Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Training's Highs and Lows

Spring training this year............has been weird. It's been a roller coaster of emotions as something good would seemingly be followed by something bad. Since I've been too lazy busy to touch on any of the last couple week's topics I thought I'd hit some of the ones I missed here as I give my thoughts on this spring's highs and lows (spoiler alert; one of my highs will not be well received).

Highs

Alex Gordon extended. Many of us felt priority 1 (or A1 if you prefer) when the offseason began was to get Gordon extended. It happened later than I thought but Dayton Moore got a deal done, and for cheaper than I predicted. I thought it'd be 4/40 with a 15 million 5th year team option but instead it comes in at 4/37.5 with a 12.5 5th year player option. As long as he stays healthy I have no doubt that KC will get their money's worth. It also illustrates once again the difference between Moore and Allard Baird, in that one is allowed to extend players while the other was forced to trade them for basically garbage.

Salvador Perez locked up. I briefly touched on this here and still feel the same way, despite his injury. The deal is cheap enough that even if he turns out to be injury prone it's not going to affect future payroll decisions. While I'm not enthralled with Humberto Quintero I can handle his 58 OPS+ so long as he plays gold glove defense and returns to the bench (or Houston) when Perez comes back.

Alcides Escobar locked up. This was such a low key signing that I actually missed it. While it wasn't as sexy a move as locking up Perez it does eliminate my fear that if he got off to a slow start again he'd be replaced by Betancourt. He signed a 4/10 deal that could rise to 6/21.75 if a pair of team options are exercised. I was frankly surprised Moore didn't wait another year to see if Escobar is going to hit or not. Like Perez, his deal won't inhibit future signings. I tend to knock Moore around a little but he did a great job of locking up two excellent defenders at key positions with extremely team friendly contracts.

Danny Duffy wins rotation spot. After Luis Mendoza's dominating spring performance I initially figured Duffy would be the odd man out in the rotation. Felipe Paulino's injury took the mystery out of that decision as Duffy has now been pegged for the fifth spot. Maybe this will be the year Bill Butler's team record 156 strikeouts by a LHP is broken. That was set in 1969, the franchise's first season, it's time it falls and Duffy is talented enough to be the one to do it. Last season his 7.43 SO/9 was the highest ever by a Royals left handed starter (min. 20 starts).

Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler debut in the booth. The Wonder Dog got pounded on twitter for his performance last night, but I don't care, I like the guy. I think some of the criticism Hudler received was by people upset over Frank White's dismissal and already had made up their minds they wouldn't like his replacement. Here's the thing though, I remember White being mocked on twitter often and I really don't recall the love-fest beginning until after he was let go. How his dismissal went down was unfortunate, but I firmly believe it was the right decision, even though it was made for the wrong reason. He was a terrific baseball player but that doesn't always translate to the booth. It did for Splitt for sure, but it didn't for White. Hudler's enthusiastic, in your face style is the polar opposite to White's just woke up, did I miss anything. I like the fact that booth will have more personality this year.

Lows

Perez to miss three months. And thus began the Quintero era. Perez showed so much offensively and defensively last year that I couldn't wait to see what he would do over the course of a full season. Now I'll have to wait until next year, because even when he comes back mid-summer they plan on taking a conservative approach with his playing time, which I'm fine with.

Joakim Soria to miss entire season. Soria will undergo a second Tommy John surgery and may never pitch in a Royals uniform again. A deep and filthy bullpen significantly lightens this loss. How deep is the pen? Well Louis Coleman (143 ERA+, 9.7 SO/9 last year) will rightly or wrongly begin the season in Omaha. I'd like to see Broxton take over the closers role so Greg Holland can continue to come in and put out fires when needed.

Paulino to begin the season on the disabled list. Only three starters in Royals history had a higher SO/9 than Paulino's 8.59 last year (also min. 20 starts), and while that never made him lock for the rotation, it probably should have. After his DL stint is up and he makes three minor league rehab starts the team will know what they have in Mendoza. I'm not rooting for him to fail, mind you, but I think he will and it'll be his spot in the rotation that Paulino claims when he's added to the 25 man roster.

