A Golden Evaluation

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Last week I looked at the Gold Glove Awards and surmised that while in years past the award wasn’t always about defense, the voting was improving and worthy defenders were being honored for their use of the leather. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump around was how reputation played a big part in how some of the picks were chosen.

At the time I figured I was done discussing this topic for at least another year, but then mere days after I wrote the piece I stumbled across some numbers to back up my claim:

Over a span of 25 years, the winners of a Gold Glove were handed out to one of the top two defenders of their position only 38% of the time. Since Rawlings began working with SABR and SDI (SABR Defensive Index) was created to help evaluate, that number has jumped all the way to 88%! So over the last six years, voters have done 50% better than they did from 1988-2012. That is a massive improvement that speaks volumes of how far defensive metrics have come in such a short span of time. In fact, looking back at previous winners and losers really paints a better picture.

Credit: MLB.com

Before we go any farther, a great job has been done by Chris Dial, who is on the Board of Directors for SABR and his creation of RED (Runs Effectively Defended) helped form SDI. My stumbling across Chris’s twitter account pretty much has led us to this point.

So looking back, there were certain positions that voters actually did a fair job at when it came to picking a correct winner, most specifically catcher and third base. But there were some huge gaps in who won and who should have won at a couple of big positions. First base was a position that really showed a leaning toward reputation:

1B
Credit: SABR.org

While guys like Mark Grace, John Olerud and Rafael Palmeiro (yes, Palmeiro had a number of years he was worthy, dismissing 1999) were rewarded for the most part for their defensive excellence, it also shows how the perception of Don Mattingly, J.T. Snow and Eric Hosmer guided them to gold despite not being one of the top two defenders at their position.

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Credit: SABR.org

Shortstop also honored some greats, like Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken while Omar Vizquel apparently won a number of Gold Gloves that he probably shouldn’t have.

Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

The two most notable miscues on this list are Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin, a current Hall of Famer matched in with a future one. Most have rallied against Jeter’s victories in the past, as it was very obvious his range (or lack thereof) was not of the top shelf variety. The fact these two won eight Gold Gloves while never finishing in the top two of their position speaks volumes of how the voting used to be handled.

There was one more position that I found to have a large gap between the should’s and should not’s, and that was the outfield:

OF
Credit: SABR.org

Just looking at this list about made my jaw drop. While Griffey, Hunter and Walker were always thought of as defensive studs, the fact is they were only in the top two of their positions five times. Even more shocking is that Luis Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa should have won a couple of Gold Gloves rather than the zero they compiled.

This would probably be a good time to point out that none of this is saying that all of these players were bad defensively if they won and didn’t finish in the top two. Mr. Dial actually did a good job of pointing that out:

So you can see where adding something like SDI has drastically changed the defensive landscape and showed who the real elite truly are when it comes to glovework. So with the awards handed out just last week, lets see how the voters did:

AL leaders
Credit: SABR.org

In the American League, outside of pitcher (Dallas Keuchel won despite being 8th in SDI among pitchers) and center field (Jackie Bradley, Jr. won and was 3rd in SDI at the position) the voters got it right. Both Royals that won (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) were in the top two at their position, with Salvy only behind Mike Zunino and Alex having the highest SDI among left fielders.

Meanwhile in the National League:

NL Leaders
Credit: SABR.org

Catcher and first base were the two positions voters missed on, as Yadier Molina was 6th in SDI behind the dish and Anthony Rizzo won while finishing 4th. Molina once again points out how reputation wins out over numbers some times and while he is still a good defender at the age of 36, he shouldn’t have even been one of the finalists.

So out of 18 awards, only four of the winners were not in the top two at their respective positions. That means that the voters were 78% correct, which is probably about as good as we should expect when there is a human element involved. It is definitely a big improvement over what we saw for years and Rawlings should be commended for wanting to make this whole process more accurate.

The big thing for me is that the stigma of ‘The winners aren’t being honored for their defense’ is starting to fade away. These awards have been looked at as almost a joke for so long that it’s been hard to do a 180 degree turn and applaud the work done to make the honor mean something.

While defensive metrics are still a work in progress, they are improving every day and painting a different picture than the one we sometimes see with our eyes. So while these awards aren’t quite the Fielding Bible Awards, they are getting a little bit closer every day.

