Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in Lineups

The Royals enjoy an off-day today at what is basically the halfway mark of spring training.  Without a doubt, how a player performs in the second half of spring training is much, much more important than how he performed in the first half, but enough has transpired for us to know that the Kansas City Royals we thought we would see on April 6th are going to look a little different.

The consensus prior to camp was that the Royals would open up with this lineup:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Johnny Giavotella 2B
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Salvador Perez C
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Now, and admittedly it is still a long time until Opening Day, the lineup might well look like this:

  • Alex Gordon LF
  • Lorenzo Cain CF
  • Eric Hosmer 1B
  • Billy Butler DH
  • Jeff Francoeur RF
  • Mike Moustakas 3B
  • Yuniesky Betancourt 2B
  • Brayan Pena C
  • Alcides Escobar SS

Obviously, the injury to Salvador Perez and the revelation that he might not be back until deep into June, has thrown that position into uncertainty.   Whereas we thought Brayan Pena and Manny Pina would battle for the backup spot, we now have Pena entrenched as the starter, Pina hurt and minor league veteran Cody Clark the odds on favorite to backup Pena.   You have to kind of root for the 30 year old Clark, who is touted as an excellent handler of pitchers and good defender, but a tandem of Brayan Pena and Cody Clark does not excellent make the Royals strong behind the plate.

At minimum, the Royals have touched base with free agent Ivan Rodriguez, who at 40 years old is a shadow of the guy who tormented Kansas City for years.   I would not be completely surprised to see Pudge in a Royals’ uniform come April, once he realizes that the phone is not going to ring anymore.  Frankly, not a bad gig for a 40 year old:  play regulary for two and a half months, then enjoy the big league lifestyle for the summer and catch one a week.   In my mind, a Pudge/Clark tandem seems stronger than a Pena/Clark or Pena/Max Ramirez unit, but you would not be off base to disagree.

Of course, the Internet and Royals blogosphere consortium erupted with Ned Yost’s revelation that Yuniesky Betancourt was firmly in the mix for the regular second base job.  Many of us sensed that the Betancourt signing as a utility infielder would morph into 500 Yuni at-bats in 2012 and we may be looking right down the barrel of such an occurrence.

Now, I am not going to get all wrapped up in angst over this just yet.   First, we don’t know that this will actually come to fruition:  a big couple of weeks at the plate for Giavotella could still net him the job.   Still, we know the club is concerned about Johnny’s defense and various reports from those who have been to spring training games (several of them who I know are Giavotella supporters) reinforce those concerns.   As Royals’ fans, we have seen Esteban German and Alberto Callaspo mangle second base, but Alberto did so while cracking almost 70 extra base hits that year.   The Royals have to see enough this spring to indicate that Giavotella is really going to hit (not just hit better than Getz) or they simply will not put up with his ‘no play is routine’ defense.

When I first heard of the Betancourt in the second base mix scenario, my initial thought was that the Royals were thinking Betancourt at second, Giavotella to Omaha, with Getz on the bench.  When they wanted to actually utilize Yuni in his ‘utility role’, then Getz would play second and Yuni third or short, but would that work to essentially rest Mike Moustakas against tough left handed pitching when it required inserting the left-handed hitting Getz into the lineup.   While I bristle at the idea of Yuni at second and Getz on the roster, I will admit that Chris Getz has higher career numbers versus lefties than against righties (.280/.330/.327 vs. LHP).

Now, what I really wonder, however, is IF Betancourt is the regular second baseman and IF Getz is on the bench, THEN does that mean that right handed third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff makes the roster over the fifth outfielder (either Maier or Dyson)?   Kouzmanoff, who has a career line versus lefties of .279/.322/.453, and carries a pretty good defensive reputation at the hot corner might make sense on this particular version of the roster.  Let me stop for a moment and offer that I am not onboard with this shift.  The Royals need to find out if Johnny Giavotella can hit enough major league pitching to justify his iron glove and the first couple of months of 2012 is a far better time see about that than the first couple months of 2013.

So, the position players that just ten days ago seemed almost locked in, could not break camp in a rather drastically different form than we expected.   We say that, without even mentioning the ongoing struggles of Mike Moustakas (a notoriously slow starter, by the way).   One backup outfielder, two backup infielders (both of whom play one just one position) and at least one catcher we did not even consider as a possibility last week.  Yep, things are different and then, Joakim Soria walked off the mound yesterday.

Soria, who has not gotten anyone out all spring as it is, left the game with a twinge or a pull or an ouchie in his elbow.  It frankly does not sound good.   Again, it could be nothing, but that is not how the Royals’ spring has been going.    Given that Soria has been dramatically ineffective this spring, Kansas City may well utilize this injury, however minor, to buy Joakim some extra time in Arizona to figure out what the heck is going on.