Johnny Giavotella demoted. I really wasn't expecting this as I thought he'd get at least a month to prove he belongs. This by no means closes the door on a potential return but I don't think it'll be as quick as many believe. His failure to hit well enough in a small sample size means the two headed monster known as Getzencourt will occupy second base. Seeing how Getz and Betancourt are both general manager and manager favorites it's hard to imagine Gio returning before the All Star break. On a side note I have a poll up about Giavotella's nickname. I'd always assumed it was Gio but I've been seeing Gia more and more, and no not this Gia, though it is what I think every time someone calls Giavotella that. Anyway, which do you prefer?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Contention Hopes Take An Early Hit

Before spring training began if you would have polled everyone in the Royals front office about which player would be the most difficult to replace I imagine Sal Perez would have garnered the top spot. His combination of above average defense and potentially league average offense gives Kansas City one of the game's top up and coming catchers. No offense to Brayan Pena and Max Ramirez but they can't do what Sal (#stopsalvy) can do.

Despite playing in only 39 games last season Sal led Royals catchers in rWAR with 1.1, Pena and Matt Treanor played 137 games combined and had just 0.7 rWAR to show for it. For a team expecting to compete* this season Sal's absence is sort of a big deal. If Billy Butler was hurt or had to replace an injured Eric Hosmer I don't think Kevin Kouzmanoff and Clint Robinson would wet the bed offensively if they platooned at DH for a couple months (though I acknowledge I could be wrong about that). The same goes for Mitch Maier if he has to replace any of the starting outfielders.

*I realize people have differing definitions of competing so let me explain real quick what it means to me. It's easy to look at the final 2011 Central standings and conclude that Detroit ran away with the division, but that's not accurate. Last season the Indians won 80 games and finished 15 back of the Tigers but if you recall they were in the thick of the Central race into late August. When I say the Royals can compete despite winning 80-82 games, that's what I'm talking about, four and a half to five months where they are within a few games of the leader. Now next season I may decide that's not good enough and define it differently, but for 2011, it absolutely will be.

The team is looking for veteran help now that they've learned Sal will likely miss all of the first half. They looked in the direction of Ivan Rodriguez but interest there was apparently one sided (it should be noted that Dutty is saying the Royals never extended an invitation to camp).










Whoever they end up bringing in will still be a significant step down from Perez, offensively and defensively. It's just a massively disappointing way to start the season. I didn't believe that last season's run of good luck health-wise would carry over into 2012 but I didn't think it'd hit this early, or hit Sal.

It should have been Yuni.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Preparing For Life With Mendoza

A line that is commonly repeated this time of year is 'spring training stats don't matter'. You'll hear it from all corners of the internet and it's mostly true, but in the same way that Westley was mostly dead, meaning it's also slightly untrue. The fact is, right or wrong, jobs are won and lost on how players produce during spring training games. Case in point, Luis Mendoza.

If you'll recall Mendoza is competing for a rotation spot because Dayton Moore contracted Humberitis, a rare affliction that makes a general manager paranoid about losing a mediocre player because another mediocre player performed well for three months for another team (look it up!). Mendoza has pitched 6 scoreless innings this spring and now appears to be the favorite to be starter number five. In his last start he pitched 4 impressive innings, though it should be noted that the lineup the Rockies tossed at him wasn't going to strike fear in the hearts of too many pitchers (for example, career .186/.225/.289/39 OPS+ hitter Brandon Wood batted cleanup).

Danny Duffy was dominant in his first start but I think he's facing an uphill challenge now and may have to be damn near perfect the remainder of the spring. And even then it may not be enough, not as long as Mendoza is tossing up zeros. Sure you can argue that it's much too early for this sort of speculation but I'd counter with Yost and Moore are seeing exactly what they wanted, and what they expected. I mean, if they don't accept the general sabermetric view on Betancourt then you can pretty much assume they don't on Mendoza either. And of course I'm talking about the view that over the course of a full season his strikeout and walk rates would be a hindrance to sustained success. Recent history suggests this is, in fact, true.

If I'm right and he does make the rotation then I think we could see a repeat of what Sean O'Sullivan did last year. Like Mendoza, O'Sullivan is trying to survive with a low strikeout rate (4.2 SO/9). Last season he had a 2.16 ERA after his first 4 starts but his other numbers were telling a story that would produce an unhappy ending. In 25 innings he had 13 strikeouts and 13 walks and held hitters to an unsustainable .227 BAbip, meaning he was more lucky than good, and at some point the wheels would fall off. And boy, did they ever. His next 5 starts produced a 11.10 ERA and he was compassionately removed from the rotation making just one more start all year (a token September appearance in which he gave up 6 runs in 5 innings).

