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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Mike Aviles

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

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

Well, what is one to say or write about last night’s extra inning loss?    More specifically, what is one to write that has not already been written, tweeted or said?

Eleven innings, back to back pick-offs of pinch runners, 13 walks, a run scoring wild pitch, 5 stolen bases allowed, a 9th inning game tying homer by rookie Eric Hosmer, the debut of rookie Danny Duffy and another Joakim Soria bad outing.   Whew!  I cannot decide whether we should spend this column dissecting last night’s loss or try to forget it.

Obviously, in a game in which the manager empties his bench and his bullpen, there are many instances where we could second guess Ned Yost.   My only comments on Yost last night are that I would have stuck with Louis Coleman for a second inning of work and probably Aaron Crow for a second inning as well.  You’ll have to take my word that I was thinking that Crow should work the 9th inning as well before Soria surrendered a run, although going to Soria in the 9th is hardly managerial malpractice.  An extra inning out of both Coleman and Crow keeps Yost from having to go to Jeremy Jeffress in the 11th.

My other complaint is that the Royals need some sort of ‘for godssake don’t make an out on the bases!’ sign.    I know the organization is all about aggressive baserunning, but after Jarrod Dyson is picked off in the 9th, don’t you have to tell Mike Aviles to take a two step lead and hope Wilson Betemit drives the ball into the gap?   Yes, Aviles should damn well know that he can’t get picked off, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing up a ‘STOP’ sign to reinforce the issue.

Anyway, the Royals had their chances and, frankly, the Rangers had more chances.  It was a discouraging loss and one that certainly feels like ‘old times’ for us Kansas City fans.  That’s a few more words about last night than I thought, let’s go inside the numbers for a bit:

  • 30 – The number of pitches Danny Duffy threw AFTER getting two strikes on a hitter.
  • 1 - Total number of passed balls charged to Matt Treanor in 2011:  relevant because it happened last night.
  • 5 – Outings in which Joakim Soria has allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings at this time in 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings after May 19, 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Total combined hits before last night from Mike Aviles and Chris Getz in the last two weeks.
  • .630 - Billy Butler’s OPS in May.
  • .515 - Alex Gordon’s OPS in May.
  • 3.26 - Luke Hochevar’s May earned run average.
  • 7 - May strikeouts by Hochevar.
  • 7 - May walks by Hochevar.
  • 3 - Minimum number of games the Royals need to win through this current homestand to have even a hope of getting back to and staying at or over .500 by the end of May.

I will give kudos to Ned Yost for shaking up the lineup last night – even if it didn’t really pan out.  My original plan for a column was about having to do that very thing and, I have to be honest here, Ned shook it up much more boldly than I would have.    It will be interesting to see if Yost sticks with last night’s batting order or if it was a one time thing.

Okay, question of the day:  When do you call up Mike Moustakas?

According to UZR/150 (courtesy Fangraphs), the best defensive second baseman in baseball last season was Chase Utley with +12.9 mark.   The worst was Skip Schumaker with a -17 UZR/150.    You can make what you want of UZR/150 or any other defensive metric:  they all have flaws and they are all subject to small sample sizes.   The common theme amongst the sabremetric community these days is that it takes three years of defensive statistics to equal one year of offensive data.

If you are into zone ratings when it comes to defense, Utley had a Revised Zone Rating of .840 in 2010 – good for 5th overall.   Schumaker’s was a horrid .769, which was dead last once again.  

Interestingly, both players manned second base for almost an identical amount of innings:  Utley played 1007 innings, Schumaker 1014.   Combining putouts, assists and errors, Utley made a defensive play 5.23 times per nine innings.   Schumaker made a defensive play 5.19 times per nine innings.   It is an admittedly simplistic sampling, but it sure appears that second basemen, the good, the bad, the indifferent,  generally all have about five fielding chances each game.

