Pitching? What about the other guys?


Hosmer’s entire 2012 was upside down. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve harped on the starting pitching quite a bit over the past few months, so I thought it only to pick on the position players for a change. I’ve discussed how bad the rotation was in 2012, and where it should needs be in 2013. So…what about the other guys?

Like I did with the pitchers, I’ll take a simple look at this by using fWAR (from Fangraphs). In the American League last year, the average team had a total position player WAR of 21.27. For all the talk about how bad the starting pitching was last season, we tend to overlook how bad the other guys were…the Royals total WAR for position players was 17.3, good for tenth place in the AL.

It’s not that fans are oblivious to the down years guys had at the plate (and in the field)…it’s just that the pitching was so terrible…and at least these hitters have potential. That said, even with the improved pitching rotation, these hitters are going to have to produce. Eric Hosmer has to bounce back. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler need to keep doing what they do. Salvador Perez needs to stay healthy. The list goes on and on.

So where did we go wrong? Well, we may as well go ahead and throw this name out there first – Jeff Francoeur. We are all fully aware of the negative impact on the team…his fWAR was a -1.2, and he put up negative numbers in both the fielding and base running categories. While I don’t expect to see him play that poorly again, I hope that if he does, he finds himself watching more games from the dugout.

The next major problem? Our golden boy from 2011, Eric Hosmer, was just as bad. Sure, we give him a pass…he’s young, he’s having a sophomore slump, he’ll improve…it’s just a matter of time. Well, he better improve. Last year he had a -1.1 fWAR and a terrible season in the field according to every defensive metric I’ve seen. It’s not time to hit the panic button on Hosmer, we know he can hit and play defense, but he needs to get on track if this team’s going to win in 2013.

No other player of consequence was below zero on the fWAR scale. Together, these guys had a significant negative effect on the overall number. Even if we just brought them back to zero, that removes a -2.3 impact on the fWAR of the team, bringing it up to 19.6, which is still below average, but it’s getting there.

Moooooooooose…. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Bright spots on the team were, of course, Alex Gordon (5.9) and Billy Butler (3.2). Mike Moustakas, who wound up struggling at the plate, posted a solid 3.5, good for second best on the team. Perez was so productive at the plate and behind the dish, he posted a 2.6 in just 76 games, a number matched by Alcides Escobar. Those five players alone add up to an fWAR of 17.8. Lorenzo Cain, a player  I think highly of, added a 1.7 fWAR in only 61 games. If he stays healthy, I predict that number could more than double.

Fans are excited when it comes to this group, and with good reason. This is a talented bunch of players. The hopelessness surrounding the 2012 starting rotation does not apply here. The team had some bad luck with Perez and Cain, and Hosmer struggled to make adjustments in year two. But over at Fangraphs, the Bill James projections have him batting .276 in 2013, with 20 homers, and an OPS of .784. That’s more in line with his rookie campaign, and very much within reach. For all of his struggles last year, Hosmer showed an improved walk rate (up 3.4%) and was a solid base runner, racking up 16 steals. Hopefully the rest of his game catches up. Soon.

If Cain and Perez stay healthy (knock on wood), it’s a safe assumption we can move their numbers up the scale a bit. Let’s say Perez is a 3.5, Cain is a 3.4, and Hosmer bounces back to post an fWAR of 2. If those other four – Gordon, Butler, Moose, and Escobar – play at the same level, that gives us 22.4 between those eight players. That’s the kind of production, along with the overhauled rotation, that makes for a pretty good baseball team – even with Frenchy and an unsettled second base situation (hey…nobody has a perfect lineup).

The rotation was definitely not the only problem in 2012. This part of the puzzle, however, seems to come with a much simpler solution, and the pieces are already in place.