Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

The streak remains intact. All hail the streak.

The Royals and Eric Hosmer reached an agreement to avoid arbitration less than 24 hours prior to his scheduled hearing in Florida. The contract not only settles the issue of 2015, it also clears the matter for 2016. In sum, Hosmer will be paid $13.9 million for the next two years of work. He earns $5.65 million for next season and $8.25 for 2016.

The Royals entered this winter with nine players eligible for arbitration. All nine reached agreements before going through with a hearing. Dayton Moore has yet to go fully arbitration monty. The last Royal to have a hearing was Jeremy Affeldt back in 2005. For you stat geeks, the Royals have had 19 hearings total dating to 1974, winning nine.

This contract represents a small gamble for the Royals. Small. If Hosmer stumbles again – think 2012 stumble – the Royals will ultimately lose money on the deal. Obviously, the hope is Hosmer can put together a full season where he is locked in at the plate. Think the last four months of 2014 (excepting August when he was injured, but you get the point) extending for the full year and erasing the stench of April and May. If that happens, then the Royals will come out slightly ahead.

The projections are somewhat bullish.

PECOTA – .278/.332/.419 with a .274 TAv and 1.9 WARP

ZiPS – .293/.346/.443 with a .344 wOBA and 2.0 zWAR

Steamer – .278/.337/.437 with a .339 wOBA and 2.3 fWAR

The consensus is Hosmer will have his second best offensive season of his career. Such are the nature of projections for an inconsistent hitter like Hosmer. No computer is willing to go out on a limb and predict a breakout simply because he’s never put together six consecutive months of at least average offense. The streaks run deep.

Will he fully realize his power potential? Last year he hit just nine home runs and finished with a .398 slugging percentage and a career-low .127 ISO. Among qualified first basemen on the Fangraphs leaderboards, Hosmer’s ISO ranked 19th out of 23. (The 20th was Billy Butler who had a .107 ISO.) If he is going to be worth his contract, he’s going to have to find that power stroke. Let’s be real, though. He’s not going to challenge the Royals franchise record for home runs. It sure would be nice if he could hit more than 20 in a year, though.

Hosmer was eligible for arbitration for the first time last winter as a Super Two. The Royals purchased his second and third year of arbitration with this deal, leaving the fourth year unsettled. Should Hosmer progress (remember, everyone is supposed to get better!) he will truly earn the megabucks in 2017. Then, free agency ahead of the 2018 season and he will make Powerball money.

The Royals remain on track to open with a payroll around $112 million, give or take a few dollars. That will be a record. I’m not sure I understand the two-year deals handed out to Hosmer and Kelvin Herrera beyond giving the Royals cost certainty heading into 2016. It’s nice they’re under contract and all, but how does that benefit either side? Both deals are well within range of what they would make in 2016. Neither player figures to regress, but the system pretty much guarantees a solid raise for each regardless. I’m guess this is all about cost certainty and the players willingness to lock in for another season. Or maybe the Royals simply believe Hosmer is about to breakout in a big way and this is how they save a few coins ahead of 2016.

I was looking for financial comps to get some perspective on this contract. This winter, David Freese was eligible for arbitration for a third time. Freese has better offensive numbers (not by much) for his career, but is five years older. He will earn $6.425 million next year. Chase Headley is another who comes to mind. (I know I’m looking at third basemen here, but I really can’t find a comparable first baseman. So corner infielder and all that. If you think of a first baseman I’ve overlooked, leave it in the comments.) His numbers were slightly better than Hosmer, is closer in age and he made $10.25 million for his third year of arbitration eligibility. Headley also had a Gold Glove to his credit. The Braves bought out the second year of Freddie Freeman’s arbitration at $8.5 million. His third year cost $12 million. Todd Frazier will earn $7.5 million for his second year of arbitration eligibility. I guess the lesson here is the $8.25 due Hosmer in 2016 isn’t crazy money, or out of scope for a corner infielder of his status. Just we can’t pass judgement on the deal until we see how the 2015 season plays out for him.

