Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A September To Remember

The Royals are now 15-7 in the month of September, and you have to be a Royals fan to appreciate the magnitude of that. From 1999 through 2008, a span of 10 years, the Royals have had a grand total of nine winning months (counting March as April and October as September). Here, let’s just run all of them:

May 2000: 14-12
August 2000: 15-14
April 2003: 16-7 (+ 1-0 in March)
June 2003: 15-12
July 2003: 15-11
June 2007: 15-12
July 2007: 13-12
June 2008: 16-11
September 2008: 15-7

When the Royals won 16 games in June, who knew it was for just the second time this decade? With just two wins in their last four games – and Meche and Greinke both get one more start each – the Royals will have won 17 games in a calendar month for the first time since August, 1995. How long ago was that? The Royals got a huge spark that month from the major league debut of Johnny Damon.

So it’s been a good month. Good enough that if they win three of their last four games, they’ll meet my projection of 75 wins for the year. Good enough that the Royals have a real shot of finishing out of last place if they beat the Tigers tomorrow. And good enough that we may need to re-evaluate some of the players who have been key to this hot stretch.

I’ve already discussed Shealy, so let’s take a look at some of the other performances this month (numbers not including today’s game):

- DeJesus has hit .395/.440/.580 this month, and .307/.365/.453 overall. Barring a late collapse he’s almost sure to hit .300 for the first time, which is nice, but overall this doesn’t change the calculus on him too much. He’s a nice player and a valuable asset, but I can’t help but think he’d be more valuable to another team with a gaping hole in centerfield (Jon Heyman reports the Yankees are interested). The trick is that the Royals need to focus on acquiring offense this winter, so unless they can trade DeJesus for a masher in one of the corners (Corey Hart, maybe?) or a catcher (Jon Daniels, please pick up the white courtesy phone), it’s unlikely that trading DeJesus is going to improve the team, at least in the short term. Maybe Moore will surprise us.

- Jose Guillen (.380/.430/.557 in September, .267/.304/.446 overall) is back on the upward slope of the sine curve. You can break Guillen’s season down into four parts:

1) Fat slob out of spring training, 3/31 – 5/5: .165/.198/.306
2) In shape, 5/6 – 6/23: .380/.391/.659
3) Hurt but refuses to come out of the lineup, 6/24 – 8/23: .170/.234/.257
4) In shape, 8/24 – today: .352/.398/.552

That’s a streaky player. And streakiness is, on the whole, a good thing if it means that you can harness the good streaks and minimize the bad ones. We know that Guillen, when healthy and motivated, can still be a force in the middle of the lineup. If the Royals can keep him healthy and motivated for 162 games next season, he’ll have a great year, and Trey Hillman will deserve to be Manager of the Year, because no manager has managed to figure out how to do that yet.

The Royals are stuck with him for next year, so Hillman needs to figure out how to handle his prima donna. If Guillen shows up overweight next spring, we’ll know we’re in for another long season. “So-and-so is in the best shape of his career!” stories abound in February. If so-and-so happens to be Jose Guillen, it might actually mean something.

- Mark Teahen (.329/.354/.532, .256/.314/.405) continues to be a tease. Just when we all wrote him off, now he’s back to tantalize us with dreams of 2006 again. And it happens to coincide with his sort-of-return to third base. I believe it’s coincidence. For one thing, he actually hasn’t hit that well when playing third base; his numbers this year are .254/.280/.423 with three homers in 19 games. (He was playing right field in his two-homer game.) And it’s the rare player who definitively hits better playing one position over another – particularly while playing the more demanding defensive position. (The only example I can think of is Frank Thomas, who typically hit much better when playing first base than when used as a DH.)

Should we be worried about the possibility that Teahen plays third base next year? Absolutely, if only because it means that Alex Gordon might move to first base. (And you all thought I was crazy for suggesting that Gordon’s days at third were numbered.) If Gordon moves to first base next year, then Moore and Hillman deserve to be fired. Preferably from a cannon.

I think (hope?) that Teahen’s play at third base has served two purposes: to convince the Royals that he can play the position if need be, and to convince other teams that he can play the position if need be. Teahen’s combination of defensive versatility, broad (if not deep) offensive skills, and relatively young age still make him a valuable commodity. Few players can handle all four corner positions and hit like Teahen, and Teahen even did a decent job of handling center field a few times last season. If Moore can use this hot stretch to market him as a third baseman, great. If he’s playing third base for the Royals on Opening Day, either Gordon’s hurt or someone in the front office will be.

