Monday, February 25, 2013

Pray they're wrong about the snow and right about the Royals... A sober look on a snowy day at the Burpee catalogue and the Royals in 2013...

With more snow on the way thoughts naturally turn to spring and baseball. The second question most people ask after, “Have you ever seen anything like this snow?” is “How do you think the Royals will do this year?”

Of course, it’s February, spring training has just begun, so the question is full of hope.  It’s part of the rhythm of our lives, the way humans have learned to cope with the seasons, as long as they insist on populating these ridiculous climates. It’s the same with gardening. You look in the seed catalogue and all you see is potential.

The Burpee Ultra Big Boy. Yields bushels of 8 to 10-pound redder-than-red fruits with tender flesh, all meat, no seeds, perfect for slicing, canning, cooking, salads, salsa… stores for months… disease resistant, deer resistant, cat resistant, heat resistant, snow resistant, never needs water… utterly foolproof.

You pore over the seed catalogue in February and all you see is potential. You don’t see wilt or bugs or drought, or your own inability to control the urge to water, water, water. You don’t see the weeds, the dead plants, the bottom end rot. You see bushels of 10-pound ultra tomatoes and big flat slices on big fat hamburger patties.

It’s the same with baseball in February. All Aristotelian potential.

The Royals? Well, let me offer a simple, sober, admittedly one-dimensional, analysis of the situation.

Baseball is a hard game. It’s every bit as hard as growing Rutgers tomatoes through a Kansas City summer. Because its statistics are accumulated across a huge number of events, and because the game is so difficult, its numbers are pretty consistent, pretty sober, indicators.

We don’t like to think of life in these terms. We like the idea of improvement. We like to imagine a breakthrough is just around the corner for us, just 100 more situps away. We like to believe – we have to believe – this will be the summer the garden flourishes, the tomatoes are all perfect, the beans don’t dry up, the squash bugs don’t appear.

So, I’d say in a nutshell the Royals of 2013 are all potential. In baseball, that ain’t ever good because the numbers rarely lie.

To be competitive, the Royals need their first baseman, third baseman, second baseman, centerfielder and right fielder to hit significantly better than they did in 2012. Significantly better.

In the case of the right fielder and the second baseman, two of the five potentials, that would mean accomplishing something their significantly large body of work suggests is out of reach.

Because the first and third baseman have logged far fewer at-bats, their respective ceilings are pure speculation. Scouts think their ceilings are pretty high. For the Royals to be competitive this summer, the scouts will have to be right and the two players will have to accomplish breakout years.

The center fielder is a question mark because both his small body of work and the scouting reports are modest in their estimates. And, he will have to stay healthy, which is the one worrisome trait emerging from his brief time in the major leagues. So, three of the five will have to realize a good deal of their potential  right now for the team to be competitive and the other two will have to cheat their numbers and accomplish something logic says is out of reach.

In the real estate business, you’d say that’s a lot of blue sky.

Here’s one way to look at it. For those five key players to each hit .300, they’d have to raise their collective batting average 250 points, an average of 50 points each. That’s a lot of blue sky.

Now, two players, the shortstop and the catcher, will have to maintain a high level of play from last season for the Royals to be competitive. Their respective bodies of work are also brief; it is difficult to know if last season was indicative of their skills or not.  For the team to be successful, you have to hope last season was not an anomaly for either. Can the catcher hit .301 again and the shortstop hit .293?

The shortstop has close to 2,000 plate appearances across five years and his cumulative batting average is .263. He would need to play roughly 40 points above that to produce the same season. The catcher has less than 500 major league at-bats but his average is .311. Chalk him in.

Of the seven unproven key players, only one appears a solid bet to produce competitive numbers based on history.

The left fielder and the designated hitter have a pretty large body of work and they played about even with it last year. They are the only two of the nine everyday players you can pencil in for 2013. The left fielder will probably hit in the neighborhood of .280 or .290 with a decent slugging percentage and generally good production. The designated hitter, the only other proven major league player of the nine, will hit once in every three at-bats, show significant power to the alleys, show a high slugging percentage and ground into more double-plays than most fans like.

In fact, if fans had their way, he’d have been traded years ago. Think about it. The only legitimate all-star, the only everyday player on the team likely to be a starter on any actual first division club in the major leagues, would have been traded by fans long before now.

So, if you look at the coming season from a sober perspective, you realize this spring, hope indeed springs eternal in the Royals’ breast. This is, perhaps, the most hopeful team in baseball. And, I guess I’m about as hopeful about a playoff spot in 2013 as I am the weather scientists are wrong about today’s big snowstorm.


Then again, if Major League Baseball has its way, we’ll eventually see three-fourths of its teams in every division in the playoffs every September. I say September because that’s when the playoffs will have to start. It works for the NBA, you know.


  1. That's one way to look at it—the pessimist's way. And that's okay.

    I take the hope springs eternal route, although it's not based on any set of statistics. I'm just an eternal optimist when thinking or speaking about my team, the Royals.

