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Mitch Maier has done everything the Royals have asked.

As an outfielder, he’s played all three positions. While he doesn’t exactly play any one of those positions with distinction, the defense doesn’t notably suffer when he’s in the field. He passes the: “Oh My God, That’s Mitch Maier In The Outfield!” test because you’ve never actually spoken those words with an inflection of disgust. Let’s call him solid.

Of course, my favorite Maier moment of the last three years came on July 26 when he pitched a scoreless eighth inning against the Red Sox in Fenway. His fastball and his change averaged 75 mph. Yet he insists he threw both. I’ve shown this chart before, but I really like it, so I’m bringing it back for an encore… Here’s Maier’s velocity from his appearance:

That’s Our Mitch… Doing anything to help the team.

As a hitter, Maier isn’t going to set the American League on fire. I’m not even sure he’s ever had what you would consider to be a hot streak. Instead, you have a guy who gets on base at a clip that’s better than league average and doesn’t make many boneheaded mistakes on the bases. He owns a career .332 OBP. League average during his time in the big leagues is .329. He doesn’t have any power, but if he had pop, he wouldn’t be a backup.

He is what he is. And basically every team needs a player like Maier. Managers must take comfort knowing they have short-term cover should one of their three outfielders go down for any reason. He’s our safety blanket.

Why am I OK with Our Mitch and not with Getzie? Both are backup players who should – if the season goes according to plan – spend most of the summer on the bench. They both make just under a cool million. So why one and not both? Simple. Maier plays league average in nearly all aspects of the game provided he has limited playing time. He’s versatile. He won’t kill you with the bat. He’s not the prototypical grinder, full of grit and heart, like Getz. He just fills the utility role and fills it well. I wish we had someone on the infield who was like Mitch Maier.

Thanks to three outfielders you couldn’t remove from the lineup with a crowbar and Ned Yost’s allergy to pinch hitters, Our Mitch appeared in only 44 games – his lowest total since 2011 2008. With Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur returning to the corners, Maier’s hope for playing time hinges on the performance of Lorenzo Cain. Cain is the wild card in the outfield deck. If he struggles early in the season, Maier will likely see an increase in playing time. If Cain gets off to a hot start and can perform to expectations in his rookie season, Our Mitch will again be picking splinters out of his backside for most of the summer.

With David Lough waiting in the wings as the fourth outfielder of the future and with Jarrod Dyson outrunning cheetahs, road runners and other assorted speedy wildlife, Our Mitch doesn’t have much of a future in Kansas City. Fourth outfielders are a unique species. Enjoy him while you can.

How did he get here? (flickr/Keith Allison)

As much as sabermetricians and the “old-school” like to see their work in the starkness of black and white, they’re both wrong. Everything is gray.

My task today is to write about Chris Getz. I can’t think of any player more polarizing than Getzie. Some fans (and managers) love the guy because he plays the game the right way. Other’s loathe him because the numbers paint the picture of a player who is well below league average.

It’s funny to listen to the self-proclaimed “Old Schoolers” insist that what makes Getz so great doesn’t show up in the numbers. I’m going to put on my wizard hat, warm up a Hot Pocket and prove that there are numbers out there that support the theory that there are things that Getzie does does well.

— He avoids the double play.

This seems strange for a guy who puts the ball on the ground 51% of the time in his career, but last summer Getz came to the plate 71 times with a runner on first and less than two outs. He grounded into exactly five double plays. That’s an average of just 7%. For perspective, the league average is around 11%. So Getzie is better than average by quite a bit.

But there’s probably a reason he hit into so few twin killings last year. It’s probably because there’s something else he does well…

— He can get a bunt down.

According to Baseball Reference, Getz attemted to sacrifice 16 times last year and was successful in 14 of those attempts. (To clarify, BR defines an unsuccessful attempt as bunting for a sacrifice and getting youself out. Attempting early in a plate appearance and then swinging away doesn’t count as a sac attempt. So it’s likely he attempted to sacrifice more than 16 times.) That puts Getz at an 88% success rate. Again, way above league average, which in this case was 69%.

— He can put the bat on the ball.

Believe me, this is huge. Getzie makes contact when he swings 90% of the time. It’s probably because he’s what I would call a patient hitter. While he doesn’t take a ton of walks, he doesn’t go up there hacking at the first pitch he sees, either. Last year, Getz swung at the first pitch just 15% of the time. To me, that’s an astonishing rate. Had he received enough playing time to qualify for the batting title, he would have had the seventh lowest rate in the American League for swinging at the first pitch. (JJ Hardy swung at the first pitch only 8% of the time last year. If you are a pitcher and throw him a ball out of the zone with your first pitch, you deserve the worst.)

I could be completely wrong here, but Getz seems like a cerbral guy. He approaches each plate appearance with a plan. Part of that plan includes getting as good a look as possible at the opposing pitcher. I’m guessing he’s looking at release point. Once he has that little tidbit, he’s ready to go to work. Of course, he’s hardly ever successful, but at least it’s a plan.

Fun fact: Chris Getz has been at the plate 54 times with the count in his favor 3-0. He has never once swung at the fourth pitch.

