Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An Ode to Mr. Zoombiya

The Royals entered the offseason with three positions to fill. Fans and the front office agreed the team needed to find a right fielder (to replace the departing Nori Aoki), a designated hitter (to replace the departing Billy Butler), and a starting pitcher (to replace the departing James Shields). It was generally accepted that the voids would need to be filled with individuals outside the organization and thus far Kansas City has checked two of the items off their list.

I'm not going to spend time in this post analyzing the Alex Rios or Kendrys Morales additions, but instead I am going to ask a simple question. Why couldn't the team have filled right field with an in-house option? No, I'm not talking about Carlos Peguero. I'm talking about Jarrod Dyson.

Unlike Peguero there has been absolutely zero buzz about the possibility of breaking camp with Jarrod Dyson starting in the outfield. Why not?

The simple answer is that Dyson looks like a fourth outfielder. He is an excellent defensive replacement and an enormous weapon off the bench as a pinch runner. The former 50th round pick is so good in the fourth outfielder role that narrative dictates that is all he is. Never mind the fact that despite only receiving 290 plate appearances and playing in just 120 games, Dyson ranked 36th among outfielders in fWAR in 2014 and 5th on the team.

At this point many people tend to point out that Dyson's numbers were inflated due to the fact that he faced predominately right handed pitching last season. This is true. In 2014, Dyson faced right handed pitching in 81% of his plate appearances. Given that the typical regular sees right handed pitching approximately 70% of the time, we should adjust our expectations to reflect that number.

In order to get a more accurate feel on what Dyson's production would be over the course of the season, I broke out The Spitter. If you are unfamiliar with The Spitter or new to this blog, it is a projection system that weights batted ball data and is able to "spit" out a projection. The Spitter can then take these numbers and provide a wOBA and a WAR total for the player. I've added 2014 park factors to the Spitter, so the numbers are even more accurate now than they have been in the past. Like any projection system, The Spitter occasionally whiffs, but a vast majority of last season's projections were extremely accurate.

Since we aren't actually creating a projection for Dyson, I have adjusted The Spitter to give us full season results had Dyson maintained his contact rates against lefties and faced them in 30% of 600 plate appearances, as well as maintaining his contact rates against righties in the same plate appearance size.

Enough with the technical mumbo-jumbo. Had our hero been able to keep up his performance over a 600 plate appearance sample his season line should have ended up looking like this:

Jarrod Dyson 2014: .270/.329/.330, .297 wOBA and 1.34 WAR.

This might not seem like a very impressive player, but this fails to consider Dyson's defense. When we plug in a positional adjustment and factor in Dyson's UZR from 2014, The Spitter increases Dyson's WAR  to 5.23. This tally would have ranked 22nd in baseball among all players and 10th among outfielders. Again, those results are not fudged. They are simply an extrapolation of the numbers that Dyson posted in 2014.

By the way, we still haven't accounted for baserunning. According to Fangraphs, Dyson was worth approximately 4.5 runs on the bases in 2014. When you consider that he would be on the bases 196 times in our extrapolated sample, compared to just 92 in reality, all of the sudden Dyson's legs add in another 9.6 runs in value. This would increase Dyson's WAR to approximately 6.28, ranking him as the 6th most valuable outfielder in baseball.

At this point, things are starting to get a little crazy. How could Mr. Zoombiya really be worth nearly 6.3 wins above replacement? It just doesn't make sense. Blatantly, this thought doesn't fit the narrative. Dyson is a fourth outfielder. He is a former 50th round pick that has scraped out a career with his legs to earn a few seasons in the Show. He sure as hell doesn't look like a 6 win player.

What we have to realize is that Dyson doesn't look like a starting player, because his value comes in things that are more difficult to see. He isn't bopping home runs. He isn't hitting .320. He isn't posting 100 RBI seasons. He is a world class runner, He does get on base at a decent clip. He did post the highest UZR/150 out of all players with over 600 innings in the field.

For those of you that know me, you know that I have long been a Jarrod Dyson fan. I've defended him when few others would and I would loudly proclaim that his arm was vastly underrated until finally it wasn't. But do I think that Jarrod Dyson is a top ten outfielder in the Major Leagues? No. I do not.

I do think that given a full time job, it would be safe to project Dyson as a 3.5 win player in 2015.  He might have a skill set that will cause his value to drop off quicker than the average outfielder, but he isn't going to become an average runner between now and April 6.

The Royals just paid Alex Rios $11 million hoping that he will turn back into the 3 win player that he was in 2013. Jarrod Dyson will make a fraction of that cost as a first time arbitration eligible player this year and he was worth 3 Wins Above Replacement in a part time role last season. Not to mention, Dyson won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season.

For guys like Jarrod Dyson sometimes it is impossible to overcome the narrative and get the shot they deserve. Regardless, I'll be in Kansas City on Opening Day sitting in section 118, wearing my Mr.Zoombiya jersey. If you can find me, we'll get a drink and and dream about what Dyson could be have been as the Royals' everyday centerfielder.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Monday, November 10, 2014

In the Cross Hairs: Scott Van Slyke

You might have noticed on Twitter a few days ago that I brought up Scott Van Slyke as a potential solution to the Royals right field search for 2015. Scott, who is the son of former Cardinals first round pick Andy Van Slyke, currently is stuck in the midst of a glut of outfielders with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers currently have one of the most crowded outfields in professional baseball and as a result will be pressed to make a move this offseason. Given the Royals strength at the back end of the bullpen and the Dodgers need of late inning help, it bares to reason that the two organizations could match up in a trade this winter.

Obviously, when it comes to the Dodgers, I would love if the Royals could get their hands on the Pacific Coast League MVP Joc Pederson, or the dynamic Yasiel Puig. However, I don't think the Royals are pulling back one of the aforementioned players, even if they are moving one of the HDH triumvirate. So another player who is catching my eye is Van Slyke.

First, off Van Slyke makes sense because he is right handed. This allows him to slide in nicely as a platoon partner with Royal Jarrod Dyson. Here is a look at what each of the outfielders did in 2014 against opposite side pitching:

Van Slyke vs L: .315/.415/.630 in 130 plate appearances
Dyson vs R: .274/.326/.337 in 233 plate appearances

The combination of the two would allow both players to be put into excellent situations to succeed. As you can see, with Van Slyke in the lineup the Royals would receive a nice boost offensively. When Dyson is roaming the outfield the team would get a bump in the speed and defense department. The two players offer quite differing skill sets which would mesh extremely well on the roster.

Unlike many of the free agent options, Van Slyke is a strong defensive outfielder. For his career he has posted a 13.7 UZR/150. Not only does he have solid range, but his arm is rated average by the metrics.

The final pro with a Scott Van Slyke acquisition is the cost. Van Slyke will only be owed the league minimum in 2015 and will not be eligible for arbitration until following the season. In fact, Van Slyke wouldn't even be eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season. This means that the Royals could control the outfielder for five seasons. Granted the Missouri native is already 28 years old, but there is good reason to believe he would mesh well with the roster the Royals already have in place.

If the Royals were to acquire Van Slyke in a trade involving Greg Holland, they would immediately gain approximately $9 million more dollars in payroll flexibility for next season. Would a trade of Van Slyke plus a prospect for Holland be enough to get the Royals to pull the trigger? Most Royals fans would say no. They would argue that one of the top closers in the game should fetch more than a platoon player and prospect. I wouldn't necessarily disagree, but what fans should realize is that the Royals would also gain a huge amount of additional funds to put toward a starting pitcher and designated hitter.

One negative to note is Van Slyke's .394 BABIP from 2014. He also had an unsustainable HR/FB rate. However, he did square up the ball in over 20% of his at bats and walk 11.4% of the time. While a part of Van Slyke's success in 2014 was definitely BABIP driven, he still garnered the Dodgers 2.8 fWAR. Greg Holland, despite all of his hype in the postseason, earned the Royals 2.3 fWAR.

It is going to be hard to pull the trigger on a trade for any of the big three at the back of the bullpen. Is Van Slyke enough to get it done? Not in my opinion. First, I would ask for Pederson. When that doesn't happen, I'd turn my attention to a package that includes Van Slyke and one or two more prospects or pieces. Relievers are volatile and I think the Royals are well equipped to deal  with a loss of Holland.

