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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Mitch Maier

Mitch Maier leads off the inning against John Axford and makes like a cricket batsman.

Axford threw a wicked googly. A little too wicked.

Really, no clue what Maier was doing, but whatever… Down a run in the ninth you have to do whatever it takes to reach base. That qualifies.

Mike Moustakas follows with a rocket down the first base line that first baseman Cody Ransom kicks and his only play is at first. Not an error because he got an out, but it had the makings of a 3-6-3 double play. Moose hit it hard enough and Ransom could have stepped forward to make the throw – he’s left handed, so it would have been a quick transfer – and returned to the bag in time to get Moose. Maybe, maybe not.

So the tying run moves to scoring position. Wednesday’s hero, Alcides Escobar can’t do it two nights in a row and strikes out on a nice slider.

That brings up Jarrod Dyson. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Dyson is a nice player if he’s your 25th man on the bench. I can live with him as a pinch runner and a defensive replacement for a Melky-like outfielder. The dude is striking out looking in 54 percent of his strikeouts. Not good. Tells me the guy isn’t seeing the ball worth a damn. Or isn’t confident in his abilities to make contact.

Thankfully, the bat didn’t leave his shoulder. I mean, if I’m a Brewer fan, that would kill me. Axford has to throw strikes in that situation and the game is over. No way Dyson is making contact and the odds are strong he won’t even attempt to swing. And Axford wasn’t even close.

Which is key because the Royals speed merchant is the winning run.

Thankfully the Royals pinch hit Brayan Pena for Quintero. Pena swings at a high strike, then goes with a fastball and lines it into right left. Maier scores easily, but Pena is going to get hung up between first and second. That was going to be a base running blunder to send the game to extras. Except the Brewers second baseman can’t handle the throw… Dyson had stopped at third and breaks for home. Late throw…

Pandemonium.

Awesomeness.

(I had a moment of clarity this morning on my daily run… There were two outs in the inning and Pena’s run didn’t mean a thing. Maybe the correct play there is for the shortstop to put the ball in his back pocket. To not force the play. Sure, they could have gotten the out, and sure the top of the order was due up for the Royals, but the risk was going to be there that they couldn’t make the play. Which is exactly what happened… However, with first base open, the Brewers could have walked Gordon to pitch to Getz. Pena forced the issue… As I’ve always said, there’s a fine line between aggressive and stupid. There wasn’t going to be any grey area on Pena’s going to second. Turned out aggressive worked… For once.)

It’s possible the end overshadowed a fine performance by Luke Hochevar. I’ve dissected and given up on Hochevar, but give credit where credit is due… His performance was outstanding.

And he did it without his slider. According to PITCH f/x, Hochevar threw a total of three sliders on Thursday. Three. It was his curveball that did the heavy lifting.

He threw 23 curves, 17 for strikes. Five of those were put in play and he recorded three ground outs (one was a double play), one fly out and one lonely single. Yes, he coughed up a couple of home runs, but I’m going to cut him some slack. He was pitching so well and keeping runners off the bases that those bombs were solo shots.

In innings one through six, the most pitches he threw in an inning was 13. The model of efficiency.

His final line:

7.1 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO

That 7.1 innings pitched represents the longest outing by a Royals starter this year. Five times had a starter thrown seven innings (Bruce Chen has done it three times. Felipe Paulino and Hochevar each have one outing.) That’s unreal. This rotation…

And now that the bats have gone back into hibernation, starts like Hochevar are necessary to keep this team in the game. Yeah, I’m Captain Obvious, but if Hochevar has one of his patented meltdown innings, this walkoff doesn’t happen.

But it did.

So there.

Sweep.

Last Friday, I went around the infield and looked at how the Royals offensive production at each position compared to league average. Today, it’s time for the outfield (and DH) to get the similar treatment.

Left Field
League Average – .243/.320/.412
Royals – .230/.324/.364, sOPS+ 85

Alex Gordon’s numbers look very much like the ’09-’10 version of Alex Gordon. That’s the version we thought we’d left behind. At least, we had hoped that version had been left behind after the Royals penned him to a contract extension just ahead of the season opener.

If you’re into arbitrary end points, Gordon did have a fine stretch of 19 games where he hit .321/.398/.487 from April 25 to May 16. That was when we collectively exhaled. Great. Except in the 11 games since then, he’s hit .146/.255/.220.

Although Gordon won’t admit it, I wonder if he’s been unsettled by Yosty’s Revolving Lineup Card. Gordon opened the year as the leadoff hitter (where he had most of his success last year), but when he was slow out of the gate, he was dropped to second, then third, then cleanup and even spent a few games in the sixth spot. In the last three games, he’s returned to the leadoff spot and has picked up four hits in 13 plate appearances. There’s still time for him to salvage his season, but it’s been much more of a grind.

Center Field
League Average – .268/.333/.432
Royals – .236/.312/.322, sOPS+ 70

Aside from the DH spot, the most productive position in the American League so far this year has been center field. And it’s where the Royals have struggled to get any production at all. Jerrod Dyson has seen the most appearances in center, with Mitch Maier with the second most. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Bourgeois have also seen time at the position.

Dyson’s production has been solid as far as reaching base. With a .252/.328/.331 line, he’s proven himself adept at working the count and drawing the base on balls. He still doesn’t hit enough to justify the leadoff spot in the lineup, but like I said… He’s pretty close to league average when it comes to OBP. That makes him a decent fourth outfielder to have on your roster. Look out, Mitch.

Still, this feels like a lost season for Cain. He was supposed to get most of the reps in center, but the injury bug bit him hard. Cain is in extended spring training rehabbing from a torn hip flexor. He’s probably a good three to four weeks away from returning. At which time, the Royals will have a decision to make: Will they hand him back his everyday job in center, or will they write off this season and rotate him with Dyson and/or Maier? Maier is buried so far on Yosty’s bench, he could be the odd man out.

Oh… At this point, I’m supposed to ask, “Got Melk?”

Right Field
League Average – .258/.326/.434
Royals – .276/.320/.443, sOPS+ 96

We know from watching the Royals several certainties: Ned Yost will call for myriad sac bunts in situations where they won’t help his team. The Royals will give the opposition at least one free out per game. And Jeff Francoeur will hit fifth.

Like most of the Royals, The Frenchman got off to a slow start, but picked up the pace of late. In May, he’s hit .327/.371/.582. Most impressive have been his seven walks this month. Currently, he’s walking in 6.2 percent of his plate appearances, which is the highest rate of his career. I think it has something to do with the Mayans. Or a Kardashian. And with five home runs this month, he’s knocking one out of the yard about every 36 at bats, which is very close to his career mark of 32 AB/HR. And this for a guy who didn’t hit his first bomb until May 13 and didn’t hit his second until May 21.

Nice road trip.

Designated Hitter
League Average – .259/.333/.450
Royals – .290/.345/.505, sOPS+ 118

The Royals have utilized two designated hitters all year: Billy Butler and… Johnny Giavotella. Ummm, OK.

We all know about Country Breakfast. And long time readers will know about my affection for the man. Dude can rake. And he’s the only thing – the only thing – that you can count on in the Royals lineup. He will show up every year, drill line drives to the gaps and put up a line around .300/.370/.470.

Except this year, he’s hit a few more home runs.

The party line from the Royals is Butler is finally hitting for more loft. Sounds great, except he’s not. His fly ball percentage is 32.2 percent which is the lowest of his career. The lowest. Yet, the ball is flying out of the part and he’s become the number one threat to wipe Steve Balboni from the Royals record book. How? Maybe it’s because he’s stronger. It doesn’t look like he’s changed his approach as the Royals would like you to believe. He’s swinging at pitches at roughly the same rate. It’s just that the fly balls have a little more charge in them this year.

It’s a nice development.

And as I Tweeted a few weeks ago, if you don’t like Billy Butler, I don’t have a lot of time for you. Sorry. I think he’s a great hitter. And the kind of guy you need on your team.

Country Breakfast is awesome.

I figured that Jonathan Sanchez would have outings where he bordered on horrible. His lack of command combined with his electric pitches, mean he can strikeout a ton of hitters while giving away free bases. It’s like he’s a member of the Flying Wallendas.

Sanchez entered the game averaging 89.6 mph on his fastball this year. On Tuesday in Cleveland, 89 mph was his maximum velocity as he averaged just 87.2 mph. To go along with the drop in speed, Sanchez is moving away from that pitch. Of the 115 magnificent pitches he threw, only 30 of them were classified as fastballs. That’s just 26 percent. Unreal. He’s going away from the fastball in favor of his change-up. As Hudler pointed out in the key at bat against Jack Hannahan, when Sanchez is throwing almost exclusively off speed stuff, they just wait… And wait… And wait.

Sigh. More on that plate appearance in a moment.

Not that Sanchez is any kind of great pitcher. He’s not… Because he can’t locate consistently. However, it’s baffling as to why he would move away from the fastball. Is this a coaching call? Or is this something he’s doing on his own? In the postgame, he simply said he “didn’t have his fastball.” Velocity, location… All of the above. I suppose in the grand scheme it’s accurate that he didn’t have his fastball. He didn’t generate a single swing and miss of the 30 he threw and only 12 of them were strikes. That’s just a brutal pitch. Here’s his velocity chart from Tuesday, courtesy of Brooks Baseball.

That’s the profile of a starter who didn’t leave the bullpen with a full tank of gas.

So the game on Tuesday can be boiled down to two key moments. The first, I already alluded to – the Sanchez matchup against Hannahan with runners at the corners with two down and the Royals trailing by a run.

At that moment Sanchez had surrendered three walks in the inning. It was the second time in the game he had walked three batters to load the bases. Read that previous sentence again… It was the second time in the game Sanchez walked the bases loaded.

OK… So the guy can’t locate. He’s in trouble. And at this point, he’d thrown around 109 pitches and he had practically stopped throwing his fastball entirely. Aside from an Asdrubal Cabrera double in the first inning, he had scattered a few hits… but that’s largely because he wasn’t around the strike zone. Sanchez was fortunate the Indians hadn’t broken the game open by this point.

So in a nutshell, your starter isn’t throwing in a manner he which he normally pitches. He’s deep into a pitch count and losing what little steam he brought with him to the mound. He’s somehow kept the Royals in the game, with a deficit of just a single run. Do you…

A) Stick with him. It’s his jam, let him get out of it.
B) Thank your lucky stars you’re still in the game and pull him for another lefty that’s warm in the bullpen – Tim Collins.

Everyone probably chooses “B.” Except Yosty. He’s such a contrarian.

And as previously noted, a steady diet of change-ups and Hannahan hits a bases-clearing double.

Later in the game you have this situation… Royals are trailing 4-1. Hosmer walks to leadoff the inning, advances to second on a ground out and moves to third on a Moustakas single. Quintero whiffs, so we have runners on the corners and two out. All we’ve heard about is how the Royals have failed with runners in scoring position. Failing to get “The Big Hit.” Naturally, Our Mitch delivers a line drive down the right field line. Hosmer, of course, walks home. Moustakas is busting it around second and heading for third… This is a sure-fire double. And look! Shin Soo Choo – while he has a strong throwing arm – isn’t exactly flying to the corner to field the ball. This looks like a perfect opportunity to put two on the board and cut the deficit to a single run.

Screeeeeech!

Third base coach Eddie Rodriguez throws up the stop sign. Now, it’s difficult to tell from my couch, but it sure looked like Moustakas was at third the moment Choo fired the ball in from the corner. Meaning there was an outstanding chance that Moose scores. A better than outstanding chance.

Yet he was held at third.

Apparently, third base coaches get tight, too.

Unreal. The Royals have been running stupid all season and they now they back off? When they’re scuffling to score and are presented an opportunity on a silver platter? You absolutely have to send the runner in that situation. Have. To.

So in our two situations we have one where the Royals gave away two runs on a slow hook and failed to capitalize on a sure-fire run scoring opportunity. That’s a net loss of three runs.

Ballgame.

An all too familiar refrain.

The bats are still ice-cold and aside from Maier, nobody is delivering with runners in scoring position, but I’ll hang this loss on the coaching staff. Yost’s slow trigger and Rodriguez’s bizarre decision cost this team a great opportunity to break this slide. Instead it continues.

And I adjust the doomsday clock one minute closer to midnight.

For the last couple of seasons, March has been… Well, it’s been a testy month here at Royals Authority. Maybe it’s the change of seasons. Maybe it’s the grind of meaningless spring training baseball. Whatever it is, this has been a month where everyone is on edge.

They say spring is a time for optimism. I’ll freely admit I’m not an optimist. Can’t do it. Not after lo these many years. But I’m not a pessimist either. I consider myself a realist. (Right now, there are people reading this paragraph at 1 Royals Way and coughing, “Bulls#!t.”) It’s true. I’m a realist at heart. You may disagree, but I like to think I call things like I see them. It’s an honest take of the team I love. It’s just that the negative sometimes outweighs the positive.

That’s unfortunate.

We’re so caught up in the Chris Getz Story and the knowledge that somehow the Royals are going to find a way to give Yuniesky Betancourt 500 plate appearances that we tend to overlook a few things. It’s the nature of the beast. We know Eric Hosmer is going to play and play well. What is there to say about him? He’s great. On the other hand, we have someone like Getz. Why? Sadly, the Royals have given us plenty of ammo.

Please don’t get caught up in my previous paragraph. You want to bitch about Getz today. Go someplace else. You want optimism? This is your place for Friday.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to in 2012…

— The continuing development of Eric Hosmer. When was the last time the Royals had a player with a ceiling of MVP?

— The possibility that Luke Hochevar truly turned the corner in the second half of 2011. For some reason, I’m irrationally bullish on Hochevar. By altering his arm angle ever so slightly, he’s added the deception – and movement – necessary to be a quality starter.

— The SS Jesus. Can’t wait for him to range to his left to snare a grounder up the middle, plant, spin and throw to beat the runner by a couple of steps.

— Brayan Pena smiling and giving his teammates high fives. If this was basketball, we would be describing Pena as a “glue guy.”

— The Lorenzo Cain Show. I am thrilled that this guy, who was buried all of last season (justifiably so, given the performance of the Royals outfield), is kicking ass in Surprise. I hope he brings some of those hits north with him next week.

— A1. Domination. The Sequel.

— Johnny Giavotella tearing up Triple-A pitching.

— The continued development of Danny Duffy. I just have this feeling that he’s this close to putting everything together. Needless to say, we can expect improvement over his 4.4 BB/9 and 4.82 FIP. There will be moments where the kid is going to struggle again this summer, but it won’t be as frequent. And the lows won’t be as low.

— The young arms of the bullpen. I thoroughly enjoy watching Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford, Louis Coleman and Kelvin Herrera pitch. It helps that they could be pretty good relievers. (Side note: I’m not upset that Coleman was sent to Omaha. Surprised, but not upset. The bullpen is a fungible beast. He’ll be back. Probably before the end of April.)

— The return of Salvador Perez. I’m counting down the weeks. So is every other Royals fan.

— Our Mitch. Because it wouldn’t feel like the Royals without him.

— Billy Butler’s annual pursuit of 50 doubles. Quite simply, Butler is the most consistent hitter on this team. And it’s not even close.

— Jeff Francoeur punching his teammates in the nuts after a walkoff. Crazy eyes!

— The late game tandem of Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland. Holland is nails and you know I’m bullish on Broxton. It’s probably just my wide-eyed optimism that I think Broxton can be a servicable closer.

— The development of Mike Moustakas. He’s not the “sure thing” Hosmer is, so there’s a bit of a risk here, but we really need him to be the Moose of September and not the Moose of every other month.

Those are my positive thoughts heading into 2012. Fire away in the comments. Although in the spirit of optimism, I’ll ask that you only leave positive comments. Thanks.

Mitch Maier has done everything the Royals have asked.

As an outfielder, he’s played all three positions. While he doesn’t exactly play any one of those positions with distinction, the defense doesn’t notably suffer when he’s in the field. He passes the: “Oh My God, That’s Mitch Maier In The Outfield!” test because you’ve never actually spoken those words with an inflection of disgust. Let’s call him solid.

Of course, my favorite Maier moment of the last three years came on July 26 when he pitched a scoreless eighth inning against the Red Sox in Fenway. His fastball and his change averaged 75 mph. Yet he insists he threw both. I’ve shown this chart before, but I really like it, so I’m bringing it back for an encore… Here’s Maier’s velocity from his appearance:

That’s Our Mitch… Doing anything to help the team.

As a hitter, Maier isn’t going to set the American League on fire. I’m not even sure he’s ever had what you would consider to be a hot streak. Instead, you have a guy who gets on base at a clip that’s better than league average and doesn’t make many boneheaded mistakes on the bases. He owns a career .332 OBP. League average during his time in the big leagues is .329. He doesn’t have any power, but if he had pop, he wouldn’t be a backup.

He is what he is. And basically every team needs a player like Maier. Managers must take comfort knowing they have short-term cover should one of their three outfielders go down for any reason. He’s our safety blanket.

Why am I OK with Our Mitch and not with Getzie? Both are backup players who should – if the season goes according to plan – spend most of the summer on the bench. They both make just under a cool million. So why one and not both? Simple. Maier plays league average in nearly all aspects of the game provided he has limited playing time. He’s versatile. He won’t kill you with the bat. He’s not the prototypical grinder, full of grit and heart, like Getz. He just fills the utility role and fills it well. I wish we had someone on the infield who was like Mitch Maier.

Thanks to three outfielders you couldn’t remove from the lineup with a crowbar and Ned Yost’s allergy to pinch hitters, Our Mitch appeared in only 44 games – his lowest total since 2011 2008. With Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur returning to the corners, Maier’s hope for playing time hinges on the performance of Lorenzo Cain. Cain is the wild card in the outfield deck. If he struggles early in the season, Maier will likely see an increase in playing time. If Cain gets off to a hot start and can perform to expectations in his rookie season, Our Mitch will again be picking splinters out of his backside for most of the summer.

With David Lough waiting in the wings as the fourth outfielder of the future and with Jarrod Dyson outrunning cheetahs, road runners and other assorted speedy wildlife, Our Mitch doesn’t have much of a future in Kansas City. Fourth outfielders are a unique species. Enjoy him while you can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Year Arbitration Eligible
Alex Gordon – $1.4 million

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

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

Fourth Year Arbitration Eligible
Melky Cabrera – $1.25 million

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

Free Agents
Bruce Chen
Jeff Francis
Jason Kendall

Sigh… Another Kendall sighting. Last one. Promise.

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

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

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

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

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?

Wow, just a few things went on this weekend.   We had the NFL Draft, a guy named bin Laden was erased from the face of the earth and the Royals swept the Twins.  Now, if we have to debate which of the three is the most important story, then I will pick up my toys and go home.   

You might have noticed over the years, that this is not a world affairs blog nor do we talk about the NFL.   As such, we can discuss a very big sweep over Minnesota and just generally think happy thoughts throughout this off-day.

I think a lot of us thought Kansas City was about to go into ‘the big slide’ that we have so often seen in the past.   After leaping out of the gates by winning ten of their first fourteen games, the Royals had floundered all the way to a game under .500.    They had been swept in back to back road series, looking very 2006-ish in getting drubbed in Cleveland.

The here-we-go-again feeling certainly had overtaken me.   One could almost feel a stretch of games coming that would see the Royals drop twenty out of twenty-five and sink once more out of the collective national baseball consciousness.     Instead, however, we saw this team right itself and sweep the Twins:  obliterating them in the final two games of the series. 

At this point in time, the Minnesota Twins are an injured, hapless bunch, but there is something to be said for beating teams that are not playing well.    There is also something to be said for playing baseball in your home park.

In 2010, the average home record of American League teams was 45-35 (yes, I know that doesn’t add up to 81) and the average road record was just 36-44.   Only four teams had losing records at home, while five teams managed to post a winning record on the road.   In 2009, the averages are similar: 46-35 at home and 35-45 on the road.  Like in 2010, four teams posted losing home records, but only two were overall winners on the road.

There is nothing earth shattering in those numbers and, without looking, I have to imagine that we could go back a great number of years and generally see similar results.   Quite frankly, Dorothy, there is no place like home.  For the Royals, that seems particularly true through the early part of the 2011 schedule.

On their way to posting a 12-5 home record, the Royals have average 5.6 runs per game and posted a robust team slash line of .278/.355/.446.   The pitching staff has held opponents to a .256 batting average on their way to posting a 3.64 earned run average and allowed less than one home run per game (14 in 17 contests).

On the road, Kansas City is just 3-8 and averaging only 4.5 runs per game.   The offense has hit just .268/.318/.410 and the pitching staff has posted a 5.95 ERA and allowed the opposing teams to hit .307.  The pitchers have also given up 21 home runs in just 11 games, despite posting a better strikeout to walk ration (1.97 on the road as opposed to just 1.51 at home).

Obviously, just 17% of the way through the schedule, the imbalance of who the Royals have played at home versus the teams they have faced on the road versus who was hot and who was hurt all skew the results.   Still, those are pretty dramatic differences on both sides of the ball.   Given the youth of this team and type of starting pitching they employ, none of us are probably overly surprised by the split, but I found it interesting.

It also gives me some  hope that despite a tough 31 game stretch that began with the Twins’ series, with 19 of those games at home, the Royals might be able to stick around that .500 mark through the end of May.   Should they manage that feat, then the discussion gets extremely interesting on many fronts.   Defending the home field over the next six games against Baltimore and Oakland will be critical.

Now a couple of bullet points to finish up:

  • As has been discussed in many locations, the inclusion of Jarrod Dyson on the 25 man roster is a somewhat curious decision.    While he has made an impact in the role this year, there just are not a lot of pinch-runner/defensive replacement guys being carried by anyone these days, but I was envisioning the scenario wherein doing so makes sense and also does not cripple a manager’s ability to make in-game moves.  It would seem to me, that having good enough pitching to go with an 11 man staff instead of 12 is the key.  In the Royals’ case, that would allow them to carry an extra infielder.   On days when the lineup includes Getz, Aviles and Betemit (one of the latter two DHing), you would still be able to pinch hit for Escobar or Getz.   I am not really against having Dyson on the current roster, just thinking how a ‘Dyson-like’ role fits on a logical 25 man set-up.
  • Speaking of defense, I have a hard time justifying a weak bat at any position other than catcher and shortstop.   Simply put, it does not seem to me that any other position effect the defense enough to carry a sub .700 OPS.   I bring that up, because Mike Aviles is hitting and Chris Getz is not.    The Royals have no real options but to play Alcides Escobar (whose defense is great, but he really needs to post an OPS well above his current .516), and the two catchers and they remain loyal to Kila Ka’aihue and probably should for another three or four weeks.   They have an option at second to add another offensive weapon and should use it on an everyday basis, even if it does mean weaker defense.
  • Finally, I am pretty ambivalent when it comes to Mitch Maier, but it was nice to see him have a big day on Sunday after replacing Jarrod Dyson.   Mitch now has a grand total of 11 plate appearances in 2011.  It is tough duty to be the last guy on the bench and easy place to lose focus.  To his credit Maier has been a true professional and kept himself ready to play even though he knows the odds are that he seldom will.  That is a subtle addition to clubhouse chemistry that should not be overlooked.

Is four of the next six a realistic goal?  I would like to think so, although Royals pitchers will not be able to walk 17 batters in a series and get away with it very often.

News out of the Royals camp has Ned Yost refiguring his lineup and moving Melky Cabrera and Alex Gordon to the second and third spots respectively.  I’m not thrilled with the Melk-Man hitting so high in the order – I don’t care how he was swinging the bat in Arizona.  Still, I’ve opined plenty of times in this space that the Royals lack a true number two type of bat.  (Along with myriad other deficiencies.)  So as much as I’d like to work up outrage over Cabrera hitting second, it’s a helluva lot better than Jason Kendall.  Besides, I’ll save it for when Cabrera is dragging down the Royals offense.

I’m a little more perturbed that Yost has pushed Gordon to the third spot, mainly for the fact that this shifts Billy Butler to the cleanup position.  I’m of the school where you don’t screw with two players at once when one of them has established a comfort zone.  Butler profiles as a number three hitter.  He just does.  He’s not a cleanup hitter by any stretch of the imagination.  That could be Kila Ka’aihue based on past performance in Omaha.  Why not shift Gordon to the fifth spot and leave your three and four alone?  Especially when you’re dealing with a guy like Gordon who hasn’t exactly done anything in his entire career to warrant such a move.  Hey, if he’s hitting the snot out of the ball on May 1, then go ahead and make the move.  Right now, it feels a little premature.

Here’s your Opening Day lineup:

Aviles
Cabrera
Gordon
Butler
Ka’aihue
Francoeur
Escobar
Treanor
Getz

I put Coach Treanor there because you just know the guy is the second coming of Kendall.  He’s going to get the majority of the time behind the plate.  Not 92% or whatever Kendall was getting last year prior to his injury, but I see him getting 60-70% of the innings.

Yes, Escobar had a fine spring, but if he can’t keep that going, the bottom third of that lineup has serious black hole potential.

So the bullpen is finally set with Kaneoka Texeria and Jeremy Jeffress the last two in place.  They join the locks (Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda) the prospects (Aaron Crow and Tim Collins) and the whatevers (Sean O’Sullivan and Nate Adcock.)  I honestly thought Luis Mendoza would make the team ahead of Jeffress.  It’s nice that the Royals aren’t sticking with waiver retreads.

Plus, I’m glad they are using the bullpen as the first place to work in the young pitchers.  Many thought Crow was drafted to be a starter, but his strength projects him as a reliever.  Yeah, it’s not ideal, but he could transition into an above average set-up guy or even closer.

There’s been a bunch of internet chatter about the Royals keeping Jarrod Dyson and getting rid of Gregor Blanco.  I’m surprised given that Dyson has options and would benefit from playing every day.  With the Promised Two (Francoeur and Cabrera) along with the new number three hitter, Gordon, and the uber-backup in Mitch Maier, I don’t see where he’s going to get the at bats.  This just feels like one of those classic Royal moments where they’re setting their player up for failure… He won’t play enough to get into any kind of rhythm, he’ll hit poorly, get shipped to Omaha and we won’t hear from him again.  I just don’t get it.  Plus, I think over the entire season Blanco would contribute more than Cabrera.  This one is just a head-scratcher.

I hope the Royals are able to sneak Blanco through waivers, but I doubt that’s going to happen.

With T-minus one day to the Opener, it’s time for the annual exercise known as Calling Your Shot.  Time to get on the record with your predictions for the upcoming 2011 season.

Since this season is all about transition in The Process, I thought it would be interesting to add a little spice in the form of a few over/unders based on totals from the 2010 season.  It’s an interesting way to gauge expectations.

Here are the categories, presented with last year’s totals:

1) Wins – 67

2) Team OBP – .331

3) Team SLG – .399

4) Steals – 115

5) Team ERA – 4.97

6) Team BB/9 – 3.5

7) Team SO/9 – 6.5

Leave your predictions in the comment section.

Play ball.

We all know by now that stats in spring training are a poor indicator of what the future season might hold.   I used to spend some amount of time analyzing who a given batter may have faced in the spring in attempt to separate the at-bats against true major league competition from that of the minor league guys filling in the late innings.   Even that method was hardly foolproof as you were never sure when/if a pitcher or hitter was ‘working on something’ and hence not playing in the same manner as he would in a game that matters.

In the past, we saw Zack Greinke have a horrible statistical spring and go on to win the Cy Young.   Angel Berroa was a notorious killer in the spring before notoriously hideous regular seasons.   It is all very simple, frankly:  a guy with his roster spot secure is probably not going to lay out for a line drive down the line the second week in March and a pitcher who just has his slider working and nothing else is still going to throw fastballs and changeups in the Cactus League.    All sorts of things like that make the art of analyzing spring performances in a statistical manner virtually impossible.

Still, there are some numbers that are interesting if not particular meaningful:

  • Mitch Maier is hitting .571/.625/.643 with four steals.   Last year, there was some buzz that there were a number of teams that would jump on the out of options Maier if the Royals did not keep him on their twenty-five man roster coming out of spring training.   Fast forward to this spring, where Mitch is off to another hot start and on the borderline of making the Royals.   Would there be a market for Maier?   Certainly not a big one and not one that would yield a huge return, but would someone like the Phillies trade for him to fill in for the injured Dominic Brown?   Doubtful, but marginally plausible, I suppose.  
  • Melky Cabrera is hitting .462/.500/.538.  Lorenzo Cain is hitting .462/.533/.615.   Cain has already made two defensive plays that have drawn raves and Melky has already lost a ball in the ‘Arizona sun’.   I’m tired of hearing about the Arizona freaking sun and sky.  I get it, it is a tough place to catch high fly balls.   Half of your job description is to ‘catch fly balls’ – do it.  Anyway, spring training stats don’t matter, but somehow I feel that Cain’s .462 average and good defense is going to generate a ‘he needs more seasoning’ line pretty soon.   Melky’s .462?   Well, my guess is the Royals will be happy to tell you that those spring training stats DO matter.
  • The up and coming Big Four of Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer have combined to pitch 9.2 innings this spring and walked 11 batters.  That is not unexpected for young pitchers and tells us nothing about their future, but is interesting nonetheless.
  • Chris Getz is zero for eight with three walks.  Alex Gordon is one for thirteen with six walks.   Can we pick and choose which spring training stats are valid indicators?  Please?!!
  • Everett Teaford has been tagged for 10 runs in just over two innings of work.   There is no real way to spin those numbers into anything but Omaha.

A lot of the above is a little tongue in cheek…okay, a lot of it is.   To be honest, the Royals have won six of eight games to start the spring and seen a lot of good things happen.   Eric Hosmer has looked the part, Kila Ka’aihue has been solid and Clint Robinson just keeps hitting.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to get some positive vibes from winning exhibition games:  especially for a young team like the Royals.

Inevitably, there will start to be talk of the 2003 Royals, who parlayed a Cactus League title into a 16-3 start and staying in contention until the final month of the regular season.   Let’s be careful there in that the 2003 Royals had Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez and a then rookie of the year caliber player in Angel Berroa.    Offensively, that was not a young team (Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, Desi Relaford, Brent Mayne – were all veteran players with decent major league resumes) and probably more poised to make a cinderella run than the 2011 Royals are.

For now, we’ll just enjoy the spring and periodically remind ourselves that the numbers probably tell us very little.   That won’t keep us from monitoring them closer than might be considered healthy, however.

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