OK… I’ve written close to 600 words on Chris Getz and it’s all been praise. (You may bookmark this page for future reference. There is no guarantee this will be up past lunch. I am putting my blogger ID card in serious jeopardy.) It is possible to use numbers to show that Getz does have his strong points as a batter.

But fair is fair…

— He can’t get on base.

For a guy who supposedly can run fast and hit balls on the ground, Getz just can’t buy a hit. His BABIP last year was .288 which was up from the previous season’s .270. We say that a .300 BABIP is “average” but that’s painting with too broad a stroke. Everyone is different. And Getzie, who is a banjo-hitting, ground ball machine who doesn’t move as fast as everyone thinks, will never have a BABIP over .300.

I know there are those who are skeptical of the numbers, but in this case, you don’t need to read anything into the formula – Getz’s career .315 on base percentage sucks. Sucks. And in his two seasons with the Royals, it’s at .309 which sucks even more. It’s because he’s making contact (good) but he’s doing it with a spaghetti noodle for a bat (bad). I happen to fall into the category of those who feel that OBP is life. (If you didn’t realize this after all these years I can’t help you.) Getz simply cannot be a contributor to this team if he keeps his OBP that far beneath the league average. I don’t care how many sac bunts he lays down.

And for his “plan” at the plate, that doesn’t include taking a walk which is too bad. He reaches via the base on balls around 7% of all plate appearances. He doesn’t strike out a ton and doesn’t chase an obscene number of balls out of the zone, but this is a case where his skill – making contact – actually hurts. That leads me to a second negative…

— He can’t make decent contact.

Last year, Getzie’s percentage of plate appearances that went for extra bases checked in at 2.3%. Words can’t describe how abysmal that is. You want perspective? Juan Pierre hit for extra bases 3.2% of the time.

In the words of the immortal David St. Hubbins, that’s too much f***ing perspective.

I’ve also discussed this before, but it bears repeating… Even his line drives fail to impress. The conventional wisdom (and data) suggests the average major league hitter, bats around .750 when he puts the ball in play via the line drive. Last year, as a team the Royals hit .751 collectively when hitting a line drive. Of all the players on the team with at least 300 plate appearances, Getz’s .673 batting average on line drives was the worst rate by far. That simply shows his even his line drives are weak. There’s no other rational explanation for why his average for this type of contact is so low. Which leads to…

— Power? HA!

This isn’t exactly a newsflash. Getz doesn’t have any. Not even doubles. (I’m thinking Joey Gathright without the car jumping ability.) So if you believe that getting on base and hitting for a little pop every now and then (or at least finding the gap) is key to a decent offensive performer you’re going to have to find someone other than Getz to support. Among those with more than 400 plate appearances, his .032 ISO was dead last. His OPS+ of 68 speaks for itself. Again, we’re in Juan Pierre territory here. If you’re in a situation where you wish Chris Getz was as good at the plate as Juan Pierre… I can’t think of many worse things to have happen to a ball player.


And finally, just to throw something along the lines of common ground into the mix…

— He’s decidedly average with the glove.

Defensively, Getz grades out as average. His three year UZR/150 is 2.9, which isn’t spectacular, but it puts him solidly in the middle of the pack. Tango’s Fan Scouting report agrees with the average rating as well, giving Getzie a 49 score on a 80 to 20 range. My unscientific eye test has him as a reliable defender, who doesn’t make the spectacular plays, lacks plus range, but can get the outs on the balls hit within his area of influence. Last year, 93% of all balls in play that Getz fielded resulted in at least one out. Again, for second baseman, that’s right at the league average.

Look, Getz is what he is… the 25th man. I understand why managers and baseball personnel adore the guy. He does do the “little” things… If you think making outs are little things. But in this age of specialization, where teams have eight man bullpens, five man rotations and a limited bench, do you really want to make a place for a guy who’s biggest contribution is making an out on a sac bunt?

There’s no place to hide Getz in the lineup. Putting him in the lineup is making a statement that you’re playing for the single run and eschewing the big inning. Because if you have a rally going, the most you can expect from Getz is a “productive out.” Don’t get me wrong… There are rare times where a productive out can be a good thing. However, when you’re down by two in the fifth inning, that’s not one of those times. Jeff Parker at Royally Speaking plugged Getzie’s numbers since joining the Royals into Baseball Musings lineup tool to see how well a lineup of nine second base heroes would do. The answer… Ugh. They’d score less than three runs per game. But I suspect they’d lead the universe in sac bunts.

The Royals seem to be leaning toward Johnny Giavotella to open the season at second. That’s a good thing. I read on another blog that the choice the Royals will have to make is do they try to win now (Getz) or build for the future (Giavotella). If the Royals brain trust is even taking two seconds to figure this one out, may the ghost of Mr. Kauffman have mercy on our tormented baseball souls.

In 2008, Jeff Francoeur went from budding superstar to a guy who hit .239/.294/.359.   From that point forward, it became something of a running joke that it was only a matter of time before Frenchy became a Kansas City Royal.

