Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

On to the pitchers…

We know the starters have, taken as a whole, been horrible. And we know the bullpen has been one of the strengths of this team. I don’t know how the rotation can improved in the second half. Aside from Danny Duffy, these guys pretty much are who we thought they were. Which is not good.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has overachieved. Many of the relievers have outperformed their xFIP and have incredible batting averages on balls in play and even more incredible strand rates. That points to the volatility of the bullpen. It’s still a strength of this team, but I’m not certain it will be as strong in the second half.

One area where you notice the chasm is in strikeouts. The Royals starters couldn’t pitch their way out of a paper bag. (When I talk about the “starters,” know that I’m excluding Duffy. He’s the Chosen One adrift in a sea of batting practice pitchers.) Meanwhile, the bullpen is full of flame throwers who have made missing bats a habit. There may be some regression to the bullpen mean in the second half, but the strikeouts will cushion the blow.

Luke Hochevar
2.9 BB/9, 4.6 SO/9, 5.46 ERA, 4.22 xFIP
0.6 WAR

Key Stat: Allowing opponents to hit .300/.379/.461 with runners on base.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Hochevar “frustrating.” That would imply we have expectations that he could actually be… good.

Instead, we’re teased with a pitcher who retires three or six or nine batters in a row and then implodes in a spectacular fashion. Read that key stat again… there’s something happening when Hochevar pitches from the stretch. Even more frustrating, when runners reach base, Hochevar slows to the game to a speed that resembles Billy Butler running the 100 yard dash… Stand. Still.

I read somewhere that the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger thought Hochevar is a victim of heightened expectations that come with being the team’s Opening Day (read, number one) starter. I just can’t buy into this theory. Mainly because I haven’t thought about Hochevar as the Opening Day starter since… Opening Day. I mean, even Hochevar has to know he was the “number one” starter only because there wasn’t anyone else.

Grade: D

Jeff Francis
1.7 BB/9, 4.4 SO/9, 4.60 ERA, 4.01 xFIP
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: His average fastball is 85 mph.

Francis was always one of the softer throwers in the game, but he’s lost a couple mph off his alleged fastball since returning from shoulder surgery. Having said that, he’s compensating by featuring the best control of his career. The issue with Francis – and it will always be an issue – is that when he catches too much of the plate, it’s easy for opposing batters to make solid contact. His line drive rate hovers around 20% and his BABIP is always north of .300, meaning his WHIP will always be elevated, even though his walks are under control.

Despite the warts, he’s having a pretty decent season.

Grade: B-

Bruce Chen
3.0 BB/9, 5.6 SO/9, 3.26 ERA, 4.37 xFIP
0.7 WAR

Key Stat: Chen has a 76.5% strand rate.

If you’re looking for a reason for Chen’s solid ERA, look no further than his strand rate. It’s about three percentage points better than his career rate. If he regresses to the mean, the second half could be a bit bumpy, but given the way he’s turned his career around, I’m not certain I would bet against him.

Bringing Chen back for 2011 was a good piece of business by Dayton Moore.

Grade: B

Kyle Davies
4.0 BB/9, 6.3 SO/9, 7.74 ERA, 4.78 xFIP
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has thrown three quality starts in 11 overall starts. The Royals have lost all three of those games.


Grade: F

Sean O’Sullivan
4.4 BB/9, 3.0 SO/9, 6.92 ERA, 5.59 xFIP
-0.5 WAR

Key Stat: His 0.69 SO/BB ratio is the worst rate among pitchers who have started more than five games this season.

Double dreadful.

Grade: F

Danny Duffy
4.3 BB/9, 7.3 SO/9, 4.85 ERA, 4.20 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat:

Duffy is just a few adjustments away from moving to the front of the rotation. Really. It all comes down to location and an economy of pitches. These are things he can adjust. The successes have been there… there will be more in the near future.

Grade: C

Aaron Crow
4.2 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9, 2.08 ERA, 3.15 xFIP
0.5 WAR

Your 2011 All-Star!

There’s going to be a ton of talk over the next couple of months about moving Crow into the rotation. Personally, I’m on the record saying that everyone from the bullpen should be given a shot at starting. Seriously, the rotation is dreadful so something needs to be done.

Now, having said that, I don’t think that Crow will ever transition back to the rotation. Part of my reasoning has to do with his performance this season. He’s walking too many guys to be a middle of the rotation starter. Also, his success this year is built around an unsustainable 90% strand rate. Then, there’s also his track record from the minors. Don’t forget, he was demoted as a starter after getting raked to the tune of a 5.66 ERA in Double-A. He followed that with a 5.93 ERA in Single-A. Yikes.

Crow seems to have found his groove as a reliever and has emerged as a dependable set-up man. Why mess with a formula that’s been successful?

Grade: A-

Tim Collins
6.6 BB/9, 7.7 SO/9, 3.74 ERA, 4.86 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Lefties are hitting .215/.381/.354 against Collins. Right handers are batting .193/.316/.301.

Collins is an enigma in more ways than one. To start, there’s his reverse split described above. Then, there’s the fact he’s walking a metric ton of batters. No pitcher who has thrown more than 30 innings has a walk rate higher than Collins.

Sadly, those walks are going to catch up with Collins. And that’s probably going to happen in the second half.

Grade: C+

Blake Wood
2.7 BB/9, 8.0 SO/9, 2.89 ERA, 3.08 xFIP
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Wood is getting a swinging strike in 9.8% of all strikes thrown.

I don’t know how he’s doing it… With a fastball straighter than a piece of dried spaghetti. But Wood has become a dependable reliever out of the bullpen. It helps that his slider is much improved as well. Still, I can’t help but worry… I’m a Royals fan.

Grade: B+

Louis Coleman
4.3 BB/9, 10.9 SO/9, 2.01 ERA, 3.80 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Opponents are hitting .167/.280/.361 against Coleman.

Coleman is off to a great start and has been a versatile arm out of the pen for the club. He’s pitched multiple innings in 12 of his 27 appearances and has thrown anywhere from the sixth inning on. With the lead, in a tie game, or with the Royals down… Yost is using him in just about any situation.

His BABIP is .200 and his strand rate is a whopping 96%. There’s no way he can keep those numbers for the second half. His xFIP suggests he’s had luck on his side.