We can delve into double plays started, double plays turned, positioning, passing eye tests, plus hands, plus feet, plus instincts….you name it, you can factor that into whatever defensive analysis you want to rely upon, but I am going to take the very lowbrow route.

If a second baseman gets on average five defensive chances per game and plays 140 games, that comes out to 700 chances per year.   Using last year’s numbers, Utley’s zone rating implies that he got to 7% more balls than Schumaker and one time every 180 chances or so, Schumaker made an error that Utley would not have made.   In this very crude analysis, those differences, spread over 140 games would mean that Chase Utley made plays on 49 more balls than Skip Schumaker and that Skip would boot six more balls.

That makes for a grand total of 55 plays at second base that seperate the best defensive second baseman of 2010 from the worst.   All around, I can actually feel far better statistical analyzers than myself shivering at the absolute crudeness of the above math!

Now, what does this have to do with the Royals and their very important, very thrilling, oddly played win last night?  Not a whole lot, other than in regard to the lineup that Ned Yost trotted out and then stuck with for eleven innings.  Chris Getz got another start at second base over Mike Aviles, after getting the start over Wilson Betemit the night before.

We’ll ignore the Betemit part of this equation for simplicity sake (after the above fielding analysis, simple is the word of the day) and just compare Getz and Aviles:

  • Getz 2011: .220/.310/.275/.585, 4XBH, 7SB, 14BB, 12SO
  • Aviles 2011: .265/.299/.531/.830, 14XBH, 8SB, 4BB, 21SO

And for their careers:

  • Getz: .248/.314/.313/.628
  • Aviles: .295/.325/.432/.756

IF Chris Getz was the best fielding second baseman in the game and IF Mike Aviles was the worst, Getz turns 55 balls into outs over 140 games that Aviles does not:  basically two plays every five games, four plays every ten games.

In those ten games in which Getz makes four defensive plays Aviles does not (again assuming Getz is the best defender in the game and Aviles the worst), Aviles would not only get a hit, but get an EXTRA BASE HIT five more times than Getz would.   So, what is more valuable?   Four defensive plays made or five extra base hits?

What if, really NED what if, Chris Getz is not the best defensive second baseman on the planet?   Is he better than Aviles?  Yes.   Is he 55 plays better than Aviles?  My guess is that it might be half that number.   If that is truly the case, then the equation becomes two defensive plays versus those five extra base hits.  Simple math, but a simple answer as well.

Of course, Chris Getz and Mike Aviles do not play in a vacuum.   They play second base next to a player who, right now, is a defense only shortstop.  Alcides Escobar, to date, has played superb defense.   He is a joy to watch in the field, but he makes us all wince when at the plate.

Escobar is going nowhere:  the Royals believe in him (so do I, actually) and they have no real option to replace him even if they did not.   Alcides Escobar and his .532 OPS are in the lineup to stay.   Als0 in the lineup will be the offensive liabilities of the Matt Treanor, Brayan Pena and, at some point, Jason Kendall. 

Name a contending team that didn’t have good defense up the middle?  Name one that had three guys up the middle with OPS below .650?   (Yes, I know Treanor is above that mark right now, but if you want to bet on that lasting…). 

I am all for good defense, but the Royals are currently struggling to score and Mike Aviles is a guy who can simply hit.  Sure, he does not walk enough, but he is about to overtake Getz in on-base percentage as it is.   How big a penalty are you willing to pay for Getz’s defense and better, but not tremendously better, base running?

Long term, neither is the ‘solution’ at second base, but not every change has to be ‘the final solution’.  The Royals give up too much when they play Chris Getz at second base and sit either Aviles or Betemit.   If we were talking about shortstop or catcher, the two most important defensive positions, then this column might have a different angle.   We are talking, however, about second base.

Aviles may not even be average in the field, but he is not a butcher (a/k/a Alberto Callaspo).  Getz is probaly above average in the field, but he is not a gold glover.   The difference, when factoring in the times one can effect the game with their glove, is not enough to justify keeping the bat of Mike Aviles on the bench.

