During the early weeks of the Moore era, one of the talking points that got out was that "the days of giving guys scholarships was over". These were the days of many a story about how Moore was bringing respectability/professionalism/a culture of winning to the Royals. Like much sports jargon, the phrase wasn't particularly helpful, injecting a confusing and inaccurate analogy where it wasn't needed. Anyway, the general meaning was that nothing was going to be given, everyone was going to have to earn their jobs, earn their playing time, earn their money. After a fast start, this didn't really end up being the case, and certainly not with Dayton Moore's own guys. Just like most teams, the Royals have found it much easier to stick with what they know, culminating in last year's bizarre decision to basically pass on bringing in any real September call-ups.
I've whined quite a bit about the team's curious Jason Kendall fetish, but looking at the team stats today, I noticed that the Royals have been on auto-pilot all season when it comes to filing out the lineup card. At six lineup positions, the Royals have started someone at least 42 times through the first 45 games. (Hillman & Yost have only made a handful of in-game substitutions, so we don't lose much just by looking at games started.)
Catcher: 43 starts for Kendall, 2 for Pena
First Base: 44 starts for Butler, 1 for Kila
Shortstop: 43 starts for Betancourt, 2 for Aviles
Left-Field: 42 starts for Podsednik, 2 for MITCH, 1 for Bloomquist
Right-Field: 42 starts for DeJesus, 1 for Guillen, 1 for Bloomquist, 1 for Mitch
Designated Hitter: 43 starts for Guillen, 1 for Butler, 1 for DeJesus
Part of what's going on here is the team's decision to carry an 8-man bullpen, which, obviously, has done wonders for the team.
Then again, is the enlarged bullpen/short bench the cause or effect here? Perhaps the Royals just feel that there's no one else, amongst position players, that they'd like to have around. Really, it's up to you. Do you want the snarky comment about the 8-man pen, or the snarky comment about the lineup being just fine?
The primary problem here, is, of course, Mike Aviles. Aviles has still only started 16 games this season. Its tempting to say the Royals are nursing Aviles back into the lineup, but at the point at which they seemingly refuse to do that with other players, I'm hesitant to say that's the case. Where was that patience with Alex Gordon or Gil Meche? I suppose I should just be happy that Aviles is even playing at all.
The secondary problem is one of complacency and... well, I don't know if its intellectual laziness or a lack of attention to detail or what. Whatever it is, what I see in the list above is irksome. When it's one or two cases ("Kendall is warrior, he plays everyday" or "we need to have Billy at first daily for his development") I can understand it.
But when, and I hate to come back to this, you have Guillen as the starting DH 43 out of 45 times it sure as hell looks like an environment dominated by smug lassitude. It isn't just about Aviles, or Kila, or Pena getting playing time... it's about using your bench and the DH to keep players fresh, about thinking about various matchups, even about doling out the kind of petty rewards and punishments that matter in baseball culture.
Yuniesky Betancourt has started 43 of 45 games (95.5%), while Derek Jeter has started 40 of 44 games (91%). You can play this game all over the roster. Pick a Royal tenured starter, then think of the best player in baseball at that position, then see who starts more.
I guess that while I fancy myself an iconoclast, when I see the Royals doing things that no other team does, I see a red flag, because we know they aren't innovators. They don't want to be. So that only leaves...
Now maybe I'm just so beaten down and cynical that I've lost all perspective. I'll admit we're talking about numbers on the margins here. However, those marginal differences are important over a long season.
The truth is, the Royals don't have a functional roster and haven't all season. In baseball logic, with the short bench, the Royals are damn near paralyzed right now, somehow locked into a quandry where Aviles (who is actually good) and Getz (an ill-chosen golden boy) are competing with one another for playing time. Someone wake the bosses up and tell them it's nearly June. Let them know that there are actually position players at Omaha, and that we need a backup middle infielder who can actually play SS if needed.
What the Royals are doing isn't working.