Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

I don’t normally post on back to back days, so I figured I would try something different today.  We don’t usually do a game or series preview here at Royals Authority, although I try to do a series preview on the podcast if you listen to that (and you should, its awesome, take my word for it).  But I figured I would try to do a game preview with hopefully some enlightening information.  If it works, and you enjoy it maybe it is something I will expand.

Tuesday, July 20th – Toronto Blue Jays @ Kansas City Royals

Game Time: 7:10

TV: Fox Sports Kansas City
Radio: 610 AM or any other Royals Radio Affiliate

Stadium Giveaway: Hot Dog Derby T-Shirt

Game Time Weather: 90° with 30% chance of precipitation and isolated thunderstorms

Pitching Matchup

Anthony Lerew – Lerew is a right hander drafted by the Atlanta Braves out of high school in the 11th round of the 2001 draft.  In his 5 starts this year for the Royals he has a 7.56 ERA, however he has an xFIP of only 4.99, so hopefully his real ERA can drop closer to his xFIP tonight. Lerew throws a fastball (90mph) a slider (71mph) and a changeup (81mph).  He has a low BB/9 of only 2.5 and a decently high SO/9 rate of 5.8, which is probably why his xFIP is so low.  However, he really needs to keep the ball in the park in order to be successful.

Jesse Litsch – Litsch is a right hander currently sporting a 6.54 ERA in his 6 starts this season.  He was drafted out of South Florida Community College in the 24th round of the 2004 draft.  His first couple of seasons in 2007 and 2008, he pitched pretty well for the Blue Jays putting up a 3.81 and 3.58 ERA respectively.  However after the 2008 season he got Tommy John surgery and hasn’t gotten back to his old form.  His forte is having good command and not issuing many free passes.  His 2.8 BB/9 ratio would be better than every royals starter other than Greinke and Lerew.  As is typical with a good command, low walk guy, he also doesn’t strike many guys out.  His SO/9 rate of 3.4 is worse than every Royals pitcher except Blake Wood.  His primary pitch has usually been his cut fastball, however according to Fangraphs he has only been throwing it around 20% of the time ratcher than the 40% he was throwing it before his surgery.  He throws a two seam with good movement and four seam fastball.  His fastball sits around 89mph and his changeup is around 81.  He also throws a slider and curveball.

The Teams

Team Wins Losses GB/GA wOBA Starters ERA Relief ERA
Royals 40 52 -11 .325 5.11 4.10
Blue Jays 47 46 -12 .329 4.34 3.93

Batters

The Blue Jays have been led at the plate by outfielder Jose Bautista who currently sports a line of  .236/.356/.537 with a league leading 25 home runs.  Vernon Wells has also been a solid starter for them after having a pretty rough 2009 season.  His line is .267/.317/.519 and he is currently 4th in the league in doubles.  Just last week the Blue Jays swung a trade for shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Atlanta Braves.  Since joining the Blue Jays he has gone 8 for 17 with two home runs including one last night against the Royals.

Miscellaneous

The Royals have played the Blue Jays 342 times and have an all-time record of 169-173 in those games.  They are 91-78 at home vs the Blue Jays

The Royals are 2-2 this season vs the Blue Jays.

Three former Royals are on the Blue Jays: Shawn Camp, Jose Bautista and John Buck.

Mitch Maier is the proud father of a baby girl.  Avalynne Maier was born last night.

Lineups

Royals:

Podsednik – LF
Kendall – C
Dejesus – CF
Butler – 1B
Guillen – DH
Callaspo – 3B
Maier – RF
Aviles – 2B
Betancourt – SS

Team Wins Losses GB/GA wOBA Starters ERA Relief ERA
Royals 40 52 12 0.325 5.11 4.1
Blue Jays 29 63 11 0.329 4.34 3.93

Coming out of the All-Star Game, Royals manager Ned Yost set his rotation to go Greinke -> Chen -> Bannister -> Davies -> Lerew.  Had he said nothing about it, I think there would be little to question about his decision.  If given the chance to set the rotation, I would probably have come up with the exact same one.  Even if you want to argue another way to set up the pitchers, I doubt you would do so vociferously.  The only absolute is that Greinke should be the #1 starter.  Other than that: meh, no big deal.  What did catch my eye was Ned Yost’s reasoning behind having Bannister in the 3rd spot.  From Ned Yost, via The Kansas City Star:

“The spot that has the most day games is the three spot,” Yost said. “Four of the nine starts are day games, and Banny excels in day games, so why not (put him there)?”

Why not, indeed?  It isn’t as if Bannister really belongs as the #1 starter and even if the 3rd spot didn’t get the most day games, he probably belongs there anyway.  So I can’t really argue with his decision, however I think his reasoning is a little suspect.

On the surface, Ned Yost is correct.  Brian Bannister has been better in day starts than in night starts.  Prior to his start yesterday, he had a 2.37 ERA in day starts and a 7.45 ERA in night starts, which is a pretty extreme split for a pitcher to have.  He had pitched 38 innings in the day and 64 at night, smallish sample sizes to be sure.  So lets take a deeper look:

Bannister’s ERA by year and Career in Day and Night

year Day ERA Night ERA
2006 4.50 4.00
2007 3.20 4.08
2008 5.38 6.06
2009 2.98 5.69
2010 2.37 7.45
Career 3.87 5.49

Over Bannister’s career, the difference between the daytime and nighttime version is roughly the difference between 2008 Gil Meche and 2009 Gil Meche, which is significant.  The interesting thing about the ERA stats is that other than his brief 2006 year, he has put up a better daytime ERA than nighttime ERA every single year.  In three of those years, he was a lot better in the day than the night.

So in general, what Yost said and the basis of his assumption is true.  Bannister has over the course of this season and his career pitched better in the day than in the night.  Again, since he was probably going to put Bannister as the third starter regardless, it doesn’t matter in the end but I think this is an excellent time to try and sort out why statistical analysis is important in baseball.

