Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

The news was enough to send a shiver through any Royals fan…

“Jason Kendall, 36, underwent surgery September 3 to repair major tearing (of his right rotator cuff.) The typical recovery period is eight to 10 months. Though Kendall contends he is ahead of schedule.”

Funny how all this works, isn’t it?  Kendall began his career when dinosaurs (or Carl Everett, I don’t remember which) roamed the Earth.  Then the guy disappears at the end of the season and it’s out of sight, out of mind.  This whole winter when Clark has been putting together his 25 man rosters or in any kind of conversations I’ve had with Royals fans, Kendall never seems to come up as having a role on the 2011 team.

You know what… That’s fine.

Except there he was on the first day of camp, checking in before jetting off to LA to have his shoulder examined.  The threat (and it is a threat) is very real that Kendall will finish his rehab ahead of schedule and will start to take time behind the plate and at bats away from Brayan Pena, Luke May and whomever else the Royals will use at catcher this summer.  Yes, I know that these guys probably aren’t part of the future.  Neither is Kendall.

I get what Dayton Moore and the Royals braintrust are trying to do when assembling a roster.  At this point of The Process, it’s all about the youth but on the occasion they are looking at veterans, they are looking for solid baseball citizens first and talented baseball players second.  How else do you explain Jeff Francoeur?  And while those of us who are sabermetrically inclined scoff at the idea of clubhouse chemistry – We know how to measure a good hitter, but how do you measure a good teammate? – there is certainly something to the point that you need veteran players to show the youngsters how things are done at the major league level.  How far would Nuke Laloosh have gone without Crash Davis telling him his cliches and schooling him on the art of keeping moldy shower shoes?

And doesn’t this feel like another failure of The Process at this point?  All this focus on having good baseball citizens and we learn that some players called meetings to specifically mock Billy Butler.  Yeah, I would think that could poison the clubhouse chemistry.  More importantly, how does that happen?  Every clubhouse will have it’s bad seeds or it’s malcontents.  Kansas City has had their fair share perhaps because the team is a consistent loser.  But still, the fact that the situation was allowed to deteriorate to that level is disturbing and disgusting.  Especially after the lip service given to having quality veterans.

But I digress…  There is something to having veterans on a young team.  The right veterans.
And since we now have Frenchy – who, by all accounts is a great guy –  there’s no reason for Kendall to stick around.

Oh, there will be all this talk about how Kendall can help the pitching staff, but in baseball you really can’t make lemonade out of lemons.  Besides, Jeff Francis has seen his share of battles and Bruce Chen is back.  Kyle Davies is Captain Awesome, having parlayed unbelievably poor season after unbelievably poor season into some kind of longevity.  It’s not a good staff, but it’s not one short of experience.  Last season, the team ERA was 4.97.  I wouldn’t blame Kendall for that number any more than I would give him credit if their collective ERA was league average.

And if Brayan Pena spent all last summer learning from Kendall, is there really more wisdom Kendall can impart?  If Pena didn’t pick up a few pointers from watching Kendall catch practically every freaking inning last summer, there’s no hope.

At this point of The Process, it would do both parties good to move on to the next stage.   Kendall can’t contribute anything with the bat.  He hasn’t been able to do that for years.  His receiving skills have eroded as well.  It happens.  The dude is 36 years old for crying out loud.  Adding a surgically repaired shoulder to the equation isn’t going to make things better.  It’s time for Kendall to pull a page from the Gil Meche handbook, do the right thing, and walk away.  It won’t be the ending he wanted, but it will be a damn sight better than struggling through yet another summer.  Plus, his continual rehab will draw energy and resources away from players who will inevitably pick up the bump or bruise during camp that could use the help.  That’s not saying the Royals would ignore or mistreat an injury.  I’m just saying that not having to deal with getting Kendall ready for game action would free up the training staff to work on something else.

And it’s not like Kendall would be a productive player if he returns.  That ship sailed a long time ago.  All he would do is steal at bats and time from the other catchers on the club.  As I said earlier, they’re not that great to start but they’re younger and less expensive.  They deserve their shot.  They don’t deserve another summer of hoping the Royals get blown out so they can catch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Still, the Royals can let Kendall hang around – You don’t stick with the game as long as he has unless you live and breathe baseball – but do it as a coach.  Channel that passion into something that can truly help the team.  Have him hang out in Surprise and work with the catchers who are healthy and can play the game.  Then let him spend the summer on the road in places like Omaha, Northwest Arkansas and Wilmington.  If he’s such a valuable mentor, turn him loose on the youth of the franchise.  I admire his grit and his desire to return to play. Sometimes it’s better to admit the game has passed you by.

He doesn’t even have to do the Full Meche… Go ahead and pay him his money and have him do something else… Anything other than catch for the Royals.

Of course this could all be a moot point.  Kendall could run out of grit and will find it impossible to heal enough to ever play baseball again.  Either way, he should have played his last game for the Royals.

I keep forgetting that David Dejesus isn’t a Royal anymore. It’s partly because the departure of Zack Greinke was much more publicized. It’s also probably because David Dejesus was  the kind of player who was always under-rated and under-appreciated.

