Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Eric Hosmer

I’ve written about the Rookie of the Year race at length and each time, my conclusion was similar: There was a unique depth to the field this year where you could make a case for any number of players. Eric Hosmer’s late September charge put him on the radar, but the race was so wide open, he merely got himself in the conversation. In the hours prior to the announcement, I tweeted that I was so unsure of the results, I could see Hosmer finishing anywhere from first to fourth.

Turns out I was (pretty much) spot on. The voters seemed to agree that there were so many players worthy of consideration, not a single rookie was named on every ballot. I didn’t go through the history of ROY voting, but that just seems amazing to me.

In the end, Jeremy Hellickson takes home the hardware, with Mark Trumbo second, The Hos taking third and Ivan Nova finishing fourth.

There are 28 voters for the AL ROY (technically two from each AL city) and each voter lists their three choices. Here’s how many ballots each player earned:

Hellickson – 24
Trumbo – 21
Nova – 16
Hosmer – 14
Pineda – 5
Ackley – 2
Jennings – 1
Walden – 1

Hosmer finished ahead of Nova in the final balloting because the bulk of Nova’s votes were for third place. Hosmer’s were spread a little more evenly between the three slots. Some takeaways from the voting:

– The initial knee jerk reaction I saw on Twitter from Royals fans was disbelief that Hosmer was left off of 14 votes. I would hope that when they saw how fractured the voting was, they calmed down. Again, there was just a ton of candidates and you can make a case for all of them. (Well, except Trumbo… More on that in a second.)

While it’s nice for the hometown guy to get the recognition, it’s not that big of a deal. Especially the Rookie of the Year award. I know I’ll catch hell from Nick for not referring to the Jackie Robinson Award (it’s rightful name) but maybe we should change it to the Joe Charboneau Award. It seems there have been more winners who have flamed out than have gone to the Hall of Fame.

– I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that while Hellickson was the clear favorite among the majority, the voters who listed Trumbo second, most likely had Nova third on their ballot. Makes sense, doesn’t it? The voters who swoon for home runs and RBI would also go for wins, right?

– That Trumbo earned so much consideration isn’t really surprising to me. Yes, I know about the .291 OBP, but he had a couple things going for him that no other hitter had. One, voters dig the long ball. And two, he was the only rookie hitter to play the entire season in the bigs.

Counting stats are still huge among members of the electorate, and the only way to rack up the big numbers is to play the whole season. With Hosmer arriving in May, Ackley in June and Jennings in July, these three will ultimately be superior players to Trumbo (I’m betting) but they had had a distinct disadvantage this year.

– After the strides that have been made in the MVP and (especially) the Cy Young awards, it’s odd that the ROY still fights this battle. Chalk it up to the unique nature of the award and the fact that often, the winner does not play the full season. It surprised me that Ackley got such lukewarm support. He played a premium defensive position and

– Defensive metrics hurt The Hos. Again, we’ve discussed this at length, but for some reason the defensive measurements that help define WAR despised Hosmer. If some “enlightened” voter decided to look beyond the HR and RBI and examine some advanced numbers, they would have seen Hosmer’s fWAR and rWAR were depressed.

Hosmer’s 1.6 fWAR was behind not only Trumbo, Jennings and Ackley, but Josh Reddick and Jemile Weeks as well. His 1.3 rWAR is below everyone who received a vote except Walden.

– There needs to be more transparency in the process. The BBWAA doesn’t need to make every ballot public, but we should be able to find out who the voters are for each award. Some of the best articles I read every winter are from voters and their thought process behind their ballot. I respect those guys who give us a peek behind the curtain so to speak.

– Finally, I cast a ballot for ESPN’s SweetSpot Network and ranked the AL Rookie of the Year award:

Hosmer
Ackley
Pineda

While some might like Wins Above Replacement level (WAR) to be that magic ‘one stat’ that tells us which player is more valuable than another, it is not.  Brett Gardner is a fine player, but his fWAR (Fangraphs) was basically the same as that of Albert Pujols this season.  That does not mean that WAR is useless, just that it is not the ONLY stat when it comes to evaluating players.

That said, WAR is a very good tool.   For position players, it attempts to consolidate hitting, baserunning and fielding into a tidy little package that gives us a general idea of his overall value.   It is not a fail safe option when calculating team wins.  

In 2011, Kansas City compiled a total team fWAR of 39.1 and won 71 games.   Chicago had 40.3 total fWAR and won 79, while Cleveland totalled up just 30.1 fWAR yet won 80 games.  If you want to know how many fWAR your roster needs to contribute to get 94 wins, I can probably find you 15 different answers…in the last five years.   Like I said at the beginning, WAR (be it fWAR or bWAR or some other WAR…good god, y’all) is not the be all and end all of the statistical world.

Here is what I know, if you want to win the A.L. Central, you have to have more fWAR than the other four teams.    Detroit won 95 games the division in 2011 with an fWAR of 48.5 (8.2 better than anyone else).   Minnesota won in 2010 with 94 wins and a fWAR of 49.7 (6 better than Detroit and 6.7 better than Chicago).  Minnesota only won 87 games in 2009, but it was enough to take the Central and their 41.2 cumulative fWAR was 4 better than second place Detroit.

How many fWAR will it take to win the Central?  I don’t know.   How many will it take to win 92 games?  I don’t know.   What I do know, is that the Royals are almost certain to need more than last year’s 39.1.   If you take my approach of last week that Kansas City should not make any drastic off-season moves (unless someone drops a gem in their lap), then what are the possibilities for the current roster to improve on last year’s mark?