Grade: A-

Felipe Paulino
2.3 BB/9, 8.9 SO/9, 3.38 ERA, 3.24 xFIP
1.3 WAR

A revelation…

Interesting story… At the Baseball Prospectus event at the K last week, Jin Wong talked about how one of the things his job entails is to identify potential talent. Basically, looking at fringe players and deciding if there’s some upside there. If there is, and that player becomes available, they pounce. According to Wong, the club identified Paulino early in the year as a potential guy for them because he throws 95 mph (on average), strikes out a fair number of hitters and can keep the ball on the ground. So, when Paulino struggled in 18 appearances out of the pen for the Rockies, and they let him go, the Royals were ready.

Great story… You hope it’s true. Paulino has never had an ERA lower – or even close – to his xFIP, so he was always a guy with upside. Good for the Royals for grabbing him off the scrap heap when the Rockies were ready to let him go.

The Royals will need to find a few more gems in the rough like Paulino. Capable middle of the rotation guy.

Grade: B+

Nate Adcock
3.7 BB/9, 5.9 SO/9, 4.91 ERA, 4.11 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Only 2 of 12 inherited runners have scored against Adcock.

Adcock was the Rule 5 pick and the Royals have been treating him with kid gloves. He completely disappears for extended stretches. Like right now… He last pitched on July 1.

I’d like for the Royals to use him a little more frequently, especially when their starters spit the bit in the early innings. Adcock isn’t doing exceptional, but when you consider he had never pitched above A-ball prior to this year, the Royals have to be pleased with the results.

Grade: C

Greg Holland
2.2 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9, 1.08 ERA, 2.35 xFIP
0.8 WAR

Key Stat: Only 60% of all plate appearances against Holland end with the ball in play.

Many felt Holland should have been in the bullpen at the start of the season. Many were correct. He’s been lights out. Like Crow and Coleman, his strand rate is north of 90%.

Easily, the best reliever in the Royals pen.

Grade: A

Vin Mazzaro
5.5 BB/9, 3.3 SO/9, 9.25 ERA, 5.97 xFIP
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: The Royals sacrificial lamb.

It is the seminal moment of the 2011 season… Ned Yost leaving Mazzaro to get his brains beat in by the Indians, allowing 14 runs in 2.1 innings.

Grade: F

Jeremy Jeffress
6.5 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 4.70 ERA, 4.40 xFIP
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: A 1.50 WHIP in 15 innings of work.

Jeffress has the potential, but until he finds his control, it will remain potential. It’s not going so well in Omaha as he’s walking 6.6 per nine.

Grade: D+

Everett Teaford
3.4 BB/9, 4.0 SO/9, 2.30 ERA, 4.56 xFIP
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Has a 100% strand rate.

Teaford is pitching out of his mind. A .195 BABIP and that strand rate… That’s why his xFIP is over two runs higher than his ERA.

Grade: B

Joakim Soria
2.8 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9, 4.03 ERA, 3.57 xFIP
0.2 WAR

I maintained all along that Soria would be OK… It took a “demotion” for him to find his closer mojo. That, and losing one of his cut fastballs.

Whatever, it was an ugly start. Can’t deny that. He’s already matched his career high for home runs allowed (five) and is still down about two whiffs per inning on his strikeout rate. This serves as a cautionary tale that you should never, ever overvalue your closer. Unless his name is Mariano Riveria. Had the Royals dealt Soria last winter, his value would have been at it’s maximum. According to reports, the GMDM is still asking for everything under the sun when teams call inquiring about Soria.

Hopefully, he can pitch lights out in the second half and restore some of that trade value.

Grade: C

Over the break, Dayton Moore made the proclamation that the Royals were still in the race for the AL Central. I had no idea he was an outpatient at the Menninger Clinic. The bats are in decent shape and the bullpen is strong, but the starting pitching will continue to drag this team to what will be a top three pick in next year’s draft.

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

The All-Star Break means it’s time to hand out the annual Royals Authority first half report cards.

There are no exams or assignments… Grading is subjective and based on a soft curve. Players are listed in a positional order from Baseball Reference with their slash stats and Fangraphs WAR.

Matt Treanor
0.9 WAR

Key Stat: Treanor leads the team with a 15% walk rate.

Coach T has been everything the Royals could have hoped when they acquired him from Texas prior to the start of the season. He calls a good game, throws out runners (he’s thrown out 29% of would be base stealers) and is currently third on the team in OBP. Remember, the Royals picked up Coach T only when they came to the realization that Jason Kendall isn’t the most awesomest catcher in the whole wide baseball world, and would have to miss the start of the season. Now that Kendall is down for the year, Coach T will, at the age of 35, post a career high for plate appearances sometime next month.

Grade: B+

Eric Hosmer
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: He’s hitting a home run once every 29.9 at bats, second best rate on the team.

How do you give a grade to a player like this when expectations where so sky-high. Hosmer has yet to live up to the hype, but that’s OK, because he’s going to have a long career ahead of him.

If there’s one thing about Hosmer that’s bothered me in the early stages of his career, it’s his defense. I’ve seen him do some strange things in the field. Take Saturday’s game, when he ole’d a ground ball that really should have been fielded. Sure it was a hard hit ball, but it went right between his body and his glove. The kind of play the Royals minor league defensive player of the year should be making. While I’m on the negative, let’s add the dude needs to lay off the high strike a little more frequently.

Still, he’s 21 years old and holding his own in the big leagues. There’s something to be said for that. This grade is a reflection there is still plenty of work to be done.

Grade: B-

Chris Getz
0.8 WAR

Key stat: He’s scored a run 43% of the time he’s reached base, tops among regulars.

Sigh… Every team has a Chris Getz. He doesn’t do anything notable, except he Plays The Game The Right Way. So managers and front office guys love him. He’s not that good, yet he’s somehow overrated. How exactly does this work?

Don’t pay a word to the Royals when they talk about his defense. Fact is, he’s average to below average with the glove. He has a slow first step and has difficulty moving to his right. His ability to turn the double play is below average as well… He’s converted just 47% of all double play chances this year.

Offensively, Yost has thrown him into the leadoff spot, where he’s horribly miscast. As the leadoff hitter, Getz is managing a line of .183/.266/.220. True, this team doesn’t have a guy who fits the traditional mold of a leadoff man, but we have enough evidence to know that it isn’t Getz. But he has 17 steals, so I suppose we have that going for us.

Aviles would provide more value over an entire 162 game season.

Grade: C-

Alcides Escobar
1.4 WAR

Key stat: Hitting .343/.393/.509 since June 7.

