Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

There was never a chance. No way was James Shields going to return to the Kansas City Royals. It was fun to dream about it, and the longer he remained on the market, the more plausible you could make that dream.

But in the end, the Royals were never going to bring him back.

That’s OK. As Sam Mellinger pointed out, the Royals played within the system that is stacked against them and they won. This is baseball in the 21st century. The Royals know the only way they can acquire a starting pitcher cut from the cloth of Shields is either through the draft or via trade. Sure, they can sign a free agent here or there, but that’s the point where you’re dumpster diving for an Edinson Volquez, or locking up cost-controlled veterans for the back of the rotation a la Jason Vargas or Jeremy Guthrie.

Mellinger points out, his contract is for $20 million more than the Royals have ever awarded a player. I would counter that it’s also $23 million more than the Padres have ever handed out. But the Padres could afford to dip their toe in the free agent pool. According to Baseball Reference, San Diego figures to have an Opening Day payroll around $88 million. AJ Preller is some kind of mad general managing scientist. (Quick, someone make a “Padres won the trade!” joke. What? It’s been done? Awwwww.)

The Royals aren’t adverse to the years. I think Dayton Moore and his staff see this as a benefit, actually, when they can control the costs of a player for multiple seasons. They signed Vargas for four years last winter. Omar Infante, too. But those guys are on a different tier from Shields. Although, I think they are rightfully wary of giving the years to an older starting pitcher. Vargas and Gil Meche (five years, remember?) were a couple of years younger than Shields when they signed with the Royals.

It’s the money that will forever be a sticking point. Could they have fit Shields onto a roster that already had an estimated payroll at around $112 million? I think they could have, but we know that was never going to happen. It would have taken some sort of a minor miracle. The Royals knew when they traded for Shields that they would get two years. They knew their young nucleus they were counting on would be entering their arbitration years and getting exponentially more expensive. Even if they had the foresight that their payroll would top $110 million for 2015, I don’t think they saw a way Shields fit into that budget.

We discuss this all the time, but it remains a salient point: Do the Royals spend their money in the best manner? Max Rieper at Royals Review has an interesting look at the new Royals and their salaries versus the departed (Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki) and the dollars for 2015 are a push. Jeez. I didn’t want – or need – to see that. But there’s the mutual option game being played, and that’s relevant in that it gives the Royals flexibility going forward. It’s not just the dollars, it’s the years.

Which leads to the next question. Did the Royals misread the Shields market? Did they jump the gun, by handing out $20 million to Edinson Volquez? I don’t think they did. And I write that mainly because I don’t think anyone saw Shields lasting this long on the free agent market. The Royals had moved on from Shields early in the winter, and rightly so. Although Jeff Passan thinks that the Royals could have been in the mix, had Shields come to them with lower (i.e. more realistic) demands.

They found a player they believe in in Volquez, so they made an aggressive offer and signed him. Will it work? Who knows at this point. I do know that once they decided Shields’s demands – realistic or not – were too much for their budgets, they did the right thing and found an arm to add to the rotation.

Did Shields’s agents bungle his free agency? That’s what Jeff Passan thinks. Me? I’m not so sure.

Shields was the consensus number three starting pitcher on the market behind Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. The conventional wisdom held that Scherzer was going to be the last of the big three to sign because of his demands and his representation. It followed that Lester would set the Shields market. When Lester signed his six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubs, it seems that the Shields team would shoot for just under that mark.

Of course, even without the benefit of hindsight, that’s folly. Working against Shields is the perception he’s not a true “ace.” And perhaps more importantly isn’t a perception, it’s a fact – he’s older than Lester by two years. Just as important in my mind was his October performance, which was less than encouraging. And then there’s the fact the next year’s class of free agent starting pitchers is absolutely loaded. Loaded. Teams are probably more than willing to skip spending this year if it means bagging one of the top starters next winter.

On the issue of an “ace,” who cares? By any estimation, Shields was the third most desirable starting pitcher on the market and he’s going to make the third most money of those who signed new contracts this winter. Shields isn’t an elite pitcher, but he’s a damn good one, who stacks up against just about any starter in the game. If I ran a team, I’d certainly try to get him on the roster. At least for the next two seasons.

It turns out no team was willing to pay Shields past his age 36 season. Not for the big bucks he was seeking. Front offices are getting smarter with how they spend their money. Passan argues that had Shields lowered his demands early in the winter and asked for four years, that would have accelerated his process. That makes all kinds of sense. Hell, the bidding could have become so ferocious, maybe Shields could have squeezed a fifth year out of some team who decided they just had to have him. As it was, teams didn’t even consider him because they didn’t like the opening price.

In the end, Shields gets to pitch for a team in the National League, in the most pitcher-friendly park in the league, and close to his home. And he gets to cash checks totaling $75 million. If that’s bungling, sign me up.

I like the Shields contract with the Padres. It’s a good deal for both sides and gives them a shot to get into October. I’m not thrilled with four years, but I’d bet the team will get solid value out of the first three. And I like Shields on that team. Their defense… Yeah. Someone will need to catch the ball.

With Shields as the last of the remaining free agents tied to the qualifying offer, the 2015 draft order is officially set. The Royals have the 21st overall pick and the 33rd selection as compensation for losing Shields. They also have the 64th and 98th picks through the first three rounds.

Baseball America estimates the Royals draft pool will be around $7.5 million. That’s down from their allotment of $8.6 million in 2014 and $8.3 million in ’13, but it’s right in line with other teams from the AL Central.

Twins – $7,691,684

Indians – $7,528,625

Royals – $7,499,358

Tigers – $7,403,534

White Sox – $5,540,051

The Royals moved on a long time ago. The trade worked out marvelously for both the Royals and Shields and it may have set the blueprint for future moves. I know we’re supposed to declare a “winner” in a trade, but really I don’t give a damn. All I know is my team shipped a bundle of prospects for two pitchers and two years later my team was playing in the World Series. Sounds pretty good to me.

