So I think it’s only fair that I grade the performance of all those people – players and non-players alike – who made any sort of contribution to the 2014-2015 Royals. The players are listed in descending order of their bWAR over the last two seasons combined. As always, these grades are tough but fair.
Lorenzo Cain (12.3 bWAR): Cain dedicated himself to getting into better physical shape after the 2013 season, and found a way to eliminate the leg injuries that had plagued him in the past, playing in 133 games in 2014 and 140 games in 2015. He legged out enough infield singles to bat .300 for the first time in 2014, and this season he started hitting for the power he had only flashed before, hitting 16 home runs. He was 42 runs above average defensively over the past two years. This season he finished 3rd in the AL MVP vote, becoming the first Royal since 1985 to finish in the top seven. (Think about that. From 1986 to 2014, 203 players finished in the top seven of the MVP vote. For most of that time, there were only 14 AL teams. And yet not one Royal placed.) Cain was the best player on a world championship team. That’s pretty sweet.
Also: in the Wild Card game last year, Cain batted in the bottom of the eighth with the Royals down four runs, and hit a crucial RBI single; he would eventually score himself. If Cain had not succeeded in that moment, the Royals don’t win the Wild Card game. If they don’t win the Wild Card game, they obviously do not go to the World Series in 2014. In addition, without the experience garnered in the postseason last year, as well as the disappointment-fueled focus to win it all this year after falling just short, it is highly unlikely the Royals would have come back in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Astros this year, meaning they would not have won a world championship. Lorenzo Cain is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
(To save time and space going forward, the previous paragraph will be summed up as “Postulate #1”.)
Alex Gordon (9.4 bWAR): The best defensive left fielder in the American League, Gordon led the team with 114 walks over the last two years while hitting .268/.362/.432. His near-inside-the-park-home-run in Game 7 of last year’s World Series nearly changed the course of history; his home run in Game 1 of the World Series this year did change the course of history.
Also, on August 26th, 2014, Gordon batted with the Royals losing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth and hit a walk-off, two-run homer off Glen Perkins. If the Royals do not win this game, then they go into the final game of the season 87-74 instead of 88-73. In that case, the Royals would have been eliminated from winning the AL Central before Sunday’s games started; however, they would not have clinched home-field advantage for the Wild Card game.
In real life, once the Tigers won Game 162, the Royals – whose game was in the fifth inning – had nothing to play for, as they were guaranteed to host the Wild Card whether they won or lost. At that point in the game, the Royals were down 4-2 in the fifth inning – but they then pulled literally every starter from the game at that point. This is crucial, because the Royals came back to win, 6-4, with a lineup entirely made up of backups. Had the Royals still had something to play for, they would have stayed with their starters, in which case they very well may have lost and finished 87-75. The A’s won their final game to finish 88-74, in which case the Royals would have had to travel to Oakland for the Wild Card game.
If that game had been played in Oakland, it’s highly unlikely the Royals would have come back from a 7-3 deficit in the eighth inning. If Alex Gordon had not won the August 26th game with a walk-off home run, by Postulate #1, that means the Royals would not have won a world championship. Alex Gordon is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
(To save time and space going forward, the previous three paragraphs will be summed up as “Postulate #2”.)
Salvador Perez (5.7 bWAR): Back-to-back Gold Gloves (Perez set the Royals’ all-time record for pickoffs after he had played less 120 games in the majors) and lots of pop (he set the Royals’ all-time record for home runs by a catcher with 21 this year.) Perez passed Mike Macfarlane this season as the second-best catcher in Royals history with 14.1 career bWAR; he’s got a good chance to pass Darrell Porter (16.7) next season.
Also: on July 9th, 2014, Salvy batted with the Royals down, 4-2 in Tampa Bay, with two on and one out in the ninth. His fly ball right down the line just cleared the fence, and the Royals won, 5-4. If they had not won the game, then Postulate #2 declares that the Royals would not have won a world championship. As if that’s not enough, he somehow pulled a slider in the other batter’s box passed a diving Josh Donaldson, activating Postulate #1. Salvador Perez is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Jarrod Dyson (5.1 bWAR): While it’s a gamble, part of me would be really excited to see the Royals finally commit to playing Dyson every day (well, at least every day against right-handed pitching). He has 39 steals in 121 games started the last two years, plus 23 steals coming off the bench. Playing the equivalent of 141 complete games in the outfield, he’s been worth 25 runs above average defensively according to DRS. Put it this way: over the last two years, he has more bWAR than Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer, despite playing less than half the time.
