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Spreadsheet Baseball: Position Battles Royal (Part Two)

A thousand apologies for the lateness of this post. I wanted to do a thorough job with this, and I usually write a blog post the day before. However, yesterday was a bit hectic. Then, there was today. Today, I went to the wrong class, sat through a two-hour class for no good reason, suddenly really needed (apparently) to work on a group project, lost my keys, found my keys, got shot at by Russian mobsters who had malicious intentions, got caught in a fire...

In this second of a three-part series, I'll look at the Royals outfield and DH spot, and also possible NRI contributors. I've decided it's better to save the pitching staff for the final Position Battles piece on, which will appear March 6th (I know you can't wait).

Designated Hitter

For the Royals, one spot that definitely isn't a position battle is the DH spot. While it is plausible to think Mike Sweeney might play first every so often, Sweeney will occupy the DH spot for as long as he's healthy. His health is always a big question mark, thanks to recurring back problems that have always plagued the Royals' slugger. It's not a pleasure to say this, as Sweeney's a Royals fan favorite and apparently one of the nicest guys in the game, but Sweeney is clearly not the player he once was. You've probably seen this written before, so sorry about the cliché.

Of course, saying Sweeney "ain't what he used to be" doesn't mean that much. The majority of baseball players in the Major Leagues aren't what Mike Sweeney used to be. Long a bright light for the franchise, Sweeney hit a Pujolsian .340/.417/.563 in 2002. How many people know that he was that good? Outside of the Royal fan community, probably not that many. He's been a great hitter and a class act his entire career, and it will be a sad day for the franchise when he goes--even if his departure is the correct ending to the Sweeney saga.

There's going to be a lot written about what Sweeney's done for the franchise when he departs, so for now, let's just focus on the present. Sweeney is still a very good hitter when he plays, and he's the Royals starting DH. As with all teams who peg someone as the permanent DH, this does cut down on line-up flexibility a bit. It's debatable how much that matters.

Bottom Line: Mike Sweeney is the Designated Hitter if he's healthy. He's a wonderful man who (sigh) needs to be shipped out at the deadline.


The Royals outfield is kind of odd mix. In a perfect world, David DeJesus would stay in centerfield, Emil Brown would give the Royals another mildly productive year, and Reggie Sanders would...not be on the team. Currently, the Royals outfield depth chart on has DeJesus in center, flanked by Brown in left and Sanders in right. That's not very good but, assuming that Sweeney holds down the DH spot, it would be a hell of a lot better than the DeJesus-Joey Gathright-Sanders/Costa/K-Rob (that's Kerry Robinson) line-up that the Royals trotted out last year when Sweeney was hurt. DeJesus is good player, but that arrangement lowered his value (more production is expected of a corner outfielder than a centerfielder) and placed a blinding flash of unproductiveness at his position.

I'll say it very clearly: Joey Gathright has NO business being a starter at the Major League level. In fact, with his lack of power, you probably don't want him on your company softball team either.

His entire career, ever since he's been drafted, scouts have been blinded to Gathright's ridiculous speed. Even Baseball Prospectus, who usually derides toolsy non-productive players noted in one of their annuals that his speed might be enough for him to survive at the ML level with his powerless swing. A quick look at the numbers should convince you that that's simply not true.

  1. .238/.321/.292
  2. .276/.316/.340
  3. .250/.316/.250

Career: .251/.319/.305

Can you say "not worth it"? Gathright has one home run in the bigs (bonus points to whoever names the pitcher). The guy has virtually no power, and yet his speed pulled the wool over first the Tampa FO's eyes (though after the Rays performance during his tenure, it is widely theorized that Chuck LeMar actually slept with a sheep on his face) and then Kansas City's. Maybe J.P. Howell, the young pitcher they gave up to get Gathright, won't pan out, but he has a better chance of contributing usefully to an MLB team than a guy with a career .305 slugging percentage. Plus, for a guy whose calling card his always been his speed, he's not particularly good at stealing bases.

