Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Alcides Escobar

Opening Day is now less than one week away and with little roster intrigue surrounding the Royals our attention is turned towards the soon to be ‘real’ baseball games. Unless you are still busy monitoring what music everyone else likes, what clothing they choose to wear or what television shows and entertainment they choose to watch.  If that’s the case, I apologize in advance for wearing shorts to baseball practice tonight while listening to Charlie XCX and discussing Mountain Monsters with my assistant coach.

Anyway, the Royals’ fandom (and I imagine most teams’ fans) often fall into two very different camps about this time of year.  The first is the ‘everyone will be better’ camp where no projection is good enough and every other team has weaknesses but the Royals’ weaknesses will be erased by, you guessed it, everyone getting better.  I’ve been there.  It’s a happy place where one can believe that Mark Teahen and Ruben Gotay are just the guys to lead the Royals out of the darkness or that Angel Berroa will actually parlay a hot spring into a great regular season…or Mike Moustakas will.

The second camp is the ‘no one will be better, all the moves were crap’ group. In this circle, most projections are optimistic, any player who had a bad season will get even worse and most of those who had good seasons were lucky and, gasp!, are now a year older. It is kind of a grumpy and surly place, where one has a lot to write about and you can feel pretty smug when Mike Jacobs really cannot hit anything round and Juan Gonzalez disappears into The Plaza in May and is never seen again.

Seldom (ever?) does everyone on a team get better (or luckier) and rarely does everyone on a team get worse.  Now, a team can come close to both and, just off the top of my head, a team is more likely to have the majority of their roster implode than explode.  That said, I thought I might take a stab at the position players and pitchers most likely to make the happy camp pleased and also the ones most likely to make the gloomy guys feel smart.

THE HERO

Eric Hosmer has been pegged to be the next great Royal since, well, since we kind of gave up on Alex Gordon being the next great Royal (which he kind of has become, by the way). While ZiPS projects him to be good (.345 wOBA, 2.6 fWAR, .293/.346/.443 – basically Alex Gordon without the great defensive component in WAR), it doesn’t indicate Hosmer taking that next step. He has alternated two good years with two not very good years and punctuated the last with a very good post-season which, as Craig wrote some time back, was aided by a generous diet of fastballs from the Royals’ post-season opponents.

All that said, Hosmer is still young and has been through as many hitting coaches as major league seasons. While we like to scoff at scouts and ‘their feel’, there is something to the opinion of guys who do nothing but watch baseball players for a living. Like Gordon, the general feeling is that Hosmer almost has to be better than this or, at least among all the youngish players on the roster, he is at least the one that has the best chance to be really good.

That said, Eric’s walk rate has declined each of the last three seasons while his strikeout rate has increased and with those declines came a decrease in power. It is not a great trend line, but dammit my gut says Hosmer is better than all that. Truthfully, I think the ZiPS projection is probably about right, but if one guy is going to break out above the projections and be the hero, I think it will be Hosmer.  If it happens, it could lead to a fun – or at least interesting – summer and fall.

THE GOAT

I really like Alcides Escobar.  I also sense that the ZiPS projection of .270/.301/.356 is painfully close to optimistic. Given what Escobar can do in the field and, when he actually gets on, what he does running the bases, Alcides does not need to be a monster at the plate to be valuable. That said, the Royals’ shortstop is just one season removed from a painful 2013 where he posted a .259 on-base percentage.  Even Mike Moustakas thinks that is a bad season.

Although Escobar has posted a line drive percentage of 23% or greater in each of the past three years, his BABIP has fluctuated from .344 to .264 to .326.  With his BABIP, so goes Escobar’s on-base percentage. This is the guy who is going to be getting the most plate appearances on the team for at least the first few weeks of the season and likely beyond.

Hey, there are always corners to be turned and things to be figured out, but we are now 3,200 major league plate appearances in and Escobar has a career .299 on-base percentage. Do you feel lucky? Do ya?!!!

THE HERO

Most projections expect Danny Duffy to be an effective pitcher, just not one that is going to pitch a full season worth of innings. That is understandable, given the 149.2 Danny pitched last year doubled his major league total from the three previous seasons. Although he was still plagued by high pitch counts last year, Duffy was awfully good most times he took the mound.  He exhibited his best control since his years in the low minors and allowed just 113 hits in those 149 innings.

I see Yordano Ventura being every bit the pitcher he was last year, but one does not have to squint all that hard to see Duffy parlaying his 2014 effectiveness into 190 innings of ‘fun to watch’ in 2015. While there are not tremendous similarities between the two, it is kind of fun to draw a parallel to Mark Gubicza.  In 1985, a young Gubicza went unused in the World Series after spending the season in the starting rotation as the team was concerned about his mentality in a big game (sound familiar?).   He came back to be good in 1986, better in 1987 and great in 1988.

Perhaps Danny Duffy can do something similar, maybe even skip the ‘good’ and go directly to ‘better’ in 2015. I like his odds and, let’s face it, the Royals really, really need him to be that guy.

THE GOAT

Is there anyone, anywhere, optimistic about Edinson Volquez? Probably, but not here or there. This is not even an original theory and I am not going to spend much time discussing it.

