Games » Tampa Bay RaysOct2
There are three possibilities: my eyes are bad, an unexpected thundershower hit Kauffman Stadium before my arrival or the grounds crew tried to give the Royals an assist against the speedy Rays because that infield sure looked wet.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work, the Rays still won the game.
Amazingly enough, 32, 484 people showed up to watch it — or at least 32,484 people bought tickets. Either Royals fans are incredibly loyal to a last-place team or they really like ‘Sluggies’ (essentially a blanket with arms that was the Royals giveaway last night). Afterwards, Ned Yost said that was one of the reasons he wanted to manage here (the fans, not the Sluggies). He said he also knew what was coming through the minor league system and wanted to be here when it arrived.
Sure hope he’s right.
Breaking up is hard to do
I asked Mike Aviles what he’d do after tomorrow’s game and he said shower and leave as quickly as possible. That seemed to be the prevalent attitude among the guys I talked to: nobody’s letting the grass grow under their feet.
Brayan Pena said it was because it was too sad to think about and nobody wanted to dwell on it. The team becomes his family and he knows some of the family won’t be back next year. “We just say ‘see you around’ and leave.”
I’ve got no way of knowing whether Brayan’s attitude is shared by most of the Royals, but I do know teammates create a special bond. When I asked Danny Jackson why he was playing in a Men’s Senior League after pitching in three World Series and winning two of them, he said the competition and “this.”
“This” was a bunch of teammates sitting on a picnic table after a game, drinking beer and giving each other a hard time. Doesn’t seem like much until it’s gone.
For the second time Jarrod Dyson didn’t know how many outs there were, catching a fly ball and coming up ready to fire. If you get a fourth out can you apply it to the next inning?
NOTE TO READERS: We had to decide whether to run the results of the project in the paper this Sunday (a Chiefs bye week which meant more space would be available and also the last day of the Royals season) or next Sunday (no space in the paper and a week after people had stopped thinking about the Royals). We decided to publish today. This is the unedited version of what I turned in on Friday. If you also get the Sunday paper you might still want to read this to see what jokes they killed.
Final results will be posted tomorrow along with a post about what it’s been like to do this. So here it is, the semi-final analysis.
Q. Which player contributed the most to the 2010 Kansas City Royals?
A. Yuniesky Betancourt.
Hey, don’t look at me, I’m as surprised as anyone. I went into this season believing his reputation: Betancourt was the worst shortstop to play the game since the invention of sabermetrics and the stat-geeks that record them.
Two things changed. One, we decided to use a version of college coaching legend Ron Polk’s player evaluation system and that forced me to pay attention to some things I might’ve missed otherwise. Two, I watched every pitch of every game. (If the games weren’t on TV I watched them on the internet.) Watching every day is a ton of work, but it changes everything.
So what did Betancourt do to change my mind and come out on top of our evaluation system?
HE PLAYED AND HE PLAYED ALMOST EVERY DAY. Before we started this project I asked Coach Polk what would happen if the best player got injured. His reply was classic, “Y’know, Lee, part of being good is actually getting on the field and playing.” So a great player who gets hurt or traded probably doesn’t contribute as much to a team as a good player who’s available every day.
After the trading deadline and some of the top players had moved on, it became clear that Betancourt, Billy Butler or Jason Kendall would finish with the most system points (nobody pitched well enough to threaten the top three). After giving it some thought, that made sense: they were the only three players still doing what they’d been doing on Opening Day. They had contributed the most. Then Kendall got hurt, Butler’s defense kept him from matching Betancourt in total system points, and bang, Yuni was the guy.
HE HIT. Look at his home run and RBI totals, pretty impressive for a shortstop hitting toward the bottom of the order. He didn’t walk much, and he hacked more than your average serial killer. But he did hit in the clutch, including three grand slams.
HIS DEFENSE. YEAH, I SAID IT: HIS DEFENSE. Ron Polk’s system forces you to give value to defense and Yuni’s certainly better defensively than I thought he was. He finished second on the team in the outstanding defensive play category (Jason Kendall was first). Of course, that’s subjective, just like balls and strikes. I looked for plays where you might not expect to get an out or no error would’ve been scored had the play not been made. It’s true that Betancourt goes to his left about as well as Glenn Beck (probably caused by bad routes and footwork) and seems to lose focus at times, but he goes back, to his right and forward well. The bottom line after watching an entire season: He makes a whole lot more good plays than bad ones.
Now here are the other players in their likely order of finish (check out the final point totals on Monday) and a brief summary of what I saw this year:
STRENGTHS: Billy still has an outside chance of catching Betancourt in total points this weekend, but he’d have to hit a couple grand slams, a double, a sac fly, walk, turn four outstanding defensive plays, steal a base and cure cancer (which is more likely then the stolen base). He’s still the best hitter on the team. He gave the team quality plate appearances (a hit, a walk, a hard-hit out, an 8+ pitch at-bat) over 47 percent of the time and anything over .425 is considered excellent. He’s got gap power (over 40 doubles) and consistently puts the ball in play hard and low.
LIMITATIONS: Consistently puts the ball in play hard and low. Combine hard grounders with lack of speed (and the only way Billy’s going to move fast is by falling off the team bus on Interstate 70) and you get double plays in bunches. But fans can’t have it both ways. If you want his average (and he’s among league leaders) don’t ask him to lift the ball. Sure, he’d ground into fewer double plays and might hit more homers (although Kauffman Stadium would limit that), but he’d also make more easy fly outs. Defensively, Billy doesn’t have much range and his footwork can leave him in awkward positions (one bad hop hit him in the back of his throwing hand — dude, how do you do that?).
Betancourt has over seven times as many defensive points in our system and that’s where Yuni beat Billy out. And before you say Yuni gets more opportunities (yes, he does, but he also gets more opportunities to score negative points), a first baseman handles the ball more than anyone but the catcher and pitcher. And Kila Ka’aihue’s already got as many defensive points as Billy in far fewer games.
STRENGTHS: Defense. He blocked at least one pitch in the dirt with a runner on third in nine one-run wins. If he hit nine game-winning homers fans would be over the moon, but let him save the game on defense and it doesn’t register. Excellent at framing pitches. Comes out from behind the plate well, runs better than the average catcher, good situational hitter (moving runners, hit and runs, driving in runners from third with less than two outs, etc.) succeeding in those situations 75 percent of the time. Anything over 70 percent is terrific (that’s why he was in the two-hole). Smart, a team leader, also willing to play in pain. I heard some people knock this, calling it selfish. I don’t know why some fans have such a pathological need to find fault with Jason Kendall. Maybe it’s because he looks like he should be head of security at a meth lab (here’s hoping he finds that line funny), but he seems to be a nice guy. Maybe it’s because he screws up their fantasy teams: much of what he does isn’t reflected in the statistics. Some fans were upset at Kendall for playing in pain and some fans were upset at Juan Gonzalez (remember him?) for refusing to. Frankly, there are times I don’t see how ballplayers can stand us.
LIMITATIONS: No pop, hits home runs about as often as I go to church. Throwing wasn’t awful, wasn’t great, but finding out his shoulder was held together with duct tape and rubber bands might explain that.
STRENGTHS: Probably the team’s best all-around player.
LIMITATIONS: I thought he struck out looking too much, but the other view is that he shouldn’t let an umpire expand his zone which can ultimately be counterproductive. Considering his hottest streak of the season, he clearly needs to have more kids.
STRENGTHS: Consistently high average and is now showing some power. Also starting to steal more bases, which would be nice to see carried over into next season.
LIMITATIONS: Does EVERYTHING backward and somehow gets away with it. Another hacker who needs to be careful of what he swings at: his good hand-eye coordination might put a lousy pitch in play. He doesn’t walk much and had 14 errors when I wrote this. The Royals need to figure out what to do with him defensively. His situational hitting average means he’s not ideal in the two-hole. On the other hand, Mike seems to have a knack for overcoming the odds.
STRENGTHS: The more you watch him, the more you appreciate his game. Despite a brief fielding funk (five errors) the word “solid” continually comes to mind. He registered one mental mistake on defense (don’t ask, can’t remember what it was) and none on offense. Succeeded as a situational hitter over 80 percent of the time, highest on the team.
LIMITATIONS: Seemed like most of his power is pulled right down the line and I wonder if letting the ball get deeper would keep some foul shots fair (I may be in over my head on this one). Mitch absolutely crushed a ball in Seattle (I think it hit something in Vancouver and bounced back into the stands) which makes me wonder if he’s got more power than he’s been able to show so far. (I may find out when he decides to rip off one of my arms and beat me to death with it). Only two stolen bases going into the weekend which ties him with Brayan Pena, and I think Pena’s gunning for him.
STRENGTHS: His batting average (in the neighborhood of .300, an exclusive neighborhood), home run and RBIs totals over half a season make you wonder what he could do with 600 plate appearances. He also takes his walks.
LIMITATIONS: Defense, defense and defense. Right now, his defensive point total in our system is in negative numbers and that takes some doing. Also doesn’t steal bases or attempt to steal bases. Clearly, speed’s an issue. Wilson’s got DH written all over him.
STRENGTHS: His smarts (one mental mistake), his speed 15 (steals) and his glove (four errors against 16 outstanding plays). Chris had four above average plays for every error and that’s tops among the infielders. Betancourt had 3.3 above average plays for every error, Butler 2.8, Aviles 2.0, Betemit 0.9 and Fields 0.8, which is conclusive proof that I’ve got too much time on my hands.
LIMITATIONS: Can’t take a punch. Seems like his season never got off the ground due to a rib cage injury and a concussion. Right after he told me he was trying to use his legs more in order to drive the ball, he hit an opposite field double that showed the adjustment might be working. And right after that, he took one in the coconut (a throw from A.J. Pierzynski nailed Chris in the head while he was stealing) and his year was over. Unless he can track down Barry Bond’s pharmacist, Chris is a top-of-the-order or bottom-of-the-order hitter, so he needs to do well in on-base percentage and situational hitting.
STRENGTHS: Tons of physical talent. Has shown power the other way and promise in the outfield.
LIMITATIONS: Sooner or later he’ll reach the point where he needs to show results instead of promise (I’m not the manager or GM so I have no idea where that point is). I’m also not sure he’s consistently trying to let the ball travel and get deep. If a hitter is willing to rollover and pull grounders, pitchers are happy to provide the pitches. Only one stolen base.
STRENGTHS: Attitude. Solid at the plate: above average quality-plate appearance and situational hitting numbers. Fast for a guy constructed along the same lines as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. (Sorry, Brayan, couldn’t resist.)Worked hard and improved his throwing times.
LIMITATIONS: Blocking is a work in progress. I don’t know enough about his game-calling to make an intelligent comment. (Insert joke about political cartoons here.)
STRENGTHS: POWER. Not afraid to take a walk.
LIMITATIONS: Another guy whose average might benefit from letting the ball get deeper and then looking to pull in certain situations. Speed’s not his game.
STRENGTHS: Speed IS his game. It can help the Royals on defense and on the base paths. Lots of physical talent.
LIMITATIONS: Too many mental mistakes. You might get away with running non-existent contact plays, forgetting the number of outs or the count for a while, but sooner or later it will come back to bite you, and, even worse, your team.
TOO SOON TO TELL
JARROD DYSON: Speed to burn, can he get on base often enough to use it?
JOSH FIELDS: It appears he can swing it, but five errors this quickly is a little alarming.
JAI MILLER: Obvious physical talent. Will it produce results?
LUCAS MAY: Ned Yost says Lucas is growing on him. Is Pena the catcher until Kendall is ready and is Lucas Pena’s backup?
As Jim Palmer once said of Earl Weaver, the only thing I know about good pitching is I can’t hit it. Pitching gets really complicated: “drop and drive” or “tall and fall,” who knows? Spend 45 minutes talking with Bruce Chen about how he’s pulling rabbits out of his hat and you realize you don’t know that much about rabbits or hats.
So I’ll stick with what I do know: it’s really good to throw strikes and even better to throw strikes before you have to. Oh, and low strikes are better than high ones. OK, that’s it, I’ve exhausted my vast reservoir of knowledge and I’m ready to talk about the Royals pitching staff:
STRENGTHS: His stuff. He’s good enough that even on an off-night he’s a handful.
LIMITATIONS: His team. Sometimes the offense let him down, sometimes the defense and sometimes the bullpen. I’ve got no way of knowing what he was thinking, but it seemed like he was faced with the choice of going for strikeouts, which meant he’d throw more pitches and hand the ball off to middle relief instead of Soria, or pitching to contact which meant having the ball hit to the team with the most errors in the American League.
STRENGTHS: Guts. I said he had the guts of a burglar. Then I said he had the guts of a burglar who made popcorn in your microwave before leaving. Then I said he had the guts of a burglar who woke you up to ask where you kept the butter for the popcorn. Now I’m saying he’d make the popcorn, butter it, invite you down to share it and invite a few friends over. All year long he threw strikes and went after hitters, regardless of the situation. He allowed the leadoff hitter on by walk or hit by pitch just three times all season. His presence means the opposition has eight innings to grab a lead and the Royals have nine.
LIMITATIONS: Human cloning is not yet available.
STRENGTHS: One night I kept track and in a single inning Bruce threw six different pitches from three different angles. There are guys in the major leagues working to establish a second or third pitch, much less 18. Only a guy with a ton of experience could get away with the magic act Bruce has put on this season.
LIMITATIONS: If he falls behind his repertoire (yeah, we speak a lot of French out at the ballpark) gets limited and the zone shrinks instead of expanding. Bruce can’t step on the fastball gas and get out of it.
STRENGTHS: Stuff. Everybody who should know says he has it.
LIMITATIONS: Consistency. Everybody who should know says he struggles with it.
(Late information addition: last night I walked up just as Kyle was telling the press he thought he’d been much more consistent over the last 12 starts. That may be true, I was looking at his overall season and he certainly knows his numbers better than I do.)
STRENGTHS: The ability to be a top of the rotation starter.
LIMITATIONS: Needs to stay healthy and continue to pitch, not throw, when he gets in a jam. It looked like he took big strides toward that this season.
STRENGTHS: Smart (and then in the next breath everybody says “maybe too smart”).
LIMITATIONS: His stuff leaves him little margin for error.
STRENGTHS: Top of the rotation ability.
LIMITATIONS: Health, obviously, although his results since moving to the bullpen have been good. If you go to the website and look at his system numbers you’ll see the destructive power of walks.
EVERYBODY ELSE: (Look we’re running out of space, but the same thing applies to all these guys.)
STRENGTHS: They’ve shown the ability to get major league hitters out.
LIMITATIONS: They need to be more consistent. They need to be able to throw not just strikes, but low strikes, pitch ahead and change speeds on a regular basis.
So that’s it. I’ve watched every pitch of every game 161 times and today I’ll go out to the stadium and watch the last one. I know some people are going to be upset with the results of this project and question their validity. On the other hand, if the only acceptable results are results that confirm what you thought before you started, why do the project?
If you want to see the final numbers, check out the website tomorrow.
And one more thing: Yuni? Have a good game.