Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jeff Francoeur

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.

Sure, it’s nice to take two of three from the White Sox, but the last thing you want to see is Danny Duffy exiting just three batters into the game.

Not good. Not good at all.

According to the Royals website, Duffy felt a “twinge” in his elbow on his second pitch of the game. He lasted 11 more pitches before he was pulled.

The warning signs have been there… He had a start skipped at the end of April and in his return against the Yankees on May 3, Ned Yost said Duffy, “couldn’t command his curveball at all, but he was overpowering with his fastball.” This jives with an elbow problem… The pitcher with a sore elbow has issues with location. Velocity isn’t usually affected. Indeed, much has been made of Duffy’s velocity this season. According to PITCH f/x data collected by FanGraphs, Duffy’s fastball is averaging 95.3 mph this season. That’s second only to Stephen Strasburg. (Impressive, although we have to note prior to Sunday, four of Duffy’s five starts have been at home, where the radar gun runs a little on the warm side.)

Anyway, after having difficulty commanding the curve in his first start since being skipped, Duffy really struggled in his next outing. Against the Red Sox on May 8, he walked five and consistently missed his spots up in the zone. He threw 102 pitches, but couldn’t get out of the fifth inning.

Then Sunday happened.

Now Duffy is back in Kansas City where he will get an MRI on the elbow. We hope for the best, but it’s likely he’s been dealing with this issue since his start against the Blue Jays on April 22. That start was like his outing against the Red Sox… Duffy walked five and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning while throwing 113 pitches.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think the MRI is going to bring good news. Best case scenario is a DL stint where rest is the prescription. Worst case… I’m not going to go there right now.

– The Duffy issue overshadows a late inning outburst where the Royal bats went berzerk hanging nine runs on the Sox in the final third of the game. Is it weird that the Royals have yet to have a double digit scoring game this year? Seems so. On Sunday, a ninth inning explosion where the Royals scored six runs and pushed their game total to nine, matched their previous high scoring game – a 9-11 loss against Cleveland. That was in the season opening homestand we no longer discuss.

The Royals didn’t have much life before Johnny Giavotella pinch hit for Chris Getz in the with two on and two out in the seventh.

For the record: I would much rather see Gio in the lineup instead of Getz. However, Getz has provided some value at the plate this year. He’s not a long term answer, but why not let him play everyday – even against the lefties. On the other hand, it doesn’t make any sense to call Gio up and not play him at least five or six times a week. But this is the Royals we’re talking about. Hardly any of their roster moves make sense. You already have Irving Falu up as your utility infielder, so why bring up another second baseman? It seems you either play Giavotella or find another platoon partner for Getz.

(Meanwhile, doesn’t all of this render The Yunigma irrelevant? Just a dreadful signing by GMDM and company. Actually, to call it dreadful doesn’t do it justice.)

– Yosty finally got around to shoving Eric Hosmer down in the batting order. About time. Hosmer got the day off in the finale of the Red Sox series to allow for two consecutive days away (the off day between Sox series) which made sense. Give him a mental break and a chance to simply think about getting in some work. Just like it makes sense to drop him in the order. Give him a few days with a different kind of look in the lineup and see what happens.

I know there’s a growing set of the fan base that advocates a trip to Omaha for Hosmer. I disagree. He showed last summer he’s a major league first baseman. Yes, this is a painful slump, but he needs to figure out how to work himself out of it at the major league level. He scorched Triple-A pitching last year for a month or so and more than held his own in the bigs.

Besides, don’t forget the guy still has a .171 BABIP. That number hasn’t moved in the last week. His strikeout rate is down. His walk rate is up. He just needs to have some of these hits fall in. They will.

– Jeff Francoeur hit his first home run of the year. Our long, national nightmare is over.

– Naturally, Luke Hochevar went out on Saturday and tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, walking a single batter while striking out five.

In my post from Friday, I noted that Hochevar’s issues were with his slider and how his release point shifted from the second half of last year. In the game on Saturday, his release point was fairly consistent with where it has been all season. And according to PITCH f/x, that was a relatively flat pitch. In fact, of the 21 sliders he threw, seven were put in play and five were fouled off. Hochevar didn’t get a single swing and miss with this pitch.

In this start, he recorded nine ground ball outs against seven fly balls. Hochevar lived around the plate and the Sox were up there hacking. On Saturday, it was a perfect storm of location, aggressive plate appearances and the damp, rainy afternoon.

