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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Luke Hochevar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alcides Escobar passes the eye test.

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

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

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

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

That’s Not My Process

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

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

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

Who said this was a bad rotation?

Well, pretty much all of us.

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

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

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

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

Onto Minnesota

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

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

Will it hold?  Who cares?  Enjoy the ride.

We spend a lot of time discounting spring training results and, for those organizations that traditionally are out of it by then, we even view September statistics with a skeptical eye.   An 18-8 September?  Let’s not jump to conclusions.   A great spring?   So what.

Yet, come Opening Day, that one game out of 162 seems to be more than enough for many to draw immediate conclusions:

  • Alex Gordon went zero for five with three strikeouts – same ol’ Alex.
  • Mike Aviles had an error and another misplay at third – that’s going to be a problem, he’s all bat and no glove
  • Kila Ka’aihue didn’t have a hit – he might just have slider bat speed.
  • Aaron Crow struck out three of the four hitters he faced – he’s fantastic, best draft pick ever!

You get my point…or my sarcasm and many of you reading this site know better.   Still, there is that nagging thought in the back of many an astute minds (and my non-so-astute one) that this did feel a lot like the same old Royals.

Although the Royals scored on solo home runs in both the 7th and 8th innings, they also stranded seven runners over the last three frames.  Prior to that, Kansas City was simply throttled at the plate;  not getting a runner past second until the 7th inning.  They committed three errors and allowed the Angels to post their third and fourth runs after getting the first two batters out in the top of the sixth.   Yep, eerily similar to the teams of the past.

That said, it is important to remember that Jered Weaver is good and, against the Royals, he is really, really good.   Over his career, Weaver has a 2.64 earned run average over the 58 innings pitched against Kansas City.    Counting yesterday’s start, Weaver has allowed TWO runs to the Royals over his last 28 innings.   This was going to be a tough day at the plate that just so happened to be Opening Day.

Opening Day, for all it’s excitement and celebrations, is just one game.

Other observations from the Royals 4-2 loss, made with full knowledge that it is, say it with me, just one game:

  • Royals hitters walked six times and struck out ten, while Royals pitchers walked only one and struck out nine.   This team will strike out a lot, so it would be nice if the ability to take a walk also holds and those big strikeout numbers don’t hurt as bad if the hurlers are posting similar numbers on the opposite side of the ledger.
  • Melky Cabrera had three hits and looked (dare we say it?) fit.  Trade him now, his value will never be higher!  I kid…
  • Mike Aviles, a favorite of mine, did kind of do a Bizzaro-Callaspo at third base yesterday.   Let’s remember that Mike has not played a ton of third base – 14 games in the majors, 164 in the minors – and not panic.   Besides, we are just a Moustakas hot streak away from seeing Aviles back at second, anyway.
  • We pretty much knew what to expect from Jeff Francouer and we got it.   A big home run to get the Royals on the board and hideous bases loaded strikeout on a pitch well out of the zone.    We also saw him throw out Jeff Mathis at the plate after the Angels rather strangely challenged the one true plus-skill Francouer possesses.
  • Four hitters does not a career make, but it was fun to watch Aaron Crow slice and dice the Angels wasn’t it?
  • I thought Luke Hochevar had a solid start.   If, as is my hope, Luke is to turn into Gil Meche (the good one, not the wrecked version), then this is the kind of start he needs to post time after time.   He simply is not going to be the guy to stand toe to toe with a Weaver and win.  Hopefully as soon as next year that will not be his role.

Finally, in the ‘who would have thought’ category, Ned Yost used two pinch runners, a pinch hitter and three starters ended the game at different defensive positions.   All that and Matt Treanor plays all nine innings.   Given that Treanor had a single and a walk, this really is not a criticism of Yost.   I am willing to bet, however, that if I gave you that scenario prior to the game, you would almost certainly have to assume that Treanor was the subject of one of those switches.   Baseball, as you may have heard, is a funny game.

