Continuing with our end-of-season grades, I’ve taken a suggestion from a reader to include an “Expectations” score for each player along with their grade, so you’ll have some perspective for why some bad players get a better grade than some good ones.
David DeJesus – Expectations: Moderate to High; Grade: B+
Among his other virtues, David DeJesus is a remarkably consistent player. He’s a career .289 hitter, and prior to 2010, only once had he finished a season with an average more than 20 points away from that career mark (he hit .260 in 2007). And keep in mind that batting average is much more dependent on luck than other offensive skills. His isolated power (slugging average – batting average) from 2005 to 2009 read like this: .152, .151, .112, .145, .153. His “isolated walk rate” (on-base percentage minus batting average) from 2004 to 2010, read like this: .073, .065, .069, .091, .059, .066, .066.
Aside from 2007, when he stopped hitting for average or power but set a career high for walks and led the league with 23 HBPs (he hasn’t been hit by more than 12 pitches in any other season) – DeJesus has been positively metronomic. He’s going to hit .290; he’s going to end up with an OBP around .360; he’s going to slug around .440. Every single year.
(You want a weird stat? DeJesus has grounded into exactly 10 double plays in each of the last five seasons. Even Adam Dunn’s exactly-40-homers-a-year stretch only lasted four seasons.)
This season, DeJesus had the best numbers of his career, at least until he broke his thumb – he batted .318/.384/.443 with an OPS+ of 127. But he really didn’t hit for more power or draw more walks than usual – his improvement was almost entirely batting average-driven. Which is to say, he probably won’t hit .318 next year.
DeJesus did strike out less in 2010 than in previous seasons, but not by an enormous margin – he whiffed in 13.4% of his at-bats in 2010, compared to a previous career rate of 14.7%. That’s the equivalent of making contact in about 7 extra at-bats over a full season. That might lead to two extra hits, not 15.
So at least on a per-game basis, it’s likely that 2010 was a career year for DeJesus, making it doubly unfortunate that he got hurt right as the Royals were poised to trade him. It’s unlikely his trade value will be any higher than it was this July 22nd.
Even if his batting average returns to its usual place in the high .280s, DeJesus is a heck of a ballplayer. He’s an excellent defensive player who has now proven he can handle all three outfield positions; he runs the bases well, albeit not as well as he did two or three years ago; he hangs in there just fine against left-handed pitching.
DeJesus is likely to be traded by next year’s deadline, if not over the winter, and much like Mike Sweeney, he’s liable to remembered less for his play than for the quality of the teams he played on. Consider this: if he stays, then by May DeJesus will likely crack the all-time Royals top ten in games played. He already ranks in the Royals’ top ten in at-bats, hits, doubles, triples, and runs scored, and should crack the top ten in RBIs and walks by mid-season.
I doubt it will ever happen, but in a truly fair world DeJesus would one day be enshrined in the Royals’ Hall of Fame. Based on the standards already set – with guys like Freddie Patek and Cookie Rojas already in the Hall – DeJesus is clearly worthy. According to Baseball-Reference, DeJesus has been worth 21.7 Wins Above Replacement for his career – the 8th-highest mark of any Royals hitter ever, and just a fraction of a win behind Mike Sweeney.
DeJesus is almost certain to be wearing another team’s uniform in 2012, and quite likely much sooner than that. It will be the right move to let him go. But that doesn’t mean I won’t miss him. Or that I won’t continue to feel that he’s one of the most underappreciated Royals of all time.
Scott Podsednik – Expectations: Low to Moderate; Grade: B+
Maybe Pods wasn’t a great player with the Royals, but he did exactly what the Royals expected of him – which is to say, he was far better than they really should have expected.
Podsednik had just hit .304 with the White Sox in 2009, but prior to that season had not hit even .270 since 2005. With a lack of secondary skills other than speed, a .270 batting average would have been worthless. Instead, Podsednik hit .310 with the Royals, and had a 107 OPS+, both figures the highest of his career since his rookie season in 2003.