Are the Royals playing to win this year or are they hoping that Chris Getz can nudge his OPS over .700 and be an average player sometime down the road?

Headlines bedevil me at times, but given that last night’s 3-2 loss to the Orioles seemed to hinge on a ball getting stuck under the padding of the outfield wall, the title seems appropriate. 

As detailed in many places, Baltimore’s Adam Jones made a heads-up play and the correct play in signalling for a ground rule double on what would have been a Mike Aviles triple.  He doesn’t have to try to get the ball, nor does it matter that he could have easily gotten the ball.    Rules are rules and smart baseball is smart baseball (and also fair, by the way).    The Royals have a ton of late and close wins this year, think of last night as a little retribution for the baseball gods.

Kyle Davies had a very ‘Daviesish’ sort of outing:  6.1 innings, 3 runs, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks, 2 hit batters and allowing SEVEN Orioles to reach base after he had recorded two outs in an inning.  I don’t know, Kyle was competent and kept his team in the game into the seventh inning, but man he is hard to love, isn’t he?    

Do you send Davies out to start the seventh inning?   I ask that as a genuine question as, in real time, I debated with myself whether I do or not.  One factor in Ned Yost’s thinking had to be that he had used virtually the entire bullpen the night before and, rightly or wrongly, Yost has been loathe to use his young reliever on back to back days.   Well, unless you are Tim Collins and then you WILL PITCH EVERY GAME.

Speaking of Tim Collins, the lefty has 13 strikeouts versus 4 walks when facing right-handed batters.   Against lefthanders, however, Collins has 8 strikeouts versus 13 walks.   Regardless, Yost brought Collins in specifically to face a left-handed hitter for the second consecutive night.  

With two more hits last night, one would think that Mike Aviles has to be close to reestablishing himself as part of the Royals’ everyday lineup.   After a dismal start, Mike is up to a line of .262/.289/.548/.837 with 5 home runs and 6 steals.     No, he is not a prototypical lead-off hitter (just 3 walks and 17 strikeouts) and no, he is not the defensive equal of Chris Getz.    The question, however, is not Aviles v. Getz, it is or at least should be, Getz v. Ka’aihue.

The Royals need pop in the lineup to try to offset their very marginal starting rotation.   Aviles brings a six somewhat competent bat into the lineup at the expense of some defense (not a lot in my opinion) and some speed (again, not all that much).   Not to mention that he is one guy in this whole equation that actually has a track record of hitting major league pitching.

So, the situation really comes down to who do the Royals think will eventually hit?   Getz or Ka’aihue?  Does Chris Getz bring enough with the glove at second to justify putting his career Royals line of .235/.308/.279 in the batting order?   Do you have enough belief in Ka’aihue’s impressive minor league resume to keep writing down his name in hopes that this .195/.295/.317 start is just a rough patch soon to be erased by a pile of walks and home runs?

Frankly, the Royals do not even have to decide.   They can alternate or swap those two players in out of the lineup at will.  A batting order with both Getz and Ka’aihue in it, however, simply is one with two many weak spots.   One or the other, not both.

Wow, just a few things went on this weekend.   We had the NFL Draft, a guy named bin Laden was erased from the face of the earth and the Royals swept the Twins.  Now, if we have to debate which of the three is the most important story, then I will pick up my toys and go home.   

You might have noticed over the years, that this is not a world affairs blog nor do we talk about the NFL.   As such, we can discuss a very big sweep over Minnesota and just generally think happy thoughts throughout this off-day.

I think a lot of us thought Kansas City was about to go into ‘the big slide’ that we have so often seen in the past.   After leaping out of the gates by winning ten of their first fourteen games, the Royals had floundered all the way to a game under .500.    They had been swept in back to back road series, looking very 2006-ish in getting drubbed in Cleveland.

