Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Gil Meche won’t say it because he has too much class, but Trey Hillman is responsible for the end of his career.  Fact.

The Royals will be fortunate should Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies suffer from no lingering after effects from pitching in Hillman’s Starting Rotation Chainsaw Massacre.

Unfortunately, Dayton Moore can’t fire Hillman again.  I suppose that would be some kind of managerial double jeopardy.  Too bad. I wonder if those tears GMDM shed at the postmortem press conference was for SABR Trey or for realizing he acted too late and cost his team a decent starting pitcher.

Hillman had no business being in a major league dugout – especially as a manager.  He had no clue how to handle players on a day to day basis, had bizarre ideas about management in general and was absolutely lost making in-game decisions.  The Meche Mistake falls under the latter.  We’ve been over this before, but it’s the manager’s job to take the ball from his pitcher.  We’ve come so far when it comes to handling a pitching staff, that to let a starter who has thrown over 120 pitches dictate how long he should stay in the game is absolutely, unequivocally criminal.  It never should have happened.

Meche had a history of arm and shoulder troubles before he signed with the Royals.  Because of that, a five year contract was a risky proposition for the club.  Hillman managed Meche like he had no clue about his medical past.  How else can he explain why he left his starter in to throw a 132 pitch complete game?  Or how he allowed him to top 120 pitches just two days after throwing a bullpen session to test a dead arm?  The warning signs were there.  Everyone saw them.  How could you not?  Turns out everyone saw them but Trey Hillman.

It’s all water under the bridge as Meche walks away from over $12 million guaranteed because he’s too much of a standup guy to take that kind of money and struggle in the bullpen or to go ahead and have surgery and miss the year rehabbing.  I talked to Meche a couple of times while he was with the team and he always struck me as a thoughtful, conscientious kind of guy.  Not a brainiac like Brian Bannister and not quirky like Zack Greinke… Just smart.  But not too smart.  A normal guy.

I enjoyed watching Meche pitch because when he was healthy, he gave the Royals a great chance to win.  We scoff at the term, but he really was a “gamer.”  He always went out and gave it his best.  I suppose that’s ultimately why he’s walking away.  He’s not at his best anymore and he realizes this.  He may not have the most talent, but he was all about maximizing what he had.  I respect that.

I hope that Meche eventually gets the surgery because it’s no fun not being 100 percent… Even if you’re no longer competing at the highest level.  Maybe he can find a job in baseball as a pitching coach.  He seems like an ideal candidate to work with young pitchers.  And he can tell them first hand why starters need to take care of themselves.

In the meantime, Hillman has moved on to LA.  The Trey and Donnie Baseball show should be sitcom worthy.  Since I started writing about the Royals, they’ve had four managers.  Who would have thought my favorite at this point would be Buddy Bell?

A couple other notes…

— Bob Dutton Tweeted that Billy Butler is seeking $4.3 million while the Royals have countered with $3.4 million.  Dayton Moore has never been to arbitration and he’s not about to start.  I bet they’ll split the difference.

— There was some noise on Tuesday that the Meche retirement would free up the Royals ability to ink Butler to a long term deal.  While that sounds great, these are two completely separate issues.

For starters, if the Royals and Butler do sign a long-term deal, it would be one with escalating salaries to take care of his three arbitration seasons.  Something along the lines of $4 million in ’11, $6 million in ’12 and $8 million in ’13.  (Those are rough numbers, but you get my point.)  The Royals had already budgeted a certain amount for Butler for ’11 and Meche and his situation have nothing to do with how they will treat Butler.

Second, Meche’s salary was coming off the books following this season.  GMDM has made this point several times recently that the team has virtually no money committed to contracts beyond this season.  The payroll flexibility was already there.  Meche leaving doesn’t give the Royals any extra room to manuever.

And finally, I know there’s some ambivalence about giving Butler an extension with the imminent arrival of Eric Hosmer and Kila Ka’aihue already on the roster.  I get that… But Hosmer isn’t a sure thing and we have yet to see Ka’aihue for a full season.  We know what we’re getting in Butler.  I think you need to lock him in to a contract… Basically live for today.  If it turns out there’s a logjam at DH, then the Royals can deal him.   As long as his contract is done right.

— What the Meche retirement does now is it gives GMDM some money to spend.  This scares me.  Anyone think he’ll make a charge at Kevin Millwood?  Supposedly, Millwood is a leader-type of player… Exactly the kind GMDM covets.  Then there’s the fact he can overpay to bring him to KC.  Or how about the Royals signed two starting pitchers last week and seemingly have their rotation candidates fairly set for 2011.  GMDM has always failed at roster construction.  Now seems like an ideal time to overpay to create a logjam on a team that’s not expected to contend.

And let’s not forget… Former Brave.

Crap.

