Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

In this series, I’ll be trying to look at what the Royals need in order to become contenders and how they should go about getting it. In part one of this series, I looked briefly at the Royals offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, and isn’t likely to be in the near future. Just look at last nights 18 hit barrage the Royals put to the Tigers for an example. No, we have to take a look at the other side of the game to find the Royals true weakness: pitching and defense.

I see preventing runs as three distinct components: starting pitching, relief and defense. All three are naturally tied together and if one is improved the other two are improved. Teasing out exactly how much each component plays into the overall number of runs given up is difficult, so any statistical analysis here will be of the quick and dirty variety.

Let’s start with the defense. It’s extremely difficult to measure defense and even with the advances made recently, the numbers for a single season are not the most reliable. Looking at UZR, the Royals rank 8th among American League teams in defense. From what I’ve seen watching this season, that sounds about right. I think they are an average team defensively. Going position by position based solely on what I’ve seen and heard I’d go with something like this.

Catcher – With Sal Perez, this position has improved and is in very good defensive hands in the future.

1st Base – Eric Hosmer is very good with the glove and could become an elite defensive first baseman.

2nd Base – Johnny Giavotella is probably a step down from Chris Getz (who seemed a bit over-rated defensively) and is likely a slightly below average defender who could be average.

3rd Base – Moustakas has a very good arm and some good instincts, but his range isn’t the greatest. I don’t see him becoming average defensively, but he is here for his bat not his glove.

Short Stop – Alcides Escobar is Shortstop Jesus. He’s about as good as you can get at the most important defensive position on the field.

Left Field – Alex Gordon has improved noticeably defensively. He still relies on athleticism to make up for mistakes that better defenders don’t make, but he has a great arm and has performed very well. He’s above average now and could get better.

Center Field – Melky Cabrera is a well below average center fielder. He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, but he can’t get to balls that other guys get to since he just cant cover that much ground.

Right Field – Jeff Francoeur has done a very good job in right field and has the arm to play the position. He’s at worst an average right field defender.

So adding that up we have 5 average to above-average defenders and three below average defenders. The reason that adds up to an average defense is that they have below average defenders at some key positions like 3b,2b and CF.

It’s pretty close if not on par with any contending level defense other than a significant upgrade at center field. and possibly 2nd base. The future of Melky Cabrera isn’t exactly clear and he’s only under team control for one more season. Behind him is Lorenzo Cain who is hitting very well in AAA and is a significant upgrade defensively. Johnny Giavotella is an all-around solid player who can hit the ball well. If he continues to hit, the Royals will be glad to live with his below average defense. However if he were to struggle, or the Royals felt that defense was more important they could look to converted shortstop Christian Colon to take his place.

This was a very rudimentary look at the defense, but the numbers and my eyes tell me that the team is adequate defensively and if it needs improvement then the pieces are available. It wouldn’t make sense for Dayton Moore and the Royals to spend significant (or any) resources in trying to improve the defense in the quest for a pennant.


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

The Royals played three consecutive one run games this past weekend, losing two of them.   That has become a common theme for this particular team during 2011 as they have now played 49 games decided by one run:  only the Angels, among American League teams, have played in as many.   While there are several teams in the National League that have played as many or more one-run games than the Royals, the game over there is a little different.  So, we’ll limit our discussion to the junior circuit for now.

In playing the most one-run games as anyone in the league, the Royals have also LOST more of those games than anyone.   Currently, Kansas City holds a 21-28 record in such contests the next closest teams to below the .500 mark are Oakland (17-22) and, suprisingly, Texas (16-21).

The contenders, are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the one-run game.   Check out the records of those teams over .500:

  • Boston 17-12
  • New York 15-18
  • Tampa 22-16
  • Detroit 21-15
  • Cleveland 22-23
  • Texas 16-21
  • Los Angeles 25-24

It might be a stretch at this point to consider the Indians a contender, so if you kick them out of the group and decide the Angels are just an outlier, what starts to come to light is not that good teams win more one-run games, but instead that good teams don’t play as many one-run games.   That was not completely true in 2010, but was in 2009 and for the most part in 2008 as well (although the Angels, who won 100 games in 08 still played in an above average number of one-run contests).

I bring this topic up, not so much to make some grand statistical analysis (it is not), but to point out that when Dayton Moore and Ned Yost preach ‘pitching and defense’ it is important to realize nobody consistently contends winning 3-2 games.  The Royals should not be thinking they are a ‘right’ Joakim Soria and a Mike Moustakas 35 home run season away from going 40-19 in one-run games.   Instead, they should be aiming to play a whole lot 5-2 and 7-4 games and not find themselves spending mulitple weekends like this last one.

