The Monday Rant: Addressing The Storylines
“It’s been four weeks since the last Monday Rant and the reason for the absence is really quite obvious: what is there, really, to write about?
The #OurMissionTime2012 season is barreling towards yet another uneventful close to yet another worse-than-mediocre record, and the same missteps and pratfalls that have plagued a losing franchise continue to do so because they just can’t seem to get out of their own way. Reasons are given for moving players in the lineup that make little logical sense, excuses are made for historically bad pitchers for reasons why their future is bright, and a “fiscally responsible” move is glossed over and painted with a “smart” brush when a compelling argument could be made that it really amounts to the organization being cheap.”
I wrote that lede a week ago as I tried to sit down and bang out yet another award-winning post. (unroll your eyes, that was sarcasm) After further reflection on where I am with my fandom and where the Royals are in their evolution to semi-relevance, I have to stop myself a little. Yes those same head-scratching moves are made, and the same illogical reasons are given by the Royals for decisions that seem to never pan out (“Jason Bourgeois and Humberto Quintero for a left-handed reliever with over a strikeout per inning, yes!”), but it is the final two months of the season and they are once again playing good baseball. Well, overall, I guess, before a pretty dreadful September
And so the reflection comes at a time when columns and articles and tweets are written after a 17-11 month of August about what could have been. And even after a 12-17 September, there are still some making the argument that if, just if, the Royals had played this “well” (.447 winning percentage) during the devastating 12-game losing streak in April, they would be 76-83 on the year. A perfectly justifiable way of thinking if you’re willing to tilt your head and squint your eyes just right. But those 12 games still count, and the glaring holes in a team whose success is built solely on contact, both offensively and defensively, doesn’t scale well over a full season.
Plus, doesn’t this happen every September? Even if a quality stretch run after the Royals have long since been eliminated from playoff contention isn’t a true annual occurrence, it sure as heck seems like it is. Whether it’s the “Kyle Davies is finally good” months or the will he/won’t he wishy-wash of whether Luke Hochevar has finally figured out why he’s so historically bad at throwing a baseball, September is always a time for optimism around Royals-land, at least that’s what the narrative wants fans to believe.
There are always a lot a lot of words written across the Internet about whether September performances are relevant or not, but in the Royals case it mostly is the latter of those two answers. With everyone losing their minds that maybe, just maybe, this time it’s the former.
This, fortunately, it’s not one of those posts.
Because, the Royals final two months this year is largely irrelevant due to three main storylines that show the symptoms of bad baseball with the decisions being made. Decisions that have put the Dayton Moore-led Royals at 87 loses or more in each of his six seasons as General Manager.
Alex Gordon is moved out of leadoff to the number three spot in the order
For the most part, lineup order has been proven to be a near meaningless aspect of run scoring from game-to-game. However, one of the main tenants of lineup order is that the guys that make the least amount of outs per plate appearances need to bat more often. Thus, they need to bat higher in the order.
Now there’s a certain dance managers must do in order to balance their on-base guys with their power guys in order to maximize those times runners are actually on base. That being said, the Royals have only two guys in their lineup that fit either description (well, that’s being generous, as neither is really a “power guy”), and both are currently hitting No.3 and No.4 (Alex Gordon and Billy Butler) and both for the better part of the last two months have been batting behind some combination of on-base-averse Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Bourgeois, and to a lesser extent, Alcides Escobar.
What we were told at the time is that Alex Gordon is a “run producer” (whatever that means) and that he profiles more as a No.3 hitter than a leadoff hitter (he doesn’t), so moving him to the middle of the order now gets him more acclimated to a spot that figures to be his long-term home. Except, there’s no evidence to support either the argument that Gordon is better suited outside of leadoff or that he’s a “run producer” (whatever that means).
