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Royals Notes: Brown and Bale

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

  • On Monday, I wrote that Kansas City's 2007 Pitcher of the Year would not win "by virtue of being the best of a very poor group of candidates." Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the team's runs batted in leader this past season, Emil Brown. In yet another illustration of just how anemic the Royals offense was all year, Brown's 62 RBI was the lowest team-leading total in all of baseball. The Chicago White Sox scored the fewest runs of any team in the American League, and even they had five players who picked up more than 62 RBI.

    Despite having the option of giving playing time to younger and less-expensive outfielders like Shane Costa or Mitch Maier, the Royals appear to be considering the idea of bringing back the 33-year-old Brown for a fourth season in Kansas City. In 2007, Brown ate up $3.45 million of the team's payroll but didn't produce on the field, hitting a poor .257/.300/.347. When his corner-outfield position is taken into account, those numbers made him the worst hitter Buddy Bell trotted out on an everyday basis.

    Brown has had a spot in the Kansas City outfield ever since he destroyed opposing pitchers in spring training of 2005 as an intriguing non-roster invitee. Despite his success in the minor leagues, I was initially against the minor-league journeyman being given an everyday job on the basis of his performance against Four-A pitchers in the Cactus League. However, I eventually came around to the idea. Here's what I wrote on March 24, 2005:

    The point is that among the guys not making guaranteed money, Emil Brown just might be the best of a sorry lot. The likelihood is that he won’t hit and will therefore lose his job, but there’s definitely an Ibanez-esque upside, too. Let’s just hope that if the former proves to be true, the Royals won’t continue to hang on, waiting for the latter to happen.

    For a couple of seasons, the former did prove to be true, as Brown posted better than an .800 OPS in 2005 and 2006. The key is that he did so making $355,000 in '05 and $1.775 million in '06, relative bargains given his production. In 2007, however, he made $3.45 million, and his 2008 salary would undoubtedly be even higher than that via arbitration.

    Although it seems quite likely that Brown's abilities are on a downward slope, the question of whether or not he will ever be a productive hitter again isn't very important in this instance. The risk of allotting $4 million or more to a 33-year-old hitter coming off a terrible season greatly outweighs the reward, especially when the younger and cheaper Maier and Costa would jump at the chance to play. Brown's time as a Royal has come and gone.

  • The article linked above also discusses the intriguing possibility of left-hander John Bale moving to the starting rotation. After missing the first half of the year with back and neck injuries, Bale quietly did a very nice job coming out of the bullpen for the Royals last season. In 40 innings of work, the 33-year-old posted a 4.05 ERA, allowed just one home run, and had a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio of 42-to-17. Bale's season included one especially dominating appearance against the Yankees in which he struck out seven batters in 3 2/3 innings pitched.

    The majority of Bale's career has come as a reliever, although he did make nine starts in 2003 with the Cincinnati Reds, posting a 4.47 ERA in 44 1/3 innings. On the downside, he allowed seven home runs, but had a great strikeout-to-walk ratio of 34-to-11. Bale's left-handedness and ability to miss bats is what drew general manager Dayton Moore to sign him away from the Japanese Central League last winter. He also has a history of success in the minor leagues:

    Minors 3.71 638.1 702 224 50 1.28
    Majors 4.47 118.2 110 51 12 1.44
    It appears that the Royals have a talented pitcher who, to date, has not been given the opportunity to show what he can do. In the minor leagues, he did everything one could possibly want in a pitcher: He struck out batters at a superior rate, minimized walks, kept the ball in the park, and kept runs off the scoreboard. This is a "Moneyball" pitcher if there ever was one.

    Given the Royals' limited payroll, the lack of good starting pitching on the free agent market, and need for rotation help behind Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, and Zack Greinke, allowing Bale to earn a spot in the rotation is one of the best ideas to come out of the Moore regime yet. Chances are he would make the front office look good.
  • Pitcher of the Year: The Case for Gil Meche

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    A poll on the Royals' official Web site asks fans who they believe Kansas City's Pitcher of the Year should be. For the first time in quite a while, the winner of the award won't take the trophy by default, by virtue of being the best of a very poor group of candidates. Much has been made of the quick turnaround the Royals made in keeping the other team from scoring, and that is beared out in the performances of the pitchers mentioned in the poll: Brian Bannister, Jimmy Gobble, Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, David Riske, and Joakim Soria.

    How good were they? In 2007, that group of six pitchers threw 783 innings of 3.47 ERA ball. They also posted a cumulative 179.1 VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) which, if you subscribe to the theory that ten runs of VORP is equal to one win, was worth approximately 18 wins to the Royals this past season. Bill James' Win Shares method, however, states that the group was worth 59 Win Shares to their team, or roughly 20 wins. No matter which way the stat sheet is turned, the six pitchers did nothing but contribute to the Royals' cause this past season.

