Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Getting Maxwell into the Lineup

You might not have heard, but this afternoon the Royals acquired right handed hitting Justin Maxwell from the Houston Astros for Wilmington Blue Rock Kyle Smith. For his career, Maxwell has hit .222/.311/.419 in 286 career games, but .253/.370/.455 against lefties. Obviously, this complements the current outfield well considering David Lough, Alex Gordon, and Jarrod Dyson all hit left handed, while Lorenzo Cain holds a reverse platoon split in 198 career games.

Let's take a look at each of the outfielders' 2013 splits in terms of OPS.

  • Lorenzo Cain: .736 vs R, .562 vs L
  • David Lough: .733 vs R, .767 vs L
  • Jarrod Dyson: .870 vs R, .530 vs L
  • Alex Gordon: .688 vs R, .872 vs L
  • Justin Maxwell: .636 vs R, .836 vs L
Now originally, I think most of us immediately assumed that Maxwell was brought on board to platoon with David Lough. However, upon closer examination Lough actually has the smallest platoon split among the Royals five outfielders. Even with this consideration, my guess is still that the Royals brought on Maxwell with the purpose of platooning him with Lough. 

Actually, if the Royals were really attempting to maximize offensive production, the ideal platoon partner for Maxwell might actually be Cain. Of course, this would also result in a drop off in the quality of defense in the outfield. Going a step further, based off the above numbers Lough might actually be the best option of the Royals three outfielders to play everyday considering how much Gordon has struggled against right handers.

Ultimately, whether it is truly what's best, I think it is safe to assume that Alex Gordon will play everyday. This means there are 116 starts to divide amongst the remaining 4 outfielders. So far this season, the Royals have played 71% of their games against a right handed starter and 29% against left handed starters. So if we project those out then there are approximately 82 starts to divide right handers remaining and 34 versus left handers remaining.

Here is how I would break down the starts. The idea here is to optimize the platoons, while also getting players in the lineup a reasonable amount of the time.

Let's start with the basics. Maxwell needs to start every game against left handed pitching. Dyson probably shouldn't be receiving any starts against left handers. This leaves 17 starts to divide between Lough and Cain. Lough's quite a bit better against lefties so let's give him slightly more time here. Lough gets 9 starts and Cain gets 8.

Against right handers Maxwell should never start. This leaves us with 82 starts to divide between Lough, Cain, and Dyson. I think Dyson gets the shaft, despite his excellent numbers against right handed pitchers this season. Plus Dyson is more valuable as a bench option due to his ability to pinch run and change the game in the late innings. Let's give Dyson 18 starts. Cain gets twice as many at 36 and Lough gets the rest (28).

Here is our final breakdown:
  • Justin Maxwell - 17 starts versus L, 0 versus R, 17 total
  • Jarrod Dyson - 18 starts versus R, 0 versus L, 18 total
  • Lorenzo Cain - 36 starts versus R, 8 versus L, 44 total
  • David Lough - 28 starts versus R, 9 versus L, 37 total
This seems like a pretty good divide. Again this exercise was purely to get a feel for how the playing time could be divided up. Obviously, if the Royals don't play Gordon everyday there could be more playing time for others. This might even help to optimize the offense. I just don't expect Gordon's playing time to dip due to this acquisition and that's probably a good thing. My biggest takeaway is that we all have automatically assumed that Lough is the obvious choice to see a dip in playing time, but this might not be the best case scenario.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Royals and Playoff Odds

I don't think it takes a genius to know that the odds are stacked against the Royals when it comes to a playoff berth in 2013. Baseball Prospectus pins those odds at 1.7%, while ESPN and Cool Standings offer a much more generous 8.3%.

Yesterday, I took a moment to wonder aloud how many teams have overcome similar odds to make the playoffs? This question also led me to wonder, how many teams have simply eliminated themselves by selling when faced with similar odds?

Obviously, the Royals odds are slim in large part due to the teams ahead of them. If you want to publicly doubt the Royals chances by citing the fact that the teams ahead of Kansas City are better, I'd be happy to give you a gold star for stating the obvious. I don't think anyone is disputing the fact that it would take a miraculous finish coupled with a stumble by Detroit and/or Cleveland.

What I believe is causing the divide is a much more philosophical approach. Yes, the Royals are going to need some help in order to really have a shot. However, there is something to be said for the teams that are in a position to take advantage of those opportunities. The other option is to exit the ring before the final bell and hope for a better shot the following year.

I'm not saying there is a right or wrong answer here. I am an analytical type when it comes to baseball. I know all the new found stats. I am completely aware of the statistical unlikelihood of a Royals playoff run. First and foremost though I am a fan. I have experienced one season in my entire life in which the Royals have played meaningful games deep into the season.

It wasn't until September 8, that the 2003 Royals chances dropped below 8.3%. It was fun and as a teenager that was the summer in which my fandom transitioned from a rooting interest to a deep love and passion. I don't fault any Royals fan who wants to experience some sort of hope again. Maybe it is for themselves or maybe they want their son or daughter to experience what I experienced in 2003. It was a fluke, but it is the closest thing to an "I love you too" that the Royals have ever given me back.

Many of you are probably have the good fortune to have fond memories of the 1985 team. You know according to Cool Standings, they just had a 9.4% shot at the playoffs on July 18, before rattling off nine wins in their next ten games. I suppose it is pretty good fortune that John Schuerholz didn't look up in the standings and say, California is too good to catch. It would take. Even if we finish 47-28, California would have to drop 36 of their final 74.

I wonder if he thought to himself, well if California keeps pace, we'd have to finish 52-23 to force a one game playoff. I'm sure John Schuerholz realized that it would take help from the teams in front of him, but he rolled the dice and brought the Commissioner's trophy to Kansas City.

I'm not advocating for the Royals to be buyers. In fact, even in 1985 the Royals simply stood pat prior to the deadline. They didn't have to. Yes, the pitchers were young with an average age of 25.9, but the hitters average age was 30.9. Might it have made sense to sell and bring in some young hitting talent to pair up with the pitching for a late 80's run? It might have.

Since 1903, 83 times teams with a less than 8.4% chance  at making the playoffs have accomplished just that. This means, that every year there are favorable odds that a team will overcome what at some point seemed impossible. Since 1903, 24 times have teams with those odds or worse in either August or September reached the playoffs and 18 more times has that feat been occurred in July . Can you imagine how different baseball history would be?

We all are fully aware of the faint possibility. We also tend to scoff at those who value things like a "winning season" or "meaningful games in September". If you believe the Royals have to make the playoffs for 2013 to be a success that's fine. I would never argue with that. But who are you to dictate what other fans should consider a success?

If the Royals sell then I'll be happy to know that they've improved their chances for 2014 and beyond. If the Royals buy, I only hope that they do so on the cheap or for players that have control moving forward. If they stand pat and let the cards fall then I'm going to enjoy the ride.

