Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Melky Cabrera

The All-Star Break means it’s time to hand out the annual Royals Authority first half report cards.

There are no exams or assignments… Grading is subjective and based on a soft curve. Players are listed in a positional order from Baseball Reference with their slash stats and Fangraphs WAR.

Matt Treanor
.220/.354/.308
0.9 WAR

Key Stat: Treanor leads the team with a 15% walk rate.

Coach T has been everything the Royals could have hoped when they acquired him from Texas prior to the start of the season. He calls a good game, throws out runners (he’s thrown out 29% of would be base stealers) and is currently third on the team in OBP. Remember, the Royals picked up Coach T only when they came to the realization that Jason Kendall isn’t the most awesomest catcher in the whole wide baseball world, and would have to miss the start of the season. Now that Kendall is down for the year, Coach T will, at the age of 35, post a career high for plate appearances sometime next month.

Grade: B+

Eric Hosmer
.268/.317/.431
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: He’s hitting a home run once every 29.9 at bats, second best rate on the team.

How do you give a grade to a player like this when expectations where so sky-high. Hosmer has yet to live up to the hype, but that’s OK, because he’s going to have a long career ahead of him.

If there’s one thing about Hosmer that’s bothered me in the early stages of his career, it’s his defense. I’ve seen him do some strange things in the field. Take Saturday’s game, when he ole’d a ground ball that really should have been fielded. Sure it was a hard hit ball, but it went right between his body and his glove. The kind of play the Royals minor league defensive player of the year should be making. While I’m on the negative, let’s add the dude needs to lay off the high strike a little more frequently.

Still, he’s 21 years old and holding his own in the big leagues. There’s something to be said for that. This grade is a reflection there is still plenty of work to be done.

Grade: B-

Chris Getz
.259/.320/.291
0.8 WAR

Key stat: He’s scored a run 43% of the time he’s reached base, tops among regulars.

Sigh… Every team has a Chris Getz. He doesn’t do anything notable, except he Plays The Game The Right Way. So managers and front office guys love him. He’s not that good, yet he’s somehow overrated. How exactly does this work?

Don’t pay a word to the Royals when they talk about his defense. Fact is, he’s average to below average with the glove. He has a slow first step and has difficulty moving to his right. His ability to turn the double play is below average as well… He’s converted just 47% of all double play chances this year.

Offensively, Yost has thrown him into the leadoff spot, where he’s horribly miscast. As the leadoff hitter, Getz is managing a line of .183/.266/.220. True, this team doesn’t have a guy who fits the traditional mold of a leadoff man, but we have enough evidence to know that it isn’t Getz. But he has 17 steals, so I suppose we have that going for us.

Aviles would provide more value over an entire 162 game season.

Grade: C-

Alcides Escobar
.250/.290/.328
1.4 WAR

Key stat: Hitting .343/.393/.509 since June 7.

Sometime early in the season, I sent out a Tweet proclaiming Escobar The Shortstop Jesus. I figured it was fitting because he was saving all those runs. (Get it?) (And yes, I realize I’ve ripped off Bill Simmons who refers to Larry Bird as The Basketball Jesus. I’m a polytheist.) His defense has been mouthwatering for much of the 2011 season. It’s been so good, I can’t even remember the name of that stiff who used concrete on his hands and feet at shortstop the last couple of seasons.

Now, about the bat… As cold as Escobar was early in the season, (he was hitting .203/.237/.241 on June 6) he’s been scorching hot ever since. It’s a remarkable turnaround. If he can push his OBP another 30 points higher, we’ll really have something. That might be asking a bit much. Last year in Milwaukee, he hovered around the .300 mark until a September swoon dropped him to his final resting place of .288. But after digging that deep hole early in the season, to get back to a .300 OBP would be a heck of an accomplishment.

I still think it’s hilarious Zack Greinke forced his way out of Kansas City and ended up with the Yunigma as his shortstop as those of us actually loyal to the Royals now have a defensive human highlight reel at short. That gets him a couple points right there…

Grade: B-

Wilson Betemit
.285/.345/.415
0.5 WAR

Key Stat: Hitting .301/.360/.466 vs RHP and .241/.305/.278 against LHP.

Are the Royals a better team with Betemit in the lineup? Right now… Probably. But that’s exactly the kind of short-sighted mess that’s plagued this franchise for 25 years. Once the Royals decided it was time for Mike Moustakas, Betemit had to grab some pine.

Of course, this torpedoed any trade value Betemit may have had, but that value was going to be limited for the key stat listed above. He’s probably best suited as a platoon guy or left-handed bat off the bench. (I know he’s a switch hitter… But if I was a manager, I’d never use him against left handed pitching unless absolutely necessary.)

