Saturday, July 5, 2014

Revisiting the Wil Myers Trade

First off, I want to apologize for my absence over the past six weeks. As many of you have read here before, I've never been one to analyze individual games or do weekly updates. Quite frankly, I haven't been writing for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I haven't had the free time necessary to maintain this blog. I am getting married in October and in the process of a home remodel. Also, my brother was married last night, as well as fellow Royal Revival writer Paden. In addition to these items, I am currently pursuing a Master's degree and have the responsibilities of a full time job. If the posts here are few and far between over the next few months, I hope you can bare with me.

The major reason for this post today is yesterday's blockbuster trade between the Athletics and Cubs. My initial reaction to the trade was 'man, is the Cubs system stacked.' My second thought, I hope this gets Billy Beane a ring.

Despite the lack of pitching prospects in the Cubs system it seems possible that the lovable losers could push for the title of Best Farm System ever. Theo Epstein, who has stated that he wants to build a farm system like the one the Royals had is on the cusp of accomplishing just that. (On a side note, I wonder how many baseball executives looked lustily upon the Royals system and thought to themselves, "oh if only I could be the one to take them to the next level.")

Since the trade there have been many who have comped this deal to the trade that sent Wil Myers to Tampa Bay. Let me be perfectly clear, this comparison is lazy. Yes, both the Royals and A's sent a top ten prospect plus to another team for pitching talent in an attempt to win now. No, that doesn't make the trades equal. This mentality that one is approved because it is Billy Beane and the other is rejected because it is Dayton Moore is unfair to the fans smart enough to evaluate moves on a much deeper level.

The Royals made the trade to get to the periphery of playoff contention. The Athletics made the trade to win a world series title. If you equate these two items as being of the same value, then you can click the X found in the upper right hand corner of the browser. A team's placement on the win curve is essential in determining what they should be willing to pay for each additional win. This is rudimentary stuff, but somehow seems to be forgotten by those stating these trades are one in the same.

Another point that should be made is that the Royals trade occurred in the off-season, a time in which talent can be acquired without sacrificing talent already in hand. Quite simply, if the A's wanted to improve their rotation in July, they had no choice but to move talent from their organization. In the off-season, the Royals could in theory acquire talent, while also hanging on to the talent at hand. This represents an enormous difference in the trades.

Finally, Addison Russell, while he is an outstanding prospect is not ready to contribute at the Major League level. He has played 16 games in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues. Best case is that he is called up midway through next season. Meaning the A's were not going to get a return on him for basically an entire season. Wil Myers on the other hand was Major League ready and returns on him would begin the same time as the returns of the asset. This is a key point that I haven't seen mentioned, but should not be ignored.

Of course, all of this pushed me to revisit the Myers trade. Since the Royals seemingly made the decision to go for it in 2013 and 2014, it would make sense that they would have returned much more value in the short term than the Rays. In order to see if the Royals have come out ahead in the Myers-Shields trade, I decided to compare the post trade WAR totals for the Royals with the WAR total from the Royals in an alternate universe in which they stayed the course and held on to Wil Myers. Also, since the Royals would have had a solution in right field, I have included the Smith brothers, Justin Maxwell, and Nori Aoki in this evaluation.

bWAR 2013 2014   fWAR 2013 2014
w/out trade $1.00 $1.50   w/out trade $1.00 $1.50
Patrick Leonard A A+   Patrick Leonard A A+
Mike Montgomery AAA AAA   Mike Montgomery AAA AAA
Jake Odorizzi 0.3 0.9   Jake Odorizzi 0.3 1.5
Wil Myers 1.9 -0.6   Wil Myers 2.4 0.4
Will Smith   1.3   Will Smith   0.6
Kyle Smith A+ AA   Kyle Smith A+ AA
  2.2 1.6     2.7 2.5
w/trade $11.80 $20.25   w/trade $11.80 $20.25
James Shields 4.1 -0.1   James Shields 4.5 1.4
Wade Davis -2.1 1.8   Wade Davis 1.7 1.5
Nori Aoki   -0.5   Nori Aoki   0.9
Justin Maxwell 0.6 -1.2   Justin Maxwell 0.7 -1.1
  2.6 0     6.9 2.7

The left hand column utilized the WAR from Baseball Reference, while the right side uses Fangraphs' version. As you can see, the Royals clearly came out ahead in 2013, but depending on which WAR you prefer it was either just 0.4 wins or 4.2 wins ahead. Let's split the difference and say the Royals were 2.3 wins better because of the trade. In 2014, we find that according to bWAR the Royals are actually 1.6 WAR worse because of the trade, while fWAR says they are 0.2 wins better. Again let's split the difference and say they are 1.4 wins worse because of the trade. 

Really based off the above totals, no matter how you slice it, it is hard to argue that the Royals were much better off over the past two seasons due to the acquiring of James Shields and Wade Davis. In fact, based off of our midway points, the Royals actually were just 0.9 wins better over the last year and a half, thanks to the trade. I doubt this is what Royals officials had in mind when they pulled the trigger on the trade that would send their top prospect to Tampa Bay.

Unfortunately for Royals fans it gets worse. As you can see in the above tables, there is also a dollar figure included. This represents in millions how much the Royals paid for the players. In 2013, the Royals spent $10.8 million more for the bottom group and in 2014 the total jumped to $18.75 million more. My guess is that this difference could have been spent on the free agent market to acquire an additional win over the last year and a half, which would have made the top grouping better even in the short run. 

Fortunately, there is a way that we can consider the monetary implications in our evaluation. In 2013, Fangraphs valued each win at approximately $5 million. If we multiply that by the WAR total for each set and add in the difference in money to the alternate universe scenario, the Myers led Royals squad boasts an average over $23.05 million in value between Baseball Reference and Fangraphs to $23.75 million for the Shields version (approximately 0.1 win). This obviously is a slight edge to the Shields led Royals. However, the 2014 averages favor the Myers led squad $54.1 million to $26.65 million (roughly 4.6 wins).

Clearly, the Royals were willing to sacrifice the long term to push the envelope in the short term. Unfortunately, based off these numbers the Royals have lost tremendously in the short run as well. Even if we discount each year following 2013, the numbers are going to be staggeringly one sided when this set of trades is evaluated. To close, let me just give you an update on the other guys the Royals gave up that have yet to contribute at the Major League level. 

Patrick Leonard: Hitting .298/.386/.521 in 76 games with Tampa Bay's High A team. His 12 homers would be tied for third most in the Royals organization. He is 21 years old.

Mike Montgomery: 3.28 ERA in 85 innings with Triple A Durham (most hitter friendly park in league). He leads the International League in FIP and SIERA. Still just 24 years old. 

Kyle Smith: Has pitched 78.1 innings between the Astros High-A and Double A teams. Currently has a 3.56 ERA, is striking out 10.23 per 9 innings and walking just 2.64. He is also 21 years old.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Royals Offense is as Bad as it Seems

The Royals offense obviously has been disappointing yet again in 2014. Most of us would make the case that this is mainly because of the Royals inability to drive the baseball. We'd all likely also admit that this team does a pretty good job of making contact, albeit very weak contact. 

Given the amount of contact that the Royals make, it is likely that the success of this offense will fluctuate more than that of offenses that rely on walks and the long ball. This is simply because as a statistic batting average on balls in play can fluctuate a great deal. This thought process has led us in the past to make excuses for the offense and specifically individual players. 

This season for instance the Royals offense currently ranks 18th in baseball in batting average on balls in play. How much difference would our opinion of the offense be, if for instance, instead of posting a .293 BABIP, they were above the .300 mark? Specifically, we might look at individual players and point out guys who are likely to improve. 

Sure, Moustakas has been bad, but damn the luck his BABIP is just .132!

Unfortunately, what we must remember is that there also exist methods to calculate expected BABIP. These methods can vary, but Jeff Zimmerman has found good reason to believe that Hard Hit% plays a crucial role in the xBABIP formula. Either way, the days of assuming that players should fall in around the .300 mark in batting average on balls in play are behind. It is clear that players have an enormous say in how the many of their balls are converted into outs. 

Here's a look at the Royals current hitters. The first number is their current BABIP and the second number is their xBABIP supplied by Zimmerman. (You can view the numbers for yourself here.)
  • Nori Aoki: .337/.266
  • Omar Infante: .286/.305
  • Eric Hosmer: .344/.263
  • Billy Butler: .275/.262
  • Alex Gordon: .306/.240
  • Salvador Perez: .269/.265
  • Mike Moustakas: .132/.239
  • Lorenzo Cain: .412/.238
  • Alcides Escobar: .343/.273
  • Jarrod Dyson: .429/.240
  • Justin Maxwell: .364/.252
  • Brett Hayes: .000/.158
  • Danny Valencia: .300/.275
As you see, the Royals have actually been quite fortunate when it comes to their batting average on balls in play. On average, each starting Royals is overachieving by about 39 points. This would indicate that instead of being near the middle of the pack in BABIP, the Royals should actually be ranking near the bottom of the league. 

