04 February 2009

Royal legacy, our new #28 -- the 2008 Royals (75-87)

Here's the countdown to this point:

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. 2007 Royals
31. 1998 Royals
32. 1999 Royals
33. 1970 Royals

34. 1997 Royals
35. 2001 Royals

36. 2002 Royals
37. 2006 Royals

38. 2004 Royals
39. 2005 Royals

First off, why #28 for '08? Because even though the pitching was markedly better than #27 2000, the offense was nowhere near the double-ought juggernaut's version. And because the Royals didn't finish last thanks to a great September, they top the now-#29 '96ers, who under lineup-shufflin' Bob Boone were the first Royals team to finish in the cellar. That's why.

What will we remember in 10 years when we think back to the '08 Royals? On the good side, probably the nice September run (18-8), the local and even somewhat national (he did get some notice) sensation of Mike Aviles, a nice season from David DeJesus, the best season yet from Zack Greinke and the fact the Royals weren't patently horrid on a consistent basis for the first time in a few years. On the bad side, Jose Guillen's KC debut (more off the field than on), the God-awful August (7-20), Tony Pena Jr.'s historically piss-poor season, and the disappointment of Brian Bannister's sophomore campaign. I'd put Trey Hillman's debut as manager right in the middle. He did some things I and many Royals fans seemed to like but also seemed to be out of his element at times with on-field moves and internal wranglings in the clubhouse. Overall, the September finish plus the fact the Royals weren't last for the first time since 2003 left a relatively un-poor taste in fans' mouths. That left it up to GM Dayton Moore as to how those feelings would go heading into 2009.

The 2008 Royals were a case of a solid pitching staff tugging along a sluggish offensive barge. To put it one way as to the offense, the Royals were at their best, or worst, depen
ding on how the stat plays, hitting doubles (303, 5th in the AL), getting caught stealing (38, 5th most in AL), and rapping out singles (1,507 hits and .269 team BA were 6th in AL). I guess it should be singles and doubles, as KC was eighth in the 14-team AL with 38 triples and 13th in homers at 120. The team was at its worst in getting on-base (.320 OBP was 12th, 392 walks was dead last in AL), hitting for power (.397 team SLG was 12th in AL, the team's OPS+ (again, adjusted for league and park, compared to 100, which is league average) was 88, tied for last in the AL), scoring runs (691 runs scored was 12th), and stealing bases (79 for 11th). So basically, the good parts didn't make a lot of difference compared to how bad they were in some very key areas. If you can't get on base, you can't score runs. If you can't score runs, you aren't gonna win games, especially with just a solid and not a great pitching staff. And the Royals' pitching staff was on the weak side of solid. The only favorable stat the Royals were in the top 5 in the AL in was saves with 44 (thank you, Mexicutioner). They were 6th in HR allowed with 159 and 7th in walks (515) and Ks (1,085) along with hits allowed. The main point of pitching, keeping runs off the board, wasn't a strength as the team's 4.50 ERA was 10th in the league, as was the 781 runs allowed. The 8 shutouts were 9th in the league while the 2 complete games were 12th. Compounding this in part yet also helping it in part was a defensive efficiency rating of .688 (meaning 68.8 percent of the balls put in play turned into outs) that ranked 6th in the AL.