Looking large picture, what’s going to happen for the Royals in 2016? Assuming the Royals will pick up the options on Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar, the Royals are already committed to over $77 million in player contracts and buyouts for the 2016 season. If Alex Gordon makes good and exercises his player option, that total nudges to $90 million for 12 players who will actually play for the Royals and three players they would buy out of their options. With Greg Holland, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy and Mike Moustakas all on the arbitration merry-go-round again, the club would be in record territory with 16 players under contract. They are set to blow past the $115 million mark for 2016. Are they prepared to handle that fiscal burden?

Either way, the manner in which this team is built, the expanding payroll is inevitable. The cost of doing business. The team is going to need some creativity going forward and if there’s one thing Moore, Jin Wong and the rest of the front office have shown is the ability to construct contracts that actually do give the team some financial flexibility. (That’s not to say they spend wisely. Those are two separate issues. Longtime readers know where I stand on how they spend.) There’s a method to their two-year deal madness. It will just take a little bit of time before the larger picture becomes clear.

The next several months will be very interesting and will tell us much about the future of this team.

Wade Davis is the key to The Trade.

I’m convinced I wrote something like that. Probably about two years ago. And I probably thought I was damn clever. After all, the Royals had James Shields for only two years before he was moving on to greener free agent pastures. The Royals hold three affordable team options on Davis, who would be with the club for five years total if they are exercised. Yes, that made him the key to the trade.

Let’s get right to the numbers. Because they are damn impressive.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2014 KCR 9 2 .818 1.00 71 3 72.0 38 8 8 0 23 109 279 399 1.19 0.847 4.8 0.0 2.9 13.6 4.74
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2015.

I mean… Just look at those. Then look at them again. They are almost impossible to comprehend. They’re video game numbers. That’s it. Wade Davis set the difficulty level to “rookie” and played an entire season.

It’s the Wade Davis Experience.

Davis scrapped his sinker, relying on his fastball, curve and cutter.

DavisUsage

The fastball has gained a couple ticks of velocity since moving full-time to the bullpen. His heater averaged 91-92 mph as a starter. Last year as a reliever, he brought the fastball at 96.7 mph. It’s a true weapon, generating a swing and miss over 16 percent of the time. As you can see from the graph above, it gained velocity as the season progressed. Opposing hitters managed just a .161 batting average against his fastball and in 135 at bats that resolved with that pitch, Davis yielded just three extra base hits – a pair of doubles and a triple.

The cutter is a ground ball machine. Over 73 percent of the balls put in play on his cutter are ground balls. Is it any surprise that opposing hitters managed a minute .115 batting average against. Oh, and not a single batter managed an extra base hit against the cutter. Davis features the pitch to both lefties and right-handed batters, but it’s his go-to secondary pitch to same side batters when he’s ahead in the count. Doesn’t matter that hitters may know what’s coming. They’re not going to touch that pitch.

And the curve? It features the 12-to-6 break and like the cutter, is an infielder’s friend. Davis gets a ground ball on about 63 percent of his curves put in play. That’s the pitch he throws to left-handed batters when he’s ahead in the count.

I try to avoid hyperbole, but I’m not sure we have seen anything quite like Davis’s 2014 performance in a Royals uniform.

As you would imagine for an eighth-inning guy, Davis had the second-highest leverage index on the team at 1.59. (Any thing above 1.0 is considered “high” pressure.) At this time last year, we were debating the merits of sticking Davis back in the rotation for another shot, or moving him to the bullpen. There will be no such debate this spring. The question this time around is: Can he repeat his performance?

I don’t see why not. His pitches are nasty, his ground ball rate is lofty and the Royals will place a fine infield defense behind him once again. His 87 percent strand rate looks like it’s due to regress, but given the small sample size of the relief pitching game, it wouldn’t be crazy if the correction was minor. He struck out 39 percent of all batters faced. His command was impeccable. There was no smoke and mirror component to Davis’s 2014 season. No fluke or outlier that will be difficult to duplicate.

