Thinking about the Royals in terms of the usual characters we see every year at the NCAA Tournament...
Alex Gordon: The Perennial Disappointment. Think Kansas pre-2008, Arizona pre-1997 or Syracuse pre-Melo. Or, if you prefer, Fab Five era Michigan or Phi Slamma Jamma Era Houston. Two teams that never did it. All the ingredients are there (or are they?) but so are all the past failures. Were they flukes or was there some fatal flaw? Uncomfortable conversations follow. There's a long history of teams and coaches that supposedly can't win it all who eventually do. We can even add Ole Roy to this list. When you're filling out your brackets, you never wanted to have these guys winning it all, until they did, probably that year you had them losing in the Sweet Sixteen to a 4 seed. Now, this comparison might be too kind to Gordon, but if you think about his career, it's always been something. Sometimes, it seems like it's legitimately on him. He's definitely had underwhelming stretches. However, there's also just been weird, flukish, and not-totally-his-fault moments. Sounds pretty much like that fifteen year stretch of Kansas in the tournament to me. Others fitting this category: Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francoeur.
Billy Butler: The Over-rated/under-rated/over-discussed Team. There always seems to be some 4-6 team that gets a surprising amount of sleeper Final Four picks and or a surprising number of "this team is going down in Round One" chatter. Sometimes, it's the same team. Teams at this level usually have enough going for them to seduce people who want to like them, and enough flaws for people to foresee their demise. In the end, both extremes are frequently inaccurate. Sometimes, the #5 seed simply beats the 12 (boring), the loses to the 4 in a close game (boring). Yet the internet demands that we spend four days making and reading bold predictions, so we do. That's Billy Butler for me. The line I've seen a few times is that he's over-rated by Royals fans and under-rated by everyone else. Like a #4 seed, he's got some unique characteristics, and you have people who see the youth and the batting average and the room for growth and see a future superstar. However, he's also slow, average, at best defensively, and hits too many ground balls. The truth is in the middle, he's an above average, but not necessarily elite, 1B/DH type. Other comps: pre-injured Gil Meche, David DeJesus when he was a Royal.
Kila Ka'aihue: The Internet/hardcore Analyst Beloved Sleeper. Sometimes, this is a number 2 or number 3 seed that gets number 1 seed acclaim. In other cases, it's the lower seed that by Wednesday all the blogs are picking to win the #12/#5 game. And often, it is merited. A few years back everyone had Winthrop beating Notre Dame and they did. Obviously, with the Kila comp, I'm thinking of a team that has great KenPom numbers, but has never been on TV and maybe even doesn't have a good RPI or a mainstream narrative around them (i.e. they aren't an Ivy League team). This year, that might be Utah State, Belmont, or Washington. Seemingly, there's always a Pac-10 team that's an Internet Darling. The latter of which got a 7 seed and is 15th in the KenPom rankings. Other comps: Pretty much any of the hyped prospects, though it's a different kind of hype.
Jeff Francis: The Team with the Injured Guy. Another perennial character is the team with the injured guy. This year, we have St. John's. Georgetown, and Florida State as high-profile teams with injury questions. Tons of variability here. Teams with the injured guy are always fun sleeper picks, and will get you bonus points at your water-cooler when you dish on them, but seeming also frequently just have an injured guy.
Lorenzo Cain and Scores of Other Royal CFs under Moore: The Up-tempo Athletic Team. These are the teams that can look unstoppable and incompetent, often in the same game. If they can use their speed, the game is in their hands. If not, they can lose by 20. The year's Missouri team comes to mind. North Carolina as well. And for the Royals, we have every toolsy CF (or every toolsy OF really) ever acquired by Dayton Moore. There are variations in talent, but really, from Dick Ankiel to Lorenzo Cain, it's ultimately always the same story: can we get enough results from these raw materials?
Jason Kendall: The Completely Over-Rated Media Darling. Maybe they represent a famous school for academics, maybe they have a team with five zillion seniors, maybe they have a famous coach, or maybe they just have a critical mass of white guys (there, I said it.). We all know this team. Now, there can be overlap with these teams with some of the categories above. And, sometimes, these guys can actually be worth the hype. Too often however, they'll be praised for things that are either vague and intangible ("teamwork", "play the game the right way", etc) or simply inaccurate because of their profile. Frequently, these teams are gritty/scrappy. Duke, for instance, has been all over the map in this category. Sometimes, they've actually been really athletic and populated by huge guys, but it's still somehow about Coach K. Sometimes the media darling just falt out sucks, while other times the media has just distorted what's really going on. In terms of Kendall, I'm simply thinking of those Royals who are never truly evaluated on the facts, but instead evaluated based on lazy assumptions. Other comps: Willie Bloomquist (of course), Jeff Francoeur.
Bruce Chen: Last Year's Cinderella Last year, they were the story of the month when they shocked the world and won 1/2/3/4 games. Now, with nearly the same cast, they're back. Does it ever really work out the same again? Well, kinda. Gonzaga was reasonably reliable for a time, until they took a step back, actually became over-rated and over-seeded, and then the cycle began anew. What did George Mason do after making the Final Four? They haven't won a tournament game since. Even worse is the A Few Year's Ago Cinderella, which is even less likely to repeat their past success, but just as nearly as attractive. When it comes to Chen, we're all better off just admitting that he isn't very good and or the magic isn't coming back. Other comps: Wilson Betemit, Melky Cabrera, Mike Aviles.
Joakim Soria: The True Sleeper They aren't the best team in the field. They might not even be the best team in their conference. Nevertheless, they are actually really really good. They probably aren't a media darling and by definition they can't be over-rated or over-discussed. They're probably a 2 or 3 seed, with one point five NBA guys on the roster. Teams like this can win the reach the Final Four and even win the title. Think Arizona in 1997 or either Syracuse of Marquette in 2003. That's Joakim Soria for me, simply a very very effective player. Like a 2 or 3 seed, he's imperfect, in his case because he only pitches 3 innings a week. Nevertheless, he's scary.
Half the 2011 Royals: The Teams There Just To Fill Out The Bracket. You won the MEAC, the Patriot League, the SWAC or the Sun Belt? Congrats, here's your ticket to go play Ohio State in Cleveland or Duke in Charlotte. Enjoy the next five days, a boost in your media exposure, and a better pick up line back on campus. No matter what you think, you're simply around because we have to have you because well... we have to have 68 teams. Though it pains me to say it, that applies to quite a few 2011 Royals. Someone has to pitch, someone has to play second base, someone has to be the backup catcher. It's great for the Lucas Mays and the Sean O`Sullivans of the world to be in this position, but the audience doesn't really get much out of it.