Spreadsheet Baseball: Holes In The Line-Up and The NBA Finals Are Awful

    I'd like to begin this week's jumble o' words by talking about the NBA finals briefly. I won't give you all the gory details of my life (because that would be egotistical), but the fact is that I go home on Friday and I have absolutely nothing to do when I'm not lifeguarding; lifeguarding takes up four hours of my time at best, and one of the end results is that this week I've watched a lot more TV than I usually would. This means two things: I have rented more movies in one week than one would think would be humanly possible, and I have watched the NBA finals despite the fact that I don't like basketball most of the time and I stopped playing it competitively in 6th grade.
    So, naturally, when I actually watch the sport I get to watch the most lopsided finals in recent memory, as the Spurs have just defeated the Cavs 75-72 in the second-lowest scoring finals game of all time. The announcers made a big deal about how Lebron James was fouled in the act of shooting with five seconds on the clock when the Cavs "star" was shooting a three that did not fall. Maybe I just know zip about basketball other than the fact that it's a good way to get elbowed in the nose if you're into that kind of thing, but it seemed like absolute horse pucky to me. A desperate attempt to inject some final measure of life into a terribly one-sided series. James was not shooting the ball when Bruce Bowen hacked his arm, and as a result it was a good play by the Spurs defensive wiz because James should have shot two free throws and not three if he went to the line. The problem, ladies and gents, isn't a "matter of opinion" call at the end of a lackluster Game 3, it's that the Cavaliers simply don't belong on the same court with the Spurs. San Antonio is better in every facet of the game visible to the casual fan (me) and it's just a little sad to watch.
    This happens in every sport, in that a mismatch is created in the play-offs when one team gets there by playing over its collective head and the other gets there because they are honest to goodness a great team. The Cavs are the former and the Spurs the latter, and sometimes the over-their-heads team pulls a fast one again. This isn't one of those times, and it's not pretty. I'm not questioning that Lebron James is a legitimate star in the league, but if I had to watch an Eastern Conference team play the Spurs, I'm sad that it's not the Pistons, who somehow tanked four games in a row, or the Wizards, provided the Washington starting five were actually ambulatory. This is just boring to watch, and I'm more likely to watch Charmed than Game Four. The things I watched on TV today, ranked in order of how much I enjoyed them.

1.    Red Sox 2, Rockies 1 (Aaron Cook is very good pitcher)
2.    The movie Poseidon (a thoroughly dumb movie where Josh Lucas is amazingly badass nonetheless)
3.    The interview of Michael Chiklis and Jessica Alba on Cold Pizza promoting the new Fantastic Four movie. Chiklis instantly became my new favorite actor when described his hate for the Yankees as "burning like a thousand suns." Alba didn't really need to say anything.
4.    Five million, one hundred thousand, six hundred eighty-two replays of J.J. Hardy flying out to right field to end Justin Verlander's no-hitter. Seriously ESPN, friggin' relax. It was an awesome game for Verlander, and you don't need to cover it for an hour. Really.
5.    Stephen A. Smith's head exploding in high definition while screaming something obtuse about basketball players.

And so on. The NBA finals probably ranks 27th after "The `DVD Home' blue screen on the JVC DVD player" on my list of favorite things I watched today.

    Okay, on  to baseball because it is in the land of spheroid-slingin' that I actually know what I'm talking about. Anyone who takes even a cursory look at the Royals' numbers this year can probably tell this is a last place team with many problems to solve before the organization can get back to being a contender. No one is really sure what the answer to the question of "how long before Moore can get this ship turned around?" is. However, what if you want an answer to the question "what is the biggest reason that the Royals are once again in last?"
The answer "lack of production from corner spots" may seem obvious to you, but it may be that the you do not realize how bad the Royals have been this season when it comes to the 3B, 1B, LF, and even SS production, as compared to the rest of the league. No, this is not to say that the Royals are excellent in every other roster spot on the team--the rotation beyond Meche's greatness, Bannister's shocking goodness, and George's adequacy, is pretty cruddy; the other position players other than Buck have been no great shakes; the bullpen has had its weak moments--but the bottom line is that having three, count `em three spots in the line-up where the Royals are getting sup-replacement level production where other teams are getting whole lotta runs is the biggest problem the team has right now. The shortstop situation is not good either, and I'll go over that as well; you might think Tony Pena Jr. is an inadequate solution at shortstop in the long term--I certainly do--but the fact is that absolutely no one came into this season saying "Tony Pena Jr. is going to be a key line-up cog" after he was acquired from the Braves. There is a huge difference between not producing when you're expected to be a middle of the order, wrong end of defensive spectrum masher and not producing when you play the weakest offensive position in the game and you're pretty good defensively at short as well. And before you say "are you doing a 180 on your stance on Pena?" I'm not. I don't think he's the future at short, and I want to see someone with possible upside to get a shot. He's just not anywhere near as big a problem.
I'm not a general manager and I do not pretend to know how to run a baseball organization in its entirety, so what you think the Royals should do based on the results below is up to you. I'm not playing the "I'm smarter than GMDM" game, I'm simply attempting to show how crushing a problem the current situation at three or four positions is, and how different the team's results might be if they were getting even below average production out of 1B, 3B, and LF. I report, the reader can play GM if he or she wants. The stats given here are BA/OBP/SLG and VORP, which is, if you're unfamiliar with it, Value Over Replacement Player. You may notice that VORP is more forgiving of third basemen or left fielders than first basemen, and if you don't already know why I invite you to check out the BP glossary where VORP is explained in detail.
Without further adieu...

1B for the Royals: Ryan Shealy, .221/.290/.321, -5.9 VORP

The scary thing to think about is that Shealy's line looks a lot better than it did a month ago, as the current 611 OPS he's lugging would be plenty enough for him to be benched on a contending team. Shealy was beyond slow out of the gate, and has looked better recently as his bat has gone from "legally dead" since coming off the DL to "really crappy." Since in VORP teams 10.0 is equal to one win, Shealy has cost the Royals more than half a win so far this season, meaning he has in fact had negative value for the Royals this season. According to the replacement level concept, the Royals could probably have been in better position to pick up a game if they'd hung on to Koonce and said "here are the keys to first base, Graham."
 Want to hear an even scarier story? He goes my attempt to give you one: Shealy's bringing his BA into the low-.200s makes him significantly less crappy than Alex Gordon or Emil Brown, the other two struggling corner starters. When -5.9 VORP represents the third worst instead of the worst of your regular line-up "contributors," it's a reeeeeeealy bad sign. It's kind of like being a pirate and being handed the black spot. Or being traded to the pirates playing in Pittsburgh. Funny how the two experiences are so similar.