I see Volquez struggling to find the strike zone, laboring through five innings, taxing the bullpen and hoping that the Royals’ outfield really can run down every flyball hit. Quite frankly, I am not sure the Royals might have been bettered served by simply using Chris Young as the fifth starter to hold the line until Zimmer, Finnegan, Lamb or someone was ready to step in.  They might not have spent the $10 million they paid for Volquez this year, but they sure could use it next year.

In the end, there is nothing scientific here, just some discussion and guessing. That is pretty much what the last week of Spring Training is for.

 

 

If we’ve learned anything about Ned Yost the last several years, it’s that he enjoys automation.

He doesn’t care for the match-ups. He likes defined roles. A sixth-inning left-hander? If he could, he would.

And so it goes for the lineup. Yost rolled through the end of September and the entire postseason with a single lineup. Just in case you don’t remember:

Escobar – SS
Aoki – RF
Cain – CF
Hosmer – 1B
Butler – DH
Gordon – LF
Perez – C
Infante – 2B
Moustakas – 3B

How could you forget? Based on what happened after Yost decided this was his batting order, that lineup should be legendary.

Seasons change, though, and players move on. Gone from the starting nine from last summer are Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. And their leaving the team has created two rather large holes in the lineup. Of course, they have been replaced by Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales. The issue for Yost is, neither one of his new bats profiles as a number two hitter. This means he will have to do some shuffling and will have to figure out a new optimum lineup.

Alcides Escobar is back at the top of the order. Despite September and October, this is less than ideal. The shortstop has 3,198 plate appearances in his career and has posted a .299 on base percentage. Naturally, the Royals will tell you he performed really well at the leadoff spot. And that is the truth. In the final 15 games, Escobar hit .375/.412/.484. Neat, except he walked three times in 68 plate appearances. That’s a 4.4 percent walk rate. That’s actually right in line with his career walk rate of 4.2 percent. It turns out Escobar’s final two weeks of the regular season was powered by a .411 BABIP.

In the postseason, Escobar continued to Escobar. Meaning, he swung the bat and made a bunch of contact. In 70 plate appearances in October, Escobar walked once. He finished with a .310 on base percentage. The Royals won a bunch of games.

With spring training rolling along, the Royals are primed to give the leadoff spot back to Escobar full-time. If you’re OK with this, that means you’re buying two weeks of games and overlooking a career that spans parts of seven seasons. That essentially means you’re on the side of the Royals. If you think this is a less than optimal idea, that means you are dismissing his torrid close to the season as a simple hot streak. It means you hope the Royals decide on Plan B before Plan A condemns the team to a place in the middle of the American League pack.

I think you can guess where I fall.

If you disagree with me, “Who would you hit leadoff?” is the question you’re asking. Totally fair. Why not Alex Gordon back at leadoff? He’s done it before and he’s done well in that role. According to Baseball Reference, his tOPS+ at the top of the order is 111. (That’s the measure of a player’s OPS+ relative to his own career. In other words, he’s performed better hitting leadoff than, say, hitting fourth, where his tOPS+ is 68.)

I don’t know why the Royals are fighting this so much. Gordon doesn’t fit the leadoff profile, but he’s accumulated more plate appearances batting first than any other spot in the order. That’s a credit to Yost for thinking outside the box. But damn, if he doesn’t want to jump right back in that box. Escobar may look like a leadoff hitter, but he makes far too many outs. It’s not always about the walks when you hit leadoff (although a 12 percent walk rate seems to be the cutoff for successful leadoff hitters) it’s about getting on base. And Escobar’s OBP is powered entirely by the base hit, meaning his success as a hitter is tied to his batting average on balls in play. That’s a dangerous cocktail. The Royals, for all their throwback offensive appeal, still lack a leadoff hitter in the vein of that 1980’s burner. The Willie Wilson type who did everything he could to get on base and then run with abandon. Jarrod Dyson is a burner for sure, but he lacks the offensive acumen. Besides, he’s a fourth outfielder. He’s not in this conversation.

The Royals see Escobar as a steady, durable and dependable player. I agree with that assessment. However, that doesn’t translate to a successful leadoff hitter. They see Gordon as a “run producer.” That’s a throwback term for RBI guy. Which is a horrible way to look at hitters in the lineup.

For this team to get the most out of their offense, they need someone more adept at avoiding outs at the top of the order. That means hitting Gordon leadoff.

It took all of 15 minutes to remember the game was being played in the thin desert air. Back to back to back. Six batters, six runs. Welcome to the Cactus League.

Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios all teed off in the first to give the Royals the cushion for their first victory of the spring.

Cue the “Royals have discovered power!” dispatches.

Far be it for me to tell you how to react, especially when the Royals hit three consecutive home runs, but this isn’t our first rodeo. We know about Surprise and how it makes certain hitters look each spring. And we know about the harsh realities of bringing that offensive mojo to Kansas City, Detroit and Chicago.

Still, I can’t deny that it wasn’t fun to listen to as the barrage was unfolding. Even if it doesn’t count.