– The Royals are 10-6 since that losing streak we don’t discuss.

Two in a row! Winning streak!

In Thursday’s game, one of the crazier things that happened was Jeff Francoeur drove a runner home with a single. Because as poorly as this team has played in the last two weeks, Frenchy has stood out as perhaps the worst offensive performer on this struggling club. Seriously… Gordon hasn’t been good, but he’s still picked up some quality plate appearances every now and again. Hosmer has a dismal BABIP, but leads the team with five home runs. No, the worst hitter in this lineup has been Francoeur and it isn’t even close.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

Let’s dive a little deeper into The Francoeur Abyss…

Francoeur has always had a strike zone that was more about zip codes than focusing on anything crossing over the 18 inch wide slab he’s standing over. Except this season he’s descended into a special kind of free swinging hell. According to Fangraphs, here is the percentage of pitches that would be called balls by a “perfect” umpire that Francoeur is swinging at over the last five seasons:

2008 – 36.3%
2009 – 36.0%
2010 – 43.4%
2011 – 41.2%
2012 – 44.3%

He’s really upped the ante the last three seasons, hasn’t he? And it’s not surprising that in the small sample that is the 2012 season, he’s at his highest rate of his career. Because when a free swinger like Frenchy starts struggling, what usually happens? Right… He expands the zone. When he should be selective – because it’s the only way he can escape – he’s taking a rip at virtually any pitch in any situation.

The average major league hitter is swinging at 45 percent of all pitches he sees this season. Francoeur is swinging at 55 percent. He’s not doing himself – or the Royals – any favors.

The complete lack of discipline is illustrated from the graph of pitches he’s offered at. He is literally swinging at everything. Most major leaguers have a weak spot. Think Eric Hosmer last summer not being able to lay off the high fastball. Francoeur’s weak spot is whatever state he’s playing in that night. Yes, the entire state.

Behold…

Just for fun, here’s the swing chart from another Royal hitter. Notice the tidy cluster of swings on fastballs inside the strike zone. I thought about having a little contest… Name that swing chart or something. But then I thought, it’s too damn obvious. The only guy on this team with that kind of discipline and strike zone management is Billy Butler. Professional Hitter. Destroyer of Country Breakfasts.

Beautiful…

It’s not a fair comparison. One is a really good hitter, the other isn’t. I present them both merely to illustrate the extremes.

So not only is Francoeur swinging at more pitches outside the zone, his contact has been dreadful. I know the Royals broadcasters have been talking about how he’s “due” to hit a home run. Right. The only problem is, in order to hit a home run, you have to get the ball in the air. Currently, Francoeur has a 1.94 GB/FB ratio. Over half the balls he’s put into play have been on the ground. (52.3% of all balls in play have been grounders.) It might actually be preferable that he miss a pitch. Amazingly, that’s not a problem. The problem is the miserable contact that comes with taking miserable swings at miserable pitches.

The results have been incredibly maddening. He’s hit into four double plays in 20 opportunities (as defined by having a runner on first and less than two outs.) He has a grand total of four walks and four extra base hits. And he’s come to the plate with 44 runners on base and has brought home three. Three. That’s an RBI rate of 7 percent. That’s not good.

The Royals have won two games in a row where they have scored a total of 12 runs. Which is fantastic. But the allegiance to Francoeur and his place in the lineup needs to stop. Yosty won’t send him to the bench, but he needs to drop him to eighth or ninth in the order until he modifies his ridiculous approach and begins driving the ball in the air a little more. But asking Francoeur to be more selective at the plate is like asking a Kardashian to shun attention. Probably not going to happen. So at the very least, he needs to drop until he stops hitting so many damn ground balls.

Right now, this season feels like a replay of Francoeur’s 2010, when he hit .237/.293/.369 for the Mets before they had seen enough and shipped him to Texas for Joaquin Arias. If Francoeur is still performing at his current level when Lorenzo Cain comes back, (which is entirely possible, no matter how long Cain is out) the Royals shouldn’t hesitate… They should play Cain in center, Mitch Maier in right and sit Frenchy’s butt on the bench.

Last year’s free agent success turns into this year’s extension nightmare. Well played, Dayton. Well played.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Nick Scott


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

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

That’s unfortunate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– A1. Domination. The Sequel.

