Finding a Home for Zobrist will be easy for the Royals

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In case you have been living under a rock, the time has come that we begin looking at the return of Alex Gordon sometime in the not so distant future. He has begun his rehab stint in Omaha and is looking like he is close to returning to form.

The news is not so much that Alex is returning (although there will be much fanfare and twitter will be gloriously ablaze upon his return) as it is about what him relieving Zobrist of his Left Field duties might mean. Ben Zobrist was initially brought in for one reason, and that was to fill the hole left when Gordon went down with a groin tear.

It was known and has been well documented that Zobrist is quite capable of playing a multitude of positions on the diamond, a trait not so lost on a Royals front office hell bent on providing the highest quality of defense on a regular basis, offense sometimes be damned. They seem perfectly willing to sacrifice offensive production for the peace of mind that the glove manning the position gives them the best chance to make plays.

They have built an entire team around the premise that decent pitching and gold glove defense can win championships, and quite frankly it is hard to argue. In a league marked by a decrease in runs scored, the way the game has played has begun to shift and scratching across a couple of runs while preventing all you can has become the new market efficiency.

Bottom line – Defense is important. The Royals have found a winning formula. More importantly it matters, works and makes sound sense.

So when Alex Gordon makes his triumphant return to Kauffman Stadium, the question then becomes a question of what do you do with Ben Zobrist? He certainly was not brought in to sit the bench, and is FAR too valuable a player to be used as a utility man (unless still doing so where he could play every day).

The two obvious answers are either replacing Alex Rios in right field or Omar Infante at second base.

There has become a bit of a discussion as to not only which move makes the most sense, as well as the move the Royals front office is most likely to make. They are two completely different discussions, and today we will look at which makes the most sense.

First off, if you are new to reading about the Royals, Alex Rios and Omar Infante have been bad this year.

Very bad. According to Fangraphs both players have rated at or below replacement level value, meaning overall they could be replaced with a couple of  slubs from AAA and we could have expected an increase in production from the pair as a whole. Thats not good.

Much has also been made about the fact that Alex Rios has often look uninterested in RF with many even going so far as to call him lazy.  Others have defended him as merely a “long strider” who takes long steps giving the appearance of being slower.

Either way, Alex Rios has actually rated slightly above average in defensive runs saved according to Fangraphs at 1.9 for the season. This is actually his best total since 2010. Defensively, he has at least rated as good or better than the Royals could/should have hoped for.

Offensively, Rios is having a very poor year. He is slashing .246/.282/.316. Numbers that are bad anywhere, and beyond anemic for a corner outfield position.

Alex Rios is bad. Very very bad. But….lucky for him, he is not even close to the worst player on the team.

Enter in one Omar Infante.

Omar Infante is truly having a year for the ages. Its true…all of you are indeed watching something special. Dont believe me? Well, lets get started.

All charts and numbers are from Fangraphs.com

Offensively, Omar is having the worst year of anyone in a Royals uniform….in fact, Omar is having the second worst offensive season of ANY player to EVER wear a Royals uniform according to wRC+.

worstRoyals

Now, I already hear what you are saying. “Luke…that’s not fair, how can you judge Omar against the offensive juggernauts of the Royals organization? These guys have been mashers since the 60’s!”

Point taken.

So lets take a closer look at Omar’s offensive value by comparing him to something a bit more broad. How about in comparison to all of MLB from 1995 on. Once again, Omar is right there near the top, showing his comparisons with the immortal likes of the Royals past is no fluke.

95OnWorstMLB

“But Luke…THATS THE STEROID ERA! Thats not fair!”

Ok ok….

Lets just go back a ways…we don’t want to EMBARRASS Omar, so lets just pull a random year for comparison sake…something like….ohh, I dunno….1885.

1885OnWorstMLB

That’s right. If you go back to EIGHTEEN EIGHTY FIVE, Omar Infante is having the 15th worst offensive season according to wRC+ among qualified batters. If you don’t truly feel as though you are a part of history with that little nugget, then you don’t appreciate baseball. 2015 Omar Infante is the anti-Babe Ruth in offensive terms.

It IS true that Omar is having a somewhat decent year as far as defense is concerned. He comes in 4th among qualified second baseman according to Fangraphs with 6.5 defensive runs saved.

Not bad.

If we are getting a feel for how it rates with the rest of baseball, he ranks 37th among all qualified players in defensive runs saved, slightly above Mike Moustakas who comes in at 44th.

Gold Glove? No. But solid.

The argument is not whether he plays decent defense, he does. The argument is that his defensive production is NO WHERE NEAR enough to overcome an absolute disaster of a season at the plate. Defensive metrics are shoddy at best, but can still be used to paint a picture. WAR attempts to combine both Offense and Defense (as well as baserunning) to provide an overall value of a player. Omar Infante rates as the worst on the Royals at -.8 wins above replacement, just below Dusty Coleman and Erik Kratz.

Omar Infante, according to Fangraphs, is worth almost an entire win LESS than some cheap fill in player. Here, this is the definition given for a replacement level player:

We can define a replacement level player as one who costs no marginal resources to acquire. This is the type of player who would fill in for the starter in case of injuries, slumps, alien abductions, etc.

Thats an OVERALL assessment. It takes into account offense, defense…everything! There is no “But he plays good defense,” no…its included. Including his defense, Omar Infante is rated as the 30th worst qualified player in Major League Baseball according to Fangraphs WAR.

It is undeniable that there is no defense for the disappointing season Alex Rios has had. He has rated right at replacement level, which is unacceptable for the contract the Royals gave him. But at the end of the day, he is still hurting the Royals far less than Omar Infante, and has at least trended in the right direction since coming back from injury.

Meanwhile, the OPS of Omar Infante has steadily fallen, and that is quite impressive considering the low shelf he established to begin with. In the month of August, Omar has hit .115/.145.173 to lower his season line to .218/.233/.302. Not only is he bad, but getting worse.

Defense is important, there is no doubt. But if winning is truly the most important thing, then there is no question Omar Infante’s place should not be considered safe. He is still under contract for 2 more seasons, so I wouldnt expect him to be released. The Royals are  going to make the playoffs, and a  team showing they are going for broke with moves making this season one they expect to be champions. Alex Rios has certainly been a huge let down, but in the world of the lesser of two evils — Omar Infante has no place on a postseason roster.

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Author: lukegoosen

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