Tag Archive | "Johnny Damon"

Is .390 the greatest Royals record?

As it becomes more and more apparent that Billy Butler will not be breaking the most embarrassing record in Kansas City Royals history I thought it would be a good time to look at the opposite side of the spectrum. More specifically, if Steve Balboni’s 36 home runs are the most embarrassing, then what single season record is the greatest in Royals history? Greatest can mean a lot of things, and I’m talking about all of them; least likely to be broken, most impressive in its time, and most indicative of a great season. I know a lot of you have probably already thought that this has to end with .390, so instead, I’m going to start there.

The Record: George Brett’s .390 batting average in 1980

Likelihood of being broken: Highly unlikely. Ichiro is the only hitter in the major leagues to come within 20 points of .390 in the last ten years and Tony Gwynn (.394) is the only player to top .390 since Brett did 32 years ago.

How impressive was it in its time: Brett’s .390 was the best batting average in the majors since Ted Williams famously topped .400 in 1941, so yeah, it was pretty impressive. What was really more impressive was how long he flirted with .400, though. Looking at strictly in terms of where he finished the season, he was only .002 higher than Rod Carew hit in 1977.

Indication of great season: Make no mistake; Brett’s 1980 season was by all statistical accounts the greatest of his career. His 203 OPS+ ranks as the 43rd best season in the history of the game and there have only been nine better in the last 32 years…six of those nine were Barry Bonds.

Final judgment: This is clearly the standard by which all Royals records are measured, but is it the greatest? Let’s take a look at the challengers…

The Record: Willie Wilson’s 230 hits in 1980

Likelihood of being broken: In the last 25 years the Royals have had three hitters (Johnny Damon, Kevin Seitzer, and Joe Randa) top 200 hits so this one certainly seems possible. Ichiro is the only major leaguer to top 230 since 2000, but since Wilson did it there have been five American League hitters top the mark.

How impressive was it in its time: Other than Rod Carew Wilson was the first American League player with 230 hits since 1932 (Earl Averill). Of course, the fact that Rod Carew had 239 hits and Brett was making a run at .400 certainly took away from the accomplishment.

Indication of great season: More than anything it was an indication of great stamina. Wilson also set the club record with 705 at bats in 1980. It was a good year for Wilson, and great if you consider his gold glove and 79 stolen bases, but it wasn’t even the best offensive year of his career.

Final judgment: A great record, but when you’re overshadowed the year of the accomplishment, you can’t be the greatest

The Record: Mike Sweeney’s 144 RBI in 1980

Likelihood of being broken: During the steroid era, 144 RBI really wasn’t that big of a deal, but no one in baseball has done it for four years now. In fact, no one in the American League has even gotten within 10% of that number. When you factor in Kauffman Stadium and the contributions you need from those in front of you in the order, this at least seems less likely than Wilson’s to be broken.

How impressive was it in its time: Sweeney’s 144 RBI didn’t even lead the league that season, he finished season to Edgar Martinez. The year before Manny Ramirez drove in 165 runs, the year after Sammy Sosa drove in 160.

Indication of great season: Sweeney had a great year in 2000, his greatest in terms of cumulative statistics but a lot of that was because he stayed healthy and had an incredible offense around him. In terms of OPS+ it was his third best year.

Final judgment: Maybe the greatest record in the last thirty years, but the era takes away from so much of it.

The Record: Bret Saberhagen’s 23 wins in 1989

Likelihood of being broken: By a Royals pitcher? Ha! No Royals pitcher has come within six wins of the mark in the last ten years, and no one has come within 20% since Saberhagen set the record. Justin Verlander is the only pitcher in the majors to win more than 23 in the last ten years.

How impressive was it in its time: Frank Viola won 24 in ’88 and Bob Welch won 27 in ’90, so not that impressive right? Well, except for the fact that Sabes’ 23 wins accounted for 25% of all the clubs wins that year, yeah that’s pretty impressive.

Indication of great season: It’s become very fashionable as of late to argue against wins as a barometer of a pitcher’s success, but it’s pretty hard to argue against Saberhagen’s 1989 season. He led the league in innings pitched (262.1), complete games (12), ERA (2.16), WHIP (0.961), and K/BB ratio (4.49). It was easily his greatest season and arguably the greatest season by any Royals pitcher.

Final Judgment: If only it had been in something less arbitrary than wins.

It’s pretty clear at this point that .390 is still the greatest Royals single season record, and probably always will be. None of the four records above are likely to be broken by a Royal any time soon, it’s not often that we see (positive) records broken by Royals players these days, not even franchise records.

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No-More-Glass.com: A plea from fans asking David Glass to sell the Royals

Years of losing and futility by the Kansas City Royals prompted Royals fans Joe Accurso and Nick Palmer to create a website called No-More-Glass.com. They raised $5,100 to place a half-page ad in the August 23 Sports section of The Kansas City Star. The ad is an open letter to Royals owner David Glass to sell the team to another owner.

In the letter, signed by Accurso, he thanks Glass for keeping the team in Kansas City. Then Accurso points out the losing seasons, the perpetual “youth movement,” the present monetary value of the Royals and how teams in similar markets have played in the post season since Glass’ tenure. The letter ends with Accurso imploring Glass to immediately sell the team to a local ownership group.

While the letter hasn’t got a response from David Glass, it did get the attention of local Kansas City media outlets and several websites and blogs. The letter also got a response from Kevin Uhlich, Royals senior vice president for business operations. In an article in the Star, Uhlich said, “Nobody wants it more than our chairman (Glass) and (general manager) Dayton Moore. There is no lack of commitment. It’s sad there are those who want to spin it differently.”

In the same article, Accurso said, “I’m not naive enough to think I can write a letter, Glass will read it and say, ‘I should sell the team.’ But I felt like, ‘Can I take some initiative and at least get a conversation started?'”

And it is a worthy conversation, even if David Glass has no desire to sell the team. If Glass did sell the team, would it bring back a winning culture and attitude to the Royals?

In the early years of Glass’ tenure, he ran the Royals like Wal-Mart: stocking the roster with marginal young players at a low cost and trading away star players like Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon when they were up for free agency. There were times when the team would overpay for journeyman veterans like Juan Gonzalez and Jose Guillen, wasting money that would be better spent drafting players in the later rounds.

But when Dayton Moore came aboard in 2006, the team invested and spent more money in its Minor League system, the amateur draft, front office positions, and player scouting and development. And last offseason, the Royals signed long-term deals with Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar.

And while the investment produced one of the top minor league systems in baseball, the Major League results are a bust. Since 2006, the Royals have been under .500 every year and will likely finish below .500 this year. And unless the team improves their starting rotation through free agency or a trade this offseason, 2013 might be another sub .500 season.

And what if Glass sold the team like Accurso desires? Selling a baseball team isn’t like selling a 2006 Toyota Camry on Craigslist. Potential buyers have to place a bid and are vetted by Major League Baseball and the owners of the other baseball clubs. Then the winner of the bid has to get a three quarters majority vote from owners to buy the team. This can be a long, arduous process, like the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even if a sale of the Royals went smoothly, it would take a while for the team to be sold to another owner.

And what kind of owner would the Royals get? Many fans want a Mr. K type of owner, who lives in the Kansas City area and are committed to a winning ballclub. But what if the new owner(s) lived outside Kansas City and after a few years they decide to move the team? Are you ready for the Charlotte Royals? It’s unlikely, but possible. Even if Mr. Glass lives in Bentonville, AR and appears distant and aloof, he at least wouldn’t move the team to Charlotte or another city.

I admire Accurso’s and Palmer’s passion for the Royals and their desire for a winning ballclub. And trust me, I’m getting tired of the losing as much as they are. They live in the Kansas City area, where they’re surrounded by frustrated Royals fans. Try living in Southwest Missouri, an area awash in a sea of Cardinal red. When you see Cardinals fans wearing 2011 World Champions and Rally Squirrel shirts, it reminds me the Royals have lost a generation of fans in Southwest Missouri. And it’s not getting any better when the Royals are desitned for another losing season and the Cardinals are in the playoff hunt once again.

I don’t doubt Mr. Glass’ desire of wanting a winning ballclub in Kansas City. But how committed is he? Is he committed enough to move to Kansas City and show up at Kauffman Stadium every day, overseeing the team? Is he willing to spend the money in the offseason for starting pitching or risk trading a prized prospect to get a number one or two starting pitcher? Is he willing to spend the big bucks on Scott Boras clients like Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas when they reach free agency? Yes, Mr. Glass has invested more money in the team the last several years, but playing it safe is not going to make the Royals a winning ballclub.

If the Royals were playing above .500 baseball and in the playoff hunt more years than not, fans could care less if David Glass owned the team and he lived in New York City. But with the perennial losing, countless draft busts (especially on the pitching side) and PR faux pas like the Frank White firing, Mr. Glass has set himself up as part of the blame of the losing culture of the Kansas City Royals. But Glass isn’t going anywhere and unless he takes risks and increases payroll, he’s not going to see a winning Royals team in his lifetime.

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“Our Time” To Question “The Process”

After a 6-16 start, Royals fans should no longer give this organization the benefit of the doubt.

This column was supposed to be about Albert Pujols’ slow start and how that might affect the Royals’ ability to sign Eric Hosmer to a long-term contract. However, that idea will be saved for another day. Going into Tuesday night’s game, the Royals had won 3 out of their last 4 games, and fans were given reason to believe that things were looking a bit more positive after the 12 game losing streak the team had just snapped. And then tonight happened. The Royals were blown out 9-3 by the Detroit Tigers, while Luke Hochevar had his 2nd historically horrific first inning of the young season.

Royals fans have taken the organization to task for this year’s slogan, “Our Time”. But is this really any different than any of the other BS that has been spewed to the fan base over the last 20 years? “The Process” is appearing to be nothing more than another meaningless phrase used to dupe a naive fan base that has endured so much misery that they are willing to latch onto any positive sign that may present itself, even if it happens to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

The Royals can use whatever catchy, feel-good phrases and buzzwords they want to use. Royals fans will not be falling for this anymore, nor should they. There isn’t much more to say at this point. The Pujols/Hosmer column may or may not be written. If things continue down this road, it won’t matter whether Pujols is making Hosmer more sign-able. Because he will be ready to hop on the first bus out of town when his contract is up, just like Johnny Damon, Zack Greinke, Carlos Beltran, and pretty much every player worth keeping that has come through Kansas City in the last 20 years has.

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Hall Monitor: Baseball Reference Ranks Royals’ Chances at Cooperstown

For failing to garner 5% of votes cast this year, Juan Gonzalez will be dropped from the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot next year, leaving the Kansas City Royals with no former players on the regular ballot.

Jason Kendall

Do the Royals have any chance of getting a player in the Hall anytime soon? It’s looking like it will be a very long time.

As I documented in a previous article, few former Royals have ever received significant support to be in the Hall. In fact, few have ever even received the requisite 5% to remain eligible.

Two current players with an outside chance at making it might even consider wearing the Royals’ cap, were they to make it to Cooperstown. Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon have a shot, and each spent a significant portion of his career in KC.

But according to a Baseball-Reference ranking system, a couple of other former Royals might actually have a better shot at making the hall. A graph called the Hall of Fame Monitor shows that the next in line with the best shot at the Hall is actually none other than… Jason Kendall.

Shocked? I was.

Next after Kendall? Roberto Hernandez.

Disgusted? I was.

The system ranks former players and attempts to predict the chances of current and recently retired players of being elected to the Hall. It awards points for a variety of accomplishments and especially rewards longevity and offensive output from catchers and shortstops. The system describes itself as follows:

This is another Jamesian creation. It attempts to assess how likely (not how deserving) an active player is to make the Hall of Fame. It’s rough scale is 100 means a good possibility and 130 is a virtual cinch. It isn’t hard and fast, but it does a pretty good job.

Gonzalez actually came in with a rating of 120, the exact same rating as the newly inducted Barry Larkin. Gonzalez ranks ahead of a number of Hall of Famers, including recently elected outfielder Andre Dawson. But Gonzalez was undoubtedly penalized for his link to performance-enhancing drugs.

With Gonzalez now gonzo, the former Royal with the most reasonable chance now is Kendall with a 108 ranking. But while the system says a 100 ranking would indicate a chance, don’t tell that to former Royals Vida Blue, David Cone and Bob Boone. Each was over 100 and got nary a sniff from the voters.

Beltran comes in surprisingly low (in my mind) at just 92. He is penalized mostly for a low number of career hits and a low career average. When he reaches 400 homers and 2000 career hits (this season?), his ranking will jump considerably.

Damon sits currently at 90 points. If he could somehow reach the 3000 hit mark (273 away) he would become a virtual lock for the Hall. According to the system, that’s about his only shot.

Such systems are not without flaws, and it’s not hard to find some rankings you disagree with. Personally I don’t like seeing Hernandez (93 points) come in ahead of Dan Quisenberry (77) and Jeff Montgomery (74).

But like the system or not, it illustrates the sad truth. Unless the Royals acquire some aged star who’s playing out the twilight of his career (see former Royals Harmon Killebrew, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda), it could be more than a decade before we think about a Royal joining George Brett in Cooperstown.

Former Royals Chances of Making the Hall of Fame, According to the Baseball Reference Hall of Fame Monitor:

Batters eligible – Top 200 all time (rank #, total points):

#116 (tie) Juan Gonzalez – 120 points
#153 (tie) Bob Boone – 102 points
#176 Vada Pinson – 95 points
#177 (tie) Benito Santiago – 94 points

Batters not yet eligible – Top 100 (rank #, total points):

#27 (tie) Jason Kendall – 108 points
#38 Carlos Beltran – 92 points
#40 Johnny Damon – 90 points
#77 Mark Grudzielanek – 49 points
#78 (tie) Jermaine Dye – 48 points
#78 (tie) Mike Sweeney – 48 points

Pitchers eligible – Top 200 (rank #, total points):

#78 (tie) Vida Blue – 114 points
#93 David Cone – 103 points
#152 (tie) Dan Quisenberry – 77 points
#161 (tie) Jeff Montgomery – 74 points
#167 (tie) Bret Saberhagen – 70 points

Pitchers not yet eligible – Top 100 (rank #, total points):

#17 Roberto Hernandez – 93 points
#43 (tie) Tom Gordon – 47 points
#58 (tie) Joakim Soria – 34 points
#67 (tie) Zach Greinke – 22 points
#95 (tie) Octavio Dotel – 19 points

Batters already in – Top 200 (rank #, total points):

#39 George Brett – 210 points
#55 (tie) Harmon Killebrew – 178 points
#108 (tie) Orlando Cepeda – 126 points

Pitchers already in – Top 200 (rank #, total points):

#29 Gaylord Perry – 177 points

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Beltran Becomes a Royals Legend

By signing a five-year extension with Kansas City, Carlos Beltran ensures that he will finish his career as a life-long Royal and will be firmly established as the second best player in team history.

Having spent 14 years patrolling centerfield of Kauffman Stadium, Beltran hopes his career will end on a more competitive note.

“We’ve lost a lot during the last decade here in KC, but with all the talent we’ve got coming up, I really think we’ll compete for championships before I’m done,” Beltran said.

Despite being slowed by injuries, Beltran has been one of the few bright spots for the Royals. When outfield mates Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon sought greener pastures in the early 2000s, Beltran chose to stay in KC, joining George Brett and Frank White as the faces of the franchise.

“Sure I could have made some more money somewhere else, but I always wanted to be a guy who played his whole career for one team,” Beltran said upon signing the contract extension. “Some things are more important than money. Who knows where I’d be right now if I’d listen to that money-grubbing Scott Boras.”

Ok, so the reality is that Beltran is now a Cardinal. He’s also an ex-Giant, ex-Met, ex-Astro, and of course, ex-Royal. Beltran is now 34 and might possibly finish his career in St. Louis.

Beltran left KC at age 27, having played five and half seasons in a Royals’ uniform. Because of injuries and the natural decline of skills, Beltran played his best baseball before the age of 32. About half that time was spent in Kansas City.

Sadly, KC just missed out on some of Beltran’s best seasons – 2006 to 2008. In those seasons he won three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, made two All-Star appearances, and in 2006 finished fourth in the MVP balloting.

I really shouldn’t blame Beltran for his departure from KC. The team wasn’t paying top talents at the time, and they knew they had to deal Beltran when they could get a good return. It’s not his fault that the three players KC got in the trade (Mark Teahen, Mike Wood and John Buck) didn’t help the team rebuild.

What Beltran can provide the Cardinals and where Beltran stands among the greats of history are topics for another article.

But what interests me is just where Beltran would rank if he had played the same seasons, with all the same production, and with all the same injuries and decline of skill, in KC.

Here are Beltran’s career numbers compared to the best in Royals history:

Games – 1768 Beltran would rank 6th currently and could move to 3rd this season behind Brett and White.
At Bats – 6767 Beltran would currently be in 5th place.
Runs – 1184 Beltran would already be in 2nd place on the team list, with only Brett’s 1583 to shoot for.
Hits – 1917 Racking up hits isn’t exactly Beltran’s game. Even so, he would rank 6th on the team list and could move into 2nd this season. Only Brett and White collected more than 2000 hits.
Doubles –390 Beltran would be in 4th place at present.
Triples – 73 Beltran would be a distant 3rd behind Brett’s 137 and Willie Wilson’s 133.
Home Runs – 302 Beltran’s home run total might be different if he’d spent his entire career playing in Kauffman stadium. But for the sake of this game, we’ll give him full credit. Amazingly, only one other Royal has more than 200 homers – Brett with 317. Beltran would, in 2012, become the Royals all-time home run leader.
Runs Batted In – 1146 Beltran would trail only Brett, who drove in 1595 runs.
Stolen Bases – 293 Beltran is one of the most efficient base stealers in the game, but thievery numbers are down from the Royals golden years. Even so, he would rank behind only Wilson (612), Amos Otis (340), and Freddie Patek (336). In reality, Beltran ranks 6th in team history.
Average – .283 Of players with more than 4000 at bats in a Royals uniform, Beltran would sit fourth, behind Brett (.305), Mike Sweeney (.299), Hal McRae (.293), and Wilson (.289).

Without a doubt, Beltran would rank as the second greatest player in Royals history, and by some measures could be considered THE greatest.

It’s been hard over the past decade for Royals fans to resist delving into a lot of “what ifs:” what if the Royals had kept the outfield of Beltran, Dye and Damon together; what if they could have held onto Joe Randa and Raul Ibanez, what if Mike Sweeney had stayed healthy…

I’m sure millionaire professionals like Carlos Beltran don’t waste time on “what ifs.” But if Beltran did, he might wonder what his legacy would be had he stayed in KC. He might think that players who jump from team to team during the prime of their careers are quickly forgotten. But players who grow up and grow old with the same team can become legends.

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Francoeur Signing Signals New Era

Kansas City may no longer be the Siberia of the major leagues.

Frenchy

In years past, it seemed every veteran in KC was ready to pack his bags and head for greener pastures. Dating back to the 1990s, it seemed no one really wanted to stay with the Royals if there were bigger paydays and playoff games waiting elsewhere.

The most bitter of those days was when the Royals had to sell off an all-star outfield of Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran because they didn’t want to be Royals.

The trend continued right up to the past off-season, when the Royals had to part ways with Zack Greinke because the kid just could not wait around for the team to develop its young talent.

But in the last few weeks, at least one veteran has voiced his desire to help KC build a contender, then backed up those words by putting his name on a contract extension.

After putting together a solid first half, teams were actually inquiring about trades for the much-maligned Jeff Francoeur. But Francoeur went public, proclaiming his faith in the direction of the franchise and expressing his desire to be part of the movement.

Now, you might be tempted to question the motives of a player basically lobbying for a job. Considering it was just a few months ago that no one saw Francoeur as more than a platoon player, it might seem he was just trying to parlay a few good months into a secure gig.

But Francoeur could have kept silent long enough to let the game play out. A trade to a contending team at a time when he was playing well could have helped to resurrect his image.

Instead Francoeur chose to speak out about his satisfaction with the city, the team and the leadership of the franchise. And last week he signed on for two more seasons, making himself a part of the rebuilding project during those crucial seasons when he will be 28 and 29 years old.

What’s the big deal? Well, though Francoeur may not be Willie Mays, he is a legit major leaguer with experience in big markets and playoff races. And he wants to play the prime years of his career in KC.

That example should carry some weight with other players nearing the end of their contracts – Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera, Joakim Soria. The Royals must put a lock on the revolving door that has permitted the exit of every talented player (minus Mike Sweeney) seemingly since the 1990s.

In order to build a winner, not only do you have to grow up young talent, you have to be able to retain the good players you want to keep. Signing Francoeur looks like a step in the right direction.

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What Starling Means To KC

Already rated number one in baseball, the Royals’ minor league machine just got a jolt of electricity.

By selecting Bubba Starling, the Royals energized their fan base in two ways. To one of the few positions where they lack depth and talent on the farm, the Royals can add a player with seemingly limitless physical talent. And they can add to their system a hometown hero.

No, make that a hometown legend.

Though he’s from the suburbs on the Kansas side, Starling’s exploits have been well documented and popularized in KC for several years. A multi-sport star with a small-town persona, Starling takes the popularity of Alex Gordon and Aaron Crow to another level.

Gordon and Crow were both from the general region and grew up Royals fans. But they both gained their fame on college ball fields miles from KC. Starling, on the other hand, is one of the greatest high school athletes in the history of Kansas City.

I was ecstatic about the choice for several reasons.

Not only might it add the most talented position player in the draft to the Royals’ already stocked farm system, but it might deny the Nebraska Cornhuskers their prize quarterback recruit.

If Starling should decide to sign with the Royals, he’ll need to do it before Aug. 15. But he will first need to decide whether or not he will report to NU for summer workouts on July 10. The Royals seem confident they can sign Starling, but fans should prepare for tense negations.

Should they lose Starling, the Cornhuskers can consider it an exit-fee for leaving the Big 12.

But the drafting of Starling means several other things as well.

1) The Royals aren’t scared of Scott Boras anymore.

In the 1990s, the Royals were accused of drafting players based more on sign-ability than on top-tier talent. Then in the early 2000s, the Royals had famous standoffs with the ruthless Boras over Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran. It seemed the Royals just didn’t have the guts to duke it out for the best players, be they already on the team, or in the draft.

But with Boras clients like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer in the fold, the Royals have shown they are willing to deal. The team doesn’t seem scared off by the big signing bonus Starling will command, nor by the NU scholarship in his back pocket.

Not only have the Royals taken on high-stakes negations for players in recent drafts, but they’ve opened the coffers for Latin talents like Noel Arguelles, Chelsor Cuthbert as well as pitchers from the Dominican. It shows the Royals are serious about developing the farm system at all levels and via every means possible.

2) The Royals are truly taking a long-range approach.

With several key prospects just a phone call away, the Royals could have been tempted to go for a quicker fix. There were several hot college pitchers still available when the Royals number came up. And college star third baseman Anthony Rendon, projected in the top two draftees by some, was sitting there as well.

But the Royals went with a player that may take a long time to develop. Chances are Starling may not sign until August and may not suit up until 2012. Having played against a low level of competition in high school, he may need lots of seasoning against better pitching. At best, he probably won’t sniff the bigs until 2015. Probably more like 2016. That’s a long wait for a team that stinks currently.

But to further illustrate their commitment to the distant future, the Royals picked high schoolers with all of their first five picks. Addressing another position of need, they were able to draft the third catcher taken at the 65th slot. They took two high school right-handed pitchers in the third and fourth rounds, then took a shortstop with the fifth pick.

3) The Royals got amateur baseball’s most brilliant non-pitcher.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when words that aren’t even real words suddenly pop up all over the place. Nearly every article I read about the Gardner-Edgerton product over the past few weeks described him as “toolsy.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word anywhere before, but now it’s almost synonymous with Starling.

Much as I despise the word, the sentiment is clear – Starling possess a combination of physical skills that set him apart from every player in this draft. Perhaps from the players in most recent drafts as well. If you believe the legends, he has a combination of speed and power to be the next Mickey Mantle.

Comparing Starling to any hall of famer is premature. But it seems safe to say the Royals haven’t had anyone with his kind of five-tool talent since Carlos Beltran.

Had any of the four pitchers taken ahead of Starling fallen to number five, the Royals would have been sorely tempted. But one senses the Royals really wanted to draft the hometown boy. When the first four picks went as they did, the KC brass must have let out a sigh of relief.

I certainly did. I have never been this excited to follow a Royals draftee. I’ll be holding on with white knuckles until he signs. But if and when he does, the number one farm system in baseball will have a new favorite star in Starling.

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The Good, Bad & Ugly In Royals Clutch Hitting History

I consider win probability added (WPA) to be the ultimate “story” stat—it tells you exactly who the heroes and goats were. Sabermetricians have pretty well disproved the myth of consistently clutch players; players are generally who they are regardless of the situation. Due to random variation, some players are going to have extremely clutch or un-clutch seeming games and seasons when they do or do not come through in crucial situations. I think of RBI in much the same why I think about WPA. RBI numbers do not tell us a great deal about a player’s individual talent, but they do tell the story of who knocked in the runs when guys were getting on base ahead of them. But WPA paints a more exact picture of how players performed in all of the contexts presented to them.

Here is a full explanation of WPA. Here is my short version: the sum of the change in a team’s chance of winning before and after each plate appearance. (It can be applied to pitchers as well, but for this post, I will only focus on hitters.) Keep in mind that for hitters it is a purely offensive number; defense does not enter into it.

I have parted ways with two American dollars for the pleasure of diving into the best and worst WPA performances in Royals history via the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index Tool. The most gob smacking find is Neifi Perez’s horrific 2002 WPA. Royals fans know the shortstop received in exchange for Jermaine Dye was an abomination, but they may not know his -6.8 WPA that year is the worst in at least the last 60 MLB seasons, and possibly of all time. (WPA is not available prior to 1950 on Baseball-Reference.) No other season in the last 60 even comes close. Perez’s plate appearances in 2002 decreased the Royals chances of winning by 682%, or close to seven games worth.

Worst MLB WPA single seasons, 1950-2010:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G AB H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 554 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Sam Dente -5.181 654 1950 WSH 155 603 144 2 59 .239 .286 .299 .585
3 George Wright -5.053 393 1985 TEX 109 363 69 2 18 .190 .241 .242 .483
4 Gary Disarcina -5.051 583 1997 ANA 154 549 135 4 47 .246 .271 .326 .597
5 Ronny Cedeno -4.570 572 2006 CHC 151 534 131 6 41 .245 .271 .339 .610

Neifi actually had a pretty good opening day in 2002. He went 3-for-5, moved some runners over with a single, knocked in a run with a triple, and scored two runs himself. His .047 WPA was good for second best on the Royals lineup that day. However, a sign of things to come occurred on the last play of the game: Neifi was up in the bottom of the ninth, Royals down 6-8, two on and two out. The Royals clung to a 10% win expectancy, but Neifi popped out and the game was over. On April 24th, he was the Royals WPA hero with a 3-for-4, three RBI game. But the good days were a rare exception in this season from hell.

Neifi hurting the team again...assumedly

Our Neifi came to the plate 585 times that season. Crucial moments of games seemed to find him. Alas, he was rarely up to the task. After only five percent of his plate appearances did he leave his team in a better position to win. Five percent! I do not even understand how that is possible when he got on base 26% of the time, but there it is. He had a few especially disastrous games, but he achieved the historic low more by being consistently bad day in and day out. With runners in scoring position, his already dreadful offensive skills tumbled even lower to the tune of .221/.246/.270. The Worst Season A Royals Player Ever Had may have hit its nadir when Perez refused to enter a game:

Perez…created a major clubhouse incident by refusing to enter a Sept. 9 game against the Chicago White Sox as a defensive replacement for rookie Angel Berroa. Perez later said his refusal was a joke that was misinterpreted, but his action caused a rift with several teammates. Many privately called for his immediate dismissal from the club.–Bob Dutton, November 19, 2002 Kansas City Star

Neifi makes Angel Berroa look like a golden god. Here are the Royals worst WPA single seasons:

 

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Neifi Perez -6.819 585 2002 KCR 145 131 3 37 .236 .260 .303 .564
2 Angel Berroa -3.448 503 2006 KCR 132 111 9 54 .234 .259 .333 .592
3 Angel Salazar -3.437 332 1987 KCR 116 65 2 21 .205 .219 .246 .465
4 Greg Gagne -2.923 581 1993 KCR 159 151 10 57 .280 .319 .406 .724
5 Tony Pena -2.902 536 2007 KCR 152 136 2 47 .267 .284 .356 .640
6 Jason Kendall -2.832 490 2010 KCR 118 111 0 37 .256 .318 .297 .615
7 Cookie Rojas -2.828 409 1970 KCR 98 100 2 28 .260 .296 .326 .622
8 John Buck -2.818 430 2005 KCR 118 97 12 47 .242 .287 .389 .676
9 David Howard -2.805 485 1996 KCR 143 92 4 48 .219 .291 .305 .595
10 Jermaine Dye -2.756 283 1997 KCR 75 62 7 22 .236 .284 .369 .653

Jason Kendall sighting! Kind of ironic that Jermaine Dye makes the list.

Here is a happier list, the Royals best WPA single seasons:

Rk Player WPA PA Year Tm G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 6.154 515 1980 KCR 117 175 24 118 .390 .454 .664 1.118
2 George Brett 6.048 701 1979 KCR 154 212 23 107 .329 .376 .563 .939
3 George Brett 5.498 665 1985 KCR 155 184 30 112 .335 .436 .585 1.022
4 George Brett 5.108 705 1976 KCR 159 215 7 67 .333 .377 .462 .839
5 Mike Sweeney 4.762 545 2002 KCR 126 160 24 86 .340 .417 .563 .979
6 Darrell Porter 4.684 679 1979 KCR 157 155 20 112 .291 .421 .484 .905
7 John Mayberry 4.618 683 1975 KCR 156 161 34 106 .291 .416 .547 .963
8 Amos Otis 4.569 567 1978 KCR 141 145 22 96 .298 .380 .525 .905
9 Johnny Damon 4.552 741 2000 KCR 159 214 16 88 .327 .382 .495 .877
10 George Brett 4.045 681 1988 KCR 157 180 24 103 .306 .389 .509 .898
George increased the team’s WPA in 40% of his plate appearances in 1980. With runners in scoring position, he upped his line to .469/.542/.815. He of course dominates the Royals all-time list as well:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 George Brett 52.107 11624 1973 1993 2707 3154 317 1596 .305 .369 .487 .857
2 Amos Otis 27.275 7969 1970 1983 1891 1977 193 992 .280 .347 .433 .780
3 Mike Sweeney 15.970 5278 1995 2007 1282 1398 197 837 .299 .369 .492 .861
4 Hal McRae 15.666 7361 1973 1987 1837 1924 169 1012 .293 .356 .458 .814
5 John Mayberry 13.528 3752 1972 1977 897 816 143 552 .261 .374 .448 .822
6 Danny Tartabull 10.832 2684 1987 1991 657 674 124 425 .290 .376 .518 .894
7 Carlos Beltran 9.043 3512 1998 2004 795 899 123 516 .287 .352 .483 .835
8 Darrell Porter 8.194 2262 1977 1980 555 514 61 301 .271 .375 .435 .809
9 Paul Schaal 5.541 2340 1969 1974 606 525 32 198 .263 .360 .368 .728
10 Kevin Seitzer 5.110 3163 1986 1991 741 809 33 265 .294 .380 .394 .774

 

At the other end of the spectrum is another team hall-of-famer. Frank White reached a positive WPA in just two of his 18 seasons. Good thing he had that golden glove.

 

Royals worst career totals:

 

Rk Player WPA PA From To G H HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Frank White -16.325 8467 1973 1990 2324 2006 160 886 .255 .293 .383 .675
2 David Howard -9.272 1586 1991 1997 547 320 8 130 .229 .289 .302 .591
3 Cookie Rojas -8.135 3354 1970 1977 880 824 25 332 .268 .314 .346 .660
4 Neifi Perez -8.045 805 2001 2002 194 179 4 49 .238 .265 .303 .568
5 Freddie Patek -7.601 4867 1971 1979 1245 1036 28 382 .241 .309 .321 .630
6 Angel Berroa -7.287 2496 2001 2007 627 606 45 235 .263 .305 .384 .689
7 Brent Mayne -7.187 2200 1990 2003 664 483 20 205 .244 .305 .322 .627
8 John Buck -7.104 2116 2004 2009 584 450 70 259 .235 .298 .407 .705
9 Greg Gagne -7.092 1472 1993 1995 386 358 23 157 .266 .317 .392 .708
10 Onix Concepcion -5.841 1130 1980 1985 389 248 3 80 .238 .277 .293 .570

Bringing things to the present, here is how 2011 Royals hitters are shaping up this season:

 

PA WPA ▾
Jeff Francoeur 151 1.0
Wilson Betemit 112 0.5
Matt Treanor 80 0.3
Melky Cabrera 161 0.2
Jarrod Dyson 26 0.2
Alex Gordon 155 0.2
Billy Butler 150 0.1
Chris Getz 132 0.1
Mitch Maier 16 0.1
Eric Hosmer 22 -0.0
Kila Ka’aihue 96 -0.0
Brayan Pena 62 -0.3
Mike Aviles 108 -0.4
Alcides Escobar 142 -2.1
Team Total 1413 -0.3

Escobar is bringing up the rear in all of the majors, and is on pace to enter some seriously unpleasant territory. At his current pace, if he equaled Perez’s 585 plate appearances, he would end up with -8.7 WPA. Ruh-roh.

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What Royals Fans Should Expect From Billy Butler

Kansas City has yearned for a franchise player, in all honesty, since the days of George Brett. While no one realistically expects anyone within the Royals organization to put up career numbers that can parallel one of the greatest hitters of all time, is a glimmer of hope too much to ask for? Many great players have made their way to Kansas City; most of them sent packing before hitting the prime of their careers. Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye are three names that make baseball fans in the Midwest cringe. Fans are generally very intelligent about the game, knowing that it’s a business first. At the time, trading away franchise-caliber players like those listed above normally came with decent rationalization. However, when basically all the players who came to Kansas City in return for these stars eventually flamed out without contributing very much, fans began to grow weary.

Let’s fast-forward to the present-day Royals. The annual Winter Meetings have wrapped up in Florida, and there has been a lot of talk of another mega-deal involving the biggest name in Kansas City, Zack Greinke. While nothing appears to be imminent, fans have seen this movie before, and it always ends the same. Chances are that Zack Greinke will be on his way out of town sooner, rather than later. After sending the 2009 A.L. Cy Young Award winner and the team’s most marketable player to another team, where does that leave the Royals franchise?

The most logical answer would be Billy Butler. He would be, by far, the best player remaining on the roster. Fans have been a little indifferent towards Butler, and rightfully so. He is looked highly upon for his above-average offensive numbers. After all, in just four years in the big leagues, he’s hitting just under .300, has finished in the top five in doubles the past two years, and he’s averaging 17 home runs and 84 runs batted in per season. Those are very respectable numbers. More importantly, he’s helped ease the blow of a disappointing stint from one time uber-prospect Alex Gordon. On the flip side, he’s seen primarily as a DH, which is odd for a player who is only 24 years old. That limits the flexibility of manager Ned Yost when setting his lineup, and could also prevent the team from bringing in a big-name veteran player down the road. One of the biggest things that drive fans crazy about Butler is his inept ability to avoid the double play ball. Butler grounded into 32 double plays in 2010, the most in the MLB.

So, what can Royals fans expect from their young leader in 2011? That can be answered in one word: consistency. Butler will hit around .300, with 17-22 home runs, and 80-90 RBIs. That’s what he’s shown that he can do, and there is nothing wrong with those numbers, especially in a lineup that provides minimal protection.

The fact of the matter is that Billy Butler is not a “franchise player.” He’s a very capable hitter who will always be a great sidekick. The only problem is that there is no one else for Royals fans to look to for this upcoming season. This team has their Robin, but they are yearning for their Batman.

That’s only the case for now. Kansas City, quite possibly, has the deepest and most talented farm system in the league. Names like Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer will soon be the talk of the town, and when they finally arrive, there will be one player greeting them with open arms, and that man will be Billy Butler. The Royals are looking to these three young players to be the cornerstones of what they are trying to build in Kansas City. The good thing for Billy Butler is that a team needs more than cornerstones to build a champion, and he is the epitome of a supporting brick.

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Idiot: Johnny Damon’s Legacy

A few years ago I had the pleasure of getting to know an elderly woman who was one of the sweetest, most gentle people I’ve ever known. She was the old lady who gives everyone a hug when she shows up, who calls everyone “sweetheart” or “sugar.”

She lived alone, her children grown and living in other parts of the country. I got to know her pretty well, and at one point I found out that she had been married to a professional baseball player, but they had divorced decades ago.

Of course, being a baseball fan, my interest was piqued, so I had to ask her about her ex-husband. She was gracious and polite, but it didn’t take a lot of asking to learn their story.

He’d had a few seasons in the major leagues in the 1950s, but had been a long-time minor league player and coach. They had lived in California, mainly, but the game had taken him all over the country.

The thing was, the woman didn’t seem at all enamored with the glamour of being a ballplayer’s wife. She didn’t care if he had been a good player or not. She could care less what famous players he’d taken the field with. After all the years, the only thing she knew – and so delicately divulged – was that he’d been too busy, too absent, too unfaithful to marriage, and too poor a father to their children.

I grew up dreaming of being a professional ballplayer, and to this day I still feel an emptiness of not having that dream fulfilled. But I’m a father now, a husband. I have a job, a house, a normal life. So those dreams of being a professional athlete have faded, and that life seems more like fantasy than reality.

That’s why as story after story of athletes and their marital infidelity find their way into the news, I become more and more incredulous. Hearing the story of that sweet old lady who looked back on her shattered marriage and fatherless children, and knowing myself what having a family is like, I just don’t see how ballplayers can be so reckless, so arrogant, so callous.

While any mention of cheaters will immediately bring Tiger Woods to mind, I can’t shake from my memory the exploits of Johnny Damon. Damon brazenly revealed in his 2005 autobiography Idiot: Beating “The Curse” and Enjoying the Game of Life his wanton infidelity and his desire to shake loose the bonds of marriage because he “wanted to live, have fun, not pick out furniture.”

I’m just glad I didn’t know anything about Damon’s personal life while he was wearing a Royals’ uniform. All this came to light when he was winning a World Series in Boston, and I didn’t need any more reason to despise him. He’d rejected my beloved team for greener pastures, and it only seemed fitting that he’d abandoned his wife and children as well.

But now I’m older. And so is Damon. He’s 37 and is looking for a team to pick him up as a free agent. He hit .271 for Detroit last season, but he had a WAR of just 1.6 as his physical abilities, particularly on the defensive side, have deteriorated.

Damon is also remarried. He has children with his second wife. As age has changed my perspective on what’s important in life, I hope it’s changed Damon’s as well. His career may be over, but his life isn’t. Damon, and his wife, and his ex-wife, and his children – they’re all going to grow old. And the glory will fade.

I hope they don’t look back with sadness like my elderly friend does on what became of her life. To an 80-year-old woman, batting averages, wins and losses, money, fame – none of it seemed to matter. I hope I learned something from that woman. I hope Damon, along with a lot of other men, learns about what’s important in life as well.

For an interesting article on athletes and marital infidelity, click here to ESPN.

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