In a sense, Dayton Moore’s statement to the Kansas City Star that he would be willing to move prospects for a top of the rotation starter this off-season is a reflection that he might already know that no one gets rich playing a bunch of close games.    It is optimistic, but also logical to project this group of position players to be as good and probably better (as a unit) offensively in 2012.

If the organization believed that all they needed was for Soria to lock down games like he used to and score an extra couple of runs four times a week, then Moore might well be well down the road of building up the rotation from within and hoarding his remaining top prospects like a protective mother bear.   What I sense from Moore’s comments is that he intends to score more runs AND stop the other team from scoring as well.   After all, you don’t reverse a 21-28 one-run game record by scoring just one run, you do it by scoring one more run and holding your opponet from scoring one as well.

What the Royals should be hoping to do in 2012 is to hand 5-2 leads to their talented young bullpen instead of 3-2 leads.   If you have the bullpen in place, which the Royals do, and you have the offense to score, which the Royals hope they will have by 2012, then you bolster the starting rotation sooner rather than later.  You do that, if you’re Dayton Moore, because you don’t want to play 49 one-run games before the end of August.

That, and you would prefer that your team would be playing games that matter this time of year.

It wasn’t a 22 run, 3 grand slam outburst, but if nine runs is enough for a win (as it should be) I’ll take it.

Some quick notes from Thursday’s game:

— All Clark has to do is write a nice post about the man we know as Country Breakfast, and he collects four hits in five plate appearances. Billy Butler’s .374 OBP is tops on the team and he’s second in wOBA at .364. The guy has been on fire the last month and a half. Not surprisingly, my Twitter feed is void of Butler hate.

— I don’t know that Johnny Giavotella would have been my first choice to bat leadoff with Alex Gordon out of the lineup, but Nervous Ned does so many things that defy logic, it wears me out to get irritated. Although the way the top of the order has been clicking, I don’t know who you would drop into that spot. Gio it is!

— By going with that 13 man bullpen, it exposes a thin bench whenever anyone needs to leave the game. It happened again last night when Jeff Francoeur got drilled right below the knee cap in the top of the ninth. That forced Alex Gordon, himself nursing a bruise after being hit by a pitch the previous night, into the field. The good news, we’re less than a week away from when the rosters can expand, so we won’t have to put up with this nonsense much longer. The bad news is, Omaha’s season ends September 5, and they’re probably going to the playoffs. It could be the middle of the month before we see anyone in Kansas City.

— Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game, his third in a row and fifth in his last eight games. Same approach as I wrote about on Wednesday… Laying off the high fastballs. The strange thing was, the Blue Jays didn’t give him a ton of off speed pitches down in the zone. Almost every slider he saw this series was up in the zone and they hardly threw any change-ups.

— I don’t know if I even want to discuss the disaster known as Joakim Soria. I was surprised to see him in the game in the non-save situation, but figured this was Yost’s way of getting him so low pressure work in an attempt to boost his confidence.

It was just two pitches, but when the first bad pitch is a low cutter over the middle of the plate (That was absolutely ripped. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ball squared up like that.) and that’s followed by a slider up in the zone… Well, that’s how two pitches turn into two runs. Although, it should be noted the slider was away and Encarnacion basically muscled it to the opposite field.

Soria is still striking out hitters, but when he’s missing, he’s been way too high in the zone – like he was to Encarnacion. It’s not a coincidence that his worst two months of the season (May and August) have seen more fly balls in play against Soria than ground balls.

— Strong showing from Jeff Francis even if the wheels came apart in the seventh. His pitch count after six was relatively low, so I wasn’t surprised Yost sent him back for the top of the inning. I was surprised Yost let Greg Holland throw two innings in that situation. Unfortunately, by throwing 45 pitches, he’s going to be unavailable for the start of the Cleveland series.

— Two Royals wins and zero appearances by either Aaron Crow or Tim Collins. When was the last time that happened?

Billy Butler went three for five last night with two doubles and two runs batted in.   By the end of the evening, his slugging percentage was higher than it has been since May 5th:  continuing a rise from an unsatisfactory .406 on July 15th to its current mark of .465. 

