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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Eric Hosmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Nick Scott


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More detailed (maybe) analysis on Monday.

xxx

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten years – $160 million.

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

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

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

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

xxx

 

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

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

Ouch.

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

PECOTA hates the Royals. And PECOTA probably hates you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play ball.

Hang on everyone, we are finally, FINALLY in the final week of spring training.  It is a good feeling to know that next Monday I will have actual regular season games to write about!  I am pretty sure that there is not a Royals’ fan out there who isn’t tired of debating roster moves, nicknames, and what spring training really means, so let’s have a little fun today and throw out some over/unders for the coming season.

Eric Hosmer Home Runs

Anyone not think Hosmer is the real deal?  We have all fallen prey to overestimating the potential of more than one prospect over the years, but I am not sure any one player has seemed so destined for stardom in a Royals’ uniform since we saw Carlos Beltran come up.   There has been a lot of talk about Hosmer threatening Steve Balboni’s club record of 36 homers and I think that one year either Hosmer or Mike Moustakas probably will bust through that long standing number.  However, I don’t think 2012 is going to be the year.

The over/under on Hosmer homers is 29.

Alex Gordon’s OPS+

I know some of you are not all that keen on sabermetrics, but it is a tidy way to quantify a player’s offensive contributions relative to the rest of the league.  Last year, Gordon posted a rather impressive OPS+ of 140.   For reference, his OPS+ from his rookie season forward were: 90, 109, 87 and 84.

Was 2011 a freak occurrence or the long awaited realization of Gordon’s potential?  I think the latter, but I also know that Gordon had a little bit of good fortune when it came to the beloved BABIP.   He might regress, but not a lot (at least I sure hope it is not a lot!).

The over/under for Gordon’s 2012 OPS+ is 129.

Luke Hochevar’s Innings Pitched

A couple of things come into play here.  The first is that 2011 was basically the first year Luke managed to go through the entire season without an injury.  The second is that unless you are the late Jose Lima, it is hard to pile up a lot of innings if you are not effective.   In my mind, the number of innings Hochevar throws will be a direct correlation to his effectiveness.

Last season, Luke threw 198 innings, using a strong second half to get his ERA to a marginally tolerable 4.68 by season’s end.  The Royals expect and quite frankly really, really, really need Hochevar to build on the success he enjoyed after the All-Star Break in 2011.  I’m cautiously optimistic.

The over/under on Hochevar’s innings pitched is 208.

Greg Holland’s Saves

Ned Yost has yet to commit to a full-time closer to replace the injured Joakim Soria and looks to be headed towards an early season combination of Holland and Jonathan Broxton.  I don’t mind that, but I think we may see Holland simply take the role over by sheer overpowering effectiveness sooner rather than later.  You have to give Dayton Moore credit on this one:  he drafted Holland in the 10th round with the idea that Greg would get to the majors quickly and be a possible closer.    You have to love it when a plan comes together.

The over/under on Mr. Holland’s saves is 31.

Billy Butler’s Extra Base Hits

I don’t agonize over Butler’s home run total like many do and I quite possibly could be wrong to not do so.  I do, however, monitor Billy’s overall extra base hit total.  Last season, Billy hit 63, the year before 60 and in 2009 he smacked 73 extra base hits.  The Royals could certainly use a big number in this category as Billy should see Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer on base when he comes to the plate with great regularity.  My hunch says that Billy amps it up this year.

The over/under is 71.

The Royals Starting Pitchers

Last season, Kansas City had 11 different pitchers start a game.  Let’s eliminate the September call-up situation to get to the crux of the issue.   How many pitchers will start a game prior to September 1st this year and, quite frankly, is it good or bad to have a higher number? 

There will certainly be an injury or two along the way, so you know Felipe Paulino gets some turns which puts you at six out of the gate.  Do we see Mike Montgomery?   Does Everett Teaford get a start or two or ten? 

The over/under is 8.

Alicdes Escobar’s on base percentage

With Salvador Perez out until June or so and not a single second baseman in the organization can seem to, you know, hit the ball, the Royals really need Escobar to improve his offensive game to keep the bottom of the order from becoming the ‘now’s a good time to go to the bathroom and get some nachos’ part of the game.   Escobar is never going to be Troy Tulowitzki at the plate, but he has to do a little more than get on base at a .290 clip.  We saw some signs of improvement over the latter half of the season, although much of that was due to one magical hot streak.

