Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

I listened to the Royals’ final game of the season on the radio yesterday and sensed just a tinge of sadness in Denny and Ryan’s voices as they signed off.   Despite a year that was an absolute grind, it is still something of an empty feeling to know that there is no game tonight or the next day.  

Someday, October will mean something to us Royals’ fans, but 2010 ended up being another year when the vast majority of us turned our attention to football…in August.     I will keep an eye on the playoffs as I like the Rays, mainly because I think Joe Maddon is kind of cool, and will have to witness the bizarre spectre of Jose Guillen playing the outfield for a playoff team, but for the most part, the 2010 season is over.

In some respects, the Royals got an early start on 2011 by exercising David DeJesus’ option for 2011.   That was pretty much a no-brainer, in my opinion, as $6 million for a player with an OPS+ over 100 in five of the last six seasons is a better deal than likely will be available on the open market this off-season.   Plus, the Royals have one proven above average major league outfielder in their organization right now and his name is DeJesus.

Beyond David, you have Alex Gordon (84 OPS+ in 281 plate appearances) and a trio of Gregor Blanco, Mitch Maier and Jarrod Dyson who will all struggle to anything more than one win above replacement level.   The high minors really offer David Lough and Jordan Parraz, neither of whom offer upside any better than DeJesus (if that).  They are followed by Derrick Robinson and Paulo Orlando, who still have much to prove and are at least one year away.

So, yes, bringing DeJesus back is one of the easiest decisions Dayton Moore will make this off-season and it still leaves him a slew of options with regard to the 30 year old outfielder:

  • Moore can shop DeJesus this winter, although I would suspect David’s value is hurt by speculation over how well he has recovered from the thumb injury that curtailed his 2010 season.  Anything that has to do with a hitter’s hands always gives rise to concern.
  • Moore can shop DeJesus at the trade deadline in 2011.   That is likely the current plan of action as it allows David time to prove he is healthy and the Royals time to see what they have in Lough, et.al.   You hate to go through another round of veteran for prospects trades, but it may make the most sense for the organization come next July.
  • The Royals could also move towards offering DeJesus an extension at some point during next season.   While David is a good player, he is not the caliber of talent that is going to get $15 million per year in free agency.   He strikes me as a guy who might have some loyalty to Kansas City.    Given the lack of better alternatives in the minors (short a move of Hosmer or Myers to the outfield), three years for $21 or $24 million might be doable and advisable.

Not lost in the above, is the Zack Greinke factor.   If the Royals decide that they want to keep Zack past 2012 the are going to have to sell him on the fact that this organization is going to be a winner.   Resigning DeJesus, one of the guys who Greinke surely views as established and productive, might help.

An additional factor in possibly getting a new deal done with DeJesus might well be what happens in left and center field next season.   If the Royals wake up on June 30th with Alex Gordon hitting .221, Gregor Blanco muddling along with a .690 OPS and Jarrod Dyson back in the minors after going 6 for 70 next season, they will certainly be thinking that they need DeJesus in 2012 and beyond just to have someone out there who can hit!

Anyway, so long 2010, we probably will not miss you that much.

I had a gut feeling about this.  There was no way Zack Greinke was going to go out with another stinker of a start like he did in Cleveland.  No way.  For all the talk about his lack of focus and distrust of The Process, Greinke is a competitor.  Clark touched on this a little yesterday, but it’s the stuff of clubhouse legend.  The dude will take you on in anything.  Ping-pong?  He probably has a paddle in his locker.  Bowling?  His initials are probably monogramed on a ball.  And we’ve heard all of the stories about how he was consistently trying to one-up Gil Meche.

So even though nothing has gone right this season, and Greinke isn’t too anxious to stick around for Youth Movement, 5.0 he certainly doesn’t want to end the season on a negative note.  He left us with nine strikeouts, tied for his second highest total in a start this season, and two runs allowed on four hits.  Nice.

He wasn’t Zack, version 2009, but that’s fine.  Last year was all kinds of awesome and it was so exceptional, we knew he was going to have a difficult time repeating that kind of success.  We just didn’t expect Zack, version 2010 to be so damn frustrating.

I know the advanced metrics say Greinke has been really quite good this season.  And, as usual, the Royals defense has been horrific.  Even though errors aren’t a good way to measure defense, did you know that 17 hitters have reached base via an error against Greinke this year?  The next closest in the AL is Colby Lewis in Texas who has had 12 batters reach on a miscue.

