Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Zack Greinke

There are always rumors swirling in baseball.    They are entertaining, intriguing, thought-provoking and, usually, unfounded.   The weekend tidbit that the Royals were ‘willing to listen’ on Zack Greinke via Buster Olney seems a little different.

This nugget has the feel of something actually coming out of the Royals’ organization.   A sort of heads up that Kansas City has moved from ‘we will have to have our socks blown off by an offer’ mode to ‘we are willing to actually discuss reasonable trade offers’ mode.

As some commenters over Royals Review accurately pointed out, the strategy is to let the dust settle from what should be a spirited courting of Cliff Lee and then start talking to the losers of those negotiations.   When second choice on the free agent market this year is Jorge de la Rosa, the appeal of Zack Greinke will be great.

Last May, I (and I was hardly the first) brought up the idea of trading Greinke in this post.   We looked at the Roy Halladay trade and the two recent trades of Cliff Lee – prior to the third trade to the Rangers this past July.

That discussion associated with that column ended up being more on the actual players being acquired and whether they were the number four or number six prospect, which was not really the point.   Taking the names out of the equation, both Lee and Halladay returned basically three top ten prospects.  

Both those pitchers are older than Zack, both were in less team friendly contracts than Zack and both were, frankly, better than Zack.   That is to not devalue Greinke at all, just to make the point that all factors considered, it would seem that Greinke, Lee and Halladay would all have similar trade values.

We will add two more names to the mix:  Erik Bedard and Johan Santana.   The Orioles traded Bedard in February of 2008 to Seattle and received five players in return. 

Adam Jones was the big name of the five and while his talent is undeniable, he has put up a line of .274/.324/.434 in the three seasons since the trade.  Jones turned twenty-five in August, so he is just entering his prime.  

Also acquired was reliever George Sherill, who gave the Orioles a season and one-half of quality closing before they traded him to the Dodgers for third base prospect Josh Bell.   Although unspectacular in his limited duty in 2010, Bell is still highly thought of – at least by Baltimore.

Three other pitchers were part of the Bedard deal.   Chris Tillman was player number three in the deal and has started 23 games over the past two seasons and compiled a 5.61 earned run average.   He won’t turn twenty-three until next April.    Tony Butler was just twenty when acquired, but has yet to make it out of A ball.   Kameron Kraig Mickolio has tossed 25 relief innings over the past three seasons for Baltimore with mixed results.

Johan Santana was traded to the Mets for four players:  Deolis Garcia, Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey.   The Twins put up with Gomez for a year than flipped him for shortstop J.J. Hardy and this past summer traded Kevin Mulvey for reliever Jon Rauch.   Garcia is still just twenty-one and reached AAA last year, but has not posted an ERA below 4.69 since 2006, while Humber is, well, a Royal now.

In a roundabout way, the Twins traded the best pitcher in baseball (at the time) for an a decent major league shortstop, a very good back of the bullpen reliever and a young pitcher with a ton of upside.   

Meanwhile the Orioles traded ‘their Greinke’ (although Zack is almost certainly better than Bedard ever was) for a major league average outfielder with potential, a third base prospect, a young starting pitcher with upside and a couple more arms that haven’t shown much.

As I write this, it dawns on me that I ignored the Indians trade of C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers.   The Indians netted Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson and Michael Brantley out of that deal.    It is hard to judge how Cleveland fared, but they did get eight players for Lee and Sabathia, most of whom will be on their major league roster next year.

Now, all the above does is give you an idea of what other number one pitchers have returned in trade value and also point out just how unsure a proposition is that includes mostly prospects.   Trading Greinke makes sense given his lack of focus pitching for a non-contending team and comments regarding his skepticism (however well founded they are ) in the process. 

Basically, if the Royals do not beleive they can resign Zack after 2012 and do not believe they will contend until 2013, then trading Greinke is the smart thing to do.   Simple math tells you that trading him now, with two full years remaining on his contract, will return more value than trading him with one and one-half years remaining or less.

There is no need to panic.   The Royals do not HAVE to trade Greinke right now, but it may will turn out that they will trade him prior to next season.   It all makes sense, as long as you don’t end up with handful of Tony Butlers and Philip Humbers.

Baseball is a year-round activity.  Throughout the fall and winter, there are the winter leagues, the winter meetings, trades, free agent acquisitions and the Fan Fest.  I know that for many of you, baseball isn’t something that occupies your thoughts over the winter, so I’m going to try and put together some quick n0tes and links concerning the Royals, baseball and even some things unrelated to baseball.  This way you can keep checking in over here and keep up to date with anything you’ve missed and to get that quick much-needed baseball fix.

