Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

It’s safe to assume Dayton Moore wrapped up his off-season spending spree, splashing the cash on the starting pitcher to fill the void in the Royals rotation.

Here are five thoughts as we all welcome Edinson Volquez to the Royals rotation.

Volquez is not a replacement for James Shields.

He will take the spot Shields vacated, but Volquez is not a replacement. Shields had fWARs of 4.5 and 3.7 in his two seasons in Kansas City. We can quibble about whether or not Shields was a “number one” starter, but there’s no denying he was the best starting pitcher in the Royals rotation in each of the two seasons he called Kansas City home. Volquez has posted a fWAR above 1.1 exactly one time in his career. And that was all the way back in 2008. Before his Tommy John Surgery. In his last three seasons combined, Volquez has been worth 2.1 fWAR. That’s fifth starter material. At best.

David Glass isn’t cheap.

Frankly, I’m kind of tired of this Royals meme. Glass hasn’t had an issue spending money since Dayton Moore was hired. I won’t go so far as to call Glass a “model owner,” but he’s done a nice job of staying out of the way of the baseball operations. Royals payroll, with arbitration estimates and unsigned players combined figures to be around $115 million. That’s pretty huge for this franchise. Although spending the money poorly is kind of the same as not having that money at all.

Volquez could see an uptick in his walk rate.

I know we aren’t supposed to speak ill of St. Sal, but Volquez really benefitted from Russell Martin behind the plate in Pittsburgh. Martin is regarded as one of the better pitch framers and stats say he’s the third best pitch framer in the game. The same stat puts Perez in the bottom tier of regular backstops.

This is key because Volquez has earned the moniker of “Walkman.” He has a career walk rate of 4.5 BB/9. He walks over 11 percent of all batters. Working with Martin last summer in Pittsburgh, Volquez’s walk rate was a career best 3.3 BB/9 and his percentage dropped to 8.8 percent. He is two years removed from a BB/9 over five and a whopping 13 percent walk rate. Read this post from Mike Petriello at Fangraphs for an in-depth study on the affect Martin had on Volquez. Certainly, there could be something mechanical that has led to his reduction in walks. I haven’t watched him enough to know. But this is something to watch going forward. If Volquez struggles with command, the best defense in the world isn’t going to be much help.

Volquez’s 2014 ERA of 3.04 was done with smoke and mirrors.

While Volquez has improved his walk rate, his strikeout rate has declined in each of the last three seasons. In 2014, his BABIP was .263. His xFIP was 4.20. His strand rate was 78 percent. These are not positive peripherals. He will not come close to his 3.04 ERA he finished with in 2014.

Volquez is a fifth starter.

It’s entirely possible with the Royals bullpen and their defense, they can overcome Volquez’s shortcomings as a starter. I’ve been waiting for Jeremy Guthrie to regress for the last two seasons yet he’s somehow become a serviceable back of the rotation starter. That’s what I see as the best case for Volquez.

I’m not slamming this signing. Volquez is probably the best pitcher the Royals could have plucked off the open market at this point and within their budget. There’s a whiff of “it is what it is” about this. It’s uninspiring, but when the Royals won’t make a trade and can’t go for the big players on the market, this is the new reality for the Royals. It reminds me of the Jason Vargas signing last winter in a way. Vargas signed for four years and people were shocked the Royals would hand out such a lengthy contract to a mediocre starter. But I saw the Royals locking in a starting pitcher to an affordable deal. They knew inflation would rapidly push the price of mediocrity and with Vargas, they got in front of the inflation. So far, so good. Because look at how much mediocrity costs in 2015. With Volquez, they needed to go two years for a much more inconsistent starter. I don’t see an upside here, but on two years, at least the Royals exposure is somewhat limited.

No matter what happened this offseason, repeating as AL champions was going to be a difficult task. Forget about what the White Sox, Indians and Tigers have done. Even in a vacuum, it’s just damn difficult to repeat. Volquez doesn’t help their chances as much as Shields leaving hurts, but no matter who the Royals got to fill the rotation, they simply weren’t going to make up Shields’s production.

Finally, here’s how I rank the Royals free agent signings by order of usefulness to the team:

1. Alex Rios

2. Volquez

3. Kendrys Morales

Not an inspring list, to be sure, but it’s maybe functional? I don’t know. All three carry huge risks with some upside. Not much. Some. To me, betting on three players of this ilk to produce is risky business. But after last year, who knows.

A few days after committing $17 million dollars for two years of Kendrys Morales, the Royals have dipped back into the rebound market.

This time, Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust emerge with Alex Rios for $11 million.

