Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Chris Getz

According to UZR/150 (courtesy Fangraphs), the best defensive second baseman in baseball last season was Chase Utley with +12.9 mark.   The worst was Skip Schumaker with a -17 UZR/150.    You can make what you want of UZR/150 or any other defensive metric:  they all have flaws and they are all subject to small sample sizes.   The common theme amongst the sabremetric community these days is that it takes three years of defensive statistics to equal one year of offensive data.

If you are into zone ratings when it comes to defense, Utley had a Revised Zone Rating of .840 in 2010 – good for 5th overall.   Schumaker’s was a horrid .769, which was dead last once again.  

Interestingly, both players manned second base for almost an identical amount of innings:  Utley played 1007 innings, Schumaker 1014.   Combining putouts, assists and errors, Utley made a defensive play 5.23 times per nine innings.   Schumaker made a defensive play 5.19 times per nine innings.   It is an admittedly simplistic sampling, but it sure appears that second basemen, the good, the bad, the indifferent,  generally all have about five fielding chances each game.

We can delve into double plays started, double plays turned, positioning, passing eye tests, plus hands, plus feet, plus instincts….you name it, you can factor that into whatever defensive analysis you want to rely upon, but I am going to take the very lowbrow route.

If a second baseman gets on average five defensive chances per game and plays 140 games, that comes out to 700 chances per year.   Using last year’s numbers, Utley’s zone rating implies that he got to 7% more balls than Schumaker and one time every 180 chances or so, Schumaker made an error that Utley would not have made.   In this very crude analysis, those differences, spread over 140 games would mean that Chase Utley made plays on 49 more balls than Skip Schumaker and that Skip would boot six more balls.

That makes for a grand total of 55 plays at second base that seperate the best defensive second baseman of 2010 from the worst.   All around, I can actually feel far better statistical analyzers than myself shivering at the absolute crudeness of the above math!

Now, what does this have to do with the Royals and their very important, very thrilling, oddly played win last night?  Not a whole lot, other than in regard to the lineup that Ned Yost trotted out and then stuck with for eleven innings.  Chris Getz got another start at second base over Mike Aviles, after getting the start over Wilson Betemit the night before.

We’ll ignore the Betemit part of this equation for simplicity sake (after the above fielding analysis, simple is the word of the day) and just compare Getz and Aviles:

  • Getz 2011: .220/.310/.275/.585, 4XBH, 7SB, 14BB, 12SO
  • Aviles 2011: .265/.299/.531/.830, 14XBH, 8SB, 4BB, 21SO

And for their careers:

  • Getz: .248/.314/.313/.628
  • Aviles: .295/.325/.432/.756

IF Chris Getz was the best fielding second baseman in the game and IF Mike Aviles was the worst, Getz turns 55 balls into outs over 140 games that Aviles does not:  basically two plays every five games, four plays every ten games.

In those ten games in which Getz makes four defensive plays Aviles does not (again assuming Getz is the best defender in the game and Aviles the worst), Aviles would not only get a hit, but get an EXTRA BASE HIT five more times than Getz would.   So, what is more valuable?   Four defensive plays made or five extra base hits?

What if, really NED what if, Chris Getz is not the best defensive second baseman on the planet?   Is he better than Aviles?  Yes.   Is he 55 plays better than Aviles?  My guess is that it might be half that number.   If that is truly the case, then the equation becomes two defensive plays versus those five extra base hits.  Simple math, but a simple answer as well.

Of course, Chris Getz and Mike Aviles do not play in a vacuum.   They play second base next to a player who, right now, is a defense only shortstop.  Alcides Escobar, to date, has played superb defense.   He is a joy to watch in the field, but he makes us all wince when at the plate.

Escobar is going nowhere:  the Royals believe in him (so do I, actually) and they have no real option to replace him even if they did not.   Alcides Escobar and his .532 OPS are in the lineup to stay.   Als0 in the lineup will be the offensive liabilities of the Matt Treanor, Brayan Pena and, at some point, Jason Kendall. 

Name a contending team that didn’t have good defense up the middle?  Name one that had three guys up the middle with OPS below .650?   (Yes, I know Treanor is above that mark right now, but if you want to bet on that lasting…). 

I am all for good defense, but the Royals are currently struggling to score and Mike Aviles is a guy who can simply hit.  Sure, he does not walk enough, but he is about to overtake Getz in on-base percentage as it is.   How big a penalty are you willing to pay for Getz’s defense and better, but not tremendously better, base running?

Long term, neither is the ‘solution’ at second base, but not every change has to be ‘the final solution’.  The Royals give up too much when they play Chris Getz at second base and sit either Aviles or Betemit.   If we were talking about shortstop or catcher, the two most important defensive positions, then this column might have a different angle.   We are talking, however, about second base.

Aviles may not even be average in the field, but he is not a butcher (a/k/a Alberto Callaspo).  Getz is probaly above average in the field, but he is not a gold glover.   The difference, when factoring in the times one can effect the game with their glove, is not enough to justify keeping the bat of Mike Aviles on the bench.

Are the Royals playing to win this year or are they hoping that Chris Getz can nudge his OPS over .700 and be an average player sometime down the road?

Headlines bedevil me at times, but given that last night’s 3-2 loss to the Orioles seemed to hinge on a ball getting stuck under the padding of the outfield wall, the title seems appropriate. 

As detailed in many places, Baltimore’s Adam Jones made a heads-up play and the correct play in signalling for a ground rule double on what would have been a Mike Aviles triple.  He doesn’t have to try to get the ball, nor does it matter that he could have easily gotten the ball.    Rules are rules and smart baseball is smart baseball (and also fair, by the way).    The Royals have a ton of late and close wins this year, think of last night as a little retribution for the baseball gods.

Kyle Davies had a very ‘Daviesish’ sort of outing:  6.1 innings, 3 runs, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks, 2 hit batters and allowing SEVEN Orioles to reach base after he had recorded two outs in an inning.  I don’t know, Kyle was competent and kept his team in the game into the seventh inning, but man he is hard to love, isn’t he?    

Do you send Davies out to start the seventh inning?   I ask that as a genuine question as, in real time, I debated with myself whether I do or not.  One factor in Ned Yost’s thinking had to be that he had used virtually the entire bullpen the night before and, rightly or wrongly, Yost has been loathe to use his young reliever on back to back days.   Well, unless you are Tim Collins and then you WILL PITCH EVERY GAME.

Speaking of Tim Collins, the lefty has 13 strikeouts versus 4 walks when facing right-handed batters.   Against lefthanders, however, Collins has 8 strikeouts versus 13 walks.   Regardless, Yost brought Collins in specifically to face a left-handed hitter for the second consecutive night.  

With two more hits last night, one would think that Mike Aviles has to be close to reestablishing himself as part of the Royals’ everyday lineup.   After a dismal start, Mike is up to a line of .262/.289/.548/.837 with 5 home runs and 6 steals.     No, he is not a prototypical lead-off hitter (just 3 walks and 17 strikeouts) and no, he is not the defensive equal of Chris Getz.    The question, however, is not Aviles v. Getz, it is or at least should be, Getz v. Ka’aihue.

The Royals need pop in the lineup to try to offset their very marginal starting rotation.   Aviles brings a six somewhat competent bat into the lineup at the expense of some defense (not a lot in my opinion) and some speed (again, not all that much).   Not to mention that he is one guy in this whole equation that actually has a track record of hitting major league pitching.

So, the situation really comes down to who do the Royals think will eventually hit?   Getz or Ka’aihue?  Does Chris Getz bring enough with the glove at second to justify putting his career Royals line of .235/.308/.279 in the batting order?   Do you have enough belief in Ka’aihue’s impressive minor league resume to keep writing down his name in hopes that this .195/.295/.317 start is just a rough patch soon to be erased by a pile of walks and home runs?

Frankly, the Royals do not even have to decide.   They can alternate or swap those two players in out of the lineup at will.  A batting order with both Getz and Ka’aihue in it, however, simply is one with two many weak spots.   One or the other, not both.

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

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

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

Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the show.

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

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

I’m on board. For now.

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

Last night was simply inexplicable for other reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to imagine every Royals’ fan that read the above title instantly thought ‘Alcides Escobar’ and probably a vast majority then had the name ‘Chris Getz’ pop into their head shortly thereafter.  No trickery here, that is exactly who we are going to talk about this morning.

Let me preface the discussion by admitting I have not done an in-depth analysis of this topic.    Two reasons:  a) time and b) I wanted to not prove a point, but continue a long running Twitter discussion and get the readers’ semi-unjaded thoughts on the issue.  Yes, you’re right, item b is a writer’s way of justifying limited research.

