Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Who's on Third? A look at the '07 Royals lineup

Now that Dayton Moore has satisfied fan lust for more minor-league depth at shortstop by signing Alex Gonzalez, the Kansas City Royals offensive unit is pretty much set.

One could reasonably expect the following players to take the field on April 2nd, 2007:
DeJesus  CF
Grudz 2B
Teahen 3B
Sweeney DH
Shealy 1B
Brown LF
Sanders RF
Berroa SS
Buck C

By taking the average on-base and slugging percentages from two of the better freely-available projection systems on the net (ZIPS and CHONE) and plugging them into David Pinto’s very cool lineup analysis tool, we find that this lineup should produce about 4.70 runs a game.

More info on these calculations can be found through Pinto’s site.

Last year, the Royals scored 4.67 runs a game, so the above projection seems reasonable given the modest offensive activity this offseason.

This isn’t to say that Buddy Bell doesn’t have options.

Simply sitting Angel Berroa and plugging Esteban German in at shortstop would boost the production to 4.91 runs a game.

Also, as has been discussed before, there are reinforcements coming from the minors.

If Alex Gordon makes his case this spring and Mark Teahen moves to the outfield, pushing Reggie Sanders to the bench, then the lineup puts up 5.03 runs a game.

In an ideal world, the Royals will put their best foot forward with the following fellows:
Player   Pos  Age
Gordon 3B 23
Sweeney DH 33
Teahen LF 25
Gload RF 31
Shealy 1B 27
DeJesus CF 27
German SS 29
Buck C 26
Grudz 2B 37

This lineup should score 5.11 runs a game.

So, what’s the big difference between 5.11 and 4.70 runs a game?

Pitcher projections are much less accurate, so let’s take a leap of faith and assume that Moore’s many pitching moves this off season have given the Royals staff a chance at mediocrity.

Rather than giving up a league-leading 5.99 runs a game like last year, let’s say the staff regresses to the mean and only allows five runs a game. (The American League average in 2006 was 4.87, so this shouldn’t be too much to ask.)

Now, using the pythagorean method to predict a final record, here is how the team would net out over the course of the season:
R/G   RS   RA   W   L
4.70 762 810 76 86
4.91 796 810 80 82
5.03 814 810 81 81
5.11 827 810 83 79

Unfortunately, even a team that is capable of winning 83 games needs a lot of luck, some shrewd moves during the season and the National League West as it’s home to have a chance at the playoffs.

However, even sniffing .500 would be a major improvement for the Kansas City Royals in 2007. This team is capable of putting a legitimate major league batting order together, featuring only a few players past their prime, and that hasn’t been the case for quite a few years.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Royals Make Off-Season's Most Insignificant Trade

The Royals have traded Jeff Keppinger, an infielder that most people have never heard of, to the Cincinnati Reds for a pitcher nobody has ever heard of.

With Mark Grudzielanek locked in as the starting second basemen and Esteban German seemingly able to field grounders without using his face, Keppinger had become a superfluous asset for the team.

Russell Haltiwanger is the prize for GM Dayton Moore. Yet another pitcher added to the stockpile, Rusty will probably be hanging out in Wilmington to start the season, maybe Wichita if he really impresses.

Aside from having a last name with the word “wanger” in it, here’s a quick run down on what else Haltiwanger brings to the organization.

Here are his rate stats since college:
Year Team     Level Age  IP    ERA   H9    HR9   BB9    K9    WHIP
2004 Newberry NCAA 20 62.1 6.06 9.71 0.14 4.20 8.41 1.55
2005 Newberry NCAA 21 52 3.29 8.83 0.00 4.33 10.21 1.46
2006 Dayton A 22 82.1 4.15 7.87 1.09 4.92 8.53 1.42
2006 Sarasota A+ 22 4 2.25 2.25 2.25 9.00 4.50 1.25

For the uninitiated, the “9” stats are hits, home runs, walks and strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

The two best things about Haltiwanger are his age and his ability to strike out almost a batter an inning. He was able to keep his ERA respectable when moving from college to the pros last year and according to this profile from May, his goal is to some day pitch for the Cincinnati Reds.

I guess he'll have to give up on that dream now.

One final tidbit. Check out this interesting split from his time pitching for Single-A Dayton in ought-six:
        IP    OPS   WHIP  W/9   K/9   HR/9
None on 39.7 .729 1.71 7.03 8.39 1.36
Men on 42.7 .650 1.08 2.53 8.44 0.84

With men on base, he walked fewer batters, gave up fewer home runs and clamped down on the overall offensive output of his competition.

It looks like Rusty might be a little clutch.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Royals Unoffensive Off Season

Since the crickets are chirping on Royals coverage while the Chiefs make their “miracle” run into the NFL playoffs, let’s take a moment to examine what General Manager Dayton Moore has done with the offense this off season.

Given that the team finished near the bottom of the league in runs scored last year, you’d think Moore would be stockpiling bats in the same manner he’s been picking up arms.

However, the only additions so far have been 1B/DH Ross Gload and Catcher Jason LaRue.

Of course, Moore did spruce up the lineup a bit during the season, and a look at the OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) month-by-month does show some modest improvement.
Apr 681
May 732
Jun 743
Jul 760
Aug 764
Sep 762

Unfortunately, their best month was barely average.

David Cohen over at The Good Phight has posted a list of the stats for each lineup position on every team and here is how the Royals stacked up in 2006:
Rank   Pos   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
47 5 .293 .365 .498 .862
122 3 .280 .355 .425 .779
126 1 .289 .351 .423 .775
128 6 .273 .338 .437 .775
145 2 .290 .342 .416 .758
152 4 .253 .319 .436 .755
218 7 .262 .312 .375 .687
240 9 .258 .309 .346 .655
251 8 .236 .289 .327 .616

The overall OPS in 2006 was .765. That means that over half of the Royals lineup was worse than league average, and in the case of the #8 spot, barely better than the pitchers hit in the National League.

Ross Gload and Jason LaRue? Really?

Okay, let’s not panic just yet.

Here is a look at some 2007 projections using Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections:
Name    P    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
Shealy 1b .288 .349 .479 .828
Teahen 3b .277 .349 .461 .810
Sweeney dh .275 .338 .470 .808
DeJesus cf .287 .355 .431 .786
Brown lf .281 .343 .438 .781
Sanders rf .252 .312 .438 .750
Buck c .251 .307 .432 .739
Grudz 2b .288 .327 .382 .709
Berroa ss .252 .288 .365 .653

Gload dh .302 .350 .467 .817
German 2b .290 .359 .386 .745
LaRue c .234 .331 .411 .742
Gthrght cf .269 .335 .330 .665

Gordon 3b .275 .361 .473 .834
Huber 1b .272 .337 .456 .793
Butler lf .292 .339 .447 .786

First of all, simply keeping Sweeney healthy and having Mark Teahen not turn into a pumpkin will help the Royals offense tremendously next season.

Hopefully, having Gil Meche make as much money as he does will stave off the pressure that seems to land on Sweeney’s bad back every season.

The jury is still out on Joey Gathwright, but Ryan Shealy looked like a good addition in the second half last year, and Szymborski’s system seems to like Gload’s potential.

However, the biggest reason for Moore’s focus on the pitching staff is that there is real promise coming from the minor leagues.

Alex Gordon, Justin Huber and Billy Butler all project to hit better in the big leagues than almost the entire 2006 lineup.

With all of that potential piling up at triple-A and Emil Brown and Reggie Sanders both on the wrong side of the age curve, I imagine there may be a few more deals before pitchers and catchers report.