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If you have been a regular reader to this site (thanks, by the way) and more particularly a regular reader of my contributions here, you will know that I have been wrestling with whether the Royals are or should do something to become a contender in 2012.   We have looked at previous ‘bad teams’ that bounced into contention seemingly overnight and tried to decide if prospects should be hoarded or traded.

Truthfully, there is no right answer.   I was going to write that, of course, the 2011 Royals are a much better team than the 2008 Royals were – the same 2008 team that Dayton Moore thought was a Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp away from contention.    Except, the 2008/2009 Royals had Zack Greinke, Gil Meche and a on-top-0f-his-game Joakim Soria.   Even that ‘fact’ can be debated and, if so, then so can the question of contending in 2012 or not.

That said, I woke up this morning with shocking clarity on the subject.   A clarity which, I’m sure, will last at least until the middle of the week.

Dayton Moore and the Royals should, for the most part, stand pat.   That does not mean that the Royals are necessarily giving up on 2012 and, once more, spending a season ‘playing for next year’.

That runs counter to one of my main premises that prospects are currently horrifically overvalued in baseball.   For every Eric Hosmer there are two Justin Hubers.  Every Alex Gordon is counterbalanced by an Andy Marte.    There are handfuls of Ken Harveys for every Billy Butler and bushel baskets full of Kila Ka’aihues for every Travis Hafner.   That said, I would rather bank on Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers than trade them for James Shields…at least for now.

I think even the most optimistic Royals’ fan would admit that a number of things have to go right for Kansas City to be a true contender in 2012.    The list is long, possible, but long:

  • Joakim Soria has to return to form.
  • Luke Hochevar has to be the pitcher he was in the second half of 2011.
  • Danny Duffy needs to take a step forward.
  • Mike Montgomery needs to emerge sometime early in 2012 as a solid to top of the rotation starter.
  • Felipe Paulino needs to be at least as good as he was in 2011 and someone needs to nail down the fifth spot in a competent manner.   This might be where you resign Bruce Chen – THERE, I said it!
  • The young bullpen needs to be as good as it was in 2011.
  • Eric Hosmer needs to become a star.
  • Alex Gordon needs to be the guy he was in 2011…or close to it.
  • Billy needs to remain Billy.
  • Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Lorenzo Cain, in some combination, need to not regress too much over what the center and rightfield positions contributed in 2011.
  • Mike Moustakas needs to hit for power.
  • Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez need to play stellar defense and hold their own at the plate.
  • Someone needs to contribute at second base:  not with grit and the ‘little things’ and not with ‘potential’.   Giavotella probably deserves the first shot simply because he had 15 extra base hits in 187 plate appearances and Chris Getz hit 9 in 429.  Yes, Getz is a better defender, but he’s not Frank White and the simple fact is that with Escobar and Perez already in the lineup, the Royals are going to need some punch from second base.  The Royals need Giavotella or maybe Yamaico Navarro to provide that if they want to contend.
  • The Royals need to stay healthy.

That is a long, long list, but it is also not asking for Ruben Gotay to become an All-Star, either.    There is nothing completely outrageous in the above expectation…other than hoping that they ALL happen.

Here is the deal, though.   Even if Dayton Moore goes and gets a true ace pitcher AND a solid middle of the rotation guy, the Royals will still need a big percentage of the above list to come true.   If that is the case, then does it not make sense to stay the course and see what the current group can accomplish?

They may fall flat on their faces to start 2012 or they may contend into a month that starts with ‘J’.   Under either scenario, the course of action for Dayton Moore will be much clearer in July 0f 2012 than it will be now.    You run the risk that Wil Myers still doesn’t hit in the high minors, that Montgomery still battles the strike zone, that Cheslor Cuthbert flails in High A ball and suddenly Moore finds himself with a less than desirable pool of prospects to deal for help.   It is a risk, but one worth taking.

The market for what Kansas City wants most (starting pitching) is pretty thin this year.   The price, be it money or prospects, is likely to be higher than warranted.   I don’t view making the big move to bolster the rotation as good a risk as simply staying the course and hoping that a lot of the bullet points above come true.   It is not the flashy, eye-catching, let’s sell more season tickets kind of move that many are hoping for, but it may be the smartest move.

The Detroit Tigers will not play in the World Series this year, but they did win 95 games and the American League Central:  the same total as they did in 2006.   The 2011 Tigers topped the .500 mark for the fifth time in the past six seasons, but the 2006 squad was the first Detroit team to best 81 wins since 1993.    Between the two strike shortened seasons and 2006, the Tigers failed to win SIXTY games three times.

Given that dismal stretch, the 2006 Tigers truly did make a dramatic leap from bad to contenders (and more), just as the Twins and Rays did as detailed in previous columns.   So, how did they do it?

The 2005 Detroit Tigers went 71-91 in Alan Trammell’s third year as manager.   They did so with this lineup:

  • Ivan Rodriguez C
  • Chris Shelton 1B
  • Placido Palanco 2B
  • Carlos Guillen SS
  • Brandon Inge 3B
  • Rondell White LF
  • Nook Logan CF
  • Magglio Ordonez RF
  • Dmitri Young DH

This lineup is a tad misleading in that Craig Monroe played in 157 games that year for the Tigers and basically played left and right as much as White and Ordonez, who was signed as a free agent during the off-season.   Also, Omar Infante played in 121 games split between shortstop and second base.    Palanco was acquired in a June trade for Ramon Martinez and Ugeth Urbina and hit .338/.386/.461 for the Tigers.     Carlos Pena split time with Shelton at first and each slugged 18 home runs.   As an offensive unit, the Tigers were not bad at all:  9 of the 12 players mentioned above posted OPS+ of 100 or better and one of the remaining three was Ivan Rodriguez who was an All-Star in his second season with the Tigers.

The Detroit starting rotation boasted four pitchers who tossed 189 innings or more, but none that managed an ERA under 4.48.   Jason Johnson (31 years old), Mike Maroth (27), Nate Robertson (27) and Jeremy Bonderman (22) posted remarkably similar numbers, with earned run averages betwee 4.48 and 4.74 while throwing between 189 innings and 210 innings.   Sean Douglass and Wil Ledezma split the number five rotation spot and neither pitched particularly well.

