Jayson Stark: Kansas City Royals

Three Strikes -- Royals-Rays Edition

December, 10, 2012

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?

James Shields


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:

Pirates 0

Royals 1

Orioles 3

Brewers 4

Nationals/Expos 4

• 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.

Welcome to another edition of Five Astounding Facts:

1 This is for every one of you who watched that All-Star Game on Tuesday and said something to the effect of: "It figures. The All-Star Game came to Kansas City, and a Royals game busted out." Oh yeah? Well, how about this:

The Royals hadn't lost a home game by eight runs or more in any of their previous 94 games (since May 16, 2011). And they hadn't lost an 8-0 game at home (or any shutout by a worse score) in any of their previous 503 games. Last time it happened: May 22, 2006, in an 8-0 loss to Detroit. And guess who started for the Tigers that night? Who else? Justin Verlander.

2 Ron Washington joked at his All-Star press conference on Monday that he hasn't had a lot of success in big games against the National League. Hey, if he only knew. He just became the first American League manager to lose back-to-back All-Star Games since Billy Martin in 1977-78. And ...

Even more notably, Washington just became the second manager in history to lose two straight All-Star Games AND two straight World Series in (essentially) back-to-back years. But at least he's in good company. The other guy to do it? That was Bobby Cox (who lost the 1991-92 World Series and the 1992-93 All-Star Games).

3 When Matt Cain started this All-Star Game, it made him and Tim Lincecum the fifth set of current teammates who have each started one of those games. The others:

Jered Weaver (2011), Dan Haren (2007)

Roy Halladay (2009 and 2011), Cliff Lee (2008)

Ubaldo Jimenez (2010), Derek Lowe (2002)

Cain (2012), Lincecum (2009), Brad Penny (2006).

But what separates Cain and Lincecum from those other four sets of names? They started the All-Star Game WHILE they were teammates. (The others joined forces later.) Last teammates to do that: Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001-02.

4 How much did the Dodgers miss Matt Kemp? This ought to sum it up:

• The Dodgers from May 28 to the All-Star break: 12 HR in 1,442 PA. That's one home run in every 120 trips to the plate.

• Kemp all by himself in April: 12 HR in 98 PA. That's one home run every eight trips.

All righty ... Any more questions?

5 Finally, what's a week without another Adam Dunn tidbit? Couldn't help it, because the Big Donkey has set two more records that are either unbreakable or unthinkable. Or possibly both.

RECORD NO. 1: His 134 first-half strikeouts were, not so shockingly, the most at the All-Star break in the history of swinging and missing. The previous record was 129, by Ryan Howard in 2008. But the former AL record was "only" 117 by -- guess who? -- Dunn, himself, last year. The most by any AL hitter in history who isn't named Adam Dunn was 115, by Bo Jackson in 1987. And keep in mind that we'd never seen ANY player whiff 100 times before the break until Bo knew how to make that happen.

RECORD NO. 2: Even more impressive, Dunn had already rolled up 202 plate appearances by the break in which he'd either walked (68 times) or struck out (134). Wait. Seriously? Did we just say 202? Shouldn't that be just about impossible? The previous record for most first-half trips to the plate without the ball leaving the batter's box was 181, by Jack Cust in '08 (114 K's, 67 BBs). So Dunn incinerated that one. And before you toss Barry Bonds' name out there, sorry. Not even close. Yeah, he walked a lot. But he rarely struck out in his later years. So his most ever was 150 in 2004 (131 BBs, 19 K's).

So ... good old Adam Dunn. He's a freak of baseball nature. But if that's what it takes to keep the Five Astounding Facts staff in business, we're all for it.

Three Strikes -- Cy Young edition

November, 17, 2009

Strike One -- Last Shall Be First Dept.

Zack Greinke


Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award Tuesday. Excellent choice. And the correct choice. It even took a fascinating shift by the electorate away from the always-seductive "wins" column to make that election happen. And that always gets our hearts pumping.

But the really amazing part is that Zack Greinke won that Cy Young for a team that hasn't played a postseason game since the Ronald Reagan administration and was never a threat to break that streak this year after Memorial Day. You might have noticed that.

In case you lost track of the Royals the day you moved into your beach house, they finished 32 games under .500, and 21.5 games out of first place. And, thanks to three dramatic losses in the Metrodome in the final weekend of the season, they also finished tied with Cleveland for last place. And that's where this award gets all historic on us.

Why? Because the list of Cy Young Award winners for last-place teams is one you won't need all your fingers to count up. Ready? Here it comes:
  • 2009 -- Greinke, Royals (65-97)
  • 2006 -- Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks (76-86)
  • 1997 -- Roger Clemens, Blue Jays (76-86)
  • 1972 -- Steve Carlton, Phillies (59-97)

So Greinke is only the fourth pitcher ever to win a Cy Young for a last-place team, and only the second to win one for a team that lost 97 games. But just as it wasn't Carlton's fault in '72 that he pitched for a team that bad, it wasn't Greinke's fault that he pitched for the Royals this year. It's great to see the voters were actually on board with that.

Strike Two -- No Way To Treat a King Dept.

Felix Hernandez


So now that we've got those Greinke accolades out of the way, here's a moment of sympathy for Felix Hernandez.

Not only would King Felix (19-5, 2.49) have been an eminently deserving choice in nearly any other year, his season now gets filed under Best Seasons By A Pitcher Who Didn't Win A Cy Young.

Only five other pitchers in the division-play era have had a season with that many wins, an ERA that low and five losses or fewer and not gotten a Cy Young out of it. It's quite a list (winner that year in parentheses):
  • Pedro Martinez 2002 -- 20-4, 2.26 (Barry Zito)
  • Randy Johnson 1997 -- 20-4, 2.28 (Roger Clemens)
  • David Cone 1988 -- 20-3, 2.22 (Orel Hershiser)
  • Orel Hershiser 1985 -- 19-3, 2.03 (Dwight Gooden)
  • John Candelaria 1977 -- 20-5, 2.34 (Steve Carlton)

And if King Felix thinks he feels bad, he should know this: Candelaria finished fifth in '77.

Strike Three -- V Doesn't Stand For Victory Dept.

Justin Verlander


Finally, here's a little tip of the cap to Justin Verlander, too. The only other pitcher in this decade who went Cy Young-less despite as good a won-loss record (19-9) and as many strikeouts (269) as Verlander had this year was Curt Schilling (in both 2001 and 2002).

But just so he knows that lots of great pitchers don't win Cy Youngs, here are two lists of other active pitchers with no Cys that ought to cheer him up:

Most 20-win seasons, no Cy Youngs:
150 career wins, no Cy Youngs:

And then there's the biggest outrage of all: Mariano Rivera has never won a Cy Young -- or any other major award. But that's a rant for another day.