If Escobar focuses at the plate like he does in the field, stays within himself and goes with the pitch, he could emerge as at least a ‘hold your own’ type of guy at the plate.  The Royals really need him to do so.

The on-base percentage over/under for Escobar is .322.

Salvador Perez

Could the Royals have taken an injury hit in a worse area?  With Perez out with knee surgery, Kansas City will struggle at the catching position.  Imagine the boost if the Royals can hang around .500 into the summer and then have Perez return healthy to the lineup.

Nothing is better than being young and in shape, so I am hoping for a quicker than expected return out of Perez.

The over/under on the number of games Salvador Perez will catch in 2012 is 81.

And Finally, The Only Number That Matters

How many games will Kansas City win in 2012?  A lot of projections this spring put that number anywhere in the seventies.   We are all certainly hoping for better, but is that logical?   This is a young team with sketchy starting pitching and one that has already suffered two big injuries.    Almost everyone seems to think the Royals will hit, but truthfully Billy Butler is the only offensive player who is truly proven over time.   We all think the bullpen is lockdown solid, but relievers are just plain unpredictable.

Craig was optimistic on Friday and it has rubbed off on me.

The over/under on 2012 Kansas City wins is set at 82.

xxx

 

For the last couple of seasons, March has been… Well, it’s been a testy month here at Royals Authority. Maybe it’s the change of seasons. Maybe it’s the grind of meaningless spring training baseball. Whatever it is, this has been a month where everyone is on edge.

They say spring is a time for optimism. I’ll freely admit I’m not an optimist. Can’t do it. Not after lo these many years. But I’m not a pessimist either. I consider myself a realist. (Right now, there are people reading this paragraph at 1 Royals Way and coughing, “Bulls#!t.”) It’s true. I’m a realist at heart. You may disagree, but I like to think I call things like I see them. It’s an honest take of the team I love. It’s just that the negative sometimes outweighs the positive.

That’s unfortunate.

We’re so caught up in the Chris Getz Story and the knowledge that somehow the Royals are going to find a way to give Yuniesky Betancourt 500 plate appearances that we tend to overlook a few things. It’s the nature of the beast. We know Eric Hosmer is going to play and play well. What is there to say about him? He’s great. On the other hand, we have someone like Getz. Why? Sadly, the Royals have given us plenty of ammo.

Please don’t get caught up in my previous paragraph. You want to bitch about Getz today. Go someplace else. You want optimism? This is your place for Friday.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to in 2012…

– The continuing development of Eric Hosmer. When was the last time the Royals had a player with a ceiling of MVP?

– The possibility that Luke Hochevar truly turned the corner in the second half of 2011. For some reason, I’m irrationally bullish on Hochevar. By altering his arm angle ever so slightly, he’s added the deception – and movement – necessary to be a quality starter.

– The SS Jesus. Can’t wait for him to range to his left to snare a grounder up the middle, plant, spin and throw to beat the runner by a couple of steps.

– Brayan Pena smiling and giving his teammates high fives. If this was basketball, we would be describing Pena as a “glue guy.”

– The Lorenzo Cain Show. I am thrilled that this guy, who was buried all of last season (justifiably so, given the performance of the Royals outfield), is kicking ass in Surprise. I hope he brings some of those hits north with him next week.

– A1. Domination. The Sequel.

– Johnny Giavotella tearing up Triple-A pitching.

– The continued development of Danny Duffy. I just have this feeling that he’s this close to putting everything together. Needless to say, we can expect improvement over his 4.4 BB/9 and 4.82 FIP. There will be moments where the kid is going to struggle again this summer, but it won’t be as frequent. And the lows won’t be as low.

– The young arms of the bullpen. I thoroughly enjoy watching Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman and Kelvin Herrera pitch. It helps that they could be pretty good relievers. (Side note: I’m not upset that Coleman was sent to Omaha. Surprised, but not upset. The bullpen is a fungible beast. He’ll be back. Probably before the end of April.)

– The return of Salvador Perez. I’m counting down the weeks. So is every other Royals fan.

– Our Mitch. Because it wouldn’t feel like the Royals without him.

– Billy Butler’s annual pursuit of 50 doubles. Quite simply, Butler is the most consistent hitter on this team. And it’s not even close.

– Jeff Francoeur punching his teammates in the nuts after a walkoff. Crazy eyes!

– The late game tandem of Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland. Holland is nails and you know I’m bullish on Broxton. It’s probably just my wide-eyed optimism that I think Broxton can be a servicable closer.