1B for the Orioles: Aubrey Huff, .259/.284/.384, -2.6 VORP

What a terrible contrast. It's enough to make your average baseball fan turn on Badminton on ESPN8 and let his or her brain jell out for a couple hours. First-half Aubrey Huff is always bad, so normally this would not be something to panic about, but the spooky thing here for the Orioles is Huff's awful K:BB ratio. It's over four, and he's only taken nine walks all season. It's as if the curse of the demon lawyer has moved on from the Orioles pitching staff to take up residence in Aubrey Huff's and Melvin Mora's armpits. What a horrible mental picture. I apologize for that one.
If there's any way I can make a point by comparing two bad performances, it's this: Huff has been a disappoint so far, has only four dingers, and may never find his stroke again, and he's literally not half as bad as Ryan Shealy so far this season.
Orioles +3.3 VORP

1B for Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis, .338/.426/.529, 27.0 VORP

No, he's really not this good, but it has been one heck of a first couple months for Youkilis, who has helped paper over the fact that J.D. Drew was awful until recently and Manny Ramirez got off to his usual slow start. Even though I'm a loyal Sox fan, I harbor no illusions about "Youk." He'll still have good numbers by the end of the year, but I'm expecting his batting average to come down forty points (he's about the easiest player in the league to say "he'll regress" and be right in the end) or so. He's not really a thumper, but he's a high-OBP moderate power guy who would be an even bigger plus at third if Mike Lowell leaves this off-season.
Red Sox +32.9 VORP

1B for White Sox: Paul Konerko, .244/.339/.418, 3.9 VORP

During the ESPN-televised 3-0 victory over the White Sox for the Phightin' Phils, Rick Sutcliffe made the idiotic observation that Adam Eaton had done a good job pitching around Konerko early in the game. Well, I for one think Konerko is going to bounce back over the next couple months, but why would you make it a priority to pitch around a first basemen who is OPSing less than 800? Sometimes I think that ESPN hires bad baseball commentators on purpose in order to increase the average fan's love for their own hometown broadcasters. Except, whoops, if you're a White Sox fan, one of those hometown guys is Hawk Harrelson. Ouch.
Anyhow, Paulie has had a rough first two months before starting to turn it around recently, and there's no reason to think he's done. Konerko has never been big on walks--his moderate patience has always been offset by his great power--and that explains why his OBP dips so low when he has a bad start in terms of batting average. And since he's a White Sock, I must bring up the question, where would Chicago be without Jim Thome in the line-up?
White Sox +9.8 VORP

1B for Indians: Ryan Garko, .306/.373/.489, 12.7 VORP

I like that Cleveland has handed the majority of the playing time at first to Garko, a guy that they probably should have turned to a little earlier last year. However, I need to be clear on two things: 1. Garko is not, contrary to the somewhat popular belief, a young prospect with a high upside. 2. He had better keep hitting around .300 if he wants his overall line to be good, considering his neither his IsoP (again, SLG minus BA) and walk rate are anything to write home about. The dude is 26, so what you see is pretty darn close to what you're going to get from now on. He's really kind of Ryan Shealy-gone-right without the organization switch; a guy who took a while to find major league playing time with good sock and good bat speed, but not so much of either one that he's a star.
    All this said, if he keeps up this rate of hitting there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, since the Indians have a DH named Hafner who has not even really gotten going yet. Once he does, Garko won't be under much scrutiny.
    Indians + 18.6 VORP

    1B for Tigers: Sean Casey, .279/.340/.347, 0.6 VORP

    Replacement level must be pretty forgiving so far this year, because I would not want that line from my starting shortstop or centerfielder, let alone from one of the power spots. Casey is, at this point in his career, a singles hitter. His power is pretty much dead and buried, and he never was that patient of a hitter so it's kind of hard to believe he's managed a nigh-league average OBP. If you want a concrete reason that the Tigers are one game behind Cleveland, look no further than at first base. Chris Shelton can do better than this.
    Naturally, he's still somehow been better than Ryan Shealy. However, I am about three times more optimistic about a Shealy bounceback than a Casey resurgence.
    Tigers + 6.5 VORP

    1B for Angels: Casey Kotchman, .323/.407/.538, 22.7 VORP

    In one way he's kind of the opposite of Ryan Garko, in that Kotchman is one of those guys who seems like he has been around longer than he actually has. After his last season was torpedoed by mono, no one really knew what to expect from the Angels' first basemen this year. Happily, we're finally getting to see what the lad can do when he's ambulatory and swinging a bat at the same time; you never want to assume someone can hit .323 all year long, but he's walked 23 times to only 15 Ks and he's shown more power than expected.
    While some people might look at his line and think "Kevin Youkilis, bound to regress a lot," but I'm thinking "this could be his skill set finally showing through." I'm reaching back for the days a couple years ago when scouts compared Kotchman to Nick Johnson. The comparison is apt, in more ways than one; he's hurt too often, but when he hits he's got decent power, makes a lot of contact, and will take a walk. He's not Johnson-in-his-brief-prime yet, but he's 24 and has some time before we can consider him in his prime. This is a guy who could be the Angels' center line-up piece when Vlad moves on.
    Angels +28.6 VORP

    1B for Twins: Justin Morneau, .273/.346/.542, 17.6 VORP

    He's got the gigantic left-handed hitter build that A. Makes a pitcher quake in his spikes when Justin steps in and B. tends to wind up breaking down in his early thirties. For now, Morneau is a legitimate bopper who probably won't hit for a high enough average to expect a repeat MVP bid. That's not really an insult though, as Morneau and Mauer give the Twinkies two young position players that they can count on to be the core of the team for at least the next three or four years (then they have to pay them...).
    Twins +23.5

    1B for Yankees: Doug Mientkiewicz, .226/.292/.379, -2.2, and Josh Phelps, .270/.333/.378, 0.7 VORP Culm. VORP=-1.5

    Well, I'm supposed to hate the Yankees and I do most of the time, but what on god(s)'s green earth was the Yanks FO thinking when they assembled this duo of sad sacks to run out to first every day? For a team that has a 200+ million payroll, it's just remarkable that there's this big a hole in their line-up without a regular at first getting hurt. Actually, Minky IS hurt, but that's a good thing for the Yankees as the Unpronounceable One has been living off his defensive rep--he's no longer good with the glove--for the last couple seasons. A sub-.300 OBP from the large half of a platoon at first base will sink you faster than boulders in your bathing suit.
    And then there's Phelps, who is just a good bench option versus lefties (if history is any indication) and nothing more. Realistically, if the Yankees really are going to make a wild card run, they need to do something about first base. Hopefully they get confused and accidentally trade to get Tony Clark back or Richie Sexson or something.
    Yankees +4.5 VORP

    1B for Athletics: Dan Johnson, .268/.383/.443, 8.6 VORP

    On a team that has an underachieving left side of the infield and has already endured its share of injuries for the year, it would be nice to have a true power source at first. Happily, Nick Swisher has been awesome and Jack Cust has helped fill the power void as well, so it's still okay to look at Johnson and think "neat player," even if he is not by any means a masher. Basically, he's Kevin Youkilis when Youk is not hitting out of his mind, and that is a good player for a team that has other sources of power or is in a small market. The A's really aren't the first, but they are the second, so Johnson is fine for now.
    That said, do not be surprised if Beane puts this guy on the trade market while he's still cheap. The Athletics are a team that screams for another big bat at the deadline in order to try and catch the Angels or win the wild card.
    Athletics +14.5 VORP

    1B for Mariners: Richie Sexson, .200/.298/.395, -2.1 VORP

    It may be that the Sexson thrill-ride has come to an end, as the Mariners' gigantic first basemen can't seem to bring his average up to save his life. Yes, he did this last year too before heating up over the last two months, but last year was last year and, like most of us, Sexson is a year older now and his bat seems to be slowing down. His secondary skills seem relatively intact, but if you hit .200 it's nearly impossible to be any kind of positive for your team.
    I don't know why, but I've always liked Sexson and I hope he turns it around, but this looks like "end of story" from where I'm sitting.
    Did I mention he's been better than Shealy?
    Mariners +3.8 VORP

