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Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

As we count the moments until the 11 PM Central deadline and anxiously await the fate of Bubba Starling and the future of Cornhusker football, now would be a good time to refresh where the Royals stand on their top 30 picks.

UPDATE: The Royals have signed Starling for a reported $7.5 million bonus spread over three years. About a million less than I expected. The three year spread veers from the normal five year spread for a two sport athlete and is probably why Starling’s number fell a little below what most draft gurus expected.

The following table lists those picks and (if known) their signing bonus. The slot figures apply only to the first five rounds. After those rounds, MLB demands that bonuses not exceed $150,000. Players in bold have signed. The table is current at 11 PM Central.

The Royals have committed $12.955 million in known bonuses. The record for bonus payouts was set last year by the Washington Nationals who spent $11,927,200. Obviously, the Royals would appear to have broken the record, although other teams are spending tons of cash at the deadline. There will be other teams who spent more.

Bookmark this post for the next time one of your friends complain about the Royals not spending money.

The lineup that takes the field these days is pretty much your Kansas City Royals of 2012 and, maybe even 2013.   You could insert Lorenzo Cain into one of the outfield spots in place of Cabrera or Francoeur and, as several commentors are likely to point out, maybe make a change at second base in the future, but otherwise THIS is your starting nine for the foreseeable future:

  • Gordon LF
  • Cabrera CF
  • Butler DH
  • Hosmer 1B
  • Francoeur RF
  • Giavotella 2B
  • Perez C
  • Moustakas 3B
  • Escobar SS

I am not going to lie:  I like it.   If you read my musings here on a regular basis, you know I would like it even more if Cain was inserted in place of either Cabrera or Francoeur (I go back and forth on which one), but as a blogger I need something to bitch about, don’t I?

This lineup, right now, might be the best combination of offense and defense the Royals have put on the field since the early part of the 21st century.   It certainly projects as a really decent to maybe even very good group next year and the season after that, particularly when you keep in mind that should Melky and the Frenchmen revert to their old ways the Royals have Cain and Wil Myers (even David Lough) as outfielders in waiting.

The bullpen, well, we have watched that since Opening Day and it is predominately young and exciting.   Like most, I have grown weary of Tim Collins jousting with the mystery that is the major league strike zone and there is concern that Joakim Soria may never quite get back to being JOAKIM SORIA, but there is not a lot to dislike with this unit – other than it consists of an absurd eight relievers.  As an aside, how many of you remember the days when teams routinely had just FOUR relievers in the bullpen and certainly no more than five?  Oh, how the times have changed.

The Process, while still banking heavily on the fact that virtually every prospect the Royals bring up will entrench himself as at least a solid every day regular, is rolling along.   The lineup is basically in place and the bullpen (with Kelvin Herrera, Kevin Chapman and others soon to follow) is solid, bordering on great if Soria gets it all back in order.   We all feel good, the sun is shining bright, the birds are singing and then, whammo, some SOB brings up the starting rotation.

To be honest, I actually thought the Royals’ starting rotation in 2011 might actually be worse than it has been.  That is not to say it is average or even acceptably below average, but it has not been god awful horrific:  maybe that’s something.   Certainly, there are worse things than heading into 2012 with a starting rotation of Paulino, Duffy, Hochevar, Francis and Chen.   I doubt that the Royals do that, however, given that the money spent to re-sign both Francis and Chen would probably not be the bargain it was this year and, frankly, that is still not a very good starting rotation.

The big problem, of course, is that there really is not a very good crop of free agent starters on the market this coming off-season.  Sure, C.C. Sabathia is likely to opt out of his deal, but he is playing in a financial realm that even the most optimistic Royals’ fan knows they cannot compete in.   C.J. Wilson might hit the market, but there are strong indications that he is willing to give the Rangers a ‘hometown discount’.   Funny thing about really good front-line starters:  they like to win and Kansas City is not quite the team that they think will give them wins: not quite yet.

So the Royals really have two avenues in which to find their ‘ace’ starter:  prospects or trade and if you want an ace on your staff in 2012 for sure and probably in 2013 as well it is not going to be any of the prospects in the system, including Danny Duffy.   Aces, true number one guys, seldom explode on the scene and are that type of pitcher from day one.  We all know about Zack Greinke’s growing pains, but Justin Verlander developed into an ace over time.   So did, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia.

