Zack Greinke’s departure from Kansas City isn’t the first narrative in club history of a top flight starter demanding to be traded after multiple rebuilding failures. Over two decades ago the Royals had groomed one of their former first round draft picks to make a Major League impact similar to Greinke’s. Despite dominating the AL for nearly the entire decade of the 90s, Kevin Appier is almost always a name overlooked because of the quality of teams he played with.
The Royals drafted the righty out of Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, CA, during the 1987 MLB Draft. Appier progressed steadily through the lower of levels of the farm system during his first two years in professional baseball. It wasn’t until his 22 starts at AAA Omaha in 1989, anyone began to pay notice.
Appier threw three complete games and two shutouts, along with a 3.95 ERA and 7.1 SO/9. His performance was good enough to earn him five starts with Kansas City as the season come to a close. It also garnered him a spot on Baseball America’s first ever Top 100 Prospects list prior to the 1990 season.
The ‘Ape’ made good on his minor league success, as well as the projections of Baseball America in 1990. In his eight start of the season Appier gave up a first inning hit to Detroit Tiger Lou Whitaker. Whitaker’s would be the last Tiger his of the night as Appier cruised to his first career complete game and shutout, along with six strikeouts. Two starts later, Appier earned his second complete game and shutout against the Red Sox, striking out ten, with three hits.
In all but two of Appier’s starts in 1990, he made it past the sixth inning. In the two starts he didn’t reach the ninth he only allowed two runs. All told, Appier went 12-8 with a 2.76 ERA in his rookie campaign. He posted the lowest ERA for a rookie pitcher since 1976, when Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych took the league by storm with a 2.34 ERA.
Appier finished third in the 1990 Rookie of the Year voting, losing to divisional foe, Sandy Alomar. Alomar hit .290, 9 HR, and 66 RBI.
In his sophomore campaign, Appier suffered a bump in his win percentage and ERA, but bolstered his innings pitched and saw a rise in strikeouts. Appier broke the 200 inning mark for the first time in his young career, but would go on to throw from 200 or more innings seven more times in the next decade.
His slight regression in 1991 proved an aberration after two of the most dominant consecutive seasons in 1994-95. Over the next couple of years Appier went 33-16, 447 IP, 336 SO, 1.116 WHIP, and an ERA of 2.52. Appier’s achievements went unnoticed in 1992. In 1993, Appier finished third in the Cy Young vote and 24th in the MVP discussions, but could not garner the mainstream notoriety to earn him an award. Appier earned only 21% of the Cy Young vote behind Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson.
After the two best seasons of his career, the emphasis on the pitcher faded as juiced hitters swelled in the league causing vast rises in pitching statistics league wide.
In the strike shortened 1994, Appier went only 7-6, with 145 strikeout in 155 IP, and an ERA of 3.83 (League average ERA – 4.81). Appier was overshadowed again, this time by teammate David Cone who took the 1994 Cy Young Award home.
Appier, 27, was poised for domination as he hit his prime in 1995. A managerial switch allowed newly hired Bob Boone to deploy a four man rotation, which would enhance Appier’s numbers but also add one to his already large workload.
With the shortened rotation, Appier made 17 starts by the first week in July. Appier threw 96 or more pitches in every one of his first 17 starts, throwing more than 120 on eight occasions. At the All-Star Break Appier was 11-5, with 120 SO in 121.1 IP, 3.04 ERA, and .198 BAA. Appier was finally recognized, making his first All-Star appearance after a whirlwind first half.
Appier suffered a three game skid going into the playoffs, the wear beginning to show on his arm. Boone reverted back to the five man rotation after the All-Star Break, but the damage had already been done to Appier. Late in July Appier hit the DL for the first time in his career. After coming back from his DL stint, Appier went 4-5 in 14 starts, while his ERA ballooned to 5.18 and only struck out 65.
Appier shook off the side effects during the offseason and went on to produce to more consistent seasons in 1996-97. Appier logged 66 starts over the two seasons, 1.244 WHIP, 403 SO, 447 IP, and an ERA of 3.50.
In 1998, Appier started three games throwing 15 innings, allowing 13 runs. Appier’s herky jerky motion and heavy workload had finally caught up to him. He was diagnosed with a torn labrum and missed the rest of the 1998 season.
After his first major shoulder injury, Appier simply wasn’t the same. He served as a formdible middle of the rotation pitcher, but never returned to the electricity of the early to mid ‘90s. Appier started nine games for the Royals in 1999, but due to a questionable future for Appier, as well as a faltering big league squad, Appier was dealt to Oakland at the trading deadline.
In return the Royals received Jeff D’Amico, Brad Rigby, and Blake Stein. Appier pitched a mediocre season and a half in Oakland, while none of the return players made much of an impact in Kansas City. Appier went 22-16, 4.84 ERA, 264 IP, and 182 SO with the A’s.
In 2000, Appier was signed by the Mets where he had his most successful post surgery season. In New York, Appier posted a 3.57 ERA in 206.2 IP, 172 SO, while going 11-10. During the next offseason, Appier was dealt again, this time to Anaheim in exchange for Mo Vaughn.
In two seasons with Anaheim, Appier made 51 starts with an ERA of 4.48. Most importantly Appier made two World Series starts, earning for what he couldn’t get a chance at in Kansas City, a ring. The next season, Appier was released just prior to the trade deadline. Appier’s career came full circle when he signed a contract to bring him back to Kansas City.
Appier made six starts for the Royals, before he was released. Despite signing with Seattle in 2006, he had thrown his last MLB pitch as a Royal. Appier retired with only a single All-Star appearance and World Series ring to his name.
1990-1997 Top Pitcher defined by ERA+ (Minimum of 1,200 innings pitched)
1. Greg Maddux: 165 ERA+
2. Roger Clemens: 157 ERA+
3. Kevin Appier: 140 ERA+
4. David Cone: 136 ERA +
5. Randy Johnson: 135 ERA +
After being overlooked during the awards voting in 1992-93, Appier is the only pitcher on the list not to win a Cy Young Award.