– Johnny Giavotella tearing up Triple-A pitching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2008, Jeff Francoeur went from budding superstar to a guy who hit .239/.294/.359.   From that point forward, it became something of a running joke that it was only a matter of time before Frenchy became a Kansas City Royal.

When Francoeur actually did re-unite with Dayton Moore prior to the 2011 season (signing for a modest $2.5 million coming off a .249/.300./383 season), the deal was mocked, ridiculed and generally lambasted by pretty much anyone and everyone not getting a paycheck with a big crown in the lefthand corner.   This was, as many said, just another sign that the Royals don’t really get it.   For the previous three years, Francoeur had been a cumulative +0.1 WAR.  He had never been a good on-base guy and now had become a flailing free swinger who didn’t even hit for power.   Even his once Gold Glove level fielding seemed to be in decline.

Personally, I was sort of ambivalent about the signing.   After all, who exactly was going to play in right field?   Keep in mind, Frenchy came on board before Melky Cabrera and before the Greinke trade.   All things considered and with all the young prospects not expected to be in Kansas City until late in the year at the earliest, it seemed to be a low risk deal:  albeit one with little chance of success.   Even with the goofy mutual option tagged on it was still better than Jose Guillen for three years.

Oh, Dayton Moore, you glorious…..

Francoeur, long known to be a ‘good clubhouse guy’, was actually just that.  I know that stuff gets shoved in the faces of us non-baseball insiders with such a high level of condescension that it is quickly and often disparaged, but it does matter.   Frenchy brings a big personality:  fun loving, a little (maybe a lot) nuts, a leader.   I was not a big fan of the type of leadership that a Mike Sweeney brought to the clubhouse – Sweeney may be one of the very best people in the world, but I’m not sure that translated well into a sports leadership role.  I was certainly not a fan of the grim, prickly type of leadership that Jason Kendall brought – certainly, Kendall was outstanding professional in how he went about the business of baseball, but the grumpy old man in a foxhole routine wore thin at least to those of us outside the organization.  Without question, I was definitely not a fan of the ‘big’ personality that Jose Guillen brought to the clubhouse – there’s eclectic, then there’s crazy and then there’s just being a jerk.  Jose combined them all.

Again, I have no real insight into the clubhouse, but Jeff Francoeur seemed to balance personality, fun and leadership as well as almost anyone to put on a Royal uniform in recent history.  What was nice about all that was that, for once, the guy being pumped as a great clubhouse leader was also actually, you know, playing good baseball.

Frenchy’s .285/.329/.476 line, .346 wOBA and 2.9 fWAR were right on par with any of the best years of his career and by far the best season Jeff had since 2007.   He came out of the gate hot, slumped through May and June, but rallied to have a solid second half.   Jeff held his own against right handed pitching and thrashed lefties.

Frenchy’s  walk and strikeout rates were right in line with his career (surprisingly, when Jeff was truly awful from 08-10, he posted his lowest strikeout rates and highest walk rate).   However, after swinging at pitches 57% of the time in 2009 and 2010, Francoeur swung at 54% in 2011:  basically the same as earlier in his career.    That is still a good nine percent about league average, but better than he had been doing.    After being double digit percentage points above the league average in swinging at pitches both inside and outside of the strikezone, that Francoeur reduced that to 9% above league average in both categories is a noticeable change.

That change and likely simply being in ‘the best shape of his life’ turned Francouer’s always near league average contact rate (despite swinging at, well, everything) into more good contact.    His HR/FB percentage jumped to 10.3% after languishing from three years down around seven.   Jeff’s line drive percentage was nearly 20%, driving his BABIP to .323.   That number is above league average, but not ‘crazy lucky’ above average.

There exists the real possibility that a modest change in approach at the plate in 2011 might carry forward through the life of Francoeur’s new two year/$13.75 million contract.   Jeff will never sport a good on-base percentage, but he might sustain the rediscovered slugging that deserted him in the latter portion of the last decade.

ZiPS projects a .273/.314/.437 2012 for Francoeur (OPS+102), which would be a bit disappointing, but not line-up destroying either.   In theory, should Mike Moustakas come along as is hoped, Frenchy could find himself comfortably batting between Billy Butler and Moose and hence, seeing more good pitches.   I don’t foresee Jeff having a better year than 2011, but sandwiched in the middle of a more potent offensive lineup, I am not sure it is much of a stretch to have him come closer to what he did last year than he does to the ZiPS projection.