In the pen, Fernando Rodney, Kyle Farnsworth, Jamie Walker, Franklyn German and Chris Spurling were the leaders in innings among Tiger relievers and were, by and large, quite effective.   Urbina, Troy Percival and Craig Dingman also spent time in the pen and as closers.   Actually, five relievers notched four or more saves for the Tigers.

Overall, Detroit’s offense was 11th in runs scored that season and in the middle of the pack age-wise.  The pitchers were in the middle of the pack, both in age and runs allowed.   At the end of 2005, Detroit struck this writer (and, I think others) as a team kind of meandering their way to 70-80 wins:  spending money to spend it and not really making real strides.

In the winter of 2005/2006, Detroit fired Trammell and hired Jim Leyland as manager.   They also went into the free agent market to sign 41 year old Kenny Rogers and 38 year old Todd Jones.   While the Tigers were spending money on aging veterans, they also handed the centerfield job to unproven 25 year old Curtis Granderson, inserted 23 year old Justin Verlander into the starting rotation and placed 21 year old Joel Zumaya into a key bullpen role.  All three of those players, like Inge and Rodney, were homegrown talent.

The 2006 lineup consisted of:

  • Ivan Rodriguez C
  • Chris Shelton 1B
  • Placido Palanco 2B
  • Carlos Guillen SS
  • Brandon Inge 3B
  • Craig Monroe LF
  • Curtis Granderson CF
  • Magglio Ordonez RF
  • Marcus Thames DH

Sean Casey was acquired via a trade late in the season to spell Shelton at first, while Omar Infante played a good deal of second, but the remainder of the lineup was basically there day in day out.  

Palanco was the only member of the regular lineup to not hit at least 13 home runs.    The Tigers got a monster year out of Carlos Guillen and 155 games worth of Magglio Ordonez.   With the exception of Palanco, everyone in the lineup was at least average offensively or better and as a group ranked fifth in the AL in runs scored and was league average in age.

On the mound, the $8 million given to Kenny Rogers yielded 204 innings worth of 3.84 ERA.   Both Bonderman and Robertson improved by half a run (ERA wise) while each surpassed 200 innings.   Verlander, as you surely recall, parlayed his 118 innings of minor league experience and threw 186 at the major league level with a solid ERA of 3.63.   Even Zach Miner, who was not great, was an improvement in the number five spot.

In the pen, Jones was an unconventional closer who managed to save 37 games, while Zumaya was simply unhittable.  The reminder of the group, headed by Rodney and Walker, were solid.

The pitching staff  was among the oldest in the league, thanks to Rogers and Jones, but sported the best ERA in the league.   Like our discussion of the Rays last week, the Tigers dramatically improved their pitching as part of their big leap (shocker, I know).

Unlike the Rays and Twins, Detroit did not have a ton of homegrown talent on their team and a fair number of high priced free agents.   Still, this was not simply a matter of throwing money around.   They picked up spare parts from other teams in the form of Guillen, Thames, Monroe and others that blossomed in Detroit.   They traded Jeff Weaver in exchange for Bonderman, Franklyn German and Carlos Pena  and, in the long run, gave up very little to get the serviceable Palanco and the veteran Sean Casey.

While the way the Tigers were built is probably not as good a model as that of the Rays or certainly the 2002 Twins, it is interesting in that Detroit went out and signed two veteran – very veteran – pitchers after winning just 71 games and both played big roles in vaulting the team to a World Series berth.   That is not an argument for Dayton Moore and the Royals to go out and do the same this winter, but simply something worthy of note.

In the end, I find the Twins model (yes, collective groan at that revelation) to seem to run closest to what the Royals are attempting to do.   Remember, they won their first division title without Joe Nathan and with Johan Santana as just a part time starter.   They also had an interim step on their way to a division title:  going from 69 wins in 2000 to 85 and a second place finish in 2001 to a division title and 94 wins in 2002.

Can the Royals make a similar progression?  If so, what should they do this off-season to make the leap?

Are the Kansas City Royals poised to make a big leap from 71 wins to somewhere deep into the eighties next season?  That is really the question of the year and the answer certainly is the deciding factor in what moves, if any, Dayton Moore makes this off-season.   It has been done before:  the big leap from dismal to contender or even division winner.

We started this series a week and one-half ago by reviewing the 2000-2001 Minnesota Twins and continue on today with a team that certainly went from futility to excellence overnight:  the Tampa Bay Rays.

Established in 1998, the Rays never notched more than 70 wins in their first ten seasons.   2007 was no exception as Tampa stumbled home with a 66-96 record in Joe Maddon’s second season as skipper.   They scored 782 runs, good for 8th in the American League, but allowed 944 runs which was last…by a long ways.    The Rays pitching staff was the youngest in the league (average age 26.9) and their position players were easily the youngest (26.1 – KC was next youngest with an average age of 27.9).

The 2007 Rays trotted out this primary lineup:

  • C – Dioner Navarro (23)
  • 1B – Carlos Pena (29)
  • 2B – Ty Wigginton (29)
  • SS- Brendan Harris (26)
  • 3B – Akinori Iwamura (28)
  • LF – Carl Crawford (25)
  • CF – BJ Upton (22)
  • RF – Delmon Young (21)
  • DH – Jonny Gomes (26)

  Upton (No 2 overall) and Young (No 1 overall) were first round picks, Crawford a 2nd rouner and Gomes was drafted by the Rays in the 18th round.   The rest of the lineup were acquired via free agency or trade.   Pena, signed the prior off-season, hit 46 home runs for the Rays and posted a .411 on-base percentage.  Crawford was already Crawford, Upton was a sensation posting an OPS+ of 136 with 25 doubles, 24 home runs and 22 steals, and Young played in every game as a rookie.   Overall, this was a decent offensive team with Wigginton, Harris and Iwamura all being solid at the plate and Gomes providing some pop when he happened to make contact.

As an aside, 26 year old Ben Zobrist (acquired the prior year in the Aubrey Huff deal) hit .155 in 31 games and the Rays lost troubled Josh Hamilton in the Rule 5 draft the prior winter.

The pitching staff that gave up a truly spectacular number of runs featured a rotation of:

  • James Shields (25)
  • Scott Kazmir (23)
  • Edwin Jackson (23)
  • Andy Sonnanstine (24)
  • Jason Hammel (24)

Shields and Kazmir were very good, posting sub four ERAs and both pitching over 200 innings.   Jackson was awful, Sonnanstine not any better and Hammel was worse.  J.P. Howell, Casey Fossum and Jae Seo got starts as well in the four and five slots.    Shields, Sonnanstine and Hammel were all Rays draftees, albeit none of them very high.

