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Long Live The Process

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As the Royals are formulating their 2016 budgets, there remains one final piece of business: The Mike Moustakas contract.

 
The clock is ticking should the sides look to avoid an arbitration hearing, as a pair have already happened with one more on the horizon. Reliever JJ Hoover won his case against the Reds. The Astros won their hearing with Jason Castro. Brandon Belt is scheduled for tomorrow.

Moustakas has 4.111 years of service time, meaning he just missed the Super Two cutoff last year, so he is eligible for three years of arbitration eligibility before he can test the free agent waters. His first pass through the arbitration system came last winter. He asked for $3.1 million while the Royals countered with $1.85 million. They avoided a hearing and settled for $2.64 million, slightly above the midpoint. By the end of the year, he pocketed an additional $50k for his All-Star appearance and $10k for reaching 550 plate appearances. The bonuses pushed his total contract to $2.7 million.

This year, the gap is much more pronounced. The Royals offered $4.2 million while the Moustakas camp countered at $7 million. On the surface, the amount the Royals submitted is low, especially given the career year Moustakas had in 2015. Such is the system the team has to come in at an amount like this. The Royals, as you surely know, haven’t taken a case all the way to an arbiter in Dayton Moore’s tenure. By coming in low, the Royals give themselves some wiggle room for negotiations, but they run the risk of losing should the case ultimately head to a hearing.

The midpoint this year is $5.6 million. MLB Trade Rumors projected the Royals third baseman would earn $5.7 million. Funny how that happens. If last year is any guide, the Royals could throw a few dollars past the halfway point and throw a couple of incentives to sweeten the deal.

It would be shocking if the Royals and Moustakas make it all the way to a hearing, but the clock is ticking. (These hearings are somehow kept secret. You never hear about dates until after it’s happened. Usually when the finding is announced. Baseball. So full of leaks middle schoolers are breaking news, yet no one can figure out when an arbitration hearing is held. Go figure.) There are three outcomes from the current situation.

Moustakas and the Royals agree to a one-year deal.

I’m thinking the framework on this is already done or very close to happening. As the final pending arbitration case for the Royals they have had plenty of time to get this done. Besides, as I pointed out above, while the gap is large, the midpoint is acceptable. Under this scenario, the two sides reach the agreement and go through a similar dance for a third and final time ahead of the 2017 season.

My guess is a one-year deal would be around $5.9 million.

Moustakas and the Royals reach a two-year deal.

This is the Lorenzo Cain model. Doing this gives the Royals cost certainty for another of their core before nearly everyone of import is eligible for free agency.

Something important to remember is that contract extensions given to arbitration-eligible players are different from those awarded to free agents. These dollars impact all players in future negotiations, so there isn’t any kind of deferral along the lines of what we saw from Alex Gordon. In other words, the average annual value doesn’t matter so much as the year to year escalation. On the surface, the contract could appear to be backloaded, but that’s not really the case. It’s simply a progression through the arbitration process. Look at Cain again as an example. He will earn $6.5 million in 2016 and $11.5 million in 2017. Those dollar figures are in line with what he would likely earn had he performed at his expected level in ’16. It’s the economics of baseball. MLB Trade Rumors estimated Cain would bank $6.1 million for the upcoming season. So Cain actually beat his projection by just a bit.

At the time, I wrote that I didn’t really understand the Cain extension. In the prism of the current situation, maybe it’s helpful to have that contract in Moore’s back pocket. I mean, there’s no way Moustakas can earn more than Cain in 2017, right?

Keeping that in mind, I think a fair agreement for a two-year Moustakas extension would be for $6 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017.

Moustakas and the Royals agree to a multi-year deal.

To me, this is the longest shot of the three possibilities. For starters, we’ve been disappointed by Moustakas for four seasons before he finally showed us some offensive value last summer. Do you buy that he’s turned the corner and will be an above average third baseman over the next several years, or was last year an outlier? Whatever you think the answer to that question is, you cannot say for certain, which makes locking in Moustakas to a long term deal a pretty big risk. If you buy out any of his free agency and are rewarded with a season of sub 80 OPS+, you’re basically flushing cash down the toilet.

However, if you are interested in keeping Moustakas around, should he build upon his ’16 performance, the price tag will only increase to the point where it’s all but assured he would be to expensive to keep in Kansas City.

Should the Royals take the position that Moustakas is entering his prime and last year was just the beginning of a great stretch of baseball, I could see them committing four years and $46 million. That’s basically the $16 million for his final two years of arbitration, plus $15 million for what would cover his first two years of free agency. View this through the prism of the Alex Gordon contract, where he will top out at $20 million in 2018 and 2019. Like with Cain, while Moustakas showed great strides last year, he’s not on the same level as Gordon. It’s possible by the time Moustakas hits free agency, he could out earn the Gordon deal, but that’s the compromise the player makes. Less salary tomorrow in exchange for stability today.

Of course, we’ve gone this far without mentioning Moustakas is represented by the Boras Corp. It’s certainly true Boras prefers his clients to hit the free market, he has shown a willingness to negotiate a long-term deal for a player who wishes to remain in a particular city. Think Carlos Gonzalez with Colorado a couple of years ago. Besides, the Royals have dealt with Boras often since Moore joined the team 10 years ago. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship.

