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September 15, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

KC, MIL

by Baseball Prospectus

Kansas City Royals: I don't want to be a fool, but it's hard when it comes to you. This must be the thought in the head of every Royals die hard. The Royals were the first team to come up 0.0% on their Playoff Odds Report, way back on July 1. Things have officially reached the point where management has stopped trying. Earlier this week, manager Buddy Bell was asked why he keeps playing Terrence Long, and Buddy replied "That's a good question." Seriously folks, he'll be here all week… you just have to replace "all week" with "through 2007." Let's look at some items of note for the 2005 squad:
  • The Royals have not overworked any of their pitchers.

    No Royal has a Pitcher Abuse Point (PAP) or STRESS rank higher than 109 (STRESS rank for Denny Bautista). In addition, no Royal has pitched either a category IV or V start this season. So Royals fans can take comfort in the fact that they will have a lot of fresh arms come 2006.

  • The Royals in fact do have a team full of productive ballplayers. It just so happens that they're only productive in BP's annual HACKING MASS contest (for those new to this sort of thing, HACKING MASS stands for Huckabay's Annual Call to Keep Immobility Next to Godliness: Maximus Aggregatus Stiffisimus Sensire). Though only Jose Lima is a HACKING MASS All-Star, the Royals had seven players in the top 100 entering Wednesday:
    
                                       Rank
    Pos   Player         ESPN   Overall   Position
    P     Jose Lima       138         2          2
    P     Zack Greinke    109         4          3
    SS    Angel Berroa     77        22          4
    3B    Mark Teahan      63        41          4
    C     John Buck        60        45          3
    2B    Ruben Gotay      53        65          7
    RF    Terrence Long    45        94          4
    
    

  • Zack Greinke is the best hitter in baseball. You can stuff your Pujols', A'Rod's, and Lee's in a sack, because there's a new sheriff in town, and his name is Zack Greinke. Greinke's .604 EqA is making managers all over the game reconsider their strategy of pinch-hitting for the pitcher.

So what's next for the Royals? To be frank, quite a bit. The Royals only have three players signed to a Major League contract for next season: Mike Sweeney, Matt Stairs, and Angel Berroa. They have two players with options, Scott Sullivan and Joe McEwing. In addition, there are the arbitration cases. Jeremy Affeldt, Runelvys Hernandez, and Emil Brown will be eligible for arbitration, and Mike MacDougal and Ken Harvey may be eligible under the "Super Two" provision. Finally, there are the four players who will be certain to be jettisoned, free agents to be Lima, Long, Brian Anderson, and Denny Hocking. This is all exacerbated by the fact that the Royals 40-man roster is actually a 45-man roster, as the Royals have 5 players on their 60-day disabled list. If you're following at home, the Royals have at least 13 player decisions to make about the current makeup of their 40-man, before deciding who to add and subtract in anticipation of the Rule 5 draft.

This is the part of the Notebook where we forecast what will happen to the Royals' roster, but that's just the thing--forecasting seems a bit useless at this juncture. After all, who could predict the hiring of the listless Bell or the complete lack of judgment that allows players to earn money just for showing up? Not only will the Royals have to deal with a fair amount of turnover on the roster, but they will also be trying to resolve their ballpark issues. If that process turns sour for the Royals and Chiefs, things could actually get worse before they get better down at the Truman Sports Complex. All in all, there seem to be too many opportunities to make the wrong decision, even for a place where they serve up more wrong decisions than funnel cakes.

--Paul Swydan

Milwaukee Brewers: Some random thoughts on the Brewers as 2005 winds down:

  • Continuing our "Reasons to be Optimistic in Sub-.500 Cities" series, there's at least some evidence that Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy could be moving in the right direction, becoming the young infield tandem many thought they would be:
    
    Hardy:
    
    Month        AVG/OBA/SLG
    April      .143/.284/.179
    May        .218/.283/.309
    June       .188/.304/.313
    July       .274/.376/.425
    August     .273/.298/.382
    September  .378/.429/.730
    
    Total      .240/.325/.371
    
    Weeks:
    
    Month        AVG/OBA/SLG
    April            DNP
    May              DNP
    June       .281/.395/.391
    July       .226/.317/.453
    August     .238/.316/.400
    September  .265/.350/.412
    
    Total      .242/.332/.411
    
    
    Though Hardy didn't even slug .200 in his first month, he did also have an 11:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Indeed, for the season, he stands at a pretty solid 41:41. Seven of those 41 walks were intentional, and his hitting eighth in the lineup probably has added more than a few unintentional "I'd rather face the pitcher" walks, so that BB/K ratio may not be as solid as it would appear. On the plus side, a 34:41 ratio's not bad. On the minus side: Rey Ordonez never struck out much, either.

