Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Opening Day Has Arrived

At long last, Spring, Opening Day, and the green grass has arrived.

*Checks weather outside*

.....Or not. Regardless, baseball is back. After a grueling offseason, which consisted of prototypical midwestern wildly transitional weather, usually involving bitter cold, deadness outside, and continuously bracing yourself before walking outside in your jumpsuit, mittens, and face mask. Now, it may be overcast and 40 degrees outside....still....in early April....but you can't win 'em all.

Let's check the latest Royals news.

The 25-man roster has been finalized. There are obviously several surprises, and several position players and pitchers that I, bluntly, never would have thought to be stationed on the roster at the beginning of the offseason. In my opinion, several positive or potentially beneficial moves took place - placing Brayan Pena on the roster, trading Ross Gload, getting Ryan Shealy to remain in the organization, demonstrating necessary creativity in letting Teahen and his evidently improving second base defense remain at that position, and proceeding with a 5-man bench to begin the season. Unfortunately, it seems the negatives outweighed the positives, though. Tony Pena and his heiling -2 WAR will backup shortstop (and possibly second base), Kyle Farnsworth will be our primary setup man to Joakim Soria, Sidney Ponson made the roster, Ryan Shealy has been sent to AAA Omaha, and the Opening Day lineup is, well, a little bit funky.

Side Note: I have posted incomplete Royals Minor League rosters at Royals Corner. It appears plenty of players - mostly pitchers - will remain in Arizona for extended Spring Training. As a guideline, this appears to be a good idea. Building depth in the Minor League system - even in quantity, if not quality - never hurt. The Wilmington rotation could potentially be loaded, with arms like Santiago, Gutierrez, Duffy, Montgomery, and Fisher hopefully stationed there by midseason. Also, the Omaha Royals could provide some (possibly well) above replacement-caliber talent in Ryan Shealy, Tug Hulett, J.R. House, Mitch Maier, Kila Ka'aihue, and Shane Costa. One minor complaint is that several players appear to be repeating particular levels - Chris Hayes in particular. I understand the organization wanting to transition Jeff Bianchi to shortstop, and thereby letting him repeat Wilmington for another year. Last year wasn't an exactly great year for the 22-year old, anyway. The Wilmington offense is loaded with worthy top 25 prospects: Mike Moustakas, Derrick Robinson, Jeff Bianchi, and Johnny Giavotella, to name four.

As I implied, Royals Message Board Nation has literally been topsy turvy in the last few weeks, with the negative backlash perhaps outweighing the positive. Opinions have been altered somewhat, even among the most cynical at heart of Royals bloggers. Bold declarations have been made. Regardless, perhaps the fact that Jason Smith - who made the Astros' Opening Day 25-man roster - would be our best power-hitting bench threat should reveal something telling about our front office. Defense - notably defense up the middle - takes a dominant priority over offense, especially on-base percentage and power-hitting. As far as probable backups go, why sign Bloomquist when Tony Pena is already on the roster? Why retain Pena, if we have Bloomquist? These are questions that need to be answered if we are to outperform our projections in 2009, and (hopefully) compete in a division that CHONE, PECOTA, and general consensus claims is wide open for the season.

Bullpen - and, to perhaps a lesser extent, starting rotation - construction has been one of Moore's primary strengths as General Manager, in addition to raw scouting potential and drafting and Minor League player development. Moore has made several optimal signings to both areas, such as Gil Meche, Joakim Soria, David Riske, Ron Mahay, and possibly Juan Cruz. However, deeming Kyle Farnsworth primary set-up man and positioning Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez to be our #4 and #5 starters are puzzling, at best. Very, very puzzling.

Here is the final 25-man roster:

Catchers: John Buck, Miguel Olivo, Brayan Pena
Infielders: Mike Aviles, Willie Bloomquist, Billy Butler, Alberto Callaspo, Alex Gordon, Mike Jacobs, Tony Pena, Mark Teahen
Outfielders: Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Jose Guillen
Starting pitchers: Kyle Davies, Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, Horacio Ramirez
Relief pitchers: Juan Cruz, Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Mahay, Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Doug Waechter, Jamey Wright

Let's examine that Opening Day lineup, proposed by Trey Hillman. Keep in mind that the lineup will obviously face a left-handed pitcher in Mark Buehrle.

1. Crisp, CF
2. DeJesus, LF
3. Teahen, 2B
4. Guillen, RF
5. Jacobs, 1B
6. Butler, DH
7. Gordon, 3B
8. Olivo, C
9. Aviles, SS

For the record, I don't place much stock in lineups, let alone Opening Day lineups. Roster transactions will soon take place - players such as Brayan Pena, Jamey Wright, and Tony Pena could very well be off the roster, soon, once Sidney Ponson (and, later, perhaps John Bale) is activated.

However, why is Aviles batting 9th? He destroyed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .348/.392/.574 line last season, and (small sample size alert) hit .359/.388/.531 against the Chicago White Sox last year. For the matter, why is Teahen batting third, against the lefty? Guillen is obviously still fourth, but I think a reasonable argument could be made that he should bat lower. I've come resigned to the fact that Crisp will remain in the leadoff hole virtually most of the season, barring a slump or unexpected decline in performance. If he steals efficiently and posts around a .340 OBP, I'll be content with that move. Olivo does hit lefties much well, and throws runners out at a decent clip despite residual complaints about his defense among pitchers. (Unfortunately, that has always been Olivo's reputation. As a pitcher, I, personally, was not picky with regard to catchers).

For the record, here is just one optimal Baseball Musings' Royals lineup, using the 2009 CHONE projections. Holy Cow, I've contradicted myself with regard to Mark Teahen. Keep in mind that this is a generic lineup, not against lefties or righties. That is one particular flaw in CHONE - as far as I can recall, it does not implement splits.

LF Dejesus
DH Butler
2B Teahen
1B Jacobs
3B Gordon
RF Guillen
SS Aviles
C Olivo
CF Crisp

Here is my optimal lineup, using our nine starters.

vs. RHP:

LF - DeJesus
SS - Aviles
3B - Gordon
1B - Butler
DH - Jacobs
RF - Guillen
2B - Teahen
CF - Crisp
C - Olivo

vs. LHP:

LF - DeJesus
SS - Aviles
1B - Butler
DH - Jacobs
RF - Guillen
C - Olivo
3B - Gordon
CF - Crisp
2B - Teahen

But enough about lineups. From what I have read, isn't the difference between a 'good' and 'bad' lineup, using the same players, about 40 runs over the course of a season, anyway? Significant, indeed, but definitely not as significant as filling out an optimal 25-man roster (or, hell, for that matter, a 40-man roster).

You know what? I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and hopefully competing this season in a possibly wide open division. I'm looking forward to interning for Greg Schaum of 610 Sports this summer, working for the postgame show, and (soon) writing for another blog, in addition to this one. More on those stories later....stay tuned.

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