Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Mike Moustakas

As often mentioned recently, the Royals current roster will, for once, also make up the bulk of next season’s 2012 team as well.  I tweeted last month wondering when the last time was that the Royals batting lineup in August was the same as what it would be on Opening Day of the following season.   Not sure anyone came up with an answer (1998 maybe?).

Given the current situation, one I consider to be a positive situation for the most part, we can look forward to next season and actually start assessing what this team might be now as opposed to, well, six hours before the first pitch of the season.   Who will be better?  Or worse?   Let’s take a look.

The Sure Things

  • Billy Butler – He may never be the ‘prototypical DH’ that some crave, but even with a slow start in 2011, Billy has a wOBA of .358 and is likely to have 60+ extra base hits…again.   He won’t get any faster and his days of playing in the field are pretty much over, but Butler will hit.
  • Eric Hosmer – He won’t win rookie of the year, but I am pretty sure Hosmer is the one guy on the Royals that every single organization in the game would like to have.   His .283/.334/.450 line is a nice major league start for a guy who spent all of six weeks in AAA.  We have seen a lot of young players come and go, but Hosmer has the ‘it’ factor.

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

  • Alex Gordon – .303/.376/.502 was what we have all been waiting for, wasn’t it?   Gordon’s fWAR now stands at a spectacular 6.1, making him quite possibly the best leftfielder in the American League.  After four seasons that fell short of the high expectations for Gordon, the question is:  can he do this again?   My guess, my gut feeling is that THIS is Alex Gordon and he will continue on at this level or something near to it.   My heart wants to put him in the ‘sure thing’ category, but logic tells us to be just a shade more cautious.
  • Melky Cabrera – He could go 2-98 next year and still be one of Dayton Moore’s best free agent signings:  that is how good Melky has been this season.  Sure, he is overrated as a centerfielder because of his good arm, but he is not horrible, either.   Raise your hand if you thought Cabrera would be worth 3.3 fWAR.   No one?  Now, raise  them if you think he can do it again.  Yeah, I know, I can’t decide whether to put my hand up or not.
  • Jeff Francoeur – There is nothing wrong with .282/.330/.467 out of Frenchy.   You cannot expect much more and we should all be happy if he can sustain that for the next two years of his new contract.   Will he?  I’m a little skeptical in that Jeff has been prone to ‘fall off the cliff’ type seasons.  Again, it may or may not be logical to be almost certain a 27 year old Alex Gordon has ‘taken the next step’ and be equally skeptical that Francoeur and Cabrera (also 27) have not.  

Destined for Better Things?

  • Mike Moustakas – The swing looks better and the numbers have gone from awful to below average.   Along the way, Moustakas has played better than expected defense (although no one expected much in this area) and kept his confidence.  You would like to see something of a power surge here in September as a springboard to Mike becoming a 25+ home run guy (I doubt he will ever be a big average hitter), but even without a fall hot streak, I will be expected Moustakas to be more of an offensive asset than he has been in 2011.  Frankly, it would be hard for him not to be, right?
  • Alcides Escobar – I am ‘this close’ to buying an Escobar jersey, but am afraid the Fosler jersery jinx might send him into a .221 hitting, error laden 2012.   We saw Alcides have a nice run at the plate and a lot of what happens to him with the bat seems to be attributable to his approach and not actual ability.  In theory, that can fixed.   With the type of defense Escobar displays, he does not have to go much beyond his current .247/.281/.328 line to be good enough.   My gut feeling is that Alcides gets a little more consistent in 2012, but he might also be what he is, too.
  • Johnny Giavotella – Considering how poorly his defense was reviewed in the minors, he actually is not as bad as I thought.  Johnny makes some bad decisions (so does Hosmer by the way) and his hands are the problem.  Range-wise, he gets to most balls and has been working hard at improving himself in the field.   Listen, we have seen ‘brutal’ and it’s name is Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German:  Giavotella is already better than either of them were at second.   At the plate, he has looked better than his numbers reflect, for whatever that is worth and long term, .255/.293/.391 won’t cut it, but Giavotella is no Johnny come lately to successful hitting.   Having hit at every level on the way up, I think he might hit at this level as well.
  • Salvador Perez – I am biased, but Perez is the best young defensive catcher I have seen since – dare we say it – Ivan Rodriguez came up at an early age.  To date, Sal has held his own at the plate as well (in an admittedly small sample size), but truth is if he can totally negate an opponet’s running game and handle the staff he does not have to hit much.  

