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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Royals should just forget about Berroa

So the Royals have successfully completed the initial phase of their rebuilding scheme, as we learned Monday. Can't you just smell that World Series title?

OK, that's a cheap shot. Just a few weeks ago, it was pointed out in this space that, historically, a bottoming-out period has often been a prelude to success.

So let's try to wave away the smoke from this season's train wreck and focus squarely on the future. Here are some observations as we are entering what we now know will be "Phase II."

Angel Berroa

Berroa's performance has slipped to the point that the Royals need to think about eating the remainder of his contract.

Just pick a measure. Value over replacement, from Baseball Prospectus, has Berroa worst among AL regular shortstops with a 10.6 rating. Win-shares percentage, from The Hardball Times, also has him as the worst, at .257, and he's not really close to anyone else. Both metrics incorporate defense. Berroa's on-base percentage (.300) wouldn't crack the league's top 10 in batting average.

At 27, Berroa should be in his prime, but all of his numbers are down from last year. Worst of all, he doesn't seem to have the self-awareness that would seem to be a prerequisite for improvement.

Andres Blanco can at least play defense at an elite level. Long term, perhaps 2005 draftee Jeff Bianchi can be the answer.

The catchers

The Royals are content to have John Buck don the tools of ignorance now and for the foreseeable future. That might not be a bad thing. Buck is a decent defender, and research has shown that as a catcher works with a group of pitchers, the performance of those pitchers tends to improve.

However, Buck's performance with the bat this season cannot be ignored. As bad as Berroa has been, Buck has been worse. On the plus side, Buck at least has some history of production in his background.

While Buck has difficulty making consistent contact, his walk numbers in the minors were often respectable. He has plenty of power - he just doesn't make contact often enough for his power to manifest itself as an advantage.

If Buck were able to rediscover a semblance of plate discipline and improve his contact rate, he might yet turn out to be adequate with the bat.

At the same time, it seems risky for the Royals to put all eggs in Buck's mitt. The move of Justin Huber away from the catching position might come back to haunt them.

The scouting reports on Huber before this year usually noted that he was below average behind the plate. Does that mean he can't develop into an average catcher? After all, a bat like Huber's coming from the catching position would be quite a weapon for a ballclub.

Alas, we'll never know. The year of defensive development that Huber could have gotten this season cannot be recovered.

By the way, if you look at Buck's adjusted Class AAA numbers last season before he was traded to the Royals and compare them to Huber's numbers this season, they are eerily similar. That might be good. It might not.

The prototype

Love'em or hate'em, Royals fans should admire the high-functioning baseball machine that former general manger John Schuerholz operates in Atlanta.

Recently, this has been the Braves' everyday lineup as they close in on a 14th consecutive division title: Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Adam LaRoche, Jeff Francoeur, Ryan Langerhans and Brian McCann.

Not one of these players has played for another organization. They are Braves, through and through. That is how you run a player-development system.

Check out the accompanying chart. It compares the Class AA statistics of this Braves lineup with the same for a projected 2007 Royals lineup. We've used OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), adjusted for ballpark, as our measuring stick. Some of the numbers have been projected:

Measuring stick
Just for fun: adjusted Class AA OPS numbers for the Braves' lineup versus that of a projected 2007 Royals lineup. Mark Teahen at second base? Might be a little too far out of the box. Also, Gordon's projection, which is based on college numbers, is really a stab in the dark. Sample-size caveats apply.
Braves
Royals
McCann (21, 835)CBuck (22, 745)
LaRoche (23, 892)1BHuber (23, 1022)
Giles (22, 865)2BTeahen (22, 969)
Furcal (19, 778*)SSBianchi (20, 978)
C. Jones (20, 974)3BGordon (22, 916)
R. Langrhns (23, 739)LFLubanski (21, 840)
A. Jones (19, 1118)CFDeJesus (23, 919)
J. Francoeur (21, 809)RFButler (20, 898)
Note: Class AA age and OPS are listed in parenthesis

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