Career SB-CS ratio: 48-15

Don't bother getting out your calculator, that's a 76% success rate. That's really nothing special. It's more in the "break even" territory, in fact. Last year, Gathright was successful on only 22 of 31 attempts, which--rounding up--is 71%. That's low enough that it's hurting the team. The point? Joey's main weapon is his speed, but thus far he's got no way of utilizing it well.

Now, is there hope for Gathright to improve as a basestealer? Certainly. The dude is only twenty-five (26 on April 27th), and he could certainly improve his basestealing. Thing is, a good SB percentage would be cause for a job as a fifth outfielder/pinch-runner in late game situations, not a starter. The numbers show a guy whose slugging percentage will live and die by his batting average, probably more than any other guy (oh, wait, Jason Tyner got back to the Majors last year. Hmm...) in the league. Pitchers have the scouting reports on Gathright now, and while he's actually drawn a fair amount of walks in his career (a .321 OBP sucks, but not for a guy who hit .238), there is no reason for pitchers to nibble when facing him. Why? Well, if they catch too much of the plate with a hanging curve, the worst case scenario is...a line-drive single? A bloop double?

Okay, so I hate Joey Gathright's style of play. However, I have nothing against young Royals outfielders. Namely David DeJesus. Looking at DeJesus's last three years should exhibit a couple reasons to like him:

  1. .287/.360/.402
  2. .293/.359/.445
  3. .295/.364/.446, 23.2 VORP

...and here comes his Age 27 season. While it's an oversimplification (at sometimes just not true) to say that Age 27 is the break-out age, it does seem to be a popular career year time. Since most men fill out muscularly in their mid-twenties, generally a baseball player in his late twenties is in his physical prime. There are exceptions to this "rule," of course, but it seems like some people are getting on DeJesus a little bit for not progressing.

Maybe I'm just weird, but I look at a .364 OBP from a 26-year-old centerfielder, and I like that a lot. Face it: OBP is sexy, and David DeJesus has plenty of OBP. Therefore, David DeJesus is...

Um, okay. I may be going about this the wrong way.

My point is, DeJesus has three major league seasons under his belt, and has the patience thing down. There are plenty teams in baseball--judging from last year's CF performances and the contracts handed out this off-season--who'd love to have an 810 OPS from their centerfielder, no matter the age.

There have been knocks on DeJesus's defense in center, but there has also been praise; we're hardly to the point where everyone considers him a liability in the field, which is basically the point we have to get to for me to accept that someone is terrible afield. Fielding stats are just too unreliable (NOTE: I would be interested to hear what you guys think of David's defense) in general. In conclusion, I look at the OBP, the age, and the two digit number in the doubles column starting with "3," and I see break-out potential. I'm not talking Andrew Jones, and I suppose this whole thing is a bit speculative on my part, but I think DeJesus can get up near twenty home runs this year. If so, he'll go from a good solution in centerfield to a great one, and it'll be a big plus for the Royals.

The key here is for the Royals to play both DeJesus and Gathright in the correct roles: DeJesus starts in center, and Gathright collects splinters in his ass until the Royals need to pinch run for Sweeney in late innings. .

Moving on, we look to the corner spots. Emil Brown is certainly a nice story, and one of the moves you have to credit Allard Baird for. Neither scouts nor statheads liked Brown, but he was given a job in Royals outfield (he did DH some last year as well) in 2005--despite having last played in the majors in 2001--and since then has been...thoroughly non-crappy! That's more than Baird can say for the Royals (most of the time) during his tenure.

  1. .286/.349/.455
  2. .287/.358/.457, 20.6 VORP

That's not great, but it's handy to have around. He was actually still a below average corner outfielder in 2005, according to BP, because he was awful in the field, making twelve errors. His range didn't get better last year, but he only committed three errors.

