(From "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," Bringing It All Back Home)
Interesting and revealing quote from the Star this morning about Brayan Pena:
"...manager Trey Hillman continues to insist:
'By the end of this season, I want to be able to accurately answer the question of whether we think he can be a front-line guy or is he what he is right now — a backup, a bat off the bench and an occasional DH. He gives you a great (at-bat).'
That prompts the question: Why not play Peña at least four or five times a week over the final seven weeks to provide an answer?
'The argument against that,' Hillman said, 'is (the desire) to continue utilizing a guy who has a lot of power production and helps generate runs and throws out base stealers better when you’re playing teams that do run in a Miguel Olivo.
'That’s the argument. And trying to go with the difficult balance of, yeah, you’d like to find that out (about Peña) but, at the same time, you’d like to win ballgames.' "
This is exactly the problem the Royals have now and have been re-enacting for 15 years (at least). They never fully commit to finding out what their young players can do, preferring instead to sign veterans and hope those players can have some sort of career year. If not, at least they're theoretically solid players.
The problem with this process is that the Royals are never going to be able to afford difference-making veterans, so the guys they end up getting are usually on the decline. Even worse, they block the Royals from finding out if they have any worthwhile prospects. And they seem to fill the front office with false hope, the odd idea that the team is a few players away and a .500 record is the goal.
Frankly, I'm tired of the Royals shooting for a .500 record. That doesn't get you anything. Even in the AL Central. Yes, the Royals need to get to .500 before they can be a winning team, but the goal is and always should be a World Series title. Quit building teams that might be .500 if things go well and start trying to win. Let's not forget, this year's team was supposed to be one that would be around .500 and "maybe contend if things go well." Instead, things have gone straight to hell, and the Royals are likely not going to be much better record-wise than their 2005-2006 predecessors.
If the Royals are going to stink, I'd rather they do it with young players. I don't mean I want them to call up Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, but could we at least see Kila Ka'aihue instead of Mike Jacobs or Jose Guillen? Last year, when the Royals made Ka'aihue a September callup, they still managed to ignore him, only letting him play in 12 games and get 24 plate appearances. They did this so Ross Gload could keep playing, apparently.
Now the Royals are giving Brayan Pena the same treatment. Right now, there are 3 Royal hitters on the roster with an OPS+ better than 100. Billy Butler and Alberto Callaspo get to play all the time and hit in the middle of the order. The other guy? He has fewer plate appearances this season than Tony Pena Jr. and Luis Hernandez combined (those would be OPS+ numbers of 19 and -33, respectively). He has roughly half the plate appearances of Mitch Maier (75 OPS+). Even worse, he has a fourth of the combined plate appearances of Olivo and John Buck (93 and 77 OPS+, respectively). Ladies and gentlemen, Brayan Pena. A
Can Brayan sustain that offense if he plays every day? I don't know (although his minor league numbers look consistently good). But shouldn't the Royals try to find out? This team needs to find undervalued talent wherever they can, so they can save what money they do have to see if they can sign an actual difference-maker or two. Buck is making $2.9 million this year, and Olivo is making $2.7 million. Pena is making $405,000 and outhitting them both.
One other thing about Hillman's quote above: yes, Olivo does have a decent power output this year--if you look at home runs. Olivo leads the team in homers with 16. Yet he only has 12 doubles (and 4 triples). Even though is slugging percentage is a respectable .473, his on-base percentage is low (.272). The man has walked 9 times in 86 games. And yes, Olivo has been good against base-stealers this year, nailing 30% of them (the league average is 24%). But Olivo also has made 6 errors, allowed 10 passed balls, and is the main catcher for a team with 67 wild pitches this year, which leads the AL by almost 20. Pena's defense is supposed to be suspect, but once again, this is something the Royals need to find out before the end of the season.
Win ballgames? Sure, the Royals should try to do that the rest of the year. Put forth a professional effort and all that. But who's to say they wouldn't have a better chance with Pena playing more often?