Saturday, March 05, 2005

3rd Base and the promise of a better tomorrow

MINOR LEAGUE STATISTICAL COMPARISION

  • Player 1
  • 2003 season: .283-3-71
  • 2004 season: .301-14-77
  • Player 2
  • 2003 season: .263-16-48
  • 2004 season: .300-25-83

Diehard Royal fans will probably be able to identify the actual players by the stats, but in case you weren't sure: Player 1 is Mark Teahen and Player 2 is Chris Truby. Obviously, the crucial difference is that Teahen is almost 8 years younger than Truby, but it would seem to indicate that it is likely that both would compile similar numbers in jumping to the Major Leagues this year. Teahen won't hit for raw home run power of Truby but would/will probably make up for it in doubles.

I've changed my stance on this issue since earlier in the year (when I firmly believed the Royals should just give the job to Teahen to start the season). Now, I really don't have a problem with Truby starting the season at 3rd and making way if, and hopefully when, Teahen shows he is capable of tearing up AAA pitching.

I'm banking on Truby, although he has a number of major league games under his belt, being able to be moderately productive the first time through the league - all I'm asking for is a 240 average and 7 homers by early June. At which time I'll be looking for Teahen to make the move up.

It is funny though, that a 30 year old hitting 300 with 26 homers is a free agent that few if any teams beside the Royals wanted, while a 23 year old hitting 300 with 14 homers is a hot prospect.

Age, for all us whose knees crack when we stand up now, is a bitch.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Berroa and Rookie of the Year Trends

Although I've been evaluating the Royals on a position by position basis so far, I've decided to digress when it comes to the shortstop position. Berroa, locked up with a long term contract that thankfully never really turns into serious money, IS the shortstop. At some point we may enter into a Blanco over Berroa discussion or a Blanco AND Berroa discussion (which might become relevant if Angel hits this year, but continues to throw the ball to players sitting in our dugout as opposed to the one playing first base.

I went back (using MLB.com's listing of Rookie of the Year winners) and compiled the Batting Average, On-Base Pct, Slugging Pct and OPS of each winner. In doing this, the first striking statistical similarity I found was this:

Angel Berroa 2003: 287-338-451-789
Carlos Beltran 1999: 293-337-454-791

Angel Berroa 2004: 262-308-395-693
Carlos Beltran 2000: 247-309-366-675

Now, I'm not saying Berroa is the next Beltran, but those similarities are amazing - coincidental as they may be. And as we all remember, in 2001 Beltran threw up big numbers: 306-362-514-876 and pretty much never looked back from there.

I do not profess to be a sabrematician (and I may not even be able to spell it!) but for fun and ease, I added the Batting Average, OBP, Slugging and OPS together for each ROY winner for a number I loosely named TOTAL PRODUCTION. Comparing year 1 to year 2 to year 3 for our ROY winners I found this information:

Not counting Berroa or the 2004 winners, there have been 21 hitters who have been ROY since 1990. Of those 21, seven of them had a decline of 10% or greater in their second year:
Eric Hinske
Carlos Beltran
Bob Hamelin
Pat Listach
Sandy Alomar Jr.
Rafael Furcal
Todd Hollandsworth
Of those seven, THREE improved their numbers in their third season (i.e. rebounded from the sophmore slump). Alomar and Hollandsworth actually did also, but they did so in limited at-bats and whether by injury or choice, both spent their post-rookie seasons as part-time players.
The three that improved:
Carlos Beltran (as discussed above)
Rafael Furcal
Bob Hamelin (YES, BOB HAMELIN)
It should be noted, though, that even though Hamelin improved in his third season, he never again got even remotely close to the production numbers he posted in his rookie year.
FURCAL is an interesting comparision in that his 'Total Production' numbers mirror Berroa's. Angel's number went from 1865 to 1658 (rookie to 2nd season), Furcal's from 1847 to 1657. In season three, Furcal improved marginally to 1695 and then in season four jumped up above his ROY numbers to 1881.
IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING WHO THE 14 ROY WINNERS ARE THAT DID NOT SUFFER SIGNIFICANT SOPHMORE SLUMPS, THEY ARE:
ICHIRO SUZUKI
BEN GRIEVE
NOMAR GARCIAPARRA
DEREK JETER
MARTY CORDOVA
TIM SALMON
CHUCK KNOBLAUCH
ALBERT PUJOLS
SCOTT ROLEN
RAUL MONDESI
MIKE PIAZZA
ERIC KARROS
JEFF BAGWELL
DAVID JUSTICE
If you're keeping score at home, that's 10 All-Star caliber players, 2 pretty solid players (Knoblauch & Karros) and 2 guys who eventually played their way into obscurity.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