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In The Cross Hairs: Melky Cabrera

Let's travel back in time.  Say...four years ago.  I know you don't want to, but it'll be a quick stop.  The Royals of 2010 were a team to forget.  The lineup was abysmal, but honestly, any lineup with Yuniesky Betancourt as the starting shortstop and Jose Guillen sitting in the designated hitter spot hacking away at pitches like a lumberjack will be anything but pretty to watch.  Our future cyborg in left field, Alex Gordon, spent over half the year in Omaha learning the new position he now dominates.  Our shortstop was Yuniesky Betancourt.  Our then Ace, Zack Grienke, had an off year after coming off a dazzling Cy Young Award season in 2009.  Gil Meche, or known to Royal Revival members as the "GILamonster", spent most of the season on the DL with back and shoulder issues.  We had guys in the rotation like Kyle Davies, Sean O'Sullivan, Bryan Bullington, and Anthony Lerew (the guy with the Elvis Presley chops) making starts.  Oh, did I mention Yuniesky Betancourt was our stinking shortstop?

Along with that seemingly endless list of problems, there was the occupancy of center field.  The CF position saw not one, not two, but seven players receive playing time for the Royals.  Those seven: Rick Ankiel (yes, Rick Ankiel), Gregor Blanco (sad face), Willie Bloomquist (Ol' droopy), David DeJesus, Jarrod Dyson (Zoombiya), Mitch Maier (player/coach for NW Arkansas Naturals in 2014), and Scott Podsednik.  Woof.  To top it off, the 2010 Royals employed two managers.  Trey Hillman, who was let go after starting the year 12-23, managed in Kansas City the prior 2 seasons and finished off his tenure with a combined W-L record of 152-207.  Then, Jeff Foxworthy's best friend, Edgar Frederick a.k.a. Ned Yost, steps in to take the reigns.  I can still remember him getting a standing ovation that night when his name was first announced by the legendary Voice of the Royals, Mike McCartney.  Simply put: the 2010 season was poop.

2011 wasn't all that much better, considering the Royals finished fourth in the division with a 71-91 record, but the lineup was shaping into what got Kansas City to the World Series for the first time since we beat the Cardinals in '85.  Alex Gordon played 151 games in his new home of left field that earned him his first of many gold gloves, while hitting .303 with 23 HR.  Newly acquired Jeff Francoeur played right field, hitting .285 with 20 HR and 22 SB.  Our future corner infielders and starting catcher, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Sal Perez, made their debuts that got everyone excited about the future.  Even Lorenzo Cain received a September call-up to give the Royal Nation a brief glimpse into 2012.

One of the key components to 2011 was the signing of free agent CF Melky Cabrera.  The Royals managed to sign Cabrera, 26 years old at the time, to a 1 year $1.25 million deal, mostly because of a disappointing campaign with the Atlanta Braves the year before.  With the Braves, Cabrera hit .255/.317/.354 with just 4 HR and 42 RBI.  What a steal this signing would turn out to be.  Melky, hands down, had the best season of his young career as a Royal.  During his stint in KC, he set career highs in batting average, HR, RBI, R, and SB.  He finished fourth in the American League in hits with 201, which made him just the 6th Royal in franchise history to collect 200 hits in a season.

Photo courtesy of cjonline.com

During the offseason, the Royals needed to trade Cabrera for pitching and to clear the CF spot for Lorenzo Cain to take over.  Kansas City sent Cabrera to San Francisco for pitchers Ryan Verdugo and, excuse me.. I just threw up in my mouth, Jonathon Sanchez.  I'll stop there as far as the trade is concerned.  While in The City by the Bay, Cabrera continued where he left off.  The Melkman earned himself a spot in the starting lineup for the National League in the All-Star game in Kansas City.  He collected two hits, including a 2-run HR, earning him the All-Star MVP award.  His stellar year ended abruptly when MLB slapped him with a 50 game suspension for PED use.  Since then, Melky has been playing for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Last season, he was on his way to another solid year, but was stopped unexpectedly from getting hit by a pitch, fracturing his pinkie.  He ended 2014 with a .301/.351/.458 line with 16 HR and 73 RBI.

Cabrera was one of several free agents who received a Qualifying Offer of a 1 year $15.3 million deal from their respective teams.  According to SportsNet's Shi Davidi, Cabrera and the Blue Jays are "far apart" in contract discussions.  The now 30 year old will likely test the waters of free agency.  If Melky signs elsewhere, the Blue Jays will receive a compensatory draft pick in exchange, so there is a plus to the situation for Toronto. 

A Melkman reunion in Kansas City isn't really seen by many for 2015.  MLB Trade Rumors has predicted a 5 year $70 million deal in the works for the 30 year old switch hitter.  If by happenstance the Royals were to look into Cabrera's services for a second go-around, there may be a very slight issue.  There's no worry about Cabrera having trouble playing the outfield.  Last season, all but three of his 139 games were in the OF.  For most of his career, however, he has certainly avoided RF, but not completely.  If the Royals happen to part ways with DH Billy Butler, which most definitely would be a sad day, Melky could in fact fill Butler's position.  I would not be opposed if he were to see some time in RF, assuming the Royals do not re-sign Nori Aoki.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

In The Cross Hairs: Brandon McCarthy

What a year.  What an unbelievably, amazing season  from our Boys in Blue.  Right off the bat, I want to thank the Royals for giving all of us memories we will cherish forever.  Sure we had some bad spells, I can even recall a game we attended in May against the Astros.  Nothing was going our way that series.  For kicks, I said to fellow Royal Revival members Landon and Paden, "Watch this..Chris Carter. Left Field bullpen. Dinger."  Sure enough.  Things weren't going our way, but the boys ignored the doubters and eventually made the World Series for the first time in my young life.  I look forward to talking to my children about this season, but I also look forward to the future and how bright it certainly looks!

Onward we go.  This winter should be a busy one for Dayton Moore and Company.  Three key positions need to be answered in the coming months.  As you know, the Royals announced they had declined Billy Butler's $12.5 million option, which should have been no surprise to anyone.  Billy wants to stay, which is great to hear, but a cheap and mutual agreement between Butler and the Royals will be needed.  While discussing this with fellow R.R. members, we believe a 1 year $6 million deal could do it, or possibly a 2 year $12 million contract.  However, if another suitor comes along with a 2 year $14 million deal on the table, I think Butler takes it.  He's repeatedly said he wants to #BeRoyal, but baseball is a business.  We'll have to wait and see what he decides.  Life without Billy just doesn't seem right.

To the main topic of this post.  Our rotation was revamped two years ago when the Royals traded top prospect Wil Myers for James Shields and Wade Davis.  I think it's safe to say, we won the trade.  Now that 2014 has come to a close, 'Big Game' James is a free agent and is seeking big money in free agency. Will the Royals extend a Qualifying Offer of 1 year $15.3 million to the soon-to-be 33 year old?  Sure.  Will James take the deal?  He will probably test the waters of the market before discussing anything with the Royals.  One place I can see him land is Chicago.  No, not with the White Sox, but reuniting with his former manager Joe Maddon and dawning a Cubs uniform.  The Cubs have a great core of young talent and something they could use again is an ace for their rotation.  I don't want Shields to go away any more than I do Billy, but with the Royals current situation, Butler seems to be the top priority for the time being.

So, let's talk in terms of 2015 without James Shields.  He undeniably helped the Royals get to where they are today, but Dayton and his colleagues need to think of a possible replacement.  One idea could be to sign 31 year old Brandon McCarthy.  There's no question that he wasn't superb in Arizona to begin the 2014 season.  In 18 starts for the D-Backs, he was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA.  Those numbers helped the Yankees lure him in from Arizona by exchanging Vidal Nuno.  McCarthy stepped up in a big way for his final 14 starts, going 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA with 82 Ks and 13 BBs in 90.1 innings.  This was definitely a nice acquisition considering the injuries to C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.
Photo by Bill Kostroun, NYPost.com

2014 was definitely a breath of fresh air for Brandon.  For Arizona and NY combined, he logged 200 innings for the first time in his career, and the most since his 2011 campaign with Oakland when he threw 170 innings.  For most of his career, McCarthy has been inconsistent, except for his two year stint in Oakland, which he enjoyed very much.  In 281.2 innings, he had a combined ERA of 3.29 with 196 Ks and 49 BBs.  He has good command of his fastball, which averaged 93 mph this season, he features a nice cutter that the Yankees encouraged him to through again, which could be part of his success in the pinstripes.  He'll also put some sink on his fastball and throws a curveball around 80 mph and a changeup, but the off-speed pitch was almost non-existent as he threw it only 0.7% of the time.

McCarthy would definitely be a gamble.  He made $10.25 million in 2014, while making a combined $15.5 million the last two seasons.  I've seen possible offers for the righty at around $30 million in total for 3 years.  That's quite a bit for the Royals to take on, considering McCarthy has been anything but consistent throughout his career.  Here's a plus: his groundball and flyball numbers have flipped since the beginning of his career in 2005.  According to FanGraphs, his GB% the past 2 seasons: 48.2% and 52.6%, respectively.  FB% the past 2 seasons: 27.1% and 24.7%.  Compared to Shields, McCarthy would be a cheaper replacement, but is it worth the risk on the unpredictable 31 year old?

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Experience was Everything

What an incredible run? I don't even know where to begin. I guess to start let me just say how blessed I am to have gotten to witness such an improbable story about a team that simply refused to quit. For Kansas City the last few weeks have represented so much more than W's on a baseball scorecard. For the city it represented rebirth.

Once upon a time, the city of Kansas City was betrayed by the team they loved. Shortly after the exodus, Ewing Kauffman brought baseball back to the city which adored it. Through shrewd moves and a dedication to developing talent from within the Royals developed into the model franchise of professional baseball. This was not only the case on the field, but in a time when cookie cutter parks were the norm, only Kauffman Stadium and Dodger Stadium continue to represent the beauty of their era.

Expressing their love for the team, the fans came in droves. For 18 straight seasons the Royals posted attendance totals above the American League average. This stretch peaked in 1989, when the team averaged over 30,000 fans per game for the only time in the franchise's history. Will this magical season push the Royals past that mark again in 2015?

In 2014, the team averaged 24,154 per game. It isn't unreasonable to expect a jump of about 3-4,000 per game next season. A jump of 3,000 per game would give the Royals nearly 2.2 million fans on the season and would be their highest total since the 1990 season. Even if the Royals could just average 537 more fans per game next season they will top the 2 million mark since the first time since 1991.

What do you think Royals fans? Can we collectively push this team over the 30,000 per game mark for just the second time in team history? It is undoubtedly a tall order, but this city has fallen in love with this team.

For me the October magic brought back memories. I was reminded of school nights when I was supposed to be tucked sound in my bed, but instead would sneak into the living room to watch the game with my dad. It reminded me of the time I got home from school and my dad was parked in the drive way and said to get in, we are going to go watch the Royals take on Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners.

These are the things that the Royals postseason has reminded us of. Sports aren't just about winning or losing. If they were then why would so many people choose a hobby in which every night, half of the participants wind up disappointed?

What this postseason run has reminded me of is the beauty of the game. It reminds me of how integral of a role that it has played in the relationships of my life. While I consider myself to be an extremely analytical fan, over the last year and a half I have wondered if this approach somehow detracts from my enjoyment of watching the game that I love. Expected win percentages and projected records. If we can pinpoint these things so distinctly then why do we even watch? We watch because even if there is an 87% chance that the Royals win between 79-86 games, there is still a 13% chance that they don't. Somewhere in those odds is the opportunity for something incredible to be witnessed. This season the Royals have reminded me of that.

In 20 years, when we look back on the 2014 season, we won't explain that the Royals playoff odds were set at 23% at the start of the season. We won't talk about how at one point during Game Four their series win expectancy stood at 83%. We will talk about the moments that defined the season. We will talk about how this team overcame two deficits of more than 7 games in the division. We will talk about Lorenzo Cain's diving catches, Jarrod Dyson's stolen bases, Alex Gordon's throws, and the two young stud pitchers who shoved it.

More importantly than that we will talk about our personal highlights. The moment in the Wild Card game when the man beside you started sobbing after Hosmer dove in to first to beat out a throw in the top of the tenth. Or the night spent with your dad and brothers in the upper deck during the ALCS. Or the time you were so happy that the Royals came back on Jon Lester that you kissed your friend on the cheek. These are the moments that sports are all about.

The Royals were just the third team in baseball history to lose Game Seven with the tying run on third base when the final out was made. The Royals are also the winningiest team from a single postseason to not earn World Series rings. By all accounts all Royals fans should be heart broken today. But I'm not heart broken. In fact, I feel more love for this team and these fans than I have felt in my entire life and I know one thing for certain.... Just wait until next year.