05 March 2010

Legacy countdown -- our new #36, the 2009 Royals (65-97)

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. 2008 Royals
29. 1996 Royals

30. 1969 Royals
31. 2007 Royals
32. 1998 Royals
33. 1999 Royals
34. 1970 Royals

35. 1997 Royals
36. 2009 Royals <-----
37. 2001 Royals

38. 2002 Royals

39. 2006 Royals

40. 2004 Royals
41. 2005 Royals

First off, let's ask the usual question, why #36 for '09? Really, the '09ers are interchangeable with the 2001 Royals -- coming off the previous season with some promise (remember the 2000 squad had gre
at O -- pitching? not so much; the '08ers had that good September plus Dayton Moore hadn't done too many bonehead moves yet, you had more hope Hillman could learn from his first season), a promising fairly new player flames out (Mark Quinn, Mike Aviles, albeit for different reasons, Quinn just stunk), a younger player has a breakout season (Carlos Beltran, Billy Butler), and another highly touted young player disappoints (Dee Brown, Alex Gordon). The differences? Number 1: Zack Greinke, enough said. Number 2: Yes, the '09ers didn't have Sweeney in his raking days, but there was also no Dye-for-Perez level trade as in 2001, so that's a wash. Also, the 2001 pitching staff stank out loud, other than 'roider Jason Grimsley out of the pen. Other than Greinke, there wasn't a lot to love out of the KC pitching staff last season, but you do have Soria, Tejeda and a passable season from Jamey Wright. Basically the first decade of the 21st century was a great one for the franchise. No proof that the Glasses are running the team into the ground AT ALL. Look at that list above. 2003 leads the way at #18 but the worst 6 seasons in franchise history came in the "Aughts" and, other than the #30 newborn Royals in '69 and the #34 infant Royals in '70, all the worst seasons have come under the Glass watch. Coincidence? I think not.

So what will we remember in 10 years when we think back to the '09 Royals? Besides the first year of the "new K," probably disappointment, mainly. Aviles was hurt and didn't follow up his good 2008. Dayton Moore preached OBP and acquired players whose on-base skills were their WORST SKILLS, every time. The Royals did get a little punch out of the C spot with Olivo and Buck, who both posted above average OPS but also combined to walk 32 times and K 181 times, and Brayan Pena didn't do horribly in his first shot with KC. Overall, the Royals had above average OPS in 4 regular positions, which was nice to see. The bad side was the pu-pu platter of Betancourt/Tony Pena/Hernandez/Aviles at short, another underwhelming season from Mark Teahen, another overpaid season from Jose Guillen, and a trade for 1B/DH Mike Jacobs that, simply put, didn't work out. Whereas Greinke was a finely tuned machine on the mound in his best season yet, the rest of the starting staff was a batch of lemons for the most part, other than a few Hochevar starts and late season Tejeda starts. Four Royal pitchers had a WHIP of 1.35 or less in 2009. Throw in Bannister's 1.37 mark and no other had a better WHIP than 1.49. Ugh. Plus, as noted, Dayton Moore didn't exactly dazzle and neither did Trey Hillman. If you were looking for good things from 2009, it was Greinke, Butler, Soria, a nicely renovated Kauffman Stadium open for business, and the fact that it's now over.