    1B for Devil Rays: Carlos Pena, .306/.397/.633, 20.9 VORP

    From the "what the fungo is going on here?" category we have the new and improved Bizarro World Carlos Pena, complete with a .300+ average and a white hot SLG over .600! Does anyone have any idea where this guy came from? Well, he's unlikely to hit .300 due to his long swing and historically hacktastical approach, but the fact of the matter is that he's swatting home runs enough that he should still have a great overall season...especially when you consider he's been resurrected from the dead.
    Pena always has had a great power stroke, and if his newfound ability to take a walk every-so-often is for real, this could be the springboard season for the beginning of a nice little second career after flaming out with the Tigers. It just goes to show that you need to consider the skill sets of players and not just their past results in a vacuum. All Pena needed in the past to become a plus was to cut down on Ks a bit and either walk a bit more or raise his average; I conclude that while he may have been "broken," he did not really need that much to "heal" into an above average 1B. So also: John Buck as another example of looking at a skill set that suggested a little bit of improvement would go a long way.Devil Rays +26.2 VORP

    1B for Rangers: Mark Teixeira, .302/.405/.554, 24.8 VORP

    Good to see to Mark back in the land of the masher after an off-year last season. He is once again crushing the ball, as he's more than twice as good this season in terms of VORP as the next best Ranger. That speaks to how bad the Rangers are, but Teixeira has quietly started to put together an MVP-caliber year.
    The question becomes whether or not he'll continue to do this for the Rangers, who by now should have noticed that they're no longer a "win now" team and have officially moved into the "time to rebuild!" stage and the "mostly harmless" list from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As with Miguel Tejada in Baltimore, it is time for the FO in question to decide if the team is better off trying to continue to build around the team's star or whether to trade him to aid the rebuilding process. There is no question that Texas could make a killing off tradin Teixeira, even though his contract is only a year and a half away from expiring. He's the kind of player that could turn a contender into a first place runaway, and the Rangers have a hell of a decision to make coming up in a month.
    Rangers +30.7 VORP

    1B for Blue Jays: Lyle Overbay, .256/.332/.464, 6.7 VORP

    The danger with the Lyle Overbay type of player--moderate power, moderate walks, low end of the defensive spectrum--is that when they don't hit .300 or near, they magically go from being a considerable plus to something seemingly disproportionately less than that. Overbay's true level of ability is that of about a league average corner man, so he's probably a little under that right now, but he's certainly not the type of player I would expect to age well. A big deal was made a couple years ago about the Blue Jays "going sabermetric" and targeting patient hitters, but Overbay really never has been one of those guys to begin with. He's just a guy who's above average when he hits over .300--2006 and 2004--and below average when his BA fluctuates down--2005 and 2007. That's not necessarily bad, but it's regression city in Toronto this season and he's not exactly helping things get turned around.
    Blue Jays +13.6 VORP

    See a pattern here? It's not really so much guys like Teixeira and Youkilis's contributions that make Shealy look bad, it's people like Konerko and Overbay who've generally stunk it up this year and are still worth a full win more than Shealy when you go by VORP. Here's hoping that Shealy finds his stroke; I actually think it's pretty likely he'll do well in the second half if Ryan can stay healthy and get playing time.

    I'd like to begin this week's jumble o' words by talking about the NBA finals briefly. I won't give you all the gory details of my life (because that would be egotistical), but the fact is that I go home on Friday and I have absolutely nothing to do when I'm not lifeguarding; lifeguarding takes up four hours of my time at best, and one of the end results is that this week I've watched a lot more TV than I usually would. This means two things: I have rented more movies in one week than one would think would be humanly possible, and I have watched the NBA finals despite the fact that I don't like basketball most of the time and I stopped playing it competitively in 6th grade.
    So, naturally, when I actually watch the sport I get to watch the most lopsided finals in recent memory, as the Spurs have just defeated the Cavs 75-72 in the second-lowest scoring finals game of all time. The announcers made a big deal about how Lebron James was fouled in the act of shooting with five seconds on the clock when the Cavs "star" was shooting a three that did not fall. Maybe I just know zip about basketball other than the fact that it's a good way to get elbowed in the nose if you're into that kind of thing, but it seemed like absolute horse pucky to me. A desperate attempt to inject some final measure of life into a terribly one-sided series. James was not shooting the ball when Bruce Bowen hacked his arm, and as a result it was a good play by the Spurs defensive wiz because James should have shot two free throws and not three if he went to the line. The problem, ladies and gents, isn't a "matter of opinion" call at the end of a lackluster Game 3, it's that the Cavaliers simply don't belong on the same court with the Spurs. San Antonio is better in every facet of the game visible to the casual fan (me) and it's just a little sad to watch.
    This happens in every sport, in that a mismatch is created in the play-offs when one team gets there by playing over its collective head and the other gets there because they are honest to goodness a great team. The Cavs are the former and the Spurs the latter, and sometimes the over-their-heads team pulls a fast one again. This isn't one of those times, and it's not pretty. I'm not questioning that Lebron James is a legitimate star in the league, but if I had to watch an Eastern Conference team play the Spurs, I'm sad that it's not the Pistons, who somehow tanked four games in a row, or the Wizards, provided the Washington starting five were actually ambulatory. This is just boring to watch, and I'm more likely to watch Charmed than Game Four. The things I watched on TV today, ranked in order of how much I enjoyed them.

1.    Red Sox 2, Rockies 1 (Aaron Cook is very good pitcher)
2.    The movie Poseidon (a thoroughly dumb movie where Josh Lucas is amazingly badass nonetheless)
3.    The interview of Michael Chiklis and Jessica Alba on Cold Pizza promoting the new Fantastic Four movie. Chiklis instantly became my new favorite actor when described his hate for the Yankees as "burning like a thousand suns." Alba didn't really need to say anything.
4.    Five million, one hundred thousand, six hundred eighty-two replays of J.J. Hardy flying out to right field to end Justin Verlander's no-hitter. Seriously ESPN, friggin' relax. It was an awesome game for Verlander, and you don't need to cover it for an hour. Really.
5.    Stephen A. Smith's head exploding in high definition while screaming something obtuse about basketball players.

And so on. The NBA finals probably ranks 27th after "The `DVD Home' blue screen on the JVC DVD player" on my list of favorite things I watched today.

