Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

On Monday it was announced that speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson (Juh- ROD)  had been promoted to the Kansas City Royals.  I’ve been a big fan of Dyson since I saw him play for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals  a couple of times last year.  His primary talent seems to be his defense, where he utilizes his super-human speed to track down fly balls from center field.  However, it isn’t just his speed that makes him a solid defender, he has great instincts and takes fantastic routes to fly balls.   I’ve seen enough of guys like Joey Gathright in the outfield, who have superior speed but don’t have the skills to make proper use of it.  Dyson, from what I’ve seen and what other scouts have said does take advantage.

Before the season started, I pegged Dyson as a candidate for a mid-season promotion, however a couple of  injuries limited him to 71 games in the minors this year, mostly at AAA.  He is 25, which is still young enough to develop, however he has notoriously been a slow mover through the minors.

Dyson was selected in the 50th and final round of the 2006 draft out of Southwest Mississippi Community College.  If  he gets in a game he will be the first player from that round of the 2006 draft to log time at the MLB level.  He was selected 1,475th overall and will be the first player in Major League history to get an AB, drafted at that point.  He will also be the first player in Royals history drafted in the 50th round to get Major League playing time.

Dyson might instantly become the fastest player in the majors, but he will need to find a bat to make an impact.  The Royals seem to be loaded with 4th and 5th outfielder types, and unless something changes that will be Jarrod’s destiny.  In five Minor League seasons, Dysons slash line is .278/.344/.343.  In fact, he only hit his first homerun in professional baseball this year.  Dyson doesn’t need to bang 25 homers to be a productive player, however at his age, a season with 10 or more would be encouraging.  I think his upside is someone like Coco Crisp, however Crisp broke into the majors at a younger age and was producing double digit homerun seasons.

There is a lot of talk around baseball that speed and defense are coming into vogue over power.  I don’t know if that is completely true, but I can assure you that teams still would prefer as much power as possible, and will sacrifice speed to get it.  I am extremely excited to see a burner like Dyson get a shot at the Major League level.  At the very least, it provides one of those unique baseball moments where we get to see a player get his first plate appearance and his first hit.  Jarrod Dyson has a great set of unique tools, but it is his weakest one, his bat, which will make or break him.

Very few of us probably consider the Texas Rangers a model franchise.    Chances are, as Royals’ fans, we would be more likely to lump Texas in with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels than to put them in with teams such as the Rays or Twins:  teams that we often look to for a blueprint as to how to make the Royals competitive.

What struck me during the recently completed three game set against the Rangers was how the heart of their very formidable lineup was actually assembled.    Would it surprise you to know that Michael Young is the only key player (I’m ignoring Jeff Franceour and Cristian Guzman because I want to) in that batting lineup that is making more money than David DeJesus?   Or that only Vlad Guerrero is really the only high profile free agent acquisition?  

Let’s start in the infield where the Rangers struck gold with a 17th round pick in the 2003 draft named Ian Kinsler.   He’s been hurt some this year and hence subjected Royals’ fans to seeing Andres Blanco go 6 for 12, but he is an undeniable talent when healthy.   He made his debut with the Rangers just three years after being drafted and has locked down the everyday second base job ever since.

Across the diamond is veteran Michael Young.   He was acquire way back in July of 200 in exchange for Esteban Loaiza.   At the time, Young was hitting .275/.340/.426 in AA, which was the worst line of his then three and one-half year minor league career.   Loaiza was a 6th year pitcher with a then career ERA of 4.72 and WHIP of 1.445.   If you could trade Brian Bannister for a AA middle infielder would you do it?   That is basically what Texas did back in 2000 and while Young may not quite justify his now $16 million salary, this was still a great trade.

Young played second base his first year up in 2001, but eventually moved to shortstop until just two years ago.   I bring that up to point out that despite having Young at short, the Rangers had no problem acquiring Elvis Andrus in July of 2007.

That, of course, was the year that Texas traded Mark Teixeira – their franchise player and former first round draft pick – to Atlanta for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.    (Ron Mahay also went with Teixeira to Atlanta as part of that deal).    Essentially, trading Teixeira was the Rangers’ equivalent deal to the Royals trading Carlos Beltran.

What is different about that is that Rangers went and got the best talent they could, regardless of what they might have needed on the big league level.   Instead of saying we have to have a catcher and a third baseman (sorry, Allard Baird), the Rangers got talent and sorted the rest out later.    Keep in mind, besides Young in the majors, Texas also had Joaquin Arias playing shortstop in the minors.   At the time, Arias was a highly thought of prospect as well.

Andrus was rated by Baseball America as the #65 prospect in baseball and ended up at #18 by the next season.   He was hitting .244/.330/.335 in High A that July and the Rangers would have to wait until 2009 before reaping the real benefits of this trade.      He alone might have made this deal worthwhile, but the Rangers also got a closer in Feliz and another potential starter in Harrison.

Of course, the first base picture is pretty cloudy for the Rangers right now as they traded Justin Smoak as part of the Cliff Lee deal.   It is an interesting thought to ponder, but if the Royals has somehow been in contention this season, would you have entertained trading Eric Hosmer as the centerpiece of an acquisiton of Lee? 

The outfield presents some even more interesting trades:  first and foremost being Josh Hamilton.

We all know the Hamilton story, former number one overall who was eventually drummed out of baseball, resurrected his personal life and eventually was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Cubs in 2006.   Hamilton was immediately sold by the Cubs to the Reds for whom he posted a .292/.368/.554 line over 90 games during the 2007 season.  

On December 21, 2007, the Rangers traded Edison Volquez (their #3 rated prospect and #56 overall in baseball) along with AA reliever Danny Herrera to the Reds in exchange for Hamilton.   That was a risky move, given Hamilton’s personal problems and injury issues.   It was especially dicey given that Volquez had struck out 166 hitters in 144 minor league innings spread across three levels the previous summer.   For lack of a better comparison, the Rangers basically gave up their Mike Montgomery and, say, Louis Coleman for Hamilton.

