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Alex Gordon’s on-base percentage is .383, best on the Royals. He hits sixth in the batting order.

Alcides Escobar’s wildly fluctuating on-base percentage currently sits at .322.  He hits lead-off.

Last season, the number one spot in the batting order came to the plate 85 times more than the number six spot in the order.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Frankly, most of us are thinking the same thing.  Some, however, are more bothered by it than others.

To be honest, when I first actually looked at the situation, 85 plate appearances seemed like a LOT.  It is, roughly, twenty games worth of at-bats and, with the possible exception of the new Mike Moustakas, there is no one else on the roster I would rather see get that many extra chances than Alex Gordon.  That said, what does 85 extra plate appearances really mean?

Using this season’s on-base percentages, Gordon would get on-base 33 times in those 85 plate appearances.  Escobar would be expected to reach 27 times.  The Royals are currently plating about 37% of the runners they put on-base.  In theory, Gordon would score two, maybe three, more runs during those 85 extra plate appearances than Escobar.  TWO RUNS.

Now, there are plenty out there who really love to dig deep into the statistical analysis.  I don’t have the patience.  I would expect that getting on base at the top of the order, with Moustakas et.al. coming up behind you probably leads to scoring a greater percentage of the time than the lower part of the order.  That said, we only have six additional baserunners to play with here, so do we add a run and say Gordon would score three more runs than Escobar?  I would, if only because I think Gordon should be batting at the top of the order.

We can also make the case that Escobar, a career .301 on-base guy, will not keep up his ‘lofty’ .322 OBP.  We could make a similar case for Gordon, who is clipping along 35 points above his career on-base percentage.  You can slide the scale however you wish and add a baserunner for every 10% difference between the two players.  Is the difference four runs, even five?  Is that a difference maker?

You can make an argument that in baseball, especially in the Royals’ world of get a lead early and hand it to the bullpen, that you should not turn down even just a handful of runs.  Is even five runs enough to make a change to a team currently in first place?  While we like to be snide about the mental aspect of the game and the supposed fragility of players’ minds, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking something that is not statistically quantifiable does not exist.   Baseball give a player a lot of time to sit around and think and worry and get all worked up over, say, batting lead-off all year and suddenly coming to the park and seeing your name down at seventh.   It might be silly, but I think you are kidding yourself if it is not a factor a manager would need to consider.

Another consideration is that you can make a very viable case that those 85 extra plate appearances would all be packed into the last two innings of a baseball game.  An extra plate appearance in the ninth inning of a 7-1 game doesn’t mean much, but they carry a lot of weight in a 2-2 game with Wade Davis and Greg Holland in the bullpen.

All in, what is the difference between batting Alex Gordon first instead of sixth?  Is it one win?   The standard theory is that 10 extra runs equates to an extra win, so we are stretching the stats considerably to even get to one win (not to mention we are closing in on the halfway point of the season already).

In the end, it makes sense for Alex Gordon to be leading off for the Kansas City Royals.  I’m just not sure it makes sense to make the change or has the impact that is seems like such a move should.

The Royals finished off May with a leisurely three games in six days – what is this?  The NBA?

After winning five games in a row, Kansas City proceeding to lose four in a row and five of their last six games.  While that has caused the Royals to fall out of first place, they did blow through the Memorial Day barrier with one of the best records in baseball.  If you believe in the ‘you don’t know anything until Memorial Day’ mantra, then you now know that your Kansas City Royals are pretty decent.

The Royals remain right on my quirky path to 90 wins, by taking 7 of 13 games three times in succession (they are currently 1-1 in this new thirteen game stretch) and have done so despite erratic starting pitching and an offensive swoon that has seen them score two runs or less in five of their last six games. Of course, if you can win 90 games by simply going 7-6 all year, why not go 8-5 once in a while and win 95 games?  Seems like a smart idea.

The obvious place to jumpstart a ‘plus 90′ campaign would be the starting rotation.  However, the Royals do not seem to be motivated to make a big move on the acquisition front and, to be honest, I doubt any potential trading partners are ready to help them out, either. A rival general manager may know that his team is not a contender by Memorial Day, but seldom is one ready to give up in public before Independence Day.  With every impact starting prospect in the system either hampered by injury or simple ineffectiveness, the Royals are pretty much stuck.  They will have to grit their teeth and hope some combination of Ventura, Volquez, Young, Vargas, Guthrie and Duffy turns into a better rotation than what they were in April and May.

While it seems odd to cast a critical eye at an offense that leads the American League in runs per game, the time may be coming (or already here) for a shuffle.  While Sunday was a very non-traditional lineup for the Royals they did bat Alcides Escobar first (.310 OBP) and Omar Infante second (.241 OBP)….on a team with five guys with on-base percentages north of .350.  Now, Infante batting second was a fluke of the day – although why not put Christian Colon there for a day and see if that .348 OBP holds up? – but Escobar batting lead-off is the rule.

Let’s get one thing straight, I love Alcides Escobar.  He might be my favorite Royal.  That does not make him the Royals’ best player and it probably doesn’t make him my everyday lead-off hitter.  He runs the bases well, he fields tremendously, he can handle the bat (I actually would not mind seeing him bunt for a hit more), but he doesn’t walk.  On a team that loves to swing, Escobar stands out as one of the swingiest (yeah, swingiest – that’s a technical term).  When it comes to batting order construction, I kind of like to have guys who are more likely to get on base get more at-bats than those that don’t.

That discussion, however, often has a ‘well, you can’t have two lefties in a row’ and that mindset derails a lineup that has Gordon and Moustakas at the top or Gordon and Hosmer or Hosmer and Moustakas back to back.  Should we care?   Is there too much concern about running into the dreaded LOOGY?

In the American League, these are your left-handed reliever leaders in games:

  • Glen Perkins MIN
  • Aaron Thompson MIN
  • Justin Wilson NY
  • Marc Rzepczynski CLE
  • Nick Hagadone CLE
  • Fernando Abad OAK
  • Andrew Miller NY
  • Aaron Loup  TOR
  • Blaine Hardy DET
  • Zach Britton BAL
  • Zach Duke CHI
  • Charlie Furbush SEA
  • Dan Jennings CHI
  • Tony Sipp HOU
  • Brian Duensing MIN

Those are the relievers in the American League who have appeared in more games than the Royals’ Franklin Morales.  If, as the Royals are prone to doing, you have great angst over changing the batting order in any way, then it makes sense to construct a set lineup based on facing your divisional foes.

