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It wasn’t a 22 run, 3 grand slam outburst, but if nine runs is enough for a win (as it should be) I’ll take it.

Some quick notes from Thursday’s game:

— All Clark has to do is write a nice post about the man we know as Country Breakfast, and he collects four hits in five plate appearances. Billy Butler’s .374 OBP is tops on the team and he’s second in wOBA at .364. The guy has been on fire the last month and a half. Not surprisingly, my Twitter feed is void of Butler hate.

— I don’t know that Johnny Giavotella would have been my first choice to bat leadoff with Alex Gordon out of the lineup, but Nervous Ned does so many things that defy logic, it wears me out to get irritated. Although the way the top of the order has been clicking, I don’t know who you would drop into that spot. Gio it is!

— By going with that 13 man bullpen, it exposes a thin bench whenever anyone needs to leave the game. It happened again last night when Jeff Francoeur got drilled right below the knee cap in the top of the ninth. That forced Alex Gordon, himself nursing a bruise after being hit by a pitch the previous night, into the field. The good news, we’re less than a week away from when the rosters can expand, so we won’t have to put up with this nonsense much longer. The bad news is, Omaha’s season ends September 5, and they’re probably going to the playoffs. It could be the middle of the month before we see anyone in Kansas City.

— Mike Moustakas had another multi-hit game, his third in a row and fifth in his last eight games. Same approach as I wrote about on Wednesday… Laying off the high fastballs. The strange thing was, the Blue Jays didn’t give him a ton of off speed pitches down in the zone. Almost every slider he saw this series was up in the zone and they hardly threw any change-ups.

— I don’t know if I even want to discuss the disaster known as Joakim Soria. I was surprised to see him in the game in the non-save situation, but figured this was Yost’s way of getting him so low pressure work in an attempt to boost his confidence.

It was just two pitches, but when the first bad pitch is a low cutter over the middle of the plate (That was absolutely ripped. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a ball squared up like that.) and that’s followed by a slider up in the zone… Well, that’s how two pitches turn into two runs. Although, it should be noted the slider was away and Encarnacion basically muscled it to the opposite field.

Soria is still striking out hitters, but when he’s missing, he’s been way too high in the zone – like he was to Encarnacion. It’s not a coincidence that his worst two months of the season (May and August) have seen more fly balls in play against Soria than ground balls.

— Strong showing from Jeff Francis even if the wheels came apart in the seventh. His pitch count after six was relatively low, so I wasn’t surprised Yost sent him back for the top of the inning. I was surprised Yost let Greg Holland throw two innings in that situation. Unfortunately, by throwing 45 pitches, he’s going to be unavailable for the start of the Cleveland series.

— Two Royals wins and zero appearances by either Aaron Crow or Tim Collins. When was the last time that happened?

As we discussed Jeff Francoeur last week, the comments section spent a fair amount of time on Fangraph’s baserunning metric.  You can count me as among the many who have just enough knowledge on the subject to be dangerous.   The first thing that all or most of us, anyway, think of when you hear ‘baserunning’ is something that measures speed, steals, ability to advance on the bases and on and on.  

In truth, steals and caught stealing were already factored into a player’s WAR before the baserunning (BSR or UBR – they are the same) metric came along.   In addition, some of the other things that would logically be associated with the TERM baserunning have nothing to do with the METRIC Bsr.   That said, here is a link to a far better explanation of Fangraph’s Bsr metric and I hope everyone with a question about it will click here.

A quick and dirty explanation contained in the Mitchel Lichtman article linked above:

Let’s say that there is a runner on second and one out. A ground ball is hit to the SS. Let’s say that on the average, in that same situation, the runner advances safely to third and the batter is thrown out 20% of the time, he stays put 70% of the time, he gets thrown out at 3rd 5% and beats a throw to third 5% of the time (batter safe on a FC). And let’s say that average base/out run expectancy (RE) of all those results, weighted by their frequency of occurrence, is .25 runs (all the numbers are made up). If the runner advances and the batter is thrown out, and the resultant RE is .5 runs, then the runner gets credit for .25 runs (.5 minus .25). If he stays put, and the average RE of a runner on second and 2 outs is .23 runs, then gets “credit” (he gets docked) for -.02 runs (.23 minus .25). So basically a runner gets credit for the resultant run value of what he does minus the average weighted resultant run value of all base runners in that situation.

