So, anything happen this weekend?
I know, it was hard to keep track of everything, what with Nebraska hiring a new basketball coach and all…
In all seriousness, you have to give Ned Yost and Dayton Moore some credit for not being afraid to make a decision, and make it early. The due determined their position players – starters and bench – with ten spring training games left to play.
Second base? That will be Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt in the Hillman-esque ‘mix and match’ scenario. Fifth outfielder? Well, we all are going to have to learn how to both say and spell Jason Bourgeois as Jarrod Dyson was sent down before Sunday’s game as well.
Now, on the Dyson front the reason was not so thinly veiled by Ned Yost: “He still hits too many fly balls.” To me, that is a pretty obvious indication that the Royals want Dyson to slap and run and Jarrod still wants to swing away. Some guys never get it, some guys turn into Willie Wilson (and it took Willie a good two years to figure that out as well). While Bourgeois does not bring that late inning, game changing ability that Dyson does in the role of pinch runner extraordinaire, he theoretically gives the Royals better bench flexibility (right handed hitter and some idea where to stand at second or third base).
We are talking the fifth outfielder and pinch runner on a team that is hoping to win half its games this year: not a big deal one way or the other.
The stunning news, of course, was the demotion of Johnny Giavotella. Over the past week to ten days, I had the feeling that someone other than Johnny was going to man second base to start the season, but I was surprised that the decision came this early. We can micro-analyze/criticize Yost’s public comments on this, as they are conflicting at times, but that is not going to get us anywhere.
The truth is, the Royals opted for defense over potential. Sure, Chris Getz has a new approach at the plate and looks like a different ballplayer and, well, who doesn’t love Yuniesky Betancourt? The truth, however, is that Getz still has just one extra base hit this spring and Yuni’s on-base percentage is still a very reminiscent .283. While Giavotella posted similarly uninspiring offensive numbers, Yost himself said that ‘there is no question Giavotella will hit’.
This all came down to defense. And let’s not get carried way here: we are talking about just competent defense. Chris Getz is an average second baseman in the field, who committed a couple of noteworthy gaffes turning the pivot on late inning potential double plays early last season. I can find a metric that says Getz is below average and another that says he is a little above. We all watch the games (contrary to what some might believe) and Chris Getz, to the untrained eye, is a very average defensive second baseman.
Few of us have seen Yuniesky Betancourt play second, but he has impressed Yost at that position. He would certainly not be the first poor defensive shortstop to move across the bag and become a good second baseman (Mark Grudzielanek anyone?), so I am going to assume Yost is not just blowing sunshine in this respect. The fact remains, Yuni better be a good defender because that .280/.290 OBP is going to suck the life out of the lower third of the batter order no matter how many grand slams he hits.
Therein, lies the bottom line: Dayton Moore loves pitching and defense. The Royals are going to be extremely solid up the middle defensively. We know what Alcides Escobar can do and Humberto Quintero is an excellent defensive catcher. Nothing has happened thus far to lead us to believe that Lorenzo Cain will not be an upgrade in the field over Melky Cabrera and, at minimum, Getz/Betancourt should be average at second. That’s great, except that all four have to bat as well.
Lorenzo Cain has mashed this spring and sports a minor league resume that would support that the man can hit. That said, there is concern that Cain has long swing and long swings have holes and holes get exploited (get your mind out of the gutter) at the major league level. I have high hopes for Cain, but how comfortable are you banking on the fact that he is the surest thing offensively of the four up the middle defenders?
Like me, the Royals are looking for Cain to hit and Escobar to hit better than he did. Like me, they are prepared to live with Quintero’s bat to get his glove behind the plate until Salvador Perez comes back (I have to believe that Quintero will be playing a lot more than Pena by the time we get to May). Unlike me, the Royals have placed enough of a premium on defense at second to not get another potential offensive bat into their lineup in Giavotella.
Listen, I understand the arguments against Giavotella and I will not really dispute them. The guy might just be THAT horrible defensively and yes, he has yet to show he can hit major league hitting. Quite frankly, neither has Getz or Betancourt, but I digress. What I will disagree with is the general theory behind it all.
The 2012 season was going to be a tenuous flirtation with contention, if the Royals even sniffed it all, but whatever hopes were based on this young team scoring a lot of runs. It is assumed that Alex Gordon will be who he was in 2011 and that Eric Hosmer will blossom into a star. You can pretty much bank that Billy Butler will hit .300 with an on-base percentage pushing towards .400. It was assumed that Jeff Francouer will maintain the production he gave the team last year and that Mike Moustakas will add pop.
That is a LOT of assumptions before you even get to Escobar, Cain and Giavotella, but if you are going to assume to have offense, why not go the entire way? If you have a suspect rotation and a great bullpen, as the Royals do, that bullpen can have a lot more impact if your offense has five runs on the board by the sixth inning. That is really the scenario that gets the Royals on a winning record: score enough runs to be in the game when it goes to the bullpens and get the game to the other team’s bullpen as soon as possible.
The Phillies can plan on winning 3-1 games with regularity, the Royals cannot. They need to play (and win) 7-5 games. If that is the way to win games for this team, this year, then it would make sense to put your best offensive potential onto the field as often as possible. I will freely admit, that Johnny Giavotella is ALL potential at this point and has yet to offer any ACTUAL production, but he does offer potential.
The upside to letting Giavotella try to hit major league pitching somewhere into mid-summer (and potentially help the Royals ‘hang around’ the top of the division) would seem to outweigh the downside of his poor defense. If the Royals get to July with Cain hitting, Moustakas hitting, Escobar not flailing and Perez coming back, and Giavotella is still floundering along at .231, then they could opt for defense at that position, but it seems odd to make that move now.
Getz has an option and Betancourt was going to be on the team no matter what, so there were no roster considerations in this scenario like there are when it comes to the starting rotation. The Royals could have found out about Giavotella’s bat and maybe it would have helped them catch lightning in a bottle to start the year and still have Getz and Betancourt as fallback options this summer.
Certainly, sending Giavotella to Omaha to work on his defense is not the worst thing in the world, but the Royals are banking heavily on the bottom four of Moustakas, Getz, Quintero and Escobar being able to produce something..anything. If 2012 is all about potential and building for 2013, it would seem that not giving Johnny Giavotella a shot to start the season is counter to The Process.