In Minnesota, Perkins is worse facing lefties than he is against right-handers.  Thompson is tough on lefties, but in a relatively small sample (both 2015 and for a career) and there is no reason to ever factor Brian Duensing into your lineup making decisions.  In addition to old friend Blaine Hardy, against whom lefties are hitting .184 this year, the Tigers offer Tom Gorzelanny who is graciously allowing both left and right-handed batters many pitches to hit this season. Of course, they close with the resurgent Joakim Soria, who is tough on all hitters, but moreso against righties.

Chicago? Dan Jennings is being lit up by lefties this season.  Zach Duke is much better against lefthanded hitting (but not dominant) and is the set-up man for David Robertson, who gets everyone out, but lefties at a higher rate than their right-handed counterparts.

Cleveland? Hagadone is a lefty killer with a big platoon split.  Rzepczynski’s splits for his career show him very good against lefties as well, very average (or worse) against righties.  His 2015 splits are less skewed for what that’s worth. The Indians’ closer, Cody Allen, also has a much more success (over his career) against left-handed hitting than against right.

While my perception was that the fear of running into a lefty specialist with the game on the line was overblown, it certainly does not seem like one wants to be done one to Cleveland late and have three lefties in a row coming up.   Of course, maybe relievers are not really the issue at all.

In the American League, thirty-two starting pitchers currently are holding left handed hitters to a batting average of .240 or less (two of those are Royals, by the way).  Only twenty-one starters hold right handed hitters to a the same paltry average.  Ten pitchers (Edinson Volquez among them) appear on both leaderboards, which leaves twenty-one starting pitchers who carry a hefty advantage against left-handed hitters, with ten of those taking up residence in the American League Central.

It is admittedly shotgun research at best, but it shows that the idea of not bunching your lefties has some weight and that causes some issues when it comes to switching up the order.  If you are hellbent on L-R alternation it is almost unavoidable to not have one of your best on-base guys (Gordon, Hosmer or Moustakas) at least hitting fifth, if not sixth.  Also, in the thirst to get more at-bats to your best hitters it is practically impossible to avoid a vortex of on-base ineptitude at the bottom of the order.  One could go weeks without a Perez-Escobar-Infante bottom of the order getting a walk.

That’s over a thousand words with no answer for the batting order and, honestly, the team does lead the league in runs per game AND run differential.  Perhaps the answer really is:  ‘Don’t Touch Anything!  You Might Break It!’

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.

 

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.

 

 

If we’ve learned anything about Ned Yost the last several years, it’s that he enjoys automation.

He doesn’t care for the match-ups. He likes defined roles. A sixth-inning left-hander? If he could, he would.

And so it goes for the lineup. Yost rolled through the end of September and the entire postseason with a single lineup. Just in case you don’t remember:

Escobar – SS
Aoki – RF
Cain – CF
Hosmer – 1B
Butler – DH
Gordon – LF
Perez – C
Infante – 2B
Moustakas – 3B

How could you forget? Based on what happened after Yost decided this was his batting order, that lineup should be legendary.

Seasons change, though, and players move on. Gone from the starting nine from last summer are Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. And their leaving the team has created two rather large holes in the lineup. Of course, they have been replaced by Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales. The issue for Yost is, neither one of his new bats profiles as a number two hitter. This means he will have to do some shuffling and will have to figure out a new optimum lineup.

Alcides Escobar is back at the top of the order. Despite September and October, this is less than ideal. The shortstop has 3,198 plate appearances in his career and has posted a .299 on base percentage. Naturally, the Royals will tell you he performed really well at the leadoff spot. And that is the truth. In the final 15 games, Escobar hit .375/.412/.484. Neat, except he walked three times in 68 plate appearances. That’s a 4.4 percent walk rate. That’s actually right in line with his career walk rate of 4.2 percent. It turns out Escobar’s final two weeks of the regular season was powered by a .411 BABIP.

In the postseason, Escobar continued to Escobar. Meaning, he swung the bat and made a bunch of contact. In 70 plate appearances in October, Escobar walked once. He finished with a .310 on base percentage. The Royals won a bunch of games.

With spring training rolling along, the Royals are primed to give the leadoff spot back to Escobar full-time. If you’re OK with this, that means you’re buying two weeks of games and overlooking a career that spans parts of seven seasons. That essentially means you’re on the side of the Royals. If you think this is a less than optimal idea, that means you are dismissing his torrid close to the season as a simple hot streak. It means you hope the Royals decide on Plan B before Plan A condemns the team to a place in the middle of the American League pack.

I think you can guess where I fall.

If you disagree with me, “Who would you hit leadoff?” is the question you’re asking. Totally fair. Why not Alex Gordon back at leadoff? He’s done it before and he’s done well in that role. According to Baseball Reference, his tOPS+ at the top of the order is 111. (That’s the measure of a player’s OPS+ relative to his own career. In other words, he’s performed better hitting leadoff than, say, hitting fourth, where his tOPS+ is 68.)

I don’t know why the Royals are fighting this so much. Gordon doesn’t fit the leadoff profile, but he’s accumulated more plate appearances batting first than any other spot in the order. That’s a credit to Yost for thinking outside the box. But damn, if he doesn’t want to jump right back in that box. Escobar may look like a leadoff hitter, but he makes far too many outs. It’s not always about the walks when you hit leadoff (although a 12 percent walk rate seems to be the cutoff for successful leadoff hitters) it’s about getting on base. And Escobar’s OBP is powered entirely by the base hit, meaning his success as a hitter is tied to his batting average on balls in play. That’s a dangerous cocktail. The Royals, for all their throwback offensive appeal, still lack a leadoff hitter in the vein of that 1980’s burner. The Willie Wilson type who did everything he could to get on base and then run with abandon. Jarrod Dyson is a burner for sure, but he lacks the offensive acumen. Besides, he’s a fourth outfielder. He’s not in this conversation.

