Last week Clark wrote a great article about how many players the Royals are from contention.  I agreed with everything he wrote, and it made me a little more hopeful about the short-term and long-term future of the team.  It does finally seem like the Royals are on an upward tajectory.  I believe this team is better than the team from last year.  I do honestly feel that the worst is behind us, even though the present can be pretty rough at times.

Throughout this seeming eternity of bad baseball we’ve had to endure, it seems like it is always getting worse.  However, if this team is truly ascending then the absolute nadir is at some point in the past.  So I decided I would try and find that low point.

The easy way to pinpoint rock bottom is to simply find the year with the worst record and call it good.  For a baseball team it’s more complicated than that.  The low point certainly can coincide with the worst record, but I don’t think that is all there is to it.  A particularly bad season could be the result of some bad luck or some poorly timed injuries to key players.  If the team still has great young players on the roster and in the minor leagues then it could be just a minor set back or it could be a penultimate step.

So how do we determine the bottom?  Clearly the team has to be bad.  While it may not be the worst performing team, there is no way for say, 2003 when the Royals had a winning record to be the low point.  So, while this may be painful let’s look at the winning percentage for the Royals since 1985 (which is obviously the last apex).  The following is a graph of the Royals winning percentage from 1986-2010:

Clearly there is a negative trend from 1986 through about 2005, and what might be the beginning of a positive trend from 2006-2010.   The worst team in terms of winning % is clearly the 2005 team.  They only won 56 games that season.  So if we assume the team is currently ascending then the bottom had to be somewhere around 2004-2006 range.

One other factor is potential future talent.  If a team struggles on the field, but is loaded with young talent ready to break through or there is a plethora of highly touted minor leaguers then it is hard to say it is at the bottom.  I’ve narrowed the time frame down to 2004-2006, so how did the minor leagues look during that time?  Here is how Baseball America ranked the organization during that time period:

2004 – 19

2005 – 28

2006 – 23

Ouch.  Again, it looks like 2005 was potentially the bottom of the barrel.  Alex Gordon was drafted in the 2005 and is the main reason the Royals went from 28 to 23 in overall rankings.  Billy Butler was the best prospect in the system in 2005.

So all signs point to the low point being sometime in 2005, however I don’t know that is the case.  While the 2005 team performed woefully, there were some potential bright spots on that team.  Sweeney hit .300 in 122 games with 21 homers . Dejesus was on both the 2005 and 2006 teams so he doesn’t matter here.  Angel Berroa was having an ok year hitting .270 with 11 homers.  Greinke was having a rough season but he was actually on the team and struck out 114.  J.P. Howell was a young rookie with potential.  The bullpen had a good Macdougal, a good Burgos, a good Sisco and Jeremy Affeldt.  The team didn’t win very many games but relatively speaking there were reasons for hope.

The next year, however was a completely different story.  In 2006, the Royals had Butler and Gordon in the minors which was something everyone could be excited about. However, the major league team was a complete disaster. Here is the most likely used lineup in 2006:

  1. Dejesus – CF
  2. Grudzielanek – 2B
  3. Sweeney – DH
  4. Sanders – RF
  5. Mientkiewicz – 1B
  6. Brown – LF
  7. Teahen – 3B
  8. Berroa – SS
  9. Buck – C

Sweeney played in only 60 games and wasn’t very good, this truly was the beginning of the end for him.  Grudzielanek was good, but clearly not in the future plans.  Berroa hit .234 and it was the beginning of the end for him as well.  Mientkiewicz was the 5th hitter.  The best hitter by far in 2006 was Mark Teahen with a .290/.357/.517 line.  The odd thing about this lineup is that they somehow scored the 8th most runs in team history.  I have no idea how.

What really makes the 2006 team so terrible was the pitching.  This was the year, you might remember where Greinke was taking time off and most were worried we would never see him in uniform again.  So the Royals trotted out this starting rotation, in order of most starts:

  1. Mark Redman – 5.71 ERA
  2. Scott Elarton – 5.34
  3. Runelvys Hernandez – 6.48
  4. Luke Hudson – 5.12
  5. Odalis Perez – 5.64

Jeremy Affeldt and Jorge De La Rosa got a handful of starts but neither fared particularly well either.  This very well might be one of the worst if not THE worst rotation in the history of modern baseball.  Not only was it bad, but only Perez and Hernandez were under the age of 29.  None of these guys had future potential and none of them were very good at the time.  Todd Wellemeyer was by FAR the best performing pitcher on the team in 2006 and he had a K/BB ratio of 1:1.

So 2005 had the worst record and the worst farm system.  2006 had the disappearance of Zack Greinke, and a veteran laden team with the worst pitching staff of all time.  Dayton Moore was hired in 2006, Tony Pena left in 2005.  Somewhere between the beginning of 2005 and the end of 2006 lies the absolute lowest point (I hope).  So let me try and pinpoint the exact day that I think it was:

May 25th, 2006

The Royals had lost 12 straight games entering the day of May 25th.  They had a 1:10 start at home against the Tigers.  The Royals sent Denny Bautista to the mound.  He shut down the Tigers in the first inning and the Royals scored 6 runs in the bottom of the first.  The 11,488 announced fans in attendance had to be feeling that the losing streak was over.  The Royals had an 8-5 lead going into the top of the 8th when Keppel and Burgos allowed the Tigers to tie the game with 3 runs.  The Tigers tacked on another 5 runs in the top of the 9th and won the game 13-8.  It was the Royals 13th straight loss.  The Royals did win the next day and Allard Baird was fired 6 days later.  The Royals were 25 games below .500 at the time and 22 games out of first place and it was only May!

On May 25th, 2006 in the top of the 9th inning Craig Monroe hit a go-ahead homerun off of Elmer Dessens.  At the exact moment that ball cleared the fence, it was the lowest moment in Royals history.  Since that moment things have started to get better.  The farm system has improved, the drafts have improved and the major league team has improved even if it is only slightly.  While the ascension hasn’t been as swift as I have liked, it does seem like it is happening.  So when you get bummed out about a bad stretch of games this season, just think back to that Craig Monroe homer and say to yourself “The worst is behind us”.