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.

  • Among the two new players, the Mays signing seems to be the most universal lightning rod for criticism. Certainly, Mays has not been a good pitcher since 2001, when he threw 233.7 innings with a 3.16 ERA. Elbow injuries derailed his career, and he missed the entire 2004 season with Tommy John surgery. He came back last season and posted poor numbers in 156 IP, forcing his removal from the Twins' starting rotation in August.

    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.

  • Admittedly, it took us a while to come around on Reggie Sanders. He's no longer the type of player who jumps out at you as a difference maker, and giving a two-year contract to a 38-year-old has historically been a bad gamble. He's been terribly injury-prone throughout his career, and Kansas City is incredibly his eighth team in the last nine years.

    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.

  • While we're criticizing KC Star writers, it would be irresponsible of us to let Jeffrey Flanagan's Christmas Day effort slide without comment. Flanagan blasted the offseason moves, lamenting the fact that the average age of KC's starting lineup in 2006 will be 30 years old while insisting this somehow signals the Royals have abandoned their youth movement.

    "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.


    At 12/29/2005 6:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    MR. RC

    I have a question for you. Why would the KC Glass's sign Grudz just after they used the first pick in the Rule V to draft a quality lefty then trade for a 2b.
    German by all accounts was supposed to take hold of the 2b job, and potentially the leadoff spot as your own column suggested. Yet the Royals then quickly squash the idea of letting someone with some upside win the job, and sign Grudz. Pretty senseless I would say.
    If they wanted Grudz, who is not a a bad player, then why not keep the quality arm?

    At 12/29/2005 7:37 AM, Blogger wadephillips said...

    Is your chair an Attila the Hun "type" chair?

    At 12/29/2005 9:20 AM, Anonymous Jason said...

    Anonymous... I'm no RC, but here is MY answer to your question. First, while I think German can be a decent player, I think that Grudz comes in already decent, with leadership, and an excellent man to have on the DP. If we had kept the pitcher from the rule V draft, we would have had to keep him on the major league roster all year. I'm fairly certain that we don't have to do that with German. Also, maybe it's just looking at the surface, but wasn't that guy about 5'7" or shorter? I just don't believe that he could have held up. Who knows, maybe that is so far to the extreme that hitters aren't used to a ball coming from that angle. Look at how much more time they would have to react to a pitch from him than from Sisco... he probably releases the ball a foot and a half farther away. Just my two cents. There was no way they were going to keep him on the 25 man roster all year.

    At 12/29/2005 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    BRAVO! Well said. I agree with it all. While I would have rather had Kim than Mays for the same amount of $$, i am fine with it.

    On to Flanagan, I think i am going to start a flanagan watch blog. I will post the blog name here when i get around to creating it.

    At 12/29/2005 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "None of the new players blocks a major league ready prospect." The fact that the Royals have no major league ready prospscts is the problem and the reason for these moves.

    At 12/29/2005 11:54 AM, Anonymous Nate said...


    You're right about Doolittle's park factor point being stupid. But I think the "history of players Sanders' age" point remains very strong.

    I know that there was a strong "spend for spending's sake" push from ownership this year, and I understand all of the reasons (buying time for prospects, PR damage control)Reggie was inked. But in general, the Royals need to be making moves with a high probability of a positive return. In pure baseball terms, it's tough to see this as such a move.

    At 12/29/2005 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    It's hard for a team like the Royals to sign a player with a "high probability of a positive return." With this year's inflated free agent market, the can't-miss free agents (and there aren't many) are signing for much more money than the Royals can afford to dish out.

    That being said, I agree that these guys don't have that much upside. However, this isn't 2004 when Baird signed Juan Gone, Benito Santiago, et. al. these guys are really just place holders, and if they crater their contracts are not crippling

    At 12/29/2005 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Here's what Reggie Sanders has made in his career. Note, you have to have a broken leg and be atleast 38 years old before you can get "the really good money"

    1992 Cincinnati Reds $109,000
    1993 Cincinnati Reds $275,000
    1994 Cincinnati Reds $925,000
    1995 Cincinnati Reds $1,975,000
    1996 Cincinnati Reds $3,575,000
    1997 Cincinnati Reds $3,700,000
    1998 Cincinnati Reds $3,700,000
    1999 San Diego Padres $3,700,000
    2000 Atlanta Braves $3,700,000
    2001 Arizona Diamondbacks $1,500,000
    2002 San Francisco Giants $1,750,000
    2003 Pittsburgh Pirates $1,000,000
    2004 St. Louis Cardinals $2,000,000
    2005 St. Louis Cardinals $4,000,000
    2006 Kansas City Royals $5,000,000
    2007 Kansas City Royals $5,000,000

    Career (may be incomplete) $41,909,000

    At 12/29/2005 2:26 PM, Blogger Nick said...

    I'm pleased to finally see someone who thinks Flanagan's column is not exemplary. I find myself reading it every morning with mixed feelings: he usually provides a couple of interesting tidbits, but then also includes some absolutely uninformed nonsense. It's amazing to me that with the quality of blog writers, we still have to put up with print writers of this caliber.

    At 12/29/2005 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hey Jason,

    I thought Sweeney was kept for leadership, Stairs for leadership, Sanders signing was for leadership, Redman, Bako, etc etc...If the last place Royals need all this leadership to finish in the basement, what does that say about A) their management
    B) the quality of their rookies
    C) the general manager who recruited all this

    I like Grudz, he's a solid player, but he does nothing for this organization. He's a good compliment on a playoff run type team. Thats it

    At 12/29/2005 6:56 PM, Anonymous Cory said...

    This is one of the most impressive Royals-based blog entries I've read in quite some time.

    The ONLY part I don't agree with:

    "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."

    While I'd love to see Sanders have two successful years in KC and then be replaced by..cough..Butler, I'm hard-pressed to admit in any shape or form that Sanders' physical decline will not be very noticable starting with spring training and only getting worse throughout the contract. They probably could have waited and picked him up at a lower number.

    At 12/30/2005 3:32 AM, Blogger Kevin said...

    Flanagan's at it again. Today, he's questioning why the Royals would allow DJ Carrasco to leave for Japan:

    During one five-game stretch last season, Carrasco pitched 34 innings and gave up just five earned runs. That included a solid six-inning shutout of the Yankees and a complete-game five hitter against the Giants. Over that span, he gave the Royals a shot to win each time out. He mixed his pitches. He threw strikes. He pitched.

    Really? During a 54 2/3-innings stretch that spanned from July 'til August, he allowed 36 earned runs. Oh, and there's also that whole thing about walking more guys than he struck out.

    Flanagan may work really hard at his job, but as Art Smith said in Christmas Vacation, "so do washing machines."

    At 12/30/2005 1:00 PM, Blogger Dave said...

    Sheesh, someone should poop on Flanagan's keyboard.

    There are so many flaws to his reasoning in that column, he should actually be embarrassed. The performance aspect is something you've adequately addressed, but how about looking at this from a class perspective?

    I think I'll write about this tonight.


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