Sunday, November 23, 2008

Time Will Tell

...just who fell, and who's been left behind.
(From "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)," Blonde on Blonde)

Back in September, Dayton Moore promised changes to the Royals' roster for 2009. He wasn't kidding, apparently. First, there was the trade of reliever Leo Nunez for 1B Mike Jacobs. Now he has dealt relieve Ramon Ramirez for OF Coco Crisp. And it seems unlikely that that will be all the moves he will make this winter.

I liked the Jacobs trade. I'm a little less convinced that this latest move is a good one. I would characterize myself as 60% in favor, where I was 90% in favor of the Jacobs trade, if that makes sense. Nunez was a little injury-prone, and trading him was a relatively small price to pay for someone who can hit 25 homers next year. But trading Ramirez makes one of the Royals' 2008 strengths (the back end of the bullpen) something of a question mark for 2009.

And for what? Well, Crisp is a good center fielder, with good speed which will come in handy in Kauffman Stadium's large outfield. Crisp's arrival means David DeJesus will play left field a lot. Theoretically, this will improve KC's outfield defense. But Joey Gathright is probably faster than Crisp, and he played 100 games in center in 2008. So I'm not sure it will improve the defense a lot.

However, Crisp is a better hitter than Joey Jumpcars. Crisp hit .285/.344/.407 last year, while Joey hit .254/.311/.272. Clearly, Crisp is an offensive upgrade. Heck, the one are where Gathright makes a solid contribution (stolen bases), Crisp pretty much equaled him last year. Joey had 21 steals and was caught 4 times; Coco had 20 and 7. The fact that Gathright will be at most a fourth outfielder and more likely a fifth outfielder or even Omaha's starting center fielder means the Royals are improved.

But there is a more intriguing possibility here: will Crisp be an improvement over Mark Teahen? In my mind, that's really who Crisp replaces. With the logjam at first base (Jacobs, Ryan Shealy, Billy Butler, Kila Ka'aihue), there is going to be spillover at the DH spot. That means Jose Guillen is probably going to be in right field a lot, even though the defense would certainly be better with Teahen out there.

Teahen is a solid player, but he has never really put up the offensive numbers the Royals needed from a corner outfielder (or infielder, back when he was a third baseman). Last year, he got 572 at-bats. Will the Royals be better with Crisp getting most of those and Teahen taking over for Gathright as the fourth outfielder?

To test this, I extrapolated Crisp's and Gathright's 2008 numbers to 572 at-bats (Crisp had 361 at-bats last year; Gathright had 279). Remember, Teahen hit .255/.313/.402; Gathright hit .254/.311/.272; Crisp hit .283/.344/.407. Yes, Teahen and Gathright had pretty much the same OBP...not good.


As you can see, if Crisp can do what he did last year for a full season (and he certainly could; those numbers are very similar to his 2007 season, when he had 526 at-bats), he would be an upgrade over Teahen. Slightly less power, but on base more often and stealing several bases. And let me just add that while some of Gathright's numbers look good, giving that many at-bats to someone slugging .272 is a terrible idea. Let me also add that Crisp's 55 walks would have been second on the Royals last year.

That leaves Teahen out of the starting lineup. But there are some good reasons to keep him on the roster: he is a versatile defender who can be plugged in at any outfield spot or either corner infield spot. He has decent speed and excellent baserunning skills, and he hits left-handed with occasional power, so he would be a valuable bench player.

Will he stay on the roster, though? Dayton Moore said after the latest trade that he knew he needed to work on the bullpen some. He's right; now the bullpen outside of Joakim Soria and Ron Mahay is a question mark. Teahen is relatively cheap (he should make $3 million or so next year) and could bring a decent relief pitcher in a trade. Or the Royals could deal him to fill the hole they have in the middle infield; they need a second baseman or shortstop and could then move Mike Aviles to whichever spot they need.