An 8.3% chance is a one in 12 chance. If the Royals are holding two die, they have one shot to roll double sixes. Let's play.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams

Monday, July 29, 2013

In the Cross Hairs: Howie Kendrick

Filled with confidence and riding a six game winning streak, the word is that the Royals are no longer sellers. Why shouldn't they be, Baseball Prospectus now estimates their playoff odds at 1.8% percent! Now I know a 50:1 chance doesn't sound too fantastic, but with one Google search I found this. Guys, if she can get pregnant with a 2% chance, then our Royals can make the playoffs at 1.8%! Am I right?

Anyway, the other interesting development from last night came when Jeff Passan dropped this nugget about the Angels openness to dealing second baseman Howie Kendrick.

If the Royals are going to buy, this is exactly the kind of player they should be looking for. Kendrick would fit perfectly into the two spot in the Royals order and he is an excellent defender at second base. Kendrick has been squaring up the ball at a career high level this year, which makes sense considering his spot on the age curve. He hits a ton of ground balls and line drives and does well to keep the ball out of the air. Based off this quick assessment of his batted balls, I think he would play very well at Kauffman Stadium.

Just for good measure, I decided to to adjust Kendrick's 2013 stats to Kauffman. As I suspected, his numbers take a good jump. So far in 2013, the 5'10" second baseman has hit .332/.358/.505, using Fangraphs 2012 park factors (2013 park factors are unavaible), Kendrick's home numbers jump to .341/.367/.526 in the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium. This would raise his season line of .299/.339/.445 to .304/.343/.458.

Kendrick is under team control through 2015. He is owed approximately 3.35 million over the remainder of 2013, 9.35 million in 2014, and 9.5 million in 2015. Fangraphs estimates 1 Win Above Replacement to be worth about $5 million so if Kendrick can net the Royals an additional 1 WAR in the remainder of this season, and 2 WAR in each of 2014 and 2015, the Royals should come out ahead.

As of now, Steamer estimates Kendrick to be worth 1.2 fWAR over the final two months of the season. Steamer estimates Chris Getz to be worth 0.1 fWAR so it is pretty safe to say that Kendrick would net the Royals an additional Win Above Replacement.

Projecting Kendrick out over the next two plus seasons, and a fair number might be a contribution of 8 fWAR (roughly $40 million in estimated value). Based off the tables that I used in the Ervin Santana post, a fair value is probably Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy plus an additional prospect in that ranks in the teens of the Royals system.

Unfortunately, the Royals are out of Brandon Sisks. Would you deal either five seasons of Danny Duffy or six plus seasons of Yordano Ventura for two plus of Howie Kendrick? Unless the Angels are viewing the Kendrick move as a sort of salary dump (and there are no indications that they would), these are the names that they would likely demand after being rebuffed for Kyle Zimmer.

Edit: I didn't mention this but what would be really interesting would be a three way trade in which the Royals send out Ervin Santana and acquire Kendrick. Duffy joins the rotation in Santana's place and Kendrick slides right into the lineup. Long term this is the optimum route and would be an excellent move by Kansas City.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Making it Worth it: Ervin Santana

The Royals are 46-51 and 8 games out of first place. Baseball Prospectus pins their playoff odds at 0.9%. Despite all of this there is a mounting concern that the Royals front office is in denial of World War Z proportions (this is a book reference, not movie). There are reports that the front office sees value in a push for .500 and we have even heard Dayton Moore state that a trade will not be made that weakens the current club. There are several pieces that it could make sense to move, but there is one piece that seems obvious: Ervin Santana.

The way I see it, there are six potential outcomes of the Ervin Santana saga.
  1. Ervin Santana is traded prior during the 2013 season.
  2. Ervin Santana is held on to and following the season, he declines a qualifying offer, resulting in a draft pick netted by Kansas City. (Last season these picks fell in the 28-33 range.)
  3. Ervin Santana is held on to following the season, declines the qualifying offer, but fails to sign with a Major League team prior to the draft. (I find this extremely unlikely, barring a wretched second half.)
  4. Ervin Santana is held on to and following the season, he accepts a qualifying offer.
  5. Ervin Santana's contract is extended.
  6. Ervin Santana is traded, but then resigns with Kansas City.
As difficult as it is to put a valuation on these different outcomes, I wanted to attempt to quantify the value of option number 2. 

First, what is the value of having Santana between now and the end of the season. Without getting too technical let's put this number at 1.5 bWAR. Santana has made 19 starts and is worth 2.1 bWAR thus far. If he makes 14 more starts and maintains his current value, he'll finish the year worth 3.6 bWAR.

On a side note, Fangraphs values 1 fWAR at $5.05 mil. Santana is currently on track to finish with 3.6 fWAR (oddly the same number as bWAR), which would mean he will be worth $18.18 million to Kansas City this season. At the time of his trade to Kansas City, the primary criticism is that his performance couldn't justify the $12 million that the Royals would owe him. The Royals still owe Santana roughly $4 million and if he keeps pace, he'll provide his team roughly $7.6 million in value according to Fangraphs.

In addition to the value that Santana would provide the Royals over the remainder of the season, there is also the value of the draft pick that needs to be discussed. In the 2013 draft, the compensation picks fell in the 28-33. 

Since 1965, 294 players have been drafted in this range. Of those, 141 have reached the Major League level. On average the Major Leaguers procured 7.2 bWAR. However, on average the selection netted the drafting team just 3.4 bWAR.

What this means, is that at minimum in order for the Royals to want to pull the trigger on an Ervin Santana trade they would need to expect a net value of 4.9 bWAR. Let's convert this to a dollar figure and assign an easy $5 million per win. (You'll see why later.) This would value hanging on to Santana plus the draft pick at $24.75 million. So what kind of prospects should the Royals demand in order to ensure that they will come out ahead in an Ervin Santana trade?

We are going to use Michael Valencius's post at D-Rays Bay to help us out. You can view the entire post here.* Huge tip of the cap.

*(As much as I hate to do it, I am unaware of any converter from fWAR to bWAR. Since the prospect studies that I am using are for fWAR, we will have to compare that number to the bWAR figure that we have on the keep Santana end of this discussion.)

Here are the table breakdowns of the values of various prospects. The figures are in millions. The author valued each win at $5 million.

Age breakdowns for the below tables:

Prospects in the 1 to 5 range:


Prospects in the 6 to 15 range:


Prospects in the 16 to 40 range:

Prospects in the 41 to 75 range:

Prospects in the 76 to 100 range:

The tricky part of an Ervin Santana trade is that the acquiring team will no longer also receive the compensation draft pick if he departs the following offseason. What this means, is that for the Royals Santana and the draft pick is worth roughly 4.9 WAR, but for the acquiring team he is worth roughly 1.5 WAR. This is a difference of $17 million in terms of prospect value. 

What should also be considered is that 1 win isn't valued equally. The Royals are going to be in a position on the win curve in which the 1.5 wins netted by Santana are less valuable than they would be for the Dodgers, who figure to need every additional win in order to survive a tight race in the National League West. How much the trading partners respective locations on the win curve becomes the key component in determining Santana's true value.

Another thing that should be considered is the net present value of those Wins Above Replacement. Obviously, Santana's 1.5 are going to occur immediately, but if we are looking at a window of ten years, a draft pick's value might not yield itself until years 4-10, while a prospect's value could yield itself as early as next season. Even if the draft pick's value and prospect's contributions were each 4 WAR, the prospect's value would be higher given the proximity of the contribution.

The Royals don't have to make the move. Just spit-balling, but from their perspective, they should probably target at least $20 million in value to really come out ahead. You can also access Baseball America's 2013 Top 100 here and their mid season top 50 here.  Feel free to play with the list to determine if your prospect of choice fits the bill. 

Mike Olt, who was just traded to Texas for Matt Garza, was worth roughly $21.5 million in value based on the charts and his mid-season ranking, but Chicago netted two additional prospects. I can't be sure of the value of those two prospects, but C.J. Edwards is highly regarded, and Grimm is Major League ready. The combination of these two likely easily passes the value of the package pass $30 million. 

 Joc Pederson, who many have attached their dreams to since Rany discussed him here, is worth $32.34 million based on the above chart. Could the Royals get him back if he was the only piece? 

Adam Eaton of the Diamondbacks would be valued at approximately $22.5 million. Would Eaton and an arm like Andrew Chafin or Chase Anderson make sense? 

I always hate to speculate on specific names, but this sort of information hopefully enables us to put a more firm valuation on the sort of prospect haul that the Royals should expect to receive. Take a look, do your dream trade scenarios make sense?

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams

Monday, July 22, 2013

Comparing Royals Drafts to Industry Standards

Today Matt Eddy of Baseball America published this article on the success rate of draft picks selected in any draft from 1987 to 2008. I wanted to take a second to compare the 2002 through 2008 results to the Royals last two General Managers. In order to maintain some fairness to Dayton Moore, I have broken up his tenure into two pieces. Here are the results:

% to Reach Majors
Round MLB     02-08 Baird    01-05 Unclaimed 2006 Moore 07-09 Moore 10-13
1 81.10% 57.14% 100.00% 100.00% 0.00%
1st supp 55.00% 50.00% N/A 0.00% 0.00%
2 50.70% 60.00% 0.00% 50.00% 0.00%
3-5 35.20% 6.67% 66.67% 33.33% 0.00%
6-10 19.90% 24.00% 0.00% 6.67% 0.00%
11-20 13.20% 10.00% 20.00% 3.33% 0.00%
21+ 5.10% 4.00% 3.33% 1.11% 0.00%
Total 17.40% 10.24% 12.00% 6.67% 0.00%
So the first thing that jumps out at me is that Dayton Moore hasn't drafted a Major League player since the 2009 draft. I find this to be interesting, but it probably isn't quite the indictment that it might initially seem. 

Another thing that stands out to me is the number of Major Leaguers that Allard Baird was able to select in the 6-10 range. Six of his 25 draft choices in this range have reached the Majors, although just Mike Aviles has stuck. Still, when one considers the financial limitations that were placed on those drafts, it appears that Baird's scouting department performed admirably. 

Here's a look at the combined wins above replacement for the Royals draft classes from 2001-2013:

Rank Year GM bWAR
1 2002 Baird 30.1
2 2005 Baird 20.9
3 2004 Baird 17.7
4 2007 Moore 10.9
5 2003 Baird 9.6
6 2006 Unclaimed 7.4
7 2009 Moore 5.7
8 2008 Moore 3
9 2013 Moore 0
10 2012 Moore 0
11 2011 Moore 0
12 2010 Moore 0
13 2001 Baird -0.6
Wait a second... I thought Dayton Moore was the guy with the awesome track record in scouting and player development? Well to be fair, Baird's top drafts are the result of some nice picking at the top with Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon. If those three were removed, the remainder of those three draft classes would look extremely pedestrian.

Ultimately, the argument to be made in Moore's defense would be that his picks haven't had the time to mature like Baird's have. After all, in Alex Gordon's first three seasons he contributed just 5.1 bWAR. It wasn't until his fifth season did he really break out. It wasn't until Billy's fourth season that he broke the 3 bWAR plateau and Greinke was only able to net 7 WAR in his first four professional seasons. 

Okay, I hear your argument. Let's take a look at Baird's first three drafts 7 years after he was hired and compare them to Dayton's  drafts 7 years after. Here's what we've got:

Rank Year GM bWAR
1 2007 Moore 10.9
2 2009 Moore 5.7
3 2002 Baird 4
4 2008 Moore 3
5 2005 Baird 2
6 2001 Baird 1.9
7 2013 Moore 0
8 2012 Moore 0
9 2011 Moore 0
10 2010 Moore 0
11 2004 Baird -1.2
12 2003 Baird -2.1
This changes things quite a bit. Keep in mind, that each General Manager's draft classes are only accounting for the bWAR accumulated up through 2007 for Allard Baird and 2013 for Dayton Moore. In six years, I'd be surprised if Dayton Moore's draft classes weren't better than what we are currently seeing from Baird, but given the financial flexibility that Moore and company have received we shouldn't expect anything less.

What is more telling, are Dayton Moore's numbers when compared with the industry as a whole. While it is unfair to compare his recent drafts to the success rates of Major League Baseball's 2002-08 drafts, even when we focus on Moore's 2007 through 2009 drafts we find that he is lacking. Sure he was 100% in drafting Major Leaguers with his first three first round picks, but how good were those picks? 

Mike Moustakas has netted the Royals 4 bWAR, which ranks 11th out of players drafted in the 1st and supplemental rounds in 2007, but his career has stalled. Eric Hosmer ranks 8th in his 1st round class with 3.3 bWAR, while Aaron Crow is now a mediocre middle reliever, whose 2.9 bWAR ranks 7th out of 2009 first rounders. 

Barring something unprecedented, the Royals are on track to become the first team to ever top Baseball America's farm system rankings to not make the playoffs within three seasons. The Major League club is on pace to win 76 games. The scouting department hasn't drafted a Major Leaguer since 2009. The farm system was ranked 18th by Baseball America entering the season and has on many levels disappointed in 2013. I wonder if the next General Manager will ask for seven years worth of patience?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Royals are Very Average

In the NBA, teams have shown that a lot of times the best way to get better is to first bottom out.  We are seeing this happen with many teams now because of a strong 2014 draft and free agent class.  A classic case of a team who can’t be bad enough to rebuild or good enough to win is the Milwaukee Bucks.  I have joked at them for a long time as basically building a team that will go .500 and either just miss the playoffs and have a low lottery pick or just make the playoffs but lose early.  Since the year I was born (1987) I have seen one division championship and over the last five years they have been 12th, 6th, 9th, 9th, 8th in the Eastern Conference.  They have been middling and frustrating for Bucks fans, they don’t have a big enough market to attract any stars and haven’t had a rebuilding mentality to be able to get premier talent from the draft. 

