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Deconstructing The Process

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A show of hands of all those enjoying being a Royals’ fan right now.   Deep down, you are probably still thinking that this team will not approach 80 wins this season, but for now this is kind of fun isn’t it?

The Royals opened the weekend by just plain getting beat on Friday, returned the favor on Saturday and took advantage of a sloppy Detroit performance to blast the Tiger on Sunday.   Not only is two of out three not bad (yes, I am watching Celebrity Apprentice this season), but it is very good indeed for a young team on its first road trip of the year.    Sure, the Royals did manage to miss the top part of the Detroit starting rotation, but it was still a nice series win.

There are a number of topics we will touch on this morning in lieu of detailed, comprehensive research (all those nasty facts get in the way of my opinion), so let’s start it off….

Chris Getz led off for three games and the world continued to turn.

Ned Yost opted to sit Mike Aviles down after Wednesday’s zero for seven day dropped Mike to just three for twenty-six on the year.   Aviles, a personal favorite of mine, has looked, at best, uncomfortable at third and, at worst, just plain bad, so a day off to clear the cobwebs seemed appropriate.     One day off turned into two and the next thing we knew, Mike Aviles did not make an appearance in the entire series.

Now, if you have told be that Friday morning, you can bet I would have envisioned writing an entirely different, probably scathing, column today.   As it is, however, you can hardly fault Ned Yost for sticking with Getz as his leadoff man in Detroit after he went 4-10 for the series with 3 walks and 2 sacrifice flies.  All Wilson Betemit did during that time period was go 6 for 11 with 3 doubles and 2 walks.   

I doubt that Yost and the Royals were truly planning on sitting Aviles the entire series.   After all, we are talking about a guy who hit .325/.354/.480 and .304/.335/.413 in his two healthy major league seasons.    Despite having become the whipping boy of the casual fandom and overly criticized by those who should know better, I doubt the Royals have truly given up on him after six bad (and they were bad admittedly) games.  That said, look for no outrage (not even a sarcastic tweet) from me if Getz leads off tomorrow in Minnesota and Betemit is back at third.

While I am an unabashed ‘Aviles guy’, I am also something of a closet ’Getz guy’ as well.  Back when the Royals acquired Chris in exchange for Mark Teahen, I offered that there were a number of big time major league second baseman who had minor league numbers similar to or even worse than Getz’s .286/.363/.380 over 381 contests.   Last season, pretty much deflated my hope that Getz could become Brian Roberts (minus the PEDs), but I have a little glimmer of hope.

IF Getz can continue to get on base at something resembling his minor league numbers and IF Getz truly is an above average defensive second basemen and IF he can steal bases with the success he has shown in limited attempts thus far:  well, that is a guy that fills a void in the batting order and can help this team be better in the short term.

Pending the arrival of Mike Moustakas, I don’t have much problem with Yost playing the hot hand at second and third with whomever among Aviles, Betemit and Getz is playing the best at a given time.    I would be surprised if Aviles does not yet end up being the best hitter of the three after 100 games, but no harm in getting them all at-bats for now so long as Yost does not ‘fall in love’ with any one of the three.   The idea would be to play the hot hand, not stick with Getz everyday at leadoff if he goes three for twenty-six.

Alcides Escobar passes the eye test.

The Royals’ new shortstop can, at times, be quite painful to watch bat, but he is truly fun to observe on defense.   After being overloaded with plus hands, plus feet, good arm, nice instinct crap from the front office in talking about a slew of shortstops who were, at best, league average in the field, it is nice to ACTUALLY SEE what those look like in action.  

Nine games does not a great defender make, but Escobar looks like the real deal in the field.   Enough so to get me wondering how much the Royals need him to hit to justify keeping his glove on the diamond.    I looked to the A’s Cliff Pennington, who posted a UZR/150 of 8.8 last season, which put him in the top five defenders in baseball using that system.   Despite hitting just .250/.319/.368, Pennington still posted a 3.7 WAR (Fangraphs’ number) by virtue of his defense.