— Speaking of arbitration, Kyle Davies avoids arbitration and gets a raise to $3.2 million.

WHAT?

Seriously, how the hell did the Royals come to the conclusion that Davies should get a raise?  I know that everyone always gets more money, but Hochevar signed for the same amount he made in ’10.  And there’s no way you can tell me Davies is the better pitcher.

In fact, there’s a ton of evidence that Davies doesn’t belong in the majors.  Few pitchers have been as futile for as long as Davies.

Enjoy it, Kyle.  That’s a helluva reward.

Gil Meche decided to retire with a year remaining on his five year fifty five million dollar contract.  He was slated to make twelve million six hundred thousand for the 2011 season. According to reports, Meche will not be getting any of the remaining money due to him. In his words:

“As a competitor my entire life this is the hardest decision that I’ve ever faced, but it’s not fair to me, my family or the Kansas City Royals that I attempt to pitch anymore. I came into this game as a starting pitcher and unfortunately my health, more accurately, my shoulder, has deteriorated to the point where surgery would be the only option and at this stage of my life I would prefer to call it a career rather than to attempt to pitch in relief for the final year of my contract.”

The common response I’ve heard from people regarding this turn of events is that Gil is “doing the right thing” or “classy” or “a great guy”.  Now, I don’t know Gil Meche and I’ve never met him.  I’ve never really heard anything bad about him and I’ve heard plenty of good things.  He seems like a competitor who says and does the right things.  What I’m not sure I understand is why it’s considered the right thing to do to turn down money which is contractually promised to him.

Baseball contracts are guaranteed.  Everybody knows this.  The players know it.  The General Managers know it.  So when a five year contract is signed by both parties, they know the risks.  If Gil Meche gets hurt, he still gets paid.  The odds of a pitcher at Meche’s age not getting hurt at some point in five years are pretty low.  I’m pretty sure that both sides were absolutely aware that there was a good chance that at some point in the contract Gil Meche would be getting paid lots of money to be on the disabled list.

Gil had pitched out of the bullpen in 2010 and was actually effective in the role. It was generally assumed that he would be back in the bullpen to start 2011 and try and contribute whatever he could in the final year of his contract.  It wasn’t going to be worth $12.6m, but it would be likely worth something.

If what Gil did is considered to be the “right” thing, then doesn’t that presuppose that had he come back and pitched out of the bullpen, it would have been the “wrong” thing? Would he have been the target of fans vitriol for going out there on a broken arm trying to live up to the contract he signed? It’s possible he’d have heard that from some fans, but the vast majority likely doesn’t blame him for his arm troubles.

Why is it that we place moral qualities onto athletes when they turn down money?  Is turning down money somehow a noble deed in and of itself? If I told my boss that I didn’t want the bonus because I didn’t think I’d earned it, would that be noble or classy?  I guess it’s possible in some world where everyone gets the exact money they earn all the time, but that’s not the world we live in.  If Gil Meche had become a four time Cy Young winner with the Royals and pitched well above the money he was making, would they have given him extra money beyond his contract? Should they?

Are we as fans projecting our discomfort with the amount of money they earn, when we see them give some of it back? Even though by all measures, professional athletes are worth what they are paid, it does seem slightly illogical that what they do is of that much actual value. Very few baseball fans earn anywhere near what the athletes they root for get paid, and through that lens they seem vastly overpaid. Is it seen as a small victory for the fans when a baseball player forfeits that money? It’s possible that it can be seen as an admission by the player himself that he’s earning too much money. That admission, even if inferred is something that fans can latch onto and then issue moral praise.

Personally, I don’t think that what Gil Meche did is inherently good or bad.  Whether he collected the millions he was owed, or he walked away it was merely a life decision of his.  He likely decided he’d rather spend time with his family than on the road with the baseball team this year.  He probably didn’t want to go through the pain he went through last year.  He also likely didn’t want to have to hear the possible jeers he’d receive at being an over-paid reliever.

Making that choice isn’t a right or wrong thing, it’s just what Gil Meche wanted to do. I think assessing value judgments on people based on whether or not they chose to accept the money owed to them on a contract seems to be a slippery slope.  This would require us to think poorly of the moral character of every single athlete who has a bad season or a major injury and keeps getting his paychecks.

I’m glad that Meche is doing what he wants with his life, and frankly I’m glad that it is financially beneficial to the Royals organization. I’ll leave the right and wrong to someone else.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle [at] gmail [dot] com

As you may or may not have heard, I’ve been selected as one of eight participants in what the Royals are describing as Digital Digest.  According to the people I’ve spoken with from the Royals, we’ll be given a behind the scenes look at the upcoming Royals FanFest and an opportunity to interview Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, Billy Butler, Jeff Francoeur and possibly others.

