Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Outside of the rather bizarre debate swirling around Royal-land over the value of Yuniesky Betancourt (which at one point over the weekend seemed to devalue itself to the level of Betancourt giving more to the team than Billy Butler – you know, the Billy Butler with the OPS+ of 128), probably the biggest debate surrounding the Royals is when they will be in a position to contend.   Is it 2012 or 2014?   Is The Process a five year undertaking or eight?

After a feel good taking of two of three games from the White Sox in the span of less than 24 hours, I thought it might be time for a status check.   As our measuring stick, we will use Wins Above Replacement Level (courtesy Baseball Reference).

The Minnesota Twins won the 2009 American League Central with a cumulative WAR of 34.7.   This year, the Twins are leading the division with a cumulative WAR of 37.9.   The Kansas City Royals currently sport a WAR of 15.     That’s a wee bit of ground to make up. 

Given that the Royals, by most indications, will not have much money to spend this off-season and will probably not get much help, at least early in 2011, from its highly touted minor league system, let’s take a look at what is likely to be the 2011 roster and what it might yield in terms of WAR.

Position Players

  • Jason Kendall – Catcher.   Yes, he will be back.  Yes, he will play an inordinate amount of the time.  Yes, I would say the odds are that Jason hits second in at least 80 games next year.   Welcome to the world of Ned.   Anyway, Kendall is sporting a WAR this season of 0.9.   As recently as 2008, his WAR was 2.0 and back in his heyday, Jason put up WARs of 4.9 and 5.7.  It is no longer his hey day, however.   Can we really expect more that a 1.0 WAR in 2011?
  • Backup catcher.   Could be Brayan Pena, could be Lucas May or even someone else.  None will get enough of a chance to make a difference.
  • Billy Butler – 1b/DH.   Last year, Butler posted a WAR of 1.2.  This year, his WAR stands at 3.5. I am still trying to figure out why everyone is either down on him or thinks he is ‘getting a free pass from the fans’.   He is the best hitter on the team and likely will be next year, when I expect his WAR to be at least 4.0 or better.
  • Kila Ka’aihue – 1b/DH.  I do not know if Kila will actually be on the roster next season, but I wanted to use ‘in house’ guys for the purpose of this comparison.   He has not shown much to date, but then neither did Paul Konerko or Travis Hafner(or Schmidt or Brett or Manny Ramirez) after 59 plate appearances.   With so little data, I will not assign a WAR value for Kila’s 2011 campaign until later.
  • Chris Getz – 2B.   His current WAR is -0.4 after posting a 1.5 for Chicago last season.   I have a feeling the Royals are going to want him to be the second baseman next year.   I am kind of a Getz fan deep down, but have a hard time seeing him do any better than last year’s mark.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt – SS.  The arguments in support of Yuni from the organization and those close to it are coming with such frequency that ‘silliness’ is an apt description.   That said, Betancourt’s WAR of 1.3 and recent hot streak is enough to make one at least dream of Yuni reaching his career high of 2.2 (2007).
  • Wilson Betemit – 3B.  A 1.002 OPS will surely buy Wilson more time at third base while the Royals wait for Mike Moustakas.   As I detailed a week or so ago, there is not much statistical difference between the career of Betemit and Raul Ibanez at this stage.   Betemit already has a WAR of 1.2, which matches his career high back in 2005.
  • Alex Gordon – LF.  Is it wishful thinking or does Gordon look more comfortable this time around?   Back in 2008, Alex posted a WAR of 3.1.   Left field does not carry the defensive value of third base, but I could foresee Gordon hitting better than he did in 2008.
  • Gregor Blanco – CF.   Short of doing something substantial in the off-season, the Royals do not have a lot of options in centerfield.   This could be Mitch Maier, but you know the organization has never truly embraced him, so it feels like Blanco in 2011.   He was a negative WAR player in his only full season in the majors, but is currently at 0.4 – a career high.
  • David DeJesus – RF.  Despite not playing since mid-July, DeJesus is almost certain to still finish second in WAR amongst the position players (2.9).   Since 2005, DeJesus has never posted a WAR less of less than three.
  • Mike Aviles – INF.   The player who posted a 3.7 WAR in 2008 has shown little power and uneven defense this season on his way to a 0.1 WAR.   He is probably better than that, but maybe not as good as he showed in 2008 – not to mention that he probably won’t get the at-bats he did that season, either.
  • Mitch Maier – OF.  He is a 1.0 WAR player this season after being a 1.2 last year.   While Mitch has never quite reached everyday player status, he has amassed enough plate appearances to make you think this is pretty much what he is going to be.
  • Willie Bloomquist – UTIL.    Willie was a 1.0 WAR in 2008, 0.4 in 2009 and a dead replacement level 0.0 this season.  Sounds like the kind of guy the Royals will re-sign.

