Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Yuniesky Betancourt

I have to be totally honest.  My Sunday started before seven o’clock with a two and one-half hour drive, followed by seven hours of watching girls’ tennis (with bad cell service so no MLB Gameday), followed by a two and one-half hour drive home and immediately continuing on for four more hours into the bowels of Iowa for a business meeting Monday morning.   I know, I hear you:  shut up, we don’t care about your personal life. 

Fair enough.   All I was getting to in a roundabout way was that I missed the entire 15 inning Royals’ win today.   In doing so, I missed what has to be one of the most exciting, excruciating, maddening, thrilling, bizzare and euphoric of the past five years.   Pick an adjective, any adjective, and I bet you can make it apply to this game.

Let’s start with the fact that the Royals, after asking for seven plus innings out of their bullpen on Saturday, needed a good start from Luis Mendoza.   They got exactly that, as Luis went six innings and allowed just two runs (back to back homers to Halladay and Craig when he was ahead in the count – I consider 2-2 to be ‘ahead for the pitcher’).   All that and the bullpen still had to toss nine innings!

Mendoza’s performance comes on the heels of allowing just one run in six innings in his last start, which came after he gave up just two runs in five innings in relief of Felipe Paulino.   Now, I’m not ready to sign Mendoza to a long term contract or even to say that he will still be in the rotation by the end of July, but damn, Luis, well done.

Speaking of the bullpen, they went seven innings after Mendoza without allowing a run, surrendering just three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.   The key guy, obviously, was Tim Collins, who went three perfect innings to allow Ned Yost to avoid having to call on Roman Colon for a third straight day or a used up Bruce Chen.

The Royals also got two innings of work out of closer Jonathan Broxton:  one more than they wanted.  Broxton, who makes a living dancing the high wire in save opportunities, fell off on Sunday and gave up the tying run in the bottom of the 14th.  Redemption came in the 15th, however, when Broxton struck out two (Cardinals pinch-hitting pitcher Joe Kelly is no Bruce Chen) on his way to a 1-2-3 inning and finally, thankfully, the win for Kansas City.

Of course, Broxton would not have had the save opportunity to blow or the chance at redemption had it not been for Yuniesky Betancourt.  The Yunigma, despised and reviled generally, gets to be the toast of the town for tonight.  A run scoring double in the 14th and a two run homer in the 15th after going 0-5 in his first five at-bats.   Of course, how often does a non-starter get SEVEN at-bats in one game?

Backing up to the 14th inning, Betancourt fouled the first pitch off while attempting to bunt.  Was that a call from the bench or Yuni acting on his own?  As you know, the sacrifice bunt is not a popular item around these parts, but I don’t hate it in this situation.  However, I’m not sure I like it with Yuni up.  The one occasional skill Yuni brings to the plate is some pop (you know like extra inning doubles and homers), so I am glad that either he cut it out or Ned called the bunt off after one attempt. 

But then, Yuni would not have had his chances if it had not been for Billy Butler turning around 99 mph fastball on an 0-2 count with two outs in the top of the ninth to tie the game in the first place.   I not sure everyone has noticed, but Billy Butler kinda knows how to hit a baseball.

This game featured, among other things:

  • FIVE walks by Alex Gordon.
  • Back to back intentional walks with no one on and two outs.  Sounds crazy, but it was the 14th inning, the Royals were out of bench players, Bruce Chen already had gotten his pinch hit knock, so the Cards gave free passes to Moustakas and Escobar to get to Nate Adcock.
  • As alluded to a twice already, we saw the first Royals pitcher to get a pinch hit when Bruce Chen, batting for Tim Collins singled.  I’m amazed that is the first time it has happened.   You would have thought that back before the DH, some Royals pitcher (Jim Rooker for example) would have gotten one in some wild game.

I bet you can list three or six or nine more things about Sunday’s game that deserve a bullet point:  it was simply that kind of game.  The kind of game that, more often than not, the Royals have ended up losing in the past.  Progress or just dumb luck?  Not sure, but I’ll take five out of six in any form.    Especially with three at Houston coming up.

The Royals are not really a contender, not yet.   They, however, are not exactly not contenders, either.   I bet you didn’t expect to see that when they were losing 12 in a row.

xxx

 

 

The Royals return to The K where they look to build on their league worst 5-17 home record. Just about the most bizarre split I can remember since Brian Bannister dominated the day. In 22 home games, they’ve allowed 122 runs, or 5.5 per game. In 27 road games, they’ve allowed 97 runs, or 3.6 per game.

They’re scoring more on the road (4.3/g vs 3.8) but the spread isn’t as extreme. As always, it’s all about the pitching.

A couple of notes following an off day where we popped the champagne on a winning record in May…

Decisions, Decisions

The Royals will be looking to make a couple of decisions with their 25-man roster in the coming days. Both Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Sanchez are rehabbing in Omaha and look close to being activated.

For Sanchez, there’s no question… He’ll be slotted into the rotation as soon as humanly possible. Not because he’s anything great, but because he’s making $5.6 million and the Royals are still desperate for starting pitching. Like ugly girl in a bar at 2 am desperate. Neither scenario is something worth waking up to in the morning.

Sanchez threw 5.2 innings (of course he did) and struck out five while walking one in his first rehab start. He’s likely to get one more start before rejoining the team. Sanchez’s return still leaves the Royals with just four “definites” in the starting rotation: Chen, Hochevar, Paulino and Sanchez… That means your option for the fifth starter is either Will Smith, Luis Mendoza or Vin Mazzaro. Or they can add another starter from the minors.

Either way, this rotation is a hot mess.

Yosty seemed to be keeping his options wide open when he said Sanchez will “probably” make one more rehab start. If he stays in Omaha, it looks like Mazzaro will get the start on Sunday.

I’m not sure either option is a good one.

Then there’s Betancourt. He has progressed to Omaha after a brief stint in Northwest Arkansas and went 2-4 with a home run in his lone appearance for the Storm Chasers. According to Ned Yost, he could be activated this weekend.

This is where things will get interesting.