The here-we-go-again feeling certainly had overtaken me.   One could almost feel a stretch of games coming that would see the Royals drop twenty out of twenty-five and sink once more out of the collective national baseball consciousness.     Instead, however, we saw this team right itself and sweep the Twins:  obliterating them in the final two games of the series. 

At this point in time, the Minnesota Twins are an injured, hapless bunch, but there is something to be said for beating teams that are not playing well.    There is also something to be said for playing baseball in your home park.

In 2010, the average home record of American League teams was 45-35 (yes, I know that doesn’t add up to 81) and the average road record was just 36-44.   Only four teams had losing records at home, while five teams managed to post a winning record on the road.   In 2009, the averages are similar: 46-35 at home and 35-45 on the road.  Like in 2010, four teams posted losing home records, but only two were overall winners on the road.

There is nothing earth shattering in those numbers and, without looking, I have to imagine that we could go back a great number of years and generally see similar results.   Quite frankly, Dorothy, there is no place like home.  For the Royals, that seems particularly true through the early part of the 2011 schedule.

On their way to posting a 12-5 home record, the Royals have average 5.6 runs per game and posted a robust team slash line of .278/.355/.446.   The pitching staff has held opponents to a .256 batting average on their way to posting a 3.64 earned run average and allowed less than one home run per game (14 in 17 contests).

On the road, Kansas City is just 3-8 and averaging only 4.5 runs per game.   The offense has hit just .268/.318/.410 and the pitching staff has posted a 5.95 ERA and allowed the opposing teams to hit .307.  The pitchers have also given up 21 home runs in just 11 games, despite posting a better strikeout to walk ration (1.97 on the road as opposed to just 1.51 at home).

Obviously, just 17% of the way through the schedule, the imbalance of who the Royals have played at home versus the teams they have faced on the road versus who was hot and who was hurt all skew the results.   Still, those are pretty dramatic differences on both sides of the ball.   Given the youth of this team and type of starting pitching they employ, none of us are probably overly surprised by the split, but I found it interesting.

It also gives me some  hope that despite a tough 31 game stretch that began with the Twins’ series, with 19 of those games at home, the Royals might be able to stick around that .500 mark through the end of May.   Should they manage that feat, then the discussion gets extremely interesting on many fronts.   Defending the home field over the next six games against Baltimore and Oakland will be critical.

Now a couple of bullet points to finish up:

  • As has been discussed in many locations, the inclusion of Jarrod Dyson on the 25 man roster is a somewhat curious decision.    While he has made an impact in the role this year, there just are not a lot of pinch-runner/defensive replacement guys being carried by anyone these days, but I was envisioning the scenario wherein doing so makes sense and also does not cripple a manager’s ability to make in-game moves.  It would seem to me, that having good enough pitching to go with an 11 man staff instead of 12 is the key.  In the Royals’ case, that would allow them to carry an extra infielder.   On days when the lineup includes Getz, Aviles and Betemit (one of the latter two DHing), you would still be able to pinch hit for Escobar or Getz.   I am not really against having Dyson on the current roster, just thinking how a ‘Dyson-like’ role fits on a logical 25 man set-up.
  • Speaking of defense, I have a hard time justifying a weak bat at any position other than catcher and shortstop.   Simply put, it does not seem to me that any other position effect the defense enough to carry a sub .700 OPS.   I bring that up, because Mike Aviles is hitting and Chris Getz is not.    The Royals have no real options but to play Alcides Escobar (whose defense is great, but he really needs to post an OPS well above his current .516), and the two catchers and they remain loyal to Kila Ka’aihue and probably should for another three or four weeks.   They have an option at second to add another offensive weapon and should use it on an everyday basis, even if it does mean weaker defense.
  • Finally, I am pretty ambivalent when it comes to Mitch Maier, but it was nice to see him have a big day on Sunday after replacing Jarrod Dyson.   Mitch now has a grand total of 11 plate appearances in 2011.  It is tough duty to be the last guy on the bench and easy place to lose focus.  To his credit Maier has been a true professional and kept himself ready to play even though he knows the odds are that he seldom will.  That is a subtle addition to clubhouse chemistry that should not be overlooked.

