We’re beyond the half-way point in the Major League Baseball season, but the All-Star break is a great time to take a breather and see where the Royals stand. What I’ve done is take a look at the Royals wOBA position-by-position and compared it to their American League Central opponents and the rest of the AL. I’m using wOBA because it’s a simple and powerful offensive measuring tool. If you’d like to take a look at the nuts and bolts of the metric you can check out FanGraphs, but all you really need to know is that a higher number is a better number.
It’s valuable to measure the Royals against the AL Central because in reality that is their only competition. To be in the playoffs, the Royals don’t have to be better than the Yankees, Red Sox or Rangers, they just have to be better than the Twins, White Sox, Tigers and Indians.
The first chart is a list of every American League Central team’s position and it’s sorted by wOBA. So as you can see below the Tigers first-basemen (no surprise) is the most productive offensive position in the division. The colors in the chart sort each column from best (red) to worst (green) so you can get an idea of where some of the outliers are. The numbers are the total of all plate appearances for that position.
Some of the interesting things that stick out at me with this chart are the fact that no team is immune from having a low ranking offensive position. The Tigers have a 2b and 3b that are performing worse offensively than Alcides Escobar. Somewhere along the way there is this crazy idea that all playoff contenders have top-level talent at all 9 positions, which just isn’t the case.
Now, let’s break it up into individual positions. Again the numbers are sorted by wOBA and this time I’ve added the rank of the team in the American League at that position. So in the below chart, the Royals are 4th in the AL Central and 8th in the AL in regards to catcher wOBA.
The AL Central is pretty stacked in terms of offensive catchers. The combination of Matt Treanor and Brayan Pena is roughly an average offensive unit. Yep, that kind of shocked me too. Also, Alex Avila is really good.
First base is also a position of strength in the division. While the Royals are near the bottom offensively they’re still weighed down by the terrible start that Kila Ka’aihue had. Eric Hosmer is posting a .323 wOBa and would put the Royals as an average team in the AL. Not to bad for a very good defensive shortstop who is barely able to legally buy a beer.
So Chris Getz might not actually be as big of a problem as we all think. He’s received the lion’s share of playing time at second and the team is sitting at roughly league average offensively for the position. I agree with Craig that he probably isn’t as good with the glove as he’s touted, but he’s actually a fine player at the position compared to his peers in 2011. I do believe that teams aren’t getting enough offense out of this position in general though.
Third base isn’t exactly a position that fans will want to keep their eye on in this division. There just isn’t much offensive talent in the American League central there. It surprised the hell out of me that the Royals are getting the most production of of the position within the division. Playing Mike Moustkas right now over Wilson Betemit is dragging the number down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right move.
The Indians are getting a whole lot of production out of their shortstop and it’s a big reason they’re an ok offensive team. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Alcides Escobar rounds out the bottom of the division, but it’s encouraging that there are teams struggling even more than the Royals. Defense is not included in this breakdown at all, but if it did, I think we’d find that Escobar is at worst an average shortstop.
Alex Gordon is dominating.
This is very illustrative of why Melky Cabrera is a valuable trade chip. He’s one of the top 5 offensive center fielders in the American League. He’s no great defender, but his game will play on a number of contending team. His contributions at the plate are also a big reason the Royals offense is league average right now.
I bet you thought that this position would rank higher. Jeff Francouer had a hot start to the season, but he has cooled off significantly. That’s not to say he hasn’t provided some value. He’s solid defensively and holds his own offensively. For a team struggling to get to 82 wins, they could use a lot more league average players on their roster than they’ve had in the past.
Now here comes Billy Butler. The guy that so many believe isn’t good enough to be a DH, yet he’s one of the top 5 in the American League. Someone on Twitter told me that he was no Edgar Martinez. After looking at the numbers, I completely agree. This is Billy Butler’s age 25 season and he’s played in 622 games with an OPS+ of 119. Edgar Martinez played in 27 games through his age 25 season and if you add in the 65 games he played when he was 26 his OPS+ was 93.
Finally, I like to put together this radar graph because it looks cool. You’ll see the positions around the circle and then a color coded line representing each team. If the line is on the outside of the graph that means the team had the highest wOBA in the league at that position and then lower for each rung going to the middle. It’s just a way for me to have all the information in one picture so you can see where teams are in terms of each other.