Friday, April 3, 2009

Rob & Rany Returns! (One Night Only.)

With Opening Day rapidly approaching, I thought it would be an opportune time for a special guest to join me. Please welcome the return of Rob & Rany, as we argue over the Royals’ chances to win this season.

Rany: So, it’s another year, and I’m pretty sure that, for the 12th consecutive season, I’m more bullish on the Royals than you are. I don’t think the Royals are divisional favorites are anything, but I think that they have maybe a 15% chance of winning the division – just slightly less than you’d expect by arranging the teams at random. I think they’ve got the best 1-2 starters in the division, the best closer/set-up man combination in the division, and a deep if not particularly star-laden lineup. Is that enough? More specifically, what do you think has to happen for the Royals to win the division?

Rob: What do I think has to happen...well, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler both have to hit like we used to think they would and one of the Royals’ many No. 5 starters has to actually pitch like a No. 3 starter (care to predict which of them will actually do that?). If those three things happen, I can see this team getting to .500. And in this division, it’s just a hop and a skip from there to seriously contending.

Rany: Wow, if I didn’t know you better, I’d say it sounds like you also think the Royals have a chance. I take it you agree that the AL Central is a remarkably even division at this moment in time – you can make a case for every team in the division to finish first based on its strengths, and to finish last based on its flaws. The Royals’ biggest flaw, as it stands, is an infield defense that looks just absolutely awful. I can almost justify the decision to send Hochevar to Omaha simply to keep him away from this infield, given his groundball tendencies. Can a team win with an infield this bad?

What do you think about Teahen at second base, anyway? I think it can work, if Teahen can find a way to be even adequate defensively and if Kevin Seitzer really has unleashed his bat. I think it’s a really cool gamble, but I can’t deny the potential for this to backfire. I think the risk is worth the reward, because on paper the Royals are still five or ten games behind the Indians. If the Teahen experiment costs them a few games, well, they’re just farther back in the standings. If it wins them a few games, you’ve cut that gap in half right there.

Rob: More than five. Close to 10. Which isn’t an impossible gap to close. That’s two standard deviations. Indians drop one SD, Royals bump one SD...except the Tigers and probably the Twins are better than the Royals, too. On paper.

I like the Teahen Gambit. Why not? But I suspect that if Kevin Seitzer wasn’t named Kevin Seitzer, we might not take Teahen’s March numbers quite as seriously. My guess is that we get the worst defensive second baseman in the league, with (roughly) Teahen’s career hitting stats. At best, because if he struggles with the glove – as he almost certainly has to, particularly on the DP – itmight well affect his hitting.

Not be a wet blanket or anything. I like the creativity it shows. I just wonder if the same creativity is what led to Sidney Ponson entering the season with a rotation slot.

Rany: Yeah, it seems like an inordinate amount of hope in the Royals has been placed on Seitzer’s shoulders. Unfortunately for him, I’m not helping - I truly think that if the Royals make the playoffs this year, at year’s end we’ll be calling Seitzer the team’s MVP. That’s a lot to ask of a hitting coach, given that most hitting coaches don’t seem to have much effect one way or another.

Which brings up the Royals’ other big flaw, which is that once again, for all the lip service the Royals have given to OBP, they went out and got a bunch of players that think walks are for sissies. Mike Jacobs’ career high in walks is 45. Miguel Olivo walked 7 times (7!) in over 300 at-bats last year, and he’s going from second-string to first-string. Coco Crisp has a below-average walk rate for a leadoff hitter.

I don’t think the Royals will come anywhere close to last year’s total of 392 walks – mainly because that’s one of the lowest walk totals of the last 50 years – but for them to be competitive you’d really like to see them up near 500 walks, and it’s hard to see where that kind of improvement is going to come from. I think Gordon might walk more, and maybe even Teahen. But the lineup is what it is – a lineup with little ability to walk, and not enough power to make up for that. If the Royals do find a way to walk 500 times, I think the Royals ought to induct Seitzer into the team’s Hall of Fame on the spot.

Rob: Sure. And for my next trick...

We may project improvements for Gordon and Butler, but the “walks problem” isn’t going away, which means it’s mostly up to the pitchers. Who a) aren’t going to get any help from their infield defense, and b) aren’t going to get much help from anyone except Meche, Greinke, and Soria.

I guess I’ve circled back around to old material. Sorry...I think it’s going to be an interesting team when the good starters are starting. But otherwise I think it’s going to be pretty dreary.

Rany: I think you’re selling Juan Cruz a little short – he could be a huge addition to the bullpen, if only because he ought to keep Kyle Farnsworth out of game situations in the 8th inning. But to me, the key to the entire pitching staff is probably Kyle Davies. If his September was a mirage – if his ERA is closer to his 5.63 career mark than his 4.06 ERA last season - then I think we can safely call this season toast.

