Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Melky Cabrera

Say what you will about Dayton Moore, but the guy doesn’t waste any time. Once the postseason is over, it’s like he’s on the clock, and has to make a move.

Again, he strikes while the recently completed World Series is fresh in our minds. This time he brings a pair of left handed pitchers, starter Jonathan Sanchez and minor leaguer Ryan Verdugo to the Royals in exchange for last year’s starting center fielder Melky Cabrera.

If you were going to select a guy off the 2011 roster to trade, it would have been Cabrera. It’s a savvy move by GMDM, picking a guy off the scrap heap (he was non-tendered by the Braves last winter) and then turning him into a pair of arms after he experienced a career renaissance in Kansas City. Talk about selling high… The Melk-Man was at his absolute peak. I was extremely skeptical that he was going to be able to repeat his .305/.339/.470 performance. It’s going to be even more difficult now that he’s moving to the National League and the Giants.

If the Royals were selling high on Cabrera, you would have to say the Giants sold low on their left-handed starter, Sanchez. He struggled last year for San Francisco, taking two trips to the DL, while hobbling to a final ERA of 4.26 against an xFIP of 4.36 with a 5.86 BB/9. Maybe it was the injuries, but he lost a little giddyup on his fastball as he wasn’t able to break 90 mph on average for the first time in his career.

Royals PR was quick to point out that Sanchez has the third highest strikeout rate among starters since 2006. His 9.36 SO/9 trails only Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw. And his hit rate of 7.02 H/9 is the second best behind only Kershaw. Wow! Sounds excellent, doesn’t it. It’s as if the ace we’ve been dreaming about has fallen into our collective laps.

Not so fast…

What Royals PR won’t tell you is that Sanchez has a difficult time finding the strike zone. His career 4.78 BB/9 is horrendous. And if we’re going to do the whole compare and contrast thing, Sanchez’s walk rate is the third WORST in baseball since 2006, trailing only Oliver Perez and Daniel Cabrera. See… There’s a cause and effect thing at work here. Sanchez’s hit rate is low because batters are either swinging and missing (good) or they’re laying off the wild stuff and taking their base (bad).

When looking at his raw numbers like ERA, remember that Sanchez was toeing the slab in one of the more favorable ballparks for pitchers in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. With it’s expansive outfield and swirling winds off the bay, only Barry Zito could struggle there. Sanchez will be challenged to repeat his modest successes away from San Francisco and the NL. Consider Sanchez the first test for new pitching coach Dave Eiland. For his entire major league career, Sanchez has known only one pitching coach – Dave Righetti – so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with a new tutor. It’s the ultimate “change of scenery” type of deal that could pay dividends. Then again, Sanchez is moving from a pitchers league and a pitchers park… If last year was his “true” talent level… 2012 could be ugly.

As such, Sanchez has made a career out of living around 4 with his xFIP. That’s not great, but it’s solid mid to back of the rotation kind of stuff. Meaning, he’s not a number two starter, rather a number four, with the upside of a number three. And that number three designation is a bit of a long shot. Those control problems have plagued him his entire career. They’re not going to just disappear. Acquiring Sanchez doesn’t elevate the Royals pitching staff. Think of this as simply a band-aid move on the rotation. It stops the bleeding… For the moment. It’s useful, but Moore and the Royals need to seek a better, longer term cure.

This means the Royals – who entered this winter with what appeared to be a set lineup – will now welcome Lorenzo Cain into the fold as the starting center fielder. There are a few question marks about Cain (more on those in a moment) but the one thing we can be certain about is the guy can flat out play defense. He is a huge upgrade over Melky Cabrera in center. Yes, the Royals outfield was defensively all kinds of awesome last summer, but the Melk-Man was absolutely the weakest link. Losing his glove only helps solidify the outfield.

The questions about Cain come with his bat. While we may look at his .380 OBP in Omaha and think we’ve found a leadoff hitter for the future, he walked just 7.3 percent of the time in Triple-A, a number that is extremely low for someone you want in the leadoff spot. He finished with a .366 BABIP, which was well above average and not to mention, accomplished in the PCL, a league that favors hitters. With that kind of plate discipline, it just isn’t realistic to expect that Cain can come close to repeating his 2011 Triple-A performance in the majors in 2012.

Aside from the fact he doesn’t statistically profile as a leadoff hitter, there are several scouts who have been less than impressed with his bat speed and think that Cain has several “holes” in his swing that can be exploited. Of course, since scouting is an inexact science, I’ve also heard exactly the opposite… That Cain is just fine at the plate and will experience little difficulty making the jump to a major league regular.

One side effect of Cain in the everyday lineup that I’m worried about is that Ned Yost won’t be able to resist the speedy Cain at the top of the order. That would be a mistake after the season that Alex Gordon had as the Royals leadoff hitter. I give Yost all the credit in the world for the unconventional move of having Gordon at the top of his lineup card for the majority of the games (although maybe I shouldn’t give him too much credit… It was clear from the beginning of the season that the Royals lacked a “true” leadoff hitter. Gordon was kind of a last gasp attempt that happened to have an enormous payoff.) Cain swiped 16 bags for the Storm Chasers in 22 attempts, but he would be better served by opening lower in the lineup.

Financially, Dayton Moore thinks this trade will be a wash. I agree. Both players will clear around $5 million in their final round of eligibility next year, but Sanchez will probably end up making slightly more money. Maybe that’s why GMDM got Brian Sabean to throw in left handed prospect Ryan Verdugo in the deal.

Verdugo is a little like Sanchez in that he misses a bunch of bats, but has difficulty controlling the strike zone. According to Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, his best pitch is his change while his fastball is average at best. He was a starter last year in Double-A where he finished with a 9.2 SO/9 and a 4.4 BB/9, but profiles more as a situational lefty out of the pen. If that’s the path the Royals choose to pursue with Verdugo, he could be in Kansas City at the start of the season as the second lefty with Everett Teaford getting a shot at the rotation. A clever piece of business by GMDM to get the extra arm.

I know there’s always a need or desire to declare a winner in a trade, but this one feels fairly even to me. The Giants are getting someone who had a great year prior, but will almost certainly regress, while the Royals found a guy who struggled last year but has a enough upside that he’s worth a shot. Both players fill holes on their new team’s roster. I like that GMDM sold high on the Melk-Man and I like that he got a pitcher with potential. While Sanchez may be a long shot to improve, it’s worth it in that he’s around for just a single season at an affordable rate. I’d rather have him in my rotation than Jeff Francis. This move doesn’t make them appreciably better as the team still lacks the front line depth in the rotation that you need to play in October. Still, I suppose Verdugo tips the scales in the Royals favor. Anytime KC can grab an arm that is close to the majors, that’s a plus.

One final thought: If I’m a major league general manager, I keep Brian Sabean in the top three on my speed dial. For sure.

As usual, Dayton Moore strikes early in the off-season.   This morning, the Royals traded Melky Cabrera to San Fransico for starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and minor league pitcher Ryan Verdugo.

Sanchez, a lefty, will turn 29 on November 19th and is arbitration eligible for the last time this off-season.   He made $4.8 million last season, when he threw just 101.1 innings and spent two stints on the disabled list.  Here’s what to like about Sanchez:  he is hard to hit.   For his major league career Sanchez has allowed just 7.7 hits per 9 innings and struck out 9.4 batters per 9 innings.   Here’s what to dislike:  he walks a metric ton of batters (4.8/9 innings).

Hurt in 2011, outstanding in 2010, decent in 2009, not very good in  2008:  that’s a quick summary of his career as a regular major league starter.

Now, Verdugo is kind of intriguing.    He will turn 25 in April and has not been above AA yet.   After being outright dominant as a reliever in his first three professional season, Ryan was moved to the rotation for his AA debut in 2011 and gave up just 115 hits in 130 innings of work, striking out 133 and walking 63.   Frankly, he strikes me as something of a younger version of well….Jonathan Sanchez.

Okay, do you like it or not?

While some might like Wins Above Replacement level (WAR) to be that magic ‘one stat’ that tells us which player is more valuable than another, it is not.  Brett Gardner is a fine player, but his fWAR (Fangraphs) was basically the same as that of Albert Pujols this season.  That does not mean that WAR is useless, just that it is not the ONLY stat when it comes to evaluating players.

That said, WAR is a very good tool.   For position players, it attempts to consolidate hitting, baserunning and fielding into a tidy little package that gives us a general idea of his overall value.   It is not a fail safe option when calculating team wins.  

In 2011, Kansas City compiled a total team fWAR of 39.1 and won 71 games.   Chicago had 40.3 total fWAR and won 79, while Cleveland totalled up just 30.1 fWAR yet won 80 games.  If you want to know how many fWAR your roster needs to contribute to get 94 wins, I can probably find you 15 different answers…in the last five years.   Like I said at the beginning, WAR (be it fWAR or bWAR or some other WAR…good god, y’all) is not the be all and end all of the statistical world.

Here is what I know, if you want to win the A.L. Central, you have to have more fWAR than the other four teams.    Detroit won 95 games the division in 2011 with an fWAR of 48.5 (8.2 better than anyone else).   Minnesota won in 2010 with 94 wins and a fWAR of 49.7 (6 better than Detroit and 6.7 better than Chicago).  Minnesota only won 87 games in 2009, but it was enough to take the Central and their 41.2 cumulative fWAR was 4 better than second place Detroit.

How many fWAR will it take to win the Central?  I don’t know.   How many will it take to win 92 games?  I don’t know.   What I do know, is that the Royals are almost certain to need more than last year’s 39.1.   If you take my approach of last week that Kansas City should not make any drastic off-season moves (unless someone drops a gem in their lap), then what are the possibilities for the current roster to improve on last year’s mark?

Let’s start with the position players, who provided 25.6 fWAR in 2011.   Alex Gordon (6.9), Melky Cabrera (4.2) and Jeff Francoeur (2.9) accounted for 14 of that total.   All three played everyday, Gordon and Cabrera set career high marks and Francoeur had his highest fWAR since 2007.   Kansas City also got 1.1 fWAR from Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain.   If you believe the Royals’ outfield will total 15.1 fWAR again next year, then I have some start-up tech company stock to sell you.

Almost universally, people think it is far more likely that Alex Gordon is more likely to sustain his 2011 performance than Melky Cabrera.   You can count me among them, although I readily admit there is not any real logical reason to have such a clear cut division on two players of basically similar age.   Kansas City can afford to have Melky falter, but they cannot make up for a big Gordon drop-off.   Simply put, if Alex Gordon is a 2.3 fWAR player next year, the Royals are going nowhere.   I don’t think he will drop that far, but I also cannot see Gordon, Cabrera, Francoeur and Cain posting 15.1 fWAR in 2012, either.

Let’s set the outfield aside for a moment and look at three other positions:  third, first and DH.   Billy Butler was the Royals’ everyday DH and provided 1.8 fWAR – the lowest total in three years.   Hosmer provided 1.6 fWAR which we will use to quantify the first base position.  (Without getting too crazy, we know that Ka’aihue provided no value at first – fWAR speaking – and Butler played there when one of the outfielder’s took a half day and DH’d – it’s not exact, but close enough for this rough review).   At third, the Royals got 0.7 fWAR from Moustakas and 0.5 from Wilson Betemit for a total of 1.2.  All told, these three positions contributed 4.6 fWAR last season.

Hosmer is, well he HAS TO BE, the real deal.   It seems as though the question is not ‘will Hosmer progress in 2012?’, but instead is ‘how much will he progress?’.     In addition, Moustakas seemed to ‘get it’ as the season wore on and while he is not a lock to improve, I would say the odds are decent that he will.   I would also expect improvement from Butler, who probably won’t spend the first three months of the season being put off about not getting to play first base.

Is it realistic to say the the outfielder, corner infielders and designated hitter can contribute the same 19.7 fWAR as they did in 2011?  Certainly, the contributions might be weighted more heavily to the infielders than the outfielders in 2012, but I can envision Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler making up the difference from the expected regression (hopefully minor) of the three everyday outfielders.

If so, then the Royals would be looking to Alcides Escobar (2.2 fWAR), the catchers (2.9 fWAR total in 2011) and second base (1.1 fWAR total) to hold the line.   Salvador Perez, who provided 1.4 fWAR himself, might be hard pressed to get to 2.9 in his first full season as a regular, but one can hope that Escobar might hit just a little more and that second base might add a little more as well (not exactly sure how, but we can hope).

At any rate, all of the above considered, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Royals’ position players could contribute close to their 2011 output.  If they do that, then the pitchers need to hold up their end of the bargain.   Wow!  I bet you didn’t see that coming did you?

In 2011, the Royals’ pitching staff contributed a pretty awful 13.5 fWAR.   Felipe Paulino and Jeff Francis each contributed 2.6, Luke Hochevar 2.3, Greg Holland 2.0 and Bruce Chen 1.7 (remember, throwing innings is big part of fWAR for starters and Chen threw just 155).   Joakim Soria chipped in 0.9 fWAR, the lowest of his career (his previous marks were 2.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0).    Those pitchers right there get you to 12.1 of the 13.5 fWAR total.

Danny Duffy’s 0.6 is cancelled out by Sean O’Sullivans -0.5.   Kyle Davies, yes KYLE FREAKING DAVIES, provided 0.7 fWAR which was cancelled out by the negative contributions of Vin Mazzaro, Jesse Chavez and Robinson Tejeda.   WAR, in any form, really does not think much of relief pitchers – which points out how good Greg Holland was in 2011 – and as such, Louis Coleman gets a skinny 0.1, Aaron Crow 0.3 and Blake Wood 0.4.   I do believe that WAR undervalues the contributions of a relief pitcher, especially a non-closer, but that is a debate for another time.

Let’s get back to the starting rotation.   We pretty much know that Hochevar, Paulino and Duffy will be in the 2012 rotation.   Can they better their combined 5.5 fWAR?  To begin with, baseball history is full of young pitchers who are not very good as rookies and take a big step forward in year two.   I think Danny Duffy is likely to do the same.   I am not saying his going to become an ace, but it is reasonable (albeit hardly a sure thing) that he could become a 2.5 fWAR pitcher in 2012.   If Paulino can give the Royals another 2.5 fWAR and Hochevar finally, FINALLY, put it all together and become a 3.5 fWAR guy, the Royals could have 8.5 fWAR out of just three starters – that’s not horrible.  Problem is, that is just one win more than Francis, Paulino and Hochevar gave them last year.

Now what? 

Does bringing back Bruce Chen give you another two wins?  After that, can the number five spot, in combination with the spot starts and injury fill-ins from other starters, get you a ‘barely-head-above-water’ 0.5 fWAR?  You would certainly hope for better, but I am not sure logic will back us up on that one.  Let’s say that Kansas City does gleen 2.5 fWAR total out of the number four through eight starters.    Now, you are at 11 fWAR heading into the bullpen.

Can Joakim Soria bounce back?  If he can, Soria is probably good for 2.0 fWAR.   Then you have Greg Holland coming off a terrific year, Louis Coleman and Tim Collins (0.0 fWAR by the way) setting him up.   Combined, those three accounted for 2.1 fWAR in 2011, you have to get at least that much again in 2012.   Now, the Royals are at 15.1 fWAR out of their staff with the back of bullpen coming into play.   Basically, there was an entire negative win contributed by a bunch of arms last year, which is not uncommon, but it would be nice to avoid.   If the Royals would somehow not have the negative numbers and get another win out of Wood, Herrera, Crow (?) et.al. would that translate into a net gain of 2.0 fWAR?  Maybe….maybe just.

If the above scenario played out, Kansas City would have 17.1 fWAR from their pitchers and another 26 from the position players for a total of 43.1.   Would that translate into a division title?  That is hard to tell, but it almost certainly would get the Royals around or above .500, maybe even into the high 80’s in wins. 

In my opinion, getting an eight at the front of your win total and hoping for some luck and good breaks in 2012 is better than stretching to make a risky deal in a skinny off-season market.   I would rather the Royals shop for that one arm to put them over the top coming off an 84 win 2012 campaign than to do so now, coming off a 71 win season.

xxx

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Alex Gordon – $1.4 million

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

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

Fourth Year Arbitration Eligible
Melky Cabrera – $1.25 million

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

Free Agents
Bruce Chen
Jeff Francis
Jason Kendall

Sigh… Another Kendall sighting. Last one. Promise.

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

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

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

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

Gun Show

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I’ve said this several times in 2011: This is my favorite Royals team in recent memory. Bottom line, it’s just a fun bunch of position players to watch on a nightly basis. Part of the enjoyment comes from the gun show the Royals outfield produces on a consistent basis. Whether it’s Alex Gordon gunning down runners at the plate, Jeff Francoeur delivering perfect strikes to third or Melky Cabrera doing whatever it is he does, the trio of outfielders has been a defensive highlight reel. Amazing fun.

I suspect when we look back at 2011, one of the first things that will jump to mind is the plethora of outfield assists.

With that in mind, here are some cool stats on the Royals outfield:

— Twenty of the Royals outfield assists have come from Gordon in left field. That’s the most assists from that position in the majors. Houston is second with 14.

— We always say something like, “When will teams learn not to run on Gordon (and the Royals)?” when a runner is gunned down on the bases. Evidence shows the opposition is paying attention. Forty-four times this year a runner has been on second when Gordon has fielded the ball in left, and 24 of those times, the third base coach has thrown up the stop sign. That’s 55%. Only Cleveland left fielders are shown more respect, with runners stopping at third 60% of the time. (I have no reason why this would be the case.)

— Cabrera has thrown out only one runner at third this year, but he’s gunned down five runners at the plate.

— Royals right fielders (mostly Francoeur with some Mitch Maier spotted from time to time) have a 5.7% kill rate (defined by Baseball Reference as the percentage of plays where a baserunner was thrown out trying to advance.) That’s the highest percentage among right fielders.

— That percentage is second among all outfield positions. First place is held by Royals left fielders at 6%.

— Assists at home:

Royals LF – 10
Royals RF – 9
Angels RF – 7
Dodgers CF – 6
Royals CF – 5*

The five assists at home by Royals center fielders is tied with several other teams.

— Mitch Maier has one assist.

— Baseball Info Solutions has a number called Outfield Arms Above Average. Basically, it’s a look at the number of runs above average the outfielder was worth based on his baserunner kills and baserunner advances. Here are the leaders for 2011:

Alex Gordon – 11
Jeff Francoeur – 8
Rick Ankiel – 8

Six players are tied at six runs above average.

— Melky is at -1. That’s surprising if you just look at the number of runners he’s thrown out. But the fact is, more runners take chances against Cabrera in center than either of the Royals corner outfielders.

The Gun Show has been one of the more impressive and enjoyable developments of 2011. The good news: The Show will be held over for the 2012 season. We’ll get a chance to enjoy it all over again.

As often mentioned recently, the Royals current roster will, for once, also make up the bulk of next season’s 2012 team as well.  I tweeted last month wondering when the last time was that the Royals batting lineup in August was the same as what it would be on Opening Day of the following season.   Not sure anyone came up with an answer (1998 maybe?).

Given the current situation, one I consider to be a positive situation for the most part, we can look forward to next season and actually start assessing what this team might be now as opposed to, well, six hours before the first pitch of the season.   Who will be better?  Or worse?   Let’s take a look.

The Sure Things

  • Billy Butler – He may never be the ‘prototypical DH’ that some crave, but even with a slow start in 2011, Billy has a wOBA of .358 and is likely to have 60+ extra base hits…again.   He won’t get any faster and his days of playing in the field are pretty much over, but Butler will hit.
  • Eric Hosmer – He won’t win rookie of the year, but I am pretty sure Hosmer is the one guy on the Royals that every single organization in the game would like to have.   His .283/.334/.450 line is a nice major league start for a guy who spent all of six weeks in AAA.  We have seen a lot of young players come and go, but Hosmer has the ‘it’ factor.

A Step Forward or a Moment in Time?

  • Alex Gordon – .303/.376/.502 was what we have all been waiting for, wasn’t it?   Gordon’s fWAR now stands at a spectacular 6.1, making him quite possibly the best leftfielder in the American League.  After four seasons that fell short of the high expectations for Gordon, the question is:  can he do this again?   My guess, my gut feeling is that THIS is Alex Gordon and he will continue on at this level or something near to it.   My heart wants to put him in the ‘sure thing’ category, but logic tells us to be just a shade more cautious.
  • Melky Cabrera – He could go 2-98 next year and still be one of Dayton Moore’s best free agent signings:  that is how good Melky has been this season.  Sure, he is overrated as a centerfielder because of his good arm, but he is not horrible, either.   Raise your hand if you thought Cabrera would be worth 3.3 fWAR.   No one?  Now, raise  them if you think he can do it again.  Yeah, I know, I can’t decide whether to put my hand up or not.
  • Jeff Francoeur – There is nothing wrong with .282/.330/.467 out of Frenchy.   You cannot expect much more and we should all be happy if he can sustain that for the next two years of his new contract.   Will he?  I’m a little skeptical in that Jeff has been prone to ‘fall off the cliff’ type seasons.  Again, it may or may not be logical to be almost certain a 27 year old Alex Gordon has ‘taken the next step’ and be equally skeptical that Francoeur and Cabrera (also 27) have not.  

Destined for Better Things?

  • Mike Moustakas – The swing looks better and the numbers have gone from awful to below average.   Along the way, Moustakas has played better than expected defense (although no one expected much in this area) and kept his confidence.  You would like to see something of a power surge here in September as a springboard to Mike becoming a 25+ home run guy (I doubt he will ever be a big average hitter), but even without a fall hot streak, I will be expected Moustakas to be more of an offensive asset than he has been in 2011.  Frankly, it would be hard for him not to be, right?
  • Alcides Escobar – I am ‘this close’ to buying an Escobar jersey, but am afraid the Fosler jersery jinx might send him into a .221 hitting, error laden 2012.   We saw Alcides have a nice run at the plate and a lot of what happens to him with the bat seems to be attributable to his approach and not actual ability.  In theory, that can fixed.   With the type of defense Escobar displays, he does not have to go much beyond his current .247/.281/.328 line to be good enough.   My gut feeling is that Alcides gets a little more consistent in 2012, but he might also be what he is, too.
  • Johnny Giavotella – Considering how poorly his defense was reviewed in the minors, he actually is not as bad as I thought.  Johnny makes some bad decisions (so does Hosmer by the way) and his hands are the problem.  Range-wise, he gets to most balls and has been working hard at improving himself in the field.   Listen, we have seen ‘brutal’ and it’s name is Alberto Callaspo and Esteban German:  Giavotella is already better than either of them were at second.   At the plate, he has looked better than his numbers reflect, for whatever that is worth and long term, .255/.293/.391 won’t cut it, but Giavotella is no Johnny come lately to successful hitting.   Having hit at every level on the way up, I think he might hit at this level as well.
  • Salvador Perez – I am biased, but Perez is the best young defensive catcher I have seen since – dare we say it – Ivan Rodriguez came up at an early age.  To date, Sal has held his own at the plate as well (in an admittedly small sample size), but truth is if he can totally negate an opponet’s running game and handle the staff he does not have to hit much.  

The shrewd readers of the group will already be thinking that not every young player gets better – especially Royals’ young players, so the odds that everyone above improves or continues to ‘dominate’ are pretty slim.   The Royals’ offense, while inconsistent this year, has been pretty good.  If a player to two elevates and the rest simply hold the line, then this team will be better positionally speaking.

In this series, I’ll be trying to look at what the Royals need in order to become contenders and how they should go about getting it. In part one of this series, I looked briefly at the Royals offense and came to the conclusion that it’s not the teams biggest problem, and isn’t likely to be in the near future. Just look at last nights 18 hit barrage the Royals put to the Tigers for an example. No, we have to take a look at the other side of the game to find the Royals true weakness: pitching and defense.

I see preventing runs as three distinct components: starting pitching, relief and defense. All three are naturally tied together and if one is improved the other two are improved. Teasing out exactly how much each component plays into the overall number of runs given up is difficult, so any statistical analysis here will be of the quick and dirty variety.

Let’s start with the defense. It’s extremely difficult to measure defense and even with the advances made recently, the numbers for a single season are not the most reliable. Looking at UZR, the Royals rank 8th among American League teams in defense. From what I’ve seen watching this season, that sounds about right. I think they are an average team defensively. Going position by position based solely on what I’ve seen and heard I’d go with something like this.

Catcher – With Sal Perez, this position has improved and is in very good defensive hands in the future.

1st Base – Eric Hosmer is very good with the glove and could become an elite defensive first baseman.

2nd Base – Johnny Giavotella is probably a step down from Chris Getz (who seemed a bit over-rated defensively) and is likely a slightly below average defender who could be average.

3rd Base – Moustakas has a very good arm and some good instincts, but his range isn’t the greatest. I don’t see him becoming average defensively, but he is here for his bat not his glove.

Short Stop – Alcides Escobar is Shortstop Jesus. He’s about as good as you can get at the most important defensive position on the field.

Left Field – Alex Gordon has improved noticeably defensively. He still relies on athleticism to make up for mistakes that better defenders don’t make, but he has a great arm and has performed very well. He’s above average now and could get better.

Center Field – Melky Cabrera is a well below average center fielder. He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes, but he can’t get to balls that other guys get to since he just cant cover that much ground.

Right Field – Jeff Francoeur has done a very good job in right field and has the arm to play the position. He’s at worst an average right field defender.

So adding that up we have 5 average to above-average defenders and three below average defenders. The reason that adds up to an average defense is that they have below average defenders at some key positions like 3b,2b and CF.

It’s pretty close if not on par with any contending level defense other than a significant upgrade at center field. and possibly 2nd base. The future of Melky Cabrera isn’t exactly clear and he’s only under team control for one more season. Behind him is Lorenzo Cain who is hitting very well in AAA and is a significant upgrade defensively. Johnny Giavotella is an all-around solid player who can hit the ball well. If he continues to hit, the Royals will be glad to live with his below average defense. However if he were to struggle, or the Royals felt that defense was more important they could look to converted shortstop Christian Colon to take his place.

This was a very rudimentary look at the defense, but the numbers and my eyes tell me that the team is adequate defensively and if it needs improvement then the pieces are available. It wouldn’t make sense for Dayton Moore and the Royals to spend significant (or any) resources in trying to improve the defense in the quest for a pennant.

 

Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

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.

We all knew it was coming and yesterday afternoon it finally happened:  the end of the Wilson Betemit era.

On Monday, I discussed the historical return netted by teams trading Betemit-like players and proposed a couple of options based around the supposed interest of the Milwaukee Brewers.   If you think my analysis of that was in the ballpark as far as realism, then you likely are happy with what Dayton Moore extracted from Detroit.

Sure, neither Julio Rodriguez nor Antonio Cruz are considered ‘prospects’, but they are both very young with some upside.   They are lottery tickets, but they are young lottery tickets.

Rodriguez, who according to Baseball Reference will turn 22 on August 3rd but is reported as being just 20 in the Kansas City Star, is an excellent defensive catcher with suspect hitting.   Most of the concerns seem to be with his approach at the plate, so the possibility exists that he could rectify those issues over time.  Julio’s career line is just .255/.302/.334, but he was hitting .283/.325/.354 in High A this season.     With his defensive skills, it is not a huge stretch to imagine Rodriguez as a back-up major league catcher a couple of years down the road.

All sources agree that left-hander Antonio Cruz is 19 years old (turning 20 in October).    He pitched part of last season, his first professional tour in America, in the Midwest League, so Cruz was thrown right into the fire by the Tigers.   Used as a reliever in 2010, Cruz has started 10 games this season and pitched pretty well:  75 innings, 68 hits, 28 walks and 58 strikeouts.

The guys over at Pine Tar Press have a more detailed write-up of both of these prospects.    They speculate that Cruz had potential to be a future lefty specialist.   

You can condemn the Royals for how they handled the Betemit/Moustakas situation leading up to this trade and I might not disagree with you, but given where they actually were, I think this is a decent return.

Speaking of return, the Twitter world got hopped up last night as Melky Cabrera was pulled mid-game.   As it turned out, Melky had a bit of a stomach ailment and was not traded.     No word, by the way, on where or what Cabrera had for lunch. 

Rumors, however, did have the Royals and Phillies discussing a deal, with Dayton Moore’s asking price being two ‘good’ starting pitching prospects in return for Cabrera.   That is a big price tag and one that is unlikely to be accomodated by anyone, but it is a starting point. 

Jon Morosi of Fox stated this morning on WHB that Melky was seen as the back-up plan for teams that are interested in but cannot acquire Carlos Beltran.   All things considered, I am not sure Cabrera is not a better option for a lot of teams than Beltran, particularly when you consider that any team will get another year of Melky and not just a half-season rental.

If Moore is asking for two ‘good’ starting prospects, does that mean he will settle for one ‘good’ prospect and one ‘live arm’?   That would be my guess and, keep in mind, ‘good’ does not mean ‘great’.   I have grown to like the Melkman and actually would prefer keeping him over Francouer, but if the market can get you say Jesse Biddle and someone else from the Phillies, I think you pull the trigger.

Did Bruce Chen jump up the trade interest ladder with his fine eight inning-one run performance last night?  I don’t know and I am not sure I want him to.   Here is another guy who I thought was a waste of time this off-season and now look at him.    Bruce is low cost and a good guy who would probably fits nicely into next year’s rotation.    More importantly is the simple fact that there is way more buzz around Jeff Francis than Chen.

Arizona is viewed as a possible Francis destination and you wonder, with Stephen Drew going down with injury, if a Francis/Aviles package might actually net a real prospect.    It won’t get you Jarrod Parker or Tyler Skaggs, but maybe someone out of the next tier of Diamondback pitching prospects.

The common theme of this entire column, you might have noted, is that the Royals want pitching.   Nothing new about that as Dayton Moore has traded for pitching in the vast majority of his moves.   His comments on 610 Sports Radio yesterday that it takes 10 to 20 pitching prospects to net 2 to 4 good major league pitchers (or 1 out of every 5 for those of you doing math at home) and his corresponding stance on what he wants in trade tells us that Moore doesn’t think he has enough prospects to meet his rotational needs.

Real quick and without any thought, the top ten pitching prospects in the organization are:

  • Danny Duffy
  • Mike Montgomery
  • Aaron Crow
  • John Lamb
  • Chris Dwyer
  • Jake Odorizzi
  • Jason Adam
  • Tim Melville
  • Will Smith
  • Noel Arguelles

My guess is that you might substitute in several other names instead or could pretty easily come up with at least five more, if not ten.   Dayton Moore is telling you that is not enough.   Given what we have seen in the minors this year, it is hard to argue.   That said, we have to hope that Moore’s demands for pitching will not take him down the path of taking lesser pitching prospects at the expense of acquiring a more talented position player should the offer arise.

Welcome to the trade deadline, Royals’ fans.   We should all be familiar with it by now.   My guess is that Melky Cabrera is traded this month, along with either Jeff Francis or Bruce Chen (but not both).   I would not completely rule out a bullpen arm moving as well, but almost certainly not Soria.

The return for any of those players will be interesting and important.   What Dayton Moore got for Betemit, while decent, does nothing to make the 2012 Royals any better and likely has not impact on the 2013 team, either.   My opinion is that Moore needs to net some pieces that will help both those future squads with the rest of his trade chips this Jul

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

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