Anyway, there is just no way you could have watched any of Greinke’s starts over the last two months and not come away extremely frustrated.  Thankfully, Thursday was different.  And that’s what we’ll carry with us into the winter.
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The minor league guys were in town and interviewed at length during the broadcast.  Interesting stuff for those of us who are invested in The Process.  Just based on the interviews I saw, Wil Myers and Clint Robinson seem like great kids.  Broadcasts like that get me pumped for the future.
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I’ll leave you with a few links for your reading pleasure…

Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark.

That line made me root for the Red Sox.  At least until Jimmy Fallon and all those pink hat wearing dbags started turning up everywhere.  Anyway, it’s the 50th anniversary of Ted Williams final plate appearance, so John Updike’s classic “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” has gotten some publicity.  It’s a classic worth reading any time.

Of contemporary writers (internet version) there’s no one who does it better than Alex Belth.  If he’s writing, I’m reading.  It pains me to say that since he’s a Yankee fan and all that, but it’s true.  The guy knows his way around a keyboard.  His take on working for Ken Burns on Baseball for his first gig out of college is a blast.

There’s Posnanski.  And there’s Scully.  Both magicians with words.  And when they get together…  It makes me happy.

Not that I’m in the same league with the three previous writers, but I did write a little something about our Greinke at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) this week.  If you’re going to click on all four of these links, maybe you should hit mine first.  Clearly the appetizer.  The other three are the main course.

I ask that question because the odds are that Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar will be the Royals’ numbers one and two starters in 2011.     Considering the usual learning curve for young pitchers, however highly touted, it is also likely that those two players could occupy the same spots again in 2012. 

So, do you trust those two to head up your starting rotation for the next two years?

We will start with Hochevar, whose season was nicely summed up by Rany last week.   While Luke will be the clear number two guy on the Royals next season, he really is more of a number three on a contending team and probably a number four guy on a really good club.

That said, Hochevar has made some progress in 2010 despite missing half of the season due to a ‘minor’ injury.   If you were to look at his game log for the season, ignore his draft position and consider his defense included a horrible Betancourt, out of position (and not healthy) Aviles and a cast of thousands in center, Luke does not look that bad.    Over seventeen starts, Hochevar has pitched at least six innings eleven times.

What we saw last night out of Hochevar – 6 innings/2 runs – has become a fairly common ‘Hochevar type’ night.   Once in a while, he will be dominate and about the same amount of times he will be pretty bad.  In between, Luke will be better than Kyle Davies with more potential than Bruce Chen and without question, never as horrible as Brian Bannister has become.

What I think we could reasonably expect from Hochevar over the next couple of years is something of a Gil Meche-lite type performance (the Gil from 2007 through June of 2009, remember him?).      Four hundred innings over two seasons with an earned run average in the low fours may not be a true number two starter, but it is good enough for the Royals who we can hope have two or three ‘true number twos’ pitching in either AA or AAA next year.

That brings us to our resident ace, Zack Greinke, who is actually six weeks younger than Hochevar.    After tonight, Zack will have made 98 starts for the Royals over the past three years and will have averaged basically six and two-thirds innings per start.   Along the way, he has won a Cy Young Award and kept his earned run average (still a viable stat for a starter) under four basically the entire time until mid-September.

However, there is the rub.   I hate to try to get into a player’s head and portray his mindset, but it sure looks like Zack has been at best unmotivated and at worst completely disinterested this September.    Given that most of us fans have a similar mindset this time of year, it is tough to be too critical, but Zack Greinke is the ace of this staff and should be held to a higher standard.

Listen, I completely get how competitive Zack is and how much he would like to be pitching in games that mean something.  It is hard to bring your A game when half your teammates are AAA players and Cleveland is trotting out a lineup of guys you have never seen before and may not see again.   If, however, you are the leader of the pitching staff, don’t you have to find a way to give a crap?

I admittedly have a love hate relationship with Zack Greinke.    He is fascinating to watch pitch and not just because he can be the most dominant arm in the game at times.   Zack can also be frustratingly stubborn (back to back curves to Varitek and Hermidia for back to back home runs, for example) and quite simply disinterested at times.   In the end, Greinke is easily the best pitcher the Royals have produced since Kevin Appier and, maybe, better than him, Cone, Saberhagen and all the rest.

That said, knowing that most of the games this team plays in 2011 ‘won’t matter much’, is Zack Greinke the guy you want to trot out as your ace in front of what will be a very young and likely impressionable roster by the end of that season.    If Greinke is mailing it in versus the Indians in late September of 2011, what will Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy think?   “Hey, we can study up on the Yankees, but the Indians in September?  Hell, just go out there and see what happens.”