When he was with the Royals I tried to sing his praises to anyone who  would listen. Telling me that he was a “fifth outfielder on a good team” was tantamount to fightin’ words. I always felt like I appreciated his effort and the way he was good at almost every aspect of the game. Sorry David, I can’t gloss over your base-running. He was very good at a lot of things and great at nothing. Those kinds of players don’t ever seem to get the recognition they deserve.

You have to watch him play day in and day out to really have an appreciation for Dejesus. I did that, and I still find myself forgetting that he won’t be a part of the team in 2011. It doesn’t mean that he won’t be missed though.

The last time the Royals played a season without any David Dejesus was in 2002. The last time he played less than 91 games was in 2003 when he got  in just 12 contests. Those 12 games were all in September of that year, long after the Royals had blown their division lead and the excitement had died. The one season in the last decade when the Royals had success and he was late to the party. He was a part of one Royals team that lost fewer than 90 games–in 2008 they went 75-87.

Through all of that losing, Dejesus never seemed to lose his composure or his desire to play the game. To be honest, I have no idea if that is true. I was never around him, but it sure seemed that way. Some fans didn’t approve of the way he always had a smile on his face when his team was consistently losing. I found it endearing and comforting. To me, it was a subtle reminder that it’s still just a game. I’m probably just as sick and tired of watching teams lose as David Dejesus is of playing on them, but a quick grin from him always reminded me that it’s still baseball. If I didn’t love the game, I wouldn’t watch a team lose 90+ games 10 out of the last 14 years.

It’s not just the demeanor of Dejesus that the Royals will miss this year. Nobody cares who won the comforting grin title anyway. What will hurt the most is that he was a damn good baseball player. According to Baseball-Reference, he either led or was tied for highest WAR on the team by a positional player in 2005,2006,2007,2008 and 2009. Basically, he was the best position player for every season he was with the team other than his rookie year and the last one in which he lost time to an injury.

The Royals haven’t been good in the past six years, so the bar for being the best player on the team was set pretty low. The point remains, the best player on the team for the past six years is now gone. It’s also bordering on criminal that he wasn’t selected to an All-Star Game even once during his time as a Royal.

As the 2011 baseball season begins gearing up, I thought it would be nice to just take one more look back at Dejesus and how much he really helped the team during his tenure. If the Royals have any hope of fielding a competitive team, someone is going to have to pick up where he left off. I’ll finish with a table showing where Dejesus ranks in some categories in Royals history.

Category No. All-Time Rank
Games Played 876 12
brWAR 21.7 8
Batting Avg .289 12
On Base % .360 10
Plate Appearances 3799 9
Runs 501 10
Hits 971 9
Total Bases 1431 9
Doubles 187 8
Triples 45 7(tie)

Basically, Dejesus is one of the top ten players in Royals history. That’s not a player who is easily replaced. Good luck in Oakland David. I’ll be rooting for you.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Finally

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This winter has felt especially long.  But finally, after four and a half months without Royals baseball, the team is set to check into Surprise this afternoon as the first wave – the pitchers and catchers – report for duty.

While there are always a number of positional battles in every camp, I think the attention will be mostly on the pitchers – specifically the relief corps.  There are a ton of young arms on the roster, and a number of those young arms will be expected to contribute meaningful (for the Royals) innings this summer.

Of course, it is spring training, so any feelings of enthusiasm or optimism you may have should be tempered by the reality that March stats and performance should be taken ever so lightly.  Remember Aaron Crow and his spring from a year ago.  Then counter that with his regular season.  Ying and yang.  It happens.

Still, this is one of the best days of the year, if only because we are one step closer to meaningful baseball.

With that in mind, what positional battles are you looking forward to this spring?  What young arms will you be watching?

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Just in case you missed it, yesterday Nick and I took over the main Sweet Spot blog on the baseball page at ESPN.

Nick led off with a look at the Jackie Robinson Award.

Then I followed with my take on the possibility Albert Pujols crosses the state to play for the Royals.  I also wrote about the late Chuck Tanner and how he arrived in Pittsburgh.

If you’re hungry for more baseball coverage, check those out.

I know, the title seems a little silly given that the team has not even reported for 2011 Spring Training.    If you have been visiting this site for any period of time, however, you will know that one of my major complaints (probably THE major complaint) with the Royals organization is that they seemingly spend a lot of baseball games ‘marking time’.

At time, it almost appears that Dayton Moore and the Royals are actually afraid to ‘find out’ if a player can be useful or not.    My angst at this actually pre-dates Moore and goes back to the likes of Matt Diaz and Justin Huber.   While Diaz has proved useful, having him would not have greatly changed the organization’s destiny, and while Huber has never stuck anywhere, wouldn’t it been nice to at least see them get 300 at-bats with Kansas City?   Just so we knew?

