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My Statistical Fascination

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Ever since I was little, I’ve been really into statistics. When I was younger, I obviously loved batting average because it told me such a great story about the player. I had an idea in my head that a guy who hit .250 was mediocre, .275 was okay, .300 was great and .330+ was amazing. For a lot of players, that actually remains true, and there’s a part of me that still looks at those numbers and has the same thoughts. When I played, I’d always know how many hits I had in how many at bats and when I stood on whatever base I had reached with my hit, I’d calculate my batting average. Statistics were always fun for me, giving me something for which I could quantify my love of baseball and various players.

My love of baseball statistics helped me growing up in school because I was able to think of math in terms of the game I love. As I got older, more and more research became available about advanced statistics and how they were influencing the game. While I didn’t quite understand exactly what they all meant, I was intrigued and began to read as much as I can on these new statistics such as OPS and others that seem pretty basic to me now.

Now, within baseball, there is an interesting divide that grows between those who review and rely on statistics and those who look at the “eye test” as the be all, end all. This is more a topic for another post, but these arguments just make me laugh. Why does it have to be one against the other? Why can’t both be used to the benefit of analysis? A player like Mike Aviles is someone who can really divide the stats people vs. the scouting people. To watch him is infuriating. His swing is uncomfortable, he swings at tons of pitches and his defense just looks awkward. The numbers indicate that he’s a good hitter and before 2010 was pretty darn good defensively. So what’s to believe? Numbers don’t lie, right? I guess on the stats vs. scouting issue, I lean toward stats, but would never discount someone’s opinion of what they see.

Anyway, back to the original topic, my fascination with statistics is probably as great as it ever has been because I’ve learned a way to use them to help predict the future. Well, maybe not quite so impressive, but it’s amazing what you can learn from looking at a player’s statistical line on a website like baseball-reference.com. Don’t stop there, though. Fangraphs is a great site to look even farther into the statistics (plus has all the projections for the next season). One statistic that is a great predictor is batting average on balls in play (BABIP). This stat works well for both pitchers and batters, but is a little easier to see where the number “should” be on batters.

A great example of this is Wilson Betemit. We all know about his great 2010 season, but a couple of things jump out at me that may not allow him to repeat the numbers he put up last season. The first is BABIP. Last year, he hit an astounding .361 on balls in play. I believe I’ve mentioned this before in this blog, but a good rule of thumb for figuring out where the BABIP should be is to add .120 to the player’s line drive percentage. Betemit’s last year was 14.8% which means his BABIP should have been about .270. A 90 point difference makes all the difference in the world. Had he hit where expected, his .297/.379/.511 line would have decreased significantly.

The other thing that concerns me about Betemit repeating his great 2010 is the sheer number of strikeouts. This is much less of a concern to me than the BABIP because of two things. The first is that he walks a lot to counteract the strikeouts. The second is that most of the time, a strikeout is just another out and with the way Betemit works the count, he’s probably forcing a pitcher to throw more pitches during a strikeout than a lot of Royals hitters would force during a groundout at bat. Still, though, Betemit struck out about 27% of the time in 2010, and that number is right in line with his career totals.

For both hitters and pitchers, the things to look at are the things they can control. Strikeouts and walks are the two biggest things that can be controlled by both. Things out of their control are things like BABIP, defense behind pitchers, percentage of fly balls that become home runs, etc. When I look at a minor leaguer, I only look at the things they can control when I’m trying to analyze them statistically to try to get an idea of how successful they’ll be in the majors. The minors are so strange sometimes that it’s difficult to trust anything after the ball is hit.

One thing I know for sure is that the debate between which is more beneficial to study between scouts and stats will never die. My theory is that both are right and when used together could make a front office very difficult to beat.

Royals Holiday Shopping – Corner Outfield

November 29, 2010 1 comment

I’m not sure if the Royals can make purchases online for players that they need, but if they can, Dayton Moore would’ve been up early this morning clicking in the bargain bin at every team’s website. As it is, he still has to make phone calls to other team’s general managers and player agents. Today we’re going to take a look at the holiday shopping list for players of need as indicated by the organization.