For some reason, his power is way down this year. He has a 4.3% HR/FB rate compared to last year’s 12.1% HR/FB. As a result, he’s homered once every 66 at bats this year. Last summer, he parked one once every 21 at bats.

Grade: C

Alex Gordon
.299/.367/.483
3.4 WAR

Key Stat: As long as he stays healthy, he will post career highs in every offensive category you can imagine.

He’s dominating… And I love it. Should have been an All-Star, but he can take solace in his grade…

Grade: A

Melky Cabrera
.293/.332/.455
3.0 WAR

Key Stat: Cabrera is walking in just 5.4% of all plate appearances.

The Melk-Man is having the kind of season GMDM dreamed about when he signed him. Just a year ago, he finished at .255.317/.354 and a -1.0 WAR and was cut loose by the Braves. The Royals took a chance that he would be motivated and would rebound, and he certainly has.

The downside of this is he is blocking Lorenzo Cain in Omaha who is hitting .313/.379/.529 for the Storm Chasers. And, Cabrera is a third year arbitration eligible, meaning if he plays a full season in KC, the Royals retain his rights for 2012. Fans may be looking at Cabrera as trade bait, but I’m not so certain the Royals will be offered what they consider “fair value.”

The Royals face an interesting decision on the Melk-Man.

Grade: A-

Jeff Francoeur
.265/.308/.443
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: 37% of all his base hits have gone for extra bases.

The Frenchman has done what we all expected and reverted to his career norm following a hot start where it seemed like he was in the middle of every late game rally for the Royals. Check the numbers… In his career, Francoeur is a .268/.310/.427 hitter. There will probably be a couple of warm streaks from here to the end of the year and a couple of cool stretches as well. He is who he is.

Obviously, he’s playing great defense in right. I have no idea why other teams think it’s a good idea to run on the Royals outfield.

Overall, he’s been a decent enough player for the Royals. His WAR is the 3rd best on the team and for you stolen base perverts, he’s already swiped a career-best 15 bases.

There’s a mutual option for 2012, and the early smart money is that if The Frenchman isn’t dealt, that option will be exercised by both parties. We’ll see…

Grade: B-

Billy Butler
.294/.390/.415
1.1 WAR

Key Stat: Butler’s .352 wOBA is the second best on the team.

Butler is having another Billy Butler season. In other words, he’s doing a damn fine job with the bat.

One thing that’s hampering Butler this season is the fact he’s batting more ground balls. For his career, he has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio, but this year he’s at 1.66 GB/FB. That’s effected his power numbers, as his ISO has cratered to .121. It also hasn’t helped that opposing pitchers are pitching around Butler. His 10 intentional walks are tops on the team. After hitting in the 3rd spot for most of last year, he’s been in the cleanup or fifth spot with no protection behind him in the lineup.

The average DH makes $9 million this year. Butler is earning $3 million. His production is pretty much in the middle of the pack among the nine regular DHs. While the power isn’t there, he’s ripping a line drive 24% of the time he puts a ball in play. Sure, a few more home runs would be nice, but the guy is having another solid season with the bat.

He’s still not a power hitter and probably will never hit for the power fans crave. Get over it. He’s good.

Grade: A-

Jarrod Dyson
.172/.294/.172
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Running 43% of the time there is an open base ahead of him.

Dyson is an electric player, but so was Joey Gathright. They’re the same guy. Except, as far as I know, Dyson hasn’t jumped over a car.

He doesn’t belong on this team. He doesn’t belong on any major league team, although you could make the case to have him on a roster if he could pinch run for a hacking designated hitter type… A guy like Mike Jacobs. Where if you inserted Dyson in a tie game and that spot came up in the lineup with the game on the line in extras, you wouldn’t be kicking yourself for taking out a good hitter and letting weak sauce swing the stick.

And he really doesn’t belong on a team with fourth place aspirations.

Grade as a hitter: F
Grade as a runner: A

Kila Ka’aihue
.195/.295/.317
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Brought home only four base runners out of a total of 72. That’s a 6% conversion rate. That’s awful.

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

Mitch Maier
.294/.410/.412
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

It was clear from the start that Maier would have a difficult time cracking the lineup… Especially after Melky and The Frenchman were promised playing time prior to inking their respective contracts. Not that Maier would be an upgrade, but given the fact he’s rarely moved his butt off the bench, he’s done quite well.

Grade: B

Mike Aviles
.213/.257/.391
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Aviles’ has a .178 ISO, which for a full season, would be the highest rate of his career.

In a little over two months, Aviles had three streaks: Sadly, only one of those could have been classified as “hot.” That landed him back in Omaha once the Royals decided to launch the Moose era in Kansas City. I’m convinced he’ll be back at some point, but it will most likely take a trade to Betemit to have this happen.

As it is, he’s the ultimate Replacement Player for 2011.

