Longtime Royals Review reader Roy from Omaha posed an interesting question last week: Ask Zach Greinke which team was the worst team he played on - the 2005 or the 2023 Royals, since he played for both. Great question! Let’s do a breakdown and see if we can make any sense of this.
The 2005 Royals finished an all-time Royals worst at 56-106. They somehow drew 1,371,181 fans to Kauffman that summer, an average of 16,722 per game. The 2023 team has drawn an average of 15,594 fans through 31 home dates. That will more than likely drop off as the weather heats up and the losses mount. After 62 games, the 2005 team was 21-41, three games better than the 2023 squad, which sits at a dismal 18-43. As Roy astutely pointed out, the 1977 team only lost 60 games the entire season. The 2023 edition is already 70% of the way there and it’s just early June.
The 2005 team had a Pythagorean of 60-102, so they did underperform, but when you lose over 100 games, can you really call it an underperformance? I mean, at what point does it cease to matter?
The 2005 team started with Tony Pena in the dugout but ended with Buddy Bell. 2023 has Matt Quatraro. Pena had one magical season in 2003. Bell was mostly a disaster. Quatraro remains an unknown quantity. Let’s charitably call the managers a draw.
Looking at the lineups, 2005 had a 24-year-old John Buck at catcher. 2023 has Salvy. Advantage Salvy.
The 2005 squad had 37-year-old warhorse Matt Stairs at first base. This year’s team has a 25-year-old Vinnie Pasquantino. Even though Stairs had an OPS+ of 118 that season, and was an underrated hitter, I’ll still take Vinnie.
Second base? Reuben Gotay in 2005, Michael Massey today. I’ll take Massey, thank you, but I can see where you might call this a draw. Massey absolutely has more upside but we’re comparing two years, not career potential.
Shortstop? Angel Berroa in 2005, Bobby Witt Jr. in 2023. Despite his growth pains, I’ll take Witt any day.
Third base. Mark Teahen in 2005, Maikel Garcia in 2023. Teahen was still only 23 (same as Garcia) and still had his best years in front of him. Tough choice, but I’ll go with Teahen, who hit .246 with an OPS+ of 82. Garcia has the potential to match those numbers.
Left field – Terrance Long in 2005, Edward Olivares in 2023. Long hit a respectable .279 that season, that gives the edge to Long.
Centerfield – David DeJesus in 2005. Drew Waters in 2023. DeJesus hit .293 in 2005 and I feel has always been underrated. I’d be thrilled if Waters ends up having as good of a career as DeJesus had. For this exercise though, it’s DeJesus, hands down.
Right field – Emil Brown in 2005 against M.J. Melendez in 2023. Brown hit .286 in 2005 with some power (17 home runs, 86 RBI). Melendez has more potential, but Brown wins with his production.
At the designated hitter, we have 31-year-old Mike Sweeney going against 24-year-old Nick Pratto. Sweeney is a Royals Hall of Famer. Enough said, Sweeney is the choice. Plus, he hit .300 with 21 home runs and 83 RBI in 2005 and we know Pratto isn’t going to duplicate those numbers.
The 2005 starters were: Zach Greinke, Jose Lima, Runelvys Hernandez, D.J. Carrasco and J.P. Howell. The closer was Mike MacDougal. Other pieces were Mike Wood, Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos, Jimmy Gobble and Jeremy Affeldt. That’s an ugly staff, no matter how you slice and dice it. Zach’s best years were still in front of him, but the remainder of those arms…Woof. Howell and Affeldt had some success once they left Kansas City, much to their credit.
The 2023 squad counters with Zach, Jordan Lyles, Brady Singer, Brad Keller, Ryan Yarborough with Scott Barlow doing the closing. Other bullpen pieces are Aroldis Chapman, Josh Staumont, Jose Cuas, Taylor Clarke, Amir Garrett, Carlos Hernandez and Mike Mayers.
I’ll give the edge to the 2023 staff. The starters might be about the same, but the 2023 bullpen, at least on paper, is light years better than the 2005 group. At least until the trade deadline.
Which team is better? If we had the ability to line them up and play some games, you’d think the 2023 team would win most of them. The 2005 team definitely had better hitters with six players posting OPS+ of over 107 (the other two being Tony Graffanino and Aaron Guiel). The 2005 team hit for a much better average and OBP. I think the 2023 team has more potential, but the numbers are what they are.
What made the 2005 team so bad? Pitching. Greinke, Lima and Hernandez lost 17, 16 and 14 games respectively. The entire staff had an ERA of 5.49 and ranked at or near the bottom of the American League in nearly every statistical category. It’s a shame the Royals brass couldn’t put together a better staff for that team. They had some hitters.
The 2023 staff haven’t performed much better than their 2005 counterparts, what with a 5.07 ERA. They too rank near the bottom in most categories.
I thought maybe the schedule had some play, this being the first season that teams play fewer games against their divisional opponents. That’s a shame since the American League Central resembles a burning outhouse this season. For the 2023 Royals, that doesn’t seem to matter much as they’ve been equally putrid against good and bad teams, having totally crapped the bed against Oakland, Colorado and the White Sox.
At the end of the day, which team is worse? It pains me to say it, but I believe we are watching the worst Royals team in history this season. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that this team is going to break the all-time loss record of 106. They make too many mental mistakes. They can’t hit or field. Their pitching is all over the board. Some days the staff looks great and the next game, they get pounded. If the front office does their job and moves some veterans at the trade deadline, this team will get younger fast. How will that play? I’m thinking this group is going to land between 108 and 110 losses.
We are the champions
A little non-baseball aside. My son James is developing into some sort of championship whisperer. It started the year he moved to Chicago. The Blackhawks almost immediately won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. He then moved to Minneapolis, and while that didn’t help the Twins or the Vikings, the Lynx won three titles while he lived there. Yeah, I know it’s the WNBA and a second (or third) tier sport, but a championship is a championship. They even had a parade. I know that because I accidentally drove into it one year. Just wave and smile. Wave and smile.
His next stop was Cleveland. The Indians came close, losing the 2016 World Series to the Cubs in seven, but the Cavaliers took care of business, ending a 52-year championship drought for the city of Cleveland. Then he moved to Denver. And while the Bronco’s are gleefully suffering, the Avalanche did win the Stanley Cup last season and the Nuggets, now in the NBA finals, have a good chance to make it two years in a row for the city of Denver. If your city has had a long championship drought (here’s looking at you Atlanta and San Diego and Buffalo and Phoenix), make an offer. I’ll see if I can get him to move.