When Francoeur actually did re-unite with Dayton Moore prior to the 2011 season (signing for a modest $2.5 million coming off a .249/.300./383 season), the deal was mocked, ridiculed and generally lambasted by pretty much anyone and everyone not getting a paycheck with a big crown in the lefthand corner.   This was, as many said, just another sign that the Royals don’t really get it.   For the previous three years, Francoeur had been a cumulative +0.1 WAR.  He had never been a good on-base guy and now had become a flailing free swinger who didn’t even hit for power.   Even his once Gold Glove level fielding seemed to be in decline.

Personally, I was sort of ambivalent about the signing.   After all, who exactly was going to play in right field?   Keep in mind, Frenchy came on board before Melky Cabrera and before the Greinke trade.   All things considered and with all the young prospects not expected to be in Kansas City until late in the year at the earliest, it seemed to be a low risk deal:  albeit one with little chance of success.   Even with the goofy mutual option tagged on it was still better than Jose Guillen for three years.

Oh, Dayton Moore, you glorious…..

Francoeur, long known to be a ‘good clubhouse guy’, was actually just that.  I know that stuff gets shoved in the faces of us non-baseball insiders with such a high level of condescension that it is quickly and often disparaged, but it does matter.   Frenchy brings a big personality:  fun loving, a little (maybe a lot) nuts, a leader.   I was not a big fan of the type of leadership that a Mike Sweeney brought to the clubhouse – Sweeney may be one of the very best people in the world, but I’m not sure that translated well into a sports leadership role.  I was certainly not a fan of the grim, prickly type of leadership that Jason Kendall brought – certainly, Kendall was outstanding professional in how he went about the business of baseball, but the grumpy old man in a foxhole routine wore thin at least to those of us outside the organization.  Without question, I was definitely not a fan of the ‘big’ personality that Jose Guillen brought to the clubhouse – there’s eclectic, then there’s crazy and then there’s just being a jerk.  Jose combined them all.

Again, I have no real insight into the clubhouse, but Jeff Francoeur seemed to balance personality, fun and leadership as well as almost anyone to put on a Royal uniform in recent history.  What was nice about all that was that, for once, the guy being pumped as a great clubhouse leader was also actually, you know, playing good baseball.

Frenchy’s .285/.329/.476 line, .346 wOBA and 2.9 fWAR were right on par with any of the best years of his career and by far the best season Jeff had since 2007.   He came out of the gate hot, slumped through May and June, but rallied to have a solid second half.   Jeff held his own against right handed pitching and thrashed lefties.

Frenchy’s  walk and strikeout rates were right in line with his career (surprisingly, when Jeff was truly awful from 08-10, he posted his lowest strikeout rates and highest walk rate).   However, after swinging at pitches 57% of the time in 2009 and 2010, Francoeur swung at 54% in 2011:  basically the same as earlier in his career.    That is still a good nine percent about league average, but better than he had been doing.    After being double digit percentage points above the league average in swinging at pitches both inside and outside of the strikezone, that Francoeur reduced that to 9% above league average in both categories is a noticeable change.

That change and likely simply being in ‘the best shape of his life’ turned Francouer’s always near league average contact rate (despite swinging at, well, everything) into more good contact.    His HR/FB percentage jumped to 10.3% after languishing from three years down around seven.   Jeff’s line drive percentage was nearly 20%, driving his BABIP to .323.   That number is above league average, but not ‘crazy lucky’ above average.

There exists the real possibility that a modest change in approach at the plate in 2011 might carry forward through the life of Francoeur’s new two year/$13.75 million contract.   Jeff will never sport a good on-base percentage, but he might sustain the rediscovered slugging that deserted him in the latter portion of the last decade.

ZiPS projects a .273/.314/.437 2012 for Francoeur (OPS+102), which would be a bit disappointing, but not line-up destroying either.   In theory, should Mike Moustakas come along as is hoped, Frenchy could find himself comfortably batting between Billy Butler and Moose and hence, seeing more good pitches.   I don’t foresee Jeff having a better year than 2011, but sandwiched in the middle of a more potent offensive lineup, I am not sure it is much of a stretch to have him come closer to what he did last year than he does to the ZiPS projection.

We know this much:  Jeff Francoeur will play everyday (in 5.5 seasons, he has played in 998 games), he will be a positive influence for a young team, and he will take a cannon of an arm with him to the outfield.   We also know, that right now, Frenchy blocks no one.

I wrote about David Lough last week and we pretty much know what we have in Mitch Maier (not a whole lot).  At this point, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are both unknowns at the major league level and Wil Myers is not ready.   Francoeur could revert to doing Angel Berroa impersonations at the plate and become a free swinging black hole in the middle of the 2012 lineup.   That would certainly keep the Royals from any dreams of contention this coming year, but it does not really harm the organizational process as a whole.

Could Dayton Moore have spent the money more wisely this off-season?  Maybe.   Maybe it gets the Royals an Edwin Jackson, but at the expense of an empty spot in the everyday lineup.   Is the 2013 portion of the contract going to be a problem?  Maybe.   The risk really is not Jeff Francoeur flopping badly in 2012, but that his money and presence in 2013 might hinder the Royals from contending.