— The lineup for the first action of the exhibition season was situated like this:

Alcides Escobar – SS
Jarrod Dyson – LF
Lorenzo Cain – CF
Eric Hosmer – 1B
Kendrys Morales – DH
Alex Rios – RF
Mike Moustakas – 3B
Erik Kratz – C
Christian Colon – 2B

We know Escobar is going to get first crack at leading off when the regular season dawns. He drew a walk in the first to set off the six run rally, which clearly signifies his change in approach to be a better leadoff man. (That’s sarcasm, if you didn’t know. Maybe he changed his approach. Maybe he didn’t. What we do know is he walked in 3.7 percent of his plate appearances last year. A good leadoff man will walk around 12 percent of the time. One PA in Surprise tells us nothing.)

Yost hit Dyson second, but admitted he’s thinking of his options in that spot. In his mind at this moment he’s thinking of Cain, Rios or Alex Gordon. Personally, I’d nominate Gordon. If anything, the acquisition of Rios should push Gordon higher in the lineup, and that’s a good thing. Really, I’d like Gordon to return to the leadoff spot, but it’s difficult to be picky. Just anywhere higher than fifth. Please.

— Tim Collins, scheduled for an inning of work, exited with elbow discomfort after facing four batters in the fifth inning. The Royals are attempting to arrange an early Thursday morning MRI to learn more.

The left-hander is a key component to the middle of the Royals bullpen and represents something of a domino. Should Collins be out for any length of time, the Royals will be tempted to use Brandon Finnegan in the major league bullpen. That’s less than ideal. The team knows Finnegan’s value lies in the rotation and the hope has been for him to be shipped to the minors to open the season as a starter.

If Collins is out, the Royals will be searching for a left-handed replacement. Finnegan would definitely be the front-runner on the basis of his September and October performance, but Franklin Morales, Brian Flynn – acquired from Florida in the Aaron Crow trade – and Joe Patterson could be in the mix. Of the three, only Flynn is currently on the 40-man roster. Patterson and Morales would have to have exceptional springs to break north as both are in camp on minor league deals. Let’s face it… If Collins is truly hurt, the spot is Finnegan’s to lose.

When a pitcher leaves the game with what is termed an “elbow issue,” it’s certain to raise alarm bells. We should know more about the injury Thursday. Fingers crossed.

— From the Star, here’s Ned bringing some perspective to the offensive barrage unleashed by his almost A-Team.

— The Royals square off in another match against the Rangers on Thursday afternoon. Flynn gets his first opportunity to impress as he will start. He will be followed by Sean Manaea and Miguel Almonte.

Over the past four seasons, Alcides Escobar has played more games at shortstop than anyone else in the majors. To my eyes, Escobar has played the position well.  Yes, there are some mental gaffes on routine plays here and there, but there is also a long list of outstanding, eye-popping, just damn good highlight plays.

While you should probably just trust my judgment, a more reality based approach would lead you to the defensive metrics. Those like, but don’t love, Alcides Escobar.  Over the past four years – a decent sample size from which to view these – Escobar is 8th in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved and 9th in Ultimate Zone Rating.  Good, not great.

Don’t like the above metrics? Think maybe all the shifting that goes on these days has bled into inconsistent data?  Possible, likely, a little, shut up? You want to go old school?  Alcides Escobar, over the last four seasons, ranks 8th in Fielding Percentage (a stat that tells you pretty much how often a guy makes a play that the official scorer can in no way manufacture something that made said play even slightly challenging).

Inside Edge Fielding is a little more interesting, but subjective in that a human decides if the chances of making a play is remote, unlikely, about even, likely or almost certain. In these categories – based on data from the last three seasons – Alcides Escobar has made a higher percentage of the ‘remote’ category plays than any other shortstop. He ranks third in those deemed unlikely and fifth in those where the chances were considered about even.  There are your highlights and, not surprisingly, the reason the metrics don’t love Alcides is that he is just 18th in percentage of plays that are considered ‘almost certain’ to be made.

That said, we all know defense is not the issue with Alcides Escobar.  He is without question better than average in the field.  Almost certainly at least good with the glove and, quite possibly, great at it.  Pretty clearly, Alcides Escobar can more than do the job at shortstop.

Another thing that is not a problem with Escobar is baserunning. His skills there get overshadowed by the pure speed of Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson and the incredible athleticism of Lorenzo Cain, but Escobar is outstanding.  Using Fangraphs BsR metric for baserunning, Escobar was 12th in the majors last season and ranks 6th over the past four seasons combined. That ain’t bad, kids.

Of course, it is the bat that makes us all wonder.  You can sum up Escobar just by looking at this graph comparing his on-base percentage to the league average:

chartObviously, throw out 2008 as there is simply not enough data to be worth talking about it, but since then you see Escobar flirt between league average and below average.  This is on-base percentage, but pick a stat, any stat and you get a graph that looks similar.  I’m not joking, average, slugging, ISO, wOBA…whatever.

The driver is BABIP, which is no surprise.  When Escobar’s BABIP is over .300 as it was in 2012 (.344) and 2014 (.326), his offense flirts with league average.  That, combined with his defense and baserunning, then makes him a valuable commodity (2.2 and 3.4 fWAR).  When the BABIP sags, so does the offense and Alcides becomes considerably less valuable.