    Still, the question of which guy out-performed the others is one that still has to be answered, both in the poll and when the actual winner is chosen later this winter. As of 8:38 p.m. Central Time, 50 percent of the 4,224 voters selected Bannister as the team's best pitcher, with Meche coming in a distant second with just 27 percent of the vote. In terms of naming the top two contenders, the fans have gotten this one right. Although Soria, Riske, and Gobble all posted lower ERAs than Meche and Bannister did, each of the latter two worked more than twice the number of innings as any of the three relief pitchers did. Greinke, with his 3.69 ERA, strong peripherals, and successful return to the starting rotation, likely would have won the award in a world without the two stalwarts.

    At any rate, the competition ultimately comes down to Meche and Bannister, a competition that the voters have misjudged. The bottom line is that Meche had far more to do with his success than Bannister did. Let's take a look at their traditional statistics:

    Meche 3.67 216.0 156 69 22 .711
    Bannister 3.87 165.0 77 44 15 .713
    Right off the bat, it is apparent that Meche has the edge by posting a lower ERA in 50 more innings and striking out batters at a much higher rate. It should be noted that Bannister's .249 batting average against was better than Meche's .263, and played a significant role in his WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched), which was .084 points lower than Meche's. That information will be very important in a moment.

    Is it fair, then, to determine that Meche was the better pitcher by virtue of his lower ERA and higher number of innings pitched? The answer to that question in any scenario is almost always 'No.' To get a clearer picture of whether or not Meche deserves the trophy, we'll next explore some deeper statistical measures: Line Drive percentage (LD%), Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER), and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).

    Meche 17.8 .704 4.14 0.47
    Bannister 19.2 .739 4.52 0.65
    AL Avg 18.0 .687 4.51 ----
    With these numbers, the case for Meche is made even stronger. The first category is fairly self-explanitory. While Bannister was below league-average in allowing line drives, his counterpart in the rotation was just a couple of ticks below the mean. Things get very interesting when it comes to DER which, according to The Hardball Times, is "the percent of times a batted ball is turned into an out by the teams' fielders, not including home runs." In other words, DER measures how often a pitcher's defense do their jobs behind him. As the chart shows, the Royals converted batted balls against Meche into an out 3.5 percent less than they did for Bannister. That helps explain why Bannister's batting average against was better. Despite that, Meche still had the better ERA, partially a reflection of Bannister's poor performance in his final two starts, but moreso of Meche's superior strikeout rate.

    The point is illustrated further with FIP and FIP minus ERA, which measures all things a pitcher is personally responsible for (also known as the "luck" factor). This is a situation in which a lower number is better. Just as he did in preventing line drives, Meche bested the league FIP, this time by eight percent. When subtracted from his ERA, Meche's 0.47 bests Bannister's 0.65, further cementing him as having had the superior campaign.

    Despite Bannister's amazing run through the summer months in which he was named the American League Rookie of the Month in June and August, it is Meche who deserves to be the team's Pitcher of the Year. It all comes back to strikeouts and things that are out of a pitcher's control. Meche's superior strikeout rate not only illustrates how much more he himself had to do with his own success, but also casts a shadow of doubt over Bannister's future. Although the 26-year-old has the ability to pitch in the Major Leagues, he will not continue to receive the good fortune that was given him in 2007. To win a seasonal award in the future, he will have to do more of the heavy lifting himself.

    Welcome Back ... Again

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    Mark Teahen and Alex Gordon are cool

    Sunday, August 20, 2006

    After torching Oakland pitching for five hits in his first eight at-bats over the four-game weekend series, Mark Teahen was finally cooled off in the final two games, as the Royals third baseman went just two-for-nine with one RBI on Saturday and Sunday. In fact, he’s taken quite a few one-for-fours and one-for-fives in the past week or so. However, Teahen’s performance over the past month was so absurdly good, his season OPS still stands at .880, one of the best marks among third basemen in all of baseball.

    By now, every Royals fan knows about Teahen’s month of July, a month in which he hit a robust .319/.442./.692 in 91 at-bats. In terms of overall production combined with the player possibly meaning something to a future Royals ballclub, Teahen’s breakout last month is probably the most exciting thing to hit Kansas City baseball since Johnny Damon became such an unstoppable force in July and August of 2000. That we can say he’s “only” hitting .325/.386/.563 so far in August is quite funny to me, if only because it’s been a long time since a Kansas City player’s OPS being over .900 represented a slump.

    The reasons behind Teahen’s resurgence since his recall from Omaha have been well-documented by Craig Brown at Royals Authority and Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. Craig’s analysis was outstanding, from detailing the percentage of pitches that Teahen has pulled to illustrating where all of his 2006 home runs have landed.

    Craig also briefly discussed the low percentage of line drives Teahen has hit (14.7 percent coming into Sunday’s game), pointing out that most successful hitters are at 20 percent or above. Last season, 23.2 percent of the balls Teahen put into play were considered line drives by Baseball Info Solutions, which leaves us wondering how in the world a guy could spike his OPS by more than 200 points in one season despite hitting fewer balls on the line. Ironically, the answer may lie not in what Teahen is doing, but in what he isn’t.

    Among players who collected at least 400 plate appearances in 2005, Teahen had the fourth-highest groundball-to-flyball ratio in the American League at 2.11-to-1, placing him in a group that included speedy players such as Derek Jeter, Jacque Jones, Scott Podsednik, and Ichiro!. In all fairness to Teahen, he’s no Ken Harvey, who also hit grounders more than 66 percent of the time. On the contrary, Teahen’s a smart baserunner and moves extremely well for a big guy.

    However, this season, Teahen’s doing what big guys are supposed to do in baseball, which is not hitting the ball on the ground. His 2006 groundball-to-flyball ratio stands at 1.46-to-1, which represents a 31 percent increase in fly balls. At 6-foot-3 and 220 lbs., Teahen’s raw power may have finally shown itself simply because he seems to be generating loft when he makes contact.

    Overly simple? Perhaps, but it’s vital for players of Teahen’s stature to hit the ball in the air as much as possible. That he’s doing so is another reason behind one of the biggest one-season improvements in all of baseball.

    Speaking of awesome stories involving young third baseman in the organization (you all know where this is going), Wichita’s Alex Gordon this weekend gave Royals fans yet another reason to get excited about his future.

    In the first inning of the Wranglers’ Friday night game against the Corpus Christi Hooks, Gordon hit his 25th home run of the season in the first inning against Corpus Christi’s Joshua Miller. In his very next plate appearance, Miller threw a pitch that came very, very close to hitting Gordon in the head. Despite being able to take his base, Gordon left the game shortly thereafter, and his status for Saturday night’s contest was sketchy at best.

    The smirk says it all

    Not only was Gordon was in the lineup on Saturday night, but he promptly took Chance Douglass – that night’s victim starter – out of the yard to dead center field in the first inning. So not only has he shown an ability to hit for average (.320 coming into Sunday night), power (isolated power of .267), speed (20 stolen bases), and solid defensive and throwing abilities, he’s also proven just how tough he is. The guy almost got hit in the head with a fastball one night, and the next, hit another homer, seemingly out of spite.

    Folks, Gordon isn't just talented, he's also a bad, bad, man. A bad, bad, man who's going to be one of the better all-around players in the game in less than five years.

    Gordon has a great day, KRB reports from game two...

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    For the second time in as many nights, the Wranglers and the Cardinals put on a thrilling show at Hammons Field, complete with a clutch three-run homer in the top of the ninth by Dee Brown, some stellar defense, and a young right-hander making his Double-A debut. The two clubs couldn't have picked a better time to impress; not only was a record crowd of 10,139 on hand, but I got to watch most of the game from the press box.

    All of that was cool enough, but before the game began, I introduced myself to the man sitting to my right, only to find out that that man was Rob Ducey, a now-retired player who spent 13 seasons in the Major Leagues and now works as a scout for the Blue Jays. It's unbelievable who you can run into at a ballpark. Anyway, on to a few notes...

  • As I alluded to in the open, Billy Buckner made his Wichita debut last night, and had a mixed bag of results. Using a fastball that was consistently clocked in the upper-80s by the usually-inconsistent and sometimes not-working Hammons Field radar gun, Buckner did an excellent job of getting ahead in the count. As a result, he didn't walk anybody -- which was his biggest problem with High Desert -- but plunked three Springfield hitters, including first baseman Juan Richardson twice.

    Buckner worked into the sixth before being knocked out of the game by Iker Franco's RBI single that gave the Cardinals a 4-3 lead. I wasn't overly impressed, but although he allowed eight hits in 5.1 innings, he did strike out four hitters and didn't issue one free pass, so his first Double-A appearance should be considered at least a step in the right direction.

  • Buckner was aided by some solid defensive play by his infielders. They were especially strong up-the-middle, as shortstop Angel Sanchez cleanly fielded every grounder hit his way and second baseman Donnie Murphy made a very nice diving stop in the hole between first and second, but the play of the night was made by Alex Gordon.

    In the bottom of the first inning, the Wranglers were in a heap of trouble. Buckner had hit the first two batters he'd faced before allowing a run-scoring single to Springfield's Richardson, who went 3-for-3 on the night. With runners on the corners and nobody out, third baseman Travis Hanson looped a pop-up behind third base in foul territory. Gordon gave chase and made a spectacular tumbling grab about 30 feet away from his position.

    As if that wasn't enough, Gordon quickly got back on his feet and, seeing that Kevin Estrada had tagged up at third base and was trying to score, fired a missile to catcher Matt Tupman who applied the tag to complete one of the most amazing double plays you'll ever see. It was the second time in the series that Gordon's presence of mind helped him make a play few third basemen at any level could make. On Friday, he stopped a hard groundball that was headed for the left field corner, kept his composure, picked the baseball up off the ground, and threw a rocket to first base for the out.

    I've written this before, but I'll say it again: the Royals have absolutely no business moving Gordon to another position to accomodate Mark Teahen. Teahen has solid defensive tools, but I'd venture to say that Gordon's fielding skills are still better.

  • Oh, and Smash can still hit too, as he broke out of his mini-slump with a couple of hard-hit doubles to both left and right field.


  • First baseman Kila Kaaihue picked up a solid base hit to right field, but still only went 1-for-4, dropping his season batting average to .181 and his OPS to a pathetic .503. Unless there's some behind-the-scenes factor dictating Kaaihue has to stay in Double-A, it's time to move him back down to High Desert where he had some success a year ago. He's clearly overmatched in the Texas League right now.

    Kaaihue (left) isn't doing anything with the bat in this picture or in games

    Although Kaaihue's OPS for the Mavericks in 2005 was .925, I held some concern about him coming into this season. In the hitter-friendly California League, his isolated power was "just" .193. That's nothing to sneeze at, but when you play in a launching pad, a legitimate power hitter is usually going to have that number well over .200. Still, nobody saw this total collapse coming. Kaaihue has solid plate discipline and is a better contact hitter than he's shown in 2006, but just needs to get some at-bats against less-experienced pitchers to regain his confidence.

  • Finally, to see pictures of Billy Butler, Chris Lubanski, and Sanchez, click here, here, and here.

    That's it for today. I'm heading to the park in about an hour for game three, and will have another report posted shortly thereafter!
  • KRB reports from Hammons Field!

    Saturday, July 01, 2006

    While the Royals were in the process of narrowly taking down the Cardinals at the new Busch Stadium, Kansas City's Double-A affiliate, Wichita, was busy doing the same to the Springfield Cardinals, squeaking out a 4-3 victory at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo. It was a hard-fought contest, as the Wranglers had to overcome a 3-0 deficit to improve to 5-3 in the Texas League's second half.

    However, the fun began long before any of the players took the field, as KRB and the rest of the strong contingent of Royals fans had the privilege of seeing Zack Greinke for the first time in a long while.

    Greinke took the time to sign autographs for anyone who asked, and then, with the large plastic briefcase he carried with him, made his way up to the concourse level. Greinke wasn't extremely engaging by any stretch of the imagination (in fact, I can't say for certain that he said anything beyond "You're welcome"), but that he's comfortable mingling with fans is encouraging to say the least.

    The most important thing for the 22-year-old is progress both on and off the field. Although the results aren't there -- his season ERA skyrocketed to 7.62 after allowing four earned runs in 4.1 innings against Midland on Wednesday -- Greinke comes closer and closer towards being mentally and physically ready for the Major Leagues with each start. He certainly won't be rushed to do so. The Royals plan to leave their former pitcher of the year in the minors for the foreseeable future, allowing him to develop and return at his own pace. Zack will likely make his next start on Monday evening, and I can't wait to see what he has in store.

    The game began rather ominously for the Wranglers, as Springfield starter Stuart Pomeranz had everything working in his favor for the first few innings. Pomeranz retired the first eight Wichita hitters he faced and kept them off the board for five innings before hitting a snag in the sixth. Angel Sanchez led off the inning with an infield single and, after walking Mitch Maier and hitting Alex Gordon, Pomeranz served up a two-run double to Billy Butler, who hiked his average to .326.

    Butler's still on fire

    Considering that failed prospect Dee Brown served as Butler's protection in the lineup, I couldn't believe that the 20-year-old got so many pitches to hit. Winning games isn't of the utmost importance in the minors, but you'd think that Pomeranz still wouldn't want any part of the man who's the hottest bat on Frank White's lineup card. Bizarre.

    Alex Gordon hit a couple of balls very hard in the game, one straight to third baseman Travis Hanson and the other to second baseman Kevin Estrada. Despite his 0-3 showing, Gordon's OPS remained a stellar .901.

    Smash Gordon will give it another shot today

    Well, that's all for now. Today is an exciting day (albeit a nervewracking one), as for the first time ever, KRB will have full press credentials to a ballgame. With any luck, I'll be able to flag down a Wrangler or two, and have interviews and/or exclusive game reports on the new-and-improved Royals Corner. Stay tuned!