Tag Archive | "Probability"

Projecting the Royals Pitcher and Player of the Year

Each year, not matter how dreadful it is, a player and pitcher of the year is named by the Kansas City Royals. While it’s far from a scientific process, I thought it would be fun to try to project who will win that award in 2012. Now I want to be clear, this is not who should win the award. As is the case with most things the Royals do, what should happen and what will happen are not necessarily the same. Nonetheless, here are the contestants.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Alex Gordon- If this were a scientific process, Gordon would be the winner as he leads the team in WAR at 4.8. In fact, in terms of value, no one on the team is within 29% of his 4.8 WAR. After a terribly slow start to the season, Gordon now leads the majors with 47 doubles and has put together yet another spectacular defensive season. He’s quietly (at least outside of Kansas City) turned into one of the best defensive corner outfielders in the American League. Gordon also leads the team in walks and runs while placing second in hits, OBP, and triples. The negative, if there is one for Gordon, is that advanced metrics agree with the eye test that Gordon is not very clutch. In terms of advanced metrics, he is the least clutch player on the team with a clutch rating of -1.5. Furthermore, is WPA (Win Probability Added) is actually -0.5 for the season.

Billy Butler- If this was simple the award for offensive player of the year, you’d have to give it to Butler.  Butler leads the club in all three Triple Crown categories plus OBP and Slugging %. Butler’s 137 OPS+ is easily the best on the team and it really isn’t close. He’s most likely going to finish with .300/30/100 for the first time in Kansas City since Jermaine Dye in 2000. Unfortunately, this is a player of the year award and that includes defense, which would be the down side for Butler and why is WAR ranks Butler as the 4th best player on the team. The only real question with Butler is whether is offensive statistics are impressive enough to override his lack of contribution in the field. That may very well be determined by his production in the last 17 games of the season.

Alcides Escobar- If we’d gotten the type of defense we expected from Escobar this season he may just be a runaway winner. Unfortunately, he has 17 errors and seems to have regressed just a little bit in the field. Of course that may be because he’s been so focused on what has been an outstanding year at the plate. Escobar leads in the team with seven triples and 29 stolen bases, is second in batting average, and surprisingly third in OBP. WAR rates Escobar as the Royals second best player, partially because he does still add something with his glove, but mostly because there just aren’t very many shortstops that can hit like him. He has a very good chance to finish the season with a .300 average, 30 stolen bases and 40 extra base hits. No one has done that in Kansas City since Carlos Beltran in 2003.

And the winner is…

I think it ends up being Gordon if only because Dayton Moore loves to feel like he’s smart and it would make him feel like a genius to have gotten Gordon’s contract done. Butler could probably only win the award by breaking Balboni’s record which would take ten home runs over the next 17 games…not happening.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR

Kelvin Herrera- Should middle relievers really be considered? Well, WAR thinks Herrera is the best pitcher on the club, so I’d say so. In 69 appearances, Herrera has a 2.43 ERA. Depending on which site you read, he may be the (consistently) hardest thrower in all of baseball. I don’t believe the Royals have the ability to recognize a pitcher with only 4 wins and 1 save, but Herrera should win the award regardless.

Greg Holland- Holland was arguably the best closer in baseball in August, and though he’s struggled a bit down the stretch he still sports a 2.98 ERA with 13 saves in 60 appearances. Holland’s most impressive stat? He’s struck out 84 batters in just 60 innings. He probably needs a couple more saves, and no more blow ups, to win the award. One thing that may help are his six wins, at least in the Royals eyes.

Jeremy Guthrie- Do I say this tongue-in-cheek? Kind of. Guthrie has been outstanding since the Royals acquired him for Jonathan Sanchez. The club is one game over .500 since they traded for him on July 20 and they’re 7-3 in games Guthrie has started including three games in which they only scored 2 runs. Guthrie would probably need to win his last three starts and lower his ERA below 3 (currently at 3.23) to have a real shot, but it plays right into the Dayton Moore making himself look smart angle.

And the winner is…

I believe in Greg Holland so I’m going to assume he finishes the year strong and wins the award with 18+ saves and a sub-3 ERA. He may not be the most deserving pitcher but he’ll have the statistics to make the club feel better about selecting him.

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Royals Gallimaufry II

• With the release of the 2012 Royals schedule, the only thing that jumps out at me is a visit from the Brewers of Milwaukee June 12–14. I very much hope Zack Greinke will not pitch in the series. It would only bring up unpleasantness from the past and mean spirit from some Royals fans.

