Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

I host a podcast about the Royals so it shouldn’t be surprising that I love talking about the team to anyone who will listen.  I’ve usually been the guy with the over-optimistic off-season win predictions and ridiculously high expectations for Minor League Prospects (Jeff Austin is going to be awesome, TRUST me!).  Lately, I’ve been talking more and more people down from the ledge concerning the Royals.  It’s a state of mind that I can sympathize with.*  I try and tell them about the young players in the Minor Leagues and how much love they are getting from people in the know.  Usually, I hear the same retorts.  “I’ve heard that before and even if they are good the Royals will trade them away.” or “We’ve been hearing about a youth movement for 20 years.”  I understand the sentiment and it’s not completely invalid.  The difference, I believe, is that this time it’s for real, especially the youth movement part.

*I once nearly threw every Royal hat and shirt I owned into the yard and became a Yankee fan.  I figured I should just save myself the anguish and succumb to the dark side.  I didn’t do it.

The great thing about youth, is that it’s easy to measure.  Player birth dates are readily available and so it’s easy to see how young or old a team is.  The great site Baseball Reference has all of this data, and they conveniently use a weighted measure to determine team age.  Basically they give more weight to the player who got the most playing time.  So if a 42 year old got 3 plate appearances he isn’t skewing the age of the team.  Below is a list of the Royals teams in decreasing age.

Year BatAge PitchAge Average
1969 25.8 25.2 25.5
1970 26.4 26.2 26.3
2000 27.6 25.8 26.7
2005 27.8 25.6 26.7
1973 27.7 25.9 26.8
1999 26.9 26.9 26.9
1971 27.2 26.7 27.0
1976 27.0 27.6 27.3
2007 28.0 27.0 27.5
1972 27.7 27.4 27.6
2001 28.2 27.3 27.8
2008 28.0 27.5 27.8
1978 27.2 28.7 28.0
1974 27.4 28.6 28.0
1977 27.6 28.4 28.0
1992 28.9 27.1 28.0
1996 27.1 29.0 28.1
1975 28.1 28.1 28.1
1991 28.6 27.6 28.1
2004 28.8 27.4 28.1
1984 29.4 26.9 28.2
2009 27.6 28.7 28.2
2010 28.9 27.5 28.2
1997 28.8 27.6 28.2
1987 29.3 27.4 28.4
1979 27.9 28.9 28.4
1980 27.7 29.1 28.4
1985 30.9 26.1 28.5
2003 29.0 28.0 28.5
1990 29.8 27.3 28.6
1995 29.1 28.0 28.6
2002 29.3 27.8 28.6
2006 29.6 27.7 28.7
1993 30.1 27.4 28.8
1998 28.8 28.8 28.8
1981 29.2 28.8 29.0
1986 30.9 27.3 29.1
1989 30.5 27.7 29.1
1994 30.2 28.0 29.1
1988 29.6 29.0 29.3
1982 30.4 30.9 30.7
1983 30.2 32.2 31.2

The Royals were extremely young in their first two years of existence.  That’s pretty typical for expansion teams, especially in that era.  The years 1999, 2000 and 2005 all make an appearance at the top of the chart as well.

The 1999 and 2000 teams were young and were billed to the public as a youth movement.  It was an accurate description with guys like Carlos Beltran (22-23), Jermaine Dye (25-26), Mike Sweeney (25-26), Johnny Damon (25-26) and Carlos Febles (23-24).

The year 2005 had youngsters like Mark Teahen (23), John Buck (24), Angel Berroa (25), David Dejesus (25) and Zack Grienke (21).  That year was kind of a mini youth movement.  They were young, but not quite as deep and talented as the crop before.  It’s not surprising that 2006 had one of the oldest teams in franchise history.  The Royals had to try and upgrade the team and there wasn’t much youth to make that happen.

The last few years have been average to above average in age.  There hasn’t been a whole lot of youth on the team and plenty of older free agents like Jason Kendall (36), Scott Podsednik (34), Jose Guillen (34) and Kyle Farnsworth (34).    It’s one of the things that has made the last three years some of the least interesting Royals baseball I’ve ever watched.