  • In his latest blog post (ESPN Insider required), Buster Olney says that the Royals “intend to listen to any and all offers” for Zack Greinke.  This really isn’t anything new.  I’d imagine any general manager in baseball would listen to any offer for any player, it’s what a GM does.  What may be different is the fact that this information probably came from high up in the Royals organization, to get the word out to other general managers around baseball.  Until Greinke is either re-signed or traded, this kind of talk will just keep bubbling up.
  • Speaking of the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament, here is a great article about Ned Yost heading down to check out the young Royals prospects in Puerto Rico.  I really liked this gesture by the Royals manager.  I’ve always maintained that at least 60% of a managers job is off the field.  Earning the respect of your players before they even come to the Majors seems like a really good idea to me.
  • The Royals announced that they acquired pitcher Kevin Pucetas from the San Francisco Gians to complete the Jose Guillen trade.  Here is an article with some quotes from Pucetas on the trade.  Pucetas is a 25 year old right-handed pitcher with a 3.73 ERA in 120 Minor League innings.
  • Conor Glassey at Baseball America has a scouting report on 5th round pick Jason Adam from Blue Valley.  The velocity on his fastball (91-94 touching 97) is something to be very excited about.  He still needs work on his off-speed stuff, but so do most 18 year olds.
  • Billy Butler got a new agent, and is now with Greg Genske Legacy Sports.  It’s a pretty big name in the business, and Butler will be going through arbitration for the first time this winter.
  • The guys over at I-70 Baseball are going to be taking a look back at the 1985 World Series in honor of the anniversary.  I’m pretty excited to check it out.

How you vote on the Royals Pitcher of the Year reveals everything about how you value relievers (specifically closers) and starters.  If you believe a starting pitcher is inherently more valuable than a closer due to the superiority in number of innings pitched, I suppose you’ll go with Door Number 1.  On the other hand, if you view the closer as just as important as the starter and place all pitchers on equal footing so to speak, you are probably going to select Door Number 2.

Yes, it’s that straightforward.  In my mind, there were two pitchers on the Royals this year worthy of consideration for postseason accolades.  Two.

Here’s my ballot (and justification.)

1 -Zack Greinke

Well, the cat is out of the bag… You know where I stand on this whole “value” debate between a starter and a reliever.

Yeah, Greinke mentally checked out of some games and is struggling (along with the rest of us) to come to terms with The Process, but his team was really, really bad.

As usual, his team provided him with virtually no run support.  On average, the Royals scored 3.47 runs per start for Greinke.  Over the whole 162 game schedule, the Royals averaged 4.2 runs per game.  In 19 of his 33 starts, the Royals failed to score more than three runs.

Then there was the defense behind Greinke.  With Wilson Betemit and The Yunigma teaming up to see who could move the least amount of distance, a league leading 17 runners reached on an error against Greinke.  I noted before that errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but still… That is an incredibly high number of free base runners.

2 – Joakim Soria

Soria was his usual nasty self, but I just have a difficult time throwing a ton of weight behind a closer for any kind of Pitcher of the Year award.  I can’t get past the reduced number of innings pitched for starters.  And I also can’t get past the fact a number of closers (Soria included this year) enter the game with no one on base.  Overall, Soria inherited nine base runners this year and allowed three of them to score.  I present this, not as an indictment of Soria… Rather it’s a critique on the modern closer.

Besides, I don’t really have the stomach to try to work up some alleged deficiencies in Soria’s game… Because I pretty much think he’s awesome.  Just when there’s an alternative in the starting rotation, I’ll usually lean to the alternative.

I know there are times we like to armchair quarterback the bullpen usage, but Soria’s 2.2 Leverage Index (a measure of the “pressure” a pitcher faced) was tops on the team.  Sure, there are times when it would make sense to bring the closer in a little earlier in the game, but for the most part, I can’t quibble with the ninth inning usage of your best reliever.

So you know how I feel about spots number one and two… The real question is who did enough to win your third place vote?   I’m going to need to turn to some advanced metrics for some help.

I understand there is a debate about WAR and which one to use… Do you prefer Fangraphs or Baseball Reference?  I know the difference in WAR for batters hinges on how each formula calculates defensive contributions.  For pitchers?  I’m not sure.

Here’s what I do know…  The top three Royals pitchers according to WAR from Fangraphs:

Zack Greinke – 5.2
Joakim Soria – 2.1
Kyle Davies – 2.0

WHAT?

I love and respect the work they do over at Fangraphs, but this is all kinds of jacked up.  Kyle Davies, the third best pitcher on the Royals?  And within a whisker of Soria for second?  Shenanigans!  Davies was barely better than Sean O’Sullivan.  And O’Sullivan was so horrible I remain unconvinced he should receive a look in spring training 2011 for a spot in next season’s rotation.

For fun and balance, here are the top three Royals pitchers according to Baseball Reference WAR:

Joakim Soria – 3.8
Zack Greinke – 2.4
Bruce Chen – 2.1

That’s a little better I suppose, but I have an extremely difficult time buying that Bruce Chen was almost as good as Greinke.  Greinke allowed far fewer base runners per inning and posted a superior strikeout rate.  While they posted identical ERAs of 4.17, Greinke owned a 3.76 xFIP, while Chen had a 5.01 xFIP.  Even non-tender candidate Brian Bannister had a lower xFIP at 4.86, yet people want to resign Chen.  Alright…

So my third place vote goes to…

3 – Kyle Farnsworth

That’s right, Kerosene Kyle.  He gets the nod for a couple of reasons.  One, he really did pitch exceptionally well for the Royals.  Of course, it helped his Leverage Index was 0.9, which ranked him 10th highest among Royal relievers.  We all know what happens when you bring The Farns into a pressure situation.  Yes, his strikeout numbers were down, but so were his walk and home run rates.  He kept runners off the bases and balls in the yard.  While the Royals bullpen was featuring the likes of Josh Rupe, John Parrish and Luis Mendoza, Farnsworth actually provided some… (gulp!) stability.