The shrewd readers of the group will already be thinking that not every young player gets better – especially Royals’ young players, so the odds that everyone above improves or continues to ‘dominate’ are pretty slim.   The Royals’ offense, while inconsistent this year, has been pretty good.  If a player to two elevates and the rest simply hold the line, then this team will be better positionally speaking.

You could see this coming a couple of weeks ago… When Mike Moustakas began making “loud” outs. He was hitting the ball with authority, but hitting them right at fielders. In the last week, those “loud” outs have (finally) turned into base hits. With another multi-hit game Tuesday night, Moose is batting above .500 with an on base percentage north of .600 over his last six games. That’s raised his cumulative line from .182/.237/.227 to .212/.270/.267.

It’s only a good week, but it’s a positive sign from a player who’s been struggling mightily over the last couple of months. Looking at the Pitchf/x data applied to hitters, we can see how Moose has transformed his approach at the plate over the last week. Take this with a grain of salt because we’re dealing with obviously small sample sizes.

First let’s look at the pitches Moose offered at from his debut to just before he started mashing the ball.

There are a couple of soft spots here that (most) pitchers are able to exploit. First, is the high cheese – the fastball up around the letters. According to FanGraphs, Moustakas has a -1.4 wFB/c (that’s fastball runs above average per 100 fastballs) meaning he is a currently below average fastball hitter. (This isn’t a predictive stat, it’s just a way of looking at a hitter and finding out which pitches he has the most difficulty with throughout the course of the season.) No doubt because he’s chasing that fastball up and out of the zone.

Second, note the number of low change-ups the Moustakas swings at in the course of a plate appearance. Also, while we have our eyes below the knees, notice the slider that is down and in that Moose has a difficult time avoiding. He owns a -2.78 wCH/c and -4.86 wSL/c, making those his two worst pitch types when it comes to finding success. From the chart, it’s not difficult to see why he’s having trouble with those pitches. He’s swinging and missing at 17% of all sliders he sees and only puts 12% of all change ups in play.

Basically, over his first two months in the big leagues, there’s been more than one way to kill a Moose, but this is how you get him out… Start him with a high fastball and finish him with a low off speed pitch. We all know that’s been an effective approach.

Now, onto our really small sample size… Here are the pitches Moustakas has swung at since he’s gone on his mini hot streak.

He’s laying off the high cheddar and isn’t offering at the low off speed pitches like he did over the first couple of months. Again, this is an extremely small sample size, but this is how hot streaks are conceived. Moose has shortened his strike zone, has become more disciplined and is refusing to chase pitches that had previously been his Kryptonite. Overall, he’s swinging at over 36% of all pitches he sees out of the zone, compared to the league average of 30%. I don’t know how he’s done in the last week, percentage wise, but we can see from the chart, it appears he’s offering at out of the zone pitches less frequently than the league average.

Again, take this for what it is: The smallest of small sample sizes. We’re dealing with a week’s worth of data here… Always dangerous when drawing conclusions.

This ignores what has become an alarming lack of power. Moustakas has a Getzian 10 extra base hits in 239 plate appearances. Maybe he’s turning the corner here… Three of them have come in the last week. Still, he hasn’t gone yard since his home run against Joel Piniero in his sixth career plate appearance. That was over 57 games ago.

However, this follows the Moustakas M.O. in that he starts slowly at each level, adjusts, then begins to rake. That’s why the Royals have largely left him alone since he was recalled in June. September will be a crucial month in his development as a major league hitter. He needs to turn this mini hot streak into something that continues to the end of the season to give everyone – himself, the organization and fans – the belief that he can be a major league hitter. It’s possible we’re witnessing the turning point of his early career. Mark this post down and revisit it at the end of the season. We’ll see if his new approach holds over the course of the season’s final six weeks.