Grade: D-

Mike Moustakas
.228/.294/.283
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Moose has brought home just three of 72 base runners.

Moose has struggled since he was called up from Omaha. I don’t think there was anyone surprised by this development. He doesn’t have the natural ability that pushed Hosmer to the head of the Royals prospect class, but he’ll be fine once he sorts things out at this level.

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

A guy in my fantasy baseball league sent me three e-mails last night, wanting to make some big trades to shake up the league.   He sent me a long list of position players and pitchers he was willing to trade and a similar list of players on my team he had interest in.    

If only it was so easy in real life.

A couple of texts back and forth and Dayton Moore could have Wilson Betemit shipped off for a promising AA arm.   Want some insurance up the middle next year?  Bam!  Three more texts and Mike Aviles and Bruce Chen are sent over in exchange for a, well, younger version of Mike Aviles with better defense.   Another text and Jeff Francouer is traded to a contender for a AAA starting pitcher just a tweak away from a major league rotation.  

Easy, right?

Well, we all know it is not that easy.   Even when we try to play general manager in a realistic fashion (which I do fairly often), it is hard to be truly realistic.  

Foremost, while major league baseball players are commodities, they are also people.   Guys that teams like and dislike, whose teammates like and dislike.  While winning games in 2011 may not be a big priority, especially to many of us waiting for The Process to mature, you can bet that the Royals who have to trudge out on the field everyday are more interested in winning that building for the future.     As a GM, are you sending a potentially damaging message by trading well-liked veterans like Chen and Francouer?   Money, personalties, relationships and perceptions have as much to do with making a major league baseball trade as the actual exchange of on-field talent.

That said, July is trading season or, as we have become accostumed to in Royals territory:  selling season.   While I am still working on what plan of action makes sense for Kansas City, let’s run down the list of players likely to get mentioned/rumored/theorized as tradeable commodities this month.

Joakim Soria – I think we are getting back to the point where we can refer to Soria as an elite closer, and one with an very team friendly contract.   A lot of teams would like to have Soria, but not many are willing to pay the price to acquire him.   Ever since Boston fleeced Seattle in the Heathcliff Slocumb trade, established closers have not brought back a tremendous booty in trades.   I ran an analysis on this the spring before last, came up with a reasonable three player package the Phillies might give up for Soria based upon trades of other closers (and there are not many) and was immediately shot down by Royals’ fans as not getting enought and by Phillies’ fans as asking for too much.   I have a hard time believing that actual GM conversations about Soria – if there are any – go much differently.   Besides, the thought of Montgomery-Duffy-Odorizzi handing off to Collins-Holland-Coleman-Crow handing off to Soria by the middle of 2012 still sounds pretty good to me.

Billy Butler – Yes, Billy is slow and yes, he doesn’t hit for enough power and yes, he is maybe marginally acceptable at first base, but he still can hit.   If Butler is not outright sulking about not playing the field, he is at least grumpy about the situation.   I am not sure if that helps his trade value (a team might believe that Butler will get hot at the plate if they live with him at first everyday) or hurts it (the old ‘bad attitude’ stamp).   No matter which, I don’t think the Royals have any intention of trading Butler.  

I doubt the organization has any more faith in Clint Robinson than they did in Kila Ka’aihue, Butler just signed a four year extension and, grumpy or not, still has an on-base percentage of .395.    Frankly, if Eric Hosmer is going to hit for power and Alex Gordon is going to be a near All-Star, isn’t it okay for Butler to hit .300 with 45 doubles and 15 home runs?

Perhaps the better question for Royals’ fans advocating a Butler trade.   If you see his faults, don’t you think other GM’s do, too?   Assuming that, what would YOU give up for Billy Butler.  My guess is that answer, once you put your Royals’ hat back on, keeps Billy in a Kansas City uniform this year.

Wilson Betemit – Pretty much forgot he existed, haven’t you?   Sadly, most major league GMs probably have as well.    Betemit has pop, is a swith-hitter and won’t turn 30 until this November.   In a pinch, you could play him at short, second or the outfield, which makes him somewhat attractive in the NL where you could live with him playing second for a couple of innings after using him to pinch hit.  

I think Betemit gets traded as the Royals basically don’t play him, he will be a free agent at the end of the season and Mike Aviles can easily take his spot on the bench next to Mitch Maier.   I don’t think the team gets much in return:  probably someone’s version of Sean O’Sullivan or Vin Mazarro who the Royals hope can emerge as the next Bruce Chen instead of the next O’Sullivan or Mazarro.

Mike Aviles – When left alone in one position, Aviles has shown he will hit major league pitching (see 2008 and 2010).   When bounced around the lineup and the infield, Aviles has shown bad defense and less offense (see 2011).   While he can play short, third and second, Mike does not appear to take well to the play here, play there, maybe not play at all role of a utility man.    Given that KC demoted him to Omaha to play Chris Getz everyday and is set on the left side with Moustakas and Escobar, a rival general manager is unlikely to offer much, if anything in return.