The first thing that most people talk about is the right-handed corner outfielder (or two) that Dayton’s been discussing since trading David DeJesus. There are a few options for sale this holiday season, none of whom are guys who will really energize a fan base, but they can do some good things.

Pat Burrell probably doesn’t play the type of defense that Dayton Moore is looking for, but sometimes a power bat will talk. Burrell’s stint in San Francisco may have saved his career, but his World Series probably cost him anywhere between a couple million dollars and a guaranteed contract. He’s almost certainly a no go for the Royals.

Jeff Francouer is the name most associated with the Royals in their search for the right-handed corner outfielder*. For all the flack Frenchy has taken from the blogging world for his inability to get on base or generally hit well, he does have his uses and is worth a modest salary if used correctly in a platoon. While the numbers don’t scream MVP, he is more than serviceable as the right-handed half of a platoon situation. Plus, he’s quite good defensively with a fantastic arm. His use is what will determine if he is a good signing for any team. Francouer with 600 at bats is money being flushed down the toilet. Francouer with 250 at bats, mostly against lefties, is a sound investment. There’s some rumblings that the Phillies might like him to platoon with young Dominic Brown, so Dayton’s going to have to strike quickly if he wants to pry this one away.

*While I have a very different feeling about this search than the ones from the Allard Baird days, I’m sort of longing for a Kevin Mench rumor to sprout up after all we heard about Baird being on the verge of trading for him. He is on the free agent list, but I’m pretty sure Baird won’t stop texting Theo Epstein until he picks him up.

Bill Hall is a player who, if his salary demands aren’t outrageous, might make a good fit on the Royals. This organization loves players who can play all over the field and Hall has a little pop. Realistically he’s going to be a little more expensive than the Royals had hoped to pay, but he could be a guy on clearance after the holidays.

Andruw Jones might be my second favorite option among the candidates available. He’s most certainly not the superstar he was just a few years ago, but Dayton Moore has had an affinity for him in the past, and with his former Bravedom makes a lot of sense in Royals blue. Jones can’t really play center on a regular basis anymore, but his defensive ability translates well to right field and he has some serious pop. The average will be low and the strikeouts will be high, but given 500 or so at bats, he might hit 30 homers, walk 75 times and give a real threat behind Butler and Ka’aihue.

Austin Kearns is my personal favorite for what the Royals are looking to add. He hits some and he plays fantastic defense. With Kearns, you’re getting a guy who will take a few walks, hit a few homers and strike out more than he should. You’re also getting an outfielder who is as good or better defensively than the man he’d be replacing, David DeJesus. He can probably be had pretty cheap. A lot of the knock on Kearns is that he isn’t as good as he probably should have been, but that doesn’t make him a bad player. The same can probably be said about Alex Gordon.

Magglio Ordonez is a player who can’t be had terribly cheap, but will probably sign a contract which he has a good chance to outperform. His defense isn’t what it used to be, but it’s not exactly in the range of Jose Guillen or even close. He’s a good bet to hit .300, get on base a ton, not strike out and hit about 20-25 homers. If not for health concerns, he’d be a perfect fit for this team. Of course, if not for health concerns he wouldn’t sign a contract that the Royals could afford. It’s a tradeoff and one that I think might be worth making.

I began writing this post with a clear cut thought that Francouer or Kearns would be the best choice, but after writing this my tune may have changed. While I’d support signing either (pending their use of course) I also think Andruw Jones might be a slightly better fit than either. Ordonez would be a nice addition as well on an incentive laden contract. I think he’s an extreme long shot, but it’d be fun to see him hitting fourth or fifth in this lineup. Either way, this is a good off-season for the Royals to be looking for a stop gap righty to play corner outfield as the options are plentiful and not too terrible. It’ll be interesting to see who is patrolling right when the season opens in March.

The Idea of Kevin Millwood

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

First of all, I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving and that you were smart enough to bring your laptops to bed with you so you could read my blog when you inevitably could not get out of bed. If not, and you are reading this after you were successfully able to remove yourself from the you shaped chasm in your mattress, then I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving last week. On to business.