Anyway, I have yet to find anyone who has not been wowed by the defense of Alcides Escobar at short.   To date, he has simply been outstanding:  making great plays often and making the routine plays look, well, routine.   For Kansas City, where every infield pop up since the turn of the century has been an adventure, routine looking routine is refreshing.

Now, it remains to be seen if Escobar can maintain this level of play throughout a full season and also if the defensive metrics come around to supporting what our eyes (and maybe our hearts) are telling us, but for the purposes of today, let’s assume that Escobar is somewhere between a very good defender and an elite defender.

According to Fangraphs, the best fielding shortstops of 2010 were (using RAR):

  • Alexei Ramirez – 10.8
  • Cliff Pennington – 9.9
  • Stephen Drew – 8.7
  • Troy Tulowitzki – 7.1

Given that Alcides Escobar was widely considered to be inconsistent at best in the field in 2010 and still posted a +3.5, I think it is safe to assume that his defense (to date) would have to be considered up among the league leaders.   Now, Tulowitzki and Drew can, you know, hit the ball and hence their overall Wins Above Replacement is aided greatly by their offense.

Pennington (-0.5) and Ramirez (-2.2), however, were not deemed to have contributed much offensively using this system.  However, both posted wOBA numbers that I think all of us would gladly accept out of Escobar.   Pennington checked in with wOBA of .315 (.250/.319./.368 standard line), and Ramirez had an wOBA of .322 (.282/.313/.431).   I can affirm completely that if Alcides Escobar matches either one of those lines, he will definitely be hitting enough to justify keeping his defense in the lineup.

However, we are trying to determine the minimum scenario under which Escobar can be an overall positive and in that scenario it is worth looking at the bottom portion of shortstops using their 2010 wOBA:

  • Cesar Izturis – .248
  • Alcides Escobar – .270
  • Erick Aybar – .288
  • Orlando Cabrera – .292

One could make the case that if Escobar hits as he did last year (when his overall WAR was +0.6) and fields at a higher level, he might be doing enough as is.   Remember, Alcides hit a very putrid .235/.288/.326 in 2010, which is sadly well above his current 2011 line.    

The Royals, however, are surely looking for more than a 1 WAR shortstop to come out of the Greinke trade, or at least they should be.   Is something more than 2 WAR acceptable?   For now, in my mind, the answer is yes.   In working our way up the wOBA list to find the lowest ranked shortstop to post a plus two WAR, we conveniently find another Escobar.

Yunel Escobar posted a wOBA of .301 in 2010, hitting .256/.337/.318 and fielding at 4.3 Runs Above Replacement.   I will move out of my mom’s basement if the Royals’ Escobar gets anywhere close to a .337 on-base percentage this year, but if he can field at a better clip than Yunel and hit a little less maybe Alcides could still be a major positive overall.  Erick Aybar’s line of .253/.306/.330 for a wOBA of .288 would do it.

So, in a very unsophisticated look at the subject, it appears that Alcides Escobar could duplicate his 2010 hitting and be basically replacement level (i.e. not helping, but not killing his team, either).   Above that line, Escobar begins to add some juice to the Royals’ overall WAR equation.   An Aybar like line would turn Alcides into the first truly impactful positive overall Royals shortstop since Mike Aviles had his glorious rookie run in 2008.

Now, using the above imperfect logic, what would second baseman Chris Getz need to do to also be something more than ‘just above replacement level’?   Easy answer: more.   Second base is an important defensive position, but not as important as shortstop.   Additionally, while Getz would appear to be a good defender at second, I am not ready to label him as more than simply ‘good’.

Rightly or wrongly, instead of looking at the top defenders as we did with shortstop, let’s take a look at the next tier down of second baseman in 2010:

  • David Eckstein – 6.2
  • Freddy Sanchez – 5.9
  • Aaron Hill – 3.7
  • Clint Barmes – 3.6

Both Eckstein and Sanchez posted an overall fWARs over two.   Sanchez, while not a great hitter, would seem to be a different kind of hitter than Getz, but Eckstein, with a line of .267/.321/.326 with a wOBA of .296 seems very ‘Getz-like’.  

Of course, David Eckstein was an excellent defensive shortstop who moved over to second and I have to believe, despite his age, that he played better defense at second base than Getz will.   Admittedly, I think Mike Aviles should be playing second base right now for the Royals and hence may have a jaded view of Getz’s defense – while better than Aviles, I do not think it is THAT much better.

