Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Mike Aviles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to see Billy Butler flash a little spring power.  And Kyle Davies is still putting runners on the bases like a madman.  He’s more than ready for the regular season…

And I’m ready to.  This is the time of the spring where I fall into a little exhibition game fatigue.  OK… I was pumped for the games, but the fact I can’t see them (more on that in a future post perhaps) and the fact they carry little weight mean I begin to lose interest about this time.  Sure, I still check the box scores, but I’m ready for the real thing damnit.

I contend most of the 25 man roster is set.  Clark has been watching it evolve since the end of the 2010 season and I feel he’s spot-on in his recent assessment.  For me, the most interesting (yet useless) competition is for the fifth starter spot.  There are six pitchers gunning for the rotation with Luke Hochevar the favorite to lead a staff that includes Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen, Sean O’Sullivan, Vin Mazarro and Davies.  I know Nick thinks Chen is out of the rotation by July.  Perhaps, but we do agree he will be in the mix at the start of the season.  Hochevar seems a lock, as does Francis.  I’ll include Davies here, too.  So that puts the competition down to O’Sullivan and Mazarro.

I said that was the most interesting battle in camp?  Sigh.

March 31 can’t get here fast enough.

A couple of spring notes of interest…

– I certainly fall into the camp that (most) spring stats are meaningless, but Everett Teaford had better get his act together.  Yeah, it’s just two appearances, but getting hammered for 11 hits and 10 runs isn’t going to get you anywhere… Even in March.  He will get a shot at spring redemption on Wednesday afternoon.

– We finally have a Wilson Betemit sighting as the third baseman started and when 0-4 with two strikeouts in Tuesday’s game.  He’s dealing with a hyper extended elbow from winter ball.  I think the injury, combined with Mike Aviles’ hot bat and improved glove, have Aviles positioned to be the Royals opening day starter at the hot corner.  Unless Chris Getz continues to underwhelm.  Which isn’t much of a reach.

– Getz is 1-14 this spring while Pedro Feliz is 1-13.  As I mentioned with Teaford, I’m not going to put a lot of stock in spring numbers – even when they validate my opinion of certain players.  (And in this case they certainly do.)  However, there’s something to be said about being part of the crowd.  In other words, you are allowed to struggle, but you don’t want to be so putrid that you stand out among your teammates.  That’s what a 1-14 will do… Get you noticed… In the wrong way.

– That fan that got pegged in the eye by an errant hot dog toss courtesy of Sluggerrr was in court on Tuesday.  John Coomer was allegedly struck in the eye by the Yuni-like frankfurter throw and suffered a detached retina and has undergone three surgeries.  When will these teams learn?  If I remember correctly, a vegetarian was clobbered with a hot dog (sans bun apparently) at a Blue Jay game several years ago.  As you can imagine, this caused extreme emotional distress.  (Although how it was worse than watching the Blue Jays, I couldn’t tell you.)  Anyway, the parties seem destined to see this through to the end, with the trial expecting to last to Thursday.

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.

For various reasons, I have been pretty much out of the Royals’ loop for the better part of the past two weeks.   Here’s what I apparently missed:

  • Ned Yost views Jarrod Dyson as the best lead-off option on the team and that no one else really fits the role.  Of course, even Ned intimates that Dyson has little chance to make the roster.   I pointed out the void of a true lead-off hitter within the organization earlier this month.  Is it good or bad to have an opinion much the same as the Royals’ manager?
  • Chris Getz’s head is okay now.   Although I kind of have a weird fascination with Getz, that feeling will last exactly as long as it takes the Royals to call up Mike Moustakas.   At that point, Getz will either stop playing or start taking time away from a far superior hitting Mike Aviles.  When that happens, fascination will no longer describe my feelings towards this player.
  • Everett Teaford’s truck was stolen.   That’s a shame.
  • Joakim Soria wants a new nickname.   I can see his logic, given what is going on in his native Mexico, but color be completely bored with this topic.   Nicknames, at least non-sarcastic ones, have never really been all that interesting to me and maybe, just maybe, when you are as good as Joakim Soria we could just refer to him as, well, Joakim Soria.
  • A number of pitchers had ‘the ball come out of their hands real good’ and a similar number of position players reported to camp ‘in the best shape of their lives’.
  • Of course, as Craig detailed yesterday, Jason Kendall confirmed my feeling that he is pretty much of a clown (not the funny type, mind you).   Listen, I don’t have any fond feelings for Nick Wright, but there was nothing in his questioning of Mike Moustakas that warranted intervention from anyone.   I guess we can thank Kendall for making just another ‘softball question-cliche answer’ standard baseball interview something interesting.   Certainly, what Kendall did is no worse than what George Brett did to a young television reporter on the golf course last year (or was it two?).   The difference is that George Brett is in the Hall of Fame and Jason Kendall never will be:  nobody said life was fair.