Yost made a rotation decision upon some statistical knowledge he had.  The facts he was using were correct, but was his use of them correct?  That, is the crux of the issue.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Ned Yost to do deep statistical studies on issues.  I am sure he does not have the time to do that, which is why I can’t argue with his decision on the matter.  He saw a statistical anomaly, figured he would run some more tests of it by having Bannister throw more times in the day to see if it is true.  Nothing really lost by putting him at that slot in the rotation anyway.

But in the grand scheme of things, what Yost is attempting to do is make future predictions upon a statistical oddity.  In order to truly do that, we need to go much, much deeper than ERA and then there is absolutely no guarantee that we would actually find out if he is truly better in the day anyway.  Because in order to make the most accurate future predictions of players, we need to not only find statistical evidence, but we need to be able to determine a reason for the evidence.  To me, that above all else is the disconnect between the statistically inclined baseball fans and the anti-statistics crowd.  In most cases, we use statistics to locate something odd and then try and find out why it is happening.  The former is easy, the latter ranges from difficult to impossible.

The first part of that, is to look at even more statistics to help uncover more evidence regarding the particular oddity.  So let’s look at a few more stats for Brian Bannister.  Day and Night  Strikeouts per nine innings, strikeout to walk ratio and Batting Average on Balls In Play.

SO/9 SO/BB BB/9 Babip
Day 4.7 2 2.34 0.278
Night 5.4 1.67 3.24 0.294

So Bannister strikes out more guys at night, but he also walks more guys.  On top of that the batting average of balls put in play is higher too.  So we have a little more evidence that he does somethings well in the day, like limiting hits and walking fewer guys, but he strikes out fewer guys in the day time.  That is a very odd thing, because if there is one single thing a pitcher can do to lower his ERA, striking out more guys is that thing.  So now, we have some evidence that Bannister is better during the day, but it is getting a little shakier.  Lets move onto the next part, the proof.

So in order to reliably predict that Bannister is going to do better in the future when he pitches in the day, we need to connect the dots.  We need to come up with some reason that the day is different for Bannister than the night.  Here is where it gets tricky/impossible.  I don’t have access to Brian Bannister 24/7 let alone for 10 minutes, so I can’t confirm or deny that he does something different to prepare for day games that makes him particularly better suited to pitch those games.  It’s absolutely possible that he does, but he hasn’t indicated that he does and from most things I’ve heard him say he doesn’t do anything differently.  Since the main difference between the day and night in most games is that for one, the sun is out and the other it is dark (duh, I know), what could possibly change from one to the other that would give Bannister the ability  to walk fewer guys in the day than the night?  Honestly, I can’t come up with any and I don’t really think anyone else could either.

So in the end, we have some statistical evidence that leads us to think something works for Bannister in the day that doesn’t work for him in the night.  We have no real way of proving whether or not it is merely a statistical anomaly or if it is something which can predict future success for Bannister in his day starts.  It’s almost a dead end of sorts.  The only way we can find out much more is to keep running him out in the day and see if his stats don’t even out over time.  Because the biggest fly in the ointment for any statistical analysis is that randomness is by nature random.  It provides us with things which seem like they are correlated but have no actual correlation.  Sorting out randomness from actual reasons is what separates a true statistical breakdown with merely showing someone some numbers.  Its the fomer that can get hired into Major League Front Offices sometimes.

In the end, we may never know the truth about Bannister’s day/night splits.  However, personally it’s these kinds of things that add an extra dimension to watching a game and makes it more enjoyable.  For a major league team, I believe that proper statistical analysis can be the difference between being a .500 team and a playoff contender.  I don’t know much about the Royals statisticians on staff, other than Dayton Moore says he has some.  If they are any good, they would probably realize rather quickly that attempting to determine whether they should give Bannister more daytime starts is kind of a waste of time.  There is no great statistical reason in my mind to choose one or the other, so just go with your gut, see if we can’t ride the wave of good daytime starts for Bannister and hope for the best.  Which is exactly what Ned Yost did.

Yesterday was a hot and sunny daytime start.  No better time to break out the Day-Banns and pile up some more statistical evidence one way or the other.  Bannister went out and threw 6.1 IP, 5ER, 2k, 6BB and 2 HR.  It’s only one game, so we can’t just claim that he isn’t a better daytime pitcher yet.  However, he does have a 5.29 career ERA against the Athletics.  Here’s hoping he gets more starts against the Detroit Tigers in the 2nd half because he has a 2.16 ERA against that team.

Episode #025 – Nick discusses Soria at the All Star game, Moustakas to AAA, John Lamb is on fire, Bannisters day/night splits and he questions why the Royals are going to be dressing their fans in opposing teams gear.    All that, plus why replay should not be expanded.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs025.mp3|titles=BBS

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The Royals pitching hasn’t been good this year.  Fact.  Oh, there have been some quality performances here and there.  And the bullpen is certainly improved following their disaster known as April.  Still, you can’t ignore the numbers.

The Royals are allowing 4.97 runs per game.  Only Cleveland (5 R/G) and Baltimore (5.3 R/G) are worse.

Their collective WHIP is 1.43.  Only Cleveland (1.51 WHIP) and Baltimore (1.51) are worse.

The Royals collective SO/BB ratio is 1.84.  Only Baltimore (1.7 SO/BB) and Cleveland (1.43 SO/BB) is worse.

Royal pitchers have surrendered 100 home runs.  Only Baltimore (101 HR allowed) is worse.

The Royals ERA+ is 89.  Only Cleveland (86 ERA+) and Baltimore (86 ERA+) are worse.

Get the idea?

This is supposed to be the year of the pitcher, but the Royals didn’t get the memo.

(Do you want me to blame Jason Kendall for this?  Because I can.)

(That was a joke.)

Actually, I’m surprised the numbers are so negative.  I know the starters haven’t been that great and the bullpen didn’t start the season well, but I thought the pitching had been a little better.  The numbers say otherwise.