– The development of Mike Moustakas. He’s not the “sure thing” Hosmer is, so there’s a bit of a risk here, but we really need him to be the Moose of September and not the Moose of every other month.

Those are my positive thoughts heading into 2012. Fire away in the comments. Although in the spirit of optimism, I’ll ask that you only leave positive comments. Thanks.

A good writer creates an interesting topic, fleshes it out with solid research, expands on it with creativity and presents it with fluid prose.  Today, you get none of that.  NO SOUP FOR YOU!

I have an assortment of topics, which either are not quite robust enough to warrant a column on their own or which would require research and thought beyond my appetite.  

The Royals Made A Lot of Money Last Year

Forbes reported that the Kansas City Royals turned a $28.5 million profit last season, second only to the Cleveland Indians in all of baseball.  At best, that is an educated guess by Forbes, if not just a straight out shot in the dark.   I have no doubt that this revelation will stir up a bit of outrage among certain portions of the fanbase.

The truth is, however, that the Royals did not go cheap last year:  they went young.   If you believe David Glass and the team roughly broke even in past years with higher payrolls, then the Forbes’ number makes some sense.   It is nothing that should be used as an indictment of the Glass ownership, but simply a profitable portion of a very logical business cycle.

Now, the test is whether that $28.5 million (or whatever it actually was – my guess is something a little less than that) comes into play next off season or the season after that.  If Glass did make $28.5 million in 2011 and basically breaks even when the Royals’ payroll is around $70 million, then will a hopefully talented and contending Royals’ team in 2014 or 2015 be able to carry a payroll somewhere north of $80 million?   Basically, did David Glass bank the $28.5 million or, as my wife certainly would do, did he go on a bunch of really nice vacations and get four new cars…and a jet…and a boat?

Do Sabermetrics Undervalue Relief Pitchers?

In 2011, Craig Kimbrel had the highest WAR (according to Fangraphs) of any reliever in baseball:  3.2.   Thirty-eight starting pitchers posted an fWAR higher than Kimbrel’s.  In fact only seven relievers in the game would appear in the top 74 fWAR posted by pitchers in 2011.  One of those was the Royals’ Greg Holland, by the way.

Now, WAR has a lot to do with ‘showing up’.  A position player can have tremendous stats, but if he missed 25 games with an injury, his WAR will take a hit.   We may all disparage the ‘Replacement Player’, but not even Albert Pujols is better than Mr. Replacement if Albert is sitting on the bench.   When it comes to pitching, innings matter.

Jeff Francis was more valuable (in WAR terms) than any Royals’ relief pitcher last year based almost completely on the fact that Jeff ground his way through 183 innings of work:  nearly three times what any reliever pitched.  Now, the argument exists and I cannot really dispute the general theory, that a run in the third inning is really the same as a run in the ninth inning, but it sure does not feel that way.

I don’t think anyone would argue that a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever.   In fact, one can pretty effectively argue that an average starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever and, quite possibly, more valuable than even a great reliever.  However, WAR really tells us that a below average starting pitcher (Jeff Francis) is more valuable than almost every reliever in the game.

My current allotment of grey matter does not properly equip me with the ability to dive into the internal mechanizations of fWAR and debate that fact.   Nor does the fact that my gut disagrees with the above assessment invalidate the value of WAR as a statistic.   Baseball is certainly a game of numbers, but it is also a game of feel.

I know, I know, we are dancing our way into the world of intangibles where Jason Kendall and Dayton Moore sit amongst the clouds and lord over the baseball world, but there is something to it.   Baseball players and fans, as well, are conditioned that they will give up runs.  A starter gives up three runs and leaves the game tied after six innings and we applaud the effort.   The team feels good:  he gave them a chance to win, after all.   Everyone’s happy, until a reliever gives up a solo homer in the bottom of the 8th and the Royals lose.    Of course, if the starter had stranded on of those three runs in the fourth, the solo homer would not have triggered the loss, but in the clubhouse, the starter did his job and the reliever did not.

That run in the eighth inning may not be statistically different than a run in the fourth, but it certainly feels different and, I have to believe, it affects the team differently.  If your bullpen does that on a regular basis it can tremendously batter the collective psyche of the team.   Conversely, if your bullpen is truly a lock-down unit it can buoy that same team is a tremendously positive way.   

WAR may never truly love a good bullpen, but I have to believe that a good bullpen is more valuable than the sum of it’s WAR.

