As a life long Royals fan, I’ve seen a lot of bad baseball and baseball players. A good portion of the 90s and all of the 2000s basically were bad. You kind of got used to it after a while, and embraced the suck.
That’s why, as a kid who played baseball but was not particularly gifted at it, I sometime would pick underdog players to root for. Sometimes a player who was merely above average might appear very good (looking at you, David DeJesus and your average of 3.2 fWAR over your six full seasons as a Royal), and below average players may seem average.
There are three players that come to mind as players I thought significantly higher of than their performance earned. Oddly, it’s one starting pitcher, one position player, and one relief pitcher. Today, I remember these three players.
Before starting this, my memories of Paul Byrd were mostly that he was a massive innings eater. At the time he came to the Royals (2001) I was going into my last year to play in the Babe Ruth league in my town, and was primarily a pitcher, and kind of idolized him. He had a very old-fashioned looking windup, and though never overpowering, was good at mixing his pitches and keeping the hitter off balance.
He was traded to the Royals in 2001, and re-signed in the off season to a one year deal. In 2002, Byrd had a career year. On a team that lost 100 games, Byrd had a record of 17 wins, 11 losses. He was a pitch-to-contact guy (5.09 K/9, ick) but barely walked anyone (1.50 BB/9). He threw 228.1 innings with seven complete games and pitched at least 7 innings fourteen other times. In July that year he started six games, completing three and pitching 8 innings two other times.
Byrd would go on to pitch for several more teams, including post season runs with the Braves (2004), Angels (‘05), Indians (‘07) and Red Sox (‘08). He was also accused of using Human Growth Hormone (HGH) during his career (‘02-’07) but claims he had medical reasons for doing so. He currently is part of the Atlanta Braves broadcast crew.
Tony Graffanino played for the Royals in parts of three seasons, ‘04-’06. He was signed prior to the 2004 season by the Royals after playing multiple seasons with the Braves and White Sox and a short stint with the Devil Rays.
In 2005, he hit .298/.377/.393 in 59 games with the Royals, and was traded to the playoff bound Red Sox for Chip Ambres and Juan Cedeno.
After the ‘05 season, the Royals re-signed Graffanino, In 69 games with the Royals that year, he hit .268/.346/.409. He was traded to the White Sox that season for Jorge de la Rosa.
He is the perfect example of a player who was merely good but seemed much better because of his surroundings. In 2006 his 1.0 fWAR in 69 games was enough for sixth most valuable position player. His contemporaries include John Buck and Esteban German. I liked him because he was good on a team full of bad, and I missed him both years when he was traded.
Leo Nunez (Juan Carlos Oviedo)
Juan Carlos Oviedo at 17 decided to assume the identity of friend Leo Nunez, who was 16 at the time, for a larger signing bonus. He played for the big league club from ‘05-’08. Six foot two and lanky, my memory of him is as someone who threw very hard. I want to say I remember hit breaking 100, but can’t find any source to confirm that. Either way, the ball flying out of his hand with that lanky build is something I vividly remember.
Despite playing four seasons with the Royals on terrible teams, he racked up exactly 0 saves before being shipped off to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs. He went on to become the Marlins closer and had 26, 30 and 36 saves the following three seasons.
Following the 2011 season, he revealed that he had changed his name and switched to his given name. He was given an eight week suspension, and didn’t return to the Majors until 2014 when he appeared in 32 games with the Rays. He has not played in the majors since.
Are there any less known, obscure Royals you remember fondly? The worse they are, the better! Comment below!