If you’ve been underwhelmed by the list so far... well, first of all, you should avoid shooting the messenger and blame the team that’s often been so terrible. But you should also be excited because there are some absolute legitimate stars as we get nearer to the top of this list. All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.
25. SP Larry Gura 1976 - 1985 ( 18.8 bWAR, 13.8 fWAR, 32.6 combined)
What an interesting case Larry Gura is. He broke into the league for the Cubs at age 22 in
1920 1970. For 6 years with the Cubs and the Yankees he was a mediocre pitcher and frequently on the bus between the big league clubs and their minor league affiliates. Then, in May of 1976, the Yankees traded him to the Royals. They started him out primarily as a reliever and he did alright in that role, but in 1978, at age 30, he had quite a few more starts than relief appearances and he rewarded the team with a 2.72 ERA while going 16-4 earning him recognition on more than a few Cy Young and MVP ballots.
He regressed a bit in ‘79 but rebounded again in 1980 to go 18-10 with a 2.95 ERA in 283.1 innings earning him his only All-Star appearance and a few more Cy Young votes in what would end up being his best season. He was really good in ‘81 and won a lot of games in ‘82 but from ‘83 on he walked more than he struck out which, even then, wasn’t a recipe for success. The Royals cut him in May 1985 just months before the world series run.
24. RP Jeff Montgomery 1988 - 1999 ( 20.9 bWAR, 12 fWAR, 32.9 combined)
Monty is an analyst on FSKC and one of the more interesting Royals commentators to listen to, these days. But before that, he was one of the deadliest closers in baseball for more than a decade. He only pitched 14 major league games in any uniform but that of KC and his only truly bad years were the first one, for the Reds, and the last one at age 37 for the 1999 Kansas City Royals.
In total, he amassed 304 career saves for the boys in blue; that’s more than 60 additional saves than the next highest closer in team history and nearly double that of third-place. He had 3 All-Star appearances and even received MVP votes in what was likely his best season in 1993 when, at age 31, he saved 45 games. He was never really a strikeout monster except inexplicably in 1994 when he sat down 10.1 batters per 9 innings, an increase of 2.5 batters over his career average.
23. 3B Kevin Seitzer 1986 - 1991 ( 17.2 bWAR, 16.1 fWAR, 33.3 combined)
Seitz was never a high power guy, which is normally something you expect from the hot corner. But he could hit, his career batting average is .295, and he knew how to take a walk, with a career OBP of .375. His best season was his rookie year in 1987 when he got 207 hits on his way to a .323/.399/.470/.869 slash line. That was also the year he hit a career-high 15 home runs. He went to the All-Star Game, received MVP votes, and was the runner-up to someone you may have heard of for Rookie of the Year: Mark McGwire.
That was his best year, but he didn’t have a lot of bad ones. The Royals released him during spring training of 1992; they had a young Gregg Jeffries to play there and he had been declining every year since his rookie season to the point that he was now actually pretty bad. That, however, turned out to be the worst year of his career until his final season in 1997 for Cleveland at age 35.
Seitzer was the hitting coach for the Royals from 2009-2012 and might still be one of the best coaches in the game; he currently coaches for Atlanta.
22. C Darrell Porter 1977 - 1980 ( 16.7 bWAR, 16.9 fWAR, 33.6 combined)
Porter was one of the best catchers in the game when he played for the Royals. He went to the All-Star game three straight years from 1978-1980. He received MVP votes in ‘78 and ‘79. His best year was ‘79 when he slashed .291/.421/.484/.905 with 20 dingers. He hit terribly in the 1980 world series, however, and the Royals allowed him to go in free agency. He signed with the Cardinals and won a ring there in 1982 before facing off against the Royals in 1985 where again his bat disappeared during the World Series. Something about the combination of Royals, Porter, and World Series just never quite worked out.
21. C Salvador Perez 2011 - Current ( 19.3 bWAR, 16.1 fWAR, 35.4 combined)
If you don’t know who Salvador Perez is I’m not really sure what to tell you. He exceeded rookie classification without playing enough of the season to actually earn any Rookie of the Year votes in 2012 but he gave Royals fans a promise of a bright future by slashing .301/.328/.471/.798. Since then he has been to 5 straight All-Star games, won 4 gold gloves, a silver slugger, received some MVP votes in 2013, and even won World Series MVP in 2015.
Salvy has a great chance to make his way into the top 10 before his career is done if he can stay healthy and behind the plate. He might even be up for Hall of Fame consideration someday, though I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath on it.
20. OF David DeJesus 2003 - 2010 ( 18 bWAR, 19.6 fWAR, 37.6 combined)
The only award recognition DeJesus ever received was sixth place in Rookie of the Year voting in 2004. Unless you count the year the Royals desperately campaigned for him to be named a Gold Glove winner. But he wasn’t. So you probably shouldn’t.
He was a force of stability for some truly terrible Royals teams that really could use what he had to offer. His best year was either 2005 or 2006 but he never performed at anything less than major league starter standards while wearing the Royal blue. This is true even when he played fewer than 100 games in 2004 and 2010. He is criminally underappreciated by Royals fans of those time periods because those teams were so universally awful despite his best efforts.
19. RP Dan “Quiz” Quisenberry 1979 - 1988 ( 25.6 bWAR, 13.7 fWAR, 39.3 combined)
If you had asked me which reliever in Royals history had the most WAR before I started this project I definitely would have guessed Quiz. He pitched for the Royals for a long time, he pitched exceptionally well, and he was a reliever during a time when relievers might commonly be asked to pitch more than a single inning. He had 5 seasons of more than 125 innings pitched - a number that’s nearly double what some good relievers might pitch, this year. In those 5 years, he received MVP votes and finished in the top-5 of the Cy Young Award every time. He went to the All-Star Game in 3 of them, too, from 1982 - 1984.
His strikeout rates would be abysmal by today’s standards; his career average was 3.3 strikeouts per 9 innings. But he also never walked anyone with a 1.4 BB/9 rate. He also only allowed 0.5 home runs every 9 innings. That means that, on average, if you wanted to hit a home run against Dan Quisenberry, you would have to play two complete games worth of innings against him.
1983 was probably his best season, he was worth 5.5 bWAR which was second in the AL among all pitchers. By contrast, even the best reliever last year was worth only 3.3 bWAR (Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel, if you’re curious.) In fact, that 5.5 bWAR ties for the thirteenth most valuable reliever season of all time, according to Baseball Reference.
18. SS Freddie Patek 1971 - 1979 ( 20.4 bWAR, 20.2 fWAR, 40.6 combined)
Freddie Patek never hit double-digit home runs in a season. His slash line, while he was in KC, was only .241/.309/.321/.630. So how did he end up this high on this list? Defense, health, and stolen bases. Freddie stole no fewer than 33 bases every year but his last in KC, including more than 50 twice. He also had a very slick glove; he was worth more than 1 bWAR for his defense (dWAR) alone every year he was in KC. In 1972 he was worth 3.2 dWAR.
He appeared in 3 All-Star Games and the only season he even hit close to league average was in in 1971 when a .267/.323/.371/.693 slash line earned him a 98 OPS+ and sixth place in the MVP voting.
17. SP Charlie Leibrandt 1984 - 1989 ( 23.1 bWAR, 18.7 fWAR, 41.8 combined)
This lefty who breaks the “i before e” rule to my detriment in every sporcle quiz never went to the All-Star Game. He also never received MVP votes. He did come in fifth in the Cy Young Award voting in 1985, his best season in KC. That year he went 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA. None of his stats stand out, in particular, they’re all good but not great.
Charlie was known as a “choker” in the playoffs; during his time in KC he went 1-4 with a 3.40 ERA including losing the deciding game in the 1984 ALCS 1-0 on a fielder’s choice. The one win came in the ‘85 ALCS when the Royals completed their come-from-behind series victory in game 7 despite losing both the first and fourth games of that series.
16. 1B/DH Mike Sweeney 1995 - 2007 ( 23.2 bWAR, 22.3 fWAR, 45.5 combined)
Mike was just about the best thing going in KC for the early aughts. He was a 5-time All-Star and received MVP votes from 2000-2002. He set the Royals current RBI record at 144 in 2000, accounting for 18% of the runs batted in on that team all by himself while slashing .333/.407/.523/.930. His best season was probably 2002, though, when he slashed .340/.417/.563/.979, looked much better at first base, and drove in only 86 runs due to injuries and a much worse team around him.
He was a hometown favorite for a good while, especially when he signed a multi-year extension with the team at a time that saw literally every other player of value bolt for any other team the moment they could. Unfortunately, back problems started limiting his ability to play in the middle of the deal and the Royals were stuck playing an unproductive player on some of the worst teams in Royals history. His is the example I kept looking at when fans were clamoring for the return of Eric Hosmer. At the start of that 5-year extension Royals fans were naming their babies after him; by the end of it they booed him lustily every chance they had and begged the team to somehow trade or cut him.
15. OF Lorenzo “LoCain” Cain 2011 - 2017 ( 25.7 bWAR, 22.3 fWAR, 48 combined)
Lorenzo shouldn’t need any explaining around here than Salvy, I don’t think. His best season, like so many other recent Royals, was 2015 which saw his only All-Star appearance and a third place MVP finish as he helped drive the team to a World Series victory. He, of course, also won 2014 ALCS MVP honors in a 4-game sweep over the Orioles which saw him slash .533/.588/.667/1.255 while catching seemingly everything hit to the outfield.
According to Baseball Reference, he’s also known as “CrunchWrap” due to his world series stolen base that earned free tacos for baseball fans worldwide.
14. OF Carlos “Ivan” Beltran 1998 - 2004 ( 24.7 bWAR, 24.9 fWAR, 49.6 combined)
Carlos Beltran has long been a force in baseball and only finally retired after last season. He appeared in 9 All-Star Games with 4 different teams. He was also traded twice in the middle of All-Star seasons - in 2004 from Kansas City to Houston and 2016 from the Yankees to the Rangers. He received MVP votes in 7 different seasons for 5 different teams, too. He didn’t gain recognition as an elite defender until 2006 with the Mets, though he then proceeded to win the award three straight years. He also won 2 Silver Slugger awards in ‘06 and ‘07. And it all started with a Rookie of the Year Award in 1999 for the Royals.
His best season in KC was for that miracle 2003 team. He put them on his back and carried them for a good part of the year, slashing .307/.389/.522/.911. He also stole 41 bases that season and was only caught 4 times. He, now famously, did not sign an extension with the Royals because they refused to increase their offer by $1M and so completed the 2004 season with the Astros. Had he signed that extension perhaps he would now be tied with Mike Moustakas for the team home-run record at 38 bombs - the total he hit that year between the two teams.
Baseball Reference says his nickname is “Ivan” but that’s also his middle name so make of that what you will.
13. SP Zack Greinke 2004 - 2010 ( 26.2 bWAR, 23.5 fWAR, 49.7 combined)
Zack was criminally ranked only at 36 on the Royals’ list. He is 1 of only 3 Royals pitchers in history to win a Cy Young Award with the team when he went 16-8 with a minuscule 2.16 ERA despite pitching in the 2009 American League. There was a lot of doubt about whether he’d win the award because despite the amazing statistics - he also struck out 9.5 batters per 9 innings, 7.7 hits per 9, and 0.4 home runs per 9 - he didn’t win 20 games. The record he did earn, however, is kind of astonishing when you recall that he was pitching for a 97-loss team.
Yes, he did ask to be traded following the 2010 season because the team wasn’t winning. But in the end, he was doing the Royals a huge favor. His contract ended in 2012 which was not only before the Royals would have been competitive enough to use him, anyway, but at a time when he was pitching well enough that the Royals would never have been able to afford his market value. And the players the Royals acquired in that trade - Jake Odorizzi, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain - all became key parts of the Royals’ winning ways in 2014 and 2015. Esky and LoCain, obviously, played on those teams; Odorizzi went to Tampa Bay in the deal that Brought James Shields and Wade Davis to KC.
Zack may not be remembered fondly by a lot of Royals fans, now, but he was still one of the absolute best to ever play for the team. He really does deserve to be this high. Next week we finish this list with the 12 most valuable Royals to ever put on the uniform.