I don’t like this signing. (Go ahead, bookmark this post for ammo later in 2015.) Rios is 34 years old, plays subpar defense in right, lost all of his power (in Texas for christsakes), and his ability to reach base is fueled almost entirely on his BABIP. How’s that for a summary?

But here’s the money question: What should Moore have done to fill his Aoki-sized hole in right field? They scouted Yasmani Tomas, but didn’t win his services. They were in on Melky Cabrera, but he went to the South Side on a three-year deal. I never heard they were interested in Nick Markakis. There just weren’t many free agent options in this market.

The trade market is more difficult to gauge. In the last week, I’ve seen articles from “insiders” suggesting John Lamb and Christian Colon or Sean Manaea and Colon would net Justin Upton. Let’s just say if that was accurate, I’d be opening an email from the Royals PR staff trumpeting a “Major Announcement.” That hasn’t happened, so I’ll continue down the road of my own personal skepticism that a pitching prospect and Colon are enough to get one of the best outfielders in the game.

There just aren’t any options. Or should I say, any good options.

Instead of accepting Rios and Morales, we should be asking some questions. Why are the Royals in the position where this is the best they can do? The easy answer is, of course, payroll constraints. The market size works against the Royals. This isn’t anything new. They aren’t going to be in on the top free agents. And they risk losing their top players after six years of service. Such is life in baseball in the 21st century.

I continue to go back to Dayton Moore and his quotes about building a farm system. And at one point, he and his team did build a fantastic farm system. But that system didn’t produce major league talent. Sure it brought Eric Hosmer. Mike Moustakas if you’re feeling generous. Greg Holland was a tremendous find. Wil Myers netted James Shields and Wade Davis. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon as members of the previous regime’s drafts weren’t part of that, so they don’t count.

The Royals found some talent in Moore’s early years via the draft, but lately it’s been a different story. Where are more success stories like Holland – the mid-rounder who defies scouting wisdom and develops into an All-Star? Outside of the Royals closer, they haven’t hit on anyone in the mid rounds of the draft.

Simply put, the Royals are in this position because of several abysmal drafts and the fundamental breakdown of player development.

The Royals 2009 draft brought Aaron Crow and Louis Coleman. The 2010 draft class produced Christian Colon and Michael Mariot. Their 2011 draft yielded Terrance Gore (fun in September and October, but a non-factor until rosters expand) and Aaron Brooks. The Royals 2012 draft hasn’t produced a major league player. The last impact player drafted by the Royals was Eric Hosmer. In 2008.

There are myriad reasons for the failure of the Pipeline 2.0 to produce major league talent. Poor scouting. Failed player development. Even bad luck has played a part. (I’m thinking of Bubba Starling in particular. In a draft where the Royals were targeting one of four pitchers with the fifth overall pick, all were off the board by the time the Royals made their selection.)

The fact is the Royals haven’t had a quality minor leaguer rise through the ranks in quite some time. The pipeline, with scant talent in the high minors, is currently dry. This is a failure of Dayton Moore, his scouting and his player development staff. The Royals window could very well have been 2014. That would be to damn bad, because last October was a blast. As fans, we want more success. It’s possible with Rios and Morales as spare parts we can find that success again. It’s just that at this moment, it feels like a long shot.

You asked for action. The Royals listened.

Kansas City made their first free agent splash of the winter, signing Kendrys Morales to a two-year deal worth $17 million. The contract contains up to $750,000 in incentives for each season, so the total deal could reach $18.5 million.

I don’t get it.

The Royals let Billy Butler walk in part because they desired “flexibility” at the designated hitter position. Ned Yost mentioned Sal Perez as a guy whose bat “is difficult to get out of the lineup.” (Which is a questionable statement in itself, but that’s a topic for another day.) The idea is the Royals have been locked in with Butler at DH, so they’d like to use the position to give some guys – like Perez – a partial day off. In theory, it’s a half-decent idea. Certainly understandable. Butler signs in Oakland for three years at $10 million per and the Royals decide they need Morales at roughly $9 million per year over the next two seasons.

See what I mean?

Morales famously turned down a qualifying offer following the 2013 season and was left adrift when the ’14 season got underway before finally signing with the Twins. His time in Minnesota could only be described as horrific. After posting a .234/.259/.325 line in 162 plate appearances, they returned him to Seattle in a trade. He was a little better, but a .207/.285/.347 isn’t going to get the job done. It could be fair to speculate that his poor 2014 was due to not getting reps in spring training and sitting out until June. But look at those slash lines again. His power didn’t come around until he moved to the Mariners (and that’s relatively speaking.) Seven of his eight home runs hit in 2014 were with Seattle.