The second reason I would vote him third was for the simple fact he pitched well enough to net the Royals a bona fide prospect in left-handed reliever Tim Collins.  Collins posted a 1.33 ERA in 20.1 IP in Omaha while striking out 20 batters and walking eight.  He pitched seven innings in the qualifiers for the Pan Am games, limiting hitters to a .208 batting average against while allowing five hits and two runs.  He has the chance to be an impact reliever for the next six years for the Royals.

If Tim Smith is Farnsworth’s legacy in Kansas City, I can give him a third place vote.

I listened to the Royals’ final game of the season on the radio yesterday and sensed just a tinge of sadness in Denny and Ryan’s voices as they signed off.   Despite a year that was an absolute grind, it is still something of an empty feeling to know that there is no game tonight or the next day.  

Someday, October will mean something to us Royals’ fans, but 2010 ended up being another year when the vast majority of us turned our attention to football…in August.     I will keep an eye on the playoffs as I like the Rays, mainly because I think Joe Maddon is kind of cool, and will have to witness the bizarre spectre of Jose Guillen playing the outfield for a playoff team, but for the most part, the 2010 season is over.

In some respects, the Royals got an early start on 2011 by exercising David DeJesus’ option for 2011.   That was pretty much a no-brainer, in my opinion, as $6 million for a player with an OPS+ over 100 in five of the last six seasons is a better deal than likely will be available on the open market this off-season.   Plus, the Royals have one proven above average major league outfielder in their organization right now and his name is DeJesus.

Beyond David, you have Alex Gordon (84 OPS+ in 281 plate appearances) and a trio of Gregor Blanco, Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson who will all struggle to anything more than one win above replacement level.   The high minors really offer David Lough and Jordan Parraz, neither of whom offer upside any better than DeJesus (if that).  They are followed by Derrick Robinson and Paulo Orlando, who still have much to prove and are at least one year away.

So, yes, bringing DeJesus back is one of the easiest decisions Dayton Moore will make this off-season and it still leaves him a slew of options with regard to the 30 year old outfielder:

  • Moore can shop DeJesus this winter, although I would suspect David’s value is hurt by speculation over how well he has recovered from the thumb injury that curtailed his 2010 season.  Anything that has to do with a hitter’s hands always gives rise to concern.
  • Moore can shop DeJesus at the trade deadline in 2011.   That is likely the current plan of action as it allows David time to prove he is healthy and the Royals time to see what they have in Lough, et.al.   You hate to go through another round of veteran for prospects trades, but it may make the most sense for the organization come next July.
  • The Royals could also move towards offering DeJesus an extension at some point during next season.   While David is a good player, he is not the caliber of talent that is going to get $15 million per year in free agency.   He strikes me as a guy who might have some loyalty to Kansas City.    Given the lack of better alternatives in the minors (short a move of Hosmer or Myers to the outfield), three years for $21 or $24 million might be doable and advisable.

Not lost in the above, is the Zack Greinke factor.   If the Royals decide that they want to keep Zack past 2012 the are going to have to sell him on the fact that this organization is going to be a winner.   Resigning DeJesus, one of the guys who Greinke surely views as established and productive, might help.

An additional factor in possibly getting a new deal done with DeJesus might well be what happens in left and center field next season.   If the Royals wake up on June 30th with Alex Gordon hitting .221, Gregor Blanco muddling along with a .690 OPS and Jarrod Dyson back in the minors after going 6 for 70 next season, they will certainly be thinking that they need DeJesus in 2012 and beyond just to have someone out there who can hit!

Anyway, so long 2010, we probably will not miss you that much.

I ask that question because the odds are that Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar will be the Royals’ numbers one and two starters in 2011.     Considering the usual learning curve for young pitchers, however highly touted, it is also likely that those two players could occupy the same spots again in 2012. 

So, do you trust those two to head up your starting rotation for the next two years?

We will start with Hochevar, whose season was nicely summed up by Rany last week.   While Luke will be the clear number two guy on the Royals next season, he really is more of a number three on a contending team and probably a number four guy on a really good club.

That said, Hochevar has made some progress in 2010 despite missing half of the season due to a ‘minor’ injury.   If you were to look at his game log for the season, ignore his draft position and consider his defense included a horrible Betancourt, out of position (and not healthy) Aviles and a cast of thousands in center, Luke does not look that bad.    Over seventeen starts, Hochevar has pitched at least six innings eleven times.

What we saw last night out of Hochevar – 6 innings/2 runs – has become a fairly common ‘Hochevar type’ night.   Once in a while, he will be dominate and about the same amount of times he will be pretty bad.  In between, Luke will be better than Kyle Davies with more potential than Bruce Chen and without question, never as horrible as Brian Bannister has become.

What I think we could reasonably expect from Hochevar over the next couple of years is something of a Gil Meche-lite type performance (the Gil from 2007 through June of 2009, remember him?).      Four hundred innings over two seasons with an earned run average in the low fours may not be a true number two starter, but it is good enough for the Royals who we can hope have two or three ‘true number twos’ pitching in either AA or AAA next year.

That brings us to our resident ace, Zack Greinke, who is actually six weeks younger than Hochevar.    After tonight, Zack will have made 98 starts for the Royals over the past three years and will have averaged basically six and two-thirds innings per start.   Along the way, he has won a Cy Young Award and kept his earned run average (still a viable stat for a starter) under four basically the entire time until mid-September.

