A Day In Surprise – Without Any

A trip to spring training has never really been on my to-do list, because living in Kansas City never necessitated spending money on a flight, hotel, food and tickets to enjoy what is usually a lackluster bunch of misfits trying to play baseball. Since moving to Southern California, though, a trip to Arizona fell into the “why not” category because it wasn’t like it was going to break the bank. And for the first time in my baseball fandom, there’s some real tangible talent to be excited about on the Royals roster. That, and, the tickets were purchased for me.

The first thing you notice about the complex in Surprise is how incredibly accessible it is. Not unlike the atmosphere and ease of a T-Bones game, the stadium seats down as you enter the facility, allowing you to look out and across the entire stadium for full view of the goings on. The coolest part of the setup is probably the batting cages that butt up against the concourse next to the “Battle of the BBQ” station that pits KC versus Texas-style meats. You would think, being KC-born and bred and not having quality BBQ in almost two years, I would have jumped at the chance to sample the “battle.” You would think. However, I’m also not a fool and I’m not wasting my green on anything that doesn’t come in a Bryant’s or Oklahoma Joe’s box, and especially not on anything that is being bought in Arizona. A dog and a beer will do.

As we entered the stadium about 30 minutes before game time, we could hear someone hitting in the cage. From a distance all I could see was that whomever he was, he was left-handed. That was enough to get me to hope against all hope that it was Eric Hosmer. Alas, it wasn’t. Here was the exchange I had with the lady friend as we approached:

The LF: “Who is that? Is that somebody you like?”

Me: “Chris Getz.”

The LF: “Do you like him?”

Me: “No.”

The LF: “Is he good?”

Me: “Not really.”

The LF: “Well, then it’s good he’s getting some extra work in, huh?”

Me: “He needs it…I want a hot dog.”

It’s not often you get to stand 3 feet from a living, breathing major leaguer and watch him hit in a cage. But Albert Pujols used to work out with my team in the winter when I played in college, so Chris Getz really isn’t my idea of compelling BP.

When it came to the game itself there really wasn’t anything that stood out as surprising. The same themes we’ve been banging about at KoK for the past two months, and at other places around the Royals blogosphere, are assuredly going to come true as we all feared they would.

The Lineup

Last week Ned Yost released what he believes to be his lineup to start the season, a lineup that reflects perfectly this regime’s ideals of 1992 roster/lineup construction. It’s increasingly clear, to me at least, the Royals’ best lineup for the 2011 season has to include both Mike Aviles and Wilson Betemit. No matter how scrappy and handles-the-bat awesome Chris Getz is, he should not have a spot in an everyday lineup, especially not hitting second. Then again, this is the team that hit Jas—you know, let’s not go there again.

If it were my call, given the way the roster currently stands, here’s my lineup:

1.      Mike Aviles, 2B

2.      Wilson Betemit, 3B

3.      Billy Butler, DH

4.      Kila Ka’aihue, 1B

5.      Alex Gordon, LF

6.      Melky Cabrera, CF

7.      Jeff Francoeur, RF

8.      Brayan Pena, C

9.      Alcides Escobar, SS

The negatives that may come from batting potential three true-outcome lefties back-to-back in the middle of the order are far overshadowed by getting the five best hitters situated in the top five of the lineup. Although this lineup defensively may in fact be downright dreadful, this team with its best defensive alignment is still going to be pretty terrible. Might as well embrace it and load up with as much offense as possible. And given this team’s pitching staff, scoring lots of runs will be a very good idea.

Jeff Francoeur and Strikeouts

We know how you feel about on-base percentage Jeff, but they do (also) put strikeouts on the scoreboard, so they must be important.

Francoeur’s three at-bat performance is a sign of things to come as he struck out three times (on mostly fastballs) and didn’t look particularly good in any attempt. Granted, the Royals were facing Jonathan Sanchez, who had over 200 strikeouts last year (and among my top three favorite pitchers to watch) but Francoeur’s approach was “hack first and ask questions later,” which isn’t all that surprising given his career history.

The amazing thing about this year’s version of the Royals, and really under the watch of Dayton Moore, is the overemphasis put on something that cannot be measured, like “leadership.”

