It’s the off-season which means it’s time to work on some side-projects while we wait for the Winter Meetings, at least, but probably more realistically Spring Training. The project I’m currently working on is a pitch for the next, great baseball movie. It will, of course, star the Royals. Basically, the idea is the same as Space Jam, but instead of being a remake or a sequel it will be a spiritual successor. An alien race challenges the denizens of earth to a baseball series - best out of seven, naturally - for the fate of our planet. Just like in the original movie they steal all of the skills of the game’s greatest players. Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Gerrit Cole, etc.
Without having any of those guys around the heroes of this movie are forced to do some outside-the-box thinking. Turns out there is another alien race that really has a lot of respect for the Royals because of Whit Merrifield’s grit. So they offer the earth a deal: the humans can borrow one of their time machines and build a roster out of players from earth’s history, but only Royals. And only players from the past because the prime directive of time travel is you can never go to the future. Unless it’s Back to the Future. But that’s a whole separate issue.
Oh, and you also can’t just take the same player from different years because then the universe would implode or something.
Anyway, so the best part of this project is figuring out which Royals you would get from which years to build the best possible team to face off against the alien invaders. Obviously, you’re going to have George Brett. But which Brett do you take? Thanks to FanGraphs and their version of the WAR stat we have a definitive answer.
Starting Lineup by Position
Catcher - 1979 Darrell Porter (7.5 fWAR)
Darrell hit 20 home runs from the catcher spot in 1979 which was only fifth-most among catchers that year. Still, he was by far the most valuable catcher both year and in Royals’ history. He also scored and drove in more than 100 runs and tied for the lead for all catchers with a 144 wRC+ that year.
First Base - 1975 John Mayberry (7.3 fWAR)
This was the year Mayberry set what was then the franchise record in home runs at 34.
Second Base - 2018 Whit Merrifield (5.2 fWAR)
I have to admit, I expected we’d be putting a Frank White season here. But it seems Frank never had a year that measured up to Whit in 2018. And people want to say his trade value wouldn’t diminish. Psh. The good news is that putting a version of Whit Merrifield in the lineup should please the time-traveling aliens.
Third Base - 1980 George Brett (9.1 fWAR)
I think this must have been the most easily predictable roster choice. Brett’s MVP season where he chased .400 for most of the summer and helped lead the Royals to their first AL pennant and World Series appearance.
Shortstop - 1997 Jay Bell (5.4 fWAR)
Jay only had one season with the Royals but what a year it was. His 21 dingers remain the best by a Royals’ shortstop in a single season. The 2014 edition of Alcides Escobar (the one that caused a small riot when he was allowed to bat with the game on the line early in the year) comes in third on this list.
Outfield - 1978 Amos Otis (7.2 fWAR)
You had to figure Amos Otis, with the third most valuable career in Royals history, was going to end up here somewhere. The 1978 edition ranks highest in defense out of any year he ever played and added 22 home runs and 32 steals to the mix. He could do it all.
Outfield - 1980 Willie Wilson (7.0 fWAR)
Man, that 1980 team was stacked. Willie Wilson stole 79 bags, that year, a career-best. He also had 15 triples which ties with two other iterations of himself for third-most by a Royal (the person in first is the 1985 version of Willie Wilson with 21)
Outfield - 2003 Carlos Beltran (6.9 fWAR)
Would you believe Beltran ranks lower in defense here than our Wilson and Otis? He also ranks higher in offense and base-running. That’s right, Beltran stole only 41 bases but FanGraphs Baserunning stat says he was better than 1980 Willie Wilson there. Beltran also put up 26 bombs.
Designated Hitter - 1976 Hal McRae (4.4 fWAR)
If you want to understand what people mean when they say home runs are less valuable now than ever get this: Jorge Soler’s 2019 season ranks sixth all-time among Royals Designated Hitter seasons despite is 48 bombs. Hal’s season in 1976, obviously, was the most valuable. He hit only eight home runs that year. People didn’t hit as many home runs so you didn’t have to hit as many to be among the best hitters in the sport.
2013 Salvador Perez (3.5 fWAR)
This was Salvy’s first full season in the big leagues and he was ready to make the most out of it. He had only a 6.2% swinging-strike rate, that year. It was also by far his best season defensively, according to the FanGraphs def stat. Perez actually had the third most valuable season as a catcher in Royals history, Porter holds both of the top two.
2008 Mike Aviles (4.4 fWAR)
Again, I was going to try and slide Frank White onto the bench but Mike Aviles actually had a better season in 2008 than White ever did. In fact, Aviles had the best season for any infielder not named Merrifield, Brett, Bell, Kevin Seitzer, or Jose Offerman. Technically, Seitz probably belongs here with his 5.1 fWAR but I don’t trust him to play the middle-infield.
2011 Alex Gordon (6.6 fWAR)
This was Alex’s first full season in the outfield. He called his shot before the season saying he was going to dominate and dominate he did. 23 home runs, 17 stolen bases, gold glove defense, and a batting average over .300. Alex fits well on the bench because he can play some third and first in a pinch, as well.
2015 Lorenzo Cain (6.1 fWAR)
This was the year Cain finished runner-up as the AL MVP while helping the Royals win their first World Series in 30 years. Cain is our pinch-running specialist but there won’t be a huge drop off if he takes the field or is allowed to hit, either.
2009 Zack Greinke
1977 Dennis Leonard
1989 Bret Saberhagen
1993 Kevin Appier
That’s a pair of Cy Young Award winners and then two guys who easily could have been. Dennis Leonard was the most valuable pitcher in all of baseball in 1977 and Kevin Appier was the fourth most valuable, and only 0.1 fWAR behind the only pitcher in the AL rated more highly than him, Randy Johnson. Both pitchers were bested in the voting by guys who were significantly less valuable than they were. Leonard, in particular, was robbed as Sparky Lyle was a reliever who was good but pitched a fraction of the innings.
2014 Wade Davis
2013 Greg Holland
1983 Dan Quisenberry
1989 Jeff Montgomery
2017 Mike Minor
2007 Joakim Soria
2016 Kelvin Herrera
2008 Ramon Ramirez
This bullpen is a whos-who of Royals Relievers throughout the decades. And then you have Mike Minor, who was admittedly very good for the one year he pitched for the Royals. And finally, as the twenty-fifth man on the roster, you have 2008 Ramon Ramirez. Ramirez was actually tied with several others for the fifteenth-most valuable reliever season in Royals history but there were repeats of the other guys all throughout the better placings.
I had honestly forgotten Ramirez ever pitched for the Royals. He only pitched for them in 2008. The Royals dealt Jorge De La Rosa to the Rockies to get him and then, following his successful campaign, flipped him to the Red Sox for Coco Crisp. 2008 was by far his best season as a big leaguer. He had other years with ERAs under 3, but they were usually accompanied by FIPs over 4. Regardless of all that, if Ramirez is pitching against the aliens in this scenario something has probably gone horribly, terribly wrong.
So those guys represent the best seasons at their respective positions for the Royals in team history. What do you think? Should that team be capable of defeating the alien invaders I imagined up? Who are you surprised did and didn’t make the cut? Who would you have manage this club? Will this movie make all of the money?