Assuming you are not too crestfallen from yesterday, we get a look at Jeff Francis tonight against Dan Haren (who has a 1.99 ERA against the Royals in 50 innings of work).  If Kansas City is going to have something resembling a decent season, Francis being effective is a must.  

Remember, no matter what happens tonight, it is just TWO games out of 162.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like seemingly everyone on the Royals this year, Luke Hochevar is entering his age twenty-seven season.   There is a bit of mysticism surrounding that age in some baseball circles.   At age twenty-seven lights are supposed to come on, career years are to be had, peaks (or more hopefully new plateaus) are supposedly reached.

The Royals could certainly use a breakout season from their Opening Day starter.   Even if Luke Hochevar simply becomes a solid major league starter as opposed to an ace, it would still go a long way towards making the 2011 Royals a little more respectable than what we fear they might actually be.

The question, quite obviously, is can Luke Hochevar become something other than the guy who has compiled a 5.59 earned run average over his first 378 major league innings? 

While it is not an exact science, Baseball Reference offers us comparable pitchers at the same age and it takes something a strong stomach to read the list when it comes to Hochevar’s age twenty-six comparables:

  • Dan Wright
  • Don Schulze
  • Ryan Rupe
  • John Thomson
  • Doug Waechter
  • Jose Acevedo
  • Johnny Babich
  • Mac Suzuki
  • Joaquin Benoit
  • Ryan Bowen

In case you were not sure just how disappointing that list is, only John Thomson managed to have any sort of real career as a starter.  He started 146 games, threw 880 innings and posted an ERA of 4.42 after turning twenty-seven and actually had one very good year (age 30) in the middle of that.   Benoit reinvented himself as a solid reliever and is still pitching, but the rest of that group pretty much spent their age twenty-seven and twenty-eight seasons playing themselves out of major league baseball.

However, if you squint just right and wake up in just the right mood, you can find some other pitchers who might give us some hope:  Gil Meche and Chris Carpenter.

Admittedly it is a bit of stretch, but entering their age twenty-seven seasons, both Meche and Carpenter carried (to then) career numbers that included an average of 6 strikeouts per nine innings and over 3 walks per nine – same as Luke.   In fact, Meche was walking four batters per nine innings.

Now, Meche by this age had tossed 628 innings and Carpenter has hurled almost 800.   Both had career ERA’s a shade below five.   Obviously, they were more experienced than Hochevar and, while neither had yet become the pitcher that would make them a lot of money, Meche and Carpenter had been more successful than Luke.  

Carpenter had a miserable age twenty-seven season (5.28 ERA) that included a stint in the minors and ended in injury.  He pitched in six minor league games in 2003 and then exploded as one of the premier pitchers in the National League in 2004.   Meche, on the other hand, had a decent age twenty-seven season (4.48 ERA in 180+ innings) and parlayed that into his five year deal with the Royals.   He proceeded to be a legitimate number two type pitcher for the next two and one-half years. 

Let’s take liberty with age for a minute and add Wandy Rodriguez to the mix.  In his first three seasons (ages twenty-five through twenty-seven), Rodriguez threw 440 innings with an ERA of 5.17, 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.6 walks.   While older, Rodriguez was roughly at the same point in his career innings wise as Hochevar currently is.   In the three seasons since, Rodriguez had compiled a 3.36 ERA, struck out over 8 batters per 9 innings and walked less than three.

Can Luke Hochevar emerge as another Meche or even Wandy Rodriguez?   Will he sink into his dismal list of comparables and be lucky to have a John Thomson like career?   Or will he simply continue on as Luke Hochevar, the guy who tantalizes us with strings of quality starts followed by a few poor runs?   For that matter, can he even stay healthy for an entire season?  Especially one spent at the front end of a major league rotation.

There is no science in any of the above.   Some of you might come up with better or, depending on how you look at it, worse examples of pitchers at similar points in their careers who went in both directions.   What will happen to Hochevar in 2011 remains to be seen.

Truth is, Hochevar could fall flat on his face and not really have an effect on what Dayton Moore is trying to build for 2013 and beyond.   Of course, should Luke take a step forward into even ‘Meche territory’, it could help accelerate The Process and make even contending in 2012 at least a possibility.

