Thursday, May 31, 2012

(Positively) Re-calibrating Expectations

It's May 31, and the Royals are just 1.5 games behind the preseason AL Central runaway favorite the Detroit Tigers. If I were to tell you that prior to the season how many of you would be thrilled? How many of you would say "yeah right"? But it's true and quite frankly, Royals fans should be much more excited about the remaining four months than they seem to be.

I've always been of the mindset that as long as there is a chance, it is more fun to enter each night with the mindset that the team needs to win. Not just because watching a win is more fun than a loss, but because believing that the team is still in the race, creates a lot more excitement during the games and throughout the summer. There is always a time to switch to development mode (you know, when you care more about individual performance than the team winning), but in my opinion we shouldn't be switching to that gear just yet.

Roughly a year ago, the Cleveland Indians were the surprise team of baseball. The Indians sat atop the AL Central standings with a 30-15 record and a 6 game cushion over the Detroit Tigers. Today, the Chicago White Sox reign over the division. In the midst of an eight game win streak, the White Sox have a 29-22 record and are 7 up on the Royals. Are the White Sox a team that could run away with a division title? Not in my mind.

The White Sox, at this point in time are clearly the best team in the AL Central. But is it sustainable? I don't think so. Right now, how many of you would good and place a bet on the White Sox to win the division? To me they are a team that is going to take their lumps, and if you want to talk about hand picked end points, it is definitely beneficial to the Pale Hosers that this post is coming during an 8 game winning streak.

With just a cursory glance over some White Sox numbers, it isn't hard to see where some regression will come from. At the moment their the bulk of their offense is coming from Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. Dunn of course was horrid last season, but his numbers seem consistent with where he was prior to 2011. Konerko however, is simply having an unsustainable hot start. Konerko is a fantastic hitter and his 24.5% line drive percentage suggest a high BABIP, but no one is can maintain a .424 mark.

Other overachievers on the offensive side include Alejandro De Aza, AJ Pierzynski, Alex Rios and Dayan Viciedo. De Aza is hitting the ball extremely well thus far, but something tells me his LD% isn't going to jump over 8% from one season to the next. Pierzynski is slugging over .500 for the first time in his career, but his FB% is right in line with his career average. His power output is in thanks to his HR/FB doubling his career mark, look for that to shift towards the mean as the season progresses.

Alex Rios, is overachieving preseason expectations, but I don't see any reasons his numbers are a fluke. In fact, the fluke may have been 2011. Viciedo has strong numbers this season, but an ugly 4:35 walk to k rate.  Like Pierzynski his slugging percentage is the beneficiary of an insanely high HR/FB of 26.8%, 9% higher than his brief career mark.

On the pitching side of things actual performance and peripheral performance seem to correlate quite well with one another. However, the White Sox rotation has been anchored by Jake Peavy and Chris Sale. Peavy of course has had some sort of voodoo magic performed on his arm, while Sale has already experienced some arm trouble early in the season. After a year in the pen it wouldn't be shocking at all to see him hit the DL for at least a short stint, or to slow down late in the season.

You might be ready to count the Royals out because they are seven games back at the beginning of June, but I look at the White Sox and I see a team that is in for some regression. So what about the Indians, whom the Royals trail by 5.5 games?

I won't go as in depth on the Cleveland Indians, because I don't think I need to. After blowing a six game cushion last season, it seems as though the Indians could be in for some more of the same in 2012. The Indians, are experiencing a wave of injuries and already have a worst run differential than the Kansas City Royals in the first two months of the season. Their pitching has taken a step back from 2011, and their farm system simply doesn't offer the ammunition to plug the holes on the roster that are being created by injury and poor performance.

This brings me back to perhaps the most disappointing team in baseball, the Detroit Tigers. Their infield defense is terrible and it definitely hasn't done their pitching staff any favors. There doesn't appear to be any hitters suffering from plain bad luck, in fact Austin Jackson is a guy who I expect to take a step back in the second half.

Verlander of course, is dominating, but Porcello and Scherzer are both under performing their peripherals. Normally I'd expect their numbers to improve as the progress toward the mean, but in this case I wonder if the Tigers defense is just so bad they can't overcome it. This is particularly true for Porcello, who is a ground ball pitcher.

