Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jarrod Dyson

Last Friday, I went around the infield and looked at how the Royals offensive production at each position compared to league average. Today, it’s time for the outfield (and DH) to get the similar treatment.

Left Field
League Average – .243/.320/.412
Royals – .230/.324/.364, sOPS+ 85

Alex Gordon’s numbers look very much like the ’09-’10 version of Alex Gordon. That’s the version we thought we’d left behind. At least, we had hoped that version had been left behind after the Royals penned him to a contract extension just ahead of the season opener.

If you’re into arbitrary end points, Gordon did have a fine stretch of 19 games where he hit .321/.398/.487 from April 25 to May 16. That was when we collectively exhaled. Great. Except in the 11 games since then, he’s hit .146/.255/.220.

Although Gordon won’t admit it, I wonder if he’s been unsettled by Yosty’s Revolving Lineup Card. Gordon opened the year as the leadoff hitter (where he had most of his success last year), but when he was slow out of the gate, he was dropped to second, then third, then cleanup and even spent a few games in the sixth spot. In the last three games, he’s returned to the leadoff spot and has picked up four hits in 13 plate appearances. There’s still time for him to salvage his season, but it’s been much more of a grind.

Center Field
League Average – .268/.333/.432
Royals – .236/.312/.322, sOPS+ 70

Aside from the DH spot, the most productive position in the American League so far this year has been center field. And it’s where the Royals have struggled to get any production at all. Jerrod Dyson has seen the most appearances in center, with Mitch Maier with the second most. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Bourgeois have also seen time at the position.

Dyson’s production has been solid as far as reaching base. With a .252/.328/.331 line, he’s proven himself adept at working the count and drawing the base on balls. He still doesn’t hit enough to justify the leadoff spot in the lineup, but like I said… He’s pretty close to league average when it comes to OBP. That makes him a decent fourth outfielder to have on your roster. Look out, Mitch.

Still, this feels like a lost season for Cain. He was supposed to get most of the reps in center, but the injury bug bit him hard. Cain is in extended spring training rehabbing from a torn hip flexor. He’s probably a good three to four weeks away from returning. At which time, the Royals will have a decision to make: Will they hand him back his everyday job in center, or will they write off this season and rotate him with Dyson and/or Maier? Maier is buried so far on Yosty’s bench, he could be the odd man out.

Oh… At this point, I’m supposed to ask, “Got Melk?”

Right Field
League Average – .258/.326/.434
Royals – .276/.320/.443, sOPS+ 96

We know from watching the Royals several certainties: Ned Yost will call for myriad sac bunts in situations where they won’t help his team. The Royals will give the opposition at least one free out per game. And Jeff Francoeur will hit fifth.

Like most of the Royals, The Frenchman got off to a slow start, but picked up the pace of late. In May, he’s hit .327/.371/.582. Most impressive have been his seven walks this month. Currently, he’s walking in 6.2 percent of his plate appearances, which is the highest rate of his career. I think it has something to do with the Mayans. Or a Kardashian. And with five home runs this month, he’s knocking one out of the yard about every 36 at bats, which is very close to his career mark of 32 AB/HR. And this for a guy who didn’t hit his first bomb until May 13 and didn’t hit his second until May 21.

Nice road trip.

Designated Hitter
League Average – .259/.333/.450
Royals – .290/.345/.505, sOPS+ 118

The Royals have utilized two designated hitters all year: Billy Butler and… Johnny Giavotella. Ummm, OK.

We all know about Country Breakfast. And long time readers will know about my affection for the man. Dude can rake. And he’s the only thing – the only thing – that you can count on in the Royals lineup. He will show up every year, drill line drives to the gaps and put up a line around .300/.370/.470.

Except this year, he’s hit a few more home runs.

The party line from the Royals is Butler is finally hitting for more loft. Sounds great, except he’s not. His fly ball percentage is 32.2 percent which is the lowest of his career. The lowest. Yet, the ball is flying out of the part and he’s become the number one threat to wipe Steve Balboni from the Royals record book. How? Maybe it’s because he’s stronger. It doesn’t look like he’s changed his approach as the Royals would like you to believe. He’s swinging at pitches at roughly the same rate. It’s just that the fly balls have a little more charge in them this year.

It’s a nice development.

And as I Tweeted a few weeks ago, if you don’t like Billy Butler, I don’t have a lot of time for you. Sorry. I think he’s a great hitter. And the kind of guy you need on your team.

Country Breakfast is awesome.

A few thoughts as we get set to open another season at The K on Positive Friday. Hope the weather holds!

– Six games into the season, and I’m a little torn on how the bullpen has performed. Yeah, the Broxton meltdown was spectacular and that eighth inning on Opening Day was rough, but there have been some stellar individual performances. Aaron Crow has pitched two of the best innings I’ve seen a reliever throw in recent memory. Tiny Tim Collins has conquered his command problems for the time being. And Kelvin Herrera’s change-up gives me nightmares and I haven’t swung a bat in years.