If you believe that the Kansas City Royals are a number one pitcher away from the playoffs in 2012 or, as it more likely, a number one away in 2013, then you almost have to advocate trading prospects to get that guy.   The market equivalent for a Ubaldo Jimenez (we can debate his ‘ace’ status another time – suffice it to say he was traded at ‘near ace’ prices) was essentially Aaron Crow, Mike Montgomery and two other lesser prospects.   If you could acquire Clayton Kershaw (not saying you can) for that price, would you do it?   I would have done so to get Jimenez, honestly, so you know where I stand.

Of course, aces don’t get traded all that often and so the Royals might well have to trade for a guy who might be ready to become a number one starter:   someone like Tampa’s James Shields.   The Royals would be buying high on Shields, who is just a year removed from a plus five ERA, and really what Dayton Moore would be doing is banking that, as with Gil Meche, he can guess/project that a guy is ready to elevate his performance to the next level.  No, I am not implying that Meche was an ace, but he was a guy who went from a four/five starter with potential to a solid two/three starter….until the Royals made his arm fly apart.

Again, without getting into the ‘is Shields the right guy’ argument, let’s just say that the Royals are contemplating a move for an guy who either is or will become a true number one type pitcher: a pitcher who is going to be five plus wins above replacement level, throw 200 plus innings with an xFIP below 3.75.   Basically, a pitcher who is going to take the ball 34 times in 2012 and not only give you a chance to win, but flat out MAKE the other team beat you.   How many wins does that really turn into for the Kansas City Royals?

I asked this on Twitter last week and got responses ranging from ‘three to five’ all the way up to ‘ten to twelve’, with eight being a very common number that was thrown out.  It seems to me that WAR does not quite quantify the value completely as at least a portion of a  true number one pitcher’s innings would theoretically replace innings pitcher at below replacement level.   Not to mention that said pitcher would ease the load on the bullpen and thus allow your better relievers to pitch in more critical situations more often.

Right now, the Royals’ starting five is averaging between 5.3 (Duffy) and 6.3 (Hochevar) innings per start.   The kind of pitcher we are talking about here is likely to average close to seven innings per start, which should save the bullpen an extra inning plus of rest every fifth day.   In theory, that is 35 free innings to give to Greg Holland or Louis Coleman instead of handing them to Blake Wood or Tim Collins.   That has to be worth something as well, doesn’t it?

Far smarter people than me can and probably have worked out the true value an ace pitcher brings to a team in terms of wins – let me amend that, to a team that is close to contending as opposed to the teams that Greinke pitched in front of here in Kansas City – and I imagine a true sabrematrician will bristle at this rough analysis.   That said, let’s just say an true number one is worth seven extra wins to this team all things considered.   Do you trade prospects, real prospects that will hurt you at your core to part with, for this pitcher?

Let’s add another variable to the equation.    I believe that, as likely to be constructed, the Kansas City Royals are a 77 win team in 2012 and, without drastic changes, an 83 win team in 2013.    If adding an ace, assuming the Royals can and that is a big assumption, makes them an 84 win team next year and a 90 win team in 2013, should Dayton Moore take the plunge and the risk to do so?

Some of you may think I am jumping the gun, that the Royals are much more than one player, no matter how good, away from contention.   You might be right.   It would also be a plausible approach to say that the system will produce an ace soon enough and shipping away a raft of top prospects is the last thing the organization should do.  Again, you may be right.  

No matter your opinion of where the Royals are and where they are likely to be in the next two seasons, I think the idea of trying to bolster the rotation from the top is worth considering. 


One of the more interesting moments from Thursday’s fourth and final loss to the Rays came in the top of the seventh inning. At this point, the Royals were down 3-1 and got a leadoff single from Melky Cabrera.

(Let me join the crowded chorus of those who continue to be amazed at the career renaissance experienced by the Melk Man. A line of .306/.339/.471 currently represents a career high in batting average and slugging, and it’s his second highest OBP since his rookie year in 2006 when he finished at .360. His current wOBA of .354 is the highest of his career. Well done, Dayton Moore… Cheap and productive.)

After Billy Butler flied out to right for the first out of the inning, the Rays went to the bullpen to play the platoon match-up and brought in the left handed JP Howell to face Eric Hosmer. Howell threw two pitches, Hosmer swung at both and on the second pitch, knocked it into the opposite field for a single, putting runners on first and second with just one out.

(Absolutely the right call to bring the lefty in to face Hosmer, who does the majority of his damage against right-handed pitching. He’s batting .300/.356/.508 against right-handers and just .220/.271/.250 versus the lefties. Obviously, in that situation you don’t want to give up a game-tying home run. It likely wasn’t going to happen with Howell on the mound. All 10 of Hosmer’s homers have come against right-handers.)