Still, I think there is too much risk involved. My money is on a two-year deal. We shall find out very soon.

 

Bandwagon fans.

If you wear Royals’ gear these days, there is a decent chance you will have to justify just how long you have been a fan. Outside of the region, you can almost bank on it.  In the region, the ‘diehard’ fans – half of whom cannot name more than three players on another team – will be certain they are better fans and have been so longer than you.  Such is life when you are a fan of a winner.  And yes, that felt really good to type.

Truthfully, there is not a team in the history of professional sports that does not lose popularity when it loses games and very few that don’t gain popularity when they win.  That is human nature.  The casual fan becomes serious when his team is good and becomes disinterested when it loses.  Listen, I have been a Royals fan since I was a kid in the seventies (long enough ago that Cookie Rojas remains my favorite player) and, living in Nebraska, I made fewer treks to Kansas City in the 100 loss seasons than I did the past few years.  I still came down, just not as often.

Hey, if you are one of the 14,000 or so who have shown up every night of every baseball season since whenever, good for you.  Now, shut up about it.   If the family in front of you whose first Royals’ gear in the hats they bought on their way to their seats wonders ‘if Jarrod Dyson is new’, don’t get all offended.  They weren’t there four years ago and neither were the two couples down the way on a double date and guess what, the guy next to you who DOES know everything there is to know about Dyson was there by himself instead of having the wife and kids along.   Do you like your defending World Champions spending $130 million on payroll this season?  Well, you need those folks around you.

You need the guy in Kentucky who stopped wearing his Yankee’s hat and bought a Royals’ shirt (and likely will be wearing a Cubs jacket two years from now). You need the Royals on ESPN, even if the announcers don’t know as much about the team as you do or…GASP!.. might even be a woman. You want the Blue Jays and Orioles and whomever else to no longer admire you, but hate you. You want 2.7 million fans instead of the 1.9 million the Royals drew in 2014 or the even smaller number they drew way back when (although contrary to the opinion on the coasts, there were live bodies in the stands for every single Royals’ game during that time).  So what if one million of those folks disappear when the Royals lose 91 games at some point in the future?

There is nothing unique about the popularity of the Kansas City Royals.  Toronto drew half a million more in 2015 over 2014.  The Yankees drew 300,000 less and Philadelphia drew just 1.8 million for the season.  It ebbs and flows, folks, and you are kidding yourself if you think it doesn’t happen everywhere.  Hell, I’m in the heart of Husker football and I see Oregon hats.  I might smirk a little, but I’d rather watch Oregon play football over Nebraska right now, too!

So, yeah, Opening Night tickets are expensive on the secondary market.  Traffic will be awful and many in the crowd will get up to get a beer, a snack, a trinket or bobble and, yes, EVEN disturb you during an inning to go to the bathroom.  Get over it, give them a high five when Gordon doubles off the wall in right-center on April 3rd.  Enjoy the noise, enjoy the crowd, enjoy the winning. Enjoy the fact that your franchised agreed to the two largest contracts in its history because it just could.

Not everyone has to be a great and knowledgeable baseball fan and not everyone needs to know that you are.  You know and I know that a full stadium, even one that gets excited at routine fly balls but does not notice an infield hit, is way better than being three empty seats down from the guy who brought his own peanuts and is certain he can distract the opposing pitcher be saying ‘Going!’ on every pitch…and it is quiet enough that it is actually possible.

The Royals unveiled a new commercial over the weekend. They did the same last year, running a spot during a local break in the Super Bowl. It’s strong.

The spot opens with three iconic home runs from last October. First up is the best one, in my opinion: Alex Gordon going over the batter’s eye in dead center in Game One of the World Series. That’s followed by Alcides Escobar’s inside the park job off the leg of Yoenis Cespedes, then Kendrys Morales’s we discussed on Thursday in Game Five of the ALDS to put the game out of reach. Kind of funny that a franchise that doesn’t hit home runs starts their 2016 marketing campaign with three in a row. Rumor is, they couldn’t find any footage of Royals batters taking walks. I kid, I kid. Those home runs were amazing and they all have earned a rightful spot in the pantheon of tremendous Royals at bats.

Then you have Eric Hosmer’s slide across home and Drew Butera jumping into Wade Davis’s arms. Cut to the parade. Party time.

The spot is decidedly smaller budget than last year’s tour of Kansas City with images projected on buildings and landmarks. The only special effect in this spot is the removal of all color except for the blue in a couple of scenes. That is a cool effect and the spot could have used more of it. We’ve seen this footage thousands of times (if you haven’t, what the hell is wrong with you?) so it’s OK to desaturate here or there, or to boost the contrast to give it a different feel. The parade is in the spot likely to highlight the connection between the team and the fans, which is definitely the correct call. I still scoff at the estimate of 800,000 people, but that’s just picking nits. Whatever the number, say there were a ton downtown for the celebration, and I would nod my head in agreement.

If you get right down to it, the Royals don’t have to spend a ton of marketing cash. Ticket sales are probably though the roof and The K is going to be packed all summer. It would’ve been nice to have a more polished TV spot like last year’s, but when you have a drawer full of postseason highlights, that’s plenty. It’s not a great spot, but it’s a good one, and that’s all they need.

