Monday, May 26, 2008

Royals Today: 5/26/2008.

So…we have now reached that part of the calendar whereby all but the most hopelessly optimistic Royals fan (i.e. even more optimistic than I) officially give up any hope of contention this season.

I guess we should give thanks that the Royals gave us reason to believe as long as they did. With the White Sox looking like they’ll never lose again (man, Carlos Quentin would have looked nice in powder blue*), the Royals are now 7.5 games out. In each of the last four seasons, they were 7.5 or more games out by May 1st. (May 1st!) They let us believe this year for longer – a week ago, they were a game under .500 and two games out – than any time since 2003.

*: I know it’s trendy for Royals fans to whine about the fact that Dayton Moore didn’t try to get Quentin, when it was obvious that the Diamondbacks were willing to move him cheap and he still had youth and a tremendous track record on his side. And the guy the Diamondbacks got in return was Chris Carter, a fine prospect but one of just six guys they would later send to Oakland for Dan Haren.

Here’s the problem: if the Royals wanted to beat the White Sox offer of Carter, who as a 20-year-old hit .291/.383/.522 in the South Atlantic League last season, there’s really only one hitter in the entire farm system that would have trumped the offer: Mike Moustakas.

The Royals are making strides in this department – particularly on the pitching side of the equation – but it’s going to be a few years yet before the Royals have a well of hitters deep enough that they can tap into it without feeling the pain.

Which is why it’s good to remember that for all the time we spend arguing about whether Hillman knows what the heck he's doing or whether there’s anything Dayton can do to wake up the offense, the most important work to resurrect the franchise is being done far from Kansas City. Now that the Royals are 21-30, it makes it easier to focus on what’s going on away from Kauffman Stadium.

- The chief problem with the Royals offense – and the reason why their problems are to a large degree intractable – is that the team is overrun with solidity. Ten or fifteen years ago, I was having a conversation with Joe Sheehan on the phone, trying to trade him one of my players in our Stratomatic league. I tried to sell him on some pitcher I didn’t need – I don’t recall exactly who – by calling him “a solid pitcher.” Joe responded bluntly, as he usually does, “you do realize that ‘solid’ is just a nice way of saying ‘he sucks’, don’t you?”

I didn’t have a good response for that. Ever since, I have kept tabs on the usage of that term, and it turns out Joe’s right: when a player is described as “solid” by the media, it usually means that he’s just not very good. It means that he doesn’t have any major weaknesses, except for one: he doesn’t have any strengths.

And that describes two-thirds of the Royals’ lineup to a T. David DeJesus? A fine centerfielder who does everything well, except…he’s never hit .300, he’s never reached double digits in homers, he walks about once every 10 at-bats, his career high in steals is 10. Solid. Mark Teahen is a terrific baserunner, a good defensive player, can play five different positions in a pinch, he draws a good number of walks…and he’s hitting .249 with as many homers (2) as Matt Cain. Solid.

John Buck (.259/.328/.362) is a solid catcher. Mark Grudzielanek (.290/.349/.361) is a solid second baseman. Billy Butler has star potential, but right now (.261/.330/.339) he’s just a solid young player. Jose Guillen is streaky as hell, but overall (.249/.279/.439) he’s a solid outfielder.

The point isn’t that “solid” is an insult, because it’s not. If any of these guys were the worst, or even second-worst, hitters in your lineup, you’d have a terrific lineup. Every championship team needs two or three solid players at their weaker positions, rather than suffer a festering sore at the position. The Rockies had Yorvit Torrealba last year; the Tigers had Brandon Inge two years ago; the White Sox had Juan Uribe in 2005.

The point is that the Royals have six solid players in their lineup every day. They have Alex Gordon, who I think we can comfortably place in the “quality starter” category, and then Pena and one of Gathright/Gload, who we can comfortably place in the “needs to be replaced ASAP” category. But the other six spots? None of these guys are playing so badly that they have to be replaced ASAP. More to the point, none of them are bad enough that it’s easy to find a replacement for them that would represent an improvement.

The Royals have three hitters in Omaha (Mike Aviles, Shane Costa, and Mitch Maier) who are having great years and probably deserve to be called up. But all three of them themselves project to be solid players, nothing more. If Aviles could play a credible shortstop, he’d be up by now, but he can’t, so he’s in that German/Callaspo group of guys who can hit but simply don’t have the range to play shortstop every day.

So I don’t see any easy solution to this problem. If a market opens for Grudzielanek, he ought to be moved, which will open regular playing time for Callaspo, enable German to get more at-bats, and open up a roster spot for Aviles. Beyond that, the Royals are just going to have to suck it up and hope that a few of these guys separate themselves from the pack. The team would be much better off if three of these guys take steps forward and three take steps back – at least then you’ve identified a few solutions, and you’ve identified a few problems that can be fixed. But right now the Royals are in no-man’s land with their hitters, most of whom are just good enough to keep their jobs but plenty bad enough to contribute to the worst offense in baseball.

32 comments:

desertclone said...

Good point on the Quentin trade. I, too, would love to see Quentin running around in Royals uniform right now, but I just don't think it was a realistic option in the first place. Not only don't the Royals have any depth in their offensive prospects to deal from, the rumor here in AZ when the Haren deal went down was that Billy Beane really wanted Chris Carter as a part of the package. Given the workings of the Haren deal, it seems like the DBacks and White Sox were perfect trading partners and in hindsight it seems highly unlikely that Quentin would have ended up anywhere other than the south-side of Chicago.

Just curious though if there would be any interest in targeting another DBack player....Chad Tracy. He's been injured to start the season but played his first game today. He's a career .288/.348/.467 hitter which gives him better numbers than Jose Guillen across the board. He's under contract for the next two years ('08 - $3.75m and '09 - 4.75m) with a team option for the 2010 season at $7m. He's got a pretty good bat (not great) and we could plug him in at first through 2010. The DBacks might not be as willing to give him up now considering Mark Reynolds struggles & I'm not sure what it would take to get him, but it might be worth looking into.

Mark LaFlamme said...

Well stated, as usual. I think the problem we have sometimes is that our view of the players gets contaminated. What I mean is, most of the guys you mentioned above have experienced periods of brilliance. DeJesus and Teahan in particular. They get on a good streak and we tend to forget that 75 percent of the time, they're just not producing anything. Personally, I cringe at the idea of trading any of the core players, but that's mostly sentiment. If we think of the team as a business, then yeah... might be time to unload some of the guys we're fondest of.
That said though, I'm still a long way from ruling out the 2008 season. More than ever, the Royals seem like they are just missing only that elusive, mysterious click that will make it come together. Sooner, of course, would be better than later.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love the tag...

...where we’re just going to pretend that “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” never happened.

The biggest problem i had with getting Guillen was, imo, that they could have had Brady for much less. I know he was coming off Knee issues, but at least he had a bit more proven track record in the recent past and he could have been had a heck of a lot cheaper. Maybe if Guillen can stay reasonably warm, we'll be ok.

Really wish Tehan would come around. I think they should have peddled "Sandlot" Dejesus two years ago.

Anonymous said...

Rany, you deftly described the problem with this team on the offensive side.

I've long advocated that the Royals need to put ALL of their available FA dollars into one basket, and get a "can't miss" superstar for, say, 20 or 25 million per year. Do that, and the 6 other "solid" player's contributions suddenly mean something. Instead, this team continuosly tries to get better by acquiring players for between 6 and 12 million.

Can anybody think of a 20-25 million talent available for probably 25 cents on the dollar this season? You know, one the Royals could pick up without losing any of its few prospects?

Hint: His initials are BB

Anonymous said...

Rany, you deftly described the problem with this team on the offensive side.

I've long advocated that the Royals need to put ALL of their available FA dollars into one basket, and get a "can't miss" superstar for, say, 20 or 25 million per year. Do that, and the 6 other "solid" player's contributions suddenly mean something. Instead, this team continuosly tries to get better by acquiring players for between 6 and 12 million.

Can anybody think of a 20-25 million talent available for probably 25 cents on the dollar this season? You know, one the Royals could pick up without losing any of its few prospects?

Hint: His initials are BB

Justin said...

That bit about solidity is EXACTLY what I have felt about the Chicago Bulls for several years, but I never managed to find a good word for it, so thanks for that.

Cookierojas73 said...

The more I think about it, you're almost certainly right that KC's lack of minor league depth probably would have prevented them from dealing an offensive prospect equal to or better than Chris Carter in exchange for Quentin. But perhaps a reasonable package of some kind (combination of someone from the major league roster + a pitching prospect) might have gotten it done. I would hope that Dayton Moore at least looked into it...Quentin was a perfect guy for the Royals to target for many reasons (and that was even before he busted out this year).

John H. C. said...

As a Pirate fan who follows the Royals with interest both for the great writers you produce and out of familiarity with and sympathy for your frustrations, I well recognize the problems with "solidity" (and think it is a brilliant contribution to the vocabulary).

When the Pirates' new management essentially sat on their hands this off-season, opting not to tear apart last year's 68-win season, the reason was the team's solidity.

Jack Wilson - excellent defensive shortstop, and occasionally gets hot with the bat. Hard to replace and improve upon (proven true by the play of Gomez, Bixler, and (gag) Rivas during his recent injury).

Freddie Sanchez - won the batting title, doubles power, positional flexibility, but not a great defender, doesn't walk, and heavily dependent on BA.

This isn't a Pirates blog, so I won't go on, but it seems like we have 9 positions of essentially average to just slightly below average players. Average has a lot of value (just ask the Mets, who would love an average 1Bman or LFer right now), but on it's own, it doesn't produce a winning team.

One additional point about solidity that Rany alluded to, but didn't make explicit is that "solid" players are darn difficult to trade. David DeJesus is a fine CF, but really, what value would you get for him? No team is going to give up more than a marginal prospect for him, unless he starts to hit really well. And you aren't going to be able to replace him with a better player to "improve" the team. I'd rather have Teahen playing 3B for the Pirates instead of Jose Bautista, but who would we give up for a player with a -1.1 VORP (an improvement over Bautista's VORP of -3.0, to be sure, but not such a large improvement) that you would actually want in exchange?

Anonymous said...

3 sad and miscellaneous facts:

- Mark Grudzielanek hasn't had a RBI since May 1.
- The last player to hit .162 (TPJ's current average) or lower in a full season and have enough ABs to qualify for a batting title was back in 1885. We're witnessing history, folks.
- Jesse Litsch only threw 81 pitches in his CG against the Royals on Saturday. 81. That's 5 great innings for Gil Meche.

To do list:

- Replace Pena with anyone (Zach Grienke on days he doesn't pitch?)
- Replace Mike Barnett
- Find a platoon partner for Mark Teahen
- Replace Luis Silverio (how is Berroa's father-in-law still with this organization? Does he have naked pictures of the Glass family?)

Anonymous said...

Glad somebody else brought up Silverio.

Honestly, how can you justify getting a guy thrown out at the plate in the 8th inning of a game you trail by 5 runs? Add in, by the same guy who gunned out a runner at the plate the day before, and this is an example of incompetence if I've ever seen one.

Outs are precious, especially for a team struggling for runs. This aggressiveness for the sake of aggressiveness attitude is the wrong approach.

Anonymous said...

I agree with John H. I wrote in this blog several days ago about my opinion of who should be traded/replaced in some manner. But, it's much easier said than done. I think we need to rid Pena, Teahen, Buck, etc. But, who needs them? Nobody. They are high AAA level players, no more. I'd call them a Soft Solid. We will only get similar in return because the Royals are really the only major league team for which they can start.

Kevin

Anonymous said...

Also, don't you think the record books should have an asterisk for John Lester?

i.e. No Hitter *

*(against the Royals)

Kevin

Ron Rollins said...

Here's an even better idea. Fire Hillman and get someone in there who can actually make game decisions. Like bench Pena, not start Tomko, get DeJesus out of the leadoff slot, and bat Teahan second, if he has to play.

Hillman is the big problem here and he needs to go. And for all those people who are saying Hillman has no choice and has to play these guys, then that's even more proof that he needs to go.

Do you think any other field manager gets told who to play. That's his decision to make each day, and if he's not, then why is he there.

HILLMAN NEEDS TO GO AND THE ROYALS NEED TO FIND SOMEONE WHO CAN MANAGE.

Andrew Hoien said...

Ron,

Don't take this too harsh, but you're insane. To fire Hillman 51 games into his first season is beyond insanity. It defies description. Has he made bad moves? Yeah, he has. But you know what? I'd rather gamble on Hillman for at least two or three years before pulling the trigger before pulling in a "proven" manager like Jerry Manuel or Jim Fergosi.

Rather have a guy that might turn out ok then retreads.

Anonymous said...

I have a nickname for Pena: Charlie Brown

Everytime he wiffs at a curve ball in the dirt he reminds of of Charlie Brown wiffing at the football as Lucy pulls it away.

Ron Rollins said...

Hillman has had 51 games to prove he can't manage, and has done a fantastic job of it. Why would you stay with someone who can't get the job done?

If you can bench a player for not hitting, why can't you bench a manager?

Oh wait, now I see the problem.

Scott said...

Rany, a solid analysis of the problems of the Royals lineup.

Andrew Hoien said...

If this was Hillman's third or fourth season, I might agree with you.

However, we gave Tony Musser 5+ years, Pena nearly three years and Buddy Goddamn Bell three years. The least you could give Hillman is two, right?

I mean, I know this is frustrating, but demanding a change at manager after 51 games is silly. Why not fire Moore as well? He's had two years, and I don't see any championships.

We aren't the Yankees, we can't act like them.

Ryan said...

Ron Rollins-

The Royals line up isn't hitting. We have bad hitters. That's mostly a Dayton Moore problem.

We were a realistic three years away from being decent before the season, and we still are.

It's going to take a good 5-10 years to turn around the franchise with good draft picks and good player development.

It was fun to get excited the first month and a half, but now you just have to hope that some players develop both on the Royals and in their farm system.

I was looking at Blake Wood's numbers the other day. Dude's already got 50ks against like 13 walks. Most of our future is still in Single A, and a couple are in the first two months of double A.

Ryan said...

I am developing a new strategy for my fantasy baseball team. I'm using one of my starting rotation spots, and picking up whomever is pitching against the Royals.

I'm only half-kidding.

Andrew Hoien said...

Ryan,

To add to what you have said, don't forget that this team wasn't supposed to compete this year. The AL central race is fool's gold. We should be able to pick up a solid hitter or two, and if Wood, Cortez and Rosa continue doing well, this team will be loaded from 2010 on.

We're pretty much one year behind the Rays, maybe two.

Anonymous said...

I like the Indiana Jones tagline but may I suggest: 'Where the Royals offense keeps the American League Cy Young race fluid'

Dan said...

I actually gave up on the Royals after the first two Boston games. I think I might give up on them for the next several years as well.

I recently finished the Numbers Game (describes baseball's love of stats and how sabermetrics has come from fringe to front office) and realized that the Royals are about ten years behind the curve. Dayton is a good traditional baseball man. He's professional, intelligent and has good traditional baseball sense. I really respect the man's business skills. However, there is no indication that he has any interest in sabermetrics. With the Royals resources (mostly money), we can't win at a high level. We can probably get by the other lumbering GMs in the division at some point, but I doubt we'll get above medocrity for too long.

I hope someone has some great evidence that I'm wrong...

Isaac said...

Rany, I'd love to hear your comments on tonight's game when the Twins pitcher needed 3 pitches to retire the Royals...after giving up a base hit. I don't know how to find that information but I suspect that it has never happened before in the history of the game.

I'd also like to hear what you have to say about Hillman's choice to not use the IBB with Cuddyer at the plate and first base open in the 12th. I realize that the next hitter was a left handed hitter but it would seem that walking Cuddyer in that situation with 1 out would be better than using the IBB in the fifth inning as he has done this year.

Anonymous said...

In the Royals game tonight, Nick Blackburn faced 32 batters and threw 92 pitches, 17 balls and 75 strikes. Just doing the math, that is less than 3 pitches per batter and 1 ball to every other hitter. 17 balls? That must be some sort of record.

Olentangy said...

The Kansas City Royals, launching a one team initiative to bring back the dead ball era.

Ryan said...

German does not need more playing time. His defense is atrocious and his bat has been slipping since the last couple months of '07 and is now more worthless than TPJ's bat. Isn't that awful?

Anonymous said...

Here is an amazing stat. The Royals have trailed after 7 innings 30 times this year. They are 0-30 in those games. When ahead after 7 innings, they are 20-0. They are 1-1 when tied. If we go back to the 6th. They are 2-27 when trailing after the 6th and 18-1 when ahead. The one loss was when Bannister lost the lead. The 2 victories were Opening Day and when we rallied in the 7th to beat Sabathia. The bullpen has not lost a lead in the late innings ALL YEAR. Actually, one time Nunez have up 3 runs in the 8th to put the Royals behind 4-2. The Royals got 6 in the bottom of the 8th to win the game. Oh, what a little offense might do.

Anonymous said...

That IS amazing. No wonder I've been writing them off every night that they're down after 6. I just thought I was being too negative, but with stats like that, what's the point of watching the last three innings unless it's tied?

Overwhelming "solidity" sums up the 2008 Royals perfectly. I think a quarter of the season is enough time to say that the positional portion of the roster is just filled with nothing but decent starters (at best) and role players. Some of them are young enough (Gordon, Butler) to expect reasonable improvement over the next few years. Sadly, I think we've seen the best that DeJesus and Teahen have to give us.

I don't blame Dayton for assuming that his roster was "solid" enough going into this season. After all, you have to give everyone enough time to see what you've got, and it was entirely reasonable to expect some significant leaps in at least some of these guys. It will be interesting to see what he does heading into the deadline and in the offseason. Sadly, it looks any major offensive improvements are going to have to be evolved slowly from the depths of the farm system...unless Dayton feels confident enough to trade some good young pitching.

Lastly, getting back to nicknames, can we all agree that Pena just needs to go by "Out" from now on? (That may have already been suggested, but I don't have the time to go back through the nickname comments.) Honestly, I'm fully expecting that one of these days, the home plate ump will just look over at him as he's leaving the on deck circle...and go ahead and punch him out just to save everybody's time.

-Ben

Shelby said...

Tonight's (Wednesday's) game was absolutely pathetic.

We clearly have morale issues.

I feel sorry for Greinke. He deserves to have a better team around him.

Ryan said...

So much for our perfect record with the lead after 7 innings.

Unbelievable.

Curtis said...

Weeping. Gnashing teeth.