Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

We are inching ever closer to Opening Day.  Close enough to be teased by baseball on television last night.

Last night, Jason Vargas pitched well.  Louis Coleman and Franklin Morales did not, bringing a little urgency to the ‘exactly how close is Luke Hochevar to being ready?’ equation. It’s spring training, so it is possible that nothing that happened last night means anything.

We know the rotation now, which came with no surprises.  Ventura gets the nod Opening Day, followed by Duffy, Volquez, Vargas and Guthrie. The April schedule offers little in the way of opportunities to shorten the rotation and, given Ventura’s young age, I doubt the Royals would go out of their way to get him extra starts.  They could start Ventura three times in the first nine games and do so on regular rest.  It would not buy the team a roster spot as they would need a fifth starter (Guthrie) on the first weekend of the season no matter what.  After having the first two Tuesdays of the season off, the Royals play nineteen games without an off-day, so there is not a ton of opportunity to hide the back of the rotation even if Yost and Moore actually were to consider it.

Hey, if it was me, I would love to have Ventura AND Duffy each start three times before Jeremy Guthrie got his second start of the year, but that is an aggressive approach with young arms.  Besides, I have no sense that Ned Yost believes the back of his starting rotation needs protection.  Some years, the April schedule almost begs you to get your number one and two starters extra turns, but not this year.

We have also been teased with a ‘likely’ batting order:  Escobar, Gordon, Cain, Hosmer, Morales, Rios, Perez, Moustakas, Infante. I cannot say I hate it, even if it relies heavily on the BABIP fairy sprinkling truckloads of dust on Escobar. Let’s face it, any order you come up relies on Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios to be better (way better) than last year and hopes that Lorenzo Cain and/or Eric Hosmer parlay their post-season success into regular season production.  Plenty of ‘ifs’ and ‘hope so’ when it comes to any batting order Yost writes down.

Early prediction:  Escobar attempts to bunt for a hit on the first pitch of the season.

This team, now that they seemed determined to play a less than healthy Infante at second and have Gordon back in action, is now down to choosing the last guy on the bench and two mop-up relievers (make a note, NED:  MOP…UP…, not a need a lefty pitching with two on and one out in the 7th). Color me less than motivated this morning. Mark me down as ready for April 6th.

The most recent scuttlebutt (that’s right: scuttlebutt) out of camp reveals that Ned Yost is leaning towards a seven man bullpen and four man bench. That certainly is a more sensible approach to roster management.

The first three bench spots are locks:  Jarrod Dyson, Eric Kratz and Christian Colon. The same Royals.com article that suggests the prevailing winds are blowing towards a seven man pen also speculates that the fourth spot would likely belong to one of Paulo Orlando or Moises Sierra.   I would, however, offer that infielders Ryan Jackson and Ryan Roberts might also be in the mix, if only because they can play the position that is likely the weakest in the lineup: second base.

All four of those players hit right-handed.  Roberts has a ton of big league experience and can play some outfield if necessary. Sierra has played 180 games over the past three seasons in the majors, while Jackson has limited big league time.  Orlando has been in the organization for seemingly forever. If you squint just right, you can see some potential upside in Sierra, but in the end you have four guys who are, not so shockingly, ‘last guy on the bench’ guys.

The bench – you know, the place that Ned Yost really didn’t discover existed until the post-season.  Kudos, however, to Yost for what I really thought was a good job of managing both his bench and bullpen (Ventura in relief excepted) during that time.  Does that mean that he will continue to use it to such an extent?  I’m skeptical, if only because long term change is hard (I’m an old guy, and basically immune to change myself) and also because the American League regular season simply does not lend itself to using the bench much.

How could Yost utilize a four man bench this season, should he so choose?

Well, we know Kratz is going to catch…once in a while.  The Royals might try to assign Kratz to a particular starter if only to force Yost to not write Sal’s name in the lineup every fifth day.  They could simply go with the old ‘day game after night game’ plan, which would give Perez every Sunday and some Thursdays off. Whatever it is they need to plan it out and stick to it.

The second part of the backup catcher equation is that Yost, like many managers, is absolutely terrified of not having his backup catcher waiting on the bench for that one foul tip that knocks his starting catcher out of the game.  While Kratz has some appeal (not a lot, some) as a pinch hitter due to his moderate amount power, Yost will almost never, ever use him in that role simply because the idea of having Perez go down with a late-game injury and not have a bonafide catcher ready to go in.