Bruce Chen is a magician. I had one of those perfect nights at the park this Tuesday, where the weather could not be better and the good guys make the Twins look silly. Chen was the main reason, plowing through the Twins for eight innings with his off-speed, arm-slot varying slop. His game score of 85 was the best of the year for the Royals. He continues to outshine his unimpressive defense-independent stats for a second straight year, and while the saber-nerd in me knows he is probably due to regress, I can not help but believe in some of the cliches. That Chen just “knows how to pitch.” I would be glad to see him back in Royal blue again next year to see if he can extend the magic show.

• Before the game on Tuesday, Twins player Michael Cuddyer took some fantastic photos around Kauffman Stadium that you can see here.

• In my previous gallimaufry, I proposed a few metrics that could be used to come up with a new pitcher’s record and showed how each Royals starter was faring by classifying starts as a “win” for a quality start, positive win probability added or game score of 51+. Here are those updated records (through the 13th):

The team-wide average of the three records (64-85) is just one game different than the team’s actual record (63-84). For me, the quality start and game score records of 66-83 are too kind to what has been a very bad staff. The win probability added record of 59-90 sounds just right.

• For whatever it is worth, Alcides Escobar has gained the MLB lead in shortstop UZR with a current rating of 9.5 runs above average. Factor in offense though, and he only comes out at 17th of 22 qualified shortstops in fWAR. He is on the short list of the worst hitters in the league: His 68 wRC+ is fourth worst among qualified hitters and his -5 win probability added is by far the worst.

• While the 2011 season has been another lost cause in the standings, I am dreading the season’s end. In years past, it can feel merciful, but this year it feels like the real Royals are just taking shape. Ever since Sal Perez debuted on August 10, the lineup of the future is suddenly here in the present, and man are they talented and fun to watch. 2012 could very well be bogged down by starting pitching woes again, but the position players make me feel opening day can not get here soon enough.

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Willie Aikens In The Post-Season

Adam Darowski at the essential baseball nerdery site Beyond The Boxscore recently took a look at the all-time win probability added (WPA) leaders in the World Series. (Click here for a definition of WPA.) What to my wondering eyes should appear but Willie Aikens included in the top 12 batters. Royals fans may know about Aikens’s four home run ding dongs in the 1980 Series, but it turns out his performances in the 1980 and ’81 post-seasons go well beyond that famous feat. He came to the plate 49 times during those Royals post-seasons, and reached base safely 25 times (10 singles, one triple, nine walks, four homers and one reach on error). And, by luck or otherwise, when Aikens did make an out, it never seemed to happen at a crucial time. His worst WPA at-bat in the playoffs was a strikeout that reduced the team’s chances of winning by just 8%. He had nine post-season PAs that helped the team by more than 8%. Aikens’s appearance on the World Series WPA leader board is all the more impressive when you consider he is the only one of the 12 players to appear in only one World Series. Giving a cursory look at the other 11 players World Series performances, I cannot find another one who put up such a high WPA in one series. It is more difficult to appreciate since the Royals lost the Series, but Aikens’s 1980 performance is truly one of the greatest in World Series history.

1980 was Aikens’s first of four seasons as the Royals first baseman. His tenure with the team did not start off well as he played through the after-effects of knee surgery. He had been traded for long-time KC favorite Al Cowens and replaced popular Pete LaCock at first base, so the fans were unforgiving after his slow start. Royals manager Jim Frey said Aikens “was very frustrated and very down for the first two months of the season. The fan reaction was bad and he had started to feel that.” Aikens agreed, saying he was tense and nervous. As his knee regained strength, so did his play. “I started feeling good about the All-Star break,” he said.* He finished the year with a line of .278/.356/.433 (116 OPS+). A nice year, but it was in the post-season where he left his mark.

In game one of the ALCS, he started his post-season career with a bang—his two run single in the third broke a tie and gave KC a lead they did not relinquish. Game two was a relative dud, but he collected three singles in game three to help the Royals sweep the best of five series.

Things only got better once the World Series started. On his 26th birthday, he belted two, two-run homers in game one, though the Royals wasted them in a 6-7 loss. The Royals also dropped game two in spite of another good day at the plate from Aikens (a single, walk and reach on error). The series moved to KC for game three. Finally the Royals would win the franchise’s first World Series game. Aikens tripled for the first time in his MLB career in the fourth inning, and Hal McRae brought him home with a single. His biggest hit of the series came in the bottom of the 10th though. Tied 3-3, with two outs, Willie Wilson on second, the Phillies gave George Brett a free pass to get to Aikens. Willie made them pay by lining a Tug McGraw pitch to the left-center gap, and the Royals walked off winners.

Willie and co. put game four away early with a four run first inning highlighted by another Aikens round-tripper. He added his fourth and final homer of the series in the second inning as the Royals evened the series at two games apiece. The crowd roared for Willie after each homer, and he told The Sporting News, “The two standing ovations today really went deep down in my heart.”