We know this much:  Jeff Francoeur will play everyday (in 5.5 seasons, he has played in 998 games), he will be a positive influence for a young team, and he will take a cannon of an arm with him to the outfield.   We also know, that right now, Frenchy blocks no one.

I wrote about David Lough last week and we pretty much know what we have in Mitch Maier (not a whole lot).  At this point, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are both unknowns at the major league level and Wil Myers is not ready.   Francoeur could revert to doing Angel Berroa impersonations at the plate and become a free swinging black hole in the middle of the 2012 lineup.   That would certainly keep the Royals from any dreams of contention this coming year, but it does not really harm the organizational process as a whole.

Could Dayton Moore have spent the money more wisely this off-season?  Maybe.   Maybe it gets the Royals an Edwin Jackson, but at the expense of an empty spot in the everyday lineup.   Is the 2013 portion of the contract going to be a problem?  Maybe.   The risk really is not Jeff Francoeur flopping badly in 2012, but that his money and presence in 2013 might hinder the Royals from contending.

For 2012, I don’t mind Jeff Francoeur playing rightfield everyday for the Kansas City Royals.  In fact, I actually look forward to it.

xxx

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now what? 

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

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

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

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

xxx

 

 

We’re getting closer to firing up the hot stove, so this seems to be a great time to look at the Royals contract obligations for the upcoming season.

Guaranteed Money
Billy Butler – $8 million
Jeff Francoeur – $6.75 million
Aaron Crow – $1.1 million

The Butler contract hits the second year arbitration escalator. And if that number seems hefty for a player with that kind of service time, remember he signed for less that he submitted to the Royals prior to the arbitration process last year. According to FanGraphs, Butler’s production was worth $8.1 million. And that was probably the least productive year of his last three. Still a good piece of business by GMDM, I say. Even if he clogs the bases. That number does not include what is thought to be a pro-rated signing bonus of $500k.

The Frenchy money is an estimate based on his two-year, $13.5 million extension.

The Crow deal is a leftover from his major league deal signed after the 2009 draft.

Options
Joakim Soria – $6 million ($750k buyout)

No-brainer. The option would have escalated to $6.5 million if he had become a starter. But he didn’t.

First Year Arbitration Eligible
Mitch Maier – $459k
Chris Getz – $443k
Aaron Laffey – $432k

Laffey, as I wrote earlier, is insurance. The deadline to offer contracts for the 2012 season is December 12. If GMDM isn’t able to bring in a couple of bullpen arms by then, Laffey will get tendered a contract. Simple as that. He could be gone before then if the Royals are super aggressive and need the room on the 40-man roster.

Maier would probably get around $650k, I imagine. That’s not too much for a fourth outfielder. Do the Royals want to dip into the prospect pool for the fourth guy? I don’t think so. They know what they have in Maier… A guy who shows up, works hard and doesn’t complain. (And when they’re short an arm, he can pitch!) If they’re really looking to save a few bucks, the could bring up David Lough. Clearly, they don’t think of him as anything more than a fourth outfielder at this point. I’d rather they spend a few hundred thousand more and keep Our Mitch around for another season.

And you know my opinion on Getz. There’s no reason for him to be tendered a contract. He’s a utility player without utility. The Royals picked up their 2012 utility guy when they grabbed Yamaico Navarro from the Red Sox. He may play with less GRIT, but he can play more positions.

Second Year Arbitration Eligible
Brayan Pena – $660k
Felipe Paulino – $790k
Luke Hochevar – $1.76 million

Pena is an interesting case. He stands to make around $800k next year, but has confirmed that he can’t play defense and the lone reason for him to be kept around – his OPB ability – has vanished. Manny Pina would be an adequate backup and the Royals have gone on the record saying they don’t think they need to have a veteran catcher on the roster. Besides, with new bench coach Chino Cadahia in the fold, there’s the catching experience right there. I don’t think Pena will be tendered a contract.

Paulino and Hochevar are no-doubters. MLB Trade Rumors has Paulino doubling his salary to around $1.6 million. Given he proved to be a durable and decent starter for the Royals, I can’t argue with that. Hochevar will get a nice raise as well. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million.

Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Alex Gordon – $1.4 million

This is where the Royals are going to have to reach for their pocketbooks. Gordon was worth $31 million on the open market based on his 2011 production. Obviously, he’s not going to get that kind of coin, but it just gives you some perspective at how good he was for the Royals last year. Domination.