Is four of the next six a realistic goal?  I would like to think so, although Royals pitchers will not be able to walk 17 batters in a series and get away with it very often.

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.

The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

A show of hands of all those enjoying being a Royals’ fan right now.   Deep down, you are probably still thinking that this team will not approach 80 wins this season, but for now this is kind of fun isn’t it?

The Royals opened the weekend by just plain getting beat on Friday, returned the favor on Saturday and took advantage of a sloppy Detroit performance to blast the Tiger on Sunday.   Not only is two of out three not bad (yes, I am watching Celebrity Apprentice this season), but it is very good indeed for a young team on its first road trip of the year.    Sure, the Royals did manage to miss the top part of the Detroit starting rotation, but it was still a nice series win.

There are a number of topics we will touch on this morning in lieu of detailed, comprehensive research (all those nasty facts get in the way of my opinion), so let’s start it off….

Chris Getz led off for three games and the world continued to turn.

Ned Yost opted to sit Mike Aviles down after Wednesday’s zero for seven day dropped Mike to just three for twenty-six on the year.   Aviles, a personal favorite of mine, has looked, at best, uncomfortable at third and, at worst, just plain bad, so a day off to clear the cobwebs seemed appropriate.     One day off turned into two and the next thing we knew, Mike Aviles did not make an appearance in the entire series.

Now, if you have told be that Friday morning, you can bet I would have envisioned writing an entirely different, probably scathing, column today.   As it is, however, you can hardly fault Ned Yost for sticking with Getz as his leadoff man in Detroit after he went 4-10 for the series with 3 walks and 2 sacrifice flies.  All Wilson Betemit did during that time period was go 6 for 11 with 3 doubles and 2 walks.   

I doubt that Yost and the Royals were truly planning on sitting Aviles the entire series.   After all, we are talking about a guy who hit .325/.354/.480 and .304/.335/.413 in his two healthy major league seasons.    Despite having become the whipping boy of the casual fandom and overly criticized by those who should know better, I doubt the Royals have truly given up on him after six bad (and they were bad admittedly) games.  That said, look for no outrage (not even a sarcastic tweet) from me if Getz leads off tomorrow in Minnesota and Betemit is back at third.

While I am an unabashed ‘Aviles guy’, I am also something of a closet ‘Getz guy’ as well.  Back when the Royals acquired Chris in exchange for Mark Teahen, I offered that there were a number of big time major league second baseman who had minor league numbers similar to or even worse than Getz’s .286/.363/.380 over 381 contests.   Last season, pretty much deflated my hope that Getz could become Brian Roberts (minus the PEDs), but I have a little glimmer of hope.

IF Getz can continue to get on base at something resembling his minor league numbers and IF Getz truly is an above average defensive second basemen and IF he can steal bases with the success he has shown in limited attempts thus far:  well, that is a guy that fills a void in the batting order and can help this team be better in the short term.

Pending the arrival of Mike Moustakas, I don’t have much problem with Yost playing the hot hand at second and third with whomever among Aviles, Betemit and Getz is playing the best at a given time.    I would be surprised if Aviles does not yet end up being the best hitter of the three after 100 games, but no harm in getting them all at-bats for now so long as Yost does not ‘fall in love’ with any one of the three.   The idea would be to play the hot hand, not stick with Getz everyday at leadoff if he goes three for twenty-six.

Alcides Escobar passes the eye test.

The Royals’ new shortstop can, at times, be quite painful to watch bat, but he is truly fun to observe on defense.   After being overloaded with plus hands, plus feet, good arm, nice instinct crap from the front office in talking about a slew of shortstops who were, at best, league average in the field, it is nice to ACTUALLY SEE what those look like in action.  