For 2012, I don’t mind Jeff Francoeur playing rightfield everyday for the Kansas City Royals.  In fact, I actually look forward to it.



Giavotella was never a standout prospect. In their annual rankings, Baseball America runs down a list of players who have the best “tools.” Gio never made this list. Last year, he was the Royals number 18 prospect, sandwiched between Sal Perez and Louis Coleman.

“An offensive second baseman, Giovatella has proven he can turn on just about any fastball. He has a very good awareness of the strike zone, and his ability to draw walks is enhanced by his pronounced crouch in his stance.”

Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus was a bit more bullish, ranking him at number nine.

“More and more scouts are sold on Giavotella’s pure hitting ability, with one saying, “He just squares everything up… velo, breaking balls… he hits everything.” He has a patient approach and a very short, quick swing with surprising strength that projects for 10-15 home runs annually.”

It’s interesting that both reports mentioned his plate discipline as a strength. Because we didn’t see that once he joined the Royals. After walking about nine percent of the time throughout his minor league career, Gio posted a 3.2% walk rate. Disturbing. Also after striking out about 10% of the time in the minors, he whiffed at a rate just above 17%. Not good.

(Of course all the proceeding major league numbers come with a ginormous caveat: SMALL SAMPLE SIZE. We’re dealing with less than 200 major league plate appearances. And his first 200 plate appearances at that. As we all know – cough – Mike Moustakas – cough – some players go through a stage where they need a little time to adjust to the better pitching. Take all of this with a grain of salt.)

So having said that, Gio whiffed a total of 32 times. From the Bill James Baseball IQ, here is a heat map illustrating where that third strike was in the zone.

Six of his 32 strikeouts were on sliders, and all of them are represented in the pitch low and away. The red in the lower third of the zone down the heart of the plate represents curves, which were the money pitch in just three of his strikeouts. Seems a little reactionary to make a judgement based on six (or three) strikeouts. I’m just pointing out potential weak spots. Something to keep in mind as we move forward. Because if we have this information, you know opposing pitchers have it as well.

There’s specualtion that Giavotella would be a candidate to hit second behind Alex Gordon next summer. That’s a tall order to fill (done surprisingly well last year by Melky Cabrera) but Giavotella has the potential to make enough contact to justify his placement as the number two. Batting in the sixth and seventh positions last year, he wasn’t asked to play small ball – Yost never had him attempt a sacrifice. And I’m certain he will hone his plate discipline, cut down on the whiffs and draw more walks.

Despite Giavotella being what we would consider a piece of The Process, the Royals have been jockying all winter to line up backups at second. How else do you explain the three million combined to bring Yuniesky Betancourt back for an encore and to retain Chris Getz? Betancourt is awful… Poor defense and he doesn’t get on base. He’s never played second, but with Alcides Escobar and his amazing technicolor glove at short, that seems his most likely position. Barring something unforseen happening to the SS Jesus. And then there’s Getz. Not as horrible as Betancourt, but given an equal number of plate appearances it could be a photo finish. (I know, I know… Getz does the little things. Hell, he led the team in GRIT last summer. Let’s stay on target… I’ll rip Getz to shreds in a post in a couple of weeks. I know you can’t wait.) Getz is a natural second baseman with decent – but limited – defense, and a bat that makes Mario Mendoza look like Babe Ruth.

The question we have to ask is why? Why bring in two guys to potentially backup second base? The answer seems fairly obvious. The Royals don’t trust Giavotella.

I have to assume this is because of his defense and questionable judgement of the strike zone once he arrived in KC. I’m loathe to use defensive metrics in this situation because of the sample size, but they weren’t kind to Giavotella last year. He didn’t pass the eye test, either. (Take that however you like. I’m near sighted.) He looked slow to react and didn’t flash what I would call ideal range – especially flagging down balls hit up the middle. He could turn the double play, though. The defensive questions have followed Gio throughout his time in the organization. The Royals challenged him to improve with the glove last winter and he did make strides. The bottom line is Gio is a short, squat dude who will never look graceful in the field. He range isn’t going to blossom overnight. He’s going to be an average to below average defender. The Royals have to decide if they can live with the defense, but will take the bat. Or if they want neither.

I sure hope the Royals aren’t losing faith based on less than two months of major league playing time. Sad thing is, I don’t trust them enough to dismiss that as a possibility.

My bold prediction is Giavotella will get off to a slow start at the plate, play average to below average defense and the Royals will ship him to Triple-A before the end of May. That’s right… I’m betting on Betancourt and/or Getz to be the Royals regular second baseman about a quarter of the way into the season. It’s just a gut feeling. I hope I’m wrong.

Gio is one of those guys with little of the upside that excites the prospect watchers, but he is someone who could develop into a solid regular. Given the options that Dayton Moore has stockpiled behind Giavotella, we certainly need to hope he reaches his full potential. And quickly.

Another GMDM stealth move came today where the Royals signed third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to a minor league contract. The deal will pay Kouzmanoff $1 million if he makes the major league team with an opportunity to earn an extra $300,000 in incentives. The deal also includes an opt-out in that he can leave the organization if he’s not on the major league roster by May 1.

