Monday, January 30, 2012

How Many Runs Would A Lineup Full Of Situational Hitters Score Per Game?

After reading an article that begged to be mocked and made fun of, I decided I'm not going to do any of that, mainly because I suspect that was the writer's intent. Instead I thought I would test his belief on how vital situational hitters are to a lineup, because they are above the silly overrated things like getting on base and hitting for power. This is an exercise in pointlessness I realize but I'm doing it just to satisfy my own morbid curiosity.

The first thing I needed to decide was which situational hitter's stats to use, but lucky for me Kansas City just so happens to have one of the game's most valuable players at hitting ground balls, Chris Getz. For the purposes of this exercise I'm going to ignore that he lost his job to a rookie last year.

Using Baseball Musing's Lineup Analysis tool I punched in Getz's on-base percentage (.309) and slugging percentage (.283) since joining the Royals. Are you ready for the magic?

2.979 runs per game. 483 runs per year.

To put it in a perspective we can all relate to, the Royals scored 700+ runs all four seasons in which they have lost 100 games or more.

When a player's entire skill set is situational hitting then that player is merely a placeholder until a better player comes along. So let's not act like they're just as important as the guys who are actually producing, okay?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Single Season Home Run Leaders Since 2004

The general consensus is that either Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas will eventually break Steve Balboni's franchise record of 36 home runs. Forget 37, I'd like to see somebody hit 25. Since 2004 there have been 392 25+ home run seasons across baseball but not a single one of those have been achieved by a Royal. Carlos Beltran is the last Royal to hit the mark when he belted 26 in 2003. Since Beltran left, in a trade that would one day bring Chris Getz into our lives, home runs have been a too rare occurrence.

Rk Player HR Year
1 Alex Gordon 23 2011
2 Miguel Olivo 23 2009
3 Mike Sweeney 22 2004
4 Billy Butler 21 2009
5 Mike Sweeney 21 2005
6 Jeff Francoeur 20 2011
7 Jose Guillen 20 2008
8 Billy Butler 19 2011
9 Eric Hosmer 19 2011
10 Mike Jacobs 19 2009
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used

This unimpressive list's saving grace is that four of the seasons were produced last year. Toss in Moustakas and a person could probably make the argument that five players could hit 25+ this year. I think at least three will - Hosmer, Gordon and Butler. Yes, Butler. For what it's worth ZiPS doesn't project any of the Royals to hit 25.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prince Fielder Is A Tiger

 "Justin Verlander might win 20 games with the staggering run support he is likely to receive, because there are days when he may allow six runs in five innings and still win by a touchdown; the Tigers may be the latest team to take a run at scoring 1,000 runs." - Buster Olney

While those words may be true today they were actually written before the 2008 season. Following the off season acquisition of Miguel Cabrera the Tigers were widely predicted to score 1000 runs and easily win the division. That didn't happen. While the offense was, in fact, very good - finished in the top 5 in most categories - they didn't score a 1000 runs, or 900, or even 825. Behind a dreadful pitching staff they limped to a 74-88 record, good for last place in the AL Central. The point is, things don't always go as planned, no matter who a team acquires.

Fast forward to today. The Tigers signed Prince Fielder and the hype that surrounded the 2008 Tigers is alive and well four years later. Detroit will be good this year but I don't know that Fielder will turn them into a 100 win team. I don't think they'll fall apart like they did in 2008 (Justin Verlander won't be as bad as he was that year but I'm equally sure he won't be as dominant as he was in 2011) but I also don't see them running away with the division.

I think the Royals still match up well with the Tigers. Sure they went 7-11 against Detroit last year but KC actually outscored them 83-72 in those 18 games. 

Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt
1 2011-09-21 KCR DET L 3-6
2 2011-09-20 KCR DET W 10-2
3 2011-09-01 KCR DET W 11-8
4 2011-08-31 KCR DET L 4-5
5 2011-08-30 KCR DET L 1-2
6 2011-08-29 KCR DET W 9-5
7 2011-08-07 KCR DET W 4-3
8 2011-08-06 KCR DET L 3-4
9 2011-08-05 KCR DET L 3-4
10 2011-07-10 KCR DET L 1-2
11 2011-07-09 KCR DET W 13-6
12 2011-07-08 KCR DET L 4-6
13 2011-07-07 KCR DET L 1-3
14 2011-05-14 KCR DET L 0-3
15 2011-05-13 KCR DET L 1-3
16 2011-04-10 KCR DET W 9-5
17 2011-04-09 KCR DET W 3-1
18 2011-04-08 KCR DET L 2-5
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used

All 11 losses were by 3 runs or less, meaning the Royals were in every single game against Detroit last year. I expect more of the same this season for a few reasons, which I'll spell out.