Do the Royals keep Johnny Giavotella with the big club? Or do they ship Irving Falu back to Triple-A? Since the Royals have need eight pitchers in the bullpen, they have a three man bench. It’s possible they ship a pitcher out and keep all three, but that seems really unlikely. In my heart, I’d like them to keep Giavotella and just let him play second. Yeah, he’s unimpressive with the glove, but just give him a couple of months and see what the kid can do. Betancourt isn’t a long-term solution. (God help us all if the Royals seem him that way.) Neither is Falu. Is Gio? Maybe… Maybe not. But while we’re certain about the futures of the other two players, the jury is still out on Giavotella. At least it should be.

I’d keep Falu, too. He has proven his value as a utility player. And he could provide the Royals with a late inning defensive replacement for Gio.

Of course, I never would have signed The Yunigma is the first place. So maybe I’m biased. Biased against bad ballplayers.

We’ve covered this topic at length. And after all the bandwidth we’ve filled, I still haven’t a clue as to what the Royals will do. I know what I hope they’ll do. This situation is beginning to feel like Christmas morning when I was 10… Full of hope and anticipation, but ultimately a day of disappointment when I opened a gift from Radio Shack.

Numbers

The Royals have used 20 pitchers through the first two months of the season. Nine of them have started a game. By comparison, last year the Royals used 23 pitchers and 10 starters.

Here are the top five teams ranked by bullpen innings:

Royals – 190
Orioles – 174.2
Twins – 172.1
Rockies – 165.2
Brewers – 163.1

It’s a damn good thing this bullpen is a strength of the team. Their collective 3.13 ERA is tied for the seventh best mark in baseball. Right now, if you asked me to name the Royals Pitcher of the Year, I would vote for “Bullpen.” Quantity and quality.

A1 Back On Top

According to Dutton’s notes column, Alex Gordon feels like the leadoff spot in the lineup is a “fit.” That’s cool. I don’t think lineup position matters at all, but I do understand that some players have a certain approach and state of mind when it comes to hitting leadoff. Hey, if Gordon is able to focus a little better because he’s feeling it in the leadoff spot… More power to him.

In the last four games since Yosty returned him to the top spot, A1 has added 10 points to his average and eight points to his OBP.

Works for me.

Winning The Month

About that winning month of May. The Royals finished two games above .500 at 15-13 despite scoring and allowing the exact number of runs. The offense crossed the plate 117 times while the pitchers surrendered the same amount. We don’t need an advanced degree in sabermetrics to know that the Royals Pythag record in May was 14-14.

Their overall Pythagorean record stands at 22-27, just a game off their actual record of 21-28. Remember during their losing streak how they were something like five games off their Pythag record? Over the course of a long season, these things have a way of finding a balance.

Time To Win

The Royals next six home games are against Minnesota and Oakland. You can’t find two worse run scoring offenses in the American League. (They follow this homestand with three against the Pirates. Their offense is dreadful. Like deadball era bad.) This is a chance to pick up some wins. Success will be defined as six wins in their next nine, including four out of six on the homestand.

I’m still not a believer in contention. I am a believer in development. And development, like contention, means winning ballgames. This is a real chance for the Royals to inch closer back to the ever elusive .500 mark. If they’re going to make a move at any time this season, it has to be over the next week and a half.

Play ball.

I’m told this weekend is the unofficial start to summer. It appears it’s also the unofficial point where a third of the baseball season is past. Strange dichotomy, that.

Seems as though now is as good a time as any to check some league wide numbers and see how the Royals are comparing offensively. I’m looking at slash stats and dropping in sOPS+ for the numbers. Just a rough measuring stick of how the Royals are getting production out of their infield positions when looking at the scope of the entire league.

Catcher
League AVG – .239/.310/.389
Royals – .244/.274/.359, s OPS+ 76

Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero have combined for 15 doubles, tied for the top number in the AL. They’ve also combined for a single home run. Believe it or not, that’s not the worst in the league. Thanks to the Oakland A’s.

It’s also worth noting that Pena and Quintero have drawn just six walks between them. But they’ve only struck out 18 times. I suppose if we were going to make a blanket statement here it would be Royals catchers make contact. It’s not good contact, but it’s contact.

First Base
League AVG – .242/.317/.406
Royals – .203/.279/.360, sOPS+ 72

The Royals slash line would be worse if not for Country Breakfast who has collected 13 plate appearances while spelling the struggling Eric Hosmer. In that limited action, Butler has hit .400/.538/.800, which is enough to add 14 points to the collective batting average and 19 points to the OBP.

Second Base
League AVG – .245/.311/.372
Royals – .272/.318/.380, sOPS+ 102

There you have it… No clue how this is happening, but it is. The first four weeks of the season, Betancourt was taking walks and Getz actually hit a couple of doubles. Since then, the Yunigma has hit the DL and Getz started struggling before he took his turn on the sidelines.

And then Irving Falu comes up and starts hitting like he’s the second coming of Joe Morgan. OK then. I’m going to assume that Falu comes back to Earth (or Omaha) and Betancourt is close to a return and there’s no way he can keep his current slash line at .289/.347/.422. Still, a nice opening to the season from a position thought to be an offensive black hole.

Worth noting I suppose that in 13 plate appearances as a second baseman, Johnny GIavotella has yet to collect a base hit.

Shortstop
League AVG – .256/.313/.369
Royals – .310/.347/.437, sOPS+ 132

When I’m writing about shortstops, I’m writing about Alcides Escobar. He’s played every game but one at short. And his offensive production has been nothing short of phenomenal. His 13 doubles are second best among AL shortstops and is sOPS+ (which represents his OPS+ when compared to all shortstops) is the third best behind only Derek Jeter and Asdrubal Cabrera.

And he’s doing this while playing his usual exceptional defense. Sadly, his UZR isn’t reflecting that. (Am I crazy? I haven’t noticed him getting to fewer balls this year. Or an otherwise general malaise in his glove work. Really strange.) Otherwise, he’s probably be pushing Mike Moustakas for the team lead in fWAR. As it is, he’s second at 1.1 fWAR.

Third Base
League AVG – .254/.311/.406
Royals – .288/.337/.497, sOPS+ 130

Moooooooose.

At this point, he’s you’re Royals All-Star. Hopefully he’ll keep it going through June. The Royals need someone like Moustakas representing the team. Better him than a middle reliever.

