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Deconstructing The Process

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I have to admit, I was nervous the first time I went to New York.   All I had to do was get off a plane, get in a car driven by someone else and go to a meeting with four other people.  I imagine, Will Smith, whose first trip ever to New York included pitching to the Yankees might not have been on top of his game. 

Will Smith is not a prospect, that’s the primary reason he was on the mound instead of someone else last night, but he is also not the next Eduardo Villacis either: even if the results of their major league debuts in Yankee Stadium were freakishly similar.  The Royals will give Smith another shot next week and that may give us a better indication of what Will brings to the table.

Last night was simply not Kansas City’s night.   The Yankees batted around in one inning despite getting just one hit and that was a bunt single.   Think about that for a minute.   The Royals also failed to mount much offense despite being gifted, be it by lackadaisical Yankee defense or the kind heart of the baseball gods, at least five soft hits.   Eric Hosmer, whose three hits combined probably don’t reach the centerfield wall, rightly believes the baseball gods owed him, but in the end it all added up to just three runs.

The 2012 Kansas City Royals were not built to score three runs and win games.   Remember back in the spring?  This squad was going to score runs, a lot of runs, and stay in games despite poor starting pitching until their lockdown bullpen took over the game.  For the most part, the bullpen had done their job.   They may not be ‘lock down’, but they are pretty good most of the time.

The offense, however….

While sporting the fourth best batting average as a team in the American League, the Royals rank just 10th in runs scored per game at just 3.98 per contest.   Kansas City’s team on-base percentage of .315 is nothing to crow about, but it is 8th in the league (that’s despite being dead last by a lot in walks).   It’s not a case of the Royals not getting on base, it’s a matter of getting those baserunners around the diamond.

As a team, the Royals are slugging an even. 400, which is 7th best in the AL, but they rank next to last in home runs with just 33.   That hurts, even if Kansas City is second in doubles.  A home run is the quickest way to put up crooked numbers and the easiest way to avoid something bad happening.   You know, something like running into outs.

According to Fangraphs, Kansas City is the third worst baserunning team in the AL (Indians and Angels rank below them).  That stat does not factor in stolen bases, where the Royals are just 10th in the league in steals (24), but are second worst in being caught stealing (14 times).  The Rays lead the league in caught stealing with 16, bu have 39 successful steals.

The Royals are not running smartly or stealing effectively.    Their eight sacrifice bunts and seven sacrifice flies is middle of the pack stuff in the league, so little advantage is gained there as well.  Not that I’m advocating small ball, mind you.

Kansas City ranks fourth in percentage of balls outside of the strike zone that they swing at (31%), but I will point out that the Tigers and Rangers rank second and third in that category and those two teams score a run or two.   While you might be encouraged that the Royals are second in contact percentage, it is worth noting that the Twins, who can’t score at all, are first in that category.

No wonder Ned Yost changes the lineup every day. 

xxx

 

Two in a row! Winning streak!

In Thursday’s game, one of the crazier things that happened was Jeff Francoeur drove a runner home with a single. Because as poorly as this team has played in the last two weeks, Frenchy has stood out as perhaps the worst offensive performer on this struggling club. Seriously… Gordon hasn’t been good, but he’s still picked up some quality plate appearances every now and again. Hosmer has a dismal BABIP, but leads the team with five home runs. No, the worst hitter in this lineup has been Francoeur and it isn’t even close.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

Let’s dive a little deeper into The Francoeur Abyss…

Francoeur has always had a strike zone that was more about zip codes than focusing on anything crossing over the 18 inch wide slab he’s standing over. Except this season he’s descended into a special kind of free swinging hell. According to Fangraphs, here is the percentage of pitches that would be called balls by a “perfect” umpire that Francoeur is swinging at over the last five seasons:

2008 – 36.3%
2009 – 36.0%
2010 – 43.4%
2011 – 41.2%
2012 – 44.3%

He’s really upped the ante the last three seasons, hasn’t he? And it’s not surprising that in the small sample that is the 2012 season, he’s at his highest rate of his career. Because when a free swinger like Frenchy starts struggling, what usually happens? Right… He expands the zone. When he should be selective – because it’s the only way he can escape – he’s taking a rip at virtually any pitch in any situation.