The opt out says this isn’t a move to stock the minors with organizational filler. This is the Royals accumulating players to provide options as they move toward Opening Day. The Royals signed Yuniesky Betancourt to be their utility infielder, but they’re only kidding themselves if they think he can play third. (I’ll buy him as a second baseman – barely. But there’s no way he can play the hot corner.) Kouzmanoff provides cover at third.

I suppose if Mike Moustakas struggles in the spring, he could be shipped to Omaha to start the season. It’s also likely a slow April could see him exiled back to Triple-A. I don’t see that as a real possibility. Moose struggled last season, but the Royals showed great patience and they were rewarded when he made the proper adjustments and finished the season strong. Not to say there shouldn’t be any competition, but unless Moose has just a catastrophic spring, there’s no way he shouldn’t be the teams third baseman.

Kouzmanoff has a career .300 OBP and a 4.6% walk rate. He has some power, but has played the majority of his career in San Diego and Oakland, two places that are death to hitting. He’s 30 and has almost 2,800 career major league plate appearances, so it’s not like his approach is going to change. But I don’t expect to see him in Kansas City. I suppose he could stick as a right handed bat off the bench, but since the Royals will need a fifth starter early in the season and we know that Yost loves the eight man bullpen, there won’t be room for him. You have Our Mitch as the backup outfielder, the Yunigma on the infield and Pena as a backup catcher. Kouzmanoff is insurance. Break glass in case of emergency. That’s all.

And for the financial outlay, that’s not a bad thing.

When the Royals traded Melky Cabrera to the Giants in November, all eyes shifted towards Lorenzo Cain who was acquired as part of the Zack Greinke trade with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. After spending 7 years in the minors, it’s finally time for Lorenzo Cain to get his shot to prove he belongs in the big leagues.

In his 7 years, he’s produced a line of .295/.368/.430 and the last two seasons split between Double-A and Triple-A have been his best since he was in Rookie ball. Since he was acquired from the Brewers there has been a steady drum-beat to get him into a Royals uniform and see if he can be the center-fielder that the Royals are in need of. That beat slowed a bit as Melky Cabrera surprised everyone last season by

1. Not being cherubesque in appearnce

2. Producing at the plate

However, Cabrera still wasn’t a good defender in center field. He was passable, especially with the way he handled the bat, but any drop-off in offensive production could not be carried by his poor range. While I’d like to think that the Royals moved Melky Cabrera because the market for him was at it’s apex, it’s more likely that he was dealt because he wasn’t the defensive wizard that the team expects “up the middle”.

It’s a philosophy that the Royals have been hammering for years now through words and actions. They’ve been trying hard to find a center fielder who has the speed and defense to patrol the sizable Kauffman outfield with just enough bat to keep him in the lineup. From Joey Gathright to Jarrod Dyson and Derrick Robinson they’ve paraded a host of athletic center fielders who haven’t been able to hit.

Lorenzo Cain comes with a better pedigree with a piece of lumber in his hands, though he isn’t likely going to earn his keep that way. He’s also touted as a very good defender. This may in fact be the Android that Dayton Moore has been looking for and he can now move along.

My guess is that Lorenzo Cain will be adequate. I don’t believe he’ll be great, but that’s just fine. I’d love nothing more than for the Royals to have a roster filled with All-Star caliber players, but it’s not realistic or necessary.

The Royals have a series of progressive goals to achieve, the first being to win more games than they lose. A team filled with mediocre players should put a team somewhere near .500. Luckily the Royals are not a team filled with mediocrity, they have some potential stars in Hosmer, Gordon and Moustakas. Every team has some average guys who have one good skill starting on their team. The better teams have them to fill gaps, terrible teams try and sell them as stars. In 2006, Lorenzo Cain would be considered a lynchpin for the organization, now he’s a guy trying to win a starting job. It’s a sign of progress.

The 2012 season does not hinge upon whether or not Lorenzo Cain can be a productive Major Leaguer. He can certainly help propel the team and has some big shoes to fill offensively, but it’s not an absolute requirement for a competitive team.


The Shortstop Jesus.

I hung that moniker on our new shortstop early last season, after witnessing a series of spectacular defensive plays. It was a sight to behold. Especially after watching Yuniesky Betancourt play the position the previous few seasons. Not unlike rubbing battery acid into one’s eyes.

The thinking went, Escobar’s glove was saving the Royals runs aplenty. Thus, he was our long sought after middle infield savior.

An assortment of defensive metrics back this assumption. He finished third in the AL and seventh overall among all shortstop in the Fielding Bible’s +/- rating with a +12. He was third in the AL (and third overall) in UZR and was fourth in the AL in UZR/150. He was involved in 98 double plays last year, fourth most in the AL. He led the AL with 459 assists.

Here are a couple of numbers that should impress:

He led all shortstops in total number of balls fielded. His total of 573 was 23 more than second place Alexi Ramirez. Of those 573 fielding plays, Escobar converted 91% of them into at least one out. That rate was the highest in baseball among all shortstops.