Let’s start with the position players, who provided 25.6 fWAR in 2011.   Alex Gordon (6.9), Melky Cabrera (4.2) and Jeff Francoeur (2.9) accounted for 14 of that total.   All three played everyday, Gordon and Cabrera set career high marks and Francoeur had his highest fWAR since 2007.   Kansas City also got 1.1 fWAR from Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.   If you believe the Royals’ outfield will total 15.1 fWAR again next year, then I have some start-up tech company stock to sell you.

Almost universally, people think it is far more likely that Alex Gordon is more likely to sustain his 2011 performance than Melky Cabrera.   You can count me among them, although I readily admit there is not any real logical reason to have such a clear cut division on two players of basically similar age.   Kansas City can afford to have Melky falter, but they cannot make up for a big Gordon drop-off.   Simply put, if Alex Gordon is a 2.3 fWAR player next year, the Royals are going nowhere.   I don’t think he will drop that far, but I also cannot see Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur and Cain posting 15.1 fWAR in 2012, either.

Let’s set the outfield aside for a moment and look at three other positions:  third, first and DH.   Billy Butler was the Royals’ everyday DH and provided 1.8 fWAR – the lowest total in three years.   Hosmer provided 1.6 fWAR which we will use to quantify the first base position.  (Without getting too crazy, we know that Ka’aihue provided no value at first – fWAR speaking – and Butler played there when one of the outfielder’s took a half day and DH’d – it’s not exact, but close enough for this rough review).   At third, the Royals got 0.7 fWAR from Moustakas and 0.5 from Wilson Betemit for a total of 1.2.  All told, these three positions contributed 4.6 fWAR last season.

Hosmer is, well he HAS TO BE, the real deal.   It seems as though the question is not ‘will Hosmer progress in 2012?’, but instead is ‘how much will he progress?’.     In addition, Moustakas seemed to ‘get it’ as the season wore on and while he is not a lock to improve, I would say the odds are decent that he will.   I would also expect improvement from Butler, who probably won’t spend the first three months of the season being put off about not getting to play first base.

Is it realistic to say the the outfielder, corner infielders and designated hitter can contribute the same 19.7 fWAR as they did in 2011?  Certainly, the contributions might be weighted more heavily to the infielders than the outfielders in 2012, but I can envision Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler making up the difference from the expected regression (hopefully minor) of the three everyday outfielders.

If so, then the Royals would be looking to Alcides Escobar (2.2 fWAR), the catchers (2.9 fWAR total in 2011) and second base (1.1 fWAR total) to hold the line.   Salvador Perez, who provided 1.4 fWAR himself, might be hard pressed to get to 2.9 in his first full season as a regular, but one can hope that Escobar might hit just a little more and that second base might add a little more as well (not exactly sure how, but we can hope).

At any rate, all of the above considered, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Royals’ position players could contribute close to their 2011 output.  If they do that, then the pitchers need to hold up their end of the bargain.   Wow!  I bet you didn’t see that coming did you?

In 2011, the Royals’ pitching staff contributed a pretty awful 13.5 fWAR.   Felipe Paulino and Jeff Francis each contributed 2.6, Luke Hochevar 2.3, Greg Holland 2.0 and Bruce Chen 1.7 (remember, throwing innings is big part of fWAR for starters and Chen threw just 155).   Joakim Soria chipped in 0.9 fWAR, the lowest of his career (his previous marks were 2.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0).    Those pitchers right there get you to 12.1 of the 13.5 fWAR total.

Danny Duffy’s 0.6 is cancelled out by Sean O’Sullivans -0.5.   Kyle Davies, yes KYLE FREAKING DAVIES, provided 0.7 fWAR which was cancelled out by the negative contributions of Vin Mazzaro, Jesse Chavez and Robinson Tejeda.   WAR, in any form, really does not think much of relief pitchers – which points out how good Greg Holland was in 2011 – and as such, Louis Coleman gets a skinny 0.1, Aaron Crow 0.3 and Blake Wood 0.4.   I do believe that WAR undervalues the contributions of a relief pitcher, especially a non-closer, but that is a debate for another time.

Let’s get back to the starting rotation.   We pretty much know that Hochevar, Paulino and Duffy will be in the 2012 rotation.   Can they better their combined 5.5 fWAR?  To begin with, baseball history is full of young pitchers who are not very good as rookies and take a big step forward in year two.   I think Danny Duffy is likely to do the same.   I am not saying his going to become an ace, but it is reasonable (albeit hardly a sure thing) that he could become a 2.5 fWAR pitcher in 2012.   If Paulino can give the Royals another 2.5 fWAR and Hochevar finally, FINALLY, put it all together and become a 3.5 fWAR guy, the Royals could have 8.5 fWAR out of just three starters – that’s not horrible.  Problem is, that is just one win more than Francis, Paulino and Hochevar gave them last year.

Now what? 

Does bringing back Bruce Chen give you another two wins?  After that, can the number five spot, in combination with the spot starts and injury fill-ins from other starters, get you a ‘barely-head-above-water’ 0.5 fWAR?  You would certainly hope for better, but I am not sure logic will back us up on that one.  Let’s say that Kansas City does gleen 2.5 fWAR total out of the number four through eight starters.    Now, you are at 11 fWAR heading into the bullpen.

Can Joakim Soria bounce back?  If he can, Soria is probably good for 2.0 fWAR.   Then you have Greg Holland coming off a terrific year, Louis Coleman and Tim Collins (0.0 fWAR by the way) setting him up.   Combined, those three accounted for 2.1 fWAR in 2011, you have to get at least that much again in 2012.   Now, the Royals are at 15.1 fWAR out of their staff with the back of bullpen coming into play.   Basically, there was an entire negative win contributed by a bunch of arms last year, which is not uncommon, but it would be nice to avoid.   If the Royals would somehow not have the negative numbers and get another win out of Wood, Herrera, Crow (?) et.al. would that translate into a net gain of 2.0 fWAR?  Maybe….maybe just.