The Royals see Escobar as a steady, durable and dependable player. I agree with that assessment. However, that doesn’t translate to a successful leadoff hitter. They see Gordon as a “run producer.” That’s a throwback term for RBI guy. Which is a horrible way to look at hitters in the lineup.

For this team to get the most out of their offense, they need someone more adept at avoiding outs at the top of the order. That means hitting Gordon leadoff.

Eric Hosmer was the October hero.

The triple in the Wild Card Game. The home run in Game Two of the ALDS. He walked in 14 percent of his plate appearances and posted a .439 OBP. He collected six extra base hits, drove in 12 and slugged .544. His best month of 2014? October. And boy, did the Royals need that offensive spark. Impeccable timing.

Hosmer is a tantalizing, yet confounding player. You can see the potential. He just has yet to find a consistent run of results to underscore he’s capitalizing on that potential. There was the Hosmer who blistered through the last four months of the 2013 season. And there was the Hosmer who sputtered in the middle of 2014. Swings and roundabouts.

Let’s focus on his 2014 because that’s just a microcosm of his major league career. As a factor in the Royal April power outage, he went 30 games at the start of the season before he hit a home run. He then went another 30 games before he hit his second long ball. He was still providing some offensive spark with a .354 OBP at the end of April, but his .388 slugging percentage was unacceptable for a first baseman who hit third in the order. Maybe he was pressing, but May and June were a couple of brutal months for Hosmer. In a 56 game stretch, he hit .221/.258/.323.

As his decent OBP from April evaporated, Hosmer arrived at the All-Star Break with a slash line that read a pedestrian .268/.315/.347 with a 95 wRC+. Despite going on a mini-tear in the two weeks leading to the Break.

When play resumed, it was more of the same struggles from May and June. Then, on July 31, it was discovered Hosmer suffered a stress fracture when he was hit by a pitch 10 days earlier. He landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

To Hosmer’s credit, he immersed himself in his recovery and spend his time on the sidelines working with hitting coach Dale Sveum who had him take a shorter path to the ball. Hosmer caught fire in September, hitting .290/.347/.495. Post Break, he slashed .280/.328/.449 with a 115 wRC+.

Just another Jeckyl and Hyde season from the Royals first round pick from the 2008 draft. He suffered a shorter, yet similar, slow start to the 2013 season before he rallied with his best offensive performance to date. Likewise, his 2012 season was wildly inconsistent with great performances peppered in between lengthy stretches of lethargy.

While I’ve declared there is no mystery to a player like Mike Moustakas, I can’t help but to be confounded by Hosmer. Who is he? Offensively speaking… Is he the player who we’ve seen rake? Or is he guy who disappears for stretches. Or is he just inconsistent, prone to fits of streakiness and that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Let’s focus on a couple of issues that could be holding him back.

First, his walk rate has declined since 2012.

2012 – 9.4%

2013 – 7.5%

2014 – 6.4%

That’s just a symptom of being on the Royals. Although it may reveal an underlying problem that is his approach at the plate. According to Pitch f/x data collated by Brooks Baseball, Hosmer was ultra aggressive against fastballs last summer and had what they classified as a “poor eye.” He swung at 68 percent of fastballs in the zone and chased 35 percent of fastballs outside the strike zone. While he was league average (around 15 percent) on his swings and misses, his raw number would be higher because he was swinging at fastballs more than the average major league hitter.

Last year, Hosmer’s O-Swing rate (swings on pitches outside the zone) was 37.2 percent. League average was 31 .3 percent. Oof. Way too aggressive. His O-Contact (contact when swinging on pitches outside the zone) was 74.6 percent. League average was 64.9 percent. Yikes. As Kevin Ruprecht noted at Royals Review, making more contact on pitches outside the zone is putting a ceiling on whatever upside Hosmer once had. I absolutely agree. This is a Royal epidemic where batters expand the zone and put pitches in play where they can’t possibly get the best contact necessary to drive the ball.

Which brings me to the next problem with Hosmer, his ground ball rate. Check his ground ball rates since 2012:

2012 – 53.6%

2013 – 52.7%

2014 – 51.2%

It’s getting better, but damn… That’s way too high of a ground ball rate. In fact, it was the 18th highest among major league regulars last summer. That’s not where you want a corner infielder.

Why is he killing so many worms? My theory is when he’s going badly, he gets pull-happy. He gets out in front of the ball, pitchers pitch him away and he rolls his wrists and hits a harmless four-hopper to the right side. Hosmer’s spray chart is fascinating:

HosmerSpray

The heavy cluster of green on the right side is exactly what I’m talking about. That’s when he’s out in front and rolling over on the pitch.

What is also fascinating is the equal distribution of line drives and fly balls to the outfield. Clearly, Hosmer has the ability to square a pitch and drive it to all fields. As long as he stays within himself and is making contact on pitches in the zone. That’s crucial.

Since Hosmer is grounding out on pitches he’s jumping ahead of, it makes sense that most of the green cluster above happens when he sees offspeed and breaking pitches. The data backs this assertion. The following chart breaks down Hosmer’s batted balls by type of pitch he puts in play.

HosmerSpray2

But he was so great in October! That has to mean something!

It does. But not what you may think. Turns out the Angels, Orioles and Giants threw Hosmer more fastballs than he saw at any point in the regular season.

HosmerPitchCategory

Fewer breaking and offspeed pitches, means fewer ground balls, which means a higher BABIP. Oh… He also had improved plate discipline. He hit .500 against fastballs in the postseason. Small sample size caveat applies, but you see how he was locked in during the month. That’s a good thing. But I think for him to come close to repeating that performance, he will need to see a pitch profile like he saw in October. And that’s unlikely.

Let’s talk defense. The Fielding Bible says Hosmer was worth three Runs Saved at first base last year, good for 14th best in baseball. Data from Inside Edge says Hosmer converted 95.5 percent of the “routine” plays he handled at first base, which was second worst to Chris Davis among qualified first basemen. On the flip side among “likely” plays, Hosmer made 95 percent of those. That was tops among first basemen. So Hosmer’s a good enough athlete he can make the difficult plays, but he can lack focus on the easier, more routine, moments on the field? Watching him, that looks about right.

The difficult plays for a first baseman come from behind the bag and down the line.

HosmerDef

There’s a little too much green on the “Missed Plays” which is why Hosmer was downgraded on the “routine.” That’s counterbalanced by the cluster of lighter green on the “Made Plays” side. Homer is probably a little overrated as a defender, but is still very good. A Gold Glover? Eh, maybe not. But he certainly has the potential to develop his defensive game further. Hosmer already has the defensive reputation among his peers and the fans. If he could just get the various defensive metrics to fall in love with him, it would be game over.

Hosmer is eligible for arbitration for the second time in his career. Last season, he made $3.6 million and provided 0.2 fWAR and was valued at Fangraphs at $1 million. Not good enough. This year, he’s asking for $6.7 million while the Royals countered at $4.6 million. That’s a huge gulf for a second year player with his kind of track record. Hosmer is a member of the Boras Corp., so this is just the beginning as the Royals will go through this dance two more times before he’s eligible for free agency.

Hosmer is a solid, if frustrating player. It sounds trite, but he needs to put together a consistent season in order for him to provide value for the Royals. He’s capable of being that middle of the order anchor we’ve been seeking. It’s just a matter of putting it all together for six (or seven) months. That would be nice.

If you followed the Royals throughout 2014 and at this point Lorenzo Cain isn’t your favorite player, I don’t know what you’re thinking.

(I’ll listen to Alex Gordon arguments, but this is Cain’s profile. So deal with a hyperbole-packed lead.)

While Cain wasn’t able to avoid the disabled list (again), he put his early season groin strain behind him and recovered to have the best season of his career. He finished with a .301/339/.412 slash line, a .330 wOBA and a 111 wRC+. He followed up his regular season with an October to remember as he hit .333/.388/.417 in all postseason series while playing his usual stellar defense. Oh, he was also named the MVP of the American League Championship Series.

It only feels right that any profile of Cain start with his defense. Sadly, Cain he so much time between center field and right, he was ineligible for the Gold Glove due to the innings played requirement. I understand why the innings requirement is in place (thank you past voters of Rafael Palmiero) but to apply that to an outfielder is disappointing. But the neat thing was Cain won a defensive award anyway when he was named The Fielding Bible award winner for a new “multi-position” category. Kind of a cool idea to award a guy who excels across the field so to speak. Let’s look at how Cain did according to The Fielding Bible’s Run Saved metric. First in center field:

RS_CF

Now in right:

RS_RF

The takeaways from the tables above is that while Cain played two positions, he was a top five defender in both places. Sure, there are other players with fewer innings that hang with Cain, but no one is on both lists. Then, think about Alex Gordon in left. He was worth 27 Runs Saved, which set a record for left fielders. Gordon in left, Dyson and his 14 Runs Saved in just under 700 innings in center, and Cain who would be worth over 30 Runs Saved if he was a full-time right fielder… Damn. That is a defensive outfield for the ages.

Another thing to consider about Cain in right is if you extrapolate his innings to bring his playing time along Jason Hayward, Cain would have 34 Runs Saved. So as impressive as Hayward is topping this leaderboard by about 18 Runs Saved, he would likely be second best if Cain played exclusively in right.

If you’ve read this blog, you know I don’t normally engage in hypotheticals (“If he played a full season… blah, blah, blah.”), but with Cain, I just can’t help myself. It’s fun to imagine the guy as a full time right fielder. Or center fielder for that matter. Whatever. Wherever. I just want Lorenzo Cain on the field as much as possible. Old time Royals fans will remember watching Frank White make amazing plays at second base, turn an unmatched double play, and just generally appear super human with the glove… That’s Lorenzo Cain today. He’s Frank White level on defense.

How about some more defensive illustrations? How about his range in center field.


Source: FanGraphs

Yeah… He covers a lot of ground.

Contrast that with his missed plays.


Source: FanGraphs

The Inside Edge data breaks down the plays Cain made in center this way:

Routine Plays: 99.5% (Rank 14/24)
Likely Plays: 87.5% (11/24)
Even Plays: 83.3% (7/24)

The ranks can be a little misleading because some guys are up on the leaderboard having just a handful of chances even though they played a larger number of innings at the position. Such is the failing of defensive metrics. The point isn’t to gaze in wonder at his ranking. The point is to see that Cain does, in fact, cover a lot of ground. He not only makes the plays he’s supposed to make, often times he gets the difficult out. That’s why he’s a special defensive outfielder.

Offensively, 2014 was the best season of Cain’s career. He has a fine batted ball profile for the type of player he’s become, hitting grounders 51 percent of the time, while clubbing line drives at a rate of 22 percent. He has a little power potential and the ability to leverage his best offensive asset (speed) to steal a few hits or leg some singles into doubles.

Cain sprays his line drives to all fields. His doubles (and limited home run) power comes from the pull side.

CainSprayChart

There is some cause for concern going forward regarding his offensive game. Cain’s BABIP was a robust .380. His profile as a line drive hitter/speed guy means he’s always going to have a BABIP greater than the league average. A .380 BABIP is insane even for him. After his 2014 season, his career BABIP stands at .345, which has to be a little misleading considering that in the two previous seasons he posted BABIPs of .319 and .309. I know this is a lot of discussion of batting average on balls in play and often times, it’s a crutch to explain a deviation from the norm, but in Cain’s case because of his profile, it’s relevant.

Another trend that should set off an alarm bell or two is his proclivity to swing at nearly everything. Last summer, Cain swung at 50 percent of the pitches he saw. (OK, he didn’t swing at everything. How about half of everything?) Cain isn’t Sal Perez (56 percent swing rate) or Pablo Sandoval (60 percent swing rate) but again, given his profile as a speed guy with line drive potential, it would behoove him to be a bit more selective. He certainly took the Royals offensive mantra of making contact to heart. Cain’s walk rate dipped to a career-low of 4.8 percent. Keep that in mind the next time someone who doesn’t read this blog suggests Cain would be an ideal candidate to bat leadoff.

