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Are the Royals Better Now?

It seem preposterous to even entertain the notion that the Royals are a better team in 2011 without Zack Greinke than with him, but I’d like to examine it a little bit closer. While I enjoy statistics and like to make sense of players through their stats, I’ll admit to being a little murky on defensive statistics, which is the bulk of why I think this trade has a chance to improve the present. Still, though, it’d be hard to replace Yuniesky Betancourt and not get considerably better defensively. Also, a full year in center field of a guy who can play very strong defense and hit a little is something that will be a huge pickup to this team.

Let’s start with Lorenzo Cain because the more I look at this deal, the more he becomes my favorite piece of it. I was listening to the radio yesterday and a caller mentioned that what she liked about Cain was that he came up and hit everything in sight and looked for all the world like a future superstar. Then it appeared that the league figured him out and that’s the point where a player can go in one of a couple of directions. They can either be a flash in the pan like a Shawn Sedlacek was in his first few starts in the majors or they can make adjustments and get back on track like a guy like Mike Aviles did in his rookie season. Well, I looked at the numbers and she was dead on.

After getting the recall for good in August, Cain hit .333/.386/.462 through his first 12 games and was playing exemplary defense in center field. The hits stopped coming, though, and in his next 16 games, Cain hit .167/.224/.185. As I mentioned above, this was the point where he could have ended up as just a player listed in the baseball encyclopedia or he could make adjustments and begin to hit again. He started to hit again and with authority. From that point on, in his last 12 games, Cain hit .408/.431/.592. Yes, the sample sizes are small, but to watch a young player make adjustments is something that makes me believe in him more and more. I like Cain a great deal more than any of the center field options the Royals have which include Blanco, Cabrera, Dyson and Maier. He gets on base as well as Blanco, is almost as dynamic as Dyson, is as solid as Maier and is better overall than Melky. That’s a net gain in center.

Onto Escobar now – he’s regarded in the baseball world as one of the best shortstops out there. Defensive metrics from 2010 indicate otherwise, but there’s a lot of noise in a one season sample for defensive statistics, so I’m willing to look the other way somewhat and take a look at his minor league track record. That, to me, points to future defensive success. Offensively, I don’t think he’ll be a slouch either. As I mentioned yesterday, his luck was absolutely atrocious. Add to that the fact that he’s still quite young and has a chance to improve and we’re looking at a guy who I think has a reasonable shot to put up a .300/.340 line next season which, at the bottom of the order, would make the Royals offense purr.

What I haven’t mentioned in great detail is how the new defensive alignment will help the entire staff. I touched briefly on how it will help Hochevar, but adding these two players plus playing Kila Ka’aihue more often at first than Butler, Aviles at third and Getz at second makes the Royals infield defense a definite positive. In the outfield, with Cain in center, an above average Alex Gordon in left and an above average Jeff Francouer in right, the Royals starting outfield appears to be head and shoulders better defensively than the alignment of Podsednik, Ankiel and DeJesus. Dramatic team turnarounds occur more often with pitching improvements than offensive improvements and the quickest way to upgrade a pitching staff without acquiring new pitchers is to upgrade the defense.

I went out on a limb yesterday and suggested that Hochevar has his best season to date, but I also think we’re going to see Kyle Davies’ best season as well as at least one of the young pitchers make their Major League debut this season and be very successful at the big league level.

The acquisition of Jeremy Jeffress will also be a big boost to the entire pitching staff. Combined with Soria, Meche (who was surprisingly good out of the pen), Tejeda and all the potential arms, the bullpen will end up being a HUGE positive for the 2011 Royals. My breakout figure in the 2011 bullpen is Greg Holland who, at last check, was striking out something like 17 batters per nine innings in winter ball. That is an absolute unreal number, and Holland has a history of struggling initially at a new level before taking off. A solid, deep bullpen can do a lot to minimize the issues of a weak starting staff.

Overall, it’s really difficult to say with any certainty that the Royals will be better in 2011 without Greinke than with him, but the possibility is certainly there. The defense is improved, the bullpen is improved, and I think the offense will even be improved. I’m not exactly planning on a division title or even contention late into the season, but I think the calls for 100 losses are not quite realistic. Sure it could happen because young talent doesn’t always perform well, but I think we’re going to start seeing the fruits of the farm system start to make their presence known and it will provide for a fun summer and a few more wins than 2010.

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  1. TCreecy
    December 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I agree with the access. Could the Royals lose 100 games this year? Of course. However, this team is no where near the horrid 2004-2006 teams. Those teams were not only pathetic(record wise) but roster wise as well(no future in sight.)

    I think the pen will be improved as well. Not only do you have Jeffress’ potential as a late inning guy but you possibly have Lou Coleman(90+ IPs 100+ Ks 2.15 ERA between AA-AAA in 2010) and Tim Collins(70+ IPs 100+ Ks 2.02 ERA between AA-AAA in 2010) as well. Plus lefty Blaine Hardy(90+ IPs 2.71 ERA between AA-AAA in 2010) could be added to a group of Holland, Tejeda(if he’s not traded), Wood and Meche.

    Yes, some of those guys might take their lumps at first but it has the potential to be a dominating(and cheap) bullpen for years to come. I hope they keep Tejeda because I think he could be very valuable to this team in 2010. If the rotation isn’t providing the innings you want(likely) then you need someone to step up and take some of that. I’d much rather overwork Tejeda than any of the young guys in that pen.

    As for Cain, that there’s a chance he’ll be sent to AAA to begin the year. While that would be a shame(from a fan’s perspective) it might make sense to delay his service time one more year. Then, trade Cabrera(like you did Ankiel, Pods, and Farnsworth last year) and call Cain up mid season.

    To me though, this entire Greinke deal is going to be determined on how Escobar plays. He doesn’t have to become an offensive force(just a .700-.750 OPS would be fine) but he really needs to be the defensive force he’s made out to be. If that happens it should be a heck of a trade. I’m pretty confident that Cain will be a solid(maybe not stud, but solid) ML OF and that at least one of the two pitchers will become valuable down the line but it’s probably Escobar that will tilt the trade one way or the other.

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