Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Its The Thing to Do

'Tis the season for midseason report cards, and since I loathe grade inflation I will spare no player from my fury. This has been a dreadful season, even beyond my initial muted expecations, other than the Royals' 15-game Buddy-fueled inspiration.

Offense today, pitching tomorrow.


Mike Sweeney (.318/.355/.547)
I'm happy that Mike made a big splash in the run-up to his undeserved All-Star appearance, but overall I'm quite unimpressed with his performance. He's on pace to play in 117 games, putting him slightly ahead of his lineup availability the past two seasons, but I'm under no illusions that he'll play more than 105-110 games. He's hitting with more power this season (his .547 slugging percentage is his highest since 2002), but I think its because he's hacking away more than ever. His OBP is in a tailspin, sitting at a very mediocre .355 because he rarely walks these days. Perhaps he's feeling the pressure to swing that since he's the only sturdy performer in this sorry lineup, but I think its a sign of a player in decline.

All told, Mike provides middle-of-the-road production for a 1B/DH type player, and doesn't justify his $11 million per year salary. The Royals are a better team with him in the middle of the lineup, though, so I hope he can find a way to stay healthy for the rest of the season. The ideal scenario would see him traded away to another team so they can watch him decay in 2007, but I'm not counting my breath or holding my chickens.

Grade: C+

Emil Brown (.287/.355./.455)
A bully for Emil Brown? He arrived in camp as a long-shot non-roster invitee, pounded the hell out of the ball for weeks, and managed to displace the mighty Abraham Nunez and merciful Aaron Guiel. His spring prowess did not translate to April performance once the pitchers became serious, but to his credit he righted himself and was a solid performer in May and June. He's not a sluggerrrr: Emil has just 8 home runs and 16 doubles, so despite the fact he can hit trucks in batting practice he's basically just a glorified singles hitter. His July peformance thus far ( .212/.278/.242) gives me pause, but its probably just a blip.

Let's not pretend that he's something that he's not: he's a bottom-tier right fielder with occasional lapses in fielding judgment. But Emil's better than anything the Royals could have hoped for from Abraham Nunez, much less any of the other outfield dregs the Royals have available to them.

Grade: B-

John Buck (.228/.271/.358)
There's no question that John Buck has to be the Most Disappointing Performer for the Royals this season. Rather than building upon the consistent improvement he demonstrated in a promising 2004, he's just been consistently awful the entire season. He's not hitting for average, he's not hitting for power (on pace for 11 home runs) and his plate discpline is deplorable (4 K's for every walk). The common defense of John Buck is that he's a great defensive catcher, but I have no idea how to (a) judge that compared to other catchers in the league or (b) quantify its importance to a major league baseball team. If he's such a great catcher and "calls a good game", then why do the Royals pitch so poorly? Are people suggesting that the Royals' pitching would be even worse if Buck were not behind the plate? I think his net contribution as a defensive catcher is neutral, and even if he were truly great behind the plate his anemic offensive performance dwarfs it.

And John Buck isn't a greenhorn; he's 25 years old. He doesn't have the excuse of players like Greinke, Burgos and Nunez. I thought Buck was going to be linchpin to the Beltran trade, and his 2004 performance inspired much confidence. But he's taken a huge step back this year, much like Berroa did following his encouraging rookie campaign.

Grade: F

Speaking of which...

Angel Berroa (.265/.303/.366)
Even a recent flurry of strong performance following Buddy Bell's merciful decision to drop him in the lineup can't help improve the look of Berroa's offensive line. Its the same story: zero plate discipline (5K's for every walk), very little power, no hope. Berroa has one saving grace: his defensive performance his improved immeasurably this season after falling off markedly in 2004, and while that's valuable at SS it still isn't enough to overcome his awful performance with the bat.

Angel Berroa, already 27 years old, has two potential career paths ahead of him: the Cristian Guzman-type slick glove/no bat or the Omar Vizquel late-developing-hitter-track/slick glove. I see no evidence to expect further offensive development to this point, so my money is on Guzman II. And the Royals will have the pleasure of paying Berroa $10.5 million from 2006 to 2008 for his slickness to the right of second base and his .650 OPS. Yet another big decision made by Allard Baird that has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Grade: D

David DeJesus (.288/.357/.420)
DeJesus, despite a May swoon, has been the Royals' most consistent offensive performer this season. He has good plate discipline for second year player, and I expect that to improve over time. He's going to eventually develop 15 HR power with 40 doubles - a .475 slugger type. He plays a solid if not spectacular center field. Its clear that he doesn't steal bases very well, but thankfully he's only attempted 1 stolen base in since May (and was successful). I still don't think DeJesus compares all that well to his center fielders throughout baseball right now, but not everyone can be Andruw Jones. He plays within himself, which is all you can ask.

