It’s a bullet point Sunday. This should clear the decks of my off-season thoughts, and we’ll move into spring training mode shortly.
- When I discussed the Soria-to-the-Yankees rumors in my last article, I was negligent in not bringing up perhaps the best piece of evidence that the Yankees were willing to give up a ton of talent for Soria: that they – and by “they” I mean the Steinbrenner brothers more than Brian Cashman – subsequently gave Rafael Soriano a 3-year, $35 million contract.
Actually, they gave Soriano more than a $35 million contract – they gave him a $35 million contract with the option to opt out after each year. They’re paying a middle reliever almost $12 million a year, in a contract that offers tremendous downside and no upside. In the best-case scenario for the Yankees, where Soriano is one of the best relievers in baseball in 2011, he’ll walk away.
If there’s a silver lining to the contract, it’s that the Yankees so vastly overpaid for Soriano that even if he has a great year he might not opt out, because even a top-tier closer is going to struggle to get more than $12 million a year on the open market. The Yankees have craftily diminished the value of the opt-out clause for Soriano by throwing so much money at him that he won’t want to leave. This means that the Yankees will be paying almost $27 million in 2011 to a pair of relievers who – in a best-case scenario – will pitch about 150 innings combined. And their fourth starter is Sergio Mitre.
So yeah, I can see the argument that if the Yankees were willing to give Soriano $35 million for 3 years – with options on the player’s side – they might be willing to pay through the nose for a superior player on a $27 million contract for 4 years – with all the options in their favor.
- Speaking of overpaid relievers…you might have noticed that the Tampa Bay Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth.
Short of Billy Beane giving a multi-year contract to Jeff Francoeur, it’s hard to think of a transaction that could cause more cognitive dissonance among the sabermetric community. Kyle Farnsworth is overrated. Tampa Bay might have the smartest front office in baseball (at least that’s what Jonah Keri says.) Smart teams don’t sign overrated players. But the Rays signed Farnsworth. We are caught in an infinite logic loop, one that threatens to tear the very fabric of the universe apart.
There is only one way out of this paradox, which is to accept that Farnsworth isn’t nearly as overrated as everyone thinks. I’m not sure I’m prepared to do that. Farnsworth had one of the most anti-clutch seasons in the history of baseball in 2009. Batting average isn’t the most useful stat in the world, but consider this. When the game was within two runs either way, opponents were 52-for-103 against Farnsworth in 2009 – they hit .505. When the game margin was 3 or 4 runs, they hit .364. When the margin was 5 runs or more, they hit .203.
Yeah, it was probably a fluke. But I’m still not prepared to forgive him.
The Rays don’t have anything to forgive, and what they see is a pitcher who had an xFIP of 3.37 in 2009, and 3.63 in 2010. They also see a pitcher who – thanks to Bob McClure – finally started mixing in more off-speed pitches last season, throwing more changeups as well as a new cut fastball. That looks awfully appealing for a team that has lost half their bullpen to free agency.
Don’t cry for them – the Rays have 12 of the first 88 picks in the June draft, which is the greatest number of extra picks by any team in the history of the draft. (The Rays will have drafted TEN TIMES before the Royals make their second selection.) Oh, and this is considered to be the strongest draft pool in years.
I’m still skeptical that Farnsworth has truly turned a corner. But it’s worth remembering that if he has, and if the Rays are once again taking advantage of The Extra 2%, it’s only because of the work that Bob McClure and the Royals did with him.
- The Royals signed Zach Miner to a minor-league contract, which may mean nothing in the end – Miner is coming off Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected back until June at the earliest. But my reaction to the transaction says something about the Royals.
Miner, at his best, is a pitch-to-contact right-hander who lets his defense work for him. (He has a solid 4.24 career ERA despite striking out just 5.5 batters per 9 innings.) The Royals have sifted through the bargain bin to find pitchers like him in the past, with usually awful results – not just because the pitchers themselves have marginal talent, but because these are exactly the kind of pitchers who most need a strong defense behind them. Among their many flaws, the Royals of recent vintage have suffered from a defense that is almost comically bad.
