19 February 2011

Royal legacy -- the new #37, the 2010 Royals (67-95)

Hello. It's been a while. 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. 2010 Royals ***
38. 2001 Royals

39. 2002 Royals

40. 2006 Royals

41. 2004 Royals
42. 2005 Royals

I hope the first week of spring training finds my readers both patient and well, as I've been incommunicado on here since September. But the hopefully increasing permanence of the spring thaw in the Midwest has brought me out of hibernation. Flux has been the key word thus far in the Royals' offseason, and it's time to take a look back at the utter mediocrity that was the 2010 Royals. The 42nd year of the Royals' existence brought another heap
ing helping of the same gruel the fans have been choking down by the spoonful since 1996 -- the first year the franchise finished in last place. If like me you pay more focused attention to the KC minors, it was an impressive season. If like the casual Royals fan you decided to take the family out to a game or two and followed the Star from day to day, disillusionment was probably your friend in the summer of '10. Zack Greinke? Yawn. At least Soria was good again. And Billy Butler kept his promising prospects alive. But otherwise? Blech. Unlike 2009, the 2010 Royals didn't have a winning month, and there was no Greinke Cy Young run to keep fans interested. BUT, unlike 2001, we didn't have the preseason Johnny Damon deal and the midseason Jermaine Dye debacle. The 2010 season nestles in there snugly between those two seasons to forget. Oddly, I had to use 2001 to compare 2009 to as well, which tells you all you need to know about recent Royals history.

So what were the hallmarks of the 2010 season? The firing of Trey Hillman (Pipeline stamp of approval, even tho my attitude toward Trey was colored with much more apathy than my attitude toward Buddy Be
ll), the consequent hiring of Ned Yost (at least a past winner as a manager, tho let's not get into how much a manager's impact is on the season record), the continued emergence of Billy Butler, professional hitter, aaaaaaaaaand, that's about it.

Offensive numbers were improved from 2009, as the 2010 Royals were second in the AL in hits and batting average, but that was a thin candy shell for an offense in which getting on base and hitting for power were problematic. Throw in a below-average pitching staff and you've got one bland brew to take a big swill of for six-plus months. So what was good for the Royals' offense in 2010? As mentioned the .274 team BA was second in the AL, 2 measly points behind the AL champ Rangers (27 points behind in OPS but they scored 111 less runs than Texas); and they were once again good at hitting triples with 31 for 5th in the AL. And the team was the best in the AL with only 905 Ks. Otherwise the offensive picture wasn't exactly bleak, in fact it was a notch above 2009. The team OPS was .730 for 9th in the 14-team AL, but when adjusted for the park and other factors was right at average. The KC OBP of .331 was nothing to write home about at 8th but was 13 points better than 2009. The team SLG of .399 was ungood at 9th, which was a key problem with the offense. The team was 9th in walks, average in SB (6th), 3rd worst in caught stealing, 7th in doubles, 10th in runs scored (a killer) and 12th in HR. Flipping to the pitching side, the landscape is decidedly more Siberian. The bright spot was Soria's saves (43 of the team's 44, good for 4th in the AL). After that it's almost all double-digits in league ranks. 4.97 team ERA: 14th. 1.46 team
WHIP: 14th. 845 runs allowed: 14th. 176 HR served up: 12th. 1.88 K/BB: 13th. 10th in walks allowed, 11th in Ks. Backing the pitching stuff was a defense with a .980 fielding % for 13th in the league (with a league-leading 121 errors) and a league-worst .676 defensive efficiency rating.

GM Dayton Moore once again had his work cut out for him heading into the 2009-10 postseason. The ace was in place in Zack, but there was only Butler on the offense to really build around. The first move was the trade of Mark Teahen to the ChiSox in November '09 for IF Chris Getz and OF/DH Josh Fields. A few days later, Moore signed 3B Wilson Betemit, which ended up being perhaps his best move of the offseason, which is telling. December saw the release of P John Bale and 1B free-agent flameout Mike Jacobs. Then Moore continued padding his resume with the free-agent signing of C Jason Kendall, who had never had a good AL season and hadn't garnered over a .350 OBP since 2006. The saddest part of that was that I actually missed John Buck as he made an all-star appearance for the Blue Jays but had a Buck-like season. If you have read any of my posts mentioning Buck over the last few years you know that's not exactly a compliment to Buck. Then came the marginal OF signings. Brian Anderson, Scott Podsednik, and.... Rick Ankiel (the big get of the offseason). So basically the franchise did nothing to improve the pitching side of the ledger in the offseason, and made some more ugly free-agent signings on top of it. The season started and the moves continued. Disappointing RP Juan Cruz was released (before they got rid of Kyle Farnsworth, which
I would have bet lots of money against happening when they signed); once promising P prospect Carlos Rosa was shipped to Arizona for little in return; a July deal saw Alberto Callaspo head out to Anaheim (LA, whatever) in an interesting deal for promising minors P Will Smith and big-league P Sean O'Sullivan; six days later, the Podsednik signing (at least he had played decently) produced a minor-league P and C from the Dodgers; then 3 days after that Moore flipped Ankiel (hadn't played decently) and Farnsworth (thank God) to his favorite franchise, the Braves, for minors closer Tim Collins (paid nice minor-league dividends), IF Gregor Blanco and P Jesse Chavez. The addition-by-subtraction continued with OF/DH Jose Guillen going to San Francisco (and picking up a WS ring, which I assume he can live with) and UT Willie Bloomquist ending a legendary Royals run (yes, that's more thinly veiled sarcasm) by going to the Reds. Amongst the flurry of in-season moves the June draft saw the Royals grab promising college SS Christian Colon and P/slugging OF Brett Eibner with their first 2 picks.

Billy Butler wasn't the only Royal with a good offensive year but he stood out for his consistency. Eight Royals posted a better-than-average OPS in 2010 but two were just about average (IF Mike Aviles, DH Guillen), one had 50 ABs (Fields), two were injured for a good chunk of the season (OF David DeJesus, Ankiel) and three in total were jettisoned before season's end (Guillen, Ankiel, Podsednik). Butler's 134 OPS+ and .857 OPS didn't even lead the team, altho it did lead the full-timers. Betemit came up from Omaha mid-season and posted an .889 OPS for a 141 OPS+ in 84 G/315 ABs. Butler was a major highlight, tho, with a line of .318/.3
88/.469, but his power numbers did take a dip with (a still-impressive, top 5 in franchise history) 45 2B and 15 HR with 77 RS, 78 RBI and a team-best 69 BB and 78 Ks in 158 games. He also hit into a franchise-single-season-record 32 DPs. Meanwhile, Betemit posted a line of .297/.378/.511, 20 2B, 13 HR, and 43 RBI in his time at the plate. DeJesus was having a great season and looking like a prime deadline-deal prospect with a line of .318/.384/.443 and 23 2B in 91 games before a July 22 collision with the wall in New York brought his season to a premature end. Next in line was Ankiel, who hit .261/.317/.467 with 11 XBH in 27 games, got a big couple hits early in the season, endured a May injury and got in a handful of July games before being shipped out. Podsednik hit .310/.353/.400 with 30 SB and 6 3B in 95 games before heading out, Aviles made his comeback to hit .304/.335/.413 in 110 games, and Guillen played out his final 106 games as a Royal with a line of .255/.314/.429 with 16 HR, which ended up sadly leading the team along with Yuniesky Betancourt's 16 HR total. From there, it went down to a second tier led by Blanco's .717 OPS in 49 games, Callaspo's .718 OPS in 88 pre-trade games, OF Mitch Maier's .709 OPS and second-best (amazingly) 41 BB in 117 games, DH/1B Kila Ka'aihue's .702 OPS in 52 games, and Betancourt's .692 OPS with 78 RBI in 151 games. Pulling up the rear were Kendall's .615 OPS in 118 games (complete with a .318 OPB and sub-.300 SLG), Alex Gordon's .671 OPS (while hitting .215 in 74 games, continuing to lose his once promising lustre) and Getz's horrible .579 OPS (with a .302 OBP and so-so D in 72 games). That's all I can muster the courage to recount.

Whereas in 2009 the Royals had Zack Greinke's phenomenal year to boast of, it was Joakim Soria and not much else in 2010, which means bad things for the starting rotation. Bruce Chen actually ended up being a main highlight with a 4.17 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 12-7 record, the team's only complete-game shutout, and 98 Ks in 140 1/3 IP. Greinke wasn't bad but wasn't at his peak either with a 4.17 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 10-14 record, 3 CG, and 181 Ks in 220 IP. Luke Hochevar was once again hit-and-miss with a 4.81 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6-6 mark, and 76 K in 103 IP. Kyle Davies went 8-12 with a 5.34 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, and 126 K in 183 2/3 IP. O'Sullivan took the mound late in the season to post a 3-6 record, 6.11 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and 37 K in 70 2/3 IP, and Brian Bannister brought up the back of the rotation with a 7-12 mark, 6.34 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 23 HRA, and 77 K in 127 2/3 IP. Not a pretty picture, folks. Meche only made 9 starts but went 0-5 with a 5.69 ERA and 1.67 WHIP before coming back from injury to pitch out of the pen late. The shining star of the 2010 Royal pitchers was the Mexicutioner, Soria, who posted a career-high 43 saves for the fourth best season mark in franchise history, slapped up a 1.78 ERA (for a 236 ERA+) and 1.05 WHIP with 71 K in 65 2/3 IP. Farnsworth was actually next-best with a 2.42 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 44 2/3 IP of mostly low-leverage work. Robinson Tejeda had a 3.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 61 IP, and that was about it as far as decent lines go. Dusty Hughes posted a 3.83 ERA but a 1.47 WHIP in 56 1/3 IP, and Blake Wood posted a 5.07 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 49 2/3 IP. Phil Humber was the only other Royal with a sub 1.5 WHIP and he only had 21 2/3 IP.

The Royals were within a sniff of first place for only a short time in 2010. They lost opening day and never got above the .500 mark. After a 9-14 April they sank to 10 games back in early May and Hillman's last game was May 13. Under Yost they bounced back for a 13-14 June but that was the closest they got to being winners. Their longest winning streak was a mighty 3 games and they were beat by more than 5 runs a whopping 30 times. When all was said and done the team went 17 games below .500 with Yost and finished 27 games out. They went 29-43 versus the AL Central. An attendance mark of 1.6 million was good for 11th in the AL, but was down close to 200,000 from 2009.

Did I mention earlier that, in the aftermath of the 2010 season, flux has been the word for the Royals? The first moves came in November as Brian Bannister was let go (to sign in Japan) and DeJesus finally got traded, to the A's for pitchers Justin Marks and Vin Mazzaro (who has a 4.72 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 213 big-league innings). The next big moves came in December with the signings of former Braves OFs Jeff Francoeur (in a much-predicted move, .310 career OBP, .735 career OPS) and Melky Cabrera (.328 OBP, .707 career OPS). Then, the biggest move yet, the trade of Greinke, who had made his displeasure with the franchise known, and Betancourt (good riddance) to Milwaukee for pitching prospect P Jake Odorizzi, OF Loren
zo Cain, SS Alcides Escobar and closer Jeremy Jeffress. Odorizzi was the highlight of the group but Cain is a solid OF prospect and Escobar has a decent shot to be the team's best SS since at least Jay Bell, if not going back to Freddie Patek. Jeffress also should start his Royals career in at least the upper minors. As 2010 became 2011, the Royals started the year by picking up P Jeff Francis, who continues a comeback from arm injury, to help fill the Greinke void. It was a low-risk, high-reward move for Moore as Francis will get to see what he can do outside of Coors Field for his home games. The next day, the Royals brought back Chen for another season and then, 3 days later, Gil Meche announced his retirement as he walked away from his final year of a $12 million salary. The only other addition going into late February has been the signing of IF Pedro Feliz to a minor-league deal with a shot at maybe making the roster. 2011 will also include the anticipation of the first wave of the Royals' farm system fruits reaching the MLB level, as Mike Moustakas is almost surely to make his KC debut and, if things play out right, perhaps Eric Hosmer joining the team in September. Moore and Yost have been predicting bigger and better things in 2011 and most of the more vocal and recognized fans among bloggers and sports personalities have been pointing more toward 2012. With all the changes and not much known what to expect out of the offense, the new guys and pitching staff, expectations are low for 2011. I'll finish with my take by quoting the 2007 legacy post from 1/26/08: "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." We might be waiting until 2013 at least.

2010 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Billy Butler. Soria is great every year, but Butler was fun to watch in 2010. He's not flashy, and God knows Royals fans would like more power, but Butler gets it done.

2010 Pipeline Royals LVP
-- This is a tough pick. There are a bunch of good candidates but no one person that stands above the rest. I could consider Kendall, Gordon, Getz, Bannister, Moore (again), Hillman. I'll go Jason Kendall, tho it's not all his fault. He shouldn't even be a Royal.

Here are your 2010 Royals....

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