In game five, Aikens did his damage not with slugging but with a single and two walks. His second walk came at a crucial time. Down a run in the bottom of the ninth, Aikens’s base on balls moved Frank White from first base into scoring position. This time, Tug McGraw got of the jam, and the Royals were on the brink of losing the series. Aikens’s bat was quiet in game six, but he still increased the team’s chance for victory thanks to two more walks. He was the only player in the series with a positive WPA in all six games. But with a Royals loss, Aikens’s incredible performance was doomed to be overshadowed. Amos Otis had the second best WPA in the series, but he and Aikens were the only Royals to contribute significantly to the cause, while the Phillies had a balanced attack from an assortment of characters.

The team returned to post-season action the following year, but was quickly swept aside by the A’s in three games. Aikens did not make as much noise this series, but still helped the team’s chances with three singles and three walks. Add up his 12 playoff games with the Royals, and his WPA comes to a remarkable 1.48, tops among all Royals players.

 

*Quotes and info in this paragraph from 11/1/80 The Sporting News story by Dick Kaegel

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Royals Gallimaufry

• Your vocab word of the day: gallimaufry.

From Dictionary.com:

gal·li·mau·fry
[gal-uh-maw-free]

–noun, plural -fries. Chiefly Literary.

1. a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley.
2. a ragout or hash.

Used in a sentence: I hope you will enjoy my below gallimaufry of Royals thoughts.

tasty

• I pay no mind to a pitcher’s win-loss record anymore, but I have lately been thinking how it is kind of nice to put every start into a “good” and “bad” bucket. We just need a better measure. A modern day pitcher’s record if you will. I am not all the way on board with quality start as a measuring stick, but it has some merit. A couple of other measures I like are win probability added (WPA) and game score. If the idea of a “good” start is to give your team a shot at winning, WPA seems like the best measure since it literally reflects if the starter gave his team a better or worse chance. A WPA “win” would be a positive WPA in a start. Game score is from Bill James and applies a rating to every start based on innings, hits, strikeouts, walks and runs allowed. 50 is an average start, so a game score “win” would be any score greater than 50. Here is how every Royals starter looks with these different records, and the three records combined into an average on the right:

talk about a confused medley

If you can work through that mess of numbers, you might notice that the records do not look very good. However, before getting hurt, Bruce Chen continued to somehow find ways to be effective. He is wily I tell ya.
• Pitching continues to be the huge question mark in Dayton Moore‘s process. Rob Neyer wrote about that recently, saying “The Process will work only if the organization’s homegrown hitters are accompanied by homegrown starting pitchers. And in that regard the jury is still very, very much out.” Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery are both struggling with their control and John Lamb just underwent Tommy John surgery. Relying only on homegrown starters is a tough hill to climb. The Royals may have to hit big on an impact starting pitcher through trade or free agency before they are ready to win the AL Central.

• There is a bizarre strain of under-appreciation of Billy Butler from some Royals fans. Sam Mellinger took a look at these weirdos in a recent column. I suppose Billy is a nice litmus test for how fans see the game. If you judge Billy only by your eyes, you might see a slow guy who does not hit as many homers as you would hope. If you like old-school numbers, you might think he does not get enough RBIs. If you blend your eye with more telling numbers, there seems to be no denying that the Royals have one of the best DHs around. My fellow I-70 writer Troy Olsen, aka KCRoyalMan, is quoted in Mellinger’s column saying, “Need more doubles and HRs. Too many singles worthless singles. Clogs bases.” First of all, “clogging the bases” is the idea of batting. It means you did not make an out. Second of all, asking Billy to hit more doubles is sort of like asking Babe Ruth to hit more home runs. Here are the MLB leaders in doubles from 2009 to present:

1. Billy Freaking Butler 112
2. Robinson Cano 102
3. Evan Longoria 100
4. Ryan Braun 99
5. Miguel Cabrera 97
5. Matt Holliday 97
When you think of doubles, think of Billy Butler. When you think of Billy Butler, think of doubles. When you think of the best DH so far in 2011, think of David Ortiz. When you think of the second best DH so far in 2011, think of Billy Butler. When you think of what is wrong with the Royals, think of just about anything else before Billy Butler.

• It is only seven games, but I am borderline giddy about Alcides Escobar‘s recent hot streak with the bat. Eyeballs and defensive metrics agree that he is ridiculously good in the field. Some fans think that excuses him from having to hit at all. I am not one of those fans. For me, it means he only has to hit a tiny bit. Which he was not doing. He was hurting the team with his bat more than he was helping with the glove. But this hot stretch shows he at least has a few hits in him. And that is all the Royals need from him in order to have one of the best shortstops around.

• The specter of Jason Kendall‘s return continues to loom over the season. When the Royals make room for him by moving Brayan Pena or Matt Treanor, this team will immediately become worse. Pena and Treanor have been a surprisingly decent duo behind the dish, hitting a little bit (or in Treanor’s case, walking a lot) and playing fine defensively. With one glaring exception from Pena, they have done a great job blocking the plate on plays at home, and both seem to have a strong throw to second. I cannot imagine Kendall has anything left in his bat or throwing arm after decimating his shoulder last season, and I cringe at the idea of having to watch him try to hit on a regular basis again. I do not deny that having his experience around may have some benefit. If the Royals want to draw on his knowledge, then great—hire him as a coach. Just please do not let him actually play as a Royal anymore.

• The Royals have not played up this aspect of Tuesday’s “Retro Night” promotion, but according to ballpark emcee Tim Scott, the game will be presented with “No music, no KCrew, no emcee, no contests, (and) retro video board.” How great does that sound? If that is not enough, it will also be Mike Moustakas‘s home debut.

• After his customary hot start, Jeff Francoeur is staying true to himself by falling apart at the plate. wOBA by month:

March/April: .402
May: .305
June: .288
It is past time for him to move down in the lineup.

Aaron Stilley also writes about Kansas City baseball here and on the Twitters.

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The Good, Bad & Ugly In Royals Clutch Hitting History

I consider win probability added (WPA) to be the ultimate “story” stat—it tells you exactly who the heroes and goats were. Sabermetricians have pretty well disproved the myth of consistently clutch players; players are generally who they are regardless of the situation. Due to random variation, some players are going to have extremely clutch or un-clutch seeming games and seasons when they do or do not come through in crucial situations. I think of RBI in much the same why I think about WPA. RBI numbers do not tell us a great deal about a player’s individual talent, but they do tell the story of who knocked in the runs when guys were getting on base ahead of them. But WPA paints a more exact picture of how players performed in all of the contexts presented to them.

Here is a full explanation of WPA. Here is my short version: the sum of the change in a team’s chance of winning before and after each plate appearance. (It can be applied to pitchers as well, but for this post, I will only focus on hitters.) Keep in mind that for hitters it is a purely offensive number; defense does not enter into it.

I have parted ways with two American dollars for the pleasure of diving into the best and worst WPA performances in Royals history via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index Tool. The most gob smacking find is Neifi Perez’s horrific 2002 WPA. Royals fans know the shortstop received in exchange for Jermaine Dye was an abomination, but they may not know his -6.8 WPA that year is the worst in at least the last 60 MLB seasons, and possibly of all time. (WPA is not available prior to 1950 on Baseball-Reference.) No other season in the last 60 even comes close. Perez’s plate appearances in 2002 decreased the Royals chances of winning by 682%, or close to seven games worth.

Worst MLB WPA single seasons, 1950-2010:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G AB H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 554 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Sam Dente -5.181 654 1950 WSH 155 603 144 2 59 .239 .286 .299 .585
3 George Wright -5.053 393 1985 TEX 109 363 69 2 18 .190 .241 .242 .483
4 Gary Disarcina -5.051 583 1997 ANA 154 549 135 4 47 .246 .271 .326 .597
5 Ronny Cedeno -4.570 572 2006 CHC 151 534 131 6 41 .245 .271 .339 .610

Neifi actually had a pretty good opening day in 2002. He went 3-for-5, moved some runners over with a single, knocked in a run with a triple, and scored two runs himself. His .047 WPA was good for second best on the Royals lineup that day. However, a sign of things to come occurred on the last play of the game: Neifi was up in the bottom of the ninth, Royals down 6-8, two on and two out. The Royals clung to a 10% win expectancy, but Neifi popped out and the game was over. On April 24th, he was the Royals WPA hero with a 3-for-4, three RBI game. But the good days were a rare exception in this season from hell.

Neifi hurting the team again...assumedly

Our Neifi came to the plate 585 times that season. Crucial moments of games seemed to find him. Alas, he was rarely up to the task. After only five percent of his plate appearances did he leave his team in a better position to win. Five percent! I do not even understand how that is possible when he got on base 26% of the time, but there it is. He had a few especially disastrous games, but he achieved the historic low more by being consistently bad day in and day out. With runners in scoring position, his already dreadful offensive skills tumbled even lower to the tune of .221/.246/.270. The Worst Season A Royals Player Ever Had may have hit its nadir when Perez refused to enter a game:

Perez…created a major clubhouse incident by refusing to enter a Sept. 9 game against the Chicago White Sox as a defensive replacement for rookie Angel Berroa. Perez later said his refusal was a joke that was misinterpreted, but his action caused a rift with several teammates. Many privately called for his immediate dismissal from the club.–Bob Dutton, November 19, 2002 Kansas City Star