Such a move thrusts Jonathan Broxton or Greg Holland or, more likely, both of them into a closing role and opens up a spot in the bullpen for a Tim Collins and/or Everett Teaford.  I wrote last week about the tremendous depth the Royals enjoy in the pen, so this really does not weaken them at all.   It also would allow the team to keep Luis Mendoza on the roster AND carry a second lefty.   If there is a bright side to your All-Star closer not being healthy, I guess that is it.

To be honest, before Salvador Perez went down, I was pretty confident that I had the 25 players who would break camp down to the very last name.   Now, I am confident in about 20 or 21 of those names and that is without even mentioning the struggles of Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez (again, it’s early and veteran starters tend to come on late in the spring).   Without question, things have changed down in Surprise and are likely to continue to surprise (pun intended) as we edge closer to April 6th.

xxx

 

 

Damn, if it isn’t great to write about actual baseball news. (Or at least what passes for news at Spring Training. I’ll take it.) This winter has been too long… And quiet.

Let’s get to the Sunshine Points…

Lineup Is Chiseled In Stone – For Now

Ned Yost showed his cards immediately. And what he showed wasn’t the least bit surprising.

Here’s how his lineup looks for the Opener on April 6:

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

The real news is the confirmation that Johnny Giavotella is pegged to hit second, sandwiched between Gordon and Hosmer. Despite Gio’s less than stellar cup of coffee at the end of last season, it makes the most sense for him to hit second, given the assembly of talent in the starting lineup. The only other guys who you would consider would be Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Cain misses too many pitches to be counted on in the second spot. And Escobar… Is Escobar. The SS Jesus is just fine hitting ninth.

So the job is Gio’s to lose. We need to keep our fingers crossed he gets out of the gate quickly because I have a feeling that leash is going to be extremely short.

The only other lineup note is that Ned Yost will flip-flop Moose and The Frenchman based on the starter. Moose will hit fifth against right-handers while Francoeur will hold down that slot against lefties.

Lost LOOGY

It appears reports of Jose Mijares in the country and reporting to camp were greatly exaggerated. To the point the Royals don’t actually know where there LOOGY is.

Interesting.

The Royals were initially told Mijares would be a late arrival due to unspecified family issues. Then, they were told he had arrived and checked into his hotel for the spring. That would be great, except he didn’t actually check in to the hotel. In fact, his visa is still waiting for him in Venezuela.

This follows a pattern for Mijares, who is now late reporting for camp for the third year running. Add in the fact he’s had dustups with teammates in the past and you have to wonder how committed this guy is when it will come into buying into the team spirit the Royals and GMDM are trying to cultivate. Besides, when one team decides to cut ties with you and you show up late to you’re new employer, that’s not the way to make a positive first impression.

He’s not off to a good start. Because he’s not off to any start.

A First Butler

Word is, Yost will work Billy Butler into a few games at first. He made just three starts there once Hosmer was called up in May.

It would be nice to see… It can be thought of as a reward because Butler has continued to work on his glove work. He’ll never be confused for a great defender, but the guy still wants to play the field. Why not give him a start once a week and let Hosmer DH on those days? And if Butler is a complete disaster, you just stop doing it after awhile. (However, this is a team considering giving reps to Yuniesky Betancourt at third, so let’s stop pretending that Butler is some kind of serial killer at first.)

Although I’m leery. Remember last year how Yost said Butler would steal 10 bases in 2011? Yeah.

Early To Camp

The feel good story (aside from Mike Moustakas being in the best shape of his life) is the fact there have been a ton of early arrivals to camp. Ahhh… Optimism.

It’s nice that most everyone has been hanging around Surprise for awhile. This is a young team – again – and the young guys are enthusiastic about the game. We saw it last year, and we’re going to see it again this summer. Enthusiasm is difficult to translate into wins, but it’s fun to watch.

I’m good with that. Baseball kicks ass.

It’s the final day of the regular season and the award ballots are due sometime before the first pitch of the postseason on Friday.

It’s time to revisit our offensive cast of nominees for the AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year award. If you’ll recall, last month I checked in with the rookies and decided my top choice would be Desmond Jennings with Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp second and third. Hosmer, was close to landing on my ballot, but was probably around the fourth or fifth best rookie.

I ended my post with this:

It’s possible Hosmer puts together a sweet September while his rivals falter and storms to the award. That would be ideal. There’s still plenty of baseball to be played…

Hmmm… Guess who had a killer September?

Time to revisit my table of rookie batters:

Interestingly enough, if you go back and look at my post from about a month ago, you will notice two things: First, nearly everyone on this list accumulated 100 additional plate appearances. And second, everyone except Hosmer and Jemelle Weeks saw their overall performance decline. The Hos is hitting .367/.379/.592 with five home runs in September.