He powers the Royals third basemen to a sOPS + that is fourth best among AL hot corners. The teams they trail: Tampa (Evan Longoria), New York (A-Rod), Detroit (Miguel Cabrera). Yeah, that’s pretty solid.

I’ll check back in next week with a look at the outfield and DH. Have a great (long) weekend.

Early in the spring, I theorized that Johnny Giavotella would win the job as the Royals starting second baseman. I went further and speculated he would struggle out of the gate with his bat (and glove, naturally) and he would fall out of favor for the Prodigal Royal, Yuniesky Betancourt.

It wasn’t like I was sticking my neck out on a line… The signs have been there all along that the Royals aren’t Giavotella’s biggest fans. Why else would you sign the Yunigma? ($2 million!) You’re not paying him that kind of scratch if he’s going to sit in the dugout. And despite the Royals claiming that Betancourt possessed some sort of defensive versatility, the plan was always for Yuni to play second base.

So Gio made the trek up I-29 and set up shop in Omaha. Of course, having crushed Triple-A pitching in 2011, he went to work straight away. In 152 plate appearances for the Storm Chasers, he hit .331/.408/.504. Minor league baseball is easy for Johnny Giavotella. He has now played 141 games in Omaha – roughly a full minor league season. And he’s put up a line of .336/.394/.486 in 655 plate appearances. Easy.

While Gio was laying waste to Triple-A pitching, the Royals second base tandem of Betancourt and Chris Getz actually formed a bright spot in what was a dismal April for the club.

Betancourt, despite playing on a bad wheel the entire season, hit .280/.333/.420 until he landed on the disabled list on May 2. He made contact on an amazing 90 percent of his swings and ultimately took more walks than he had strikeouts. Crazy. Meanwhile, on May 3, Getz was hitting .326/.354/.500. (Seriously, he was slugging .500. Even in a small sample size… Chris Getz!) With the dynamic duo hitting so well (and playing adequate defense) even with an opening due to the injury to the Yunigma, it seemed like it could open the door for Gio to make his return to the big leagues.

Except the Royals recalled Irving Falu.

Look, nothing against Falu. He’s a great story. Drafted in the 21st round, over 4,000 minor league plate appearances covering 10 years, he finally gets a chance to play in the bigs… Who doesn’t like that kind of perseverance? Allegedly, the Royals brought him up because of his versatility. Although they had the Yunigma on the roster for that same (alleged) reason, at the point where Betancourt hit the DL, Alcides Escobar had played every inning at short and Mike Moustakas had played all but eight innings in the field at third. Versatility, indeed.

Anyway, Falu has acquitted himself quite well. He’s played three games at third and even had a game at short, to go along with his time at second. He picked up single in the third inning of Tuesday’s game and now has at least one hit in each of his first nine games. Great start. Glad for the guy. He’s done everything the Royals have asked.

Meanwhile, the Royals finally recalled Giavotella when Jonathan Sanchez got hurt. OK. Now they have Gio and Getz and Falu… Three guys who play second. Although at least Falu does have the versatility to play other positions. But why bring up Gio at this point?

Apparently, it was so he could be the designated hitter.

What?

Then Getz goes on the DL with his ribcage contusion. Finally, this will be an opportunity for Gio to play everyday, right? Not so fast. Our man, Yosty says Giavotella will be the right-handed side of a second base platoon. As the Royals embarked on their first game without Getz, Johnny Giavotella didn’t leave the bench. Sigh.

To recap, since his recall, Gio has been the DH three times, started at second twice and pinch hit three times.

I believe this is what psychologists like to call a mentally abusive relationship. Witness…

– Giavotella has an uphill battle to make the team in spring training after the Royals bring Betancourt back for his second tour of duty to go along with Chris “Power Stance” Getz.

– Betancourt makes the Opening Day roster despite playing with an injury that will land him on the DL in a month’s time.

– Once Betancourt lands on the DL, the Royals bypass Giavotella in favor of a career minor leaguer.

– They finally recall Giavotella and immediately place him on the bench. Or use him as the designated hitter when Eric Hosmer needs time to find his game. So strange.

– Now Getz is on the disabled list and Gio still can’t get regular duty at second base.

– With Betancourt preparing to begin a minor league rehab assignment, I’d bet anything that once he’s activated it will be Gio who’s farmed out.

Look, there are people in the Royals front office who have scouted Giavotella for years. They know his game inside and out. Those people have obviously decided he can’t play at the major league level. Did they make that assumption based on his 187 plate appearances last year? Can’t say for sure, but it certainly feels that way. Gio can’t beat out Betancourt, Getz or even Falu to stake an outright claim to second.

OK… now I have to throw a disclaimer. Do not interpret this post as saying Johnny Giavotella is the difference between fourth place and a pennant. He’s not. The purpose of this post is to point out the symptom of a problem I’ve seen with the Royals front office going back to the Allard Baird days… The staggering reluctance to play a guy who projects to be a solid everyday player, while giving numerous opportunity to guys who are already established fringe major leaguers.

This season isn’t about competing for a division. (Spare me the standings… It’s May.) This season is about development and preparation for competition. Yeah, the timeline seems to be on the operating table getting a new ligament, but you still have to create major league players. Gio may be dreadful at the major league level. Destined to be a tweener. Quad-A. Or maybe he’ll be a solid contributor who hits with some power and is average with the glove. Can you tell me exactly the player Gio is going to be? No. Nobody can. The only way we can find out is if the Royals commit to him and give him the time to show what he can (or can’t) accomplish.

What the Royals are doing to Johnny Giavotella only makes sense if they have decided he has no future as a Kansas City Royal.

If you’re among those who think that Getz or Falu or Betancourt give the Royals a better chance to “win now,” that’s fantastic. As the Royals gun for 74 wins, what’s better… Giving Getz and Betancourt myriad opportunity to again show they’re not very good major league players, or allowing a young former prospect the chance to show what he can do? The combined WAR of Getz and Betancourt wouldn’t be that much higher than Giavotella’s on his own. Not enough to justify this treatment.

They gave Mike Moustakas plenty of time to figure things out, and have been rewarded. They’re giving Eric Hosmer a ton of leeway. (Rightly so in my opinion.) They’ve stuck by Escobar and were going all-in with Perez. Gio doesn’t have the upside of the first two. And he doesn’t have the defensive skills of the last two. But there’s plenty of reason to think he is the Royals current best option at his position.