Should Escobar, who posted a 4.7 UZR/150 last year at short, continue to play like he has in the field, which would lead me to believe his defensive metrics will approach those of Pennington, can he hit similar numbers?   With two hits yesterday, let’s hope Alcides can pick up his hitting numbers to the modest ‘Pennington-like’ level.    Anything beyond that and the Greinke trade starts to look really good.

Another guy who has looked good in the field is first baseman Kila Ka’aihue.  Unfortunately, there isn’t enough defense to be had at first base to justify 13 strikeouts and just one home run  in 41 plate appearances.   As bad as Kila looked over the weekend, he did manage two walks, two hits and a sacrifice fly, so I am hardly ready to give up on him….except when Phil Coke is pitching.

That’s Not My Process

Alex Gordon is hitting .357/.400/.548 out of the number three slot.   Billy Butler is blasting away at a .394/.512/.667 clip batting clean-up.   That is The Process in action.  Except, that is Allard Baird’s Process, not that of Dayton Moore.  

Pretty much said Baird drafted Gordon in 2005, the real plan for the Royals was to have Alex and Billy blasting away in the middle of the order.   Even with the coming emergence of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, the Royals certainly look much better with Gordon and Butler doing what they are doing right now.   We can pretty much bank on Butler continuing to hit, but we are still in the ‘hoping’ mode when it comes to Gordon.

Still, you have to love it when a plan comes together, even if it is not your own.

Who said this was a bad rotation?

Well, pretty much all of us.

Still, after Bruce Chen used the elements and a generous strike zone to throw six shutout innings and strike out seven on Saturday, and Luke Hochevar went seven strong innings that included six strikeouts, the rotation gets a gold star for the weekend.

Hochevar was dinged for three home runs that led to all the runs scored against him, but otherwise looked very good.   Obviously, you cannot go through life giving up three homers per game, but if two of those end up on the warning track (like they did for Nathan Adcock on Friday) instead of the stands…..   Ifs and buts, I know, but I came away from Hochevar’s start in a positive frame of mind.

Not so much when it comes to Kyle Davies’ Friday outing.   The Royals have played nine games and have not had a wild pitch or passed ball in eight of those.   In Kyle’s start on Friday, he uncorked THREE wild pitches in what was an outright atrocious start.    Of course, you don’t really want to look at the minor league starts of Jeff Suppan and Vin Mazarro, either.

Speaking of Nate Adcock, he tossed a big three plus innings of shutout ball on Friday to save the bullpen for the weekend.   He did not strike out a batter, but did not walk one either.   Nate was tagged for four hits and six of his outs were in the air, so it was not dominating by any means, but did the one thing you want a long reliever to do:  throw strikes.    While I think there was some good fortune in Adcock’s Friday performance, it was good enough to warrant continued looks at the major league level.

Onto Minnesota

Right now the Royals, and particularly Ned Yost, are on a roll.   Other than trying to steal with Billy Butler, pretty much every move Yost makes or doesn’t make seems to be working.   The Royals scored nine runs yesterday despite going just two for seventeen with runners in scoring position.    

The starting pitching has been, by and large, competent.   The bullpen has been very good with the two biggest concerns being Robinson Tejeda and Joakim Soria.   I think both those pitchers get back in the groove sooner rather than later and might well turn a very good bullpen into an absolute lock-down bullpen.    The offense is averaging over five runs per game despite starting three players who are hitting below the Mendoza line.

Will it hold?  Who cares?  Enjoy the ride.

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

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

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

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

March 31 can’t get here fast enough.

A couple of spring notes of interest…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

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

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

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

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

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

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

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

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

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

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

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

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

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

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

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

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

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

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaways from this table:

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

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

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

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

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

– Mitch Maier was who we thought he was.