If the above scenario played out, Kansas City would have 17.1 fWAR from their pitchers and another 26 from the position players for a total of 43.1.   Would that translate into a division title?  That is hard to tell, but it almost certainly would get the Royals around or above .500, maybe even into the high 80′s in wins. 

In my opinion, getting an eight at the front of your win total and hoping for some luck and good breaks in 2012 is better than stretching to make a risky deal in a skinny off-season market.   I would rather the Royals shop for that one arm to put them over the top coming off an 84 win 2012 campaign than to do so now, coming off a 71 win season.

xxx

 

 

This is the worst time of year to blog about a perennial also-ran. October baseball means another post season spent on the sidelines and it also means front office inertia. I don’t mean that the Royals brain trust has shut down for the month… Just, there’s not much happening that is actually newsworthy.

– The Royals announced their player of the month for September and gave it to Eric Hosmer. Interesting choice if only because there was an actual plethora of excellent candidates from which to choose. When was the last time we could say that? Check some of these numbers.

Mike Moustakas – .352/.380/.580, .227 ISO
Sal Perez – .375/.400/.513, 14 runs
Eric Hosmer – .349/.360/.557, 5 HR, 21 RBI
Jeff Francoeur – .329/.345/.600, 5 HR, .271 ISO

And we can’t forget Billy Butler who hit 10 doubles, or Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar who both had identical .367 OBPs. I cannot remember a month like this where seemingly everyone in the lineup was a difficult out. (Except when Yost was playing for one run and sac bunting. Small Ball!)

What a month for the hitters.

That was a tough ballot for the writers. For sure. I can make a case for any of those guys.

Allow me to climb on my soapbox for a moment: The monthly awards are voted on by “Kansas City media.” I assume that means dudes from the Star with press passes who attend the game where the ballots are distributed and the odd TV guy who just happened to be at the stadium that night. The Royals made an effort to include “social media” this year, but it’s time for them to open this voting to include the blogs. There are a bunch of writers out there who follow this team as close as any professional writer. It would be a heckuva gesture if the Royals opened up their voting.

– Having said that, if I had a vote, I’d give it to Alex Gordon for Player of the Year. I don’t think that is a shock to anyone who regularly reads this blog. The guy lead the team in OBP and slugging, OPS+ and WAR. And outfield assists. Can’t forget the assists.

To me, it’s a no-brainer.

– For Pitcher of the Year, I’d give my vote to Greg Holland. The guy was absolute nails coming out of the bullpen, with an 11.1 SO/9 and 1.80 ERA.

Sure, it’s a little unorthodox to give a pitcher of the year award to a set-up guy, but since the closer struggled for most of the season and the starting rotation was… Let’s be nice and call it inconsistent, Holland is my guy.

I’m sure Chen will get some consideration because he led the team in Wins (Old School!) and ERA, but Hochevar, with his strong finish, posted stronger overall numbers and Paulino was better as well.

Nope… The bullpen was a strength of this team for the most part, so the award has to go to a reliever.

– Actually saw Trey Hillman’s name mentioned in connection with the vacancy in Boston. Then, Pete Abraham, who is the Red Sox beat writer for the Globe, brought it up again on Tuesday:

When the Red Sox last hired a manager, in 2003, general manager Theo Epstein went with a 44-year-old bench coach who had a background in player development and a brief, unsuccessful run as a major league manager.

Terry Francona did not seem like a particularly inspired choice at the time. But he proved to be the most successful manager the Red Sox ever have had.

Assuming Epstein remains with the Red Sox, he’s going to stick with the plan that worked so well the first time.

“In respect to the qualities that we’re looking for, this is a tough job,’’ Epstein said. “I think I’ll use the same process that we used eight years ago when we identified and hired Tito. Looking back at that process eight years ago, I think we found the right guy and hired the right guy.’’

One potential candidate who fits largely the same profile that Francona did is Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman.

When it comes to baseball, I’m a pretty forgiving guy. I believe in second chances and that managers (and players) can sometimes experience a reawakening when given a change of scenery.

However, in the case of SABR Trey, I’ll lay it out there… There’s no way he can ever be a successful major league manager. The guy had plenty of time in Kansas City to prove he learned something… Anything. Yet he was as horrible at his job the last day as he was on the first. When I say that, Hal McRae comes to mind for the opposite reason. When he took over as manager, he had an extremely difficult time adapting. Yet, by the time he was fired in 1994, he had evolved as a manager. He was not the same guy who came into the position as a rookie a couple of years earlier. He learned and he improved. You can’t say the same about SABR Trey.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Hillman getting another managerial job. In fact, I welcome it. Let another fan base experience the wonder of the Trey Hillman Experience. They’ll love it in Boston.

It’s the final day of the regular season and the award ballots are due sometime before the first pitch of the postseason on Friday.

It’s time to revisit our offensive cast of nominees for the AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year award. If you’ll recall, last month I checked in with the rookies and decided my top choice would be Desmond Jennings with Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp second and third. Hosmer, was close to landing on my ballot, but was probably around the fourth or fifth best rookie.

I ended my post with this:

It’s possible Hosmer puts together a sweet September while his rivals falter and storms to the award. That would be ideal. There’s still plenty of baseball to be played…

Hmmm… Guess who had a killer September?

Time to revisit my table of rookie batters:

Interestingly enough, if you go back and look at my post from about a month ago, you will notice two things: First, nearly everyone on this list accumulated 100 additional plate appearances. And second, everyone except Hosmer and Jemelle Weeks saw their overall performance decline. The Hos is hitting .367/.379/.592 with five home runs in September.

The pitchers

Last time, I identified four pitchers who could earn consideration. Let’s look at them with their key numbers:

Ivan Nova – 16 wins, 3.70 ERA, 5.3 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9
Jeremy Hellickson – 13 wins, 2.90 ERA, 5.7 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9
Michael Pineda – 9 wins, 3.74 ERA, 9.1 SO/9, 2.9 BB/9
Jordan Walden – 32 saves, 2.73 ERA

Let’s dispense of the reliever… Greg Holland has been a better pitcher. And he’s not going to get a vote for this award. Moving on…

Of the remaining three, Pineda has been the most impressive. Although, both he and Hellickson have crazy low batting averages on balls in play (.258 for Pineda and .222 for Hellickson).

Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if Nova received some serious consideration for his wins. Old school, for sure, but he’s also playing on a winning team. The kind of voter who votes for wins, also votes for players on pennant winners.

The Jennings (Non) Factor

Remember how Jennings (my top pick) was in the stratosphere? Well, a .179/.278/.274 September has brought him crashing back to Earth. Overall, Jennings is hitting .271/.368/.470 in 275 plate appearances. Those are still excellent numbers. However, there are guys who have done as much in more plate appearances. Yes, I argued that playing time shouldn’t be a penalty in the balloting. My thought is if you play enough to lose your rookie eligibility, you should be considered for the award. However, if your rate stats are equal to another player and that player has double the plate appearances… I have to go with quality and quantity over just quality.

So while Jennings was my pick a month ago, he’s no longer on my ballot. This year’s rookie class is just too strong and his numbers no longer stand out. He’s dropped.

It’s time to play the elimination game…

The Field

Ben Revere – Notable for a 0.39 ISO. Notable because it’s historically bad. I suppose the 34 steals are nice, but his OBP is below league average. He’s out.

JP Arencibia and Mark Trumbo – Trumbo has the second highest slugging of this group, but the second lowest OBP. If he had been around league average, this probably would have been his award to lose. Arecibia has a lower slugging and an even lower OBP. Both are out.

Eric Thames – Meh. Low OBP. Out.

Just Outside

Jemile Weeks – Weeks has taken a hot September to push his batting average above the .300 mark. I’m not that interested in BA, but that will catch the eyes of a voter or two. Lacks power, but has speed to burn. Although a 67% success rate on stolen base attempts would suggest he has a thing or two to learn.

Mike Carp – He leads in slugging, but barely makes my arbitrary cutoff of 300 plate appearances. His .813 OPS and 129 OPS+ also lead this group. Intriguing.

The Contenders

That leaves two players standing – Dustin Ackley and Eric Hosmer.

Ackley has the advantage in OBP and TAv. Hosmer takes the edge in BA and slugging. They’re neck and neck in wOBA. Hosmer has the advantage in OPS (.807 to .780), but they’re tied with a 121 OPS+. According to Baseball-Reference, Ackley has 5.9 Runs Created per game, while Hosmer has 5.4 RC/9.

Ackley has a 2.9 fWAR, while Hosmer has a 1.6 fWAR.

As mentioned last week, the defensive metrics think Hosmer is a notch above those pervs on To Catch a Preditor on the what I will call the Scale of Evil. Meanwhile, Ackley plays a premium defensive position, and according to those same metrics that loathe Hosmer, he plays it quite well. That’s your difference.

Ugh.

This is tight. Damn tight.

Strange as it may sound, when the race is this close, I like the fact that Hosmer has almost 200 more plate appearances than Ackley. In a race like the ROY, as I mentioned, longevity counts and Hosmer’s numbers have been collected over a larger stretch of games.

Both players have deserving cases, and there’s no way I can begrudge Ackley a win. Voters have a difficult decision ahead.

My final ballot:
Hosmer
Ackley
Pineda

Call me a homer if you like, but I give the slight edge to The Hos.

I’m sure this got the Lee Judge Fanboys all hyper (kind of like when I mainline Cheez-Doodles and Mountain Dew) but there was some chatter in the middle of the week about how Eric Hosmer ranks last among American League first baseman in Ultimate Zone Rating. (UZR) It’s important because with the Rookie of the Year race getting closer by the inning, defense could come into play with some voters who will have a difficult decision to make.

Keith Allison/Flickr

We’ve all seen The Hos play first. In my opinion, he’s the best defensive first baseman we’ve had in Kansas City since Wally Joyner. From watching the games, I give him high grades for footwork, fielding grounders to his right and throwing the ball to pitchers covering the bag. (The latter is an underrated skill, in my opinion. Watching Joyner in ’93 underscored just how valuable this is for first basemen.) My eyes tell me Hosmer is a quality defensive first baseman.

However, UZR disagrees. It hangs a -9.9 rating on our rookie. Worst in the AL. Ugh.

But… But… What about all those awesome scoops he makes at first? How can his UZR be so abysmal if he’s making all these sweet picks and saving valuable runs? Simple. UZR does not account for scoops at first. It’s just another out. (And before you decide to kill the messenger, remember this is just the way it is. I didn’t invent the system… I’m merely trying to shed some light.)

Line drives are similarly ignored. So, those great diving stabs we’ve seen Hosmer make? Not counted in UZR. The developer of this metric says snaring a line drive is more a luck factor than a skill factor. Not certain I agree with this. For sure, the infielder’s position counts big-time on a scorching liner, but if the fielder doesn’t have the reaction time, that catch won’t be made.

