Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jeff Francoeur

What a game… Dead for eight plus innings, the Cardiac Royals plate one in the ninth and one in the tenth. Unreal.

They won, despite the reappearance of the the 2009 vintage of the Royals. Not the team I once called, “Fundamentally worse than a junior varsity high school team.”

But, damn if they aren’t back. At least on the bases.

– In the first, Alex Gordon was caught stealing with Eric Hosmer at the plate.

– In the sixth, Melky Cabrera was picked off first when he broke for second too early against the left-handed throwing Holland.

– In that same inning, Jeff Francoeur was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double.

One word about the caught stealings… The Royals no longer use advance scouts. Instead, they rely on video. I recommend they invest in an internet connection. One quick check of Baseball Reference reveals that Derek Holland has had 84 stolen base opportunities against him this season. Meaning, there have been 84 instances where a runner has been on either first or second and the next base has been open. Of those 84 chances to steal, opposing runners have made the attempt only two times. Two out of 84. In other words, nobody is running against Holland this year. And when they do… they’ve been caught. That’s right. There hasn’t been a successful steal against Holland all year.

If the Royals only had internet connection at the K, they could have avoided two outs on the bases. If only…

So of course, three batters into the game, the Go-Go Royals try to run. Of course.

There’s aggressive base running and there’s stupid base running. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. And guess which side of the line the Royals have been falling over the last week.

Sure, those pickoffs in the ninth on Wednesday’s game were balks. But Aviles should have been aware of what was going on. Then, I just have a real difficult time moving past Coach Treanor getting picked off of second base on a snap throw by the catcher on Tuesday. I can understand it happening at first… But second? Seriously?

While the base running has been fundamentally awful, the defense has been solid with Alcides Escobar taking charge up the middle. That play in the fifth where Betemit knocked down a line drive and Escobar came over from short to pick the ball up and get the force at second was just the kind of heads up play we never used to see. This kid is worth the price of admission to watch him with the glove.

The outs on the bases and lack of scoring overshadowed the best start of the year for Luke Hochevar. The only blemish was a fat second inning pitch to Chris Davis who sent it into the right field bullpen. The thing was, Hochevar seemed to get stronger over the final third of the game. He retired nine in a row before a soft single in the ninth – and then a rocket finally chased him from the game.

He struck out only four – two of them in the top of the ninth – so I wouldn’t call his performance dominant. But he was doing a great job of locating his pitches and setting up hitters all night. His sinker was doing it’s job – he got 11 ground balls compared to nine in the air – and it was enough to get him through 8.2 innings on a season-high 113 pitches.

It was a savvy performance. Good to see.

Then there was the ninth…

Hosmer led off with a single that was scorched up the middle. Hammered. Dustin Pedroia thinks he used to put on Laser Shows? He has nothing compared to Hos. Then, Francoeur reaches on a single. That was practically a given. In 15 ninth inning plate appearances this year, Frenchy has four hits, five walks and two sac flies. A nice piece of hitting where he went with the pitch and lined it to right.

That sets everything up for Billy Butler… I thought he was on track with a seventh inning single. Sadly, it was not to be as he elevated just a bit too much on a late swing (although he was likely trying to send the ball to right) and hit a soft fly out. Then Feliz ran the count to 3-2 on both Betemit and Aviles. Aviles had a 10 pitch at bat where every Feliz offering was between 97 and 100 mph. Straight gas and Aviles hits a perfectly placed dribbler back up the middle to score Hosmer to tie the game. Tons of credit to Aviles there. His last hit was Saturday in Detroit. He battled, fouling off heater after heater before just putting the ball in play. Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Back to back blown saves for Feliz. He won’t get a chance for a third… Not after throwing 32 pitches to get two outs.

And the tenth…

The second best thing about the tenth was the fact we got to see another Escobar highlight pick at short. And Hosmer flashing the leather on the short hop was something to see as well. Just a fine defensive play from those two. I can see that happening several times over the next six or seven seasons.

The best thing about the tenth was the fact the Royals had the top of the order… This was there chance. I just can’t say enough about Hosmer. That kid is just ice. And then Frenchy… I don’t want to, but I love the guy.

The team was frustrated for eight plus innings, but Hochevar kept them in the game and they pushed through in the ninth and tenth. Just a great game. Really – aside from the boneheaded base running – an outstanding game to watch.

No balks tonight. Just a win.

So I’m thinking of just giving up and joining the French Quarter section in right field and becoming a member of the Jeff Francoeur Fan Club.

