MORP

This is an article I wrote for royals review.  It’s centered around MORP and the idea that an inability to develop talent is somehow responsible for the failings of small market teams.  Sections of this will become a part of my longer essay on competitive imbalance, the dull as hell into to which is posted below.

Matt Schwartz recently wrote a piece at Baseball Prospectus examining the best players according to “MORP”, a sort of “best bang for your buck” statistic that estimates how valuable a player was in terms of dollars of revenue generated.  The idea of the article (and I am vastly summarizing and simplifying here) was to find the most valuable players in baseball last year by subtracting their MORP from the amount of money they were actually paid (again, I am vastly simplifying the methodology).

The article, and MORP in general, is fascination; dollar for dollar Prince Fielder wasn’t nearly as valuable as Josh Johnson last year.  There are, Matt concludes, a lot of players (a crazy number of whom are playing for theRays) providing excellent value to their teams.  Clearly, signing great players to cheap contracts is a great way for small market clubs to compete with the big boys.  If you can sign Ben ZobristEvan LongoriaCarlos Pena, BJ Upton,Carl Crawford, and three or four fantastic pitchers to absurdly cheap deals, you can, as it turns out, run a train straight through the wallets of the AL East.

Near the end of the article Matt seems to insinuate that the availability of cheap talent is a big reason why complaints of big market v small market competitive inequity are overblown.  I am in no way trying to lambast Matt Schwartz here; he is a great author and I have always enjoyed his work.  More importantly, the sentence in question was a complete throw away thought in the last paragraph of the article.  Attacking Matt for this one sentence would be crazy nit picky.

The idea that the Evan Longoria and Ryan Brauns of the world somehow prove that there is no competitive imbalance is, I think, a widely held belief, and Matt is just one of many to express the sentiment.  As a Royals fan I am naturally predisposed to hate, with a visceral passion, anything that insinuates the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t all but handed the World Series every year by the economic structure of Major League Baseball.  I was around when the members of the great outfield that could have been but never was (Dye-Beltran-Damon) all said “screw you, I am chasing the money” to the fans.

Just to be clear, the argument in question here is that small market teams can compete with large market teams by developing talented players and signing them to contracts that are, presumably, well under their ‘true’ value.  In other words, the Royals/Pirates/Twins/Indians need to quit complaining, if they could draft and develop some good players they would be able to compete with the big boys.  Because I am lazy and don’t feel like being creative with my prose, when I say ‘the argument,’ I am referring to this idea.

After spending some time with the indispensable baseball cube and some nerdtastic spreadsheets, I have, less than surprisingly, come to the conclusion that this idea is junk.  The idea that player development can cure competitive imbalance caused by market size does not stand up to any sort of analysis, empirical or otherwise.

First, the argument makes a few presumptions that are ridiculous.  Every team can draft good players who will eventually contribute in the big leagues.  Player development is not the sole province of small market teams.  The Red Sox and the Yankees have farm systems too, and, in the case of the former, damn good ones at that.  Given that all clubs, big and small, have farm systems, why should it be the case that smaller clubs only get the privilege of competing with the big boys if they can vastly outperform their rich brethren in player development?  If team A is significantly better at scouting and player development than team B (and has been for some time), then it seems like team A should be a significantly better team than team B.  The argument presupposes, though, that this isn’t the case.  If the Royals can significantly outperform the Yankees in player development, then, maybe, they will get the chance to compete with the Yankees for a title.  Until then, though, the Yankees are just going to roll everybody, because that’s what you do when you have $200 million to blow.

But wait, the ******** Yankees’ fan argues, the Royals get great draft position every year.  Its not the Yankees fault that the Royals keep pissing away premium draft picks on Colt Griffin and Chris Lubanski.  In fact, the Rays are competitive exactly because they spent a decades worth of great draft picks on good players (Price, Longoria, Niemann, Young, and Upton were all top five picks).

First off, the underlying assumption here is still junk.  Small market teams should have to spend a decade in the dumpster in order to amass enough talent to finally compete with the Yanks and Sawks?  There is, though, a lot of intuitive pull to this idea.  In basketball bad teams get lottery picks, draft good players, and are competitive again relatively soon.  The Lakers are always going to be the Lakers, but there are plenty of good teams that stunk just a few years ago.  These teams drafted good players like Lebron or Howard or Wade and soon found themselves relevant again.  Ignoring for a moment that the NBA has salary cap, this seems relevant to baseball.  Bad teams get good draft picks, and good teams get bad draft picks, right?  Shouldn’t, then, bad teams have an advantage in drafting top talent?

