RC officially changes our position on second base

We have made no secret about our fondness of Donnie Murphy. We've liked Murphy ever since we watched him for a season in the Carolina League, and we're convinced that despite looking overwhelmed at the plate in the Major Leagues, Murphy will eventually come around and be a plus-offensive player at second base. And as such, we've labeled him as our "second baseman of the future," and we repeatedly stated our preference in seeing him as the starter in KC in 2006.

We still like Murphy, but we'd now prefer him to go to Omaha to start next season. RC wants Andres Blanco instead. Every night we watch Blanco make defensive plays that leave us awestruck. Tonight, for example, Blanco was responsible for creating at least three outs on defense that no other second baseman in the Royals organization could have made, and we have doubts that ANY other second baseman in baseball could have made two of them.

In the first inning of tonight's 5-4 loss, he dove and snared a grounder off the bat of Ben Broussard at the edge of the grass, then spun around and from his butt threw him out at first. For a player like Murphy, this would go in the highlight file, but for Blanco, it is merely routine. He later turned another miraculous double play with Angel Berroa. The speed with which Blanco turns the double play is astounding -- the best in all of baseball -- but what is truly impressive is how hard Blanco's relay throws to first are. Of course, this is also becoming routine for Blanco.

But in the third inning, he made RC leap to our feet with amazement as he dove at and caught -- while parallel with the ground -- an outfield-bound soft liner that almost certainly would have plated a run. We've seen Blanco make some great plays, but this one may have finally been the straw that broke RC's backing of Murphy.

Blanco does everything well defensively -- his range is superlative, his plus-shortstop arm makes second base look like a joke, and his double play turns are flawless and lightning-quick. His instincts are excellent, and he's young enough that he still hustles after everything. Allard Baird is absolutely correct when he says that Blanco is a Gold Glove caliber second baseman right now. There truly is nobody who is better defensively, at least not in the American League.

True, Blanco's bat still leaves much to be desired. Even though he's handled himself pretty well at the Major League level thus far, his minor league performance shows that Blanco would be lucky to be a lifetime .250/.315/.335 hitter. However, we are starting to convince ourselves that Blanco's defense would pick up all the slack and then some for his below average offense. Indeed, we think Blanco's presence on the roster could have a very positive effect on the Royals' vital runs created/runs allowed ratio.

Can we quantify it? No. Most quality defensive statistics are still in their infancy, and even though the better statistics like zone rating and defensive win shares will both reflect Blanco's superior defense, they'll still be unable to accurately measure Blanco's contribution to the team. For instance, there is no way to quantify that Blanco's diving catch today saved an actual run because there was a man on second base. And there's no way to predict with any certainty how many other second basemen would have been able to make that play, or any others in which Blanco's arm strength or range played the central role in nailing a baserunner by half a step.

Of course, all of this may be for naught. We understand Baird prior to the game today said on the radio that he's targeting a veteran free agent second baseman in the offseason. With Blanco, Murphy, and Ruben Gotay all in the organization, the only way Baird could justify that to us would be by moving Blanco back to shortstop (which would raise his defensive value even higher) and showing Berroa the door. But if that doesn't happen, RC is convinced that we have a quality second baseman right now, and we hope the Royals realize it.

Do you agree with RC? Let us know by voicing your opinion in our new poll, located in the right sidebar on this page.


At 9/18/2005 2:58 AM, Blogger Kevin said...

Murphy should start at 2nd, Blanco should suit up at short, and Berroa should be kicked out the door.

At 9/18/2005 1:49 PM, Blogger royalsbeliever said...

I agree with Dave that Murphy should be in Omaha next season. Blanco is like you my favorite 2nd baseman we have. He is batting .348 left handed but only 1-9 right handed. Maybe we could get him to stay as a left handed batter next season instead of switch?! I know he hasn't had enough AB's to be sure about or make a good judgement, but he might not be a bad leadoff man batting left handed. His defense is definetly gold-gloveish like you stated. I also agree with you that putting Blanco at short and starting someone like Walker or Grudzielanek is the only thing that would justify not starting Blanco next season. He makes 2B look really easy, and him at short would get rid of the Berroa blunders and a Walker or Grudz or Graffy would be fine offensively.

At 9/18/2005 2:05 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Kevin, that would be ideal.

Royalsbeliever, Blanco should never hit higher than ninth in the lineup. He is an out machine, and my biggest fear with him is that somebody decides to bat him second in the lineup because he's a good bunter. The Royals should minimize the damage he does to the offense, and that can best be achieved by making sure he gets less at bats than anyone else each game.

At 9/18/2005 4:52 PM, Blogger DL said...

Hardball Times adds "fielding win shares" into their win share calculations. Orlando Hudson leads the AL (and ML) with 8.1 fielding win shares. Brian Roberts leads all second baseman with 28 total win shares. A middle of the pack 2B (Hudson, Polanco, Kennedy) generates about 14-15 win shares per season.

If we assume that we couldn't count on Blanco for any positive win shares from his offense, he would need to contribute about 15 win shares defensively to be an average second baseman, which is nearly double what the top-rated defensive second baseman posted this season. That's a tall order.

I understand its not perfect, but it gives you a sense of how accomplished Blanco would need to be in the field to be league average. If he's really as good as everyone believes, he might actually come close if he could post Omar Vizquel-like offensive at some point. That's not out of the realm of possibility.

Anyway, I'd rather see Blanco at SS, too, and let Murphy and Gotay battle it out for 2B. I'm still bullish on both, esp. Gotay's bat. Berroa's cooked.

At 9/18/2005 5:31 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I think fielding win shares miss a lot, however. Honestly, I don't think fielding win shares are much better or different than range factor, because both are dependent solely upon the number of balls a player successfully fields compared to league average. They are both unable to quantify the difficulty of the plays made, or the number of runs saved because of them.

Frankly, I just don't believe that there's a truly great defensive statistic out there.

At 9/18/2005 5:42 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Mark Teahen's at or near the bottom of most every defensive metric. From what we've seen this year, I think that discredits modern fielding metrics at least slightly.

At 9/18/2005 5:43 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Dave, I'm starting to think the Royals need to go get an offense-first guy like Todd Walker to counter Blanco's no-hit, defense-first ability.

At 9/18/2005 5:55 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Yes, for the symmetry, lol.

At 9/18/2005 9:46 PM, Blogger royalsbeliever said...

It'd be more useful to have a guy like Blanco at SS, and Walker or Graffy at 2nd so we wouldn't lose a lot of offense from 2nd.

At 9/23/2005 5:56 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

I'm sure we all agree, at the least, that Blanco will be the utility infielder next season, hopefully utterly replacing Joe McFutility and Loogy Hocking.

From there, it'll have to be a question of hitting -- as in, Blanco simply coming close to matching Berroa's offensive production. I believe the rest (as in defense) will speak for itself.

Being what...6 or 7 years younger than Berroa ought to mean the Royals give Blanco the benefit of the doubt as far as improving just a bit with the stick, too, whereas Berroa ought to be given the benefit of the Absolutely-Convinced-He'll-Never-Be-Any-Better.


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