A couple of other quick points about Morales. First, his line drive rate – which is an indication of how well he barrels the ball – has dropped each year since returning from his leg injury. Last year, it bottomed out at 17.8 percent, which can be used as a clue to explain why his batting average on balls in play was .244 last summer. The line drive rate isn’t the only cause – they don’t go hand in hand – but I thought it was worth pointing out. I would expect his BABIP to rebound as he’s usually around .300. Also, his HR/FB rate last year was a career worst 7.9 percent. That’s well off his career rate of 15.2 percent. Like his BABIP, I would bet on his home run totals to improve in 2015. And I’m thinking that’s what the Royals are betting on, too.

So the question is, was 2014 the harbinger of decline for Morales, or was it an aberration?

Personally, I’ll split the difference. Morales won’t be as bad as he was in 2014. Nor will he recapture his best years. Steamer has him at .259/.316/.421 with 14 home runs and a 0.3 fWAR. Better than 2014, but not enough to justify the contract. And certainly not enough to justify him as a full-time DH. This is my fear.

Throw out last season and if you go off his 2013 numbers (1.4 fWAR), you could perhaps talk yourself into giving Morales a $15 million contract over two seasons. But the 2014 season did happen. Even if you want to put an asterisk next to it. So even if Morales betters his Steamer projection, it won’t be enough, so this contract represents a serious overpay.

The Royals and Dayton Moore will get (and should get) a good will bounce following the AL pennant. The post-championship glow hangs around for a little bit. However, that can be squandered with a handful of bad moves. Tread lightly.

To quote President Ford: “Our long, national nightmare is over.”

Jon Lester, the free agent roadblock finally – mercifully – made his decision. He’s going to not win World Series for the Cubs.

Personally, I haven’t given a damn about Lester and his indecision. The Royals weren’t players (duh) so whatever. What has annoyed me is the fact he’s presumably setting the market for just about everyone else without a contract at this point of the offseason. The second tier of starters is waiting for someone in the top tier to get a benchmark contract. The third tier is just hoping someone notices them. The position players have been in a holding pattern because they need to make sure someone has cash left over. And Max Scherzer is on some other planet.

It’s made for a dull winter meetings.

The big news from San Diego yesterday was that the Royals are allegedly attempting to move second baseman Omar Infante. Infante is owed just over $25 million over the next three years. (That includes a $2 million buyout on a club option in 2018.) That’s a horrible contract. No other way to parse that one. Horrible. So of course the Royals are looking to move on from something so unpleasant. Sadly, I can’t imagine any takers.

Except is seems they already have their sights set on a replacement in free agent Asdrubal Cabrera. That’s a nice idea and all, but Cabrera will get at least the cash that is owed to Infante. Industry estimates peg Cabrera in line for a three-year deal anywhere between $25 and $33 million. Sure, he could be an upgrade, but the Royals know there’s zero chance of bringing him on board if Infante is still around. And how do you trade Infante if you don’t know exactly who will replace him. I suppose the fallback option would be Christian Colon. For the amount of money he would make – close to the major league minimum – I suppose that’s a decent guy to have as Plan C. I’m not sold on Colon as an everyday guy, but if the Royals were able to move Infante and use his salary for a starting pitcher or right fielder, I’d be willing to give it a shot.

Meanwhile, word came out the Royals were not looking to break up their three-headed bullpen monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Smart posturing by the club, if you ask me. With David Robertson and Andrew Miller off the board, the top two bullpen options are now with new teams for 2015. Like the starting pitching market, teams can either look to the second tier of relievers such as Sergio Romo, Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano, or they can look to work a trade.

Personally, I think the Royals are smart in saying their trio isn’t available. At this time. It only builds a demand and a market. That demand and market will only grow when the second tier of relievers is signed. While Herrera-Davis-Holland aren’t on the move today, that doesn’t mean one of them can’t be dealt tomorrow.

As the baseball world convenes in San Diego, Royals fans are wondering just where in San Diego Dayton Moore is hanging out at this moment.

The big news of the first day was the continuing Oakland fire sale with Billy Beane attempting to get back at Kansas City by selling off Brandon Moss to the Indians and Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox. The Central is getting better. The Royals saw their opening a year earlier and made their mark, now the Indians and Sox are positioning themselves to break through into October. If we learned anything from 2014, it’s that while the Tigers may be vunerable, you don’t have to knock them from their perch to make an impact in the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Royals have been barely in the news. Reports are they met with Melky Cabrera’s representatives on Monday evening, but the current smart money has Cabrera cashing checks in the Pacific Northwest over the next four to five summers. If they lose out to Cabrera, they may turn to Colby Rasmus. Rasmus hit .225/.287/.448 in 376 plate appearances for the Blue Jays last year and produced a 0.6 fWAR. He’s produced over 4 fWAR a couple of times in his career and at 28 years old, represents an intriguing option. Estimates I’ve seen have him getting anywhere between one to three years at an average annual value of around $10 million. But Rasmus is a left-handed bat. The Royals really need some pop (relatively speaking, this is the Royals) from the right side of the plate.