Collectively, they posted a SO/BB ratio of slightly better than 4:1, which is fantastic. Their 12.1 SO/9 is the fourth best in baseball and trails only the Yankees in the American League. On the other hand, they have collectively inherited 12 runners and allowed five to score. And Broxton kind of has occasional control issues.

Overall, though, we have to be pleased, right? The bullpen had been advertised as a strength of this team and even though there have been a couple of speed bumps on the way, there’s nothing I’ve seen in the first week that would lead me to believe otherwise.

Speaking of the bullpen, has anyone seen Everett Teaford? Seriously, every reliever has been in three games – except Herrera who’s appeared twice. And Teaford hasn’t set foot out of the bullpen. Yosty has a full compliment of relievers, yet refuses to use a guy who figures to be an asset.

Maybe he forgot Teaford pitched in KC last year and figured him for a Rule 5 guy he’s obligated to bury. If anyone can figure out the logic behind Nervous Ned’s Bullpen Management Scheme, I’m listening… Because I’d really like to know.

– Country Breakfast has five extra base hits in his first six games. Stud.

– I had hoped removing him from the rain-soaked Bacon Tuesday game in Oakland was merely a precaution. Sadly, Lorenzo Cain’s groin strain was serious enough to land him on the 15 day disabled list.

It will be interesting to see how Yosty plays this. While I would love to see Our Mitch get the bulk of the playing time over the next couple of weeks, I get the feeling we will be acquainted with Jason Bourgeois. And we will also have the thrill of watching Jerrod Dyson pinch run for Billy Butler.

Actually, it sounds like Dyson is in the mix for some regular playing time. Yosty apparently likes the idea of Our Mitch coming off the bench. OK. And he’s thinking the right-handed hitting Bourgeois will get the starts against the lefties. That’s a solid idea. Check out Bourgeois’ career splits:

Vs. LHP – .326/.366/.411
Vs. RHP – .205/.253/.251

That’s so extreme we should probably consider checking Yost into Trey Hillman’s Unicycle Camp For Slow Learners if he ever decides to start Bourgeois against a right-handed pitcher.

So if Maier is on the bench and Bourgeois is the guys against southpaws, does this mean Dyson will get the starts against right-handers? Looks that way. He’s off to a decent start in Omaha, batting .364/.400/.485 in 37 plate appearances. He has 12 hit with three going for extra bases (two doubles and a triple.) And this is most important… He has six steals and has yet to be caught. If Ned Yost were a Playmate he would list “stolen bases” and “sac bunts” as turn-ons. (Sorry for the imagery.)

– The offense is in a bit of a slumber. Our leadoff hitter isn’t getting on base and has already been “rested” in an attempt to help get right. The team has been giving away outs on the bases as often as Lindsay Lohan has her probation revoked.

Here’s the real issue with all those outs on the bases. Currently, the Royals are scoring only 11 percent of their base runners. League average is roughly 14 percent. What the Royals are doing isn’t aggressive… It’s reckless. And it’s damaging their chances to win games.

The obvious news is things are going to balance out. The starting pitching can’t keep up this outstanding stretch and there’s no way the hitters will stay this cold. There will be more baserunners and (hopefully) fewer outs on the bases, which means more runs. Which the Royals will need to offset the starting pitching when it stumbles.

– Somehow, Chris Getz has yet to lay down a sac bunt. Probably because he’s too busy jacking the ball with all he newfound “power.”

Wow, just a few things went on this weekend.   We had the NFL Draft, a guy named bin Laden was erased from the face of the earth and the Royals swept the Twins.  Now, if we have to debate which of the three is the most important story, then I will pick up my toys and go home.   

You might have noticed over the years, that this is not a world affairs blog nor do we talk about the NFL.   As such, we can discuss a very big sweep over Minnesota and just generally think happy thoughts throughout this off-day.

I think a lot of us thought Kansas City was about to go into ‘the big slide’ that we have so often seen in the past.   After leaping out of the gates by winning ten of their first fourteen games, the Royals had floundered all the way to a game under .500.    They had been swept in back to back road series, looking very 2006-ish in getting drubbed in Cleveland.

The here-we-go-again feeling certainly had overtaken me.   One could almost feel a stretch of games coming that would see the Royals drop twenty out of twenty-five and sink once more out of the collective national baseball consciousness.     Instead, however, we saw this team right itself and sweep the Twins:  obliterating them in the final two games of the series. 

At this point in time, the Minnesota Twins are an injured, hapless bunch, but there is something to be said for beating teams that are not playing well.    There is also something to be said for playing baseball in your home park.

In 2010, the average home record of American League teams was 45-35 (yes, I know that doesn’t add up to 81) and the average road record was just 36-44.   Only four teams had losing records at home, while five teams managed to post a winning record on the road.   In 2009, the averages are similar: 46-35 at home and 35-45 on the road.  Like in 2010, four teams posted losing home records, but only two were overall winners on the road.