To see if this is actually true, I took a look at where each player in Matt’s MORP article was drafted.  The article has two relevant lists, pre arbitration and post arbitration players who, last year, provided the most value for their team.  I wanted to see if there is any relationship between a player being drafted high and providing value to his future team.

To do this I took the quick and dirty route and, stealing an idea from fantasy baseball, looked the average draft position (ADP) of each group.  I ignored the ten international free agents who were never drafted.  The ADP for the mot valuable players in the post arbitration, pre free agency years of their career was 92.55.  For the pre arbitration eligible (the cheapest of the cheap players, who usually make the major league minimum), the ADP was 112.15.  The ADP for both groups was 102.35.

If you look at the top fifty most valuable players in their team controlled years, there does not seem to be much relationship between draft position and value provided to a team.  Sure Zack Greinke and Joe Mauer were pretty solid number one selections, but the average player on the list was passed over about three times by every team in baseball before finally being picked.  To reiterate; in the group of top fifty most valuable players in baseball who are still under team control, the average player was, in the draft, passed up by every team in baseball, then passed up by every team in baseball again, then passed up a third time, and then finally drafted just outside of the top 100.

ADP makes a nice, intuitive point about talent evaluation and scouting.  Scouting is, at best, an inexact science.  Scouts are tasked with looking at either college or (gulp) high school kids and trying to figure out what kind of a player they will be in five or six years.  The difficulties of scouting are bourn out in the draft; Albert Pujols famously went in the 13th round, and, as the MORP ADP shows, a lot of really good players had to wait a while to hear their name on draft day.

The idea that draft position does not correlate to future value is supported by (slightly) more sophisticated analysis.  For the post arbitration, pre free agency players the correlation between draft position and value is -.44.  In a perfect world where the top draft picks always produce the highest value the correlation would be a -1.  A low draft number should mean a better player, leading to a high value number.  -.44 is not a strong correlation, though, and the correlation for the pre arbitration group is even worse at -.19.  The correlation for the two groups combined was a still unimpressive -.29.  The relationship between draft position and future value is very weak.  If you, like me, prefer a pretty picture to a boring set of numbers any day of the week, here is a graph that nicely illustrates the point.

Graph

The vertical axis is value (roughly MORP minus compensation), and the horizontal axis is draft position. A few players, Ian Kinlser most notably, had to be left out to keep the graph from stretching all the way to yankeesreview.com.  If you think the graph just looks like a bunch of random dots, you are basically right.  As the low correlation attests to, there isn’t much relationship between draft position and value.

So, no, having a good draft position is far from a guarantee that a team will draft a player who will eventually provide solid value.   The lack of correlation between draft position and value bears out a simple truth; young talent is tough to evaluate, and plenty of valuable players drop far into the depths of the MLB draft before finally being taken.  Sure, the Royals could have drafted Ian Kinsler or Albert Pujols, but every other team in baseball, big and small market alike, also had every opportunity to pick them up.  The top fifty most valuable players is a list of really, really good baseball players signed to really, really good contracts. If the average player on this list was passed on three times by every team in baseball, it’s hard to argue that a high draft position is the ticket to competitiveness for small market teams.

ps. here is this weeks edition of my favorite part of this blog.

Aint Nothin’ Ta Fuck With: A Jason Kendall Facial Hair Update.

Kendall shaved off his beard, and for a few days there my dad couldn’t figure out why James Carville was our catcher.  Kendall has let a partial beard grow back, for a look I call classic Kendall.

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Competitive Imbalance: Part I

Preliminary notes:  What follows is a multi part article in which I argue that there is a competitive imbalance in baseball.  It is already quite long, and largely unfinished.  I will be posting segments of it here throughout the summer, and (gulp) maybe into the fall.  I hope (with luck, lots of luck) to have it published sometime next year (early 2011 ideally), and I thought I would share what is essentially a first draft with you wonderful readers.

I am posting my paper here for several reasons.  Most obviously, why bother having a blog if you aren’t going to post your best, most thought out work on it? (because in no way shape or form is this blog carrying on the proud blogging tradition of being %88.3 crap) More importantly, though, I truly have faith in the intelligence of every single one of my readers.  In that spirit, please feel free to comment on or criticize these posts.