The Royals have a little something going now in the late innings, and this brings up Jeff Francoeur. The Rays go back to the bullpen for Joel Peralta. Here’s the pivotal point in the game for the Royals.

The Frenchman works the count to 2-2 and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, Cabrera and Hosmer are off and running. Francoeur swings through strike three and Hosmer is thrown out at second to end the inning. Just like that, what looked like a promising inning is over.

According to data from Pitchf/x, Peralta threw pretty much the exact same pitch five consecutive times to The Frenchman. All five pitches were recorded as 91 mph fastballs, yet, he couldn’t so much as get his bat on the ball. Francoeur has earned his reputation as a free-swinger, but his strikeout totals reflect someone who more or less makes contact. He’s whiffed in just over 17% of his at bats this year and makes contact on 80.8% of his swings. (League average contact rate is 80.9% so he’s right there.) It’s his walk rate that we have an issue with, but we knew in that situation, he was up there swinging.

(He took a walk in the first and his walk rate for 2011 is now a career best 6.4%. File that one under “Miracle, Minor.”)

Of Francoeur’s 85 strikeouts this year, here’s how they breakdown according to Bill James’ Baseball IQ:

Swinging 80%

Swinging out of the strike zone – 49%

So The Frenchman doesn’t get cheated. When he goes down, he goes down swinging. Now, half the time he’ll chase out of the zone, but I would imagine that’s pretty close to league average. With two strikes, you have to expand the zone.

As you can see from Gameday, Peralta pounded the zone. He wasted the first pitch up and away then threw a pretty good pitch low and away for strike one. He missed the same spot for ball three and then attacked with a fastball up and in for the second strike. He finished him off with a pitch that was down the heart of the plate in the lower third of the zone. Francoeur may have gone up there to swing, but he wasn’t undisciplined.

I guess they were decent pitches, but Peralta was living dangerously. After the first strike, the next two where in areas where The Frenchman makes his living. Here are his hitting zones from Inside Edge. Notice that Francoeur second best hitting quadrant is in the exact spot where he swung and missed against Peralta. And Francoeur doesn’t do too shabby against that inside high strike, either. Given this data, along with the location of pitches he saw in that at bat, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t at least put the ball in play.

Swinging in the strike zone – 31%

Finally, The Frenchman doesn’t swing and miss at a “true” strike all that often. And for Francoeur to swing and miss at that pitch – in that location – for a third strike… Well, let’s just say the result of that plate appearance was surprising. Usually, if he’s swinging and missing at the third strike, it’s when the pitcher busts him up and in. He hardly ever misses the pitch that was in the location of the third strike from Peralta. Again, from Baseball IQ, here is the heat map of the location of third strikes against Francoeur.

If you want to strikeout The Frenchman, you attack him high in the zone or get him to chase low and away. You don’t leave a pitch where Peralta left his. Yet, as we’re reminded, this is baseball and execution actually counts. My gut told me it was a dumb play to put the runners in motion with The Frenchman at the plate late in a game, looking at the data, I’m not sure it was as crazy as it seemed at the time. Peralta left a pitch in a great location for Francoeur, and he just failed to execute like he usually does given the location of the pitch. It happens. So while my gut told me it wasn’t the right move to put the runners in motion, after looking at the data, it doesn’t seem like such a bad call after all.

Sadly, it was the last chance for the Royals to avoid the sweep.

Last night’s five run debacle in the bottom of the ninth brought back memories of some really, really bad Royals’ teams of the past.   Although charged with just one error in the inning, the Royals committed enough gaffes and bobbles to make one wonder if the ghost of Chip Ambres was not lurking somewhere near.

Let’s start at the beginning.  

After Melky Cabrera mashed a three run homer in the top of the ninth to give Kansas City a four run lead, Ned Yost opted to go with Aaron Crow instead of Joakim Soria to start the bottom of the inning.    Soria, who had not pitched since throwing 11 pitches on Sunday, was already warm when the decision was made to switch to Crow.  I can only assume that the primary driver behind this decision was that the bottom of the ninth was no longer a save situation.  

I did not like this move at the time (my wife will sign an affidavit stating such).    Crow jumped ahead of both Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon 0-2, but yielded ground ball singles to both.   Does Chris Getz get to Joyce’s ground ball?  Maybe, but more on that in a minute.

In comes Soria, entering a game in the middle of an inning for just the fourth time this season and just the second time since April.   Now, it should not matter to an expeirenced reliever when they come in, who is on and who is up.  In the convuloted world of closers and bullpen management, however, relievers seem to have all sorts of comfort zones and I am pretty sure the Royals were outside of Soria’s at this point.