Neifi makes Angel Berroa look like a golden god. Here are the Royals worst WPA single seasons:

 

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Angel Berroa -3.448 503 2006 KCR 132 111 9 54 .234 .259 .333 .592
3 Angel Salazar -3.437 332 1987 KCR 116 65 2 21 .205 .219 .246 .465
4 Greg Gagne -2.923 581 1993 KCR 159 151 10 57 .280 .319 .406 .724
5 Tony Pena -2.902 536 2007 KCR 152 136 2 47 .267 .284 .356 .640
6 Jason Kendall -2.832 490 2010 KCR 118 111 0 37 .256 .318 .297 .615
7 Cookie Rojas -2.828 409 1970 KCR 98 100 2 28 .260 .296 .326 .622
8 John Buck -2.818 430 2005 KCR 118 97 12 47 .242 .287 .389 .676
9 David Howard -2.805 485 1996 KCR 143 92 4 48 .219 .291 .305 .595
10 Jermaine Dye -2.756 283 1997 KCR 75 62 7 22 .236 .284 .369 .653

Jason Kendall sighting! Kind of ironic that Jermaine Dye makes the list.

Here is a happier list, the Royals best WPA single seasons:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 6.154 515 1980 KCR 117 175 24 118 .390 .454 .664 1.118
2 George Brett 6.048 701 1979 KCR 154 212 23 107 .329 .376 .563 .939
3 George Brett 5.498 665 1985 KCR 155 184 30 112 .335 .436 .585 1.022
4 George Brett 5.108 705 1976 KCR 159 215 7 67 .333 .377 .462 .839
5 Mike Sweeney 4.762 545 2002 KCR 126 160 24 86 .340 .417 .563 .979
6 Darrell Porter 4.684 679 1979 KCR 157 155 20 112 .291 .421 .484 .905
7 John Mayberry 4.618 683 1975 KCR 156 161 34 106 .291 .416 .547 .963
8 Amos Otis 4.569 567 1978 KCR 141 145 22 96 .298 .380 .525 .905
9 Johnny Damon 4.552 741 2000 KCR 159 214 16 88 .327 .382 .495 .877
10 George Brett 4.045 681 1988 KCR 157 180 24 103 .306 .389 .509 .898
George increased the team’s WPA in 40% of his plate appearances in 1980. With runners in scoring position, he upped his line to .469/.542/.815. He of course dominates the Royals all-time list as well:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 52.107 11624 1973 1993 2707 3154 317 1596 .305 .369 .487 .857
2 Amos Otis 27.275 7969 1970 1983 1891 1977 193 992 .280 .347 .433 .780
3 Mike Sweeney 15.970 5278 1995 2007 1282 1398 197 837 .299 .369 .492 .861
4 Hal McRae 15.666 7361 1973 1987 1837 1924 169 1012 .293 .356 .458 .814
5 John Mayberry 13.528 3752 1972 1977 897 816 143 552 .261 .374 .448 .822
6 Danny Tartabull 10.832 2684 1987 1991 657 674 124 425 .290 .376 .518 .894
7 Carlos Beltran 9.043 3512 1998 2004 795 899 123 516 .287 .352 .483 .835
8 Darrell Porter 8.194 2262 1977 1980 555 514 61 301 .271 .375 .435 .809
9 Paul Schaal 5.541 2340 1969 1974 606 525 32 198 .263 .360 .368 .728
10 Kevin Seitzer 5.110 3163 1986 1991 741 809 33 265 .294 .380 .394 .774

 

At the other end of the spectrum is another team hall-of-famer. Frank White reached a positive WPA in just two of his 18 seasons. Good thing he had that golden glove.

 

Royals worst career totals:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Frank White -16.325 8467 1973 1990 2324 2006 160 886 .255 .293 .383 .675
2 David Howard -9.272 1586 1991 1997 547 320 8 130 .229 .289 .302 .591
3 Cookie Rojas -8.135 3354 1970 1977 880 824 25 332 .268 .314 .346 .660
4 Neifi Perez -8.045 805 2001 2002 194 179 4 49 .238 .265 .303 .568
5 Freddie Patek -7.601 4867 1971 1979 1245 1036 28 382 .241 .309 .321 .630
6 Angel Berroa -7.287 2496 2001 2007 627 606 45 235 .263 .305 .384 .689
7 Brent Mayne -7.187 2200 1990 2003 664 483 20 205 .244 .305 .322 .627
8 John Buck -7.104 2116 2004 2009 584 450 70 259 .235 .298 .407 .705
9 Greg Gagne -7.092 1472 1993 1995 386 358 23 157 .266 .317 .392 .708
10 Onix Concepcion -5.841 1130 1980 1985 389 248 3 80 .238 .277 .293 .570

Bringing things to the present, here is how 2011 Royals hitters are shaping up this season:

 

PA WPA ▾
Jeff Francoeur 151 1.0
Wilson Betemit 112 0.5
Matt Treanor 80 0.3
Melky Cabrera 161 0.2
Jarrod Dyson 26 0.2
Alex Gordon 155 0.2
Billy Butler 150 0.1
Chris Getz 132 0.1
Mitch Maier 16 0.1
Eric Hosmer 22 -0.0
Kila Ka’aihue 96 -0.0
Brayan Pena 62 -0.3
Mike Aviles 108 -0.4
Alcides Escobar 142 -2.1
Team Total 1413 -0.3

Escobar is bringing up the rear in all of the majors, and is on pace to enter some seriously unpleasant territory. At his current pace, if he equaled Perez’s 585 plate appearances, he would end up with -8.7 WPA. Ruh-roh.

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Hate To Say It, But…Time To Start Complaining About Escobar’s Bat

On a recent broadcast, Royals TV announcer Ryan Lefebvre remarked that no one is complaining about shortstop Alcides Escobar’s feeble bat thanks to his spectacular defense so far this year. His defense has rightfully been universally lauded. Escobar looks like a gold glover, seemingly making a jaw-dropping play every game. After the horror show that shortstop defense has been in KC for the last decade, Royals fans are giddy to finally have a terrific play-maker at short. It does make it easy to overlook how pitiful Escobar has been with the stick. The glove is so good that Escobar’s bat could be merely bad and Royals fans would be thrilled. But unfortunately, Escobar has not been just bad with the bat. He has been an abomination. And it is getting to the point where it can no longer be ignored.

photo by Minda Haas

Escobar had 690 plate appearances with the Brewers between 2008-10, and put up a line of .250/.298/.335 (72 OPS+) in that time. Nothing to get excited about, but those numbers look Ruthian compared to his start this year: .221/.245/.253 (42 OPS+). There might need to be two Escobars playing shortstop to prevent enough runs on D to make up for the out-machine he has been at the plate.

Comparing Escobar to his light-hitting AL shortstop brethren does not make him look any better. Of the 15 qualifying AL shortstops to date, Escobar is far and away the worst hitter. Escobar is last in BB%, OBP, wOBA, wRC+, WPA, WPA/LI, and RE24:

2011 AL shortstops through April 27

Win probability added (WPA) is not a great measure of a hitter’s talent since it is dependent on many things out of his control, but it is significant that Escobar’s lack of hitting hurt his team’s chances of winning more than any other player in 2010. And now he has jumped out to have the worst WPA in the majors so far in 2011. Combine 2010 with early 2011, and things get really ugly:

WPA
Alcides Escobar -5.64
Ryan Theriot -3.08
Aaron Hill -2.93
Erick Aybar -2.77
Derrek Lee -2.20

 

Using WPA divided by leverage index (WPA/LI) to strip away some of the chance/luck factor, Escobar still looks like the last player you want batting for your team (adding 2010 and early 2011 again):

WPA/LI
Alcides Escobar -3.77
Jose Lopez -2.91
A.J. Pierzynski -2.33
Ryan Theriot -1.94
Erick Aybar -1.78

 

How about the worst hitters from the start of 2010 through the present day by weighted runs created plus:

wRC+
Alcides Escobar 59
Jose Lopez 60
Ryan Theriot 75
Orlando Cabrera 75
A.J. Pierzynski 76

 

Make no mistake about it – Escobar has been the single worst hitter in baseball since 2010. I am pretty sure no level of defense could make up for that. The good news is that surely he is not this bad. His minor league line over six years was .293/.333/.377. The updated ZiPS projection sees him improving to the tune of .253/.294/.328 by season’s end. I think the Royals could be happy with even that modest production. I love the glove and arm as much as anyone, and am certainly not suggesting Escobar should not be the everyday shortstop for the rest of the year. The Royals have to give Escobar every chance to become an acceptably bad hitter. But as the season wears on, it is getting harder and harder to overlook just how damaging Escobar’s bat has been to the offense.

You can listen to Aaron Stilley discuss this article and more as a guest on the Broken Bat Single podcast, and follow him on Twitter: @KC_Baseball.

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Hall Spot For Appier Much Deserved

I’m not sure if it’s just me who doesn’t truly appreciate how great Kevin Appier was during the 10 years he pitched in KC.

The newest member of the Royals Hall of Fame sort of flew under my radar for some reason.

He was big just as the Royals started to get small. We had been so spoiled by years of dominance. We were still in the hangover of that shocking World Series win in 1985. We were watching Frank White and George Brett hang it up.

So when the team stopped making the playoffs and struggled just to stay relevant, we didn’t appreciate what Appier was doing on bad teams. Appier became a fixture in the Royals rotation in 1990 and was a mainstay for the next 8 seasons.

Only once during those years, in 1993, did the team win more than 82 games, and only three times did the team finish above .500. But Appier labored faithfully, racking up the kind of statistics that don’t win Cy Young trophies, but that number crunchers appreciate.

If you ask me to name the greatest starting pitchers in Royals history, I would probably list off the studs from KC’s best teams: Leonard, Splittorff, Saberhagen, Gubicza… Then I’d say, “But don’t forget how great Steve Busby was for a short time.” Then of course I’d have to say Greinke might actually be the most talented.

But a closer look at the individual measurements reveals that Appier might just be the best in team history.

Start with the most basic of measurements – WAR – and you see Appier’s standing among Royals pitchers. Appier is number one by a wide margin. Of the list of top 10 individual season WAR rankings, both Appier and Saberhagen have three. No other Royal has more than one.

Then look at some of the more sophisticated means of judging pitchers – Adjusted Pitching Runs, Adjusted Pitching Wins, Base-Out Runs Saved, Win Probability Added, Situational Wins Saved, Base-Out Wins Saved. Appier is first in every category, ahead of the other two best in team history, statistically speaking: Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry.

Appier is in the team’s top 10 in the commonly recognized rankings – wins and ERA – and is number one in strikeouts. But when you look at these adjusted means of ranking a pitcher independent of his team, you realize that Appier was great on bad teams. If he had the benefit of a lineup of Brett, White, Hal McRae and Willie Wilson, he’d have been a perennial 20 game winner.

Believe it or not, Appier is actually ranked by Baseball Reference.com as the #99 pitcher of all time! (Right between some pretty darn good ones – Jack Morris and Frank Viola, and ahead of some guys you’ve heard of – Rollie Fingers, Fernando Valenzuela…)

Appier never pitched in a playoff game for the Royals. He never won any major awards and only played in one all-star game.

But it’s great to see him receive the credit he deserves in front of the closest witnesses to his greatness – KC fans. We’ll see him enshrined in the team’s hall of fame on June 25. He joins six other starting pitchers. But by some convincing measurements, Appier is the best.

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The Biggest Plays From A Crazy Opening Week

It was a wild and crazy opening week at Kauffman Stadium full of extra innings, lead changes, walk-offs, meltdowns and best of all, a 4-2 record for the Royals. Here is a look at some of the biggest plays from each game based on win probability added (WPA) (numbers all from the indispensable Fangraphs):

March 31 • Angels 4 Royals 2

The opener did not feature any of the dramatic swings that the next five contests did. The key moment of the game came when the Royals threatened to come back in the bottom of the eighth after Melky Cabrera, Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue walked the bases drunk with just one out. They were down 2-4 but had raised their win expectancy (WE) to 38%. Jeff Francoeur stepped to the plate but struck out, which dropped the Royals WE down to 23%. Alcides Escobar was up next with a chance to play hero, but flew out instead, and the Royals chances fell all the way down to 8%.

(WPA is a descriptive or “story” stat, meaning it describes what happened without necessarily reflecting a player’s true talent. Still, it is worth noting that Escobar had the worst WPA in the majors last season and has jumped out to the worst WPA for the Royals so far. Hopefully some timely hits will start falling in for him. The good news is he has looked outstanding with the glove.)

April 1 • Royals 2 Angels 1

The start of the four-game winning streak, and first of three walk-off wins on the week. Not surprisingly, Kila’s 9th inning bomb was the play of the game, boosting KC’s WE from 64% to a cool 100%.

April 2 • Royals 5 Angels 4

The Royals came-back came in the eighth inning this time with a couple of unlikely names doing the damage with the bat. With two outs and two on, the Royals were down 3-4, and had just a 31% WE. Light-hitting Matt Treanor knocked Billy Butler in with a single to tie it, and also-light-hitting Chris Getz gave the good guys the lead for good with a single of his own. KC’s WE shot all the way up to 86%.

April 3 • Royals 5 Angels 4

More late-innings madness, this time in both the ninth and 13th innings. Down by two in the bottom of the ninth, things were not looking good until suddenly the bases were loaded; Wilson Betemit had the biggest hit for the Royals all week (judged by WPA) when he doubled in two runs. Tying the game resulted in a mammoth 51% swing in WE in the Royals favor. The teams locked horns for four more innings before Treanor continued an amazing first week as a Royal with a walk-off ding dong. Even though it won the game, it had a smaller impact on WE (39%) than Betemit’s game-tying double.

April 5 • Royals 7 White Sox 6

How about another extra-inning, walk-off win? Once again it was the hit to tie the game that had the biggest effect on WE, rather than the walk-off hit itself. The tying runs came on a mammoth home-run from Bam Bam Butler, boosting the Royals WE from 20% to 56%. Cabrera’s single in the 12th wasn’t bad either, moving the WE from 70% to game over.

April 6 • White Sox 10 Royals 7

insaness

The magic ran out in another crazy game. It looked like the Royals were going to win in non-dramatic fashion for a change after jumping out to a 5-0 lead and handing a 6-3 lead to Joakim Soria in the ninth. Soria got two quick ground-outs, and the game was basically over. The Royals WE was 99.6%. The White Sox had flat-lined and were moving towards the light. Three singles and a walk later, the White Sox were within one run, but the Royals WE was still 83%. Next came the biggest WPA play of the week when Carlos Quentin doubled in the tying and go-ahead runs, swinging the WE 66% in the White Sox’s favor. It appeared the Royals might come back from the collapse when Ka’aihue doubled in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, moving the WE 42% back in KC’s favor. The Royals couldn’t score. Then in the 11th, the Royals got their WE all the way back up to 83%. In a repeat of opening day, Jeff Francoeur and Alcides Escobar squashed a rally with back-to-back outs. It was not to be this time, and the Sox finally finished the job in the 13th inning.

Top five plays by WPA during opening week:

-66%: April 6 • 9th • Carlos Quentin go-ahead 2B

+51%: April 3 • 9th • Wilson Betemit tying 2B

+42%: April 6 • 9th • Kila Ka’aihue tying 2B

+39%: April 3 • 13th • Matt Treanor walk-off HR

+36%: April 5 • 8th • Billy Butler tying HR

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A Magical, Advanced Statistical, Graphical Adventure With The 2010 Royals

The Royals and advanced stats tend to mix about as well as oil and water, so if you are a Royals fan, you may want to shield your eyes from the following graphs of some advanced stats from the 2010 season.

Win Probability Added

A lot of advanced stats attempt to remove the effects of teammates and game situations to get a truer sense of how a player performed with regard to the things he had control over. WPA on the other hand is context driven. Every batter and pitcher is credited or debited the amount of win expectancy gained or lost after every plate appearance. It is a fascinating descriptive stat of what took place, but not a great indicator of a player’s actual talent. If you’re a believer in clutch performers, this stat rewards the big plays. (Click here for a better explanation.)

Takeaways: Joakim Soria comes out looking pretty amazing, which I believe is due to the big increase in win expectancy that comes with making the last out of a close win. Also because he is amazing. How about that Alex Gordon? His hitting numbers were not too pretty, but according to WPA he came through at good times. David DeJesus on the other hand had fantastic numbers at the plate, but you wouldn’t know it from his WPA. It is hard to overstate how damaging it was to the Royals offense to give Jason Kendall 490 plate appearances and for Ned Yost to slot him second in the order.

O-Swing%

Straight from FanGraphs: “The percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone.” Simple enough.

Takeaways: Gregor Blanco!? He only had 203 plate appearances after coming to KC, but in 836 career PAs, Blanco’s O-Swing% is even better at 19.6%. The advanced metrics do like Alex Gordon. His batting average has a lot of fans writing him off, but Alex knows how to draw a walk, making him more valuable at the plate than his average indicates. Oh, Yuni. Why would anyone ever throw him a strike?

AL Central wOBA

Here is how the Royals stacked up against their AL Central competition in my favorite batting metric (minimum 150 PAs):

Takeaways: I have no idea what to think about Wilson Betemit. I kept waiting for his hitting to fall to earth, but he just kept hitting. We will all be watching him closely next year to see if he has any more seasons like that in him. This advanced metric does not treat Alex quite as well.

AL Central xFIP

Expected Fielded Independent Pitching is on the same scale as ERA, but takes into account only those things the pitcher has most control over: strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and fly-ball percentage. One way to think about it is what a pitcher’s ERA might be if he had perfectly average “luck” and defense behind him. (If you are not familiar with straight FIP, you might want to start with this primer.) Here is how starters who threw at least 25 innings in the AL Central fared:

Takeaways: Zack Greinke is still filthy. Luke Hochevar’s spot is very encouraging. Bruce Chen will not be having another season like 2010, and the Royals are right to run the other way if he is after a multi-year contract as has been reported.

And the relievers who hurled 25 innings+:

Takeaways: The White Sox have the top three spots. Bless Kyle Farnsworth for pitching well enough with the Royals that Dayton Moore was able to flip him and Rick Ankiel for Blanco and Tim Collins.

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