22 February 2007

Royal legacy #27 -- the 2000 Royals (77-85)

Somehow the '92 team that went 72-90 keeps creeping up the chart, but I'm gonna stick to my guns and put them above this team -- the 2000 Royals (77-85), the last of the Tony Muser era -- because of the atrocity of the '00 pitching staff that in my mind outweighs the atrocity of some of the offensive numbers on the '92 squad. The team entered 2000 coming off a 97-loss '99 for the franchise's first sub-.400 winning percentage season. Dye, Damon and Beltran were solid and Royals fans had Mike Sweeney in the start of his prime -- the team would lead the AL in batting at .288 but was eighth in OBP at .348 (a product of some free swinging that led to an AL-worst 511 walks) and 11th in slugging with a .425 team mark (thank you, Carlos Febles and Rey Sanchez). The team led the league with 1,644 hits but 1,186 were singles and only 281 were doubles and 150 were HR. Pitching was a different matter. In a season of high-ERAs all over the AL, the Royals' team mark of 5.48 was 13th in the league. The Royals' 29 saves were dead last in that mark. The team handed out free passes and homers by the bucketload as 693 walks and 293 homers placed the team in last in the league in those categories. Royals pitchers also K'd only 927 batters for 12th out of 14 in the AL in that stat.

There wasn't much reason for fan optimism coming into the season as GM Herk Robinson (who w
ould usher in the Allard Baird era by getting fired in June) made such earth-shaking moves as resigning light hitting SS Sanchez, signing RP Ricky Bottalico and buying 1B Dave McCarty from the A's. One move that did work out was the pick-up of C Gregg Zaun from the Tigers as Zaun posted an .800 OPS and gave KC two good seasons. His biggest in-season move was the trade for P Miguel Batista, who wasn't quite ready for prime time but would be by the time he was helping Arizona to the World Series title in 2001. For the Royals he put up a plus-7 ERA in a few more than 50 IP. Typical. He did take time before getting the pink slip to mangle another draft, as top pick P Mike Stodolka ($2.5 million bonus baby) is now a minor-league 1B (taken 4th, over Rocco Baldelli, Chase Utley and Adam Wainwright in round 1), 2nd rounder Mike Tonis is long gone and 3rd rounder Scott Walter is likewise (taken one pick ahead of Grady Sizemore and later 3rd rounder P Chris Young). To be fair, he did get David DeJesus in round 4 and at least he has produced in MLB. Scouting hasn't been a team strength over the last 10 some-odd years or more. Anyway, Herk took time to purchase OF Aaron Guiel before getting the boot in favor of Baird, who would keep the good times goin' for the next six years, kicking it off after the season with the Damon trade and going on to such hits as the Dye trade and the Beltran trade.

Team records fell offensively in 2000 despite the team's lackluster performance at times as Sweeney, Dye and Johnny Damon all scored more than 100 runs for seasons in the top 10 all-time for KC in that catego
ry. Sweeney and Damon both had over 200 hits. Sweeney broke Hal McRae's RBI season record (133 in '82) with 144 (1 shy of Manny Ramirez's league title mark) and George Brett's record for times on base (290 in '85) with 292. Dye topped the team in OPS at .951 (33 HR, 118 RBI) while hitting .321, Sweeney led the team at .333 and added a .930 OPS (29 HR), Damon hit .327 with a .877 OPS and OF Mark Quinn (remember him?) followed a nice '99 off the bench to play 135 games and post a .294 BA and .830 OPS. Zaun also chipped in his numbers in 83 games while splitting time with crappy Cs Jorge Fabregas and Brian Johnson. Joe Randa was also in the mix by hitting .304 with a .781 OPS at third and driving home a career-high 106 runs. Meanwhile, 2B Carlos Febles slugged a mighty .316 with sub-par defense and Sanchez provided plus defense while hitting to the tune of a .636 OPS. Beltran was also among those with down seasons as a sophomore slump saw him post a .309 OBP and .366 SLG in 98 games. McCarty and C Hector Ortiz provided some punch off the bench but other guys like Jeff Reboulet, Todd Dunwoody and Luis Ordaz stunk up home plate.

Anyway, the offense wasn't truly the problem for the 2000 Royals. It would have been interesting to see what this offense could have done with pitching that was just about two or three notches better. Mac Suzuki (8-10 record) led the starters with a 4.34 ERA that resulted in an ERA+ of 117 (compared to the league and adjusted for park -- 100 is average) while Jeff Suppan, Blake Stein, Brian Meadows and Dan Reichert pos
ted ERAs over 4.5 as starters. Chad Durbin beat them all by somehow drawing 16 starts and putting up an ERA of 8.21. He started 16 games and pitched only 72 innings -- that's an average of 4 1/2 innings per start. The Royals were still in the midst of the Jay Witasick, starting pitcher, experiment as he posted a 5.94 ERA in 14 starts and 8 relief appearances. The pen wasn't much better. Bottalico stepped in to replace retired Jeff Montgomery as closer and went 9-6 with only 16 saves and a 4.83 ERA in 72 IP. The only reliever with a sub-4 ERA was Jose Santiago's mark of 3.91 in 69 IP. 2000 was also the year of the Jose Rosado deal as he earned $2.25 million coming off a nice '99 season, pitched 27 innings, got hurt and never played again in the majors. So goes the last 13 years for KC. The Royals were left with guys like Chris Fussell, Durbin, Jason Rakers, Andy Larkin, Brett Laxton, Brad Rigby, Jeff D'Amico and Paul Spoljaric to get lit up like Christmas trees on the mound.

Mix that pitching with the baseball mind of Tony Muser and you've got the reasons why the Royals went 77-85, which was right in line with the pythagorean W-L. A 21-32 record in June and July did in the team's chances as they were only a game under .500 in the second half.
The team sat only 3 games out of first on June 1 and, by August 1, was 17 1/2 games out. Fans endured a 9-game losing streak in April and only 1.5 million fans turned out (12th in the AL) to see what was one of the more explosive Royals offenses in recent times (despite all the singles). With the trade of Damon after the season and the inability of management to bring in or develop solid pitchers, the decline of the franchise began in earnest after 2000.

2000 Pipeline Royals MVP -- I'll give both Mike Sweeney and Jermaine Dye the nod here.

2000 Pipeline Royals LVP -- the pitching staff in general, and the bullpen in particular. I should have looked for a picture of a gas can.

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