- Callaspo (.315/.346/.438, .313/.368/.383) has done what he’s done all year, although in fairness if you go back to August 23rd (when he returned from the Drunken List) he’s hit an impressive .337, with just four strikeouts in 101 at-bats. Callaspo needs to hit .300 to have value, because he has no power – he has yet to hit a homer in almost 400 major league at-bats – and while he has tremendous bat control, he doesn’t have great patience at the plate. He’s walked 18 times in 201 at-bats this year, 31 in 387 in his career, a rate that is consistent with his minor league record. If he hits .300 he can muster a .350 OBP and have value; if he hits .270 he’s a utility player who can’t handle shortstop, which is useless.

He’s still just 25, and he’s shown enough this year that the Royals ought to leave well enough alone and let him be the starting second baseman next year. I’d go even further, and lead him off. His lack of power won’t be a problem, it will encourage him to take pitches and get on base, and you can’t hit into a double play leading off an inning. (As a contact hitter with no power and no speed, Callaspo is a huge DP threat.)

- Esteban German (.316/.350/.421, .251/.306/.346). German really hasn’t had much to do with the September surge; I just wanted to point out that his horrendous start to the season obscures the fact that he’s played at a 2006-07 level for the last three months. He was sparingly used for the first three months and started the season 10-for-66 with just four walks. Since June 29th, in a lot more playing time (145 at-bats), he’s hit .297/.354/.421. He may not be the Esteban German that was arguably the best utility player in baseball in 2006, but he still has value. There are a lot of things the Royals can do with him this winter – simply releasing him should not be one of those options.

- Alex Gordon (.296/.367/.566, .257/.350/.427) also homered and singled tonight, giving him hits in all eight games since he’s returned. It’s a small sample size, but I continue to hold fast to my belief that he’s about to take a big step forward, and he’s done nothing to make me question my faith in him this month.

- Kila Ka’aihue (.278/.350/.444) has just 20 plate appearances, which include four singles, two walks, just one strikeout, and one very impressive homer. I’m only mentioning him here so I can link to it. It’s just one swing, and I am not a scout, but man…that’s a beautiful sight. Gavin Floyd is prone to the homer because his fastball is straight, but he has pretty good velocity, and that pitch was high and a little outside – you need some serious bat speed to yank that pitch into the right field bleachers. I feel a man-crush coming on.

Pitchers to follow.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

OMG -- too much obsessed about the Royals Doc. Root for the Rays, who are well past the Royals in terms of even worse stadium and small market baseball but who are much, more exciting that writing pages about mediocre players. I would love to have a fan of your obsessiveness talking Raysball.

It's a uniform doc. It's a uniform. ROOT for a concept. If KC was doing well I would root for them because they represent a need of winning that makes baseball a truly nation-wide league in place of a lots of big market, cable-network associated teams usually winning.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, the fact that the team is doing well now means they were capable of this all along. Which means that the Royals should be in the playoffs. This is obviously Hillman's fault.

Fire Hillman.

And Moore while we're at it.

Anonymous said...

To the first anonymous, you are an idiot.

We'll give it to the second one as well.

Anonymous said...

I think Teahen should have a roster spot as the super sub, but he just doesn't hit enough to be a starter in the outfield. We hear stories about the clubhouse issues, but I can't know how bad it is with JG. If he and Hillman can't co-exist the Royals need two outfielders, not one. Suppose the Royals get a good trade offer for DDJ, but the deal is for a catcher and/or SS and/or pitching? They might not be able to make such a trade that would help them contend later. Even if they sign (insert corner outfielder here) increasing the defensive stress on DDJ in center will no doubt lead to more injuries for him. I know it was never meant to be, but how different might this team look with T Hunter in center, DDJ in left and JG in right?

Alex said...

this september run (after that horrendous august) has me really excited, especially if they can finish in 4th. how awful is it to actually say that not finishing in last would be a huge step forward?

funny story, i was on a date with a girl in schaumburg, il (near chicago) on saturday, and if she hadn't noticed that i was paying more attention to the royals game on tv at the place we were eating, she certainly noticed when i stood up with both fists in the air after ka'aihue hit that bomb. it was worth it.

jonfmorse said...