The only thing missing was a Salvador Perez Gatorade bath. Which is kind of surprising because the billboard the team put up last week at Southwest Trafficway and Westport Road was epic.

I mean, this is great. Really, really great. The Perez celebratory bath should have it’s own hashtag. At this point, it’s as much of the Royals as the fountains at The K. Hell, yes. Market around that.

The billboards have become legend the last couple of years. So much so, there’s some solid anticipation ahead of the unveiling every winter. This year’s entry may be the best of the bunch. If it was possible, I would pour a celebratory bucket of Gatorade on the billboard. How’s that for meta?

Overall, I’m much happier the team and their advertising agency brought back the Forever Royal slogan from last year. Whatever works, right? Yet it’s more than that. You won’t find someone more worn out by the trite and cliched Royals slogans than me. And let’s face it, the Royals have had some really, really bad ones over the years. In fact, the slogans are usually easily ignored and forgotten, noticed only when you had a pocket schedule lying around. But there’s something about Forever Royal that resonates. There is power in permanence. It reminds everyone the last two years have been about a rebirth of baseball and the Royals in Kansas City and it’s something that will always stay with us. This may seem cliche, but this Royals team has brought the city together in ways I don’t think anyone believed was possible. I loved the slogan last year. I love it even more today.

It’s the perfect slogan for the perfect time.

I was wrong about Kendrys Morales.

If there’s any comfort in the above statement, it’s that I wasn’t alone in my skepticism.

Let’s rewind ourselves. After the 2014 season, the Royals bid farewell to folk hero Billy Butler and declared the designated hitter spot to be an open space among hitters on the roster. Maybe the Royals would rotate a few guys in the postition, to give some a break from duties in the field. Maybe someone would step forward and take charge enough to get three or four games a week. Ha. We know Ned Yost doesn’t play that game. He likes a set roster with set roles.

So the Royals went and signed free agent Morales to a two year deal with $17 million. Morales made $6.5 million in 2015, is due $9 million in 2016 and has a – wait for it – mutual option worth $11 million for 2017 with a $1.5 million buyout. That was a lot of scratch to give a player who struggled the seasons before joining the Royals, posting the worst offensive season of his career. Myriad reasons were given for Morales’s lack of offense, most of which focused on the qualifying offer that depressed his market and prevented him from signing until June. Missing spring and the first couple months of the season, Morales never got on track. So said the conventional wisdom.

Because this is the Royals, we really should have seen how this was going to end. Morales rewarded the faith of the Royals with the second best offensive season of his career, and his best since he shattered an ankle celebrating a walk-off grand slam in 2010. Quite a rebound.

A switch-hitter, Morales has historically been stronger from the left side of the plate. His career OPS is roughly 90 points higher from this side. He comes by it honestly, as his ability to reach base and his power are both better when he hits left-handed. That’s pretty much how his 2015 season played out, with much better production coming when Morales hit from the left side. However, the gap wasn’t as pronounced when it came to reaching base. The big difference was in the power department.

Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP as LHB 377 331 94 28 1 18 65 36 65 .284 .363 .538 .901 .303 111 139
vs LHP as RHB 262 238 71 13 1 4 41 22 38 .298 .359 .412 .771 .340 84 110
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/3/2016.

Morales collected 29 more extra base hits as a left-handed hitter in roughly 100 more plate appearances.

If you like your saber metrics slightly more advanced, FanGraphs had Morales at a 146 wRC+ as a left-handed hitter versus a 110 wRC+ from the right side. His left-handed batting split of 146 wRC+ is a great stat, but taken in perspective, it’s not like it stands out against the rest of the league. It’s the same amount totaled by Yoenis Cespedes and Prince Fielder, good for the 19th best wRC+ in baseball on that particular split. Yet, it was the highest total on the Royals, which is why his bat was a delight to have in this lineup. Think about the left-handed thunder at the Royals disposal: Eric Hosmer (141 wRC+), Mike Moustakas (123 wRC+), and Alex Gordon (120 wRC+). OK, thunder may be a bit of a stretch. But as Uncle Hud likes to say, “You can’t sneak a piece of cheese past a hungry rat.” How about we amend that to say something like, “You can’t sneak a right-handed pitcher past these hungry lefty bats.”

Given that his power profile tilts toward the left side, it’s not surprising Morales’s power production is to right and right-center. Here’s where his 22 home runs landed, according to Hit Tracker.

Morales_Kendrys_2015_scatter

One thing that jumps out from the chart is the fact Morales hit some absolute bombs. The power was real, and it was spectacular. According to Hit Tracker, Morales of the 22 bombs he launched, 15 were classified as having “plenty” or “no doubt” status. The average speed of the ball of the bat was 103.7 mph and his average true landing distance was a shade over 400 feet at 403.6 feet. He played his home games in a yard that is supposed to suppress power, yet there wasn’t a ballpark that could contain Morales if he caught one right in 2015.

Morales crushed the hard stuff last year, no matter what side of the plate he was standing. From PITCHf/x data collected from Brooks Baseball, if a pitcher tried to sneak a fastball past Morales in 2015, he made them pay.

