Monday, February 16, 2009

Aviles has to deal with a positional jinx

Royals fans have seen it before - a rookie comes up, has a great year, and then disappears in his second season. It's called the sophomore slump and in recent years affected the likes of Bob Hamelin, Mark Quinn, Carlos Beltran, & Angel Berroa. Beltran is the only one that recovered and put up seasons that matched or surpassed his rookie success.

But there is something else going on and it dates back to 1971 - Royals shortstops are never as good in their second season. Its a postional jinx and it doesn't matter their age or era, they always struggle. Looking at guys who played two full seasons at SS (so this will exclude David Howard and Neifi Perez, your welcome) none of them matched what they did at the plate in their first season as a Royal.

And that brings us to Mike Aviles who I'm sure is hoping to avoid this fate. Every projection has him regressing this season so to expect him to match last seasons .325/.354/.480 line is probably unrealistic. But more on him later, first let's take a stroll through KC history starting with a Royals hall of famer and the best shortstop in team history (and to this day my favorite player ever).

Freddie Patek
Year AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI SB OPS+
1971 .267/.323/.371 6/36 49 97
1972 .212/.280/.276 0/32 33 67

That '71 season was pretty exceptional for a shortstop back then, in fact only Leo Cardenas had a higher OPS+ (107) in the American League at that position. Patek even finished 6th in MVP voting, 5 points ahead of Bobby Murcer who OPS'd .970 that year (Cardenas finished 21st, go figure). It would be the best season of Pateks career and in 1972 he had his worst (as a full time starter). Ironically he made the all-star in '72 no doubt based on his '71 season because he was hitting .223 at the break.

Patek bounced back sort of in year three and became the player we remember. A fantastic defensive SS who could steal some bases (he was top 5 in the AL six times including a league leading 53 in 1977). He split time with UL Washington in 1979 and then left for the California Angels after that season. My 8 year old heart never recovered.

UL Washington
Year AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI SB OPS+
1980 .273/.336/.375 6/53 20 95
1981 .227/.310/.307 2/29 10 80

Best known for the toothpick that was constantly in his mouth UL became the full time SS in 1980. He became something of a household name in the 1980 ALCS when he hit .364/.462/.455 against the New York Yankees. His '80 season looks an awful lot like what Patek accomplished in '71 (both even had 11 triples). UL never really got going in the strike shortened '81 season but he did bounce back with a 106 OPS+ in 1982, it would be the best season of his career. He was traded to the Expos before the 1985 season for two guys who never made an appearance in a Royals uniform. Because he was the player who replaced Patek I never liked him.

Kurt Stillwell
Year AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI SB OPS+
1988 .251/.322/.399 10/53 6 101
1989 .261/.325/.380 7/54 9 99

Stillwell, acquired in a trade with the Reds for Danny Jackson, set the team record for home runs by a SS in '88, he also made the all-star team. And while his '89 season was pretty similar and in some ways better there was disappointment that at age 24 he didn't take the next step (unlike Barry Larkin). Stillwell had a reputation as a player who didn't give his all and while I don't want to believe that about any player you do have to wonder because the talent was definitely there. He regressed further in 1990 (85 OPS+) and though he bounced back slightly in 1991 KC let him leave via free agency after that season. He was out of baseball at the age of 31.

Greg Gagne
Year AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI SB OPS+
1993 .280/.319/.406 10/57 10 89
1994 .259/.314/.392 7/51 10 79

The Royals signed with Gagne to a three year contract after the 1992 season. He was known as a great defensive SS with a little pop in his bat and in '93 KC got exactly that. He matched Stillwells team record in home runs while making just 10 errors in the field. Offensively and defensively it was his best season as a Royal. He signed with the Dodgers in 1996 and basically replicated his '93 season (10 home runs, 90 OPS+).


Rey Sanchez
Year AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI SB OPS+
1999 .294/.329/.370 2/56 11 77
2000 .273/.314/.322 1/38 7 61

Sanchez was brought in for his glove and though the .294 average was nice he had only 22 walks and 26 extra base hits, hence the low 77 OPS+. Defensively he delivered making just 17 errors those two seasons (4 in 2000!!!). He gave KC what they expected and was hitting .303 when traded mid season to the Braves in 2001, thus began the Neifi Perez era and I'm not even going there.

Angel Berroa
Year AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI SB OPS+
2003 .287/.338/.451 17/73 21 101
2004 .262/.308/.385 8/43 14 78

Ugh! He was the key player in the 2001 Johnny Damon trade to the A's and the 2003 rookie of the year, he never again matched that season. Every year after, offensively and defensively, he went from bad to worse. Although his OPS+ was slightly higher in '05 (81) he was atrocious in the field and in '06 posted a 52 OPS+, he was traded to the Dodgers last June where he somehow managed to get over 200 at bats. He rewarded their faith in him with a .230/.304/.310 line.

Tony Pena Jr.
Year AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI SB OPS+
2007 .267/.284/.356 2/47 5 66
2008 .169/.189/.209 1/14 3 7

Ok so you may have noticed that I broke my rule about using guys who were a starter at least two full seasons. I just basically wanted to show again how utterly useless he was with a bat in his hands.

And that brings us to Aviles, a mid season callup who Trey was reluctant to play at first but when he got the opportunity he never stopped hitting. As I mentioned earlier it will be hard for him to improve on his .325/.354/.480 10 HR 51 RBI 122 OPS+ 2008 season. His walk rate is Berroa-ish which concerns me just a little. I really don't know what we'll get from him this season but lets check his projections to see what others expect.

Projection AVG/OBP/SLG HR/RBI OPS
Bill James .288/.322/.443 14/72 .765
CHONE .280/.317/.425 11/69 .742
Marcel .308/.351/.462 10/49 .812

I think James and CHONE may be closer to his rate stats than Marcel but honestly I can see him hitting over .300 again. He just didn't seem phased at all by big league pitching. We'll know in a couple months whether last season was a fluke but I'm betting it wasn't and while he may not OPS+ 122 again I certainly expect him to be above league average.

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