There is nothing earth shattering in those numbers and, without looking, I have to imagine that we could go back a great number of years and generally see similar results.   Quite frankly, Dorothy, there is no place like home.  For the Royals, that seems particularly true through the early part of the 2011 schedule.

On their way to posting a 12-5 home record, the Royals have average 5.6 runs per game and posted a robust team slash line of .278/.355/.446.   The pitching staff has held opponents to a .256 batting average on their way to posting a 3.64 earned run average and allowed less than one home run per game (14 in 17 contests).

On the road, Kansas City is just 3-8 and averaging only 4.5 runs per game.   The offense has hit just .268/.318/.410 and the pitching staff has posted a 5.95 ERA and allowed the opposing teams to hit .307.  The pitchers have also given up 21 home runs in just 11 games, despite posting a better strikeout to walk ration (1.97 on the road as opposed to just 1.51 at home).

Obviously, just 17% of the way through the schedule, the imbalance of who the Royals have played at home versus the teams they have faced on the road versus who was hot and who was hurt all skew the results.   Still, those are pretty dramatic differences on both sides of the ball.   Given the youth of this team and type of starting pitching they employ, none of us are probably overly surprised by the split, but I found it interesting.

It also gives me some  hope that despite a tough 31 game stretch that began with the Twins’ series, with 19 of those games at home, the Royals might be able to stick around that .500 mark through the end of May.   Should they manage that feat, then the discussion gets extremely interesting on many fronts.   Defending the home field over the next six games against Baltimore and Oakland will be critical.

Now a couple of bullet points to finish up:

  • As has been discussed in many locations, the inclusion of Jarrod Dyson on the 25 man roster is a somewhat curious decision.    While he has made an impact in the role this year, there just are not a lot of pinch-runner/defensive replacement guys being carried by anyone these days, but I was envisioning the scenario wherein doing so makes sense and also does not cripple a manager’s ability to make in-game moves.  It would seem to me, that having good enough pitching to go with an 11 man staff instead of 12 is the key.  In the Royals’ case, that would allow them to carry an extra infielder.   On days when the lineup includes Getz, Aviles and Betemit (one of the latter two DHing), you would still be able to pinch hit for Escobar or Getz.   I am not really against having Dyson on the current roster, just thinking how a ‘Dyson-like’ role fits on a logical 25 man set-up.
  • Speaking of defense, I have a hard time justifying a weak bat at any position other than catcher and shortstop.   Simply put, it does not seem to me that any other position effect the defense enough to carry a sub .700 OPS.   I bring that up, because Mike Aviles is hitting and Chris Getz is not.    The Royals have no real options but to play Alcides Escobar (whose defense is great, but he really needs to post an OPS well above his current .516), and the two catchers and they remain loyal to Kila Ka’aihue and probably should for another three or four weeks.   They have an option at second to add another offensive weapon and should use it on an everyday basis, even if it does mean weaker defense.
  • Finally, I am pretty ambivalent when it comes to Mitch Maier, but it was nice to see him have a big day on Sunday after replacing Jarrod Dyson.   Mitch now has a grand total of 11 plate appearances in 2011.  It is tough duty to be the last guy on the bench and easy place to lose focus.  To his credit Maier has been a true professional and kept himself ready to play even though he knows the odds are that he seldom will.  That is a subtle addition to clubhouse chemistry that should not be overlooked.

Is four of the next six a realistic goal?  I would like to think so, although Royals pitchers will not be able to walk 17 batters in a series and get away with it very often.

Who knew that it would take a four game losing streak for Nervous Ned to go into full meltdown mode?

Maybe meltdown is a little harsh, but you have to question what’s going through the manager’s mind when he moves Alex Gordon from left field to first base for two games in a row. One game… OK. Whatever. Two games… You start to wonder what’s going on. Is this a move to jumpstart a lethargic lineup, or is this some sort of larger plan?

Short-term, basically what Yost is doing is replacing Kila in the lineup with Dyson. Even though Kila is struggling (looking at strikes down the middle of the plate and then swinging at off speed pitches in the right-handed batters box qualifies as struggling) he’s still a better bet for the Royals than Dyson. Nothing against the guy, but I’ll take Kila’s power potential over Dyson’s speed.

Really, I don’t have an issue playing Gordon at first. But the Royals have Billy Butler, who is jonesing for some defensive playing time. Not that Butler is ever going to win a Gold Glove, but throw the guy a bone… He’s put in the work, why not let him get some time in the field if you want to give Kila a break. It’s not like Butler is a long-term solution with Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings. That makes this move even more bizarre. If the Royals didn’t have stud first base prospect a couple of months away, maybe this makes a little bit of sense. Otherwise, no.

Here’s why you don’t jack with Gordon and his glove. First, he’s proven himself to be above average defensively. Yes, he gets some bum jumps every now and then, but he’s athletic enough to recover and make plays. I can’t remember a time when I felt he did something wrong out there. This is not the Mark Teahen situation where the guy consistently took poor routes. Gordon is legit. Second, his arm is a weapon. When you have a guy with a gun like that, why the heck would you waste it at first? His arm is so strong and accurate, I’d have zero problem if he played right field. But first? Just wasteful.

