Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

It took all of 15 minutes to remember the game was being played in the thin desert air. Back to back to back. Six batters, six runs. Welcome to the Cactus League.

Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios all teed off in the first to give the Royals the cushion for their first victory of the spring.

Cue the “Royals have discovered power!” dispatches.

Far be it for me to tell you how to react, especially when the Royals hit three consecutive home runs, but this isn’t our first rodeo. We know about Surprise and how it makes certain hitters look each spring. And we know about the harsh realities of bringing that offensive mojo to Kansas City, Detroit and Chicago.

Still, I can’t deny that it wasn’t fun to listen to as the barrage was unfolding. Even if it doesn’t count.

— The lineup for the first action of the exhibition season was situated like this:

Alcides Escobar – SS
Jarrod Dyson – LF
Lorenzo Cain – CF
Eric Hosmer – 1B
Kendrys Morales – DH
Alex Rios – RF
Mike Moustakas – 3B
Erik Kratz – C
Christian Colon – 2B

We know Escobar is going to get first crack at leading off when the regular season dawns. He drew a walk in the first to set off the six run rally, which clearly signifies his change in approach to be a better leadoff man. (That’s sarcasm, if you didn’t know. Maybe he changed his approach. Maybe he didn’t. What we do know is he walked in 3.7 percent of his plate appearances last year. A good leadoff man will walk around 12 percent of the time. One PA in Surprise tells us nothing.)

Yost hit Dyson second, but admitted he’s thinking of his options in that spot. In his mind at this moment he’s thinking of Cain, Rios or Alex Gordon. Personally, I’d nominate Gordon. If anything, the acquisition of Rios should push Gordon higher in the lineup, and that’s a good thing. Really, I’d like Gordon to return to the leadoff spot, but it’s difficult to be picky. Just anywhere higher than fifth. Please.

— Tim Collins, scheduled for an inning of work, exited with elbow discomfort after facing four batters in the fifth inning. The Royals are attempting to arrange an early Thursday morning MRI to learn more.

The left-hander is a key component to the middle of the Royals bullpen and represents something of a domino. Should Collins be out for any length of time, the Royals will be tempted to use Brandon Finnegan in the major league bullpen. That’s less than ideal. The team knows Finnegan’s value lies in the rotation and the hope has been for him to be shipped to the minors to open the season as a starter.

If Collins is out, the Royals will be searching for a left-handed replacement. Finnegan would definitely be the front-runner on the basis of his September and October performance, but Franklin Morales, Brian Flynn – acquired from Florida in the Aaron Crow trade – and Joe Patterson could be in the mix. Of the three, only Flynn is currently on the 40-man roster. Patterson and Morales would have to have exceptional springs to break north as both are in camp on minor league deals. Let’s face it… If Collins is truly hurt, the spot is Finnegan’s to lose.

When a pitcher leaves the game with what is termed an “elbow issue,” it’s certain to raise alarm bells. We should know more about the injury Thursday. Fingers crossed.

— From the Star, here’s Ned bringing some perspective to the offensive barrage unleashed by his almost A-Team.

— The Royals square off in another match against the Rangers on Thursday afternoon. Flynn gets his first opportunity to impress as he will start. He will be followed by Sean Manaea and Miguel Almonte.

There will be baseball today in Surprise, Arizona. It won’t mean anything with regard to the upcoming season, but it is baseball nonetheless.

Two of the Royals’ pitchers who are tentatively scheduled to pitch this afternoon are twenty-two year old Jandel Gustave and thirty-one year old Yohan Pino. If either wants to head north in April with the big league club, they have some work to do.

Gustave was a Rule 5 pick of the Red Sox who was then traded to the Royals for cash (American, by the way). Despite the trade, he comes with all the trappings of a Rule 5 pick and will have to stay on the big league roster all season or be offered back to his original team, the Astros. Here is Gustave by the numbers:

  • 100 – the velocity of his fastball
  • 67 – walks issued in his two seasons in the Dominican Summer League….in 45 innings.
  • 13 – hit batters last season in 79 A-ball innings
  • 14 – wild pitches last season

So, you get the picture, right?