Currently, Butler’s on-base percentage of .370 is second only to Alex Gordon.  His slugging is basically in a tie for second with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur, again trailing only Alex Gordon (not sure if you noticed, but Alex Gordon is really, really good this year).   Billy leads the team in walks, is one of four regulars with more than 30 doubles and is in the heated race to be the team’s home run leader.   Admittedly, leading the Royals in home runs is right there with being the tallest midget, but it still counts.

When it comes to the corpulent Mr. Butler, he has a three year run that looks like this:

  • 2009:  .301/.362/.492 with 51 doubles, 21 home runs and an OPS+ of 125
  • 2010: .318/.388/.469 with 45 doubles, 15 home runs and an OPS+ of 134, cutting his strikeouts by 25 from 2009 and increasing his walks by 11 in virtually an identical number of plate appearances
  • 2011: .295/.370/.465 with 32 doubles, 16 home runs and an OPS+ of 132

If Butler continues to hit as he has over the past six weeks, he will end up with somewhere around 42 doubles and 21 home runs by season’s end.   Along the way this year, Billy has grounded into just 12 double plays after apparently bringing us all to the bring of Armegeddon in 2010 by grounding into a league leading 32.

We all know that Butler is a poor fielder, but luckily the Royals play in a league that allows you to bat a guy who doesn’t have to play in the field – not even once!   So yes, Butler’s overall value to the Royals is not as great as that of Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur given that he brings nothing to the statistical arena when it comes to fielding, but every team in the AL plays with a designated hitter.   Ten of those teams basically have full-time designated hitters and among those ten, Billy ranks:

  • 2nd in home runs
  • 2nd in doubles
  • 3rd in RBI (just for Ryan and Frank)
  • 4th in batting average
  • 3rd in on-base percentage
  • 3rd in slugging percentage

Analyzing the DH position as a whole (each team’s cumulative totals for whomever has appeared there – for the Royals that is Butler in all but five games), the Royals rank:

  • 3rd in batting average
  • 2nd in on-base percentage
  • 3rd in slugging
  • 2nd in OPS+

So, what will it take for Billy Butler to be loved by Royals’ fans?

Yes, Billy is ridiculously slow – one of his doubles last night would have been a triple for at least 80% of the league – and it doesn’t seem as though Butler runs as hard as he used to.   Probably, at some point, Billy realized that no matter how hard he runs, he is still slow:  he is never going to beat out an infield single or stretch a double into a triple.   Billy is not ‘Jose Guillen it’ out there, but he may not be busting it down the line as he did in 2009.   I don’t know that there was even an instance this season where I thought if Billy was running harder that he would have been safe.   Butler is slow, no debate there, but I don’t see it as the devastating liability that some do.

Yes, Billy has seemed grumpy this season.   He doesn’t like being a full-time DH and whines about it on occasion when he probably should just keep quiet.   Guys grumble all the time, however.  My guess is there are three people in any of your offices or classes right now bitching about something – that’s life.   Considering that a sector of this fanbase thought David DeJesus ‘smiled too much’, they ought to tolerate a bit of a grump.

Billy Butler is slow and a little grumpy and HAS AN OPS+ OF 132:  maybe we can cut Billy a little slack.  Sure, we would love to have a designated hitter who has an OBP of .370 or better and hits 40 home runs, but then every team in the American League that does not have David Ortiz can say the same thing.   I am not sure that the prototypcial DH type exists these days (Jim Thome is a part time player, Adam Dunn can’t hit anymore and Travis Hafner is hurt) and if that is the case, then Billy Butler is easily one of the top three designated hitters currently in the league.  

If that truly is the case, then again, what will it take for Billy Butler to be loved?

You could see this coming a couple of weeks ago… When Mike Moustakas began making “loud” outs. He was hitting the ball with authority, but hitting them right at fielders. In the last week, those “loud” outs have (finally) turned into base hits. With another multi-hit game Tuesday night, Moose is batting above .500 with an on base percentage north of .600 over his last six games. That’s raised his cumulative line from .182/.237/.227 to .212/.270/.267.

It’s only a good week, but it’s a positive sign from a player who’s been struggling mightily over the last couple of months. Looking at the Pitchf/x data applied to hitters, we can see how Moose has transformed his approach at the plate over the last week. Take this with a grain of salt because we’re dealing with obviously small sample sizes.

First let’s look at the pitches Moose offered at from his debut to just before he started mashing the ball.

There are a couple of soft spots here that (most) pitchers are able to exploit. First, is the high cheese – the fastball up around the letters. According to FanGraphs, Moustakas has a -1.4 wFB/c (that’s fastball runs above average per 100 fastballs) meaning he is a currently below average fastball hitter. (This isn’t a predictive stat, it’s just a way of looking at a hitter and finding out which pitches he has the most difficulty with throughout the course of the season.) No doubt because he’s chasing that fastball up and out of the zone.