The Kansas City Royals are not a contending team –news to nobody, I’m sure. However they are closer than they’ve been to a contender in quite some time. I’m going to embark on a series of articles which will shed some light on how the Royals can become a contender and what the pitfalls will be. Before that though, I need to establish the single most important thing that this team needs to do to become a contender. This is all going to seem a bit elementary, but I want to start down a logical path that will eventually lead us to a solid conclusion.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about the improvement that this team has shown, especially in regard to the offense. The numbers from then still hold true. The Royals continue to score at a rate of 4.33 runs per game, which is good for 6th in the American League. They still struggle mightily with allowing runs and have dropped to 4.84 runs per game, placing them 12th in the AL.

For the Royals to become contenders, they have to find some way to score more runs than they allow. In the abstract, you can either try and score more runs, or you can try and prevent more runs in an effort to improve your team. To score more runs, the Royals will need to upgrade their lineup. To prevent more runs, the Royals can improve their starting rotation, their defense and their bullpen.  See, I told you this would be simple stuff.

We’ve established that currently the Royals have the 6th best scoring offense in the American League. Assuming that “contending” means to have a shot to win a division, and there are around 2 contenders in each division it seems appropriate that a top 6 offense is certainly of that caliber. Offense can and will fluctuate, so the Royals cannot get complacent. Looking at the current offense, there are a few factors which would lead me to believe that this isn’t an aberration and they can actually improve on their position.

The most important factor is their age. The 2011 Royals offense according to Baseball-Reference has a weighted age of 26.2. That is the second youngest team offense in Royals history next to the 1969 expansion team. It’s also the youngest in the American League by 1.6 years. It isn’t a guarantee that these players will all improve as they get older and enter their prime years, but it’s a better bet than they will decline.

Another factor is there isn’t anyone leaving anytime soon. Players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Johnny Giavotella, Salvador Perez are all very young and under team control. Other productive players like Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Melky Cabrera all have at least one year left if not three or four. There is no eminante departures for any of these players.

The final factor in the offense is the ability to back-fill. The Royals Minor League system has been touted for this entire year and a lot of that is due to the big time prospects like Hosmer and Moustakas. However, what makes them elite is the depth of the system. If Johnny Giavotella can’t make it, they have Christian Colon. If Melky falters they have Lorenzo Cain. If Francouer goes back to a pumpkin then they have Wil Myers. If Moustakas can’t figure things out they have Cheslor Cuthbert. They continue to fill the funnel as they spent another team record in the amateur player draft with players like Bubba Starling.

All of this combines to provide some reassurance that this offense will continue to produce at a contending level. Things will change, moves will have to be made but it’s not where the team should focus their efforts in attempt to bring another flag to Kauffman Stadium. In the next installment, I’ll lay out the run prevention side of things and get to the heart of the team’s problems.

(spoiler alert: It’s probably the starting rotation)


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Johnny G

Gia is running to KC. (Minda Haas/flickr)

I asked on Wednesday and it took less than 48 hours for the Royals to respond. According to Bob Dutton on Twitter, the Royals are calling up 2B Johnny Giavotella from Triple-A.

It’s the best kind of call-up because it’s one that’s absolutely deserved. Gia is hitting .339/.391/.481 in just under 450 at bats for the Storm Chasers.

The Royals had a spot open on the 40-man roster, so they don’t have to expose anyone to waivers, but they will obviously have to shed someone from the 25-man. And the Royals, as usual, are playing coy in announcing who gets shipped north on I-29. In my mind, there are three candidates.

First, would be Everett Teaford. He was called up to replace Kyle Davies, but the Royals dumped the six-man rotation and are now carrying 13 pitchers – eight in the pen. I know the starters are abysmal (collectively speaking) but to carry an eight man bullpen is still a heavy dose of crazy. (Unless you’re in St. Louis with the mastermind Tony LaRussa at the helm. He knows how to run a bullpen. Plus, he needs all those arms when he goes headhunting.) Many of us thought that Johnny G would get the call ahead of Teaford earlier in the week. After watching Teaford struggle on Tuesday, maybe the Royals have decided to make a change.

