Games » Toronto Blue JaysJul20
The Royals gave up a touchdown and two field goals in this game, so this seemed like a good time to post the first half summary we ran in the paper last Sunday. We had a request to post it on-line for those people who don’t get the paper, so here it is. (The numbers were from last Friday and have since changed.)
I’m a baseball fan, so when I got asked if I’d be willing to watch every game of the Royals 2010 season, I jumped at the chance. I’ve learned something since then: covering baseball is like getting paid to eat ice cream: a great gig, but you better really like ice cream. A flat bed truck pulls up in April, starts unloading butter brickle, and doesn’t stop until October.
The upside of getting too much of a good thing is you begin to notice patterns that never caught your attention before. I’ve not only seen every game, I’ve seen every pitch of every game. That changes your perception of the players. Catch Yuniesky Betancourt on a good day and you’ll think you’re seeing the best shortstop that ever lived. Catch him on a bad one and you’ll wonder how he got in the ballpark without buying a ticket. Watch him every day and you see the truth lies somewhere in between.
Another factor in my changing perception of the players is Coach Ron Polk’s Most Valuable Player Chart. Coach Polk is a member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame and created a system to measure a player’s contribution to his team. I’ve been using that system to analyze the Royals and the results have been eye-opening.
A player that contributes to his team’s success is given positive points. A player that hinders that success receives negative points. The system isn’t perfect and parts of it are highly subjective, but it does provide insights you might not have otherwise. (A word of warning: this is NOT sabermetrics and it won’t help you pick a player for your fantasy team.)
The system will tell you which players have a good two-strike approach, run the bases well or move runners over from second. You can find out who breaks up double plays (you’re not going to believe who leads the team in this category), makes mental mistakes (you will believe the team leader in this one) or makes the most outstanding plays on defense. In short: it’s a look at how the game is played and how these particular athletes are playing it.
So what have I learned and who’s leading the team in points?
Billy Butler: 357 points
Strengths: Billy can flat hit. Consistently puts the ball in play ball low and hard. He won’t hit a ton of home runs (he doesn’t lift the ball often enough) and will continue to hit into double plays, but fans can’t have it both ways: if you want his high average, he has to keep the ball out of the air. Leads the team in walks.
Limitations: Continuing to improve at first (particularly at picking up short-hops, the No. 1 thing a first baseman can do to help the other infielders), but still costs teammates errors. His plus and minus points on defense (things like outstanding plays, errors, double play assists and mental mistakes) add up to a +7, which isn’t good. Despite the fact that baseball has a tradition of sending injured players, fat guys and semi-reformed alcoholics to first base, it’s a hard position. Other than the catcher, nobody handles the ball more. Plus, a right-handed first baseman has a lot of weird turns and footwork to master. Billy’s been out of position at times on cutoffs and relays (he’s the team leader in mental mistakes), which means it’s still not second nature to read the situation and go to the right spot. 0 stolen bases.
David DeJesus: 346 points
Strengths: The most complete player on the Royals. Good on both sides of the ball. Solid defender (+36 on defense with no negative points). Leads the team in batting average with the exception of Wilson Betemit and Bruce Chen (Bruce needs to lobby for more at-bats, how do you keep a guy hitting 1.000 out of the lineup?).
Limitations: Only three stolen bases. Ned Yost might not want him opening up first with Billy behind him, but if you trust Jose to have a good at-bat, you shouldn’t care. 17 called third strikes, tied for the team lead. Called third strikes indicate a hitter that is guessing or being too picky in a two-strike situation. A left-handed hitter that can run needs to get the ball in play and take his chances.
Alberto Callaspo: 324 points
Strengths: No longer playing second. Much better third baseman than I thought he’d be (of course, I’m such a bad judge of talent — I thought I could play). A short, simple swing that has few moving parts to break down.
Limitations: Sometimes isn’t aggressive about taking balls to his left, which leaves Betancourt with a much tougher play. +32 points on defense, three stolen bases.
Yuniesky Betancourt: 323 points
Strengths: +69 points on defense, which ties him with Jason Kendall for the team lead. Capable of making incredible plays.
Limitations: Capable of screwing up easy ones. He seems to be better when he has no time to think. Although he appears to be improving as the season goes along, the inconsistency makes me wonder if he mentally takes plays off. He’s not No. 1 in mental mistakes, but he’s right up there. Same inconsistency at the plate: capable of a great game, but if the pitcher drops the rosin bag he might take a hack, particularly in RBI situations. 0 stolen bases.
Jose Guillen: 317 points
Strengths: Great arm, if you don’t mind seeing a throw kill a hotdog vendor once in awhile. Leads the team in home runs and RBIs. When he gets his pitch and doesn’t over-swing, he’s dangerous.
Limitations: Doesn’t get his pitch and over-swings a lot. Goes the other way as well as anybody, when he wants to. Spends a lot of time not wanting to. Has a reputation as a lazy base runner, but after watching every game, I think that’s wrong: he runs hard when he thinks he has to. The problem starts when he doesn’t think he has to and he’s wrong. Put him in a situation where he needs to break up a double play (he leads the team in this category — your surprised, right?) and he’ll give you everything he’s got. A total of -2 points on defense (that’s right, -2, which is why Betancourt ranks ahead of him). An emotional player (and if he whips my butt for saying that, you’ll know I was right). One stolen base.
Jason Kendall: 315 points
Strengths: Worth his weight in blocked pitches, a great defensive catcher (+69 defensive points). Good, low set-up, frames extremely well. His blocking ability allows pitchers to continue throwing their best stuff with runners on. Kendall’s blocked a pitch with a runner on third in six one-run victories. Good situational hitter that’s succeeded over 70 % of the time at moving runners, hit and runs, sacrifice bunts, etc., which is why he’s in the two-hole. One called third strike all season, combined with his walk total, shows great knowledge of the strike zone. He shows leadership through hard work. Tough as nails; any guy with that many tattoos isn’t worried about a little pain.
Limitations: Won’t hit for power (although he’s fifth on the team in doubles), but with his defense, who cares? Throws are on-time, but sometimes off-line because of footwork. (Someone told me, I’m not that smart.) Five stolen bases, but thrown out seven times.
Scott Podsednik: 301 points
Strengths: Plays hard. If they ever give away a Scott Podsednik T-shirt, it ought to have a dirt stain. Capable of the great play and makes all the routine ones (+22 points on defense). Scott’s speed forces the defense to make uncomfortable choices. It changes where they stand in case he bunts or uses that check-swing hack. That gets him hits when he swings away. Same when he’s on the bases: his speed gets the hitter at the plate more fastballs, forces the middle infield to pinch towards the bag and makes everybody rush. 25 stolen bases.
Limitations: Lacks power. Arm strength has other teams sending runners. Doesn’t play the wall well. Once again, too many called strike-outs (he’s tied with DeJesus for the team lead) for a guy who’s that fast and hits from the left side.
Mitch Maier: 209 points
Strengths: Good defensive centerfielder (+24 points on defense). One of the best situational hitters on the Royals (succeeds 80 percent of the time.) Fifth on the team in walks. A blue-collar role player that does a lot of things well.
Limitations: Doesn’t do a lot of things great. (OK, that was just wrong. I went for the cheap laugh.) Actually, Mitch is a hard-working player who does the small things a team needs to be successful.) The power is in there (remember the home run in Seattle?) but doesn’t get it out consistently. 0 stolen bases and that’s with centerfield speed.
Mike Aviles: 192 points
Strengths: Hitting for average. Best bat flip on team (style is very important to me, I’ve got no talent) Plays hard. For my money, the funniest guy on the team and that’s more important than you might think (+42 points on defense). Only four called third strikes, but that may be because he’s not up there long enough to get called out.
Limitations: Weird set-up limits his power the other way, but he makes it work. That might be why it works. Pitcher’s minds are screaming “pitch this guy away” and that’s just what Mike’s looking for. Bit of a hacker (like Jack the Ripper was a bit of a serial killer) better served hitting someplace other than the two-hole. Still not completely smooth with the double-play, but getting better. You can see him thinking “catch it, then throw it,” but he’s making sure of the first out, which coaches appreciate. Good enough athlete to get it with repetition. Two stolen bases.
Group total of 14 stolen bases.
By the way: There’s a point to all this stolen base stuff: Take out Scott Podsednik’s 25 and the Royals have a total of 28 stolen bases. Take out the bench’s 14 and you’re down to 14 stolen bases for the rest of the starters. Some of this is philosophy, but I think it also reflects an overall lack of speed. It takes the Royals three hits to score one run, four if Butler got the first one, five if it was Jose. That’s why they can get so many hits and not rack up bunches of runs. In 1977, generally regarded as the Royals best team, they stole 170 bases, with six starters in double figures. Right now they’re on pace to steal just over 100 bases with two starters in double figures. If you don’t have power, you ought to have speed. I have neither and look what happened to me.
Zack Greinke: 273 points
Strengths: He’s Zack Greinke.
Limitations: There aren’t five of him. I’ve wondered if all that time spent on the changeup in spring training detracted from his fastball and slider, but Bob McClure has forgotten more about pitching since breakfast than I ever knew, so it remains a theory. I do think Zack’s the kind of guy who wakes up and wonders what would happen if he pitched underhand that night and then tries it just to see, but he’s still as good as it gets when he’s on, and he’s on a lot.
Joakim Soria: 209 points
Strengths: Since the bullpen pitchers decided to trust the odds, throw strikes and live with the results, things have been much better. Nobody does that better than Soria. He’s got the guts of a burglar, actually he’s got the guts of a burglar that decides to use your microwave to make popcorn before he leaves your house.
Limitations: The beard. Really, that’s all I can think of. He looks like the Young Abraham Lincoln of Mexico, but if I was pitching like he is, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Almost every other pitcher including Brian Bannister: 135 points, Luke Hochevar: 124 points, Bruce Chen: 82 points, Kyle Davies: 81 points, Kyle Farnsworth: 61 points, Robinson Tejeda: 36 points, Anthony Lerew: 33 points, Victor Marte: 27 points, Kanekoa Texeira: 20 points, Dusty Hughes: 14 points and Blake Wood: 9 points
Zack can pitch himself into trouble and then power his way out, but every other pitcher needs to throw strike one, keep all their pitches in play, stay down and change speeds.
Summary: Too many bottom-of-the-rotation-type starters. A total of five wins out of Greinke and Meche won’t get it done. Not enough team speed to make the most out of their league-leading hitting.
First half MVP: Are you kidding? The Royals lead the league in hitting. No doubt in my mind: Kevin Seitzer.
Meanwhile, the ice cream truck just pulled up and I need to get back to work.