SweetSpot: Mike Jacobs

Baseball issues positive and negative were certainly on display for Keith Law and me as we enjoyed Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast. Here are some of the topics:

1. It was a Giant win in Atlanta, but can the defending champs overcome the bullpen injuries? Speaking of the Braves, their rotation depth is discussed.

2. Look, not every outing for the great Stephen Strasburg will be dominating, but KLaw tries to put expectations in check.

3. The Kansas City Royals have decided on their right fielder for the next few seasons, but is Jeff Francoeur the right choice?

4. The Cardinals may or may not be contenders still, but their catcher and former center fielder are topics for the emailers.

5. It’s a somewhat limited Thursday schedule, but it’s full of aces. So naturally we turned our attention to a young pitcher with ace upside and his innings limit.

Plus: Excellent emails, rooting for Dustin McGowan, the strange case of Mike Jacobs, more RBIs and runs talk -- we can’t get enough! -- and a ton more on a packed Thursday Baseball Today. Download now!

Minaya's 1B plans straight from Bizarro World

February, 15, 2010
Omar Minaya couldn't let all the warm, fuzzy feelings about Jose Reyes and Johan Santana percolate for just a few more days? Brian Costa with the weird news:

    Three days before Mets pitchers and catchers report to camp, Omar Minaya is already settled into his office in Port St. Lucie, Fla. And the GM is looking forward to several position battles this spring, including one that seemed unlikely just a week ago: first base.

    Minaya told me first base will be "an open competition" between Daniel Murphy and Mike Jacobs, who signed a minor-league deal with the Mets last week. Murphy is still the pre-camp favorite to win the job, but if he struggles over the next seven weeks and Jacobs impresses, the Mets could alter their thinking.

    "He'll compete for the job," Minaya said of Jacobs. "I think it's fair to say that Murphy has proven himself worthy of being considered, but he's going to have to continue. It's an open competition."


    Whether it's Murphy or Jacobs, the Mets' starting first baseman in 2010 may just be keeping the spot warm for prospect Ike Davis, anyway. Davis, 22, will be in camp as a non-roster invitee.

Davis is probably going to win the job, eventually. But with only 55 games above Class A, that eventually is late this summer at the earliest, and probably sometime in 2011. So, considering that the Mets will have a large payroll in 2010, but will enter the season picked to finish second or third in their division, they can hardly afford to just punt a position.

But that's what they're doing. When you see the names "Daniel Murphy" and "Mike Jacobs," you might say to yourself, "Self, neither of those guys are good enough to play every day, but what about a platoon? After all, the Mets are set with every-day players for every other position, so they should have the roster space to carry two first basemen."

Ah, that's what I thought, too. But then, a nagging little suspicion: Aren't Murphy and Jacobs both left-handed hitters?

They are.

That's right, friends. Even though he already had Murphy, Minaya chose -- from among all the sluggardly sluggers looking for an invitation to spring training -- another left-handed hitter to compete with Murphy.

Against left-handed pitchers in his career, Jacobs has been utterly useless: .221/.269/.374.

Against left-handed pitchers in his career, Murphy has been slightly better: .240/.289/.442.

Granted, neither of them have been crackerjacks against right-handed pitchers, either. Jacobs hasn't reached base often enough and Murphy hasn't hit for enough power. But each might be useful against right-handers.

Maybe Minaya's not finished yet. Maybe he's going to trade Murphy for a righty-hitting first baseman. Maybe he's bringing Jacobs to camp just to give Murphy some competition. Maybe he's going to sign Mike Sweeney to platoon with the winner of the Murphy/Jacobs smackdown.

Maybe. But until something else happens, we'll have to go with this as the No. 1 early contender for 2010's Worst Plan of Spring Training Award.

Statistically, Royals stuck in '70s

July, 13, 2009
It took me just a couple of hours to post my reaction to the Royals' trade for Yuniesky Betancourt. It took Rany Jazayerli nearly 24 hours to post his but then, he had a good excuse: Rany's response ran more than 4,200 words. Frankly, I don't know if I recommend reading the whole post unless 1. You're a Royals fan, or 2. You've got a masochistic streak within you. Because this is painful stuff.

A snippet, though:

    Unfortunately for the Royals, last year [Mariners GM Bill] Bavasi was fired -- and remember, this was the same genius who, before the axe fell, cited the departure of Jose Guillen as one of his biggest regrets -- and the Mariners hired the talented Jack Zduriencik as their new GM. Zduriencik had been the scouting director for the Milwaukee Brewers, but unlike certain scout-oriented GMs he quickly proved that he was not intimidated by statistical analysis. He created a Department of Statistical Research and hired his former assistant Tony Blengino to run it. The Mariners also hired the brilliant Tom Tango as a consultant.

    This winter, the Mariners and Royals were both looking for first basemen. The Mariners decided to gamble on a player who, despite a .485 career slugging average and being a perennial stathead favorite, had never batted even 450 times in a season and had gone over 300 plate appearances just twice. They signed Russ Branyan to a $1.4 million contract, and Branyan currently is hitting .284/.383/.575 and ranks second in the league with 21 homers despite playing in one of the AL's best pitchers' parks. The Royals, despite having one of the best first base prospects in baseball in Kila Ka'aihue, instead sacrificed a quality reliever in Leo Nunez for the opportunity to pay Mike Jacobs over $3 million. Jacobs had a career .498 slugging average, but his plate discipline was terrible and he was coming off his best season at age 27 – a strong statistical sign that he was likely to fall back. You may recall that the stats community hated the trade. He's hitting .218/.294/.401.

You probably don't need anything more from me, after that. Zduriencik is employing all (or most) of the tools at a modern general manager's disposal; Moore chooses to ignore one of those tools, and winds up with out-machines like Jacobs, Miguel Olivo, and (soon) Betancourt in his lineup. Zduriencik's acquisitions of castoffs Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez -- two of three best players in the lineup -- were right out of the sabermetric playbook. Meanwhile, Moore behaves as if Bill James hadn't started writing "The Baseball Abstract" more than 30 years ago.

Which is how we got where we are: the Royals are, once again, the most ridiculous franchise in the American League. And a hearty congratulations to everyone who made it happen.

(For more on the disconnect between Dayton Moore and the current state of baseball analysis, there's Pos-o'-plenty here and especially here. Oh, and now there's this; at least Moore admits that he doesn't know, and doesn't care. More kudos to all involved.)

Royals finding their level

June, 4, 2009
Shortly after Billy Butler's two-out, full-count double this afternoon gave the Royals their first lead in their series against the Rays, broadcaster Frank White said this:
    Well, you go back to swinging at strikes. You swing at strikes, good things happen. Billy was able to get that slider out over the plate, and stay with it, and drive it into right-center field, and good things happen right there, the Royals got two runs.

    But if you take the total at-bats of the guys, and look at how many actual strikes they swing at, it's gotta be pretty low, because you're not getting any walks, and that means the opposing pitcher's not giving anything away because you're not allowing him to.

    So you go back to swinging at a lot of bad pitches, off the plate, and hey, that's definitely concentration. That's all concentration, right there. You can give a pitcher credit for having deception and all the other things that you can give him credit for, but basically it's your pitch selection that really makes a difference ... If it's one or two guys, you can say he's not seeing the ball. But when it's your lineup, then you got to think it's just strictly concentration and just chasing a lot of bad pitches.

Yes, swinging at strikes is a good thing. I'm not sure if I buy Frank's point about "concentration," though. Frank himself -- and he'll always be one of my favorite players -- finished his career with a .293 on-base percentage and typically would draw 25 or 30 walks in a season. Was he not "seeing the ball" for 18 seasons? Or was he simply not concentrating?

I believe that most major league hitters have the ability to draw at least 30 walks per season, if they're not averse to taking the occasional borderline pitch. But you prefer hitters who draw 60 walks per season, and it's been a long, long time since the Royals had more than a few guys who did that, largely because the organization simply hasn't believed in walks and plate discipline since John Schuerholz took over as general manager, nearly 30 years ago.

Last winter, the Royals traded for Mike Jacobs, who's got a .318 career on-base percentage. He's not a bad hitter, because he's got power. But drawing walks and getting on base really isn't his game. Meanwhile, the Royals also sent Kila Ka'aihue back to Triple-A, even though he destroyed Triple-A pitchers last summer before thriving during a brief September cup of coffee. This spring he's drawn 47 walks in 50 games. And yet there's not a place for him with the big club.

Just a few weeks ago, when the Royals were winning, I momentarily bought into the notion that the Royals had come around to the virtues of plate discipline, as taught by hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. Then, the Royals ranked fifth in the American League in walks. Now they're 10th ... and a couple of bad games away from being 13th.

Seitzer can preach patience until the steers come home. As long as the general manager would rather spend $3.25 million on Mike Jacobs than $400,000 on Kila Ka'aihue, the Royals won't get on base or score enough runs to compete for anything but third place.

Postcript: The Royals lost this one, 3-2. They didn't draw a single walk.