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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jeff Francis

Probably won't see this next year. (Photo: Minda Haas/Flickr)

The Royals announced they will shut down starter Jeff Francis after his next start on Thursday. Francis, who is making $2 million this year, will finish the season with somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 innings. That represents the most work for Francis since he topped 215 innings back in 2007.

At the same time, the club also let it be known that Everett Teaford will make two more starts before he’s finished for the season. His final start will be on September 25 at Chicago, three days before the end of the season.

Back to Francis… At $2 million the left-hander provided the Royals with the following line (current through Tuesday):

30 starts, 177 IP, 4.88 ERA, 1.429 WHIP, 4.5 SO/9, 1.9 BB/9, 4.27 xFIP

The lack of walks is a delight. The lack of strikeouts is a problem. But that’s the way Francis has always pitched. Since his injury, he’s sped up the evolution to control pitcher.

Remember back to those days when the mantra for Royals pitchers was “pitch to contact?” Let’s just say Tony Muser and Brent Strom would have loved Jeff Francis. Over 80% of all plate appearances ended with the ball in play. Additionally, 10% of all plate appearances, batters went for extra bases. Although there’s no shame in his 1.0 HR/9.

His xFIP may indicate there’s a level of bad luck on his side, but the truth is, Francis just isn’t the kind of pitcher who can go out and make success for himself on a regular basis. He’s more likely to get lit up than to dominate in one start. Although, to be fair, he’s really more likely to pitch a solid game. Maybe a quality start, maybe not. (He had 15 quality starts this year for the Royals, a rate of 50%.) It seems difficult to imagine over the course of a full season of starts that Francis could give his team enough for them to win over half their games. But he gives you a chance, and for a team like the Royals, that’s what it’s about.

Francis wasn’t here to be a front line starter, or even a number two or three guy. He was here to eat innings. That’s kind of a gutsy move to make for a player with a pretty serious shoulder history. Even though the Royals could only win nine of his 30 starts, Francis did pretty much what the Royals asked… He took the ball every fifth day and usually went until the sixth inning. On this team, with this rotation, that’s something.

According to FanGraphs, that’s worth $11 million dollars on the open market. Not a bad piece of business from Dayton Moore. But those numbers just seem arbitrary. Even though they are assigned to a player based on WAR, they aren’t real. Francis would never get that kind of money on the free agent market. But the numbers do give us a measure of some kind of worth to the Royals rotation. Subtract Francis and the team’s record may not be much different, but the strain placed on an overworked bullpen certainly would have increased. Francis the innings eater was just what the Royals needed this year.

So as Francis prepares for another spin in free agency, there will doubtless be talk from both team and player about a mutual respect they have for each other, and how it would be really nice if he could return for another year. With free agent pickings looking slim this winter, and with no immediate help coming from The System, it’s not a horrible thought that Francis could be back in Royal blue next spring.

We just need to realize we’ve probably seen him at or near his post injury peak. If the Royals could bring him back for another year at under $3 million, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

The Royals will be in a similar position with last night’s starter, Bruce Chen. Against the helpless Twins lineup, Chen was, dare I say, dominant.

8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 SO

He threw 119 pitches and 82 of them were strikes.

His Game Score was 85, which made his effort last night the best Royals start of year. And it’s the highest Game Score since October 1 of last year when Chen posted an 88 against the Rays. He finishes strong.

Chen has been a different pitcher ever since he started varying his arm slot, dropping it lower when he throws a sinker. He’s not dropping his arm as low as he did last year, but I’m not sure that makes a lot of difference. Here were his release points from three starts in September, 2010:

Compare that to his release point in his last three starts:

Like I said, not as low this year, but that’s more about finding his comfort zone in his delivery and release than anything. The results have been fairly consistent from last season.

Chen is another pitcher whom the Royals will have to make a decision on this winter. He’s been a good starter for the Royals, but I don’t get the hype from those who wish to anoint him the best starter on this staff. For my money, Paulino has been better. So has the second half version of Hochevar. That’s not a slight against Chen, just how I see the starters stack up according to performance. But that’s OK… If Chen is the best starter on your club, your staff needs some serious help. Not that Chen can’t help a rotation… We know he can. It’s just he’s better suited to the back of the rotation. Not the front.