A week ago, Craig posted a very thought provoking post on the subject regarding media, bloggers and access.  For the most part, I agree with him, however I think that our purpose here is to provide you with a different take than you’ll get from other media outlets.  Part of that comes from the fact that we are constantly writing about the Royals, all year long.  We don’t take a break to write about the Chiefs or whatever else is going on.  During the offseason: Royals.  When the team is hovering near .500: Royals.  Late summer and the team is 24 games out of first: Royals.  However, when the team is offering the opportunity to ask questions of the General Manager that aren’t normally asked by the mainstream meadia, I’m taking that.  I’m doing it because it’ll will be pretty cool, and because I believe there is a desire for people to have different questions asked.

I’m already a little impressed with the way the Royals are handling the Digital Digest.  It came with the words “you can ask whatever you want”.  Which is what the nice woman who called me from the Royals said after she told me who I was going to be interviewing.  It’s been echoing around my brain now for the past week.  Now that I can ask whatever I want of Dayton Moore, what exactly is it that I want to ask?  It’s one of the reasons I’ve reached out to readers via Twitter and Facebook and now here at Royals Authority.  I want to make sure that I’ve gathered the entirety of the unanswered questions so that I can parse them into a few, hopefully thought provoking questions.  I clearly already have a lot of thoughts of my own, but I want to make sure I’m not glossing over anything.  So go ahead and post your thoughts in the comments. My goal when interviewing the General Manager and players will be to ask questions that don’t get asked in typical interviews and to attempt to elicit different responses than you hear typically.

Beyond the interviews, I’ll be getting a behind-the-scenes look at FanFest.  I’m actually pretty excited about that part as well, because I really like going to FanFest.  Ever since the Royals have started to do it, it’s been one of my off-season highlights.  I’m not completely sure why, either.  I’m not a big autograph guy, so I don’t get in line for those.  I think it’s just being in a place that’s completely dedicated to Royal fandom in all of it’s different incarnations.  I’ll be there on Thursday for sure and probably there at some points on both Friday and Saturday.  I’d like to meet some readers and podcast listeners as well.  At this point, I’m not sure if there will be some meetup or anything, so stay tuned to my Twitter, Facebook and this site for any potential details.

FanFest Dates and Times:

Map of Event

Thursday (season ticket holders only) – 5 p.m. ton 9 p.m.
Friday – 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday – 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

With the signings of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen this past weekend, the Royals have to make a couple of moves to free up space on the forty man roster for those two.   While this seems like a fairly easy process (for those of us who don’t have to call a guy and say, ‘Hey, how’s your winter going?  By the way, you’re being designated for assignment.  Take care.’), I have almost never guessed correctly which players Dayton Moore decides to remove.

A quick glance at the current roster probably would lead almost all us to think the decision comes down to a quartet of relievers:   Henry Barrera, Jesse Chavez, Dusty Hughes and Kanekoa Texeira.     Looking at pitching makes sense given that the two guys the Royals just signed are pitchers.    Taking a chance on losing relievers is logical given that Bruce Chen can pitch out of relief and also because the first wave of the actual Process that is going to reach the majors is predominately relievers.

It is very possible the Royals break camp this spring with Tim Collins in the bullpen.   Certainly, Blake Wood, now that he has learned it is okay to strike guys out, will be part of the twenty-five that go north.   They might well be joined by Louis Coleman and/or Greg Holland, with Blaine Hardy not far behind.   Those names are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to good bullpen arms in the organization.

Digressing just a moment, perhaps the impending arrival of a number of rookies (or near rookies in the case of Wood and Holland) in the bullpen is as good a reason as any for the Royals to sign Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis.   Signing those two veterans, even if they turn out to be Scott Elarton and Mark Redman revisited, buys time for the young starters we are all counting on.   Heck, it buys time for Sean O’Sullivan for that matter.  It also buys time for the young relievers.

Let’s say Danny Duffy makes his major league debut on August 1st.   He allows two runs through five plus innings, but gets into trouble in the sixth.   It makes a lot more sense to have Louis Coleman, with nearly a full season of experience under his belt, come in with two on and one out in the sixth than if he was also just weeks into his major league career.   Tim Collins, also with four months in the majors on his resume, would come in to pitch the seventh and Blake Wood, now with over a year of experience, would polish off the eighth.

That is a whimsical little scenario, of course, but what I am trying to illustrate is that the Royals have a chance to pair a very young 2012 starting rotation with a young, but experienced, bullpen corps.   I think there is genuine value in having that mix and doing so without spending four million on veteran relievers next winter.

Anyway, back to our 40 man roster dilemma – if you can call it that.  

Of the four pitchers mentioned above, Henry Barrera does one thing the others to not:  strike guys out (10.3/9 over his career).   Health has been an issue for him and with less than half a season above A ball, Henry is the only one of the four who has virtually no shot at being on the early season 2011 roster.   That said, I hang on to Barrera.