He didn’t walk much, and while he occasionally can pull a ball into the seats down the line, he has absolutely no gap power. (In 390 at-bats with the Royals, he hit just eight doubles. No Royal has ever batted so many times in a season with fewer two-base hits.) He showed off great speed as usual (30 steals), but as usual didn’t translate that speed into great defense. His range was about average, and his arm was useless – literally, as he didn’t have an outfield assist all season.
But still – he hit .310. He brought in a couple of low-level prospects at the trading deadline. He then went on to hit just .262 for the Dodgers, which just goes to show how ephemeral success can be when you’re a singles machine. But the Royals went looking for lightning in a bottle when they signed Pods, and for four months they trapped it.
Mitch Maier – Expectations: Low; Grade: B
In some ways, Maier is a low-rent version of DeJesus. Much as you can pencil in DeJesus’ performance before the season, it appears you can do the same with Maier. After his rookie season, we expected a player who would hit .260 with little power, but draw some walks and play good defense at whichever outfield spot he was assigned. And that’s pretty much what we got. Maier showed a little more power than he did as a rookie, slugging .375, and his OPS+ was a just-slightly-below-average 94.
On a team that seems to have a fourth outfielder stashed in every corner of the clubhouse, Maier has the advantage of certainty. We know he’s not an everyday outfielder, not unless he more consistently shows the kind of power he hinted at with that bomb in Seattle. But we also know that he’s perfectly capable of filling in anywhere in the outfield for a week at a time if need be. At least for one more season, he’ll be making close to the league minimum. The Royals could do a lot worse than Maier for their fourth outfielder spot. They certainly have in the past.
Gregor Blanco – Expectations: Low; Grade: B
Blanco had a surprisingly competent season after he came over at the trade deadline, and yet it’s not entirely clear that it matters. Blanco, in essence, was free money in the Rick Ankiel/Kyle Farnsworth trade – the Royals made the trade to get Tim Collins. But the Braves evidently had no use for Blanco, which is puzzling given that they were so desperate for outfielders that they wanted Ankiel in the first place.
Then Blanco went out and hit .274/.348/.369 with the Royals; Ankiel, by comparison, hit just .210/.324/.328 with Atlanta (but with one very important McCovey Cove splashdown.) Blanco’s on-base skills weren’t surprising, but his impression of a major league hitter’s slugging average was. As a rookie, Blanco had a .366 OBP but slugged just .309. (Only four qualifying players in the last 30 years have had an OBP north of .360 and a slugging average south of .310: Blanco in 2008, Rickey Henderson in 2000, Walt Weiss in 1993, and Gary Pettis* in 1989.)
But with the Royals, Blanco had 12 extra-base hits in 179 at-bats, which is nothing to brag about but was enough power to keep pitchers somewhat honest. He’s a doppleganger for Mitch Maier, which makes him both valuable and superfluous. The Royals have two left-handed hitting outfielders who can play all three outfield positions, hit .270, and draw walks. Both players make fine fourth outfielders; both players are stretched to play everyday. Maier has more power, Blanco has more speed, but otherwise they’re completely interchangeable. And it really makes no sense to keep both of them, particularly when the Royals also have Jarrod Dyson, who is really just a more extreme form of this prototype.
Blanco has too much value to just throw him away like the Braves did. The need to divest themselves of one of these two players is yet another reason why I think Dayton Moore needs to be highly active on the trade market this winter.
Jose Guillen – Expectations: Low; Grade: B
I was almost tempted to measure Guillen’s expectations as “undefined”, because really, we had no idea what to expect from him at the beginning of spring training. Frankly, the Royals had no idea either. What they got from Guillen was a mix of the expected (a player who refused to come out of the lineup for any reason, irrespective of whether a day off might help the team or even himself) and the unexpected (he wasn’t a complete cipher at the plate.)