He's not going to be a superstar, but he has all the makings of a solid professional baseball player. I think the Johnny Damon comparisons are apt. He's also the kind of player the Royals need to keep around beyond arbitration years, because he can be counted on to provide consistent performance at a reasonable price. The Royals have 4 more years to figure that out.

Grade: B+

Ruben Gotay (.244/.305/.376)
Ruben's overall numbers are surprisingly mediocre, because my perception of him as a player is much greater. He's basically bookended two solid months in May and June with poor performances in April and July. I don't feel as worried about Gotay as I do about some of the other young players, because I think this guy knows how to handle the bat and has played a surprisingly solid second base. His plate discipline is going to improve but he's already shown an ability (and willingness) to take a walk. Plus, he's only 22.

Grade: C

Mark Teahen (.252/.303/.354)
I'm not going to grade Mark Teahen, for two reasons. First, he shouldn't even be on the roster in the first place. The Royals, ever willing to alter their plans, abandoned the Chris Truby (what happened to him?) experiment after he was injured and have since thrown Teahen into the fray when he's clearly not ready. Second, he missed about 20 games with a leg injury.

I wish he were playing this season in AAA this season, and its an indictment of the Royals' roster and talent woes that he's been forced to muddle through in the big leagues because the Royals have no one else to play third base.

Grade: INC

Part-Time Players

Tony Graffanino and Matt Stairs are exactly the kind of players you trade at the deadline for solid B prospects. They're seasoned professionals who provide a good team with lineup flexibility and solid bats off the bench, and they're cheap with contracts that expire at the end of the season. Terrence Long is a lesser degree of the same type of player. Its a perfect storm of experience, production and economics, and because their talents are pretty much wasted on the Royals, so I'm really hopeful that other teams will compete for their services. AB has shown a knack for doing well in these deals, so let's hope he keeps it up.


At 4:46 PM, Blogger Garth said...

"Mike Sweeney (.318/.355/.547)"
"...I'm quite unimpressed with his performance."
"All told, Mike provides middle-of-the-road production for a 1B/DH type player, and doesn't justify his $11 million per year salary."

What?... (Read again, to make sure I didn't miss anything) What?

Jason Giambi hasn't played for most of the season, has only barely started to produce, and has completely let down the Yankees. He's paid $13.4 million a year.

Jim Thome has put up much crappier numbers, been on the DL twice, and is paid $13.2 million.

Sweeney's $11 mil. is good value. He's a clubhouse leader and a solid producer. Just because we don't have a huge bankroll doesn't mean we shouldn't pay good players good money.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous james said...

Sweeney's OPS of .902 is quite better than middle-of-the road production for a 1B/DH player.

I guess you haven't look at who is playing 1B for some other major-league teams...

At 8:54 PM, Blogger DL said...

Thanks for reading!

Yes, I'm quite unimpressed with Sweeney's middle-of-the-road performance. I believe that's consistent.

You've chosen Jason Giambi's contract -- the worst in baseball -- to make Sweeney look better, but it still doesn't justify Sweeney's contract.. And why even try to bring Thome into it? Thome has been a much more productive hitter than Sweeney his entire career and hasn't been injured until this year, so there's no comparison.

I can name several DH/1B types who I'd prefer over Sweeney right now:

Mark Teixeira
David Ortiz
Travis Hafner
Richie Sexson
Paul Konerko

There are, of course, several more in the NL.

And it's not that Sexson and Konerko are necesarily better than Sweeney (and are perhaps worse in some ways), but they're nearly as productive AND they play everyday. if Sweeney played in 150 games per year I'd agree that he was in the upper tier, but I can't just dismiss Sweeney's chronic injury problems as unimportant. That's something OPS doesn't capture.

Of course the Royals should pay good players good money. But Sweeney isn't productive enough to justify $11 million, especially for two more years beyond 2005 when he's bound to decline even further.


At 12:40 AM, Blogger Garth said...

There is a difference between this year's injuries and last year's injuries. Last year, he really screwed up his back and obliques. A short day-to-day thing turned into a big DL stint. It was just bad.

But in the offseason, Sweeney worked hard on strengthening his back. He lost some weight. It worked.

When he came back, he was a better first basemen defensively, and his lower back stuff was gone. The only rehashing of that injury was a 3-game hiatus of play for an oblique tweak. Other than that his injuries have been a collision at first (coincidentally, Jason Werth, on that collision, was running way inside the basepath.) and he got hit by a pitch in the forearm. It's just bad luck. He's back out there and performing at an all-career clip now that he's recovered from the bad luck streak.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger DL said...

That's fair. Mike may as well change his name from Sweeney to Murphy, though, because its Murphy's Law with him when it comes to injuries.

When he's in the lineup, he can still rake (even if he's not quite as good as his peak 4 years ago). I hope he stays in the lineup.


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