There has been quite a bit written recently about whether or not the 2009 Kansas City Royals are the worst team in recent franchise history. Before we get this team’s place in Royals history, I think it is important that we first frame it within the 2009 AL Central. To get a quick and easy statistical measure of each team’s pitching and hitting, I decided to focus on ERA+ and OPS+.
AL Central ERA+
1) Chicago White Sox (113)
2) Detroit Tigers (108)
3) Kansas City Royals (91)
4) Cleveland Indians (91)
5) Minnesota Twins (87)
The Royals ranking in each of those AL Central lists shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody, but how about Minnesota? The usually pitching first Twins are leading the division in OPS+ and trail only the New York Yankees (118) for the MLB lead. At the same time, thanks to their starting rotation, they rank dead last in ERA+. The Twins are candidates for the 2009 “Bizarro” Team Award. Before the season I thought the Twins rotation would be their strength and their bullpen their weakness. Instead of their deep, talented, and young rotation taking steps forward, they have all collectively taken steps back and have been plagued by wild swings of inconsistency. Much has been made about the offensive prowess of the White Sox and Tigers, but the strength of their teams have been predicated this season on their pitching. The White Sox strength has definitely been their bullpen, while the Tigers have stayed afloat and in first place thanks to their starting rotation. The Indians mailed it in and traded away over 20% of their roster, yet still are better than the Royals in the standings and in OPS+. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that the Indians are tied with the Royals in ERA+ right now. The Indians staff has been downright bad most of the season so their team ERA+ is not surprising, but the Royals pitching staff was supposed to be the team’s strength. I guess technically it still is since their 91 ERA+ is 3 points higher than their 88 OPS+, but hold the phone. The league average OPS+ across all of MLB is 97, while the league average ERA+ for all of MLB is 100. That means both aspects of the team are equally crappy and are both 9 points below league average. None of this is breaking news. We know the 2009 Royals are not good, but let’s look at what happens when we combine OPS+ and ERA+ into 1 number.
AL Central ERA+ and OPS+
1) Chicago White Sox (205)
2) Detroit Tigers (201)
3) Minnesota Twins (194)
4) Cleveland Indians (190)
5) Kansas City Royals (179)
Not surprising that the division standings falls in about the same order. Once again I am stumped as to how the Detroit Tigers are in 1st place in this division. Enough of the AL Central. What if we look at the Royals in comparison to all ML teams?
Best OPS+ Teams:
1) New York Yankees (118)
2) Minnesota Twins (107)
3) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (107)
The above shows little, aside from the fact that the Giants and Twins are decent teams too reliant one one aspect of the game. If you are going to excel in only one direction, the Giants prove that pitching is the way to go. Speaking of pitching, I came across this interesting piece of information while looking at ERA+. The 2009 Royals have used fewer pitchers (17) than any other ML team this season. The next closest teams are the Giants (18) and Braves (19). When a team doesn’t have to rely on pitching depth as much as other teams, it would be logical to assume that team would be faring well in that facet of the game. The Giants and Braves fit that bill with 123 ERA+ and 113 ERA+ respectively. Sadly we know that there is no place for logic with the 2009 Royals, but this does blow an iceberg-sized hole in Dayton Moore’s injury excuses.
Best MLB ERA+ and OPS+
1) Los Angeles Dodgers (219)
2) New York Yankees (219)
3) Tampa Bay Rays (214)
Look at that, the 2 best teams have the 2 best totals. This just goes to show you how strong the Rays are as a team. I see an AL Wild Card in their future, but enough of the “Best” teams. We are talking about the Royals here, so let’s get to the other side of the spectrum.
Worst MLB ERA+ and OPS+
1) San Diego Padres (174)
2) Kansas City Royals (179)
3) Cincinnati Reds (179)
The good news is that the Royals don’t finish last. Stay classy San Diego! If you are wondering where the Washington Nationals appear, we don’t have to go much further.
4) Pittsburgh Pirates (182)
5) Washington Nationals (184)
If the Royals played in the NL, and no I’m not trying to suggest they should have switched leagues when they had the chance, at least they’d have some company. Alas, they are definitively the AL’s worst team.
The Royals are 6 points behind the Orioles and 7 points behind the Athletics. Considering these numbers are based on team totals, that is quite a gap. To make matters worse, the combination of ERA+ and OPS+ doesn’t even factor in the two places where the Royals are probably the worst team in all of baseball; defense and baserunning.
2009 Royals the Worse Team in Recent Franchise History:
Joe Posnanski called this year’s team the worst Kansas City Royals team he has ever seen. In his assessment, he only goes back as far as 1996 when he came to Kansas City. My initial reaction after reading Joe’s post Breaking Point was that he was a tad guilty of hyperbole. After breaking down some numbers, this may indeed be the worst Royals team since they last won the World Series. For the purposes of my research, I went back to 1991. This was the last season that the Royals had a team OPS+ above 100. That’s right. It has been 19 seasons since a Royals offense, top to bottom, has been league average in terms of OPS+. For those of you who are curious, the Royals have turned in 7 seasons in that span where their ERA+ was over 100. Those seasons are 1991-1996 and 2007. Best ERA+ was 118 in 1994 and the best OPS+ was exactly 100 in the previously mentioned 1991 season. On the flip side, the worst ERA+ was 79 in 2005. The worst OPS+ was 84 which they managed to do in both 2007 and 2002.
If we go back in team history, there have been 6 seasons (including 2009) in which the sum of ERA+ and OPS+ has been below 180. I consider these seasons to be the candidates for worst Royals team since 1991. (Leaders listed for each year are required to have a minimum of 350 AB or 50 IP.)
2009 (91+88=179) Current Record: 48-78, on pace for 62-100
Leaders: Billy Butler (118 OPS+) / Zack Greinke (180 ERA+)
2006 (83+91=174) Team Record: 62-100
Leaders: Mark Teahen (122 OPS+) / Todd Wellemeyer (129 ERA+)
Luke Hudson had the highest ERA+ (92) in the starting rotation.
2005 (79+91=170) Team Record: 56-106
Leaders: Mike Sweeney (127 OPS+) / Andrew Sisco (142 ERA+)
2004 (92+85=177) Team Record: 58-104
Leaders: Mike Sweeney (117 OPS+) / Shawn Camp (122 ERA+)
2002 (95+84=179) Team Record: 62-100
Leaders: Mike Sweeney (148 OPS+) / Paul Byrd and Jason Grimsley (127 ERA+)
1998 (92+87=179) Team Record: 72-89
Leaders: Jose Offerman (119 OPS+) / Ricky Bones (156 ERA+)
Twelve seasons of baseball and 6 of them sub-180 quality in OPS+ plus ERA+. It becomes hard to determine which one was the worst when there are so many “quality” seasons to choose from. The 1998 Royals are on this list with a total of 179, but I remember that team as an exciting and fun team to watch, so I’m ruling that one out of the argument. Same goes for 2002 which featured Sweeney, Beltran, Ibanez, and a pitching staff that had 7 guys with an ERA+ of 100 or better.
That leaves 2009, 2006, 2005, and 2004 under consideration. All things being equal, 2006 can’t compare to either 2005 or 2004, despite the terrible starting pitching. I think we can safely rule that season out. The 2005 Royals were worse than the 2004 Royals when they are placed side by side.
It all comes down to either 2009 or 2005. Based on the ERA+ and OPS+ statistics I want to lean toward 2005. However, all of the above statistics do not take into account the defensive abilities of either team. It also does not account for the baserunning exploits of this year’s team. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall either of these aspects of the 2005 team, but I do know that the 2009 Royals possess the worst team defense I have ever seen.
Joe Posnanski was right, this is the worst Royals team in recent history and the season isn’t over yet.