Gordon lacks a solid track record and that’s kept his salary depressed as he enters his third go around on the arbitration wheel. It will continue to hurt him here, as he stands to get a raise somewhere around $5 million. That’s assuming the Royals don’t do the right thing and extend him.

Fourth Year Arbitration Eligible
Melky Cabrera – $1.25 million

Cast off from the Braves last year, the Melk-Man took a hefty pay cut to play for the Royals. He made $3.1 million in 2010. Look for him to bounce to the $4 million range.

Free Agents
Bruce Chen
Jeff Francis
Jason Kendall

Sigh… Another Kendall sighting. Last one. Promise.

Chen projects to be a Type B free agent which means the Royals could be in line for some compensation if they offer him arbitration. Last winter, Chen shopped for a two-year deal, but returned to the Royals when it was obvious he couldn’t find a taker. He’ll be looking for something similar this time around. And again, I think he will have some problem finding what he’s looking for. He’s proven himself, but as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently put it, it’s “Bruce F’n Chen.”

I think the Royals will offer Chen arbitration. At least, they should. If he accepts, the Royals have a serviceable starter for around $3.5 million. If he declines, they get a supplemental. Win-win.

Assuming Getz and Pena are non-tendered, and assuming Laffey sticks and Chen departs as a free agent, the Royals are somewhere in the range of $38 million for their guaranteed and arbitration contracts. Add another $7 million for the remaining 15 players filling out the roster (assuming each of the remaining players have less than three years of service time), and you have a current projected payroll of close to $45 million. Probably a little more because they will certainly have a couple of guys on the 25 man roster that aren’t currently in the picture.

Of course, this is all extremely preliminary. Trades will be made. It’s possible a free agent may be lured to KC. What this represents is a snapshot in time of where the Royals are with their payroll. I’ll revisit this from time to time this winter. It will be interesting to see how the off season payroll evolves.

Gun Show

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I’ve said this several times in 2011: This is my favorite Royals team in recent memory. Bottom line, it’s just a fun bunch of position players to watch on a nightly basis. Part of the enjoyment comes from the gun show the Royals outfield produces on a consistent basis. Whether it’s Alex Gordon gunning down runners at the plate, Jeff Francoeur delivering perfect strikes to third or Melky Cabrera doing whatever it is he does, the trio of outfielders has been a defensive highlight reel. Amazing fun.

I suspect when we look back at 2011, one of the first things that will jump to mind is the plethora of outfield assists.

With that in mind, here are some cool stats on the Royals outfield:

– Twenty of the Royals outfield assists have come from Gordon in left field. That’s the most assists from that position in the majors. Houston is second with 14.

– We always say something like, “When will teams learn not to run on Gordon (and the Royals)?” when a runner is gunned down on the bases. Evidence shows the opposition is paying attention. Forty-four times this year a runner has been on second when Gordon has fielded the ball in left, and 24 of those times, the third base coach has thrown up the stop sign. That’s 55%. Only Cleveland left fielders are shown more respect, with runners stopping at third 60% of the time. (I have no reason why this would be the case.)

– Cabrera has thrown out only one runner at third this year, but he’s gunned down five runners at the plate.

– Royals right fielders (mostly Francoeur with some Mitch Maier spotted from time to time) have a 5.7% kill rate (defined by Baseball Reference as the percentage of plays where a baserunner was thrown out trying to advance.) That’s the highest percentage among right fielders.

– That percentage is second among all outfield positions. First place is held by Royals left fielders at 6%.

– Assists at home:

Royals LF – 10
Royals RF – 9
Angels RF – 7
Dodgers CF – 6
Royals CF – 5*

The five assists at home by Royals center fielders is tied with several other teams.

– Mitch Maier has one assist.

– Baseball Info Solutions has a number called Outfield Arms Above Average. Basically, it’s a look at the number of runs above average the outfielder was worth based on his baserunner kills and baserunner advances. Here are the leaders for 2011:

Alex Gordon – 11
Jeff Francoeur – 8
Rick Ankiel – 8

Six players are tied at six runs above average.

– Melky is at -1. That’s surprising if you just look at the number of runners he’s thrown out. But the fact is, more runners take chances against Cabrera in center than either of the Royals corner outfielders.

The Gun Show has been one of the more impressive and enjoyable developments of 2011. The good news: The Show will be held over for the 2012 season. We’ll get a chance to enjoy it all over again.

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

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

The Sure Things

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

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

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

Destined for Better Things?

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

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