    Weeks' bit of positive news comes from his pitches seen per plate appearance. With each plate appearance lasting an average of 4.15 pitches, he's been one of the more patient hitters in the NL. In fact, that average would rank him 7th if he had enough PAs to qualify for the batting title. Unfortunately, he's living somewhere in the ether between his 40th and 50th percentile PECOTA projections, so that patience isn't translating into success just yet. He's not wasting plate appearances by hacking at everything, and he's not from the Mark Bellhorn "wait until it's 3-2, then swing" school of thought, either. It's an encouraging sign.

  • The late comedian Mitch Hedberg had a great line about point of view. He'd ask the audience "what's the other white meat?" And the audience would all say "pork," and he'd reply, "no, it's chicken--I was speaking from pork's perspective."

    From Oakland's perspective, the Keith Ginter trade has been a disappointment. When they acquired him in the offseason to help add some OBP to their lineup, they probably thought they were getting the player who hit .257/.345/.447 from 2002-2004, and not the one who'd struggle to a .164/.238/.269 line in limited duty, with a long stint in the minors thrown in. He's still seeing 3.90 pitches per plate appearance, so the patience that put him on "Beane Watch" is still at least partly intact.

    From Milwaukee's perspective, they had a player who had a peak year at 27 (and a residual year at 28) due to earn 500K in 2005, and sold high. Milwaukee received minor league outfielder Nelson Cruz and pitcher Justin Lehr, two players who Baseball America immediately labeled as the 14th- and 21st-best prospects. Yes, neither ranking suggests instant return, but exchanging a player they weren't going to use anyway for two players they may is a nice swap.

    Cruz played for Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville this year, and put up .306/.388/.577 and .269/.382/.490 lines, respectively. This was his first trip to Triple-A, and his ISO dropped from .270 to .221 along the way; not encouraging, but still solid. PECOTA gave him a weighted-mean forecast EqA of .256, which would certainly work better off the bench than whatever Chris Magruder is offering.

    Justin Lehr, the other player acquired for Ginter, has spent most of the season in Nashville, where he was both a starter and reliever. His major league future is likely in the bullpen, as his 32/68 BB/K ratio in 88 innings (not to mention the 8 homers allowed in that span) mean his current status of "cheap arm" isn't soon to change. Scouts like his fastball/slider combo; performance analysts don't like his iffy peripherals to this point. Still, with Milwaukee getting more comfortable sifting through the bargain bins for relief help (they've gotten great, cheap work from Derrick Turnbow and Matt Wise, for example), Lehr isn't a bad gamble. You certainly don't want to keep paying Ricky Bottalico if you can staff the same innings for much less.

  • With 17 games left in the season, the Brewers have a record of 72-73. They haven't had a winning record since 1992 (when they were in the AL), and the closest they've come to finishing .500 in that span was in 1996 (.494). After having winning percentages of .346, .420 and .416 the last three years, they seem to be on the verge of moving further into respectability as they flirt with .500.

    So do they have a chance to finish on a positive note? Here's their schedule the rest of the way:

    
    Team   Games   Win %
    
    ARI      1     .451
    HOU      3     .535
    CHC      3     .497
    STL      3     .632
    CIN      4     .465
    PIT      3     .401
    
    
    Even these numbers may be a bit misleading (as would the head-to-head records), as September rosters aren't always composed of each opponent's A Team. St. Louis, for example, is likely to start resting regulars from now until the playoffs. This isn't to say that they'll lay down for their for their opponents, but rather that the team which takes the field September 23-25 against the Brewers wouldn't be a .632 team for a whole season.

    The Brewers will also have their best starter getting three (possibly four) more starts. Chris Capuano, who won his 17th game the other night, will get three more starts on normal rest; manager Ned Yost has already stated that, should Capuano get stuck on 19 wins for the final series against the Pirates, he'll start on three days rest to close out the season. 20 victories and a .500 record are both nice, round-looking numbers that are psychologically more meaningful than 19 and .494, and might give analysts and fans alike an extra nudge when looking for teams on the rise for 2006.

--John Erhardt

Related Content:  Royals,  The Who,  Managers Of The Year

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