The Royals seem to be on their way to become the Bucks of Major League Baseball (Milwaukee's MLB team may be the NL version).  The push for contention this offseason was well documented, as the Royals made a sacrifice for the future to add James Shields at the expense of losing Wil Myers while making a trade for Ervin Santana that essentially resulted in a 1yr/13mil contract.  Despite these power moves they have a below-ish average payroll of just over 80 million dollars, good for 22nd in the majors.  PETOCA and preseason projections from both had the Royals going 80-82. 

Fast forward to July 20th, and the Royals currently sit at 44-49.  They have a Pythagorean record of          46-47.  They have a run differential of -7 for the season thus far.  They have experienced mostly luck in the injury department, and have folks like Danny Duffy and (maybe) Felipe Paulino preparing to join the big league club in the second half.  For the most park things are not changing for the Royals unless the front office decides to sell, which seems unlikely.  If they decide they are ‘buyers’, there is not much out there that would boost a .500 to the playoffs. 

When looking at WAR on Fangraphs it shows you that position by position this is where the Royals Rank:  

POS            MLB rank by WAR
ALL Off.

For the season no Royals player has been particularly elite while no position has been worst in the league bad.  Right field was a known issue coming into the year and Mike Moustakas’ struggles have hurt their ranking at third base.  Chris Getz/ Johnny Giavotella/ Miguel Tejeda have combined for a less than desirable second base.  Those three positions have been cancelled out by legitimately good seasons from Sal Perez, Lorenzo Cain, and Alex Gordon.  Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and and Alcides Escobar have provided middle of the pack production by position this season.   With the starting pitching, Shields and Santana have been a nice top of rotation duo, Jeremy Guthrie has been decent sort of and Luis Mendoza and Wade Davis have been more or less bad.  In the pen, Greg Holland has been very good while Kelvin Herrera has struggled, but overall the bullpen, which was seen as a strength coming into the year, has been decent providing the 10th highest WAR amongst MLB teams. 

In terms of prospects, Baseball Prospectus writer Jason Parks put the Royals system as 7th best in baseball while the Baseball America Rankings put them 18th prior to the season.  Players like Yordano Ventura and Raul Adalberto Mondosi have a rising stock while a top prospect like Bubba Starling is still showing growing pains this year in A-ball.  I would argue that most of the team’s top talent is still a few years away in the lower minors. 

The Royals have cost controlled talent for the next few years but unless management decides to break the bank this offseason or sell some of their more expensive assets I see the Royals 2014 team looking similar to the 2013 variety.  Without the development of many of their players it appears that the Royals are going to be pulling a Milwaukee Bucks-like middle of the road finish in the AL Central for a while.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Replacing the Frenchy Quarter

It wasn’t long after Jeff Francoeur joined the Kansas City Royals in 2011 that someone in the team’s front office got the clever idea of having a promotion in right field called Frenchy Quarter Thursday. For just $21, fans could see “Frenchy,” Francoeur’s nickname, make just awful reads in the outfield and then not have the speed to stop a base runner from scoring from first. Sure, he had a good great arm, but that wasn’t enough to justify his $7.5 million dollar salary, his sub .250 OBP, his .570 SLG, and his negative advanced defensive metrics nearly across the board (-2.8 RngR, -0.2 ErrR, -0.5 UZR, and -1.4 UZR/150). But if you could stand all that, the promotional night came with a free t-shirt and free blue Mardi Gras beads. So hey, there’s that.

But with Frenchy being designated for assignment – eventually being signed by the San Francisco Giants and present to Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter – the Royals marketing department decided to change the name but keep the promotion. And instead of coming up with their own player represented by the promotion, they decided to leave it in the hands of their social media fan base.

On the team’s website, the Royals have narrowed the choicesdown to three, and urge fans to vote for the new fan seating section. And like most newfangled social media voting, it requires a hashtag, both on Twitter and on Facebook (don’t they know hashtags on facebook are lame?!) for the vote to be included. The three choices are (and the pictures of the shirts are pictured above):

#LoughPlaces - “Along with this one of a kind t-shirt, you'll also receive a game ticket located in right field so you'll be able to cheer on David Lough up close and personally!”
o   If Royals fans and front office members alike want to move on from Frenchy as quickly as possible, this would be the route to go. It’s a straight-up swap from one name to the next for the right field section, and also features an up and coming player on the Royals roster who is exciting because he could very well be in the Rookie of the Year conversation and he’s also the guy that forced the release of Francoeur. And +1 for being the most creative name of the bunch.
·         Cons
o   If this one wins the vote, can you imagine how the Royals would try to implement Garth Brooks even more than he already is? Every time Lough comes up to bat: Friends in Low Places. Every time Lough gets a hit: Friends in Low Places. Every time Lough makes a good play in the outfield: Friends in Low Places. Enough is enough.

#CountryBreakfastClub – “Add some eggs, bacon and BBQ sauce to your baseball experience with the Country Breakfast Club in honor of Royals DH Billy Butler! Fans in this section will be seated in Left-Center Field for the chance to catch a Billy Bomb with BBQ sauce.”
o   Kudos to the Royals marketing department for continuing to recognize Billy Butler’s twitter-created nickname. Also, give them a hand for doing a Wheel-of-Fortune style combination of Butler’s nickname with one of the most endearing and memorable films of the 80’s. And of the three proposed shirts the Royals came up with to accompany the promotional night, I believe this one is the best. I mean, it has bacon on it!
·         Cons
o   While the fact that this fan seating features a player that doesn’t play in the outfield, or anywhere else on the field for that matter, is unique in its own way, having people sit there for a chance to catch a home run hit by Billy Butler seems like a far-fetched idea considering he’s only got 8 on the season so far. This one could backfire.

#GordoNation – “All-Star and Royals Outfielder Alex Gordon is looking for die-hard fans to join a new seating section in Left Field. Do you have what it takes to be a part of GordoNation?”
o   There might not be a more popular player on the Royals right now than Alex Gordon. Fresh off his first All-Star appearance and following two Gold Glove seasons, Gordon makes the most sense to have his own fan section at Royals games. Also, you gotta give it up to the Royals marketing department to combine the words “Gordon” and “Nation” into one word and throw in some patriotic frill. They know what the fans like: simplicity and ‘Merica.
·         Cons
o   Honestly, I can’t think of any. Gordon is under contract for several more seasons, he plays that outfield position every day, the guy’s a stud, and he makes amazing plays that has earned him multiple Gold Gloves. I suppose the only downside would be having to move the promotional event from right field to left field, but that even puts you closer to the Royals Hall of Fame which holds Gordon’s Gold Glove trophies as well as a very nasty and battered hat he wore last season.

If I was voting for cleverness, I would go with #LoughPlaces. If I was voting strictly for the coolest shirt, I would go with #CountryBreakfastClub. But for the reasons described above, my ballot is being cast for #GordoNation. Currently, #GordoNation is leading the vote with #CountryBreakfastClub and #LoughPlaces rounding out second and third respectively. But make sure your voice is heard for determining the next Royals fan seating section by voting yourself. Voting ends July 19th at 12:00 PM CT, so be sure to hurry!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kyle Zimmer, SIERA, and the Natural State

On Sunday evening, we learned that Kyle Zimmer would be promoted to Northwest Arkansas. Most expected the promotion to come much earlier in the season, but after a hard luck start to the season, Zimmer had to wait until mid-June for the jump to the Texas League.

I say hard luck because I don't believe for a second that Zimmer's ERA (4.82) is at all reflective of his 2013 performance. In fact, by some measures it would appear that Zimmer has in fact been quite dominate. So dominate that this promotion is probably long overdue.

Most of you reading this blog know the importance of strikeout percentage. Most of those people even realize that strikeout percentage is more important when evaluating players at the lower levels of Minor League Baseball. It is also no secret, that the Royals 2012 first round pick has had no problem fanning opposing hitters. In 18 starts as a Blue Rock, the 6'3" righty has struck out 21.6% of opposing hitters and 11.34 per nine innings. Zimmer has accomplished this while only walking 3.11 batters per 9 innings and has limited home runs to just 0.90 per 9. Naturally, this leaves Zimmer with an excellent FIP of 3.12.

I theorize that even Zimmer's FIP isn't praising Zimmer as high as it should be. Fielding Independent Pitching takes into consideration a pitcher's strikeout, walk and home run rate and provides the audience with a number that represents what his ERA should be based off of those three rate stats. However, it is also clear that a pitcher has a say in the number of ground balls that he allows.

In many cases FIP gets away with this because a pitcher's home run rate reflects the pitcher's ability to keep the ball down (xFIP goes even farther and neutralizes the home run percentage). The exclusion of ground ball percentage is even more pronounced in the evaluation of prospects due to shoddy infields and lesser fielders.

What we need is a stat that accounts for ground ball percentage. Fortunately, we have SIERA, which even goes a step farther and accounts for the following: (You can read the full article on SIERA here.)
  1. Allows for the fact that a high ground-ball rate is more useful to pitchers who walk more batters, due to the potential that double plays wipe away runners.
  2. Allows for the fact that a low fly-ball rate (and therefore, a low HR rate) is less useful to pitchers who strike out a lot of batters (e.g. Johan Santana's FIP tends to be higher than his ERA because the former treats all HR the same, even though Santana’s skill set portends this bombs allowed will usually be solo shots).
  3. Allows for the fact that adding strikeouts is more useful when you don't strike out many guys to begin with, since more runners get stranded.
  4. Allows for the fact that adding ground balls is more useful when you already allow a lot of ground balls because there are frequently runners on first.
  5. Corrects for the fact that QERA used GB/BIP instead of GB/PA (e.g. Joel Pineiro is all contact, so increasing his ground-ball rate means more ground balls than if Oliver Perez had done it, given he's not a high contact guy).
  6. Corrects for the fact that FIP and xFIP use IP as a denominator which means that luck on balls in play changes one's FIP.
Kyle Zimmer is second in SIERA for pitchers who have thrown 75 or more innings at the High-A level. This season Kyle Zimmer's SIERA stands 2.71, which is right in line with his career mark of 2.73. FIP is excellent at mirroring what a pitcher's ERA should have been in a given season, but according to Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus, SIERA overtakes FIP in predicting long term performance. Wouldn't that make SIERA more important than FIP in minor league evaluation?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Futures Game Preview

If you've got a chance tomorrow, be sure to take some time to watch the MLB Futures Game. The Royals have two participants in the game this season: Yordano Ventura and Miguel Almonte. Each of the Dominican pitchers could be particularly exciting in an exhibition setting as each feature electric stuff that should dial up in one inning stints.

Almonte has worked 87.2 innings this season in Low-A Lexington. He's averaging 8.9 strikeouts per 9 innings to 3 walks. Opposing South Atlantic League hitters are batting just .244/.313/.345 against him. Prior to Almonte's July 10, start the 6'2" righty hadn't allowed more than 2 earned runs in his last seven starts. For his career, Almonte is 11-9 with a 2.91 ERA.

Ventura, who stated on Twitter that he will be throwing the 9th inning for the World squad, has been dynamite in 2013. Thus far he struck out 110 batters in 92.1 innings spread out between Double and Triple A. While his walks have been high in Omaha, his FIP of 3.43 has actually been 0.66 better than the Pacific Coast League average. When you are striking out 23.2% of opposing hitters and limiting them to a .254/.344/.366 line, you're going to be alright.

Be sure to tune in to the game tomorrow to get a good luck on two of the top pitching prospects in the Royals organization.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

The Royals are now 10 games into the Vern's "Gauntlet" and their record stands at 5-5. I think if on Sunday, we would have been told that we could take two from the Yankees, most of us would have happily accepted the offer. However, as it has happened many times in 2013, the Royals got off to a nice start in the series and we got greedy (can you blame us?).

After stinking up the joint on Wednesday and Thursday, the Royals leave New York for Cleveland. Obviously, it would be awesome to sweep the Tribe and head into the break at .500, but fans would also have to be happy with a series victory. 
Using the Hardball Times' xBABIP, we find that based off Kluber's numbers thus far his BABIP should at least be .335. In fact, when you start playing with the opposing number of steals that number even rises into the low .340s. Kluber's peripherals are excellent, but if he continues to give up hard contact he'll consistent perform below the expectations of his FIP and xFIP. 


Friday - Corey Kluber 6-5, 4.23 ERA

Kluber heads into tonight with what old school types would call mediocre numbers in 2013. However, looking deeper into Kluber's peripherals you'll find an excellent 4.53 K:BB ratio, which is the 11th best in all of baseball for pitchers that have thrown 80+ innings. What has hurt Kluber is his 1.13 HR/9 and a BABIP of .335, FIP and xFIP attempt remove babip fluctuations from the equation, but Kluber, like Wade Davis, has a high BABIP due to a high number of line drives being hit against him. 

Saturday - Scott Kazmir 4-4, 4.74 ERA

The former 15th overall selection by the New York Mets is making a comeback after throwing a combined 1.2 big league innings since 2010. Still a flyball pitcher, Kazmir's groundball percentage is at its highest point since 2007. This is good because his HR/FB rate is also at its highest point (not counting his 1.2 inning 2011).

Kazmir's strikeout and walk numbers are back to respectable levels, but he has been extremely hitable in 2013. Opponents are batting .268/.329/.482 against him. A closer look reveals that it is just right handers who are finding success. Righties are hitting .296/.364/.556 against him, while lefties are at .200/.240/.300. If the Indians are successful in acquiring starting pitching near the deadline, Kazmir would make an excellent weapon as a lefty specialist in the Tribe's pen. The Royals should have every righty in the lineup for Saturday's contest. 