Another trade acquisition in the outfield is Nelson Cruz.   Back in 2006, he came to the Rangers along with Carlos Lee in exchange for Julian Cordero, Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix and Francisco Cordero.    Cordero (Francisco, not Julian) was in the midst of an off-season, but had saved 86 games the two season prior to 2006.    Mench and Nix were, well, Mench and Nix.

For his part, Cruz had posted very good minor league numbers prior to this trade and then huge AAA numbers afterwards.   He struggled in the majors and was, at one point, taken off the Rangers 40 man roster – a missed opportunity that haunts me to this day (I really, really did think the Royals should have made a move back then).   While Lee gave the Rangers a nice half season before leaving via free agency, Texas really didn’t realize the bounty of this trade until Cruz hit 33 home runs last year and has followed up with a .943 OPS so far in 2010.

Now, Joakim Soria is better than Cordero was or is, not to mention younger and farther from free agency than Francisco was at the time, but this is a ‘closer’ trade.   We would all want more than Nelson Cruz and half a season of Lee in return for Soria, but the Rangers’ willingness to entertain offers is valid learning point for the Royals’ organization.

The final piece of the puzzle is either Julio Borbon (1st round draft pick) or David Murphy.   I bring up Murphy because he was acquired by the Rangers in what I would call their ‘Octavio Dotel deal’.  

You might remember that prior to the 2007 season, the Rangers signed Eric Gagne.   After being THE dominant closer in the majors, Gagne had managed to toss a grand total of just 15 innings in 2005 and 2006 combined.   Much as the Royals did with Dotel for half a season, the Rangers babied Gagne through a very effective 33 innings of work (29K, 23 hits, 2.16 ERA) and then traded him at the deadline to Boston for Murphy, Engel Beltre and Kason Gabbard.

At the time, Murphy had a five year minor league line of .273/.343/.407 and was in his second year of AAA ball.   He has since compiled a decent major league line of .278/.338/.456.   Essentially, Murphy is better than Mitch Maier, but not quite as good as David DeJesus (although you could make the case that he is pretty close to David).

Gabbard at one time looked like a guy who might be a decent major league starter and Beltre is still in AA, sporting all sorts of potential and not a whole lot of actual production.   Of course, Gagne imploded for the Red Sox, so the Rangers won that deal solely on a Gagne for Murphy level.

On Tuesday, Nick posted a column on Kyle Davies that sparked some excellent debate and I don’t quite know how to equate Dotel for Davies versus Gagne for Murphy.   They are certainly very similar deals.

Through this entire dissertation, I am not intending to point out how the Royals might have botched deals, but simply how the Rangers built one of the better batting orders in the league.   They did it via the draft, via the trade of their franchise player (who they acquired via the draft), and by trading their own prospects and by acquiring prospects from other teams.

Sure, along the way the Rangers have spent tons of money on free agents, but in the end, they have a powerful lineup that any team in baseball could afford.   Am I advocating trading Mike Montgomery, Eric Hosmer and Joakim Soria?  Not really. 

Instead, I am just pointing out that while we look longingly at the Rays and the Twins, it might not hurt to survey the Texas Rangers as well.   

And yes, I would trade Mike Montgomery for a shot at the next Josh Hamilton.

So Jason Kendall has been playing the last month and a half with a shredded rotator cuff.  Didn’t notice.

It’s not like his power disappeared.  He didn’t have power to start.  It’s not like he stopped hitting line drives.  He wasn’t doing that before.

So he’s off to have surgery and the normal recovery time is 8 to 10 months.  Except Kendall is super human.  From Ned Yost:

“We hope to have him back by the spring… And have him ready for Opening Day.”

Uh… Are we on the Mayan calendar?  Because by my calendar, spring training opens in  five and a half months.  The 2011 season starts in seven months.  Recovery is 8 to 10 months, right?

Kendall is 36 years old.  He’s caught a ton of games in his career.  He is having major surgery to repair his shoulder.  There’s something to be said for optimism, but in Kendall’s case perhaps we should err on the side of a longer recovery.  The flip side is Kendall is the toughest ballplayer ever whose tolerance for pain is off the charts.


“It shows you the mentality and mental makeup of Jason Kendall.  He would have played the rest of the year if the training staff hadn’t hog tied him and made him have an MRI.”

This “gamer” mentality can be nice.  It can also be insane.

Kendall isn’t a good player under the best of circumstances.  There’s no way he should be starting half the games for the Royals, even when he’s at 100%, health-wise.  Still, his last 33 games (since suffering the injury) have been abysmal – even by our low standards.  Since July 18, Kendall has come to the plate 141 times and posted a line of .224/.281/.248 with just three extra base hits.  (All doubles… But you already knew that.)

When you have a player who is below average to start, who then suffers an injury that hampers his performance to the extent he becomes worse…  Yet continues to play…  That’s not being a “gamer.”  That’s being selfish.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Kendall caught his 2,000 career game after his injury.  It’s not a stretch to arrive at the conclusion that he hid his injury so he could become the fifth catcher in history to mark this milestone.  Players tend to hang on for these kind of “achievements,” you know.

(Quick aside: I imagine it would be extremely difficult to spend your entire life playing baseball, being so close to a milestone such as this and walking away.  Human nature.  As much as I’d like to blame Kendall for sticking around too long, there’s always an enabler in a situation like this.  GMDM bears much of the blame for signing Kendall and putting his team in a situation that is detrimental to their performance.  Plus, two years?  Thud.   Yost, too for playing him every single day.)

Fun Kendall fact:  The opposition attempted 142 steals against him this year.  The second place catcher has had 104 attempted steals against this year.  Part of that is due to the fact Kendall apparently is the only catcher on the Royals roster.  And part of that is due to the fact teams believe they can run on Kendall.  What surprises me is that Kendall has a 29% success rate.  That’s pretty good, actually.  It’s a little better than league average.  And it’s exactly the same as John Buck – who if you remember allegedly has a weak throwing arm.