After that, designating either Hughes, Chavez or Texeira for assignment will not cause me to lose any sleep.   First off, there is a real chance that those guys do not get claimed by another team and end up right back in the organization just as Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadski did.   If not, does it matter in the long-term?   Does it even really matter in the short-term?

In the end, I would probably cut loose Texeira and Chavez simply because Dusty Hughes did manage to throw over 50 innings of marginally passable major league work in 2010.   If the Royals want to give Coleman, et.al. a month or so in AAA, then Hughes is the stop-gap guy they can turn to.      Left-handers who have pitched in the majors are also less likely to make it through waivers than right-handers who have yet to, you know, get anyone out.

While the long-term success of the Royals is hardly going to be effected by this decision, it is a roster decision that will give us an idea as to the make-up of the early 2011 bullpen.

On Friday, it was announced that the Royals had signed free agent pitcher Jeff Francis to a one year contract reported to be worth $2m in guaranteed money and another $2m in incentives. Earlier in his career, the lefty was looked at as a potential ace for the Colorado Rockies. Major shoulder trouble and subsequent surgery caused him to miss the entire 2009 season. He was linked to seven different teams this offseason, however reports on his recovery and the fact he stumbled later in the 2010 season probably pushed teams away.

After trading Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, there was at least one opening in the starting rotation.  That, combined with the unlikelihood of the Royals competing for a Divison title in 2011 allowed them to offer something that other teams likely couldn’t: a chance to start every fifth day, as long as he’s healthy.  Francis joins Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur as former top prospects who are joining the Royals on one year contracts to prove to the league that they are worth signing to a longer contract. If one or more of these “show me” contract guys actually produces  in 2011, then the Royals can also flip them at the deadline for prospects, much like they did with a number of players at the end of 2010. There’s potential value for both sides in these kinds of deals.

Francis will be moving from one of the most hitter friendly parks in Coors Field to one of the more pitcher friendly parks at Kauffman.  He’s primarily a ground ball pitcher who has a low walk rate and a moderate strike out rate.  If he’d have been on the Royals last year, his walk rate would’ve been second only to Grienke among starting pitchers.  At $2m guaranteed, there is really no risk for the Royals here and potentially some real upside.  There really isn’t much to dislike about this deal.  Francis will also be reunited with his old pitching coach Bob McClure who was a worked for the Colorado Rockies organization from 1999-2005, four of which were with the AAA Colorado Springs team which Francis pitched for in 2004.

This sort of free agent signing is becoming part of Dayton Moore’s modus operandi as of late.  He likes former big time prospects who’ve fallen on tough times or struggled and are looking for one last chance to make it.  He gives them a one year deal with incentives or options and gives them an opportunity to play. From what I’ve been able to glean from quotes and from his actions, Dayton is a believer in tools. He wants guys that are athletic if unproven.  I’d guess that he believes that his instructors can teach baseball skills, but they can’t teach athleticism.  I agree with him.  However with athletic toolsy players, you run the risk that they’ll never figure out the baseball part of the equation and will eventually flame out.

Polished baseball guys who may be less toolsy but can play the game of baseball (think Willie Bloomquist) are usually more steady and predictable.  However, their upside is almost always limited.  Guys with off the charts athleticism (Jason Heyward, Rick Ankiel, etc) can be potential stars if (and it’s a big if) they can figure out the baseball part.  With that kind of potential risk, a team can’t just bank on a couple of toolsy guys to bust out, instead you have to have a bunch that you can throw against the wall to see who will stick.  Again, that’s what Dayton has been doing lately.

At the Major League level he’s brought in Francouer, Cabrera, Betemit, Cain, Francoeur, Jeffress and Francis.  All of them have been highly thought of prospects who are in general freakish atheletes.  Likely a couple of these guys will pan out, and will contribute to the team or be fodder for another trade.  It’s a risk well worth taking at this point where the Royals are.  What baffles me is why it’s taken this long to start doing this.

The bottom line is I like the acquisition of Jeff Francis by itself, but I like that it’s another piece of evidence which points to Dayton Moore making better decisions at the Major League level.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle [at] gmail [dot] com

UPDATE: The Royals have reportedly agreed to terms with Jeff Francis to a one-year deal, pending a physical.  I mention Francis later in this post in regards to the team’s payroll. It will be interesting to see how much he will be making next year, but as you’ll see… It really doesn’t matter.  Read on…

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The Royals and Luke Hochevar agreed to terms on Wednesday, avoiding arbitration.  According to reports, he’s set to make $1.76 million next season.  While that’s hardly chump change, according to Cot’s that is the exact same amount he made in 2010. Hochevar is represented by Scott Boras, so I found it kind of interesting that they reached this sort of an agreement.  Even though he was hurt and missed a large chunk of the season, Hochevar did improve on his overall performance.  Trust me… You have to look closely, but he did.

