I messed up.
For those of you that read my blog, you'll know that on my blog, I actually put Emil ahead of Raul. You should know that I assembled this list in 2006, basing it on compiled Win Shares. I updated it after the 2007 season. Even though Emil had a thoroughly putrid season, it was good enough to push him into Raul Ibanez territory. I make slight subjective adjustments to the list, for example, Darrell May has more Win Shares (27) than Ted Abernathy (26). But Abernathy was a pretty effective closer for the early Royals while Darrell May was a ball of suck for the recent Royals. So I put ol' Ted higher on the list.
In fact, let me reveal to you the entire methodology of The Greatest Royals of All-Time list, which may throw the entire list into doubt. When I assembled Win Shares, I used Bill James 2002 copy of "Win Shares". That only goes up to 2001. For 2002 Win Shares, I had to use BaseballTruth.com. For 2003 Win Shares, I had to use Baseball Graphs. For 2004-2007, I used Hardball Times. However Hardball Times alters the Bill James formula slightly. This may lead to some slight distortions. I hope you can overlook this and see it for what it is - a retrospective look back at Royals players of lore, and not take it as a super-serious list that should determine Royals superiority.
Anyway, on my blog, I put Raul #58 and Emil #57, mostly because I forgot to make that subjective adjustment and wrote the Raul entry without looking as to who was ahead of him. In hindsight, I would have flipped them. They were actually pretty similar though, and their numbers are a bit closer than I would have suspected. They have a few similarities in fact. They were both corner outfielders with a fair amount of power that were picked up off the scrap heap by Allard Baird. They were both defensively limited, middle-of-the-order hitters. Let's look at how they stack up to each other:
Age OPS+ WS AVG OBA SLG
29 115 9 .280 .353 .495
30 122 13 .294 .346 .537
31 103 15 .294 .345 .454
TOT 112 37 .291 .347 .492
Age OPS+ WS AVG OBA SLG
30 113 20 .286 .349 .455
31 109 15 .287 .358 .457
32 68 8 .257 .300 .347
TOT 100 43 .279 .340 .428
The difference in Win Share methodology probably accounts for why Emil's 113 OPS+ season registers as 20 Win Shares, while Raul's 122 OPS+ season registers as just 15 Win Shares. In fact, that 20 Win Share season seems awfully inflated to me. So it goes. Its a silly list. Let's start with Emil.
#58 Emil Brown
Joe Posnanski had a good defense of Emil Brown on his wonderful blog and gives his theories on why Emil gets the shaft with Royals fans.
The trouble with Brown is that he has had this knack for doing elaborately and spectacularly goofy things, like dropping fly balls and kicking grounders and letting balls off the wall dance around him like Ginger Rogers. One error for Emil has always felt like three or four for someone else. Plus he ALWAYS gets off to slow starts. He’s a lifetime .208 hitter in April. Because of these things, people tend to think he’s a much worse player than he actually is.
I think Emil gets discounted by Royals fans for two reasons. One, he just had an awful 2007 season. I mean horrible. Like the 19th worst OPS+ in Royals history by a player with at least 350 at bats. Jason Tyner out-hit him, although in fairness, Tyner did muscle up for his first Major League home run last season. Congress is looking into possible steroid use.
More recent events stick on our minds more firmly than prior events. Mike Sweeney terrorized American League pitchers from 1999-2005. But the last two years he was hurt and not very good, and so a lot of fans think he's a bum and completely forget how good he was before. I think Emil suffers from the same "what have you done for me lately" effect.
Two, I think people were put off by his attitude last season. For his first two seasons, Emil was a guy you rooted for. He was a fan favorite. A friend of mine used to love yelling at the top of his lungs "It's not a snack, it's EMIL!!!!" We were willing to overlook his defensive deficiencies and his baserunning blunders because he came out of nowhere to become one our top run producers and we found him for next to nothing. It was like we were playing with house money.
Then there was this rant in the spring of 2007:
"I hear it all of the time," Brown said. "He's an adventure out there. Why? Because I m actually trying to make plays happen? "It isn't an adventure for (Twins outfielder) Torii Hunter when he dives for a ball and misses it. Then, it's, Oh, he just missed it. He gets the benefit of the doubt because he's a Gold Glover. But it's an adventure when I do it."
Brown has been slow-cooking this rant for two years now, and it comes to full boil at the suggestion he might be ticketed for platoon duty after leading the club in RBIs in each of the last two seasons. "No, I wouldn't be (happy)," he said. "I m not going to pretend. I want to be out there. That's why I m here. I can't see how you're going to have much success in a platoon situation when you can have a (productive) guy out there who can get comfortable in a regular role."...
"Because I can throw and because I can run, there should be no question about whether I can play defense or not. I d rather have me out there than an average guy. An average guy to me is a guy who doesn't cover a lot of ground, doesn't throw too well but doesn't make a lot of mistakes. That guy doesn't make a lot of plays."
Brown points out that Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente won a Gold Glove in 1966 despite having 12 errors. "I didn't look that up," Brown said. "Someone told me that. But it's true. You check it out. That's the same amount of errors that I made (in 2005)." ....
"Vladdy [Guerrero] can run, and he can throw pretty well. He would be an outfielder, you know, that's comparable."
-Kansas City Star, March 27, 2007
Rather than prove that he was too good to be in a platoon situation, Brown got off to a woeful start. Although he played in 26 of the first 29 games, he hit just .183/.234/.225. After hitting a sure double in one May game, Brown failed to run the play out instead thinking it was a home run. He was caught at second, drawing the ire of Royals fans.
But let's go back to simpler times.
After growing up in Chicago, Emil was drafted in the sixth round of the 1994 draft by the Oakland Athletics out of Indian River Community College in Florida. He did not hit well in his first two minor league seasons, but the A's stuck with the youngster and he hit .303 in 1996 in high A ball with a good slugging percentage of .502.
Even though he was just 21 years old and had never played above A ball, the talent-starved Pittsburgh Pirates selected Emil in the Rule 5 Draft, meaning they had to keep him on the big league roster all season. Emil appeared in just 66 games, collecting 95 at bats all year, hitting .179. He was perhaps the poster-child for why you don't select young outfielders for the Rule 5. Its safe to say that wasted year on the bench hindered his development.
The Pirates sent Emil to AA the next season where he dominated, hitting .330 with decent power and speed. The next season in AAA he hit .307, again with good power and speed. By 2000, he was still just 25, and with guys like Wil Cordero and John Vander Wal patrolling the outfield in Pittsburgh, it would seem Emil might get a chance. He appeared in just 50 games, collecting 119 at bats, with a .219 average. After hitting .203 in 61 games the next season, the Pirates dealt him to San Diego. He was let go after the year and bounced around from organization to organization. He was let go by the Devil Rays, Reds, Astros and Cardinals before the Royals invited him to spring training in 2005.
Emil was coming off an injury-plagued 2004 minor league season, although he had hit well when available. So there was little reason to believe he'd be a serious contender for the Royals roster. But the Royals were absolutely bereft in outfield talent. Contending for starting jobs were guys like Abraham Nunez, Aaron Guiel, Terrence Long and Eli Marrero. Emil impressed Royals coaches in spring training and won a roster spot.
"The only thing I control, is what I do out on the field. The results, if they're good, are better for me. But the only thing I control is the effort I put out. Other than that, it's out of my hands."
Emil got off to an awful start in 2005, and its surprising he was never demoted. After two home runs his first week, he went on a 4-46 slump to lower his average to .169. He heated up in May and June, hitting .341 over those two months and solidifying a spot in the lineup.
"So yes, I'm glad the Royals have an All-Star. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong guy. This is not a knock on All-Star Mike Sweeney....
But the choice should have been Emil Brown."
Emil finished 2005 with career highs in virtually every offensive category, hitting .286 with 17 home runs and a team high 86 RBI. He hit more home runs, more RBI, hit for a higher average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than former Royals slugger Carlos Beltran did that season with the Mets.
Emil set out to prove in 2006 that he was no fluke. He did not disappoint. He improved in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He again led the team in RBI and led the team in doubles and walks. He posted a better OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) than Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, Aaron Rowand or Curtis Granderson.
Then came his spring training rant. Its weird, Emil always seemed to do surprisingly well in numerous defensive metrics studies I would see. Like, not just good, but near the top of the league at his position. Often times this would lead to questioning as to the validity of the metric, and admittedly, sabermetrics still has some way to go in achieving useful and accurate defensive metrics.
Still, I don't think those metrics should be dismissed quite so handily. Perhaps Emil was really better at defense than we gave him credit for, but just looked bad doing it. Rick Reuschel was a fat guy. Not just fat for a baseball player, but real-person fat. Just look at him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Egads. The dude never looked like he was a good pitcher. But he won over 200 games.
Baseball seems to me a game where you can look bad, but actually be doing well more than any other sport. If Emil is positioning himself well but looks bad because he doesn't take good form, or has a few bad plays that stick out in our minds but they are plays that a normal outfielder doesn't get to, then we may think he's not a good defensive ballplayer, even if he is. I'm not saying I think Emil is a good defensive outfielder. I'm saying I'm not sure I believe my eyes.
In any instance, it was Emil's bat that ultimately doomed him. He got off to his usual horrid start, with an average at .200 on June 1, but he never really heated up as he had in years past. He soon found himself benched in favor of younger players like Shane Costa, Billy Butler and Joey Gathright. He faced some scorn after accidentally hitting a television reporter in the eye with a pellet gun. He finished the season at .257/.300/.347, an OPS+ of 68.
At the end of the year, the Royals non-tendered Emil, and he signed with the Athletics. I think the fact Oakland signed him tells you something about what they perceive his defense to be. I also think Emil can still be a useful platoon player against left handed pitching. But I was glad to see him go. He had worn out his welcome and needed a change of scenery. He was a useful player when making near the league minimum, but he was not the kind of player a small market team pays millions of dollars.
But I do not harbor Emil any ill will. He fought hard and worked to make his way to the Major Leagues. He gave us two seasons of productive baseball at great value. He does deserve our respect. Just not a starting outfield job.
#57 Raul Ibanez
"RAUUUUUUUUUUUUULLLLLLL" was a rallying cry in 2003 when the Royals made their sensational run. Raul was a fan favorite who played the game hard, always had a smile on his face, and came from nowhere to become a formidable slugger. In the first Royals game I ever took my then girlfriend to (now wife), Raul Ibanez and Jeff Suppan appeared in a commercial on the Jumbotron for the Royals Wives' Cookbook. They were dressed in chef hats and called each other "Chef Jeff" and "Chef Raul". She got a huge kick out of it and Raul was immediately her favorite player. To this day, if the Royals are playing the Mariners, she'll ask how Chef Raul is doing.
Raul's parents fled from communist Cuba to New York, where Raul was born. He attended high school and college in Miami, Florida. In 1992, he was selected in the 36th round of the draft by the Seattle Mariners out of Miami Dade College, a round in which teams are usually looking to fill out the rosters of their lower minor league affiliates. He began as a catcher and hit .304 in his first professional season, earning him a promotion the following season. After hitting .284 in low A ball, he earned another promotion to A ball where he hit .274. In 1994 he hit .312 and was named a Midwest League All-Star at catcher. In 1995, he posted a terrific season, hitting .332 with 20 home runs and 108 RBI. He was again named an All-Star, and was named by Baseball America as the top catcher in Class A.
Ibanez continued his torrid hitting at AA, and was promoted after just nineteen games and a .368 average. He didn't seem to be overmatched at AAA Tacoma, posting a .284 average, and earning a taste of big league action with five at bats in September with the Mariners.
For the next two seasons, Ibanez would toil in Tacoma, but get only a handful of at bats in Seattle. He hit .304 as a minor leaguer in 1997, but dropped off to .216 the following season. Out of "options" in 1999, Raul finally made the Mariners roster serving as a fourth outfielder and appearing in 87 games. He hit a decent .258, showing modest power with seven home runs and a .421 slugging percentage.
He would appear in 92 games in 2000, hitting just .229 with a weak .329 slugging percentage. He was called upon to play all three games of the American League Division Series, collecting three hits in eight at bats. In the American League Championship Series against New York, he took the collar, going hitless in nine at bats.
The Mariners had kept Ibanez around as a bat off the bench, and because he was out of options, and some also felt they kept him around because of his close friendship with superstar Alex Rodriguez. With A-Rod departing for Texas, the team felt the 29 year old Ibanez was more expendable, and they non-tendered him that December. The January, the Royals signed him to a minor league deal and invited him as a non-roster player to spring training.
"He has the best running times to first base of anybody on the club. He's putting forth a tremendous effort."
-Manager Tony Muser
After impressing Royals coaches in spring training, Ibanez made the ballclub as a reserve outfielder. He hit just .208, forcing the Royals to demote him to Omaha on May 12, which required clearing waivers. No team wanted him and he accepted his minor league assignment. He returned to the majors a week later, but was even worse, going 1-16 and dragging his average to a paltry .150 before clearing waivers and being demoted to Omaha again.
"Why doesn't anybody want me? I don't put the blame on the Royals, I don't put the blame on the manager, I don't put the blame on anybody else....I hold myself accountable and go out and work on the things I feel like I need to work on."
Injuries to outfielders Dee Brown and Mark Quinn forced the Royals to bring back Raul and this time he made the most of his opportunity. He collected two hits and a home run on June 19, and drove in three runs in a game a week later. In a series in Cleveland, he hit a home run in three straight games, driving in six. On July 21, he collected three hits to raise his average to .300. He finished the year having appeared in a career high 104 games, hitting .280/.353/.495 with 13 home runs and 54 RBI. Ibanez credited his turnaround to getting regular playing time and an intense three day hitting session with former Royal Kevin Seitzer, adopting the Charlie Lau philosophy of hitting.
"In Seattle sometimes I went a week, then got one pinch-hit at-bat. Then go another week and get one pinch-hit at-bat and that starts getting tricky. But if you're playing more, you can stay fresh, stay sharper, keep your swing shorter and more compact, and you'll be more productive."
Ibanez was pencilled into the starting lineup for the 2002 season, spending most of the time as designated hitter. Playing every day, Ibanez struggled mightily, and by June his average was below the Mendoza Line. From that point on he went on a tear, hitting .321/.371/.543 the rest of the way. On July 14, he hit a grand slam and a three run home run for a career high seven RBI. He finished the year at .294/.346/.537 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI.
After giving Ibanez a $3 million contract for 2003, the Royals were counting on him to be a major part of their offense in left field.
"I know I can improve,...I feel good about the numbers I had last year, but I can top them. I'm just getting started, hopefully."
The Royals got off to a surprisingly good start that season, and for awhile it looked like they would never lose. On April 10, Ibanez drove in three runs, including a two run home run in the eighth to give the Royals a 4-2 win, their seventh straight win to begin the season. The Royals would win their first nine games, and sixteen of their first nineteen. Ibanez was a big part of the hot start, hitting .330/.392/.549 in the month of April.
In May, Raul got some revenge off the club that had written him off when he hit three home runs in a series in Seattle. He had a hot July, hitting .341/.370/.516 as the Royals went 15-11 and ended the month still clinging to first place. On August 17, he hit a critical two-run home run against the Twins to keep the Royals in first place. Just a week later, the Royals would fall out of first place. By September they were out of first place for good.
Raul enjoyed another great season, hitting .294/.345/.454 with 18 home runs and 90 RBI for the year. That winter he filed for free agency, although he had made earlier comments about how much he had enjoyed living in Kansas City. General Manager Allard Baird made it clear he wanted to get a deal with Ibanez done quickly and offered Raul a two year $8 million deal. The Mariners offered the thirty-two year old slugger a third guaranteed year for a total value of $13.25 million. Ibanez returned to Seattle, leaving a void in the lineup in Kansas City.
"We wanted to keep Raul...That was our first priority. But as things turned out, it was just not a good (financial) fit for us."
To fill that void, the Royals turned to Juan Gonzalez. Oops.
In Seattle, Ibanez earned every penny of that three year contract and more, earning a contract extension through 2008. Over his four years in Seattle, Ibanez has averaged .290/.353/.476 with 23 home runs and 95 RBI. In 2006, he had his finest season ever, hitting .289/.353/.516 with a career high 33 home runs and 123 RBI, good for third in the league. He even garnered some MVP votes, even though he played for a losing ballclub.
Many thought Raul was close to washed up when he signed with Seattle. Every year critics say he's about to decline his performance. Every year he proves his critics wrong. He'll be thirty-six years old this year, and continues to enjoy a better career in what should be his twilight, than he did when he was a young athlete.
And every time he comes back to Kansas City, I'll chant: