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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Alcides Escobar

It is always nice to see your team battle back from a big early deficit as the Royals did yesterday, but let’s face it:  Sunday’s 10 inning loss to the Cardinals was just plain brutal.

Thirteen walks, a hit batter, two errors, two ejections and another base-running blunder – just awful.   Home-plate umpire Angel Campos did the Royals no favors, but he is hardly the first umpire to have a ridiculous strike zone and an apparent ax to grind and teams manage to get through a game without giving their opposition SIXTEEN free base runners.

The truly awful thing about Sunday’s loss, which capped a 2-5 homestand, was that this seems to be more than just one loss.   To begin with, it knocks Kansas City to two games below .500 for the second time this season and does so as the team is about to embark on six game road trip to Baltimore and Texas.   One could envision a Royals team coming off a come from behind series win over St. Louis going on the road and winning three of six, holding firm at the .500 mark and still, however marginally, in the conversation when it comes to contending in the AL Central.

After losing yesterday, it seems far more likely that the Royals, 5-11 on the road thus far in 2011, might well flail their way to something like a 1-5 road trip and entrench themselves in the lower half of the division for the rest of the year.   Certainly this may be an overreaction on my part and perhaps yesterday really is just one game out of 162, but it had the feel of one of those ‘tipping point’ games.

Now, a number of writers and commenters throughout the Internet whom I respect have long held true to the line that the Royals would not contend in 2011 and, even when they were near or at the top of the standings, that the Royals were really not contenders.   Those opinions would seem to be closer to getting validated as the month of May begins to wind down, but those opinions don’t really matter.

All that matters, is that the Royals thought they were contenders.  Yes, they can spin the ‘Eric Hosmer was ready and we would have made the move no matter what the standings said’ line all they want and use the same logic with the Danny Duffy promotion, but the truth is the organization was going for it in 2011.

Without question, Eric Hosmer was ready for a promotion and there is validity in the idea that you can keep a player at one level for too long, but the only reason to promote Hosmer when the Royals did (as opposed to waiting three weeks to avoid Super Two status) was that Dayton Moore believed this team had a chance to compete.    I think it was worth the risk and am not criticizing the move at all.   In fact, in some rough plotting of future Royals’ payrolls, you have to go out a long ways before Hosmer’s salary, no matter how outrageous an award he may receive in arbitration, actually begins to be a hindrance to the organization making additional moves.   The only problem with the plan was that someone forgot to clue Ned Yost into the updated situation.

I do believe it is possible to ‘build’ and ‘compete’ simultaneously, but sometimes you have to sacrifice a little of one to do the other.  Case in point:  Alcides Escobar hitting with two outs in the bottom of the 1oth yesterday with the tying run on base.

While we all know that Yost had been ejected earlier in the game, we also all know that the ejected manager usually goes exactly one step beyond visual range in the dugout tunnel.   Certainly, if Ned had wanted to pinch-hit for Escobar in this situation, he could have made his thoughts known to bench coach John Gibbons.     That he did not, forces us to rely on Yost’s stated position of a week or so ago that ‘Escobar needs to learn how to hit in those situation’.   Well, of course he does, but Escobar doesn’t necessarily need to learn how to hit in every one of those situations. 

I say that, knowing that Escobar has been hitting better lately (5 for his last 17 at-bats), that he was 2 for 4 on the day, and that the pinch-hitting option was Melky Cabrera (5 for 39 in his career as a pinch hitter and, after all, Melky Cabrera), but I like Cabrera better than Escobar in this situation.    For all his faults, there was certainly a much better chance that Melky catches a ball flush and drives it than there was for Escobar to do the same. 

If the Royals were 24-21 entering Sunday afternoon (or 19-26 for that matter), than by all means let the kid hit and try to figure it out, but yesterday was a big game and I don’t know that you can spin it as anything but a big game.   You make the move for Cabrera and hope he ties or maybe even wins it with one swing.  If it is a tie and you have to play the 11th with your defensive whiz shortstop on the bench, then so be it:  at least you are playing the 11th instead of taking a shower.

The entire plan is a bit of mystery to me as Yost, in other situations, has clearly focused on the now.  He moved Hosmer into the three spot in the order, opting to bolster the offense over protecting the rookie, and Yost has squarely put Aaron Crow into the ‘8th inning setup man’ role to the exclusion of any other development in order to win games.   Those are moves made to win now that run counter to things like not pinch-hitting for Escobar and continuing to rotate Wilson Betemit with the Aviles/Getz mess in order to get both of the second baseman at-bats.

