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The top 50 Royals by WAR, Part 4

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Number 1 will not surprise you

KEVIN APPIER ROYALS
Kevin Appier had a distinctive delivery

The most interesting part of this, the final entry in this series, is the huge leaps in value. For most of these rankings, the WAR has gone up fractionally from entry to entry; the highest jump before this entry was 2.5 combined WAR but 0.2 was far more common. Here, though, we see very nearly a 5 WAR difference between numbers 11 and 12. Then there is a 4 WAR jump from 10 to 9, a 12 WAR leap from 7 to 6, a 9 WAR hop from 4 to 5, and then the absolute highest WAR ever achieved by a Royal is nearly double that of the next highest player.

However, before we get on to the final part of this list I have an error from the last post to amend. Everyone from Sweeney and better should be moved up a spot. It seems I skipped one player while I was going through the list:

16. 1B “Big” John Mayberry 1972 - 1977 (21.1 bWAR, 21.8 fWAR, 43 combined)

John broke into the big leagues with the Astros at the age of 19 in 1968. He played very small parts of 4 years with them, totaling just 105 games over that span and wasn’t particularly good until he was traded to the Royals prior to the 1972 season. He instantly became an MVP candidate; he received MVP votes over 4 of the next 5 seasons, including a second place finish in 1975. He was an All-Star in both ‘73 and ‘74 as well. He set the franchise home run record at 34 bombs in ‘75 and that lasted for a decade.

‘75 was easily his best season overall, as well. He slashed .291/.416/.547/.963 and walked an astonishing 119 times as compared to only 73 strikeouts. He never got his OPS as high as .850 again, after that, though. His worst full season by far was actually in 1976 where he had an OPS of .663 which was still enough to earn him 28th place in the MVP voting. Very early in the 1978 season the Royals gave up on him and traded him to the Blue Jays for cash. He rebounded for a trio of pretty good years from 1979-1981 but was out of baseball at age 33 following the 1982 season.

Now on to the final 12 spots. Stats, as ever, from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

11. SP Paul “Splitty” Splittorff 1970 - 1984 (22.8 bWAR, 31.7 fWAR, 54.5 combined)

Split played his entire career for KC before he transitioned into a role as a color analyst for the team’s baseball broadcast. He held that position until his death in 2011. He never appeared in an All-Star Game though he did come in fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in 1971 when he went 8-9 with a 2.68 ERA over 22 starts - probably his best season; he also struck out 5 batters per nine innings which was 1.3 more than his career average and the second highest season total he would ever get. He came in seventh in Cy Young voting in 1978 at the age of 31 when he went 19-13 with a 3.40 ERA over 262 innings.

Splitty may not have often been the best pitcher in the rotations he was in, but he was also never the worst. And he did that for 13 years - minus his 2-game 1970 and 12-game, 3-start age-37 season in 1984. He was rarely hurt and always did whatever the team needed from him; only four of those seasons included no relief appearances.

Splittorff started the most games all-time for the Royals with 392 and also holds the career mark for most wins at 166.

10. OF/DH Hal McRae 1973 - 1987 (27.7 bWAR, 27.6 fWAR, 55.3 combined)

Hal McRae played until he was 41 years old. He was 39 when he helped lead the 1985 Kansas City Royals to the World Series with a 118 OPS+ from the DH spot. He was a 3-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger award winner, and received MVP votes in 5 different seasons across a nine-year span; he twice finished as high as fourth, in 1976 and 1982.

His best season was that 1982 season at age 36. He slashed .308/.369/.542/.910 and hit 27 dingers while setting the franchise RBI record at 133 (this broke Brett’s record of 118 from 1980.) That number would stand until Sweeney knocked in 144 in 2000, 18 years later. He would later go on to become a memorable Royals manager. His son also played for the Royals from 1990-1994

9. SP Dennis Leonard 1974 - 1986 (26.1 bWAR, 32.9 fWAR, 59 combined)

Another lifelong Royals pitcher makes the list. Leonard received Cy Young votes in both 1977, when he won 20 games, and 1978 but never won the award. He also received a couple of MVP votes in ‘77. Even beyond the wins that was his best season. He struck out a career-high 7.5 per 9 innings over 292.2 innings with 21 complete games, 5 shutouts, and even a save in a single relief appearance. He also had a 3.04 ERA and a 2.76 FIP with a career-best 7.6 hits per 9 innings. He won 21 games while pitching 2 additional innings in ‘78 but allowed more hits and struck out fewer.

He won the most games in baseball from 1975 - 1981 by a right-handed pitcher, 130. When his career ended due to knee injuries which eliminated his 1984 season and drastically reduced both his playing time and effectiveness in ‘85 and ‘86 he was and remains the Royals career leader in complete games and shutouts. He also still holds the Royals’ single-season records for the most starts (40), complete games (21), and strikeouts (244). He is tied with himself for second in single-season shutouts with 5 in both 1977 and 1979. He is first, second, and fifth on the innings pitched leaderboard.

8. OF Alex “Gordo” Gordon 2007 - Current (32.7 bWAR, 30.8 fWAR, 63.5 combined)

We all know this story, right? Drafted in the first round, second overall, of the 2005 draft, 3B Alex Gordon had just finished leading the Nebraska Corn Huskers to victory in the college world series. He played acceptably in his rookie and sophomore seasons but saw injuries and ineffectiveness derail his career in 2009 and a position change in 2010.

He promised that he’d be great in 2011 and he was. He won his first of 4 consecutive gold gloves despite the late position switch and even received some MVP votes in what was, so far, the best season of his career. He slashed .303/.376/.502/.879 with a career-high 23 home runs. He made 3 straight All-Star appearances from 2013-2015 and received even more MVP votes in 2014, thanks in part to his stellar defense. He signed a 4-year deal to return to Kansas City following the World Series victory in 2015 that was worth more than any other contract that had come before for the team. He’s been terrible for the last 2 years, despite winning a fifth gold glove, last season. He’s hoping to rebound this year and have a shot at catching the next person on this list before he retires.

7. 2B Frank “Smooth, Hoover” White 1973 - 1990 (34.7 bWAR, 31.1 fWAR, 65.8 combined)

Most people are probably familiar with this story, too. Frank helped build Municipal Stadium, the home of the Royals for many years and then was the first success story out of the Royals Academy. He went on to win 8 gold gloves, a silver slugger in 1986, and to make 5 All-Star appearances.

His best offensive season was 1982 when he slashed .298/.318/.469/.788 but his best season overall was in 1984 because it combined his second-best offensive season with his second-best defensive season. One odd thing about his career trajectory was the way his power developed. He set or tied career marks for home runs in a season for 5 straight years from 1982-1986, starting at age 31. The most he ever hit was 22, in ‘85 and ‘86

He was a career Royal with a dream to manage the big league club after he retired that would never be realized. He currently serves in political office as County Executive in Jackson County, Missouri. He was one of only 3 men to have their numbers retired by the Royals.

6. SP Mark “Gooby” Gubicza 1984 - 1996 (38.3 bWAR, 38.8 fWAR, 77.1 combined)

As a 21-year-old rookie Gubicza made 29 starts with a 4.05 ERA and that was enough to earn him seventh in Rookie of the Year voting. From that point on he was a mainstay in the Royals rotation until 1997, except for 1993 which saw him spend considerable time in the bullpen. The Royals traded him and Mike Bovee following the ‘96 season to the Anaheim Angels for designated hitter Chili Davis. Gubicza made only 2 starts for the Angels, allowing 13 runs in 4.2 innings. He must have really enjoyed something about the franchise or his time there, though, he has been a part of the Angels’ broadcast team since 2007.

5. OF Willie Wilson 1976 - 1990 (42.2 bWAR, 35.2 fWAR, 77.4 combined)

It’s hard to play games in 3 different decades but Willie did it. Willie never stopped stealing bases, either. Even in his final year at age 38 with the Cubs, in which he got into only 17 games, he still stole one last base. The most bases he ever stole, though, was in 1979 for the Royals when he swiped an astonishing 83 bags. Wille wasn’t just a base-stealer though, he could defend and even hit with the best of them. He never reached double digits with home runs but his career batting average with the Royals was .289 and he regularly hit over .300 when he was younger.

Willie had MVP votes in 4 different seasons, 2 Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove, and 2 All-Star appearances. He did not make the All-Star Game the year he slashed .326/.357/.421/.778 with 79 stolen bases but it did result in a fourth-place MVP finish. Of course, back then he was a left fielder, primarily, because the Royals had someone they liked even better in center field but we’ll get to him in a bit.

Willie stole no fewer than 24 bases as a Royal in his career and averaged more than 40. He holds the first and second spots on the Royals single-season stolen-base leaderboard as well as being tied with himself for fourth. He is also the single-season leader for hits when he knocked 230 in 1980. He is second in career triples and leads the franchise in stolen bases with 612 - nearly double those of runner-up Amos Otis.

4. SP Bret “Sabes” Saberhagen 1984 - 1991 (40.8 bWAR, 36.9 fWAR, 77.7 combined)

You had to know the Royals only 2-time Cy Young Award winner would show up on this list somewhere. Those awards came with multiple MVP votes in 1985 and 1989. He also appeared in the All-Star Game in 1987 and 1990. And he won a gold glove in 1989; only one of those has ever been awarded to a Royals pitcher and it belongs to him. He was good in ‘85 but he was unhittable in ‘89. He went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA in 262.1 innings that included 4 shutouts in 12 complete games. He had a 0.961 WHIP, that season; that means even with walks and hits combined he allowed fewer than a runner per inning pitched which is nearly unheard of for starting pitchers.

Sabes was also the last pitcher to throw a no-hitter for the Royals, in 1991 against the White Sox. He was traded to the Mets that off-season in one of the most infamous deals ever done by the franchise. In his final full season with the Mets he almost won a third Cy Young Award when he went 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA. But the most impressive part of that season? He had an 11-1 strikeout to walk ratio, that year. He walked only 13 batters while striking out 143 in 177.1 innings.

3. OF Amos “A.O.” Otis 1970 - 1983 (44.6 bWAR, 42 fWAR, 86.6 combined)

Remember that center fielder the Royals preferred to Willie Wilson? This is the guy. Following an uninspiring pair of stints with the Mets big league club the Royals were able to acquire him and pitcher Bob Johnson (who himself had a fine 1970 season for the Royals before joining part of the package that brought Fred Patek over from the Pirates) for only utility player Joe Foy. Otis went on to finish in the top 10 of MVP voting 4 separate times and still got MVP votes in a fifth year. He had 5 All-Star appearances - including 4 straight starting the year he joined KC - and 3 gold gloves that were not necessarily synced to the other awards. He was an above-average hitter, and usually well above-average, every year he played in Kansas City except 1980 and 1983.

His best year was probably 1978 as a 31-year-old in which he slashed .298/.380/.525/.905 while smacking 22 bombs and stealing 32 bases but there were plenty of good years to choose from.

2. SP Kevin “Ape” Appier 1990 - 1999, 2003 - 2004 (47.3 bWAR, 41.9 fWAR, 89.2 combined)

Kevin Appier might just be the most underrated player to ever put on a uniform for Kansas City. Though, in fairness, he might just be the most underrated pitcher with David DeJesus taking home the “award” for position players. You see Ape ranked here as the second most valuable player in team history, the most valuable pitcher, and many fans probably wouldn’t even consider him if they were asked to choose the best or favorite pitcher. He had 3 separate seasons with an ERA under 3 which included 1993 when he went 18-8 and led the league with a 2.56 ERA over 238.2 innings. He was the most valuable player in the AL, bar none, at 9.3 bWAR. That’s more than Ken Griffey Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Kenny Lofton, or teammate David Cone. One example of how underrated he was, even in his own time, is that he finished third in Cy Young Award voting, that year, to winner Jack McDowell and second-place Randy Johnson. Johnson, at least, had the slight edge in fWAR even though Ape crushed him in bWAR but both of them were considerably better by either measure than McDowell. McDowell’s team won its division, something neither Appier nor Johnson could claim, and he broke the 20-win plateau for the second straight year so he got the nod.

That was the only time Kevin ever got any Cy Young or MVP love. His only other award recognition was third in Rookie of the Year voting behind Kevin Maas and Sandy Alomar his rookie year despite being more valuable than both of them combined. Kevin never had the flashy strikeouts like Johnson or the wins like McDowell but he was amazingly good and amazingly healthy for a very long time. He pitched more than 200 innings for the Royals 6 out of 9 full seasons in his first stretch with the team. It could have been 7 if he had started 1990 in the rotation and 8 if the 1994 season hadn’t resulted in a strike. It is probably best not to say much about his attempted return in 2003 at age 35. The injuries he rarely suffered early in his career finally started catching up to him by then and he was clearly not the same pitcher anymore.

1. 3B George “Mullet” Brett 1973 - 1993 (88.4 bWAR, 84.6 fWAR, 173 combined)

It might be impossible to overstate just how good a player George Brett was. Let’s start with this. In 1993, at age 40, Brett played his final season in baseball. He was limited to being only a designated hitter by then and it was among his worst but still featured a slash line of .266/.312/.434/.746 with 19 home runs and 7 stolen bases. Think about that for a moment. George Brett stole more bases at age 40 than some guys will steal in their entire, extended major league careers. And that wasn’t even a thing he was particularly good at.

Of course, George’s best season was in 1980 when he almost hit .400. He did end up slashing .390/.454/.664/1.118 with 24 homers and 15 stolen bases. That’s not only a terrific set of numbers but won him the slash-stat triple crown as all of those led the all of baseball. His OPS+, which, again, measures a hitters ability to hit as a percentage compared to the league average, was 203. He was more than twice as good as the average hitter that year. He, of course, won the MVP award but he got MVP votes in 8 other seasons, too, finishing second twice and third once. He went to 13 straight All-Star Games starting in 1976 and ending in 1988. He won a single gold glove award in 1985 and 3 silver slugger awards. Believe it or not he actually came in only at third in Rookie of the Year voting to Mike Hargrove and Bucky Dent when he arrived on the scene.

He famously led the league in batting average twice more, 1976 and 1990, meaning he did it in 3 separate decades. He also led the league in OPS in 1983 and 1985. He led the league in triples 3 times; his career high was 20 in 1979.

Speaking of career highs if you go to Baseball Reference’s Career Top 10 Leaders for the Royals you will see that Brett is atop almost all of them. Even in some of those where he isn’t the leader he probably should be. For example, career Royals batting average belongs to Jose Offerman at .306 but Jose only played 3 seasons for the Royals and Brett hit .305 in his 20. Brett has 120 more home runs than any other royal in history, more than 500 more runs batted in, almost 500 more singles, more than 200 more doubles, and 4 more triples even than Willie Wilson. George Brett’s name is all over the single-season leaderboard, too. Love him or hate him as a person there has never been a more valuable or prolific player to put on a Royals uniform and it isn’t even remotely close.

As promised, here is a sortable table with every player that appeared on this list. As a bonus since I didn’t get to finish it last week, I’ve included all the players that were on the Royals’ fan-voted list, as well, along with their rankings so you can compare. And just in case you want to go back and revisit the earlier entries you can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Top 50 Royals

Player Name Position bWAR fWAR Combined WAR Royals Poll Rank WAR rank
Player Name Position bWAR fWAR Combined WAR Royals Poll Rank WAR rank
George Brett 3B 88.4 84.6 173.0 1 1
Kevin Appier SP 47.3 41.9 89.2 21 2
Amos Otis OF 44.6 42.0 86.6 13 3
Bret Saberhagen SP 40.8 36.9 77.7 3 4
Willie Wilson OF 42.2 35.2 77.4 11 5
Mark Gubicza SP 38.3 38.8 77.1 25 6
Frank White 2B 34.7 31.1 65.8 4 7
Alex Gordon OF 32.7 30.8 63.5 12 8
Dennis Leonard SP 26.1 32.9 59.0 22 9
Hal McRae OF/DH 27.7 27.6 55.3 10 10
Paul Splittorff SP 22.8 31.7 54.5 14 11
Zack Greinke SP 26.2 23.5 49.7 36 12
Carlos Beltran OF 24.7 24.9 49.6 24 13
Lorenzo Cain OF 25.7 22.3 48.0 9 14
Mike Sweeney 1B/DH 23.2 22.3 45.5 15 15
John Mayberry 1B 21.2 21.8 43.0 20 16
Charlie Leibrandt SP 23.1 18.7 41.8 45 17
Freddie Patek SS 20.4 20.2 40.6 23 18
Dan Quisenberry RP 25.6 13.7 39.3 6 19
David DeJesus OF 18.0 19.6 37.6 - 20
Salvador Perez C 19.3 16.1 35.4 2 21
Darrell Porter C 16.7 16.9 33.6 40 22
Kevin Seitzer 3B 17.2 16.1 33.3 31 23
Jeff Montgomery RP 20.9 12.0 32.9 19 24
Larry Gura SP 18.8 13.8 32.6 46 25
Tom Gordon P 16.0 16.1 32.1 - 26
Steve Busby SP 16.2 15.6 31.8 34 27
Dick Drago SP 13.6 16.6 30.2 - 28
Johnny Damon OF 17.3 11.9 29.2 32 29
Joe Randa 3B 14.9 13.2 28.1 - 30
Mike Macfarlane C 13.0 14.2 27.2 49 31
Al Fitzmorris RP 15.4 11.3 26.7 - 32
Danny Tartabull OF/DH 12.7 13.9 26.6 41 33
Jarrod Dyson OF 12.8 12.6 25.4 50 34
Danny Duffy SP 13.5 10.6 24.1 38 35
Eric Hosmer 1B 14.1 9.9 24.0 5 36
Joakim Soria RP 14.1 9.5 23.6 - 37
Mike Moustakas 3B 11.4 12.1 23.5 7 38
Bud Black SP 13.0 10.5 23.5 - 39
Danny Jackson SP 10.5 12.8 23.3 42 40
Jose Rosado SP 10.4 11.6 22.0 - 41
Al Cowens OF 12.1 9.7 21.8 47 42
David Cone SP 13.9 7.7 21.6 35 43
Alcides Escobar SS 9.8 10.7 20.5 27 44
Greg Holland RP 9.9 9.8 19.7 29 45
Jeff Suppan SP 10.5 8.9 19.4 - 46
Billy Butler 1B/DH 12.3 6.9 19.2 37 47
Paul Schaal 3B 9.9 8.9 18.8 - 48
Gil Meche SP 10.3 8.5 18.8 - 49
Ed Kirkpatrick C/OF 9.3 9.2 18.5 - 50
Jermaine Dye OF 9.0 7.8 16.8 44 -
Wade Davis RP 6.9 7.8 14.7 16 -
Kelvin Herrera RP 8.5 6.0 14.5 43 -
Bo Jackson OF 7.0 6.6 13.6 8 -
Cookie Rojas 2B 7.2 6.2 13.4 30 -
Yordano Ventura SP 7.1 6.3 13.4 33 -
John Wathan C 5.0 5.5 10.5 39 -
Lou Piniella OF 3.2 4.1 7.3 48 -
Steve Balboni 1B 1.0 2.4 3.4 26 -

Because I’m sure someone will be as curious as I was, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer tied for the biggest boost in position by voters over their WAR ranking with each getting a 31 place boost while Charlie Liebrandt took the biggest hit, losing 28 places. The five players to see their value decrease the most according to voters were all pitchers; Appier, Gubicza, Zack Greinke, and Larry Gura were the others. Every player that got more than 10 rankings boosted by fan voting played for the 2014 team except Dan Quisenberry. David Dejesus was the highest WAR-ranked player to be left off the Royals’ list and Bo Jackson was the highest fan-ranked player to be omitted by the WAR list.