Let’s tally up a possible 2011 WAR in optimistic terms:

Kendall (1.0), Butler (4.0), Getz (1.0), Betancourt (2.0 – see I AM being nice), Betemit (2.0), Gordon (3.0), Blanco (0.5), DeJesus (3.5), Aviles (0.5), Maier (1.0), Bloomquist (0.0), for a total of 18.5 WAR without factoring in Kila Ka’aihue or whomever might occupy that spot.

Pitchers

  • Zack Greinke.   He was a 9.0 WAR pitcher last season and we may never see that again.   However, we likely will see better than the 2.0 mark Zack currently sports right now.  In 2008, Greinke sported a 4.2 WAR and that or better is certainly doable in 2011.
  • Joakim Soria.  Yes, we are doing the easy ones first.   Soria is at 2.9 WAR right now, after a 2.7 campaign in 2009 and 3.4 WAR in 2008.   He may be the surest bet on the team to post a WAR above 3.0 next year.
  • Robinson Tejeda.  When you are projecting the staff for 2011, it sure seems like Tejeda is the third safest bet to be in on it.  He posted 1.5 WAR in 2009 and was 0.8 this season before the injury.  There will be a two or three week period when Robinson is awful in 2011, but he will be very good the rest of the time on his way to a WAR somewhere above one.
  • Luke Hochevar.  I am beginning to lose faith here, but Luke did improve from a -1.1 WAR in 2009 to 0.2 this year.  Being hurt for three months does nothing for your development curve so just getting above replacement level will be a step for Luke in 2011.
  • Sean O’Sullivan.  The difference between Bannister, Davies and O’Sullivan?  Age.   If the Royals are lucky (for once), O’Sullivan will prove it is more than that over time.  Still, tough to see him making a huge impact on the WAR front in 2011.
  • Bruce Chen.  He is your number two starter in 2011 as it stands right now.   Once upon a time in 2005, Chen produced a WAR of 3.2 and he has been something of a revelation this year (of course, nothing like Yuni, right Nate?), but his WAR is still just 0.5.  
  • Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies, Bryan Bullington.  Well, somebody has to start on the fifth day.   Bannister has gone from a 3.3 WAR pitcher in 2007 to -0.7 this year and appears to still be digging.   Davies’  WAR as a Royals has descended from 1.7 to 0.6 to the dreaded zero.   Bullington?  Who knows.
  • Rest of the Bullpen.   After Soria and Tejeda, it could be virtually anyone.   Kanekoa Texeira has a WAR of 0.2, Dusty Hughes 0.0, Blake Wood -0.5, Jesse Chavez 0.3…you get the picture here.   Oh yeah, Gil Meche will supposedly be there in 2011, too.   I love Gil, I really do and it is worth mentioning that he gave the Royals a 4.9 WAR in 2007 and 3.8 in 2008 and even managed to stay above replacement level in 2009 (0.7), but those number are long gone and that’s too bad.

Okay, what’s our tally for the pitching staff in 2011?

Greinke (5.0), Soria (3.5), Tejeda (1.5)…umm….well……can the other four starters and five relievers at least combine to NOT be negative?   Let’s hope for the best and assign an arbitrary and unscientific WAR of 1.5 to the other four starters and a net 1.0 to the rest of the relief corp.   That brings us to a total pitching staff WAR of 12.5.

Summing it Up

Our 2011 projection puts us at a total WAR of 31.0, which probably is not enough to threaten for the A.L. Central, but enough to make us interested and less bitter and hopefully debate something other than how Yuniesky Betancourt is third amongst AL shortstops in home runs.   Of course, that 31.0 WAR is banking on, if not career years, improved season from almost everyone on the team.

On the flipside, however, we have allotted nothing for whomever fills the last corner spot on the team (Kila Ka’aihue or someone else) and not made any allowance for just one starting pitcher to break out and be decent.

Without getting into a big debate over individual players, let’s just start with the idea that the current roster is going to produce 31 wins above replacement level in 2011.   What do you do in the off season?   Do you just hang on, save some money (knowing Meche’s $12 million comes off the books the following winter) and wait for your AA pitching staff to mature into major league arms in 2012?   Do you go get one more bat this winter or wait for Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers?

I will be honest and say I don’t have the answer here, or even an opinion at this point.    I have been around a long time (I remember the Royals’ FIRST playoff game for godssake) and find my patience wearing thin to get back to contender status.   That said, I am also a realist (sort of) and know that the smartest course of action might just be to hold the line for one more year before trying to do something big via free agency or trade.