Pick a course of action and go with it.   If you are determined to bat Escobar in critical late-inning situations, then it would seem reasonable to try to stretch Aaron Crow out now and then.    Again, it is very possible to devise a plan under which you try to win in 2011 and develop your team for 2012 and beyond, but I am not sure I can envision any plan that has Alcides Escobar batting in the 10th inning yesterday.

What a game… Dead for eight plus innings, the Cardiac Royals plate one in the ninth and one in the tenth. Unreal.

They won, despite the reappearance of the the 2009 vintage of the Royals. Not the team I once called, “Fundamentally worse than a junior varsity high school team.”

But, damn if they aren’t back. At least on the bases.

— In the first, Alex Gordon was caught stealing with Eric Hosmer at the plate.

— In the sixth, Melky Cabrera was picked off first when he broke for second too early against the left-handed throwing Holland.

— In that same inning, Jeff Francoeur was thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double.

One word about the caught stealings… The Royals no longer use advance scouts. Instead, they rely on video. I recommend they invest in an internet connection. One quick check of Baseball Reference reveals that Derek Holland has had 84 stolen base opportunities against him this season. Meaning, there have been 84 instances where a runner has been on either first or second and the next base has been open. Of those 84 chances to steal, opposing runners have made the attempt only two times. Two out of 84. In other words, nobody is running against Holland this year. And when they do… they’ve been caught. That’s right. There hasn’t been a successful steal against Holland all year.

If the Royals only had internet connection at the K, they could have avoided two outs on the bases. If only…

So of course, three batters into the game, the Go-Go Royals try to run. Of course.

There’s aggressive base running and there’s stupid base running. To paraphrase Nigel Tufnel, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. And guess which side of the line the Royals have been falling over the last week.

Sure, those pickoffs in the ninth on Wednesday’s game were balks. But Aviles should have been aware of what was going on. Then, I just have a real difficult time moving past Coach Treanor getting picked off of second base on a snap throw by the catcher on Tuesday. I can understand it happening at first… But second? Seriously?

While the base running has been fundamentally awful, the defense has been solid with Alcides Escobar taking charge up the middle. That play in the fifth where Betemit knocked down a line drive and Escobar came over from short to pick the ball up and get the force at second was just the kind of heads up play we never used to see. This kid is worth the price of admission to watch him with the glove.

The outs on the bases and lack of scoring overshadowed the best start of the year for Luke Hochevar. The only blemish was a fat second inning pitch to Chris Davis who sent it into the right field bullpen. The thing was, Hochevar seemed to get stronger over the final third of the game. He retired nine in a row before a soft single in the ninth – and then a rocket finally chased him from the game.

He struck out only four – two of them in the top of the ninth – so I wouldn’t call his performance dominant. But he was doing a great job of locating his pitches and setting up hitters all night. His sinker was doing it’s job – he got 11 ground balls compared to nine in the air – and it was enough to get him through 8.2 innings on a season-high 113 pitches.

It was a savvy performance. Good to see.

Then there was the ninth…

Hosmer led off with a single that was scorched up the middle. Hammered. Dustin Pedroia thinks he used to put on Laser Shows? He has nothing compared to Hos. Then, Francoeur reaches on a single. That was practically a given. In 15 ninth inning plate appearances this year, Frenchy has four hits, five walks and two sac flies. A nice piece of hitting where he went with the pitch and lined it to right.

That sets everything up for Billy Butler… I thought he was on track with a seventh inning single. Sadly, it was not to be as he elevated just a bit too much on a late swing (although he was likely trying to send the ball to right) and hit a soft fly out. Then Feliz ran the count to 3-2 on both Betemit and Aviles. Aviles had a 10 pitch at bat where every Feliz offering was between 97 and 100 mph. Straight gas and Aviles hits a perfectly placed dribbler back up the middle to score Hosmer to tie the game. Tons of credit to Aviles there. His last hit was Saturday in Detroit. He battled, fouling off heater after heater before just putting the ball in play. Sometimes, that’s all you have to do.

Back to back blown saves for Feliz. He won’t get a chance for a third… Not after throwing 32 pitches to get two outs.

And the tenth…

The second best thing about the tenth was the fact we got to see another Escobar highlight pick at short. And Hosmer flashing the leather on the short hop was something to see as well. Just a fine defensive play from those two. I can see that happening several times over the next six or seven seasons.

The best thing about the tenth was the fact the Royals had the top of the order… This was there chance. I just can’t say enough about Hosmer. That kid is just ice. And then Frenchy… I don’t want to, but I love the guy.