You know how Yost likes to go on about how Kendall does the “little things” on offense?  Little things meaning situational hitting?  Chew on this:  Jason Kendall has 490 plate appearances this year for the Royals.  He’s come up with a total of 298 runners on base.  The average major leaguer with 490 plate appearances has come up with 304 runners on this year.  (Stick with me… The Royals team OBP is .329 this year – mostly due to their inflated batting average.  That’s eighth in the AL.  And exactly league average.)

So Kendall has hit with roughly the league average of base runners on ahead of him.  Now for the “little things.”  In this situation the average major leaguer has driven in 54 of those runners.  That’s 17.8%.  Kendall has brought home only 37 of those runners.  That’s 12.4%.  The difference between the two rates is significant.

Although – and I imagine this is what excites Yost – Kendall has driven home 16 of the 22 runners when he has hit with a runner on third and less than two outs.  Remember how Mike Jacobs was hopeless last year in that situation?  He scored just nine of 32 runners from third with less than two outs for the Royals in 2009.  That was a 28% success rate.  Kendall is at 72% for 2010.  It’s nice.  And it’s a huge difference.  But for some reason, I always think the Royals tend to fixate on things like this and lose sight of the big picture. They plug one leak, and then are oblivious to the other five leaks that suddenly spring from their “fix.”

Certainly the “little things” isn’t just about bringing home runners.  It’s about moving those runners, too.  Kendall has seven sac flies – second most on the team. (OK, that’s about bringing runners home.) He also has six sacrifice bunts – again, second most on the team.  Yost loves the “little things.”

So now what?  According to Yost, “We get to see Brayan Pena.”

Six words.  Yet, I’m so annoyed.  Hey, Yost!  You had the last three and a half months to “see” Pena.  He’s that guy who’s picking splinters out of his butt because all he does is sit on the bench.

I don’t want to celebrate an injury, but this is a good thing for the Royals because it forces the team to evaluate their in house catching options.  Pena will get some reps, as will Lucas May in the season’s final month.  They will probably get the first look next year, as the Royals don’t really have the budget to find another catcher in free agency.  I think the Royals hands are kind of tied in this situation where they have to play Pena and May.  This is time they would not have received if Kendall was available.

May projects to be a platoon candidate.  He hit .379/.406/.828 against lefties while playing for Omaha and has a career line of of .292/.347/.535 versus the southpaws.  Meanwhile he posted a line of .226/.342/.371 this year in Omaha and has a career line of .249/.311/.409 against right-handers.  It’s a good platoon situation for the Royals as Pena – although he’s a switch hitter – bats better against right-handed pitching.

If Yost figures this out, the catcher position just got better.

Tuesday’s game was almost as epic as the Royals-Rangers tilt back on May 6.  You know… The game officially known as “The Last Time Joakim Soria Blew a Save.”

Yunigma Update

Yuniesky Betancourt walked twice last night.  That’s happened only eight times in his career.  (He’s never walked three times in a game.)  The last time he walked twice in a game?  Try May 6 against the Rangers.

Please remember, Yuni is not the team leader in home runs.  Jose Guillen is still two ahead of the Yunigma.  However, Yuni is tied with Billy Butler for the team lead in RBI… If you’re into that sort of thing.

Feast or Famine With Alex Gordon

Typical night for Gordon.  At least it felt that way.  A single and a double against Cliff Lee drove in a total of three runs.  That was good… Then he struck out three times, twice looking.  That was bad.

You know my stance on strikeouts – they’re just another out – but those looking, called third strikes are beginning to try my patience.  We’ve been over this before… Oftentimes, Gordon doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.  Reputations are difficult to shake and he certainly has the reputation of a complainer… At least at the plate.  Of all of Gordon’s third strikes, 36% of happen when the bat doesn’t leave his shoulder.  That’s a high percentage.  Major league average this season is 25%.

Plus, who is he?  Nobody outside of Nebraska and Kansas City gives a damn about Alex Gordon.  Not now, anyway.  So when you’re up against a pitcher like Cliff Lee and you have two strikes on you, you damn well better expand that zone.

Of course, I’m probably picking the wrong time to go off on a “swing the bat, meat” tangent.  Both his called third strikes on Tuesday were against left handed pitching.  And he certainly showed what he could do against Lee, ripping a couple of hits.  Go back to his at bat against Lee in the fifth.  Two outs, two runners on and Lee tries to get him to chase a couple of cutters out of the zone and falls behind 2-0.   Lee is struggling to get out of the inning, so he’s not going to screw around.  Everyone knows this… And Gordon takes a strike down the heart of the plate.  My first reaction was, I couldn’t believe that Gordon didn’t take a rip at that pitch.  Typical Gordon… Missing his pitch in a hitter’s count.

These are situations he has to take advantage of if he’s going to be successful.  When pitchers jump ahead of Gordon with the first strike, he’s hitting .138/.198/.150.

Then I thought Lee wouldn’t want to fall behind 3-1, so I figured Gordon would get another pitch to handle.  He did – a fastball, belt high and on the outer half of the plate.  Gordon really turned on the pitch and ripped it for a two-run double.

So maybe he knows what he’s doing after all…

I’m still rooting for Gordon.  Probably more than anyone on this team.  (And probably because I HAVE to.  Gordon’s success means this franchise moves up the MLB food chain a notch or two.)  So it was a typically crazy night… A couple of hits and a handful of strikeouts.  Just another day in the development.

Yosting the Bullpen

Chew on this for a moment…

— Joakim Soria is having another dominating season.
— After a rough April (and a stint on the DL) Robinson Tejeda has been awesome.
— Kyle Farnsworth had an excellent season for the Royals.
— The Royals bullpen ERA is 4.64 – worst in the AL.

How is that remotely possible?

Step forward Jesse Chavez.  Take a bow Victor Marte.  Is that Brad Thompson in the corner?  Hey, there’s Josh Rupe.  Has anyone seen Luis Mendoza?

