26 February 2008

Let the games begin..../ Royals position PECOTAs

Spring Training officially "gets real" Wednesday when the games start for the Royals and lineups, apparently, have been set. The first one is a charity game vs. Surprise stadium-mates Texas. New manager Trey Hillman originally penciled in Brett Tomko to start, then switched to Jorge de la Rosa, and now has settled on John Bale to start the opener. Luke Hochevar and Brian Lawrence are supposed to pitch two innings each before Ron Mahay, Yasuhiko Yabuta and Carlos Rosa throw an inning each. Supposedly the first indecision on the starter had something to do with lefty/righty workload and when and how Hillman wanted it to work, then the switch from de la Rosa to Bale came because de la Rosa was under the weather a little bit. The first game lineup has also been set at CF David DeJesus, 2B Esteban German, LF Mark Teahen, DH Shealy, 3B Gordon, 1B Butler, RF Shane Costa, C John Buck and SS Tony Peña. Jose Guillen and Mark Grudzielanek will be held out of action until March 8 according to the KC Star. The Star also made news out of the fact Gordon is gonna bat #5 instead of #7...personally as I've noted before, I'd like to see him earn the #3 spot, but time will tell. As for Friday's game with the Padres.....Gil Meche is supposed to start that one with Hideo Nomo scheduled to work two innings followed by Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, Joakim Soria and Brandon Duckworth. The Royals then get back with the Rangers for games Saturday and Sunday. Zack Greinke is supposed to start Sat. followed by Mike Maroth against Texas. Brian Bannister is set to start Sunday followed by Kyle Davies. The Star has been reporting a few dings here and there on the roster, including a groin pull for IF Angel Sanchez as perhaps the most serious injury thus far. Other than that the most recent news has probably been that Justin Huber's gonna be a LF this year after allegedly bringing both his catcher's mitt and first baseman's glove to Surprise. There's too many guys in the mix at first. Personally, I'd like to see him beat out Shane Costa for an extra OF spot but he's gotta do the job this spring to earn it.


Also, the guys and gals at Baseball Prospectus, a great baseball web site, have churned out the 2008 PECOTA projections for the big leaguers. To rehash last year's explanation....

For people unfamiliar with PECOTA (it stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm), it is a BP-created statistical prediction system that uses a player's statistical similarity to other players over baseball's history as a way to weigh out the player's performance for the coming year and future years. For Royals fans, there is some sentimentality attached to the system as, of course, utility player extraordinaire Bill Pecota was part of the Royals in the somewhat dog days of the late '80s and '90s and the system reflects his last name.

I figured I'd take the time here to run through the short version of the PECOTA predictions for significant Royals players and make a short comment on each. I'm using the weighted mean version of each player's predicted stats, as PECOTA gives a prediction for the 10th to 90th percentile for each player with the 10th being a kind of worst-case scenario and the 90th being a breakout-type best-case scenario season. The mean is the middle of the spectrum, the best guess average of the system:


John Buck -- projects at .238 BA/.309 OBP/.396 SLG, 9 HR, 40 RBI in 315 PAs. Considering that last year he was projected by PECOTA to hit .253 with a .730 OPS and actually put out a .222 BA and .737 OPS, I'd say this line is pretty likely. I guess the Royals are gonna have to take it as I don't see a lot of good options out there....it's probably wishful thinking that KC could somehow get Jarrod Saltalamacchia from fellow Surprise guys the Rangers. Anyway, PECOTA projects Buck to hang around a .700 OPS for the next several years, with declining PAs each season from here out. Yawn.

Miguel Olivo -- projects at .242/.274/.390, 8 HR, 39 RBI in 312 PAs. Hopefully he hits a little better than that and maybe slugs a few points higher. Not looking very rosy at the C position in KC, tho. PECOTA credits Olivo's defense slightly more than Buck but pretty much has Olivo's numbers projected out this crappy for the future, too. Oddly, #2 on Olivo's PECOTA comparables list is none other than Jason LaRue. That's not a good sign, although I think the Royals expected more out of LaRue last year, too.