The average major league hitter is swinging at 45 percent of all pitches he sees this season. Francoeur is swinging at 55 percent. He’s not doing himself – or the Royals – any favors.

The complete lack of discipline is illustrated from the graph of pitches he’s offered at. He is literally swinging at everything. Most major leaguers have a weak spot. Think Eric Hosmer last summer not being able to lay off the high fastball. Francoeur’s weak spot is whatever state he’s playing in that night. Yes, the entire state.

Behold…

Just for fun, here’s the swing chart from another Royal hitter. Notice the tidy cluster of swings on fastballs inside the strike zone. I thought about having a little contest… Name that swing chart or something. But then I thought, it’s too damn obvious. The only guy on this team with that kind of discipline and strike zone management is Billy Butler. Professional Hitter. Destroyer of Country Breakfasts.

Beautiful…

It’s not a fair comparison. One is a really good hitter, the other isn’t. I present them both merely to illustrate the extremes.

So not only is Francoeur swinging at more pitches outside the zone, his contact has been dreadful. I know the Royals broadcasters have been talking about how he’s “due” to hit a home run. Right. The only problem is, in order to hit a home run, you have to get the ball in the air. Currently, Francoeur has a 1.94 GB/FB ratio. Over half the balls he’s put into play have been on the ground. (52.3% of all balls in play have been grounders.) It might actually be preferable that he miss a pitch. Amazingly, that’s not a problem. The problem is the miserable contact that comes with taking miserable swings at miserable pitches.

The results have been incredibly maddening. He’s hit into four double plays in 20 opportunities (as defined by having a runner on first and less than two outs.) He has a grand total of four walks and four extra base hits. And he’s come to the plate with 44 runners on base and has brought home three. Three. That’s an RBI rate of 7 percent. That’s not good.

The Royals have won two games in a row where they have scored a total of 12 runs. Which is fantastic. But the allegiance to Francoeur and his place in the lineup needs to stop. Yosty won’t send him to the bench, but he needs to drop him to eighth or ninth in the order until he modifies his ridiculous approach and begins driving the ball in the air a little more. But asking Francoeur to be more selective at the plate is like asking a Kardashian to shun attention. Probably not going to happen. So at the very least, he needs to drop until he stops hitting so many damn ground balls.

Right now, this season feels like a replay of Francoeur’s 2010, when he hit .237/.293/.369 for the Mets before they had seen enough and shipped him to Texas for Joaquin Arias. If Francoeur is still performing at his current level when Lorenzo Cain comes back, (which is entirely possible, no matter how long Cain is out) the Royals shouldn’t hesitate… They should play Cain in center, Mitch Maier in right and sit Frenchy’s butt on the bench.

Last year’s free agent success turns into this year’s extension nightmare. Well played, Dayton. Well played.

There was very little (anything?) to like about the game last night. The Royals should have entered into Oakland coming off of a series win against the heavily favored Anaheim Angels with some swagger and confidence. Instead they limped in with easily the worst lineup they could put on the field. For posterity, lets put it down here and then the amount of times each guy got on base last night:

Bourgeois LF – 1
Cain CF – 0
Hosmer 1B – 2
Butler DH – 0
Francoeur RF – 1
Betancourt 3B – 1
Pena C – 0
Escobar SS – 1
NeuGetz 2B – 0

The entire starting lineup got on base 6 times. Let me get out the slide-rule…..carry the one….adjust pocket protector….yep that’s not very good. So the team was terrible at getting on base, it happens from night to night and with these particular players (Yuni, Getz, Bourgeois, Escobar, I’m looking at you) it will happen more often than not. That’s why when the guys actually get on base they need to make the best of those opportunities.

