Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

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.

 

Just when you thought it was safe to visit Royals Authority, I come back.  I have been busy, lazy, working, traveling…hell, I even spent a week playing baseball in Arizona.  Basically, I haven’t written in a while and certainly did not need to as Craig has been more than capably running the ship.

Of course, once one returns, one certainly wants to make a splash.  Hence, let’s profile Paulo Orlando.

There was a time when I spent as much time following prospects and ‘maybe they might become prospects’ as I did the major league Royals. Even before the great run of last fall, I had become far less interested in who was coming up  and far more interested in how was already up. The Royals had become relevant, or at least somewhat relevant, and featured players in the majors who had actual potential as opposed to say, Terrance Long. While I fear disappointment this season, the situation is far better now than back when I was trying to squint hard enough to Paulo Orlando the next Willie Wilson.

Orlando is now twenty-nine years old and has yet to log an inning in the majors, or even sit the bench for a week or two in September. He has spent six and one-half of his nine professional seasons in the Royals organization and is coming off his second full year in AAA.  As far as Brazilian baseball players go, Paulo is one of the best. Sadly, Brazil is no Dominican Republic.

The long and lean outfielder enjoyed his best seasons in back to back years at Northwest Arkansas.  He batted .305 at AA in both 2010 and 2011, got on base at a clip north of .360 and showed power and speed.  In between his fine AA performances those two years, however, was a flameout in 58 games at the AAA level in 2011.  Which buried him back in AA for all of 2012.  That season, Orlando’s power disappeared and took the rest of his offensive game with it.

For lack of anything else to do with him, the Royals moved Orlando to Omaha again in 2013 where he was marginally okay and improved, in 2014, to at least decently league average in a hitter’s league. If you squint right, maybe you can see him as a fourth outfielder or platoon partner in the majors, but I quit squinting when Sal Perez and Eric Hosmer came up.

What I see now is a 29 year old outfielder who can play good defense at all three positions (Orlando has played more than half his games in center, most of the rest in right, but enough in left that it is not uncharted territory).  He can run and steal a base, although he is not in the class of Gore or Dyson…or Escobar and Cain for that matter.  If you think getting hit by a pitch is a skill, than Orlando has that in his tool chest and he can bunt a little, too.

Let’s face it, kids, if Paulo Orlando was born ten years earlier, he would have played in the majors for Kansas City:  taking a spot alongside Ruben Mateo and Abraham Nunez (not that one, the other one).  Those are times thankfully long gone.  The Royals’ fourth outfielder is Jarrod Dyson, who is a pretty decent ballplayer if used correctly (and okay even when not).  Guys like Paulo Orlando actually have to earn it these days.

To be fair, Orlando was a raw, raw player when he became a professional.  He has gone from striking out 28% of the time and walking just 3% of the time to a guy who struck out an acceptable 15.5% last season and walked at a 7% clip. He boasts a good BABIP throughout his career – no long enough to make you think it can’t all be luck, even in the minors.

Still, this is a right-handed hitting outfielder with good (really good) defense, good (not great) speed, some ability to do a smattering of the ‘little things’.  However, he is twenty-nine with vanishing power and is three years removed from his last ‘look at me’ minor league campaign.

Stranger things have happened in baseball than for Paulo Orlando to enjoy major league success.  Frankly, Mike Aviles was similarly stuck in the system and not really popping anyone’s eyes and had one great plus one decent season for the Royals. While I will take a shot or two or nine at the Royals’ organization, the fact that Orlando was given a 40 man roster spot at least indicates they see something of worth.

It is not outside the realm of impossibility.  An injury (or just plain disinterest – call it pulling a Juan Gone) to Rios could give Orlando a chance as a platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson.  Who knows?  He might hit.  There’s part of me that would like to see that.

Way back when I thought I knew prospects, back when Chip Ambres was infesting the outfield of my favorite major league team, I envisioned Paulo Orlando as a guy who could make the major league team better. Chances are that ship has sailed.

When Paulo reports for camp, his locker will likely be on the opposite side of the room from that of Alex Gordon.  The side where they put the guys who are not expected to make the big league club, where the guys with the offensive linemen numbers hang out.  After nine professional seasons and zero big league at-bats, that is where Paulo Orlando finds himself.