I know there are many of you who don’t like (or believe in) defensive metrics, but if you watched any number of Royals games last season, you don’t need the metrics to tell you what you saw with your own eyes: The SS Jesus can play some shortstop.

About that offense…

I’m intrigued by Alcides Escobar’s offensive splits from 2011. I know, I know… Small sample sizes and all that. But still…

April – .221/.248/.260
May – .209/.258/.244
June – .305/.353/.432
July – .253/.281/.374
Aug – .224/.248/.316
Sept – .324/.367/.459

Two months where he was really good. One month where he was average. And three months where he smelled so bad, there was talk about putting his bat in a landfill in Jackson County.

In June and August, Escobar had exactly the same number of plate appearances (105) and roughly the same number of at bats (95 in June compared to 98 in August.) The difference between the months was a total of seven base hits and three walks. So in June, his .353 OBP was powered by reaching base 10 more times than the .248 OBP he posted in August.

Going through and looking at the pitches he swung at, you get the impression of a hitter with no plan at the plate and more personalities than Sybil. Seriously, the guy just never found an approach that he could repeat.

To underscore this, I’ve pulled the charts from Texas Leaguers that show the pitches Escobar offered at by month. Yes, I may be cherry-picking my data by going month to month, but that’s how the splits are offered at Fangraphs and it’s the clearest way for us to break down Escobar’s season. What follows are also what happened (as a percentage) at the end of each Escobar plate appearance for the month.

Escobar is getting the lay of the land with his new team in a new league and is offering at pitches all around the strike zone. He’s particularly susceptible to sliders low and away.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 27.1%
Single – 16.8%
Strikeout – 12.2%

This is where Escobar is locked in and enjoys his best month. It’s no coincidence this is his cleanest chart, discipline-wise.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 24.8%
Single – 20%
Flyout – 9.5%
Strikeout – 9.5%

Maybe Escobar starts thinking he’s something he’s not. Because he’s chasing a ton of high cheese. Not surprisingly, he makes loads of fly ball outs in July.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 21%
Single – 16%
Flyout – 15%

This just baffles me. The inside pitch… What was going on here? Was he trying to pull the ball every single time? He’s still chasing the high stuff, but it’s not so far out of the zone like the previous month, but it’s enough to elevate his fly ball rate to it’s highest point of the year. Seriously, I see a chart like this and think I’m looking at a right-handed Reggie Jackson.

Plate Appearance Resolutions
Groundout – 27.6%
Single – 17.1%
Flyout – 16.2%

Overall, Escobar hit .236 when he put the ball on play on the ground, versus a .173 average when the ball was classified as a fly ball. Judging only from the disparity among the averages, that sounds like what we would expect from a player with the pedigree of Escobar. He lacks power, but has a little bit of speed, so if he can keep the ball on the ground, he can sneak a few past some infielders and maybe beat out some that stay on the infield. That’s why the months where he hit a ton of fly balls, were poor offensive months for Escobar. These were stretches where he was chasing balls he had zero business going after… The high fastballs in July and the inexplicable fascination with pitches on the inside corner (and beyond) in August.

It’s also interesting to note that Escobar hit .684 when he muscled a line drive. If we accept the average major league player gets a base hit on roughly 75 percent of his line drives, Escobar was woefully below average. Deeper investigation shows that the AL average on line drives was .728. As a team, the Royals hit .751 when they squared one up. (The only Royal with a worse average when hitting a line drive? My boy, Chris Getz! Whoooooo!!!)

So is there a conclusion we can draw from this exercise? Damned if I know. But like I said earlier, Escobar is a raw, undisciplined hitter, whose approach is as inconsistent as humanly possible.

Escobar’s contact rate remained static throughout the season. We know he doesn’t draw walks – his walk rate was an anemic 4.2% – and with a strikeout rate of 12.2%, he’s well below the league average in that department. Neither of those numbers experienced the wild kind of swings his batting average and on base percentages endured. It’s obvious he was making contact even when chasing pitches both up and in. Fangraphs confirms this. Escobar made contact on swings out of the strike zone 76.5% of the time, compared to the league average of 68.1%. There are a bunch of hitters who can chase outside the zone and get away with it. (Let’s stop with the Vladimir Guerrero mentions every time we discuss this. Troy Tulowitzki has become quite the bad ball hitter. Let’s use him.) Anyway, Escobar doesn’t have the talent to consistently expand his strike zone. When he’s chasing and making contact, he’s hitting weak dribblers or short pop flies. He doesn’t possess the ability to launch a 425 foot bomb from a pitch dropping on his shoelaces.

Moving forward, the Royals and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer will have to watch Escobar closely. Keep an eye on him and reign him in quickly when he begins adjusting his patterns at the plate. Or at least leave him alone until he stumbles across a passable approach.

That bat will continue to give us fits. At least we’ll have his glove.

The Royals love atheletes and Derrick Robinson is a prime example. In 2006, the Royals offered him above the recommended slot bonus to convince him to play baseball instead of football for the Florida Gators. At the time he was a raw athlete who the Royals had hoped could learn to hit.