Colon is the utility infielder, a guy likely to get a start at second every week and maybe one a third every other week. I don’t see him pinch-hitting for either Infante or Moustakas (or anyone else for that matter) and, short of continuing nagging injury issues with Infante, getting more than six or seven starts per month.  Standard utility infielder sort of stuff.  We can lament that a fourth overall pick in the draft turned into this, but it is what it is at this point.

In the end, the entire discussion about the bench and it being three guys or four, really comes down to how Yost wants to use Jarrod Dyson.  If the Royals were hellbent on roster flexibility, they likely would opt to keep Ryan Roberts, who has played some outfield in addition to his usual infield roles (although not much short, by the way), but that they are thinking the fourth bench spot will be possessed by an outfielder tells me they want the freedom to use Dyson more often.

In particular, they want to pinch-run Dyson for Kendrys Morales – likely any time Morales gets on base after the sixth inning.  In reality, Yost should really use Dyson to run not just for Morales, but also Moustakas and Infante as well (yes, Perez, but refer to the above and just accept it).   We can speculate all we want about how to really, REALLY, utilize the bench, but when the real games start and Ned Yost is in command, bench utilization comes down to when and if to insert Jarrod Dyson into a contest as a pinch-runner.  That is your entire Kansas City Royals bench equation.

Now, after a few months pass, the Royals may grow weary of Alex Rios’ defense in rightfield and using Dyson as a defensive replacement might well come back. We know that the best defense alignment the Royals have – regardless of whether we see ‘good Rios’ or ‘disinterested Rios’ – is Gordon-Dyson-Cain.  I doubt that we will see any sort of regular defensive substitutions in the outfield until summer time.

Given the Royals’ lineup and their manager’s preference for playing his regulars regularly, it is not necessarily a criticism that the entire theory about who and how many players to carry on the bench centers around how much the team utilizes Dyson as a runner. In fact, given the realities of the situation, it is probably the right way to look at the situation.

 

If you have been around long enough or, at least, hung around some old guys and not spent that entire time making sure you displayed to the old guys how much more intelligent you are, then you might well have heard tales of a long extinct creature called the nine man pitching staff.  NINE (9).  Hell, I bet they even brought up a four man rotation! Those were the days, my friend.

Even within the last twenty-five years, starting pitchers were racking up 250 innings per year with at least some degree of regularity.  Go back a decade or two more and check the innings pitched.  Worried about James Shields pitching too many innings?  Steve Busby and Dennis Leonard sneer at you.  Let’s not kid ourselves, Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza even sneer.

The five man (or even four at times) bullpens are gone forever.  Now, it seems, carrying just six relievers makes many managers edgy.  Seven is/has become the norm and now, here were are on the first official day of Spring and no one in Surprise has come out and said ‘No, carry eight relievers is crazy.’   Maybe it is not, but it does beg the question as to how much you really – really – use those last couple of relievers.

In 2014, 102 relievers appeared in at least 30 games for American League clubs.  Thirty appearances is a arbitrary number – more than Eric Kratz will appear this year – but at least seems like a reasonable number to use for something equating to a ‘full time reliever’.  By that clumsy approach, 102 pitchers for fifteen teams is almost exactly a seven man bullpen for each squad.  Of course, thirty appearances is basically pitching once per week plus one extra appearance.

If a reliever threw 10 times in a month, would you consider him overworked?  Short of going three innings a stint, I would not.  That level of game involvement would equate to 60 appearances per season.  Fifty-one pitchers made that many relief appearances.  However, innings matter, so let’s ratchet down to 45 appearances and we have 75 ‘full-time’ relievers or five per team. From a purely ‘feels right’ perspective, it seems as though most teams lean on five main relievers with an often carousel of junk, situational, warm-body types filling out the last two spots.  That does not mean you don’t need those sixth and seventh guys, it simply shows you don’t need them as often.

Overall, there were 7,225 relief appearances in the American League last season, totaling 7,338 innings.  That averages out to 482 appearances and 489 relief innings per team.  The Royals used 451 total relief appearances to log 462 innings.

Holland, Davis and Herrera appeared in 65, 71 and 70 games respectively, with Aaron Crow pitching in another 67 (no comment).   After those four, the next most used reliever was Louis Coleman, who pitched 34 innings over 31 games.  He was closely followed by Francisley Bueno’s 30 games and 32 innings.  Let’s take a liberty or two here and combine the mid-season acquisitions of Jason Frasor (23 appearances) and Scott Downs (17 appearances) with Coleman and Bueno.  That would give Kansas City’s ‘fifth’ reliever (Coleman/Frasor) a season total of 54 games and 52 innings.  The Bueno-Downs sixth reliever would have totaled 47 appearances and 47 innings.