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

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

By Kevin Flanagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

I’m a little shocked that only three players played every single inning at third base in 2010. Update: Mike Aviles, Willie Bloomquist and Alex Gordon all got limited time at third base in 2010.  Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out.  I knew it seemed odd. Alberto Callaspo got the bulk of the early season duties, while Wilson Betemit was the primary third baseman  later in the season.  Josh Fields got some late season work after coming back from an injury and Minor League rehab assignments.    Alberto Callaspo was traded near the deadline, and he’s likely going to fade into my memory as one of those “remember that one guy who was an ok hitter, but not great….oh, whats his name?”  Betemit had an absolute breakout year in 2010 at the age of 28, which is when these things can usually happen.  However, his defense was absolutely horrendous.  Every time the ball was hit in his direction, I held my breath and then usually cursed at the television.

It’s interesting to see the difference in approach between Betemit and Callaspo.  Betemit clearly sees a lot of pitches, he walks at a high rate and also strikes out at a very high rate.  Callaspo is trying to put the ball in play and find a hole, and thus he has an extremely low walk rate and a very low strikeout rate.  Both approaches can be successful, there’s lots of ways to skin that cat.

Let’s take a look at a heat chart of the offensive numbers for each team in the American League at third base.  Red represents the best in the category while green represents the worst.

Red = highest in category, Green = lowest

Alberto Callaspo was an OK  hitter for second base, but at third he wasn’t going to cut it offensively.  His 76 sOPS+ would be the third worst mark in the American League at third base.  While Betemit’s glove won’t really play at third, his bat certainly will.  His sOPS+ of 132 at the position is the sole reason that the Royals third base unit was above average offensively.  In fact, only two teams got a better on-base percentage from their third basemen than the Royals and those teams were anchored by Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria.

The Royals third basemen were pretty good overall across a variety of categories.  A lot of that is due to the averaging of the two strengths and weaknesses of Betemit and Callaspo.  However, this is one of those times where it’s very interesting to see how the players do as a combined unit.  At least for 2010, the third base position was a strength offensively and was a solid contributor.  Defensively, now that is a whole other ball of wax.  It didn’t take a seasoned scout to come to the conclusion that neither player was a top notch defender at third base.

Third base will be one of the more interesting positions to watch in 2011.  I have little doubt that Mike Moustakas will make his Major League debut after spending a couple of months at the AAA level.  Until then, the Royals will likely choose from Wilson Betemit, Mike Aviles and Josh Fields to play the position.  They clearly have too many players for too few positions.  Something is going to have to give.  If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Mike Aviles as the starter on opening day with Wilson Betemit at DH or on the bench and Josh Fields on another team or in the Minors.  However, that will just be a fill-in role.  2011 will mark the debut of Mike Moustakas and hopefully a long-term answer at third for the Royals.

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

Red = highest in category, Green = lowest

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

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

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

We’re about at the midway point of the post season, so it’s probably as good a time as any to rehash Dayton Moore’s year.  The goal of this exercise is to examine all of his “key” moves and deliver a simple verdict – either a win or a loss.  (“Key” being a subjective term.  I’m using it to apply to any move that shaped the 25-man roster.) Obviously, some of these verdicts can change.  (Like, Chris Getz could become an All-Star.  No, I don’t believe that.)  Keep in mind the judgement is how the deal should currently be viewed.

Since the GM makes a ton of moves throughout the year, we’ll break this into a few different parts.  Part one today covers November and December of 2009.  We know GMDM likes to dash right out of the gate, so keep his November moves in mind as the World Series winds down in a couple of weeks.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the first off season deal for the third consecutive year.

November
Traded cash and 3B Mark Teahen to Chicago White Sox for 2B Chris Getz and 3B Josh Fields.

The Royals needed to shave some cash from the payroll and found a candidate in Teahen, who was eligible for his third year of salary arbitration after earning $3.5 million in 2009.  Getz started 59 games at second for the Royals, but his season was bookended by injury.  He missed time in April with a strained oblique and then finished the year on the sidelines after suffering a concussion.  In between it seemed like both Trey Hillman and Ned Yost didn’t exactly trust Getz to produce.  I can’t really say that I blame them.  He finally got an extended look in August, but hit just .217/.280/.246.