Sunday - Ubaldo Jimenez 7-4, 4.37 ERA

Since acquiring Ubaldo in 2011, for Alex White and Drew Pomeranz the 6'5" righty has netted the Indians -0.2 bWAR. Amazingly, this is after a positive 0.6 contribution thus far in 2013. Ubaldo has posted a 5.05 ERA and a 20-25 record over three seasons with Cleveland, but during that time he has also boasted a 3.60 ERA against Kansas City.

On average, Ubaldo is averaging just over 5 innings per start. He's also allowing roughly 7.6 base runners during that time. Hopefully, Kansas City can continue to show an improved approach at the plate and can benefit from Jiminez's 4.85 BB/9.

Series Notes

Two Big Signing This offseason, the Indians pulled out all the stops for Nick Swisher and then eventually landed Michael Bourn as well. So far the two have combined for a .266/.331/.385 line and 3.5 bWAR. This probably isn't what the Indians were hoping for from two guys who combined for 9.9 bWAR a season ago. The Indians have $104 million wrapped up in these two players through 2016 and are potentially on the hook for $26 million more through vesting options in 2017.  

Hot Starts For the third straight season the Indians are off to a hot start. They're currently 48-44 and 2.5 games out with a 27.2% chance at the playoffs as judged by One year ago today they were 45-41, 3 games back with a 22.1% shot. Two years ago they were 48-42, tied for first and considered to have a 43.4% chance at October baseball. Of course, the Tribe is hoping that they can finish with more than 68 or 80 wins in 2013.

All-Stars The Indians will have two players in New York for Tuesday night's All-Star festivities: Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis. Masterson has been solid in 2013 and holds a 3.72 ERA with a 10-7 record. Kipnis on the other hand has really experienced a breakout campaign. Worth 3.8 bWAR already this season Kipnis holds a .379 wOBA with a 144 wRC+.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Davis to Deliver Child; Joseph Called Up

What a convenient time for Wade Davis to become a father, now hopefully he will be needed at the hospital for the next four months.

Donnie Joseph as I'm sure many of you know is the strikeout machine acquired along with that flaming pile of crap J.C. Sulbaran (I can;t believe Royals top scout Eric Hosmer missed again) on the Jonathan Broxton trade. In his minor league career, Joseph has struck out 12.2 batters per 9 innings with a WHIP of 1.261.

Since 2011, the former 3rd round draft choice has been particularly dominate against let handers striking out 30.1% of the lefties he has faced. During that time he has also limited them to a .178/.264/.278 line. If there is one thing the Royals bullpen has lacked over the last couple of years it is a weapon that can be deployed to shut down a lefty hitters.

I would expect Joseph to at least stay with the club through Sunday. Once the All-Star break ends room will need to be made for Davis to return to the roster. Hopefully, Joseph performs well because he would serve more value in the bullpen than J.C. Gutierrez, who has pitched fine, but might as well be Waldo in high leverage situations.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Baseball America Midseason Top 50

On Monday the Baseball America released its mid-season prospect top 50. This list did not include recently drafted players. Here is how the American League Central shook out:

  • 5) Francisco Lindor - The 2nd youngest player in the Carolina League continues to show excellent bat control striking out in just 10.6% of his plate appearances, good for second on the circuit.
  • 26) Yordano Ventura - Currently the 9th youngest player on the Pacific Coast Leauge circuit and the 15th youngest in Triple A baseball, Ventura has struck out 28.6% of the batters he has faced this season.
  • 28) Kyle Zimmer -The Royals 2012 first round selection, appears to be the victim of Minor League infields and the range of Minor League infielders, not to mention the long ball. Personally, I think his 15% HR/FB% is flukey and when it comes to the things I care about he is having a fantastic season.
  • 50) Raul Mondesi - The artist formerly known as Adalberto could climb this list even higher by the time next season's top 100 is released. Despite being the 3rd youngest player in full season baseball, Mondesi is hitting .328/.381/.431 in 16 games since the SAL All-Star break.
  • 15) Nick Castellanos - The 6th youngest player in Triple-A, Castellanos has not disappointed with the bat. The former 44th overall pick leads qualifying International League hitters with a .378 wOBA.
  • 1) Byron Buxton - The youngest player in the Florida State League has vaulted himself into top prospect status thanks to a .341/.431/.559 line. I will note that his LD% has been barely above league average at both his stops this season.
  • 3) Miguel Sano - The youngest player in Double-A hasn't had any trouble in the power department. If he still qualified, he would rank second in the Florida State League in Isolate Power.
  • 32) Alex Meyer - Among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched in the Eastern League, Meyer ranks third with a 2.82 FIP and second with 10.77 K/9.
White Sox
  • None - People aren't optimistic about his chances. He is old for his level and is putting up lackluster results. The White Sox continue to like him due to his less than charming personality and general douchebaggedness. Their dream scenario is that he turns into a more talented version of the Southside Spartan A.J. Pierzynski.
Also of note, the publication listed several breakout prospects over the first half of the season. The Royals had no prospects in this segment, but the Twins featured both Jose Berios and Eddie Rosario, while the Indians' Danny Salazar was also noted. The only two offseason top 100 prospects that failed to make Baseball America's mid-season top 50 were Bubba Starling and Chicago's Courtney Hawkins. Both failed to make the list due to strikeout concerns.

Specific to the Royals, Baseball America named Ventura as their top prospect in the system and Zimmer as having the most disappointing season thus far. Right hander Christian Binford was named as KC's top riser for the first half of the season. Binford The former 30th round draft choice boasts a 4.56 K/BB and a 50.6% ground ball percentage.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In the Cross Hairs: Alfonso Soriano

The trade deadline is just 22 days away, and it is yet to be determined whether or not the Royals will be buyers, sellers or stand patters at the deadline. My gut tells me that it will be the final of these three options, with the possibility of Kansas City making a couple of small moves to shore up the roster for the final two months of the season. Either way over the next couple of weeks I hope to take some time to focus on some individuals that might be available for little in terms of prospects. Today the spotlight is on Alfonso Soriano.

As of Tuesday, Soriano is hitting .263/.289/.459. Thanks to some power and a still above average glove in the outfield he has been worth 1.1 fWAR. However, there are also a couple of pretty big problems with Soriano. The first is his home/road split. This season at Wrigley, he is hitting .275/.306/.523. On the road that line drops to .252/.273/.404. 

The second problem with Soriano is his contract. He is currently owed roughly $8 million more in 2013 and $18 million in 2014. Quite simply, if the Cubs are willing to cover at least $21 million here the Royals should simply walk away. Truthfully, committing $5 million to a 37 year-old Soriano for the next season and a half might still be too much. (Right now, Fangraphs values 1 fWAR at roughly $5 million, so in theory for the Royals to get value here Soriano would have to be worth 1 fWAR over the next 18 months.)