And we're underway

The time I spend on various message boards and reading other Royal blogs tells me that there will soon be consternation abounding as to the lack of a Calvin Pickering siting during today's first official spring training game against the Royals.

With 60+ players in camp, we obviously aren't going to see everyone we want to at the time we want to see them. That said, I thought we'd see Big Pick today to, spelling Stairs at DH. However, we can't read much, if anything into this lineup and substitution pattern as of yet. A careful watch over the next 3 or 4 games should reveal a pattern as to playing time early in camp and hence, who has a real shot at making this club.

A bigger question for today: Is Jeremy Affeldt going to start getting people out?

Kansas City - 2nd Base

Although KC is being cautious with Tony Graffanino early in spring training, there is apparently little or no competition as to who will man this position to start the year. I don't have any real problem with this as a veteran, hardnosed guy like Graffanino is probably needed in an otherwise young infield.

Here is Tony's numbers for the last three years:
  • 2002 - 229 At Bats, .262-.329.428
  • 2003 - 250 At Bats, .260-.331-.428
  • 2004 - 278 At Bats, .263-.332-.335

With the exception of a dip in power last year, you can see pretty much what to expect in the coming year. In a building year like 2005, with an otherwise young team, and with not one but two prospects for this position a year or less away from being ready, a guy like Graffanino is a nice stop-gap.

Here's the one red-flag: in 9 seasons, Graf has never logged more than 289 At Bats. That's a pretty fair-sized expectation to have him put in 500 AB's and hold up, physically and/or statistically.

RUBEN GOTAY: He didn't look too bad in his 44 games with the Royals last year. I wonder if Angel Berroa was coming off a good year if Baird/Pena might have been willing to have Gotay mature in the majors instead of AAA. The company line is Gotay needs to improve his defense which I have no reason to doubt, although I saw no glaring inadequacies last year. I would not be suprised to see Gotay up by mid-season.

DONNIE MURPHY: Just the opposite of Gotay, he needs to work on his offense. That I DO believe, he was 3-27 with KC and pretty much hacked at anything he could reach. I have read in the past that he is a better prospect than Gotay, which remains to be seen.

With these two guys coming up within a year of each other, plus with Blanco pushing at shortstop (possibly causing a move by Berroa to 2nd base), I strongly suspect some combination of Blanco, Gotay & Murphy being dangled as trade bait. On their own, they may not garner much in return, but in a package with Sweeney or a pitcher for example, one of them might be the final piece that does net the Royals something valuable.

As one final side note - you may have noticed that the Royals resigned Carlos Febles to a minor league deal. He apparently will play this year, but the true intent is to get him into the coaching ranks. By all accounts, Carlos is an outstanding guy and I am glad the Royals made an effort to keep him in the fold. It is easy to ask for loyalty from players, but all too often organizations do not return that loyalty, so this is a nice move.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Twelve Pitchers??!!

All indications from the Royals' camp is that there is a very strong intent to break camp with 12 pitchers. The common reasoning is that Andy Sisco, the Rule V draftee, will be with the squad and apparently we need ELEVEN additional pitchers besides him. Do we really? Would the Royals perhaps be better served by having an additional position player (can you say Calvin Pickering?)