Catchers, Catchers, and More Catchers

Should Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero every bat after the seventh inning? 

As Craig detailed yesterday, Quintero is a legendarily poor hitter and as I pointed out in the comments and on Twitter, Brayan Pena has spiraled into something that more closely resembles Quintero at the plate than Mauer.  The Royals are hoping for more offense out of Alcides Escobar (and I think they will get it), but one can only expect so much and the team may not get a whole lot of punch out of the second base position, either.   Given that, should the Royals take a big step outside of the box and plan on pinch-hitting for the catcher almost every night?

Now, I know this won’t really happen and I also admit that this theory falls back on the possibly flawed idea that a run in the eighth is more important than a run in the third, but let’s take a quick look anyway.

I don’t care what the score is, just plus or minus five runs either way (basically any situation short of a Mitch Maier getting ready to pitch scenario), but what if the Royals simply assumed that any time the catcher came up in the sixth inning or later, they would pinch-hit for him?   Pena starts, his turn comes up in the sixth, and Maier pinch hits.   Quintero enters the game, comes up in the eighth, and Bourgoeis pinch hits, but then what?

Ah, you need to carry three catchers.  To do that AND pinch hit for said catchers, the Royals would have to carry three catchers AND a five man bench.  That forces them into breaking camp with just six relievers, which I know sounds like disaster when the starting rotation is what it is.   Except, given there is really nothing to prevent Kansas City from pitching the hell out of Louis Coleman and Tim Collins for three weeks, then sending them to Omaha to pitch sparingly while Kelvin Herrera and Everett Teaford come to KC to throw for two or three weeks.

The whole concept is dicey, unconventional and truthfully won’t work for any extended period of time.  Not to mention that the Royals’ options for pinch hitters are only slightly more productive than letting Pena, Quintero and even Cody Clark hit.  Right there, is the real problem with virtually any scenario that heavily involves using the Kansas City bench players.

Option 2013

With Joakim Soria headed towards a second Tommy John procedure, the question of whether the Royals should pick up Soria’s $8 million 2013 option will be a recurring theme throughout the season.   Personally, that eight million looks a lot better put toward an Eric Hosmer contract or, for that matter, even an Alex Gordon extension.

Sure, the Royals are on the hook for Soria’s six million this year, but does knowing that they might have an extra eight million available next year grease the wheels to getting Gordon locked down and out of the way?  Let’s also keep in mind that no one is going to be throwing money at Soria next winter.   Unless Joakim gets offended by the Royals turning down his option, there is nothing that says he could not come back on a lesser deal.  It seems like a no-brainer at this point.  I feel bad for Soria, but the game is a business and the Royals cannot afford to gamble with eight million bucks.

xxx

 

Say, did you see what Eric Hosmer posted to his Twitter account?

Hmmm…

It would seem that Mr. Hosmer is speaking to the culture of fan known as “bandwaggoners.” This species is known to stay away from sporting stadia when teams are in the dumps, yet return in full face painting glory when the team is on top.

As David Puddy would say, “Ya gotta support the team.”

If The Process continues the way it’s drawn up in the master plan, bandwaggoners will be a byproduct. Be prepared. It will be difficult to get decent seats at the K for a decent price. There will be minor traffic jams and longer lines for a Boulevard. I’ll have to wait a super long time to ride the carousel in the outfield.

Part of me is stymied by Hosmer’s attitude. Is he saying that if his team succeeds and reaches the postseason, he would prefer playing in front of 10,000 people in October who have made sitting on their hands a form of performance art? I’m not knocking the die hards (I’m a card-carrying member) but the atmosphere at the stadium on some nights – especially late in the season – resembles a screening of The Artist.

The rest of me is slightly amused. Hosmer is still getting his feet wet in this league. He’ll learn soon enough that you can’t say negative things about the fans. (Although he was shrewd in his selection of a target. Who freely admits they’re a bandwaggoner? No one, that’s who.) But there’s a bit o’ swagger behind that tweet, no? It gives a little insight as to the culture of the clubhouse Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust has built over the last couple of years. These guys are hungry, optimistic and able. They’ve all had success in the minors and they think they can replicate that at the major league level. Us die hards think this is great. Every spring we hear talk about how the Royals are improving and close to a breakthrough. This time, it feels different. This time, it feels right. Maybe because the messenger is Eric Hosmer and not Joe Mays.

Our Time, indeed.