Now, the Royals are down to Tim Collins (22 appearances), Michael Mariot (17) and Casey Coleman (10).  Combined, that is 49 appearances and 58 innings for the seventh reliever.   So, exactly when does the eighth guy pitch?  Frankly, with Holland, Davis, Herrera, Frasor, Young and, come mid-April, Hochevar, when does the SEVENTH guy pitch?

If the meat of the Royals’ bullpen even approaches the level of effectiveness as last year, the team could carry (a.k.a HIDE) Rule 5 Jandel Gustave as the seventh reliever, not the eighth, and give themselves some flexibility on the bench with an extra position player.  As I wrote earlier in the week (or was it Craig?  we can’t tell each other apart), Ned Yost is not exactly prone to making a lot of in-game maneuvers with his position players, but it would be at least nice to have some options to debate on Twitter.

Eight relievers?  Seemed silly in February, seems even sillier now.

 

 

Assuming, it is a pretty big assumption right now, that Omar Infante is healthy, you know exactly what the Royals’ 2015 starting lineup is going to be and the starting rotation AND the first five guys in the bullpen.

A bad elbow and mending wrist notwithstanding, this is your 2015 Kansas City Royals:

C – Salvador Perez, 1B – Eric Hosmer, 2B – Omar Infante, SS – Alcides Escobar, 3B- Mike Moustakas, LF – Alex Gordon, CF – Lorenzo Cain, RF – Alex Rios, DH – Kendrys Morales

Starting Rotation – Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Edinson Volquez, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie

Bullpen – Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor and Chris Young

Bench Locks – Jarrod Dyson and Eric Kratz

That is twenty-one players locked in to the roster and, honestly, the twenty-one that are going to play and pitch the most.  One could make the argument (again, not factoring in injuries) that whatever the Royals decide to do with the remaining four spots will have little impact on how the season plays out. That may very well be true and it could mean good things or bad things for how this team will perform in 2015. Time will tell, duh, and this isn’t my ‘if this goes right and this goes right and that breaks just right’ column, nor is it time for Craig’s ‘if this happens it will be bad and then that will bad and then I’m going to spend the summer tweeting about soccer’ column.

Back to the roster for now.

As we discussed yesterday, a third bench spot is likely destined to be Christian Colon’s, but it could end up in the hands (or is it the rear?) of Ryan Jackson or Ryan Roberts.  Somebody to spell Infante and maybe Moustakas against a tough lefty now and then.  A guy you can put in if Alcides Escobar gets spiked at second and has to sit out his three innings per year.  Now we are at twenty-two.

With more and more rumblings pointing towards Luke Hochevar not being quite ready for the start of the season and non-roster invitee (and lefty) Franklin Morales pitching well, it would seem the Royals will break camp with two Morales on the roster.  That’s twenty-three.

We also know that few teams, if any, can seem to function without a seven man bullpen and the Royals are absolutely on board with that.  Frankly, I am not sure I have ever heard a manager worry more about overusing his bullpen than Ned Yost does. Hell, I don’t know, maybe he’s right in doing so. Bottom line:  the Royals will carry at least seven relievers and that, to me, indicates that the out of options Louis Coleman will get at least a temporary reprieve and stay with the team to start the season.  I would advise a extended stay hotel as opposed to an apartment, Louis, as it would seem that Luke Hochevar’s return would knock Coleman from the 25 man roster.  Coleman or maybe Ryan Madson or Brian Flynn or Yohan Pino…one of those guys gets this spot and now we are at twenty-four.

Wait, wait, wait, you say?!  What about Rule 5 guy Jandel Gustave.  He of the 100 mile per hour fastball who must stay on the major league roster all season to remain a Royal?  Go back to my previous paragraph about Ned Yost and bullpen usage.  In a season where Kansas City intends to compete for the division title, do you think Ned will want his seventh spot – however, unused it might realistically be – occupied by a guy he doesn’t really want to pitch unless up 10 or down 10?  Couple that mentality with Dayton Moore’s valuation of inventory (i.e. what if Louis Coleman goes somewhere else and pitches 31 good innings?) and I think Gustave goes north ONLY as the reliever number eight.