In 2010, it seemed that the Royals gamble might be close to paying off. At AA, Robinson hit .286/.345/.380 which combined with his extreme speed and solid defense made him a viable option at center field in the not-so-distant future. He got a spot on the 40 man roster and went into 2011 hoping to replicate.

As 2011 rolled around, Robinson again found himself in Northwest Arkansas. He walked a bit more often and struck out a bit more often, but he just didn’t hit the ball very often or very hard. In 483 plate appearances, he hit only 9 extra base hits, compared to 36 in 570 plate appearances in 2010.

Although his hitting plummeted, it wasn’t the only reason that Robinson was never promoted to AAA. In the off-season, the Royals acquired Lorenzo Cain who is the less athletic but better baseball version of Derrick Robinson. Almost over-night, Robinson became organizational filler and a backup plan.

At this point, Robinson is holding onto a spot on the 40 man roster by the thinnest of threads. Honestly, I’m surprised that he has lasted this long. I think it says something about the improving Royals that Derrick Robinson is possibly the 40th best guy on the roster. He has two solid tools, but is lacking the one that teams need most: a bat.

The aesthetic value that speed brings to the table is something I’ll always appreciate. I do hope that Robinson can find the bat from 2010 that put him on the radar. The fact he’s still hanging around is indicative of Dayton Moore’s love-affair with athletes and speed. Robinson may be still on the roster as a potential 4th outfielder who brings some speed on the bases or he may be the next casualty when the Royals sign or promote someone better.

Moose with a familiar outcome (Minda Haas)

This time last winter, I figured Mike Moustakas would be the first of the wave of the heralded prospects to make their way to Kansas City. Close, but Moose was lapped by the amazing Eric Hosmer. No shame in that, though. The Royals third baseman of the future showed he has the chops to survive and thrive in the majors.

Patience has never been a part of Moose’s game. He walked just 27 times in 486 plate appearances in Triple-A and took the free pass 22 times in 365 plate appearances once he arrived in Kansas City. That’s just the type of player he is. He’s been able to get away with that grip it and rip it approach in the minors against lesser competition, but he’s going to have to reign it in for the majors. Last year, he swung at pitches outside of the zone 35.2% of the time. League average was 30.6%.

While he chases out of the zone, he doesn’t miss many pitches. Last year his contact rate was 85.5%, well above the league average of 80.7%. The lesson here though is that when you’re swinging at pitches outside of your happy zone, it may actually be better to miss.

This is going to be an outlier, but from Texas Leaguers, look at his spray chart from July when he hit .160/.198/.223:

It’s pretty obvious he wasn’t driving the ball worth a damn that month. Check his five most common outcomes that month.

Groundout – 20.4%
Pop out – 17.5%
Flyout – 14.6%
Strikeout – 11.7%
Single – 8.7%

I’ve been doing these kind of analytical articles for several years, both here and at Baseball Prospectus. And I’ve never seen a player who had “Pop out” listed in their top five. Let alone second. The numbers at FanGraphs back this up… Over a quarter of his balls in play were classified as infield flies in July.


Fast forward to September:

Now, he’s finally driving the ball. Enough that he posted a .352/.380/.580 line. Eleven of his 24 extra base hits came in the season’s final month.

What changed? Pretty simple, actually. He stopped chasing. Here’s his swing chart from July:

Compare that to September:

He just couldn’t resist that high cheese when he broke in to the majors. And it was killing him. Credit to him for making the adjustments and adjusting his approach. He was working the count to his favor, getting a fat pitch and creating havoc with his bat. The strange thing, though… He still dropped his bat head enough that even in a month like September, where he’s posting great numbers, he’s still popping out way too much. Over 16 percent of his balls in play that month were classified as infield pops. And according to the data collected by Texas Leaguers, pop outs were again his second most common plate appearance resolution.

(Some of the credit with the strong September for Moose has to go to Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who worked with the rookie on pitch recognition and helped him make the adjustment in his approach. In July, Moose put a change-up in play only 19% of the time and swung and missed 18% of the time. In September, he put change-ups in play at a 33% clip and swung and missed just 7% of the time. Seitzer is doing some nice things working with these young hitters. I hope the Royals realize this.)

It’s odd because indications are, as he progressed through the system (and improved at each stop after slow starts) he didn’t tinker with his swing all that much. The changes was usually along the lines of the one I outlined above – he read the patterns shown by the opposing pitchers, adjusted his approach and stopped chasing pitches he couldn’t crush.

We’ve seen the September numbers lie before, but I think in this case, it’s a true positive for Moustakas. After his struggles early following his promotion (again), he made the proper adjustments and went on a tear (again.) This is huge. Triple-A is littered with former top prospects who cruised through the minors with little resistance, but when failure reared it’s ugly head, couldn’t make the necessary adjustments to their game.

It looks like Moose has what it takes with the bat to play in the big leagues.

Defensively, I think he’s fine at third. His arm is certainly strong enough and he has decent enough footwork and reflexes. I’m not going to discuss his UZR (too small a sample size), but I will note of his 11 errors, six were on throws and five were fielding miscues. Of the 252 balls he fielded at third, 86% were turned into at least one out. That 86% is league average. He’s not going to win any Gold Gloves in the near future, but he’s not going to hurt this team, either. Let’s call him a solid fielding third baseman.