The Royals were also mentioned in the hunt for Justin Masterson. He’s an intriguing buy low candidate who could be had on a one-year deal as he attempts to rebuild some value. He was abysmal last year for the Indians and then the Cardinals. So bad that St. Louis bundled him off to the bullpen for their stretch run. Although to be fair, he pitched with knee issues for most of the year. He’s supposed to be healthy, so he’s a guy who could fill out the rotation. Notice I said “fill out the rotation” which is different from saying he could be a replacement for James Shields. There is most definitely a difference.

Your humorous rumor of the day was the Braves response to when the Royals inquired on Evan Gattis. Allegedly the Braves responded by asking for Yordano Ventura. I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing.

*Looks at watch.*

Yeah, I almost tore an oblique muscle when I heard that one. But this is the Hot Stove and there’s no shame in setting a high price out of the chute. It’s negotiation after all. Or maybe it’s the Braves way of letting the Royals know they’re not really interested in dealing Gattis. Whatever the thought process, it looks like Gattis isn’t going to be moved in the near future.

Tuesday, the Jon Lester sweepstakes is supposed to draw to a merciful close. When that happens, expect the floodgates to open and the pitching dominoes start to fall. Did I mix a metaphor there? Welcome to the Hot Stove.

 

The Royals arrive in San Diego for the Winter Meetings with a couple of king-size holes to fill.

First, they need someone to replace James Shields at the top of the rotation. We can debate whether Shields is an “ace” or even a true “number one starter” (he’s neither) but the fact is, on the Royals staff, he was the top dog. His 8.2 fWAR is clearly the best mark among pitchers during his two year tenure in Kansas City. That’s not simple to replace.

The Royals have been linked to former Royal Ervin Santana. Santana is an intriguing option, a year removed from his turn in Kansas City. He’s rumored to be looking for a five-year deal, which is insanity. Not insane on Santana’s part, he’s entitled to ask for whatever he can get. But for a “second-tier” free agent starting pitcher to get five years… I’m not certain that’s something the market will bear. The Royals rumored comfort level is a three-year deal, which is their prerogative, but let’s not forget they showered Gil Meche with a five-year deal once upon a time. Of course, that was on a different team with a different payroll, so I’m not sure that’s a relevant comparison. However, let’s not pretend the Royals have never awarded a large contract before.

Anyway, Santana was almost as good for the Braves in 2014 as he was for the Royals in 2013. That should lay to rest fears about his health. He’s still throwing a bunch of sliders, but last year, he cut down on the slider in favor of more change-ups. With the success he had, there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to move forward as a fairly valuable starter.

While hitters have gone off the free agent board, the starting pitching market has been slower to take shape. I suppose that has something to do with Jon Lester. Weird how he’s the guy everyone is focused upon and we don’t hear anything at all about the market for his alleged fellow first-tier starters, Shields and Max Scherzer. I would expect some movement on this front in San Diego with at least two of the so-called Big Three finding new homes this week.

Second, the Royals need to acquire a right-fielder, preferably one who swings a right-handed bat. This is where things get a little dicey. They are rumored to have interest in Melky Cabrera. (He’s a switch-hitter, so that will fill the bill as well.) Cabrera is now the best bat remaining on the market and is likely seeking a five-year deal of his own. Cabrera just turned 30, has been popped for a failed drug test in 2012 and had surgery to remove a tumor on his spine in 2013.

After Cabrera you have Alex Rios or Michael Morse. There’s also the possibility of Kendrys Morales. See what I mean? It’s thin on the hitter market. That means the Royals could look to make a move via trade. Dealing from a position of strength to patch a weakness. That means the Royals could look to break up the bullpen.

Having said that, I’m not sold the Royals will move a bullpen part. I’ll add the caveat of at this time. The blueprint the Royals established is three lockdown, late game relievers. Coverage for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. That’s Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Yes, that trio is going to cost in the neighborhood of $18 million next summer, but the Royals rightfully believe those guys were key to their successes in 2014. I’m not saying they wouldn’t move a reliever if the price was right, but I wonder what the trade market will bring.

Davis is less expensive than Holland and has cost certainty for the next three seasons. Holland will cash in more than Davis thanks to arbitration this winter, and has one more additional turn before he hits the free agent market following the 2016 season. It stands to reason the Royals would rather hold onto Davis for fiscal reasons, but those reasons that make him attractive to the Royals likewise make him appealing to other teams looking to deal.

