In case you didn't get a chance to read NHZ's epic post yesterday, here's your chance. These stats are through Monday, not Tuesday, so now you can add a big fat home run to Alex Gordon's entry. Back later today.-RR
Ah, the first week of the baseball season. For starters, there's nothing quite like opening day, even if your team starts up on the road. Personally, even though the team I root for the most lost 7-1 on opening day--some of you guys might've seen that game--I left the lobby of my hall practically dancing with glee that baseball was back. It's a new year, and even skeptics have to like seeing their team back on the field. I'd wager that even fans of the four teams who came into the weekend are happy to see their heroes playing ball again.
Since I fell headfirst into the sabermetric well, one of the things I've learned about the beginning of season is how much a hot start is worth. I'm not really talking about teams, as obviously you want your team to start out well. I'm talking about the fact that two players can end up with almost the same line for the year, say .281/.352/.467, and if one of them tears it up in April, the scribes and a good deal of the fans will stay off his back all year long. On the other hand, if the second player goes 0-for-15 to start the year, the worm that is fickle fandom can turn against him. There is no real logic to this and other small sample size fueled early-season reactions, but it's fun to observe nonetheless. I guess it's kind of like watching Walker, Texas Ranger.
Chuck Norris aside, no fan is perfect, and if someone gets off to a bad start, there's no reason not to be disappointed for the time being. However, it is a bit early for panicking. It's important to remember, following a tough loss, that this is an 162-game season; this ain't football, and there's almost always a game tomorrow to rebound. Try to approach your fandom with a photographic-type memory, and you run the risk of going crazy.
The Royals are no exception to the normal small-sample size fun, as they have a number of players overachieving to start the year, and probably an almost even number performing below their expected performance level. We see some stat lines in the early going that make us wonder if we're seeing the real thing; is this a break out year or a hot streak for this guy? Is this a cold start, or has this guy just jumped the shark? These questions and more always flicker through our heads when the sample size is twenty-odd plate appearances. Taking a look at the Royals' individual performances this last week, Spreadsheet Baseball reviews the stats to look at the positives and negatives of the Royals first week of baseball.
David DeJesus - .333/.419/.556
Obviously, DeJesus either A) Won't Maintain This Line or B) He Has Turned Into Albert Pujols with the bat. I'll go with A, but can anyone really blame loyal2theroyals for selecting him as the BOD in the win versus the Tigers? This guy has put up above average OBPs in his first three big league seasons, and added decent pop for a centerfielder as well, all while playing decent defense in center. If there's one spring training decision by the Royals FO (maybe Buddy Bell had something to do with it, too, but I wouldn't know) that's already paying dividends, it's making sure DeJesus gets the playing time time in center and Gathright doesn't.
As I've said before, if DeJesus repeated his 2004-2006 line, he's a fine player. If, on the other hand, if he continues his good-OBP ways and adds seven or eight more home runs, he's suddenly become one of the better offensive centerfielders in the league. I am aware of the small sample size, but I remain guardedly optimistic that this is DeJesus's year to step it up a bit; three doubles and a home run off Matsuzaka in his first nine hits certainly is a good way to start the year, and he's walked (4) more than he's struck out (2).
Mark Teahen - .278/.480/.500
Everything that I said about DeJesus could be repeated here, except Teahen's in rightfield and he already hit eightteen home runs last year. Still, after off-season shoulder surgery, it's encouraging to see Teahen taking-and-raking at plate. Teahen currently leads the team in free passes, and that's an encouraging sign as well. In the field, Teahen has looked raw at times (Manny Ramirez's double directly over his head), but has shown enough ability in the outfield that it really doesn't look like he'll be a problem.
As with everyone else, this is a small sample size, but Royals fans should be encouraged that Teahen's shoulder appears healthy. There's no reason to think that Teahen can't repeat last season's line, and possibly build on it. Remember, if you take out his slow start last year, Teahen absolutely destroyed major league pitching the rest of the way. Yeah, that's cherry-picking, but Teahen's .313/.384/.557 line after being recalled from Omaha last year...well, I don't want to jinx Mark, but it's a nifty line, ain't it?
Ross Gload - .250/.294/.313
Let me clarify something; when I said after the Sisco trade that Gload was a neat pick-up, I didn't mean to start the guy. I thought he would be used in a top pinch-hitter/spot starter guy--as the White Sox had used him--in order to get decent value out of a guy who's a nice contact hitter and a total stiff in the field. The fact of the matter is, with the way Sisco pitched last year, a very good bench player was a fine return. Especially if you buy that Sisco didn't fit into Moore's program.