It seems pretty clear, that while there was  a couple of “youth movements” this team hasn’t been very young lately or for much of the last decade other than a couple of years.  The decade of the 1970′s (including 1969) was the youngest average decade at 27.35, followed by the 2000′s (27.84), 1990′s (28.30) and then the 1980′s (29.18).  There has been a slight trend towards younger teams as we get closer to the present.  But the point stands, even though people believed there was a youth movement going on for the past 20 years, there haven’t been a whole lot of young teams in that time.

Let’s take a look at what this year’s roster might look like and the ages of those players.

Bench Player Age
C Pena 29
C May 26
1B Ka’aihue 27
DH Butler 25
2B Aviles 30
3B Moustakas 22
SS Escobar 24
LF Gordon 27
CF Cain 25
RF Francoeur 27
Bench Betemit 29
Bench Cabrera 26
Bench Blanco 27
Bench Getz 27
SP Hochevar 27
SP Mazzaro 24
SP O’Sullivan 23
SP Davies 27
RP Tejeda 29
RP Soria 27
RP Collins 21
RP Meche 32
RP Wood 25
RP Coleman 25
RP Adcock 23
Average 26.16
PitAge 25.73
BatAge 26.50

Admittedly, I only have four starters on that list, but I don’t know who the fifth will be at this point. Even if it were someone older, it’s not going to skew the numbers all that much.  As the roster is constructed today, this is one of the youngest teams in franchise history.  Depending on how much time some of the younger players get and who the 5th pitcher is, it could be the youngest.

Now THIS is a youth movement.  Not to mention the fact that there are other even younger players who are going to be pushing these players off of the roster in the near future.  2011 will be an audition year for most of the players on the roster.  Watching which players take their opportunity and succeed will be one of the most interesting story lines of the season.  So when I hear people tell me that they’ve seen this youth movement before, my answer is no, you haven’t.  The Royals have never put out a team this young and with this much talent in the Minors waiting to burst onto the scene.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Royals podcasts and is proud to be a writer here at The Royals Authority.  You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on facebook.

This site and many others has spent a lot of the off-season talking about the future and with good reason.   The Royals were bad last year and the year before and probably will be again in 2011.     As misery laden as the club has been at the major league level (and misery is exactly the right word – I mean, when your PR department’s primary focus during the season is pointing out that Yuniesky Betancourt isn’t the worst player in baseball, well what would you call it?), the organization is getting raves throughout the baseball world for the tremendous potential its farms system holds.

So sure, we write about the future a ton.   You know, the future where Mike Montgomery and John Lamb are throwing shutouts while Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers form a fearsome middle of the batting order.      There is much to discuss, analyze and speculate about when it comes to 2012 and beyond.   Unfortuneately, there is a little thing called the 2011 season between now and then.

While much can transpire between now and Opening Day, the composition of the 2011 Royals is pretty much already known.   There might be a not all that exciting free agent starting pitcher to add and possibly a reliever (because I don’t think Dayton Moore can help himself).   Who will open the season in centerfield is up for debate and exactly which two of Wilson Betemit, Mike Aviles and Chris Getz will man second and third is not certain yet, either.    None of those things, however, are going to materially change what the 2011 Royals will accomplish. 

Or maybe not accomplish, is the correct phrase.

Right now, Luke Hochevar is your Opening Day starter followed by Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan and somebody.   That somebody could be a Kevin Millwood type or Everett Teaford, maybe even DannyDuffy (but I doubt it).   Unless that somebody is the second coming of Felix Hernandez, that is not a rotation that is going to strike fear in anyone.  

While I hold out hope that Hochevar, Mazzaro and O’Sullivan have their best days still ahead of them;  it is tough to project any as a number one or number two pitcher.   Given that Mike Montgomery, Duffy, John Lamb and Aaron Crow (among others) are unlikely to make much, if any, impact until at least the All-Star Break, the Royals could quite possibly have the worst starting rotation in the American League.

Although the bullpen, which will be the first to get an infusion of The Process in the form of Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and others, might be above average or better, they might be coming in early, often and with their team already behind.   Good bullpens win games for good teams.    Good bullpens keep bad teams from being embarrassed.   The latter, unfortunately, probably describes the 2011 corps of relievers.

With a bad rotation and a good bullpen, the Royals will spend much of early 2011 battling to come back from an early deficit.   The question will be does this group have the firepower to do so?   Given that Ned Yost will have question marks in his batting order named Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar, Kila Ka’aihue, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francouer (actually he may not be a question mark, we may know the answer, but I’m being charitable this morning) and either Chris Getz or Wilson Betemit (maybe both), I have no idea if the Royals will be able to score enough to keep things interesting.