Leadership is great when the leaders are also your better players. Talent equals production which equals wins – which ultimately is the desired end result. It doesn’t work without the second part of the equation, and the second part doesn’t occur without the first. Leadership never doubled off Francisco Liriano; leadership never struck out Joe Mauer. Talent does those things.

When your most vocal player in the clubhouse is also the guy swinging through fastballs, hitting .250 and getting on-base 29 percent of the time, that’s more of a problem than a solution. Players can only say so much when they’re not producing until they become the annoying guy that won’t shut up. And the “sixth tool,” as some have called it, doesn’t do you much good when the one thing leadership is supposed to do – teach young players how to win – is also the one thing it’s keeping them from doing.

Alex Gordon Will Strikeout a Lot and Everyone Will Complain but…

He’s still good and I don’t care who says otherwise. As I mentioned on Twitter, Gordon sure looks the part of a good major leaguer.

I haven’t done a very good job of masking my unwavering support for the guy, but to me it’s still pretty obvious that while he may never reach what most feel is an adequate level for the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Gordon is still a solid-average regular with the ability to be more. Will he realize that ability? I think he will. As long as this organization can get past the stigma of the strikeout and realize Gordon’s power and walk potential are sorely needed in this lineup – and all indications point to this being true – there’s no reason not to expect him to be the starting left fielder for at least a couple years.

In full disclosure: I’ve debated writing this bit of information for fear of being skewered by other members of the Alex Gordon FanClub, and for fear that my manhood would be in question.

Alex homered yesterday in Surprise, the very game I attended. I did not see it. I left after completion of the 7th inning. Before you go jumping to conclusions, I feel it’s only appropriate to defend myself: It is a seven-hour drive for me from Surprise and I wanted to get home in a timely manner with work the next day. And…well that’s really it. Commence your making fun of me in the comments. Jerks.

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Topics: AL Central, Alex Gordon, Chris Getz, Eric Hosmer, Jeff Francoeur, KC Royals

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  • J

    I find it strange that the royal’s blogosphere is decidedly in favor of sabermetrics, yet criticism of the team’s lineup is also a common topic despite the fact that the order doesn’t really make a difference.

    Also, if we want to criticize Dayton Moore for his continued use of nonsense phrases when describing a player intangible attributes (ex- clubhouse guy, knows how to win, a baseball man), then we should we should restrict our use of phrases like “looks the part of a good major leaguer.”

    All in all, there is a lot of sloppy language here and I think we can and should do better.

    • http://kingsofkauffman.com Michael Engel

      I agree – with qualifications.

      I don’t see the batting order as the biggest deal in the world and there has been research that supports the futility of a batting order. Where I agree is that sabermetrics should definitely have a role in constructing a team – but when a team consistently bats a player who’s among the worst in the game offensively second for half a season, it’s going to have an effect on your team’s production.

      And, I dunno, reading the tweet that Kevin referenced, I don’t think something facetious like that isn’t saying “Gordon looks like a ballplayer, thus he should be good.” More like, “Dammit, Gordon, you look the part, now go hit some homers (and stay healthy, and don’t get sent down, and etc. etc.)”

      I replied on Twitter that “we’re not sellin’ jeans here” when I first saw that tweet, so yeah, I get your point there. A player isn’t good just by looking the part. I guess I took it less seriously as a judgment of Alex Gordon’s attributes as a player and more of Kevin being a bit wry about Gordon’s path so far and where he stands with the club now.

      I guess I don’t see the issues in the language that you do, though. Perhaps you’re meaning semantics? It’s not clear to me if I should defend Kevin’s word choice and usage, or if you’re meaning a “here” to be the Royals blogosphere and not this particular article.

      Anyway, there are times when Alex Gordon has looked like a very good baseball player, both in performance and in the mechanics of the game. I don’t know what Francoeur’s ever led as a big leaguer though, despite his reputation. He’s a personable guy and I’m sure he’s good to have around the clubhouse to keep an upbeat attitude in the face of failure, but he keeps getting that “leader” label without really “leading”.

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