13 February 2007

Royal legacy #33 -- the 1997 Royals (67-94)

This is the first point in the countdown where it gets a little tricky, because there's a cluster of 93-97 loss seasons that featured some good offensive performances and decent pitching on overall poor teams. In the end, 1997 merits attention first because of marking the team's second ever last-place divisional finish (after '96, which we'll get to within the next five picks or so), a team slugging percentage of .407 (12th in the AL), and another bevy of pitchers with plus-5 ERAs. I'm definitely picking up a trend here in royally sucky Royals teams -- horrible pitching -- as if that were a surprise. Here are some of the position players who played more than 50 games for the '97 Royals -- 3B Craig Paquette (.230 BA, .263 OBP), OF Yamil Benitez (.307 OBP), IF David Howard (ah, the mid-'90s Royals memories -- Howard hit .241 with a .287 OBP) and IF Scott Cooper (.201 BA, .308 SLG). And some of the pitchers will also bring back oh-so-happy memories for Royals fans -- Jim Pittsley (5.46 ERA in career high 112 IP), Ricky Bones (5.97 ERA in 78 IP after getting picked up off the scrap heap mid-season), Jamie Walker (5.44 ERA out of pen, somehow figured stuff out in '02 and has pitched well for Tigers), and Larry Casian (5.06 ERA in only season as a Royal).

Going into '97 the big stories were the trade that sent Joker Joe Randa and 3 other prospects to Pittsburgh for Jeff King and Jay Bell (Randa would return via a '98 trade), the comeback of "Wild Thing" Mitch Williams (it didn't work), and, right before the season, the trade of OF Michael Tucker and IF Keith Lockhart to Atlanta for prospect OF Jermaine Dye and the aforementioned rookie pitcher Walker. During the season GM
Herk Robinson picked up IF Dean Palmer and RP Jason Grimsley through trades. Bell paid off in hitting .291 with an .829 OPS before leaving for Arizona through free agency after the season. King hit 28 HRs as he played out his career with KC and DH Chili Davis slugged .509 with 30 HR en route to posting an OPS of .895. Other than that the offensive highlights were few and far between. IF Jose Offerman hit .297, OF Bip Roberts hit .309 before being jettisoned in a trade, Dye hit only .236 in 75 games, Johnny Damon had a ho-hum .724 OPS, and Mike Sweeney (still at C) posted a measly .306 OBP in 84 games in only his second substantial MLB season.

On the mound, Kevin Appier was the lone highlight as he posted a 3.40 ERA in what would be his last hurrah as a Royal. Jose Rosado didn't quite live up to the promise of his rookie season in '96 in putting up a 4.69 ERA and Tim Belcher followed up a good '06 with a 5.02 ERA in 213 IP. Another rookie, Glendon Rusch, didn't quite get it done, either, with a 5.50 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in 170 IP. Closer Jeff Montgomery and RP Gregg Olson were solid out of the pen, and RP Hipolito Pichardo (another blast from the past) had a decent season. Casian, Walker, and midseason trade pickup RP Hector Carrasco (5.45 ERA), on the other hand, didn't have good seasons. Heaped on top of this was the fact manager Bob Boone was jettisoned by the front office after 2 1/2 seasons of a .468 winning percentage and replaced by Tony Muser, who would fare even worse over six seasons (four full seasons) with a .424 winning percentage. Those two great baseball minds guided the team to a record seven games worse than expected by pythagorean W-L in using 117 different lineups and 132 different batting orders. Boone got the boot during the midst of a 12-game losing streak that fueled an 8-19 July as the Royals finished a 1/2 game better on the road than in the friendly confines of Kauffman. So let's postulate the Royals Theorem: Crappy pitching + dimwit managing = bad baseball. I think KC deserves some credit for repeatedly proving that logic.

1997 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Kevin Appier. The last consistently watchable and solid Royals pitcher.

1997 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Bob Boone and Tony Muser. Both did their damage as Royals managers.

Here are the '97 Royals.

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