Gustave throws really, really hard. He has limited control of anything that is not a fastball and, let’s face it, minimal control of the fastball.  Jandel has good strikeout numbers in his five minor league seasons (2 in the Dominican, 2 in Rookie ball and last year in Low-A) – right at a strikeout per inning.  Good, not eye popping.  He does have eye-popping or maybe eye-bleeding control numbers. After walking 8.7 batter per 9 innings in 2012, Gustave cut his walk rate drastically by last season (just 3.3 BB/9), but keep in mind that rate does not count the 13 batters he hit.  To steal the line from a movie and countless others:  “I have no idea where the ball is going…really.”

What the Royals are going to be looking for this spring is if Gustave can get the ball over the plate enough to log some innings when the team is up 10 or down 10.  If he can get the ball over the plate a semi-reasonable amount of the time, one would think the team could stash him as the seventh reliever in a deep bullpen.  The slot likely will only needs to get through 30 low leverage innings, but you have to be able to get through them. If Gustave can’t throw strikes or stop hitting batters, he cannot even occupy that role.  Of course if the Royals go with eight relievers……well, that’s a column for another day.

If young and raw describes Gustave, then old and weathered is Yohan Pino.

Pino finally made the majors for the first time last season, starting 11 games for the Twins.  Featuring a high 80’s fastball. backed by a slider, changeup and an occasional curve, Pino posted an earned run average of 5.07.  His FIP of 3.94 indicates Pino may have been better than that.

In the minors, Pino has been in AA or AAA since 2007 and amassed 1,105 total innings splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. Yohan has posted a career minor league strikeout rate of 8.1/9:  a number that has held reasonably well at the AAA level.  Coupled with a decent walk rate and average home run rate and you have a guy who is a pitcher, not a thrower. Now, is he a good enough pitcher?

In Pino, the Royals have a guy who has been a swingman basically his entire professional life. He even closed some for Louisville in 2013, so there is no role that is foreign to him. Let’s face it, at thirty-one any role that involves travelling on a charter jet would be welcome.  On the surface and maybe in real life, Pino seems like a nice guy to have as your number six or seven reliever, capable of eating up garbage innings on a bad (or really good) night and ready to make that spot start.  Temper that thought, however, with knowing that he has put up some of his best number being an old guy in AAA.

It never hurts to have a Pino in your inventory, but it usually doesn’t hurt to not have one, either.   The Royals are his sixth organization (seven if you count the Twins twice), so a lot of eyes have had a look at Yohan and decided they could live without him.  I think he likely has a real shot at the last bullpen spot, especially if the Royals decide keeping Gustave would be just too painful.  If not there, he is likely candidate number one to get the call from Omaha if one of the starters goes down.

We won’t get much of a hint today about what the future holds for either of these guys, but we will have baseball and these two will pitch.  The over/under on balls to the screen by Gustave is two, by the way.

How did we get here? How did we arrive at the moment where Kendrys Morales became the Royals designated hitter?

It seems the process was two-fold.

First, the Royals were desperate to part with Billy Butler. We’ve written about this at length. There was just no way the Royals were going to bring Butler back. The Royals declined his option, made a token play at re-signing him and then let him go when Oakland ponied up serious cash leading Moore to admit he misread the market. Second, the Royals figured they would go with the method du jour of rotating the DH spot among players who needed a rest and a couple of bench bats to keep them fresh. They didn’t need a full-time designated hitter.

And within a month and a half, their course of direction changed and Morales was at a introductory press conference at The K. Strange days, indeed.

I gave my reaction to the Morales signing when it happened. It hasn’t changed. Instead of rehashing how the Royals could have better spent their money, let’s instead dive into the player the Royals purchased for two years and all those millions.

Morales hit the free agent market following the 2013 season after turning down a qualifying offer from the Mariners. Teams, leery of surrendering a draft pick as part of the cost of signing Morales, kept their distance. Morales didn’t sign a deal until after the 2014 draft in June. Turning down the qualifying offer cost Morales two-plus months of last season. When he finally got in uniform he was… not good.

Let’s just start with the big picture of Morales’s career stats.