Hochevar has added seven pounds of muscle (one of the first “Best Shape of his Life” stories of 2011… Spring Training is close.) in an attempt to avoid further injury.  I’m always ambivalent about these reports.  Will more muscle result in better performance, or will it take something away?  I guess we’ll know about a year from now when the story is either “Hochevar Trims Down” or “Hochevar named Mr. Universe.”

With Hochevar under contract, that leaves Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Robinson Tejeda and Kyle Davies as the Royals remaining arbitration-eligible players.  Given Dayton Moore’s track record – he’s never gone to arbitration in his tenure in KC – I’d bet all four reach agreements before the team reports to Surprise.

So let’s take a look at the Royals current payroll.  Here are the names and the numbers we know.  These are all the Royals under contract for 2011.  All numbers are in millions.

That is a lean total for a baseball payroll about a month from the opening of camp.

Now, let’s look at the guys who haven’t been locked in for 2011.

Butler will get a nice raise to avoid arbitration.  I’m thinking somewhere in the $3 million neighborhood.  Gordon will probably be in line with last season’s $1.15 million.  There is no way Davies should make more money than Hochevar, but he was at $1.8 last year, so let’s pencil him in for that again.  And Tejeda will probably double his salary from last year and make around $2 million.  These numbers are just off the top of my head.  I’m confident about the Gordon and Davies guesses, less so about Butler and Tejeda.  Still, let’s figure an additional $8 million for the remaining arbitration guys.  That pushes the total payroll to about $35 million.

Then there are the guys with less that three years of service time.  The club can (and will) automatically renew their contracts for either the minimum ($414,000) or slightly above.  On the Royals, that includes the following players:

Nathan Adcock
Jesse Chavez
Greg Holland
Jeremy Jeffries
Vin Mazzaro
Sean O’Sullivan
Lucas May
Mike Aviles
Alcides Escobar
Chris Getz
Kila Ka’aihue
Gregor Blanco
Lorenzo Cain

OK… I’ve left out some players who could be on the 25 man roster Opening Day.  That’s not the point.  Because if one of these 13 guys isn’t on the team at the start of April, he will be replaced by someone with a similar level of experience.

Since not everyone listed above will make the bare minimum, let’s just round up and assign everyone a contract of $425,000.  That adds an extra $5.525 million to the payroll.

That brings our rough estimate of the Royals Opening Day payroll to $40.525 million.  Throw in the $1 million they owe The Yunigma and that edges the team payroll to just over $41 million.

Wow.

Quite the reduction from the $70 million plus payrolls the Royals opened the year with in 2010 and 2009.

I know there will be a focus on the team payroll and most of it will be negative.  Ignore that noise.  A payroll this low means that while GMDM doesn’t totally get it, he’s learning.  He’s learning that you don’t need to throw mega-millions at a broken down outfielder or a reliever in order to finish in fourth or fifth place.  This is a good thing.  With The Process in full swing, there’s no need to bloat the payroll today.  The eyes are on the future.

On the other hand, I’m worried that the money is smoldering in GMDM’s pocket.  Obviously the Royals need pitching and Kevin Millwood seems like the kind of guy he would overpay, just to bring him to KC.  How GMDM approaches this need in the next month will speak loudly about exactly how much he has learned.

However, it’s all a slippery slope.  Don’t spend money and you’re cheap and running the team on a Wal-Mart budget.  Spend money on guys like Millwood and you’re basically throwing cash away.  Still, there’s not a much (really, any) quality remaining on the free agent market.  All that’s left are injury risks (Chris Young, Jeff Francis) and guys who… aren’t very good. (Jeff Suppan, Nate Robertson)

Myself, I’d rather GMDM resist the temptation to throw the cash just because he has it.  I know that a million saved in 2011 doesn’t mean anything in 2012.  Still, just once I’d like Moore to do the prudent thing.

The 2011 starting rotation, as currently constructed, has taken a lot of grief.   Frankly, it deserves it and will continue to earn even more barring something on the order of not one, not two, but three pitchers dramatically improving.   That said, the quarter of Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies and Sean O’Sullivan is almost certainly not the worst group the Royals have sent out to start a season.   I can comfortably say that without even researching beyond the 21st century.