So, WYSIWYG. Brown is a player who is not going to get better than this--he's 32--and right now he's about average for a corner outfielder, all things considered. He's still pretty cheap, too, and that makes him a possible deadline acquisition for a desperate contender. It'd be pretty nifty if the Royals could get something shiny in return for Brown. His limited future in Kansas City--he still has arbitration years--seems to rest a lot on whether Billy Butler can handle an outfield corner or if Mark Teahen gets moved to the outfield. For now, the Royals don't really have a good alternative to sending Brown out there to do his thing. It could be worse. He could be Reggie Sanders.

My apologies to Reggie, as he another Royal who is generally regarded as a swell guy to be around. I'm sure Sanders is fun to hang out with and everything, and he's had a nice career with some great years. Thing is, he officially falls into the "liability" category now. He's not even the best post-thirty-year-old outfielder on the team, and his patience is kind of eroding as his physical skills have declined. At this point, there's absolutely nothing Sanders can give the Royals that someone like Shane Costa can't.

Player A: .304/.405
Player B: .304/.425

Did you have to look it up? Sanders is B, and he's being paid actual money to Costa's pre-arbitration status. I'm not saying that Shane Costa is the future RF of the Royals, but they'd be better off running him out there as a stopgap until a better solution comes along than they would with Sanders. At least Costa is young, and could possibly improve. Hell, try out anybody else at the rightfield slot. Anybody is better than playing Sanders there; he's not even likely to be good enough to be flipped at the deadline. If he's DFAed, that'll be progress.

Bottom Line: Brown should play in left, DeJesus in center, Teahen should move to rightfield. If Gordon stays in the minors, give Costa a shot. Resurrect the Royals career of Justin Huber...whoops! Management does'nt like him, play Gathright there if you want, just not Sanders. Realistically, that last one probably won't happen, but I think there's a good the other two positions will be Brown and DeJesus

 I'll keep this brief, since the outfield section went longer than I thought. Looking at the NRIs that aren't prospects (Gordon, Butler), it doesn't look like there's a catcher spot open, Paul Phillips probably gets the call if LaRue or Buck goes down.
In terms of pitching NRIs, Dewon Brazleton should stay comfortably the hell away from the big league club's mound, even with a not-so-great pitching staff. Brandon Duckworth is too homerlicious for any park but PETCO. Wayne Franklin is still hanging around major league clubs? Repeat after me Royals fans " away." Jason Standridge is a former number one draft pick of the Devil Rays who is now pure roster fodder. Given the flukiness of relief pitching, you never know (but I'd bet against him contributing, of course). Hmm, someone named Billy Butler is invited to spring training. As a Red Sox fan, I refuse to address this.
In the infield, there's Fernando Cortez , a standard utility man with no bat. He could have been the next Joe McEwing if he'd been white. Alex Gonzalez who is not the one on the Reds is actually a fairly good bet as NRIs go, as he's a decent utility guy who has shown some decent power in the past. Assuming that his terrible 36 at-bat span with the Phillies last year was small sample size and not a sudden, complete failure to remember how to hit, he actually could grab a spot in KC. If this team had a manager that was not in love with Angel Berroa, I'd say that Gonzalez had an outside shot at the SS job. It isn't, so he doesn't. Graham Koonce has long wandered the unfriendly streets of AAA ball, posting good OBPs and reasonable power. Given the Royals' depth on the corners, he's probably going to camp with the wrong team. He's good depth, though, if they chose to hold onto him. Plus, he has a cool name.

Bottom Line: the NRIs that are the better bets to make the team (again, excepting the prospects), seem to be one of those Gonzalez boys and Phillips because catchers get hurt a lot. Duckworth could possibly stick for starting depth/long relief.

Stay tuned next week for the final installment in the Position Battles series. Hope you enjoyed today's article. Comments are, of course, welcome/encouraged.

UPDATE: I'm extremely distressed that Frye is falling behind in the poll.