Second, note the number of low change-ups the Moustakas swings at in the course of a plate appearance. Also, while we have our eyes below the knees, notice the slider that is down and in that Moose has a difficult time avoiding. He owns a -2.78 wCH/c and -4.86 wSL/c, making those his two worst pitch types when it comes to finding success. From the chart, it’s not difficult to see why he’s having trouble with those pitches. He’s swinging and missing at 17% of all sliders he sees and only puts 12% of all change ups in play.

Basically, over his first two months in the big leagues, there’s been more than one way to kill a Moose, but this is how you get him out… Start him with a high fastball and finish him with a low off speed pitch. We all know that’s been an effective approach.

Now, onto our really small sample size… Here are the pitches Moustakas has swung at since he’s gone on his mini hot streak.

He’s laying off the high cheddar and isn’t offering at the low off speed pitches like he did over the first couple of months. Again, this is an extremely small sample size, but this is how hot streaks are conceived. Moose has shortened his strike zone, has become more disciplined and is refusing to chase pitches that had previously been his Kryptonite. Overall, he’s swinging at over 36% of all pitches he sees out of the zone, compared to the league average of 30%. I don’t know how he’s done in the last week, percentage wise, but we can see from the chart, it appears he’s offering at out of the zone pitches less frequently than the league average.

Again, take this for what it is: The smallest of small sample sizes. We’re dealing with a week’s worth of data here… Always dangerous when drawing conclusions.

This ignores what has become an alarming lack of power. Moustakas has a Getzian 10 extra base hits in 239 plate appearances. Maybe he’s turning the corner here… Three of them have come in the last week. Still, he hasn’t gone yard since his home run against Joel Piniero in his sixth career plate appearance. That was over 57 games ago.

However, this follows the Moustakas M.O. in that he starts slowly at each level, adjusts, then begins to rake. That’s why the Royals have largely left him alone since he was recalled in June. September will be a crucial month in his development as a major league hitter. He needs to turn this mini hot streak into something that continues to the end of the season to give everyone – himself, the organization and fans – the belief that he can be a major league hitter. It’s possible we’re witnessing the turning point of his early career. Mark this post down and revisit it at the end of the season. We’ll see if his new approach holds over the course of the season’s final six weeks.

The Kansas City Royals are not a contending team –news to nobody, I’m sure. However they are closer than they’ve been to a contender in quite some time. I’m going to embark on a series of articles which will shed some light on how the Royals can become a contender and what the pitfalls will be. Before that though, I need to establish the single most important thing that this team needs to do to become a contender. This is all going to seem a bit elementary, but I want to start down a logical path that will eventually lead us to a solid conclusion.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about the improvement that this team has shown, especially in regard to the offense. The numbers from then still hold true. The Royals continue to score at a rate of 4.33 runs per game, which is good for 6th in the American League. They still struggle mightily with allowing runs and have dropped to 4.84 runs per game, placing them 12th in the AL.

For the Royals to become contenders, they have to find some way to score more runs than they allow. In the abstract, you can either try and score more runs, or you can try and prevent more runs in an effort to improve your team. To score more runs, the Royals will need to upgrade their lineup. To prevent more runs, the Royals can improve their starting rotation, their defense and their bullpen.  See, I told you this would be simple stuff.

We’ve established that currently the Royals have the 6th best scoring offense in the American League. Assuming that “contending” means to have a shot to win a division, and there are around 2 contenders in each division it seems appropriate that a top 6 offense is certainly of that caliber. Offense can and will fluctuate, so the Royals cannot get complacent. Looking at the current offense, there are a few factors which would lead me to believe that this isn’t an aberration and they can actually improve on their position.

The most important factor is their age. The 2011 Royals offense according to Baseball-Reference has a weighted age of 26.2. That is the second youngest team offense in Royals history next to the 1969 expansion team. It’s also the youngest in the American League by 1.6 years. It isn’t a guarantee that these players will all improve as they get older and enter their prime years, but it’s a better bet than they will decline.

Another factor is there isn’t anyone leaving anytime soon. Players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Johnny Giavotella, Salvador Perez are all very young and under team control. Other productive players like Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Melky Cabrera all have at least one year left if not three or four. There is no eminante departures for any of these players.