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On The Shoulders of Eric Hosmer

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

The story of the Kansas City Royals after this past 2017 season was murky, but simple enough: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain would all be free agents and the Royals would be lucky to re-sign one of them, if any at all. What seemed the most apparent was that Hosmer would have the highest chance of leaving, even before he put together a career year in 2017. The belief was that a number of bigger market teams would be bidding for his services (the Yankees and Red Sox have been mentioned the most) and he would go where the money led him. We kept hearing the Royals would be making Hosmer their main priority, but in a lot of ways that just felt like lip service. I know myself personally, it appeared that the Royals would make him an offer or two, the big market teams would blow away Kansas City’s offer and Royals GM Dayton Moore would essentially concede defeat. The team could then say they made an effort, but financially just couldn’t compete with the New York’s and Boston’s of the world. This has been my frame of mind for well over a year now…and then something threw a monkey wrench into that thinking. That something now has me wondering if it is not only possible to bring Hosmer back, but possibly either Moose or LoCain as well.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

Let me begin by stating I still feel like it is a long shot to bring back Hosmer but the chances do appear to be improving for the Royals. Start by reading this article by Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star. Mellinger paints a picture of how this could go down and while it feels like a ‘Hail Mary’, it isn’t as crazy as you might think. To sum up what he says, the belief is that if the market shakes out a certain way for Hosmer, he could fall back to the Royals, much in the way Alex Gordon did a few years back, as even Moore references:

“I think there’s some other things that we’d like to execute if possible — see what happens with our free agents. Everybody assumes that we are just going to just get blown away in free agency, and we don’t have a chance. They may be right, but I think everybody felt that way about Alex Gordon at the time. That fell back to us. You just never really know.”

If you remember, Gordon appeared all but gone by all of baseball, that was until Jason Heyward signed his contract with the Cubs and Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes’ names were still on the board. Gordon fell a tick or two below those two names and his age and the fact that the Cubs were the biggest suitor for him appeared to lower the type of deal he could get on the market. The one aspect of Alex coming back to Kansas City was that he always wanted to stay with the Royals, which is a bit in question with Hosmer:

The Royals know they cannot offer the biggest contract to Hosmer, so they will likely follow the same plan that eventually landed Gordon two years ago: stay in touch, be patient, trust that they’ll have a chance after other offers come in, and then get as close as possible.

Hosmer signing with the Royals would require a series of breaks their way. Many around the game believe Hosmer could get $150 million or more. They would need to be wrong. Many around the game believe Hosmer wants to play in a bigger market. They would need to be wrong about that, too.

Sure, that is a lot of if’s. A lot. But I do genuinely feel like these guys love Kansas City and the organization. If you saw any of the send-off on the final day of the season you could tell that there was some real, heartfelt emotion going on with this group. Hosmer is super close to Moustakas and Salvador Perez and one does have to wonder how much those friendships play into a player’s decision. I know, money trumps the rest most of the time. I even understand that, considering most players don’t have a super long career in the first place, so they should make their money while they can. But if these guys want to make it work while staying in Kansas City, it could happen. But Hosmer appears to be the pivotal piece and his decision will affect the rest when it comes to re-signing.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

The decision for Hosmer could be affected by which and how many teams are bidding for his services. The belief all along has been that a number of big market teams would be vying for his attention, but Buster Olney of ESPN points out that there might not be as many teams as first thought:

Hosmer theoretically fits the Red Sox or the Yankees, but each of those big-market teams have worked to get under the luxury-tax threshold. New York believes in Greg Bird’s talent and swing, and the potential savings of Bird over Hosmer is likely to keep the Yankees out of the Hosmer bidding. The Red Sox already have over $130 million committed in 2018 payroll before they pick up the options on closer Craig Kimbrel ($13 million) and Chris Sale ($12.5 million) and before they deal with the pricey arbitration cases of Xander BogaertsJackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts.

The Giants also have very little payroll flexibility, to the degree that they informed Madison Bumgarner last winter they weren’t ready to talk about a contract extension yet because of luxury-tax implications. The San Francisco front office would probably love to have Hosmer, who would help in so many ways — the offensive production and RBI potential, the defense, the leadership. But Brandon Belt is about to reach the backloaded portion of his contract: He’ll make $17.2 million for each of the next four seasons, a staggering debt that the Giants might have to live with.

Olney also mentions that there are a number of bigger market teams who already have younger, cheaper options at first base, like the Dodgers, Phillies and Mets. He would go on to mention the Angels could be interested, but it would matter on whether or not Upton returns to the team and the Cardinals would probably have to unload Matt Carpenter before they could consider signing Hosmer. That leaves…well, that leaves only a few teams in the hunt for the young first baseman, as Olney again points out:

As the saying goes: All it takes is one serious bidder. But it does not appear as if Hosmer will have a high volume of teams in pursuit, and the Royals might turn out to be his most ardent suitors.

