Saturday, July 02, 2005

Andrew Sisco and a Curious Statistic

I have to be honest. I fully intended this post to be a disertation on why Andrew Sisco should not be brought in with runners on base - instead be a 'start of inning' guy, because it sure seemed like Sisco allows alot of inherited runners to score. Well, while he has not exactly slammed the door every time out, Sisco has inherited 30 runners and allowed only 13 to score. For a young guy who started the season with zero experience, that really is nothing to complain about.

And frankly, Sisco's apperance had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. As soon as Runelvys allowed a run it was pretty apparent the Royals were done. Paul Byrd was the pitcher Royal fans came to love in 2002 last night (and the one they should have/could have traded for Marcus Giles that year) and Kansas City was pretty much helpless against him. Not to mention we batted out of order to start the game due to a lineup card snafu...hey, it slow pitch softball, not the good leagues, the beer drinking ones, but I digress.

Overall this season, Sisco has appeared in 33 games, pitched 41 innings, allowed just 30 hits, struck out 43 and walked 24. A young power pitcher up from A ball is going to be wild on occasion and his 24 walks, while not great, are certainly not bad. Opponets are batting just .207 against young Andrew and slugging a pathetic .283 - Sisco has allowed just 5 extra base hits - for an OPS of just .601. Essentially, the league is Angel Berroa when Sisco is on the mound.

With runners in scoring positions, hitters post a .266 batting average with a .702 OPS, going 11-41 with 9 walks. That is still not horrendous, but it does show that Andrew is not quite as effective in this situation as he is overall - again, a young guy who has never been a reliever - we should expect this. BUT HERE IS A BAD STAT:

With runners in scoring position and two outs the league is 8 out of 24 with 5 walks - that is a .333 batting average with an OPS of .823. While the league generally is Berroa-like against Andrew, in this very clutch situation the league becomes Mike Sweeney.

Now, I have no explanation for this. It could be bad luck, it could be Sisco has faced an inordinate number of experienced, good hitters in those situations or it could be a case of a young guy getting a one or two outs and letting up just a little - thinking he was in the clear when he actually had one more out to go. Like I said earlier, the numbers reflect that Sisco has not been as bad in inherited runners as the perception is.

Bottom line, Andrew Sisco is a piece of the puzzle the Royals are trying to assemble for contention in 2007. Whether it is in the pen or the rotation at that point remains to be seen. I would expect that his numbers may get better regarding our discussion above - you could see Sisco being just plain dominant in a late innings role (setup or closer) - well, you HAVE seen it at times already. When Andrew starts making the league hit .207 against him in clutch situations, he will quite simply be one of the best relievers in the game. I think he has that kind of ability and is another reason Royal fans should be excited about the future.

Now...about that batting order.........

Thursday, June 30, 2005

End of June Numbers Crunch

With an off-day for the end of the month, I thought we would take the opportunity to look at some statistical splits so far this year. The end of the month also falls conveniently near the midway point of the season (77 games) and since I have every intention of being less than 100% the morning after KC plays its 81st game (a result of the annual 'midway point blowout'...or maybe it's the 4th of July, either/or) we will use this as our halfway point also.

With regard to individual numbers, my favorite stat is OPS (on-base pct + slugging pct). I freely admit that there are far smarter and more detail orientated statheads who probably have tens of more accurate offensive indicators, but OPS to me seems to be a very solid indicator of offensive performance. Hence, that will be the basis for the following rankings.

Team Leaders vs. LHP
Sweeney - 1.042
Buck - .851 (if only the world was full of southpaws)
Brown - .840
Berroa - .741 (yes, Angel Berroa)
Graffanino - .719

Matt Stairs actually has an OPS of .925, but in only 24 plate appearances, so I did not put him in the 'official' rankings. That is a small sample, but I was really quite suprised he posted such a number versus southpaws. Who were the worst you ask? I bet you could come close to guessing: Long (.469), Gotay (.517) and Teahen (.662) - although to be fair, Teahen's OPS v righties was only slight better at .673. As a team, KC has an OPS of .703.

Team Leaders vs. RHP
Costa - .858
Stairs - .848
Brown - .839
Graffanino - .807
DeJesus - .792
I debated about putting Costa in here as he has just 49 plate appearances, but I like Shane and decided that was enough to get in the standings. Buck is the worst of the regulars at .554 and Berroa is equally as weak at .582. Surpisingly, Sweeney's OPS of .766 is less than Gotay (.768) and Long (.773). None of those are that bad, in fact, they are decent, but I did not expect quite such a big split between lefty & righty as Sweeney so far has. Gut feeling: if he stays healthy the second half, those splits will narrow. As a team, the Royals' OPS versus the righthanders is .721.

Team Leaders - Runners on Base
Stairs - .885
DeJesus - .881
Brown - .868
Graffanino - .812
Sweeney - .782
Honorable mention goes to Ruben Gotay at .781. Here is a disturbing number for you: as a team with runners on, the Royals have an OPS of .689, their opponets have an OPS of .888. It is possible I am not a genius, but THAT cannot be good.
Team Leaders - April
Stairs - .897
DeJesus - .828
Sweeney - .760
I stopped at the top three for two reason. The 4th best OPS in April was BELOW .700 and that player was Eli Marrero. How bad was April? Four Royal everyday players (Brown, Gotay, Graf and Buck) had OPS numbers below .600. As a team, the Royals checked in at just .666.
Team Leaders - May
Sweeney - 1.021 (no suprise, he was an animal in May)
Graffanino - .959
Brown - .895 (funny what playing everyday can do)
Stairs - .857
Gotay - .772
Did you know that Angel Berroa's OPS was actually 17 points higher than that of DeJesus in May (.660-.643)? Terrance Long was a pathetic .514 for the month and Eli Marrero was 3-35 (anyone notice I do not care for Marrero?). As a team, the Royals were a more respectable .716.
Team Leaders - June
Brown - .939 (anyone NOT guess that?)
Long - .938
Graffanino - .836
Gotay - .833
Stairs - .825
Honorary notice to David DeJesus at .810, a full 167 points better than May. Angel Berroa was a noticeably horrendous .582 for the month. You have to like the Gotay number and you have to hope that Mark Teahen has a month or two in that range in the second half (he has so far consistently been in the mid .600's, not a great range in which to be consistent) to give us some hope that the rookie third sacker is going to be a hitter in this league. For the month, KC was a very decent .760 as a team. They also hit .288 as a team for the month of June and despite an end of the month slump scored the same number of runs as they did in May, only in two less games.
Overall Team Numbers
Overall, the Royals are not in a particularly impressive position in the American League:
Runs - 13th (333)
Average - 10th (.262)
On-Base - 13th (.318)
Slugging - 12th (.397)
OPS - 13th (.716)
Keep in mind that the Royals were horrible in April and the first half of May and they have shown dramatic improvement in June. Taking into account only the June games, here is how Kansas City ranks:
Runs - 9th (120)
Average - 4th (.287)
On-Base - 5th (.341)
Slugging - 10th (.418)
OPS - 10th (.758)
The above point to an obvious lack of power (i.e. slugging which begets OPS which leads to runs scored), not really too suprising with Sweeney hurt most of the month and Stairs, while playing very well, not hitting for all that much power. Still, it is encouraging that the batting average and on-base percentages are in the top third of the league - while somewhat meaningless when it comes to scoring runs, those numbers do give us some reason to hope for better offense in the second half.
The disturbing trend, and I don't think you can blame this all on a horrific start, is the Royals' performance with runners on base so far this season:
Average - 14th (.250)
On-base - 14th (.307)
Slugging - 14th (.382)
OPS - 14th (.689)
Pick your favorite batting statistic, it does not matter, Kansas City is dead last in the A.L. with runners on base. Gotay hitting better as the season progresses helps as would a healthy Sweeney (took a genius to come up with that didn't it?), but you are also going to need Teahen, Buck and Berroa to produce in the clutch - something they have been unable to do so far.
I have not delved into the pitching, mainly because this post would go on for pages, and also because the numbers of a young pitching staff to me seem more meaningless than the numbers compiled by young hitters. Right or wrong, I do not know, but that is my feeling. That does not mean we won't analyze the staff, just not today.
Bottom line for the Royals if that they went 12-14 in June. On the surface not that impressive, but a dramatic improvement over April and May. Before the season, this writer (and I think most educated Royal fans) thought it was reasonable to expect 70 wins out of this team. A 12-14 month is right in line with a team that is going to end up in the 70-74 win range. Unfortuneately, the horrible first two months have probably doomed this team to fighting not to lose 100 games - KC would have to go 44-43 to reach 70 wins this year - but finishing out the season on a pace like that they established in June would put the Royals on a solid foundation to start the 2006 season. In other words, after spending the first two months wandering in the wastelands, the Royals are now on the right path - hopefully to stay.

The Infield - Into the Future

Over the past week, we have speculated on the evolution of the Royals' outfield and the starting rotation as we move towards the widely held goal that Kansas City will be a contender in 2007. Today, I am going to take a look at the infield and for talking purposes we will include designated hitter in with this group, too.

Infield - The Present
3b - Mark Teahen - defensively very good, showing some signs of improvement at the plate
ss - Angel Berroa - continuing to test everyone's patience
2b - Ruben Gotay - seems to be getting better each day
1b - Tony Graffanino/Matt Stairs
dh - Mike Sweeney - curious to see, given a spate of minor injuries, if he stays at DH predominately the rest of the season
utility - Joe McEwing - by all accounts, a helluva guy

As a unit, this group was not very good at the start of the season, gradually improved in May and was really pretty decent for most of June. The red flags right now are both Teahen's and Gotay's inability to do much of anything against lefthanded pitching, but they are young.

Infield - The Very Near Future (Aug 1)
3B - Mark Teahen - you would like to see .285 and 20 doubles over the 2nd half (wait, did I just describe Ken Harvey?)
SS - Angel Berroa - conspiracy theory aside, Angel will continue to play everyday
2B - Ruben Gotay - looking for a big second half
1B - Mike Sweeney - okay, I know I just contradicted myself, but see the DH spot
DH - Justin Huber - more below
Utility - Joe McEwing - still, by all accounts, a helluva guy

Depsite Allard Baird's insistence that the Royals are not actively looking to make trades, I have a hard time believing that both Tony Graffanino and Matt Stairs are on this team on August 1 (not to mention Terrance Long). My gut feeling is Graff is the one moved and Stairs stays, although both leaving is a possiblity also. Either way, after getting a very brief taste of the majors, I believe Huber comes back and plays (or at least hits) everyday for the last couple of months. That would be a perfect setup for him to have a big year in 2006 (which we desperately will need).

Infield - Near Future (2006)
3B - Mark Teahen - no, fans, Alex Gordon will not be ready
SS - Angel Berroa - this will be his last chance
2B - Ruben Gotay - is an OPS of .800 too much to ask?
1B - Justin Huber - should be primed and ready to hit for the next five years
DH - Mike Sweeney - I don't think he'll be traded and will still be the best hitter we have
Utility - Donnie Murphy and/or Justin Gemoll and/or Mike Aviles - see below

No matter how poorly Teahen plays in 2005 (and I have a hunch he will be okay) he will still have 2006 to prove himself. First, because it will be just his second season. Second, because the Royals have invested too much in him to give up that quick and third, because Alex Gordon will not be ready at the beginning of 2006 - although he may be close.
Now, again going into conspiracy theory mode, I think Murphy is playing shortstop in Wichita with an eye toward REPLACING Berroa, not becoming a utility player. If that is truly the case, I would expect Donnie to play short in Omaha in 2006 with Gemoll and/or Aviles as the utility guys. Aviles is an overachiever with some pop, who recently moved from short to third - not exactly a great move in a organization with Teahen and Gordon already there - so I think KC is looking for him to replace Graffanino next year. If Aviles is not ready, or they want him to still play everyday, then look for Gemoll and maybe a veteran utility guy (there are about 27 currently playing in Omaha) to fill the backup roles early in 2006.

Infield - Dawn of 2007
3B - Mark Teahen - hah! you thought you would find Alex Gordon here didn't you?
SS - Donnie Murphy - just a conspiracy theory, but it is MY conspiracy theory
2B - Ruben Gotay - he could be the third best 2b in Royals history (after White and Rojas)
1B - Justin Huber - .300/.400/.500/.900? I guy can dream
DH - Mike Sweeney - if Huber does the above, how would Sweeney and Huber look back to back in the batting order?
Utility - Mike Aviles and Andres Blanco?

Threw Blanco in there only because the organization does like him and he is a great defender, whereas Aviles will be more a good bat and average defender. They would make a good backup combination with a lot of flexibility.
Okay, now, Murphy at shortstop. Listen, if I have lost patience with Berroa (yes, I have a Berroa jersey) than others are sure to follow. You have to wonder how long Buddy Bell and even unabashed Berroa supporter Allard Baird are going to be able to watch Angel lunge at pitch after pitch out of the strike zone. Yes, his defense can be truly great and this year has generally been pretty consistent, but even saying that, Berroa has still directly lost us two games with errors in the ninth inning. I could see a trade as early as mid-2006 or during the offseason leading up to 2007 if Berroa continues to play as he is AND Murphy hits and can field the position in the minors. Berroa's contract never reaches serious money and hence may actually be a marketing plus, not a minus (remember as late as this February we could have traded Berroa for Jose Guillen).
And what about Alex Gordon? As I speculated in the outfield review, I am banking on Teahen hitting enough to hold his position and allowing the Royals to move Gordon to the outfield. If Teahen labors through 2006 at a .260 clip, then you can pretty much assume Gordon will be your opening day 2007 third sacker.

If you're keeping track, that gives us this lineup in 2007:
LF - Billy Butler
CF - David DeJesus
RF - Mitch Maier
3B - Mark Teahen
SS - Donnie Murphy
2B - Ruben Gotay
1B - Justin Huber
DH - Mike Sweeney
Reserve OF - Shane Costa
Reserve IF - Mike Aviles
C - John Buck
SP - Zack Greinke, Runelvys Hernandez, Denny Bautista, J.P. Howell, Andrew Sisco
Star in Waiting - Alex Gordon

Potential always makes everyone look good and that is basically all Royal fans have to bank on right now, but this looks like a solid group. Particularly when you remember that the Twins and White Sox will have several key players from this year's teams either over the hill or with other teams by then. At least, there is hope.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

You Have to Find Out

In 2,783 career major league at-bats, Terrance Long has compiled a career line of 269/318/410/728. He has never had an on-base percentage over .336, nor has he ever had an OPS that topped .800.
In 3,673 career major league at-bats, Matt Stairs has put up a respectable line of 265/361/493/854. At thirty-seven, his best years are clearly behind him and over the last three seasons he has been a classic platoon hitter, with an .881 OPS versus righties and just a .659 OPS against the southpaws.
In nine major league season, Tony Graffanino has amassed a modest 1,886 at-bats and a line of 264/334/388/722. Graf has never had more than 289 at-bats in any one season, and that was way back in 1999 with Atlanta.

Basically, we pretty much know what the above three players are going to give us. They will have hot streaks and push their numbers above their career lines, but honestly do you think any of them are going to suddenly become everyday stars at this point? Or, in the case of Stairs, do you suddenly think he is going to be 29 again? On a contending team, these guys are valuable role players. On a rebuilding team, they can be a veteran precense and used wisely a valuable asset. However.....

Shane Costa has 44 major league at-bats against right handed pitching...AND FOUR against left handed pitching. Can he hit left handers? I do not know.
Justin Huber has 10 major league at-bats against left handed pitching...AND TWO against right handers. Can he hit right handers, or left handers, for that matter? I do not know.

There is really just one way to find out the answers to my questions: play them. Costa has a quick bat, and Royal fans are about evenly divided between Shane having a chance to be really good and him being just a reserve-type outfielder. I am in the former, but AGAIN I DO NOT KNOW. Why continue to keep Terrance Long in the lineup on a virtually everyday basis and play Costa sparingly? Sure, Long's peformance might suffer in a part-time role, but does anyone care? DeJesus is a fixture, Emil Brown is all of a sudden really good and T-Long is not going to be on your team in four months anyway.
Justin Huber simply tore up the Texas League and by all accounts will be the first baseman or DH opening day of 2006. Okay, I can live with him getting a taste of the bigs for the 15 days Sweeney is on the disabled list and then going back to the minors. For an organization that is almost frantic to get its young players into the majors, this is actually a sensible course of action. What does not make sense is giving him just 12 at-bats and virtually no exposure to right handed major league arms. He is here for 15 days, play him in 12 or 13 games and find out what he can do and what he needs to work on! Matt Stairs will swing hard, get walks, hit some jacks in July whether you got him at-bats for two weeks in late June or not.

This, I guess, is my first real criticism of Buddy Bell. This tendency to play young guys in platoon roles. I do not think that helps their develop at all. Yes, maybe you do not play left handed Shaned Costa against Randy Johnson in his first game, but you have to find out if guys are everyday players BEFORE you make them platoon players. That logic extends to Ruben Gotay and Mark Teahen. Right now, Gotay is horrendous against left handers, but he does have just 40 at-bats this season against them and Teahen is noticeably weaker versus lefties too, but they also need not 100 but a couple hundred at-bats against the southpaws to really find out. Again, against the tougher, veteran lefties I have not problem with Graf or even McEwing getting a game or two, but lately Bell has drifted periously close to benching both the youngsters most of the teim against left handed starters. What's the worst that can happen? Lose eight games in a row?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Good Ole Days**#!

Last night was as close to a vintage Zack Greinke performance (can you say vintage when a guy is just 21?) as we have been in well over a month. Six innings, four hits, two runs, two walks and a strikeout, while not dominating, is a heck of a long ways from 11 runs in Arizona. Unfortunately, in typical 'vintage Greinke' fashion, the Royals provided him just a single run in support.

Thankfully, gone is the pitcher who would not throw a fastball over 89 miles per hour and whose delivery was so messed up that he really had two seperate deliveries: one for his fastball and one for the offspeed pitches. Greinke's pitching motion (to this uneducated eye, anyway) is now consistent pitch for pitch. Yes, his control is still as not razor sharp as it has been in the past, due to an almost complete rethinking of how to pitch and also, I think, to a somewhat inconsistent release point.

Those issues aside, I like how Greinke is approaching the hitters now. Last night, Zack consistently was firing fastballs anywhere between 88 and 94 mph and relying on them heavily. Keeping in mind that I was watching the game on the Royals Network (where we sometimes are so wrapped up in being cute that we occasionally miss a pitch here and there) here is an inning by inning tracking of Greinke's pitches:

First Inning - 9 of 11 pitches fastballs, two at 94 mph

Second Inning - 20 of 29 pitches fastballs, one at 94 mph the rest in the low 90's high 80's

Third Inning - 5 of 12 pitches fastballs, one at 92 - one at 94, the others in the high 80's. Greinke was heading through the order for the second time here and fed the Twins a lot of breaking stuff.

Fourth Inning - 13 of 18 pitches fastballs, one at 92. The RSTN radar gun was not displayed for a portion of this inning. I am pretty sure two fastballs up were into the 90's. Interesting that Zack goes back to a fastball diet after teasing the Twins with alot of off-speed in the third inning.

Fifth Inning - 10 of 17 pitches fastballs, one at 93 - everything else below 90. Again, working through the order for the second and third times, Greinke changed speeds on the fastball. Cool - if it works, which it did.

Sixth Inning - 4 of 9 pitches fastballs, 91-93 mph range. More reliance here on the slider and slow curve. Tiring, I wonder?

Bottom line, of 96 pitches thrown sixty-five percent were fastballs. Even more importantly, fully two-thirds of those fastballs were thrown at 89mph+. I thought Greinke did a very good job of mixing his pitches and changing speeds, without getting 'too cute' as has sometimes been the case. The 29 pitch second inning, combined with some occasionally spotty control, led to the fairly high pitch count over six innings, but all in all a performance to be happy with.

Two things to watch with Greinke, now. It appeared to me (again I am not claiming to be Guy Hansen, but I do have about the same number of opinions) that as Zack got into higher pitch counts, it was not so much the velocity of his fastball that was affected, but the control of the harder fastballs that went away. From about the fourth inning on, anytime Zack pushed it up around 93-94, he had a tendency to lose the ball up and out of the strike zone. Secondly, and in a similar vein, I am beginning to question the stamina of Greinke. Sure, every pitcher is likely to tire and be less effective at pitch 90 than at pitch 20, but Zack particularly seems to get 'ragged' as the pitch count approaches and surpasses 90.

A person may wonder about his conditioning, but you could probably also attribute that to simply not being physically mature yet (were you at 21?). With Greinke pitching better now, it will interesting to see how he develops his game for runs into the later innings and if Buddy Bell (unlike Tony Pena) will allow Zack to just that.

OP-ED Note: Not suprisingly we have some opinions on the Royals offense, or lack thereof, but decided they were just coming off as bitter this morning and decided to hold back. Seven runs tonight would make the sun certainly shine brighter here in the Heartland.

Monday, June 27, 2005

You Don't Really Want to Talk About The Weekend, Do You?

As you can see by Sunday's post (below), I just cannot bring myself to say much about the sweep of the Royals at the hands of the Rockies. Other than to simply say this: Colorado is a LOT better at home than on the road, Royal pitchers (particularly the starters) were completely pysched out by Coors Field and the hitters hit like...well, like a bunch of rookies and journeymen veterans. We just have to put the 23 walks issued and the pathetic 8 runs in 3 games scored behind us and move on. Nothing an 'old' Zack Greinke performance wouldn't cure tonight.

Anyway, today let's take a look at The Present, The Near Future and The Future - Outfield, much as we did last week with the starting pitching.

Current Outfield
LF Terrance Long - he is what he is and always has been
CF David DeJesus - just a flat out good ballplayer
RF Emil Brown - has gone from the brink of being sent down to the second best hitter on the team
Reserves - Shane Costa, Matt Stairs

Okay, Stairs is not really a reserve as he spends a lot time at DH or first base. Odd are that Terrance Long will not be Royal much longer. Teams are always looking for a left handed bat and the Royals will not ask much for Long in return. Besides, playing Long is pretty much just holding space. He is never going to hit about .280 and he is not going to suddenly go from 15 homers a year to 30. The opposite side of the coin is Emil Brown, who may just do that very thing. He has certainly played well enough the last two months to earn everyday play for the rest of the season.

Very Near Future (August 1)
LF Shane Costa - I like his quick bat, others see no potential
CF David DeJesus - He will be hitting .290 by then
RF Emil Brown - see above

It is theoretically possible that I could be wrong about Costa (it has happened on rare occasions before), but I see a guy who won't strike out and will hit line drives into the gaps. Is he a long term answer in left? Maybe not, but I would dearly love to see him get a couple months worth of at-bats. Assuming Long does get traded, I would think Aaron Guiel would also get his last shot with KC.

Near Future - Dawn of 2006
LF Shane Costa - hanging on, but for how long?
CF David DeJesus - never great, always good
RF Emil Brown - he might be better than Raul Ibanez
Reserves - Matt Stairs, Cory Aldridge

Okay, now it gets kind of problematical. I just have a hunch that the Royals would like to keep Stairs around one more year for a vetaran precense (especially if Long, Graffanino, Lima and Anderson are all gone). His role would be reduced, or should be anyway, to about 200 at-bats, but he can still be a valuable guy. Aldridge is a complete flyer, but I can't believe Guiel will hang around another year and I am betting that Butler and Maier will not QUITE be ready by 2006 and they sure won't sit on the bench.

I am also taking a leap of faith that Emil Brown will continue his May/June 2005 performance through 2006, but I have slowly come around to Allard Baird's thinking on this guy: 'he just looks like he will hit'. Mitch Maier will definitely be playing in Omaha, probably with Butler, with both knocking on the door to the bigs. Should either Costa or Brown struggle, an early season callup of one or both of the young guns would not be suprising in the least.

Time to Contend - 2007
LF Billy Butler - It is hard to envision him not hitting .300+
CF David DeJesus - 290/370/470 every year
RF Mitch Maier - Defensively, not much will fall in the right-center gap
Reserves - Shane Costa, X

Short of Emil Brown hitting 350 with 40 homers, his time will be 2005/2006 and then he will be gone - either by the Royals' doing or his own (ala Raul Ibanez). By then, the young guns will be pushing too hard and with so much more long term potential that Brown will have to be moved. Costa would be a very solid number four outfielder and by then a veteran guy to lean on, too. The other reserve, I will wager right now, is someone not in the organization - probably the 2007 version of a Matt Stairs/Aaron Guiel cross.
The big variable here is this year's number one pick, Alex Gordon. With the Royals planning on putting Gordon in AA Wichtia immediately (assuming he signs in the next few weeks), that means a position change is not in the immediate future. Should Gordon excel and Teahen not improve offensively, the best bet is that Gordon may be manning third base by now. If Gordon does move to the outfield, then I think mid-2007 is the very earliest he would be in the bigs.
Gordon or no Gordon, how would you like your first five hitters to be: Maier, DeJesus, Butler, Sweeney, Huber? I like it just fine.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Is the Clock Ticking for Angel Berroa?

Donnie Murphy, recently returned from injury, has started the last two games for the Wichita Wranglers at SHORTSTOP. According to the Royals, 'this is insurance against an injury to Angel Berroa'. As conspiracy makes for easy writing, I will tell you what I think might be happening in just a moment. First, though, let's take a look at the company line.

They have moved Andres Blanco from short to second base (where he promptly got hurt again). Although many Royal fans have clamored for Blanco at short in the bigs, I think the days of being able to carry a great defensive shortstop with no bat are long gone. Blanco, despite hitting .317 last year in limited big league duty, will never be a good major league hitter over the long term. He was hitting below .200 at AAA Omaha prior to his first injury and subsequent move to second base at A High Desert. So, no Blanco is not the answer. I also agree with the Royals that if an injury befell Berroa, you do not want to go everyday with Joe McEwing, Denny Hocking, Luis Ugeuto, insert your journeyman utility infielder here, at shortstop. Moving Murphy to short in Wichita pushed Mike Aviles to third base, also indicating the Royals do not feel Aviles is an answer at shortstop. Aviles does have execellent hitting numbers in Wichita this year (299/340/481, 20 doubles and 9 home runs), but my guess is that the 17 errors at shortstop may indicate Aviles is a 2nd/3rd sacker in the majors. Which all brings us back to Donald Murphy and the company line. Given the rather large paragraph above, it is possible that he is working at short as insurance against injury to Angel, but....

Angel Berroa is headed to repeating his 2004 season instead of his very good 2003 rookie of the year season. Despite the perception that he is hitting better in the leadoff spot, the numbers month to month really don't reflect that:
April - 247/293/355/648
May - 252/286/374/660
June - 244/292/333/625
Now, I own a Berroa jersey and like most of us, got caught up in that second half of 2003 when he was as good offensively AND defensively as anybody in the league. He could be on the Rafeal Furcal model of a great rookie season, two off seasons, then another very good season or he could simply be a 260 hitting wild swinger who had three good months.

Murphy, who owns career minor league stats (prior to 2005) of 281/355/407/762, is by all accounts a very good defensive second baseman and had it not been for his injury earlier this year, might have supplanted Ruben Gotay in early May in the KC lineup. After a great 2003 in Low-A Burlington (313/397/425/822), Murphy struggled at the plate in his 2004 Wilmington campaign (255/325/403/728) . It should be noted that Wilmington played in a notorious pitchers' league. This year in AA Wichita, Donnie has smacked the ball around pretty good: 295/350/434 with 3 homers and 7 doubles in just 129 at-bats.

However, unlike the situation in late April, Ruben Gotay appears to be entrenching himself at second base. Take a look at Ruben's month by month numbers:
April - 208/241/319/560
May - 279/362/410/772
June - 279/366/508/874
If Gotay continues to build on a decent May and an even better June, there is no reason to move him from second base. Assuming Gotay does continue to improve (if he ever figured out how to hit a baseball from the right side, he could really be dangerous), then once could reason that Murphy is destined to be a utility player, hence the need to learn shortstop.

My conspiracy theory is simply that the emergence of Gotay at second and the continued sporadic, borderline maddening, play of Berroa is making the Royals think about a Murphy-Gotay double play tandem somewhere in the future. I do not believe that move will come this year. I do not think it will even come at the start of 2006, but should Berroa be hitting 250 with a 290 on-base percentage come June 2006 AND Gotay is swinging it at second AND Murphy is in Omaha by then, still hitting and fielding the position at short, I believe it is quite likely we could see Murphy everyday at short for Kansas City.