. Had he received enough playing time to qualify for the batting title, he would have had the seventh lowest rate in the American League for swinging at the first pitch. (JJ Hardy swung at the first pitch only 8% of the time last year. If you are a pitcher and throw him a ball out of the zone with your first pitch, you deserve the worst.)

I could be completely wrong here, but Getz seems like a cerbral guy. He approaches each plate appearance with a plan. Part of that plan includes getting as good a look as possible at the opposing pitcher. I’m guessing he’s looking at release point. Once he has that little tidbit, he’s ready to go to work. Of course, he’s hardly ever successful, but at least it’s a plan.

Fun fact: Chris Getz has been at the plate 54 times with the count in his favor 3-0. He has never once swung at the fourth pitch.

OK… I’ve written close to 600 words on Chris Getz and it’s all been praise. (You may bookmark this page for future reference. There is no guarantee this will be up past lunch. I am putting my blogger ID card in serious jeopardy.) It is possible to use numbers to show that Getz does have his strong points as a batter.

But fair is fair…

– He can’t get on base.

For a guy who supposedly can run fast and hit balls on the ground, Getz just can’t buy a hit. His BABIP last year was .288 which was up from the previous season’s .270. We say that a .300 BABIP is “average” but that’s painting with too broad a stroke. Everyone is different. And Getzie, who is a banjo-hitting, ground ball machine who doesn’t move as fast as everyone thinks, will never have a BABIP over .300.

I know there are those who are skeptical of the numbers, but in this case, you don’t need to read anything into the formula – Getz’s career .315 on base percentage sucks. Sucks. And in his two seasons with the Royals, it’s at .309 which sucks even more. It’s because he’s making contact (good) but he’s doing it with a spaghetti noodle for a bat (bad). I happen to fall into the category of those who feel that OBP is life. (If you didn’t realize this after all these years I can’t help you.) Getz simply cannot be a contributor to this team if he keeps his OBP that far beneath the league average. I don’t care how many sac bunts he lays down.

And for his “plan” at the plate, that doesn’t include taking a walk which is too bad. He reaches via the base on balls around 7% of all plate appearances. He doesn’t strike out a ton and doesn’t chase an obscene number of balls out of the zone, but this is a case where his skill – making contact – actually hurts. That leads me to a second negative…

– He can’t make decent contact.

Last year, Getzie’s percentage of plate appearances that went for extra bases checked in at 2.3%. Words can’t describe how abysmal that is. You want perspective? Juan Pierre hit for extra bases 3.2% of the time.

In the words of the immortal David St. Hubbins, that’s too much f***ing perspective.

I’ve also discussed this before, but it bears repeating… Even his line drives fail to impress. The conventional wisdom (and data) suggests the average major league hitter, bats around .750 when he puts the ball in play via the line drive. Last year, as a team the Royals hit .751 collectively when hitting a line drive. Of all the players on the team with at least 300 plate appearances, Getz’s .673 batting average on line drives was the worst rate by far. That simply shows his even his line drives are weak. There’s no other rational explanation for why his average for this type of contact is so low. Which leads to…

– Power? HA!

This isn’t exactly a newsflash. Getz doesn’t have any. Not even doubles. (I’m thinking Joey Gathright without the car jumping ability.) So if you believe that getting on base and hitting for a little pop every now and then (or at least finding the gap) is key to a decent offensive performer you’re going to have to find someone other than Getz to support. Among those with more than 400 plate appearances, his .032 ISO was dead last. His OPS+ of 68 speaks for itself. Again, we’re in Juan Pierre territory here. If you’re in a situation where you wish Chris Getz was as good at the plate as Juan Pierre… I can’t think of many worse things to have happen to a ball player.

Brutal.

And finally, just to throw something along the lines of common ground into the mix…

– He’s decidedly average with the glove.

Defensively, Getz grades out as average. His three year UZR/150 is 2.9, which isn’t spectacular, but it puts him solidly in the middle of the pack. Tango’s Fan Scouting report agrees with the average rating as well, giving Getzie a 49 score on a 80 to 20 range. My unscientific eye test has him as a reliable defender, who doesn’t make the spectacular plays, lacks plus range, but can get the outs on the balls hit within his area of influence. Last year, 93% of all balls in play that Getz fielded resulted in at least one out. Again, for second baseman, that’s right at the league average.

