While certainly stripped of the romance of Cubs of Red Sox fandom, following the Royals means being preconditioned to disappointment. As Christopher Ricks once said of Philip Larkin, disappointment is one of the saddest words in our commonplace speech because unlike other dis words (disagree, disrespect, disassociate, dissatify etc.) we don't even use the original word in the original sense. No one talks about how appointed they are with Dayton Moore's trades, sunday dinner, or the latest album from Norah Jones. We only know disappointment now.
Thus, in a stroke of sheer genius "daveyork" created the Mark Quinn/Andy Sisco Award in his Royals Fans Top Ten Off-Season Moments diary back in the depths of winter. Once again, I'll let his definition of what the Mark Quinn/Andy Sisco Award signifies:
One player who fans have hope for in the upcoming season will horribly regress and live on only potential for the next season - The Mark Quinn/Andy Sisco award.
Just like Mark Quinn did in the early 00s (20 HRs in 2000, out of the Bigs a season and a half later) and Andy Sisco more recently (ERA jump from 3.11 to 7.10) the Royals always have a player who fans get excited about, believe is a valuable cog in the next good Royals outfit who simply turns into a pumpkin. In Sisco's case, the results were devastating. Few pitching staffs can handle having their best reliever turn into their worst for seemingly no reason, especially when you're already awful. As Sisco's ERA more than doubled, the Royals continued their historical bad season, eventually allowing 971 runs, the 21st highest total in baseball history. Sisco's second season with the Royals was so bad he was traded to the White Sox this December. Despite some predictions that "Gload will Explode", it was a ignominious end to the Sisco Era in Kansas City
Last month we took the time to name the early candidates for the Mark Quinn portion of the award, which is handed out to the most disappointing position player. The nominees are Esteban German, David DeJesus and Ryan Shealy, with strong public sentiment that Teahen is a candidate as well. (You can read that story here.) Without further preamble, lets take a look at the nominees for the 2007 Andy Sisco Award:
1. Luke Hudson: Hudson became something of a fan favorite last season while showing flashes of competence during the Royals glorious stretch of .470 baseball after the depths of April and May. The rare Royal hurler with a winning record (7-6), Hudson started 15 games for the Royals and posted a 5.12 ERA in 102 innings. So why do people think he's good? Well, quite famously, Hudson allowed 10 earned runs in one third of an inning against the Indians. Thanks to that classic meltdown, Hudson's ERA rose from 4.65 to 6.39, effectively ending his miraculous quest to be the lone Royal to finish with a sub 5.00 ERA. Despite a handful of strong starts to finish the season, he could only get back down to 5.12. Through June, Hudson had only pitched 12 innings, so lets take a look at his monthly spilts:
Hudson's Late Season Monthly Splits
July- 3.16 ERA (25.2 IP)
August- 6.48 ERA (33.1 IP)
Sept/Oct- 4.02 ERA (31.1 IP)
Why is he a candidate for a Sisco? As Royals fans we seem to do this every off-season, we latch on to some random and only see what we'd like to see. No different with Hudson, if you take away the outing in which he was a batting practice pitcher, he was slightly above league average! Before his collapse at the Jake, Hudson had made 31 starts, appeared as a reliever in 17 games and pitched 189.1 innings, for an ERA of 4.85. Thats vaguely OK, but hardly worth being excited about. In 2005, his age 28 season, Hudson posted a 6.28 ERA with the Reds, good for an ERA+ of 70. Like essentially every other Royals pitcher since 1994, Hudson doesn't strike many guys out (K/9's: 2005- 5.63, 2006- 5.65) he relies on not walking people and getting his ground balls to be effective. In 2006 he did indeed avoid the walks, lifting his K/BB ratio from a disastrous 1.06 to 1.68. Has he improved his skill-set or was he fluky good? That kind of jump -- especially considering the league shift -- probably represents some bright line of change, I'm just not sure how far that line has been adavanced. Pitchers like Hudson walk on a thin sheet of ice which can collapse rapidly and without warning. PECOTA considers 2006 Hudson's career year forecasting that he never approaches his 2006 value (which was pretty blah) ever again. Overvalued by Royals fans due to his team context? Check. Not very good in the first place? Check. High odds for a regression in 2007? Check. PECOTA sees another season in the low 5.00s (5.13) with strong odds that he's closer to 6.00.
2. Joe Nelson: Last season while flashier Royal stoppers struggled to get people out, a 31 year old Joe Nelson emerged out of nowhere to be quietly effective. Nelson threw up goose-eggs in his first 6 appareances (5.2 innings) and owned a nifty 1.11 ERA as late as August 4th. Despite some ugly August innings, Nelson finished the season with a 4.43 ERA, shutting down the Tigers for 2.2 innings in the Royals 10-8 victory which ended the season.
Why is he a candidate for a Sisco? Just in terms of sheer time, for most of the year Nelson had a really low ERA, and as with Hudson, thanks to his team context, he looked like a godsend. Nonetheless, this perception is a function of how baseball statistics are shown on TV and online from game 1, allowing hot starts to obscure later stretches of bad play. As the league saw more of Nelson and Nelson's arm exerted more effort, results declined. In August he allowed an 8.49 ERA in 11.2 innings, this following a 1.69 ERA in July. So who is the real Joe Nelson? Probably the guy the Royals ended up with, a short-innings guy with a ERA 4.84, slightly below average against the league, even more so against fellow relievers who have a lower ERA threshold. Nelson is no spring chicken, doesn't have overpowering stuff that only needs to be utilized effectively (see MacDougal, Mike) and the scouting report on him is out, especially in the AL Central.
3. Todd Wellemeyer: The news yesterday was the the Royals re-signed Wellemeyer, completing their off-season of arb-avoidance with a handfull of players. At $635K/1-year Wellemeyer's deal belies his overall status: fringe roster fodder who could be DFAed or sent back into the FA pool at anytime. Part of the large class of guys that GMs are forced to make non-headline grabbing decisions about every day. Is Todd Wellemeyer a useful guy to have around, or is someone out there better? However, for such an embodiement of replacement level, Wellemeyer had a good season last year, posting a 3.63 ERA in 57 innings with the Royals. As he has throughout his career, Wellemeyer can strike people out and had he been on the roster to start the season he may have rivaled Gobble for the pathetically low team strikeout title. If there's one thing you can count on from a former Cub prospect, its an ability to get Ks.
Why is he a candidate for a Sisco? While Wellemeyer struck out 37 batters as a Royal, he also walked 37, not exactly a formula likely to produce future ERAs in the 3.00s. Welly wasn't unearned-run lucky either, allowing just two invisible runs. Rather, Welly was simply pretty good at limiting hits with men on base, especially in scoring position. His RISP line allowed was .222/.350/.256, a line lower than what he allowed even with no one on (.236/.353/.431). Granted, these numbers are his aggregate data, I don't have his split-splits (i.e. splits as a Royal) in front of me, but on the whole, in a limited way the data speaks. So does this:
2006 (Marlins): 79
2006 (Royals): 133
Which of these numbers is not like the other?
Breaking Down the Contenders: As with the Quinn Award, determining the ultimate winner will be a subjective matter. I left out Odalis Perez because, well, at this point I don't know what people expect of him. Ditto for Jorge de la Rosa. Moreover, those guys haven't really had good seasons as Royals which is a key component of the spirit of Quinn and Sisco. The obvious elephant in the room is prodigal control pitcher Zach/k Greinke. Still, Greinke's candidacy has serious problems. As with just about everyone else in the organization, it isn't wholly clear what the expectations for him are. Think back to Sisco: after 2005 the thinking was "hey, we found this gigantic dude who throws hard and voila he's actually a useful pitcher who will be a key part of our 2006 bullpen". There isn't that level of certainty for Greinke. Greinke didn't pitch last year (mostly) and he hasn't had a good season since 2004. Basically, if you really think about it he's already won the award, with his 2005 season.
On balance, along the true parameters of the Sisco Award, Hudson's the strongest candidate. As a starter he's higher profile than his two middle relief counterparts. More importantly, he's likely to be a bigger part of the Royals attempt to be competent in 2007. Hudson, Nelson and Wellemeyer were all facing the American League for the first time essentially in 2006, and that common thread suggests a basic flukiness to their results. It will be interesting to see if the league adjusts to their material.
A weird effect of having a truly awful staff if that there's no one really left to believe in. Hence, fewer ways to be let down. Nelson dodged a major bullet with the Dotel signing, sparing him an early appointment (theres that word again) at the mythical Closer, a job in which two bad innings can call into question your manliness in the baseball world. Along the same lines, Wellemeyer is the most volatile candidate, he probably has the best chance to be really good as well as the best chance to be DFA'ed mid-season. He'll get more chances over the next five years than Nelson will, but he'll also get released more (obviously). My sense is that a good number of Royals fans think he's pretty good, which he does have a chance to be. He's just never really been good before. Lastly, as with the Quinn nominees, I'm making something of an executive decision by leaving off a perfectly viable candidate who I just happen to believe in. For the Quinn, it was Teahen, for the Sisco, Gobble. On the whole, I think the Royals and their fans know who Gobble is and don't have dreams he'll be anything more grand. He's another low-K guy walking on ice, but as a reliever he can stay upright.
The 2007 Andy Sisco Awards Final Breakdown:
Luke Hudson: 50%
Joe Nelson: 20%
Todd Wellemeyer: 15%
Someone Else: 15%
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