Friday, August 31, 2012

Bruce Chen: Rolling With The Greats (and Mark Redman)

I was 16 years old when I first became suspicious that wins weren't the best way to evaluate a pitcher's season. The year was 1987 and Nolan Ryan, one of my favorite players (still), led the league in earned run average and strikeouts but finished with just an 8-16 record. He also led the league in H/9 and SO/9, and if his record had been reversed, he might have won the Cy Young award instead of finishing fifth. (Because no NL starting pitcher won 20 games that year we live in a world where Steve Bedrosian is a Cy Young award winner and Dan Quisenberry isn't.)

Bruce Chen, as you know, recently won his 10th game of the year marking the third straight season where he's reached double digits in victories. It was semi-celebrated. I suspect it would have been a bigger deal a decade or two ago but the win climate has shifted and people seem to know better. It's also still not particularly impressive but 10 wins will lead the Royals in wins a lot of years. Anyway it got me wondering about similar seasons in Royals history, seasons where a left-handed starter won 10+ games with an ERA+ under 90. I wasn't shocked that only five seasons popped up but I was surprised with the players on it, well, a couple of them at least. Two Royals Hall of Famers and Mark Redman, who sadly was the team's All Star representative the year he achieved this feat. 

Rk Player Year W ERA+ IP
1 Bruce Chen 2012 10 81 154.1
2 Mark Redman 2006 11 82 167.0
3 Larry Gura 1984 12 77 168.2
4 Larry Gura 1983 11 83 200.1
5 Paul Splittorff 1976 11 89 158.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used

Two right-handers have produced this type of season - Luke Hochevar last year, and another Royals Hall of Famer, Dennis Leonard, in 1982. Seeing Gura and Splittorf on there, and Leonard for that matter, has me predicting that someday, somewhere, a Royals fan is going to believe that Chen should be in the Royals Hall of Fame.

Dayton Moore jumped the gun last winter before allowing the free agent market to play out and signed Chen to a two year contract, so the gum chewing lefty will be back next season. And since he'll likely lead the team in wins he'll enter spring training a virtual lock for a rotation spot (not everybody knows better). So the question is, which Chen will show up?

In some aspects he has been better than he was the last two seasons when he posted ERA+'s above 100. Chen is sporting a career low 2.1 BB/9 which in turn has helped him to a career best 3.11 SO/BB. He's issued just 35 unintentional walks in 28 starts. Even though he's 35 years old a bounce back season next year isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Since 1901 there have been nine seasons, not counting Chen's 2012, in which a 35 year old lefty posted an ERA+ in the 78-89 range (min. 150 IP). You may be encouraged to know that over half of those were at 100 or higher the next year. You may be discouraged to know that half of those that were as bad or worse at age 36 played for the Royals (Gura and McWilliams).

Rk Player 35 36
1 Rube Marquard 78 106
2 Herb Pennock 79 100
3 Al Hollingsworth 80 82
4 Joe Nuxhall 89 109
5 Jim Rooker 88 85
6 Geoff Zahn 82 109
7 Larry Gura 83 77
8 Larry McWilliams 88 41
9 Buddy Black 84 110

So yes, I'm saying there's a chance.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gio Is Free But Now He Has To Hit


Before I get to Johnny Giavotella I want to spend a little time on Chris Getz. In a season shortened by injuries Getz put together the nicest year of his career posting career highs in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS+ and bWAR. I still don't believe he's a long term option at second base but he was decent enough this year that I didn't mind his presence in the lineup, especially when the other option was the on-base deficient Yuniesky Betancourt. There's something incredibly ironic that Getz was hurt while bunting since that's a skill he has mastered and he is, of course, mistake free. It's like the baseball gods anger at Alex Gordon being removed from the leadoff spot was directed at him instead of Ned Yost

Getz's injury opened the door for Gio, finally. He is supposed to be given five or six starts a week for the remainder of the year, depending on production. Given how long he stuck with Yuni, and that Jeff Francoeur continues to play right field every day, Yost's definition of production may differ from the rest of humanity. While I applaud the decision to let Gio play regularly, let's be real, this is a decision that should have been made in March. 

Gio possesses far more offensive upside than Yuni and Getz so this would have been the ideal year to let him make 150 starts and then decide in the off season if he was the right long term option. Except Moore and Yost couldn't overcome their man crushes on the weak hitting duo so Gio was banished to Omaha to allegedly work on his defense. I say allegedly because I think it's strange to criticize a player for the his defensive shortcomings and then turn around and stick a statue at his position four times a week.

Without a full year's worth of data to examine Moore and company will have to determine Gio's future based on a couple partial seasons. The Royals, due to their short sightedness, remain their own worst enemy. Whatever Gio does the rest of the year will fall under the small sample size category, just like last year, so it'll be difficult to get a good read on his ability to consistently hit big league pitching. 

Small sample size or not, to make any sort of positive impression Gio is going to need to hit and that's something he has yet to do in Kansas City. He's not off to great a start. He's only hitting .167/.167/.167 since his recall and is at .207/.242/.241 for the season. He has absolutely crushed AAA pitching (.337/.397/.477, 921 PAs) and has nothing left to prove in Omaha. Similar production as last year and he could wind up with the dreaded 4A label, unfairly or not. If that happens Moore may go outside the organization to fill the second base hole but I could also see him rolling the dice on Christian Colon.

Last year as a 23 year old rookie Gio hit .247/.273/.376 in 187 plate appearances. Since 1901 seven players have had similar rookie seasons at the age of 23. Similar as defined by me: 150-200 plate appearances, 70-80 OPS+. Only two of those players had successful major league careers, which of course means nothing where Gio is concerned, but you guys know how much I love comps.


Player

Year

PA

OPS+
Career
OPS+
Career
brWAR
Eduardo Perez199319276970.1
Nelson Liriano198717672852.1
Henry Cotto198416074843.3
Kevin McReynolds19831557411527.3
Spud Davis19281887611025.5
John Monroe192117379790.0
Jim Stephens190719373733.5
McReynolds had a solid career but is unpopular in Kansas City because of his lackadaisical attitude towards baseball. He admitted early on his career that it was just a hobby and that he'd rather be hunting or fishing. It makes you wonder what kind of numbers he could have put up if he had shown a greater commitment to the sport.

Despite limited production Perez, Liriano and Cotto all managed to top 2000 plate appearances in their respective careers. I could see Gio also lasting as a utility guy but he'd have to learn to play a passable third base and probably left field.

Davis was a catcher who had his best season in 1933 when he hit .349/.395/.473 (135 OPS+, 4.4 bWAR). There aren't enough guys nicknamed Spud in this world.

Friday, August 17, 2012

If It's Not Broke, Yost It!

Last year Ned Yost made a move so bold and unexpected that it was universally applauded. He inserted one of his best hitters, Alex Gordon, into the leadoff spot. And it was beautiful. Yost generally manages how you'd expect a 1980's catcher to manage, so as you can imagine, this outside the box creativity was at odds with his conventional nature.

Last night, for some bizarre reason, Yost decided to move Gordon into the third spot for the remainder of the year (unless he slumps, then of course he'll be dropped to sixth). Well we know the reason:

“We knew Gordy wasn’t a prototypical leadoff hitter, but he’s a guy who has high on-base (percentage) and puts the ball in play,” Yost said. “But we also think he’s going to be a run-producer. He doesn’t really get the opportunity to produce runs from the one hole.”

By run-producer Yost means RBIs, obviously. It's unfortunately apparent that he's unaware of the role on-base percentage plays in producing runs. Spoiler alert, it's important. My biggest gripe with the move is that to fill one hole he created another. Jarrod Dyson (.330 OBP), Chris Getz (.317) and Lorenzo Cain (.312) will take turns making outs at the top of the lineup. The Royals broadcast crew can name drop Kenny Lofton all they want but that's not going to make Dyson a better hitter. And Getz? Really? I'm glad Yost is comfortable with him batting leadoff but I think it's absurd to even entertain the notion.

The idea that the best hitters should get the most at bats isn't revolutionary or witchcraft, it's common sense, and it's absolutely amazing that a man that has spent decades in pro ball can't grasp such a simple premise.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Betancourt Legacy

I'll never forget the day I learned Dayton Moore brought Yuniesky Betancourt back into the fold. Marlon Brando's death scene in Apocalypse Now best summed up my reaction. Of course you know by now that Yuni has been designated for assignment and has played his last game as a Royal (hopefully). The reason for the DFA wasn't due to his extreme lack of production but because he was upset that his playing time had been reduced. Now Yuni has taken some heat but I think this one's on Yost.

True he was signed to be an utility infielder but few people doubted that's how it actually would play out. In spring training Yost claimed Yuni was in the mix for the everyday second base job. So right away he had reasons to believe he would see regular playing time. And that's pretty much what happened as he played four or so games a week until just recently. He never embraced the role of the utility infielder because he was never given the role of the utility infielder.

The signing itself deserved and received widespread criticism, here and everywhere else. It especially looked bad when it turned out there was a cheaper and better choice already in house. You don't change a culture of losing by releasing players like Yuni, you change it by not signing them in the first place.

You can make a credible argument that Yuni was the worst of all the players who have received 1000 plate appearances in Royals history. Actually I'm going to make that argument right now.

RkPlayerWAR/posPA
1Yuniesky Betancourt-3.61079
2Jose Guillen-3.01383
3Brent Mayne-2.02200
4Ken Harvey-0.81078
5Onix Concepcion-0.41130
6Jeff Francoeur-0.21072

 I see you there, Frenchy.

RkPlayerOBPPA
1Yuniesky Betancourt.2761079
2Onix Concepcion.2771130
3Buck Martinez.2771073
4Darryl Motley.2811401
5David Howard.2891586

So long Yuni, we will remember you always.

Jose Mijares is also no longer a Royal. The Giants claimed him on waivers and Moore elected to simply let him go. I guess he still feels guilty on how he swindled Brian Sabean in the Cabrera/Sanchez trade. This created quite the reaction across the internet, but honestly, I really didn't care. I suspect, that Like Jonathan Broxton, Mijares was a flip candidate and when no teams were willing to give up anything for him Moore decided to part with him now rather than non tender him this winter. This allows them to give some other relievers a chance, though I would have preferred someone other than Francisley Bueno getting that first look.