The point is, we’ve seen Getz and Betancourt. We know what they can do. We’re not impressed. Falu is fun to watch, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know he’s not part of the future of this team. Just like Getz and Betancourt.

That leaves Giavotella. Shame the Royals aren’t interested in seeing what they have.

It’s Mike Moustakas’ world. We’re just lucky to be living in it.

Moose put on a show on Thursday night, making a couple sparkling defensive plays (one to end the game), hitting a long home run to dead center and driving in two more on a bases loaded single.

It’s fun to watch a good ballplayer when he’s locked in and The Moose is all kinds of locked in right now. He’s leading the team in just about every meaningful offensive statistic and his defense is Platinum Glove quality.

– Danny Duffy pitched a solid game.

5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO

He threw 90 pitches, 52 for strikes. Nine of those strikes were swings and misses. It wasn’t exactly easy though, as the Yankees put a runner on second in three of his five full innings. Duffy did a great job battling and got the key outs when needed. (Duffy’s second run scored after he left the game for Nate Adcock.)

I was wondering the thought process in sending Duffy back out to start the sixth inning. It’s natural after living through the Gil Meche debacle. Why in the world would Yosty have his young starter who just had a start skipped due to elbow soreness return to the mound after throwing 86 pitches through five? As we saw in the Trey Hillman killing of Meche’s career, send a guy back out for one more inning and crazy stuff happens. It just felt like an unnecessary risk. Especially, as I mentioned, three of his innings were on the high stress side.

Of course, Duffy fanned Alex Rodriguez on three pitches to start the inning. That’s great and all, but still… Feels like you’re potentially sacrificing the future for a short-term gain.

And don’t think I’m comparing Duffy to Meche. I’m not. Just saying the situations are similar. After all, Meche…

A) Had a history of arm issues prior to his injury.
B) Was abused in back to back starts.

However, the Royals haven’t developed a decent starting pitcher in almost a decade. Just felt risky to me.

Other than the unnecessary sixth inning, Duffy pitched a helluva game. He averaged 96 mph with his fastball and was able to maintain his velocity throughout the start. From Brooks Baseball, we see Duffy started out all kinds of amped up before settling into a comfortable groove. It’s good to see he could have that kind of consistency with his velocity.

Yosty said he didn’t command his curveball very well and the data from Pitch F/X backs this up. Duffy threw 13 curves, only five of them for strikes. But the change in velocity from his fastball (96 mph) to his change (86 mph) to his curve (78 mph) was probably enough to keep the Yankee hitters off balance. Even if he couldn’t throw the curve for a consistent strike.

– Just an excellent double play turned by the combo of Getz – Escobar – Hosmer in the ninth inning. Major props to Getz for making a great stab on a grounder close to the bag at second to start the twin killing. His dive and subsequent quick flip to the Shortstop Jesus was the key to the how play.

– Speaking of Getz, he drove a ball to the warning track. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it. Mind blowing.

– The Jonathan Broxton Experience makes me extremely nervous.

Although the A-Rod at bat to end the game was hilarious. How he continually showed up the home plate umpire. I thought he was cracking under the pressure and looking to get run rather than face Broxton. Judging from his weak grounder, I may have been correct in my assumption.

– And it wouldn’t be a Royals game without stupid baserunning. This time, it’s Jeff Francoeur trying to steal third with one out in the eighth. Just a dumb, dumb play. He’s already in scoring position and the attempt doesn’t improve your chances of scoring a run enough to justify the risk at that point in the game.

There was some talk about his “hustle” double to leadoff the inning and I didn’t have a problem with that. He needed to get into scoring position and Curtis Granderson – who doesn’t have a strong arm – was running around the ball to make the throw to second. He needed time to set and throw. Frenchy was thinking two all the way, so he was running hard… It was risky, but enough factors were in his favor it was worth the risk.

The attempted steal of third though… Jeez.

– The Yunigma hit the DL with a high ankle sprain he suffered back in spring training. I thought we were done with these kind of shenanigans. You know, where the injured player is allowed to “play through” his injury, only to miss significant time after it doesn’t actually heal. Not that it matters so much with Betancourt. The Royals won’t exactly miss him. Still, it’s a little unnerving they allowed a guy to play with a bad wheel for an entire month.

The injury means Irving Falu gets the call to the big club. I’m happy for Falu, who gets the nod ahead of Johnny Giavotella due to his “versatility.” What a load of crap. Versatility. Remember how they sold us The Yunigma based on that. What’s happened? Well, Escobar has played every defensive inning at short this year and Moose has played all but eight defensive innings. And with Escobar always playing quality defense and with Moose the best player on the team right now, you’re not exactly looking for ways to get either of those guys out of the lineup.

I just wish the Royals were honest with us. Tell us you have crazy GetzLove and you don’t want to call up Giavotella to ride the pine. Or tell us you think the Betancourt DL time will last the minimum and it doesn’t make sense for Gio to come up for two weeks and ride the shuttle back to Omaha. Or just say you’re rewarding a career minor leaguer who’s paid his dues by giving him a couple of weeks on a major league bench. Just don’t feed me a line of B.S. about versatility. It insults our intelligence as a fanbase. We deserve better.

Finally.

After an endless winter, it’s time for some meaningful baseball. I love the game and I love this team. When baseball is in season, things just feel right. The beer is a little colder, the BBQ is a little tastier and life is just a little better.

Opening Day. Nothing better.

Some housekeeping before we dissect the Opening Day lineup…

The Royals tabbed Jonathan Broxton as The Closer. If you’re surprised by that, you aren’t really following the Royals. Experience trumps performance. I’m not complaining – because I’m fine with Broxton in the ninth inning role – but you would think after the two years Greg Holland has had – and the fact he hasn’t missed time because of injury – he would be first choice.

Remember… I’m not complaining about this.

Broxton looked good this spring and convinced the Royals he’s healthy. He was hitting in the mid to upper 90s on the radar gun and had some sick, explosive movement. Holland would be a great pick, but he’s an outstanding choice for the set-up role. And if anything happens, Holland will be ready to step into the ninth inning slot.