The positive in terms of Soriano is that he still blisters left handed pitching. This season he has hit .317/.346/.495 against southpaws, this falls in line with his career slash of .279/.346/.518. He could be the ideal platoon partner with David Lough, who has hit just .259/.310/.296 against left handed pitching throughout his brief Major League career. 

Of course, even if the Royals and Cubs could come to an agreement involving the right players going to Chicago and the right amount of money coming back to Kansas City, Alfonso Soriano would still have to approve the trade due to his 10:5 rights. Last August, Soriano was nearly dealt to San Francisco just prior to the waiver deadline, but he vetoed the move. Would he do the same in 2013?

This season, Soriano says he would approve a trade if it gave him the chance to win. Does Kansas City fit that bill for him? For the next year and a half he would probably have a better shot at the playoffs as a Royal than as a Cub. However, is the chance so much better that he would be willing to uproot his life and change organizations? I can't say.

Ultimately, I'd be interested in Soriano if the price was right. He's still a quality fielder, which is important for our flyball oriented staff and the fact that he still hits lefties so well makes him a very strong fit with the current roster. 

I hate to speculate on the type of prospects the Cubs would demand, but the more money they are kicking back in the deal the more the Royals would have to give up. Hypothetically, if the Cubs sent back $22-26 million, I'd be comfortable giving up a guy like Chris Dwyer, Everett Teaford or Justin Marks plus a low level throw in. Unfortunately, what would really appeal to the Cubs is international pool money, but it doesn't look like the Royals would have much, if any to offer.

Whether or not this deal could happen really depends on how much the Cubs want to move their $136 million man. Cubs fans appear to have a strong desire to cut the cord for next to nothing, but I'm not sure if the front office feels the same way. Josh Vernier is right that it isn't 2007 anymore, but that doesn't mean Alfonso Soriano couldn't be a nice complementary piece to the Royals roster, if the price is right.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Johnny G's Patience at the Plate

Despite hitting .306/.380/.441 throughout his career in Minor League Baseball, Johnny Giavotella has left much to be desired in his time with the Major League Club. Entering Monday night, over 395 professional plate appearances he has hit just .239/.271/.335. Quite simply that isn't going to get the job done, especially when it is coming from a below average fielder.

Giavotella's problems stem primarily from three issues: bad luck on balls in play, lower walk rate than he displayed in the minors, and a higher strikeout rate than he displayed in the minors. Just because I'm a nerd and love numbers, I wanted to take a look at what would happen if these problems were corrected.

First, let's remove Giavotella's bad luck from the equation. Using a simple expected babip calculator I found that the former second round pick's babip should be roughly .323, a much higher figure than the .283 that he has sat at thus far in his career. So if we assume the same distribution of extra base hits with the same paltry 2.9% HR/FB, Giavotella's line jumps to roughly .263/.293/.370. Obviously, this is a little better but definitely nothing to write home about.

Let's take this a step farther and adjust Giavotella's career walk rate to the same as he had in the minor leagues. This jumps his career walk total all the way from 15 at the 3.8% mark to 41 at the 10.3% mark he displayed while riding buses to road games. By getting back to the selectivity he showed in the minors, Giavotella's career line jumps all the way to .263/.359/.370. We're getting close now.

At this point an OPS of .739 out of second base would be a welcome change for the Royals. Let's see what happens if Giavotella could get his strikeout rate to the one he displayed at the minor league level. So far, Gio has struck out in 17.2% of his Major League plate appearances. If he were to get that mark down to his minor league level he would be striking out only 11% of the time. So when we adjust Gio's line in all three of these areas, he would be sitting on a .287/.365/.401 career line. An OPS that would rank him fourth on the team, behind (you guessed it you didn't guess it) Jarrod Dyson, George Kottaras, and Alex Gordon.

Obviously, one can't expect Giavotella to produce strikeout and walk rates equal to those he displayed in Omaha. However, if Giavotella can simply find an approach that comes close to those marks he should be alright. For 395 plate appearances he has shown the ability to make hard contact. (Hard enough to lead me to believe that his HR/FB% is pretty unlucky as well.)

Sure Giavotella has had three separate stints in the Major Leagues, but I don't believe he is the type of guy whose approach should totally fall apart. If Gio just had a few more of those hard hit balls fall, it might be enough to give him a bit of confidence and help him get back to the approach that led to the #FreeGio movement in the first place. Let's hope the Royals feel the same way and show the kind of patience that got Gio to the Major Leagues.

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Series Preview: New York Yankees

Six games into Josh Vernier's "gauntlet", the Royals find themselves 3-3. Vernier has said over and over that how the Royals fair over this stretch will really shine light on the kind of season they will end up. While I partly agree with this sentiment, I think there is also an opportunity for the Royals to make up some ground over the final couple of months. By the end of the "gauntlet", the Royals will have played 99 games. Of their final 63 games, the Royals will play only 28 more against teams that are currently over .500. Of those, 17 will be at home.

If the Royals can finish the "gauntlet" with an even record, the remaining schedule could lend itself to a run. However, before we start looking to far ahead, let's hone in our focus on the Bronx Bombers.


Monday - Phil Hughes 4-7, 4.55 ERA

At one point in time, Phil Hughes was considered as close to a can't miss pitching prospect as you could find. Today, he is pitching in the final year of his indentured servitude to the New York Yankees. The 23rd overall selection of the 2004 Amateur Draft has rewarded to Yankees with 10.6 fWAR and an estimated $46.6 million worth of value as estimated by Fangraphs. Thus far in his career, Phil Hughes has earned $14.1 million.Despite all of this I think nearly everyone would classify Hughes as a major disappointment. He is half a season from free agency and he boasts a 56-43 record with a 4.41 career ERA.

This season, Hughes favorite secondary pitch has shifted from a curve to a much harder slider. This makes sense as last season, his slider was rated as his best pitch, while is curve wasn't fooling many hitters. Hughes has been very susceptible to lefties in 2013, who are hitting .297/.361/.528 against him. Look for Kansas City to sit Cain and Tejada and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Giavotella finds himself on the bench for the third straight game.

Tuesday - C.C. Sabathia 9-6, 4.06 ERA

Sabathia will enter Tuesday night with his highest season ERA since 2004. This number stems almost directly in the highest HR/9 of his 13 year career. Knowing the park in which Sabathia calls one would likely expect that these struggles were the result of Yankee Stadium. This would be an incorrect assumption. On the road Sabathia's HR/9 is 1.52, while it is 1.11 at home (1.11 would still be the highest total for his career).

Sabathia has already given up 18 home runs in 2013, nine of which have come off his fastball. While his fastball has maintained similar movement in 2013, the average velocity of the pitch has dropped from 92.3 mph in 2012 to 90.6 in 2013. Just four seasons ago, Sabathia's fastball averaged 94.2 mph. Despite all of this, the 6'7" lefty is throwing 57.3% of the time, a mark that is still 4% lower than his career norm.