Adding to their reluctance is the face we can’t count on Luke Hochevar to be a member of that late inning triumvirate. He hasn’t begun a throwing program as of yet. The hope is Hochevar can start in January. Besides, there’s no way to tell how Hochevar will come back from his surgery until they get some game action. It’s useful to remember with Tommy John surgery, while the velocity returns quickly, the command lags behind. It would be wise for the Royals to ease him back into the bullpen. Maybe some low leverage situations or a handful of sixth inning appearances to get his arm reacclimatized to game action.

At any rate, I expect something to happen this week in San Diego. Either a starting pitcher or an outfielder. It would be a disappointing meeting if the Royals return to Kansas City with the same holes in the lineup as when they left.

Because this passes for news at this particular point in the offseason, it’s my blog duty to inform you the Royals did not tender a contract offer to left-handed reliever Francisley Bueno. He is now a free agent.

Tuesday was the deadline for teams to offer contracts to players not under contract for the 2015 season. If they didn’t offer a contract, the player would become a free agent. Every year this deadline usually impacts players in their arbitration years, as those years become relatively expensive and teams chose not to pay mediocrity. (Although there are still teams like the Twins. Welcome, Torii Hunter!) With the Royals roster including eight arbitration-eligible players, many thought Tim Collins was a non-tender candidate. Instead, it was his left-handed bullpen comrade Bueno.

It’s a moderate surprise in that Bueno has just under two years of major league service and is yet to become eligible for arbitration. Last year, he made just above the league minimum salary. Although next year, he will be 34 and in 2014 he really wasn’t good. Besides, he didn’t make any postseason rosters as the Royals chose Collins ahead of him for every series.

The Royals 40-man roster now stands at 38.

The really good news of Tuesday was that the aforementioned Hunter made his decision for whom to play for in 2015. And it wasn’t the Royals!

Hunter signed a one-year, $10.5 million deal to return to the Twins. An odd move for a couple of reasons. One, I had heard Hunter wanted to play for a contender. I know we still have a way to go this winter, but I’m pretty certain the Twins aren’t going to be joining the contention queue when the season opens. Second, what are the Twins thinking? They need a “veteran presence?” I suppose. But why not look in the bargain bin for that? Because I’m pretty sure no one looked at this signing and thought, “You know, Hunter was exactly the guy the Twins needed to put them in the playoff mix for next season.”

Anyway, I’m glad he’s their problem. Last year, Hunter was worth 1.1 fWAR, which means his dollar value according to Fangraphs was close to $7 million. Account for inflation and aging and Hunter will be lucky to be worth that much to the Twins in 2015. Like I said… Their problem.

 

Dayton didn’t spend Thanksgiving on the beach. He had his own baseball version of Black Friday. Things happened. Not huge things like 50 inch televisions for $200. But things. Let’s recap and look at a few of those.

The Royals re-signed Jason Frasor.

Kansas City will pay Frasor $1.25 million for his services in 2015. And it wouldn’t be a Royals contract without a mutual option for the following year. That option contains a $550,000 buyout. Reports are also there are several incentives in the contract that could be worth another $500,000. So, let’s just say Frasor is going to get paid around $2 million next year.

The 37 year old right-hander strikes out around 23 percent of all batters faced and walks just above 10 percent in his career. He’s had a few ups and downs as relievers will, but his numbers have an air of consistency about them.

It’s a good deal for the Royals to bring him back and at a cost he can certainly justify. That 10 percent walk rate I mentioned above will be the key stat to watch going forward. His worst seasons have been when he’s finished with a worse than career average rate. That’s not exactly going out on a limb, but when you face as few batters as a short reliever like Frasor does, it’s imperative he keep the base runners to a minimum.

With Frasor in the fold for 2015, the Royals quickly made another move…

The Royals traded Aaron Crow to the Marlins for Bryan Flynn and Reid Redman.

Let’s be real. Crow punched his ticket out of Kansas City when he made those remarks about not being on the post season rosters. I defended his right to say those things at the time, and I’m still OK with what he said. However, knowing the type of guy Dayton Moore is, it’s not surprising at all Crow found himself exiled from KC.

Crow’s velocity was down across the board in 2014. He lost a whopping three mph off his fastball and lost two mph on his sinker. And for some reason, he threw his four-seamer more than ever. The result was a 14 percent strikeout rate, down from 25 percent just two years prior. That’s not going to work for a reliever in today’s baseball.

The former first round draft pick of the Royals in 2009, Crow has to be labeled as a bust. He’s doesn’t even own the highest WAR among relief pitchers drafted by the Royals in ’09, if you’re into that sort of thing. That honor goes to Louis Coleman who has a 0.6 career fWAR compared to a 0.3 fWAR for Crow. When Crow was drafted, he was selected as a starting pitcher but never made a start for the Royals in the majors.

By the way, if you want to worry about the future, look at the list of players drafted in 2009. Just start there. It’s not a good look.

Meanwhile, the Royals were still involved on the rumor mill…

Those Torii Hunter rumors won’t die.

That tweet makes it sound like Minnesota is on the outside. I always thought of them as frontrunners. It’s the Hot Stove. What the hell does anyone know? Then there was a link to the Royals and Kendrys Morales.  

OK. Stop. Please. I beg you.

First, the Royals let Billy Butler, a better hitter at this point than Morales, walk because they want to use some sort of revolving DH. You don’t sign Morales if that’s truly your strategy.

Second, Morales hasn’t been good since his horrific leg injury that caused him to miss a season and a half. Injury aside, it’s become increasingly obvious that the 2009 season where he hit .306/.355/.569 was an outlier. He’s never come within 80 points of that slugging percentage.

Third, he turns 32 next year. He hit .216 against fastballs last year. His ISO was a career low .120. Sure, it hurt he didn’t get into a game until June. It wasn’t as if he got off to a slow start and gradually got warm. He was in cold storage for most of the year.

So you have a player who has no position, struggled with the bat in 2014, and is clearly on the downside of his career. Pass. And when reacting to tweetable rumors, remember the source. In this case, it’s Heyman who seemingly helps advance the cases of Scott Boras clients. Of course it makes sense for Boras to float myriad teams to drum up interest after the DH market has kind of sorted itself out early in the hot stove. With Victor Martinez recommitting to Detroit and Butler going to Oakland, Morales is the next best DH candidate available. If you’re looking for a DH-only candidate. Which most teams are not doing.

I’ve seen estimates for Morales at anywhere from $6 million to $10 million a season. Most of those estimates peg him at a one or two year deal.

I just can’t see the Royals biting at this one.

It’s a done deal. We knew it was going to happen, but frankly, I’m kind of surprised it happened so fast. Once Victor Martinez re-signed with Detroit, the DH dominoes started to fall, so maybe the news shouldn’t have come as such a rapid surprise.

Billy Butler has left Kansas City for Oakland.

Initial reports have the A’s paying Butler a total of $30 million over three years. If the Royals thought Butler was worth $10 million per year, I’m guessing they would have bit the bullet on the $12.5 million option and I wouldn’t be writing this post. The Royals would have brought him back, but they were looking at a maximum two year commitment at an AAV of between $6 and $8 million. That was where they valued him.

On a related note, I saw a tweet from Dave Cameron asking if Butler’s contract was going to be this high, why wouldn’t the Royals have worked out a trade and then picked up his option? Similar to the situation with Ervin Santana a couple years ago. My guess is the Royals were worried they couldn’t make a trade and it wasn’t worth the risk. I mean, the guy’s name has come up in rumors for years but nothing has happened. It isn’t like the Royals haven’t tried to get rid of the guy. There just hasn’t been a good fit for whatever reason. So the Royals fear was they would owe $12.5 million to a guy they valued around $7 million. That’s quite a gamble.

As it is, Butler is going to need to produce around 4.4 WAR over the next three years to be worth the $30 million investment. (I’ve heard rumblings of a $5 million signing bonus, which is insane. But this is free agency, so you can’t rule anything out. For the meantime, I’m working with just what we know. Which is 3/30.) Given that Butler has accumulated 9.6 fWAR in eight seasons – an average of 1.2 fWAR a year – it’s going to be close.

Butler has topped only 2 fWAR in a season on two occasions – 2010 and 2012. In between, he hit 1.3 fWAR in 2011. But he was a different hitter then. Butler’s batted ball profile had been extremely consistent over the first six years of his career. He was good for a grounder around 47 percent of the time, a fly ball 34 percent of the time and about 19 percent of his balls put in play were line drives.

That profile has changed over the last two years. Now, Butler hits grounders about 51 percent of the time, fly balls 27 percent of the time and line drives account for 22 percent.

More line drives, that’s good, right? Yes, but not when it comes at the expense of more ground balls. Butler has become a ground ball machine.

And his 2012 season where he hit 29 home runs? Clearly an outlier, built upon a 19.9 percent HR/FB rate that was unsustainable. His second highest HR/FB rate was in 2013 at 11.7 percent.