I’d prefer to have Chen back in the fold next year, but at a price tag under $4 million. And if by some stroke of luck, the rotation entering 2012 is good enough that there is only a single opening… I’d opt for Chen ahead of Francis.

It wasn’t a 22 run, 3 grand slam outburst, but if nine runs is enough for a win (as it should be) I’ll take it.

Some quick notes from Thursday’s game:

– All Clark has to do is write a nice post about the man we know as Country Breakfast, and he collects four hits in five plate appearances. Billy Butler’s .374 OBP is tops on the team and he’s second in wOBA at .364. The guy has been on fire the last month and a half. Not surprisingly, my Twitter feed is void of Butler hate.

– I don’t know that Johnny Giavotella would have been my first choice to bat leadoff with Alex Gordon out of the lineup, but Nervous Ned does so many things that defy logic, it wears me out to get irritated. Although the way the top of the order has been clicking, I don’t know who you would drop into that spot. Gio it is!

– By going with that 13 man bullpen, it exposes a thin bench whenever anyone needs to leave the game. It happened again last night when Jeff Francoeur got drilled right below the knee cap in the top of the ninth. That forced Alex Gordon, himself nursing a bruise after being hit by a pitch the previous night, into the field. The good news, we’re less than a week away from when the rosters can expand, so we won’t have to put up with this nonsense much longer. The bad news is, Omaha’s season ends September 5, and they’re probably going to the playoffs. It could be the middle of the month before we see anyone in Kansas City.

– Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game, his third in a row and fifth in his last eight games. Same approach as I wrote about on Wednesday… Laying off the high fastballs. The strange thing was, the Blue Jays didn’t give him a ton of off speed pitches down in the zone. Almost every slider he saw this series was up in the zone and they hardly threw any change-ups.

– I don’t know if I even want to discuss the disaster known as Joakim Soria. I was surprised to see him in the game in the non-save situation, but figured this was Yost’s way of getting him so low pressure work in an attempt to boost his confidence.

It was just two pitches, but when the first bad pitch is a low cutter over the middle of the plate (That was absolutely ripped. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ball squared up like that.) and that’s followed by a slider up in the zone… Well, that’s how two pitches turn into two runs. Although, it should be noted the slider was away and Encarnacion basically muscled it to the opposite field.

Soria is still striking out hitters, but when he’s missing, he’s been way too high in the zone – like he was to Encarnacion. It’s not a coincidence that his worst two months of the season (May and August) have seen more fly balls in play against Soria than ground balls.

– Strong showing from Jeff Francis even if the wheels came apart in the seventh. His pitch count after six was relatively low, so I wasn’t surprised Yost sent him back for the top of the inning. I was surprised Yost let Greg Holland throw two innings in that situation. Unfortunately, by throwing 45 pitches, he’s going to be unavailable for the start of the Cleveland series.

– Two Royals wins and zero appearances by either Aaron Crow or Tim Collins. When was the last time that happened?

It feels like we’re on the edge of some excitement… The calm before the storm that is the trade deadline.

Although I’m not so certain there’s going to be much action where the Royals are involved.

It seems to me the team has four trade candidates.

Jeff Francoeur

The Frenchman is playing at his expected level of .264/310/.448, but with sterling defense in right field. Several teams are looking for a right-handed bat, so you would expect some level of interest.

However, we can’t discount GMDM’s past relationship here. And the fact there is a mutual option believed to be in the neighborhood of $4 million.

I think Frenchy not only hangs with the team for the full year, I think both parties are interested in being together in 2012. As fun as it is to watch Braves fans freak out about the possibility of a Francoeur return, they need to take a deep breath and relax. He’s going to be a Royal for the next 18 months.

Melky Cabrera

Under normal circumstances (i.e. a barren organization from top to bottom) the rebirth of the Melk Man would have Royals fans dancing in the aisles at the K. A line of .294/.331/.456 with a 1.9 rWAR is pretty solid from a player we didn’t expect that much from in 2011.

But here we are… Melky is doing fine and based on the service time rules, the Royals control him for the 2012 season. Cabrera will be a third year arbitration eligible player this winter.