I guess all this column really does is remind all of us how non-eventful this time of year can be.    All that changes on Sunday as the games start.   You can make the argument that spring training stats do not matter, but spring training games certainly do.  

Count me as ready for some actual baseball.

And finally, the Ned Yost over/under stolen base contest.   In Tuesday’s Kansas City Star, Yost talked about the Royals renewed emphasis on baserunning (the team has been a woeful unit on the base paths the past few years) and in that article offered up the following thoughts on stolen base abilities:

  • Mike Aviles: 25 to 30
  • Lorenzo Cain: 25
  • Alcides Escobar: 40
  • Jeff Francouer: 15
  • Chris Getz: 40

“You just have to know how to do it.   You just have to work at it.” (Ned Yost via Kansas City Star)

Alright, which of the above (if any) reach those numbers?   And how many caught stealing do they incur getting there?

Mike Aviles probably didn't make contact on this swing. (Minda Haas/flickr)

Last week, I took a look at performance of Royals hitters under batting coach Kevin Seitzer and how they collectively became some of the best contact hitters in the league.  This week, I’m going to examine the results of that contact and what it means going forward.

There have been a number of studies on batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and it’s correlation to contact rate.  If I just had to guess, I would imagine the more contact you make (i.e. putting the ball in play), the more opportunity you would have to test the defense, which would lead to a strong BABIP.  However, those studies have found the opposite to be true.  The guys with the best batting average on balls in play are generally the ones who take a “grip it and rip it” approach.  It’s the home run hitters with the ginormous strikeout rates that usually have the best BABIP – the guys with the low contact rates.  Someone like Mark Reynolds, who owns a career .323 BABIP fits this profile.  And the fact he posted a career low .257 BABIP last year, further shows there are always exceptions to the rule.

Since the Royals didn’t strikeout all that much as a team (in other words, they made excellent contact) while lacking home run of power, it would follow their team BABIP would be lower than average.  However, that wasn’t the case.

Last year, the Royals had a team BABIP of .305, which ranked them fourth in the AL and was 10 points above the league average.  If you believe in regression to the mean (with a “normal” BABIP of around .300), and if you believe the studies on BABIP, you would pick the Royals to fall off their batting average of .274 from last summer.  Of course, since the Royals don’t believe in the walk as an offensive tool, it’s not a leap of faith to think that if their batting average drops, so too will their team OBP.

That will be something worth following next summer.  In the meantime, what about individual performers and their BABIP?  Fortunately, there is the tool known as xBABIP, which is expected batting average on balls in play.  (You can download a calculator here, with instructions for use from The Hardball Times.)  Essentially, xBABIP takes a hitters batted ball rates and calculates (roughly) what his batting average on balls in play should be.  It’s all kind of meta in that BABIP tells us if a player is lucky on his batting average, while xBABIP tells us if a player is lucky on his BABIP.  See?

Anyway, we can look at xBABIP against true BABIP to see who on the Royals was lucky last summer.  Except this team has experienced quite a bit of turnover from September.  So the following table looks at players who figure to be in the lineup next summer for the Royals and who had enough at bats last year to make this exercise worthwhile.  Remember, a negative difference is good (signifying poor luck) while a positive difference could serve as a warning sign that a correction is looming.

Takeaways from this table:

– The new guys (Frenchy, Cabrera and Escobar) are all “buy low” players.  (I know… Shocking statement of 2011… So far.) All three had rotten BABIPs last year and all three should have been better.  Strange as it may sound, we could expect some improvement from Francoeur and Cabrera.  Still, don’t get carried away.  Improvement from Francoeur means moving his WAR from last year’s 0.5 to something like 0.7.  Notice how he’s the only guy on the list with a sub .300 xBABIP.  It’s because again… He’s not good at baseball.