The 2009 Royals continued a recent franchise hallmark of poor offense backed up by mostly poor pitching. The one category the Royals finished in the upper half of the American League in was triples, where they led the league with 51. OPS? .724, 13th of 14. Almighty OBP? gawd-awful .318, 13th. Somehow Seattle was worse in both but won 85 games. Probably because the M's ERA was almost a run better (they allowed 15
0 less runs) and the team WHIP was .1 better. It doesn't seem like that should cause a 20-win difference, but it did. Anyway, the Royals were also 13th in runs scored (again, above 85-win Seattle), 12th in hits, 13th in HR, 13th in walks, and 12th in BA and slugging. On the pitching side of the ledger, Greinke helped the team to tying the Halladay Jays for the league lead in complete games with 10 (Greinke had 6), and the Royals allowed only 166 HR for 2nd in the league, but that's the end of the pretty stats. OK, their 1,153 Ks were fourth in the league, although according to the team's BR page it ranked 15,387th in the 14 team AL (they accidentally put the league K total on there rather than the rank). ERA? 4.83, 12th (equally sad sack Cleveland and Baltimore were worse, but wouldn't have been with Zack on the mound). Saves? 34, 11th, as Soria wasn't exactly top notch physically all season. Runs allowed? 842, 12th. Walks? 600, worst in the league. They can't draw 'em, but they can hand 'em out. Are you getting the frustration now? Frustration that caused several team-devoted blogs and long suffering fans to throw in the towel? The Royals had one of the best pitching individual seasons in team history and couldn't capitalize much on it at all, other than leaving fans to wonder how awful it would have been had Zack Greinke not been a Royal in 2009. The pitching was buoyed by a defense that had a league-worst .980 fielding percentage leading to a league-worst .675 defensive efficiency rating (meaning 67.5 percent of the balls put in play turned into outs).

OK. So 2008 ends on a semi-promising note and Royals fans are looking forward to the hot st
ove season to see what else Dayton Moore cooks up. His first two offseasons had been highlighted by the Meche and Guillen signings, altho only one of those really worked out at all. Things went wrong and just got wrong-er, to use bad grammar, in the 2008-09 offseason. Fairly reliable RP Leo Nunez gets shipped to Florida for 1B Mike Jacobs, who the Royals might have been able to pick up off the scrap heap at some point in the offseason. Jacobs proceeds to post a sub-.300 OBP and slugs a less-than-mighty .401, while Nunez serves his purpose for the Fish. On Nov. 19, 2008, another key part of the 2008 'pen gets jettisoned as Ramon Ramirez is sent to Boston for CF Coco Crisp. Not a bad deal on its face, as you'd think Crisp has something left in the tank. Ramirez pitches well for Boston. Crisp lasts 49 games with a .714 OPS before getting shut down with a shoulder injury, and costs $6 million for the trouble. Moore takes another hit to his rep with the signing of potential gas-can RP Kyle Farnsworth, who proceeds to blow an opening day win over Chicago, allows a .287 BA against, consistently puts on a display of some of the worst clutch pitching ever, and posts a 1.5 WHIP and 4.5 ERA that was pretty consistent with what he did in 2008, before Moore paid him $4.25 million the team really can't afford to waste. The calendar turns to 2009 and Moore signs UT guy Willie Bloomquist, who at age 31 posts a career high in games and ABs despite career struggles to break a .650 OPS, altho he had done it the last two seasons. Bloomquist does it again in 2009, but with a .308 OBP that, despite the front office's sermon of the importance of the walk, still gets him his career high in games and ABs, and he plays at seven different positions. Next up on the Moore frustrat-o-meter is RP Juan Cruz, who signs for less than Farnsworth with a better track record of performance that actually leads fans to think it's a good signing. He responds with his worst ERA, WHIP and K totals since 2005, which also was his last season pitching in the AL prior to 2009. He gives up more HR per 9 innings than he did in Arizona. His K/9 rate is cut in half pretty much from 2008 and is the lowest of his major league career, and he also posts a career-worst K/BB ratio. Hopefully his numbers head closer to his career norm in 2010, otherwise he's another example of a pitcher making his bones in a weaker NL. In March, Moore signs problem child P Sidney Ponson and his rotundness and the organization proceeds to give him 9 starts before releasing him in August. Longtime Royals pitching hopeful Jimmy Gobble gets released in March as well and later gets torched in a stint pitching for the White Sox. 1B Ross Gload is the next Royal to go in another deal with the Marlins for a PTBNL. Gload actually has his moments with the Fish, but is no longer necessary with Billy Butler and Mike Jacobs in tow. Things die down until July, when Moore starts to get some kind of mediocre outfielder fever. He picks up Ryan Freel from the Cubs, who lasts a month of sub-.600 OPS work before getting his walking papers. Minor league prospect P Dan Cortes is struggling in AA, plus gets caught peeing in public while drunk, so Moore packages him plus minors RP Derrick Saito for Seattle SS Yuniesky Betancourt, who Moore assures the unknowing fans is much better than his .609 OPS and mediocre D with the M's. He bats about the same with KC, little less BA and OBP, little more power, about the same defense. Twenty days later, Moore has another bout of mediocre OF fever with the addition of OF Josh Anderson, who doesn't exactly get the job done in his shot with the Royals. One other in-season move takes place as sometime effective RP Ron Mahay gets sold to the Twins in late August. Draft wise, the Royals made some more bold moves in June that paid off, although it arguably wasn't a bigger haul than the 2008 draft. They recreated the Hochevar pick with the selection of Topeka native and Royals fan Aaron Crow in round 1, one pick ahead of top ranked SS Grant Green out of USC, who went to the A's. Left without a second rounder because of a FA signing, the Royals made perhaps their pick of the draft in round 3 by taking C Wil Myers, who was a signability concern. He responded by signing and raking in the low minors in his first taste of pro ball. Two solid college pitchers were brought into the fold in Clemson lefty Chris Dwyer and LSU righty Louis Coleman in rounds 4 and 5. Their 14th rounder, lefty Crawford Simmons, was a lauded pick but didn't sign in time to get any game action in last season. Other than Myers and Coleman, none of the draftees made a big splash on the organization, although several had solid debuts.

In a bleak landscape that was the Royals offense, Billy Butler was an oasis in 2009. His 124 OPS+ (normalized for league and ballpark) led the team as he batted .301/.362/.492 for an .853 OPS with 51 doubles (second most in a season for KC and only the second Royal ever to do so besides Hal McRae), 78 RS, 21 HR, team-leading 93 RBI, team-best 58 BB (36th in the AL, a telling indicator for the team), 103 K, team best 183 hits, but also a team worst 20 GIDP with passable defense (by his previous standards) at first. Next up was 2B Alberto Callaspo, who like Butler was no defensive wizard by any means but did contribute at the
plate with a 114 OPS+ and line of .300/.356/.457, 79 RS (led team), 173 hits, 41 2B, 8 3B, 11 HR, 73 RBI (a distant second on the team), 52 BB and 51 K with 15 GIDP. OF David DeJesus had the best season among Royals outfielders but it was a pretty average season overall with a 106 OPS+. His line was .281/.347/.434, 74 RS, 157 hits, 28 2B, 9 3B (led team), 13 HR, 71 RBI, 51 BB/87 K, 10 GIDP and, showcasing one of his perennially weakest areas, 4/13 SB, although it's usually not THAT weak. Catchers Miguel Olivo and John Buck were also juuuust above average with a 103 OPS+. Olivo led the team with 23 HR. Actually slap them together and you'd have a season that's pretty decent at least in terms of power and RBI. Hitting in the .240s, a .290s OBP, .480s SLG, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 143 hits, but 32 BB and 181 K. One other Royal was smack-dab average as Brayan Pena had a 100 OPS+ with a line of .273/.318/.442, 10 2B, 6 HR, 12 BB/18 K in 64 games. On the below average end, Teahen struck out 123 times with only 37 BB, scored 69 runs, legged out 34 doubles, clubbed 10 HR with 50 RBI, grounded into 11 DP and was generally subpar. Jacobs' struggles have already been documented as he posted a .698 OPS with 19 HR, 41 BB and 132 K, and Jose Guillen picked up $12 million in checks and, when healthy, talked about how much he stunk with a .681 OPS, 17 XBH, 40 RBI, 22 BB/50 K, and 13 GIDP in only 81 games. Betancourt had a 68 OPS+ in 71 games, including a stellar .269 OBP, with his best stat probably being 5 3Bs. Mitch Maier logged the most time in center and posted a 78 OPS+ that, for some reason, still had people clamoring for him to get the starting job in 2010. His best stat was 15 2B in 127 games. Bloomquist played all over the place and posted a 76 OPS+ with 8 3B, 25 SB in 125 games. Coco had a .714 OPS and 16 XBH in 49 games, Alex Gordon had a sort of lost year with a .703 OPS (86 OPS+), 12 XBH, 21 BB/43 K in 49 games while battling a hip injury that cost him more than half the season. Aviles had a shoulder problem that helped him to a 21 OPS+ (not a typo) with a .183 BA and .458 OPS, 5 XBH and 4 BB/26 K in 36 games. In one last gasp of historical offensive ineptitude, Tony Pena Jr. posted a -33 OPS+ in 40 games before being all but forced into a second try as a reliever, where he actually showed some value in the minors.

On the mound, Zack Greinke was throwing Van Goghs while the rest of the starters were throwing black velvet flea market art. His 2.16 ERA was 5th all time among Royals and the best since Steve Farr's 1.98 in 1990. His 9.49 K/9 was second all time among Royals, scant hundredths behind Tom Gordon's 9.51 in 1991. His 242 Ks were second all-time in team annals behind Dennis Leonard's 244 in 1977, which by the way came in 292 IP compared to 229 for Zack. His 4.74 K/BB was a team record, shattering Bret Saberhagen's 4.48 in 1989. Finally, his 205 ERA+ was second all time behind only Dan Quisenberry's 210 mark in 1983. Basically, he was twice as good as your average MLB pitcher in 2009. He won his first 6 starts with 3 CG and a total of 2 ER allowed. His first loss came, 1-0, to the Angels. At the end of June, he was 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA, then the Royals' offense really started to cost him. He didn't get a win in July with no more than 3 runs of support in any of his starts. He would have 19 starts where the Royals got him 3 or less runs of support. In August, he went 3-2 with a no-decision in a 7 inning shutout start, then finished 3-0 in September with 2 1-run no decisions. Fortunately, the Cy Young voters looked past his still-good-but-not-stellar 16-8 record and gave him the award he deserved. The next best starter was Robinson Tejeda, who appeared in 35 games and made 6 starts late in the season. He posted a 3.54 ERA and 1.26 WHIP overall and a 2.84 ERA with 32 K in 31 2/3 IP as a starter. He also posted 87 Ks in 73 2/3 IP. From there, it was downhill. Brian Bannister was the best of the rest with a 4.73 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, Gil Meche battled some arm problems and posted a 5.09 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, Kyle Davies slapped together a 5.27 ERA and 1.52 WHIP with 8 wins second to Greinke on the team (therein laying the problem), Bruce Chen made a mediocre comeback with a 5.78 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 9 starts, and Luke Hochevar was an enigma wrapped in a conundrum and rolled up in a riddle with a 6.55 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 25 starts that included 9 starts of 6 ER or more, including his last 3, and 3 starts of 1 or 0 ER, including an 80-pitch CG win over Cincinnati and a 105-pitch CG win over the White Sox that directly preceded his last three blowout starts. The only starter worse than Hochevar overall was washed-up Sidney Ponson, and Lenny DiNardo suffered through 5 brutal starts late in the season. The bullpen was led again by Joakim Soria, whose usage became a hot topic with Trey Hillman during the season. He got a save or win in his first 8 appearances, including 29 pitches in his 8th appearance, got shelved with arm problems for a month, came back in June to make 10 appearances, including 3 20-plus pitch outings, pitched another 10 games in July with no outing under 10 pitches and one 37-pitch game, threw in 7 August games and had two 3 ER outings, then finished with 12 scoreless September appearances and 10 saves in the month to right an already good ship. It all added up to a good 2.21 ERA but the worst ERA of his young career at 1.13, which is still pretty good. In 53 IP, he struck out 69 with 16 BB. Unfortunately, the Royals had no more to tout in the bullpen than Soria. FA import Jamey Wright chalked up a 4.33 ERA with 1.48 WHIP in 79 IP, Carlos Rosa appeared in 10 2/3 IP late in the season with a 3.38 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, and no other pitcher had a WHIP better than 1.43, so it's not like Nunez and Ramirez were missed or anything. Farnsworth -- 1-5, 4.58 ERA, 1.52 WHIP in 37 1/3 IP. Cruz -- 3-4, 5.72 ERA, 1.49 WHIP in 50 1/3 IP. Roman Colon -- 2-3, 4.83, 1.43 in 50 1/3 IP. John Bale -- 0-1, 5.72, 1.83 in 28 1/3 IP. Mahay -- 1-1, 4.79, 1.79 in 41 1/3 IP. That's about all the bullpen picture I can stomach.

The Royals actually led the AL Central for 27 days, making it the first time since 2003 the team led the division later than April. The pinnacle was a 3-game lead May 7 at the tail end of a season best 6-game winning streak that saw the Royals 7 games over .500. It was a quick downhill slalom from there -- a 6-game losing streak, 3 wins of 4, and losing 13 of 15 to drop to 5.5 games out. Another mid-June 5-game swoon deepened the deficit and a 4-game skid going into early July put the deficit at 11 games as KC was embedded in fourth place. The deficit bottomed out at 24 games in early September before the Royals put together a 15-13 month to end the season tied for fourth at 21 games out. The team suffered 41 blowout losses of 5+ runs and 25 1-run losses. While splitting 18 games with the White Sox and Tigers, the Royals dropped 10 games to fellow cellar dweller Cleveland and 12 games to the Twins. They were also 1-9 versus both the Angels and Rays. Attendance was still down, but better than in 2008 as 1.79 million fans cranked the turnstiles at the new and improved K for 12th in the AL.

Moore finished the season preaching to the fans about what constitutes a good player and how he has little to do with the franchise's problems, and promptly continued to bring in more fringe players that either haven't lived up to the hype, are way past their prime or still don't follow the OBP mantra Moore was chirping last season. One positive move came in mid-September when Aaron Crow inked his deal, although it was too late for him to get any work in in the minors season. Instead he took some lumps in the Arizona Fall League but K'd 12 with only 2 walks. Another minor leaguer who had rattled the cage -- P Danny Gutierrez -- was shipped to Texas for two prospects in September as well. The offseason moves began in earnest in November with the dealing of Mark Teahen (finally) to the ChiSox for 3B/OF Josh Fields, who reportedly has the tools but put together a .648 OPS in 2009, and 2B Chris Getz, who has more glove than bat and posted a .670 OPS in his first season in 2009. Moore spent the rest of the month bringing in washouts from other organizations and then did the same in December. Jacobs got his release in a rare Moore money-eating move, and on Dec. 11, brought in a new catcher in Jason Kendall, who turns 36 in June, and hasn't posted a better than league OPS since his 2004 in the NL. He last posted a .400 SLG in 2003 and a plus-.331 in OBP in 2006. Moore had a Christmas attack of mediocre outfielder malaria (finally diagnosed) and brought in OF Brian Anderson near Christmas. Anderson has one year of a .300 plus OBP and that was .328 in 2009. Another plus move was made with the signing of Cuban lefty Noel Arguelles. Then the MOM struck again and OF Scott Podsednik (34 this month, had best season since rookie year of 2003 in 2009) was signed Jan. 8 to make it 4 fringy, gritty white centerfielders brought in since Freel arrived in 2009. Moore made it 5 Jan. 25 with the signing of former Cardinal Rick Ankiel, who may be the most promising of the lot. Of course, he should be the RF but Moore promised him CF so he's gonna start there. If he hits for an .800 OPS like in '07 and '08, I won't care. If he hits for a .672 OPS as in '09, it's not gonna be that great. February went by quietly and the Royals made a small move this week with the pickup of righty Gaby Hernandez off waivers from the Red Sox, who got him off waivers from the Mariners earlier this offseason. Hernandez could be an interesting one to watch at AAA this season if he sticks. The good news is expectations are low for the Royals in 2010, unlike going into 2009, so if they fall flat, hey, we'll all expect it. Anything better than expected is gravy!

2008 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Zack Greinke. Who else? Butler is a moderate distance away in second.

2008 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Dayton Moore. The preaching. The pontifficating. The missteps. It's time to start earning your keep. Doctored photo via the Fire Dayton Moore blog.


04 March 2010

A quick programming note...

I can't confirm the frequency of posts on the blog for the next indefinite period. I had some job burnout late last year and started looking for a new job. Being the kind guy (sucker) I am, I informed my boss I was looking, so he started looking for a replacement. He found the replacement before I found another job, so now March is here and this was my last week at work. Just wanted to explain if the early season posts are a little...more sporadic...than normal. Legacy countdown post coming up soon.