So far, we’ve profiled 10 players on the Royals 40-man roster. Today, it’s Aaron Brooks. Hey, they all can’t be sexy.

You may remember Brooks from his cameo performance against the Tigers on May 3 where he turned a three run deficit into a nine run hole. That featured a three-run home run from Torii Hunter. Wham, bam, thank you, Brooks. Back to Omaha you go.

He actually turned in a decent month after taking the I-29 north. In 25 innings for the Storm Chasers in May, Brooks had a 2.14 ERA with a gaudy 54 percent ground ball rate. With Yordano Ventura shelved with elbow inflammation late in the month, the Royals decided it would be a good idea to give Brooks a second look on the back of his encouraging month in Triple-A.

It was a bad idea.

Brooks was brutalized by the Blue Jays, failing to make it out of the first inning. His final line: 0.2 IP, 5 H, 7 ER, 3 BB. A Game Score of 11 for his troubles. Thank you very much.

(I seem to remember this game being the FOX Game of the Week. Or am I crazy? I do remember watching this game. Because you don’t forget carnage like that. Oh, and that game was also the debut of Marcus Stroman who held the Royals to five hits and one run through six innings. Nothing like a seven run cushion to ease the pressure, right?)

Brooks was drafted in the ninth round of the 2011 draft out of California State University – San Bernadino. He’s not on the prospect radar because his college pedigree and minor league performance fail to justify such status.

Year Age Tm Lg Lev ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2011 21 Idaho Falls PION Rk 3.84 15 13 79.2 89 42 34 7 8 73 1.218 10.1 0.8 0.9 8.2 9.13
2012 22 Kane County MIDW A 4.98 27 27 153.2 191 99 85 18 26 120 1.412 11.2 1.1 1.5 7.0 4.62
2013 23 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-A+ 4.28 26 26 160.0 173 79 76 17 22 110 1.219 9.7 1.0 1.2 6.2 5.00
2013 23 Wilmington CARL A+ 4.47 10 10 56.1 60 28 28 4 11 43 1.260 9.6 0.6 1.8 6.9 3.91
2013 23 Northwest Arkansas TL AA 4.17 16 16 103.2 113 51 48 13 11 67 1.196 9.8 1.1 1.0 5.8 6.09
2014 24 Omaha PCL AAA 3.88 25 23 139.0 151 67 60 14 25 97 1.266 9.8 0.9 1.6 6.3 3.88
4 Seasons 4.31 93 89 532.1 604 287 255 56 81 400 1.287 10.2 0.9 1.4 6.8 4.94
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/9/2015.

Brooks features fastball, slider, change and will show a curve from time to time. None of his pitches would be classified as a “plus” pitch by the prospect hounds. He works his fastball in the low 90s, but can tickle 95 mph on occasion. As you can see from the table above, his calling card is his command – he has a walk rate of 1.4 BB/9 in his minor league career, which I don’t have to tell you is exceptional. Without a “plus” pitch, he’s missed fewer bats as he’s progressed through the system and his strikeout rate has dropped at almost every stop. Last year in Omaha, Brooks posted a 1.6 BB/9 and his whiff rate rebounded to a modest 6.3 SO/9.

Going back to his major league start last May, was it nerves? For a guy who is known as a “strike thrower” his implosion against the Blue Jays was totally against the grain. Three walks? Then he started grooving pitches. And ballgame.

He picked up a non-roster invite to camp last spring and showed enough that he planted himself on the Royals radar. This year, Brooks makes his return only this time as a member of the 40-man roster. With the Royals rotation and bullpen set, he figures to return to Omaha for an encore performance. Although could you blame him if he was chomping at the bit for a third chance? You work your entire life to get to the majors and drop a pair of performances like that?

Brooks will have to be patient for a return trip to the bigs. Depth is necessary, yet the universal hope is it won’t be called upon. Guys like Brooks are necessary, though, for the occasional spot start to protect the true prospects. Just hope that if you want to see him, you’ll be buying a ticket to a game in Omaha and not in Kansas City.

Omar Infante had a bad year. A very bad year.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. The Royals have suffered a black hole at the keystone for years. Really ever since Frank White vacated the position way back in 1990. Carlos Febles, Tony Graffanino, Mark Grudzielanek, Chris Getz… There have been some decent individual performances here and there, but nothing really of note. Not that Infante was to be the second coming of White. No one would ever suggest such a thing.

But by signing Infante to a four-year, $30 million contract before the 2014 season, the Royals finally felt as though they would have some stability at a position where it had been lacking.

Infante reported to camp in what was probably less than the best shape of his life. He battled shoulder soreness in spring training that dogged him throughout the season. The shoulder issues compounded into a back problem in the middle of the year. Oh yeah, he was also hit in the face by a pitch the first week of the season. Through all the issues, Infante only hit the disabled list once (in May) and played in 135 games.

It was not a good thing that he played in so many games.

Normally, Infante can be counted on for a little bit of power (relative to the average second baseman), some decent contact and some solid defense. None of that happened in 2014.

Infante slugged .337 for the Royals last summer, hitting six home runs and 21 doubles. It was his lowest slugging percentage since he posted a miserable .238 SLG way back in 2003 in 69 games for the Tigers. Anything the Royals received in the power department from a second baseman would be a bonus given the Royals most recently suffered through the Getz Era at the position, but surely they expected more. After all, Infante had hit 12 and 10 home runs in his previous two seasons while posting slugging percentages of .419 and .450.