The bullpen was headed by 36 year old closer Ablerto Reyes, who allowed just 49 hits in 61 innings.  Unfortuneately, 13 of those hits were home runs.  Fossum, Gary Glover, Shawn Camp and Brian Stokes logged the most innings despite bascially being awful.   Others, noteworthy for a variety of reasons, who logged time in the Rays’ pen were Scott Dohmann, Dan Wheeler (acquired in trade for Wiggington), Juan Salas, Jay Witasick, Ruddy Lugo and a 29 year old Grant Balfour (who gave up 15 runs in 22 innings after being acquired in July for Seth McClung).

Basically, the Rays had a very young rotation and a bullpen full of journeymen and pitched exactly like that.   The already young rotation was bolstered in the 2007 draft with the number one overall pick of a guy named David Price.

The winter of 2007 saw the Rays sign veteran closer Troy Percival, utility corner man Eric Hinske, aging Cliff Floyd and reliever Trever Miller.   Of course, the big news of that off-season was the trade of Delmon Young, along with Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie, to Minnesota for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and, who could forget, Eduardo Morlan.

Tampa went a modest 8-11 to start the 2008 season, but won their next six to move into contention.  The bounced between first, second and third until taking first place for good on June 29th.   Although the Rays never held more than a 5.5 game lead, the young squad never wilted and wound up winning the East by 2 games and advancing to the World Series.   They did so with this lineup:

  • C – Dioner Navarro (24)
  • 1B – Carlos Pena (30)
  • 2B – Akinora Iwamura (29)
  • SS – Jason Bartlett (28)
  • 3B – Evan Longoria (22)
  • LF – Carl Crawford (26)
  • CF – BJ Upton (23)
  • RF – Gabe Gross (28)
  • DH – Cliff Floyd (35)

Hinske played in 133 games and hit 20 home runs as a ‘semi-regular bench player’.   Willy Aybar and an improving Ben Zobrist were also on the Rays’ bench.  Carlos Pena regressed (although he still hit 31 homers with a .377 OBP) and so did Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Iwamura.  None were ‘fall off the table’ bad, but none posted offensive numbers on par with what they had done the previous year.  Navarro was better, Bartlett a stabilizing influence and Longoria hit well as a rookie.   For fun, compare Longoria’s 2008 to the 2011 season of Eric Hosmer:  yet another reason to be over the top excited.

The Rays scored 744 runs in 2008, dropping to 9th in the American League.   However, after allowing 944 runs in 2007, the Tampa Bay pitchers allowed just 671 in 2008 – good for second in the league.   They did it with this rotation:

  • James Shields (26)
  • Andy Sonnanstine (25)
  • Matt Garza (24)
  • Edwin Jackson (24)
  • Scott Kazmir (24)

The top four all pitched 180 innings or more, with Shields and Garza both being very good.  Sonnanstine and Jackson both knocked full runs off their earned run averages from the year before and Kazmir was very good, but missed some starts and pitched just 152 innings.  (This was the beginning of the end for Kazmir, by the way)

The bullpen, a collection of junk the prior season, was marvelous.   Percival only threw 45 innings, but saved 28 games.   The prior year acquistions of Wheeler and Balfour turned into effective relievers and the conversion of J.P. Howell from starter to reliever was a spectacular success (92 strikeouts in 89 innings with just 62 hits allowed).  Trever Miller, Jason Hammel and late season acquisition Chad Bradford pitched in as well.   Overall, six pitchers had multiple saves for the Rays as Maddon took an uncovential approach with his relievers and enjoyed tremendous success.   David Price pitched late in the year, throwing 14 innings and positioning himself for what would be an outstanding 2009.

Overall, the Rays traded for a solid, but not ace-like, starter in Garza (sound familiar Royals’ fans?) and saw two young pitchers take a step forward in Sonnanstine and Jackson.   The bullpen, built almost entirely from minor trades and free agent signings, emerged as a dominant force. 

The position players, as a group, actually were not as good as they had been the previous season, but they were solid and, obviously, loaded with potential.   They did lead the league in stolen bases and were second in walks.   As an aside, and pay attention here Ned, the Rays were dead last in sacrifices.

While I could make a number of connections between the Twins and this year’s Royals, it is not as clear when it comes to the Rays.   Like Tampa, the Royals are looking for major improvement in their starting rotation and to acquire their own ‘Garza’ in the off-season.  Still, Tampa already had James Shields and Scott Kazmir and the Royals have nothing that approaches that level of established arms on their staff.

Tampa Bay made a huge leap (31 games) based primarily on allowing almost 270 runs LESS than the year before.   That would be a pretty hard feat for any team to replicate.

That was a fun wild card race, wasn’t it?   Someday, maybe next year, maybe the year after, us lowly Royals fans might have more than a passing interest in these late season games.   THAT will really be fun.

I plan to continue my series on teams making the leap from bad to good seemingly overnight (we broke down the 2000-2001 Twins on Monday) next week.  It’s a relevant topic given that this off-season is really going to be one big discussion over whether the Royals can really contend in 2012 and what they should do about it if they are.   We will wait until Monday for that, however.    Today, we’ll hit some quick, somewhat lighthearted topics as the most enjoyable 71-91 season has come to an end.   And yes, that sentence was written without sarcasm.