According to data collected by Brooks Baseball, Cain has a poor eye on identifying fastballs in the zone. In 2014, he swung at 66 percent of fastballs in the strike zone and 34 percent of fastballs outside the zone, which is a below league average ratio. The good news, his fastball discipline has actually improved over the last couple of seasons. While he shows below average discipline on the fastball, he can still rip the heck out of the heater. Last year, he hit .352 and slugged .520 on four-seamers. On two-seam fastballs, he hit .379 and slugged .448. It probably won’t surprise you he saw fewer fastballs last summer than at any time in his career.

CainPitchDiet

I suspect the black line will continue to decline while Cain will start seeing more breaking stuff to keep him off balance. Last year he hit just .243 with a .341 slugging percentage against breaking balls.

Now, let’s talk about an unpleasant subject: Injuries. From Baseball Prospectus here is Cain’s injury history going back to his minor league days. A trip to the DL is denoted by an asterisk.

4/9/09 – Hamstring strain. Missed 11 games.
4/24/09 – Knee strain. Missed 88 games.
4/26/10 – Groin strain. Missed 17 games.
4/7/11 – Groin strain. Missed 7 games.
4/11/12 – Groin strain. Missed 88 games.*
4/27/12 – Severe hip flexor strain. (Occurred during rehab for above injury.)
9/14/12 – Hamstring strain. Missed 19 games.
7/28/13 – Groin strain. Missed 3 games.
8/9/13 – Oblique strain. Missed 26 games.*
4/17/14 – Groin strain. Missed 17 games.*

Quite the injury past. A couple things stand out. First, let’s just get the guy through April, is that too much to ask? Second, all of these aside from the oblique injury in 2013 are leg issues. And third, he has yet to play a full major league season without spending time on the disabled list. In what should have been three full seasons with the Royals, Cain has missed 153 games due to injury. In other words, in three seasons, Cain has been healthy enough to play two.

Cain is eligible for arbitration for the first time and has asked for a $3.6 million contract. In the current market, his defense alone is probably worth $15 million. That’s not crazy. The Royals countered with $2 million, which is their prerogative. MLB Trade Rumors estimated Cain would make $2.3 million. The guess here is they will settle just above the halfway point. Figure Cain will earn $2.65 million next summer.

He is an exceptional defender at a premium position. The bat showed life last year. He also was relatively healthy for the first time in his career. Is Cain a candidate for a contract extension? I’m skeptical. He turns 29 next April and the Royals control his rights for the next three seasons. That means he won’t hit the free agent market until his age 32 season. While his offense was improved in 2014, he doesn’t have a track record of success with the bat at this level that would warrant a meaningful extension. Plus, I’m doubtful he can repeat his offensive output next year. Or in the next three.

Having said that, I could see the Royals, in an attempt to control costs over the next three years, try to sign Cain to a long-term deal to lock in his arbitration years. Of course, if they were going to do that, they would have to tack on at least a year of free agency at what could be a premium (for them) cost. It sounds good, but as much as I love watching Cain play, I think the Royals should at least see how this season goes before they commit big money long term. Sure, if he’s successful the cost will go up and may move the Royals out of their comfort zone. But that injury history scares the hell out of me. Yes, the frequency is a concern, but his legs have too often been what’s failed him. For a guy who relies on his speed in the outfield, that’s a massive concern.

Cain is an exciting, yet offensively flawed, player. His 2014 season was a delight to watch. I’m skeptical that he can keep his offensive performance at the level he found last year, but his defense and speed will keep me coming back for more.

Mike Moustakas is not a good hitter.

Sorry to be so blunt. But come on, you’ve seen him play. That’s just a fact.

Over parts of four seasons, Moustakas has accumulated 1,992 plate appearances. His career slash line is .236/.290/.379. No matter how many plate appearances Ned Yost and Dayton Moore need to evaluate talent, I think we’ve seen enough. The results are… incredibly underwhelming.

In the history of baseball, only two third basemen have had more plate appearances and a worse slash line than Moustakas. One, Lee Tanneyhill, played in the deadball era and slashed .220/.269/.273 in over 4,100 plate appearances for the White Sox. The other is John Kennedy, a journeyman third baseman who played for the Senators, Dodgers, Yankees, Pilots/Brewers, and Red Sox. In a 12 year career, he had 2,324 plate appearances and hit .225/.281/.323.

The point isn’t to compare these three players. Crossing eras and using a slash line isn’t really the best way to draw distinction. The point here is to underscore how the Royals have been relentless in their propping up of Moustakas as an acceptable everyday third baseman, continually listing him in the lineup only to watch him underperform at a now near historic level.

How about we simplify the search? How about a list of third basemen who have more than 1,990 plate appearances in their career and have an OPS+ less than 85? And let’s narrow it further to the dawn of the expansion era.

Here’s the list:

Player OPS+ PA G R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
David Bell 85 5380 1403 587 1239 267 18 123 589 428 687 .257 .320 .396 .716
Dave Chalk 85 3330 903 292 733 107 9 15 243 295 327 .252 .325 .310 .636
Charley Smith 85 2619 753 226 584 82 17 69 276 129 550 .241 .281 .374 .656
Dave Roberts 84 2191 709 194 483 77 7 49 208 128 361 .239 .286 .357 .644
Tom Brookens 83 4258 1336 477 950 175 40 71 431 281 605 .246 .296 .367 .663
Mike Moustakas 82 1993 514 182 432 99 3 52 199 128 332 .236 .290 .379 .668
Brandon Inge 82 5617 1532 563 1166 228 38 152 648 443 1306 .233 .301 .384 .685
Pedro Feliz 80 4544 1302 487 1065 209 25 140 598 230 663 .250 .288 .410 .698
Tim Hulett 80 2317 720 245 529 90 13 48 220 145 438 .249 .298 .371 .669
Ken Reitz 79 5079 1344 366 1243 243 12 68 548 184 518 .260 .290 .359 .649
Craig Paquette 77 2766 814 304 620 128 10 99 377 120 620 .239 .274 .411 .685
Aurelio Rodriguez 76 7085 2017 612 1570 287 46 124 648 324 943 .237 .275 .351 .626
Garth Iorg 72 2615 931 251 633 125 16 20 238 114 298 .258 .292 .347 .639
John Kennedy 70 2324 856 237 475 77 17 32 185 142 461 .225 .281 .323 .604
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/25/2015.

Poor John Kennedy.

And wow. Mike Moustakas is the new Pedro Feliz. Think about it. That’s… less than ideal. The above list has some familiar names. There have been a few third basemen who haven’t been adequate at the dish. Brandon Inge, David Bell, Tom Brookens and Feliz all got far too many plate appearances with a less than average bat.

We are getting to the point where the frustration level should be building that the Royals continue to employ Mike Moustakas as a full-time third baseman. Yet, aside from a brief sojourn to Omaha last summer, he has been THE GUY for the Royals. It’s understanding they want (and need) their high draft pick to succeed. As a fan, I want him to succeed, too. But there is simply too much evidence to ignore.

Let’s focus on a couple of things Moustakas did right in 2014. For starters, he increased his walk rate. He had been around 6.2 percent for his career and last summer he walked about seven percent of the time. A modest increase to be sure, but this is Moustakas we’re discussing. There aren’t any giant leaps forward in his game. You take what you can get. So I’m going to place his increase in walk rate on the “positive” side of the ledger. Another rate positive was his decrease in strikeout rate. In 2014, Moustakas whiffed 14.8 percent of the time, slicing more than a percentage point off his rate from the previous summer.

More walks and fewer strikeouts is generally a good thing. Moustakas also increased his contact rate for the second consecutive year. In fact, it’s kind of impressive how he’s shown improvement in this area.

2012 – 77.9%
2013 – 81.2%
2014 – 84.3%

But we’ve all watched Sal Perez. We know that more contact doesn’t exactly equate better contact. In fact, his contact on pitches outside the strike zone went up to a whopping 79.7 percent, well above the league average of 68 percent. I know the Royals preach their hitters putting the bat on the ball, but this strikes me as the batting equivalent of the “pitch to contact” revolution that was incredibly unsuccessful a decade ago. Absolutely, you have to put the bat on the ball. There has to be a method… An approach at the plate. Have a plan. Work the count. Be selective. Gain the advantage before you step up and start taking your hacks. Moustakas is a prime example of a guy needing a plan to be successful. When he got ahead in the count in 2014, he owned pitchers. Check his splits broken out by when he’s ahead in the count, even and behind.

MooseCount

OH MY GOD, I FOUND A STAT WHERE MOUSTAKAS IS LEAGUE AVERAGE.

Sorry. Didn’t mean to yell. Although I consider my discovery to be on par with when Bell invented the telephone or when Rutherford split the atom.

Of course, it’s natural to assume that when a hitter is ahead in the count, he’s going to be more successful. That’s why we say he’s “ahead,” after all. The amazing thing is Moustakas is actually a better than league average hitter when he’s ahead. Mind blown. His sOPS+ (the split relative to the league) when he’s ahead in the count is a healthy 126.

Unfortunately, when he’s behind – or even in the count – he’s a miserable hitter. God awful. Like he’s never swung the bat in his life. He owned a 34 sOPS+ when even in the count and a 33 sOPS+ when he was behind in 2014. So that above average hitter when he’s ahead in the count? He gives it all back and then some the rest of the time.

How about another positive development in his offensive game? Moustakas increased his average distance of fly balls and home runs in 2014 by about 15 feet. That may not sound like a big deal, but his increase was the 11th best among major league regulars last year. Adding length to the batted ball is a nice explanation for improved performance for that season. That season. Studies have shown most players experience a one year blip and give roughly half their distance back the following season. The sad thing is Moustakas didn’t realize an improvement that’s often related to increasing distance.

Probably one reason his fly ball distance increased was his decrease on number of infield fly balls. His IFFB rate in 2014 was 15.1 percent, down from the previous year’s 16.6 percent. Had he garnered enough plate appearances to qualify, he still would have ranked sixth in the AL in IFFB rate. (First place went to Sal Perez at 17.3 percent. Boy, his profile is going to be fun.) Unrelated, his HR/FB rate was a career-best 9.4 percent. Still too low for someone with his power potential, but it’s a nice place to be, and an improvement upon his previous season.

Moustakas hit five home runs in the postseason, so you know the Royals are going to promote the hell out of that next month when he starts teeing off in the desert. But let’s be real. In October, Moustakas slashed .231/.259/.558. That’s a 127 wRC+, which is nice, but it’s not like Moustakas hasn’t done this before. He hit five home runs in July of 2014. And in May and June of 2012. Moustakas is a streaky hitter. But even his hot streaks aren’t all that impressive.

Moustakas is one of the more heavily shifted hitters in baseball. For good reason. Here is his spray chart on batted balls.

MooseBattedBalls

When you have a cluster like that around the second base area on ground balls, you’re going to get shifted. Now despite what the new commissioner says, I believe the shift is here to stay. And it’s going to continue to confound one-dimensional hitters like Moustakas. He was never going to hit for a high average anyway, so I’m not certain what’s the big deal about the shift. The way you beat it is either to go the other way or stop hitting so many ground balls.

I haven’t even touched on Moustakas’s mechanics at the plate. Let’s just say they’re a hot mess. I’ve seen him roll over his front foot, open up way too soon, stand too far off the plate, stand too close to the plate, fail to get his arms extended… you get the picture. He must be a hitting coach’s nightmare. He’s tinkering so much – yet allegedly refusing to watch video – that he just seems to be a lost cause at this point.

Defensively, Moustakas is fine. He could be better. Although his glove most definitely does not make up for his weak bat.

According to Inside Edge, Moustakas made roughly 95 percent of “routine” plays at third last year. That puts him in the middle of the pack for the hot corner. However, he made only 66 percent of the plays classified as “likely.” That puts him in the lower quarter of regular third basemen. Here’s his heat chart from Fangraphs and Inside Edge.

MooseField

From the charts above, it looks like Moustakas has most of his issues ranging to his left. The data from The Fielding Bible backs this up, which has him at -2 on the +/- scale when ranging toward the shortstop. His strength would be coming in and charging the ball on short fielding plays. Again, he’s solid defensively. Not a Gold Glover.