The team was frustrated for eight plus innings, but Hochevar kept them in the game and they pushed through in the ninth and tenth. Just a great game. Really – aside from the boneheaded base running – an outstanding game to watch.

No balks tonight. Just a win.

So I’m thinking of just giving up and joining the French Quarter section in right field and becoming a member of the Jeff Francoeur Fan Club.

Why not? The guy continues to rake. A game-tying home run in the bottom of the sixth and the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth… Good enough for me.

It’s not going to last… Not with a walk rate of 5.7% and a 15.6% HR/FB rate. We can talk all we want to about an alleged change in approach, but I don’t think he’s doing anything differently. Just getting some big hits.

Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the show.

And maybe I’m a sucker, but after watching a couple of inept fielders patrol right field for the last several seasons, it’s nice to see a guy who can actually play some defense. He made a nice play going back on a ball last night and collected another assist.

Really, you can’t have a much better game than the one Francoeur had last night.

I’m on board. For now.

Meanwhile, I’m really starting to question what goes on in a Ned Yost dugout. I’ve criticized him for his bullpen management and for what I consider to be over management at times with excessive pinch runners and some other odd in-game decisions.

Last night was simply inexplicable for other reasons.

How in the world do you let Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz bat with the winning run in scoring position? Fortunately, Escobar hit the ball on the nose and produced a sharp grounder to short that Robert Andino couldn’t handle. (Really too bad the official scorer didn’t throw Escobar a bone and give him a hit. I was driving around last night and heard Denny at one point say, “Escobar is 0-2 tonight.” Denny has probably said that sentence about 25 times this season.)

So at this point in the game, you have the winning run on third with one out. To let Getz walk to the plate in this situation is managerial malpractice. In a situation where you need at least a fly ball to score a run, you’re letting a guy with a 30% fly ball rate try to bring him in. Nevermind the fact that the odds of Getz collecting a base hit are long. And as we saw, even a ground ball wasn’t enough to get the run home for the win. Crazy.

Sometimes, I like to give the manager the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he wants to play the percentages with the lefty Getz hitting against the right-handed Jason Berken. Only one problem with that line of thought… Both Kila Ka’aihue and Mitch Maier are on the bench. And as we know, both are left-handed batters.

Again, this inactivity from Yost defies logic. He must have taken a nap in the ninth.

Of course, it could be argued that Brayan Pena – who was on second for Escobar and third for Getz should have been lifted for a pinch runner. Namely Maier. How big of an uproar would there have been had Getz muscled a fly ball to shallow right, only to have had Pena gunned down at the plate. We all know if there was going to be a pinch runner Yost has to have Jarrod Dyson. Despite the ankle sprain, the Royals insist he’s available. I have to differ with this assessment. If he was healthy, he would have been on second practically before Pena touched the bag on his double.

— At the end of the night, the Royals had four hitters with an OPS north of .900. Alex Gordon (.913), Billy Butler (.917), Jeff Francoeur (.956) and Wilson Betemit (.902) form a comfortable middle of the order. Part of why everyone is so giddy about this start is because we’ve finally got a middle of the lineup that can actually, you know… produce.

Of course, it might not always be this way. Still, it’s real easy to enjoy.

— The question has been making the rounds… When do we start to worry about Escobar’s bat. Still love the defense, but after last night, his OPS dipped to .498. Not good.

— For those who are worried about Soria, the good news is, he missed a couple of bats last night. Including a swinging strikeout on Nick Markakis. For those of you who lean to the pessimist side of the equation, it’s not that big of an accomplishment to get Markakis out on strikes. At least this season. That guy is in a horrible, horrible place, hitting just .207/.276/.288 in his first 28 games.

Soria also looked to have better command of his curveball. Although he wasn’t able to get the strike call.

Episode #052 – In which I take a look back at the Cleveland Indians series, discuss lineups, the inability of the pen to get out lefties and preview the series with the Minnesota Twins. Aaron Stilley drops by to talk about Jeff Francoeur’s approach and Alcides Escobar’s bat.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs052.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Aaron on Twitter @kc_baseball and check out his articles on Francoeur and Escobar

Music used in this podcast

Phish – Wilson

Arcade Fire – Wake Up

RJD2 – Smoke & Mirrors

How to Get the Podcast:

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I have to imagine every Royals’ fan that read the above title instantly thought ‘Alcides Escobar’ and probably a vast majority then had the name ‘Chris Getz’ pop into their head shortly thereafter.  No trickery here, that is exactly who we are going to talk about this morning.

Let me preface the discussion by admitting I have not done an in-depth analysis of this topic.    Two reasons:  a) time and b) I wanted to not prove a point, but continue a long running Twitter discussion and get the readers’ semi-unjaded thoughts on the issue.  Yes, you’re right, item b is a writer’s way of justifying limited research.

