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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Mitch Maier

Boy, a guy leaves town for three days and he comes back to find that the Royals have signed Pedro Feliz.  

To be fair, the Royals are saying all the right things about the Feliz signing.   He is a ‘veteran presence in camp’, ‘insurance against injuries’ and ‘will not stand in the way of Mike Moustakas’.     All of which makes some sense, especially when just a year ago, injuries to Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon left the Royals with Willie Bloomquist as their opening day third baseman.  

Feliz comes with reputation of a good fielding third baseman (a career UZR/150 of 14.9), although he was below average statistically in 2010.   Offensively, Pedro does not offer much (career line of .250/.288/.410) other than some occasional power.   His slugging percentage has been in nearly perpetual decline for seven seasons:  not encouraging when that skill is all Feliz offers with the bat.

Before we get too worked up, however, this is a minor league deal.  An $800,000 minor league deal, mind you, but minor league nonetheless.   Almost all these types of contracts have some sort of deadline date during the spring in which the team can cut the player loose and not have to pay much of the contract amount, so this is, as Dayton Moore said, ‘a no risk’ deal….theoretically.

Anyway, Feliz aside, it is a new month and time for another draft of the Royals’ Opening Day roster.   Gil Meche juggled the situation some for us and we now have Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen in our rotation.   Only Royals’ fans could be comforted by those two names, but we are who we are.     We are close enough to spring training that this exercise is becoming less guess and more fact, so let’s break it down.

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

Four months ago, I was certain Dayton Moore could not resist the allure of a veteran back-up catcher, but has managed to do so.   Some of that may have to do with reports that Jason Kendall is ‘ahead of schedule’.   I’m sure all of you are anxiously counting the days until his return.   Short of every other pitch going to the backstop with Pena and May behind the plate, I don’t think we’ll see any surprises here.

FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER – Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue

About the only question here is who will be where.   There has been some mention of Butler spending a lot more time at DH, but we will just have to see how it all plays out.   Everyone likes big, tall first basemen target wise, so I like Kila at first and Billy at DH, but won’t throw many fits if turns out to be the other way around.   My guess is they alternate and never really decide.   We know Billy will hit, we don’t know if Kila will, but at last we get to find out.

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

Mike Aviles is being ‘converted to third base full-time’, so that pretty much answers any questions here.   The Royals are going to take some time to find out what they have in Getz, which is a luxury they can afford this season.   My guess is the length of the ‘look’ is equal to the time it takes Mike Moustakas to hit 10 home runs in Omaha.  Once Moustakas is up, Aviles will likely knock Getz off second and that will be that.   Both Nick and I have a somewhat irrational ‘like’ of Getz, so we’ll be watching his progress (or lack thereof) closely.

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Hopefully he looks more like the 12th best prospect in baseball than the guy who used his jersey last year in Milwaukee.   Either way, we will see 150+ games out of him at this position.

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

This is likely Aviles’ job to lose as the club is horrified of Wilson Betemit’s glove and should be horrified of Pedro Feliz’s bat.   The Royals never really want to believe in Aviles, but he generally makes them, so I expect Mike to get the Opening Day nod here and hopefully steady duty until Moustakas gets the call.

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

The Royals have barely mentioned Betemit’s name this off-season.  I don’t know if they are afraid to jinx his outstanding offensive performance of 2010 by talking about it or simply don’t believe in him.   Although Wilson has played just about everywhere defensively, he is pretty much a butcher wherever – better than Esteban German, but then most of us are.   Look for Betemit to get some time at third and in the DH/first base rotation as well:  particularly against tough lefthanders in place of Kila.  

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

Lot’s of talk here, but I think the Royals know they have to give Alex one last shot to play everyday and, well, dominate.   It would be ludicrous for a team destined to win 74 games or less to not give Gordon all the at-bats here.

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

I know, you don’t like it.  I don’t like it, either, but it seems like destiny to me.   I just have a hunch that Lorenzo Cain starts the season in AAA.   That situation is annoying, but not the end of the world.   Kind of like having Melky Cabrera as your centerfielder.    Cain has this job by June if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

You’re all just a little curious to see what happens here, aren’t you?   Given Francouer’s ability to stay healthy, you are likely to get 160 games of this in 2011.

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

I can actually envision the team keeping Jarrod Dyson and using him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.   You do not see a lot of that anymore, but it almost makes some sense.   Probably, and barring a lust for Pedro Feliz which is very possible, Blanco and Maier both make this team to start with.   Either one of them probably gives us every bit of what Melky Cabrera does, but they don’t have ‘the name’.   Once Moustakas and Cain get the call, there is a real chance neither one is on the big league roster.   My advise to Gregor and Mitch:  be good savers.

STARTING ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies

This got easy in a hurry after Francis and Chen were signed, plus Davies’ rather amazing inking of a $3.2 million deal.   Sean O’Sullivan and others will get a courtesy look, but this is almost certainly your starting five.   The above listing is my guess at the order.

BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland, Nathan Adcock

I have to be honest, the end of that list is pretty much a guess coupled with my disdain for seeing Jesse Chavez and Kanekoe Texiera pitch.   After thinking Tejeda would be traded this off-season, it appears that will not happen and he, along with Wood and that Soria kid are locks.   After that I think Collins and Jeffress have inside tracks.   I don’t know what more Collins has to prove and my guess is the organization might want to give Jeffress some ‘big league supervision’.    Given where this team is and is going to be for much of 2011, there is little harm in carrying Rule 5 pick Adcock – at least for a while.   As for Holland, his minor league track record is one of an adjustment period at each level followed by outstanding pitching.   We saw some signs of that late in 2010 with Kansas City and I am expecting a big spring out of Greg this year.

An iffy starting rotation and a very young bullpen is something of a volitable combination and I can easily see the Royals shying away from it by going with veteran or quasi-veteran arms in the pen to start the year.   As always the last three spots in the pen are always the hardest to predict.

So, there is your twenty-five.   What’s the record by the end of May?

The excitement level around the Royals has risen considerably this off-season and it has very little to do with what people think the 2011 version of the team will do on the field.   In fact, the level of anticipation has grown despite what the record of this year’s Royals is likely to be.

The trade of the team’s ace pitcher, Zack Greinke, actually increased the level of interest – at least in the blogging corner of Kansas City fandom.   It was seen as a final announcement that The Process is really, finally here.    All of that could be gone if we reach July 15th and Lorenzo Cain is still in Omaha, Alcides Escobar is hitting .221 and Jeremy Jeffress has issued more walks than strikeouts, but for now color us all eager for the season to begin.

The Process will likely be immediately evident in the bullpen where Jeffress, Tim Collins and possibly a Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy or others might well break camp with the big league team.   It will quickly have an impact on the infield as well with Escobar already at shortstop and Mike Moustakas due to take over third base sooner than later (not to mention the extension of Billy Butler’s contract).   There is also an excellent chance that sometime during 2011 we will see some of the highly valued young arms make their way into the big league rotation.

With the exception of Lorenzo Cain, however, The Process brings little to the table in 2011 when it comes to the outfield.  It is likely the Royals will filter, sift and flat out hope their way through six players who, excepting Cain, might not figure in any of the club’s long-term plan.       

The roster offers a cluttered group of guys who are trying to rebound, trying to prove themselves or simply indistinguishable from the next player.    One can look at an outfield of Gordon, Cabrera and Francouer and hope that maybe they all ‘get it’, but a logical (or even a Facebook level of logic) well remind you that if just one of those guys becomes a solid above average producer the Royals should consider themselves lucky.

Let’s take a look at the players and try to sort it all out.

Jeff Francouer – Age 27, Bats – Right

  • Career Line – .268/.310/.425, OPS+ 91, Total WAR: 8.0 (6 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2005
  • Worst Season – 2008
  • The one thing we know for sure about the 2011 Kansas City Royals’ outfield is that Jeff Francouer will be the everyday rightfielder: Dayton Moore promised him as much when Francouer signed.   One thing you can say about Jeff is that he will play everyday, or at least as often as a manager can stand to write his name on the lineup card.   From 2006 through 2009, Francouer missed a grand total of 12 games.    His slugging percentage has been in decline since his rookie season and it is a little hard to see Kaufmann Stadium helping that.   Perhaps the best case scenario is for Jeff to get some good luck – as he did in his 15 games with Texas last year or his first stint with the Mets – and post good numbers due to an inflated batting average and get traded during the season.   For now, if he can match his career line and play good defense, he won’t be the worst player in the league.    We know that the Royals are going to give him every chance.

Alex Gordon – Age 26, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .244/.328/.405, OPS+ 95, Total WAR: 4.4 (4 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2008
  • Worst Season – 2010
  • There remains this faint thought through the Internet that Gordon will be traded before Opening Day – nothing concrete, but enough to make one wonder if it might happen.   My gut tells me the Royals, while frustrated, are not ‘Angel Berroa frustrated’ yet and that Gordon will get one last chance to prove he belongs.    Depending on what happens with Melky Cabrera, the team might jerk Alex around in some sort of queer platoon arrangement (which would be a mistake), but they might just put him in left and leave him alone.   For his part, Gordon still remains the most likely Royal this side of Billy Butler to post an on-base percentage above .350 and displayed some encouraging signs that he could be a solid to good defender in leftfield.

Melky Cabrera – Age 26, Bats – Both

  • Career line – .267/.328/.379, OPS+ 85, Total War: 2.6 (5 seasons)
  • Best season – 2006
  • Worst season – 2008
  • Yes, Melky actually was worse in 2008 than in 2010 – albeit not by much.   He played a statistically pretty decent centerfield for the Yankees in 2008 and 2009, but a pretty awful defensive centerfield in 2007 and 2010.   Dayton Moore has all but said that had he known that the Royals would be getting Lorenzo Cain in a trade he probably would not have signed Cabrera.   That’s all fine and good, but there are a lot of us who think Moore shouldn’t have been after Cabrera regardless.   Since 2006, Melky has not given anyone any real reason to think he will ever get back to that year’s line of .280/.360/.391.    While I can envision a reality where the Royals catch lightning in a bottle with Francouer, I tend to believe that Melky’s bottle is broken.   That might not keep him from being the club’s everyday centerfielder to start the season.

Lorenzo Cain – Age 25, Bats – Right

  • Career line – .306/.348/.415, OPS+ 107, WAR: 1.2
  • Minor league career line – .291/.366/.416
  • Lorenzo Cain has the inside track on being my new favorite Royal (that’s not necessarily a good thing, mind you).   He brings good speed (124 steals, 35 caught stealing in the minors) and potentially well above average defense in center.   Some scouts label his defense and parts of his entire game as still ‘raw’ as Cain really did not play much baseball before high school.  Others will point to his high BABIP, but Cain has posted supposed ‘lucky’ BABIP numbers with regularity, so we might just have to start believing them.   If not for the presence of Cabrera, I have no doubt that Cain would be the centerfielder on Opening Day and likely batting lead-off.   As it is, I can see him starting off in Omaha or, worse, playing three times a week  in the majors.   Hey, if Ned Yost wants to sit Gordon once a week against a tough lefty and Francouer once a week against a tough righthander and Cain once a week just because, that would seem to be enough playing time for Melky Cabrera, but this is the Royals and that sentence just seemed to make sense, so….

Gregor Blanco – Age 27, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .258/.358/.324, OPS+ 85, Total WAR: 1.9 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009
  • Blanco is solid average in centerfield, with good speed on the bases and some decent on-base skills, but little power.   If Alex Gordon was a star and Jeff Francouer the same guy he was at age twenty-one, Blanco would fit just fine in center and batting 8th or 9th.  As it is, like Mitch Maier, he is a touch above replacement level, but not enough so to get anyone excited about whether he makes the team or not.

Mitch Maier, Age 28, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .256/.330/.347, OPS+ 84, Total WAR: 0.7 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009 
  • Look at Mitch Maier’s numbers and then at those of Melky Cabrera and tell me why the Royals felt it necessary to sign Cabrera (even if it was for a modest amount).   Like Blanco, Maier has some on-base ability, but he addsa a little bit of pop while not offering the speed of his counterpart.   The feeling is that Maier’s days are numbered in the organization.   

Jarrod Dyson, Age 26, Bats - Left

  • Career line – .211/.286/.404, OPS+ 87, WAR: 0.6
  • Minor league career line – .278/.344/.343
  • Dyson IS exciting, but not necessarily for what he might become as an overall ballplayer.   He is blazing fast, with more power than Joey Gathright (I know, tallest midget stuff) and a really good arm.   Dyson had tremendous defensive metrics in centerfield, but in a sample size so small that it probably means nothing.   During his cup of coffee last year, Jarrod was on base seventeen times (he homered once – go figure) and stole nine bases in ten attempts.  He is intriguing mostly for his speed, but Dyson has some abilities beyond just being that ‘speed guy’.    I don’t think he can hit enough in the majors to matter and while I thought it might be worthwhile to give him a shot over Blanco and Maier, I don’t believe he will see time in front of Cabrera nor deserve it in front of Cain.

The Royals are funny when it comes to players.   They do not really believe in Maier or Blanco, but I can quite easily see them make moves this spring to not lose them.    Specifically, starting Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson in Omaha (although I wonder where Dyson plays in Omaha if Cain is there as well).   

Right now, I would say it is a 50-50 proposition as to whether Cain or Cabrera is the starting centerfielder.   While little stock is given to spring training stats, Cain could win the job based on just that or he might win by default if Melky gets on Ned Yost’s bad side (a very real possibility given Cabrera’s rumored past ‘bad influence’ in the clubhouse).  

Barring a somewhat shocking trade of Gordon, you can count on Alex, Francouer and Cabrera to be locks for the roster, with one of Blanco and Maier as well.    Should Lorenzo Cain start off in Omaha, then the odd man out of the Blanco/Maier combination gets to live the major league life for a little longer.

So, here we are, some 1600 words into another column and we are going to end up where we have been so many times before:  The Process could really use a breakout year from Alex Gordon.

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.

Fallout

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The dust has yet to settle on the Greinke deal, but there have been a couple of interesting developments on the side since the trade went down early Sunday.  These are just a few things that caught my eye…

What now for Alex Gordon?

So we now have Lorenzo Cain in center field and a pair of free agent acquisitions in Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur.  The Royals also have Gregor Blanco, acquired in the Farnsworth/Ankiel trade.  Along with Mitch Maier.  And Jarrod Dyson who earned a cup of coffee at the end of the season.  And David Lough waiting in the wings.

Unless the Royals petition the league for an exemption to add an extra defender (Given the lousy state of their defense the last couple of years, why didn’t anyone think of this?  It could be the Beer League Softball Exemption.) they will be forced to choose four – maybe five – of these guys to stay on the roster.  Let’s examine this group, one by one.

Jeff Francoeur – Don’t kid yourself.  He’s a lock.  Your right fielder.  So inevitable, it was predicted by the Mayans. And the Incas.

Lorenzo Cain – When the trade was announced, I figured Cain would slide in as the everyday center fielder.  You don’t trade your ace for a player with big league experience, only to have him riding the buses around the Pacific Coast League.  However… This is the Royals we are talking about.  As the Great Poz pointed out, strange things may be afoot… From Ned Yost via Bob Dutton’s article on the trade.

“We’ll see where (Cain) fits in. I’m not projecting anything right now. We’ve signed Melky Cabrera (to play center field), and Lorenzo Cain only has (147) big-league at-bats.”

So this athletic, defensive stud you just received in exchange for your one-year-removed-Cy-Young-award-winner could be edged out my Melky Freakin’ Cabrera?  The same guy who, with over 2,600 career plate appearances owns a slash line of .267/.328/.379?

Look, it’s early.  I have to figure that sane minds will prevail.

What? Yes, this is the Royals. Crap…

Melky Cabrera – Apparently, he’s our center fielder.  Although he broke in with the Yankees as a left fielder and played more innings in left last year for the Braves than any other outfield position.  So it’s possible he could slide over.  Either way, I just remember seeing him butcher play after play in the outfield last year.  He was fat, slow and played like he just didn’t give a damn.  In other words, he’s a Royal.

Plus, you have to wonder what kind of promises or assurances were made to get Melky to come to Kansas City.  He’s started for most of his career, so I’d have to assume he was told he would be part of the everyday mix.  We know the clubhouse mix is important to the Royals and Dayton Moore.  You don’t want to promise something to a guy and then welch on that deal.

The acquisition of Cabrera is another area where GMDM really jumped the gun.  He wasn’t necessary before he signed here.  And now he’s really unnecessary. At least he can take The Yunigma’s place as my least favorite Royal.

Gregor Blanco – Clearly better than Cabrera.  Clearly. While he lacks Melky’s experience (although Blanco is nine months older) he’s shown the ability to reach base and actually steal the occasional bag.  Blanco is the type of player who immediately springs to mind when we think of guys GMDM covets – speedy, slasher type with limited power.  The one way he doesn’t fit the GMDM mold is his career .358 OBP and 12% walk rate.

I’m not certain he’s an everyday player, but he should certainly be in the mix in this outfield.

Mitch Maier – Our Mitch.  He’s out of options and seemingly out of space on the Royals roster.  Meaning he will hit the waiver wire sometime between now and the beginning of the season.

Maier’s value lies in his versatility – he can play all three outfield positions.  That could save him when it comes time to build the roster, but the front office has always been tone deaf when it comes to assembling a complete 25 man roster.  In my mind, he’s a classic fourth outfielder… Decent defender, average to below average offensively, inexpensive and a guy who won’t kill you if he gets into the lineup a couple of times a week.  Useful on the Royals, but they probably don’t realize that.

Jarrod Dyson – The kid showed some crazy defensive skills in center during his September call-up, but was overmatched at the plate.  He has under 300 plate appearances in his career between Triple-A and the majors combined.  He’s 26, so the clock is definitely ticking, but I wonder if it’s too late.

David Lough – DeJesus 2.0 did well in his debut as a regular in Omaha and is a year younger than Dyson.  Placed on the roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, he was positioned to get some playing time in Kansas City next summer.  Until GMDM went on his acquisition spree.  It’s possible he still has a future in Kansas City, but it will have to wait until the free agent studs clear the deck at the end of the season. (Or take a June hunting trip.)

That brings us to…

Alex Gordon – We all know the story.  Injuries, attitude problems and time spent in Triple-A has seemingly robbed Gordon of coming close to realizing his potential.  As one of the remaining holdovers of the Allard Baird regime, where exactly does he fit when GMDM and his brain trust assembles the 2011 squad.  I thought he played an above average left field when he returned from his Omaha exile.  However, his bat never got on track.  Recalled when DeJesus’ season ended in New York, Gordon hit a meager .218/.311/.360 in 243 plate appearances.  Ouch.

Is he the next guy out of Kansas City? I think so.  Like all of Dayton’s moves this winter, this has an air of inevitability about it.  The Royals are frustrated by Gordon, who has ignored all attempts at salvation by the coaching staff.  His stock is dropping for sure… It’s never been lower and we haven’t reached the floor.

But time and again, I come back to the guy not really having had a chance over the last couple of seasons.  It would behoove the Royals to just turn him loose and see what happens.  He could post a miserable line like he did in the second half of the season.  Or he could be league average.  Tough to say.   I do know he needs to just relax and play his game.  We’re not at the point where the Royals can give up on him.  But we’re pretty damn close.

He remains one of the great mysteries of the Royals.

Ideally, my outfield would be Gordon in left, Cain in center and somebody in right.  (I suppose it has to be Francoeur, but it really pains me to say that.)  I get the feeling by the end of 2011, the majority of the outfield time will be Cabrera in left, Cain in center and Francoeur in right.  That’s criminal.

And if I had to rank the outfielders right now, it would probably look something like this:

Gordon
Cain
Blanco
Maier
Francoeur
Cabrera

While The Process continues to roll… There are still too many failures of evaluation at the major league level.

Billy Butler is emerging as the clubhouse leader.

I don’t think anyone really saw this coming.  But with DeJesus gone (not really leadership material anyway) and now Greinke, Butler is one of the longer tenured Royals on the team.  Plus, he came up through the system.  He really is someone who can help the younger guys out – if he chooses.  And indications are he’s more than willing.

Obviously, there’s “Jeffy Ballgame” as Nick likes to call Francoeur.  I know GMDM and the brain trust think he’ll be a leader.  But guys who aren’t good and are on short-term contracts aren’t the type of players the youngsters will look up to.  No matter if they were on the bench during the playoffs.

Breaking up is hard to do.

So Zack arrived in Milwaukee and declared himself the “happiest he’s been since the draft in 2002.”  Ouch.  Then word slowly comes out of the Royals camp that nobody liked Greinke much anyway.  Double ouch.

I’ve always preferred to separate the personality from the performer.  I know there’s going to be some sniping from both sides… It happens all the time.  And it always seems to happen when a guy signs an extension with a losing team and then is surprised when the team doesn’t immediately start to win.  Still, I’m glad Greinke was a Royal.  As I tweeted on Sunday, “We’ll always have 2009.”  Don’t dispute that his starts were some of the most fun you’ve had watching Royals baseball in the last decade.  Sure, the guy is weird and flaky and was notoriously short with the media.  Who cares?  The guy threw some outstanding ballgames.

Of course the counter argument to that is he quit on his team.  Maybe he did.  Hell, I think he mailed in a start or two even in his Cy Young campaign of 2009.  That’s just the way he is.

It’s just Zack being Zack.  It wouldn’t be an issue if the Royals won ballgames.

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, third base, shortstop, left field and center field.

First, as usual, we’ll take a look at the players who got the lion’s share of playing time in right field, and how they hit when they played the position.

Prior to his injury, David Dejesus was having a great year at the plate.  He was getting on base at a high clip, but not hitting for a ton of power.  He was a valuable offensive and defensive asset.  Mitch Maier filled in well when his number was called as well.  He was roughly an average offensive right fielder and from what I saw he was a good fielder taboot.  Willie Bloomquist was Willie Bloomquist, subbing in whenever and wherever he was needed and held his own in the amount of time he was given.  Jose Guillen was surviving his final, very expensive season with the Royals in 2010.  Finally, the Royals realized he no longer had the range to play in the outfield regularly and he only got 21 games at the position.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the American League right fielders are a pretty good hitting group.  A wOBA of .344 would be good for 7th place among left fielders, but it’s 11th for right fielders.  That seems to be a drastic difference.  The Royals right fielders as a unit were in the lower half of  offensive production in the American League, but they were pretty close to being average.  Slugging was a concern, particularly for a corner outfield spot.  Usually, teams like to get some pop from right and left field.

After looking at all of the different fielding positions now, it is clear that the outfield is clearly an area for improvement.  Center field and right field both were below average offensive positions for the Royals in 2010 and were mostly manned by players who likely don’t have a long future with the team.  With that in mind, obtaining an upgrade at one or both positions in free agency is likely a quick way to improve the team.  In fact, that’s exactly what Dayton Moore did at the winter meetings, by acquiring both Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera.

Francouer, however is actually an offensive downgrade from what the Royals did in 2010.  His career wOBA is .314 which would only have been better than the Athletics as a team last year.  It seems pretty likely that Francouer will get the bulk of the playing time in right field in 2011, and while he may be a decent glove, he is an offensive downgrade.

Melky Cabrera will likely be put in center field, but he wasn’t signed when I wrote that review so I’ll just comment on him here.  Offensively, center field was very anemic for the Royals in 2010, so nearly any player would be an upgrade at that spot.  The Royals signed Melky Cabrera to fill that role in 2011 and if he is better, it’s marginal.  In 2010 the Royals center fielders put up a .211 wOBA and Cabrera’s career wOBA is .312.  Cabrera has been inconsistent though, putting up wOBAs in excess of .330 twice (2006, 2009) and sub .300 twice (2010, 2008).  If Cabrera is closer to the .330 than the .300 mark, then he could be a real upgrade offensively at center field in 2011.

The outfield is one of the weaker positions in the Royals minor league system, particularly impact corner outfield bats.  The closest to Major League ready is likely David Lough, who could make a September call up or might make the team sooner if there is an injury or other moves.

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, third base, shortstop and left field.

Let’s take a look at the how the players who got the bulk of the time at center field hit when they manned that position.

There clearly was a lot of shuffling around in center this year.  No single player got even  half of the games at the position.  Mitch Maier was as close to a “regular” at the position as there was in 2010.  Gregor Blanco was acquired via trade, Rick Ankiel was injured and then traded and Jarrod Dyson was a late season call up.    One of the things that jump out at me is the fact that Rick Ankiel only played center for 24 games in 2010.  I complained so much about him, that it sure seemed like he was out there more than he was.  Ankiel, was a somewhat effective hitter in center field though.  His 117 sOPS+ is due mostly to a decent slugging percentage, but still if you can get that out of a center fielder regularly, I’d think you’d take it.  Mitch Maier and Gregor Blanco seem to be guys destined as filler, players who manned the position when there weren’t any other options.  They didn’t embarrass themselves or the club, but they weren’t something special.Defensively, and just judging by what I’ve seen, I think Jarrod Dyson has the most upside, Maier was the best in 2010 and he was followed by Blanco and Ankiel.

Let’s see how the unit stacked up against the rest of the American League.

This isn’t a particularly surprising chart.  The Royals clearly were a sub-par offensive team in center field.  Whether you prefer judging by wOBA or OPS, the rank can move up or down by a couple of slots, but it’s still nothing to get excited about.  One category which the Royals center fielders seemed to excel was in walk rate.  Their 9.1% rate was  third in the American League (hey, it’s something).

2011 will be a very interesting year for the center field position.  I imagine there will be a pretty steady rotation throughout the season with Jarrod Dyson possibly getting the bulk of the time if he can show a decent bat when he does get a chance.  I’m not convinced that the long-term answer to the position will be on the roster in 2011, but Derrick Robinson, who could be a September call-up has the best chance.

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 second post in a series of articles looking at the 2010 Kansas City Royals position by position.  In the first post, on catchers, I had an introduction which you can read here.

Below is the list of guys who had more than 20 plate appearances for the Royals while playing first base. Willie Bloomquist, Alex Gordon and Mitch Maier combined for 7 plate appearances.  I left them off this chart, but their numbers are included in the combined position table below.

Click to Enlarge

Not a gigantic surprise here.  Billy Butler got the bulk of the duties with Kila Ka’aihue coming in second.  I really liked how much time they gave Kila at first base after his call up.  I think that we already know what Butler has defensively, and it gives him the opportunity to spend some time learning the role of designated hitter.  For Kila, it was a chance to see what he could do as an every day player in the Big Leagues.  I don’t believe that 34 games is enough of a sample size to really tell what he can do and I expect him to be a regular in 2011. I heard some worries about whether or not Ned Yost would stick with Kila even if he struggled, but those questions were answered.  I think his willingness to understand sample size and to give guys an extended look are some of the best attributes of the Royals Manager.

As for Billy Butler, well I think he might be one of the most underrated players in the American League.  More than that I believe he is the most underrated player amongst Royals fans.  Usually a guy will get respect locally but not as much run nationally as he should (see Shin Soo-Choo), however Butler gets a lot of grief from the local fan base.  I don’t know exactly what to ascribe that to.  Maybe it’s that he plays at best average defense, or that he hasn’t hit for as much power as some people had projected, he certainly got a lot of heat for hitting into a ton of double plays.  But what he does well, he does extremely well.  Which brings me to the heat chart.

Red = highest in category, Green = lowest

As a group the Royals first basemen were 5th best in the American League offensively.  A couple of things jump out at me from this chart.  First, the AL Central has some really good first basemen.  Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau and Paul Konerko are certainly no slouches.  Maybe that is why Butler gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, his peers in the division are world-class.  Using the heat chart, the strikeout rate for Royals first basemen really jumps out.  It’s the lowest in the American League.  Royals first basemen struck out 90 times all season, the next team on the list, the Detroit Tigers struck out 112, or 24% more often.

Billy Butler is just getting to arbitration and Kila Ka’aihue should get another long look at first base next year.  With the results put up in 2010, there doesn’t seem to be any need to improve the position offensively.  Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson are the guys knocking on the door from the minors, but I’d figure the earliest either make it to Kansas City barring injury is September 2011.  The production at first could drop in 2011 if Butler gets more time at designated hitter and Kila plays more at first.  It’s my preferred setup because Kila is the more polished defender.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

High school football kicked into gear this past weekend.   With college and the NFL just around the corner, the amount of Royals’ talk in the Midwest will plummet to somewhere close to non-existent.    That is a simple fact of life for a franchise that has enjoyed exactly one winning season – let’s clarify, even threatened one winning season – since the strike of 1994.

That said, it was nice to see Bruce Chen pick up the win yesterday in Cleveland and even nicer to see Blake Wood strike out the side (sign of things to come or just ‘one of those days’?) .   In the grand scheme of things, however, I cannot honestly say that the Cleveland series captured much of my attention this weekend.   What interest it did generate all was in regard to next season.

I touched on next year’s roster last week in (and probably in 75% of my columns since the trade deadline) and at that time established the following ‘known facts’ about the 2011 Royals:

  • Zack Greinke will be in the starting rotation.
  • Joakim Soria will be the closer.
  • Robinson Tejeda will be in the bullpen.
  • Jason Kendall will catch.
  • Billy Butler will either be the first baseman or designated hitter.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt will be the shortstop.

That is six spots filled for next year’s 25 man roster.    I think the probability that the Royals pick up David DeJesus’ option for 2011 is somewhere north of 90%, so we can add him to the list and call it seven roster spots filled.  Yesterday’s start, in all likelihood, made Bruce Chen player number eight.    

Without question, if the season started today, Chen would be your day two starter.   Hopefully by the time 2011 actually rolls around, Chen is somewhere down at day four or five, but he almost certainly will be in the rotation.  

Now, we can and will speculate about the other positions, but no one has locked in a spot, yet.    Frankly, when you look at all the other positions and the playing time being given, my money is that Gregor Blanco probably is closer to getting the nod for a 2011 Opening Day start than anyone else.

Since August 1st, Blanco has started 23 of 26 games in centerfield, leading off in the last 20 of those starts.     He has gotten on base at least once in all but four games on his way to posting a .270/.347/.348 line.   That is good for just a .695 OPS or 92 OPS+.     Just for comparison sake (and to be a little snarky), Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS+ of 91 and is the darling of, if not the casual fan, certainly the Royals’ PR department.

Prior to getting caught stealing and picked off yesterday, Blanco had shown some ability on the basepaths (9 steals) and good defense.   I am not sure that Gregor is a premier defensive centerfielder, but he is certainly capable of covering the position.   Perhaps most importantly to the Royals, Blanco is under team control and not eligible for arbitration until 2012.

Two years ago, Blanco played n 144 games for the Braves and posted a rather anemic line of .251/.366/.309 (OPS+82).   He played very little in the majors in 2009, but was carrying an OPS+ of 107 in 66 plate appearances with Atlanta prior to being traded this summer.   Combining both teams’ numbers, Blanco carries an OPS+ of 98 this season (.286/.365/.354).

Blanco’s competition, assuming no off-season acquisitions, for the centerfield job is Mitch Maier.   Mitch is likely not eligible for arbitration until after next season as well.   Over 366 plate appearances this year, Maier has an OPS+ of 95 (.256/.327/.384).    He has shown more power this year than he did in a similar number of at-bats in 2009 when he went .243/.333/.331.    For his career, Maier does not have all that great a platoon split, but struggles against left-handed starters (who doesn’t?).

The organization has spent a lot of energy the last three years acquiring speedy outfield types to make one believe they don’t really want to play Maier everyday anywhere.   At best, the Royals view Maier as a fourth outfielder type who can competently fill in at all three spots and not embarrass himself at the plate.    At this point, I don’t disagree with the club’s assessment.

After trying everyone named Anderson in an effort to find someone different than Maier (and DeJesus for that matter as well), only to end up with players inferior to Mitch, the Royals have at least managed to find a player in Blanco who is different from Maier and, at least, not any worse.  