You can debate the above statement, but I have to think that anything less than something resembling Eckstein’s 2010 offensive output would put Getz underwater when it comes to his overall WAR and hence, overall contribution to the team.  Probably something on the order of a Chone Figginsish .259/.340/.306 (wOBA .302) would do the trick – assuming plus five defense or thereabouts.

Okay, now what do you think?  How much offense do you need to keep Alcides Escobar on the field?   How about Chris Getz?

While is is cliche to say an off-day came at a good time, this Monday break in the schedule came at  a good time for the Royals.    Fresh off a sweep at the hands of the Rangers, who were playing without Josh Hamilton and Neftali Feliz, and losers of six of their last eight games, this young Kansas City team needs to check itself before it wrecks itself.

More than anything, I am hoping this off-day allows the team to truly take a breath and realize it still has a chance to be much better than virtually all of us thought they could be.    Certainly, the Royals are not going to win ten of every fifteen games as they did to start the season, but they should not perceive themselves as a team that is going to lose six of eight, either.

In those six losses, only one was a true beat down (the 11-6 loss to open the Texas series).    In every other game, even yesterday, Kansas City was a key hit or a key hold away from tying or winning.   That is not the sign of a team with no hope.   It is, however, a sign of a team with five rookies in the bullpen and whose best player this year was widely regarded as bust last year.    There is not a whole lot that the organization can do about those facts, other than keep playing and get enough good fortune for the team to continue to believe.

I know, belief is one of those touchy feelly things that we tend to discount, but there is some merit to the simple fact that a player thinks something is going to happen to help his team win as opposed to thinking something is going to happen to make his team lose.    We have been on the losing side of that equation with a number of Royals teams this century.   Thus far, and it is early, the 2011 Royals seem to be avoiding the ‘loser mentality’.   Doing so, warranted or not, going forward will certainly not hinder this organization’s drive back to respectability.

You wonder if Ned Yost is going to spend a considerable amount of his off-day time thinking about his lineup after seeing Mike Aviles go three for five yesterday with two home runs and a steal.    Aviles, who is ninth on the team in plate appearances has gone 10 for 27 after starting the year 3 for 28 and currently has a slugging percentage greater than everyone on the team not named Francouer.

The snag is that the two guys in direct competition with Aviles for playing team, Wilson Betemit and Chris Getz, each had two hits yesterday.   Getz, who was in a 3 for 31 stretch prior to yesterday, would seem to be playing his way out of the lineup….if we applied the same principals to his performance as the Royals applied to that of Aviles to start the year.

Quite obviously, you cannot take Wilson Betemit (.364/.424/.509) out of the lineup anytime soon and the organization is going to give Kila Ka’aihue more at-bats whether you like it or not, so the equation comes down to this:

  • Aviles – .236/.271/.527 with 4 steals and 9 extra base hits
  • Getz – .240/.330/.280 with 5 steals and 2 extra base hits

You make the call on this one, but I go with Aviles based on the above and the fact that he has two seasons worth of hitting decently well on his resume.

Speaking of Betemit (sort of), there has been discussion around whether he should be hitting fifth instead of Jeff Francouer.  My gut reaction when Yost moved Ka’aihue down in the order was that he should, but it is a very minor issue at this point given how Jeff Francouer is hitting.   Currently on a .325/.370/.566 run, I don’t think you do anything to mess with Frenchy right now.

Now, Francouer has had streaks similar to this before.   After being traded to the Mets in 2009, Jeff hit .311/.338/.498 over a 75 game run.   Those numbers are not at all dissimilar to those of his rookie season, albeit with a less power.   While this is likely just another hot streak in a notorious hackers career, I will point out that with 7 walks in 21 games, Francouer is on pace to walk over 50 times this year:  well above his career high.   Right now, Jeff’s early numbers in a very small sample size bear a distinct resemblance to his 2007 season.   I would take that year’s result of .293/.338/.444 with 40 doubles and 19 home runs, wouldn’t you?

The off-day has also allowed or caused Ned Yost to skip Sean O’Sullivan in the starting rotation this time around.  Normally, that would all make perfect sense to me, but O’Sullivan is coming off two good starts.   In addition, is it wise to go out of your way to get an extra start for Luke Hochevar, who has never pitched more than 143 major league innings in one season, and Jeff Francis, who admittedly wore down last year?