The thing about Davies is not only was he such a good pitcher on a statistical basis late last year, but the impression I’m getting is that the scouting evaluation has also changed – you’re hearing a lot of guys saying that he could be an above-average starter this year based on his stuff. He’s done nothing in Arizona to change that impression. If he can give the Royals 180 innings with an ERA around 4, then “when the good starters are starting” is suddenly 60% of the time, and the Royals just need to find one more league-average starter to make this a very formidable rotation. The problem is, I still think Luke Hochevar is the guy most like to fit that profile, and they can’t seem to find him. Ponson must be blocking their view. Literally.

Rob: Sure, if Davies is good everything looks a little better, particularly because the Ponson Gambit surely can’t last long. If Hochevar deserves that spot, he’ll pitch well in Omaha and he’ll have that spot before Memorial Day.

My worry – which I mentioned somewhere else recently – is that NONE of these guys...not Davies or Hochevar or Bannister, and certainly not Ponson or Horacio Ramirez...is going to post even a league-average ERA.

Obviously, one or more of them might surprise us. But counting on surprises is a good way to go broke (if you’re betting) or look foolish (if you’re writing).

Rany: Hey, I’ve never let the fear of looking foolish stop me from counting on surprises from the Royals before. And I’ve had many opportunities.

Rob: Yeah. You and Posnanski both. Can’t wait to see his prediction.

Rany: The difference is, with Poz I always think his optimism is at least a little tongue-in-cheek. With me, it’s totally earnest and totally pathetic.

Honestly, it sounds to me like we really don’t disagree all that much about the Royals’ fortunes this year: better (but still mediocre) offense, strong top of the rotation but major issues at the back end, good bullpen, horrifying defense. Sounds like a pretty average team overall, but for an average team it seems like the Royals have an unusual number of strengths and weaknesses. This might be a good thing, in the sense that if they can patch up those weaknesses – in particular, if they can find or trade for another starter – they could go from average to above-average rather quickly. How badly could this team use Orlando Hudson right now? And how intriguing would the back end of the rotation look if Moore had saved some money for, I don’t know, Pedro Martinez?

Rob: Ah, money ... I have this vague memory of protesting at some point that some money might have been better saved than spent on Jose Guillen ... Probably just a dream I once had.

Rany: There’s one more thing I want to cover, and that’s the issue of depth. I was talking to a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald today, and he was pointing out how strong the O-Royals’ rotation was - I think it’s going to go something like Hochevar, Bannister, Duckworth, Lenny DiNardo, and Matt Wright - and it occurred to me that honestly, that rotation might be better than the Royals’ major league rotation just three years ago. Six guys made 10 or more starts for the 2006 Royals: Mark Redman, Runelvys Hernandez, Scott Elarton, Luke Hudson, Odalis Perez, and Jorge de la Rosa. And let’s not forget the eight starts from Ducky, or six each from Bobby Keppel and Joe Mays...my God, what a horrible rotation.

Rob: That was only three years ago? I had already forgotten most of that ugliness (though for some reason Bobby Keppel’s never left me).

Rany: As much as teams struggle to put together their 25-man roster for Opening Day, no team gets through a season without getting significant contributions from guys who start the year in the minors. I don’t think the Royals have a Mike Aviles ready to break through (although no one thought they had a Mike Aviles to break through last year), but inevitably they’re going to need contributions from their bench or from Triple-A. I think the Royals may be taking the issue of depth a little too far, in that their replacement starters are likely better than the guys they’d replace, but at least when they inevitably need to use a sixth or seventh starting pitcher, they have someone capable of filling in.

While the Royals look strong in terms of their established veteran depth, it’s unlikely we’re going to see an impact prospect come up during the year. Carlos Rosa might pop up in the bullpen before long, and it’s possible that Daniel Cortes could be ready for the rotation by September. But unless some combination of ineffectiveness or injury opens up a spot for Kila Ka’aihue, or unless Mike Moustakas makes some sort of Travis Snider-like leap and gets promoted just before the playoff roster deadline, I think most of the Royals’ best talent on the farm won’t be seen until 2010.

Rob: Of course, that 2006 team did lose 100 games ... and that was an improvement over the previous two seasons. Which reminds me/us that I/we shouldn’t be too greedy. Last season was the Royals’ best in quite some time, and if they win 78 this season, it’ll be another (small) step forward. All things considered, they would seem to be on track for another (small) step next year, and then who knows?

Rany: Let’s wrap it up on that note, then. Gun to your head, how many games do you think the Royals will win this year? And just for fun, what do you think the front office’s best and worst decisions will be this year?

Rob: I actually have them at 74 wins, a game behind the White Sox. Can’t remember if that’s how the numbers came out, or if I bumped them down a game or two for spite.

Best Decision: Releasing Ponson on the 21st of April.

