Son Tom Buttry, who already blogged about his love for the Royals and the meaning of their first playoff win this year, has another blog post, adapted from an email. I argued with him briefly about the order of the starting pitchers, but he has given this much more thought than I have or will. Here it is with little editing and a few comments from Dad:
With the excitement of the Royals making the World Series, I couldn’t help but think back on the 28 seasons we went without even making the playoffs. While the teams I saw regularly when we were in KC from 1985 to 1991 are definitely the ones I was most attached to during that stretch, I also have fond memories of other Royals teams and players who weren’t part of any sort of glory years.
I started assembling a roster of the best Royals from the lost years who were never part of a World Champion/World Series team. Going over this, a number of things stuck out. One, this would be a pretty good team, but almost any other franchise cherry-picking their best players from 1986-2013 could put together a better roster. First, an explanation on how I assembled the team.
No direct contributions to a Royals postseason team (The Steve Farr/Raúl Ibañez Rule). It doesn’t matter how small the role, if someone was on the Royals’ roster at any point during the 1985 or 2014 season, they are ineligible for this team. The only exception is for 85 players who became lost-era managers (ie. Wathan and McRae). The rule is named after those it “screwed” over since they didn’t have a major role for their respective World Series teams and did a ton for teams in the lost years, but Farr got a World Series ring (and a postseason win, despite only two appearances in the 85 postseason), and Ibanez has a shot to this season.
Only their time with the Royals counts (The Johnny Damon Rule). What a player may have done when they weren’t with the Royals is thrown out the window. We’re honoring Royals greats (or in some cases, goods), not greats who played a few seasons in KC. Damon is still competitive under this criteria, but he’s clearly not one of the three best outfielders. This also goes in the other direction. I’m not holding Joakim Soria‘s post-season meltdowns with the Tigers against him.
Honor the player’s role (The Jermaine Dye/David DeJesus Rule). It would be fun to consider someone like the two mentioned players a fourth outfielder or a defensive sub, but if they were an everyday starter for the Royals, they’re considered with the other starters. I did some slight fudging with this rule (I had to put both Monty and Soria on this team), but the bullpen isn’t entirely loaded with closers, for instance.
Time served counts (The Bob Hamelin/Chili Davis Rule). One year wonders are fun, but having put in a number of years doing well counts for much more than having one good season with the Royals. I also used time served as a tie-breaker between some players who I considered to very close. This and the above rule really put a dent in the bullpen.
John Wathan — I was too young to understand the nuances of managing and effectively compare Wathan to other managers like Hal McRae and Bob Boone, but Wathan managed the best Royals teams from the lost years (with the possible exception of the 1994 team), so I’m giving him the nod.
Starting pitcher: Kevin Appier (R) — Between service time and quality, Appier is the clear #1 pitcher out of the Royals from the lost years. If there was any understanding of advanced stats in 1993, he would have won the Cy Young. He put in eight above average seasons by ERA+ as a starter for the Royals.
Starting pitcher: Zack Greinke (R) — He was up and down as a Royal, but still solidly above average in most of his seasons, and his Cy Young 2009 season was without question the best season ever by a Royals starter of any era (I feel safe in saying that if Greinke had the 89 Royals backing him up, he would have equaled or surpassed Bret Saberhagen‘s win total from that season). He single-handedly kept the Royals under 100 losses in 09.
Starting pitcher: David Cone (R) — He won the Cy Young as a Royal in the strike-shortened 1994 season, and had two excellent seasons as a starter with the team. Given the dearth of quality starting pitching outside the members of the 1985 / 2014 staffs, that’s enough to qualify Cone for this team. Dad’s note, admitting Yankee bias: I think of an all-star team like this in terms of who I’d want playing in a World Series. I agree with Tom that service on other teams shouldn’t count for selection to the team. But since Cone qualifies for the team, he would be my No. 1 starter, given his 8-3 post-season record.
Starting pitcher: Jose Rosado (L) — His career was cut short by throwing too many pitches at too young an age, but he put in two all-star seasons as a starter with two average ones. That qualifies Rosado as the best lefty starter of the lost years.
Starting pitcher: Gil Meche (R) — Another Royals career cut short by treating an above average starter as a rubber-armed ace. Era-adjusted numbers actually indicate Paul Byrd as having been better than Meche and Tim Belcher put up comparable era-adjusted numbers, but I’ve gotta give the nod to Meche.
Closer: Jeff Montgomery (R) — Soria had a higher peak, but Monty has service time and also a helluva peak. Both Monty and Soria had roughly a season in non-closer roles, so I feel fine having both of them in my bullpen.
Setup man: Joakim Soria (R) — From 07-10, Soria was the most dominant reliever the Royals had seen to that point in their history (before three separate relievers did better this season). Some of that is specialization and limiting of innings (Quiz is still the best overall reliever in Royals history), but it needs to be recognized. Dad note: Dan Quisenberry was more dominant than Soria, but Tom is too young to remember him. Quiz had five seasons with more than 100 innings pitched and led the league in saves all five years. He had five straight seasons with more than 100 innings pitched and 16 or fewer walks. Soria had 16 walks twice, but he did it in half as many innings. Tom response: I think we’re defining dominant differently. It’s clear through difference in usage and innings pitched that Quisenberry was a better pitcher for a longer period of time for the Royals than Soria, but in Soria’s much shorter time with the Royals he put up more seasons with an ERA+ above 200 (3 to 2), fewer losses and blown saves (along with a higher save percentage), had a much higher strikeout rate, a lower hit rate, and a comparable home run rate. I’ll be first to admit that it’s easier to be what I consider dominant when only throwing half as many innings in a season, but Soria dominated opposing hitters in a way that Quiz didn’t.
Setup man: Jason Grimsley (R) — Grimsley put up respectable numbers in an era of extremely inflated offense, with three solidly above average seasons with the Royals. Not a bad option as the third guy out of the bullpen.
Middle relief: Jose Santiago (R) — Outside of closer, the Royals didn’t have a ton of very good relievers who put up more than one good season. Santiago’s numbers don’t look great, but they were solidly above average during the height of the steroid era.
Middle relief: Mike Magnante (L) — This is a service-time related one. Magnante was up and down as a Royal, but had some good seasons out of the pen. Also, while I’m not being slavish about roster construction in the interest of honoring the best Royals, a bullpen does need at least one lefty.
Swing Reliever / Spot Starter: Luis Aquino (R) — The consummate swing guy for a number of years. He put up a ton of innings for a reliever / spot starter and consistently had above average numbers.
Swing Reliever / Spot Starter: Tom Gordon (R) — Gordon gives the roster a lot of flexibility, he was talented enough to be a good middle reliever if one of the other guys ahead of him struggled, but could easily fill in as a full-time starter if one of the starting rotation got injured. Dad note: Flash should be in the rotation on this team. Neither Rosado nor Meche had a season as great as Gordon’s amazing 17-9 rookie season, and they combined for two seasons with double-digit wins for the Royals. Flash had five seasons with double-digit wins for the Royals. After his amazing one-year rise from Class A to the Royals in 1988 and his stellar rookie season in 1989, he was mostly a disappointment to Royals fans, but he had several seasons as a decent starter. I also think Tom (Buttry, not Gordon) might have violated his respect-the-role rule here. Flash was strictly a starter for four of his seven full seasons with the Royals. Technically this works, because he did spend some time in the bullpen for three seasons (and became an excellent closer with the Red Sox. But for the Royals he was primarily a starter and if you consider him there, he makes the rotation. Tom response: Even in his ’89 rookie campaign that you rightly laud, Gordon only had 16 starts. In seven full seasons with the Royals, Gordon was a full-time starter for three of them, made about as many appearances as a reliever as he did as a starter, and only came close to cracking 200 innings in ’90 and ’95. I gave Gordon very serious consideration as a starter, but Meche was clearly a starter only, and Gordon does indeed fit this role, as it was how he was used during four of his seasons in Kansas City.
Catcher: Mike Macfarlane (R) — About the only above average hitter at catcher for the Royals before the arrival of Salvador Perez, with four seasons of an OPS above .800. While he wasn’t exceptional on defense, he did the job and wasn’t a liability like many offense-first catchers.
First Base: Wally Joyner (L) — Before you kill me, scroll down to DH. First base was one of the positions without many options for the Royals. Part of this was the first several years of this stretch being occupied by Steve Balboni and George Brett, who are disqualified by 85, and wrapping up with several years of Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler. Joyner had some above average seasons as an offensive player, but wasn’t much in the field. In the end, he’d probably split time at 1B and DH with Mike Sweeney.
Second Base: Jose Offerman (S) — One of the weaker positions for the Royals throughout their time without the playoffs. While I’m sure there are better gloves out there, Offerman was far and away the best bat at 2nd base during this time, being roughly league average by OPS for three years with the Royals and putting up very good OBP throughout his time with the Royals.
Shortstop: Rey Sanchez (R) — Shortstop was definitely the weakest offensive position for the Royals over these years, so I decided to go with Rey Sanchez who put together a stellar three year run as perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the game (which was overshadowed by Omar Vizquel‘s much longer run of defensive excellence). For three straight seasons, he put up over 2 defensive WAR and all three are among the top ten seasons in Royals history at any position by dWAR. His bat was never good, but he wasn’t a complete liability in those seasons, and if this team got down, he could always get pinch hit for. Dad note: Tom has more faith in WAR than I do. Kurt Stillwell wasn’t very good, so I’m not going to argue for him here, just point out how weak the case for Sanchez (or perhaps any Royal shortstop of this era) is: Sanchez actually got traded in his third season with the Royals, and Stillwell played four years. And Stillwell was an All-Star with the Royals and Sanchez never was. Tom response: Stillwell’s competition at shortstop when he was an all-star was Cal Ripken and whoever was the AL backup. Sanchez was going against Jeter, Nomar and Omar Vizquel. A light-hitting small-market player didn’t have a chance unless he could sustain his run of defensive excellence as long as Vizquel did.
Third Base: Kevin Seitzer (R) — Seitzer was a fairly easy choice. His run as both a batting average and OBP machine in the late-80’s make up for replacement-level fielding and separate him from his closest competition in Joe Randa (who was also nothing special in the field). Dad note: I saw Seitzer’s debut, possibly with Tom. His rookie year was his best season, and he was mostly a disappointment after that. Tom exaggerates how good Seitzer was, but definitely better than Randa. Tom response: Pretty sure Joe was the one who saw Seitzer’s debut. Seitzer had a .380 OBP for his entire time with the Royals. Whatever disappointment people had in him after ’87, it was more related to a lack of understanding the value of getting on base than reality. One more Dad note: Seitzer’s OBP dropped to .350 and below his last two seasons. With no power. Following Brett and his rookie season were two tough orders, but his first season was your best and his fourth and fifth were his worst. The disappointment was rooted in reality.
Left Field: Bo Jackson (R) — Bo knows baseball. Despite his prodigious speed and fantastic arm, he was always raw in the outfield and defensive metrics frown upon his performance. He was also a strikeout machine, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that he was a special player, would have almost certainly set the franchise records for home runs if he played more than 135 games in a season (and didn’t have his career cut short). Bo could also steal bases and certainly has one of the best career isolated power (ISO) numbers in Royals history at .229. Dad note: Bo was awesome, even in the field. Yeah, he would misplay some fly balls, but he also could reach some balls no one else could. And he had an amazing arm. Defensive metrics don’t show that people pretty much stopped running on him, especially after the Harold Reynolds throw. Tom response: Defensive metrics (especially from back then) are shaky, but I don’t have enough memory of how often Bo would misplay things to have any chance of judging them compared to his memorable plays (Yoenis Cespedes made a throw that people compared to Bo’s earlier this season and nobody is seriously arguing that he should get a Gold Glove). I definitely disagree with the defensive metrics from time to time, though, and the next player is probably the biggest illustration of that.
Center Field: Carlos Beltrán (S) — One of the most obvious choices on the roster. He combined one of the best bats in the lost years with above average fielding (I’m disagreeing with the defensive metrics on this one, which say he didn’t become an elite fielder until he got to New York), and incredibly effective baserunning. A true five-tool player.
Right Field: Danny Tartabull (R) — Defensive metrics frown upon Tartabull, but he probably had the best overall bat of qualified players with an .894 OPS during his time with the Royals that leads the field, even though he played with the fences back at Kauffman for his entire time with the team and didn’t benefit from the late 90’s – early 00’s combined power surge and expansion dilution of talent. His ISO about the same as Bo’s (.228 as a Royal), giving the lineup great pop. Dad note: I know you can’t count baseball played with other teams, but I think if someone else was close to Tartabull, you’d have to break a tie in his favor based on the Seinfeld appearance during his Yankee years. And Tom would certainly pick him on the basis of having been in the park for his amazing three-homer game:
Tom response: I was still fond enough of Tartabull to consider eating a donut with a knife and fork after his Seinfeld appearance. Dad note: Sadly, that clip is not on YouTube. We’ll have to settle for this one:
DH: Mike Sweeney (R) — It was very difficult to decide which position to put Sweeney. His best years were at first base, but he played as many games for the Royals as a DH (where he still put up good numbers), he was always a subpar defensive player, and the field at DH was far worse than at first base (the only alternatives were one-year wonders like Hamelin and Davis or disqualified players like Brett, Butler or Ibanez). In the end, I needed a DH more than a 1B, but Sweeney and Joyner could easily share pretty much the same role.
Backup Catcher: Brent Mayne (L) — Between time served and defensive value, he earned a spot on this team. While he was the #1 catcher for several seasons, he also put in a number of seasons as the Royals #2 backstop, making this an appropriate role. Terrible offensive player, but had noticeable lefty/righty splits, so he could start against a righty without losing too much offensively.
Fourth Outfielder: Jim Eisenreich (L) — Put in six quality seasons as a Royal, with nearly full-time numbers due to ordinary use plus filling in for frequently injured players like Bo Jackson. Dad note: Eisenreich also autographed a ball for one of our sons (maybe more) when they saw him in a sporting goods store. But he was a good player and got a lot of attention for playing with Tourette syndrome.
Utility Player: Bill Pecota (R) — This is another nod towards roster construction. It was tempting to go with Gary Thurman as a pinch runner, but this team already has decent speed and there’s a more glaring need in defense. This team desperately needs another glove coming off the bench, and Pecota fills that role. Dad note: Pecota’s nickname among teammates was “I-29″ because of how many times he’d made the drive between Kansas City and Omaha, where the Royals’ Triple-A team plays. Tom response: And he was the namesake for Nate Silver’s initial claim to fame.
I’m putting OBP with low power up top with Offerman and Seitzer. Power down the middle with Tartabull through Jackson, and Joyner and MacFarlane were good enough to make the bottom of the lineup still a concern. I also managed to break up the parade of righties by evenly distributing the switch hitters and lefty. It was extremely tempting to slide Jackson up in the order, but Tartabull clearly should be 3 or 4, and I wanted to avoid a parade of strikeouts between the two by moving up hitters who more consistently put the ball in play (and still had good pop) working to drive in runs after Offerman and Seitzer set the table.
1. Offerman (S)
2. Seitzer (R)
3. Tartabull (R)
4. Beltran (S)
5. Sweeney (R)
6. Jackson (R)
7. Joyner (L)
8. MacFarlane (R)
9. Sanchez (R)
Dad note: I might hit Bo higher. I’d at least flop him ahead of Sweeney. Tom Response: This is quibbling, but Sweeney had a remarkably low strikeout rate for a player with his power (albeit much less power than Bo). With the OBP’s ahead of that spot, the ability to put the ball in play at a very high rate with good power eventually becomes more important than an excellent power bat that strikes out almost a third of the time.
Honorable Mentions: Anyone with a rule named after them, Mike MacDougal, Joe Randa, Mark Teahen, Mark Grudzielanek, Angel Berroa, Darrell May, Carlos Febles, Paul Byrd, Jeff Suppan, Jeff King, Jay Bell, Gary Gaetti, Brian McRae, Billy Brewer (almost put him in as the lefty out of the pen ahead of Magnante), Hipolitio Pichardo, Kurt Stillwell, Gary Thurman, Bob Boone.
Observations: While this is one hell of a lineup, and has great top-line talent in the rotation, I’m not sure this team would be much better than the current Royals team. It would be much worse defensively, which is very important in Kauffman Stadium (Rey Sanchez is the only everyday player with a better glove than his 2014 counterpart). I’d also take our current bullpen over this one (Monty’s and Soria’s best seasons by ERA+ are about at the same level to Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland‘s 2014’s, and well behind Wade Davis, and Grimlsey would probably the fifth or sixth guy if he were plopped into the current bullpen). There’s good speed, but not like 2014. Overall, the lineup and top of the rotation is intimidating enough to be considered a better team than the 2014 Royals on paper, but we’ve already witnessed this Royals team take apart teams that are considered better on paper this postseason. …