It is a little funny that given the number of unknowns, one of the two guys on the roster that we know can actually hit (Mike Aviles) may not even be in the everyday lineup.    It is even funnier that this fact does not make me all that mad….yet.

By sometime in June, maybe sooner, we will certainly see Lorenzo Cain in center and Mike Moustakas at third.   They will make the lineup more exciting if not immediately more productive, but a lot of good things will have to happen for the Royals to be even average offensively.  

If Escobar holds his own (.330 on-base percentage) and let’s just say for fun Alex Gordon actually DOES break out, would that be enough to make the Royals average?   What if Ka’aihue gets on base and hits for power, say .360 OBP and 25 home runs?   What if Jeff Francouer is not horrible?  This lineup could be okay and, depending on whether Billy Butler adds some power to his already solid resume, even better than ‘okay’.    That would not be enough to outweigh a poor rotation, but it would be enough to go from 62-100 to 72-90….maybe.

Defensively, the Royals almost have to be better and quite possibly could be a lot better.   Escobar is expected to be and, frankly, has to be a very good defensive shortstop.   Getz, if his bat can play at all, would seem to have the skill set to be a solid second baseman.    Aviles, either at second or third, is solid defensively as well.   In the outfield, while Alex Gordon made me cringe at the plate, he looked pretty good in left, while Francouer, for all his faults, is a good defender in right.  None of the this makes the Royals a great defensive team, but they might well appear to be to those of us who have endured Betancourt, Callaspo, Berroa, Guillen, for years.

Taking all the hope out of the equation and ignoring the excitiment we will be feeling as the young players begin their Royals careers, just how bad will 2011 be?   Pretty bad, but maybe not exactly horrible.

A couple of step forwards offensively, coupled with a least league average starting pitching from Hochevar and Mazzaro would be enough to keep the Royals from being laughingstocks.   Truthfully, and I know this sounds a little defeatist, not being laughed at in 2011 would be enough.

The Royals’ current farm system is drawing raves across the baseball world right now.   When the final organizational rankings come out, it is a safe bet that Kansas City will be rated number one by pretty much everyone who does any rating system.  

In fact, the gushing about the Royals current crop of prospects has reached such a level that some learned Royals’ fans and writers have almost become sarcastic about it.  Will McDonald at Royals Review has some greet tweets now and then poking fun at the perception of how good the Royals’ system truly is.   

There is one good reason for caution and sarcasm with regard to this:  nobody hangs pennants in the outfield signifying having the ‘Number One Minor League System – 2011′.  

Simply put, great prospects are not locks to be great major leaguers.   Some don’t become major leaguers at all.   As Royals’ fans, we have seen more than our share of prospects go nowhere and, as a result, we often speculate that we’ll be ‘lucky to have two pitchers actually come through as major league starters’.   There is logic to that statement, particularly given the history of the Kansas City Royals in this regard.  

I decided to take a look back to the number one system in baseball in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays, and see what happened to their Top 10 prospects.   This is hardly scientific and probably a five or ten year review of the number one systems and what happened to all of their Top 10 would be better, but I just came off a three cities in three days trips (one of which was Vegas), so this is what you get.

The Rays finished 66-96 in 2007, coming in last in the AL East for the ninth time in ten seasons, and being rated to have the number one minor league system in baseball prior to 2008 marked the second consecutive year they had garnered that award.  (They flew no flags in the outfield in Tampa to signify this, by the way.)   Their Top Ten prospects prior to 2008 were:

  1. Evan Longoria
  2. David Price
  3. Jake McGee
  4. Wade Davis
  5. Reid Brignac
  6. Desmond Jennings
  7. Jeff Niemann
  8. Jeremy Hellickson
  9. Ryan Royster
  10. Chris Mason

Okay, Evan Longoria is a superstar.   David Price is an ace and, along with Niemann and Davis, they comprised sixty percent of the Rays 2010 rotation.   In 2011, Hellickson is likely to join them as a member of the starting staff.   Brignac, after serving in a utility role for two years, is probably going to play everyday for the Rays in 2011.   McGee  and Jennings both got cups of coffee last year.

All told, it is possible that the first eight guys on the above list will be on the 2011 Opening Day roster and probably all as regulars – at least at some point during the season.    Five of the above Top Ten were major contributors on the 2010 Rays squad and Hellickson might well have been if Tampa had not had solid starting pitching already in the majors.