Unfortunately the Royals didn’t do that either. Hosmer was caught stealing 3rd base (not a typo), Francoeur was caught trying to steal second AND he was picked off at first. I’ll ignore Bourgeois getting caught at third, it was an amazing throw and worth the effort. So the starting lineup gets on base 6 times and they give up half of those baserunners by making boneheaded decisions on the basepaths.

The real shame of it all is that the Royals only needed 2 runs to win the game. It’s impossible to say that if the Royals had started their best offensive team that they would have put those runs across, but there is certainly a higher probability. Had the Royals let Gordon play left, Moustakas at third or if they had kept Kevin Kouzmanoff rather than Getz, they could have put up more of a fight. Instead Ned Yost wants to keep his bench involved in the game and he is scared to death of letting Moustakas hit a lefty. The Royals sacrificed their chance to win in order to make sure Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jason Bourgeois don’t get a little rusty. Priorities, guys, priorities.

So let’s turn to what happened on the mound for the Royals. In the ultimate results category, Mendoza had a heck of a game. The Royals only allowed 1 run in the 5.2 innings he was pitching. However, it wasn’t a pretty 1 run and it portends bad things. Mendoza allowed 5 hits and 4 walks while striking out only 2. That’s a WHIP of 1.59, which is not good. A pitcher can not survive long giving up that many baserunners. Eventually the regression to the mean specter will come calling.

I know, it’s one game in April. The Royals only lost by 1 run and it was on the road. There’s a whole lot more games to come and it’s a lot to expect the best 9 to play 162. There was just a whole combination of things last night that had me thinking about how many things can go wrong and how much has to go right for the Royals to contend.

They just can’t give away a game to a team like the A’s in this fashion. They can’t put the happiness of Getz over the welfare of the team. They absolutely can NOT run into outs and walk from the batters box to the dugout at this rate. Fortunately today is a new day and the Royals get another shot at the A’s. Maybe, just maybe the team and management were given their copies of Moneyball (sent from a nice doctor in the Chicagoland area) and realized how important outs are and that they should cherish them at all costs.

In the quest for the postseason every game is important. That includes tonight’s game.

Nick Scott


A minor Twitter kerfuffle erupted on Tuesday when Deadspin published excerpts from each of the 30 team chapters of the latest Baseball Prospectus Annual. Publishing excerpts isn’t exactly noteworthy. Except in this case, they were accompanied by a projected win/loss record.

And the Royals were projected to finish with a 68-94 record.

Ouch.

That’s three wins less than last year’s total. And the lowest projected total in the American League.

PECOTA hates the Royals. And PECOTA probably hates you.

Full disclosure: You may know, I’ve written off and on at Baseball Prospectus for the last two years. This year, I wrote the player profiles and the team essay for the Royals. Undoubtedly the highlight of my blogging career.

Many Tweets encapsulated anger and a feeling of injustice. (As much as you can in 140 characters, counting hashtags.) It was like watching someone mourn a lost loved one. All the stages of grief were there:

Denial – Oh, no… Baseball Prospectus released some projections. They hate the Royals… I’m not going to click that link. If I don’t click, maybe it will go away.

Anger – 68 wins? Who the hell do these geeks think they are? I will kick their collective, scrawny ass. Then, I will trash them anonymously on Twitter. Screw Baseball Prospectus.

Bargaining – Maybe the projections are wrong. I mean, they’re not always right, are they? I’ll give someone my All-Star Game ticket if we could just finish at .500.

Depression – Players are hurt, Chris Getz is starting and we still have no starting pitching… we’re going to suuuuuuuck.

Acceptance – If the Royals only win 68 games, there’s no way Ned Yost returns in 2013. Maybe that’s no so bad.

Really, there are gajillion different variables that go into the PECOTA projections. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I kind of doubt it. Even though I’ve written at BP, I’m not allowed in the secret room with the formula. If I nudge a decimal, the Earth shifts off it’s axis and becomes one of Saturn’s moons.

Here’s a brief explanation as to why PECOTA hates the Royals.