Good to see Billy Butler flash a little spring power.  And Kyle Davies is still putting runners on the bases like a madman.  He’s more than ready for the regular season…

And I’m ready to.  This is the time of the spring where I fall into a little exhibition game fatigue.  OK… I was pumped for the games, but the fact I can’t see them (more on that in a future post perhaps) and the fact they carry little weight mean I begin to lose interest about this time.  Sure, I still check the box scores, but I’m ready for the real thing damnit.

I contend most of the 25 man roster is set.  Clark has been watching it evolve since the end of the 2010 season and I feel he’s spot-on in his recent assessment.  For me, the most interesting (yet useless) competition is for the fifth starter spot.  There are six pitchers gunning for the rotation with Luke Hochevar the favorite to lead a staff that includes Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen, Sean O’Sullivan, Vin Mazarro and Davies.  I know Nick thinks Chen is out of the rotation by July.  Perhaps, but we do agree he will be in the mix at the start of the season.  Hochevar seems a lock, as does Francis.  I’ll include Davies here, too.  So that puts the competition down to O’Sullivan and Mazarro.

I said that was the most interesting battle in camp?  Sigh.

March 31 can’t get here fast enough.

A couple of spring notes of interest…

— I certainly fall into the camp that (most) spring stats are meaningless, but Everett Teaford had better get his act together.  Yeah, it’s just two appearances, but getting hammered for 11 hits and 10 runs isn’t going to get you anywhere… Even in March.  He will get a shot at spring redemption on Wednesday afternoon.

— We finally have a Wilson Betemit sighting as the third baseman started and when 0-4 with two strikeouts in Tuesday’s game.  He’s dealing with a hyper extended elbow from winter ball.  I think the injury, combined with Mike Aviles’ hot bat and improved glove, have Aviles positioned to be the Royals opening day starter at the hot corner.  Unless Chris Getz continues to underwhelm.  Which isn’t much of a reach.

— Getz is 1-14 this spring while Pedro Feliz is 1-13.  As I mentioned with Teaford, I’m not going to put a lot of stock in spring numbers – even when they validate my opinion of certain players.  (And in this case they certainly do.)  However, there’s something to be said about being part of the crowd.  In other words, you are allowed to struggle, but you don’t want to be so putrid that you stand out among your teammates.  That’s what a 1-14 will do… Get you noticed… In the wrong way.

— That fan that got pegged in the eye by an errant hot dog toss courtesy of Sluggerrr was in court on Tuesday.  John Coomer was allegedly struck in the eye by the Yuni-like frankfurter throw and suffered a detached retina and has undergone three surgeries.  When will these teams learn?  If I remember correctly, a vegetarian was clobbered with a hot dog (sans bun apparently) at a Blue Jay game several years ago.  As you can imagine, this caused extreme emotional distress.  (Although how it was worse than watching the Blue Jays, I couldn’t tell you.)  Anyway, the parties seem destined to see this through to the end, with the trial expecting to last to Thursday.

Ever since Major League Baseball has been classifying pitch types and publishing that data on the web, I’ve been fascinated with it. It’s not perfect, but it gives us an idea of how good each pitcher is at each particular pitch he throws. Fangraphs has taken the data a step further and attempted to quantify some of this data futher. There are numerous ways to slice and dice that data, and I’ve attempted one below.

I decided that I wanted to visualize how each of the projected Royals starters in 2011 threw each pitch in 2010. What you’ll find below is a graph I put together using Google Gadgets which attempts to do this. Each dot represents a pitch thrown by one of the 2011 Royals projected starting rotation in 2010. The size of that dot represents how often he threw that pitch. The left axis represents the velocity of the pitch. The bottom axis is the weighted value of the pitch per 100 times thrown from Fangraphs (basically how good the pitch is). If you hover your pointer over each dot, you will see whose pitch it represents. The Gadget also lets you change some of the parameters or just look at certain data points.

What I learned is that no pitcher in the 2011 rotation has a good fastball–every one of them lies in the negative territory. Vin Mazzaro has a good slider and changeup and Hochevar should probably be throwing his slider and changeup a little bit more than he does. What jumps out at you?

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or reach him via email brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

On Monday is was the Moose and Hosmer show as both Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer went deep against the Rangers.  Tuesday, is was Moose and Cain taking center stage as Moustakas drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth and Lorenzo Cain ended the game with a play that has been described as “spectacular” and a “circus catch.”

See for yourself from this highlight reel, courtesy of Desertfan…

(Desertfan has been shooting a ton of video in Surprise.  I hope he’s able to keep it up.  Check out more of his stuff on his YouTube page.)

Every year, there is some kind of litmus test for the Royals brain trust regarding the roster coming out of spring training.  Remember how we were all hoping for Calvin Pickering?  Yeah, sometimes even us stat nerds get it wrong.  OK, so the occasional set back isn’t enough to deter me from picking a player who should be – who needs to be – on the 25 man roster when the team heads north.  I’m anointing Cain as this year’s player.  Cain has yet to make a start and as we know, he has options so he’s a candidate to open the year in Triple-A thanks to Dayton Moore and his eagerness to secure the services of fourth-tier talent like Melky Cabrera.  Still, he would give the Royals their best outfield defender and could fill the leadoff role for the Royals.

Of course, events could conspire that would make Cain a no-brainer.  Like if he had the camp of his life.  Or if one of the other outfielders likely to be a regular went down with injury.  It makes sense to have one too many outfielders at this point in the spring.  But the Royals shouldn’t be shy about eating some payroll if justified and opening the year with Cain in center.

Cain will finally get the start this afternoon against the Dodgers and will hit leadoff. Jeff Francis and Sean O’Sullivan will throw for a couple of innings.

Strange as it may sound, the two Royals I’m going to openly root for to make the team will be Cain and Tim Collins.

I don’t get excited by spring training performances.  These games are more about preparation for the grind of the regular season than anything else.  Although as Tim Kniker pointed out, Royals catchers are a combined one for 13 (he was making a point of small sample sizes, but get well soon JK!)  But this kind of start just fuels my enthusiasm for the real games in a few weeks time.

And it gives me a chance to write a pseudo game recap/analysis piece for the first time since September.  I’m all for that.

— Mike Montgomery and Jeremy Jeffress got their first of spring action and both gave the radar gun a workout as they were both regularly hitting the mid-90s with their fastballs.  Montgomery battled his command when he entered, issuing two walks in the fifth.

— The more things change… Padre starter Mat Latos issued four walks in the first and the Royals didn’t score a run thanks to a caught stealing by Mike Aviles.

— Nice to see Clint Robinson do some damage from the DH spot.  Two hits (a double and a triple) and a pair of RBI.

— I’ve caught the last two games on feeds from MLB.com and listened to Steve Stewart call the games.  Not only is Stewart as vanilla as they come, the same old, “Now we leave you with the sounds of spring” line at the end of every inning makes me want to smash my computer.  Would it kill you to change things up from time to time?  May I humbly suggest, “At the end of the inning, things will be quiet on the webcast because I’m reading the latest from Royals Authority.”

I’m begging you…

— Luke Hochevar struggled in the first and was keeping the ball up in the zone.  He allowed three straight singles before he settled down, made the proper adjustments and started finding his sinking action on his pitches.  Of his six outs, five of them were ground outs to go along with one strikeout.  That’s a very good sign.

Other notes…

— The Royals reached deals with Kila Ka’aihue and Vin Mazarro on Tuesday, which means all 40 players are under contract.  And that means I’ll soon have a new – and final – salary table.  I’m still thinking the Royals are under the $35 million mark for Opening Day.

— Sad story out of camp as minor leaguer Anthony Seratelli’s father was killed in a freak accident while driving on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey on Monday.  The Royals actively engage the families of their minor leaguers, so this is a loss that is undoubtedly felt by the entire organization.  Positive thoughts to the Seratelli family.

— Zack Greinke made his spring debut for the Brewers and talked about the trade.

“I kind of had to play the bad guy in order to do it. It would be nice if that didn’t happen, but the way things were in Kansas City, if I just kept on being the sweet person, the fans would have been outraged if I got traded. I kind of had to be the bad guy. It isn’t always your No. 1 choice.”
He realized he was a fan favorite — “I don’t know why,” Greinke said — and by making his trade requests public, he feels he helped avoid “backlash on the organization.”

Good to know Zack can sling the BS as good as the slider.

— Kaegel has a feel good story on Moustakas.  (Seriously, hire a decent headline writer…) Of course, we all feel good about Moose but this comment kind of caught my attention:

“His way is not set in stone. He’s always open to suggestions, anything to get better, and those are the type of guys that get better,” said Hall of Famer George Brett, a camp instructor.

Paging Alex Gordon…

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.

As you probably heard, the first batch of the 2011 PECOTAs were released on Monday.  The first wave includes a spreadsheet that lists each player and their weighted mean projection for the upcoming season.
A quick word about PECOTA and projections:  They’re fun.  Not gospel.  Just because PECOTA says Kila Ka’aihue will bash 25 home runs, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  And it’s not a failure of the system if he doesn’t hit 25 home runs.  One of the great things about PECOTA is, it breaks down their projections by percentile.  It’s kind of a best case versus worst case scenario for each player.  The percentiles will be on the Baseball Prospectus website in a few weeks.  For now, all we have to play with are the weighted means.

I’m partial to PECOTA because they’ve been around forever (and continually fine tuned)and because I’m an employee of the company.  (Full disclosure and all that.)  I had nothing to do with the projections because I have nowhere near the brain power required to crunch the numbers… Let alone launch Excel.    Just because I like PECOTA doesn’t mean I ignore the other systems that are out there.  They all have their strengths and they all have their weaknesses.  Probably the best thing to do is throw all  the projections into a pot, stir ‘em up and see where the numbers fall.

Kila Ka’aihue
.262/.387/.473
25 HR
1.2 WARP

I posted his home run and on base projections to Twitter the other day and got quite the response.  One of the weaknesses of PECOTA I think is found in it’s projections of players who don’t have a ton of major league experience.

When I saw these numbers, I immediately thought of the percentiles, because this seems awfully optimistic to me.  The funny thing is, Bill James shares PECOTAs optimism, projecting 22 home runs and a .375 OBP for the Hawaiian Punch.  Marcel… Not so much.  Just 10 HR (although in about half the plate appearances) and a meager .325 OBP.  (That’s one of my issues with Marcel.  I don’t want to extrapolate projections for an entire season.  Just assume each player with projections will play a full compliment of games.  Projecting playing time is even more speculative than projecting performance.  Especially when it comes to a player like Kila.)

This gives me an opportunity to mention his slider bat speed.

Melky Cabrera
53% Improve Rate
.267/.323/.375
0.6 WARP

According to Baseball Prospectus, Improve Rate is the chance a hitter will improve at all based on his three previous seasons.  An improve rate of 50% means he will perform the same as in the past. That doesn’t mean that Cabrera only has a 3% chance of improvement.  Rather, it means he’s more likely to build on his performance from the previous three years.  I know… Semantics.

The Melk Man’s Improve Rate is the highest on the team.

One of his comparable players is Gregg Jeffries.  This delights me, because I really disliked Jeffries.  I have the feeling I’m going to feel the same about Melky.

Tim Collins
11.4 K/9

Maybe I just have an irrational affinity for short left-handers, but I’m really excited to see what Collins can do at the big league level.  While I mentioned PECOTA struggles with players with not much major league experience, it’s probably a little easier to come closer for projections with relief pitchers.  Collins’ strikeout rate is projected a tad on the high side for my taste, but I don’t think it’s way out of line.  If he gets 60 innings or so, there’s no reason to think he won’t top 60 punch outs.

I’m extremely hopeful he opens the season in Kansas City.

Bruce Chen
6.5 K/9
Luke Hochevar
6.2 K/9
Jeff Francis
5.7 K/9
Kyle Davies
6.2 K/9
Vin Mazarro
5.8 K/9

PECOTA (and other projection systems I’m sure) nailed this trend that will develop throughout the summer in Kansas City – the Royals just don’t have the horses in the starting rotation to rack up the strikeouts.  This is going to be a problem.

Thankfully, the Yunigma is gone and Lorenzo Cain (if he gets playing time in CF) mean the defense up the middle will be stronger than the last couple of seasons.

Believe me, the defense is going to play a huge role on this team.

Alex Gordon
Comparable Players:  Steve Kemp, Barry Bonds, Roger Maris

This is where PECOTA gets some heat… And deservedly so.  Ignore for a moment that Alex Gordon was listed in the same breath as Barry Bonds.  He was mentioned with Bonds and Steve Kemp?  Seriously?  PECOTA must have been on some sort of 80’s acid flashback.

The comps are a known problem.  Before you flip out (or decide that Gordon has the potential to hold the single season record for home runs… Wait… That would be flipping out) just realize that this is an area that is continually being fine tuned.  And there’s a lot of work to be done.

The moral of this story:  Enjoy the projections, but take them with a grain of salt.  They’re something fun to look at to pass the time before pitchers and catchers report and the games start.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sometimes, they’re crazy accurate.  And sometimes they’re so far off the mark it’s like the numbers were run on an overworked Commodore 64.

Either way, it’s just another sign that the new season is almost here.  Thank god.

Boy, a guy leaves town for three days and he comes back to find that the Royals have signed Pedro Feliz.  

To be fair, the Royals are saying all the right things about the Feliz signing.   He is a ‘veteran presence in camp’, ‘insurance against injuries’ and ‘will not stand in the way of Mike Moustakas’.     All of which makes some sense, especially when just a year ago, injuries to Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon left the Royals with Willie Bloomquist as their opening day third baseman.  

Feliz comes with reputation of a good fielding third baseman (a career UZR/150 of 14.9), although he was below average statistically in 2010.   Offensively, Pedro does not offer much (career line of .250/.288/.410) other than some occasional power.   His slugging percentage has been in nearly perpetual decline for seven seasons:  not encouraging when that skill is all Feliz offers with the bat.

Before we get too worked up, however, this is a minor league deal.  An $800,000 minor league deal, mind you, but minor league nonetheless.   Almost all these types of contracts have some sort of deadline date during the spring in which the team can cut the player loose and not have to pay much of the contract amount, so this is, as Dayton Moore said, ‘a no risk’ deal….theoretically.

Anyway, Feliz aside, it is a new month and time for another draft of the Royals’ Opening Day roster.   Gil Meche juggled the situation some for us and we now have Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen in our rotation.   Only Royals’ fans could be comforted by those two names, but we are who we are.     We are close enough to spring training that this exercise is becoming less guess and more fact, so let’s break it down.

CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Lucas May

Four months ago, I was certain Dayton Moore could not resist the allure of a veteran back-up catcher, but has managed to do so.   Some of that may have to do with reports that Jason Kendall is ‘ahead of schedule’.   I’m sure all of you are anxiously counting the days until his return.   Short of every other pitch going to the backstop with Pena and May behind the plate, I don’t think we’ll see any surprises here.

FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER – Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue

About the only question here is who will be where.   There has been some mention of Butler spending a lot more time at DH, but we will just have to see how it all plays out.   Everyone likes big, tall first basemen target wise, so I like Kila at first and Billy at DH, but won’t throw many fits if turns out to be the other way around.   My guess is they alternate and never really decide.   We know Billy will hit, we don’t know if Kila will, but at last we get to find out.

SECOND BASE – Chris Getz

Mike Aviles is being ‘converted to third base full-time’, so that pretty much answers any questions here.   The Royals are going to take some time to find out what they have in Getz, which is a luxury they can afford this season.   My guess is the length of the ‘look’ is equal to the time it takes Mike Moustakas to hit 10 home runs in Omaha.  Once Moustakas is up, Aviles will likely knock Getz off second and that will be that.   Both Nick and I have a somewhat irrational ‘like’ of Getz, so we’ll be watching his progress (or lack thereof) closely.

SHORTSTOP – Alcides Escobar

Hopefully he looks more like the 12th best prospect in baseball than the guy who used his jersey last year in Milwaukee.   Either way, we will see 150+ games out of him at this position.

THIRD BASE – Mike Aviles

This is likely Aviles’ job to lose as the club is horrified of Wilson Betemit’s glove and should be horrified of Pedro Feliz’s bat.   The Royals never really want to believe in Aviles, but he generally makes them, so I expect Mike to get the Opening Day nod here and hopefully steady duty until Moustakas gets the call.

UTILITY – Wilson Betemit

The Royals have barely mentioned Betemit’s name this off-season.  I don’t know if they are afraid to jinx his outstanding offensive performance of 2010 by talking about it or simply don’t believe in him.   Although Wilson has played just about everywhere defensively, he is pretty much a butcher wherever – better than Esteban German, but then most of us are.   Look for Betemit to get some time at third and in the DH/first base rotation as well:  particularly against tough lefthanders in place of Kila.  

LEFTFIELD – Alex Gordon

Lot’s of talk here, but I think the Royals know they have to give Alex one last shot to play everyday and, well, dominate.   It would be ludicrous for a team destined to win 74 games or less to not give Gordon all the at-bats here.

CENTERFIELD – Melky Cabrera

I know, you don’t like it.  I don’t like it, either, but it seems like destiny to me.   I just have a hunch that Lorenzo Cain starts the season in AAA.   That situation is annoying, but not the end of the world.   Kind of like having Melky Cabrera as your centerfielder.    Cain has this job by June if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

RIGHTFIELD – Jeff Francouer

You’re all just a little curious to see what happens here, aren’t you?   Given Francouer’s ability to stay healthy, you are likely to get 160 games of this in 2011.

RESERVE OUTFIELDERS – Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier

I can actually envision the team keeping Jarrod Dyson and using him as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.   You do not see a lot of that anymore, but it almost makes some sense.   Probably, and barring a lust for Pedro Feliz which is very possible, Blanco and Maier both make this team to start with.   Either one of them probably gives us every bit of what Melky Cabrera does, but they don’t have ‘the name’.   Once Moustakas and Cain get the call, there is a real chance neither one is on the big league roster.   My advise to Gregor and Mitch:  be good savers.

STARTING ROTATION – Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies

This got easy in a hurry after Francis and Chen were signed, plus Davies’ rather amazing inking of a $3.2 million deal.   Sean O’Sullivan and others will get a courtesy look, but this is almost certainly your starting five.   The above listing is my guess at the order.

BULLPEN – Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Tim Collins, Jeremy Jeffress, Greg Holland, Nathan Adcock

I have to be honest, the end of that list is pretty much a guess coupled with my disdain for seeing Jesse Chavez and Kanekoe Texiera pitch.   After thinking Tejeda would be traded this off-season, it appears that will not happen and he, along with Wood and that Soria kid are locks.   After that I think Collins and Jeffress have inside tracks.   I don’t know what more Collins has to prove and my guess is the organization might want to give Jeffress some ‘big league supervision’.    Given where this team is and is going to be for much of 2011, there is little harm in carrying Rule 5 pick Adcock – at least for a while.   As for Holland, his minor league track record is one of an adjustment period at each level followed by outstanding pitching.   We saw some signs of that late in 2010 with Kansas City and I am expecting a big spring out of Greg this year.

An iffy starting rotation and a very young bullpen is something of a volitable combination and I can easily see the Royals shying away from it by going with veteran or quasi-veteran arms in the pen to start the year.   As always the last three spots in the pen are always the hardest to predict.

So, there is your twenty-five.   What’s the record by the end of May?

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