The thing about Escobar’s batting average of balls in play is that there seems to be little reason for the fluctuations.  His line drive percentage over the last three years (2 average and 1 below average offensive campaigns) are remarkably close. If you feel like 2014 was a ‘turn the corner’ offensive season for Alcides, you might want to be mindful that his groundball rate was at a career low, as was his walk rate.

One can hang their hat on a marginally lower swing percentages on pitches outside the strike zone in his two good years (2012 and 14).  However, while 2014 sported his highest contact percentage on pitches in the zone, Escobar recorded his lowest contact percentage in the zone in his other good offensive season. If BABIP is a reflection of luck, then Alcides Escobar may be its poster child. With 3,200 plate appearances on his resume, the Royals’ shortstop is unlikely to suddenly blossom into a consistent on-base guy year in year out and probably that is okay.

Slated to earn $3 million in 2015, Escobar will be worth the money strictly on his ability to run the bases, play the field and, yes, bunt.  That is only half sarcastic, by the way, as Alcides is an excellent bunter.  He was 11th in the majors in bunt hits in 2014 and 12th in that category over the last four seasons.  Over the past four seasons, Escobar is 2nd in sacrifices and was 7th in the majors last year.  Ned Yost smirks in your general direction.

In the new landscape of baseball, where defense and pitching have overtaken hitting the ball over the wall in importance, the 2014 version of Alcides Escobar works just fine. Take heed, my friends, because just the season before, your World Series lead-off hitter posted an on-base percentage of just .259.  He was still worth 1.1 fWAR that season, but I’ll take the 3.4 fWAR of 2014 if you ask. Given their off-season, the Royals need the 2014 Escobar to make a repeat performance in 2015.

 

Do you remember, back in the early days of the season, when the typical Royals fan lament went something like this:

“If only they could get the bats going.”

May I present to you, the last week of Royals baseball.

Damn.

After sweeping the Indians at home and the White Sox on the road, the Royals own a seven game winning streak and are winners of eight of their last 10 and 12 of their last 20. There’s hot, and then there’s Royals Hot.

Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys. They say once you think you have the game figured out, it will humble you just as fast. The Royals, it seems, are the masters of the peaks and valleys. We saw the exact same thing last year when the team bottomed out at the All-Star Break, prompting this writer to call for the dismissal of Dayton Moore. Part of the reason for the call of Moore’s firing at the time was his apparent detachment from reality when he stated his 2013 Royals were capable of a stretch where they could win 15 out of 20. Laughable, I wrote, pointing out that very few Royals teams in the past had actually accomplished such a run of successful baseball. Then what happened? Ummmm… they won 15 out of their next 20. (Baseball is humbling? Damn. Try blogging.) Anyway, it’s about the peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys.

This year, it’s looking like a carbon copy of 2013. Straight down to the reassignment of a hitting coach. Except now the Royals have found (or are close to) the peak at a much earlier date. At least one month earlier in 2014 they finally figured out where the switch for the afterburners is located and they hit the damn thing.

From Baseball Musing’s Day by Day Database, here’s how the offense has looked this month:

DBD_67

And how the offense looked last week.

DBD_66

Funny game, baseball. At the end of May I insisted that it was bad business to set your lineup based on streaks (both hot and cold) and advocated Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain move to the top third of the order. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. Gordon is his typical awesome self. Mr. Everything for this club. Cain, however, has had a bit of a rough go this month. Break it down to look exclusively at this winning streak and who are the two of the worst offensive performers? Yep. Gordon and Cain.

But take a moment to revisit those numbers from the last week. Eric Hosmer is hitting like Hosmer post-May 2013. Sal Perez is a destroyer of baseballs. Billy Butler is an on base machine. Mike Moustakas is FIXED! And good grief, Alcides Escobar. Look at those numbers. And that’s after an 0-3 day at the plate. Somehow, he drew a walk and saw a grand total of nine pitches in four plate appearances. But those numbers. This offense is now running on best-case scenario. These guys are just killing it. Early and often. It’s been a helluva week.

Here’s the great thing about this peak I just spent 500 words extolling: It’s coming against teams in the AL Central.

When the Royals opened this stretch of baseball, I said it was a pivotal moment of the 2014 season. At that moment, the Royals had won a grand total of six intra-division games. No other team in baseball had fewer than 10 wins against intra-division opponents. In other words, the Royals had become experts at laying down in their own division. That’s no way to win a wild card spot, never mind the division itself. Having dug such a hole in the Central, it was imperative the Royals stop the bleeding and get better. Immediately. And nine games against Central opponents presented the first opportunity. So here we are, five games in and the Royals have won all five.

Have I mentioned baseball is a funny game?

Now, attention turns to Detroit and the Tigers. It’s far too early in the season for me to get caught up in the standings. I could care less who is in first place on June 16. It doesn’t matter. Positioning matters. If teams harbor October expectations, they need to hang close. You can’t pull a Tampa Bay and drop 13 games out of the division and 10 games out of the wild card because that’s ground you just can’t make up over the course of three and a half months. We’ve said it over and over – and experienced it last year – but if you fall so far behind and allow multiple teams to move ahead of you and a playoff spot – it’s difficult to climb over those teams to get to the top.

