Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Mike Moustakas

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?

The All-Star Break means it’s time to hand out the annual Royals Authority first half report cards.

There are no exams or assignments… Grading is subjective and based on a soft curve. Players are listed in a positional order from Baseball Reference with their slash stats and Fangraphs WAR.

Matt Treanor
.220/.354/.308
0.9 WAR

Key Stat: Treanor leads the team with a 15% walk rate.

Coach T has been everything the Royals could have hoped when they acquired him from Texas prior to the start of the season. He calls a good game, throws out runners (he’s thrown out 29% of would be base stealers) and is currently third on the team in OBP. Remember, the Royals picked up Coach T only when they came to the realization that Jason Kendall isn’t the most awesomest catcher in the whole wide baseball world, and would have to miss the start of the season. Now that Kendall is down for the year, Coach T will, at the age of 35, post a career high for plate appearances sometime next month.

Grade: B+

Eric Hosmer
.268/.317/.431
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: He’s hitting a home run once every 29.9 at bats, second best rate on the team.

How do you give a grade to a player like this when expectations where so sky-high. Hosmer has yet to live up to the hype, but that’s OK, because he’s going to have a long career ahead of him.

If there’s one thing about Hosmer that’s bothered me in the early stages of his career, it’s his defense. I’ve seen him do some strange things in the field. Take Saturday’s game, when he ole’d a ground ball that really should have been fielded. Sure it was a hard hit ball, but it went right between his body and his glove. The kind of play the Royals minor league defensive player of the year should be making. While I’m on the negative, let’s add the dude needs to lay off the high strike a little more frequently.

Still, he’s 21 years old and holding his own in the big leagues. There’s something to be said for that. This grade is a reflection there is still plenty of work to be done.

Grade: B-

Chris Getz
.259/.320/.291
0.8 WAR

Key stat: He’s scored a run 43% of the time he’s reached base, tops among regulars.

Sigh… Every team has a Chris Getz. He doesn’t do anything notable, except he Plays The Game The Right Way. So managers and front office guys love him. He’s not that good, yet he’s somehow overrated. How exactly does this work?

Don’t pay a word to the Royals when they talk about his defense. Fact is, he’s average to below average with the glove. He has a slow first step and has difficulty moving to his right. His ability to turn the double play is below average as well… He’s converted just 47% of all double play chances this year.

Offensively, Yost has thrown him into the leadoff spot, where he’s horribly miscast. As the leadoff hitter, Getz is managing a line of .183/.266/.220. True, this team doesn’t have a guy who fits the traditional mold of a leadoff man, but we have enough evidence to know that it isn’t Getz. But he has 17 steals, so I suppose we have that going for us.

Aviles would provide more value over an entire 162 game season.

Grade: C-

Alcides Escobar
.250/.290/.328
1.4 WAR

Key stat: Hitting .343/.393/.509 since June 7.

Sometime early in the season, I sent out a Tweet proclaiming Escobar The Shortstop Jesus. I figured it was fitting because he was saving all those runs. (Get it?) (And yes, I realize I’ve ripped off Bill Simmons who refers to Larry Bird as The Basketball Jesus. I’m a polytheist.) His defense has been mouthwatering for much of the 2011 season. It’s been so good, I can’t even remember the name of that stiff who used concrete on his hands and feet at shortstop the last couple of seasons.

Now, about the bat… As cold as Escobar was early in the season, (he was hitting .203/.237/.241 on June 6) he’s been scorching hot ever since. It’s a remarkable turnaround. If he can push his OBP another 30 points higher, we’ll really have something. That might be asking a bit much. Last year in Milwaukee, he hovered around the .300 mark until a September swoon dropped him to his final resting place of .288. But after digging that deep hole early in the season, to get back to a .300 OBP would be a heck of an accomplishment.

I still think it’s hilarious Zack Greinke forced his way out of Kansas City and ended up with the Yunigma as his shortstop as those of us actually loyal to the Royals now have a defensive human highlight reel at short. That gets him a couple points right there…

Grade: B-

Wilson Betemit
.285/.345/.415
0.5 WAR

Key Stat: Hitting .301/.360/.466 vs RHP and .241/.305/.278 against LHP.

Are the Royals a better team with Betemit in the lineup? Right now… Probably. But that’s exactly the kind of short-sighted mess that’s plagued this franchise for 25 years. Once the Royals decided it was time for Mike Moustakas, Betemit had to grab some pine.

Of course, this torpedoed any trade value Betemit may have had, but that value was going to be limited for the key stat listed above. He’s probably best suited as a platoon guy or left-handed bat off the bench. (I know he’s a switch hitter… But if I was a manager, I’d never use him against left handed pitching unless absolutely necessary.)

For some reason, his power is way down this year. He has a 4.3% HR/FB rate compared to last year’s 12.1% HR/FB. As a result, he’s homered once every 66 at bats this year. Last summer, he parked one once every 21 at bats.

Grade: C

Alex Gordon
.299/.367/.483
3.4 WAR

Key Stat: As long as he stays healthy, he will post career highs in every offensive category you can imagine.

He’s dominating… And I love it. Should have been an All-Star, but he can take solace in his grade…

Grade: A

Melky Cabrera
.293/.332/.455
3.0 WAR

Key Stat: Cabrera is walking in just 5.4% of all plate appearances.

The Melk-Man is having the kind of season GMDM dreamed about when he signed him. Just a year ago, he finished at .255.317/.354 and a -1.0 WAR and was cut loose by the Braves. The Royals took a chance that he would be motivated and would rebound, and he certainly has.

The downside of this is he is blocking Lorenzo Cain in Omaha who is hitting .313/.379/.529 for the Storm Chasers. And, Cabrera is a third year arbitration eligible, meaning if he plays a full season in KC, the Royals retain his rights for 2012. Fans may be looking at Cabrera as trade bait, but I’m not so certain the Royals will be offered what they consider “fair value.”

The Royals face an interesting decision on the Melk-Man.

Grade: A-

Jeff Francoeur
.265/.308/.443
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: 37% of all his base hits have gone for extra bases.

The Frenchman has done what we all expected and reverted to his career norm following a hot start where it seemed like he was in the middle of every late game rally for the Royals. Check the numbers… In his career, Francoeur is a .268/.310/.427 hitter. There will probably be a couple of warm streaks from here to the end of the year and a couple of cool stretches as well. He is who he is.

Obviously, he’s playing great defense in right. I have no idea why other teams think it’s a good idea to run on the Royals outfield.

Overall, he’s been a decent enough player for the Royals. His WAR is the 3rd best on the team and for you stolen base perverts, he’s already swiped a career-best 15 bases.

There’s a mutual option for 2012, and the early smart money is that if The Frenchman isn’t dealt, that option will be exercised by both parties. We’ll see…

Grade: B-

Billy Butler
.294/.390/.415
1.1 WAR

Key Stat: Butler’s .352 wOBA is the second best on the team.

Butler is having another Billy Butler season. In other words, he’s doing a damn fine job with the bat.

One thing that’s hampering Butler this season is the fact he’s batting more ground balls. For his career, he has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio, but this year he’s at 1.66 GB/FB. That’s effected his power numbers, as his ISO has cratered to .121. It also hasn’t helped that opposing pitchers are pitching around Butler. His 10 intentional walks are tops on the team. After hitting in the 3rd spot for most of last year, he’s been in the cleanup or fifth spot with no protection behind him in the lineup.

The average DH makes $9 million this year. Butler is earning $3 million. His production is pretty much in the middle of the pack among the nine regular DHs. While the power isn’t there, he’s ripping a line drive 24% of the time he puts a ball in play. Sure, a few more home runs would be nice, but the guy is having another solid season with the bat.

He’s still not a power hitter and probably will never hit for the power fans crave. Get over it. He’s good.

Grade: A-

Jarrod Dyson
.172/.294/.172
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Running 43% of the time there is an open base ahead of him.

Dyson is an electric player, but so was Joey Gathright. They’re the same guy. Except, as far as I know, Dyson hasn’t jumped over a car.

He doesn’t belong on this team. He doesn’t belong on any major league team, although you could make the case to have him on a roster if he could pinch run for a hacking designated hitter type… A guy like Mike Jacobs. Where if you inserted Dyson in a tie game and that spot came up in the lineup with the game on the line in extras, you wouldn’t be kicking yourself for taking out a good hitter and letting weak sauce swing the stick.

And he really doesn’t belong on a team with fourth place aspirations.

Grade as a hitter: F
Grade as a runner: A

Kila Ka’aihue
.195/.295/.317
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Brought home only four base runners out of a total of 72. That’s a 6% conversion rate. That’s awful.

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

Mitch Maier
.294/.410/.412
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

It was clear from the start that Maier would have a difficult time cracking the lineup… Especially after Melky and The Frenchman were promised playing time prior to inking their respective contracts. Not that Maier would be an upgrade, but given the fact he’s rarely moved his butt off the bench, he’s done quite well.

Grade: B

Mike Aviles
.213/.257/.391
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Aviles’ has a .178 ISO, which for a full season, would be the highest rate of his career.

In a little over two months, Aviles had three streaks: Sadly, only one of those could have been classified as “hot.” That landed him back in Omaha once the Royals decided to launch the Moose era in Kansas City. I’m convinced he’ll be back at some point, but it will most likely take a trade to Betemit to have this happen.

As it is, he’s the ultimate Replacement Player for 2011.

Grade: D-

Mike Moustakas
.228/.294/.283
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Moose has brought home just three of 72 base runners.

Moose has struggled since he was called up from Omaha. I don’t think there was anyone surprised by this development. He doesn’t have the natural ability that pushed Hosmer to the head of the Royals prospect class, but he’ll be fine once he sorts things out at this level.

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Davies will finish the season in the Royals rotation.

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

Melky Cabrera will be traded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We will not see Johnny Giovatella this season.

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

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

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

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

Nobody associated with the Royals will notice.

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

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

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

Really. It’s going to happen.

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

Yep… That’s going to happen, too.

The Royals will finish in fourth place.

Because I’m an optimist at heart.

As I get older, I learn to appreciate a few things that would have been unthinkable in my youth…

Add well pitched ballgames to the list.

That’s why I thought Tuesday night’s game was – for the first six innings – brutal.

Trevor Cahill in particular was just awful. He threw 96 pitches, but just 47 strikes. It was the worst pitching performance I’ve seen (non-Royal category) since any Daisuke Matsuzaka start over the last three seasons. And it wasn’t like Cahill was getting squeezed. He was all over the place… I mean, when he wasn’t throwing the ball 55 feet and bouncing it in the dirt, he was airmailing pitches to the backstop.

Cahill has struggled lately. He’s giving up home runs and walking batters like crazy. In his four starts prior to Tuesday, he had thrown 22 innings, allowed 14 walks, five home runs and 15 strikeouts. Opposing batters have been teeing off, hitting .337/.425/.551 against him during this stretch.

I wonder if the Royals knew about this. This is a question I’ll ask again and again, now that the team does all of their advanced scouting by video. What exactly are they watching on these videos? Because if they’re watching the TV broadcast feeds, they’re doing it wrong. I’m sure there are different camera feeds available, but how much of a pain is it to watch an entire game isolated on a starting pitcher to see how he’s standing on the mound, if he’s tipping his pitches, his delivery time to home, etc… And then have to switch to another feed to see how the infielders are positioned, or how the play is made in the outfield. I imagine, if you were doing a thorough scouting job, it would take you six hours to scout a single game by video.

I bring up this scouting issue again, because Royals hitters seemed to take the wrong approach from the beginning.

Take the first inning. Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer saw a grand total of eight pitches. That’s not exactly working the count. Gordon offered at a tough pitch out of the zone, Melky swung at a ball (shocking) and Hosmer offered at a pitch down and away on an 1-0 count that he would have been better off taking.

Not a good start.

The second was, in some ways, worse. That’s because after he walked Jeff Francoeur (which should be a warning sign for anyone watching a ballgame that this particular pitcher doesn’t have it) Billy Butler had an outstanding plate appearance. This was one of the few times of the night Cahill was spotting his pitches. The first three were low and away… off the plate for balls. These were pitches thrown with good intent in that if Butler makes contact with those and puts them in play, he’s grounding into a double play. The Frenchman negates that possibility by stealing second on the third pitch of the Butler at bat. Then, Butler takes two called strikes on pitches low and away, but deemed in the zone by the home plate umpire, Bill Welke. (I’m not sold on the first pitch, but the second one was good.) He fouls one off and then takes ball four.

You now have two hitters who have walked to lead off an inning against a pitcher who has had command problems in the past. You have a young hitter coming up and the lower third of the batting order coming behind him.

You make the call…

If you’re Nervous Ned Yost, you bunt.

Huh?

Bunting in the second inning with your rookie stud, against a starting pitcher with command issues and with Matt Treanor and Chris Getz immediately following? That’s mismanagement of the highest order.

(At least I’m assuming he ordered the bunt. We don’t know because neither the KC Star story or the MLB.com story has this info. I Googled, but couldn’t come up with the answer if the bunt was called by Yost or Moustakas freelanced. The fact that neither game summary included the word “bunt” is slightly surprising, considering the Royals sacrificed three times Tuesday.)

Instead of setting up for a potential big inning, you’re playing for one run in the second inning… Frustrating. And guess what? It worked when Coach T grounded out and brought Francoeur home.

The Royals encountered a similar situation in the fourth. Runners on first and second and no outs, but with Chris Getz at the plate. In that situation, I have no problem with asking Getz to sacrifice – which he did. Because letting Getz hit is a little like asking the pitcher to swing the bat. With a 91 percent contact rate and a 51 percent ground ball rate, he would seem to be a double play candidate. (Although a quick check of the numbers shows this isn’t exactly the case. In 34 double play opportunities this year, Getz has grounded into just one double play. Although it helps he’s sacrificed an AL leading 10 times.)

Again, this sacrifice worked as Alcides Escobar put the ball in play and hit a weak chopper to third. Moose, running on contact, was able to score easily.

I fear this sort of stuff is putting the wrong ideas in Yost’s head.

Anyway, Cahill’s struggles are issues for Oakland bloggers to address, but it seems we have our own problems with Danny Duffy. Everyone will make a fuss over his first major league win, but that glosses over the fact that he really labored in the fourth and fifth innings. In his first 39 pitches (innings one through three) he tossed 26 strikes. He wasn’t helped by his defense in the second when Moose made an error at third, but then was bailed out by The Frenchman and his cannon of an arm in right.

(I tweak the Royals for ditching their advance scouting department, but I wonder if other teams have done the same… Uhhhh, you don’t run on the outfield arms. Unless you want to be thrown out. Does anybody playing baseball ever watch baseball?)

Then in the fourth, after the Hideki Matusi home run, it all went to hell for Duffy. Over his final three innings, he needed 65 pitches and threw only 37 strikes. Not to mention, his velocity really dipped as the game progressed.

Was that the effect of adrenaline? His family and girlfriend made the trip from nearby Lompoc, his hometown. Who knows.

Still, it was a good night for the Royals at the plate. The Shortstop Jesus can suddenly hit and picked up three while driving in two runs. He looks like a different hitter at the plate. Hosmer broke an 0-fer with a pair of hits. And Moose got the first two-hit game of his career. The bullpen was solid as well. Greg Holland had a lock-down seventh, but wobbled in the eighth with a couple of bad breaks before Aaron Crow picked him up. Then Soria finished with a challenging, yet successful performance.

What we do know is that Duffy, despite getting that first win, has a ton of work to do. Same for the manager.

I have been on vacation since June 3rd: out of the country kind of  vacation and hence quite removed from the Royals.   While managing to check the box scores late at night and marginally keep up with roster moves, it was all pretty superficial stuff.   The night before leaving and a full week before Mike Moustakas got the call, I wrote this, so my internet persona remained somewhat topical.

While Craig and Nick carried the load of the MLB Draft, Moustakas and a four game sweep at home to the Twins, I reemerge to a reality where the Kansas City Royals are only six and one-half games out of first place.   What would you have said back in March if told that the Royals would be in that position in the middle of June?   Due to how this situation has transpired, most of us have passed through the euphoria of contending and back into the status quo of wait until next year.

Think about it this way:  since calling up Eric Hosmer, the Royals have gone 12-23 yet lost only two games in the standings.   Those two games, however, have certainly turned the tide (probably correctly) from ‘hey, we can win this!’ to ‘let’s not worry about wins and losses and get set to be somebody next year’.   Listen, I don’t have any idea where this team is going this year, but I am certain that the call-up of Moustakas signals Dayton Moore’s intention to at least be in and stay in the conversation, not in 2013, but instead in 2012.

To Close Or Not to Close

In the span of ten days, Joakim Soria surrendered the closer role, got and back and then notched two saves (one pretty, one not).   In between, Soria pitched five perfect innings, albeit with just one strikeout, but perfect nonetheless.

Alas, Aaron Crow’s career as a Royals’ closer came and went without an opportunity, which was probably good considering he has allowed three runs and four walks in his last five plus innings.    Probably just a little case of rookieitis, but Crow could be possible use a couple of low leverage stints to right the ship.

Right now, is the best pitcher in the Royals’ bullpen Greg Holland?

Rotation, rotation, rotation

What happens this year, next year and the year after that really pretty much comes down to the starting rotation, doesn’t it?

I thought Craig had a very interesting piece on Danny Duffy last week and one has to wonder if maybe a sub-par outing on Tuesday versus a bad Oakland lineup might signal the southpaw’s return to Omaha for a little more work.   I don’t have a big problem with Duffy continuing to grind here in the majors, but could certainly see the logic in return him to AAA as well.    Doing so would also ‘game’ Duffy’s service time as well, but Dayton Moore does not seem to be running the organization with that as a primary concern this year.

The interesting pick-up in the rotation is Felipe Paulino, who was not particularly good over the weekend, but has been quite solid thus far.   In the past, Paulino has had stretches of starts like this, so any expectations for him going forward need to be tempered, but he certainly has done enough to warrant staying in the rotation when Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies return.

With Chen and Davies beginning their rehab assignments, what does this rotation look like in a couple of weeks?   Chen obviously gets back in, probably at the expense of Vin Mazzaro.   Despite seven shutout innings yesterday, Mazzaro’s zero strikeouts versus five walks and a hit batter probably will spell another trip up I-29 (assuming it’s not flooded).

How about Davies?   Does he get back in the rotation and, if so, at who’s expense?

Fun With OBP

We’ll finish up with some ‘did you know?’ on-base information (and yes, I realize most of you actually DO know):

  • Second best OBP of a regular on the Royals?   Matt Treanor’s .361, trailing only Billy Butler.
  • Chris Getz has a better OBP than Jeff Francouer and trails that of Melky Cabrera by one point.
  • In his first three games Mike Moustakas,  not know for taking a walk, has three of them.
  • Not really an OBP factoid, but Eric Hosmer has grounded into just one less double play than Billy Butler.

Tell the truth, how excited are you to have Moustakas and Hosmer at the corners for the remainder of 2011?

Thursday’s game wasn’t on TV, but listening to the radio and following on Twitter, one thing was obvious: Mike Aviles is lost. Poor plate appearances, bad base running, questionable defense… Aviles has it all.

Still, the news was surprising. After the game, the Royals sent Aviles to Omaha and called up Mike Moustakas.

Viva Le Process!

After a slow start, Moustakas is on the rise for the Storm Chasers. Overall, he’s hitting .287/.347/.498 in 250 plate appearances. Like Eric Hosmer prior, Moose has earned his call to The Show.

Several thoughts immediately spring to mind.

— First, by optioning Aviles, the Royals have destroyed the trade value of Wilson Betemit. Seriously, where does he play? You don’t call up one of the top prospects in the game to platoon or to play a few times a week. I know the Royals are trying to sell Betemit as Alcides Escobar’s backup at short, but I’m not buying. Betemit has played 407 innings of shortstop in his career, but hasn’t appeared there in a game since he played 57 innings for the Yankees in 2008. He’s played even less at second, which is now the sole territory of Chris Getz.

Betemit is a good hitter… One of the best on this team. Currently at .290/.350/.409 he certainly would have drawn interest at the trade deadline. Honestly, he probably would have been difficult to move for value given that everyone in the baseball universe knew he was blocking Moustakas and the Royals would be desperate to make a deal. Moving him to the bench scotches that value completely.

— Second, we will never, ever see a pinch hitter for the Shortstop Jesus, Alcides Escobar. As I said, I don’t buy the “Betemit at shortstop” meme the Royals are trotting out. We know Yost places a premium on Escobar’s glove – although he completely oversells the defensive contribution of Escobar to justify his bat. He wouldn’t play Aviles there and that was his best defensive position. You think he’s going to remove Escobar from the game in the late innings and have to replace his glove with Betemit’s? No way that happens. No. Way.

It all comes down again to roster math. Which Dayton Moore fails on a regular basis. As Moustakas warmed up for the Storm Chasers, I thought GMDM would need to move Betemit before he could bring up the prospect. There wasn’t a rush… It’s not like the Royals are contenders, so I figured Betemit would be a goner sometime around the All-Star Game with Moose up after the break. Of course, that makes too much sense.

Aviles can play three infield positions… None of them well. But he’s competent enough to sub from time to time. Now that flexibility has vanished. And the Royals are going to seriously try to win games with a double play tandem of Escobar and Getz playing the full nine innings.

— Third, I question the timing. Why now? I wonder if it’s because the Royals are heading to Anaheim, just down the road from Chatsworth, where Moustakas grew up. Would they call-up a prospect just to give him an opportunity to make his debut in his hometown? Seems kind of… strange. As I said, there’s really no hurry to bring him up right now. Moose has certainly earned the call, but there’s no harm at all in keeping him on the farm until the roster situation gets settled.

Super-two status isn’t an issue here. We’re well past the cutoff date.

— Fourth, the Royals will have to make a move on the 40-man roster to make room for Moustakas. Who gets the chop? Kevin Pucetas has struggled in Omaha, but I wonder if the Royals will expose a starting pitcher. Manny Pina has struggled to hit in Omaha and doesn’t figure in the future anyway. Jesse Chavez kind of stinks. Any one of those guys is expendable and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them removed.

— Finally, what are expectations for Moustakas? He is a slow starter when he moves levels, which isn’t unheard of. I’m thinking he plays the rest of the season at a level in the neighborhood of .270/.325/.450.

Keep this in mind, the third base position in the AL is horrible from an offensive standpoint this year. The average AL third baseman is hitting .234/.305/.369. Their .674 OPS is the second worst when ranked by position, ahead of only left fielders. That’s right, AL third basemen are offensively worse than both catchers and shortstops this year. If (and when) Moustakas struggles, we’ll need to maintain a healthy dose of perspective.

Overall, I’m pleased Moustakas is up and The Process continues to roll. It’s the little things that have me worried. And they will continue to have me worried about the future of this franchise.

Calling up a hot prospect is easy. Managing a roster is difficult.

Is it possible that the most polished major league hitter in the Royals’ lineup is a 21 year old rookie who has played in just 24 career games?   Is that a plus for Eric Hosmer or an indictment of the rest of the Kansas City batting order?

I am in a glass half full sort of mood this morning.   The Royals have righted the ship by taking two straight from the Angels, Billy Butler hit a home run, Alex Gordon has rebounded, Alcides Escobar continues to make play after play…heck, even Chris Getz has not annoyed me for three or four days!    As such, I tend to believe that Hosmer is simply that good.

At last, perhaps, after suffering through the debuts of Kila Ka’aihue and Alex Gordon, to name just a couple, maybe the vision of a prospect coming up and, you know, actually hitting is so unique that it really, really stands out.   Enough so that I decided to see what some past homegrown Royals did in their first 25 games:

  • Eric Hosmer – .291/.327/.515/.842, 6 doubles, 5 homers, 17 RBI
  • Alex Gordon – .167/.314/.286/.599, 4 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBI
  • Billy Butler – .286/.315/.452/.767, 5 doubles, 3 homers, 14 RBI
  • Carlos Beltran – .300/.325/.455/.779, 6 doubles, 3 homers, 16 RBI
  • Johnny Damon – .330/.391/.534/.925, 7 doubles, 2 homers, 15 RBI
  • Mike Sweeney – .250/.369/.353/.722, 4 doubles, 1 homer, 10 RBI
  • Bo Jackson – .207/.286/.329/.615, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 9 RBI
  • George Brett – .216/.244/.338/.581, 6 doubles, 1 homer, 9 RBI

I took some liberties with the above; ignoring the sporadic playing time of the September call-ups of Beltran, Sweeney and Brett in their actual major league debuts, but using Bo’s September as he played basically everyday in the fall of 1986.    Also worth noting is that Johnny Damon also smacked 4 triples in his first 25 games – not sure if you remember, but Damon could really play.

I thought about pulling up the numbers of some of the once ‘sure-things’ that parlayed a good start or even a good rookie season into dismal failure.   However, looking back at Bob Hamelin, Mark Quinn and Angel Berroa runs counter to the ‘glass half full’ frame of mind we are using today.

Twenty-five games does not a career or, even a season make.   That said, Eric Hosmer is off to a better start than most of the other big Royals’ prospects of the past.  Yes, Mike Sweeney was not a big prospect when he came up, but I thought it was relevant to include him.

Some other quick notes:

Felipe Paulino has been fantastic for the Royals in his first two outings (9.1 IP, 0 runs, 0 walks).  Keep in mind, for those of you who think Bob McClure may have made some magical tweak, that Paulino had a stretch of 36 innings where he allowed just 7 runs just one year ago.   Obviously, you have to like what you have seen thus far out of the newly acquired pitcher, but the jury is still out on whether the can maintain it.

Baseball America is projecting the Royals will pick UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole with the number five pick on Monday.   I think that would be a great pick should he fall that far, with the theory being that Cole could make the majors as early as 2013.   While Bubba Starling would be a pick popular with the locals, he is three to four years away from the majors, the smart money would be to take the best college arm available…or Dylan Bundy.    Bundy is the high school pitcher from Oklahoma, who is more advanced than your usual high school arm.   Chances are that he will not even be there when the Royals’ turn comes, but he would also be fantastic pick.

In addition to a Homser coming up and having early success, something else new and unusual is happening for the Royals:  they have a prospect close to major league ready who is legitimatelyblocked by a player at the major league level.     We are all anticipating the arrival of Mike Moustakas, but what do you do with Wilson Betemit?  You know, the Betemit that is hitting .306/.370/.438.   The very same one who in 127 games with the Royals has a line of .300/.375/.484.    That is a nice problem to have and one that is unique in the recent history of Kansas City.

In a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the concern over promoting prospects to the majors and having them become eligible for arbitration as a Super Two will go away.   While the Royals have shown a rather remarkable carefree attitude about early arbitration eligibility  when it came to calling up Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy, one would imagine that not having to worry about Super Two status will be one less impediment to calling up the next wave of promising young players.

That is not to say, however, that on some magical day in the near future (say June 8th) that we will wake up one morning to hear that Mike Moustakas, Mike Montgomery and Lorenzo Cain have all been promoted to Kansas City.   If we truly lived in a Rotisserie world, one could do just that, but in real life there are personality, experience and clubhouse issues to be considered as well as the fact that there are actual humans occupying spots in front of these guys.

One of those ‘humans’ is Wilson Betemit, who just happens to be hitting .315/.379/.465 to follow up on his career best 2010 campaign.   While Wilson has played everywhere but catcher in his career that does not necessarily imply that he actually ‘can’ play anywhere.  That Betemit has played 19 career major league games at second base gets all of us thinking about Moustakas at third, Wilson at second and ‘Man! That’s a salty batting order!’     Except for the fact that supposed defensive difference at second base between Chris Getz and Mike Aviles is likely unnoticeable when compared to the gap between either of them and Wilson Betemit should he wander out to that side of the diamond.

So, what do you do with Mike Moustakas?   After a very tough April, Mike has hit .303/.386/.566 in May and has hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching along the way.   He has not played particularly outstanding defense, but by all accounts will be passable for now at third.   Keep in mind, the Betemit/Aviles combo in the majors has not exactly been defensive fine art this year.

Certainly, Betemit would seem to be a player that might provide value on the trade market, even if trading him would weaken, at least in the short term, any hopes the Royals have for a winning season in 2011.   If a decent deal came along, it would make sense to move Betemit, promote Moustakas and have him get his rookie shakedown cruise over with so he is ready to contribute from the start in 2012.

Of course, do you play for 2012?   If the answer is yes, then the Royals absolutely need to get Moustakas to the majors sometime in June.   Both he and Hosmer could get the ups and downs of their rookie seasons over with and hopefully ready them to be middle of the order impact bats immediately next season.   

Is that realistic?  Is contending in 2012 a high probability?   It better be, because the Royals will have Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, virtually everyone in their bullpen and Mike Montgomery all on schedule to become free agents after the 2017 season.

Montgomery is included in the above paragraph, because the Royals cannot enter 2012 with serious contention hopes without both Duffy and Montgomery seasoned and ready to pitch all of that season at or near the top of the team’s starting rotation.   They cannot expect that to happen without getting both a good 100 innings in the majors this year.     

Given that Sean O’Sullivan has 22 walks versus 16 strikeouts in 45 innings this season, he would hardly seem to be a guy who should be blocking a talent like Montgomery.  Sure, Sean has ‘kept the Royals in games’, but contenders are built around pitchers who WIN games, not keep you close.      With 49 innings under his belt in AAA already this season and only 93 total innings pitched last year, Montgomery (like Duffy) has a limited number of innings to pitch in 2011.   One more turn through the rotation ought to eliminate Super Two considerations and should be more than enough to move forward.

Bottom line, the Royals should either promote both Moustakas and Montgomery by mid-June or wait all the way until late April of nextyear to get them on an entirely different free agency path from that of Hosmer and Duffy.  If you go the service time route, then you are really saying that the Royals truly realistic first year to contend (barring flukes or a crappy division – both possibilities) is not 2012, but 2013.   The argument can be made that 2013 is truly the right choice.

Would it depend on the 2011 team’s record when it comes to making this decision?  I am not sure it does, given that Wilson Betemit is likely to be a greater asset to the ‘win now’ theory in July of 2011 than Mike Moustakas would be.   It is also quite possible that Bruce Chen (assuming he makes it back soon) is a better major league pitcher right now than Mike Montgomery will be.

I really think these decisions need to be made based not on what will happen in 2011, but what the Royals perceive will happen in 2012 and/or 2013.  That is where it gets tricky.   It is relatively easy to make a decision that will impact the nine game road trip that begins on June 10th, but it is harder to discern what impact a decision made now will have on the April 2012 Royals.  

Welcome to Dayton Moore’s world.

Side Note:  I was going to talk about the Melky Cabrera/Lorenzo Cain situation as part of the column today as well, but decided I had reached a quasi-plausible ending point.   Truthfully, I am not exactly sure what the proper call is there, but by Thursday, I hope to have an answer for you.

Episode #054 – In which I discuss the potential fallout from the Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer call ups and when we may potentially see Mike Moustakas and Mike Montgomery in Royal blue. I also discuss my failed trip to Northwest Arkansas to see the Naturals and ruminate on what if any value there is in having a blogger in the press box. All of that, plus a review of the series with the St. Louis Cardinals and a preview of the series with the Baltimore Orioles.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs054.mp3|titles=BBS

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Black Sabbath – The Wizard

Broken Social Scene – Pacific Theme

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The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

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