Meanwhile, Cabrera has more upside.  Best case scenario for him would be to post something like a 1.5 WAR.  However, that means either Alex Gordon is gone or Lorenzo Cain spends the summer breaking in the new stadium in Omaha.

–  Speaking of Alex Gordon, there wasn’t an unluckier Royal than the former top prospect.  Hell, I didn’t need to run these numbers to tell you that.  I saw him hit enough “atom” balls last year to know, the dude just couldn’t catch a break.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…  Gordon is the poster child for bad luck.  I’m not going to say he’s going to breakout, but if he plays all year, I could see him come close to a 2.5 WAR.

– Escobar was often overmatched at the plate, but holds some upside based on his batted ball data.  However, having not watched many Brewer games, I can’t tell if his contact was quality or not.  Tony Pena, Jr. could hit line drives, too.  They just weren’t hit with any kind of authority.  I’ll reserve judgement on Escobar until I follow him closer in regular season action.

– Wilson Betemit will not come close to duplicating his 2010 season.  Good thing the Royals are only on the hook for $1 million. That means we’ll see more Chris Getz, who will be at second because Mike Aviles will slide over to third, or that means we’ll see Mike Moustakas.  Hmmm… Decisions, decisions.

– Mitch Maier was who we thought he was.

–  If Billy Butler starts hitting just a few more flyballs, his xBABIP will rise, he’ll hit more home runs and won’t break Jim Rice’s major league record for hitting into double plays.  Win, win, win.

The following is a contribution from Kevin Flanagan who is a reader and commenter of the blog.  We’ve spent quite a bit of bandwidth over the last couple of years bemoaning the abysmal Royals defense.  Kevin looked at some of the metrics on a position by position basis and came up with a couple of ways the Royals can improve on the field in 2011.  We can only hope.

By Kevin Flanagan

I picked up the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011 the other day and spent the weekend thumbing through it. It has a number of excellent essays on the current state of sabermetric defensive analysis as well as a glimpse into the future as it moves further from an art and more towards a science.

One of the articles that really caught my eye, as a Royals’ fan, was by John Dewan, the man behind Business Information Systems. BIS is the premier data collector of defensive stats. Much of what is collected they protect from the public and sell to their clients, who are MLB teams and player agents, etc.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that BIS has presented its team defensive stats for 2008-2010 in an article entitled, “The Pitching and Defensive Splits.”

While individual performances were not divulged, BIS summed the individual defenders’ contributions for each position on each team and presented the numbers by position to come up with a team total of Defensive Runs Saved above average*.

*For an exhaustive explanation of their system of evaluating defense, here is a link.

If you followed the Kansas City Royals last year, or just about any year of the last decade, you already know what the numbers will say: the Royals’ defense was abysmal. Now, thanks to BIS, we have some pretty reliable numbers to quantify it.

The Royals defense ranked last in all of baseball with -88 runs saved (or, stated another way, 88 extra runs allowed by their defense) above average.  KC was so bad across the board that only the pitcher position (+1) escaped the carnage. Every non-pitching position posted a negative contribution, led by 3B (-24) and SS (-20).

So, of the 845 total runs allowed last year by the Royals, BIS directly attributes 88 of them to the porous defense, leaving 757 attributable to the pitchers. Stripping out the defensive component for each AL team yields the following Pitching Runs Allowed for 2010:

White Sox       674
Rangers           686
Red Sox          688
Rays                690
Yankees          693
Angels             698
Athletics         700
Twins              725
Mariners         735
Royals            757
Tigers              761
Blue Jays        774
Orioles            783
Indians            802

The salient point here is that while KC allowed the most total runs in the AL last year, their pitching was not entirely to blame.  Instead of having the worst team pitching, now we can see that they were actually 10th out of 14 teams, a modest improvement to be sure, but important to know as the Royals decide how and where to allocate their assets for next season.

Since the Royals offense scored 664 runs last year, one can estimate that if they had played just league average defense in 2010, KC’s record would have been more like 70 or 71 wins instead of 67.