However, there is the rub.   I hate to try to get into a player’s head and portray his mindset, but it sure looks like Zack has been at best unmotivated and at worst completely disinterested this September.    Given that most of us fans have a similar mindset this time of year, it is tough to be too critical, but Zack Greinke is the ace of this staff and should be held to a higher standard.

Listen, I completely get how competitive Zack is and how much he would like to be pitching in games that mean something.  It is hard to bring your A game when half your teammates are AAA players and Cleveland is trotting out a lineup of guys you have never seen before and may not see again.   If, however, you are the leader of the pitching staff, don’t you have to find a way to give a crap?

I admittedly have a love hate relationship with Zack Greinke.    He is fascinating to watch pitch and not just because he can be the most dominant arm in the game at times.   Zack can also be frustratingly stubborn (back to back curves to Varitek and Hermidia for back to back home runs, for example) and quite simply disinterested at times.   In the end, Greinke is easily the best pitcher the Royals have produced since Kevin Appier and, maybe, better than him, Cone, Saberhagen and all the rest.

That said, knowing that most of the games this team plays in 2011 ‘won’t matter much’, is Zack Greinke the guy you want to trot out as your ace in front of what will be a very young and likely impressionable roster by the end of that season.    If Greinke is mailing it in versus the Indians in late September of 2011, what will Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy think?   “Hey, we can study up on the Yankees, but the Indians in September?  Hell, just go out there and see what happens.”

Again, I am not in Zack’s head, nor am I in the clubhouse.   It could well be that Zack goes out and throws nine innings of dominance tonight and the points made in this column go away.   Frankly, I hope that is exactly what happens, but what if it doesn’t?  

At that point, does Dayton Moore seriously have to consider trading Zack Greinke now?   While his contract is still attractive and before the lack of every start focus rubs off on younger pitchers?  

We and many others have written and discussed this before, but the question is particularly relevant as the 2010 season closes out.     Can the Royals afford to trade Zack Greinke?   Can they afford not to?

There’s nothing left to play for, unless the a battle for fourth place is your idea of fun.  (After the Carnage In Cleveland over the weekend, I’m not even certain a battle exists)  The Chiefs are undefeated and the final week of the baseball season brings two teams with a history of postseason appearances on modest payrolls built through the draft and canny trades in for a final visit.  It’s OK to have Twin or Ray envy.  These are two teams who know what they’re doing.  We can only hope the Royals resident sabermetrician is taking copious notes.

(Side note:  Is the Rays attendance situation crazy, or what?  If the Royals were playing meaningful baseball in September, not only would the stadium be packed, everyone would be wearing blue and hospitals would have an increase in parents naming their newborn boys Yuniesky.  This city would be insane.  I get the economy sucks – especially in Florida where there are apparently more vacant houses than occupied – but still… In a metropolitan area that large, it doesn’t make sense.  It’s easier to understand that the stadium is a poorly-located dump.  Traffic in the Tampa area is a bitch and there’s basically one way to get to the stadium.  Imagine if the only way to approach the K was from I-70 from the east.  Not making excuses here… Somethings are worth the effort.  Or the drive.

Now they’re giving away 20,000 tickets.  Talk about marketing fail… Way to devalue your product, Rays. But I digress…)

Anyway, there are just a few days left in the 2010 season, but there are still some questions that remain about the Royals.  This post is inspired by Dodger Thoughts who posted 10 questions about the LA Dodgers that will be solved by the end of the season.  I began this post with the aim of finding 10 for the Royals, but they are so damn uninteresting I could only come up with five.  Here goes…

Will the Royals team leader in HR finish the season in San Francisco?

Current leaders are the Yunigma and the dearly departed Jose Guillen each with 16 home runs and Billy Butler is nipping at their heals with 15.  Thankfully, Ed Kirkpatrick’s record of fewest number of home runs to lead the team is safe for another season.  He clobbered just 14 home runs to lead the ’69 Royals.

Can the Yunigma stay above replacement level?

According to Fangraphs’ WAR formula, Betancourt currently owns a 0.5 WAR, placing him ahead of Alcides Escobar and Cesar Izturis in the pantheon of criminally horrible shortstops.

But he has a bunch of RBI!!!

(But he also has the second most plate appearances on the team.  Opportunity does not equal quality.)

Do you remember the Yost Effect?

Guess who the worst team in baseball is, post All-Star Break:

Royals — 26-43, .377
Mariners — 26-43, .377
Pittsburgh — 26-43, .377
Dodgers — 28-42, .400
Nats — 29-40, .420

The Pirates have the number one spot locked up for next June’s draft, but the Royals can pick anywhere from second in the draft to seventh. As they sputter to the finish line, I’m betting they get passed by a resurgent Oriole team and finish with the third pick in next year’s draft.

Can Billy Butler set the season record for grounding into double plays?

The record for the most GIDP in a season belongs to Jim Rice, who hit into 36 twin killings in 1984.  He followed that up with 35 in ’85 and owns the top two spots on the leaderboard.  Butler has hit into 30 double plays this season, and if he hits into three more, third place on the all time list will be his, and his alone.

Will any Royals starting pitcher finish with an ERA+ of 100 or better?

Zack Greinke’s fiasco start in Cleveland dropped his ERA+ to 99 on the season and meant that all Royals starters were below the 100 threshold. The last time the Royals failed to have a starting pitcher with an ERA+ of above 100 was in 2006 when Luke Hudson and his 5.12 ERA led the staff with an ERA+ of 92.  I don’t have to remind you, that was the year Mark Redman was an All-Star.

