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Friday, September 02, 2005

STAT GUY: random thoughts

It's getting to be the time of the year when the pro & college football / high school sports monster devours the space allotted to a sad-sack, last-place baseball team.

Thusly, it will be a crapshoot from here on out whether Stat Guy will make the print editions. This week was a thumbsdown. The city was furious.

Anyway, never fear. This inevitable course of events is why I begged and pleaded to get this blog started up in the first place. Up till now, time constraints has dictated that I used this page largely as an archive and a place for additional content that had to be cut from the print version.

Most likely, till next spring, this blog will be my main outlet.

Perhaps it was a good thing that "The Stat Guy" was held this week. All of this losing has rendered me incapable of sustaining a linear train of thought. I've been in a real funk - borderline depressed.

So here are some random observations I compiled, nonetheless:

The Royals' decision before the season to convert Justin Huber away from the catcher's slot was troubling at the time. Now, given John Buck's disastrous season at the plate, if not behind it, the decision is worth revisiting.

In the minors, Huber has had a sterling season at the plate. In the majors, Buck has not.

Prior to this season, Buck had batting line of .271/.337/.431 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in nearly 600 minor-league games. He was 24 years old when he stuck in the majors with the Royals last season.

Huber will be 24 years old next season. Entering 2005, Huber had a line of .279/.364/.466 in 368 games. This season, it's .300/.368/.507. Buck's is .222/.273/.347.

You can't assume that Buck's development stops here, so to speak. His 2004 season, including his Class AAA numbers before coming to Kansas City, was eerily similar to what Huber's statistics are this year.

While it's way, way too early to declare Buck a bust, you have to worry. If he is, what is the contingency?

Huber was shifted away from the catcher position because of defensive considerations. According to scouting reports in Baseball America, Huber had average tools and below-average technique as a catcher. That technique will not have improved after a season of playing first base.

Should the Royals have been so quick to move Huber to a position (first base) where his bat is far less valuable?

Most of the Royals' best hitting prospects are destined for corner positions. Being that it's so hard to find a catcher with a good bat, it might have been better to develop Huber's catching skills rather than give up on them.

* TWINS NADIR: The Royals are following the Twins' model of stripping down the big-league roster and restocking with young talent from within. However, it should be noted that the depths of the Twins' rebuilding job were not as low as the Royals. The most games the Twins lost during their buildup was 97 games.

Also, alert readers were unconvinced by Stat Guy's attempt last week to be upbeat. Whereas many of the worst two-season teams in baseball history returned to contention in a reasonably short time frame, one point was missed: all of the turnarounds were completed with entirely different rosters from the teams that lost so many games.

* TAMPA ENVY REDUX: Last season, when the Devil Rays went 20-6 in June, Stat Guy wrote a piece that basically demonstrated why Royals fans should be jealous of the Rays' success.

Well, it's time to turn green again because the Devil Rays are having the season the Royals wanted to have.

Both teams entered this season with low expectations, low payrolls and a great deal of hope attached to some young players. While contention was out of the question, it would do much to bolster fan enthusiasm if the young players got better and won more games as the season went along.

Have you noticed what has happened in Tampa? The Devil Rays are suddenly tough to beat. They're 27-17 since the All-Star break, tied for the third-most wins in the league.

The Devil Rays are really starting to see the bounty from a system full of young position players. They are fourth in the league in scoring during the second half and have been one of the top five or six teams in the AL offensively all season.

When you consider that Rocco Baldelli has missed the entire season and super prospects B.J. Upton and Delmon Young are very near to being big-league ready, Tampa will have a group of position players that most organizations would love to have.

The pitching is another story. Still, to be young and a Devil Rays fan...

* CELLAR DWELLERS: Categories in which the Royals rank last in their league:

The hitters: runs scored (542), on-base percentage (.315), slugging percentage (.390), home runs (98), stolen base success rate (58 percent).

The starting pitchers: strikeouts per nine innings (4.88), ERA (6.01), batting average allowed (.297), wins (28), innings pitched (698).

The relievers: walks (206), losses (28), hits allowed (478).

The fielders: defensive efficiency record (.668).

That about covers everything, doesn't it?

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