The pitchers

Last time, I identified four pitchers who could earn consideration. Let’s look at them with their key numbers:

Ivan Nova – 16 wins, 3.70 ERA, 5.3 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9
Jeremy Hellickson – 13 wins, 2.90 ERA, 5.7 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9
Michael Pineda – 9 wins, 3.74 ERA, 9.1 SO/9, 2.9 BB/9
Jordan Walden – 32 saves, 2.73 ERA

Let’s dispense of the reliever… Greg Holland has been a better pitcher. And he’s not going to get a vote for this award. Moving on…

Of the remaining three, Pineda has been the most impressive. Although, both he and Hellickson have crazy low batting averages on balls in play (.258 for Pineda and .222 for Hellickson).

Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if Nova received some serious consideration for his wins. Old school, for sure, but he’s also playing on a winning team. The kind of voter who votes for wins, also votes for players on pennant winners.

The Jennings (Non) Factor

Remember how Jennings (my top pick) was in the stratosphere? Well, a .179/.278/.274 September has brought him crashing back to Earth. Overall, Jennings is hitting .271/.368/.470 in 275 plate appearances. Those are still excellent numbers. However, there are guys who have done as much in more plate appearances. Yes, I argued that playing time shouldn’t be a penalty in the balloting. My thought is if you play enough to lose your rookie eligibility, you should be considered for the award. However, if your rate stats are equal to another player and that player has double the plate appearances… I have to go with quality and quantity over just quality.

So while Jennings was my pick a month ago, he’s no longer on my ballot. This year’s rookie class is just too strong and his numbers no longer stand out. He’s dropped.

It’s time to play the elimination game…

The Field

Ben Revere – Notable for a 0.39 ISO. Notable because it’s historically bad. I suppose the 34 steals are nice, but his OBP is below league average. He’s out.

JP Arencibia and Mark Trumbo – Trumbo has the second highest slugging of this group, but the second lowest OBP. If he had been around league average, this probably would have been his award to lose. Arecibia has a lower slugging and an even lower OBP. Both are out.

Eric Thames – Meh. Low OBP. Out.

Just Outside

Jemile Weeks – Weeks has taken a hot September to push his batting average above the .300 mark. I’m not that interested in BA, but that will catch the eyes of a voter or two. Lacks power, but has speed to burn. Although a 67% success rate on stolen base attempts would suggest he has a thing or two to learn.

Mike Carp – He leads in slugging, but barely makes my arbitrary cutoff of 300 plate appearances. His .813 OPS and 129 OPS+ also lead this group. Intriguing.

The Contenders

That leaves two players standing – Dustin Ackley and Eric Hosmer.

Ackley has the advantage in OBP and TAv. Hosmer takes the edge in BA and slugging. They’re neck and neck in wOBA. Hosmer has the advantage in OPS (.807 to .780), but they’re tied with a 121 OPS+. According to Baseball-Reference, Ackley has 5.9 Runs Created per game, while Hosmer has 5.4 RC/9.

Ackley has a 2.9 fWAR, while Hosmer has a 1.6 fWAR.

As mentioned last week, the defensive metrics think Hosmer is a notch above those pervs on To Catch a Preditor on the what I will call the Scale of Evil. Meanwhile, Ackley plays a premium defensive position, and according to those same metrics that loathe Hosmer, he plays it quite well. That’s your difference.

Ugh.

This is tight. Damn tight.

Strange as it may sound, when the race is this close, I like the fact that Hosmer has almost 200 more plate appearances than Ackley. In a race like the ROY, as I mentioned, longevity counts and Hosmer’s numbers have been collected over a larger stretch of games.

Both players have deserving cases, and there’s no way I can begrudge Ackley a win. Voters have a difficult decision ahead.

My final ballot:
Hosmer
Ackley
Pineda

Call me a homer if you like, but I give the slight edge to The Hos.

Gun Show

5 comments

I’ve said this several times in 2011: This is my favorite Royals team in recent memory. Bottom line, it’s just a fun bunch of position players to watch on a nightly basis. Part of the enjoyment comes from the gun show the Royals outfield produces on a consistent basis. Whether it’s Alex Gordon gunning down runners at the plate, Jeff Francoeur delivering perfect strikes to third or Melky Cabrera doing whatever it is he does, the trio of outfielders has been a defensive highlight reel. Amazing fun.

I suspect when we look back at 2011, one of the first things that will jump to mind is the plethora of outfield assists.

With that in mind, here are some cool stats on the Royals outfield:

— Twenty of the Royals outfield assists have come from Gordon in left field. That’s the most assists from that position in the majors. Houston is second with 14.

— We always say something like, “When will teams learn not to run on Gordon (and the Royals)?” when a runner is gunned down on the bases. Evidence shows the opposition is paying attention. Forty-four times this year a runner has been on second when Gordon has fielded the ball in left, and 24 of those times, the third base coach has thrown up the stop sign. That’s 55%. Only Cleveland left fielders are shown more respect, with runners stopping at third 60% of the time. (I have no reason why this would be the case.)