Another thing to remember is we’re dealing with a sample size of four months. The creators of UZR realize their system has limitations and stress that to get a portrait of “true” talent, you need to accumulate at least three years of data. Even then, there are players all over the game who have something like a +10 UZR one year, followed by a -10 UZR the next. What gives?

From the UZR primer at FanGraphs:

…there is still a potentially large gap between what you might see on the field if you were to watch every play of every game and what UZR “says” happened on the field. And that is one of several reasons why one year or even 10 years of UZR (or any other sample metric) does not give us a perfect estimate of a player’s true talent or even an accurate picture of what actually happened on the field. The reason for that is that the data is imperfect.

It all goes back to the data, the data, the data. It’s categorized by Baseball Info Solutions where batted balls are placed in “buckets” based on a number of factors. Yet, there are still a number of variables that are not accounted for in charting fielding plays. It’s an imperfect science.

Does this mean we dismiss UZR and other defensive metrics out of hand? I don’t think so. At least I hope not. While the data may be imperfect, it ultimately underscores the need to have more of it before we can make any kind of assumption. Even then, on defense, we need to use our eyes, along with the numbers to form an informed opinion. I really like the advancements in defensive metrics. In particular, I’m a fan of Dewan’s Plus/Minus system. But I understand their limitations. Maybe FieldF/X will perfect the research. Sadly, that’s data we will probably never get to see.

In explaining Hosmer’s low UZR rating, let’s say it’s a combination of an imperfect science made even more imperfect by a lack of data and further complicated by his position on the field. We know he hasn’t been that bad with the glove, no matter what the metrics say. That’s why things like Tango’s Fan Scouting Report – a system that relies on the input from those who regularly watch the games – are so useful. (Take a moment and fill out the report for the Royals.) Sorting by current first basemen on Tango’s report, you see that Hosmer fares much better and rates as an above average defensive first baseman.

So, looking at Hosmer’s UZR and drawing a conclusion from not even a full season of data isn’t going to accomplish anything productive. We’ve seen him play in the field… Let’s give UZR another couple of seasons and see how the ratings and rankings evolve.

In the meantime, if anyone with a ROY ballot is reading this, please don’t pay attention to UZR when evaluating Hosmer’s defense. He’s been solid, steady and at times, exceptional with the glove.

On Hosmer’s Opposite Field Power

The other day, I touched on Eric Hosmer’s opposite field power as a sign of future success.

Daniel Russell/Flickr

A study in the 2010 Baseball Forecaster found that nearly 75% of all home runs were hit to the batter’s pull field, with the remaining quarter distributed between center and the opposite field. After analyzing over 4,000 batters covering nine years, the research found that a high percentage of players under the age of 26, who hit two or more opposite field home runs for the first time in their careers, subsequently experienced a sustained three year breakout in value.

This was an exercise to identify potential breakout players for fantasy baseball for the bargain hounds. It can certainly extend into the real game as a method to find players with potential to improve… Or to breakout.

When Hosmer hits the ball to the outfield, he truly hits to all fields. (As opposed to when he hits the ball on the ground. Then, he’s a strict pull hitter.) And we know that with 18 home runs, Hosmer has the capacity to club the ball over the fence. And we know from my post on Wednesday that he is hitting with power to left and center field. To get some perspective of how well The Hos is doing in hitting to the opposite field for power, we need to look at some of his peers. Using the Baseball Reference Play Index, I generated a list of all hitters 24 (keeping the list manageable and closer to Hosmer’s age) and under who have at least 15 home runs. The search returned 10 players who can be considered the next wave of elite power hitters.

Here are the players with their home run location broken down by field.

(Sandoval’s numbers aren’t there because, as a switch hitter, I don’t have the same data for him as the other players. Besides, this is about future greatness and with his body type… Let’s just say I’m betting against him.) The raw number of opposite field home runs may not look like much, but percentage-wise Hosmer has clubbed 22% of his home runs to left. Of the guys on the list, only McCutchen and Avila – both at 26% – has a higher percentage of opposite field long balls.

Remember nearly 75% of all home runs are hit to the batter’s pull field… Hosmer is pulling just 44% of his homers. To be hitting like this – spreading the power to all fields – at his age… He could be in for a monster run over the next several years. Hosmer is already in elite company as a young power hitter and his home run profile means he has the chops to hang with this crew. (Stanton and McCutchen are already great and have spectacular futures.)

Hosmer’s had a heckuva debut season. The great thing about it is, it’s no fluke. He’s the real deal. Set to explode. And he’s a Kansas City Royal.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that The Hos breaks Steve Balboni’s franchise record of 36 home runs within three seasons.

What a game, what a game…

Billy Butler is a late scratch because of the flu, so the number three hitter is Eric Hosmer. All The Hos does is go 5-5 with an opposite field BOMB, putting the finishing touches on a six-run fourth inning.

I tweeted this at the time, but it bears repeating… Opposite field power in a young player is rare. And it’s usually a harbinger of a productive career. Courtesy of Hit Tracker, here are the landing spots of Hosmer’s home runs.

For simplicity, I would slice the field into thirds at the 105 mark and the 75 mark. That would give The Hos four home runs to left (last night’s blast isn’t charted here), six to center and eight to right. This power to the opposite field is something to get really excited about. I’ll break all this down in a later post, but it’s safe to say we have a beast on our hands.

Tuesday’s game was the kind of game I will watch this winter, to warm up against the chill of a few months without baseball. It was that good.