Melky Cabrera – You know, if we are all so certain that Alex Gordon turned the corner at age 27, why is it they we are less likely to believe so with 26 year old Melky?  As I have pointed out before, Cabrera is a lot more at-bats into his career, but he seems to be getting better as the year goes on as opposed to worse.   He might well fit better in the Royals’ 2012 outfield (in right, not center) than in any other team’s outfield.

Besides, there were rumblings of Cabrera being a bad influence on Robinson Cano in New York and the perception that he pretty much didn’t care in Atlanta last year.   True or not, those things will come up when trying to get a decent return for Cabrera.

Jeff Francouer – Jeff is right on his career numbers this season, but carries the reputation of being a great clubhouse guy and always playing hard.   A very good defender who could fit in a contender’s lineup against left-handed pitching and would certainly not disrupt the clubhouse, Francouer is the kind of guy who teams look for at the trade deadline.   What a contender is willing to give up, however, is a bigger question.   

In the past, Francouer has been traded for Ryan Church and Joaquin Arias.  

Bruce Chen – Ned Yost will likely quit if Dayton Moore trades Chen, so that might be the end of the discussion right there.   Seriously though, Chen has been Kansas City’s best pitcher this year, might have been last year and still had to sign a minor league deal back with KC to get a paying job this spring.   Good guy, who has reinvented himself into a legitimate major league starter, but for whom no rival GM is probably salivating over.

Jeff Francis – He has a track record of being a top line starter on a good baseball team, so a trade partner will view Francis as a guy with pennant run experience.   Currently, Jeff leads the league in hits allowed, which is not going to win you any Top 10 prospects in a trade, but he has some value as a relatively young (30) option who might get better the farther he gets away from injury.  

So, go ahead and put your gene

So we’ve reached the midway point in what was supposed to be a transitional season. A season where the young guys would start to filter in and the Royals would stop finishing in last place. The young guys are here, but last place is still the reality. More than anything, I blame the Cleveland Indians, who are still playing way above their heads.

Normally, I’ll hand out a report card so to speak at the All-Star Break, which has always served as the de facto half way point, even if most of the time teams are on their 90th game of the season.

So while you breathlessly await my grades, I figured it was a good time to throw some second half predictions out there.

The Royals will hold on to Jeff Francoeur and both sides will exercise their mutual option for 2012 at $3 million and tack on another mutual option for 2013.

At the press conference announcing the deal, Dayton Moore will choke back tears as he talks about being in The Frenchman’s house when he signed his first professional contract.

Kyle Davies will finish the season in the Royals rotation.

And will promptly be arrested by Federal agents on the last day of the season on blackmail charges. The charges will be thrown out a month later when no evidence surfaces. “We just assumed he had dirt on Glass or Moore,” an FBI spokesman will tell reporters. “Because, otherwise who would choose to keep running that stiff out there every fifth or six day on their own free will?”

Melky Cabrera will be traded.

For some team’s #25th ranked prospect. The half fanbase will come to a near revolt that GMDM couldn’t pry away a Top 100 prospect stud for the Melk-Man. The other half will flood Facebook with messages of disbelief that GMDM would be insane enough to trade away our leadoff hitter.

Ned Yost will allow Sean O’Sullivan to surrender 21 runs in three innings to the Detroit Tigers in a September start.

“I thought he was a pitch or two of getting out of it,” Yost will tell the reporters.

Someone will refer to Billy Butler as a “baseclogger.”

That someone will be Ned Yost following a game where Butler reaches base five times but his teammates fail to drive him home.

Jason Kendall will make his return at the end of August and will start each of the final 35 games.

After the team celebrates his return with cake and ice cream in the clubhouse, Yost tells a reporter the team has missed Kendall’s leadership. “What’s our record without him? You think O’Sullivan would have been so crummy in that May start against Texas with Kendall behind the plate? Brayan Pena has a nice smile, but he can’t catch for crap.”

We will not see Johnny Giovatella this season.

Because that would undermine the team’s eventual campaign for “Chris Getz! Gold Glove Second Baseman.”

Luke Hochevar finishes with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Then demands $8 million in arbitration this winter because he was the team’s Opening Day starter.

Wilson Betemit and Mitch Maier will go missing for five days.

Nobody associated with the Royals will notice.

Alcides Escobar will have another hot streak with the bat that will last a couple of weeks and will continue to make outstanding defensive plays. He won’t win the Gold Glove.

And every time The Shortstop Jesus makes a sterling defensive play, four out of five Royals fans will say, “Damn, Betancourt wouldn’t have come close to that one.” The other one fan will complain about his lack of bat.