Let’s start with the rotation to see how things grade out in the first half of 2010…

Zack Greinke
1.7 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
113 ERA+

No one expected to repeat his stellar 2009 season… That would just be too much to ask.  However, we sure expected him to at least come close.

My main concern with Greinke has been his decline in strikeouts.  Last year at the break, he owned a rate of 9.1 SO/9.  Losing a strikeout and a half from one season to the next is kind of a big deal.  It hurts a little less because Greinke’s rate was so high to start, but this isn’t really something that should go unnoticed.

Why the change?  For starters, hitters began laying off his slider, which was his huge strikeout pitch.   At this time last year, Greinke was getting a swing and a miss 25% of the time when batters offered at his slider.  This year?  He’s getting a swing and a miss just 16% of the time.  (Just 16%?  That’s still a sick number, but compared to last year, it’s not so impressive.)

I’m not bringing up Greinke’s declining strikeout rate to bag on the guy or anything… I’m merely pointing out the biggest difference between this year and last.  He’s still the ace and is still one of the top 10 pitchers in the AL.

Thankfully, Greinke’s xFIP has improved as the season has chugged along.

April: 4.30 xFIP
May: 4.39 xFIP
June: 2.88 xFIP
July: 2.18 xFIP

Of course, that July number is based on seven innings of work since he didn’t make his scheduled start on the Sunday prior to the break.  Still, that outing was vintage Greinke… Probably his best one of the year:

7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO

I think Greinke is poised for a big second half.  Pay attention to those strikeouts, though.  They’ll let us know how he’s doing.

GRADE: B+
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Brian Bannister
3.0 BB/9, 5.3 SO/9, 1.6 HR/9
75 ERA+

I’m glad Bannister is a smart guy because his numbers this year are just a freaking mess.  His decent April (3.48 ERA) was built on the back of an unsustainable strand rate of almost 85% (meaning just 15% of all base runners scored while he was on the mount.  League average is around 25%.)  He posted big – for him – strikeout numbers in May and June, but hitters pounded him for a .325 batting average.

Through everything, he’s surrendered 18 home runs.  Ick.  Even worse, 11 of those allowed the opposition to either tie or take the lead.

GRADE: D+
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Kyle Davies
4.2 BB/9, 5.7 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
75 ERA+

Davies can’t seem to pitch deep into games and he can’t seem to find any consistency.  The good kind of consistency, I mean.  He’s been pretty awful for most of this season.  Again, though, he’s sprinkled just enough decent starts – one hit in six innings against Seattle in April or one run in seven plus innings against the Angels in July – to make the Royals think he’s one bullpen session from putting it all together.

Uhhh… That’s never going to happen.
He and Bannister don’t belong in the rotation.

GRADE: D+
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Luke Hochevar
3.2 BB/9, 6.6 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
85 ERA+

Hochevar is quietly having the best season of his career.  I say quietly, because I’m certain you were hoping for more than a 1.39 WHIP and a 4.23 xFIP from our former number one draft pick.  Still, it’s an improvement.

Last year, hitters put up a line of .364/.422/.649 against Hochevar with runners in scoring position.  This year, he’s allowing a line of .333/.425/.486 in the same situation.

As you can tell from the difference in the slugging percentage from one year to the next, he’s finally figured out how to keep the ball in the park.  It’s been kind of frustrating to watch a sinker ball pitcher get taken deep with alarming regularity.  And in previous seasons, a lot of those bombs came with runners on base.  Eleven of his 23 home runs last year came with runners on, to be precise.  This year, not only is he allowing fewer home runs – just six all year – only one of those have come with a runner on.

If he keeps this up, he could develop into a solid number three starter.  If I recall correctly, that seemed to be his upside when he was drafted.

GRADE: B-
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Gil Meche
6.3 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 1.3 HR/9
63 ERA+

Just an absolute disaster.  When Bruce Chen takes your place in the lineup and people are thankful… Well, you’ve pretty much stunk up the stadium.

I know, I know… It’s not really his fault.  He’s hurt and remains the $55 million victim of Trey Hillman’s Starting Rotation Massacre.  If only Hillman had the guts to tell Meche he was out of a game…

GRADE: F
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Bruce Chen
4.7 BB/9, 7.4 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
110 ERA+

So the only Royal starters with an ERA+ of over 100 is Greinke and Chen?  Who would have guessed that at the start of the season.

Wanna know why he’s been successful (relatively speaking) this year?  Check out these two graphs from texasleaguers.com.  First, features his release point from the entire 2009 season.  The pitch classifications aren’t important.  Just the single big blob.

Here’s the chart illustrating his release point for 2010.  This year, he has two blobs.

For Chen, it’s all about the release point.  By alternating – and throwing all his pitches – from different angles, he’s been able to keep hitters off balance.  His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2003 when he was primarily a reliever.

A couple of concerns though:  For some reason, in his last start, he was only throwing his slider from the lower arm angle.  That’s probably why he struggled and was pulled so early.  Also, he’s still a fly ball pitcher.  Over 50% of all batted balls are fly balls against Chen.  His home run rate is almost certainly going to go up in the second half.  And he’s walking too many batters.

Still, he’s been the surprise in the rotation.  I’m still shaking my head over this development.

Come on, Chen!!!

GRADE: B-
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Anthony Lerew
2.5 BB/9, 5.8 SO/9, 2.9 HR/9
56 ERA+

Yes, Lerew has thrown more gopher balls than walks.

His two good starts have been at home.  His three bad ones have been on the road.  I’m sure the guy who gets to use the lone computer at the K has this one sorted out.

GRADE: D

OK, now to the relief corps…

Blake Wood
3.6 BB/9, 2.9 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
107 ERA+

Double check that strikeout rate again… Make sure I didn’t mess that one up.  Nope… He really has whiffed just eight batters in 25 innings.  For some reason Yost has been using him primarily as an eighth inning guy in close games.  He’s blown a couple of games and coughed up a few runs in a tie game a few weeks back, but otherwise he’s done what the manager has asked.