 

 

 

 

The off-season is always full of hope….and angst.  Let’s face it, Dayton Moore’s off-season has come down to having faith in comeback seasons from Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios, competence from Edinson Volquez and the idea that great defense and a dominating and deep bullpen can get the Royals back to the post-season.  It might work, maybe, but you know what would make it all a lot easier?  If the title of this column is a realistic conversation come August.

I bring this topic up because in a random (i.e. didn’t feel like working the other day) scan of Eric Hosmer’s Baseball Reference page an interesting comp comes up at the top of his Age 24 similarity score:  Keith Hernandez.

Comparisons and similarity scores and projections and whatever are what they are:  interesting, but certainly not concrete indicators of what a player will become.  Humans, it seems, are kind of hard to predict.

That said, let’s have a little fun.

Hosmer got his career started basically a year sooner than Hernandez, logging 128 games as a 21 year old rookie.  Hernandez had played 78 major league games over two seasons before logging 129 games in his age 22 season.   In each of their first nearly full major league season, both guys were pretty good:

AVG OBP SLG OPS+ wRC+
Hosmer 293 334 465 118 113
Hernandez 289 376 428 127 130

As we know, Hosmer followed up his 2011 rookie season with an abysmal 2012 (80 wRC+) and an encouraging 2013 (120 wRC+), but let’s take a little liberty and skip over that 2012 campaign and match our two subjects up age to age.  Why can we do that?  Because I said so.

As indicated in the preceding paragraph, Hosmer had a good age 23 season (2013) and so did Hernandez:

 

AVG OBP SLG OPS+ wRC+
Hosmer 302 353 448 118 120
Hernandez 291 379 459 125 124

Then both of them fell on some hard times during their age 24 season:

 

AVG OBP SLG OPS+ wRC+
Hosmer 270 318 398 98 99
Hernandez 255 351 389 108 107

If you’re into awards, both players won Gold Gloves that season.  If you like counting stats, Hosmer had 35 doubles and 9 home runs.  Hernandez had 31 and 11, plus 64 RBI:  6 more than Hosmer.

Without questions, Hernandez up to and through age 24 had enjoyed a better and more consistent career than Eric Hosmer has, but they are not dramatically far apart.   A system devised by far smarter folks than me has designated Hernandez as the most similar player to Hosmer at this data point in their careers.

So, and I bet you saw this coming, what happened to Keith Hernandez in his age 25 season?  MVP, baby.

Twenty-five year old Keith Hernandez hit .344 in 1979 with a .417 on-base percentage and slugged .513.  His OPS+ was 151, his wRC+ a robust 156.  He slashed 48 doubles and had 11 triples, 11 homers and 11 steals.  All told, Keith Hernandez was valued at 7.4 fWAR that season.  There was debate that year as to whether he was the true MVP, but that is one hell of a season.  Not only that, but Hernandez was a remarkably similar player for the next seven years.

Pretty sure we would all be pretty happy with Eric Hosmer becoming Keith Hernandez.  Quite frankly, that is exactly what the Royals will likely need to make it back to the post-season in 2015.

 

The process was vindicated, sort of and belatedly, with the Royals run to the post-season and almost, dammit ALMOST, to a World Series championship.  I think that might be giving the word ‘vindication’ a bit of short stick, but it does or at least did for a while make Dayton Moore look like he knew what he was doing.

We are going to find out just how much luck and how much ‘process’ was involved in the very fun 2014 season soon enough.  So, if Dayton Moore really is smarter than us:

  • Kendrys Morales will do post something akin to his .277/.336/.449 line of 2013 (that included 34 doubles and 23 home runs). I’ll be honest, this contract is the one I hate the most, but he was better in the near past – certainly that excludes 2014 – than my feeble memory originally believed.  Look, this is a ‘is Dayton Moore smarter than you’ column, not a ‘Dayton Moore is a wizard’ column.  Asking any more from Morales than he what he did for Seattle two seasons ago is simply not realistic.  I’m not sure it’s realistic to even expect that, but certainly Moore does.
  • Aaron Crow will never start a game for the Florida Marlins.  Listen, this is not about wishing ill on Crow.  Frankly, I liked his comments about being left off the post-season roster.  Tell me again why anyone would want players in their organization that didn’t care about that?  Anyway, god forbid Crow starts 18 games next year for the Marlins with middling results:  Dayton Moore would never trade a reliever again.
  • Alex Rios will do what Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur did in 2011 for the Royals:  i.e. salvage his career. I think there is at least a 50% chance that Rios pulls a ‘Juan Gonzalez’ on us, but I do believe Rios sees 2015 as his chance to get that one last big contract. Again, Rios may be done physically and that will be that.  However, his past shows a player who might not always give you his undivided attention….Okay, let’s just say it:  I think Rios is a slacker who lives off a reputation that exceeds what he has actually produced.  That said, the idea that he could turn one year and $11 million into three more years and another $30 million would certainly motivate a traditionally hard to motivate player.  Now, as long as Dayton Moore is not the one that gives out three years…..
  • Edinson Volquez…..Eh, what do you want here?  Volquez had not been as good (i.e. lucky) as he was in 2014 since his rookie 2008 season.  In between those years, you have numbers that make you say ‘damn, I DO like that Jeremy Guthrie’.  Dayton Moore is smarter than us if Volquez, benefiting from only have to throw five innings due to the Royals’ once again fantastic bullpen, spins a nice half year for the Royals and is traded in July to make room for Kyle Zimmer.
  • Kris Medlen comes back in late June, pitches with dominance out of the bullpen for two months and then wins six straight starts down the stretch (or something like that). Does that make Moore smarter than any of use?  Maybe not, because that’s what we are all hoping in some fashion and the contract is one that hopes the exact same thing.  Of all that has happened, this is the move everyone loves and everyone should.  Even North Korean hackers should like this move.

Odds?  I like the Crow trade and Medlen signing (big leap there) and let me go on record by saying one of Morales or Rios (not sure which) probably will surprise with us with positive production.  I have no reason to be, but yet I am optimistic on Medlen.  Listen, if you are going to take a chance on a two-time Tommy John guy, do it with a pitcher who was very, very good before it all happened.   None of that, in my opinion, gets the Royals back to the playoffs.

Of course, if Dayton Moore really is smarter than us (or just plain luckier), than Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer will spend the 2015 regular season playing as they did in the 2014 post-season.  That, my friends, is what will get the Royals back to the playoffs.

Who knew he had it in him?

Royals GM Dayton Moore has a reputation for getting the off-season started in a hurry.  It had become common for Moore’s ‘big move’ of the winter to happen about thirty seconds after the final out of the World Series, but not this year.  Not unless the ‘big move’ was trading Aaron Crow.

Thus far, the Royals off-season has consisted of resigning reliever Jason Frasor, trading reliever Aaron Crow and resigning RELIEVER Luke Hochevar. I don’t buy the conversation that Hochevar will be in the starting rotation, if only because that sounds too much like the ‘old’ Royals and not the ‘we played in game seven of the World Series’ Royals.

If Moore was actually truthful when he speculated yesterday that the Royals might carry 13 pitchers in 2015, you might as well carry good ones. With an array of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor and Luke Hochevar, an imaginative manager could really shorten a game and do so night after night.  I’m just going to the leave that there and let you ponder.

At any rate, it has been a busy off-season…for other teams, but I am not sure there are a lot of deals that have gone down that make you say ‘I wish the Royals would have done that.’

Quite obviously, the Royals are not in need of a big name reliever, but even if they were would you give Andrew Miller four years and $36 million or David Robertson four years and $46 million?

Bats?  They aren’t cheap, either, and a lot of them are old.

I don’t think anyone but Detroit was really in on Victor Martinez, but four years and $68 million?  Yikes.  Russell Martin signed a five year deal for $82 million, Nick Markakis went for four and $44 million, Nelson Cruz for four and $58 million, Billy Butler for godssake got three years and $30 million and the carcass of Torii Hunter got a $10 million to play another year.  A lot of people like Markakis, by the way, but put his numbers up next to those of Nori Aoki and tell me you want to write the check the Braves just did.

Those deals, by the way, at least made me give a couple of minutes of thought.  Hanley Ramirez?  Pablo Sandoval? Adam LaRoche?  Didn’t even take the time to look of the stats on those.