The situation has rather famously continued with Mike Aviles, who after proving himself once (much to the organization’s chagrin) and getting injured, then had to prove himself all over again.   It certainly has been a sticking point for many when it comes to Kila Ka’aihue, who should have been given a chance to hit or not hit major league pitching in 2009, but instead has marked time for two full seasons while the Royals let Mike Jacobs and Jose Guillen hack away at air.    You can add catcher Brayan Pena to mix as well as he has rode the bench for two losing seasons and no one really, really knows if the guy can hit and field on an everyday basis.

Whether you agree with my assessment that the Royals have done more than their share of wasting major league time or not – which basically assumes that the organization is filled with enough baseball geniuses that they ‘just know’ who can play or not – I think most of us can agree that 2011 is a year the Royals absolutely, positively have to use to ‘find things out’.

By October of this year, I believe it is imperative for Dayton Moore to be in a position to sit down at this desk and answer the following questions based not on what he thinks or what the scouts believe, but on what he say on the major league field in 2011:

  • Luke Hochevar is either a fringe number two/solid number three starter on a contender or more innings filler for the back of the rotation.  – Barring another injury, he will get this chance, but the Royals need to realize Hochevar for whatever he is by the end of the season, slot him in at that spot and move on.
  • Alex Gordon is an integral part of the organization’s future.The organization should be willing to give Gordon 145 games against all types of pitching to prove he can be an offensive asset.   If he hits .212 through May, let’s not panic and start platooning him with Melky Cabrera.
  • Kila Ka’aihue really can hit major league pitching.Seriously, the entire baseball world may believe that Kila only has slider bat speed, but the entire baseball world is also wondering (should the wonder anything about the Royals) why the heck Kansas City has not given him 500 at-bats just to make sure.
  • Alcides Escobar is on his way to turning prospect potential into major league production. – You know the spiel:  prior to 2010, Escobar was the number 12 prospect in all of baseball and then had a pretty awful rookie season in the majors.   Great defense, an on-base percentage above .330 and some good baserunning is all the Royals are asking for here.   Escobar will get the better part of 2012 to continue to prove himself, but a solid 2011 campaign will allow the organization to start moving Christian Colon to over to second base and focus their free agent dollars/trade energy on a position other than short.
  • Mike Moustakas has four months of major league experience. – I don’t expect Moustakas to light the majors on fire once he gets the call (sometime between May 1 and July 1), and part of one season does not a star or bust make.   Still, the Royals need to get his career started if only to get Mike’s experience curve a step ahead of that of Eric Hosmer.    Call him up, put him in the lineup and leave him alone.   We will spend 2012 deciding if Moustakas is great or not, he just needs to bang out those first 350 rookie at-bats this summer.
  • Lorenzo Cain will be the Royals starting centerfielder on Opening Day of 2012. – If it was up to me, Lorenzo would be the starting centerfielder THIS Opening Day.   The world will not end, I don’t think anyway, if Cain begins 2011 in Omaha, but it very well could be Armageddon if Cain has not accumulated 100+ games of everyday duty in center by the end of the season.   Like Moustakas, that amount of experience will not tell us Cain’s long-term future, but it will give the Royals enough data to say ‘yes, he’s our guy in 2012′.  
  • These three young arms will set-up Joakim Soria in 2012. – I have no problem with Robinson Tejeda spending 2011 being Soria’s primary set-up man:  nothing decimates a team’s psyche more than having the bullpen blow leads late.   However, picking up a random veteran or wasting our time with other organization’s rejects in front of Tejeda/Soria would be a crime.   By the end of 2011, Dayton Moore should have seen plenty of Blake Wood to know if he can be a solid major league reliever.   He should also have seen enough of Tim Collins, Blaine Hardy, Louis Coleman and Greg Holland to be ready to hand them serious late inning responsibilities in 2012.   You can throw Everett Teaford, Brandon Sisk, Patrick Keating and Nathan Adcock in the mix as well.   Bottom line, there should be a large number of young, basically homegrown arms that get at least thirty innings of work (there should be plenty of bullpen innings available with this year’s rotation!) in 2011.
  • I do or do not need to sign or trade for a catcher in the winter of 2011. – Seriously, with Jason Kendall being a) hurt and b) being Jason Kendall, there is no excuse to not see a lot of Brayan Pena, Lucas May and maybe even Manny Pina in 2011.  It might not be pretty, but it is a necessary evil in assessing where Dayton Moore needs to focus his off-season energy.   Salvador Perez will have a full year at AA under his belt be then, but certainly will not be ready for the majors in early 2012, so the Royals will absolutely need to know if they have anyone between in front of the hopefully blossoming Perez to hold down the position in 2012.
  • Two of the organization’s prized young starters are ready for the 2012 rotation. – Be it Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow or Chris Dwyer (Teaford as well), you have to hope that two of them get between eight and fifteen starts in the second half of 2011 and prove themselves ready for full-time duty in 2012.   They don’t have to prove anything, just get some innings in so they are ready to prove something in 2012.

Certainly, you could make this list much, much longer, but in I think these are the critical issues that simply have to be resolved prior to the next off-season.  Sure, you could say ‘find out about Chris Getz’, but frankly if spring training 2012 is a battle at second between Getz, Aviles, Giavotella and maybe even Colon that does not really hurt the progression of The Process.   