Now, the Royals are at twenty five guys and only three of them are bench players and one of those is Jarrod Dyson, who you would like to use as a late inning weapon on the basepaths or for defense.  Or would you?

I seriously doubt whether the Royals will remove Alex Rios for defense early on this year.  I mean, messing with domes and such.  Go back up and look at the starting lineup.  Who in that list would you pinch-run for?  Before your answer, keep in mind the premium that Yost puts on defense and that Colon is likely a downgrade defensively from the starters at second, short and third.  Ned is probably not pulling Perez, Moustakas or Infante for a runner unless one of them is on representing the tying or winning run in the bottom of the ninth (maybe you throw Rios in there, but he runs pretty good…and domes, you know).

If Dyson is going to be a seldom used pinch-runner and a possibly never used (at least for a the first month or so) defensive replacement then do the Royals need a four man bench?  Yost is not going to pinch hit and he is not going to platoon.  Really, the bench comes down to giving guys a day off here and there.  A team that is not going to use its bench for in game strategy does not need very many guys sitting on it.

It remains possible that Yost will surprise me.  He might pinch run Dyson often.  He might tell Rios to live with it and play Dyson in the field every eighth and ninth inning of the season.  He might pinch hit for Moustakas and sit Infante often (Ned might not have a choice there).  He might….

More likely, however, is the Royals breaking camp with eight relievers or, at least, going to eight relievers as soon as Luke Hochevar is ready to join the big league team in mid to late April.  At least Eric Kratz will have room to spread out and be comfortable as he watches 140 games this year.

 

 

Ned Yost is hoping to get ten (10) spring training games out of Omar Infante, with the idea being that will be enough to get the ailing second baseman ready for the regular season.  Hey, when you have a 33 year old middle infielder with a career line of .276/.316/.395 with a bad elbow that likely needs surgery, you do what you have to do to get him on the field.

The Royals seem hell-bent on trying to coax Infante through the 2015 season as opposed to getting the troublesome elbow fixed.  It could be all about the money as Infante is in the second year of a four year/thirty million dollar deal, but that seems more like something that might have happened ten years ago, not now.  They might just be hoping that the 2013 version of Omar somehow reappears despite the injures (Infante posted a triple slash of .318/.345/.450 that year and a respectable 2.4 bWAR), but it would be wise for all to note that Infante’s 2011 and 2012 seasons resembled 2014 much more than the good 2013 campaign.

Basically, since being an All-Star (and a fairly legitimate one at that) in 2010, three of Omar Infante’s next four years were sub-par.  He’s battling an injury and not getting any younger.  Yet, the Royals are praying, pushing and hoping he is going to be in Ned Yost’s lineup come April 6th. We joke and commiserate about things the Royals do – yes, even after being a Madison Bumgarner away from a World Championship – but is this situation less about money and what they perceive Infante to be as a player and more about the other options in camp?

Christian Colon, who by most accounts is the leader to make the team as the utility infielder, would be first in line should Infante not be ready to go. A former fourth overall pick in 2010 draft who was pegged to have a somewhat low ceiling but would be quick to the majors did, in fact, make it to the majors….after four years in the minors.  He has hit the crap out of the ball this spring, but made a couple of errors and been caught stealing twice.  Colon hit well in 49 major league plate appearances in 2014 as well.  If only a career could be made on good springs and 20 games in the majors:  Angel Berroa might still be playing.  Last I saw Angel, he was ordering a lemonade…from a vendor…while playing shortstop…in an independent league (American Association) game.

Anyone see a little bit of a Mike Aviles career (both the good and the bad) in Christian Colon?  It is possible they Royals see something along that lines and are fearful they’ll get the 2011 Aviles and not the 2008 if Colon were to take the field for an extended string of games. As much as the organization currently values defense (a good thing, by the way), they may view the gap between an 80% healthy Infante and what Colon brings with the glove too wide to tolerate in the middle of the infield.

After Colon, the Royals have two Ryans.  Jackson, the one with few if any tattoos, and Roberts, the one with a ton of them.

The twenty-six year old Jackson has 25 major league plate appearances on his resume and, like seemingly everyone so far, has knocked the ball all around the park this spring. In the minors, he has displayed a consistent ability to get on-base while playing 508 of his 572 career games at shortstop.  In fact, Jackson has played just 23 games at second in the minors. Truthfully, if you can play shortstop, you can play second – I don’t even think there is a learning curve other than turning the pivot on the double play, which for a professional shortstop, should take about a day.