Listen, when the two ‘best’ deals of the off-season are Michael Cuddyer at 2/$21 million and a draft pick and Yasmany Tomas at 6 years/$68 million and hope he can hit major league pitching, being not in the news is not a bad thing.  Frankly, I think Tomas would have been worth the gamble and the money, but I can see the logic in not making that leap, too.

Trades?

Would you trade for one year of Jeff Samardzija?  Well, given the price, maybe, but I don’t know who is the Royals’ equivalent of Marcus Semien.  Let’s face it, I don’t know what Billy Beane is doing, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Oakland won 90 games again with Billy Butler and bunch of guys none of us thought were any good.

Josh Donaldson? Yes, but then I don’t know that anyone besides Oakland and Toronto knew that he was available.  Besides, Brett Lawrie is better than Mike Moustakas, which means the Royals’ package going to Oakland would not make the prospect hounds comfortable.

The other deals that have been completed are hard to see where Kansas City would fit or why they would want to.

Starting Pitching?

….crickets….

It would not be uncommon for Dayton Moore to be the first in the pool when it comes to signing a free agent starter, but the current demands (I think/hope) may be convincing him to slow play the market.  I like Ervin Santana, but I don’t like five year of him and he, along with most of the ‘second tier’ guys, probably aren’t coming down from their demands until they see what the losers of the Lester deal decide to do.

Anxious for a big winter move?  Sure, we are all.  Hell, Dayton, get an extra check blank from Mr. Glass and sign Melky Cabrera AND Santana!  In lieu of that, however, patience might serve the Royals well this winter.

Of course, there is a fine line between being patient and being paralyzed.

The Royals were 90 feet from playing extra innings to become champions.  There is no diminishing that accomplishment.

The 89 win 2014 Kansas City Royals would have also missed the playoffs by three games in 2013, four in 2012 and by a game in 2011 (if the current two wild-card system was in place back then).

As well suited as the Royals were for post-season play, they were just an okay regular season team.  By some statistical measures, your 89 win Royals were really more of an 84-78 team (Pythagorean) or even an 81-81 squad (Base Runs). Read what you want into those numbers.   If you want to make the case that the 2014 Kansas City Royals’ true talent level was 89 wins, I would not argue too hard against you.

All of that said, whatever your perception of the American League Champions, you cannot dispute that at this very moment they are not as good as they were when Salvador Perez insisted on swinging at high fastballs from the surreal arm of Madison Bumgarner to end the season.  James Shields and his 227 innings and 3.7 fWAR is gone.  So is Billy Butler, who according to either bWAR or fWAR provided virtually no wins above replacement level, and Nori Aoki.  Everyone will remember the comic and eclectic stylings of Mr. Aoki, but might forget he was worth 2.3 wins (per fWAR) and posted a .349 on-base percentage.

Dayton Moore has work to do, even if ‘everyone does improve’.

Thus far, he has slow-played the off-season.  As Craig detailed earlier, Moore resigned Jason Frasor, who we would all think is pretty good if not for the immense shadow of Holland, Davis and Herrera.  He shipped off Aaron Crow, who had no value, for two minor league arms:  debunking the theory that one could not get a bucket of balls for him.  Moore signed another utility infielder in Ryan Jackson.   All solid, if minor, baseball moves.

And today (or last night), Moore resigned Luke Hochevar for real cash money (2 years/$10 million).  I am assuming the Royals have a better idea as to Hochevar’s health than any of the other 29 teams and outlaying this kind of contract indicates to me that the organization thinks Luke will be ready to pitch sooner rather than later.  As already speculated by many already, it might also indicate a future trade of one of the ‘big’ bullpen arms.

Either that, or the Royals have suddenly gone cutting edge and are planning on getting five innings out of their starters and going to the bullpen day after day for four innings of dominance.  That’s a tongue in cheek sentence there, but would it work over the course of a 162 game schedule?

All said, the Royals need to do more than just ‘replace’ Shields, Butler and Aoki and cannot rely upon the current group to improve enough to make up the difference.  Let’s have some fun and say that Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain are going to be the guys they were in the post-season for all of 2015 AND let’s say Danny Duffy will parlay 150 innings of very good pitching into 210 innings of the same AND let’s say the bullpen is just as good as last year:  that still feels like about 89 wins.  All that might not be enough to get back to the playoffs, much less the World Series.