Morales_PitchType

That’s pretty much the breakdown on his splits as well. If you wanted to get Morales out in 2015, you jumped ahead in the count and then you fed him offspeed and breaking pitches. Sure, that’s basically the MO against any hitter, but with Morales, it was pretty pronounced.

If you were a pitcher crazy enough to enjoy the challenge of getting the hard stuff past Morales, where would you go? Well, like any left-handed hitter, he liked pitches down and in. And like any right-handed hitter, he liked to get his arms extended to yank one to his pull field. So if I were advising a pitcher with a death wish, I’d strongly suggest he keep the pitch on the third base side of the plate and maybe keep it down. But not too far down.

Morales_HardPitches

There just weren’t holes in Morales’s offensive game in 2015. Next year is his age 33 season. Can we expect him to continue to perform at this level? Probably not. But the way he was punishing the ball last year, if there’s any falloff in production, I’d bet it would be incremental. ZiPS has Morales projected for 30 doubles and 18 home runs with a .276/.336/.444. Steamer is guesstimating 31 doubles and 19 home runs, good for a line of .270/.334/.440. I’m a little more optimistic, thinking a line of around .285/.345/.455 is a nice target.

Turns out that free agent signing in December of 2014 wasn’t such a bad piece of business.

Forever Royal

I’ve been toying around with including this feature in player profiles, but have yet to follow through. Now feels like the right time to start.

When Morales stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game Five of the ALDS, the Royals already owned a two run lead and were three outs away from advancing to the Championship Series. Morales made sure the outcome wasn’t in doubt.

A glorious moment that reveled in the high drama of the postseason. That’s exactly why these Royals October games were great theater. An elimination game. An early deficit. The Royals chip away. The lead is secure – at least it feels secure with Wade Davis in the bullpen – but there is still a nervous energy. Another run – or two – would add to the cushion and give some comfort. Screw that, says Morales, as he launches a bomb to left-center.

It was a laser, leaving his bat at 113.7 mph, the third hardest home run he hit all year, and traveling 440 feet.

Worth it.

When he signed with the Royals, we all knew that Kris Medlen was a bit of a calculated gamble.  After 335 innings of outstanding work in 2012 and 2013, Medlen had gone through Tommy John surgery for a second time, sat out all of 2014 and would not be ready at the start of 2015.  Anything the Royals got at the major league level out of Medlen in 2015 would be a bonus.

What the Royals got was 58 innings of decently okay regular season work and one good, if short, start in the post-season.  That did not re-establish Medlen as a major league pitcher on par with what he had been in 2013 or even assure him a spot in the 2016 rotation (although he does have an inside track).

To begin with, Medlen’s 94 total innings (minors, majors and post-season) in 2015 does not give anyone any assurances that he is ready to take the ball every fifth day and pitch effectively for most, if not all of the 2016 season.  More importantly, what we saw out of Medlen in 2015 was not the Kris Medlen of 2012 and 2013.

You want to give the 2016 Kansas City rotation a shot in the arm? Have Medlen pitch like it is 2013.

To be honest, I thought the key might be Medlen’s changeup.  After all, while using that pitch roughly as often as he had in 2012 and 2013, opposing hitters were swinging and missing far less.  In 2012, swung and missed 27% of the time.  That number went up to 30% in 2013.  In 2015, however, batters whiffed on just 16% of Medlen’s changeup.   More swings and misses with the change and more success, right?

Maybe.

Except opposing hitters hit just .180 against the Medlen change in 2015, after hitting .206 in 2013 and a microscopic .102 in 2012. Sure, more whiffs is a good thing, but it is not like opposing hitters were destroying Medlen when he threw a change.

They were, however, destroying him when Medlen threw a curve. In 2015, opposing hitters posted a .286 average and slugged .595 against Medlen curveballs. FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY-FIVE.  By comparison, in 2013, batters managed just a .160 average and slugged just .280.  The year before that, .184 and .245.

The reason is fairly obvious:  it’s all about the break.

In 2013, a Medlen curveball averaged a horizontal break of 6.69 inches.  In 2015, the break was just 5.76 inches.  The vertical break of his curve in 2013 was a -9.36 inches compared to a 2015 drop of -7.87 inches.  Listen, I still play a little ball and a couple of inches different in the break of a curveball does not make it any more hittable for me, but for Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout or, hell, Jackie Bradley Jr. or Wilson Ramos would certainly notice the difference.

Now, not lost in all of this, Medlen’s velocity was up across the board.  Fastballs up a solid mile per hour from before, curve ball up a two as was the change (up four from 2012).  That is not unusual, I hear, for pitchers to have more velocity post-surgery and, probably, less touch.

So, is the change we need to watch (i.e. hope?) this spring or the curve? More likely, it is both. The secondary pitches take more time, be it post-injury or just getting going each spring and it seems quite possible that Medlen simply did not get the innings to get the ‘feel’ back.

Of course, maybe the ‘feel’ just isn’t going to come back. It has happened to more than one pitcher, even in these modern sports medicine times.

Oh, my friends, but what if Medlen does get it back?  What if the 2016 Kris Medlen is the guy we saw pitch in Atlanta in 2012 and 2013, with this Royals’ defense and bullpen behind him?