If I were in charge of the Tigers, I'd be playng Cabrera and Fielder exclusively at DH/1B. I'd slide Peralta over to second or third and I'd look for a defensive wiz to play short. The guy may bring nothing to the table offensively, but the current set up just isn't working in Detroit and Peralta isn't hitting enough to make up for his defensive short comings. Nonetheless, if there is a team in the AL Central that could run away from the pack, it is the Detroit Tigers.

So what about Kansas City? Obviously you can't win 3 out of every 7 games and hope to contend. But keep in mind that since the 3-14 start the Royals are 18-14. If they can keep this up for the remainder of the season they'll wind up 85-77 (84.5 rounds up, according to my education). Would 85 wins be enough to win the division? It might. Would 85 wins be enough to keep the Royals fan base excited and in contention mode throughout the year? Abso-freaking-lutely.

I'm looking at the June schedule and I believe the Royals should post a better record than their 15-13 May. The Royals play six against the Twins, three against the Athletics, Pirates, Brewers, and Astros. These are all series the Royals should win. If they can play even in the six games against St. Louis and even sneak out a winning series against the Rays, they will be a game under .500 entering July.

The offense appears to be coming alive. Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer are starting to hit. Francoeur is back to 2011 form. Billy Butler is finally showing the power we've all hoped for, and Alcides Escobar has broken out. Johnny Giavotella could solidify the second base spot in the order, while Salvador Perez's return will provide a huge boost both offensively and defensively.

The pitching has been pretty terrible for the first two months of the season. Worse than most of us expected. But half of that time was without Felipe Paulino, and after a horrid start, Luke Hochevar's peripherals are back in line with his 2011 numbers. My point is that moving forward there is a more than fair shot that the rotation will be better in the final four months of the season than it was in the first 2.

I'm not advocating that the Royals get crazy and buy at the deadline. I'm merely trying to explain why in my mind the Royals are still right in the thick of things. June is a big month for Kansas City, I haven't taken the time to examine the other schedules by month, but I'd be shocked if there was a month that featured weaker competition.

Don't go into development mode just yet. Thanks to a weak AL Central, the Royals (at 21-28) still have hope. After a 12 game losing streak and 3-14 start, that is amazing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Future of Second Base

When the Royals selected Christian Colon with the fourth overall pick of the 2010 Amateur Draft, it looked as though they had filled the hole that was shortstop of the future. Several months later the Royals netted Alcides Escobar in the Zack Greinke trade and it appeared that Colon would eventually shift to second and the Royals infield would be set.

But then Colon struggled. In his first full season of professional baseball he hit just .257/.325/.342 in the hitter's paradise known as Arvest Ballpark. Meanwhile, fellow second base prospect Johnny Giavotella was doing his best to ensure that he would not be overlooked. One year after hitting .322/.395/.460, Giavotella blistered the Pacific Coast League by hitting .338/.390/.481. Entering 2012, it appeared that the Royals second baseman of the future wasn't Colon, but instead Giavotella, at least in the short term.

However, Giavotella played poorly in Spring Training, and while his counterpart Chris Getz didn't play much better he did enough to win the job. Giavotella responded by getting off to a slow start in Omaha, and then eventually heating up and raising his line to .331/.408/.504.

Down in Northwest Arkansas, Colon has also been doing his best to raise his stock. So far in 2012, Colon is hitting .311/.383/.449. Many believe Colon is finally getting his feet under him in professional baseball. Although, I should note that his 2012 line drive percentage of 14.6% is lower than his 2011 mark of 16.3%. With his 2012 success, it seems that Colon has re-positioned himself as Kansas City's long term answer.

As for the short term, the Royals have filled the position with a platoon of the aforementioned Giavotella and minor league warrior Irving Falu. Falu, who boasts a career minor league OPS of .694, is off to a fast start in Kansas City hitting .359.

Falu is an excellent story and it is hard to fault the Royals for playing the hot hand. I also think that Falu could wind up being a valuable asset as a cheap utility options for the next several seasons. Thanks to his defensive versatility, contact skills, and cost that's a valuable asset. However, I don't see why the Royals would call up Giavotella to platoon and pinch hit.

At this point, I get the vibe that Kansas City doesn't view Giavotella as a regular. Look at how the Royals have developed their prospects, the guys they view as long term staples of the ball club. They have repeatedly made it clear that you don't bring up prospects to bat sparingly. But yet all of the sudden they revert to the Justin Huber style of development for Johnny Giavotella? I have a hard time buying that.

