Royal Dilemma

At the end of April, fans in Kansas City were pretty excited. The Royals were 12-11, just a half game out of first place, thanks to the pitching of Zack Greinke and some surprising offensive performances from John Buck, Alberto Callaspo, Mark Teahen, Coco Crisp, and Willie Bloomquist. They had a +13 run differential and stood as one of the early surprise stories of the American League.

Five weeks later, they have the worst record in the American League. Now 24-33 with a -46 run differential, the Royals winning percentage is higher only than the Washington Nationals. If the 2010 MLB draft were today, the Royals would pick second. That’s quite a fall in a short period of time. What happened?

An offensive reality check. Remember those five guys who were hitting better than expected in April? Here’s their month by month slash lines for April, May, and June.

Buck: .300/.370/.700, .159/.260/.227, N/A
Callaspo: .379/.432/.575, .260/.315/.400, .239/.259/.269
Teahen: .300/.391/.488, .273/.327/.414, .200/.200/.320
Crisp: .247/.371/.494, .220/.316/.305, .100/.250/.100
Bloomquist: .333/.439/.424, .259/.308/.387, .333/.368/.444

Turns out that hoping for continued all-star performances from a collection of role players isn’t a recipe for success. Who knew?

When you add in the nothing contributions that the Royals are getting from Jose Guillen, Mike Jacobs, David DeJesus, and Mike Aviles, you have an offense that simply isn’t going to score enough runs to win baseball games. And, unfortunately, this group of non-hitters can’t play defense particularly well, either – the Royals have the fifth lowest team UZR in baseball, which dovetails nicely with their six lowest team wOBA.

Add it up, and the Royals have gotten a total of +2.2 wins from their position players this year. Only the White Sox have gotten less from their everyday guys. The pitching has been strong (+9 wins, #2 in baseball), but despite the cliches about the inflated value of pitching, you can’t win with worst-in-the-league position players.

At some point in the next month or so, the Royals are going to have to throw in the towel on the 2009 season, and when they get to that point, they should just dump Guillen and Jacobs. Their salaries are a sunk cost, and they’re standing in the way of the team getting better. You can’t rebuild with replacement level players making millions of dollars, and unfortunately, the Royals have too many guys that fit that category.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

26 Responses to “Royal Dilemma”

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  1. Jason T says:

    Royal fandom outrage in 3…2…1…

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  2. Rob says:

    I see no way the Royals dump Guillen when they owe him $12m for next year. There’s going to be the hope he regains some form and he can be traded at the deadline next year.

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    • JLP says:

      Sounds like M’s fans in regards to Silva at the end of last year.

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      • Evan says:

        M’s fans were openly plotting to throw Silva in Puget Sound at the end of last year.

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      • joser says:

        Unfortunately, that idea was thwarted when folks realized that Silva in the Sound would immediately fall under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and so the next stage of the plan (involving harpoons and flensing knives) would be blocked by Greenpeace. And so he sits on the bench in Seattle, enormous and expensive and rusty, like one of those beached ships in the former Aral Sea.

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      • Mark R says:

        Nice work, Joser. Aral Sea and flensing knives. Warms this trivia nerd’s heart.

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  3. John says:

    Along the same lines as Rob mentioned, I doubt that KC can afford to dump Guillen or find a taker by trade with his monster salary, I think he plays out his contract with the Royals. If he was moved, as soon as Alex Gordon comes back all the move really opens up is a spot for Mark Teahen, who I like better as a utility depth guy.

    I was hoping Dayton Moore would be able to sell Brian Sabean on Jacobs being an effective middle of the order bat and getting Jonathan Sanchez, who Sabean’s been shopping by name for just that, and I think that still has a chance of happening since Jacobs is at least better than Travis Ishikawa.

    Plus, trading Jacobs opens up a spot at DH for Kila Ka’aihue, and I’ve been a full fledged member of the FREE KILA bandwagon.

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  4. Matt Harms says:

    The Royals need to stop over-paying for replacement level veterans each offseason, and instead pool their money for a major pick-up or two. There’s no excuse for paying Guillen $10+ Million a year.

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    • Mark R says:

      Dayton Moore has a plan! I wouldn’t expect a cretin like you to understand it, but it’s good. I swear. We’ll be competitive in 2011. Really. You just don’t get it!!! Alberto Callaspo is a future star, and once Mark Teahen starts pulling balls he’ll hit 30 homers a year.

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      • don says:

        Too obvious. Subtlety, man. Subtlety.

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      • Mark R says:

        I’d try subtlety, but there’s so much raging stupidity in comment threads that people don’t pick up on it. Those that are smart enough to get it aren’t looking for it. That’s been my experience anyway.

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  5. ThundaPC says:

    But….but, ESPN told me that these guys were going to be the next Rays!!!

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  6. Evan says:

    “You can’t rebuild with replacement level players making millions of dollars”

    Except, isn’t that the Royals’ whole team philosophy. Over the last two seasons, they’ve gone out of their way to acquire replacement level players and pay them millions of dollars. The problem isn’t the present – it’s the past. If the Royals try to get better, they’ll just acquire more replacement level players. Because they don’t know how to evaluate talent.

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  7. Teej says:

    I love how, even with UZR somehow thinking his defense has been average this year, Mike Jacobs is still just a hair over replacement level. “but omg homers!!”

    Reading the old Jacobs thread is a lot of fun. I wonder what Bob is up to today.

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  8. FishFrenzy says:

    I am by no means impressed with anything Leo Nunez has done for the Marlins, but I am happy to see Mike Jacobs as far away from first base as possible for my team. In addition, I’m glad to see Trey Hillman decided not to back up his words about Jacobs being “good” defensively and has mostly kept him at DH. I remember seeing something early in the year here about Hillman stating Jacobs’ error count as a reason why he was good. (sigh)

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  9. Tim says:

    The big problem is that Trey Hillman seems to suffer from Jimmy Gobble syndrome, or being unable to understand that some players are just fundamentaly better against some types of players then others.
    Case in point, If Mike Jacobs was allowed to just DH and just hit againsts righties, he would be worth basically 3.9 WAR, or basically 17-19 Million.
    However Trey cannot conceive of benching him against Lefties…and so his horrible ~.540 OPS against them brings Jacobs back down to replacement level.

    A smart GM would probably figure someway to platoon Jacobs with someother cheap bat that mashes lefties but cant touch righties to create some sort of wierd super DH Platoon.

    But yeah Jose is sunk cost…Its painful watching him play at this point.

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    • Garrett says:

      Kaaihue has a .932 OPS with 50 BB against 44 K in Omaha. I give up trying to figure out baseball sometimes. Why on earth did they need Jacobs?

      I just can’t envision how a billion dollar industry gets run by people who seem to know less than the most educated fans. It’d be like Apple computers deciding to venture into produce sales. Is any other industry this large mismanaged this much? (Wall Street jokes aside)

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      • hippdoghipp says:

        Answer: Last week Jamie Quirk said he did some scouting in Omaha. He said that Kila’s bat speed wasn’t fast enough for him to be a power hitter in the majors.

        Jacobs, on the other hand, can swing a bat fast as hell.

        That’s how the Royals evaluate talent. Lucky me.

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      • AxDxMx says:

        Yes, there is one other industry mismanaged this much.

        The Education System.

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    • Shawn says:

      I’d love to know how you arrived at 3.9 WAR. You’re basically saying that he’s four wins below replacement against lefties.

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      • AxDxMx says:

        Have you seen the man face a lefty? He has a .562 OPS in 72 PAs. His BABIP is .310 against lefties. It could be worse. His BABIP against righties is .274.

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      • AxDxMx says:

        I forgot to mention his SLG alone against righties is .534.

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    • Teej says:

      3.9 WAR? As a platoon DH?

      Jacobs’ career wOBA against righties is about .361. Let’s say that, since he’s only playing against righties, he is the DH in 80% of the Royals’ games and never faces a lefty. By my calculations, we’re looking at 1.5 WAR. If he plays in every single game and never faces a lefty, it’s still under 2 WAR.

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