Sometime early in the season, I sent out a Tweet proclaiming Escobar The Shortstop Jesus. I figured it was fitting because he was saving all those runs. (Get it?) (And yes, I realize I’ve ripped off Bill Simmons who refers to Larry Bird as The Basketball Jesus. I’m a polytheist.) His defense has been mouthwatering for much of the 2011 season. It’s been so good, I can’t even remember the name of that stiff who used concrete on his hands and feet at shortstop the last couple of seasons.

Now, about the bat… As cold as Escobar was early in the season, (he was hitting .203/.237/.241 on June 6) he’s been scorching hot ever since. It’s a remarkable turnaround. If he can push his OBP another 30 points higher, we’ll really have something. That might be asking a bit much. Last year in Milwaukee, he hovered around the .300 mark until a September swoon dropped him to his final resting place of .288. But after digging that deep hole early in the season, to get back to a .300 OBP would be a heck of an accomplishment.

I still think it’s hilarious Zack Greinke forced his way out of Kansas City and ended up with the Yunigma as his shortstop as those of us actually loyal to the Royals now have a defensive human highlight reel at short. That gets him a couple points right there…

Grade: B-

Wilson Betemit
0.5 WAR

Key Stat: Hitting .301/.360/.466 vs RHP and .241/.305/.278 against LHP.

Are the Royals a better team with Betemit in the lineup? Right now… Probably. But that’s exactly the kind of short-sighted mess that’s plagued this franchise for 25 years. Once the Royals decided it was time for Mike Moustakas, Betemit had to grab some pine.

Of course, this torpedoed any trade value Betemit may have had, but that value was going to be limited for the key stat listed above. He’s probably best suited as a platoon guy or left-handed bat off the bench. (I know he’s a switch hitter… But if I was a manager, I’d never use him against left handed pitching unless absolutely necessary.)

For some reason, his power is way down this year. He has a 4.3% HR/FB rate compared to last year’s 12.1% HR/FB. As a result, he’s homered once every 66 at bats this year. Last summer, he parked one once every 21 at bats.

Grade: C

Alex Gordon
3.4 WAR

Key Stat: As long as he stays healthy, he will post career highs in every offensive category you can imagine.

He’s dominating… And I love it. Should have been an All-Star, but he can take solace in his grade…

Grade: A

Melky Cabrera
3.0 WAR

Key Stat: Cabrera is walking in just 5.4% of all plate appearances.

The Melk-Man is having the kind of season GMDM dreamed about when he signed him. Just a year ago, he finished at .255.317/.354 and a -1.0 WAR and was cut loose by the Braves. The Royals took a chance that he would be motivated and would rebound, and he certainly has.

The downside of this is he is blocking Lorenzo Cain in Omaha who is hitting .313/.379/.529 for the Storm Chasers. And, Cabrera is a third year arbitration eligible, meaning if he plays a full season in KC, the Royals retain his rights for 2012. Fans may be looking at Cabrera as trade bait, but I’m not so certain the Royals will be offered what they consider “fair value.”

The Royals face an interesting decision on the Melk-Man.

Grade: A-

Jeff Francoeur
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: 37% of all his base hits have gone for extra bases.

The Frenchman has done what we all expected and reverted to his career norm following a hot start where it seemed like he was in the middle of every late game rally for the Royals. Check the numbers… In his career, Francoeur is a .268/.310/.427 hitter. There will probably be a couple of warm streaks from here to the end of the year and a couple of cool stretches as well. He is who he is.

Obviously, he’s playing great defense in right. I have no idea why other teams think it’s a good idea to run on the Royals outfield.

Overall, he’s been a decent enough player for the Royals. His WAR is the 3rd best on the team and for you stolen base perverts, he’s already swiped a career-best 15 bases.

There’s a mutual option for 2012, and the early smart money is that if The Frenchman isn’t dealt, that option will be exercised by both parties. We’ll see…

Grade: B-

Billy Butler
1.1 WAR

Key Stat: Butler’s .352 wOBA is the second best on the team.

Butler is having another Billy Butler season. In other words, he’s doing a damn fine job with the bat.

One thing that’s hampering Butler this season is the fact he’s batting more ground balls. For his career, he has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio, but this year he’s at 1.66 GB/FB. That’s effected his power numbers, as his ISO has cratered to .121. It also hasn’t helped that opposing pitchers are pitching around Butler. His 10 intentional walks are tops on the team. After hitting in the 3rd spot for most of last year, he’s been in the cleanup or fifth spot with no protection behind him in the lineup.

The average DH makes $9 million this year. Butler is earning $3 million. His production is pretty much in the middle of the pack among the nine regular DHs. While the power isn’t there, he’s ripping a line drive 24% of the time he puts a ball in play. Sure, a few more home runs would be nice, but the guy is having another solid season with the bat.

He’s still not a power hitter and probably will never hit for the power fans crave. Get over it. He’s good.

Grade: A-

Jarrod Dyson
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Running 43% of the time there is an open base ahead of him.

Dyson is an electric player, but so was Joey Gathright. They’re the same guy. Except, as far as I know, Dyson hasn’t jumped over a car.

He doesn’t belong on this team. He doesn’t belong on any major league team, although you could make the case to have him on a roster if he could pinch run for a hacking designated hitter type… A guy like Mike Jacobs. Where if you inserted Dyson in a tie game and that spot came up in the lineup with the game on the line in extras, you wouldn’t be kicking yourself for taking out a good hitter and letting weak sauce swing the stick.

And he really doesn’t belong on a team with fourth place aspirations.

Grade as a hitter: F
Grade as a runner: A

Kila Ka’aihue
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Brought home only four base runners out of a total of 72. That’s a 6% conversion rate. That’s awful.

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

Mitch Maier
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

It was clear from the start that Maier would have a difficult time cracking the lineup… Especially after Melky and The Frenchman were promised playing time prior to inking their respective contracts. Not that Maier would be an upgrade, but given the fact he’s rarely moved his butt off the bench, he’s done quite well.

Grade: B

Mike Aviles
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Aviles’ has a .178 ISO, which for a full season, would be the highest rate of his career.

In a little over two months, Aviles had three streaks: Sadly, only one of those could have been classified as “hot.” That landed him back in Omaha once the Royals decided to launch the Moose era in Kansas City. I’m convinced he’ll be back at some point, but it will most likely take a trade to Betemit to have this happen.

As it is, he’s the ultimate Replacement Player for 2011.

Grade: D-

Mike Moustakas
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Moose has brought home just three of 72 base runners.

