Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jonathan Sanchez

Reports are Sal Perez is on his way to Kansas City.

About time.

It’s strange to think this way, but it just feels like the Royals are already Sal’s team. He’s the guy. The one they can’t afford to have out of the lineup.

I mean, we’re talking about a guy with 158 career major league plate appearances. How the hell can he be the big kahuna on a major league team with so little experience?

All I know is what I’ve read and heard discussed from various players and team officials. The guy oozes professionalism and commands respect.

As a writer with a SABR bent, I’m supposed to mock the leadership angle. (Francoeur? Too easy.) But there is no denying that something really cool started last summer when the young guys were brought up to the majors. And it kind of feels like it’s been placed on hold while Perez has been rehabbing. It’s been interesting to me to see the amount of respect he holds within the realm of the clubhouse. Leadership won’t get you wins, but there’s something about it that makes it crazy fun to watch.

Is Sal the Savior? I don’t think so. Defensively, he’s going to be awesome. As long as his knee holds. And I seriously doubt the Royals would be putting him behind the plate if he wasn’t 100 percent ready.

I know many of you are excited by his offensive performance from last season, but there was nothing in his minor league history to indicate he was capable of that. He finished with a line of .331/.361/.473, which was just insane. Yes, he was hitting .340/.365/.380 in Omaha, but I really don’t think we can insert him into the lineup and expect those kind of numbers.

He will be a huge upgrade over the Pena/Quintero tandem, though. And that’s good enough for me.

If Sal is behind home plate tonight, it will feel like Opening Day, Part 2. Welcome home, Sal.

The Bases Are Drunk. A lot.

Jonathan Sanchez has faced 15 batters with the bases loaded – defined as “grand slam opportunities” by Baseball Reference. That’s the second most in the American League this year. The Rangers Yu Darvish has the most in the AL with 16. Interesting. Especially given the fact that Sanchez has thrown 36 innings. Darvish has twirled 89 innings.

Fortunately, in each grand slam opportunity, Sanchez has kept the ball in the yard. Still, 15 opportunities in 36 innings… And you thought Jonathan Broxton pitched on a tightrope.

Sanchez has contributed the lion’s share of the Royals league leading total of pitching with 74 grand slam opportunities. Fortunately, they’ve surrendered just a single slam.

The Twins – with the worst pitching in the league – have faced just 42 grand slam opportunities.

I have no idea what this means…

High Leverage Pen

Not only is the Royals bullpen really good, they’ve been doing it under tremendous pressure. According to Baseball Reference, the bullpen’s average Leverage Index (aLI) is 1.094, which is tops in the league. In fact, only three bullpens have an aLI greater than 1, which is “average” pressure.

Royals – 1.094
Tigers – 1.058
Orioles – 1.054

The Orioles have the best bullpen in the league, according to ERA at 2.38. I’m thinking the high leverage combined with the quality of performance is a huge reason the O’s are leading the uber competitive AL East. The Tigers bullpen ERA is 3.89, which is the second worst rate in the league, better than only the Indians. So I’m thinking the high leverage combined with the poor performance (relative to the league) is a reason the Tigers are scuffling.

The Royals may blow that hypothesis out of the water. Their bullpen ERA of 2.93 is seventh best in the AL, yet they’re nipping at the heels of the Tigers.

It boils down to the offense. The Royals are plating just 3.88 runs per game, while the tigers are scoring 4.4 per contest. That difference of 0.5 runs per game may be enough to offset the Royals bullpen advantage.

I still think the Tigers are the favorites in the Central. But they’ll need their pen to improve. Meanwhile, in a weak division, it’s the pen keeping the Royals in the hunt. If they can get their offense to pick up, they’ll be able to prevent the Tigers from gaining separation.

It’s a simplistic analysis, but sometimes the simple things help you gain the most clarity.

I may be coming around on this whole contention thing.

I figured that Jonathan Sanchez would have outings where he bordered on horrible. His lack of command combined with his electric pitches, mean he can strikeout a ton of hitters while giving away free bases. It’s like he’s a member of the Flying Wallendas.