I guess, more than anything else, reading the paragraph above and the entire article linked to just before will hopefully give all a clearer understanding of what ‘Bsr’ measures and what it does not.   Knowing that steals, caught stealings, grounding into double plays, stretching singles into doubles or lumbering a sure double into a single are not included – basically because they are already accounted for in other metrics.    It is more a measure of efficiency on the bases than speed or even hustle.  It is what it is and attempts to quantify a portion of the game that previously had not been measured and not to define what would logically be inferred under the heading of ‘Baserunning’.

Of course, the primary criticism lately around here has been that Jeff Francoeur’s Bsr is lower than even that of Billy Butler.   Now, we know that Billy Butler is not good at baserunning in the broad sense of the word.    He is the classic ‘time him with a sundial’ runner and, while there is not a whole lot Butler can do to change that in any appreciable manner, Billy gets his deserved share of criticism.   The very nature of Butler’s cement feet, however, cause him to not consider trying to score from first on a double or things of that nature and hence he avoids piling up a lot of the ultimate negatives of baserunning:  outs.

That Billy Butler is rated higher in ‘Bsr’ than Francoeur is not Fangraphs’ saying that Billy Butler is a better overall baserunner than Francoeur, it is simply a measurement of a certain part of what we consider baserunning and one in which Frenchy gets his a lot of negatives (8 outs on the bases not counting caught stealings).  The positives that, at least to some extent, would outweigh those negatives (the hustle double) are measured in a different metric and hence Jeff’s numbers in Bsr take a greater than expected hit.

Again, it is what it is,  but maybe this gives us just a touch more understanding of the metric.

Ready for more thoughts on the Jeff Francoeur extension? Perfect!

— Bringing back Francoeur for next season means the Royals outfield you will see tonight against the Red Sox is the exact same outfield you will see on Opening Day 2012. The Frenchman is going to cash a hefty check, the Royals will certainly tender a contract to Melky Cabrera and there is talk of an Alex Gordon extension. Hell, there’s a decent chance that this is the outfield we will see on Opening Day 2013. This has to be an indictment of Lorenzo Cain. Cain, who is hitting .306/.376/.506 in Omaha, after tonight, has more than 600 plate appearances in his career at the Triple-A level. It would seem he doesn’t have much left to prove.

However, I’ve heard the rumblings… A hole in his swing, the lack of the necessary skill set that would ease a transition from the high minors to the big league level, and so on. I haven’t seen Cain all that much, so I’m not qualified to comment on his skills (or lack thereof). What I can comment on is that it is fairly obvious that the organization doesn’t believe he’s part of the future.

Think about it… We have seen a tremendous influx of young talent. Nearly every position player who was regarded as a prospect and opened the 2011 season in Omaha is with the big club. Except Cain. It’s also worth noting, the Royals were quick to pull the trigger on Kila Ka’aihue earlier this year. I may be reading too much between the lines here, but I’m thinking the Royals regard Cain as another flavor of Hawaiian Punch. Good for Triple-A, not so good in the majors.

— There was a tweet from Greg Schaum that this move says more about the (lack of) development of Wil Myers than anything and I’m inclined to agree. Myers was moved to the outfield in order to fast track his bat to the major leagues. However injuries and a lackluster season (.254/.354/.373 in 348 plate appearances) have pushed his timetable back at least a full year. Most troublesome has been the lack of power development. If Myers repeats Double-A next year, it’s possible he won’t arrive in Kansas City until 2014. Francoeur gives the Royals cover. It’s expensive cover, but it’s still cover.

— I understand that with the season Francoeur is having, he was going to shop for a two year deal. That doesn’t mean the Royals had to give it to him.

He is hitting for a higher slugging percentage, which is nice. But that’s because he’s already set a career high for doubles with 35 while maintaining his home run rate of one long ball roughly every 31 at bats.

Let’s talk about value for a moment. Here are his fWAR values going back to 2006 which was his first full season in the majors.

2006: 1.1
2007: 3.8
2008: -0.8
2009: 0.3
2010: 0.6
2011: 2.3

Yes, this has been quite the rebirth for Francoeur, but we cannot ignore the fact that in his three previous seasons, he posted a 0.1 fWAR. Combined. It is entirely possible that Kevin Seitzer has worked his magic and Frenchy has figured it all out. I suppose. But there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. His walk rate is a career high at 6.6%, but he’s reached 6.0% three times previously, so this isn’t some sort of crazy development. It’s nice, but not out of the realm of possibility. His contact rate is 80.2%, which is actually lower than either of his two previous seasons where he posted a .309 and .300 on base percentage respectively. His line drive rate of 18.8% is right in line with his career rate.