What if?

Don’t mind me. I’m just over here fooling around with the Baseball Reference Play Index

We are all Royals fans, so I don’t think what I’m going to tell you is a revelation: The Royals abhor the base on balls. Like actively go out of their way to avoid it. Of course, they’ll tell you that’s bunk. It’s just the way things are! And besides, they won the World Series!™ (I’m beginning to think the previously bold phrase will be present in every post from now on.)

Anyway, the numbers don’t like. Last summer the Royals walked in 6.3 percent of all plate appearances. That walk rate was the lowest in the AL and was tied for the lowest in all of baseball with the Miami Marlins.

Unlike the Royals, you could say I’m obsessed with walks. Maybe it’s because when I played the game, it was my best shot at reaching base. Or maybe it’s because when I watch a Royals game these days, it’s a pretty rare occurrence. Not as rare as an Alcides Escobar inside the park home run, but… pretty rare. So I decided on a windy February night to pull some numbers related to the Royals and walks.

— Already noted above was the fact the Royals finished last in the AL in walk rate. You have to go back all the way to 2010 to find the last time the Royals didn’t finish in the basement. That year they finished… Second to last.

— The current trends aren’t helping the Royals. Or maybe the Royals aren’t helping the current trends. The average walk rate has dropped since 2010, going from 8.5 percent to last year’s 7.7 percent.

— There were 241 walks issued with the bases loaded last year. The Royals drew four of them. That was the lowest number in baseball.

Lorenzo Cain drew two of those free passes, both within a few days of each other in April. The game on April 13 was the infamous JR Graham game where the young Twins reliever broke Alex Rios‘s hand, then proceeded to cough up a single and a pair of walks, the last of which was the bases loaded one to Cain, before he was mercifully pulled. Kendrys Morales drew a four pitch walk to plate an insurance run against the White Sox in July. That was a big one, because Greg Holland blew the save in the ninth, but the Royals held on through extras and won in the 13th. And Alex Rios is the final entry on this list, driving in the first run of the August 6 game against Detroit. That was the game where the Royals couldn’t hold their early three run lead, but made up a three run deficit in the later innings, only to lose the game on the Ian Kinsler home run off Ryan Madson in the bottom of the ninth.

— In 2015, a team opened their offensive portion of a game with a walk 144 times. That seems like a low number. I mean, there are 30 teams that play 162 games each. (Except Cleveland and Detroit, who played just 161 games. How did I miss that?) That’s a total of 4,858 opportunities to start a game with a walk.

Three times in 2015, the Royals opened their offensive portion of the game with a walk. Surprise, surprise, each time it was Alcides Escobar. Maybe it’s not so surprising, considering Escobar hit at the top of the order in 131 games, so he certainly had opportunity. Motive? That’s another thing. We know he’s all about reaching Peak Escobar, but we should be nice and realize that three walks leading off the game isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s around the median for leadoff hitters. Curtis Granderson and Matt Carpenter each walked seven times leading off a game, which was the most in baseball last year.

— On the other hand, Royals pitchers opened the game with a walk three times last year. Yordano Ventura did it twice and the other one belonged to Jeremy Guthrie.

The first time Ventura did it was on May 24, it was Kolten Wong who drew the honor. Ventura followed that up with another walk to Carpenter. In fact, seven of Ventura’s first eight pitches were out of the zone. A single and a double followed. Disaster in a 6-1 Royals loss.

Guthrie’s game-opening free pass happened on July 8 in Tampa. It was the first of three walks that inning. Somehow, Guthrie avoided surrendering a run. That was the game the Royals hung nine runs on Chris Archer, so it was all good.

Ventura’s second leadoff walk was issued in a game on August 27 against the Orioles. It was an inning of true outcome perfection. Ventura walked Manny Machado leading off the game then went strikeout, walk, strikeout, strikeout to close the frame. This, you may recall, was Ventura’s 11 strikeout game, which was a season high. This start earned a Game Score of 75, which was his second highest total of the year. So not everything has to be terrible when a pitcher opens a game with a walk.

What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. Just a fun walk through a handful of games and some silly, isolated instances where the Royals did (or didn’t) draw a walk. Just a diversion to pass the time until the real games start. Thankfully, Play Index is around to help us pass the time.

And by the way, the Royals won the World Series!™

There have been a number of surprises this off-season, but barring one more, the rightfield job for the Kansas City Royals is Jarrod Dyson’s to lose.

Now, that very sentence is quite possibly not accurate.  Most of us assume Dyson will be part of a platoon due to his noted inability to hit left-handers and there exists the very real possibility that when Dyson starts it will be in center with Lorenzo Cain sliding to right. We can debate the exact outfield alignment as the spring progresses (frankly it is hard to go wrong when your tools are Gordon, Cain and Dyson), but without question Jarrod Dyson can go and get it with anyone in the league….including Lorenzo Cain.