Wade Davis’s 2014 was real, and it was spectacular.

Davis is signed for $7 million for 2015 and the team holds another option for $8 million in 2016 and $10 million for 2017. That’s a fair amount of coin for a reliever, but considering Greg Holland is going to earn $8.25 million in his second year of being eligible for arbitration, Davis’s contract isn’t extreme in the least. What could be extreme is the Royals committing over $15 million to two relievers. Granted, the pair are among the best (if not THE BEST) in the game at what they do. The Royals actually have both on what the industry would view as team-friendly deals.

As much as you’ll hate to hear this, I think the Royals need to explore a trade. Either Davis or Holland. The return the Royals get for either of the relievers would justify making this move. Especially as we move through spring training and teams are assessing their needs as Opening Day approaches. There will be trade partners and some will reek of desperation. The Royals bullpen is an embarrassment of riches that should be leveraged for the greater good. Trade Holland and Davis can slide into the closer role. Trade Davis and Kelvin Herrera can move up an inning. There are so many options concerning this bullpen. I get the appeal of standing pat. It’s easy and we saw how excellent it was last season. Another October run would totally justify keeping the pen together. But can the Royals recapture the magic from last fall? That’s a post for another day. For now, the bullpen is a nice problem for Dayton Moore to have. He just needs to make the right decision on how to deal with it in the way that gives the team the maximum benefit.

Over the past four seasons, Alcides Escobar has played more games at shortstop than anyone else in the majors. To my eyes, Escobar has played the position well.  Yes, there are some mental gaffes on routine plays here and there, but there is also a long list of outstanding, eye-popping, just damn good highlight plays.

While you should probably just trust my judgment, a more reality based approach would lead you to the defensive metrics. Those like, but don’t love, Alcides Escobar.  Over the past four years – a decent sample size from which to view these – Escobar is 8th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and 9th in Ultimate Zone Rating.  Good, not great.

Don’t like the above metrics? Think maybe all the shifting that goes on these days has bled into inconsistent data?  Possible, likely, a little, shut up? You want to go old school?  Alcides Escobar, over the last four seasons, ranks 8th in Fielding Percentage (a stat that tells you pretty much how often a guy makes a play that the official scorer can in no way manufacture something that made said play even slightly challenging).

Inside Edge Fielding is a little more interesting, but subjective in that a human decides if the chances of making a play is remote, unlikely, about even, likely or almost certain. In these categories – based on data from the last three seasons – Alcides Escobar has made a higher percentage of the ‘remote’ category plays than any other shortstop. He ranks third in those deemed unlikely and fifth in those where the chances were considered about even.  There are your highlights and, not surprisingly, the reason the metrics don’t love Alcides is that he is just 18th in percentage of plays that are considered ‘almost certain’ to be made.

That said, we all know defense is not the issue with Alcides Escobar.  He is without question better than average in the field.  Almost certainly at least good with the glove and, quite possibly, great at it.  Pretty clearly, Alcides Escobar can more than do the job at shortstop.

Another thing that is not a problem with Escobar is baserunning. His skills there get overshadowed by the pure speed of Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson and the incredible athleticism of Lorenzo Cain, but Escobar is outstanding.  Using Fangraphs BsR metric for baserunning, Escobar was 12th in the majors last season and ranks 6th over the past four seasons combined. That ain’t bad, kids.

Of course, it is the bat that makes us all wonder.  You can sum up Escobar just by looking at this graph comparing his on-base percentage to the league average:

chartObviously, throw out 2008 as there is simply not enough data to be worth talking about it, but since then you see Escobar flirt between league average and below average.  This is on-base percentage, but pick a stat, any stat and you get a graph that looks similar.  I’m not joking, average, slugging, ISO, wOBA…whatever.

The driver is BABIP, which is no surprise.  When Escobar’s BABIP is over .300 as it was in 2012 (.344) and 2014 (.326), his offense flirts with league average.  That, combined with his defense and baserunning, then makes him a valuable commodity (2.2 and 3.4 fWAR).  When the BABIP sags, so does the offense and Alcides becomes considerably less valuable.