This quandry is one I imagine is felt by most Royals fans, old and young, and probably, when they are not busy defending Betancourt, one that occupies the minds of many in the Royals’ organization.    It will be interesting to see which way Dayton Moore and crew decide to go this winter.

Episode #030 – Nick reviews the epic White Sox series, talks Yuni vs Butler and some thoughts on Gordon and Blanco.  He also has in Brian Boesch the play-by-play announcer for the Burlington Royals to discuss some of the prospects in the Appalachian League.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs030.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Brian Boesch on Twitter @brianboesch and check out his blog on the Burlington Royals.

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Well, that was bound to happen sooner rather than later.  Frankly, I’m surprised Blake Wood hasn’t coughed up more leads.  Thursday was only the fourth blown “save” in 40 appearances this year.

(I put save in quotes because we all know Wood isn’t the closer, so it’s not up to him to earn the save.  Although by pitching late and in close games, he often enters the game in save situations.  Thus, the blown save stat.)

A couple of things stood out to me about his appearance:

–  That was only the third time all year Wood appeared in three consecutive games.  The  other time was way back in Trey Hillman’s last game and carried into Ned Yost’s first two games in charge.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, Wood gave up two hits and a run in blowing a lead in that third game.

To be fair, it wasn’t like he had been overworked the previous two appearances.   He threw 10 pitches on Tuesday and just two pitches on Wednesday.  Still, something has to be said for getting a pitcher up three days in a row, warming him up in the bullpen and then bringing into a game.  There’s a certain amount of stress involved in this routine, pitch counts be damned.

—  In the match-up against Asdrubal Cabrera (which tied the game), Wood threw eight pitches – all fastballs.  The fastest was clocked at 98 mph and the slowest was 96 mph.  These eight pitches were essentially identical.  The result was predictable.

For some reason, Yost trusts Wood in these high leverage situations like the one we saw on Thursday.  Here are the Royals leaders in Leverage Index who are currently on the roster according to Baseball Prospectus:

Joakim Soria – 1.97
Jesse Chavez – 1.68
Blake Wood – 1.44
Bryan Bullington – 1.01

In many ways, it’s good to see Soria at the top of the list.  It underscores the importance of the closer – something I have mocked in the past.  Of Soria’s 35 saves, 19 have been of the one run variety while eight have been in games with two run margins.  Pretty tight.

It’s a little surprising to see Chavez so high.  However in his seven appearances, he’s entered with the game tied twice, with the Royals ahead by one or two runs three times and with the team down by a run twice.  He’s not coming into the game in blowouts.  That’s not going to end well, either.  Chavez just doesn’t possess the command to be reliable late in close games.

And Bullington is now in the rotation.

Yost doesn’t have a ton of options in the bullpen.  Maybe that’s why he keeps turning to Wood.

By the time Yost turned to Dusty Hughes (who couldn’t get the left handed hitting Travis Hafner out) and by the time the inning was over, a three run lead turned into a two run deficit.  Ballgame.

It’s too bad because Kyle Davies awesome through seven innings.  Not being able to see the game (not on TV?  What’s up with that?  Maybe that’s a good thing… The Indians commit five errors, but win with seven runs over the last two innings?  It’s possible I would have chucked my Boulevard through the screen.) but knowing Davies threw only 84 pitches entering the eighth and had surrendered only four hits, it was probably the correct call by Yost to send him back to the mound.  According to Pitch f/x, his velocity was fine at that point and he had been effectively changing speeds all evening.  Plus, as  the fact he didn’t walk a batter all evening will attest, he was working in the zone.

And with the current state of the Royals bullpen, why not see if Davies can go eight before turning it over to Soria in the ninth?

Unfortunately, when Davies got into hot water, Yost didn’t have a reliable Plan B waiting in the bullpen.

———————————————————————————————————————

— Yuniesky Betancourt came to the plate four times and saw a grand total of nine pitches.  Stop with the “Betancourt is pretty good” talk.  Please.

Yes, it’s great he’s hitting for power.  That’s something no one saw coming this year.  And his home runs have been timely – seven of his 12 have given the Royals the lead or tied the game.  There have been times where I have been surprised at his ability to deliver in key situations.  Although I think Betancourt’s positive moments stand out because they’re infrequent and expectations couldn’t be much lower to start.  When the D student turns in an A paper, it kind of gets noticed.

What I fail to understand is how certain people around the Royals seem to delight in pointing out his offensive “excellence” while ignoring the fact his .290 OBP is the fifth lowest in the league this year and he continues to exhibit next to no discipline at the plate.  Last night was Exhibit A. The guy goes up there hacking, with no feel for the situation and with no ability to employ strategic situational hitting.