— Cabrera has thrown out only one runner at third this year, but he’s gunned down five runners at the plate.

— Royals right fielders (mostly Francoeur with some Mitch Maier spotted from time to time) have a 5.7% kill rate (defined by Baseball Reference as the percentage of plays where a baserunner was thrown out trying to advance.) That’s the highest percentage among right fielders.

— That percentage is second among all outfield positions. First place is held by Royals left fielders at 6%.

— Assists at home:

Royals LF – 10
Royals RF – 9
Angels RF – 7
Dodgers CF – 6
Royals CF – 5*

The five assists at home by Royals center fielders is tied with several other teams.

— Mitch Maier has one assist.

— Baseball Info Solutions has a number called Outfield Arms Above Average. Basically, it’s a look at the number of runs above average the outfielder was worth based on his baserunner kills and baserunner advances. Here are the leaders for 2011:

Alex Gordon – 11
Jeff Francoeur – 8
Rick Ankiel – 8

Six players are tied at six runs above average.

— Melky is at -1. That’s surprising if you just look at the number of runners he’s thrown out. But the fact is, more runners take chances against Cabrera in center than either of the Royals corner outfielders.

The Gun Show has been one of the more impressive and enjoyable developments of 2011. The good news: The Show will be held over for the 2012 season. We’ll get a chance to enjoy it all over again.

As often mentioned recently, the Royals current roster will, for once, also make up the bulk of next season’s 2012 team as well.  I tweeted last month wondering when the last time was that the Royals batting lineup in August was the same as what it would be on Opening Day of the following season.   Not sure anyone came up with an answer (1998 maybe?).

Given the current situation, one I consider to be a positive situation for the most part, we can look forward to next season and actually start assessing what this team might be now as opposed to, well, six hours before the first pitch of the season.   Who will be better?  Or worse?   Let’s take a look.

The Sure Things

  • Billy Butler – He may never be the ‘prototypical DH’ that some crave, but even with a slow start in 2011, Billy has a wOBA of .358 and is likely to have 60+ extra base hits…again.   He won’t get any faster and his days of playing in the field are pretty much over, but Butler will hit.
  • Eric Hosmer – He won’t win rookie of the year, but I am pretty sure Hosmer is the one guy on the Royals that every single organization in the game would like to have.   His .283/.334/.450 line is a nice major league start for a guy who spent all of six weeks in AAA.  We have seen a lot of young players come and go, but Hosmer has the ‘it’ factor.

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

  • Alex Gordon – .303/.376/.502 was what we have all been waiting for, wasn’t it?   Gordon’s fWAR now stands at a spectacular 6.1, making him quite possibly the best leftfielder in the American League.  After four seasons that fell short of the high expectations for Gordon, the question is:  can he do this again?   My guess, my gut feeling is that THIS is Alex Gordon and he will continue on at this level or something near to it.   My heart wants to put him in the ‘sure thing’ category, but logic tells us to be just a shade more cautious.
  • Melky Cabrera – He could go 2-98 next year and still be one of Dayton Moore’s best free agent signings:  that is how good Melky has been this season.  Sure, he is overrated as a centerfielder because of his good arm, but he is not horrible, either.   Raise your hand if you thought Cabrera would be worth 3.3 fWAR.   No one?  Now, raise  them if you think he can do it again.  Yeah, I know, I can’t decide whether to put my hand up or not.
  • Jeff Francoeur – There is nothing wrong with .282/.330/.467 out of Frenchy.   You cannot expect much more and we should all be happy if he can sustain that for the next two years of his new contract.   Will he?  I’m a little skeptical in that Jeff has been prone to ‘fall off the cliff’ type seasons.  Again, it may or may not be logical to be almost certain a 27 year old Alex Gordon has ‘taken the next step’ and be equally skeptical that Francoeur and Cabrera (also 27) have not.  

Destined for Better Things?