  1. KC will get full seasons out of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. While the Tigers have a decent starting rotation, they're not exactly the Phillies. KC scored 2 runs or fewer in six of the games versus Detroit last year, but five of those games came before August, when KC started trotting out their likely 2012 lineup. 
  2. Jonathan Sanchez, Bruce Chen, Danny Duffy, Everett Teaford and Jose Mijares. Fielder has hit a pedestrian .257/.340/.458 against left handed pitching in his career. Decent numbers for sure, but a far cry from what he has accomplished versus righties (.294/.411/.577).
  3. Detroit's defense should be, um, interesting. Cabrera is allegedly moving to third base where Brooks Robinson he ain't. Fielder's not winning any gold gloves either (well he might I guess, if he hits enough home runs. He's not a good defender is what I'm saying).
Bottom line is this, I think Detroit will win the division but I don't believe they'll stomp all over the Royals in the process.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Innings, Innings, Innings

We’re kind of set with what we have. We’re not a finished product by any means, but we’re staying focused on keeping our core group of players together. Our next step needs to be getting some of our young starting pitching to the major leagues.” - Dayton Moore 

With Mission 2012 upon us, and contention seemingly looming, DM is apparently content with the current roster. In other words, Edwin Jackson isn't walking through that door. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because while their window may be cracked at the moment, it should be wide open next year. I don't know that Jackson or Roy Oswalt is enough of a difference maker to push KC over the hump and into the playoffs. 

Not that they wouldn't be good pickups, it's just that the rest of the rotation is still full of question marks. For the Royals to be competitive the starting pitchers simply have to pitch more innings. Of course that's a no brainer but the facts speak for themselves. The fourteen teams that finished .500 or above had 33 pitchers toss 190+ innings, 2.35 per team. The sixteen teams that finished under .500 had just 24, 1.5 per team. You have to figure that two or three members of the Royals rotation have to exceed that amount this year, which could happen but seems unlikely when you consider that Hochevar, Sanchez, Chen, Paulino and Duffy have combined for just three such seasons in their careers.

I'd rather they see what those guys do this year and then adjust accordingly next winter when they can maybe land someone better than Jackson (Zack Greinke anyone? What?). Best case scenario is that Duffy and Montgomery make the leap to the front of the rotation while Hochevar and Paulino contribute as league average innings eaters. And then, of course, Chen continues to be Chen, because he's here for 2013 as well (for some reason).

When last season ended I was hoping DM would sign Jackson or trade for James Shields but now I've come around to the wisdom of waiting. I think the current rotation has just enough upside to surprise people and keep the team in the hunt into August or hopefully even September. But they also have enough downside to bury the team in May and finish with a record similar to last year. It really could go either way. 

Been There, Done That

This isn't another Billy Butler post, except it kind of is. I was talking about the Royals with a friend of mine who believes that if KC traded Butler for a starting pitcher, and then traded Mike Montgomery for Mark Trumbo (whatever), they'd run away with the division. Right. You all know how I feel about Butler so, yes, there was laughter involved in my response. Because Butler is better than Trumbo. Unswayed by talk of Butler's consistency and his superior on base percentage he hit me with the money quote: "I'd rather KC acquired a DH  who can hit 30 home runs with a low OBP than keep Butler". People with short memories may have forgotten that the Royals tried this once, it didn't work. Remember Mike Jacobs?

Seriously, take a look at Jacobs 2008 season and Trumbo's 2011.

Jacobs 519 67 118 27 32 93 36 119 .247 .299 .514 108
Trumbo 573 65 137 31 29 87 25 120 .254 .291 .477 113
Provided by View Original Table

Jacobs had a horrible 2009 season as his OBP stayed below .300 (.297) and his power all but disappeared (.401 SLG%). The acquisition sort of made sense but many predicted it would end in disaster and, of course, it ultimately did. When players like Jacobs struggle power-wise they have no fallback skill that adds value to a lineup. Remember kids, OBP is king for a reason.