Given the state of the position within the organization – if you think Blanco is another Joey Gathright, what do you think AAA centerfielder Jarrod Dyson will be? – it almost has to be Blanco or Maier in center for at least the first half of 2011.   Knowing that the current Royals’ regime is fascinated/obsessed with having a ‘true lead-off hitter’, it seems almost certain that Gregor Blanco is likely to occupy the same position and location in the batting order in 2011 as he has for most of this August.

If the Royals were just a player away from contention, I would advocate (and have in the past) going outside the organization for player to man centerfield.  As it stands right now, however, they might best be served to stand pat in center with Blanco spelled by Maier.

It may not be very exciting and, frankly, it may not be very good, but you can pretty much make Gregor Blanco player number nine on your 2011 Kansas City Royals.

All-Star Break time… The artificial midpoint in the baseball season.  We’re fairly close, I guess – the Royals have played 88 games this season – just seven past the midpoint.  That means it’s time for my annual exercise where I grade the team.  Hitters today, pitchers and management on Friday.

We’ll travel around the horn…

Jason Kendall
.271/.333/.320
WAR: 0.8

Despite my persistent Kendall bashing, our backstop (is there anyone else on this team who catches?) has gone on a mini hot streak of late.  Since June 23, he’s raised his OBP 18 points and even had a game where he hit two doubles.  Two!  That’s help raise his slugging almost level with his on base percentage.

Look, we knew Kendall would get most of the reps behind the plate, but this is insane.  The old man has been behind the plate for 92% of all Royal defensive innings.  Poor Brayan Pena has to be wondering what he has to do to get some time… Steal Kendall’s cup?

I guess my problem isn’t with Kendall per se, but with an organization that seems to think he has some value.

Fun fact:  Since Ned Yost took over as manager, Kendall is 2-8 in stolen base attempts.  Hmmm… A 25% success rate is… Not good.

GRADE: D
————————————————————————————————————
Billy Butler
.322/.389/.483
WAR: 2.8

Butler leads this team in OPS (.873), OPS+ (137)

The downside of Butler’s season is his continued insistence on hitting balls on the ground.  Over 46% of all of Butler’s batted balls have been grounders.  That wouldn’t be so bad, but the guy isn’t exactly a speed merchant. When he puts the ball on the ground, he’s batting just .219.  When he hits a fly ball, his average is .295.  On line drives?  Try .857.

We’ve said it time and again – for Butler to become the dominant hitter we think (and hope) he can become, he’s going to have to alter his approach and try to drive more balls in the air.  He’s obviously mastered the art of hitting the double, now he needs to turn a few of those doubles into home runs.  The scary thing is, he’s improved his contact rate from last season and has bumped it to above 90%.  He’s a hitting machine with room for improvement.  Excellent.

It’s going to only get more difficult for Butler.  The dude has zero protection in the Royals lineup.  He already has nine walks this month (one intentional) after walking just eight times all of June.  That’s what happens when you have a singles hitter batting fifth.

Defensively, it seems like he’s better.  His UZR is a fat, round 0.  That may not sound like much, but given his negative rates the last two seasons, I’ll take it.  According to the Fielding Bible’s Plus/Minus rating, Butler is a 0 here as well.  Again, improved on his negative numbers from the last two seasons.  The Fielding Bible data says he’s a +3 at ground balls to his right, which in the past has been one of the weaker links of his fielding.

GRADE: A-
————————————————————————————————————
Mike Aviles
.305/.332/.386
WAR: 0.7

Aviles has done well in his return from Tommy John surgery.  The Royals were being cautious in sending him to Omaha early in the season, although many of us thought they were looking to bury him.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.  The Royals are a better offensive team with Aviles in the lineup.

One thing still missing – his power.  He hit 10 home runs and 27 doubles as a rookie in 441 plate appearances.  In 220 plate appearances this year (almost exactly half… Yay!) he’s down to just two home runs and nine doubles.  As you would expect, his ISO is roughly half his final total of 2008.  He currently has a .081 ISO compared to his .155 ISO in 2008.    As a result, his slugging percentage is a full 100 points lower from ’08.

Defensively, he’s shown some decent range at second and looks comfortable turning the double play from that side of the bag.  I look forward to the day he can shift back to shortstop, though… For obvious reasons.

GRADE: B-
————————————————————————————————————
Yuniesky Betancourt
.258/.282/.391
WAR: 0.2

Don’t buy into the school of thought rolling around the Royals that Yuni “isn’t really that bad.”  Admit it.  You’ve probably said those exact words at least once this year.  That’s probably because Yuni has gotten a timely hit or two, something he absolutely never did last summer.  Then ask yourself this:  Why do you remember the timely Betancourt hits?  It’s because you have such low expectations, you expect him to fail and you’re surprised on those rare occasions where he manages to come through.

Stop it.  He still sucks.
Offensively, he’s fifth from the bottom in on base percentage and jsut outside the bottom ten in OPS+ (his OPS+ of 81 has him tied for 11th) The good news:  He’s no longer the worst everyday player in baseball.  In fact, he’s not even the worst everyday player on the Royals. (We’re mailing Jason Kendall his “prize.”)  Defensively, the guy is still a train wreck.  For every difficult ball he catches, he let’s three under his glove.

GRADE:  D-
————————————————————————————————————
Alberto Callaspo
.274/.307/.418
WAR: 0.9

Callaspo is not having a good year.  In trying to figure out where it’s going wrong for him, I found three things:

1- He’s striking out more than he’s walking for the first time since arriving in Kansas City.  His SO/BB ratio from the previous two seasons was 0.92.  This year, he has a 1.6 SO/BB ratio.