Moose has struggled since he was called up from Omaha. I don’t think there was anyone surprised by this development. He doesn’t have the natural ability that pushed Hosmer to the head of the Royals prospect class, but he’ll be fine once he sorts things out at this level.

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

We’re beyond the half-way point in the Major League Baseball season, but the All-Star break is a great time to take a breather and see where the Royals stand. What I’ve done is take a look at the Royals wOBA position-by-position and compared it to their American League Central opponents and the rest of the AL. I’m using wOBA because it’s a simple and powerful offensive measuring tool. If you’d like to take a look at the nuts and bolts of the metric you can check out FanGraphs, but all you really need to know is that a higher number is a better number.

It’s valuable to measure the Royals against the AL Central because in reality that is their only competition. To be in the playoffs, the Royals don’t have to be better than the Yankees, Red Sox or Rangers, they just have to be better than the Twins, White Sox, Tigers and Indians.

The first chart is a list of every American League Central team’s position and it’s sorted by wOBA. So as you can see below the Tigers first-basemen (no surprise) is the most productive offensive position in the division. The colors in the chart sort each column from best (red) to worst (green) so you can get an idea of where some of the outliers are. The numbers are the total of all plate appearances for that position.


Some of the interesting things that stick out at me with this chart are the fact that no team is immune from having a low ranking offensive position. The Tigers have a 2b and 3b that are performing worse offensively than Alcides Escobar. Somewhere along the way there is this crazy idea that all playoff contenders have top-level talent at all 9 positions, which just isn’t the case.

Now, let’s break it up into individual positions. Again the numbers are sorted by wOBA and this time I’ve added the rank of the team in the American League at that position. So in the below chart, the Royals are 4th in the AL Central and 8th in the AL in regards to catcher wOBA.


The AL Central is pretty stacked in terms of offensive catchers. The combination of Matt Treanor and Brayan Pena is roughly an average offensive unit. Yep, that kind of shocked me too. Also, Alex Avila is really good.

First base is also a position of strength in the division. While the Royals are near the bottom offensively they’re still weighed down by the terrible start that Kila Ka’aihue had. Eric Hosmer is posting a .323 wOBa and would put the Royals as an average team in the AL. Not to bad for a very good defensive shortstop who is barely able to legally buy a beer.

So Chris Getz might not actually be as big of a problem as we all think. He’s received the lion’s share of playing time at second and the team is sitting at roughly league average offensively for the position. I agree with Craig that he probably isn’t as good with the glove as he’s touted, but he’s actually a fine player at the position compared to his peers in 2011. I do believe that teams aren’t getting enough offense out of this position in general though.

Third base isn’t exactly a position that fans will want to keep their eye on in this division. There just isn’t much offensive talent in the American League central there. It surprised the hell out of me that the Royals are getting the most production of of the position within the division. Playing Mike Moustkas right now over Wilson Betemit is dragging the number down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right move.

The Indians are getting a whole lot of production out of their shortstop and it’s a big reason they’re an ok offensive team. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Alcides Escobar rounds out the bottom of the division, but it’s encouraging that there are teams struggling even more than the Royals. Defense is not included in this breakdown at all, but if it did, I think we’d find that Escobar is at worst an average shortstop.

Alex Gordon is dominating.

This is very illustrative of why Melky Cabrera is a valuable trade chip. He’s one of the top 5 offensive center fielders in the American League. He’s no great defender, but his game will play on a number of contending team. His contributions at the plate are also a big reason the Royals offense is league average right now.

I bet you thought that this position would rank higher. Jeff Francouer had a hot start to the season, but he has cooled off significantly. That’s not to say he hasn’t provided some value. He’s solid defensively and holds his own offensively. For a team struggling to get to 82 wins, they could use a lot more league average players on their roster than they’ve had in the past.

Now here comes Billy Butler. The guy that so many believe isn’t good enough to be a DH, yet he’s one of the top 5 in the American League. Someone on Twitter told me that he was no Edgar Martinez. After looking at the numbers, I completely agree. This is Billy Butler’s age 25 season and he’s played in 622 games with an OPS+ of 119. Edgar Martinez played in 27 games through his age 25 season and if you add in the 65 games he played when he was 26 his OPS+ was 93.


Finally, I like to put together this radar graph because it looks cool. You’ll see the positions around the circle and then a color coded line representing each team. If the line is on the outside of the graph that means the team had the highest wOBA in the league at that position and then lower for each rung going to the middle. It’s just a way for me to have all the information in one picture so you can see where teams are in terms of each other.


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.

Welcome to the All-Star Break, Royals fans, where we find Kansas City back home in the cellar of the American League Central and sporting the third worst record in baseball.  Seems all too familiar, doesn’t it?

Now, almost without question, the 2011 Kansas City Royals are a better, more hopeful group than in past years.   The rookie dominated bullpen is very good, the defense is light years ahead of past squads and the offense, while not great, is solid with a real possibility of becoming good.    There is hope…..just not this year.

To their credit, Dayton Moore and company have or are on their way to accomplishing some of the logicial steps that will/should/might lead this organization back to respectability.   They have:

  • Committed to young arms in the bullpen, giving Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow (Blake Wood and Everett Teaford, too) valuable experience so that they can be a formidable unit on a contending team.
  • Promoted both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, service time be damned, so that each will have 400 plate appearances under their belts when 2012 Opening Day rolls around.
  • Brought up Danny Duffy and are in the process (unless there is some sinister motive to not bring him back up after the break) of getting him 15 to 20 starts in 2011.

If you were willing to ignore the service issues and arbitration awards that might become a problem in the 2016-2018 range and focus on being a legitimate playoff contender from 2013 to 2015, then all of the above were exciting and correct moves to make.   Frankly, they were also the easy moves to make.   It gets hard from here on out for Dayton Moore.

If I were to tell you this was the 2012 lineup:

  • Gordon LF
  • Cain CF
  • Francouer or Cabrera RF
  • Moustakas 3B
  • Escobar SS
  • Giovatella 2B
  • Hosmer 1B
  • Salvador Perez C
  • Butler DH

A bench of:

  • Treanor
  • Dyson
  • Maier orLough
  • Aviles or a utility infielder yet unknown

And this was the starting rotation:

  • Duffy
  • Montgomery
  • Chen or Francis
  • Hochevar
  • Paulino

And this was the bullpen:

  • Soria
  • Crow
  • Collins
  • Holland
  • Coleman
  • Teaford
  • Wood

Would you disagree?   With a pitcher or player change here or there, and without getting bogged down in potential trade talk, my guess is this might be pretty close to what we will see on the field next spring. 