Overall, he is swinging less, offering at just 53.9% of all pitches. That’s below his career rate of 58.1% and represents the lowest rate of his career. Maybe that’s it… A change in approach have yielded an improvement in results. Because his other rates haven’t moved all that much. (Interesting side note: He’s looking at a called third strike in 20% of all strikeouts. The highest caught looking rate in his career.)

While The Frenchman is having one of his better seasons, the fact that his secondary rate statistics have remained unchanged from the last several years, lead me to believe that the Royals won’t get the kind of production they seem to be counting on over the next two seasons.

— Going by the raw dollars, it looks like the Royals are expecting a pair of 1.5 WAR seasons from Francoeur. Again, I can’t help but feel that’s a shade on the optimistic side, given he’s played six full seasons and has topped that mark only twice (counting this year.) I know the defenders will argue he’s only 27, so he’s at his presumed peak, but I’ll counter with my previous argument that he’s never shown the ability to sustain an above average level of production.

Soon after the extension was announced, Joe Sheehan tweeted that because Francoeur was hitting .316/.352/.623 through May 4 and only .264/.320/.411 since, the Royals basically gave a guy a two year deal on one good month of production. Joel Goldberg countered with the fact Frenchy has hit .308/.369/.503 since July 1, and that should count for something. It’s a sound return volley and it really serves to underscore the fact he’s an extreme streak hitter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you’re going to live with the steak, you’re going to have to eat dog food every once in a while.

As the law of averages play out though, the cold streaks will prove to last longer than the hot ones. By the time 2013 rolls around, instead of talking about hot months for Francoeur, we could be reduced to discussing hot weeks.

— In Francoeur’s defense, I saw in several quarters where it was argued he was basically a platoon hitter, dreadful against right handed pitching.

Makes sense… Except for the fact it’s not necessarily true.

Granted, he does do worse against righties. That’s normal for a right-handed hitter. Here are his splits for 2011:

Vs LHP – .315/.379/.602
Vs RHP – .266/.314/.421

Many of my colleagues will look at that split and come to the conclusion he can’t hit a right hander. Except the league average right handed batter is hitting only .247/.307/.392 against right handed pitching this year.

I’m sure if The Frenchman sticks around for another 10 years, he will evolve into a platoon type player. However, I don’t see that happening during the life of his contract extension. Granted, he’s doing better this year against right handers than he’s done in quite some time, but like his cumulative stats, he’s not doing that much better where we would sit up and call it an outlier.

There’s definitely a difference in performance base on the handedness of the pitcher, but at this point, it doesn’t warrant a platoon situation.

— I’m extremely frustrated that the Royals didn’t move on Alex Gordon first. Yes, like The Frenchman, Gordon has had some horrible seasons. But realize that Gordon has seen his seasons cut short by injury and be being jerked around by the organization. He has almost 2,000 fewer plate appearances than Francoeur. This year, while Frenchy is playing well, Gordon is having an outstanding all around season.

I know that there has been talk of extension but the Royals want to wait until the end of the season… why is there a double standard here?

— Francoeur doesn’t annoy me as much as my basement dwelling comrades, and I had come to terms with the fact he was most likely going to return for the 2012 season. The extra year and total monetary package seems like the classic Dayton Moore play where he misreads the market and makes too strong of a move. He’s done this time and again in varying degrees. There’s the gross overpayment like he did with Jose Guillen. There’s the over valuing of his guys like we saw with Kyle Davies last winter. And there’s deals where he jumps head first into the trade market without taking the proper temperature like he did when he brought Mike Jacobs to Kansas City.

Moore has also fallen into a trap where he looks at only the last year of numbers and ignores the entire track record. Again, that certainly happened with Jacobs and to a lesser extent with Jose Guillen. He makes the mistake of ultimately paying full price for a player who can’t possibly maintain the level to justify the cost. That’s just a fancy way of saying he buys high.

I’m a fan of The Process and I feel like it’s the proper method to give the Royals the best shot at winning. But we have to realize that even a wildly successful Process will still leave management with holes to fill on the roster. This is where Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust have failed miserably time and time again.

Now matter how great the minor league system, poor free agent acquisitions or misreading the trade market could completely derail The Process. I had hoped after this winter when the Royals pursued low risk, low cost free agents, that was a signal that GMDM had figured something out regarding how to build his team. It doesn’t feel like any lessons were learned.

Francoeur alone won’t prevent the Royals from winning in the future. Rather he’s a symptom of a much larger problem. One that doesn’t seem to be going away.

