RC returns with some analysis, and some vinegar for the KC Star...
RC trusts all our readers had a fine holiday, and we're pleased to be able to return to action, now that we're firmly ensconced in the fine Italian leather chair at RC's Eastern Command, which has been strategically placed directly in front of a computer that actually works (Full disclosure: our official chair is actually made out of some kind of nylon material). And as you know, our week away brought some interesting additions to the Royals roster, so we won't waste any more time.
We know the burning question on every intelligent Royals fan's mind is "what does RC think about the additions of Reggie Sanders and Joe Mays?" Well, we're pretty pleased.
But a closer look at his numbers reveals that Mays was actually an effective pitcher for the first half of last season. In fact, he carried a very respectable 4.13 ERA into the All-Star break, and although most of his peripherals suggest he was lucky, his control was surpisingly good -- 22 walks in 98 IP, resulting in a decent 1.39 WHIP. He clearly tired down the stretch, but that's expected of a pitcher coming off a season missed to Tommy John surgery.
The Royals are obviously hoping that Mays' recovery from Tommy John is typical, in that he'll continue to get stronger in his second year removed from the surgery. They're betting $1 million on it, and it's not a bad risk on a pitcher who just might be able to recover sufficiently enough to give them 25-30 roughly league average starts. In fact, RC believes the risk/reward odds of this signing are significantly better than the chance they took on Scott Elarton, and we wouldn't be at all surprised if Mays turns out to be a Jeff Suppan-type signing for the Royals. It's certainly nothing to get upset about, as it at the very least will provide some additional insurance that the young pitchers like J.P. Howell receive more time to develop in the minors.
However, when you get past that, you see that Sanders is also likely the most physically-fit 38-year-old you'll ever see, and he's averaged 26 home runs over the past five seasons. He's coming off an excellent but injury-shortened season (thanks to a collision with Jim Edmonds) that saw him put up a very nice .886 OPS. His speed is still above average, as is his outfield arm, and any way you slice it, he figures to be an upgrade -- both offensively and defensively -- over the riff raff (T-Long) the Royals ran out in 2005.
Yes, there are the naysayers. They say $10 million is a lot of money to commit to a player who's as close to collecting Social Security as Sanders, and he's never had a season in which he's played in more than 140 games. He's probably a good bet to miss roughly a month of the 2006 season.
One such naysayer is the KC Star's "Stat Guy", Bradford Doolittle, who has gone on record saying the Sanders signing is "the worst move the Royals have made in an off-season of questionable activity." To strengthen his argument, Doolittle points out that that Sanders over the last two seasons for St. Louis has posted road OPSs of .738 and .789, respectively. According to Doolittle, this shows that he was "taking advantage of the confines of Busch Stadium," which is a stadium that "gave a slight boost to hitters." He then goes on to say that "the Royals employ a statistical analyst but this person either looks at the wrong statistics or holds no sway with the team's decision makers."
Really, it's funny when someone like Doolittle blasts the statistical analysis of an actual professional while employing what is unquestionably flawed analysis of his own to buttress his point. Saying that Busch Stadium gives a "slight boost to hitters" -- which is certainly predicated upon the nearly neutral 102 offensive park factor in 2005 -- completely ignores the historical fact that Busch Stadium usually favors pitchers. In fact, in 2002-2004, Busch Stadium had offensive park factors of 94, 96, and 97, respectively, and you'd have to go back to 1991 -- before Busch was even renovated -- to find another season in which the park slightly favored hitters (101). Furthermore, Sanders' road OPS takes on even less significance when you consider that over the past three years, his average road OPS is a healthy .829, and his improvement in 2005 renders completely useless any suggestion of a declining trend. In short, pointing to home/road splits on a player who's played his last two seasons in an essentially neutral park is quite useless. We generally respect Doolittle's analysis (sans his Buddy Bell criticisms), but this is unusually bad work for him.
That means the two salient arguments remaining against Sanders are thus: 1) Sanders is old, and old players usually decline quickly, and 2) Sanders is usually only good for about 130 games. These arguments are easy to reconcile. While it's rare for players to continue being productive into their late 30s, it's equally rare for them to be in such stellar shape as Reggie Sanders. Indeed, Sanders has lost little bat speed, little foot speed, and little arm strength, and there seems to be little reason to suspect we'll see a massive decline over the next two seasons. Certainly it's possible, but when you weigh the risks of that against what is essentially a very reasonable contract, the potential rewards clearly outweigh those risks. If Sanders bombs, his contract will do little to hinder the final phase of Allard Baird's plan, which is the addition of the next wave of young talent -- Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Justin Huber.
As far as the injuries go, RC would be thrilled to death if Sanders plays in 130 games. $5 million for 450 at bats from a proven run producer and solid defender is a good investment in today's market, and it promises to be far more productive than what the Royals could have expected to receive from a smattering of AAAAron Guiel, Chip Ambres, and any other marginal outfielder in the system. The simple fact is that the Sanders addition improves the team in the short term without damaging its long term ability to compete, and as long as David Glass is comfortable shelling out the dollars, RC is comfortable greeting Sanders as our newest quality ballplayer.
"Youth movement?" asks Flanagan, "Anyone remember that?"
He then goes on to bemoan the departure of "All-Star" Ken Harvey and the disappearance of Ruben Gotay and Guiel from the Royals' plans.
"Ken Harvey is an All-Star one minute, nontendered the next" whines Flanagan.
RC used to give Flanagan the benefit of the doubt. After all, we know first hand how difficult it can be to come up with interesting content on a daily basis. However, we lost nearly all respect for his baseball writing about a year ago, when he explained how he couldn't bring himself to vote for Wade Boggs for the Hall of Fame because "he was a career singles hitter with absolutely no speed" (despite a ridiculous .415 career OBP and 578 doubles). In fact, we're still having trouble contemplating how Flanagan even has a Hall of Fame vote.
Well, any shred of respectability we still held for Flanagan's baseball writing has now been completely vanquished. We can understand how the casual fan (and non-RC reader) can hear that the Royals' average age increased during the offseason and conclude they've abandoned the youth movement. But we cannot understand how a professional journalist -- who has access to Royals officials and has surely heard exactly how NONE of the new players blocks a Major League-ready prospect -- can publish such a ridiculous column. And furthermore, how can anyone who has actually seen Harvey play or looked at his dismal statistics question his nontender?
Simply put, the nontender of a slow 28-year-old first baseman with a .733 career OPS and as many blooper-reel plays as home runs is nothing to fret about -- it's something to celebrate. We guess Flanagan didn't get that memo.