Again, I am not in Zack’s head, nor am I in the clubhouse.   It could well be that Zack goes out and throws nine innings of dominance tonight and the points made in this column go away.   Frankly, I hope that is exactly what happens, but what if it doesn’t?  

At that point, does Dayton Moore seriously have to consider trading Zack Greinke now?   While his contract is still attractive and before the lack of every start focus rubs off on younger pitchers?  

We and many others have written and discussed this before, but the question is particularly relevant as the 2010 season closes out.     Can the Royals afford to trade Zack Greinke?   Can they afford not to?

There’s nothing left to play for, unless the a battle for fourth place is your idea of fun.  (After the Carnage In Cleveland over the weekend, I’m not even certain a battle exists)  The Chiefs are undefeated and the final week of the baseball season brings two teams with a history of postseason appearances on modest payrolls built through the draft and canny trades in for a final visit.  It’s OK to have Twin or Ray envy.  These are two teams who know what they’re doing.  We can only hope the Royals resident sabermetrician is taking copious notes.

(Side note:  Is the Rays attendance situation crazy, or what?  If the Royals were playing meaningful baseball in September, not only would the stadium be packed, everyone would be wearing blue and hospitals would have an increase in parents naming their newborn boys Yuniesky.  This city would be insane.  I get the economy sucks – especially in Florida where there are apparently more vacant houses than occupied – but still… In a metropolitan area that large, it doesn’t make sense.  It’s easier to understand that the stadium is a poorly-located dump.  Traffic in the Tampa area is a bitch and there’s basically one way to get to the stadium.  Imagine if the only way to approach the K was from I-70 from the east.  Not making excuses here… Somethings are worth the effort.  Or the drive.

Now they’re giving away 20,000 tickets.  Talk about marketing fail… Way to devalue your product, Rays. But I digress…)

Anyway, there are just a few days left in the 2010 season, but there are still some questions that remain about the Royals.  This post is inspired by Dodger Thoughts who posted 10 questions about the LA Dodgers that will be solved by the end of the season.  I began this post with the aim of finding 10 for the Royals, but they are so damn uninteresting I could only come up with five.  Here goes…

Will the Royals team leader in HR finish the season in San Francisco?

Current leaders are the Yunigma and the dearly departed Jose Guillen each with 16 home runs and Billy Butler is nipping at their heals with 15.  Thankfully, Ed Kirkpatrick’s record of fewest number of home runs to lead the team is safe for another season.  He clobbered just 14 home runs to lead the ’69 Royals.

Can the Yunigma stay above replacement level?

According to Fangraphs’ WAR formula, Betancourt currently owns a 0.5 WAR, placing him ahead of Alcides Escobar and Cesar Izturis in the pantheon of criminally horrible shortstops.

But he has a bunch of RBI!!!

(But he also has the second most plate appearances on the team.  Opportunity does not equal quality.)

Do you remember the Yost Effect?

Guess who the worst team in baseball is, post All-Star Break:

Royals — 26-43, .377
Mariners — 26-43, .377
Pittsburgh — 26-43, .377
Dodgers — 28-42, .400
Nats — 29-40, .420

The Pirates have the number one spot locked up for next June’s draft, but the Royals can pick anywhere from second in the draft to seventh. As they sputter to the finish line, I’m betting they get passed by a resurgent Oriole team and finish with the third pick in next year’s draft.

Can Billy Butler set the season record for grounding into double plays?

The record for the most GIDP in a season belongs to Jim Rice, who hit into 36 twin killings in 1984.  He followed that up with 35 in ’85 and owns the top two spots on the leaderboard.  Butler has hit into 30 double plays this season, and if he hits into three more, third place on the all time list will be his, and his alone.

Will any Royals starting pitcher finish with an ERA+ of 100 or better?

Zack Greinke’s fiasco start in Cleveland dropped his ERA+ to 99 on the season and meant that all Royals starters were below the 100 threshold. The last time the Royals failed to have a starting pitcher with an ERA+ of above 100 was in 2006 when Luke Hudson and his 5.12 ERA led the staff with an ERA+ of 92.  I don’t have to remind you, that was the year Mark Redman was an All-Star.

Are you excited yet?

The end of the season is really sneaking up on me.   There are only six games remaining for the Royals in the 2010 season.  I admit, even for a Royals blogger it gets harder and harder to really watch a lot of Royals games at this point in the season.  I tend to drift to some football games, some more important baseball games or a TV show like Mad Men to fill my time rather than a Royals game.  I doubt I am alone in this, it’s only natural.  The team is currently in line for the 4th overall draft pick (that’s my glass half full mindset), and while I thought that the teams coming into the K to end the season would be playing for something important, it seems that the playoff picture is nearly complete in the American League.  However, there are still interesting things happening on the field and with the team.

Jarrod Dyson hit his first Major League homerun last night.  It’s always a cool moment for a rookie to get  that under his belt.  However, it was extremely unlikely that it was going to happen for Jarrod Dyson last night.  Why?  Dyson hit one homerun in 1,245 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues.  It didn’t happen until his 5th season when he was in AAA.  He even had 315 plate appearances with AA Northwest Arkansas, where he played at one of the most homerun friendly parks in the Texas League, and had zero homeruns.  I seriously doubt that Dyson has found his power stroke, and his limiting factor in being an everyday player for the Royals is his bat.  However, stranger things have happened than a guy figuring out how to improve his hitting at the Major League level.  I am a big Jarrod Dyson fan and I sincerly hope he figures it out.

I remember once-upon-a-time there was some chatter about how great Yuniesky Betancourt is, particularly compared to other shortstops.  Oddly, that kind of talk has been quiet.  It probably has to do with the fact that the only player that has played for the Royals this year with a lower OBP is rookie catcher Luke May.  Or it possibly could be some of the following ranks he holds among qualified shortstops:

Batting Average: 15th of 22
On Base Percentage : 21st of 22
Slugging Percentage: 10th of 22
wOBA: 16th of 22

I know that you have to put someone at shortstop and there are possibly worse options than the Yunigma, but if you are going to feed me crap, just tell me it’s crap.  Don’t cover it in flower and call it a donut.

Joakim Soria is the best reliever in baseball.  He is better than Mariano Rivera, and I don’t even think its debateable.  He notched his 42nd save last night to match a career high.  The Royals as a team have won 64 games.  A little quick math tells me that Soria has saved two thirds of the Royals wins this year.  Two thirds, think about that.  Soria needs three more saves to get into a tie for the Royals single-season lead.  Here are the top 5 Royals seasons for saves:

1.(tie) Jeff Montgomery (1993) – 45
1.(tie) Dan Quisenberry (1983) – 45
3. Dan Quisenberry (1984) – 44
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2008) – 42
4.(tie) Joakim Soria (2010) – 42

I think it would be really cool if Soria could end on 45 and the trio of great Royals closers could all share the single-season lead.

Billy Butler raised his batting average by a point last night to .321 by going 2-for-4.  That ranks him 5th in the Major League.  Yes, he isn’t a good defender and yes, he hits into a lot of double plays, but the kid can flat out hit the ball.  It’s not just his ability to hit the ball either.  Butler has been getting on base to the tune of a .390 OBP which ranks 6th in the American League.  I hear a lot of people bemoan his lack of power, but from day one, I’ve been beating the drum that Billy Butler is a hitter, not a masher.  I think he has the ability to become Tony Gwynn-esque, I don’t think anyone would quibble with that.

Kila Ka’aihue has struggled since being called up from the Minors, but there are indications he is starting to find his way.  He has hits in 7 of his last 9 games.  Since being called up, Kila has 2 more walks (19) than Mike Aviles (17) and is only two shy of the Yunigma (21).  Ned Yost continues to give him time to get acclimated and I believe will do so throughout the 2011 season.  Kila is a cheap player who has a great opportunity to produce in areas the Royals are sorely lacking, OBP and power.  I don’t get it, but there is a segment of Royals fans who seem to get giddy when Kila struggles.  I don’t know if it is some kind of odd desire to see Mike Jacobs come back, or if in Kila they have found some way to channel their anger at people who like the statistical side of baseball.  Either way, it confuses the heck out of me.

Finally, I will continue sending out the Royals Organization Report throughout the Fall.  I’ll be including the Arizona Fall League and the Pan Am Qualifying tournament, so drop me an email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com and I will add you to the list.

Contact Nick Scott via email at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com, via Twitter @brokenbatsingle or via Facebook .  If you would like to receive his daily Royals system boxscores via email, just drop an email and request it.  He will be sending out boxscores for both the Pan Am Games and the Arizona Fall League.

Mike Aviles, apparently, is a hard guy to love.

Back in 2008, the Royals endured 46 starts of Tony Pena Jr. playing historically bad baseball (.169/.189/.209) and even tried Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German at shortstop before, reluctantly, giving Mike Aviles a chance to play.     Four hundred and forty-one plate appearances later, Aviles had fashioned a .325/.354/.480 line for an OPS+ of 121 and a WAR of 4.0 as a 27 year old rookie.   Along the way, Mike had even played good defense, posting a 24.0 UZR/150.