Unlike last year's schedule, the Royals will need five starters almost immediately - the sixth game of the year to be exact. Still, even if Sisco is usable only for garbage early in the season, one could still carry him, five starters and have five other servicable relievers. You have Affeldt as the closer, Cerda as your situational lefty and MacDougal (for talking purposes - I have no real faith he'll ever be effective again) and then 2 other guys, both of whom could throw multiple innings. Shouldn't that be enough?

What I am really getting it here is something that has knawed at me for the bulk of the Allard Baird years: that is the constanct merry go round of relievers. Yes, our bullpen had varied from atrocious to just average, but I do not see how you get a good solid group of relievers when all them are bounced between KC and Omaha three times a year. Last year, look at Shawn Camp, he's not Mariano Rivera, but he's okay and probably would be better knowing that one bad outing does not mean a 21 day exile to the minors. Bullpens, maybe more than any other portion of a baseball team, need to settle in and get accostumed to who is going in when. There is plenty of pressure coming into a game trying to hold a lead or stop the bleeding without the thought that a ticket to Omaha is waiting for whoever has the bad weekend on the mound.

As you can tell from my review of the First Base position posted earlier, I firmly advocate a Pickering/Harvey platoon to start the year and that is only possible with an 11 pitcher staff. This subject has gotten me interested in some numbers, so I may have to jump to the bullpen for my next postional review instead of moving around the diamond.

Stay tuned.

Kansas City - First Base

Unlike the catching positions, where you can pretty much plot the organization's moves for the next 5 years, first base is up in the air. That statement may seem a bit foolish given the one 'name' player on the Royals' roster happens to play that position.

I'm going to leave Matt Stairs out of this discussion only because there's enough guys involved already who can't really run or field. We'll talk about Stairs when we get to the muddled outfield. That leave us Sweeney, Harvey, Pickering and Justin Huber to cogitate on.

Everyone's high on Huber, as is often the case when no one has ever seen him play. However, by all accounts he can really swing the bat and was rated by Dahyn Perry at Fox Sports as the number 34 prospect in baseball this year. By comparision, Teahen was No. 81, Batista No. 82 and Billy Butler No. 87. With Buck catching, Huber is being moved to first base and I cannot envision a scenario where he starts the season anywhere buy in Omaha. I do think it is telling that he was moved to first base - the conspiracy theorist in me says that is because Sweeney will be traded this year and that there is no reigning sentiment that either Harvey or Pickering is a long term solution. However, given that Huber came up as a catcher, he simply may not be suited to playing the outfield (where the Royals are in desparate need of help) and with 3rd Base jammed with Teahen, Maier and Butler, first base was the only place to move him. Again, in another month or two we'll have a much better feel about Huber, how good he can be and when he might make an impact.

KEN HARVEY - well, I'm from Nebraska, Ken played baseball here, I LIKE Ken Harvey. My wife and I have endearingly nicknamed him 'Fatboy'. I have a Harvey jersey, I want him to be good. I don't think he will be. Rob Neyer's column of a couple days ago sums it up. I find it hard to believe the Royals will cut Harvey loose this year, so this is his LAST chance to prove himself. On the optimistic side, if Harv can improve his number from 2004 to 2005 by the same margin he did from 2003 to 2004 he could still be useful.
Year BA OBP SLG
2003 .266 .313 .408
2004 .287 .338 .421
2005 .308 .363 .434 (projected)

USEFUL, not great - I wish he was 5'10", 180 lbs and played second base. THEN those would be some numbers.
I will say this, HE IS EASILY THE BEST DEFENSIVE FIRST BASEMAN ON THE ROSTER. And I say that despite the numerous comical, horrendus, aggravating, hilarious (insert your adjective here) plays that only Ken Harvey can seem to commit in the field. Now, being the best defensive first basement for the Royals is akin to being the dart thrower at a school for the blind, but he is what he is. I know, from watching at least 100 Royal games either in person or on RSTN last year, that Harvey SAVES errors for the infield. KEEP IN MIND, ANGEL BERROA IS GOING TO THROW TO FIRST BASE AT LEAST 300 TIMES THIS YEAR.

MIKE SWEENEY - Okay, I'm going to be honest, I DON'T LIKE MIKE SWEENEY. My wife and I call him 'GodBoy' and not in a flattering way. I should like him, he's be all accounts a fine person and good guy and can really swing it when he's healthy. Plus, he stayed in KC for less money, which is truly unique anymore. I DON'T LIKE HIM. I think it's because he's the captain and I don't truly believe he's leader - probably because he's too low key and too nice. That's the nature of sports - good team leaders are never the most liked person on the team and in fact they are often not well-liked at all. There's a difference between having everyone's respect and being liked. Mike Sweeney is liked by everyone.
That said, Sweeney will alternate between first and DH this year (another reason I don't like him is that he whines about not playing first base all the time - he's horrendus at first, absolutely crappy at saving errant throws, not very alert and not entertaining whatsoever). I hope he's healthy and hits the hell out of the ball and we're good, OR he becames valuable on the trade market and we parlay him into an outfielder ready to play now and a prospect (pitching, infield, outfield, I don't care wherever).
HERE'S THE ONE ALARMING THING, about Mike Sweeney's numbers. In 2002 he had an OnBase Pct of .417 and in 2003, depite the injuries, his OBP was .391. In 2004 that OBP was all the way down to .347. Part of that is no doubt due to the ever dwindly number of productive bats in the lineup - remember in 2000, Damon, Beltran and Dye were all around him. However, I'll be interested to see how that number holds up as the season begins - was it a one time dip due to injuries, a bad lineup and pressure, or is Sweeney on the decline?

CALVING PICKERING - The various statistical projections (PECOTA, etc) love this guy. He's the darling of the fans and he had one of the best AAA seasons last year in history, probably, although who really cares about AAA records? He walked 18 times for KC in 140 plate appearances and hit 7 homers, driving in 26 runs. Can he do this in a full season? Will he get the chance?
In a perfect world where everyone listens to me, Harvey and Pickering would platoon (Harv at 1st when he's in the lineup, Sweeney at first when Pickering is the DH). If Pickering continues to hit well, he might take over completely for Harvey. However, if the Royals keep 12 pitchers (likely, although stupid) there is no room for all three of these guys on the roster. I would love for Pickering to get the chance - he might be the next Bob Hamelin, but maybe (just maybe) he could be the next David Ortiz. I'd settle for somewhere in between frankly.

So what am I saying? I don't know - other than to watch the atbats for Harvey & Pickering in spring training.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Kansas City Catcher

I thought I would offer up some thoughts/opinions/predictions of just what might happen with the Royals position by position. Might as well start with an easy one: CATCHER.
There's no real secrets or suspense here, John Buck IS the catcher, WILL BE the catcher and will be so for the foreseeable future.
I read on Fox Sports, where they are counting down the top 100 prospects in baseball that they believe it is a mistake to move Huber to another position as "he has more upside than Buck". Maybe, but I think moving Huber is an ideal way of getting two solid players in the lineup at once.
I don't know anyone connected with the Royals who isn't excited by having Buck behind the plate. I am too, especially if he hits as he did in the latter months of the season. I predict a 260 average and close to 20 homers. It would be nice if he cut down on the strikeouts and picked up the walks, but all things being equal, I would rather he get the hitch out of his throwing motion - that's the only real negative I saw last year. He may well hit better than that in future years, but as I'll discuss a little later, he doesn't have to improve on 260 and 20 much to be the best catcher in Royals history.

Alberto Castillo is the backup and I'm fine with that. Barring injury, Buck will probably catch 135 games and Castillo is adequate if you limit his playing time. Paul Phillips is almost certainly going to catch in Omaha this season. If he's over the injuries, he could be quite good, although probably not good enough to displace Buck (is he trade bait in a year?, maybe). We'll see what transpires as the year progresses.

Now back to my earlier quote. I went through the annuls and picked out the player who caught the most games for the Royals year by year (theoretically the 'front line' catcher for that year) and complied some rudimentary stats below. To summarize all the crap below, the frontline Royal catchers from 1969 to 2003 compiled the following season average:

108 Games Played
.254 Batting Average
8 Home Runs
42 Runs Batted In

If you take out Buck's disasterous first 60 at bats, he was above the curve even last year. I shutter to think (and am too lazy to actual compile) what those averages would look like if you took Darrel Porters last 1970's run and Mike MacFarlane's early 90's power out of the equation.

Anyway, as most of us already had decided, John Buck is the best we've sat behind the plate in quite some time. The Royals may have lots of problems this year, but catching (barring injury) is not one of them.

Year Player Games Btg Avg HR RBI
1969 Ellie Rodriguez 90 236 2 20
1970 Ed Kirkpatrick 134 229 18 62
1971 Jerry May 71 252 1 24
1972 Ed Kirkpatrick 113 275 9 43
1973 Fran Healy 95 276 6 34
1974 Fran Healy 139 252 9 53
1975 Buck Martinez 79 226 3 23
1976 Buck Martinez 94 228 5 34
1977 Darrel Porter 130 275 16 60
1978 Darrel Porter 150 265 18 78
1979 Darrel Porter 157 291 20 112
1980 Darrel Porter 118 249 7 51
1981 John Wathan 89 252 1 19
1982 John Wathan 120 270 3 51
1983 John Wathan 128 245 2 32
1984 Don Slaught 124 264 4 42
1985 Jim Sundberg 115 245 10 35
1986 Jim Sundberg 140 212 12 42
1987 Jamie Quirk 109 236 5 33
1988 Jamie Quirk 84 240 8 25
1989 Bob Boone 131 274 1 43
1990 Mike MacFarlane 124 253 6 58
1991 Mike MacFarlane 84 277 13 41
1992 Mike MacFarlane 129 234 17 48
1993 Mike MacFarlane 117 273 20 67
1994 Mike MacFarlane 92 255 14 47
1995 Brent Mayne 110 251 1 27
1996 Mike MacFarlane 112 274 19 54
1997 Mike Sweeney 84 242 7 31
1998 Mike Sweeney 92 259 8 35
1999 Chad Krueter 107 225 5 35
2000 Gregg Zaun 83 274 7 33
2001 Brent Mayne 51 241 2 20
2002 Brent Mayne 101 236 4 30
2003 Brent Mayne 113 245 6 36

Monday, February 28, 2005

ROYALS - where to start?

This is the exciting time of the year, when everyone has hope. I am an optimist and can see this year's Royals winning 80 games, maybe, possibly....well, stranger things HAVE happened. I DO see a lot similarities between this team and the 1984 Royals who came out of nowhere to win the division and then won the World Series in 1985. Particularly in an young pitching staff: can Grienke, Hernandez, Lima, Anderson & Bautista be the next Saberhagen, Gubicza, Liebrandt, Jackson and Black? One can hope.

I'll be writing a lot about the Royals the next few weeks as spring training kicks in, particularly with who is getting a 'shot' and who is not. Will Pickering get a chance to earn a roster spot? What about Matt Diaz (I stole my excitement for Diaz from Kevin's Royal's Blog)? If Teahan hits 360 this spring will he start in KC instead of Omaha? And just who are we going to play in right and left?

As a side note, I am NOT a Mike Sweeney fan, although he can rake when he's healthy. I am a proponet of trading him (probably after he proves he's healthy for a few months) for just about anything. I can dream about Kevin Mench, but the Rangers don't seem to want to part with him.

Having just set this blog up tonight, I'm kind of rushing through my thoughts on the Royals and the Huskers. Hopefully, I'll be more coherent and concise in the future...BUT NO PROMISES.