1,000 At-Bats And The Double Standard
Coming into the 2012 season Chris Getz had already amassed 1,099 plate appearances. By the measure with which the Kansas City Royals view players and player development, Getz was at that point a finished product. If you want to take Dayton Moore at his literal word, Getz had just 986 at-bats, so if you want to plant your flag in the ground there, feel free.
At that point in his career Getz had a .254/.315/.307 line that would suggest he should be little more than a back-up, if a back-up at all. With just 46 extra-base hits total (!) in those plate appearances, a rather overrated glove at second base, and an inability to play any other position on the diamond, it isn’t as if Getz brought some extreme trait to the table that suggested he should remain an option.
Yuniesky Betancourt entered the 2012 season with 3,641 plate appearances (3,446 at-bats), and a .268/.291/.391, an average of 40 extra-base hits per year, and an 82 OPS+. His defense was atrocious, his base running was bad, and on top of it all he was being asked to play other positions, something he had never done.
In each of those players the Royals saw potential, saw the possibility of improvement, or at the very least stability at a position the organization has been weak at* for a number of years.
*Well, one of the many.
Entering the 2012 season Johnny Giavotella had 187 plate appearances, or just 178 at-bats. He was called up on August 5th for a game in Detroit after having a terrific year in Triple-A posting a .330/.391/.438 line with 9 homeruns and 34 doubles. He was always a tad suspect with the glove, but what he could do was hit, hit for some power, and get on base. All of those things that neither Getz nor Betancourt had proven capable of to that point in their careers.
What Giavotella didn’t do though in his first 46 games of his career in 2011, or in Spring Training 2012*, is hit the ground running.
*It is still one of the more ridiculous notions in baseball that a good or bad Spring Training can either win or lose a position battle.
By the time he got his chance again in 2012, fans and the organization had already written Giavotella off as a failure in a big league uniform. Of course, he didn’t help matters much when he finally did get his chance again and in 21 games (71 plate appearances) went .210/.260/.261 from May 9th to June 10th. Then after being recalled on Aug 18th and going .250/.276/.330 in the seasons final 32 games, that seemingly was all she wrote for the career of Johnny Giavotella. The Royals signed Miguel Tejada for the role as the “veteran backup”, Chris Getz is still “mistake free” and this year might actually hit a homerun, and Giavotella is the guy that just can’t make it in the major leagues.
Except, there’s that whole “1,000 at-bats” thing.
Dayton Moore has made a habit of using that phrase as his benchmark for how long it takes a player to fully establish who he is, and what he will be as an every day player. Chris Getz was at that mark before 2012 and couldn’t do enough wrong to be removed from contention as the starting second baseman despite having just 46 extra-base hits. Yuniesky Betancourt was at that mark during the 2007 season, had already established himself as one of the worst position players in baseball, and the Royals had just acquired him for the second time.
In a recent interview with Sports Radio 810, while Moore was talking about Giavotella and praising him for what he could be, he interrupted his thought to make sure he mentioned Chris Getz and how much he’s going to continue to improve. The question had nothing to do with Getz. He then went on to say: “We know it (takes) 2-4 years of playing every day at the major league level to become a consistent producer.”
If an organization doesn’t think a player is talented enough to get the job done, for one reason or another, that’s one thing. It’s something completely different to continue to prop up that player who has proven to be a mediocre-at-best performer by using some arbitrary measure, and then not apply that same measure to develop another player who has a greater history of success.
Johnny Giavotella may not ever amount to much in a Royals uniform. He may not ever amount to much in any big league uniform. But, he was a second round pick that did nothing but produce in the minor leagues, and is 600 at-bats away from the mythical proving ground that is 1,000. And yet he’s the one that still has so much to prove.
It’s quite the double standard.