Monday, July 14, 2008

Royals Today: All-Star Break Edition

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 (15 in 227 AB) is the highest of his career. Look for him to hit more big flies in the second half; if he can keep the average over .250, he still might rank in the upper half of major league catchers when the season’s out.

- 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-32 in his last seven games – and that might be more impressive than his first hot stretch, because by now you have to figure the book on Aviles has gotten around the league. He hit .336 with power in Triple-A, he’s hitting .310 with doubles power in the majors, he doesn’t strike out a whole lot – he’s still playing over his head, but if the Royals can stomach his defense out there for a full season, he could be one of the best-hitting shortstops the Royals have ever had.

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 Kansas City. How many times has the team’s shortstop garnered more than 45 extra-base hits? Twice – the same two years.

In 36 games, Aviles has 4 homers and 16 extra-base hits. If he plays every game the rest of the way, he’s on pace to finish with 12 homers and 47 extra-base hits – in 105 games. Over a full season Aviles could shatter most of the offensive marks for a Royals shortstop. He’ll have to, to make up for his glove.

- More people seem ready to give up on Billy Butler than on Alex Gordon. Let’s take a step back, everyone. Butler has played in 159 games in his career – a full season, basically. His career marks include a .274 average, 10 homers, 36 doubles, and 48 walks. Not star material, but for a 21-22 year old player, that’s something to build on. While his power has regressed this year, he has improved his walk rate and cut his strikeouts from his rookie season. The problem is simple: he’s hitting way too many groundballs. His G/F ratio was 1.69 as a rookie, and is 1.77 this year. He’s already hit into 12 double plays this year, which is frightening. Someone needs to convince him that he’s not the second coming of Ken Harvey. Ideally, that someone would be his hitting coach. I’m sure there’s a compelling reason why the Royals haven’t fired Mike Barnett. I just can’t find it.

- 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. Yeah, I’m glad the Royals didn’t listen to me that time.

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 April 12th 2000. Sanchez’s homer came with the Royals down 6-4 and men on second and third. But even Sanchez’s homer came with nobody out, so it wasn’t the do-or-die situation that DeJesus faced.

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). Butler and him should set up a friendly wager over who hits more fly balls in the second half. Hell, I’ll put up the stakes.

- 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 Dayton gave Olivo the same kind of deal. Olivo can opt out at the end of the season, and there’s a good chance he will depending on the depth of catchers on the market. If he does, there’s a good chance he’ll be a Type B free agent – you have to rank in the top 40% at your position to do so, and the rankings take into account performance over the last two seasons. The exact formula was created by the Elias Sports Bureau, which means it’s both Byzantine and not particularly reflective of reality, but playing time factors heavily into the equation. Olivo was a full-time starter last year and at least a half-time player this year, so the odds are in favor that he’ll get a new contract, the Royals will make use of their shrewd acquisition of Brayan Pena, and get another draft pick for their troubles.

- 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 1.” The second card was a Bowman Chrome rookie card – complete with facsimile signature! – of Colt Griffin.

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 6:05 CDT. If you live in the Chicagoland area and want to join me at the park, shoot me an email at ranyj@baseballprospectus.com. 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.

21 comments:

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

Esteban German had an OBP of .351 in 2007. You can't merely average 2006 and 2007 and say he had 2 straight .380+ OBP seasons. Look closer at his stats. They have been on the decline since the last two months of 2007.

At this point in his career, German is a backup player that cannot hit and cannot play even average defense. What is his value to the team anymore?

Anonymous said...

Funny how I used to see Eric Gagne's name and pronounce it Gag-ney, and now seeing Greg Gagne's name I pronounce it Gone-yea.

rebmoti said...

"players don’t hit for a lot of power in their mid-20s and then never hit for power again"

2 words, Rany: Kevin Maas.

"Swirling vortex of suck" - I love it. The wordplay, that is, not the mediocre player.

Anonymous said...

Rany, I have worked at the K since 1977 - and I remember that Otis inside the park HR like it was yesterday.

A.O. hit a drive into right center, placed perfectly between the two outfielders. The two Yankee outfielders collided on the play, which was what made the homerun possible.

My memory fails me as to the identity of the outfielders, but I'm fairly certain one of them was Reggie Jackson.

Kevin said...

Saw in the KC STAR that Moustakas has an oblique injury.

AND - Here's a question to chew on -- Would we rather have had Josh Hamilton as opposed to Joakim Soria??

Kubi said...

So, one thing that I dont understand regarding Olivo: according to Cot's Contracts, at the end of the year, he will still be short (by 1 day!) of six years of MLB service time and therefore should not be a free agent. If this is correct, my understanding is that he would still be property the Royals even if he or the team fails to pick up his option. In that case, the Royals would either have to offer him arbitration or non-tender him. Either way, no draft pick even if he does reach Type B status.

In short, either Cot's is wrong, I am wrong in my understanding of the rules, or Rany's post is incorrect. Any help in sorting this out would be greatly appreciated.

Adam said...

Ryan: this year is not evidence of German's inability to hit. He has not had enough at bats, and they haven't been nearly consistent enough. With Gload starting at first, and TPJ still in the dugout, and Callaspo in AA, German should be the last person we're looking to get rid of.

If he could get back to 2007 form with a paltry .351 OBP, he'd be the third best OBP man on the team. I'd take it.

SconieRoyal said...

Just listened to Rob on 810 AM in KC, when asked what the best thing to take from this season so far (this is probably phrased incorrectly) his response was “well they aren’t a complete joke” or something of this ilk.

I believe this is called a back-handed compliment.

The truth can hurt.

Anonymous said...

If the Royals flat-out don't think Butler can play first, how about giving Olivo a shot there? Plus that would force them to finally give TPJ (or German) the boot for another catcher.

GA said...

Rany- as always, good work. And for the most part I agree with you. I really think this second half of the season is going to be one of the most important this franchise has had in years. If they plan to make the playoffs in 2010 (or at least that's the date we're being fed this year) then these next 3 months could start to show what kind of plans or actions this regime is planning to do to attain that goal. Besides the trades that are necessary, they'll need to start doing more "addition by subtraction" to either bring along the talent in the minors OR add a few more pieces. Guys who are taking up dead weight on the 25-man flat out need to be moved. Either waived, optioned or traded. If next year is to be another rebuilding year with the following year to be magical, then the clock is ticking and this second half will be extremely important for player movement and development.

And If we don't see much of that, then I have no reason to believe in Deja Vue with this management and while making a few nice acquisitions and a couple of lucky trades, there really isn't a committment to winning. All the while, watching the Rays enjoy success with a good young team that might actually stay together.

AC said...

Who does this fella "Uber Alles" play for and do you think Dayton Moore will trade for him? He sounds like a helluva leather-guy . . .

Max said...

"If the Royals flat-out don't think Butler can play first, how about giving Olivo a shot there?"

I'd rather see what Shealy can do, as he has a greater chance of being part of the future than Olivo.

Great wrap up Rany. Always love an Angel Salazar reference.

Brett said...

Rany, you're awesome. I won't be in Chicago this weekend, but if you're ever in DC when the Royals are out here (interleague or playing up in Baltimore), I'll buy your ticket.

Anonymous said...

The thing with German and Grudzielanek is that

a) Aviles is probably going to play 2nd if/when Grudz is traded

b) Which means that German, TPJ, or Callaspo would play short (unless the Royals trade for another shortstop)

German had his peak in 2006, but freaking Buddy Bell didn't use him properly. Esteban should look into a career as a hitting instructor after his active career ends, just purely off of his very good batting eye (and maybe he could impart the value of taking pitches to his fellow player)

Samuel Hammond said...

Did anyone else get the feeling that this was the first time that Tim Mccarver and Joe Buck had ever heard of Soria? Or McClouth? Or about 12 other players from last night? Perhaps those two could have done research on the players they were about to cover instead of trying to yuk up to jeter and arod.

Berry Christopher said...

I think it is time to transfer Soria into the rotation. If he works out to be a top 20% AL starter you leave him there. If Ramon Ramirez is horrible, which I don't think he would be, you move Horatio Ramirez or Mahay into that spot. I'm one for saying that it is easier to pitch one inning than 6 or 7. But Soria has the pitches to do just that. You could even have, and get ready for this, a brett tomko type to close games. If you take a power arm and he knows he only has to throw one inning, you'll see that guy throw some major gas. Sure he'll give up some homers and blow some games, but the Royals would have a nice young starter locked up till 2014.

Kevin said...

I agree on the Buck/McCarver comment. They didn't say a single word about him the entire time he pitched. I'm not the first person to say it but had Boston or NY picked him up the same way DM did they would be having parades and celebrations for their brilliance.

I also thought it was really low class for Francona to pitch cry baby Papelbon when he did instead of Soria. At that point it looked pretty much like Soria wouldn't even get a chance to appear so that we could watch ANOTHER tiresome Boston player instead.

Kevin said...

And, yes, I agree it is soon time to work Soria into the rotation and build innings. Let's see how he works out this year. I still have some hope (barely) that they can finish with 82 games as I hoped coming into season. But, it is silly to think they will contend so let's continue to develop players.

Kevin said...

If they trade Grudz, they should keep Aviles at short and use German/Callaspo as 2nd. Aviles has been serviceable there.

Shelby said...

Maybe they should put Aviles at 2nd just to make him look more appetizing as trade bait.