PECOTA also spat out crappy projections for Matt Tupman and NRI-guy Ken Huckaby. I can see Tupman doing better than hitting .225 with a .535 OPS, but unless Olivo gets hurt, I don't see Tupman getting much of a shot. The Royals have been muttering about maybe playing Olivo in LF (why I'm not sure), which would give Tupman a shot. He put up good OBP numbers at Omaha last year so, honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing either Buck or Olivo say bye-bye to give Tupman some time. Still, there's no Carlton Fisk walking through that door for the Royals right now.


Ross Gload -- .295/.340/.445, 21 2B, 8 HR, 48 RBI in 363 PA. As I stated last year when Gload had an even better projection (that he couldn't quite live up to), I'd still take this from him, although I hope he's more of a backup 1B/OF guy than THE guy at first base. He plays solid defense, too, so he's not a bad guy for the 25-man, but as starter......I hope Billy Butler is serviceable. PECOTA has the 32-year-old Gload's numbers on a gradual decline from 2008 onward.

Ryan Shealy -- .250/.318/.426, 9 HR, 36 RBI in 259 PA. After Shealy's disappointing 2007, I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I'd like to think he could get closer to the 75th percentile projection of .268 with a .798 OPS but I thought he'd break out in 2007, too. The projections don't get much rosier than this for Shealy, either, as PECOTA doesn't look kindly on his defense. It also projects he'll only get 15 percent of the PT at 1B. I wouldn't think his 2008 could be much if at all worse than his 2007 was.

Billy Butler -- .287/.353/.455, 34 2B, 18 HR, 85 RBI in 622 PA. This could be the year Billy puts himself on the map in a big way for KC and earns some future millions. If he met his 75th percentile projection of .305 with an .864 OPS, 21 HR and 92 RBI, I wouldn't be surprised, as the kid can hit. PECOTA has him listed at DH so there are no defensive projections, but I'd bet those wouldn't be too great. His future projections are also very nice as PECOTA has this as the first year of a great career for Billy, peaking at 26 HR and 105 RBI, which I think he can exceed. Plus he's only 22 so hopefully KC can play this one right. His comp list includes guys like Greg Luzinski, Gary Carter, Paul Konerko and Prince Fielder among the top 6. I think Konerko could be a fairly decent comparison.

Pipeline favorite Mike Stodolka also has a projection at 1B in PECOTA and actually manages a mean projection of a .722 OPS, although with slightly sub-par defense. If something happens to Gload I could see him maybe getting his first taste of MLB this season. Of course, he has to worry about Omaha somewhat first. Gabe Gross, Phil Nevin and Jack Cust pop up among his comps, so we'll see how he pans out this season. I'm rooting for him.


Mark Grudzielanek -- .276/.314/.381, 19 2B, 4 HR, 35 RBI in 329 PA. Grudz exceeded his projection in 2007 although he did suffer some injury problems. His defense wasn't what it was in 2006, however, and isn't really expected to rebound. For some reason the PECOTA system does having him put up slightly better numbers in '09 and '10, which is weird. I hope Grudz is phased into a backup for Alberto Callaspo this season, personally.

Alberto Callaspo -- .273/.328/.373, 20 2B, 4 HR, 36 RBI in 383 PA. Callaspo has gotten the job done in the PCL, which leaves only his adjustment to the majors. I'd like to see him perform somewhere between his 60th percentile projection of .280 with a .721 OPS and his 75th percentile projection of .291 with a .751 OPS. Of course, PECOTA has his defense as subpar and not getting any better. He does switch-hit, tho, gets on base and doesn't strike out. I foresee better things for Callaspo than PECOTA does, but 2008 will set the tone for that, I hope. He's never gonna be the guy to carry the team, but he should be a good lineup piece down the road, as were some of his comps -- Walt Weiss, Joey Cora, even Omar Vizquel. I wish his defense was more Vizquel-like, although if it was he'd more likely be playing short.