In 2015, Cain ranked fourth among all outfielders with 18 defensive runs saved.  Kevin Kiermaier led all outfielders (and everyone else) with 42 runs saved.  Dyson? He was credited with 11 DRS, which would have tied him for ninth in baseball with Gregory Polanco.  Of course, if you are thinking ahead, you have already noted that all of those nine outfielders tied with or above Dyson all played well over 1,000 innings.   Jarrod logged just 560 innings in 2015.  Pick your metric, do the math and you come up with what your eyes already told you: Dyson can play defense on par with any outfielder in the game.

And 2015 was not an outlier, either.  Pick any year and conduct the same exercise and Dyson still comes out among the best in defense. Of course, most of those numbers come playing center.  He has logged less than 200 major league innings in either left or right.  This inexperience would seem a minor concern as it is hard to envision  a centerfielder with Dyson’s speed having too much trouble adapting to right and his UZR ratings in limited action would seem to at least start to confirm that observation.

Defense was not your concern though, was it?

Offensively, the question has always been – or maybe skepticism is the better phrase – how would Dyson hold up over a full season at the plate or at least a full season on the big half of a platoon.

For his career, Dyson is a .250/.320/.343 hitter. If you take his 243 plate appearances and the accompanying .211 batting average out of the equation, Dyson is a .266/.329/.367 hitter.  Couple a line like that with Dyson’s defense and speed and you have, well, you have a player who might well be worth 2.5 WAR (as he was in 2013) or even 3.1 WAR (as in 2015). Your worst case is something on par with what Dyson gave the Royals last season: 1.8 fWAR.

While those Wins Above Replacement values came with Dyson working in a part time role and aided by his frequent use as a pinch-runner, twice as many innings on defense will go a long ways towards making up for offensive shortcomings that may become apparent as the plate appearances pile up.

Will there be shortcomings?

There are some indications to support that, not the least of which that Dyson’s walk rate has declined each year since 2012.  Last year, Dyson also bunted for a hit just twice as opposed to 14 times the year before and 10 times in 2013 (in just 13 more plate appearances than in 2015). For a speedster with a problematic bat, less walks and less bunt hits is not a great approach to up one’s on-base percentage.  If Dyson is not on-base, his best offensive tool helps no one.

On the flip-side however, while Jarrod is swinging more, he is increasing his contact percentage – both in and outside of the zone. In the process of making more contact, he has also managed to keep his ground ball to fly ball ratio (well over 2 to 1) the same and, in 2014, actually hit even more ground balls. If you are not going to walk and, be it by your own doing or the opposing defenses, not going to bunt for hits, all the better to swing, make contact and run like hell.

That is really it, isn’t it?  Sure, we could delve into Dyson’s value against pitches. I could show you pictures or more data that proves what you already knew:  Dyson is an elite defender. How much value is lost from the 12 games Dyson was strategically inserted into a game as a pinch runner versus having him on defense for an extra 500 innings?

All things being equal, the Royals (like me) seem prepared to see just what Dyson can do if given regular work. The million dollar question is will Ned Yost truly platoon Dyson with a right-handed bat or do something not so traditional? It may well turn out that the best platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson is having Dyson playing defense and hoping he eeks out a hit or two here and there against left-handed pitching.

No matter the scenario, we will see a lot more of Jarrod Dyson this season. By and large, I think that is a good thing.

Right about the time I hit “publish” on the old blogging dashboard yesterday, the ever-reliable Jon Heyman came up with some info Royals fans had been jonesing for for about a week and a half. The Ian Kennedy numbers! The Ian Kennedy numbers!

This helps settle the Royals payroll situation as we’re about three weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s dissect the contract itself.

For starters, it’s not a surprise Kennedy is playing for $7.5 million this year. The Royals are approaching the $130 million threshold, so if they had spread the guaranteed cash evenly, that would have tacked $6.5 million in the column for 2016. That may not seem like a lot of cash when you think to yourself, “Hey! Omar Infante is set to make $8 million!” But this is the Royals. There will never be a situation where every dollar doesn’t count. It’s also not surprising that the contract takes a jump next season, but doesn’t go all the way. Again, we’re expecting 2017 to be the end of the run of the current core. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, and even Danny Duffy will be departing as free agents. That means this group will be at their maximum earning while under the Royals employ.

We could include Kennedy in that group as well. His contract contains an opt out following 2017. That’s the catch. This is a heavily backloaded contract, where Kennedy is due $21 million before he’s eligible to walk, and a whopping $49 million over the final three years.

It’s still a ways off, but this feels like a trap contract. Kennedy will be in his age 32 season in 2017. It’s possible he does well enough and pitchers salaries escalate to the point where it would make sense for him to walk away from $49 million covering his age 33 to 35 seasons, but there’s a real risk here. If Kennedy stumbles at any point in the next two seasons… If he suffers an injury… That big money looks like a potential albatross.

It feels like the Royals tendered this contract in the hopes Kennedy could contribute over the next two seasons, when the window is open, followed by him triggering the opt out and removing the $49 million guillotine hanging over the franchise.

You may think I’m down on this signing, but I’m not. Not really. I think there’s a strong chance Kennedy rebounds and delivers a couple of decent seasons for the Royals. In fact, I’d take his Steamer projection of 2.0 fWAR and tack on at least another win. We’ve discussed this before, but I fully expect his home run rate to normalize and for Kennedy to benefit with a real outfield defense behind him for 30-plus starts. Call it the Volquez Effect. And if Kennedy can hit that fWAR, he’s already paid for his first two seasons with that kind of value. At $7.5 million, the Royals are paying him as a sub 1.0 fWAR starter.