***

Now go one step further, and theoretically substitute the league’s best defensive contribution, the Oakland A’s at +74, for Kansas City’s worst of -88, and you have a swing of 162 runs, or exactly 1 per game. This would have the effect of lowering their runs allowed from a league worst of 845 to 683, which would have been good for fourth best in the AL.  To put this in perspective, if the Royals defense had been as good as Oakland’s, then all of a sudden what looks like the worst pitching staff in the league is suddenly in the top four!  You’d be essentially lopping almost a full run off of every pitcher’s ERA. Greinke still looks like an ace, Bruce Chen looks more like a #2 than 4, Hochevar becomes a solid #3, and even Kyle Davies looks like a solid #4 man.  And Sean O’Sullivan…well, nevermind.

And consequently, KC would have been more like a 79-83 team in 2010 and this offseason we would all be talking about making just a few tweaks here and there in order to be a legitimate contender… and maybe Zack Greinke might be talking about how this team is about to take off and he’d really like to sign on for a few more years.

***

We can now see that these defensive effects, subtle though they may be to the naked eye, can have a huge effect on a team’s winning percentage.  And we can more correctly identify the team’s needs. Here is how KC ranked in 2010:

10th in Runs Scored
10th in Pitching Runs Allowed
14th in Defensive Runs Allowed

While the defense is the worst of the three, conveniently it is the easiest one, potentially, to upgrade.  As previously mentioned, the two worst offenders were 3B (Callaspo and Betemit) and SS (Betancourt).  Mike Moustakas will take over at 3B sometime this year, if not on Opening Day then possibly by early May.  The most pessimistic timetable (barring injury) is early summer.  From what I’ve been able to gather, Moose combines an above average arm with slightly below average range.  He is also a 100% effort kind of player, and from that standpoint alone he will be a huge upgrade over Betemit.  If Moose turns out to be an average defensive 3B overall in the Major Leagues, that would be a difference of 24 runs saved over 2010.

In late October John Dewan offered up this tidbit from his website: Yuniesky Betancourt cost his team more runs, at -21, than any other defensive player in baseball this year.  In an ironic twist of fate for the Royals, the best defensive player in all of baseball, Brendan Ryan of the St Louis Cardinals, not only plays the same position, SS, but is also imminently available right now, and it would appear that the asking price shouldn’t be too high.  St. Louis just traded for Ryan Theriot and has already appointed him as their starting SS for 2011*.  Brendan Ryan won’t hit a whole lot, but substituting his defense (+24) for Yuni’s is a positive swing of 45 runs.  This may be the single most important move the Royals could make this offseason to improve their team.  The difference defensively between Ryan and Yuni is equivalent to the offensive difference between Yuni and Hanley Ramirez… yeah, think about that for a second.  Yet Ryan can probably be had for a middle reliever or a AA prospect, either way its relatively painless.

*With their staff built around the Dave Duncan pitch-to-contact/throw ground balls philosophy, don’t be surprised if there is some serious regression from their pitching this year…  Joe Strauss, beat reporter for the Cards, recently said about Brendan Ryan that he became a ‘clubhouse irritant to his manager and veteran teammates’ last year.  You don’t write this about a guy on the team you cover everyday unless you are pretty sure he won’t be around next year.

Another sore spot for the Royals defensively in 2010 came, surprisingly enough, in RF where they were -13 runs above average.  It would be interesting to know the individual contributors in this case, but evidently David DeJesus had more trouble adjusting to the position than I would have guessed. He played 597 innings in RF (42% of the team’s total) while Mitch Maier accounted for 25%, Jose Guillen 12%, Willie Bloomquist 10%, and Jai Miller 8%.  A projected platoon in 2011 of David Lough with the defensive mined Brett Carroll seems likely to be a considerable improvement.  That doesn’t seem like a very probable event at this point, though, so it will be interesting to see what Dayton Moore does and says the rest of the offseason about a right fielder.

Another outfield position that could see immediate and considerable improvement is CF, where Jarrod Dyson seems poised to take over.  Royals CF last year, comprised mostly of Maier (37%), Blanco (24%) and Rick Ankiel (15%), logged a rating of -4.  Dyson, while only playing in 9% of the team’s innings in CF, wowed both the scouts and the statheads with his defensive play.  His defensive ability appears to be on par with the best in the game, including Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez, Houston’s Michael Bourne, and Detroit’s rookie Austin Jackson.  Those 3 teams had CF ratings of 17, 15, and 27 runs saved above average.  If he hits enough to make the team and play everyday, Dyson could save his team 20-25 runs above what the Royals got from their 2010 CF’s.