Mike Moustakas will drive in a run on a hit that is not a home run.

Really. It’s going to happen.

Alex Gordon will parlay his All-Star selection into a strong second half and finish the season with the best all around year of his career.

Yep… That’s going to happen, too.

The Royals will finish in fourth place.

Because I’m an optimist at heart.

Ned Yost revamped the batting order for last night’s game and was rewarded with 11 hits, but only two runs.   A massively changed order is, of course, easy fodder for a column.   However, after Yost inserted Melky Cabrera and his .315 on-base percentage into the leadoff spot and was rewarded with two hits and a walk, what is one to say?

Melky Cabrera, after hitting .255/.317/.354 in an unenthused, out of shape campaign for Atlanta in 2010, was not greeted with much anticipation by the Royals’ fan base this off-season.   I think to a lot of followers, Cabrera has been a nice surprise thus far.    He did show up in shape, seems to play hard and has hit better than most of us expected.

That said, Melky is currently sporting a line of .277/.319/.435 for a career high OPS+ of 111.   Still, that really is basically what Melky Cabrera has always been.   Throwing out 2010, he compiled a career line with the Yankees of .269/.331/.385.  If Melky’s power surge (his current slugging percentage is also a career high) continues throughout the season he will certainly enjoy the best year of his career, but nothing dramatically greater than what he did as a 21 year old rookie five years ago.

Now, do not take this as a criticism of the Royals’ centerfielder.   He has, quite frankly, been fine this year, but don’t get carried away.   Cabrera remains basically the same player Allard Baird tried to trade Reggie Sanders for twice only to be derailed by Sanders incredibly poorly timed bouts with hamstringitis.

With a current WAR (per Fangraphs) of 1.7, Cabrera has already tied his career high in that category, so kudos to Dayton Moore for what is a nice, cheap off-season pickup, but again let’s not get carried away.   Melky Cabrera is who he is, with a little more power.   In the field, he is David DeJesus with a better arm and a better reputation.   At the plate, he is a hitter who has not topped a .336 on-base percentage in five years.   He is who he is – just like Jeff Francouer.

Certainly as likeable player as anyone on the roster for the past decade, Francouer started 2011 on a hot streak and endeared himself to almost all of us with some timely hits and great outfield throws.    Still, we wake up this morning to find Jeff hitting .257/.304/.429.   His career line is .267/.309/.425.   Francouer is Francouer, no matter the uniform.

So, the Royals sit here in late June, out of the race once more with two 27 year old outfielders with serious time on their major league resumes who are basically performing exactly as they always have:  maybe even a little better in the case of Cabrera.   What do you do?

Should the Royals keep them both and avoid the Facebook outrage over ‘always trading our best players!?###’, move one or move both?  Is there even a market for Melky and the Frenchman?

Due to their age and reasonable contracts, both have some allure in that you get a player in his supposed physical prime, but with a long history in the majors.   Contenders like to know what they are getting and in both players they have a pretty good idea.   That makes both a somewhat safe option for a successful team looking to fill a void on their mid-season roster.

We can be fairly certain that, with Lorenzo Cain in Omaha, Dayton Moore is certainly listening on Melky Cabrera.   His personal affinity for Jeff Francouer makes it less certain he would deal Frenchy.    Truthfully, I would market Francouer, who brings a clubhouse presence, more certain defense and the ability to tatoo left-handed pitching.    Even though Cabrera is the better player, I have a hunch Francouer might actually bring a better return in a trade.

I could live with an outfield of Gordon-Cain-Cabrera this summer.   Heck, I can live with Gordon-Cain-Francouer, too.  At this point

Mitch Maier is over two years older than Melky Cabrera.   Alex Gordon and Jeff Francouer are within a month of being the same age:  both are half a year older than Cabrera.   Heck, Jarrod Dyson and Melky Cabrera are within four days of being the exact same age, which makes them both eighteen months older than Lorenzo Cain.    Just for fun, everyone mentioned so far is still older than Billy Butler.

Of course, age isn’t everything.   We think of Cabrera and Francouer as more veteran, not-part-of-the-future type players  because, despite being the same age as Alex Gordon and perilously close to the age of the Royals’ centerfielder of the future (Cain), they ARE veterans.   Cabrera is closing in on 3,000 major league plate appearances while Francouer is well over 3,600.     Alex Gordon will not top the 2,000 mark until late June .  

Technically, both Cabrera and Francouer are embarking on that magical ‘age 27′ season.  You know, the year when it all comes together, but the truth is that we already know who and what Melky and Jeff are:  3,000 major league at-bats do not lie.

That said, both players are having seasons that currently border on being among the best of their careers.   In the case of Francouer, he also brings excellent defense in rightfield and is an undeniable positive influence in the clubhouse.    His situation is a discussion for a later time.    Today, let’s talk Melky.

