Friday, March 25, 2005

Who Else is Excited about Ruben Gotay?

The answer is probably just about every Royals fan, this one included. Yes, spring training stats are just spring training stats. No, Gotay will not remind us of Cookie Rojas or Frank White on defense. However, the kid is just twenty-two and I think we are all justified in being excited.

In his 152 major league at-bats last year, Gotay at times appeared a little overmatched, but not horribly. Later in the season Ruben started to sting the ball pretty solidly and finished with a respectable .270 batting average and .690 OPS. He obviously came up to get his hacks, logging just 9 walks in 166 plate appearances. However, in delving back in his minor league stats, I discovered that in fact Gotay has been adept at getting on base: posting a career minor league on-base percentage of .369.

Gotay does, and will continue to, strikeout a lot, but unlike a certain shortstop we talked about yesterday, he'll also get his share of bases on balls. Here's a look at Gotay's minor league numbers (throwing out his first short season rookie stats):
YEAR AVG OBP SLG OPS AB BB K
2002 285 377 456 833 509 73 110
2003 261 343 384 727 502 60 97
2004 290 373 441 814 404 51 60
Career 282 369 430 799 1599 210 289

For a second baseman...for a Royals second baseman (quick, name all the KC regular second baggers, I'll give you the first three: Paul Schaal, Cookie Rojas, Frank White - now, you do the rest), I would take Ruben Gotay's career minor league line in a heartbeat. Even assuming that he may not be able to post quite those numbers at the major league level, let's say he does something on the order of 275/355/420/750, that would still be very solid and certainly an upgrade over the past few seasons.

With his home run yesterday, I cannot fathom a scenario that does not have him at second base on April 4. His 'service clock' is already running, he's had a monster spring, and by all accounts has improved his defense. Plus, several weeks ago, I pointed out that Tony Graffanino has never been an everyday player and is probably far better suited to operate as a utility player. Given 200 at bats instead of 500, I think Tony could quite possibly hit 290-300 and help the Royals more than hitting 260 in everyday duty.

Buck-Berroa-Gotay-DeJesus in the middle of the field....until at least 2009...that sounds like something you could build a team around.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Angel Berroa Revisited

Several weeks ago, under the heading of previewing Kansas City's shortstop position, I did a quick an ugly analysis of past Rookie of the Year winners over the last 10 years. That research revealed that 8 of the last 21 ROY winners (not counting Berroa) suffered the legendary sophmore slump and of those eight, only two went on the actually rebound from that slump. One was Rafael Furcal of the Braves, who gets on base more than Angel but hits with less power and in the end yielded almost identical OPS numbers the first two years:
Furcal Rookie season - .776
Berroa Rookie season - .789
Furcal Second season - .691
Berroa Second season - .693

Furcal's third campaign ended up with virtually the same production as his sophomore slump season, but last year he rebounded to post the following:
BA OBP SLG OPS
292 352 443 794
Essentially returning to his rookie of the year form. Admittedly, not the numbers that get you all excited, but acceptable. I'd be delighted if Angel could post similar numbers this year, or at least hold his own this year and post those in future years (DISCLAIMER: provided he throws to the first basemen, instead of the fat guy sitting behind the Royals' dugout).

The above notwithstanding, my crude analysis indicates that 75% of ROY's who suffer the sophmore slump NEVER come all the way back: Eric Hinske, Pat Listach, Bob Hamelin, Todd Hollandsworth and Sandy Alomar Jr. (one can make a case that Alomar Jr. has had a fine career marred by injuries). So there is reason for concern in this are, especially since we have Berroa locked up through 2008 with an option for 2009 and I have a Berroa jersey in my closet.

As document before on this blog, I have also found the optimistic comparisions with Carlos Beltran (BA/OBP/SLG/OPS):

Beltran Rookie - 293/337/454/791
Berroa Rookie - 287/338/451/789
Beltran Second - 247/309/366/675
Berroa Second - 262/308/395/693

As any self-respecting Royal fan remembers, Beltran went nuts in this third season and became entrenched on Scott Boras' speed-dial by posting these numbers:
BA OBP SLG OPS
306 362 514 876
That said, there are very few Carlos Beltrans in the world and I'm pretty sure Angel isn't one of them. However, one can hope for drastic improvement from year 2 to year 3 - it has been done, at least once.

Now, back to where I started, Angel Berroa IS our shortstop and during the second half of the 2003 season was arguably our best player. Delving into his past numbers, I was struck by two factors.
  1. Berroa Career Major League: 273/323/412/735 Berroa Career Minor League: 271/322/440/762
  2. Berroa 2003 Spring Training: 328/347/463/810 Berroa 2004 Spring Training: 343/429/582/1011

Sooooo, Angel ALWAYS hits well in the spring (currently hitting .440 and slugging .680 in 2005) and after 1207 minor league at-bats and 1662 major league at-bats he has established himself as a 270 hitter who will give you a 323 on base percentage and some occasional power.

Now, if the Berroa playing shortstop is the same one that made just 6 errors from mid-June on in 2003 (and correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't two of those errors come in the same game?) and exhibited excellent range, I can live with 271/323/440. I mean it, I'm not that greedy. Those numbers (again, with the cavaet that Angel plays borderline great defense) become even more palatable if Gotay is hitting 290 on one side and Teahen is hitting 290 on the other.

If the Royals are asking (and for some unknown reason no one from the organization has called me, not even once), I'd put Angel at the 8 or 9 spot in the order and say no matter what, 340 average or 190 average, you're going to bat there every day, all season - go out and play defense for me. We have good pitching, or at least the potential for good pitching someday, we need good defense at short. We need it a lot more that Angel hitting 287 instead of 270.

I am an Angel Berroa fan, as maddening as that can be, and I will hope for a breakout/rebound season at the plate, but realistically I will expect a year spent hitting 270 and maybe a 335 OBP. And, I will expect great defense - without it we might just as well play Andres Blanco.

What does it all mean?

Just some random thoughts to start off the morning after an interesting double-header day in Arizona.
  • You, me and at least one of our mothers apparently could have gotten on base at least once yesterday.
  • What is going to make more of an impact on the Harvey/Pickering battle? Big Pick's two doubles last night or Mike Sweeney's two errors playing first base yesterday afternoon? I will be shocked if Ken Harvey isn't the opening day first basemen in Detroit and Pickering hits a home run...for Omaha. What could change this? Pick needs to go on a power streak, four homers in five games with some doubles and walks thrown in. I believe it is going to have to be something really fantastic...because keep in mind, if Harvey is sent down and Pickering kept with the big club that your best defensive first basemen would then be MATT STAIRS.
  • Runelvys Hernandez pronounced himself 'ready to go' after giving up 2 earned runs and 5 hits in 4 1/3 innings yesterday. Taking out the fantastic April 2003 he had, that is pretty much what Hernandez brings to the table: 6-7 innings, 3-4 runs, decent strikeouts, always competes. If we're looking for someone to go 20-7 with a 2.95 ERA, this is not the guy. He is, assuming he stays healthy, a solid Number 3 starter and will be for a long time. His problem this season will be (and yesterday's 24 runs scored notwithstanding) that run support will be hard to come by and Runelvys may very well pitch above average (4.30ish ERA) and have a nasty looking won-loss.
  • The KC Star, after shamelessly promoting Emil Q Brown for the second time in three days, had an interesting blurb on Billy Butler and Chris Lubanski, both of whom are hoping to end up in AA Wichita by the end of the season. The article speculates that both should be in KC "by the summer of 2006 or the beginning of 2007 for sure". Lubanski had a rough first half last year in A ball but rebounded to hit over 300 the second half and the success of Butler is well documented. I keep waiting for the organization to move Butler off of 3rd base - probably to right field if you're asking me. How about this for opening day fielders in 2007: Buck, Huber, Gotay, Berroa, Teahen, Lubanski, DeJesus, Butler.
  • Not a good day yesterday for anyone out of the bullpen except Kyle Snyder (who keeps doing an Eric Gagne impersonation). Affeldt was lit up, Field and Cerda were ineffective. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now let's see how they all react next time out.
  • Denny Bautista also struggled, as young pitchers often do. I wonder how firm his grip on the number 5 starter spot is. If he struggles next time out, does he break camp with the big club or does Mike Wood get the spot and in turn open a place for Snyder in the bullpen?
  • Brian Anderson is supposed to pitch for real in a real game on Friday. I'm torn between him looking sharp and becoming tradeable (again opening roster spots for younger pitchers) or having Brian struggle and open the season on the DL. Listen, by all accounts, Anderson is a great guy and not once last year did he blame anyone but himself, but do we really need him around when younger guys are knocking at the door?
  • Finally, can you believe we're only 11 days from opening day? If I'm Pena and Baird, I would want to be down to 27 or 28 players max by early next week and start playing for real in attempt to develop some consistency and chemistry. Decide on a right-fielder (we're not choosing between Sheffield and Guerroro here, just pick one), nail down the 4 and 5 rotation spots, choose your seven (man that's a lot of relievers) in the pen and play 4 or 5 games for real before they count.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Is Brian Anderson completely unmarketable?

My morning scan of various websites (hey, it's better than doing actual work) has gotten me to pondering the above question. Peter Gammons on ESPN.com mentions three teams interested in obtaining more pitching:
Cincinnati (offering Willy Mo Pena), Seattle (both rotation and bullpen), Milwaukee (again, both rotation and bullpen) and that doesn't even count the Cubs where everyone not named Zambrano seems to be hurt.

Rob and Rany on the Royals have an interesting column from Monday discussing what the Royals' final 25 man roster will be and in that column bring up some pitching questions I had not seriously considered: specifically the disposition of Dennis Tankersly. As an aside, is KC trying to sneak him through waivers by barely pitching him at all this spring?

Anyway, the jist of all of the above rambling is that we probably have a pitching SURPLUS this spring - even keeping 12 pitchers on the roster means sending either Snyder, Wood, Bautista or Field down. That's already eliminating Jimmy Gobble and the aforementioned Big Tank (you can never have enough 'Bigs' - Big Harv, Big Pick, Big Tank, Big Flop err Abe).

So...can we get something, anything for Brian Anderson. He's left-handed for godssake, which generally means his ability to pitch is secondary to what side of the mound the ball comes from in most organization's eyes. As Royals fans we're all jaded by the high flammability quotient Anderson exhibited last year, but let's keep in mind that this is a pitcher who has appeared in 29 or more games every season since 1998. He's 81-81 lifetime with a 4.69 ERA and probably can't be near as bad this year as he was in 2004. We're not asking for Kevin Mench here, just anybody...I'd take an outfield prospect who is a year away or another live arm somewhere in A ball.

True, you can never have enough pitching (and no, I did not come up with that myself), but you CAN have too much all at the same stage and right now the Royals essentially have 15 pitchers who either because of performance, contracts or optionability should stay in the majors. In essence we need the roster spot and that leads me to giving Cincinnati, Chicago & Seattle a call (and Baird probably has) just to see if maybe they couldn't use an innings-eating lefty who sometimes can be useful.

If, as I suspect, Anderson may be generating even less interest than Darrell May (sniff, I can't get any run support, sniff, sniff), then I'd call Milwaukee and test the waters with one of our young relievers who are probably posting numbers this spring far better than they are (Affeldt and Cerda are probably untouchable, but would you REALLY be that sad if we could move Camp, Field or MacDougal for somebody useful down the road?).

Again, the common thread in most every post I've made this week is that KC is trying to get ready to win in 2006 and 2007. Anderson, holding the fort at the number 4 rotation spot doesn't really bring us much. Wouldn't getting another season under Wood, Gobble, Bautista, Snyder (later in the year) collective belts be far more advantageous? Is there any real difference between going 75-85 and 72-90?

I'll leave you with one final thought, and this is directly from Peter Gammons' column today:
"The Mike Sweeney to Texas rumors don't seem to be going away."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Michael Restovich - Worth a chance?

This morning's rumor section of ESPN.com reported that if Michael Restovich is not going to make the big club, the Twins would either have to trade him or cut him. While Restovich is not as intriguing an idea as Kevin Mench or Austin Kearnes or maybe even Matt Diaz, he IS a big (6'4", 250lbs), right-handed power hitting outfielder and just turned 26.

Restovich has logged just 61 games in three seasons with the Twins and in his 113 career at bats has posted modest numbers: 274-364-442, with an OPS of 807, 6 doubles and 3 homers. However, if we can get 274-364-442-807 out of whoever or whatever combination plays rightfield for us this year, I think almost every Royal fan would be ecstatic.

Michael has posted these numbers in the minors:
YEAR AB 2B HR RBI BA
2001 501 33 23 84 .269
2002 518 32 29 98 .286
2003 454 34 16 72 .275
2004 400 20 20 60 .247

He's a strikeout machine, 26 in 113 major league at-bats and 100+ per season almost every step of the way in the minors. Still, given that the Twins might be willing to take just about anyone to avoid simply having to cut Restovich it might be worth investigating.

Trades within the division are tricky at best, but let's be honest: the Royals are trying to win in 2006 - the Twins are trying to win NOW. Would Minnesota be interested in a veteran reliever, say Sullivan if he were healthy or even a Brian Anderson? I might even consider trading Paul Phillips (given the injury concerns of Joe Mauer) or Alberto Castillo. Perhaps that's wishful thinking. Would the Royals be willing to raise the ante and move Matt Stairs - again, the interest level of the Twins in any of the above may be nil, but I'm intrigued by the apparent availability of a player who could very probably come in and provide at least some power from the right side of the plate.

New Tuesday Roster Guess

It's Tuesday and time for our next best guess at the roster. A couple of rumblings that contribute to this week's guess:
  • The Royals are in negotiations with former Met utilityman Joe McEwing. With Clapinksi hurt and Graffanino still hurting, one could assume that this possible signing is simply insurance. HOWEVER, I really believe that points to either Denny Hocking or Graf opening the season at 3rd with Teahen in Omaha. This would 'buy' us an extra year before Teahen would be eligible for free agency. If the plan is to be competitive in 2006, then this makes sense. The true-blue fan in me wants to see Teahen in the lineup April 4.
  • Emil Brown, who I said had NO shot at the roster just a week ago, was ordained the front-runner in the race for the 5th outfield spot by the KC Star this morning. If you look back in my archives, we run down Brown's minor league stats (good not great - and there are a load of minor league stats for him) and see that he's not going to suddenly hit 330 with 30 homers. Do you take a gamble on a 30 year old minor league vet? Do you keep the 30+ minor league vet you already have (Guiel)? Or do you really gamble on the vast, untapped and possible unreachable potential of a younger player (Nunez)?
  • Finally, what do you do about Mike Wood and Kyle Snyder? Even in a 12 man staff, there is room for only one. Do you believe Hernandez is truly ready for regular rotation work? How dead is Brian Anderson's arm?

Anyway, here's this week's best guess (and once again, THIS IS NOT THE 25 I'D PUT OUT THERE, but the 25 I think are most likely to actually be there).

C - Buck and Castillo (no question, no argument)

1b/dh - Sweeney and Harvey (I don't care if it's Big Harv or Big Pick- somebody start hitting and win this job outright)

2b - Ruben Gotay

β€œIt looks like it's going to be Gotay,” Royals general manager Allard Baird said. β€œI think it's going to be tough for Graf to be ready to play every day by opening day.”

ss - Angel Berroa (Can a big spring lead to a big bounce back?)

3b - Denny Hocking (see comments above)

Utility - Tony Graffanino

Outfield - DeJesus, Stairs, Marrero and Long (no questions, some arguments but what are you going to do?) Final OF spot - Aaron Guiel (just a hunch, no concrete reason whatsoever)

Starting Pitchers: Lima, Greinke, Hernandez, Anderson and Bautista (my guess at the rotation order, too)

Bullpen: Affeldt, Field, Camp, Cerda, Sisco (I think these 5 are locks), MacDougal (almost a lock) and................Mike Wood. I think Wood's versatility probably carries the day over Snyder and his borderline unbelievably impressive spring. My gut (or my heart) says put Snyder in Omaha to get his arm strength up and be ready to plug him in the rotation by mid-season.

Over/under on total roster moves by June 1: 8

Monday, March 21, 2005

Spring Training Stats - Friend AND Foe

One finds it hard to attach actual value to good or bad spring training stats. Does a hot spring lead to a good season? It certainly didn't for Dee Brown last year. Does a bad spring portend of coming doom? It certainly did for the Royals, listless in spring 2004 and lifeless by the end of May 2004.

Just yesterday I wrote with hope about the projected Royal's bullpen, based almost completely on sterling spring training stats. Yet, I have not given David DeJesus' .161 spring average a second thought. I find myself excited by Angel Berroa, Ruben Gotay and Mark Teahen all hitting over .400 so far this March, but not concerned in the least that Jose Lima has yet to ACTUALLY GET ANYONE OUT.

The truth is that we, me in particular, often look only the positives in a good spring number. Angel's .421 average is surely a sign that he will rebound from the sophomore slump (in case your interested, my archives have an analysis on this highly publicized 'slump' and how it is actually rather rare to rebound - Carlos Beltran probably being the most notable exception), while DeJesus' paltry numbers are simply the result of a slow start. Where the fact lies may be somewhere in between.

Berroa probably won't post Beltran like 3rd year numbers (although Carlos and Angel somehown managed to compile freakishly similar numbers thier first two campaigns) and will instead maybe approach those of his rookie year. DeJesus probably won't hit .310 with an on base percentage of .380, like I hope, but is far more likely to go through streaks and slumps and end up with very similar numbers (albeit compiled in 600 at bats instead of 300) as he did last year.

The optimist in me may end up being disappointed in such performances, but the pragmatic corner of my mind tells me that players, young ones especially, have to improve incrementally. Having our shortstop and centerfielder both poised to go from average to good or very good in 2006 might just be exactly where we want to be.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pitching Race Heats Up

Several significant outings today in the race for the No. 5 starting pitcher spot and the long relief spot. Mike Wood was flawless in 4 innings of work and Kyle Snyder gave up only 1 hit and no runs in the two innings of work. Dennis Tankersly probably effectively pitched his way out of a roster spot, but may have been dismal enough to sneak through waivers and be assigned to the minors.

With Bautista the rightful frontrunner for the final spot in the rotation, it would appear that Wood and Snyder will be battling it out to the end for the final bullpen position. Interestingly, check out the spring ERA of the potential relief crop:

Cerda - 1.29
Snyder - 0.00
Wood - 0.87
Camp - 2.25
MacDougal 1.42
Sisco 3.60
Affeldt 0.00
Field 0.00

Could it be that the Royals will actually have a decent bullpen this season? And wouldn't a quality unit in the pen be an excellent complement to Greinke, Hernandez & Bautista? One can dream....