Over the past few months, we have been treated to a number of interestingcomments from within the Royals' organization. The team's best hitter, Billy Butler, has been publicly criticized for a perceived lack of proficiency in turning the rare 3-6-3 double play.
The General Manager has said, outloud mind you, that he neither understands nor believes in any of the current defensive statistical measures.
After his team traded for a center fielder, the Royals' manager spent the bulk of said player's first few weeks with the team playing him in right field due to the size of center field in Kaufmann Stadium.
Through it all, fans of the team, and especially those who dare to criticize any aspect of the organization, have been told to "trust the process" and, on more than one occasion, dismissed as simply not understanding what is happening to the Royals.
A recurring theme from the hypersensitive, it's-not-our-fault, Royals is that injuries have derailed what was otherwise set up to be a promising season.
Well, to be fair, the Royals have suffered a number of injuries to key players and unlike a big market organization like the Angels (who have had more injuries to better players and are still going to make the playoffs), Kansas City simply cannot create the kind of depth to absorb an infestation of the injury bug.
There is some validity to that argument. Had the Royals stayed healthy this season, they would not be the second worst team in the league. However, they probably still would not be contending in even the weak American League Central, either, as the organization would lead you to believe.
Let's take a look at how this team shaped up on the first day of April this season, using runs created as our measuring stick.
|PLAYER||2009 RUNS CREATED||2008 RUNS CREATED|
Without delving into the nuances of playing time, the opening day roster had created 681 runs in 2008. That is actually 10 runs less than the 2008 Royals scored. Now, without questions, there were expectations to do better than that. The question is: Were those logical expectations?
Let's start with the catching position.
In 2008, John Buck and Miguel Olivo essentially split time behind the plate (although Olivo did DH some) and between the two created 77 runs. The Royals handed Olivo the starting job, along with millions of dollars, in the offseason and has created 42 runs so far in 2009.
That pace is right in line with what Olivo has done throughout his career: 37 runs in 317 plate appearances in 2008, 43 in 469 in 2007 and 51 in 452 in 2006. Expecting Olivo to do anything more than he had done in the past would have been illogical: The Royals knew or should have known what they were getting from Miguel.
Although his playing time has been greatly reduced, John Buck has chipped in 19 runs this season, creating runs at the second highest rate of his career. That is not to say that Buck deserves more playing time, but simply to point out that he too has pretty much been exactly the player the team should have expected.
Now, we could through Brayan Pena into the mix with his 20 runs created in just 157 plate appearances. I am hesitant to do so, however, given that the general manager and manager both put off promoting and playing him as long as possible and, even now, refuse to just put Pena out there everyday and let him hit.
Even though he is not "part of the process," we will include Pena here, and we find that the catching position has created 72 runs so far in 2009 (that also deducts in a very rough fashion, games played by all three players at DH).
Essentially, the Royals got exactly the offense they should have expected from the catching position.
Moving onto first base, and ignoring the horrible loss of outs created by Billy Butler turning two less 3-6-3 double plays then the average first baseman (maybe), the Royals have seen Butler emerge as a legitimate offensive force and create 89 runs thus far in 2009.
That is 38 more runs in just 100 more plate appearances over what Billy accomplished in 2008.
Certainly the Royals expected Butler to take a step forward offensively in 2009, but could they have truly envisioned this leap? Without question, Kansas City has gotten more production at first base than they probably expected going into the season.
So catching was even and first base is a plus, what about second base?
Even though the Royals went out and signed gritty, gutty Willie Bloomquist to not one, but a two-year contract in the offseason, they entered the regular season with Mark Teahen playing second base.
Those plans were quickly derailed when Alex Gordon went down with a hip injury in April, moving Teahen over to third, and giving Alberto Callaspo a shot at everyday duty at the position.
All Callaspo has done is create 76 runs (third highest on the team) and do so at the second highest per game rate (only Butler is better). The runs created total is ten better than Teahen managed in all of 2008. Sure, Alberto is a horrific defender, but given that the club was willing to put Teahen, who had never played the position before, in that spot, they can hardly bemoan the defensive shortcomings.
Prior to the season, Kansas City put very little value on the defensive side of second base and ended up getting more runs out of the spot then they could have reasonably expected. Another gain over preseason expectations.
Now, we move to shortstop and, for once, we will not talk about the Yuniesky Betancourt trade. The reason is simple: if Mike Aviles had not been hurt, the Royals don't panic and make the trade for Betancourt.
Our examination today is whether management had the team on the right track in April or not and hence our focus is on Apr. 1, when Mike Aviles was coming off a fantastic rookie season that saw him create 67 runs in just 102 games.
No one expected Aviles to produce at the same level in 2009 as he did in 2008—his BABIP was simply too high to be sustainable—but it was reasonable to expect Mike to create at least as many runs, albeit in more games. As we know, Aviles played hurt for most of the first two months, created just six runs, and now is out until sometime next summer.
That was a crippling blow to be sure, as the Royals had Tony Pena Jr., who had created 9 runs in 235 plate appearances in 2008, and Willie Bloomquist, who really was not a shortstop, as Aviles' only back-ups.
While Bloomquist had his moments at the plate early in the season, the Royals have taken hit at this position (even if you want to include Betancourt's 16 runs created since joining the team) and likely are going to end up with about 30 less runs out of their shortstops then they anticipated in the spring.
Moving over to third base, Kansas City was expecting big things out of Alex Gordon in 2009. After producing 79 runs in 2008 and 70 in 2007, the organization was certain this was going to be Alex's breakout year. I will be honest and admit that I was right there with them.
Instead, Gordon went down with hip surgery in April, hurried back in late July and eventually struggled enough to get sent down to AAA in August. I'm trying to be fair here, so we'll skip the whole service time/free agency discussion that goes hand in hand with the demotion.
At any rate, the Royals had Mark Teahen to step in for Gordon in April and he gave them exactly the type of production the Royals should have anticipated. Through Sunday's game, Mark had created 66 runs: the exact number he provided in 2008.
Combined with the thirteen runs Gordon has created in limited duty, Kansas City is on pace to get virtually the same amount of runs out of third base in 2009 as they received in 2008. Certainly, the Royals expected more, but injuries did actually hurt them here.
Okay, let's stop for a moment and examine the infield as a whole. The Royals are certainly minus some expected runs at shortstop and a few more at third base, but without question are plus runs at second base and at first base, too.
Is it even? Probably not quite and Dayton Moore can certainly say with a straight face that injuries did curtail someof the expected infield production.
Was it such a hit, however, to cause this team to not only fall out of contention, but become simply awful? Not even close to that: What happened in the infield, given the production gained from Callaspo and Butler, might have cost the Royals a couple of wins overall at most.
Moving onto the outfield, we find old reliable David DeJesus in left field. We should all get off David's back, stop worrying about how much he smiles and the fact that he is not Carlos Beltran or Johnny Damon and just respect him for being the one guy on the team that gives you better than league average every freaking year.
Thus far in 2009, DeJesus has created 79 runs. His totals from the previous four seasons are: 85, 84, 81, 76. DeJesus is what he is and the Royals got exactly that.
In the offseason, the Royals moved their best setup man in Ramon Ramirez to Boston in exchange for centerfielder Coco Crisp. They were hoping to get Coco circa 2005 when he created 97 runs and ignored the three seasons in between when Crisp created 53, 69 amnd 53 runs. I am not sure the odds were working in Dayton Moore's favor on this one.
Crisp was pretty decent until he went down for good with shoulder ailments after two months and 26 runs created. His spot in center was filled by a combination of Mitch Maier, Willie Bloomquist and now, begrudgingly, Josh Anderson. Doing a rough pro-ration of runs created by each while actually playing in center, the Royals' combined center fielders have created right at 64 runs thus far in 2009.
Was it realistic for the Royals to really expect much more than that out of Coco Crisp? Given the past three seasons of injuries and reduced production, I think not. Ignoring the defensive quotient (because, after all, the Royals pretty much do), Kansas City has still ended up with about what they should have expected offensively from the center field position.
When the Royals signed Jose Guillen to a three year deal prior to the 2008 season, they were looking for production along the lines of the 95 runs he created in 2007. Instead, they got a surly 71 runs out of Jose in 2008 and less than half that (30) in an injury plagued 2009.
The Royals expected something north of 71 runs in 2009 and while we can debate whether that was logical or not, we do know that they have not gotten even that many runs this year out of right field. With Bloomquist, Teahen and Maier all chipping in, you can edge the production from this position up to maybe 60 runs.
Expectation wise, the Royals' outfield is probably light about 25 runs in 2009.
Taking the infield and outfield combined, we find that injuries to Aviles, Gordon, Crisp and Guillen have likely cost the team somewhere between 30 to 35 runs throughout the course of the season. How many wins is that?
A bunch if you want to front load them all into Zack Greinke starts, not a whole lot if you put them into Sidney Ponson and, recently, Luke Hochevar starts.
Let's go back and add 30 runs to the 2008 total of 681. That total of 711 runs scored/created would still put the Royals in the bottom third of American League offenses and probably the bottom quarter.
That is putting a lot of pressure on Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, Joakim Soria and nine other guys whom you had no real reason to trust. Especially when you went into the season knowing that you were average or below average at all but two defensive positions.
But wait! What about the designated hitter? We have totally forgotten a critical offensive position in our discussion of offensive expectations! In fact, the Royals went out and traded their second best setup man to acquire just the guy to fill this void.
Mike Jacobs is the man in question. The Royals gave up promising Leo Nunez to get him. Paid $3 million to sign him pre-arbitration and shoved Ryan Shealy and Kila Kaaihue aside to put him on the roster.
So what did all that get the Royals? Forty-eight runs, 25 less than he created in 2008, but only ten less than he provided in 2007. Jacobs has not been hurt, nor has he crippled the team defensively as the Royals have had the good sense not to let him pick up his glove since April.
You want to make up the 30 runs injuries have cost you? There's the place to do it and you, Dayton Moore, went out and got the wrong guy and in doing so decimated your bridge to one of the best closers in the league.
In turn, that weakness caused your manager, who is no genius at handling pitchers to begin with, to push his starters deeper into games in hopes of getting just a few outs closer to Soria.
We will examine the injuries to the pitching staff and the effect it has on "The Process" on Thursday, but for now, we have shown that while injuries dinged the Royals' offense some this season, it was a bad trade and unrealistic expectations that hurt it more.