For Royals fans this is a scary notion. Is it really possible that an offense averaging 3.9 runs per game has actually outperformed itself? It's a tall order, but let's hope the Royals realize that being a good hitter isn't just about putting the ball in play.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Billy Butler and Future Production

As a whole,  the Royals offense is again off to an incredibly disappointing start in 2014. Of course, there are some players that deserve the blame more than others and there are some players who receive more of the blame than others. Over the past few years, no player has teetered this line more often than designated hitter Billy Butler.

A portion of the fan base complains that Butler is fat, too slow, doesn't hit for enough power, and can't deliver in clutch situations. Another portion of the fan base points out that Butler is a career .313/.394/.460 hitter with runners in scoring position and that he gets on base at a career clip of .362. It seems as though this debate has gotten so divisive that there is no grey area in regards to Billy Butler.

Obviously, there is a segment of fans that view baseball much differently than myself. They beat their chest to stats like RBI and they prefer to keep math away from their evaluation of players. Obviously, many of these individuals greatly undervalue the strengths of Butler. More surprising to me are the analytics on the other side of the fence that are unable to see flaws in Butler's game as well as some of his concerning trends.

In regards to last season, it is true that Butler was valuable to the offense. His 116 RC+  was the second best among everyday hitters in the lineup. At the same time, it is not unfair to expect more from Butler. In 2013, he was coming off a 138 RC+ and the Royals were pushing the chips into the center of the table. Despite this there were reports of him coming to camp overweight, and then in season his average flyball distance dropped from 297 to 276 feet. As a result his HR/FB% nose dived, his home run total dipped, and his slugging percentage fell all the way to .412.

Yes, if all things were created equal, Butler was not the problem with last season's offense. However, Butler wasn't expected to simply be one of the best hitters in the lineup. He was expected to be one of the best hitters in the American League. After a season which saw him bop a career high 29 home runs, Butler seemed poised to be one of the most dangerous hitters in the American League in his age 27 season.

What most of us have seemed to underestimate though is just how much more harsh the aging curve is for heavy players than it is for average sized individuals. Here is a look at the aging curves of the two body types, with Butler's OPS numbers overlayed:

As you can see, the curve of heavier players dips much earlier in the player's career than it does for average sized individuals. For Butler's own sake, I haven't even included this year's numbers in the illustration of how his own aging curve is playing out. If you are a defendant of Billy Butler and you like to cite advanced statistics to back up your argument, you have to recognize that there is an analytical reasoning behind the notion that Butler's skillset could regress much more quickly than the average player.

Butler appears to be heating up. In his last 9 games (yay! selective end points), he is hitting .343/.368/.514. However, not only has Butler's ground ball percentage increased in four consecutive seasons, but his average fly ball distance has also decreased. Even when he is getting the ball into the air he isn't driving it as far.

Do I expect Butler to finish the year with a sub .700 OPS? Absolutely not. But I also wouldn't bet on him getting back into the .850+ OPS range. Based off the aging curves of heavier players in the past, Butler should have two or three more seasons with an OPS around .800. However, after that it could be a pretty quick fall for the Royals former first round pick. Hopefully, Butler can prove me wrong and can stay hot throughout the rest of 2014. We all know the offense needs the lift.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Minor League Update - Lexington Legends

The mustachioed Legends of Lexington have started 9-10 to start the 2014 season. The club currently sits sixth in the seven-team South Atlantic League’s Southern Division, trailing first place Savannah (SF) by 2.5 games.

As a team, the Legends are hitting .249/.299/.350 with a league low 36 walks. The pitching staff has recorded a solid 3.31 ERA, ranking in the top half of the league. The staff has a league-high two shutouts this season.

Individual Hitting (Mary Lay)
Who’s Hot:

Outfielder and Missouri native Fred Ford leads the South Atlantic League with 17 RBI and ranks second with seven doubles. The 22-year old, who has also spent some time at first base is hitting .283/.338/.500 across 64 plate appearances in 18 games.

He and third baseman Michael Antonio each have two of the club’s eight total home runs. Antonio and outfielder Dominique Taylor have nine RBI, trailing only Ford on the Lexington roster.

Who’s Not:

Prospect Elier Hernandez is off to a slow start, hitting .206/.242/.222 in 16 games with only one RBI to this point.

Shortstop Humberto Arteaga may be turning the corner with seven hits in his last four ballgames, but his line is less than stellar at .239/.239/.254 – which of course means he has yet to draw a walk in 67 plate appearances out of the two-hole. Arteaga has collected hits in 13 of 16 games, but has scored only twice and driven in only two runs.

Individual Pitching

Who’s Hot:

Andrew Edwards ranks second in the league among qualified starters with a 1.06 ERA over 17 innings. Teammate Andrew Matt Tenuta falls just behind him with a 1.09 ERA in 24.2 innings and has allowed only 24 base runners thus far.