Sanchez entered the game averaging 89.6 mph on his fastball this year. On Tuesday in Cleveland, 89 mph was his maximum velocity as he averaged just 87.2 mph. To go along with the drop in speed, Sanchez is moving away from that pitch. Of the 115 magnificent pitches he threw, only 30 of them were classified as fastballs. That’s just 26 percent. Unreal. He’s going away from the fastball in favor of his change-up. As Hudler pointed out in the key at bat against Jack Hannahan, when Sanchez is throwing almost exclusively off speed stuff, they just wait… And wait… And wait.

Sigh. More on that plate appearance in a moment.

Not that Sanchez is any kind of great pitcher. He’s not… Because he can’t locate consistently. However, it’s baffling as to why he would move away from the fastball. Is this a coaching call? Or is this something he’s doing on his own? In the postgame, he simply said he “didn’t have his fastball.” Velocity, location… All of the above. I suppose in the grand scheme it’s accurate that he didn’t have his fastball. He didn’t generate a single swing and miss of the 30 he threw and only 12 of them were strikes. That’s just a brutal pitch. Here’s his velocity chart from Tuesday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

That’s the profile of a starter who didn’t leave the bullpen with a full tank of gas.

So the game on Tuesday can be boiled down to two key moments. The first, I already alluded to – the Sanchez matchup against Hannahan with runners at the corners with two down and the Royals trailing by a run.

At that moment Sanchez had surrendered three walks in the inning. It was the second time in the game he had walked three batters to load the bases. Read that previous sentence again… It was the second time in the game Sanchez walked the bases loaded.

OK… So the guy can’t locate. He’s in trouble. And at this point, he’d thrown around 109 pitches and he had practically stopped throwing his fastball entirely. Aside from an Asdrubal Cabrera double in the first inning, he had scattered a few hits… but that’s largely because he wasn’t around the strike zone. Sanchez was fortunate the Indians hadn’t broken the game open by this point.

So in a nutshell, your starter isn’t throwing in a manner he which he normally pitches. He’s deep into a pitch count and losing what little steam he brought with him to the mound. He’s somehow kept the Royals in the game, with a deficit of just a single run. Do you…

A) Stick with him. It’s his jam, let him get out of it.
B) Thank your lucky stars you’re still in the game and pull him for another lefty that’s warm in the bullpen – Tim Collins.

Everyone probably chooses “B.” Except Yosty. He’s such a contrarian.

And as previously noted, a steady diet of change-ups and Hannahan hits a bases-clearing double.

Later in the game you have this situation… Royals are trailing 4-1. Hosmer walks to leadoff the inning, advances to second on a ground out and moves to third on a Moustakas single. Quintero whiffs, so we have runners on the corners and two out. All we’ve heard about is how the Royals have failed with runners in scoring position. Failing to get “The Big Hit.” Naturally, Our Mitch delivers a line drive down the right field line. Hosmer, of course, walks home. Moustakas is busting it around second and heading for third… This is a sure-fire double. And look! Shin Soo Choo – while he has a strong throwing arm – isn’t exactly flying to the corner to field the ball. This looks like a perfect opportunity to put two on the board and cut the deficit to a single run.

Screeeeeech!

Third base coach Eddie Rodriguez throws up the stop sign. Now, it’s difficult to tell from my couch, but it sure looked like Moustakas was at third the moment Choo fired the ball in from the corner. Meaning there was an outstanding chance that Moose scores. A better than outstanding chance.

Yet he was held at third.

Apparently, third base coaches get tight, too.

Unreal. The Royals have been running stupid all season and they now they back off? When they’re scuffling to score and are presented an opportunity on a silver platter? You absolutely have to send the runner in that situation. Have. To.

So in our two situations we have one where the Royals gave away two runs on a slow hook and failed to capitalize on a sure-fire run scoring opportunity. That’s a net loss of three runs.

Ballgame.

An all too familiar refrain.

The bats are still ice-cold and aside from Maier, nobody is delivering with runners in scoring position, but I’ll hang this loss on the coaching staff. Yost’s slow trigger and Rodriguez’s bizarre decision cost this team a great opportunity to break this slide. Instead it continues.

And I adjust the doomsday clock one minute closer to midnight.

A minor Twitter kerfuffle erupted on Tuesday when Deadspin published excerpts from each of the 30 team chapters of the latest Baseball Prospectus Annual. Publishing excerpts isn’t exactly noteworthy. Except in this case, they were accompanied by a projected win/loss record.