Don’t get me wrong, going to Soria was the right move at this juncture.   The problem was that Yost should have stuck to his plan despite Cabrera’s home run and let Soria start the ninth inning (particularly considering Crow has been nursing a dead arm or sore shoulder or whatever we are calling it this week).  

Okay, Soria is in and promptly is tagged on a ‘double’ by Evan Longoria.  I note the ‘double’ in that Melky Cabrera, who had spent the ninth inning changeover yapping at some fans who had been razzing him, fielded the hit and threw to third instead of second.   Does Longoria go to second if the throw is headed that direction instead?  The angle on television I saw was not clear, but both Ryan Lefevbre and Frank White (two guys who make a living generally making excuses for the players) seemed to think that Cabrera threw to the wrong base and allowed Longoria to turn a single into a double.

The relevancy of that play immediately came to light when Ben Zobrist grounded out to second baseman Johnny Giavotella.  There are a lot of variables that come into play, but there was a chance that, had Longoria been standing on first this was a double play ball.   I don’t know, the defensive positioning, the pitch selection and likely Zobrist’s approach at the plate all are different given where Longoria is on the bases, but I do know that there is a much better chance to turn a double play if the runner is on first instead of second.

Next up is Casey Kotchman who grounds to Giavotella’s right and right into the play that, according to Lee Warren  is the most troublesome for the rookie second baseman.   Johnny bobbles the backhand, turns and jump throws to first to give Kotchman a hometown infield single.  Again, not sure Chris Getz does or does not make that play:  Chase Utley does and probably a fair portion of major league regulars at the position do as well.

After Soria strikes out B.J. Upton (easily one of the most dislikable players in the league), Sam Fuld triples into right center.   Fuld is fast and that ball was a triple from the beginning even with Jeff Francoeur fielding the caroom well and firing a strike to cut-off man Johnny Giavotella.

Now, Giavotella is young and just failed to make a play and, as you might expect, tries to make up for it.   His throw to third was good right up until the time that it hit the sliding Fuld’s foot.   The two good throws gave the Royals a slight, slight mind you, chance to throw out Fuld, but I’m pretty sure he’s safe regardless.   Let him have his triple and hope that Soria gets Kelly Shoppach and the Royals at least get to play more baseball.

At any rate, here is a question that I don’t have the answer to.   Where was Joakim Soria in all of this?  Obviously, he would have been moving to back up home as soon as Fuld hit the ball, but once the play started heading towards third, should Joakim have been up the line to back up an errant throw to that base?

I will be honest in that one replay of what happened was enough for me to turn off the television before seeing if I could locate Soria on any of the replay angles.   I do know that in the bottom of the eighth, in a similar situation, Greg Holland could be seen busting his tail up from behind home up to third to back up a possible play there.   Again, not so much a criticism as a question and, honestly, maybe not even a relevant one.

At any rate, it was simply a horrific display of baseball in the bottom of the ninth, but these sorts of innings even happen to good teams sometimes and to young teams more often.  The latter, of course, is what the Royals are:  young.

Ned Yost could have inserted Chris Getz into the game for defense in the ninth, but that does not do Johnny Giavotella any good in 2012.   I know, a lot of you are tired of playing for next week or next year or the year after that, but the Royals need Giavotella to learn what he can and cannot do and when he should and should not do it.     That is what this seven week experience is all about for both him and Salvador Perez:  getting used to making big league decisions in the big leagues.

Let’s face it, with the possible change of one outfield position, last night’s lineup is going to be the 2012 lineup and could very well be the 2013 lineup as well. They are going to have some ugly innings out there.   That they do post a stinker more often than we would like is not an indictment of the lineup or, dare we say it, The Process.

Last night sucked and there might be others like it as the Royals play out the string in 2011, but I can live with that if this same group or something close to it makes the move from ‘young and promising’ to ‘youthful and good’ by next year.

Per Dutton on Twitter

Of course, in my mind, Kyle Davies was always at the top of the list of candidates to be released. Still, I didn’t think they would do it. Not at this point in the season. A couple of quick thoughts:

— What did the Royals see differently from his last 61 innings that made them change their minds? After all, they agreed to pay him $3.2 million this year while releasing Brian Bannister.

— I know there’s an unwritten rule about guys losing their jobs when they land on the DL (it doesn’t happen) but is their an unwritten rule about releasing guys in a similar situation. Look, I want Davies off the team, but I want the break to be a clean one.

— It just feels weird. The Royals stuck with him for five years. He showed nothing. Now, a month and a half from the end of the season and you decide it’s time? Strange.

— This is The Process in a nutshell… You’re either part of the future or part of the past. There’s no in between anymore. And we all know where Davies fell.

— I’m loving the jokes on Twitter about the 29 other teams lining up to secure the services of Davies. GMDM is the internet’s gift.

— Just for fun, revisit my piece from April. He didn’t do anything in the last three months to change his status.

— For those wondering whom we turn our attention to, may I introduce you to Chris Getz?

— Kaegel has reaction from Davies, who wishes the Royals well. Hats off to Davies for being a stand up guy about this. As much as I ridicule the player, I do remember this is a person we’re talking about. He’s just not cut out to be a major league starter. If you want to point a finger at anyone, it should be directed to GMDM.

Even though Tuesday’s game lasted under two hours, you need to stay up late if you want to digest all the Royals news of the day, as the brain trust at 1 Royal Way made another roster move in the wee hours announcing the planned call-up of catcher Sal Perez from the Storm Chasers.

The Process not only rolls along, it’s at cruising speed.

Interesting timing on the call-up for Perez, but the Royals are going to be shorthanded as Brayan Pena’s wife is pregnant and will be induced on Wednesday in Miami. Perez has only been in Omaha for a couple of weeks and has put together a fine start, hitting .333/.347/.500 in 48 at bats. He has yet to walk and has struck out just six times. Prior to becoming a Storm Chaser, he hit .283/.329/.427 in just under 300 plate appearances for the Naturals. In that time, he walked just 16 times but had only 30 strikeouts. To say Perez is all about making contact would be an understatement.

Sometimes the best laid plans… I bet you free articles on the internet that the Royals, knowing Pena would leave the team at some point to be with his wife, had planned to call Manny Pina. Of course, Pina’s call was accelerated by the concussion suffered by Matt Treanor. With Treanor still on the seven-day DL, and Pena’s wife set to pop, the Royals hands are suddenly tied. They face the prospect of having to make a 40-man roster move to replace a player that may be gone for just a couple of days. Sometimes the dominoes fall in a different order than you expect.

What’s really interesting about this is the article in the Star says Perez is expected to be the regular catcher. I know he’s supposed to be the catcher of the future, but I guess I’m kind of surprised they would make that kind of statement with Pina just up from the farm himself. Besides, Pena is on baseball’s version of paternity leave. It’s not like the guy is going to be gone for six weeks. If you want to try to read between the lines, it seems the Royals will move Pina back to Omaha (he was in Northwest Arkansas when he was recalled, having swapped spots with Perez) for the remainder of the season. If Treanor is cleared to play, I wonder if the club will decide to keep four catchers on their major league roster once rosters expand on September 1.

I know there will be howls about the Royals rushing Perez. Honestly, who knows what the Royals are thinking at this point. Yes, he does have a handful of limited appearances above Double-A, but I believe the Royals were planning on adding him to the 40-man and bringing him up in September. This accelerates his Process by about four weeks. It strikes everyone as an odd move because this is so against the method the Royals have used. I mean, if anything, they wait too long to bring guys up. If there’s one thing the Royals system is doing correctly at this stage in The Process is develop position players. If they think Perez can handle full-time duty at the big league level, I’ll give them a free pass here. Let’s see what he’s got.

Could the Royals have recalled another catcher? Someone like Cody Clark, who is hitting .274/.328/.462 as a backup in Omaha? Sure. But thinking they would do that would be to ignore everything we know about the way this organization works. Clark is in Omaha as organizational filler. They don’t use 40-man roster spots on guys who aren’t part of the long term plan. Clark is a nice backup for Triple-A, but he’s the emergency guy in case all else fails. All else being the four guys in front of him in the pecking order. Besides, Perez needed to be added to the 40-man this winter. Again, they’re just accelerating his Process.

That said, I figured the Royals were done calling up position players until September. And even then, I thought the call-ups would be limited to the guys already on the 40-man roster… Like Lorenzo Cain and a couple of pitchers. You know how Dayton Moore has a hard time dealing with a 25-man roster? Yeah, the 40 man kind of gives him fits. It seems like he just hates to make a move. See his comments last week about not wanting to expose Luis Mendoza to waivers. Now, we’re in the same position we were last week (sort of) in guessing who the Royals will dump to get Perez on the roster. Last time, I listed three possibilities and missed on the eventual loser (Navarro) so let’s just skip this exercise. Trying to guess what this front office will do based on logic is a losing proposition. They march to their own beat. (I’ll go ahead and place my money on Jesse Chavez, knowing I’m making a sucker bet.)

