Tabler Buck

As much fun as it is to laugh at the expense of those who call baseball games for television and radio broadcasts, most of us likely would agree that filling up air, even to a minimal extent, is difficult. I have no experience in any form of “real” journalism*, so it may be in bad taste for me to go after people whose nominal job, for better or worse, is to keep the viewer engaged in a sport that is not exactly fast-paced. Anecdotes and bits of data are needed (?) to fill up the airwaves.

* – my rare appearances on podcasts and whatnot, while somewhat fulfilling for my ego, are, well, probably pretty horrible for listeners. Not that I ever turn down an opportunity to enter the charmed circle of internet media mavens!

The Blue Jays’ usual broadcast team of Buck Martinez and Company probably aren’t any worse than most broadcast booths around the league. But who am I kidding? I am still a pretty big jerk. Even if Fire Joe Morgan is so 2005, several comments during last Friday’s game with the Blue Jays in Kansas City to face the Royals really stood out to me.

The game itself was “I watched this on purpose“-tastic (and my fantasy season awkwardly slid down the tubes with Jose Reyes‘ injury), and as I let the frustration of that combine with my incredulity of some of the comments made by the announce team, it crept into the absurd. Here are some of my favorites, with commentary.

These are not offered in precise chronological order, nor do I have literal quotes for every one. You will have to just trust my irritation as a guide. Also, before the “fun” gets started, I should also say that Martinez and Tabler did a nice job of taking time to repeatedly talk up the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, one of Kansas City’s real treasures.

As for their comments on the Kansas City’s current baseball team, they were, uh, less than informed, even when complimentary. Early on, Buck really got into talking about how awesome and “athletic” the Royals are in the field. He is not alone in this — many commentators and writers have bought into this. The Royals themselves talk about it.

I am not going to get into all the individual players. Some of them look good, some of them don’t. In one specific case, advanced defensive metrics have not been too kind to shortstop Alcides Escobar, even though he often looks amazing out there, and he did last Friday night. Rather than getting into a debate about advanced defensive metrics, however, let’s take a more simple approach by look at Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Last year, with essentially the same group of fielders, Kansas City had the third-worst PADE in baseball, and the worst in the American League.

PADE is just another way of talking about BABIP and adjusting it for park. While there is not as much variation in BABIP skill among pitchers as hitters, the Royals starters last year were pretty lousy, so maybe it was just all the laser shows they allowed opposing hitters to put on. Still, if a team is a great fielding team, it does not seem like they should have the lowest defensive efficiency (which is more “objective” than advanced metrics since it does not rely on zone or cameras, just the facts, ma’am. That does not mean it is necessarily preferable or an ideal defensive metric, it is good for what it does) in the American League.

As I think Frank Zappa said at some point, sometimes the universe works, whether or not we understand it. On Friday, not long after Buck finished his paean to the great Kansas City fielders, it worked, at least for me, if not the Royals. In the first inning, Salvador Bench, er, I mean, Perez, the Royals incredibly-hyped “you haven’t heard of him yet but he’s gonna be awesome!!!!” player of 2013, had a throwing error when trying to gun down Melky Cabrera on his way to second. Perez is actually a very good defensive catcher, but the timing was perfect – and would only get better.

Jeff Francoeur, “Mr. Arm,” threw the ball all over the pace at one point after he managed to track it down. Given his poor range, it took a while. I think “Salvy” ended up getting the error on that play, too. In the same inning, even, Mike Moustakas, another of Kansas City’s ambiguously good fielders, airmailed a throw to first (where Miguel Tejada as playing…I don’t even have a joke here) allowing Edwin Encarnacion to get to first and setting up even more runs.

Not all of the comments made by the crew were so obviously “commented upon” by plays on the field. Martinez and friends also have latched onto another common talking point about the Royals: the great player development done by the current regime. Again, there is something to this: the team does have some young talent with potential in the majors in Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Perez, Escobar, and the bullpen. The minor league system is not as impressive as it looked a few years ago, but there is upside there. But the let’s not go nuts quite yet.

For one thing, if the Royals have done such a great job of player development, why isn’t there a single Royals-developed pitcher in the starting rotation? I am not sure trading Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis counts as development. Prior to the season, Dayton Moore did say he thought they team had done a good job developing pitchers, but it was just as ridiculous then.

I should focus on what the announcers did say about the Royals, though. One of the players on the field they chose to talk about in relation to the Royals’ drafting and development talents was Mike Moustakas. Buck actually called Moustakas as “première player.” I do not want to be too hard on Moustakas. I am not sure how good he really is in the field, but he has certainly looked better than we expected given his negative scouting reports on his glove as a prospect (and keep in mind that was not egghead nerds saying that — it was stuff we heard via [anonymous, as always] scouts). The metrics like him so far, too.

Still, it was his bat that was supposed to be good. Just citing his 2013 season statistics is useless at this point – he is young enough and has shown bursts of power to suggest reasons for belief there. Still, a “première player?” In 1029 major league plate appearances, Moustakas has a .246/.298/.387 line. He was good for the first half of 2012, and that is about it. Sure, he has power potential, and perhaps if he stopped popping up seemingly every other at-bat, his BABIP would be poor rather than abysmal. Without getting into a lengthy diagnosis, if Moustakas turns out to just be another Brandon Inge rather than a poor man’s Adrian Beltre, that is fine, I guess. But even at his 2005-2006 best, would anyone have described Brandon Inge as a “première player?” And frankly, Moustakas has a way to go before he is considered even “Inge in his prime” good. Oh boy.

The drafting and development angle just kept getting better. Billy Butler was also mentioned as a drafting and development success. This is closer to being true, of course. Butler may not be able to field or run the bases, but the kid can hit. The problem is that Butler was not drafted by the Royals’ current front office, and was hardly developed by them. If anything, when they did bring him up, he got jerked around a bit for the likes of Ross Gload and Mike Jacobs before he finally established himself in 2009. Moreover, it is generally accepted that at some point Dayton Moore tried to trade prospect Billy Butler to the Bill Bavasi-led Mariners for a shortstop named… Yuniesky Betancourt. Let a million jokes bloom! I don’t have room in the garden for them now, other than a “which team was stupider, the one that offered or the one that turned it down” joke. Long story short: yes, Butler is a success story, but I am not sure the current Royals’ front office should get much credit for him.

To cap things off, Buck and company also emphasized that the Royals have continued to draft well, and named several high picks. My favorite: Bubba Starling. Of all times to pick Bubba Starling…

I had no problem with the pick at the time given what was left on the board. I have no problem with draft picks failing as the draft is a tough racket. But who is preparing these notes? Already last September, Mike Newman was expressing serious reservations about Starling’s bat. Of course, Newman got (unfairly) ripped for it at the time, but this spring other prospect-watchers have also started to use the term “bust” with reference to Starling, who has started the 2013 season in A-ball with 22 strikeouts in 52 plate appearances. Of all the names to pick as a great example of player development.

A few more favorites…

  • At one point, someone said that Billy Butler is the same kind of hitter as Alcides Escobar except “with a little more power.” That’s right. Butler, a pure hitter coming off of a .313/.373/.510 2012 performance with 29 home runs is a lot like Escobar, who had a shockingly good year for him last year and still needed a lot of BABIP luck to end up at .290/.331/.390.
  • When the Jays’ Melky Cabrera came to the plate, Buck and Pat naturally mentioned his brief time with the Royals, saying that he had the best year of his career in Kansas City in 2011. Indeed, Melky did have a career-saving bounce back that year. Despite not really being cut out for center field, he made up for it by hitting .305/.339/.470 (119 wRC+) with 18 home runs. But I am going to go out on a limb and say that he was a bit better in 2012 with the Giants, when he hit .346/.390/.516 (149 wRC+). Yes, he got suspended for PEDs, but he was clearly better then. Does it not count because of the suspension? Who is to say he wasn’t on anything in 2011 and simply didn’t get busted. What a strange thing to say.
  • Another quick favorite from Buck: “The best hitters in the world fail 7 out of 10 times.” Yes, I know what he is talking about — batting average — but seriously, Buck, it’s 2013. Does Joey Votto have a .300 on-base percentage?
  • Yet another classic “boy we have to talk about something” line was uttered when Miguel “Seriously, I’m Still in Baseball?” Tejada came up to the plate. It was a natural place for the Jays announcers to explain that Tejada was brought in to solidify the locker room with veterans who know how to win (okay, whatever, we have heard it before, blah blah blah). You know, just like James Shields. That’s right! A terrible and terribly old utility man who has no purpose and did not even play in the majors in 2012 is just like a stud pitcher who was brought in at the cost of one of the best prospects in baseball (Wil Myers).

    Yep, that is why the Royals obviously brought Shields in, because he, like Tejada, can teach the clubhouse intangibles (like the best place to give B-12 injections). His excellent pitching has nothing to do with it. What a perfect couple.

Perhaps I was simply on edge last Friday. The game was a mess, my Royals were losing, and I watched fantasy team’s hopes get sprained at second. Maybe I am just a nit-picking jerk. But I am not going to give up, not on real baseball, not on fantasy baseball, and not on my hopes that despite their difficult jobs, TV announcers could make sense. It is the wisdom imparted by BUck Martinez on that same night via one of the greatest uses of metaphor I have ever heard:

“Some times you’re going to be in a dog fight, and you just have to roll up your sleeves and get in there.”

Indeed.