Infante’s batted ball profile didn’t change much from year to year. He hits a line drive around 22 percent of the time and a fly ball at a rate of around 39 percent. From Texas Leaguers, here is a spray chart from his 2012 and 2013 seasons combined. Note the hits clustering in the outfield from left and center. There’s a smaller and shallower cluster of hits to right. This makes sense for a batter like Infante. If he’s going to drive the ball, he’s going to have to generate the bat speed, get the barrel out in front and pull the ball.

InfanteSpray1213

Compare that to last season.

InfanteSpray14

Not much difference, is there? As I said above, Infante’s batted ball profile didn’t shift much at all from 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, not only his slugging percentage found new depths, his batting average suffered. His .252 BA was his lowest since 2005 and was certainly fueled by an abnormally low (for Infante) .275 BABIP. And since Infante doesn’t walk (career 5.5 percent walk rate) his on base percentage is heavily dependent upon the base hit. So… yeah. His offensive numbers were down across the board.

We can surmise his shoulder and back issues had a lot to do with his struggles. He was still making the usual types and amount of contact, but he was making less good contact than his norm. His contact rate of 85.8 percent was right in line with his career rates, so it’s an easy conclusion to reach. Since we’re using the 2012 and 2013 seasons as the kind of benchmarks of the player the Royals hoped they were signing, let’s take a look at how Infante has hit different categories of pitches over the last three seasons to see if we can peel a few more layers.

InfanteBA

One thing that jumps out is how his performance against breaking stuff and offspeed pitches has been in lockstep over the last three years. Another thing that jumps out is how his performance against fastballs and sinker in 2013 was an outlier. (His BABIP in 2013 was .333.) And a final note is how he struggled against every category of pitch last summer. And it wasn’t like pitchers decided he could handle the heat so they offered more offspeed and breaking pitches. Infante actually saw more fastballs in ’14 than he did in each of the previous two seasons. Again, the theory is he was hurt and struggled to get around on the ball, so he saw more fastballs because while he could make contact as usual, he couldn’t generate the bat speed to truly drive the ball.

What I’m suggesting is that it wouldn’t be crazy to see a bounce-back season from Infante at the plate. As long as he’s healthy. PECOTA agrees and has Infante as their top gainer in WARP with a projection of .278/.308/.380. That’s still well short of 2012 and 2013, but let’s not be picky. It’s an improvement over last year.

Defensively, Infante was pretty average. The Fielding Bible had him at +4 defensive runs saved, which is kind of where we would expect him to be given his past performances. Inside Edge says he was below average, fielding 97.3 percent of the “routine” plays, which puts him 17th out of 20 qualified second basemen. On “likely” plays, Infante made 72.2 percent. He ranked 14th. From Fangraphs, you can see for yourself how Infante did in the field.

InfanteDefense

I’ve heard some whispers among those in the Royals brain trust that Infante’s injuries also limited him in the field. That’s probably fair, but I don’t think it really held him back all that much. A fair assessment of Infante’s defense would be “competent” and that’s what I think the Royals got from him last summer.

Infante still has three years (plus an option) on his Royals contract. History will probably judge this deal harshly as it seems a stretch the Royals – or anyone, for that matter – can get value from a 35 year old second baseman, which will be Infante’s age in 2017. In the short-term, there’s a strong possibility we will see a different player at the plate in 2015. A healthy Infante can be a solid player for the Royals in the coming season.

Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Those four words could be his complete player profile. Greg Holland is ridiculous.

This may be the most difficult player profile I will post. How many different ways can you say someone is dominant? Because Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Let’s just start with some raw, basic numbers.

Year Age Tm Lg ERA G GF SV IP BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2011 25 KCR AL 1.80 46 15 4 60.0 233 228 2.21 0.933 5.6 0.5 2.9 11.1 3.89
2012 26 KCR AL 2.96 67 36 16 67.0 289 142 2.29 1.373 7.8 0.3 4.6 12.2 2.68
2013 ★ 27 KCR AL 1.21 68 61 47 67.0 255 342 1.36 0.866 5.4 0.4 2.4 13.8 5.72
2014 ★ 28 KCR AL 1.44 65 60 46 62.1 240 277 1.83 0.914 5.3 0.4 2.9 13.0 4.50
5 Yrs 2.19 261 182 113 275.0 1104 188 2.06 1.069 6.4 0.5 3.2 12.5 3.85
162 Game Avg. 2.19 68 47 29 72 288 188 2.06 1.069 6.4 0.5 3.2 12.5 3.85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2015.

 

How can you comment on that? This is just four years of brilliance.

And to me, that’s the key when discussing Holland: His consistency. It seems that baseball is finally wising up about closers and their unpredictability. Something like 20 closers who finished the season in that role weren’t considered closers at the beginning of the season. Mortal closers aren’t so reliable. Greg Holland is not a mortal closer. When Holland began his career with the Royals, Joakim Soria was their ninth inning guy. In ’12 it was Jonathan Broxton. It didn’t happen and as much as I don’t like to deal in hypotheticals or what-ifs, take just a moment and imagine what we would be looking at had he been the full-time closer since ’11.

That consistency is something else.

Batters have yet to solve the mystery.

Year Age Tm G PA AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
2010 24 KCR 15 87 78 23 5 0 3 8 23 .295 .360 .474 .835 .385
2011 25 KCR 46 233 211 37 8 2 3 19 74 .175 .246 .275 .521 .252
2012 26 KCR 67 289 248 58 12 3 2 34 91 .234 .323 .331 .653 .354
2013 27 KCR 68 255 235 40 6 2 3 18 103 .170 .228 .251 .479 .285
2014 28 KCR 65 240 218 37 5 0 3 20 90 .170 .238 .234 .472 .270
5 Yrs 261 1104 990 195 36 7 14 99 381 .197 .269 .290 .559 .301
162 Game Avg. 68 288 258 51 9 2 4 26 99 .197 .269 .290 .559 .301
MLB Averages .254 .319 .398 .717 .297
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/5/2015.

 

That slider… It’s pitching porn. There’s just no other way to describe it. It’s so dirty. So nasty. And definitely NSFW.

When Holland jumps ahead in the count, batters are going to get that slider. He throws it over 60 percent of the time when he’s ahead. And when Holland throws that slider, opposing batters have no chance. They hit .122 with a .194 slugging percentage against him last year when they managed to put his slider into play. Making contact was a feat in and of itself. Batters missed over 26 percent of the time they swung the bat.

Greg Holland is ridiculous.

MLB Trade Rumors estimated Holland could cash in for $9.3 million. It was a bit of a surprise when he filed for less than that at $9 million, which seems to be a relatively kind ask. The Royals have offered $6.65 million, which feels far too low given his track record. You would hope that the two could find some sort of compromise in the neighborhood of $8 million. That’s above the midpoint, but Greg Holland is ridiculous. Pay the man.

Holland presents a quandary for me. The sabermetric side believes closers can be found and the Royals have a deep bullpen, loaded with talent. If anyone could net a decent return in a trade, it would be Saveman. If anyone could be replaced, it would be Saveman. But after writing this and looking at those crazy numbers he’s posted over the last four seasons, I’m not so sure. The fan in me wants the Royals to not only hold on to him, but I want him to get an extension. Buy out his remaining arbitration years and then grab a pair of his free agency seasons as well. The funny thing is, the financial pendulum seems to be swinging the other way on closers. Three years ago, the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract. This winter, David Robertson signed a four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox. The inflation that runs throughout baseball has bypassed the closer market.

Of course the danger is you live to regret the long-term deal. Like the Phillies do with Papelbon. If Holland gets hurt, loses velocity off his fastball, or loses the bite on his slider, his value plummets. Plus, the Royals control Holland for two more seasons – through his age 30 year. He’s not racking up starter mileage on that arm, but you wonder about durability. The Royals, being a small-market team, can barely afford to pay a dominant closer more than $10 million. If they end up on the hook for big money and Holland loses effectiveness… I can’t even bear to think about what that would do to this franchise.

Remember though, teams are getting smarter about closers. Sure, there’s still some big cash being thrown around in free agency, but that probably won’t translate to the trade market. The return on a potential Holland trade won’t be as much as the Royals would hope. Besides, I tend to think the bullpen and closer market gets hottest closer to the trade deadline. Teams think they have internal options in the winter, or look to free agency. When injuries or ineffectiveness happens and a team is on the cusp of contention, that’s when desperation sets in and that’s when a team may pull the trigger for a trade on a closer.

Probably all wishful thinking. The right move is to probably hold on to Holland for the next two seasons, give him a qualifying offer, let him walk and collect a draft pick.

The Player Profile series began a couple of weeks ago with the idea that we should look at the Royals players eligible for arbitration. Holland is the ninth profile. Hopefully you’ve found this site or rediscovered it through some of these posts the last couple of weeks. If you’ve just now stumbled here, welcome. Here are the posts so far.

Tim Collins
Louis Coleman
Danny Duffy
Jarrod Dyson
Mike Moustakas
Lorenzo Cain
Kelvin Herrera
Eric Hosmer

Remember, Greg Holland is ridiculous.

Eric Hosmer was the October hero.

The triple in the Wild Card Game. The home run in Game Two of the ALDS. He walked in 14 percent of his plate appearances and posted a .439 OBP. He collected six extra base hits, drove in 12 and slugged .544. His best month of 2014? October. And boy, did the Royals need that offensive spark. Impeccable timing.

Hosmer is a tantalizing, yet confounding player. You can see the potential. He just has yet to find a consistent run of results to underscore he’s capitalizing on that potential. There was the Hosmer who blistered through the last four months of the 2013 season. And there was the Hosmer who sputtered in the middle of 2014. Swings and roundabouts.

Let’s focus on his 2014 because that’s just a microcosm of his major league career. As a factor in the Royal April power outage, he went 30 games at the start of the season before he hit a home run. He then went another 30 games before he hit his second long ball. He was still providing some offensive spark with a .354 OBP at the end of April, but his .388 slugging percentage was unacceptable for a first baseman who hit third in the order. Maybe he was pressing, but May and June were a couple of brutal months for Hosmer. In a 56 game stretch, he hit .221/.258/.323.

As his decent OBP from April evaporated, Hosmer arrived at the All-Star Break with a slash line that read a pedestrian .268/.315/.347 with a 95 wRC+. Despite going on a mini-tear in the two weeks leading to the Break.

When play resumed, it was more of the same struggles from May and June. Then, on July 31, it was discovered Hosmer suffered a stress fracture when he was hit by a pitch 10 days earlier. He landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

To Hosmer’s credit, he immersed himself in his recovery and spend his time on the sidelines working with hitting coach Dale Sveum who had him take a shorter path to the ball. Hosmer caught fire in September, hitting .290/.347/.495. Post Break, he slashed .280/.328/.449 with a 115 wRC+.

Just another Jeckyl and Hyde season from the Royals first round pick from the 2008 draft. He suffered a shorter, yet similar, slow start to the 2013 season before he rallied with his best offensive performance to date. Likewise, his 2012 season was wildly inconsistent with great performances peppered in between lengthy stretches of lethargy.

While I’ve declared there is no mystery to a player like Mike Moustakas, I can’t help but to be confounded by Hosmer. Who is he? Offensively speaking… Is he the player who we’ve seen rake? Or is he guy who disappears for stretches. Or is he just inconsistent, prone to fits of streakiness and that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Let’s focus on a couple of issues that could be holding him back.

First, his walk rate has declined since 2012.

2012 – 9.4%

2013 – 7.5%

2014 – 6.4%

That’s just a symptom of being on the Royals. Although it may reveal an underlying problem that is his approach at the plate. According to Pitch f/x data collated by Brooks Baseball, Hosmer was ultra aggressive against fastballs last summer and had what they classified as a “poor eye.” He swung at 68 percent of fastballs in the zone and chased 35 percent of fastballs outside the strike zone. While he was league average (around 15 percent) on his swings and misses, his raw number would be higher because he was swinging at fastballs more than the average major league hitter.

Last year, Hosmer’s O-Swing rate (swings on pitches outside the zone) was 37.2 percent. League average was 31 .3 percent. Oof. Way too aggressive. His O-Contact (contact when swinging on pitches outside the zone) was 74.6 percent. League average was 64.9 percent. Yikes. As Kevin Ruprecht noted at Royals Review, making more contact on pitches outside the zone is putting a ceiling on whatever upside Hosmer once had. I absolutely agree. This is a Royal epidemic where batters expand the zone and put pitches in play where they can’t possibly get the best contact necessary to drive the ball.

Which brings me to the next problem with Hosmer, his ground ball rate. Check his ground ball rates since 2012:

2012 – 53.6%

2013 – 52.7%

2014 – 51.2%

It’s getting better, but damn… That’s way too high of a ground ball rate. In fact, it was the 18th highest among major league regulars last summer. That’s not where you want a corner infielder.

Why is he killing so many worms? My theory is when he’s going badly, he gets pull-happy. He gets out in front of the ball, pitchers pitch him away and he rolls his wrists and hits a harmless four-hopper to the right side. Hosmer’s spray chart is fascinating:

HosmerSpray

The heavy cluster of green on the right side is exactly what I’m talking about. That’s when he’s out in front and rolling over on the pitch.

What is also fascinating is the equal distribution of line drives and fly balls to the outfield. Clearly, Hosmer has the ability to square a pitch and drive it to all fields. As long as he stays within himself and is making contact on pitches in the zone. That’s crucial.

Since Hosmer is grounding out on pitches he’s jumping ahead of, it makes sense that most of the green cluster above happens when he sees offspeed and breaking pitches. The data backs this assertion. The following chart breaks down Hosmer’s batted balls by type of pitch he puts in play.

HosmerSpray2

But he was so great in October! That has to mean something!

It does. But not what you may think. Turns out the Angels, Orioles and Giants threw Hosmer more fastballs than he saw at any point in the regular season.

HosmerPitchCategory

Fewer breaking and offspeed pitches, means fewer ground balls, which means a higher BABIP. Oh… He also had improved plate discipline. He hit .500 against fastballs in the postseason. Small sample size caveat applies, but you see how he was locked in during the month. That’s a good thing. But I think for him to come close to repeating that performance, he will need to see a pitch profile like he saw in October. And that’s unlikely.

Let’s talk defense. The Fielding Bible says Hosmer was worth three Runs Saved at first base last year, good for 14th best in baseball. Data from Inside Edge says Hosmer converted 95.5 percent of the “routine” plays he handled at first base, which was second worst to Chris Davis among qualified first basemen. On the flip side among “likely” plays, Hosmer made 95 percent of those. That was tops among first basemen. So Hosmer’s a good enough athlete he can make the difficult plays, but he can lack focus on the easier, more routine, moments on the field? Watching him, that looks about right.

The difficult plays for a first baseman come from behind the bag and down the line.

HosmerDef

There’s a little too much green on the “Missed Plays” which is why Hosmer was downgraded on the “routine.” That’s counterbalanced by the cluster of lighter green on the “Made Plays” side. Homer is probably a little overrated as a defender, but is still very good. A Gold Glover? Eh, maybe not. But he certainly has the potential to develop his defensive game further. Hosmer already has the defensive reputation among his peers and the fans. If he could just get the various defensive metrics to fall in love with him, it would be game over.

Hosmer is eligible for arbitration for the second time in his career. Last season, he made $3.6 million and provided 0.2 fWAR and was valued at Fangraphs at $1 million. Not good enough. This year, he’s asking for $6.7 million while the Royals countered at $4.6 million. That’s a huge gulf for a second year player with his kind of track record. Hosmer is a member of the Boras Corp., so this is just the beginning as the Royals will go through this dance two more times before he’s eligible for free agency.

Hosmer is a solid, if frustrating player. It sounds trite, but he needs to put together a consistent season in order for him to provide value for the Royals. He’s capable of being that middle of the order anchor we’ve been seeking. It’s just a matter of putting it all together for six (or seven) months. That would be nice.

Two signings to report from Tuesday as the Royals reached deals with Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. The deals mean both players will avoid an arbitration hearing.

Cain – profiled here – will earn $2.725 million in 2015. As the sides exchanged figures last month, Cain asked for $3.6 million. The Royals countered with $2 million. The settled amount is $75,000 below the midpoint. Also included in his contract is an incentive clause of $25,000 if he reached 505 plate appearances. That means, he will have to avoid his annual trip to the disabled list. If he is named to the All-Star team, that’s worth an additional $50,000.

As I mentioned in his profile, Cain will be a massive bargain for the Royals. His glove alone is worth millions. Even if he regresses at the plate, as I believe he will, he will still bring plenty of value. Plenty.

Apparently, the Royals got this deal done at the 11th hour.

Cain was this close to being the first Royal under Dayton Moore to have a hearing. With a difference of just $1.6 million, it’s surprising the deal just got done ahead of the hearing. This also raises an interesting point. Often these hearings are held in secret. We know the general fact that hearings are scheduled over the next couple of weeks. We lack the specifics of who will have a hearing and at what date.

Moustakas will make $2.64 million next season. He had asked for $3.1 million and the Royals answered with an offer of $1.85 million. Midpoint was $2.475. His profile is found here.

This raises another interesting point about the inequity of the arbitration process. Both were eligible for arbitration for the first time. Cain was worth 4.9 fWAR in 2015 and hit .301/.339/.412. For his career, he’s posted a slash line of .279/.326/.392 with a cumulative 10.3 fWAR.

Meanwhile, Moustakas hit .212/.271/.361 en route to a 0.9 fWAR. In his career, he’s hit .236/.290/.379 and has been worth 5.3 fWAR. Most of his value came in 2012 when he finished with a 3.1 fWAR.

Quite the discrepancy of production. It hardly seems fair they are within almost $100,000 of each other. Such is the failing of the arbitration process. Also, these one-year deals won’t preclude the Royals and the players from talking a long-term deal. If there’s interest. Remember a few years ago, Alex Gordon avoided arbitration and a few weeks later the Royals and Gordon reached a deal for a contract extension. Although I couldn’t imagine why they would sign Moustakas to anything beyond this year. And as I mentioned in the Cain profile, I don’t think he’s a good candidate for an extension.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I have always been confused by the love showered upon Moustakas. I wonder if that will start to change now he’s elevated from the ranks of minimum wage earners and is now set to make his first million (actually two-plus million) in a single season. Will there be a perception that he’s overpaid?  Will he start to hear more boos than Moose calls? A little million dollar fallout? Maybe not this year. Maybe next year or the year after when his paycheck figures to increase even more.

With Moustakas and Cain reaching deals, the Royals have four pending hearings: Danny Duffy, Kelvin Herrera, Eric Hosmer and Greg Holland. If I were a betting man, I’d wager the next two down will be Duffy and Herrera. Of course all of that falls by the wayside should Hosmer or Holland have a hearing scheduled in the next day or so. I still think the Royals get everyone under contract without a hearing.

Here is the Royals current payroll estimate. The red numbers are the midpoints between team and player. The players at the bottom are estimated to make close to the major league minimum. Remember from my last payroll post, the names for the players making the minimum may change – I’m not betting Brandon Finnegan will make the Opening Day roster. It also includes Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlin who will likely open the year on the DL.

RoyalsPayroll020315

Not surprising, they are still on target for around a record $112 million payroll.

The Royals unveiled their 2015 slogan during the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Forever Royal.

This is going to get a huge “thumbs up” from me. That’s just a great, great slogan created by Walz Tetrick Advertising. Not only is it a natural follow-up to “Be Royal” from last summer (which I also liked) it carries more weight following the Royals October run. Simple, yet permanent. No one who was at The K or who watched the games on TV will ever forget. It’s stamped into your baseball consciousness. Forever, right? Declarative and powerful.

As I was writing this post, I went through the categories we’ve created at this website and found a couple of the old slogans. “It All Happens Here.” Ugh. How generic. And I’m sure since it’s from the Jose Guillen years, it’s intentionally vague. Then there’s “Come To Play.” Whoa. It’s like an invitation to a swingers party. Creepy and potentially deviant. And, of course, “Our Time.” No comment necessary on that one.

“Forever Royals” is not only a great slogan. It’s the best Royals marketing tag for a long, long time.

Let’s talk about some of the marketing materials. The TV spot that aired during the Super Bowl is really good.

Combining images of Kansas City landmarks, along with signature plays from the 2014 postseason, the commercial hits all of the right notes. Yordano Ventura opens the spot by throwing fire on the back of the scoreboard. Sal Perez’s Wild Card winning single is projected on Union Station. Mike Moustakas falling into the dugout suite down the third base line is displayed on Bartle Hall. Eric Hosmer hitting a home run against the Angels in Game One of the ALDS is at the Nelson-Atkins. Lorenzo Cain is doing Lorenzo Cain things against the Kauffman Center. The game footage is composited against still photos of the Kansas City landmarks and looks great. I’m lukewarm on the script because it feels a little cliched to me. But to be honest, the visuals are so great – and it’s so fun to see those moments again – I’m not sure I’m even paying attention to the voice over. But the audio mix is strong, with Ryan Lefebvre’s “Fair ball!” call on Perez’s hit and the final “Let’s go Royals” chant at the end bringing us home.

And let’s make no mistake. Producing a commercial to debut during the Super Bowl – even a regional commercial – takes some serious stones. Get it wrong and there’s no getting around it. But this commercial was done right. It fit in nicely with the other spots of the game. Well done.

Then there’s the billboards. These have become something of a talking point for their creativity the last couple of years. This year did not disappoint.

The Royals are known for speed. To use speed, you kick on the burners. Burners bring fire, flames, whatever. So we have the legs of Jarrod Dyson presumably at the moment he’s taking off for second and he’s leaving a charred billboard in his wake. Pretty damn good. That’s going to catch the eye of drivers on the interstate. And it fits in perfectly with the other billboard work done by Walz Tetrick in support of the Royals the previous two years.

I maintain that marketing a professional sports team is difficult. You can come up with the best creative in the world, but nothing tops wins. Winning makes everything better. Marketing included. Good commercials and strong billboards aren’t going to boost attendance. Wins (and let’s be honest, bubbleheads and Buck Night) are what creates the buzz that puts asses in the seats. But when you have a winning team combined with a strong marketing campaign, the buzz just gets a little louder. Just a little. That’s what the TV spot and the billboard have done. They are building the buzz that starts with being the defending American League champions. And that’s good marketing.

The Royals, after years of afterthought, pushed their way through to the collective consciousness of the casual, and the not so casual fan. The new slogan perfectly encapsulates how we felt. And how we hope we continue to feel.

“And each of us became, Forever Royal.”

I don’t think you can dispute that.

Kansas City shook off the winter doldrums to embrace their AL Champion Royals as the annual FanFest descended upon downtown. With pitchers and catchers due to report in two weeks, there was plenty of news.

— Ned Yost developed an interactive baseball app.

What? I would have bet the house I would type “Royals re-sign James Shields” before I ever wrote anything about Yost and an “interactive baseball app.”

I downloaded the app and gave it a spin. My impressions are less than favorable at this point. It’s too easy to accidentally sign yourself out. The point, as far as I can tell, is you pick a defensive position and the game gives you a situation. Your goal is to throw to the proper base. At least, that’s what I think is happening. There aren’t any instructions.

At the end of the drill, you get a screen that gives you a score based on “accuracy,” “average response,” and “correct percentage.” I have no idea what accuracy is all about. You’re tapping a screen in the general area where you are making the throw. Then the correct percentage thing is confounding. I was dinged for a wrong answer because with a runner on second and one out, as a first baseman I was supposed to throw to… second?

Good thing this app is free. I’d hate to think anyone would pay money for this.

— The season hasn’t even started and we already have a new Twitter hashtag: #TGM.

That stands for “Total Gordon Move,” which is what happens when Alex Gordon slams into the wall (or the ground) and slowly gets up. With the ball in his glove.

And that’s why they have FanFest.

— Speaking of Gordon, he’s recovering well from wrist surgery. He missed two weeks of workouts (which is probably the equivalent to a year of workouts for us mortals) and says he’s been lifting weights and pretty much doing his normal winter prep ever since.

Gordon played most of the second half with the injury, which happened while sliding. He had a scorching hot August, but wore down in September, had a good ALDS and ALCS, but stumbled in the World Series. Injuries (and surgeries) to the wrist are worrying. It’s to his right wrist which means it’s his lower hand when he swings the bat. Hopefully, this won’t be something that saps his strength or slows down his snap.

The cast comes off at the start of next week.

– I enjoyed this Tweet:

Sometimes players aren’t the best judge of things. No matter how close they reside to the dirt. I’ll just leave this here:

Sal Perez 1st half – .283/.329/.437 with a .337 wOBA and 117 wRC+
Sal Perez 2nd half – .229/.236/.360 with a .259 wOBA and 61 wRC+

Ned Yost abused the hell out of Perez. Fact. Those numbers don’t lie. Although it should be noted that his 1st half numbers look good due to a June where he hit everything. (.347/.383/.535 with a .403 wOBA and 162 wRC+) His April and May weren’t special, but they weren’t as bad as any month in the second half. His grip-and-rip approach caught up to him, but I would submit his workload crushed his numbers even more in the second half. It will be very interesting to see how Perez bounces back.

Perez wants to play everyday. Yost wants his best players on the field. I get that. But at some point, common sense should prevail.

Yost floated the idea of tying Erik Kratz to a pitcher as a personal catcher. That would force Yost to give Perez a day off at least once a week. Whatever works.

— Brandon Finnegan figures to be one of 10 starting pitchers the Royals will use in spring training. The problem for Finnegan is all five spots in the regular season are already taken. So even if he has some sort of lights out spring – and remember it will be his first spring training – it’s pretty much going to take an injury to one of the starting five to have the Royals take him north in the rotation.

What will likely happen is at some point, the Royals will have to make a decision. Do they send him to the minors to start, or do they keep him in Kansas City in the bullpen. (This is assuming he has a productive spring.) It sounds as if there’s a vocal camp within the organization that Finnegan should return to his normal role as a starter. Whew. It would be a colossal mistake to keep him on the big league team as a reliever. Finnegan is a starter. That’s his future. We hope. As such, he should be given every opportunity to hone his craft in the minors with an eye on a spot in the rotation in 2016. Realize last season was the perfect way for the Royals to handle their first round draft pick. He had accumulated some mileage on his arm, pitching his team to the College World Series. The Royals needed (and could add once the rosters expanded) some bullpen depth. He acquitted himself enough in September, the Royals gave him a spot on their postseason rosters. Everyone’s happy.

Just because it was a success in the short-term, doesn’t mean the Royals should use him as a reliever in the long-term. He can provide much more value to the team in the rotation.

— Eric Hosmer felt third base coach Mike Jirschele made the right call in holding Gordon at third in Game Seven. I’m probably the lone Royals fan who feels this way, but I enjoy that we’re still talking about this. It would have been much worse if the team had lost 11-0. Much worse. For the record, I don’t think there’s any way you could have sent him. Still, that’s a moment I’ll never forget. It stinks that the team came up 90 feet short, but I had a blast.

— Luke Hochevar is throwing pitches off the mound – around 30 at a time – as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Whichever admitted it was difficult watching his teammates in October. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. To play next to those guys through five years of mediocrity and bad baseball, only to miss the action when the team finally reaches the pinnacle? Oof. It sounds like Hochevar embraced his October role as cheerleader. Good for him.

He didn’t say he had other offers, but he did say he wanted badly to remain a Royal. Hopefully, he can slot into the bullpen to give Yost yet another weapon he can lean on next season.

Denny Matthews signed a four-year contract extension to continue as the radio voice of the Royals. By the end of this deal, he will have been with the team for 50 seasons. Hell of an accomplishment.

I’m glad he’s going to be around. I enjoy his regular season broadcasts. Postseason? Not so much.

I’m not going to get into the criticisms from October here because we’ve heard them a thousand times. If there was one thing I wish Denny would change about his regular season work it would be having someone he could interact with and talk baseball during the broadcasts. He’s a great storyteller, but with The Steves alongside, he just doesn’t seem interested enough to bother. Maybe at some point in the next four years they will find a competent partner for him.

— Apparently, winning brings out the fans. Last year’s FanFest sold 11,000 tickets. This year? 20,000. No word if Royals officials were surprised.

We have reached the point in the winter where prospect lists and projections are accumulating. As January turns to February, it’s a nice diversion. Baseball is around the corner.

But do these lists and projections mean anything?

This year, PECOTA projects the Royals to win 72 games. Yikes. That’s like Year Two of The Process bad. This projection is causing so much gnashing of the teeth. On the surface, this projection seems incredibly unfair. Last year, PECOTA pegged the Royals at 79 wins and a second place tie with Cleveland. The Royals won 89, outperforming that projection by 10 wins. And they did that minor thing where they won the AL Pennant. I can just feel the indignation among certain corners of Royals Universe building. “PECOTA sucks! They are always wrong about the Royals! I hate them!!!”

That’s the natural reaction to that type of projection. It’s a macro view that elicits a macro reaction. Myself, I see that projection and ask, “Why?” Looking into this year’s PECOTA, the system really doesn’t like the Royals rotation. Like actively loathes it. Serial killers and email spammers get more love. Edinson Volquez? A 4.73 ERA and -0.7 WARP. Jeremy Guthrie? Not much better with a 4.66 ERA and the same WARP as Volquez. I don’t even know if I want to pass along the numbers for Yordano Ventura. (OK, a 4.16 ERA and 0.5 WARP.) Fold in the underwhelming numbers for Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas and the Royals starting five projects to have a -0.3 WARP. Damn. Those numbers are pretty grim.

Is that likely? Hell, no. Last year, eight pitchers in the majors finished with a negative WARP value. PECOTA projects the Royals to have three starters post a negative WARP. I don’t have team numbers broken down, but I’d guess that for an entire rotation to collectively have a negative WARP, it would be a historically terrible rotation.

Believe it or not, PECOTA saves some of its distaste for the Royals offense. It projects a .257 TAv and 641 runs scored. Both marks are dead last in the American League. This computer clearly didn’t get the memo that everyone is supposed to be better. But hang on to your pitchforks… Last year the Royals finished with a .254 TAv. So PECOTA does think the Royals offense will be marginally better? Yet they’ll still be awful? The nerve. What I find interesting is that last year the Royals plated 651 runs. I can do the simple math – that’s 10 runs fewer than they are projected to score this year. However, while their projected run total for 2015 is last in the AL, their real run total in 2014 ranked them ninth out of the 15 teams. So clearly, PECOTA thinks the run scoring environment is going to change for a number of teams. After seeing the shrinking offensive trends of the last several seasons… I’m skeptical.

The system thinks Mike Moustakas will be better than Kendrys Morales, but both would be worse than Josh Willingham, had he not retired. It calls for regression from Lorenzo Cain, but thinks Omar Infante will bounce back offensively. Billy Butler will not be missed.

In a nutshell, PECOTA doesn’t really like any Royal player outside of Alex Gordon. Does this make PECOTA a bad projection system? I don’t think so. It makes it like all the other systems. Imperfect.

You know how everything went right for the Royals last October? Flip that around and that’s how PECOTA is looking at 2015 for the Royals. Everything would have to go wrong. But those are the kinds of projections that happen when you have guys with short track records (like Ventura and Duffy), or players who dabble in mediocrity (Hosmer and Vargas), or out-of-nowhere breakouts (Cain), or are just plain bad (Moustakas). Basically, the computer sees a lot about the Royals that raises red flags and causes a great deal of skepticism. Nothing personal, you know.

Steamer (found on Fangraphs) is more bullish on the Royals chances, but still has them at just 81 wins. They like the starting rotation more than PECOTA – I don’t think anyone can like anything less than PECOTA likes the Royals starting rotation –  but Steamer thinks Moustakas is capable of a 2.7 fWAR season. OK.

All in good fun. Until you realize these silly projection systems don’t give a damn the Royals won the AL Pennant last year. What? October doesn’t count? Nooooooo.

It’s a computer. As some bloggers at The Star will point out, they play the games on the field. I’m aware of the differences, thanks. That doesn’t mean I can’t be entertained by the various projection systems.

What does annoy me is those who take the projections as some kind of mantra. Extremism in all forms is unappetizing. I cite Steamer and PECOTA on this site from time to time in order to give a big picture of a player going forward. I use these projections as a talking point. A conversation piece. When Steamer says Lorenzo Cain is going to hit .267/.315/.377 which would be a huge drop in offensive production, I acknowledge that the system thinks that Cain is going to regress and then I move along. I’m not going to say with certainty that Cain will post a 2.7 fWAR (his Steamer projection) because there are 162 games to play. When someone says the Nationals are only two wins better with Max Scherzer based on his Steamer projection, that may be accurate, but that’s no fun. What’s fun is saying, “The Nationals rotation is going to dominate!” According to PECOTA, they are the anti-Royals.

Now that baseball has leveled the playing field and mediocrity is rewarded with a pair of Wild Cards, you just have to hover around .500 for as long as you can before you make your move. So the good news is PECOTA also projects the Tigers to win the division with 82 wins. Sweet. Instead of looking at the whole numbers, maybe this is a notice that the entire AL Central just isn’t a strong division. Steamer agrees, giving the Tigers 85 wins. The really good news is the White Sox and all those fancy moves last month still aren’t enough to push them to the postseason. Take that, South Siders!

I love the projections. They are something fun to parse when the wind is blowing from the north and it’s dark at dinnertime. It’s fun to try to crack the code… Which system is too optimistic? Which one favors rookies the most? Is it possible to identify a sleeper team?

I just try to keep everything in perspective. Opening Day is about two months away. And we’re eight months away from finding out about the accuracy of these projections.

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