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2006 23 LAA 57 215 197 21 46 10 1 5 22 17 28 .234 .293 .371 .664 71
2007 24 LAA 43 126 119 12 35 10 0 4 15 6 21 .294 .333 .479 .812 111
2008 25 LAA 27 66 61 7 13 2 0 3 8 4 7 .213 .273 .393 .666 73
2009 26 LAA 152 622 566 86 173 43 2 34 108 46 117 .306 .355 .569 .924 139
2010 27 LAA 51 211 193 29 56 5 0 11 39 12 31 .290 .346 .487 .833 129
2012 29 LAA 134 522 484 61 132 26 1 22 73 31 116 .273 .320 .467 .787 119
2013 30 SEA 156 657 602 64 167 34 0 23 80 49 114 .277 .336 .449 .785 123
2014 31 TOT 98 401 367 28 80 20 0 8 42 27 68 .218 .274 .338 .612 75
2014 31 MIN 39 162 154 12 36 11 0 1 18 6 27 .234 .259 .325 .584 64
2014 31 SEA 59 239 213 16 44 9 0 7 24 21 41 .207 .285 .347 .632 83
8 Yrs 718 2820 2589 308 702 150 4 110 387 192 502 .271 .324 .460 .784 114
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2015.

The conventional wisdom is missing spring training in 2014 hurt Morales. I certainly understand that point. And I’m sure it played a role in his struggles. However, to broach this argument is to make it sound like he improved over time. Slow start and he picked up a little steam as he got more plate appearances during the season. Except that’s not how it went down.

June – .215/.250/.316 with a 52 wRC+
July – .216/.243/.289 with a 46 wRC+
Aug – .255/.321/.388 with a 103 wRC+
Sept – .183/.276/.355 with a 81 wRC+

That’s one month out of four where he was roughly a league average hitter. That’s three months out of four where he was breathtakingly subpar. The Mariners finished one game back of the A’s for the final Wild Card spot. It’s not a stretch to imagine Morales and his -0.9 fWAR cost Seattle a shot at the postseason. He was that much of a liability in the lineup.

Let’s take a step back and look again at Morales’s career numbers. There’s a breakout 2009. There’s the truncated 2010 season when he broke his leg jumping on home plate celebrating a walk-0ff, 10th inning grand slam. There’s the missing 2011 thanks to said injury. Then, there’s a nice little comeback. He never reached his pre-injury offensive heights, but when you miss a season and a half and return to average an OPS+ of 121 and post a wRC+ of 119 in back to back seasons, that’s a comeback.

In examining the market for Nelson Cruz, Sam Miller at Baseball Prospectus came up with the term “bomb-ass designated hitter.” The thinking goes that teams don’t really need a designated hitter. They can survive the way the Royals thought they would navigate the American League in 2015 by rotating a cast of characters in the role. It’s less expensive and, with the correct roster, it can be effective. Now, if you’re going to spend money on a full-time DH, that DH had better be amazing. He’d better be bomb-ass. And according to Miller, bomb-ass for a DH is one who owns around a 128 OPS+.

It turns out there are very few bomb-ass designated hitters. Victor Martinez? If he’s healthy, he’s totally bomb-ass. David Ortiz? Don’t be silly. Bomb-ass. Old friend Billy Butler? Not bomb-ass, but closer than you may think.

Here is a list of players who, from 2010 to 2014, have collected at least 1,000 plate appearances and had at least half of those plate appearances coming as a designated hitter. In the interest of discovering who is bomb-ass, the list is sorted by OPS+.

Rk Player OPS+ PA Age G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 David Ortiz 151 2796 34-38 660 2403 378 701 167 4 149 465 367 462 .292 .384 .551 .935
2 Victor Martinez 133 2442 31-35 582 2199 295 697 141 1 78 368 210 207 .317 .374 .488 .863
3 Billy Butler 122 3301 24-28 791 2937 342 872 180 1 87 428 309 482 .297 .365 .448 .812
4 Travis Hafner 118 1392 33-36 360 1202 141 304 59 3 50 178 151 298 .253 .350 .432 .782
5 Luke Scott 116 1388 32-35 382 1223 156 306 75 4 59 189 134 295 .250 .327 .463 .790
6 Kendrys Morales 112 1791 27-31 439 1646 182 435 85 1 64 234 119 329 .264 .319 .434 .753
7 Vladimir Guerrero 109 1233 35-36 297 1155 143 341 57 2 42 178 52 116 .295 .332 .457 .789
8 Johnny Damon 102 1484 36-38 359 1328 185 344 71 14 28 143 137 209 .259 .331 .397 .728
9 Hideki Matsui 102 1246 36-38 320 1094 120 276 53 1 35 163 131 204 .252 .330 .399 .728
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/2/2015.

Wow. Some old-timers on that list. Let’s run it again, but this time narrow the span to three seasons and 500 plate appearances.