Moustakas is eligible for arbitration for the first time and is looking for a contract of $3.1 million. The Royals countered with $1.85 million. Fangraphs had Moustakas at 0.9 fWAR last year (ranking 21st out of 25 third basemen with at least 500 plate appearances) which meant his dollar value was around $4.6 million to the Royals. He’s going to get a raise and whatever he earns won’t be absurd in the game’s current economic climate.

Still, the sooner the Royals realize he’s not an everyday third baseman, the better. If he’s not good enough to play everyday, is he a viable platoon candidate? Eh. Here are his career splits:

vs LHP – .211/.267/.328  63 wRC+
vs RHP – .245/.297/.396 89 wRC+

Underwhelming, no matter who is on the mound. At least he’s still relatively affordable, so you could at least partially understand keeping him around as a platoon. That’s what the Royals attempted to do last year with Danny Valencia, but they pretty much bailed on that deal.

Moustakas is here to stay. At least for 2015. He will continue to roll over and pull grounders to second, hit mile-high pop-ups that don’t leave the infield, and will be stunningly average in the field. He will be serenaded by “Mooooose” calls and will continue to be a fan favorite. Hopefully, the 2015 Royals can – like the 2014 Royals – overcome his presence in the lineup.

I love Jarrod Dyson’s story.

Fiftieth round draft pick. The 1,475th player selected in the 2006 draft. He opened his career with the Royals Rookie League club in Arizona and hit .273/.358/.373 as a 21 year old in his first taste of pro ball. A raw talent with speed to burn, Dyson glided through the Royals system. A ball in 2007. Double-A in ’08. Triple-A called in 2009 and 2010. He got the call to the majors when rosters expanded in September of 2010. He got a few starts, played decent defense, stole a couple of bases and was largely overmatched at the plate.

He seemed destined, in a best-case scenario, for a role as a fourth outfielder. In fact, I remember arguing he was surplus to requirements on the Royals. He would be better utilized on a team with true outfield depth where he could act as a late inning defensive replacement or a pinch running assignment sprinkled among a few spot starts here or there. The Royals of 2010 (and 2011 and 2012) were not that team.

But the Royals love their athletes and that, ultimately, is what Dyson is. He’s a supreme athlete.

Four years after his debut, Dyson was a key component to the Royals march to the AL title.

Baseball is kind of like that.

As the 2015 looms on the horizon, Dyson again looks to be cast in the role of the fourth outfielder. Alex Gordon is the mainstay in left. Lorenzo Cain has center. And the Royals didn’t give $11 million to Alex Rios so he could sit on the bench. But at this point in his career, Dyson has evolved from a fringy speedster on a second division squad to a legitimate asset on a team with sights on October.

As a hitter, Dyson lacks the discipline at the plate to be a consistent offensive threat. His career walk rate is 8.8 percent (and has declined in each of the last two seasons.) He should be north of 12 percent if he was to be an effective leadoff man where he could use his speed tool with abandon.

When he puts the ball in play, it’s on the ground roughly two-thirds of the time. That’s an excellent ratio for Dyson. Again, it’s all about leveraging his speed. He lacks even gap to gap power, so if the ball is going in the air, odds are strong it will settle in a defender’s glove. On the ground, his legs give him a chance. Over 11 percent of his hits last summer stayed on the infield. That was just a shade under his career infield hit rate of 12 percent. From Texas Leaguers, here is Dyson’s spray chart from 2014:

Dyson2014Spray

A cluster of bunt hits down the third base line, a few “tweeners” on the right side and some grounders up the middle. His game is about singles, so when he’s in the lineup, he’s practically the conductor of the Royals Singles Train.

Here are the top five outcomes of a Dyson plate appearance in 2014:

Groundout – 25.2%
Single – 20.3%
Strikeout – 18.1%
Flyout – 8.7%
Walk – 7.7%

The above totals add up to 80 percent. Meaning four out of five of Dyson’s plate appearances end in one of five ways. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but that seems like a thin cluster outcomes. I’d wager most players are around 70-75 percent on their top five outcomes. (I did a quick check and Alex Gordon is at 75 percent. So is Lorenzo Cain.) This isn’t an indictment of Dyson’s offensive game. Just an observation. These are the most common outcomes for most players. Baseball is a game of failure, right? It just so happens that Dyson’s cluster of outcomes is a little more narrow than the average batter.

Let’s just get one thing out of the way: Dyson’s offense is not good. His slash line of .269/.324/.327 doesn’t profile as a mainstay in any lineup. His wRC+ was 85 in 2014, just a couple of points above his career average. Now we don’t have the same kind of sample size for Dyson as we do a guy like Mike Moustakas, but Dyson has been very consistent offensively over the last three years. He is who he is with the bat. A singles hitter who doesn’t take enough walks to play everyday.

The thing with Dyson is once he gets to first base, if second base is open, he’s going for it. I mean really going for it. Singles and walks can turn into doubles and triples, which can turn into runs. Such is the Royals mantra. This is Jarrod Dyson. And that’s what speed do.

We all know Dyson is a burner. But he truly leverages his speed. Last year, Dyson took advantage of stolen base opportunities more than any runner in baseball. Baseball Reference defines stolen base opportunities as a plate appearance where the runner was on first or second with the next base open. Makes sense, right? Dyson, according to BR, had 116 stolen base opportunities. He ran on 43 of those, a rate of 37 percent. Basically, if he had the chance, he was running a little more than one-third of the time. That’s a massive amount of stolen base attempts given the opportunity. That made him the most likely runner (minimum of 100 opportunities) to attempt to swipe a bag in the AL last summer. By far.

DysonSBA

Wow. Seven percentage points ahead of the runner with the second highest stolen base attempt average. And 14 percentage points ahead of fifth place. That is impressive.

Not only was Dyson running often, he was effective swiping that bag. His success rate on steals last year was 84 percent, swiping 36 bags in 43 attempts. The accepted baseline for stolen base success rate is 75 percent. Below that, you’re hurting your team. Above it and you’re helping. If you’re nearly 10 percentage points above it… That’s exceptional.