For the record, I don’t think this defensive shift is why Gordon is 0-fer his last two games. He’s been rolling with the bat, so a move with the glove shouldn’t have any kind of impact. But Nervous Ned put himself and Gordon in this position to second guess because of the hitting streak and Gordon’s hot start. It’s coincidence that Gordon didn’t get a hit in the last two games. But Yost is going to take some heat for this.

This move proves that SABR Trey didn’t corner the market on managerial crazy. Managers will do nutty things sometimes to jump start a lethargic lineup, but moving Gordon defensively weakens the lineup. This really shouldn’t go any further. It needs to stop now, please.

My dislike for Kyle Davies as a starter has been well documented. Last night, Kyle proved that regression was an evil bitch as he coughed up four home runs. Given his propensity to put runners on base, he’s fortunate all four were solo shots. I saw on the post game where Yost said he made good pitches. Bull. Three of the four were right in the happy zone. Belt high and center of the plate.

Still utterly confused by the Tim Collins usage. Another game, another appearance. This time, Yost used him for 2.2 innings in a game where the Royals were trailing 8-0. So does this mean Collins is the mop-up guy now? He appeared in four of the six games on the road trip.

The Royals didn’t hold the lead once during their road trip. This is a trend that is going to happen from time to time given the (lack of) starting pitching. Entering the season, we figured this would happen. The hot start masked some inefficiencies and fooled a lot of people. With a winless roadtrip, the bandwagon is down to three wheels and the axle is threatening to come off altogether.

I can’t get too down about this rough patch. Yost may be panicking, but this was expected. This seems like a good time to remind ourselves that this season is about transition. There will be more rough games ahead. Keep your eyes on the big picture. The only thing that should be troubling at this point is a manager who seems to be freaking out.

As a guy who likes to look at the numbers, the first month or so of the season always presents difficulties. Jeff Francoeur is hitting .296/.345/.444 with an OPS+ of 118? Yeah, those numbers are going down. (For the interested readers, I am now contractually obligated to drop at least one anti-Frenchy note in the first five graphs. Got this one out of the way early.) And Jeff Francis isn’t going to keep his ERA below 3.00 all year.

That just makes trends a little more difficult to identify. I don’t know how long the following will continue, but here are a couple of trends that will be fun to watch as the season unfolds.

Balanced Lineup

Go look at the team page at Baseball Reference… As of today, each of the regulars has contributed between two and four RBI. Now you know I’m not a fan of the RBI as a statistic, but in this case it tells me that there is some balance across the lineup. Guys are getting on base and guys are driving them home. The guys at the top and bottom of the order (Aviles, Escobar and Getz) each have two RBI while the rest of the gang has four.

We know there have been a bunch of timely (not clutch… timely) hits. Along with good pitching – and we know that aside from the Soria Debacle on Wednesday – the bullpen has been pretty great – that’s basically how winning stretches of baseball are played out.

The Royals have scored 5.8 runs per game, behind only Texas and Chicago. Again, it’s way too early to jump to any conclusions, but it is interesting to note how they got there.

Running Wild

When Ned Yost was talking about running more in spring training, he wasn’t kidding. Everyone is running… All the time. Collectively, the Royals have 14 stolen bases, by far the most in the American League. Even more impressive, they’ve been caught only once. That’s 15 attempts total. The second place team – the Angels – have run a total of nine times.

Of course, the team leader in steals is Jarrod Dyson, who must be a clone of Herb Washington. Dyson has played only a single inning of defense, has just one plate appearance where he sacrificed, so he doesn’t even have an official at bat, yet has scored two runs and has those steals.

If Dyson keeps up his current pace, he’ll finish the season with 78 steals and 26 sacrifice bunts. And no at bats.

Like I said, early baseball…

First Place

So we’re basically through a week of games and the Royals sit in first place. I can’t lie, I have a real difficult time looking at the standings this time of the year. I guess my only concern would be if they lost their first six games. (PANIC RED SOX NATION!!! PANIC!!!) It’s a good start, maybe even a great start, but every team has at least one stretch in the season where they will win four of six games. Certainly, the games the Royals have played have all been great on one level or another.

Quick aside: Seriously Red Sox fans… we as Royals fans have been here before. Trust me, this is the beginning of your death spiral. Stock up on bottled water and canned goods because you are about to embark on a 20 year long odyssey to baseball’s hinterland.

So one week in, this looks like a fun team. The starting pitching (aside from Francis) hasn’t been that great, but we knew that going in. The bullpen is going to be solid as long as they don’t develop Hillmanitis and all land on the DL from overuse because the starters fail. The lineup is going to score runs. They’re going to steal bases and they’re going to hit a few doubles. They aren’t going to stay in first all year and they aren’t going to continue winning games at a 67% clip, but that’s not really the point…

The point is, the most positive trend is baseball in Kansas City looks to be on the rise. I still think The Process will be slow and steady, but it will be noticeable and really damn enjoyable.