  • Eleven Kansas City Royals played enough to burn their rookie eligibility.   ELEVEN!  On top of that, ten of the non-rookies who played significant roles for this team were 27 years old or younger.  You all knew the Royals were young, but seeing those numbers in print (or whatever we call this forum) really points that out.    Interestingly, I think it is entirely possible that only two players will play enough to use up their rookie eligibility status next year (Kelvin Herrera and Mike Montgomery).
  • As excited as we might be about how this season played out and what next year might hold, it is probably wise to remember just how injury free the Royals were this year.   Bruce Chen spent time on the disabled list, but no other major contributor missed a major chunk of time (okay, Matt Treanor, too, I guess).   You can credit better conditioning, better medical and training staffs all you want, but that is also a major portion of luck.   Five position players played in 150 or more games (Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur, Escobar & Butler), while Hosmer, Moustakas, Giavotella and Perez didn’t miss a day once they were called up.    The Royals probably cannot count on that kind of luck next season.
  • As Royals’ fans, we are all thirsty for the next great player, but honestly, have you ever been so sure about a young player becoming a star than you are about Eric Hosmer?   Billy Butler was good, Zack Greinke was great, but Eric Hosmer is one of those ‘man, I wish he played for us’ kind of guys.  
  • Is it September numbers fooling us or the usual ‘Moustakas adjustment period’ that kicked in and propelled Mike to a solid .263/.309/.367 rookie line?  (Solid, based upon how absolutely awful it once was).   Who hits more home runs next year?  Moose or Hosmer?   I guess by asking that question, you can guess what my answer is to the original question.
  • I don’t want to get into too much depth on this subject, as it will be the most talked about topic all off-season, but the equation is really pretty simple.   If you believe the Royals can contend in 2012, then you have to acquire at least one front-line starter this off-season.   If you believe this team will not be ready until 2013, then you do not.
  • We can be almost certain that Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy will be in the 2012 starting rotation.  Of those three, who will have the best season?   A lot of what happens for the Royals the next couple of seasons might well be determined by whether that trio combine to be solid numbers 2, 3 and 4 types.   Should they be a shaky 3-4-5 combination, which frankly they were this year, then The Process might have a bit of a bump or two in the short-term future.
  • What about Joakim Soria?   He was not awful (we have seen awful and thy name is Burgos), but Soria certainly fell from elite closer status this year.   We have seen him gradually lose control and, hence, confidence is his curve ball over the past two seasons and I think that might have led him to experiment with different pitches this season.  You know what I would like to see more than anything else on Opening Day 2012?  Soria freezing a batter in the bottom of the ninth with that big curve.
  • Of the likely starting nine next year (Perez, Hosmer, Giavotella, Escobar, Moustakas, Gordon, Cabrera, Frenchy, Butler), who is your pick to regress and disappoint?   Which one or ones will not be in the lineup by June 15th?  
  • Is it all about being in shape?   We joke about guys showing up for spring training ‘in the best shape of their lives’, but Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur really did and had, if not great, certainly good years.   It can’t really be that simple, can it?   Was it Kevin Seitzer or a fresh start in a new place or was it ‘you are playing your way out of the league desperation’?   If it was the last one, will they both show the dedication and focus in 2012, now that they have reestablished themselves?
  • Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi are almost certainly the top three prospects in the organization and have been rumored to be untouchable in any off-season trades.   If you had to trade one, which would it be?

Even though the regular season has ended, Craig, Nick and myself will still be hear churning out content (whether you want it or not) all through the off-season.  This is shaping up to be the most exciting and, quite possibly, the most important winter in many seasons for the Kansas City Royals.

Considering they are 20 games under .500 and well out of the race for anything but not finishing last, the Kansas City Royals have given us a heck of a September.  As I mentioned on Monday (and it was hardly a unique thought), we all should be somewhat wary of getting too excited about things that happen in September.   Especially this year when the Royals are not playing anyone that has something left to play for.

That said, one can look at this Royals team and certainly see the potential to be better in 2012, maybe even dramatically ‘look whose on Sports Center again tonight’ better.   The leap from 70 wins (or wherever this team ends up) to 90 wins is not a small one, however. 

A short time back, I did some preliminary research on teams that had made leaps from bad to good in one year.   At the time, my intent was to discuss a group of them in one generic column, but as the Royals played better and the fanbase became more excited, I thought it might be more interesting to detail several of these teams in separate columns and see what sort of comparisons we could draw to the 2011 and 2012 Royals.

The three teams that have caught my eye are the 2005/2006 Detroit Tigers, the 2008/2009 Tampa Bay Rays and today’s team:  the 2000/2001 Minneosta Twins.   What all three of these organizations have in common is that they were basically bad for a long stretch of time and improved rather dramatically into contenders seemingly out of nowhere.   There are others, to be sure, but hopefully by the time I am done with these three reviews we might have some sort of feel for what sort of improvement is at least theoretically possible for our 2012 Royals.

Now, I know everyone is tired of hearing about how the Minnesota Twins just ‘do things the right way’.  In fact, it has been beaten into us for so long that I am even tired of the sarcasm and snark that follows that mantra.  You know it has gone on too long when the people making fun of something stupid have become as annoying as those who beat the dumb statement into our brains in the beginning.

Anyway, the 2000 Minnesota Twins won just 69 games, marking the eighth straight season in which they did not get over .500.   They had won just 63 games in 1999 and only 70 the year before that:  the Twins were not good and had not been good since winning 90 games in 1992.   In 2001, however, the Twins went 85-77 and were tied for first as late as August 11th.   They faded, mostly courtesy to going 2-7 versus the division winning Indians down the stretch, to finish 6 games out.   The Twins took another step in 2002, going 94-67 to win the Central and a playoff series and would go on to be .500 or better in seven of the next eight years.

Back to the year 2000.    Minnesota’s average age for position players was 26.5 and for pitchers was 26.6.  They were not crazy young, but they were young.   They were 13th in runs scored and 10th in team ERA.   Frankly, the Royals looked like a far better bet to make a leap into contention than Minnesota did back then.

According to Baseball Reference, this was the most common Minnesota lineup in 2000:

  • C – Matt LeCroy
  • 1B – Ron Coomer
  • 2B – Jay Canizaro
  • SS – Christian Guzman
  • 3B – Corey Koskie
  • LF – Jacque Jones
  • CF – Torii Hunter
  • RF – Matt Lawton
  • DH – David Ortiz

The Twins used six different catchers for 15 or more games this season, but called up 23 year old A.J. Pierzynski to start 27 of their final 41 games.    After seeing Doug Mientkiewicz flail away at a .229 clip over 118 games in 1999, Minnesota relied on Coomer at first.  However, Dougie mashed in AAA this season (.334/.406/.524) and went 6 for 14 in the final three games of the 2000 season – the only three major league games he appeared in.  Luis Rivas, at the grand old age of 20, got 64 September plate appearances in place of the forgettable Canizaro.  

In the outfield, Torii Hunter had a curious run.   After spending the entire 1999 season in the majors, Hunter found himself back in AAA by June of the following year – courtesy of a .207 batting average.   He returned on July 29th and mashed his way back to a respectable .280/.318/.408 line by season’s end.   Basically, Hunter went down a prospect and came back as Torii Freaking Hunter.