I.  Introduction

Large market teams currently have a significant competitive advantage over small market teams in Major League Baseball.  This is a claim that many fans, I believe, take to be patently obvious, but disappointingly few within the game itself seem interested in addressing the issue.  In no other American sport are teams allowed to outspend their opponents by more than one hundred million dollars, or about 2:1, on player salaries.

In spite of the glaring numerical discrepancies, the debate over whether a competitive advantage/disadvantage rages on.  The empirical evidence, for reasons I will discuss below, has not decisively tipped the debate in either direction.  In following article I will argue that a competitive imbalance exists through a reasoned (instead of empirical) argument.  I will first present my positive argument for the existence of a competitive imbalance, which will be the general thesis of this paper.  I will then proceed with a series of negative arguments against the oft repeated clichés arguing against a competitive imbalance, which I fell are either patently illogical (in the proper, philosophical sense), utterly devoid of economic insight, or just exceptionally dumb.

I will leave the argument for why a completive imbalance is bad for another time.  I believe that such arguments exist and are easy to make[1], but they are beyond the scope of this paper.  I intend to show here that a competitive imbalance exists in Major League Baseball.

(One last thing: I know that this post was heinously boring.  Stick with this series, though (please), it gets more entertaining, I promise.  No really, pinky swear, it gets more exciting. You will be able to humiliate any Yankees fan in a bar who tries to argue that his team isn’t the beneficiary of an insanely stupid system. Also, if you were looking for something a bit more fun, read the previous post.  It’s funnier, I promise.  And because it can’t be said enough, fuck the Yankees.)


[1] The NFL prints money.  It can do this in large part because teams like the Browns, who have always been bad, continue to bring in cash.  This, in turn, is because Browns’ fans can reasonably expect their team to be competitive in the future.

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Seeing What Sticks

Call me crazy, desperate for signs of hope, or just a little drunk (hey, it’s Monday afternoon!), but there is a lot to like about this Royals team.  Trey Hillman is showing glimpses of the management style that made his a success in Japan.  Crude though it may be, GMDM has finally hit on a strategy for building a bullpen.  The offense is playing out of its mind, which, to put it mildly, is surprising.  Perhaps best of all, Jason Kendell and Bob McClure are in a facial hair battle for the ages.

Trey is finally showing some creativity.  In Japan Trey had a well-earned reputation for creativity and small ball.  In his final year his Ham Fighters (awesome name) reached the Japanese equivalent of the World Series in spite of an epic lack of power.  They managed to scrape together enough runs through good ol’ fashion small ball; stealing bases, running aggressively on the base paths, and sacrificing outs like they are Jews in a Mel Gibson movie.

Sacrifice bunts done to advance a runner are actually a bad idea.  This concept was one of the first sabermetrics discoveries, predating even Bill James.  Looking at  a run expectancy matrix it’s easy to see that teams with a runner on first and no outs score more than teams with a runner on second with one out.  The run expectancy matrix is an all things equal concept, so, if Yuni is at the plate, the sacrifice can still be a good idea.  More importantly, though, this is a really easy concept to learn and incorporate into in game decisions.  Admit it, you just learned that sacrifice bunts are a bad idea in what, fifteen seconds?  I remain confident that someone (looking at you, Banny) will eventually point out the silliness of this strategy to Trey, who will adjust accordingly.

Excluding the scarifies, Trey’s portion of the base running offense has been fantastic.  According to Baseball Prospectus’s Equivalent Base Running Runs, a measure that quantifies how well a team is running the bases, the Royals have already gained a run and a half through just their stolen bases.  This may not seem like much, but EqBRR is a cumulative stat, its only April, and the team only garnered 1.1 runs in the entierty of last season.

The problem with the base running offense has not been Trey’s portion, though.  Third base coach Dave Owen has been absolutely woeful at the job, starting with his much publicized failure on Opening Day.  The numbers bear out the intuition; the Royals have already lost 3.6 runs to mistakes on hit advancement.  That’s by far the worst in baseball, and by a wide margin; the second to last team has about lost about half as many runs.  It’s worth noting that the second worst team is the Rays, who have a ton of speed (Crawford, Upton, and Bartlett all stole more than 30 bases last year), suggesting strongly that it really is the 3B coach, not the players, who is responsible for base running.

Trey is doing a great job on the bases, giving his speedsters the green light to swipe bags, but his third base coach is well behind the curve on base path management.