There can be no question; the speed is a weapon. And it seemed like Ned Yost figured the most optimal way to deploy this weapon late in the year and throughout the postseason. Dyson appeared in 120 games, made it to the field in 108 of them and started 66 times. That’s about the perfect mix for a player of Dyson’s skill set.

Of those 108 games he made it to the field, he patrolled center in 106 of them. According to the Fielding Bible, Dyson saved 14 runs in center. That’s an amazing number of runs saved for a part-time defender. He ranked fifth among all center fielders in runs saved! Apologies for the exclamation point, but damnit, that deserved one. He was in the field for 678 innings, or less than half of the innings the Royals played defense in 2014 and the guy still was the fifth best defender according to the Runs Saved metric. Let that soak in for a moment.

Dyson does it by making the plays he should make. Here’s data from Inside Edge on Dyson’s range in center field.

DysonRange

Broken down into raw numbers, Dyson made over 99 percent of the “routine” plays and over 93 percent of the “likely” plays. My eye tells me he doesn’t always run the best routes, but his speed makes up for an error in judgement from time to time. The guy is a damn good defender. Also, his arm is above average for a center fielder. I think that took some fans by surprise given his build and makeup as an offensive player. You know, slight, fast guys aren’t supposed to have strong arms. They’re supposed to be more Johnny Damon and less Alex Gordon. Either way, his arm has been an underrated aspect of his defense.

With Lorenzo Cain a better all around player than Dyson, it makes sense to start him ahead of Dyson. I absolutely loved how Yost used Dyson in center in late game situations, moving Cain to right. Loved it. In a single move, he upgraded his defense from really good to freaking amazing. An outfield of Gordon-Dyson-Cain is without a doubt the best defensive outfield in the game.

Dyson is the fourth player I’ve profiled who is eligible for arbitration. He asked for $1.6 million. The Royals countered with $900,000. Major League Trade Rumors estimated he would earn $1.3 million. With a midpoint between asked and offered at $1.25 million, it stands to reason this case won’t go to a hearing the and the sides will be able to settle. Dyson’s defense alone is worth millions, but arbitration hasn’t evolved past the counting stats like home runs. Steals just aren’t as impressive. Neither is his role as a fourth outfielder. Dyson was worth 3.1 fWAR last year, which Fangraphs calculated as worth nearly $17 million dollars. Yeah, that’s not a typo. Nearly all of that value comes from his base running and his glove.

It will be interesting to see how the Royals use Dyson in 2015. I’ve heard rumblings the Royals think enough of Rios in right, they won’t lift him for a defensive replacement late in games. That’s disappointing for a couple of reasons. One, Rios has been worth negative runs saved in right the last two seasons, indicating a loss of range with his age. And two, because when you have a defensive weapon on your team like Dyson, it’s incredibly wasteful if he spends his time on the bench. He won’t provide near as much value if he’s only called upon as a spot starter and occasional pinch runner. He needs to get on the field as often as possible, without exposing his bat. That’s why he’s the ideal fourth outfielder.

It has taken me a long time to get onboard the Jarrod Dyson bandwagon.  I spent a lot of time grimacing at his subpar reading of fly balls and his once a month adventures fielding routine two hoppers to center.  The former 50th round pick’s approach at the plate would often irk me.  Irk me!  I tell ya!

No longer.  Give me more Dyson and I’m talking about more Dyson particularly when Nori Aoki comes back from the disabled list.

There is no doubt in my mind that Lorenzo Cain is a more gifted defensive centerfielder than Dyson, but I am even more certain that Cain is much better in right than Dyson (were Dyson to ever actually play an inning at that position).  My thought is based on a) The Royals love Lorenzo Cain’s defense and still move him to right when Dyson is in the lineup and b) Cain simply reads the ball better than Dyson and that ability makes him more suited to play ‘out of position’.

To be clear, both are exceptional defenders.   For his career, Cain has been credited with saving 41 runs over 1865 innings in center.  Dyson, in 1769 innings, has saved 31 runs (DRS via Fangraphs).  Their UZR/150 is equally as impressive:  Cain at 20.1 and Dyson at 22.0.   In the alternative, one could just watch those two play and see that they get to just about everything hit in the air these days.

The metrics (and we’re in small sample size territory here) show that Cain is quite possibly even better in right, with a UZR/150 of 33.9 and 12 Defensive Runs Saved in just over 400 innings.  You are going to have a hard time convincing me that an outfield of Gordon-Dyson-Cain is not the best defensive alignment in the game.

Offensively, check the career numbers of Aoki and Dyson versus right-handed pitching:

  • Dyson: .274/.341/.364   wRC+ 95
  • Aoki: .269/.346/.377  wRC+ 101

Right there, given Dyson’s ability in the field, should be all the evidence you need that Jarrod Dyson should be in the lineup against right-handed pitching every day for the rest of 2014.  There’s more, however.   Dyson appears to be getting better with his wRC+ progressing over the last three years from 89 to 104 to 101, while Aoki is regressing over the same period of time (125-98-64).

Let’s head down to the basement and check the two players’ fWAR:

  • Dyson 2012: 102 games, 1.4 fWAR
  • Aoki 2012: 151 games, 2.4 fWAR
  • Dyson 2013: 87 games, 2.4 fWAR
  • Aoki 2013: 155 games, 1.7 fWAR
  • Dyson 2014: 51 games, 2.0 fWAR
  • Aoki 2014: 68 games, 0.9 fWAR

No matter how much you love the idea of inserting Dyson as a pinchrunner onto the basepaths at a critical point in a game (which on this team with this manager, means whenever Billy Butler is on first in the 8th or 9th inning), you have to be willing to say Jarrod would be much more valuable playing all nine innings any time a right-hander appears on the mound.

Barring a hot streak from Justin Maxwell (which two different organizations have been waiting five years for) or a better-than-what-we-have-seen Aoki, I am inclined to think Dyson should play against left-handers as well, based solely on his defensive ability.  That is not ideal, of course, as Jarrod has never and probably never will be an effective hitter against southpaws, but it might be the best option for now.

Some/many of you might already be onboard the Dyson train.  My apologies for being late.

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