Look over the names on that roster, maybe not so much for who is on there, but more for those that are not.   Standing 11.5 games out of first with a record 17 games below .500, why should Kansas City be trotting out anyone that is not part of the plan for 2012?   Kyle Davies, I am looking at you.

The company line on Davies is that he has great stuff and they continue to hope he will ‘figure it out’.    Here’s a little nugget:  the Royals are pinning their hopes that, 756 innings into his career, Kyle Davies is about to turn into Chris Carpenter.  

By age 27, Carpenter had thrown 870 innings for Toronto and posted an earned run average of 4.83.   His per nine innings rates were:  10.2 hits, 3.4 walks and 6.3 strikeouts.    Davies currently has a career ERA of 5.64 and 9 inning rates of 10.3 hits, 4.3 walks and 6.3 strikeouts.   They are similar, but the ‘bad’ Carpenter was still better than Davies.

I bring Carpenter up because he is the only pitcher I could find (in admittedly quick research) that was even remotely similar to Davies to start his career, who then turned it around.   Some guys (Kyle Lohse comes to mind) have managed to flounder through a first 600 or 800 rugged innings to have one (ONE!) decent season in their late twenties or early thirties, but nothing consistent.   It just doesn’t happen very often and that the Royals are waiting for it to happen after this many innings is flawed logic.

For now, doesn’t it make sense to get Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy on a more logical five man rotation schedule?   Sure, Duffy has an innings issue on the horizon, but I don’t see much problem in shutting down Duffy in mid-August and handing his spot to recently resurgent Mike Montgomery to close out the year.

Want to trade one of the veterans?  If you can move Francis or Chen (I think you keep one for 2012), then slide an O’Sullivan or Mazarro into that spot.  I don’t think either one is going to ‘figure it out’ either, but there is not much difference between an O’Sullivan start and a Davies start…other than O’Sullivan is three years younger.

Get busy livin’ or get busy dying.

In the outfield, Lorenzo Cain may not be a superstar in the making, but he doesn’t seem to have anything left to prove in AAA, either.  Just a litte over a year younger than Melky Cabrera, it is time to find out whether Cain is the guy in centerfield for the next three years or so.

I would advocate keeping Melky around over Francouer if only because, in a weird way, I think Frenchy’s trade value is higher than that of Cabrera.   I also think, should Melky stay in shape and stay interested, that he might, just might, be able to sustain his current 2011 pace for another season.  Not to mention that the Royals control Cabrera this off-season should they so choose.

In the infield, Wilson Betemit and Chris Getz appear nowhere on my speculated 2012 roster.   The Royals PR machine is in full gear on hyping Getz (could they be trying to push up his trade value or do they just have to ‘Yuniesky’ someone each year?), while the world has forgotten that Betemit exists.   Neither returns much in the way of a trade, but you know Betemit is not coming back next season and Getz can only play one position and hence is not a utility candidate.   If they don’t fit in 2012, then why play them in the second half of 2011?

This column probably comes off this way, but it is not meant to bash some of the current roster:  most of whom are good guys who play hard.   The point is that these players don’t fit into the future (at least as I see it), even in stopgap roles.   What’s the point of not seeing if Johnny Giavotella can handle major league pitching and survive defensively or if Lorenzo Cain is the team’s centerfielder of the future?

It is certainly not life and death, but Shawshank Redemption is still a great movie.    Get busy livin’ or get busy dying, Dayton Moore.

A couple of quick Royals notes before the weekend hits… By the way, when I’m elected commissioner of baseball, I’ll work with Congress to make every week a four day work week. And more daytime baseball.

— Following Thursday’s game, the Royals optioned Danny Duffy to Omaha.

That sounds strange, given he threw six solid innings against the Tigers. But something else is going on… The Royals say they are keeping him on his schedule, but I have to be honest… I thought they were gaming his service clock.

Duffy isn’t going to pitch in the majors until the 19th. That’s 12 days away. But in order for Duffy to lose major league service time, he has to stay in the minors for 20 consecutive days. (Thanks to Jeff Euston at Cot’s Baseball Contracts for reminding me.) We went through a similar scenario a couple of years ago with Alex Gordon. As long as Duffy is back by the 27th – he’s going to continue to compile major league service time.

Maybe I’m an idiot, but I think sending him down is a good move. Duffy is developing into a really good starter. The results aren’t all the way there yet, but they’re coming. He just needs to fine tune a few things. (I examined his development this week for Sports Radio 810, WHB.) It does make some sense for the Royals to keep him on a set schedule. The innings and pitch counts need to be monitored, but they can shut him down in September if they feel he’s thrown enough in 2011. Giving him a week of rest (essentially skipping one start over the break) doesn’t really give him much in the inning count. Maybe six innings and 100 pitches. Not a big deal.

It only becomes a big deal if he doesn’t return when the Royals say he’s going to return.

— Jason Kendall’s career is almost assuredly over, as an exam revealed two new tears in his right rotator cuff.

I know there are several who will celebrate the fact that Kendall won’t wear a Royals uniform in 2011.

I’m not one of them.

Sport is cruel sometimes in that it won’t let you leave the field on your terms. While I’m not a fan of Kendall and what he could have contributed if healthy, it sucks that the guy has played so many years, yet has no say about when his career ends.

This gets the Royals off the hook, as they were going to be facing a potentially sticky situation. Collectively, Brayan Pena and Matt Treanor are hitting .237/.336/.346 with an sOPS+ of 99. The numbers aren’t great, but they are certainly passable. And if Kendall was in the mix instead of either one, I’m convinced the offensive output would be much, much worse. We know the code that says an injured player can’t lose his job, and we know how the Royals are when it comes to veteran players they’re overpaying… If Kendall could have played, he’d be in KC. This injury prevents the Royals from having to DFA either Pena or Coach T. Both are better options behind the plate than a healthy Kendall. The Royals were going to get worse, and now that won’t have to happen.

That’s a very good thing.

— The way the Royals Universe came together to push Alex Gordon for the All-Star game was really great. And the way Gordon responded was even better. According to the Royals PR department, the Northland gathering was his idea and was pulled together with some help from his wife and some of his friends as a thank you for the support. For him to stop and mingle with the fans after a nine game road trip was fantastic. He didn’t need to do that, but he did, and the fans that showed up won’t forget that.

This has been a breakthrough season for Gordon in more ways than one.

