Friday, July 08, 2005

The Art of the Three Way Deal

No, you have not inadvertently logged onto a porn site, we are talking about three team trades here. There is not a lot of rocket surgery when it comes to the dynamics of a trade.

First, you decide the value of your players and those you wish to trade for. This value is a combination of skills, performance, age, salary and potential. Obviously, the goal it to get equal or more value than you give up. To the disdain of most fans, sometimes this value is more finanical gain than baseball gain, but that is the nature of the beast.

Second, you have to determine if the deal makes sense to your team. Does it fit in with your short and/or long term plans? Will this improve your team or is it just a deal for the sake of making a deal? If you are in a pennant race, will this deal keep a team you are contending with from making themselves better?

Third, can you sell it? You have to convince your trading partner to make the deal. You have to convince your owner this is a good deal. To some extent you have to make this deal something other than a public relations disaster (i.e. no one was happy the Royals had to trade Beltran, but they at least thought we got some value in the deal).

There are enough different angles to the above three factors to make a trade between two teams a difficult task at best, particulary when it comes to teams seeking some type of equal value in a trade. However, the introduction of a third team into the mix (maybe even a fourth) provides more flexibility in making a deal happen. For one thing, you have more players/prospects to throw into the discussion and for another, the idea of giving and getting equal value gets somewhat 'muddied'. No one would trade Jose Bautista for Justin Huber straight up, this year or last year or the year before or five years from now. Yet, Allard Baird's insertion of the Royals into a four team deal last summer yielded exactly that exchange for Kansas City.

So as we approach the trading deadline and rumors swirl everywhere from USA Today to ESPN to Royals Corner/Warning Track Power/Daily Lancer, to this humble blog, we need to think not in terms of one team as a trading partner, but in fact two or three in one deal.

Let's start with the San Diego Padres. Mark Loretta is hurt and they are apparently ready to give up on Sean Burroughs. Now, given that the Royals do not need yet another third baseman, a Graffanino for Burroughs trade would not work, nor would San Diego probably move Burroughs for just Graffanino. However, the Twins and Dodgers could sure use a third sacker and speaking of third basemen, the Marlins are not adverse to moving Mike Lowell. Now, this could get pretty crazy, if the Royals toss Affeldt and Stairs/Long into the mix. However, would San Diego take on Lowell's salary in exchange for giving up Burroughs and a prospect, plus get Graffanino? Would the Marlin's give up prized outfield prospect Jeremy Hermida if they were getting Affeldt AND Burroughs AND Stairs, plus clearing Lowell's salary off the books? Even if San Diego did not particularly want Lowell, would they want the Dodgers to get involved in this deal instead of them?

Okay, let's start over. Rumors circulated yesterday with regard to a Mike MacDougal to the Cubs for prospect Matt Murton, or maybe even Corey Patterson. Hopefully, the Royals would rather disband than trade for Patterson (he and Angel Berroa could exchange tips on how to swing at bat pitches), but somebody will be intrigued by Patterson. If the Royals are unable/unwilling to work out a direct trade with the Cubs or one with the Marlins (Affeldt for Hermida), perhaps there is some common ground that makes the deal work for all three.

Let's throw one more out there. The Yankees, who at least gave consideration to a Graffanino/Long for Robinson Cano deal a few weeks back, just brought up outfielder Melky Cabrera from Double A ball almost certainly for showcase purposes. You know The Boss is not going to stand pat and the Yankees are always nice to have in the mix if you need to have someone take on some salary. Now, you really want to get crazy, why not through the Phillies into the mix with slugger Ryan Howard. He would tempt the Yankees into giving up some talent or if you want to go even further out on a limb, you could through Sweeney into the mix and the Royals end up with Howard (unlikely and doubtful and based completely not in fact).