After a 2007 season that saw the emergence of Soria and a good first year from big $$$, much-discussed FA pickup Gil Meche as well as the end of the Buddy Bell Dark Ages in KC, there was a kind of buzz about what Dayton Moore could do to perhaps improve the team over the offseason coming into 2008. What Royals fans got was what Dayton
Moore could pull off the scrapheap after his big free agent plans fell through. Moore wanted either Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones, but after the Royals' offer to Hunter was trumped by the CalAnaLa Angels and Jones took his has-been act to the Dodgers, the consolation prize was temperamental-some-would-say-headcase corner OF Jose Guillen at $13 mill per year for 3 years. When his numbers fell off the table by 75 points of OPS (although his HR and RBI numbers were consistent with his '07 in Seattle, he set a career high in doubles with 42 and had his second-most hits in a season in his career with 158) and multiple reports of clubhouse squabbles ensued, was anyone truly surprised? The alleged headcase pickup was the trend of the '07-08 offseason as 40-man-roster dead weight and minor league gas can Danny Christensen was jettisoned to Detroit for Roman Colon, whose most recent claim to fame was assaulting a teammate in the locker room in the Tigers' farm system, but that was a pretty minor deal. The Royals also let their '07 minor league sensation Craig Brazell go to Japan while importing their first Japanese product in the form of P Yasuhiko Yabuta, who by the end of '08 would no longer even be on the 40-man roster, he was that effective. The pellet-gun wielding reign of terror of Emil Brown was also put to an end in KC as he was released and signed with the A's. Pitching prospect Billy Buckner was also cashed in for IF prospect and another problem child Alberto Callaspo from Arizona. Callaspo would respond by providing a solid batting average but no power and miss some time because of a DUI and subsequent recovery efforts. Other notable free agent signings were lefty Ron Mahay (panned out decently), C Miguel Olivo (provided some pop in the lineup) and Japanese legend Hideo Nomo (didn't make it). The Royals threw money at quite a few reclamation projects in the offseason, and none really worked out that well. One good move was the trade of inconsistent P Jorge de la Rosa to Colorado for it turned out as P Ramon Ramirez, who had a fine year as Soria's set up man and got traded to Boston for OF Coco Crisp as a reward. Lefty Horacio Ramirez was pulled off the scrapheap in May and ended up pitching well and netting the Royals a minor league OF in trade from the White Sox. More dead wood was shed when IF Angel Berroa finally saw his last day in a Royals uni in a June trade to the Dodgers. But altho guys like Mahay and Mark Grudzielanek were reportedly on the block, the Royals made no moves of any importance down the stretch. EDIT: I forgot to note in this first draft of the post what a seemingly great June draft the Royals had. They passed on a couple solid college players in round 1 to take 1B Eric Hosmer, who many said was the best high school hitter available. Then they got only a few games out of Hosmer because his agent, Scott Boras, and 2nd overall pick 3B Pedro Alvarez jerked the Pirates around at the deadline, which somehow also cast Hosmer's signing with KC into doubt. It was ironed out but not before the season was over. They nabbed touted high school lefty Mike Montgomery in the supplemental round and he went on to a nice debut in Arizona. Second round college 2B Johnny Giavotella was regarded as perhaps the most major-league ready of the draft for KC and debuted with a solid season helping the A-ball Burlington Bees to a Midwest League title. Third round pick Tyler Sample was viewed by most analysts as a project and pitched that way in his debut, while perhaps the team's pick of the draft was fourth rounder righty Tim Melville, who many thought would be unsignable and had passed up even though he was projected as a first round choice. Moore got him signed and he will make his Royals organizational debut in 2009. In all, the Royals would sign 27 of their 51 draft picks. Beside Montgomery and Giavotella, 9th round IF J.D. Alfaro stood out at Idaho Falls with a nice debut, 13th round lefty John Flanagan was one of the few bright spots at rookie Burlington, and 18th round OF Carlo Testa had a solid debut at Idaho Falls.

A whopping total of 4 Royals were average or above at the plate in 2008. Leading the pack was rookie SS Mike Aviles, who hit .325/.354/.480 for a 122 OPS+, was third on the team in runs scored (and easily would have led if he had played more than 102 games after the Royals lucked into giving him a deserved shot), tied for second on the team in triples with 4, and played solid if unspectacular D at short. He also chipped in 10 HR and 27 doubles. LF David DeJesus had a good '08 with a line of .307/.366/.452 (119 OPS+), 70 RS, team-leading 159 hits, 25 doubles, team-leading 7 3B, 12 HR, 73 RBI (second on team behind Guillen), and 11 SB (second behind Gathright's 21) with good D in left. 3B Alex Gordon had yet to rake as Royals fans had hoped but had
a solid .260/.351/.432 line for a 110 OPS+, team-leading 72 RS, 35 doubles (second behind Guillen), 16 HR (second behind Guillen), 59 RBI (a disappointing total), and again racked up some Ks with 120 while playing just so-so defense at the hot corner. Right at an average 100 OPS+ was Grudzielanek, who had a leg injury knock him out of action midway through the season. Otherwise he hit .299/.345/.399 with 24 doubles in 86 games. A handful of regulars were close to average in OPS but not quite, led by Guillen, who hit .264/.300/.438 with 42 2B, 20 HR, 66 RS, 97 RBI and 23 BB compared to 106 Ks while playing better in 45 games in left rather than 67 games in right. He and Billy Butler led the team with 23 GIDP. All in all, that's not a $13 million worthy stat line from Jose, especially when he suffered through horrible July and August slumps. Butler, like Gordon, also failed to rake in hitting .275/.324/.400 with 22 2B, and 11 HR. A slow start earned him a midseason demotion to Omaha, which gave Aviles his shot, and Butler did respond when brought back to KC by hitting for 177 points more of OPS in the second half than the first. OF Mark Teahen again didn't quite live up to expectations with a .715 OPS, 31 2B, 15 HR and team-leading 131 Ks but did play a decent right. C Miguel Olivo also wasn't quite good at the plate (.278 OBP with 7 BB/82 K, yeesh) but 22 2B and 12 HR helped him get the nod as starting catcher going into '09 because John Buck was even worse with a 79 OPS+. Ross Gload was subpar at first, although Ryan Shealy came up late and hit fairly well. Of course, not good enough to keep them from bringing in Jacobs. Kila Ka'aihue was the minor league story of the season and came up to hit OK in 21 ABs, although Hillman didn't give him much of a chance. Time will tell what Jacobs' acquisition does to Kila's chances should he continue his great hitting in 2009. Gathright struggled and couldn't crack .600 in OPS, which cost him his job with KC. Tony Pena Jr. was somehow given 225 ABs to post a historically horrible OPS of .398 with ungood D at short. A few flashy plays doesn't make him Ozzie, you TPJ apologists out there. IF Esteban German had a down year in 216 ABs of a .641 OPS, but Callaspo did all right coming off the bench when sober (a .732 OPS).

On the mound, Greinke and Meche gave KC a respectable front of the rotation even if Brian Bannister disappointed, Luke Hochevar struggled in his first full-time shot at the majors, and the team struggled to put anything better than cannon fodder in the #5 rotation slot until Kyle Davies came out of nowhere to pitch well late. Greinke led the way by going 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 56 BB and 183 Ks in 32 starts and 202 1/3 IP. Meche was right there with Zack (maybe a step or two lower) at 14-11 with a 3.98 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 73 BB and 183 Ks in 34 starts and 210 1/3 IP. Davies picked up 21 starts and went 9-7 with a 4.06 ERA, average 1.45 WHIP, 43 BB and 71 K in 113 IP. Then you got to Hochevar, who went 6-12 with a 5.51 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 47 BB and 72 K in 22 starts and 129 IP. Take another drop and you reach Bannister, who struggled to go 9-16 with a 5.76 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 58 BB/113 K and served up 29 HR, which led the team by 8 over Greinke, in 32 s
tarts and 182 2/3 IP. Other than that, it was 10 starts of 6.97 ERA from failed reclamation project Brett Tomko and 7 OK starts from journeyman Brandon Duckworth. The bullpen was a highlight led by Soria, who was an all-star and posted 42 saves. The Mexicutioner posted a 1.60 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 19 BB/66 K in 63 games and 67 1/3 IP. He was shored up by a 2.64 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 70 K in 71 2/3 IP from Ramon Ramirez, 2.98 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 48 1/3 IP from Nunez, and 3.48 ERA and 1.39 WHIP from lefty Mahay. Joel Peralta didn't pitch well in his 52 2/3 IP (a 5.98 ERA) but midseason pickup Robinson Tejeda stepped in to provide a 3.20 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 41 K in 39 1/3 IP, and Horacio Ramirez posted a 2.59 ERA in his 24 1/3 IP before being traded. It was downhill from there. Lefty John Bale became more noted for breaking his hand punching a wall while working his way back from another injury and put up a 4.39 ERA in 26 2/3 IP, Yabuta struggled to a 4.78 ERA and was generally ineffective, Jimmy Gobble got absolutely lit up for an 8.81 ERA, and nobody else got more than 15 IP.

The Royals actually led the AL Central for 11 days in April but had sub-par April and May records before finishing over .500 in June. Part of the season's downfall was that the Royals' worst record came versus division rivals Minnesota (6-12 versus the Twinkies), Cleveland (8-10) and Chicago (6-12). KC had a 12-game swoon in May and hit double-digit games back on June 5. The Royals got the deficit back to single digits that month by winning 11 of 12 before finishing it 10 games out. They would get their deficit to 9 1/2 games back on Aug. 4 but that was the only day from July 1 on they had a deficit of less than 10 games. A 7-game skid in August was countered by a 7-game win streak in September as the Royals blazed to an 18-8 finish in the season's final month after sliding with a 7-20 August. Unfortunately, the Royals entered September 20 games back and could only shave 7 games off that deficit by season's end, but they did achieve a moral victory by finishing ahead of preseason division favorite Detroit by a game. Attendance at the K once again lagged as 1.57 million fans crept through the turnstiles to rank KC last in the 14-team AL, which was less attendance than in a worse 2007.

Moore went into the offseason preaching about the need for OBP and responded by bringing in 1B Mike Jacobs (career .318 OBP, .299 OBP in '07, not to mention a less-than-stellar glove but some good power) in a trade for solid relief P Leo Nunez, OF Coco Crisp (career .331 OBP and three straight years of below average OPS but should be a good glove in CF) for Ramirez, and most recently, signed utility man Willie Bloomquist (career .322 OBP, never more than a .321 OBP in more than 50 ABs other than a crazy .377 OBP last year at age 30, slugged a mighty .285 last year for the M's, Royals fans will be happy to know his second best comparative player on Baseball Reference is former Royal IF Keith Miller). The 2008 winner of the Christensen Minor League Gas Can Award, P Tyler Lumsden, was also sent packing to the 'Stros, who actually gave up a half-decent player in OF Jordan Parraz to get him. Royals fans awaiting another Meche or Guillen level pickup have been left hanging this offseason, although Moore has been able to lock up Zack Greinke for 4 more years in a seemingly shrewd move. EDIT: I also forgot to note the big FA signing of headcase fireballer RP Kyle Farnsworth. Fresh off a solid 44 IP with the Evil Empire and 16 horrible IP for the Tigres. END EDIT. Gone already from the '08 team are CF Joey Gathright (to Cubs) and Grudz (free agent), and with the departures of Ramirez and Nunez, the '09 Royals' middle relief is gonna look different, too. Speaking of looking different, Kauffman Stadium should be, too, as opening day 2009 nears. Fountain-side seats are just part of the changes at the K that I'm looking forward to as renovations continue. The good September has been balanced by Moore's offseason moves as I'm not sure fans have any idea what to expect from the Royals in 2009 and onward.

2008 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Let's go with Joakim Soria. Along with Greinke, he's the first Royal in a while you actually feel that other teams covet. Plus he did have a stellar season.

2008 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Let's go Tony Pena Jr. over Jimmy Gobble. A historically awful OPS has to count for something. Here he's pictured in, I'm sure, a fruitless at-bat.

Here's the 2008 Royals.

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