Unlike Colon and Jackson, Ryan Roberts has been around:  five major league teams and 1,692 plate appearances.  During that time, the thirty-four year old has hit a combined .243/.320/.388.  He played 143 games in both 2011 and 2012, but only mustered 68 major league appearances the last two years.  This Ryan has played just three innings of shortstop in the majors in his career, but – at least in his prime – posted decent defensive metrics at both second and third.  If the Royals decide Infante cannot make a go of it to start the season, they may opt to lean on the veteran Roberts to carry the load at second.

Of course, if you want ‘veteran’, then you were delighted to hear that the Royals singed Rafael Furcal to a minor-league deal.  Now, Furcal has had a really nice career since winning Rookie of the Year in 2000.  The problem is that almost all of the ‘nice’ occurred prior to 2011.  He has been neither healthy nor productive for the past four seasons and is not healthy right now.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this signing.  Take a flyer on a guy to see if he can get healthy (it’s hamstrings this time, I believe) and once there, see if he can be even a shadow of the player he used to be.

The Royals may be thinking that if Infante gives it a go to start the season and eventually breaks down completely, they could then turn to the hopefully by then healthy Furcal to step in.  Not a bad plan C at all.  The problem at second base right now, however, is Plan A and B may not be very good.

There will be baseball today in Surprise, Arizona. It won’t mean anything with regard to the upcoming season, but it is baseball nonetheless.

Two of the Royals’ pitchers who are tentatively scheduled to pitch this afternoon are twenty-two year old Jandel Gustave and thirty-one year old Yohan Pino. If either wants to head north in April with the big league club, they have some work to do.

Gustave was a Rule 5 pick of the Red Sox who was then traded to the Royals for cash (American, by the way). Despite the trade, he comes with all the trappings of a Rule 5 pick and will have to stay on the big league roster all season or be offered back to his original team, the Astros. Here is Gustave by the numbers:

  • 100 – the velocity of his fastball
  • 67 – walks issued in his two seasons in the Dominican Summer League….in 45 innings.
  • 13 – hit batters last season in 79 A-ball innings
  • 14 – wild pitches last season

So, you get the picture, right?

Gustave throws really, really hard. He has limited control of anything that is not a fastball and, let’s face it, minimal control of the fastball.  Jandel has good strikeout numbers in his five minor league seasons (2 in the Dominican, 2 in Rookie ball and last year in Low-A) – right at a strikeout per inning.  Good, not eye popping.  He does have eye-popping or maybe eye-bleeding control numbers. After walking 8.7 batter per 9 innings in 2012, Gustave cut his walk rate drastically by last season (just 3.3 BB/9), but keep in mind that rate does not count the 13 batters he hit.  To steal the line from a movie and countless others:  “I have no idea where the ball is going…really.”

What the Royals are going to be looking for this spring is if Gustave can get the ball over the plate enough to log some innings when the team is up 10 or down 10.  If he can get the ball over the plate a semi-reasonable amount of the time, one would think the team could stash him as the seventh reliever in a deep bullpen.  The slot likely will only needs to get through 30 low leverage innings, but you have to be able to get through them. If Gustave can’t throw strikes or stop hitting batters, he cannot even occupy that role.  Of course if the Royals go with eight relievers……well, that’s a column for another day.

If young and raw describes Gustave, then old and weathered is Yohan Pino.

Pino finally made the majors for the first time last season, starting 11 games for the Twins.  Featuring a high 80’s fastball. backed by a slider, changeup and an occasional curve, Pino posted an earned run average of 5.07.  His FIP of 3.94 indicates Pino may have been better than that.

In the minors, Pino has been in AA or AAA since 2007 and amassed 1,105 total innings splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. Yohan has posted a career minor league strikeout rate of 8.1/9:  a number that has held reasonably well at the AAA level.  Coupled with a decent walk rate and average home run rate and you have a guy who is a pitcher, not a thrower. Now, is he a good enough pitcher?

In Pino, the Royals have a guy who has been a swingman basically his entire professional life. He even closed some for Louisville in 2013, so there is no role that is foreign to him. Let’s face it, at thirty-one any role that involves travelling on a charter jet would be welcome.  On the surface and maybe in real life, Pino seems like a nice guy to have as your number six or seven reliever, capable of eating up garbage innings on a bad (or really good) night and ready to make that spot start.  Temper that thought, however, with knowing that he has put up some of his best number being an old guy in AAA.