Luis Santos is 1-0 with a save as a tandem starter. In 14.1 innings, the right hander has allowed 13 hits and only one walk. He has struck out 13.

Who’s Not:

Andrew Fairchild was dominant in his first start of the season, tossing six no-hit innings April 8. He walked three and struck out seven in the outing and allowed one unearned run. However, in his next start, the 20-year old lefty surrendered nine earned runs in just 1.1 innings. He walked six and allowed two hits. To this point, Fairchild is 0-2 with an 11.05 ERA with four wild pitches.

Lefty Luis Rico’s three losses are tied for most in the league. He has allowed three earned runs or more in three of four starts this season, and has posted a 9.00 ERA to this point.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Minor League Update - Wilmington Blue Rocks

Through the season’s first 18 games, Wilmington is 7-11, four games behind first place Potomac (WSH) in the Carolina League’s Northern Division. The club has dropped four in a row.

Wilmington’s offense has struggled thus far hitting just .217/.316/.311 with only three long balls, fewest in the league (as is the Royals style). That number is half the next closest club.

The Blue Rocks have been good on the base paths however, stealing 21 bases, which ranks second in the eight-team league. In fact, the club is a staggering 21-for-21 in stolen base attempts!

While the team’s 3.67 ERA falls in the middle of the pack, the club has fanned a league-high 162 batters in 147 innings this season. Defensively, the club has allowed only four unearned runs, fewest in the league.

Individual Hitting

Who’s Hot:

Everyone’s favorite Blue Rock, Raul A. Mondesi has hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games. The 18-year old shortstop is hitting .283/.358/.367 in 66 plate appearances as the Wilmington leadoff hitter.

Zane Evans is tied for second in the league with seven doubles, six of which game in his first four ballgames. In 11 games, the Georgia native is hitting .400/.467/.575 and has eight RBI. The catcher/DH is 10-for-22 against right-handed pitching with a 1.227 OPS in that small sample.

Middle infielder Jack Lopez leads the club with nine RBI, and is tied with Terrance Gore with a team-high five stolen bases. The 21-year old is currently the league’s hardest regular to strike out. Lopez strikes out every 16 at bats, on average, more than five at bats more than the closest player.

Who’s Not:

Bubba Starling has struck out 24 times this year, third most in the league. In fact, the outfielder has recorded at least one strikeout in all but one game this season (and 0-for-3 night on April 9). The one-time top prospect is hitting just .133/.284/.250 through 17 games, but has improved quite a bit from his low point of .098/.260/.220 a week ago. He has accounted for one-third of the club’s homers, however.

2013 first rounder Hunter Dozier is on a four game hitting streak, but has spent a large portion of April below the Mendoza Line. The third baseman currently stands at .203/.316/.266 in 72 plate appearances hitting third in the order for Wilmington.

Individual Pitching

Who’s Hot:

Christian Binford ranks ninth in the Carolina League among qualified starters with a 2.20 ERA in 16.1 innings. The right-hander did not allow an earned run in his first 12 innings. He has struck out 19 hitters (29.7%) and allowed just three walks (4.7%) this season. Opponents are hitting .197 against Binford, and he has allowed a total of 15 baserunners - 8.27 per nine innings – which ranks third in the league.

Lefty starter Jonathan Dziedzic is tied for the league lead with three wins, and owns a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings across three appearances. He has struck out 29.7% of the hitters he has faced this year. Lefties are 1-for-12 against Dziedzic thus far.

In the bullpen, Zeb Sneed has held opponents to a 2-for-29 start this season, good for a .069 batting average allowed. He also has yet to allow a run or a walk in 9.1 innings.

Fellow reliever Glenn Sparkman has struck out 15 of the 37 batters he has faced this season (40.5%) in ten innings across five outings.

Who’s In Between:

The club’s top pitching prospect, Miguel Almonte, ranks third in the league with 21 strikeouts, a round 25% of the batters he has faced. If that rate holds, it would be the best of Almonte’s professional career. He has held opponents to a .191 batting average. In four starts, the 21-year old is 2-0 with a 5.23. with two outstanding starts and two poor ones.

Relievers Matthew Murray and Ali Williams have ERAs of 1.35 and 1.17, respectively, in a combined 21 innings.

Who’s Not:

Following a very rough third start, in which he allowed seven earned runs in just two innings at Myrtle Beach (TEX), big-time prospect Sean Manaea sits with an 8.71 ERA. Opponents are now hitting .318 against the lefty.

Daniel Stumpf is 0-3, and his three losses are tied for the most in the league.