O'Sullivan provides a decent example on the difference between AAA and major league hitters. For Omaha last year he had 6.6 SO/9 and 1.9 BB/9 rates, numbers he came nowhere close to replicating for Kansas City (2.9 SO/9, 4.0 BB/9). So what Mendoza accomplished in AAA last year doesn't really matter because to succeed at the big league level he has to miss bats, and that my friends, is something he is unable to do.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Some Early Spring Thoughts

When Dayton Moore chose to bring back Yuniesky Betancourt there were a vocal few who thought the outcry by myself and many others was completely overblown. They were convinced that Ned Yost's minimal use of the bench would continue on into 2012. But a few weeks ago Moore suggested that Yuni could wind up the every day second baseman, and now, Yost has come out said that he wants him in the lineup three or four times a week. That, my friends, is a problem.

I said right off the bat that he would amass at least 300 plate appearances, I didn't believe for a second that he was going to get paid two million dollars to sit on the bench for 125 games. He was brought in to play, and play he will. He has performed well (for him) against lefty's in his career but last year he struggled mightily against southpaws putting up a .229/.246/.331 line. If they are intent on Mike Moustakas sitting against tough lefty's then Yuni better improve on last year's numbers. Of course the preferred way of keeping him on the bench would be for Moustakas and Johnny Giavotella to start hitting right out of the gate.

Max Ramirez has come to the plate just 6 times thus far but already has 2 home runs and 6 RBI's. He's a catcher like Clint Robinson is a first baseman, meaning he's not. Another home run, though, and he'll be the latest cause du jour.

Jonathan Sanchez and Bruce Chen struggled in their respective first starts, which means next to nothing, but I like what Chen did afterwards. He came out and took responsibility for his outing and tweeted "Not the kind of outing I expected, but I am proud of my teammates for rallying for the win after a poor start by me!". A few more honest assessments of his performance and he is going to make reporters lazy. Why interview him when they can just follow him?



Friday, March 2, 2012

Optimism Reigns


It's hard to remember the last time the fan base was this excited during spring training. Sure some labeled the Royals sleeper picks in 2004 and 2009 but those teams weren't near as young, exciting and talented as this year's squad. This past week has heightened the optimism that begin to spread immediately after the 2011 season ended. It seemed like every day something surfaced out of Surprise that excited fans.

On Monday Dayton Moore locked up catcher Salvador Perez for possibly the next eight years, and he did it on the cheap. Even if all three option years are exercised, and Perez meets all the escalators, it's still a great deal. The only downside is there will be a segment of fans that will start the trade Perez talk in a few years due to his age and contract, and because, of course, his value will never be higher. That is coming folks. I predict we will start hearing such talk by November 2014. If Perez meets expectations, I'll be on board with trading him about as much as I am the trade Butler calls by the confused minority.

On Tuesday Danny Duffy tweeted this:




Now admittedly I first interpreted this tweet a little different than Duffy likely intended. I read it as a person might read 'pour me a drink'. While I was pondering what Yuni did to to deserve such a fate twitter exploded and the #BuryMeARoyal hashtag was born (expect to see it every fifth day this year). Everyone has a take on what Duffy meant as his tweet was analyzed and over-analyzed. I think he's a young guy having the time of his life right now and can't imagine playing anywhere else. With the talent the Royals possess on offense and defense he is in a great position to succeed, if, that is, he can find the strike zone.


Eric Hosmer further fired up fans yesterday when he said that Perez's contract has made him more open to signing such a deal himself (though for money I'm sure). This is the big get. If Moore can keep Hosmer in the fold for the next 8-10 years you have to like the team's chances of staying competitive in that time frame.

Spring training is the time every fan of every team should be optimistic about the upcoming season just because reality hasn't reared it's all too ugly head yet. Kansas City figures to field its first truly competitive team since 1994. After wandering around a wilderness of mediocrity for nearly two decades the promised land is finally in sight.

How can you not be optimistic?