It was recently reported that the Royals had interest in Kevin Millwood. Shockingly, Millwood is a former Brave, but I’m actually not sure if that is the reason for the impetus with this player. The story of Millwood shows a pretty interesting career path. He came to the majors in the late 90s and was given the opportunity to learn from those great Braves pitching staffs. His first full season in 1998 was almost exactly on the nose of average with the exception of his 17 wins. Those Braves teams were REALLY good. 1999 was when he broke out in a big way with 18 wins and a 2.68 ERA. For those of you who care about this sort of thing (it will be all of you when I get done with you), he earned it. He struck out over eight batters per nine innings and he walked 2.3. He gave up just 168 hits in 228 innings and coupled with his walks earned him a rare WHIP under 1 by a starter. He was fantastic.

Millwood’s next two seasons with the Braves were pretty well average and he followed those up with another very good year that the Braves cashed in on and traded him to Philadelphia for Johnny Estrada. Two average (sensing a trend?) years later, Millwood signed a value building deal with the Indians where he posted a fantastic ERA of 2.86. The peripherals didn’t match up quite with that, but they did indicate that he was a very good pitcher that year which took him from a pitcher on the brink of becoming a journeyman to a guy looking for a big contract. Luckily for Millwood, the Rangers organization hadn’t gotten smart yet and he found a five-year deal in the place pitchers go to die. One mediocre season followed by two poor seasons put the Rangers in a position with Millwood that was expected by most.

*One of the best games of the year that the Royals and Zack Greinke were involved in came against the Rangers and Kevin Millwood. It was early on, just Millwood’s third start. Millwood had been lights out early, but this game was in Texas, so it looked like this might be when both pitchers actually give up some runs for the first time. Millwood lost a complete game and gave up just two runs, but Zack was better. I remember Soria got the save and being so disappointed that it wouldn’t be another complete game for Greinke.

A funny thing happened, though. Millwood had his traditional above average season*. Once every five years whether he needed it or not. He won 13 games and had an ERA of 3.67. His strikeout rate was continuing to plummet, though, so it was pretty obvious that he would have difficulty replicating that season. Well now the Rangers had gotten smart and found a trade partner who would value the veteran leadership that is often spewed from front offices when they acquire a lackluster player either in a trade or as a free agent. They were able to pawn him off on the Orioles where he pitched pretty well for his first seven or eight starts before absolutely caving in. He lost 16 games and had an ERA of over 5.00.

So now he’s a free agent and rumor has it that the Royals are interested in his services. For the right price, I’d sadly rather see Millwood over O’Sullivan. And I do understand the value of signing a veteran to eat some innings in order for the young guys to have some time to develop and not be forced into action. While I get it, Millwood is not the guy you want for this. His low strikeout rate coupled with the Royals defense is a recipe for an Elarton-esque disaster. Interestingly enough, Millwood’s the guy I wanted the Royals to go after instead of Elarton. For an incentive based deal, I say go to town and give him the fifth starter job, but for anything more than $1 or $2 million, he’ll end up as a sunk cost.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

November 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Back tomorrow with a new post.

Mike Aviles

November 24, 2010 1 comment

My favorite part of the 2008 season was the young shortstop who came up from the minors in May after Tony Pena, Jr. proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he simply could not hit Major League pitching. Sadly for Aviles, his Major League debut was an 0-3 effort against the Twins. That earned him a seat on the bench for the next week. In the world of Trey Hillman* he had seen enough. Finally about a week later, the Royals were in New York. Aviles was from New York, so Hillman threw him a bone and gave him a start. Mike went 2-3 with two doubles and was a starter the rest of the year.

*So good ol’ Trey was hired by the Dodgers to be their bench coach. Not only do I think Hillman was a terrible manager who was in way over his head, but as a person, I think he’s pretty scummy as well. He insulted the fans, said one thing and did another and was just generally unlikable in his time with the Royals. I have nothing against the Dodgers, so I hope he succeeds in his role as not the man, but I have some hopes that he does something so stupid that he gets fired within his first month on the job.

A real life shortstop who can hit? Pinch me!

So Aviles was a starter and quickly became one of my favorite players. He played with intensity, he was good defensively, he could hit and he did it with a little pop as well as evidenced by his 41 extra base hits. For a franchise bereft of shortstops, the Royals appeared to have found theirs for at least the next couple of seasons. The thing that most impressed me about Aviles was his ability to make adjustments. Starting on July 1 of his rookie year, Aviles had a stretch of five straight games spanning 16 at bats without a hit. It looked like the magic was gone and he was a career minor leaguer for a reason.

The next day he began a 12 game hitting streak and a stretch where he hit in 22 out of 25. It wasn’t empty either. Those 25 games came with 15 extra base hits. As late as August 3, Aviles was hitting .340/.365/.550. That obviously came down, but there were three or four other times when he had a very rough three to six game stretch and came back on fire after making adjustments.

If you’re reading this, you know what happened in 2009. The season was basically lost to injury and Aviles underwent Tommy John surgery. Of course, this led to the acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt which meant that the Royals had replaced one of my favorites with one of my least favorites. The Royals thought there was a chance that Aviles would never make it back at 100% and if he did, he might not be a shortstop, so they had to go out and fill a huge organizational hole. They had lucked into Aviles and their luck had run out.

Spring training 2010 began with faint hope that Aviles would be able to come back by May or so, but most believed that was rushing the timetable a bit.

Then a funny thing happened. He tore the cover off the ball in spring training. With Alex Gordon beginning the season on the DL with a broken thumb, the Royals didn’t have much choice but to put Aviles on the roster. He didn’t make it through the first week before he was sent back down to play every day. He was just okay in AAA, but had to be recalled when Chris Getz injured himself.He was back in the majors as the second baseman and early on wasn’t walking at all, but was really hitting. His defense was average at best, but you can life with that for the bat he was providing.

Then, predictably, he went into a slump and for awhile looked like he couldn’t muscle a ball out of the infield. Looking back, you have to think that he wasn’t even close to healthy when he came back. From Aviles’ perspective, you can sort of understand why he pushed himself, though. The organization wasn’t terribly thrilled with him for not disclosing his injury earlier in 2009 and they hadn’t exactly given him the benefit of the doubt throughout his career.He was still hitting through June, though the power had disappeared almost entirely. Then, he just stopped hitting at all during July and most of August. He’d get a hit here or there, but it was never anything with any authority. To make matters worse, his defense was pretty bad as well. This time, it looked very real that the fairy tale was over. In a span of 22 games, Aviles hadn’t had a single extra base hit.

Then, a funny thing happened. He just started to swing hard and didn’t hold back anymore. And he started hitting the ball with authority. In September, his numbers were reminiscent of 2008. He hit .333/.364/.568 and with Hillman gone, he appeared to make a fun out of Ned Yost. My postulation (and undoubtedly others) is that he was finally healthy and wasn’t concerned about absolutely letting loose and swinging as hard as he can. It was a welcome sight. I think I wrote here that during a game in September he hit a ball to center that was a routine flyball out, but just a month before that would have seemed like a mammoth shot for him. That’s how bad he was going.

So now as we look forward to 2011 and beyond, we need to figure out exactly where Aviles fits. For 2011, it looks like he’ll play either second base or third base. At least until Moustakas comes up, that is. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Chris Getz, so my choice is for Aviles to play somewhere. The organizational plan, at least what we’ve been privy to, is for Aviles to play third, Getz to play second and Betemit to be sort of an every day utility man. I’m not opposed to giving Getz another chance, but Aviles has at least had a productive season in the big leagues.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Royals do with this glut of admittedly mediocre middle infield talent as the wave of prospects comes up. Johnny Giavotella is the main guy pushing at second base, but if Colon proves he can’t handle shortstop, he’s going to shift to the other side and provide even more competition. In an ideal world, Aviles shows he can handle shortstop again and Betancourt becomes expendable, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Either way, I’m glad Aviles looks to be back because he’s a fun guy to be one of my favorites.

V is for 5 as in Rule V

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

With 40 man rosters needing to be set for the Rule V draft coming up, it’s definitely time for a primer on what exactly this draft is. The purpose of the Rule V draft is for teams to be unable to keep their prospects in their minor league system for years without having to promote them to the 40 man roster. Players eligible to be selected are those who are not on their parent club’s 40 man roster and are either a)signed at age 19 or older and have been in their organization for four years or b)signed at age 18 or younger and have been in their organization for five years. These eligibility rules went into place in 2006.

Each pick in the Rule V draft costs the drafting team $50,000 and they are required to keep their pick on the Major League roster for the entirety of the season. If they do not remain on the roster, they have to be offered back to the player’s original club for $25,000. At that point, a few thing can happen. The team can work out a trade that allows the drafting organization to keep the drafted player as was the case with a guy like Evan Meek of the Pirates. The original team can simply refuse to take the player back, at which point he becomes the property of the drafting team and they are free to option him to the minors at their will. This was the case with Edgar Osuna and the Royals in the 2010 season. The final option is that the player is returned to his original team. This happens quite often.

The Rule V draft isn’t exactly burgeoning with talent as most of these player would be protected if their organization thought they were going to become stars or even just useful major leaguers, but sometimes talent is readily available. The example that hits closest to home in this regard is Joakim Soria who was drafted by the Royals prior to the 2007 season. He’s now a two-time All-Star and generally considered one of the best closers in all of baseball. Josh Hamilton is expected to be announced the American League MVP later today and was selected in the Rule V draft by the Cincinnati Reds before being traded to the Texas Rangers after his only season in Cincy.

Talent is available for the taking. Oftentimes it’s simply a miscalculation by the original organization. In the case of Joakim Soria, he had been hampered by arm trouble and missed full seasons in the minors, so the Padres left him unprotected. The Royals saw him and he’s been both amazing and relatively injury free since. Dan Uggla was the victim of a roster crunch in Arizona. While moderately successful in the minors, he had never progressed past AA and the Diamondbacks were loaded with prospects, so he had to be left unprotected. The Marlins took a chance and he gave them five fantastic seasons before they recently traded him to the Braves. That’s a similar situation to what the Royals will be facing in future seasons. They just have so much talent that someone who is better than your typical Rule V draftee will inevitably become available.

Of course, no Rule V primer would be complete without talking about the granddaddy of all picks, Roberto Clemente. The setup at the time was a little different, but the fact remains that the Dodgers missed out on a transcendent talent and had to watch from afar as Clemente led the Pirates from 1955-1972 before his tragic death. Probably the second best player taken in Rule V history was Johan Santana who was hidden in the Twins bullpen before being sent down to the minors the next season to re-acclimate himself to a starting role. Two Cy Youngs later, the Twins were pretty pleased they took a $50k gamble on him, bad trade aside.

Notable draftees by the Royals include Soria, DJ Carrasco, Andrew Sisco and Fabio Castro. Castro is notable because he was used to acquire Esteban German from the Texas Rangers. Ronny Paulino was also selected by the Royals in 2002, but was immediately returned to the Pirates. While he’s not a world beater, he’d be a very useful player to have now with the catching position in flux.

Players taken in the draft who are the best bets to stick are those who have at least one Major League skill already. Left handed relievers are hot commodities in the Rule V as they are often able to be stored in the back of the bullpen and used sparingly but still with the acumen to retire a few Major League left-handed hitters. Speed guys are often good picks for National League clubs as they can be used as pinch runners and defensive replacements without having to bat.

This draft is filled with a few players who could be right-handed outfield bats to fit with the lefty heavy outfield the Royals employ. Look for one of the outfielders or a pitcher who can be hidden to be taken by the Royals if anybody. The two players I’m most concerned with losing from the Royals organization are Mario Santiago and Paulo Orlando. Santiago would be the better bet to fit on a Major League roster, but Orlando has the most long-term potential, so a team in need may be willing to put up with him being pretty raw. It’ll be interesting to see if any superstars come out of this one leaving their original team with their collective heads in their hands.

Royals Spending Big?

November 22, 2010 1 comment

Peter Gammons tweeted a couple of days ago that this free agent market is shaping up to a fantastic one for the players and cited examples such as John Buck and Joaquin Benoit getting three years each. Then in a sentence acceptable for journalists only on Twitter* said “Pirates, Royals offering big.” Pretty cryptic stuff from Gammons who is wrong way less often than his critics would like to admit. Before we start getting excited about to whom the Royals could be making big offers, this statement was qualified with the fact that it was from the mouth of an unnamed agent. Agents do everything they can to drive value for their clients. Still, though, this is an interesting statement considering that we’ve been told all off-season that payroll would be decreasing. To add to that, the trade of DeJesus has already saved the Royals about $5.5 million.

*I love Twitter. I really do. In fact, you should follow me @DBLesky. What I don’t love is the negative effect I feel it is having on journalism. This may be a topic for an entire off-Royals blog post, but as someone with a journalism background, I struggle to find where reporting the story first is the most important thing in the world. Please don’t confuse that statement with me condemning anyone who tries to break the story first. They don’t have a choice in the matter. The news society is designed to praise those who are “first on the scene.” That’s not even my biggest problem with Twitter, though. My biggest problem is that it’s making people stupid. While this is going to sound like it should be followed with “get off my lawn!” I am just appalled at how many kids don’t have basic sentence structure skills and it’s because of limited characters. End rant. Thank you for reading as I went off the deep end for just a moment.

So when Gammons tweets that the Royals are spending big, it’s a little bit of a shock. I got to thinking what spending big could mean. It could mean they’re offering big money to the top-tier free agents of the world like Werth, Crawford, Lee, Martinez, etc. While I’m not an advocate of spending big money this off-season, there are a couple of fits in the top-tier of the free agent class. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, Werth is a fit. Aside from Wil Myers, there’s not much in the way of corner outfielders in the system and in a lineup that’s about to become very lefty heavy, a middle of the order right-handed bat would be a big coup. I’m not sure that the money and years match up, but I’ve thrown out 3 years for $51 million before. A couple of posters on Royals Corner have mentioned front loading the deal while there’s not a ton of money on the books and I’d be willing to tack on a fourth year if they did that. The other option that may make sense is Victor Martinez. That’s an option if, and only if, they believe he can catch full-time. Otherwise he’s just adding to the glut of 1B/DH types in the system.

Something else offering big could mean is offering up a lot in a trade. I haven’t really discussed this here, but as you all know by now, Justin Upton is being dangled. He can be had, but for quite a price. The Diamondbacks, like the Royals with Greinke, want to hit a home run with this deal if they make it. The Royals obviously have the farm system to make a trade of this magnitude, but the question is whether or not it makes sense for them. I think to get Upton, it would take two of the big pitching prospects, a big prospect bat and probably a Major League arm. Would you trade Soria, Montgomery, Crow and Myers for Upton? I’m not sure that I would. I love Justin Upton and I think he’s still improving, but there are a few red flags with him that would really concern me if I’m not only giving up huge talent potential for him, but committing $50 million for him. Not that he and his brother, BJ, are the same person, but there have been questions about BJ’s work ethic, and Upton hasn’t exactly played through pain over the course of his short career. Also, BJ looks like he has peaked early. Is the younger Upton on path for the same sort of career? It’s hard to say, but it’s a huge gamble giving up talent like that.

Readers of this blog know that I’m a big proponent of a Werth signing because he has the pedigree, the talent and the athleticism to be worth a three or four-year deal. His home run numbers will inevitably drop moving from Citizen’s Bank Park to Kauffman, but he’d provide solid defense, a good OBP and a veteran bat the young guys can lean on.

This speculation got me thinking about a world in which the Royals were suddenly able to field a team with a $120 million payroll. It was sort of fun to think about what they could do this off-season with about $60 million to spend. Ahh, a dream worth dreaming! Realistically, though, the Royals aren’t going to make any big splashes in the free agent market this year, and they probably shouldn’t. They’ve got a ridiculously talented cast of players on the rise, and it makes sense to see where the pieces all fit in before committing big money to a piece of the puzzle. It’ll be interesting, though, to see what offering big actually ends up meaning.