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the week shakes out, with a Pena return imminent, Treanor’s continued recovery from the concussion and Perez and Pina and the ultimate battle for playing time. If I were a betting man, I’d bet we see Pina down to Omaha when Pena returns and Treanor held out until the rosters expand in September. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pena and Treanor were back at the catching tandem in a couple of weeks and Pina and Perez back in their respective slots in the minors.

With this team, it’s impossible to predict.

Consistency. It’s probably the most over used and therefore worthless term used in the baseball lexicon. “If only pitcher X could be more consistent, then he’d really be something.” When used, it’s also the most obvious. Yes, if a pitcher could pitch as well as his best game, every game, then he’d be Roy Halladay. Not surprisingly, there’s only one Roy Halladay because pitching, by it’s nature is an inconsistent art. What can happen from time to time is a pitcher will increase the number of games where he is highly effective and also limits the damage when he isn’t. Luke Hochevar last night pitched another example of his “A” stuff and since the All-Star break, he’s been pretty, well, consistent (seriously, I’m not using that word again, starting…….now).

During the All-Star break there was some rumblings about Luke Hochevar making some adjustments that would make him more effective. The rightly-skeptical public greeted this with a believe-it-when-we-see-it mentality. I’ve been calling Hochevar “Big-Inning Luke” for years now, because that’s exactly what he’s produced. He’ll be cruising along, just mowing down batters and then WHAM, five runs in an inning out of nowhere.

The arm-chair Freud’s out there posited that Luke Hochevar was a mental case. Everyone without a better explanation thought it sounded reasonable and so it became accepted. Many people believed and stated out loud that a guy who had pitched his way to a top College program and then into the Major Leagues, was a mentally strong pitcher until he decided to freak out on the mound in front of the same 30,000 fans he’d been pitching in front of for the four previous innings.

I had gone along with this same thinking until I decided to look for more logical and rational reasons for these big-inning collapses. My thoughts ran like this: In order to give up a big inning, you have to allow a lot of base runners. When you allow base runners, you completely change your motion from the wind-up to the stretch. Small adjustments can make a big difference in the effectiveness in the pitcher.  Viola! Luke Hochevar isn’t good at pitching out of the stretch!

Granted, I have as much evidence at this point to prove this hypothesis than those who claim he’s a crazy-person. But when forced to choose between mental issues and mechanical, I’ll go mechanical every single time. So, let’s see if Luke Hochever is worse than the average pitcher with runners on base.

  Empty Men On %Diff
Luke Hochevar .711 .834 17.30
AL Average .704 .731 3.84
Luke Career .716 .873 21.93

So Luke Hochevar is significantly worse with runners on base than he is when they are empty. This doesn’t lead us to a cause, but it does support the hypothesis somewhat. One piece of anecdotal evidence that contributes to my theory is that I’ve seen him on a couple of occasions go to the wind-up when there is a runner on third and no other runners on. That tells me that he’s willing to give up the slight advantage to the runner so he can be more comfortable and possibly effective out of the wind-up. It’s a small sample size but in 2011 with a runner only on 3rd, Luke gives up an OPS of .708. Could mean nothing with only 24 plate appearances, but it’s something to ponder.

Back to the adjusments that were alluded to over the All-Star break. Since that time Luke Hochevar has started five games and posted an ERA of 2.41 with an OPS against of .582. It’s only five games, so it could just be a hot or lucky streak.

Whether Luke Hochever continues to pitch like the top-of-the-rotation starter that the Royals believed him to be is unknown. For now, he’s been effective since the Royals claimed he made an adjustment. Sure, maybe he went on prozac and had an intimate 0ne-on-one conversation with Dr. Laura to cure his mental instability. I think it’s more likely that he improved the way he pitches out of the stretch and has been able to limit the big innings he was known for. Regardless of the fix, the question is whether he’ll be more consistent (damnit).

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

Not as good as Detroit.

Those two lines pretty much sums up the past week for the Kansas City Royals.  Oh yeah, a guy named Giavotella also joined the team and in three games is basically halfway to surpassing Chris Getz in total extra base hits this year.

I found the various discussions surrounding the Giavotella call up intriguing.  Foremost was the assumption that Johnny cannot field..at all…and never will.   He will either be an All-Star or won’t last the month and is really just filler until Yamaico Navarro is ready to play everyday.   It turns out, for all the loyalty, Royals’ fans are not a very patient bunch.