Anyway, I have yet to find anyone who has not been wowed by the defense of Alcides Escobar at short.   To date, he has simply been outstanding:  making great plays often and making the routine plays look, well, routine.   For Kansas City, where every infield pop up since the turn of the century has been an adventure, routine looking routine is refreshing.

Now, it remains to be seen if Escobar can maintain this level of play throughout a full season and also if the defensive metrics come around to supporting what our eyes (and maybe our hearts) are telling us, but for the purposes of today, let’s assume that Escobar is somewhere between a very good defender and an elite defender.

According to Fangraphs, the best fielding shortstops of 2010 were (using RAR):

  • Alexei Ramirez – 10.8
  • Cliff Pennington – 9.9
  • Stephen Drew – 8.7
  • Troy Tulowitzki – 7.1

Given that Alcides Escobar was widely considered to be inconsistent at best in the field in 2010 and still posted a +3.5, I think it is safe to assume that his defense (to date) would have to be considered up among the league leaders.   Now, Tulowitzki and Drew can, you know, hit the ball and hence their overall Wins Above Replacement is aided greatly by their offense.

Pennington (-0.5) and Ramirez (-2.2), however, were not deemed to have contributed much offensively using this system.  However, both posted wOBA numbers that I think all of us would gladly accept out of Escobar.   Pennington checked in with wOBA of .315 (.250/.319./.368 standard line), and Ramirez had an wOBA of .322 (.282/.313/.431).   I can affirm completely that if Alcides Escobar matches either one of those lines, he will definitely be hitting enough to justify keeping his defense in the lineup.

However, we are trying to determine the minimum scenario under which Escobar can be an overall positive and in that scenario it is worth looking at the bottom portion of shortstops using their 2010 wOBA:

  • Cesar Izturis – .248
  • Alcides Escobar – .270
  • Erick Aybar – .288
  • Orlando Cabrera – .292

One could make the case that if Escobar hits as he did last year (when his overall WAR was +0.6) and fields at a higher level, he might be doing enough as is.   Remember, Alcides hit a very putrid .235/.288/.326 in 2010, which is sadly well above his current 2011 line.    

The Royals, however, are surely looking for more than a 1 WAR shortstop to come out of the Greinke trade, or at least they should be.   Is something more than 2 WAR acceptable?   For now, in my mind, the answer is yes.   In working our way up the wOBA list to find the lowest ranked shortstop to post a plus two WAR, we conveniently find another Escobar.

Yunel Escobar posted a wOBA of .301 in 2010, hitting .256/.337/.318 and fielding at 4.3 Runs Above Replacement.   I will move out of my mom’s basement if the Royals’ Escobar gets anywhere close to a .337 on-base percentage this year, but if he can field at a better clip than Yunel and hit a little less maybe Alcides could still be a major positive overall.  Erick Aybar’s line of .253/.306/.330 for a wOBA of .288 would do it.

So, in a very unsophisticated look at the subject, it appears that Alcides Escobar could duplicate his 2010 hitting and be basically replacement level (i.e. not helping, but not killing his team, either).   Above that line, Escobar begins to add some juice to the Royals’ overall WAR equation.   An Aybar like line would turn Alcides into the first truly impactful positive overall Royals shortstop since Mike Aviles had his glorious rookie run in 2008.

Now, using the above imperfect logic, what would second baseman Chris Getz need to do to also be something more than ‘just above replacement level’?   Easy answer: more.   Second base is an important defensive position, but not as important as shortstop.   Additionally, while Getz would appear to be a good defender at second, I am not ready to label him as more than simply ‘good’.

Rightly or wrongly, instead of looking at the top defenders as we did with shortstop, let’s take a look at the next tier down of second baseman in 2010:

  • David Eckstein – 6.2
  • Freddy Sanchez – 5.9
  • Aaron Hill – 3.7
  • Clint Barmes – 3.6

Both Eckstein and Sanchez posted an overall fWARs over two.   Sanchez, while not a great hitter, would seem to be a different kind of hitter than Getz, but Eckstein, with a line of .267/.321/.326 with a wOBA of .296 seems very ‘Getz-like’.  

Of course, David Eckstein was an excellent defensive shortstop who moved over to second and I have to believe, despite his age, that he played better defense at second base than Getz will.   Admittedly, I think Mike Aviles should be playing second base right now for the Royals and hence may have a jaded view of Getz’s defense – while better than Aviles, I do not think it is THAT much better.

