The 2010 Kansas City Royals season was one that we would all likely want to forget. It was another in a long string of losing seasons and there were pretty much no young prospects to see at the Major League Level. Still, I think that it’s instructive to look back at the season and see exactly what worked and what didn’t. I did this same exercise last off-season and I learned a lot during the process. So here is quick primer on how I do this and what the statistics mean. Each week, I’ll post an article looking at a single position almost exclusively through the offensive lens. Quantifying defense is still pretty difficult, and even though there are great strides being made, how exactly to weight that compared to the offensive side of the ball is even more difficult. So with that, I’ll almost completely ignore the defensive contributions at each position, so it’d be more accurate to say that the analysis more a position-by-position offensive breakdown.
When I look at each position, I’ll do it individually and then combine the players into a single unit. So primarily I’ll be looking at the offensive output of the Royals at a position. The point is to see what spots on the field the Royals need to improve offense and where they can stand pat. I would think that Dayton Moore is doing something similar and then comparing this information to the available free agents and the in house prospects. It’s useful to look at it position by position because obviously the offensive output of a first basemen is different and not comparable to that of a shortstop.
I will be using some so-called “advanced statistics”, however in reality they are pretty simple so if you aren’t well versed or even very interested in advanced statistics, don’t let them scare you off. Most of the numbers should be recognizable by any baseball fan, batting average, on-base percentage, hits, home runs etc. However there will be two stats that I’ll lean on heavily that might be new to you. If you want an explanation of the stats, then keep reading but if not, all you need to really know is that I’ll be using wOBA and sOPS+ and the higher the number, the better the hitter is.
Stats Introduction (feel free to skip this part)
Quite simply, wOBA is an attempt to tell you how often a player gets on base and how far he got himself around those bases. Many of you are probably familiar with OPS, well wOBA is like OPS but better. If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, you can find one here or here. The other statistic I’ll be using is sOPS+. I know, it just looks confusing, but again it’s pretty simple. In the most simple terms, sOPS+ just takes OPS (on-base plus slugging) and then compares it to the rest of the OPS in the league and then normalizes them. Yeah, I guess that wasn’t so simple, but the bottom line is that an OPS+ of 100 is essentially league average and every digit above or below is roughly a percent better or worse. So a 120 ops+ is roughly 20% better than league average and 80% is roughly 20% worse. The little s on the front means that instead of comparing it to the league, we’re comparing it to the split, in this case the positional split. So in the first article, I’ll talk about the catchers and I’ll give their sOPS+. That ONLY compares numbers when players were catching. So a 100 would be a league average batter when he is catching. I really thought I could make this simple, I guess I probably failed. In the end, you don’t really need to understand the stats to get the gist of the articles, if you pick up one thing, its that the higher an sOPS+ or wOBA the better the hitter is.
To begin, let’s take a look at the players who caught this year for the Royals and how they hit when they were catching.
Jason Kendal obviously got the lion’s share of innings at catcher, but his season-ending injury close near the end of the year gave Brayan Pena and Lucas May a chance to get some work in. Jason Kendall actually got on-base at a clip higher than that of Pena, but Pena’s value really comes from his extra-base hits. He had 10 doubles and 1 homerun compared to 18 doubles for Kendall in 330 more plate appearances. Pena had an average wOBA and was pretty much a league average catcher at the plate in the games he played in.
How did the unit perform as a group compared to the rest of the AL?
The Royals catchers as an offensive group were pretty poor in 2010. They weren’t the worst in the American League, and in fact weren’t the worst in the AL Central. The one thing that really held them back was their inability to hit for any power, only the Mariners had a worse slugging catching group. The significant amount of playing time given to Jason Kendall drug down the offense, however the contributions from Brayan Pena single-handedly lifted the Royals catchers above the Tigers.
Last year, the Royals catching core of John Buck and Miguel Olivo was the second-best hitting group in the American League behind the Twins and Joe Mauer. In fact, they hit eight more home runs than the Twins did from the position. That’s was why it was baffling, from an offensive perspective that the Royals acquired Jason Kendall rather than keeping one or both of their catchers from 2009. Predictably, the offense from the position suffered, and I’d find it pretty hard to believe that whatever defensive or clubhouse benefit Jason Kendall brought to the team, it was enough to overcome a fall of nine spots on the above chart.
The Royals need to be at least close to average at each position and then well-above average at a few positions in order to score enough runs to be a contending team. They seem reluctant to believe that Brayan Pena can be the answer at catcher, but unless there is a major off-season move, he will get a shot to convince the Royals otherwise. Based on his career numbers, I’d imagine that Pena could move the Royals catching unit up into the middle of the pack offensively, but his suspect defense may be his eventual downfall. If I were the General Manager, I’d probably stand pat with Pena and May, hoping that one of them steps up to become a solid everyday catcher.
Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.