It’s early, but so far, it’s all working. It’s all working…

News out of the Royals camp has Ned Yost refiguring his lineup and moving Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon to the second and third spots respectively.  I’m not thrilled with the Melk-Man hitting so high in the order – I don’t care how he was swinging the bat in Arizona.  Still, I’ve opined plenty of times in this space that the Royals lack a true number two type of bat.  (Along with myriad other deficiencies.)  So as much as I’d like to work up outrage over Cabrera hitting second, it’s a helluva lot better than Jason Kendall.  Besides, I’ll save it for when Cabrera is dragging down the Royals offense.

I’m a little more perturbed that Yost has pushed Gordon to the third spot, mainly for the fact that this shifts Billy Butler to the cleanup position.  I’m of the school where you don’t screw with two players at once when one of them has established a comfort zone.  Butler profiles as a number three hitter.  He just does.  He’s not a cleanup hitter by any stretch of the imagination.  That could be Kila Ka’aihue based on past performance in Omaha.  Why not shift Gordon to the fifth spot and leave your three and four alone?  Especially when you’re dealing with a guy like Gordon who hasn’t exactly done anything in his entire career to warrant such a move.  Hey, if he’s hitting the snot out of the ball on May 1, then go ahead and make the move.  Right now, it feels a little premature.

Here’s your Opening Day lineup:

Aviles
Cabrera
Gordon
Butler
Ka’aihue
Francoeur
Escobar
Treanor
Getz

I put Coach Treanor there because you just know the guy is the second coming of Kendall.  He’s going to get the majority of the time behind the plate.  Not 92% or whatever Kendall was getting last year prior to his injury, but I see him getting 60-70% of the innings.

Yes, Escobar had a fine spring, but if he can’t keep that going, the bottom third of that lineup has serious black hole potential.

So the bullpen is finally set with Kaneoka Texeria and Jeremy Jeffress the last two in place.  They join the locks (Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda) the prospects (Aaron Crow and Tim Collins) and the whatevers (Sean O’Sullivan and Nate Adcock.)  I honestly thought Luis Mendoza would make the team ahead of Jeffress.  It’s nice that the Royals aren’t sticking with waiver retreads.

Plus, I’m glad they are using the bullpen as the first place to work in the young pitchers.  Many thought Crow was drafted to be a starter, but his strength projects him as a reliever.  Yeah, it’s not ideal, but he could transition into an above average set-up guy or even closer.

There’s been a bunch of internet chatter about the Royals keeping Jarrod Dyson and getting rid of Gregor Blanco.  I’m surprised given that Dyson has options and would benefit from playing every day.  With the Promised Two (Francoeur and Cabrera) along with the new number three hitter, Gordon, and the uber-backup in Mitch Maier, I don’t see where he’s going to get the at bats.  This just feels like one of those classic Royal moments where they’re setting their player up for failure… He won’t play enough to get into any kind of rhythm, he’ll hit poorly, get shipped to Omaha and we won’t hear from him again.  I just don’t get it.  Plus, I think over the entire season Blanco would contribute more than Cabrera.  This one is just a head-scratcher.

I hope the Royals are able to sneak Blanco through waivers, but I doubt that’s going to happen.

With T-minus one day to the Opener, it’s time for the annual exercise known as Calling Your Shot.  Time to get on the record with your predictions for the upcoming 2011 season.

Since this season is all about transition in The Process, I thought it would be interesting to add a little spice in the form of a few over/unders based on totals from the 2010 season.  It’s an interesting way to gauge expectations.

Here are the categories, presented with last year’s totals:

1) Wins – 67

2) Team OBP – .331

3) Team SLG – .399

4) Steals – 115

5) Team ERA – 4.97

6) Team BB/9 – 3.5

7) Team SO/9 – 6.5

Leave your predictions in the comment section.

Play ball.

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

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

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

Count me as ready for some actual baseball.

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

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

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

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

Boy, a guy leaves town for three days and he comes back to find that the Royals have signed Pedro Feliz.  

To be fair, the Royals are saying all the right things about the Feliz signing.   He is a ‘veteran presence in camp’, ‘insurance against injuries’ and ‘will not stand in the way of Mike Moustakas’.     All of which makes some sense, especially when just a year ago, injuries to Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon left the Royals with Willie Bloomquist as their opening day third baseman.  

Feliz comes with reputation of a good fielding third baseman (a career UZR/150 of 14.9), although he was below average statistically in 2010.   Offensively, Pedro does not offer much (career line of .250/.288/.410) other than some occasional power.   His slugging percentage has been in nearly perpetual decline for seven seasons:  not encouraging when that skill is all Feliz offers with the bat.

Before we get too worked up, however, this is a minor league deal.  An $800,000 minor league deal, mind you, but minor league nonetheless.   Almost all these types of contracts have some sort of deadline date during the spring in which the team can cut the player loose and not have to pay much of the contract amount, so this is, as Dayton Moore said, ‘a no risk’ deal….theoretically.

Anyway, Feliz aside, it is a new month and time for another draft of the Royals’ Opening Day roster.   Gil Meche juggled the situation some for us and we now have Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen in our rotation.   Only Royals’ fans could be comforted by those two names, but we are who we are.     We are close enough to spring training that this exercise is becoming less guess and more fact, so let’s break it down.

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

Four months ago, I was certain Dayton Moore could not resist the allure of a veteran back-up catcher, but has managed to do so.   Some of that may have to do with reports that Jason Kendall is ‘ahead of schedule’.   I’m sure all of you are anxiously counting the days until his return.   Short of every other pitch going to the backstop with Pena and May behind the plate, I don’t think we’ll see any surprises here.

FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER – Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue

About the only question here is who will be where.   There has been some mention of Butler spending a lot more time at DH, but we will just have to see how it all plays out.   Everyone likes big, tall first basemen target wise, so I like Kila at first and Billy at DH, but won’t throw many fits if turns out to be the other way around.   My guess is they alternate and never really decide.   We know Billy will hit, we don’t know if Kila will, but at last we get to find out.

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

Mike Aviles is being ‘converted to third base full-time’, so that pretty much answers any questions here.   The Royals are going to take some time to find out what they have in Getz, which is a luxury they can afford this season.   My guess is the length of the ‘look’ is equal to the time it takes Mike Moustakas to hit 10 home runs in Omaha.  Once Moustakas is up, Aviles will likely knock Getz off second and that will be that.   Both Nick and I have a somewhat irrational ‘like’ of Getz, so we’ll be watching his progress (or lack thereof) closely.

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Hopefully he looks more like the 12th best prospect in baseball than the guy who used his jersey last year in Milwaukee.   Either way, we will see 150+ games out of him at this position.

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

This is likely Aviles’ job to lose as the club is horrified of Wilson Betemit’s glove and should be horrified of Pedro Feliz’s bat.   The Royals never really want to believe in Aviles, but he generally makes them, so I expect Mike to get the Opening Day nod here and hopefully steady duty until Moustakas gets the call.

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

The Royals have barely mentioned Betemit’s name this off-season.  I don’t know if they are afraid to jinx his outstanding offensive performance of 2010 by talking about it or simply don’t believe in him.   Although Wilson has played just about everywhere defensively, he is pretty much a butcher wherever – better than Esteban German, but then most of us are.   Look for Betemit to get some time at third and in the DH/first base rotation as well:  particularly against tough lefthanders in place of Kila.  

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

Lot’s of talk here, but I think the Royals know they have to give Alex one last shot to play everyday and, well, dominate.   It would be ludicrous for a team destined to win 74 games or less to not give Gordon all the at-bats here.

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

I know, you don’t like it.  I don’t like it, either, but it seems like destiny to me.   I just have a hunch that Lorenzo Cain starts the season in AAA.   That situation is annoying, but not the end of the world.   Kind of like having Melky Cabrera as your centerfielder.    Cain has this job by June if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

You’re all just a little curious to see what happens here, aren’t you?   Given Francouer’s ability to stay healthy, you are likely to get 160 games of this in 2011.

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

I can actually envision the team keeping Jarrod Dyson and using him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.   You do not see a lot of that anymore, but it almost makes some sense.   Probably, and barring a lust for Pedro Feliz which is very possible, Blanco and Maier both make this team to start with.   Either one of them probably gives us every bit of what Melky Cabrera does, but they don’t have ‘the name’.   Once Moustakas and Cain get the call, there is a real chance neither one is on the big league roster.   My advise to Gregor and Mitch:  be good savers.

STARTING ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies

This got easy in a hurry after Francis and Chen were signed, plus Davies’ rather amazing inking of a $3.2 million deal.   Sean O’Sullivan and others will get a courtesy look, but this is almost certainly your starting five.   The above listing is my guess at the order.

BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland, Nathan Adcock

I have to be honest, the end of that list is pretty much a guess coupled with my disdain for seeing Jesse Chavez and Kanekoe Texiera pitch.   After thinking Tejeda would be traded this off-season, it appears that will not happen and he, along with Wood and that Soria kid are locks.   After that I think Collins and Jeffress have inside tracks.   I don’t know what more Collins has to prove and my guess is the organization might want to give Jeffress some ‘big league supervision’.    Given where this team is and is going to be for much of 2011, there is little harm in carrying Rule 5 pick Adcock – at least for a while.   As for Holland, his minor league track record is one of an adjustment period at each level followed by outstanding pitching.   We saw some signs of that late in 2010 with Kansas City and I am expecting a big spring out of Greg this year.

An iffy starting rotation and a very young bullpen is something of a volitable combination and I can easily see the Royals shying away from it by going with veteran or quasi-veteran arms in the pen to start the year.   As always the last three spots in the pen are always the hardest to predict.

So, there is your twenty-five.   What’s the record by the end of May?

The excitement level around the Royals has risen considerably this off-season and it has very little to do with what people think the 2011 version of the team will do on the field.   In fact, the level of anticipation has grown despite what the record of this year’s Royals is likely to be.

The trade of the team’s ace pitcher, Zack Greinke, actually increased the level of interest – at least in the blogging corner of Kansas City fandom.   It was seen as a final announcement that The Process is really, finally here.    All of that could be gone if we reach July 15th and Lorenzo Cain is still in Omaha, Alcides Escobar is hitting .221 and Jeremy Jeffress has issued more walks than strikeouts, but for now color us all eager for the season to begin.

The Process will likely be immediately evident in the bullpen where Jeffress, Tim Collins and possibly a Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy or others might well break camp with the big league team.   It will quickly have an impact on the infield as well with Escobar already at shortstop and Mike Moustakas due to take over third base sooner than later (not to mention the extension of Billy Butler’s contract).   There is also an excellent chance that sometime during 2011 we will see some of the highly valued young arms make their way into the big league rotation.

With the exception of Lorenzo Cain, however, The Process brings little to the table in 2011 when it comes to the outfield.  It is likely the Royals will filter, sift and flat out hope their way through six players who, excepting Cain, might not figure in any of the club’s long-term plan.       

The roster offers a cluttered group of guys who are trying to rebound, trying to prove themselves or simply indistinguishable from the next player.    One can look at an outfield of Gordon, Cabrera and Francouer and hope that maybe they all ‘get it’, but a logical (or even a Facebook level of logic) well remind you that if just one of those guys becomes a solid above average producer the Royals should consider themselves lucky.

Let’s take a look at the players and try to sort it all out.

Jeff Francouer – Age 27, Bats – Right

  • Career Line – .268/.310/.425, OPS+ 91, Total WAR: 8.0 (6 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2005
  • Worst Season – 2008
  • The one thing we know for sure about the 2011 Kansas City Royals’ outfield is that Jeff Francouer will be the everyday rightfielder: Dayton Moore promised him as much when Francouer signed.   One thing you can say about Jeff is that he will play everyday, or at least as often as a manager can stand to write his name on the lineup card.   From 2006 through 2009, Francouer missed a grand total of 12 games.    His slugging percentage has been in decline since his rookie season and it is a little hard to see Kaufmann Stadium helping that.   Perhaps the best case scenario is for Jeff to get some good luck – as he did in his 15 games with Texas last year or his first stint with the Mets – and post good numbers due to an inflated batting average and get traded during the season.   For now, if he can match his career line and play good defense, he won’t be the worst player in the league.    We know that the Royals are going to give him every chance.

Alex Gordon – Age 26, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .244/.328/.405, OPS+ 95, Total WAR: 4.4 (4 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2008
  • Worst Season – 2010
  • There remains this faint thought through the Internet that Gordon will be traded before Opening Day – nothing concrete, but enough to make one wonder if it might happen.   My gut tells me the Royals, while frustrated, are not ‘Angel Berroa frustrated’ yet and that Gordon will get one last chance to prove he belongs.    Depending on what happens with Melky Cabrera, the team might jerk Alex around in some sort of queer platoon arrangement (which would be a mistake), but they might just put him in left and leave him alone.   For his part, Gordon still remains the most likely Royal this side of Billy Butler to post an on-base percentage above .350 and displayed some encouraging signs that he could be a solid to good defender in leftfield.

Melky Cabrera – Age 26, Bats – Both

  • Career line – .267/.328/.379, OPS+ 85, Total War: 2.6 (5 seasons)
  • Best season – 2006
  • Worst season – 2008
  • Yes, Melky actually was worse in 2008 than in 2010 – albeit not by much.   He played a statistically pretty decent centerfield for the Yankees in 2008 and 2009, but a pretty awful defensive centerfield in 2007 and 2010.   Dayton Moore has all but said that had he known that the Royals would be getting Lorenzo Cain in a trade he probably would not have signed Cabrera.   That’s all fine and good, but there are a lot of us who think Moore shouldn’t have been after Cabrera regardless.   Since 2006, Melky has not given anyone any real reason to think he will ever get back to that year’s line of .280/.360/.391.    While I can envision a reality where the Royals catch lightning in a bottle with Francouer, I tend to believe that Melky’s bottle is broken.   That might not keep him from being the club’s everyday centerfielder to start the season.

Lorenzo Cain – Age 25, Bats – Right

  • Career line – .306/.348/.415, OPS+ 107, WAR: 1.2
  • Minor league career line – .291/.366/.416
  • Lorenzo Cain has the inside track on being my new favorite Royal (that’s not necessarily a good thing, mind you).   He brings good speed (124 steals, 35 caught stealing in the minors) and potentially well above average defense in center.   Some scouts label his defense and parts of his entire game as still ‘raw’ as Cain really did not play much baseball before high school.  Others will point to his high BABIP, but Cain has posted supposed ‘lucky’ BABIP numbers with regularity, so we might just have to start believing them.   If not for the presence of Cabrera, I have no doubt that Cain would be the centerfielder on Opening Day and likely batting lead-off.   As it is, I can see him starting off in Omaha or, worse, playing three times a week  in the majors.   Hey, if Ned Yost wants to sit Gordon once a week against a tough lefty and Francouer once a week against a tough righthander and Cain once a week just because, that would seem to be enough playing time for Melky Cabrera, but this is the Royals and that sentence just seemed to make sense, so….

Gregor Blanco – Age 27, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .258/.358/.324, OPS+ 85, Total WAR: 1.9 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009
  • Blanco is solid average in centerfield, with good speed on the bases and some decent on-base skills, but little power.   If Alex Gordon was a star and Jeff Francouer the same guy he was at age twenty-one, Blanco would fit just fine in center and batting 8th or 9th.  As it is, like Mitch Maier, he is a touch above replacement level, but not enough so to get anyone excited about whether he makes the team or not.

Mitch Maier, Age 28, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .256/.330/.347, OPS+ 84, Total WAR: 0.7 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009 
  • Look at Mitch Maier’s numbers and then at those of Melky Cabrera and tell me why the Royals felt it necessary to sign Cabrera (even if it was for a modest amount).   Like Blanco, Maier has some on-base ability, but he addsa a little bit of pop while not offering the speed of his counterpart.   The feeling is that Maier’s days are numbered in the organization.   

Jarrod Dyson, Age 26, Bats - Left

  • Career line – .211/.286/.404, OPS+ 87, WAR: 0.6
  • Minor league career line – .278/.344/.343
  • Dyson IS exciting, but not necessarily for what he might become as an overall ballplayer.   He is blazing fast, with more power than Joey Gathright (I know, tallest midget stuff) and a really good arm.   Dyson had tremendous defensive metrics in centerfield, but in a sample size so small that it probably means nothing.   During his cup of coffee last year, Jarrod was on base seventeen times (he homered once – go figure) and stole nine bases in ten attempts.  He is intriguing mostly for his speed, but Dyson has some abilities beyond just being that ‘speed guy’.    I don’t think he can hit enough in the majors to matter and while I thought it might be worthwhile to give him a shot over Blanco and Maier, I don’t believe he will see time in front of Cabrera nor deserve it in front of Cain.

The Royals are funny when it comes to players.   They do not really believe in Maier or Blanco, but I can quite easily see them make moves this spring to not lose them.    Specifically, starting Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson in Omaha (although I wonder where Dyson plays in Omaha if Cain is there as well).   

Right now, I would say it is a 50-50 proposition as to whether Cain or Cabrera is the starting centerfielder.   While little stock is given to spring training stats, Cain could win the job based on just that or he might win by default if Melky gets on Ned Yost’s bad side (a very real possibility given Cabrera’s rumored past ‘bad influence’ in the clubhouse).  

Barring a somewhat shocking trade of Gordon, you can count on Alex, Francouer and Cabrera to be locks for the roster, with one of Blanco and Maier as well.    Should Lorenzo Cain start off in Omaha, then the odd man out of the Blanco/Maier combination gets to live the major league life for a little longer.

So, here we are, some 1600 words into another column and we are going to end up where we have been so many times before:  The Process could really use a breakout year from Alex Gordon.

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catcher (including a series preview),  first base, second base, third base, shortstop and left field.

Let’s take a look at the how the players who got the bulk of the time at center field hit when they manned that position.

There clearly was a lot of shuffling around in center this year.  No single player got even  half of the games at the position.  Mitch Maier was as close to a “regular” at the position as there was in 2010.  Gregor Blanco was acquired via trade, Rick Ankiel was injured and then traded and Jarrod Dyson was a late season call up.    One of the things that jump out at me is the fact that Rick Ankiel only played center for 24 games in 2010.  I complained so much about him, that it sure seemed like he was out there more than he was.  Ankiel, was a somewhat effective hitter in center field though.  His 117 sOPS+ is due mostly to a decent slugging percentage, but still if you can get that out of a center fielder regularly, I’d think you’d take it.  Mitch Maier and Gregor Blanco seem to be guys destined as filler, players who manned the position when there weren’t any other options.  They didn’t embarrass themselves or the club, but they weren’t something special.Defensively, and just judging by what I’ve seen, I think Jarrod Dyson has the most upside, Maier was the best in 2010 and he was followed by Blanco and Ankiel.

Let’s see how the unit stacked up against the rest of the American League.

This isn’t a particularly surprising chart.  The Royals clearly were a sub-par offensive team in center field.  Whether you prefer judging by wOBA or OPS, the rank can move up or down by a couple of slots, but it’s still nothing to get excited about.  One category which the Royals center fielders seemed to excel was in walk rate.  Their 9.1% rate was  third in the American League (hey, it’s something).

2011 will be a very interesting year for the center field position.  I imagine there will be a pretty steady rotation throughout the season with Jarrod Dyson possibly getting the bulk of the time if he can show a decent bat when he does get a chance.  I’m not convinced that the long-term answer to the position will be on the roster in 2011, but Derrick Robinson, who could be a September call-up has the best chance.