And we can’t let Butler go without acknowledging his poor baserunning. He advanced from first to third on a base hit just one time all year. That’s pretty difficult to do. According to Bill James, his net baserunning score was a -31, worst in baseball. Remove Butler from the Royals in 2013 and as a team, they are the fourth best baserunning team in the majors. With Butler, they were the tenth best. To say he was an anchor on the base paths is an understatement.

Butler is probably going to play some first base in Oakland. At least more than he would in Kansas City. That will probably boost his value since his defense is nowhere as awful as his detractors would have you believe. In fact, this part of his game has improved a great deal. I’m not going to delve into the defensive metrics here because of a minuscule sample size, so let’s just do the old eye test. His footwork around the bag, a key component for a first baseman, is much stronger. When he first came up, he played first base like a three legged stool missing one leg with the remaining two mismatched lengths. His poor defensive reputation was earned. Credit to Butler that while Ned Yost would rather be an astronaut than play Butler at first, Butler worked on his defense. It showed when he filled in for Eric Hosmer in August. Sure, he made a few blunders. (Most notably the two out, ninth inning error against Cleveland at the end of the month that led to a Royals loss in 10.) Overall, he played a solid, if unspectacular defense. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove, but as overrated as Hosmer is with the glove, Butler is may be just as underrated. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

The Royals now have a right-handed hole to fill in their lineup. Ideally, they would sign someone like Yasmani Tomas, who hits from the right side and plays right field. That’s going to cost some serious cheddar, but if the Royals were going to pay a guy they viewed as a bat-only player around $8 million, surely they could spring a few extra dollars and get a glove to go along with the deal. But if the asking price hits $100 as rumored, there’s no way the Royals are involved in that.

Barring the signing of Tomas, I don’t see help in the free agent market. The Royals disagree and are apparently targeting Torii Hunter. If the Royals are serious, I wouldn’t give him more than a year at what they were willing to pay Butler. Hunter will turn 39 next year and is obviously in decline both offensively and defensively. Barring a free agent move, Dayton is going to have to work the room at the baseball meetings and find a dance partner for a trade. His two big trades have turned out well for the Royals. Can he pull of a third?

I’m a fan of the Royals and as such, I develop certain attachments to certain players. Damn the detractors, I’ve enjoyed Billy Butler, despite his shortcomings. It’s been a struggle to watch him hit so many balls on the ground the last couple of seasons, but I’ve always rooted for the guy. He loved Kansas City and, for the most part, Kansas City loved him back. I’ll never forget his reception at the 2012 All-Star Game, his curtain call after being removed from Game Two of the World Series for a pinch runner, and the big hits he provided along the way.

I heard the bitching about how your high-paid designated hitter needed to hit better. Sure. I get it. While Butler was probably the fifth-best regular bat in the Royals lineup in 2014, they’re going to miss a regular DH presence. Instead of bitching about a slow Billy Butler grounding into a double play, maybe we’ll meet back here to bitch about Carlos Peguro?

Butler finishes his Royals career with a slash line of .295/.359/.449. He hit 276 doubles. He ranks fourth in franchise history in batting average, is eighth in games played (1,166), is seventh in hits (1,273), and is seventh in total bases (1,938). He hit .262/.327/.333 this October against the A’s, Angels, Orioles and Giants. He will be in the Royals Hall of Fame someday.

As it seems fitting, here is his final double as a Royal:

 

At this price, it’s time for Butler to move to the next phase of his career. Dayton Moore was smart not to get in a bidding war, not that he ever would over Butler. Still, it’s the right move for the Royals to let Butler go for the amount of money he was able to earn on the open market. I wish him luck in Oakland and I congratulate him on his contract.

Some random managerial thoughts while scanning airline manifests for Yasmani Tomas…

McCullough reports the Royals are probably going to give Ned Yost an extension, but it’s on the back burner.

Perhaps the least surprising story of November. The only reason it’s not number one with a bullet is because of that silly back-burner. Come on. We are all adults here, right? Yost is signed only through next season. One month ago his team was a game from the nirvana of a Plaza Parade. This has the inevitability of snow in a Kansas City winter. Just do it, for crying out loud.

Since my Bill James Handbook arrived last week, I thought it would be an opportune time to look at some Ned Facts. Since he’s going to be the Royals manager until the next millennium. Or something like that.

Last year, Yost used 51 pinch hitters, the fewest in the majors.

The most frequently used pinch hitter? Come on down, Raul Ibanez. The old man got 10 pinch hit plate appearances. He walked once and hit a double. That’s it. Oof. That’s a .111/.200/.222 pinch hit line. Insert snark about “professional at bats” here. Meanwhile, the second most frequent pinch hitter for Yost was Billy Butler. Butler came up eight times, had one walk, was hit by a pitch and collected four hits – including a home run – in six official at bats.

