4.07.2009

Exhibit 17.23

Royals Season Preview

(I know, I know. You don't care. I'll make it up to you. For the moment, just indulge me).

So this was supposed to go up yesterday, but the game in Chicago got preemptively rained/snowed/winded out so I thought I'd hold it back a day. Anyway, I know who to blame.

That's right, Chicago's own Tom Berenger:

At night, children in Chicago can still hear him singing.

By the way, if you took the under on the number of Tom Berenger references in the month of April, I'm thinking you lost. Sorry. I'll now go back to my previous policy of never mentioning anyone from the cast of Major League.

And we're back to baseball.

So last year my Royals season preview took them seriously enough to say they'd win 78 games (they won 75) but not so seriously that I didn't spend the entire preview classifying the players based on The Sound and the Fury.

(By the way, Jose Guillen is much more of a Jason than I could have ever imagined. I swear he's stealing Tony Pena Jr.'s paychecks and Tony is too scared to say anything about it. In Guillen's defense, it's not like Tony's earning those checks either...)

This year, I feel like the team has earned something a little bit better. I don't know if you noticed, but they finished in 4th place last season. If you don't follow baseball, you should know that A) that's out of five and B) it's a very big deal for a team like the Royals. How big of deal? Well, let's take a look at the box score of a game I went to in 2002. It was my first baseball game in a long, long time and something about how awful the Royals were that day made me want to start rooting for them again like I did when I was a kid. I mean, look at this kicked puppy of a lineup:

D. Sadler
N. Perez
C. Beltran
M. Sweeney
M. Tucker
R. Ibanez
L. Alicea
B. Mayne
C. Febles

Their leadoff hitter was Donnie Sadler--does anyone know what Donnie Sadler's career on-base percentage is? It's .262. In case you don't know, even a less than ideal leadoff hitter should get on base at a .350 clip (at least). Not only is a .262 on-base percentage nearly unheard of for any regular position player, it's suicide for a leadoff hitter. Oh, and his career OPS+, a measure of offensive ability, was a stellar 39 (100 is average). Maybe this will help to put it into perspective. That's an article analyzing the worst leadoff hitters since 1957. Let me summarize it for you: Donnie Sadler, if he led off enough to qualify, would have been the worst and it wouldn't have been particularly close (Sorry, Ivan DeJesus). Now I know what you're thinking. Surely he's fast, right? Nope. 25 career stolen bases over 8 years of irregular major league playing time. Okay, so he must be a defensive wizard at SS, right? Oh...this is the best part:

He was the left fielder!

That's right, the Royals, in the 14th game of the season, led off the game with a guy who only got on base a quarter of the time. They also started a left fielder--traditionally a place to put one of your best hitters--who would finish his career with a 39 OPS+. And that was the same person! I may have been lying before. This may actually be the best part. The starting pitcher of the opposing team was:

Pedro Martinez!

The same Pedro Martinez who already owned 3 Cy Young awards and would finish 2nd in the voting that year. It goes without saying, the Royals got mowed down. Pedro pitched 8 innings, threw 92 pitches, gave up one hit (not, of course, to the valiant Mr. Sadler), no walks, no runs, and generally acted like he was bored. The Royals got another hit off of a token relief pitcher in the 9th, but it didn't matter. For my first baseball game in about a decade, I watched my once beloved team throw out 5'6" Donnie Sadler to lead off against the best pitcher of his generation. I watched them hit two singles. I watched them get shutout in about as lopsided a game as can be played.

I loved it.

It surely says something (not good) about me that if the Royals had trotted out a lineup of stars, destroyed some lesser team, and gone on to win the pennant that year, I probably wouldn't have cared. But they were awful. I mean just unthinkably terrible, the sort of terrible that there are rules against in other sports. So naturally I started following along through the subsequent 100 loss seasons, the mirage of 2003, and the delayed promise of the Alex Gordon/Billy Butler era. It's been a tough ride. I don't need to rehash it all here, but let me just give you this example: for awhile in that stretch, their best pitcher missed a season for psychological reasons and this wasn't even nearly the worst thing that happened.

Now for the first time since 2002, the Royals are actually poised to take a leap. They won't win the division, but it's not inconceivable this year. Gordon and Butler seem ready to make good on at least some of their promise, Greinke and Soria are locked up and ready to cement themselves as two of the best in the American League, and even Mark Teahen seems like he's going to make this 2nd base thing work. Hell, even Kevin Seitzer is back as the hitting coach.

So it's a good time to be a Royals fan, they're just good and young enough to make you think they might finally do something but not so good that anyone can really know. That's why I'm excited for this season. They could win 70 games. They could win 90 games. I really have no idea. I'll hedge my bets and say 80, a 3rd place finish with Greinke and Soria going to the All-Star Game, Gordon leading the team in HR, and Jose Guillen punching at least one fan.

Here's my best prediction: Donnie Sadler will not be in the lineup.

That should count as one win right there.

(In case it seems like I'm picking on Donald, let me say two things: 1. it's not his fault the Royals used him in this way and 2. he really battled against Pedro, taking more pitches than any other Royal).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

and so the farnsworth era begins. auspicious debut.

pete via the centro

derspete said...

(directed at situation referenced in above comment) BLAAARG!

thanks for preview in any case, as you do provide a markedly different approach than can be experienced on the 12 other royals' blogs i read. for my part, i'm hopeful that 161-1 is still in sight...