The final factor in the offense is the ability to back-fill. The Royals Minor League system has been touted for this entire year and a lot of that is due to the big time prospects like Hosmer and Moustakas. However, what makes them elite is the depth of the system. If Johnny Giavotella can’t make it, they have Christian Colon. If Melky falters they have Lorenzo Cain. If Francouer goes back to a pumpkin then they have Wil Myers. If Moustakas can’t figure things out they have Cheslor Cuthbert. They continue to fill the funnel as they spent another team record in the amateur player draft with players like Bubba Starling.

All of this combines to provide some reassurance that this offense will continue to produce at a contending level. Things will change, moves will have to be made but it’s not where the team should focus their efforts in attempt to bring another flag to Kauffman Stadium. In the next installment, I’ll lay out the run prevention side of things and get to the heart of the team’s problems.

(spoiler alert: It’s probably the starting rotation)

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

As we discussed Jeff Francoeur last week, the comments section spent a fair amount of time on Fangraph’s baserunning metric.  You can count me as among the many who have just enough knowledge on the subject to be dangerous.   The first thing that all or most of us, anyway, think of when you hear ‘baserunning’ is something that measures speed, steals, ability to advance on the bases and on and on.  

In truth, steals and caught stealing were already factored into a player’s WAR before the baserunning (BSR or UBR – they are the same) metric came along.   In addition, some of the other things that would logically be associated with the TERM baserunning have nothing to do with the METRIC Bsr.   That said, here is a link to a far better explanation of Fangraph’s Bsr metric and I hope everyone with a question about it will click here.

A quick and dirty explanation contained in the Mitchel Lichtman article linked above:

Let’s say that there is a runner on second and one out. A ground ball is hit to the SS. Let’s say that on the average, in that same situation, the runner advances safely to third and the batter is thrown out 20% of the time, he stays put 70% of the time, he gets thrown out at 3rd 5% and beats a throw to third 5% of the time (batter safe on a FC). And let’s say that average base/out run expectancy (RE) of all those results, weighted by their frequency of occurrence, is .25 runs (all the numbers are made up). If the runner advances and the batter is thrown out, and the resultant RE is .5 runs, then the runner gets credit for .25 runs (.5 minus .25). If he stays put, and the average RE of a runner on second and 2 outs is .23 runs, then gets “credit” (he gets docked) for -.02 runs (.23 minus .25). So basically a runner gets credit for the resultant run value of what he does minus the average weighted resultant run value of all base runners in that situation.

I guess, more than anything else, reading the paragraph above and the entire article linked to just before will hopefully give all a clearer understanding of what ‘Bsr’ measures and what it does not.   Knowing that steals, caught stealings, grounding into double plays, stretching singles into doubles or lumbering a sure double into a single are not included – basically because they are already accounted for in other metrics.    It is more a measure of efficiency on the bases than speed or even hustle.  It is what it is and attempts to quantify a portion of the game that previously had not been measured and not to define what would logically be inferred under the heading of ‘Baserunning’.

Of course, the primary criticism lately around here has been that Jeff Francoeur’s Bsr is lower than even that of Billy Butler.   Now, we know that Billy Butler is not good at baserunning in the broad sense of the word.    He is the classic ‘time him with a sundial’ runner and, while there is not a whole lot Butler can do to change that in any appreciable manner, Billy gets his deserved share of criticism.   The very nature of Butler’s cement feet, however, cause him to not consider trying to score from first on a double or things of that nature and hence he avoids piling up a lot of the ultimate negatives of baserunning:  outs.

That Billy Butler is rated higher in ‘Bsr’ than Francoeur is not Fangraphs’ saying that Billy Butler is a better overall baserunner than Francoeur, it is simply a measurement of a certain part of what we consider baserunning and one in which Frenchy gets his a lot of negatives (8 outs on the bases not counting caught stealings).  The positives that, at least to some extent, would outweigh those negatives (the hustle double) are measured in a different metric and hence Jeff’s numbers in Bsr take a greater than expected hit.

Again, it is what it is,  but maybe this gives us just a touch more understanding of the metric.

Ready for more thoughts on the Jeff Francoeur extension? Perfect!

— Bringing back Francoeur for next season means the Royals outfield you will see tonight against the Red Sox is the exact same outfield you will see on Opening Day 2012. The Frenchman is going to cash a hefty check, the Royals will certainly tender a contract to Melky Cabrera and there is talk of an Alex Gordon extension. Hell, there’s a decent chance that this is the outfield we will see on Opening Day 2013. This has to be an indictment of Lorenzo Cain. Cain, who is hitting .306/.376/.506 in Omaha, after tonight, has more than 600 plate appearances in his career at the Triple-A level. It would seem he doesn’t have much left to prove.