It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the year.  Once it’s solved, it’s not going to end well.

GRADE: C-
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Dusty Hughes
3.7 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 0.9 HR/9
106 ERA+

Lefty, but not just a LOOGY.  Hillman used him in tight games, but Yost doesn’t trust him.  Since Yost took over, Hughes has made 16 appearances and pitched just once with a lead – and that was with seven runs.  He has entered two tie games, though.

He gets a higher grade than Wood because he can actually strike a batter out.

GRADE: C
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Kyle Farnsworth
2.4 BB/9, 7.2 SO/9, 0.5 HR/9
175 ERA+

His strikeouts are down (he whiffed 10 batters per nine last year) but Kerosene Kyle is having his finest season since 2005.  Really.

I give him grief for not being able to pitch in pressure situations and the Royals have done a fair job of keeping him out of the fire.  According to Baseball Reference, he’s appeared in 14 low leverage situations, five medium leverage situation and 10 high leverage situations.  Here are the results:

High Leverage: .259/.286/.407
Med Leverage: .212/.297/.242
Low Leverage: .231/.302/.346

Keep bringing him into the game in the sixth or seventh inning.  I’m fine with that.

Currently, the most likely Royal to be dealt at the deadline.

GRADE: A-
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Robinson Tejeda
4.9 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9, 0.2 HR/9
126 ERA+

Tejeda will spend the entire season digging out of his miserable April where he held a 12.96 ERA through his first 10 appearances.  Since then, he’s been awesome… A 0.84 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 32 innings and he’s limiting hitters to a .171 batting average.  He’s faced 124 batters and allowed four extra base hits.

He’ll still walk a guy – or three – and that will always keep him from being the top of his class.

GRADE: B+
——————————————————————————————————-
Joakim Soria
2.3 BB/9, 11.1 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
182 ERA+

Stud.

Should have appeared in the All-Star Game.

He’s also another reliever who’s improved since Yost took over as manager. (I know… there’s been a ton of talk about how the bullpen is improved because Yost keeps guys in their assigned roles.  And Soria was always the closer.  Still, the numbers are what they are.)  Soria has a 1.35 ERA since mid-May and hasn’t allowed a home run since May 11.

GRADE: A

There you go… Time to have your turn in the comments.

As Royals fans, we worry a lot and tend to lose perspective in odd ways.   That happens when a one-time model franchise turns into one of baseball’s sinkholes.     It makes us say things like:

  • Yunieksy Betancourt isn’t really that bad.   Well, yes he is.   His on-base percentage is below .300 and he is, at best, a flashy but inconsistent defender.   Really what Betancourt has done is be not quite as awful as last year, better than Tony Pena Jr. and a one-armed Mike Aviles.
  • Scott Podsednik has been outstanding this year and I’m not worried about the occasional out on the bases.   Pods has been caught stealing 11 times and picked off 3 other times.    You wonder why a team that leads the league in batting average is only in the middle of pack in runs scored?   There’s part of your answer right there.
  • How can a team struggling to score runs trade away Jose Guillen.   C’mon, just stop it.

The burdens of being bad and basically made fun of since 1994, also makes us worry about things like:

  • Mike Aviles hitting an ‘empty’ .305.   Considering Aviles had the best WAR by any player since Carlos Beltran in 2008, was injured in 2009 and rushed himself back in 2010, let’s relax on that until sometime in 2011.
  • Jason Kendall bats second.   Playing Kendall every game is ludicrous and as much as we (and I’m in that ‘we’) are annoyed by that, I cannot really come up with anything that would be much different.  
  • David DeJesus smiles too much and is ‘really just a 4th outfielder on a contending team’.   That’s just the beaten dog syndrome there:  we’re bad, all our players are bad, cats and dogs are sleeping together, the world is ending.

I am sure the above two lists could be added to extensively:   a fully expect one of the first five comments to this column to be ‘bloggers will be negative about everything blue or something of that nature’.   However, you really want to worry about something?   Let’s worry about Rick Ankiel.

By worry, I am referring to what the Royals might do when Ankiel is healthy enough to return from his rehab assignment.

On Monday, I wrote about the value of trading or simply shedding Jose Guillen so that the Royals can get a good look at Kila Kaa’ihue.   However, if Guillen was traded tomorrow, who do you think would take his spot on the roster?   Almost has to be Ankiel doesn’t it?

With a $3.5 million salary and a zesty batting line of .210/.275/.419, Ankiel is likely the most untradeable commodity on the roster.    Given the organization’s apparent master plan for 2010 of ‘playing aging veterans who will not figure into the club’s long-term plans at the expense of younger players’, you know they will not only activate Ankiel sooner rather than later, but also play him on regular basis.

I worry about this simply because I do not trust Dayton Moore and Ned Yost to make the right choices here.   Barring not one, but two trades, Ankiel is just another guy getting in the way and another reason that Kila Kaa’ihue will not get a real shot in the majors and keeps Mitch Maier (who has the exact same OPS) on the bench.   While I do not have the love affair with Maier that some do, I would rather see him play everyday than Ankiel.

 I will yield and give some credit to Podsednik and Kendall for providing some veteran leadership and serving some purpose as bridges to the future, but Ankiel and Guillen really do not.     

Rick Ankiel is coming back sometime this month and he is going to get in the way.  Is there anyone that doubts we will see a lineup at some point with Ankiel, Podsednik and Guillen in the outfield with Bloomquist at second and Betemit at third?   Now, THERE’S something to worry about.

 

All-Star Break time… The artificial midpoint in the baseball season.  We’re fairly close, I guess – the Royals have played 88 games this season – just seven past the midpoint.  That means it’s time for my annual exercise where I grade the team.  Hitters today, pitchers and management on Friday.

We’ll travel around the horn…

Jason Kendall
.271/.333/.320
WAR: 0.8

Despite my persistent Kendall bashing, our backstop (is there anyone else on this team who catches?) has gone on a mini hot streak of late.  Since June 23, he’s raised his OBP 18 points and even had a game where he hit two doubles.  Two!  That’s help raise his slugging almost level with his on base percentage.