Even after the 2008 campaign, however, there were grumblings that Aviles would certainly regress due to his .357 BABIP and the relatively small sample size of defensive numbers we had to deal with. 

Along cam 2009 and Aviles was awful as he tried to play through an injury that would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery.    His defense was poor and the bat non-existent (.183/.208/.250).  

The Royals were outright mad at Aviles, too, as they felt he had hidden or at least not been completely forthright about his injury.    Apparently, it is okay for a gritty veteran (Jason Kendall) to try to play through an injury and be lauded for his toughness, but another thing entirely for a second year player who had pretty much had to beat down the door to the majors to do the same.

At any rate, Aviles became persona non grata in Royaland.  We found ourselves with Yunieksy Betancourt on the Royals’ roster and saw Alberto Callaspo blossom at the plate in 2009.   Even then, Dayton Moore went out and traded for another middle infielder in Chris Getz during the off-season.   I, like many others, quietly filed Mike Aviles 2008 season away as just ‘one of those moments in time’, soon to be forgotten.

This past spring, however, Aviles was back in camp and hitting a ton.   So much so, that the Royals even took him north for opening day.    He did not play much or hang around long in April before Mike found himself back in Omaha for 17 games.  

However, Aviles soon found himself back in the majors as the Royals had suddenly (perhaps understandably) lost faith in Alex Gordon at third base.    My guess is that had Trey Hillman stayed on as manager, we probably would have seen a lot more of Aviles at shortstop, but not long after Mike arrived back in the majors, Ned Yost came onboard as the new skipper.

Under Yost, the everyday shortstop was Yuniesky Betancourt come hell or high water.   Whether that made sense or not is a subject for another day, but the end result pushed Aviles over to second base:  a position that he had played far less (79 minor league games) than Mike had at short (377) or third (164).

Aviles got off to a hot start and settled in as a regular, albeit not quite everyday, piece of the Royals lineup.   Still, this wasn’t the Mike we had known in 2008.    While he continued to hit for decent average, there was almost no power in his bat.   After going 0-4 on July 20th, Aviles’ OPS slipped below the .700 mark and although he continued to play, Aviles was once more an afterthought among most Royals’ fans.

Worse even than the slipping offensive output, Aviles was simply not a very good second baseman.   He was Alberto Callaspo Part II – and Alberto was an awful defensive second baseman.

For most of the summer I, along with many others, wondered if maybe Aviles was not totally healthy.     Mark Teahen, playing with a bad shoulder, was an awful third baseman.   Having no faith in your arm leads to rushing everything else in the field and suddenly your footwork is off and your hands turn to stone.   Maybe it was mostly hope (given I own an Aviles jersey) that made me believe that so many of Aviles’ troubles were simply a matter of not being fully recovered and playing a basically new position.   Maybe, just maybe, the 2008 Aviles was still in there somewhere.

In August, Aviles hit .305, but did so without hitting a single extra base hit the ENTIRE MONTH.    Even in my mind, Mike had gone from a part of the future to a placeholder until someone, anyone, better came along.  

Then, September came along, and something changed.   The timid 2010 Aviles who, it turned out, really was protecting his shoulder decided to cut it loose.   Starting on September 13th, he homered in four of five games and went has gone on to post a line of .358/.376/.630 for the month.   Sure, it is September, but last time I checked Fausto Carmona, who Aviles took deep yesterday,  pitches in every month of the year.

For the season, Aviles now stands at .307/.335/.414 with an OPS+ of 104 and a WAR of 1.2.   Not bad numbers for a guy who went half the summer as a dink singles hitter.    

Now, you would be right to once more point out that we should not carried away over a player’s hot September.   Ryan Shealy hit seven September home runs not too long ago and where is he now?   No, really, where is he now?

Still, in Aviles, we have a season just two years ago where he was the highest WAR position player in royal blue since Carlos Beltran, so this September has not come out of nowhere.  

We now have seen just under 1,000 career plate appearances from Aviles and even with the putrid, injury plagued numbers of 2009 included, he has a career line of .299/.327/.422 and an OPS+ of 101.    Somewhere around this mark, we have to stop writing off the lucky .355 BABIP in 2008 and the quasi-lucky .328 BABIP of this season.   (David DeJesus has a career BABIP of .322, by the way, so not everyone regresses to the magic number of .300).

Does any of the above make Mike Aviles an All-Star?    No.   Does it mean second base is not a concern for the next four years?  No.   What it does mean, however, is that Mike Aviles should be the second baseman in 2011 and get a decent amount of time at shortstop as well.   Not to beat a dead horse, but Yuniesky Betancourt currently holds a .286 on-base percentage.

Aviles deserves a little love….at least for another year.

Avoiding 100

5 comments

Hooray for 63 wins!

It’s come to this.  A celebration of avoiding 100 losses.

Sigh.

Don’t blame me if I kept the champagne on ice last night.  The Royals have never really been in danger of hitting the century mark this season.  In fact, the Royals will really have to go into the tank if they are to match last season’s total of 65 wins.

For a quick refresher, here are the team winning percentages since Dayton Moore took over:

2007 – .426
2008 – .463
2009 – .401
2010 – .414

For the team to match ’07, they will have to win six of their last ten.  Come on, boys!  Or something.

— Sean O’Sullivan got the “win” (which if you’re spending any time on the baseball internets these days means he pitched a better game yesterday than Felix Hernandez) but wasn’t exactly sharp.  He put the leadoff man on base in five of the seven innings he started and threw a total of 92 pitches in six innings.  His final line:

6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 SO

O’Sullivan was bailed out by an inept Indian offense.  Philip Humber came on in relief and allowed both of his inherited runners to score.  Of course, it would help if Billy Butler could catch a pickoff throw.

— Why did it take 12 days to get Humber some work?  Is it any wonder he struggled to find his rhythm? Of course, he’s not that good to begin with, but still…

— If you’re looking for something to do today, head to Royals Prospects and check out some of the videos Greg uploaded from his recent trips to Northwest Arkansas and Burlington.  Watching guys like Johnny Giavotella and Eric Hosmer, you can’t help but get excited.

— Minda Haas at Royal Blues had an interesting post where she looked at the Royals win to save ratio and found it to be the highest in the majors this season.  I’m not surprised.  The Royals have one of the top three closers in the game in Joakim Soria.  And they have been involved in 55 one-run games, which is the most in baseball.  For awhile, they had the most wins in one-run games, but a late season run of futility has dropped them to fourth – behind the Rays, Twins and Rangers.

— In Dutton’s Friday notes article, he reports the Royals won’t make any changes to their coaching staff with the exception of replacing first base coach Rusty Kuntz who resumed his role as special advisor to the GM for player development.  Following GMDM for the duration of his tenure, this doesn’t come as a shock.  He values loyalty and continuity on his staff.  Obviously, the coaches (particularly the Kevin Seitzer and Bob McClure) haven’t had a ton of talent at their disposal.

Seitzer’s accomplishments this year would include leading the league in total hits and finishing last in strikeouts.  Their 84% contact rate (a percentage of swinging strikes that are either fouled off or put in play) is the best in baseball as well.  On the negative side of the ledger would be the fact Royal batters see an average of 3.73 pitches per plate appearance, which ranks them 26th and their 7.5% walk rate is 27th.

As for McClure, this year has been kind of a disaster.  Kyle Davies and Brian Bannister have been stagnant in their development.  Royals pitchers posted a 1.85 SO/BB ratio, second worst rate in baseball, their team ERA of 5.04 is the highest in the AL and the same goes for their ERA+ of 84.  Looking for positives there were some minor individual success stories… Luke Hochevar was showing improvement before he missed most of the second half of the season with injury.  Kyle Farnsworth improved to the degree GMDM was actually able to get value in a trade.  Bruce Chen became a serviceable starter.

We all know the influx of youth will begin next season and will roll into 2012 and beyond.  GMDM obviously has confidence in his staff and their ability to work with young players.  I’ve seen enough from the pitching and hitting coaches to think they at least deserve a chance. The successes were limited this year because the talent was limited.  This is an area where we will simply have to trust The Process.

Last night, Billy Butler hit his 15th home run of the season  (Yes, they still count September stats in your season totals) and now sports a rather impressive .319/.385/.475 batting line.  That equates to an OPS+ of 134 and, folks, that ain’t bad at all.

As the season has ground on, there has been an undercurrent of ‘maybe we should trade Butler’ talk.   I can understand where such a sentiment might come from, at times I even wonder if trading Butler might be best for the organization.

After all, Billy is not a very good first baseman and probably never will be.   He doesn’t run very well, hit into a lot of double plays and has rather modest power for a first baseman/DH type.     Plus the organization would seem to have a bevy of potential first baseman coming up through the high minors.   Given that Kansas City is two years, if not more, away from seriously contending, it might make sense to move Butler for additional prospects.

Still, the reasons Royals’ fans get annoyed with Butler are not exactly secrets.   Potential trade partners would certainly be happy to highlight Billy’s 30 grounded into double plays this season, his sub-par defensive skills and basic lack of speed.   Would the return be worth losing Billy Butler?  

Recently, I have come around to a different line of thinking.  Now is the time to offer Billy Butler a contract extension and here’s why:

  • Arbitration – Butler is eligible of arbitration this season and, for all his faults, Billy can rather confidently go in front of an arbitrator with two years of well above average hitting on his resume.   I don’t know what the likely award might be, but a guy with back to back years of OPS+ of 125 and 134, who plays everyday is going to get paid.  
  • Timing – As good as Butler has hit, the Royals can make the case that while he may be one of the 15 best hitters in baseball under the age of 25, Billy is probably not in the top five.   Sure, the organization could use that as ammunition in an arbitration hearing or they could use it to negotiate a favorable long-term deal.   After all, the best hitter in Butler’s age group, Evan Longoria signed a six year/$17.5 million deal a couple of years back.   Why not offer Billy twice what Longoria makes for the next four years or so?
  • There is No Logjam – Until Kila Ka’aihue, Eric Hosmer or Clint Robinson actually starts raking against major league pitching, the Royals do not have a logjam at first base/designated hitter.   Right now, they have ONE proven hitter there and his name is Billy Butler.
  • He IS Getting Better – After hitting 51 doubles and 20 home runs in 2009, a lot of fans are of the opinion that Butler has regressed this season.   Sure, he has just 41 doubles and 15 home runs, but Billy has raised his on-base percentage by over twenty points.    He is walking a little more (61 currently vs. 58 last season) and striking out a lot less (67 times this season vs. 103 a year ago).   All this, and Billy will not turn twenty-five until next April.
  • How Much Would You Pay for the Next John Olerud - Now, before you answer that, click on the name for the  link to Baseball Reference.    Olerud played 17 season in the majors, and only once failed to post an OPS+ above 100.   In fact, only twice (his last two seasons) did Olerud not top an OPS+ of 110.    In 1993, Olerud hit .363/.473/.599 and just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he then hit .354/.447/.551 in 1998.   For his career, Olerud hit .295/.398/.465 with 500 doubles and 225 home runs.   He won’t make the Hall of Fame, but John Olerud would have been one of the top two hitters on virtually an Royals’ team in recent history.    Right now, one of Butler’s closest comparables is John Olerud and he probably has a chance to be better than Olerud over the long-term (perhaps minus those two huge seasons outlined above).

Early on in his career, the Royals seemed to have some concern over Billy’s motivation and professionalism, but those issues seem to have gone away.   Over the past two seasons, we have witnessed a player who works and plays hard.   One thing you can say about Billy is that, while he does not run fast, he does run hard – that’s worth something.    

Above everything else, Billy Butler is a professional hitter on a team full of hacksters.   Can you readily name me a pitch or location that routinely gets Butler out?   I can’t, but I can pretty much name one for every other hitter in the lineup (including David DeJesus – the other professional hitter on the roster).

Now is the time, I think, for the Royals to enter into negotiations to lock up Butler to a fair, but reasonable long-term deal.   Something along the lines of four years and $26 million might get the job done.   

To me, that sounds like a heck of a deal.

Episode #032 – In this episode Nick welcomes Adam back to the studio to talk about reasons to continue watching the Royals this season. They talk about some of the Minor League accolades to players like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, a hot Mike Aviles, good beer and whatever else seems to pop in their heads.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs032.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Adam on Twitter @kccommi

Music used in this podcast:

Hank Williams III – 3 Shades of Black

Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay

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Prepare yourself… The Hot Stove hasn’t even been loaded with wood and the rumors are starting to percolate.  Newsday’s Ken Davidoff ran a column this week highlighting three “big” names who could be dealt this winter.  The three:

Carlos Beltran
Matt Kemp
Zack Greinke

With the money quote on our man, Greinke:

The Royals aren’t positive they’ll be highly competitive by 2012, so they would be open to a good offer for him, a person familiar with their thinking said. Plenty of teams — the Yankees, Texas, Detroit, maybe even Washington — would be interested.

Deconstructing this quote, the source is “a person familiar with their thinking.”  Hmmm… not exactly a heavy hitter there.  This means the source could be a fellow writer, just bantering in the press box between innings.  Or maybe a radio or TV guy, with whom he had a pregame meal.  You know what… I write a Royals blog and I’m pretty familiar with how the Royals operate…

I’ll go on record now: I’m not the source.

I suppose given the way he was identified, I could be.  And so could any number of us.