At 2B, Aviles (53%) and Getz (37%) were the prime suspects in a -12 rating, and it appears the two will share the position again in 2011.  However, I think there is a good chance that both players improve if they stay healthy.  Aviles, coming back early from tommy john surgery, looked very tentative for most of the season.  In Aviles only other full MLB season, 2008, he put up very good defensive numbers.  Getz also battled various injuries most of the year.

Left Field was just a minor crisis for the Royals last year at -8 runs above average.  Podsednik played 56% of the innings there while Alex Gordon logged 486 innings, or 34% of the season.  Again, it would be nice to know the individual contributions here, but judging from UZR/150 at Fangraphs, Podsednik probably deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the negative rating.  Gordon, in fact, looked pretty good out there (and from UZR/150) and I think its reasonable to expect he might be league average in LF as soon as this year.

Catcher and 1B both rated as -4 for the Royals in 2010.  A higher percentage of Kaaihue (or Hosmer?) in 2011 should pull that number at least up to average, if not slightly above.  I’m not quite as optimistic at catcher, however.  I am a fan of Bryan Pena and am looking forward to seeing what he can do playing full time but it seems unlikely that his defense will be as good as Kendall’s (not that his was that good).  Interestingly, in 2008 and 2009 John Buck and Miguel Olivo, neither of whom are known for their defensive chops, combined for a -5 rating at the position.  Not significantly worse than what Kendall and Pena showed this year.

In summary, with just one important acquisition, Brendan Ryan, and a couple of natural upgrades at 3B and each of the OF positions and some good health, the Royals could actually improve significantly in the defensive department next year over 2010:

3B (Moose)                 20-25 runs saved
SS (Ryan)                   40-50 runs saved
CF (Dyson)                 20-25 runs saved
RF (Lough/Carroll)    5-15 runs saved
LF (Gordon)               5-10 runs saved
2B (Aviles/Getz)        5+/- runs saved
1B (Kila)                     4+/- runs saved

Altogether this represents a savings of 100-135 defensive runs over 2010, which would put the Royals back around league average to slightly above and would net them 10-14 more wins.  Of course, the big key to this is acquiring Brendan Ryan… Did I mention that replacing Betancourt with Brendan Ryan might be the single most important thing Dayton Moore can do to improve this team this winter?

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catcher (including a series preview),  first base, second base and third base.

First, let’s take a look at some of the players who played shortstop and how they hit while they played the position.

Willie Bloomquist got one game at short and Mike Aviles got thirteen, but the real story of the position is Yuniesky Betancourt.  Betancourt played the position day after day and he was never put in any other spot.  The numbers that we’ll see below come almost exclusively from Yuniesky, so he’s the one guys stats above.  The case of Betancourt is extremely interesting.  His existence on the team is representative of so many different things depending on who you ask.  Some people will tell you that he represents the absolute failure of Dayton Moore at the Major League level.  Others believe he is representative of the absolute trainwreck that the shortstop position has been for the Royals.  Still others will tell you he’s one of the best players on the team and and they’ll be countered with arguments that are nearly the polar opposite.  Those discussions will rage on as long as he’s on the team, and they’ve been analyzed at this site as well.  So, let’s just try and look at the numbers without the bias of our feelings towards the Yunigma.

One thing you can say is that Betancourt was durable.  He played 151 games at a position which gets a lot of work during a season.  Sometimes I forget about the durability issue with players, and I think that as a whole we underrate it.  The ability to stay healthy, whether it’s luck, conditioning or some combination could be in my mind the 6th tool for a baseball player.  Beyond durability, Yuniesky showed decent homerun totals for a shortstop by mashing 16 bombs.  He still doesn’t get on base at a rate which is respectable, and the combination of a burst of power and his lack of getting on base translated into an average offensive shortstop.    Lets see how the Royals shorstops compared to the rest of the league.

Clearly, with 151 of 162 games Yuniesky’s numbers mirror those of the entire Royals shortstop corps.  The numbers rank right about in the middle, not spectacular but not terrible.    What’s odd are that the very stark differences in the Royals numbers with those surrounding them.  Yuniesky is an extreme hitter, which makes the extreme as well.    The Royals shortstops had the lowest strikeout rate in the AL (shocked me), and the second lowest walk rate (didn’t shock me).  That clearly translated into a low OBP (11th) and an ok batting average (8th), but the one skill which propelled the Royals to the middle of the pack was the SLG (4th).

