Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Surprises, Surprises.

A warning to anyone out there considering starting their own blog: this is a 365-day-a-year habit. You may not be able to write every day, but the need, the compulsion, to stay on top of things is not something that you can turn off just because you happen to take a vacation.

Case in point: I’m currently writing you from Vail, Colorado, where my family and I am enjoying our annual ski trip. Except that I spent most of today off the slopes and at my computer, catching up with everything I missed over the weekend. That’s how dedicated I am to you, Dear Reader.

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 Canada.

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 Aviles slotting behind Olivo in the nine hole. This works fine in terms of lineup construction, but I worry about having a lineup that goes R-R-S-L-L from the 8-9-1-2-3 slots. A simple solution to this would be to flip-flop Crisp and DeJesus – DeJesus is a very similar hitter to Crisp, but with less speed (an overrated trait for a leadoff hitter) and more on-base ability. That breaks up the lefties. I’m not as worried about batting two same-side hitters in a row at the bottom of the lineup, because those are the guys you can pinch-hit for against a tough right-hander in a key situation – and Callaspo, if nothing else, makes for a nice pinch-hitter in exactly those situations.

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 Omaha. First base is a joke, and I mean literally:

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’ clich├ęs. 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 midnight, 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.

40 comments:

Will said...

No way was I making fun on you, just sorta noticing a trend.

I'm still worried about Teahen at second, since I don't think he can hit at Kentian levels. An infield of Gordon-Aviles-Teahen-Jacobs could be really really really horrible.

NYRoyal said...

Evaluating an infield (or a player or an outfield) requires looking at both hitting and fielding. Defensively, the left side of that infield would be solid and the right side of that infield would be poor. Offensively, every player is projected to hit better than league average for his position, except for Jacobs. If you look at both offense and defense, that infield is anything but horrible. How good of a second baseman Teahen makes depends on both his defense and his hitting. We have some idea of how he'll hit (above average for the position, if he hits as projected). So far we really don't know about his defense. Could be merely below average. Could be awful. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

on the left side...we have aviles, who all scouts thought would dbe god awful at short...and was good for, as you put it on RR, the equivalent of 5 1/2 weeks, and gordon who was slightly above average one year and bad last year. You're gonna have to explain your math to me to get me to buy into 'solid'.

NYRoyal said...

Gordon projects to be average. Aviles projects to be above average. Now, those projections are based on pretty small samples of data. But the various scouting opinions I've read about Gordon and Aviles in the majors like them both. So, the stats and the scouts agree that they are both average or perhaps above average defensively. Doesn't that qualify as "solid"?

Jimmy Jack said...

I thought "solid" was a four-letter word in baseball...

Love the post Rany. Coming into Spring Training I was dead-set on the idea of trading Teahen for an actual starting second baseman. "Move him while he still has value!" was a constant mantra of mine. Now, with the way he's hitting and he hasn't bungled up the position all that badly I've completely 180'd on my thought process. I really hope he wins the job outright and does a great job there this year. Anyone think he can make 25 homers this year?

Good-bye Gload! Good-bye TPJ! Good luck in the auto sales business!

Anonymous said...

True...Gordon, Aviles, Teahen, Jacobs won't net any gold golves (far from it rather), but what about last year's Gordon, Aviles/TPJ, AC/Grud, Gload infield. Sure they could stop the ball from getting to the outfield, but the same could be said about their hitting.

wallyts said...

I just saw a few games in Phoenix, and the infield defense is really pretty bad.

I'd believed the fielding metrics, but seeing ground balls that shouldn't get through was painful. In the game vs the Mariners, decent defense would have saved Grienke from his 8 run inning.

Anonymous said...

This "plan" fits right in with letting Hochevar pitch in Omaha this season. Apparently, we will need all the flyball pitchers we can get.

Now if only we could play all 162 games at the K...

Isaac said...

Does the president take vacations? OK, Bush was on a permanent one, but do presidents usually take vacations? I didn't think so.

royalman said...

In trying to be optimistic here,
at least we know that Teahen is at the age and point in a ball players career where he should put up the best overall numbers with the bat. But honestly he had better really do well with the bat because the Royals fielding around the horn is going to be abysmal.

Anonymous said...