However, I’ve heard the rumblings… A hole in his swing, the lack of the necessary skill set that would ease a transition from the high minors to the big league level, and so on. I haven’t seen Cain all that much, so I’m not qualified to comment on his skills (or lack thereof). What I can comment on is that it is fairly obvious that the organization doesn’t believe he’s part of the future.

Think about it… We have seen a tremendous influx of young talent. Nearly every position player who was regarded as a prospect and opened the 2011 season in Omaha is with the big club. Except Cain. It’s also worth noting, the Royals were quick to pull the trigger on Kila Ka’aihue earlier this year. I may be reading too much between the lines here, but I’m thinking the Royals regard Cain as another flavor of Hawaiian Punch. Good for Triple-A, not so good in the majors.

— There was a tweet from Greg Schaum that this move says more about the (lack of) development of Wil Myers than anything and I’m inclined to agree. Myers was moved to the outfield in order to fast track his bat to the major leagues. However injuries and a lackluster season (.254/.354/.373 in 348 plate appearances) have pushed his timetable back at least a full year. Most troublesome has been the lack of power development. If Myers repeats Double-A next year, it’s possible he won’t arrive in Kansas City until 2014. Francoeur gives the Royals cover. It’s expensive cover, but it’s still cover.

— I understand that with the season Francoeur is having, he was going to shop for a two year deal. That doesn’t mean the Royals had to give it to him.

He is hitting for a higher slugging percentage, which is nice. But that’s because he’s already set a career high for doubles with 35 while maintaining his home run rate of one long ball roughly every 31 at bats.

Let’s talk about value for a moment. Here are his fWAR values going back to 2006 which was his first full season in the majors.

2006: 1.1
2007: 3.8
2008: -0.8
2009: 0.3
2010: 0.6
2011: 2.3

Yes, this has been quite the rebirth for Francoeur, but we cannot ignore the fact that in his three previous seasons, he posted a 0.1 fWAR. Combined. It is entirely possible that Kevin Seitzer has worked his magic and Frenchy has figured it all out. I suppose. But there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. His walk rate is a career high at 6.6%, but he’s reached 6.0% three times previously, so this isn’t some sort of crazy development. It’s nice, but not out of the realm of possibility. His contact rate is 80.2%, which is actually lower than either of his two previous seasons where he posted a .309 and .300 on base percentage respectively. His line drive rate of 18.8% is right in line with his career rate.

Overall, he is swinging less, offering at just 53.9% of all pitches. That’s below his career rate of 58.1% and represents the lowest rate of his career. Maybe that’s it… A change in approach have yielded an improvement in results. Because his other rates haven’t moved all that much. (Interesting side note: He’s looking at a called third strike in 20% of all strikeouts. The highest caught looking rate in his career.)

While The Frenchman is having one of his better seasons, the fact that his secondary rate statistics have remained unchanged from the last several years, lead me to believe that the Royals won’t get the kind of production they seem to be counting on over the next two seasons.

— Going by the raw dollars, it looks like the Royals are expecting a pair of 1.5 WAR seasons from Francoeur. Again, I can’t help but feel that’s a shade on the optimistic side, given he’s played six full seasons and has topped that mark only twice (counting this year.) I know the defenders will argue he’s only 27, so he’s at his presumed peak, but I’ll counter with my previous argument that he’s never shown the ability to sustain an above average level of production.

Soon after the extension was announced, Joe Sheehan tweeted that because Francoeur was hitting .316/.352/.623 through May 4 and only .264/.320/.411 since, the Royals basically gave a guy a two year deal on one good month of production. Joel Goldberg countered with the fact Frenchy has hit .308/.369/.503 since July 1, and that should count for something. It’s a sound return volley and it really serves to underscore the fact he’s an extreme streak hitter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you’re going to live with the steak, you’re going to have to eat dog food every once in a while.

As the law of averages play out though, the cold streaks will prove to last longer than the hot ones. By the time 2013 rolls around, instead of talking about hot months for Francoeur, we could be reduced to discussing hot weeks.

— In Francoeur’s defense, I saw in several quarters where it was argued he was basically a platoon hitter, dreadful against right handed pitching.

Makes sense… Except for the fact it’s not necessarily true.