A guy in my fantasy baseball league sent me three e-mails last night, wanting to make some big trades to shake up the league.   He sent me a long list of position players and pitchers he was willing to trade and a similar list of players on my team he had interest in.    

If only it was so easy in real life.

A couple of texts back and forth and Dayton Moore could have Wilson Betemit shipped off for a promising AA arm.   Want some insurance up the middle next year?  Bam!  Three more texts and Mike Aviles and Bruce Chen are sent over in exchange for a, well, younger version of Mike Aviles with better defense.   Another text and Jeff Francouer is traded to a contender for a AAA starting pitcher just a tweak away from a major league rotation.  

Easy, right?

Well, we all know it is not that easy.   Even when we try to play general manager in a realistic fashion (which I do fairly often), it is hard to be truly realistic.  

Foremost, while major league baseball players are commodities, they are also people.   Guys that teams like and dislike, whose teammates like and dislike.  While winning games in 2011 may not be a big priority, especially to many of us waiting for The Process to mature, you can bet that the Royals who have to trudge out on the field everyday are more interested in winning that building for the future.     As a GM, are you sending a potentially damaging message by trading well-liked veterans like Chen and Francouer?   Money, personalties, relationships and perceptions have as much to do with making a major league baseball trade as the actual exchange of on-field talent.

That said, July is trading season or, as we have become accostumed to in Royals territory:  selling season.   While I am still working on what plan of action makes sense for Kansas City, let’s run down the list of players likely to get mentioned/rumored/theorized as tradeable commodities this month.

Joakim Soria – I think we are getting back to the point where we can refer to Soria as an elite closer, and one with an very team friendly contract.   A lot of teams would like to have Soria, but not many are willing to pay the price to acquire him.   Ever since Boston fleeced Seattle in the Heathcliff Slocumb trade, established closers have not brought back a tremendous booty in trades.   I ran an analysis on this the spring before last, came up with a reasonable three player package the Phillies might give up for Soria based upon trades of other closers (and there are not many) and was immediately shot down by Royals’ fans as not getting enought and by Phillies’ fans as asking for too much.   I have a hard time believing that actual GM conversations about Soria – if there are any – go much differently.   Besides, the thought of Montgomery-Duffy-Odorizzi handing off to Collins-Holland-Coleman-Crow handing off to Soria by the middle of 2012 still sounds pretty good to me.

Billy Butler – Yes, Billy is slow and yes, he doesn’t hit for enough power and yes, he is maybe marginally acceptable at first base, but he still can hit.   If Butler is not outright sulking about not playing the field, he is at least grumpy about the situation.   I am not sure if that helps his trade value (a team might believe that Butler will get hot at the plate if they live with him at first everyday) or hurts it (the old ‘bad attitude’ stamp).   No matter which, I don’t think the Royals have any intention of trading Butler.  

I doubt the organization has any more faith in Clint Robinson than they did in Kila Ka’aihue, Butler just signed a four year extension and, grumpy or not, still has an on-base percentage of .395.    Frankly, if Eric Hosmer is going to hit for power and Alex Gordon is going to be a near All-Star, isn’t it okay for Butler to hit .300 with 45 doubles and 15 home runs?

Perhaps the better question for Royals’ fans advocating a Butler trade.   If you see his faults, don’t you think other GM’s do, too?   Assuming that, what would YOU give up for Billy Butler.  My guess is that answer, once you put your Royals’ hat back on, keeps Billy in a Kansas City uniform this year.

Wilson Betemit – Pretty much forgot he existed, haven’t you?   Sadly, most major league GMs probably have as well.    Betemit has pop, is a swith-hitter and won’t turn 30 until this November.   In a pinch, you could play him at short, second or the outfield, which makes him somewhat attractive in the NL where you could live with him playing second for a couple of innings after using him to pinch hit.  

I think Betemit gets traded as the Royals basically don’t play him, he will be a free agent at the end of the season and Mike Aviles can easily take his spot on the bench next to Mitch Maier.   I don’t think the team gets much in return:  probably someone’s version of Sean O’Sullivan or Vin Mazarro who the Royals hope can emerge as the next Bruce Chen instead of the next O’Sullivan or Mazarro.

Mike Aviles – When left alone in one position, Aviles has shown he will hit major league pitching (see 2008 and 2010).   When bounced around the lineup and the infield, Aviles has shown bad defense and less offense (see 2011).   While he can play short, third and second, Mike does not appear to take well to the play here, play there, maybe not play at all role of a utility man.    Given that KC demoted him to Omaha to play Chris Getz everyday and is set on the left side with Moustakas and Escobar, a rival general manager is unlikely to offer much, if anything in return.

Melky Cabrera – You know, if we are all so certain that Alex Gordon turned the corner at age 27, why is it they we are less likely to believe so with 26 year old Melky?  As I have pointed out before, Cabrera is a lot more at-bats into his career, but he seems to be getting better as the year goes on as opposed to worse.   He might well fit better in the Royals’ 2012 outfield (in right, not center) than in any other team’s outfield.

Besides, there were rumblings of Cabrera being a bad influence on Robinson Cano in New York and the perception that he pretty much didn’t care in Atlanta last year.   True or not, those things will come up when trying to get a decent return for Cabrera.

Jeff Francouer – Jeff is right on his career numbers this season, but carries the reputation of being a great clubhouse guy and always playing hard.   A very good defender who could fit in a contender’s lineup against left-handed pitching and would certainly not disrupt the clubhouse, Francouer is the kind of guy who teams look for at the trade deadline.   What a contender is willing to give up, however, is a bigger question.   

In the past, Francouer has been traded for Ryan Church and Joaquin Arias.  

Bruce Chen – Ned Yost will likely quit if Dayton Moore trades Chen, so that might be the end of the discussion right there.   Seriously though, Chen has been Kansas City’s best pitcher this year, might have been last year and still had to sign a minor league deal back with KC to get a paying job this spring.   Good guy, who has reinvented himself into a legitimate major league starter, but for whom no rival GM is probably salivating over.

Jeff Francis – He has a track record of being a top line starter on a good baseball team, so a trade partner will view Francis as a guy with pennant run experience.   Currently, Jeff leads the league in hits allowed, which is not going to win you any Top 10 prospects in a trade, but he has some value as a relatively young (30) option who might get better the farther he gets away from injury.  

So, go ahead and put your gene

Episode #057 – In which I try and put this team’s record into perspective and discuss in detail why I’m still high on the franchise.




