In Royals history age 26 appears to be the sweet spot. Seasons of an OPS+ at or greater than 120 have been achieved at that age more than any other in team history. As you can see from the chart below this aligns nicely with what we now know to be a player’s prime years.
Billy Butler just completed his age 26 season so I thought I’d take a look to where his offensive numbers rank compared to the other 26 year olds in Royals history. While I’m a big fan of OPS+ I decided against it being the determining stat. Instead I looked at each player’s numbers across the board and came up with what I feel are the 10 top seasons.
This would be Mayberry’s finest season and his last truly great year. He led the American League in walks and OPS+ and his 34 home runs broke Bob Oliver‘s club record. He would hold the record until Steve Balboni would break it in 1985. Balboni has famously held it ever since. Mayberry followed his best season with his worst. At age 27 he hit just 13 home runs while posting a 94 OPS+.
2. George Brett
Like Mayberry, Brett was already a star by this age. He set career highs in OPS+, home runs, RBIs and triples. People rarely talk about Brett’s triples but from 1975-1979 he led the AL three times. In 1980 Brett went from one of the best around to one of the best ever. He hit .390/.454/.664, won the MVP and led the Royals to their first World Series.
3. Billy Butler
Before the season began I offered my take on why it was important to keep Butler around. Sure the offense was potentially great
but there were several question marks. Butler was not one of them. I figured he’d be good for 60+ extra base hits and an on-base percentage north of .360. He accomplished both numbers for the fourth straight year.
September 25, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) hits a single during the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
It feels like I’ve been arguing with the trade Butler brigade for half my life now, though it’s only been a few years. He’s not a great defender or base runner but he does the one thing you expect your DH to do, he hits. Butler’s 2012 was exactly what those weirdly dissatisfied with his production had been clamoring for, namely more home runs and RBIs. He set career highs in both categories as well as hits and OPS+.
Going forward, I see no reason why Butler can’t build on this past season. There’s no chance he’ll be Brett at age 27 but he won’t be Mayberry either.
4. Jermaine Dye
If you can think of Dye without thinking of Neifi Perez, then God bless you, because you’re unique. Dye gave a serious run at Balboni’s home run record in 2000 before finishing just 3 short. This would be his best season as a Royal and his second best overall. A year later his trade for Perez would define the Allard Baird era.
The Royals short lived run as a contender thrust Beltran into the national spotlight for the first time in his career. He didn’t disappoint as he showed he was true five tool player. In 2004 he was sent mid-season to the Houston Astros in a trade that defined the Allard Baird era. During the playoffs he became a household name. He is a post season beast and that can only help in building what is already a legitimate Hall of Fame case.
6. Amos Otis
Otis made his fourth straight All Star game in 1973 so he already had a solid reputation. I’m old enough to remember the chants of A-O at the ballpark. His combination of defense, power and speed made him a really special player. His only better season was in 1978 when, at the age of 31, he put up a 151 OPS+. How many of you remember he spent his final season with the Pirates?
7. Mike Sweeney
If you’re an old school RBIs guy then you may disagree with Sweeney’s placement on this list. That’s fine, to each his own. I’ve always liked Sweeney as a Butler comp and there are several similarities in their respective age 26 seasons. Both set career highs in hits, home runs, RBIs and OPS+ and both made their first All Star team. Sweeney put up OPS+’s of 133 and 148 his next two season before…..well, what’s left to be said about his injuries and that contract?
8. Johnny Damon
This was Damon’s final season in Kansas City and still holds up as the finest of his career. He set career highs in almost every offensive category. I vowed that if he was ever traded I was done as a Royals fan. After the season he was sent to the A’s in a trade that brought back a sorry collection of replacement players. My vow lasted all of three seconds.
Wilson is the only player on this list with a better season pre-26. Though his OPS+ doesn’t reflect it his 1980 season was in many other ways better. This was also the beginning of the end for Wilson as an above average player. From 1976-1982 he hit .312/.347/.401 (106 OPS+), but for the rest of his career he slipped to a .272/.316/.363 (88 OPS+) line.
10. Freddie Patek
Now before you fall into a fit of laughter hear me out. Oh, you’re going to anyway? That’s fine, I’ll wait.
I realize Patek’s numbers look fairly pedestrian compared to everyone else’s, but remember, this was 1971 and shortstops weren’t expected to contribute with the bat. American League shortstops hit .237/.301/.311 that year meaning that Patek was, in fact, well above average. His OPS+ when adjusted for position comes out to 132. Jay Bell’s 1997 season is widely credited with being the best ever by a Royals shortstop. His position adjusted OPS+ that year? 135, only slightly better than Patek’s. Remember how cool it was when Escobar stole his 20th best for the second straight year? Well in 1971 Patek began a run of eight consecutive 30+ stolen base seasons. 1971 would be Patek’s best season.
For those that are wondering, Patek also makes the top 10 in bWAR.