Again, this would be fine… Except Lorenzo Cain is languishing in Omaha where he’s tearing up Triple-A.

Given the contract situation, Cabrera should attract serious interest from a contender looking to patch a long-term hole. (Long term meaning through next season.) Again, I think GMDM holds steady. Cain has already spent his entire summer in Omaha, another month won’t kill him. He can come up in September and we can watch as Ned Yost tries to juggle a four man outfield… Meaning Cain will get fewer plate appearances that that one guy… I forget his name because we never see him… Mitch Something. I think.

Bruce Chen

I hear all this talk about Chen being the Royals “ace” or “stopper.” He’s not. That’s Felipe Paulino. But I digress…

With a 3.30 ERA, Chen is having a nice enough season, although his 4.44 xFIP is on the high side. He would be a decent candidate for a contender looking for a left-handed arm in the back of the rotation.

The problem here, as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently reminded us the other day, is that he’s “Bruce F’n Chen.” Although he’s pitched well enough the last two seasons, there aren’t many who believe in him. He tried to get a two year deal last winter and found no takers. Given that he returned to KC for a one year deal at $2 million, I doubt there were many interested for even a single season. Again, while he’s pitched OK (when healthy) he hasn’t done anything to change perception.

Jeff Francis

While Chen gets discounted, we hear stronger interest exists in Francis. Why? Neither one are that great, but if I was choosing between lefties, I’d go with Chen first.

Francis has a 4.62 ERA, but a 4.01 xFIP… Slightly better than Chen. Neither one strikes anyone out, and Francis owns the better control. Hell, I don’t know. Maybe this is a toss up.

He’s proved he’s fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of the ’09 season.

So those are the top four trade candidates. Who goes? Who stays?

I would bet at least one pitcher gets moved prior to the deadline, in return for another pitcher. That will allow the Royals to revert to a five man rotation. (Yeah! More Davies!) But like the Betemit deal, we need to temper our expectations. None of these guys are going to return a frontline or even a grade B prospect.

Whatever happens, next week won’t be boring, that’s for certain.

On to the pitchers…

We know the starters have, taken as a whole, been horrible. And we know the bullpen has been one of the strengths of this team. I don’t know how the rotation can improved in the second half. Aside from Danny Duffy, these guys pretty much are who we thought they were. Which is not good.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has overachieved. Many of the relievers have outperformed their xFIP and have incredible batting averages on balls in play and even more incredible strand rates. That points to the volatility of the bullpen. It’s still a strength of this team, but I’m not certain it will be as strong in the second half.

One area where you notice the chasm is in strikeouts. The Royals starters couldn’t pitch their way out of a paper bag. (When I talk about the “starters,” know that I’m excluding Duffy. He’s the Chosen One adrift in a sea of batting practice pitchers.) Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of flame throwers who have made missing bats a habit. There may be some regression to the bullpen mean in the second half, but the strikeouts will cushion the blow.

Luke Hochevar
2.9 BB/9, 4.6 SO/9, 5.46 ERA, 4.22 xFIP
0.6 WAR

Key Stat: Allowing opponents to hit .300/.379/.461 with runners on base.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Hochevar “frustrating.” That would imply we have expectations that he could actually be… good.

Instead, we’re teased with a pitcher who retires three or six or nine batters in a row and then implodes in a spectacular fashion. Read that key stat again… there’s something happening when Hochevar pitches from the stretch. Even more frustrating, when runners reach base, Hochevar slows to the game to a speed that resembles Billy Butler running the 100 yard dash… Stand. Still.

I read somewhere that the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger thought Hochevar is a victim of heightened expectations that come with being the team’s Opening Day (read, number one) starter. I just can’t buy into this theory. Mainly because I haven’t thought about Hochevar as the Opening Day starter since… Opening Day. I mean, even Hochevar has to know he was the “number one” starter only because there wasn’t anyone else.

Grade: D

Jeff Francis
1.7 BB/9, 4.4 SO/9, 4.60 ERA, 4.01 xFIP
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: His average fastball is 85 mph.

Francis was always one of the softer throwers in the game, but he’s lost a couple mph off his alleged fastball since returning from shoulder surgery. Having said that, he’s compensating by featuring the best control of his career. The issue with Francis – and it will always be an issue – is that when he catches too much of the plate, it’s easy for opposing batters to make solid contact. His line drive rate hovers around 20% and his BABIP is always north of .300, meaning his WHIP will always be elevated, even though his walks are under control.

Despite the warts, he’s having a pretty decent season.

Grade: B-

Bruce Chen
3.0 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9, 3.26 ERA, 4.37 xFIP
0.7 WAR

Key Stat: Chen has a 76.5% strand rate.

If you’re looking for a reason for Chen’s solid ERA, look no further than his strand rate. It’s about three percentage points better than his career rate. If he regresses to the mean, the second half could be a bit bumpy, but given the way he’s turned his career around, I’m not certain I would bet against him.

Bringing Chen back for 2011 was a good piece of business by Dayton Moore.

Grade: B

Kyle Davies
4.0 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 7.74 ERA, 4.78 xFIP
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has thrown three quality starts in 11 overall starts. The Royals have lost all three of those games.

Dreadful.

Grade: F

Sean O’Sullivan
4.4 BB/9, 3.0 SO/9, 6.92 ERA, 5.59 xFIP
-0.5 WAR

Key Stat: His 0.69 SO/BB ratio is the worst rate among pitchers who have started more than five games this season.

Double dreadful.

Grade: F

Danny Duffy
4.3 BB/9, 7.3 SO/9, 4.85 ERA, 4.20 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat:

Duffy is just a few adjustments away from moving to the front of the rotation. Really. It all comes down to location and an economy of pitches. These are things he can adjust. The successes have been there… there will be more in the near future.

Grade: C

Aaron Crow
4.2 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9, 2.08 ERA, 3.15 xFIP
0.5 WAR

Your 2011 All-Star!

There’s going to be a ton of talk over the next couple of months about moving Crow into the rotation. Personally, I’m on the record saying that everyone from the bullpen should be given a shot at starting. Seriously, the rotation is dreadful so something needs to be done.

Now, having said that, I don’t think that Crow will ever transition back to the rotation. Part of my reasoning has to do with his performance this season. He’s walking too many guys to be a middle of the rotation starter. Also, his success this year is built around an unsustainable 90% strand rate. Then, there’s also his track record from the minors. Don’t forget, he was demoted as a starter after getting raked to the tune of a 5.66 ERA in Double-A. He followed that with a 5.93 ERA in Single-A. Yikes.

Crow seems to have found his groove as a reliever and has emerged as a dependable set-up man. Why mess with a formula that’s been successful?

Grade: A-

Tim Collins
6.6 BB/9, 7.7 SO/9, 3.74 ERA, 4.86 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Lefties are hitting .215/.381/.354 against Collins. Right handers are batting .193/.316/.301.

Collins is an enigma in more ways than one. To start, there’s his reverse split described above. Then, there’s the fact he’s walking a metric ton of batters. No pitcher who has thrown more than 30 innings has a walk rate higher than Collins.

Sadly, those walks are going to catch up with Collins. And that’s probably going to happen in the second half.

Grade: C+

Blake Wood
2.7 BB/9, 8.0 SO/9, 2.89 ERA, 3.08 xFIP
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Wood is getting a swinging strike in 9.8% of all strikes thrown.

I don’t know how he’s doing it… With a fastball straighter than a piece of dried spaghetti. But Wood has become a dependable reliever out of the bullpen. It helps that his slider is much improved as well. Still, I can’t help but worry… I’m a Royals fan.

Grade: B+

Louis Coleman
4.3 BB/9, 10.9 SO/9, 2.01 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Opponents are hitting .167/.280/.361 against Coleman.

Coleman is off to a great start and has been a versatile arm out of the pen for the club. He’s pitched multiple innings in 12 of his 27 appearances and has thrown anywhere from the sixth inning on. With the lead, in a tie game, or with the Royals down… Yost is using him in just about any situation.

His BABIP is .200 and his strand rate is a whopping 96%. There’s no way he can keep those numbers for the second half. His xFIP suggests he’s had luck on his side.