So, that gives  you some hope, doesn’t it?   Take the top eight names from the Royals list (via Baseball America) this year:

  1. Eric Hosmer
  2. Wil Myers
  3. Mike Moustakas
  4. John Lamb
  5. Mike Montgomery
  6. Christian Colon
  7. Danny Duffy
  8. Chris Dwyer

If five of those guys were regulars on your 2013 Royals and all eight were on the 2014 roster, that might lead you to believe Kansas City would be in pretty good shape. 

Now, their is a big difference between the Rays and the Royals.   Tampa’s 2008 starting rotation consisted of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.   Not sure, but I think I’ll take that five over the five the Royals are prepared to trot out this coming spring.   The Rays also had former number one picks Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton in their outfield and had just dealt another number one, Delmon Young, to Minnesota for Garza and Jason Bartlett.

Given all that, it seems unlikely the the Royals could make a meteoric rise of 30+ wins in one season like Tampa did between 2007 and 2008.    In fact, just because the Rays’ 2008 Top Ten has done so well means nothing when it comes to the Royals 2011 group.   Mabye they’ll do better, maybe they’ll do worse.

The point of this column is not that the Royals are the next Rays, but only to point out that, in one instance, a large number of prospects really did translate their potential into performance.  That one data point at least gives us Royals’ fans something to dream about.

I suppose I should chime in about the Royals and their FanFest Digital Digest contest.

If you haven’t heard, the Royals are asking for fans who blog, tweet or produce internet videos to apply for an opportunity to have “behind the scenes” access at Royals FanFest on the Thursday before the actual event.  The contest is a step in the right direction, I suppose.  Several teams have had Tweet-ups and blog nights and that sort of thing.  The Reds and Astros (I think) have had a strong turnout on nights where they had a special section for fans who Tweet.  The Dodgers are a team that springs to mind that is friendly to blogs.  They issue credentials (more on that in a moment) and have hosted several get-togethers where bloggers have had the opportunity to meet front office staff and interview select team personnel.  That’s progressive.

The Royals meanwhile, haven’t been what I would call trailblazers in embracing the internet community that surrounds the team.

It would appear this contest is an attempt to change that, and as I said, it’s a step in the right direction.

I assume (and this is an assumption, so I could certainly be wrong) there are some teams who have held contests such as this – either for events like FanFest or for individual games.  These types of things are routinely co-opted… One team comes up with something creative and the other teams almost immediately fall into line.  Since the Royals don’t strike me as a “creative” or “progressive” team in terms of the fans or the internet, I wonder if some other team has done something like this before.  If that’s the case, I would think that these contests have been successful from the standpoint of number of entries and from the quality of participants.

The guidelines of the contest are a little murky.  It would appear that anyone with a computer and internet access is eligible.  That’s cool, I suppose.  Given that, I encourage readers of Royals Authority to represent and enter this contest.  There are several of you who comment regularly (Although we need more!  Come on people, comment.) and have been part of our “community” for a long time.  There are also plenty of you who Tweet about the Royals and post on Facebook.  Hell, if you’re reading this post, I think you qualify as a consumer of Royal content on the internet.  That’s what the Royals are looking for, apparently.  I think it would be extremely cool if there was a strong representation from Royals Authority commenters and readers.

Myself… I haven’t decided if I’ll be entering the contest.  It’s not like the “exclusive” with Dayton Moore will unearth anything interesting or ground breaking.  And what exactly could I learn from going “behind the scenes” at FanFest?  How they set up the radar gun for the power toss?  How they set up the clothes racks in the team store?

Of course, there’s part of me that thinks I should enter just because I really don’t think I would be selected.  While I applaud the team for taking this first step to reaching out to the internet rabble, there is still a ton of work that has to be done.  The Royals are… Let’s just refer to them as thin skinned.  Its come to my attention on a number of occasions my criticism of the team hasn’t gone unnoticed.  (Naturally, I’ve never heard anything when I posted something positive.) I give myself a less than 5% chance of being selected, should I enter.

That’s fine… It’s their contest.  Their guidelines.  I’m sure we will have someone there – one way or another.

This leads to a larger question and a debate erupted on Twitter among Royals fans:  Should bloggers be credentialed?

My answer may surprise you.

