I think we can safely say that the Royals aren’t good. Some might describe them as ‘very ungood’ or perhaps as ‘bad.’ Kansas City currently sits at 5-18, good for the third-worst record in baseball and its worst start since the 2006 squad went 5-20 over its first 25 games.
There have been bright spots. Mike Moustakas is on pace to break his one-year-old Royals home run record. Jake Junis had looked like an All-Star last night. before last night. Jorge Soler has been pulverizing the ball of late and could potentially be the first Royals hitter to reach 100 walks since Kevin Seitzer in 1989. He was also the last Royal to reach 90 walks.
Even with those bright spots, the bullpen is a train wreck, the lineup can’t outhit Tony Pena Jr with runners in scoring position, and Kauffman is now openly cheering for home runs by the other team.
I thought it might be a good time to embrace the suck and do something I have wanted to do for a long time.
Let’s find the greatest bad Royal of all-time.
I thought I would get this one out of the way. I was a bit torn on whether to include Esky or not and here’s why. Of the 45 players to have 6 next to their name in the lineup card, only two have been double-digit fWAR players.
One is Freddie Patek. The other is Alcides Escobar.
While his range has fallen off a cliff over the last three seasons, he was one of the best defenders at his position for a solid five-six season stretch. Since 2011, only four shortstops have a better UZR and only three have a better defensive rating. Escobar is a former ALCS MVP and a future Royals Hall of Famer. That doesn’t change the fact that he is one of the worst hitters in all of baseball and has been for some time.
Since 2011, 130 hitters have come to the plate at least 3,000 times. Of those 130, Escobar has the worst wRC+ at 72. Historically, 1,919 hitters have come to the plate at least 3,000 times. Of those 1,919, Escobar ranks 1,847th in wRC+. That is good for the 2nd percentile of MLB hitters with at least 3,000 plate appearances.
Escobar’s case is a unique one. He was a legit defender at a premier position. He is as durable a player as the Royals have ever seen. He was the shortstops on two pennant-winning teams. I love Alcides Escobar and in comparison to other Royals shortstops, he is absolutely one of the best in franchise history. The guy just can’t hit.
Honorable Mention: Joey Gathright
Never was child Ryan more electrified by the prospect of a bunt than when Joey Gathright came to the plate. I don’t know if bunt attempts are a stat, but the Royals utilized Gathright like every high school team utilizes short, left-handed leadoff hitters who can run a little. This will forever be my favorite memory of Gathright, though.
One has to wonder if any of us would particularly care about Mark Teahen or John Buck had they not been acquired for Carlos Beltran. Unfortunately for both, that is what occurred.
At the time of the trade, things were looking up. Teahen was a highly touted prospect as a former first-round pick and in 2006, his second season, Teahen posted a 123 wRC+ with a SLG% north of .500. It would be the only time he was an above-league-average hitter in Kansas City.
His switch to right-field in 2007 to accommodate blue-chip prospect Alex Gordon certainly didn’t help things, as he became one of the worst right fielders in baseball. These days, Teahen is a wine bar owner and a pretty good tweeter in his own right.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Gobble
Growing up as a Royals fan in the early 2000’s, there are few things I remember well. I remember this random loss to the Blue Jays in 2003 that, for some reason, my brain renders as the beginning of the end of that season. I remember Beltran’s Opening Day, walk-off home run in 2004. And I remember how Denny Matthews used to say, “Jimmy Gobble.”
Again, it’s hard to emphasize how weird it is to look back at players like Bannister and Teahen as someone who was a child when they were playing.
My childhood memory of Bannister was of a much better pitcher. And in my defense, his 2007 rookie season was among the only times I had ever seen a starting pitcher with a sub-4.00 ERA. Aside from that season, Bannister was not good, averaging a 5.61 ERA over those remaining three seasons.
Despite his struggles, Bannister is fairly well received by Royals fans and has gone on to become a sabermetrics nerd for the Red Sox who played a major role in fixing Rich Hill, along with being an avid photographer.
Honorable Mention: Luke Hochevar
I’m not sure if a lot of Royals remember/care how bad Hochevar was. That’s what a successful move to the bullpen—see Wade Davis—and a championship ring will do for you. But thinking about what could have been had Kansas City selected Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft still makes me cringe.
Tony Pena Jr.
I’m not sure if the Royals community shares my love for Tony Pena Jr. If you don’t, I’m sorry, but this is my blog post. I loved Pena as a kid. I have one of his bats in my home to this day.
My fondest memory of Pena was in a late game situation back in 2007. For the life of me, I haven’t been able to find the replay or remember what game it was, except that I know I was at the game.
There were runners at second and third with two outs and a ball was hit deep in the hole at short. Pena made a sliding stop in shallow left field and threw out the runner from his knees to save the game. That season, Tony Pena Jr. hit .267. At that point in my life, batting average meant a lot more than me and .267 from a shortstop like Pena was perfectly fine.
He was the shortstop of the future and 12-year-old me was convinced of it. Looking back, I was right about his play at shortstop. Only two shortstops in baseball had a better defensive rating than him, and only one had a better UZR and range rating—and that guy was named Omar Vizquel.
But my goodness. Tony Pena Jr. at the plate makes Alcides Escobar look like 2006 Mark Teahen. The 63 wRC+ that Pena notched in 2007 was a career high. He played 95 games in 2008 and put up a -8 wRC+, or what Fangraphs recognizes as the 28,441st best mark of the 28,441 players to ever bat at least 235 times in a season.
You read that right.
Honorable Mention: Sidney Ponson
I include him for no other reason than the fact that he threw the first-ever pitch in the newly renovated Kauffman Stadium back in 2009. We have come a long way.
Mitch. The GBROAT. Our current first base coach.
What a ride it was.
For years, my grandpa was convinced that Billy Butler was actually a terrible hitter and that the source of all the Royals problems was Mitch Maier’s lack of playing time. I can’t say I blame him. Who doesn’t love Mitch Maier? He was an intriguing player.
Maier was originally drafted as a catcher in the first round of the 2003 draft despite being an outfielder at Toledo. He played 51 games at the position in 2003 before being tried out at third base and eventually moving back to the outfield. Who knows what that was about. He stole 43 stolen bases in his first full professional season in 2004 but never stole more than nine in Kansas City. He was an oddity.
Here’s where it get’s crazy. Since 2009, two players have worn number 35 for the Royals. One of those players was Mitch Maier. Those two players have combined to win four Gold Gloves, an All-Star Game MVP, a Silver Slugger, a world championship, and a $144 million contract.
This is why he is the GBROAT. There is no better person to fill the shoes of Rusty Kuntz over in the first base coaching box than Mitch Maier.