For all the warm, fuzzy feelings I have over this game, I still can’t get past the fact the Royals like Luis Mendoza. His Omaha performance was aided by a .268 BABIP and a 75% strand rate. With a 1.5 SO/BB ratio, there’s just no way he’s going to duplicate his performance in the majors. Yet GMDM is worried he has another Humber Situation (where he’ll release Mendoza and he’ll hook up with another team and find success.) I think that’s just a long shot. More on the rotation in a moment.

Watching these young players over the second half of the season has been a blast. April, 2012 is a long way away… But Opening Day can’t get here fast enough.

Meanwhile, a couple of interesting comments on Tuesday from the Dayton Moore chat session with the Kansas City Star…

Comment From Guest
All of us hope that we learn from our mistakes. What do you think is the biggest mistake you have made as Royals’ GM, and what did you learn from it?

Dayton Moore:
Since I began in baseball, we all make mistakes every year, no matter your role, that someone could justify you being replaced. There have been mistakes I’ve made personally, from hiring personnel to signing players. We focus on when we do make mistakes, we try to fix them and move forward. At the time, when decisions were made based on the information that I had, we felt and I felt it was the right thing to do for our baseball team. You always look back and evaluate what you did wrong, where you got off track and try not to repeat the same mistakes. I was probably over-aggressive the first two, three years in free agency. But I felt we needed to chance the perception on how we did business. We needed to demonstrate that we were going to be very aggressive in every talent pool. Certainly, free agency is one of them. But I was probably over aggressive, tried to force things too much. Have tried to be patient over last 2-3 years. Honestly, not be so defensive about the critical nature of I or we do things as an organization. Just focus on the task at hand.

Refreshing, no?

GMDM didn’t say anything we didn’t already know, but still… It’s nice to hear it from the big boss himself. And he’s right. All GM’s make bold moves and some of those moves don’t work. (Can you believe some people in Boston are going after Theo Epstein? All that guy has done is deliver two World Series titles. Red Sox fans are officially more obnoxious than Yankee fans. Yipeee… Another title for Boston.)

I’ll continue defend the Gil Meche signing. It was a good deal until Trey Hillman ran him through the meat grinder.

It’s been apparent he learned a huge lesson from his aggressiveness on the free agent market. Jose Guillen scared him straight. And that’s been a very good thing. But the pendulum swings both ways. GMDM can’t shy away from making moves. Like the Mendoza situation. He’s gone on the record saying he doesn’t want to repeat the Humber deal. That’s a scared GM. And that’s a very bad thing.

There’s a happy medium to be found, and I’m not sure Moore is comfortable enough to make that discovery. His issues building the 25 man roster make me think he still has plenty to learn. At least there’s been some learning, though. We are making progress.

On to Q & A number two…

Comment From Heath
Would it be your preference to land an ace in the offseason or two #2′s (or a #2 and a #3)?

Dayton Moore:
All of the above. That being said, I doubt there will be a No. 1 starter available. It’s very important to build on our strengths, which is potentially our bullpen, and continue to be aggressive with strengthening our rotation through our current group of players, including the pitchers who are performing at the minor-league level. We will pursue opportunities through trades.

This pleases me. A lot.

The Royals are going to stay with their internal options as the primary course of filling their rotation and failing that, then they will look to swing a trade.

I’m not going to list all the potential free agent starting pitchers who will hit the market this winter – that’s what MLB Trade Rumors is for – but I will say, there’s not much there. Except for the carcass of Dontrelle Willis.

So read between the lines… GMDM says he “doubts there will be a number one starter available.” That certainly includes free agency. Of the impending free agents, CC Sabathia and CJ Wilson are the cream of the crop. Those guys are nice (and can be called legit aces) but they’re not coming to Kansas City. Wilson has made it clear he wants to return to Texas and Sabathia has an opt-out clause in his contract that’s basically a way for him to get some more pocket change from the Yankees. Sabathia is a non-starter and it will take $100 million to bag Wilson.

There’s not even much of a second tier of free agent starters. Edwin Jackson or Mark Buehrle would be the highlights, I guess. Neither one overwhelm me. Buehrle works fast, so we know who Denny Matthews wants the Royals to sign. The Sox apparently want him back, but he’s talked about retirement in the past.

I don’t want to get too deep into the game of “Who Should They Sign.” I just wanted to underscore that there won’t be a number one starter available and the remaining starters will cost way more than they will deliver on return. When GMDM discusses strengthening their rotation with their current players, I believe him.

Now watch… He’ll make a trade for a starter within 12 hours of the last out of the World Series.

– Finally, the Royals ended their evening by announcing the recall of Vin Mazarro, Sean O’Sullivan, Lorenzo Cain, Jerrod Dyson, Manny Pina and Kelvin Herrera.

I guess that’s the penalty of playing on a good Triple-A team… You don’t get the call to the majors until you season ends. In this case, there’s just one week to go. I guess that’s enough time to get one Mazarro and one O’Sullivan start. Sigh.

I assume Cain will get a couple of starts in center and Pina may make an appearance behind the plate. Dyson gives Yost his beloved pinch runner for Country Breakfast.

The Herrera recall is the interesting one, because the Royals will need to open a spot on the 40 man roster. Do the Royals finally kiss Kila goodbye?

I have a hunch it was a pretty busy weekend for all of us.  College football was in full swing, the NFL started up and it was just about perfect weather just about everywhere in the Midwest.   On a far more important note, it was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which took up at least a few hours of most everyone’s weekend.

Along the way, the Royals were still playing baseball:  rallying from an 0-2 start against Seattle to win the final two games of the series.   A split with a team sporting a virtually identical poor record is not exactly front page news, particularly on a weekend like this past one.

