Aug 9, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder Justin Maxwell (27) is congratulated by catcher George Kottaras (26) after scoring in the sixth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A Small Shift In Philosophy

He’s a very good situational hitter, and somebody we’re thinking of putting in the leadoff spot against left-handed pitchers. He’s got a real high on-base, hits lefties really well.Ned Yost on the acquisition of Jamey Carroll

Did you guys read this on the Kansas City Star’s website today? I was astonished. I immediately checked with Bob Dutton via Twitter to confirm that Yost had actually said this. He did not respond … but still. I didn’t think Yost knew what on-base percentage was.

I expect to read the situational hitting stuff, which is just a coded way of saying “He’s a real good bunter!” But I didn’t expect Yost, the man who saw value in batting Alcides Escobar second for so long, as capable of thinking in such progressive ways.

I know it sounds crazy to bat Carroll leadoff in any situation. His slash line (.230/.283/.262) is really terrible. He’s 39 years old, and a .283 OBP doesn’t scream leadoff man. But against lefties this year he looks much more competent, .326/.370/.372. That’s pretty good, and that split is in line with his career production against lefties, .296/.368/.371. So maybe it’s not that crazy of an idea after all.

But even if it is crazy to bat Carroll leadoff against lefties, what I find significant about Yost’s statement is that it tacitly affirms something that I’ve been feeling about the Royals decision-makers lately. It feels to me like their philosophy is shifting a bit. Not completely, a team that continually sacrifice bunts and pitches lefties against lefties without consideration of numbers cannot be considered wholly converted. But it seems like the Royals brass is taking a closer look at some things they may have ignored a little too much in the past.

Justin Maxwell is a great example. He is a very un-Royals-like player because contact is not his game. He’s not a high batting average guy. He’s not the do-everything guy the Royals try to cultivate in all their young hitters. He’s good against left-handed pitching. He takes walks. He hits for a little power, and he strikes out a lot. Very un-Royals-like. And yet, the Royals went out and traded for him. Another point in favor of unconventionality, they didn’t care that it gave them five viable outfielders. They did it anyway. That was an atypical decision from what appears to be very typical thinkers.

Look how that decision has worked out. Maxwell is on fire, and the outfield has been a huge factor in recent success. Lorenzo Cain injured himself, and now having Maxwell seems necessary. Big props to Dayton Moore and company. We criticize him a lot for the mistakes he makes so we should praise him equally for his good decisions. Maxwell is looking like a very good decision right now (even though I really like Kyle Smith a lot and think he is tremendously underrated).

Carroll could be the same way. He’s had a down season, but this new philosophy seems to rest on the basic approach of putting players in the best situations for them to succeed. If they let Carroll take second base against lefties, he might be able to add some value. He certainly will if he plays decent defense and gets on base like his OBP against lefties suggests he can.

Putting players in the best situations to succeed seems like basic logic, but I can remember a time when Yost was against platooning Jeff Francoeur despite the fact that his splits and terrible play demanded it. There was certainly a time when someone like Maxwell would not have garnered attention from the Royals front office and Yost wouldn’t have liked the notion of platooning him.

This new philosophy is the continuation of a pattern that really started, I think, with the signing of George Kottaras. He is the most un-Royal-like player I can think of (yes, I’m going to end my sentence with a preposition … deal with it). He only walks, strikes out, and hits homeruns, and he’s a subpar defender at an important defensive position. The basement dwellers (myself included) debated whether or not the Royals would chuck conventional thinking and go with an offense-first backup catcher, let alone a sabermetric darling like Kottaras. They did, and in only 99 plate appearances, he’s been worth .8 WAR. That’s ridiculously good for a backup catcher in such limited playing time. Extrapolate that to 600 plate appearances, and he’d be worth roughly 4.8 WAR, which is nearly All-Star level. It’s not the most reliable extrapolation, but it gives us the sense of how valuable that signing has been. And it’s a signing that seems counter to the conventionally held notion of how the Royals front office sees baseball.

But I love it. I love that there seems to be a shift. I strongly believe that this shift has led, at least in a small way, to more winning, and it gives me more confidence in the team as a whole. I no longer have to feel the players are winning in spite of the manager and general manager.

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  • Michael Engel

    Never thought in a million years they’d claim Kottaras and it’s for that reason – he’s just not the kind of player KC has gone after most seasons. Most of the time, they’d have been rolling Brett Hayes out to be the backup. Makes me wonder if it was just convenience (weird infielder market gets Carroll in the fold, makes Maxwell available, ends up with Kottaras waived) or if they’re trying new things in little ways. These are bench guys so there’s hardly any risk. If they fail, just keep them on the bench. But if it works, maybe they branch out and try more moves like that.

    Like going after super-OBP guy Shin-soo Choo or something this offseason. (Please do this, Dayton.)

    • jimfetterolf

      Choo or Santana? Not sure they can do both after we looked at numbers the other day and we can expect Choo to be real expensive.

      • Michael Engel

        I’d bank on Choo’s skillset to be more reliable to end up with repeated results than Santana. I really like Santana, always have, but he’s been up and down over the years. Choo’s been a 130 OPS+ guy every year but one (107 – 2011) over the last six years.

        More realistically, they sign Santana if they get either of the two.

        Still, let me dream a little.

        • jimfetterolf

          Dream on :) I actually think Choo is exactly what we need offensively, but with no idea of his cost. With new media money is $20m or higher unreasonable?