Because I don’t think bloggers should be credentialed on a regular basis.

(Please keep in mind that I’m speaking for myself and not for Nick and Clark.)

Would I accept a credential if the opportunity presented itself?  You bet.  Would I use it?  Honestly, I don’t know.  To me, going to a baseball game means setting in the stands, having a beer and a dog and talking to your friends.  I like to cheer the good plays and I like to boo the bum ones.  In short, I’m a fan.  I like being a fan.  And if I was in the press box, I’d have to give that up.  I suppose I could use it for entry and then pick a seat.  There are always good seats available at the K.

My question is: Why are bloggers any different from any other fan?  There are probably thousands of fans who attend more games than I do in a season.  I don’t own a ton of Royals gear.  I haven’t been to spring training for over 20 years.  I have access to the exact same stats as everyone else through Baseball Reference and Fangraphs and other sites.  (Although those sites are apparently blocked at Kauffman Stadium.) Reading this now… you’re probably a huge fan.  Just like me.  You may just be smart enough that you don’t blog.  Still, I love baseball, I love the Royals and I love to write.  I saw a few guys who combined this into a hobby and thought that was something I could do.  So I did.  It’s how I express myself.  Just like there are some fans who express their selves by wearing capes.  Other fans thought Yuni was awesome.  We may think and do things differently, but we all share something in common:  We all love the Royals.

My opinions on the credential debate are colored by experience.  Once upon a time, I had a credential.  I worked for a local radio station that happened to have the rights to the broadcasts and my job was to assist the pre and post game shows.  I attended about 70 to 75 games that summer.

And it completely killed my fandom.

Sitting inside a press box and watching a ballgame one of the more soul crushing experiences I can imagine.  You have to be quiet when speaking to your neighbor, lest you disturb someone deep in the process of work.  It’s not a community – which to me is what being a fan is all about.  It’s a lonely, isolated world.  Cheering?  Forget about it.  I made that mistake once.  Once.  After a (former) KC Star sportswriter glared at me like I was Mussolini incarnate, an AP stringer threatened to escort me outside and deliver a beating.  From then on, I decided I would cheer in my mind only.  While it was the right decision, it wasn’t quite the same.

I understand and respect the rules.  The press box is an office.  It’s where guys like Dutton and Mellinger ply their craft.  I’m writing this post from my home, where my kids will dissolve from the ether to distract me at the most inopportune times.  That’s bad enough.  I would think that to have some boneheads screaming in the background or chattering incessantly while trying to craft a column or game story would be incredibly irritating.

So when I say the press box is a sterile environment, it’s not a criticism… It’s a fact.  It’s the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the press box for a game.  Maybe it’s different now.  Could be… But I doubt it.  Given the choice to sit in the stands or the press box is a no-brainer for me.

As for the access, I’m not sure that’s necessary for what I do here at Royals Authority.  I like to analyze and for that, I need statistics.  I DVR games and will pause and rewind to take a closer look at certain plays.  I don’t really care what cliche Alex Gordon gives Dutton when asked about his thought process on the 1-2 pitch he hit for a home run.  To be fair though, Dutton has to ask that question.  It’s what readers of the newspaper want to see.  Blogs are different.  If you’re here, you don’t want to hear Dayton Moore’s thoughts about Jeff Francoeur, because we already know what Moore thinks.  Or at least what he will say.  (Honestly, I have no clue how these writers get motivated to cover press conference after press conference.  It’s all the same.  Still, they have to go on the off chance that GMDM will have a good cry or something.  I guess maybe once out of a hundred, attendance pays off.)  You visit here and other blogs because you want to know if Moore is accurate in his assessment of a particular player.  Blogs have the luxury of a free amount of space to explore a topic.  While Dutton may have a couple of inches to address a roster move, we have unlimited bandwidth to discuss the same move.  (Sometimes, that’s not necessarily a good thing.)

Having said that, I hope the Royals are serious about embracing the fans who blog and tweet and otherwise follow the team with a passion.  There are some great Royals fans out there…  Guys and gals who really live and die with the team.  Too often the team’s response to criticism has been to cut off some fans, or to throw up roadblocks.  Actually, the Royals should be happy that there are still fans who care enough to criticize.  This hasn’t been what you would call a model franchise the last generation.  I marvel at the comments, message boards, blogs and tweets related to the Royals. The team should be thankful we’re still here.