So it says something that my reaction to the Miner signing was not along the lines of “here we go again”. For that, I can thank Alcides Escobar’s arrival – and Yuniesky Betancourt’s departure. It remains to be seen whether Escobar can live up to his Gold Glove potential from a year ago, but I am comfortable in saying that he is an above-average defensive shortstop. The man he is replacing is perhaps the worst defensive everyday shortstop in the majors.
At second base, the Royals will start the year with Chris Getz at second base; Getz might not hit, but from what we’ve seen of him he’s at least an average defender, and perhaps slightly better. Say what you want about Jeff Francoeur, but he’s almost always been an above-average defender in right field. Alex Gordon can be expected to improve in left field now that he’s had a full year to adjust to the position, and he wasn’t bad last year. Every center field option other than Melky Cabrera (who, sadly, is favored to win the job) plays at least average defense. I think Mike Aviles will do a fine job at third base, where his lack of speed won’t hurt him as much as in the middle infield, and where his arm should be fully recovered in his second year after Tommy John surgery. Kila Ka’aihue figures to get a fair amount of the reps at first base, and he figures to be a modest improvement on Billy Butler.
Add it all together, and the defense looks to be better – maybe not dramatically better, but slightly better across the board, and significantly better at shortstop. It might take a slight hit in June if Mike Moustakas takes over at third and Aviles moves back to second; on the other hand, by June I suspect the Melky Cabrera experiment in center field will be over.
Suddenly, taking a flyer on Zach Miner doesn’t seem like such a pointless waste of resources. And pitchers with better stuff than Miner, but with a similar propensity to play democratic baseball – like Luke Hochevar – are well-situated to take a step forward.
- Speaking of defensive upgrades, the Royals have made the long-expected decision to move Wil Myers from catcher to right field.
I can certainly see the viewpoint that looks at this move as a wasted opportunity. The Royals had the chance to have one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball; Wil Myers has the kind of bat that might approach a .300/.400/.500 line in a few years. The only catchers who can regularly do that are Joe Mauer and Brian McCann. Victor Martinez could, once upon a time, and Carlos Santana and Buster Posey probably will in the near future. Even if Myers wasn’t the most agile backstop in the world, his stick figured to make up for it. Martinez is a well below-average catcher defensively, and that didn’t stop him from making eight figures this off-season.
A bad defensive catcher may cost his team a few runs by allowing too many errant pitches to get past him, and by not providing enough of a deterrent to baserunners with larceny in their heart. But the evidence that a bad defensive catcher will hurt his pitching staff with his game-calling skills is scant. The statistical evidence suggests that conventional wisdom vastly overstates the effect of a bad defensive catcher.
Having said all that, I agree with the decision to move Myers to right field. My concern with leaving Myers behind the plate wasn’t his defense; it was his offense. The rigors of squatting behind the plate 140 times a game, 140 games a year, are not beneficial towards a prospect’s maximum development as a hitter. Myers, who hit a combined .315/.429/.506 last season, as a 19-year-old in a pair of tough hitters’ parks, is the most precocious hitter in the system. Eliminating the chores of catching from Myers’ job description removes the biggest roadblock on his path to becoming an All-Star hitter.
The cost-benefit analysis would be different if Myers were an excellent defensive catcher, or even if he were just average. But Myers still needed a lot of work back there; while he had a strong arm (he threw out 32% of attempted base stealers last year), his mobility was a question mark – he allowed 20 passed balls despite catching in just 75 games. The majority – not all, but a majority – of scouts felt that ultimately he would have to move off the position. Getting the transition over with now takes away the upside that Myers ultimately settles in at catcher and still hits at an elite level, but also removes the much larger downside of wasting Myers’ energy on a fruitless task for the next year or two that also retards his bat’s development.
I’ve made this comparison before, but Myers’ skill set and size is reminiscent of a young Jayson Werth. Werth was a first-round pick of the Orioles in 1997, and after hitting .260/.359/.382 as a 19-year-old catcher in A-ball in 1998, he was a Baseball America Top 100 Prospect the following spring. He would make the list four times in five years (1999, 2000, 2002, and 2003).