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I didn’t see the walk-off balk when it happened. It was a holiday and I was with my family. Fireworks trumps Royals baseball these days. Sort of… I was still following the game on my phone.

When I saw what happened – that All-Star Aaron Crow balked in the winning run – I laughed, send off a Tweet about the Buddy Bell Corollary (Help me out people, is this a corollary or an axiom? We need to settle this because it comes up at least once a month.) about never saying you hit rock bottom and then went about my business of drinking beer and shooting bottle rockets at my neighbor who is a Cardinals fan.

I’m numb.

Seriously… I just can’t get worked up about the way this organization loses. Not anymore. Seagulls in the outfield? Check. Letting a catchable flyball drop between a pair of outfielders? Uh-huh. Kyle Davies? Ohhhh, yeah.

At this point, if a T-Rex stomped out of the Royals bullpen in left and smashed Alex Gordon while he was trying to make a catch with two down in the top of the ninth, my reaction would pretty much be to shrug my shoulders and go hunt some nachos.

The Royals are my novocain.

Don’t take that the wrong way… I still love this team. It’s part of my DNA, part of who I am. Nothing will change that. (If 10 years of the dream team of Allard Baird and Dayton Moore can’t kill fandom, it’s damn near rock solid.) I just don’t get surprised at what I see on the field.

Take 2011. I’ve written many times that this season was supposed to be a transitional year. It was the year when we would begin to see the fruits of The Process at the major league level. And we have seen that. Crow, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas… It’s been exciting getting to see the new guys come up and have some success.

Am I supposed to feel better about the balk-off because Aaron Crow was involved and Chip Ambres wasn’t? I don’t know… Seems kind of the same to me. A loss is a loss is a loss. This is a huge issue. Huge. There’s a stench of losing that wafts around this organization and it’s been there for almost 25 years. It’s difficult to clean that off. Dayton Moore has paid a good amount of lip service to reversing the “culture of losing” that has permeated the Royals front office, but all he’s done is ratchet up the paranoia a few clicks past irrational and lost a ton of ballgames while treading water in a sea of substandard baseball.

By building the team through the draft (the correct way, in my opinion) Moore bought himself several years of a teambuilding. You can’t construct a winner with only one draft class. Duh. It takes years of quality drafts. And that’s something the Royals have done. The future! The Process! We’re going to build our team mostly with homegrown talent!

Yet they can’t shake the stink.

That stink masks the fact that there have been improvements. Gordon, Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas are playing everyday and can form a solid middle of the order nucleus for the next couple of seasons. The bullpen rocks (that’s our All-Star!!!). The Shortstop Jesus is waaaaay better than Yuniesky Betancourt.

Sadly, the successes can’t cover for the failures. Once GMDM knew he was trading Zack Greinke, he needed to find cover for the rotation. His gambles haven’t delivered and his trades are even bigger busts. Jerod Dyson is fun to have around as a pinch runner, but really has zero business being on a major league roster – even on a team that’s going to lose 95 games. Chris Getz is now the leadoff hitter. Kyle Davies has no business being on a Triple-A roster. Ned Yost is a unicycle away from descending into Trey Hillman madness.

As frustrating as this season has been, I’m still on board. Christ, I’m as insane as Yost.

If we’ve learned anything from 2011 it’s that pitching really, truly is the currency of the game. Moore was hung with Confederate money when he traded for Davies, O’Sullivan and Mazarro. Yet, the Royals are in ballgames because their offense works. This season, they are scoring 4.4 runs per game, their highest number in the Dayton Moore Era. That’s good. The fact that runs are down across the league as a whole makes it even better. Yes, there’s still a way to go to catch the big boys, but the bottom line is the Royals offense has improved while it’s taken a step back for most of the league. Read this again: Offense is down throughout baseball, but the Royals have taken a step forward with the bats.

It’s a chicken and the egg sort of thing… In order to shake the stench of losing, you have to win. And in order to win you have to have the players. In order to secure the players, you have to be a winner. Vicious cycle.

On Tuesday, Felipe Paulino scattered nine hits, but also chalked up nine strikeouts in six innings. These days, for the starting pitchers, it’s all about keeping the team in the game. And that’s exactly what Paulino did. Turn the game over to the bullpen with a two run lead and shut things down for the final nine outs. It’s a simple formula that would work more often… If we only had starting pitching.

I firmly believe we are on the cusp of leaving the days of walk-off balks and seagulls in the outfield in our rearview mirror. Tuesday was an example of where we can go if the Royals brain trust can simply cobble together a major league rotation. I know… Easier said than done. Especially on a budget. We’ve said before that the Royals can’t afford to make a free agent mistake. Flush $36 million down the toilet after Jose Guillen and that sets the organization back several years. Now that GMDM has learned a harsh lesson and is spending wisely, we need to extend the same school of thought to the trade deadline. If Moore and the Royals are going to be active sellers at the deadline, they absolutely have to find a way to get value in return. No more stiffs like O’Sullivan and Mazarro. The next round of trades has to secure at least one back of the rotation starter, who can be counted on to keep the team in games. We need another Felipe Paulino.

In many ways, the trade deadline at the end of the month is just as important as the draft or the international signing period which opened last weekend. With The Process rolling along, every move the Royals make is critical to the forward progress of this organization. The slightest error in judgement can have some serious repercussions.

Meanwhile, remember The Process and what it means… There’s going to be some good wins, but there will continue to be some really ugly losses. 2011 remains a transitional season. It’s not fair that we have to endure another season of stink, but it is what it is… And given the struggles of the top pitching prospects this year, it’s likely 2012 will bring the same issues. That’s why it’s so important that the Royals strike gold when looking to fill their pitching void… Otherwise, 2012 will be a carbon copy of 2011 and the stench of losing will hang around for yet another season.

Is Dayton Moore the guy to lead this team out of the fog? I have some serious doubts. For all the success in the minors, the Royals have had a helluva time identifying major league talent and assembling a coherent roster. Yes, the offense is better, but the starting pitching… That’s why the next 18 months are crucial times for the Royals and their movement forward. This is an improved organization and GMDM and his people get full credit for that. But if we’re handing out credit, we also have to deduct points for the failings… And there have been many.

It’s cliche, but the future truly does start now… With the prospect pipeline open, the trade deadline and what the Royals do this off season toward building their 2012 roster will give us a good idea if they will ever realize the fruits of The Process. This needs to move forward… Because I’m ready to care about this team. I’m ready to celebrate meaningful wins. I’m ready to be bothered by a meaningful loss. I’m ready to contend.