Hopefully, that’s what this contest is all about.  It would be excellent if the Royals use this FanFest as a spring board to greater interaction with their fans.  GMDM should really think about folding that into The Process.

Billy Butler is going to make contact. (Minda Haas/flickr)

The cliche says in order to be successful, you have to take your lemons and turn them into lemonade.  That’s kind of what Kevin Seitzer did last summer with the Royals hitters.  Hamstrung by having to deal with the likes of Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Guillen and Rick Ankiel, the Royals somehow finished second in the American League with a .274 batting average.  That represented a 15 point improvement over their 12th place finish the previous year.

Well done.

The Royals were actually the best team in all of baseball at putting the bat on the ball.  Collectively, their hitters made contact on 93.4% of their swings.  Most teams hover around a 90% contact rate.  For the Royals to be so far above the norm – although just a tenth ahead of second place finisher Minnesota – is pretty impressive.

Here’s the list of the five teams who made contact on the highest percentage of their swings.

A couple of quick notes.  Of course the five teams with the highest contact rate are in the American League.  The DH will always skew studies like this in favor of the junior circuit.  Second, four of those teams finished above .500.


The Royals truly were just an unbelievable contact hitting team last year.  Of course, that contact was slap hits and in the case of Scott Podsednik, those softball-esque swinging bunts.  While the type of contact wasn’t always ideal, you still have to tip your cap to a team that put the ball in play so frequently.

While the Royals were the Contact Kings of baseball, you would think that some of that contact would translate into base runners.  In a way, yes… That did happen.  As I mentioned earlier, their team batting average of .274 was the second highest in baseball.  However, we know that while some of the old school firmly clings to the thought that batting average represents value, we know better.  We know that the name of the offensive game of baseball is reaching base.  And we all know that this is where the Royals had issues.

That’s old news.

Surprisingly, while the Royals collectively abhor the base on balls, they are one of the more selective teams in baseball.  Their swing percentage on balls outside of the strike zone is a modest 29%, which is slightly better than average.  (This shocks me.  It SHOCKS me.  All caps. The Royals were better than average at selectivity? How did this happen?) Here are the most selective teams in baseball:

You know how those Yankee/Red Sox games last five hours?  A long game is the price you pay when your team knows the location of the strike zone.  Of interest to me though is the fact that again, these are some pretty good offensive teams.  Except for Oakland.  I guess there has to be an outiler in every table.

Really, the thing to take away from the previous table is the fact that while the Royals aren’t represented here, they were close – they ranked 12th.  Not great, but certainly above average.
Now, let’s sort of combine the two.  Fangraphs tracks contact rate on swings on pitches outside the strike zone.  Your leaders for 2010:

Now we have more of a mixed bag.  The Rangers and Twins were two of the best offenses in the league.  The White Sox were close to league average.  The Mets were pretty horrible (I know!  Even with Francoeur for part of the season!) and the Royals were likewise below average when it came to scoring runs.

The Royals were making contact last year no matter where the pitcher delivered the ball.  They out-Guerreroed Vladi’s own team – the Rangers.

That was last year’s team.  The new edition features Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera and Alcides Escobar.  Those three all figure to have a considerable number of at bats.

Cabrera, in many ways, is the optimal Royal.  (That’s an indictment, not a compliment.)  He swings at a better than average number of pitches outside the strike zone (33.9% last year vs a league average of 29.3%), yet makes a great deal of contact.  You’re just not going to see him swing and miss very often.  Of course, we could say the same thing about the Yunigma.

Meanwhile, Francoeur is just a bad hitter.  Period.  End of story.  His 43.4% O-swing percentage was the third worst in baseball, behind Guerrero and Pablo Sandoval.  We’ve been over this ad nausem the last month or so, so there’s really not much to say.  Except when a guy has less discipline than Miguel Olivo and Mike Jacobs… Nevermind.

Escobar is a little more difficult to figure, as his major league track record is much shorter than the other two.  Still, in his one full season in the majors, he’s exhibited much of the same traits his new team appears to value.  He doesn’t have a decent idea of the strike zone, yet makes contact when he goes fishing.  Overall, he missed on only 6.3% of his swings, well above the league average of 8.5%.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet that the 2011 version of the Royals offense will be roughly a mirror image of the offense we saw last year.  They are going to be swinging a ton and they will make contact, but it won’t always be contact of a quality kind.  Their batting average will be solid, but their on base percentage will remain at or below league average because of their continued insistence to ignore the base on balls as a viable option.

Is it possible that Dayton Moore doesn’t mind the fact that his team doesn’t walk because his team is making contact? In other words, is he trading the lack of walks for a reduced number of strikeouts?  It kind of feels that way.  While the tables above show there is no sure fire approach that will guarantee success, it continues to elude the Royals.

Recently, I’ve been reviewing the 2010 Royals offense position by position.  You can go back and read the individual position articles for catcher (including a series preview), first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field and designated hitter.  Each individual post looked at the players who played the position and how the entire unit hit compared to the rest of the American League.  It’s certainly instructive to see where the Royals rank within the entire league, but in reality they only have to compete with the teams in the American League Central in order to win a coveted spot in the playoffs. Below is a series of graphs and charts which will allow you to see more clearly how the Royals ranked compared to their peers and where exactly the offense needed the most help to compete within the division.

For this exercise, I’ll be using the statistic wOBA, which I gathered from Fangraphs.  You don’t really need to understand how the statistic is calculated, just know that a higher number represents better offense.

First, let’s look at a heat chart that shows every position in the American League Central and ranks them according to wOBA.  Red represents the best in that statistical category and green the worst, with the colors ranging in the middle.

As usual, middle infielders and catchers are towards the bottom and corner infielders and outfielders are towards the top.  What always surprises me when I do these exercises is how poor some teams utilize their designated hitter.  For a position that’s supposed to be nothing but offense, teams consistently have middle of the pack numbers at the position.  It seems kind of crazy, but I think that finding a better hitter at DH could really help some teams out.  For instance, the White Sox got more offensive production out of their shortstop and catcher than they did out of their DH, while the Tigers got more offense out of their second baseman.The Royals have a pretty standard looking distribution.  They got the worst production from catcher, shortstop and center field, while getting better production from first, third and designated hitter.

Now, I’ll separate it out position by position and provide where each team ranked in the American League at that position.  Again, these are sorted by wOBA.

The Royals were only last in the division at the position of catcher, probably one of the better spots to be last in, especially in a division with some good hitting catchers.  The tables are a nice reference, but I think putting them into a radar graph is really the best way to visualize the information.  In the graph below, each line represents a team in the AL Central, for example the blue line is the Royals.  Along the outside of the graph are each offensive position, for example catcher is at the top. Each of the different levels represents a rank in the American League in wOBA at that position, with the outside being 1st place and the inside being 14th place.  So staying with catcher you’ll see that the Twins had the 2nd best catcher by wOBA, then a few slots below is the White Sox, then the Indians, then the Tigers and finally the Royals.  It takes a minute to really let the information jump out at you, but if you just kind of relax your eyes it comes to you.

You can see that the Royals posted the best offensive numbers at third base in 2010, but they were a tad above average across the American League.  It’s also interesting to see where teams are stacked and where they need help.  Just think how bad things could have been for the Indians without Shin-Soo Choo playing right field.  The outfield was clearly a concern for the Royals last year, and it’s obvious why Dayton Moore decided he needed some help out there.  It can bring into focus why some other teams made offseason moves.  Whether the Tigers utilize Victor Martinez at catcher, designated hitter or both, he’ll be a mighty offensive upgrade.

The Royals still have a long way to go to become an offensive powerhouse in the American league, but 2010 was a mild improvement over 2009.  The offense is shaping up in 2011 to be an improvement on 2010 as well.  The pitching, well that’s another story.  I like taking stock in the offseason to see where the team and organization sit within the Division.  Things seem to be moving in the right direction, although at a seemingly snail-like pace.  Lots of new faces will be taking the field next season, including some highly touted Minor League talent.  I’m very interested in seeing how these charts look next offseason.

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Royals podcasts and is proud to be a writer here at The Royals Authority.  You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on facebook.

Almost all of us expected this month’s twenty-five man roster to look a lot different than that posted at the beginning of last month and, as it turned out, we were right.     By now, the November and October predictions look simply outlandish.  

After the Greinke trade, we now have a pretty clear idea of what the Royals are going to look like going into the 2011 season and a high degree of likelihood that the roster won’t change a ton between now and Opening Day.    While I think there is a decent chance Robinson Tejeda still gets dealt and a very, very, very outside chance that Joakim Soria is moved, it would seem as though Dayton Moore is pretty close to finished with his off-season moves.  