It never hurts to have a Pino in your inventory, but it usually doesn’t hurt to not have one, either.   The Royals are his sixth organization (seven if you count the Twins twice), so a lot of eyes have had a look at Yohan and decided they could live without him.  I think he likely has a real shot at the last bullpen spot, especially if the Royals decide keeping Gustave would be just too painful.  If not there, he is likely candidate number one to get the call from Omaha if one of the starters goes down.

We won’t get much of a hint today about what the future holds for either of these guys, but we will have baseball and these two will pitch.  The over/under on balls to the screen by Gustave is two, by the way.

If you are a real prospect hound, then you already know what you want or need to know about Cheslor Cuthbert, Orlando Calixte and Lane Adams.  In fact, just the other day, Hunter Samuels at Kings of Kaufman gave you some insight on Cuthbert.

A few posts back, I touched on how I used to pour over prospects and dream of what they would become.  Not so much anymore, for a myriad of reasons.  Among those is very simply that a more successful major league team holds my interest a great deal more than one that loses 106 games and makes me begin to believe that Justin Huber is going to win a major league batting title (or that a fat guy named Hernadez will be as good as the fat guy named Colon).

Anyway, here we are with three guys on the 40 man roster that have zero chance of making the major league club out of spring training and three that you should hope don’t see quality action for your Kansas City Royals during the 2015 season.  That’s not a criticism of these three, just a fact of where they are and where we, as fans, want the Royals to be this year.

In Cuthbert, you have a still young (22) player who still hints at some power potential, but slugged just .413 splitting time between two hitters’ parks in 2014. He is no longer the third baseman of the future, spending time at first and even a little at second last year.  There is talk of extended work at second this spring, but moving to second when one was not a very good defensive third baseman is certainly bucking tradition.

Trust me, I am not against the attempt.  When the organizational depth chart is Omar Infante to Christian Colon to whatever utility infielder gets cut on March 26th, I am all for trying Cuthbert. If the bat doesn’t play at one of the corners, then it would look a lot better at second…..assuming the glove is at least better than Albert Callaspo or Esteban German.  Of course, you could always try Calixte.

There is little doubt that Calixte can field:  be it second, short or third.  After seasons full of slick fielding alternating with a stack of erros, Calixte has limited the error total to a reasonable amount (for the minors), but it is the bat:  oh the freaking bat!

Calixte’s career minor league on-base percentage is an even .300.  That is ON-BASE PERCENTAGE, not batting average, not anything that equates .300 to being good.  The now 23 year old flashes intriguing pop for a middle infielder who can flash the leather, but intrigue does not a major league regular make.  It might make for a utility infielder.  Hey, Andres Blanco has managed to make a major league living, Calixte might too.

Lane Adams, a 25 year old right handed hitting outfielder, has never been to Omaha, but he did get to have some fun last fall in Kansas City. His career minor league triple slash of .267/.344/.406 is pretty representative of his journey through the system.  Adams is athletic, has very good speed and translates that into stolen bases.  He can field and sort of maybe can hit. Adams ceiling might be a poor-man’s Alex Gordon or he maybe it’s just being the next Paulo Orlando.

If Alex Rios falls on his face and the baseball gods give Ned Yost a lightning bolt infusion of how to actually use a platoon, you could see Adams (or Paulo Orlando!) platooning with Jarrod Dyson, but again, if you want the Royals to make 2015 exciting that is not the scenario that makes it happen.

In the end, these are three guys that I would almost guarantee will someday log some time in the Majors (more than Lane Adams’ three at-bats).  It likely won’t be this year.  If you are a Royals’ fan, you better hope it is not this year.

Once upon a time, John Lamb was a top twenty prospect….in all of baseball. A six foot four lefty with a monster curve. A steal in the fifth round.  A future top (or near to the top) of the rotation starter.  Somewhere back in those heady times, some writer (me) projected Lamb to be the Opening Day starter in 2015 (or maybe even 2014, I can’t remember).  In case you’re having a hard time keeping up, I was wrong – even if it was 2015.

If you want to gauge John Lamb’s career, Google him.  Weed out the ESPN, Yahoo ‘player pages’ and then start checking the dates of actual articles.  Lots of information, scouting reports and what not.  Now, find one from sometime after April of 2014.

That’s what happens when you have Tommy John surgery 13 starts into your AA career, struggle to get back and spend an agonizingly long period of time after you do throwing your fastball 84 mph. It’s not fair, but baseball has a tendency to be like that.

Now, let’s focus on one thing:  John Lamb is still only 24 years old.

