Royals Spring Training Battles and Strength of Competition – a Very Early Glance

Baseball research and analysis is always adjusting to try to clarify player performance and value. During spring training, it’s always a bit of a moving target. The structure of spring training games makes it difficult to tell which stats are real and which are the product of lesser competition.

A team might play its projected starters for four or five innings at this stage and then as other players sub in, they’ll be facing non-roster invitees or minor leaguers. To rectify this issue, managers can alternate starters when there’s a camp battle in hopes to give all players fighting for a spot a chance to show up against the early, likely tougher, competition. This assumes that the manager worries about spring training stats at all (most shouldn’t but I bet some can’t escape them more often than would be optimal). If there’s a way to put a player’s stats into context of their opposition’s competition, it would help clear up the picture at least.

Baseball-Reference has such a tool now. It’s called the Quality of Opposition Measure. Basically it takes a look at who a player faced in a spring matchup and ranks them from 1-10. The closer the measurement is to 10, the tougher the competition.

With that in mind, there are three camp battles of intrigue: #5 starter, second base, and backup catcher. The Royals have only played 10 games this spring, so there’s nothing conclusive about spring stats, but just for the fun of it, I wanted to take an early look at these matchups to test drive the new B-R gadget.

#5 Starter

September 26, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Luis Mendoza (39) pitches during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Hochevar

Year Tm G IP H R ER HR BB SO BF OppQual
2013 KC 1 1.2 1 2 2 0 3 2 7 9.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Bruce Chen

Year Tm G IP H R ER HR BB SO BF OppQual
2013 KC 1 2.0 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 8.8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Luis Mendoza

Year Tm G IP H R ER HR BB SO BF OppQual
2013 KC 2 6.0 6 1 1 0 1 4 26 8.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Hochevar and Chen will pitch on Tuesday (piggybacking as they did their first time out) so they’ll get a chance to increase their sample size. Chen will hope to build on his first appearance, while Hochevar is looking to settle his command. Hochevar’s faced tougher competition, but Chen came in in the fourth inning of that game.

Tomorrow, it’s supposed to be the other way around with Chen starting and Hochevar coming in after to start an inning.

Mendoza has thrown more but has faced more minor league players. He’s pitching for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

Backup Catcher

 

George Kottaras

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB OppQual
2013 KC 6 13 11 3 4 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 .364 .462 .455 .916 5 8.2
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Brett Hayes

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB OppQual
2013 KC 7 13 10 5 3 0 0 1 2 0 0 3 1 .300 .462 .600 1.062 6 8.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Feb 21, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher George Kottaras (26) poses for a picture during photo day at the Royals Spring Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Both Kottaras and Hayes have played primarily after Salvador Perez has left the game. With the WBC approaching, the Royals made sure he got his at bats and he leads the team going into Tuesday with 21. While he’s with Team Venezuela, though, both Kottaras and Hayes should get more time against tougher competition.

These two are fairly evenly matched. They’ve both reached base six times (Kottaras got hit by a pitch) and the difference is left up to Hayes’s homer. I’ve omitted Adam Moore and Manuel Pina since neither are on the 40 man roster and I just don’t see the Royals pushing a player off for either of their sakes. Moore does have two homers, though.

Second Base

 

Chris Getz

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB OppQual
2013 KC 7 15 14 5 4 1 0 1 2 1 1 1 3 .286 .333 .571 .905 8 8.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Johnny Giavotella

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB OppQual
2013 KC 7 15 14 2 4 1 0 0 3 0 0 0 2 .286 .333 .357 .690 5 8.4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Feb 21, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz (17) poses for a picture during photo day at the Royals Spring Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It’s amusing that this battle – which started LAST spring, really – is basically the same line until that homer comes up in Getz’s column. Seven games each. Fifteen plate appearances each. Four hits. Fourteen at bats. Then Getz gets three extra bases with a homer rather than a single as one of his hits.

The Royals have tried to alternate these two so one will start then the other comes in later. I suspect that’ll be the case until the end of spring training because Getz is the favorite of the Royals organization and (through ten Royals games) Giavotella is hitting better than last spring and his defense is reportedly better. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I prefer Giavotella, so I’ll point out that Getz was awarded a base hit on a dropped pop up that resulted in an RBI. With this small of a sample, that makes a big difference.

By the end of spring, though? Probably not that big of a deal. If Giavotella shows more power but can still get the bat on the ball and get on base, he’ll make it a tough decision. He’s faced more minor leaguers so far and he’s proven at Triple A that he can hit minor leaguers, so it’ll be interesting to track how his Opposition Measure increases with more starts (and his corresponding performance).

As camp progresses, and especially once teams regain players from WBC rosters, the OppQual should increase as players get shifted to minor league fields and leave big leaguers or high minors guys who will make a big league roster in 2013 left behind.

This new metric is based on last year’s level, so that can also add some noise to the measurement. It’s likely that, say, a Trevor Rosenthal or Shelby Miller ends up in the Cardinals rotation in 2013, but they both spent more time in Triple A last year than the majors (a combined seven innings until the playoffs). This metric will measure them as an 8 rather than a 10 (which they’d end up at next year in the metric’s formula). So much like spring training stats, the OppQual can tell you how a player is performing (and against who) in spring training to an extent, but it’s still not a perfect system. It’s a nice start, though and at least helps put a number out there for comparison’s sake.

What do you think? Useful tool, or more muddying of the waters?

Topics: Kansas City Royals, Spring Training

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  • http://twitter.com/CrisColeman1 Cris Coleman

    I think OppQual is a pretty cool thing for Spring Training, I think it’s as good an indicator as any that I have read so far at judging a player’s performance during this time.

    The main downside that I see is that it assumes that this year’s opposition is at the same level of performance as it was last year, if I understand it correctly. Still, it’s one more thing we can look at while we’re waiting for the season to start.

    And while statistics don’t really mean anything in Spring Training, it’s good to see the Royals get used to winning. After the win today, they’re 10-0-1. Hopefully, they can take that winning attitude into the regular season, and I think they can.

    From what little I have heard of the players’ soundbites this year, they seem to be on a higher plane than they were on last year. And I think a lot of that has to do with two things: 1) the new batting coaches; and 2) the revamping of the starting rotation. With better pitching envisioned, I believe they believe they can win now.

    But what do I know?

    • Michael Engel

      Yeah, I think it’s an interesting measurement but you’re right, it doesn’t allow for any progression. Last spring, Mike Trout would have rated as a Triple A guy and his 2012 was obviously nothing like that. It’s not perfect, but I think it could be interesting to adapt to different minor leagues perhaps where there’s more data and more of a long-term batch of info to go off of. During spring training it’s under the same small sample size issues as everything else (even if it’s not rating the player’s performance really, so I think it does a reasonably good job at what it sets out to do).

      And I’ve been going with the mindset of I’d rather see the team win than lose in spring. I figure there are four outcomes in spring training 1) team plays badly and loses 2) team plays badly and somehow wins (either through NRIs coming through or other teams’ NRIs collapsing or something) 3) team plays well but loses and 4) team plays well and wins. The Royals are playing well and they’re winning. Gotta like that.

      And as for the players, I can see how they’d be more inspired – the FO just brought in a lot of known commodities, it’s mostly the same team from last season in place. They’re close anyway, and also, think about anyone’s job – if your boss went out and brought in some strong co-workers, morale is going to go up and people generally do better in those situations. They enjoy going to work more than they would in a worse environment at least. I don’t know how you quantify any of that, but I can’t totally dismiss it (though my instinct is to keep that impact as small – teams that hated each other won, too).

      • http://twitter.com/CrisColeman1 Cris Coleman

        Everything I have heard about Shields is that he’s a total leader and he definitely brings a winning attitude to the Royals, which is something they haven’t had in a very long time. And it’s showing. Of course, one expects they will eventually be on the losing side of the final score, but you gotta love it while it lasts. When’s the last time they’ve won ten in a row?

        And listening to the short interviews on Royals.com of and/or about Shields, it sounds like he enjoys involving himself in helping others on the team, particularly the other pitchers. And, he does know how to win. He’s proven that.

        I also like the fact that all three of the new starters already like it here. Santana bubbles about it being like a family and that’s a good thing. Regardless of whether teams that hate each other can still win (Yankees, for instance), it’s still nice to have a team that cares for each other, win or lose.

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