Case in point: I’m currently writing you from Vail,
Dedication may be the best I can offer you, given my recent track record of prognostication. For as much as I have confidence in my ability to analyze the Royals’ actions, my ability to predict their actions could use a little work. Two recent examples stand out:
1) On February 5th, after the Royals announced they would try Mark Teahen at second base, I wrote this: “I think it’s worth a try, and I credit the Royals for entertaining the idea. I also think that come Opening Day, we’ll have already long forgotten the idea that the Royals ever thought Mark Teahen could play second base.”
On March 30th, Bob Dutton wrote of the battle for second base: “Club officials suggest Mark Teahen is an increasingly attractive option as the starter.”
2) On March 20th – like, ten days ago – I wrote “Look, if the Royals were really planning to open the season with Ponson in the rotation, this would be cause for alarm.” I was not alarmed.
On March 29th, Dutton wrote, “Maybe it means nothing and maybe it's mere coincidence, but the Royals have Kyle Davies and Sidney Ponson tentatively scheduled as their starting pitchers for Monday and Tuesday. That positions Davies and Ponson each to get one additional spring start and be on track to work the third and fourth games of the regular season on normal rest behind Gil Meche and Zack Greinke.”
Rany on the Royals! All Predictions True or Your Money Back!
Clearly, I have no idea what’s going on inside the front office. If I did, I’d lose my “outsider” cred, and we can’t have that.
While the Royals have me flummoxed twice, they only have me upset once. I cheerfully admit to the fact that I was skeptical that Mark Teahen, having last played second base sometime around the turn of the millennium, could learn to play the position at a major-league caliber in the span of six weeks – nearly half of which were spent playing third base for Team
But this is one of those predictions that I’m happy to be wrong about. Teahen appears to have won the job, if not on an everyday basis than at least in the sense of laying claim to the lion’s share of playing time. What’s interesting is that he didn’t win the confidence of the Royals by mastering the nuances of second base faster than anyone expected. He won the position by basically hitting the snot out of the ball ever since returning from the World Baseball Classic, to the point where it doesn’t really matter if he fields the position like, well, like you’d expect Mark Teahen to play it.
I mean, he’s hitting .468/.519/.979 with five homers in 47 at-bats. Make that six – he hit one tonight off of Rich Harden. It’s almost to the point where Matt Wieters notices him.
I didn’t see this coming, but I’m as excited as anyone else to see how this is going to work out. Worst-case scenario, the Royals go back to some combination of Willie Bloomquist and Alberto Callaspo by May. Best-case scenario? I dunno, how about a left-handed Jeff Kent? I know this much: at $6 in a fantasy auction, where defense doesn't matter and he's about two weeks from qualifying at second base, Teahen is a ridiculous steal.
How this affects the lineup is still in question*. I suggested the Royals bat Teahen seventh, but Dutton quotes a front office type as saying “If he’s hitting well enough to win the job, that probably means he’s hitting well enough to bat second or third in the lineup.” That’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is that if Teahen really deserved to bat second or third in the lineup, he would have already been guaranteed a starting job at some position.
The permutation that comes up the most is to start the lineup with Crisp-DeJesus-Teahen, with
Starting Teahen at second base makes for a fascinating lineup. On the one hand, the Royals have an incredibly productive bottom of the order. The mere fact that Mike Aviles, he of the .325 average last season, is being talked about as the potential #9 hitter is testament to that. The worst hitter is likely to be whoever is catching that day, but man, if Miguel Olivo or John Buck is our worst hitter, I’d call that progress. Jose Guillen might be the seventh-best hitter in the lineup.
On the other hand, the Royals have an awfully weak heart of the order, at least unless and until Alex Gordon and Bam Bam have their breakthrough years. Teahen-Guillen-Jacobs won’t have opposing pitchers quaking in their boots. Basically, the Royals’ projected lineup has nine hitters with very disparate talents but with remarkably similar overall value. You’d be hard-pressed to find a team in recent history with less variance among its starting nine. PECOTA projects no one in this lineup to have an OPS above 800, and no one to have an OPS under 700 except for the catchers (Olivo at 675, Buck at 696).
A lineup of league-average hitters ought to give you a league-average offense, and that sounds fine to me. Combine a league-average offense with a slightly above-average rotation and a very good bullpen, and you ought to get meaningful September baseball at the very least.
Make no mistake, though: this moves comes at a very real defensive cost, one that I’m not sure the Royals can overcome. I mean, this might be the worst defensive infield that any major league team has fielded in a long, long time. Alex Gordon’s defense at third base last season had many observers wondering when the move to first base would come; Mike Aviles’ defense at shortstop was as shocking as his offense, but a year ago he was a guy who was playing most second base and third base in
Q: What’s the difference between Mike Jacobs and Billy Butler?
A: One of them was the worst defensive first baseman in the major leagues last year. The other one is Billy Butler.
Hey, I didn't say it was a funny joke.
And now we’ve got a converted third baseman/outfielder who will be making his professional debut at second base. Wow. I mean, wow. I know Dayton Moore gets a lot of crap for his devotion to the Braves’ Way, but you can’t accuse him of being a blind follower. Pendleton-Belliard-Lemke-Bream this ain’t.
*: Will McDonald makes fun of my last column here, and I can’t say I blame him: deconstructing lineups is the crutch of any baseball blog, right up there with the “a Google search for ‘A’ and ‘B’ yields X number of results” meme in the pantheon of sportswriters’ clichés. I somehow spent nearly 3500 words on a piece that’s already practically irrelevant. Lesson learned, at least the lesson about picking better subjects to write about – the lesson about using an economy of words may never sink in, I’m afraid.
But since Will compares my piece to pictures of Jenn Sterger – and since Will has a well-documented crush on her – it’s only fair for me to point out that thanks to my friend Will Carroll (a Gladwellian “Connector” if ever there was one), I had the opportunity to dine with her and Carroll at Harry Caray’s Steakhouse a couple summers back. She was perfectly delightful company, friendly and funny and surprisingly unpretentious, and even capped the evening off with an unexpected hug. I’d say more, but I’d feel guilty if I did anything to promote blogger-on-blogger crime. Especially if the second blogger happened to be me.
And on that note, it’s almost , and if I don’t hit the slopes again tomorrow I might as well crawl back into my parents’ basement, so I bid you all adieu. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to commenting on the trailer for Sidney Ponson, Fourth Starter. Let’s save that article for another day, and hope that in the interim the Royals make that post unnecessary.