The move occurred before last night’s game, but I couldn’t bring myself to write about it until today. I was busy applying pressure to my head to keep it from exploding when I heard the news and read the quotes. To make room for Ryan Freel, Luis Hernandez was designated for assignment. The acquisition of Freel by the Royals is paramount to moving a handful of sand on a beach, but I won’t go back down that road.
The actual designation of Luis Hernandez instead of TPJ (least favorite player of kingsofkauffman.com), brought on only a minor headache. Then I read the quotes of our incompetent manager and our GM. The latter of the two I am convinced is slowly descending into madness. In fairness to Dayton and Trey, a part of me was expecting them make a spot for Freel by moving either Mitch Maier or Brayan Pena. Apparently they weren’t really part of the decision so that is a positive sign that Royals leadership isn’t completely off the deep end. They had it narrowed down to the correct two players but simply chose the wrong one. Even as I write this I am having a hard time comprehending that they compared TPJ to LH and came away with the conclusion that Tony Pena Jr. was the one to keep. Their quotes to the media did not help their case in the least. The quotes included below are taken from Dick Kaegel’s post on MLB.com.
“Luis brings a lot of value because of his consistency defensively, he’s a switch-hitter and he’s a positive presence on the team,” said Royals general manager Dayton Moore. However, Moore said it became “a numbers issue” and Hernandez was the odd man out. The choice to reduce the roster basically came down to Hernandez and shortstop Tony Pena Jr. Although Pena is batting just .091, the Royals consider him a better defensive shortstop than Hernandez. Both players were out of options.
This move is many things, but it is not a numbers issue, at least not based on the conclusion they came to. The numbers point to keeping Hernandez who is a better, more consistent and more versatile player. It was the very idea of versatility that caused Dayton Moore to snatch up Ryan Freel, so why not apply that to the role of backup SS? After all, the more versatile your backups are, the more valuable they are to your team even if they struggle to hit. Dayton correctly identifies that Hernandez is a switch hitter but fails to mention that Hernandez can also play other positions, which TPJ can not. Further, Moore recognizes that Luis is consistent defensively so we know the Royals recognize his value along those lines as well. Enter Trey Hillman:
“It was a difficult move,” manager Trey Hillman said. “We felt like we needed to keep our defensive strength as much as possible, specifically at short. Luis has got that but we felt that Tony has better lateral range. … We value what [Pena] has the ability to do at a premium position.”
The Royals for some reason seem to believe that TPJ is a better defensive player than Luis Hernandez. This is yet another instance where it would probably serve the organization well to have a few folks on the payroll that specialize in statistical analysis. It isn’t just the stats that tell us that Hernandez is a better defensive player than TPJ, however. Anyone who watches the Royals on a semi-regular basis can come to that conclusion independent of the stats and analysis. The numbers just enforce what we can observe.
On to the stats! For 2009, the league averages at SS are; 4.44 RF/9 and 0.973 FP. Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150) is the number of runs above or below average a fielder is per 150 games played. This season Luis Hernandez has a 4.95 RF/9, 0.984 FP, and 0.8 UZR/150 compared to Tony Pena Jr. who has a 4.32 RF/9, 0.947 FP, and a -3.2 UZR/150. Luis Hernandez comes out ahead of TPJ on all three statistical measures of defense. Hernandez isn’t the 2nd coming of a young Omar Vizquel or Ozzie Smith, but he has been slightly above average across the board. Tony Pena Jr. hasn’t just been worse defensively than Luis Hernandez this season, he has been a below average defensive ML SS. Fielding percentage is a limited statistic, but when you have a 0.947 FP while the league average at your position is 0.973 you’ve got some problems. Since I watch the Royals pretty much every night, I know there is no conspiracy among the official scorers to paint TPJ is a bad light. In fact they have given him a number of breaks, as they do all players. The defensive superiority of Luis Hernandez isn’t limited to just 2009. In 2008 and 2007, Luis had a better RF/9 and FP than TPJ as well. In fact, the only time TPJ came out on top of Hernandez in the three stats i looked at when was in 2008 when his 12.2 UZR/150 was better than Luis’s -11.3.
Even if TPJ was equal to Luis in terms of versatility and defensive ability, which he isn’t, the Royals still can not justify keeping him over Luis Hernandez. The Royals lack offense, and TPJ could be one of the worst hitters in the modern era to keep getting playing time on a semi regular basis. Pena is currently hitting 0.089/0.128/0.111 with an OPS+ of -35. NEGATIVE 35 when an average offensive player has an OPS+ of 100. Last season TPJ had an OPS+ of 7 so we know that 2009 isn’t simply a bad stretch. Luis Hernandez isn’t going to turn any heads with his 0.204/0.235/0.204 and 19 OPS+ performance, but he essentially doubles up the offensive stats of TPJ.
We all know that Dayton Moore loves former Atlanta Braves, but in the case of Tony and Luis, that shouldn’t be a factor. After all, they started their careers in Dayton’s former organization (TPJ in 1999 and Luis Hernandez in 2000).
The correct conclusion to draw from all of this is simple, Luis Hernandez is the better defensive player, he is the better offensive player, he’s a switch hitter, he can play 2B and 3B in a pinch, and he is 3 years and 3 months younger. Yet it was Luis Hernandez and not Tony Pena Jr. who was designated for assignment yesterday. This decision is an affront to logic, reason, and natural order. It is time for an intervention. I know Bill James and John Dewan are probably busy, but maybe he’d be willing to come to Kansas City and have a chat with Dayton and Trey about all this.
I am sick and tired of watching Tony Pena Jr. play for the Royals. I am sick and tired of words spoken at podiums, press conferences, and in interviews not matching up with the actions being taken. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired about all things related to Tony Pena Jr.