You can debate the above statement, but I have to think that anything less than something resembling Eckstein’s 2010 offensive output would put Getz underwater when it comes to his overall WAR and hence, overall contribution to the team.  Probably something on the order of a Chone Figginsish .259/.340/.306 (wOBA .302) would do the trick – assuming plus five defense or thereabouts.

Okay, now what do you think?  How much offense do you need to keep Alcides Escobar on the field?   How about Chris Getz?

The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

A show of hands of all those enjoying being a Royals’ fan right now.   Deep down, you are probably still thinking that this team will not approach 80 wins this season, but for now this is kind of fun isn’t it?

The Royals opened the weekend by just plain getting beat on Friday, returned the favor on Saturday and took advantage of a sloppy Detroit performance to blast the Tiger on Sunday.   Not only is two of out three not bad (yes, I am watching Celebrity Apprentice this season), but it is very good indeed for a young team on its first road trip of the year.    Sure, the Royals did manage to miss the top part of the Detroit starting rotation, but it was still a nice series win.

There are a number of topics we will touch on this morning in lieu of detailed, comprehensive research (all those nasty facts get in the way of my opinion), so let’s start it off….

Chris Getz led off for three games and the world continued to turn.

Ned Yost opted to sit Mike Aviles down after Wednesday’s zero for seven day dropped Mike to just three for twenty-six on the year.   Aviles, a personal favorite of mine, has looked, at best, uncomfortable at third and, at worst, just plain bad, so a day off to clear the cobwebs seemed appropriate.     One day off turned into two and the next thing we knew, Mike Aviles did not make an appearance in the entire series.

Now, if you have told be that Friday morning, you can bet I would have envisioned writing an entirely different, probably scathing, column today.   As it is, however, you can hardly fault Ned Yost for sticking with Getz as his leadoff man in Detroit after he went 4-10 for the series with 3 walks and 2 sacrifice flies.  All Wilson Betemit did during that time period was go 6 for 11 with 3 doubles and 2 walks.   

I doubt that Yost and the Royals were truly planning on sitting Aviles the entire series.   After all, we are talking about a guy who hit .325/.354/.480 and .304/.335/.413 in his two healthy major league seasons.    Despite having become the whipping boy of the casual fandom and overly criticized by those who should know better, I doubt the Royals have truly given up on him after six bad (and they were bad admittedly) games.  That said, look for no outrage (not even a sarcastic tweet) from me if Getz leads off tomorrow in Minnesota and Betemit is back at third.

While I am an unabashed ‘Aviles guy’, I am also something of a closet ‘Getz guy’ as well.  Back when the Royals acquired Chris in exchange for Mark Teahen, I offered that there were a number of big time major league second baseman who had minor league numbers similar to or even worse than Getz’s .286/.363/.380 over 381 contests.   Last season, pretty much deflated my hope that Getz could become Brian Roberts (minus the PEDs), but I have a little glimmer of hope.

IF Getz can continue to get on base at something resembling his minor league numbers and IF Getz truly is an above average defensive second basemen and IF he can steal bases with the success he has shown in limited attempts thus far:  well, that is a guy that fills a void in the batting order and can help this team be better in the short term.

Pending the arrival of Mike Moustakas, I don’t have much problem with Yost playing the hot hand at second and third with whomever among Aviles, Betemit and Getz is playing the best at a given time.    I would be surprised if Aviles does not yet end up being the best hitter of the three after 100 games, but no harm in getting them all at-bats for now so long as Yost does not ‘fall in love’ with any one of the three.   The idea would be to play the hot hand, not stick with Getz everyday at leadoff if he goes three for twenty-six.

Alcides Escobar passes the eye test.

The Royals’ new shortstop can, at times, be quite painful to watch bat, but he is truly fun to observe on defense.   After being overloaded with plus hands, plus feet, good arm, nice instinct crap from the front office in talking about a slew of shortstops who were, at best, league average in the field, it is nice to ACTUALLY SEE what those look like in action.  

Nine games does not a great defender make, but Escobar looks like the real deal in the field.   Enough so to get me wondering how much the Royals need him to hit to justify keeping his glove on the diamond.    I looked to the A’s Cliff Pennington, who posted a UZR/150 of 8.8 last season, which put him in the top five defenders in baseball using that system.   Despite hitting just .250/.319/.368, Pennington still posted a 3.7 WAR (Fangraphs’ number) by virtue of his defense.

Should Escobar, who posted a 4.7 UZR/150 last year at short, continue to play like he has in the field, which would lead me to believe his defensive metrics will approach those of Pennington, can he hit similar numbers?   With two hits yesterday, let’s hope Alcides can pick up his hitting numbers to the modest ‘Pennington-like’ level.    Anything beyond that and the Greinke trade starts to look really good.