If you’re going to judge off the spring numbers, I think you give the nod to Holland. Fourteen whiffs and just one walk in 11 innings is pretty sick. Broxton did fine, too… Eleven strikeouts, but four walks in eight innings. Broxton had the better ERA, but he allowed five unearned runs. And if I remember correctly, Holland’s ERA went up a run or two when someone couldn’t close out an inning after he left with a couple of runners on base.

This is one area where the Royals truly have depth. It’s kind of a nice problem to have.

Opening Day payroll will be roughly $60.9 million according to USA Today. That’s way up from last year’s $35.7 million. However, it still ranks the Royals fourth from the bottom, ahead of only Houston, Oakland and San Diego.

I’ll be changing the Payroll tab at the top of the page over the weekend.

By the way, if you haven’t clicked on any of those tabs at the top, you should. Especially the Dayton Moore history page. It details every trade, free agent signing and waiver pickup he’s ever made. A useful resource.

George Brett was named an All-Star Ambassador.

What, you were expecting Frank White?

Seriously, a cool honor. He’ll be perfect.

Here are some spring training stat leaders:

BA – Billy Butler – .414
OBP – Butler – .461
SLG – Lorenzo Cain – .743
Hits – Eric Hosmer – 33
HR – Cain/Hosmer – 5
SB – Jason Bourgeois – 7

ERA – Luis Mendoza – 0.47
SO – Mendoza/Luke Hochevar – 21
BB – Aaron Crow – 8
WHIP – Greg Holland – 0.86

That LoCain slugging percentage is insane. Even for the small sample size. And even for Arizona. Hope he packs some of that thunder for the regular season.

Here’s the Royals lineup for The Opener:

LF – Gordon
CF – Cain
1B – Hosmer
DH – Butler
RF – Francoeur
2B – Betancourt
3B – Moustakas
C – Pena
SS – Escobar

Remember how I doubted that The Yunigma was really signed to be a “backup” infielder? I never, ever bought that the Royals would shell out $2 million to one of the worst players in baseball simply to warm the bench. And remember how so many stressed that in the Big Picture, it didn’t matter. Because if the Royals say he’s the backup, he’s only going to play one or two games a week.

Sometimes, I don’t like being right.

Because if Betancourt is starting against Jered Weaver on Opening Day – and batting 6th… Wow.

The right-handed hitting Yunigma had a bizzaro split last year where he posted a .249 wOBA against southpaws pitching and a .288 wOBA versus right-handed pitching. Neither mark is good, but still… In his career Yuni owns a .314 wOBA against lefties and a .290 wOBA against pitchers from the right.

So if Yosty is trying to play the platoon splits, he’s doing it wrong.

Facepalm.

The other option in the worlds sexiest platoon features the slugger, Chris Getz. Like Betancourt, Getz had bizzarro splits last summer. A .287 wOBA against left-handers and a .269 wOBA against righties. Unlike Betancourt, the left handed hitting Getz has overall bizarro splits for his whole career.

Betancourt has consistently ranked near the bottom in wOBA every season he’s played. And he’s batting sixth.

Look, I realize this is like a presidential election… We’re choosing between the lesser of two evils. But 6th place in the lineup? Yuck.

And why in the world would you bat Moustakas between Betancourt and Pena? You’re doing your young 3B no favors here. To quote the best two word review of all time:

“Sh!t sandwich.”

Finally, here’s where we call our shot. Every year I ask for the number of wins the Royals will have – and a couple of other categories.

Here’s what I want this year…

– Wins by the Royals.
– Place the Royals finish in the division.
– Who represents the team at the All-Star Game.

I’ll start

– 74 wins
– 4th place
– Alex Gordon and Greg Holland

Your turn… Leave your answers in the comment section.

Play ball.

So, anything happen this weekend?

I know, it was hard to keep track of everything, what with Nebraska hiring a new basketball coach and all…

In all seriousness, you have to give Ned Yost and Dayton Moore some credit for not being afraid to make a decision, and make it early.   The due determined their position players – starters and bench – with ten spring training games left to play.  

Second base?  That will be Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt in the Hillman-esque ‘mix and match’ scenario.   Fifth outfielder?  Well, we all are going to have to learn how to both say and spell Jason Bourgeois as Jarrod Dyson was sent down before Sunday’s game as well.

Now, on the Dyson front the reason was not so thinly veiled by Ned Yost:  “He still hits too many fly balls.”  To me, that is a pretty obvious indication that the Royals want Dyson to slap and run and Jarrod still wants to swing away.   Some guys never get it, some guys turn into Willie Wilson (and it took Willie a good two years to figure that out as well).  While Bourgeois does not bring that late inning, game changing ability that Dyson does in the role of pinch runner extraordinaire, he theoretically gives the Royals better bench flexibility (right handed hitter and some idea where to stand at second or third base).

We are talking the fifth outfielder and pinch runner on a team that is hoping to win half its games this year:  not a big deal one way or the other.

The stunning news, of course, was the demotion of Johnny Giavotella.  Over the past week to ten days, I had the feeling that someone other than Johnny was going to man second base to start the season, but I was surprised that the decision came this early.  We can micro-analyze/criticize Yost’s public comments on this, as they are conflicting at times, but that is not going to get us anywhere.

The truth is, the Royals opted for defense over potential.   Sure, Chris Getz has a new approach at the plate and looks like a different ballplayer and, well, who doesn’t love Yuniesky Betancourt?   The truth, however, is that Getz still has just one extra base hit this spring and Yuni’s on-base percentage is still a very reminiscent .283.   While Giavotella posted similarly uninspiring offensive numbers, Yost himself said that ‘there is no question Giavotella will hit’.

This all came down to defense.   And let’s not get carried way here:  we are talking about just competent defense.  Chris Getz is an average second baseman in the field, who committed a couple of noteworthy gaffes turning the pivot on late inning potential double plays early last season.   I can find a metric that says Getz is below average and another that says he is a little above.   We all watch the games (contrary to what some might believe) and Chris Getz, to the untrained eye, is a very average defensive second baseman.

Few of us have seen Yuniesky Betancourt play second, but he has impressed Yost at that position.  He would certainly not be the first poor defensive shortstop to move across the bag and become a good second baseman (Mark Grudzielanek anyone?), so I am going to assume Yost is not just blowing sunshine in this respect.   The fact remains, Yuni better be a good defender because that .280/.290 OBP is going to suck the life out of the lower third of the batter order no matter how many grand slams he hits. 

Therein, lies the bottom line:  Dayton Moore loves pitching and defense.   The Royals are going to be extremely solid up the middle defensively.  We know what Alcides Escobar can do and Humberto Quintero is an excellent defensive catcher.   Nothing has happened thus far to lead us to believe that Lorenzo Cain will not be an upgrade in the field over Melky Cabrera and, at minimum, Getz/Betancourt should be average at second.   That’s great, except that all four have to bat as well.

Lorenzo Cain has mashed this spring and sports a minor league resume that would support that the man can hit.  That said, there is concern that Cain has long swing and long swings have holes and holes get exploited (get your mind out of the gutter) at the major league level.   I have high hopes for Cain, but how comfortable are you banking on the fact that he is the surest thing offensively of the four up the middle defenders?

Like me, the Royals are looking for Cain to hit and Escobar to hit better than he did.   Like me, they are prepared to live with Quintero’s bat to get his glove behind the plate until Salvador Perez comes back (I have to believe that Quintero will be playing a lot more than Pena by the time we get to May).   Unlike me, the Royals have placed enough of a premium on defense at second to not get another potential offensive bat into their lineup in Giavotella.

Listen, I understand the arguments against Giavotella and I will not really dispute them.   The guy might just be THAT horrible defensively and yes, he has yet to show he can hit major league hitting.  Quite frankly, neither has Getz or Betancourt, but I digress.  What I will disagree with is the general theory behind it all.

The 2012 season was going to be a tenuous flirtation with contention, if the Royals even sniffed it all, but whatever hopes were based on this young team scoring a lot of runs.   It is assumed that Alex Gordon will be who he was in 2011 and that Eric Hosmer will blossom into a star.  You can pretty much bank that Billy Butler will hit .300 with an on-base percentage pushing towards .400.  It was assumed that Jeff Francouer will maintain the production he gave the team last year and that Mike Moustakas will add pop.

That is a LOT of assumptions before you even get to Escobar, Cain and Giavotella, but if you are going to assume to have offense, why not go the entire way?  If you have a suspect rotation and a great bullpen, as the Royals do, that bullpen can have a lot more impact if your offense has five runs on the board by the sixth inning.  That is really the scenario that gets the Royals on a winning record:  score enough runs to be in the game when it goes to the bullpens and get the game to the other team’s bullpen as soon as possible.

The Phillies can plan on winning 3-1 games with regularity, the Royals cannot.  They need to play (and win) 7-5 games.  If that is the way to win games for this team, this year, then it would make sense to put your best offensive potential onto the field as often as possible.   I will freely admit, that Johnny Giavotella is ALL potential at this point and has yet to offer any ACTUAL production, but he does offer potential.

The upside to letting Giavotella try to hit major league pitching somewhere into mid-summer (and potentially help the Royals ‘hang around’ the top of the division) would seem to outweigh the downside of his poor defense.   If the Royals get to July with Cain hitting, Moustakas hitting, Escobar not flailing and Perez coming back,  and Giavotella is still floundering along at .231, then they could opt for defense at that position, but it seems odd to make that move now.

Getz has an option and Betancourt was going to be on the team no matter what, so there were no roster considerations in this scenario like there are when it comes to the starting rotation.   The Royals could have found out about Giavotella’s bat and maybe it would have helped them catch lightning in a bottle to start the year and still have Getz and Betancourt as fallback options this summer.

Certainly, sending Giavotella to Omaha to work on his defense is not the worst thing in the world, but the Royals are banking heavily on the bottom four of Moustakas, Getz, Quintero and Escobar being able to produce something..anything.   If 2012 is all about potential and building for 2013, it would seem that not giving Johnny Giavotella a shot to start the season is counter to The Process.

xxx

 

 

The Royals enjoy an off-day today at what is basically the halfway mark of spring training.  Without a doubt, how a player performs in the second half of spring training is much, much more important than how he performed in the first half, but enough has transpired for us to know that the Kansas City Royals we thought we would see on April 6th are going to look a little different.

The consensus prior to camp was that the Royals would open up with this lineup:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Johnny Giavotella 2B
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Salvador Perez C
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Now, and admittedly it is still a long time until Opening Day, the lineup might well look like this:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Yuniesky Betancourt 2B
  • Brayan Pena C
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Obviously, the injury to Salvador Perez and the revelation that he might not be back until deep into June, has thrown that position into uncertainty.   Whereas we thought Brayan Pena and Manny Pina would battle for the backup spot, we now have Pena entrenched as the starter, Pina hurt and minor league veteran Cody Clark the odds on favorite to backup Pena.   You have to kind of root for the 30 year old Clark, who is touted as an excellent handler of pitchers and good defender, but a tandem of Brayan Pena and Cody Clark does not excellent make the Royals strong behind the plate.

At minimum, the Royals have touched base with free agent Ivan Rodriguez, who at 40 years old is a shadow of the guy who tormented Kansas City for years.   I would not be completely surprised to see Pudge in a Royals’ uniform come April, once he realizes that the phone is not going to ring anymore.  Frankly, not a bad gig for a 40 year old:  play regulary for two and a half months, then enjoy the big league lifestyle for the summer and catch one a week.   In my mind, a Pudge/Clark tandem seems stronger than a Pena/Clark or Pena/Max Ramirez unit, but you would not be off base to disagree.

Of course, the Internet and Royals blogosphere consortium erupted with Ned Yost’s revelation that Yuniesky Betancourt was firmly in the mix for the regular second base job.  Many of us sensed that the Betancourt signing as a utility infielder would morph into 500 Yuni at-bats in 2012 and we may be looking right down the barrel of such an occurrence.

Now, I am not going to get all wrapped up in angst over this just yet.   First, we don’t know that this will actually come to fruition:  a big couple of weeks at the plate for Giavotella could still net him the job.   Still, we know the club is concerned about Johnny’s defense and various reports from those who have been to spring training games (several of them who I know are Giavotella supporters) reinforce those concerns.   As Royals’ fans, we have seen Esteban German and Alberto Callaspo mangle second base, but Alberto did so while cracking almost 70 extra base hits that year.   The Royals have to see enough this spring to indicate that Giavotella is really going to hit (not just hit better than Getz) or they simply will not put up with his ‘no play is routine’ defense.

When I first heard of the Betancourt in the second base mix scenario, my initial thought was that the Royals were thinking Betancourt at second, Giavotella to Omaha, with Getz on the bench.  When they wanted to actually utilize Yuni in his ‘utility role’, then Getz would play second and Yuni third or short, but would that work to essentially rest Mike Moustakas against tough left handed pitching when it required inserting the left-handed hitting Getz into the lineup.   While I bristle at the idea of Yuni at second and Getz on the roster, I will admit that Chris Getz has higher career numbers versus lefties than against righties (.280/.330/.327 vs. LHP).

Now, what I really wonder, however, is IF Betancourt is the regular second baseman and IF Getz is on the bench, THEN does that mean that right handed third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff makes the roster over the fifth outfielder (either Maier or Dyson)?   Kouzmanoff, who has a career line versus lefties of .279/.322/.453, and carries a pretty good defensive reputation at the hot corner might make sense on this particular version of the roster.  Let me stop for a moment and offer that I am not onboard with this shift.  The Royals need to find out if Johnny Giavotella can hit enough major league pitching to justify his iron glove and the first couple of months of 2012 is a far better time see about that than the first couple months of 2013.

So, the position players that just ten days ago seemed almost locked in, could not break camp in a rather drastically different form than we expected.   We say that, without even mentioning the ongoing struggles of Mike Moustakas (a notoriously slow starter, by the way).   One backup outfielder, two backup infielders (both of whom play one just one position) and at least one catcher we did not even consider as a possibility last week.  Yep, things are different and then, Joakim Soria walked off the mound yesterday.

Soria, who has not gotten anyone out all spring as it is, left the game with a twinge or a pull or an ouchie in his elbow.  It frankly does not sound good.   Again, it could be nothing, but that is not how the Royals’ spring has been going.    Given that Soria has been dramatically ineffective this spring, Kansas City may well utilize this injury, however minor, to buy Joakim some extra time in Arizona to figure out what the heck is going on.

Such a move thrusts Jonathan Broxton or Greg Holland or, more likely, both of them into a closing role and opens up a spot in the bullpen for a Tim Collins and/or Everett Teaford.  I wrote last week about the tremendous depth the Royals enjoy in the pen, so this really does not weaken them at all.   It also would allow the team to keep Luis Mendoza on the roster AND carry a second lefty.   If there is a bright side to your All-Star closer not being healthy, I guess that is it.

To be honest, before Salvador Perez went down, I was pretty confident that I had the 25 players who would break camp down to the very last name.   Now, I am confident in about 20 or 21 of those names and that is without even mentioning the struggles of Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez (again, it’s early and veteran starters tend to come on late in the spring).   Without question, things have changed down in Surprise and are likely to continue to surprise (pun intended) as we edge closer to April 6th.

xxx

 

 

I told myself I wasn’t going to get too worked up about this Yunigma nonsense. I told myself that the Royals surely didn’t think he was going to play much – if any. I told myself not to worry.

But I can’t help myself…

From Bob Dutton:

I think Yuni will start three or four times a week,” Yost said, “and we’ll be able to keep everybody strong in that infield. I don’t think we’re going to lose a beat. It’s a perfect scenario.”

A perfect scenario? Maybe it is for someone like Lifto – the circus freak who likes to put nails through his scrotum. Me? Not so much. So the thought of Yuni starting three to four times a week is kind of the same thing on my scale of pain threshold.

Reading between the lines, you’d figure Yost is thinking of playing the Yunigma as a “rover.” He’ll play for Mike Moustakas on Tuesday, sit Wednesday, play for Alcides Escobar on Friday and then for Johnny Giavotella on Sunday. Normally, this kind of strategy doesn’t bother me too much. It’s a good idea to give the regulars a break. It’s a long season, after all.

Except we’re talking about Yuniesky Betancourt.

The quote about his playing time wasn’t even the best part of the article. Check out this gem:

Club officials never accepted the general sabermetric view on Betancourt, which contends he is a liability in the field because of limited range and at the plate because of a .292 career on-base percentage.

I’d love to know what Jin Wong and Mike Groopman think of the Betancourt signing. I mean what they really think, because obviously, if you asked them you’d get the company line. But if I was either of those guys, I’d be insulted. Because the general sabermetric view is dead accurate on Betancourt: He’s among the worst players to draw a paycheck in the majors.

That .292 career OBP? It’s powered by his early career, believe it or not. Over the last three seasons, his OBP is .277. In 1,680 plate appearances. While you may have thought he couldn’t get much worse than three years ago, think again. He’s sinking. This isn’t even about sabermetrics. This is about being bad at baseball.

And defensively, we’ve seen him enough to know the defensive metrics proclaiming him to be horrible are pretty much spot-on as well. Sure, I’ve seen him make the spectacular play. Then I’ve seen him fail to reach grounders two steps to his left. The amazing does not make up for falling short at the routine.

Dayton Moore is on the record as saying he likes the fact Betancourt hits with “some power.” Yeah, that’s great he can reach double digits in home runs. Except the whole OBP issue kind of clouds any gains in power he may realize.

For some perspective, league average OPS was .730 last year. Betancourt, despite clubbing 43 extra base hits, posted a .652 OPS. So for him to be league average if he’s not going to improve his OBP (which as you read earlier, doesn’t matter to the Royals) would need to add 11 home runs to his totals. It’s not a Ruthian task, but it is kind of a tall order for someone who’s never hit more than 16 in a season in his career. And we’re just talking about being average here. Not an All-Star, not an MVP candidate… Average.

Of course there are those of you who will urge me to calm down. The Yunigma is a utility guy… Someone not to be troubled with. There are larger issues to worry about. Fine. Continue to live in denial that Dayton Moore and his brain trust struggles with constructing the best 25 man roster possible. Don’t worry about their inability to evaluate major league talent. Hey, the minor league system rocks, so who cares about some utility infielder we tossed a couple of million at to warm the bench?

Some will urge me not to sweat the small stuff. I will argue that it’s the small stuff that will ultimately undermine The Process. Everything matters. Everything. Leave nothing to chance.

The Royals committed $2 million to a player who, according to Fangraphs, was worth -0.3 WAR over the last four seasons. He’s not good. Or even average. He’s awful.

The Betancourt situation smells like the same one we faced with Willie Bloomquist. I remember at the time of his signing, I said the Bloomquist deal wasn’t anything to get worked up about as long as he had fewer than 250 plate appearances. Naturally, in his first season with the Royals he had 468 plate appearances. Ugh. I continue to stand by my assertion that Johnny Giavotella will break camp as the Royals starting second baseman, but will be supplanted by the Yunigma by mid-May. If you’re fine with watching Betancourt for most of the summer, be my guest. I figured we were done with the guy when he was shipped to Milwaukee. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d return. Apparently I’m not as diabolical as Dayton.

Yuni isn’t the end of baseball in Kansas City. And it won’t derail or even delay The Process. Yet his presence on this roster is a symptom of a much larger issue facing the Royals.

Someday the Royals will be in contention. And someday they’ll need to hit the market to patch a hole or two in their roster. I’m not talking about a utility guy… I’m talking about an important cog to the team. Maybe a leadoff hitter, or a frontline starting pitcher. Do you have confidence they can find the right guy at the right price? Do you think the Royals can evaluate and project the best option to round out a winning ballclub?

Based on the evidence we have, I sure don’t.

And that’s what The Yunigma is about.

The curtain rises to reveal a conference room. There is a large table with papers, file folders, pizza boxes, coffee cups and other items that suggest the men around the table have been there for a long time. In one corner of the room is a small table that doesn’t match the larger table that dominates the room. It’s as if this small table was added as an afterthought. On this table is an older model computer and a monitor. The walls of the conference room are decorated with blown up photographs of past Royal greats… George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier. There is a spot on the wall where it is obvious a photo was recently removed. Probably Frank White.

The men gathered around the table are engaged in debate. They are scouts and baseball operation people. General Manager Dayton Moore is in the middle. There is a lone man in the corner with the computer. He is not part of the group. He is a sabermetrician.

Dayton Moore: Gentlemen, we are not leaving this room until we decide on a suitable target for our utility infielder.

Baseball Op Man #1: The Cardinals non-tendered Ryan Theriot. Thoughts?

Scout #1: Good clubhouse presence. And he has a ring, so he’s a proven winner.

Baseball Op Man #2: Yeah, but he was a Cub.

Laughter.

Scout #2: Average glove. He’s played mostly up the middle, but has played a few innings at third and could fill in in the outfield in a pinch.

Sabermetrician: Could I say something? I’ve done some research on this…

Scout #1: (Interrupting) You guys hear anything?

Laughter.

Dayton Moore: Solid guy. Good character. But doesn’t excite me. I need a name that Royals fans know and can get behind. We have a good young nucleus and we need to show the fans and the players that we are committed to winning.

Scout #2: What about Jack Wilson? Good glove, but no power. Low RBI totals.

Baseball Op Man #1: Last season he played 21 innings at third and 340 innings at second. We could use that versatility.

Scout #1: And, he’s a right handed batter.

Polite applause.

Dayton Moore: He played 17 games for the Braves last year. That intrigues me.

Sabermetrician: I’ve run some numbers on Wilson…

Scout #2: (Interrupting) Moving on!

The room falls silent.

Dayton Moore: I’ve been wondering… What do you guys think about bringing Yuniesky Betancourt back? I thought he did a great job with us. He did everything we asked.

Scout #1: You know, I’ve always said he has plus hands.

Dayton Moore: All I know is the coaches loved him. I almost didn’t do the Greinke trade because Milwaukee insisted he was part of the package. A character guy like that is tough to give up. But I hated that son of a gun Greinke so much I had to do it. Guy was a cancer.

Sabermetrician: You’re aware in two and a half seasons with us, Yuni walked 34 times and posted a .282 on base percentage. And he was even worse with Milwaukee with a .271 OBP.

Scout #2: This guy and his OBP. How many shortstops had 68 RBIs last year? Huh?

Baseball Op Man #1: He had a boatload of Polk Points, too.

Baseball Op Man #2: You. Geek. Send one of those electronic message things to Jon Heyman and get an idea of what the journos think.

The sabermetrician sighs and turns to his computer.

Sabermetrician: When are you guys going to upgrade my system like you promised? This 386 is on it’s last legs.

Dayton Moore: I’m really intrigued by bringing back Yuni. Solid clubhouse guy. Good citizen. You know, my biggest regret was not being able to pull off that Billy Butler for Betancourt trade. We could have had him for an extra season. That would have accelerated the process.

Computer: You’ve got mail!

Scout #1: I love that the computer tells you when you have a message.

Sabermetrician: Heyman says if we offered Betancourt $2 million, that would be considered a bargain. But we have to act quickly. There are other teams interested. (Turning to his computer) Other teams? What the hell?

Baseball Op Man #1: Don’t forget, Yuni led our team in home runs and RBIs a couple of years ago. That’s amazing offensive production from a shortstop. A right handed hitting infielder with power…

Sabermetrician: Yeah, but Betancourt is an offensive liability. He made 436 outs in just 588 plate appearances. Billy Butler made 11 more outs, but that was in 90 more plate appearances. Yuni is an out machine.

The entire room turns to look at the sabermetrician.

All: Nerd! Nerd! Nerd!

Scout #1: Love the power. Love the plus hands even more. The guy is a rock.

Baseball Op Man #1: He hasn’t played any at third, though. And he hasn’t played at second since 2005.

Dayton Moore: But he’s versatile, right?

Baseball Op Man #2: Sure… I guess so.

Sabermetrician: No! We should discuss this Mr. Moore. You preach the need for versatility, but Betancourt hasn’t played anywhere but short for the last six years. And he’s an awful defensive shortstop. His bat is a liability. He’s a horrible option for this role.

Dayton Moore: (Slams palm on the table) So it’s settled. We’re bringing back Yuni. A power hitting utility infielder. This is a great day for the Royals. We’re going to have the best depth in the Central.

The men get up from the table, shaking hands and slapping each other on the back. The sabermetrician walks out of the room.

Dayton Moore: Next we need to address the catcher situation. What do you guys think about bringing back Miguel Olivo?

SCENE

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