Look, Getz is what he is… the 25th man. I understand why managers and baseball personnel adore the guy. He does do the “little” things… If you think making outs are little things. But in this age of specialization, where teams have eight man bullpens, five man rotations and a limited bench, do you really want to make a place for a guy who’s biggest contribution is making an out on a sac bunt?

There’s no place to hide Getz in the lineup. Putting him in the lineup is making a statement that you’re playing for the single run and eschewing the big inning. Because if you have a rally going, the most you can expect from Getz is a “productive out.” Don’t get me wrong… There are rare times where a productive out can be a good thing. However, when you’re down by two in the fifth inning, that’s not one of those times. Jeff Parker at Royally Speaking plugged Getzie’s numbers since joining the Royals into Baseball Musings lineup tool to see how well a lineup of nine second base heroes would do. The answer… Ugh. They’d score less than three runs per game. But I suspect they’d lead the universe in sac bunts.

The Royals seem to be leaning toward Johnny Giavotella to open the season at second. That’s a good thing. I read on another blog that the choice the Royals will have to make is do they try to win now (Getz) or build for the future (Giavotella). If the Royals brain trust is even taking two seconds to figure this one out, may the ghost of Mr. Kauffman have mercy on our tormented baseball souls.

Virtually every off-season discussion surrounding the Kansas City Royals has centered (rightfully so) on starting pitching.    The acquisition of Jonathan Sanchez was just step one in what most Royals’ fans assume will be at least a two, maybe even three, step process.  With the bullpen well stocked and eight of nine positions locked in, Dayton Moore certainly should be spending the bulk of his time focused on improving a starting rotation that was second worst in the American League last season.

That said, what about the ninth position?   I refer to second base, of course.

While most people believe and I tend to agree that Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack at being the team’s regular second baseman in 2012, he is hardly a sure thing.    While Johnny possesses a minor league resume that is probably better than those carried by Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez, he lacks the one thing all three of those players possess:  a plus defensive skill.

Save for a magical stretch in mid-summer, Escobar hit sporadically at best for most of the year, but because he played a premium defensive position and played it very well, Alcides came home with a fWAR of 2.2.   Salvador Perez hit well for the Royals in his limited time, but more importantly displayed the type of defensive abilities behind the plate that will keep him in the lineup and allow him to be a positive impact even if he does not hit.   The jury is out on what type of defender Cain will be in the majors, but all indications are that he will be a plus defender if not more.   At one point there was some talk about Cain’s routes to the ball, but those were mostly due to his relatively late start in baseball and I heard little about that being a problem this past season in Omaha.

Bottom line, all three have at least one ‘plus’ skill and all three have athletic upside.   Giavotella, who made some spectacular defensive plays in 2011, is never likely to become more than an average second baseman, if that.   His body type does not lead one to envision the ever elusive ‘projection’ that we prospect hounds crave and Johnny is not  tremendously athletic.   All of those things lead us to a player that will have to hit and hit early or the organization will begin looking elsewhere.    Alex Gordon could hit .195 as a rookie and you could still look at him and say ‘that guy should get better’.   If Giavotella hits .195 in his first 300 at-bats this year, people are rightly going to start thinking ‘well, this is who is’.

Now, I am 100% willing to give Giavotella a bunch of at-bats to either prove he it the .305/.375/.437 hitter his career minor league line reflects.   He just might be the player who in four full minor league seasons (all at A ball and above) never posted an on-base percentage below .351.   While Johnny’s numbers have benefitted from playing the last two years in hitter-friendly parks, he managed a respectable .258/.351/.380 in the hitter’s graveyard that is Wilmington.   Frankly, if Giavotella could hit .260/.350/.400 and not terribly screw-up in the field, that might be good enough playing between a Gold Glove shortstop and hopefully MVP level first baseman.

The current alternative to Giavotella is Chris Getz.     When the Royals acquired Getz for Mark Teahen, I defended him (yes, I actually was on the GETZ TRAIN) by pointing out that his minor league numbers (.286/.363/.380) and partial first major league season were remarkably similar to those of Brian Roberts.   Heck, Robinson Freaking Cano had similar minor league numbers!   Truthfully, it was worth a shot and the Royals have won that trade simply because Teahen cost real money while giving the White Sox not much more, if any more,  than Getz has given the Royals.

