Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Alex Gordon

Last Friday, I went around the infield and looked at how the Royals offensive production at each position compared to league average. Today, it’s time for the outfield (and DH) to get the similar treatment.

Left Field
League Average – .243/.320/.412
Royals – .230/.324/.364, sOPS+ 85

Alex Gordon’s numbers look very much like the ’09-’10 version of Alex Gordon. That’s the version we thought we’d left behind. At least, we had hoped that version had been left behind after the Royals penned him to a contract extension just ahead of the season opener.

If you’re into arbitrary end points, Gordon did have a fine stretch of 19 games where he hit .321/.398/.487 from April 25 to May 16. That was when we collectively exhaled. Great. Except in the 11 games since then, he’s hit .146/.255/.220.

Although Gordon won’t admit it, I wonder if he’s been unsettled by Yosty’s Revolving Lineup Card. Gordon opened the year as the leadoff hitter (where he had most of his success last year), but when he was slow out of the gate, he was dropped to second, then third, then cleanup and even spent a few games in the sixth spot. In the last three games, he’s returned to the leadoff spot and has picked up four hits in 13 plate appearances. There’s still time for him to salvage his season, but it’s been much more of a grind.

Center Field
League Average – .268/.333/.432
Royals – .236/.312/.322, sOPS+ 70

Aside from the DH spot, the most productive position in the American League so far this year has been center field. And it’s where the Royals have struggled to get any production at all. Jerrod Dyson has seen the most appearances in center, with Mitch Maier with the second most. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Bourgeois have also seen time at the position.

Dyson’s production has been solid as far as reaching base. With a .252/.328/.331 line, he’s proven himself adept at working the count and drawing the base on balls. He still doesn’t hit enough to justify the leadoff spot in the lineup, but like I said… He’s pretty close to league average when it comes to OBP. That makes him a decent fourth outfielder to have on your roster. Look out, Mitch.

Still, this feels like a lost season for Cain. He was supposed to get most of the reps in center, but the injury bug bit him hard. Cain is in extended spring training rehabbing from a torn hip flexor. He’s probably a good three to four weeks away from returning. At which time, the Royals will have a decision to make: Will they hand him back his everyday job in center, or will they write off this season and rotate him with Dyson and/or Maier? Maier is buried so far on Yosty’s bench, he could be the odd man out.

Oh… At this point, I’m supposed to ask, “Got Melk?”

Right Field
League Average – .258/.326/.434
Royals – .276/.320/.443, sOPS+ 96

We know from watching the Royals several certainties: Ned Yost will call for myriad sac bunts in situations where they won’t help his team. The Royals will give the opposition at least one free out per game. And Jeff Francoeur will hit fifth.

Like most of the Royals, The Frenchman got off to a slow start, but picked up the pace of late. In May, he’s hit .327/.371/.582. Most impressive have been his seven walks this month. Currently, he’s walking in 6.2 percent of his plate appearances, which is the highest rate of his career. I think it has something to do with the Mayans. Or a Kardashian. And with five home runs this month, he’s knocking one out of the yard about every 36 at bats, which is very close to his career mark of 32 AB/HR. And this for a guy who didn’t hit his first bomb until May 13 and didn’t hit his second until May 21.

Nice road trip.

Designated Hitter
League Average – .259/.333/.450
Royals – .290/.345/.505, sOPS+ 118

The Royals have utilized two designated hitters all year: Billy Butler and… Johnny Giavotella. Ummm, OK.

We all know about Country Breakfast. And long time readers will know about my affection for the man. Dude can rake. And he’s the only thing – the only thing – that you can count on in the Royals lineup. He will show up every year, drill line drives to the gaps and put up a line around .300/.370/.470.

Except this year, he’s hit a few more home runs.

The party line from the Royals is Butler is finally hitting for more loft. Sounds great, except he’s not. His fly ball percentage is 32.2 percent which is the lowest of his career. The lowest. Yet, the ball is flying out of the part and he’s become the number one threat to wipe Steve Balboni from the Royals record book. How? Maybe it’s because he’s stronger. It doesn’t look like he’s changed his approach as the Royals would like you to believe. He’s swinging at pitches at roughly the same rate. It’s just that the fly balls have a little more charge in them this year.

It’s a nice development.

And as I Tweeted a few weeks ago, if you don’t like Billy Butler, I don’t have a lot of time for you. Sorry. I think he’s a great hitter. And the kind of guy you need on your team.