Worst Decision: Waiting too long to trade Juan Cruz.

Rany: I think I’ll put them at 80 wins, which gives me cover if they tank (hey, I said they’d finish below .500!) but also hedges the upside (hey, I said their win total will be in the 80s!) Somewhere between 78-81 wins sounds about right – they’re pretty much the definition of average overall, but the infield defense knocks them down a peg. And that still puts them just two breakout seasons away from contention.

Best decision: I’ll go crazy here and say the decision to make Teahen a second baseman.

Worst decision: They give Ponson and Ramirez more than 20 starts combined before realizing they should have danced with who brung ya.

(Look for another edition of Rob & Rany soon – just in a different format. Hopefully you’ll all understand soon enough.)

29 comments:

Nathan W said...

I was getting a little too optimistic about the Royals. Good thing you brought Rob in to put those feelings in check.

Royals win 82 games. (I had them at 85 before this post)

Anonymous said...

WOW!!!

drewfuss said...

do i smell podcast?

devil_fingers said...

Great return, you two!

Yes, I think Teahen will be dreadful at second, defensively, anyway. I've had to resist writing a post a Driveline Mechanics about a Stupid Positional (Non)-Battle: the bezt combination both for offense and fielding is Callaspo at 2B and Teahen in RF. With Guillen on another team or platooning with Mike Jacobs at DH. Anyway...

The right side of the infield will probably be horrible, but, um, guys, aren't you supposed to be sabermetrically oriented? Have you bothered to look at credible (i.e., not FRAA) defensive numbers for Alex Gordon? Yes, he was down in 2008. But his career UZR (with BIS data) is still slightly above average. Dewan's did have him at -9 playe this season, but he was +6 last season. That's still in the range where you have to call him average. Sean "CHONE" Smith's TotalZone Projections on his player pages have Gordon at +2 next season... The Fans Scouting report isn't perfect, but I'd say the "crowd's" scouting eye is as good or better than us amateurs singly, and they agree with the numbers -- Gordon was good in the field in 2007, and not as good in 2008/

I still like you both and ready your stuff religiously, but if Buster Olney made this sort of assertion, we'd be all over him. I guess I should be relieved you didn't use VORP to evaluate the offense. (heh)

Aviles, well, okay, it's an incrediblly small sample for defensive numbers, CHONE has him at -4 for 2009, but he was a monster last season. But Gordon isn't the problem there. I'm guessing he's at 3 WAR player if he get at least 50 games in, and that's pretty conservative. A .350 wOBA isn't star qualitiy, or close, but in this offensive environment, its pretty good. And PECOTA and CHONE have Butler a bit better than that, which isn't great for a defensively challenged (but still better than Jacobs out there) 1B.

Still, I love it! I won't even get to why FIP and tRA show that Hochevar is not just a "#5" guy, it was just good to have Rob 'n Rany back. You guys are two of the main reasons I waste do much time on these numbers... okay, that's not necessarily a compliment, if you ask some people...

Dan Holden said...

Podcast Baby! My wife will love listening to those on the drive to K.C.

We're going to the stadium open house on Sun. with the kid so lets get that sucker posted.

Chance said...

Pitching and defense, that's what wins championships....RIGHT???? So now, we're significantly downgrading defense at 2b and 1b to complement decent but not great gloves at 3b and SS. I don't imagine Greinke and Meche and Davis will repeat any sucesses from 2008 with WORSE defense, do you? I smell some odd lineups and late-inning defenseive replacements coming, because as Rany documented many times last year, Trey Hillman hasn't grasped some fairly obvious situational concepts yet. When will he opt to take Teahen out at 2b? 6th inning with the Royals holding a 2 run lead? Who is now the defensive replacement at 1b, with Gload gone? Yikes, I don't want to waste another summer bitching on this blog about Hillman screwing up hit and run decisions or pitching changes.

Anonymous said...

Why does everybody seem to think the Indians will be good? I have them picked to finish last. They lost their best pitcher and replaced him with Carl Pavano. Their #2 starter is mediocre and their 4th and 5th starters are unproven. Two of their best hitters have completely lost it, combining for a total of 7 homers last year when, even with injury, they should have combined for about 40. Anybody in the AL Central could win the division, but I'll predict it right here. It ain't gonna be the Indians.

Jared Launius said...

Anonymous- The Indians didn't lose their best pitcher, because Cliff Lee- winner of the Cy Young last year in case you forgot- is still their number 1 guy.

it's sad that our "optimistic" view for the royals this year is 80 wins, but you're only as good as your players let you be, and sir sid and ramirez won't let us be.

Anonymous said...

I don't have much of a comment about Sabathia versus Lee being the number one pitcher. I would agree Lee had the better year last year, but Sabathia certainly had the better track record, and I daresay that if you asked people on July 1, 2008, who would you rather have for the next season and a half, Cliff Lee is not running away with that election.