Esteban German -- .275/.356/.388, 21 2B, 5 HR, 38 RBI in 434 PA. PECOTA predicts German will outhit Callaspo, altho with worse defense, 5 more years of mileage and as a righty only hitter. Last year's numbers were a couple steps down from his standout part-time '06 numbers and his projected numbers would be a slight rebound from 2007. He also projects with a little more pop than Callaspo for 2008 and on. Top comp is former Royal Kevin Seitzer, which is favorable for Esteban. Heck, Paul Molitor is #6 on his comps, altho German doesn't have the pop or OBP that Molitor did. The Royals have moved from the old days of having 5 1B/DH types in the mix to more middle IF fringy types. Something needs to give for Callaspo and German to split the 2B spot, so we'll see what, if anything, happens with Grudz.


Alex Gordon -- .269/.345/.463, 34 2B, 18 HR, 73 RBI, plus 113 Ks in 551 PAs. I really think Alex's 2007 K total of 137 was misleading, and I'd like to think that'll be his career high. PECOTA seems to, too, but still has him in the 105-120 range every year, which I think is still high. I think his range will be between 85-100 from year to year. PECOTA puts Gordon's defense at about average for the next three years and in decline thereafter. Actually if Gordon's numbers play out like projected, I think it'd be a disappointment for Royals fans, although his numbers are still projected as solid. I'd think Royals fans would lean more toward the 90th percentile projection of .309 with a .943 OPS, although that may be asking a little much at this point. His top comp is Eric Chavez with Hank Blalock also in his top 5.

Callaspo and German will also be in the mix at third for KC, I'm sure. The only other 3B listed by BP was Mario Lisson, who projected for 2008 at a not-ready-for-prime-time .653 OPS building up to the .700s in his prime while playing solid defense at third. Since Lisson's only at AA, I'd say the chances of him being anything other than maybe a September call up are slim to none.


Tony Pena Jr. -- .257/.287/.348, 18 2B, 3 HR, 36 RBI in 402 PA. Good defense, but those numbers are hard for me to take at the plate. Those numbers roughly match his 2007 totals, altho with less XBH. PECOTA also has his defense as declining gradually through 2012. He doesn't get on base at all. PECOTA has him putting up sub-replacement level stats every year, and his defense only marginally makes up for that.

Angel Sanchez -- .236/.286/.301 in only 86 PA. Pretty brutal projected numbers for Angel with OK defense, but he is coming off elbow surgery. I'd agree that he spends most of the year in Omaha, just for recovery purposes if nothing else. PECOTA has his defense stable and offense improving before he's out of baseball by the time he's 28. The answer for KC at shortstop may be in Mike Moustakas, or it may be on another team, be it pro, high school or college. Sanchez had a good year two seasons ago in Wichita but coming off elbow reconstruction he has a hike to make to get back on track.

Speaking of Moustakas, he and Aw-hell Berroa also have PECOTA projections at short on BP's site. Berroa is penciled in for his usual low-OBP, low-pop, ungood D output for four more seasons. Moustakas is also projected with poor D at short but steadily improving plate work, as PECOTA only goes through his age 25 season. Derek Jeter is #4 on Moustakas' comps while B.J. Upton is 7th. I'd say where he's gonna play is one of the biggest question KC needs to find an answer to in 2008.


Mark Teahen -- .274/.346/.424, 30 2B, 11 HR, 63 RBI, 108 Ks in 539 PAs. Those numbers would be down in BA and OBP but up in power from 2007. PECOTA still has him in right with good defense, altho it looks like he's gonna be in left. I'm still lukewarm on Teahen -- I mean, he runs the bases well and hits OK but just doesn't hit me as a guy that's gonna be anything more than ordinary in the majors. I think the .517 slugging percentage in 2006 was remarkable but ain't coming back. PECOTA actually has his numbers fairly stable for the foreseeable future -- around a .350 OBP and .420 SLG. I remain unconvinced.

Justin Huber -- .251/.321/.415, 11 HR, 49 RBI in 373 PAs. I put Huber here in left even though I don't think he's gonna get a shot in KC to start the season, and maybe not during the season. Why would the team's approach to him change now? PECOTA also rates him as subpar, altho at 1B, and the Royals have already pretty much ruled that position out for Huber. He's projected to be in the .320 OBP, .420 SLG area for the foreseeable future, altho at this point I wish the Royals would either give him a shot or deal him while he still has some kind of value. Basically, he's a fringe guy.

Chris Lubanski also gets a PECOTA projection this year. BP actually has him projected at a .717 OPS with about average defense. I actually think this is pretty favorable for Lubanski, who has had some consistency problems in his minor league career. Maybe the fact KC left him unprotected for the rule 5 draft will give him some motivation. PECOTA never has his OBP hitting .350 but does have some pop in his bat of the doubles type, with HRs in the teens. I never know what to expect out of Lubanski, and it's hard to remember he's still only 23 years old.


David DeJesus -- .274/.346/.395, 28 2B, 8 HR, 53 RBI in 558 PAs. PECOTA ratcheted back its projections for DeJesus this year, as this line roughly equates to what he did in 2007, although it does have him entering his prime. The system also isn't a big fan of David's defense as he's projected to be subpar and get no better in the future. I'd say this line is probably about right. DeJesus has established what he can do and doesn't seem to really deviate from that, but he did slug better prior to 2007. We'll see if that's a trend that continues.

Joey Gathright -- .280/.351/.335 in 296 PAs. Another guy I like but, like DeJesus and Teahen I'm cooling on. He hits for singles but doesn't walk a lot, use his speed to much advantage or play great centerfield. I loved how he played in Omaha last year, and if he could do that at KC somehow, I'd be all for bumping DeJesus out of center. PECOTA actually has Gathright continuing to improve through age 33 although not in a full-time role. His defense is projected to stay only ordinary before declining around the 2013 time frame. 2008 is likely a make-or-break year for Joey.

Mitch Maier also got a projection in center altho I think he's more of a corner OF type in the majors. He's projected at under .700 OPS until 2010 with poor defensive projections in center, hence my thoughts. His peak numbers are projected at age 31 in 2013. Looks like another year in Omaha for Mitch unless Costa or Huber, or both, vacates the premises.


Jose Guillen -- .280/.335/.446, 25 2B, 16 HR, 69 RBI in 497 PAs. I'm hoping for more of the 75th percentile range of .293/.349/.475 with 26 2B, 17 HR and 84 RBI. The big free agent acquisition for KC is projected for poor defense in right. Not surprisingly, PECOTA has Guillen's numbers in slow decline from here. Luckily the Royals only have him locked up for the next 3 years -- maybe even 2 years and then a deadline move in 2010 to another team. The main question is if Guillen pulls a Meche and earns his keep or pulls a Sweeney and blows it.

Shane Costa -- .275/.331/.415, 21 2B, 6 HR, 39 RBI in 342 PAs. Costa obviously has got AAA down, and if he can live up to this projection that'd be one giant leap from his crappy 2007 numbers in KC. The system has him entering his prime this year, albeit with not good defense. He's still your typical fringe/AAAA type, but if he can hit as projected, he'll shut up a few of the people that wonder why he's gotten so much rope from the organization. I'll believe it when I see it.

NRI-guy Damon Hollins also got PECOTA'd for 2008 but at age 34 doesn't have much more in the tank.

All in all not the most exciting projections, although I am excited to see what Gordon, Butler and Guillen do this season plus seeing how Callaspo, Gathright and German fit in. Unfortunately the Royals had a pretty paltry offense last season and didn't do much to improve it this offseason, which doesn't bode for many more wins than the 69 racked up last season. I plan to get to the pitching PECOTAs ASAP. That's a lotta acronyms right there.

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