    Remember, baseball is not just a bunch of statistics. We're dealing with real, live people here—people who are not perfect, who have weaknesses, emotional spells that keep them from performing at top speed, so to speak.

    As frustrating as it can be to watch the Royals consistently lose, we have to remember that, as fans, we are not the ones out there facing 95 mph fastballs and running into walls trying to save that ball from going over the fence.

    There's a lot of pressure to perform and people who write stuff about them, who have never never been out there on the field (not saying you haven't), only add to the pressure to perform.

    Sure they're all millionaires and we therefore expect a lot out of them, but they're just kids, for heaven's sake, to most of us. Most are less than 30 years old, and many under 20.

    Remember, kids make mistakes, over-adjust, under-perform, strike out too often, hit into double plays too often and generally fail to meet our standards of perfection we have set for them.

    Personally, I think there's too much talk about performance before the season even begins than there is let's wait and see how they actually perform.

    Players know if they're playing badly. They don't need all these armchair designated hitters throwing them under the bus every time they perform less than perfect. Like you said, fans were ready to throw Billy Butler to the vultures.

    Statistics are meaningless to me. All they do is point out how a player performed in the past. To continually compare a player to his past does a disservice to him, especially even before he sees the first pitch of the regular season.

    Yet, we all have opinions and we have the right to express them, and I love to read them, even if I don't agree with them, even if they're negative toward my Royals.

    Therefore, keep on blogging, but know there are people out here who disagree with you or even agree with you. And that's the wonder of the spoken word and the freedom of the press. So, enjoy it while you can because it appears to be going the way of the dinosaur.

  2. That is a fine response. Thanks. I tend to agree with most of what you say here. I especially dislike the way the radio talkers describe the players like baseball cards instead of people. That's precisely why I referred to them by position -- to depersonalize the discussion. I do disagree about the value of numbers. Because baseball is so difficult and because the numbers are based on so many events, they do tend to hold true. Otherwise, a good deal of game strategy would be lost from pitch selection to infield / outfield shifts to batting order. All of those things are based on numbers and tendencies. As I said in the post, most of us hate to admit this. We, as a people, believe anything is possible if you just work hard enough. But baseball is cruel that way. I lift weights and work my forearms in sand all winter in hopes of hitting homeruns next summer. I just finished doing that. But when summer comes, the fact that I'm short and my arms are short and my hands are small and my two hip implants will catch up with me and The Game will tell me every night I'm on the field that the fences are just a few yards too far away for me. That's how it is. I didn't say the Royals couldn't contend; I just said something like four of the seven position players would have to have career years at the same time. Which is why I don't understanding the top hitting prospect for pitching when the team is relatively far from contending. That is, of course, just my opinion. I don't think free speech is going anywhere, by the way. I think there is more danger people won't have anything free to say... to borrow an idea from Huxley. Thanks again for the cogent response. -- JL

  3. ... should have read '...I don't understand trading the top hitting prospect...'

  4. So far, the Royals are looking pretty good. I know it's only Spring Training. But all the other teams are in Spring Training, too, and 9-0-1 is far better than 0-9-1.

    Dayton is right. The Royals have to learn how to win, now and while Spring Training is meaningless, so far as W-L and stats go, they're at least getting a taste of what winning feels like. And I think they like it.

    Meyers is an unproven quantity, Shields is not. Davis is not, if he proves he can carry his bullpen success into the starting lineup. And I understand the Rays have basically designated Will Meyers to the Minors for at least the start of the regular season, according to reports, anyway.

    Also, we have lots of hitting prospects right here in our starting lineup. Now, if everyone will perform up to what they're capable of doing, we won't even miss Meyers. At least I won't, even if he turns out to be the next Babe Ruth. I truly wish him well.

    Besides, there have been many players who have torn up the Minors only to fizzle out in the Majors. While I don't think Meyers will be one of them, it's yet too early to tell.

    I like the trade. I like the fact that the Royals are deep enough in the Minors with good players that they can afford to lose a player like Meyers. But you can't wait forever for prospects to develop. We've been hearing for far too long, "Just wait 'til next year when so-and-so comes up."

    I'm with Dayton: We need to win now.

    It's an old axiom that in order get big you have to give big. And in order to win, you have to have the pitching, especially if your hitting is not up to snuff. And up until now, we just haven't had either, except in the bullpen, starting last year.

    As far as stats go, I get your point. What I'm tired of hearing on the radio is: "So-and-so has a lifetime batting average against such-and-such," and stuff like that during the game.

    Personally, I don't care what a person's past is against an opponent. Let's deal in the present. This year's stats, okay. However, we don't need lifetime stats announced every time a player comes up to bat. In my opinion, that's irrelevant. I'm more interested in the now. That's more what I was speaking of.

    When one looks outside the sports arena, it will be found that political correctness has already stifled a lot of free speech. So has the media.

    For instance, if I were to send in a letter to the editor of a newspaper that disagrees with its political agenda, the letter simply won't be printed, or it will be hacked to bits so it doesn't sound like what it was intended to say. Been there, done that. There's more going in the world than what occurs in sports.

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