Hochevar was sent down today. I can't believe that Bannister made the rotation, so it looks like the last 2 rotation spots are Ramirez and Ponson. I've never been a Ponson fan, but he has to be better than Brett Tomko was last year.

Isaac said...

He has chosen poorly. (in my best impersonation of that old guy in the first indiana jones)

Casper said...

My first reaction to Hochevar getting sent down was that "I guess this cements Teahen as the secondbaseman." Someone correct me if I'm wrong (and on this blog, I'm sure someone will), but I'm fairly confident we're running out flyball pitchers in Meche, Greinke, Ramirez and Bannister. The only exception, if my memory serves me correctly, would be with Ponson, as I think he's supposed to be a groundball pitcher. So my guess is that when Ponson takes the hill that will be Bloomquist's night at 2B. My other guess would be that there's less of a need for a 5th starter til towards the end of April, so this gives Hochevar some competitive innings at Omaha til we need a 5th starter. Further, only breaking camp with one true groundball pitcher in Ponson lessens the exposure of Teahen, buying him some game time to further acclimate to the position, so that when Hochevar comes up and is inserted into the rotation (giving us two groundball pitchers) then around mid-May you see Teahen out there virtually everyday since he'll, in theory, be better defensively at the position by then.

Anonymous said...

You guys seem to be forgetting about Davies. Meche, Greinke, Davies.....Ponson & Ramirez? Why does Bannister seem to fall into the plan all of the sudden? Bannister should start the season in Omaha...

Casper said...

I did forget about Davies, you're right. But I don't think his insertion into discussion changes the dynamics, to be honest.

Anonymous said...

I was actually referring to Anonymous 2:27 stating that it was pretty much a lock that Bannister would start the season in the rotation. Davies should have Bannister's spot.

Chad said...

Personally, I'd rather have Jacobs at 1b than Ross Freakin' Gload. His defense won't be that bad. Having Seitzer working with him will increase his OBS. Everyone makes it sound like Jacobs is the worst player to put out there.....no that would be misusing Gload last year at 1B. This is all going to work out and naysayers take note, because you'll be eating crow at the end of the season.

Go Royals!!!!!!

Ben F said...

is there statistical evidence that putting two same-sided hitters together is a substantial negative? and if so is it enough of a negative to bat a worse player in front of a better player?

Anonymous said...

Ponson was terrible today. Who is the 5th starter now? I wouldn't mind seeing them give Tejeda a shot.

castlerook said...

Love your work Rany. That said, I want to question something you wrote:

"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."

My problem with this is that you then go on to concede that the defense will likely be horrendous. Possibly really, really horrendous. Doesn't this at least offset the strength of the pitching? Would be interested to know your thoughts.

Oh and Isaac, that was the third Indiana Jones. For shame.

Anonymous said...

Casper, both HoRam and Ponson are both groundball pitchers (especially HoRam).

Dave Farquhar said...

"Pendleton-Belliard-Lemke-Bream this ain’t."

Thank you so much for that understatement, Rany. I desperately needed a good laugh, and you gave me the best laugh I think I've had in a week.

Eric said...

Has anyone else out there considered the fact that the Royals will be celebrating the opening of their new stadium, in their 40 year anniversary season, by trotting out Sidney MF'ing Ponson in front of an opening day crowd? Have we really progressed at all? Our 4 and 5 spots are complete and utter embarrassments for a GM that preaches pitching. Pathetic.

And on the subject of what GMDM preaches, they are: Pitching, Defense, Character, OBP and Player Development. Hmmmmmm. Let's hope Player Development comes through, because my new nickname for GMDM is "Opposite Man".

Eric said...

Royals PA Announcer: "And warming up in the bullpen for your Kansas City Royals, your opening day starter: SIDNEY PONSON"

That just has a ring to it...

Nathan said...

Isn't Ben Sheets still looking for work? The back end of the rotation is a shambles. At least Hochevar and Bannister have some semblance of upside, but it's just hard to believe we can win many games with Ponson and HRam starting.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, yes Ben Sheets is still unemployed, but for good reason. He's already out for the year.

hellrotbill said...

Funny post. Yes, let's get Jenn Sterger to help Ryan, Paul and Frank down on the field. With 99 HD games this year that would be a treat.

If anyone is looking for some photos of the boys in blue. I have some of my Spring Training Photos up at:
http://bwc.smugmug.com/gallery/7777377_wwsUC/1/503220533_372Cd

Hopefully I don't need permission from MLB or the Royals to put my photos up.