It’s the opt out that will keep Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust awake at night.

So, about that payroll… I project (with help from Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors) the Royals 2016 Opening Day payroll will be just above $127 million. Here’s how it breaks down for the next five seasons:

Payroll012716

A quick word on the color codings. Blue is a buyout on an option. Green is when a player is eligible for free agency. And red is an estimate of arbitration.

Some more housekeeping… There are 26 players listed because Jason Vargas will open the year on the disabled list. His salary counts toward the Opening Day roster. Then there’s the issue of the insurance. I’m not entirely certain how that is handled, but I would assume the Royals would collect at the end of the year, once it’s determined how much time Vargas has missed. It’s possible the Royals won’t be eligible to collect the full amount of the rumored $6 million they have in insurance.

Plus, don’t think the players listed above are set in stone. The Royals will owe some money to a third catcher, but I don’t see any scenario where they keep both Drew Butera and Tony Cruz. (Besides, Butera is giving the baseball from the final out of the World Series to the Royals Hall of Fame. This makes him the favorite in the backup catching competition in my mind. Butera forever!) And there’s a strong chance someone like Dillon Gee makes the roster at the expense of someone like Tim Collins. Gee will make $2 million if he makes the team, but he has an early spring opt out if he’s not on the 40-man roster. That’s why the dollar value on the Kennedy contract is so important (and low) for 2016. They need the wiggle room just based on what can still happen with the players they have in camp.

And finally, buyouts are noted, but they are applied to the end of the year totals of the previous season. So the money the Royals gave to Alex Rios and Jeremy Guthrie goes on the books for 2015, not 2016. So basically, my own chart is a little goofed for 2017. I have the Royals on the hook for $82.5 million, but really it’s closer to $73.5 million at the moment. That in itself is amazing. The Royals have topped that only four times in franchise history. And they’ve committed that much cash to just eight players! We live in exciting times, my friends.

 

Some random notes as the search for Ian Kennedy ended this morning. (Discussion on his contract and payroll implications coming soon.)

— Baseball Prospectus released their top 10 Royals prospects. Not surprising Raul Mondesi, Jr. was the first choice here. The prospect mavens at BP hang a 60 grade on the shortstop who made his debut in the 2015 World Series, which rates as a “first division regular.”

Second is Kyle Zimmer. He projects as a 2/3 starter according to BP. That gives the Royals a strong consensus within their organization as their top two prospects, given that was the rank assigned by Baseball America and Minor League Ball.

The takeaway from this writeup seems to be the system has thinned out since the deadline trades last summer. Hey, flags fly forever, but there was a price that was paid. There’s no way I would change a thing, but facts are facts. So as you travel down beyond the top two, there’s not a lot in the way of impact. It seems like we’ve been beating this drum all winter, but this is why it was so essential they bring back Alex Gordon and sign a mid-rotation starter. There feels like little hope to keep this core together, so it’s essential the team maximizes their current window of opportunity.

Enjoy today, everyone.

— It’s nice that Bubba Starling has reentered the prospecting consciousness. While last summer was unexpected, yet incredibly enjoyable, it’s smart to continue to temper expectations. His name makes the BP list at number five with the usual raves about his defense (which has been major league ready since the draft) combined with some encouraging marks about his approach at the plate and pitch recognition.

That’s encouraging to be sure, but to me, this summer is the key. He needs to prove he can take those adjustments at the plate to another level. Literally and figuratively. Let’s see how well he does in Omaha before we start penciling him into the Royals 2018 outfield.

— Royals FanFest is this weekend at Bartle Hall downtown.

FanFest is a fun experience, albeit overrated. It sounds like things will be a little different this year, with timed entry and a World Series trophy to view and all that, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m not an autograph hound, and I’m fairly sure my restraining order against noted felon Sluggerrrr is still in place, so I’m not going to be visiting any of the games they’ll have for the younger fans.

What FanFest is good for; it’s an opportunity to get a baseball fix during January. You’re with fellow fans and surrounded by baseball. For the winter, that’s pretty good.

— If you’re interested in putting Royals fandom on your car, you can now obtain a Royal-centric license plate from the state of Missouri (That’s where the Royals play. This seems like a relevant point after those clever “Oz” signs we’ve seen the last two Octobers.) It takes a $35 donation to Royals Charities, which seems simple enough.

It really would have been cool if they had incorporated the World Series trophy into the design. Or the tagline “2015 World Champions.” Because when you’re driving around eastern Missouri, having that on your plate would be kind of fun. Could you imagine the reaction? I can. It’s fun.

Those of us from “Oz” will have to go with the old fashioned way of showing our Royals pride on our cars: Bumper stickers and window clings.

— I know you’ve been missing them, but I figure the player profiles will return soon. Kendrys Morales is in the works. Promise.

— Ian Kennedy is not currently on the list of Royals scheduled to attend FanFest.

It’s been percolating under the surface the last few months. On Monday, Jon Heyman threw it out there: The Royals and Salvador Perez are talking about restructuring his contract.