  • Mike Moustakas – The swing looks better and the numbers have gone from awful to below average.   Along the way, Moustakas has played better than expected defense (although no one expected much in this area) and kept his confidence.  You would like to see something of a power surge here in September as a springboard to Mike becoming a 25+ home run guy (I doubt he will ever be a big average hitter), but even without a fall hot streak, I will be expected Moustakas to be more of an offensive asset than he has been in 2011.  Frankly, it would be hard for him not to be, right?
  • Alcides Escobar – I am ‘this close’ to buying an Escobar jersey, but am afraid the Fosler jersery jinx might send him into a .221 hitting, error laden 2012.   We saw Alcides have a nice run at the plate and a lot of what happens to him with the bat seems to be attributable to his approach and not actual ability.  In theory, that can fixed.   With the type of defense Escobar displays, he does not have to go much beyond his current .247/.281/.328 line to be good enough.   My gut feeling is that Alcides gets a little more consistent in 2012, but he might also be what he is, too.
  • Johnny Giavotella – Considering how poorly his defense was reviewed in the minors, he actually is not as bad as I thought.  Johnny makes some bad decisions (so does Hosmer by the way) and his hands are the problem.  Range-wise, he gets to most balls and has been working hard at improving himself in the field.   Listen, we have seen ‘brutal’ and it’s name is Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German:  Giavotella is already better than either of them were at second.   At the plate, he has looked better than his numbers reflect, for whatever that is worth and long term, .255/.293/.391 won’t cut it, but Giavotella is no Johnny come lately to successful hitting.   Having hit at every level on the way up, I think he might hit at this level as well.
  • Salvador Perez – I am biased, but Perez is the best young defensive catcher I have seen since – dare we say it – Ivan Rodriguez came up at an early age.  To date, Sal has held his own at the plate as well (in an admittedly small sample size), but truth is if he can totally negate an opponet’s running game and handle the staff he does not have to hit much.  

The shrewd readers of the group will already be thinking that not every young player gets better – especially Royals’ young players, so the odds that everyone above improves or continues to ‘dominate’ are pretty slim.   The Royals’ offense, while inconsistent this year, has been pretty good.  If a player to two elevates and the rest simply hold the line, then this team will be better positionally speaking.

Last night, as I watched Billy Butler launch another home run (his 7th in his last 56 plate appearances) I couldn’t help but wonder if Country Breakfast was developing into a power hitter.

I’ve written about this at length, and I’ve always been skeptical given his proclivity to the ground ball and his opposite field approach. There’s been some movement on the latter issue… Albeit minor. But it may be enough to push Butler north of the 20 home run plateau for the second time in his career.

To start, here is the breakdown of where he put his balls in play in 2010:

Compare that with his chart from 2011:

It’s a subtle change, to be sure. But we can safely say Country Breakfast is pulling more balls to the left side. And for a young hitter – if he’s going to hit with power – that’s something he has to do.

Check out his home run landing plots for this year. Last year, four of his 15 home runs were to the right side of center field. This year, nearly all of his home runs have been in his happy zone to the pull field.

Butler as a power hitter is still a work in progress. And I can’t imagine he’s ever going to hit over 30 home runs in a season. Still, his ever so slight push to the pull field is an encouraging development for a hitter who is still just 25 years old.

Country Breakfast, indeed.

There has been a proliferation of statistics and new metrics over the last several years. FIP, WAR, wOBA, SIERA… These measurements serve to flummox the old school and sate the new school. Like many who strive to survive on a steady diet of Hot Pockets and PepsiMAX (endorsed by Frank White!) I have long had the desire to develop a stat that is both easy to understand and revolutionary. Something to unify the communities. Besides, when you blog, you’re nothing unless you create a statistic. It’s “publish or perish” for the basement subset.

I’ve finally done it. Months of research. Miles of spreadsheets. It’s time to unveil my statistical baby…

Introducing GRIT.

What is GRIT? Well, it’s a kick ass acronym:
Gutty
Resilient
Intense
and
Tenacious

Oh… You want to know what it measures? Ultimately, GRIT is the measurement of a player’s determination and steely resolve. Ever wonder how much a player wants to win? Or how dirty he keeps his uniform? Or just how much he busts his ass whether its in batting practice, during a game or while eating a burrito from Chipotle?

Wonder no more.

GRIT is the most accurate snapshot of the player who wills his team to victory… Drives it to win through sheer determination. It is about the little things that don’t show up in the box score. It’s about the beauty of a well placed grounder to the right side that moves the runner to third. It’s about a bunt that forces the first baseman to charge and make a throw. It’s about hustle, busting your ass and being a great teammate. It’s about getting things done.

The formula behind GRIT is straight forward:


(BB%+SO%) * (SB + 1)
_____________________
(ISO*wOBA)

I will break down the formula, so it’s easy to understand and follow.

(BB%+SO%)

This is a rudimentary way to figure how often a hitter puts the ball in play. You cannot exhibit GRIT if you look at pitches. GRITty players swing the bat, put the ball in play and make the defense work. A walk IS NOT as good as a hit… It’s a lazy plate appearance. A strikeout is rock bottom. A strikeout looking is like death. GRIT is about players who make things happen. In order to make things happen, you must swing the bat.