Finally, if you would rather think about baseball instead of work on this Monday, check the Royals’ schedule through the end of May and give us a guess on what their record will be over the next thirty-three games.   Also, if you happen to see any series in there that we might consider ‘a break’, please let me know.   From my perspective, this team is about to embark a pretty rugged stretch of games.

The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

Getting past the off day means we’re all downhill from here as we approach the start of the regular season. (YES!!!)  As Dutton outlined, this is where the competition for spots really begins to gather steam.  Any stats you saw in the early part of the spring, you can safely discard.  While you can probably discard the spring stats that will unfold the rest of the month, from now on those numbers will play a role in setting the 25 man roster the Royals take north for the opener on March 31.

While the Royals maintain there’s still some competition, I maintain most of the roster has been set since camp opened a month ago.  Excepting the bullpen.

The one monkey wrench in all of this could be the recovery of Jason Kendall.  This doesn’t surprise me as much as disappoint me, but he is ahead of schedule.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he opened with the team… Even if he had something like 10 spring training at bats.  That’s just something the Royals always seem to do where they stumble over themselves to give a veteran some sort of role on the team.  Remember “It wouldn’t be fair to Dougie?” I suggest we all get mentally prepared, because Kendall will be with the team sooner rather than later.  Honestly, I was holding out hope that it would be July at the earliest, but this dude is some sort of cyborg or something.  At his age, recovery should take time.  Lots and lots of time.

Rewind yourself, indeed.

Clark speculated the other day that if Kendall is on the roster, the Royals would keep three catchers as both Brayan Pena and Lucas May are out of options.  I suppose that’s possible, and we all know how tone deaf Dayton Moore is when it comes to assembling the 25-man roster.  Still, a three man catching monster is as useless as a 13 man bullpen.  But it doesn’t prevent teams like the Royals from doing something like this.

Otherwise, the position players appear to be set.  The upset of the camp would be if Lance Zawadzki pushes Chris Getz to the sideline.  The Z Man has been productive and Getz has been…Getz.  I still think Getz has the inside track… How crazy would it be if stolen bases were the deciding factor.  We all know how the Royals want to run this year.  Getz has four spring steals while Zawadzki has none.

Of course, the Royals could go with both if they decide Wilson Betemit isn’t ready for regular duty.

– As for the outfield, that’s set.  Nothing has changed there.

– Same for the rotation as it’s down to Vin Mazarro and Sean O’Sullivan as for who can suck less.  I’m really not invested in this battle, especially since the Royals won’t need a fifth starter until mid April.

That quirk of the schedule could permit the Royals to carry three catchers and five outfielders.  Crazy.

Meanwhile, Alex Gordon is on a tear and through 30 spring at bats is hitting .367/.558/.733 with three home runs, including a bomb he launched on Tuesday. Of course, he was hitless or something in his first 10 at bats of the spring. (I don’t recall, and it’s not necessary to look it up.) The point is, he was ice cold for the first week or so and he’s poured it on ever since.  And ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  What Alex Gordon does in Arizona shouldn’t impact your opinion of him in the least.

– Nate Adcock looked strong in three innings of work, but color me skeptical when discussing a Rule 5 pick who has never pitched above high A ball and strikes out just 6.6 batters per nine while walking 3.8.  Sure, it helps his cause that he has yet to allow a run in eight innings of spring work, but I’m going to place a wager that his first eight innings of the regular season won’t go as smoothly.

He will remain in the mix for the bullpen since the Royals have to keep him on the 25 man roster or offer him back to Pittsburgh.  Meanwhile, they acquired another Rule 5 guy in Robert Fish.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before… He’s a lefty power arm who has trouble with command. In other words, he’ll always have teams knocking on his door.  It’s difficult to imagine a scenario, even in KC, where a team keeps two Rule 5 guys in the bullpen.  Still, this is GMDM and the Royals… Anything is possible when it comes to constructing a roster.

Good to see Billy Butler flash a little spring power.  And Kyle Davies is still putting runners on the bases like a madman.  He’s more than ready for the regular season…

And I’m ready to.  This is the time of the spring where I fall into a little exhibition game fatigue.  OK… I was pumped for the games, but the fact I can’t see them (more on that in a future post perhaps) and the fact they carry little weight mean I begin to lose interest about this time.  Sure, I still check the box scores, but I’m ready for the real thing damnit.