At some point, hot streak will end. (I’m not trying to rain on your Plaza Parade. It’s a streak. If you are unfamiliar with the term, look it up somewhere.) At some point the Royals will probably play a stretch of baseball where they go 10-10. Maybe a little worse. The important thing to remember is positioning. The Royals are in a good position right now. If they stumble a bit, they may remain on the outside of a playoff spot, but if they can maintain their positioning, they can be OK.

And that’s exactly what I think this team can do. They can keep themselves in position. No way was the offense as bad as we saw back in April and May. Sadly, it’s not this good either. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in-between. And that’s OK. Because with the pitching and defense, that gives this team a pretty good chance.

This isn’t a team built on the premise they can dominate. (No sane Royals fan can believe that. Not after what we saw in April and May.) But this is a team that can compete and this team can cause some problems. There’s a ton of mediocrity in the American League this summer. So many teams have opportunity. So few will capitalize.

Here’s hoping the Royals continue to capitalize.

Two on, two out, bottom of the ninth with the Royals down by two.  It looked and felt like many other nights this season:  the trailing Royals would do enough in the ninth to make it interesting, but ultimately not get the big hit.   We have seen all too often.

Then, John Axford threw his fourth straight 97+ mph fastball to Alcides Escobar and Escobar, as he has a tendency to do with fastballs drilled it for a game tying triple.   A couple innings later, Mike Moutaskas drew his third walk of the game to ‘drive’ in the winning run.   Say what you want about the level of play (at times very good, at times pretty bad), but these two games with Milwaukee have been interesting.

Back to Escobar.

At the end of April, Alcides was hitting .295/.329/.449.   I don’t think anyone really expected him to slug at that rate for an entire season and he didn’t.   By the end of May, Escobar’s triple slash was .303/.344/.404 and after last night, it stands at .292/.330/.392.   Let’s get one thing clear:  Alcides Escobar can hit .292/.330/.392 from here until the end of his contract and I will have not one complaint about it.

There is starting to be a growing body of evidence that Escobar might be able to hit at something resembling that clip.   Starting at June 1st of last year, Escboar finished out 2011 at a .274/.310/.391 pace.   Certainly nothing special there, but a vast improvement over the .216/.252/.253 line he sported on May 31, 2011.

Now, we have bandied about the ‘arbitrary set of dates’ line fairly often around here.   If you look hard enough, you can string together a start and end date for just about any player to make them look as good or bad as you want to.   Fox Sports KC are experts at that:  Yuniesky Betancourt leads all American League right handed second baseman in batting average with a runner on second and the temperature above 81 degrees.

However, I did not arbitrarily pick June 1, 2011 as a nice place to start out.  Not to be THAT guy, but I have been told by someone who was there, that in the first week of June last season, Alcides Escobar was given a ‘come-to-Jesus’ talk about needing to change what he was doing at the plate.   It’s outstanding to be a great fielding shortstop, but this is not 1965 and no team can carry anyone who hits .200 and slugs .250.

Since that point in time, Escobar started to hold his own at the plate.    Carrying that into 2012, Escobar has done more than that with the bat and I think you could call him an average offensive player.

Escobar’s current fWar is 1.1, his wOBA is .326 and his OPS+ is 98.   He has ten steals in eleven attempts.   Although the defensive metrics don’t like him as much as most of us like him, I have to believe that will even out as the year goes on.  It sticks in my head that early on last season, Alcides has some unappealing fielding metrics too, but ended up well into the positives by season’s end.  Of course, I’m old and drink a lot, so that might not be true.

For what the Royals are paying him through 2017, if Alcides Escobar is a 2.2 WAR player each year it will be a tremendous contract.   Buy your jerseys now, kids, because Alcides Escobar might end up being the best shortstop in Royals history when all is said and done.

xxx

 

I’m told this weekend is the unofficial start to summer. It appears it’s also the unofficial point where a third of the baseball season is past. Strange dichotomy, that.

Seems as though now is as good a time as any to check some league wide numbers and see how the Royals are comparing offensively. I’m looking at slash stats and dropping in sOPS+ for the numbers. Just a rough measuring stick of how the Royals are getting production out of their infield positions when looking at the scope of the entire league.

Catcher
League AVG – .239/.310/.389
Royals – .244/.274/.359, s OPS+ 76

Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero have combined for 15 doubles, tied for the top number in the AL. They’ve also combined for a single home run. Believe it or not, that’s not the worst in the league. Thanks to the Oakland A’s.

It’s also worth noting that Pena and Quintero have drawn just six walks between them. But they’ve only struck out 18 times. I suppose if we were going to make a blanket statement here it would be Royals catchers make contact. It’s not good contact, but it’s contact.

First Base
League AVG – .242/.317/.406
Royals – .203/.279/.360, sOPS+ 72

The Royals slash line would be worse if not for Country Breakfast who has collected 13 plate appearances while spelling the struggling Eric Hosmer. In that limited action, Butler has hit .400/.538/.800, which is enough to add 14 points to the collective batting average and 19 points to the OBP.

