Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Brayan Pena

Mitch Maier leads off the inning against John Axford and makes like a cricket batsman.

Axford threw a wicked googly. A little too wicked.

Really, no clue what Maier was doing, but whatever… Down a run in the ninth you have to do whatever it takes to reach base. That qualifies.

Mike Moustakas follows with a rocket down the first base line that first baseman Cody Ransom kicks and his only play is at first. Not an error because he got an out, but it had the makings of a 3-6-3 double play. Moose hit it hard enough and Ransom could have stepped forward to make the throw – he’s left handed, so it would have been a quick transfer – and returned to the bag in time to get Moose. Maybe, maybe not.

So the tying run moves to scoring position. Wednesday’s hero, Alcides Escobar can’t do it two nights in a row and strikes out on a nice slider.

That brings up Jarrod Dyson. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Dyson is a nice player if he’s your 25th man on the bench. I can live with him as a pinch runner and a defensive replacement for a Melky-like outfielder. The dude is striking out looking in 54 percent of his strikeouts. Not good. Tells me the guy isn’t seeing the ball worth a damn. Or isn’t confident in his abilities to make contact.

Thankfully, the bat didn’t leave his shoulder. I mean, if I’m a Brewer fan, that would kill me. Axford has to throw strikes in that situation and the game is over. No way Dyson is making contact and the odds are strong he won’t even attempt to swing. And Axford wasn’t even close.

Which is key because the Royals speed merchant is the winning run.

Thankfully the Royals pinch hit Brayan Pena for Quintero. Pena swings at a high strike, then goes with a fastball and lines it into right left. Maier scores easily, but Pena is going to get hung up between first and second. That was going to be a base running blunder to send the game to extras. Except the Brewers second baseman can’t handle the throw… Dyson had stopped at third and breaks for home. Late throw…

Pandemonium.

Awesomeness.

(I had a moment of clarity this morning on my daily run… There were two outs in the inning and Pena’s run didn’t mean a thing. Maybe the correct play there is for the shortstop to put the ball in his back pocket. To not force the play. Sure, they could have gotten the out, and sure the top of the order was due up for the Royals, but the risk was going to be there that they couldn’t make the play. Which is exactly what happened… However, with first base open, the Brewers could have walked Gordon to pitch to Getz. Pena forced the issue… As I’ve always said, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. There wasn’t going to be any grey area on Pena’s going to second. Turned out aggressive worked… For once.)

It’s possible the end overshadowed a fine performance by Luke Hochevar. I’ve dissected and given up on Hochevar, but give credit where credit is due… His performance was outstanding.

And he did it without his slider. According to PITCH f/x, Hochevar threw a total of three sliders on Thursday. Three. It was his curveball that did the heavy lifting.

He threw 23 curves, 17 for strikes. Five of those were put in play and he recorded three ground outs (one was a double play), one fly out and one lonely single. Yes, he coughed up a couple of home runs, but I’m going to cut him some slack. He was pitching so well and keeping runners off the bases that those bombs were solo shots.

In innings one through six, the most pitches he threw in an inning was 13. The model of efficiency.

His final line:

7.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO

That 7.1 innings pitched represents the longest outing by a Royals starter this year. Five times had a starter thrown seven innings (Bruce Chen has done it three times. Felipe Paulino and Hochevar each have one outing.) That’s unreal. This rotation…

And now that the bats have gone back into hibernation, starts like Hochevar are necessary to keep this team in the game. Yeah, I’m Captain Obvious, but if Hochevar has one of his patented meltdown innings, this walkoff doesn’t happen.

But it did.

So there.

Sweep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moooooooose.

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

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

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

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.

By all accounts, Brayan Pena is a heckuva guy:  upbeat, happy, a non-complainer when it comes to his limited playing time.  While we like to boil baseball down to the numbers, Pena is one of those ‘team chemistry guys’.   Twenty-five guys in one locker room, one plane, the same hotel for six months straight:  you need some chemistry.

We can debate the overall value of good clubhouse guys, but it is obvious that the Dayton Moore led Royals’ put a high premium on that variable.  They traded Mike Aviles for a younger version of himself in no small part because of Aviles’ complaints about not being a full-time player and then traded that player, Yamaico Navarro, just a few months later mostly because they were concerned about his impact on the clubhouse.

The willingness to accept their roles is no small part of the reason Brayan Pena and Mitch Maier made the team last year and have the inside track on being Royals again in 2012.  Both guys play sparingly, but when they do, they are ready to go and play with enthusiasm.   They are different players, to be sure, but the attitude and what they bring to the team from a chemistry standpoint do have value.

Of course, that is all fine and good, but the object of major league baseball is to win.  It is nice to have happy players who get along, but it is better to have guys that can, you know, really play the game well.  In that respect, the days of Brayan Pena as a Royal may be winding down.

Pena brings an immediate appeal as being a catcher who can switch-hit, but his hitting has been in gradual decline.   Although he has received a fairly similar amount of playing time in his three seasons with Kansas City, Pena’s batting average has decayed:

  • 2009 – .273
  • 2010 – .253
  • 2011 – .248

So has his on-base percentage:

  • 2009 – .318
  • 2010 – .306
  • 2011 – .288

And his slugging:

  • 2009 – .442
  • 2010 – .335
  • 2011 – .338

As has Pena’s wOBA:

  • 2009 – .325
  • 2010 – .290
  • 2011 – .276

After hitting six home runs in 183 plate appearances in 2009, Brayan manged only one dinger the next year and just three in 240 plate appearances in 2011.  Oddly, all three 2011 homers were three run shots all in Texas – baseball’s a funny game.

On top of the declining offense, Pena is not a very good defensive catcher.   The Royals talk of him being ‘improved’ and ‘a hard worker’ behind the plate and I would agree, but improving from truly awful is a long way from being ‘okay’.   We all know that there is no good metric to quantify a catcher’s defense, so we have to read between the lines of what people around the game say.   When it comes to Pena, they are polite in their assessment:  kind of like how you might complement the really nice woman who works in your office on whatever ill-fitting, poorly selected outfit she wears to your Christmas party.

If Brayan Pena was 23 years old it would be one thing, but he turned 30 this January.   His closest comp on Baseball Reference is Bob Brenly, who actually had a break out All-Star season at age 30, but it is hard to see that happening with Pena.   Given that the current plan is to have Salvador Perez catch a ton of games (I have heard 135-140 floated out by the Royals themselves), the back-up catcher is hardly a position to wring hands over.

In a perfect world, it might be nice to have a veteran catcher with good defensive skills to mentor Perez (frankly, the Royals acquired Matt Treanor one year too early), but on the flip side, even those types of players would like to catch more than 28 games a season.   In that respect, Brayan Pena may be just the guy to back-up Salvador.

Frankly, if Salvador Perez flops in 2012, who the back-up catcher is will not keep the Royals from underachieving.  That is how important he is to this team and there is no way the Royals can go find someone who can provide insurance for that scenario.  They cannot afford to spend even decent money on a back-up catcher and, frankly, find me someone who would realistically be that guy.  I don’t know exactly what tree catchers grow on, but I do know that tree is really, really scarce.

Come April, I see the Royals breaking camp with Brayan Pena as their back-up catcher (he is out of options, by the way) mainly because he’s harmless.   The team is used to him, they know what they are going to get and, every once in a while – particularly in Texas – he will get you some hits.   The organization will likely have Manny Pina, a good defender, and Max Ramirez, a bad defender, catching in AAA, which makes more sense for both of those players than have them sitting on the major league bench.

In a perfect 2012 scenario, back-up catcher is the most irrelevant position on the the Royals’ roster.   If it turns out not to be irrelevant, then the Royals have big problems no matter who is filling that position.

xxx

 

We’re getting closer to firing up the hot stove, so this seems to be a great time to look at the Royals contract obligations for the upcoming season.

Guaranteed Money
Billy Butler – $8 million
Jeff Francoeur – $6.75 million
Aaron Crow – $1.1 million

The Butler contract hits the second year arbitration escalator. And if that number seems hefty for a player with that kind of service time, remember he signed for less that he submitted to the Royals prior to the arbitration process last year. According to FanGraphs, Butler’s production was worth $8.1 million. And that was probably the least productive year of his last three. Still a good piece of business by GMDM, I say. Even if he clogs the bases. That number does not include what is thought to be a pro-rated signing bonus of $500k.

The Frenchy money is an estimate based on his two-year, $13.5 million extension.

The Crow deal is a leftover from his major league deal signed after the 2009 draft.

Options
Joakim Soria – $6 million ($750k buyout)

No-brainer. The option would have escalated to $6.5 million if he had become a starter. But he didn’t.

First Year Arbitration Eligible
Mitch Maier – $459k
Chris Getz – $443k
Aaron Laffey – $432k

Laffey, as I wrote earlier, is insurance. The deadline to offer contracts for the 2012 season is December 12. If GMDM isn’t able to bring in a couple of bullpen arms by then, Laffey will get tendered a contract. Simple as that. He could be gone before then if the Royals are super aggressive and need the room on the 40-man roster.

Maier would probably get around $650k, I imagine. That’s not too much for a fourth outfielder. Do the Royals want to dip into the prospect pool for the fourth guy? I don’t think so. They know what they have in Maier… A guy who shows up, works hard and doesn’t complain. (And when they’re short an arm, he can pitch!) If they’re really looking to save a few bucks, the could bring up David Lough. Clearly, they don’t think of him as anything more than a fourth outfielder at this point. I’d rather they spend a few hundred thousand more and keep Our Mitch around for another season.

And you know my opinion on Getz. There’s no reason for him to be tendered a contract. He’s a utility player without utility. The Royals picked up their 2012 utility guy when they grabbed Yamaico Navarro from the Red Sox. He may play with less GRIT, but he can play more positions.

Second Year Arbitration Eligible
Brayan Pena – $660k
Felipe Paulino – $790k
Luke Hochevar – $1.76 million

Pena is an interesting case. He stands to make around $800k next year, but has confirmed that he can’t play defense and the lone reason for him to be kept around – his OPB ability – has vanished. Manny Pina would be an adequate backup and the Royals have gone on the record saying they don’t think they need to have a veteran catcher on the roster. Besides, with new bench coach Chino Cadahia in the fold, there’s the catching experience right there. I don’t think Pena will be tendered a contract.

Paulino and Hochevar are no-doubters. MLB Trade Rumors has Paulino doubling his salary to around $1.6 million. Given he proved to be a durable and decent starter for the Royals, I can’t argue with that. Hochevar will get a nice raise as well. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million.

Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Alex Gordon – $1.4 million

This is where the Royals are going to have to reach for their pocketbooks. Gordon was worth $31 million on the open market based on his 2011 production. Obviously, he’s not going to get that kind of coin, but it just gives you some perspective at how good he was for the Royals last year. Domination.

Gordon lacks a solid track record and that’s kept his salary depressed as he enters his third go around on the arbitration wheel. It will continue to hurt him here, as he stands to get a raise somewhere around $5 million. That’s assuming the Royals don’t do the right thing and extend him.

Fourth Year Arbitration Eligible
Melky Cabrera – $1.25 million

Cast off from the Braves last year, the Melk-Man took a hefty pay cut to play for the Royals. He made $3.1 million in 2010. Look for him to bounce to the $4 million range.

Free Agents
Bruce Chen
Jeff Francis
Jason Kendall

Sigh… Another Kendall sighting. Last one. Promise.

Chen projects to be a Type B free agent which means the Royals could be in line for some compensation if they offer him arbitration. Last winter, Chen shopped for a two-year deal, but returned to the Royals when it was obvious he couldn’t find a taker. He’ll be looking for something similar this time around. And again, I think he will have some problem finding what he’s looking for. He’s proven himself, but as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently put it, it’s “Bruce F’n Chen.”

I think the Royals will offer Chen arbitration. At least, they should. If he accepts, the Royals have a serviceable starter for around $3.5 million. If he declines, they get a supplemental. Win-win.

Assuming Getz and Pena are non-tendered, and assuming Laffey sticks and Chen departs as a free agent, the Royals are somewhere in the range of $38 million for their guaranteed and arbitration contracts. Add another $7 million for the remaining 15 players filling out the roster (assuming each of the remaining players have less than three years of service time), and you have a current projected payroll of close to $45 million. Probably a little more because they will certainly have a couple of guys on the 25 man roster that aren’t currently in the picture.

Of course, this is all extremely preliminary. Trades will be made. It’s possible a free agent may be lured to KC. What this represents is a snapshot in time of where the Royals are with their payroll. I’ll revisit this from time to time this winter. It will be interesting to see how the off season payroll evolves.

Even though Tuesday’s game lasted under two hours, you need to stay up late if you want to digest all the Royals news of the day, as the brain trust at 1 Royal Way made another roster move in the wee hours announcing the planned call-up of catcher Sal Perez from the Storm Chasers.

The Process not only rolls along, it’s at cruising speed.

Interesting timing on the call-up for Perez, but the Royals are going to be shorthanded as Brayan Pena’s wife is pregnant and will be induced on Wednesday in Miami. Perez has only been in Omaha for a couple of weeks and has put together a fine start, hitting .333/.347/.500 in 48 at bats. He has yet to walk and has struck out just six times. Prior to becoming a Storm Chaser, he hit .283/.329/.427 in just under 300 plate appearances for the Naturals. In that time, he walked just 16 times but had only 30 strikeouts. To say Perez is all about making contact would be an understatement.

Sometimes the best laid plans… I bet you free articles on the internet that the Royals, knowing Pena would leave the team at some point to be with his wife, had planned to call Manny Pina. Of course, Pina’s call was accelerated by the concussion suffered by Matt Treanor. With Treanor still on the seven-day DL, and Pena’s wife set to pop, the Royals hands are suddenly tied. They face the prospect of having to make a 40-man roster move to replace a player that may be gone for just a couple of days. Sometimes the dominoes fall in a different order than you expect.

What’s really interesting about this is the article in the Star says Perez is expected to be the regular catcher. I know he’s supposed to be the catcher of the future, but I guess I’m kind of surprised they would make that kind of statement with Pina just up from the farm himself. Besides, Pena is on baseball’s version of paternity leave. It’s not like the guy is going to be gone for six weeks. If you want to try to read between the lines, it seems the Royals will move Pina back to Omaha (he was in Northwest Arkansas when he was recalled, having swapped spots with Perez) for the remainder of the season. If Treanor is cleared to play, I wonder if the club will decide to keep four catchers on their major league roster once rosters expand on September 1.

I know there will be howls about the Royals rushing Perez. Honestly, who knows what the Royals are thinking at this point. Yes, he does have a handful of limited appearances above Double-A, but I believe the Royals were planning on adding him to the 40-man and bringing him up in September. This accelerates his Process by about four weeks. It strikes everyone as an odd move because this is so against the method the Royals have used. I mean, if anything, they wait too long to bring guys up. If there’s one thing the Royals system is doing correctly at this stage in The Process is develop position players. If they think Perez can handle full-time duty at the big league level, I’ll give them a free pass here. Let’s see what he’s got.

Could the Royals have recalled another catcher? Someone like Cody Clark, who is hitting .274/.328/.462 as a backup in Omaha? Sure. But thinking they would do that would be to ignore everything we know about the way this organization works. Clark is in Omaha as organizational filler. They don’t use 40-man roster spots on guys who aren’t part of the long term plan. Clark is a nice backup for Triple-A, but he’s the emergency guy in case all else fails. All else being the four guys in front of him in the pecking order. Besides, Perez needed to be added to the 40-man this winter. Again, they’re just accelerating his Process.

That said, I figured the Royals were done calling up position players until September. And even then, I thought the call-ups would be limited to the guys already on the 40-man roster… Like Lorenzo Cain and a couple of pitchers. You know how Dayton Moore has a hard time dealing with a 25-man roster? Yeah, the 40 man kind of gives him fits. It seems like he just hates to make a move. See his comments last week about not wanting to expose Luis Mendoza to waivers. Now, we’re in the same position we were last week (sort of) in guessing who the Royals will dump to get Perez on the roster. Last time, I listed three possibilities and missed on the eventual loser (Navarro) so let’s just skip this exercise. Trying to guess what this front office will do based on logic is a losing proposition. They march to their own beat. (I’ll go ahead and place my money on Jesse Chavez, knowing I’m making a sucker bet.)

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the week shakes out, with a Pena return imminent, Treanor’s continued recovery from the concussion and Perez and Pina and the ultimate battle for playing time. If I were a betting man, I’d bet we see Pina down to Omaha when Pena returns and Treanor held out until the rosters expand in September. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pena and Treanor were back at the catching tandem in a couple of weeks and Pina and Perez back in their respective slots in the minors.

With this team, it’s impossible to predict.

The All-Star Break means it’s time to hand out the annual Royals Authority first half report cards.

There are no exams or assignments… Grading is subjective and based on a soft curve. Players are listed in a positional order from Baseball Reference with their slash stats and Fangraphs WAR.

Matt Treanor
.220/.354/.308
0.9 WAR

Key Stat: Treanor leads the team with a 15% walk rate.

Coach T has been everything the Royals could have hoped when they acquired him from Texas prior to the start of the season. He calls a good game, throws out runners (he’s thrown out 29% of would be base stealers) and is currently third on the team in OBP. Remember, the Royals picked up Coach T only when they came to the realization that Jason Kendall isn’t the most awesomest catcher in the whole wide baseball world, and would have to miss the start of the season. Now that Kendall is down for the year, Coach T will, at the age of 35, post a career high for plate appearances sometime next month.

Grade: B+

Eric Hosmer
.268/.317/.431
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: He’s hitting a home run once every 29.9 at bats, second best rate on the team.

How do you give a grade to a player like this when expectations where so sky-high. Hosmer has yet to live up to the hype, but that’s OK, because he’s going to have a long career ahead of him.

If there’s one thing about Hosmer that’s bothered me in the early stages of his career, it’s his defense. I’ve seen him do some strange things in the field. Take Saturday’s game, when he ole’d a ground ball that really should have been fielded. Sure it was a hard hit ball, but it went right between his body and his glove. The kind of play the Royals minor league defensive player of the year should be making. While I’m on the negative, let’s add the dude needs to lay off the high strike a little more frequently.

Still, he’s 21 years old and holding his own in the big leagues. There’s something to be said for that. This grade is a reflection there is still plenty of work to be done.

Grade: B-

Chris Getz
.259/.320/.291
0.8 WAR

Key stat: He’s scored a run 43% of the time he’s reached base, tops among regulars.

Sigh… Every team has a Chris Getz. He doesn’t do anything notable, except he Plays The Game The Right Way. So managers and front office guys love him. He’s not that good, yet he’s somehow overrated. How exactly does this work?

Don’t pay a word to the Royals when they talk about his defense. Fact is, he’s average to below average with the glove. He has a slow first step and has difficulty moving to his right. His ability to turn the double play is below average as well… He’s converted just 47% of all double play chances this year.

Offensively, Yost has thrown him into the leadoff spot, where he’s horribly miscast. As the leadoff hitter, Getz is managing a line of .183/.266/.220. True, this team doesn’t have a guy who fits the traditional mold of a leadoff man, but we have enough evidence to know that it isn’t Getz. But he has 17 steals, so I suppose we have that going for us.

Aviles would provide more value over an entire 162 game season.

Grade: C-

Alcides Escobar
.250/.290/.328
1.4 WAR

Key stat: Hitting .343/.393/.509 since June 7.

Sometime early in the season, I sent out a Tweet proclaiming Escobar The Shortstop Jesus. I figured it was fitting because he was saving all those runs. (Get it?) (And yes, I realize I’ve ripped off Bill Simmons who refers to Larry Bird as The Basketball Jesus. I’m a polytheist.) His defense has been mouthwatering for much of the 2011 season. It’s been so good, I can’t even remember the name of that stiff who used concrete on his hands and feet at shortstop the last couple of seasons.

Now, about the bat… As cold as Escobar was early in the season, (he was hitting .203/.237/.241 on June 6) he’s been scorching hot ever since. It’s a remarkable turnaround. If he can push his OBP another 30 points higher, we’ll really have something. That might be asking a bit much. Last year in Milwaukee, he hovered around the .300 mark until a September swoon dropped him to his final resting place of .288. But after digging that deep hole early in the season, to get back to a .300 OBP would be a heck of an accomplishment.

I still think it’s hilarious Zack Greinke forced his way out of Kansas City and ended up with the Yunigma as his shortstop as those of us actually loyal to the Royals now have a defensive human highlight reel at short. That gets him a couple points right there…

Grade: B-

Wilson Betemit
.285/.345/.415
0.5 WAR

Key Stat: Hitting .301/.360/.466 vs RHP and .241/.305/.278 against LHP.

Are the Royals a better team with Betemit in the lineup? Right now… Probably. But that’s exactly the kind of short-sighted mess that’s plagued this franchise for 25 years. Once the Royals decided it was time for Mike Moustakas, Betemit had to grab some pine.

Of course, this torpedoed any trade value Betemit may have had, but that value was going to be limited for the key stat listed above. He’s probably best suited as a platoon guy or left-handed bat off the bench. (I know he’s a switch hitter… But if I was a manager, I’d never use him against left handed pitching unless absolutely necessary.)

For some reason, his power is way down this year. He has a 4.3% HR/FB rate compared to last year’s 12.1% HR/FB. As a result, he’s homered once every 66 at bats this year. Last summer, he parked one once every 21 at bats.

Grade: C

Alex Gordon
.299/.367/.483
3.4 WAR

Key Stat: As long as he stays healthy, he will post career highs in every offensive category you can imagine.

He’s dominating… And I love it. Should have been an All-Star, but he can take solace in his grade…

Grade: A

Melky Cabrera
.293/.332/.455
3.0 WAR

Key Stat: Cabrera is walking in just 5.4% of all plate appearances.

The Melk-Man is having the kind of season GMDM dreamed about when he signed him. Just a year ago, he finished at .255.317/.354 and a -1.0 WAR and was cut loose by the Braves. The Royals took a chance that he would be motivated and would rebound, and he certainly has.

The downside of this is he is blocking Lorenzo Cain in Omaha who is hitting .313/.379/.529 for the Storm Chasers. And, Cabrera is a third year arbitration eligible, meaning if he plays a full season in KC, the Royals retain his rights for 2012. Fans may be looking at Cabrera as trade bait, but I’m not so certain the Royals will be offered what they consider “fair value.”

The Royals face an interesting decision on the Melk-Man.

Grade: A-

Jeff Francoeur
.265/.308/.443
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: 37% of all his base hits have gone for extra bases.

The Frenchman has done what we all expected and reverted to his career norm following a hot start where it seemed like he was in the middle of every late game rally for the Royals. Check the numbers… In his career, Francoeur is a .268/.310/.427 hitter. There will probably be a couple of warm streaks from here to the end of the year and a couple of cool stretches as well. He is who he is.

Obviously, he’s playing great defense in right. I have no idea why other teams think it’s a good idea to run on the Royals outfield.

Overall, he’s been a decent enough player for the Royals. His WAR is the 3rd best on the team and for you stolen base perverts, he’s already swiped a career-best 15 bases.

There’s a mutual option for 2012, and the early smart money is that if The Frenchman isn’t dealt, that option will be exercised by both parties. We’ll see…

Grade: B-

Billy Butler
.294/.390/.415
1.1 WAR

Key Stat: Butler’s .352 wOBA is the second best on the team.

Butler is having another Billy Butler season. In other words, he’s doing a damn fine job with the bat.

One thing that’s hampering Butler this season is the fact he’s batting more ground balls. For his career, he has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio, but this year he’s at 1.66 GB/FB. That’s effected his power numbers, as his ISO has cratered to .121. It also hasn’t helped that opposing pitchers are pitching around Butler. His 10 intentional walks are tops on the team. After hitting in the 3rd spot for most of last year, he’s been in the cleanup or fifth spot with no protection behind him in the lineup.

The average DH makes $9 million this year. Butler is earning $3 million. His production is pretty much in the middle of the pack among the nine regular DHs. While the power isn’t there, he’s ripping a line drive 24% of the time he puts a ball in play. Sure, a few more home runs would be nice, but the guy is having another solid season with the bat.

He’s still not a power hitter and probably will never hit for the power fans crave. Get over it. He’s good.

Grade: A-

Jarrod Dyson
.172/.294/.172
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Running 43% of the time there is an open base ahead of him.

Dyson is an electric player, but so was Joey Gathright. They’re the same guy. Except, as far as I know, Dyson hasn’t jumped over a car.

He doesn’t belong on this team. He doesn’t belong on any major league team, although you could make the case to have him on a roster if he could pinch run for a hacking designated hitter type… A guy like Mike Jacobs. Where if you inserted Dyson in a tie game and that spot came up in the lineup with the game on the line in extras, you wouldn’t be kicking yourself for taking out a good hitter and letting weak sauce swing the stick.

And he really doesn’t belong on a team with fourth place aspirations.

Grade as a hitter: F
Grade as a runner: A

Kila Ka’aihue
.195/.295/.317
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Brought home only four base runners out of a total of 72. That’s a 6% conversion rate. That’s awful.

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

Mitch Maier
.294/.410/.412
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

It was clear from the start that Maier would have a difficult time cracking the lineup… Especially after Melky and The Frenchman were promised playing time prior to inking their respective contracts. Not that Maier would be an upgrade, but given the fact he’s rarely moved his butt off the bench, he’s done quite well.

Grade: B

Mike Aviles
.213/.257/.391
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Aviles’ has a .178 ISO, which for a full season, would be the highest rate of his career.

In a little over two months, Aviles had three streaks: Sadly, only one of those could have been classified as “hot.” That landed him back in Omaha once the Royals decided to launch the Moose era in Kansas City. I’m convinced he’ll be back at some point, but it will most likely take a trade to Betemit to have this happen.

As it is, he’s the ultimate Replacement Player for 2011.

Grade: D-

Mike Moustakas
.228/.294/.283
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Moose has brought home just three of 72 base runners.

Moose has struggled since he was called up from Omaha. I don’t think there was anyone surprised by this development. He doesn’t have the natural ability that pushed Hosmer to the head of the Royals prospect class, but he’ll be fine once he sorts things out at this level.

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

Jason Kendall is coming back, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

Actually, that a thirty-six year old, fifteen year veteran busts his rear end to get back from major shoulder surgery is admirable.  Jason Kendall will get paid $3,750,000 whether he is ready to play March 31st or August 31st.  That he is pushing himself this hard to return early is truly commendable.

Jason Kendall takes a lot of heat, much of it deserved, on this site and others, but the truth is that much of it is not his fault.   It’s not his fault Dayton Moore offered two years and six million dollars.   It is also not Kendall’s fault that Ned Yost and Trey Hillman insisted on batting him second even though he had not posted an even average OPS+ since 2004.   As major league managers, it is also their fault, not Kendall’s, that they played him every day.

Sure, Jason doesn’t have to be such a jerk on the days when he is not in the lineup and he can be a bit of a condescending assclown when it comes to dealing with the press and fans.   Still, we cannot fault a guy for wanting to play baseball and busting his ass to do so.

Playing baseball, however, is the key phrase in all the above and Jason Kendall is not what he used to be when it comes to that skill.   Last season, Jason hit a very skinny .256/.318/.297 for an OPS+ of just 71.   His traditional OPS of .615 was the worst mark among all catchers with more than 300 plate appearances, as was his slugging percentage.  

It is not that the Royals had a ton of options to amp up the offense from behind the plate, however.   While almost all of us think Brayan Pena brings more offense to the position, his 2010 line of .253/.306/.335 (OPS+ of 76) was decidedly Kendall-esque.   Lucas May, in admittedly small sample size of just 39 at-bats, was an anemic .189/.205/.216.

Defensively, we all know that judging catchers is tremendously difficult..  You don’t really need to be a ‘baseball man’ to watch a shortstop play and see if he is a great defender or a poor one.   Discerning a great catcher is much harder, however.   How many times have you given a catcher credit for a pitcher’s good outing?   How do you tell if he even deserves the credit?   We don’t see how many hours a catcher spends studying opposing batters or if he manages to translate those hours of study into an effective game plan.

What we are left with is an inexact science of stolen base percentages, passed balls, wild pitches and the almost absurd ‘catcher’s earned run average.’   As inaccurate as those are, here’s a quick look at the three Royals’ catchers last year:

  • Passed Balls per 9 innings:   Kendall (.053), Pena (.027), May (.444)
  • Wild Pitches per 9 innings:  Kendall (.309), Pena (.401), May (.556)
  • Stolen Bases per 9 innings:  Kendall (.89), Pena (.77), May (.78)

Pena actually was tagged for a passed ball half as often as Kendall (and no, I did not forget a zero in front of May’s number), but I am not sure 337 innings of work on Pena’s part is enough to make much a case.  

Although wild pitches are technically the fault of the pitcher, I do put some stock in the fact that a good defensive catcher does have some role in his hurlers getting tagged with wild pitches.   Using that logic, Kendall was better than Pena who was better than May.

While Pena and Kendall both threw out 29% of potential base stealers, runners took liberty with Kendall more than they did with Pena.   Again, I am not sure this, like any of the above really tells us who is the better defensive catcher.    Frankly, the best defender in the organization is probably Manny Pina, who NO ONE will ever bat second.

The funny thing about this whole situation is that it is very possible that none of these three is a legitimate everyday catcher and yet, the Royals might well break camp with all three of them on the twenty-five man roster.   Here is something even funnier:  I might actually advocate doing so.

Now, as Craig mentioned yesterday, there is really no use for a third catcher, particularly in the American League.  A third catcher who cannot hit and field who plays behind two guys who can’t either is bordering on the insane.    Even more insane is that I think it is unlikely that either Bryan Pena or Lucas May, both out of options, make it through waivers if the Royals try to send them down to the minors.   Baseball is funny that way.

   With no need for a fifth starting pitcher until April 16th and carrying an eighth reliever being even more ridiculous than a third catcher, it opens up a temporary twenty-five man roster spot.    With essentially a free spot to burn, we are faced with these undeniable truths:

  • If healthy, Jason Kendall will play most days.   We can rail against it all we want, but you know it and I know it.
  • We don’t know if Jason Kendall is healthy.
  • Manny Pina has played 17 games above AA ball.
  • The Royals’ catcher of the future, Salvador Perez, has played no games above A ball.
  • Brayan Pena and Lucas May are out of options.

While the possibility remains that Jason Kendall opens the season on the disabled list, my guess is he won’t.   Assuming that Kendall is active, the Royals will be faced with the gnawing uncertainty that he may or may not be truly healthy and, given the pace at which he returned, could be susceptible to re-injury.

As Nick suggested on the most recent podcast, it might make the most sense to go with the veteran Kendall backed by the defensive minded Pina, IF Kendall is healthy.   (Again, by ‘most sense’, keep in mind that we are operating in reality here – the one where you know that Jason Kendall will play virtually everyday.)  Not knowing if Kendall is healthy and will stay healthy dictates that someone with major league experience join him on the roster.   

Enter Brayan Pena, who has hit one year and not hit the next and is, by most accounts, becoming a tolerable catcher.   He is a likable guy, good clubhouse guy considering he almost never gets to play and almost certainly will break camp with the team for the simple reason that he is better than Lucas May and more experienced than Manny Pina.

What about Lucas May then?    He came to the Royals along with pitcher Elisaul Pimentel in exchange for Scott Podsednik.    May did not show a lot in a brief stint with Kansas City last season, but is still a work in progress.   There is some sentiment that he might have some offensive upside…..for a catcher.     Having been in the organization for less than a year, one would think the Royals might like to take a longer look at him.

Now, the world will not end if the Royals try to pass May through waivers and get him a minor league assignment.   Heck, I just spent the better part of this column telling you that none of the Royals’ catchers are very good.    Still, they really don’t know what they have in May and almost certainly would prefer to have Manny Pina catch everyday in Omaha and Salvador Perez do the same everyday in Northwest Arkansas this year.

Keeping May in some fashion protects younger more viable catchers in the system from being rushed to the majors to be a backup should an injury strike down Kendall or Pena.     If the Royals had a roster squeeze, this would not be worth the effort, but they don’t.

The decision to play Lorenzo Cain in Omaha has apparently been made:  an unfortunate side effect of promising Melky Cabrera playing time this winter.   With that the five outfielders are set and the Royals can maintain their hold on the out of options Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier. 

The infield is down to a) is Wilson Betemit healthy and b) can Chris Getz hit?   Lance Zawadzki and Pedro Feliz await those answers and probably, if the Royals really wanted to, one of them could stake claim to this temporary spot in place of the third catcher.   Keep in mind, however, keeping Feliz comes with an $800,000 price tag and the caveat that we will actually have to watch him hit.

In my mind, it will probably be easier to sneak an out of options player through waivers in mid-April than right before breaking camp.   By then, organizations will have their minor league rosters set and be a little less likely to jump on a marginal player from somewhere else.  

So, three catchers?  Really?   It doesn’t make any long term sense at all, but for a brief couple of weeks this spring, it might be the prudent thing to do.

I know, the title seems a little silly given that the team has not even reported for 2011 Spring Training.    If you have been visiting this site for any period of time, however, you will know that one of my major complaints (probably THE major complaint) with the Royals organization is that they seemingly spend a lot of baseball games ‘marking time’.

At time, it almost appears that Dayton Moore and the Royals are actually afraid to ‘find out’ if a player can be useful or not.    My angst at this actually pre-dates Moore and goes back to the likes of Matt Diaz and Justin Huber.   While Diaz has proved useful, having him would not have greatly changed the organization’s destiny, and while Huber has never stuck anywhere, wouldn’t it been nice to at least see them get 300 at-bats with Kansas City?   Just so we knew?

The situation has rather famously continued with Mike Aviles, who after proving himself once (much to the organization’s chagrin) and getting injured, then had to prove himself all over again.   It certainly has been a sticking point for many when it comes to Kila Ka’aihue, who should have been given a chance to hit or not hit major league pitching in 2009, but instead has marked time for two full seasons while the Royals let Mike Jacobs and Jose Guillen hack away at air.    You can add catcher Brayan Pena to mix as well as he has rode the bench for two losing seasons and no one really, really knows if the guy can hit and field on an everyday basis.

Whether you agree with my assessment that the Royals have done more than their share of wasting major league time or not – which basically assumes that the organization is filled with enough baseball geniuses that they ‘just know’ who can play or not – I think most of us can agree that 2011 is a year the Royals absolutely, positively have to use to ‘find things out’.

By October of this year, I believe it is imperative for Dayton Moore to be in a position to sit down at this desk and answer the following questions based not on what he thinks or what the scouts believe, but on what he say on the major league field in 2011:

  • Luke Hochevar is either a fringe number two/solid number three starter on a contender or more innings filler for the back of the rotation.  – Barring another injury, he will get this chance, but the Royals need to realize Hochevar for whatever he is by the end of the season, slot him in at that spot and move on.
  • Alex Gordon is an integral part of the organization’s future.The organization should be willing to give Gordon 145 games against all types of pitching to prove he can be an offensive asset.   If he hits .212 through May, let’s not panic and start platooning him with Melky Cabrera.
  • Kila Ka’aihue really can hit major league pitching.Seriously, the entire baseball world may believe that Kila only has slider bat speed, but the entire baseball world is also wondering (should the wonder anything about the Royals) why the heck Kansas City has not given him 500 at-bats just to make sure.
  • Alcides Escobar is on his way to turning prospect potential into major league production. – You know the spiel:  prior to 2010, Escobar was the number 12 prospect in all of baseball and then had a pretty awful rookie season in the majors.   Great defense, an on-base percentage above .330 and some good baserunning is all the Royals are asking for here.   Escobar will get the better part of 2012 to continue to prove himself, but a solid 2011 campaign will allow the organization to start moving Christian Colon to over to second base and focus their free agent dollars/trade energy on a position other than short.
  • Mike Moustakas has four months of major league experience. – I don’t expect Moustakas to light the majors on fire once he gets the call (sometime between May 1 and July 1), and part of one season does not a star or bust make.   Still, the Royals need to get his career started if only to get Mike’s experience curve a step ahead of that of Eric Hosmer.    Call him up, put him in the lineup and leave him alone.   We will spend 2012 deciding if Moustakas is great or not, he just needs to bang out those first 350 rookie at-bats this summer.
  • Lorenzo Cain will be the Royals starting centerfielder on Opening Day of 2012. – If it was up to me, Lorenzo would be the starting centerfielder THIS Opening Day.   The world will not end, I don’t think anyway, if Cain begins 2011 in Omaha, but it very well could be Armageddon if Cain has not accumulated 100+ games of everyday duty in center by the end of the season.   Like Moustakas, that amount of experience will not tell us Cain’s long-term future, but it will give the Royals enough data to say ‘yes, he’s our guy in 2012′.  
  • These three young arms will set-up Joakim Soria in 2012. – I have no problem with Robinson Tejeda spending 2011 being Soria’s primary set-up man:  nothing decimates a team’s psyche more than having the bullpen blow leads late.   However, picking up a random veteran or wasting our time with other organization’s rejects in front of Tejeda/Soria would be a crime.   By the end of 2011, Dayton Moore should have seen plenty of Blake Wood to know if he can be a solid major league reliever.   He should also have seen enough of Tim Collins, Blaine Hardy, Louis Coleman and Greg Holland to be ready to hand them serious late inning responsibilities in 2012.   You can throw Everett Teaford, Brandon Sisk, Patrick Keating and Nathan Adcock in the mix as well.   Bottom line, there should be a large number of young, basically homegrown arms that get at least thirty innings of work (there should be plenty of bullpen innings available with this year’s rotation!) in 2011.
  • I do or do not need to sign or trade for a catcher in the winter of 2011. – Seriously, with Jason Kendall being a) hurt and b) being Jason Kendall, there is no excuse to not see a lot of Brayan Pena, Lucas May and maybe even Manny Pina in 2011.  It might not be pretty, but it is a necessary evil in assessing where Dayton Moore needs to focus his off-season energy.   Salvador Perez will have a full year at AA under his belt be then, but certainly will not be ready for the majors in early 2012, so the Royals will absolutely need to know if they have anyone between in front of the hopefully blossoming Perez to hold down the position in 2012.
  • Two of the organization’s prized young starters are ready for the 2012 rotation. - Be it Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow or Chris Dwyer (Teaford as well), you have to hope that two of them get between eight and fifteen starts in the second half of 2011 and prove themselves ready for full-time duty in 2012.   They don’t have to prove anything, just get some innings in so they are ready to prove something in 2012.

Certainly, you could make this list much, much longer, but in I think these are the critical issues that simply have to be resolved prior to the next off-season.  Sure, you could say ‘find out about Chris Getz’, but frankly if spring training 2012 is a battle at second between Getz, Aviles, Giavotella and maybe even Colon that does not really hurt the progression of The Process.   

Not all the questions have to be answered at once, but you do need to stop theorizing and start actually answering questions.    Catching and Kila Ka’aihue should have been asked and anwered last year, maybe even the year before.   Be it ego or fear or stubborness, all that needs to be set aside in 2011 and the answers need to be found.

Introduction

The 2010 Kansas City Royals season was one that we would all likely want to forget.  It was another in a long string of losing seasons and there were pretty much no young prospects to see at the Major League Level.  Still, I think that it’s instructive to look back at the season and see exactly what worked and what didn’t.  I did this same exercise last off-season and I learned a lot during the process.  So here is quick primer on how I do this and what the statistics mean.  Each week, I’ll post an article looking at a single position almost exclusively through the offensive lens.  Quantifying defense is still pretty difficult, and even though there are great strides being made, how exactly to weight that compared to the offensive side of the ball is even more difficult.  So with that, I’ll almost completely ignore the defensive contributions at each position, so it’d be more accurate to say that the analysis more a position-by-position offensive breakdown.

When I look at each position, I’ll do it individually and then combine the players into a single unit.  So primarily I’ll be looking at the offensive output of the Royals at a position.  The point is to see what spots on the field the Royals need to improve offense and where they can stand pat.  I would think that Dayton Moore is doing something similar and then comparing this information to the available free agents and the in house prospects.  It’s useful to look at it position by position because obviously the offensive output of a first basemen is different and not comparable to that of a shortstop.

I will be using some so-called “advanced statistics”, however in reality they are pretty simple so if you aren’t well versed or even very interested in advanced statistics, don’t let them scare you off.  Most of the numbers should be recognizable by any baseball fan, batting average, on-base percentage, hits, home runs etc.  However there will be two stats that I’ll lean on heavily that might be new to you. If you want an explanation of the stats, then keep reading but if not, all you need to really know is that I’ll be using wOBA and sOPS+ and the higher the number, the better the hitter is.

Stats Introduction (feel free to skip this part)

Quite simply, wOBA is an attempt to tell you how often a player gets on base and how far he got himself around those bases.  Many of you are probably familiar with OPS, well wOBA is like OPS but better.  If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, you can find one here or here.  The other statistic I’ll be using is sOPS+.    I know, it just looks confusing, but again it’s pretty simple.  In the most simple terms, sOPS+ just takes  OPS (on-base plus slugging) and then compares it to the rest of the OPS in the league and then normalizes them.  Yeah, I guess that wasn’t so simple, but the bottom line is that an OPS+ of 100 is essentially league average and every digit above or below is roughly a percent better or worse.  So a 120 ops+ is roughly 20% better than league average and 80% is roughly 20% worse.  The little s on the front means that instead of comparing it to the league, we’re comparing it to the split, in this case the positional split.  So in the first article, I’ll talk about the catchers and I’ll give their sOPS+.  That ONLY compares numbers when players were catching.  So a 100 would be a league average batter when he is catching.  I really thought I could make this simple, I guess I probably failed.  In the end, you don’t really need to understand the stats to get the gist of the articles, if you pick up one thing, its that the higher an sOPS+ or wOBA the better the hitter is.

The Catchers

To begin, let’s take a look at the players who caught this year for the Royals and how they hit when they were catching.

Click to Enlarge

Jason Kendal obviously got the lion’s share of innings at catcher, but his season-ending injury close near the end of the year gave Brayan Pena and Lucas May a chance to get some work in.  Jason Kendall actually got on-base at a clip higher than that of Pena, but Pena’s value really comes from his extra-base hits.  He had 10 doubles and 1 homerun compared to 18 doubles for Kendall in 330 more plate appearances.  Pena had an average wOBA and was pretty much a league average catcher at the plate in the games he played in.

How did the unit perform as a group compared to the rest of the AL?

Red = Highest in the category, Green = Lowest. Click to Enlarge

The Royals catchers as an offensive group were pretty poor in 2010.  They weren’t the worst in the American League, and in fact weren’t the worst in the AL Central.  The one thing that really held them back was their inability to hit for any power, only the Mariners had a worse slugging catching group.  The significant amount of playing time given to Jason Kendall drug down the offense, however the contributions from Brayan Pena single-handedly lifted the Royals catchers above the Tigers.

Last year, the Royals catching core of John Buck and Miguel Olivo was the second-best hitting group in the American League behind the Twins and Joe Mauer.  In fact, they hit eight more home runs than the Twins did from the position.  That’s was why it was baffling, from an offensive perspective that the Royals acquired Jason Kendall rather than keeping one or both of their catchers from 2009.  Predictably, the offense from the position suffered, and I’d find it pretty hard to believe that whatever defensive or clubhouse benefit Jason Kendall brought to the team, it was enough to overcome a fall of nine spots on the above chart.

The Royals need to be at least close to average at each position and then well-above average at a few positions in order to score enough runs to be a contending team.  They seem reluctant to believe that Brayan Pena can be the answer at catcher, but unless there is a major off-season move, he will get a shot to convince the Royals otherwise.  Based on his career numbers, I’d imagine that Pena could move the Royals catching unit up into the middle of the pack offensively, but his suspect defense may be his eventual downfall.  If I were the General Manager, I’d probably stand pat with Pena and May, hoping that one of them steps up to become a solid everyday catcher.

Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

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