Country Breakfast is awesome.

Ned Yost trotted out three radically different lineups this past weekend against Arizona and managed to get one win.  Hey, for this particular Royals team, any win at home is an accomplishment.  After a 4-1 road trip, we all expected a better result than a 1-4 homestand.   That result was made all the more bitter by the fact that the Royals seemed in control of the first three games, only to lose all of them.

What this team does or, more precisely, does not do at home is a topic for another column.  Let’s get back to the lineups.   They were basically just all over the place – kind of like that softball team you were on that was not very serious and the batting order was simply the order in which you showed up for the game.   Frankly, I don’t blame Yost for trying some things and, for right now, I like Escobar at or near the top of the order, but it is probably worth noting that the most traditional of the three lineups this weekend did happen to score the most runs.

Truth is, though, you can design just about any lineup you want and as long as Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are not hitting, it is likely to have production problems.   Just as the ball seems to find the weak defender, the circumstances of the game seem to put the slumping hitter in the eye of the storm at critical times.    Gordon, who is 1 for 25 in what Fangraphs describes as high leverage situations, seems to come up with two outs in the ninth every freaking night.    By contrast, Billy Butler has only 15 high leverage plate appearances thus far in 2012.

What’s going on with these two guys?

If you have been following the Royals at all this year, you have heard more than one reference to Eric Hosmer hitting in bad, make that horrible, luck.  That may sound like a copout, but the numbers back that up.

In 2011, Hosmer had a BABIP of .314 and a line drive percentage of 18.7%.   His 2012 line drive percentage is 17.6% (pretty much league average), but his BABIP is an almost bizarre .165.   You can’t make a living with a .165 BABIP, but you also should not have to endure a long stretch at that level if your line drive percentage is around league average. 

Those numbers are but one component of a player’s performance at the plate, but for a struggling hitter, Eric Hosmer does not exhibit any of the statistical evidence that would indicate that he is struggling.  His strikeout rate is down (14.6% in 2011, 11.6% in 2012)  and his walk rate is up (6.0% in 2011, 7.9% in 2012).     Hosmer is swining at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (almost 7% less than in 2011) and his overall contact rate is virtually identical to 2011.   Overall, after swinging at 48% of the pitches he saw as a rookie, Eric is swinging at 46% this year.  What the above shows is a player who is not hacking at everything, failing to make contact and losing his plate discipline.   

I don’t know what Eric Hosmer did, but he really pissed off the baseball gods.

Are pitchers approaching him differently this year?  A little is the answer.  Less fastballs, more changeups with everything else being thrown to him in roughly the same percentages as last year.   In 2011, Hosmer put 26.5% of changeups thrown to him into play, but in 2012 that percentage is just 15.4%.   More changeups, less balls in play, hmmm.

In 2011, Hosmer swung at over half the changes thrown to him, whiffing just 11.3% of the time.  While Eric is not swinging at the change as much in 2012 (41%), he’s missing it almost 17% of the time.   I am not going to tell you that the changeup is the reason for all of Hosmer’s struggles, we are talking about just 15% of the pitches he has seen and, as the numbers above show, Eric’s overall plate performance has not really taken a hit.  The changeup is an issue, but it is hardly the only reason Hosmer is buried beneath the Mendoza line.

Here is what I will tell you:  I don’t believe you learn to hit major league changeups in AAA and I don’t think you really consider sending Hosmer down until his strikeout rate jumps and his percentage of swings at balls outside of the strike zone increased dramatically.

If the solution for Hosmer is to keep sending him out there and bank on the odds turning in his favor (it works in Vegas, right?), then what about Alex Gordon?

After a sensational 2011 campaign, we wake up this morning to find Alex Gordon hitting .231/.320/.363.   Triple slash lines are hardly detailed analysis, but that ain’t what the doctor ordered.  Is Gordon striking out a lot?  He is, 21% of the time, but Gordon always has struck out a lot.   In 2011, when he was one of the better players in the American League, Alex struck out 20% of the time.   Plus, if you are about plate discipline, Alex’s walk rate is up from 2011.

Going down the same path as we did with Hosmer, we find that Gordon’s line drive percentage thus far in 2012 is 23.8% (it was 22% in 2011), but his BABIP is just .280 compared to a robust .358 in 2011.   Gordon had some good fortune last year, but he is having some misfortune so far this season.

Now, if you are like me, the thought on Gordon might be that he back to trying to pull everything.   Much as it seems like Gordon is always up with two outs in the ninth, it also seems like he grounds out to second base pretty much every at bat.   Truth is, Gordon is pulling the ball less than he did last year.

Here is how the balls in play breakdown for Alex in 2012:

  • Pull – 38%
  • Center – 41%
  • Opposite – 21%

And how it broke down in 2011:

  • Pull 44%
  • Center  – 31%
  • Opposite – 25%   

Basically, Alex is pulling less, going to the opposite field less and hitting up the middle more.  Using the middle of the field is generally considered to be a good thing, but in Gordon’s case it does not seem to be helping.

How about Hosmer?   Here is the breakdown for 2012:

  • Pull – 32%
  • Center – 38%
  • Opposite – 30%

And 2011:

  • Pull – 39%
  • Center – 34%
  • Opposite – 27%

Hosmer was pulling the ball considerably more in 2011 with considerably more success.   Maybe it is not such a good thing when we see Eric take a ball to the opposite field? That’s an oversimplification to be sure, but pulling the ball and being aggressive worked in 2011.   Would you tolerate a few more strikeouts for some more pop (or any pop for that matter) out of Hosmer? 

What’s the bottom line of all of this?  Pick a spot in the order for both of them, leave them there and wait it out.

xxx

 

A minor Twitter kerfuffle erupted on Tuesday when Deadspin published excerpts from each of the 30 team chapters of the latest Baseball Prospectus Annual. Publishing excerpts isn’t exactly noteworthy. Except in this case, they were accompanied by a projected win/loss record.

And the Royals were projected to finish with a 68-94 record.

Ouch.

That’s three wins less than last year’s total. And the lowest projected total in the American League.

PECOTA hates the Royals. And PECOTA probably hates you.

Full disclosure: You may know, I’ve written off and on at Baseball Prospectus for the last two years. This year, I wrote the player profiles and the team essay for the Royals. Undoubtedly the highlight of my blogging career.

Many Tweets encapsulated anger and a feeling of injustice. (As much as you can in 140 characters, counting hashtags.) It was like watching someone mourn a lost loved one. All the stages of grief were there:

Denial – Oh, no… Baseball Prospectus released some projections. They hate the Royals… I’m not going to click that link. If I don’t click, maybe it will go away.

Anger – 68 wins? Who the hell do these geeks think they are? I will kick their collective, scrawny ass. Then, I will trash them anonymously on Twitter. Screw Baseball Prospectus.

Bargaining – Maybe the projections are wrong. I mean, they’re not always right, are they? I’ll give someone my All-Star Game ticket if we could just finish at .500.

Depression – Players are hurt, Chris Getz is starting and we still have no starting pitching… we’re going to suuuuuuuck.

Acceptance – If the Royals only win 68 games, there’s no way Ned Yost returns in 2013. Maybe that’s no so bad.

Really, there are gajillion different variables that go into the PECOTA projections. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I kind of doubt it. Even though I’ve written at BP, I’m not allowed in the secret room with the formula. If I nudge a decimal, the Earth shifts off it’s axis and becomes one of Saturn’s moons.

Here’s a brief explanation as to why PECOTA hates the Royals.

— The starting pitching will be awful. PECOTA pegs the Royals staff as allowing 855 runs. That’s epically awful. Last year, Baltimore coughed up more runs than any team in baseball with 860. The Twins were second worst at 804 runs allowed. No other team surrendered more than 800 runs. There’s no way the Royals can compete for anything but a high draft pick if they land anywhere near this number.

Among starters, PECOTA feels that only Jonathan Sanchez and Bruce Chen will be above replacement level. They have Chen at a 0.0 WARP and Sanchez at 0.3 WARP. For reference, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander had a 6.0 and 5.8 WARP, respectively. Danny Duffy had a 0.5 WARP.

The starting five rounds out with Duffy at -0.1 WARP, Luke Hochevar at -0.3 WARP and Luis Mendoza at -0.7 WARP. That’s just a really bad starting rotation.

The funny thing is, I don’t agree with any of it.

First of all, PECOTA thinks that Sanchez will be the Royals top starter. No way. In fact, I’d wager of the five listed above, he’s the fourth or fifth best. They expect a steep drop from Chen and virtually no improvement from Duffy. I’m betting that Chen takes a step back in ’12, but I think it’s a small one. And Duffy… Man, I just don’t see how he doesn’t pitch better this season.

This is something that gets all the Lee Judge acylotes in an uproar… Projections don’t account for changes of a mechanical nature. Take Hochevar, for example. Last summer, Hochevar shifted his arm angle on his slider and developed that pitch into something that could be called above average. As I said before, I’m not privvy to the secret sauce of PECOTA, but I’m fairly certain it’s not taking into account his new arm angle, or the fact he upped the percentage he threw his slider. Instead, it’s looking at things like ballpark, age and past performance. I think if a player struggles in the first half, but has a strong second part of the season, but his overall numbers are weak, projections systems have a difficult time with that player.

— Six of the nine Royal regulars are projected to have a sub .325 on base percentage. Last year the league average was .321 OBP. Of the lineup, only Hosmer, Butler, Gordon and Chris Getz will top that mark. (Relax, Getz is the lowest of the four with a .324 projected OBP.) That’s a reversal from last summer, where six regulars topped a .329 OBP.

Gordon is projected to drop 24 points, which isn’t surprising given his past performance. Last year was his breakout, and projection systems have a difficult time buying into a guy who had over 1,600 plate appearances and outperformed his career averages by a large margin.

Meanwhile, Butler is projected for a .360 OBP, just one point below his 2011 mark. The last three seasons, Butler has been Mr. Consistent. His projected slash line of .294/.360/.453 almost exactly matches his career line of .297/.360/.458. While a player like Gordon is difficult to project due to the circumstances surrounding a “breakout” season, a player like Butler is the opposite. He’s so steady, it’s difficult to miss by much.

— Kansas City is going to experience another power outage. No Royal is projected to top 20 home runs. Hosmer and Gordon are the team leaders with 19 bombs and Butler and Moustakas are right behind them with 17. Last year, the Royals had five players top 18 long balls.

That combination of sub-par on base percentage and almost non-existent power means the Royals will struggle to score runs. PECOTA has them for 716 runs scored. That’s actually just off the 730 they scored last season.

Again, I don’t agree with all of the offensive projections. Butler aside, most of them seem very conservative.

Any projection system has hits and it has misses. And if you search hard enough, there are tons of projections available this time of year. If you must, look until you find one that fits your selection bias. In the meantime, take PECOTA for what it is… A projection. It’s something that can be fun to look at, but don’t take it at face value. Investigate. Try to decide if you agree or disagree. Dig around and see how they arrived at their projection. Most of all, be constructive in your criticism. “PECOTA sucks because they say the Royals are only going to win 68 games,” isn’t helpful. But if you say, “I disagree with PECOTA because I think our pitching is going to be better than they project, because…”

Do I think the Royals are better than a 68 win team? Yes. Do I think they’ll win 80? No. I’m still kicking around some win totals in my mind. That post comes on Friday… Opening Day, when we call our shot.

Play ball.

On the off season list of priorities, signing Alex Gordon to a contract extension was probably at the top. You may even say it was A1 on the list. (Groan… I know.)

With the clock counting down on spring training, the Royals and Gordon finally got the extension done last Friday, announcing a four year deal, valued at $37.5 million. There is a player option for a fifth year. Last Friday, on Twitter, I introduced something called #PositiveFriday. It was an attempt to only Tweet the positive as the Royals were striving toward the finish line of spring training.

Positive Friday, indeed.

Overall, this is another deal that is a win for both sides. It’s a win in that Gordon gets guaranteed cash, and it’s a win that the option for the fifth season is his. It’s a win for the Royals in that they signed one of their top three hitters to a deal that won’t break the bank. Or more importantly, prohibit them from pursuing a long term extension for Eric Hosmer at any point in the next three years.

And it’s a win for Dayton Moore. Since he’s become General Manager, Moore has signed Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and now Gordon to a long-term deal. Basically, anyone worthy of a deal has signed one. While the ink has yet to dry on the Perez, Escobar and now Gordon deals, each one of these contracts seems to be a good piece of business on the part of the Royals.

(Yes, Soria is going to miss the entire season, but according to FanGraphs, he’s provided $20.3 million in value for the first three years of his contract. That’s while making $8 million. I’m going to assume the team has insurance on Soria and I’m also going to assume his contract is either renegotiated for next year or not picked up at all.)

It’s natural to frame the Gordon extension as how it affects Hosmer. There’s an interesting alignment happening. On one side, you have super agent Scott Boras who rarely signs a long-term deal before testing the free agent market. On the other side, you have Moore, who has yet to allow any of his quality players to test said market. It’s a good, old-fashioned standoff… Who blinks?

It’s funny how all of this works. Two years ago, Gordon was a bust. A first round pick who couldn’t get healthy and who couldn’t catch a break. There were rumblings of how he was completely lost – both as a hitter and a fielder. And there was talk of him needing a “fresh” start. Perhaps a trade to another organization where he wouldn’t be saddled with so much baggage.

Now, he’s the leadoff hitter, Gold Glove outfielder and one of the cornerstones of the franchise. He may not match the offensive or defensive production from his stellar 2011, but if he can stay healthy, you know he will come close.

Sure, his .358 BABIP points to a correction, but it’s one that shouldn’t be too drastic. Anyway, he’s a high strikeout guy (he whiffed in 20% of his at bats last year) with some power. We know those types of players often have an inflated BABIP. Also, his 22% line drive rate shows how well he can square up on the ball. I would bet if he can maintain his line drive rate, his BABIP will be north of .325. That’s good enough for me.

(If you want an example of how he couldn’t catch a break, look at his rates from 2010. He had a 23% line drive rate, but an insanely low .254 BABIP. That was some rotten luck. And it couldn’t help but translate to his overall stat line.)

The only concern I have going forward is the player option for 2016. He’ll be 32 that season, so it naturally carries a bit of a risk for the club.

I had assumed the deal would break down where Gordon would get around $10 million for his final year of salary arbitration, along with $12 million per for each year of free agency. That meant I figured a four year deal would total around $46 million. What I didn’t expect was that the Royals would tear up his current contract, bump his 2012 salary by about $1.25 million and cover just two years of free agency. So while it looks my guesstimate was off, I’m still calling it a win.

Because I can do that.

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.

A good writer creates an interesting topic, fleshes it out with solid research, expands on it with creativity and presents it with fluid prose.  Today, you get none of that.  NO SOUP FOR YOU!

I have an assortment of topics, which either are not quite robust enough to warrant a column on their own or which would require research and thought beyond my appetite.  

The Royals Made A Lot of Money Last Year

Forbes reported that the Kansas City Royals turned a $28.5 million profit last season, second only to the Cleveland Indians in all of baseball.  At best, that is an educated guess by Forbes, if not just a straight out shot in the dark.   I have no doubt that this revelation will stir up a bit of outrage among certain portions of the fanbase.

The truth is, however, that the Royals did not go cheap last year:  they went young.   If you believe David Glass and the team roughly broke even in past years with higher payrolls, then the Forbes’ number makes some sense.   It is nothing that should be used as an indictment of the Glass ownership, but simply a profitable portion of a very logical business cycle.

Now, the test is whether that $28.5 million (or whatever it actually was – my guess is something a little less than that) comes into play next off season or the season after that.  If Glass did make $28.5 million in 2011 and basically breaks even when the Royals’ payroll is around $70 million, then will a hopefully talented and contending Royals’ team in 2014 or 2015 be able to carry a payroll somewhere north of $80 million?   Basically, did David Glass bank the $28.5 million or, as my wife certainly would do, did he go on a bunch of really nice vacations and get four new cars…and a jet…and a boat?

Do Sabermetrics Undervalue Relief Pitchers?

In 2011, Craig Kimbrel had the highest WAR (according to Fangraphs) of any reliever in baseball:  3.2.   Thirty-eight starting pitchers posted an fWAR higher than Kimbrel’s.  In fact only seven relievers in the game would appear in the top 74 fWAR posted by pitchers in 2011.  One of those was the Royals’ Greg Holland, by the way.

Now, WAR has a lot to do with ‘showing up’.  A position player can have tremendous stats, but if he missed 25 games with an injury, his WAR will take a hit.   We may all disparage the ‘Replacement Player’, but not even Albert Pujols is better than Mr. Replacement if Albert is sitting on the bench.   When it comes to pitching, innings matter.

Jeff Francis was more valuable (in WAR terms) than any Royals’ relief pitcher last year based almost completely on the fact that Jeff ground his way through 183 innings of work:  nearly three times what any reliever pitched.  Now, the argument exists and I cannot really dispute the general theory, that a run in the third inning is really the same as a run in the ninth inning, but it sure does not feel that way.

I don’t think anyone would argue that a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever.   In fact, one can pretty effectively argue that an average starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever and, quite possibly, more valuable than even a great reliever.  However, WAR really tells us that a below average starting pitcher (Jeff Francis) is more valuable than almost every reliever in the game.

My current allotment of grey matter does not properly equip me with the ability to dive into the internal mechanizations of fWAR and debate that fact.   Nor does the fact that my gut disagrees with the above assessment invalidate the value of WAR as a statistic.   Baseball is certainly a game of numbers, but it is also a game of feel.

I know, I know, we are dancing our way into the world of intangibles where Jason Kendall and Dayton Moore sit amongst the clouds and lord over the baseball world, but there is something to it.   Baseball players and fans, as well, are conditioned that they will give up runs.  A starter gives up three runs and leaves the game tied after six innings and we applaud the effort.   The team feels good:  he gave them a chance to win, after all.   Everyone’s happy, until a reliever gives up a solo homer in the bottom of the 8th and the Royals lose.    Of course, if the starter had stranded on of those three runs in the fourth, the solo homer would not have triggered the loss, but in the clubhouse, the starter did his job and the reliever did not.

That run in the eighth inning may not be statistically different than a run in the fourth, but it certainly feels different and, I have to believe, it affects the team differently.  If your bullpen does that on a regular basis it can tremendously batter the collective psyche of the team.   Conversely, if your bullpen is truly a lock-down unit it can buoy that same team is a tremendously positive way.   

WAR may never truly love a good bullpen, but I have to believe that a good bullpen is more valuable than the sum of it’s WAR.

Catchers, Catchers, and More Catchers

Should Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero every bat after the seventh inning? 

As Craig detailed yesterday, Quintero is a legendarily poor hitter and as I pointed out in the comments and on Twitter, Brayan Pena has spiraled into something that more closely resembles Quintero at the plate than Mauer.  The Royals are hoping for more offense out of Alcides Escobar (and I think they will get it), but one can only expect so much and the team may not get a whole lot of punch out of the second base position, either.   Given that, should the Royals take a big step outside of the box and plan on pinch-hitting for the catcher almost every night?

Now, I know this won’t really happen and I also admit that this theory falls back on the possibly flawed idea that a run in the eighth is more important than a run in the third, but let’s take a quick look anyway.

I don’t care what the score is, just plus or minus five runs either way (basically any situation short of a Mitch Maier getting ready to pitch scenario), but what if the Royals simply assumed that any time the catcher came up in the sixth inning or later, they would pinch-hit for him?   Pena starts, his turn comes up in the sixth, and Maier pinch hits.   Quintero enters the game, comes up in the eighth, and Bourgoeis pinch hits, but then what?

Ah, you need to carry three catchers.  To do that AND pinch hit for said catchers, the Royals would have to carry three catchers AND a five man bench.  That forces them into breaking camp with just six relievers, which I know sounds like disaster when the starting rotation is what it is.   Except, given there is really nothing to prevent Kansas City from pitching the hell out of Louis Coleman and Tim Collins for three weeks, then sending them to Omaha to pitch sparingly while Kelvin Herrera and Everett Teaford come to KC to throw for two or three weeks.

The whole concept is dicey, unconventional and truthfully won’t work for any extended period of time.  Not to mention that the Royals’ options for pinch hitters are only slightly more productive than letting Pena, Quintero and even Cody Clark hit.  Right there, is the real problem with virtually any scenario that heavily involves using the Kansas City bench players.

Option 2013

With Joakim Soria headed towards a second Tommy John procedure, the question of whether the Royals should pick up Soria’s $8 million 2013 option will be a recurring theme throughout the season.   Personally, that eight million looks a lot better put toward an Eric Hosmer contract or, for that matter, even an Alex Gordon extension.

Sure, the Royals are on the hook for Soria’s six million this year, but does knowing that they might have an extra eight million available next year grease the wheels to getting Gordon locked down and out of the way?  Let’s also keep in mind that no one is going to be throwing money at Soria next winter.   Unless Joakim gets offended by the Royals turning down his option, there is nothing that says he could not come back on a lesser deal.  It seems like a no-brainer at this point.  I feel bad for Soria, but the game is a business and the Royals cannot afford to gamble with eight million bucks.

xxx

 

As you should have heard by now, the Royals and Alex Gordon finalized their 2012 contract, avoiding arbitration. The total value is thought to be $4.775 million. I had postulated earlier that if the two compromised on a number less than $5 million, that was a sign that negotiations for a long-term deal were progressing in a positive fashion. Well, that was accomplished as the dollar amount is $25,000 below the half-way point on the numbers both sides exchanged in preparation for a potential arbitration hearing.

Although there does seem to be a bonus clause worth exactly $25,000 if Gordon has 700 plate appearances. He had 688 PAs last summer.

For those of you keeping score at home, Dayton Moore has never gone to arbitration with any of his players while with the Royals.

The next step is the oft discussed extension. A good sign from the conference call on Thursday was the fact there is no self imposed deadline by either side. I take that as both sides thinking that something will be done before the season opens in two months. Although in his conference call with reporters, Gordon characterized the extension talks as “slow.”

Gordon turns 28 today, by the way.

Other matters…

ESPN’s Keith Law hates the Royals, but that didn’t stop him from putting out a prospect smorgasboard that includes a Top 100 list and a list of the top 10 prospects from each organization. (All links require a subscription to read Law’s take on individual prospects.) For those interested here’s how different top 10’s have looked this winter.

(By the way, I’m kidding about Keith Law hating the Royals. He hates EVERY team.)

What’s interesting (to me, at least) is how the players seem to fit in ranges. Myers and Starling are clearly the cream of the crop in the minors for the Royals. Montgomery, Odorizzi and Cuthbert represent the next tier. While Lamb, Adam, Ventura, Dwyer and Herrera populate the bottom half of this list.

Also interesting to note that Dwyer just missed being on all four lists. (Kevin Goldstein has him at number 11 at Baseball Prospectus.) Also interesting is the absence of 2009 top pick Christian Colon from every list but Jonathan Mayo’s at MLB.com.

And we’re about 10 days to the official reporting date of pitchers and catchers…

Reports emerged last night (from the indefatigable Bob Dutton… who else?) that the Royals and Alex Gordon are close to an agreement on a one year deal.

Naturally, I had a couple of reactions.

The Good: This prevents the unnecessary step of meeting before an arbiter to decide Gordon’s 2012 salary. Gordon is asking for $5.45 million while the Royals offered $4.15 million. It’s a pretty wide spread, but it’s not something that the two sides can’t hash out and meet somewhere in the middle.

The Bad: What happened to the extension everyone’s been discussing?

According to Dutton, the two sides are focused on reaching a deal for 2012 before moving onto talks for an extension. Exhale. One thing is certain… Dayton Moore thinks of his ballclub as a family. And family members (good one’s, at least) don’t drag other family members into court. This contract will never, ever end up in front of an arbiter. The two sides will most definitely reach a one year agreement before the scheduled hearing on February 16.

What to watch for: The key will be the amount agreed upon in this one year deal. Remember Butler’s contract extension from last year. After the two sides exchanged numbers, his camp settled on a compromise less than halfway in return for more cash in the future. It’s a fair trade… Less money today for guaranteed salary for the next three or four years.

I think that if Gordon takes less than $5 million, that indicates that the two sides are very close to getting something done.

(By the way, is this the lamest off season in Royals history, or what? Four months of no baseball and what do we have to show for it? Bruce Chen getting what’s basically a two-year extension? The Melk-Man trade? The Yunigma returning to haunt my summer? Seriously, this winter has been excruciatingly boring. Not unlike Moneyball.)

Then last night, I saw this Tweet from WHB’s Nate Bukaty.

Saw the report that Royals are offering Gordon 4 yrs, 30 million. I’ve been told Gordon’s camp wants 6 yrs, 80 mil. Seems like a big gap.

Uhhh… yeah.

Now, if anyone is plugged into the Royals, it’s Nate. But I don’t know where he’s getting those numbers. That’s insanity, both in total years and in cash. If Gordon is truly asking for that kind of security and scratch, and I was GMDM, I’d wish him luck, buy him some luggage for the move from KC and call the Boras Corp and try to lock up Eric Hosmer.

As Nate pointed out in a later Tweet, Gordon has basically had one good season. Although his second half of 2008 was supposed to be his “breakout” before injuries, a position change and demotions derailed his career for the better part of two seasons. The dude has had a hell of a career packed into five seasons and I’m not sure how you can hold his performance in 2009 and 2010 against him. They happened, so you can’t ignore them… but at the same time, there were mitigating circumstances that conspired from keeping him from what we could have expected as his best performance.

Still, if the Gordon camp is truly angling for a six year, $80 million contract, they are insane. Like have-a-crush-on-Jodie-Foster insane. Maybe if he plays out his final two seasons in KC and builds upon his most excellent 2011 season, he could be looking at that kind of payday when he hits the open market at the end of 2013. But not now. Good grief, not now.

The good news is, there’s simply no way GMDM goes for something like that. Not with talent bubbling in the cauldron we call The Process. No way does he commit a record contract (for the Royals) to a corner outfielder who would be on the wrong side of 30 for half of the deal. Uh-uh.

So what happens to the two sides? I’ve gone on the record with the Royals and Gordon agreeing to a four year deal valued around $35 million. I’m going to bump my estimate by a cool million. Here’s how I would break down the deal:

2012 – $5 million
2013 – $7 million
2014 – $12 million
2015 – $12 million

Gordon was a Super Two, so he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season. Thus, he makes $7 million in his final year of arbitration and the Royals buy out his first two years of free agency for a total of $24 million. The contract takes him through his age 31 season and keeps him in Kansas City for when the Royals are supposed to contend in the AL Central.

Gordon could play Contract Roulette and gamble he can stay healthy and continue to abuse opposing pitchers, but this is a fair deal for someone at this point in their career with the limited amount of success he’s had. This seems like a win all the way around.

Hopefully, both sides can reach an agreement.

With the arbitration filing deadline just past, it seems like a great time to take stock of where the Royals are this winter with contract commitments for the upcoming season.

That’s 14 players for a total outlay of just north of $46 million. The Royals will fill out their roster with 10 players who will make close to the major league minimum. Yeah, Hosmer’s awesome, but like everyone else, he has to put in his service time before he can get paid. The minimum salary in 2012 will be $480,000. To keep things nice and tidy, let’s just assume Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, et al will make $500k apiece. That adds another $5 million to the payroll, pushing the total to almost $52 million.

Wait!

That list is missing Alex Gordon. After the year he had, A1 is due a tidy raise. Because the Royals and Gordon didn’t come to an agreement on a contract before noon, central time on Tuesday, his agent Casey Close and the team exchanged one-year contract figures. Reports are Gordon asked for $5.45 million and the Royals offered $4.15 million. It’s a big gap, but this is just another step on the road to arbitration. Also, it’s worth remembering that since Dayton Moore took over as the General Manager, no Royals player has gone to see the judge. Moore doesn’t want to present a case before an arbiter. It’s an unpleasant process, so it’s understandable the GM who preaches clubhouse chemistry does his level best to avoid the messiness of arbitration.

While there have been a number of players who have filed for arbitration as a procedural during Moore’s tenure, very few of them have actually exchanged numbers. Like this year, there’s always a flurry of activity just ahead of the deadline. Here’s a list of those recent instances where the Royals and one of their players have swapped valuations along with the final compromise:

Two things of note:

1 – Nearly every time the Royals and a player submitted dollar amounts, they reached an accord close to the midway point. The art of the compromise is strong.

2 – Dayton Moore has signed three young players to long-term contracts: Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke and Billy Butler. Soria was never eligible for arbitration, but in the instances of Greinke and Butler, both sides submitted offers for a one-year deal while a multi-year contract was being negotiated. And both times the multi-year agreement was reached within days of the deadline to submit numbers.

Gordon and the Royals have been talking contract extension. However, like most of these negotiations, there’s been little incentive (meaning deadline) to get a deal done. Think of it as similar to the process we’ve gone through with guys like Bubba Starling after the draft. Without a deadline, nothing happens. Now we have reached a place where both sides have to show their hand (for a one year deal at least) expect the talks to gather a little steam.

So here’s my bold prediction: Alex Gordon signs a contract extension by this time next week. I’ll guess four years at $35 million with an option year for the club. Let’s also figure A1 will pocket just under $5 million for 2012. (Butler and Greinke both took a number just below the mid point for the start of their multi-year deals.) That puts the Royals payroll for the upcoming season in the neighborhood of close to $58 million.

The Royals topped $70 million on their Opening Day payroll in both 2009 and 2010. I have to think the money is available for GMDM to add another starter to the payroll. The flexibility extends to the future, so if he desires, Moore can look beyond the one year rentals. There are plenty of options available to GMDM. I hope he’s bold enough to take one.

After he inks Gordon to a multi-year deal.

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