Like me, a lot of you are rather leery (maybe even a little embarrassed?) that Luke Hochevar, he of the career 5.60 ERA, is likely to be Kansas City’s Opening Day starter.    Certainly, Luke pales in comparison to the Opening Day starters of the past four years – Gil Meche and Zack Greinke – but check out some other pitchers to have gotten the nod for the boys in blue:

  • 2006 – Scott Elarton:  He came to Kansas City via free agency after compiling an ERA of 4.61 over 32 starts for Cleveland in 2005.     Scott’s 2004 ERA was 5.90 and he had given up 65 home runs combined in the two years before signing with the Royals.   After giving up two runs in five and two-thirds innings on Opening Day, Elarton actually threw quality outings in five of his first seven starts, but by July 16th was done for the year with his ERA at a nice and juicy 5.34.   Along the way Elarton served up 26 home runs in just 114.2 innings.
  • 2005 – Jose Lima:  To be honest, Limatime was coming off a decent season in 2004 (13-5, 4.07 ERA with LA) on the heels of a career resurrection during the Royals magical 2003 season.   Jose was tagged for 5 runs in just 3 innings on Opening Day on his way to eating 169 innings with a 6.99 ERA in 2005.
  • 2004 – Brian Anderson:  He had pitched well for the Royals down the stretch in 2003 and finished that year a combined 14-11  with a 3.78 ERA.   Resigning him for what seemed to be a run to the AL Central title in 2004 made all the sense in the world.    Anderson gave up 5 runs in 5 innings on Opening Day, 5 more in his next start, 5 in the start after that and by the end of May was sent to the bullpen for time.   When the season mercifully ended, Anderson had fashioned a 5.64 ERA over 166 innings, during which time he allowed 217 hits.

I could bring up Jeff Suppan here, too, who started on Opening Day from 2000 to 2002, but the guy took the ball for every start for four straight years and has gotten enough grief from Royals fans as it is.   His four year run of 864 innings with a 4.73 ERA for the Royals gets him a pass in this discussion.  

Back to Luke Hochevar, who could pretty much be exactly who he has been and still be a better ‘number one’ starter than at least three of his predecessors.   What about the rest of the rotation?    Even if Hochevar is better than Lima and Elarton, what about the others?

Well, the other 2006 starters were:

  • Mark Redman (5.71 ERA in 29 starts)
  • Runelvys Hernandez (6.48 ERA in 21 starts)
  • Luke Hudson (4.79 ERA in 15 starts)
  • Odalis Perez (5.64 ERA in 12 starts)
  • Jeremy Affeldt, Jorge dela Rosa, Mike Wood, Brandon Duckworth, Denny Bautista, Joe Mays and Bobby Keppel (among others) also got starts for this team.   NONE of them were any good.  I mean, Kyle Davies was/is better than everyone on the list was that year!

The 2005 group was not any better.   After Lima, a kid named Greinke pitched, but it was hardly the Zack we now know:

  • Zack Greinke (5.80 ERA in 33 starts)
  • Runelvys Hernandez (5.52 ERA in 29 starts – man he really parlayed that good start in 2003 into a lot of chances, didn’t he?)
  • D.J. Carrasco (4.79 in 20 starts)
  • J.P. Howell (6.19 in 15 starts)
  • Brian Anderson (6.75 in 6 starts)
  • A host of others, if you can name them all without looking at Baseball Reference you need to find a hobby.

My intention here is not to depress or to bemoan the less than splendid near past of this franchise, but simply to remind us all that it actually has been worse.   Seriously, browse your way through the 2004, 2005 and 2006 pitching stats.

Hochevar, Mazzaro, Davies and O’Sullivan suddenly doesn’t sound quite as bad as it did before, does it?

Episode #040 – I discuss being selected for the Royals Digital Digest and covering the FanFest next weekend.  I also discuss the age of the upcoming roster and the starting rotation.  Adam Foster of Project Prospect talks Royals prospects with me including Tim Mehlville, Wil Myers, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi and Johnny Giavotella.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs040.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Adam on Twitter @adamwfoster and check out Project Prospect

Music used in this podcast:

Steddy P. – Honesty

Steddy P. – Rap Lessons

Ween – A Tear for Eddie

How to Get the Podcast:

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Mike Aviles probably didn't make contact on this swing. (Minda Haas/flickr)

Last week, I took a look at performance of Royals hitters under batting coach Kevin Seitzer and how they collectively became some of the best contact hitters in the league.  This week, I’m going to examine the results of that contact and what it means going forward.

There have been a number of studies on batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and it’s correlation to contact rate.  If I just had to guess, I would imagine the more contact you make (i.e. putting the ball in play), the more opportunity you would have to test the defense, which would lead to a strong BABIP.  However, those studies have found the opposite to be true.  The guys with the best batting average on balls in play are generally the ones who take a “grip it and rip it” approach.  It’s the home run hitters with the ginormous strikeout rates that usually have the best BABIP – the guys with the low contact rates.  Someone like Mark Reynolds, who owns a career .323 BABIP fits this profile.  And the fact he posted a career low .257 BABIP last year, further shows there are always exceptions to the rule.

Since the Royals didn’t strikeout all that much as a team (in other words, they made excellent contact) while lacking home run of power, it would follow their team BABIP would be lower than average.  However, that wasn’t the case.

Last year, the Royals had a team BABIP of .305, which ranked them fourth in the AL and was 10 points above the league average.  If you believe in regression to the mean (with a “normal” BABIP of around .300), and if you believe the studies on BABIP, you would pick the Royals to fall off their batting average of .274 from last summer.  Of course, since the Royals don’t believe in the walk as an offensive tool, it’s not a leap of faith to think that if their batting average drops, so too will their team OBP.

That will be something worth following next summer.  In the meantime, what about individual performers and their BABIP?  Fortunately, there is the tool known as xBABIP, which is expected batting average on balls in play.  (You can download a calculator here, with instructions for use from The Hardball Times.)  Essentially, xBABIP takes a hitters batted ball rates and calculates (roughly) what his batting average on balls in play should be.  It’s all kind of meta in that BABIP tells us if a player is lucky on his batting average, while xBABIP tells us if a player is lucky on his BABIP.  See?

Anyway, we can look at xBABIP against true BABIP to see who on the Royals was lucky last summer.  Except this team has experienced quite a bit of turnover from September.  So the following table looks at players who figure to be in the lineup next summer for the Royals and who had enough at bats last year to make this exercise worthwhile.  Remember, a negative difference is good (signifying poor luck) while a positive difference could serve as a warning sign that a correction is looming.

Takeaways from this table:

— The new guys (Frenchy, Cabrera and Escobar) are all “buy low” players.  (I know… Shocking statement of 2011… So far.) All three had rotten BABIPs last year and all three should have been better.  Strange as it may sound, we could expect some improvement from Francoeur and Cabrera.  Still, don’t get carried away.  Improvement from Francoeur means moving his WAR from last year’s 0.5 to something like 0.7.  Notice how he’s the only guy on the list with a sub .300 xBABIP.  It’s because again… He’s not good at baseball.

Meanwhile, Cabrera has more upside.  Best case scenario for him would be to post something like a 1.5 WAR.  However, that means either Alex Gordon is gone or Lorenzo Cain spends the summer breaking in the new stadium in Omaha.

—  Speaking of Alex Gordon, there wasn’t an unluckier Royal than the former top prospect.  Hell, I didn’t need to run these numbers to tell you that.  I saw him hit enough “atom” balls last year to know, the dude just couldn’t catch a break.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…  Gordon is the poster child for bad luck.  I’m not going to say he’s going to breakout, but if he plays all year, I could see him come close to a 2.5 WAR.

— Escobar was often overmatched at the plate, but holds some upside based on his batted ball data.  However, having not watched many Brewer games, I can’t tell if his contact was quality or not.  Tony Pena, Jr. could hit line drives, too.  They just weren’t hit with any kind of authority.  I’ll reserve judgement on Escobar until I follow him closer in regular season action.

— Wilson Betemit will not come close to duplicating his 2010 season.  Good thing the Royals are only on the hook for $1 million. That means we’ll see more Chris Getz, who will be at second because Mike Aviles will slide over to third, or that means we’ll see Mike Moustakas.  Hmmm… Decisions, decisions.

— Mitch Maier was who we thought he was.

—  If Billy Butler starts hitting just a few more flyballs, his xBABIP will rise, he’ll hit more home runs and won’t break Jim Rice’s major league record for hitting into double plays.  Win, win, win.

I host a podcast about the Royals so it shouldn’t be surprising that I love talking about the team to anyone who will listen.  I’ve usually been the guy with the over-optimistic off-season win predictions and ridiculously high expectations for Minor League Prospects (Jeff Austin is going to be awesome, TRUST me!).  Lately, I’ve been talking more and more people down from the ledge concerning the Royals.  It’s a state of mind that I can sympathize with.*  I try and tell them about the young players in the Minor Leagues and how much love they are getting from people in the know.  Usually, I hear the same retorts.  “I’ve heard that before and even if they are good the Royals will trade them away.” or “We’ve been hearing about a youth movement for 20 years.”  I understand the sentiment and it’s not completely invalid.  The difference, I believe, is that this time it’s for real, especially the youth movement part.

*I once nearly threw every Royal hat and shirt I owned into the yard and became a Yankee fan.  I figured I should just save myself the anguish and succumb to the dark side.  I didn’t do it.

The great thing about youth, is that it’s easy to measure.  Player birth dates are readily available and so it’s easy to see how young or old a team is.  The great site Baseball Reference has all of this data, and they conveniently use a weighted measure to determine team age.  Basically they give more weight to the player who got the most playing time.  So if a 42 year old got 3 plate appearances he isn’t skewing the age of the team.  Below is a list of the Royals teams in decreasing age.

Year BatAge PitchAge Average
1969 25.8 25.2 25.5
1970 26.4 26.2 26.3
2000 27.6 25.8 26.7
2005 27.8 25.6 26.7
1973 27.7 25.9 26.8
1999 26.9 26.9 26.9
1971 27.2 26.7 27.0
1976 27.0 27.6 27.3
2007 28.0 27.0 27.5
1972 27.7 27.4 27.6
2001 28.2 27.3 27.8
2008 28.0 27.5 27.8
1978 27.2 28.7 28.0
1974 27.4 28.6 28.0
1977 27.6 28.4 28.0
1992 28.9 27.1 28.0
1996 27.1 29.0 28.1
1975 28.1 28.1 28.1
1991 28.6 27.6 28.1
2004 28.8 27.4 28.1
1984 29.4 26.9 28.2
2009 27.6 28.7 28.2
2010 28.9 27.5 28.2
1997 28.8 27.6 28.2
1987 29.3 27.4 28.4
1979 27.9 28.9 28.4
1980 27.7 29.1 28.4
1985 30.9 26.1 28.5
2003 29.0 28.0 28.5
1990 29.8 27.3 28.6
1995 29.1 28.0 28.6
2002 29.3 27.8 28.6
2006 29.6 27.7 28.7
1993 30.1 27.4 28.8
1998 28.8 28.8 28.8
1981 29.2 28.8 29.0
1986 30.9 27.3 29.1
1989 30.5 27.7 29.1
1994 30.2 28.0 29.1
1988 29.6 29.0 29.3
1982 30.4 30.9 30.7
1983 30.2 32.2 31.2

The Royals were extremely young in their first two years of existence.  That’s pretty typical for expansion teams, especially in that era.  The years 1999, 2000 and 2005 all make an appearance at the top of the chart as well.

The 1999 and 2000 teams were young and were billed to the public as a youth movement.  It was an accurate description with guys like Carlos Beltran (22-23), Jermaine Dye (25-26), Mike Sweeney (25-26), Johnny Damon (25-26) and Carlos Febles (23-24).

The year 2005 had youngsters like Mark Teahen (23), John Buck (24), Angel Berroa (25), David Dejesus (25) and Zack Grienke (21).  That year was kind of a mini youth movement.  They were young, but not quite as deep and talented as the crop before.  It’s not surprising that 2006 had one of the oldest teams in franchise history.  The Royals had to try and upgrade the team and there wasn’t much youth to make that happen.

The last few years have been average to above average in age.  There hasn’t been a whole lot of youth on the team and plenty of older free agents like Jason Kendall (36), Scott Podsednik (34), Jose Guillen (34) and Kyle Farnsworth (34).    It’s one of the things that has made the last three years some of the least interesting Royals baseball I’ve ever watched.

It seems pretty clear, that while there was  a couple of “youth movements” this team hasn’t been very young lately or for much of the last decade other than a couple of years.  The decade of the 1970′s (including 1969) was the youngest average decade at 27.35, followed by the 2000′s (27.84), 1990′s (28.30) and then the 1980′s (29.18).  There has been a slight trend towards younger teams as we get closer to the present.  But the point stands, even though people believed there was a youth movement going on for the past 20 years, there haven’t been a whole lot of young teams in that time.

Let’s take a look at what this year’s roster might look like and the ages of those players.

Bench Player Age
C Pena 29
C May 26
1B Ka’aihue 27
DH Butler 25
2B Aviles 30
3B Moustakas 22
SS Escobar 24
LF Gordon 27
CF Cain 25
RF Francoeur 27
Bench Betemit 29
Bench Cabrera 26
Bench Blanco 27
Bench Getz 27
SP Hochevar 27
SP Mazzaro 24
SP O’Sullivan 23
SP Davies 27
RP Tejeda 29
RP Soria 27
RP Collins 21
RP Meche 32
RP Wood 25
RP Coleman 25
RP Adcock 23
Average 26.16
PitAge 25.73
BatAge 26.50

Admittedly, I only have four starters on that list, but I don’t know who the fifth will be at this point. Even if it were someone older, it’s not going to skew the numbers all that much.  As the roster is constructed today, this is one of the youngest teams in franchise history.  Depending on how much time some of the younger players get and who the 5th pitcher is, it could be the youngest.

Now THIS is a youth movement.  Not to mention the fact that there are other even younger players who are going to be pushing these players off of the roster in the near future.  2011 will be an audition year for most of the players on the roster.  Watching which players take their opportunity and succeed will be one of the most interesting story lines of the season.  So when I hear people tell me that they’ve seen this youth movement before, my answer is no, you haven’t.  The Royals have never put out a team this young and with this much talent in the Minors waiting to burst onto the scene.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Royals podcasts and is proud to be a writer here at The Royals Authority.  You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on facebook.

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