Not all the questions have to be answered at once, but you do need to stop theorizing and start actually answering questions.    Catching and Kila Ka’aihue should have been asked and anwered last year, maybe even the year before.   Be it ego or fear or stubborness, all that needs to be set aside in 2011 and the answers need to be found.

As you probably heard, the first batch of the 2011 PECOTAs were released on Monday.  The first wave includes a spreadsheet that lists each player and their weighted mean projection for the upcoming season.
A quick word about PECOTA and projections:  They’re fun.  Not gospel.  Just because PECOTA says Kila Ka’aihue will bash 25 home runs, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  And it’s not a failure of the system if he doesn’t hit 25 home runs.  One of the great things about PECOTA is, it breaks down their projections by percentile.  It’s kind of a best case versus worst case scenario for each player.  The percentiles will be on the Baseball Prospectus website in a few weeks.  For now, all we have to play with are the weighted means.

I’m partial to PECOTA because they’ve been around forever (and continually fine tuned)and because I’m an employee of the company.  (Full disclosure and all that.)  I had nothing to do with the projections because I have nowhere near the brain power required to crunch the numbers… Let alone launch Excel.    Just because I like PECOTA doesn’t mean I ignore the other systems that are out there.  They all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses.  Probably the best thing to do is throw all  the projections into a pot, stir ‘em up and see where the numbers fall.

Kila Ka’aihue
.262/.387/.473
25 HR
1.2 WARP

I posted his home run and on base projections to Twitter the other day and got quite the response.  One of the weaknesses of PECOTA I think is found in it’s projections of players who don’t have a ton of major league experience.

When I saw these numbers, I immediately thought of the percentiles, because this seems awfully optimistic to me.  The funny thing is, Bill James shares PECOTAs optimism, projecting 22 home runs and a .375 OBP for the Hawaiian Punch.  Marcel… Not so much.  Just 10 HR (although in about half the plate appearances) and a meager .325 OBP.  (That’s one of my issues with Marcel.  I don’t want to extrapolate projections for an entire season.  Just assume each player with projections will play a full compliment of games.  Projecting playing time is even more speculative than projecting performance.  Especially when it comes to a player like Kila.)

This gives me an opportunity to mention his slider bat speed.

Melky Cabrera
53% Improve Rate
.267/.323/.375
0.6 WARP

According to Baseball Prospectus, Improve Rate is the chance a hitter will improve at all based on his three previous seasons.  An improve rate of 50% means he will perform the same as in the past. That doesn’t mean that Cabrera only has a 3% chance of improvement.  Rather, it means he’s more likely to build on his performance from the previous three years.  I know… Semantics.

The Melk Man’s Improve Rate is the highest on the team.

One of his comparable players is Gregg Jeffries.  This delights me, because I really disliked Jeffries.  I have the feeling I’m going to feel the same about Melky.

Tim Collins
11.4 K/9

Maybe I just have an irrational affinity for short left-handers, but I’m really excited to see what Collins can do at the big league level.  While I mentioned PECOTA struggles with players with not much major league experience, it’s probably a little easier to come closer for projections with relief pitchers.  Collins’ strikeout rate is projected a tad on the high side for my taste, but I don’t think it’s way out of line.  If he gets 60 innings or so, there’s no reason to think he won’t top 60 punch outs.

I’m extremely hopeful he opens the season in Kansas City.

Bruce Chen
6.5 K/9
Luke Hochevar
6.2 K/9
Jeff Francis
5.7 K/9
Kyle Davies
6.2 K/9
Vin Mazarro
5.8 K/9

PECOTA (and other projection systems I’m sure) nailed this trend that will develop throughout the summer in Kansas City – the Royals just don’t have the horses in the starting rotation to rack up the strikeouts.  This is going to be a problem.

Thankfully, the Yunigma is gone and Lorenzo Cain (if he gets playing time in CF) mean the defense up the middle will be stronger than the last couple of seasons.

Believe me, the defense is going to play a huge role on this team.

Alex Gordon
Comparable Players:  Steve Kemp, Barry Bonds, Roger Maris

This is where PECOTA gets some heat… And deservedly so.  Ignore for a moment that Alex Gordon was listed in the same breath as Barry Bonds.  He was mentioned with Bonds and Steve Kemp?  Seriously?  PECOTA must have been on some sort of 80’s acid flashback.

The comps are a known problem.  Before you flip out (or decide that Gordon has the potential to hold the single season record for home runs… Wait… That would be flipping out) just realize that this is an area that is continually being fine tuned.  And there’s a lot of work to be done.

The moral of this story:  Enjoy the projections, but take them with a grain of salt.  They’re something fun to look at to pass the time before pitchers and catchers report and the games start.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sometimes, they’re crazy accurate.  And sometimes they’re so far off the mark it’s like the numbers were run on an overworked Commodore 64.

Either way, it’s just another sign that the new season is almost here.  Thank god.