Second, would be Chris Getz. When you bring up Gia, he has to play every day. Has to. You don’t call up a youngster who was torching Triple-A pitchers just to ride the pine in the bigs. (If the Royals do something like this… I don’t even want to think about it.) So if Gia is playing second everyday, Getz immediately becomes surplus. The Royals picked up a younger, versatile player with more upside in Yamacio Navarro, so he’s the guy who you keep. Navarro can play three infield positions (plus the outfield, although that’s a stretch.) Getz is a second baseman (one with limited range) who can’t possibly back up short or third. He only has one position. It’s taken just two games for Navarro to show he’s hugely better at the plate than Getz. I haven’t a clue how Navarro would do at 2B, but since it looks like Getz often is wearing Alberto Callaspo’s cement shoes, I have to think he can’t possibly be worse. Getz has an option and can be sent down without being exposed to waivers.

Third, would be Mike Moustakas. We all know Moose has been miserable at the plate the last month or so. If he got sent back to Triple-A to build confidence, it would be difficult to argue against that move. However, the Royals stated that Moose was taking a couple of days off to work with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and would assume his role at third. Just a working vacation to clear his head and smooth out his approach at the plate. I like this approach and hope the Royals hold the course here. Moose has nothing left to prove in Omaha and has been a slow starter at every level. Keep him in KC where he can work with the hitting savant Seitzer and give him time to get right. Honestly, it seems to go against the direction of this organization to send Moose down. The new M.O. is to call up the prospects and keep them up, struggles be damned.

As I write this early Friday morning, I think Teaford gets the axe. But I hope it’s Getz.

The good news is Giavotalla is here. Finally. Think about this… A Hosmer-Gio-Escobar-Moose infield.

The future really is now.

EDIT: Bob Dutton is reporting that it looks like Navarro is being shipped out. Robert Ford from the Royals radio post game thinks it’s to give him regular time as the Royals think he can be an everyday second baseman.

Gut reaction: This makes no sense. But it is the Royals.

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?

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B+

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: C-

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: C

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

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

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

Grade: A

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kila Ka’aihue
.195/.295/.317
-0.1 WAR

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

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

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

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

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

Grade: B

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

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

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

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

Grade: D-

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

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

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

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Davies will finish the season in the Royals rotation.

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

Melky Cabrera will be traded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will not see Johnny Giovatella this season.

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

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

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

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

Nobody associated with the Royals will notice.

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

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

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

Really. It’s going to happen.

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

Yep… That’s going to happen, too.

The Royals will finish in fourth place.

Because I’m an optimist at heart.

As I get older, I learn to appreciate a few things that would have been unthinkable in my youth…

Add well pitched ballgames to the list.

That’s why I thought Tuesday night’s game was – for the first six innings – brutal.

Trevor Cahill in particular was just awful. He threw 96 pitches, but just 47 strikes. It was the worst pitching performance I’ve seen (non-Royal category) since any Daisuke Matsuzaka start over the last three seasons. And it wasn’t like Cahill was getting squeezed. He was all over the place… I mean, when he wasn’t throwing the ball 55 feet and bouncing it in the dirt, he was airmailing pitches to the backstop.

Cahill has struggled lately. He’s giving up home runs and walking batters like crazy. In his four starts prior to Tuesday, he had thrown 22 innings, allowed 14 walks, five home runs and 15 strikeouts. Opposing batters have been teeing off, hitting .337/.425/.551 against him during this stretch.

I wonder if the Royals knew about this. This is a question I’ll ask again and again, now that the team does all of their advanced scouting by video. What exactly are they watching on these videos? Because if they’re watching the TV broadcast feeds, they’re doing it wrong. I’m sure there are different camera feeds available, but how much of a pain is it to watch an entire game isolated on a starting pitcher to see how he’s standing on the mound, if he’s tipping his pitches, his delivery time to home, etc… And then have to switch to another feed to see how the infielders are positioned, or how the play is made in the outfield. I imagine, if you were doing a thorough scouting job, it would take you six hours to scout a single game by video.