Fields seemed to be the odd man in this deal, as at the time, it didn’t seem like the Royals had a spot for him.  In the end, it didn’t really matter as he lost most of his season as he recovered from hip surgery.  With Betemit and Aviles at third and Gordon and DeJesus manning the corners, he still doesn’t seem to have a place on the active roster.

The White Sox compounded their problems by extending Teahen for an additional two years beyond 2010, bringing his total contract to three years, $14 million.

This was basically a deal where the Royals shed one below average bat and glove in exchange for two below average bats, one below average glove, and one average glove – although Getz is definitely a better defender than Teahen, he didn’t do anything this year to make me think he’s anything special.  And even though the Royals bundled $1.5 million of their own into this deal, they still saved money.

With Fields eligible for arbitration starting this winter and Getz becoming eligible following 2011, and since Teahen is locked into the South Side, we will definitely revisit this deal a few more times.

Verdict: Neither win or loss.

Declined option on Miguel Olivo.

This needed to happen.  Olivo was a horrible fit on this team and Exhibit A that Dayton Moore doesn’t really believe OBP is important.  Fans were ticked when Olivo got off to a hot start in Colorado, but his .193/.225/.313 line post All-Star break was all the proof needed the Royals made the correct decision.  Plus, his extreme home and road splits (.318/.349/.556 at home vs. .211/.276/.322 on the road) provide proof the Coors Effect still lingers.

Verdict: Win

Minor league free agent signings:  Wilson Betemit, Brad Thompson, Bryan Bullington, Josh Rupe

Bullington’s amazing start against the Yankees on August 15 aside, this group of pitchers had as much success as you would expect random, bottom of the barrel, free agent pitchers… Not much.  Thompson lived around the plate and was extremely hittable.  He was gone by June.  Rupe had a promising debut raising a false level of confidence and was out by mid-May.

Of course, the real prize in the November free agent feeding frenzy was Betemit.  His glove was awful, but his bat was something else.  We can only imagine how many runs the Royals lost offensively from keeping him in the minors for so long.  We can only imagine how many runs the Royals saved defensively from keeping him in the minors for so long.  To be fair, no one predicted anything remotely close to this kind of offensive season for Betemit.  And there really was no room for him on the big league roster.  He finally got his chance because the Royals decided to ship Alberto Callaspo to the Angels.

Verdict:  This represents a 25% success rate, so since your basically talking about minor league free agents, this grades out as a win.

December
Released Mike Jacobs

Along with the Olivo release, this needed to happen.  With Billy Butler adequate with the glove at first and exceptional with the bat, Jacobs served zero purpose on this team because he would have been a horrible choice for DH.  And since he was eligible for arbitration, the Royals saved some cash by severing ties in December.

Verdict: Win.

Signed Jason Kendall to a two year, $6 million deal.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Exacerbated by the fact the Royals gave him well over 90% of the innings behind the plate.

The Royals are fond of pointing out in situations like this (and like with the Betancourt deal from the previous season) they don’t have a ton of options.  They declined the option on Olivo and they didn’t offer a contract to John Buck, so they needed a catcher.  Hey, I’m sympathetic to this…  It’s the second year that just turns my stomach.  Why basically acquire a stopgap and then tie your hands for the next two seasons.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

Verdict:  Loss

Signed minor league free agents Bruce Chen and Philip Humber.

Chen finished with the exact same ERA as our beloved Greinke.  I don’t know why I bring this up, except to point out his FIP was nearly two runs higher.  Ultimately, Chen was a serviceable, back of the rotation starter.  That he was the second best starter on the Royals, tells you all you need to know about the wretched condition of our rotation in 2010.

Still, like the previous month’s free agent signings, this was a 50% success rate for GMDM.

Verdict: Win

Royals non-tendered John Buck

This was the best stop-gap solution to the Royals catching conundrum.  Yes, he would have cost more money in 2010 than Jason Kendall, but he wouldn’t have cost that extra year.  And for the money, he would have provided much more offensive production.