Wendesday - Ivan Nova 3-2, 4.09 ERA

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was attempting to convince a Yankee fan that Ivan Nova wasn't the Yankees best pitcher. It was 2011 and Nova was coming off a campaign that saw him win 16 games despite a K:BB ratio of 1.72. The following year, Nova's ERA jumped from 4.50 to 5.02 and I was relieved.

What I failed to realize was that despite that jump in ERA, Nova had actually transitioned into becoming a halfway decent pitcher. His K:BB ratio jumped to a respectable 2.73. This season that number has climbed even higher to 3.43 and Nova has rediscover his ability to induce ground balls.  He's only started 6 games this season, but he is currently striking out a batter per inning and forcing daisy killers on over 50% of the balls in play. The combination of these two things makes Nova a dangerous pitcher.

Thursday - Andy Pettitte 6-6. 4.37 ERA

Series Notes

Underrated How long can a player be called underrated before that ceases to be the case? Whatever the answer may be, Bret Gardner is pushing the limit. The unheralded prospect from Holy Hill, South Carolina has provided the Yankees with 17.7 bWAR in his six seasons in the Bronx. Among players with at least 4000 innings in the outfield since 2008 (Gardner's debut), Gardner leads all of baseball in UZR/150 at 27.8. Second place is Carlos Gomez at 16.2 and only five other outfielders crack double digits. From about 2009-2011 I harped that the Royals should trade for Gardner, at this point the secret may finally be out.

One Sided All-time the Royals are 183-271 against the New York Yankees and 77-149 in New York. Since 1995, those numbers drop to 43-108 and 17-57. The Dayton Moore led Royals are 18-35 against the Pinstripes and 9-15 in the Bronx.

Decide on the Order So far in 88 games in 2013, Joe Girardi has already put forth 76 different batting orders. In fact, the only spot the he seems to feel comfortable with is lead off, where Bret Gardner has hit 81 times this season. The sixth and seventh holes in the order seem to be the most tumultuous with 15 players appearing in each of the spots. For comparison sake, the Royals have used 67 different orders this season.

Nothing Has Got to Give The Yankees pitching staff currently ranks third in baesball in strikeout to walk ratio, while the Royals rank 20th. Yankees hurlers have been particularly adept at limiting walks, walking just 6.7% of opposing batters, which is good for fourth in all of baseball. Meanwhile, Royals hitters are taking walks in just 6.9% of their plate appearances. Whatever the opposite of saying "something has got to give" is, it applies here.

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

Were the last couple of games fun or what? In perhaps the biggest series of the last ten years, the Royals took two of three from the Tribe and now stand just 5 games out of first place, 82 games into the season. ESPN and Cool Standings give the Royals a 19.1% chance at the playoffs, while Pecota gives the Royals a 3% shot. If you put faith into ESPN Cool Standings, the Royals need a "six" on one roll of the dice and they are playing in October.

As you surely are aware, the Royals are three games into a 20 game stretch against teams that find themselves over .500. It is an excellent opportunity for us to learn whether or not the Royals have the staying power to keep themselves in the AL Central race for the rest of the year. Let's take a look at the club that once ripped out the heart of Kansas Citians when they moved to the land of 32 murders per 1,000 people.

Friday - Tommy Milone 7-7, 4.17 ERA:

Milone heads into Friday night with numbers very similar to his rookie season a year ago. His strikeout rate continues to be slightly below average, despite ticking up to 6.9 batters per 9 innings. His walk rate is up to 2.21 per 9, while his home run rate is a very Guthrie-esque 1.62.

There are a a couple of reasons to be optimistic about the Royals chances tonight. First, Milone's home ERA is 3.20, but his road ERA stands at 5.07 in 55 innings of work. Second, Milone's numbers have been trending down over the last couple of months. Here's a quick look at his numbers by month:

  • March/April: 26 K, 6 BB, .306 wOBA
  • May: 32 K, 9 BB, .327 wOBA
  • June: 23 K, 11 BB, .329 wOBA
Hopefully, these trends continue Friday night.

Saturday - Jarrod Parker 6-6, 4.11 ERA

After posting 3.5 fWAR as a rookie in 2012, Parker has only accumulated 0.3 so far in 2013. His strikeout and walk rates haven't taken the step forward that most predicted and his home run rate has jumped from 0.55 per 9 a year ago to 1.34. This is in large part due to his HR/FB% doubling to 12% in 2013 (league average is roughly 10.5%). In addition to that Parker's FB% has climbed from 30% in 2012 to 41% in 2013. 

These all sound like positive signs for Kansas City on Saturday, but since Parker's April 30 start against the Los Angeles Angels the righty has been on fire. In 77.1 innings over his last 12 starts, Parker is limiting hitters to a .196/.263/.359 line with an ERA of 2.91.

Sunday - A.J. Griffin 6-6, 3.95 ERA

Just like Milone and Parker, Griffin is coming off a strong rookie campaign. Also, just like his peers Griffin has seen home run rate climb in 2013. In Griffin's last start, the Chicago Cubs plated seven runs against him before he exited in the fifth inning. Hopefully, the Royals catch this form of Griffin as opposed to the June edition which stifled hitters to a .190/.231/.330 line, good for a 2.60 ERA. 


Not Who You'd Expect Quick who leads Athletics hitters in fWAR? I'm going to guess your answer wasn't Josh Donaldson, who currently sits at 3.8. Donaldson's mark slots him in at 9th among all players in baseball. The 27 year-old third baseman also ranks 10th in baseball in wRC+ at 151. 

Still Walking Not so surprisingly, the Athletics lead baseball in BB% at 9.8%. Despite all the walks, the Athletics' OBP ranks 9th in the league at .326. The Royals are walking in 6.9% (24th) of their plate appearances and are getting on base at a .314 clip (17th). Leading the Athletics in BB% is their catching tandem of John Jaso and Derek Norris, both of which are walking in over 13% of their plate appearances.

Explain the BABIP Only one team in baseball has limited opposing hitters to a lower batting average on balls in play than the Oakland Athletics at .273. This is in part due to the fly ball nature of their staff. Oakland's staff is last in the league in ground ball percentage and since ground balls results in more hits than fly balls this plays a factor in the BABIP being so low. Another huge factor is Oakland's home park. At home, the batting average on balls in play of opponents is just .265, while that number rises to .282 on the road.

Propensity for the Long Ball As we've already seen in discussing the probables, the Athletic's pitching staff has experienced some problems with the long ball in 2013. They've allowed more home runs than 19 other Major League pitching staffs. One might think that ranking so high in home runs allowed would be in part due to a high HR/FB%. The Athletics though, playing to their ballpark beautifully are allowing just 8.8% of fly balls to leave the yard (2nd best in baseball). Even on the road, the Athletics are allowing just 9.7% of fly balls to result in home runs. Again, league average is 10.5% so the Athletics staff could be in for a small bit of regression moving forward.

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