Another guy who has looked good in the field is first baseman Kila Ka’aihue.  Unfortunately, there isn’t enough defense to be had at first base to justify 13 strikeouts and just one home run  in 41 plate appearances.   As bad as Kila looked over the weekend, he did manage two walks, two hits and a sacrifice fly, so I am hardly ready to give up on him….except when Phil Coke is pitching.

That’s Not My Process

Alex Gordon is hitting .357/.400/.548 out of the number three slot.   Billy Butler is blasting away at a .394/.512/.667 clip batting clean-up.   That is The Process in action.  Except, that is Allard Baird’s Process, not that of Dayton Moore.  

Pretty much said Baird drafted Gordon in 2005, the real plan for the Royals was to have Alex and Billy blasting away in the middle of the order.   Even with the coming emergence of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, the Royals certainly look much better with Gordon and Butler doing what they are doing right now.   We can pretty much bank on Butler continuing to hit, but we are still in the ‘hoping’ mode when it comes to Gordon.

Still, you have to love it when a plan comes together, even if it is not your own.

Who said this was a bad rotation?

Well, pretty much all of us.

Still, after Bruce Chen used the elements and a generous strike zone to throw six shutout innings and strike out seven on Saturday, and Luke Hochevar went seven strong innings that included six strikeouts, the rotation gets a gold star for the weekend.

Hochevar was dinged for three home runs that led to all the runs scored against him, but otherwise looked very good.   Obviously, you cannot go through life giving up three homers per game, but if two of those end up on the warning track (like they did for Nathan Adcock on Friday) instead of the stands…..   Ifs and buts, I know, but I came away from Hochevar’s start in a positive frame of mind.

Not so much when it comes to Kyle Davies’ Friday outing.   The Royals have played nine games and have not had a wild pitch or passed ball in eight of those.   In Kyle’s start on Friday, he uncorked THREE wild pitches in what was an outright atrocious start.    Of course, you don’t really want to look at the minor league starts of Jeff Suppan and Vin Mazarro, either.

Speaking of Nate Adcock, he tossed a big three plus innings of shutout ball on Friday to save the bullpen for the weekend.   He did not strike out a batter, but did not walk one either.   Nate was tagged for four hits and six of his outs were in the air, so it was not dominating by any means, but did the one thing you want a long reliever to do:  throw strikes.    While I think there was some good fortune in Adcock’s Friday performance, it was good enough to warrant continued looks at the major league level.

Onto Minnesota

Right now the Royals, and particularly Ned Yost, are on a roll.   Other than trying to steal with Billy Butler, pretty much every move Yost makes or doesn’t make seems to be working.   The Royals scored nine runs yesterday despite going just two for seventeen with runners in scoring position.    

The starting pitching has been, by and large, competent.   The bullpen has been very good with the two biggest concerns being Robinson Tejeda and Joakim Soria.   I think both those pitchers get back in the groove sooner rather than later and might well turn a very good bullpen into an absolute lock-down bullpen.    The offense is averaging over five runs per game despite starting three players who are hitting below the Mendoza line.

Will it hold?  Who cares?  Enjoy the ride.

Over the weekend we saw the Royals confirm what virtually everyone expected since the end of last season:  Tim Collins will open the season in the bullpen.   We also saw Rule fiver Robert Fish returned to the Angels ending a strange little ten day dance that caused no harm and forever made Robert Fish a known commodity here in the Royal Land of Blogs.  

The Opening Day roster was additionally formed by the expected but unpopular sending of Lorenzo Cain to Omaha, confirming that Melky Cabrera will be the club’s centerfielder.   Also in the ‘expected’ category, was the release of Pedro Feliz (or the exercising of the opt-out clause in his contract if you want to be absolutely correct):  don’t think anyone was too shocked or saddened by this.   His changes to make the roster were slim to begin with and diminished to zero when Wilson Betemit proved to healthy and Lance Zawadzki proved to be younger, more versatile and probably better (although he won’t be on the roster, either).

Truthfully, plus or minus a couple of relievers (the Aaron Crow rumor that he has made the Opening Day roster is intriguing), this is shaping up as basically the twenty-five men we pretty much expected.   Of course, that is not all that exciting a prospect given that the vast majority of this twenty-five – pretty much anyone outside of Joakim Soria and Billy Butler – is not slated to have much impact when the Royals plethora of prospects propel this organization back into relevancy.

What if, however, some of this current group does something unexpected?   Is it realistic to expect players off the current roster to make enough of an impact in 2011 to move the organization closer to contention than the current 2013-2014 timetable?   Let’s take a look at some possibly realistic, if somewhat optimistic, scenarios:

  • Alex Gordon – This is the obvious one.   I think it is likely that Gordon has a decent season – something on the order of a .350 on-base percentage and twenty home runs.   While I hate to jump to the ‘domination’ discussion, is it truly out of the realm of reality to think Gordon might slug thirty home runs and post an on-base percentage above .370?  Would a 4.0 WAR player in leftfield and the middle of the Royals’ order jumpstart The Process a bit?
  • Kila Ka’aihue – I could pretty much cut and paste Gordon’s paragraph and slide it in here.  With Eric Hosmer in the wings and Billy Butler pretty much established, Kila coming through is not as critical/helpful as it would be for Gordon to truly emerge.   Still, Ka’aihue taking a run at the club home run record would certainly help the team win a few more games in 2011.
  • Luke Hochevar – Asking for him to live up to his draft status is simply daydreaming, but hoping for Luke to stay healthy and emerge as a Gil Meche type pitcher (200 innings – 4.00 ERA) might not be.   Such a performance would give the Royals one (maybe two if Jeff Francis is healthy) capable starter to augment the young arms soon to emerge on the scene.
  • Alcides Escobar – Is he the player that was the number twelve prospect in baseball last spring or the player that posted a .614 OPS in his rookie season?   The Royals are expecting good defense and for Escobar to hold his own at the plate.   They are hoping for great defense and a hitter who can capably man one of the top two spots in the batting order.   Given the uncertainty surrounding Christian Colon’s ability to stick at shortstop, the organization really needs Escobar to nail down the shortstop position for the foreseeable future.   Should Alcides develop into an elite defender and capable hitter, it would go a very long ways towards this team sniffing contention.

We will spend a lot of this season talking about the many prospects in the Royals’ system and how they fit into The Process.   The above four players, however, could push that Process along by realizing some or a majority of their projected potential.  

How many of the above four would need to come through in a big way for the Royals to be at least fringe contenders in 2012?    My gut reaction is probably all of them, or at least three for sure.    Even that assumes that Kansas City’s bullpen will be a strength from the very beginning of 2011, so a lot of good things would have to happen for the Royals to jump ahead a year in The Process timeline.

For various reasons, I have been pretty much out of the Royals’ loop for the better part of the past two weeks.   Here’s what I apparently missed:

  • Ned Yost views Jarrod Dyson as the best lead-off option on the team and that no one else really fits the role.  Of course, even Ned intimates that Dyson has little chance to make the roster.   I pointed out the void of a true lead-off hitter within the organization earlier this month.  Is it good or bad to have an opinion much the same as the Royals’ manager?
  • Chris Getz’s head is okay now.   Although I kind of have a weird fascination with Getz, that feeling will last exactly as long as it takes the Royals to call up Mike Moustakas.   At that point, Getz will either stop playing or start taking time away from a far superior hitting Mike Aviles.  When that happens, fascination will no longer describe my feelings towards this player.
  • Everett Teaford’s truck was stolen.   That’s a shame.
  • Joakim Soria wants a new nickname.   I can see his logic, given what is going on in his native Mexico, but color be completely bored with this topic.   Nicknames, at least non-sarcastic ones, have never really been all that interesting to me and maybe, just maybe, when you are as good as Joakim Soria we could just refer to him as, well, Joakim Soria.
  • A number of pitchers had ‘the ball come out of their hands real good’ and a similar number of position players reported to camp ‘in the best shape of their lives’.
  • Of course, as Craig detailed yesterday, Jason Kendall confirmed my feeling that he is pretty much of a clown (not the funny type, mind you).   Listen, I don’t have any fond feelings for Nick Wright, but there was nothing in his questioning of Mike Moustakas that warranted intervention from anyone.   I guess we can thank Kendall for making just another ‘softball question-cliche answer’ standard baseball interview something interesting.   Certainly, what Kendall did is no worse than what George Brett did to a young television reporter on the golf course last year (or was it two?).   The difference is that George Brett is in the Hall of Fame and Jason Kendall never will be:  nobody said life was fair.

I guess all this column really does is remind all of us how non-eventful this time of year can be.    All that changes on Sunday as the games start.   You can make the argument that spring training stats do not matter, but spring training games certainly do.  

Count me as ready for some actual baseball.

And finally, the Ned Yost over/under stolen base contest.   In Tuesday’s Kansas City Star, Yost talked about the Royals renewed emphasis on baserunning (the team has been a woeful unit on the base paths the past few years) and in that article offered up the following thoughts on stolen base abilities:

  • Mike Aviles: 25 to 30
  • Lorenzo Cain: 25
  • Alcides Escobar: 40
  • Jeff Francouer: 15
  • Chris Getz: 40

“You just have to know how to do it.   You just have to work at it.” (Ned Yost via Kansas City Star)

Alright, which of the above (if any) reach those numbers?   And how many caught stealing do they incur getting there?

“Making Fergie sign  sing live is like making Yunieksy Betancourt bat leadoff” – Joe Sheehan via Twitter.  To be honest, ‘signing’ might have gone better!

Here’s to hoping that two years from now someone cannot make the same joke using Alcides Escobar….or Lorenzo Cain.

In his time running the Royals, Dayton Moore has loaded the farm system with so many arms that it seems almost impossible to remember them all.   He has drafted shrewdly enough to nab three of the best minor league hitters in the game and, while the position players are not nearly as deep as the pitchers, he has added some nice solid players to go with the big three.    In trading Zack Greinke, Moore added two of these ‘solid type’ players who happen to fill spots in the organization that were notoriously weak:  shortstop and centerfield.

While neither Escobar nor Cain will never be superstars, the Royals need them to both be above average defensively and to hold their own offensively.   They also need one of them to be a leadoff hitter.   That, you see, is the one really glaring weakness in this organization.

While the days of the Willie Wilson and Rickey Hendersons of the world batting at the top of the order and stealing 75 bases are probably long past, teams still like to have a ‘lead-off’ type guy.   There is no statistical variance in the fact that the guy who leads off the game is also the first guy to get to five at-bats.   If that guy can get on base twice and distract the pitcher both times, there is value.    It’s nice, of course, if that batter gets on base in the first inning and keeps the starting pitcher from getting into a groove (plus it sets up your ‘number two hitter’ which every manager seems to love – sarcasm intended), but the fact is that having a speed guy on base twice per game is better than having Alberto Callaspo on base twice per game.   I’m talking about the Alberto who slugged .410 last season, not the guy who banged out 60 extra base hits in 2009.

We know that Dayton Moore loves the speed guys:  he went out of his way to sign Scott Podsednik last season and it worked out on all fronts, much to my surprise.    He has drafted a ton of them, none of whom can seem to, you know, get on base.

Derrick Robinson can flat out fly, but his .345 OBP in Northwest Arkansas last season was thirty points above anything he has managed prior.   Hilton Richardson, Adrian Ortiz, Patrick Norris all can run, but you don’t even want to know what their on-base numbers were last year.   You all know about Jarrod Dyson who makes all of the above seem slow (sort of), but he too has not shown a tremendous on-base aptitude.

Paulo Orlando, one of my favorites, stole 25 bases in 35 attempts in AA and posted an on-base percentage of .366, but his skillset might well profile out hitting sixth or seventh in the order.   If it profiles out at all at the major league level.  

When it comes to on-base percentage, your minor league leaders last year were Kila Ka’aihue, Alex Gordon, Wil Myers, Clint Robinson and Eric Hosmer.    Yeah, not exactly getting a lead-off feel from any of those guys.   Frankly, the closest thing to the combination a smart major league team is looking for is Johnny Giavotella, who stole 13 bases and posted an OBP of .395.   Prior to last season, however, Johnny’s on-base percentages were .351 and .355.   Those are good numbers, not great, basically David DeJesus.   The consensus was that he was never really a true lead-off hitter.

After the big three, the two guys most likely to be on this team sooner rather than later are probably David Lough and Christian Colon (either because Escobar flops or he is moved to second base).   Again, neither profiles out as a true lead-off hitter.

That brings us back to Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain.     Escobar comes with all the glowing prospect statuses, but not the on-base resume you might like to see.   He can run, we think he can field and we hope he can hit some, but the idea that he might develop into the type of lead-off hitter a contending team utilizes is probably unlikely.

Cain, on the other hand, is a ‘nice’ prospect, but not considered elite.    He brings a career minor league on-base percentage of .366 to the table, which includes three seasons of plus .380.    Lorenzo has stolen 124 bases in the minors and been caught just 35 times.   In 2010, he stole 26 of 29 bases and in 2008 Cain nabbed 25 of 31.   He, among everyone else in the system,  seems to have the tools to fill this vacancy.

Would the world end if the Royals had to make do with a good on-base guy who did not steal bases?  No.   It  would be nice, however, to have a traditional ‘table-setter’ hitting in front of what we hope to be a fearsome middle of the order in a couple of years.

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