Ya know how when you drink any kind of flavored drink - tea, coffee, soda, ICEES, whatever - and you get to the bottom and you want to enjoy those last couple of sips so badly because once it’s gone it’s gone? And then you drink them and no matter how good the drink was those last couple of sips are just off. Maybe it heated or cooled. Maybe some coffee ground or tea leaves or orange pulp were swirling around down there waiting to surprise you. In any case, the drink goes from pleasant to unpleasant.
I think every baseball season has a moment where you hit the dregs. Some years it comes sooner than others. In 2014 that moment didn’t come until Salvador Perez faced Madison Bumgarner in the bottom of the ninth of game 7. In 2015 that moment probably didn’t come until halfway through 2016. This year it probably came in the first month. Like a badly brewed pot of coffee, the season was full of detritus but it was full all the same and we’ve been drinking it for months for lack of any other options to slake our thirst for Kansas City baseball. And if the dregs were in May what is it we’re left with, now?
Yeah, the Royals have actually been decent lately. But it sure has been a long season and I’m having trouble coming up with a lot of reasons to care. I know no one wants to see this but I absolutely wonder how much of this is a mirage. In a season where the Royals were otherwise competitive, I’d probably be really tempted to look past the question marks in Brad Keller and Heath Fillmyer’s performances. In another lost season, they remind me of Jeremy Affeldt and Runelvys Hernandez who could be absolutely dominant for stretches but didn’t pan out in big league rotations. Were the Royals competing, I’d look at Ryan O’Hearn and wonder if he was going to be the next Jim Thome. In another lost season, it’s easy to remember Mark Quinn and how little he did with his big league career after his terrific start.
I think some people are probably nostalgic for those Royals. The stories are fun to tell. Remember the time Chip Ambres and Terrance Long both walked away from an easy flyout without bothering to catch it? Classic. Or how about the time Ken Harvey almost killed Jason Grimsley when he tried to throw home? Hilarious! In future years we’ll probably look back at this team and tell some similar, funny stories. Maybe about the time Brett Phillips ran full-speed into a wall or when the fountains accidentally flooded the field. But for now, it’s just...dregs.
OK, let’s try to be happy for a few minutes, now
I went to check the Royals fWAR leaders on FanGraphs because I saw O’Hearn has been worth 0.7 fWAR in his short playing time and I wondered where that ranked. Before I tell you that I have to tell you one more piece of sad news. Whit Merrifield, of course, is the Royals’ leader among position players with 4.1 fWAR before Friday night’s game. But in second place? Mike Moustakas. Still. With 1.7 fWAR. Recall, if you will, that 2 WAR is more or less considered a major league regular. The Royals have had two of those all year, by this accounting, and one of them did it in half of a season and has been playing for another team for more than a month. If you really want to be bummer Jon Jay comes in fifth with 1.1 fWAR despite being traded considerably earlier in the year.
The good news, though, is that Adalberto Mondesi is in fourth. He’s accrued 1.3 fWAR in only 52 games. The best news is that he’s done that primarily on the strength of his defense and base-running. His hitting is still a mediocre 96 wRC+ for the season. You can see glimpses recently of how that might drastically improve but even if it doesn’t he looks like an above-average big league regular, at this point. Which is something I don’t think a lot of people were willing to bet on even a few months ago. Ryan O’Hearn, for what it’s worth, comes in at eighth place among Royals position players for fWAR. If you prorated it out over 150 games you’d get about 3.5 fWAR. That would play.
The thing that’s got me the most excited is probably how much more fun next year’s team should be to watch. Dayton will probably sign a handful of veterans for leadership and maybe he’ll have better luck with them than he did this year’s attempts. Hopefully not too many of them, though. Because if these young guns get plenty of playing time again next year because even if they lose a ton of games having all those young, speedy guys running around in the field and on the basepaths should at least provide more entertaining losses. Maybe the team will provide figurative drinkable liquid until June.