And I think the view of 80 wins being optimistic is pretty cool, as in prior years, a view of 80 wins would be considered clinical or entirely divorced from reality.

Anonymous said...

Wish we had drafted Wieters and used the Olivo/Jacobs/Farnsworth money on Dunn.

RoyalGreek said...

Good to see you guys back together. Let the good times keep rolling.

Anonymous said...

"Rob and Rany Go to White Castle" now that would be awesome!!

steak said...

So excited. I haven't even read it yet. Welcome back Rob. Care to stay a while?

Nathan said...

I'm hoping either for podcast, or a special section in THE SUNDAY KC STAR!!!!

Either way, it's always nice to read some rob and rany.

Anonymous said...

"He’s done nothing in Arizona to change that impression. "

Uhh, have you seen Davies' spring training numbers? Other than the ERA (which would be considered a mirage if Ponson had it with the same peripherals), his stats are downright awful.

k/9: 5.75
k/bb: 17/11
hr/9: 1.35

Looks like the Kyle Davies of old who k's too few, walks too many, and gives up alot of HR's. Thats not the Davies of the September aberration.

Drewfuss said...

Oooh kc star. My podcast guess now seems less likely.

Justin Andrew Anderson said...

Fellow Royals Fans: Thanks for standing alongside me in supporting of our beloved team! It hasn’t been easy having last made the playoffs in 1985 and watching every team but Expos/Nationals reach them since, failing to finish even 2nd in our division since 1995 and only enduring one winning season in 14 years. Our time will eventually come – I hope. Cheers to hoping we erase all this in 2009!

Anonymous said...

TPJ made the roster. All optimism I had for this season is now gone.

Kevin said...

And Jamey Wright made the roster. I thought the Royals actually had a good reason for releasing Joel Peralta, but I guess not.

Serenity now, serenity now.

BobDD said...

regarding who is this year's Aviles

Unfortunately they did not promote Aviles because they thought he would be good, but because TPJ stunk so bad. They kept Gload and Guillen as middle-of-the-order hitters. If the only chance to bring up 'another Aviles' is the historical sucktacity of TPJ, then the odds of anyone out of the no one who gets the midseason callup, to end up being another Aviles is nil.

Anonymous said...

I am expecting a drop of about .200 points in OPS from Aviles this season as he plays every day.

But I do think that Butler and/or Gordon are due for a break out season. Aren't they? Please.

Casper said...

Changing the subject slightly, has anyone thought about the Shealy demotion beyond the fact that he cleared waivers? I'm a Kila supporter, though probably more of a realistic one then the die-hards that emerged last summer. I'm concerned about the Shealy demo because I'm afraid he's going to take playing time away from Kila down in Omaha. We may have lessened the logjam at firstbase in KC but we created one down in Omaha, and if we've seen anything from the Royals brass over the years it's that their decisions aren't always grounded in logic: Guys that should be left in the minors to develop are rushed to the stage too soon (ex: Burgos), and guys that deserve to get shots often don't get one at all or are put off for far too long before they do (ex: Aviles, Huber). If Kila even splits the time 50/50 with Shealy then I think you have to concede that the Royals aren't taking him seriously as a viable long-term option.

Dave said...

There is a DH in Omaha as well.

Casper said...

That there is, David, that there is. And if Kila ends up spending more time at DH rather than at 1B then my point - and my concern - will still stand. When I said "playing time" I meant actually playing, not just hitting in the DH role. The DH at AAA is where baseball careers go to die.

rey rey said...

Im sorry but I dont consider Rob a Royals fan. Fans of teams dont stop being fans b/c they are unhappy with whatever. Rob gave up and in my opinion, stopped being a Royals fan.

Shelby said...

Rey Rey:

Er, what's your point? Does he have to be a die-hard fan in order to have legitimate opinions?

rey rey said...

'Diehard' wasnt used...'fan' was.

He gave up being a 'fan' of the Royals a few years back. Where I come from there such a thing as stop being a fan.

Anyone is entitled to an opinion but his isnt that of a Fan. Rany should just get a writer that is Mets or Tigers fan to do the q/a next time.

Ron Hostetter said...

rey rey-

Rob didn't stop being a fan. He merely stop writing about them.

Walt Z said...

I am not surprised that Rob Neyer's retrospectoscope remains selective. He remembers well his chiding that Dayton spent too much money on Jose Guillen but forgets that he said the same of Gil Meche. Why can't Rob (or other writers) say "Dayton overpaid on the Guillen signing and I suspect he overpaid for Farnsworth, too. But the Meche and Cruz signings, as well as extentions to Soria and Greinke, appear right on the money."

It will be interesting to hear what Rob has to say if Guillen goes .280, .340, .470, 25, 110 with 10 outfield assists.