However, his defense is still in the bottom of the league among shortstops.  And don’t forget to factor Betancourt’s defense into his overall performance on the season.  He remains terrible by any metric you choose – UZR, +/- – you name it.  According to the Fielding Bible’s plus/minus system, Betancourt is currently a -9 on fielding plays.  Not good.  Especially for a shortstop.  Going a step further, the Bible has Betancourt at -7 for runs saved with his glove.  Again, not good.  That ranks him 32nd out of 35 shortstops.  Plus, his double play efficiency has really declined this year.  After converting about 62% of all double play opportunities over the last couple of seasons, he’s converting roughly 45% of all double play opportunities.  That ranks him 35th.

Of course, looking at (less than) a single season while using defensive metrics is sketchy.  Those in the know say you need to look at at least three seasons of defensive data before you draw a conclusion.

Going back to 2008, Betancourt has ranked dead last in the AL among shortstops in UZR.  My eyes see a lack of mobility and range.  While Betancourt can occasionally make a stellar play, for every one Web Gem, he neglects three or four makable fielding chances.  The numbers back this up.

Focus on the big picture.

Apparently, it is not just chicks that dig the long ball.

Last night, Yuniesky Betancourt hit his 12th home run of the season and ignited a wave of love and affection throughout the world of Twitter and beyond.   We were instantly told how Yuni is now third among American League shortstops in slugging and fifth in OPS.      To be fair, those numbers do mean something and Betancourt has been on quite a streak at the plate as of late (.406/.406/.813/1.219 over his last 9 games).      The educated, unbiased, in-the-know followers (or maybe that should be contrarian or organizational employee) of the Royals will tell you that Betancourt has been unjustly skewered, that those defensive metrics really are a lie and, besides, who else is going to play shortstop better for the Royals right now?   C’mon everyone, love Yuni!

Well, I cannot argue with the second to last statement above:  there really is no one else to man the position at the current time.   Mike Aviles v.2010 is not the same guy who patrolled short in 2008.   That, by the way, is the answer to the ever more prevalent question ‘how long has it been since the Royals had a shortstop play as well as Betancourt?’.  It’s has been exactly two years – you know the year Aviles posted a WAR higher than any Royals since Beltran (yes, I know I have used that line five times this summer).

Let me digress I minute and offer a thought on Aviles.  In the field, he has reminded me of Mark Teahen prior to his shoulder surgery.   You might remember, Teahen was a mess at third base (Bill James’ words not mine) in 2005 and 2006.   His arm was erratic, there was a hitch in his throwing motion – both of which can be attributed to a bad shoulder, but Mark also had horrific footwork.   Sometimes he looked to me to be playing the game on skates out there.   While Teahen did not play a ton of third base once he returned from surgery, I thought he did look, if not better, at least more fluid in the field.

Flash forward to Aviles this year, coming back quickly from Tommy John surgery.  What had been an above average defensive shortstop in 2008 no looks like a BELOW average second baseman in 2010.   The errors, like Teahen, are no all with the arm, but also with the glove.   Is Aviles rushing, knowing or at least not trusting that he has the arm strength to the make the play?  Is that causing booted grounders and bad decisions?   Hey, I don’t know, just a thought.

Okay, back to Betancourt.   Let’s get a feel for what being 3rd in slugging and 5th in OPS among AL shortstops really means.   There are thirteen players who have logged 300 our more plate appearances while playing shortstop this year.   Here they are in order of OPS:

  • Alex Gonzalez
  • Alexei Ramirez
  • Derek Jeter
  • YUNIESKY BETANCOURT
  • Cliff Pennington
  • Marco Scutaro
  • Jhonny Peralta
  • Erick Aybar
  • Elvis Andrus
  • Ramon Santiago
  • Miguel Tejeda
  • Jason Bartlett
  • Cesar Izturis

What the heck has happened to the shortstop position?!!   Ranking high statistically among American League shortstops is much like, well, leading the Royals in home runs or being the fastest guy on your slow pitch softball team.   It’s nice, but it does not mean much.   Trust me, I was the fastest guy on my slow pitch team and no matter how many people I told that to, not one of them seemed to be impressed!  What are the odds?

Sarcasm aside, it truthfully is better to rank high in a bad pool than not.  However, it should be noted that Betancourt’s on-base percentage is second worst only to Izturis and his OPS+ is still a below average 93.   That number, by the way, is equal to his career high set in 2007.   Five and one-half seasons into his major league career, Betancourt has  never posted an OPS+ that is even close to average.

Here is another way to look at Betancourt’s production.   Let’s compare Betancourt’s 2010 batting line prior to the birth of his child to that of Angel Berroa in 2004 and 2005 (the two years after his ROY campaign):

  • Berroa 2004 – 262/308/385
  • Berroa 2005 – 270/305/375
  • Betancourt 2010 as of Aug 4 – 257/281/393
  • Betancourt 2010 total – 269/290/426

Hey, at least we finally found the next Angel Berroa.

Okay, I know I am being overly cynical.  Especially since the Royals are on a three game winning streak and Yuniesky Betancourt has been a major part of that.   However, can we at least admit that this ‘game saving’ play two nights ago came with a gigantic assist from Kila Ka’aihue on the other end?   And can we also remember that for every ‘great’ play in the field, we can all remember a botched double play ball or simply lack of range that led to a ‘bad inning’.     You can debate defensive metrics, but this is a shortstop with close to six years of everyday play who does not own a defensive number that does not begin with a negative sign.

In the end, I can live with Yuniesky Betancourt:  he really is the best option the Royals have at the current time.   Chances are, he might well be the everyday shortstop for the entirety of 2011 as well.        Betancourt will likely give the Royals something very close to his career line of .274/.297/.396 with spectacularly inconsistent defense.  

There is nothing on his resume to make you think this hot streak is a precursor to great things.   This is a player who has not been jerked up and down between the majors and minors.  He has not had a catastrophic injury, nor has he been moved around the infield.  For six years, Yuniesky Betancourt has been an everyday shortstop and, for six years, has virtually the exact same player.       His 23 doubles and 12 home runs this year is not really all that different from the 38 doubles and 9 home runs he slugged in 2007.

Betancourt is how he is and right now he is a player on a great hot streak.   Enjoy it, give him credit for it, but let’s not get carried away.

You may look at the box score and see that Zack Greinke gave up one run in six innings and think he had a good game.  Hmmmm.  Certainly, it’s good anytime a starter hold the opposition to one run, but this felt like a battle almost every step of the way.

Three walks against just four strikeouts and Greinke needed every ounce of the 105 pitches he threw in the six innings.  Greinke just didn’t have his command.  Of the 105 pitches he threw, only 57 of them were strikes.  That’s 54%, a percentage is far too low, given our ace starter normally throws a strike 64% of the time.

His fastball showed some life and averaged 94.6 mph, which is above his seasonal fastball average of 93.2 mph.  That’s a relief. (Although I remain skeptical about the Kauffman Stadium radar gun.  Seems like it still runs a little hot.)  While the velocity was there, the swing and misses were… Missing.  He threw 61 fastballs and got only four swing and misses.

Of course, we all know the slider is his out pitch, but the Indians showed patience in not offering.  Of the 23 sliders Greinke threw on Tuesday, only 11 were strikes.

It was just a grind last night.  One of those games where I was on the edge of my seat because I was just waiting for Greinke to give up a string of hits and basically throw in the towel.  Fortunately, his defense bailed him out more than once.  That’s something you don’t hear everyday.

So Zack is still scuffling.  He pitched a great game in his previous start in Los Angeles, but couldn’t really find the rhythm or his comfort zone last night.  That’s kind of been the story of his season.  We’re all waiting for that “eureka” moment, but I’m not sure we’re going to get that.  Instead, we may have to settle for inconsistency.

That’s a bummer.  I want the 2009 version of Greinke back.  On a consistent basis.

— I can’t possibly be the only person who, when watching Kila rip a couple of fastballs to right, thinks, “Slider bat speed, my ass.”  The guy can flat turn on a pitch.  I have absolutely no idea where the myth developed that he doesn’t possess the bat speed to handle a fastball.  Looked fine to me last night.

— Speaking of Kila, he turned in a pair of nice defensive plays at first last night.  And both came in key situations.  The first was with two down in the second with a run already in and two runners on base.  Jason Donald hit a weak grounder to third and Wilson Betemit had to rush his throw.  Kila made a nice stretch to get the out.  That was a fine play, but the one that really stood out was in the ninth.  Asdrubal Cabrera hits a grounder to the hole between short and third.  Yuniesky Betancourt ranges to his right and makes a strong throw, but Kila really saved the day with another excellent stretch.  Billy Butler is much improved defensively at first, but I’m not sure he makes that play in the ninth.

— Maybe the opposition will begin to respect Kila.  An intentional walk to Butler in the fifth?  This really is a rivalry.

— Betemit put a charge in his home run, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone crush a pitch this year like Jim Thome did last night in Minnesota.

— It makes me incredibly sad that Yuniesky Betancourt is second on this team with 11 home runs.  This sudden burst of power is the only thing keeping his OPS+ hovering around the 90 point mark.  Ugh.

— The Royals bullpen will provide antacid moments for the rest of the season.  Guaranteed.  No clue what Jesse Chavez was doing in the seventh.  And Blake Wood in the eighth only works because the Indians are a woeful offensive team.

