The Pyramid Rating System’s All-Time Kansas City Royals

Despite his recent struggles, Alex Gordon is still the best left fielder in Royals’ history. (via Keith Allison)

Paul Moehringer’s Pyramid Rating System & All-Time Teams

Aug. 27, 2015: The Pyramid Rating System: JAWS on a Career Scale

March 15, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System: The Results

Aug. 12, 2016: All-Time League and Baltimore Orioles

Sept. 2, 2016: Boston Red Sox

Sept. 28, 2016: Texas Rangers

Oct. 19, 2016: Brooklyn Dodgers

Nov. 30, 2016: Cincinnati Reds

Dec. 15, 2016: 2016 Season Update

Dec. 20, 2016: Seattle Mariners

Jan. 25, 2017: Milwaukee Brewers/Braves

Feb. 2, 2017: Cleveland Indians

Mar. 15, 2017: Los Angeles Dodgers

May 15, 2017: Houston Astros

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

June 30, 2017: Philadelphia Phillies

For our next entry in the Pyramid Rating System’s all-time teams series, we head to the AL West to find the traditional home of the Kansas City Royals.

One of the most dominant teams during the 1970s and ’80s, the Royals fell on hard times during the 1990s before undergoing a recent resurrection that saw them appear in two World Series and walk away with the crown in 2015.

As one would expect, the Royals’ roster is built mainly around the players from the ’70s and ’80s, while the more recent teams round out what is arguably the best of the expansion teams.

Although the franchise lineage includes the Kansas City Athletics, just one player from the era, Norm Siebern, made the 40-man roster, while the A’s highest ranked player, Ed Charles will not be featured in the series.

Unfortunately for the Royals, the city-centric rule does not include the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs, which if included would give the Royals Hall  of Famers Satchel Paige, Willard Brown and Hilton Smith at the heights of their careers. The additions of Paige and Smith would have given the Royals one of the best rotations in this series.

Franchises Included: Kansas City Athletics (1955-1967); Kansas City Royals (1969-Present)

Hall of Famers on 25-man roster: 1

Manager: Whitey Herzog

Although he managed more games and had more postseason success with St. Louis, it’s still not quite enough for the Hall of Fame manager to earn the skipper’s job for Cardinals. However with Royals, Herzog is able to beat out solid competition from Dick Howser and represent the team for which he had a .574 winning percentage with never a losing season.

It was under Herzog that the Royals crashed through their glass ceiling, winning the AL West three straight seasons from 1976 through ’78. All three times the Royals faced off against the New York Yankees, but all three times they came up short,  no doubt  a major factor in management’s decision to remove Herzog.

Herzog’s firing after the ’79 season has to go down as one of the biggest headscratchers in baseball history. It would be a sign of things to come, as Kansas City would display similar quick triggers in firing Jim Frey and Dick Howser, in both cases  just a year after they had taken the Royals to the World Series.

It’s impossible to say how the ’80s Royals would have fared under Herzog, but I have a hard time understanding  why he shouldn’t have been given the chance.

Best Overall Player, Position Player and Hitter: George Brett

When one player leads a franchise in singles, doubles, triples and home runs, the debate over who the greatest player in that franchise’s history tends to become pretty brief. When that one player also happens to be the only Hall  of Famer to spend the majority of his career with the Royals, debate is even more pointless

In a golden age of third baseman, Brett stood head and shoulders above the rest in the American League, combining a solid glove with what could be regarded as the most feared gap power bat in the American League.

Most are aware of Brett’s ability to mash doubles — he is sixth all-time and 11 times finished in the top 10 — but Brett was nearly as deadly when it came to triples, finishing in the top 10 nine times amd leading the league in triples twice.

With his whole 21-year career played in Kansas City, Brett’s standing in the league is even higher than his raw stats would indicate. Brett will pose a serious contender to Wade Boggs, Eddie Mathews and Cal Ripken Jr. for starting third baseman on the AL’s All-Star team and as he was throughout his career, will be  the unquestioned leader of this Royals squad.

Best Pitcher: Kevin Appier (honorable mention: Bret Saberhagen)

Of any one-two combo across either league, this is by far the most underrated. Although the two combined for just three All-Star appearances while with the Royals, their stats indicate they each should have had at least that many selections.

When discussing the most dominant pitchers of the 1990s, Appier is doubtful to come up, but he probably should as his name is dotted on leader boards more often than most would expect.

From 1990 through 1997, Appier finished in the top 10 in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio five times. For a brief time, an argument could have been made that Appier was  the best pitcher in the American League, leading the AL in ERA, ERA+, home runs allowed per nine innings and WAR.