Are you excited yet?

Prepare yourself… The Hot Stove hasn’t even been loaded with wood and the rumors are starting to percolate.  Newsday’s Ken Davidoff ran a column this week highlighting three “big” names who could be dealt this winter.  The three:

Carlos Beltran
Matt Kemp
Zack Greinke

With the money quote on our man, Greinke:

The Royals aren’t positive they’ll be highly competitive by 2012, so they would be open to a good offer for him, a person familiar with their thinking said. Plenty of teams — the Yankees, Texas, Detroit, maybe even Washington — would be interested.

Deconstructing this quote, the source is “a person familiar with their thinking.”  Hmmm… not exactly a heavy hitter there.  This means the source could be a fellow writer, just bantering in the press box between innings.  Or maybe a radio or TV guy, with whom he had a pregame meal.  You know what… I write a Royals blog and I’m pretty familiar with how the Royals operate…

I’ll go on record now: I’m not the source.

I suppose given the way he was identified, I could be.  And so could any number of us.

Still, the point isn’t to discount what was in Davidoff’s article.  The point is Greinke’s name will begin popping on these “rumor” reports from now until he either: a) actually gets traded, b) leaves as a free agent after 2012, or c) signs an extension.

Besides, Davidoff missed the best fit for everyone involved:  Tampa.  It’s perfect for Greinke because he gets to play for a winning organization in a low-pressure (have you seen those attendance figures?) environment and is close to home.  It’s perfect for the Royals because the Rays have the prospects to package in a deal.  And it’s perfect for Tampa as it would make their rotation the best in baseball.

Anyway, just be prepared.  The Greinke rumor mill is just now firing up.  There’s going to be a ton of talk on this topic over the next 12 to 24 months.

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The whole “Billy Butler Series Streak” extravaganza has me completely captivated not interested.  Butler is a good hitter.  We all know that.  Over the last two seasons (where the Royals have left him alone and hit him mostly in the third spot in the order) he’s put up a combined line of .308/.373/.481 with an OPS+ of 129.  His offensive WAR for those two seasons is a total of 6.4.  I mean, it’s impossible to break new ground here… Butler is a solid – if unspectacular – major league hitter.

As such, we should probably expect him to get at least one hit in every series.  At least. In an average three game set, hitting third Butler will come to the plate somewhere between 12 and 15 times.  This year, he’s walking about 10% of the time and he’s also striking out about 10% of the time.  He’s making contact in around 80% of his plate appearances.  So in a typical series where he has 12 plate appearances, he’s putting the ball in play in close to 10 of those PAs.  Since the dude is a .300 hitter, if everything played to averages he would collect three hits in those 10 at bats.

What this streak says is Butler is a consistent hitter.  He doesn’t go through a prolonged slump.  Check his monthly splits for 2010.  May was a very good month and July wasn’t so great.  Neither were exceptional months, though.

So he’s hit in 100 consecutive series.  The last series where he didn’t get a base hit was the opening series of 2009 against the White Sox.  If he has any sense of baseball history, he should stop now…  Because we love round numbers.

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Would you be surprised to learn that according to Defensive Efficiency, the Royals are the worst defensive team in the American League?  They are just one-hundredth of a point away of knocking Pittsburgh out of the cellar.

It’s a total team effort.  The worst fielders according to Baseball Reference’s Runs from Fielding metric are:

Wilson Betemit -10
Mike Aviles -8
Rick Ankiel -6
Yunigma -4

John Dewan’s +/- system is a little kinder to Aviles and Ankiel.  They both score a 0 defensively.  Betemit is a -14 and The Yunigma is a -18.  UZR is similarly unkind to our shortstop and third baseman.  Betancourt ranks the worst starting SS in the AL and Betemit is the second worst 3B according to UZR.

I know there are a ton of quibbles with defensive metrics, but I just presented three of them that all say the same thing – the left side of the Royals infield is the worst defensively in baseball.   And it’s not even close.

Certainly, the Royals team defense took a loss when David DeJesus got injured a couple of months ago, but the moves Dayton Moore made to allegedly improve the glove work mostly fell flat.  Scott Podsednik was worse than even I imagined in the outfield, taking bizarre routes and looking a few steps too slow in reacting.  Chris Getz may be a good defender, but his bat prevented him from ever gaining much traction prior to his concussion.  Ankiel was predictably awful and we never got to see much of Fields. (Although from what limited play I’ve seen, I’m not impressed.)

Here’s what GMDM had to say before camp opened way back in February:

“I love the moves that we’ve made this offseason.  We wanted to get more athletic, and we wanted more team speed and guys who could play better defense.”

The only place where the Royals have a positive UZR is first base.  First base!  If I had told you that last winter, you would have laughed.  However, Butler has made himself into an awkward, yet serviceable first baseman and Kila Ka’aihue looks decent enough with the glove.

The Royals will probably attempt to dress this pig up as they are prone to do from time to time.  Last year, the Royals allowed 77 unearned runs to score.  This year, they’ve allowed 49 unearned runs to score.  But really, is that the best way to measure defense?  (Rhetorical question… The answer is NO.)

The Royals entered the off season with a stated desire to get better defensively.  They didn’t.  And given who they brought into this team, the front office shouldn’t be surprised.  This whole things reminds me of the time when GMDM said he was going to place an emphasis on OBP and then acquired Mike Jacobs and Miguel Olivo.