I contend most of the 25 man roster is set.  Clark has been watching it evolve since the end of the 2010 season and I feel he’s spot-on in his recent assessment.  For me, the most interesting (yet useless) competition is for the fifth starter spot.  There are six pitchers gunning for the rotation with Luke Hochevar the favorite to lead a staff that includes Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen, Sean O’Sullivan, Vin Mazarro and Davies.  I know Nick thinks Chen is out of the rotation by July.  Perhaps, but we do agree he will be in the mix at the start of the season.  Hochevar seems a lock, as does Francis.  I’ll include Davies here, too.  So that puts the competition down to O’Sullivan and Mazarro.

I said that was the most interesting battle in camp?  Sigh.

March 31 can’t get here fast enough.

A couple of spring notes of interest…

– I certainly fall into the camp that (most) spring stats are meaningless, but Everett Teaford had better get his act together.  Yeah, it’s just two appearances, but getting hammered for 11 hits and 10 runs isn’t going to get you anywhere… Even in March.  He will get a shot at spring redemption on Wednesday afternoon.

– We finally have a Wilson Betemit sighting as the third baseman started and when 0-4 with two strikeouts in Tuesday’s game.  He’s dealing with a hyper extended elbow from winter ball.  I think the injury, combined with Mike Aviles’ hot bat and improved glove, have Aviles positioned to be the Royals opening day starter at the hot corner.  Unless Chris Getz continues to underwhelm.  Which isn’t much of a reach.

– Getz is 1-14 this spring while Pedro Feliz is 1-13.  As I mentioned with Teaford, I’m not going to put a lot of stock in spring numbers – even when they validate my opinion of certain players.  (And in this case they certainly do.)  However, there’s something to be said about being part of the crowd.  In other words, you are allowed to struggle, but you don’t want to be so putrid that you stand out among your teammates.  That’s what a 1-14 will do… Get you noticed… In the wrong way.

– That fan that got pegged in the eye by an errant hot dog toss courtesy of Sluggerrr was in court on Tuesday.  John Coomer was allegedly struck in the eye by the Yuni-like frankfurter throw and suffered a detached retina and has undergone three surgeries.  When will these teams learn?  If I remember correctly, a vegetarian was clobbered with a hot dog (sans bun apparently) at a Blue Jay game several years ago.  As you can imagine, this caused extreme emotional distress.  (Although how it was worse than watching the Blue Jays, I couldn’t tell you.)  Anyway, the parties seem destined to see this through to the end, with the trial expecting to last to Thursday.

We all know by now that stats in spring training are a poor indicator of what the future season might hold.   I used to spend some amount of time analyzing who a given batter may have faced in the spring in attempt to separate the at-bats against true major league competition from that of the minor league guys filling in the late innings.   Even that method was hardly foolproof as you were never sure when/if a pitcher or hitter was ‘working on something’ and hence not playing in the same manner as he would in a game that matters.

In the past, we saw Zack Greinke have a horrible statistical spring and go on to win the Cy Young.   Angel Berroa was a notorious killer in the spring before notoriously hideous regular seasons.   It is all very simple, frankly:  a guy with his roster spot secure is probably not going to lay out for a line drive down the line the second week in March and a pitcher who just has his slider working and nothing else is still going to throw fastballs and changeups in the Cactus League.    All sorts of things like that make the art of analyzing spring performances in a statistical manner virtually impossible.

Still, there are some numbers that are interesting if not particular meaningful:

  • Mitch Maier is hitting .571/.625/.643 with four steals.   Last year, there was some buzz that there were a number of teams that would jump on the out of options Maier if the Royals did not keep him on their twenty-five man roster coming out of spring training.   Fast forward to this spring, where Mitch is off to another hot start and on the borderline of making the Royals.   Would there be a market for Maier?   Certainly not a big one and not one that would yield a huge return, but would someone like the Phillies trade for him to fill in for the injured Dominic Brown?   Doubtful, but marginally plausible, I suppose.  
  • Melky Cabrera is hitting .462/.500/.538.  Lorenzo Cain is hitting .462/.533/.615.   Cain has already made two defensive plays that have drawn raves and Melky has already lost a ball in the ‘Arizona sun’.   I’m tired of hearing about the Arizona freaking sun and sky.  I get it, it is a tough place to catch high fly balls.   Half of your job description is to ‘catch fly balls’ – do it.  Anyway, spring training stats don’t matter, but somehow I feel that Cain’s .462 average and good defense is going to generate a ‘he needs more seasoning’ line pretty soon.   Melky’s .462?   Well, my guess is the Royals will be happy to tell you that those spring training stats DO matter.
  • The up and coming Big Four of Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer have combined to pitch 9.2 innings this spring and walked 11 batters.  That is not unexpected for young pitchers and tells us nothing about their future, but is interesting nonetheless.
  • Chris Getz is zero for eight with three walks.  Alex Gordon is one for thirteen with six walks.   Can we pick and choose which spring training stats are valid indicators?  Please?!!
  • Everett Teaford has been tagged for 10 runs in just over two innings of work.   There is no real way to spin those numbers into anything but Omaha.

