clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Who owns the best pitching season in Royals history?

Determining the finest season by a pitcher in Kansas City Royals history.

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It’s the offseason, everyone! A slow one at that—at least so far, especially for the Royals. That may not change all that much the rest of the way, but one can hope. While hoping, let’s take a look back into the team’s history and ponder this question:

Who owns the best pitching season in Kansas City Royals history?

First, take a look at these numbers in a “blind comparison,” and then rank them:

Cullen Jekel

Those are all seasons tossed by Royals pitchers—what I believe to be, in no particular order (well...sort of) the five best pitching seasons in the club’s history.

Royals pitchers have won the Cy Young Award four times. Bret Saberhagen captured the first two, in 1985 and 1989. David Cone won the third in the strike-shortened 1994 season. The most recent belongs to Zack Greinke in his first go-around with the club, from 2009.

But only three of those seasons made the top five posted above. Incidentally (truly!), each of the five seasons I’ve selected belong to a different pitcher. That means one of Saberhagen’s award-winning seasons didn’t make the cut.

Here’s my ranking:

  1. C
  2. E
  3. A
  4. B
  5. D

I ranked “C” first for a couple of different reasons, but mainly because of bonkers ERA+, supremely low FIP, it’s got the highest strikeout percentage of the group by far, and the walk percentage is also very low, coming in second of the top five seasons. This is one of the four Cy Young-winning seasons.

“E” is also outstanding: the lowest opponents’ OPS of the bunch over the second-most innings pitched. This one also includes the lowest walk rate and WHIP while posting the second-best FIP and ERA+. It has a strong position for best overall. Again, the pitcher with this line won the Cy Young.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Guardians Photo by George Kubas/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Coming into this project, I thought I’d have “A” as the best season. Still, third overall in this group isn’t bad. And of the top three, it’s the only one where the pitcher did not win the Cy Young, though as I’ve previously argued elsewhere, he should not only have won the Cy Young that season, but also the MVP Award. Among this group of five, he ranks second in opponents’ OPS and strikeout percentage; third in innings pitched, FIP, and ERA+; fourth in WHIP; and fifth in walk percentage.

Among award winners, I have “B” as the lowest mainly due to that high FIP. I mean, that FIP is far and away the worst of the group, and it’s the biggest outlier among any stat in any season. “D” rounds things out, and it’s by no means a bad season: most innings pitched of the group but with the lowest ERA+ and strikeout percentage with the highest WHIP.

Okay, last chance for you to rank your players before the reveal. Drop your votes in the comments section while also checking out the poll to vote for your No. 1 selection.

Pitcher A is Kevin Appier from 1993. As stated, while writing for KC Kingdom, I dug into this incredible season. There’s no way he should’ve lost the Cy Young to Jack McDowell, and he should’ve also beaten out Black Jack’s teammate, Frank Thomas, for the MVP.

Pitcher B is David Cone from 1994. Is Cone a Hall of Famer? I feel like he’s got a case. An interesting note from that year is that he finished 72 strikeouts behind Randy Johnson even though he recorded only one less out.

Pitcher C is Zack Greinke from 2009. He was 25 at the time. He’s finished in the top 10 for the award four times since including two top-five finishes. He’s one of the rare Cy Young Award winners who didn’t league in wins.

Pitcher D is Mark Gubicza from 1988. He went 20-8 that season, finishing third in Cy Young voting behind winner Frank Viola and Dennis Eckersley, because the ‘80s were weird and writers starting fawning over relievers for some reason. Gubicza led AL pitchers in WAR that season. He received zero first-place votes.

Kansas City Royals Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Pitcher E is Bret Saberhagen from 1989*, which I thought was much better than his 1985 season. He led the Majors in wins (23), ERA (2.16), complete games (12), innings pitched (262.1), ERA+ (180), FIP (2.45), and WHIP (0.961). He also led all players in WAR (9.7).

*The National League Cy Young winner in 1989? Well, the Royals signed him in the offseason, and Mark Davis didn’t do a whole lot when he got here.

To once more visit my ranking, but this time with names:

  1. Zack Greinke, 2009
  2. Bret Saberhagen, 1989
  3. Kevin Appier, 1993
  4. David Cone, 1994
  5. Mark Gubicza, 1988

What do you think? How would you rank these five seasons? And which is the best of the bunch?


Which is the best pitching season in Kansas City Royals history?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Kevin Appier, 1993
    (55 votes)
  • 1%
    David Cone, 1994
    (7 votes)
  • 53%
    Zack Greinke, 2009
    (281 votes)
  • 2%
    Mark Gubicza, 1988
    (11 votes)
  • 32%
    Bret Saberhagen, 1989
    (171 votes)
525 votes total Vote Now