Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ouch. Is it really this bad?

Unfortunately, yes. I wanted to take today to go through a roster run down, and see just how many positions the Royals need to improve. Sorry to our millions of readers, but it has been hard for me to think or write about the Royals in such an unbelievably frustrating stretch. The most positive thing that's happened for this team in the last month or so, besides Gil Meche, was the way Mitch Maier took that fastball off of his cheek last night. Maier took what initially looked like a helmet shot, but proved to be a straight shot to the face, like a true champion. I've liked the approach that Mitch takes to the game: gritty, emotional, 100% hustle. The Royals could use a lot more of that. Let's check out the roster:

Catcher: C+
John Buck: What was looking like a decent offensive season has blossomed into a disaster. OPS+ of 72? yowzba. Done a decent job calling games, terrible job with baserunners (caught only 8 of 53).

Miguel Olivo: Exactly what we expected, very good against lefties, bad against righties. Bad game calling, decent arm.

Summary: I want John Buck to improve, but he just hasn't... and won't. The catcher of the future isn't in the organization right now.

Solution: Draft of free-agency.

1st Base: D
Ross Gload: 3 homer everyday first baseman? Umm... no. Decent glove, but give me a break Royals, this is ridiculous.

Billy Butler: Really pissing me off. Clearly content to be in the bigs and not playing to his potential with the bat. 81 OPS+ ain't gonna cut it for a slow, worthless fielder.

Summary: As bad as Butler has been, he should still be at the bag every single day. Still a lot of potential in Billy's bat.

Solution: Ka'aihue is making strides, but came out of nowhere. Butler is still ideal. Ryan Shealy is apparently out of the picture, but deserves another shot.

2nd Base: C-
Grud: Grud is Grud. Decent bat, good glove, old and hurt.

Esteban German: Awful season. Has completely demolished his trade value. Thanks a lot, Steve. 62 OPS+ just is flat out terrible.

Summary: Grud has seen his last action in KC. German isn't the answer. Callaspo's a drunk.

Solution: Mike Aviles moves to second. Good bat, solid glove. Problem solved.

SS: B+
Mike Aviles: What more is there to say about the Royals player of the year. A 122 OPS+ and solid defense has been way more than a pleasant surprise.

Tony Pena Jr.: Absolute DISASTER. Needs to be expelled from the organization. Get ready for this... OPS+? 2. 2!!!!!!!! Sweet lord, make it stop. Also, extremely overrated defensively.

Summary: Yay Aviles. Boo Pena.

Solution: Pony up for Rafael Furcal and move Aviles to second.

3rd Base: B-
Alex Gordon: His ability to draw walks has been great. His inability to have more homers than Alexi Ramirez and 40 other American Leaguers has been bad.

Summary: Is Gordon a Major League 3B? Yes. Is he a future All-Star? Probably not.

Solution: OK with Gordon for now, if we find a 30 HR first baseman.

Right Field: D
Mark Teahen: I've seen and had enough of the T-Bag. He's a fourth outfielder for a contending team.

Summary: There just isn't enough out there with such a lack of power from the corners.

Solution: Moustakas to the outfield? Maybe. Either that or better success with free-agency. Outfield is bare down on the farm.

Center Field: B
David Dejesus: Been pretty good for this team this year. We missed an opportunity, in my opinion, to sell-high after Dejesus capped off a sensational power and average run with a walk-off homer at the K.

Joey Gathright: Just not enough pop and not enough walks.

Mitch Maier: A good, solid fourth outfielder for a contender. And apparently a badass.

Summary: Dejesus looks like he'll be a Royal for a long time, which is fine (again) if we get better power on the corners. Dejesus would be a phenomenal number two hitter.

Solution: Dejesus works for now.

Left Field: D
Jose Guillen: I retract a statement from my last post which claimed that I was content with Guillen. At $36 million dollars, an 86 OPS+ just isn't going to cut it. Too many Ks, and a pathetic amount of walks (17!!!!!!) is really getting frustrating. Eric Hinske has more homers than Guillen. Emil Brown has a better OBP than Jose Guillen. I'll stop there.

Summary: Looks like a big waste of $36 million as I don't expect much improvement, if not a decrease in production.

Solution: ???
Starting Pitching: C
Gil Meche: Once again earning his $11 million a year, all-be-it not in spectacular fashion. His velocity, as well as strikeouts (on pace for about 175-180 compared to 156 last year), is up and next season could be a big year for Meche. A very solid number 2 starter.

Zack Greinke: Still has top ten stuff in the league but doesn't have the mental make-up to handle it. Some days dominant, some days lazy and ineffective. A solid number 2 or 3.

Brian Bannister: Barf. He's still got minimal value, but his potential peaks as a number 4 starter... at very best. He needs to go back to pitching to contact and locating instead of reaching back for the K so often.

Luke Hochevar: Probably not worth the #1 draft pick, but still has potential. Decent stuff, and perhaps the making of a good #3.

Kyle Davies: I still like this guy for whatever reason. His peripherals are terrible, but I like his stuff.

John Bale: Maybe a serviceable lefty starter in the #5 spot, if doors stop taunting him that is.

Summary: Not nearly what we thought we had at the beginning of the year, but still some potential left there. I still really like Meche and Greinke, but Bannister has been a disappointment. Hochevar isn't a bust, but maybe isn't what the Royals thought they were drafting.

Solution: There is some help in the minors, Rosa and Cortes in particular, but we still need more. Next year's draft and maybe a free agent of some kind. We need to find a true #1 and I just don't think he's in the organization.

Bullpen: B+
Joakim Soria: Sensational. The main reason that the grade is so high. I know statistics point to at least trying Soria as a starter, but I don't want to mess with it.

Ramon Ramirez: What did we give up for him? Oh yeah, Jorge De La Rosa. Yep, we win this one. He's done a really nice job up until lately.

Ron Mahay: Did we miss a chance to trade him? Yeah, but the prospects in return really wouldn't have been worth it (most likely), and he's been one of the best lefty relievers in baseball all year long.

Leo Nunez: Really wish he wouldn't have got hurt, but he's little and throws hard so there's always that possibility. Hope he's ready for next year.

Robinson Tejeda: Nice pick up. Good strikeout numbers.

Joel Peralta, Jimmy Gobble, Yasuhiko Yabuta, Jeff Fulchino, Josh Newman: Disappointing bunch, but the only really big disappointment is Yasuhiko Yabuta who's $3 million goes to waste this year. Will next year be different for Shake Yabuta? I sure hope so. He really needs to ditch the shiney blue spandex, however.

What have we learned from all this? The Royals have a long, long way to go. 2010 seems like a strectch. Hopefully they make the playoffs before I'm 30 (8 years away).

Today's Lesson: I'm proud of you if you made it through this whole post.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Thank You, Jim Caple: or, why I hate the Save

Joakim Soria is great. In fact, there's a possibility that he's even better than great. But as good as lock-down, all-world closers can be, aren't they infinitely more valuable as starters if they have the ability to start?

Soria's got a good repertoire of pitches, at least three good major league pitches that he can throw for strikes. And while we locked Soria up a while back for a fraction of his likely free agent value (not really a factor due to Major League service rules) , the deal has some serious escalators that could make the potential six-year agreement into a $32 million dollar contract. Not too shabby.

However, in Jim Caple's wonderful (though a little long) article this morning on ESPN's Page 2 (Page 2 still exists? How the mighty have fallen) examines the "most overrated statistic in baseball," the save. I will go even further than Mr. Caple, going on record to say that the save is the most overrated statistic in all of sports.

The Angels' Francisco Rodriguez is on pace to break Bobby Thigpen's single season save record, yet the Angels are not feverishly trying to lock up the free-agent-to-be. Likely, they're going to let him walk. Crazy? Hardly.

In the Major League, the save is loosely defined as the successful closing of a game by a relief pitcher where the tying run either comes to the plate or is on deck. Sometimes, the closer faces the team's best hitters. More often, however, they face weaker parts of the order.

Here's the situation. Your starter is struggling in the fifth inning, and he loads the bases with one out in a tie game. You need a strikeout. Needing a strikeout, who would you logically put in the game? Your best strikeout pitcher, who in almost every case, is your closer, the best reliever in the bullpen. What do the 30 Major League teams do, defying this logic? They put someone else in the game.

ISN'T THAT INSANE? You need a strikeout, and you don't put in the pitcher most likely to deliver that need. Instead, you wait to put K-Rod or Trevor Hoffman in the game against the 7-8-9 hitters. WHAT?!

The save is a salary inflating statistic. Look, the Angels have a great back of the bullpen. They will easily just plug someone in when K-Rod leaves in free agency. You see this all of the time, and for good reason.

From what I saw in the Joba Chamberlain situation, Joakim Soria deserves a chance to start. Chamberlain was a lights-out reliever (39 appearances, 47.2 IP, 28 H, 64 K, 1.32 ERA look ok to you?), and now he's the reason that the Yanks have made a little resurgence. Heck, I heard Cy Young talk before he tweaked his shoulder yesterday. Soria, while he doesn't throw the heat like Joba, has just as many good major league pitches. Why waste this potential at closer, especially if we don't know exactly what his ceiling is as a starter?

Some pitchers are born relievers. Mariano Rivera relies so heavily on his cut fastball that he hardly throws anything else. Billy Wagner throws high nineties heat, a decent slider, but a sub-average changeup. Some of these guys aren't cut out to be starters, because they wouldn't be able to retire the same batters three or more times. However, guys like Joakim Soria, Jonathan Papelbon, and Joba Chamberlain could be much more valuable as starters.

We've all seen Soria pitches dozens and dozens of times now. He's retired the side so quietly sometimes that I'm still not back from the fridge. Do you have any doubt that he couldn't get those same guys out again?

I don't.