A lot of the above is a little tongue in cheek…okay, a lot of it is.   To be honest, the Royals have won six of eight games to start the spring and seen a lot of good things happen.   Eric Hosmer has looked the part, Kila Ka’aihue has been solid and Clint Robinson just keeps hitting.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to get some positive vibes from winning exhibition games:  especially for a young team like the Royals.

Inevitably, there will start to be talk of the 2003 Royals, who parlayed a Cactus League title into a 16-3 start and staying in contention until the final month of the regular season.   Let’s be careful there in that the 2003 Royals had Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez and a then rookie of the year caliber player in Angel Berroa.    Offensively, that was not a young team (Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, Desi Relaford, Brent Mayne – were all veteran players with decent major league resumes) and probably more poised to make a cinderella run than the 2011 Royals are.

For now, we’ll just enjoy the spring and periodically remind ourselves that the numbers probably tell us very little.   That won’t keep us from monitoring them closer than might be considered healthy, however.

For various reasons, I have been pretty much out of the Royals’ loop for the better part of the past two weeks.   Here’s what I apparently missed:

  • Ned Yost views Jarrod Dyson as the best lead-off option on the team and that no one else really fits the role.  Of course, even Ned intimates that Dyson has little chance to make the roster.   I pointed out the void of a true lead-off hitter within the organization earlier this month.  Is it good or bad to have an opinion much the same as the Royals’ manager?
  • Chris Getz’s head is okay now.   Although I kind of have a weird fascination with Getz, that feeling will last exactly as long as it takes the Royals to call up Mike Moustakas.   At that point, Getz will either stop playing or start taking time away from a far superior hitting Mike Aviles.  When that happens, fascination will no longer describe my feelings towards this player.
  • Everett Teaford’s truck was stolen.   That’s a shame.
  • Joakim Soria wants a new nickname.   I can see his logic, given what is going on in his native Mexico, but color be completely bored with this topic.   Nicknames, at least non-sarcastic ones, have never really been all that interesting to me and maybe, just maybe, when you are as good as Joakim Soria we could just refer to him as, well, Joakim Soria.
  • A number of pitchers had ‘the ball come out of their hands real good’ and a similar number of position players reported to camp ‘in the best shape of their lives’.
  • Of course, as Craig detailed yesterday, Jason Kendall confirmed my feeling that he is pretty much of a clown (not the funny type, mind you).   Listen, I don’t have any fond feelings for Nick Wright, but there was nothing in his questioning of Mike Moustakas that warranted intervention from anyone.   I guess we can thank Kendall for making just another ‘softball question-cliche answer’ standard baseball interview something interesting.   Certainly, what Kendall did is no worse than what George Brett did to a young television reporter on the golf course last year (or was it two?).   The difference is that George Brett is in the Hall of Fame and Jason Kendall never will be:  nobody said life was fair.

I guess all this column really does is remind all of us how non-eventful this time of year can be.    All that changes on Sunday as the games start.   You can make the argument that spring training stats do not matter, but spring training games certainly do.  

Count me as ready for some actual baseball.

And finally, the Ned Yost over/under stolen base contest.   In Tuesday’s Kansas City Star, Yost talked about the Royals renewed emphasis on baserunning (the team has been a woeful unit on the base paths the past few years) and in that article offered up the following thoughts on stolen base abilities:

  • Mike Aviles: 25 to 30
  • Lorenzo Cain: 25
  • Alcides Escobar: 40
  • Jeff Francouer: 15
  • Chris Getz: 40

“You just have to know how to do it.   You just have to work at it.” (Ned Yost via Kansas City Star)

Alright, which of the above (if any) reach those numbers?   And how many caught stealing do they incur getting there?