I have the worst kink in my neck I think I've ever had. Not only is it pervasively there to remind me that I've been putting off going to the chiropractor and that diving, full extension, for stupid flying disc definitely has it's drawbacks, it also hurts to the point where I had to take advil to be able to sit in class for fifty minutes earlier today. I think I'm also going to be able to tough out my psychology statistics later today. I know, I know, you all want to laud my toughness and dedication to my studies. Please get in line.
For now, the only good thing about this pain is that it can't possibly last more than a couple days. And once it's gone, it'll feel that much better once the pain is absent. Of course, by then I'll have done something else stupid like getting my hand crushed under the pile of "A"s I've gotten on tests and quizzes this year, spraining my thumb. But that's definitely not the point, the point is that this pain in the neck being gone is an irrefutable positive and there no two ways about it.
There have been a number of negative things to happen to the Royals this year that are similar to the kink in my neck, even if none of them were brought on by diving at some dumb plastic object that my idiot friend threw too far for me to catch without hitting the ground at 76 MPH. But in a week, all the negative things to plague the Team of Destiny will be things of the past. Spring Training is, of course, the real fresh start for a team that fills every fan's heart with hope. But sometimes the end of the year comes at the right time to have a similar effect.
In no particular order, here's my list of undeniable positives.
1. Brian Bannister's Year/Shutdown.
A huge reason that the Royals avoided a hundred losses in 2007 was the dizzying success of the Burgos-Bannister trade. I liked the deal to begin with for the simple reason that it was a reliever-for-a-starter, I thought Bannister's numbers in the minors suggested he could be plugged into the rotation be serviceable. "Serviceable" turned out to be an underestimation of Banny's voodoo mastery of hitters, but at the time even an average performance looked like it would be a neat improvement on the likes of Mark Redman and Runelvys Hernandez.
How good was he?
Legitimate ROY-frontrunner good. As alluded to above, Bannister pitched A and B the C of D all year long. Until a recent surge by Gilgameche, the Fifth King of Uruk, and the Greinkenator (who was a reliver for three months and thus has that advantage when it comes to ERA), Bannister led Royals starters in ERA and VORP-per start. If you don't like a 3.87 ERA and a 34.7 VORP from a rookie pitcher, you have no soul. More on Banny and his potential rotation mates will be forthcoming in one of my off-season articles.
Whether you think the Bannister's workload was heavy or not, there is absolutely nothing negative that can come out of resting the guy for a few meaningless games. He's had some high pitch count starts, and RR has documented the vast innings increase from last year's practically lost year.
2. Mark Grudzielanek Proves Me Wrong
I have to hand it to Grudzielanek, he just refsuses to give up being a useful player. Mark is currently hitting .299/.342/.425, which is a neat line for second baseman. In the process, he's outslugged Royals Review and BP favorite Esteban German by fifty points (while giving up 15 OBP points) and once again played a solid second base. For this, Mark Scrabble, I salute you. Us statheads have been calling for your death for about three years now, and even if you're no All-Star, you certainly are still a worthwhile starting second baseman. I don't know if anyone other than your mom believed you could do it, but if that's true, than kudos to her.
3. Gil Meche: American BA
Forged in the fiery wastelands of the Mariner farm system, Gil Meche is fury unleashed. Seeking nothing but to destroy hitters to make up for time lost to labrum surgery, Gil twirls mesmerizing curveballs and pumps flame-broiled heat right by those who dare to oppose him. All those things the naysayers said about the signing?
Too much money? Meche, with the highest salary on the team, also has the highest VORP on the team at 44.8.
He walks too many hitterS? Ahahaha, bitch please! Meche has only walked 2.57 batters per nine innings this year, a decrease of approximately one-and-a-half from last year.
He gives up too many home runs, and is moving from one of the best pitcher's parks in the league? Hogwash. Meche's ERA last year was 4.48, and this year it's now down to 3.69. His home run rate is, impressively, down below one per nine.
He isn't durable? Eh...I won't say anything about a certain BP stat that he's near the top of, I'll just say he's shouldered a workhorse's load and run with it. Two hundred and ten innings and counting.
He's too old to have upside? Wrong again. It appears that Meche has made a consistent adjustment this year, exchanging a couple strike outs for less walks and homers. This suggests that while he's striking out less hitters, his control both inside and outside the strike zone has improved markedly.