Talk smack on the bandwaggoners all you want, but they are going to be at the K this summer – and hopefully for the next several. As long as they don’t wear pink hats (Heeeeeello, Red Sox Nation!) I’m fine with them. Every successful team has scads of bandwaggoners. Don’t hate… Embrace them. Regale them with stories of Ken Harvey getting hit in the back with a cutoff throw. Or Kerry Robinson scaling the center field wall to rob a home run, only to have the ball bounce 10 feet in front of him and over the wall for a ground rule double. Or the time Mark Quinn took a walk and they shot off fireworks at the K. Or the time the fireworks set off a brush fire behind the scoreboard and the fire department was called in during the game. Or… You get the picture.

Yeah, all that crap may have been pathetic and frustrating… but you cannot dispute it was highly entertaining. Seriously. Do you ever hear goofy stories about the Pirates? No? That’s because for the last 20 years, they’ve suffered a dual indignity: They suck and they’re boring. Damn, that’s a horrible combination. I mean the Pirates have never lost a game because their center fielder was shielded from a batted ball by a bird. Am I right? I’m glad I stuck around for all these years. For what the Royals lacked in fundamentals, they made up for in inventiveness.

My advice… Adopt a bandwaggoner. Take him or her under your wing and educate them what it’s all about… How this team was once upon a time a model franchise and now after 27 long years we’ve rediscovered our mojo. Tell them the stories of the good times and the bad. And maybe when this team hits a rough patch, your bandwaggoner will decide to ride the storm out right along with you. Maybe they’ll even buy you a Boulevard Wheat.

Misery loves company. So does success.

Our Time!

“What the hell is going on with you?”  – A statement from me to myself.

The Kansas City Royals are budding contenders, right? I’ve been writing those words in articles and saying them aloud to friends for almost a year now. It has become second nature for me to just start rattling on about how Eric Hosmer is going to be a star and the bullpen is one of the best in baseball and they can overcome a mediocre pitching staff and blah blah blah. I can say it and convince others, but I don’t believe I’ve convinced myself.

I should be stoked for the upcoming 2012 season for all the reasons you are aware of. This should be a good team, this should be a fun team. But I can’t get excited. I’ve thus far been unable to embrace what might come. Which prompts the statement at the top of the post.

I’ve been a die-hard Royals fan since birth. I’ve lived through the 90′s and the 2000′s and the 2010′s and always retained a sense of optimism. I’ve always been the guy that people could come to and ask “Why should I like the Royals this year?”. Surprisingly, I’ve always had answers:

“Kevin Appier is one of the best pitchers in baseball.”

“They have these young guys Carlos Beltran and Carlos Febles who are going to be superstars.”

“Kyle Snyder is going to be a rookie sensation!”

My enthusiasm has rarely wavered and my optimism has known no bounds. But now, suddenly on the verge of what might be something truly special, I’m hesitant. Have waves of constant losing eroded my baseball soul until there is little more than a nub remaining? Has writing, which requires objective observation made me empty? Or has the constant drive to find information and post about it just worn me out?

The truth as always is complex. I believe that my time spent analyzing baseball has begun to create a zen-like state of baseball awareness. Things just are. And for as long as I can remember baseball fandom has been one which is synonymous with losing. I’ve accepted it. I’ve almost welcomed it. I can list a number of things about losing which actually make being a baseball fan better.

1. Tickets to games are cheap

2. Tickets to games are plentiful

3. The Spring Training complex is much easier to get in and out of

4. I can’t prove it, but I think it creates better baseball writers

I’ve combined this acceptance of losing with a crash-course in baseball analysis. Knowing that there are significant elements of luck in baseball and that players value can be measured and compared has opened my eyes. Many people fight this realization. They just can’t allow the beautiful game to be reduced to 1′s and 0′s. I get it. It can leave you feeling a bit dead inside. It’s almost as if learning that Picasso traced his paintings. I disagree, but I see it. But this awareness has allowed me to objectively see the Royals for who and what they are.

With that knowledge, I should be optimistic. I know this team has flaws, but there are real objective reasons to believe they should be a contender for the playoffs.  I know this. I’ve written this. However, the intersection of my analysis, my heart and most importantly my history won’t let me process it.

“What does it mean?” – Me, again to myself.

The Royals are actually and objectively possible contenders. What am I supposed to do with that information. My experience has no way to deal with it. Getting excited has proved in the past to be an exercise in futility. Believing this is the same as the past 20 years conflicts with my analysis. So I’m stuck. I’m caught in the middle of a psychological impasse. My reaction has been to let my brain do my writing and talking, while my heart has covered my eyes, plugged my ears and screamed ” LA LA LA LA LA LA I CANT HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA”. It’s left me to keep baseball and the Royals at arm’s length for now. It has almost pushed me into apathy.

What both sides need is more information. They need games. They need to see the standings. Only once the results start to stream in can both sides be placated. For now though, both sides are standing their ground.

“Is it baseball season yet?” – Me, in unison.

 

 

 

- Nick Scott
Follow @brokenbatsingle

Eric Hosmer* was the least effective first basemen in the American League Central in 2010. Yes, I know that Carlos Santana hit .239, but he hit 27 bombs and got on base at a .351 clip. In 2011, the average AL first baseman hit .271/.340/.452 while Hosmer posted a .293/.334/.465. So what the Royals had last year in the young Hosmer was an average first baseman.

*It may be early, but I believe that Eric Hosmer needs a nickname. I say this primarily because I love nick names. They add so much fun and color to the game of baseball. Recently it seems the NBA has been completely stealing the nick name thunder from baseball. We need to reclaim that title. I’m throwing out Eric the Blue as a starting point. Add yours in the comments.

It’s not a knock on Hosmer, the kid is still only 21 years old and his best years are almost certainly in front of him and it’s been a long time since the Royals were anywhere near average at first. So there was a lot to like about his rookie campaign. However, if the Royals are going to really compete in the division in 2012, then he needs to be more than average. It’s probably not fair to heap expectations onto a twenty one year old, but it’s not fair that he’s already a multimillionaire. It comes with the territory. And what I know of the kid, he’s not phased by what some nerd writes on the computernets.

While the construction of playoff teams and World Series Champions is always a bit unique, there is nearly one constant. They all have at least one elite offensive player. Right now the Royals don’t have an elite offensive player, they have some players who could become elite but then again so do lots of teams that have sub .500 records. That’s not the goal.

Here are some numbers from Royals history to illustrate the point:

Last time that the Royals had a player with an above 6.0 bWAR – 2003 Carlos Beltran 7.4 (remember the magical 2003?)

Here is a list of every individual season where the Royals had bWAR over 8.0

1980 – George Brett 9.6 – AL Champions

1979 – George Brett 8.7 and Darrell Porter 8.4 – 85-77 record

1976 – George Brett 8.0  – AL West Champions

1985 – George Brett 8.0 – World Series Champions

I know, I just blew your mind, right? Good players make teams win games. I should write a book about my computer that came up with that formula and then make a movie about it where a Royals beat writer will refuse to move out of the shot. I’m thinking about it, don’t you worry. As simple as it is, it’s a formula which is pretty tried and true. Though it’s not always required, a team almost always needs an elite player to win a bunch of games. The question we have right now is can Eric Hosmer be that player? Can he turn this country into the United States of Hosmerica?

Right here is where I should trot out his size, his skill,s his Minor League numbers and try and prove to you all that he can right? Wrong. The answer truly is that we have no earthly clue. I would love to be able to tell you with some degree of certainty that Hosmer will become what we want him to be. I’ve been trumpeting him to everyone I know since the first time I saw him. Heck, I posted this video of him from last Spring Training as he blew me away again in person.

But in reality, I don’t want to know. It’s the reason we watch the game. It’s the not knowing that makes the finding out so much better. It’s like if we had a big holiday where we gave presents and let’s just say it was around this time of year. Let’s call it Hosmas. It wouldn’t be any fun if the presents were clearly labeled as “socks”, “baseball nerd book” or “coal”. The moment as you’re opening the present ans it’s coming into focus, those are the moments we live for. It’s what baseball provides in gigantic heaps.

It feels like we’re balanced on the precipice. As if things are just on the edge of being really, really good for Royals fans. But we’ve seen the heart of darkness, we know how terribly wrong it can go. We see this talented 21 year old who seems to have every skill one could ask for in a baseball player. Next season I’ll be tuning in on my radio and TV and going to the stadium to find out if the Royals can win and if Eric The Blue (just trying it on for size) can be the great Royal that we’ve needed on the team for so long.

Thank you all for a fantastic year, I really enjoy writing about the Royals and having great readers makes it all worthwhile. Please have a happy and safe Holidays. Hopefully here at Royals Authority we’ve armed you the last year with some info to throw at your uncle who’ll tell you how terrible the Royals are going to be and yadda yadda.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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