To call Perez’s contract “team-friendly” is an affront to team-friendly contracts. Signed nearly four years ago, it continues to be the standard of bad decision making by a player and his agent. Maybe “bad decision” is a tad too harsh, but it was difficult to imagine how Perez wouldn’t be worth more than the Royals were paying at this point in his deal.

To fully comprehend how team-friendly this contract is, we need to jump into the wayback machine to when Perez and the Royals reached their agreement. At that point, Perez had been a major leaguer for two months, making his debut in Tampa on August 10 of 2011. The Royals paid money upfront for Perez’s first three years of club control – about $3.25 million against the roughly $1.5 million he would have made had the Royals just renewed his contract every year. Where things got crazy was in the arbitration years. The Royals agreed to pay Perez $1.75 million in his first year of eligibility in 2015, $2 million for his second year, and they hold a team option at $3.75 million for what would have been his third and final year of arbitration eligibility.

To gain perspective, it’s useful to find comps. According to Baseball Reference similarity score, Wilson Ramos is among Perez’s top 10. Ramos was eligible for arbitration for a third time this winter, and coming off a down offensive season, signed for $5.35 million. Last year, his second year of arbitration eligibility, after playing in just 88 games the year before, Ramos inked a deal for $3.55 million.

Ramos gets very positive marks for his defense, but has been plagued by injuries over his career and has never won a Gold Glove. Nor has he been an All-Star. Fold into the comparison equation that Perez has seen his home run production climb each of the last four years. Remember, when an arbiter decides a contract, the arguments are weighted toward accomplishments and raw counting numbers. OPS+ and WAR aren’t much of a factor. Home runs and RBI count. I would imagine the same holds true with defensive metrics. Particularly for catchers.

Maybe a better comp would be Matt Wieters. Through his first four seasons, Wieters was a two-time All-Star and won a pair of Gold Gloves. He also hit 65 home runs, the exact same total Perez has at this point in his career. For his second trip through the arbitration process, Wieters made $7.7 million.

This is just a very rough comparison, but it’s pretty obvious that Perez should be making more money at this point in his career than the $3.55 Ramos made in 2015. If anything, he should be making Wieters money. He’s going to make $2 million.

The arguments in favor of restructuring Perez’s deal fall firmly on the side of public relations. First and foremost, it’s about keeping one of their core happy. Perez started talking last year about his contract and expressed an interest in renegotiating. He’s underpaid. By a lot. He knows he’s underpaid. I mean, he has to know, right? The last thing the Royals want or need is to have one of their team leaders disgruntled.

A potential benefit to renegotiating would be how the Royals would look to the rest of the players in the league. The Royals have developed a reputation of having a very player-friendly environment. Ned Yost

The downside to all of this is Perez’s declining production.

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2011 21 39 158 148 20 49 8 2 3 21 7 20 .331 .361 .473 .834 128
2012 22 76 305 289 38 87 16 0 11 39 12 27 .301 .328 .471 .798 115
2013 ★ 23 138 526 496 48 145 25 3 13 79 21 63 .292 .323 .433 .757 105
2014 ★ 24 150 606 578 57 150 28 2 17 70 22 85 .260 .289 .403 .692 91
2015 ★ 25 142 553 531 52 138 25 0 21 70 13 82 .260 .280 .426 .706 89
5 Yrs 545 2148 2042 215 569 102 7 65 279 75 277 .279 .306 .431 .737 100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2016.

Those are some disturbing trends as he enters what should be the prime of his career. His raw home run totals have progressed, but his plate discipline is off the charts awful. The last two years, he’s chased roughly 45 percent of pitches he sees outside the strike zone. His walk rate has gone from an awful 4.4 percent his rookie year to an abysmal 2.4 percent last season. I’d say I have no idea why opposing pitchers throw him strikes, but there are so many happy Wild Card flashbacks, I’m not certain it matters so much.

As he’s become a less patient hitter at the plate, he’s spent more time than anyone behind the plate. Perez has caught more innings than anyone over the last two seasons – and that’s not even accounting for his October workload. Folding those innings into his totals and he practically laps the field. Next year is his age 26 season, but there are serious questions about his ability to stay behind the plate due to his use by the team. It’s understandable the Royals would think Perez is so valuable he should start the lion’s share of the games, but there needs to be some common sense deployed. A healthy, rested Perez is a more productive Perez.

I’m not sure the Royals should bend over backward in the renegotiation. After all, the Royals have all the power in the situation. Perez is still a mighty valuable member of this team, but his declining production and demanding position should make the club wary. If they do come to an agreement, I would expect it to be backloaded to a degree. Maybe they guarantee his remaining options and add a couple more with a larger than normal buyout for some of the security he surrendered when he signed a few years ago. If there’s more guaranteed money involved, I can’t imagine it would be much more than a couple million for the next couple of seasons. As it stands, payroll looks to be around a club record $130 million. Why would the Royals feel the need to add to that when it’s unnecessary?

Either way, the Royals will come to an agreement that will keep their backstop happy. And as Heyman notes, it will probably come around the time of Fanfest. A new deal for a fan favorite that should remain relatively team-friendly. Everyone wins.

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