The thing about Escobar’s batting average of balls in play is that there seems to be little reason for the fluctuations.  His line drive percentage over the last three years (2 average and 1 below average offensive campaigns) are remarkably close. If you feel like 2014 was a ‘turn the corner’ offensive season for Alcides, you might want to be mindful that his groundball rate was at a career low, as was his walk rate.

One can hang their hat on a marginally lower swing percentages on pitches outside the strike zone in his two good years (2012 and 14).  However, while 2014 sported his highest contact percentage on pitches in the zone, Escobar recorded his lowest contact percentage in the zone in his other good offensive season. If BABIP is a reflection of luck, then Alcides Escobar may be its poster child. With 3,200 plate appearances on his resume, the Royals’ shortstop is unlikely to suddenly blossom into a consistent on-base guy year in year out and probably that is okay.

Slated to earn $3 million in 2015, Escobar will be worth the money strictly on his ability to run the bases, play the field and, yes, bunt.  That is only half sarcastic, by the way, as Alcides is an excellent bunter.  He was 11th in the majors in bunt hits in 2014 and 12th in that category over the last four seasons.  Over the past four seasons, Escobar is 2nd in sacrifices and was 7th in the majors last year.  Ned Yost smirks in your general direction.

In the new landscape of baseball, where defense and pitching have overtaken hitting the ball over the wall in importance, the 2014 version of Alcides Escobar works just fine. Take heed, my friends, because just the season before, your World Series lead-off hitter posted an on-base percentage of just .259.  He was still worth 1.1 fWAR that season, but I’ll take the 3.4 fWAR of 2014 if you ask. Given their off-season, the Royals need the 2014 Escobar to make a repeat performance in 2015.

 

You figured the Royals would find a way to extend at least one of their arbitration eligible players. On Thursday, the team announced they signed Kelvin Herrera to a two-year, $4.15 million deal.

I profiled Herrera a few weeks ago. You can read it here.

Herrera qualified for arbitration as a super-two, so with the two year deal he just inked, he still has two trips through the process before he becomes a free agent.

The numbers haven’t exactly been broken down as of this writing, so let’s make some assumptions. Herrera asked for $1.9 million and the Royals came back with $1.15. The midpoint is $1.525 million. A good starting point. Let’s round down just for fun (and since most of these deals sacrifice some cash in the short-term for longer-term stability) and say he will make a cool $1.5 million for this upcoming season. That leaves him in the neighborhood of $2.65 million for 2016.

The arbitration process loves what we would call the “traditional” stats. For relievers that means appearances, ERA and saves. Things like strikeout rate and leverage are probably included, but certainly don’t carry the same weight. Should Herrera remain in the seventh (or even if he moved to the eighth inning role) he would lack the saves needed to impress the process. I would bet a second year reliever with his track record would be looking at an arbitration number around $3 million, give or take a few hundred thousand dollars. So for the Royals, this move strikes me as simply getting some payroll certainty on the books going forward. It’s an increasingly tricky landscape with a large number of players still eligible for arbitration, plus six options that must be settled.

On the surface, this strikes me as a good deal for both sides. Herrera finished with 1.4 fWAR last year, which Fangraphs calculated was worth $7.5 million in real dollars. For the amount the Royals are paying him over the next two years, he needs to earn less than 1 fWAR to provide a return on that investment. On the other side, Herrera has a couple of years where he doesn’t need to worry about his contract. Yet if something happened (say where Greg Holland was traded and he shifted to the closer role) it gives Herrera the opportunity to get paid a little more for the 2017 season.

With Herrera in the fold, just Holland and Eric Hosmer remain for the Royals arbitration eligible players. Expect some news on those two soon.

Just when you thought it was safe to visit Royals Authority, I come back.  I have been busy, lazy, working, traveling…hell, I even spent a week playing baseball in Arizona.  Basically, I haven’t written in a while and certainly did not need to as Craig has been more than capably running the ship.