The novocain needs to wear off and this team needs to refute the culture of losing.

Eyes on the prize, people… Eyes on the prize.

Aaron Crow has been a very useful pitcher for the Royals in 2011. True, he blew the game last night against the White Sox by allowing three runs in 1.2 innings and topped it off by balking in the wining run, besides that he’s been the definition of lights-out. He’s been fantastic in the setup role and even owned the closer role for a minute while Joakim Soria was demoted. His season hasn’t gone unnoticed as he was named to the 2011 All-Star team. It’s a great honor for a really good pitcher. It’s also completely asinine.
I’m not knocking Aaron Crow. He’s done a marvelous job in the role he’s been given, however that role is a small one. He’s only pitched 41.1 innings, which is less than Felipe Paulino who the Royals acquired at the end of May. He’s appeared in 34 games, which is only 6 more than the rarely used Mitch Maier. Nobody is even considering those two as representatives for the Royals in Arizona and rightfully so. Yet if you look at their fWAR they have as good or better cases than Crow to be the team’s representative.
Felipe Paulino 1.2
Mitch Maier 0.4
Aaron Crow 0.4
The All-Star roster is not created in a vacuum and is rarely representative of the best players of the season up to that point. Often, players are rewarded for popularity, longevity or merely by being a decent player on a terrible team. If the roster were created by selecting the best players at each position in the American League and relief pitchers were considered, then Aaron Crow would be a no-doubter. Unfortunately, that’s not even close to how the rosters are picked.
First, there is a fan vote to decide the 9 starting position players. The primary goal of this vote is to market the All-Star game. Get people to care about who makes the team, let them tell you who they want to see and develop a series of sign-posts to remind people that the game is coming up and to keep them voting. Since the game is an exhibition game I have no problem with this process. The biggest problem is that MLB has allowed Fox and ESPN to dictate which teams get the most coverage in exchange for money. The networks obviously choose large-market teams and so their players are over-represented in any kind of fan vote. It’s not the fans who are to blame, it’s the short-sighted decision-makers at MLB who have allowed their brands to be manipulated by other parties.
Next, the players, coaches and managers vote for 8 pitchers (five starters and three relievers) and 8 position players. In theory, allowing the people who actually play the game to vote on their peers is a nice inclusion. You’d think that the players would have a pretty good idea who deserves a spot in the All-Star game, but that doesn’t exactly seem to be the case. These players are extremely busy people and often are working when the rest of the teams are playing baseball, since, you know, they are baseball players too. So again, their primary source for learning about players they don’t see regularly is through major media outlets like ESPN. Their approach is typically more nuanced, but again relies primarily on legacy and popularity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just the way it is.
Then the manager of the All-Star team selects 8 players to fill out his roster. This is part politics, part marketing and part trying to actually win the game. At this point, the manager in conjunction with the Commissioner’s office has to make sure that every team is represented and fill needs on the team. It’s the first time in the process that anyone truly considers which player from each team is most deserving of a spot in the game. Meanwhile, the roster as it’s already constructed has 8 pitchers and 17 position players. With the possibility of extra-innings and the brief appearances of pitchers, it’s no surprise that the managers select a lot pitchers. When a team like the Royals needs to get a player on the roster and they have a very good reliever, then it’s an easy decision for the manager.
Finally, there is one roster spot left and again the fans get to vote from a small selection of players deemed worthy of inclusion but who weren’t selected in the first three methods of roster creation. It’s actually the first time in the entire process where players are put to a vote who most deserve to be included on the All-Star team for their performance this season. But again, the fans vote on the winner and it boils down to a popularity contest.
An almost non-existent part of this process is looking at which players have out-performed their peers and should represent their teams at the game. It seems to be at best a tertiary criteria for selection. So given the way the system works now, Aaron Crow was the obvious selection. However, he’s far from the most valuable player on the team. That distinction belongs to Alex Gordon, who has been the best left-fielder in the American League.
Among left fielders in the American League, Alex Gordon is 1st in fWAR, 2nd in wOBA, 1st in OBP, 2nd in SLG. He’s been an excellent defender, an excellent hitter and he’s been doing it for the entire season. He’s been mercifully placed into the Final Vote where he will almost undoubtedly lose to a player from a better team in a larger market. Meanwhile, his teammate who hasn’t come any where near being as productive as he has (nor jerked around near as much), will be representing the Royals at the All-Star game.
The worst part of this whole debacle is the fact that for the 4th year in the last 6 there will almost assuredly be no Royals in the box score of the All-Star game. In the modern “it counts now because we can’t have a tie for some reason in an exhibition game” All-Star game, pitchers are left on the bench in case of exta-innings. Barring some extraordinary scenario or a mandate from the Commissioner’s office to ensure every team’s representative makes it into the game, Crow will languish on the bench. That will leave the thousands of Royals fans feeling a bit empty after the game.
As fans of one of the worst franchises in sports, we have few moments of pride in our team. The chance to see one of our own on the same field with the superstars is one of them. Watching Soria enter the game and saying “Hey, that’s our guy! Show ’em what you got!” is a moment of true pride for Royals fans. Watching one of our own take the plate is a fuzzy memory that last took place in the 2004 when Ken Harvey went 0-for-1. The last time we got to stand up in our living rooms and cheer for a Royal getting a hit in the All-Star game was in 1989 when Bo Jackson won the game’s MVP award.
I’m a huge fan of Aaron Crow. I’m proud of him for making the All-Star game and I sincerely hope he gets in the game and succeeds. I also hope that somehow Alex Gordon will win the Final Vote and earn his rightful spot amongst the games best players. Regardless, he’s a victim of being a part of a woeful franchise and a terrible selection process. A process, much like baseball itself that is stacked against the Kansas City Royals.
It may seem trivial to care which Royal dons the All-Star jersey in Arizona next week, but it’s our team’s one moment to shine in the national spotlight. It’s the one moment where dad’s can nudge their kid and show him that there is a good reason to be a Royals fan. It’s a moment that will likely not come this year and a moment which will mean a bit less as the most deserving player is watching from his home in Kansas City and possibly pondering if he’d have been there if he was on a different team. It’s those thoughts that can combine to form a decision to walk when free agency presents itself. It’s those decisions which perpetuate a downward spiral for a franchise that hasn’t been relevant since the last time a Royal got a hit in the All-Star game 22 years ago.

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.
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