And the Royals were projected to finish with a 68-94 record.

Ouch.

That’s three wins less than last year’s total. And the lowest projected total in the American League.

PECOTA hates the Royals. And PECOTA probably hates you.

Full disclosure: You may know, I’ve written off and on at Baseball Prospectus for the last two years. This year, I wrote the player profiles and the team essay for the Royals. Undoubtedly the highlight of my blogging career.

Many Tweets encapsulated anger and a feeling of injustice. (As much as you can in 140 characters, counting hashtags.) It was like watching someone mourn a lost loved one. All the stages of grief were there:

Denial – Oh, no… Baseball Prospectus released some projections. They hate the Royals… I’m not going to click that link. If I don’t click, maybe it will go away.

Anger – 68 wins? Who the hell do these geeks think they are? I will kick their collective, scrawny ass. Then, I will trash them anonymously on Twitter. Screw Baseball Prospectus.

Bargaining – Maybe the projections are wrong. I mean, they’re not always right, are they? I’ll give someone my All-Star Game ticket if we could just finish at .500.

Depression – Players are hurt, Chris Getz is starting and we still have no starting pitching… we’re going to suuuuuuuck.

Acceptance – If the Royals only win 68 games, there’s no way Ned Yost returns in 2013. Maybe that’s no so bad.

Really, there are gajillion different variables that go into the PECOTA projections. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I kind of doubt it. Even though I’ve written at BP, I’m not allowed in the secret room with the formula. If I nudge a decimal, the Earth shifts off it’s axis and becomes one of Saturn’s moons.

Here’s a brief explanation as to why PECOTA hates the Royals.

– The starting pitching will be awful. PECOTA pegs the Royals staff as allowing 855 runs. That’s epically awful. Last year, Baltimore coughed up more runs than any team in baseball with 860. The Twins were second worst at 804 runs allowed. No other team surrendered more than 800 runs. There’s no way the Royals can compete for anything but a high draft pick if they land anywhere near this number.

Among starters, PECOTA feels that only Jonathan Sanchez and Bruce Chen will be above replacement level. They have Chen at a 0.0 WARP and Sanchez at 0.3 WARP. For reference, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander had a 6.0 and 5.8 WARP, respectively. Danny Duffy had a 0.5 WARP.

The starting five rounds out with Duffy at -0.1 WARP, Luke Hochevar at -0.3 WARP and Luis Mendoza at -0.7 WARP. That’s just a really bad starting rotation.

The funny thing is, I don’t agree with any of it.

First of all, PECOTA thinks that Sanchez will be the Royals top starter. No way. In fact, I’d wager of the five listed above, he’s the fourth or fifth best. They expect a steep drop from Chen and virtually no improvement from Duffy. I’m betting that Chen takes a step back in ’12, but I think it’s a small one. And Duffy… Man, I just don’t see how he doesn’t pitch better this season.

This is something that gets all the Lee Judge acylotes in an uproar… Projections don’t account for changes of a mechanical nature. Take Hochevar, for example. Last summer, Hochevar shifted his arm angle on his slider and developed that pitch into something that could be called above average. As I said before, I’m not privvy to the secret sauce of PECOTA, but I’m fairly certain it’s not taking into account his new arm angle, or the fact he upped the percentage he threw his slider. Instead, it’s looking at things like ballpark, age and past performance. I think if a player struggles in the first half, but has a strong second part of the season, but his overall numbers are weak, projections systems have a difficult time with that player.

– Six of the nine Royal regulars are projected to have a sub .325 on base percentage. Last year the league average was .321 OBP. Of the lineup, only Hosmer, Butler, Gordon and Chris Getz will top that mark. (Relax, Getz is the lowest of the four with a .324 projected OBP.) That’s a reversal from last summer, where six regulars topped a .329 OBP.

Gordon is projected to drop 24 points, which isn’t surprising given his past performance. Last year was his breakout, and projection systems have a difficult time buying into a guy who had over 1,600 plate appearances and outperformed his career averages by a large margin.