As for the rest of the lineup, Guzman was a 22 year old shortstop who played everyday, showed excellent speed and flashy, if inconsistent defense.   Koskie had an outstanding age 27 season, Lawton (28) was way better than I bet you remember (.305/.405/.460) and Jones was solid at age 25.   Although the positions don’t match up exactly, the comparison of those four to Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer can be made.   The Royals probably win that match-up, by the way, but there is a great deal of similarity in both age and production.

The next season, the Twins would trot out basically the identical lineup they ended 2000 with:

  • C – Pierzynski
  • 1B – Mientkiewicz
  • 2B – Rivas
  • SS – Guzman
  • 3B – Koskie
  • LF – Jones
  • CF – Hunter
  • RF – Lawton
  • DH – Ortiz

With the exception of Guzman (acquired with three other players for Chuck Knoblauch prior to the 1999 season) and Ortiz (acquired in a minor trade way back in 1996) every other regular was a Twins draftee or original free agent signee (Rivas).  They were not an offensive juggernaut in 2001, but did manage to move up to 8th in runs scored on their way to improving to 85 wins.  In 2002, basically the same group (save for Dustan Mohr & Bobby Kielty taking over for Matt Lawton in right) was the position player component of a division winning team. 

As an aside, the super utility man on all three Twins’ teams discussed above was Denny Hocking, who appeared in over 100 games in all three seasons.   Denny, of course, ended up on the 106 loss 2005 Royals that featured a who’s who of utility infielders (Tony Graffanino, Joe McEwing, Andres Blanco…)

Of course, position players are pretty much one half of the equation.   The 2000 Twins featured a starting rotation of Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Joe Mays, Mark Redman and a truly awful combination of Sean Bergman (9.66 ERA) and J.C. Romero (7.02 ERA).   Although just 27, Radke was already finishing off his sixth major league season and his fifth straight 200+ inning campaign and finished with an ERA of 4.45 (261 hits in 226 innings).   Milton was 24 during the season, throwing 200 innings for the second straight year, albeit with an unimpressive 4.86 ERA.   Mays was bad, but young (also 24) and Redman was tolerable, but not great (4.76 ERA in 151 innings).

The Twins’ bullpen was headed by LaTroy Hawkins, Bob Wells and Eddie Guardado, all of whom handled closer duties at one time or another during the season.   None had particularly impressive years.  Twenty-one year old Johan Santana toiled out of the pen and also started five games, but was not good at all.

Imagine the 2011 Royals with a average at best bullpen (probably not even that good, frankly) and you have the 2000 Minnesota Twins pitching staff.   Sure, Kansas City does not have a couple of innings horses like Radke and Milton, but even Kyle Davies was better than the fifth starters the Twins trotted out that year.   The construction may have been different, but the pitching staffs as a whole, were probably quite similar in overall production.

The Twins top three pitchers all stepped forward in 2001.  Radke threw his usual 200+ innings, but this time with an ERA just below four (think 2007-2008 Gil Meche, or maybe just think Brad Radke), while Milton also improved his ERA by half a run while tossing 200 innings himself.  The biggest improvement, however, was the dramatic rise of Joe Mays. 

Mays threw 233 innings with a very small 3.16 ERA – more than two runs lower than his 2000 mark – in a come out of nowhere magical season.   Mays would not only regress the following season, but would never come close to throwing major innings or being anything less than awful for the remainder of his career.    For the 2001 season, however, Joe Mays was an ace:  albeit one who struck out less than five batters per nine innings.

The rest of the rotation was not very good.  Twenty-two year old Kyle Lohse threw 90 indifferent innings (think Danny Duffy with less strikeouts but not as many walks).   Mark Redman was swapped out in favor Rick Reed during the season with below average results, while J.C. Romero was granted 11 more starts with only marginal improvement (6.23 ERA).

In the pen, Latroy Hawkins saved 28 games, but did so while walking more than he struck out.   Eddie Guardado eventually took over  and was better and on his way to being  the Guardado that would lock down the 9th inning over the coming seasons.   The rest of the group was not great, not even good, probably not even average – heck, they were neither young, nor good.

Still, this staff took a team that was average offensively to 85 wins in 2001 and would basically take them to a division title in 2002.  However, they would do so in a different fashion.

Milton would regress to his 2000 numbers, Mays would implode and Radke would only throw 118 innings.  However, Lohse threw 180 innings to a 4.23 ERA at age 23 and Reed found the fountain of youth at age 37:  going 188 innings with a sub-four ERA.   It was Reed’s best year since 1998 and he would be retired just a season later.   Also joining the rotation on a part time basis was 23 year old Johan Santana, who would post a sub-three ERA and strike out 11 batters per nine innings over 14 starts and 13 relief appearances.   The 2002 bullpen, reconfigured with Guardado as the full-time closer and Romero and Hawkins setting up was an abosolutely lock down unit.   In a lot of ways, the 2002 Twins pitching staff is what you can envision the 2012 Royals unit becoming. 

The progression that Lohse made from 2001 to 2002 could very well be what we could see in Danny Duffy next season.   While there is very little similarity between Rick Reed and Luke Hochevar, one wonders if Hochevar could post a ‘Reed like season’ in 2012.   Could Felipe Paulino play the role of Eric Milton?  Could Mike Montgomery come up mid-season and pull a ‘Santana’?  That’s not saying that Montgomery is the next Santana, just that it is not completely unheard of for a young pitcher to string together 11 really good starts in his rookie season.

The Twins basically won 85 games in 2001 and 94 in 2002 with three decent starters and, frankly, fourth and fifth starters no better than what the Royals have trotted out the past several years.   At the same time, should Joakim Soria revert to dominant form, Kansas City is likely to have a bullpen every bit as good and probably even deeper than the Twins’ 2002 unit and certainly better than the 2001 squad.

All that, with an offense that features four rookies and is still sixth in the American League in runs scored.   It makes one wonder if the Royals’ 2011 season was a hybrid of what the Twins did in 2000 and 2001 and, if so, then could Kansas City really, really contend in 2012?   Or do they still need to take an interim step on the journey to 90+ wins?