— Did the Indians have a legitimate beef at the end of the game regarding Kerwin Danley’s strike zone?  Perhaps.  However, Danley was calling the high outside strike all night – that was the pitch that sent Shin-Soo Choo packing in the ninth for the second out.  The cutter Soria delivered a couple pitches prior was in almost the exact same location and it was called a strike.  Having said that, it would appear Travis Hafner has a legit reason to complain.  That final strike was way off the plate.  Here’s Danley’s called pitches for the night.  The final pitch of the game is easily identifiable:  It’s the red square way off the plate.

The battle for fourth place rolls on…

Yesterday, the Royals had a much needed off-day.  However, while the Major League club isn’t playing a game, the action does not stop in the organization.  Yesterday, there were eight games played throughout the Royals Minor League system.  I know that when the Major League team struggles, the focus can start to turn towards the Minor Leagues and for good reason.  The minors represent a brighter future and hope of a renewed organization.  For a lot of reasons, there is some excitement building around the current crop of Royals Minor Leaguers.

If you are anything like me, you spend most mornings looking at all of the minor league box scores to see how some of the younger guys like Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Christian Colon are faring.  However, going to individual team pages to find a box score can be a little tedious with nine different minor league teams.  Recently, I began putting together a .pdf of the previous days action around the Royals organization.  It has every box score and a quick rundown of who had a pretty good night.  It is still a work in progress, and there are some days where I am unable to put the document together.  But, recently I’ve been sending it around to some people via email and it has had a pretty good response.  So now, loyal Royals Authority readers, I offer it up to you as well.

If you would like to be added to the email list to receive this, just send an email to brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, and ask to be added.  Keep in mind though, that it is still a work in progress so there are formatting things I need to iron out and it may come slightly sporadically.  All you will receive via email will be an email from me with the .pdf file.  You can print it out, read it on a Kindle, a laptop or any .pdf reader.  I hope you get some value out of it.  If you would like to preview todays file, click on the link below.

Nicks Royals Report 8-16

Nick Scott is the host of the Broken Bat Single Royals podcast, a hopeless Royals fan and hates preseason football.  You can follow him on Twitter at @brokenbatsingle

Episode #029 – Nick discusses how Ned might work with Kila going down the stretch and spends most of the time talking baseball, comedy and the Royals with comedian and die-hard Royals fan Jon Schieszer.  Check out Jon’s videos on Youtube here or if you are in Socal check him out at the world famous Comedy Store.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs029.mp3|titles=BBS

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I have to be honest, settling on a topic for this morning’s column apparently became an impossible task for this lowly writer.   The reasons are many:  it is Monday, it is August or, gasp, even a lack of talent.   At any rate, some bullet points from the past weekend for lack of a better idea.

  • Excluding Saturday night’s home run derby, the Royals held the Yankees to just eight runs in the other three games of the series.    Even including Saturday, the sixteen runs allowed by Royal pitching was really pretty impressive considering Zack Greinke did not start any of the four games.
  • A lot has been written about Bryan Bullington finally securing his first major league win (and looking very good doing so).   Without question, Bullington deserves more starts down the stretch and frankly I do not care at whose expense those starts come.   Just a cautionary tale, however, Bobby Keppel in his first two starts as a Kansas City Royal allowed just 3 runs in 14.2 innings – the same number as Bullington’s first two Royal starts – and Bobby was gone a month later.
  • Kila Ka’aihue went 3 for 10 with 2 walks in the first three games (that’s a .416 OBP by the by)  of the series and was out of the lineup on Sunday.   As an aside, last Thursday I compared the start of Kila’s career to Travis Hafner.   Rany did the same in his column yesterday.   Now, if we can two more bloggers to do the same and then all click our heels together at the same time, it will come true.
  • Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were a combined seven for ten yesterday in the minors.   I have cooled on the idea of bringing Moustakas up in September this year, given his struggles in Omaha – particularly his walk to strikeout ratio.  Given the state of the starting rotation, even with some recent solid performances, it is hard to see any reason to rush Moustakas at this point.   A mid-June debut should work out about right.
  • A few weeks back, one of our commentors noted that Blaine Hardy was starting in Omaha.   At the time, I theorized that it was just a way to get Hardy more innings of experience and that his future still was as a reliever.  Now, it appears that the Royals are intending to convert Hardy to a starting role.   In his last two starts, Blaine has gone six innings in each and allowed just two earned runs in both.   Although he struck out a batter per inning in both rookie and A ball, Hardy’s strikeouts have declined in AA and AAA.   Still, he remains effective.   Anyone adverse to seeing a couple of September starts out of him this year?
  • Wilson Betemit’s name was mentioned, however minorly, in a blurb on MLBTradeRumors regarding the Cardinals’ search for a third baseman.   If the Royals received an offer for Betemit, likely no more than a 20-25 ranked prospect in the low minors, would you take it?  Or does it make more sense to continue to give Betemit regular duty and see if he can be a classic late bloomer?
  • The new over/under on number of starts by Luke Hochevar before the end of the season has now been officially set at ONE.

