Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Look Back at 2000

"But now, we have an owner. We have a family that's committed to making sure that the
Royals play in Kansas City forever."

-Royals owner David Glass

2000 was a fun, but frustrating season. A season in which the Royals were never out of any game, due to an explosive offense, and a bit of luck. But it was also a season in which Royals opponents were also never out of any game due to a historically awful pitching staff. This was the height of the performance-enhanced era, where home runs flew at ridiculous rates and scores looked like they came from beer-league softball games. But that is not to discount the Royals offense in 2000. They were stocked with stars - Damon, Dye, Sweeney and Beltran. It was just a matter of keeping them together long enough to start winning.

The man in charge with keeping them together was new owner David Glass. He purchased the club in the spring of 2000, and committed to fielding a winner for Kansas City. He promoted a young, hard-working former scout named Allard Baird to the position of General Manager and it looked like the Royals were embarking on a new era, to emerge from the darkness and chaos of the late 90s.

2000 in a Box:

Record: 77-85 (4th place, 18 GB)
Runs Scored: 879 (5th in AL)
Runs Allowed: 903 (13th in AL)
Park Factor: Batting - 104/Pitching - 105 (over 100 favors batters)

General Manager: Herk Robinson, Allard Baird (promoted June 17)
Manager: Tony Muser

Attendance: 1,564,847 (12th in the AL) - 19,319 per game
Stadium: Kauffman Stadium

Longest Winning Streak: 5 (May 5 to May 10 and July 18 to July 22)
Longest Losing Streak: 9 (April 14 to April 23)
How they started: After dropping their first two, they won eight of their next nine, including four straight walk-off wins. They then lost nine in a row.
Best month: May. They went 14-12 and kept their neck above .500.
Worst month: July. They went 10-17, despite a season high five game win streak.
Best game: April 12. The Royals trailed 6-0 in the seventh, but battled back with four runs to make it a close game. In the bottom of the ninth, light-hitting shortstop Rey Sanchez hit a three-run home run to win the game, the third consecutive walk-off victory for the Royals.
Worst game: May 11 or June 18. In May, the mighty Indians dropped nine runs on the Royals in the first two innings, capped off by a Manny Ramirez grand slam in a 16-0 Cleveland victory. In June, the A's dropped 21 runs on the Royals, sending them below .500 for good.
Loved to face: Baltimore. The Royals went 7-3 against the Birds, including three straight walk-off wins against them in April.
Hated to face: New York. Kansas City dropped eight of ten to the eventual World Champs.

Say Hello To: Gregg Zaun, Dave McCarty, Jeff Reboulet, Todd Dunwoody, Jorge Fabregas, Brian Johnson, Ricky Bottalico, Jerry Spradlin, Miguel Batista, Brian Meadows (acquired in July)
Say Goodbye To: Jeff Montgomery, Hipolito Pichardo, Jeremy Giambi, Scott Service, Sal Fasano, Jamie Walker (released in July), Jay Witasick (traded in July)

What Went Right: The Royals set a franchise record in runs scored, finishing fifth in the league. Mike Sweeney and Jermaine Dye put up MVP-type numbers, while Joe Randa, Johnny Damon and Mark Quinn provided a strong supporting cast.

What Went Wrong: The bullpen had twenty-six saves and thirty losses. Relievers posted a 5.59 ERA. Starters were not much better, posting a 5.43 ERA. The 5.48 team ERA was the worst in franchise history to that point.

Youngsters (25 or under)— 13 (youngest semi-regular was 22 year old pitcher Chad Durbin)
Prime (26-29)—9 semi-regulars
Past-Prime (30-33)—7 semi-regulars
Old Timers (34+)— 1 (36 year old utility infielder Jeff Reboulet)
Rookies: Mark Quinn, Chad Durbin, Dan Reichert, Kris Wilson
Top Prospect— Twenty-two year old outfielder Dee Brown hit .269 with 23 home runs and 20 steals at AAA Omaha. Eighteen year old Jimmy Gobble was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for High A Charleston.
2000 Draft: Mike Stodolka (4th overall), Mike Tonis, David DeJesus, Zach McClellan, Ryan Bukvich, Ruben Gotay

Best OPS+: Jermaine Dye, 135
Most Runs Created: Mike Sweeney, 136 (10th in the league)
Highest Batting Average: Mike Sweeney, .333 (7th in the league)
Lowest Batting Average: Carlos Beltran, .247
Most Home Runs: Jermaine Dye, 33
Most RBI: Mike Sweeney, 144 (2nd in the league)
Most Stolen Bases: Johnny Damon, 46 (1st in the league)
Moneyball Award: Mike Sweeney, 71 walks
Angel Berroa Award: Rey Sanchez, 28 walks in 555 plate appearances
Best Position Player: Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney
Worst Position Player: Rey Sanchez

Most Wins: Jeff Suppan, 10
Most Losses: Mac Suzuki, Dan Reichert, 10
Most Saves: Ricky Bottalico, 16
Best ERA: Mac Suzuki, 4.34
Worst ERA: Chad Durbin, 8.21
Most Innings: Jeff Suppan, 217
Best Pitcher: Mac Suzuki
Worst Pitcher: Chad Durbin

Career Best Seasons: Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon, Mark Quinn, Dave McCarty, Mac Suzuki, Blake Stein, Dan Reichert, Jose Santiago
Career Worst Seasons: Carlos Beltran, Chad Durbin, Miguel Batista, Jerry Spradlin
Nicknames: "Smilin' Joe" Randa, "Dos Carlos" - Febles and Beltran. The Royals also began marketing the team as "The Blue Wave" after a number of walk-off victories.

Dodging Bullets
64 year-old Virginia Olsthoorn of Hays, Kansas was struck with a bullet after a shooter fired three shots into Kauffman Stadium on a June 13 game. One bullet hit an empty seat, one hit the back of the scoreboard, and a third passed through Olsthoorn's abdomen and lodged in her left elbow. Luckily, Olsthoorn survived, but the shooter was never identified.

Homer Heaven
On April 9, the Royals and Twins became the first teams ever to hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in the same game. Ron Coomer, Jacque Jones and Matt LeCroy all went deep in the top of the sixth, while Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney duplicated the feat in the bottom of the eighth in a seven run inning. Unfortunately, the Royals efforts weren't enough to overcome a thirteen run Twins lead, and the Royals fell 13-7.

Winter Rumors
The Royals went into the off-season determined to shore up what had been an awful bullpen in 1999. They also had an eye on stocking the farm system with prospects, and possibly moving some larger contracts. Johnny Damon and Jose Rosado drew the most interest out of any Royals players at the winter meetings, as teams knew the Royals would be hard-pressed to keep either player long-term. The Cincinnati Reds inquired about Rosado, but were quickly rejected. The Seattle Mariners were supposedly interested in Damon to replace Ken Griffey Jr., but General Manager Herk Robinson denied he had been contacted. Ultimately, the Royals failed to make a splash at the winter meetings, and made minor moves like trading for reliever Jerry Spradlin and signing catcher Brian Johnson.

Later that winter they signed former Phillies closer Ricky Bottalico to replace the retiring Jeff Montgomery. They also dealt first baseman Jeremy Giambi to the Athletics to clear what had been a logjam at first base, although just a few weeks later, they acquired first baseman Dave McCarty from the Athletics. They acquired catchers Gregg Zaun and Jorge Fabregas, while dealing catcher Sal Fasano. The club also signed veteran pitcher Tyler Green and slugging first baseman Paul Sorrento to help the club. However, neither would make the club.

Some would say the Royals were simply rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic. Others would say they were rearranging chairs in the cockpit of the Hindenberg. In any case, these moves failed to excite the fanbase.

Perhaps the most important news to the franchise was the announcement in November that former Wal Mart CEO David Glass would submit a bid to purchase the Royals. Glass had been the Chairman of the Board of the franchise since Ewing Kauffman's death, and was his handpicked successor. His bid came on the heels of Major League Baseball rejecting the bid of New York lawyer Miles Prentice. Glass had previously decided not to pursue ownership after his cost-cutting moves as Chairman made him unpopular with fans.

I can't tell you how many phone calls and letters I've gotten from people in Kansas City encouraging me. And the encouragement, particularly from the business community, has been unanimous. It was the overwhelming response I got that caused me to reconsider.

In late April, Major League Baseball approved the sale of the club to Glass for $96 million. Glass looked to make his imprint on the club quickly. He signed manager Tony Muser to a two-year extension, promoted Allard Baird to General Manager, named his son Dan as team president, and announced his intention to sign outfielder Johnny Damon to a long-term deal. He stepped down from his position with Wal Mart, although he continued on as a full-time adviser, a position he promised Royals fans he would relinquish as well. It would be a new era for Royals baseball, but it would not be quite as rosy as Glass had envisioned.

Walk-Off Wonders
The Royals went into the 2000 season hoping the acquisitions of veterans Jerry Spradlin and Ricky Bottalico would shore up what was an awful bullpen in 1999. But it only took one game for the bullpen to lose a game, as Spradlin gave up a walk-off home run to Blue Jays third baseman Tony Batista in the bottom of the ninth after the Royals had scratched together two runs to tie the game earlier in the inning. "Walk-off" would be a familiar term for the Royals in 2000. In early April, they would go on an amazing run with four consecutive walk-off victories.

April 10 vs. Minnesota - The Royals took a 5-3 lead into the ninth only to see Ricky Bottalico give up a two-run home run to Jacque Jones. Undaunted, Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the ninth with a home run off La Troy Hawkins to win the game.

April 11 vs. Baltimore - The Royals trailed 5-2 in the bottom of the eighth when Joe Randa hammered a three run homer off Al Reyes to tie the game and give the Royals new life. The game would go into extra innings, and in the bottom of the twelfth, backup catcher Brian Johnson hit a two-run home run to give the Royals the victory.

April 12 vs. Baltimore - The Royals were down 6-0 by the Seventh Inning Stretch, but stormed back with four runs in the seventh to make things interesting. The Royals trailed by two in the bottom of the ninth when Gregg Zaun led off the inning with a walk. Mark Quinn would double, bringing the tying run to the plate. Light-hitting shortstop Rey Sanchez did the improbable, hitting a game-winning three-run home run.

April 13 vs. Baltimore - The Royals took a 5-0 lead into the seventh, but the Orioles would be the ones to storm back with four runs to tighten up the game. Ricky Bottalico would blow a one-run lead in the ninth, requiring another night of heroics from the offense. Carlos Beltran would comply with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to score Rey Sanchez, giving the Royals a fourth straight walk-off victory.

It's amazing. I've never seen anything like it.
-Rightfielder Jermaine Dye

What is going on here?
-Royals announcer Denny Matthews, on the Rey Sanchez home run

The Royals then went on the road, where they would not get the luxury of going for a walk-off victory. Confused, they lost all nine games on the road trip, failing to take a lead in any inning.

April 25 vs. Tampa Bay
- The Royals returned to face the Devil Rays and took a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Perhaps reliever Dan Reichert wanted to see his teammates rejoice at home plate with another walk-off victory, or perhaps he just wasn't very good, but he coughed up the lead by allowing a solo home run to Greg Vaughn. However, in the bottom of the ninth Carlos Beltran would walk and steal second, putting the tying run on base. An intentional walk would set up a double play and bring up slugger Mark Quinn. Quinn showed his might by dribbling a grounder to pitcher Albie Lopez, seemingly ending the inning. Lopez would bounce his throw into second base, where it would skid into the outfield, allowing Beltran to score with yet another walk-off victory.

April 26 vs. Tampa Bay - The Royals would blow a 6-1 lead in the late innings, and went into the bottom of the ninth tied at six. Dave McCarty singled to get a ninth inning rally started, but Jermaine Dye wiped him out with a double play. Undeterred, the Royals would follow with three consecutive hits, including a single by Mark Quinn that would score Carlos Beltran with the game winning run.

The streak would finally end the next night when the Royals cruised to a victory against the Mariners, but the following week the Royals overcame a two run deficit with another walk-off victory against Oakland. In early May, the Royals swept the White Sox, then swept a short two game series in Detroit. They were 18-15, just half a game back of the White Sox as the Royals headed into Cleveland.

I don't want to suggest that any series in May is critical. But of course, we'd like to have a good showing against them. They've been at the top for quite a while, and they're always the team to chase.
-Royals General Manager Herk Robinson

In Cleveland, reality hit the Royals. Hard. Chad Durbin gave up nine runs in the first two innings as the Indians spanked the Royals 16-0 in what was at the time the third worst margin of loss in Royals history. The Indians would sweep the Royals, including the series finale in which the Royals would blow ninth inning and twelfth inning leads.

The Royals would tread water over the next month, staying above .500. They ripped through interleague play, taking four out of six from the Pirates, including a dominating 16-3 victory. Oakland came to town in mid-June and took the first two games against Kansas City. On the series finale, they dropped twenty-one runs on the Royals, the second most runs the Royals had ever given up and the worst margin of loss in team history. The defeat dropped the Royals below .500, a watermark they would never again meet. On that same day, the Royals announced Jose Rosado would miss the rest of the year with shoulder surgery, and that Allard Baird had been promoted to General Manager. It would be a chilling omen.

Offensive Behavior
The Royals offense was proving to be one of the best in team history with a lineup of prolific sluggers. Jermaine Dye would flirt with the Royals team home run record, eventually ending with thirty-three round-trippers. Mike Sweeney would chip in with twenty-nine of his own and rookie Mark Quinn would slam twenty, most among American League rookies. Sweeney's 144 RBI would be second in the league, Dye would drive in 118 and even Joe Randa would enjoy a 100 RBI season. Setting the table was Johnny Damon, who led the league with 136 runs scored and 46 steals. Dye and Sweeney would both score 100 runs as well. Sweeney, Dye and Damon would all hit well over .300 for the year.

Curiously absent from the offensive explosion was 1999 Rookie of the Year Carlos Beltran. Beltran slumped badly in his sophomore season, and suffered a knee injury in June. When the Royals sent him to Florida to rehab his injury, Beltran refused, causing the Royals to suspend him without pay. Beltran would eventually comply with his rehab assignment and rejoined the parent club in September.

The 2000 team would enjoy its most prolific offensive season in franchise history, scoring 879 runs, the most ever by a Royals ballclub. They scored the fifth most runs in the league, ahead of the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox. They succeeded on offense despite drawing the fewest walks in the league and finishing eleventh in slugging. However, they were fifth in on-base percentage and struck out fifty fewer times than any other team.

In July, Jermaine Dye became the first Royals player to be voted into the All-Star team since Bo Jackson in 1989. Joining Jermaine in Atlanta was Mike Sweeney, named as a reserve. It was the first time since 1989 the Royals had sent more than one representative to the Midsummer Classic.

The Curious Case of Mark Quinn
Mark Quinn was a superstar, at least in his own eyes. A tremendous power hitter in college at Rice University, the Royals made Quinn an eleventh round draft pick in 1995. Quinn won a batting title at AA and mashed home runs at every level. But the Royals would not promote him. Finally, after leading the Pacific Coast League in hitting in 1999, the Royals finally gave him a shot. He smashed two home runs in his first game.

Quinn got a shot in 2000 with the Royals and hit .293 in his first month. In June he was still hitting .279 with good power numbers when the Royals shipped him to Omaha. His lackadaisical attitude on defense, and his baserunning gaffes had drawn the ire of manager Tony Muser. Quinn would return two weeks later and would go on to finish with a twenty home run season and finish third in Rookie of the Year balloting.

But Mark Quinn was never a serious student of the game. Although he had drawn walks, limited his strikeouts and hit for average in the minors, he got lazy in the majors and failed to adjust. He began to swing at everything, even going 192 plate appearances without a walk (and when the streak ended, Kauffman Stadium erupted in fireworks). Despite being named Defensive Outfielder of the Year in the minors, Quinn looked awful on defense in the majors, mostly due to a lack of hustle. In 2002, he sustained an injury after engaging in "kung-fu" with his brother, and by 2003 he was washed up and out of the big leagues.

Bullpen Blues
The Royals hovered close to .500 through June, but a 10-17 July sunk any dim hopes of contention. Some thought the Royals would trade star outfielder Johnny Damon, a Scott Boras client who had spurned offers to sign long-term with the Royals. After the trading deadline, however, Damon was still a Royal. Kansas City did make one deadline move, picking up soft-tossing Brian Meadows in exchange for hard-throwing reliever Jay Witasick.

Witasick and Meadows were just two of the twenty-four pitchers the Royals shuffled through during the season. The motley crew of journeymen and not-quite-ready prospects combined for a 5.48 ERA, second worst in the league. Reliever Jose Santiago was the only pitcher on the entire team who ended with an ERA under four (and even that is misleading because by some metrics, he had one of the worst seasons by a reliever in the last few decades). The staff gave up 239 home runs, most in baseball and the most a Royals team had ever yielded.

The team would rack up 56 "blown saves" between 1999-2000, leading many observers to conclude that if only the Royals had a "Proven Closer", they would be competitive. Trouble is, it wasn't just that they lacked a "Proven Closer" - it was that the entire bullpen was awful. The Royals were blowing as many leads in the seventh inning as they were in the ninth. The bullpen as a whole posted a 5.59 ERA. Closer Ricky Bottalico, who converted 16 of 23 save opportunities, posted a 4.83 ERA, one of the better marks on the team, although still pretty bad. But it was the guys setting him up - Jerry Spradlin (5.52 ERA), Jay Witasick (5.40 ERA as a reliever), and Chris Fussell (5.61 ERA as a reliever) - who were god awful.

A New Hope?
The Royals in 2000 had made some dramatic improvements. They won ten more games than they had the previous season, winning their most games in seven seasons. Their lineup looked like a premier offensive machine. The major weakness was clearly the bullpen, an area that could be addressed in the winter. With a new owner and financial stability , the Royals seemed poised to sign their young stars to long-term deals. And with Baseball America lauding their farm system as being one of the deeper systems in baseball, the future in Kansas City looked bright.

There's just an optimism and an outlook in the whole organization that we're really moving ... in the right direction.
-David Glass

Ah, dreams.

2000 Starting Lineup  AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  BI OPS+ RC
C Gregg Zaun .274 .390 .410 7 33 102 41
Just 34 strikeouts compared to 43 walks
1B Mike Sweeney .333 .407 .523 29 144 131 136
Led league with 15 hit-by-pitches
2B Carlos Febles .257 .345 .316 2 29 68 40
Second in the league in sacrifice hits
3B Joe Randa .304 .343 .438 15 106 94 89
6th in the league in singles
SS Rey Sanchez .273 .314 .322 1 38 61 50
Committed just four errors in 671 chances
LF Johnny Damon .327 .382 .495 16 88 118 133
Third toughest guy to strikeout in the league
CF Carlos Beltran .247 .309 .366 7 44 69 43
A perfect 13/13 in stolen base attempts
RF Jermaine Dye .321 .390 .561 33 118 135 133
Fifth in the league in total bases
DH Mark Quinn .294 .342 .488 20 72 105 82
Led AL rookies in home runs
Bench AVG OBA SLG HR BI OPS+ RC
C Jorge Fabregas .282 .320 .373 3 17 73 17
All three of his home runs came during the first week of July
C Brian Johnson .208 .229 .352 4 18 43 9
.747 OPS at home, .397 on the road
1B Dave McCarty .278 .329 .478 12 53 99 42
Career highs in home runs and RBI; 1.025 OPS against lefties
IF Jeff Reboulet .242 .325 .280 0 14 54 17
Went 3-25 in July
IF Luis Ordaz .221 .257 .240 0 11 26 6
Committed just one error
OF Todd Dunwoody .208 .235 .275 1 23 29 12
Was 8-16 against Oakland

2000 Pitching Staff   W-L   ERA  G GS  IP    SO ERA+ 
SP Jeff Suppan 10-9 4.94 35 33 217 128 103
Gave up league leading 36 home runs
SP Mac Suzuki 8-10 4.34 32 29 188.2 135 117
3.69 ERA on the road
SP Dan Reichert 8-10 4.70 44 18 153.1 94 108
Led the league with 18 wild pitches
SP Blake Stein 8-5 4.68 17 17 107.2 78 108
Finished strong with a 2.75 ERA in six September starts
SP Chad Durbin 2-5 8.21 16 16 72.1 37 62
8th worst ERA all-time from a pitcher with at least 70 innings
SP Jay Witasick 3-8 5.94 22 14 89.1 67 85
Dominated the heavy hitting Indians, with a 0.87 ERA
SP Brian Meadows 6-2 4.77 11 10 71.2 26 106
Went at least eight innings in three of his ten starts
SP Miguel Batista 2-6 7.74 14 9 57 30 66
Was awful as a reliever, giving up 29 runs in 17 1/3 innings

Bullpen W-L ERA G GS IP SO ERA+

CL Ricky Bottalico 9-6 4.83 62 0 72.2 56 105
16 of out of 23 in save opportunities
RP Jerry Spradlin 4-4 5.52 50 0 75 54 92
3.40 ERA at the All-Star Break, fell apart the second half
RP Jose Santiago 8-6 3.91 45 0 69 44 130
3.19 ERA on the road
RP Chris Fussell 5-3 6.30 20 9 70 46 80
Gave up a whopping eighteen home runs
RP Kris Wilson 0-1 4.19 20 0 34.1 17 121
2.42 home ERA in 22 1/3 innings
RP Jason Rakers 2-0 9.14 11 0 21.2 16 55
Opponents had a .999 OPS against him.

5 comments:

ChaimMKeller said...

Very nice, Max, I knew you'd been working on this one a while. A very interesting year to re-visit.

Incidentally, where did you get the "blown save" numbers from? When we (amongst others) had the "Closer is/isn't important" debate, I'd been looking for blown save data, but I couldn't find any numbers.

Is it just coincidence that you're posting this after Jermaine Dye's entry in the top 100, or was it an intentional segue?

Max said...

The blown saves stat was mentioned in several articles lamenting the weaknesses of the team. From what I could gather they had 30 blown saves in 1999, 26 in 2000. I don't know where you can find those numbers though.

The misleading part of that stat though, is that when you think "blown save", you think "9th inning save". Many of those blown saves were blown in the 6th, 7th, or 8th inning. And in some cases, the Royals came back to win. And in some games, the Royals would come back, then blow it again, giving them two blown saves. So people were talking as if the Royals would have won 90 games had they just had a "proven closer", which led to the Johnny Damon/Roberto Hernandez deal. It was a flawed assumption (not to mention Roberto wasn't that good).

I had been working on the 2000 season for awhile, but the Jermaine post did kinda inspire me to finish it.

Did you really believe the Royals were on the cusp of being pretty good? I certainly did. I remember how much praise the Royals were receiving for their farm system at the time, and we really did have some stars at the big league level. The future did look bright.

Oh how we were wrong.

ChaimMKeller said...

I don't think my post-2000 disappointment was nearly as bad as my post-2003 disappointment. I couldn't believe after that year, and after that dramatic opening day win, how badly we started out of the gate in 2004.

I realize that team blown saves are not always on the closer, but I know that there are individual blown save stats as well. Someone's keeping track of that number, but for the life of me, I can't find it in any of the usual on line sources.

Jefe said...

You can add up the B/S from here: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching?sort=blownSaves&split=0&league=al&season=2000&seasonType=2&type=pitch2&ageMin=17&ageMax=51&hand=a&pos=all&minip=0

Anonymous said...

Yo Max, you haven't made a contribution to your blog almost 2 months! What gives? You give up on this thing? There's like 40 more greatest Royals of all time that have yet to come up! Come on man, I need more material!!!