Why not? The guy continues to rake. A game-tying home run in the bottom of the sixth and the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth… Good enough for me.

It’s not going to last… Not with a walk rate of 5.7% and a 15.6% HR/FB rate. We can talk all we want to about an alleged change in approach, but I don’t think he’s doing anything differently. Just getting some big hits.

Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the show.

And maybe I’m a sucker, but after watching a couple of inept fielders patrol right field for the last several seasons, it’s nice to see a guy who can actually play some defense. He made a nice play going back on a ball last night and collected another assist.

Really, you can’t have a much better game than the one Francoeur had last night.

I’m on board. For now.

Meanwhile, I’m really starting to question what goes on in a Ned Yost dugout. I’ve criticized him for his bullpen management and for what I consider to be over management at times with excessive pinch runners and some other odd in-game decisions.

Last night was simply inexplicable for other reasons.

How in the world do you let Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz bat with the winning run in scoring position? Fortunately, Escobar hit the ball on the nose and produced a sharp grounder to short that Robert Andino couldn’t handle. (Really too bad the official scorer didn’t throw Escobar a bone and give him a hit. I was driving around last night and heard Denny at one point say, “Escobar is 0-2 tonight.” Denny has probably said that sentence about 25 times this season.)

So at this point in the game, you have the winning run on third with one out. To let Getz walk to the plate in this situation is managerial malpractice. In a situation where you need at least a fly ball to score a run, you’re letting a guy with a 30% fly ball rate try to bring him in. Nevermind the fact that the odds of Getz collecting a base hit are long. And as we saw, even a ground ball wasn’t enough to get the run home for the win. Crazy.

Sometimes, I like to give the manager the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he wants to play the percentages with the lefty Getz hitting against the right-handed Jason Berken. Only one problem with that line of thought… Both Kila Ka’aihue and Mitch Maier are on the bench. And as we know, both are left-handed batters.

Again, this inactivity from Yost defies logic. He must have taken a nap in the ninth.

Of course, it could be argued that Brayan Pena – who was on second for Escobar and third for Getz should have been lifted for a pinch runner. Namely Maier. How big of an uproar would there have been had Getz muscled a fly ball to shallow right, only to have had Pena gunned down at the plate. We all know if there was going to be a pinch runner Yost has to have Jarrod Dyson. Despite the ankle sprain, the Royals insist he’s available. I have to differ with this assessment. If he was healthy, he would have been on second practically before Pena touched the bag on his double.

– At the end of the night, the Royals had four hitters with an OPS north of .900. Alex Gordon (.913), Billy Butler (.917), Jeff Francoeur (.956) and Wilson Betemit (.902) form a comfortable middle of the order. Part of why everyone is so giddy about this start is because we’ve finally got a middle of the lineup that can actually, you know… produce.

Of course, it might not always be this way. Still, it’s real easy to enjoy.

– The question has been making the rounds… When do we start to worry about Escobar’s bat. Still love the defense, but after last night, his OPS dipped to .498. Not good.

– For those who are worried about Soria, the good news is, he missed a couple of bats last night. Including a swinging strikeout on Nick Markakis. For those of you who lean to the pessimist side of the equation, it’s not that big of an accomplishment to get Markakis out on strikes. At least this season. That guy is in a horrible, horrible place, hitting just .207/.276/.288 in his first 28 games.

Soria also looked to have better command of his curveball. Although he wasn’t able to get the strike call.

Episode #052 – In which I take a look back at the Cleveland Indians series, discuss lineups, the inability of the pen to get out lefties and preview the series with the Minnesota Twins. Aaron Stilley drops by to talk about Jeff Francoeur’s approach and Alcides Escobar’s bat.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs052.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Aaron on Twitter @kc_baseball and check out his articles on Francoeur and Escobar

Music used in this podcast

Phish – Wilson

Arcade Fire – Wake Up

RJD2 – Smoke & Mirrors

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While is is cliche to say an off-day came at a good time, this Monday break in the schedule came at  a good time for the Royals.    Fresh off a sweep at the hands of the Rangers, who were playing without Josh Hamilton and Neftali Feliz, and losers of six of their last eight games, this young Kansas City team needs to check itself before it wrecks itself.

More than anything, I am hoping this off-day allows the team to truly take a breath and realize it still has a chance to be much better than virtually all of us thought they could be.    Certainly, the Royals are not going to win ten of every fifteen games as they did to start the season, but they should not perceive themselves as a team that is going to lose six of eight, either.