Still, the point isn’t to discount what was in Davidoff’s article.  The point is Greinke’s name will begin popping on these “rumor” reports from now until he either: a) actually gets traded, b) leaves as a free agent after 2012, or c) signs an extension.

Besides, Davidoff missed the best fit for everyone involved:  Tampa.  It’s perfect for Greinke because he gets to play for a winning organization in a low-pressure (have you seen those attendance figures?) environment and is close to home.  It’s perfect for the Royals because the Rays have the prospects to package in a deal.  And it’s perfect for Tampa as it would make their rotation the best in baseball.

Anyway, just be prepared.  The Greinke rumor mill is just now firing up.  There’s going to be a ton of talk on this topic over the next 12 to 24 months.

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The whole “Billy Butler Series Streak” extravaganza has me completely captivated not interested.  Butler is a good hitter.  We all know that.  Over the last two seasons (where the Royals have left him alone and hit him mostly in the third spot in the order) he’s put up a combined line of .308/.373/.481 with an OPS+ of 129.  His offensive WAR for those two seasons is a total of 6.4.  I mean, it’s impossible to break new ground here… Butler is a solid – if unspectacular – major league hitter.

As such, we should probably expect him to get at least one hit in every series.  At least. In an average three game set, hitting third Butler will come to the plate somewhere between 12 and 15 times.  This year, he’s walking about 10% of the time and he’s also striking out about 10% of the time.  He’s making contact in around 80% of his plate appearances.  So in a typical series where he has 12 plate appearances, he’s putting the ball in play in close to 10 of those PAs.  Since the dude is a .300 hitter, if everything played to averages he would collect three hits in those 10 at bats.

What this streak says is Butler is a consistent hitter.  He doesn’t go through a prolonged slump.  Check his monthly splits for 2010.  May was a very good month and July wasn’t so great.  Neither were exceptional months, though.

So he’s hit in 100 consecutive series.  The last series where he didn’t get a base hit was the opening series of 2009 against the White Sox.  If he has any sense of baseball history, he should stop now…  Because we love round numbers.

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Would you be surprised to learn that according to Defensive Efficiency, the Royals are the worst defensive team in the American League?  They are just one-hundredth of a point away of knocking Pittsburgh out of the cellar.

It’s a total team effort.  The worst fielders according to Baseball Reference’s Runs from Fielding metric are:

Wilson Betemit -10
Mike Aviles -8
Rick Ankiel -6
Yunigma -4

John Dewan’s +/- system is a little kinder to Aviles and Ankiel.  They both score a 0 defensively.  Betemit is a -14 and The Yunigma is a -18.  UZR is similarly unkind to our shortstop and third baseman.  Betancourt ranks the worst starting SS in the AL and Betemit is the second worst 3B according to UZR.

I know there are a ton of quibbles with defensive metrics, but I just presented three of them that all say the same thing – the left side of the Royals infield is the worst defensively in baseball.   And it’s not even close.

Certainly, the Royals team defense took a loss when David DeJesus got injured a couple of months ago, but the moves Dayton Moore made to allegedly improve the glove work mostly fell flat.  Scott Podsednik was worse than even I imagined in the outfield, taking bizarre routes and looking a few steps too slow in reacting.  Chris Getz may be a good defender, but his bat prevented him from ever gaining much traction prior to his concussion.  Ankiel was predictably awful and we never got to see much of Fields. (Although from what limited play I’ve seen, I’m not impressed.)

Here’s what GMDM had to say before camp opened way back in February:

“I love the moves that we’ve made this offseason.  We wanted to get more athletic, and we wanted more team speed and guys who could play better defense.”

The only place where the Royals have a positive UZR is first base.  First base!  If I had told you that last winter, you would have laughed.  However, Butler has made himself into an awkward, yet serviceable first baseman and Kila Ka’aihue looks decent enough with the glove.

The Royals will probably attempt to dress this pig up as they are prone to do from time to time.  Last year, the Royals allowed 77 unearned runs to score.  This year, they’ve allowed 49 unearned runs to score.  But really, is that the best way to measure defense?  (Rhetorical question… The answer is NO.)

The Royals entered the off season with a stated desire to get better defensively.  They didn’t.  And given who they brought into this team, the front office shouldn’t be surprised.  This whole things reminds me of the time when GMDM said he was going to place an emphasis on OBP and then acquired Mike Jacobs and Miguel Olivo.

While we still look forward to Project 2012 and the eventual influx of young talent from the minor leagues, the Royals continue to fail at evaluating major league talent.  Going forward, this will continue to be a concern.

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