Friday, March 20, 2009

The All Pre-Arbitration Position Player Team: A Competitive Squad?

Note: I just realized that many loyal TRT readers probably still aren't familiar with statistics such as R150 and wOBA. I hope to create a glossary that readers of the blog can reference when reading my scribblings. ~RN

*Edit* I WILL expand upon this post at a later time, analyzing the bench players and then posting Major League equivalencies with regard to defensive statistics. Hat tip to devil_fingers at Royals Review for posting the following:

Pena might be a decent hitter, but he gives a lot away on defense, according to what I hear
Shealy = Jacobs
Callspo is better than Tug, they are both better than Bloomquist
Aviles is the best SS, obviously
GOrdon is better than whomever
Lubanski is by all accounts horrible at this point
MITCH isn’t close to DDJ or Crisp, but even average defense in CF makes him probably more valuable (straight up) than Guillen.
Same for Costa.
I think the “real” roster is better, but not that much better.

Last week, while we were eating at a subpar Chinese cuisine restaurant in Arizona, I posed a conundrum of a question to my father and uncle. If the Royals employed only pre-arbitration eligible players at each offensive/defensive position, and implemented their current starting rotation and bullpen, what would their final record for 2009 look like? Assume all of those players remain healthy over a course of an entire season. Needless to say, they immediately dismissed the idea that such a hypothetical roster would ever result in a team as competent as I predicted. In fact, both predicted that roster would finish with 50-55 wins, or so. I also posed this question to two prominent local media figures last night, and they essentially responded that we would finish no better than a 100-loss team.

My question to the readers of this blog. How would a roster consisting of the following players impact a team's won-loss record over the course of an entire season? Just for your information, CHONE projected the current (real) Royals roster to finish with 71 wins, and PECOTA, the Baseball Prospectus projection, projected a 76-86 finish for the regular season. Although I don't exactly interpret projection systems as gospel, these two seem to be the most realistic options.

Below is the pre-arbitration-eligible roster.

Starting Lineup

C - Brayan Pena
1B - Ryan Shealy
2B - Alberto Callaspo
SS - Mike Aviles
3B - Alex Gordon
LF - Chris Lubanski
CF - Mitch Maier
RF - Shane Costa
DH - Billy Butler


C - J.R. House
1B/DH - Kila Ka'aihue
2B - Tug Hulett
UT - Tommy Murphy

Now, here is each player's CHONE projection (hat-tip, Baseball Projection). I've compared such projections for each minimum-maker to that of a millionaire. It's important to assume that such projection systems peg each player with limited playing time. It's highly important that Trey Hillman implement the starters to their full value by giving them more playing time. Hypothetically, because each offensive player does not represent an "everyday" player, they would have to maintain such performance over the course of far more plate appearances (and, thereby, games played).

Catching Starters:

Brayan Pena (C): .284/.335/.402, .326 wOBA, -6 R150 (Out of options, unlikely to make MLB roster)

Miguel Olivo (C): .243/.271/.406, .294 wOBA, -26 R150 (Named MLB starter)

Winner: Brayan Pena trumps Olivo.

TRT Analysis: Brayan Pena is actually out of MLB options, so if he isn't to make the final cut for the 25-man roster, he will have to be placed on waivers, where he would have to clear waivers, and then accept an assignment to AAA Omaha. Such a scenario - him clearing waivers - is highly unlikely to happen, considering his Minor League history. In my opinion, the organization would be passing up a potential beneficial long-term opportunity in Brayan Pena - an opportunity with slight defensive deficiencies but an obviously better offensive candidate for the catching position - for two mediocre at best catching opportunities in Olivo and Buck. Also, Olivo and Buck are costing the Royals nearly $5 million for this year, while a House/Pena tandem will cost dollars over $800,000, the MLB league minimum.

John Buck (C): .233/.307/.396, .311 wOBA, -14 R150 (Likely MLB backup /

J.R. House (C): .275/.339/.422, .336 wOBA, -1 R150 (Already optioned to Minors)

Winner: J.R. House clearly emerges victorious here.

TRT Analysis: The R150s, though negative, are substantially different. Defense is more difficult to quantify, but it's clearly been House's weakness over the course of his lengthy Minor League and short Major League career. That said, a platoon with Pena might boost House's offensive numbers to negate the difference yet further. We're discussing a value here that could eclipse Buck's, if given an opportunity. Let House work 50 games and 200 plate appearances behind the plate this season, platooning with Pena. Sadly, House has already been optioned to AAA Omaha in Spring Training camp. Buck and Olivo are both locks to make the roster, barring an injury or trade. (DFA'ing them now would be silly, as the March 19 deadline for cutting arbitration candidates has passed).