Second Base
League AVG – .245/.311/.372
Royals – .272/.318/.380, sOPS+ 102

There you have it… No clue how this is happening, but it is. The first four weeks of the season, Betancourt was taking walks and Getz actually hit a couple of doubles. Since then, the Yunigma has hit the DL and Getz started struggling before he took his turn on the sidelines.

And then Irving Falu comes up and starts hitting like he’s the second coming of Joe Morgan. OK then. I’m going to assume that Falu comes back to Earth (or Omaha) and Betancourt is close to a return and there’s no way he can keep his current slash line at .289/.347/.422. Still, a nice opening to the season from a position thought to be an offensive black hole.

Worth noting I suppose that in 13 plate appearances as a second baseman, Johnny GIavotella has yet to collect a base hit.

Shortstop
League AVG – .256/.313/.369
Royals – .310/.347/.437, sOPS+ 132

When I’m writing about shortstops, I’m writing about Alcides Escobar. He’s played every game but one at short. And his offensive production has been nothing short of phenomenal. His 13 doubles are second best among AL shortstops and is sOPS+ (which represents his OPS+ when compared to all shortstops) is the third best behind only Derek Jeter and Asdrubal Cabrera.

And he’s doing this while playing his usual exceptional defense. Sadly, his UZR isn’t reflecting that. (Am I crazy? I haven’t noticed him getting to fewer balls this year. Or an otherwise general malaise in his glove work. Really strange.) Otherwise, he’s probably be pushing Mike Moustakas for the team lead in fWAR. As it is, he’s second at 1.1 fWAR.

Third Base
League AVG – .254/.311/.406
Royals – .288/.337/.497, sOPS+ 130

Moooooooose.

At this point, he’s you’re Royals All-Star. Hopefully he’ll keep it going through June. The Royals need someone like Moustakas representing the team. Better him than a middle reliever.

He powers the Royals third basemen to a sOPS + that is fourth best among AL hot corners. The teams they trail: Tampa (Evan Longoria), New York (A-Rod), Detroit (Miguel Cabrera). Yeah, that’s pretty solid.

I’ll check back in next week with a look at the outfield and DH. Have a great (long) weekend.

Ten straight losses.   Nine straight at home.  New and inventive ways to lose every day.  A player to the disabled list every week. Welcome to the 2012 Kansas City Royals, ladies and gentlemen.

There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong through 15 games.  In fact, at one time or another, almost everything has gone wrong.  Enough, in fact, to have Ned Yost remark that changes may be on the horizon.  It is a deep, dark hole and there really is no way around it.   Losing 12 of 15, while accentuated by having it happen to start the season, would be a bad stretch and extremely noticeable at any time in the season.   Three and twelve is three and twelve, folks.   If you are not panicking just a little, then you are just being a contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

All that said, the Kansas City Royals could reach .500 by the end of the season by simply winning two more games than the lose in each month.  Of course, that assumes they right the ship and manage to play it even until we get to May Day.  Sadly, that is a rather optimistic, sunshine pumping assumption right now.

As bad as the 2012 campaign has begun, some things have gone right. 

  • Mike Moustakas, with three hits on Sunday, raised his average to .269 and now has eight extra base hits.  Along the way, Sunday’s error was the first blemish on what has been a very good defensive start for him.   One cannot trust defensive stats this early in the year (or a player’s career), but the stats and the eyes certainly are pointing to Moustakas being a far better defender than was originally thought when he was coming up.  Decent or better fielding coupled with a pace that puts Moustakas on track for fifty plus extra base hits is indeed something good.
  • Speaking of good fielding.  Well, let’s be serious, really good and probably great defense.  Even after an 0 for 3 on Sunday, Alcides Escobar is hitting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage.  Those numbers don’t get you in the Hall of Fame, but when combined with Escobar’s impact on defense, they are more than enough to get him deep into the positive side of the ledger.  Sure, he has a somewhat fortutious .341 BABIP, but it is not crazy lucky.  Prior to the season, if you were told that Escobar would have four doubles, a triple and a home run by game number 15, would you have even asked how often he was getting on base?  Oh yeah, he has four stolen bases without being caught.
  • Billy Butler.  I almost didn’t put Billy on this list because he has done exactly what we expected:  hit.  You have arrived when an early wOBA of .394 gets you a ‘yeah, that’s Billy, he can hit’ response.
  • I will probably draw some ire here, but I am not going to expound on the early season runs of Yuniesky Betancourt, Humberto Quintero or Mitch Maier’s .370 on base percentage.  Maybe it’s bias, but I see Butler, Escobar and Moustakas building on their good starts and see the first three players in this bullet point falling.  Yes, they have all three had moments and, quite frankly, more moments than many on the roster.  Long term, I don’t see Yuni, Humbo and Mitch as answers to anything.  I will make a deal with you:  if Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS over .800 May 23rd, I will write 1,000 words of something nice about him.
  • Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy.  While Duffy had a rough day on Sunday, he was outstanding in his first two starts and I think most of us would be delighted if Danny could produce two good starts out of every three in his sophmore season.   As for Chen, I give up, he appears to be the next Jamie Moyer and, for right now anyway, the Royals can sure use him.
  • Not a lot has gone right in the bullpen.  What was supposed to be a ‘Super Pen’ has been decidedly average.  While both Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have been tagged for some runs, both have had some really outstanding outings as well.  Maybe the biggest positive of the entire pen has been Collins’ 12 strikeouts to just 1 walk in his first 8.2 innings of work.  With the injuries to Soria and Holland, the deep pen is no a bit shallow and being able to rely on Collins and Crow (who has allowed 5 hits in 8 innings) is a nice fallback.

I know, some of this is reaching for sunshine.  Perhaps this column should have been used to take  some shots at Yost (who should just pick a batting order and let the guys settle in – this team is thinking too much, give them at least one less thing to think about!) or Moore or Glass or the coaching staff or just about anyone.  We could truly panic and call for Johnny Giavotella, Nate Adcock and whomever else is someone different than Jason Bourgeois, but it is just a fraction too early.  Not by much, mind you, but a week or two weeks too soon.

There are some positives and some really bad luck (entering Sunday’s game, Alex Gordon had a BABIP of .235, Hosmer just .163).   The Royals have played horrific ball, but they don’t look like a team that should be this bad.   This 3-12 start almost certainly means that Kansas City won’t win the division this season, but it does not doom them to laughingstock…at least not quite yet.

xxx

 

Hang on everyone, we are finally, FINALLY in the final week of spring training.  It is a good feeling to know that next Monday I will have actual regular season games to write about!  I am pretty sure that there is not a Royals’ fan out there who isn’t tired of debating roster moves, nicknames, and what spring training really means, so let’s have a little fun today and throw out some over/unders for the coming season.

Eric Hosmer Home Runs

Anyone not think Hosmer is the real deal?  We have all fallen prey to overestimating the potential of more than one prospect over the years, but I am not sure any one player has seemed so destined for stardom in a Royals’ uniform since we saw Carlos Beltran come up.   There has been a lot of talk about Hosmer threatening Steve Balboni’s club record of 36 homers and I think that one year either Hosmer or Mike Moustakas probably will bust through that long standing number.  However, I don’t think 2012 is going to be the year.

The over/under on Hosmer homers is 29.

Alex Gordon’s OPS+

I know some of you are not all that keen on sabermetrics, but it is a tidy way to quantify a player’s offensive contributions relative to the rest of the league.  Last year, Gordon posted a rather impressive OPS+ of 140.   For reference, his OPS+ from his rookie season forward were: 90, 109, 87 and 84.

Was 2011 a freak occurrence or the long awaited realization of Gordon’s potential?  I think the latter, but I also know that Gordon had a little bit of good fortune when it came to the beloved BABIP.   He might regress, but not a lot (at least I sure hope it is not a lot!).

The over/under for Gordon’s 2012 OPS+ is 129.

Luke Hochevar’s Innings Pitched

A couple of things come into play here.  The first is that 2011 was basically the first year Luke managed to go through the entire season without an injury.  The second is that unless you are the late Jose Lima, it is hard to pile up a lot of innings if you are not effective.   In my mind, the number of innings Hochevar throws will be a direct correlation to his effectiveness.

Last season, Luke threw 198 innings, using a strong second half to get his ERA to a marginally tolerable 4.68 by season’s end.  The Royals expect and quite frankly really, really, really need Hochevar to build on the success he enjoyed after the All-Star Break in 2011.  I’m cautiously optimistic.

The over/under on Hochevar’s innings pitched is 208.

Greg Holland’s Saves

Ned Yost has yet to commit to a full-time closer to replace the injured Joakim Soria and looks to be headed towards an early season combination of Holland and Jonathan Broxton.  I don’t mind that, but I think we may see Holland simply take the role over by sheer overpowering effectiveness sooner rather than later.  You have to give Dayton Moore credit on this one:  he drafted Holland in the 10th round with the idea that Greg would get to the majors quickly and be a possible closer.    You have to love it when a plan comes together.

The over/under on Mr. Holland’s saves is 31.

Billy Butler’s Extra Base Hits

I don’t agonize over Butler’s home run total like many do and I quite possibly could be wrong to not do so.  I do, however, monitor Billy’s overall extra base hit total.  Last season, Billy hit 63, the year before 60 and in 2009 he smacked 73 extra base hits.  The Royals could certainly use a big number in this category as Billy should see Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer on base when he comes to the plate with great regularity.  My hunch says that Billy amps it up this year.

The over/under is 71.

The Royals Starting Pitchers

Last season, Kansas City had 11 different pitchers start a game.  Let’s eliminate the September call-up situation to get to the crux of the issue.   How many pitchers will start a game prior to September 1st this year and, quite frankly, is it good or bad to have a higher number? 

There will certainly be an injury or two along the way, so you know Felipe Paulino gets some turns which puts you at six out of the gate.  Do we see Mike Montgomery?   Does Everett Teaford get a start or two or ten? 

The over/under is 8.