Anonymous said...

The Royals just traded Ross Gload to the Florida Marlins. That's one worry off my mind.

Dave said...

Gload is gone, and we didn't have to eat his 1.9 million salary. I guess that means Shealy has also made the team. Nice move, Dayton.

Alex said...

Getting rid of Gload is a huge move in so many ways. He's a good guy to have around if you're only going to give him 100 ABs or so, but he was really only taking up someone's spot on the roster at this point, not to mention his salary.

On another note, why does everyone think that having Kevin Seitzer as the batting coach will automatically raise everyone's OBP 50 points? When did he prove himself as this magical hitting guru that has some uncanny ability to bring out the all-star in every young player he meets? I must have missed that memo.

Anonymous said...

Dave, what makes you think we're not eating Gload's salary? The deal says that we're giving up "cash considerations". I bet that's cash considerations to the tune of about $1.5 mil. You don't actually think the MARLINS would be paying him, do you? Just more dead money for the Royals (Yabuta, German, Bale, Buck, Guillen, etc.).

Dave said...

It's not complete dead money if the Marlins eat a portion and we get a player to be named. Besides, even if the Marlins pay $20 of his salary it's better than just flat-out cutting him and eating it all, not to mention the player we get later. Most likely he won't be of any value but Ramon Ramirez was a PTBNL and that turned out pretty well. If I had to guess on the amount we sent to the Marlins I'd guess around 1 million.

Anonymous said...

Alex, before he was employed by the Diamondbacks and now the Royals, many pro's came to Seitzer during the offseason to work on their hitting. He's a guy that preaches patience at the plate, unlike Mike Barnett, who basically said swing at the first close pitch you see!

Kevin said...

Well, it's official. Sidney Ponson is starting the home opener. What. The. Hell. The worst organization in all of baseball has somehow managed to suck all the life out of what was supposed to be a great day. I hate this move. Ponson is the newest and worst pitcher on the team and he's the starter for the home opener, grand-opening, 40th anniversary, etc, etc. This is SOOOOOO bad. What the hell are they thinking?

Anyone read Doolittle's article in the Star today? How we have 3 of the 6 worst pitchers in baseball in our rotation? I'm willing to give Davies a pass, but this Ponson/Ramirez bullshit is a fucking joke. Ownership should be ashamed. Dayton should be ashamed.

Nathan said...

Ponson is a well below average pitcher, but he may be above replacement level. His 1.1 WXRL in 2008 and 5.21 Pecota-projected 2009 ERA make him a typical fringe starter. I think it's unfortunate that he's on the team, because it reflects a shallow pool of MLB-ready pitching talent, but I'm not sure he's the worst option on the roster. Hochevar and Bannister need to prove they're better, and AAA might be the place to do that.

I sure hope at least one of Ponson and Ramirez gets forced out of the rotation by June.

Kevin said...

Keep on drinking the kool-aid, Nathan. You're missing the point regarding the significance of this ONE DATE on the calendar. Maybe not in the win-loss column, but in the public consciousness of the city and the fan base.

Anonymous said...

The good thing is that we didn't sign Ponson to a 2 year guaranteed contract, like our standard operating procedure. We can release him at any time. I'm hoping some guy in the minors will force his way into the rotation.

Nathan said...

Ponson actually signed a minor league contract, so not only can the team release him without further commitment, but unless I'm mistaken, it can also keep him in reserve in Omaha.

I tend to think the home opener looks a lot more significant on April 1st than on Oct. 1st. What will ultimately matter to the fan base is the restoration of a competitive team, not shuffling the rotation (and possibly sacrificing a win in the standings in the process) so that our best pitcher starts the home opener. Fans are intelligent enough to know that our fourth starter is starting the fourth game of the year.

Alex said...

Anonymous - you're right, Seitzer was employed by the Diamondbacks, but wasn't he fired afer half a season? I'm not sure I'd use that in his defense in saying that he's the best batting coach the game has ever seen. Don't get me wrong, I like the move in going after him, I just don't get why everyone thinks that he's God's gift before spring training is even over. Let's give it some time before we induct him.

Josh said...

absolutely superb blog.

you are saying what every royals fan was thinking. preach it.