It’s that time of year, folks.   The time when local sports radio might give you twenty minutes of Royals’ talk per show, if you’re lucky.   When the only baseball highlights (unless you can tolerate the ridiculous ‘look at how lively and funny we are’ Baseball Tonight show) revolve around teams that, you know, are still playing for something.    Short of Alcides Escobar catching a grounder in his hat and then drop kicking it to Eric Hosmer for the out, you won’t see a Royals’ highlight on any national media outlet until sometime next year.   Heck, you might not see many on any of the Kansas City stations!

I will have to admit that I paid minimal attention to the Seattle series myself.   We had a huge airshow up here in Lincoln (Blue Angels, baby!), the Huskers played at night, the deck had to be stained and Mom gave me an extra half hour each night before having to return to the basement.   All that said, the Royals did do some good things over the weekend:

  • Felipe Paulino struck out 11 batters over seven innings of work, allowing just two hits.   So much for concerns about his back.
  • My new prospect to hype, Everett Teaford, stepped up Sunday and threw five shutout innings in his first major league start.   Of course, Teaford was facing the Mariners who don’t sport a whole lot of anything offensively after Ichiro and Dustin Ackley, but it was a positive performance nonetheless.
  • By the time the dust settled Sunday, Alex Gordon was leading the AL in doubles with 45.  The last double on Sunday was his 70th extra base hit of the year.  For those of you new to the game, 70 freaking extra base hits is a lot.  When Gordon was a rookie, what were your expectations?  Something like .300/.400/.500 as a slash line?   Well, Alex stands at .299/.371/.500 right now.
  • Eric Hosmer hit home run number 17 in Seattle.   Get your prediction in now:  how many home runs will Hosmer hit in 2012?  I am setting the over/under at 29.
  • With a little luck, the Royals could end the season with four players who each have 40 or more doubles and 20 or more home runs.   While the offense has been somewhat spastic this year, it really is not the problem (which pretty much everyone knew already).
  • Neither has the bullpen.   After a bit of ‘rookie hitting the wall-itis’ the past few weeks, the Royals’ pen threw 12 innings in the Seattle series, allowing just 3 runs and 2 walks while striking out 22 batters.   They are not the problem, either, and are likely to be even better in 2012.
  • The problem, of course, is the starting rotation.  Again, we already knew that and in the coming months you can count on this writer coming up with six thousand and seven scenarios to make the rotation better.   I believe it is quite likely you will disagree with all of them.

I will leave you with one question for the day:  is the 2012 Opening Day starter on the current 40 man roster?

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

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

The Sure Things

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

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

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

Destined for Better Things?

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

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

With another home run, Eric Hosmer continues his power surge and what looks like a late season run at collecting some hardware… Namely, the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.

In his last 10 games, Hosmer is hitting .350./430/.730 with five home runs and seven RBI. (Is it strange that he last hit a double on August 16? He hit just three doubles over the entire month.)

Anyway, as The Hos heats up, so inevitably does the talk of him being named the top rookie in the American League. But before we can bestow the accolades, we need to see how he measures among his peers.

To narrow down the candidates for the award, I created a table of the top position players with at least 200 plate appearances. I bolded the numbers that are leading the rookie pool in their respective categories.

One name is missing from this table that is certainly in the discussion – Desmond Jennings. You think the Royals waited too long to call up somebody like Johnny Giavotella? How in the world could the Rays have decided they needed to get Jennings more at bats in Triple-A?

If I’m going to arbitrarily set the cut off at 200 plate appearances for one table, I may as well do another at a similarly arbitrary cutoff of 150 plate appearances. Here’s how that one looks.

Well, that’s no fun. Going back to the first non-Jennings table, it would appear that the race would be run between Ackley and Carp. Ackley has the advantage in the on base department and the True Average, while Carp owns the batting average, slugging and wOBA. Of course, throwing Jennings into the mix simply adds another candidate. Jennings has been flat out awesome since joining the Rays. Had he played a full season at anything close to his current level, he’d be a stone cold lock for the honors.

But that’s the problem. Not only with Jennings’ candidacy, but with Ackley’s and Carp’s as well.

In the last 30 years, only one position player has won the Rookie of the Year award with fewer than 350 plate appearances. Ryan Howard appeared in 88 games for the 2005 Phillies and came to bat 348 times. Ackley will approach that number of plate appearances, while Carp and Jennings will certainly fall short.

I suppose that’s due to the reliance of voters on the old “counting” stats. Home runs and RBI have long been justification for this kind of exercise. And you can’t rack up those bombs and rib-eyes if you don’t play. If that’s the case, the favorite this year has to be Trumbo. His 24 bombs and 73 RBI lead all AL rookies. Ditto for his 58 runs scored. Notice from the table above, he does lead in one category I chose to cite… Plate appearances. Get the connection?

Anyway, the conventional wisdom has Trumbo as the front runner. Disagree. His sub .300 OBP disqualifies him in my mind.

Of course, I’ve ignored pitchers throughout this exercise. That’s because they’re sub-human. (Apologies… I’ve seen far too much of the Royals bullpen this week.)

For voters, three things count when making their selection for the rookie of the year. Saves, Wins and ERA.