Nine games does not a great defender make, but Escobar looks like the real deal in the field.   Enough so to get me wondering how much the Royals need him to hit to justify keeping his glove on the diamond.    I looked to the A’s Cliff Pennington, who posted a UZR/150 of 8.8 last season, which put him in the top five defenders in baseball using that system.   Despite hitting just .250/.319/.368, Pennington still posted a 3.7 WAR (Fangraphs’ number) by virtue of his defense.

Should Escobar, who posted a 4.7 UZR/150 last year at short, continue to play like he has in the field, which would lead me to believe his defensive metrics will approach those of Pennington, can he hit similar numbers?   With two hits yesterday, let’s hope Alcides can pick up his hitting numbers to the modest ‘Pennington-like’ level.    Anything beyond that and the Greinke trade starts to look really good.

Another guy who has looked good in the field is first baseman Kila Ka’aihue.  Unfortunately, there isn’t enough defense to be had at first base to justify 13 strikeouts and just one home run  in 41 plate appearances.   As bad as Kila looked over the weekend, he did manage two walks, two hits and a sacrifice fly, so I am hardly ready to give up on him….except when Phil Coke is pitching.

That’s Not My Process

Alex Gordon is hitting .357/.400/.548 out of the number three slot.   Billy Butler is blasting away at a .394/.512/.667 clip batting clean-up.   That is The Process in action.  Except, that is Allard Baird’s Process, not that of Dayton Moore.  

Pretty much said Baird drafted Gordon in 2005, the real plan for the Royals was to have Alex and Billy blasting away in the middle of the order.   Even with the coming emergence of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, the Royals certainly look much better with Gordon and Butler doing what they are doing right now.   We can pretty much bank on Butler continuing to hit, but we are still in the ‘hoping’ mode when it comes to Gordon.

Still, you have to love it when a plan comes together, even if it is not your own.

Who said this was a bad rotation?

Well, pretty much all of us.

Still, after Bruce Chen used the elements and a generous strike zone to throw six shutout innings and strike out seven on Saturday, and Luke Hochevar went seven strong innings that included six strikeouts, the rotation gets a gold star for the weekend.

Hochevar was dinged for three home runs that led to all the runs scored against him, but otherwise looked very good.   Obviously, you cannot go through life giving up three homers per game, but if two of those end up on the warning track (like they did for Nathan Adcock on Friday) instead of the stands…..   Ifs and buts, I know, but I came away from Hochevar’s start in a positive frame of mind.

Not so much when it comes to Kyle Davies’ Friday outing.   The Royals have played nine games and have not had a wild pitch or passed ball in eight of those.   In Kyle’s start on Friday, he uncorked THREE wild pitches in what was an outright atrocious start.    Of course, you don’t really want to look at the minor league starts of Jeff Suppan and Vin Mazarro, either.

Speaking of Nate Adcock, he tossed a big three plus innings of shutout ball on Friday to save the bullpen for the weekend.   He did not strike out a batter, but did not walk one either.   Nate was tagged for four hits and six of his outs were in the air, so it was not dominating by any means, but did the one thing you want a long reliever to do:  throw strikes.    While I think there was some good fortune in Adcock’s Friday performance, it was good enough to warrant continued looks at the major league level.

Onto Minnesota

Right now the Royals, and particularly Ned Yost, are on a roll.   Other than trying to steal with Billy Butler, pretty much every move Yost makes or doesn’t make seems to be working.   The Royals scored nine runs yesterday despite going just two for seventeen with runners in scoring position.    

The starting pitching has been, by and large, competent.   The bullpen has been very good with the two biggest concerns being Robinson Tejeda and Joakim Soria.   I think both those pitchers get back in the groove sooner rather than later and might well turn a very good bullpen into an absolute lock-down bullpen.    The offense is averaging over five runs per game despite starting three players who are hitting below the Mendoza line.

Will it hold?  Who cares?  Enjoy the ride.

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…

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