Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Irving Falu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moooooooose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except the Royals recalled Irving Falu.

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Danny Duffy pitched a solid game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The Jonathan Broxton Experience makes me extremely nervous.

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

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

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

The attempted steal of third though… Jeez.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xxx

 

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