Last season, Lamb threw 138 innings at AAA and, after striking out just over five batters per nine innings in 2013, John’s strikeout rate rose to 8.5 K/9 (albeit at the expense of the highest walk rate of his career).  A 3.97 earned run average in AAA doesn’t scream major starter, but it doesn’t scream give up, either.  Lamb’s velocity had crept back up to the high eighties and even into the low nineties.

In July, Lamb struck 11 and allowed just one run over seven innings and followed that up with a two hit-six inning start. After a rocky four innings after those two stellar outings, Lamb then spun seven innings of one hit ball on July 30th. That was enough to generate a little buzz, a little hope.

Unfortunately, Lamb made it through six innings only once after that: allowing 24 earned runs in 33 innings (and six more unearned runs if you are skeptical of minor league scoring).  End of buzz.  End of hope?

John Lamb is still just 24 years old.

There is still time for Lamb to get back, or at least get to the majors.  Maybe he won’t be at the front of a major league rotation anymore, but maybe he could fit in a rotation somewhere.  Maybe.

While it is all part of the game and hardly rare, I hate it when young guys with promise get hurt.  Lamb not only struggled to return from Tommy John, but fought other injuries as well on the way back. He lost most of 2011 and 2012. The 2013 campaign was pretty much just a debacle of ‘well, he’s got to pitch somewhere’.  Maybe 2014, average as it was, is just enough success to get Lamb back on track.

Maybe.

Maybe next spring, John Lamb’s profile will be more about the promise of the future and less about the past.

Eleven million dollars.

That is a manly bet.

Dayton Moore has made  just that on Alex Rios.  Thirty-four year old Alex Rios. Enigmatic, sometimes disinterested, Alex Rios. I play a lot of craps. I’ve got nothing on Dayton Moore when it comes to gambling.

There was a time when Alex Rios was being compared to the likes of Carlos Beltran. From 2006 through 2008, Rios was a force, by both traditional and advanced measurements. Rios was worth somewhere between 13 and 16 WAR in those three years (fWAR liked him better than bWAR, but they both liked him plenty).  He slugged, he ran, he got on base and he played defense. Alex Rios could play the game and he’s made $75 million doing it.

Along the way, however, things have changed. Maybe you can still compare him to Beltran, but only to the current Carlos whose body has let him down. Since being a legitimate All-Star, Rios has twice posted on-base percentages below .300. His defense has gone from an asset to a negative seemingly overnight…and stayed there for the past four seasons. Rios’ walk rate is almost half what it was during his days as a budding star.  Alex still runs and runs well, when he feels like it, but he also hit four (4) home runs last season….in Texas.

Now thirty-four, it is getting harder to distinguish between whether the lack of production is a result of Rios’ disinterest and the simple fact that he just might be getting old or that a thumb injury is to blame.  The Royals are betting that Alex Rios on a one year deal (with an option of course) will be motivated, rejuvenated, focused…all that, maybe even some grit.  It might be a bad gamble or it might be a Melky Cabrera resurgence.

As many of you know, Baseball Reference has a Similarity Score which is mostly just fun.  I took some heat for noting that their formula compared Eric Hosmer to Keith Hernandez at the same age, so we’ll proceed with caution. Now, if Hosmer is an MVP winner this season, like Hernandez was at the same point in their careers then Baseball Reference will laugh at you and your little dog.

I bring this up because Alex Rios has a fun list on his Similarity Score, starting with the top name:  Amos Otis.  After Amos, comes Claudell Washington, Andy Van Slyke, Chet Lemon, Marquis Grissom, Gary Maddox and Dusty Baker.  That’s a good list and testament to what Rios has done, however sporadically and how far in the past it may have been.

Otis was solid in his age 34 season (it was strike shortened) and average at age 35, but done after that.  Washington was not good at age 34 and done after that. Van Slyke put up good numbers at age 34, but didn’t play after that. Chet Lemon had a poor age 34 season, but a decent age 35 campaign (albeit minus all power), but was then done. Grissom had an awful age 34 season, but then posted two of his best three power years at age 35 and 36 (although his on-base percentage was in decline). Gary Maddox had not been an above average offensive performer since he was 29 and did nothing from 34 on to change that. Dusty Baker, an All-Star at 33, was a part-time player by age 35.

As good as the list under Alex Rios’ Similarity Score may be, the guys on it were in decline or basically done when they were the same age as Rios will be in 2015.  Like I began, it’s a helluva a gamble.

