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Which all-time Royals squad would win?

A fascinating hypothetical

Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson
Sports Contributor Archive 2018

On Friday, the Kansas City Royals Instagram account divvied up all-time Royals greats into two hypothetical teams—Team Powder and Team Royal—and asked their followers which squad would win. Now, normally, this is just a fun sort of post that makes you remember some Royals greats, but the graphic interestingly and specifically pointed out this exercise should take place considering all players in their prime.

This perked my ears up. A hypothetical question with parameters? Well, now. Who could resist such a siren song?

The answer? Not me, of course. That’s why you’re reading this. Congrats, Royals social media team.

As for the short answer to the question posed of “which team would win,” the reasonable answer is probably “either, on any given day.” Both teams are pretty stacked—not quite as stacked as two all-time New York Yankees teams would be, obviously, but it is what is—but even if they weren’t, any team can beat any other team in a single game. How else do you think that last year’s 47-win Detroit Tigers team managed to defeat the Houston Astros, cheating and all, on one occasion?

However, what we can do is see which team is composed of better players in their prime and see which team is a better one. We’ll do this by looking at Wins Above Replacement over each player’s most productive five-year period in their careers. Hitters will be evaluated via Fangraphs’ version of WAR and pitchers will be evaluated via Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, because, in my opinion, that’s the most accurate way to judge players. Besides, I’m writing this and I have nearly unlimited power on this website so that’s what you’re gonna get.

One quick caveat: I decided to look at each player’s best five-year stretch, which in some cases includes a year on a different team. Just because a player is in their prime somewhere else doesn’t make their prime any worse or different.

Let’s take a look.

Team Powder

Position Player Prime Years WAR
Position Player Prime Years WAR
C Salvador Perez 2012-2016 7.6
1B Mike Sweeney 1999-2003 16.1
2B Frank White 1982-1986 16.1
3B Mike Moustakas 2015-2019 11.8
SS Fred Patek 1970-1974 11.9
LF Bo Jackson 1987-1991 7.4
CF Amos Otis 1970-1974 20
RF Al Cowens 1975-1979 10
DH Hal McRae 1974-1978 16.1
SP Bret Saberhagen 1987-1991 30.2
RP Jeff Montgomery 1989-1993 16.4
Average 14.9
Total 163.6

Team Powder is a very good baseball team, whose combined peak WAR eclipsed 163. It would be a defensive powerhouse with Otis, Perez, White, and their 15 combined Gold Gloves up the middle, and it would also feature solid defense at a couple corners with Moustakas and Jackson.

But the inclusion of Bo Jackson, as amazing an athlete as he is, is a puzzling one. Jackson had two excellent years as a Royal in 1989 and 1990, but other than that Jackson was shockingly close to a replacement level player for his MLB career. I have no doubt that an uninjured, baseball-focused Jackson would have been an all-time great, but that’s not how it played out.

Instead, David DeJesus represents a much better left field option than Jackson when considering peak years. DeJesus was on some truly awful Royals teams, but he was a solid contributor a long time. He accumulated 16.6 WAR—over double what Jackson did in his peak—from 2005 through 2009 as a good defender, good baserunner, and above average hitter.

Team Royal

Position Player Prime Years WAR
Position Player Prime Years WAR
C Darrell Porter 1977-1981 18.5
1B Eric Hosmer 2013-2017 10.6
2B Whit Merrifield 2016-2019 12.3
3B George Brett 1976-1980 36.3
SS Alcides Escobar 2011-2015 10.5
LF Alex Gordon 2011-2015 24.1
CF Willie Wilson 1978-1982 22.8
RF Jermaine Dye 1998-2002 10.2
DH Jorge Soler 2015-2019 4.7
SP Kevin Appier 1992-1996 32.3
RP Dan Quisenberry 1981-1985 18.4
Average 18.2
Total 200.7

And here we have the answer: Team Royal is a definitively better team by a very wide margin.

Yes, part of that is due to the presence of Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, but Team Royal has three of the top four Royals players of all time by five-year peak WAR. Kevin Appier is an oft-overlooked Royal due to the era he played in and his lack of awards (no Cy Youngs, no Gold Gloves, only one All-Star appearance), but Appier was amazing at his best. And it’s almost far enough to forget, but Gordon was one of the best players in baseball during his prime.

Another advantage Team Royal has is at catcher. Porter was just a much better player than Perez is at their respective peaks. Look: I know everyone loves Salvy. I do too. But Perez is a good player, not a great one, and one without a defined peak at that.

Team Royal could improve even more by swapping Jorge Soler, whose career consists of one great year (last year) and a bunch of extremely disappointing ones, for Billy Butler. Butler was an underrated player for a lot of his career, and from 2009 through 2013 he hit 26% above league average and accumulated 8.8 WAR despite playing mostly as a designated hitter.

Finally, it’s at least somewhat odd that Lorenzo Cain didn’t get anywhere. Cain is another underrated player who, at his best, was nearly as good as Gordon at his best (which is saying something). Cain accumulated 22.6 WAR in his five-year peak, and could slot above Amos Otis in center field or Al Cowens in right field.

Who else do you think was snubbed? What would an all-time Royals team look like? Let me know if the comments.