Granted, he does do worse against righties. That’s normal for a right-handed hitter. Here are his splits for 2011:

Vs LHP – .315/.379/.602
Vs RHP – .266/.314/.421

Many of my colleagues will look at that split and come to the conclusion he can’t hit a right hander. Except the league average right handed batter is hitting only .247/.307/.392 against right handed pitching this year.

I’m sure if The Frenchman sticks around for another 10 years, he will evolve into a platoon type player. However, I don’t see that happening during the life of his contract extension. Granted, he’s doing better this year against right handers than he’s done in quite some time, but like his cumulative stats, he’s not doing that much better where we would sit up and call it an outlier.

There’s definitely a difference in performance base on the handedness of the pitcher, but at this point, it doesn’t warrant a platoon situation.

— I’m extremely frustrated that the Royals didn’t move on Alex Gordon first. Yes, like The Frenchman, Gordon has had some horrible seasons. But realize that Gordon has seen his seasons cut short by injury and be being jerked around by the organization. He has almost 2,000 fewer plate appearances than Francoeur. This year, while Frenchy is playing well, Gordon is having an outstanding all around season.

I know that there has been talk of extension but the Royals want to wait until the end of the season… why is there a double standard here?

— Francoeur doesn’t annoy me as much as my basement dwelling comrades, and I had come to terms with the fact he was most likely going to return for the 2012 season. The extra year and total monetary package seems like the classic Dayton Moore play where he misreads the market and makes too strong of a move. He’s done this time and again in varying degrees. There’s the gross overpayment like he did with Jose Guillen. There’s the over valuing of his guys like we saw with Kyle Davies last winter. And there’s deals where he jumps head first into the trade market without taking the proper temperature like he did when he brought Mike Jacobs to Kansas City.

Moore has also fallen into a trap where he looks at only the last year of numbers and ignores the entire track record. Again, that certainly happened with Jacobs and to a lesser extent with Jose Guillen. He makes the mistake of ultimately paying full price for a player who can’t possibly maintain the level to justify the cost. That’s just a fancy way of saying he buys high.

I’m a fan of The Process and I feel like it’s the proper method to give the Royals the best shot at winning. But we have to realize that even a wildly successful Process will still leave management with holes to fill on the roster. This is where Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust have failed miserably time and time again.

Now matter how great the minor league system, poor free agent acquisitions or misreading the trade market could completely derail The Process. I had hoped after this winter when the Royals pursued low risk, low cost free agents, that was a signal that GMDM had figured something out regarding how to build his team. It doesn’t feel like any lessons were learned.

Francoeur alone won’t prevent the Royals from winning in the future. Rather he’s a symptom of a much larger problem. One that doesn’t seem to be going away.

I’ll wrap this up by restating that I don’t hate Jeff Francoeur. I think for the money he’s been paid this year, he’s been a good value for the Royals – on and off the field. But there comes a point when you can overpay and cause the value to disappear, and I think that is what has happened in this case. Francoeur has been playing in this league for six seasons and has had a grand total of two good ones. The odds are long he’ll put up two more during his extension.

Per the press release:

KANSAS CITY, MO (August 18, 2011) – The Kansas City Royals announced today that the club has signed outfielder Jeff Francoeur to a two-year contract extension through 2013. Consistent with club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The 27-year-old Francoeur is hitting .277 this season for the Royals, his first with the club. He has recorded 35 doubles, fifth-most in baseball, with three triples, 15 home runs, 66 RBI, 60 runs and a career-high 19 stolen bases. In addition, the 2007 Rawlings Gold Glove winner is third in the Majors with 12 outfield assists and leads all of baseball with 93 assists since the 2005 season.

Gut reaction: We figured he’d be back for 2012, but the two year deal is a bit of an overreach. Lorenzo Cain is ready and the Royals are going to bring back Melky Cabrera for at least another year… It’s all part of the 25 man roster puzzle the Royals have difficulty assembling.

I don’t hate The Frenchman like some – he is what he is – but this seems like a classic Royals overplay. We’ll need to see the terms before we can render any kind of a verdict.

Besides, if the Royals were thinking of extending anyone, it needed to be Alex Gordon, who is having a much better year than Francoeur. A1 needs to be taken care of now… If the Royals miss this chance, it will be a huge mistake.

I guess Dayton just can’t quit Frenchy.

UPDATE: Dutton reports it’s for a total of $13.5 million. To. Much. Money.

