There was a dreadful amount of optimism coming into the 2000 season for the Royals. The offense had exploded the previous year under the steady-handed presence of Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and that one guy at third base who was here and then gone and then here again. At least there's a precedent for Zack Greinke's return, eh?
In 1999, the Royals scored a then-club record 856 runs. And they did it with four starters who had an OPS+ of 90 or below. It was also the year that the Moustachioed Menace from Marion decided that he couldn't stand the lack of mustaches any longer, and with great dignity and unflappable integrity, he retired the day after his pension from Major League Baseball fully vested.
So what? What is one man weighed against the weight of the world, dignified and moustachioed as he may be? The Royals response was more along the lines of "I'll show you. I'll show you all!" or perhaps something slightly less evil. Whatever their take was on being abandoned by the Mussolini of the Midwest, they had been given a new singular purpose, to show the world that one man's glorious mustache doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, and baseball is still played between the two white lines. And the two yellow poles. And generally there's some grass and dirt involved.
Anyway, the '99 squad was well-stocked. Five starters OPS'd .791 or better. Four players drew at least fifty walks. Four players hit at least 36 doubles. And they were oh so young. They only had two starters over 30; the unforgettable Rey Sanchez and the guy I had completely forgotten about, Chad Krueter. In terms of AL comparison, however, the Royals were still middle-of-the-road. Their new-found affinity for runs was 7th in the AL, a field paced by the Cleveland Indians, who scored 1,009 runs that year. If you want to see a handsome roster without mustaches (if that's you're thing, I guess. Doesn't make sense to me, but whatever) that's the one for you. Six starters had an OPS+ of 111 or higher to compliment the instantly-recognizable names permeating the lineup: Thome, Manny, Alomar, Vizquel, Lofton, Justice, Baines.
But the Royals were doing their best, and a club record in runs gave everyone cause for hope headed into the 2000 season. They let Chad Krueter walk and brought in Gregg Zaun, a modified-mustache (or "goatee", as the kids say) man with a penchant for getting on base. The offense was ready to get rolling, and roll they did, good sir. Roll they did indeed.
Despite an injury to young, switch-hitting Carlos Beltran that limited him to 98 games and a .247/.309/.366 line, the offensive maelstrom of thunder and lightning more commonly referred to as "the Royals" rampaged through the AL Central, laying waste to many foes and seducing their share of fair maidens. For the second consecutive year, they scored a club-record amount of runs, demolishing the old total by a staggering twenty-three runs. Only the seraphim could comprehend what God hath wrought with a lineup so potent and poisonous.
The Royals finished 5th in the AL in runs scored, but due to an odd circumstance of other teams having, frankly, more, better players, they finished 3rd in the AL Central in runs scored. But it was happy times indeed. We had things to be happy about. The Royals were entertaining offensively.
Which is neatly and astutely counter-balanced by their 77-85 record caused mostly by the comedy of horrors that was the Royals pitching staff.
As good as the offense was, which is to say, better-than-average, to spite the rose-colored glasses at the ends of our noses, the pitching staff was awful. Dreadful. "Shithouse full of shit" would be accurate, if you prefer colloquialisms. Thank the ghosts of moustachioed ballplayers everywhere that the Texas Rangers exist in that joke of a ballpark (they led the league that year in runs allowed), and that the Detroit Tigers, for a time, were really bad as well.
You see, despite scoring all of those runs, what the 2000 Royals were really, really good at was letting the other team score, because while they were setting a club record for runs, they were also going about setting a then-club record for runs allowed, giving up 930 plated (but not necessarily moustachioed) batsmen. And the numbers are really quite staggering.
Jeff Suppan was the consummate workhorse and professional of the time, making 33 starts and posting a 103 ERA+ while logging 217 innings. He managed a superfluous 10-9 record, which I'm sure had mostly to do with his testicular fortitude, pitch-savvy, and erstwhile grit, since his rather Mendozish 5.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 weren't doing him any favors. Allow me to iterate this point in a modern context: In 2000, while the Royals were at their peak offensive performance, their best starter was that decade's version of Luis Mendoza. Suppan only once had an ERA+ over 110 (in St. Louis, where pitchers go to die and be reborn) and for his career has a K/9 of 4.9
But it's probably not fair to criticize Suppan so much, particularly when there are so many other criticisms to be made. The lowest ERA (3.91) on the staff was Jose Santiago. Yes. The Jose Santiago. His 69 innings of relief work were a breath of fresh air amidst the backdrop of a harsh mid-day sun in a vast desert landscape. As he mowed down opposing hitters to the tune of 5.7 K/9, we all could rest and exhale, for we knew that Jose was on the job, and would probably only give up a run instead of two or three.
The next best one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest was the venerable Mac Suzuki, whose genial nature and 188 innings really took the pressure off of the bullpen. He was so good that the following year he bounced around to three different teams, being traded with Sal Fasano to the Rockies for Brent Mayne. Within a month, he was waived by Colorado and picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers. The Royals, however, were crushed by the weight of their folly, and they decided to schedule a "Return of the Mac" campaign in 2002, only six years after the song had reached the height of it's popularity. He pitched 21 innings and was out of Major League Baseball the following off-season.
There's literally a dozen more stories such as this. The Royals used 24 different pitchers that season, and Santiago's 3.91 ERA trumped them all. Even players such as Tim Byrdak, Brad Rigby, Doug Bochtler, and Paul Spoljaric, who pitched less than 10 innings each, all gave up at least 6 earned runs.
Outside of Suppan and Suzuki, there were five pitchers to make at least 10 starts: Brian Meadows (10), Jay Witasick (14), Chad Durbin (16), Blake Stein (17), and Dan Reichert, who made 18 starts to compliment his 26 relief outings and was third-most in innings pitched on the team with 153.1. Together, these five pitchers threw a paltry 494.1 innings with a combined 5.44 ERA.
Also, Ricky Bottalico.
Of the 24 pitchers used in the 2000 season, 15 were out of baseball within three years, and many never pitched another day in the major leagues, for the Royals or for anyone else. And all of this to re-emphasize the point that, while having a good offense is a big part of the game, being able to get the other team out is a vital necessity. The current roster seems to be trending towards the halcyon days of yesteryear, when the Royals were setting offensive-inclined records despite having a team OPS+ of 93.
However, the recent rash of elbows going kaput is leaving a vital gap at the front lines of His Majesty's Royal Pitching Corps. While we shouldn't even begin to imagine that things will return to how they were in that sweltering, repressive, and seemingly endless summer twelve years ago, it's good for us to have a blast of hot air reminding us that things are still not as they should be, and as the offense continues to improve, the pitching has to improve along with it. Otherwise, we sit around a decade later, wondering what could have been of the great and vaunted offense that was dead last in walks but first in team batting average.
Sounds like a familiar tune already.