    Okay, on  to baseball because it is in the land of spheroid-slingin' that I actually know what I'm talking about. Anyone who takes even a cursory look at the Royals' numbers this year can probably tell this is a last place team with many problems to solve before the organization can get back to being a contender. No one is really sure what the answer to the question of "how long before Moore can get this ship turned around?" is. However, what if you want an answer to the question "what is the biggest reason that the Royals are once again in last?"
The answer "lack of production from corner spots" may seem obvious to you, but it may be that the you do not realize how bad the Royals have been this season when it comes to the 3B, 1B, LF, and even SS production, as compared to the rest of the league. No, this is not to say that the Royals are excellent in every other roster spot on the team--the rotation beyond Meche's greatness, Bannister's shocking goodness, and George's adequacy, is pretty cruddy; the other position players other than Buck have been no great shakes; the bullpen has had its weak moments--but the bottom line is that having three, count `em three spots in the line-up where the Royals are getting sup-replacement level production where other teams are getting whole lotta runs is the biggest problem the team has right now. The shortstop situation is not good either, and I'll go over that as well; you might think Tony Pena Jr. is an inadequate solution at shortstop in the long term--I certainly do--but the fact is that absolutely no one came into this season saying "Tony Pena Jr. is going to be a key line-up cog" after he was acquired from the Braves. There is a huge difference between not producing when you're expected to be a middle of the order, wrong end of defensive spectrum masher and not producing when you play the weakest offensive position in the game and you're pretty good defensively at short as well. And before you say "are you doing a 180 on your stance on Pena?" I'm not. I don't think he's the future at short, and I want to see someone with possible upside to get a shot. He's just not anywhere near as big a problem.
I'm not a general manager and I do not pretend to know how to run a baseball organization in its entirety, so what you think the Royals should do based on the results below is up to you. I'm not playing the "I'm smarter than GMDM" game, I'm simply attempting to show how crushing a problem the current situation at three or four positions is, and how different the team's results might be if they were getting even below average production out of 1B, 3B, and LF. I report, the reader can play GM if he or she wants. The stats given here are BA/OBP/SLG and VORP, which is, if you're unfamiliar with it, Value Over Replacement Player. You may notice that VORP is more forgiving of third basemen or left fielders than first basemen, and if you don't already know why I invite you to check out the BP glossary where VORP is explained in detail.
Without further adieu...

1B for the Royals: Ryan Shealy, .221/.290/.321, -5.9 VORP

The scary thing to think about is that Shealy's line looks a lot better than it did a month ago, as the current 611 OPS he's lugging would be plenty enough for him to be benched on a contending team. Shealy was beyond slow out of the gate, and has looked better recently as his bat has gone from "legally dead" since coming off the DL to "really crappy." Since in VORP teams 10.0 is equal to one win, Shealy has cost the Royals more than half a win so far this season, meaning he has in fact had negative value for the Royals this season. According to the replacement level concept, the Royals could probably have been in better position to pick up a game if they'd hung on to Koonce and said "here are the keys to first base, Graham."
 Want to hear an even scarier story? He goes my attempt to give you one: Shealy's bringing his BA into the low-.200s makes him significantly less crappy than Alex Gordon or Emil Brown, the other two struggling corner starters. When -5.9 VORP represents the third worst instead of the worst of your regular line-up "contributors," it's a reeeeeeealy bad sign. It's kind of like being a pirate and being handed the black spot. Or being traded to the pirates playing in Pittsburgh. Funny how the two experiences are so similar.

1B for the Orioles: Aubrey Huff, .259/.284/.384, -2.6 VORP

What a terrible contrast. It's enough to make your average baseball fan turn on Badminton on ESPN8 and let his or her brain jell out for a couple hours. First-half Aubrey Huff is always bad, so normally this would not be something to panic about, but the spooky thing here for the Orioles is Huff's awful K:BB ratio. It's over four, and he's only taken nine walks all season. It's as if the curse of the demon lawyer has moved on from the Orioles pitching staff to take up residence in Aubrey Huff's and Melvin Mora's armpits. What a horrible mental picture. I apologize for that one.
If there's any way I can make a point by comparing two bad performances, it's this: Huff has been a disappoint so far, has only four dingers, and may never find his stroke again, and he's literally not half as bad as Ryan Shealy so far this season.
Orioles +3.3 VORP

1B for Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis, .338/.426/.529, 27.0 VORP

No, he's really not this good, but it has been one heck of a first couple months for Youkilis, who has helped paper over the fact that J.D. Drew was awful until recently and Manny Ramirez got off to his usual slow start. Even though I'm a loyal Sox fan, I harbor no illusions about "Youk." He'll still have good numbers by the end of the year, but I'm expecting his batting average to come down forty points (he's about the easiest player in the league to say "he'll regress" and be right in the end) or so. He's not really a thumper, but he's a high-OBP moderate power guy who would be an even bigger plus at third if Mike Lowell leaves this off-season.
Red Sox +32.9 VORP

1B for White Sox: Paul Konerko, .244/.339/.418, 3.9 VORP

During the ESPN-televised 3-0 victory over the White Sox for the Phightin' Phils, Rick Sutcliffe made the idiotic observation that Adam Eaton had done a good job pitching around Konerko early in the game. Well, I for one think Konerko is going to bounce back over the next couple months, but why would you make it a priority to pitch around a first basemen who is OPSing less than 800? Sometimes I think that ESPN hires bad baseball commentators on purpose in order to increase the average fan's love for their own hometown broadcasters. Except, whoops, if you're a White Sox fan, one of those hometown guys is Hawk Harrelson. Ouch.
Anyhow, Paulie has had a rough first two months before starting to turn it around recently, and there's no reason to think he's done. Konerko has never been big on walks--his moderate patience has always been offset by his great power--and that explains why his OBP dips so low when he has a bad start in terms of batting average. And since he's a White Sock, I must bring up the question, where would Chicago be without Jim Thome in the line-up?
White Sox +9.8 VORP

1B for Indians: Ryan Garko, .306/.373/.489, 12.7 VORP

I like that Cleveland has handed the majority of the playing time at first to Garko, a guy that they probably should have turned to a little earlier last year. However, I need to be clear on two things: 1. Garko is not, contrary to the somewhat popular belief, a young prospect with a high upside. 2. He had better keep hitting around .300 if he wants his overall line to be good, considering his neither his IsoP (again, SLG minus BA) and walk rate are anything to write home about. The dude is 26, so what you see is pretty darn close to what you're going to get from now on. He's really kind of Ryan Shealy-gone-right without the organization switch; a guy who took a while to find major league playing time with good sock and good bat speed, but not so much of either one that he's a star.
    All this said, if he keeps up this rate of hitting there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, since the Indians have a DH named Hafner who has not even really gotten going yet. Once he does, Garko won't be under much scrutiny.
    Indians + 18.6 VORP

    1B for Tigers: Sean Casey, .279/.340/.347, 0.6 VORP

    Replacement level must be pretty forgiving so far this year, because I would not want that line from my starting shortstop or centerfielder, let alone from one of the power spots. Casey is, at this point in his career, a singles hitter. His power is pretty much dead and buried, and he never was that patient of a hitter so it's kind of hard to believe he's managed a nigh-league average OBP. If you want a concrete reason that the Tigers are one game behind Cleveland, look no further than at first base. Chris Shelton can do better than this.
    Naturally, he's still somehow been better than Ryan Shealy. However, I am about three times more optimistic about a Shealy bounceback than a Casey resurgence.
    Tigers + 6.5 VORP