The problem was that he wasn’t a great catcher, and he really didn’t have the body type for the position. The ideal catcher frame is not too tall, and with a low center of gravity. Werth is listed at 6’5”, 215 pounds. (Myers is not as tall but just as stringy – 6’3”, 190 pounds.) He wasn’t getting better as a catcher, and his offense wasn’t developing; as a 21-year-old in 2000, he hit just .228/.361/.355 in Double-A. After that season, the Orioles gave up on him, trading him to Toronto for John Bale. (Yes, that John Bale.)
The Blue Jays let him catch full-time in 2001, and then…well, allow me to quote myself, writing Werth’s entry as the #38 prospect in the minors in Baseball Prospectus 2003:
“Never underestimate the importance of common sense. Werth was a first round draft pick as a high school catcher, and despite flashes of greatness he failed to make an impression on anyone – to the point where the Orioles traded him to Toronto for John Bale. Until that is, someone in the Blue Jays organization looked at Werth’s lanky, 6’5”, 210-pound physique and thought, ‘gee, he really doesn’t look like a catcher.’ He didn’t look like a catcher because he wasn’t one – he was a speedy center fielder trapped behind the plate for reasons not easily divined.”
Werth moved to the outfield in early 2002 and never caught again. But after two cups of coffee with Toronto, the Blue Jays traded him to the Dodgers on the eve of the 2004 season for Jason Frasor. Werth had a fine rookie season in 2004, was disappointing in 2005, and then was hurt and missed all of 2006. The Dodgers let him go that winter, he signed with Philadelphia, and he has been one of baseball’s best right fielders ever since.
In retrospect, had Werth been moved to the outfield prior to the 1999 season, he probably wouldn’t have been traded for a middle reliever twice before he established himself in the majors. By moving Myers to the outfield now, the Royals are depriving themselves of the slight possibility that Myers could be this generation’s Mike Piazza, a poor defensive catcher who is nonetheless a perennial All-Star because of his bat. But they also eliminate the much more likely scenario where the Royals waste years trying to determine whether Myers can both catch and hit, and another team reaps the benefits years down the line. It’s a fair tradeoff. Sometimes it’s better not to be too greedy.
The other major reason why moving Myers is the right move for the organization is that they already have Myers’ replacement as the organization’s catcher of the future in Salvador Perez. But more on him next time.
- I thought that a comfy spot as an NRI with an NL West club was the perfect landing spot for Brian Bannister, but he threw us all a curveball by heading to Japan. As you’d expect from Banny, it was a really smart move.
He’s guaranteed a lot more money than he would have made stateside in 2011, and he gets to pitch against somewhat inferior competition in a league where probably 70% of the pitchers have a fastball that tops out in the upper 80s and rely on breaking stuff and slop and guile to get batters out. And knowing Banny, he probably sees his move to Japan as a terrific experience he might not get to enjoy in the future. I mean, he’ll live in Tokyo for a year, pitch for the famous Yomiuri Giants, maybe learn some Japanese. (And maybe, while he’s there, impart a bit of sabermetrics to the Land Of The Rising Sun And A Million Sacrifice Bunts.)
If his shoulder feels better and he finds his cutter again, he can always return stateside in a year or two. The trans-Pacific crossing has become easier over the years going both ways; an American pitcher no longer has to worry that a move to Japan probably spells the end of his major league career. (The Royals have done as much as anyone to dispel that notion, what with Darrell May and John Bale.) The greatest testament to the idea that you can come home again is Colby Lewis, who took a two-year sabbatical in Japan, got his shoulder healthy and started throwing strikes, and returned to the majors last year with 201 innings and a 3.72 ERA.
Lewis had a lot of nibbles from American teams last winter after his success in Japan, but decided to return to Texas, where he had spent the bulk of his career before leaving. I have no reason to think Bannister left Kansas City on bad terms with the Royals; if he makes it big in Japan, maybe we’ll see him again in a year or two.
A few housekeeping notes to conclude:
So as a new season is upon us, I fear that I may be running out of column ideas. Or at least, I’m running out of original column ideas. The storyline for the 2011 Royals is the same as the one for 2010: it’s all about the minor leaguers, at least until August or so when a good number of those minor leaguers start getting their wings.
I have no problem with devoting the bulk of my writing towards the prospects in the system, but I suspect that might become boring for many of you. So if you have any column ideas that you’d like me to explore, feel free to leave them in the comment section. I can’t guarantee that I will pursue them all – you can bet that I will pursue very few of them – but I promise I’ll read them all, and if anything catches my fancy I’ll let you know.
Also, I’ve got an idea of doing a regular chat session of sorts, where I answer questions from readers. My website isn’t exactly set up for that sort of thing, so here’s what we’ll do: I have set up a separate email address, email@example.com. Feel free to submit questions about the Royals to that address, I’ll check it periodically, and when I’ve got a good number of questions that I can answer, I’ll post the answers here. I won’t answer every question, and submitting the same question 17 times does not improve the odds that it will get answered.
Finally, speaking of the website, I’ve used pretty much the same template since I started it three years ago. I’d love to have a more functional website, that could do audio and video and God knows what else, but I don’t have the time to develop a more functional site. If anyone out there is capable of creating a more functional website, and has the credentials to back it up, drop me a line at the email address above. Thanks.
Kyle Farnsworth is a bad pitcher.
At least this summer, Chicago-area folk will be able to see Royals single-A talent at Kane County! You could probably due some blogs about that.
Are you going to be on 610 this summer, Rany?
Farnsworth was certainly overpaid as a Royal, but is unfairly mostly remembered for his first two weeks in a Royals uniform, giving up 7 runs in his first 3 innings and starting off 0-3.
After that he was a quality pitcher. He threw 78.2 more innings as a Royal, with a 2.75 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP. Hitters hit .252/.320/.326 against him. He only allowed 3 home runs in those innings, and he allowed 1/3 of those runs in two disastrous appearances in 2009. While he may not be a closer or set up man, there is major league value in that kind of player.
According to Fangraphs he was worth $5.9 million in the 1 2/3 years he was on the Royals, and they parlayed him into Tim Collins, so if they had paid a less obscene amount for him, it might have been a good deal.
The Rays, who have more money to begin with, are paying about 2/3 of what the Royals gave him, and are only committed to the first year. That might still be too much, but as long as they don't try to make him the closer, they have a chance to win this deal.
Choose Your Own Rany Adventure! My favorite kind of blog.
Can you make up your own hot stove? à la the Torii Hunter FA days?
Like you said, the Royals will need some FA help at some point. Who will likely be available over the next couple of years and who should the Royals consider acquiring... or more importantly, who should the Royals avoid at all costs (the more likely the scenario)?
I think your judgement on the defensive skill of some these players is kinda harsh. Chris Getz isnt average.
Id like to see some articles on Greinke one day coming back to the Royals. Maybe comparisons of Posnanski, Mellinger, and Whitlock I know the two formers may be your peers but id think itd be interesting. All-star games that Kauffman should try to emulate in 2012.
I love reading columns in which two intelligent people look at the same facts and come to opposite conclusions. That was what made Rob & Rany on the Royals so interesting: you weren't arguing past each other or picking nits, you just disagreed. I'd like to read columns in which you give your take on something written by Kahrl or Law or Posnanski or anyone else who writes well and with an analytical perspective, but whose conclusions about something related to the Royals merit countering.
It's also interesting to me how watching one team closely makes you wonder about larger issues. For instance, what does it mean for a coach to do a good job? How can we really isolate what McClure or Seitzer do? It's not so much about doing the study itself -- I can't imagine having any time left over for your work or family if you tried to recreate a PAP-like study every week or two -- but Bill James used to describe studies, and that was almost as interesting: "if we knew this, then we could know that. Here's what I think we'd find out. Here's how we might go about measuring that thing we aren't yet measuring." It would be interesting to see a column or two about the things you wish you could know about this year's team, something that seems knowable, but that we haven't yet figured out.
I'm too lazy to do the research myself, could you explain how the Rays stockpiled so many draft picks?
Perhaps a series on the basics of sabremetrics would be appropriate. A sabremetrics 101 series, if you will, where you explain the basis of the most important statistics for us leypeople in the audience.
During the season, you could breakdown a game analytically. Go through the major decision points maybe point out a few choices that we normally wouldn't notice. Start with the starting lineup and take us through the bullpen innings.
I'll second the idea for Sabremetrics 101.
