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Royals Are Who We Thought They Were, Injuries and Slumps Don't Explain Much

With 81 games played -- I know, it amazes me too -- the Royals stand at 35-46, a bad record made a little more respectable thanks to a little two-game winning streak at the wire. As discussed last week however, while both the team and the stadium look much different three years into the Moore regime, the results have not drastically changed.

Record Through 81 Games:

2009 35-46
2008 37-44
2007 34-47
2006 27-54


There's obviously much more to be said, and as we wrap up this week and head into the All-Star Break, stay tuned for more posts breaking down the first half. The short version is this: the 2009 Royals have represented both the best and worst of what we guessed the Dayton Moore Era might look like. Using WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rankings as a good quick and dirty guide, the familiar mix of good pitching, bad hitting and defense emerges.

The WAR rankings are stark: Royals pitchers rank third in baseball, while the offense is 29th and the defense 23rd.

In this post, I'd like to say something about injuries, since the injury issue has and will continue to be used to defend peoples' employment. The Royals have suffered three major injuries: Gordon, Aviles, & Crisp.

First, without even broaching the question of how badly his situation was handled, I'm not sure how many tears should be shed for Dayton regarding Coco Crisp's injury, as Crisp has had health concerns since the middle of the decade. Acquiring him was a gamble -- perhaps a good one -- and ultimately, it didn't work out. Yea, it sucks that he got hurt. But why do you think he was available in the first place? Even then, the gap between Crisp and Maier (the last semi-ready outfielder left standing in the Royals system) has not been nearly as huge as some have supposed. The Royals lost Coco Crisp in 2009, not Carlos Beltran in 2005. They lost some OBP and perhaps a pinch of range, but we're talking about a win here, tops.

As for Aviles, his 127 PAs of .183/.208/.250 offense killed the Royals when he was available, then buried them when he was gone, ushering in a hideous and pointless continuation of the TPJ Era. (One thing about Moore, he can admit a mistake.) The rapid collapse and fall of Aviles has been a tough one, to be sure, as a borderline MVP-level player last season (seriously, look it up) has been replaced by the Bad Aviles-Luis-TPJ-St. Willie monster. Obviously, since Aviles has long been part of Moore's masterplan at short, we should give him a full pass for his bad fortune that the plan may not work out. Oh wait. As such, you can put the Aviles injury in an odd category: legitimately major, yet not quite a functioning excuse either.

Finally, we come to Gordon, who has been gone since the ninth game of the season. Gordon's injury is unlike the previous two in that it was an out-of-nowhere injury to a major part of the team's young core. Losing Gordon has been extremely problematic, as he had a reasonable chance of being the team's best overall hitter this season and a respectable fielder at third. The funny thing is, and again, I hate to point this out, that in an odd way the Gordon injury has been beneficial. Prior to the season the Royals had a vague idea of Teahen and Callaspo as a kind of platoon without a shape at second-base. Teahen, as bad as this may sound, is one of the team's better hitters, and Callaspo is/was a guy who needed to play for developmental and evaluation purposes. Gordon's injury got both of them into the lineup on a full-time basis, minimizing the offensive loss significantly. So even if you imagine a great first half from Gordon that never happened, you also need to realize that Gordon's injury allowed Callaspo's first half and a good chunk of Teahen's bounceback campaign to also take place. Depending on how you think Teahen would have done at second base, even with Callaspo's spotty record there, he's likely superior to Teahen, at least for this season, at second. So, in all, your left with two tertiary negatives: Teahen's lesser glove (debatable) at third and increased playing time for St. Willie all over the place. My own sneaking suspicion is that St. Willie was going to get his PAs no matter what however.

Yes, this is all very imprecise. In a pure baseball sense, the 2009 Royals have been hurt by injuries, especially the Mike Aviles injury. As mentioned above, I'm hesitant to write Dayton too large of a check for Aviles not working out, given that if TPJ had just hit an empty .240 last season Aviles would have never emerged. Past that, I'm not so sure the impact has been large. Certainly they haven't been torpedoed to the point that we all just throw up our hands and say "let's try this again next year, this was a great group". With this roster, you just can't say that. Sure, losing Crisp means Trey can't field the DDJ-Coco-Maier lineup that would likely have been his best option, but that was never going to happen anyway.

Furthermore, the pitching staff, save a few dubious injuries and a Soria sidelining that perhaps altered Hillman's options in four games, the hurlers have been fine. That is good luck. Other than some roster gamesmanship regarding Ponson, I don't recall a single Royal starter missing a turn due to injury. When you account for the fact that the only strength the Royals have is their starting pitching, I think that this good luck greatly mitigates what's happened to the position players.

The same thing applies to the notion of over and under-performers. Billy effing Butler is anchoring the infield defensively for goodness sakes. Miguel Olivo is having a career season. Brian Bannister has remerged. Zack Greinke is having a historically great season. Spare me the sob story that the Royals are losing because Jamey Wright had a bad month and Mike Jacobs is slumping.

Look, the bad and the good from the first half, they've happened, and nobody can do anything to change them. The Royals are out of it. Out of a bad division. 2010 matters now. Aside from Kila -- who appears to be blocked/unappreciated -- not a single top 10, or maybe even top 15 prospect in the system is at the AAA level right now.

If 2010 isn't going to be any different, then Dayton needs to do what he didn't do last deadline. He needs to sell.