So, here we go with this month’s version of the 2011 Opening Day roster.

  • CATCHER – Bryan Pena and Lucas May

I have been going back and forth on this position since the end of last season.   Knowing Dayton Moore, it was hard to believe he would not go sign a veteran guy to help out at this position.   More and more, however, I have come to believe that Moore is content to go with Pena and May until Jason Kendall returns sometime during 2011.   I don’t have a problem with that plan as long as Kendall does not come back for 2012 and Salavador Perez continues to progress.

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

Billy Butler is the best hitter on this team and Kila deserves a shot to prove he does or does not possess ‘slider bat speed’.   End of discussion.

  • SECOND BASE/THIRD BASE/UTILITY – Chris Getz, Mike Aviles, Wilson Betemit

In prior editions, I listed Getz at second and Aviles at third, based on a now long ago comment by Moore in that regard.   In truth, these three positions might well be something of a moving target until Mike Moustakas’ arrival sometime between the end of April and the end of June.   Getz will get a chance to prove he can or cannot hit for a couple of months and Aviles probably won’t play regularly early as the organization routinely forgets that all he does in hit.   I don’t expect to get too worked up about the situation as I am somewhat curious about Getz (somewhat, mind you) and Betemit earned some at-bats from his fine offensive performance last year.   By mid-season, we should be comfortably settled in with Moustakas at third and Aviles at second.

  • SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Man, it really felt good to not have to type ‘Yuniesky Betancourt’ there!

  • LEFT FIELD – Alex Gordon

I think he still gets a chance at everyday duty to start the year.

  • CENTER FIELD – Melky Cabrera

While I would go with Lorenzo Cain right out of the shoot, he might well start off in AAA (wherever he is, he must play everyday).   Others like Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier, but deep down we all know Melky has first dibs on this spot.

  • RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

Last month, I had this position as ‘somebody not here yet’.   Well, somebody is here and has been promised everday duty.

  • BENCH – Mitch Maier and Gregor Blanco (plus Betemit as listed above)

There is not a utility infield candidate on the 40 man roster, so I think it’s likely that the Royals go with five outfielders with Cain in Omaha.

  • ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan and Zach Miner

The dollars being spent on marginal starting pitchers this off-season is borderline silly.  Hopefully silly enough for Dayton Moore to wash his hands of the entire idea.   While the organization has publicly stated that Everett Teaford, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow will ‘all get a good look this spring’, I think only Teaford has an actual shot at breaking camp with the big club.   I do expect to see all three in Kansas City in 2011, maybe all before the All-Star Break.  

  • BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Gil Meche, Blake Wood, Dusty Hughes, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and Nathan Adcock

I don’t know if Adcock has a real shot at sticking or not, but as a Rule 5 guy, he automatically gets a decent shot.   Frankly, when the options are Kanekoe Texeira and Jesse Chavez, what’s the harm in keeping him on the big league twenty-five to start the season?   Jeremy Jeffress and Greg Holland are also  in the mix as well and, as you can see from the above, I still think Robinson Tejeda is traded prior to the start of the season.

Should Tejeda still be around come March 31st, I think that puts Dusty Hughes on treacherous ground, which is not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination.   Rightly or wrongly, I put more stock in having guys who can get hitters out as opposed to what side of their bodies they throw from, so breaking camp with the rookie Collins as the team’s only lefty is not a dramatic concern to me.

Episode #039 – In this episode, Nick and Adam re-visit their preseason predictions from Spring Training,  and discuss how to spend the off-season.  We clearly need some real baseball to begin.


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Music used in this podcast:

The Kinks – Village Green Preservation Society

Grizzly Bear – Two Weeks

Phish – Slave To The Traffic Light

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I’ve had this picture on my desktop for ages, and I thought it would be appropriate to share it with you as we celebrate the New Year.  Here’s to 2011… And beyond…

Anyone know the answer to the question posed on that cover?

The Royals signed Zach Miner to a minor league deal this morning, which is not a bad signing at all. It is also not an exciting deal by any stretch of the imagination.

The most interesting part of this signing is that Miner was part of a deadline deal between Atlanta and Detroit. On July 31, 2005, Miner along with ROMAN COLON was traded by Atlanta to the Tiger for KYLE FARNSWORTH.

Pretty clearly, the Royals have totally won that 2005 trade.

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