I’ll wrap this up by restating that I don’t hate Jeff Francoeur. I think for the money he’s been paid this year, he’s been a good value for the Royals – on and off the field. But there comes a point when you can overpay and cause the value to disappear, and I think that is what has happened in this case. Francoeur has been playing in this league for six seasons and has had a grand total of two good ones. The odds are long he’ll put up two more during his extension.

Per the press release:

KANSAS CITY, MO (August 18, 2011) – The Kansas City Royals announced today that the club has signed outfielder Jeff Francoeur to a two-year contract extension through 2013. Consistent with club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.

The 27-year-old Francoeur is hitting .277 this season for the Royals, his first with the club. He has recorded 35 doubles, fifth-most in baseball, with three triples, 15 home runs, 66 RBI, 60 runs and a career-high 19 stolen bases. In addition, the 2007 Rawlings Gold Glove winner is third in the Majors with 12 outfield assists and leads all of baseball with 93 assists since the 2005 season.

Gut reaction: We figured he’d be back for 2012, but the two year deal is a bit of an overreach. Lorenzo Cain is ready and the Royals are going to bring back Melky Cabrera for at least another year… It’s all part of the 25 man roster puzzle the Royals have difficulty assembling.

I don’t hate The Frenchman like some – he is what he is – but this seems like a classic Royals overplay. We’ll need to see the terms before we can render any kind of a verdict.

Besides, if the Royals were thinking of extending anyone, it needed to be Alex Gordon, who is having a much better year than Francoeur. A1 needs to be taken care of now… If the Royals miss this chance, it will be a huge mistake.

I guess Dayton just can’t quit Frenchy.

UPDATE: Dutton reports it’s for a total of $13.5 million. To. Much. Money.

One of the more interesting moments from Thursday’s fourth and final loss to the Rays came in the top of the seventh inning. At this point, the Royals were down 3-1 and got a leadoff single from Melky Cabrera.

(Let me join the crowded chorus of those who continue to be amazed at the career renaissance experienced by the Melk Man. A line of .306/.339/.471 currently represents a career high in batting average and slugging, and it’s his second highest OBP since his rookie year in 2006 when he finished at .360. His current wOBA of .354 is the highest of his career. Well done, Dayton Moore… Cheap and productive.)

After Billy Butler flied out to right for the first out of the inning, the Rays went to the bullpen to play the platoon match-up and brought in the left handed JP Howell to face Eric Hosmer. Howell threw two pitches, Hosmer swung at both and on the second pitch, knocked it into the opposite field for a single, putting runners on first and second with just one out.

(Absolutely the right call to bring the lefty in to face Hosmer, who does the majority of his damage against right-handed pitching. He’s batting .300/.356/.508 against right-handers and just .220/.271/.250 versus the lefties. Obviously, in that situation you don’t want to give up a game-tying home run. It likely wasn’t going to happen with Howell on the mound. All 10 of Hosmer’s homers have come against right-handers.)

The Royals have a little something going now in the late innings, and this brings up Jeff Francoeur. The Rays go back to the bullpen for Joel Peralta. Here’s the pivotal point in the game for the Royals.

The Frenchman works the count to 2-2 and on the fifth pitch of the at bat, Cabrera and Hosmer are off and running. Francoeur swings through strike three and Hosmer is thrown out at second to end the inning. Just like that, what looked like a promising inning is over.

According to data from Pitchf/x, Peralta threw pretty much the exact same pitch five consecutive times to The Frenchman. All five pitches were recorded as 91 mph fastballs, yet, he couldn’t so much as get his bat on the ball. Francoeur has earned his reputation as a free-swinger, but his strikeout totals reflect someone who more or less makes contact. He’s whiffed in just over 17% of his at bats this year and makes contact on 80.8% of his swings. (League average contact rate is 80.9% so he’s right there.) It’s his walk rate that we have an issue with, but we knew in that situation, he was up there swinging.

(He took a walk in the first and his walk rate for 2011 is now a career best 6.4%. File that one under “Miracle, Minor.”)

Of Francoeur’s 85 strikeouts this year, here’s how they breakdown according to Bill James’ Baseball IQ:

Swinging 80%

Swinging out of the strike zone – 49%

So The Frenchman doesn’t get cheated. When he goes down, he goes down swinging. Now, half the time he’ll chase out of the zone, but I would imagine that’s pretty close to league average. With two strikes, you have to expand the zone.

As you can see from Gameday, Peralta pounded the zone. He wasted the first pitch up and away then threw a pretty good pitch low and away for strike one. He missed the same spot for ball three and then attacked with a fastball up and in for the second strike. He finished him off with a pitch that was down the heart of the plate in the lower third of the zone. Francoeur may have gone up there to swing, but he wasn’t undisciplined.

I guess they were decent pitches, but Peralta was living dangerously. After the first strike, the next two where in areas where The Frenchman makes his living. Here are his hitting zones from Inside Edge. Notice that Francoeur second best hitting quadrant is in the exact spot where he swung and missed against Peralta. And Francoeur doesn’t do too shabby against that inside high strike, either. Given this data, along with the location of pitches he saw in that at bat, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t at least put the ball in play.

Swinging in the strike zone – 31%

Finally, The Frenchman doesn’t swing and miss at a “true” strike all that often. And for Francoeur to swing and miss at that pitch – in that location – for a third strike… Well, let’s just say the result of that plate appearance was surprising. Usually, if he’s swinging and missing at the third strike, it’s when the pitcher busts him up and in. He hardly ever misses the pitch that was in the location of the third strike from Peralta. Again, from Baseball IQ, here is the heat map of the location of third strikes against Francoeur.

If you want to strikeout The Frenchman, you attack him high in the zone or get him to chase low and away. You don’t leave a pitch where Peralta left his. Yet, as we’re reminded, this is baseball and execution actually counts. My gut told me it was a dumb play to put the runners in motion with The Frenchman at the plate late in a game, looking at the data, I’m not sure it was as crazy as it seemed at the time. Peralta left a pitch in a great location for Francoeur, and he just failed to execute like he usually does given the location of the pitch. It happens. So while my gut told me it wasn’t the right move to put the runners in motion, after looking at the data, it doesn’t seem like such a bad call after all.

Sadly, it was the last chance for the Royals to avoid the sweep.

It feels like we’re on the edge of some excitement… The calm before the storm that is the trade deadline.

Although I’m not so certain there’s going to be much action where the Royals are involved.

It seems to me the team has four trade candidates.

Jeff Francoeur

The Frenchman is playing at his expected level of .264/310/.448, but with sterling defense in right field. Several teams are looking for a right-handed bat, so you would expect some level of interest.

However, we can’t discount GMDM’s past relationship here. And the fact there is a mutual option believed to be in the neighborhood of $4 million.

I think Frenchy not only hangs with the team for the full year, I think both parties are interested in being together in 2012. As fun as it is to watch Braves fans freak out about the possibility of a Francoeur return, they need to take a deep breath and relax. He’s going to be a Royal for the next 18 months.

Melky Cabrera

Under normal circumstances (i.e. a barren organization from top to bottom) the rebirth of the Melk Man would have Royals fans dancing in the aisles at the K. A line of .294/.331/.456 with a 1.9 rWAR is pretty solid from a player we didn’t expect that much from in 2011.

But here we are… Melky is doing fine and based on the service time rules, the Royals control him for the 2012 season. Cabrera will be a third year arbitration eligible player this winter.

Again, this would be fine… Except Lorenzo Cain is languishing in Omaha where he’s tearing up Triple-A.

Given the contract situation, Cabrera should attract serious interest from a contender looking to patch a long-term hole. (Long term meaning through next season.) Again, I think GMDM holds steady. Cain has already spent his entire summer in Omaha, another month won’t kill him. He can come up in September and we can watch as Ned Yost tries to juggle a four man outfield… Meaning Cain will get fewer plate appearances that that one guy… I forget his name because we never see him… Mitch Something. I think.

Bruce Chen

I hear all this talk about Chen being the Royals “ace” or “stopper.” He’s not. That’s Felipe Paulino. But I digress…

With a 3.30 ERA, Chen is having a nice enough season, although his 4.44 xFIP is on the high side. He would be a decent candidate for a contender looking for a left-handed arm in the back of the rotation.

The problem here, as Ozzie Guillen so eloquently reminded us the other day, is that he’s “Bruce F’n Chen.” Although he’s pitched well enough the last two seasons, there aren’t many who believe in him. He tried to get a two year deal last winter and found no takers. Given that he returned to KC for a one year deal at $2 million, I doubt there were many interested for even a single season. Again, while he’s pitched OK (when healthy) he hasn’t done anything to change perception.

Jeff Francis

While Chen gets discounted, we hear stronger interest exists in Francis. Why? Neither one are that great, but if I was choosing between lefties, I’d go with Chen first.

Francis has a 4.62 ERA, but a 4.01 xFIP… Slightly better than Chen. Neither one strikes anyone out, and Francis owns the better control. Hell, I don’t know. Maybe this is a toss up.

He’s proved he’s fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of the ’09 season.

So those are the top four trade candidates. Who goes? Who stays?

I would bet at least one pitcher gets moved prior to the deadline, in return for another pitcher. That will allow the Royals to revert to a five man rotation. (Yeah! More Davies!) But like the Betemit deal, we need to temper our expectations. None of these guys are going to return a frontline or even a grade B prospect.

Whatever happens, next week won’t be boring, that’s for certain.

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
-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
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
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
-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.

A guy in my fantasy baseball league sent me three e-mails last night, wanting to make some big trades to shake up the league.   He sent me a long list of position players and pitchers he was willing to trade and a similar list of players on my team he had interest in.    

If only it was so easy in real life.

A couple of texts back and forth and Dayton Moore could have Wilson Betemit shipped off for a promising AA arm.   Want some insurance up the middle next year?  Bam!  Three more texts and Mike Aviles and Bruce Chen are sent over in exchange for a, well, younger version of Mike Aviles with better defense.   Another text and Jeff Francouer is traded to a contender for a AAA starting pitcher just a tweak away from a major league rotation.  

Easy, right?

Well, we all know it is not that easy.   Even when we try to play general manager in a realistic fashion (which I do fairly often), it is hard to be truly realistic.  

Foremost, while major league baseball players are commodities, they are also people.   Guys that teams like and dislike, whose teammates like and dislike.  While winning games in 2011 may not be a big priority, especially to many of us waiting for The Process to mature, you can bet that the Royals who have to trudge out on the field everyday are more interested in winning that building for the future.     As a GM, are you sending a potentially damaging message by trading well-liked veterans like Chen and Francouer?   Money, personalties, relationships and perceptions have as much to do with making a major league baseball trade as the actual exchange of on-field talent.

That said, July is trading season or, as we have become accostumed to in Royals territory:  selling season.   While I am still working on what plan of action makes sense for Kansas City, let’s run down the list of players likely to get mentioned/rumored/theorized as tradeable commodities this month.

Joakim Soria – I think we are getting back to the point where we can refer to Soria as an elite closer, and one with an very team friendly contract.   A lot of teams would like to have Soria, but not many are willing to pay the price to acquire him.   Ever since Boston fleeced Seattle in the Heathcliff Slocumb trade, established closers have not brought back a tremendous booty in trades.   I ran an analysis on this the spring before last, came up with a reasonable three player package the Phillies might give up for Soria based upon trades of other closers (and there are not many) and was immediately shot down by Royals’ fans as not getting enought and by Phillies’ fans as asking for too much.   I have a hard time believing that actual GM conversations about Soria – if there are any – go much differently.   Besides, the thought of Montgomery-Duffy-Odorizzi handing off to Collins-Holland-Coleman-Crow handing off to Soria by the middle of 2012 still sounds pretty good to me.

Billy Butler – Yes, Billy is slow and yes, he doesn’t hit for enough power and yes, he is maybe marginally acceptable at first base, but he still can hit.   If Butler is not outright sulking about not playing the field, he is at least grumpy about the situation.   I am not sure if that helps his trade value (a team might believe that Butler will get hot at the plate if they live with him at first everyday) or hurts it (the old ‘bad attitude’ stamp).   No matter which, I don’t think the Royals have any intention of trading Butler.  

I doubt the organization has any more faith in Clint Robinson than they did in Kila Ka’aihue, Butler just signed a four year extension and, grumpy or not, still has an on-base percentage of .395.    Frankly, if Eric Hosmer is going to hit for power and Alex Gordon is going to be a near All-Star, isn’t it okay for Butler to hit .300 with 45 doubles and 15 home runs?

Perhaps the better question for Royals’ fans advocating a Butler trade.   If you see his faults, don’t you think other GM’s do, too?   Assuming that, what would YOU give up for Billy Butler.  My guess is that answer, once you put your Royals’ hat back on, keeps Billy in a Kansas City uniform this year.

Wilson Betemit – Pretty much forgot he existed, haven’t you?   Sadly, most major league GMs probably have as well.    Betemit has pop, is a swith-hitter and won’t turn 30 until this November.   In a pinch, you could play him at short, second or the outfield, which makes him somewhat attractive in the NL where you could live with him playing second for a couple of innings after using him to pinch hit.  

I think Betemit gets traded as the Royals basically don’t play him, he will be a free agent at the end of the season and Mike Aviles can easily take his spot on the bench next to Mitch Maier.   I don’t think the team gets much in return:  probably someone’s version of Sean O’Sullivan or Vin Mazarro who the Royals hope can emerge as the next Bruce Chen instead of the next O’Sullivan or Mazarro.

Mike Aviles – When left alone in one position, Aviles has shown he will hit major league pitching (see 2008 and 2010).   When bounced around the lineup and the infield, Aviles has shown bad defense and less offense (see 2011).   While he can play short, third and second, Mike does not appear to take well to the play here, play there, maybe not play at all role of a utility man.    Given that KC demoted him to Omaha to play Chris Getz everyday and is set on the left side with Moustakas and Escobar, a rival general manager is unlikely to offer much, if anything in return.

Melky Cabrera – You know, if we are all so certain that Alex Gordon turned the corner at age 27, why is it they we are less likely to believe so with 26 year old Melky?  As I have pointed out before, Cabrera is a lot more at-bats into his career, but he seems to be getting better as the year goes on as opposed to worse.   He might well fit better in the Royals’ 2012 outfield (in right, not center) than in any other team’s outfield.

Besides, there were rumblings of Cabrera being a bad influence on Robinson Cano in New York and the perception that he pretty much didn’t care in Atlanta last year.   True or not, those things will come up when trying to get a decent return for Cabrera.

Jeff Francouer – Jeff is right on his career numbers this season, but carries the reputation of being a great clubhouse guy and always playing hard.   A very good defender who could fit in a contender’s lineup against left-handed pitching and would certainly not disrupt the clubhouse, Francouer is the kind of guy who teams look for at the trade deadline.   What a contender is willing to give up, however, is a bigger question.   

In the past, Francouer has been traded for Ryan Church and Joaquin Arias.  

Bruce Chen – Ned Yost will likely quit if Dayton Moore trades Chen, so that might be the end of the discussion right there.   Seriously though, Chen has been Kansas City’s best pitcher this year, might have been last year and still had to sign a minor league deal back with KC to get a paying job this spring.   Good guy, who has reinvented himself into a legitimate major league starter, but for whom no rival GM is probably salivating over.

Jeff Francis – He has a track record of being a top line starter on a good baseball team, so a trade partner will view Francis as a guy with pennant run experience.   Currently, Jeff leads the league in hits allowed, which is not going to win you any Top 10 prospects in a trade, but he has some value as a relatively young (30) option who might get better the farther he gets away from injury.  

So, go ahead and put your gene

So we’ve reached the midway point in what was supposed to be a transitional season. A season where the young guys would start to filter in and the Royals would stop finishing in last place. The young guys are here, but last place is still the reality. More than anything, I blame the Cleveland Indians, who are still playing way above their heads.

Normally, I’ll hand out a report card so to speak at the All-Star Break, which has always served as the de facto half way point, even if most of the time teams are on their 90th game of the season.

So while you breathlessly await my grades, I figured it was a good time to throw some second half predictions out there.

The Royals will hold on to Jeff Francoeur and both sides will exercise their mutual option for 2012 at $3 million and tack on another mutual option for 2013.

At the press conference announcing the deal, Dayton Moore will choke back tears as he talks about being in The Frenchman’s house when he signed his first professional contract.

Kyle Davies will finish the season in the Royals rotation.

And will promptly be arrested by Federal agents on the last day of the season on blackmail charges. The charges will be thrown out a month later when no evidence surfaces. “We just assumed he had dirt on Glass or Moore,” an FBI spokesman will tell reporters. “Because, otherwise who would choose to keep running that stiff out there every fifth or six day on their own free will?”

Melky Cabrera will be traded.

For some team’s #25th ranked prospect. The half fanbase will come to a near revolt that GMDM couldn’t pry away a Top 100 prospect stud for the Melk-Man. The other half will flood Facebook with messages of disbelief that GMDM would be insane enough to trade away our leadoff hitter.

Ned Yost will allow Sean O’Sullivan to surrender 21 runs in three innings to the Detroit Tigers in a September start.

“I thought he was a pitch or two of getting out of it,” Yost will tell the reporters.

Someone will refer to Billy Butler as a “baseclogger.”

That someone will be Ned Yost following a game where Butler reaches base five times but his teammates fail to drive him home.

Jason Kendall will make his return at the end of August and will start each of the final 35 games.

After the team celebrates his return with cake and ice cream in the clubhouse, Yost tells a reporter the team has missed Kendall’s leadership. “What’s our record without him? You think O’Sullivan would have been so crummy in that May start against Texas with Kendall behind the plate? Brayan Pena has a nice smile, but he can’t catch for crap.”

We will not see Johnny Giovatella this season.

Because that would undermine the team’s eventual campaign for “Chris Getz! Gold Glove Second Baseman.”

Luke Hochevar finishes with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Then demands $8 million in arbitration this winter because he was the team’s Opening Day starter.

Wilson Betemit and Mitch Maier will go missing for five days.

Nobody associated with the Royals will notice.

Alcides Escobar will have another hot streak with the bat that will last a couple of weeks and will continue to make outstanding defensive plays. He won’t win the Gold Glove.

And every time The Shortstop Jesus makes a sterling defensive play, four out of five Royals fans will say, “Damn, Betancourt wouldn’t have come close to that one.” The other one fan will complain about his lack of bat.

Mike Moustakas will drive in a run on a hit that is not a home run.

Really. It’s going to happen.

Alex Gordon will parlay his All-Star selection into a strong second half and finish the season with the best all around year of his career.

Yep… That’s going to happen, too.

The Royals will finish in fourth place.

Because I’m an optimist at heart.

Ned Yost revamped the batting order for last night’s game and was rewarded with 11 hits, but only two runs.   A massively changed order is, of course, easy fodder for a column.   However, after Yost inserted Melky Cabrera and his .315 on-base percentage into the leadoff spot and was rewarded with two hits and a walk, what is one to say?

Melky Cabrera, after hitting .255/.317/.354 in an unenthused, out of shape campaign for Atlanta in 2010, was not greeted with much anticipation by the Royals’ fan base this off-season.   I think to a lot of followers, Cabrera has been a nice surprise thus far.    He did show up in shape, seems to play hard and has hit better than most of us expected.

That said, Melky is currently sporting a line of .277/.319/.435 for a career high OPS+ of 111.   Still, that really is basically what Melky Cabrera has always been.   Throwing out 2010, he compiled a career line with the Yankees of .269/.331/.385.  If Melky’s power surge (his current slugging percentage is also a career high) continues throughout the season he will certainly enjoy the best year of his career, but nothing dramatically greater than what he did as a 21 year old rookie five years ago.

Now, do not take this as a criticism of the Royals’ centerfielder.   He has, quite frankly, been fine this year, but don’t get carried away.   Cabrera remains basically the same player Allard Baird tried to trade Reggie Sanders for twice only to be derailed by Sanders incredibly poorly timed bouts with hamstringitis.

With a current WAR (per Fangraphs) of 1.7, Cabrera has already tied his career high in that category, so kudos to Dayton Moore for what is a nice, cheap off-season pickup, but again let’s not get carried away.   Melky Cabrera is who he is, with a little more power.   In the field, he is David DeJesus with a better arm and a better reputation.   At the plate, he is a hitter who has not topped a .336 on-base percentage in five years.   He is who he is – just like Jeff Francouer.

Certainly as likeable player as anyone on the roster for the past decade, Francouer started 2011 on a hot streak and endeared himself to almost all of us with some timely hits and great outfield throws.    Still, we wake up this morning to find Jeff hitting .257/.304/.429.   His career line is .267/.309/.425.   Francouer is Francouer, no matter the uniform.

So, the Royals sit here in late June, out of the race once more with two 27 year old outfielders with serious time on their major league resumes who are basically performing exactly as they always have:  maybe even a little better in the case of Cabrera.   What do you do?

Should the Royals keep them both and avoid the Facebook outrage over ‘always trading our best players!?###’, move one or move both?  Is there even a market for Melky and the Frenchman?

Due to their age and reasonable contracts, both have some allure in that you get a player in his supposed physical prime, but with a long history in the majors.   Contenders like to know what they are getting and in both players they have a pretty good idea.   That makes both a somewhat safe option for a successful team looking to fill a void on their mid-season roster.

We can be fairly certain that, with Lorenzo Cain in Omaha, Dayton Moore is certainly listening on Melky Cabrera.   His personal affinity for Jeff Francouer makes it less certain he would deal Frenchy.    Truthfully, I would market Francouer, who brings a clubhouse presence, more certain defense and the ability to tatoo left-handed pitching.    Even though Cabrera is the better player, I have a hunch Francouer might actually bring a better return in a trade.

I could live with an outfield of Gordon-Cain-Cabrera this summer.   Heck, I can live with Gordon-Cain-Francouer, too.  At this point

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