I listed saves first, because only two starting pitchers have collected the AL Rookie of the Year since 1976… Justin Verlander and Mark Fidrych. Since then, Gregg Olson (27 saves), Kazuhiro Sasaki (37 saves), Huston Street (23 saves), Andrew Bailey (26 saves), Neftali Feliz (40 saves) have won the award as relievers. In the modern game, it is simply too difficult for starting pitchers to collect enough wins to be considered. This year, two rookies have double-digit wins, with a third one threatening. And there’s that closer lurking…

Ivan Nova – 14 wins, 3.96 ERA
Jeremy Hellickson – 11 wins, 3.01 ERA
Michael Pineda – 9 wins, 3.71 ERA
Jordan Walden – 2.70 ERA, 26 saves

Nova, supported by the Yankee offensive juggurnaut, has only four losses, while both Hellickson and Pineada are both just a game over .500 with their record. I point this out only because of the recent advancements in the sabermetric cause which has led to voters properly devaluing wins when selecting worthy candidates for post season hardware. In the past, voters would have discarded someone with a .500 record. Today, that’s doubtful. Walden doesn’t get consideration from me because I have closer bias and there is plenty to choose from among the candidates previously listed.

If I were ranking only the pitchers, I would place them in inverse order of wins. Pineda has a superior xFIP, strikeout rate and the best walk rate. He’s the cream of the rookie starter crop. (And please, don’t even talk to me about Walden. Rookie relievers should only get consideration if there are literally no other rookies who appeared in the league that year. I’m not kidding.)

So if I’m not going to vote for Trumbo and if voting closed today, (and I had a ballot) I would vote Jennings, Ackley and Carp. In that order. Maybe Pineda. That flies in the face of conventional wisdom (that you have to play a majority of your team’s games) but we need to work on expanding the pool of candidates to find the cream of the crop. Besides, if you play enough to lose your rookie eligibility for the following season, you’ve done enough to earn consideration. (That reasoning is why Brett Lawrie isn’t among my candidates, even though he’s hitting .326/.381/.674. With just 89 at bats, if the season ended today, he would still be considered a rookie in 2011.) Longevity does count though… There’s something about being consistent over more than a couple of months. I’m satisfied with the time Carp and Ackley have played… Jennings will ultimately play less than half a season. I struggle with this, but I think given how he’s outperformed the field, it’s enough. For now.

So where is Hosmer in all of this? He’s close. Fourth or fifth. That’s near enough that a few torrid weeks could catapult him into contention. He’ll need some help, though. The top three will need to experience a bad month. Remember, my ballot is based if the season ended today. It can (and probably will) change. I think the race is so close, the last 25 games (give or take) will be crucial to deciding this vote.

It can be done, though. Hosmer can force his way into the discussion. Ackley had a difficult August and Jennings can’t possibly continue his pace. At least I don’t think he can… He has a .386 BABIP and just a 17% line drive rate. Likewise, Carp has .389 BABIP and Pineda will be shut down after a couple more starts. Fingers crossed, right?

Really, it seems to me you can build an objective argument for any of the contenders. They all have negatives, as well. This could be the zaniest post season award vote we’ve seen in some time. Unfortunately, Nova’s wins, Walden’s saves and Trumbo’s home runs may just carry the day among real voters.

It’s possible Hosmer puts together a sweet September while his rivals falter and storms to the award. That would be ideal. There’s still plenty of baseball to be played…

The Kansas City Royals are not a contending team –news to nobody, I’m sure. However they are closer than they’ve been to a contender in quite some time. I’m going to embark on a series of articles which will shed some light on how the Royals can become a contender and what the pitfalls will be. Before that though, I need to establish the single most important thing that this team needs to do to become a contender. This is all going to seem a bit elementary, but I want to start down a logical path that will eventually lead us to a solid conclusion.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about the improvement that this team has shown, especially in regard to the offense. The numbers from then still hold true. The Royals continue to score at a rate of 4.33 runs per game, which is good for 6th in the American League. They still struggle mightily with allowing runs and have dropped to 4.84 runs per game, placing them 12th in the AL.

For the Royals to become contenders, they have to find some way to score more runs than they allow. In the abstract, you can either try and score more runs, or you can try and prevent more runs in an effort to improve your team. To score more runs, the Royals will need to upgrade their lineup. To prevent more runs, the Royals can improve their starting rotation, their defense and their bullpen.  See, I told you this would be simple stuff.

We’ve established that currently the Royals have the 6th best scoring offense in the American League. Assuming that “contending” means to have a shot to win a division, and there are around 2 contenders in each division it seems appropriate that a top 6 offense is certainly of that caliber. Offense can and will fluctuate, so the Royals cannot get complacent. Looking at the current offense, there are a few factors which would lead me to believe that this isn’t an aberration and they can actually improve on their position.

The most important factor is their age. The 2011 Royals offense according to Baseball-Reference has a weighted age of 26.2. That is the second youngest team offense in Royals history next to the 1969 expansion team. It’s also the youngest in the American League by 1.6 years. It isn’t a guarantee that these players will all improve as they get older and enter their prime years, but it’s a better bet than they will decline.

Another factor is there isn’t anyone leaving anytime soon. Players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Johnny Giavotella, Salvador Perez are all very young and under team control. Other productive players like Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Melky Cabrera all have at least one year left if not three or four. There is no eminante departures for any of these players.

The final factor in the offense is the ability to back-fill. The Royals Minor League system has been touted for this entire year and a lot of that is due to the big time prospects like Hosmer and Moustakas. However, what makes them elite is the depth of the system. If Johnny Giavotella can’t make it, they have Christian Colon. If Melky falters they have Lorenzo Cain. If Francouer goes back to a pumpkin then they have Wil Myers. If Moustakas can’t figure things out they have Cheslor Cuthbert. They continue to fill the funnel as they spent another team record in the amateur player draft with players like Bubba Starling.

All of this combines to provide some reassurance that this offense will continue to produce at a contending level. Things will change, moves will have to be made but it’s not where the team should focus their efforts in attempt to bring another flag to Kauffman Stadium. In the next installment, I’ll lay out the run prevention side of things and get to the heart of the team’s problems.

(spoiler alert: It’s probably the starting rotation)


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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