Last month, Bud Selig convened with a special committee to discuss on field issues. One of those issues was potential expansion of the playoffs. The result of the meeting was a commitment to the status quo for 2011, but it’s something that will be looked at in the future. I am a Royals fan, and I am a fan of the game of baseball. Obvious statement, I know. But when an issue like playoff expansion comes up, those two aspects of my fandom can diverge.

As a fan of baseball and specifically Major League Baseball, I hate the idea of playoff expansion. I don’t even really like the addition of a wild card. The best teams in baseball are the ones that win the most over a 162 game season, it is after all why the season exists. Adding in a team or two that haven’t had the same regular season success cheapens the postseason. Adding too many teams and too many games doesn’t create a post season, it creates a season in and of itself.

Nearly every major sports league in the United States tosses a large number of teams into the postseason to create more excitement for those “big” games. What usually ends up happening is that regular season contests have significantly less value and are less entertaining. Division titles also start to become meaningless as teams fight for that sixth or eighth spot in the playoffs rather than the division crown.

On the other hand, as a Royals fan the expanded playoffs are quite a bit more attractive.  It’s primarily due to some of the same reasons I dislike expansion as a baseball fan. In the state of baseball today, the Royals are at a competitive disadvantage to large market teams. This isn’t news to anyone. Until the owners agree to let five or six more teams move into the northeast the large market teams are granted a local monopoly that they can utilize to draw revenues which are unattainable by a smaller market franchise.

If the playoffs were expanded to add another two or even four teams into the mix, then suddenly the Royals don’t have to compete against the larger market teams to make it to the playoffs. They won’t need to build one of the two or three best teams in baseball, but rather one of the best five or six. It’s a significantly easier task than they have currently. Consistently I hear fans say they’d like to see a team playing meaningful baseball in September. If the number of teams making the playoffs expanded, then there would be more teams playing meaningful baseball late in the season. The odds that one of those teams is the Royals has just increased.

The hardest part about winning a World Series is actually getting into the Playoffs. A five or seven game series is going to have much more random outcomes than 162 games, we all know this, it’s called sample-size. It can create the illusion of parity and make more teams feel like they can compete with the large market teams. Allowing more teams into the playoffs simply lowers the bar for the Royals and then all they need is a punchers chance to win another title.

In general, it’s rare for my Royals and baseball fandom to clash. Usually what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, but this case is different. I still think overall I lean towards keeping the playoffs small and the regular season important — but after some thought, it’s not so clear anymore. If Bud Selig’s special committee does change the rules in the future, there is little I can do anyway, so I might as well look at the bright side. What do you think?

“Making Fergie sign  sing live is like making Yunieksy Betancourt bat leadoff” – Joe Sheehan via Twitter.  To be honest, ‘signing’ might have gone better!

Here’s to hoping that two years from now someone cannot make the same joke using Alcides Escobar….or Lorenzo Cain.

In his time running the Royals, Dayton Moore has loaded the farm system with so many arms that it seems almost impossible to remember them all.   He has drafted shrewdly enough to nab three of the best minor league hitters in the game and, while the position players are not nearly as deep as the pitchers, he has added some nice solid players to go with the big three.    In trading Zack Greinke, Moore added two of these ‘solid type’ players who happen to fill spots in the organization that were notoriously weak:  shortstop and centerfield.

While neither Escobar nor Cain will never be superstars, the Royals need them to both be above average defensively and to hold their own offensively.   They also need one of them to be a leadoff hitter.   That, you see, is the one really glaring weakness in this organization.

While the days of the Willie Wilson and Rickey Hendersons of the world batting at the top of the order and stealing 75 bases are probably long past, teams still like to have a ‘lead-off’ type guy.   There is no statistical variance in the fact that the guy who leads off the game is also the first guy to get to five at-bats.   If that guy can get on base twice and distract the pitcher both times, there is value.    It’s nice, of course, if that batter gets on base in the first inning and keeps the starting pitcher from getting into a groove (plus it sets up your ‘number two hitter’ which every manager seems to love – sarcasm intended), but the fact is that having a speed guy on base twice per game is better than having Alberto Callaspo on base twice per game.   I’m talking about the Alberto who slugged .410 last season, not the guy who banged out 60 extra base hits in 2009.

We know that Dayton Moore loves the speed guys:  he went out of his way to sign Scott Podsednik last season and it worked out on all fronts, much to my surprise.    He has drafted a ton of them, none of whom can seem to, you know, get on base.

Derrick Robinson can flat out fly, but his .345 OBP in Northwest Arkansas last season was thirty points above anything he has managed prior.   Hilton Richardson, Adrian Ortiz, Patrick Norris all can run, but you don’t even want to know what their on-base numbers were last year.   You all know about Jarrod Dyson who makes all of the above seem slow (sort of), but he too has not shown a tremendous on-base aptitude.

Paulo Orlando, one of my favorites, stole 25 bases in 35 attempts in AA and posted an on-base percentage of .366, but his skillset might well profile out hitting sixth or seventh in the order.   If it profiles out at all at the major league level.  

When it comes to on-base percentage, your minor league leaders last year were Kila Ka’aihue, Alex Gordon, Wil Myers, Clint Robinson and Eric Hosmer.    Yeah, not exactly getting a lead-off feel from any of those guys.   Frankly, the closest thing to the combination a smart major league team is looking for is Johnny Giavotella, who stole 13 bases and posted an OBP of .395.   Prior to last season, however, Johnny’s on-base percentages were .351 and .355.   Those are good numbers, not great, basically David DeJesus.   The consensus was that he was never really a true lead-off hitter.

After the big three, the two guys most likely to be on this team sooner rather than later are probably David Lough and Christian Colon (either because Escobar flops or he is moved to second base).   Again, neither profiles out as a true lead-off hitter.

That brings us back to Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain.     Escobar comes with all the glowing prospect statuses, but not the on-base resume you might like to see.   He can run, we think he can field and we hope he can hit some, but the idea that he might develop into the type of lead-off hitter a contending team utilizes is probably unlikely.

Cain, on the other hand, is a ‘nice’ prospect, but not considered elite.    He brings a career minor league on-base percentage of .366 to the table, which includes three seasons of plus .380.    Lorenzo has stolen 124 bases in the minors and been caught just 35 times.   In 2010, he stole 26 of 29 bases and in 2008 Cain nabbed 25 of 31.   He, among everyone else in the system,  seems to have the tools to fill this vacancy.

Would the world end if the Royals had to make do with a good on-base guy who did not steal bases?  No.   It  would be nice, however, to have a traditional ‘table-setter’ hitting in front of what we hope to be a fearsome middle of the order in a couple of years.

Boy, a guy leaves town for three days and he comes back to find that the Royals have signed Pedro Feliz.  

To be fair, the Royals are saying all the right things about the Feliz signing.   He is a ‘veteran presence in camp’, ‘insurance against injuries’ and ‘will not stand in the way of Mike Moustakas’.     All of which makes some sense, especially when just a year ago, injuries to Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon left the Royals with Willie Bloomquist as their opening day third baseman.  

Feliz comes with reputation of a good fielding third baseman (a career UZR/150 of 14.9), although he was below average statistically in 2010.   Offensively, Pedro does not offer much (career line of .250/.288/.410) other than some occasional power.   His slugging percentage has been in nearly perpetual decline for seven seasons:  not encouraging when that skill is all Feliz offers with the bat.

Before we get too worked up, however, this is a minor league deal.  An $800,000 minor league deal, mind you, but minor league nonetheless.   Almost all these types of contracts have some sort of deadline date during the spring in which the team can cut the player loose and not have to pay much of the contract amount, so this is, as Dayton Moore said, ‘a no risk’ deal….theoretically.

Anyway, Feliz aside, it is a new month and time for another draft of the Royals’ Opening Day roster.   Gil Meche juggled the situation some for us and we now have Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen in our rotation.   Only Royals’ fans could be comforted by those two names, but we are who we are.     We are close enough to spring training that this exercise is becoming less guess and more fact, so let’s break it down.

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

Four months ago, I was certain Dayton Moore could not resist the allure of a veteran back-up catcher, but has managed to do so.   Some of that may have to do with reports that Jason Kendall is ‘ahead of schedule’.   I’m sure all of you are anxiously counting the days until his return.   Short of every other pitch going to the backstop with Pena and May behind the plate, I don’t think we’ll see any surprises here.

FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER – Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue

About the only question here is who will be where.   There has been some mention of Butler spending a lot more time at DH, but we will just have to see how it all plays out.   Everyone likes big, tall first basemen target wise, so I like Kila at first and Billy at DH, but won’t throw many fits if turns out to be the other way around.   My guess is they alternate and never really decide.   We know Billy will hit, we don’t know if Kila will, but at last we get to find out.

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

Mike Aviles is being ‘converted to third base full-time’, so that pretty much answers any questions here.   The Royals are going to take some time to find out what they have in Getz, which is a luxury they can afford this season.   My guess is the length of the ‘look’ is equal to the time it takes Mike Moustakas to hit 10 home runs in Omaha.  Once Moustakas is up, Aviles will likely knock Getz off second and that will be that.   Both Nick and I have a somewhat irrational ‘like’ of Getz, so we’ll be watching his progress (or lack thereof) closely.

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Hopefully he looks more like the 12th best prospect in baseball than the guy who used his jersey last year in Milwaukee.   Either way, we will see 150+ games out of him at this position.

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

This is likely Aviles’ job to lose as the club is horrified of Wilson Betemit’s glove and should be horrified of Pedro Feliz’s bat.   The Royals never really want to believe in Aviles, but he generally makes them, so I expect Mike to get the Opening Day nod here and hopefully steady duty until Moustakas gets the call.

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

The Royals have barely mentioned Betemit’s name this off-season.  I don’t know if they are afraid to jinx his outstanding offensive performance of 2010 by talking about it or simply don’t believe in him.   Although Wilson has played just about everywhere defensively, he is pretty much a butcher wherever – better than Esteban German, but then most of us are.   Look for Betemit to get some time at third and in the DH/first base rotation as well:  particularly against tough lefthanders in place of Kila.  

