Saturday, January 5, 2008

Royals Insider: Mark Grudzielanek

Next on Royals Insider is whom I believe to be a reliable, steady, veteran class-act, Mark Grudzielanek. Rather than delve deeply into Mark's entire 18-year professional playing career, let us grasp a general, rather brief, picture of his pre-Royals playing career, because we all know his contributions to the Royals are more important, anyway!

Could Mark Grudzielanek's twelve-year Major League playing career be drawing near a close?
In June 1991, the Montreal Expos drafted Mark Grudzielanek in the eleventh round overall in the amateur draft. As a shortstop in the Expos organization, Grudzielanek would proceed to hit for solid contact from 1991-1998, but would provide well below average range and arm, and would provide mediocre power for his position. In '98, the Expos, seeking to build a younger organizational core, traded him, Hiram Bocachica, and Carlos Perez to the Dodgers for Peter Bergeron, Wilton Guerrero, Ted Lilly, and a minor leaguer. The Dodgers permanently moved him to second base before the 2000 season, and the move worked. On the right-half of second base, Grudz' rather lackluster arm would become hidden by his tremendous instincts and reliable glove. His error total would decrease dramatically throughout the rest of his playing career.
After spending four seasons with L.A., Grudz would then proceed to platoon at second with Todd Walker for two seasons with the Chicago Cubs, and start in 2005 for the St. Louis Cardinals. With those two organizations, a funny twist occurred in Grudz's career. Instead of regressing with the bat, he actually improved! Grudz enjoyed a career-high .314 batting average with the Cubs in 2003, and hit .307 and .294 the following seasons. Not only that, but he posted slugging percentages above .400 for those three seasons. He had only slugged .400 once, previously, in his career (1999). He set a career high with doubles in 2003, and hit 30 doubles again in 2005.
In December 2005, then-Royals General Manager Allard Baird would announce that the Royals had signed Grudzielanek to play second base and provide veteran leadership to an otherwise young and inexperienced ballclub. He would serve as a 'placeholder' until Ruben Gotay, Donnie Murphy, or Jeff Bianchi would seize second base duties. Grudz proved his welcome in Kansas City, posting a respectable .297/.331/.409 line in 2006. He also won his first Gold Glove, committing only four errors in 132 games.
Many fans began writing him off offensively in 2007, claiming that his career was nearly finished. However, he proved the haters wrong once again, hitting an even better .302/.346/.426 line, good for a 100 OPS+, his highest since 2003. However, his defense declined noticeably. Although he only committed two more errors overall, his range factor declined significantly (5.13 to 4.60). Grudz would proceed to somewhat dubiously win the honor for the organization's Player of the Year.
Before the 2008 season, the Royals would trade for young Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Alberto Callaspo, who the organization projects as an eventual everyday second baseman and successor to Mark.
In summary, Grudzielanek’s ability to hit for contact and play a mean second base overcomes his perennial lack of pop, which combined with his lack of plate discipline, indicates that his best suit is toward the bottom of the lineup. Given the lack of offensive-heavy second baseman in the open market and in Major League Baseball in general, it would probably make sense for the Royals to continue to grant him playing time, as long as he wears our shade of blue. Coming off a decent 100 OPS+ season, the Royals would probably benefit from trading him, as his value will probably never exceed where it is right now. Given his age, declining defense, and inability to stay healthy, keeping him as a temporarily solution at second base is risky.
- Declining but still well above average glove and instincts at second base.
- Solid contact hitter worthy of everyday playing time, when healthy (.289 career BA)
- Hits finesse pitchers well (.299/.332/.415 career)
- Plate discipline mediocre at best (career +42 BA/OBP split)
- Inability to avoid nagging injuries, which have surfaced the last two seasons
- Age 37 indicates that he’s now well past his prime
Here is my 2008 crystal ball for Grudzy (Yes, I said ‘Grudzy’!)
For Kansas City Royals:
GS/G: 63/66
AB: 226
H: 62
BA: .274
OBP: .319
SLG: .390
1B: 43
2B: 15
3B: 1
HR: 3
RBI: 24
R: 30
SB: 0
CS: 0
OPS+: 89
Traded before 7/31 deadline.
(Keep in mind that these statistics are merely part of a greater projection. Each of these players' totals mounts to a realistic projection of the 2008 Royals totals.)
On-field performance:
Experiences significant dropoff overall: 45%
Repeats 2007 form: 45%
Experiences offensive surge: 10%
Injury contingency:
Injured for 15 days or more: 45%
Chances traded at 2008 Trade Deadline: 45%
Chances traded before Opening Day: 35%
Job allocation:
Starting second baseman: 95%
Backup/reserve: 5%
Unfortunately, I don’t see Mark Grudzielanek remaining healthy all season. In fact, I see his 2007 production – offensively and defensively - regressing fairly noticeably as he enters his age 37 season. Perhaps I’m pessimistic on our veteran second baseman, but in this (supposed) post-steroid era, aren’t players supposed to begin declining pretty dramatically into their mid-30’s? Grudz will be 38 when 2008 concludes, and thus his days as an everyday player are limited.

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