          Choo is currently at 2.9fW, dinged pretty hard by a -14.9 on his defense. By comparison David Lough is at 2.1fW with 11.fld, so a question that needs to be asked is whether Choo is of greater value than Lough plus Santana plus whatever extra millions he will cost? As we’ve seen the last few days with Maxwell, a poor fielder can make our pitchers look like mere mortals.

          I admit I have a hard time comparing value of pitchers and position players, so I’m out of my league on this, but I think we’ll agree that making a big play for Choo probably eliminates signing Santana unless David Glass is willing to bust the bank… guess we could trade Billy for prospects and use Choo as DH? Should be an interesting off-season.

          • Michael Engel

            That assumes that Lough would continue at his pace at the plate (which I just can’t see him doing next year, but I’d be glad to be wrong) and on defense (more likely). Choo’s starting to age, so yeah, he may be lucky to be average out there, but with elite on base ability and 20 homer power, I think it’d be a worthy upgrade.

            Money-wise, I’m not sure. The new money everyone gets might make this first year kind of crazy as teams and agents try to find the right balance for making demands. I just have a hunch there’s going to be one contract signed this offseason that in two years is going to look ridiculous because the market hasn’t really set itself with the new money. But then, I’m not an economist, nor an accountant, so they may have models built on how to adjust to that sort of thing (and actually I’d hope for that).

            The Billy trade idea is intriguing, but then it’s a question of a guy in his lower 30s vs. a guy in his late 20s with tough defense and good OBP and hitting. Might be a wash production-wise, but then it’s higher payroll plus prospects vs. more payroll flexibility and no prospects. Interesting idea.

          • jimfetterolf

            I would note that Lough had solid minor league numbers and should have been up two years earlier but was blocked. I don’t see his current production as an aberration.

            Santana’s last 365 days has an ERA of 3.30, 204.2 IPs, and opposing OPS of .657. I can live with that. He got healthy and fixed a release point flaw giving him a nice August and September that he’s built on.

            Trading Billy is kind of a joke, but Choo’s defense is cause for worry. One thing that has made our pitching so good is the great OF defense since Frenchy left. As an example, RF cost two runs Saturday which, along with Moose’s double clutch, lost the game. CF nearly lost the game Friday.

          • Michael Engel

            Sure, but with Santana, he has had a pattern in the past (and that isn’t a guarantee that the pattern will continue, but it’s a pattern nonetheless) of an above average year or two and then a below average one. ERA+ by year of 91, 106, 79, 127, 87, 102, 111, 74, 125. I’d love to have him back, but traditionally, offensive projections are usually more reliable year to year which is why, if pressed to choose, I’d choose Choo.

            With you on the defense. It’s a legit question with Choo. Arm is still there, but Frenchy’s arm is still there and it never mattered because he never got to a ball.

            I don’t think this year’s a fluke, I just think that this is as good as David Lough will be, and asking him to repeat a career year is a lofty expectation. I’m not saying cut him loose, but if an upgrade is available, an upgrade should be sought. He’s been very good since coming up. But his prior scouting reports year to year plus the lack of plus skills just suggests that his ceiling is capped to me. And he’s not getting any younger, which adds another limitation to his upside.

    • Marcus Meade

      How awesome would it be if the Royals found a way to sign Choo? I do worry about his ability to play the outfield. But having a guy with his on-base ability would make this team look a lot different.

      • Michael Engel

        If they were willing to be lefty-heavy, they could go with Choo/Hosmer/Butler/Gordon at the top four and have some pretty good on base guys with good hitting ability right at the top. Allows Moose/Perez/Cain to be supplemental lower in the order and that’s a decent seven out of nine start to your lineup.

        Pipe dream, but hey…meaningful baseball in mid-August makes me flighty.

  • jimfetterolf

    Wouldn’t read too much philosophically into Maxwell, he was cheap and available and can play center and had some pop last year. So far he’s been better with the bat than expected, worse with glove, and looks like a brilliant acquisition with Cain injured.

    As for Carroll, he was cheap, available, and needed with Tejada down and the Royals unwilling to start Chris Colon’s clock and having given up on Gio.

    As for OBP, probably an accidental side effect, but one we hope will overcome the defensive lapses, Maxwell’s costing six runs in the last four games by my count due to a slow first step.

    • Marcus Meade

      I don’t think the Royals choose players just because they’re available and cheap. A lot of guys are available and cheap. Identifying a guy like Maxwell means seeing past some of the conventional negative markers (high strikeout rate, low batting average) and seeing other elements of value. That sounds nothing like the Royals. Now, maybe it’s all smoke and mirrors. Maybe tomorrow, they’ll waive Kottaras and start hitting Escobar leadoff. But we have to at least consider that Dayton Moore and company might finally be willing to see baseball in unconventional ways, which is a good thing.

      • jimfetterolf

        Main thing on Maxwell, like Paulino, was seeing that he might be healthy and worth a flyer, a safety for Cain’s health. I think Carroll was a pure hail Mary, a three week rental ’til Tejada gets healed or September comes so Chris Colon gets called up. We’ll just have to see. I don’t mind either as long as they are used rarely.

  • Moti Rieber

    But then he bats Getz leadoff, even though nothing good can possibly come out of that…

    • Marcus Meade

      Hahaha. I said the exact same thing when I saw that. “Yost, you’re makin me look like an asshole.”

      • Moti Rieber

        Yeah, just because he mentions OBP doesn’t mean he’s going to do anything crazy like bat his best hitters at the top of the lineup…