Monday, December 10, 2012
Three Strikes -- Royals-Rays Edition
By Jayson Stark
Like the rest of the baseball world, I'm still trying to digest that stunning Rays-Royals trade Sunday night. Unlike the rest of the baseball world, I'd like to hit you with some tidbits on that deal from the annals of the hallowed Useless Information Department.
Before we launch into the Three Strikes portion of this program, though, here's a little trivia question for you:
James Shields is one of four pitchers with at least 200 strikeouts and 15 wins in each of the last two seasons. Think you can name the other three? Good luck. (Answer later.)
Strike One -- Where There's A 'Wil' Dept.
The Royals developed Wil Myers into Baseball America's minor league player of the year. Yet, amazingly, he's going to wind up playing as many games in their uniform as Justin Bieber:
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a first. The BA player of the year award has been handed out for 32 seasons now. And how many of the previous 31 winners wound up getting traded before they'd played a single game for the team that developed them?
Not a one. Of course.
In fact, I found only four previous winners who followed even remotely similar paths. Here are those players, and how much time they logged for their original teams:
• Sandy Alomar Jr. (Padres) -- eight games, 23 plate appearances. Won the award in 1989. Traded to Cleveland in December, 1989.
• Jon Rauch (White Sox) -- 10 games, 37.1 innings. Won the award in 2000. Traded to Montreal in July, 2004.
• Paul Konerko (Dodgers) -- 55 games, 166 PA. Won the award in 1997. Traded to Cincinnati in July, 1998.
• Derek Bell (Blue Jays) -- 79 games, 219 PA. Won the award in 1991. Traded to San Diego in March, 1993.
For what it's worth, Alomar wound up playing for seven teams. Rauch played for six (assuming you count the Expos and Nationals as the same team). Bell played for five. And Konerko played for three, although he's spent the last 14 seasons with the White Sox.
Anybody think Tampa Bay is Myers' last stop? Right. Thought so.
Strike Two -- Shields Not Your Average Royal Dept.
I know people debate whether Shields is a true No. 1 starter. But I also know this:
You can count the number of pitchers like him who have pitched for the Royals on one hand. Take a look: As I mentioned in that trivia question, Shields has run off back-to-back seasons of 200-plus strikeouts and 15-plus wins.
In the history of the Royals, I count 199 different pitchers who have started at least one game. And, according to the brand new 2013 edition of Lee Sinins' fabulous Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, you know how many 15-win, 200-whiff seasons those 199 starting pitchers have had COMBINED?
That would be two -- one by Zack Greinke in 2009, the other by Dennis Leonard in 1977. And that's it. So Shields has had as many seasons like that by himself in the last two seasons as all those Royals pitchers have had in the last 44 seasons. Unreal.
• Shields has thrown six complete-game shutouts in the last two seasons. All Royals starters put together have thrown seven in the last SIX seasons -- three by Greinke, two by Luke Hochevar and one each by Gil Meche and Bruce Chen.
• Shields has now ripped off six straight seasons with more than 200 innings pitched. Only one Royals starter in history has ever done that: Leonard (seven in a row, from 1975-81).
And only one Royals starter in the last 25 years has strung together more than three straight 200-inning seasons: Jeff Suppan (four in a row, from 1999-2002).
• Finally, Shields has now had three straight seasons with a strikeout rate of better than eight punchouts per nine innings. So know how many Royals do you think have even done that in more than ONE season in a row, while pitching over 200 innings?
The answer: Exactly two: Greinke in 2008-09 and Kevin Appier in 1995-96. And no Royals starter has ever had three seasons in a row like that.
In case you were wondering (and of course you were), Bret Saberhagen and David Cone had zero seasons like that -- in Kansas City, at least.
So I understand the heat Dayton Moore is taking for giving up at least six years of control of Myers, plus three other high-upside young players, for two years of control of Shields and up to five years of control of Wade Davis. But as you've just read, this is a franchise that has employed only a handful of starting pitchers in its history with the talent and track record of Shields -- Greinke and Leonard, Saberhagen and Cone. And that's probably all, folks.
So what is James Shields doing in Kansas City? That's what.
Strike Three -- Useless Info Dept.
In other tidbits ...
• In Shields' final start with the Rays, he struck out 15 Orioles -- and now he's gone. Well, you sure don't see that much. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other pitcher since 1900 piled up as many 15 strikeouts in a game for any team and then hit the exit ramp: Ron Villone, who had a 16-K game in his last start for the Reds on Sept. 29, 2000, then got traded to Colorado that winter. Anybody out there have THAT name on the tip of their tongue?
• Incidentally, that gem by Shields was a 15-whiff, ZERO-walk game. So guess how many Royals in history have struck out at least 15 hitters in a game in which they walked no one? Yep, not a one. Then again, there has only been one 15-plus-strikeout game of any variety in Royals history -- by Greinke, on Aug. 25, 2009, against the Indians (15 K, 1 BB).
• Don't forget how grim life has been in Kansas City over the last couple of decades. Over the last 18 seasons, the Royals have had a winning record exactly ONCE (in 2003). The citizens of Pittsburgh can relate to that. But other than the Pirates (zero winning seasons) and Royals, only three other teams that have been around that long have fewer than five winning seasons in that period:
• Finally, Rays PR genius Dave Haller reports that, with the exit of Shields, the Rays are down to one player who ever wore the beloved black and teal uniforms of the late, great "Devil Rays." And who would that be? Mr. Ben Zobrist, ladies and gentlemen. (Played 83 games for the 2006-07 Devil Rays before they zapped the "Devil" from their name.)
TRIVIA ANSWER: Who are the three pitchers besides Shields who have been in that 200-K, 15-win club in each of the last two seasons? Justin Verlander is one. Greinke is the second. And if you knew Yovani Gallardo was the third, I'm guessing you've probably eaten at least 11 bratwursts in the last calendar year. Or you had him on your fantasy team.