The 1974 KC Royals take a disappointing step back

After a breakthrough season in 1973, the Royals delivered an underwhelming encore.
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A record-setting performance isn't enough to salvage the '74 season

Pitching let the Royals down in 1974, but it was hardly a disastrous performance. The rotation didn't then have the kind of depth it developed later in the decade; the team got little out of its four and five starters, and the bullpen was nothing special — Dan Quisenberry's debut was still five years away, and Doug Bird led the team with only 10 saves.

The biggest disappointment came from an unlikely source. Paul Splittorff was one of the greatest pitchers in Royals history, a cornerstone of the team's success in the late '70s and early '80s. He was 20-11 in 1973 but had a rare down year in '74, easily the worst of his prime, finishing 13-19 with a 4.10 ERA.

As uncharacteristic as those numbers were for Splittorff, two other Royals pitchers had good years. Al Fitzmorris was 13-6 with a 2.79 ERA, but the real stud was Steve Busby, who enjoyed arguably the best season of his career. He threw his second no-hitter in June and finished 22-14; those 22 victories set a team record that wasn't broken until 1989, when Bret Saberhagen won 23 and nabbed his second Cy Young award.

But all of these numbers combined for a confusing result. The 1974 Royals had weak spots and several young stars were just finding their footing. One of their aces, Splittorff, underachieved. But the club still had tremendous talent producing at the plate and on the mound. The Royals should have been better.

But baseball is more than just numbers, something players and fans in 1974 probably understood better than we do today with the game's embrace of analytics. Sometimes, the whole thing doesn't come together like it should — so it was with the '74 Royals, who finished 77-85, 13 games behind the A's and next-to-last in the American League West.

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