KoK’s Official Levels of Concern for the Kansas City Royals
By Colby Wilson
Last night, I made a joke on Twitter about the Kansas City Royals and raising the level of concern after the Tigers cut the deficit to 8-4. Then I realized something.
I could use this very space to make an Official Kansas City Royals Threat Level for all of us to follow, no different than MI5 or the Homeland Security Advisory System. Well, okay, a little different: the stakes are obviously considerably lower.
Listen, I’ve gotten about 25 minutes of sleep since Tuesday. Coherent columns are made of far less than that; trust me, I’ve seen a doctor at some point—usually walking past me, occasionally at 7-11. We can do this in a game or season-long format; it’s an abstract idea I essentially made up, so it’s not like I’m bound by rules.
We’ll adopt the Homeland Security descriptions, because I’m an American and I want to explain things I only vaguely understand. I’ll even drop in a couple of sentences explaining myself.
Reserved for games the Royals own from the outset or season’s that are no-doubters in terms of success—a narrow sliver of the Venn diagram over the past 30 years or so, to be honest.
2017 Single-Game Examples: Games started by Jason Vargas; games where the Royals score four runs in four different innings.
Historical Season Examples: Years the Kansas City Royals lead the Division wire-to-wire; years where the AL Central is a dumpster fire and the Royals aren’t. Basically, 2015 and 1985.
Mostly successful, largely unsullied—but not quite perfect. Perhaps an injury robs the team of a useful player. Perhaps the Kansas City Royals seem like the better team but possess inherent flaws (like this team, for instance). Whatever it is, chances of success are downgraded from great to good.
2017 Single-Game Examples: Games started by Danny Duffy; games against non-AL Central opponents.
Historical Season Examples: Umm… very few. Yeah, I turn 30 in a few days and the only one that really comes to mind is 2014. That probably accounts for why so many people stand firm on the “We’ve gotta try to compete this year,” thing.
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This is right about where I’d put 2017—if everything broke correctly you could see success—a division title, a Wild Card berth, what have you. But the season stands on the edge of a knife and the Royals margin for error is extremely slim.
2017 Single-Game Examples: Games started by Jason Hammel; one-run games (Royals 11-9, plus-two run-differential in one-run contests).
Historical Season Examples: Aside from 2017, I’d point back to the run of second- and third-place finishes in the late-80s and that one good Tony Pena season where the Kansas City Royals went 83-79 in 2003 and Darrell May led all Royals in bWAR (5.9) despite striking out fewer than five batters per nine innings. The next season, May lost 19 games and was out of baseball by 2005.
Dangerous, but not necessarily in a “Time to fire everyone, trade everything and hope we get lucky in the draft,” kind of way. These Royals seasons were usually marked by their promise, especially in one or two precocious talents three years away from a big payday, usually with another team.
2017 Single-Game Examples: Games started by Jake Junis, Eric Skoglund, Matt Strahm or Nate Karns; games where Whit Merrifield was the only offensive player registering a pulse.
Historical Season Examples: Lots of fun ones to sift through here. Digging back to 1991, you have a full year of Mark Gubicza (shut up, he remains sixth all-time among Royals in bWAR, he’s included) and the first full-fledged Kevin Appier campaign (13-10, 3.42 ERA). The Royals had a winning record and finished sixth in the AL West.
In 1999, you got half a season of Appier before he was shipped off to Oakland, Johnny Damon’s first .300 season and Mike Sweeney’s first “Holy crap, this guy is gonna be good” season. Oh, and Rookie of the Year Carlos Beltran. The Royals lost 97 games.
By the time of Zack Greinke’s first real “I’m gonna be awesome” season in 2008, the cupboard was pretty bare. Billy Butler hit .275. Alex Gordon led the team with 16 homers. Three of the top-four in bWAR (Greinke, Gil Meche and Joakim Soria) were pitchers—the fourth was Mike Aviles, who finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and never had a full-season OPS above .750 again. The 2008 Royals lost 90 games.
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Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. These were the bad seasons, the ones that remind us to enjoy 2014 and 2015 because 1997 wasn’t all that long ago.
2017 Single-Game Examples: Games started by Travis Wood, Chris Young or Ian Kennedy (before his mini-resurgence); Brandon Moss, Alex Gordon or Alcides Escobar in all situations where a hit is required.
Historical Season Examples: The franchise’s nadir from 2004-06, when they lost 100 games each season and were led in bWAR by Greinke, David DeJesus and Mark Teahen, respectively.
2002, which started with Tony Muser, ended with Pena and had a 13-game John Mizerock cameo in the middle, was pretty terrible—the Royals struck out with older players like Chuck Knoblauch (hit .210 in 80 games) and boasted a 5.21 ERA and 4.91 FIP as a team.
The 90’s were notable for two things—never winning more than 75 games after 1993 (the Royals were 64-51, easily their best winning percentage of the decade, prior to the 1994 strike) and never quite bottoming out until the latter part of the decade. The Kansas City Royals finished fifth in the AL Central in 1996 (75-86) and 1997 (67-94); but those teams had some solid young players (Damon! Jermaine Dye! Jose Rosado!), which tempered the vitriol a bit.
Next: Can they really contend?
Alright, that was cathartic. I’m going to go gargle bleach now.