Of course, once one returns, one certainly wants to make a splash.  Hence, let’s profile Paulo Orlando.

There was a time when I spent as much time following prospects and ‘maybe they might become prospects’ as I did the major league Royals. Even before the great run of last fall, I had become far less interested in who was coming up  and far more interested in how was already up. The Royals had become relevant, or at least somewhat relevant, and featured players in the majors who had actual potential as opposed to say, Terrance Long. While I fear disappointment this season, the situation is far better now than back when I was trying to squint hard enough to Paulo Orlando the next Willie Wilson.

Orlando is now twenty-nine years old and has yet to log an inning in the majors, or even sit the bench for a week or two in September. He has spent six and one-half of his nine professional seasons in the Royals organization and is coming off his second full year in AAA.  As far as Brazilian baseball players go, Paulo is one of the best. Sadly, Brazil is no Dominican Republic.

The long and lean outfielder enjoyed his best seasons in back to back years at Northwest Arkansas.  He batted .305 at AA in both 2010 and 2011, got on base at a clip north of .360 and showed power and speed.  In between his fine AA performances those two years, however, was a flameout in 58 games at the AAA level in 2011.  Which buried him back in AA for all of 2012.  That season, Orlando’s power disappeared and took the rest of his offensive game with it.

For lack of anything else to do with him, the Royals moved Orlando to Omaha again in 2013 where he was marginally okay and improved, in 2014, to at least decently league average in a hitter’s league. If you squint right, maybe you can see him as a fourth outfielder or platoon partner in the majors, but I quit squinting when Sal Perez and Eric Hosmer came up.

What I see now is a 29 year old outfielder who can play good defense at all three positions (Orlando has played more than half his games in center, most of the rest in right, but enough in left that it is not uncharted territory).  He can run and steal a base, although he is not in the class of Gore or Dyson…or Escobar and Cain for that matter.  If you think getting hit by a pitch is a skill, than Orlando has that in his tool chest and he can bunt a little, too.

Let’s face it, kids, if Paulo Orlando was born ten years earlier, he would have played in the majors for Kansas City:  taking a spot alongside Ruben Mateo and Abraham Nunez (not that one, the other one).  Those are times thankfully long gone.  The Royals’ fourth outfielder is Jarrod Dyson, who is a pretty decent ballplayer if used correctly (and okay even when not).  Guys like Paulo Orlando actually have to earn it these days.

To be fair, Orlando was a raw, raw player when he became a professional.  He has gone from striking out 28% of the time and walking just 3% of the time to a guy who struck out an acceptable 15.5% last season and walked at a 7% clip. He boasts a good BABIP throughout his career – no long enough to make you think it can’t all be luck, even in the minors.

Still, this is a right-handed hitting outfielder with good (really good) defense, good (not great) speed, some ability to do a smattering of the ‘little things’.  However, he is twenty-nine with vanishing power and is three years removed from his last ‘look at me’ minor league campaign.

Stranger things have happened in baseball than for Paulo Orlando to enjoy major league success.  Frankly, Mike Aviles was similarly stuck in the system and not really popping anyone’s eyes and had one great plus one decent season for the Royals. While I will take a shot or two or nine at the Royals’ organization, the fact that Orlando was given a 40 man roster spot at least indicates they see something of worth.

It is not outside the realm of impossibility.  An injury (or just plain disinterest – call it pulling a Juan Gone) to Rios could give Orlando a chance as a platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson.  Who knows?  He might hit.  There’s part of me that would like to see that.

Way back when I thought I knew prospects, back when Chip Ambres was infesting the outfield of my favorite major league team, I envisioned Paulo Orlando as a guy who could make the major league team better. Chances are that ship has sailed.

When Paulo reports for camp, his locker will likely be on the opposite side of the room from that of Alex Gordon.  The side where they put the guys who are not expected to make the big league club, where the guys with the offensive linemen numbers hang out.  After nine professional seasons and zero big league at-bats, that is where Paulo Orlando finds himself.

 

 

 

 

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.

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