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

Lot’s of talk here, but I think the Royals know they have to give Alex one last shot to play everyday and, well, dominate.   It would be ludicrous for a team destined to win 74 games or less to not give Gordon all the at-bats here.

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

I know, you don’t like it.  I don’t like it, either, but it seems like destiny to me.   I just have a hunch that Lorenzo Cain starts the season in AAA.   That situation is annoying, but not the end of the world.   Kind of like having Melky Cabrera as your centerfielder.    Cain has this job by June if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

You’re all just a little curious to see what happens here, aren’t you?   Given Francouer’s ability to stay healthy, you are likely to get 160 games of this in 2011.

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

I can actually envision the team keeping Jarrod Dyson and using him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.   You do not see a lot of that anymore, but it almost makes some sense.   Probably, and barring a lust for Pedro Feliz which is very possible, Blanco and Maier both make this team to start with.   Either one of them probably gives us every bit of what Melky Cabrera does, but they don’t have ‘the name’.   Once Moustakas and Cain get the call, there is a real chance neither one is on the big league roster.   My advise to Gregor and Mitch:  be good savers.

STARTING ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies

This got easy in a hurry after Francis and Chen were signed, plus Davies’ rather amazing inking of a $3.2 million deal.   Sean O’Sullivan and others will get a courtesy look, but this is almost certainly your starting five.   The above listing is my guess at the order.

BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland, Nathan Adcock

I have to be honest, the end of that list is pretty much a guess coupled with my disdain for seeing Jesse Chavez and Kanekoe Texiera pitch.   After thinking Tejeda would be traded this off-season, it appears that will not happen and he, along with Wood and that Soria kid are locks.   After that I think Collins and Jeffress have inside tracks.   I don’t know what more Collins has to prove and my guess is the organization might want to give Jeffress some ‘big league supervision’.    Given where this team is and is going to be for much of 2011, there is little harm in carrying Rule 5 pick Adcock – at least for a while.   As for Holland, his minor league track record is one of an adjustment period at each level followed by outstanding pitching.   We saw some signs of that late in 2010 with Kansas City and I am expecting a big spring out of Greg this year.

An iffy starting rotation and a very young bullpen is something of a volitable combination and I can easily see the Royals shying away from it by going with veteran or quasi-veteran arms in the pen to start the year.   As always the last three spots in the pen are always the hardest to predict.

So, there is your twenty-five.   What’s the record by the end of May?

2010 was widely known as the “year of the pitcher”, and for good reason.  There were five no-hitters or perfect games, six if you count the game in which Armando Gallaraga’s perfect game was denied by a missed call by the first base umpire.  No-hitters and perfect games are an odd and rare occurrence, so merely having an unusually high number of them in a single season doesn’t necessarily mean that the pitchers dominated that year.  It could be a statistical anomaly or a year where a few individual pitchers had outstanding seasons.  There are other statistics which point towards dominance of pitchers in 2010 beyond the mere no-hitter count.  The Major League earned run average (ERA) was 4.08, which is the lowest it has been since 1992.  There were an average of 7.1 strikeouts every nine innings, the highest that number has ever been, although it’s just a tick higher than the 7.0 number posted in 2009.

Lots of theories have been thrown around to try and explain the dominance of pitching in 2010. Some say it’s an anomaly. Some say it’s just a continuing trend. Some blame the umpires, and many point to performance enhancing drug testing. All of those are plausible and in combination could be the cause. One thing I haven’t seen put forward as an explanation is the fact that in 2010, there was a change in one of the three most important pieces of equipment used in baseball: the bat.

I was recently looking at the Official Rules of Major League Baseball and on page number four they have a section titled “Changes for the 2010 Major League Season”.  I hadn’t recalled reading anywhere about notable changes to the rule book in 2010, so I reviewed the items to see if any major changes had been made.  The first few changes were about how to draw the lines of the field and the coach’s box, again nothing of real importance.  However, the fourth bullet point read:

“Reduced maximum bat diameter to 2.61 inches.  (Rule 1.10(a))”

So I then went to rule 1.10(a) and read the following:

“The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2.61 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches in length.  The bat shall be one piece of solid wood.  Note: No laminated or experimental bats shall be used in a professional game (either championship season or exhibition games) until the manufacturer has secured approval from the Rules Committee of his design and methods of manufacture.”

In the 2009 rules, the bat was allowed to be a maximum of 2.75” in diameter.  The last time the maximum diameter of the bat had changed was 1895 when the size changed from 2.5” to 2.75”. Therefore, the allowable bat diameter shrunk by 5.1% in the off-season immediately prior to the “year of the pitcher” and it was the first time such a change had been made in 114 years.