I don't know how Trumbo will do this year, I suspect not as well as last season, but I do know what kind of production Butler will provide. And it's pretty damn nice.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Royals Caravan - St. Joseph

The Royals comeback tour rolled into St. Joseph yesterday with Billy Butler, Greg Holland, Danny Duffy and John Mayberry ready to sign for a large and enthusiastic crowd. For reasons that are entirely my own I'd never attended the caravan stop in St. Joseph before. It was pretty much what I expected. What it wasn't, though, was fanfest. I did spend a few minutes talking with Ben Aken - the Royals Sr. Director of Community Relations - about the decision to cancel the event. His facial reaction when I broached the subject suggested I was probably the one millionth person to ask him why. He didn't really say anything that I hadn't heard before, and didn't at all convince me the All-Star game event is a worthy substitute, but he at least was nice enough to try.

Here are a few tidbits from the caravan and some of the pictures I took (the rest of the pics can be viewed here).

  • Danny Duffy is the most polite person in the history of mankind. Seriously. Kudos to his parents for the job they did in raising him.

  • John Mayberry's eyes lit up twice. The first time when he saw Hy-Vee's Chinese food section upon arrival and the second when he was handed a bat to sign. He gripped the bat with both hands and uttered "that's what I'm talking about".

  • At no point in the hour plus did Billy Butler hit a home run. Not a single one. Trade him.

  • This is why they do it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Linkage

Here is your required reading for the weekend. Enjoy.

Baseball Think Factory - 2012 ZiPS projections - Kansas City Royals
"There's still a lot more offseason left, but as of now, the good news is that there really aren't any horrible ingredients, with the single, notable exception of Yuniesky Betancourt, a player with little redeemable purpose and will get $2 million. $2 million isn't much in the big picture, but there are a lot of better ways to spend $2 million. You could drop $2 million in hundred-dollar bills over the sky in San Pedro de Macoris (each $100 with a Royals sticker affixed to it) and get a better return on investment than Yuni."

"Matter of fact, of the top 3 projected starters for 2012 (that I mentioned above), Paulino’s 2011 stats are the closest to a #1 starter, and they’re not even near to that level.  It’s no surprise that the Royals don’t have an ACE that can match up to those stats, but needs to be said all the same.  Now, let’s put it out there how our projected 1-3 starters matchup to the average 1-3 starters from playoff teams last year."

"I've entered in my current guesses for the 2012 Royals (subject to change, but informed by past performance, Bill James projections, fan projections on Fangraphs, and my gut), and the magic spreadsheet says 80-82. As you can see, I'm not bullish on the pitching. Many of the hurlers have potential to put together better years than I've entered, but their track records don't inspire confidence."

"Some of the biggest complaints with Butler are that he is essentially only a designated hitter and a poor base runner which really hurts his overall value in terms of sabermetrics. Another minus for Billy is that this is as a DH/1B, he really is not that special of a player. He is essential a 2.0-2.5 WAR player and when you have no positional value you have to be a very good hitter to make an impact, and thus far, Butler has not hit at that level."

"When I checked in on the 2010 draftees last summer, the word I used to characterize the haul was "strange." Now that we have a full year of data to look at (still not very much, as these things go) what picture emerges?"

"What we do know about Aaron Crow is that he was an exciting and dominant setup man from April through July for the Royals.  For the season, he struck out more than one batter per inning, gave up less than one hit per inning,  walked a few too many (4.50 batters/9) and uncorked 9 wild pitches."

"Gordon is unique in that he’s a former top prospect and yet he’s a year behind where he’d expect to be when looking at service time. Hip surgery in 2009 and trips back and forth from Omaha have him under team control until after 2013. Right now, it’s a question of whether 2011 was a fluke or if it’s Gordon finally realizing his potential while in an environment where he doesn’t have to be the savior and where he’s healthy, or if it’s a career year and he’ll regress to being just above average (or worse)."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Couple Thoughts On The Chen Extension

After the success of controversial signings Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur it's hard to blame Dayton Moore for thinking he has the midas touch. It wouldn't surprise me if he's spent the offseason hanging out at top notch casinos or the best sports betting sites. Moore extended his Kenny Rogers ways onto the 2012 and 2013 teams gambling that Francoeur's 2011 season was legit, and that Bruce Chen's performance the next two seasons will help the team compete, as well as trump whatever draft pick they would've received if Chen had rejected arbitration and signed elsewhere.