Guillen played in every one of the Royals’ first 84 games – starting all but one of those games – and had missed just two of the Royals’ 108 games when he was designated for assignment. Not coincidentally, he was completely unable to maintain his early-season pace. Guillen was hitting .351/.372/.716 with 7 homers in the Royals’ first 18 games; from that point on, he hit .233/.301/.363.
Still, those April homers count the same as ones hit in July. Guillen’s overall line of .255/.314/.429 with the Royals calculates out to a 102 OPS+, which means he was just ever-so-slightly above-average as a hitter. For the season, the cumulative line of the Royals’ DHs ranked a respectable seventh in the league in OPS. Guillen wasn’t worth even a quarter of what the Royals were paying him, but – this might sound familiar – he was considerably less of a disaster than he was expected to be.
(And while we’re here, let’s talk about Kevin Pucetas, who the Giants just sent to Kansas City to complete the Guillen trade. Pucetas, as the press release reminds us, was Minor League Baseball’s Outstanding A-Ball Pitcher in 2007, when he 15-4 with a 1.87 ERA. But even then, he wasn’t considered a top prospect – I believe he never ranked higher than 15th in the Giants organization according to Baseball America. He’s a right-handed pitcher who throws strikes but tops out around 90, and over the last two years, pitching in Triple-A, he has a 5.34 ERA and has allowed 345 hits and 111 walks in just 295 innings.
I’m not disappointed with the trade – we weren’t sure that Guillen would fetch even this much – but by placing Pucetas on the 40-man roster, the Royals might regret exposing one of their talented young players in the Rule 5 draft. My feeling about Pucetas is that the Royals will probably start him in Omaha next year, hoping that some tinkering with his delivery and/or repertoire might restore some of his luster. But if it doesn’t, he needs to be moved to the bullpen quickly to see if there’s something salvageable here.)
Brayan Pena – Expectations: Low to Moderate; Grade: B-
Pena wound up with numbers awfully similar to his numbers in 2009, which hides the fact that his book was A Tale of Two Seasons. He started just 12 of the Royals’ first 125 games, and in that time was 9-for-61 with two doubles and five walks, for a line of .148/.221/.180. He would start 25 of the last 37 games, over which he hit .320/.362/.433.
He wound up with just 7 fewer at-bats than he had in 2009, and with exactly the same number of singles (29), doubles (10), triples (0), and walks (12). The big difference is that he hit six homers in 2009, and just one this season. I’m inclined to cut him some slack, given that his bats withered from atrophy for the season’s first four months. (Seriously. He was swinging a 16-ounce stick in September. Looked like a tree branch.)
Defensively, Pena’s numbers continued to rate him as roughly league-average; he threw out 29% of basestealers after throwing out 35% in 2009, and allowed just one passed ball all year. The difference is that this season, his defensive reputation started to catch up to the numbers. I’m not sure he’s an asset behind the plate, but he’s not a liability, and that’s a tremendous credit to Pena and his willingness to work hard at his craft.
He’s not a star, but Pena is a switch-hitter, an average receiver, and in sporadic playing time over the last two years, has hit .263/.313/.390. The average AL catcher has hit .252/.320/.389 in that span. In other words, Pena is the quintessential league-average player, at a distinctly below-average price. (Pena will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, but given how limited his playing time has been the last two years, I doubt he’ll earn more than $1 million next year.)
The fact that Pena switch-hits is particularly useful for a catcher because most backup catchers (including Lucas May) bat right-handed. Pena has also hit slightly better from the left side in his career, which sets up the perfect platoon.
The Royals will undoubtedly be tempted to go out and get some veteran savvy behind the plate this winter, because after all that worked so well the last time. If they want a caddy for Pena and don’t think May is up to it, that’s one thing, but if Pena isn’t the first-string catcher next year, they’re making a mistake. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the perfect place-holder until one of the Royals’ stud catching prospects – either Wil Myers or the highly-underrated Salvador Perez – is ready.