I bring up this scouting issue again, because Royals hitters seemed to take the wrong approach from the beginning.

Take the first inning. Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer saw a grand total of eight pitches. That’s not exactly working the count. Gordon offered at a tough pitch out of the zone, Melky swung at a ball (shocking) and Hosmer offered at a pitch down and away on an 1-0 count that he would have been better off taking.

Not a good start.

The second was, in some ways, worse. That’s because after he walked Jeff Francoeur (which should be a warning sign for anyone watching a ballgame that this particular pitcher doesn’t have it) Billy Butler had an outstanding plate appearance. This was one of the few times of the night Cahill was spotting his pitches. The first three were low and away… off the plate for balls. These were pitches thrown with good intent in that if Butler makes contact with those and puts them in play, he’s grounding into a double play. The Frenchman negates that possibility by stealing second on the third pitch of the Butler at bat. Then, Butler takes two called strikes on pitches low and away, but deemed in the zone by the home plate umpire, Bill Welke. (I’m not sold on the first pitch, but the second one was good.) He fouls one off and then takes ball four.

You now have two hitters who have walked to lead off an inning against a pitcher who has had command problems in the past. You have a young hitter coming up and the lower third of the batting order coming behind him.

You make the call…

If you’re Nervous Ned Yost, you bunt.

Huh?

Bunting in the second inning with your rookie stud, against a starting pitcher with command issues and with Matt Treanor and Chris Getz immediately following? That’s mismanagement of the highest order.

(At least I’m assuming he ordered the bunt. We don’t know because neither the KC Star story or the MLB.com story has this info. I Googled, but couldn’t come up with the answer if the bunt was called by Yost or Moustakas freelanced. The fact that neither game summary included the word “bunt” is slightly surprising, considering the Royals sacrificed three times Tuesday.)

Instead of setting up for a potential big inning, you’re playing for one run in the second inning… Frustrating. And guess what? It worked when Coach T grounded out and brought Francoeur home.

The Royals encountered a similar situation in the fourth. Runners on first and second and no outs, but with Chris Getz at the plate. In that situation, I have no problem with asking Getz to sacrifice – which he did. Because letting Getz hit is a little like asking the pitcher to swing the bat. With a 91 percent contact rate and a 51 percent ground ball rate, he would seem to be a double play candidate. (Although a quick check of the numbers shows this isn’t exactly the case. In 34 double play opportunities this year, Getz has grounded into just one double play. Although it helps he’s sacrificed an AL leading 10 times.)

Again, this sacrifice worked as Alcides Escobar put the ball in play and hit a weak chopper to third. Moose, running on contact, was able to score easily.

I fear this sort of stuff is putting the wrong ideas in Yost’s head.

Anyway, Cahill’s struggles are issues for Oakland bloggers to address, but it seems we have our own problems with Danny Duffy. Everyone will make a fuss over his first major league win, but that glosses over the fact that he really labored in the fourth and fifth innings. In his first 39 pitches (innings one through three) he tossed 26 strikes. He wasn’t helped by his defense in the second when Moose made an error at third, but then was bailed out by The Frenchman and his cannon of an arm in right.

(I tweak the Royals for ditching their advance scouting department, but I wonder if other teams have done the same… Uhhhh, you don’t run on the outfield arms. Unless you want to be thrown out. Does anybody playing baseball ever watch baseball?)

Then in the fourth, after the Hideki Matusi home run, it all went to hell for Duffy. Over his final three innings, he needed 65 pitches and threw only 37 strikes. Not to mention, his velocity really dipped as the game progressed.

Was that the effect of adrenaline? His family and girlfriend made the trip from nearby Lompoc, his hometown. Who knows.