– The starting pitching will be awful. PECOTA pegs the Royals staff as allowing 855 runs. That’s epically awful. Last year, Baltimore coughed up more runs than any team in baseball with 860. The Twins were second worst at 804 runs allowed. No other team surrendered more than 800 runs. There’s no way the Royals can compete for anything but a high draft pick if they land anywhere near this number.

Among starters, PECOTA feels that only Jonathan Sanchez and Bruce Chen will be above replacement level. They have Chen at a 0.0 WARP and Sanchez at 0.3 WARP. For reference, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander had a 6.0 and 5.8 WARP, respectively. Danny Duffy had a 0.5 WARP.

The starting five rounds out with Duffy at -0.1 WARP, Luke Hochevar at -0.3 WARP and Luis Mendoza at -0.7 WARP. That’s just a really bad starting rotation.

The funny thing is, I don’t agree with any of it.

First of all, PECOTA thinks that Sanchez will be the Royals top starter. No way. In fact, I’d wager of the five listed above, he’s the fourth or fifth best. They expect a steep drop from Chen and virtually no improvement from Duffy. I’m betting that Chen takes a step back in ’12, but I think it’s a small one. And Duffy… Man, I just don’t see how he doesn’t pitch better this season.

This is something that gets all the Lee Judge acylotes in an uproar… Projections don’t account for changes of a mechanical nature. Take Hochevar, for example. Last summer, Hochevar shifted his arm angle on his slider and developed that pitch into something that could be called above average. As I said before, I’m not privvy to the secret sauce of PECOTA, but I’m fairly certain it’s not taking into account his new arm angle, or the fact he upped the percentage he threw his slider. Instead, it’s looking at things like ballpark, age and past performance. I think if a player struggles in the first half, but has a strong second part of the season, but his overall numbers are weak, projections systems have a difficult time with that player.

– Six of the nine Royal regulars are projected to have a sub .325 on base percentage. Last year the league average was .321 OBP. Of the lineup, only Hosmer, Butler, Gordon and Chris Getz will top that mark. (Relax, Getz is the lowest of the four with a .324 projected OBP.) That’s a reversal from last summer, where six regulars topped a .329 OBP.

Gordon is projected to drop 24 points, which isn’t surprising given his past performance. Last year was his breakout, and projection systems have a difficult time buying into a guy who had over 1,600 plate appearances and outperformed his career averages by a large margin.

Meanwhile, Butler is projected for a .360 OBP, just one point below his 2011 mark. The last three seasons, Butler has been Mr. Consistent. His projected slash line of .294/.360/.453 almost exactly matches his career line of .297/.360/.458. While a player like Gordon is difficult to project due to the circumstances surrounding a “breakout” season, a player like Butler is the opposite. He’s so steady, it’s difficult to miss by much.

– Kansas City is going to experience another power outage. No Royal is projected to top 20 home runs. Hosmer and Gordon are the team leaders with 19 bombs and Butler and Moustakas are right behind them with 17. Last year, the Royals had five players top 18 long balls.

That combination of sub-par on base percentage and almost non-existent power means the Royals will struggle to score runs. PECOTA has them for 716 runs scored. That’s actually just off the 730 they scored last season.

Again, I don’t agree with all of the offensive projections. Butler aside, most of them seem very conservative.

Any projection system has hits and it has misses. And if you search hard enough, there are tons of projections available this time of year. If you must, look until you find one that fits your selection bias. In the meantime, take PECOTA for what it is… A projection. It’s something that can be fun to look at, but don’t take it at face value. Investigate. Try to decide if you agree or disagree. Dig around and see how they arrived at their projection. Most of all, be constructive in your criticism. “PECOTA sucks because they say the Royals are only going to win 68 games,” isn’t helpful. But if you say, “I disagree with PECOTA because I think our pitching is going to be better than they project, because…”

Do I think the Royals are better than a 68 win team? Yes. Do I think they’ll win 80? No. I’m still kicking around some win totals in my mind. That post comes on Friday… Opening Day, when we call our shot.

Play ball.

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

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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.

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