You are looking at a puzzle. It s a simple puzzle, really. Three pieces. That s it. Your job is to assemble these three pieces in a way that makes the most sense.
This is the task facing Dayton Moore as he tries to piece together his outfield for the upcoming season. Things like this happen when you have Mitch Maier on your roster and go ahead and sign Brian Anderson, who is basically the same player as Maier. And then you sign Scott Podsednik, who is only marginally better than Anderson. Then you sign Rick Ankiel, who is better offensively than all the aforementioned, but now throws the outfield situation into a jumble. Add David DeJesus and you have five outfielders for three positions. Wondering where everyone is going to play? You re not alone.
Apparently, Moore has it all figured out. His outfield will have Podsednik in left, Ankiel in center and DeJesus in right.
“We feel that right now, going into spring training, this is the best way to position our outfield defense,” Moore said. “These three guys are all capable of playing center field. We felt Rick’s best use is to put him in center field at this time.”
So the Royals wanted Ankiel so bad, they promised him center field? Did they even bother to see if that s, you know His best position? Because it s not.
This outfield mumbo jumbo reminds me of the Jose Guillen signing from 2008. Remember, Guillen had been a right fielder for most of his career, but the Royals decided he would play left. Only, they forgot to tell Guillen this fact. I guess they learned from that mistake and went ahead and handed center to Ankiel during negotiations. And according to Ankiel, the Yankees were finalists for his signature. The Yankees! Do you want to compete with Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher for a role in the outfield and what seems to be a virtual lock on a spot in the postseason, or do you want to be handed the center field job on a fifth place team for one year that s treading water until the prospects (hopefully) develop? Honestly, I question Ankiel s sanity.
Later in the press conference, Moore claimed the Royals have the best defensive outfield in the AL Central. Of course they are going to say crap like that. What do you think they re going to say? Uh, we re just kind of throwing things randomly out there. We ll see what happens. Fingers crossed, it will work out.
Apparently, the Royals are excited because they have what amounts to three center fielders in their outfield. That s great, except for this simple fact: They aren t very good center fielders to begin with. None of these guys will be mistaken for Franklin Gutierrez or BJ Upton. They won t even be confused with Aaron Rowand or Shane Victorino. These are ordinary, average to below average defensive outfielders.
(Certainly, any time you can remove Jose Guillen from the outfield mix, you have addition through subtraction. Throw three chairs out there and your defense is better. But, still…)
Only the Royals, coming off a year where the team was horrible defensively and in a winter where there stated goal was to improve their defense, would move their best defensive player from the previous season. Are you kidding? Sometimes, you wonder if the guys running this team even watch the games.
Let s play a game. Let s try to fill the Royals outfield with their preferred starting three. We ll look at career UZR/150 at all positions across the outfield. Take the ratings for right field with a grain of salt. That s because in their careers, DeJesus has played 166 innings in right, while Ankiel has played 383 innings and Podsednik has played just 124 innings. The Rng is career range in the outfield. The ARM is the outfield arm rating for their career. Both Rng and ARM are presented as collected by FanGraphs. I adjusted the ARM rating (since it s a counting stat) by 1,000 innings played.
These are the pieces of our puzzle. Let s start assembling this sucker.
Since centerfield is the most important of the three outfield positions and there s only one of the three players who has a positive UZR/150 in center, I ll go with Player B. Although right field is more important defensively on the defensive spectrum, I ll place the left fielder next, if only because again, none of the three has spent much time at all in right. Since it looks like my best left fielder is also my best center fielder, I have to go with my second choice. Looks like it s going to be Player A. Hang on though. Player A has the least range and has the best arm of the bunch. That seems like he s taylor made for right field. And since Player C has some decent range and the weakest arm of my group, it seems like it s natural to put him in left while positioning Player A in right.
Time to unveil my starting outfield.
Player C is Scott Podsednik, who I would play in left field.
Player B is David DeJesus, who I would play in center.
Player A is Rick Ankiel, who can have right.
See how simple that is?
This confirms my gut assessment of watching all these guys play over the last couple of years. Ankiel lacks the range to play center, but has an arm that can make a difference in right. Podsednik has a weak arm and occasionally takes some bizarre routes on fly balls which makes left his best fit. And while DeJesus has lost a step in the last year or so and doesn t have the greatest range, he s still the best of this group, so that makes him the center fielder.
And let s take a moment for a defensive spectrum refresher. From left to right, the most important defensive position to the least important:
So according to this, center field is the most important defensive position in the outfield. And according to my numbers, Rick Ankiel is the least qualified of the three starters to player center. Therefore, since this is the Royals, Rick Ankiel will be the starting center fielder. Are you kidding me?
Look, anytime you can construct an outfield that doesn t include Jose Guillen or Willie Bloomquist, that s a win. And as I mentioned before, when you remove Guillen s glove you re automatically improving the defense. I haven’t mentioned Maier, because it’s clear he isn’t in the plans for the future. Although he could probably provide the same production as Podsednik, Moore has chosen to spend a couple million when he could have had the same thing for under $500k.
Regardless, this has a chance of being a decent defensive outfield. Not great. Good. And certainly better than last year.
Except Moore is doing his best to screw everything up.
Moore has failed Roster Construction 101 time and again. Now, his oddball collection of middle infielders has been replaced by a strange group of outfield misfits. Initially, I was on board with the Ankiel signing because I thought he could be an asset. Now, it seems he ll serve to make the Royals weaker defensively up the middle. I have officially given up on having faith in Moore building a roster at the major league level. In his four winters here, he s shown exactly zero aptitude in putting together a group of 25 players that have defined roles that make any kind of sense.
The Ankiel signing (and positioning) is the latest in a long list of evidence.