I’d imagine even the most die-hard Yuni supporter will admit that the power he showed in 2010 was likely an aberration, and therefore unsustainable.  The Royals are on the hook for $1.62m to Yuniesky in 2011, so it’s an almost certainty that barring injury he gets nearly the same number of games in 2011 that he got in 2010.  Mike Aviles’ arm has likely fully healed from his Tommy John surgery and could pick up some more time at SS as the Royals attempt to work out the third base and second base situations.  Christian Colon was drafted in the first round in 2010 and had a solid debut in his first professional season.  He’s unlikely to be ready to play in 2011, but he could be in the mix for 2012.

I admit, there is something nice about a regular contributor at shortstop who can hit for some power and who can play every day.  I don’t believe that Yuniesky is anything more than a stop-gap and what happens in the post-Yunigma era will be a very important decision for Dayton Moore.

This is the third post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catchers (including a series preview) and first basemen.

So, let’s take a look at who played second for the Royals in 2010 and how they hit while they were playing that position.  I left out Willie Bloomquist and Wilson Betemit as they had very few plate appearances.

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Mike Aviles got the bulk of the duties at second in 2010, but I was kind of surprised to see how much time Chris Getz got.  I know the Royals really wanted to see what he had, but it still seemed like he was in less than 64 games.  It certainly was a tale of two players though.  Aviles had a wOBA of .336 while Getz posted a .274.  Those numbers are reflected in their sOPS+ which shows Aviles as roughly 12% better than the average second baseman and Getz about 37% worse.  The only category which Getz was an improvement over Aviles is his walk rate.

Giving Chris Getz all of those plate appearances gave the Royals a good look at their new acquisition, however it clearly had a negative impact on the overall offensive output.  Aviles by himself is a top three offensive second baseman in the American League, but Getz drags that down to seventh overall.  As a unit, they probably aren’t walking enough, but putting the ball into play wasn’t an issue.  Both Aviles and Getz have a low strikeout rate, which helped the unit put up the second best number in that category.

Defensively, Getz looked good and Aviles is no slouch either.  In fact, Aviles was the only Royal other than Zack Greinke and Bruce Chen to get votes in the Fielding Bible Awards.  It will be extremely interesting to see how the Royals handle this position and these two players next year.  Aviles’ arm will be completely healed from the Tommy John surgery he had last season, so he can play at third base, shortstop or second base.  I am quite sure the Royals still want to get an extended look at Getz because he has above average speed, is an above average base-runner and has shown a decent glove.

I don’t foresee the Royals making any off-season moves at second base this year.  Between Aviles and Getz they are covered for 2011.  How they are going to split time will be the key question.  However, that could come down to who is the everyday third-baseman prior to the arrival of Mike Moustakas.  I’d bet that Getz is the opening day second baseman with Aviles at third.  Coming down the pipeline, Johnny Giavotella could be the second baseman of the future.  He is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League after having a breakout offensive year at double-A Northwest Arkansas.  His defense is reportedly below average, but his offensive ability is solid and his makeup is off the charts.

The end of the season is really sneaking up on me.   There are only six games remaining for the Royals in the 2010 season.  I admit, even for a Royals blogger it gets harder and harder to really watch a lot of Royals games at this point in the season.  I tend to drift to some football games, some more important baseball games or a TV show like Mad Men to fill my time rather than a Royals game.  I doubt I am alone in this, it’s only natural.  The team is currently in line for the 4th overall draft pick (that’s my glass half full mindset), and while I thought that the teams coming into the K to end the season would be playing for something important, it seems that the playoff picture is nearly complete in the American League.  However, there are still interesting things happening on the field and with the team.

Jarrod Dyson hit his first Major League homerun last night.  It’s always a cool moment for a rookie to get  that under his belt.  However, it was extremely unlikely that it was going to happen for Jarrod Dyson last night.  Why?  Dyson hit one homerun in 1,245 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues.  It didn’t happen until his 5th season when he was in AAA.  He even had 315 plate appearances with AA Northwest Arkansas, where he played at one of the most homerun friendly parks in the Texas League, and had zero homeruns.  I seriously doubt that Dyson has found his power stroke, and his limiting factor in being an everyday player for the Royals is his bat.  However, stranger things have happened than a guy figuring out how to improve his hitting at the Major League level.  I am a big Jarrod Dyson fan and I sincerly hope he figures it out.

