05 April 2013

Royal legacy -- the new #28, the 2011 Royals (71-91)

In case you've forgotten, or not looked down and to the right on the main page of the blog, 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. 2011 Royals ***
29. 2008 Royals 

30. 1996 Royals
31. 1969 Royals
32. 2007 Royals
33. 1998 Royals
34. 1999 Royals
35. 1970 Royals
36. 1997 Royals
37. 2009 Royals
38. 2010 Royals
39. 2001 Royals 

40. 2002 Royals
41. 2006 Royals
42. 2004 Royals
43. 2005 Royals

Blowing the dust off the blog means updating the Legacy Countdown, and to do that we must first revisit 2011. One of the most unfortunate things of being a 21st century Royals fan is the fact the years kinda run and blend together....a big oil spill of baseball mediocrity (and that's talking Royals baseball at its best over that time). A good proving point is that the 71-91 mark the Royals posted in 2011 is arguably the second best post-2000 season in team annals. I shelved the 43rd season of Royals baseball between the offensive floodlight/pitching nightlight that was the 2000 Royals and a 2008 squad that finished 4 games better than the 2011 team, but did so with an older, less promising group of guys all in all. It could be said, should the Royals' core of youth become a perennial AL Central contender, that 2011 showed the first glimpses of said future. But at this general point in time, should a baseball-psychopathic home invader enter my home and hold me at gunpoint with a command to tell him or her what I know about the 2011 Kansas City Royals, I probably could come up with the solid rookie season from Eric Hosmer, the (at last) emergence of Alex Gordon and the delightful surprise of Melky Cabrera (tho knowing what we know now, was that legit? perhaps a topic for another day, or later in the post at least). Pitching? I would be at a loss. Record? I could say....'I think KC finished strong (thinking to myself...safe guess in recent years)??? and I know one of these seasons they had a decent first month, was 2011 it?' Perhaps it would be enough to persuade that home invader to calmly and quietly leave my house and my health intact, tho the concept is decidedly absurd. Let's take a trip back to 2011.

After a trip back to the AL Central cellar in 2010 the Royals would rebound to a mighty return to 4th in the division, sooo it was another year without much baseball fever in the City of Fountains. It marked the first full campaign of Yostball in Kansas City as NASCAR-lovin' Ned Yost rode the momentum of his 17-games-below-.500 partial 2010 season into 2011. The Royals never did get any mojo rising in '10 as they won only 10 games in two of the last 3 full months of the season. Moore spent the dog days of summer sloughing off veterans for prospects (Callaspo, Ankiel, Farnsworth) or just to get them off the roster (Guillen, marking an end to an opposite-of-remarkable run in KC). The first big move of the 2010-11 offseason was bidding farewell to local favorite (tho I can't say I ever got it) OF David DeJesus in a deal to the A's for two minor league pitchers. In his continuing quest for ex-Braves with great OBPs, Moore inked OFs Jeff Francoeur (fresh off a .293 OBP overall in 2010, though to be fair he had good stints with the Mets and Rangers that season) and Melky Cabrera (coming off an uninspiring .317 OBP/.671 OPS season in the ATL) in December. The move to trump all Dayton Moore moves came 9 days after the Cabrera signing when KC shipped Yuniesky Betancourt and ace pitcher/malcontent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for slap-hitty SS Alcides Escobar, OF prospect Lorenzo Cain, Brewers top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi and closer prospect Jeremy Jeffress. The trade instantly gave the Royals a viable starting SS candidate for the first time since perhaps Jay Bell in the '90s, along with a decent haul of young promising talent, for a moveable-part infielder and a good pitcher who wanted nothing more to do with Royal blue. Two years later it's hard to argue the Royals lost in the deal. Moore gave P Jeff Francis a shot at reclaiming his past effectiveness with a January signing, and then ended the 2011 spring by bringing in C Matt Treanor from Texas.

The Royals' team numbers showed a middle-of-the-pack offense backed by a lackluster pitching staff. We've seen this movie before since 2000, and it has churned out sequels like a bad horror franchise. Tho this year's version may be the other way around. Jury is out, and Friday's effort sure is a strike against it. Kansas City was top 5 in the AL in all but three categories offensively back in 2011, including first in triples (41), second in SB (158) and doubles (325), third in hits, fourth in batting average (.274) and fifth in OBP (.329), slugging (.415) and OPS (.744). As usual, they were low on the leaderboard in HR (129, 11th) and walks (442, 11th). The Mr. Hyde to that Dr. Jekyll performance was the pitching staff's placing in the bottom half of the league in all categories, including 12th in ERA (4.44), WHIP (1.41) and runs allowed, issuing the most walks in the league (the only AL team to crack 550) and finishing next to last in team shutouts with 6 all season (none individual). Defensively they weren't much better with a defensive efficiency rating of .687 that was 11th in the league, but the picture was buoyed by a third-best in the AL fielding percentage of .985.

A good offensive season all-in-all was led by the play of LF Alex Gordon, who posted a .303/.376/.502 line for an .879 OPS (140 OPS+) with 45 doubles and 23 HR (leading team), 87 RBI (in a three-way tie for second on the team), 101 runs scored, and 67 walks (leading the team). Topping it off, he earned his first Gold Glove in left and led the league in OF assists with 20. Four other regulars posted OPS numbers above the league average but the remaining four were well below that same average. 1B/DH Billy Butler continued his consistent output with his third-straight year well above the league average. He posted a .291/.361/.461/.822 line (for a 125 OPS+) with 44 2B, 19 HR, 95 RBI (leading team), and 66 walks. CF Melky Cabrera was next in line with a .305 (leading team)/.339/.470/.809 (121 OPS+) for a career best to that point. Before I go on, this is pure speculation, but if you're Melky Cabrera, where best to go to lay low, do what you need to do PED-wise and build your career back up than KC? No media scrutiny to beware and, should you, ohhhhhh, post career best numbers, the fans love you and want to keep you around with no questioning the turnaround. They're just glad to have the production. At that point, the team ships you to a bigger better market (team wise) in the name of improving the pitching staff (or trying to anyway) and the KC fans understand. Should the team catch wind of any unsavory associations, they can trade you off in the offseason, wish you well and watch you get nailed the next season for PEDs. Tell me it doesn't make sense. Anyway, Melky led the team in runs scored (102) and hits (201) with 44 doubles, 18 HR, 87 RBI, and 20 SB, plus threw in 13 assists in CF (2nd in the AL at the position), so one of Moore's patented Braves Salvage projects paid off. Following behind was Braves Salvage project #2, RF Jeff Francoeur, who hit .285/.329/.476/.805 (a career best for a full season and 119 OPS+), with a team-leading 47 2B, 20 HR, 87 RBI, and 22 SB (his only season with more than 8). He also added 16 assists in RF to lead the AL at that position. The last overachiever among the Royals offense in 2011 was 1B Hosmer, who forced his way to the bigs by raking at Omaha and, in 128 games with KC, hit .293/.334/.465/.799 (118 OPS+) with 27 2B, 19 HR, and 78 RBI. After that the offense fell off the table. 3B Mike Moustakas split time with Wilson Betemit (who posted a respectable .750 OPS for a 108 OPS+ before getting shipped out in trade) and had a less than stellar first taste of MLB with a .675 OPS (86 OPS+) and only 5 HR in 89 games. Treanor and Brayan Pena split catching duties and posted OPS numbers of .658 and .625, respectively. SS Escobar made his KC debut and posted a line of .254/.290/.343/.633 (74 OPS+) and led the team with 8 3B and 26 SB. Then there was 2B Chris Getz's unremarkable .600 OPS with 9 XBH in 118 games. Otherwise, IF Mike Aviles got hurt early, posted a .656 OPS in 53 games, then got shipped out midseason as the odd man out in the infield shuffle. 2B Johnny Giavotella got his shot and posted a subpar .649 OPS in 46 games, C Salvador Perez also got his shot and fared much better with an .834 OPS in 39 games, and 1B Kila Ka'aihue got his final shot with the team, provided an early walkoff shot, then hit .195 with a .612 OPS in 23 games and that was it.

Once you got over 70 innings pitched for the Royals in 2011, the numbers got somewhat ugly. Among starters, lefty Bruce Chen led the way with a 12-8 mark (leading the team in wins, which tells the story), 3.77 ERA (108 ERA+), 1.30 WHIP, 1 CG, 50 BB/97 K and 18 HRA in 25 starts and 155 IP. May acquisition starter Felipe Paulino was the other starting "bright spot" at 4-6 with a 4.11 ERA (100 ERA+), 1.37 WHIP, 48 BB/119 K and 10 HRA in 20 starts and 124 2/3 IP. After that, mediocrity reigned. Luke Hochevar was 11-11 with a 4.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP (ok, not awful), 62 BB/128 K, and 23 HRA in 31 starts and 198 IP. Salvage project Jeff Francis went 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 1 CG, 39 BB/91 K, and 19 HRA in 31 starts and 183 IP. The fifth rotation slot was filled between Danny Duffy (4-8, 5.64 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 51 BB/87 K, 15 HRA in 20 starts and 105 1/3 IP) and Kyle Davies (1-9, 6.75 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 26 BB/50 K, 7 HRA in 13 starts and 61 1/3 IP before finally drawing a merciful release from KC). The story of the year was the bullpen. The team's all-star was rookie high-drafted-starter-now-reliever Aaron Crow, who went 4-4 with a 2.76 ERA, 31 BB/65 K, 8 HRA and a 1.39 WHIP in 62 IP. Another up-and-comer, Louis Coleman, was 1-4 with a 2.87 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 26 BB/64 K and 9 HRA in 59 2/3 IP. With Joakim Soria struggling to post relatively pedestrian numbers (for him anyway, 5-5, 4.03 ERA, 28 SV, 1.27 WHIP, 17 BB/60 K, 7 HRA in 60 1/3 IP) the closer door cracked open a little and Greg Holland made a late season assault on the role by going 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 4 SV, 0.93 WHIP, 19 BB/74 K, 3 HRA in 60 IP. KC also got decent set-up work from Blake Wood (5-3, 3.75 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 1 SV, 32 BB/62 K, 5 HRA in 69 2/3 IP), Tim Collins (4-4, 3.63 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 48 BB/60 K, 5 HRA in 67 IP) and Everett Teaford (2-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1 SV, 14 BB/28 K and 8 HRA in 44 IP). The only bullpen "blight" was Nate Adcock (4.62 ERA, 1.48 WHIP in 60 1/3 IP, so obviously not horrible) but two spot starters who more than struggled were Sean O'Sullivan (7.25 ERA, 1.78 WHIP in 58 1/3 IP) and Vin Mazzaro (8.26 ERA, 1.91 WHIP in 28 1/3 IP).

Thanks to a good start to the season the Royals actually spent a few brief days in first place in 2011. They dropped the season opener to Jered Weaver and the Angels but rebounded to win the next 4. They put together three early 4-game win streaks as they posted a 14-12 April and spent 6 days with at least a share of first place. Their peak was a 10-4 record but they would drop 10 of 12 in May. Another 11 of 13 skid carried over into July and dropped them to 34-50. The 14-win April would be their best month through the summer heat as they entered September 25 games below .500. With the help of the September call-ups they reeled off a 7-win surge as a 15-10 final month took them home to the 71-91 final mark. They did post a mediocre 34-37 second half W-L record, which was much better than their 17 games below .500 in the first half. They finished 24 games out of first. They drew 1.7 million fans to the 'new' K for an increase from 2010, but it was good for only 12th in the AL.

The Royals made no major acquisitions over the course of the season, but were somewhat active. They bought the rights to starter Felipe Paulino from Colorado in May and that paid off, then traded once-promising middle infielder Mike Aviles to Boston for two prospects in July. Wilson Betemit went to Detroit that same month for prospects. The lackluster 2010 season earned them the 5th pick in the June draft and they turned it into KS HS standout OF Bubba Starling, who would leave a Nebraska football scholarship behind to sign. HS catcher Cam Gallagher was the second round pick and then high school pitchers Bryan Brickhouse and Kyle Smith followed. Being that it was only 2 years ago and most of the high picks were high schoolers, none have really sniffed the majors yet. The Royals employed addition by subtraction in August by finally cutting Kyle Davies, then cut ties with Kila Ka'aihue by shipping him to Oakland in September. After the season, the first major move was the trade of Melky to San Francisco for sketchy but potentially good SP Jonathan Sanchez and RP Ryan Verdugo. At the time it was an intriguingly risky move for KC but it would soon head south once the 2012 season dawned. RP Jonathan Broxton was signed as a free agent in November with a mind of being the 8th inning guy to Soria's lockdown 9th. Dayton Moore's affection for Yuniesky Betancourt led to him being resigned in December and RP Jose Mijares would be a sneaky good get the next day. All in all, looking back at that offseason activity, Moore apparently felt the need -- after the pitching season I just detailed -- to add a risky 5th starter with potential to be a 3rd perhaps, and then add more relievers to a bullpen that was already one of the best parts of the team. And that's it. No even marginal major league ready offensive help. One sketchy starter to fill at least 3 if not 4 holes in the rotation, and two or three good relievers for the pen. How does this add up? I finished the 2010 post long, long ago with this quote from my 2007 countdown post: "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." Now 2013 is here and it's off to a strange start. Even the experts are picking second place finishes for the Royals but we will see come August if this team is truly ready for prime time.

2011 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Alex Gordon. I'm not a big fan of Gordon personally, from a vibe perspective, but he put together quite the season in 2011. He's one of the few guys on the team who can work a walk, he has some pop in his bat, and you can't argue with the arm or the glove. Congrats on fulfilling your potential Alex. I think we were sold dreams of even better but that was probably unfair.

2011 Pipeline Royals LVP -- Tough decision to know where to go with this one. Getz the offensive liability? There are bad pitchers but most are mediocre. By default I'm gonna go with Sean O'Sullivan and Kyle Davies. Really they were just more victims of Moore tho. I'm not even gonna post their pics. Gettin'soft hearted in my old age.

Here are your 2011 Royals....

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