Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Rick Ankiel

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.

Alex Gordon struck out twice last night.

(He also hit an opposite field bomb and “doubled” leading off the ninth to key the one run rally that carried the Royals to victory.  I put doubled in quotes, because if you were up late enough to see the play, you know the A’s first baseman jumped over the ball like he was running the hurdles.  Double was a generous ruling.)

Don’t worry, I’m not here to bag on Gordon for striking out.  Hopefully, you’ve been reading long enough to know that I view strikeouts like I view any other out.  I want to talk about the treatment Gordon has been getting from the home plate umpires.

Watching the games, it sure seems at times like there are two strike zones.  One for everyone and one for Gordon.  Exaggeration?  Probably.  Still, it often looks like Gordon doesn’t get the borderline calls.  (There’s a ton of talk about his negative body language and all that other kind of voodoo… This seems to be a factor.  Gordon is battling in a key spot, takes a pitch on the outside and it’s called a strike… He gets discouraged and he can’t hide his feelings.  This has been happening ever since he was a rookie.  Can’t hardly blame him.)

Anyway, thanks to Pitch f/x, there are a number of ways to examine Gordon and the calls on balls and strikes in his plate appearances.  I decided to visit Texas Leaguers to pull some graphs to determine if Gordon is truly getting hosed by the home plate umpires.

First, let’s look at the calls Gordon has received since his return from Omaha exile:

OK… Now we need to compare his chart with someone.  Ideally, we’d look at a left handed batter who played in most of the same games as Gordon.  In other words, control the study to the best of our ability.

Searching through box scores, the first name that jumped out was Rick Ankiel.  Here’s how his calls have been going over this same frame of time.

Interesting.  Ankiel seemed to get the benefit of the doubt on several calls that could be considered borderline.  Ankiel has been around longer, so maybe that could explain why he’s getting some calls Gordon is not.

So let’s look at someone who hasn’t played as much, but again hits left handed and played in most of the same games as Gordon during this stretch.

How about Chris Getz?

A little closer, but still… It’s pretty clear that Getz receives more “favorable” calls on balls and strikes than Gordon.

(Interesting, though, that the umpires seem to miss the strike on the inside corner for everyone.  We bemoan the lost art of working the hitter inside and usually blame the pitchers for lacking the “guts” or “nerve” to work on the inner half.  Maybe they’re not doing this because they know they won’t get the call.  That’s an article for another day…)

This isn’t a complete or comprehensive study.  It’s not meant to settle an argument… It’s just a snapshot.  A tiny one at that.  Although I do believe it supports my initial hypothesis that Gordon isn’t getting any favors from the home plate umpire.

For the season, when Gordon strikes out, he’s going down looking 40% of the time.  If that sounds high, that’s because it is.  Here are the top six hitters in the AL ranked by percentage of looking strikeouts:

Marco Scutaro – 67%
Denard Span – 45%
Brett Gardner – 45%
Daric Barton – 43%
Alberto Callaspo – 40%
Scott Podsednik – 39%

If Gordon had the at bats to qualify, he’d have the fifth highest rate in the league.  I’m intrigued by the inclusion of two Royals in the top six.  Are the Royals as a team getting worked over by the home plate umps?  I wonder.  Callaspo has never had a looking strikeout percentage that high.  And in his 40 plate appearances since moving to the West Coast, he has yet to be called out on strikes.  Pods, on the other hand, usually has a high looking strikeout rate.

(By the way, no clue what the deal is with Scutaro.  67%!?!  I checked and he’s always been over 50% on looking strikeouts.  Weird.)

Anyway… Back to Gordon…

Overall, I’m usually pretty happy with his plate discipline.  Here are his percentage for chasing a pitch out of the strike zone:

2007 – 25.8%
2008 – 24.1%
2009 – 24.7%
2010 – 21.5%

He’s always had a decent idea about the strike zone and he’s certainly improved his knowledge as he’s progressed.  Here are his walk rates:

2007 – 6.8%
2008 – 11.6%
2009 – 11.1%
2010 – 12.2%

Of course, the last two years aren’t really “complete” as he has less than 200 plate appearances in both seasons.  Still, we are seeing a player become more comfortable at the plate.  Someone who is gaining knowledge of the strike zone.  Not to beat the same old drum, but the guy simply needs to play every day.  I wasn’t entirely opposed to his exile to Omaha because I felt he needed to sort some things out and regain some confidence.  Since it appears he will be in the lineup almost every day from now until the end of the season, I expect Gordon to finally make some strides beyond the foundation he’s been building the previous four seasons. He’s also been a victim of some rotten luck this season.  Last night’s double was a rare break for a player who has a .226 BABIP.  That’s crazy low.  Especially for someone with a 19% line drive rate.

I think Gordon is going to have a strong final two months of the season.  His luck is bound to change (maybe last night was a sign it’s already turning) and his average, walks and power numbers are all going to increase.

Now, if he could just catch a break from the umps.

Myself and many Royals fans were waiting with baited breath, in desperate hopes that they would move some of the unnecessary veterans on this team for some younger talent.  Moving Callaspo and Podsednik earlier was a nice start, but with guys like Guillen, Ankiel and Farnsworth on the team there was still lots of potential moves out there. Very few rumors had been floated at all today and I felt that portended no activity.  However at the very last moment, it was announced that the Royals traded Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel to the Braves for Gregor Blanco, Jessie Chavez and Tim Collins.  With the absolute dearth of information out there prior to this going down, I think we can safely assume that Dayton picked up his theories on loose lips from his old organization.

Other than keeping Guillen*, I think Dayton handled this trading deadline masterfully.  He clearly realized that there was a long list of players on this team who have no future with this team, so getting something, anything for them at this point in time was a net benefit to the organization.  Not only that, but it allows younger guys like Getz, Aviles, Gordon, Maier and dear God I hope Kila Ka’aihue to get some playing time.

*Guillen will likely be put through waivers in an attempt to trade him after the deadline, so he isn’t quite here to stay just yet.

So, what did the Royals get in this latest deal?

Jessie Chavez

Chavez is a 26 year old relief pitcher who hasn’t been particularly effective. He will probably move into the bullpen immediately to replace Farnsworth.  He has a good K/9 of 7.0 and also a good BB/9 of 3.33 in his 119 innings of work in the majors.  However he is a big-time flyball pitcher with 43% of the hits being of that variety.  That might play well at spacious Kauffman Stadium,  but it remains to be seen.  Right now he is just a bullpen guy who is cheaper than Farnsworth and under team control for longer.

Gregor Blanco

Blanco is a 26 year old lefty outfielder.  He has a higher carrer OBP .361 than Scott Podsednik .341.  He has never shown the ability to hit with power, but seems to be a leadoff type of guy.  His numbers show some speed and he has started more games at the leadoff spot than any other slot in the lineup.  My guess is that he will take the place of Ankiel on the MLB roster, and will be a filler or 4th outfielder type.

Tim Collins

Collins is clearly the most intriguing part of this trade.  He is listed at 5’7 155, but word on the street is that he is more likely 5’5.  So in a word, he is short.  But what he lacks in height he makes up for in stuff.   He has a 2.29 ERA this year  in 51 IP, with 87 strikeouts to 19 walks.  He can hit 93mph on the radar gun and has a nice curveball and changeup.  He projects as a potential setup man in the majors.  This is the guy who is most important in this whole trade.  He has the highest ceiling and the best chance at being an impact major leaguer.  Beyond that, can you imagine what kind of fan favorite a 5’5 fireballer out of the pen would be?  At the risk of blowing the papers headline pre-emptively, I see something like “Tiny Tim Saves The Day”.  For a good article about Collins read this.

All in all, I am completely happy with the return for a couple of months of Ankiel and Farnsworth.  However, it’s the big picture that is of more importance.  The Royals have added 7 players to their organization in return for Alberto Callaspo and 2 months of Podsednik, Farnsworth and Ankiel.   There has been lots of talk about the Royals youth movement (for a decade now), but this team was actually kind of old.  Jettisoning these veterans, giving younger guys a chance to prove themselves and continuing to stock the minors is the true beginning of this youth movement.

In an additional move, which suprised me, the Royals signed Ned Yost through 2012.  I was beginning to believe that the Royals wouldn’t sign Ned Yost, but I also couldn’t imagine that they would want to go through a manager search in the offseason.  I like Ned Yost more than Trey Hillman.  He has some things that annoy me (Kendall batting 2nd), but overall he is a fine manager in my eyes.  I don’t believe the manager does much in the way of strategy anyway, so how he handles the clubhouse is probably of the most importance.  I can’t pretend that I have any clue as to how he does at that job, but my guess is that Dayton does and signing him through 2012 should tell you what he thinks.

Busy day for the Royals, what do you think of the moves?

Episode #026 – Nick discusses the Callaspo trade, why on earth Rick Ankiel is back on the team, would it matter if Yost is gone after the season and what keeps you interested in Royals games?

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As Royals fans, we worry a lot and tend to lose perspective in odd ways.   That happens when a one-time model franchise turns into one of baseball’s sinkholes.     It makes us say things like:

  • Yunieksy Betancourt isn’t really that bad.   Well, yes he is.   His on-base percentage is below .300 and he is, at best, a flashy but inconsistent defender.   Really what Betancourt has done is be not quite as awful as last year, better than Tony Pena Jr. and a one-armed Mike Aviles.
  • Scott Podsednik has been outstanding this year and I’m not worried about the occasional out on the bases.   Pods has been caught stealing 11 times and picked off 3 other times.    You wonder why a team that leads the league in batting average is only in the middle of pack in runs scored?   There’s part of your answer right there.
  • How can a team struggling to score runs trade away Jose Guillen.   C’mon, just stop it.

The burdens of being bad and basically made fun of since 1994, also makes us worry about things like:

  • Mike Aviles hitting an ‘empty’ .305.   Considering Aviles had the best WAR by any player since Carlos Beltran in 2008, was injured in 2009 and rushed himself back in 2010, let’s relax on that until sometime in 2011.
  • Jason Kendall bats second.   Playing Kendall every game is ludicrous and as much as we (and I’m in that ‘we’) are annoyed by that, I cannot really come up with anything that would be much different.  
  • David DeJesus smiles too much and is ‘really just a 4th outfielder on a contending team’.   That’s just the beaten dog syndrome there:  we’re bad, all our players are bad, cats and dogs are sleeping together, the world is ending.

I am sure the above two lists could be added to extensively:   a fully expect one of the first five comments to this column to be ‘bloggers will be negative about everything blue or something of that nature’.   However, you really want to worry about something?   Let’s worry about Rick Ankiel.

By worry, I am referring to what the Royals might do when Ankiel is healthy enough to return from his rehab assignment.

On Monday, I wrote about the value of trading or simply shedding Jose Guillen so that the Royals can get a good look at Kila Kaa’ihue.   However, if Guillen was traded tomorrow, who do you think would take his spot on the roster?   Almost has to be Ankiel doesn’t it?

With a $3.5 million salary and a zesty batting line of .210/.275/.419, Ankiel is likely the most untradeable commodity on the roster.    Given the organization’s apparent master plan for 2010 of ‘playing aging veterans who will not figure into the club’s long-term plans at the expense of younger players’, you know they will not only activate Ankiel sooner rather than later, but also play him on regular basis.

I worry about this simply because I do not trust Dayton Moore and Ned Yost to make the right choices here.   Barring not one, but two trades, Ankiel is just another guy getting in the way and another reason that Kila Kaa’ihue will not get a real shot in the majors and keeps Mitch Maier (who has the exact same OPS) on the bench.   While I do not have the love affair with Maier that some do, I would rather see him play everyday than Ankiel.

 I will yield and give some credit to Podsednik and Kendall for providing some veteran leadership and serving some purpose as bridges to the future, but Ankiel and Guillen really do not.     

Rick Ankiel is coming back sometime this month and he is going to get in the way.  Is there anyone that doubts we will see a lineup at some point with Ankiel, Podsednik and Guillen in the outfield with Bloomquist at second and Betemit at third?   Now, THERE’S something to worry about.

 

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
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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-
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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-
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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-
————————————————————————————————————
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
————————————————————————————————————
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
————————————————————————————————————
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-
————————————————————————————————————
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-

————————————————————————————————————
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
————————————————————————————————————
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…

Now the draft is complete, we can focus on the next date on the Royals calendar… The trade deadline.

My task for you is to rank the top three in order, from most likely to be traded to least likely.  Here are the candidates:

Jose Guillen

No one runs hotter or colder than Guillen.  He’s been decent of late, with a line of .246/.367/.523 over his last 19 games. Of course, that only means that starting about June 15 or so, he’s going to go into hibernation until the All-Star Break.

And whether you like it or not, Guillen is the premier power threat on this team.  He leads the Royals with a .229 ISO and his 13 home runs are almost double the second place hitter (Alberto Callaspo has seven.)

The Royals would have to eat the balance of his salary and would probably net a B-level prospect at best.  I don’t think GMDM has the stomach to get so little in return.

The downside to all of this is that under the current Elias rankings as provided by MLB Trade Rumors, the Royals wouldn’t get any compensation for Guillen when he departs as a free agent this winter.  Not that they would anyway… Even if Guillen were classified as a Type A or B, the Royals would have to offer arbitration.  And since there’s no way Guillen will top $10 million in salary next year, there’s no way he’d turn that down.  This is the ultimate lose-lose situation.

David DeJesus

The Royals hold the option on DeJesus next year at $6 million.  He’s already a two win above replacement (WAR) player this year, so at that price tag, if he can maintain his level of performance, he’s a bargain.

Here’s an interesting thought.  Currently, DeJesus is a Type B free agent.  Suppose he goes on a tear and pushes his ranking to a Type A.  Don’t you think it would be possible the Royals decline the option and offer him arbitration instead?  If DeJesus rejects arbitration, he becomes a free agent at a time his value really couldn’t be higher.  That would be the smart play for DeJesus… He could get a three year deal at $20 million, couldn’t he?  Then, the Royals could snag an extra first round pick in a draft that is supposed to be much, much deeper than the one just completed.

Hmmm…

Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria

I listed them together because I can just imagine the riots at the K if either one of them were dealt.  We’ve hashed this out before, but Soria has club options through 2014 so there’s absolutely no way the Royals are sending him anywhere.  2013 and 2014 are the new 2008 and 2009… Years when the team is supposed to contend.  As the only current member signed through those years, he’s going to stick around.

Rick Ankiel

Isn’t this always the way… Do Royal general managers walk around the Winter Meetings with a “kick me” sign taped to their back?  It’s like Reggie Sanders all over again… A “veteran” spare part with no value to a good team, signed to a deal in the hopes the team can spin him to a contender at the deadline, only to miss a huge chunk of the season with an injury.

Albatross.

Yuniesky Betancourt

I wish.  The only GM who thinks he’s any good already has him on his team.

Kyle Farnsworth

His name never comes up in these discussions.  Probably because we like to pretend he isn’t on the team.  I suppose he could net a C level prospect from a team desperate for relief pitching.

Prediction: Whoever trades for him won’t make the playoffs.

Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies

Both are coming up on their third year of arbitration eligibility.  Both are serviceable, back of the rotation starters.  Either one has some (limited) value.

However, I don’t think the Royals will deal either one.  When you have to bring Bruce Chen into your rotation when one of your starters goes down, that’s a serious indication you lack starting pitching depth.  Those guys will stay at least another year until the young arms are ready.  GMDM is keeping his fingers crossed this will be in 2012, because there doesn’t appear to be a backup plan in place.

Willie Bloomquist

Ha!

I left Billy Butler, Mike Aviles and Callaspo out on purpose.  These three aren’t going anywhere.  I could be wrong, so if you disagree, let me know why.

If you forced me to rank the top three, here’s my list:

Guillen
Farnsworth
???

Kind of lame, but I really have no idea.  That’s probably because I put the odds of the Royals making a deal at less than 25%.
Get to ranking.  I’m interested to see what everyone thinks.

The Royals aren’t good at figuring out this roster business, are they?

Kind of a problem for a baseball team.

News came down yesterday afternoon that the Royals placed Rick Ankiel on the 15 day DL with his quad strain.  The move was retroactive to May 2.  Of course, the move could have been made retroactive to April 24, except SABR Trey used him twice as a pinch hitter in the Tampa series.  Two at bats, two strikeouts.  Awesome.

Big picture, it doesn’t mean anything.  Ankiel isn’t good at baseball, but he’s good for the Royals.  Allegedly.  Really, Mitch Maier is a better defender in center (minus the arm) and is better at getting on base.  So Ankiel’s return will be May 18th at the earliest.  Big deal.  The guy is fragile anyway… I’m betting he won’t be ready to be activated on that date.

Still, it reeks of incompetence that the manager uses a guy who’s not in the starting lineup because of injury as a pinch hitter just prior to landing on the DL just a few days later.  Par for the course when you’re following the Royals.

So Kila Ka’aihue gets the call.  It’s deserved.  The dude is banging .304/.466/.620 this year in Omaha with 7 HR, 24 BB and 17 SO in 103 plate appearances.  Solid.

I know there are a huge number of readers who are members of the Free Kila Society, so I don’t mean to be a downer, but I just get the feeling this guy has been recalled to be Justin Huber, Version 2.0.  Remember back in 2006, when Huber was recalled when Iron Mike Sweeney hit the DL?  We were all excited… Huber was a quality hitting prospect who had done good things in Omaha and the thought was the Royals were going to give him an extended look.  Except the Royals were committed to Doug Mientkiewicz and Matt Stairs.  Huber had 11 plate appearances and was shipped back to Omaha.  Out of site, out of mind.

Of course, those were different times in Kansas City.  The Royals, for some strange reason, thought they had the talent to compete.  Look at some of those lineups.  Dreadful.  With Allard Baird was calling the shots and Buddy Bell was absorbing the losses, it was decided it wouldn’t be fair to Dougie to hand some of his playing time to the rookie Huber.

That brings us to today.  Things are different… sort of.  The names have changed.  We now have Dayton Moore calling the shots and Trey Hillman absorbing the losses.  The team is still old, and they are still under the illusion they can compete, but they really can’t.

Ka’aihue is joining the team, but can he breakthrough a lineup that includes stalwarts such as Jose Guillen?  I guess this is where things are different from 2006.  Guillen is the DH and Billy Butler is the first baseman – the two positions where Ka’aihue plies his trade.  Butler deserves his time and is part of the future.  Guillen has been playing well, but isn’t part of the future.

So where does Kila fit?  The Royals management is a thick bunch, but even they know Butler needs to get as many innings at first as possible.  They’re not about to remove Guillen from the lineup, either.  They could play him in right, but damn that’s just painful to watch.  If they moved Guillen to right, they could slide DeJesus over to center and bench Maier.  That really weakens the outfield defense.  Ideally, they would platoon Ka’aihue and Guillen.  Let Ka’aihue hit against the right handers and Guillen can square off against the lefties.  A solution like this would likely piss Guillen off something fierce, but it’s something the Royals can afford to do since, you know, Guillen is in the final year of his contract and isn’t part of the future. Sadly, I doubt the Royals agree.  Guillen homered on Tuesday, so he remains a valuable cog in the wheel of mediocrity.  He stays in the lineup, Ka’aihue sits.

Keep those corks in your champaign bottles, Kila Krew.  He’s with the big club, which is good.  But with Guillen on the roster, he doesn’t have a spot, which is bad.

Anyway, I’m more interested in Mike Aviles, who is way, waaaaaay better than his counterpart, Yuniesky Betancourt.  Quite the triumphant return for Aviles, bagging three hits including a home run.

Aviles and the rest of the Royals offense overcame a slow start on Tuesday.  In the first three innings, the Royals had a total of eight runners on base with no outs.  Unique way to look at it, no?

Top of the first – DeJesus doubles to lead off followed by a Podsednik bunt single.
Top of the second – Kendall walks, Aviles singles, Maier singles.
Top of the third – Guillen singles, Callaspo singles, Kendall walks.

And of the cavalcade of base runners, the Royals scored exactly two runs.  Two.  One run came on a Billy Butler double play.  The other scored in the second when Chris Getz hit a bases loaded single to plate Kendall.

Offensive malpractice like that normally bits teams in the ass.  A strong performance by Luke Hochevar and a pair of late inning home runs rendered that moot.  More on Luke later in the week…

With yesterday’s off day it feels like we’re at the midway point of the Spring Training schedule. I have no idea if this is factually correct, but I don’t really want to spend the time counting exhibition games.

Anyway, now seems as good a time as any to see where some of the guys are as far as their performance. I don’t place any value in spring performances… small sample sizes and pitchers and hitters working on their approach and all that. Still, there have been some interesting developments this spring.

Let’s recap:

Stock Up: Alberto Callaspo

I’ve said it all along, any Royals lineup that doesn’t include Callaspo is a bad lineup. The Alex Gordon injury has simplified SABR Trey’s job in a manner of speaking in that it opened a position for Callaspo. A slash line of .448/.469/.586 in 29 at bats is sparkling – even if it is spring training.

Stock Way Down: Kyle Davies

There’s not a ton of competition for the back end of the rotation, but Davies is doing his level best to pitch himself out of a job. He can’t get anyone out – in his last appearance ten of the 18 batters he faced reach. That was seven hits (including four doubles) and three walks. This has become a dysfunctional relationship where It’s best that both parties go their separate ways before someone has to call the cops. Let him abuse another fan base.

Stock Up: Mitch Maier

He’s just reminding Dayton Moore that he’s younger and less expensive than the free agent retreads the Royals signed this winter. Like the Gordon injury opening the door for regular Callaspo time, the Rick Ankiel injury has presented Maier with an opportunity he wasn’t otherwise likely to have this spring. He’s responded by hitting .455/.478/.818 in 22 at bats.

I figured with the off season outfield shopping spree, Maier would be the odd man out. Now, I’m thinking Ankiel is a new version of Jose Guillen (i.e. On the downward side of a career where the injuries are going to pile up.) and will miss plenty of time this year, giving Maier some at bats.

I’m glad, because I root for Maier.

Stock Down: Josh Fields

I had hope that he could recapture his power stroke from a couple years ago, but now I’m not so sure. When you’re swinging a slow bat in spring training, that’s just not a good sign. Plus, he’s just leaving a ton of runners on base. A ton. And striking out. And not hitting for the power he was supposed to possess. He has potential to be Mike Jacobs, Version 2.0. That’s not a compliment.

Stock Up: Mike Aviles

He hasn’t seen a lot of action, but he does have seven hits in his 14 at bats. Encouraging progress for someone who wasn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day. The Royals could still keep him in extended spring training to open the year, but he’s close. That’s good news because we’re going to be calling for him by mid-April after watching a couple weeks of Betancourt.

Stock Up: Aaron Crow

It’s official: I’m excited to see this kid in Kansas City.

That said, I hope the Royals do the prudent thing and keep him in the minors all year. No need to rush him, and after setting out all of last year, he needs to get some low pressure innings on his arm. Double-A is absolutely the best place for him to open the year. If he tears it up in the first half, promote him to Omaha. If he tears it up in the second half, give him a courtesy call in September.

Let’s focus on him for 2011. It will be worth the wait.

Stock Down: Rick Ankiel

I know we have a new training staff, but didn’t you have a little deja vu when he was pulled from a game on Friday, said he felt better on Saturday and was shut down for a week on Sunday? Speaking of which…

Today’s Hillmanism is on Ankiel:

He just needs to have some consistency offensively. Occasionally, you’re going to see him swing out of the zone. Hopefully, he gets his discipline tamed a little bit before we get into the season.

This gets nominated for understatement of the spring. Last year, Ankiel offered at pitches out of the strike zone over 34% of the time. Of the 252 players who accumulated over 350 plate appearances, he had the 17th worst discipline. For his career, he’s swung at 33% of all pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet against Ankiel discovering the magic of discipline.

Jose Guillen is in camp, in shape and healthy after two off-season surgeries (neither done by Jose himself, this time).

On the one hand, good for Jose. He showed up ready to go, saying all the right things about helping the team and, at least on the first day, seems to be motivated to have a good year.

On the other hand, Guillen is ‘not about to concede’ his outfield spot and become the full-time designated hitter. Anyone see some clubhouse outbursts down the line?

Guillen’s prickly personality aside, my real concern lies in what Trey Hillman might do.

Last year, we saw several occasions where Hillman sat David DeJesus against lefties (who David hit 13 points higher against than right handers last year) in favor of Willie Bloomquist. What is he going to do with Jose Guillen, who for all his faults is a better hitter (when healthy and right) than Willie?

Rick Ankiel was promised the centerfield job and Dayton Moore did not go out and sign Scott Podsednik to have him sit the bench. So that leaves DeJesus on the firing line, along with Alberto Callaspo. How long into the season will it be before the Royals trot out a lineup that does not include those two players? Players that just happened to be and probably still are the team’s second and third best hitters.

It is certainly not bad to have options and competition in spring training. Who knows? A market might yet open up that allows Moore to make a move involving one of the above. Right now, however, the thought of Trey having more options to ‘mix and match’ mostly makes my head hurt.

Perhaps, as someone is sure to comment, this is too much worrying about something that has yet to happen. Here’s a better question, which trade would you make on say, March 20th:

  • Guillen for a mid-level (somewhere outside of an organization’s top 15) prospect
  • Callaspo for an untested but near major league level position player (probably outside of an organization’s top 10) and another minor prospect
  • DeJesus for a real prospect emerging from AA and another mid-level prospect from about the same level

Are any of these trade options really realistic? I am frankly not sure, go ahead and comment on that, too. At same time, however, assume that the deals are out there and tell me which one you would do.