21 February 2007

Royal legacy #28 -- the 1996 Royals (75-86)

1996 was probably the first year that Royals fans felt the franchise had hit rock bottom. The franchise had experienced worse years record-wise but, never, ever before had they finished last. Some of that was due to the fact that, every year, even if the Royals were bad, there was always another team that was worse, at least as far as it counts in wins and losses. There were three teams with worse records in the AL in 1996 than KC, but they weren't in the fledgling AL Central. The 1996 season also marked the beginning of the end for Bob Boone as KC manager. He wouldn't finish out the '97 campaign. The Royals' first last-place season wasn't actually done in by pitching, although the bullpen was pretty inadequate. The team hit .267 (11th in the AL) with a .330 OBP (12th) and .398 slugging percentage (last) while scoring a league-low 746 runs and hitting only 123 homers (13th). As in other years, the only thing the team had was speed as they were third in triples with 38 and first in steals with 195. The pitching staff posted a 4.55 team ERA (3rd in the AL) but the bullpen had only 35 saves (9th). Luckily the starters threw 17 complete games. It wasn't a cadre of power pitchers, however, as the team had 926 Ks (12th in the league).

GM Herk Robinson had another ho-hum offseason heading into the '96 campaign. Guys like Ga
ry Gaetti and Greg Gagne were let go in free agency, Robinson picked up Jose Offerman from the Dodgers for Billy Brewer in a trade that worked in the Royals' favor, Wally Joyner was shipped to the Padres for Bip Roberts, and P Tim Belcher was brought in as a free agent and would provide three fairly solid seasons. During the season, Robinson slapped together another fruitless draft -- Dee Brown and Jeremy Giambi are the highlights. I'm nauseous. I'll go on the record now and say the demise of the Royals in the late '90s and '00s has been at least 40 percent because of horrible drafting and signing of those picks. It's 100 percent because of mismanagement. Don't give me your sob stories about small markets and unfair systems. As the ship was sinking on the '96 team, Robinson didn't do much to help. Three postseason deals had impact -- Mark Gubicza for concrete DH Chili Davis, which cut the glory days ties for good; Randa for Bell and King; and Lockhart-Tucker for Dye and Walker.

The good offensively came from new Royal Offerman, who hit .303 with an .801 OPS; Joe Randa, who in the last season in his first stint with the Royals hit .303 with a .784 OPS; and C Mike Macfarlane, who hit .274 with an .838 OPS. OF Michael Tucker ripened his trade value with a .788 OPS in 108 games and fan favorite Bob "The Hammer" Hamelin came off the bench to post a .391 OBP and .826 OPS in 89 games. The bad offensively came from SS David Howard, whose slightly above-average D kept him in the lineup for 420 A
Bs and a line of .219/.291/.305; an underwhelming first full season from OF Johnny Damon, who hit .271/.313/.368; and early season pickup IF Craig Paquette, who hit .259/.296/.452 (nice SLG, tho) in 118 games. Paquette did lead the team in HR with 22 so his power made up some for not getting on base. I guess I shouldn't put him in the "bad" category. He did only cost $150,000. Actually, looking at the lineup, only a few guys (Howard, Sal Fasano with a .626 OPS, Chris Stynes with a .668 OPS) really stunk it up. It was just consistent mediocrity and low OBPs that hurt the team on offense. On the mound, Belcher debuted for KC with a 3.92 ERA and 15-11 record in 238 IP; Kevin Appier was again solid with a 3.62 ERA and 14-11 record in 211 IP; and Jose Rosado hit the scene with a 3.21 ERA and 8-6 record in 106 IP. The best reliever with more than 20 IP was closer Jeff Montgomery, who posted a 4.26 ERA and 24 saves in 63 IP. Other than those guys, the picture isn't pretty. Chris Haney was a mediocre starter with a 4.70 ERA and Gubes and Doug Linton put up plus-5 ERAs. Hipolito Pichardo and Mike Magnante slapped up ERAs over 5 in more than 50 IPs each and Julio Valera was even worse with a 6.46 ERA in 61 IP.

Carrying the almost complete mediocrity of this lineup and pitching staff, the team finished the season 1 game worse at home than on the road. April and June did in the team as 9-18 and 10-17 records in those months dragged the team under .500. Boone helped the team to a 14-26 record in one-run games as well as two six-game losing streaks. He used 152 (!) different batting orders during the season as well as 129 different lineups. By the end of April the team was in last place and battled Milwaukee for that spot until grabbing firm hold of the cellar in June. In the end they finished 2 1/2 games back of Minnesota -- for the first time in last place in franchise history. Unfortunately it wouldn't be the last time in last place.

1996 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Kevin Appier. Perhaps the most recent Royal "winner" (in general) as a pitcher? And his last good season with KC was '97.

1996 Pipeline Royals LVP -- David Howard. Sorry, a .219 BA and .596 OPS even with OK defense can't cut it.

The first Royal cellar dwellers. Your '96 Royals.

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