There was a debate over at Royals Review over the MLE’s of Giavotella:  a metric whose creator will tell you is a general performance indicator not one to be used to devine the actual stats a minor league player will produce in the major leagues.    Patient fans?  Not really.   Interested fans?  You bet.

In this case, however, the Royals got this one right.   In the end, statistics are better at rationalizing what happened than they are at forecasting the future.   Scouts have opinions and sometimes those opinions are wrong.   Organizations have plans, but sometimes plans change.

When a guy hits .338/.390/.481 in his first year at AAA and .305/.375/.437 for his minor league career while moving up one level each year, you have to find out what he can do in the majors.   Maybe he can just plain hit everywhere.   While we as Royals’ fans have become jaded by flame-outs of supposed great minor league hitters, it might be wise to remember that there are, right now, one hundred players in the majors who hit in the minor leagues and just kept right along hitting when they reached the majors.

Although drafted in the second round, there was never a lot of talk about Giavotella being the Royals’ second baseman of the future.  He was a, dare we say it, gritty kid who played hard, had a quick bat and produced in college.   The Royals, I think, did not have great expectations for Johnny and, in fact, traded for a second baseman in his mid-twenties when Giavotella was in Wilmington.

What transpired, however, was that Johnny Giavotella forced the organization’s hand and the organization did what they are supposed to do:  promote when the position above is not procuding and then play the guy until he proves he can’t.     Can Giavotella field?  The Royals, instead of speculating, are actually going to find out and do so in a timely manner.

It was not an organizational failure that Kila Ka’aihue did not produce as the everyday first baseman at the start of 2011.   The organization failed that they did not find that out at the start of the 2009 season instead of giving up Leo Nunez to watch Mike Jacobs hit a Kila-esque .228/.297/.401 the entire year.  

While it seems a no-brainer to us ‘internet crazies and bloggers’ that an American League team in the modern era cannot carry a second baseman hitting .256/.315/.285 (numbers virtually in line with his 1000+ at-bat career major league total), it was a difficult decision for the Royals to call up Giavotella and replace one of their favorite sons in Chris Getz.   The Royals may have taken longer to make that call than we would have liked, but they did finally make the right decision.

Now, Dayton Moore will enter the off-season having seen Eric Hosmer bat close to 500 times, Mike Moustakas around 350 times, Giavotella a good 150 times and have two full seasons of data on Alcides Escobar.  He should have a clear picture of what his 2012 and, frankly, 2013 and 2014 infield will look like or what needs to be improved.    After years of watching this organization speculate and wonder and talk about what players might be able to do and might not be capable of doing, we are actually going to have ACTUAL MAJOR LEAGUE GAMES PLAYED that will give us a far better indication.

Johnny Giavotella won’t hit .338 in the majors and he will certainly have some growing pains in this first taste of major league action, but we will have a far close idea to what type of major league player Giavotella might become now than if his major league exposure was a handful of September games after the AAA playoffs were over.  

That brings us to the next ‘internet darling’:  Lorenzo Cain.  

Like Giavotella, there is a fairly large segment of Royals’ fans who have already decided Cain probably isn’t that good.   In a world where outfield throwing arms have suddenly been deemed more important than, you know, tracking down flyballs in the gaps, I have lost the ability to fully understand most arguments.   That said, I have to admit we really don’t know what Lorenzo Cain can do playing a full season as a major league centerfielder.

We do know that, excluding the year he played hurt, Cain has hit at every level.   We know he made some great catches in spring training and has shown excellent defensive range.   We know that he hit .300 in 150 major league at-bats last season and thus we can speculate that Cain is more likely to ‘hit the ground running’ in the majors the next time he is up given that Lorenzo has already gone through that first adjustment period.

That said, Cain is in a different position than Giavotella.   The guys above him are producing.  Melky Cabrera is .303/.337/.461 and Jeff Francouer is solidly whacking away at .273/.324/.466.     Those numbers are not as great as many a Royals’ fan, jaded by the likes of Josh Anderson and Rick Ankiel clogging the outfield,  might think, but good enough to hang onto an everyday job…for now.

Truth is, I am a Lorenzo Cain guy and believe he might well be better than either Cabrera or Francouer over the next couple of seasons, but he has some major leauge experience already and the urgency to get him at-bats at the expense of Francouer and Cabrera right now is not great.    Let Cain, whose strikeout rate has decreased with each month in AAA, continue to get regular at-bats in the minors while he waits for a spot to legimately open in the major league outfield.    It is a situation the Royals have seldom been faced with in the past ten years, but one that good organizations deal with every year.