    1B for Angels: Casey Kotchman, .323/.407/.538, 22.7 VORP

    In one way he's kind of the opposite of Ryan Garko, in that Kotchman is one of those guys who seems like he has been around longer than he actually has. After his last season was torpedoed by mono, no one really knew what to expect from the Angels' first basemen this year. Happily, we're finally getting to see what the lad can do when he's ambulatory and swinging a bat at the same time; you never want to assume someone can hit .323 all year long, but he's walked 23 times to only 15 Ks and he's shown more power than expected.
    While some people might look at his line and think "Kevin Youkilis, bound to regress a lot," but I'm thinking "this could be his skill set finally showing through." I'm reaching back for the days a couple years ago when scouts compared Kotchman to Nick Johnson. The comparison is apt, in more ways than one; he's hurt too often, but when he hits he's got decent power, makes a lot of contact, and will take a walk. He's not Johnson-in-his-brief-prime yet, but he's 24 and has some time before we can consider him in his prime. This is a guy who could be the Angels' center line-up piece when Vlad moves on.
    Angels +28.6 VORP

    1B for Twins: Justin Morneau, .273/.346/.542, 17.6 VORP

    He's got the gigantic left-handed hitter build that A. Makes a pitcher quake in his spikes when Justin steps in and B. tends to wind up breaking down in his early thirties. For now, Morneau is a legitimate bopper who probably won't hit for a high enough average to expect a repeat MVP bid. That's not really an insult though, as Morneau and Mauer give the Twinkies two young position players that they can count on to be the core of the team for at least the next three or four years (then they have to pay them...).
    Twins +23.5

    1B for Yankees: Doug Mientkiewicz, .226/.292/.379, -2.2, and Josh Phelps, .270/.333/.378, 0.7 VORP Culm. VORP=-1.5

    Well, I'm supposed to hate the Yankees and I do most of the time, but what on god(s)'s green earth was the Yanks FO thinking when they assembled this duo of sad sacks to run out to first every day? For a team that has a 200+ million payroll, it's just remarkable that there's this big a hole in their line-up without a regular at first getting hurt. Actually, Minky IS hurt, but that's a good thing for the Yankees as the Unpronounceable One has been living off his defensive rep--he's no longer good with the glove--for the last couple seasons. A sub-.300 OBP from the large half of a platoon at first base will sink you faster than boulders in your bathing suit.
    And then there's Phelps, who is just a good bench option versus lefties (if history is any indication) and nothing more. Realistically, if the Yankees really are going to make a wild card run, they need to do something about first base. Hopefully they get confused and accidentally trade to get Tony Clark back or Richie Sexson or something.
    Yankees +4.5 VORP

    1B for Athletics: Dan Johnson, .268/.383/.443, 8.6 VORP

    On a team that has an underachieving left side of the infield and has already endured its share of injuries for the year, it would be nice to have a true power source at first. Happily, Nick Swisher has been awesome and Jack Cust has helped fill the power void as well, so it's still okay to look at Johnson and think "neat player," even if he is not by any means a masher. Basically, he's Kevin Youkilis when Youk is not hitting out of his mind, and that is a good player for a team that has other sources of power or is in a small market. The A's really aren't the first, but they are the second, so Johnson is fine for now.
    That said, do not be surprised if Beane puts this guy on the trade market while he's still cheap. The Athletics are a team that screams for another big bat at the deadline in order to try and catch the Angels or win the wild card.
    Athletics +14.5 VORP

    1B for Mariners: Richie Sexson, .200/.298/.395, -2.1 VORP

    It may be that the Sexson thrill-ride has come to an end, as the Mariners' gigantic first basemen can't seem to bring his average up to save his life. Yes, he did this last year too before heating up over the last two months, but last year was last year and, like most of us, Sexson is a year older now and his bat seems to be slowing down. His secondary skills seem relatively intact, but if you hit .200 it's nearly impossible to be any kind of positive for your team.
    I don't know why, but I've always liked Sexson and I hope he turns it around, but this looks like "end of story" from where I'm sitting.
    Did I mention he's been better than Shealy?
    Mariners +3.8 VORP

    1B for Devil Rays: Carlos Pena, .306/.397/.633, 20.9 VORP

    From the "what the fungo is going on here?" category we have the new and improved Bizarro World Carlos Pena, complete with a .300+ average and a white hot SLG over .600! Does anyone have any idea where this guy came from? Well, he's unlikely to hit .300 due to his long swing and historically hacktastical approach, but the fact of the matter is that he's swatting home runs enough that he should still have a great overall season...especially when you consider he's been resurrected from the dead.
    Pena always has had a great power stroke, and if his newfound ability to take a walk every-so-often is for real, this could be the springboard season for the beginning of a nice little second career after flaming out with the Tigers. It just goes to show that you need to consider the skill sets of players and not just their past results in a vacuum. All Pena needed in the past to become a plus was to cut down on Ks a bit and either walk a bit more or raise his average; I conclude that while he may have been "broken," he did not really need that much to "heal" into an above average 1B. So also: John Buck as another example of looking at a skill set that suggested a little bit of improvement would go a long way.Devil Rays +26.2 VORP

    1B for Rangers: Mark Teixeira, .302/.405/.554, 24.8 VORP

    Good to see to Mark back in the land of the masher after an off-year last season. He is once again crushing the ball, as he's more than twice as good this season in terms of VORP as the next best Ranger. That speaks to how bad the Rangers are, but Teixeira has quietly started to put together an MVP-caliber year.
    The question becomes whether or not he'll continue to do this for the Rangers, who by now should have noticed that they're no longer a "win now" team and have officially moved into the "time to rebuild!" stage and the "mostly harmless" list from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As with Miguel Tejada in Baltimore, it is time for the FO in question to decide if the team is better off trying to continue to build around the team's star or whether to trade him to aid the rebuilding process. There is no question that Texas could make a killing off tradin Teixeira, even though his contract is only a year and a half away from expiring. He's the kind of player that could turn a contender into a first place runaway, and the Rangers have a hell of a decision to make coming up in a month.
    Rangers +30.7 VORP

    1B for Blue Jays: Lyle Overbay, .256/.332/.464, 6.7 VORP

    The danger with the Lyle Overbay type of player--moderate power, moderate walks, low end of the defensive spectrum--is that when they don't hit .300 or near, they magically go from being a considerable plus to something seemingly disproportionately less than that. Overbay's true level of ability is that of about a league average corner man, so he's probably a little under that right now, but he's certainly not the type of player I would expect to age well. A big deal was made a couple years ago about the Blue Jays "going sabermetric" and targeting patient hitters, but Overbay really never has been one of those guys to begin with. He's just a guy who's above average when he hits over .300--2006 and 2004--and below average when his BA fluctuates down--2005 and 2007. That's not necessarily bad, but it's regression city in Toronto this season and he's not exactly helping things get turned around.
    Blue Jays +13.6 VORP

    See a pattern here? It's not really so much guys like Teixeira and Youkilis's contributions that make Shealy look bad, it's people like Konerko and Overbay who've generally stunk it up this year and are still worth a full win more than Shealy when you go by VORP. Here's hoping that Shealy finds his stroke; I actually think it's pretty likely he'll do well in the second half if Ryan can stay healthy and get playing time.

    3B for the Royals: Alex Gordon, .187/.294/.308, -8.7 VORP

    As with a good horror flick director, Gordon continues to offer the observer small measures of hope that everything will be okay before plunging the screenplay back down into darkness or, in the case of baseball, waaaaaaay below replacement level. Gordon, according to the VORP-O-Tron, has now almost cost Kansas City a full win. This is very hard to do if you are...
1.    Human
2.    Someone who has all four assorted limbs
3.    a Major League Baseball player
4.    Not Pedro Feliz, Jay Gibbons, or Shea Hillenbrand

I don't mean to make fun of Alex and shoot down what little remains of his confidence, but if we can't make light of the situation...well, what else can we do? Cheer the guy when he steps up to the plate, applaud on the occasions where he somehow goes 4-for-4, hope he gets his head and swing straightened out, and we can call for Buddy Bell's head on a platter as well. An elephant in the room problem with Bell and his staff is how unsuccessful Buddy has been in cultivating young, talented players. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to overstate a manager's influence, but at a certain point it stops being "unlucky" or "just the Royals" and starts to point to the idea that the current coaching staff down in the trenches is sending out guys like Gordon to get shot down time and time again. There's got to be some accountability, in all seriousness, because these players, Gordon included, are talented. It's not as if KC is some weird baseball equivalent of the twilight zone: Gordon, Butler, Costa, Shealy, Huber, Berroa...and that's without even talking about the pitching.
Just when you thought that things could not look much uglier in terms of Gordon's numbers, I'm here to point out that it's worse than you might initially think. Sorry.

3B for the Orioles: Melvin Mora, .242/.311/.410, 4.0 VORP

Melvin Mora's career as a big leaguer has an interesting parallel in the movie Eragon, in that it started out in bland form and continued in like fashion for a while, finally had some cool moments towards the end, and then it petered out into the doldrums of the denouement. The difference? Melvin did not kill off Jeremy Irons (though the actor has reportedly been signed to set-up Chris Ray).
Mora had a couple nice late peak seasons for the woeful birds back in the day, but he's done now. Like Sexson, Mora's secondary skills (power, walk rate) have survived reasonably well, but his bat speed has eroded to the point where he's hitting mistakes and not much else. Mora and the aforementioned Aubrey Huff are currently "helping" the Orioles squander some pretty good work by their pitching staff. There are rumors that, for whatever reason, the San Francisco Ster--er, Giants are interested in Mora. If that's the case, the O's should jump at the chance to land a warm body or two for the declining sad sack third sacker. He's worth more than a win more than Gordon. Ouch.
Orioles +12.7 VORP

3B for the Red Sox: Mike Lowell, .311/.372/.549, 22.0 VORP

Though a hand injury that he sustained during the recent Yankee series has both me and Jerry Remy spooked, Lowell's performance so far this year has reminiscient of his great years with the Marlins instead of last year's moderately productive defensive wiz. Lowell has been a big asset to the Red Sox at third thus far, and unless his thumb or wrist is really hurting he should continue his good season. It's hard to believe now that Lowell was being desperately shopped by the Marlins as a total albatross two years ago. How the fallen have mightied...or something like that.
Red Sox +30.7 VORP

3B for the White Sox: Joe Crede, .216/.258/.317, -9.3

Neptune's beard! There is someone preventing Gordon from being the worst third basemen in the American League. Crede has always been a low-OBP guy, so it's not that surprising that he could have a long stretch like this--his career record up until this point did not exactly scream "built to last." With Crede injured and about as productive as the character of the same surname in V for Vendetta, White Sox fans will get to see Josh Fields thrown into the fire. Given Crede's role as "bum number five" in the White Sox line-up musical of "Jim Thome and a bunch of bums," it's not to see Fields's arrival as a positive thing. Even if he's struggled in 22 PA so far, the above line for Crede was assembled over the course of more than six times the number of PAs. Perhaps Mr. Crede's reign of terror is over without Hugo Weaving showing up to shoot him this time.
White Sox -0.6 VORP

3B for the Indians: Casey Blake, .283/.372/.496, 17.1 VORP

The injury to Andy Marte prevents me for doing a follow-up to my article that compared Gordon and Marte's careers thus far, which is kind of disappointing. What's not disappointing for the Indians is what Blake has done so far this year, as that .372 OBP with substantial pop has Blake poised to break out of his "I'm horrible in odd numbered years" pattern. That'd be nice for the Indians if the spike in his patience is real, because Marte is now lingering in the space between prospect and productive major leaguer for the third year in a row. That's not good. Blake could fall off a bit, but I'm not tabbing him as someone who is a candidate to be killed by Captain Regression.
Indians +25.8 VORP

3B for the Tigers: Brandon Inge, .242/.338/.437, 6.7 VORP

Inge is the kind of player where looking at just the hitting line and the resulting VORP underrates him a bit, as he is an excellent defensive third basemen who historically crunches lefties and is crappy versus righties. The overall package is a low-OBP, very good power guy who can pick it at third, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that when it comes down to it, he's just not a star. If Inge ever has a year where he hits .290, his overall line is going to be pretty sweet, but that's just random stathead musing.
In the long run, perhaps Inge will suffer a Crede-like fate, but the Tigers don't have a ton of position player prospects nipping at his heels, so it looks like Inge is entrenched for now. I wish they'd use him more to back up Pudge, though; a back-up catcher with a legit bat is hard to come by.
Tigers +15.4 VORP

3B for the Angels: Chone Figgins, .252/.299/.319, 0.2 VORP, Maicer Izturis, .245/.298/.319, -1.6 VORP, Culm. VORP=-1.4

This is what happens when your third base prospect (Dallas McPherson)'s career dies before it starts and you don't sign anyone to replace him. Shea Hillenbrand is awful right now and hasn't played a game at third, so that doesn't count. Izturis and Figgins are both utility guys who don't walk enough to be useful if they don't have high batting averages, and even then neither one has anywhere near the pop you want out of a third sacker.
Figgins seems exposed right now, as he's started work on a second lackluster year in a row, and Izturis would be more tolerable as someone subbing for the middle infielders. I've brought him up as a candidate to start at short somewhere, and that still holds because he's got some upside left and takes a few walks. However, the Angels made a pretty big mistake not cashing in their chips at the end of last year when Izturis's was coming off a year where he hit .290something.
Bottom line: the Angels need to either give the job to Brandon Wood or find a stopgap option at the deadline. None of the in-house candidates are any darned good at this position, one way or another.
Angels +7.3 VORP (How??)

3B for the Twins: Nick Punto, .230/.330/.300, -2.0 VORP

He went from Piranha to Sushi in a year's time, which should not surprise anyone because he was Sushi prior to 2006 anyway. Punto has never had the power to start at third, and he really isn't even a guy you want starting in your middle infield. He's a utility player, and a pretty good one, but nothing more. Every so often a player like this will do what Punto did in 2006 and luck into a starting job, even less often the player will hit .290 and keep it. However, once you get to that point, I'm willing to bet you that almost all of these utility infielder graduates flunk graduate school.
The end result is that the Twinkies shot themselves in the foot by handing Punto the starting job at the beginning of the year, and Jason Bartlett's .298 slugging percentage has given the Twins a perfectly harmless left side of the infield. The Indians and the Tigers should be grateful for small favors. Like Punto, literally.
Twins +6.7

3B for the Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, .304/.407/.674, 39.6 VORP

Does he fit the BS "True Yankee" mold yet? Rodriguez has been definitely the best player on the Yankees, and the best third basemen in the league by no small margin. At this point, I'm just wondering if it's possible for him to another MVP and still have Yankee fans complain about him, and whether or not he'll actually a be a Yankee come next year. Rodriguez could make a killing on the free agent market, and no matter where he went he would have less media bullshit to contend with. Just sayin'.
Yankees +48.3 VORP

3B for the Athletics: Eric Chavez, .244/.306/.444, 5.0 VORP

Another excellent fielding third basemen, Chavez is still good enough to start; his bat has heated up recently, he's finally feeling healthy, and there's simply no one better--possible Lowell is as good, but not better--at manning the hot corner in the AL. If Chavez can raise his overall line to some like .275/.340/.475, which is not that unreasonable given his history, then he would return to being a sort of unconventional star: one who leads with his glove, and contributes with the bat. He's never going to be the MVP-caliber player that it seemed like he was becoming back in 2004, but he's still a mighty handy guy to have around if his bat is really waking up the way it looks like it is. Too bad he's so overpaid.
Athletics +13.7 VORP

3B for the Mariners: Adrian Beltre, .267/.311/.467, 9.0 VORP

As the Grateful Dead song goes (Casey Jones), "the trouble with you is the trouble with me." Well, the trouble with Chavez is the trouble with Beltre; they've both still got power, and Beltre plays good enough defense to be an asset with the glove as well, but the low-OBP, partially as a result of decline in batting average, has caused both of these AL West 3Bs to become something less than what their teams signed them to be. Some people have argued that Beltre's last second and a third has seen him flash enough power that he's worth the money.
My question: if the Mariners could go back in time, would they sign Sexson and Beltre to be the line-up centerpieces? The answer should be "no." Sexson is done and Beltre is just not as good as his 2004 made him look.
Mariners +17.7 VORP

3B for the Devil Rays: Akinori Iwamura, .341/.448/.447, 10.5 VORP

Iwamura, despite his injury, is the only 3B I'll list here because he is unequivocally the starter when he's healthy. Call it the power of first impressions if you like, but he has impressed thus far; the question is how well he can adjust when his batting average sinks, as pitchers will adjust to his swing to some degree. I like that OBP a lot, but it's .341 BA driven so it's really not indicative of his true ability, and the low SLG percentage is really the more worrisome number in terms of predicting what Tampa will get out of their hot-starting import from now on.
Devil Rays +18.7 VORP

3B for the Rangers: Hank Blalock, .285..335.493, 8.6 VORP

Blalock is out 10-12 weeks because of surgery to halt thoracic outlet syndrome, and that's just about as unlucky as you can be in terms of injuries. What does Blalock have to do to buy a break? He looked like a star in his first couple years with the team, regressed in 2005 and 2006, and then was hitting and fielding well when this latest problem hit. He's always had an ugly swing according to me, but they don't pay you for how pretty it looks; they pay you for where the ball ends up, and Blalock has the ability to have a good career.
If there's any lesson to be learned from this article other than "the Royals' corner guys don't produce (other than Teahen)," it's "becoming a third basemen in the AL West is just plain bad luck.
Rangers +17.3 VORP

3B for the Blue Jays: Troy Glaus, .292/.398/.549, 15.7 VORP

His batting average is running uncharacteristically high for him, but Glaus remains an excellent hitter for a third basemen and an underrated defender. Most people seem to think of Glaus as a lumbering hulk at third, but he's surprisingly adept for a big guy and can make Chavezian plays sometimes. At the plate, he strikes out a lot and that's not really the problem people make it out to be. In the land of regression that is Toronto, Glaus surges ahead, producing when healthy, and enduring the aches and pains of a rather odd body-type for baseball.
Overall, Glaus is probably one of the guys that--perhaps due to his injury, definitely due to the Blue Jays lackluster performance thus far--is having a great season despite lack of notoriety.
Blue Jays +24.4 VORP

And so, once again we see how far behind the Royals are from the rest of the league. With that much negative value on Gordon's ledger, even replacement level players are looking robust compared to his production. Then you look at guys like Rodriguez, Glaus, Blake, and Lowell and you see the difference it could make if you have an impact bat at third. Third basemen actually are not expected to be quite the thumpers you want at first or even in left, and thus a big bat there is a bigger plus than someone who swats at the same rate at DH or first.

This piece ended up longer than expected, so I will post the exciting conclusion tomorrow after work; it includes the AL left fielders and the bottom line it self. For you night owls and early risers, enjoy. NOTE: after the player comments, the VORP differential is how much better or worse any given team's player is than the Royals counterpart at that position.

To complete the trifecta of unproductive corner players, we have Allaird Baird’s second great journeyman outfielder find. To be fair to Brown, if he is now done, at least he accomplished so much more than anyone expected when he joined the team two years ago. It’s a credit to him that he hung around long enough to sucker punch the "journeyman" label in its hypothetical mouth, but he sure looks done right about now. Whether or not Brown does, in fact, have a giant fork sticking out of him, he’s hurting the team and never was in the long-term plans (this assumes there are long-term plans beyond 1. sign Meche 2. eat hot dogs). You might be more ready to predict comeback for him based on his slow starts in the last two years and his now-reasonable track record, but the problem with guys that start their careers late is that they don’t necessarily end late as well. In all likelihood, we’ve probably seen the only two productive years of Brown’s entire ML career. Needless to say, since he’s been horribly unproductive, he plays a position where you expect a masher. He’s lost some playing time recently, and should continue to do so if KC knows what’s good for them.

LF for the Orioles: Jay Payton, .275/.316/.356, -0.2 VORP

The Orioles really aren’t good at finding corner players either, are they? From looking at these three positions, you’d never guess that the O’s are somehow 6-0 against the Royals this season. Bad memories aside, Baltimore has replaced one player named Jay having a terrible year (Gibbons) with another player named Jay who can’t hit either. At least Payton is a good defender and…urk…at least…he’s…replacement level, which is much better than Gibbons. What? What do you mean that the Society for Damning With Faint Praise wants to talk to me? I’ll call them back. Orioles +6.0 VORP

LF for the Red Sox: Manny Ramirez, .289/.391/.462, 15.2 VORP

Love him or hate him or be ambivalent on the subject or don’t care a hoot, but Ramirez keeps on swatting the apple over that there wall. His slugging percentage is a lower than usual, but that is the residue left over from his usual slow start. When all’s said and done, Manram will again hit 30something bombs and drive in a 100 runs while taking a lot of walks. Ramirez is an…er…interesting defender to watch, and he’s also a surefire Hall of Famer. Red Sox +21.4 VORP

LF for the White Sox: a conglomerate of crappy hitters. We’ll just give them a pass.

The pale hose don’t really have anyone that I can definitively tell you is going to be starting in left throughout the year, as preferable scrappy option Scotty Pods has logged all of eight games in left. We’ll just call it even. White Sox +0.0 VORP

LF for the Indians: David Dellucci, .239/.294/.387, -0.7 VORP

Here’s an area where the Tribe could really stand to upgrade at the deadline if they want to give the team a boost, as Dellucci has not been the decent bat that he’d been the last two seasons. I was a little sketchy on the contract that he got from Cleveland as he’s pretty old for a non-star, and those with the "old player" skill set from the get-go sometimes drop off a cliff without warning. That appears to be what’s happening to Dellucci who, at 34, is older than you think. Wrist injuries caused his career to take forever to get going. Of course, he’s still better than Emil Brown. Indians +5.5 VORP

LF for the Tigers: Craig Monroe, .244/.296/.451, 1.5 VORP

Monroe is the kind of player that organizations hang onto for too long; he once was a bright spot in dark times for the franchise, stayed with them to help carry them to a world series, and has had some okay years based on his power-hitting abilities. Thing is, Monroe never has had any plate discipline to speak of. He’s not hurting the Tigers that much, thanks to Magglio Ordonez crushing the ball in the corner across from him, but Monroe really is not helping the defending AL Champs at all. His batting average could come up thirty points and his OBP would still probably be below league average, and that’s just not getting it done. A K:BB ratio of almost four is just ugly. Tigers +7.7 VORP

LF for the Angels: Reggie Willits, .317/.409/.372, 12.9 VORP, Garret Anderson, .267/.268/.425, 0.0 VORP

Willits is really just a good fourth outfielder, but he is a good fourth outfielder; he flashes the contact, defense, and reasonable plate discipline that make him great for the role, and in fact he’s probably better than Garret Anderson at this point. Once a legitimate 30-homer threat, Anderson’s bat has slowed to the point where the Angels will be lucky to get anything out of him at all over the final two years of his contract. These are two ballplayers going in opposite directions, but neither one of them should be starting when Juan Rivera returns. Angels +19.1 VORP

LF for the Twins: Jason Kubel, .241/.289/.379, -2.0, and Jason Tyner, .264/.313/.321, -1.5

The Twins currently list Tyner as their starter, which must be their own way of saying to the other Jason "we’re so disappointed in you." These two Jasons have been about as a big a menace to the Twins offense as Jason in those dumb movies is to stupid teenagers. Yeah, that’s a terrible analogy. Sorry. Anyway, Kubel looks like a bust at this point, in that he’s failed to live up to the hype as a power prospect after he recovered form blowing out his knee, and Tyner never was good enough to call him a bust now. The Twins continue to play schlubs like these guys at their own risk. (I know it’s neither here nor there, but man, Pat Neshek is ridiculously good. My new favorite Twin!) Twins + 2.7 VORP

LF for the Yankees: Hideki Matsui, .284/.368/.459, 10.8 VORP

Matsui has had once honest-to-goodness great year stateside, and the others merely fall into the "good" category. He’s not anywhere near as good as he’s been hyped up as, and while he’s a solid contributor with the bat he butchers the art of outfielding most days. Matsui is not a problem for the Yankees yet, but if any one part of his skill set starts to decline quickly (power, patience, average), they’ll have yet another problem in the Bronx because it’ll take all of Matsui’s value with it. Yankees +17.0 VORP

LF for the Athletics: Travis Buck, .277/.374/.520, 12.7 VORP

Buck did not look like this good a prospect coming into the year, but injuries forced the Athletics to be creative and he’s come to play. I don’t think he’s actually this powerful a hitter, but he’s been a godsend to the Athletics’ offense so far this season (2nd in offensive VORP behind Swisher) and it seems now as if he has a reasonably bright future. In addition to his offensive surge, he’s made some very good plays in left despite not exactly looking the part of a lithe gold glover. Whatever. Buck’s not in this business to sell jeans. Athletics +18.9 VORP

LF for the Mariners: Raul Ibanez, .295/.346/.441, 10.5 VORP

He’s starting to get up there in age, but if the recent power surge is an indication that he’s going to hang on to some of his power from last year, Allard Baird’s other journeyman outfielder find could be hanging around for another couple of years as a productive player. He is old enough (35) to fall off a cliff, but he’s been a late bloomer and generally productive during his time in Seattle. He’d make a great complimentary piece to Sexson and Beltre in the line-up if Sexson and Beltre could actually hit. Of course, they really can’t. Mariners +16.7 VORP

LF for the Devil Rays: Carl Crawford, .302/.358/.500, 19.3 VORP

Crawford is a wonderful ballplayer, and his power increasing is a very encouraging sign; he’s always been a very good base stealer and a guy who can hit for average, but it never hurts to diversify. The 2007 Crawford is slugging .500 and his OBP is up higher than normal, and so he’s looks poised to establish a new performance level. Add in the fact that he plays great defense and hustles—yes, black players can be scrappy—and you have a guy who will be asset in the outfield for years to come. It sure would be nice to see him on a competitive team. Devil Rays +25.2 VORP

LF for the Rangers: Frank Catalanotto, .173/.277/.357, -3.7 VORP, Marlon Byrd, .403/.449/.468, 7.3 VORP

What a bizarre pair of stat lines. Catalanotto, a league average guy who sometimes hits in the .300s and becomes better for a year, is hitting .173 despite a history of good contact skills. Marlon Byrd, a wash-out center fielder ex-prospect, is hitting .403. Captain Regression the rescue! Catalanotto will probably get back up into the .260s and be comfortably below average thanks to his terrible first hundred at-bats, and Marlon Byrd will go back to being Marlon Byrd. The end result is much what we’re already seeing in terms of value: the Rangers will get next to nothing out of left field this year. Rangers +9.8 VORP

LF for the Blue Jays: Adam Lind, .234/.275/.392, -4.5, Matt Stairs, .283/.353/.550, 9.9

Right, well, I know Lind is the prospect here and should really get an opportunity to turn his season around, but how ‘bout that Matt Stairs? You just cannot kill this guy, and despite a total inability to field he’s still swatting away whenever he gets into the line-up. Stairs has about a third of Lind’s starts in left and has been the far more productive player and, of course, a big boost for the Blue Jays offense. Lind was seen as a very low risk prospect, but that .234 BA is really dragging him down and he hasn’t really established whether that can be made to an outlier. This is a bit of sticky situation for the Jays: Stairs has been much better, but he won’t slug .550 over the whole year and Lind might be someone they can use down the road. At this point, I’d say that some NL team would love to have Stairs at the deadline. Blue Jays +11.7 VORP

Well, that completes the American League picture in terms of 1B, 3B, and LF, for now anyway, and hopefully it gives you all an idea of how much the Royals are losing because of these positions right now. To add it all up:

Red Sox +85.0

Devil Rays +70.4

Yankees +69.8

Rangers +57.8

Angels +55.0

Indians + 49.9

Blue Jays +49.7

Athletics +47.1

Mariners +38.2

Twins +32.9

Tigers +29.6

Orioles +22.0

White Sox +9.2

In this case, VORP stands for Value Over Royals Players. As you can see, this is pretty sad story; each number represents the difference between what the Royals are getting out of first base, third base, and left field, and what the team in question is getting out of it. You probably expect high payroll teams like the Red Sox and Yankees and probably the Angels to be on this list, but note the second place showing of the Devil Rays and the Rangers presence in the upper half of this; the Royals really aren't doing this whole "good hitters at corner positions" thing well, and that's clear even when comparing the Boys in Blue to other small market-ish teams.

Writing this all down, while time consuming, is the easy part. The tough thing is figuring out what to do about. That's one that the Royals' FO needs to figure out, as I make no bones about the fact that I would not want to be in their situation (though if they're offering a job...).

Spreadsheet Baseball returns next week on Tuesday, when I will be back home in Masschusetts and I might actually have something to do other than type endlessly and watch bad movies. For now, I hope you enjoy this week's effort and, as always, comments and questions are welcome/encouraged.

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