For all the ‘stuff’ Dayton Moore has done, we have to give him credit for parlaying Zack Greinke into Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain and, let’s face it, he traded Wil Myers with the sole intention of getting the Royals into the playoffs and it worked.  It took him longer than we wanted (or probably that it should have, too), but that was pretty much Dayton Moore’s team that was one game from a really cool trophy.

The hardest part of Dayton Moore’s job started THIS off-season and all of us would be wise to remember that while Kansas City ended the year as the second best team in baseball, they spent the bulk of it somewhere in the middle of the pack of the American League.  There’s no World Series without first making the playoffs, and 89 wins usually doesn’t get you to the post-season.

I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming ‘Don’t swing at the high fastball, Sal!’

The last at-bat by any Royal of the year was the disaster that saw Salvador Perez continuing to swing as Madison Bumgarner (who is pretty good, by the way) just kept throwing fastballs above the strike zone. It was agonizing and, sadly, it was really nothing new.

Perez swings at pitches.  Most all the pitches, really.

This is courtesy of Brooks Baseball and the chart is from the catcher’s point of view:

 

Perez Swing Rates

 

 

All the pitches.

Now, Perez has managed to put a pretty successful career line at the plate (especially for a catcher) of .285/.315/.433 with a wOBA of .325 and a RC+ of 104.  With his defense and, dare we say it, presence, Perez has certainly been a valuable piece of the Royals puzzle.

That said, the Royals’ stated desire to get Perez some rest from behind the plate but ‘still keep his bat in the lineup’ seems to lack any real standing in reality.  Starting with his partial 2011 rookie season and moving forward, tell me if you see a trend here:

  • Batting Average: .331 to .301 to .292 to .260
  • On-base Percentage: .361 to .328 to .323 to .289
  • Slugging Percentage: .473 to .471 to .433 to .403
  • wOBA: .363 to .340 to .329 to .303
  • wRC+: 126 to 114 to 106 to 92
  • Games Played: 39 to 76 to 138 to 150

Two things and they are obvious:  Perez’s numbers have declined with the more games he played in a season AND the longer he has played in the majors.  I think rather obviously, Salvador’s steadily eroding offense is a combination of the league figuring out that he will swing at pretty much anything thrown between the two dugouts and also with Ned Yost’s obsession with having Sal behind the plate pretty much every day.

As the ultimate free swinger, Perez’s basic offensive numbers will be tremendously effected by BABIP.  The real difference between a solid 2013 and a less than stellar 2014 at the plate can be traced to an unlucky .278 BABIP.   While Sal’s line drive percentage was actually higher in 2014, his ground ball rate plummeted and while we grimace at the Mike Moustakas popup machine, take note that Sal’s infield fly percentage has jumped from 5% as a rookie to over 17% in 2014.

The chart above is the percentage of pitches Perez has swung at (career), here is one that shows those that he swung at AND missed:

Perez Whiff Rates

Perez has a pretty good ability to put the bat, in some fashion, on the ball pretty much anywhere, but seriously, 57 pitches up and away from him, Perez swung 18 times and he only missed once!  Can’t be all bad, can it? Can’t be all good, either.

One last chart (as charts are easier than writing and have pretty colors).  This one shows Sal’s batting average in the same zones:

Perez Batting Ave

Let’s go back to the up and away corner of the zone:  Sal swung at 18 pitches up there, missed one, fouled off eight more and hit .444 on the remaining nine he swung at.  Like I said, he can put the bat on the ball…sometimes.

All of this is not a take down of Salvador Perez.  I love having Perez as the Royals’ everyday catcher for the foreseeable future.  Even if his contract was not so team friendly, I would still love having him back there for years.  I have no real desire to ever see him DH.

There is nothing in the numbers or the charts that should make you lust for multiple games with Perez at designated hitter when those games would be much better served by having Perez completely rest.

If Perez is red hot – as he gets now and then – and you have a day game after a night game – then, sure throw him in at DH a couple (THAT’S TWO, NED!) times a season, but no more.  The Royals and Perez would be much better served by having Salvador behind the plate 130 games per year and live without his bat in the lineup for most of the other 32 contests.

