23 January 2016

Royal legacy -- the new #12 -- the 2013 Royals (86-76)

Wow, has it been three years since I posted here? I guess so, the dates don't lie. What a three years it's been for Royals fans. The slow rise indicated in my last post - the 2012 rehash - has continued to the pinnacle of baseball. This blog started in 2005, in the absolute darkest times for the franchise (see #45 below and read the link), when the Royals were a national joke, an easy target, an ESPN rarity. Even in 2012, the hometown All-Star Game fans booed Robinson Cano mercilessly in the Home Run Derby and the ESPN talking heads gave off a 'they're just lucky to have a team' vibe in their reactions. This blog went dormant in 2011 after grinding out 6 1/2 years of minor league updates and seeing some glimmers of hope but not much dazzle on the big stage. If you look back, though, the pieces were there. The edges were rough (Yordano Ventura was in low-A ball, for example) and some pieces were in wrong places but they were there. There were some missing spots, still, but nothing that couldn't be shaped if decisions were made well. In 2013, the team took another leap forward but couldn't get over the top. However, the campaign would end up the best KC season since 1989.

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. **2013 Royals**
13. 1973 Royals
14. 1971 Royals
15. 1994 Royals
16. 1988 Royals
17. 1987 Royals
18. 1993 Royals
19. 2003 Royals
20. 1991 Royals
21. 1972 Royals
22. 1995 Royals
23. 1974 Royals
24. 1983 Royals
25. 1990 Royals
26. 1986 Royals
27. 1992 Royals
28. 2000 Royals

29. 2011 Royals
30. 2012 Royals
31. 2008 Royals 

32. 1996 Royals
33. 1969 Royals
34. 2007 Royals
35. 1998 Royals
36. 1999 Royals
37. 1970 Royals
38. 1997 Royals
39. 2009 Royals
40. 2010 Royals 

41. 2001 Royals 
42. 2002 Royals
43. 2006 Royals
44. 2004 Royals
45. 2005 Royals

It wasn't hard to slot the 2013 squad in the above list. Going by wins it was the 12th best season in Royals history, and compares well to '73, when the Royals were nearing a breakthrough and racked up 88 wins. But 2013 doesn't quite beat '79, when the team won 85 games and was in the midst of five playoff appearances in six years (with '79 being the odd man out, as they were second in the AL West). Maybe had I done this recap in 2014 I would put 2013 below '73, but with the luxury of some perspective, #12 feels right. After the 'Our Time' debacle of 2012, the Royals went basic with 'Come To Play' as the 2013 slogan, and for a change they lived up to it for most of the season. If not for an ugly month of May, 2013 may have marked the team's first of three straight playoff trips rather than the preamble to the last two seasons. 

There were a couple twitches of the needle on the Royals' seismograph (that hit San Andreas levels in 2015) during the 2012-13 offseason. On Halloween 2012 the Royals flipped a minor-leaguer to the Angels for RHP Ervin Santana, who had struggled with an ERA in the 5s in Cali in 2012. SP Jeremy Guthrie resigned in November and Pipeline favorite 1B/DH Clint Robinson got shipped to Pittsburgh for peanuts soon after. The blockbuster came Dec. 12 in a controversial deal where KC flipped top prospects OF Wil Myers and SPs Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery to the Rays for SPs James Shields and Wade Davis. Most of 2013 would be spent by Royals fans arguing who won the deal, mainly because Shields pitched well but got the Royals nowhere, and Davis was a struggling starter. It finally became evident in late 2014 that the trade was worth it, mainly because of the emergence of Davis in a stacked Royals' bullpen and the team's run to the World Series. 

A largely ho-hum 2012 set little expectations for the Royals going into 2013, yet the Royals came out of the gate strong. They sat in first place a few days in April and ended the month 4 games up on .500 and in first place on May 1. The good times came to an abrupt end after that first month, as the Royals went 8-20 in May, including losing 12 of 13 near the end of the month to drop to 8 games below .500. After hitting .500 at 21-21 on May 21 (right before an 8-game skid) they wouldn't get back to the .500 mark until July 28. In this baseball purgatory they settled into the rather-purgatorial third place as the Indians and Tigers hashed out the division lead and distanced themselves from the pack. A 33-25 record in August and September got the Royals close (they were a 1/2-game back of Cleveland on Aug. 16 but a 7-game skid later were 5 1/2 back of the Tribe) but wasn't enough. They crept closer to the Tribe down the stretch but saw Cleveland finish strong and grab one of the two AL wild-card spots. A winning record both at home and on the road and record of 16 games over .500 in the second half of the season were good portents of times to come for the Royals. 

The KC offense didn't have much punch in 2013 but did generate a 'That's What Speed Do' vibe with a focus on contact hitting. The Royals led the AL in steals (153) and the least strikeouts (1,048) and were second in triples at 34, but were lackluster in pretty much every other category at the plate. The team BA of .260 was fifth in the AL but was weakened by a ninth-place .315 team OBP and 12th-place .379 team slugging percentage for an 11th-place .694 team OPS that generated an 11th-place 648 runs scored. The offense may have been a cut-rate velvet Elvis painting, but the pitching staff was much closer to a Dutch master, as the Royals led the AL with a 3.45 ERA and were fourth with a 1.26 WHIP in giving up a league-least 601 runs. This was augmented by a budding defensive stalwart that was fourth in the AL in defensive efficiency, led by CF Lorenzo Cain, who put up a 2.8 defensive WAR total to tie for the second-best Royals defensive season ever in that category. The bullpen was the rest of the story as Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow set the table with ERAs under the league average, and closer Greg Holland cleared the table by posting a team-record 47 saves with great peripheral numbers. 

Following in the footsteps of Alex Gordon in 2011 and Billy Butler in 2012, 2013 was 1B Eric Hosmer's turn to take his game a step forward. He hit .302 (career high)/.353/.448 (.801 OPS which led the KC regulars) with 188 hits, 34 2B, 17 HR, 79 RBI, and 86 RS while also picking up his first career Gold Glove at first. DH Butler was also solid at the plate in hitting .289/.374/.412 (.787 OPS) with 27 2B, 15 HR, 82 RBI (team leader) and playing all 162 games to become only the 5th KC player ever to do so. LF Gordon and C Salvador Perez were also leaders in both sides of the game as Gordon hit .265/.327/.422 with 27 2B, 6 3B, 20 HR (led team), 81 RBI and 90 RS but also K'd 141 times. He did pick up his third consecutive Gold Glove in LF. Perez, meanwhile, hit .292/.323/.433 with 25 2B, 13 HR, 79 RBI and picked up his first career Gold Glove. There was a bit of a drop-off after that. Platoon RF David Lough posted a .724 OPS in 96 games after Jeff Francoeur washed out with a .571 OPS in 59 games and was cut on July 5. OF Justin Maxwell was the team's big trade deadline pickup (a sure signifier of no big push for October in 2013) and posted a .857 OPS in 35 games. C George Kottaras spelled Perez and hit .180 but did manage a .719 OPS in 46 games, and OF Jarrod Dyson was in the mix with a .692 OPS in 87 games. Midseason pickup journeyman IF Emilio Bonifacio came over in trade from Toronto and slapped up a .700 OPS in 42 games. It was mostly ugly after that. 3B Mike Moustakas struggled to a .651 OPS in 136 games and had fans questioning his potential (funny now, not so much then), Cain posted a mediocre .658 OPS at the plate to temper his defensive excellence, with only 4 HR and 14/20 SB. SS Alcides Escobar was solid in the field but far from it at bat with a lowly .559 OPS but did go 22/22 in steals. Likewise, 2B Chris Getz declined from his previous hard-to-stomach three seasons in Royal blue by posting a .561 OPS and splitting time with Bonifacio, Elliott Johnson and a short stint from Johnny Giavotella, who once again couldn't cement a spot in KC with a .626 OPS in 14 games.

On the mound, Shields stepped up with a 13-9 record and led the AL with 228 2/3 IP while putting up a 3.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 196 Ks. He was 0-4 during the May swoon but posted some of his best numbers that month. Santana also had a resurgence in KC as he was 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 161 Ks in 211 IP. His 3.16 K/BB ratio would be the best on the team among starters. Guthrie was a solid #3 starter for the Royals in 2013 as he went 15-12 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 111 Ks but tended to let batters get a little Carew-ish as he gave up an AL-most 236 hits. Wade Davis made 24 starts and slapped up a 5.32 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and 114 Ks in 135 innings of work, making it somewhat evident maybe the rotation wasn't his thing. Luis Mendoza and Bruce Chen split most of the remainder of the starts with opposite effect, as Mendoza posted a 5.36 ERA and 1.58 WHIP compared to a 3.27 ERA and 1.18 WHIP from Chen. Danny Duffy returned from Tommy John surgery in August and posted 5 solid starts in a good sign of his recovery, while a 22-yr-old Yordano Ventura made his MLB debut with 3  middling September starts but couldn't get his first big-league win. Out of the pen it was Holland making the most noise with his 47 saves (2nd in the AL), 1.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 103 Ks/18 BB and his first career All-Star appearance in 68 G/67 IP. After five seasons struggling as a starter, one-time #1 overall draft pick Luke Hochevar found his niche as a set-up man in 2013 with a 1.92 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 82 Ks/17 BB in 58 G/70 1/3 IP. Kelvin Herrera had his second straight good year also in a set-up role as he had a 3.86 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 74 Ks in 58 1/3 IP. Lefty Tim Collins and righty Aaron Crow were mirror images with ERAs in the 3s, and WHIPs in the 1.4s, and Will Smith, Louis Coleman and midseason pickup J.C. Gutierrez pitched solidly down the stretch out of the bullpen.

There were no big splash moves roster-wise in 2013, as could be assumed by Justin Maxwell being the big trade deadline grab. Jeff 'Frenchy' Francoeur was a fan favorite but couldn't keep contributing at the plate so was cut loose in July. In the June draft, a lackluster 2012 record netted them college IF Hunter Dozier with the 8th pick (he posted a .631 OPS in AA in 2015); touted college lefty Sean Manaea with the 34th pick (injured at time of draft but bounced back to put up some solid minors numbers before being the blue chip prospect in the Ben Zobrist deal in 2015); college lefty Cody Reed in round 2 (had his struggles in the minors but seemed to be figuring it out in 2015 before getting flipped in the Johnny Cueto deal, ah the price of a championship); high school righty Carter Hope in rd 3 (still in rookie ball in 2015); college C Zane Evans in rd 4 (made it to AA in 2015); and HS CF Amalani Fukofuka in rd 5 (had a good age 19 season for Idaho Falls in 2015 with a .901 OPS).

With a promising 2013 in the bag, GM Dayton Moore still had his work cut out for him in the 2013 offseason. Starter Jason Vargas was signed as a free agent to replace Santana, who had earned a richer deal than the Royals wanted to give him. Will Smith was traded to the Brewers for OF Nori Aoki, who would have his adventures for KC in 2014. Getz was replaced with free agent IF Omar Infante in a deal that's caused a lot of discussion in the two years since. Lough was traded to the Orioles for Danny Valencia, mainly for Moustakas insurance if his plate struggles continued. Chen was brought back on a 1-year deal after serving his purpose in 2013. None of the moves were huge, but in combination they would help lead to an unexpected, crazy run in 2014. The door of success was opening in KC and nobody knew it.

2013 Pipeline Royals MVP -- Let's give this one to Eric Hosmer. At age 23 he started to look like the dynamo hitter he was touted to be when he was drafted. Plus stellar defense at first base to go with it? The only question now is how long KC will be able to keep him around. 

(Getty Images)

2013 Pipeline Royals LVP -- It's gotta be Jeff Francoeur, tho it's hard to pick an LVP in the Royals' better seasons. Frenchy is a solid choice (fan attraction aside) as he was paid $7.5M for some rough times in RF and a .571 OPS in 59 games. Not even being worth it enough to hang around? Woof. 

(Getty Images)

Standing on the verge with the 2013 Royals....

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