Since moving down two spots in the order to a more “run producing” role, the Royals also moved at least one player ahead of Gordon who rarely gets on base and doesn’t profile as a leadoff hitter, unless we’re talking 1970s baseball. Also, Gordon’s numbers have shown him to be less patient and thus, a less productive player:
Previous 70 games before the move: .334/.398/.500
The 43 games since the move: .287/.344/.461
What’s most telling about these numbers isn’t that there’s a near 50-point difference in on-base percentage, and a near 40-point difference in slugging, it’s that they’re entirely predictable.
Obviously there’s a difference in sample sizes but the root cause of drop in production is because Gordon has been officially #Royaled into the hack-away approach to run producing. It’s how they do things. They don’t want guys up there taking walks; they want guys looking to “drive in runs”. Which brings up two very important questions:
How is the so-called “run producer” supposed to produce runs when you’re batting guys in front of them that never get on base?
If walks are bad, does that mean outs are good?
This lessening of production isn’t affecting just the player being moved either. Over that same time frame, here are the overall numbers for team production:
Previous 70 games before the move: .271/.319/.412
The 43 games since the move: .261/.310/.381
Not a drastic shift, but a shift nonetheless, especially when you consider that for much of the 70 games with Gordon batting leadoff the Royals were without Salvador Perez or Lorenzo Cain, and playing Jeff Francoeur’s black-hole bat every day instead of the occasional day off he has been getting.
Maybe this is all much ado about nothing. Maybe. But the fact that this is 2012 and nearly every other franchise is Major League Baseball has at least acknowledge the importance of on-base percentage, the Royals continue preach and practice things that only make winning more difficult.
And for those that don’t think moving Gordon down three spots in the order amounts to much: in his 70 games batting leadoff he average 4.62 plate appearances per game; in his 43 games batting third, 4.25. Spread out over the course of 162 games, that’s 60 plate appearances.
Now, would you rather Alex Gordon be seeing those plate appearances, or some combination of Dyson, Cain, and Bourgeois?
Luke Hochevar still has what it takes to be a quality pitcher on a championship rotation
We need to figure out what we have in Johnny Giavotella Irving Falu and Tony Abreu
Filed from the “let’s give playing time to the 30-year-old, career minor leaguer” department, there’s this gift that keeps on giving.
The argument against Johnny Giavotella to begin the year was a fairly simple one: Chris Getz was performing at a half-way decent level and Giavotella wasn’t.
See, everyone can get behind that.
At this point though not playing Giavotella is, well, that’s so Royals.
Nevermind what you may think of a player’s defensive abilities, when the team is fighting off another 90-loss season, is the argument over what a player “can’t” do even valid anymore? This is exactly the time to figure out if that player can get any better, and if he can be a member of the team next season.
But no, the Royals must find out what they have in either Falu or Abreu, because 30-year-old second basemen that can play just a little defense are never readily available. Except, well yeah, they kind of are.
Giavotella has never really performed to his expectations of what his minor league numbers suggested at the big league level, but his opportunities have never really been there either. There’s always been inconsistent playing team, a sure emphasis on being more aggressive at the plate (judging solely on evidence provided everyone else on the roster), and what must be a world of pressure on Giavotella to order produce just to work his way into the lineup the next day.
Maybe eventually it will be proven that Giavotella just isn’t as good as either Falu or Abreu. The only problem with that is that the Royals may well never find out for sure, and even if he isn’t, what purpose is there to sitting him on the bench, now, when the team isn’t winning anything anyway?
It’s a constant two steps forward and one step back for the organization. A song that could be put on repeat until the tape wears out, and a problem the Royals wouldn’t have if they’d just move on to MP3s already like the rest of baseball, instead of continuing to sing along with cassettes. Each of these moves may be defensible when taken individually, but each of them fits the face-palming cloud that’s hovered over the franchise for nearly three decades now.
Until the philosophy that makes these decisions possible changes, I’m not sure anyone should be able excuse this year because of injuries or “one bad stretch”. Benefit of the doubt doesn’t extend that far yet.