GMDM seems to have the right idea, so far, with the bullpen.  Two important points need to be made before I do the unthinkable and defend Dayton Moore.  First, the Royals are not playing to win this season.  Sure, winning games is nice, but we realistically have no shot at making the playoffs.  Taking a look at the sober facts, it’s April and we all know the Royals aren’t going to contend.  The smartest thing to do is spend this year building a team that can compete next year.

Second, most relievers are converted (failed) starters.  With few exceptions, relievers are made, not born.  Moreover, relievers are usually made out of starters that couldn’t hack it in the rotation.  The Royals have starters who can’t start in abundance, and guys who fit the necessary mold are a dime a dozen in the minor leagues.  There is a reason guys like Joakim Soria, Loe Nunez, and Ramon Ramirez were all nobodies bopping around the minors before the Royals tossed them in the pen.  Today’s struggling starter could be tomorrows studly reliever, its just a matter of giving the guy a chance and seeing if it works.

With that in mind, the Royals should be running through relievers like they are going out of style.   Roman Colon didn’t work (shocking), so they gave him the DFA and called up Josh Rupe.  Ever heard of Josh Rupe? Me neither.  I am glad the Royals are giving the kid a shot, though.  If he stinks, we loose a meaningless game.  If he doesn’t stink, we may have found ourselves an effective relieve who can help us win meaningful games next year.  That, essentially, is GMDM’s stragety for the 2010 bullpen, and it’s a good one.  Give as many guys a chance as possible, and hope a few of them turn out half decent.  Throw it all at the wall, and see sticks; we have nothing to loose anyway.

By the way, GMDM’s theme song has to be something by MGMT, right?  It works too well to have any other band introduce GMDM.  Not only do GMDM and MGMT have goofy all caps names, but MGMT used to be known as “The Management,” just like GMDM used to be know as “competent Braves Scouting Director Dayton Moore.”

The offense is playing out of its mind, and we should all sit back and enjoy the ride before the inevitable streak of 1-0 losses comes mid summer.  Other than the obvious aberrations (Yuni will not slug .477, if he slugs 100 points lower that that it will still be an improvement over last year), there are a few bright spots I expect will stick around for the rest of the season.

Podsednick is much faster than any 34 year old has a right to be (excepting the immortal Steve Nash).  He has been the primary beneficiary of Hillman’s newfound fondness for the stolen base, leading the league with seven steals.  He is obviously not going to lead the league for long, but its good to see that his speed isn’t nearly as diminished as it should be.

Butler continues to hit well.  His performance doesn’t look spectacular, but this is average Billy, not crushing-the-ball Billy.  He does not look overwhelming talented right now, but that’s only because everyone around him is raking like they just discovered 2002’s worst kept secret.  Butler’s performance, meanwhile, is what it is.  It may not be secular now, but this is the same hitter we will have in mid July when everyone else is going through the nasty phase of the season analysts label “regressing to the mean.”

The Negativity is slugging out of his mind.  He lost a lot of weight this offseason in the worst way possible. Not only is he skinny(ish), he’s also in a contract year, and exactly the kind of SOB who will phone it in for two years, and then turn it on in the last year of a contract so he can sucker in another franchise this offseason.  And, no, I am not going to reign in my criticism of him just because he had a potentially devastating illness this offseason.  Freak post-surgery complications last winter have nothing to do with his offensive lack of effort in his first two seasons.

I genuinely think Ankiel can, if not keep up the torrid pace he is off to, be a solid hitter this season.  If all goes well, he should have some power, and more than enough offensive value to justify his position as a center fielder.  It’s easy to forget that he slugged .506 in his first full season as a position player two years ago.  It’s not hard to explain his power outage last season; he suffered a serious shoulder injury while running down a fly ball.  Come to think of it, it’s kind of the anti-Guillen injury.  Guillen injured himself last year while, um…not moving in right field? Not hitting the ball?  Ankiel injured himself running as hard as he could after a fly ball, not giving a thought to his owns safety and paying an unfortunate price.  If he is healthy, there is no reason to think he can’t repeat the numbers he put up as a Cardinal two years ago, which mad him one of the best slugging center fielder in the American League.

I would now like to introduce something I hope will be a running segment on this blog.  In honor of the Wu Tang Clan, its going be called : “Ain’t Nothin’ Ta Fuck With: An Update on Jason Kendell’s Facial Hair.”

As of Sunday, Kendell was down to just a goatee, shaving off most of his beard while keeping the bald head.  The look was strongly reminiscent of one “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and of the bouncer in every redneck bar in America.  Stay tuned; Kendell’s facial hair has been improving at an astonishing pace, and could accomplish some truly epic feats before the spring is out.

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A Few Games, A Few Thoughts

The season’s now few games in, with a few disappointments and a few bright spots.  For all of you lovely readers, here are a few thoughts.

· Kendell looks like a MEAN dude.  He’s rocking the baldhead and beard look, easily placing him near the top of the “players I really, really hope I never run into in a dark alley” list.  Also near the top, perpetual badass/redneck Kyle Farnsworth.  If the Royals ever need retribution for a hit batter, Farnsworth may well be the best man in baseball for the job.  Not only does he have a high 90s (and otherwise useless) fastball he can go inside with, it suffices to say he can hold his own in a fight.

· Bob McClure’s Mustache.  As amazing as ever.

· Sensing a pattern in the Royals games?  Who could possibly have predicted that putting a reliever with a career 7.78 ERA in against one of the best hitters in the division would lead to a bad outcome.  What was the thought process going through Trey Hillman’s head?  I imagine the conversation with pitching coach Bob McClure went along these lines.

McClure, “Hmm.  Man on, two run game, heart of the lineup due up.  What’s the call, skip?”

Hillman, “Better go with the guy Texas cut last year, the one with the 8.00 ERA.”

McClure, “You sure? Miggy’s due up third.”

Hillman, “Ya, that’s the guy we need.  You can’t go wrong with a pitcher the Texas Rangers cut.”

One Miguel Cabrera home run later, and the Royals are down two. A pair of hits from the fearsome Butler/Negativity (see Tuesday’s post) pulled the Royals back to within one run with one inning left.  The conversation then likely picked back up:

McClure, “The kid struggled last inning, should we get someone up in the pen?”

Trey, “Nah, top of the lineup is coming up.  We’re good.”

“Okay.  Wait, what?”

“Just go with it.”

· Brilliant bullpen management aside, I like pinch running for The Negativity in the bottom of the eighth.  To be fair, I like pinch running/hitting/anything –that-gets-him-out-of-the-game for Guilen under any circumstance, but this instance made particular sense.  The Negativity was on second, representing the tying run.  Guillen has never been a fast player (career 30 SB, 26 CS.  Yikes) and, after last years knee woes he seems to have announced his intentions to throw down with Rasheed Wallace for slowest I-don’t-give-a-crap jog of the year.

Aviles was certainly a base running upgrade, but the move was a classic example of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Unless you have an exceptionally fast runner on the bench (a Joey Gathright type, and players with his speed are few and far between), pinch running for anyone with anyone is a small upgrade at best.  Billy Butler, not the fastest man on the team either, was ahead of Aviles on third, so the only situation that would yield a result from the upgrade was, in fact, the situation that played out.  Ankiel hi a fly ball to left, Butler scored, and Aviles took off for third.  It was probably the only scenario under which Aviles makes a running play that The Negativity doesn’t, but, to his credit, Aviles made the play.

The frustrating part of the inning came next, when Yuniesky “worst player in baseball” Betancourt stepped to the plate.  Posnanski wrote what many analysts already knew here (although Posnanski is right, his logic is off.  The ability of a below replacement level player to stay healthy is truly, objectively, a bad skill, because it keeps him from getting replaced).  Betancourt was the worst player in baseball last year, no matter how you slice it, due in large part to his Tony Pena Jr. esque bewilderment at what to do with a 35oz piece of wood.  Pinch running for Guillen but leaving Betancourt in to hit is like the government bailing out the ceiling fan industry, while hoping those troubles with housing just work themselves out.

· Meche is scheduled to be back on the mound Sunday, which is sneakily good news.  No, it’s not great that he shattered even his own personal record for injuries by managing to have a sore shoulder/back even before opening day.  By all accounts, though, his rehab has gone fairly well, and, most importantly, has gone according to schedule.  The Royals had huge trouble with injuries last year, and it was a case where all signs pointed to mismanagement.  A new head trainer was brought in over the winter, and Meche’s rehab bodes well for his abilities.

One of the problems Dayton Moore resolved to fix when he first arrived in Kansas City (other than loosing a ton of games each year.  He will get to that problem eventually. I hope.) was a general lack of respectability in the organization.   He has taken significant steps by bringing in respected baseball people from other organizations (as long as they don’t have any affinity for numbers.  I am reasonably sure Moore views calculators the same way vampires view crosses made out of garlic), expanding the minor leagues, and making the Royals at least a small presence in the international free agent market.  The medical staff finally got its due upgrade, which should pay subtle but significant dividends in the future.

(Pardon me for a moment while I pull out my Will Carroll soapbox).  Medical staffs are, in general, enormously undervalued by fans.  If you have any doubts, look at the Phillies, who won the NL pennant for the second year in a row despite an aging core and injuries to key players.   Non Phillies fans probably don’t’ remember Cole Hammels was injured early in the year, Raul Ibanez was hurt for most of the second half, and several other injuries threatened the club.  The reason people forget about theses injuries is simple; the medical staff either minimized the injuries effect, or had the injured player back on the field in no time.  An even better example is the New York Yankees (boooooo), who won the World Series with a roster featuring 17 players in their thirties.  Driving the point home, Jorge Posada started at catcher at age 37 (a feat in itself), and was BACKED UP by a 34-year-old Jose Molina.  The top two men behind the plate, the most injure prone position in baseball, were a combined 71 years old, but the Yankees medical staff made it work.  Medical staffs matter, and if the Royals are going to compete, its going to be awfully helpful to have a good one.

· Let me briefly clarify why Royals fans booed Johnny Damon when he returned to the K wearing his FIFTH different big league uniform.  Frank White joked that the fans were booing because they wished Damon had spent the last few years in Kansas City instead of Oakland/Boston/New York.  I understand why White would say this; White is a nice guy, and he’s not about to go on air and say “the fans are booing Johnny Damon because, lets fact it, the guy’s a jackass.”  But, lets face it, the fans were booing Johnny Damon because the guys a jackass.

He essentially forced a trade from Kansas City in 2001 by rejecting a 5 year/ $32 million offer, netting the Royals the imitable Angel Berroa.  He signed a 4 year/$31 million dollar contract with Boston in the 2001/2 offseason.  He essentially turned down an offer for $6.4 million from the Royals for a $7.75 mil a year offer from the Red Sox.  It was seen as a “screw you, I’m getting out of Kansas City come hell or high water,” kind of move, and coming from a guy the fans had embraced since he was in the minors.  The running joke was that we all hoped he put that extra million to good use, because we know it can be awfully hard to feed a family on $6.4 million a year.  Speaking of his family, Damon signed his Red Sox contract on December 21, 2001, and divorced his high school sweetheart wife of ten years in early 2002, leaving her with their twin daughters.  In his autobiography, Damon revealed he carried two cell phones; one for business/family, one for the other women he was sleeping with.  Just a classy guy, through and through.  I am guessing leaving his wife of ten years with two kids, literally only a few months after signing his first big free agent contract, had something to do with the boos Damon gets at Kauffman.

· On the bright side, the starting pitching has been the inverse of the bullpen.  If the bullpen has been a maddening example of inept mismanagement on all levels, the rotation is, refreshingly, starting to deliver on some of the promise it showed last year.  Greinke actually looked like he was still a bit rusty, but still put up a six inning one run game.  I’m not a scout, but it looked like he was either having some trouble getting the Tigers to chase his typically nasty (ahem, NASTY) slider, or wasn’t getting his changeup to behave quite like he wanted it to.  Showing some rust but still putting up a one run six inning outing is the kind of thing you can do when you are the best pitcher in baseball.  Hochevar had a fantastic outing two days later, going 7.2 innings, giving up no runs, and only five hits and a walk.  His fastball sat in the mid to upper 90s, and generated a bunch of ground balls.  Its unrealistic to expect this from him every outing, but I may actually be more excited for Hoach’s next start than Greinke’s next start.  Its well worth remembering he was once a number one overall draft pick, and if he can keep delivering on his potential the Royals will have a 1-2 punch more than good enough to compete in the AL central, and that’s not even counting the soon to be healthy Meche.  Banny had a good start today, and could make a good looking fourth starter.

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Opening Day

I will give you three guesses as to who didn’t make the opening day roster despite raking in spring training, and the first two don’t count. What’s that? Did you guess Kila? CORRECT!  Consider this an open letter to Trey Hillman (you’re damn right I’m that pretentious).  We all knew that this season would be a tough one; at best an uneasy bridge season that buys us time while Montgomery and the gang take one more step toward the big leagues.  At worst, its another pitiful excuse for professional baseball, only now it has the significant added sting of throwing away one more year of Zack Greinke’s contract.  Suffice to say, the best case scenario for this year is the young guys take a step forward, and the old guys preform well enough to at least delay Rany Jazayerli’s annual July aneurism.  With that in mind, lets take a look at the opening day roster for your Kansas City Royals.

Let’s start with the infield, broken down by position: Kendall and Pena (Pendell?) have the backstop taken care of, for better or for worse (go ahead and ditto that comment for every position that does not mention the word “Butler”). Butler has 1B on lockdown. Chris Getz plays the keystone, backed up by Callaspo. Yes, this places the hitter with the highest VORP on the team on the bench most days, but I feel if I press this point any further I will be charged with dead animal cruelty. Third will be manned by Alex “Enigma” Gordon. While we are on the Gordon subject, can someone with the connections pleas get Sam Mellinger/Trey Hillman/Bob Dutton drunk and get their honest-to-God impression of Alex Gordon? Everybody close to the team says he’s a nice guy with a great work ethic blah blah blah. People that know the game but aren’t connected with the Royals describe his as behaving like a six year old who was just told he can’t have ice cream before dinner. Anyway, Gordon is backed up by Callaspo, who will hold down the hot corner until Gordon returns.

This takes us to shortstop. Short stop. Even for really good teams, short stop is rarely a bastion of offensive prowess.  The Royals, as is their way, have finally managed to lap the field in this regard.  By my count, the Royals are rostering THREE short stops, whose 2009 OPS+s come in at a sterling 65, 76, and 21 (TJ surgery awaited this poor fellow, so he gets a pass. For now). Yuniesky Betancourt should get most of the starts.  If you need to go take a shower after reading that sentence, I’ll understand.  It’s okay, this post will still be here when you get back.  I won’t go into the details of Yuni’s historic career (again, postmortem equine cruelty is frowned upon where I’m from), but I will quote his excellent Baseball-reference page, “2009 [was] his first full year with more BB than errors.”  Que Herm Edwards, “WE CAN BUILD ON THIS!”

Betancourt will be backed up by Aviles, who had a great spring training.  Admittedly, this is only slightly more meaningful than a parent saying their kid was wonderful in the school play, but, like I said above, WE CAN BUILD ON THIS! (let’s just go ahead and make that the theme of the 2010 Kansas City Royals.  The commercials would be beautiful.  Start with the clip of Herm yelling the team’s new phrase.  Cut to a montage of Mike Montgomery and Tim Melville striking people out.  Jose Guillen walks, Goodfellas style, into an empty room and says “oh shit” before the camera cuts away.  Greinke sits with his feet up polishing his Cy Young below a sign reading “ZacKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK.” End with Trey Hillman screaming into the camera WE CAN BULD ON THIS!!!  You’re telling me you wouldn’t buy tickets?  I would have seasons in a heartbeat.)  If Aviles returns to 2008 form, fantastic.  If not, its awfully hard to back up someone who shouldn’t be in the majors to begin with.

That leaves us with Willie Bloomquist.  I always though we should nickname him Boom-Boom, because not only does “Willie Boom-Boom Bloomquist” have a great ring to it, but his historic lack of power would make it hands down the most inappropriate nickname in baseball history.  Hey, if you can’t be good, you might as well be entertaining.  Instead, Bloomquist has the appropriate but less hilarious nickname “the spork.” Appropriate because he has had a fork sticking out of him (an old-timey way of saying he is washed up)  since the day he stepped onto the field, and because he does a little bit of everything, but nothing particularly well.  Bloomquist’s role is apparently to back up…everybody?  He has logged about 150 games at short, but has played pretty much any position that doesn’t involve a fastball or a face mask.  I actually don’t have a huge issue with rostering Bloomquist.  In the days of the 25 man roster and the 12 man pitching staff (for those of you non-sabermetrics people, the 12 man staff is popularly viewed as at least one pitcher too big by many analysts, and has long been a source of ire for this blogs intellectual godfather, Rany Jazayerli), a player that can field adequately at several positions potentially has a ton of value (see Zobrist, Ben), and even if he can’t hit (see Bloomquist, Willie) he still has some use.

My issue with Bloomquist is that we already have Betancourt starting at short, and we really don’t need two guys who can’t hit and can’t field playing shortstop.  If Aviles is the back up, why not just start Bloomquist and let him fill in around the diamond as needed, with Aviles taking his spot at short?  Bloomquist is essentially Betancourt with a bit more versatility and a better personality; neither can hit, neither can field.  At least Bloomquist is by all accounts a nice guy with a work ethic, and putting a veteran with a good work ethic next to young guys has some nice positive side effects.  Effects like showing them that if they work hard they can make a million a year playing a game, even if they suck.  Betancourt by all accounts is a douche bag (sorry, I’m not Posnanski.  On this blog, a spade’s a spade).  There is no reason to roster both Bloomquist and Betancourt.  The quick argument for choosing Aviles as the back up is he has a lot of comeback potential.  His one healthy big league year was fantastic.  It’s the 21st century, guys come back from Tommy John.  Just ask Joakim Soria, who actually isn’t even close to being the best post-TJ pitcher in the bigs right now; TJ is that routine these days.

The outfield looks, above all, routine.  Nobody is great, nobody is a complete train wreck.  Podsednik was past his prime when he won the world series with the White Sox, but at least he’s an upgrade over the “hey we have BOTH Brian Andersons” gimmick.  Maier is a fourth outfielder getting payed exactly what a fourth outfielder should.  More than enough has been said about Ankiel, and what has been said is mostly correct; he has power potential, and, if nothing else (for the record, phrases like “at least” and “if nothing else” will probably be another theme of the Royal’s season) he has a great story to root for.  I honestly hope Dejesus gets traded this year.  He’s the sort of tweener (doesn’t hit well enough be a good corner outfielder, doesn’t field well enough to be a center fielder, but does both just well enough to make him kindasortof playable anywhere in the outfield) that’s always more valuable to a team in contention looking to plug a hole in the outfield than to a team that parades him as a leadoff or number two hitter.  Second, Dejusus has been on a club friendly contract for years.  Club friendly is a nice way of saying he has been badly underpaid, and everybody knows it.  Not once, though, has he complained about his contract or requested a trade to a contender.  He deserves a Joe Randa style trade to a good team; a chance to give him the opportunity to play in meaningful September games, and to get a few post season at bats on his baseball card.  Jose Guillen is listed as an outfielder, but he won’t be seeing a glove any time this year.  By the way, we need a Jose Guillen day at the K where everyone gets syringes, knee braces, and fake $36 million checks.  If this doesn’t get him to leave, at least we can hope for the Goodfellas scene describe above (“No really Jose, they voted you into the All Star game! Ya, ya, ridiculous, I know.  Just get in the car.”).

Assuming the baseball gods will literally strike down any man, woman, or child who dares to write in Willie Bloomquist’s name under 1B on a roster card, what is the glaring weakness of the current roster?  Thats right, our team’s best hitter, our best chance at scoring runs this season and in the future, has no backup at first base.  Nobody plays literally every game, especially in the league with a spot in the batting order designed to give hitters a day off without taking their bat out of the lineup.  Yet the Royals have constructed their lineup without a backup first baseman.  Maybe Fields can play some first when he comes back from injury, and maybe he bumps Betancourt off of the roster (hey, a man can dream).  Who, then gets the DFA when Gordon comes back?  At best Mitch Maier gets sent to pasture, turning the wheels of mediocrity one cog further.

Consider also that the Royal’s most injury prone player (and there is serious competition for that title) plays full time DH, and even there he can be penciled in for, at best, 140 games.  Meanwhile, sitting in AAA, fresh off raking in spring training, will be Kila Kaaihue.  If you have no idea how to pronounce his name, don’t worry, you are in good company.  Lets just say that a power hitter with that many k’s in his name playing at a stadium called “the K” has some nickname potential.  I won’t rehash Kila’s career here; if you are somehow reading this blog but don’t know his story (hi mom!), give it a google.  He draws walks, he plays a position the Royals badly need depth in, and he’s Hawaiian (can’t hurt).  He has been shafted repeatedly, and its fast approaching Rubicon time on his career.  The Royals need to give him a chance, or at least wave him around as trade bait.

The negativity (wouldn’t that make a great Jersey Shore style nickname? “The Negativity.”  Can we get a clip of Pauly D calling Jose Guillen “The Negativity”? Thats it, its been decided.  Henceforth Jose Guillen’s shall be known as The Negativity) will now be put to rest.  It’s Opening Day.  Time to kick back, enjoy some alcohol educed optimism, and enjoy watching this team play baseball.

And for all of the fans shouting “Disco Hays,” all I will say of his potential is this: Best. Entry Music. Ever.

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