I would like to see Teahen stick around. He seems to be a good guy, and he does bring a variety of skills to the table. Let's hope the Royals can get what they need some other way.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Something Is Happening Here

...but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?
(From "Ballad Of A Thin Man," Highway 61 Revisited)

Dayton Moore wasted no time trying to improve the Royals this offseason. Day after the World Series ends, BAM! He trades relief pitcher Leo Nunez to Florida for first baseman Mike Jacobs. OK, I'm a little late to the party on this trade. I think I'm glad I waited to weigh in on it, though. When I first heard about the trade, I was slightly opposed to it. But as I've thought about it for a couple of days, I like it. There seems to be some handwringing around the Royals blogosphere about this deal. However, I'm thinking many people are focusing on what Jacobs can't do, not what he can do.

It is true Jacobs had a brutal on-base percentage (.299) in 2008. He doesn't walk (36 in 2008, with 10 of those being intentional). His 32 homers last season might be a fluke, since his previous high was 20 and he just turned 28 on Thursday (27 is considered the prime age for hitters). Also, the various defensive stats say he's not a good first baseman.

I note that Jacobs's batting average dropped by 18 points from 2007 to 2008. That's also how much his OBP dropped. Since Mike hit .262 in 2006 (his first full season) and .265 last year, I think his average will rebound some in 2009, meaning his OBP will likely rebound some too. It won't make him an on-base machine, but it should be a better number.

As for the walks, there is no doubt that is a problem. I would point out, though, that the Royals as a team were only intentionally walked 31 times this year. And it's been a long time since the Royals had someone other teams feared enough to intentionally walk that often. The last Royal to be intentionally walked 10 times in a season? Mike Sweeney in 2002. Sure, IBBs are more common in the NL, but Jacobs wasn't hitting in front of the pitcher's spot, either. In fact, none of Jacobs's IBBs were dealt to get to the pitcher's spot. Clearly, this is someone other teams did not want to deal with.

What I really don't understand is people declaring that Jacobs has no chance at 30 homers next year. Sure, Kauffman Stadium is hostile to home runs. Dolphins Stadium wasn't a total homer haven, either, ranking 8th in NL parks for HR/game. Going to a worse home run park in a tougher league will probably cut down on Mike's HR total some, but when is the last time the Royals had a hitter coming off a 30-home run season?

Concerning defense, well, first base isn't exactly a premium defensive position. And I think every Royals fan should be sick of the team running out guys who could field but not hit at the position. A while back, I analyzed all the Royals' first basemen since 1985, and realized one of KC's many problems has been light-hitting first basemen, especially in a league where offense has traditionally been emphasized. For once, the Royals might have a legit power hitter over there.

Now, another reason I am not opposed to this trade is that I believe the Royals are not done dealing yet. Even before adding Jacobs, the Royals had a logjam at first, with Billy Butler, Ryan Shealy, Kila Ka'aihue, and our favorite whipping boy, Ross Gload. I think we'll have to wait to see how KC resolves this situation before really passing judgement on the Jacobs trade. Perhaps this means the Royals don't believe Shealy is ever going to be a consistent big league hitter. Perhaps they intend to let Kila start the year in Omaha and prove his excellent 2008 numbers in the minors were no fluke. Perhaps they intend to trade Gload for a bag of baseballs.

The most intriguing question is what they intend to do with Butler. Will they make him a full-time DH? Or will they set up a platoon at first with Jacobs and Butler? In his career, Jacobs has hit .269/.329/.521 against righties; Butler has hit .340/.398/.585 against lefties in his. That would be a good first baseman.

One final thing about this trade: the Royals got someone who will probably hit 20-25 homers next year for a middle relief pitcher. Originally, the Marlins wanted prospect Carlos Rosa, but backed off because he had a sore right forearm and did not pitch after mid-August. Instead, the Royals gave up Leo Nunez, who missed almost two months this year with a right lat strain. Yes, Nunez was a valuable member of the Royals' bullpen this year. But Dayton Moore has definitely shown an ability to find quality relief pitchers for practically nothing: Ramon Ramirez, Horacio Ramirez, Robinson Tejeda, and of course, Joakim Soria.

Giving up a middle reliever who has a slight frame and violent delivery (read: injury risk) for a guy with solid power potential is a good move for the Royals. And it looks like more moves will be coming.