01 March 2007

Royal legacy #24 -- the 1990 Royals (75-86)

Another letdown season is here in the countdown with 1990. No, this time the team wasn't coming off a World Series title or playoff appearance -- they were coming off a 92-70 record in '89, which had been the best since '85, and only the late '80s Oakland juggernaut kept them from returning to the playoffs for a shot at another World Series in '89. With those expectations in mind, Royals fans got a team that was 20 games below .500 on the road, went 6-12 in April, was 9 games below .500 in the first half, and lost 9 straight games in September. Needless to say, manager John Wathan was on his way out and would be gone by mid-season 1991. This time, it wasn't really the offense's or the pitching staff's fault, as both were middle-of-the-road in most categories. The offense was second in the AL with a team batting average of .267, posted a sixth-best mark of a .328 team OBP in the AL and slugged .395 as a team for third in the league. The offense just didn't do enough to augment vanilla pitching. The team was tops in the AL in doubles and second in triples but finished 13th in homers with 100 and scored 707 runs for 6th in the league. With free swingers like Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull on the team, pitch selection probably wasn't the greatest at points as the team drew only 498 walks for 10th in the AL and struck out 879 times for 9th in that stat. Pitching was somewhat more of a sticking point as the team's ERA of 3.93 was good for only 8th in the league while the bullpen saved only 33 games (14th of 14 in the AL). The staff allowed 1,449 hits for 10th in the league but was potent in strikeouts with 1,006 for 2nd in the AL, HR allowed with only 116 (5th) and complete games with 18 (5th). However, the pitchers were generous with both walks with 560 (10th) and runs allowed with 709 (9th).

1990 marked the end of an era in KC when John Schuerholz stepped down after the season as GM to rebuild the then-sorry Braves franchise, which promptly became the NL team of the '90s. The move was timely as the '89 offseason leading into 1990 was an infamous one for Royals fans. In December '89 Schuerholz brought in pitchers Storm and Mark Davis. Storm translated a mediocre '89 as an Oakland (4.36 ERA, 1.5 WHIP, but I guess the general public didn't think about Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched mu
ch as a stat at that time) into a $1.16 million payday from KC (seventh highest salary on the team at that point, only a couple hundred thousand less than Sabes) and gave the Royals two mediocre seasons before leaving via trade in December '91. Mark Davis, as noted in the '92 post, was the all-time free-agent Royal fleece artist. Two great years with San Diego in '88 and '89, including his Cy Young campaign in '89, translated into Schuerholz breaking the bank for $2.12 million for Davis for '90 and $3.62 million in '91 and '92. Mark Davis repaid the franchise by posting a 5.11 ERA and 1.7 WHIP in 1990, a 4.45 ERA and 1.5 WHIP in '91 and a 7.18 ERA and 1.9 WHIP in '92 before getting booted to Schuerholz's new team in Atlanta. It was the least he could do for Royals fans. Davis never regained form and was out of the league by '98. Schuerholz also further cut the '85 ties by trading Charlie Leibrandt to Atlanta after a poor '89, but "Hard Luck" Charlie, as my dad liked to call him with the Braves, bounced back for three nice years in the ATL. In return, the Royals got a one-year rental of 1B/DH Gerald Perry, who hit for a .674 OPS and left in free agency after '90. Schuerholz also made the wise (sarcasm) but essentially meaningless deal of P Jose DeJesus for IF Steve Jeltz, as DeJesus pitched OK in Philly for two seasons and Jeltz stunk up KC for a year, just as he had in Philadelphia. So basically Schuerholz batted a solid .000 going into the season, unless you count bringing back Frank White and Willie Wilson for their final season in Royal blue as a plus. No major moves were made during the season other than bringing in free agent P Andy McGaffigan, who pitched well in 78 IP. The 1990 draft was underwhelming, to say the least, as the Baseball Cube site picks Rodney Myers as the team's best pick of the draft. Thanks to the Davis signings, the Royals had no picks in the first two rounds (the second rounder may have been lost for another signing) but luckily didn't miss out on much other than P Bob Wickman. OF Garret Anderson went one pick before KC's 4th round slot, as did Troy Percival in round 6. Schuerholz left in October and Herk Robinson stepped in as GM with the first order of business of signing an aged Mike Boddicker and washed-up Kirk Gibson.

1990 was also Bo Jackson's best and last season with KC as Herk released him in March '91 following a bad hip injury while Bo played for the LA Raiders. 1990 was the year of Bo's famous run-on-the-wall catch and 3-homer game versus the Yankees that could have been even better had he not injured himself diving for a ball in the outfield. He returned from the DL to homer off Randy Johnson for 4 ABs in a row with a homer. Bo was a main source of offensive highlights for KC in '90 along with perennial stud George Brett. Bo hit .272 with an OPS of .865 with 28 HR, 78 RBI and 128 Ks. His athletic ability resulted in some nice OF plays but also some bad ones as he committed a team-high 12 errors among OF an
d had a .952 fielding percentage (league norm was .981). Brett, meanwhile, led the league in hitting at .329 for a third time while posting an OPS of .902, hitting 14 HR, driving home 87 runs and playing solid defense at first. 3B Kevin Seitzer was solid by hitting .275 with a .716 OPS, OF Jim Eisenreich submitted a season of a .280 BA and .732 OPS and Danny Tartabull split time between RF and DH but hit 15 HR and knocked in 60 runs in 88 games while posting an OPS of .814. Willie Wilson also posted an OPS over .700 before signing with Oakland after the season to end his era patrolling CF in KC. Bill Pecota, Brian McRae and Russ Morman were the best bats off the bench for the '90 Royals along with OF Pat Tabler, who would be dispatched in a mid-season trade. The not-so-good part of the offense came from Frank White, who would retire after a season of a .253 OBP and .560 OPS along with a sub-par fielding percentage at 2B. Mike Macfarlane and Kurt Stillwell squeaked their OBPs over .300 at C and SS, respectively, with Stillwell committing 24 errors in the field. Backup C Bob Boone, at age 42, slugged a mighty .265 in 40 games while Jeltz posted an OPS+ of 12 in 74 games. As you can see, there were a couple good performances balanced out by a few bad ones on offense.

The big news on the mound for KC was the first full season for Kevin Appier, who responded with a 12-8 record, 2.76 ERA and 127 Ks in 185 IP to finish third in Rookie of the Year voting. Saberhagen was in even-year mode after a Cy Young lockdown season in '89 to go 5-9 with a 3.27 ERA in only 2
0 starts and 135 IP. Rounding out the team's best trio of pitchers was SP Tom Gordon, who came off a fine '89 that saw him finish second in RoY voting to go 12-11 with a 3.73 ERA and 175 Ks in 195 IP. He also posted 6 CGs while Appier led the team with 3 shutouts. Storm Davis stepped in to go 7-10 with a 4.74 ERA in 20 starts while Mark Gubicza struggled to a 4.50 ERA and 4-7 record in 16 starts and 94 IP. McGaffigan also got 11 starts and posted a fine 3.09 ERA. Another trio rose to the occasion in the bullpen as closer Jeff Montgomery followed up a great '89 with a 2.39 ERA and 24 saves with 94 Ks in 94 IP; set-up man Steve Farr posted a 1.98 ERA and 13-7 mark in 127 IP; and Luis Aquino went 4-1 with a 3.16 ERA in 68 IP. Other than that it was all plus-4 ERAs, including Mark Davis (5.11), Steve Crawford (OK with a 4.16 ERA), Pete Filson (5.91) and Mel Stottlemyre Jr. (4.88 ERA). Seven other pitchers combined for 100 innings of plus-7 ERA on the staff for the season.

More than 2.2 million fans came to then-Royals Stadium to see John Wathan guide the team fi
ve games short of their expected record by pythagorean W-L -- he used 141 different lineups and batting orders in the campaign, so if you champion lineup tinkering, Wathan was your guy. The team bounced back from its April swoon to go .500 in May, 5 games under .500 in June, 5 games over .500 in both July and August to climb out of the cellar in the AL West, and 10-18 in September to wrap up the season in a franchise-worst to that point sixth place, 27 1/2 games behind the champion A's. To submit a microcosm of the '90 season for at least this Royals fan, I went to one game in June to see the Royals play the A's, mainly to see Bo and Brett and the Bash Brothers, not to mention see Dave Stewart pitch, and Canseco K'd 4 times, McGwire was 0-4, Brett and Bo went a combined 2-9 and Jim Eisenreich hit the game's only homer while I was out at the concession stand getting food. Stewart got rocked but Gubicza picked up the win. The Royals went 25-21 in blowout games such as that but were only 21-26 in one-run games under Wathan's watch in 1990. The team rounded out April with a 6-game skid, lost another 8 straight in June and topped both streaks with the 9-game skid in September. In the end the team's pluses weren't enough to overcome the numerous minuses and, voila, KC was in sixth. Only a few years later the ship would right itself one more time under Hal McRae before entering a more permanent dark period.

1990 Pipeline Royals MVP -- George Brett, for his third batting title in three decades. His first MVP in this countdown but definitely not the last.

1990 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Mark Davis and Bob Boone. $4 million combined for arguably two of the worst performances on the team.

The 1990 Royals.

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