It’s really difficult to believe the Royals got solid seasons from three relievers, but the rest of the bullpen has been so putrid, it’s pulled the collective reliever ERA into the abyss.

I know the Royals won last night and I know at this point in the season we’re looking at the “young” guys, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to hang seven runs on Cliff Lee and then see Chavez cough up a lead in 16 pitches.  Followed by a Blake Wood escape act in the eighth when he got Vladimir The Royal Killer to ground out with the bases loaded.

On Wilson Betemit

I know a couple of weeks ago, Fangraphs speculated that Betemit may price himself out of Kansas City on the back of a strong finish.  I suppose anything is possible, but seriously… The notion that Betemit will break the Royals bank (or stretch the budget) is laughable.

He joined this team on a minor league contract last November.  A minor league contract… It wasn’t even a split contract, promising a certain amount if he got called up.  According to Cot’s, the most he’s ever made in a season is $1.3 million back in 2009.  That contract was really just a carryover from the $1.165 million he made in his first year of arbitration eligibility.  At that point, he had been a semi-regular for three years.

The point is, his last two contracts (before signing with the Royals) were reasonable, given his playing time, production and economics of the time.

He will certainly stand to make more than his $1.3 million.  However, we’re talking about a guy who will have less than 350 plate appearances and wasn’t a regular until the team jettisoned Alberto Callaspo at the end of July.  I figure he’ll earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.  And that’s my guess at an absolute ceiling.  I know outsiders think of our team as cash poor, but that’s an acceptable contract.

Of course, there’s the other issue:  Mike Moustakas.  Hey, did you hear about his three home run, 11 RBI game?  Of course you did.  (Great game… Largely irrelevant in the big picture.  It’s simply the cherry on top of the sundae that is his outstanding season.)

Does signing Wilson Betemit for next season block the promotion of Moustakas?

I don’t think it does.

Moustakas needs to open the 2011 season in Triple-A.  For two reasons.  One, the Royals need to make sure he picks up where he finished.  This, in my mind, is a huge deal.  We know he’s been raking all season, but the Royals need to make sure he remains sharp during the off season.  (Rumors of him playing in the Dominican League are encouraging.)  I’m not going to draw parallels between Moose and Gordon on the “rush a prospect” front… Every player is different.  However, if the Royals are serious about this batch of prospects and aiming for 2014, they need to make absolutely certain Moustakas is ready.

Second, (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) is they need to take advantage of his service time.  If this kid is truly this good, I’ll gladly take a half year of his production in 2011 in exchange for at least six full seasons.  I’ve always kind of laughed at this kind of roster manipulation, but other teams are doing it.  The Royals need to join this parade.

And that means no September call-up.  I’m fine with that.  Have him finish the season with Omaha, take some time to recharge and then play some winter ball.  Sounds like a plan.

Back to Betemit… If the Royals follow this plan, they’ll need him to return.  That takes the pressure off of everyone involved.  Then, if Moose is abusing Triple-A pitching through the first three months of 2011, the Royals can flip Betemit and we can begin the new era.

It will be worth the wait.

Craig Brown got a nice shout-out in the Kansas City Star for coming up with the nickname Yunigma for Yuniesky Betancourt, but while the nickname works, he isn’t the biggest mystery on the team. That award belongs to Kyle Davies. Just when I am about to write him off, he comes out and does something like last night and throw an absolute gem against a very good offensive team like the Texas Rangers.*

*Speaking of performances last night.  Mike Moustakas went 4 for 6 with a double,3 homeruns and 11 RBI last night for the Omaha Royals.  All this came in AAA after he was named the Texas League Player of the year in AA.

I spent a few hours in a car with some fellow Royals fans this weekend and inevitably the topic turned to baseball, and specifically which players on the team were any good. One argument that got discussed was whether Kyle Davies should be a starter for the Royals next year.  Honestly, I have that debate with myself, so I can’t really argue strenuously that he should be part of the 2011 Royals rotation. However, I believe that he is better than he gets credit for.

The main argument I hear against Kyle Davies is that he has a high ERA, which is true. He currently has a 5.29 ERA which is certainly nothing to write home about. If that were all the information you had at hand, it would be pretty simple to just dismiss Kyle Davies, luckily that isn’t all we have. ERA can be a nice guide to tell you how well a pitcher has pitched, but it can easily be skewed.

One way to judge a metric is to take some extreme examples. Let’s say a pitcher had two 9 inning games and gave up 0 runs in game 1, but gave up 100 runs in game two. His ERA would then be 50. If another pitcher gave up 50 runs in game 1 and 50 runs in game 2, then he would also have an ERA of 50. If I had to pick one of those pitchers and live with his two games, I’d take the first pitcher every time. There is no way a team could win with a 50 run deficit, but give me 9 innings of 0 runs and my team would have a chance. Clearly its an extreme example, but it should illustrate the point. Since ERA is by definition a stat based around an average, a few outliers can really skew the results.

Looking back at Kyle Davies starts this season he has had a few big blowup starts, or as Rob Neyer would call them “disaster starts”.  I wondered what would happen if we started removing his disaster starts.  How much effect do a few starts have on the ERA of someone like Kyle Davies?

His worst start came on May 6th against the Texas Rangers, when he gave up 7 earned runs in 3 innings pitched. If we take that game out of his numbers, his ERA drops to 4.82. Removing just one extremely bad start and almost a half run drops off of his ERA. The Royals ended up losing that game 13-12, so even though Davies had a terrible start the team was still given an opportunity to win.

Davies’ second worst start game on August 24th against the Detroit Tigers.  He once again gave up 7 earned runs, but lasted 4.2 innings. If we were to drop that start and the previous one from his numbers, his ERA drops to 4.53.  The Royals ended up losing this game as well by a score of 9-1.  The Royals offense never came alive in this game, so unless Davies pitched a complete game shutout, they were still likely going to lose this game.

Getting rid of just one more start; June 15th against the Houston Astros which was 3 innings 6 earned runs, then his ERA would be 4.24.  The Royals actually ended up winning this game 15-7.  So, not only did Davies have a complete disaster start, it actually didn’t even hurt the team.  The offense showed up and carried the day.

I know that the numbers are what they are and you can’t just magically drop numbers, but I think this is pretty instructive. If Kyle Davies were a pitcher with a 4.23 ERA, he would be considered a very valuable asset, particularly at only 26 years old. So in an odd way, I think that we may be judging Kyle Davies on three particularly terrible starts. What is crazy about those three starts is that the Royals won one, lost by only 1 run in another and didn’t have a chance in a third.

ERA is a funny stat.  It’s actually one of the better “traditional” stats, so it doesn’t get torn down as hard and often as RBI or Wins.  That in turn, means more emphasis is probably put on it than it should.  With any average stat, particularly one where its possible for the player to have an outing of infinity, things can get skewed.  One bad inning or one bad game can really change peoples perception of a player.  One of the big knocks on Kyle Davies is he needs to be more consistent and I would agree with that.  However, I think we just might be judging Davies a tad too harshly based on three games out of the twenty six in which he has started.

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.

High school football kicked into gear this past weekend.   With college and the NFL just around the corner, the amount of Royals’ talk in the Midwest will plummet to somewhere close to non-existent.    That is a simple fact of life for a franchise that has enjoyed exactly one winning season – let’s clarify, even threatened one winning season – since the strike of 1994.

That said, it was nice to see Bruce Chen pick up the win yesterday in Cleveland and even nicer to see Blake Wood strike out the side (sign of things to come or just ‘one of those days’?) .   In the grand scheme of things, however, I cannot honestly say that the Cleveland series captured much of my attention this weekend.   What interest it did generate all was in regard to next season.

I touched on next year’s roster last week in (and probably in 75% of my columns since the trade deadline) and at that time established the following ‘known facts’ about the 2011 Royals:

  • Zack Greinke will be in the starting rotation.
  • Joakim Soria will be the closer.
  • Robinson Tejeda will be in the bullpen.
  • Jason Kendall will catch.
  • Billy Butler will either be the first baseman or designated hitter.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt will be the shortstop.

That is six spots filled for next year’s 25 man roster.    I think the probability that the Royals pick up David DeJesus’ option for 2011 is somewhere north of 90%, so we can add him to the list and call it seven roster spots filled.  Yesterday’s start, in all likelihood, made Bruce Chen player number eight.    

Without question, if the season started today, Chen would be your day two starter.   Hopefully by the time 2011 actually rolls around, Chen is somewhere down at day four or five, but he almost certainly will be in the rotation.  

Now, we can and will speculate about the other positions, but no one has locked in a spot, yet.    Frankly, when you look at all the other positions and the playing time being given, my money is that Gregor Blanco probably is closer to getting the nod for a 2011 Opening Day start than anyone else.

Since August 1st, Blanco has started 23 of 26 games in centerfield, leading off in the last 20 of those starts.     He has gotten on base at least once in all but four games on his way to posting a .270/.347/.348 line.   That is good for just a .695 OPS or 92 OPS+.     Just for comparison sake (and to be a little snarky), Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS+ of 91 and is the darling of, if not the casual fan, certainly the Royals’ PR department.

Prior to getting caught stealing and picked off yesterday, Blanco had shown some ability on the basepaths (9 steals) and good defense.   I am not sure that Gregor is a premier defensive centerfielder, but he is certainly capable of covering the position.   Perhaps most importantly to the Royals, Blanco is under team control and not eligible for arbitration until 2012.

Two years ago, Blanco played n 144 games for the Braves and posted a rather anemic line of .251/.366/.309 (OPS+82).   He played very little in the majors in 2009, but was carrying an OPS+ of 107 in 66 plate appearances with Atlanta prior to being traded this summer.   Combining both teams’ numbers, Blanco carries an OPS+ of 98 this season (.286/.365/.354).

Blanco’s competition, assuming no off-season acquisitions, for the centerfield job is Mitch Maier.   Mitch is likely not eligible for arbitration until after next season as well.   Over 366 plate appearances this year, Maier has an OPS+ of 95 (.256/.327/.384).    He has shown more power this year than he did in a similar number of at-bats in 2009 when he went .243/.333/.331.    For his career, Maier does not have all that great a platoon split, but struggles against left-handed starters (who doesn’t?).

The organization has spent a lot of energy the last three years acquiring speedy outfield types to make one believe they don’t really want to play Maier everyday anywhere.   At best, the Royals view Maier as a fourth outfielder type who can competently fill in at all three spots and not embarrass himself at the plate.    At this point, I don’t disagree with the club’s assessment.

After trying everyone named Anderson in an effort to find someone different than Maier (and DeJesus for that matter as well), only to end up with players inferior to Mitch, the Royals have at least managed to find a player in Blanco who is different from Maier and, at least, not any worse.  

Given the state of the position within the organization – if you think Blanco is another Joey Gathright, what do you think AAA centerfielder Jarrod Dyson will be? – it almost has to be Blanco or Maier in center for at least the first half of 2011.   Knowing that the current Royals’ regime is fascinated/obsessed with having a ‘true lead-off hitter’, it seems almost certain that Gregor Blanco is likely to occupy the same position and location in the batting order in 2011 as he has for most of this August.

If the Royals were just a player away from contention, I would advocate (and have in the past) going outside the organization for player to man centerfield.  As it stands right now, however, they might best be served to stand pat in center with Blanco spelled by Maier.

It may not be very exciting and, frankly, it may not be very good, but you can pretty much make Gregor Blanco player number nine on your 2011 Kansas City Royals.

This weekend’s tilt in Cleveland has become a pivotal series in the battle for fourth in the AL Central.  Win two of three and the Royals will extend their lead to four games with about a month remaining.  If the Royals somehow stumble and get swept, the two teams will be tied and then it’s game on.  With 10 games remaining between this pair between now and the end of the regular season, this promises to be quite heated.