All this said, it's important to look at Gload and realize the guy is not a starter in the majors. The two years that he's had value at the major league level--2004 and 2006--he's done so by hitting over .320. Now, there's nothing wrong with hitting .320, except it's not usually a repeatable skill for a non-elite hitter with slow wheels. Gload hit .327/.354/.462 last year, which means his BA was most of his value, and that's really not what you should look for in a starting firstbasemen. Isolated Power, a stat that simply subtracts batting average from slugging percentage to see how much BA independent power a player is generating, has Gload at 135 for last season. Omar Infante was at 138.
All this is to say that the Royals need to realize that Gload is valuable as a contacting hitting role player, not a starting firstbasemen or even a starting leftfielder. Defense aside, Ross has a terrible 635 OPS for his career when he plays in the outfield. Seeing as he's OPSing just over 600 right now and has been given playing time in left, perhaps the small sample size is spot on.
Emil Brown - .105/.150/.158
In all seriousness, this "Brown in the clean-up spot" stuff has got to go. Whether or not you think you can contend this year, Emil Brown should not be the clean-up hitter. I am very much aware that Brown is the two-year-running RBI leader on the Royals. I am equally aware that RBI is a stat largely functional of your spot in the order and who hits ahead of you. Thus, the clean-up spot really should be...er...well, no one's really hitting right now, but that includes Brown. Is he done? I would hesitate to say yes, given that he only has twenty PAs under his belt. Even if Emil is starting to decline, he's a better solution in left than Gload, and if he gets some PA he's probably a commodity that can be pawned off on some desperate semi-contender in July (the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example).
Due to the sample size itself, I hesitate to read too much into the twenty PAs Brown has so far. Nevertheless, the guy is 32, which could mean he's starting to decline. Either way, I hope against hope that Shane Costa and/or Maier will soon get a chance to supplant Brown and/or Sanders on the roster.
Reggie Sanders - .500/.500/1.125
Contrary to what you may believe, I don't really hate Reggie Sanders. By all accounts, Reggie is a nice guy. He also has one of the most fun lines in the majors so far, posting that above line in a grand total of eight at-bats. Give credit where credit is due: Sanders still hits lefties well, it's just that his presence on the roster will start to get old with the young players in AAA waiting for their shot.
Naturally, he won't maintain his 1.625 OPS. However, as long as he's here, he's got enough pop that he can be occasionally useful. Half of me wants to say it's a shame that Sanders wasn't shipped off to Baltimore, but the fact of the matter is that Sanders's name recognition and a couple more home runs could cause some team to make a better offer than the O's (Kurt Birkins). In the meantime, Sanders is fine as long as he does not interfere with the playing time of the younger guys. At least he's being a pro and not complaing about his reduced role.
Mike Sweeney - .235/.350/.235
It's nineteen plate appearances for one of the best players in franchise history, a true class act and one of the nicest guys in the game. Sweeney has a career line--injuries and all--of .302/.373/.496 for his career, which goes from "very good" to "great" when consider his peak performances and the back problems that have sapped his power at times. Therefore, don't boo the guy, dammit, if he has a bad start to the year, okay? You hear me, people at "the K"?
If Mike Sweeney were a character in a story, there's no question that he'd be the tragic hero of the book. Sweeney has labored long and hard, coming back from way too many injuries, to produce for an organization that has not once managed to get him to the play-offs. I know he's a millionaire and everything, but if the home fans at the K could give the poor guy a frickin' break, that'd be awesome.
That said, Sweeney's plate discipline is intact, and I really don't think he's quite done. He's definitely in decline, but I think he's got it in him to produce reasonably--OPS over 800, we'll say--this season. He definitely deserves a spot in the line-up, and I think he's got a couple more magic moments at the K left in that bat. Maybe it seems like I'm just being sentimental here (and I'm probably preaching to the choir), but if Sweeney's healthy you'll see he still has some pop.
Mark Grudzielanek - .130/.130/.174
Well, gee, what the heck's wrong with you, Mark? You frigging kill Curt Schilling and the Red Sox for one game, and then go 0-for-18 with a walk? That's just kind of mean.
But seriously folks, Grudzielanek is getting up there in years, and though his defense is good, I still wonder exactly why it was necessary to bring him back when German is on the roster. An 0-for-18 spell isn't the end of the world, but it's pretty darn ugly and--given that Grudz has never been the type of player who has impressive walk-drawing ability or power--it could be a sign of things to come. I hate to wish for anyone to do badly, but quite frankly I'm still of the opinion that Esteban German should be given a shot at the second base job.
Until that happy day occurs (please, please occur), Grudzielank should continue to be above average defensively and will probably bounce back to somewhere around average offensively. There's some value in that, for sure.
Tony Pena Jr. - .240/.269/.480
If you want me to wait,
I would wait for you.
If you tell me to stay,
I would stay right through.
If you don't want to say,
Anything thing at all,
I'm happy wondering.
Good Charlotte's song "Wondering" is about the happy moments in an adolescent "romance" where no one has actually said "I like you" and thus it's impossible for anything to be screwed up, as the two people (or one of them) can just go on assuming the other likes them back. The screwed up part in such mini-relationships usually has to do with when someone's idiotic friend breaks the news the other person, who gets weirded out.
Here, the mini-relationship is between Tony Pena Jr.'s performance on the field and the Royals. Pena's odd line above is compiled in 26 PAs, and it and Pena's nifty defense are dropping enough hints that the Royals are happy to wonder if perhaps he's a worthwhile solution. Two facts remain: Pena has taken one walk and has no record of success at the plate, and very few middle-school "relationships" last more than a couple weeks.
Alex Gordon - .045/.125/.045
Well, this is a rough start to a career! Gordon, with the exception of a few long at-bats, has looked pretty bad at the plate. Afield, things haven't been all that much better, as the official scorer in KC has saved him from a couple more errors already. Managing to outsuck Emil Brown's line takes something special, like being an Angel Berroa-caliber playe,r or not trying, or (a novel idea) it being your first week in the bigs after ending last year in double-A ball in Wichita.
Inevitably, some people are starting to panic, but there's really nothing more to be said except what we already know; Alex Gordon is a can't-miss prospect, the consensus number one in baseball, and he's had a rough time of it in his first 22 plate appearances in the majors. If he went 1-for-22 in August, everyone would shrug it off for the most part. But because this is the first week of the season, a lot of people just think he's overmatched at the big league level.
Well, the fact is, he's got absolutely nothing to prove in the minors at all. In my opinion, sending him down would exhibit a lack of faith in Gordon's abilities that would have a worse psychological impact that having him slump for his first week. If Buddy Bell can sugarcoat it convincingly, I think it's okay to drop him in the order to see if that takes some of the pressure off. Otherwise, I think the Royals just need to keep penciling him in and giving him allowances for getting acclimated to the big league game. If he's 1-for-50 at the time of next week's column, come see me and I'll worry along with you. For now, I just think it's a matter of time before he adjusts and breaks the ice.
There is one thing in particular that if I were the Royals' hitting coach, I'd tell Gordon. I have not got to see him play as much as you guys, but the three Red Sox games it seems like he's jamming himself; whether he's standing too close to the plate, or not bringing his hands inside the ball, I don't know. What I did notice is how many inside pitches that he kept fouling off near the label of the bat.
I'm no scout, but I wonder if perhaps Gordon needs, above all else, to simply taking some more BP to work on handling inside fastballs. Get someone with a live arm to throw them to him. I suppose it'd be nice if he'd take a walk, too, but let's face it: when you're 1-for-22, pitchers are throwing in the zone because they know you're slumping.
Esteban German - .455/.538/.545
PLEASE START THIS GUY AT SECOND. Okay, now that I've typed in capital letters about it, I think I'm okay. I said it before the season started too, but German would be a plus bat at second base and showed last year that he's one of the best--if not the best--hitter on the team in terms of plate discipline. Plug this guy in the number two spot after DeJesus and you've got a 1-2 OBP punch that should leave Mark Teahen swimming in RBIs.
Yes, okay, I know it's 13 plate appearances, and I know he won't repeat his .422 OBP last year. However, even if that OBP comes down fifty points it's still well above average. Not to mention that he appears to have a quick enough bat that his pop/ability to hit for average both seem unlikely to dip that much. German getting regular playing time is one of the things us statheads would be downright giddy to see, and I'd imagine Royals fans would like it too if he can hang on to some of last year's improvements.
Ryan Shealy - .150/.227/.158
Between him and Gordon, the five and six spots of the line-up have not exactly been thrilling. Unlike Gordon, however, I expect it's just a cold spell and not really an adjustment period. Expectations for the Shealmeister have not really changed, I would think: he should be a good power, average-OBP complement to when the centerpieces of the line-up finally get going.
After starting 0-for-12, he's been 2-for-7 with a walk in the last two games, and his approach at the plate hasn't really betrayed any glaring weaknesses. Chalk the rough start up to small sample sizes and the fact that, you know, all hitters have slumps.
John Buck - .286/.286/.786
Among the other funny things I said pre-opening day was that if John Buck has a break-out year in him, 2007 is that year due to his incremental improvements, his IsoP, and the pressure of Jason LaRue nipping at his heels. Well, so far it's dang hard to tell what either catcher is going to do this year, as they've split the playing time evenly and thus neither has even 15 PAs. As for Buck, the lad has yet to walk, but he's also popped two home runs his first four games. Coupled with that excellent throw where he nailed a baserunner who was trying to steal leftfield, and it makes me wonder if Buck has been juicing up this off-season.
Ridiculous speculation aside, I'm rooting for the guy to continue smacking the apple with occasionally walking, because he's another player who becomes a plus with a modest improvement. Perhaps I'm a little too optimistic, but as Buck returns to his normally solid defense and logs some more PAs, I'll be interested to see how he does. He won't slug .786, obviously, but I wonder if there's real power spike coming for him this year.
I mean, damn, it's hard for me to not want Buck to do well. Against the Red Sox, he showed up with stirrups, high socks, and a mullet. Can you say "old school"?
Jason LaRue - .111/.182/.222
LaRue has all of ten PAs, so I won't prematurely judge him either. He's looked better behind the plate, but with the small sample size that's really not fair to decide he's the better defensive catcher based on that. That said, he gives KC a solid back-up who has a history of showing some good power, so I'll try not to get cranky if he steals more playing time from JB. There's certainly precedent for good 1/1A catching arrangements, and if nothing else LaRue's presence on the roster means the Royals don't have to look around for an Alberto Castillo/Raul Chavez type.
This all said, he's being paid a pretty penny to be a back-up, which makes me wonder if he's a future trade candidate. You never know: the Yanks actually traded for Sal Fasano during the pennant race last year.
Gil Meche - 4.40 ERA, 14.1 IP, 10:3 K:BB, 3 HRs
Gilgameche had an excellent start on opening day, than gave the Royals innings and precious little else in his second start. All and all, while I expect him to find the middleground more, this is more or less what I expect from Meche this year; an ERA in the mid-fours and solid innings totals, with some tantalizingly good outings thrown in every-so-often. It's kind of a matter of opinion at this point whether that's worth $11 million.
The three home runs allowed might bring up cause for concern, but it's only fourteen innings pitched and I expect that HR rate to go down as the the walk rate rises. I also expect a warm summer and six sunsets in the next six nights.
Odalis Perez - 10.80 ERA, 6.2 IP, 4:4 K:BB, 0 HRs
No, he's not this bad. No, he's not good. After a vaguely "okay" start against the Red Sox, Odie tanked last night against the Blue Jays, making it through only an inning and a third. At least he hasn't given up any home runs, but with 12 hits allowed in six and two-thirds innings, I'm still skeptical of those who think Perez's BABIP and hits allowed will come back down from last year. From what I saw against the Sox (and the games I saw last year with Perez pitching), his stuff ain't fooling very many hitters these days.
As I said in spring training, I `d rather see Bannister or really anyone else get his shot in the rotation than go with the mediocre Perez, but I think his salary and the fact that the Royals traded for him should keep him in there for a while. Luke Hudson, where have you gone? Come back soon, please.
Odie will be better than this in the future, but I don't think that ERA's going below five.
Zack Greinke - 1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 7:1 K:BB, 0 HR
It was one start, but it was a blast from the not too distant past. After a two-year hiatus, we saw the Greinke that was the ROY candidate in 2004. He was moving his pitches around, locating well, and, for all the talk about Matsuzaka keeping hitters off-balance, Greinke performed almost as well as he tallied seven Ks off his own. When he posted a 3.97 ERA in 2004, his calling card was his good control, mixing up his stuff and speeds, and not over-throwing. That describes Grein-K's first start pretty darn well. Sure, it's one start, but it was very encouraging when you conside what this kid has been through.
Jorge De La Rosa - 1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 5:3 K:BB, 0 HR
Rose managed to equal Greinke's performance, both ERA and innings-wise as well as the "pleasant surprise" factor. To be fair to Zack, Jorge probably surprised more people with his great start against the Tigers, as he actually showed some modicum of command en route to getting the win.
I'm not sold yet, as the Tigers turned around and got shut down by Daniel Cabrera in the first game with the Orioles. Perhaps Rose and Cabrera have both improved--Orioles and Royals fans certainly hope so--but there's no doubt in my mind that both pitchers were aided by the general impatience of the Tigers' low OBP line-up. For now, it's definitely a positive, however, and Jorge's at least teased us with his flash of brilliance, which is better than no brilliance at all.
Brandon Duckworth - 0.00 ERA, 6.1 IP, 2:1 K:BB, 0 HR
Yes, his fine start was blown by David Riske. No, two strikeouts in a start that reaches the seventh aren't exactly a recipe for consistent success. But heck, does anyone know what the hell to expect from this guy? Since 2001 when he came up, Duckworth has gone from promising prospect with the Phillies to falling out of favor to being a throw-in in the Billy Wagner deal to being awful for Houston to being out of baseball to being a starter in KC to suddenly admitting he's been hurting for a couple years to a minor league deal with the Royals to...a scoreless first start against the defending AL champs. If nothing else, it sure is fun! I mean, maybe it turns out that Duckworth isn't any better than his career 5.35 ERA, but he's at least got people wondering for now.
Coming into the season, I said Zack Greinke is the wild card of the rotation. Thanks to My Favorite Hudson Brother's injury and Greinke's great performance, Duckworth seems like even more of a "what the hell are we going to get out of this guy?" than The Triumphant Return of Zack.
Since these guys have hardly pitched, this'll be a lightning round.
Eight Ks in 4.2 innings is nice, and if Dotel is on the DL for any extended period of time, I submit that Peralta and his bitchin' stuff should get a shot at closer; he's got more experience than Braun or Soria, and he pitched decently in high-leverage situations last year. Either way, Peralta appears to have the chops to go more than one inning in some games.
Well, it's not like Todd went on record as saying "of COURSE I can throw strikes."
Joltin' Joakim Soria
You could be forgiven if Soria's three scoreless innings and the movement on his pitches has you thinking that he could put up Andrew Sisco's 2005. Soria definitely has talent, and Buddy Bell appears to be willing to put it to good use.
Between Soria, Braun, and Peralta, you have three guys that look like they could be cogs in a pretty decent `pen. Braun's struck out five guys in three innings, and his stuff--while not original, he's a fastball-slider guy--looks good.
Gobble's strikeout rate went up last year, and if he can find someway to limit his taters allowed, he could be a good lefty out of the bullpen. He also gives KC flexibility as he's got experience starting. Again, he's another guy with more Ks (3) than IP (2.1) in the small sample size.
On the fast track to becoming a AAA journeyman for years to come, Standridge spent a long time in the Tampa system. Along the way, his control got better and his fastball died. He made it back to bigs after Dotel was placed on the DL, and has only a crappy "take one for the team" outing under his belt thus far. He's still a longshot to contribute, as he will be for a long time.
Maybe it's best we not speak of a certain high, inside fastball thrown in the ninth-inning of the series finale against the Tigers...
Joel Peralta for closer! Or Dotel! Please, come back!
DL: Luke Hudson, John Bale, Scott Elarton, Octavio Dotel, Joe Nelson (60), Leo Nunez (60), Angel Sanchez.
Overall, it was a rough week for the boys in blue, as they currently stand at 2-5. Nonetheless, there are some positives to take out of this week along with the negative. When it comes to the players you're worried about slumping, I'm going to have to go all Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on you and say "Don't Panic." This team is probably not ready to contend, but I expect this season to have its moments. Heck, there already was one on opening day, and as long as Dayton Moore continues to do a competent job as GM, I expect the team has a bright future.
In the short term, Josh Towers has been known to get teams' offenses going. It certainly would be a relief to the panickers if some of the middle of order guys teed off tonight, and I think there's a good chance that'll happen. Go Blue.
Spreadsheet Baseball returns next week with more expert analyis and Good Charlotte references. On this week's article, comments are, as always, welcome/encouraged.