Grade: A-

Felipe Paulino
2.3 BB/9, 8.9 SO/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.24 xFIP
1.3 WAR

A revelation…

Interesting story… At the Baseball Prospectus event at the K last week, Jin Wong talked about how one of the things his job entails is to identify potential talent. Basically, looking at fringe players and deciding if there’s some upside there. If there is, and that player becomes available, they pounce. According to Wong, the club identified Paulino early in the year as a potential guy for them because he throws 95 mph (on average), strikes out a fair number of hitters and can keep the ball on the ground. So, when Paulino struggled in 18 appearances out of the pen for the Rockies, and they let him go, the Royals were ready.

Great story… You hope it’s true. Paulino has never had an ERA lower – or even close – to his xFIP, so he was always a guy with upside. Good for the Royals for grabbing him off the scrap heap when the Rockies were ready to let him go.

The Royals will need to find a few more gems in the rough like Paulino. Capable middle of the rotation guy.

Grade: B+

Nate Adcock
3.7 BB/9, 5.9 SO/9, 4.91 ERA, 4.11 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Only 2 of 12 inherited runners have scored against Adcock.

Adcock was the Rule 5 pick and the Royals have been treating him with kid gloves. He completely disappears for extended stretches. Like right now… He last pitched on July 1.

I’d like for the Royals to use him a little more frequently, especially when their starters spit the bit in the early innings. Adcock isn’t doing exceptional, but when you consider he had never pitched above A-ball prior to this year, the Royals have to be pleased with the results.

Grade: C

Greg Holland
2.2 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9, 1.08 ERA, 2.35 xFIP
0.8 WAR

Key Stat: Only 60% of all plate appearances against Holland end with the ball in play.

Many felt Holland should have been in the bullpen at the start of the season. Many were correct. He’s been lights out. Like Crow and Coleman, his strand rate is north of 90%.

Easily, the best reliever in the Royals pen.

Grade: A

Vin Mazzaro
5.5 BB/9, 3.3 SO/9, 9.25 ERA, 5.97 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: The Royals sacrificial lamb.

It is the seminal moment of the 2011 season… Ned Yost leaving Mazzaro to get his brains beat in by the Indians, allowing 14 runs in 2.1 innings.

Grade: F

Jeremy Jeffress
6.5 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 4.70 ERA, 4.40 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: A 1.50 WHIP in 15 innings of work.

Jeffress has the potential, but until he finds his control, it will remain potential. It’s not going so well in Omaha as he’s walking 6.6 per nine.

Grade: D+

Everett Teaford
3.4 BB/9, 4.0 SO/9, 2.30 ERA, 4.56 xFIP
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has a 100% strand rate.

Teaford is pitching out of his mind. A .195 BABIP and that strand rate… That’s why his xFIP is over two runs higher than his ERA.

Grade: B

Joakim Soria
2.8 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9, 4.03 ERA, 3.57 xFIP
0.2 WAR

I maintained all along that Soria would be OK… It took a “demotion” for him to find his closer mojo. That, and losing one of his cut fastballs.

Whatever, it was an ugly start. Can’t deny that. He’s already matched his career high for home runs allowed (five) and is still down about two whiffs per inning on his strikeout rate. This serves as a cautionary tale that you should never, ever overvalue your closer. Unless his name is Mariano Riveria. Had the Royals dealt Soria last winter, his value would have been at it’s maximum. According to reports, the GMDM is still asking for everything under the sun when teams call inquiring about Soria.

Hopefully, he can pitch lights out in the second half and restore some of that trade value.

Grade: C

Over the break, Dayton Moore made the proclamation that the Royals were still in the race for the AL Central. I had no idea he was an outpatient at the Menninger Clinic. The bats are in decent shape and the bullpen is strong, but the starting pitching will continue to drag this team to what will be a top three pick in next year’s draft.

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…

Ever since Major League Baseball has been classifying pitch types and publishing that data on the web, I’ve been fascinated with it. It’s not perfect, but it gives us an idea of how good each pitcher is at each particular pitch he throws. Fangraphs has taken the data a step further and attempted to quantify some of this data futher. There are numerous ways to slice and dice that data, and I’ve attempted one below.