In those six losses, only one was a true beat down (the 11-6 loss to open the Texas series).    In every other game, even yesterday, Kansas City was a key hit or a key hold away from tying or winning.   That is not the sign of a team with no hope.   It is, however, a sign of a team with five rookies in the bullpen and whose best player this year was widely regarded as bust last year.    There is not a whole lot that the organization can do about those facts, other than keep playing and get enough good fortune for the team to continue to believe.

I know, belief is one of those touchy feelly things that we tend to discount, but there is some merit to the simple fact that a player thinks something is going to happen to help his team win as opposed to thinking something is going to happen to make his team lose.    We have been on the losing side of that equation with a number of Royals teams this century.   Thus far, and it is early, the 2011 Royals seem to be avoiding the ‘loser mentality’.   Doing so, warranted or not, going forward will certainly not hinder this organization’s drive back to respectability.

You wonder if Ned Yost is going to spend a considerable amount of his off-day time thinking about his lineup after seeing Mike Aviles go three for five yesterday with two home runs and a steal.    Aviles, who is ninth on the team in plate appearances has gone 10 for 27 after starting the year 3 for 28 and currently has a slugging percentage greater than everyone on the team not named Francouer.

The snag is that the two guys in direct competition with Aviles for playing team, Wilson Betemit and Chris Getz, each had two hits yesterday.   Getz, who was in a 3 for 31 stretch prior to yesterday, would seem to be playing his way out of the lineup….if we applied the same principals to his performance as the Royals applied to that of Aviles to start the year.

Quite obviously, you cannot take Wilson Betemit (.364/.424/.509) out of the lineup anytime soon and the organization is going to give Kila Ka’aihue more at-bats whether you like it or not, so the equation comes down to this:

  • Aviles – .236/.271/.527 with 4 steals and 9 extra base hits
  • Getz – .240/.330/.280 with 5 steals and 2 extra base hits

You make the call on this one, but I go with Aviles based on the above and the fact that he has two seasons worth of hitting decently well on his resume.

Speaking of Betemit (sort of), there has been discussion around whether he should be hitting fifth instead of Jeff Francouer.  My gut reaction when Yost moved Ka’aihue down in the order was that he should, but it is a very minor issue at this point given how Jeff Francouer is hitting.   Currently on a .325/.370/.566 run, I don’t think you do anything to mess with Frenchy right now.

Now, Francouer has had streaks similar to this before.   After being traded to the Mets in 2009, Jeff hit .311/.338/.498 over a 75 game run.   Those numbers are not at all dissimilar to those of his rookie season, albeit with a less power.   While this is likely just another hot streak in a notorious hackers career, I will point out that with 7 walks in 21 games, Francouer is on pace to walk over 50 times this year:  well above his career high.   Right now, Jeff’s early numbers in a very small sample size bear a distinct resemblance to his 2007 season.   I would take that year’s result of .293/.338/.444 with 40 doubles and 19 home runs, wouldn’t you?

The off-day has also allowed or caused Ned Yost to skip Sean O’Sullivan in the starting rotation this time around.  Normally, that would all make perfect sense to me, but O’Sullivan is coming off two good starts.   In addition, is it wise to go out of your way to get an extra start for Luke Hochevar, who has never pitched more than 143 major league innings in one season, and Jeff Francis, who admittedly wore down last year?

Finally, if you would rather think about baseball instead of work on this Monday, check the Royals’ schedule through the end of May and give us a guess on what their record will be over the next thirty-three games.   Also, if you happen to see any series in there that we might consider ‘a break’, please let me know.   From my perspective, this team is about to embark a pretty rugged stretch of games.

Robinson Tejeda… Something isn’t right with this dude. Last year, his average fastball was around 94 mph with some serious life. Last night, he was living around 88-89 mph while sometimes dialing it up to 92. Interestingly enough, his fastest pitch was his last pitch – a 92.7 mph four-seamer he left right down the middle of the plate that was smoked for the game winning hit by Danny Valencia.