If this comes to fruition, it is very plausible Hosmer could fall to the Royals. To add to the discussion, the Yankees Greg Bird had a very positive postseason this month (.244/.426/.512 with 3 home runs, 6 RBI’s and 5 total extra base hits) and it would appear the Yankees are already out of the running, especially considering the luxury-tax threshold. So if this happens, what would the Royals be able to offer money-wise?

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

It’s hard to predict just what the Royals would be offering Hosmer, but I’m going to go ahead and take a guess. Let’s start with his salary for 2017, which sat at $12.25 million. Hosmer will obviously see a bump from there, but how high? I’m assuming here the Royals will want to sign him to a long-term deal, but not the ten-year deal that was floated around this past spring. So let’s go with a 6 year deal with a couple of option years tacked on (Dayton does love his mutual options!). This might be a tad less, but I can’t picture the team being locked into anything over six years guaranteed (but I could be wrong about that). Hosmer’s comparable player would most likely be Freddie Freeman of the Braves (or as I normally call him, “Better Hosmer”); Freeman signed a 8 year, $135 million dollar deal back in 2014. That averages out to $16.875 million a year. I tend to believe Hosmer would get something in that same ballpark, but I’m not quite sold that he would get the $20 million a year that was tossed around for a while. So lets keep him at an average of $18 million a year, which in six years would be a $108 million dollar deal. He could get slightly more than that, but if I know Moore, he would probably make the early years slightly lesser and the last few years would be heavily back-loaded. Like I said, he could get slightly more than this from the Royals, but not much more. So if Kansas City is able to pull this off, the talk is that then the Royals would go after either Moustakas or Cain, which sounds crazy, right?

Royals officials are making it clear that Hosmer is their top offseason priority. If they are able to re-sign him, they will try to shed some payroll and make an aggressive offer to Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer signs somewhere else, the Royals will move to a contingency plan.

Let’s play devil’s advocate: if Hosmer re-signs and they then go out and sign Moustakas for instance, how would the Royals be able to afford both stars?

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

There is a very simple solution to how the Royals could afford both players: shed payroll. That also means Kansas City would have to eat some money, which they have been reluctant to do:

That could mean moving players like Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss. All of those contracts are backloaded, so the Royals would need to eat some money. They haven’t done much of that in the past, but would have to see the opportunity to keep homegrown stars long-term as reason to break protocol.

So you are probably now shaking your head at me, saying ‘but then how do you replace THOSE players?’. Good question. Obviously, the Royals would get something in return for all them, but the quality of players they would get in return would be questionable, as well as if they would be major league ready. The Royals could also go out and deal Cheslor Cuthbert, Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn (or two of the three), since Hosmer and Moustakas would be taking over the positions they currently play. That could be a way for the team to pick up some younger, affordable arms to add to the organization. Obviously the team would also have to scrounge on the free agent market for a few more players, but Moore has shown a tendency to be creative the last few years if called upon. Kansas City seriously needs to upgrade their pitching next year, and if the team did bring back Hos and Moose, it would appear a bit harder to accomplish that goal. Harder, but still possible. Once again, this is a long shot, but it is interesting to think of all the different scenarios the team could go in if they were able to bring back two members of this core group.

Moose and Hos
Credit: Kansas City Royals

While I still contend this is the least likely scenario to happen, I am all in to bring back Hosmer and Moustakas. Now that might appear to be a bit strange coming from the guy who earlier this wrote that the Royals shouldn’t re-sign Hosmer, but if it means Moustakas stays (which has been my main preference all along) and it forces the front office to be creative, then I am on board. The one thing to remember in situations like this is that many players who sign a long-term deal with a team don’t remain with said team for the duration of the contract. So the prospect of the Royals locking in Hosmer for more than five years might appear to be daunting on the surface, in the big picture it would be likely he is dealt before the contract is up. Maybe I’m holding on to all those ‘fuzzy feelings’ I felt at that last game of the season, or maybe I’m just not ready to move on from these players. But I’m not opposed to this plan by the front office and if they aren’t going to tank the big league club, this is a better scenario than piecing players together for years on end. It wouldn’t be the first time this organization flew by the seat of their pants:

 

If this sounds wishy-washy, like an organization that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, it’s actually similar in philosophy to how they made the parade.

When he came to Kansas City, Moore didn’t intend to build a team without home-run power — first thing he wanted to do as GM was move the fences in.

He didn’t intend to build the best bullpen in modern baseball history — strongest belief he had when he arrived was the importance of starting pitching.

But the Royals’ best teams hit very few home runs, and had a line of shutdown relievers, because the front office identified cost-effective workarounds to the traditional ways of winning.

