Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Scott Podsednik

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 and shortstop.

Due to some forces out of my control, the stats I’ll be showing here to start things off have changed.  So I apologize for not keeping things identical for all of these posts.  Let’s take a look at the stats of the players who got the most time in left field.

I was never a fan of Scott Podsednik and I thought prior to the season that there was absolutely no way he would repeat the year he had in 2009.  On that front, I was wrong.  He posted numbers that actually surpassed his 2009 numbers in many categories.  I thought that signing him was foolish, but I was only using the information that I had available to me.  It’s quite possible that Podsednik changed is approach in 2009 and that change is what prompted his statistical increase.  If that’s so, kudos to the Royals front office for gathering that information and using it to their benefit.  If not, kudos again to the Royals for being exceedingly lucky.  Podsednik ended up being an average offensive left fielder and was eventually traded to the Dodgers for Elisaul Pimentel and Luke May.  Defensively, I thought that Podsednik was a disaster who seemed to make spectacular plays on occasion, but usually because he took a bad route to a ball and had to make up for it by diving.

Alex Gordon took over for Scott Podsednik after the trade and didn’t do a whole lot to repair his reputation.  He did hit for better power than Podsednik; he had more doubles and homeruns with the same number of triples in 200 fewer plate appearances.  However, he didn’t get on base nearly as often as Podsednik and that single handedly destroyed his offensive output.  Gordon took nearly as many walks as Podsednik did, but he didn’t hit nearly as many singles.

Let’s take a look at how the unit as a whole stacked up to the rest of the American League.

As a unit, the Royals left fielders ranked 9th in wOBA and 8th in OPS.  It’s interesting to see the unit’s numbers as a whole considering the very different approaches used by Gordon and Podsednik.  Being eighth or ninth in a category isn’t an offensive killer, but is pretty interesting to note that the teams which made the playoffs took four of the top five spots.  It could be a coincidence, or it could mean that having a strong offensive left fielder is a key to success.  I’d love to see someone do some research and see if there is a correlation with offensive output at any single position and success.  If you know of an article like that, point me to it.

In 2011, Alex Gordon is likely going to get a full season to prove that he can contribute at the Major League Level.  Personally I still believe he can turn it around.  He has shown very good strike zone judgment and decent power.  Two very difficult things to learn.  If he can strike out less and get on base more, he could be a valuable asset.  At this point, nobody is breathing down his neck since the Royals are thin in the outfield department.  I’d imagine that along with starting pitching, outfield is where Dayton Moore will spend money and resources this off-season.

Can you imagine what the Royals’ corner of the Internet would be like if the team actually turns into a contender one of these years?   Where else could the trade of a nice (not to be confused with a ‘good’) player on a one year deal getting traded generate this level of interest?

Greg Schaum broke down the prospects shortly after the trade of Scott Podsednik went down and Matt Klaasen over at FanGraphs  gave us his analysis of the trade not much later.  Minda Haas had a great post on the musings of the casual fan and it’s always fun to read the comment strings over at Royals Review.    Plus, we had Nick’s podcast up (see below) as well and all of that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Having newly integrated myself into the Twitter lifestyle (cfosroyalsauth by the way), I spent enough time following the feed last night on my phone that my wife was certain I had a couple of girlfriends.  (Doesn’t she know I have an entirely different phone for them?!!!)   At any rate, I cannot offer much more insight than more astute writers already have to what I am considering a ‘good trade’.

Very quickly, the Royals gave up a decent player in Podsednik having a decent year (.310/.353/.400), but his 12 caught stealing and 3 pick-offs (none of which, I believe, were the result of botched hit and runs or missed signs on a sacrifice bunt) mitigate that batting average down to .270 with a .316 on-base percentage.   Now, that ‘mitigation’ is the result of some pretty rudimentary statistical analysis, but just let it go, Pods is gone.

In return the Royals acquired a AAA catcher of marginal prospect status with some pop.   Now, like everyone else, Luke May has no doubt benefited from playing in Albuquerque (.296/.352/.496), but he also hit .306/.390/.468 in Chattanooga last year.   He is still learning the game behind the plate, having converted from shortstop in 2008, but he gives the Royals another high minor catcher to pair with Manny Pina.   Frankly, both guys have another full year of watching Jason Kendall play every day in the majors to refine their games.

