Saturday, March 24, 2012

Monarchs Hitting Stats & Leaders

There was much rejoicing among a segment of baseballdom this week when Negro Leagues stats compiled many moons ago finally saw the light of day with their posting on Baseball Reference. There are many issues and complications with trying to compile Negro Leagues stats, and we will never be able to have a full accounting, so it is important to take all Negro Leagues stats with a mountain of salt. Certain eras were better reported on than others. There are no era or ballpark adjusted stats included yet. So far, the stats don't break down performance by team for seasons that players spent with more than one squad. Full season totals are given with a note such as "stats are for two teams." So in compiling Monarchs stats, I've had to divide some season stats evenly between those teams, not knowing how much time was actually spent with the different clubs. The end point for the Baseball Reference stats is 1948, though the Monarchs were a going concern in Kansas City through '55 and limped along through '63 as a Grand Rapids, Michigan based operation. 

So with all that in mind, I've compiled some highly dubious Monarchs franchise leaderboards. It is at least a starting point to help identify some of the great Monarchs in a quantifiable way to complement the oral histories we already have.

Some things that have jumped out to me so far:

Heavy Johnson
• Oscar "Heavy" Johnson was a beast. The former catcher played the outfield for KC in '22, '23 and part of '24. He tops the leaderboards in batting average, OBP, slugging, wOBA, doubles per plate appearance and homers per plate appearance. From the numbers available, no other Monarch hitter was in his class when it comes to the rate stats. Heavy had played with future Monarch greats Bullet Rogan and Dobie Moore on the Army's 25th Infantry "Wreckers" team before joining the Monarchs at the age of 27. He was a murderous slugger while with KC, and moved on to play for Negro Leagues teams in Harrisburg, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Memphis through 1930. Heavy very well may have been a Hall of Fame caliber player. As tough as it is to quantify his Negro Leagues performance, his time with the Army team is even murkier.

Bullet Rogan is on the very short list of best players ever. The list may be about this long: Babe Ruth and Bullet Rogan. Bullet comes in the top five Monarchs leaders for just about every offensive category in both rate and counting stats. Add in his playing time, and Bullet looks like the most valuable hitter the Monarchs ever had. And he was a dominant pitcher when not playing the outfield. I don't know of another player besides Babe and Bullet who was both an elite hitter and pitcher. But in the Babe's case, his career was split fairly cleanly between a pitching phase and a slugging phase. Bullet did it all, all the time.

 Hilton Smith could swing the stick. Unlike Bullet, pitching great Smith did not usually play the field when it wasn't his day to pitch, so there aren't a ton of plate appearances compiled for his Monarchs career (257). But those appearances are impressive, including an average of .327, good for seventh best among Monarchs with at least 100 PAs. He apparently didn't walk much, but had impressive doubles power. When you can get that from an all-time great pitcher, that's amazing. Hitters of the '40s said Hilton was just as tough to face as Satchel Paige. Satchel's hitting (.207/.208/.244 with KC) didn't hold a candle to Hilton's though (.327/.331/.434).

Below are top 10 lists for various offensive categories.

Monday, March 19, 2012

75-87: Updated 2012 Projections

I first posted some 2012 guesses/projections on January 2nd, and came up with an 80-82 record for the Royals. Still using Jeff Zimmerman's spreadsheet, I've tinkered with the numbers. The most significant changes are decreased playing time for Sal Perez, the addition of a generic third catcher, and projecting Soria to miss the entire season. The loss of playing time from two key players (combined with minor tweaks elsewhere) show a decrease of five wins, or a projected record of 75-87 (ugh). Here are the individual numbers I'm plugging in to come up with that record:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Historical Royals Attendance

The four seasons played at Municipal Stadium at the beginning of the Royals existence were not well attended with a four year average just over 10,000 per game and the all time yearly low of 8,772 in '70. The move to Royals Stadium plus a pretty good club boosted attendance to 16,609 in '73. Another big increase came in '76 on the strength of a burgeoning powerhouse on the field. At 20,744, it was the first season the team surpassed the 20K mark in a season. Attendance remained strong for a long time, peaking in 1989 at 30,589 (the only season over 30K), and did not fall below 20K until the aftermath of the strike in 1995. The team has of course been terrible since then, so attendance has only marginally increased ever since. There was a small spike to 22,249 in 2003 thanks to a winning team, and another small boost to 22,196 in 2009 after renovations were made to Kauffman Stadium.

Another, possibly more revealing way to look at attendance is to compare it to the MLB yearly average. This paints a slightly different picture, one where KC fans are actually turning out relatively less now than they were even during the expansion years at Municipal. Attendance stayed above average between '76-'90 but has dipped far below ever since. The low point was 2005 and '06 when attendance was just 55% and 54% of the MLB average. (With the teams we were asked to watch those years, Royals fans can hardly be blamed.) The last three seasons combined have produced an average of 21,143, about 70% of the MLB average 30,172. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Improved Approach of Francoeur

I noticed in the very early going last season that Jeffrey Braden Francoeur was swinging significantly less than he ever had in his career. I finished that post off by saying, "Six full years of data certainly carry more weight than the 84 plate appearances his 2011 rates are based on, and he is a near-lock to regress towards his career norms. But these early numbers are surprising, and something to watch as the season marches on." Not sure what took me so long, but I finally got around to analyzing his final 2011 numbers. His plate discipline did regress a bit, but not nearly as much as I expected. Frenchy will always be a free swinger, but he reigned it in enough last year to turn himself into an offensive weapon. Judging by wRC+, it was the first full year of his career in which he was an above average hitter. And at 117 wRC+/119 OPS+, he was significantly above average. Here are some Frenchy plate discipline numbers for you to chew on.

3.62 pitches seen per plate appearance was a career high:

Year Pit/PA
2007 3.44
2008 3.48
2009 3.34
2010 3.58
2011 3.62
7 Yrs 3.46
MLB Avg 3.79

This chart shows his swing percent compared to league average. He swung at a career low 55.5% of all pitches he saw last year, compared to the league average of 46.2%, so it shows on the chart as 9.3% higher than average. O-Swing% means swings at pitches outside the zone, Z-Swing% in the zone:

Just as a hunch, I would expect when a player is swinging less that he is getting better at identifying balls out of the zone to lay off of. But Frenchy actually had a steeper decline in pitches in the zone at which he swung.  Looking at the below heat map of all the pitches he took with no swing in 2011 shows he had a clear plan to lay off certain strikes: those on the outside half of the plate. The plot almost creates a straight line down the middle:

If a pitcher has enough control to live on the outside half of the strike zone, he should be able to get ahead of Frenchy. But Francouer did a good enough job of hammering mistakes on the inner half of the plate to have an excellent season at the plate. With a new two year deal starting this year, Royals fans will be hoping he can keep it up.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Royals Schedule Desktop

Happy March! It is indeed happy because there are Royals baseball games to be played this month. Why not celebrate with this desktop for your personal computer. Click here for the full size version.