I remember once-upon-a-time there was some chatter about how great Yuniesky Betancourt is, particularly compared to other shortstops.  Oddly, that kind of talk has been quiet.  It probably has to do with the fact that the only player that has played for the Royals this year with a lower OBP is rookie catcher Luke May.  Or it possibly could be some of the following ranks he holds among qualified shortstops:

Batting Average: 15th of 22
On Base Percentage : 21st of 22
Slugging Percentage: 10th of 22
wOBA: 16th of 22

I know that you have to put someone at shortstop and there are possibly worse options than the Yunigma, but if you are going to feed me crap, just tell me it’s crap.  Don’t cover it in flower and call it a donut.

Joakim Soria is the best reliever in baseball.  He is better than Mariano Rivera, and I don’t even think its debateable.  He notched his 42nd save last night to match a career high.  The Royals as a team have won 64 games.  A little quick math tells me that Soria has saved two thirds of the Royals wins this year.  Two thirds, think about that.  Soria needs three more saves to get into a tie for the Royals single-season lead.  Here are the top 5 Royals seasons for saves:

1.(tie) Jeff Montgomery (1993) – 45
1.(tie) Dan Quisenberry (1983) – 45
3. Dan Quisenberry (1984) – 44
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2008) – 42
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2010) – 42

I think it would be really cool if Soria could end on 45 and the trio of great Royals closers could all share the single-season lead.

Billy Butler raised his batting average by a point last night to .321 by going 2-for-4.  That ranks him 5th in the Major League.  Yes, he isn’t a good defender and yes, he hits into a lot of double plays, but the kid can flat out hit the ball.  It’s not just his ability to hit the ball either.  Butler has been getting on base to the tune of a .390 OBP which ranks 6th in the American League.  I hear a lot of people bemoan his lack of power, but from day one, I’ve been beating the drum that Billy Butler is a hitter, not a masher.  I think he has the ability to become Tony Gwynn-esque, I don’t think anyone would quibble with that.

Kila Ka’aihue has struggled since being called up from the Minors, but there are indications he is starting to find his way.  He has hits in 7 of his last 9 games.  Since being called up, Kila has 2 more walks (19) than Mike Aviles (17) and is only two shy of the Yunigma (21).  Ned Yost continues to give him time to get acclimated and I believe will do so throughout the 2011 season.  Kila is a cheap player who has a great opportunity to produce in areas the Royals are sorely lacking, OBP and power.  I don’t get it, but there is a segment of Royals fans who seem to get giddy when Kila struggles.  I don’t know if it is some kind of odd desire to see Mike Jacobs come back, or if in Kila they have found some way to channel their anger at people who like the statistical side of baseball.  Either way, it confuses the heck out of me.

Finally, I will continue sending out the Royals Organization Report throughout the Fall.  I’ll be including the Arizona Fall League and the Pan Am Qualifying tournament, so drop me an email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com and I will add you to the list.

Contact Nick Scott via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via Twitter @brokenbatsingle or via Facebook .  If you would like to receive his daily Royals system boxscores via email, just drop an email and request it.  He will be sending out boxscores for both the Pan Am Games and the Arizona Fall League.

Mike Aviles, apparently, is a hard guy to love.

Back in 2008, the Royals endured 46 starts of Tony Pena Jr. playing historically bad baseball (.169/.189/.209) and even tried Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German at shortstop before, reluctantly, giving Mike Aviles a chance to play.     Four hundred and forty-one plate appearances later, Aviles had fashioned a .325/.354/.480 line for an OPS+ of 121 and a WAR of 4.0 as a 27 year old rookie.   Along the way, Mike had even played good defense, posting a 24.0 UZR/150.

Even after the 2008 campaign, however, there were grumblings that Aviles would certainly regress due to his .357 BABIP and the relatively small sample size of defensive numbers we had to deal with. 

Along cam 2009 and Aviles was awful as he tried to play through an injury that would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery.    His defense was poor and the bat non-existent (.183/.208/.250).  