I hope I'm wrong. The guy has already proven himself repeatedly in AAA. Maybe the organization doesn't see value in him playing everyday there anymore, but are you really giving him the best opportunity to succeed by giving him sparse at bats? Keep Irving Falu at utility, like I said he has value there.

Play Giavotella everyday. If you do so he'll have at least a season to establish some value. If Colon is knocking on the door, you have a good problem on your hands and have created a commodity. But don't treat Giavotella and Falu as placeholders, there's no benefit in that in the short or the long term.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Looking Ahead: The Rotation

Unfortunately, we are 40 games into the season and the Royals sit just 16-24. It doesn't take an astute observer to point out that the major flaw of this team and largest hindrance on future optimism has been its rotation. So what are we looking at to open 2013? Can the rotation at least be average? 

Potential Rotation Members Returning:

  • Luke Hochevar
  • Felipe Paulino
  • Bruce Chen
  • Danny Duffy* (Won't be back until June at the earliest.)
If you are still a believer in Hochevar, the Royals are two starters short, if not Kansas City will need to fill three spots. What the Royals do with these two openings will be critical, if they play it safe as they did last off season, an average rotation is likely a pipe dream. But let's keep in mind that the Royals may not necessarily have to fill all the open spots via free agency. So who could be ready from the farm?

  • Mike Montgomery- With 35 starts in AAA, it'll just take a few dominate starts for Montgomery to break into the majors. Considering he has about 20 starts left in this season, he'll likely be ready to bust in next season. (We hope.)
  • Will Smith- People tend to forget about Smith, because the upside just isn't as high for the former Angels farmhand. But the Royals feel very strongly that he has a near Major League arm and that eventually he could hold down a spot at the back of the rotation.
  • Jake Odorizzi- Having proven himself in AA, he has the remainder of the summer to do the same in Omaha. He may not open in Kansas City next season, but there's a good chance he'll be in the mix to do so. 
(I've chosen not to include either Chris Dwyer or John Lamb because both have yet to prove themselves in AA. They could easily break into the Majors at some point in 2013, but we're looking at what the rotation could be to open the season.)

There's another guy that should be given the chance to start in 2013. The Royals paid a lot of lip service to Aaron Crow in the rotation entering 2012, but when Joakim Soria lost his season to Tommy John, the Royals felt Crow was needed to much in the bullpen. Considering the way the rotation has gone thus far, come mid-August Crow absolutely should be given the opportunity to start every fifth day. If Crow pitches even average in that month and a half, he should be given a rotation spot entering 2013.

So there's seven possibilities heading into 2013. If two out of Montgomery, Odorizzi, and Crow show they are ready to hold down rotation spots the Royals rotation will already receive an upgrade. Sure there would be some growing pains, but the talent and upside would be there. 

I also find it very unlikely that the front office would keep their hands out of free agency should the rotation continue to be as bad as it has been thus far. Fortunately for Kansas City, the upcoming free agent crop appears to be strong on the pitching side of things. The most intriguing name of the group for most of us is Zack Greinke. Personally, I expect him to be priced way out of the Royals range.

Another name to keep an eye on would be Kansas City's own and Missouri State prospect Shaun Marcum. If the Royals were able to net any hometown discount at all he would make a ton of sense. In seven seasons he boasts a career 3.74 ERA with a career K/BB of 2.64. 

Obviously, the road bump that Mike Montgomery has encountered is nerve racking. Clearly, the current rotation is a cause for concern. However, Chen continues to defy odds and it isn't hard to imagine him at least being a serviceable back end guy in 2013. Paulino could be the best starter on the roster. Personally, I could see him as a 2 or 3 on an average staff. If the Royals go get a free agent the Royals will have a make shift 1 (albeit most likely not an ace).

Finally, out of Luke Hochevar, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Nate Adcock and Will Smith, you need two to be the 3 and 4 starters. Obviously, several of the aforementioned guys offer more upside than the Royals have had in past rotations. Oh, and don't forget Danny Duffy will be back in June and John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Jason Adam, and Yordano Ventura could be knocking at the door soon after. 