Appier’s career ERA+ of 130 with the Royals over 13 seasons is nearly identical to Sandy Koufax’s career ERA+ of 131 over 12 seasons and is higher than those of Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Juan Marichal and Jim Palmer.

Similarly, many have lost sight of how good Saberhagen was at his peak. He was a two time Cy-Young award winner with KC, and, like Appier, peppered the leader boards, and one point leading the American League in wins, ERA, innings pitched, WHIP, walks per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Is this one-two at the level of a Clemens/Pedro or a Kershaw/Koufax? No. Is it better than most? A hundred percent yes.

Best Player Not on the Roster Due to the One-Team-Only Rule: Carlos Beltrán

Whether because of poor ownership, the economics of the game at the time or some combination of both, the late ’90s-early 2000s Royals were little more than a glorified Triple-A team.

From 1995 through 2012, the Royals posted just one winning season. At the height of their ineptitude, 2002-2006, the Royals lost 100-plus four out of five years. A lot of this downturn coincided with the departure of  Carlos Beltron, probably  the best young player the Royals franchise had ever produced aside from Brett.

Beltrán’s potential was noticed right away. After winning the Rookie of the Year award in ’99, he suffered an injury-plagued season which limited him to just 98 games. But in 2001 Beltrán would put it all together; batting .301 with 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases in what would be a display of things to come.

By 2004 Beltrán had established himself as arguably the best center fielder in baseball. coming off of his third consecutive season of 20-plus home runs, 30-plus steals, 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs. All this had put him in a position to become one of the highest-paid players in baseball.

But rather than attempt to meet Beltrán’s salary demands, the Royals traded him to Houston, where he would go on to have one of the best postseason performances in baseball history. Then he moved on to New York, where he became a perennial MVP candidate and the face of one of the best franchises in baseball.

Even if Beltrán had never left Kansas City, it’s doubtful the Royals would have fared much better in the years after he departed,  losing 90-plus games for years. But thinking that they would be better off without Beltrán speaks volumes of the Royals’ mindset at the time.

Even if the Royals had given Beltrán the contract he got in New York, they still would have been in the bottom third in the league in salaries until 2008, when they inexplicably cracked open the piggy bank for Gil Meche and Jose Guillen. You tell me which would have been the better investment.

While not as crippling as the Mariners losing Alex Rodriguez, the team does not get off scot free. Beltrán’s absence from the all-time Royals team leaves Kansas City with an obvious defensive hole in right field.

Kansas City Royals Coaching Staff
Position Person
Manager Whitey Herzog
Bench Coach Ned Yost
First Base Coach Gary Thurman
Third Base Coach Cookie Rojas
Hitting Coach Charley Lau
Pitching Coach Galen Cisco
Bullpen Coach Mike Magnante
Kansas City Royals Starting Lineups
DH vs RHP DH vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
1B L L John Mayberry 1B L L John Mayberry
3B L R George Brett DH R R Hal McRae
DH R R Mike Sweeney CF R R Amos Otis
LF L R Alex Gordon RF R R Danny Tartabull
RF R R Danny Tartabull  C R R Mike Sweeney
 C L R Darrell Porter 2B R R Frank White
CF S R Willie Wilson LF L R Alex Gordon
2B R R Frank White 3B L R George Brett
SS R R Freddie Patek SS R R Freddie Patek
vs RHP vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
1B L L John Mayberry 1B L L John Mayberry
3B L R George Brett LF R R Hal McRae
LF L R Alex Gordon CF R R Amos Otis
 C L R Darrell Porter RF R R Danny Tartabull
RF R R Danny Tartabull  C R R Mike Sweeney
CF S R Willie Wilson 2B R R Frank White
SS R R Freddie Patek SS R R Freddie Patek
2B R R Frank White 3B L R George Brett
 P R R Kevin Appier  P R R Kevin Appier
Kansas City Royals Expanded Roster
Pos B T Name
    C R R Salvador Pérez
1B/LF L R Norm Siebern
   2B L R Jerry Lumpe
   3B R R Kevin Seitzer
   IF L R Wayne Causey
   OF R R Lorenzo Cain
   OF L L Johnny Damon
   OF R R Jermaine Dye
   SP R R Steve Busby
   SP S L Larry Gura
   SP R R Dennis Leonard
   SP R R Gil Meche
   RP R R Steve Farr
   RP R R Kelvin Herrera
   RP L L Steve Mingori

Strengths

For years, Herzog complained about Royals management’s inability to get him a solid relief pitcher. There will be no such complaints about a lack of bullpen depth on this team, as the Royals ‘pen doesn’t just represent the biggest strength for this team, but also might be the best in the American League.

Many may be surprised at the decision to use Dan Quisenberry as a middle reliever instead of in a late inning role, but there is a good reason for this. Quisenberry does rate as the best reliever in Royals history, but he is also by far the oldest reliever on this team, with the bullpen being built largely around the modern relievers like Wade Davis and Joakim Soria, who were the backbone of the team that won two straight American League pennants. Tthe Royals bullpen is unlike any other bullpen across the American League. With a perennial all-star like Greg Holland left without a formal role, the Royals are plenty well set for late-inning relief even without Quisenberry.

For all the depth and skill the modern relievers bring, one thing guys like Davis and Soria never had to do was consistently work multiple innings. Quisenberry, on the other hand, racked up 100-plus innings out of the bullpen in five seasons with Kansas City. Given the Royals’ depth, Quisenberry the best option for multiple innings out of the pen — the closest thing the league has to Andrew Miller and one of the few non-closers with a shot at the All-Star team.

The Royals aren’t nearly as deep among starters as they are in the bullpen, but still make for one of the American League’s better rotations. Every Royals starter on the 25-man roster at one point either received votes for or outright won the Cy Young award, with all four Royals Cy Young winners being featured in some way.

The biggest surprise is probably David Cone. Although he pitched only two full seasons for the Royals, they came at the height of his dominance. In 1994, Cone won the Cy Young. Like many others who split peak seasons over several franchises, Cone doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but of every pitcher who falls into this category, I’m not sure any had the kind of career Cone had.

An argument could be made that only Clemens was a better right-hander in the AL during the 1990s. But even though Cone was as dominant as anyone to ever wear a Kansas City uniform, he  pitched fewer than 450 innings for Kansas City, and that takes him out of the discussion for being anything more than a spot starter on a good pitching staff.

Looking at the offense after George Brett, the next strongest position for the Royals is catcher. Most may not think of Mike Sweeney as a catcher, but Sweeney caught 201 games for the Royals. With John Mayberry entrenched at first base, there isn’t much need for Sweeney to play there,and Sweeney provides enough offensive value to switch off between platooning for Darrell Porter and being a DH against righties.

Weaknesses

It’s a good thing the Royals are so loaded when it comes to pitching, because the offense leaves a lot to be desired.

Up the middle the Royals feature maybe the worst middle infield of any of the all-time teams. Freddie Patek and Frank White may have been mainstays for the Royals during the ’70s and ’80s, but a career OPS+ of under 90 does not bode well in a league where teams can go three, four or even five Hall of Famers deep. Such is the case with White and Patek.

The Royals don’t get much help from the bench in that department, either. Jose Offerman and Alcides Escobar are little more than the best of a bad bunch  in terms of the talent you need to be at to have an impact on the league.

The outfield is a bit better, but it’s still well below the average of what other teams will be featuring. This is where the loss of  Beltrán is noticeable. Instead of having a borderline five-tool outfielder in right field to go with Alex Gordon and Willie Wilson, the Royals have to go with Danny Tartabull.

Offensively it’s pretty much a push between the two, with Tartabull having led the league in slugging in ’91, the only Royal not named George Brett to do it, but defensively the difference couldn’t be more stark. Tartabull would be a top candidate for the worst defensive regular starter in either league, and if he were not able to justify his shortcomings with the bat, I would not hesitate to call up the more well-rounded Jermaine Dye.

The one silver lining is that with Alex Gordon, Amos Otis and Willie Wilson all on the team, the Royals should have at least one Gold Glove caliber outfielder to turn to for a late-game defensive substitution.

Because of this, the Royals lineup winds up being very top heavy; aside from Brett, there is no dominant offensive player.

In terms of righty/lefty match-ups, the Royals are relatively equal on both sides. The overall lineup is righty heavy, but  Brett would not be in the Hall of Fame if he carried the same numbers against right-handed pitchers that he did aganst lefties. This isn’t to say Brett was terrible against lefties, he was just not as impressive. His 3,000 career hits should tell you just how great he was  against righties.

Conclusions

Of the 36 teams that will be featured, 35 have their best relief pitcher listed as the closer. The Royals are the exception. I would expect stiff competition all year from Oakland and Minnesota which, like Kansas City, will also feature a pretty solid rotation, but few bullpens can come close to Kansas City’s.

As it was during his career, a lot of the weight is going to fall on Brett to carry the offense. As he goes I would expect the Royals to go, but for the team to succeed, somebody else on that offense would need to step up.

Overall I would consider the Royals the worst team with a chance to win the World Series in this all-time league, and it’s because of the bullpen. To be clear, the list of teams that could realistically win the World Series also includes the Red Sox, the Reds, the Indians, the LA Dodgers and the Phillies. among. others. I don’t think they will do it, but I could envision the scenario.

For the most part, on a team like the Royals, a starter doesn’t need to go more than five innings. That’s probably all Charlie Leibrandt would be good for, but it’s all the Royals may need him to be. This is a modern game. The bullpen is going to matter a lot and this is where the Royals close the gap.


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Paul Moehringer is a data analyst, SABR member, inventor of the Pyramid Rating System and lifelong Mets fan who hails from Mount Olive, N.J. Follow him on Twitter @PMoehringer.
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sambhav
Guest

nice post!! thanks for sharing……
annotated bibliography sample

Scott
Guest
Scott
You read my mind about David Cone (even the statement about only Clemens being a better AL pitcher in the 90s). People really forgot just how great he was, which is odd considering he played for the Yankees, won a Cy Young and 5 World Series. In my mind he has a better Hall case than his long-time teammate Andy Pettite. This team, more than any of the other ones featured thus far, has been hurt by considering only a player’s career with that team. Johnny Damon and Zack Greinke, along with David Cone would fall into this category. I… Read more »
Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer
With both Cone and Kevin Brown I think the fact that they spent the better parts of their careers as “hired guns” is part of the reason why they haven’t gotten more HOF support. If they were ever inducted what cap would they wear? There isn’t a clear cut answer with either pitcher. As for teams being effected by careers being curtailed, it’s going to hold true for any franchise that spent most of their years playing in the free agency era. I don’t think the effect is nearly as great as some may think it is, but with guys… Read more »
Scott
Guest
Scott

FWIW. In the middle of an article Bill James wrote this about Kevin Brown. “Randy Jones, Vern Kennedy, Joe Horlen, Kevin Brown and Dutch the Knuckler are considered to have been meaningfully better pitchers than their career won-lost records reflect.”

http://www.billjamesonline.com/the_career_won-lost_record/

Carl
Guest
Carl
Hi Paul, A great post as always. Couple of quibbles/questions: Alcides Escobar at SS as compared to UL Washington. Both are weak hitters and both have an identical slugging percentage of .343. However, Washington had a higher on base percentage (.313 vs .293) and his OPS+ of 82 is higher than Escobar’s 73. Of course, Washington had the better tooth pick. Also, seems like the late 70s pitchers are under-rated on this team. The Royals’ all-time leader in Wins (Paul Splittorff with 166 wins) is not on the roster which seems strange. Splitorff was the Royal’s first 20-game winner and… Read more »
Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer
With Washington versus Escoabr, where Escobar gets him is mainly on defense. Washington only had one year where he’s over 1 in defensive WAR versus Escobar’s three. With Leonard versus Leibrandt I think this is a good example of how this system works, because on the surface it does look like Leonard should beat him out for all the reasons you listed. But what this keys in on is peak dominance and between the two pitchers there are four seasons where they had a WAR of at least five. Three of them belong to Leibrandt and to me that’s one… Read more »
Kurt
Guest
Kurt

Soria was not on the Royals when they won the AL in 2014 & 2015. That bullpen was backboned by Herrera, Davis and Holland.

Bill S
Guest
Bill S
First and most important, Dick Howser was most certainly not fired, and it is indeed “a headscratcher” how someone who’s spent time researching past Royals could have thought he was. Howser managed the club up until the 1986 All-Star game (he managed the AL in that game, his last as a manager). On July 3, 1986 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he passed away from it in 1987. http://m.mlb.com/news/article/236819132/remembering-dick-howser-30-years-later/ Howser’s #10 is one of only 3 numbers retired by the Royals (the others George Brett’s #5, Frank White’s #20). Second, though a definitive answer to the question… Read more »
ajnrules
Guest

I always thought Dick Howser had to take leave because of his brain cancer diagnosis instead of being fired. Shows what I know.

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer

He was and that is a mistake on my part.

The overall point about the Royals having quick triggers with managers still stands, but he Howser shouldn’t have been lumped in.

Joe Pancake
Guest
Joe Pancake

Love this series, but there a few things I don’t understand about this article/roster.

1. “Although the franchise lineage includes the Kansas City Athletics, just one player from the era, Norm Siebern, made the 40-man roster…” What about Lumpe and Causey?

2. Mike Sweeney at backup catcher and starting DH? That seems really cheap to me. Sweeney was a bad hitter when he played catcher and only became a good hitter after giving catching up. At no point in his career would he ever have been a suitable DH and catcher.

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer
1. Mistake on my part. Just forgot to look them up. 2. It’s a little with guys like Sweeney becuase I’m basically envisioning a player that never existed which I try to avoid as much as possible, but in some cases there’s no getting around it and this is one of them. How much of an impact did giving up catching have on Sweeney’s offensive numbers? No doubt some, but the exact figure is impossible to tell. The is also where the concept of value vs talent butt heads because I am using Sweeney in a way that he was… Read more »
Pedro Ramirez
Guest

Hey Paul, can see that you, and the others in the comments section, do not mention STEVE BALBONY…Why?

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer

Solid player and even a better character, but unfortunately he’s on a team where two of the three best first baseman (Brett and Sweeney) will hardly ever even play the position if they do at all.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Why wouldn’t Alex Rodriguez be the all star third baseman?

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer

I would only be considering his tenure with the Yankees which I feel puts him a tier below guys like Boggs, Mathews and Brett even though he’s a better overall player than all three.

That being he could surprise people and get the nod. We’ll never for sure because there’s no way of actually testing any of this.

Rob
Guest
Rob

This does not seem like a very strong team, even the pitching. The 2017 Dodgers roster could take these guys down.

Chris zeko
Guest

Might I point out that Dick howser was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was unable to continue his managerial duties. Dick attempted a comeback during spring training but was too weak. He died 3 months latter. He was not fired.

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer

Already been addressed in a previous comment.

Oversight on my part with the larger point I was trying to make still standing.

M. O'Neill
Guest
M. O'Neill

KC Royals are in AL Central, not West. How come Salvy is highlighted but not Cain or Herrera in one of your lists.

Joe Pancake
Guest
Joe Pancake

The Royals were in the AL West pre-1994, back when there were only two divisions in each league.

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer

In the setup of this league they are in the AL West along with the Angels, Oakland A’s, Twins, Mariners and Rangers.

The Central in this fantasy league features the Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Rays, Brewers and Browns.

John G.
Guest
John G.

Since you’re using the current approach to constructing rosters, how about adding Bo Jackson as Strength and Conditioning Coach?

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer

I have no problem if people want to imagine it.

Aside from a handful of picks by in large I would take the coaching selections with a grain of salt.

Ron Duncan
Guest
Ron Duncan

WHERE WAS BO JACKSON?????

TZ
Guest
TZ

No Bo?

Jason
Guest
Jason

Bo Jackson, by himself, 10-run rules the MLB all-time All-Star team after he bats in the bottom half of the 1st inning. It’s easy to understand why Mr. Moehringer didn’t include him because it would be a brief series of articles. I cannot confirm nor deny he’s getting paid by the typed word.

Kevin Oeth
Guest
Kevin Oeth
I’m not a big sabermetrics guy and I’m too old to start trying to learn all that stuff at this point, but seriously, not a lot of this makes sense to me. Let’s start with the coaching staff, Whitey, Lau and Cisco were actually coaches with KC. Yost was never a coach, went from special assistant, i believe into the manager’s spot. I personally don’t remember it but AO only started 43 games in right throughout his career and only played in right 45 times. Certainly does not seem to be enough to rate 3rd on the depth chart. By… Read more »
fred forscher
Guest
fred forscher

very good but i think one team per is bad and not having each franchise

Paul Moehringer
Guest
Paul Moehringer

My main motivation behind it was to include as many players as possible and not constantly talk about guys like Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan who were good enough to make multiple teams.

It also adds an extra degree of complexity complexity that normally doesn’t exist with things like this and makes it a lot more challenging than most people realize.

Randy W James
Guest
Randy W James

Pardon me, but if memory serves Dick Howser was not fired by the Royals. He was forced to retire because of brain cancer that took his life in 1987. His is one of only three numbers retired by the Royals.

Brett
Guest
Brett
Couple comments: One of the (admittedly necessary) limitations to this exercise requires you to rely on MLB performance and longevity. With the Royals this is particularly damaging because it leaves out the greatest talent to play for the Royal: Bo Jackson. The last two seasons before his (football) career ending hip injury he had an OPS+ of 124 and 142. He was clearly getting better. In a fictional world where we can resurrect old stars for our baseball watching pleasure it is almost certain Bo would be the baseball only superstar we all wish he was and definitely on this… Read more »
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