All of the above was pretty much just rampant speculation on my part and it is just as likely that the Royals will end up making no moves as anything remotely resembling any of the above. However, the point of this entire diatribe was simply to illustrate the possibilities that come alive when you begin to include multiple teams in a trade. Remember, two of the three major in-season deals the Royals made in 2004 were multiple team transactions.

Of Course They Won

The Royals are 29-28 in games in which Angel Berroa has at least one hit (see yesterday's post for more on this). Something I did not look at was mulitple hit games. In games in which Angel has two or more hits, counting last night, Kansas City is now 13-6. Apparently, Angel's mojo is more powerful than the negative aura Jose Lima has been throwing out there.

To be fair, Lima was solid last night and actually had a stretch where he retired 11 batter in a row in which he actually lookd good. Three runs over 6 2/3 innings is not exactly dominating, but that is really what the Royals expected out of Lima all along. It may be too little too late for Lima Time (there are rumors floating that he will be released over the All-Star Break), but probably it earned him another start after the break - for no other reason that to see if you could generate some trade interest.

Hats off to Buddy Bell for two 'out of the box' managerial decisions last night. First, pinch running for Matt Stairs with Ruben Gotay in the 7th inning. You do not see a lot of pinch runners anymore, particularly outside of the 9th inning, but in this case Gotay beat the throw to third base on a sacrifice bunt. Sure, he did fall down rounding second on the play before and should have already been standing on third, but either way Stairs is not on third in the 7th inning. Second, with the bases loaded and a 3-0 count, Bell gave John Buck (and his hefty .230 average) the green light to swing away. He did, at a pitch he maybe should not have, but was rewarded with a single. Both Bell & Buck may have been somewhat lucky on that play, but I like the intent and I like the idea of going for the throat when you have the opportunity.

Kyle Snyder was in the dugout last night and is scheduled for one more rehab start (this time in Wichita) on Monday. He threw 70 pitches in his last start at Omaha and pitched well except for one bad inning that destroyed his line. There is a comment this morning that after Wichita, Snyder's next start may be Saturday the 16th in Detroit. Okay, Greinke goes tonight, Howell on Saturday and Carrasco on Sunday. You would assume that Runelvys gets the first start after the break, but after that I have not seen nor heard any info on probable starters. Carrasco could and should pitch next Friday on his normal rest (only he and Runelvys have pitched well enough to deserve that, by the way). Now, given what Lima did last night, and how Howell has struggled mightily after his debut, the assumption would be that J.P. goes when Snyder gets activated. Interesting that the Royals appear to be keeping Kyle on his normal four day rest and willing to push Greinke back (under that scenario, Zack would go 8 days between starts). I do not disagree with that concept, but it is interesting.

Thank you Shane Costa. After pontificating yesterday on how well the young outfielder avoids taking an 0-1 count to 0-2 (again see yesterday's post for more), Shane let that happen twice last night. He did get a hit though, which is more than I can say for the ever more annoying Terrance Long who posted a nifty 0-5 in the three spot, leaving 8 runners on base.

Finally, anyone else getting the feeling that David DeJesus is about to embark on a really good hot streak? Besides hitting the ball hard recently, I thought he had four really good at-bats last night (and one bad one). I have heard Royal fans describe him as 'average', 'serviceable', 'okay' and actually 'not good', but his numbers for his first two seasons are better than Johnny Damon's and frankly, I think DeJesus will be far better than 'serviceable'.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Berroa and Winning - A Scary Fact

I have a tendency to focus on certain players throughout a season. Either because I like them (DeJesus, Costa), am frustrated by them (Berroa) or fascinated by them (Greinke). As such, it is probably no suprise that after winning two straight games I could not help but notice that Angel Berroa went 5-7 in those two wins. And of course, that sent me looking into stats.

In 28 wins, Angel Berroa is 43-177 for a .368 batting average. In games the Royals lost, Angel is 38-209 for a .182 batting average. Now, obviously there is a lot more going on to contribute to wins than just Berroa getting hits and in stands to reason that the more guys getting hits, the more likely a team is to win. Without devoting my day to it, my guess is that there are a majority of players who have higher averages in games won by their teams than in those lost, but I found this split (nearly 200 points) to be rather dramatic. For a little more fun, Berroa has registered at least one hit in 56 games this year: the Royals are 28-28 in those games. I freely admit this is a fairly skinny statistical analysis, but it does point out how much better this team would be if Angel Berroa 2003 was playing instead of Angel Berroa 2005.

Anyway, moving on. As I mentioned above, I like Shane Costa. He just looks like a hitter to me. Once he learns that just because his quick bat can get to the inside pitches does not mean he has to swing at them, I believe Costa could be very, very solid. At the minimum, good enough to hold down left field in 2006 as we wait for Butler, Maier, Gordon to arrive.

Interesting stat on Shane. In 66 plate appearances, he has encounterd 49 0-1 counts. Of those 49, however, only 13 times (26.5%) has the he fallen behind 0-2. By comparision, our favorite whipping boy Angel Berroa has let an 0-1 count go to 0-2 121 out of 227 times (53.3%). As Angel is an easy one to look statiscally superior to, let's take a look at David DeJesus. He has gone from an 0-1 count to 0-2 49.7% of the time (93 out of 187). Now, the one problem you can see is that 74% of the time Costa is behind 0-1, compared to just 55% for DeJesus and 65% for Berroa. This past weekend, we document Angel's production decline paralleling his increase in 0-2 counts, so Costa's ability to stay away from 0-2 is important.

More fun stats on Costa. His 5 strikeouts in 66 plate appearances, just 7.6%, compares very favorably to Berroa's 17.7% strikeout percentage (seems like more doesn't it?) and DeJesus's 13.5%. Even as far back as college, Shane has had a very low strikeout number. Although Costa has not and probably will not ever get a lot of walks, he does work the count. Almost one quarter of his plate appearances have gone to a full count (24.2%), while Angel goes full just 10.3% of the time and DeJesus 13.5% of the time. I have no idea if getting a lot of full counts is good or bad, although the more pitches you see generally the better idea you have of hitting a pitcher, but if we assume Costa may someday be a number 2 hitter you would like his ability to work the count. In the same area, Costa's pitches per plate appearance rival that of DeJesus, who I think does a pretty decent job of working counts himself. DeJesus checks in at 3.61 pitches per appearance, Costa at 3.59 and Berroa at 3.46. Bottom line, trade or no trade, come August 1st Shane Costa should be our everyday leftfielder.

One final note, D.J. Carrasco and Runelvys Hernandez may not have been anywhere near to lights out in their starts, but those two guys go to battle for you. If the Royals can ever get to where these two are our number 3 and 4 starters, we will have a very good rotation.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Sometimes You Just Need Some Breaks

When you go an entire holiday weekend basically not scoring ANY runs, something a little unorthodox has to happen to help a team out. Something like being doubled up in hits by your opponet, but still managing to outscore them 8-6. Something like scoring 8 runs and not getting a hit after the 4th inning. Something like one of your top two starters (currently) giving up 10 hits in less than six innings and still surviving to win. Basically, sometimes you have to have a little luck.

I got into this a little over the weekend in my post about Angel Berroa, but just to reinforce the point: of the seven Royal hits, four came with the batter ahead in the count and two more came at basically neutral counts. The one hit that came with the batter down in the count? Of course, it was Angel Berroa (down 0-1).

Although Andy Sisco allowed one inherited runner to score and allowed one run himself, the bullpen was basically solid. Although Jimmy Gobble should thank the Royals' organization for moving the fences back a few years ago. Also nice to see MacDougal slam the door after seemingly going months without a save situation. Some feel KC should trade Mike if given the opportunity, but I am beginning to get more and more confident in his ability to be a quality closer.

One last interesting stat for this short post: Royal hitters only swung at six of thirty-four first pitches. Usually the team swings at roughly 33% of first pitches and when things are going well, take in the low 40 percentile of the remaining first pitches for strikes. Tonight, they took a cut at less than 20% of the first pitches and still took less than 40% of the remaining first pitches for strikes - odd numbers, indicating that the Seattle pitchers were not exactly painting the zone. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes you just need some luck to get back on track.

In Search of Offense

The numbers are everywhere right now. You cannot read any article about the Royals this morning that does not blast you with the ineptitude of our offense as of late. Fourteen losses in the last sixteen games, three shutouts in the last four games, and worst of all: scoring runs in ONE (1) of the last THIRTY-TWO (32) innings.

Buddy Bell has not sat still, I liked the swapping of DeJesus & Berroa at the top of the order and liked even more putting Gotay in the two spot and dropping Berroa down in the order. Truthfully, however, Bell's hands are somewhat tied right now. First, the Royals are not going to dip into the farm system quite yet for Justin Huber, Aaron Guiel, Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, Mitch Maier, insert the name of anyone you think can hit better than Angel Berroa here. While it is highly likely that some of those names may surface by August, that is not going to help the Royals score runs in July. Secondly, KC is trying to market veteran hitters like Tony Graffanino, Matt Stairs and Terrance Long, so Bell cannot simply hand an everyday spot to Shane Costa because he does need to showcase the talents of the veterans. Bottom line, until late July when the trade market comes alive, the Royals are going to have to figure out how to score runs with the guys on the roster right now. Having delved into the future often on this blog (as have most Royal bloggers), let's instead focus on how to score runs from now until July 31st.

Now, these guys have scored runs in the past (for stretches in May and June they scored runs on par with anyone in the league), so you could stay the course and hope the offense revives itself. However, what would I rant about then? So, my proposition is to really shake things up in the batting order - I mean, exactly what is the downside?

So, here is the official Op-Ed Page Royals lineup sure to score more than once every thirty innings:

Tony Graffanino, 1B - Next to Stairs, Tony's .375 on-base percentage is the best on the team. No, you wouldn't bat him here for a season, but for a month, when you are showcasing him, why not?

Ruben Gotay, 2B - His June batting numbers are 275/354/478/833, not bad at all. It is time to put him in a pressure spot and see what Gotay does. With Donnie Murphy waiting in the wings, it is time to find out about Ruben.

David DeJesus, CF - I really have no complaints about David leading off and fully expect his .348 OBP to end up in the .360-.370 range by season's end, and long term he really does strike me as a number two hitter, but remember we are talking about a couple of weeks here. His .761 OPS is fourth on the team, so batting him third is not all bad, especially if he has runner on and....

Mike Sweeney, DH - Tell me Gotay and DeJesus would not get a bunch of pitches to hit with the one respected hitter in our lineup coming up behind them. Sure, Mike has batted third for pretty much ever and has done nothing to make that look foolish, but let's put our power bat in the cleanup hole and see what happens.

Emil Brown, RF - If we put Sweeney in the four spot to drive in runs, you have to protect him, and the best protection we have is the power hitting right handed corner outfielder we do not think we have: Emil (292/361/467/827).

John Buck, C - Okay, why put a .221 hitter in the six spot? Well, for starters in June, Buck was at 277/299/400/699, still not good, but getting better. He has some power, you have to play him, and he could enjoy some protection in the form of....

Matt Stairs, LF - The Canadian has an on-base percentage of .383 and one more walk than strikeouts - not bad for a guy known as a free swinger. Yes, we need to showcase Terrance Long too, so he could play leftfield and hit here also. If you are playing Long and you want to play Stairs also, we propose batting Stairs 3rd and moving DeJesus to the leadoff or two spot depending on whom you are sitting (either Graff or Gotay). Long does not provide Buck any protection in our opinion, so our primary lineup would be Stairs here.

Angel Berroa, SS - Check out our Sunday post below for an overview of just how bad Berroa has gotten. Maybe sitting down at the 8th spot, after Stairs has worked a walk, might help. Like Buck, you HAVE to play him, and he does have to bat somewhere. I toyed with putting Angel in the five spot, protected by Emil Brown, but decided having our opponets treat Sweeney like Barry Bonds just to get to Angel was not an offensive plus.

Mark Teahen, 3B - Mark's June numbers of 282/322/353/675 are slowly rising to just below average and I still see hope for him becoming a doubles machine. With no pressure (I mean it is not like Angel will be sitting in scoring position that often when Teahen comes up) and a veteran hitter in Graff up behind him, Teahen should get some pitches. No, you do not want your everyday third basemen batting ninth, but again this is only for a few weeks.

Okay, there it is, a quick three week fix. Will it make the Royals an offensive juggernaut? Doubtful. In fact, it may do nothing, but it is something different - which may be all that is required to score at least SOME runs. Anyone who reads this blog probably knows that I am a fan of Shane Costa and would love to see him get everyday at-bats, but as mentioned above the vets (Stairs, Graff & Long) have to be showcased and you cannot sit Emil Brown down so for now, Costa has to sit - maybe you even put him in Omaha for three weeks to stay sharp. Once the trade deadline comes and goes, I firmly believe you give Costa left field for two months and see what he can do. At the point, also, you revamp the lineup to a more conventional setup - maybe check out Royals Corner for his proposed lineup come August - it looked good to me.

I have a bold prediction for tonight: The Royals will score (sarcasm intended).

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Many Lives of Jose Lima

Exactly how many starting rotation lives does Jose Lima have? He is arguably the most ineffective starting pitcher in the league this season - if you narrow the field to only those starters who have not missed a start then there is probably no argument at all. Yet, despite his struggles, things 'happen' that allow Lima to live on.

First, and although it is unlikely the Royals would have made a move quite so quickly, Lima was at least given breathing room by injuries to Denny Bautista and Brian Anderson and Kyle Snyder. At his apparent last chance, Lima proceeded to completely shut down his old team (as an aside apparently Lima's spite for old teams only lasts two years as he is completely inadequate against the Tigers this year).

Now, in the span of a week, with it a virtually foregone conclusion that Lima's Time is winding down, he first pitches an average start, but the rotation around him is ridiculously horrible. Then, perhaps his main competitor in rotation-ville, J.P. Howell begins to look more and more like someone who pitched in the College World Series just a year ago. I will be shocked if Howell remains in the majors past the all-star break - he is going to be good, just not yet.

Finally, Denny Bautista leaves his rehab start in Omaha after three innings with a 'twinge' in his shoulder. At best, delaying Denny's return to active duty in KC towards the end of July and at worst, delaying it far longer.

Thus, Lima survives the callup of Kyle Snyder (expected around the break as surely J.P. Howell goes down then) and can breath easy until at least the return of Brian Anderson, who has just started his rehab assignment in Wichita and is not due in KC until July 20th at the earliest.

Lima Time must have some serious voodoo working on his side - now, if he could only use that power for good instead of evil.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Downfall of Angel Berroa

The Royals as of late have struggled mightily with consistently scoring runs. There are a myriad of reasons, of course, starting with Mike Sweeney's injury to sheer inexperience to somthing as simple as a team just going through a cold spell. Angel Berroa, however, stands out as a sore spot amongst many KC followers, with an annoying tendency to swing at bat pitches in crucial situations. Sure, we could say the same about John Buck or Mark Teahen or Ruben Gotay or any of the veterans, but perhaps we cast a more critical eye towards Angel simply because he WAS rookie of the year (and legitimately so, I might add).

I decided to take a look at Angel, year by year and month by month, looking for some kind of statisical indicator that would give us hope that he would someday rebound to that second half 2003 form. Here are his yearly stats:

2003 - 287/338/451/789 - 21 of 26 SB, 29 BB, 100 K
2004 - 262/308/385/693 - 14 of 22 SB, 28 BB, 87K
2005 - 239/281/340/621 - 4 of 8 SB, 11 BB, 59K

Obviously, a steady decrease in production across the board. Sadly, it is not that Angel is trying to hit homers and has lost his ability to hit for average, or is sacrificing power for average, or trying to get on base at the expense of power AND average - he is simply losing production right across the board.

How about Berroa, month by month? My favorite, easy stat, OPS (on-base pct + slugging) reveals what most of us know: Angel is a streaky hitter at best and is usually very good or all too often very bad. In the fifteen full months that Berroa has been in the majors he has an OPS over .900 twice, over .800 once, over .700 four times. I think .700 is marginally okay, .750 is starting to be considered good in my book. Anything under .650 I would consider below average and Angel has logged in seven months below that mark (three below .600).

The 900+ months were back to back in June/July of 2003 and Berroa managed to top the 700+ mark in three other months in his rookie of the year season. So, yes, he was pretty decent with the exception of .647 May for most of the 2003 season. Quick stat for 2003: in July of that year, Berroa had an OPS of .907 and a batting average of .323, but an on-base percentage of just .337. Curiously, in June of that year, he hit .327 with a .383 on-base percentage.

In 2004, Berroa was horrific in April and May (.580 & .577 respectively), very good in June at .793, back to bad in July/August then rebounded after his demotion to Wichita with a September 2004 of 321/379/453/832. There is no pattern in any of this, Angel often follows some of his worst months with one of his best and seldom pieces two or three good months together in a row. After extremely fair to below average months in April and May of 2005 (.648 & .660), Berroa had arguably his worst offensive month ever in June checking in at just .229/.277/.305/.582.

Now, I ran some numbers trying to find something tangible. My first thought was to compare the difference between on-base percentage and batting average: thinking that a larger gap between the two would indicate greater patience at the plate and theoritically better production. As I indicated above, however, one of Berroa's best months was when he hardly walked at all and two of his worst were where the gap between on-base percentage and batting average were greatest.

Then I stumbled upon something. Doesn't it seem like the count is 0-2 on Angel all the time? Well, in 2003, when Angel appeared to be destined for stardom, he had 635 plate appearances and encountered 173 no balls/two strike counts (27.2%). Conversely, that same season, Berroa had 99 instances where the count got to 2 balls/no strikes (15.6%). Now, you do not even need to keep stats to know that no one hits very well 0-2 (except Ken Harvey, apparently) and everyone hits better 2-0 - that is not what I am after here.

Take a look at the same numbers for 2004:
554 plate appearances, 167 0-2 counts (30.1%), 79 2-0 counts (14.3%)

And 2005 so far:
333 plate appearances, 119 0-2 counts (35.7%), 31 2-0 counts (9.3%)

Comparing 2003 to 2005, Angel Berroa has gotten down in the count 0-2 8.5% more often and is getting ahead in the count 2-0 6.3% less. Over the course of an entire season the equates to 50+ extra at-bats that Berroa is digging himself into an 0-2 hole. Given that a hitter is easily 100 points better ahead 2-0 than behind 0-2 (I just made that number up, but it has to be close) you can see why Angel has gone from an undisciplined but productive hitter to simply undisiciplined.

One parting fun (or not so fun) stat. In 559 career plate appearances in which Berroa has found himself down no balls and two strikes, he has managed to work himself a walk exactly ONE (1) time.

I do not know if you can coach a player back out of this hole, I am certain that the Royals will give Angel every opportunity to do so. Especially given that he does have a long term deal and a possible replacement is probably a season away yet (Avile, Murphy). This is quite obviously a trend, not a slump, and at some point you have to stop portraying a shortstop with a .281 on-base percentage and a .621 OPS as a cornerstone of your team's future. We are not at that point, yet, but I can see it on the horizon.