While we still look forward to Project 2012 and the eventual influx of young talent from the minor leagues, the Royals continue to fail at evaluating major league talent.  Going forward, this will continue to be a concern.

You may look at the box score and see that Zack Greinke gave up one run in six innings and think he had a good game.  Hmmmm.  Certainly, it’s good anytime a starter hold the opposition to one run, but this felt like a battle almost every step of the way.

Three walks against just four strikeouts and Greinke needed every ounce of the 105 pitches he threw in the six innings.  Greinke just didn’t have his command.  Of the 105 pitches he threw, only 57 of them were strikes.  That’s 54%, a percentage is far too low, given our ace starter normally throws a strike 64% of the time.

His fastball showed some life and averaged 94.6 mph, which is above his seasonal fastball average of 93.2 mph.  That’s a relief. (Although I remain skeptical about the Kauffman Stadium radar gun.  Seems like it still runs a little hot.)  While the velocity was there, the swing and misses were… Missing.  He threw 61 fastballs and got only four swing and misses.

Of course, we all know the slider is his out pitch, but the Indians showed patience in not offering.  Of the 23 sliders Greinke threw on Tuesday, only 11 were strikes.

It was just a grind last night.  One of those games where I was on the edge of my seat because I was just waiting for Greinke to give up a string of hits and basically throw in the towel.  Fortunately, his defense bailed him out more than once.  That’s something you don’t hear everyday.

So Zack is still scuffling.  He pitched a great game in his previous start in Los Angeles, but couldn’t really find the rhythm or his comfort zone last night.  That’s kind of been the story of his season.  We’re all waiting for that “eureka” moment, but I’m not sure we’re going to get that.  Instead, we may have to settle for inconsistency.

That’s a bummer.  I want the 2009 version of Greinke back.  On a consistent basis.

– I can’t possibly be the only person who, when watching Kila rip a couple of fastballs to right, thinks, “Slider bat speed, my ass.”  The guy can flat turn on a pitch.  I have absolutely no idea where the myth developed that he doesn’t possess the bat speed to handle a fastball.  Looked fine to me last night.

– Speaking of Kila, he turned in a pair of nice defensive plays at first last night.  And both came in key situations.  The first was with two down in the second with a run already in and two runners on base.  Jason Donald hit a weak grounder to third and Wilson Betemit had to rush his throw.  Kila made a nice stretch to get the out.  That was a fine play, but the one that really stood out was in the ninth.  Asdrubal Cabrera hits a grounder to the hole between short and third.  Yuniesky Betancourt ranges to his right and makes a strong throw, but Kila really saved the day with another excellent stretch.  Billy Butler is much improved defensively at first, but I’m not sure he makes that play in the ninth.

– Maybe the opposition will begin to respect Kila.  An intentional walk to Butler in the fifth?  This really is a rivalry.

– Betemit put a charge in his home run, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone crush a pitch this year like Jim Thome did last night in Minnesota.

– It makes me incredibly sad that Yuniesky Betancourt is second on this team with 11 home runs.  This sudden burst of power is the only thing keeping his OPS+ hovering around the 90 point mark.  Ugh.

– The Royals bullpen will provide antacid moments for the rest of the season.  Guaranteed.  No clue what Jesse Chavez was doing in the seventh.  And Blake Wood in the eighth only works because the Indians are a woeful offensive team.

– Did the Indians have a legitimate beef at the end of the game regarding Kerwin Danley’s strike zone?  Perhaps.  However, Danley was calling the high outside strike all night – that was the pitch that sent Shin-Soo Choo packing in the ninth for the second out.  The cutter Soria delivered a couple pitches prior was in almost the exact same location and it was called a strike.  Having said that, it would appear Travis Hafner has a legit reason to complain.  That final strike was way off the plate.  Here’s Danley’s called pitches for the night.  The final pitch of the game is easily identifiable:  It’s the red square way off the plate.

The battle for fourth place rolls on…

Even when something is inevitable, it can still feel great when it actually happens.

The Royals designated Jose Guillen for assignment on Thursday.

Kick ass.  Great news.

Let’s check the carnage:

340 games
1383 plate appearances
.256 batting average
.308 on base percentage
.420 slugging percentage
45 home runs
94 OPS+
-2.0 WAR

The epitome of replacement level.  At a cost of $36 million.

Buh-bye.

Let’s flashback to December of 2007.  Rumors were flying around everywhere about the Royals and their involvement with Guillen.  He was signed.  Then he wasn’t.  Then the Mets were involved.  It seemed to drag forever.  Here’s what I wrote at the time:

Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but I really don’t want to see the Royals sign Guillen.  It flies in the face of everything Dayton Moore has laid out as his vision for the Royals.  GMDM is preparing to commit too much cash to a player who is already in the decline phase of his career.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something will happen to put a kibosh on this deal.

Score one for the blogger!

About that decline phase?

I chose ISO because Guillen was brought to Kansas City under the assumption he would provide power.  This is just one graph but they all look like that.

Guillen was Dayton Moore’s second big free agent acquisition, but it hasn’t been the only time GMDM has bought high, only to be sold a bag of bricks. He bought high because he viewed Guillen’s 2007 season where he hit .290/.353/.460 to be in the neighborhood of his true production.  I can’t say I know that for a fact.  But if it wasn’t GMDM’s expectation, why would have signed him to such a deal?