Hooray, made up races for position in the standings!


It won’t help the Royals cause that it appears Billy Butler may sit for the entire Cleveland series.  Butler has inflammation in his right hand, which the Royals believe has affected his swing and limited his power.  Perhaps.  Apparently, he’s been bothered for the last month or so, but his power has been on walkabout since the start of July.   His ISO over his last 200 plate appearances is .126 compared to a .158 ISO in his first 337 plate appearances of the season.

There’s been a ton of talk about Butler’s lack of power development, and it’s talk that’s justified.  Here’s a graph of his ISO covering his four year career.  We all know his bump last season was very real… A hearty increase in both doubles and home runs.  This year, both numbers have declined.


After homering once every 29 at bats last season, Butler is homering once every 43 at bats in 2010.  Yeah, this is a concern.

Unfortunately, Butler’s decline in power has been coupled with an increase in double plays as Butler has ground into a league leading 26 twin killings this year.  His rate of grounding into double plays is also the highest among hitters with at least 100 double play opportunities (runner on first, less than two outs). The leaders:

Butler – 25%
Adrian Beltre – 22%
Michael Cuddyler – 18%
Mike Young – 17%
Torii Hunter – 17%

Wow.  Butler is hitting into a double play a full quarter of his opportunities.  (That almost matches Yuni’s on base percentage.)  And has quite a bit of distance between himself and second place.  The gap between first and third place is enormous.  Butler himself remains philosophical about this – he understands this is what happens when a guy hits a ton of grounds balls (which he does) and is slow (which he is.)

About those ground balls… Butler’s batted ball rates have remained incredibly static from one year to the next.

Last season’s bump in ISO and slugging was a mirage… It was going to be extremely difficult for Butler to repeat that power performance if he didn’t cut some percentage from his ground ball category and paste it into the fly ball side of the ledger.  While we could expect his power numbers to decline, the amount of decline is larger than we would have hoped.  (Again, the injury may have something to do with this.  Despite the new training staff, the Royals remain a difficult team when it comes to deciphering injury info.  They say it’s been a month his hand has been bothering him.  The numbers say his power has been in decline for over two months…)

The increase double plays, though… This is kind of a surprise.  Obviously this is always going to be part of Butler’s game.  Last year, he grounded into 20 double plays in 131 opportunities.  That works to a 15% double play rate.  (Plus, those raw numbers are in about 150 fewer plate appearances.)

So, while there’s an air of inevitability when Butler comes to the plate with a runner on first and less than two down, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

The Royals are eighth in the league in OBP.  That sounds OK, I guess, but there .327 OBP is lower than the league average of .329.  Because this team doesn’t walk, as their team batting average has declined, so has the team OBP.  So while it can be difficult for the Royals to find base runners, it doesn’t help that Butler is doing his level best to erase those runners.

Kevin Seitzer has taken a fair share of credit for the Royals increased batting average, but that’s empty praise.  For a hitting coach to truly make a difference, he needs to work with players on an individual basis to get the most out of their abilities.  This year, Butler has fallen short of his potential.  He and Seitzer need to get together and work on refining his swing so he can generate more loft.

More loft equals more power.  More power equals fewer ground balls.  Fewer ground balls equal more runs.

Simple, isn’t it?

Episode #031 – Nick reviews the Detroit Tigers series including Bloomquist going yard.  Brian McGannon joins the podcast to talk about David Glass, Royals financials and have a Willie Blomquist  lovefest.  Bloomquist goes the dynamite.


Follow Brian McGannon on Twitter @roaylskingdom and check out his Royals blog or his Chiefs blog.

Follow Nick on twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Music used in this podcast:

T.Rex – Monolith

Traffic – Dear Mr. Fantasy

Weather Report – Birdland

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After yesterday’s 12 inning win, I know of at least one loyal commenter to this site who is delighted and one big league manager who is smirking at everyone right now.   Not to mention at least one writer on this site who is delighted with Kila Ka’aihue’s home run, double and two walk game yesterday.

Given that Ned Yost did the unthinkable by batting Willie Bloomquist third (even national guys were chiming in on Twitter with sarcastic comments), then guaranteed that Willie would get two hits and THEN actually saw the guy do it, including the game winning homer, who am I to criticize?   Frankly, I don’t even know what to say.

Instead, let’s take a quick look at what the expanded roster in September might include.   Who, if anyone, will get a call-up and of those, who will actually get a real look?  

We’ll start with the easy ones:  veteran players who have been on the disabled list:

  • Gil Meche – all signs point to Gil getting a look out of the bullpen next month.  The Royals will be careful with him at this point, so we won’t see him even every other day, but I imagine six or seven appearances at least.  The snag here is that Gil is on the 60 day disabled list (which does not take a 40 man roster spot) and a spot would have to be made on the 40 man roster to accommodate his activation.
  • Luke Hochevar – if you can believe the organization, Hochevar will make a rehab start or two shortly, which would put him on pace for a couple of September starts.  Part of me says that is a good idea, the other part of me says that Hochevar should just shut down and come back 100% next spring.
  • Brian Bannister – probably could be pitching right now if the Royals really wanted him to.   Made a two inning appearance in Omaha earlier this week and will be back up in September.   Brian’s September starts – he might well step into a regular rotation spot for the month – will likely determine if he has a future with the Royals.
  • Robinston Tejeda – supposedly will be ready in early September.   If he is, Tejeda will step back into the late inning setup role that currently makes him the third most stable member of the entire staff.
  • Josh Fields – remember him?  He has been on a rehab assignment in Northwest Arkansas after spending the season the 60 day disabled list.     Like Meche, someone has to go if Fields comes off the 60 day DL.
  • David DeJesus – there was talk of getting him back in the final couple weeks of the season, but I have not heard much about that as of late.  You kind of wonder why the rush given that DeJesus is clearly the best outfielder in the organization and not exactly a mystery as to what he will give you when healthy in 2011.

I am pretty sure the organization wants to see what Meche looks like coming out of the bullpen, so he will be activated from the 60 day DL.   They could make space on the roster for him by shifting DeJesus to the 60 day list or Hochevar if they decide to shut him down until next spring.   If the Royals also want to bring Fields up, then they will need another spot cleared.    They could make room by putting Jeff Bianchi on the 60 day list, as he has not played yet this year or Noel Arguelles, who is apparently not going to pitch this season, either.

Now, what about other guys that might get a look in September?   We will start with players who are on the 40 man roster now and would not require any correponding roster move to come up to the majors:

  • Victor Marte – I put him here only because he is on the 40 man roster and the organization still seems to have some attraction to him.   Now, given that with the above veteran activations, the Royals’ staff could already be at 15 pitchers, they might just call it good.   I have no burning desire to see Marte again and would, in fact, advocate his removal from the 40 man in favor of calling up someone else.
  • Brian Anderson – if you look at the Royals website, Anderson is listed under outfielders, but he has transitioned quickly into a relief pitcher.   Playing at three levels this year, after a lengthy instructional stint in Arizona, Anderson has thrown 13.1 innings, struck out 14 and allowed just six hits.  In three innings thus far in AAA,  Brian has been perfect.   That the Royals already have him pitching in AAA tells me they don’t want to waste any time with Anderson.  I think he comes up and gets a handful of September appearances once Omaha’s season is over.  The O-Royals, by the way, are in the hunt for a playoff berth, so they could conceivably be playing into the teens of September.  I don’t imagine anyone on that roster gets the call until that is wrapped up.
  • Amongst position players, the other guys already on the roster that might get consideration are catcher Lucas May and outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Jordan Parraz.   I could see May getting a call ‘just to get a feel for the majors’, but if he does he will not play much.   If Trey Hillman was still manager, Dyson would probably be up now, but he is hitting just .257 in Omaha and the organization would be better served by getting a true look at Gregor Blanco this September.   As for Parraz, his season was probably not enough to warrant a spot on the dugout bench.

Now, it gets interesting, as the players we are going discuss might well deserve a look, but would require making a 40 man roster move to get them to the majors:

  • Mike Moustakas – .273/.294/.453 in AAA probably cooled any front office ideas of giving Mike a look this year, but he has improved over time at this level (including an .856 OPS the last 10 games).  That said, with the Royals wanting to see what they have in Wilson Betemit and likely to take a look at Josh Fields, I imagine Moustakas’ major league career will start sometime next summer instead of this fall.
  • David Lough – A slow start this year has kept Lough’s numbers in Omaha to a modest .279/.343/.440, but he has exploded in August with a 1.006 OPS.   This is a guy who could truly factor into the Royals’ future, especially if 2011 turns out to be DeJesus’ last year with the club.   Who would you rather see, Lough or Victor Marte?   There’s your roster move if you want a look at Lough.
  • Louis Coleman – It’s always nice when a plan works and the Royals’ plan for Coleman after drafting him in 2009 was to ‘fast track’  him as a reliever.   Just over one year later, Coleman is in AAA with 39 strikeouts in 33 innings and opponents batting just .214 against him.   If Lough in place of Marte, why not Coleman?   If the future of the bullpen is Coleman and Greg Holland (who has struggled thus far in the majors, but has a habit of doing so the first couple weeks at a new level before become pretty decent) are the future of the pen in front of Tejeda and Soria, the Royals would be wise to make that move this September.
  • Blaine Hardy – He was dominant as a reliever, I mean flat-out dominant, at four levels including AAA before the Royals moved him into a starting role.    Blaine has been just okay as a starter (7 starts) but probably is not ready for major league action in that role.  I would expect some fall/winter work with an eye towards him getting a shot at the number five starter role next spring. 
  • Ed Lucas – He has played pretty much every position and hit .304/.394/.500 this year in Omaha, but I don’t know what the Royals do with him in the majors this September.   They want to get a good look at Getz, will not impinge on the Yunigma’s playing time and already have Aviles and yesterday’s hero Bloomquist.   It would be nice to reward Lucas for a good season with a major league salary for part of the month, but the Royals probably don’t want to mess with the 40 man roster just to be nice.

So, in the end, the September roster likely will swell quite a bit, but not with any player all that exciting.   Meche, Hochevar, Bannister, Tejeda and Fields are almost certainties.   With a pretty good chance that May and Anderson get a call, if not much of a look, once Omaha’s season wraps up.    After that, the club could get imaginative and bring up Coleman or Lough, or stay the course and look to Victor Marte once more for no other reason than he has been in the majors this year and has a 40 man roster spot.

Truthfully, the players the Royals really need to get a feel for are already up and playing in Kansas City.   That is progress right there over previous years under this regime.

In my other gig at Baseball Prospectus writing about fantasy baseball, I’m always on the hunt for interesting (or unique) players to profile.  I generally look for players who have altered their output (for better or for worse), try to identify the root causes and then speculate whether it’s sustainable or not.

It was with this approach in mind I decided write about our own Yuniesky Betancourt.

(Groan.  I know.  Another Yuni post.  We are all guilty of flogging this horse to death.  This will be the one and only time I weigh in on this.  Unless he wins the MVP.  Which, according to some PR flacks and assorted media fanboys, seems like a better than 50% shot.  Anyway, keep reading… Hopefully, you’ll find something new.)

We all know that Yuni is something of a free swinger at the plate.  A true grip it and rip it approach.  Only he’s pretty light on the rip it part of that cliche.  Until recently.  What gives?

For the season, Betancourt is expanding his strike zone and swinging at pitches deemed by Pitch f/x to be outside of the zone over 40% of the time.  That’s an astronomically high number – and a career high for Betancourt.  According to Fangraphs, here are the hitters who swing at the highest percentage of pitches outside the zone.

Vladimir Guerrero – 46.7%
Pablo Sandoval – 43.7%
Jeff Francoeur – 43.2%
A.J. Pierzynski – 42.9%
Delmon Young – 42.2%
Brennan Boesch – 42.1%
Alfonso Soriano – 40.8%
Alex Gonzalez – 40.2%
Yuni Betancourt – 40.1%
Adrian Beltre – 40.0%

I present that list without comment.  Mainly because, I don’t know what to make of this collection of players.  We all know that Francoeur isn’t good at baseball, but Guerrero is still capable of crushing a pitch.  Beltre is having a great season and Young is having a breakout year, but Boesch is back in the minors and Pierzynski is just horrible.  OK… maybe I lied about the “without comment” part.  The point is, there are good hitters on this list and there are bad ones.  Discipline isn’t exclusive to the best.

Just like other aspects of the game, the approach of one successful player won’t necessarily translate to the success of another player.  Francoeur and Guerrero swing at everything.  If I asked you which one you’d rather have on your team, I suspect I know the answer.

Let’s put Betancourt into the Francoeur category of those who swing at everything when they would be advised to modify their approach and narrow their strike zone.  It’s not a huge stretch. We’ve all seen Betancourt play.  And we’ve all seen him hit a soft pop up or a weak ground ball more than he’s made what I would call solid contact.  That’s likely because when he goes outside the zone and makes contact – which he does 77% of the time he swings at a pitch outside his zone – the contact he makes is generally weak.

Would it surprise you to learn that Betancourt has a career infield flyball rate of over 15%?  Almost one-fifth of all fly balls that leave his bat don’t travel to the outfield.  That’s embarrassing.  His 17.6% IFFB rate led the majors last year.  Because he doesn’t make good contact.  Because he’s swinging at bad pitches.

In games through August 2, Betancourt was hitting .253/.275/.383.  A little more power through than last year, but the OBP remained distressingly low.  Basically, it was more of the same for Betancourt.

Starting on August 3, Betancourt began his assault on American League pitching.  Since then, he’s had 61 plate appearances, crushed six home runs and hit .373/.383/.712.  Just an extraordinary and unforeseen turn of events.

It’s because he’s improved his plate discipline.

Take a look at the pitches Betancourt swung at in June of this year.  This is just one month, but it’s representative of his entire career.  (Believe me, I looked.  After awhile it’s like reading Green Eggs and Ham for the 215th time.)  If you’re a pitcher, you have to like what you see… There are a ton of ways to attack.  Sliders low and away.   High heat.  Anything inside.  Change-ups down.  It’s as if Betancourt approaches each plate appearance without the slightest idea of a plan of attack. From Texas Leaguers:

Compare that to the pitches he’s swung at during his hot streak.

He’s still offering at the high heat, but he’s not swinging at the inside pitch.  Nor is he chasing the low pitch.  Betancourt will still offer at the slider that’s down and away, but nowhere near as often as he has in the past.
We are all aware of the results.

Now the question is, will this new approach stick?  A couple of things make me skeptical.  For starters, since Betancourt went on this tear, he’s drawn a total of one walk – and it was intentional.  He’s already walking at a career low rate of once every 50 plate appearances, so ignoring the fact he did nothing to earn the solitary walk, he’s even worse than his current rate during his hot streak.  It’s curious that he seems to have improved his discipline, yet has seen his walk rate decline.

This means his lofty OBP is thanks to his inflated batting average.  Once the hits stop falling, the OBP is going to plummet. So will his value.

The second reason I doubt we will see this new and improved Yuni much longer is because the guy has over 2,900 plate appearances in his career.  He’s walked in just 3.2% of those while swinging at pitches outside the zone 32% of the time.  As the cliche goes: Old habits die hard.  Can a 28 year old major league hitter (I use that term loosely) with six years of experience under his belt, suddenly adjust his approach in such an extreme manner to the extent he alters his entire career?  Jeff Francoeur hit .284/.355/.531 in his first 93 plate appearances this year with nine walks.  Nine!  That gave him a 10% walk rate.  New York media was all over this.  It was a new day for Frenchy!  He turned it around, figured it out and was going to be awesome from now on!  This, from a guy who never walked more than 6% of the time in any full season in his career.

How’s that working out?

Since then, he’s hitting .214/.269/.322 and walked 19 times in 324 plate appearances.  Plus, seven of those walks were intentional.  Remove those intentional walks and he’s walking in just under 4% of his plate appearances.  This is the Frenchy everyone knows and loathes.

Eventually, Betancourt will have a couple of games where the hits won’t fall.  He’ll start to press.  The strike zone will expand.  And we’ll be right back to square one.

So I’ll go on the record right now and say there’s no way Betancourt continues his torrid pace for the rest of the year.  I’ll even go out on a limb and predict a line of .255/.262/.356 over the final month plus of the season.  This isn’t a stretch.  This is because we’ve all seen Betancourt play, and we all know exactly who he is.

Hey, I’ve enjoyed this offensive explosion from the man I dubbed the Yunigma as much as anyone.  I’m blogger enough to admit I never thought I’d see anything like this and it’s caught me off guard.  (Fun Yuni fact: eight of his 13 home runs have tied or given the Royals the lead.  I fully expect a barrage of PR Tweets telling me Betancourt is clutch.)

When a player has the tenure of Betancourt, to draw long-term conclusions based on less than one month of production is ill-advised.  Plus, understand that I’m not saying “Betancourt sucks” or the Royals should bench their shortstop.  It’s clear to everyone he’s been more productive at the plate than Mike Aviles, Chris Getz, Willie Bloomquist and anyone else you may think the Royals could use up the middle on the infield.  That speaks more to the cast of characters assembled by Dayton Moore than the talents of Betancourt.  It’s all relative.  While I advocated for Aviles to get more reps at short earlier in the season, he’s had a terrible last couple of months.  Betancourt deserves his time in the lineup.  There’s no one on this team who can dislodge him from his role.

However, by looking at the charts, I understand how this hot streak by Betancourt is happening.  And I understand how it’s going to end.

Old habits…

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