I decided that I wanted to visualize how each of the projected Royals starters in 2011 threw each pitch in 2010. What you’ll find below is a graph I put together using Google Gadgets which attempts to do this. Each dot represents a pitch thrown by one of the 2011 Royals projected starting rotation in 2010. The size of that dot represents how often he threw that pitch. The left axis represents the velocity of the pitch. The bottom axis is the weighted value of the pitch per 100 times thrown from Fangraphs (basically how good the pitch is). If you hover your pointer over each dot, you will see whose pitch it represents. The Gadget also lets you change some of the parameters or just look at certain data points.

What I learned is that no pitcher in the 2011 rotation has a good fastball–every one of them lies in the negative territory. Vin Mazzaro has a good slider and changeup and Hochevar should probably be throwing his slider and changeup a little bit more than he does. What jumps out at you?

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

On Friday, it was announced that the Royals had signed free agent pitcher Jeff Francis to a one year contract reported to be worth $2m in guaranteed money and another $2m in incentives. Earlier in his career, the lefty was looked at as a potential ace for the Colorado Rockies. Major shoulder trouble and subsequent surgery caused him to miss the entire 2009 season. He was linked to seven different teams this offseason, however reports on his recovery and the fact he stumbled later in the 2010 season probably pushed teams away.

After trading Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, there was at least one opening in the starting rotation.  That, combined with the unlikelihood of the Royals competing for a Divison title in 2011 allowed them to offer something that other teams likely couldn’t: a chance to start every fifth day, as long as he’s healthy.  Francis joins Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur as former top prospects who are joining the Royals on one year contracts to prove to the league that they are worth signing to a longer contract. If one or more of these “show me” contract guys actually produces  in 2011, then the Royals can also flip them at the deadline for prospects, much like they did with a number of players at the end of 2010. There’s potential value for both sides in these kinds of deals.

Francis will be moving from one of the most hitter friendly parks in Coors Field to one of the more pitcher friendly parks at Kauffman.  He’s primarily a ground ball pitcher who has a low walk rate and a moderate strike out rate.  If he’d have been on the Royals last year, his walk rate would’ve been second only to Grienke among starting pitchers.  At $2m guaranteed, there is really no risk for the Royals here and potentially some real upside.  There really isn’t much to dislike about this deal.  Francis will also be reunited with his old pitching coach Bob McClure who was a worked for the Colorado Rockies organization from 1999-2005, four of which were with the AAA Colorado Springs team which Francis pitched for in 2004.

This sort of free agent signing is becoming part of Dayton Moore’s modus operandi as of late.  He likes former big time prospects who’ve fallen on tough times or struggled and are looking for one last chance to make it.  He gives them a one year deal with incentives or options and gives them an opportunity to play. From what I’ve been able to glean from quotes and from his actions, Dayton is a believer in tools. He wants guys that are athletic if unproven.  I’d guess that he believes that his instructors can teach baseball skills, but they can’t teach athleticism.  I agree with him.  However with athletic toolsy players, you run the risk that they’ll never figure out the baseball part of the equation and will eventually flame out.

Polished baseball guys who may be less toolsy but can play the game of baseball (think Willie Bloomquist) are usually more steady and predictable.  However, their upside is almost always limited.  Guys with off the charts athleticism (Jason Heyward, Rick Ankiel, etc) can be potential stars if (and it’s a big if) they can figure out the baseball part.  With that kind of potential risk, a team can’t just bank on a couple of toolsy guys to bust out, instead you have to have a bunch that you can throw against the wall to see who will stick.  Again, that’s what Dayton has been doing lately.

At the Major League level he’s brought in Francouer, Cabrera, Betemit, Cain, Francoeur, Jeffress and Francis.  All of them have been highly thought of prospects who are in general freakish atheletes.  Likely a couple of these guys will pan out, and will contribute to the team or be fodder for another trade.  It’s a risk well worth taking at this point where the Royals are.  What baffles me is why it’s taken this long to start doing this.

The bottom line is I like the acquisition of Jeff Francis by itself, but I like that it’s another piece of evidence which points to Dayton Moore making better decisions at the Major League level.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle [at] gmail [dot] com

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