As we settle in for a long (and likely uneventful) winter, it’s worth noting that baseball awards season is here. Obviously, there’s not going to be a lot of Royals traction for the big hardware, but they’re getting a couple of defensive accolades thrown their way.
The Fielding Bible awards are always fun, if anything to see how the panel votes. On Monday it was announced Alex Gordon won his fourth award for defensive excellence in left field. He led all left fielders with 18 Defensive Runs Saved and posted seven outfield Kills, which are direct throws to nab a runner. Gordon now holds the record for most Fielding Bible awards for left fielders with four honors.
Old favorite and current Milwaukee Brewer, Lorenzo Cain, won the honor in center field. Fun fact about the Fielding Bible award for center field: In the 13 years they’ve been doing this, 12 different players have won. That’s stunning turnover and something of a testament on how difficult it is to play center field at an elite level for any length of time.
Returning to a Royals-centric theme (since this is a Royals site), the only other hometown players to receive consideration were Whit Merrifield, who finished eighth in the voting at second base, and Salvador Perez, who garnered some down ballot consideration. (Mike Moustakas also earned a couple of votes at third.) The days of best defense in the game are long in the past.
In 2018, the Royals Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE) was second worst in baseball at -2.07. On the spectrum presented by Baseball Prospectus, that lies somewhere between “Poor” and “Horrendous.” In the championship years, the Royals posted a PADE of 0.58 and 0.83. Those are strong showings, but not elite, as you may have expected.
At any rate, the stellar defense has exited the stadium. If you prefer a number that isn’t park adjusted, he Royals Defensive Efficiency – or the rate they turned balls in play into outs – was an anemic 0.691. That was the second worst success rate in the league, just one one-thousandths better than the Orioles. That most definitely earns a “Horrendous” on the Baseball Prospectus scale.
Another way to measure team defense is through the Fielding Bible’s Defensive Runs Saved metric. This one you may be more familiar with, simply because the Fox Sports Kansas City broadcast talked about this at length for the previous couple of seasons. There was less mention of it this year because, well…they just weren’t as good.
Actually, by Defensive Runs Saved, the Royals were pretty much in the middle of the pack, with 24 DRS. That’s surprisingly decent. Another bright spot is that they are much improved in this metric from the previous year when they checked in with an abysmal -40 DRS. Yikes.
Forget about 2017. This is all about this year’s club. Here’s how the team DRS broke down by position.
Here is where you can spot the defensive weak links. Gold Glove nominee at catcher, Perez, improved on his performance from 2017, but is still in the red. Alcides Escobar has nothing left in the tank. It’s likely the Royals were closer to the break even point at third until they traded Moustakas. And thank the baseball gods for Merrifield on the infield. He’s holding damn near everything together.
The other key takeaway from the table above is that the Royals saved 17 runs when shifting. That sounds like a lot, but given how much they shifted during the course of the year, it’s not enough. They need to get better in this aspect. As we’ve discussed in this space, they suddenly bought in to the the school of shift in a big way in 2018. That was after not shifting much at all in the seasons where the data is readily available. Maybe there’s a happy medium somewhere in the mix. It’s certainly an area for the analytics group to address in the offseason as they plan for 2019.
Speaking of Escobar, on Monday morning he officially became a free agent for the second consecutive season. As seen above (and often) in this space, there’s no room for him as an everyday player on any team with an idea of what they are doing. Sure, the current joke is that Dayton Moore will find a way to get him back on the team at $3 million or more, but really, there’s no way that’s happening. They saw what we saw: A player whose performance has been on the decline since 2015 and finally moved into an area where his name just being in the lineup hurt his team. If he’s to get another chance, let it be with a new team.
In other decisions that have to be made now the offseason is here, is the Royals have to officially decline their half of the mutual option for Jason Hammel. That’s going to cost them $2 million. They also hold an option on Wily Peralta at $3 million for next year. As previously noted, they can decline the option at $25,000 and head to arbitration where MLB Trade Rumors projects the reliever to make $2.8 million. Or, they can just save themselves the paperwork and exercise the option for $3 million. Hell, they could also decline the option and decide to non-tender him and let him walk. Decisions, decisions.
With a 6.0 BB/9 and a 4.73 FIP, Peralta wasn’t that great out of the pen. He made 37 appearances, but only threw 10 clean innings. Granted, he didn’t always come in at the beginning of a frame, but still that’s an alarmingly low rate for a guy you trusted to close out games. This is all just a long way of saying he’s worth a flier for next year, but don’t be surprised if his ERA increases and Ned Yost’s confidence in him decreases.