As we reach the All-Star Break, let’s run down the entire offense while watching the Home Run Derby and wondering where Josh Hamilton ranks among the all the players in major league history in terms of raw talent:
- You know, if you could rip John Buck’s 2007 and 2008 season into halves and combine the good parts of each season, you’d have a hell of a player. Last year, Buck hit for good power (18 HR in 347 AB) but couldn’t hit for average (.222) and was terrible with men in scoring position (.179/.257/.326). This year, Buck is hitting for a better average (.251), he’s got the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career (a still sub-optimal 50 to 22), and he’s hitting .361/.408/.574 with runners in scoring position. (By the way, that’s just another data point against the claim that clutch hitting is a skill and not random variation.) But he’s hit just 5 home runs.
I believe in the theory that when a young player shows a particular ability in one season, he possesses that talent – players don’t hit for a lot of power in their mid-20s and then never hit for power again. Mark Teahen is doing his best to prove me wrong, but in Buck’s case, this year is the fluke season – he’s hit for power in every season but this one. Maybe he’s sacrificing some power for contact, but it’s worth noting that his rate of doubles (
- Ross Gload’s been on quite the tear of late, and his season marks are up to .277/.327/.336. That’s still miles from good. I’ve made this point before: Gload is a terrific bench player, because he can be used as both a pinch-hitter (he hits line drives, rarely strikes out, and his career splits against LHP and RHP are almost identical) and as a defensive replacement. He’s not remotely a starting first baseman. I know Moore values Defense Uber Alles, but at some point we have to punt on this season, and when that point is reached Butler needs to play first base and Gload needs to hit the bench.
- I have probably written less about Mark Grudzielanek than anyone else on the roster. What’s there to say? He’s a pro’s pro, perhaps the smartest defensive player on the team, a guy who can hit .300 by punching the ball to right field in his sleep. I was skeptical when the Royals signed him, because 36-year-old second basemen are not exactly growth stocks. But Grudzielanek has actually improved his numbers every year with the Royals. I think now is the right time to move him, and there’s at least a 50/50 chance he’ll be in another uniform in three weeks. So let’s acknowledge him for what he’s done for the Royals, giving the team a rock of stability in the middle infield for the better part of three seasons. As free agent signings go, he’s been the most pleasant surprise since the Royals inked Greg Gagne.
- Alex Gordon, I’ve sort of covered. One relatively unnoticed development: Splash already has nearly as many walks this year (39) as last (41). Plate discipline and power are highly correlated, though which comes first is a chicken-or-the-egg argument: you’re more likely to hit for power if you work the count, but you’re more likely to get pitched carefully if you’re a power threat. In Gordon’s case, we know he’s got the power; if he continues to get into favorable counts, eventually the 3-1 cookies will come.
- In the live-ball era (since 1920), there are 23 members of the 160-160 club: players who have hit .160 or less with 160 at-bats or more. The Royals have been honored with the presence of such a member for two straight seasons – Jason Larue (.148, 169 AB) last year, and Tony Pena Jr. (.155, 181 AB) this year.
Pena’s not just hitting .155, though – he also has just five walks all year, putting his OBP at just .176. If Pena doesn’t bat again this year – we can only hope – his OBP will be the lowest of any player with 130 or more at-bats in the live-ball era. I’m amused to see that the player whose record he’s trying to break with a .178 mark is Angel Salazar – yes, that Angel Salazar, the guy who torpedoed the Royals’ pennant hopes in 1987. (Salazar actually set the record with the Expos in 1984; by comparison, his .212 OBP in ’87 is almost Bondsian.)
Incidentally, if we lower the threshold to 120 at-bats, Pena’s .176 OBP would improve to third-worst - thanks to Gaylord Perry and Robin Roberts. Six pitchers since 1920 have had between 120 and 130 at-bats - four of them had better OBPs than Pena has.
And remember, Pena’s OBP is only as high as it is because he's been intentionally walked – twice. At least he’s a good bunter. Oh wait…
- Mike Aviles is hot again – 14-for-
In their history, guess how many times the Royals’ shortstop hit 12 homers? Twice – Angel Berroa’s Rookie of the Year season, and Jay Bell’s amazing single year in
In 36 games,
- More people seem ready to give up on Billy Butler than on Alex Gordon. Let’s take a step back, everyone.
- Jose Guillen has been a swirling vortex of suck for six weeks, and he’s been an unstoppable line-drive machine for six weeks. Over the last three weeks he’s back to SVOS (.167/.214/.212 in his last 17 games), and I’m thinking “Sybil” might be a good nickname for him. But after half a season, the Royals have spent $12 million on a leftfielder with an OPS+ of 98. He must have a hell of an impact in the clubhouse.
- I’m happy to say that in Baseball Prospectus I wrote of DeJesus, “Expect a power spike into the 13-17 homer range this season.” The problem is that I wrote that in BP last year – before David had the worst season of his career. But as I wrote in this year's book, his peripherals from last season were unchanged – his secondary skills were intact, and he didn’t strike out any more than usual – so he was likely to bounce back. But back in March I wasn’t expecting a career year out of him. Hell, at the end of May I wasn't expecting a career year out of him - on May 26th he was hitting .270/.329/.365, and some idiot was advocating trading him to the Cubs for Felix Pie and Ronny Cedeno.
David’s having a nice little year, though really the only difference between this season and 2005-06 is that he’s hitting a few more homers and a few less doubles. DeJesus straddles the line between quality regular and minor star, the type of player that falls apart around age 32. That’s still four years away, and coincidentally he’s signed through 2011. I think he’s elevated himself from part of the problem to part of the solution.
Incidentally, it was widely reported that DeJesus’ walk-off homer against Brandon Morrow on Saturday was the first walk-off homer for the Royals since Alberto Castillo in 2005. This is true, but the difference is that Castillo’s homer came with the game tied. As was Carlos Beltran’s walk-off homer on Opening Day 2004 (although that game gets an honorable mention since Mendy Lopez had already tied the game with a homer.) The Royals had two walk-offs in 2003, four in 2002, three in 2001 – but all came with the game tied.
The last time the Royals had a walk-off home run that turned defeat into victory? Yep – the “What is going on?” walk-off, courtesy Rey Sanchez, on
The last time the Royals got a walk-off home run when they were losing and down to their final out came in similar circumstances. They were losing by a run going to the bottom of the ninth, the opponent got two quick outs, walked a batter, and then their flame-throwing closer faced the Royals’ centerfielder, who hit the game-ending homer.
The closer was Goose Gossage. The hitter was Amos Otis. The year was 1978.
If what DeJesus did on Saturday seems remarkable, that’s because it was. The Royals snatched victory away from the jaws of defeat on a walk-off homer with one out to go for the first time in over 30 years.
And even THEN there’s a caveat: A.O.’s home run was an inside-the-parker. (Man, I’d love to see the video of that.) It wasn’t a walk-off so much as a run-off. The Royals last walk-off homer when down to their final out was on July 22nd, 1973, when Otis hit a three-run homer off Eduardo Rodriguez, immediately after Cookie Rojas reached on an error by Don Money that should have ended the game.
That was the team’s last do-or-die walk-off homer, and until Saturday, their only one – ever. I’m glad I was watching the game on Saturday, because I had never seen a Royal player do what DeJesus did. I couldn’t have: it had never before happened in my lifetime.
A.O.’s walk-off came two months after the Royals were no-hit for the first time. DeJesus’ walk-off came two months after the Royals were no-hit for the second time. Spooky.
(And as if it needed to be said: God Bless Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.com.)
- For all that Mark Teahen could be, what he is is the epitome of average. His career OPS+ is 99. He has played third base and right field in his career, two positions in the middle of the defensive spectrum. He has average power (14 homers per 162 games), average plate discipline (58 walks), average speed (11 steals), average, uh, average (.270). He plays roughly average defense. He’s almost 27 years old, the classic midpoint of a player’s career. The only areas in which he’s decidedly not average is his baserunning ability – he has averaged 33 doubles and 8 triples per 162 games, which is a testament to his baserunning instincts more than his foot speed.
Strange stat: he grounded into 23 double plays last year, but just four so far this year, even though he’s hitting groundballs at the same rate (1.85 G/F last year, 1.81 this year).
- Miguel Olivo has done what he always does: swing at everything (53 Ks, 7 walks), occasionally connect (9 HRs in 196 AB), and crush lefties (.293/.349/.638). The most interesting question for me in the second half is whether he’ll play well enough, and often enough, to merit Type B free agency status at the end of the year.
Two years ago the Royals signed David Riske to a two-year contract, but with a player option to leave after just one year. I thought it was a foolish concession at the time, but that’s because at the time I didn’t realize that if the player opted out he would still be treated as a true free agent if he signed with another team – meaning the Royals would get compensation if his status warranted it. Riske pitched well enough to merit Type B status, so when he opted out, the Royals got a supplemental first-round pick for their troubles, and used that pick on Michael Montgomery, who at last check was pitching very well down in rookie ball. That’s a nice payoff: for $3 million the Royals got a fine year of middle relief and the 40th pick in the draft.
This wasn’t an accidental provision, because this winter
- The most important statistic for Esteban German is this: 93. As in, he’s had 93 plate appearances all year. The notion that he’s washed up or should be released on the basis of 93 plate appearances is laughable. He’s been a victim of too much depth at second base, but with Callaspo out indefinitely and Grudzielanek likely to be traded at some point, he’s likely to get more playing time in the second half. This is the same guy with a .380+ OBP the last two years – he still has some value.
- Callaspo has bigger things to worry about than his performance on the field in the first half. Assuming he gets his life in order, he still has upside as a potential starting second baseman. He has lived up to his reputation for making contact – he’s whiffed just 9 times in 100 at-bats – but he needs to hit for at least a smidgeon of power. He’s only 25. I’d still rather have him than Billy Buckner, who has a 4.73 ERA in Triple-A Tucson this season.
I’ll try to get to the pitchers soon, but for now, tying up some loose ends…
- A few days ago I received a card in the mail from Rob Neyer – he had been doing some spring cleaning (in July) and found a few Royals baseball cards I might enjoy.
The first one was clearly a special card, as a piece of fabric was tucked inside. The back of the card gave the story away: “Congratulations! You have just received an authentic MLB All-Star-Worn Jersey Card of Ken Harvey from 2005 Topps Baseball Series
And all this time, I thought Rob was a friend.
- I’ll finish up with this: I’m planning to attend the Royals-White Sox tilt at U.S. Cellular Park this Saturday, July 19th. Game time is . If you live in the Chicagoland area and want to join me at the park, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bonus points if you’re willing to do the heavy lifting in terms of organizing the outing; Sox games on Saturday nights sometimes sell out, so we may need to purchase tickets ahead of time. No guarantees, but if we get a half dozen or more people interested in attending the game, we’ll try to set something up. You don’t have to be a Royals fan to join us…but you have to be good at pretending to be a Royals fan.