Now we have to worry about the presence of The Yunigma and the fact the Royals actually seem to believe he’s a viable backup at third base. This is a troubling development for a couple of reasons. One, there’s just no way Betancourt can field at third base. And two, Moustakas struggled against lefties last summer, hitting just .156/.229/.219 against southpaws and there has been mention that Yuni may get the call to spell Moustakas when the Royals face a tough left hander. This possibility bothers me. (Although, to be honest, the very existence of The Yunigma on this roster bothers me.) If the kid is going to continue his development into any kind of contributing player, you let him take his licks against the tougher competition. I say, leave him alone unless he’s absolutely sunk into the abyss and his confidence is at an all time low. They did that in July – mainly because by then the Royals lone infield backup was Chris Getz – and he rewarded the team with a great September. (Anyway, I think Yuni is here to take over for Giavotella. A slow start dooms that kid.)

Moose made huge gains in the space of a single season in 2011. If the Royals remain patent with him, he’ll continue his development in 2012.

Eric Hosmer* was the least effective first basemen in the American League Central in 2010. Yes, I know that Carlos Santana hit .239, but he hit 27 bombs and got on base at a .351 clip. In 2011, the average AL first baseman hit .271/.340/.452 while Hosmer posted a .293/.334/.465. So what the Royals had last year in the young Hosmer was an average first baseman.

*It may be early, but I believe that Eric Hosmer needs a nickname. I say this primarily because I love nick names. They add so much fun and color to the game of baseball. Recently it seems the NBA has been completely stealing the nick name thunder from baseball. We need to reclaim that title. I’m throwing out Eric the Blue as a starting point. Add yours in the comments.

It’s not a knock on Hosmer, the kid is still only 21 years old and his best years are almost certainly in front of him and it’s been a long time since the Royals were anywhere near average at first. So there was a lot to like about his rookie campaign. However, if the Royals are going to really compete in the division in 2012, then he needs to be more than average. It’s probably not fair to heap expectations onto a twenty one year old, but it’s not fair that he’s already a multimillionaire. It comes with the territory. And what I know of the kid, he’s not phased by what some nerd writes on the computernets.

While the construction of playoff teams and World Series Champions is always a bit unique, there is nearly one constant. They all have at least one elite offensive player. Right now the Royals don’t have an elite offensive player, they have some players who could become elite but then again so do lots of teams that have sub .500 records. That’s not the goal.

Here are some numbers from Royals history to illustrate the point:

Last time that the Royals had a player with an above 6.0 bWAR – 2003 Carlos Beltran 7.4 (remember the magical 2003?)

Here is a list of every individual season where the Royals had bWAR over 8.0

1980 – George Brett 9.6 – AL Champions

1979 – George Brett 8.7 and Darrell Porter 8.4 – 85-77 record

1976 – George Brett 8.0  – AL West Champions

1985 – George Brett 8.0 – World Series Champions

I know, I just blew your mind, right? Good players make teams win games. I should write a book about my computer that came up with that formula and then make a movie about it where a Royals beat writer will refuse to move out of the shot. I’m thinking about it, don’t you worry. As simple as it is, it’s a formula which is pretty tried and true. Though it’s not always required, a team almost always needs an elite player to win a bunch of games. The question we have right now is can Eric Hosmer be that player? Can he turn this country into the United States of Hosmerica?

Right here is where I should trot out his size, his skill,s his Minor League numbers and try and prove to you all that he can right? Wrong. The answer truly is that we have no earthly clue. I would love to be able to tell you with some degree of certainty that Hosmer will become what we want him to be. I’ve been trumpeting him to everyone I know since the first time I saw him. Heck, I posted this video of him from last Spring Training as he blew me away again in person.

But in reality, I don’t want to know. It’s the reason we watch the game. It’s the not knowing that makes the finding out so much better. It’s like if we had a big holiday where we gave presents and let’s just say it was around this time of year. Let’s call it Hosmas. It wouldn’t be any fun if the presents were clearly labeled as “socks”, “baseball nerd book” or “coal”. The moment as you’re opening the present ans it’s coming into focus, those are the moments we live for. It’s what baseball provides in gigantic heaps.

It feels like we’re balanced on the precipice. As if things are just on the edge of being really, really good for Royals fans. But we’ve seen the heart of darkness, we know how terribly wrong it can go. We see this talented 21 year old who seems to have every skill one could ask for in a baseball player. Next season I’ll be tuning in on my radio and TV and going to the stadium to find out if the Royals can win and if Eric The Blue (just trying it on for size) can be the great Royal that we’ve needed on the team for so long.

Thank you all for a fantastic year, I really enjoy writing about the Royals and having great readers makes it all worthwhile. Please have a happy and safe Holidays. Hopefully here at Royals Authority we’ve armed you the last year with some info to throw at your uncle who’ll tell you how terrible the Royals are going to be and yadda yadda.



Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.




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