Alicdes Escobar’s on base percentage

With Salvador Perez out until June or so and not a single second baseman in the organization can seem to, you know, hit the ball, the Royals really need Escobar to improve his offensive game to keep the bottom of the order from becoming the ‘now’s a good time to go to the bathroom and get some nachos’ part of the game.   Escobar is never going to be Troy Tulowitzki at the plate, but he has to do a little more than get on base at a .290 clip.  We saw some signs of improvement over the latter half of the season, although much of that was due to one magical hot streak.

If Escobar focuses at the plate like he does in the field, stays within himself and goes with the pitch, he could emerge as at least a ‘hold your own’ type of guy at the plate.  The Royals really need him to do so.

The on-base percentage over/under for Escobar is .322.

Salvador Perez

Could the Royals have taken an injury hit in a worse area?  With Perez out with knee surgery, Kansas City will struggle at the catching position.  Imagine the boost if the Royals can hang around .500 into the summer and then have Perez return healthy to the lineup.

Nothing is better than being young and in shape, so I am hoping for a quicker than expected return out of Perez.

The over/under on the number of games Salvador Perez will catch in 2012 is 81.

And Finally, The Only Number That Matters

How many games will Kansas City win in 2012?  A lot of projections this spring put that number anywhere in the seventies.   We are all certainly hoping for better, but is that logical?   This is a young team with sketchy starting pitching and one that has already suffered two big injuries.    Almost everyone seems to think the Royals will hit, but truthfully Billy Butler is the only offensive player who is truly proven over time.   We all think the bullpen is lockdown solid, but relievers are just plain unpredictable.

Craig was optimistic on Friday and it has rubbed off on me.

The over/under on 2012 Kansas City wins is set at 82.

xxx

 

For the last couple of seasons, March has been… Well, it’s been a testy month here at Royals Authority. Maybe it’s the change of seasons. Maybe it’s the grind of meaningless spring training baseball. Whatever it is, this has been a month where everyone is on edge.

They say spring is a time for optimism. I’ll freely admit I’m not an optimist. Can’t do it. Not after lo these many years. But I’m not a pessimist either. I consider myself a realist. (Right now, there are people reading this paragraph at 1 Royals Way and coughing, “Bulls#!t.”) It’s true. I’m a realist at heart. You may disagree, but I like to think I call things like I see them. It’s an honest take of the team I love. It’s just that the negative sometimes outweighs the positive.

That’s unfortunate.

We’re so caught up in the Chris Getz Story and the knowledge that somehow the Royals are going to find a way to give Yuniesky Betancourt 500 plate appearances that we tend to overlook a few things. It’s the nature of the beast. We know Eric Hosmer is going to play and play well. What is there to say about him? He’s great. On the other hand, we have someone like Getz. Why? Sadly, the Royals have given us plenty of ammo.

Please don’t get caught up in my previous paragraph. You want to bitch about Getz today. Go someplace else. You want optimism? This is your place for Friday.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to in 2012…

— The continuing development of Eric Hosmer. When was the last time the Royals had a player with a ceiling of MVP?

— The possibility that Luke Hochevar truly turned the corner in the second half of 2011. For some reason, I’m irrationally bullish on Hochevar. By altering his arm angle ever so slightly, he’s added the deception – and movement – necessary to be a quality starter.

— The SS Jesus. Can’t wait for him to range to his left to snare a grounder up the middle, plant, spin and throw to beat the runner by a couple of steps.

— Brayan Pena smiling and giving his teammates high fives. If this was basketball, we would be describing Pena as a “glue guy.”

— The Lorenzo Cain Show. I am thrilled that this guy, who was buried all of last season (justifiably so, given the performance of the Royals outfield), is kicking ass in Surprise. I hope he brings some of those hits north with him next week.

— A1. Domination. The Sequel.

— Johnny Giavotella tearing up Triple-A pitching.

— The continued development of Danny Duffy. I just have this feeling that he’s this close to putting everything together. Needless to say, we can expect improvement over his 4.4 BB/9 and 4.82 FIP. There will be moments where the kid is going to struggle again this summer, but it won’t be as frequent. And the lows won’t be as low.

— The young arms of the bullpen. I thoroughly enjoy watching Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman and Kelvin Herrera pitch. It helps that they could be pretty good relievers. (Side note: I’m not upset that Coleman was sent to Omaha. Surprised, but not upset. The bullpen is a fungible beast. He’ll be back. Probably before the end of April.)

— The return of Salvador Perez. I’m counting down the weeks. So is every other Royals fan.

— Our Mitch. Because it wouldn’t feel like the Royals without him.

— Billy Butler’s annual pursuit of 50 doubles. Quite simply, Butler is the most consistent hitter on this team. And it’s not even close.

— Jeff Francoeur punching his teammates in the nuts after a walkoff. Crazy eyes!

— The late game tandem of Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland. Holland is nails and you know I’m bullish on Broxton. It’s probably just my wide-eyed optimism that I think Broxton can be a servicable closer.

— The development of Mike Moustakas. He’s not the “sure thing” Hosmer is, so there’s a bit of a risk here, but we really need him to be the Moose of September and not the Moose of every other month.

Those are my positive thoughts heading into 2012. Fire away in the comments. Although in the spirit of optimism, I’ll ask that you only leave positive comments. Thanks.

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