Logic and a fair part of history, tells us that 2012 is likely to be a stepping stone on the way to contention in 2013.   A jump of 15 or 16 games is doable, but 25 or 30? That’s a heck of a leap.   A leap, by the way, that the other two teams we will discuss next week actually made.

What a game, what a game…

Billy Butler is a late scratch because of the flu, so the number three hitter is Eric Hosmer. All The Hos does is go 5-5 with an opposite field BOMB, putting the finishing touches on a six-run fourth inning.

I tweeted this at the time, but it bears repeating… Opposite field power in a young player is rare. And it’s usually a harbinger of a productive career. Courtesy of Hit Tracker, here are the landing spots of Hosmer’s home runs.

For simplicity, I would slice the field into thirds at the 105 mark and the 75 mark. That would give The Hos four home runs to left (last night’s blast isn’t charted here), six to center and eight to right. This power to the opposite field is something to get really excited about. I’ll break all this down in a later post, but it’s safe to say we have a beast on our hands.

Tuesday’s game was the kind of game I will watch this winter, to warm up against the chill of a few months without baseball. It was that good.

For all the warm, fuzzy feelings I have over this game, I still can’t get past the fact the Royals like Luis Mendoza. His Omaha performance was aided by a .268 BABIP and a 75% strand rate. With a 1.5 SO/BB ratio, there’s just no way he’s going to duplicate his performance in the majors. Yet GMDM is worried he has another Humber Situation (where he’ll release Mendoza and he’ll hook up with another team and find success.) I think that’s just a long shot. More on the rotation in a moment.

Watching these young players over the second half of the season has been a blast. April, 2012 is a long way away… But Opening Day can’t get here fast enough.

Meanwhile, a couple of interesting comments on Tuesday from the Dayton Moore chat session with the Kansas City Star…

Comment From Guest
All of us hope that we learn from our mistakes. What do you think is the biggest mistake you have made as Royals’ GM, and what did you learn from it?

Dayton Moore:
Since I began in baseball, we all make mistakes every year, no matter your role, that someone could justify you being replaced. There have been mistakes I’ve made personally, from hiring personnel to signing players. We focus on when we do make mistakes, we try to fix them and move forward. At the time, when decisions were made based on the information that I had, we felt and I felt it was the right thing to do for our baseball team. You always look back and evaluate what you did wrong, where you got off track and try not to repeat the same mistakes. I was probably over-aggressive the first two, three years in free agency. But I felt we needed to chance the perception on how we did business. We needed to demonstrate that we were going to be very aggressive in every talent pool. Certainly, free agency is one of them. But I was probably over aggressive, tried to force things too much. Have tried to be patient over last 2-3 years. Honestly, not be so defensive about the critical nature of I or we do things as an organization. Just focus on the task at hand.

Refreshing, no?

GMDM didn’t say anything we didn’t already know, but still… It’s nice to hear it from the big boss himself. And he’s right. All GM’s make bold moves and some of those moves don’t work. (Can you believe some people in Boston are going after Theo Epstein? All that guy has done is deliver two World Series titles. Red Sox fans are officially more obnoxious than Yankee fans. Yipeee… Another title for Boston.)

I’ll continue defend the Gil Meche signing. It was a good deal until Trey Hillman ran him through the meat grinder.

It’s been apparent he learned a huge lesson from his aggressiveness on the free agent market. Jose Guillen scared him straight. And that’s been a very good thing. But the pendulum swings both ways. GMDM can’t shy away from making moves. Like the Mendoza situation. He’s gone on the record saying he doesn’t want to repeat the Humber deal. That’s a scared GM. And that’s a very bad thing.

There’s a happy medium to be found, and I’m not sure Moore is comfortable enough to make that discovery. His issues building the 25 man roster make me think he still has plenty to learn. At least there’s been some learning, though. We are making progress.

On to Q & A number two…

Comment From Heath
Would it be your preference to land an ace in the offseason or two #2’s (or a #2 and a #3)?

Dayton Moore:
All of the above. That being said, I doubt there will be a No. 1 starter available. It’s very important to build on our strengths, which is potentially our bullpen, and continue to be aggressive with strengthening our rotation through our current group of players, including the pitchers who are performing at the minor-league level. We will pursue opportunities through trades.

This pleases me. A lot.

The Royals are going to stay with their internal options as the primary course of filling their rotation and failing that, then they will look to swing a trade.

I’m not going to list all the potential free agent starting pitchers who will hit the market this winter – that’s what MLB Trade Rumors is for – but I will say, there’s not much there. Except for the carcass of Dontrelle Willis.

So read between the lines… GMDM says he “doubts there will be a number one starter available.” That certainly includes free agency. Of the impending free agents, CC Sabathia and CJ Wilson are the cream of the crop. Those guys are nice (and can be called legit aces) but they’re not coming to Kansas City. Wilson has made it clear he wants to return to Texas and Sabathia has an opt-out clause in his contract that’s basically a way for him to get some more pocket change from the Yankees. Sabathia is a non-starter and it will take $100 million to bag Wilson.

There’s not even much of a second tier of free agent starters. Edwin Jackson or Mark Buehrle would be the highlights, I guess. Neither one overwhelm me. Buehrle works fast, so we know who Denny Matthews wants the Royals to sign. The Sox apparently want him back, but he’s talked about retirement in the past.

I don’t want to get too deep into the game of “Who Should They Sign.” I just wanted to underscore that there won’t be a number one starter available and the remaining starters will cost way more than they will deliver on return. When GMDM discusses strengthening their rotation with their current players, I believe him.

Now watch… He’ll make a trade for a starter within 12 hours of the last out of the World Series.

— Finally, the Royals ended their evening by announcing the recall of Vin Mazarro, Sean O’Sullivan, Lorenzo Cain, Jerrod Dyson, Manny Pina and Kelvin Herrera.

I guess that’s the penalty of playing on a good Triple-A team… You don’t get the call to the majors until you season ends. In this case, there’s just one week to go. I guess that’s enough time to get one Mazarro and one O’Sullivan start. Sigh.

I assume Cain will get a couple of starts in center and Pina may make an appearance behind the plate. Dyson gives Yost his beloved pinch runner for Country Breakfast.

The Herrera recall is the interesting one, because the Royals will need to open a spot on the 40 man roster. Do the Royals finally kiss Kila goodbye?