The Francoeur extension was predictable and I really didn't have a problem with it, I mean somebody has to play right field and Wil Myers clearly isn't ready. Chen, on the other hand, caught me off guard and was more than a little perplexing. It's apparently widely accepted that Chen has been the Royals best starter the last two seasons but I don't know how accurate that is. I suspect that leading the team in wins both years has been the catalyst for the myth but a quick stat comparison shows that Greinke was better in 2010.

Zack Greinke 10 14 4.17 33 220.0 55 181 100 1.245 9.0 2.3 7.4 3.29
Bruce Chen* 12 7 4.17 23 140.1 57 98 101 1.375 8.7 3.7 6.3 1.72
Provided by View Original Table

The 80 inning gap is not insignificant, nor is the difference in WHIP, BB/9, SO/BB and SO/9. Last season Chen did lead the team in ERA+ (108) but he was third in innings pitched, second in WHIP, fourth in SO/BB and fifth in SO/9. So, yeah, he may have been the top starter but he wasn't overwhelmingly so. In fact, I'm not convinced Everett Teaford can't be every bit as effective as Chen in 2012, he'd be considerably cheaper too. So while I sort of understand why Moore brought him back I just don't think it was necessary. But at least Chen's funny, so there's that.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Consistently Good Billy Butler

Nothing gets the Royals section of twitter raging like a good old fashion Billy Butler debate. Due to his great second half the "he doesn't hit enough home runs so he should be traded" rallying cry was replaced with "hey, he's hitting home runs so let's trade him for a #1 starter". Whatever. Long time readers here - and followers on twitter - know how I feel about Butler and how I'd freak out if he actually was traded.

I've never been concerned about Butler's power simply because of the amount of doubles he hits (I think the McRae comp is still a good one). I'm also unswayed by the new reasons to purge the roster of his bat - that he's no longer cheap and a full time designated hitter limits roster flexibility. The 8 million he'll make each of the next three seasons is hardly a payroll back breaker and it shouldn't inhibit the team from making long term offers to Hosmer and company. The team option for 12.5 million in 2015 is a bit too pricey but I fully expect they'll buy that out. There is something to the roster flexibility argument, but honestly, I fail to see how inserting a weaker bat into the lineup for the sake of flexibility makes the team better.

However you feel about Butler, one indisputable fact remains, the man can hit a baseball. Still though, I'm not sure fans fully realize how good he's been since the start of the 2009 season. He is just one of seven major leaguers to crack 60+ extra base hits and post an on base percentage of .360 or higher in each of the last three years. I'm not suggesting he's as good as the rest of the players on this list, because he isn't. I'm just pointing out that Butler consistently excels in two areas critical to run production and he wouldn't be easy to replace.

Here is the complete list:
Yrs From To Age
Joey Votto 3 2009 2011 25-27
Troy Tulowitzki 3 2009 2011 24-26
Albert Pujols 3 2009 2011 29-31
Adrian Gonzalez 3 2009 2011 27-29
Miguel Cabrera 3 2009 2011 26-28
Billy Butler 3 2009 2011 23-25
Ryan Braun 3 2009 2011 25-27
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used

If you're unimpressed consider that such a season has only been accomplished by twelve players in Royals history. If you add in a minimum 125 OPS+ to the qualifying stats the number of players is reduced to nine

Yrs From To Age
George Brett 8 1977 1990 24-37
Billy Butler 3 2009 2011 23-25
Danny Tartabull 3 1987 1991 24-28
Mike Sweeney 2 1999 2001 25-27
Johnny Damon 2 1999 2000 25-26
Hal McRae 2 1977 1982 31-36
Alex Gordon 1 2011 2011 27-27
Carlos Beltran 1 2001 2001 24-24
Jermaine Dye 1 2000 2000 26-26
Joe Randa 1 1999 1999 29-29
Al Cowens 1 1977 1977 25-25
John Mayberry 1 1975 1975 26-26
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used

As good as the offense is projected to be there are still a lot of questions.

Those answers will be provided during the season, but right now, here's what we do know - Butler will smack around 60 extra base hits and get on base 36% of the time. You know what folks, let's keep him around.

And be happy that he's here.