Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Hero Is Born! (?)

Mike Aviles might be the biggest surprise of the Royals season so far, but to me, the biggest surprise of all is simply that he’s had an opportunity to play. Aviles wasn’t considered strong enough defensively to play shortstop regularly in the minor leagues. In Omaha the last two-plus seasons, Aviles has played 87 games at shortstop – but 66 games at second, and 144 games at third base.

In spring training, you could have told me almost everything that’s happened to the Royals so far this season – the 12-game losing streak, Jose Guillen’s streakiness, the Milton Bradley-Ryan Lefebvre peace summit – and I would have believed it. But Mike Aviles as our starting, everyday shortstop? That would have been tough to imagine. In hindsight, as always, these things are easy to understand. I didn’t expect Tony Pena to hit .154, but if you had to guess on Opening Day that some everyday player in the majors would be hitting .154 in June, who else would have come to mind besides Pena? Brian Bocock with the Giants, probably, but even he was just considered a stopgap until Vizquel returned.

So you have a team with a shortstop who can’t hit, and two shortstops who can’t field, and no obvious solution in the minor leagues. Put it that way, and you’d expect Aviles to get the call – only you couldn’t really expect Aviles, at age 27, to take another quantum leap forward with the bat. In 2006, at age 25, Aviles hit .264/.307/.373 in Triple-A. He improved across the board last season, hitting .296/.332/.463. This year, he hit .336/.370/.631, and is hitting .306/.333/.633 for the Royals.

You can’t expect this to continue. I was going to list his PECOTA projection from the start of the year to make my point, except it appears we didn’t even bother to run a projection for him (which is my fault, as I didn’t even bother to give Aviles a player comment in this year’s book.)

But when you take the air out of his Omaha numbers this year, his Davenport Translation converts his performance into a line of .273/.304/.495 in the majors. His defensive numbers are quite good, +7 runs…at second base. Factor in his performance with the Royals so far, after some regression you’re looking at a guy who will probably hit .270/.300/.460 or so. Is that worth giving up defense for?

When the alternative is Tony Pena Jr: hell yes. But don’t fool yourself: it’s a miracle that Dayton Moore has allowed Aviles to get this far. Moore believes in defense uber alles, and if you don’t believe me, ask Sam Mellinger, who reported a few days ago that Moore offered Billy Butler to the Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt two winters ago. (Bill Bavasi, bless his heart, declined.) Suddenly, trading Eric Cordier for Pena doesn’t look so bad.

If Aviles keeps hitting, and keeps making the routine play, he’ll keep playing. But if he’s hitting .240 a few weeks from now and fails to come up with a play in a few key situations, don’t act surprised when another change is made. Aviles has fought an uphill battle valiantly for the last few years, but the summit has just come into sight.

This has been brought up in the comments section, but to pile on: in two straight games, Aviles has batted in the top of the eighth, and the Royals went to the bottom of the eight leading by one run. Tony Pena was not brought in for defense either time. I can not possibly fathom what would possess Hillman to decide he’d rather stay with his bat-first shortstop when he has a terrific defensive shortstop on the bench, he’s trying to nurse a one-run lead, and it is unlikely that spot in the lineup will come up to bat again?

Maybe Hillman has come to the conclusion that Aviles isn’t such a bad defensive shortstop after all. In that case, great – then why is Pena on the roster? He can’t hit, he’s not even a good pinch-runner. If you’re not going to use your glove, why is he here?

Which is why I think he won’t be here as soon as tomorrow, when the Royals return home and return to DH rules for the rest of the season. Butler’s flirtation with hitting .400 in Omaha will cease, and the Royals will hold their breath and hope against reason that 29 other teams will somehow not claim a .154 hitter off waivers.

I think the Royals should still keep their eye out for a long-term option at shortstop, which only continues a state of affairs that has been in place since Greg Gagne’s tenure ended. But if nothing else, Aviles keeps the Royals from making a move out of pure desperation. And personally, I think they should keep him at shortstop all year and see what happens.

Aviles is a player who has been overachieving his whole life. He’s undersized to begin with at 5’9”, 195 pounds. He went to a Division II school (Concordia College) and was the DII Player of the Year when he was drafted in the 6th round. He was forced to sign for the grand total of $1,000 when David Glass forced the Royals to penny-pinch and draft college seniors in the middle rounds. (Avilesdaily salary in the majors is greater than his signing bonus.) He has improved his production two straight years at an age (25-27) when most players have mostly peaked.

He was named the Royals’ minor league player of the year last season, but was neither given a September callup nor added to the 40-man roster. He was passed over in the Rule 5 draft. He got called up, inserted in the lineup for one day, then didn’t play for a week. He’s got his shot now, and he’s running with it. And I can’t help but think of another short middle infielder who moved the minor leagues slowly, and despite hitting .297/.378/.502 as a 25-year-old in Double-A was left off his team’s 40-man roster.

Only Dan Uggla was selected in the Rule 5 draft, won the starting job for the Marlins at second base, and hit .282 with 27 homers as a 26-year-old rookie. And unlike another 26-year-old rookie – the one we just traded to Los Angeles – Uggla has only gotten better since, swatting 83 extra-base hits last year and hitting .288/.371/.627 this season. He’s probably the second-best second baseman in the majors, even if he’s not the best second baseman whose last name starts with “U”.

I feel comfortable saying that Aviles will never be as good as Uggla is right now. I feel equally comfortable saying he doesn't have to be.

I’ve given Hillman a lot of flak for his bad tactical moves, and I stand by them. But tactics, by definition, take a back seat to strategy. The minutiae of tactical maneuvering means little if you can’t get the big-picture strategic decisions right – like, say, who your starters are. It seems obvious today that Mike Aviles should be the starting shortstop. And maybe, given how bad Pena has been and how few other options appear to be available, the Royals would have ended up starting Aviles no matter who the manager was.

But maybe not. If Buddy Bell were still here, he might have insisted that the Royals trade a low-level prospect for John McDonald or some other hitless wonder, and we would have started this cycle all over again. Hillman’s lost a few games with his decisions this year. But he won one back when Aviles went yard Tuesday night. And the more opportunities he gives his new shortstop, the more opportunities Aviles will have to win a few more games for us.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've got no problem with the Aviles situation, I just wonder why Alberto Callaspo was never given that chance?

If you had to bring up someone from Omaha to take over for Butler as he got his swings during interleague play wouldn't Shealy of been the better player? There's NL pitching staffs with more homers and RBI's then Gload!

This whole Aviles thing just boggles my mind. Don't get me wrong...I wouldnt trade him for anything as long as Pena never has to pick up a bat while wearing a KC uniform again.

Curtis said...

SWEEP

Sing with me....

They're Greinke, they're Greinke and the Brain Brain Brain Brain Brain.

Devon said...

I can't believe KC just won 5 straight games. As I said on Twitter last night... I wish the Royals played 140 games in the NL. And Aviles could be ROY if he keeps this stuff up.

Anonymous said...

Here's Hillman's defense of leaving Aviles in the game in St. Louis in the late innings. It kind of makes sense, or at least it's not irrational.

From here: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080619&content_id=2962742&vkey=news_kc&fext=.jsp&c_id=kc&partnerId=rss_kc

"Aviles' defense was so steady that, in the first two games at Busch Stadium, Hillman didn't use Pena as a late-inning replacement.

"This is probably the fastest field we've played on with the exception of Florida and to put a middle infielder in late, even though I still believe Tony is a better defender than Mike, I felt that would really be unfair for Tony not having tracked a ball during a game," Hillman said."

Anonymous said...

Sorry - that link was way too long to post. Here's a shorter one:

http://tinyurl.com/58nnrm

Nathan said...

Painful as it is to say, I miss Rey Sanchez.

Anonymous said...

Despite much griping from fans and bloggers, I'm actually quite impressed with the responsiveness of the current administration in KC.

Imagine if at the beginning of the season you had been told the following: Nomo was released; the Tomko experiment failed and he was DFA'ed; Berroa was given away; Pena was benched; Hochevar and Davies were given lengthy opportunities to prove themselves. I think you would have been happy, because these moves actually MAKE SENSE.

Yes, there are still more decisions along these lines that need to be made -- especially regarding how, exactly, to get Gload, Gathright, and (maybe) Teahen out of the lineup. But I'm starting to have some confidence that these moves WILL happen, one by one, and that the result in the end will be a much better team.

Isaac said...

Rany, you made this comment in your post:

"...and the Royals will hold their breath and hope against reason that 29 other teams will somehow not claim a .154 hitter off waivers".

I'm confused. Does this mean you think Pena will be claimed off waivers by a team? If so who?

Regarding Aviles, I said the very same thing the minute he seemed to hold his own in the field and was hitting as well as Guillen. The most valuable thing about Aviles is that he could potentially turn our search for a real shortstop from an incredibly urgent issue to one we can relax on and have a bit more time to choose the right guy for the job. He isn't the second coming but in KC he sure looks like it and he may be just good enough to do everything we could possibly ask of him.

The fact that he has finally gotten playing time and was rewarded for good play is sort of amazing in and of itself and I commend Hillman for that.

RickMcKc said...

I still don't understand why the benching after they called Aviles up and he played one game. I'm glad the powers that be reconsidered at some point (Pena left them no other option?) but it felt very Buddyesque at the time.

ray ray said...

the only questions left for this season are:

1. when will Butler be back
2. does Doria finish the year as the closer

If we can trade Meche for a young, stud OF, then Soria moves into the rotation...IMO

Jack Jester said...

The killer's depravity knows no bounds. Pending verification, the F.B.I. has announced that yesterday's triple-homicide is believed to be the first time the Mexecutioner has struck three days in a row, claiming nine victims in just three days.

Initial reports are that a broomstick was used in this yesterday's killings.

FEMA has hightened the regional alert level to Baby Blue for the the Kansas City, Missouri and eastern Jackson county areas based on some intercepted intel chatter that seemed to indicate that the Mexicutioner and his legions of bodyguards were seen departing the St. Louis area yesterday evening travelling westbound.

Stay tuned for further reports.

Anonymous said...

So let's assume Aviles regresses some, but gives steady production. Does he stay at SS until we find a suitable replacement (a year or two), and then slide to 2B? Or do we trade him at that point. Either way, what do we do with German and Callaspo?

We really need to unload TPJ and German (or trade Grudz). How long can we carry Glaod, German, Callaspo, TPJ (to be replaced by Butler), Grudz, and Aviles for 5 (includes DH) roster spots?

Jack Jester said...

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, reports have surfaced that the Mexecutioner was overheard boasting that he has become "more tranquillo -- more relaxed" as he continues to commit his atrocities upon whomever he is assigned to destroy by his over bosses.

F.B.I. sources, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation, were quoted as saying that yesterday, a mysterious figure named "T-Hen" was instrumental in aiding and abetting the Mexicutioner by providing some cover immediately prior to the three slayings.

If, despite all warning and your own better judgment, some morbid fascination compels you to go out to Kauffman stadium in the next week, the site of many of the Mexecutioner's attacks, for the love of God leave your wife and kids at home.

The violence on T.V. and movies is bad enough, please don't subject your kids to the live decimation of living, breathing MLB hitters.

True, they have a bat in their hands, but for all the good it's done them last three months, they may as well have a Kleenex as their weapon of self-defense.

Andrew Hoien said...

Frankly, I don't get the people that want Soria to move to the rotation.

Right now he is one of the top 5 closers in baseball.

Do you people not remember the years of Ricky Bottalico and Roberto Hernandez? Isn't it nice to have a closer that slams the door every single time?

Plus by 2010 we could have Meche, Banny, Zack, Hooch, Davies, Rosa, Duffy, Cortez and Pimentel all competing for spots in the rotation. I think that's enough depth.

Frankly, if the Royals do move Soria to the rotation, I give up. The kid is a stud, and I don't get messing with a good thing.

gib4ksu said...

PETA just stated that they wanted to quarantine an area near I-70 and I-435 beginning next Friday. They are worried about the Cardinals getting slaughtered by the Royalty in the area. As I am not a fan of PETA, at all, I decided to do a little research. It appears that the Cardinals that migrate to this area in June have typically faired ok, however research indicates that they almost went extinct in 1985 during the month of October. Since the Royalty in the KC area has become Marlin Killers, Diamondback Killers and most recently Cardinal Killers, I understand why PETA is afraid of the Cardinal livelihood next week. Especially since each of the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Cardinals were either at the top of their divisional food chain or the wild-card leader in the overall standings rated by the NL Survival Handbook of 2008.

goosemyer said...

Shealy for German.
Maier for Gaithright.
Butler back for a reliever roster spot.
More occasional power where these others are not doing anything.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Rany.

I'm also glad Hillman seems to be ending the Gathright experiment. Gathright is fine as a 4th OF/pinch runner/defensive replacement - but he is not good enough to play every day.

Next project: Gload should be a bench player only as well. Call up Butler and let him play 1B, let one of the two catchers DH every day.

Jack Jester said...

i agree with a. hoien. let's face it, the With Cheese don't have a helluva lot of leads after 7 innings, they've absolutely got to win a huge % of those relatively few games when they do if they want to start winning 70+ games per season.

Chris in Olathe said...

I'm GLAD Aviles is in the lineup right now. Pena has just been HORRIBLE at the plate. Hell, he can't even get a freaking bunt down!

What really seals TPJ's fate for me is the fact that he won't listen to Mike Barnett despite the fact that he makes Buddy Bianchalana look like A-Rod.

MEMO TO TPJ: Your way is CLEARLY not working. It might be a good idea for you to listen to your coache's advice.

Anonymous said...

Great article and comments, don't forget that we passed on Dan Uggla in Rule 5 for Esteban German, what a mistake, but let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, we have stumbled upon our SS or 2B of the future in Aviles, even if by pure luck after giving all other teams the chance to have him in Rule 5, let's not think our way out of our good fortune, but be thankful that we have found a new starting position player, to go with DeJesus, Gordon, Guillen (a great signing), hopefully Butler, maybe Teahan, maybe Buck or Olivo, let's keep this up, whether through blind luck (Aviles) or shrewd moves (Guillen), need to find out if Callaspo can start for us, if we have another Aviles at Omaha who can be a very good starter in outfield (Costa/Maier/Lubanski?), keep this search for starters going

John Pontoon said...

I've been waiting for either you or Poz to post about Aviles. Any way you slice it, 21 doubles plus 6 triples plus 10 homers in AAA (yeah, the PCL, but...) is GREAT power for a shortstop. Translate it lower for the bigs, he's still WAY likely to be one of the 5 best hitting shortstops in MLB.

He's 27 right now, so it likely won't last real long, but dang - enthusiasm is warranted.

Isaac said...

Again, he performs last night to make the difference in a game's outcome. Without his 2 out basehit, the game is tied in the 8th. He has been the difference in so many games so far that even if he does decline as expected, we will still have a good hitting competent fielding shortstop. Even if this doesn't last for very long it looks like it will last long enough to give us the time we need to pick up a real shortstop. We didn't have that with Pena and it makes a world of difference. If Callaspo is the answer to any extent at 2nd, we have fixed that problem for at least a couple years and that was a huge problem at the end of last year.

Anonymous said...

How long can a team like the Royals get NO POWER from its first basemen? Did I read the graphic correctly over the weekend that Gload has not had an RBI since May 7th? sheeeesh!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I want to compliment Hillman on moving Aviles to short as a defensive replacement for Pena late in yesterday's game. Aviles made a nice play to end the game - one that Pena had muffed earlier with his "slide and ole'" move. Still waiting for a reason NOT to consider Aviles the regular shortstop for the rest of the year - and decade.

Anonymous said...

Rany,
I would be interested to read your opinions on possible trades the Royals should/will make. My thoughts are the following players will be available (highest value on top):

1. Greinke - Trading him would seem to be a lot more difficult than people would think.

2. Dejesus - His stock has never been higher!

3. Mahay - Solid lefty out of the pen, locked up for another year spells a gold mine in prospects.

4. Teahen - Would be a complimentary player on a contending team, but will likely return very little in terms of prospects.

5. Olivo - Offensive catchers tend to be high in demand for contenders with no offensive production from that positions (i.e. Phillies, Brewers)

6. Grud - Old player but productive

7. German - Less value than 1 year ago

8. Gload - Probably will return a 3 year - AAA'er.

Thoughts?

Jon

Anonymous said...

First, I don't think Dayton Moore has given up quite yet on this season. The AL Central is mediocre and with the division-heavy schedule, any team can still win this division. My feeling is that the Royals (Moore and Hillman) aren't in love with Billy Butler. Not the player, the person. I think the kid has a real attitude problem. It would not surprise me to see him shipped out.

Jack Jester said...

Mournful Nation Marks Grim Milestone
--------------------------
June 23, 2008
Kansas City, Missouri
J. Jester
--------------------------
In the Midwestern United States today, citizens and MLB fans are taking time out of their days to commemorate the the victims who have lost their lives at the hands of the brutal, notorious, and thus-far unstoppable El Familia Royale hit man law enforcement has dubbed the "Mexecutioner".

The occasion for somber reflection and the honoring of the fallen comes via the surpassing of a once unthinkable milestone.

In broad daylight yesterday, on the Lord's day no less, the Mexecutioner took the lives of his 100th, 101st and 102nd victims since this season's killing spree began.

"Has this man absolutely no conscience?," asked St. Louis, Missouri resident and known associate of rival gang Familia d'el Cardinalito, Ben Tover .

"I mean, there we were, having made the journey to inform el familia royale of their orders, specifically, to back off and just take the beating they knew they had coming. We've been doing it for years now, and we've never had any problems in the past 10 years.

They understood their families' place in the MLB, and we were just there to do what we had to do. But yesterday, we saw a side of the E.F.R. that I, and all of the MLB cartel, had seen only very rarely over the past twenty years, and not at all since we offed their patriarch Don "Papa K" Kauffman in the '93.

Frankly, we were caught off guard, even with all the warnings we were hearing. We just simply couldn't believe E.F.R. had a hit man that would make our made men look like a bunch of choir girls.

" 'Speedy Fred' [Fredrico Lewis], 'Ruthless Ray' [Durham], and [Bengino] 'Big Ben" [Molina] might just be names to the public. But we knew these guys personally, they were family to us" continued Tover.

"These are what we in the MLB call our, 'top of the lineup' guys. Speedy was what we call our "leadoff hitter", and Big Ben, who we all figured was indestructible, was our 'clean-up hitter. I don't think I need to spell out for you what that means.

All I can tell you at this point is that we and a bunch of the other families are going to call a sit-down and discuss what to do about this.

Obviously, it's pointless to rely on the fererales, and in the MLB, we like to settle our business internally. At all costs, we'd like to avoid federal intervention like when those schmucks were busting our balls over our internal drug distribution disagreements and sticking their nose into our labor relations tactics when those (profanitiy) charged us with collusion.

Really," Tover elaborated, "E.F.R. isn't much of a threat to us any more, since they're in ALC's turf. But I can tell you for sure that the Tigeurro, Twinkito, Chicagonito South Sider and Clevellandito 'aka Tribe' families aren't going to let this go on much longer if they can help it."

The only statement issued by E.F.R. spokesman Daytonio Moorino
said, "all the other families can go (profanity) themselves. They just don't like be on the other side of the type of abuse they've been giving us for over a decade.

If they don't like it they can stay the (profanity) out of KC. And as for us traveling to deploy the services of our closer, as soon as the other families give us our proper propinas, show us some respect, and elevated us to our proper place in the MLB ACL hierarchy, that will no longer be necessary."

gib4ksu said...

Nothing better than a Jester post. Keep 'em coming.

Gib

jerel said...

Liking the Mexicutioner posts, jester, but I have to give props to Denny, who, after Yabuta did the pointless fake to third, fake to first move in the top of the
5th, (when the game was already 2 hours old) observed, "Not quite sure of the point of that move, but it does waste a little more time." Classic Denny, I loved it.

Anonymous said...

The Royals web site is now touting Aviles as a write-in candidate for the All Star game. The amusing article states that "no Royals shortstop is in the top 5 of the voting." Really?

I realize that Guillen and DeJesus have been hitting well, but Aviles has been the sparkplug to our offensive surge, particularly with him hitting second in the order.

Anonymous said...

Rany, I know you're busy, but I'd sure like to see you post here more often.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rany,

I've really enjoyed your blog on the Royals. Your critiques are dead on, as are your praises (they can't all be critiques, can they?). I just started my own blog (not to be in competition or anything, but just because I enjoy it), and I was hoping you could talk a look at it. The first post is located at http://royalsandcelebs.today.com/2008/06/24/hello-world/ and I wanted to know what you thought of it. Keep writing, and thanks for all your Royals chatter!

Josh

Anonymous said...

The Royals have two Hispanic players named for attractive historic cities in Old Castile: Soria and Avilés ("from Avila"). They should have kept Ambiorix Burgos as well for the Castilian city trifecta to come into play. It would be cool if they signed a guy named Segovia, León, Toledo, Alcalá or Zamora.

Peña, appropriately, means either "a rocky cliff" (what his OBP has fallen off) or "sorrow, suffering" (what he causes all of us to feel). De Jesús means, of course, "of / from Jesus"; this kind of surname is said to have been given to orphans back in the old days. Guillén is probably a version of Guillermo, or William/Williams. Ramírez is "son of Ramiro." Olivo is "olive tree." ("Olive" is "aceituna.") Germán doesn't mean "German," which would be Alemán; it's an old-fashioned first name. Rosa, of course, is "rose" or "pink," and Cortez (derived from Cortés) is "of / from the court," now meaning "polite, well-mannered."

I have no idea what Peralta or Callaspo might mean. "Pera" is "pear," and "alta" is "high," but I don't think Peralta means "high pear."