They’ll have to continue to think on their feet, but for now, they wait. Everything depends on Hosmer.

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Sam. Remember this during the winter whenever Hosmer’s name is brought up. He is the key to what we will see on the field next year in Kansas City.

 

Wicked Mediocre: Royals, Red Sox Split Series

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Going into this series in ‘Beantown’ we all knew what loomed in front of the Kansas City Royals. The Royals had gone 7-10 against Boston the last three seasons, including 1-2 against the Red Sox earlier this year at Kauffman Stadium. Logic would tell you that with Boston holding down the American League East cellar(and it’s not even close) and Kansas City dominating the American League Central, well, it seemed like everything would come up blue this series. But that is why they play the games, right? The Royals were able to get out of town splitting the series 2-2 which after Friday seemed like a minor miracle. But this series wasn’t all tea parties and marathons. Nope, we also got some big league baseball in. Trust me, read on.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas follows through on a two-run double against the Boston Red Sox during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

If I was going purely off of batting average(and no one should do that), I might have picked Alex Rios for this honor. No, really. But after Sunday’s game, there was only one player who deserves this. Moustakas was 5 for 12 this series with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 RBI’s, a walk and 4 runs scored. But the bigger story from this series was how impactful he was to the Royals victories on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Moustakas would sharply single to left in the 6th inning after a Kendrys Morales walk to keep the rally going. Salvador Perez would then line a 3-run homer to the right field bullpen to take a 5-0 lead. Moustakas has become pull-happy again the last couple months and it was a nice sign to see him take the ball the other way, which was the main reason for his success in the first few months of the season. Then on Sunday, he would hit an ‘Oppo Taco’ in the 6th inning over the Green Monster, another pitch taken the opposite way. If you are wondering why all of a sudden he has returned to this new-old approach, it is all thanks to hitting coach Dale Sveum. Sveum has been working with Moose as of late to start hitting the ball the opposite way, as Moustakas had been trying to add some power to his game that was missing those first few months. The best thing would be for Moose to meld these two things, which is kind of what Lorenzo Cain has done this year with better pitch recognition. But this is a new road that Moustakas is venturing down, so it could take some time to mix both into his game. That being said, his at bat in the 9th inning on Sunday was the crown jewel of his work this series. The bases were loaded in the 9th with the score tied and Moustakas at the plate:

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The at bat would go 9 pitches, as Moustakas would foul off numerous pitches before getting the one he could drive, which turned into a 2-run double into right center that would end up being the game winner.

It was a fabulous at bat and one that only a couple of Royals(Gordon, Zobrist) would probably have been capable of having. Moose would get 3 hits in this game, driving in 4 and continuing his improvement from his woeful 2014 season. It would turn out to be a great series for the ‘Man Called Moose’, both offensively and defensively.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura

Since the early parts of this season we have wondered ‘which Yordano Ventura are we getting this start?’. Are we getting the one who could dominate hitters last year with his mix of triple digit heat and off-speed magic? Or the Ventura that leaves the ball out over the middle of the plate? Or the one who can’t find the strike zone? In a lot of his starts this year we’ve gotten some hybrid of all of these things. On Saturday though we got an efficient and quality style start from Yordano. Ventura went 6 innings, giving up 6 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 6. It was another quality start for ‘Ace'(his third in a row) and helped push him to a game score of 61.

The best part of the start was his improvement the last few starts to get himself out of jams with very little if any runners crossing the plate. It also appears as if Ventura is getting more confidence with his off-speed pitches, which is a must for him. Sure, he can dial up the 100 MPH heater and try to blow it past hitters. But a big league hitter can time a fastball and will sit on it, as they have been this year. But if he has confidence in his change-up and curve, that makes one more weapon in his arsenal and make the batter less comfortable in the batters box. He still isn’t quite back to old form, but like Ned said after the game:

“Looks to me like he’s starting to get his swagger back. He’s executing his pitches and getting his confidence back.”

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The Strike Zone(And Bad Defense) And the Damage Done

Thursday night was not a good game for the boys in blue. Early on it was evident that the strike zone from the last series might have creeped over into Boston:

Now, part of this wasn’t on Danny Duffy. Obviously the umpire had a smaller strike zone than normal and was causing some problems for Duffy. But he was also favoring the low strike and Duffy didn’t adjust. After sitting through Wednesday’s abomination, I wasn’t in the mood for another long, drawn out ‘Ump Show’:

It didn’t help any that the Royals defense was not on point like they normally are. Paulo Orlando misplayed a few balls in left field and overall the Royals just didn’t look like themselves. By the time it was all said and done, Duffy was able to go 5 innings(which I didn’t imagine would happen early on in the game), giving up 7 hits, all 4 Boston runs while walking 2 and striking out 3. It felt like a step back for Duffy, who had been trending upwards over his last few starts. It was bad enough that for about an inning and a half Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre discussed Toronto, Kansas, a small town about half an hour from where I grew up. Trust me when I say that Toronto is not worth an inning and a half of discussion. Just trust me on this one.

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Time now for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the four game set in Boston:

  • One of the big reasons that Boston is in last place and why Kansas City is in first in their division is defense. The Royals are the best defensive team in the league. Boston is not:

I remember before the season started MLB Network claimed Hanley Ramirez was the best left fielder in baseball. Offensively we all knew he could be a force. But you have to factor defense in there and he has looked even worse than Manny Ramirez did out there. Offense is good but a great defense is good for the long haul.

  • It was announced when we would finally see Kris Medlen start a game for the Royals:

Jeremy Guthrie has been moved to the pen, as Medlen will take his spot in the rotation. This has to be a move to see if Medlen can contribute as a starter in postseason play. I think it’s a good move, since Medlen has pitched good in relief and he has shown he can be a top shelf starter in the past. Hopefully all goes well and we are talking about Kris starting a game in October.

  • Omar Infante went 0 for 31 before getting a hit on Sunday:

Infante would try for an inside the park home run in the top of the 9th of that game, but would get thrown out at home thanks to a nice throw from left fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. It was not a pretty slide at home. Mud will stop a man.

  • Speaking of Omar, him and Alex Rios finally found out how long their leash would extend:

Rios would contribute by getting back to back multiple hit games while Infante would contribute with 2 hits on Sunday. Yost seemed to have lit a fire under their butts; let’s hope they continue to play above what they have done up to this point in 2015.

  • I mentioned earlier that Salvador Perez hit a big home run in Saturday night’s game at Fenway. It was not only a crucial blow to the Red Sox, but also a milestone for Perez:

Personally, I loved the fact the ball was jacked to right field, which means Salvy went oppo. Like Moustakas, Perez has become very pull-happy, although this goes back a couple of years now. It would be nice to see Perez start using the opposite field a bit more, since it would help his declining offensive numbers over the last few years. Even a little bit would make a big difference.

  • Finally, Johnny Cueto easily had his worst start in a Royals uniform on Friday night and his worst start of 2015. Cueto went 6 innings, giving up 13 hits and 7 runs(6 earned) while walking none and striking out 3. This lead to a game score of only 23(his previous worse game score was 35 back in May against Atlanta) in a game that Boston dominated. The bottom line is that starts like this happen; as long as they aren’t the norm there is nothing to worry about. But what everyone wanted to talk about when it came to Cueto this weekend was a radio interview where he said he would be interested in signing with Boston in the offseason because he wants to play with a “championship caliber team”. First, I don’t worry too much about players who will be free agents discussing possible destinations. It is a part of the game at this point and most players are fairly used to it. Hardly any player stays with one team for the duration of their career in this day and age. Second, Cueto is still new to the Royals so he isn’t heavily ingrained into the fabric of the Royals team chemistry. Third and finally, yes it was dumb of him to say Boston was a championship team, forgetting that Boston is in last place and Kansas City is in first. Yes, ignoring what the Royals have done this year is dumb. But we all knew when he was traded to the Royals he wouldn’t return to Kansas City next year. This is just him keeping his options open. Nothing to see here. Move on.

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals' Salvador Perez (13) celebrates his three-run home run with a fan during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
                    (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

So the magic number now sits at 27 with with 39 games remaining this season. It seems like almost a guarantee that the Royals will wrap up the division and do that fairly soon. Kansas City has no time to rest, as the Baltimore Orioles are headed to town for a four game rematch of last year’s ALCS. We all remember what happened the last time Baltimore was at ‘The K’:

Sorry, just wanted to watch it again. I’m sure the Orioles remember this very clearly and will looking to gain back a pound a flesh in the form of a few victories. The Orioles are currently fighting for a wild card spot in the American League, as they are about a game a half out of the spot and about six games back in the American League East. It should be a fun series with lots of defensive action, as the Orioles are near the top of the defensive leader-board with Kansas City and Tampa Bay. I don’t normally predict anything before the series, but I will go ahead and do it here: Royals will take 3 out of 4 from the Orioles. If I am wrong I’m sure I will hear about it…and be forced to watch hours of Jonah Hill movies, which would be my own personal hell.

 

 

 

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