Cabrera wakes up this morning sporting a .281/.313/.459 slash line, which puts his current OPS (.772) and OPS+ (115) well above those of his previous best season which happened to be his rookie year.   Melky has compiled these solid, for him, numbers a little differently than when he was younger:  relying more on slugging and less on OBP, but the numbers are what they are.

According to Fangraphs, Cabrera currently has a WAR of 1.0, which would likely put him on a pace to surpass his previous highs in both 2006 and 2009 of 1.7.   That is not exactly ‘sign him to a long term deal now’ territory, but it is tolerable for a team slowly fading into the lower reaches of the AL Central.

The bottom line on Melky Cabrera is that he is pretty much the player who compiled a .268/.327/.385 line over 3,000 major league plate appearances.   In 3,656 career innings played in centerfield, he has a UZR/150 of -7.0.   Melky is a decent baserunner who will get you a stolen base now and then (56 of 72 in his career) and a player who actually is in much better shape than he was the past two or three seasons.   Also, unlike many free agent acquisitions of the past, Cabrera (signed to a 1 year/$1.25 million deal) is under team control through 2012 and unlikely to break the bank with any arbitration award this coming off-season.

All that said, Lorenzo Cain is hitting .294/.361/.476 in Omaha, wowed people in Spring Training with some plays he made in center and sports a career minor league line of .291/.365/.419.   In a brief 43 game stint in the majors in 2010, Cain hit .306/.348/.415, stole 7 bases and posted a WAR of 1.3.    I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it, too:   Lorenzo Cain is better than Melky Cabrera.

Here is the surprise, however.   I don’t think the Royals should call up Cain right now.

Simple fact:  Cabrera is tolerably okay right now.    Maybe enough so that a contending team with outfield injuries might find him interesting.   After all, Melky still really is a young ballplayer (in age if not in experience), he is cheap and he comes with an additional year of team control free of charge.     

The Royals, who did a remarkable job of promoting the supposed prowess of Yuniesky Betancourt (with a straight face and everything, mind you), need to play Melky Cabrera every day and rave about his clutch hitting, solid defense and general overall good attitude and great shape.    Somebody might find that intriguing.  

The Royals can play Cabrera everyday for the next two months, rattle around about still being in the race and avoid the appearance of yet another mid-summer fire sale.    They can wait for a quasi-decent offer for Cabrera and, should that offer never come, decide how to deal with the cheap and serviceable Cabrera after July 31st.

While I think Lorenzo Cain is going to be an above average player for the Royals (think David DeJesus with better speed and far better centerfield defense), we can wait a couple of months to see him in Kansas City.   

Four games under .500 and eight and one-half games behind Cleveland, the Royals do not have to rush into any decisions at this point.

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

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

Here’s your Opening Day lineup:

Aviles
Cabrera
Gordon
Butler
Ka’aihue
Francoeur
Escobar
Treanor
Getz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Wins – 67

2) Team OBP – .331

3) Team SLG – .399

4) Steals – 115

5) Team ERA – 4.97

6) Team BB/9 – 3.5

7) Team SO/9 – 6.5

Leave your predictions in the comment section.

Play ball.

We all know by now that stats in spring training are a poor indicator of what the future season might hold.   I used to spend some amount of time analyzing who a given batter may have faced in the spring in attempt to separate the at-bats against true major league competition from that of the minor league guys filling in the late innings.   Even that method was hardly foolproof as you were never sure when/if a pitcher or hitter was ‘working on something’ and hence not playing in the same manner as he would in a game that matters.

In the past, we saw Zack Greinke have a horrible statistical spring and go on to win the Cy Young.   Angel Berroa was a notorious killer in the spring before notoriously hideous regular seasons.   It is all very simple, frankly:  a guy with his roster spot secure is probably not going to lay out for a line drive down the line the second week in March and a pitcher who just has his slider working and nothing else is still going to throw fastballs and changeups in the Cactus League.    All sorts of things like that make the art of analyzing spring performances in a statistical manner virtually impossible.

Still, there are some numbers that are interesting if not particular meaningful:

  • Mitch Maier is hitting .571/.625/.643 with four steals.   Last year, there was some buzz that there were a number of teams that would jump on the out of options Maier if the Royals did not keep him on their twenty-five man roster coming out of spring training.   Fast forward to this spring, where Mitch is off to another hot start and on the borderline of making the Royals.   Would there be a market for Maier?   Certainly not a big one and not one that would yield a huge return, but would someone like the Phillies trade for him to fill in for the injured Dominic Brown?   Doubtful, but marginally plausible, I suppose.  
  • Melky Cabrera is hitting .462/.500/.538.  Lorenzo Cain is hitting .462/.533/.615.   Cain has already made two defensive plays that have drawn raves and Melky has already lost a ball in the ‘Arizona sun’.   I’m tired of hearing about the Arizona freaking sun and sky.  I get it, it is a tough place to catch high fly balls.   Half of your job description is to ‘catch fly balls’ – do it.  Anyway, spring training stats don’t matter, but somehow I feel that Cain’s .462 average and good defense is going to generate a ‘he needs more seasoning’ line pretty soon.   Melky’s .462?   Well, my guess is the Royals will be happy to tell you that those spring training stats DO matter.
  • The up and coming Big Four of Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer have combined to pitch 9.2 innings this spring and walked 11 batters.  That is not unexpected for young pitchers and tells us nothing about their future, but is interesting nonetheless.
  • Chris Getz is zero for eight with three walks.  Alex Gordon is one for thirteen with six walks.   Can we pick and choose which spring training stats are valid indicators?  Please?!!
  • Everett Teaford has been tagged for 10 runs in just over two innings of work.   There is no real way to spin those numbers into anything but Omaha.

A lot of the above is a little tongue in cheek…okay, a lot of it is.   To be honest, the Royals have won six of eight games to start the spring and seen a lot of good things happen.   Eric Hosmer has looked the part, Kila Ka’aihue has been solid and Clint Robinson just keeps hitting.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to get some positive vibes from winning exhibition games:  especially for a young team like the Royals.

Inevitably, there will start to be talk of the 2003 Royals, who parlayed a Cactus League title into a 16-3 start and staying in contention until the final month of the regular season.   Let’s be careful there in that the 2003 Royals had Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez and a then rookie of the year caliber player in Angel Berroa.    Offensively, that was not a young team (Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, Desi Relaford, Brent Mayne – were all veteran players with decent major league resumes) and probably more poised to make a cinderella run than the 2011 Royals are.

For now, we’ll just enjoy the spring and periodically remind ourselves that the numbers probably tell us very little.   That won’t keep us from monitoring them closer than might be considered healthy, however.

Games. Glorious games. I know that they’re only Spring Training games, but at this point I don’t care. Baseball is finally back. Reports from Surprise, Arizona are heading back east from a variety of sources. We’re past the phase of Spring Training where the only information is who is in what kind of shape. We have hits, doubles, homeruns, strikeouts and thank God in heaven we have boxscores, beautiful boxscores.

I know that few numbers in baseball mean less than those that come from Spring Training, but so what? I love digging into the statistics of the game and trying to tease out new and interesting information. There will be plenty of time for that once the real season starts, or even after a number of spring games are completed. At this point, I’m reminded that baseball is starting it’s re-entry into my life. Not that it ever actually left, there were trades and off-season signings to keep me mindful of the sport, but it’s just the periphery.

I love baseball because of the game, the pitcher and batter battle, the fielding plays, the typically warm summer air and some green grass in that familiar shape. The stuff in the periphery can finally be shoved aside and put where it belongs. For now, we have games.

So what have we learned from these two games?

It seems destined that barring an injury, Melky Cabrera will be the Opening Day center fielder. He has started both of the games so far and batted in the second spot in the lineup. Dayton Moore apparently promised Cabrera that he would be the starter and he won’t go back on that. What I’ll never understand is why on earth the promise had to be made in the first place. Did Cabrera have a lot of teams vying for his rather poor skillset? Even if the Royals do break their promise, is there truly a free agent out there that will refuse to sign a contract with the Royals because Melky Cabrera didn’t get enough playing time? I highly doubt it.

Mike Aviles has led off both games so far. That shocks the hell out of me. Baseball men think in terms of the “traditional” lineup, and that means a fast guy leads off. Dayton Moore on a number of occasions has talked of building the ball club in terms of lineup spots, which is typical but makes me cringe. Aviles isn’t anyone’s idea of a traditional lead off hitter, but I like him at the spot. He is one of the teams most proven hitters, and should be up there as often as possible. I doubt it will last, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

I expect to see lots of runs scored, especially in the early part of Spring Training. The climate and altitude of Arizona are conducive to a high run scoring environment. However, batters are also  typically ahead of the pitchers. It’s much easier to get back in the groove of hitting a baseball than it is pitching it. Also, pitchers are typically working on things and getting a feel for certain pitches while hitters are just doing what they do. Spring Training can be a time for pitchers to try and hone a curveball or changeup that they haven’t thrown well in the past. In order to do that, they need to keep throwing it even if it is getting crushed. So pitching lines are some of the least important and unreliable stats in the spring.

Speaking of those runs being scored, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer both drove balls out of the park yesterday. The official Royals blog has some excellent pictures of the young prospects in action. Word on the street is that they were absolute bombs too, not long fly balls that just cleard the fence. What’s that you say? Jeff Francoeur hit a homerun on Sunday? Meh.

