26 January 2008

Royal legacy -- the new #30 -- the 2007 Royals (69-93)

Never got a chance to put a nice, neat bow on the Royals Legacy countdown, but it's the kind of thing I can continue from year to year, so why not? To refresh your memory, here's your original countdown:

1. 1985 Royals
2. 1980 Royals
3. 1977 Royals
4. 1976 Royals
5. 1978 Royals
6. 1984 Royals
7. 1981 Royals
8. 1975 Royals
9. 1982 Royals
10. 1989 Royals
11. 1979 Royals

12. 1973 Royals
13. 1971 Royals

14. 1994 Royals

15. 1988 Royals

16. 1987 Royals
17. 1993 Royals
18. 2003 Royals
19. 1991 Royals
20. 1972 Royals
21. 1995 Royals
22. 1974 Royals
23. 1983 Royals
24. 1990 Royals
25. 1986 Royals
26. 1992 Royals
27. 2000 Royals

28. 1996 Royals
29. 1969 Royals
30. 1998 Royals
31. 1999 Royals
32. 1970 Royals

33. 1997 Royals
34. 2001 Royals

35. 2002 Royals
36. 2006 Royals

37. 2004 Royals
38. 2005 Royals

The 2000s haven't been kind to the franchise, as noted in posts 34-38. One solid (fluky) season in '03, a juggernaut offense in 2000 but still minimal returns in W-L thanks to a gas can pitching staff, and five horrendous years. Then there was 2007, which fell somewhere in the middle -- the team wasn't horrible but wasn't easy to enjoy very often, either. When the dust settled, the team had 93 losses (as recent years go, at least it wasn't 100!) and manager Buddy Bell resigned for family reasons (gotta give one more HOORAY!). And although the franchise had another paltry year to further push back those memories of a once proud winning tradition, and the AL Central was no longer a chump division, there were glimpses that...maybe...a ligh
t was at the end of the tunnel. But we have a new #30 on the countdown, bumping '98 down to #31. I like to think maybe the franchise has come full circle -- the '07 record is the same as the first Royals' season record in '69, and by 1975 the Royals were a force to be reckoned with. So by that rationale, in 2013, we're golden, baby! Wait....maybe I don't like to think the franchise has come full circle. Five more years is a long time to wait.

The '07 Royals were a pretty good definition of mediocre. By runs scored and runs allowed, they fin
ished 5 games lower than expected. They had a five game winning streak and two seven game losing streaks. They scored 17 runs three times in a game but also allowed 17, 16, 13 and 12 runs once each. They shut out opponents 6 times but got shut out 11 times. The friendly confines of the K were again not so friendly as the Royals went 35-46 at home and 34-47 on the road. There were the bright spots of two winning months in June and July but those were bookended by losing records in April-May and August-September, including three sub-.400 winning percentage months. There was no clear culprit, other than a sorry offense and some subpar starting pitching. The Royals again scraped the bottom of the American League in most offensive categories excepting triples (46, second in the AL) and hit batsmen (89, first in the AL). The team BA of .261 was 11th in the AL and was supplemented by a .322 OBP (13th) and .388 SLG (dead last at 14th). The team was low-middle-of-the-pack in Ks (6th most in the AL) and doubles (8th) but was 13th in runs scored, 11th in hits, last in homers, 13th in walks and 10th in SB. Not too hard to see how that all adds up to only 69 wins. Pitching, on the other hand, was better, but not good enough to take up the offense's slack. The 4.48 team ERA was 7th in the AL and the Royals were 7th in walks allowed and 8th in runs allowed but a lack of power pitching resulted in the team ranking 13th in Ks and 11th in hits allowed. The bullpen was exceptional, for the most part, but KC still only racked up 36 saves for 10th in the AL.

New GM Dayton Moore had used the last few months of 2006 to assess and begin making moves in the aftermath of the Allard Baird era, and some moves made in the fall and winter would pay dividends in 2007. 2006 token all-star pitcher Mark Redman was let go via free agency (yawn), a PTBNL was sent to the R
eds for C Jason LaRue (a big swing and a miss for Moore), inconsistent but heat-dealing RP Ambiorix Burgos was shipped to the Mets for SP Brian Bannister (a solid hit for Dayton), $11 million per for 5 years was given to free agent SP Gil Meche (looking good so far), RP Joakim Soria was snatched from the Pads in the rule 5 draft the day of Meche's signing (nice move), RP Octavio Dotel was signed (can't argue with it), reported possible problem child RP Andy Sisco got jettisoned to the White Sox for 1B/OF Ross Gload (flashes of goodness from Gload), RP David Riske was signed (another decent move), and minor league pitching prospect Erik Cordier was sent to Dayton's old haunts in Atlanta for new starting SS Tony Pena Jr. (an improvement from Angel Berroa, but can't say much more about it than that). During the season, Moore pretty much held pat until July. Absolute gas can RP Todd Wellemeyer was waived in May and another gas can got the pink slip when SP Scott Elarton was relieved of his Royal duties in July. At the deadline, with hopes of a Reggie Sanders deal dashed by injury to the aging OF, there were still hopes of perhaps a Dotel deal or an Emil Brown deal or a Grudzielanek deal, maybe even a Riske deal, but Dotel was the only one to leave KC as he was shipped to the Braves for 23-year-old yet-to-live-to-supposed-potential SP Kyle Davies, who continued his struggles down the stretch in Royal blue. With the #2 pick in the June entry draft, the Royals grabbed highly touted high school SS Mike Moustakas and got him signed at the deadline. Six pitchers would be part of the Royals' first 10 picks as Moore continued an apparent commitment to cultivating pitching talent.

As can be expected on a team with offensive numbers like the '07 Royals, there weren't a lot of standou
ts at the plate in KC. Rookie 1B/OF/DH Billy Butler made a splash in his debut by leading regulars and semi-regulars with a 105 OPS+ in 92 games -- he hit .292/.347/.794 (OPS) with 23 2B, 8 HR, 52 RBI, 55 K and 27 BB in 329 ABs. Bell failed to let him get his feet wet in the field as Butler only played 6 games in LF and 13 games at 1B. 2B Mark Grudzielanek followed up a solid Gold Glove 2006 by hitting right at a 100 OPS+ in 116 games at .302/.346/.772 with 32 2B but only 6 HR with 60 Ks and 23 BB. The only other Royal that was above average in OPS was the 39-year-old Sanders, who hit .315/.412/.905 but was limited to only 24 games because of injury. Other than that there wasn't much to crow about for KC. Rookie 3B Alex Gordon didn't exactly explode in his MLB debut but showed glimpses of his potential before finishing with the final line of .247/.314/.725, 36 2B, 15 HR, 60 RBI (tied for second on the team in both HR and ribbies), 137 K (!!!, 8th in team single-season history, probably not the record Gordon wanted to rank high in) and only 41 BB in 151 games and 543 AB. His first season closed out harshly as he took a grounder to the face in the waning days of the season to add injury to a lackluster performance overall. OF Mark Teahen failed to follow up on the promise of power shown in the 2006 season as he hit 31 doubles but only 7 HR while making the move from 3B to RF. He also struck out 127 times with only 55 BB and hit into 23 DPs (tied for sixth among Royals all time in a single season) while tying Gordon with 60 RBIs and hitting .285 with a .763 OPS. Gload proved capable at first with a .288 BA and .759 OPS to go with 22 2B in 102 games, and C John Buck got out to a hot start but faded -- he hit for an .872 OPS in the first half and an ugly, ugly .570 OPS in the second half -- to finish with a .222 BA and .737 OPS. He did lead the team with only 18 HR but K'd 92 times. OF David DeJesus had a ho-hum season with a .723 OPS, 101 RS (leading team), 29 2B and 23 HBP (a new single season team record) while Pena and Brown were less capable at the plate with OBPs in the high .200s range and OPS numbers of .640 and .647, respectively. Brown somehow led the team in RBIs with 62 and Pena's offensive value was mainly tied to his .267 BA and 25 doubles. Good bats off the bench were hard to come by as utility guy Esteban German had the high OPS of those guys with a .727 mark in 121 games. Mike Sweeney played out his waste of a big-dollar deal with a .719 OPS in 74 games, Ryan Shealy disappointed with a .221 BA and .594 OPS in 52 games, OF Joey Gathright earned some time with great play at AAA Omaha and posted a .307 BA and .713 OPS in 74 games, LaRue failed to hit his weight at .148 with a .512 OPS in 66 games, and ever-developing AAAA OF Shane Costa again failed to step up at KC by hitting .223 with a .558 OPS in 55 games. Midseason utility pickup Jason Smith was purely bench fodder with a .188 BA and .660 OPS in 40 games.

Pitching was a slightly prettier picture as the $11 million dollar man Meche led the way with a 3.67 ERA and 1.29 WHIP with 156 Ks and 62 BB in 34 starts and 216 IP, but he finished only 9-13. Bannister also stepped up mid-season to shine in his official rookie season at 12-9 (leading team in wins) with a 3.87 ERA and
1.21 WHIP but only 77 K and 44 BB in 27 starts and 165 IP. The bottom fell out of the rotation after that. Odalis Perez, Jorge de la Rosa, Davies, Elarton and young Billy Buckner all posted plus-5 ERAs, including a whopper 10.46 ERA from Elarton in 9 starts and 37 IP. Perez and de la Rosa were given 26 starts each to try and work out the kinks but neither showed more than an inning or two here and there of solid work. New Royals Riske, Soria and Dotel led a strong bullpen cadre as Riske posted a 2.45 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 4 saves in 65 games and 69 2/3 IP, Soria led the team with 17 saves while putting up a 2.48 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 75 K and 19 BB in 62 games and 69 IP, and prior to his trade, Dotel posted a 3.91 ERA and 11 saves with 29 K in 24 games and 23 IP. Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta and Zack Greinke also were rock solid out of the pen with ERAs of 3.02, 3.80 and 3.69 in more than 250 combined IP. Gobble's 74 appearances was good for fourth all-time among Royals in a single season. Greinke in particular showed a proclivity for set-up work for Dotel and Soria. To a lesser extent, Leo Nunez, John Bale and Neal Musser also did all right out of the pen for KC.

An 8-18 mark in April had the Royals last in the AL Central entering May and an 11-17 mark in May didn't help as June dawned with the cellar-dwellers 14 1/2 games back. The successes of June and July coupled with struggles on the south side of Chicago helped KC climb out of last place for a few days here and there, and the thought of finishing out of last was still in the realm of possibility with the season winding down. It
was not to be, however, as the loss of 2 of 3 to the White Sox in late September dropped the Royals into last for good. The team's up and down play didn't seem to have too much effect on attendance as the Royals drew only 1.61 million fans to the K, which ranked them 13th in the AL.

Changes were still in the making for Dayton Moore and KC as renovations were slated for Kauffman S
tadium in the '07-08 offseason and the team would get a new manager after Buddy Bell resigned in late July. Moore ushered in a new era with the hire of Trey Hillman from Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters. The Texan enters Royals employ coming off two straight Japan Series appearances and a series win in 2006. Moore has continued to try and make the Royals a free-agent "player" again with the signing of OF Jose Guillen to man a corner OF spot. International efforts continue with the signing of RP Yasuhiko Yabuta. Buckner was also shipped off to bring in IF Alberto Callaspo from Arizona. The next nine months and onward will tell what direction the Royals are headed but, as of now, it looks to be on an upward slope.

2007 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Gil Meche and Brian Bannister. None of the offensive guys did enough, and Meche and Bannister provided the Royals some long-forgotten starting punch.

2007 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Todd Wellemeyer and Scott Elarton. Plus-10 ERAs. All I need to say. Even if it was only 21 games. If you're wondering which is which, that's Todd wiping his brow after a hard day of giving up wall rockets and that's Elarton the Mound Arsonist gnawing his jersey on the way to the showers after pouring some gas on a fire he started.

Your 2007 Royals.

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