Notable was the fact Yost used 14 of his pinch hitters in the 10 games the Royals played in National League parks.

Pinch hitting is difficult. It’s not surprising someone line Butler, used as a designated hitter for most of the season, can come into a game directly off the bench to do some damage. Collectively, the Royals pinch hitters produced a slash line of .209/.320/.395 in those 51 plate appearances.

Yost called for 63 pinch runners, the most in the majors. 

Again, we knew this. Or, if we didn’t know this, we had a pretty good idea. When you have a Jarrod Dyson as a fourth outfielder – and in September, a Terrance Gore – pinch running will happen. Royals pinch runners stole 15 bases and were caught just three times. That’s an 83 percent success rate. That’s pretty good.

American League average was 36 pinch runners. Yost was well above average.

Yost made 46 defensive substitutions. The fourth most in the AL.

Think about it. Yost inserts Dyson as a pinch runner and keeps him in the game as a defensive replacement. That counts as Dyson entering as a pinch runner. I really liked that Yost seemed to figure this out as the season came to it’s conclusion. Being able to bring Dyson in as a pinch runner is capitalizing on the two things he does well – run and play defense. I feel like Yost didn’t get enough credit for this.

Let’s talk managerial tactics for a moment.

The Royals attempted 189 steals under Yost, the most in the majors. 

I say “under Yost” because anyone who watches the games and listens to Yost’s post-game comments knows he gives certain guys green lights. With reason. So it’s safe to say Yost himself didn’t call for each one of the 189 stolen base attempts. I don’t think it matters. As the boss, he’s the guy who fostered the environment that encouraged the speedy guys to run when they sensed opportunity.

Get ready for the next one…

The Royals attempted 45 sacrifice bunts. League average was 40 sacrifice bunt attempts. 

Seriously. It only felt like the Royals attempted 45 bunts the final two weeks of September.

It’s amazing, right? The Royals tried to sacrifice once every four games, which was right around league average. And we collectively reacted as if he was throwing a basket of kittens in the river. “My God, man… Are you insane?” Turns out he wasn’t any more or less insane than any other American League manager.

According to Baseball Reference, the Royals were successful on their sac bunt attempts roughly 60 percent of the time, which was a little worse than league average. But still close.

I wish I had a breakdown of sacrifice bunt attempts by inning. I remain steadfast in my belief a sacrifice bunt in the first inning is criminal. Same for bunting a runner to third with no one out. I will listen to your logic for a bunt in the eighth or ninth inning. I will likely reject it, but I will listen. As it goes for Yost, the numbers don’t lie. Most major league managers aren’t different from their peers. Individuality has a place, but for managers, that place is the unemployment office. Easier to follow the lead than blaze your own trail. Bunts are going to happen. Maybe 45 is on the high side. Maybe you see that as giving away a game and three-quarters worth of outs. Eh. It’s a long season.

But the next time Alcides Escobar drops down a first inning bunt, look for me on Twitter. I’ll be the guy leading the meltdown.

Yost called for  just three pitchouts, the fewest in the American League.

I’m glad someone keeps track of this.

Yost ordered just 14 intentional walks, the fewest in the majors.

OK, as frustrating as the bunt can be, how about this nifty stat? The fewest intentional walks? Nice. As much as I abhor the bunt, I hold the intentional walk in equal disdain. Just two years ago Yost ordered 44 intentional walks which was the most in the AL. What changed? If I had a guess it would be a veteran starting rotation and a lock down bullpen with the ability to throw some heat to generate a strikeout. Neither James Shields or Jeremy Guthrie gave an intentional walk. Same for Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Jason Vargas led the staff with four. No one else had more than a pair.

Only three times after an intentional walk did it “bomb,” which means a double play did not result and multiple runs were scored after the intentional walk was issued.

What does all of this mean?

Maybe Yost isn’t the idiot made out by most – including the author of the post you’re currently reading. It’s often said, and I believe this to be true, that a manager’s mistakes are remembered and amplified multiple times more than his successes. Call for a steal and it works, it’s a credit to a speedster like Dyson. Call for a steal and the runner is thrown out, it’s the manager’s fault for running on a particular pitcher, or catcher, or pitch count. Whatever. You get the picture.

As I said above, I can live with an “average” number of bunts. I really (really!) like the lack of intentional walks. And I thought the way he managed his personnel down the stretch was extremely solid.

In the next month or so, Yost will get his extension and it will be deserved. A reward for an exceptional 2014 season and a promise for future days in Kansas City where he can continue to use what he has learned over an 11 year managerial career to his advantage.

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