The Royals don't necessarily need to trade for a front end starter. The possibility exists that the rotation could be stronger next year than this year simply by giving the right guys the opportunity. I'd prefer to see the Royals take a more aggressive approach. There are free agents that would make sense, that could round out the front end. There's no reason to sell out for the ace, if the Kansas City's in contention next July, maybe then it will be time.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Numbers Game: Pitching Prospects

Thanks to excellent research done by Victor Wang and Scott McKinney we know that roughly 1 in 4 pitching prospects will be successes at the Major League level. So very simply let's just break down the Royals pitching prospects into two lists and see what we can expect should the percentages just play out for the Royals farm hands.

Middle to front of the Rotation Guys:

  1. Aaron Crow MLB (2011Baseball America #9)
  2. Danny Duffy MLB (2011 Baseball America #7)
  3. Mike Montgomery AAA (2012 Baseball America #1, 2012 John Sickels B)
  4. Jake Odorizzi AAA (2012 Baseball America #4, 2012 John Sickels B+)
  5. John Lamb DL/AA (2012 Baseball America #6, 2012 John Sickels C+)
  6. Jason Adam A+ (2012 Baseball America #8, 2012 John Sickels C+)
  7. Chris Dwyer AA (2012 Baseball America #9, 2012 John Sickels B-)
  8. Yordano Ventura A+ (2012 Baseball America #10, 2012 John Sickels B-)
Back end Rotation Guys:
  1. Everett Teaford MLB (2012 Baseball America #26, 2012 John Sickels )
  2. Noel Arguelles AA (2012 Baseball America #17, 2012 John Sickels C)
  3. Tim Melville AA (2012 Baseball America #19, 2012 John Sickels C+)
  4. Will Smith AAA (2012 Baseball America #22, 2012 John Sickels )
  5. Greg Billo A+ (John Sickels C+)
  6. Justin Marks AA (John Sickels C)
  7. Elisaul Pimentel AA (2011 Baseball America # 29, 2012 John Sickels C)
  8. Leonel Santiago A+ (2012 John Sickels C)
Now obviously you could argue with the entire thought process of this post, and I'm not making any sort of argument that this is a research based post and obviously I'm just toying around with a success percentage and doing my best to classify Royals pitching prospects into one of two arbitrary categories.

Also, you may disagree with my inclusion of certain players and you may very well believe that I have neglected a certain player. Each player I used appeared in either the 2011 or 2012 Baseball America Top 30 or John Sickels 2012 list. 

Also, I have chosen only to include pitchers that have pitched in High-A or up. The reason for this is because I'm looking at guys that could conceivably break into Kansas City within a couple years should things break totally right. Bryan Brickhouse, Kyle Smith, and the rest of that group aren't a part of this exercise because their ETAs are so far away.

So with eight prospects in each group, the Royals can reasonably expect two from each group to reach Kansas City and be successful. That means two front end guys and two back end guys. Obviously, if only four of those sixteen starts find success most Royals fans will feel disappointed with the crop. However, statistically speaking the Royals would have developed pitchers at a pretty average mark.

It should also be pointed out that a big league rotation is only comprised of five starters, so if four of the aforementioned prospects find Major League success, the rotation will pretty well be set. Not to mention that if four of the five rotation spots are held by cost controlled players making the minimum or arbitration, Kansas City should have some money available to fill the last spot with another front end guy.

If things really start to click in the Royals player development process and instead of a 25% success rate the Royals produce just one more success from each group, they all of the sudden have a surplus. Again that is just six out of sixteen. 

Consider too that the Royals will likely take a near Major League ready starter in the draft on June 4, and it is even easier to be more confident that the Royals will build at least an average rotation in the not too distant future. 

I plan on following up this post, on what the rotation could look like to open 2013, and if that rotation will be strong enough to contend.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Myers Makes Start at Third

Interesting note today in Northwest Arkansas, where Wil Myers will make his first professional start at third base. Of late Myers had been playing center field and it seemed as though reviews were positive. Last season Myers was criticized for not taking to the switch from catcher to right field with the enthusiasm that one would have liked to see.

A couple of weeks ago I was actually told that the Royals front office had discussed moving Myers to third base for the 2012. season. It seemed strange to me and my best rationalization was that Myers' personality didn't fit in the outfield. I assumed the Royals were trying to find a position that could keep him more mentally involved in the game. 

The problem is that the Royals already have Mike Moustakas at third. It doesn't make much sense to move Myers to the position when as an outfielder the opportunity would be greater for him to reach the Major League level. Perhaps, the Royals are just trying to improve Myers versatility, something I can't fault. However, if he already is learning a new skill in the outfield why put something else on to his plate? 