Look, we knew Kendall would get most of the reps behind the plate, but this is insane.  The old man has been behind the plate for 92% of all Royal defensive innings.  Poor Brayan Pena has to be wondering what he has to do to get some time… Steal Kendall’s cup?

I guess my problem isn’t with Kendall per se, but with an organization that seems to think he has some value.

Fun fact:  Since Ned Yost took over as manager, Kendall is 2-8 in stolen base attempts.  Hmmm… A 25% success rate is… Not good.

GRADE: D
————————————————————————————————————
Billy Butler
.322/.389/.483
WAR: 2.8

Butler leads this team in OPS (.873), OPS+ (137)

The downside of Butler’s season is his continued insistence on hitting balls on the ground.  Over 46% of all of Butler’s batted balls have been grounders.  That wouldn’t be so bad, but the guy isn’t exactly a speed merchant. When he puts the ball on the ground, he’s batting just .219.  When he hits a fly ball, his average is .295.  On line drives?  Try .857.

We’ve said it time and again – for Butler to become the dominant hitter we think (and hope) he can become, he’s going to have to alter his approach and try to drive more balls in the air.  He’s obviously mastered the art of hitting the double, now he needs to turn a few of those doubles into home runs.  The scary thing is, he’s improved his contact rate from last season and has bumped it to above 90%.  He’s a hitting machine with room for improvement.  Excellent.

It’s going to only get more difficult for Butler.  The dude has zero protection in the Royals lineup.  He already has nine walks this month (one intentional) after walking just eight times all of June.  That’s what happens when you have a singles hitter batting fifth.

Defensively, it seems like he’s better.  His UZR is a fat, round 0.  That may not sound like much, but given his negative rates the last two seasons, I’ll take it.  According to the Fielding Bible’s Plus/Minus rating, Butler is a 0 here as well.  Again, improved on his negative numbers from the last two seasons.  The Fielding Bible data says he’s a +3 at ground balls to his right, which in the past has been one of the weaker links of his fielding.

GRADE: A-
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Mike Aviles
.305/.332/.386
WAR: 0.7

Aviles has done well in his return from Tommy John surgery.  The Royals were being cautious in sending him to Omaha early in the season, although many of us thought they were looking to bury him.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.  The Royals are a better offensive team with Aviles in the lineup.

One thing still missing – his power.  He hit 10 home runs and 27 doubles as a rookie in 441 plate appearances.  In 220 plate appearances this year (almost exactly half… Yay!) he’s down to just two home runs and nine doubles.  As you would expect, his ISO is roughly half his final total of 2008.  He currently has a .081 ISO compared to his .155 ISO in 2008.    As a result, his slugging percentage is a full 100 points lower from ’08.

Defensively, he’s shown some decent range at second and looks comfortable turning the double play from that side of the bag.  I look forward to the day he can shift back to shortstop, though… For obvious reasons.

GRADE: B-
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Yuniesky Betancourt
.258/.282/.391
WAR: 0.2

Don’t buy into the school of thought rolling around the Royals that Yuni “isn’t really that bad.”  Admit it.  You’ve probably said those exact words at least once this year.  That’s probably because Yuni has gotten a timely hit or two, something he absolutely never did last summer.  Then ask yourself this:  Why do you remember the timely Betancourt hits?  It’s because you have such low expectations, you expect him to fail and you’re surprised on those rare occasions where he manages to come through.

Stop it.  He still sucks.
Offensively, he’s fifth from the bottom in on base percentage and jsut outside the bottom ten in OPS+ (his OPS+ of 81 has him tied for 11th) The good news:  He’s no longer the worst everyday player in baseball.  In fact, he’s not even the worst everyday player on the Royals. (We’re mailing Jason Kendall his “prize.”)  Defensively, the guy is still a train wreck.  For every difficult ball he catches, he let’s three under his glove.

GRADE:  D-
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Alberto Callaspo
.274/.307/.418
WAR: 0.9

Callaspo is not having a good year.  In trying to figure out where it’s going wrong for him, I found three things:

1- He’s striking out more than he’s walking for the first time since arriving in Kansas City.  His SO/BB ratio from the previous two seasons was 0.92.  This year, he has a 1.6 SO/BB ratio.

2- Part of his on base struggles are poor luck.  He has a .276 BABIP, down from a .316 BABIP the previous two seasons.

That’s really about it.  He’s swinging the same number of times and making the same rate of contact.  He’s hitting slightly fewer line drives, but it’s not enough of a difference to explain his lower batting average or on base percentage.

Defensively, he’s doing fine at third.  Callaspo has converted 88% of all fielded balls into at least one out as a third baseman.  League average is 87%.  I can live with that – especially if he can get his bat going.

I think Callaspo will have a much better second half.

GRADE: C
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Scott Podsednik
.301/.347/.369
WAR: 1.2

I wrote a piece at Baseball Prospectus last week, where Pods was mentioned as a fantasy asset.  I know.  It sounds just as weird to write that as it is to say it.

Still, the guy is hitting for a fine average, getting on base and stealing bases almost like it’s the mid-1980’s all over again.  Color me shocked that he’s coming extremely close to duplicating his 2009 season where he finished at .304/.353/.412 with 30 steals.  Hell, he’s just five steals away from last year’s total, so you know he’s going to fly right by that.

Having sung his praises, there are still a few issues.  Namely his base running.  While he’s  stolen 25 bases, he’s been caught a league high 11 times.  That’s a 69% success rate, which means in the big picture, his running is hurting the team.  He’s been picked off three times and made a couple of other outs on the bases.

His .341 BABIP is extremely high, so don’t be thinking he’s going to finish the season above .300.  This means his OBP will drop as well, especially because he still won’t take a walk.

This grade may seem low, but I just can’t overlook the number of outs he gives away on the bases.

GRADE: C
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Mitch Maier
.251/.328/.367
WAR: 0.8

To those media types who call David DeJesus a fourth outfielder… This is your fourth outfielder.

I’m glad Maier is getting another chance.  He doesn’t do anything really well, but he doesn’t seem to hurt the team, either.  He’s shown improvement from last year, but it’s not a huge – or even really noticeable – improvement.

He leads the team with a 10% walk rate, so that gets a thumbs up from me.

GRADE: C+
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David DeJesus
.326/.395/.460
WAR: 3.1

He should have been the Royals All-Star.  And that he wasn’t on that “Fan Choice” ballot of trickery would be an outrage if I could only muster the requisite emotion to care.

Hands down, the MVP of this team in 2010.

GRADE: A
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Jose Guillen
.279/.340/.467
WAR: 1.5

Since June 1, Guillen has a grand total of seven extra base hits and eight walks.  That may be the craziest stat I’ll find all season.

Even with the power outage, Guillen is the third best hitter on the team this year.

GRADE: B-
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On to the bench, in order of number of plate appearances:

Chris Getz
.232/.301/.268
WAR: -0.2

I know some have hopes for Getz to turn into a serviceable bat to go along with a decent glove, but I just don’t see it.  He makes enough contact, but he’s just not good enough to make solid contact.

GRADE: D
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Willie Bloomquist
.229/.270/.361
WAR: 0.1

My least favorite moment of 2010 was probably when I learned Bloomquist was DHing against the White Sox last weekend.  The justification (Wee Willie was 13-33 against starter Mark Buehrle in his career) was borderline insane.  Although it is just like the Royals to determine their lineup against a sample size so minute to call it “small” would be overstating it.

To be fair, Bloomquist’s .239 BABIP suggests he’s been the victim of some really bad luck.  And I’m extremely pleased one year after giving Wee Willie 468 plate appearances the Royals seem to figured out how to use him.  He’s on pace for around 175 plate appearances this year.  Much better.

GRADE: D
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Rick Ankiel
.210/.275/.419
WAR: -0.1

So Guillen had blood clots, almost died, and the Royals decided they needed to sign Ankiel.  Ugh.

You know all the Lebron bashing happening right now… How Jordan would never have joined another team and played second fiddle to another established star… How Lebron will never be an alpha dog because he made this decision?  That’s kind of how I feel about Ankiel turning down an opportunity to play for the Yankees when the Royals promised him center field. It told me everything I needed to know about Ankiel.

Yeah, I’m still sore about that.

Ankiel is another dud in the Royals attempts to sign a veteran with the intent of dealing him at the trade deadline.  Not to wish continued injury on someone, but I don’t think he needs to come back.  The Royals are a better team with him not in the lineup.

GRADE: D-
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Wilson Betemit
.389/.441/.722
WAR: 0.9

Those are some impressive numbers, but he’s done that in what is basically two and a half weeks of regular work.

The hope is the Royals realize Betemit can handle the DH duties and finally jettison Guillen.  (Yes, I know Guillen has no value, but I’m just ready for his time in KC to end.  Sometimes, it’s just better to move on… Quickly.)

Still, it’s nice to see the Braves pipeline actually you know… work.  Even for a little bit.

Grade: A-

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Alex Gordon
.194/.342/.323
WAR: -0.3

2009 was supposed to be the key year.  Then it was 2010.

Now it’s 2011.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it’s for another team.

Although I will hold out hope the Royals can trade Podsednik and make room for Gordon on the roster before August.  I’d like to see at least two months of Gordon everyday.  Please.

GRADE: I
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Brayan Pena
.172/.286/.207
WAR: -0.2

Who?  This grade is more a reflection of Hillman and Yost.

GRADE: D

As always, thanks for reading all the way through.  Now it’s your turn to weigh in on the comments.  Too harsh? Not harsh enough?  Or just right?   Fire away…

It’s the All-Star break, so forgive me if I take a moment to do an article on something a little bit more general. Besides, I’d kind of like to wipe the taste of that White Sox series out of my mouth for a moment. There is plenty of time remaining in the season to talk more Royals.

Last night was the Home Run Derby and David Ortiz won. Some of you watched and some of you didn’t (Craig said he wasn’t going to watch, but I still don’t believe him). The derby is something that gets a lot of criticism, and honestly most of it is deserved. But like almost everything other than the speed of light, it’s relative.

Let me step back for a moment. The All Star game and all of the related activities such as the Home Run Derby and the Futures Game are played at Angels Stadium this year, so there has been lots of looking back at the last game played there in 1989. That game was memorable for Royals fans because Bo Jackson hit a towering shot in the first at bat for the American League and was named MVP. In 1989 I was 10 years old, so I was basically in my prime for baseball worship and that was one of the highlights of my entire Royals fandom. Honestly, it still is. Yeah, I was at the 1985 World Series, but I didn’t really get what was going on, heck I barely remember it. The Royals have never been in a playoff game since then, so highlights (as you all know) have been hard to come by. Last night Bo threw out the first pitch and I thought to myself “Wow, how cool would it have been if they had the Home Run Derby when Bo was playing?” Think about that, it would have been spectacular particularly to any young Royals fan.

Back to the relative nature of the Home Run Derby. If you are like me, you read all kinds of baseball articles and blog posts. I read articles from Padres beat writers, Rockies bloggers, Tigers fans, prospect watchers, satirists, historians, stat gurus, geniuses, writers I loathe, writers I respect and every other angle that one can possibly fathom. I always felt that I had an amazing cross section of baseball opinions represented, until last night. With all of the unique voices writing about the game today, nobody captures that of the 10 year old fan. And THAT is who the Home Run Derby is for.

I remember as a young kid watching re-runs of that old home run derby show from the 50’s on ESPN and l loved it. I remember wishing that I could see the great power hitters of that day like Will Clark, Andre Dawson and Bo Jackson do the same thing. Going back and watching that old show now just doesn’t seem that great. Like the current home run derby, it’s kind of boring with little nuance, strategy or the million other things that make a real baseball game great. But most 10 year olds don’t really appreciate nuance and strategy and the subtleties of the game the way someone can with a couple of decades more experience. That’s why we don’t let them drink, drive or get married.

Just imagine what a blog post from a 10 year old fan regarding the Home Run Derby would be like: (I wish I knew a 10 year old, I would have absolutely let him/her write this part):

OH MAN! Did you see the Home Run Derby last night?!? Big Papi hit a ton of home runs and they went far. That was so awesome. Hanley Ramirez, that guy from the Marlins smashed huge home runs off of the rocks and stuff out in center field. It was soo cool. Oh, and did you see that one ball hit the camera guys and those kids falling all over the place trying to catch the balls? I totally could have caught those balls. Oh yeah, and that guy with the beard, that was sweet.*

*I apologize if I am not giving enough credit to the writing abilities of a 10 year old. It’s been awhile since I have been one and don’t exactly recall my writing skills at that point.

Just imagine how great you would have thought it was at that age. And quite frankly, in the eyes of Major League Baseball, aren’t they the most important fans? Not just in a Saturday Evening Post, aww-shucks-do-it-for-the-kids kind of way, but because they are future customers. Hooking a 10 year old on baseball is as lucrative as it gets. They are the fans who will have a lasting memory of this Home Run Derby, or tonights All Star game. I think sometimes we get too caught up in what would make an event most pleasurable for us, without thinking of the thousands and thousands of younger fans.

So while the complaints regarding the Home Run Derby are all valid, it’s because we are looking at it through the lens of adulthood and comparing it to the actual game of baseball, which is foolish. If the Home Run Derby were as good as or better than an actual game of baseball wouldn’t we just play that instead?  Sometimes it is easier than others, but especially with regards to the All Star Game festivities, we could probably all just harken back a little bit to when we were 10 year old fans.  I think we might have a new appreciation for some of this stuff.

The Royals did not have an enjoyable weekend in Chicago and probably tempered some of the talk of contention that was swirling about the club for much of the week.   That was to be expected given that Kansas City has not one, but three teams in front of them to begin with, and a fair amount of history working against them as well.  

Simply put, the list of teams who approached the All-Star Break with records like the Royals and who were as far back as this team was and then actually did end up playing in the post-season is very, very short.   Without doing any research whatsoever, I am pretty confident the few teams that did manage the feat did not have to accomplish the act without their numbers one, two and three starting pitchers.

That said, had the Royals swept Chicago this weekend instead of being obliterated, I would have still written this column. 

You see, I can make a case for nottrading every player on this team, save one.   It is easy to make a case to keep David DeJesus.   It is plausible to make an argument to stick with Scott Podsednik and, if one tries hard enough, you can even come up with reasons to hang onto Kyle Farnsworth.      The one player for whom I cannot generate an argument to keep is Jose Guillen.

In Guillen, the Royals have a 34 year old with a history of injuries and tempestuous behavior who will be a free agent at season’s end.   While Jose is hitting a solid .279/.340/.467, which is actually a cut above his career line of .272/.323/.442.    You could make a case that a team desperate for power should hang onto the one guy on the team on pace to hit almost thirty home runs, this year.    Despite the home runs, however, Guillen’s slugging percentage is just .007 higher than that of David DeJesus, a player widely condemned for ‘not having any pop’, and is sixteen points behind Billy Butler.

Certainly, the value of the home run goes beyond just pure slugging percentage and without a doubt, Guillen currently is the player on the roster most likely to hit one.     It is noteworthy, however, that seven of Jose’s homers came in the month of April.   That is a big month and Guillen is known to have big months now and then.    More precisely, he has one big month per year.

In June of 2008, Guillen also hit seven home runs.   He never topped four dingers in any other month that season.   During the 2007 season, Jose hit six homers in May, but no more than four any other month.   In 2006, like his injury plagued 2009 campaign, Guillen did not have the ‘big’ month.    Back in 2005, however, Guillen did hit six home runs in April and five more in both June and August, while in 2004 he hit six or more homers in a month three times.

Unless you are willing to believe that Guillen has reverted to the form he exhibited when he was 28 years old, then the odds are against Jose hitting more than four home runs in any of the remaining months of this season.   One other home run tidbit:  Guillen has not hit more than three home runs in September since 2003.

No matter what you think of Jose Guillen and what he brings to the Kansas City Royals, I have one simple question.    If Omaha was the AAA affiliate of some other organization and that organization offered you Kila Kaa’ihue for Jose Guillen, would you make that deal?

If you cannot get past the Royals’ front office constant harping on Kaa’ihue’s supposed ‘slider bat speed’ comments, then would you trade Jose Guillen for a guy who:

  • Owns a .278/.421/.510 line in 239 AAA games (with 46 home runs)
  • Despite a dismal first six seasons in the minors, still owns a career .390 on-base percentage
  • Posted batting lines of .314/.456/.628 in 2008, .252/.392/.433 in 2009 and .306/.463/.584 thus far in 2010?

Of course, no team is going to offer one of the better hitters in AAA baseball (even if he is twenty-six years old) for a three month rental of Jose Guillen.    They won’t do it even if the Royals pay most, if not all of Guillen’s remaining salary.   The thing is, they don’t have to offer such a player for the trade to make sense for Kansas City.

One way or another, the money due Guillen is out the door and whether the Royals are paying him to play in KC or somewhere else is pretty irrelevant.   What is relevant is how Kila Kaa’ihue figures into the club’s future.

The Royals are not going to contend with Jose Guillen or Kila Kaa’ihue at designated hitter in 2010, but they might (with some breaks) contend with Kaa’ihue in the lineup in 2011…..maybe.    Right now, none of us, not Dayton Moore, not Ned Yost, not me, not my kids and not even Kila Kaa’ihue know if he can be a big league hitter.

Should the Royals be so desperate to win 76 games instead of 72 that they stick with Jose Guillen in August and September?  Or should they get Kaa’ihue 250 to 300 at-bats from here on out to discover if he can be an on-base machine with decent power in the majors?  (I envision a Nick Johns0n type minus the constant injuries, by the way).

Best case scenario is that Kila hits in the majors as he has the last three years in the minors.   Worst case, he falls flat and the Royals have the entire off-season to find someone to man the designated hitter position in 2011.     Better to have Kila hit .185/.250/.310 in August and September of 2010 for a club that might threaten to reach 80 wins than to have him do it in April and May of 2011 for a team that has a shot at contending for the A.L. Central.

Given Guillen’s recent ‘minor’ injury, whatever market there was for him has faded considerably and almost certainly has taken most National League clubs out of the picture.   That said, the Royals don’t have to trade Jose Guillen for a good AAA hitter, they just have to trade him.     What they get in return is really just a bonus to getting Kila Kaa’ihue on the big league roster and in the everyday lineup.

So again I ask the question:  would you trade Jose Guillen for Kila Kaa’ihue?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the Ned Yost Honeymoon was officially over.

At that point, the Royals dropped five games in a row to NL East competition.  Of course, since then they’ve gone 10-3.  10-3!

That’s a nice little run, but it’s far too reminiscent of their 18-11 run to start the season last year.  All teams – even bad ones – have the ability to string together a week or even a month of good games.

Does this run happen with Trey Hillman in charge?

That’s kind of a meaningless question.  Hillman is on a ranch in Texas or something like that.  He’s yesterday’s news.

The relevant question is: How much of this has to do with new management?  Are the Royals playing above .500 because of Yost?

I’m not completely sold.

They’re winning because David DeJesus is hitting .380/.439/.473 over his last 47 games.

They’re winning because Billy Butler has found his doubles stroke – he’s hit 17 – and is slugging .522.

They’re winning because they recalled Wilson Betemit, who is playing like his hair is on fire and is hitting .375/.434/.729.  Was that a Yost call to bring Betemit from Omaha?  Betemit replaced Bryan Bullington, so he replaced the 13th man in (an unnecessary) 13 man bullpen the Royals used early in the year.

They’re winning because Bruce Chen is changing his arm slot and keeping hitters off balance.  He has a 3.66 ERA in seven starts since replacing Gil Meche in the rotation.  He’s limiting hitters to a .203 average.  If Hillman wrecked Meche (which I believe to be true, with an assist to Meche) Yost has only benefitted from his replacement.

They’re winning because Robinson Tejeda, Joakim Soria, Kyle Farnsworth and Kanekoa Texeira all have an ERA under 2 coming out of the bullpen for Yost.

They’re winning despite Jason Kendall hitting second in the lineup.

As bad as Kendall has been, Alberto Callaspo and Yuniesky Betancourt have been worse.  Both have sub .300 on base percentages under Yost.  Although those guys can get an occasional extra base hit.

This is the perfect time to mention that Wednesday night was the ultimate Yost moment.   The Royals are trailing in the eighth by one and the Mariners Brandon League can’t find the strikezone and had walked the first two batters.  Naturally, this situation screams for a bunt.  (Not really… Why give a struggling pitcher a lifeline of an out?)  Fortunately, Callaspo can’t get a bunt down and instead blast a three-run home run.  The Royals got the win on the back of that home run (and a couple of others.)  They won despite the manager trying to give it away.

They’re winning despite Blake Wood and his straight fastball and his pitch to contact method.  Still, I feel Yost is walking a tightrope every time he brings Wood into the game in the eighth with the Royals trying to get the game to Soria in the ninth.

It’s simplistic, but in this case the good outweighs the bad.  Lately – like the last 15 years – it’s been the other way around.

Yost has made some good decisions and he’s made some bad ones.  And it’s pretty clear he’s an upgrade over Hillman.  Maybe I was a tad premature in declaring the honeymoon over.  And as far as the Royals playing .500 ball for an extended stretch, it appears he arrived at just the right time.

Nothing wrong with that.  I hope it continues.

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The next question everyone seems to be asking is, “Can the Royals contend?”  My answer would be to calm down.  But damn, isn’t this town hungry for a winner?

I realize, like Yost says, we’re a week away from first place.  Whatever.  That’s all well and good, but it’s going to be a struggle to get back to .500.  Right now, the Royals Pythag record is 39-46 – which is exactly where they stand for real.  And there are three teams ahead of us who are playing really good baseball.

I still think the Royals finish in fourth.  It’s possible they could steal third away from the White Sox who always seem to be an Ozzie Guillen moment away from destruction.

I’d be happy with improved fundamentals.

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Brian Moynahan at Bus League Baseball interviewed Mike Moustakas about making adjustments after his disastrous 2009, going home to Southern California for the Futures Game and Bull Durham.  It’s a good interview and worth the time to read.
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So did you see that interview in ESPN’s Magazine where the unnamed MLB player takes a shot at Kansas City hosting the 2012 All-Star Game?  The money quote:

I also know for a fact that guys around the majors are not psyched about the prospect of spending All-Star week in Kansas City in 2012.  The park isn’t great, and there’s just not much going on in that town.

Cry me a freaking river.   Yeah, this isn’t New York or Boston, but the game has been played in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati and survived.  There’s plenty to do in this city and I have full confidence that the forces will come together and provide one hell of a party.

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The one fear – and it’s a very real one given their recent hot streak – is the Royals won’t make the moves necessary at the upcoming trade deadline to pave the road for the future.  We all remember how Allard Baird went for it in 2004 – and set the franchise back in the process.

However, this is a different era and a different regime.  If there’s one thing Dayton Moore has preached from the beginning is building through the minors.  As long as he doesn’t overvalue his trade chips, I don’t think this little hot stretch alters The Process.  That’s a good thing.

Episode #024 – Nick talks All Star Game, trades, the Royals playing well, Callaspo stepping up and does a series review and preview.  All of that, plus he answers emails and discusses his love of Bruce Chenner.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs024.mp3|titles=BBS

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