2- Part of his on base struggles are poor luck.  He has a .276 BABIP, down from a .316 BABIP the previous two seasons.

That’s really about it.  He’s swinging the same number of times and making the same rate of contact.  He’s hitting slightly fewer line drives, but it’s not enough of a difference to explain his lower batting average or on base percentage.

Defensively, he’s doing fine at third.  Callaspo has converted 88% of all fielded balls into at least one out as a third baseman.  League average is 87%.  I can live with that – especially if he can get his bat going.

I think Callaspo will have a much better second half.

GRADE: C
————————————————————————————————————
Scott Podsednik
.301/.347/.369
WAR: 1.2

I wrote a piece at Baseball Prospectus last week, where Pods was mentioned as a fantasy asset.  I know.  It sounds just as weird to write that as it is to say it.

Still, the guy is hitting for a fine average, getting on base and stealing bases almost like it’s the mid-1980’s all over again.  Color me shocked that he’s coming extremely close to duplicating his 2009 season where he finished at .304/.353/.412 with 30 steals.  Hell, he’s just five steals away from last year’s total, so you know he’s going to fly right by that.

Having sung his praises, there are still a few issues.  Namely his base running.  While he’s  stolen 25 bases, he’s been caught a league high 11 times.  That’s a 69% success rate, which means in the big picture, his running is hurting the team.  He’s been picked off three times and made a couple of other outs on the bases.

His .341 BABIP is extremely high, so don’t be thinking he’s going to finish the season above .300.  This means his OBP will drop as well, especially because he still won’t take a walk.

This grade may seem low, but I just can’t overlook the number of outs he gives away on the bases.

GRADE: C
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Mitch Maier
.251/.328/.367
WAR: 0.8

To those media types who call David DeJesus a fourth outfielder… This is your fourth outfielder.

I’m glad Maier is getting another chance.  He doesn’t do anything really well, but he doesn’t seem to hurt the team, either.  He’s shown improvement from last year, but it’s not a huge – or even really noticeable – improvement.

He leads the team with a 10% walk rate, so that gets a thumbs up from me.

GRADE: C+
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David DeJesus
.326/.395/.460
WAR: 3.1

He should have been the Royals All-Star.  And that he wasn’t on that “Fan Choice” ballot of trickery would be an outrage if I could only muster the requisite emotion to care.

Hands down, the MVP of this team in 2010.

GRADE: A
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Jose Guillen
.279/.340/.467
WAR: 1.5

Since June 1, Guillen has a grand total of seven extra base hits and eight walks.  That may be the craziest stat I’ll find all season.

Even with the power outage, Guillen is the third best hitter on the team this year.

GRADE: B-
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On to the bench, in order of number of plate appearances:

Chris Getz
.232/.301/.268
WAR: -0.2

I know some have hopes for Getz to turn into a serviceable bat to go along with a decent glove, but I just don’t see it.  He makes enough contact, but he’s just not good enough to make solid contact.

GRADE: D
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Willie Bloomquist
.229/.270/.361
WAR: 0.1

My least favorite moment of 2010 was probably when I learned Bloomquist was DHing against the White Sox last weekend.  The justification (Wee Willie was 13-33 against starter Mark Buehrle in his career) was borderline insane.  Although it is just like the Royals to determine their lineup against a sample size so minute to call it “small” would be overstating it.

To be fair, Bloomquist’s .239 BABIP suggests he’s been the victim of some really bad luck.  And I’m extremely pleased one year after giving Wee Willie 468 plate appearances the Royals seem to figured out how to use him.  He’s on pace for around 175 plate appearances this year.  Much better.

GRADE: D
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Rick Ankiel
.210/.275/.419
WAR: -0.1

So Guillen had blood clots, almost died, and the Royals decided they needed to sign Ankiel.  Ugh.

You know all the Lebron bashing happening right now… How Jordan would never have joined another team and played second fiddle to another established star… How Lebron will never be an alpha dog because he made this decision?  That’s kind of how I feel about Ankiel turning down an opportunity to play for the Yankees when the Royals promised him center field. It told me everything I needed to know about Ankiel.

Yeah, I’m still sore about that.

Ankiel is another dud in the Royals attempts to sign a veteran with the intent of dealing him at the trade deadline.  Not to wish continued injury on someone, but I don’t think he needs to come back.  The Royals are a better team with him not in the lineup.

GRADE: D-
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Wilson Betemit
.389/.441/.722
WAR: 0.9

Those are some impressive numbers, but he’s done that in what is basically two and a half weeks of regular work.

The hope is the Royals realize Betemit can handle the DH duties and finally jettison Guillen.  (Yes, I know Guillen has no value, but I’m just ready for his time in KC to end.  Sometimes, it’s just better to move on… Quickly.)

Still, it’s nice to see the Braves pipeline actually you know… work.  Even for a little bit.

Grade: A-

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Alex Gordon
.194/.342/.323
WAR: -0.3

2009 was supposed to be the key year.  Then it was 2010.

Now it’s 2011.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it’s for another team.

Although I will hold out hope the Royals can trade Podsednik and make room for Gordon on the roster before August.  I’d like to see at least two months of Gordon everyday.  Please.

GRADE: I
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Brayan Pena
.172/.286/.207
WAR: -0.2

Who?  This grade is more a reflection of Hillman and Yost.

GRADE: D

As always, thanks for reading all the way through.  Now it’s your turn to weigh in on the comments.  Too harsh? Not harsh enough?  Or just right?   Fire away…