It is strange that the Royals have a kid that is often praised for his athleticism. It is often assumed he will make a smooth transition to the outfield as a result. But here we are trying to find a position for the guy. I'm not going to get worked up over Wil Myers making a start at third base. I'm interested to see how the situation plays out, and I'm intrigued to see the Royals rationale behind it. 

One more thing I'll note, just because the thought crossed my mind. Third base is theoretically a more difficult position to play than right. The Royals should eventually be able to transition him back to the outfield at some point with ease. Maybe they feel as though Myers can handle third and are giving him the opportunity to prove it in a way to boost his value by adding versatility. Just a thought.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Royals Call up Giavotella, Why?

So Giavotella is back in Kansas City. At first, I was thrilled to hear the news, but then on second thought it didn't make sense. Yes, Giavotella was killing it in Omaha. Yes, Giavotella should have been the starter at second from day 1. But with Getz performing why make the move now?

It just doesn't make sense. Are the Royals going to platoon Giavotella and Getz? If so, I'm not a fan. I don't think that is the ideal way to break a guy like Giavotella into the Majors. Don't get me wrong I don't believe in any way I am more knowledgeable at player development than the Royals front office. But I am left wondering what the benefit is for bringing Giavotella up right now. The timing is strange.

There's no way Giavotella is all of the sudden going to start over Chris Getz and at the moment I don't believe he should. At the risk of ostracizing myself from the Royals blogosphere, I think that Chris Getz deserves to hang on to the starting job at least a little longer. His strong start is very likely a small sample size error. However, he clearly did adjust his stance at the plate and in 2012 has posted a LD% of 33.9. Now I don't expect Getz to continue at that pace but if he can even come close to that his numbers are sustainable.

I'm a huge Johnny Giavotella fan, but if you were told the over/under for his 2012 OPS was .805, I think most of us would have taken the under. Well right now that's the OPS Chris Getz has posted. While I think Chris Getz's defense is a bit overrated it is pretty clear that he has superior range to Giavotella and that it is at least average. So if Getz can continue to hit as he has, and play the defense he has proven to be capable of, how good would Giavotella have to be to be more valuable? Is it realistic for Giavotella to hit that well?

I'm not suggesting that Getz has now found a power stroke and it is here to stay, but I'm merely saying at the moment it is clear the Royals won't be handing Giavotella the starting gig (as they shouldn't). So if the Royals aren't bringing Giavotella up to start, why is he in Kansas City?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where We Stand: May 8

Okay, so I'd first like to apologize in the scarcity of posts over the last month or so. The last few weeks have been crazy for me, but I think I should get the opportunity to get writing again. For now I'd just like to give a few bullet points of thoughts.

  • What to do with Hochevar? Holy cow he's been terrible. It wouldn't shock me at all if he made a trip to the DL and I wonder if his leg has ever fully recovered since the line drive he took off of it in the home opener. I don't mean to make excuses for Hochevar, but seriously he surely can't be this bad. Can he? 
  • So Jim Callis doesn't think Salvador Perez can be an every day catcher. I can understand where Callis is coming from I'm sure he is totally aware of the impeccable Baseball America track record. It would be completely unprecedented for Baseball America to overlook a prospect.
  • The draft is barely a month a way. I've kept my eye on mock drafts, but will readily admit that I haven't read much in the way of scouting reports regarding the draft's top prospects. It seems to be a safe bet that Kansas City will take a college arm., just as they would have liked a year ago. At the 5 pick Kevin Gausman, Mark Appel, and Kyle Zimmer. I know Lucas Giolito is a high school kid, and I know he has missed most of the season due to injury, and maybe I'm high on Dylan Bundy, but I believe the Royals should consider him at #5. He may not be ready quite as fast as the three college guys, but the guy was in discussion for the top pick prior to the injury and if the Royals view him as having the highest upside, I'd love to see them take him with the #5 selection.
  • After hanging around 5-6 games back for about a week and a half the Royals, it would appear, are finally being left behind. The Royals are 8 games behind the Cleveland Indians. However, if you recall the Indians got off to a great start last year before collapsing in the second half of the season. The number I've got my eye on is 5. The Royals are 5 games back of the Detroit Tigers. It is my belief that as long as the Royals can hang within 6 or 7 games of Detroit there's a faint glimmer of hope for the 2012 season.
I'll try to get some posts up with more frequency in the coming weeks.