Alex Gordon – Expectations: Moderate; Grade: D
Six months ago, Gordon had a track record that included a disappointing rookie season, a promising sophomore season in which he was an above-average hitter at third base, and a third season that was completely ruined by injury. There was still every reason to think that he would be an above-average hitter and an adequate defensive third baseman going forward.
Today, he’s a left fielder, and he’s batted .222 over the last two years combined. But hey, he’s promised to “dominate” next season, so that’s something. (Although it raises the question as to why he decided to wait until next season to unleash his can of whoop-ass.)
I’ve been defending Gordon pretty much from the moment he struck out against Curt Schilling on Opening Day, 2007. And I’ll still defend the notion that he should be the starting left fielder for the Royals on Opening Day, 2011. But my patience is wearing thin. He seems to be almost looking for new areas of his game to regress. Coming into 2010, he was at least an effective runner on the bases; he had stolen 28 bases in 34 attempts in his career. In 2010, he was thrown out five times in six attempts.
The dream of Alex Gordon, Superstar is dead – maybe just “mostly dead” in a Miracle Max sort of way, but still dead. And I’m fine with that. Gordon doesn’t have to be a superstar to help the Royals. The problem is that he’s having trouble living up to the Alex Gordon, Solid Contributor Like He Was In 2008 expectations I have for him.
Every year we say this is a critical year for Gordon, but next year isn’t just a critical year. It’s a matter of career life-and-death. If he can close the hole in his swing on inside fastballs, and lay off the pitch low and away, he can still carve out a nice career as a poor man’s J.D. Drew. But he’ll be 27 in February. If he’s going to turn things around, now’s the time. He doesn’t need to dominate in 2011. But he does need to hit the way he’s already shown himself capable of hitting.
Jason Kendall – Expectations: Minimal; Grade: F
In 2009, the Royals got 31 homers from the catching position. Braves’ catchers combined for 28 homers; no other team hit more than 23.
In 2010, the Royals got 1 homer from their catchers, when Brayan Pena went deep on September 12th. Every other team in baseball got at least 9 homers from their catchers.
I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of what Dayton Moore and his front office are doing in terms of the long-term picture for the franchise. But I’ve made it equally clear that some of their major-league decisions are utterly ridiculous. And none of them have been so ridiculous as the decision to sign Kendall.
Every other decision, no matter how poorly conceived, could at least be justified if you were some hard-core apologist for the team. Even the trade for Betancourt could be justified under the pretext that he was an improvement on the alternatives, which at the time were Tony Pena Jr, Willie Bloomquist, and asking Onix Concepcion to come out of retirement.
But the Royals didn’t just sign Kendall. They first declined Miguel Olivo’s option. Then, the moment Kendall signed, they flat-out released John Buck, who signed with a new team 24 hours later.
Olivo hit .269/.315/.449 this season; granted, it was with the Rockies. He led the league in passed balls allowed with 10 – the fourth time in five years he’s done that – but also snuffed out 42% of attempted steals.
Buck hit .281/.314/.489 for the Blue Jays and made the All-Star Team for the first time. He threw out 28% of basestealers, and allowed four passed balls.
Kendall hit .256/.318/.297. He became just the third player since World War II to play a full season without hitting a triple or homer. He threw out 29% of basestealers, and allowed six passed balls.
Kendall made the most money out of the three. Kendall is the only one who has a guaranteed contract for 2011.
If the Royals want fans like me to get fully on-board, is it too much to ask that they stop doing stupid sh*t like this? I mean, really. That contract was the laughingstock of baseball the moment it was signed. It remains a laughingstock today.
But not in the Royals’ front office. I have seen nothing that would make me believe that the Royals regret signing Kendall. Oh sure, they regret the fact that he got hurt – but there still isn’t any sign that they understand that Kendall’s injury was the only thing that kept his season from being a total loss.