It was pretty clear from the four pitch walk to the second batter Tejeda faced (Michael Cuddyer) that this game was going to end in an ugly fashion for the Royals. What was Ned Yost thinking at this point? Unfortunately, it appears he wasn’t thinking at all. Ripping a page from the Trey Hillman Managerial Handbook, Yost sat on his hands while the game crumbled. Of course, the obvious gripe will be that Joakim Soria should have been in the game. Put me in this camp. Although I also understand that in an extra inning game on the road, you have to save him for the bottom of the inning just in case you take the lead in the top half of the inning. You just have to. (Emphasis added to underscore the sarcasm.) This argument is a dead horse. There are a lot of things about Yost that I like, but we can’t forget that he’s a major league manager, and as a major league manager he is expected to do things in a certain way. By The Book, if you will. Yost doesn’t strike me as a guy who would like to be tagged as an innovator. There’s just no way Soria will ever enter the game in that situation. Moot point.

Moving on, while Soria isn’t even going to warm up without a lead in extras, there was no reason Yost couldn’t have grabbed any warm body out in the pen. I don’t care who… Adcock, Jeffress, even Texeira. The point is, Tejeda was struggling (again.) If you’re truly trying to win the ballgame, you can’t watch what happened with the first two batters and do nothing. Yost fell asleep at the switch. I’m not going to say his inaction last night cost the Royals the game, but it didn’t help.

If you were managing like it was 2010, maybe you stick with Tejeda. He should be a better pitcher than the remaining guys in the bullpen. But this is 2011, and he’s not a better pitcher. At least so far in this young season.

Now we have to wonder what’s next for Tejeda. I’m thinking trip to the DL is happening, and I’m hoping it’s soon. He’s faced 26 batters this year, allowed 12 of them to reach base and has struck out just one.

Of course we wouldn’t be talking about any of this, had the Royals come through in the top of the seventh with runners on first and third and no one out. The Royals had just forced Brian Duensing out of the game after the Melk Man tagged him (literally) on a shot back up the middle. Enter Jose Mijares, a LOOGY who promptly overmatches left-handed hitting Alex Gordon on heat that was up and running away. Yes, you want Gordon to just put the bat on the ball in that situation, but it really felt like an unfair fight. The last pitch was up and probably out of the zone, but the action of it running away from the left-handed hitter made it a difficult pitch to handle. And given the moving strike zone all night (more on that in a moment) I can’t fault Gordon for the swing and the miss.

For me, the next at bat was much more frustrating because Matt Capps served up a couple of fastballs that Billy Butler really should have done something with. He was out in front of the first pitch and jerked it foul down the left field line, but that was a belt high fastball on the inner half. Right in his wheelhouse. If he had timed it right, it’s at least a sac fly, maybe more. The third (and final) pitch was just ridiculously hittable, and Butler dropped the barrel of the bat and popped out.

As frustrating as the first two outs… Jeff Francoeur. As I tweeted during the game, the Frenchy at bat carried an air of inevitability. Two outs, runner on third in a tie game and the three and four hitters had already failed. The pressure squarely on, Francoeur illustrated why you can’t count on him because his pitch selection is just so horrible. And of course, after he swings at a couple of pitches out of the zone, he takes strike three.

Before I’m blasted in the comments section about hating on Francoeur, let me talk about how much I liked his defense last night. Yes, he didn’t get to that ball in the 10th, but he had a long way to go and that wind was playing tricks. Good effort, and I really thought he had it. (Wouldn’t have made a difference with Yost sitting on his hands in the dugout.) Still, he recovered quickly and a strong throw prevented the game from ending right there. Then, there was the play on the Justin Morneau lineout where he was able to double Joe Mauer off first base. Solid. (And worth at least one point, I assume.)

A couple of other notes…

- It will be interesting to see the lineup for this afternoon’s game. It made sense to sit Kila Ka’aihue against the left-handed starter, especially given how he’s struggled in the early going. Mike Aviles isn’t doing much better, but Wilson Betemit has to be in the lineup from here on out. Maybe we’ll start to see a Kila/Aviles platoon until one of these guys comes around. If this is the case, Kila will be out today against Francisco Liriano.

- Loved the Tim Collins/Jim Thome matchup last night. The camera angle from Target Field really showed where Collins is (or isn’t) on the rubber. He’s practically throwing from the third base dugout.

- Aaron Crow is quickly becoming one of my favorite relievers because the guy works fast and doesn’t nibble. I get the feeling he knows what he wants to do with the next pitch before he’s done with the one he’s currently delivering. There might be some temptation to shift him to the rotation, especially given how Kyle Davies has performed and we’re a couple of days away from a Sean O’Sullivan start. The Royals will be wise to keep him in the bullpen for a couple of reasons. One, he projects as a reliever. That’s just his strength. And two, he’s a rookie. Let him learn how to pitch in the majors coming out of the bullpen. I love that old school philosophy. This way, it’s possible he could contribute to the rotation down the road.

- Presented without comment… Last night’s strike zone.

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…

I don’t plan on doing this all year, because quite frankly, it would be exhausting. But the fact the Kansas City Star is running the “Judging The Royals” blog again this summer begs at least a one-time rebuttal.

(Honestly, I wouldn’t even be aware they were doing this if it hadn’t been for a barrage of Tweets Nick unleashed a few days ago.)

For the uninitiated (consider yourselves lucky) this web feature from the Star has their political cartoonist (and avid baseball fan) Lee Judge watching every Royals game and subjectively grading what he sees. He assigns points based on things like a great catch or a home run or an RBI. In the old days – when newspapers were the primary source of news – this would have been a novel idea. However, in the years AJ (After James) there are a number of systems available to determine who had the greatest impact in a game. And none of them have to do with adding up points.

For Opening Day, Judge, though the system devised by Ron Polk, deemed Jeff Francoeur the most valuable Royal of the day. If you just look at the box score, I can get that, I suppose. He hit a home run, drove in a run and gunned down a runner at home in the eighth. That’s a decent day.

If you watched the game, you probably would have drawn a different conclusion.

The Royals entered the eighth inning trailing by three runs. According to statistics (developed by guys who, you know, look at numbers) the Royals stood an 8.9% chance of winning the game at that point. When Aviles led off the inning with a home run, that cut the Angels lead to two and slightly increased the Royals chances of winning the game to 17%. At that point, it was kind of a one man rally.

Obviously, at any point in the game, one of two things can happen. A player can either help or hurt his teams chances of winning the game. It’s helpful to get on base (or hit a home run) and outs hurt. Of course, what stats like Win Probability and Leverage Index do is take into account the game situation. Under the Polk system that Judge uses, Francoeur’s home run in the seventh is worth the same as Aviles home run in the eighth. The great thing about WP and LI is you don’t need to know advanced mathematics to know that the assumption that both home runs are equal in value just isn’t true. Yes, they are both worth a single run, but there is a difference because one comes later in the game. Each team begins with an equal number of outs and as the outs become more scarce, the value of a run (in a tight game like the opener) becomes much greater. I’ve written this before, but it makes sense. A leadoff home run is nice because it gives your team the lead, but there are still 27 outs to go. A home run in the eighth that gives your team the lead carries more weight because there are only four to six outs to go.

The flip side is also true. If a player makes an out with the bases loaded in the first inning of a tie game, it’s not as harmful if that same event occurs in the eighth. Again, it all goes back to what I call the scarcity of outs.

That is exactly what Ron Polk’s system ignores.

The key play in the game last Thursday wasn’t even a hit. It was a walk.
After the Aviles home run, Melky Cabrera walked. That increased the Royals chances of a comeback to 24.9%. See how that works? Yes, the Aviles home run was important, but the Melk Man getting the free pass was almost equal in importance because it brought the tying run to the plate with six outs to go. After an Alex Gordon ground out (cutting the Royals chances to win to 19.8%), Billy Butler walks. With runners on first and second and one out, that bumps the Royals chances back to were it was previous to the Gordon groundout – 25.8%. And now, believe it or not, comes the most important plate appearance in the game for the Royals in that after it was over, it gave the Royals their best chance of winning the game all afternoon. Kila Ka’aihue walked to load the bases. In a game where the home side is trailing by two with one out and the bases drunk, the team (the Royals) held a 38% chance of emerging victorious. That base on balls by Kila was the closest the Royals got to winning the game since Torii Hunter uncorked his home run to give the Angels the advantage in the third.

That’s why that walk would be my Royals play of the game.

So who happens to come up with the bases loaded and with the Royals holding their best (and it turned out, last) chance to pick up the win? Jeff Francoeur… Judge’s player of the game.

With the game on the line, the ideal (and obvious) outcome would be for a base hit. A walk (yeah, right) would be fine. A fly ball would be OK. Even a ground ball could be productive if Frenchy could bust it down the line and beat a throw. The two worst outcomes for his plate appearance would be a double play (which would end the inning) or a strikeout (which would subtract an out from the Royals “bank” without advancing the runners.)

And Frenchy struck out.

Sorry, Lee… There’s just no way Francoeur can be the best player on the Royals that afternoon when he struck out with the game on the line in the late innings. No. Way.

Despite being on the wrong side of the POG debate, I don’t begrudge the Star or Mr. Judge to run the feature. I believe that baseball is a big tent of ideas… Stats and scouts… And we can – and should – coexist. Sometimes your eyes tell you something that stats can’t… And sometimes stats tell you Let them have their exercise. It just so happens that I disagree. That doesn’t make me right… But I do have this platform where I can refute and rebut. (In fact, Lee, if you’re reading this, we should go to a game together sometime. I imagine we would have a great time debating value of certain plays.)

I hope his readers know that there are plenty of other options out there that measures value on a game by game basis. I hope they explore the interwebs to find a good alternative.

We spend a lot of time discounting spring training results and, for those organizations that traditionally are out of it by then, we even view September statistics with a skeptical eye.   An 18-8 September?  Let’s not jump to conclusions.   A great spring?   So what.

Yet, come Opening Day, that one game out of 162 seems to be more than enough for many to draw immediate conclusions:

  • Alex Gordon went zero for five with three strikeouts – same ol’ Alex.
  • Mike Aviles had an error and another misplay at third – that’s going to be a problem, he’s all bat and no glove
  • Kila Ka’aihue didn’t have a hit – he might just have slider bat speed.
  • Aaron Crow struck out three of the four hitters he faced – he’s fantastic, best draft pick ever!

You get my point…or my sarcasm and many of you reading this site know better.   Still, there is that nagging thought in the back of many an astute minds (and my non-so-astute one) that this did feel a lot like the same old Royals.

Although the Royals scored on solo home runs in both the 7th and 8th innings, they also stranded seven runners over the last three frames.  Prior to that, Kansas City was simply throttled at the plate;  not getting a runner past second until the 7th inning.  They committed three errors and allowed the Angels to post their third and fourth runs after getting the first two batters out in the top of the sixth.   Yep, eerily similar to the teams of the past.

That said, it is important to remember that Jered Weaver is good and, against the Royals, he is really, really good.   Over his career, Weaver has a 2.64 earned run average over the 58 innings pitched against Kansas City.    Counting yesterday’s start, Weaver has allowed TWO runs to the Royals over his last 28 innings.   This was going to be a tough day at the plate that just so happened to be Opening Day.

Opening Day, for all it’s excitement and celebrations, is just one game.

Other observations from the Royals 4-2 loss, made with full knowledge that it is, say it with me, just one game:

  • Royals hitters walked six times and struck out ten, while Royals pitchers walked only one and struck out nine.   This team will strike out a lot, so it would be nice if the ability to take a walk also holds and those big strikeout numbers don’t hurt as bad if the hurlers are posting similar numbers on the opposite side of the ledger.
  • Melky Cabrera had three hits and looked (dare we say it?) fit.  Trade him now, his value will never be higher!  I kid…
  • Mike Aviles, a favorite of mine, did kind of do a Bizzaro-Callaspo at third base yesterday.   Let’s remember that Mike has not played a ton of third base – 14 games in the majors, 164 in the minors – and not panic.   Besides, we are just a Moustakas hot streak away from seeing Aviles back at second, anyway.
  • We pretty much knew what to expect from Jeff Francouer and we got it.   A big home run to get the Royals on the board and hideous bases loaded strikeout on a pitch well out of the zone.    We also saw him throw out Jeff Mathis at the plate after the Angels rather strangely challenged the one true plus-skill Francouer possesses.
  • Four hitters does not a career make, but it was fun to watch Aaron Crow slice and dice the Angels wasn’t it?
  • I thought Luke Hochevar had a solid start.   If, as is my hope, Luke is to turn into Gil Meche (the good one, not the wrecked version), then this is the kind of start he needs to post time after time.   He simply is not going to be the guy to stand toe to toe with a Weaver and win.  Hopefully as soon as next year that will not be his role.

Finally, in the ‘who would have thought’ category, Ned Yost used two pinch runners, a pinch hitter and three starters ended the game at different defensive positions.   All that and Matt Treanor plays all nine innings.   Given that Treanor had a single and a walk, this really is not a criticism of Yost.   I am willing to bet, however, that if I gave you that scenario prior to the game, you would almost certainly have to assume that Treanor was the subject of one of those switches.   Baseball, as you may have heard, is a funny game.

Assuming you are not too crestfallen from yesterday, we get a look at Jeff Francis tonight against Dan Haren (who has a 1.99 ERA against the Royals in 50 innings of work).  If Kansas City is going to have something resembling a decent season, Francis being effective is a must.  

Remember, no matter what happens tonight, it is just TWO games out of 162.

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?

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