Royals Sign Pretty Good Player, In A Sense

Coming away from 2014, we knew some things. The Royals were going to have a little extra money to spend, after getting as far as is possible to get without winning the World Series. The Royals were also going to be in the market for a designated hitter, and additionally perhaps in the market for a right fielder. They plugged the DH hole not long ago, giving two years and $17 million to a bounceback candidate in Kendrys Morales who was most recently absolutely godawful. And now the Royals have a new outfielder, who has had good seasons before:

Over the last three years, Alex Rios has about the same WAR as Josh Hamilton, Coco Crisp, Shin-Soo Choo, and Jose Altuve. That’s the good part. This is the worse part:

2012: 4.2 WAR (31 years old)
2013: 3.1 (32)
2014: 0.2 (33)

Maybe you prefer something as simple as plate appearances per home run:

2012: 25.6 PA per dinger
2013: 36.8
2014: 130.3

Rios is getting up there in years, and just last season it seems like his power completely eroded. Now, prior to that, he was productive as a regular, so Rios — like Morales — seems like a decent bounceback candidate, but now the Royals have guaranteed $28 million to a couple guys who last year were worth a combined -1.5 WAR. Last year’s performance isn’t the best indicator of next year’s performance, but even if Rios and Morales bounce back some, it doesn’t look like the Royals will be getting bargains. They’ll be getting acceptable players, eating up what looks like a high salary on that team.

This is a .gif of fastball heat maps to Rios over the last two years:

RiosFastballs

Rios bats right-handed, so what you’re seeing is a shift a little more inside. Over the last two seasons, 122 different right-handed batters saw at least 500 fastballs each year. In 2013, about 33% of fastballs to Rios were over or beyond the inner third. In 2014, that rose to about 43%. The increase of 9.3 percentage points was the biggest such increase in baseball, by a couple percentage points, and it might indicate rising confidence pitching Rios in. To the pull side, he has a career .295 ISO, but last year it dropped to .145, with only two dingers. The point of all this being, pitchers changed their approaches to Rios, and Rios had a bad year, and he’s in his mid-30s now.

Because it’s a one-year contract, it can be only so bad. Rios isn’t a great defender, but he’s not a bad one. He can add some value on the bases, and he still hits for an above-average contact clip, so in those ways Rios isn’t a lousy fit for the roster model. Used properly, he can help what’s already an athletic and capable outfield, and it’s not like the market left Dayton Moore an infinite supply of options. Also, note that Rios signed for one year and $11 million the same day Brett Anderson signed somewhere for one year and $10 million, with incentives. Cheap fliers aren’t so cheap anymore. But as good as Rios was once, he presumably will be no longer so good. And if Rios and Morales don’t bounce back, the Royals will have spent some of their windfall on players who weren’t good the very season before they became Royals. That would be ripe for mockery in hindsight, which is the best and worst kind of mockery.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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jim fetterolf
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jim fetterolf

What Rios did well last year was hit lefties, so worst case he’s a very expensive platoon for Dyson and Morales.

Loose Seal
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Loose Seal

Very expensive platoon players who take up 10% of a team’s payroll are not a good use of resources. And that’s frankly not his worst case scenario.