Getz, for his part, hit .237/.302/.277 in 2010 and followed that up with a .255/.313/.287 line in 2011.   He did post his best fielding numbers (by any metric) of his career in 2011.   If you believe that three years of fielding data is equal to one year of batting data, then Getz is slightly above average in UZR and decidedly below in Defensive Runs Saved.  There cases to be made for both metrics, but let’s blend them and say he is an average defensive second baseman.   Watching him, that would be my uneducated analysis.   

While Getz appears to be a guy who will work the count and get on base, he simply has not done it over the long haul.  I am not sure there is a place in modern baseball for a player who cannot slug over .300 (in fact, I am almost certain there is not), but I KNOW there is no room for a player with zero power who gets on base at a .315 clip (career mark) and plays just average or a tick above average defense.

I can make a case that Getz, because he can run and handle the bat (yes, every once in a while I can see the need for a sacrifice bunt – I really can!), could be a nice utility player.  Except, Getz has little experience playing shortstop or third base and is widely considered to have neither the arm nor the range to handle the left side of the infield.   Unlike some, I don’t have a problem bringing Getz to spring training, but he has done his best to prove he cannot be a regular major league second baseman and simply has not shown he can be more than an emergency fill in at any other position.

After the above two players, one of who will almost certainly be in the opening day lineup at second, the Royals offer Irving Falu, who has spent nine seasons in the organization, played everywhere and only kind of hit (.275/.342/.350).   You have to like his versatility and on a young team where the lineup is going to be basically the same every day, I could see Falu being on the Royals’ bench in early 2012.  This is not a player whose development you are concerned with stunting and you could buy yourself another roster spot simply because Falu could not only be your utility infielder, but also serve as your fifth outfielder.

Of more promise at the AAA level is Yamaico Navarro, acquired for Mike Aviles late in the summer.   Now, Yamaico is a shortstop with some pop (.430 minor league slugging), who has some time at third, short and even a little in the outfield.  He has the look of someone with potential.   The downside is that Navarro has played 312 minor league games at short and just 23 at second.   If I had to guess, Navarro starts 2012 in Omaha and plays shortstop more than second as insurance against an Escobar injury or, and this is actually possible, the chance that Alcides hits .201/.240/.260.

I say the above, because I believe that the organization still has high hopes for Christian Colon (keep in mind, this organization has a pretty broad stubborn streak) despite hitting an unimpressive .257/.325/.342 in Northwest Arkansas.    Drafted as a shortstop, Colon moved over to play 15 games at second last season and I have to imagine he will spend most of his time there in 2012.  Truthfully, he has yet to show anyone much of anything to make one believe Colon is going to be a major league regular.

Down the line one more tick is Rey Navarro.  It is quite possible he is the best defender (at second or short) of anyone we have talked about today.  In 2011, Navarro hit an outstanding .285/.337/.484 in Wilmington and a pretty mundane .271/.332/.330 in Northwest Arkansas.    Prior to this past season, Navarro really had not hit anywhere and so I doubt there is a risk of losing him in the Rule 5 draft (as has been postulated in various spots).    I have not seen enough to get on the Navarro bandwagon yet and I think it is more likely that he becomes Irving Falu than anything resembling a major league regular.   Certainly we have not seen enough to consign him to the minor league journeyman scrap heap, but there is plenty that remains for him to show before we start our ‘Free Rey’ campaign.

This discussion, again, leads us back to the ‘can the Royals contend in 2012 or not’ debate.   If not, then you see what happens with what you have.  If you believe 2012 is a contending year, however, then you almost have to address second base.   With a young team, plugging in a Rafael Furcal or someone similar as a veteran presence at second might make some real sense.    I probably will take the chicken way out here and say the Royals should give Giavotella a shot and, should he be struggling but the team contending in July, THEN make your move for a veteran second baseman.

Without question, Kansas City is going to have a number of in-house options at second base over the next two to three years, I am just not convinced any of them will turn out to be good options.

xxx

 

%d bloggers like this: