Honorable Mention: Salvador Perez is Good at Baseball, George Kottaras is a Three True Outcomes God, Justin Maxwell's Grand Slam, You Cannot Touch Louis Coleman!, Luke Hochevar Is Useful at Baseball-Related Activities
10.The Need For Speed
The Royals have been stressing stolen bases since Willie Wilson hung up his cleats, but in 2013, they were actually very good at base-stealing. While us stat nerds may poo-poo the stolen base, it can be a modestly effective weapon when successful at a high rate. The Royals led the league in swipes with 153, and did so at very effective 82.7% success rate. Eight Royals were in double figures in stolen bases, and Alcides Escobar went an amazing 22 stolen bases attempts this year without getting caught.
9. Friends in Lough Places
David Lough had been an organizational foot soldier for several years. He came into the season as a non-prospect whose role was primarily to make it possible for minor league games to be played so that the real prospects could get their time in. But when Jeff Francoeur was released in July, the Royals turned to the former Mercyhurt College outfielder. Lough surprised everyone by hitting .286/.311/.411 while playing excellent defense and baserunning and pleasing fans with his hustle. While he may not have the power of Wil Myers, his 2.7 WAR did help lessen the blow of that controversial trade.
8. Yor-dang He Throws Hard
The "Greatest Farm System in the History of Whatever" graduated most of its star pupils (not so fast John Lamb), leaving Yordano Ventura as the only top prospect in the higher minor league levels. Ventura did not disappoint, putting together a terrific season in AA Northwest Arkansas with a 2.34 ERA and 11 strikeouts per nine innings in eleven starts. He was quickly promoted to Omaha where he failed to miss a beat, posting a 3.74 ERA and over a strikeout per inning. His season ended in Kansas City where he electrified a Kauffman Stadium crowd with the fastest pitch thrown by a starting pitcher in five years. Ventura still has to develop better off-speed stuff, but the future is fairly promising for the 22 year old right-hander - until he's dealt for Michael Young this winter.
7. Return of Danny Duffy
Danny Duffy gave Royals fans glimpses of brilliance in 2012 before being shut down after six starts. Then came the three dreaded words: Tommy John Surgery. Duffy missed the remainder of 2012 and much of the first half of 2013. He finally made his 2013 Major League debut in August and after a rough start against the Twins, electrified Royals fans with a one-hit shutout over six innings against the Tigers. Duffy had his season again shut down early, mostly out of precaution, but he was exciting to watch with a 1.85 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning. He'll need to work on developing command to go deeper in ballgames, but he should be a fixture in next year's rotation.
6. Big Game James Bring Fame, Not Shame
Well if you're going to trade away the best hitter in the minor leagues, you may as well get a good player in return. The Royals did just that, landing "Big Game" James Shields from Tampa Bay, and he did not disappoint. Shields posted a 3.15 ERA in a league-leading 228 2/3 innings, good enough for 4.1 WAR. Shields went "just" 13-9, although he got a loss or no-decision in fourteen games in which he provided a "Quality Start", including six where gave up one run or less in at least six innings pitched.
5. Eric Hosmer's Second Half
We detailed Hosmer's slow start in the worst stories of 2013, but he should also merit conversation for his second half in the best stories of 2013. From June 13 - the day Hosmer hit his second home run of the year - on forward, Hosmer hit .318/.367/.508 with 16 HR 58 RBI in 98 games. Pro-rated over an entire year, that's a 26 HR 96 RBI season, which would have fulfilled the potential so many fans saw in Hos. Whether it was George Brett's presence, Pedro Grifol's instruction, or the lucky rock I've been holding since June 13, Hosmer started hitting the ball with authority, without sacrificing contact or plate discipline. If the Royals are going to succeed at all in 2014, Hosmer will need to carry that performance into next year.
4. Ervin Santana Rises From The Dead
While we largely panned the deal at the time and even raised concerns the Royals were buying damaged goods, the deal that brough us Ervin Santana turned out to be a terrific one. After a disastrous 2012 season, Erv posted a career best 3.28 ERA this year as he kept his home run rate and walk rate to near-career lows. Santana was a 2.8 WAR pitcher and a perfect compliment as a #2 behind James Shields. Meanwhile, Brandon Sisk, dealt to the Angels as part of the deal and never much of a prospect anyways, missed the entire season due to Tommy John Surgery.
3. Holland Spells Relief
On April 6 in Philadelphia, Greg Holland walked the first three hitters in the ninth before allowing a two-out bases clearing double to win the game. The next day, Holland gave up two singles that would come around to score to win the game, and people done lost their minds. Certain fans - not the level-headed, rational and handsome fans we have on this site - thought Holland should lose his closer's job, or even worse, be demoted to Omaha. Holland responded by giving up just five earned runs over the rest of the season, covering 65 innings of work and over 100 strikeouts. He would blow just two saves after that point - one of which was Connor Moylan detailed a bit about how historic Holland's season was. Greg set the franchise record for saves in a season with 46, finished fourth in all of baseball for WAR for a reliever with 3.1, and had more strikeouts (103) than starting pitchers Kevin Correia, Lucas Harrell, Mike Pelfrey, or Trevor Cahill.
2. The Department of Defense
The Royals have preached pitching and defense, pitching and defense since the last ticker tape fell from the 1985 World Series parade. It wasn't until this year that they finally began to live up to that mantra. The Royals were an excellent defensive ballclub, saving some 95 runs on defense above average according to Baseball-Reference. Those 95 runs are the difference between an 87-75 Pythagorean Win-Loss record and a 76-86 Pythagorean Win-Loss record. The Royals had a team UZR of 79.9, the most any team has compiled since the 2009 Mariners. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, and Eric Hosmer should all be Gold Glove finalists, with Gordon and Perez a good bet to bring home some hardware again this winter.
1. "We're Contenders Now!"
When the Royals dropped five in a row heading into the All-Star break, it appeared as their three month journey hovering around the .500 mark would end, and the season would soon slide into obscurity as it has in so many other seasons. It was then that Dayton made his famous "15-5" comment, and indeed, the Royals immediately went on a tear, winning 17 of their next 21 ballgames, bringing them into the Wild Card race. The winning did not subside either, as the Royals went 43-27 after the break, the best mark in the league. While they still faced many teams bunched up ahead of them, the Royals were only a few games back of a Wild Card spot with a week to go and were still playing meaningful baseball as late as September 22. A thrilling series against contenders like Cleveland and Texas to close out the home portion of the season brought large crowds thrilled at the chance to cheer on a winning team.
Sure the Wil Myers trade may hurt in the long run, but that doesn't change the fact that the Royals did improve significantly in 2013 and enjoyed their first winning season in a decade and their highest win total since 1989. Will it carry over into 2014? Tune in to find out!