Rk Player OPS+ PA Age G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 David Ortiz 156 1585 36-38 369 1360 208 399 91 2 88 267 207 234 .293 .385 .557 .942
2 Victor Martinez 139 1309 34-35 310 1166 155 370 69 0 46 186 124 104 .317 .381 .495 .876
3 Billy Butler 117 1950 26-28 474 1745 191 509 91 1 53 255 174 309 .292 .358 .436 .794
4 Adam Dunn 110 1767 32-34 431 1493 196 319 52 0 97 246 252 570 .214 .329 .443 .773
5 Kendrys Morales 110 1580 29-31 388 1453 153 379 80 1 53 195 107 298 .261 .315 .427 .742
6 Luke Scott 103 635 34-35 187 567 62 133 35 3 23 95 51 143 .235 .304 .429 .733
7 Travis Hafner 102 562 35-36 148 481 54 103 14 3 24 71 64 126 .214 .322 .405 .727
8 Delmon Young 97 1224 26-28 337 1150 111 313 54 2 36 142 50 241 .272 .308 .417 .725
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/2/2015.

Morales hasn’t been a bomb-ass DH since he broke his leg. He’s been adequate, but he hasn’t been worth the big bucks. Not even close.

Fine. The 2014 season hurt his numbers, you say. Badly. Such an outlier, you may suggest, it would be unfair to include it in your assessment of Morales as a bomb-ass DH. Sadly, as much as you may want to explain it away, you can’t. It happened. It was real. And it was ugly. So, so ugly. This is not some sort of Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It cannot be erased.

Then what exactly happened to Morales in 2014 that made it so awful? In a nutshell, he stopped driving the ball.

Compare his spray chart from 2013 to his chart from last season. Notice how much deeper his fly balls travelled in ’13 compared to ’14.

MoralesSpray

Morales is a switch-hitter and his power comes primarily from the right side. There are clusters of blue representing fly balls in left and center that are present in 2014, but they aren’t as deep on the plot as 2013. That has to account for something. As RJ Anderson discovered at Baseball Prospectus, Morales posted career low BABIP on both line drives and fly balls last year.

Morales floundered from both sides last year.

As LHB – .206/.271/.313 with a .239 BABIP and 64 wRC+

As RHB – .239/.281/.381 with a .252 BABIP and 86 wRC+

The power spike as a right-handed batter comes clubbing four home runs in 134 at bats compared to four home runs in 233 at bats as a lefty. Again, that’s where his power lives – from the right side.

Can Morales bounce back? Certainly. No matter how you slice it, 2014 vibes rock bottom. I would bet Morales sees improvement. The projection systems tend to agree.

Steamer – .262/.319/.419 with a 107 wRC+ and 0.5 fWAR

ZiPS – .261/.315/.417 with a 105 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR

PECOTA – .266/.320/.426 with a .276 TAv and 1.2 WARP

Those are some numbers that represent a nice bounce back. If only he were a middle infielder. Alas, he doesn’t own a glove and those numbers are still far from bomb-ass. If the Royals were so hell-bent on throwing money away, they should have just exercised Butler’s option and been saddled with an overpriced DH for one year instead of two. Oh, well. The horse has left the barn and all that.

Industry estimates of Morales’s contract varied from one year at $5 million to 2 years and $20 million. The Royals brought him on board for two years at $17 million. He will earn $6.5 million this season and $9 million in 2016. There is a mutual option for $11 million in ’17 that the Royals can buyout for $1.5 million. No matter how you slice this contract, it’s on the high side of the spectrum and represents a severe overpay for a one-dimensional player whose one dimension is fading. And now, just months after floating the idea they would use the designated hitter position to rotate among their offense, the Royals have a full-time DH on their roster. A DH who is in the decline phase of his career and hasn’t been bomb-ass since 2010 just before he suffered a horrific injury.

The signing didn’t make sense when it happened and it doesn’t make sense today. In fact, there isn’t a way to spin this in a positive for a team in the position of the Royals. The Royals (and their small market brethren) need to make smart fiscal decisions. That means shopping on the free agent market for a DH is folly. Especially one who clearly isn’t bomb-ass like Morales.

If you are a real prospect hound, then you already know what you want or need to know about Cheslor Cuthbert, Orlando Calixte and Lane Adams.  In fact, just the other day, Hunter Samuels at Kings of Kaufman gave you some insight on Cuthbert.

A few posts back, I touched on how I used to pour over prospects and dream of what they would become.  Not so much anymore, for a myriad of reasons.  Among those is very simply that a more successful major league team holds my interest a great deal more than one that loses 106 games and makes me begin to believe that Justin Huber is going to win a major league batting title (or that a fat guy named Hernadez will be as good as the fat guy named Colon).

Anyway, here we are with three guys on the 40 man roster that have zero chance of making the major league club out of spring training and three that you should hope don’t see quality action for your Kansas City Royals during the 2015 season.  That’s not a criticism of these three, just a fact of where they are and where we, as fans, want the Royals to be this year.

In Cuthbert, you have a still young (22) player who still hints at some power potential, but slugged just .413 splitting time between two hitters’ parks in 2014. He is no longer the third baseman of the future, spending time at first and even a little at second last year.  There is talk of extended work at second this spring, but moving to second when one was not a very good defensive third baseman is certainly bucking tradition.

Trust me, I am not against the attempt.  When the organizational depth chart is Omar Infante to Christian Colon to whatever utility infielder gets cut on March 26th, I am all for trying Cuthbert. If the bat doesn’t play at one of the corners, then it would look a lot better at second…..assuming the glove is at least better than Albert Callaspo or Esteban German.  Of course, you could always try Calixte.

There is little doubt that Calixte can field:  be it second, short or third.  After seasons full of slick fielding alternating with a stack of erros, Calixte has limited the error total to a reasonable amount (for the minors), but it is the bat:  oh the freaking bat!

Calixte’s career minor league on-base percentage is an even .300.  That is ON-BASE PERCENTAGE, not batting average, not anything that equates .300 to being good.  The now 23 year old flashes intriguing pop for a middle infielder who can flash the leather, but intrigue does not a major league regular make.  It might make for a utility infielder.  Hey, Andres Blanco has managed to make a major league living, Calixte might too.

Lane Adams, a 25 year old right handed hitting outfielder, has never been to Omaha, but he did get to have some fun last fall in Kansas City. His career minor league triple slash of .267/.344/.406 is pretty representative of his journey through the system.  Adams is athletic, has very good speed and translates that into stolen bases.  He can field and sort of maybe can hit. Adams ceiling might be a poor-man’s Alex Gordon or he maybe it’s just being the next Paulo Orlando.

If Alex Rios falls on his face and the baseball gods give Ned Yost a lightning bolt infusion of how to actually use a platoon, you could see Adams (or Paulo Orlando!) platooning with Jarrod Dyson, but again, if you want the Royals to make 2015 exciting that is not the scenario that makes it happen.

In the end, these are three guys that I would almost guarantee will someday log some time in the Majors (more than Lane Adams’ three at-bats).  It likely won’t be this year.  If you are a Royals’ fan, you better hope it is not this year.

 

Once upon a time, John Lamb was a top twenty prospect….in all of baseball. A six foot four lefty with a monster curve. A steal in the fifth round.  A future top (or near to the top) of the rotation starter.  Somewhere back in those heady times, some writer (me) projected Lamb to be the Opening Day starter in 2015 (or maybe even 2014, I can’t remember).  In case you’re having a hard time keeping up, I was wrong – even if it was 2015.

If you want to gauge John Lamb’s career, Google him.  Weed out the ESPN, Yahoo ‘player pages’ and then start checking the dates of actual articles.  Lots of information, scouting reports and what not.  Now, find one from sometime after April of 2014.

That’s what happens when you have Tommy John surgery 13 starts into your AA career, struggle to get back and spend an agonizingly long period of time after you do throwing your fastball 84 mph. It’s not fair, but baseball has a tendency to be like that.

Now, let’s focus on one thing:  John Lamb is still only 24 years old.

Last season, Lamb threw 138 innings at AAA and, after striking out just over five batters per nine innings in 2013, John’s strikeout rate rose to 8.5 K/9 (albeit at the expense of the highest walk rate of his career).  A 3.97 earned run average in AAA doesn’t scream major starter, but it doesn’t scream give up, either.  Lamb’s velocity had crept back up to the high eighties and even into the low nineties.

In July, Lamb struck 11 and allowed just one run over seven innings and followed that up with a two hit-six inning start. After a rocky four innings after those two stellar outings, Lamb then spun seven innings of one hit ball on July 30th. That was enough to generate a little buzz, a little hope.

Unfortunately, Lamb made it through six innings only once after that: allowing 24 earned runs in 33 innings (and six more unearned runs if you are skeptical of minor league scoring).  End of buzz.  End of hope?

John Lamb is still just 24 years old.

There is still time for Lamb to get back, or at least get to the majors.  Maybe he won’t be at the front of a major league rotation anymore, but maybe he could fit in a rotation somewhere.  Maybe.

While it is all part of the game and hardly rare, I hate it when young guys with promise get hurt.  Lamb not only struggled to return from Tommy John, but fought other injuries as well on the way back. He lost most of 2011 and 2012. The 2013 campaign was pretty much just a debacle of ‘well, he’s got to pitch somewhere’.  Maybe 2014, average as it was, is just enough success to get Lamb back on track.

Maybe.

Maybe next spring, John Lamb’s profile will be more about the promise of the future and less about the past.

Sometimes, elections to a Hall of Fame requires no debate. Such was the case on Wednesday when the Royals announced Mike Sweeney was the latest inductee into the Royals Hall of Fame. A no-doubt, slam dunk if ever there was one.

Let’s just lay some bullet points out there to summarize his career with the Royals:

— A .299 batting average, third-highest in franchise history.

— His .369 OBP is tied with George Brett for seventh place.

— Sweeney’s .492 slugging percentage is second-highest in team history, trailing only Danny Tartabull’s .512.

— His 197 home runs are second most as a Royal.

— He tallied 2,296 total bases with the Royals. That’s the sixth most in team history behind guys like Brett, Otis, White, McRae and Wilson.

— Finally, his adjusted OPS+ is 120, which is seventh-highest all-time for the Royals.

Quite a resume.

Sweeney had the misfortune of playing for some of the most dreadful teams in Royals history. He took a ton of grief for his contract, which kicked in to maximum value around the time his body started to break down. But he cared, he worked hard, and he gave everything he had to the team, his teammates, and this city. I wish it could have turned out differently for him. I wish he could have played on some decent Royals teams. But the guy still had a stellar career.

I spotted Sweeney on the field at The K before one of the World Series games and was thrilled he made it back. Although he never played in the postseason as a Royal, for me he’s an inner-circle Royal. One of the greats who stands along side Brett, White, Otis, Saberhagen and Appier. For him to remain connected to this organization is important.

It turns out, Sweeney is going through a difficult time. His father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer on New Year’s Eve and is currently undergoing treatment. Cancer sucks. We rooted for Sweeney for several years. Now it’s time to root for his dad. As happy as I am for Sweeney to get into the Royals Hall, I’m hopeful that his father will be healthy enough to accompany Mike and his family to The K on the date he is officially honored. That would make the ceremony complete.

Watch this video from The Kansas City Star to see how much this honor means to Sweeney.

A great player. An even better man. I hope there’s a full house at The K when Sweeney is inducted. He and his family deserve this tribute.

Did you hear the news? Mike Moustakas is going to bunt more to beat the shift in 2015.

David Schoenfeld had some great numbers at ESPN’s Sweetspot blog. For instance, Moustakas hit just .154 in 2014 when he hit a grounder. That was the third worst ground ball batting average among players who hit at least 100 ground balls last summer. For perspective, major league hitters posted a cumulative .248 batting average when hitting a grounder. So Moustakas was almost 100 points worse than league average in this split. That’s… not healthy.

Sadly, that batting average on ground balls wasn’t out of the ordinary for Moustakas. Although it didn’t used to be that way. Here are his batting averages over his career when hitting a ground ball.

2011 – .254
2012 – .245
2013 – .172
2014 – .154
Career – .202

Interesting that the numbers peaked in his first season and have been sliding ever since. That runs parallel with his offensive performance taken as a whole. It also coincides when opposing teams started deploying the shift. Although it should be noted he was only shifted 23 times in 2013. Maybe the shift just got in his dome. Or something.

Also of note was the fact Moustakas was shifted 290 times last year, which, according to Schoenfeld, was the ninth most in baseball. That was in 500 plate appearances. A whopping 58 percent of the time, Moustakas was shifted. From Brooks Baseball, here is the ugly spray chart for his entire 2014 season.

Moustakas2014Spray

We know Moustakas has always been a pull hitter. Guys with his power potential usually fall into that category. However, he was really pulling the ball on the ground last summer. The next chart is a spray angle. The lower the plot, the more he pulled the ball put in play. Basically, his response to the shift? Moustakas hit more ground balls to the right side, and into the shift. That seems counterproductive.

MooseAngle

(I was struck by the outlier of August of 2013, his month of most extreme ground balls. It also coincides with one of his finest months of his major league career, where he hit .301. It also coincides with one of his lowest ground ball rates in a month of his career.)

I’m not sure what bunting will solve. Sure, it may add a few points to his batting average, but let’s not pretend he’s going to reach a respectable number. Last year, Moustakas collected 97 hits in 457 at bats. If he successfully laid down a bunt 10 times, that gets his batting average to .234, a modest boost of 22 points. In theory that sounds like it will work. I just question his ability to actually convert those bunt attempts into actually reaching base. Look at the spray chart again. Moustakas hits the ball so rarely to the left on the ground, if he starts showing bunt, the third baseman can play in and the shortstop can move to the hole between first and second. He pulls the ball so much, and makes such weak contact, the second baseman can just cheat closer to the first base side which could even cause opposing defenses to eschew the shift altogether. Therein lies the real problem with Moustakas: He rarely makes quality contact. His grounders are easy to defend because they lack punch.

Here’s a novel idea: Maybe Moustakas can make hard contact, hit fewer grounders, and really drive the ball. That would be fun. And incredibly unlikely.

Alex Gordon tested his surgically repaired wrist on Monday and reported no issues. He was cleared to take some “dry” swings as the next step, meaning he will swing the bat but won’t make contact with a baseball. (Or as I termed it, he will be using The Francoeur Method.)

That’s some good news. Gordon was also in the news over the weekend as he told McCullough that he may not be so quick to exercise his player option for the 2016 season.

Perhaps a quick recap is in order.

Gordon’s current contract contains a player option for 2016, valued at $14 million. Late last summer, as the Royals geared up for their charge to the Wild Card, Gordon indicated he was going to exercise that option.

Cooler heads have since prevailed.

As fun as it was to hear Gordon pledge his allegiance to the Royals for another season, I didn’t buy it for one moment. Not that he’s ingenuine. Nothing of the sort. I think he was caught up in the moment of the pennant race and said what he felt – and believed – at the time. The Royals are the only organization he’s ever known; a franchise he grew up rooting for as a kid. Of course he would want to stay.

But to exercise that option would be lunacy.

Gordon isn’t a flashy player, but he’s incredibly solid in all facets of the game. You know this. You also know that what Gordon brings is incredibly valuable. Even if he doesn’t play a “premium” position. In the landscape of today’s game, he’s definitely one of the most valuable players in the league. And he’s been in the conversation for the last four seasons.

Gordon was so close to being a “bust” is now on the precipice of a major payday. He should collect. He owes it to himself to explore avenues to get his maximum value. Is that an extension with the Royals? Or is it through free agency? We will know more in the next several months, but at this moment the only thing we do know is that Gordon is going to get paid a whole lot of money to play baseball for the next several years. Good for him.

The Royals are in an interesting place. It’s something I’ve thought about often as I’ve watched other, larger market teams, overextend in an effort to keep together a successful core. It’s unique for the Royals because in the current economic climate of the game, they have never had what you would consider to be a successful core. Or anything approximating that. Sure, there have been extensions here and there in the Dayton Moore era (Gordon included) that were designed to keep players around during their peak years. Now the Royals are facing the future with the heart of their club and deciding if they should stand by him (and pay him) for what are certain to be his declining years.

The fan in me is optimistic. Hopeful that the Royals will do something to keep Gordon in Kansas City for the remainder of his career. And with that optimism comes the hope that he can keep playing at an elite level and experience a minor decline phase for the next several season. Naturally. The realist in me is fretful that it’s going to cost so much money the prudent thing would be to move on. Let those decline years become someone else’s headache.

Should Gordon get a five year contract in the range of $90 million, he would need to average around 2.6 WAR per season. Perhaps my bias is showing, but that seems doable. Gordon has averaged 5.6 fWAR over the last four years. Last season, Gordon finished with a 6.6 fWAR. That’s an AAV of $18 million per season and well past any deal the Royals and Moore have handed out in the past.

For 2015, Steamer is projecting a 4.4 fWAR and ZiPS is looking at a 4.3 zWAR. That’s quite a tumble for a guy who has topped that mark in three of the last four seasons. Instead, I’ll save that 4.4 fWAR mark and project that forward for the 2016 season which Gordon will play as a 32 year old. With the WAR aging factor provided by The Book Blog, and by figuring a base amount of $6.5 million per win with some inflation factored into the equation, a fair market contract for Gordon would work out to around those five years and in the neighborhood of the estimated $90 million.