Has anything jumped out at you so far during the Spring? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Also, we still have a few open spots for the Royals Authority live event at The Well if your interested. Just drop me an email and reserve your spot.

Boxscore from 2-27

Boxscore from 2-28

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

As you probably heard, the first batch of the 2011 PECOTAs were released on Monday.  The first wave includes a spreadsheet that lists each player and their weighted mean projection for the upcoming season.
A quick word about PECOTA and projections:  They’re fun.  Not gospel.  Just because PECOTA says Kila Ka’aihue will bash 25 home runs, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  And it’s not a failure of the system if he doesn’t hit 25 home runs.  One of the great things about PECOTA is, it breaks down their projections by percentile.  It’s kind of a best case versus worst case scenario for each player.  The percentiles will be on the Baseball Prospectus website in a few weeks.  For now, all we have to play with are the weighted means.

I’m partial to PECOTA because they’ve been around forever (and continually fine tuned)and because I’m an employee of the company.  (Full disclosure and all that.)  I had nothing to do with the projections because I have nowhere near the brain power required to crunch the numbers… Let alone launch Excel.    Just because I like PECOTA doesn’t mean I ignore the other systems that are out there.  They all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses.  Probably the best thing to do is throw all  the projections into a pot, stir ‘em up and see where the numbers fall.

Kila Ka’aihue
.262/.387/.473
25 HR
1.2 WARP

I posted his home run and on base projections to Twitter the other day and got quite the response.  One of the weaknesses of PECOTA I think is found in it’s projections of players who don’t have a ton of major league experience.

When I saw these numbers, I immediately thought of the percentiles, because this seems awfully optimistic to me.  The funny thing is, Bill James shares PECOTAs optimism, projecting 22 home runs and a .375 OBP for the Hawaiian Punch.  Marcel… Not so much.  Just 10 HR (although in about half the plate appearances) and a meager .325 OBP.  (That’s one of my issues with Marcel.  I don’t want to extrapolate projections for an entire season.  Just assume each player with projections will play a full compliment of games.  Projecting playing time is even more speculative than projecting performance.  Especially when it comes to a player like Kila.)

This gives me an opportunity to mention his slider bat speed.

Melky Cabrera
53% Improve Rate
.267/.323/.375
0.6 WARP

According to Baseball Prospectus, Improve Rate is the chance a hitter will improve at all based on his three previous seasons.  An improve rate of 50% means he will perform the same as in the past. That doesn’t mean that Cabrera only has a 3% chance of improvement.  Rather, it means he’s more likely to build on his performance from the previous three years.  I know… Semantics.

The Melk Man’s Improve Rate is the highest on the team.

One of his comparable players is Gregg Jeffries.  This delights me, because I really disliked Jeffries.  I have the feeling I’m going to feel the same about Melky.

Tim Collins
11.4 K/9

Maybe I just have an irrational affinity for short left-handers, but I’m really excited to see what Collins can do at the big league level.  While I mentioned PECOTA struggles with players with not much major league experience, it’s probably a little easier to come closer for projections with relief pitchers.  Collins’ strikeout rate is projected a tad on the high side for my taste, but I don’t think it’s way out of line.  If he gets 60 innings or so, there’s no reason to think he won’t top 60 punch outs.

I’m extremely hopeful he opens the season in Kansas City.

Bruce Chen
6.5 K/9
Luke Hochevar
6.2 K/9
Jeff Francis
5.7 K/9
Kyle Davies
6.2 K/9
Vin Mazarro
5.8 K/9

PECOTA (and other projection systems I’m sure) nailed this trend that will develop throughout the summer in Kansas City – the Royals just don’t have the horses in the starting rotation to rack up the strikeouts.  This is going to be a problem.

Thankfully, the Yunigma is gone and Lorenzo Cain (if he gets playing time in CF) mean the defense up the middle will be stronger than the last couple of seasons.

Believe me, the defense is going to play a huge role on this team.

Alex Gordon
Comparable Players:  Steve Kemp, Barry Bonds, Roger Maris

This is where PECOTA gets some heat… And deservedly so.  Ignore for a moment that Alex Gordon was listed in the same breath as Barry Bonds.  He was mentioned with Bonds and Steve Kemp?  Seriously?  PECOTA must have been on some sort of 80’s acid flashback.

The comps are a known problem.  Before you flip out (or decide that Gordon has the potential to hold the single season record for home runs… Wait… That would be flipping out) just realize that this is an area that is continually being fine tuned.  And there’s a lot of work to be done.

The moral of this story:  Enjoy the projections, but take them with a grain of salt.  They’re something fun to look at to pass the time before pitchers and catchers report and the games start.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sometimes, they’re crazy accurate.  And sometimes they’re so far off the mark it’s like the numbers were run on an overworked Commodore 64.

Either way, it’s just another sign that the new season is almost here.  Thank god.

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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