Dayton Moore's an idiot? Dayton Moore's a goddamn genius. That might be an exaggeration, but mad props to him for recognizing that the Royals could get more out of Meche than the Mariners had able to. I mean, what a surprise. It's not like the Mariners a give away good players all that often. I heard they traded this bum for a utility infielder and some banana twinkies.
4. Alex Gordon Charges Back From Oblivion
I like to kid about Alex's smirkiness, but I never believed the hype about Gordon's first half struggles stemming from ego problems or his trying to become the next Jeff Francoeur. What possible incentive does a rookie have to not give his all to improve? As far as I can tell, there's no tangible evidence that Alex Gordon is a prick. There's also no evidence of him skipping out on batting practice or calling himself "The Chosen One" or giving Jorge de la Rosa a noogie that caused the latter's ERA to shoot up.
Just to settle the controversy over what caused Alex Gordon's improvement (people have suggested everything from Buddy Bell helping to the wild idea that Gordon is, after all, somewhat talented), I present this version of Gordon's monthly splits, complete with the catalyst for that month's production:
March/April: 612 OPS - Gordon gains the freshmen fifteen, changes his major from "hope of the franchise" to "problem child." The extra weight and the identity crises weighs on Gordon, causing him to be snarky and feud with Mark Teahen, who can't hear a word Gordon is yelling at him over the crackle of the scar tissue in his shoulder.
May: 585 OPS - Gordon begins to settle in socially, but Buddy Bell's advice to "stay aggressive" causes Gordon's worst month of the year.
June: 883 OPS - on June 1st, Bell walks into the locker room with a crinkle-eyed, good-natured smile on his face and tells Gordon he was "just fucking around" when he told him to "swing at everything that moves." The veterans on the team have a good-natured laugh at Bell's pranking of the rookie. Realizing that it's okay to "take a pitch," and "wait for a ball to drive," Gordon hits the hell out of the ball.
July: 677 OPS - a step backward occurs when Esteban German, thoroughly disgruntled by losing out to Grudzielanek for the second base job, steals Gordon's lucky boxer shorts in hopes of turning his own season around. Confidence waning, Alex's OBP dips below .300 for the month.
August: 810 OPS - Finally getting over the shocking loss of his "Pokemon" boxer shorts, Gordon slugs almost .500 as his power stroke continues to work smoothly. John Buck is a key reason for Alex's good August, screaming from his spot on the bench "swing hard, you lucky SOB."
September: 801 OPS - A small step forwards in the power department, a small step backwards in plate discipline. Gordon's three hundred on the dot OBP causes clubhouse bastard Justin Huber to cruelly nickname him "Tony Pena Jr without the freaking funny ears." Laying down the law, Buddy Bell sets down his cup of coffee, tries bring to Joel Peralta into the game for the third time that day, overhears Huber's comment, and benches Justin. Huber, with his now-famous "Australian sneer" on his face, tells Bell that he's already on the bench. Bell tells Huber to pinch hit for John Buck, then pinch hits Shane Costa for him. Costa puts down his Transformers lunchbox, grabs the bat by the wrong end, and hustles to the plate into the wrong batter's box.
So there you have it, folks. The rookie year of a future superstar. I expect the trials and tribulations of Alex Gordon to be out on DVD by November.
5. John Buck is still an above average catcher
Despite the fact that it seems like he's hitting .002 over the last two months (thirty starts), John Buck is still the man. .228/.313/.442 may not look pretty on the surface of it, but his OBP is right around average for catchers and his power significantly above. Also, he's fifth on the team in batting VORP, right ahead of Reggie Sanders who I'm pretty sure is dead. In all seriousness, the starting catcher position is not broken. If we can get David Ross from the Reds, we could have one helluva swing-from-the-heels-and-walk-occasionally platoon. Who's with me?
Fun fact: Buck is hitting .200 against left-handed pitchers, and nonetheless is OPSing his performance against righties, 778 to 748. Take that, all six of you who still believe batting average is the ultimate offensive stat.
6. The Buddy Bell Debates Are Over
If there's one thing I think all of us can agree on, pro-Bell or sane (nyuk nyuk nyuk, just kidding of course), it's that we've spent a disproportionate amount of arguing over Bell's merits when you stop to consider how little effect managers can actually have on a team. I am certainly willing to admit that my frustration with Bell has been over the top when it comes to several less serious offenses. As much as I do honestly believe the man's a below average manager, I have to concede that the argument spearheaded by Buddy's agent (warning: joke), NYRoyal, is mostly correct; Buddy Bell versus the average manager isn't enough of a difference to seriously consider lynching the man. I suggest we all just knock back a scotch or two and bid "Fuddo the clown" a fond farewell. We'll let you go, Buddy, but we'll be sending hired help after you if you've tired out Gilgameche, Fifth King of Uruk.
7. We can all dance on Jason LaRue's career's grave
Is Jason LaRue the worst hitter in the major leagues? Out of 1016 players listed in Baseball Prospectus's hitter stats list, LaRue ranks 1009th in VORP. Every single hitter below him on the list--Jason Kendell (Oakland version), Adam Kennedy, Jay Payton, Josh Barfield, Craig Monroe (Detroit version), Angel Gonzalez, and Nick Punto--have had more plate appearances to accumulate negative value. All of these hitters have better OBPs than LaRue's .240. Realistically, Punto has definitely out-negatived everybody, but if you go on a per at-bat basis LaRue's actually been worse, posting a .140/.240/.272 line versus Nicky Piranha's .212/.292/.272. There are other hitters with worse MLVr than LaRue's and he's a catcher, so he's not the worst hitter in the league, but he's in the tier of suck so low so he scrapes his head on the earth's mantle layer.
8. We have approximately three thousand viable options for next year's rotation
This is one of the articles I want to get around to after the dust settles a bit on the season, but I'm a big fan of the pitching depth that GMDM has assembled/kept. In addition to the rotation stalwarts of Gil Meche and Brian Bannister, there's Zack Greinke, Billy Buckner (I don't like typing his name), Leo Nunez, Hiram Kyle Davies, George of the Rose, Luke Skywalker, Tyler Lumsden, S-O-R-I-A, Brandon Duckworth, Luke Hudson if he's still alive, and please fill in anyone else that I'm omitting. Some of those guys might be ticketed for bullpen looks, but it's not at all unrealistic to think that all these pitchers will get their auditions as starters in spring training. My money's on Greinke for the number three spot, but those fourth and fifth ones could be a free-for-all. I don't know about you, but I think it would be pretty cool to see a rotation of Meche and four of the young guys instead of signing some overpriced veteran. More on this in a couple weeks.
9. Billy Butler's going to tear the cover off the ball playing a full year.
He's already hovering around league average for a DH, and he and I were born the same year. Is anyone else really excited to see what Butler can do over a full year's worth of plate appearances? I think he'll slug near .500 and take his walks, which is absolutely-friggin'-lutely sweet from a guy who turns 22 next year and is already holding his own against big league pitching. I'll set my rather random guess for his 2008 line at .290/.365/.481 with one dinger for each year he's been alive. I'm frothing at the mouth to predict a higher slugging percentage, but he is a young `un.
10. This, seriously folks, is a team on the upswing.
Don't let the recent rough stretch get you down, loyal bloggers. Kansas City's rebuilding plan had it's fits and starts under Allaird Baird, who was an excellent scout with no real idea of how to fit the pieces together for the future. I am very confident from what I have seen over the last year-plus that while Dayton Moore is, unfortunately, human and, thus, will make mistakes, that he has this team going in the right direction. We are a ways off from being the model small market franchise, to be sure, but the fact of the matter is that it's not too hard to envision a realistic scenario where the Royals are competitive in the next couple years. There are a lot of other teams in major league baseball that I cannot say that about.
Those are my ten, and I'll leave it up to you all to list your positives for ending one baseball season and preparing the long wait for the next. I know that I am definitely looking forward to the Hot Stove season; I'm not sure how many people I know get stoked for the Winter Meetings, but the baseball off-season is one that I follow like no other sport's.
And since this is my last article that takes place during the season, I feel compelled to note that writing on Royals Review for 2007 has been a very fun and enlightening experience for me and I have you all to thank for that. I think that, unfortunately, some fans of large market teams prefer to live in ignorance of the highs and lows of a small market franchise. While I still remain staunchly loyal to the Sawx, I find myself singling out more and more Red Sox fans as the type of bandwagoners who would never be able to display the type of team-loyalty exhibited here at Royals Review. If outsiders, including ESPN talking heads, think that this franchise and fanbase have been crippled by David Glass or the small payroll or a general lack of interest, they're in for a surprise in the coming years.
Spreadsheet Baseball returns next week with more enthralling analysis. For this week's article, questions/comments are welcome/encouraged as always. Happy reading.