(ISO*wOBA)

Power is so overrated in today’s game. They used to say chicks dig the longball. But girls are stupid. Home runs are rally killers. There is no way you can GRIT out a win by hitting three-run home runs. A single, stolen base, sac bunt and sac fly is a much more efficient way to score a run, because you are making things happen. Force the issue and keep the defense on their heels. GRIT freaks the defense out. When they worry about the stolen base and the sacrifice bunt, they forget to play with their own GRIT. When one team loses focus and loses GRIT, they will lose the game. Guaranteed.

wOBA is used because, like power, getting on base is overrated. Sure, reaching base is fine and good, but if all you’re doing is setting up the double play for the batter behind you, that is a worthless plate appearance. And if you reach first and aren’t thinking about stealing second or advancing on a kick ass sac bunt, you are a base clogger. Base cloggers are the pond scum of our game and the antithesis of GRIT.

(SB+1)

Just like sunsets, Oklahoma Joe’s french fries and the ability to jump over cars, stolen bases are beautiful. The sac bunt is great, but the steal is the lifeblood of GRIT. We add the plus one to the steal total because there are some base cloggers who won’t budge off the bag and have yet to steal a base this season. (Obviously, the number one reason Kila Ka’aihue is in Omaha is because he did not attempt a single stolen base. Unacceptable. Mike Moustakas is on notice.) Because of these players who are dead weight, we have to add the one so we won’t have a broken formula.

Basically, GRIT is a cumulative measure of offensive awesomeness. The GRITtier a player, the higher the GRIT score. The higher the GRIT score, the higher the player’s value. Perfection.

With the rational explanation out of the way, let’s take a look at the Royals leaders in GRIT for 2011:

Chris Getz – 359.7
Alcides Escobar – 101.3
Jeff Francoeur – 58.5
Melky Cabrera – 51.9
Matt Treanor – 40.2
Mike Aviles – 39.4
Alex Gordon – 39.3
Wilson Betemit – 33.5
Mitch Maier – 17.1
Eric Hosmer – 16.2
Mike Moustakas – 15.1
Billy Butler – 11.9

A couple of observations:

— Chris Grit Getz should have his number retired. He should have a statue in the outfield playground. And he should have part-ownership is a dry cleaning chain. Seriously. If the Royals had more players like Getzie, they wouldn’t be in the cellar of the AL Central. They would be printing playoff tickets. Getz is a ballplayer.

Take Tuesday’s game… Getz was picked off and caught stealing in the seventh. That is a great play, because Getzie was making things happen. He’s a riverboat gambler on the bases. His game may be three card monte, but that’s fine because he’s forcing the issue.

Getz is the Royals MVP.

— Alex Gordon did not make the All-Star team because the coaches and fan voters could see he doesn’t play with enough GRIT.

— Alcides Escobar is surprisingly GRITty.

— Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera shouldn’t be traded. You can’t part with two of your top five in GRIT.

— Mitch Maier has accumulated his GRIT with extremely limited playing time. If he played everyday, he would probably be the second GRITtiest player on the team. I can’t believe Ned Yost hasn’t figured this out. He’s usually on the ball in situations like this.

— Billy Butler is what would happen if OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony had a baby. He is the devil. The worst player on the team. The. Worst. Because he’s a base clogger. Base. Clogger.

I think GRIT has tons of potential. I’ll be petitioning Baseball-Reference to include this stat on player and team pages. And you can bet I’ll be keeping track of the scores of the Royals through the rest of the season.

Ned Yost revamped the batting order for last night’s game and was rewarded with 11 hits, but only two runs.   A massively changed order is, of course, easy fodder for a column.   However, after Yost inserted Melky Cabrera and his .315 on-base percentage into the leadoff spot and was rewarded with two hits and a walk, what is one to say?

Melky Cabrera, after hitting .255/.317/.354 in an unenthused, out of shape campaign for Atlanta in 2010, was not greeted with much anticipation by the Royals’ fan base this off-season.   I think to a lot of followers, Cabrera has been a nice surprise thus far.    He did show up in shape, seems to play hard and has hit better than most of us expected.

That said, Melky is currently sporting a line of .277/.319/.435 for a career high OPS+ of 111.   Still, that really is basically what Melky Cabrera has always been.   Throwing out 2010, he compiled a career line with the Yankees of .269/.331/.385.  If Melky’s power surge (his current slugging percentage is also a career high) continues throughout the season he will certainly enjoy the best year of his career, but nothing dramatically greater than what he did as a 21 year old rookie five years ago.

Now, do not take this as a criticism of the Royals’ centerfielder.   He has, quite frankly, been fine this year, but don’t get carried away.   Cabrera remains basically the same player Allard Baird tried to trade Reggie Sanders for twice only to be derailed by Sanders incredibly poorly timed bouts with hamstringitis.

With a current WAR (per Fangraphs) of 1.7, Cabrera has already tied his career high in that category, so kudos to Dayton Moore for what is a nice, cheap off-season pickup, but again let’s not get carried away.   Melky Cabrera is who he is, with a little more power.   In the field, he is David DeJesus with a better arm and a better reputation.   At the plate, he is a hitter who has not topped a .336 on-base percentage in five years.   He is who he is – just like Jeff Francouer.

Certainly as likeable player as anyone on the roster for the past decade, Francouer started 2011 on a hot streak and endeared himself to almost all of us with some timely hits and great outfield throws.    Still, we wake up this morning to find Jeff hitting .257/.304/.429.   His career line is .267/.309/.425.   Francouer is Francouer, no matter the uniform.

So, the Royals sit here in late June, out of the race once more with two 27 year old outfielders with serious time on their major league resumes who are basically performing exactly as they always have:  maybe even a little better in the case of Cabrera.   What do you do?

Should the Royals keep them both and avoid the Facebook outrage over ‘always trading our best players!?###’, move one or move both?  Is there even a market for Melky and the Frenchman?

Due to their age and reasonable contracts, both have some allure in that you get a player in his supposed physical prime, but with a long history in the majors.   Contenders like to know what they are getting and in both players they have a pretty good idea.   That makes both a somewhat safe option for a successful team looking to fill a void on their mid-season roster.

We can be fairly certain that, with Lorenzo Cain in Omaha, Dayton Moore is certainly listening on Melky Cabrera.   His personal affinity for Jeff Francouer makes it less certain he would deal Frenchy.    Truthfully, I would market Francouer, who brings a clubhouse presence, more certain defense and the ability to tatoo left-handed pitching.    Even though Cabrera is the better player, I have a hunch Francouer might actually bring a better return in a trade.

I could live with an outfield of Gordon-Cain-Cabrera this summer.   Heck, I can live with Gordon-Cain-Francouer, too.  At this point

Well, what is one to say or write about last night’s extra inning loss?    More specifically, what is one to write that has not already been written, tweeted or said?

Eleven innings, back to back pick-offs of pinch runners, 13 walks, a run scoring wild pitch, 5 stolen bases allowed, a 9th inning game tying homer by rookie Eric Hosmer, the debut of rookie Danny Duffy and another Joakim Soria bad outing.   Whew!  I cannot decide whether we should spend this column dissecting last night’s loss or try to forget it.

Obviously, in a game in which the manager empties his bench and his bullpen, there are many instances where we could second guess Ned Yost.   My only comments on Yost last night are that I would have stuck with Louis Coleman for a second inning of work and probably Aaron Crow for a second inning as well.  You’ll have to take my word that I was thinking that Crow should work the 9th inning as well before Soria surrendered a run, although going to Soria in the 9th is hardly managerial malpractice.  An extra inning out of both Coleman and Crow keeps Yost from having to go to Jeremy Jeffress in the 11th.

My other complaint is that the Royals need some sort of ‘for godssake don’t make an out on the bases!’ sign.    I know the organization is all about aggressive baserunning, but after Jarrod Dyson is picked off in the 9th, don’t you have to tell Mike Aviles to take a two step lead and hope Wilson Betemit drives the ball into the gap?   Yes, Aviles should damn well know that he can’t get picked off, but there’s nothing wrong with throwing up a ‘STOP’ sign to reinforce the issue.

Anyway, the Royals had their chances and, frankly, the Rangers had more chances.  It was a discouraging loss and one that certainly feels like ‘old times’ for us Kansas City fans.  That’s a few more words about last night than I thought, let’s go inside the numbers for a bit:

  • 30 – The number of pitches Danny Duffy threw AFTER getting two strikes on a hitter.
  • 1 - Total number of passed balls charged to Matt Treanor in 2011:  relevant because it happened last night.
  • 5 – Outings in which Joakim Soria has allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings at this time in 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Outings after May 19, 2010 in which Joakim Soria allowed a run.
  • 5 – Total combined hits before last night from Mike Aviles and Chris Getz in the last two weeks.
  • .630 - Billy Butler’s OPS in May.
  • .515 - Alex Gordon’s OPS in May.
  • 3.26 - Luke Hochevar’s May earned run average.
  • 7 - May strikeouts by Hochevar.
  • 7 - May walks by Hochevar.
  • 3 - Minimum number of games the Royals need to win through this current homestand to have even a hope of getting back to and staying at or over .500 by the end of May.

I will give kudos to Ned Yost for shaking up the lineup last night – even if it didn’t really pan out.  My original plan for a column was about having to do that very thing and, I have to be honest here, Ned shook it up much more boldly than I would have.    It will be interesting to see if Yost sticks with last night’s batting order or if it was a one time thing.

Okay, question of the day:  When do you call up Mike Moustakas?

According to UZR/150 (courtesy Fangraphs), the best defensive second baseman in baseball last season was Chase Utley with +12.9 mark.   The worst was Skip Schumaker with a -17 UZR/150.    You can make what you want of UZR/150 or any other defensive metric:  they all have flaws and they are all subject to small sample sizes.   The common theme amongst the sabremetric community these days is that it takes three years of defensive statistics to equal one year of offensive data.

