Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Melky Cabrera

My guess is the your recollection of Emil Brown’s time with the Kansas City Royals is not full of warm and fuzzy feelings.  During his tenure, the Royals lost 299 games and fielded some genuinely bad baseball teams.   Warranted or not, Emil had the reputation of being moody, grumpy and even a little foreboding.     In his final year in Kansas City, Brown did not take well to not having an everyday job and let people know about it.     In short, I doubt there are a lot of Emil Brown jerseys hanging in Kansas City closets.

This column is not about praising Emil Brown or lamenting his departure or digging up the ghosts of bad teams of the past.   Let me be very clear before I go on:  I did not particularly care for Emil Brown.   He was an indifferent fielder and absent minded base runner.   A guy who went from non-roster invitee to the Opening Day lineup in the span of one spring training making him an ever present reminder of the state of the Royals back then.   That said, Emil Brown did this offensively in his two years as an everyday player for Kansas City:

Year G 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2005 150 31 5 17 86 0.286 0.349 0.455 0.804 113
2006 147 41 2 15 81 0.287 0.358 0.457 0.815 109

That 2005 team, by the way, had the rather curious composition of four regulars having OPS+ of 113 or better, while the other five had OPS+ of 87 or lower.   No one, was ‘average’ offensively that year.

If I told you that Jeff Francouer was going to hit .286/.349/.455 this season, would you take it?  How about Alex Gordon?   Certainly, those are not ‘set the world on fire’ numbers, but I imagine most Royals’ fans would think that it would be a good year if any of the outfielders who are likely to spend time in the lineup ended up posting such a line.

In 2006, courtesy of at least a statistical improvement in defense, Brown accounted for 3.3 WAR (courtesy Fangraphs).   He was good for 1.5 WAR in 2005.   I would consider the Jeff Francouer contract a success if he provided the Royals with a total of 4.8 WAR over two seasons (assuming he comes back in 2012).   At this point, I would be happy with that much out of Alex Gordon…or Lorenzo Cain…or Melky Cabrera.

After parting ways with Brown (a good move, by the way, as Emil never produced a lick of anything after leaving), the Royals never have had a full-time outfielder not named DeJesus post an OPS over .800 or an OPS+ over 100.  Although, had he not been traded, the beloved and revered Scotty Pods was on pace to do so in 2010 (107 OPS+).   That is three years and a ton of money spent trying to replace a guy who made your Opening Day lineup by as 30 year old minor league free agent who had not sniffed the majors in four years.

Right there is an indictment of how low the Royals’ farm system has been.    Mark Teahen never produced at the plate with any resounding abilities once moved to the outfield.   Jose Guillen was perpetually injured.   Joey Gathright could jump over a car, but couldn’t figure out how to get on base.    We saw Ross Gload, Willie Bloomquist, Josh Anderson and an uninspired Rick Ankiel patrol the outfield at various times.    Through it all, the Royals have never quite been able to replace Emil Brown.

Here’s a fun fact:  other than the 70 games Jeff Francouer played as a rookie, he has never posted an OPS+ over a full season better than those posted by Brown in 2005 and 2006.   Neither has Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon managed to match Emil’s 2006 once in four seasons.

Let’s be honest, I will take all three of the guys mentioned in the paragraph above over Emil Brown, if for no other reason than they are all three to four years younger than Emil was in 2005.   I will take them all, but it would sure be nice if a couple of them would hit like Emil Brown used to.

 

The excitement level around the Royals has risen considerably this off-season and it has very little to do with what people think the 2011 version of the team will do on the field.   In fact, the level of anticipation has grown despite what the record of this year’s Royals is likely to be.

The trade of the team’s ace pitcher, Zack Greinke, actually increased the level of interest – at least in the blogging corner of Kansas City fandom.   It was seen as a final announcement that The Process is really, finally here.    All of that could be gone if we reach July 15th and Lorenzo Cain is still in Omaha, Alcides Escobar is hitting .221 and Jeremy Jeffress has issued more walks than strikeouts, but for now color us all eager for the season to begin.

The Process will likely be immediately evident in the bullpen where Jeffress, Tim Collins and possibly a Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy or others might well break camp with the big league team.   It will quickly have an impact on the infield as well with Escobar already at shortstop and Mike Moustakas due to take over third base sooner than later (not to mention the extension of Billy Butler’s contract).   There is also an excellent chance that sometime during 2011 we will see some of the highly valued young arms make their way into the big league rotation.

With the exception of Lorenzo Cain, however, The Process brings little to the table in 2011 when it comes to the outfield.  It is likely the Royals will filter, sift and flat out hope their way through six players who, excepting Cain, might not figure in any of the club’s long-term plan.       

The roster offers a cluttered group of guys who are trying to rebound, trying to prove themselves or simply indistinguishable from the next player.    One can look at an outfield of Gordon, Cabrera and Francouer and hope that maybe they all ‘get it’, but a logical (or even a Facebook level of logic) well remind you that if just one of those guys becomes a solid above average producer the Royals should consider themselves lucky.

Let’s take a look at the players and try to sort it all out.

Jeff Francouer – Age 27, Bats – Right

  • Career Line – .268/.310/.425, OPS+ 91, Total WAR: 8.0 (6 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2005
  • Worst Season – 2008
  • The one thing we know for sure about the 2011 Kansas City Royals’ outfield is that Jeff Francouer will be the everyday rightfielder: Dayton Moore promised him as much when Francouer signed.   One thing you can say about Jeff is that he will play everyday, or at least as often as a manager can stand to write his name on the lineup card.   From 2006 through 2009, Francouer missed a grand total of 12 games.    His slugging percentage has been in decline since his rookie season and it is a little hard to see Kaufmann Stadium helping that.   Perhaps the best case scenario is for Jeff to get some good luck – as he did in his 15 games with Texas last year or his first stint with the Mets – and post good numbers due to an inflated batting average and get traded during the season.   For now, if he can match his career line and play good defense, he won’t be the worst player in the league.    We know that the Royals are going to give him every chance.

Alex Gordon – Age 26, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .244/.328/.405, OPS+ 95, Total WAR: 4.4 (4 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2008
  • Worst Season – 2010
  • There remains this faint thought through the Internet that Gordon will be traded before Opening Day – nothing concrete, but enough to make one wonder if it might happen.   My gut tells me the Royals, while frustrated, are not ‘Angel Berroa frustrated’ yet and that Gordon will get one last chance to prove he belongs.    Depending on what happens with Melky Cabrera, the team might jerk Alex around in some sort of queer platoon arrangement (which would be a mistake), but they might just put him in left and leave him alone.   For his part, Gordon still remains the most likely Royal this side of Billy Butler to post an on-base percentage above .350 and displayed some encouraging signs that he could be a solid to good defender in leftfield.

Melky Cabrera – Age 26, Bats – Both

  • Career line – .267/.328/.379, OPS+ 85, Total War: 2.6 (5 seasons)
  • Best season – 2006
  • Worst season – 2008
  • Yes, Melky actually was worse in 2008 than in 2010 – albeit not by much.   He played a statistically pretty decent centerfield for the Yankees in 2008 and 2009, but a pretty awful defensive centerfield in 2007 and 2010.   Dayton Moore has all but said that had he known that the Royals would be getting Lorenzo Cain in a trade he probably would not have signed Cabrera.   That’s all fine and good, but there are a lot of us who think Moore shouldn’t have been after Cabrera regardless.   Since 2006, Melky has not given anyone any real reason to think he will ever get back to that year’s line of .280/.360/.391.    While I can envision a reality where the Royals catch lightning in a bottle with Francouer, I tend to believe that Melky’s bottle is broken.   That might not keep him from being the club’s everyday centerfielder to start the season.

Lorenzo Cain – Age 25, Bats – Right

  • Career line – .306/.348/.415, OPS+ 107, WAR: 1.2
  • Minor league career line – .291/.366/.416
  • Lorenzo Cain has the inside track on being my new favorite Royal (that’s not necessarily a good thing, mind you).   He brings good speed (124 steals, 35 caught stealing in the minors) and potentially well above average defense in center.   Some scouts label his defense and parts of his entire game as still ‘raw’ as Cain really did not play much baseball before high school.  Others will point to his high BABIP, but Cain has posted supposed ‘lucky’ BABIP numbers with regularity, so we might just have to start believing them.   If not for the presence of Cabrera, I have no doubt that Cain would be the centerfielder on Opening Day and likely batting lead-off.   As it is, I can see him starting off in Omaha or, worse, playing three times a week  in the majors.   Hey, if Ned Yost wants to sit Gordon once a week against a tough lefty and Francouer once a week against a tough righthander and Cain once a week just because, that would seem to be enough playing time for Melky Cabrera, but this is the Royals and that sentence just seemed to make sense, so….

Gregor Blanco – Age 27, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .258/.358/.324, OPS+ 85, Total WAR: 1.9 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009
  • Blanco is solid average in centerfield, with good speed on the bases and some decent on-base skills, but little power.   If Alex Gordon was a star and Jeff Francouer the same guy he was at age twenty-one, Blanco would fit just fine in center and batting 8th or 9th.  As it is, like Mitch Maier, he is a touch above replacement level, but not enough so to get anyone excited about whether he makes the team or not.

Mitch Maier, Age 28, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .256/.330/.347, OPS+ 84, Total WAR: 0.7 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009 
  • Look at Mitch Maier’s numbers and then at those of Melky Cabrera and tell me why the Royals felt it necessary to sign Cabrera (even if it was for a modest amount).   Like Blanco, Maier has some on-base ability, but he addsa a little bit of pop while not offering the speed of his counterpart.   The feeling is that Maier’s days are numbered in the organization.   

Jarrod Dyson, Age 26, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .211/.286/.404, OPS+ 87, WAR: 0.6
  • Minor league career line – .278/.344/.343
  • Dyson IS exciting, but not necessarily for what he might become as an overall ballplayer.   He is blazing fast, with more power than Joey Gathright (I know, tallest midget stuff) and a really good arm.   Dyson had tremendous defensive metrics in centerfield, but in a sample size so small that it probably means nothing.   During his cup of coffee last year, Jarrod was on base seventeen times (he homered once – go figure) and stole nine bases in ten attempts.  He is intriguing mostly for his speed, but Dyson has some abilities beyond just being that ‘speed guy’.    I don’t think he can hit enough in the majors to matter and while I thought it might be worthwhile to give him a shot over Blanco and Maier, I don’t believe he will see time in front of Cabrera nor deserve it in front of Cain.

The Royals are funny when it comes to players.   They do not really believe in Maier or Blanco, but I can quite easily see them make moves this spring to not lose them.    Specifically, starting Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson in Omaha (although I wonder where Dyson plays in Omaha if Cain is there as well).   

Right now, I would say it is a 50-50 proposition as to whether Cain or Cabrera is the starting centerfielder.   While little stock is given to spring training stats, Cain could win the job based on just that or he might win by default if Melky gets on Ned Yost’s bad side (a very real possibility given Cabrera’s rumored past ‘bad influence’ in the clubhouse).  

Barring a somewhat shocking trade of Gordon, you can count on Alex, Francouer and Cabrera to be locks for the roster, with one of Blanco and Maier as well.    Should Lorenzo Cain start off in Omaha, then the odd man out of the Blanco/Maier combination gets to live the major league life for a little longer.

So, here we are, some 1600 words into another column and we are going to end up where we have been so many times before:  The Process could really use a breakout year from Alex Gordon.

Mike Aviles probably didn't make contact on this swing. (Minda Haas/flickr)

Last week, I took a look at performance of Royals hitters under batting coach Kevin Seitzer and how they collectively became some of the best contact hitters in the league.  This week, I’m going to examine the results of that contact and what it means going forward.

There have been a number of studies on batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and it’s correlation to contact rate.  If I just had to guess, I would imagine the more contact you make (i.e. putting the ball in play), the more opportunity you would have to test the defense, which would lead to a strong BABIP.  However, those studies have found the opposite to be true.  The guys with the best batting average on balls in play are generally the ones who take a “grip it and rip it” approach.  It’s the home run hitters with the ginormous strikeout rates that usually have the best BABIP – the guys with the low contact rates.  Someone like Mark Reynolds, who owns a career .323 BABIP fits this profile.  And the fact he posted a career low .257 BABIP last year, further shows there are always exceptions to the rule.

Since the Royals didn’t strikeout all that much as a team (in other words, they made excellent contact) while lacking home run of power, it would follow their team BABIP would be lower than average.  However, that wasn’t the case.

Last year, the Royals had a team BABIP of .305, which ranked them fourth in the AL and was 10 points above the league average.  If you believe in regression to the mean (with a “normal” BABIP of around .300), and if you believe the studies on BABIP, you would pick the Royals to fall off their batting average of .274 from last summer.  Of course, since the Royals don’t believe in the walk as an offensive tool, it’s not a leap of faith to think that if their batting average drops, so too will their team OBP.

That will be something worth following next summer.  In the meantime, what about individual performers and their BABIP?  Fortunately, there is the tool known as xBABIP, which is expected batting average on balls in play.  (You can download a calculator here, with instructions for use from The Hardball Times.)  Essentially, xBABIP takes a hitters batted ball rates and calculates (roughly) what his batting average on balls in play should be.  It’s all kind of meta in that BABIP tells us if a player is lucky on his batting average, while xBABIP tells us if a player is lucky on his BABIP.  See?

Anyway, we can look at xBABIP against true BABIP to see who on the Royals was lucky last summer.  Except this team has experienced quite a bit of turnover from September.  So the following table looks at players who figure to be in the lineup next summer for the Royals and who had enough at bats last year to make this exercise worthwhile.  Remember, a negative difference is good (signifying poor luck) while a positive difference could serve as a warning sign that a correction is looming.

Takeaways from this table:

— The new guys (Frenchy, Cabrera and Escobar) are all “buy low” players.  (I know… Shocking statement of 2011… So far.) All three had rotten BABIPs last year and all three should have been better.  Strange as it may sound, we could expect some improvement from Francoeur and Cabrera.  Still, don’t get carried away.  Improvement from Francoeur means moving his WAR from last year’s 0.5 to something like 0.7.  Notice how he’s the only guy on the list with a sub .300 xBABIP.  It’s because again… He’s not good at baseball.

Meanwhile, Cabrera has more upside.  Best case scenario for him would be to post something like a 1.5 WAR.  However, that means either Alex Gordon is gone or Lorenzo Cain spends the summer breaking in the new stadium in Omaha.

—  Speaking of Alex Gordon, there wasn’t an unluckier Royal than the former top prospect.  Hell, I didn’t need to run these numbers to tell you that.  I saw him hit enough “atom” balls last year to know, the dude just couldn’t catch a break.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…  Gordon is the poster child for bad luck.  I’m not going to say he’s going to breakout, but if he plays all year, I could see him come close to a 2.5 WAR.

— Escobar was often overmatched at the plate, but holds some upside based on his batted ball data.  However, having not watched many Brewer games, I can’t tell if his contact was quality or not.  Tony Pena, Jr. could hit line drives, too.  They just weren’t hit with any kind of authority.  I’ll reserve judgement on Escobar until I follow him closer in regular season action.

— Wilson Betemit will not come close to duplicating his 2010 season.  Good thing the Royals are only on the hook for $1 million. That means we’ll see more Chris Getz, who will be at second because Mike Aviles will slide over to third, or that means we’ll see Mike Moustakas.  Hmmm… Decisions, decisions.

— Mitch Maier was who we thought he was.

—  If Billy Butler starts hitting just a few more flyballs, his xBABIP will rise, he’ll hit more home runs and won’t break Jim Rice’s major league record for hitting into double plays.  Win, win, win.

Billy Butler is going to make contact. (Minda Haas/flickr)

The cliche says in order to be successful, you have to take your lemons and turn them into lemonade.  That’s kind of what Kevin Seitzer did last summer with the Royals hitters.  Hamstrung by having to deal with the likes of Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Guillen and Rick Ankiel, the Royals somehow finished second in the American League with a .274 batting average.  That represented a 15 point improvement over their 12th place finish the previous year.

Well done.

The Royals were actually the best team in all of baseball at putting the bat on the ball.  Collectively, their hitters made contact on 93.4% of their swings.  Most teams hover around a 90% contact rate.  For the Royals to be so far above the norm – although just a tenth ahead of second place finisher Minnesota – is pretty impressive.

Here’s the list of the five teams who made contact on the highest percentage of their swings.

A couple of quick notes.  Of course the five teams with the highest contact rate are in the American League.  The DH will always skew studies like this in favor of the junior circuit.  Second, four of those teams finished above .500.

Interesting.

The Royals truly were just an unbelievable contact hitting team last year.  Of course, that contact was slap hits and in the case of Scott Podsednik, those softball-esque swinging bunts.  While the type of contact wasn’t always ideal, you still have to tip your cap to a team that put the ball in play so frequently.

While the Royals were the Contact Kings of baseball, you would think that some of that contact would translate into base runners.  In a way, yes… That did happen.  As I mentioned earlier, their team batting average of .274 was the second highest in baseball.  However, we know that while some of the old school firmly clings to the thought that batting average represents value, we know better.  We know that the name of the offensive game of baseball is reaching base.  And we all know that this is where the Royals had issues.

That’s old news.

Surprisingly, while the Royals collectively abhor the base on balls, they are one of the more selective teams in baseball.  Their swing percentage on balls outside of the strike zone is a modest 29%, which is slightly better than average.  (This shocks me.  It SHOCKS me.  All caps. The Royals were better than average at selectivity? How did this happen?) Here are the most selective teams in baseball:

You know how those Yankee/Red Sox games last five hours?  A long game is the price you pay when your team knows the location of the strike zone.  Of interest to me though is the fact that again, these are some pretty good offensive teams.  Except for Oakland.  I guess there has to be an outiler in every table.

Really, the thing to take away from the previous table is the fact that while the Royals aren’t represented here, they were close – they ranked 12th.  Not great, but certainly above average.
Now, let’s sort of combine the two.  Fangraphs tracks contact rate on swings on pitches outside the strike zone.  Your leaders for 2010:

Now we have more of a mixed bag.  The Rangers and Twins were two of the best offenses in the league.  The White Sox were close to league average.  The Mets were pretty horrible (I know!  Even with Francoeur for part of the season!) and the Royals were likewise below average when it came to scoring runs.

The Royals were making contact last year no matter where the pitcher delivered the ball.  They out-Guerreroed Vladi’s own team – the Rangers.

That was last year’s team.  The new edition features Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera and Alcides Escobar.  Those three all figure to have a considerable number of at bats.

Cabrera, in many ways, is the optimal Royal.  (That’s an indictment, not a compliment.)  He swings at a better than average number of pitches outside the strike zone (33.9% last year vs a league average of 29.3%), yet makes a great deal of contact.  You’re just not going to see him swing and miss very often.  Of course, we could say the same thing about the Yunigma.

Meanwhile, Francoeur is just a bad hitter.  Period.  End of story.  His 43.4% O-swing percentage was the third worst in baseball, behind Guerrero and Pablo Sandoval.  We’ve been over this ad nausem the last month or so, so there’s really not much to say.  Except when a guy has less discipline than Miguel Olivo and Mike Jacobs… Nevermind.

Escobar is a little more difficult to figure, as his major league track record is much shorter than the other two.  Still, in his one full season in the majors, he’s exhibited much of the same traits his new team appears to value.  He doesn’t have a decent idea of the strike zone, yet makes contact when he goes fishing.  Overall, he missed on only 6.3% of his swings, well above the league average of 8.5%.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet that the 2011 version of the Royals offense will be roughly a mirror image of the offense we saw last year.  They are going to be swinging a ton and they will make contact, but it won’t always be contact of a quality kind.  Their batting average will be solid, but their on base percentage will remain at or below league average because of their continued insistence to ignore the base on balls as a viable option.

Is it possible that Dayton Moore doesn’t mind the fact that his team doesn’t walk because his team is making contact? In other words, is he trading the lack of walks for a reduced number of strikeouts?  It kind of feels that way.  While the tables above show there is no sure fire approach that will guarantee success, it continues to elude the Royals.

Fallout

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The dust has yet to settle on the Greinke deal, but there have been a couple of interesting developments on the side since the trade went down early Sunday.  These are just a few things that caught my eye…

What now for Alex Gordon?

So we now have Lorenzo Cain in center field and a pair of free agent acquisitions in Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur.  The Royals also have Gregor Blanco, acquired in the Farnsworth/Ankiel trade.  Along with Mitch Maier.  And Jarrod Dyson who earned a cup of coffee at the end of the season.  And David Lough waiting in the wings.

Unless the Royals petition the league for an exemption to add an extra defender (Given the lousy state of their defense the last couple of years, why didn’t anyone think of this?  It could be the Beer League Softball Exemption.) they will be forced to choose four – maybe five – of these guys to stay on the roster.  Let’s examine this group, one by one.

Jeff Francoeur – Don’t kid yourself.  He’s a lock.  Your right fielder.  So inevitable, it was predicted by the Mayans. And the Incas.

Lorenzo Cain – When the trade was announced, I figured Cain would slide in as the everyday center fielder.  You don’t trade your ace for a player with big league experience, only to have him riding the buses around the Pacific Coast League.  However… This is the Royals we are talking about.  As the Great Poz pointed out, strange things may be afoot… From Ned Yost via Bob Dutton’s article on the trade.

“We’ll see where (Cain) fits in. I’m not projecting anything right now. We’ve signed Melky Cabrera (to play center field), and Lorenzo Cain only has (147) big-league at-bats.”

So this athletic, defensive stud you just received in exchange for your one-year-removed-Cy-Young-award-winner could be edged out my Melky Freakin’ Cabrera?  The same guy who, with over 2,600 career plate appearances owns a slash line of .267/.328/.379?

Look, it’s early.  I have to figure that sane minds will prevail.

What? Yes, this is the Royals. Crap…

Melky Cabrera – Apparently, he’s our center fielder.  Although he broke in with the Yankees as a left fielder and played more innings in left last year for the Braves than any other outfield position.  So it’s possible he could slide over.  Either way, I just remember seeing him butcher play after play in the outfield last year.  He was fat, slow and played like he just didn’t give a damn.  In other words, he’s a Royal.

Plus, you have to wonder what kind of promises or assurances were made to get Melky to come to Kansas City.  He’s started for most of his career, so I’d have to assume he was told he would be part of the everyday mix.  We know the clubhouse mix is important to the Royals and Dayton Moore.  You don’t want to promise something to a guy and then welch on that deal.

The acquisition of Cabrera is another area where GMDM really jumped the gun.  He wasn’t necessary before he signed here.  And now he’s really unnecessary. At least he can take The Yunigma’s place as my least favorite Royal.

Gregor Blanco – Clearly better than Cabrera.  Clearly. While he lacks Melky’s experience (although Blanco is nine months older) he’s shown the ability to reach base and actually steal the occasional bag.  Blanco is the type of player who immediately springs to mind when we think of guys GMDM covets – speedy, slasher type with limited power.  The one way he doesn’t fit the GMDM mold is his career .358 OBP and 12% walk rate.

I’m not certain he’s an everyday player, but he should certainly be in the mix in this outfield.

Mitch Maier – Our Mitch.  He’s out of options and seemingly out of space on the Royals roster.  Meaning he will hit the waiver wire sometime between now and the beginning of the season.

Maier’s value lies in his versatility – he can play all three outfield positions.  That could save him when it comes time to build the roster, but the front office has always been tone deaf when it comes to assembling a complete 25 man roster.  In my mind, he’s a classic fourth outfielder… Decent defender, average to below average offensively, inexpensive and a guy who won’t kill you if he gets into the lineup a couple of times a week.  Useful on the Royals, but they probably don’t realize that.

Jarrod Dyson – The kid showed some crazy defensive skills in center during his September call-up, but was overmatched at the plate.  He has under 300 plate appearances in his career between Triple-A and the majors combined.  He’s 26, so the clock is definitely ticking, but I wonder if it’s too late.

David Lough – DeJesus 2.0 did well in his debut as a regular in Omaha and is a year younger than Dyson.  Placed on the roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, he was positioned to get some playing time in Kansas City next summer.  Until GMDM went on his acquisition spree.  It’s possible he still has a future in Kansas City, but it will have to wait until the free agent studs clear the deck at the end of the season. (Or take a June hunting trip.)

That brings us to…

Alex Gordon – We all know the story.  Injuries, attitude problems and time spent in Triple-A has seemingly robbed Gordon of coming close to realizing his potential.  As one of the remaining holdovers of the Allard Baird regime, where exactly does he fit when GMDM and his brain trust assembles the 2011 squad.  I thought he played an above average left field when he returned from his Omaha exile.  However, his bat never got on track.  Recalled when DeJesus’ season ended in New York, Gordon hit a meager .218/.311/.360 in 243 plate appearances.  Ouch.

Is he the next guy out of Kansas City? I think so.  Like all of Dayton’s moves this winter, this has an air of inevitability about it.  The Royals are frustrated by Gordon, who has ignored all attempts at salvation by the coaching staff.  His stock is dropping for sure… It’s never been lower and we haven’t reached the floor.

But time and again, I come back to the guy not really having had a chance over the last couple of seasons.  It would behoove the Royals to just turn him loose and see what happens.  He could post a miserable line like he did in the second half of the season.  Or he could be league average.  Tough to say.   I do know he needs to just relax and play his game.  We’re not at the point where the Royals can give up on him.  But we’re pretty damn close.

He remains one of the great mysteries of the Royals.

Ideally, my outfield would be Gordon in left, Cain in center and somebody in right.  (I suppose it has to be Francoeur, but it really pains me to say that.)  I get the feeling by the end of 2011, the majority of the outfield time will be Cabrera in left, Cain in center and Francoeur in right.  That’s criminal.

And if I had to rank the outfielders right now, it would probably look something like this:

Gordon
Cain
Blanco
Maier
Francoeur
Cabrera

While The Process continues to roll… There are still too many failures of evaluation at the major league level.

Billy Butler is emerging as the clubhouse leader.

I don’t think anyone really saw this coming.  But with DeJesus gone (not really leadership material anyway) and now Greinke, Butler is one of the longer tenured Royals on the team.  Plus, he came up through the system.  He really is someone who can help the younger guys out – if he chooses.  And indications are he’s more than willing.

Obviously, there’s “Jeffy Ballgame” as Nick likes to call Francoeur.  I know GMDM and the brain trust think he’ll be a leader.  But guys who aren’t good and are on short-term contracts aren’t the type of players the youngsters will look up to.  No matter if they were on the bench during the playoffs.

Breaking up is hard to do.

So Zack arrived in Milwaukee and declared himself the “happiest he’s been since the draft in 2002.”  Ouch.  Then word slowly comes out of the Royals camp that nobody liked Greinke much anyway.  Double ouch.

I’ve always preferred to separate the personality from the performer.  I know there’s going to be some sniping from both sides… It happens all the time.  And it always seems to happen when a guy signs an extension with a losing team and then is surprised when the team doesn’t immediately start to win.  Still, I’m glad Greinke was a Royal.  As I tweeted on Sunday, “We’ll always have 2009.”  Don’t dispute that his starts were some of the most fun you’ve had watching Royals baseball in the last decade.  Sure, the guy is weird and flaky and was notoriously short with the media.  Who cares?  The guy threw some outstanding ballgames.

Of course the counter argument to that is he quit on his team.  Maybe he did.  Hell, I think he mailed in a start or two even in his Cy Young campaign of 2009.  That’s just the way he is.

It’s just Zack being Zack.  It wouldn’t be an issue if the Royals won ballgames.

Zack Greinke is no longer a Royal.  It’s painful to say, and I’m sad to see my favorite player in a long time move on.  You likely already are aware that he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for  Alcides Escobar (SS), Lorenzo Cain (CF), Jeremy Jeffress (RHP) and Jake Odorizzi (RHP).  I know that everyone really likes to read people’s opinions on which team “won” and which team “lost” any given trade and there’s plenty of that all over the internet and Twitter.  If you must know my feelings, I like the trade.  The Royals had to trade Greinke at some point and they got multiple quality players in return.  At the very least, I don’t think many people could in good faith suggest that this trade is a total bomb.  So instead of trying to sell you on why I like the trade or why you should like the trade, let’s talk about what just got a whole heck of a lot more interesting: the 2011 season.

Like anyone else who roots for the Royals, I want to see more wins on the field, and frankly I don’t care how they accomplish it.  Barring a bunch of extra wins, I’d like to at least watch a team that interests me.  Honestly, the last couple of years have been some of the least interesting and hard to root for Royals teams that I can remember.  They were filled with boring players who had no future with the Royals organization.  It was like watching a bunch of hired guns who couldn’t really shoot all that well.  Going out to see Zack Greinke pitch, Joakim Soria close or Billy Butler hit were the lone reasons to get excited.  The Royals did lose one of those marquee names today, but the team just became much more interesting.

For the past year and a half (it seems so much longer) we’ve been watching Yuniesky Betancourt play sub par defense and hit with a woeful bat.  He’s been a daily reminder of the fact that the Royals gave up Minor League talent in order to get, at best a replacement level shortstop.  For many of us, he was the embodiment of a front office who can’t really identify quality Major League talent and over-values certain aspects of player evaluation.  Now that Betancourt is heading to Milwaukee and the Royals got Alcides Escobar in return, the position just became interesting.  Escobar is known as a very good defender who has the ability to be elite.  He has struggled throughout his career with the bat, but did show some signs of putting it together in the upper Minors.  He’ll never likely hit for any power, but he only needs to be near average offensively for a SS and he becomes very exciting.  Either way, he just turned twenty four and likely represents the Royals shortstop for the next five years.  This season we will get a chance to see him every single day, hopefully making spectacular plays and also developing as a Major League hitter.  I knew what we had in Yuniesky Betancourt, I’m not sure what we have yet in Escobar, but I’m pretty interested in finding out.

The Royals farm system is light on outfield prospects, and very few are close to Major League ready.  So, we’ve gotten used to Dayton Moore acquiring some free agents on one year “show me” contracts who at best can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.  These are mercenaries of the highest degree, and usually pretty low-rent mercenaries at that.  There isn’t anything particularly exciting about going to see Scott Podsednik Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur for one season in a Royals uniform.  We can still dream on Alex Gordon some, but he is running out of future projection.  Prior to this move, the most exciting part of the outfield was hoping that speedster Jarrod Dyson would get some playing time and suddenly become a completely different hitter.  Once again, after the trade things have been shaken up.  Lorenzo Cain is thrust into the mix, and he’s a 24 year old speedster who has a good glove but also a track record of being able to hit the ball.  In his first Major League season he hit .306/.348/.415.  Not bad for someone who plays a premium defensive position and can swipe some bases.  He’s young, fast and could take a really positive step developmentally in 2011.  When was the last time we could say that about a Royal center fielder?

The bullpen is always a mish-mash of new and old guys, and in general is only exciting when you don’t want it to be exciting.  Watching Joakim Soria come in and close games is one of the true joys of being a Royals fan, so there always that.  However, there is a good chance that newly acquired pitcher Jeremy Jeffress will be a part of that bullpen in 2011 as well.  He can hit 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun and is compared to Joel Zumaya.  I don’t think that he’s a guy I’d want to rely on to close games just yet, but to have him available in the 7th or 8th inning is pretty cool if you ask me.

Last, but not least, the Royals also got starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi.  While he is almost certainly not going to make the Major League team any more interesting, there’s a chance he’s the best part of this whole trade.  He’s a right handed starter who potentially has four “plus” pitches and would have been the top prospect in the Brewers farm system.  How he pitches this year, and how he progresses through the system, along with guys like Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery will be worth watching.  This farm system just went from being a once in a decade type of system to a once in a generation one.

I know that people will still want to debate whether or not this was good enough return for the 2009 Cy Young winning pitcher.  Honestly, I’ll still do it myself.  However, the deal is done and we have to live with it.  I think it’s time to stop using the franchises past errors and bad luck to judge how things are going to go in the future.  The state of the world as it stands today is that the Royals have more talent than any other franchise in baseball, an owner who has been much more open to spending money, and no real financial obligations in the near future.  In other words, they have talent, financial flexibility and money to spend.  When was the last time they had even one of those?  It really is a wonderful time to be a Royals fan, and 2011 is the start.

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catcher (including a series preview),  first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field and center field.

First, as usual, we’ll take a look at the players who got the lion’s share of playing time in right field, and how they hit when they played the position.

Prior to his injury, David Dejesus was having a great year at the plate.  He was getting on base at a high clip, but not hitting for a ton of power.  He was a valuable offensive and defensive asset.  Mitch Maier filled in well when his number was called as well.  He was roughly an average offensive right fielder and from what I saw he was a good fielder taboot.  Willie Bloomquist was Willie Bloomquist, subbing in whenever and wherever he was needed and held his own in the amount of time he was given.  Jose Guillen was surviving his final, very expensive season with the Royals in 2010.  Finally, the Royals realized he no longer had the range to play in the outfield regularly and he only got 21 games at the position.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the American League right fielders are a pretty good hitting group.  A wOBA of .344 would be good for 7th place among left fielders, but it’s 11th for right fielders.  That seems to be a drastic difference.  The Royals right fielders as a unit were in the lower half of  offensive production in the American League, but they were pretty close to being average.  Slugging was a concern, particularly for a corner outfield spot.  Usually, teams like to get some pop from right and left field.

After looking at all of the different fielding positions now, it is clear that the outfield is clearly an area for improvement.  Center field and right field both were below average offensive positions for the Royals in 2010 and were mostly manned by players who likely don’t have a long future with the team.  With that in mind, obtaining an upgrade at one or both positions in free agency is likely a quick way to improve the team.  In fact, that’s exactly what Dayton Moore did at the winter meetings, by acquiring both Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera.

Francouer, however is actually an offensive downgrade from what the Royals did in 2010.  His career wOBA is .314 which would only have been better than the Athletics as a team last year.  It seems pretty likely that Francouer will get the bulk of the playing time in right field in 2011, and while he may be a decent glove, he is an offensive downgrade.

Melky Cabrera will likely be put in center field, but he wasn’t signed when I wrote that review so I’ll just comment on him here.  Offensively, center field was very anemic for the Royals in 2010, so nearly any player would be an upgrade at that spot.  The Royals signed Melky Cabrera to fill that role in 2011 and if he is better, it’s marginal.  In 2010 the Royals center fielders put up a .211 wOBA and Cabrera’s career wOBA is .312.  Cabrera has been inconsistent though, putting up wOBAs in excess of .330 twice (2006, 2009) and sub .300 twice (2010, 2008).  If Cabrera is closer to the .330 than the .300 mark, then he could be a real upgrade offensively at center field in 2011.

The outfield is one of the weaker positions in the Royals minor league system, particularly impact corner outfield bats.  The closest to Major League ready is likely David Lough, who could make a September call up or might make the team sooner if there is an injury or other moves.

From 2008 through 2010, these are the worst players ranked by OPS+ who have accumulated at least 1,500 plate appearances:

Pedro Feliz – 72
Jason Kendall – 72
Yunisky Betancourt – 80
Melky Cabrera – 82
Ryan Theriot – 82
Jeff Francoeur – 83

Dayton Moore has done it again.  (He may not be finished.  Feliz bats right-handed and is a free agent.  He will probably have to outbid Jack Z in Seattle.)  Somehow he has added players to replace areas where the Royals were getting below average offensive production (I’m talking the overall outfield here) and made the team worse.

Sure, Francoeur is just 27. He’s in his prime, right?  Well, sometimes players just aren’t good.  Over his last five seasons, he’s hit .265/.307/.414, averaged 31 walks and 17 home runs.  And even those numbers are misleading… His home run average is elevated by a career high 29 in 2006.  He hasn’t topped 20 home runs since.  Maybe part of that is his outright lack of plate discipline.  Only Francoeur and Vladi Guerrero swung at more than 60% of pitches they saw last year.

Bottom line… He’s just not a good ballplayer.  And with over 3,000 plate appearances since 2006, we know exactly where his true talent level lives.  He may be in his prime, but he’s not going to improve.  He’s reached his ceiling.

Cabrera is equally disappointing.  Over the last four seasons, he’s hit just .264/.321/.377, averaging eight home runs and 39 walks a season.  He’s going to be 26 next year, but his career has been in neutral since 2007.  (Of course, this deal isn’t final at the time of my writing.  Still… I have faith in GMDM.)  Last year, his defense was abysmal and his plate discipline was non existent.  He doesn’t get on base, he lacks power and his speed isn’t all that great.  Why would anyone sign him unless he was a final option?

Dayton Moore just signed a pair of out machines.  Both players received the change of scenery, and both failed.  Again.  There’s no reason to think they will thrive or even be average in Kansas City.

Obviously, I don’t like these signings.  I also don’t like some of the justification I’ve seen from some people trying to explain these moves.  A couple of these need to be debunked…

In the grand scheme of things, these moves just don’t matter.

Normally, I would agree with that, but this is a lineup Dayton Moore has acquired for the “grand scheme” either through free agency or trade:

RF – Jose Guillen
1B – Mike Jacobs
DH – Miguel Olivo
SS – Yuniesky Betancourt
C – Jason Kendall
CF – Ryan Freel
3B – Willie Bloomquist
2B – Tony Pena, Jr.

The “grand scheme” does nothing but illuminate how inept GMDM is at acquiring the services of major league talent.  Am I the only one this troubles?  Surely not.  This scares the hell out of me.  The general manager has been so tone deaf as to how to assemble a major league team since day one.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t mattered because the Royals haven’t been close to third place during this time.  But what happens when the Royals are poised to contend?  We know that successful teams are a blend of home grown players, savvy trades and solid free agent signings to plug a hole or two.  So far, Dayton’s trades haven’t been especially savvy and his free agent signings haven’t plug holes on the roster… They’ve created massive sinkholes.

This is a “lost year” anyway, so what does it matter that the Royals fill their roster with below average players?

To me, this falls to personal preference.  Do you want to watch Mitch Maier do his impersonation of vanilla, or do you want to watch Jeff Francoeur make outs?  My issue here is GMDM has acquired so many boring (and predictable) players over the last couple of years, this is just more of the same.  I’m a fan, first and foremost. I enjoy watching some players more than others… Guys who will take a strike when a pitcher is struggling to locate.  Fielders who glide to the ball.  Heads up base runners.  I love the statistical side of the game, but when I watch the game, I want to see something that entertains and excites me.

The ilk of the Yunigma, Olivo, Kendall and now Francoeur and Melky do neither.

The Royals just parted ways with a player like that… David DeJesus

Frankly, this makes the l’affaire DeJesus look much, much worse.  DeJesus was due $6 million for next season.  Now the Royals have apparently committed close to $4 million for two players who combined won’t provide the production the team would have received from DeJesus.

Fine.  DeJesus wasn’t part of the long-term plan.  He wasn’t going to be around when Project 2012 takes flight.  Here’s the thing… Neither are Francoeur and Cabrera.  These guys aren’t part of any future in Kansas City.

There’s a net savings of $2 million.  And for what?  Wouldn’t it have been preferable to hang on to DeJesus until the trade deadline?  Sure, he got injured last year, squelching any deal GMDM had in the works, but them’s the breaks.  It happens.  Sometimes luck isn’t on your side.  Would the same thing have happened in 2011?  Who knows.  The other option would have been to play out the year with DeJesus, offer him arbitration and collect the draft picks.  He was on the border between Type A and Type B, so with a solid season he would have moved to the positive side.  Would that have been worth the gamble?  I think so.

If there’s one thing GMDM and his scouts have shown they can do, it’s draft.  I’d take the trade of picks over the bounty of Vin Mazarro and Justin Marks.

(Besides, how bad does this trade look right now?  I just feels like GMDM sold low, especially when making the deal prior to the Werth and Crawford signings.  Not that DeJesus is on par with those two… He’s not.  It’s just that the bar creeps higher all the time.  Perhaps by delaying until after some of the top free agents signed, Moore could have upped his return.  Obviously, it’s all speculation… But I can’t help but think that Moore’s continual desire to move at breakneck speed to open the off season has hurt the team.  Again.)

Maybe these guys can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.

Of course the best case scenario has Dayton Moore flipping Francoeur and Cabrera at the deadline for a couple of prospects, in the same vein as the Podsednik and Ankiel deals.  Nobody in their right mind (except maybe GMDM) wants the Scare Pair around for an entire season.  That ignores a pair of salient facts.  First, Podsednik, for all his flaws, actually brought some value offensively to the team.  Ankiel wouldn’t have returned a bucket of batting practice balls if it weren’t for Farnsworth, who was packaged with him in the deal.

If Frenchy and Melky perform up to expectations, there won’t be suitors lining up at the deadline.

And finally Dayton Moore has turned his roster math into advance calculus.

You want a low-OBP outfielder, who bats from the right side with no pop, fine.  Get one.  But two?  Why?  Where do they both fit?  Are we going to platoon (give up on) Alex Gordon?  Is Gregor Blanco on the outs?  Mitch Maier doesn’t excite anyone, but he would probably provide more value than either of the new guys at a fraction of the cost.

The Francoeur to Kansas City move was preordained from the day Dayton took the reigns of the franchise.  Then Melky?  Jeez, pick one and go forward.

This is like Dayton’s recent utility infielder waiver claimpalooza where he picked up Joaquin Arias (who incidentally, was traded for Francoeur at the trade deadline last summer) and Lance Zawadzki.  One… It’s not ideal, but fine.  Two?  Overkill.

Or how about last winter when Dayton signed Ankiel, Podsednik and Brian Anderson to contracts.  Again, this made no sense.

The verdict

There just isn’t any reason to think that Dayton Moore can assemble what could be considered a complete 25-man roster.  Any hope we had of that evaporated a couple of years ago.  By signing Francoeur and Cabrera, it just underscores our lost hope.  A reminder of sorts.

Meanwhile, the minor league system is flush with talent.  We had better hope that a high percentage of that talent hits, and hits big.  Because if the Royals are in a position where they have to surround one or two studs with complimentary players, we know how that’s going to go.  Think Greinke.

The Process is multifaceted.  There’s The Process at the minor league and player development level.  And there’s The Process in the major leagues.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Baseball’s winter meetings concluded this morning and most of the general managers are likely in the air this afternoon.   Expect a light news cycle for all of you/us who have been clicking on Twitter and MLBTradeRumors eighteen times an hour for the past four days.

The meetings ended without the Royals ‘officially’ signing outfielder Melky Cabrera.   That said, you can pretty much book that contract (1 year/$1.25 million) as discussion of it appears via Royals.com.    Nothing gets on there without something coming out of the organization itself.   Besides, do you really think there is another GM out there who is going to swoop in and steal Melky Cabrera out from under the Royals?

I was actually holding off on this commentary until some corresponding roster moves were made, but then read that the Royals do not have to add the officially signed Jeff Francoeur to the 40 man roster until Monday.   So, even with the Rule 5 drafting of Nathan Adcock, the team is officially just at forty players.   Now, come Monday when Francoeur and, almost certianly, Cabrera are added, Kansas City will have to make room for both of them.

That might be an interesting exercise as the usual group of ‘Victor Marte’ types no longer populate the 40 man roster.   While I am not sure that signing Cabrera and Francoeur necessarily improves the Royals, at least the idea that finding room for them will lead to some semi-hard choices does indicate at least incremental progress.   Sort of..

Anyway, back to Melky Cabrera.    Mention was made by Dick Kaegel that Cabrera (a switch-hitter mind you) ‘could figure as the righthanded half of a platoon with Alex Gordon’.   Let me be among the many to say:  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

For his career, Gordon does have a striking platoon disadvantage (80 OPS+ vs. LHP, 108 OPS+ vs. RHP), but in an admittedly small sample size in 2010 actually posted a 105 OPS+ versus lefties in 2010 (70 at-bats) and only a 77 OPS+ against right handers.   That could just be a fluke or it could be a sign of improvement.   No matter which, not playing Alex Gordon everyday would be a colossal waste of yet another year in ‘finding out’ about the one time phenom once and for all.

Need we even discuss the fact that the switchitting Cabrera actually has a slightly better platoon split vs RIGHT handed pitching as opposed to when he faces southpaws?   No, I didn’t think so.

Here is the bottom line:  Dayton Moore to free agent outfielders is much the same as my wife at Famous Footwear.   Why buy just one when you can get the second pair (or second outfielder) for half off?   Thus, we have Francoeur and Cabrera when probably just one – and I don’t really care which one – would be enough.

While an outfield of Gordon-Cabrera-Francoeur (which is the only alignment that makes sense, unless the Royals really did just pay over one million dollars for Melky to be an fourth outfielder when they already had two cheaper versions on the roster) is probably better than the Gordon-Blanco-Maier alignment they entered the week with, it is not enough better to warrant any delusions of grandeur.   For that matter, it is not enough better to avoid the scorn of all us hated bloggers and commenters.

Truthfully, I can live with Cabrera if the only real price is losing Mitch Maier and blocking Gregor Blanco and Jarrod Dyson.   I cannot live with it, if it means Alex Gordon in a platoon situation.   That maneuever is completely non-sensical for a team that will have to overachieve just to avoid 95 losses.

Now, onto our newest Rule Fiver:  Nathan Adcock.   He’s a big kid, with three pitches – one of which is supposedly a very good curveball.   Throws kind of hard, but not as hard as Elvin Ramirez, taken right behind Adcock, or Aneury Rodriguez who fell to eighth after being projected as a possible first pick overall.  Either of those guys would seem to have a better chance of sticking as the seventh man in the bullpen more than Adcock, who at age twenty-two has yet to throw an inning above A ball.

The above makes me think that the Royals really have no intention of Nathan Adcock sticking on their 25 man roster and either think the Pirates will not want him back when offered or intend to work out some deal next spring to keep him without Rule 5 restrictions.  (You know, like trading Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco to the Pirates)

All in all, the Rule 5 is a roll of the dice and for all I know Adcock will throw 60 inning of garbage work in the majors next season – there will be, after all, plenty of garbage time to go around.   He has some potential as a back of the rotation starter and it never hurts to have a farm system full of arms, so I do not despise the selection of Adcock, but am simply skeptical of it.    Let’s put it this way, when the first of January comes around and I do my monthly projection of the 2011 Opening Day roster, Nathan Adcock will not be on it.

By the way, that January 1 post:   don’t expect Zack Greinke to be on it, either.

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