Veteran influence? I have no doubt that having a warrior behind the plate in Kendall, a guy who played through pain (he played for a month with two of his rotator cuff muscles torn completely off the bone!), a guy who refused to take a day off no matter what, was inspiring to his teammates. It was a good example to his teammates. I just see no evidence that all that inspiration actually helped his teammates play better.
If a catcher is going to have an influence on his teammates, you’d expect to see it in the pitching staff first, wouldn’t you? You’d expect a catcher with 15 years of experience to guide his young batterymates to success, right?
Well, the Royals surrendered the most runs and had the highest ERA in the American League. They were third-worst in 2009, and regressed anyway.
Yeah, but maybe he had nothing to work with, and the pitching staff would have been even worse without his steady hand behind the plate.
Well, with Kendall behind the plate, the Royals had a 5.13 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .281/.348/.443. With Pena behind the plate, the Royals had a 4.75 ERA and opponents hit .270/.334/.430. (And in the 81 innings May caught, their ERA was 4.00 and opponents hit .233/.305/.343.)
Kendall’s season was really a statistical tour de force. The numbers are there to refute essentially any claim the Royals can make that Kendall somehow helped the team. And for that reason, no matter how low my expectations were for him to begin with, he earns a failing grade.
Rick Ankiel – For their $3.25 million, the Royals got 101 plate appearances and an indifferent attitude. They also got Tim Collins. I’d re-sign Ankiel in a heartbeat if that’s the end result.
Jarrod Dyson – I’ve already written about him extensively, but I should point out that I had a Eureka moment a week ago. I had been trying to come up with a comparable player to Dyson and had failed miserably – Dyson’s combination of speed, Gold Glove-caliber defense, utter lack of power, good on-base skills, and tendency to strike out despite his lack of power was rather unique. And then it hit me.
*: Gary Pettis. Pettis batted just .236 in his major league career, and hit just 21 homers in 11 seasons in the bigs. He struck out over 100 times in six different seasons. He didn’t start regularly in the majors until he was 26. But he drew a ton of walks, leading to a career .332 OBP, stole 354 bases, and won five Gold Gloves. In his best season, listed above, he had a .375 OBP for the Tigers in 1989. He was the centerfielder for the Angels when they came within a strike of the World Series in 1986.
It’s not clear whether Gary Pettis himself could survive in today’s offensive environment, which simply doesn’t allow for a player with a career .310 slugging average to play every day. But in his own time, Pettis was a useful little player, and I wonder if Dyson can be the same thing today.
Luke May – He was just 7-for-37 in his debut, with no walks and 10 strikeouts. I remain unconvinced he can be even a serviceable backup catcher in the majors. He’s out of options, so the Royals may have no choice but to find out.
Jai Miller – I’m thrilled for Miller that he spent almost seven weeks in the majors and made over $100,000. It’s always good to see a long-time minor league player get rewarded for his efforts. But that doesn’t mean I want the Royals to continue to dispense charity on the guy. In 1122 career at-bats in Triple-A, Miller has struck out 371 times – almost exactly one-third of the time. In 55 at-bats with the Royals, he whiffed 23 times. Unless he learns to make more contact, he simply won’t survive in the majors, and if he hasn’t learned to make more contact by now, it’s unlikely he ever will.
Starting pitchers to come.
Housekeeping note: as you may have noticed, I have changed the settings for the blog to prevent people from leaving comments anonymously. It’s a change I’ve thought about making for some time, simply because it’s very confusing when half the comments are made by “Anonymous” and when someone would like to respond it’s impossible to address the other person by name.
But it’s a change that was accelerated by the inability of a single poster to adhere to the norms of social behavior, or even the less strict norms of internet behavior. Going forward, I certainly hope that all of you will continue to leave comments, and those of you who have not assigned yourself a username will not find the process too onerous. I enjoy the feedback. I just don’t suffer trolls gladly.