Click to enlarge to actual size

It would seem pretty likely that such a change would negatively impact hitting, so I reached out to Dr. Rod Cross, a physics professor at the University of Sydney and author of papers titled Performance vs moment of inertia of sporting implements, and scatterings of a baseball by a bat. I asked him what impact the decrease in bat diameter would have on the game.  He responded:

“It should not make any difference to home runs or any other batted balls if the bat strikes the ball near the middle of the bat. The only difference would be in those cases where only the edge of the bat strikes the ball. So, there would be an increase in the number of complete misses or strikes, possibly by the same fraction as the change in bat diameter.”

So he suggests that swinging strikes would increase by about 5%.  I found conflicting numbers in regards to swing and miss strikes on various websites, however theoretically, if there were an increase in swinging strikes, that should increase the number of strikeouts overall.  Strikeouts per nine innings in 2010 were 7.1, which was 1.4% higher than 2009 and 4.4% higher than 2008.  Homeruns per nine innings were a steady 1.0 in 2010, 2009 and 2008.  So on a very surface level, the numbers have shades of what Dr. Cross suggested to me.

Taking the numbers of one season and extrapolating any information based on a rule change, even one seemingly as major as the one described here, is difficult. It will be quite interesting to continue to try and determine if this rule change will have an effect on the game of baseball.  We may never know the cause, if one exists, for the 2010 “year of the pitcher”, however it seems that a once in a 100+ change in the bat certainly is part of the equation.

——-

Update(2/4-9:45):

Some really great questions have been posed by commentariat regarding the reduction in maximum bat size. I wish I had thought of these questions prior to writing the article. They actually never occurred to me. I am still trying to get some follow up questions answered and then I’ll put up some quotes from the people I spoke with. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Approximately 35% of Major League players use the maximum diameter bat. I’m still not certain whether that means 35% used something greater than 2.61″ or whether 35% used 2.75″ bats. I’m waiting to clear that one up.

If a player had Major League playing time in 2009, they can use bats they have left over from 2009 which don’t conform to the 2.61″ rule. However they cannot order any new bats that don’t conform.

MLB has people go into clubhouses regularly to test bats for legal diameter and proper wood grain.

Update (2/4 – 9:55):

I got a follow up which informed me that yes, players were grandfathered in if they played in 2009, but not for bats exceeding 2.61″. That grandfather clause was more for the density change in bats, not the size.

Update (2/8 – 11:07):

Rob Neyer has a great piece up regarding my article. He spoke with someone who said there were zero bats in 2009 with a smaller diameter than 2.75″. I was told 35% of players use max diameter bats but still can’t confirm whether it was 2.61″ or 2.75″ diameter they were referring to.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

It’s been a couple of weeks, but with the Billy Butler extension on the books and all the arbitration eligible cases cleared, it’s a good time to look at how the payroll stacks up with about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

All payroll info comes from the indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

What’s amazing is the payroll has decreased since we last examined the books.  That’s entirely due to Gil Meche walking away from $12 million.  And helped by Butler settling for less than the Royals offered in arbitration in exchange for long-term security.  Say what you will about Dayton Moore, but the Royals have come out ahead in the salary game as we head into 2011.

The list above has 13 players with guaranteed money.  That leaves 12 players to fill out the 25-man roster… Each of whom will earn less than $500,000 on average.  Remember, the major league minimum will be $414,000.  Since the Royals aren’t in the business of making a salary statement at the major league level (as opposed to routinely going above slot in the draft) just figure that any player who makes his debut this year, will earn the minimum.  A player like Mike Aviles with a little over two years of service, will make the most of this group… And he’ll earn about $440,000.

So let’s figure an average salary for the remaining 12 players (assuming they are players already on the 40 man roster) will be $425,000.  That’s a total of $5.1 million.

Get ready for this…

That means the Royals Opening Day payroll currently projects to be just over $33 million.  They haven’t had a payroll that low since 2000.

The good news is the Royals are being prudent fiscally.  They aren’t going to contend and with Meche, Greinke and DeJesus in the fold, they weren’t going to contend either.  By dumping almost $30 million in salary, they’re probably going to finish with around the same record they had last summer.  (I’m still figuring things out, but I don’t expect this team to be as historically bad as some people think.)

As I report on the lower payroll, news comes in the Royals signed Dominican right-hander Darwin Castillo for $300,000.  He recently pitched before 125 scouts in the Dominican Prospect League All-Star game, and the Royals jumped quickly.  Sure, $300,000 is relatively peanuts and was certainly already in the scouting and signing budget, but that’s where your Meche money is going.  You have to think the Royals will be even more aggressive in Latin America.  That’s a good thing given we will soon be entering the second phase of The Process.

As we get closer to the actual Opening Day, the fear is still there that GMDM could waste spend some of his surplus on another pitcher, like Kevin Millwood.  Even though he’s gone on the record stating he’s 99.9 percent certain the Royals personnel is set as we head to Surprise, GMDM hasn’t always been truthful.  There will be pressure from fans and from suits within baseball to elevate the payroll… Because believe me, this payroll will be in the news in another month and a half.  The media in New York and Boston will have a field day and trot out the usual Kansas City Cliches.  Hopefully, GMDM can ignore the pressure and keep his focus on building the team for the future.

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