Verdict: Loss

Royals signed Brian Anderson

We knew the Royals were looking for outfield help and this seemed like a relatively inexpensive option.  Then the Royals threw much more cash at Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel.  Then Anderson became a pitcher.  An off season in the life of a Royals fan.

He threw 17 innings in the minors, allowed 10 hits and five walks while striking out 17.  Overall, his minor league ERA was 2.08.  Intriguing start to his “new” career.  He will be a free agent, so I’m interested to see if he feels any gratitude toward an organization who handed him $700,000 for a handful of minor league innings.

Verdict: Loss

Summing up, the Betemit and Chen signings were positives, while the Olivo move was correct, the rest of the catching situation was a fiasco.  The Royals burned too much cash for a outfielder who became a pitcher and they resisted the temptation to cling to Jacobs.  And made a deal that had minimal impact on the big league roster.  Overall, a fairly pedestrian start to the 2010 season.

Next, we’ll look at the moves through spring training.

I had this great idea where I would do a report card for the whole season.  Kind of like I’ve done in the past for the team during the All-Star Break.  This was a fine idea except:

1. No one really wants to review the sucktastic 2010 season.

And 2. Only two Royal hitters had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title and only two pitchers had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.  That’s it.

Basically, when anyone tries to tell you that the Yunigma was a decent player in 2010 – because he tied for the team lead in home runs and RBI! – just point out that quantity does not equal quality.

The other Royal to qualify for the batting title would be Billy Butler.

So instead of a complete rehash of 2010, I’ll do a minor look back and present to you my hypothetical ballot for the Royals Player of the Year.  This is an actual award, voted on by the Kansas City chapter of the BBWAA and has been bestowed upon the Royals top player since 1971.  George Brett is obviously the most honored Royal, winning the award eight times.  Amos Otis and Mike Sweeney are the second most decorated, both winning the award three times. For awhile, I harbored an illusion that someday the Royals would open the voting to us basement dweller types, but when I learned that the voting is controlled by the writers covering the team, that pipe dream circled the drain.

Here’s my top three for Royals position player of the year.  I’ll hold onto my ballot for the pitchers for Friday.  Hey, it’s the off season… I have to pace myself.

1 – Billy Butler

Really, this is an absolute no-brainer to me.  As mentioned before, he was only one of two Royals who accumulated over 500 plate appearances.  And while the Yunigma gave us quantity and not quality, Butler provided both.  He led the team in OBP and WAR and was second in slugging and OPS+.  His defense improved enough that he’s no longer viewed as a liability with the glove.

2 – David DeJesus

He was having the finest season of his career before he destroyed his thumb attempting to make a catch against the wall in Yankee Stadium prematurely ended his season.  From May 11 to June 28, he hit .384 with a .449 OBP.  DeJesus’ defense didn’t suffer too much in the move across to right field.  He was solid, if unspectacular with the glove.

3 – Wilson Betemit

He could have jumped ahead of DeJesus, but he was absolutely abysmal with the glove.  His 141 OPS+ and .511 slugging percentage were tops on the team and his 2.7 offensive WAR was second only to Butler.  He basically played half a season.  It would have been fun if we could have seen him for the full slate of games.  Of course, I probably would have broken a TV or two watching him ole´ ground balls hit to his left.

If Butler actually wins, he would be the first Royal to win back to back since Brett in ’79 and ’80.  Although the evil, stat-driven blogger inside of me is rooting for The Yunigma… Just because it would make the electorate look silly.

Anyway, now it’s your turn.  Cast your votes and explanations in the comments.

Thursday was the Royals final off day in 2010.  It’s really difficult to believe this season is almost complete.

For the final two plus weeks of the year, I’d really love to see Ned Yost play guys like Kila Ka’aihue and Alex Gordon everyday.  Wilson Betemit, too.  Of course Billy Butler.  Why not just lock those four into the third through six spots in the order and see what happens?  So far, the Royals have used 92 batting orders in 144 games.  That’s actually pretty stable.  They’ve used two different lineups on 10 occasions.  Unfortunately, both those lineups had Scott Podsednik at the top of the order.  Since the August purge, there hasn’t been a ton of lineup stability.

I’d like to see some over the final handful of games.  Just for fun.

It’s never too early to think about next year.  Especially since we’re Royals fans.

– Have you noticed Yuniesky Betancourt has the exact same OPS+ as the recently departed Wee Willie Bloomquist?  Where have all my favorite Royal PR tweeters?

– Two of the top three Royals in WAR have had fewer than 375 plate appearances.  And three of the top five aren’t even on the active roster.  That’s kind of depressing.

– As long as we’re talking about Royals no longer on the active roster, let’s check in with some of our departed favorites:

Kyle Farnsworth
Kerosene Kyle has a 5.40 ERA, but that’s deceptive.  He’s still throwing gas, striking out 19 in 15 innings.  However, the Braves quickly learned you don’t trust the guy in high leverage situations.  He hasn’t pitched in a pressure situation since allowing a pair of inherited runners to score on August 25.

Rick Ankiel
Ankiel has been predictably awful, hitting .207/.311/.304 in 106 plate appearances.  His 36 strikeouts for the Braves is pretty much on pace for what he did with the Royals.  The Braves are battling for their postseason life, so they’ve wisely pulled back on his playing time the last couple of weeks.

The Braves had a 3.5 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East when they made the trade.  They’re now three games behind the Phillies, although they have a half game lead over the Giants in the Wild Card.  We will fondly remember this pair when Little Timmy Collins is throwing gas at the K.

Jose Guillen
Speaking of the Giants, Guillen has posted a line of .280/.318/.366 since joining San Francisco.  He has just five extra base hits in 88 plate appearances and three walks against 21 strikeouts.  New zip code, same old approach.  Except the Giants have to play him in the field where his defense has been exactly as bad as you would imagine.

Alberto Callaspo
My old favorite contact hitter is batting .273/.314/.341 since being the first domino to fall.    He’s making more contact (94% of all swings meet the bat) but his power is down since joining the Angels.

Scott Podsednik
We knew it couldn’t possibly last.  We knew it.  It didn’t.  Pods hit just .262/.313/.336 for the Dodgers with just five steals in eight attempts.  He somehow grounded into five double plays in 20 opportunities.  He’s out for the rest of the season with plantar fasciitis.

The Dodgers were in third place six games out when Podsednik arrived.  They’re now 10.5 games back and in fourth.

– MLB released their 2011 master schedule this week.  The Royals open at home on March 31 (a Thursday) against the Angels.  That’s a good Opening Day opponent.  To wrap the season, 23 of their final 30 games will be against AL Central opponents.  That’s not really a big deal for 2011.  Someday… It will matter.

For the interleague, the Royals will travel to St. Louis, Colorado and San Diego. I thought the idea behind interleague play was to give teams some variety of opponents.  I understand the “natural” rivalry with the Cardinals, but this is the second year in a row we’re facing off against the Rockies.

The Yankees and Red Sox make their only trip to Kansas City in the same week in the middle of August.  Good, get that out of the way in one homestand.  In all seriousness though, I’m happy to see the way the schedule worked out on this one.  We know the Yankees and Red Sox with their midwestern based bandwagon fans fill the K when they come to town.  It seems like the last several seasons, the Royals have had opening day against either one of those teams basically combining two big attendance days in one.  And since the number of seats are limited… You don’t have to be an economist to figure this one out.

Because of their interleague trip to San Diego, the Royals will be making three West Coast swings instead of two like they had this year.  Keep those frequent flyer accounts updated.

Of course the huge news is the Cubs are coming.  Again, this is good for attendance figures and the bottom line, but bad for my psyche.  Why?  Because I don’t like the Cubs, that’s why.  And I don’t like the people who will invade the K that have never been to Chicago, yet claim to be Cub fans.  We get that enough when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town.

Oh well… If I want it to be different, the Royals will need to start winning again.