Ryan Shealy (1B): .251/.326/.422, .330 wOBA, -3 R150

Mike Jacobs (1B): .259/.313/.474, .340 wOBA, 2 R150

Winner: Arguable either way. Jacobs clearly emerges victorious *if* he receives substantial playing time at designated hitter in '09.

TRT Analysis: Because Jacobs' work at first base is so historically bad, defense is a vital topic, here. Jacobs had a RZR of -10 last year, and has not posted a positive WAR since 2006. On the contrary, Shealy hasn't proven anything substantial at the big-league level, other than he can perform competently in a meaningful sample size and can perform flukishly well in extremely limited Major League action. Shealy's career average RZR is 7, 6 points higher than Jacobs' career average in this metric. Consider the value differences - Jacobs is making $3.275 million, while Shealy will make $400,000 plus optional "bonuses." Keep in mind that it is possible - in fact, even likely - that Jacobs receives significant playing time at designated hitter this season. If Butler accumulates much playing time at first base, the RZR for KC/'09 in that position won't be much better (at best), but it will help Jacobs' value tremendously. In fact, he could easily post a 2 or greater WAR if he gets - say - 100 or more games sitting on the bench most of the game.

Alberto Callaspo (2B): .284/.344/.387, .326 wOBA, -6 R150

TRT Analysis: I still believe Callaspo, ultimately, emerges victorious as starting second baseman. It's worthy, considering the salaries and upsides. I realize we're in "Win Now" mode, but just consider Willie Bloomquist's comparisons. There is some additional value in Bloomquist in that he can play a multitude of positions, but the value added likely overrules his versatility significantly. Callaspo posted a WAR of 1.1 and a RAR of 11 last season - he's 26 and on his way up. There's an upside here. Callaspo should start at least 110 games this season, assuming Bloomquist is his only rational competition. (I wrote in the Spring Training analysis that there is no way a defensive-minded organization like Kansas City would grant Teahen substantial playing time at second base, as he has looked putrid there, defensively, this month).

Willie Bloomquist: .264/.333/.331, .307 wOBA, -16 R150

TRT Analysis: See above. Bloomquist's skill set would be best implemented by starting him in games where ground-ball specialist in the making (hopefully) Hochevar is pitching. Also, we might want to start him when Bannister is pitching, although Banny is more fly-ball oriented (career 40.7 FB% versus a 37.5 career GB%).

Mike Aviles (SS): .280/.317/.425, .324 wOBA, -8 R150

TRT Analysis: Aviles, obviously, will make $400K plus (minor) additional cash this season, and he's the clear starter. There's no reason in delving much deeper, verbally. He'll accumulate 550 PA's, if healthy, with Willie Bloomquist and (hopefully, NOT) Tony Pena receiving occasional sport-start duty. And even that will be highly occasional. Aviles turns 28 this season and has no significant history with regard to injuries. On the contrary, TPJ of the -2 WAR in 2008 should not make this roster, even as a backup. How scary would the AAA Omaha roster look with both Pena, Jr. and Luis Hernandez in the same lineup? For the record, I've provided Pena's numbers below. He's a +15 or so player, defensively. (Meaning he saves 15 runs or so, a season, at least according to my BA Handbook from 2008).

Tony Pena (SS): .242/.270/.329, .266 wOBA, -40 R150

Alex Gordon (3B): .265/.349/.440, .350 wOBA, 5 R150

TRT Analysis: Well, although he's experienced back problems especially recently, Gordon has no substantial injury history, and he'll likely accumulate 140-145 games and 550 plate appearances at third base, this year. Other than Mark Teahen stepping in on an interim basis, the Future of the Franchise has zero competition in this area. I'd like to see him batting third this season, and anywhere from 3-5 for the remainder of his prime (2010 and forward). (And where's that long-term contract?)

Chris Lubanski (LF): .239/.303/.388, .305 wOBA, -20 R150

David DeJesus (LF): .279/.354/.406, .339 wOBA, 0 R150

TRT Analysis: Lubanski has trimmed down this offseason, losing approximately twenty pounds. According to manager Trey Hillman, he looks quicker in the field in camp and looks more athletic, overall. DeJesus still outweighs Lubanski both offensively and defensively, for 2009 and for the forseeable future. I previously noted that Lubanski's best case scenario, at this point, is still that of a Russell Brayan. A platoon hitter with some isolated power and decent plate discipline, who can play both corner outfield positions competetently. Lubanski, of course, can't play infield and has a bit quicker fleet-footedness in upside.

Mitch Maier (CF): .268/.313/.393, .311 wOBA, 15 R150

Coco Crisp (CF): .271/.334/.398, .328 wOBA, -7 R150

TRT Analysis: Crisp clearly emerges victorious, although if he posts RAR of 4 or 8, as he did in '06 or '08, respectively, much more competition would, hypothetically, exist. Consider that Crisp will make $5.75MM, this year, and has averaged a WAR of 1.8 the last three years. Consider that Maier will (obviously) make roughly 1/12th Crisp' salary, to post a wOBA 17 points less. 17 points is a significant number, don't get me wrong, but it's not as if there is a night and day difference between the two. Crisp is a legitimate everyday center fielder, whereas Maier's upside is likely no better than a placeholding starter on a mediocre or rebuilding baseball team, and a fourth outfielder on a competitive baseball team. Maier is regarded as the best defensive center fielder other than Crisp, whereas Crisp posted a +32 defensive runs saved in 2007, which was near Andruw Jones-in-his-primean levels.

Jose Guillen (RF): .265/.317/.428, .327 wOBA, -3 R150

Shane Costa (RF): .279/.333/.420, .332 wOBA, -3 R150

TRT Analysis: Costa is projected to be the better player! How about that? I thought his '08 season was an unquestionable success considering he hit 20 home runs and drove in 97 runs. Total zone isn't kind to Guillen, typically, as he posted a -11 in 2007 and 2 in 2008. If he could return to his 2007 level of production (2.5 WAR) then he would be less of a liability, but as it stands, he possesses an above average arm but well below average range and glove in right field. How is Shane Costa, defensively? Unfortunately, he hasn't accumulated enough big-league playing time to really gauge his strengths and weaknesses at this level. However, total zone is friendly to him (6 and 5 in '06 and '07, respectively) in extreeeeemmely limited time. Well...let's just say that the fact that Guillen will get paid a dozen - or perhaps two-dozen, if Costa clears waivers and accepts an assignment to AAA Omaha in his seventh year in the organization, and playing almost exclusively in the Minors for the last four seasons, after he made his MLB debut - more dollars than Costa...well, you get the idea. The offensive production is a toss-up, and the defensive production actually gives Costa (probably, maybe) a slight advantage. Unbelievable...but I'm selecting Costa over Guillen in this regard, especially with regard to value added.

Billy Butler (DH): .289/.356/.444, .353 wOBA, 9 R150

TRT Analysis: Butler's value will likely be hurt if he accumulates significant time at first base this season, but consider his mobility will likely only decrease after age 25 or so (especially given his moderate old-player skills). The Royals would serve themselves best determining whether Butler can play first base sooner rather than later. Butler should have received more P.T. at the (other) hot corner in 2007 and 2008, but that's water under the bridge.

Conclusion: I understand teams want to increase their payroll, and I have long stated that MLB payroll is an area David Glass and the Royals needed to vastly improve upon as we move toward a more competent administration in Dayton Moore & Company. However, Moore clearly needs to further understand the concept of what constitutes replacement value. Also, he needs to do a better job in distributing Glass' precious payroll, by handing only significant cash to the true superstars, or players with legitimate upside. Guillen, for example, probably has more offensive upside than Shane Costa, overall, even in 2007 - however, the fact that Guillen will make $12MM and Costa might very well not be a Royal on April 5 - is still rather damning. I've stated this before, but it's important that, in a small to mid market like Kansas City, we spend money only where appropriate. I'm not slamming the Jacobs and Crisp trades - I see the rationale behind both - however, there is a legitimate chance a team of primarily pre-arbitration players actually outperforms our current squad. That is the point I was trying to conclude with this rather long-winded blog post.

J.R. House. Brayan Pena. Shane Costa. Ryan Shealy. These are names that, under even the best circumstances, will not overwhelm offensively (or even defensively). However, these players deserve consistent opportunity in this market, and deserved opportunities in the past, especially over players like Ross Gload and Reggie Sanders.

My father and cousin said that 100-plus losses was a likely scenario, with this roster. I say that 70-plus wins is actually extremely likely. (Of course, pitching is significant in determining a team, as well, so the Meche-Greinke-Davies-Soria et al, et al, et al lineups will help this hypothetical position player element of the roster substantially). However, didn't CHONE project 71 wins for the current (actual) Royals roster? Isn't there a good chance this roster of young studs (Butler, Gordon) and relative no-names (B. Pena, Shealy) actually guides the team to a more respectable record? I say "yes."

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