The Royals were outright mad at Aviles, too, as they felt he had hidden or at least not been completely forthright about his injury.    Apparently, it is okay for a gritty veteran (Jason Kendall) to try to play through an injury and be lauded for his toughness, but another thing entirely for a second year player who had pretty much had to beat down the door to the majors to do the same.

At any rate, Aviles became persona non grata in Royaland.  We found ourselves with Yunieksy Betancourt on the Royals’ roster and saw Alberto Callaspo blossom at the plate in 2009.   Even then, Dayton Moore went out and traded for another middle infielder in Chris Getz during the off-season.   I, like many others, quietly filed Mike Aviles 2008 season away as just ‘one of those moments in time’, soon to be forgotten.

This past spring, however, Aviles was back in camp and hitting a ton.   So much so, that the Royals even took him north for opening day.    He did not play much or hang around long in April before Mike found himself back in Omaha for 17 games.  

However, Aviles soon found himself back in the majors as the Royals had suddenly (perhaps understandably) lost faith in Alex Gordon at third base.    My guess is that had Trey Hillman stayed on as manager, we probably would have seen a lot more of Aviles at shortstop, but not long after Mike arrived back in the majors, Ned Yost came onboard as the new skipper.

Under Yost, the everyday shortstop was Yuniesky Betancourt come hell or high water.   Whether that made sense or not is a subject for another day, but the end result pushed Aviles over to second base:  a position that he had played far less (79 minor league games) than Mike had at short (377) or third (164).

Aviles got off to a hot start and settled in as a regular, albeit not quite everyday, piece of the Royals lineup.   Still, this wasn’t the Mike we had known in 2008.    While he continued to hit for decent average, there was almost no power in his bat.   After going 0-4 on July 20th, Aviles’ OPS slipped below the .700 mark and although he continued to play, Aviles was once more an afterthought among most Royals’ fans.

Worse even than the slipping offensive output, Aviles was simply not a very good second baseman.   He was Alberto Callaspo Part II – and Alberto was an awful defensive second baseman.

For most of the summer I, along with many others, wondered if maybe Aviles was not totally healthy.     Mark Teahen, playing with a bad shoulder, was an awful third baseman.   Having no faith in your arm leads to rushing everything else in the field and suddenly your footwork is off and your hands turn to stone.   Maybe it was mostly hope (given I own an Aviles jersey) that made me believe that so many of Aviles’ troubles were simply a matter of not being fully recovered and playing a basically new position.   Maybe, just maybe, the 2008 Aviles was still in there somewhere.

In August, Aviles hit .305, but did so without hitting a single extra base hit the ENTIRE MONTH.    Even in my mind, Mike had gone from a part of the future to a placeholder until someone, anyone, better came along.  

Then, September came along, and something changed.   The timid 2010 Aviles who, it turned out, really was protecting his shoulder decided to cut it loose.   Starting on September 13th, he homered in four of five games and went has gone on to post a line of .358/.376/.630 for the month.   Sure, it is September, but last time I checked Fausto Carmona, who Aviles took deep yesterday,  pitches in every month of the year.

For the season, Aviles now stands at .307/.335/.414 with an OPS+ of 104 and a WAR of 1.2.   Not bad numbers for a guy who went half the summer as a dink singles hitter.    

Now, you would be right to once more point out that we should not carried away over a player’s hot September.   Ryan Shealy hit seven September home runs not too long ago and where is he now?   No, really, where is he now?

Still, in Aviles, we have a season just two years ago where he was the highest WAR position player in royal blue since Carlos Beltran, so this September has not come out of nowhere.  

We now have seen just under 1,000 career plate appearances from Aviles and even with the putrid, injury plagued numbers of 2009 included, he has a career line of .299/.327/.422 and an OPS+ of 101.    Somewhere around this mark, we have to stop writing off the lucky .355 BABIP in 2008 and the quasi-lucky .328 BABIP of this season.   (David DeJesus has a career BABIP of .322, by the way, so not everyone regresses to the magic number of .300).

Does any of the above make Mike Aviles an All-Star?    No.   Does it mean second base is not a concern for the next four years?  No.   What it does mean, however, is that Mike Aviles should be the second baseman in 2011 and get a decent amount of time at shortstop as well.   Not to beat a dead horse, but Yuniesky Betancourt currently holds a .286 on-base percentage.

Aviles deserves a little love….at least for another year.