The 2011 amateur draft process finally came to an end with Monday night’s signing deadline and the Royals ended up assembling a really promising group.   Remember the names:

  • Bubba Starling
  • Cam Gallagher
  • Bryan Brickhouse
  • Kyle Smith
  • Patrick Leonard
  • Jack Lopez
  • Jake Junis

All guys who the Royals signed for more than Bud Selig’s archaic and irrelevant slot values.  In the case of Lopez and Junis, the bonuses were dramatically over slot value as Dayton Moore and crew took flyers in the later rounds on players thought to be unsignable.   For all his faults at the major league level, you simply cannot criticize Moore’s ability to find and sign talent for the minor league system.

We all have heard plenty about Starling, but in Gallagher and Lopez the Royals signed a catcher and shortstop with outstanding potential and who, by most accounts, will stick at those valuable defensive positions.  Leonard brings power potential, while Brickhouse, Smith and Junis can all be projected as middle to top of the rotation starting pitchers.  (Pine Tar Press has a nice scouting report on the latter three, by the way)

Add to the above group two big bonus Latin American signees in outfielder Elier Hernandez and shortstop Aldeberto Mondesi and the summer of 2011 looks like an outstanding contribution to an already fine farm system:   part of the ‘next wave’ of prospects.   Remember the nine players mentioned above.

Okay, now forget about them.

This group is not ‘the next wave’, they are actually part of the wave after the wave after the next wave.   Remember that Bubba Starling could spend a full season at every minor league level and still be just 24 when he hits the big leagues.   Elier Hernandez could take seven years to work his way up to the majors and break in as a 23 year old rookie.

Even under the most optimistic of projections, Alex Gordon will be 31 years old when the first of this class makes his major league debut.   Eris Hosmer will be in his fifth season (hopefully costing the Royals a small fortune because he just won the MVP) and, quite frankly, it is unlikely that Ned Yost or any of the current crop of coaches will ever have a chance to write the name ‘Starling’ or ‘Hernandez’ on a lineup card.  That last sentence is not a prediction of doom and gloom, just a reflection of the career path of virtually every major league manager and coach, by the way.

Depending on how you want to classify ‘waves’ of prospects, you can make this group part of just about any wave you want.  The truth is that a year like this, when the Royals have ten rookies playing key roles on their major league roster, really should not happen again.   Successful organizations don’t just throw an entire AAA team onto their major league roster every couple of years.  Instead, they ease them in over a period of time.

In Kansas City’s case, this year was a perfect year to push a bunch of players through their rookie years at once.   There was little to lose and, honestly, not a whole lot standing in their way at the major league level.  By getting Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Danny Duffy, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez acclimated all in one year, the Royals quite possibly accelerated the entire organization’s  timetable by nearly a full season.

Come 2012, the Royals can add the likes of a Lorenzo Cain (who really is not a rookie), David Lough, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Sisk and Kelvin Herrera to their core group of players as needed.     That group would then be followed by a procession of Wil Myers, Christian Colon (trying to be optimistic), Chris Dwyer, Will Smith and Kevin Chapman.     Not long after, we could start looking for the likes of John Lamb, Noel Arguelles, Jason Adam, Cheslor Cuthbert, Brett Eibner and Michael Antonio and then, THEN, we get to the nine guys that started off that column.

Of course, we know that not all of these players will make it and, in fact, most of them won’t.   We also know that some names that I have not mentioned will make it.   The good news is that they don’t all have to make it.

In virtually any other season between 2004 and 2010, Lorenzo Cain and probably even David Lough would have been playing major league baseball for a good two months by now.   That they are still in Omaha is not an indication of Dayton Moore’s stubbornness, but it simply a by-product of the fact that Kansas City currently fields a legitimate major league outfield trio.   Right there is a real sign of progress for this organization.

Now, this all sounds just perfect until Mike Moustakas hits .214 next season, Johnny Giavotella actually proves to be awful on defense and Alcides Escobar goes back to hitting .220/.230/.220 in 2012.   It all sounds just peachy until Mike Montgomery is sporting a plus five AAA earned run average next June and Danny Duffy is still struggling to make it to the fifth inning of most of his starts.

The Kansas City Royals are still remarkably fragile.   If the current major league lineup does not come through, the vaunted young bullpen regresses and Aaron Crow, Montgomery and Duffy flame out as starters, the team could well find itself playing 10 more rookies in 2013 and wondering who they can get with yet another top three draft pick.  

The Process is not a sure thing and there is a ton of work yet to do, but on this sunny day in August, it looks pretty good right now.   Let’s hope that this promising group of 2011 signees, when their time comes, are not being looked upon to finally lead the Royals into contention, but instead are being groomed to replace key players on a contending team without missing a beat.


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