Callaspo drives me crazy. Most guys with his stat line are fast guys who dink and bunt their average up (and also don't walk). Callaspo has no power, but he sprays line drives all over the place for hits, and will take a walk.

Who's he remind you of?

Scott said...

Hawk Harrelson sounded like Nicolas Cage in Honeymoon In Vegas trying to pronounce Ka'aihue's name.

I agree with the post above that Teahen should be moved to the bench as a utility player.

When will Tony Pena be released?

KMartin said...

If DDJ is with the team next year, Callaspo would be a great for the 9 hole. Sure he has no power but he strokes a lot of hits and he walks more than he strikes out! If DDJ is gone then the Royals need to find more speed at the leadoff spot. That way Aviles (who should win the Royals MVP this year hands down!)would see more fastballs. But who knows, Callaspo might find more power and base-path speed if he hangs with Billy Butler and Jenny Craig this winter!

To the first anonymous...uh...I know it's...uh...rocket science but...try a Rays blog site???

Teahen should be a utility guy next year to replace Glody who should be packaged and Fed Ex'd off of this team (while Hillman's back is turned of course).

Jonathan said...

Rany,
Just thought I'd post here as a Braves fan who has been following the Royals since I started reading "R&R on the R's" several years back (can't even say for sure when). I've enjoyed your analysis & fan passion, and hope that the Royals can progress under GMDM & Trey. I would think watching the Rays this year would be an encouragement, too.
Also wanted to point out - did you see the guy w/ the bubble gum on his hat in the dugout (in the home run video)? That's always a classic prank :-)

Aaron M. said...

I think Teahen deserves a couple months next year. If he shows no power and no ability to get on base, then he goes, or we trade him now hoping other teams still think he can be the 2006 guy. But his hot stretch here has earned him another look. Unless of course we sign Dunn or Burrell. If Teahen could play second, I'd think we'd all be happy with his bat. Maybe he should try that too.

As for the Rays, I plan on them being my postseason team. Hopefully the Royals follow in their footsteps next year.

Just last month I was calling for Hillman's head, but the stupid stuff he does has seemingly stopped. Gload no longer plays every day, we still steal the meaningless base or do it in weird situations, but I think those are more about timing the pitcher, and trying to catch the other team off guard now. Hillman gets at least 1 more year.

I guess Kila has to start the year at AAA next year, because I don't see any way around giving Shealy the 1B job. Butler is our DH, and unless we want to rotate those guys in some kind of platoon that's how it has to be.

This month the Royals are turning people's heads, and I'm glad this is happening. Without this month, I don't know that people would see this season as a step forward. Take out our 7-20 August and they are 65-66. With a little more talent here, they can avoid the losing streaks and maybe even contend next year. That may be optimistic, but here's how I'd do it:

1. Move Soria to the rotation. Let Nunez, Mahay, and Ramirez close based on matchups. They would blow about 4-5 more games than Soria, but Soria would win a lot more than Bannister, Davies, Duckworth, Hochevar. That likely makes the rotation, Greinke,Meche,Soria, Hochevar, Davies, Duckworth in long relief, and Banny at AAA to figure a few things out.

2. Sign a pitcher, trade for OF talent? There are tons of pitchers we could sign. AJ Burnett (if he opts out), Ryan Dempster, Mark Mulder, Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, Pettitte/Mussina, or even take a shot on Mark Prior. Obviously Sabathia is probably out of our range.

3. Play the young guys, no more Ross Gloads.

4. Jimmy Gobble plays but only as a LOOGY.

5. I can't help but get the feeling if we sign Dunn, this is where his HRs will come to die. Kauffman is much bigger than Cincinatti. He could lose a bunch of power. Same for Burrell.

Anonymous said...

Matt Holliday's OBP is mouth-wateringly good. His power numbers would go down in KC and in the AL, but at OBP shouldn't. Plug him in a corner with Guillen in the other, DeJesus in center and Teahen as #4. To me, that seems strong. How much would he cost us?

The Mad Rabbi said...

It seems that Teahen is like a microcosm of the entire Royals organization. Just when we thought they were doing well, the month of August happens (7 wins, 20 losses). Then when we write them off, the month of September happens. Unbelievable.

I appreciate everyone's thoughts on Teahen and giving him another shot, but folks... ask yourself one serious question and give it an HONEST answer. Would a perennial winning playoff team give a guy like Teahen a roster spot again next year? The answer is no. Look at all the AL playoff teams for this year (TB, BOS, MIN/CHI, etc)...none of them would, so neither should we. We need to start running ourselves like a professional winning organization. And that means no more learning time at the MLB level. If you can't hack it here, then AAA or AA you go. Period.

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is that I love how you guys go crazy for a team like KC. They would my team over the endless NY/BOS/PHI/NYM myopia of the ESPNclass.

The Rays might be the greatest story in baseball in quite some time and I'm savoring it because, frankly, many of the this teams stars will soon be Yankees or Red Sox.

The Royals need simply copy their philosophy: defense and pitchers who create opportunities to benefit from that defense plus batters who actually have "an approach" at the plate.

If you ever told me I would see the Rays win 95 games a year, I would laugh at you so hard, my face would be permanently flushed and I would need the good Doc to give me some cream to remove the flush.

But, through luck and some creative trades, we did it. I would bet that Minnesota would have taken DeJesus + a prospect for Garza and Bartlett. Next, we started to look at college pitching in the draft. Basically, we have an approach.

Listen, we're still fielding an entire team that cost less than the Red Sox paid to talk to Matsusaka and we have to play Toronto, NYY, and Boston a lot more than you do, so the AL is tough.

We had tons of great Septembers too -- that's what young, eager teams sort of have when they play veteran squads who care less when they are out of the race. Still, nothing paid off until the team started thinking as a concept and showing that you could field a competitive team for about $45 mill and a smart manager.

All the words the good Doc writes about guys are Guillen are silly. He's not the answer and he never will be. Trust me, he was a Ray during all the "great Septembers" who used to have.

Alex said...

Still haven't found that Rays blog, eh anonymous?

Anonymous said...

Who is this guy that keeps talking about the Rays????

rebmoti said...

Just say no to Pat Burrell! The guy's a lump.

Isaac said...

This month has been a surprise for sure and we can definitely win 2 out of the final four to reach 17 wins for the month. I don't know if Greinke gets another start though. If Hillman goes with the current rotation, and he probably will to make our lives the hell that they are, then Greinke misses it by a day. Hillman would have to skip Duckworth.

I caution everyone against getting too excited. This team is very inconsistent in unison. They had a great June and look at August. I know this month has been against the AL which makes it better but we have also played the A's, M's, and Tigers which has been worth a 9-0 record. We are 6-7 against the rest of the league.

I've got the same hope for Gordon. If he is moved to 1B then, unfortunately, DM and Hillman will have to be shot.

Teahen has earned himself a spot on the team next year in my mind.

I have a lot of trouble with German. Sure he hits, but just as you cannot have a guy who fields and can't hit (Pena) you can't have a guy who hits and can't field. German can't field worth a lick.

Callaspo is already my starting second baseman for next year. We simply need a hitting coach or manager or both that know how to teach plate patience. Give Callaspo that and you have a very good player.

The one thing you really didn't mention is that Greinke is getting looked at by a lot of teams(all of them)and he needs to be resigned this off season for lots of money. He is still inconsistent to some degree but is improving with every year and his arm is fresh.

Guillen better be good and healthy and fit come March of next year.

Isaac said...

I said you can't have a guy who can hit and can't field. Let me clarify. You can't have more than one and you can't have one that hits like German does. German is a backup at best and he therefore needs to have both skills. If we can't release him then find someone who wants him. He is not a good idea for this team.

Shelby said...

What about Shealy???

Anonymous said...

"Would a perennial winning playoff team give a guy like Teahen a roster spot again next year? The answer is no."

Umm, a guy that can play all 4 corner positions with a close to average bat wouldn't be on the roster of playoff teams? Quick someone tell Rob Quinlan he shouldn't be there.

Anonymous said...

I see that the Royals have shut down Zack for the year. This is obviously a sign that Hillman is not able to run a pitching staff. Inexcusable.

Fire Hillman.

Isaac said...

As I said, Hillman would find a reason to not start Greinke on Sunday. I'm shocked that it was not more obvious to everyone here based on Hillman's decisions this year.

keith jersey said...

Why should they pitch Greinke again? He has exceeded his career high in innings pitched and pitching him on Sunday skips somebody else's turn. Who cares if he wins 13 or 14? Lets just say he finished the year with a dominant start and let's build off that next year.

These fire Hillman complaints are getting ridiculous. The royals are going to win 73-74 games this year. Who here thought they would exceed that at the beginning of the year? You are unrealistic if you did.

Isaac said...

Ridiculous you say? Are you talking about the same guy? You know, the one who had German sac bunt in the third inning of a 0-0 game against Texas, watch him fail only to hit a double on his last strike, get another hit in the 5th, and then ask him to do it in the 7th to watch him fail again. The same guy that had another one of our bad bunting player sac bunt in the 3rd inning of another game? The same guy that sent Peralta into the 9th inning of a 3-0 game against the White Sox to face Dye, Thome, and Konerko? The same guy that totally misused Gobble this year, that couldn't get our players to communicate and catch popups, and hasn't shown any ability to change his philosophy that has proven to not work?

I was just wondering because it doesn't sound like you are talking about the same guy.

Anonymous said...

Issac,

You're right. Fire Hillman. Bring on Davey Lopes

Bob McWilliams said...

I think it makes perfect sense to shut down Zach, and I would guess that was not Trey's decision alone.

Rany, if the Royals traded DeJesus for a bat (corner outfield? catcerh), who would play CF. It's pretty clear Joey should not be in the lineup. Mitch Maier? Teahan? These don't look like solutions to me, and no one in the minors for sure for CF.

Nathan Hall said...

As with last off-season, the rationale behind trying to trade DeJesus escapes me. He's a slightly above-average center fielder, signed through 2011 (I think), and likely to be productive throughout his contract. Why can't he be part of the next good Royals team? You talk about trading him to a team with a hole in center--isn't that exactly what the Royals would be without him?

Don't tell me the Royals can't compete before 2011. With Grienke, Meche, Soria, Gordon, Butler, and a number of other talented players (admittedly without the upside of those five), the next two or three years will be the best shot we've had since the '90s. Yes, '03 included. If we go into yet another "rebuilding" mode, I might just give up for good.

Ryan said...

Why would anyone care if Greinke started the last game of the year when he's pitched 80 more innings than the year before? Use some common sense.

Why couldn't Maier take over CF if DeJesus gets traded?

Isaac said...

Nathan, the Royals can't compete before 2011. I know that this month has everyone all excited and rightfully so, but it is still the same team that we have had all year with the same manager and the same hitting coach and the same swing early and often hitting philosophy. Nothing has changed from 25 days ago.

As far as center field goes, I see nothing wrong with giving Maier a shot in center next year. I understand that his power numbers are non existent but I also think that they would improve over the course of a full year. It is my opinion that he is far and away the best CF we have in the field. As a matter of fact, after being able to watch him for plenty of games now, I don't think DeJesus or Gathright are even close.

Anonymous said...

BTW - Billy Butler was the guy with the bubble on his head

http://thesedatedapepics.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/billy-butler-w-a-bubble-on-his-head/

another pic I took of Kila's 1st mlb hr swing

http://thesedatedapepics.wordpress.com/2008/09/21/kilas-first-mlb-home-run/

Alex said...

your picture of ka'aihue's home run swing is now my background at work. thanks.

Anonymous said...

This team needs talent. Addition by Addition, not addition by subtraction, in my opinion. DDJ stays, Greinke stays, Soria stays, Teahen stays (but not as a starter unless Kila and Shealy both get hurt)... Oh, but Gload, that might be addition by subtraction - no room for him on the bench next year. Draft and develop. Please don't make Zack and Joakim the next Beltran. Prospects, no matter how good, are no sure thing. I miss watching Carlos turn the corners going around the bases. THAT was beautiful to watch.

Anonymous said...

Why not try Teahen at shortstop? He's quick, has good range, and an excellent arm. Doesn't quite fit the prototype, but neither did Cal Jr. Move Aviles to 2B, and you have a middle infield with some pop. Leave Gordon at 3B, Shealy at 1B, and your whole infield has 20 HR potential.

Isaac said...

Unfortunately, the only way you get talent with addition by addition is by signing FAs and that is something the Royals can't go out and do. The Yankees can't even do that as they have shown. The Royals will have to trade some players to get others whether you like it or not and sometimes those players will have to be good players that we don't really want to lose in a perfect world. We can't have it all.

Anonymous said...

And the reason we can't have it all is because Hillman won't let us.

Fire Hillman.

Unknown Royals Fan said...

I want to see free and open competition for key slots in Spring Training. What everyone seems to be forgetting is this:

At this point, Gordon and Teahen are essentially the same hitter - look at the numbers. However, Teahen has a better glove at 3B. If we sign a good corner outfield bat over the offseason, it's realistic that our best starting nine includes Teahen at third.

Which plugs Gordon into the 1B/DH overload. I can easily see a scenario where Shealy is at 1B (he's likely to hit better than Butler or Gordon) and Ka'aihue is our DH. Which makes Butler and Gordon either trade bait or competing for PCL MVP at Omaha.

We're gathering a body of evidence that suggests Butler and Gordon are can't-miss prospects that are going to miss. Me, I want to see the best team the Royals can put on the field next year, and if that doesn't include Butler or Gordon, I'm fine with it.

Antonio said...

I'm guessing that you're basing that off of their BA/HR/RBI being about the same...while ignoring that Teahen has K'd 15 more times while walking 20 less, and Gordon would have walked even more if he had the PA that Teahen has. AG has a slight lead in HR and and 2B, but in 76 fewer at bats. Therefore, Gordon's OBP is 40 points higher and his slugging is 32 points higher. And that leads to an OPS+ of 106 for AG and 86 for MT. That's a large difference. You are right about defense though. Gordon has better hands, but Teahen has much better range, which offsets the small difference in FP.

Nathan Hall said...

Isaac,

Are you saying the Yankees can't sign free agents?

I guess Dayton and I are in the minority in thinking you want to try to win as many games as possible (without sacrificing prospects) every year. There's no guarantee that any other team in the AL Central is going to win 90 games next year, and it wouldn't be impossible to add 10-15 wins to this year's team (which, pitfalls and all, is the best Royals squad in a long time) and contend. Yes, that's assuming Butler and Gordon develop, Aviles is for real, the pitching doesn't regress, and a good free agent outfielder pushes Teahen to supersub and Gload off the roster. Sure, all that's probably not going to happen. But there's a better chance of winning in 2009 than there has been in decades, and I for one would like to see a Royals team actually trying to succeed, instead of punting yet again and aiming for 20XX. We've been rebuilding for 15 years. It's time to try a new approach, and if that takes a little investment in free-agents, I'll be glad to see it.

Nathan Hall said...

I just want to add that any run at the playoffs for a team like KC is going to be built around a group of talented young players, augmented by free agents and trades. Now, we have a group of young talent now: Grienke, Soria (and some other good relievers), Gordon, Butler, Aviles, DeJesus, and, at a lower but still valuable level, Teahen, Buck, Shealy, Kila, Maier, Bannister. We have some additions from outside the system that can contribute for the next couple of years: Meche, Guillen, Mahay. All these players except Butler and Kila are in their mid-20's or older, so on average they're not going to be better in 2012 than 2009-10-11.

Now, this isn't quite a winning team, but I think it can be successful with a little more FA dabbling and provided we stop wasting ABs on sub-replacement-level hitters. But if we decide we can't compete until 2012, who do you expect to be the core of that team? Are we so loaded in the minors--or can we get so much return from trades--that the core of the 2012 team will be better than what's listed above? I frankly doubt it. Several of the players listed above--whose primes would be wasted if we decide to play for the distant future--are extremely valuable finds. Core talent like what we've got is actually pretty rare, and if we can't win with this wave of young players, I doubt we'll be able to win with the next one.

This team played badly overall this year, but replacing Pena with Aviles and Gload with Shealy improved things greatly. Keep DeJesus, sign a middle infielder and an outfielder, and you've got a sound linup. Grienke-Meche-Bannister-Hochevar-Davies is a respectable rotation, and our bullpen is well above average. Pessimism is automatic for Royals fans, but I'm really not sure it's warranted at the moment, if the front office concentrates on adding established or MLB-ready talent in the offseason, rather than trying to start completely over.