Given the Royals' recent struggles, I thought it might be nice to revisit some better times. So, in the continuing series of me learning about sabermetrics in order to prove that anyone can, here is an attempt at ranking the 239 Most Valuable KC Royals Individual Offensive Seasons (minimum 440 PAs) so that I can horn in on RoyalsRetro's historical coattails...
*** WARNING: TOTALLY MADE UP STATS AND NUMBERS BELOW. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE INFECTED BY THEM, AVERT YOUR EYES IMMEDIATELY. IF YOU FEEL ANY ITCHING, CONFUSION, DISCOMFORT, OR BELIEF IN HELIOCENTRISM, YOU ARE URGED TO WASH YOUR EYES WITH COLD WATER, TURN ON BASEBALL TONIGHT, AND PERHAPS TO BUY A NEW COMPUTER IN CASE YOURS HAS BEEN INFECTED WITH THE MADE UP STAT VIRUS. ***
One way to think of this is as a companion piece to the one I did on (maybe) the 182 Most Valuable Individual Seasons by Royals Starting Pitchers, and, like that list, it will be open to revision as a refine my methodology, learn more, change my mind, etc. I feel pretty good about it so far -- I've been wanting to do this for a while, but it was only in the course of doing my series on the Myth of the RBI Guy at Driveline (Part One, Part Two, Historical Appendix) that I took care of some of the rough edges.
Sometimes I go on too long about methodological issues. Rather than doing that here, I'll simply recommend the first part of the aforementioned Driveline series for a lot of the more technical details. I'll have some short explanations of the numbers below.
Not a lot of surprises on that first sheet, I suppose here. Note that the minimum numbers of PAs I used for a season was 440 -- not enough to qualify, but I wanted to see where Mike Aviles' 2008 ranked. To go much lower would have filled up the bottom end of the list with a bunch of seasons no one cares about. If you have a specific question about a specific player's season, feel free to ask.
Brief (for me) explanations:
The numbers on the right hand side of the sheet(s) will be familiar to you and are there for convenience of comparison. However, as was pointed out in NYRoyals helpful primer on offensive stats, while OBP and OPS are improvements on BA, BA w/ RisP, and even GWRBI (~!), none of of them give a complete picture of a playre's offensive contribution per PA. That's where wOBA (weighted on-base average) comes in. It take the average run value per plate appearance that the player contributes (according to linear weights) and converts it to a scale that approxiamtes OBP -- so we know that, in general, something around .330 is an average hitter, .300 is a bad hitter, .350 is above average, .400 is awesome, etc. While the rankings here are not done by wOBA directly, it is there because it gives a general "rate" number that some might feel more comfortable with as far as getting a picture of how a guy hit (it also includes stolen bases in this version).
Well, that wasn't brief... this will be. The next column over is "BRC," Batting Runs Created. Using the event-run values of that season, this is the "absolute" number of runs created by the player. Neither this nor the wOBA column are park-adjusted. The next two columns are the most important, for our puposes. BRAA (the blue colulmn) is Batting Runs Above Average, the number of runs created above what an average player would have created in the same number of plate appearances. I feel like this is a better way to rank hitters historically because it takes into account the run environment of the league, as we'll see. This number is park adjusted using terpsfans' five-year, regressed park factors. Finally, the rankings are done by BWAA, Batting Wins Above Average (the yellow column). Without getting into the theories about runs-to-wins conversion, I'll simply note that in less offensively prolific eras, it takes less marginal runs to generate a win, so this further tailors the rankings to the run environment of the time.
Note that this is just a ranking of offensive seasons by straight-up offense above average, which is related to, but only part of total player value. Let's not worry about positions, defense, baserunning, etc., and just talk some great (and not-so-great) Royals offense.
On to the Rankings
Going back to the All-Time Sheet of the ranks the (holding up three fingers) 239 KC offensive seasons with at least 440 PAs, here is the SHOCKING Top Ten:
Once you recover from the shock of my revolutionary revision of the received wisdom regarding Royals hitters history... yeah...Seriously, what is there to say about this? I'm sure it's been remarked upon many times, but the maybe the most amazing thing about 1980 is that
Judge Smails George Brett put up those 6.53 wins (above average) in only 515 PAs. For perspective, only one player in all of baseball had a better year than that last season -- Albert Pujols. Pujols had a monster 6.98 BWAA season according to my numbers. But he did it in more than 100 more plate appearances (641,.458 wOBA) than Brett did in 1980. I wish I had heard something about Danny Tartabull that didn't involve him being a jerk...
Peruse the All-Time list for more "artifacts." Avilanche's 2008 comes in at #93 with 1.17 BWAA, right behind Matt Stairs' 1.18 in 2005.. Kevin Seitzer's 1987 comes in at #20 with 3.33. Yes, that's very good, despite not holding up to the awesome performances above. The highest ranking of a current Royals is David DeJesus's 1.28 BWAA 2008 (#86). Mark Teahen's 2006 just misses the cut by only being 437 PA, but he would have been right next to Raul Ibanez's 2002 (#62) with 1.68 BWAA.
We all know George Brett was a great hitter, though, so I did a "non-Brett" list as well. Here are the Top Ten non-Brett single season performances.
John Mayberry could hit the ball as hard as he could the bottle, apparently. Amos Otis only appearing once on this list and not in the Top Ten overall obscures the fact that he was a good defensive center fielder, and thus one of the greatest Royals positoin players of all time. Beltran has had the better career, but Otis was the greater Royal (and, yes, that really meant something when Otis played). Otis' 1978 was something special.
This is meant to be an uplifting post, and I think it still can be, but it's understandablly depressing that the latest year on either top 10 is Tartabull's 1991. The Royals Universe revolves around George Brett, so let's use his retirement as another historical marker:
Yes, the decline of the franchise is clear, but I also want to emphasize that these are not "bad" hitters by any stretch of the imagination. No, Sweeney wasn't as awesome as some (including management) thought at the time, but to blame the club's best players for its failures is as foolhardy as it is common. If one Sweeny, Beltran, and Dye could have pitched... I was never a Sweeney basher, I don't think, but I also probably didn't appreciate him enough while he was around. In a rare non-ironic moment, royalsreview put it well:
Considering how much Royals fans have invested in either fleeting performances, like Bo Jackson, or ones that weren't actually that good, like Frank White, it would be a shame if Sweeney's decline dimmed our memories of how good he actually was. Even when we factor in his lack of defense and base-running, neither of which was always a total loss, Mike Sweeney is without question one of the top five position players in team history and the closest thing the Royals have had to Brett since 1993. For a player whose career spanned the darkest era in team history, Mike Sweeney is a player who should be remembered.
Leave it to Jose Offerman to taint this list; "sometimes jerks are just jerks," indeed. Jermaine Dye... I feel sad for you, kiddo. If only Chili could have stuck around another year and bumped Johnny Damon off of this list. Either that or Jeremy Giambi could have fulfilled his potential and done the same...
I suppose this exercuse wouldn't be complete without returning to the master list and listing the 10 worst performances of all time.
Royals trivia: Brian and Hal McRae are the only father-son team to make tables in this post. Bad seasons from Frank White sort of book-ending an otherwise distinguished career . David Howard: the best athlete on the team! Seriously, anytime you hear about a guy being "the best athlete on the team," isn't that almost a cue that he has little to no baseball skill? In Angel Berroa's 2003 Rookie of the year campaign (#133 all-time!), he was 0.39 BWAA. As for Neifi... That trade has to be the low point of the Baird years, right? Heck of a career fluke offensive year for Tony Pena, Jr. He was even better than David Howard. In 2008, he was -2.93 BWAA... in just 233 PA.
That's all for now. If you have any questions about methodology, or want single-season or career numbers for any player that isn't listed or something, just let me know. I'll be revisiting this after the season for sure.