Tag Archive | "Allard Baird"

The Best Rotation Since…

I know I have been absent for a while, and you all know that I am prone to hyperbole, but the Royals recent revelation the Luis Mendoza has won the job of fifth starter has brought me out of the shadows…and my hyperbole with it. A month ago everyone considered it a lock that Luke Hochevar would win the fifth spot…and they sent him to the bullpen. A week ago we speculated that Bruce Chen would get the nod despite Mendoza’s outstanding offseason…and they sent him to the bullpen. What this leaves us with is quite possibly the best rotation for the Kansas City Royals in 20+ years. Let’s take a look at the contenders:

Luis_Mendoza

The Greinke Years

The signing of James Shields brought Kansas City a legitimate replacement for their last ace, Zach Greinke. What Shields possesses that Greinke did not is a legitimate rotation behind him. In 2010, Greinke’s last with the Royals, both Chen and Hochevar not only made the rotation but were arguably the team’s second and third best starters. In 08-09 the team had Gil Meche, a quality #2, but rounded the rotation out with Hochevar, Kyle Davies, and Brian Bannister. From 04-07 the Royals had only three pitchers post an ERA below 4, and less than half of the clubs’ starters were below 5. Clearly, no rotation from this era stacks up.

Best Rotation- 2009

Greinke, Meche, Hochevar, Bannister, Davies

Combined WAR: 12.6

The Allard Baird Era (pre-Greinke)

We don’t need to spend much time on this era at all. For every breakout performance from Paul Byrd or Darrell May, there were three Chad Durbins to mess up the rotation. Even in the club’s lone season above .500 their rotation was a mess. While May had a career year and posted a WAR of 5.7, the team had 25 starts (and an ERA well north of 7) from the trio of Chris George, Brad Voyles, and Kris Wilson.

Best Rotation- 2003

May, Jose Lima, Runelvys Hernandez, Kyle Snyder, Chris George

Combined WAR: 8.7

The Herk Robinson Era

As much time as I spent loathing Robinson, I can’t deny that he put together some of the best rotations in the last 30+ years. In 1999, all five starters in his rotation had a positive WAR, which doesn’t say much unless you’ve read the last two sections. In ‘96 Kevin Appier, Tim Belcher and Chris Haney all posted a WAR above 2 with 30+ starts. Jose Rosado posted a 3.3 in just 16 starts! Even veterans Mark Gubicza and Doug Linton were above replacement level. 1994 was even better. In a strike shortened season David Cone was incredible (16-5, 2.94 ERA, 6.6 WAR), Appier was his normal steady self (7-6, 3.83 ERA, 4.3 WAR) while Gubicza and Tom Gordon rounded out the top four nicely.  The only fault that can be found with this rotation is that the fifth spot was dreadful with Chris Haney and Bob Milacki combining for an ERA over 7.

Best Rotation- 1994

David Cone, Kevin Appier, Tom Gordon, Mark Gubicza, Bob Milacki

Combined WAR: 15.9

While the current rotation may be challenged to top that performance in ’94, they’ll have to go to a whole new level to match the staff from ’87. In that year Bret Saberhagen, Gubicza, Charlie Leibrandt, Danny Jackson and Bud Black combined for WAR of 23.5! For perspective, let’s look at the career year for each of the current starters:

James Shields (2007) 5.2 WAR

Ervin Santana (2008) 4.8 WAR

Jeremy Guthrie (2010) 4.3 WAR

Wade Davis (2012) 1.4 WAR

Luis Mendoza (2012) 1.4 WAR

That comes out to 17.1, and that’s the best year any of them have ever had. While it’s unlikely that any of the top three match their career year in 2013, I’d say it’s very possible that Davis and/or Mendoza improve upon their 2012 numbers. This will not be the greatest rotation in the history of the Kansas City Royals, but it’s very possibly the best in the past 20 years. If that happens you can expect to hear a lot more from me and my hyperbole.

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Royals All-Time Draft Team

The Kansas City Royals are on a pretty good run with their first round draft picks, dating back to 2002 and the selection of Zack Greinke. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow are all former first rounders who make up the core of the team’s rebuilding effort.

A study of first round selections by other big league teams reveals that no one has a crystal ball when it comes to the draft. But the Royals have avoided any major gaffes since their disastrous draft of 2001.

The team still hasn’t exactly achieved the success on the big league field that Dayton Moore envisions, but he’s done a good job following up the last few decent drafts of the Allard Baird era.

The Royals hope the selection of Kyle Zimmer and development of Bubba Starling and Christian Colon continue the run of success.

When you look back at the history of the Royals draft, however, the team has been anything but clutch. In fact it’s hard to look back at the top five selections of each year of their history and even find recognizable names. (See the history courtesy of the Baseball Cube here.

Forget Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby, who’s Juan LeBron? Who was Ben Grzybek? How did the Royals blow the number nine pick in 1973 on someone named Lew Olson?

Now Jarrod Dyson will tell you that decent players aren’t only found in the top five rounds. But just for fun, let’s construct an all-time team of picks from rounds 1-5 from Royals history. (Starter and backup are listed with round and year drafted):

Catcher: Mike MacFarlane (4th round, 1985) gets the nod over Brent Mayne (1st, 1989).

First Base: Because Eric Hosmer (1st 2008) has got barely a year under his belt, I’m going to go with the great Ken Harvey (5th, 1999) as the Royals’ starter. He was an all-star, after all, and his 27 career homers still lead Hosmer’s 26 (as of June 8).

Second Base: Uh oh. No real good choices here. Give it to Terry Shumpert (2nd, 1987) because he played parts of five seasons in KC. Too early to go with Johnny Giavotella (2nd, 2008).

Shortstop: Double uh oh. How can Buddy Biancalana (1st, 1978) be the best shortstop any team ever drafted? David Letterman is still waiting for Biancalana to top Pete Rose’s hit total. But he did start 311 games, including the World Series in 1985. Jamie Quirk (1st, 1972) was drafted as a shortstop, but he only played 22 big league games at the position.

Third base: Finally a position where KC actually hit it big. George Brett (2nd, 1971) was actually taken as a shortstop, but gets this spot. Mike Moustakas (1st, 2007) will be a good one, but will have trouble making the first team on this list.

Outfield: Lots of good choices here, so I’ll just name a 1-6 order.

1)    Willie Wilson (1st, 1974) One of only a few KC first-rounders to actually become superstars.

2)    Carlos Beltran (2nd, 1995) Would probably be the second greatest Royal of all time, had he stayed with the team.

3)    Johnny Damon (1st, 1992) Similar story to Beltran.

4)    Bo Jackson (4th, 1986) Aside from what he did on the field, he brought the attention of the world to KC.

5)    (tie) I can’t pick between Brian McRae (1st, 1985) and David DeJesus (4th, 2000), but they each get the nod over Alex Gordon, who may eventually rank much higher on this list.

Designated Hitter: Billy Butler (1st, 2004) is the epitome of a DH. I’ll go with Tom Poquette as a backup, even though he only DH’d seven times. He showed some promise his first couple of seasons, and he made it into Terry Cashman’s Royals version of “Talkin’ Baseball” (if only because his name rhymes with Brett.)

Starting Pitcher (1-6):

1)    Dennis Leonard (2nd, 1972) A career Royal and three-time 20 game winner.

2)    Mark Gubicza (2nd, 1981) A two-time all star who pitched on the 1985 World Series team at just 23 years of age.

3)    Kevin Appier (1st, 1987) Perhaps the best of all, but played for bad teams.

4)    Zach Greinke (1st, 2002) Had just one great season in KC, but might be the best pitcher the Royals ever drafted.

5)    Dave Cone (3rd, 1981) Same story as Greinke – just one great season in KC.

6)    Rich Gale (5th, 1975) A winning record over four seasons gets him the nod over Luke Hochevar (1st, 2006).

Relief Pitcher: Mike MacDougal (1st, 1999) was actually a closer, so he edges out Aaron Crow (1st, 2009), who hopefully will have a much longer and more successful career in KC than MacDougal.

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Royals Spring is in full swing in Arizona

I have to admit it’s a little easier writing about a team that’s going to be playing real games soon. I can only break down lists of spring training non-roster invitees, players who might surprise fans in spring training and profiles of the Royals coaches for so long before I run out of ideas. So let’s bring on baseball and find out what the Kansas City Royals are up to in Surprise, AZ.

The obvious top story is that former Royals outfielder Aaron Guiel is back! Ok, this may have been the top story in 2002, but the Royals Prodigal Son returned from his period of playing in Japan and is back home. Before you think General Manager Dayton Moore went all Allard Baird on Royals fans, the 39 year-old Guiel signed a minor league contract and it appears he’s there to make the transition as a future coach.

Guiel was a role player for the Royals from 2002-2006, kind of like today’s Mitch Meier. Guiel played hard and was a likable fellow among Royals fans during his tenure. So welcome back, Aaron Guiel. And who knows, he might be a fifth outfielder since Paulo Orlando was injured. Well, maybe not.

The Royals signing catcher Salvador Perez to a five-year, $7 million contract with three option years was the big news of the week. If Royals pick up all of Perez’s options and he meets all his incentives, he will make $26.75 million over eight years.

It’s a good deal for Perez and the Royals. The 21 year-old Perez gets financial stability and the Royals lock up a potential star catcher during his prime years at a good price. Even if the Royals pick up all his options, Perez will be 29 when the contract ends and has the potential for a huge free agent payday if he becomes the star catcher the Royals think he will be. It also shows players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon that the Royals are willing to spend money to keep good players, which increases the chance they sign long-term extensions.

So far there’s only been two player injuries, Brazilian outfielder Paulo Orlando and catcher Manny Pina. Paulo Orlando was diagnosed with a sports hernia during physical exams and underwent surgery last week. He’ll be out four to six weeks and this takes him out of the running as a possible reserve outfielder. It has to be disappointing for the 26 year-old Orlando, who has yet to reach the Majors. After his recovery, it’s likely he’ll get into playing shape in Arizona during extended spring training and eventually report to AA Northwest Arkansas or AAA Omaha.

The injury bug also bit catcher Manny Pina, who tore the meniscus in his right knee. Pina had surgery last weekend and he will be out for a few weeks or more. This ends Pina’s chances to make the Royals Opening Day roster, likely giving the backup catcher job to Brayan Pena. After his recovery, Pina will probably report to Omaha.

For early spring training games, Manager Ned Yost is going with a six-man rotation. This gives the starting pitchers more time between starts to work on pitches or their mechanics by throwing a live session of batting practice against minor league hitters. Yost believes the non-competitive nature of live batting practice will improve the pitchers development. The Royals will go back to a five-man rotation midway though camp to condition the starters for the regular season.

While there’s plenty of competition for spots in the starting rotation and the bullpen, the field positions are pretty much set, barring injuries. The exception is second base, where Chris Getz, 28, and Johnny Giavotella, 24, will compete for the starting job. Going in, Giavotella has the slight edge. However, Getz arrived at camp stronger and in better shape than in previous years, hitting the ball with more power, according to Yost. Giavotella is coming off from off-season hip surgery, but is at full strength for spring training.

Getz has good fielding and base running skills, but still needs work with his bat. Giavotella is good with the bat, but still needs work with his defense. To that end, Getz is working on his hitting and Giavotella is taking extra fielding practice. Both players have options remaining, so there’s a possibility one of them starts the season in Omaha, if not on the bench. It all depends on who is the better player this spring.

So far, spring training is going well for the Royals. The return of a former Royal, the signing of a cornerstone in the Royals future to a long-term contract and nobody on the team suffering a season ending injury (at least for now) is good news. Yes, there’s still question marks about who will claim the final two spots in the starting rotation and injuries can happen to anyone at any time, wrecking the best of plans. But the Royals and their fans have reasons to be optimistic.

After a couple of intrasquad games, the Royals play their first Cactus League game this Sunday against the American League Champion Texas Rangers. In the grand scheme of things, it’s just a spring training game. But it signifies the return of baseball and the start of a journey that is the Royals 2012 baseball season. A season I’m looking forward to.

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Winter Worries

Kansas City Royals fans are excited for the coming baseball season. I’m not sure if they’re excited to have any kind of baseball back, or they think the Royals have a legitimate shot at winning games during the 2012 season. Like most either-or situations the truth is most likely in the middle. I’m excited too, and I have been since the end of the regular season.

I have not been this excited during a Royals off-season since the winter of 2003-2004. Remember that? I do, and it has me slightly worried. The Royals finished the 2003 Season 83-79. While the 2003 Royals faded down the stretch, and dropping their last three to White Sox there was lot to be excited about that fall. The Royals had a collection of young guys. Angel Berrora was the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year. He flashed some leather in the field, and was surprise at the plate. Surely Berrora would get better during the off-season? Ken Harvey had a good first half of the season and became an All-Star. Even though he faded during the second half of 2003, surely he would figure some things out and get better? Mike MacDougal would learn some control. Jose Lima had eliminated his demons and was back to being a productive starter. Mike Sweeney will get healthy over the winter. Runelvys Hernandez, Brian Anderson, Jeremy Affeldt, DJ Carrasco, Jimmy Gobble, would all come back in 2004 and be better. Because that’s what young ball players do. They get better. They don’t ever regress? Do they?

Not only was the current roster going to improve but Allard Baird signed veteran free agents Benito Santiago and Juan Gonzales. Zack Greinke was waiting in the minors. Some national media prognosticators even picked the 2004 Royals to win the division! The Royals future was bright, and the Royals fans had to wear shades to even look at it. How could anything go wrong?

You're looking at the best moment of the Royals 2004 Season.

The 2004 Off-Season concluded with one of the most exciting Opening Day’s in franchise history with Mendy Lopez hitting a home run off Damaso Marte in the bottom of the 9th. I was at that game, and it’s one of my favorite Royals memories. The Royals march to October was underway. I went to two more games that opening week. The Royals finished up the opening home stand 4-2. Of Course, we don’t need Paul Harvey to tell us what happened to Ken Harvey and learn the rest of this story. The Royals only won three more games the rest of April, finishing 7-14. This included a six game losing streak. May got even weirder with Tony Pena fleeing the country and the wheels officially coming off the wagon. Thus began even darker days for the franchise and it’s fans, and truthfully I don’t know if we’ve ever fully recovered.

This season does look promising. But years, and years of disappointment have dulled my optimist’s blade a little. After all, the 2003 Royals won twelve more games than the 2011 Royals. I claim to not be a very big statistics person. But one statistic that came to my attention during the 2003 season was the Pythagorean Win-Loss Formula. You use total runs scored and total runs allowed for a team to determine what a team’s record should be. The 2003 Royals had a better record than their Pythagorean W-L: 78-84. Their actual W-L was 83-79. In other words, the 2003 Royals were lucky. Any team that got to play the 2003 Tigers 19 times was lucky. The 2011 Royals Pythagorean W-L: 78-84. Their actual W-L was 71-91. The 2011 Royals were more unlucky than the 2003 Royals were lucky. This tells me that last season’s Royals weren’t all that far off from being a .500 team.

Knowing that last season’s team was better than perceived sort of eases my mind. However, a lot of assumptions on 2012 being a good season for the Royals are dependent on the same things that made us think 2004 was going to be a good season. Youth taking a step forward, no major regressions from the established roster, and new additions being as advertised or better. I’ve been this excited before only to see the worst team in franchise history trotted onto the field. There are always a lot of ifs for a baseball team this time of year. Too many times the answer to those ifs has been wrong for the Royals. That’s what has me worried. If this group of players doesn’t turn things around for the organization the only thing we’ll have to look forward to is another GM and another process. For once it would be fun to be excited about the Royals, and not worry that the wheels might fall off. Of course, like a lot of Royals fans problems only consistent winning will take care of that.

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A Relative Onslaught: 2011 Royals Offense

On the surface, the 2011 Royals season is just another in a long string of terrible won-lost records. Their record will not look much different from any other year of the Dayton Moore era, which has not looked much different from the Allard Baird years in terms of wins and losses. But anyone paying close attention should see that this year has been different below the surface in some positive ways. Most importantly, the roster is bursting at the seams with youth and promise. And while the pitching has been a mess, the offense has already turned itself into an asset. With the season’s end near, the numbers are clarifying just how different this offense has been than most in recent Royals history.

photo by Minda Haas, mindahaas.net

Rany Jazayerli uncovered how rare the combined doubles prowess of Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera has been. They have a shot to become the first quartet of teammates to record 42 doubles in a season. As a team, the Royals’ 287 doubles is already the 13th most in team history. They are on pace for 323, which would be second only to the 2006 team that hit 335. (The ’06 squad was not as top-heavy with doubles hitters as this year’s team, but 14 different Royals hit at least 10. They were a bad offense in general, but they sure hit doubles.)

Most doubles per 162 games in Royals history:

2006 335
2011 323
1990 318
1978 305
2008 303

The power extends somewhat to home runs too. No individual player is setting the world on fire, and the team is only 11th in the AL in homers, but between Butler, Gordon, Francoeur, Cabrera and Eric Hosmer, the Royals already have five 15+ HR guys for just the fifth time in team history (’77, ’87, ’00, ’03).

While the team ranks only ninth in the AL in walks, their high average (.270) bumps them all the way up to fifth in on base percentage. The AL average OBP has fallen all the way to .322 this season. The Royals are at .328 as of this writing, making them one of only five AL teams to have an above-average team mark. The other four teams (Boston, New York, Detroit and Texas) are probably headed to the playoffs. The below chart plots how the Royals’ OBP has compared to the AL average every year:

The team has been underwater most years since 1983, but is peeking up above sea level for the second straight year in 2011. The last two year stretch above average was 1989-90. No Royals team has finished this high above average since 1982. Zooming in on the post-strike period shows how different the ’10 and ’11 Royals teams have been in terms of OBP:

While this is a major improvement by the Royals past standards, it still is pretty much average overall. The team’s slugging percentage is exactly average (.406). So no surprise that the Royals have been almost perfectly average when it comes to crossing the plate: The AL average runs per game right now is 4.43, and the Royals have scored 4.44. The last Royals team to score an above average number of runs was also the last team to have a winning record: 2003.

The question now becomes if the 2012 version of the Royals can sustain or improve upon this level. The short answer would appear to be yes. The names in 2012 are going to look a lot like the names have in the second half of 2011. There are a few candidates to regress significantly, namely Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur. Still, regressions from those three could be more than offset by expected improvements from Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, a full year of Johnny Giavotella instead of Chris Getz at second, and a full year of Salvador Perez. Pitching is an entirely different story, but the Royals offense appears to be entering an era of respectability not seen in Kansas City for a very long time.

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The Royals in the Draft: 2001 Proved Devastating

If you want to identify a date at which the Royals hit rock bottom, look no further than June 6, 2001.

Ten years ago, nearly to the day, the Royals may have reached their high point, or low point rather, in futility at the 2001 amateur draft. And there have been plenty of days to choose from.

Colt Griffin

To say that a draft would mark the low point in the history of a franchise may seem odd. But consider where the team was at that point. The once-proud franchise had finished the last six seasons below .500. The team was struggling to retain its top talent in the free agent market, and had missed on several of its recent draft picks. The farm system was depleted. An infusion of talent was needed.

On that day in 2001, however, spirits were riding high. The Royals spent their first two picks in the major league baseball draft on two high school phenoms. No, make that legends.

Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby. The two conjured up memories of Nolan Ryan and Ken Griffey, Jr.

“We got the best high school arm in the country, and we got probably the best athlete in the draft,” said Allard Baird about the picks. “If somebody would have told me before the draft we were going to get Mr. Griffin and Mr. Crosby, I would have said ‘You’re nuts.’”

Today it looks like Baird was the one who was nuts. But he wasn’t the only one who coveted Griffin and Crosby. The two were considered risky picks, but not without off-the-charts potential.

Griffin and Crosby never panned out, however. The 2001 draft turned out to be simply the culmination of several consecutive bad drafts that left the franchise devoid of young talent. The draft of 2001 was not the beginning of the Royals problems, as you can see by reading here.

But the pinnacle of imperfection was the 2001 draft, which netted two legendary flameouts.

The Royals took Griffin with the ninth pick of the draft because he was reported to have topped 100 mph, supposedly the first high schooler known to have done so. KC risked a $2.4 million signing bonus on the 6’4” Texan, knowing he would have to conquer control problems.

He never did.

Griffin bounced back and forth between Burlington and Wilmington for two consecutive seasons, trying to gain some semblance of control over, and develop anything besides, his blazing fastball. He worked on changing his mechanics, developed arm problems, and languished in A-ball.

In one last-ditch effort to get something out of his golden arm, he converted to the bullpen at Wichita. He got his walks more under control there. But faced with shoulder surgery following the 2005 season, he opted to retire at age 22.

Griffin could have served as the model for Bull Durham’s “Nuke” LaLoosh. For his minor league career, he struck out 271, walked 278, hit 44 batters, and threw 82 wild pitches in 373 minor league innings. He posted a career 4.79 ERA.

If Griffin’s story is disappointing, Crosby’s is tragic.

The South Carolina high schooler had the tools, according to Royals scouts, to rival Griffey. The only reason Crosby was still available in the second round, at pick number 53, was because he was also one of the most sought-after football talents in the nation.

The Royals, willing to let Crosby play football at Clemson, planned to develop his talents as a center-fielder on a part-time basis, hoping their patience would eventually pay dividends. The Royals had, of course, been the part-time home of none other than Bo Jackson in days past.

But their new young star was star-crossed. While setting freshman receiving records at Clemson, he injured his elbow. He worked to rehab the injury during the summer under the watchful eyes of the Royals.

But tragedy struck when several of his high school friends, en route to visit him at Baseball City, FL, were killed in a horrific car crash. Crosby was devastated.

He planned to red-shirt the upcoming football season to recover from the elbow injury. But he wound up going AWOL, seeking psychological counseling, and battling the Royals over arbitration when he didn’t return to the field.

Later, his brother died in a swimming accident. Crosby couldn’t recover.

Crosby never played a baseball game after high school, and wound up getting just $1 million of his $1.75 signing bonus after arbitration.

He made one final attempt to tap his limitless potential by trying out for NFL teams in 2005. But he never stuck.

The 2001 draft, which inspired such high hopes at the time, left the farm system completely empty. The only player taken by the Royals who actually made the majors is Devon Lowery, who pitched in five games in 2008.

Every franchise has its spectacular flops. Players who just couldn’t miss, but somehow did. But the 2001 draft followed a disastrous string of failed drafts when the team could ill afford it.

No one thought it would turn out this way for Griffin and Crosby. And the franchise paid a steep price for it. About a decade’s worth.

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