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Entries in Kansas City Royals (17)

Tuesday
Dec202011

Do As I Say, Not as Yuni Does

He's Baaack! Yuniesky Betancourt, who spent part of the 2009 season and 2010 with the Royals, has returned to K.C. Betancourt was the club's starting shortstop back then and filled that role with the Brewers last year, but he's (mercifully) expected to fill a utility infielder role in 2012.

If I were Royals batting coach Kevin Seitzer, I'd be telling Betancourt's replacement at shortstop, Alcides Escobar, not to take any batting tips from his new teammate. Yuni and Alcides both have an affinity for chasing anything from the nose to the toes.

Betancourt chased 37% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone in 2011, way above the 28% league average. Yuni's chase rate was 15th-highest in the majors, and placed behind just Alex Gonzalez and Erick Aybar among shortstops. Check out Betancourt's swing rate by pitch location, compared to the league average. While he rarely sees a pitch he doesn't like, Yuni just can't resist inside pitches:

Betancourt's swing rate by pitch location, 2011

Average swing rate by pitch location, 2011

Unfortunately, Escobar's plate discipline resembled that of the man he replaced. He swung at 34% of outside pitches in 2011, the 28th-highest mark in the majors and fifth among shortstops. Like Yuni, he loves him some inside pitches:

Escobar's swing rate by pitch location, 2011

Thankfully for the Royals, the 25-year-old Escobar (+5.9 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games at shortstop) couldn't be more different than Betancourt (-8.1 UZR/150) in the field. But at the plate, both Escobar (.271 Weighted On-Base Average) and Betancourt (.286 wOBA) fell woefully short of the modest positional standard (.305) while hacking. If Escobar is going to tighten his strike zone, Seitzer should keep these two at opposite ends of the bench.

Tuesday
Nov292011

K.C. Adds Broxton

Not that long ago, Jonathan Broxton seemed destined to hit the free agent market and snag what could now be referred to as "Papelbon Money." Big, bad Broxton trailed just Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan in Wins Above Replacement among relievers from 2006 to 2009, delivering upper-90s cheddar and sinister upper-80s sliders from his near-300 pound frame. But after a down 2010 and a 2011 season shattered by bone spurs in his elbow requiring arthroscopic surgery in September, the 27-year-old Broxton will look to rebuild his value in Kansas City. The Royals signed Broxton to a one-year, $4 million deal (plus $1 million in possible incentives) to set up for Joakim Soria.

Broxton's rise -- and decline -- can be traced to his fastball. The lineman-sized righty averaged 96.7 mph with his fastball in 2008 (the first year of Pitch F/X data), ranking third among relief pitchers behind Joel Zumaya and Brandon League. The next year, he increased that velocity to 97.5 mph (placing behind just Zumaya). Hitters didn't stand a chance. Broxton used that fastball three-quarters of the time over that two year stretch, getting whiffs 25 percent of the time that opponents swung at the pitch (the average for relievers is around 17-18 percent). Batters hit a paltry .211 against Broxton's heat, and slugged .299. They couldn't clout the pitch even when he put it right down the middle:

Opponent in-play slugging percentage vs. Broxton's fastball, 2008-2009

Beginning in 2010, however, Broxton began to lose zip and effectiveness. He averaged 95.3 mph with his fastball, with his miss percentage falling to 23-24 percent. Opponents hit .270 against the pitch and slugged .356. And in 2011, Broxton's heat averaged 94 mph before he was shelved with an elbow injury in May after just 12.2 innings pitched. His miss percentage dipped again to 20 percent in a small sample, with opponents batting .286 and slugging .429. While he pounded the strike zone in years past, Broxton often missed to the arm side while pitching wounded:

Broxton's fastball location, 2011

It's hard to fault the Royals for taking a relatively low-cost gamble on Broxton. While his own agent, B.B. Abbott, says that Broxton's days of flirting with triple-digits are likely over, he could still be quite useful if he's 75-80% of the former Big, Bad Jon. If he proves to be healthy and deals, both parties win: Broxton sets himself up for a big payday next winter, and the Royals have a nice trade chip if their prospect cornucopia doesn't translate into AL Central contention in 2012.

Of course, history is littered with powers relievers who burned bright and faded just as fast (Zumaya waves hello, with his left arm), and just thinking about heaving an object at 95-100 mph thousands of times is enough to make my elbow hurt. Broxton may or may not be broken, but K.C. didn't bust its budget to find out.

Friday
Nov042011

Buyer Beware on Jurrjens

Atlanta shipped Derek Lowe to Cleveland to save some cash and make the club's 2012 rotation less cluttered, but the Braves might not be done dealing. According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Braves are willing to trade Jair Jurrjens. Bowman says Atlanta has likely contacted the Kansas City Royals to gauge their interest in the soon-to-be-26-year-old righty, and the Braves have their eyes on outfielder Wil Myers, among others.

The Royals entered the 2011 season with a wealth of top pitching prospects -- Chris Dwyer, Jake Odorizzi, Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery and John Lamb all ranked among Baseball America's top 100 prospects. But, as is typically the case with young arms, a few disappointed. Dwyer's control abandoned him, Montgomery scuffled at Triple-A and didn't display ace stuff, and Lamb underwent Tommy John surgery. Myers, meanwhile, didn't live up to his #10 ranking on BA's prospect list by batting .254/.353/.393 in Double-A while struggling with a knee injury.

The setbacks suffered by K.C's pitching prospects and Myers' so-so season might make the Jurrjens-Myers swap seem plausible. But GM Dayton Moore and the Royals would be wise to decline. Jurrjens' isn't as good as his ERA suggests, and a growing injury history and declining stuff portend to tougher times ahead.

Jurrjens finished the 2011 season with a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings pitched. But, while Jurrjens displayed decent control (2.6 walks per nine innings), he punched out just 5.3 batters per nine and benefitted from an unusually high rate of stranding runners on base (81 percent, compared to 73.5 percent from 2007-2010). His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was a much less shiny 3.99, which was a dead ringer for the 4.00 big league average for starters this year. In fact, Jurrjens had the fifth-largest ERA/FIP discrepancy among starters tossing at least 100 innings:

Source: Fangraphs.com

Jurrjens has health red flags, too. Limited to 116.1 innings in 2010, he dealt with shoulder inflammation in spring training, missed two months with a pulled hamstring and suffered a season-ending meniscus tear in his right knee that required surgery. In 2011, he began the year on the DL with an oblique strain and was shut down in September with knee inflammation.

He was worked pretty hard in his early twenties, tossing a combined 403.1 frames in his age 22 and 23 seasons. Baseball-Reference shows that only Mark Buehrle, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Dontrelle Willis, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Cain and Trevor Cahill were worked harder at those ages in the new millennium. D-Train aside, that's a successful, durable (to this point) group. But names just behind Jurrjens include Jeremy Bonderman, Mark Mulder, Ben Sheets, Scott Olsen and Scott Kazmir. More than a quarter of the top 20 flamed out:

Heaviest workloads among age-22-23 starters, 2000-2011

                                      

Jurrjens' health woes appear to have taken the bite out of his stuff. His fastball averaged 91.2 mph in both 2009 and 2010, but he averaged just 89.1 mph in 2011. Jurrjens began the year at slightly under 90 mph, but he was down to the 88 mph range by the time he was shut down. That left very little difference in velocity between Jurrjens' fastball and his changeup, which averaged 83-84 mph.

On a related note, Jurrjens' miss rate with his changeup all but disappeared. Check out hitters' contact rate by pitch location versus Jurrjens' change from 2009-2010, compared to 2011:

 Opponent contact rate vs. Jurrjens' changeup, 2009-2010

Opponent contact rate vs. Jurrjens' changeup, 2011Hitters missed Jurrjens' changeup 26 percent of the time from 2009-2010. But this past season? Just half of that, 13 percent. Jurrjens' whiff rate with the pitch was well less than half of the 29 percent league average, and ranked 139th out of 145 qualified starting pitchers.

MLBTradeRumors' Matt Swartz projects that Jurrjens will make about $5.1 million his second time through arbitration. That's not an exorbitant sum, but it's not a bargain for a guy who doesn't have the leverage of negotiating with other clubs on the open market, and acquiring Jurrjens becomes a dubious proposition of it requires giving up a prized young position prospect. Jurrjens could get healthy and see a bounceback in his stuff, but I wouldn't bet Wil Myers on it.