Friday, March 18, 2005

Royals 2005 Preview: the Outfield, Part 1

Boy, talk about your comparison and contrast.

Your 2005 San Francisco Giants outfield can be described very well with one word: established.

The 2005 Kansas City Royals outfield can be described very well with one word as well: unsettled.

Oh, it isn't that Allard Baird, the GM of the Royals, or Tony Pena, the Royals manager, don't know who is going to play in the outfield this year. David DeJesus will be the starting center fielder on Opening Day. From there, well, it's...unsettled.

The corner outfield positions have been a worry for the entire offseason. It was nothing less than a mess in 2004, with six different players logging at least 93 at-bats or more at those positions. This year will not feature the skills of Carlos Beltran, nor the "skills" of either Dee Brown or Ruben Mateo, who were released (ours is a merciful God).

The incumbents for right field and left field are Abraham Nunez, Aaron Guiel, and Matt Stairs. The fresh faces will be Terrence Long, Matt Diaz, and Eli Marrero.

That's six players for two positions, meaning there are two we need to cut out of the equation.

Abraham Nunez will be the first to get my nomination, although he possesses decent defensive skills, good on-base ability and some power -- it's just that he can't really hit much to show that power, and having on on-base percentage 80 points above your batting average is great, but not terribly effective when you're hitting .226.

If things were a bit different, I wouldn't mind Nunez on the team to see if he can put it all together as he is currently in his prime at 28, but the problem is that two of the other six candidates -- namely Terrence Long and Eli Marrero -- are getting paid multiple millions of dollars, meaning they're going to play unless Nunez is lights out. Um, Nunez ain't lights out, and I don't even know if the lights have ever been on to put out in the first place. His career OPS is .596 over 300 career at-bats. 'Nuff said, all that.

From there, it becomes a question of Matt Diaz vs. Aaron Guiel, as Matt Stairs is also a fixture. Guiel had a rough season last year after a break out in 2003.

Guiel, 2003: .277/.346/.489, 15 HR over 356 at-bats
Guiel, 2004: .156/.263/.296, 5 HR over 135 at-bats

A lot of that might be attributable to an eyesight problem that kept him out much of the year, but the fact is that Aaron is now 32 years old, and just isn't going to get better. He is scrappy, hustles, possesses decent range and a good arm defensively, but just can't really be included in the Royals future for any length of time.

Matt Diaz? Well, he's done nothing in the major leagues, but had a .950 OPS in AAA for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays over 500 ab's. He's decent defensively, and he's only 26 years old.

Diaz wins.

So what are we looking at? Platoons, of course, freaking platoons. Marrero and Diaz both bat right-handed, and Long and Stairs are lefties. Mix and match to your hearts content.

For my evil purposes, I'm going to pair Marrero and Stairs in right, with Diaz and Long in left.

Stairs, 2004: .267/.345/.451, 18 HR over 439 at-bats.

Stairs makes me think of a quote from any one of several Popeye cartoons.

"I am what I am and that's...what I am."

Stairs' home run totals over the last five years? 21, 17, 16, 20, and 18. Durn consistent, no? However, one interesting difference those years was the number of at-bats Stairs had respectively: 476, 340, 270, 305, and 439. The two bookend years had his most at-bats, but had his lowest two slg % out of the five years, while the middle three had the lowest at-bat totals, yet his slg % rose, and one part of that percentage, home runs, stayed steady.

Sounds like the ideal number of at-bats for the 37 year-old Matt Stairs is probably around 300 -- any more than that looks to be overusing him a bit. When we factor in Stairs' treadmill range (he's running, yes, but not really going anywhere), it's obvious Stairs should not be receiving near a full season's worth of plate appearances.

Long, 2004: .295/.335/.420, 3 HR over 288 at-bats

Almost there...just about...I can make it...a little more...

That seems to be what Long's career OPS is saying in regards to getting to a fairly productive .800, something Long has yet to do. But consistency reigns here as well: Long's OBP is always within about 50 points of his batting average, and his ISO power is usually about .120 to .150 above his average. That is worth something, which is a 4th or 5th outfielder position. Michael Tucker-type stuff. Except that Long makes a couple million plus more than Tucker for having a worse career OPS by 40 points (.730 to .769). How, exactly, do these things happen?

So Long is way overpaid, but is going to play for the Royals. He's still in his prime at 28, but it seems the San Diego Padres were the first team to figure out that Long shouldn't play full-time in the outfield, as last year was the first time that Long logged less than 486 at-bats in a season (he had 288 in 2004). Hopefully that number holds since Long enjoyed his most productive year for the Padres in 3 years last season. He won't totally stink defensively, but can't really be counted on for much else.

Note: I'm posting this partially because I just had some kind of jdkas;djakda; (which means effing crap in Swahili) with my computer, and I lost Eli Marrero's and Matt Diaz' stuff, and I'm too damn lazy to redo it at this time. I'll find a way to post it tomorrow along with a look at David DeJesus.


Anonymous said...

Daniel, I had to read through all this Royals drivel just to find anything about Matt Stairs. I was an A's fan for a long, long time (like, Don Baylor long) and finally decided to defect to the Giants for good when I moved over here after Giambi and Tejada both got their walking papers.

I've always been disappointed they shipped Stairs out. Now he's not very mobile, but back then he was a very gutty, tough player. I thought he would have been a nice bench player for the Giants, if they had real other outfielders and could have a pure lefthanded pinchhitter on the bench as they really should.

As for T-Long, what a bum. Oakland should have dumped him long ago, and that the Padres took him just to get Ramon Hernandez in the same deal says a LOT about how good Hernandez is. I don't know much about the Royals' system, but there must be some kid with potential who could use the playing time T-Long will eat up, with no upside.


Daniel said...

Well, Diaz is the kid in question. However, after a rough spring, the Royals are likely leery of Diaz, and now that Emil Brown's had a very, very hot spring, he's now in the mix.

Brown's toting something like a 1.200 OPS through spring, and is fairly speedy. His minor league OPS is around .820 or thereabouts, so it's not out of the question that he could contribute, but he's 30 years old...

Stairs, however, has a locked position, and that is platooning outfielder/platooning 1B/platooning DH.

There's no question, although he's up there in age, that Stairs can hit. It's just he'd be much more effective with limited outfield playing time and limited at-bats against lefties. He is a useful player to have off the bench, and it seems like Stairs could probably do what he does for another 3 or 4 years, if luck is on his side.

Thanks for reading.