Still, it was a good night for the Royals at the plate. The Shortstop Jesus can suddenly hit and picked up three while driving in two runs. He looks like a different hitter at the plate. Hosmer broke an 0-fer with a pair of hits. And Moose got the first two-hit game of his career. The bullpen was solid as well. Greg Holland had a lock-down seventh, but wobbled in the eighth with a couple of bad breaks before Aaron Crow picked him up. Then Soria finished with a challenging, yet successful performance.

What we do know is that Duffy, despite getting that first win, has a ton of work to do. Same for the manager.

I have been on vacation since June 3rd: out of the country kind of  vacation and hence quite removed from the Royals.   While managing to check the box scores late at night and marginally keep up with roster moves, it was all pretty superficial stuff.   The night before leaving and a full week before Mike Moustakas got the call, I wrote this, so my internet persona remained somewhat topical.

While Craig and Nick carried the load of the MLB Draft, Moustakas and a four game sweep at home to the Twins, I reemerge to a reality where the Kansas City Royals are only six and one-half games out of first place.   What would you have said back in March if told that the Royals would be in that position in the middle of June?   Due to how this situation has transpired, most of us have passed through the euphoria of contending and back into the status quo of wait until next year.

Think about it this way:  since calling up Eric Hosmer, the Royals have gone 12-23 yet lost only two games in the standings.   Those two games, however, have certainly turned the tide (probably correctly) from ‘hey, we can win this!’ to ‘let’s not worry about wins and losses and get set to be somebody next year’.   Listen, I don’t have any idea where this team is going this year, but I am certain that the call-up of Moustakas signals Dayton Moore’s intention to at least be in and stay in the conversation, not in 2013, but instead in 2012.

To Close Or Not to Close

In the span of ten days, Joakim Soria surrendered the closer role, got and back and then notched two saves (one pretty, one not).   In between, Soria pitched five perfect innings, albeit with just one strikeout, but perfect nonetheless.

Alas, Aaron Crow’s career as a Royals’ closer came and went without an opportunity, which was probably good considering he has allowed three runs and four walks in his last five plus innings.    Probably just a little case of rookieitis, but Crow could be possible use a couple of low leverage stints to right the ship.

Right now, is the best pitcher in the Royals’ bullpen Greg Holland?

Rotation, rotation, rotation

What happens this year, next year and the year after that really pretty much comes down to the starting rotation, doesn’t it?

I thought Craig had a very interesting piece on Danny Duffy last week and one has to wonder if maybe a sub-par outing on Tuesday versus a bad Oakland lineup might signal the southpaw’s return to Omaha for a little more work.   I don’t have a big problem with Duffy continuing to grind here in the majors, but could certainly see the logic in return him to AAA as well.    Doing so would also ‘game’ Duffy’s service time as well, but Dayton Moore does not seem to be running the organization with that as a primary concern this year.

The interesting pick-up in the rotation is Felipe Paulino, who was not particularly good over the weekend, but has been quite solid thus far.   In the past, Paulino has had stretches of starts like this, so any expectations for him going forward need to be tempered, but he certainly has done enough to warrant staying in the rotation when Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies return.

With Chen and Davies beginning their rehab assignments, what does this rotation look like in a couple of weeks?   Chen obviously gets back in, probably at the expense of Vin Mazzaro.   Despite seven shutout innings yesterday, Mazzaro’s zero strikeouts versus five walks and a hit batter probably will spell another trip up I-29 (assuming it’s not flooded).

How about Davies?   Does he get back in the rotation and, if so, at who’s expense?

Fun With OBP

We’ll finish up with some ‘did you know?’ on-base information (and yes, I realize most of you actually DO know):

  • Second best OBP of a regular on the Royals?   Matt Treanor’s .361, trailing only Billy Butler.
  • Chris Getz has a better OBP than Jeff Francouer and trails that of Melky Cabrera by one point.
  • In his first three games Mike Moustakas,  not know for taking a walk, has three of them.
  • Not really an OBP factoid, but Eric Hosmer has grounded into just one less double play than Billy Butler.

Tell the truth, how excited are you to have Moustakas and Hosmer at the corners for the remainder of 2011?