Meanwhile, Butler is projected for a .360 OBP, just one point below his 2011 mark. The last three seasons, Butler has been Mr. Consistent. His projected slash line of .294/.360/.453 almost exactly matches his career line of .297/.360/.458. While a player like Gordon is difficult to project due to the circumstances surrounding a “breakout” season, a player like Butler is the opposite. He’s so steady, it’s difficult to miss by much.

– Kansas City is going to experience another power outage. No Royal is projected to top 20 home runs. Hosmer and Gordon are the team leaders with 19 bombs and Butler and Moustakas are right behind them with 17. Last year, the Royals had five players top 18 long balls.

That combination of sub-par on base percentage and almost non-existent power means the Royals will struggle to score runs. PECOTA has them for 716 runs scored. That’s actually just off the 730 they scored last season.

Again, I don’t agree with all of the offensive projections. Butler aside, most of them seem very conservative.

Any projection system has hits and it has misses. And if you search hard enough, there are tons of projections available this time of year. If you must, look until you find one that fits your selection bias. In the meantime, take PECOTA for what it is… A projection. It’s something that can be fun to look at, but don’t take it at face value. Investigate. Try to decide if you agree or disagree. Dig around and see how they arrived at their projection. Most of all, be constructive in your criticism. “PECOTA sucks because they say the Royals are only going to win 68 games,” isn’t helpful. But if you say, “I disagree with PECOTA because I think our pitching is going to be better than they project, because…”

Do I think the Royals are better than a 68 win team? Yes. Do I think they’ll win 80? No. I’m still kicking around some win totals in my mind. That post comes on Friday… Opening Day, when we call our shot.

Play ball.

Over the past three seasons, among pitchers who threw 400 or more innings, newly acquired Jonathan Sanchez ranked fourth in strikeout rate:  average 9.51 strikeouts per 9 innings.   Here is the top ten:

  1. Lincecum 9.79
  2. Kershaw 9.54
  3. Gallardo 9.51
  4. Sanchez 9.51
  5. Lester 9.43
  6. Verlander 9.29
  7. Greinke 9.04
  8. Latos 8.65
  9. Johnson 8.60
  10. Gonzalez 8.56

I love strikeout pitchers.   The ability to punch a hitter out is the single best weapon in baseball for getting out of a jam and, if you are really good (like the majority of the above top 10), it keeps you from ever getting into jams.

Using the same time frame and criteria, no pitcher has walked more batters per nine innings over the last three years than Sanchez.   This top ten list is not as impressive as the previous group:

  1. Sanchez 4.91
  2. Gonzalez 4.29
  3. Zambrano 4.11
  4. Happ 4.09
  5. Burnett 3.98
  6. Liriano 3.85
  7. Zito 3.82
  8. Billingsley 3.73
  9. Richard 3.70
  10. Jimenez 3.65

The free pass is easily one of the most annoying things that can happen when your team is playing the field.    Jonathan Sanchez not only leads in this category, but he dominates it.

Again, using the same criteria, Sanchez has posted the fifth lowest BABIP among pitchers.  There is a good deal of luck in this number and it certainly is tremendously effected by the defense played behind you, but a three year test of BABIP is some indication of hitters’ inability to make solid contact.   This is a somewhat eclectic top ten:

  1. Lilly .256
  2. Cain .258
  3. Arroyo .261
  4. Kennedy .263
  5. Sanchez .265
  6. Weaver .267
  7. Hudson .268
  8. Lewis .270
  9. Kershaw .271
  10. Wolf .271

Ninety pitchers have thrown 400 or more innings between 2009 and 2011.   Among those, 18 have a swinging strike percentage of 10% or more (the leader is Francisco Liriano at 11.9%) and Jonathan Sanchez is tied for ninth at 10.2%.

None of this should surprise anyone who follows the Royals or the Giants.   Sanchez labors to throw strikes, but is extremely effective when he does.  Given that he is not a particularly hard thrower (his average fastball sits a tick below 91 mph) it would seem that a good portion of Sanchez’s effectiveness comes from the fact that he is pretty wild.  That is not ideal, obviously, but it might pretty much be who Jonathan Sanchez is and forever will be.

Since becoming a full time starting pitcher in 2008, Sanchez’s earned run average has shown some dramatic changes:

  • 2008 – 5.01
  • 2009 -4.24
  • 2010 – 3.07
  • 2011 – 4.26

However, Jonathan’s xFIP is remarkably consistent:

  • 2008 – 4.06
  • 2009 – 4.09
  • 2010 – 3.94
  • 2011 – 4.36

The Royals are obviously hoping for the healthy 2009/2010 version of Sanchez as opposed to the injured and even more wild than usual version we saw in 2011.   No matter which version we see this season, Jonathan Sanchez will be a wild ride.

Even in his stellar 2010 campaign, Sanchez was wildly inconsistent.   Ten times he threw seven or more innings and allowed two runs or less. Yet, six times in that same season, Sanchez did not make it out of the fifth inning and seven more times he did not even get an out in the sixth inning.   Here is a classic Jonathan Sanchez outing:

  • Five innings pitches
  • 103 pitches
  • 7 strikeouts
  • 4 walks
  • 2 hits
  • 1 run

There will be brilliant outings this season from Jonathan Sanchez.   There will be gut wrenching 105 pitch/5 inning starts and maddening 3 innings/5 run stinkers sprinkled in.   Sanchez will walk guys with astonishing regularity and strike them out even more often.   The Royals hope they are getting 180 innings of high threes/low fours ERA.   Some are worried that they will get 125 injury plagued walk filled innings with an ERA closer to five.

Here’s what we know:  Jonathan Sanchez will not be boring.   That is both good and bad.

xxx

Truthfully, trading Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo was the easiest decision Dayton Moore will make this off-season.   It was also an easy decision for Giants’ GM Brian Sabean.    

The Giants believed they had an excess of starting pitchers (which they do until two of them get tired arms and a third can’t find the strike zone) and the Royals thought they had an extra centerfielders (which they did as long as Lorenzo Cain hits some and Melky Cabrera doesn’t become a four-plus WAR player for the next five years).   A good trade in both directions by most accounts and one that is highly thought of by the majority of those of us who follow and write about the Royals even during football season.

If Melky Cabrera regresses and Sanchez pitches to 2010 form while Lorenzo Cain proves to be a defensive whiz with a decent bat, then the Royals will win this trade.   Even if it turns out otherwise, this was a logical move with moderate risk.   No trade is a sure thing:  if there was not risk involved, I would not have a Ryan Shealy jersey gathering dust in my closet.

Now, Mr. Moore, the water gets deep.

Is two years of Bruce Chen at $10 or $12 million more important than the compensation draft pick the Royals would get if Chen signs elsewhere?   Is Jeff Francis the guy we saw in 2011?   If so, is that enough to bring him back to fill out the rotation?  Are you all in for 2012 and prepared to make a big move to put a name at the top of your rotation?   What about second base?  What about Joakim Soria?   With the likes of Ryan Madson rumored to be worth $40 million over four years, the trade value of Soria is surely back on the rise, isn’t it?

As you know, I have been advocating a ‘hold the course’ line of late, which really has not been tremendously changed by the Sanchez acquisition.   On his own, Sanchez does not make the Royals’ contenders, but he does put them maybe a bit closer to that title (again, assuming Cain is at least a 2-3 WAR player in center).    Simply put, Hochevar-Paulino-Duffy-Sanchez and somebody else is a better place to build from than Hochevar-Paulino-Duffy-and two other guys.

That said, plugging Chen or Francis in as the fifth starter or Mike Montgomery, should he have a big spring, does not make Kansas City a bonafide contender.   If everything breaks right and the Royals get a little luck, sure they could contend.  Heck, they could win the Central under certain scenarios.  To be likely contenders, however, Kansas City would need at LEAST a starting pitcher better than Sanchez/Hochevar.

That’s the rub, isn’t it?  At some point, the Royals are going to have to go ‘all in’ and getting that point in time right is the single most important decision Dayton Moore will make of his baseball life.

I don’t think the time is now.   The Royals are young and with youth comes uncertainty.  We’re pretty sure Eric Hosmer is going to be a star, we think Alex Gordon is going to come close to replicating his 2011 campaign, we have to believe that the young bullpen arms will continue to be effective and that Escobar and Perez will hit enough to justify their outstanding defensive abilities.   For one, I will be shocked if Danny Duffy is not significantly better in 2012, but what the hell do I know?