If you are into zone ratings when it comes to defense, Utley had a Revised Zone Rating of .840 in 2010 – good for 5th overall.   Schumaker’s was a horrid .769, which was dead last once again.  

Interestingly, both players manned second base for almost an identical amount of innings:  Utley played 1007 innings, Schumaker 1014.   Combining putouts, assists and errors, Utley made a defensive play 5.23 times per nine innings.   Schumaker made a defensive play 5.19 times per nine innings.   It is an admittedly simplistic sampling, but it sure appears that second basemen, the good, the bad, the indifferent,  generally all have about five fielding chances each game.

We can delve into double plays started, double plays turned, positioning, passing eye tests, plus hands, plus feet, plus instincts….you name it, you can factor that into whatever defensive analysis you want to rely upon, but I am going to take the very lowbrow route.

If a second baseman gets on average five defensive chances per game and plays 140 games, that comes out to 700 chances per year.   Using last year’s numbers, Utley’s zone rating implies that he got to 7% more balls than Schumaker and one time every 180 chances or so, Schumaker made an error that Utley would not have made.   In this very crude analysis, those differences, spread over 140 games would mean that Chase Utley made plays on 49 more balls than Skip Schumaker and that Skip would boot six more balls.

That makes for a grand total of 55 plays at second base that seperate the best defensive second baseman of 2010 from the worst.   All around, I can actually feel far better statistical analyzers than myself shivering at the absolute crudeness of the above math!

Now, what does this have to do with the Royals and their very important, very thrilling, oddly played win last night?  Not a whole lot, other than in regard to the lineup that Ned Yost trotted out and then stuck with for eleven innings.  Chris Getz got another start at second base over Mike Aviles, after getting the start over Wilson Betemit the night before.

We’ll ignore the Betemit part of this equation for simplicity sake (after the above fielding analysis, simple is the word of the day) and just compare Getz and Aviles:

  • Getz 2011: .220/.310/.275/.585, 4XBH, 7SB, 14BB, 12SO
  • Aviles 2011: .265/.299/.531/.830, 14XBH, 8SB, 4BB, 21SO

And for their careers:

  • Getz: .248/.314/.313/.628
  • Aviles: .295/.325/.432/.756

IF Chris Getz was the best fielding second baseman in the game and IF Mike Aviles was the worst, Getz turns 55 balls into outs over 140 games that Aviles does not:  basically two plays every five games, four plays every ten games.

In those ten games in which Getz makes four defensive plays Aviles does not (again assuming Getz is the best defender in the game and Aviles the worst), Aviles would not only get a hit, but get an EXTRA BASE HIT five more times than Getz would.   So, what is more valuable?   Four defensive plays made or five extra base hits?

What if, really NED what if, Chris Getz is not the best defensive second baseman on the planet?   Is he better than Aviles?  Yes.   Is he 55 plays better than Aviles?  My guess is that it might be half that number.   If that is truly the case, then the equation becomes two defensive plays versus those five extra base hits.  Simple math, but a simple answer as well.

Of course, Chris Getz and Mike Aviles do not play in a vacuum.   They play second base next to a player who, right now, is a defense only shortstop.  Alcides Escobar, to date, has played superb defense.   He is a joy to watch in the field, but he makes us all wince when at the plate.

Escobar is going nowhere:  the Royals believe in him (so do I, actually) and they have no real option to replace him even if they did not.   Alcides Escobar and his .532 OPS are in the lineup to stay.   Als0 in the lineup will be the offensive liabilities of the Matt Treanor, Brayan Pena and, at some point, Jason Kendall. 

Name a contending team that didn’t have good defense up the middle?  Name one that had three guys up the middle with OPS below .650?   (Yes, I know Treanor is above that mark right now, but if you want to bet on that lasting…). 

I am all for good defense, but the Royals are currently struggling to score and Mike Aviles is a guy who can simply hit.  Sure, he does not walk enough, but he is about to overtake Getz in on-base percentage as it is.   How big a penalty are you willing to pay for Getz’s defense and better, but not tremendously better, base running?

Long term, neither is the ‘solution’ at second base, but not every change has to be ‘the final solution’.  The Royals give up too much when they play Chris Getz at second base and sit either Aviles or Betemit.   If we were talking about shortstop or catcher, the two most important defensive positions, then this column might have a different angle.   We are talking, however, about second base.

Aviles may not even be average in the field, but he is not a butcher (a/k/a Alberto Callaspo).  Getz is probaly above average in the field, but he is not a gold glover.   The difference, when factoring in the times one can effect the game with their glove, is not enough to justify keeping the bat of Mike Aviles on the bench.

Are the Royals playing to win this year or are they hoping that Chris Getz can nudge his OPS over .700 and be an average player sometime down the road?

%d bloggers like this: