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The top 50 Royals in history by WAR, Part 2

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Caution: Moose Crossing

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals
Michael Moustakas waved good bye last summer thinking this was as high on the list as he would get.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Now we’re getting into a group of players that should be more recognizable to the younger crowd as well as some of the guys who were recognized as being particularly good in their own times. If you missed part 1 you can find it here. All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

38 (tied) 3B Mike “Moose” Moustakas 2011 - Current (11.4 bWAR, 12.1 fWAR, 23.5 combined)

Mike Moustakas was only a Royal because the team swept the Tigers in the final series of the 2006 season, dropping the team back to the second overall draft pick and allowing Tampa Bay to take David Price. Some of you might consider that a worthwhile miss since Price is known for choking in the post-season while Moose finally broke out the first chance he got in the 2014 post-season after a terrible year which had even seen him demoted to AAA to figure himself out. His best season was probably in 2015, but he’ll likely be better known for breaking the franchise home run record in 2017.

Moose is one of only 2 players in baseball to successfully reach the All-Star Game via Fan Final Vote twice. He even received some MVP votes in 2015. He could theoretically still return in Royal blue next season as he has yet to sign, but it would be exceptionally surprising for him to do so. Mike signed a deal with KC late Saturday night and will return for one last hoorah and a chance to move up the list a little bit.

37. RP Joakim “The Mexicutioner” Soria 2007 - 2011, 2016 - 2017 ( 14.1 bWAR, 9.5 fWAR, 23.6 combined)

Also known as Jack, Soria once was released as a minor-league player by the Dodgers in 2004 - only 3 years after he was signed as an amateur free agent. He signed with the Padres the following off-season and then was taken by the Royals in the Rule 5 draft in 2006 and the rest is history. No, he isn’t the team’s single-season saves leader but in his sophomore season, 2008, he saved 42 games for a far worse club that went 72-90. Then he doubled down in 2010 with 43 saves for a 65-97 team.

Remember how Holland ended up so low on the list because it’s hard for relievers to accrue WAR? Soria led that 2010 team in bWAR with 3.7. That was more than a prime Zack Greinke or a prime Billy Butler despite only pitching 65.2 innings. He went to the All-Star Game in both seasons but only received Cy Young and MVP votes in 2010. He came in seventh in Rookie of the Year voting.

He had to have Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire 2012 season and while he’s still had a very good career he never quite returned to that early form. Many fans will remember Soria for bombing in the 2016 season which left an impression that carried over and made people think he was still terrible in 2017 despite being much improved. Hopefully, the White Sox fans will appreciate him for how good he still is instead of how far he has fallen.

36. 1B Eric “Hoz” Hosmer 2011 - 2017 ( 14.1 bWAR, 9.9 fWAR, 24 combined)

Yes, believe it or not, the third overall pick from the 2008 draft is this far down the leaderboard of all-time Royals. The arguments have all been had a million times before. You can argue, you can disagree, but the fact remains that by the objective measure of WAR accrued for a team Eric Hosmer is only 36th overall.

It’s not like he doesn’t have plenty of recognition elsewhere, though. He has won 4 gold gloves; he’s been an All-Star and All-Star MVP once each, he received MVP votes in 2015 and 2017, he came in third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, and he took home a Silver Slugger award last year. Someday he will be in the Royals Hall of Fame. There still exists the possibility that he could be enshrined in Canton Cooperstown but if he is it will be more for the career he leads in San Diego and elsewhere than what he did in KC for his first seven seasons.

35. SP Danny “Bear” Duffy 2011 - Current ( 13.5 bWAR, 10.6 fWAR, 24.1 combined)

I suspect everyone here is pretty familiar with Danny, at this point. He struggled in his debut at 22 with a 5.64 ERA over 20 starts. he barely played in 2012 and 2013 due to a UCL injury. He completely dominated 2014 after starting the year in the bullpen then regressed a bit in 2015. He started 2016 in the pen but when he returned to the rotation he had begun to look like an ace again. That carried over into 2017. He is easily the Royals’ best current pitcher and will likely move well up this list before he’s done.

I’ve never heard anyone refer to him as Bear, though.

34. OF Jarrod “Zoombiya” Dyson 2010 - 2016 ( 12.8 bWAR, 12.6 fWAR, 25.4 combined)

Sam Mellinger wrote in his weekly “Mellinger Minutes” blog that the original list being produced by the Royals is objectively terrible. It’s a sentiment I mostly agree with as you may have guessed from the existence of this series. But then he continued that Jarrod Dyson had no business on the list because he was never a full-time player. Remember, please, that a 2 WAR player is considered an MLB starter. And then realize that in part-time play Jarrod reached 1.6 or more bWAR in 5 of his 7 seasons in KC - none of which saw him receive more than half a season’s worth of plate appearances. He played fewer than 30 games in each of remaining seasons but he still never put up less than 0.5 bWAR or 0.2 fWAR. In other words, even Jarrod’s worst season is still better than 1 or 3 of Eric Hosmer’s worst depending on which metric you prefer.

The fact that Dyson was never a full-time player has nothing to do with his skill and has no relation to the level of contribution he made to the team. His offense was never as bad as it was made out to be and he more than made up for it with elite defense and baserunning skills. He was always underappreciated in KC and still helped the team win despite his lack of playing time. That’s what speed do.

33. OF/DH Danny Tartabull (Mora) 1987 - 1991 ( 12.7 bWAR, 13.9 fWAR, 26.6 combined)

From 1981-1985 baseball used a free-agent compensation draft. If players of a certain caliber were signed by a different team in free agency the player’s original team was able to draft all but 26 protected players from any other team in major league baseball. When the Seattle Mariners lost Floyd Bannister to the White Sox they were allowed to select then-second-baseman Danny Tartabull from the Cincinnati Reds.

Tartabull was later traded to the Royals during the 1986 off-season. He received MVP votes in his first season with the Royals when he belted 34 homers, the first of several challengers to Steve Balboni’s franchise home run record. He did more than just hit home runs that season with a very impressive slash line of .309/.390/.541/.931. His number, most especially his batting average, dropped precipitously for the next 3 seasons including a shortened 1990 campaign. In 1991, a season leading into free agency, he rebounded to form with the best season of his career slashing .316/.397/.593/.990 and belting 35 home runs which earned him an all-star game and home run derby appearance as well as MVP votes.

Just as an additional piece of trivia, the free-agent compensation draft was killed by George Steinbrenner following the 1985 season because his team was unable to protect old friend and then top pitching prospect in the country, Tim Belcher, and saw him taken by the Oakland Athletics during the 1983 draft when they had lost a mediocre starting pitcher named Tom Underwood.

32. P Al Fitzmorris 1969 - 1976 ( 15.4 bWAR, 11.3 fWAR, 26.7 combined)

Most of the more recent Royals fans probably remember Fitzmorris as a charming co-host on Royals pre-game and post-game shows during the bad old days in the early and mid- 2000s. He’s here by virtue of his longevity more than his astonishing talents he joins Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler as the only players to stick with the team for as many as 8 years, so far.

He never won any awards nor received any recognition outside induction into the Royals Hall of Fame. He was primarily a swingman for the Royals and he had a very good 2-year run in 1973 and 1974 where he had an ERA under 3 in both seasons. He became more or less a full-time starter for the ‘75 and ‘76 seasons where he flourished. In 1976 he went 15-11 with a 3.06 ERA with 33 starts in 35 appearances across 220.1 innings.

31. C Mike Macfarlane 1987 - 1994, 1996 - 1998 ( 13 bWAR, 14.2 fWAR, 27.2 combined)

Mike blows away everyone so far when it comes to longevity with the team. He was never a terrific player but he was usually solid. His best season was 1993 when he slashed .273/.360/.497/.857 with 20 dingers, the last time a catcher did so before Salvador Perez came along.

He signed contracts 5 times in his career and 3 of those times it was with the Royals - he was drafted by them, then signed as a free agent after spending a year in Boston, and then signed as a free agent again after the 1997 season with the Royals. Perhaps the fact that he only played in 3 games for the Royals in 1998 after he signed that contract before being traded to the Athletics on April 11 is why he chose to stay in Oakland to finish his career.

30. 3B Joe “The Joker” Randa 1995 - 1996, 1999 - 2004 ( 14.9 bWAR, 13.2 fWAR, 28.1 combined)

Randa was known as “The Joker” for the grimace he perpetually wore at the plate which some took to be a smile. Randa was drafted by the Royals in 1991 and played 2 seasons for them before being shipped off to Pittsburgh in the “Infinite J Trade” that also included every Jeff to ever play baseball and Jay Bell. Randa bounced around after that when he was taken by the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft and then immediately traded to the Tigers. The following off-season the Tigers dealt him to the Mets who finally traded him back to the Royals where he stuck for a while.

His best season was his first upon returning to KC in 1999 when he slashed .314/.363/.473/.836 and hit 16 bombs while striking out only 80 times as compared to a career high 50 walks. Randa might never have been an elite player but he was one of the handful of solid guys the Royals managed to put on the field during the darkest of the dark years and will long be fondly remembered by many for it.

29. OF Johnny “Caveman” Damon 1995 - 2000 ( 17.3 bWAR, 11.9 fWAR, 29.2 combined)

Johnny Damon was a first-round pick in the 1992 draft that the Royals famously tried to convince to stay in KC by buying him a house. Also, my mom once bumped into him at a JoAnn’s Fabric store in Overland Park. His first 3 years were marred by mediocrity. He was supposed to be a slap hitter who could run fast but he couldn’t walk at all, wasn’t hitting enough, and was caught stealing entirely too often. In 1998 he finally learned to take some walks but he still was getting caught stealing too much. It might be that he was inspired or felt threatened by rookie Carlos Beltran, or it might have been that a shift from center field to left suited him well. In 1999 he improved his base-stealing and hit over .300 for the first time.

But in 2000, at age 26, he finally completely broke out. The first half of the year he had reverted to form in the batting average department but was still stealing bases and getting enough walks to be moderately successful. On July 3, however, Carlos Beltran suffered an injury which sent Damon back into centerfield. Damon exploded. From that point on he hit .376 but he also found an ability to hit for power, too, knocking out 30 doubles, 6 triples, and 9 home runs in only 81 games. He received MVP votes for his outstanding performance. The Royals attempted to trade him at the height of his value that off-season and managed to get a backup catcher, an intriguing shortstop prospect, and an aging closer in return. Trades were not their strong suit, even then.

28. SP Dick Drago 1969 - 1973 ( 13.6 bWAR, 16.6 fWAR, 30.2 combined)

Drago was largely a league-average starting pitcher for Kansas City in his five seasons with the team. His best year was 1971 when he went 17-11 with a 2.98 ERA and received enough Cy Young Award votes to come in fifth place. After he left KC he became a very effective reliever primarily for the Boston Red Sox with stops in California and Seattle as well.

27. SP Steve “Buzz” Busby 1972 - 1980 ( 16.2 bWAR, 15.6 fWAR, 31.8 combined)

Busby is probably best known as the only pitcher to throw 2 no-hitters, including the first one in franchise history which was also the first no-hitter to be thrown by a pitcher against a team with a designated hitter. His second no-hitter was even better; he allowed only a single walk in the second inning to prevent it from being a perfect game.

He was among the brightest pitching prospects in baseball when he arrived on the scene late in 1972. In ‘73 he came in third in Rookie of the Year voting. By ‘74, the year of his second no-hitter, he was among the best pitchers in baseball. That year he went 22-14 with a 3.39 ERA in 292.1 innings and was fourth in strikeout rate among AL starters behind such notables as Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, and Fergie Jenkins; he received MVP votes. In ‘75 he again reached the all-star game and had an even better 3.08 ERA despite only winning 18 games.

In 1976, however, he suffered a torn rotator cuff. It was an injury that ended careers, back then. He was the first pitcher to have surgery to repair the injury and missed most of the ‘76 and ‘78 seasons along with all of 1977 as he attempted to recover. He pitched in 1979 and 1980 but it was clear he just didn’t have quite the same talent anymore. Steve Busby’s career will always be a question of what might have been if he could have avoided the injury or if medical technology would have allowed for a more successful surgery.

26. P Tom “Flash” Gordon 1988 - 1995 ( 16 bWAR, 16.1 fWAR, 32.1 combined)

Tom was another swingman in the same vein as Al Fitzmorris but with a lot more strikeouts. His rookie season, 1989, he actually went 17-9 with a 3.64 ERA while starting 16 games and relieving 33 others and came in second in Rookie of the Year voting. His best year in KC was probably his 1993 season at age 25. He started 14 games, finished off 18 others in 34 total relief appearances, and went 12-6 with a 3.58 ERA. He signed with the Red Sox as a free agent and they gave him one more chance as a swingman before converting him to a closer. As a full time reliever, he reached the All-Star Game 3 times including MVP votes with the 1998 Red Sox when he successfully saved 46 games. His last all-star game came while he was pitching for the Phillies at age 38 in 2006. He appeared in big league games through age 41 when he saw action in 3 contests for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

I am aware that so far this list is a bit underwhelming. It’s been full of could-haves, should-haves, and average guys who just stuck around for a long time. Next week’s entry, however, will start dishing out at least some of the KC star power. And I am not talking about the newspaper.