To be fair, GMDM wasn’t really throwing money around like a crazy person that winter. Guillen was viewed by many as one of the better bats available.  In August of that year, Dave Cameron at USS Mariner thought the Mariners should re-up Guillen for three years at $30 million.  By the time free agency rolled around, it was thought the best Guillen could do would be a two year contract in the neighborhood of $10 to $12 million per year.  GMDM worked his magic and got him the extra year, just like in the Meche deal.  Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

I had what was probably a typical Royal fan relationship with Guillen.  I was annoyed when he showed up to his first spring training with the team out of shape.  I enjoyed his random outbursts.  I defended him against those who said he didn’t hustle.  Then I got tired of his lack of baseball ability.

While it’s a great thing Dayton Moore recognizes a sunk cost and is willing to cut the cord, we must remember who gave him a three year contract in the first place.  Hopefully, this is a sign he’s learned a lesson from this fiasco – it’s never a good idea to give a multi-year deal to a player whose best days are in the rearview mirror.  Never.

The joy of the Guillen departure means Kila is finally free.  Like I’ve said about Alex Gordon, there is no excuse for Ned to pencil Ka’aihue’s name into the lineup almost every single game from now until the end of the season.

We are now inching closer and closer to the ideal lineup for the rest of the season.

C – Pena
1B – Butler/Ka’aihue
2B – Getz
SS – Aviles
3B – Betemit
LF – Gordon
CF – Blanco
RF – Maier
DH – Ka’aihue/Butler

I know that the whole Brayan Pena should get playing time thing is a lost cause.  I’m not going there.  But I’d like to see it.

However, you’re next, Betancourt.

Of course the Guillen news was eclipsed by Zack Greinke presenting the Royals with his Nuclear Option:

“It’s not real exciting to have to go through it again,” he said. “It’s been six years with me, and most people (who are Royals fans) have been through a lot more than I have. But for me, it’s the third complete re-start/rebuilding phase.”
Would he be happier elsewhere?
“I like Kansas City,” Greinke said. “It’s a town that fits me pretty well. But I don’t know…at least put a team together that has a fighting chance (to win).”

I know there’s going to be a huge uproar over his comments, but did he really say anything we should be surprised about?  Put yourself in his shoes – or any Royal who signs a multi-year deal.  They all want to win (everyone, except for Rick Ankiel) so the only reason – the only reason – they sign with the Royals is because they buy the sales pitch offered by GMDM and the rest of the front office brain trust.  In Greinke’s case, he committed to the team because he thought they were making progress.  Of course, this street runs both ways – in order for the team to be competitive, Greinke has to do his share.  I’d say he’s delivered.  The brain trust?  Not so much.

So I can’t blame the guy for saying what we all figured was on his mind:  Losing sucks, no matter how much money you make.

Besides, we all know how uber-competitive Greinke is.  Apparently, he’ll turn anything into a competition.  He signed a four year deal with the expectation this team would compete.  They aren’t any closer to .500 than the day he signed his contract.

Also, he spoke to the elephant in the room.  Banking on prospects is risky business:

“There’s no reason for me to get real excited about it,” he said, “because the chance of more than one of them making a major impact by the time my contract is up is pretty slim.”

He used Alex Gordon as an example.  And it’s a fair one.  No matter how highly ranked these prospects are, ultimately no one has a clue how they will actually fare once they get to the majors.  Greinke also pointed to Delmon Young.  Young was in Gordon’s rookie class.  They were both supposed to compete for the Rookie Of The Year Award.  Neither of them did, and now, four years later, Young is finally beginning to fulfill his promise.  Gordon?  We all know the jury is still out on that one.

Some people are going to complain, and say that Greinke should keep his mouth shut.  He’s paid to pitch, not play GM, they’ll say.  I would counter by saying Greinke, as the leader and longest tenured Royal, has his opinions and has the right – and the obligation – to speak to those opinions. I think Greinke would commit to another extension, but he will need to see some definite progress.  I can’t say that I blame him. The problem for the Royals – his contract is running out which means the window for GMDM to prove this team is making progress  is closing.  No one who plays the game wants to end up like Mike Sweeney – hanging on well past his prime before hooking onto a potential contender in a utility role.

The only thing Greinke did on Wednesday is speak the truth.

Prior to the 2010 season, many of us thought that the starting rotation might one of the Kansas City Royals’ strengths.   With the reigning Cy Young Award winner heading the staff and a healthy Gil Meche returning, it seemed that the Royals would have a one-two punch on par with anyone in the division.

Behind Greinke and Meche, there was a very reasonable chance that Luke Hochevar would take the next step and become a reliable number three starter while Brian Bannister was likely to remain a serviceable number four starter.   Plus, maybe this was the year that it all came together for Kyle Davies.   Even if Davies continued as he had been, he was still just the number five starter, anyway.

Well so much for that…

At our annual Royals Authority winter meetings in Bora Bora, we discussed that Zack Greinke’s ERA could go up an entire run and he still could be the best pitcher in the American League.   At the same time, we doubted that Zack would regress that much.   As it turned out, Zack’s ERA has gone up by just under two runs this year and while he is still a force to be reckoned with, Greinke is not dominating as he did in 2009.

That said, Zack is hardly the major issue with the Royals’ rotation.  Gil Meche started all of nine games and now, if he ever pitches again as a Royal, will do so out of the bullpen.   Luke Hochevar, who had shown signs of progress, was sat down for ‘a start or two’  on June 12th and has not been seen since.   Brian Bannister is currently sporting an ERA of barely under six and Kyle Davies remains Kyle Davies.

How bad has it been for the rotation this year?   Well, Bruce Chen, who found no takers for his services over the winter is arguably…not even arguably..IS the team’s number two starter and recently acquired Sean O’Sullivan, who has been tagged for 11 runs in 16 innings of work seems like an improvement over Bannister and Davies.

Of course, as I have often written, the end result of 2010 is not so important as building this team for the future.   In that respect, the Royals have plenty to look forward to when it comes to the rotation.   The AA level of the system boasts Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer – all potential Top 100 prospects by the time those rankings come out this winter.   Behind them is disappointing, but still talented, Aaron Crow, who is joined by another slew of good young arms in Tim Melville,  Tyler Sample, Brian Paukovits and Will Smith.   The system is positively bubbling with potential major league starters.

Here’s the bad news:  if you throw out Crow’s 119 innings of work at Northwest Arkansas and Will Smith’s bizarre trip through three levels of the Angels’ system this season, the rest of the guys we just named COMBINED, have 60 innings of experience above A ball.      That’s no one’s fault, just a result of some minor injuries, a two month ‘retirement’ and the simple fact that these pitchers are all very young.

Sixty innings of combined AA experience makes it highly unlikely that we see any of these hurlers in Kansas City before September of 2011.    That bodes well for the rotation in 2012 and beyond, but it doesn’t do much for next year’s starting five.

Here is what we know about the 2011 rotation:  Zack Greinke will be the number one starter and Gil Meche won’t be in it.

Long pause….

Chances are, and given the Royals’ recent performance/luck at getting major league starting pitchers healthy, it is just a chance, Luke Hochevar will be in the rotation, too.      Before he went down in June, Luke had shaved over a run and one-half off his 2009 ERA (and yes, I think ERA is still a decent if somewhat crude measurement of the effectiveness of  a starting pitcher) and gone six or more innings in nine of his thirteen starts.   Should Hochevar make it back for even just a handful of starts yet this season, we could once more make a reasonable assumption that he might be able to take that ‘next step’ and settle in as a legitimate number three or number four starter.

After that, the Royals’ options to fill out the rotation are Bruce Chen, Brian Bannister, Sean O’Sullivan and, sigh, Kyle Davies.  

Chen’s a guy that will be interesting to watch the rest of the year.   After moving into the rotation, Bruce allowed 16 earned runs in his first 39 innings, but has been tagged for 20 runs in his last 25 innings.   That is a bad trend, which if not reversed means Chen is not a realistic option in 2011.

Bannister’s performance has degraded to the point that the Royals are skipping his next turn in the rotation.   Getting skipped in a rotation that includes Chen, O’Sullivan and Davies is not exactly a good trend, either.   I don’t know what you do with Bannister, I really don’t.   He is pretty much posting the worst numbers of his career across the board and getting worse as the season goes on.  

Kyle Davies now has 641 innings on his major league resume and they pretty much all look the same.  He is not horrible – well, not in comparison to Bannister or that guy who was wearing Gil Meche’s jersey earlier this year – but he is not anywhere near good, either.   Frankly, I think you could put Kyle’s game logs for the last couple of seasons next to those of Odalis Perez during his Royals’ career and not be able to tell them apart.  I don’t really view that as a ringing endorsement.

That brings us to Sean O’Sullivan, whose best asset at the moment is that he is just 22 years old.   What we have seen out of Sean to date is in line with what the scouting reports indicated:  a competitor, decent stuff and control, lacks a true out pitch and loses effectiveness the second and third time through a batting order.  As many have pointed out, O’Sullivan is not the picture of physical conditioning, so it may be a case of simply maturing and getting in better shape.     Frankly, I like O’Sullivan and could see him developing into a real number four starter (i.e. better than Bannister or Davies), but that might just be the ‘we always like the new guy syndrome’ at work there.

The options in AAA right now are pretty much Philip Humber, Gaby Hernandez and Edgar Osuna.  Of the three, Osuna is intriguing, having pitched extremely well in AA with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.162 WHIP.   He was pounced on pretty good in his first AAA start, but is worth watching in August.   If Chen or Bannister continue to crumble or Ned Yost just gets as bored with Kyle Davies as I am, it might be worth three or four starts in September to get a feel for what Osuna has to offer.

So, what do you do in 2011 if you are running the Royals?   Do you hold the line, trust the process (no sarcasm intended…for once) and wait for your truly impact arms to reach the bigs in 2012?   Probably that is the smart course of action.

If Greinke rebounds from simply good back to dominant, Hochevar comes back healthy and effective (yikes, that probably jinxed him right there!), O’Sullivan matures and improves and you find two guys who are this side of awful out of Osuna, Chen, Bannister and Davies, then you have an ‘okay’ rotation.   I don’t think the Royals can contend with that rotation, but those thoughts might not be realistic for next season, anyway.

Now, if you cannot tolerate a season of that rotation or you believe contending is a real possibility in 2011, then one has to look to free agency.   The list of free agents this off-season can be found here, and there are a number of interesting names on the list.   That said, how many that are upgrades can the Royals reasonably afford?  

As you can see, projecting the 2012 starting rotation will be a lot more fun than doing so for 2011.   What would you do?