The Royals could go ‘all in’ right now and have a decent justification for doing so.   Just know, that there is no trade scenario for the kind of pitcher they will need that does not begin with Wil Myers or Mike Montgomery and won’t end until there are three more names on the list – all of which even the people on Facebook have heard of.    That is all fine and good until Cain strikes out 172 times, Gordon hits .277, Moustakas hits 16 home runs instead of 32 and Eric Hosmer is a ‘nice player’ but not an ‘All-Star’.

Yeah, Cabrera for Sanchez was easy.  It gets hard from here on out.

xxx

 

Say what you will about Dayton Moore, but the guy doesn’t waste any time. Once the postseason is over, it’s like he’s on the clock, and has to make a move.

Again, he strikes while the recently completed World Series is fresh in our minds. This time he brings a pair of left handed pitchers, starter Jonathan Sanchez and minor leaguer Ryan Verdugo to the Royals in exchange for last year’s starting center fielder Melky Cabrera.

If you were going to select a guy off the 2011 roster to trade, it would have been Cabrera. It’s a savvy move by GMDM, picking a guy off the scrap heap (he was non-tendered by the Braves last winter) and then turning him into a pair of arms after he experienced a career renaissance in Kansas City. Talk about selling high… The Melk-Man was at his absolute peak. I was extremely skeptical that he was going to be able to repeat his .305/.339/.470 performance. It’s going to be even more difficult now that he’s moving to the National League and the Giants.

If the Royals were selling high on Cabrera, you would have to say the Giants sold low on their left-handed starter, Sanchez. He struggled last year for San Francisco, taking two trips to the DL, while hobbling to a final ERA of 4.26 against an xFIP of 4.36 with a 5.86 BB/9. Maybe it was the injuries, but he lost a little giddyup on his fastball as he wasn’t able to break 90 mph on average for the first time in his career.

Royals PR was quick to point out that Sanchez has the third highest strikeout rate among starters since 2006. His 9.36 SO/9 trails only Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw. And his hit rate of 7.02 H/9 is the second best behind only Kershaw. Wow! Sounds excellent, doesn’t it. It’s as if the ace we’ve been dreaming about has fallen into our collective laps.

Not so fast…

What Royals PR won’t tell you is that Sanchez has a difficult time finding the strike zone. His career 4.78 BB/9 is horrendous. And if we’re going to do the whole compare and contrast thing, Sanchez’s walk rate is the third WORST in baseball since 2006, trailing only Oliver Perez and Daniel Cabrera. See… There’s a cause and effect thing at work here. Sanchez’s hit rate is low because batters are either swinging and missing (good) or they’re laying off the wild stuff and taking their base (bad).

When looking at his raw numbers like ERA, remember that Sanchez was toeing the slab in one of the more favorable ballparks for pitchers in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. With it’s expansive outfield and swirling winds off the bay, only Barry Zito could struggle there. Sanchez will be challenged to repeat his modest successes away from San Francisco and the NL. Consider Sanchez the first test for new pitching coach Dave Eiland. For his entire major league career, Sanchez has known only one pitching coach – Dave Righetti – so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with a new tutor. It’s the ultimate “change of scenery” type of deal that could pay dividends. Then again, Sanchez is moving from a pitchers league and a pitchers park… If last year was his “true” talent level… 2012 could be ugly.

As such, Sanchez has made a career out of living around 4 with his xFIP. That’s not great, but it’s solid mid to back of the rotation kind of stuff. Meaning, he’s not a number two starter, rather a number four, with the upside of a number three. And that number three designation is a bit of a long shot. Those control problems have plagued him his entire career. They’re not going to just disappear. Acquiring Sanchez doesn’t elevate the Royals pitching staff. Think of this as simply a band-aid move on the rotation. It stops the bleeding… For the moment. It’s useful, but Moore and the Royals need to seek a better, longer term cure.

This means the Royals – who entered this winter with what appeared to be a set lineup – will now welcome Lorenzo Cain into the fold as the starting center fielder. There are a few question marks about Cain (more on those in a moment) but the one thing we can be certain about is the guy can flat out play defense. He is a huge upgrade over Melky Cabrera in center. Yes, the Royals outfield was defensively all kinds of awesome last summer, but the Melk-Man was absolutely the weakest link. Losing his glove only helps solidify the outfield.

The questions about Cain come with his bat. While we may look at his .380 OBP in Omaha and think we’ve found a leadoff hitter for the future, he walked just 7.3 percent of the time in Triple-A, a number that is extremely low for someone you want in the leadoff spot. He finished with a .366 BABIP, which was well above average and not to mention, accomplished in the PCL, a league that favors hitters. With that kind of plate discipline, it just isn’t realistic to expect that Cain can come close to repeating his 2011 Triple-A performance in the majors in 2012.

Aside from the fact he doesn’t statistically profile as a leadoff hitter, there are several scouts who have been less than impressed with his bat speed and think that Cain has several “holes” in his swing that can be exploited. Of course, since scouting is an inexact science, I’ve also heard exactly the opposite… That Cain is just fine at the plate and will experience little difficulty making the jump to a major league regular.

One side effect of Cain in the everyday lineup that I’m worried about is that Ned Yost won’t be able to resist the speedy Cain at the top of the order. That would be a mistake after the season that Alex Gordon had as the Royals leadoff hitter. I give Yost all the credit in the world for the unconventional move of having Gordon at the top of his lineup card for the majority of the games (although maybe I shouldn’t give him too much credit… It was clear from the beginning of the season that the Royals lacked a “true” leadoff hitter. Gordon was kind of a last gasp attempt that happened to have an enormous payoff.) Cain swiped 16 bags for the Storm Chasers in 22 attempts, but he would be better served by opening lower in the lineup.

Financially, Dayton Moore thinks this trade will be a wash. I agree. Both players will clear around $5 million in their final round of eligibility next year, but Sanchez will probably end up making slightly more money. Maybe that’s why GMDM got Brian Sabean to throw in left handed prospect Ryan Verdugo in the deal.

Verdugo is a little like Sanchez in that he misses a bunch of bats, but has difficulty controlling the strike zone. According to Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, his best pitch is his change while his fastball is average at best. He was a starter last year in Double-A where he finished with a 9.2 SO/9 and a 4.4 BB/9, but profiles more as a situational lefty out of the pen. If that’s the path the Royals choose to pursue with Verdugo, he could be in Kansas City at the start of the season as the second lefty with Everett Teaford getting a shot at the rotation. A clever piece of business by GMDM to get the extra arm.

I know there’s always a need or desire to declare a winner in a trade, but this one feels fairly even to me. The Giants are getting someone who had a great year prior, but will almost certainly regress, while the Royals found a guy who struggled last year but has a enough upside that he’s worth a shot. Both players fill holes on their new team’s roster. I like that GMDM sold high on the Melk-Man and I like that he got a pitcher with potential. While Sanchez may be a long shot to improve, it’s worth it in that he’s around for just a single season at an affordable rate. I’d rather have him in my rotation than Jeff Francis. This move doesn’t make them appreciably better as the team still lacks the front line depth in the rotation that you need to play in October. Still, I suppose Verdugo tips the scales in the Royals favor. Anytime KC can grab an arm that is close to the majors, that’s a plus.

One final thought: If I’m a major league general manager, I keep Brian Sabean in the top three on my speed dial. For sure.

As usual, Dayton Moore strikes early in the off-season.   This morning, the Royals traded Melky Cabrera to San Fransico for starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and minor league pitcher Ryan Verdugo.

Sanchez, a lefty, will turn 29 on November 19th and is arbitration eligible for the last time this off-season.   He made $4.8 million last season, when he threw just 101.1 innings and spent two stints on the disabled list.  Here’s what to like about Sanchez:  he is hard to hit.   For his major league career Sanchez has allowed just 7.7 hits per 9 innings and struck out 9.4 batters per 9 innings.   Here’s what to dislike:  he walks a metric ton of batters (4.8/9 innings).

Hurt in 2011, outstanding in 2010, decent in 2009, not very good in  2008:  that’s a quick summary of his career as a regular major league starter.

Now, Verdugo is kind of intriguing.    He will turn 25 in April and has not been above AA yet.   After being outright dominant as a reliever in his first three professional season, Ryan was moved to the rotation for his AA debut in 2011 and gave up just 115 hits in 130 innings of work, striking out 133 and walking 63.   Frankly, he strikes me as something of a younger version of well….Jonathan Sanchez.

Okay, do you like it or not?