Saturday, June 5, 2010

I'm Just Sittin' On The Shelf

(From "All Over You")

Are the Royals using their bench enough?

I think the notion of a "set lineup" is not very realistic. Most players need a day of rest here and there, plus injuries--even if they are minor--are almost inevitable over 6 months of baseball. And normally catchers do not play day games after night games. So, while there are certainly regulars and a batting order that gets used the most, it is unlikely that a team will run the same order out there more than 20-25 times in a season. This is probably even truer in the American League, where a team can give that slugging outfielder or first baseman a game at DH and "rest" him that way.

But the Royals, with one-third of the season gone, seem intent on turning that conventional wisdom on its head. Maybe they've decided using the same nine players every day is the new market inefficiency.

This isn't a sermon on which batting order the Royals should use. Lots of studies by smarter people than me have decided that lineup order doesn't greatly effect a team's offensive output. The Royals could probably help themselves there by hitting David DeJesus first and Mike Aviles second.

No, this is more about the Royals basically ignoring Brayan Pena this season. Or about Mitch Maier needing Rick Ankiel's injury to get a chance. Or a mindset that keeps Kila Ka'aihue in Omaha.

In 56 games this season before Saturday, the Royals have used a batting order of Podsednik, Aviles, DeJesus, Butler, Guillen, Callaspo, Maier, Betancourt, Kendall a total of 10 times. I could say in 21 games this season, since Ned Yost went with that order in his first four games as manager, and he has been responsible for all 10 of those uses. You have to go back to 1989 to find an order the Royals used more frequently in one season (and that order was used 14 times).

I should add that I don't have major objections to that lineup. I would move Aviles to shortstop and put Chris Getz in at second base, but it's obvious the Royals love them some Yuniesky Betancourt. And hey, Yuni hasn't been a complete train wreck on offense so far this season. He even has managed to get his Ultimate Zone Rating up to 0.0 instead of last year's horrific -11.4. The problem is, this is probably about the best we can ever expect from Betancourt, and it's essentially a league-average shortstop.

Anyway, not only do the Royals use the same batting order every night, it seems like they are intent on having a team full of Cal Ripkens--playing every inning of every game. The Royals have six of the top 50 AL players in innings played. No one else has that many. Jason Kendall leads all AL catchers in innings played by a wide margin (65). He has been in there for 92.2% of all innings the Royals have played. That seems odd for a 36-year-old catcher. As a result of this, we still don't know if Brayan Pena can be a useful major league catcher. Sure, he hasn't played particularly well when he's been in there, but it might be tough to find a groove when you play 39 innings in two months.

To be fair, Kendall has been decent. He has no power, but he's done a decent job of getting on base. Defensively, he has at least helped the Royals cut down significantly on the wild pitches and passed balls that were such problems last year. The team has gone from 89 and 14 in 2009 to 17 and 2 this season, respectively. And he is throwing at basestealers at the same rate (25%) as Royals catchers did last year. I would just like to see Pena get more of a shot.

All over the field, there are Royals who have played practically every out this season. Alberto Callaspo has played 97.8% of the team's innings; he would be third in the AL at third base if he hadn't played 99 innings at second base. Billy Butler has played 97.4% of the innings; he is third in the league for first basemen. Scott Podsednik (91.8%, second in the league in left field), Betancourt (91.6%, 6th in the league at shortstop) and David DeJesus (91.2%, fifth in the league in right field) are all in the top 50 overall in innings. Even Jose Guillen has gotten in the act, starting 55 of the 56 games and pinch-hitting (and playing right field) in the other one.

Part of the problem is the Royals' insistence on carrying eight relief pitchers, which they have done for a good chunk of this season. Even now, with a more normal seven relievers, they don't have a true backup at first base, nor do they have anyone on the bench who you would want to give Guillen a day off at DH. This is where Ka'aihue could help. Like most Royals fans, I want to see Kila get a shot, a real shot, at the major league level. Although if the Royals are going to keep using their current philosophy of lineup management, perhaps he is better served getting regular playing time at Omaha. Still, as a left-handed hitter, he would be a nice option to have on the bench.

My main worry is that these guys will crash sometime in August if they don't get a day off here and there. I'm not calling for Willie Bloomquist or Wilson Betemit to get more playing time; in fact, I think the Royals are doing a better job this year of not overusing Bloomquist. It just seems to me that a bench of Kila, Bloomquist, Pena, Getz/Betancourt and an outfielder from Omaha (either David Lough or Jordan Parraz; the Royals have said they want to keep Alex Gordon there to keep working on being an outfielder, and I'm inclined to agree with that idea) would give Yost the ability to give everyone a little rest, plus some lineup and strategic flexibility.

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