In part 1 of this series, I looked at the offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, but rather it’s their inability to prevent runs. In part 2 I looked at the defense and found it to be missing some pieces but again not a huge problem. That leaves us with the pitching. This isn’t really a shocking conclusion. We all knew it was leading us there, but I think it’s instructive and helpful to get there step-by-step. The pitching neatly breaks up into two distinct parts: starting and relief. Today we’ll focus on relief.

Here is a chart showing the Royal relieves ERA and the league rank for the past few years.

Year ERA AL Rank
2011 3.69 5th
2010 4.46 14th
2009 5.02 14th
2008 4.26 10th
2007 3.89 6th

The Royals have clearly had a contending level relief core this year, but history shows that it’s a fickle thing. One year you can have a great bullpen and the next year it can be putrid. There’s a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Bullpens have high turnover, small inning sample sizes can skew the numbers, more players means more possibility for injuries or other changes and pitching is just a fickle art.

With all of these different possibilities it’s hard to make any concrete conclusions on whether or not the Royals will continue to have a contention level relief corps.  However, there are some things that can help guide us. Primarily age and team control. Here is the list of the important relief pitchers this season for the Royals and the year that they become a free agent

Player Free Agency Season
Joakim Soria 2015
Blake Wood 2017
Tim Collins 2017
Aaron Crow 2017
Louis Coleman 2017
Nate Adcock 2017
Greg Holland 2017
Everett Teaford 2017
Jeremy Jeffress 2017

Why am I just now realizing that other than Joakim Soria (and Mitch Maier of course) every relief pitcher of note is a rookie this season? The chart should make it clear that the bullpen shouldn’t turnover much based on free agency. That doesn’t mean that injury, trade or a move to the starting rotation won’t change things, but based on the results from this season and the youth, we can for the near future rule out the bullpen as a major area where the Royals should focus in order to improve their ballclub to make it a contender.

Next time we’ll get into the heart of the matter and discuss the starting pitching, and more importantly how to fix it.



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.

Tuesday night was our last chance to see Danny Duffy throw this year. With the rookie approaching 150 innings on the season between Omaha and Kansas City – Duffy’s career high and most since he threw 126 in High-A ball in 2009 – the Royals rightly decided to shut him down for the rest of September. As a final start, it was a good one, I suppose. Although it was decidedly Duffy…

6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO

Modest strikeout numbers, but one suspects it could (and should) have been higher… Too many walks… Managable hit total… And he pitched into the seventh inning for just the fourth time in 20 starts.

His Game Score was 54, which was tied for his fourth highest score of the year. Overall, not a bad performance for the swan song of ’11.

Since this was to be Duffy’s final start in 2011, I guess Ned Yost figured he’d throw away the pitch count clicker (or whatever they use to track pitches in the dugout.) Entering Tuesday’s game, Duffy had surpassed 100 pitches in a start just seven times with his high-water mark coming in a start against Detroit in early August when he tossed 105 pitches. Frankly, the Royals and Yost did a good job of managing the young pitcher. For some reason, Duffy was back in the game in the seventh even though he had matches his career high for pitches through six full frames.

It was Hillman-esque.

Sorry, I just don’t see the reasoning behind letting a young starter begin an inning after he’d thrown 105 pitches. Especially somone like Duffy, who has shown an extreme tendency to nibble at times and has had extreme difficulty managing his pitch count. Unless you’re willing to let him throw 130 pitches, why bother in that situation? And more importantly, why do you handle him in a particular manner for 19 starts, but suddenly decide to change the plans for start 20?

If we know anything about Duffy’s 2011 season, one of his goals for next year should be to pace himself during each start. His velocity map from last night’s start is a prime example where he hit his peak velocity in the second inning. From that point on, he had difficulty consistently matching his speeds from his first two frames.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll say it again… I do think Duffy can figure out how to accomplish this. The reason is, although he was unable to match his velocity of his first 40 pitches with his final 80, he did settle into a groove where he was throwing a consistent 92 mph. Even with a season-high number of pitches. Seems to me that it’s just a matter of maturity and strength for him to build the kind of repitoire where he can maintain something close to a peak velocity for an entire start.

Of course, Duffy will also have to figure out how to cut down on the walks. His final tally on the season was 4.4 BB/9 which is just way too high. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, that mark would be the highest among starting pitchers in both leagues. Again, that goes back to his tendency to nibble. It just seemed like he’d get two strikes on the batter, and then he’d abandon his aggressive game plan that got him to that point in the count for something a little more… tricky, I guess. Like a called third strike on the corner was what he was fishing for in that situation. No clue why.

Overall, although his first season in the big leagues wasn’t what we expected, Duffy has certainly shown some promise. I’m more than comfortable with him in the front end of the rotation for 2012 and beyond.

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

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

The Sure Things

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

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

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

Destined for Better Things?

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

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

Ready for more thoughts on the Jeff Francoeur extension? Perfect!

— Bringing back Francoeur for next season means the Royals outfield you will see tonight against the Red Sox is the exact same outfield you will see on Opening Day 2012. The Frenchman is going to cash a hefty check, the Royals will certainly tender a contract to Melky Cabrera and there is talk of an Alex Gordon extension. Hell, there’s a decent chance that this is the outfield we will see on Opening Day 2013. This has to be an indictment of Lorenzo Cain. Cain, who is hitting .306/.376/.506 in Omaha, after tonight, has more than 600 plate appearances in his career at the Triple-A level. It would seem he doesn’t have much left to prove.

However, I’ve heard the rumblings… A hole in his swing, the lack of the necessary skill set that would ease a transition from the high minors to the big league level, and so on. I haven’t seen Cain all that much, so I’m not qualified to comment on his skills (or lack thereof). What I can comment on is that it is fairly obvious that the organization doesn’t believe he’s part of the future.

Think about it… We have seen a tremendous influx of young talent. Nearly every position player who was regarded as a prospect and opened the 2011 season in Omaha is with the big club. Except Cain. It’s also worth noting, the Royals were quick to pull the trigger on Kila Ka’aihue earlier this year. I may be reading too much between the lines here, but I’m thinking the Royals regard Cain as another flavor of Hawaiian Punch. Good for Triple-A, not so good in the majors.

— There was a tweet from Greg Schaum that this move says more about the (lack of) development of Wil Myers than anything and I’m inclined to agree. Myers was moved to the outfield in order to fast track his bat to the major leagues. However injuries and a lackluster season (.254/.354/.373 in 348 plate appearances) have pushed his timetable back at least a full year. Most troublesome has been the lack of power development. If Myers repeats Double-A next year, it’s possible he won’t arrive in Kansas City until 2014. Francoeur gives the Royals cover. It’s expensive cover, but it’s still cover.

— I understand that with the season Francoeur is having, he was going to shop for a two year deal. That doesn’t mean the Royals had to give it to him.

He is hitting for a higher slugging percentage, which is nice. But that’s because he’s already set a career high for doubles with 35 while maintaining his home run rate of one long ball roughly every 31 at bats.

Let’s talk about value for a moment. Here are his fWAR values going back to 2006 which was his first full season in the majors.

2006: 1.1
2007: 3.8
2008: -0.8
2009: 0.3
2010: 0.6
2011: 2.3

Yes, this has been quite the rebirth for Francoeur, but we cannot ignore the fact that in his three previous seasons, he posted a 0.1 fWAR. Combined. It is entirely possible that Kevin Seitzer has worked his magic and Frenchy has figured it all out. I suppose. But there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. His walk rate is a career high at 6.6%, but he’s reached 6.0% three times previously, so this isn’t some sort of crazy development. It’s nice, but not out of the realm of possibility. His contact rate is 80.2%, which is actually lower than either of his two previous seasons where he posted a .309 and .300 on base percentage respectively. His line drive rate of 18.8% is right in line with his career rate.

Overall, he is swinging less, offering at just 53.9% of all pitches. That’s below his career rate of 58.1% and represents the lowest rate of his career. Maybe that’s it… A change in approach have yielded an improvement in results. Because his other rates haven’t moved all that much. (Interesting side note: He’s looking at a called third strike in 20% of all strikeouts. The highest caught looking rate in his career.)

While The Frenchman is having one of his better seasons, the fact that his secondary rate statistics have remained unchanged from the last several years, lead me to believe that the Royals won’t get the kind of production they seem to be counting on over the next two seasons.

— Going by the raw dollars, it looks like the Royals are expecting a pair of 1.5 WAR seasons from Francoeur. Again, I can’t help but feel that’s a shade on the optimistic side, given he’s played six full seasons and has topped that mark only twice (counting this year.) I know the defenders will argue he’s only 27, so he’s at his presumed peak, but I’ll counter with my previous argument that he’s never shown the ability to sustain an above average level of production.

Soon after the extension was announced, Joe Sheehan tweeted that because Francoeur was hitting .316/.352/.623 through May 4 and only .264/.320/.411 since, the Royals basically gave a guy a two year deal on one good month of production. Joel Goldberg countered with the fact Frenchy has hit .308/.369/.503 since July 1, and that should count for something. It’s a sound return volley and it really serves to underscore the fact he’s an extreme streak hitter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you’re going to live with the steak, you’re going to have to eat dog food every once in a while.

As the law of averages play out though, the cold streaks will prove to last longer than the hot ones. By the time 2013 rolls around, instead of talking about hot months for Francoeur, we could be reduced to discussing hot weeks.

— In Francoeur’s defense, I saw in several quarters where it was argued he was basically a platoon hitter, dreadful against right handed pitching.

Makes sense… Except for the fact it’s not necessarily true.

Granted, he does do worse against righties. That’s normal for a right-handed hitter. Here are his splits for 2011:

Vs LHP – .315/.379/.602
Vs RHP – .266/.314/.421

Many of my colleagues will look at that split and come to the conclusion he can’t hit a right hander. Except the league average right handed batter is hitting only .247/.307/.392 against right handed pitching this year.

I’m sure if The Frenchman sticks around for another 10 years, he will evolve into a platoon type player. However, I don’t see that happening during the life of his contract extension. Granted, he’s doing better this year against right handers than he’s done in quite some time, but like his cumulative stats, he’s not doing that much better where we would sit up and call it an outlier.

There’s definitely a difference in performance base on the handedness of the pitcher, but at this point, it doesn’t warrant a platoon situation.

— I’m extremely frustrated that the Royals didn’t move on Alex Gordon first. Yes, like The Frenchman, Gordon has had some horrible seasons. But realize that Gordon has seen his seasons cut short by injury and be being jerked around by the organization. He has almost 2,000 fewer plate appearances than Francoeur. This year, while Frenchy is playing well, Gordon is having an outstanding all around season.

I know that there has been talk of extension but the Royals want to wait until the end of the season… why is there a double standard here?

— Francoeur doesn’t annoy me as much as my basement dwelling comrades, and I had come to terms with the fact he was most likely going to return for the 2012 season. The extra year and total monetary package seems like the classic Dayton Moore play where he misreads the market and makes too strong of a move. He’s done this time and again in varying degrees. There’s the gross overpayment like he did with Jose Guillen. There’s the over valuing of his guys like we saw with Kyle Davies last winter. And there’s deals where he jumps head first into the trade market without taking the proper temperature like he did when he brought Mike Jacobs to Kansas City.

Moore has also fallen into a trap where he looks at only the last year of numbers and ignores the entire track record. Again, that certainly happened with Jacobs and to a lesser extent with Jose Guillen. He makes the mistake of ultimately paying full price for a player who can’t possibly maintain the level to justify the cost. That’s just a fancy way of saying he buys high.

I’m a fan of The Process and I feel like it’s the proper method to give the Royals the best shot at winning. But we have to realize that even a wildly successful Process will still leave management with holes to fill on the roster. This is where Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust have failed miserably time and time again.

Now matter how great the minor league system, poor free agent acquisitions or misreading the trade market could completely derail The Process. I had hoped after this winter when the Royals pursued low risk, low cost free agents, that was a signal that GMDM had figured something out regarding how to build his team. It doesn’t feel like any lessons were learned.

Francoeur alone won’t prevent the Royals from winning in the future. Rather he’s a symptom of a much larger problem. One that doesn’t seem to be going away.

I’ll wrap this up by restating that I don’t hate Jeff Francoeur. I think for the money he’s been paid this year, he’s been a good value for the Royals – on and off the field. But there comes a point when you can overpay and cause the value to disappear, and I think that is what has happened in this case. Francoeur has been playing in this league for six seasons and has had a grand total of two good ones. The odds are long he’ll put up two more during his extension.

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