 

Over the past four seasons, Alcides Escobar has played more games at shortstop than anyone else in the majors. To my eyes, Escobar has played the position well.  Yes, there are some mental gaffes on routine plays here and there, but there is also a long list of outstanding, eye-popping, just damn good highlight plays.

While you should probably just trust my judgment, a more reality based approach would lead you to the defensive metrics. Those like, but don’t love, Alcides Escobar.  Over the past four years – a decent sample size from which to view these – Escobar is 8th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and 9th in Ultimate Zone Rating.  Good, not great.

Don’t like the above metrics? Think maybe all the shifting that goes on these days has bled into inconsistent data?  Possible, likely, a little, shut up? You want to go old school?  Alcides Escobar, over the last four seasons, ranks 8th in Fielding Percentage (a stat that tells you pretty much how often a guy makes a play that the official scorer can in no way manufacture something that made said play even slightly challenging).

Inside Edge Fielding is a little more interesting, but subjective in that a human decides if the chances of making a play is remote, unlikely, about even, likely or almost certain. In these categories – based on data from the last three seasons – Alcides Escobar has made a higher percentage of the ‘remote’ category plays than any other shortstop. He ranks third in those deemed unlikely and fifth in those where the chances were considered about even.  There are your highlights and, not surprisingly, the reason the metrics don’t love Alcides is that he is just 18th in percentage of plays that are considered ‘almost certain’ to be made.

That said, we all know defense is not the issue with Alcides Escobar.  He is without question better than average in the field.  Almost certainly at least good with the glove and, quite possibly, great at it.  Pretty clearly, Alcides Escobar can more than do the job at shortstop.

Another thing that is not a problem with Escobar is baserunning. His skills there get overshadowed by the pure speed of Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson and the incredible athleticism of Lorenzo Cain, but Escobar is outstanding.  Using Fangraphs BsR metric for baserunning, Escobar was 12th in the majors last season and ranks 6th over the past four seasons combined. That ain’t bad, kids.

Of course, it is the bat that makes us all wonder.  You can sum up Escobar just by looking at this graph comparing his on-base percentage to the league average:

chartObviously, throw out 2008 as there is simply not enough data to be worth talking about it, but since then you see Escobar flirt between league average and below average.  This is on-base percentage, but pick a stat, any stat and you get a graph that looks similar.  I’m not joking, average, slugging, ISO, wOBA…whatever.

The driver is BABIP, which is no surprise.  When Escobar’s BABIP is over .300 as it was in 2012 (.344) and 2014 (.326), his offense flirts with league average.  That, combined with his defense and baserunning, then makes him a valuable commodity (2.2 and 3.4 fWAR).  When the BABIP sags, so does the offense and Alcides becomes considerably less valuable.

The thing about Escobar’s batting average of balls in play is that there seems to be little reason for the fluctuations.  His line drive percentage over the last three years (2 average and 1 below average offensive campaigns) are remarkably close. If you feel like 2014 was a ‘turn the corner’ offensive season for Alcides, you might want to be mindful that his groundball rate was at a career low, as was his walk rate.

One can hang their hat on a marginally lower swing percentages on pitches outside the strike zone in his two good years (2012 and 14).  However, while 2014 sported his highest contact percentage on pitches in the zone, Escobar recorded his lowest contact percentage in the zone in his other good offensive season. If BABIP is a reflection of luck, then Alcides Escobar may be its poster child. With 3,200 plate appearances on his resume, the Royals’ shortstop is unlikely to suddenly blossom into a consistent on-base guy year in year out and probably that is okay.

Slated to earn $3 million in 2015, Escobar will be worth the money strictly on his ability to run the bases, play the field and, yes, bunt.  That is only half sarcastic, by the way, as Alcides is an excellent bunter.  He was 11th in the majors in bunt hits in 2014 and 12th in that category over the last four seasons.  Over the past four seasons, Escobar is 2nd in sacrifices and was 7th in the majors last year.  Ned Yost smirks in your general direction.

In the new landscape of baseball, where defense and pitching have overtaken hitting the ball over the wall in importance, the 2014 version of Alcides Escobar works just fine. Take heed, my friends, because just the season before, your World Series lead-off hitter posted an on-base percentage of just .259.  He was still worth 1.1 fWAR that season, but I’ll take the 3.4 fWAR of 2014 if you ask. Given their off-season, the Royals need the 2014 Escobar to make a repeat performance in 2015.

 

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