The Monday Rant: Giants Envy

Last week the San Francisco Giants caused quite the stir because a young platoon player that’s struggled with the bat during his brief major league career had the nerve to bunt for a hit while the Giants led the Padres 9-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning.

The video that quickly made the rounds of the Padres bench of 60+ year old angry dudes yelling and gesturing in disgust was pretty funny. “How dare this 150-pound middle infielder reach base against us!”

Were they angry because they were actually upset, or were they angry because they thought they were supposed to be angry. The eyewash of tough-guy sports nonsense knows no bounds.

What struck me about the Giants approach to the bunt by Dubon was their justification of the play. Manager Gabe Kapler didn’t give the normal “we play to the last out” platitude. He gave a nuanced, and quite frankly “no duh” reasoning for how the Giants will approach the change.

Gabe Kapler – Team Handsome

Approaching an individual game as much more than the nine innings you happen to be playing that day is so obvious I’m pissed I didn’t think of it first. Baseball, unlike other sports, provides the opportunity to not only beat your opponent on that given day, but set up the next day’s game in a way that gives you an advantage to win.

If you can win today and give yourself an extra 10% chance of winning tomorrow, isn’t that a no brainer?

Momentum isn’t only as good as the next day’s starter, as the saying goes. Momentum is as good as the next day’s starter, middle reliever, fireman, setup man, LOOGY, and closer. If your team has the opportunity to force the other team to use more relievers because of your offensive output, well gosh, that seems like something everyone can understand.

The Giants, in some way, are my second team, if a person is allowed to have such a thing. My wife and my entire wife’s family are Giants fans. The benefits of living on the west coast is watching Royals games then watching Giants games after.

Because of this I watch just as much Giants as I do Royals and I’ll tell ya, it’s hard to watch knowing the Royals are so far behind in how they view the sport and how they prepare.

The Giants cycle through a collection of fringe prospects and older platoon-only veterans, and they just win games. Their pitching development is second to none — thanks to former Royal Brian Bannister — and they mix and match their lineup on a near daily basis. They are an enjoyable watch.

I’m interested to see if the Giants approach to a more series-based strategy takes hold and more teams start to employ it. Professional sports are all copy cat leagues, after all.

Maybe the Royals can copycat what the Giants do on the pitching development side of things so one of their young arms can take a leap forward like…

The Good

Brad Keller threw another helluva game. With 7 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts, and two walks against the Tigers he lowered his season ERA to 1.38, but more importantly for him avoided an abundance of walks which has been what’s killed him in his career.

Keller has always been an unnatural pitcher by today’s standards because he forces more groundballs than most. Where he’s gotten into trouble, especially in 2021, is his 4.3 BB/9 rate flooded the bases with runners, hurting his ability to turn his natural ability to get groundballs into a positive. Remember, more contact equals more runs.

So as I wrote last week, I’ve always been curious what a power 4-seam (upper zone fastball) approach would do for Keller, not only to get more strikeouts but to help his command. His first start against Cleveland he used his changeup more in place of his sinker. Against the Tigers it was the slider’s turn:

38% sliders is a huge number, especially for a Royals pitcher, and look at the success because of it.

This is a welcome sight. A good Brad Keller is essential for the Royals to take a step as an organization, especially given how the rest of the starting rotation has looked. If Keller can continue this trajectory he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch every fifth day. And the Royals need him to take The Leap into top-of-the-rotation starter because…

The Bad

The Royals deploy an offense that continues to be one of the worst in baseball. A theme of the Dayton Moore era.

What’s more frustrating than the steps back in production and the development(s) that have never taken a step forward, is the Royals refusal to implement any kind of platoon system (see above) in order to design their lineup for the best chance to win.

A tweet of mine last week caused a ruckus as some completely missed the point I was making. An unsurprising trait of Twitter, sure, but one that deserves further, more thought out discussion.

The Royals are running out a lineup of regulars that have been in place for more than a year now, and a couple of the regulars, when healthy, have been mainstays since 2017. Here is the production for each of these players since game 1 of the 2020 season:

Carlos Santana.206.324.336.66085
Hunter Dozier.222.301.397.69889
Whit Merrifield.272.311.392.70389
Michael A. Taylor.236.290.366.65678
Adalberto Mondesi.239.280.409.68984

Let’s acknowledge for a moment that each of these performances is at least 10% below the league average. Each of these players has been a below average offensive performer for what amounts to almost two full seasons of play. On these numbers alone, there’s no reason each of these players should be given an everyday spot in the lineup, without any platoon or rest days worked in. And that’s the point.

Specifically, platooning.

Carlos Santana for his career is a 106 OPS+ against lefties, 97 OPS+ against righties. The disparity between the two gets even bigger more recently in his career:

202248-5 (!)
Carlos Santana platoon splits by OPS+

Mondesi has a career platoon split of 96 OPS+ against righties, and 108 OPS+ against lefties. He’s an interesting case (perhaps mind numbingly frustrating is a better term to use) because the tools make fans think of what could be, despite everything he’s ever show he is. Here’s his last three years platoon splits:

2022-100 (0 for 5)28
Adalberto Mondesi platoon splits by OPS+

Taylor and Mondesi might as well be the same person just playing different positions. Both good-to-great defensively, neither can get on base against right-handed pitching. Taylor’s career splits against a righty is 94 OPS+ and 115 OPS+ against a lefty. Taylor, who has finished a full season with an on-base percentage above .300 just once in his 9 year career, actually has a .311 career OBP against lefties. His stats scream platoon bat. Here’s his last three seasons:

2022107-20 (0 for 3 with a BB)
Michael A. Taylor platoon splits by OPS+

At a minimum, you can see that all three of these players should not have their spots in the lineup guaranteed everyday. There’s no reason to overreact to that statement. No one is saying Taylor or Mondesi or Santana should be outright released. Well, not today, anyway. I haven’t had my three cups of coffee yet.

The point is simple: there have been and are now players that have earned opportunities to get at least SOME at bats in the major leagues. Some. Ryan McBroom over Ryan O’Hearn and Santana. Brett Phillips over O’Hearn. And now, Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares over Santana, Taylor, and Mondesi, at the very least on a platoon basis.

The case against Mondesi grows larger when you factor in three players have now been forced to secondary positions to make sure he’s granted everyday shortstop playing time. All for a player that averages a simple 2.1 WAR per 162 game average. (Brett Phillips is 2.9, FYI)

Fans cannot deny this organization has routinely operated like this since Dayton Moore took over in 2006. They have their guys and that’s that. But wouldn’t the team be better off if the players are put in a better position to have success? Being more flexible with platoons allows for more of your bench to develop, and limits the exposure your weaker hitters have against their platoon-side pitching.

Additionally, couldn’t Whit Merrifield, the team’s best all-around player, benefit from playing his natural position instead of being relegated to right field? I’m a big Whit Merrifield fan. I was one of the few that said keeping Merrifield around for his decline years makes the team better because winning is a learned trait, and good, smart players help you win.

But if Merrifield’s existence on the team is to be put in a defensive position that isn’t natural, if Isbel and Olivares, etc, aren’t given at least some at bats at the expense of veterans that have proven an inability to perform offensively, then the team isn’t being put in the best position to win every day.

Like the Giants are.