That and reminded him that trying to hit the ball before it hits the dirt is likely not a positive swing thought.

 

 

 

 

 

This is not your time of year if you deal strictly in black and white, hard facts and pure fiction and generally have somehow managed to wander through the world dealing only in absolutes.  Good for you if you have, I guess, maybe.

This is speculation and here say and conjecture and flat out random guessing season.  I love it, frankly, because the discussions (sans those that are just offended by the whole idea of anything not 100% factual – yes, I have an ax today) are both interesting and entertaining.

Ryan Howard to the Royals?  Really?  Listen, I think it is highly likely that the Royals did ‘internally discuss’ the fading Phillie’s slugger.  I think it is highly likely they have also discussed, Torii Hunter, Jon Lester, Evan Gattis, net-neutrality, Obamacare, ebola, the latest episode of ‘How To Get Away With Murder’, several Koreans, a Cuban, the weather and Oxford commas.  Did I use one? I don’t care and I don’t know why anyone does.

Ryan Howard is not the guy we all wanted on our fantasy teams five years ago.  He’s not even Billy Butler (the 2014 Billy mind you, not the 2011 guy that was so good).  He has no positional flexibility, which is something the Royals seemingly crave this off-season.  Discussed?  Probably, in a ‘hey did you see that rumor that we are supposedly looking at Ryan Howard?’ way.

More likely real discussions, but only slightly better than actually discussion Howard, have probably centered around Torii Hunter. We all know Dayton Moore’s desire to have good clubhouse leaders and no doubt he sees a void with the departure of James Shields, but one would like to think a good leader is only worth it when, you know, they are still valuable on-field contributors as well.

Hunter, who put up 17.5 fWAR with the Angels – who outbid the Royals and others back then – was worth just 0.3 fWAR last season for Detroit.  Don’t like the fancy new-fangled numbers?  How about a .319 on-base percentage, which was his lowest since 2003.  His defense, both sabremetrically and via the vaunted eye-test, has at worst declined and might have gone directly into the dumpster out back.  It would have been fun to have Torii Hunter back in 2008, not so much in 2015.

The interest in Hunter, other than the good clubhouse guy thing which I put some but not a ton of stock in, is his affordability.  At thirty-nine, he likely won’t demand nor get more than a two year deal.  A more interesting target like Melky Cabrera is likely set to get more years and more dollars.  Michael Cuddyer just got $21 million for two seasons with the Mets.   Hunter will be cheaper, Cabrera longer and more expensive.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m on board with any of those options.  Of course, I have an off fascination with Alex Rios, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

The other big ‘conversation’ centered around Ervin Santana.  I like Santana, if only because I thought he would have a bounce back year for the Royals in 2013 and he did, feeding my need for validation.  He followed up his 2013 with a very similar 2014.  His strikeout rate was much higher for the Braves in 2014, but he had some bad BABIP luck.  In the end, Santana was worth 2.8 fWAR in 31 starts for Atlanta last year and 2.9 fWAR in 32 starts for Kansas City in 2013.

Turning thirty-two shortly, Santana will not get Shields money, but he will get multiple years.  If I’m a 32 year old starting pitcher who has pitched for three teams in three years, I would give up a little per annum for a contract that spanned past the following Christmas.  Would he fit with the Royals on a three year deal?  Do we want him to fit with the Royals?

Quite obviously, Kansas City needs to add an arm to the rotation.  Even if you believe in Ventura and Duffy, you almost have to accept some regression from the combination of Vargas and Guthrie.  Those four combined for 9.2 fWAR in 2014 (Shields was worth 3.7, by the way) and those four combining for a tremendous amount more  than that number in 2015 is probably not a logical expectation.

With Kyle Zimmer nowhere close, Brandon Finnegan and all 30 innings of professional pitching experience the next best option and then, well, then who?  The Royals need another starter first and foremost.   Rushing to sign Torii Hunter because he’s a great guy and then being hamstrung when it came to adding a quality arm to the rotation would be a horrible mistake.  Particularly when you could find a platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson and be just as good in the outfield in 2015.

Of course, all of that discussion might just be speculation.

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