Finally and just for fun, here is my projection for the Royals’ starting rotation on July 1, 2011:

  1. Zack Greinke
  2. Luke Hochevar
  3. Mike Montgomery
  4. Blaine Hardy
  5. Sean O’Sullivan

I’m not saying that’s necessarily good, just what I think it might be.

On Tuesday, I posted the team batting heat charts for the minor league affiliates of the Royals.  Today I am following that up with the team pitching statistics.  The Royals affiliate is highlighted in each chart and each column is color sorted with red being the best and green being the worst in that category.   As I mentioned last week, this is kind of a quick and dirty rundown, but can give some clues to how things are going at each level.  These numbers certainly are subject to park effects, since those have not been taken into account here.  What sticks out to you?  Let me know in the comments.

Pacific Coast League (AAA)

Texas League (AA)

Carolina League (A+)

Midwest League (A)

Appalachian League (Rookie)

Pioneer League (Rookie)

Arizona League (Rookie)

Dominican Summer League (Rookie)

You can contact Nick via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via twitter at @brokenbatsingle or on facebook

While it has been and likely will remain tough to watch, I am delighted that the Royals are giving a number of players – you know, guys who might actually be around when this team is ready to contend – a chance to prove themselves the remainder of this season.   It begs the question, with 48 games remaining to go:  is this enough of a sample size to determine who can play and who cannot?

Given the almost certain intrusion of Willie Bloomquist into the lineup on a semi-regular basis,  we can probably expect to see somewhere around 175 more plate appearances this season for Alex Gordon, Kila Ka’aihue, Mike Aviles, Chris Getz, Mitch Maier, Gregor Blanco and Wilson Betemit.   Will that be enough to make decisions on these players that will not only effect 2011, but the seasons beyong that as well?

We can go way back in time and find examples of players that struggled early and became great.   George Brett posted an anemic .646 OPS (82 OPS+) through his first 527 major league plate appearances before beginning his run to the Hall of Fame with a .308/.353/.456 1975 season.      Through his first 483 plate appearances, Mike Schmidt had a dreadful career line of .197/.324/.367 before slugging .546 in 1974.   However, those guys were Hall of Famers for godssake and comparisons to that type of talent is not only unfair, but probably not all that relevant, either.

Taking a step back, the career of Raul Ibanez was a five year – 581 plate appearance journey between Seattle, the bench and AAA, during which he posted an OPS+ of just 73.   As we are all keenly aware, Ibanez came to Kansas City in 2001 at age twenty-nine, received regular playing time and has posted an OPS+ of 110 or above in nine of the last ten seasons.

Billy Butler took a little longer to get his footing in the majors.   At age 21, he posted a nice partial season in 2007 (OPS+ 108), fell back in 2008 (.275/.324/.400, OPS+ 93) and was an uncertain commodity with 838 major league plate appearances entering last season.  Of course, Billy was terrific in 2009 and actually has a better OPS+ this season. 

A couple of other guys did not take so long to emerge as legitimate hitters.   Paul Konerko had 247 pretty awful plate appearances (OPS+ 60) spread over two seasons at the start of his career.   After a trade to Chicago, Konerko hit 24 home runs in 1999 and has been a fixture at first base for the Sox ever since.    

Travis Hafner did not get his first major league at-bat until he was 25 and in 70 plate appearances that season posted an unimpressive line .242/.329/.387.   The following year, he got off to an even worse start, posting a .195/.267/.378 line in his first 90 plate appearances.   So, what would you have thought of Hafner after 160 plate appearances?   Well, he came back in July of that second season and took off.    The very next year, his first full major league season, Hafner led the league in OPS+.

We could spend all day pouring through Baseball Reference and analyzing who many plate appearances it took for guys who really have made it in the majors to show what kind of player they would become.   There are other variables, too:  time in the minors, drafted out of high school or college, where they hit in the order, how good the teams were that they played on…..   Shockingly, the raw numbers do not tell the entire story!    At any rate, using the very rudimentary research above, let’s look at this group of current Royals.

ALEX GORDON – The Royals have always seemed to be in hurry when it comes to Alex.   They rushed him to the majors in 2007 after just one minor league season, they rushed him back into the lineup in 2009 after hip surgery and then shoved him down to the minors over service time/performance issues.   They rushed him back from a broken thumb this year and then were in a hurry to decide that he couldn’t hit AND needed to change positions.   All that said, how many remember/realize that in 2008, Gordon posted an OPS+ of 109 – enough above average to be considered ‘above average’?  

Given that Gordon, despite an injury plagued-demotion riddled- position changing season and half since 2008, still boasts a career OPS+ of 97 (basically average) and will end this season with around 1,600 plate appearances, I will be inclined to believe that what the Royals see out of Alex these final forty-eight games is likely to be a true indicator of what they can expect in the future.  

Wilson Betemit – Doesn’t it seem like Betemit is 35 years old or something?   In reality, he will not turn 29 until November and will end this season with roughly the same amount of plate appearances as Gordon.   Right now, Wilson is a dead average 100 OPS+ for his career.    Betemit played in 143 games (for 2 teams) in 2006, which was his only real shot at an everyday job and posted, not surprisingly, an almost dead average 101 OPS+.   Early on, he has hit a ton for the Royals, but is slowing cooling down.    There is a touch of the ‘Ibanez factor’ in Wilson’s career to date, so a good 48 games down the stretch might make me lean towards seeing if the Royals could catch lightning, or more accurately Ibanez 2.0, in a bottle in 2011.

Mike Aviles – If a player’s first 400 or so plate appearances is not the true indicator of a player’s future, then Mike still has plenty to prove.   He was in the discussion for Rookie of the Year in 2008 when he posted an OPS+ of 121 and the highest WAR of any Royal since Beltran over 441 plate appearances.   2009 was lost to injury and Mike has not been the same player in 2010 with an OPS+ of just 89.   Depending on how much Ned Yost decides to play him, Aviles will end the year with around 1,000 plate appearances.    Although they did it at different ages and are far different players, Aviles first 900 plate appearances compare somewhat to Billy Butler’s.    He is a tough one to figure at this point as to whether we will reach October and know what to think of Mike Aviles.

Chris Getz – I was all for the Teahen-Getz trade, so seeing him in the lineup virtually everyday is okay from here on out.   By the end of the year, Chris will have close to 800 plate appearances and currently sports a career OPS+ of 69.   The big difference between the 800 plate appearances of Getz and the 800 of Butler and Aviles is that Chris really has not had a good stretch of performance in there – it has really been a pretty consistent run (his July numbers were identical to that posted last season).   If he starts hitting and getting on-base, I would be inclined to believe in Getz.  If he doesn’t, I might believe that, too.

Mitch Maier – Mitch has a career OPS+ of 84, but a 2010 mark of 98, which doesn’t surprise me.   He is an average player, when given a chance to perform everyday, but has not shown much to make me think he will ever be more than that.   Maier will end 2010 with 900 or so plate appearances and, right or wrong, will likely be judged by what he does between now and the end of the season.   Again, he does not have that magical season on his resume like Aviles or the giant minor league resume that Butler came to the majors with, so his rope is shorter.  

Gregor Blanco – I loved Willie Wilson back in the day and apparently so did Dayton Moore.  He has traded for virtually every player who is fast and plays centerfield and drafted about ten more.   Blanco is another in that mold.   Like many of the other players in our discussion, he will end the year somewhere between 800 and 900 career plate appearances.    He got an everyday shot with Atlanta in 2008 and posted a .251/.366/.309 line, but has tread water ever since.  I’m not sure that the Royals will have a great read on Blanco by the end of the year and they probably don’t need to have one, either.   He will be cheap and under team control and blocking no one in centerfield.    Heck, if Gordon can hit and DeJesus returns healthy, there would be worse outfields than Gordon-Blanco/Maier-DeJesus.

Kila Ka’aihue – Next to Alex Gordon, here’s the guy you really wanted to talk about, right?  Right now, Kila is struggling mightily, but then so did Konerko and Hafner (you didn’t think I pulled those two guys out of coincidence, did you?).   Currently 54 plate appearances into his career – roughly the same point at which the Royals gave up on Matt Diaz once upon a time – Kila will end up with right at 200 by the end of the season.   To be honest, I have thought all along that a couple months of regular duty was enough to tell what you had in a player, but in writing this column my mind has changed some. 

Certainly it is a stretch to call Ka’aihue the next Konerko or Hafner, but would you want to be the teams that gave up on those guys after a similar stretch of time?   Let’s make this a little more timely and note that Jose Guillen’s OPS+ after 1,953 plate appearances was jsut 82.   It was only at age 27, that Jose went on to be post well above average numbers in four of his next five seasons.   Sadly, that string ended when he signed his three year deal with the Royals, but we don’t need to discuss that again, do we?

So, in the end, I am not sure we have proven anything this morning, other than deciding at what point in time you have ‘seen enough’ of a given player is hardly an exact science.    Do you believe what you see in the next 48 games is what you will get in the future?

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