The Royals have a lot to prove yet to reach ‘good organization’ status, but promoting Giavotella now as opposed to later is a step in that direction.

For now, Kansas City is better than Baltimore….and not as good as Detroit.

Johnny G

Gia is running to KC. (Minda Haas/flickr)

I asked on Wednesday and it took less than 48 hours for the Royals to respond. According to Bob Dutton on Twitter, the Royals are calling up 2B Johnny Giavotella from Triple-A.

It’s the best kind of call-up because it’s one that’s absolutely deserved. Gia is hitting .339/.391/.481 in just under 450 at bats for the Storm Chasers.

The Royals had a spot open on the 40-man roster, so they don’t have to expose anyone to waivers, but they will obviously have to shed someone from the 25-man. And the Royals, as usual, are playing coy in announcing who gets shipped north on I-29. In my mind, there are three candidates.

First, would be Everett Teaford. He was called up to replace Kyle Davies, but the Royals dumped the six-man rotation and are now carrying 13 pitchers – eight in the pen. I know the starters are abysmal (collectively speaking) but to carry an eight man bullpen is still a heavy dose of crazy. (Unless you’re in St. Louis with the mastermind Tony LaRussa at the helm. He knows how to run a bullpen. Plus, he needs all those arms when he goes headhunting.) Many of us thought that Johnny G would get the call ahead of Teaford earlier in the week. After watching Teaford struggle on Tuesday, maybe the Royals have decided to make a change.

Second, would be Chris Getz. When you bring up Gia, he has to play every day. Has to. You don’t call up a youngster who was torching Triple-A pitchers just to ride the pine in the bigs. (If the Royals do something like this… I don’t even want to think about it.) So if Gia is playing second everyday, Getz immediately becomes surplus. The Royals picked up a younger, versatile player with more upside in Yamacio Navarro, so he’s the guy who you keep. Navarro can play three infield positions (plus the outfield, although that’s a stretch.) Getz is a second baseman (one with limited range) who can’t possibly back up short or third. He only has one position. It’s taken just two games for Navarro to show he’s hugely better at the plate than Getz. I haven’t a clue how Navarro would do at 2B, but since it looks like Getz often is wearing Alberto Callaspo’s cement shoes, I have to think he can’t possibly be worse. Getz has an option and can be sent down without being exposed to waivers.

Third, would be Mike Moustakas. We all know Moose has been miserable at the plate the last month or so. If he got sent back to Triple-A to build confidence, it would be difficult to argue against that move. However, the Royals stated that Moose was taking a couple of days off to work with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and would assume his role at third. Just a working vacation to clear his head and smooth out his approach at the plate. I like this approach and hope the Royals hold the course here. Moose has nothing left to prove in Omaha and has been a slow starter at every level. Keep him in KC where he can work with the hitting savant Seitzer and give him time to get right. Honestly, it seems to go against the direction of this organization to send Moose down. The new M.O. is to call up the prospects and keep them up, struggles be damned.

As I write this early Friday morning, I think Teaford gets the axe. But I hope it’s Getz.

The good news is Giavotalla is here. Finally. Think about this… A Hosmer-Gio-Escobar-Moose infield.

The future really is now.

EDIT: Bob Dutton is reporting that it looks like Navarro is being shipped out. Robert Ford from the Royals radio post game thinks it’s to give him regular time as the Royals think he can be an everyday second baseman.

Gut reaction: This makes no sense. But it is the Royals.

Last night, as I watched Billy Butler launch another home run (his 7th in his last 56 plate appearances) I couldn’t help but wonder if Country Breakfast was developing into a power hitter.

I’ve written about this at length, and I’ve always been skeptical given his proclivity to the ground ball and his opposite field approach. There’s been some movement on the latter issue… Albeit minor. But it may be enough to push Butler north of the 20 home run plateau for the second time in his career.

To start, here is the breakdown of where he put his balls in play in 2010:

Compare that with his chart from 2011:

It’s a subtle change, to be sure. But we can safely say Country Breakfast is pulling more balls to the left side. And for a young hitter – if he’s going to hit with power – that’s something he has to do.

Check out his home run landing plots for this year. Last year, four of his 15 home runs were to the right side of center field. This year, nearly all of his home runs have been in his happy zone to the pull field.

Butler as a power hitter is still a work in progress. And I can’t imagine he’s ever going to hit over 30 home runs in a season. Still, his ever so slight push to the pull field is an encouraging development for a hitter who is still just 25 years old.

Country Breakfast, indeed.

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