Thursday’s game wasn’t on TV, but listening to the radio and following on Twitter, one thing was obvious: Mike Aviles is lost. Poor plate appearances, bad base running, questionable defense… Aviles has it all.

Still, the news was surprising. After the game, the Royals sent Aviles to Omaha and called up Mike Moustakas.

Viva Le Process!

After a slow start, Moustakas is on the rise for the Storm Chasers. Overall, he’s hitting .287/.347/.498 in 250 plate appearances. Like Eric Hosmer prior, Moose has earned his call to The Show.

Several thoughts immediately spring to mind.

– First, by optioning Aviles, the Royals have destroyed the trade value of Wilson Betemit. Seriously, where does he play? You don’t call up one of the top prospects in the game to platoon or to play a few times a week. I know the Royals are trying to sell Betemit as Alcides Escobar’s backup at short, but I’m not buying. Betemit has played 407 innings of shortstop in his career, but hasn’t appeared there in a game since he played 57 innings for the Yankees in 2008. He’s played even less at second, which is now the sole territory of Chris Getz.

Betemit is a good hitter… One of the best on this team. Currently at .290/.350/.409 he certainly would have drawn interest at the trade deadline. Honestly, he probably would have been difficult to move for value given that everyone in the baseball universe knew he was blocking Moustakas and the Royals would be desperate to make a deal. Moving him to the bench scotches that value completely.

– Second, we will never, ever see a pinch hitter for the Shortstop Jesus, Alcides Escobar. As I said, I don’t buy the “Betemit at shortstop” meme the Royals are trotting out. We know Yost places a premium on Escobar’s glove – although he completely oversells the defensive contribution of Escobar to justify his bat. He wouldn’t play Aviles there and that was his best defensive position. You think he’s going to remove Escobar from the game in the late innings and have to replace his glove with Betemit’s? No way that happens. No. Way.

It all comes down again to roster math. Which Dayton Moore fails on a regular basis. As Moustakas warmed up for the Storm Chasers, I thought GMDM would need to move Betemit before he could bring up the prospect. There wasn’t a rush… It’s not like the Royals are contenders, so I figured Betemit would be a goner sometime around the All-Star Game with Moose up after the break. Of course, that makes too much sense.

Aviles can play three infield positions… None of them well. But he’s competent enough to sub from time to time. Now that flexibility has vanished. And the Royals are going to seriously try to win games with a double play tandem of Escobar and Getz playing the full nine innings.

– Third, I question the timing. Why now? I wonder if it’s because the Royals are heading to Anaheim, just down the road from Chatsworth, where Moustakas grew up. Would they call-up a prospect just to give him an opportunity to make his debut in his hometown? Seems kind of… strange. As I said, there’s really no hurry to bring him up right now. Moose has certainly earned the call, but there’s no harm at all in keeping him on the farm until the roster situation gets settled.

Super-two status isn’t an issue here. We’re well past the cutoff date.

– Fourth, the Royals will have to make a move on the 40-man roster to make room for Moustakas. Who gets the chop? Kevin Pucetas has struggled in Omaha, but I wonder if the Royals will expose a starting pitcher. Manny Pina has struggled to hit in Omaha and doesn’t figure in the future anyway. Jesse Chavez kind of stinks. Any one of those guys is expendable and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them removed.

– Finally, what are expectations for Moustakas? He is a slow starter when he moves levels, which isn’t unheard of. I’m thinking he plays the rest of the season at a level in the neighborhood of .270/.325/.450.

Keep this in mind, the third base position in the AL is horrible from an offensive standpoint this year. The average AL third baseman is hitting .234/.305/.369. Their .674 OPS is the second worst when ranked by position, ahead of only left fielders. That’s right, AL third basemen are offensively worse than both catchers and shortstops this year. If (and when) Moustakas struggles, we’ll need to maintain a healthy dose of perspective.

Overall, I’m pleased Moustakas is up and The Process continues to roll. It’s the little things that have me worried. And they will continue to have me worried about the future of this franchise.

Calling up a hot prospect is easy. Managing a roster is difficult.