It’s a major commitment, with the danger of there being little upside.

As I’ve noted, if the Royals pickup the options on Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar, their 2016 payroll is already around $75 million for a total of 11 players (and buyouts.) Add an extension for Gordon and you are approaching $95 million for 12 players. Consider the Royals are looking at a payroll of $112 million for the entire 25 man roster for 2015 and you see the dilemma of the front office. Which is why if the two parties are to come to an agreement, it probably won’t be something straightforward like $18 million a year. I’m guessing the contract would be heavily backloaded to ease some of the burden of 2016.

Not that it gets any easier. Again, assuming the club picks up options on Davis and Escobar and also Sal Perez, the team has already committed $42 million to just five players (including buyouts) in 2017. The other two? Omar Infante and Jason Vargas. Oops. See how all these moves matter?

Gordon wants to stay in Kansas City. The Royals would love to have him remain a Royal. The question is, can they find a way that is fiscally acceptable to both parties?

One thing we do know is this isn’t a Billy Butler scenario. While Butler wanted to remain in Kansas City, the feeling wasn’t mutual. The only reason he played out his contract was because the Royals couldn’t trade him for a return they felt was acceptable. The Royals are aware of the value Gordon brings, so they will make an attempt to keep him around. It will be up to David Glass and the Royals brain trust to fashion a creative contract to keep Gordon forever Royal.

Eleven million dollars.

That is a manly bet.

Dayton Moore has made  just that on Alex Rios.  Thirty-four year old Alex Rios. Enigmatic, sometimes disinterested, Alex Rios. I play a lot of craps. I’ve got nothing on Dayton Moore when it comes to gambling.

There was a time when Alex Rios was being compared to the likes of Carlos Beltran. From 2006 through 2008, Rios was a force, by both traditional and advanced measurements. Rios was worth somewhere between 13 and 16 WAR in those three years (fWAR liked him better than bWAR, but they both liked him plenty).  He slugged, he ran, he got on base and he played defense. Alex Rios could play the game and he’s made $75 million doing it.

Along the way, however, things have changed. Maybe you can still compare him to Beltran, but only to the current Carlos whose body has let him down. Since being a legitimate All-Star, Rios has twice posted on-base percentages below .300. His defense has gone from an asset to a negative seemingly overnight…and stayed there for the past four seasons. Rios’ walk rate is almost half what it was during his days as a budding star.  Alex still runs and runs well, when he feels like it, but he also hit four (4) home runs last season….in Texas.

Now thirty-four, it is getting harder to distinguish between whether the lack of production is a result of Rios’ disinterest and the simple fact that he just might be getting old or that a thumb injury is to blame.  The Royals are betting that Alex Rios on a one year deal (with an option of course) will be motivated, rejuvenated, focused…all that, maybe even some grit.  It might be a bad gamble or it might be a Melky Cabrera resurgence.

As many of you know, Baseball Reference has a Similarity Score which is mostly just fun.  I took some heat for noting that their formula compared Eric Hosmer to Keith Hernandez at the same age, so we’ll proceed with caution. Now, if Hosmer is an MVP winner this season, like Hernandez was at the same point in their careers then Baseball Reference will laugh at you and your little dog.

I bring this up because Alex Rios has a fun list on his Similarity Score, starting with the top name:  Amos Otis.  After Amos, comes Claudell Washington, Andy Van Slyke, Chet Lemon, Marquis Grissom, Gary Maddox and Dusty Baker.  That’s a good list and testament to what Rios has done, however sporadically and how far in the past it may have been.

Otis was solid in his age 34 season (it was strike shortened) and average at age 35, but done after that.  Washington was not good at age 34 and done after that. Van Slyke put up good numbers at age 34, but didn’t play after that. Chet Lemon had a poor age 34 season, but a decent age 35 campaign (albeit minus all power), but was then done. Grissom had an awful age 34 season, but then posted two of his best three power years at age 35 and 36 (although his on-base percentage was in decline). Gary Maddox had not been an above average offensive performer since he was 29 and did nothing from 34 on to change that. Dusty Baker, an All-Star at 33, was a part-time player by age 35.

As good as the list under Alex Rios’ Similarity Score may be, the guys on it were in decline or basically done when they were the same age as Rios will be in 2015.  Like I began, it’s a helluva a gamble.

 

%d bloggers like this: