20 March 2007

Royal legacy #18 -- the 2003 Royals (83-79)

I hate to rain on the parade of Royals fans with fond memories of 2003, but I'm firmly in the camp that looks at it as a fluke season. One great month, one bad month, two decent months and a late season fade would be an easy way to sum up 2003, in 15 words or less. I also refuse to believe Tony Pena had a lot to do with the team's success, but I grudgingly give him credit for staying positive even when the team was going into the tank in August and September. He did also, however, keep trotting out guys like Chris George and Kris Wilson to the mound, so he had as much to do with that tanking as anyone else. Was it nice for Royals fans to not be the doormat for one season? Yes. But was it also a momentary aberration caused by the confluence of several factors for about a month? I also say yes, as '04-06 have unfortunately borne out.

Also aiding the cause for 2003 going into the season was that expectations couldn't have been any lower from KC fans, which made it ever so easy for them to throw their hearts into a mediocre team. 2002 was the franchise' first 100 loss season, as summed up early in the countdown. Pena had come in for 3/4 of th
e season and not done well after replacing Tony Muser, who was given too much leash already. Basically anything other than an 1899 Cleveland Spiders-type season, Kauffman Stadium burning to the ground or the dreaded-at-the-time threat of contraction becoming reality could make 2003 worse than 2002, but the organization was saving the worst of times for '04 and '05.

GM Allard Baird took the tack that no big moves, or even moderate moves were necessary coming off that wondrous 62-100 2002 season. KC did get some "addition by subtraction" however, as Dye albatross Neifi Perez was picked up by the Giants in November 2002 and the team gave up on free swingin' OF Mark Quinn. Other moves made by Baird blew up in his face, as they usually did. P D.J. Carrasco and C Ronny Paulino were added via the rule V draft -- Carrasco pitched marginally bad in '03 and didn't get any better in '04 or '05 before leaving for Japan, and Paulino was returned to Pittsburgh before the season, where he has now become a candidate as the Pirates' C of the future. Other roster filler like P Nate Field, P Albie Lopez and IF Desi Relaford were brought in only to not fare well, to no surprise. Baird's biggest impact move came in early June when P Jose Lima was picked up off the independent scrap heap and, along with "rah rah" antics from Pena, the two started the "Nosotros Creemos" (We believe) slogan for the team. Lima pitched decently for KC, translated it into a FA deal with the Dodgers for '04, fleeced KC and Baird in '05 and then landed with the Mets, with whom he sucked in 2006. In the June draft, Baird used first rounders on OFs Chris Lubanski and
(then C) Mitch Maier (to be fair, the jury's still out on both of them) and passed up 1B Conor Jackson, OF Nick Markakis, SS Brandon Wood, P Chad Cordero, P Chad Billingsley and OFs Carlos Quentin and Matt Murton in round 1. OF Shane Costa came to KC in round 2 over OF Andre Ethier and only RP Ryan Braun and SS Mike Aviles have reached AAA out of the guys in that draft thus far. P Jon Papelbon got passed up in round 4 and utility guy Kevin Kouzmanoff was bypassed in round 6. In the majors, Baird had released Albie "Blowpez" as he became better-known, by mid-June and his playoff push deal was to swap two minor leaguers to Milwaukee for RP Curt Leskanic, who did pitch very well in KC in '03 but couldn't push the team over the top. Baird also picked up SP Brian Anderson from Cleveland in August, who like Leskanic also pitched well in '03, but bottomed out in '04 and '05 after earning a pay raise from his '03 performance; and added OF Rondell White from the Padres with the season heading downhill -- White had a good 22 games with KC before heading to Detroit via free agency.

As is the team's M.O. in the down years with decent performance on one side of the game and poor performance on the opposite side, the hitting was solid on the '03 team. The pitching wasn't. The Royals were top-five in the AL in six different offensive categories and were top-10 in all hitting categories. The high
lights included a .274 team BA (fourth in the AL), 39 triples (third), 120 SB (third), 1,526 hits (fourth) and 836 runs (fourth). The problem was middle-of-the-pack finishes in team OBP at .336 (sixth), slugging at .427 (seventh), walks at 476 (ninth) and doubles at 288 (10th). The team's 162 homers were also seventh in the AL. On the pitching side of the ledger, it was a mirror image as most categories had the Royals ranked low in the league. The lone highlight was the team's 10 shutouts (fourth in the AL). Other than that the Royals finished no higher than seventh in any category -- ERA 5.06 (12th), 867 runs allowed (12th), 1,569 hits allowed (11th), 566 walks (12th), 865 Ks (13th) and 190 HR allowed (ninth).

Offensively for KC, there were several solid performers in 2003. The leader was CF Carlos Beltran with a .307 BA (the only regular to hit over .300) and .911 OPS. Carlos also scored 102 runs, hit 10 triples, clubbed 26 homers, drove home 100 runs and stole 41 bases. Basically he put on a display of a power and speed combo that is unrivaled in franchise history. Sweeney followed that with a .293 BA and .858 OPS, hit 16 HR and drove home 83 runs but was hampered by his back problems and wasn't able to produce at 100 percent, which made a difference. OF Aaron Guiel also emerged in 99 games of a .277 BA and .835 OPS and threw in 15 HR but would struggle with an eye problem in 2004 and never get back to a steady job with KC. He left for Japan after the '06 season, which he mainly spent with the Yankees. Raul Ibanez was also solid as he hit .2
94 with a .799 OPS, hit 18 homers, scored 95 runs, led the team with 33 doubles and was second to Beltran with 90 RBI. 3B Joker Joe Randa was solid as usual as he hit .291 with an .800 OPS, and hit 31 doubles and 16 homers. SS Angel Berroa also had a to-this-point flash in the pan rookie season to beat out the Yankees' Hideki Matsui for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Berroa hit .287 with a .789 OPS, hit 28 doubles, scored 92 runs, hit 17 homers, stole 21 bases, K'd 100 times while walking 29 and tied Mike Macfarlane's team record with 18 HBP. Of course, since then his OBPs and SLGs have declined every year to the point that he was the worst shortstop in the AL in 2006. But in 2003 he was solid at the plate even though he was marginal at short with 24 errors. The other regulars weren't solid -- 2B Carlos Febles combined with the aforementioned Desi Relaford to provide decent D but little O (Relaford's .691 OPS was more than 130 points higher than Febles'), Cs Brent Mayne and Mike DiFelice struggled to OPS marks of .651 and .696, and year one of the 1B Ken "Grimace" Harvey era ended with his .721 OPS, 30 doubles (nice), 13 HR and 11 errors while sharing time with Sweeney at 1B and DH. Fourth OF Michael Tucker was solid with a .771 OPS and 13 HRs but the bench was unproductive. Beside White's late-season play after his acquisition, OF Dee Brown and IF Mendy Lopez were the only other position players to log more than 50 games for KC in 2003 and they posted OPS+ marks of 52 and 86. The rest of the players were bench filler other than a late season cup of coffee for CF David DeJesus, who played well in 12 games.

The pitching staff was led by a career season from SP Darrell May, who had been brought back from Japan in 2002. May put up a 3.77 ERA while leading the team at 10-8 but gave up 31 homers in 35 games (32 starts) and 210 IP. Opening day starter Runelvys Hernandez, who had yet to balloon like Bartolo Colon, lasted 91 IP before hurting his arm and needing Tommy John surgery. He posted a 4.61 ERA in 16 starts wh
ile organization-touted pitching prospect Jeremy Affeldt stepped up to make 18 starts and appear in 36 games and pitched somewhat solidly. Affeldt posted a 3.93 ERA and 7-6 record in 126 IP. All in all, 15 pitchers started games for KC in 2003 with May, Affeldt and Brian Anderson (3.99 ERA, 5-1 in 7 starts) represented the "good"; Chris George (7.11 ERA but somehow 9-6 with 22 HR allowed in 18 starts) and Brad Voyles (7.47 ERA in 11 games (3 starts)) were the "bad"; and Kyle Snyder (5.17 ERA, 1-6 record in 15 starts), Kris Wilson (5.33 ERA, 6-3, 13 HR allowed in 29 games (4 starts)), Miguel Asencio (5.21 ERA in 8 starts) and Paul Abbott (5.29 ERA in 8 starts) were the "ugly." Throw in Jose Lima's 4.91 ERA and 8-3 record in 14 starts and that's an odd-looking jumble at starter. The bullpen was no different as 29 pitchers would take the mound over the course of the season. Standouts were Leskanic's 1.73 ERA in 26 IP and Al Levine's 2.53 ERA in 21 IP. Albie Blowpez got his walking papers after a 12.71 ERA in 22 IP, Mike MacDougal had a nice rookie season with a 4.08 ERA and 27 saves in 64 games, Jason Grimsley finished second on the team's season charts in appearances with 76 games of a 5.16 ERA in 75 IP, Carrasco pitched 80 innings and posted a 4.82 ERA and Kevin Appier was brought back from unemployment to post a 4.26 ERA in 19 IP late in the season. Other than that it was guys like Sean Lowe (6.25 ERA in 44 IP), Jason Gilfillan (7.71 ERA in 16 IP) and late season pickup Graeme Lloyd (10.95 ERA in 12 IP).

The start was a big part of 2003's success story in KC as the Royals won their first 9 games, 11 of the first 12 and 16 of the first 19 games to race to a 5 1/2 game lead in the AL Central on April 24. The team couldn't keep up the momentum, tho, as the Royals went 10-19 in May to fall 3 1/2 games back of the Twins. A 15
-12 June got the team back within a 1/2 game of the Twinkies and a 15-11 July had them back in first by a game entering August. The team would start to hit the wall in August to finish the month with a 13-15 record and drop 1 1/2 games back of the ChiSox entering September. An 8-11 record versus Chicago would be part of the team's undoing in 2003, as the Sox hastened the team's descent with a late July sweep in KC and took 2 of 3 in Chicago in early August. The team matched August with a 13-15 September and ended the season losing 3 of 4 to Chicago to finish in third place, 7 games back of the division champ Twins in a pretty weak AL Central. A .500 home record was helped to a winning overall record by a 43-39 road mark, although the team was hurt by a 32-38 second-half record. Pena was selected as the AL Manager of the Year for guiding the team to a record 5 games better than expected via pythagorean W-L. After the season, Baird would let Ibanez go in FA (his consistency would be missed) and the Royals' good performance in '03 also kicked in a contract stipulation that stopped DH Mike Sweeney from leaving via an opt-out, just as he was entering his full-stage decline. He had spent about two months of 2003 on the DL with back problems. The poor couple months that ended the '03 season and kept the team from the playoffs would be magnified over the next three seasons as the team posted three straight 100-loss seasons in an ever-strengthening division.

2003 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Carlos Beltran. You know what they say about hindsight, but I wish KC had given Carlos the big pay day.

2003 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Albie Lopez. $1.5 million salary almost matched his ERA.

The '03 Royals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post. i will be back to read some more.