From reading you and Poz for a couple of years, I have a rudimentary idea of some of the primary stats, but it would be helpful to know a) what goes into each on (both the calculation formula and what it strives to show) as well as b) what numbers are Yuni, average, all star, or HOF?
Also, since we all know the competitive portion of the season will be over by June 1, I'd be interested in seeing your thoughts on where the franchise would be if:
-KC had gone to the NL instead of Milwaukee.
-KC had used their first round choice differently in the last 15 years.
-Baseball had a salary cap
I know, this is all speculative, fantasy stuff, but I think we'll need something to get us through to when the call-ups occur.
One final suggestion: worse minor league team names than the Omaha Storm Chasers?
JoeRoyal: do you mean Getz is better than average or worse than average? Seriously. Because I think "average" is the only way you can really classify Getz's defense. He's really not that good.
I agree on the basics of sabremetrics. I am not interested so much in how the calculations are done, or even the rationale of the calcuation, but on the bests ones to look at, how to understand them, and why they are important and better than the traditional stats.
Also, the question of when a prospect should be considered ready. I have always thought the issue was overrated and, within reason, I think the better approach would be to bring them up, give them 500 at bats (or 25 starts or 150 innings) and see what they can do at the major league leve. I realize service time is a factor, but I never understood why a stud prospect could not just be brought up and play. I think that I saw a stat once that said players pretty much hit the same (about 10 points lower) in the majors than they hit at AAA. If so, put them in coach. It will be fun to watch them.
I have a general recollection that the Rays did that a few years ago and the Indians did that in the 90's, but maybe I'm wrong.
To add one point. I can see why logically a pitcher might need minor league time to learn their trade, and I honestly don't remember too many pitchers who came up young without much minor league experience and had great success, but it seems like if a hitter is 21 or more and crushing the ball in the high minors, it is time to bring them up. I suppose you would expect a hitter to struggle a bit at first (except Frenchy), but so what? Isn't history filled with hitters who started slow and then went on to great careers (average and OPS+ below)?
Willie Age 20 274 120
Mickey Age 19 267 116
Duke Age 21 241 96
Hank Age 20 280 104
Maybe a more realistic comparison:
Paul Molitor Age 21
BA 273 OPS+ 89
Then 20 years of mostly very high caliber hitting.
Christopher: I was under the impression that we acquired Getz for his speed at the top of the order and his ability to cover ground at 2nd base. Ive never seen him make an error or be as frustrated as I was with Yuni's lack of range. It just seems like Rany was reluctant to give any of our players an average grade and Getz was a guy I never had a problem with starting at 2nd if his bat was working, and yet Rany doesnt even want to compliment him. I love Rany with all my heart, i want him to be GM, but I dont know what it is, i just havent been as displeased as i usually am with our defense. i disagree with the recent vintage statement. I think our defense has improved, with the likes of Dejesus, Butler's emergence, the injuries of Guillen athletic third basemen.
To put my two cents in about suggestions for writing, id like to see a synopsis or a breakdown of the first week of a prospect's promotion. i dont know why everyone isnt looking forward to the prospects being called up especially when we werent looking forward to winning this season anyway. i think we should really draw out this calling up business. I am about to buy a John Lamb jersey.
I don't care how fast Chris Getz is. Not at all. His .315 OBP doesn't belong on the field, but if you're going to force it, the only way he belongs anywhere near the top, it can only be to keep Kenny away from the two-spot.
I second Brett's ideas for column topics. I'm also quite interested to read your thoughts on current events, name of the blog not withstanding. If you really wanted to do some research, an article on what daily life is like for the Royals' minor league players would be a nice change of pace, too.
Did you see Soria asked to stop being called the Mexicutioner, because of the escalating violence in Mexico? I think that's a pretty reasonable request. He wanted to be called like Mariano is called. Now, I'm OK with that, but I would prefer a mild merger of last name and nickname. Thus, I propose:
I think an interesting post would be about a single prospect's arc--high school to the show. How did they project in high school and how were they scouted/drafted? How did the Royals bring them along? How did they perform and adjust at each stop?
Another post I'd love to read would be something that explains the Royals baseball operations side both from an organizational perpective--what are the roles and who's in them--and also, if possible, how they compare to other clubs.
Thank you for your blog, Rany.
