Yesterday a small cheer erupted from Royals fans around the globe. When the news got out, it spread like a wildfire with no hope of containment. RHP-Sidney Ponson, just 32 years old, was designated for assignment and RHP-Kyle Davies was recalled from Triple-A to take his place on the roster. In theory this ends his time as a member of the Kansas City Royals, but whether or not he ever pitches again as part of this organization is immaterial. What is of significance, is the mark that Ponson left on Royals history.
The numbers he leaves behind make even the greenest of baseball fans turn away in disgust. They are numbers that weren’t even duplicated by a member of the Washington Nationals pitching staff this season. Actually Joel Hanrahan “bested” Ponson, but did not reach enough innings to qualify for the below. In 58.2 innings pitched, Sir Sidney racked up a 7.36 ERA, 1.773 WHIP, 12.1 H/9, 1.28 K/BB, and an ERA+ of 59. In case you are not aware, ERA+ adjusts a pitchers ERA to account for park effect and the pitcher’s league. The average ERA+ is set to 100. In a nutshell, if a player’s ERA+ is above 100, they are pitching better than league average, and subsequently if a player’s ERA+ is below 100, they are pitching worse than league average. It is in the latter that we shall remain when discussing Ponson and his place in Royals history.
Before I go any further, I want to state I believe that Sidney Ponson did the best that he could for this team. Perhaps more impressively, all accounts point to the fact that he did everything that was asked of him and was truly a member of the team. When he originally signed during Spring Training his character issues and personal baggage concerned me far more than his quickly diminishing ability to pitch at the ML level. Sidney Ponson, when not on the mound, surpassed my wildest expectations and for that I applaud him.
Unfortunately his performance on the mound was significantly lacking. I do not blame Sir Sidney for this however. Blame for Ponson’s numbers with the Kansas City Royals falls squarely on the shoulders of Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman. I’m not going to totally rehash the fact that he was signed before the season started. I thought it was a mistake at the time and I stand by that assessment. The team had several better rotation options to open the season with. Those options included Luke Hochevar, who was perhaps the best pitcher in Spring Training, as well as Bruce Chen, Lenny DiNardo, Brandon Duckworth, and Brian Bannister to name a few. Still I can’t completely fault the team for taking the chance on Ponson at the outset. Even though I disagreed with the move, every now and then you can indeed catch lightning in a bottle. The huge mistake that Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman collectively made was allowing him to throw 58.2 innings for the 2009 version of the Kansas City Royals.
58.2 innings is a lot of innings to rack up on an arm giving the team a 7.36 ERA and ERA+ of 59 in return. His departure inspired me to look back through Royals history to see if anyone could rival Sir Sidney’s noble run. What I found completely blew me away, especially considering how bad the Royals pitching has been over the last 15 years. To make my research and the subsequent results manageable, I had to set some limits. Pitchers evaluated in my study were subject to two main criteria; they had to pitch 50 or more innings during the season in question, and their ERA+ had to be less than 75. Including Ponson, that combination has happened 31 times in Royals history and 12 of those have been since the 2000 season. 31 times was more than I was hoping for, so I decided to adjust the ERA+ cut-off to less than 70. The adjusted criteria left me with 18 results, and also made several players very happy to not be part of the final list.
Those players aren’t completely spared however, as I’ve chosen to list their names without the embarrasment of the stats. The 13 players that didn’t make the final cut were; Kyle Davies (2007), Runelvys Hernandez (2006), JP Howell (2005), Shawn Sedlacek (2002), Jeff Montgomery (1999), Jim Pittsley (1998), Mark Gardner (1993), Mark Gubicza (1991), Dave Frost (1982), Doug Bird (1978), Wayne Simpson (1973), Tom Burgmeier (1972), and Ken Wright (1970). Of the baker’s dozen only 2 players of these 13 were older than 30 years old, Monty was 37 and Gardner was 31, when they turned in their rather poor seasons. That 13 player list is quite a stroll down memory lane of bad pitching isn’t it? Well get ready for the final 18 that did make the cut listed in reverse chronological order. Number listed in parenthesis is the player’s age during the season listed. The numbers that follow ERA and ERA+.
2009 Sidney Ponson (32) 7.36 / 59
2008 Brett Tomko (35) 6.97 / 61
2006 Andrew Sisco (23) 7.10 / 66
2005 Jose Lima (32) 6.99 / 63 “Believe It!”
2005 Leo Nunez (21) 7.55 / 58
2003 Chris George (23) 7.11 / 69
2001 Brian Meadows (25) 6.97 / 69
2000 Chad Durbin (22) 8.21 / 62
2000 Miguel Batista (29) 7.74 / 66
1999 Chris Fussell (23) 7.39 / 68
1998 Chris Haney (29) 7.03 / 68
1988 Ted Power (33) 5.94 / 68
1983 Vida Blue (33) 6.01 / 68
1983 Keith Creel (24) 6.35 / 64
1981 Rich Gale (27) 5.40 / 66
1972 Mike Hedlund (25) 4.78 / 63
1972 Jim Rooker (29) 4.38 / 69
1971 Jim Rooker (28) 5.33 / 64
Of the 18 results listed above, only 5 of them were turned in by a player older than 30 years of age and of those 5, only Sidney Ponson had an ERA above 7.00 which says something on its own. The bigger statement is made by the ERA+ statistic.
In Royals history only 2 times has a pitcher been allowed to throw more than 50 innings in a season with an ERA+ less than 60. The first to do it was a 21 year old Leo Nunez who in 2005 was pitching in his rookie season. The fact that the Royals kept him on the team is almost understandable since he was 21 and only 3 pitchers that appeared in a game for the Royals that season had an ERA+ over 100. Nunez was a rookie pitching for what could be considered the worst collection of pitching talent for that season in Royals history. It is important to note that the Royals faith in Nunez was proven to be justified. In the last 5 seasons, Leo’s ERA+ has never been lower than the league average mark of 100. Never-the-less, only Nunez and his 58 ERA+ “saves” Sidney Ponson from being the worst ever according to my criteria, but Ponson’s circumstances are much different. Sir Sidney is not an up and coming arm, in fact his career is pretty much over. The 2009 Royals boast a much better pitching staff, team ERA+ of 96, than the 2005 version which had a team ERA+ of 79. This year the team has more talented and viable options, not just at the ML level, but in Triple-A Omaha as well.
Sidney Ponson being allowed to throw 58.2 innings for this team with an ERA+ of 59 is almost criminal. Again it isn’t Sidney’s fault. He was taking the ball and just trying to do his job. The fault rests with Trey Hillman and Dayton Moore who failed to acknowledge Ponson’s lack of results and ability. They also failed to acknowledge that they had better options available to the team. Still not convinced of the latter statement? Chew on this fact for the rest of the day: in 22.2 innings pitched this season, Horacio Ramirez had an ERA+ of 73 prior to being released by the team.