Dayton Moore also added another young arm in Elisaul Pimentel, who has raised his strikeout rate in each of his last three stops in the minors.   I view Pimentel as another guy to put into the ‘second wave of pitchers’ behind the almost unbelievable AA rotation of Montgomery, Duffy, Crow, Dwyer and Lamb.   Pimentel fits in with Melville, Sample and recently acquired Will Smith.    Hey, you really cannot have enough young arms.

Heck, on this feel good Thursday, I have even reconciled myself to the Royals’ apparent move to a 13 man pitching staff in the short term.   While the promotion of Bryan Bullington was at best uninspired and at worst unimaginative, all signs are pointing towards the promotion of reliever Greg Holland (an ACTUAL PROSPECT) to Kansas City.     Holland is a power arm who, after getting a rude welcome to AAA, has been lights out since then.     He was going to have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter, so Holland needed a 40 man roster spot sooner and later.  Plus, as I have been advocating recently, the Royals need to spread out the experience factor of the trio of quality relievers they had in Omaha (Holland, Hardy and Coleman).   Chances are that this 13 man staff is a temporary deal, as the Royals continue to market Kyle Farnsworth and might well have seen about all the need to out of Blake Wood and/or Dusty Hughes.

Further helping the mood today, are the statements in the Kansas City Star and on WHB radio this morning of Dayton Moore indicating that Kila Kaa’ihue’s long awaited promition to and installation in the Royals’ everyday lineup ‘can be expected to happen shortly’.   Hopefully Giants’ GM Brian Sabean will panic that the Dodgers added Podsednik and offer something, anything, for Jose Guillen.   Really, Brian, ANYTHING will do, just offer.

At any rate, it at last just feels like the organization is positioning this team with an eye towards the future.    Another look at Alex Gordon, a first look at Greg Holland and a chance for Kila Kaa’ihue are all a start.  

Now, Mr. Moore, let’s keep the ball rolling.

Episode #027 – Nick reacts to the Podsednik trade, discusses Meche’s surgery, weighs the criticisms and praises of Dayton Moore and says FREE KILA.

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If you listen to my podcast, which is posted here at Royals Authority and elsewhere, then you probably know that I am not the biggest fan of Scott Podsednik.  We probably all have our own personal favorites and not-so-favorites on the team, its just part of being a fan.  However, sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due, and Scott Podsednik has been on fire lately.

I know he has a 13 game hitting streak, but I kind of thought it was one of those empty streaks with lots of 1 single games.  Not only  does he have 6 multi-hit games during his streak, seven of his 21 hits during the streak have been for extra bases.  He has 3 doubles, 2 triples and 2 homeruns.  During his 13 game hitting streak, Podsednik is hitting .375/.407/.607.

The thing that absolutely blew me away though, was the fact that his streak would be 23 games if not for a single game with no hits on July 7th.  If you look at all of his games from June 21st through yesterday, you have over a month of Podsednik putting up All-Star numbers.  I mean literally All-Star or better type offensive numbers.  Over his last 28 games, Podsednik is hitting .364/.395/.496 for an OPS of .891.  That is excellent production out of the leadoff spot for the Royals.

During the off-season, the Royals signed a bunch of outfielders.  They inked Brian Anderson, Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik.  At the time, I thought it was a little crazy, but my guess is that Dayton Moore figured that hopefully one of these guys would end up being productive and instead of just trying to guess which one it would be, he signed all three and hedged his bet.  Brian Anderson is becoming a pitcher, Rick Ankeil has been injured most of the year and I have to admit, Podsednik has been a valuable player.  We know that in most offseasons, the Royals don’t have the money to go out and sign a top flight free agent who has great odds of panning out, so in lieu of that, a great strategy would be to get a bunch of decent guys and hope one has a career year while jettisoning the rest.

On top of that, if the team ends up struggling then you can hopefully trade off the guy who is performing well and net some young talent in return. And that is exactly what may happen. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports last night Tweeted:

Source: Royals getting bombarded with sudden interest in Podsednik from NL West contenders. Would fit for #Giants, #Padres, #Dodgers.

If the Royals can turn Scott Podsednik into some young talent, then it easily will be the best off-season signing of the year for Dayton Moore.  Sometimes as fans we have trouble seeing the forest for the trees, and I think that for me the signing of a bunch of outfielders in this last off-season was one of those times.  Now, if he can only stay healthy until he can be traded.

You can contact Nick at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/brokenbatsingle

Most years, about this time, I write a column where I wake up one July morning and find myself General Manager of the Kansas City Royals.  To be totally candid, I wake up most mornings thinking I am in that position, but that’s a whole separate physiatric session.    The basic premise of this scenario is that one wakes up on July 22nd to find themselves as the GM, inheriting the situation ’as-is’ with all the perceived constraints of ownership, money and at least some basis of reality. 

This exercise lost any semblance of fun last summer with the  Yuniesky Betancourt deal and hence I did not bother.  The July, however,  before I donned the GM hat and traded Ron Mahay for Chris Carter (then with the  Red Sox), Kyle Davies for Nelson Cruz (at the time toiling in AAA) and Blake Johnson (plus someone else) for Joaquin Arias.   All in all, that would not have been a horrible summer simply based upon acquiring Cruz.    Let’s see how I do this July.

The first day of my reign at the top begins with the inheritance of a team that has won two of its last three games, but lost seven of its last nine.   The Royals are closer to last than to first and have done so with a roster that really is not that young.   My predecessor has left a farm system that is much stronger than what he inherited.   Frankly, dare we say it, ‘the process’ was starting to work – just not in 2010 and probably not for a fair portion of 2011.  

As a general manager, I find myself faced with two options (three, actually, if you are willing to stay drunk and high for three months and believe the Royals can contend this season).   So, two options:

  1. Stay the course and wait for Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers to become everyday regulars, while Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow move into my starting rotation.
  2. Try to accelerate ‘the process’ and, at the same time, buy a little insurance in case some of the highly touted prospects do not develop into major leaguers.

Pretty obviously, the answer is yes to both options:  stay the course, but push it along at a quicker pace if you can do so without jeopardizing the future.  Easier said that done, even for a blogger.

Prior to departing, Dayton Moore may have been presented with a couple of trade offers.   The first would have sent Alberto Callaspo to the Angels for Sean O’Sullivan and a ‘fringe’ prospect.   The second was David DeJesus to the Braves for Kris Medlen and a AAA reliever.   Neither offer quite rings my bell.

O’Sullivan was the Angels’ number five rated prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season, but lacks a true out pitch and has struggled against better hitting.    While he did have a nice start upon his recent recall (6IP, 2ER) and I am faced with the looming spectre of Bryan Bullington starting on Sunday, the 23 year old O’Sullivan just doesn’t seem to offer enough potential for my tastes.    However, the Angels are truly interested in Callaspo and while he is a good hitter having a somewhat down year, I just don’t see Alberto as a building block for a contending team.

I counter the Angels’ offer by asking for pitcher Trevor Bell, their 10th rated prospect prior to this season who has been obliterated in brief appearances in the majors, and a ‘fringe prospect’.   Bell comes with a good fastball and good control and, if not an upgrade over Bannister and Davies, he is at least younger than both (23) and is almost certainly a better option than Bryan Bullington or Anthony Lerew.  

The discussion turns to the ‘fringe prospect’ and begins to bog down.   Every name I produce is not ‘fringy’ enough to the Angels and the line ‘well, if you want him, then you have to take O’Sullivan instead of Bell’ comes up often.   In the end, I remind myself that I am trading a third baseman with a .308 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage barely over .400.

The deal is made:  Callaspo to the Angels for Bell and a player to be named later.   When the dust settles, the PTBNL ends up being catcher Brian Walker.    Bell, for now, takes his place as the Royals number five starter, while Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles take up the bulk of the innings at third base.   This gives us a chance to see some more Chris Getz at second without taking Aviles’ bat out of the lineup.   Can Getz play or not, who knows?   This gives us a chance to find out.

Now, while I like Kris Medlen, I like David DeJesus a lot better.  Truthfully, any hopes/prayers of being competitive in 2011 probably include having DeJesus in the Royals’ outfield.    His option is affordable for next year and the compensation picks, while nice, would still be a player or players that are at least two years away from contributing in the majors.   Plus, DeJesus is still likely to be an effective everyday player for the next three or four years and seems like a guy that the Royals could resign after the 2011 season.   Heck, I might even entertain extension talks after the season to lock him down through the 2013 campaign.

Given that, we will continue to market DeJesus just in case someone gets really desperate and really silly, but the organizational thought will be to keep David, exercise the option and know that we have at least one major league outfielder set for 2011.

Although there has been interest in Joakim Soria, moving a closer of his effectiveness with what may be the best contract in baseball right now does not excite me at all.   Frankly, any hope of catching lightning in a bottle and contending in 2011 instead of 2012 includes having Joakim in the Royals’ pen.   Again, we’ll be happy to listen, but if the Yankees or whoever really want Soria, they will have to overpay by a factor of two to even make me answer the phone.

Of course, the real problem I have inherited is that Jose Guillen is blocking Kila Kaa’ihue, Scott Podsednik is blocking Alex Gordon and Rick Ankiel is healthy.   It would actually be so much easier if Guillen was limping along with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and not much power or Podsednik was hitting .270 instead of .300.   One could simply release the older players and ‘find out’ about younger players yet this year.    As it stands right now, however, both Podsednik (especially) and Guillen (to some extent) have some value to the Royals and have played just well enough to make even me think they ought to have some trade value as well.

I don’t dislike Podsednik: he is what he is on the field and is a good veteran guy in the clubhouse.   I’ll let his name float around as July 31st approaches.   In the case of Guillen, he would almost certainly pass through waivers and be tradeable in August, but the urgency is in getting Kila Kaa’ihue to the majors so I can find out if he can hit.     Yet, I have an owner who is not going to just release a player with 15 home runs and $5 million still coming.

I look once more to the evil empire because they have a gigantic hole at designated hitter, even with Jorge Posada spending most of the time there recently, - big enough to make Guillen’s .278/.339/.461 look appealing – and a clubhouse that could certainly contain any of Jose’s ‘quirks’.    What’s Jose going to do when he is not in the lineup for three days?   Spout off to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera?

After cornering David Glass in an elevator, I wear him down with the logic of giving up some money to move Guillen and open a spot for Kaa’ihue.   It helps that it was 105 degrees in the elevator and Glass  had to go the bathroom.   He agrees to pay $4 million of Jose’s remaining salary.

The deal is Jose Guillen to the Yankees for minor league outfielder Ray Kruml, a 24 year old still toiling in A ball.  Kila Kaa’ihue is promoted immediately and bats fifth on Sunday afternoon in Yankee Stadium.   Sure, he goes zero for four and Trevor Bell gives up five runs in four innings that day, but I still feel better.

The Royals return home on July 26th and I continue to work the phones.   The Reds are looking for bullpen help to ease the workload on their relievers.  Obviously, Kyle Farnsworth is the name I shop to them.  He has been much better this season and the last time he pitched in the National League (Braves-2005), Kyle fashioned a 1.98 earned run average in 27 innings of work.   Despite having signed Russ Springer and the ghost of Jason Isringhausen, the Reds are still interested.

Who I want in return is currently injured outfielder Chris Dickerson.  Now twenty-eight years old and nursing a bad wrist, some of the luster has worn off Dickerson, but not enough to net him straight up for Farnsworth.   The Reds, however, are in a pennant race and, for all his faults, Willie Bloomquist is a guy that would certainly have a spot on a National League team.   Bloomquist’s skill set also gloves nicely with the Reds’ other utility player, Miguel Cairo.

The deal gets done:  Farnsworth and Bloomquist to the Reds for Chris Dickerson.   While Dickerson’s injury pretty much means he will be in rehab mode for a while, he adds another player to the outfield mix for 2011.   Maybe it all comes together for Chris, maybe not, but the Royals have given up two free agents to be and the Reds have gotten a couple of veteran guys to help them in their pursuit of St. Louis without really damaging their future.

Veteran minor-leaguer Ed Lucas gets the call to replace Bloomquist and Blaine Hardy gets a shot to replace Farnsworth in the bullpen.   At the same time, Victor Marte is sent down in favor of Louis Coleman.   Getting a good look at Hardy and Coleman this year will go a long way in determining how much of the Royals’ precious resources will have to be devoted to the bullpen in the off-season.  The hope, obviously, would be ‘none’.

Now, the trade deadline is right in front of us and Boston, while still after every outfielder available has not been able to make a deal.   Sure, they would ‘love to take DeJesus’ off our hands, but the return is not enough.  My asking price starts with Casey Kelley and that generally grinds the conversation to a stop right there.  

The Red Sox have been decimated by injuries and currently bat Darnell McDonald in the lead-off spot and are playing Bill Hall (.735 OPS) at second base.   While McDonald has been decent and Daniel Nava a revelation, is Theo Epstein really ready to make a run at the playoffs with them?   You see, I’ve got a guy with a World Series ring who happens to play leftfield and bat lead-off that just might be of interest to him.

By now, we are deep into the morning of July 31st and the Red Sox have pretty much stood pat as they tried to make ‘the big deal’.  It has become obvious that the asking prices for top shelf outfielders are exorbitant and so we begin to discuss Podsednik.  The match-ups don’t seem to be working out until we begin to include middle infielders in the discussion. 

I snicker when I offer Yuniesky Betancourt and Epstein flat out laughs and calls me an unprintable name.  However, the real name in the discussion is Mike Aviles.   I love Aviles, love his story and think he is likely to gravitate towards a performance line somewhere in between his fabulous rookie season and what he is doing for the Royals right now.   He can fill in at second until Dustin Pedroia is healthy and help out at shortstop where the Sox have turned to rookie Jed Lowrie.

What’s Podsednik AND Aviles worth to you, I ask?   Not Jose Iglesias is the first answer.

However, how about pitcher Kyle Weiland?  Now, that’s a start.

The name of AA outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin comes up at my prompting.   He is a cut below the prime outfield prospects in the Sox system (Westmoreland, Kalish and Fuentes), but is 21 year old in AA who has as many walks as strikeouts.  

There is some hemming and hawing on the other end as the clock ticks closer to the deadline.  Finally, the deal is done:  Podsednik and Aviles for Che-Hsuan Lin and Weiland.   With that, the trade deadline comes to a close.

When the dust has settled, the Royals have an August 1st roster of:

C – Kendall, Pena

1b – Butler, Kaaihue

2b – Getz

ss – Betancourt

3b – Betemit (as we await the September call-up of Mike Moustakas)

Util – Ed Lucas

OF – DeJesus, Maier, Ankiel (sorry), Gordon (to replace Podsednik) and hopefully Dickerson in short order.

SP – Greinke, Chen, Bannister, Davies, Bell (with Hochevar & Meche hopefully soon to follow)

RP – Soria, Tejeda, Wood, Hardy, Coleman, Hughes, Texeira

The minor leagues have been strengthened with the addition of Weiland and Lin, plus some organizational depth in Kruml and Walker.

Perhaps most importantly, it gives us two full months to gauge whether Kaa’ihue, Gordon, Hardy, Coleman and even Dickerson can be projected as regulars on a major league roster building to contend.   Simply knowing those answers will allow me, as general manager, to have a pretty accurate guide as to what needs to be fixed in the off-season.  

Now, it’s your turn, tell me if this makes sense or not?   Are the Royals in better shape after these moves or just ‘more of the same’?

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-
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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
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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…

That was a tidy ballgame.  You don’t often see 6-3 games clock in under 2:15 like Tuesday’s.  I hate to go all Denny Mathews on you, but I do enjoy the quick ballgame.  Credit to both starters who kept the game moving at a great pace.

Whenever I watch Brian Bannister pitch, I’m looking for groundballs.  Last night, he got a ton.  Eleven of his 16 outs came via the ground ball.

The runs he gave up in the second were soft.  I mean, they came on batted balls that weren’t struck especially hard.  Soft or not, they were line drives and those tend to fall for hits.  What was really frustrating about that inning was it came immediately after the Royals jumped ahead.  Is it just me, or does it seem like Bannister gives back his runs almost immediately?  I don’t have any numbers or stats to back this up, but it sure feels like everytime I watch him pitch and his bats give him a lead, Bannister immediately goes out and coughs it up.

He tried to give it back in the sixth inning (immediately after the Royals scored four runs in the fifth) when Macier Izturis led off with a home run.  Seriously?  Then Torii Hunter laced a single to right and Hideki Matsui launched a bomb that just missed tying the game by inches.

Time for the Good Tejeda-Wood-Soria Triumverate to bare it’s fangs once again.  This time, they retired 11 in a row.

Good Robinson Tejeda was simply electric.  When he uncorked his first pitch that was about helmet high, I worried that he wouldn’t be on his game.  Ha.  Once he got rolling, the Angels were helpless.  He couldn’t get his slider over for a strike and the Angel hitters weren’t biting, so he just brought the gas.  Hey, whatever works.

Brought in with runners on second and third and one out, to get out of that fix without allowing a run… That’s a save in my book.  A shallow fly and a strikeout got the job done.

Then Blake Wood… He threw his first nine pitches for strikes and only tosses his first ball after he jumed ahead of Torii Hunter 0-2 with two outs.  He’s still pitching to contact I suppose – his strikeout of Hunter was only his second this year and he’s faced 35 batters – but he’s jumping ahead.  He’s thrown a first pitch strike in over 70% of all plate appearances.  Major league average is 58%.  Nice.  If you’re going to let hitters get the bat on the ball, you may as well tilt the battle to your advantage as much as possible.

Finally Joakim Soria.  The 68 mph curveball he broke off to punchout Juan Rivera following a pair of 93 mph cutters was pure poetry.  I don’t think I’ve seen that pitch from him this year.  Then poor Mike Napoli couldn’t even get the bat off his shoulders, looking at five pitches and striking out to end the game.

Yost’s bullpen plan has mostly been letter perfect.  If Hillman had been so insightful (or fortunate) he’d probably still be employed.

Scott Podsednik hit leadoff for the 20th time last night.  Entering the game, he was hitting .286/.349/.351 at the top of the order, which isn’t horrible, but his sOPS+ of 89 indicates his performance there is below average.  You probably already knew that.

Last night he saw a grand total of seven pitches in his four plate appearances.  Seven pitches!  I really wish the Royals had someone else who could bat at the top of the order.

I suppose I’d prefer DeJesus at the top of the order, but Yost seems to have hit on something by dropping him to the third spot where he’s caught fire and hit .361/.451/.443 in the 16 games since he’s made the move.  Obviously, you’d like more power out of your number three, but I’m not going to be so picky.

In his short tenure, Yost has largely been golden.

I joked on Twitter before the game that the order that featured Betancourt, Getz, Podsednik and Kendall hitting eight through second could be called the Gauntlet Of Suck.  Ha.  All four hitters came through big… Kendall hit a double in the first that was probably the hardest ball he struck all year and scored the game’s first run.  Then Betancourt opened the fifth with a triple to left, scored on a Getz single and Podsednik kept the rally rolling as the Royals broke the game open with a four spot.

So maybe Gauntlet Of Suck was a bit harsh.  I dunno.  If you stack those four in a lineup 10 times, they’ll have a game like this maybe once.  Like I said… Golden Yost.

In this game:

- The Royals fell into a 8-0 hole after three innings.

- Scott Podsednik hit one into the upper deck.

- Jason Kendall drove one to the base of the wall in right-center.

- Yuniesky Betancourt walked.  Twice.

- After a Rangers pitcher walked back to back hitters, Willie Bloomquist took two cuts at pitches out of the zone and then looked at strike three right down the middle. (OK, that wasn’t crazy.)

- Dave Owen almost caused Mike Aviles’ hamstring to explode by doing a funky stop and go kind of thing as he was rounding third. (That wasn’t crazy either.)

- KILA MONSTER.

- Joakim Soria gave up back to back home runs for the first time since forever.

- Neftali Feliz is disgustingly filthy.

It was like some crazy heavyweight title fight.  I half expected the ghost of Howard Cosell to make an appearance.  It would have been appropriate.

Even though the Royals lost in just a horrific manner, that was the most fun I’ve had watching a game since last May.  (Remember when they came back against the Indians with four runs in the ninth?  Remember how they then lost 16 of their next 20?  Sorry.)

Personally, I think Trey was guilty of a little over management by not letting Good Robinson Tejeda finish the eighth.  It’s not second guessing… I brought it up in the ESPN Baseball Tonight chat the moment he pulled Tejeda.  It’s difficult to argue that bringing in Soria at any point is a bad move, but Tejeda had thrown only 14 pitches.  I’m not going to scream and carry on that Hillman cost the Royals the game – he didn’t – Soria made the pitches.  I’m just saying I don’t understand why he felt a need to bring his closer in at that particular moment.

We’ve been agitating all year that Hillman needs to use Soria more in key (or high leverage) situations.  Two outs in the eighth with a one run lead on the road certainly qualifies.  However, there was no danger at that point and time… No runners on, and you had a pitcher who was dealing.

Hillman gets second guessed in some quarters (which I suppose I’m doing now) but that’s because many of his moves are indefensible.  All managers come with a certain amount of goodwill and trust.  When that gets frittered away (like it has in Hillman’s case) even the right moves come under scrutiny.  It’s a large part of what makes Hillman a lame duck.

He went with his best pitcher and got burned.  It happens to managers all the time.  But when you’ve lost the trust of the fanbase, you’re going to catch heat no matter what.

As Royals fans, we’re used to grumbling about plate discipline.  Or rather the lack of plate discipline.  It’s a  story that is all too familiar.

Fortunately, we now have the on base machine known as Scotty Pods… Scott Podsednik.

Through his first 13 games, Podsednik is hitting .449/.526/.469.  His batting average and on base percentage top the AL leaderboard.  Yes, it is a small sample size.  However, do not discount how difficult it is to even have a small sample size this good.

How is he doing this?

Start with his batting average on balls in play.  His BABIP is .512.  Holy cow.  Over half the balls he put in play are falling for hits.  If this is the case, he must be scorching line drives, right?  After all, it’s universally accepted that line drives fall for base hits roughly 70% of the time.  So if Podsednik is piling up the base hits like this, he must have an astronomical line drive rate, correct?

Not really.

Podsednik’s line drive rate is 28%.  It’s above his career rate of 20%, but still… Crazy.  How about his other hits?  Well, he is hitting a lot more ground balls this year.  His GB/FB ratio currently stands at 3.83.  To his credit, Podsednik has always seemed to understand his game… His legs will take him as far as he can go as a ballplayer.  His best opportunity to use those legs come when he hits the ball on the ground.  For his career, he owns a 1.72 GB/FB ratio.

(As I alluded to, one thing missing from his game is power.  He certainly won’t boost his slugging percentage by hitting ground balls up the middle.  And while his line drive rate is impressive, it’s not like he’s cracking the ball and splitting the outfielders.  No, most of his line drives are dropping in front of the outfielders.  In other words, we’re dealing with a singles hitter.  You know what?  No shame in that.)

So Podsednik his hitting more line drives and more ground balls.  Basically, he’s keeping the ball out of the air. – just 15% of his batted balls are classified as fly balls.    It’s an approach that is working.

Speaking of Podsednik’s approach… It shouldn’t come as a surprise he’s become incredibly selective at the plate.

Here are his percentages over the previous five seasons of how often he’s swung at a pitch that is in the strike zone:

2006 – 53.8%
2007 – 56.2%
2008 – 52.9%
2009 – 54.6%
2010 – 46.0%

He’s been fairly consistent through out his career, but now he’s really tightened his personal zone.  Based on his elevated BABIP and line drive rate, I would hypothesize Podsednik is laying off those pitches in the zone that he would have difficulty squaring up and driving.

Look at his contact rate when swinging at pitches in the strike zone:

2006 – 93.5%
2007 – 90.2%
2008 – 94.4%
2009 – 95.2%
2010 – 94.1%

He’s always made contact (in play or foul) when swinging at pitches in the strike zone.  Most hitters do.  Since his contact rate in this category hasn’t moved while his swing percentage has decreased, that further supports the idea he’s become incredibly selective.  His contact rates are unchanged, yet the results are increasingly positive.

The by product of this is Podsednik’s walk rate is through the roof (for him.)  He’s drawn a base on balls in 13% of his plate appearances this year.  Look how that compares over the previous few years:

2006 – 9.1%
2007 – 5.5%
2008 – 8.8%
2009 – 6.6%
2010 – 13.3%

So we have a hitter who’s become more selective at the plate, which has led to improved contact and an elevated walk rate.  This has all led to his astronomical on base percentage.

About the base running…  It’s true this isn’t a particular skill of his.  He’s already been picked off once, been caught stealing once and made one other out on the base paths.  At times, he just seems kind of clueless. Imagine how many bases he could take if he was actually comfortable out there.  At any rate, he’s not a particularly good base runner.  However, I will cut him some slack for the time being… Because he’s freaking getting on base 53% of the time.

Podsednik has hit second in the order every game except one where he hit leadoff.  Ideally, you’d have your best on base guy hitting at the top, but number two is just fine.  Every time Trey Hillman moves Alberto Callaspo in the top third and he goes 0-4, I start to believe just a little more that players do perform a certain way given their spot in the lineup.  (I still maintain Callaspo should hit higher in the order, but if Podsednik keeps outperforming expectations, this becomes a moot point.  Besides, if Callaspo gets mentally blocked or whatever by hitting up in the order, it kind of puts the kibosh on any potential gains.)

Will Podsednik maintain his level of offensive play?  No way.  There will be a correction. However, if he keeps his approach unchanged when the hits stop falling, any cold spell could be relatively short-lived.

Fingers crossed that Podsednik keeps this approach through the season.

I’m going to put this at the top because I want to make sure everyone reads this…  To start, if you haven’t bought the Royals Authority 2010 Annual, I hope you consider picking it up.  Right now, Lulu (our publisher) is printing as the orders roll in and shipping pretty much the same day.  That means if you order this week, you’ll have the book in your hands in time for Opening Day.

Here’s the link to order.

Second, we’ve been hinting around at a big announcement for the last couple of months and expect to be able to make said announcement sometime next week.  In conjunction, we’re going to be tinkering with the website which could result in some down time.  Hopefully, all of this will take place on the weekend, but you never know… Just a heads up that if you visit and we’re not online.

And we’re really excited about what we’re doing.  Stay tuned…

On with today’s post…

So SABR Trey is getting closer and closer to figuring out his “ideal” lineup.  It looks something like this:

DeJesus
Podsednik
Callaspo
Butler
Ankiel
Guillen
Kendall
Betancourt
Getz

This is different from what Hillman has been doing for the first three weeks of spring training.  And it’s different from what he’s been talking about ever since the new guys were signed during the off season.

Here’s the good news:  Given the talent available, this is a pretty good lineup.

DeJesus absolutely belongs at the top of the order.  Forget about having speed (and steals) at the top of the order.  Those are nice qualities, but they’re not as important as getting on base.  And DeJesus will get on base more often than Podsednik.  DeJesus has a career OBP of .358 and a walk rate of 8.2%.  The walk rate is low for a leadoff hitter (ideally, it would be closer to 12%) but again… You work with what your GM gives you.  Podsednik has a career OBP of .340 and a walk rate of 8.1%.  Podsednik is 34.  DeJesus is 30.  Neither is thought of as a good base runner (I’m not talking about steals) and both make far too many outs on the bases.  Still, in my mind it’s fairly clear that the OBP (and age) edge belong to DeJesus.

It turns out SABR Trey has been thinking quite a bit about where DeJesus and Podsednik will hit.  He’s whittled his choices for both:  DeJesus will either hit first or third and Podsednik will appear as the leadoff man or will bat second.  I’m not going to argue against DeJesus hitting third, if only because the current lineup has him leading off, which as I said was a good choice.  I don’t care what Hillman’s thought process is, as long as he reaches a decent solution.

Although his thought process leads to Today’s Hillmanism:

“I really want to try to stay away from guys getting mental.  Quite frankly, reporters write about it (DeJesus’ struggles as the number two hitter) and these guys hear about it.  If these guys hear about it, they’re going to get more mental with it.  So honestly, I don’t want to put David in the number two slot.  I think he would slot there just fine, but he doesn’t have a history there, and he’s going to read about it, he’s going to hear about it, and I don’t think that’s a good combination.”

A couple of things to take away from this Hillmanism…

First, SABR Trey reads Royals Authority!  I mean, that’s the only conclusion I can draw after reading that quote.  I’ve been fairly vocal about keeping DeJesus out of the second spot.

Second, Trey is just priceless.  Seriously, his players are going to read the papers and devour the splits and decide they don’t belong in a particular spot?  Lame.  If this is the case, Hillman had better make sure Yuni isn’t translating this site into Spanish.  He won’t be able to get out of bed.

On to the rest of the order…

You have two quality hitters in this lineup: Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler.  That’s it.  One of those guys has to hit third.  Historically, the argument against Callaspo hitting in the top third has been something along the line of him not being comfortable hitting higher in the order.  Which is total bunk if you ask me.  Although his splits give some validity to the argument, but of his nearly 1,100 career plate appearances, only 200 or so have come in the top third.  In other words, we’re dealing with small sample sizes and the fact that no one has really given him an extended look.

I say, go for it.  He showed impressive power (or as SABR Trey calls it, “Slug”) and his new found extra base hit ability will play just fine at number three.  I will give Hillman credit for realizing he needs to get Callaspo as many at bats as possible.  That’s a good thing.

Further down the order, Guillen and Ankiel are going to give you the same value… which is not much.  Blah.  Although we can hope that when Gordon comes back from the broken thumb he can take Guillen’s spot in the order.

(Quick aside – I think we all agree Ankiel is the least suited of the outfield contenders to play center.  And now he has a sore ankle.  I know the Royals promised him the opportunity to play center, but this sure feels like a good time to break that stupid and ill advised promise.  Of course, no one in the organization has probably considered this.)

The bottom third of the proposed lineup is unspecified.  Betancourt, Kendall and Getz… If I’m at the game and I need a beer or a bathroom break, I’m targeting the inning when these guys are up.  There really no reason to watch at this point.  However, like Clark, I hold out hope that Getz’s high contact rate (89% last year) will eventually translate into more base hits.

So of all of SABR Trey’s lineups this spring (with most of them having Kendall at number two) this one is the best one I’ve seen.  Again, when I say it’s the best, keep in mind I’m thinking of the talent he currently has on his roster.

It’s a start.