Have you found a correlation between minor league records leading up to the predictability of when the big club is going to improve? I blog about the Marniers, which is beyond brutal because a)I am not a Mariners fan and b) they obviously suck and will continue to suck for the near and mid future until Jackie Z can fix the train wreck of a farm system that Bavasi left behind.
Rany, I fear this may be bad timing, given how much we're all getting so excited about the next new crop of young Royals players; but have you ever considered assembling an All-Time Royals Over-Hyped Team? By this I mean Royals players who were hyped by the organization as The Next Big Thing, only to have them flame out specactularly for one reason or the other. The determining factor for a given player would be the size of the gap between the bar the Royals publicly set and the player's actual performance on the field. Maybe you could offer some commentary on why a given player failed so badly, and what we could learn from both their failures and the organization's mistakes, particularly as the new batch of kids comes along.
My personal suggestions (this is just off the top of my head, and is largely composed of players from the early to mid 90s, when I lived in KC and heard a lot of the hype firsthand):
1b: Bob Hamelin--no brainer
2b: Michael Tucker--remember when he was a second base prospect?
3b: Phil Hiatt
SS: Dave Howard: yes, they really protected him in favor of Jeff Conine in the expansion draft
C: Brent Mayne: and the club made him a first round draft pick because...???
OF: Brian McRae (who was never all that)
OF: Dwayne Hosey: people actually thought he would someday make us forget Willie Wilson
OF: Dee Brown: still makes me wince.
Pitchers: lots of possibilities here, of course: Jeff Granger, Jim Pittsley, Jeff George, etc. You could have a field day with this one.
Antonio: the argument isnt about his bat, while everyone agrees your offense does force you off the field even if you are the best defender, and he does need to improve the bat, it was about how comfortable he makes you feel at 2nd. I feel fine putting his defensive skills on mike aviles's bat and calling him our everyday 2nd baseman.
A player brought up to the majors from Triple-A will generally lose about 20 percent of his ability to create runs, due to the higher level of competition. That doesn't take park effects into account, so in some cases it might appear to be more or less than that. (An example is that Wade Boggs hit better in Boston than he ever did in the high minors, where the Sox then had preposterous pitcher's parks.)
A young player who is rapidly developing might come to the majors and hit just as well as he did a year before in the minors, but it's just as likely that he'll need an adjustment period. Ken Griffey Jr. made the Mariners in spring training after playing just 17 games above A ball, but most players don't have that kind of talent level.
I believe there are plenty of young players who should be called up sooner than they are, but these days you have teams playing games with service time, and you also have a lot of old-school GMs who worry about "rushing" a player. In my opinion, if you call a player up too soon and he fails, and then never recovers, he didn't have the psychological make-up to be a good major-leaguer anyway. Everyone deals with failure at some point; it's how you respond that separates us. If service time wasn't an issue, I'd bring every prospect to the majors as soon as they look like they might be able to play there.
The argument was about Getz's defense, and what he is shown so far is average defense, maybe even a little below. Granted that is a plus for recent Royals teams, but it isn't like he is a defensive wizard.
When you add in the fact that he has looked lost at the plate, and that he seems to be a focus of the team in a measure far beyond his talent, I personally am significantly underwhelmed.
I am sure that Yost will look at the fact that he is a slap hitter with no extra base power, or even the ability to get the ball out of the infield, see the similarity with Kendall, and hit him in the second spot every day because he has "bat control" and knows how to "handle a bat." I guess he is fast, at least, but I don't look forward to have another year of a #2 guy with no power and a .300 OBP. (With maybe Kendall back there when he is healthy.)
You could call it Chris Kendall or Jason Getz, but either way it is a hole at the top of order.
I don't know exactly how it would be actualized, but I'd love to see what the affect of significant ss upgrades are on ground ball pitchers. I think the swap of Escobar for Yuni isn't being factored into how much improvement we'll see in Hochevar. I know that grading defense is an inaccurate science but I'm sure you could find a comparable situation to draw from.
Rany, I heard you're starting a Podcast. How can I find it?
People are penciling in Hoche for a 100 ERA+. Considering the abysmal numbers he put up not only last year but over the course of his career, I'd say they are most definitely factoring in Escobar. For that kind of improvement, he's the best SS in the league.
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