Also: he stole the most important base in Royals history. Aside from Dave Roberts’ steal for the 2004 Red Sox, it might be the most important steal in baseball history. That activates Postulate #1. Jarrod Dyson is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Mike Moustakas (4.8 bWAR): Moose’s transformation into an all-fields spray hitter was one of the more impressive and gratifying transformations I’ve ever seen from a Royals player. By swallowing his pride and working his ass off, he turned himself from a replacement-level player (0.3 bWAR between 2013 and 2014 combined) into a deserving All-Star.
Also: on August 6th, 2014, Moustakas hit a two-run homer in the second, an RBI single in the fourth, and drove in the Royals’ final run with a groundout in the ninth. He had all four RBIs in a game the Royals won 4-3. That activates Postulate #2. Mike Moustakas is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Eric Hosmer (4.4 bWAR): The cleanup hitter on a world championship team, Hosmer has been an RBI machine in the postseason, with 29 RBIs in 31 games despite a pedestrian .276/.333/.398 split. His audacious dash for home in Game 5 of the World Series is one of the most iconic moments of the last two years.
Also: in the Wild Card game, with the Royals losing by a run in the 12th inning, down to their final two outs with no one on base, Hosmer saved the season by tripling high off the left-field wall, later scoring the tying run. That activates Postulate #1. Eric Hosmer is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Alcides Escobar (3.1 bWAR): Escobar won his first Gold Glove this year, a nifty recognition of his excellent defense the last five years. (Also probably his last: Francisco Lindor probably would have won this year if he had been called up earlier, and Andrelton Simmons will probably win next year and for many years after that.) Escobar hasn’t been a complete cipher offensively, hitting .270 with 48 steals over the last two years.
Also: in the Wild Card game, leading off the bottom of the eighth inning with the Royals losing by four runs, Escobar singled, and then stole second base – a ridiculously low-percentage move which worked out brilliantly when Nori Aoki followed with a one-hop bullet to the second baseman which almost certainly would have been a double play had Escobar not stolen second. This activates Postulate #1. Alcides Escobar is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Kendrys Morales (2.4 bWAR): In his first year as a Royal, Morales hit .290/.362/.485 with 41 doubles, 22 homers, and 106 RBIs. He won the Silver Slugger award. He hit three home runs and a triple in a game against the Tigers on September 20th, which is basically the greatest offensive game in the history of the franchise.
Also: in Game 4 of this year’s ALDS in Houston, with the Royals down 6-4 in the eighth inning, with none out in the bases loaded, Morales hit a double play ball with enough speed and spin to elude both pitcher Tony Sipp and shortstop Carlos Correa, turning what would have been a 6-5 deficit with two outs and a man on third into a tie game with the go-ahead run on third and none out. Without that absurd rally, the Royals don’t come back to win Game 4, are eliminated from the postseason, and do not win a world championship. Kendrys Morales is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
(To save time and space going forward, the previous paragraph will be summed up as “Postulate #3”.)
Christian Colon (1.3 bWAR): Long derided as another failed top-five pick, Colon finally debuted last season and has hit .303/.361/.382 in 64 major league games. He may have a future after all.
Also: in the Wild Card game, Colon batted with the tying run on third base and one out in the 12th inning, and chopped an infield single that tied the game. He stole second base and then scored the walk-off run. This activates Postulate #1, which gave Colon the opportunity to drive in the winning run in the final game of the following year. This year. Christian Colon is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Ben Zobrist (1.2 bWAR): My favorite trade deadline pickup of all time. Zobrist hit .284/.364/.453 in two months as a Royal, seamlessly moving from left field to second base when asked, and then was the Royals’ best hitter in the postseason. Thanks, Ben. Give Blaise Royal a kiss from all of us.
Also: in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ALDS in Houston, Zobrist lined a single to load the bases and keep the line moving in the five-run rally. That activates Postulate #3. Ben Zobrist is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Paulo Orlando (1.0 bWAR): The first Brazilian to ever appear in a World Series, Orlando was a highly useful fourth outfielder this season, hitting .249/.269/.444 with very good defense, despite not reaching the majors until he was 29 years old. (Only three other hitters have made their major league debut with the Royals at an older age: Chris Hatcher, Aaron Guiel, and Edgar Caceres.)
Also: on July 12th, 2015, Orlando led off the bottom of the eighth with a home run to break a 10-10 deadlock against the Toronto Blue Jays. (The Royals had scored six runs in the first and led 7-0 after five innings before giving up eight runs in the sixth.) The Royals won the game, 11-10. If they had lost the game, the Toronto Blue Jays would have held home-field advantage when the two teams squared off in the ALCS.
Had Toronto been the home team, it’s unlikely that Ryan Goins would have pulled off of Ben Zobrist’s pop-up that ignited the five-run rally against David Price in the seventh inning of Game 2. In addition, given the evidence that umpires are subconsciously influenced by the home crowd to make borderline calls that favor the home-team, it’s likely the 2-1 pitches to Ben Revere and Dioner Navarro in the ninth inning of Game 6 would have been called balls, not strikes, dramatically changing the dynamics of the inning, possibly allowing the Blue Jays to come back and win. (Admittedly, a very shaky proposition, given that Wade Davis was on the mound and Wade Davis does not give up runs.)
If the outcome of both games changes, then the Blue Jays win the ALCS in six games; if the outcome of either game changes, then Johnny Cueto has to start Game 7 of the ALCS on the road. If Paulo Orlando doesn’t hit that home run, the Royals probably lose to the Blue Jays in the ALCS, and do not win a world championship. Paulo Orlando is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
(To save time and space going forward, the previous three paragraphs will be summed up as “Postulate #4”.)
Nori Aoki (1.0 bWAR): In his one season with the Royals, Aoki gave them exactly what they wanted when they traded Will Smith for him: a leadoff type hitter who could get on base (.349 OBP) with speed (17 steals in 25 attempts) to play right field (which, strictly speaking, he did).
Also: in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Wild Card game, with Jarrod Dyson on second base and one out, Aoki waited out Sean Doolittle for four pitches – giving Dyson enough time to figure out Doolittle’s move and steal third – and then hit a deep fly ball to right field, allowing Dyson to trot home with the tying run. This activates Postulate #1. Nori Aoki is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Johnny Giavotella (0.1 bWAR): The sight of Giavotella playing cheerleader throughout the 2014 playoffs like it was the role of a lifetime never failed to amuse me. I can’t say that the Royals miss him – his defensive weakness makes him a poor fit for what they’re trying to do – but I am so happy for him that he won the starting job in Anaheim this season and hit a highly respectable .272/.318/.375. I always believed in him, and I’m glad that he finally showed what he was capable of this year.
Also: on May 11th, 2014, with the Royals losing 7-6 in the top of the seventh, with men on first and third and two outs, Giavotella hit a three-run homer of Danny Farquhar to give the Royals a 9-7 lead they would not relinquish. This activates Postulate #2. Johnny Giavotella is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Josh Willingham (0.1 bWAR): The Royals traded for Willingham on August 11th, 2014, to be an insurance policy in the outfield and DH and as a right-handed hitter off the bench, and he performed that job reasonably well, hitting .233/.349/.384 in 86 plate appearances down the stretch.
Also: the last hit of his major league career was a pinch-hit single to lead off the bottom of the ninth of the Wild Card game against left-hander Sean Doolittle. Dyson would pinch-run for him and you know the rest. This activates Postulate #1. Josh Willingham is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Terrance Gore (0.0 bWAR): Gore is, quite simply, the fastest basestealer I (and pretty much anyone else) have ever seen. His future as a perennial September call-up is assured – the major league minimum is worth $80,000-$90,000 a month, and that doesn’t include his postseason shares, so it’s a good job if you can get it. But after hitting .284/.367/.311 in Double-A this year, the possibility is there for him to carve out a Dyson-like career.
Also: on September 15th, 2014 – popularly known as the “That’s What Speed Deux” game – Gore pinch-ran for Aoki after Aoki had just doubled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth (this after Dyson, himself in the game as a pinch-runner, had stolen third base with two outs – and then just kept running when the ball got away from the catcher, scoring the tying run.) Cain then hit a slow infield single to shortstop, and Gore just turned the corner at third base and didn’t slow down until he had scored the walk-off run. This activates Postulate #2. Terrance Gore is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Omar Infante (0.0 bWAR): Infante plays second base pretty well.
Also: on June 29th, 2014, Infante hit a walk-off single with one out in the ninth inning to beat the Angels. This activates Postulate #2. Omar Infante is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Erik Kratz (0.0 bWAR): Kratz performed the magical feat of being on a postseason roster all the way to Game 7 of the World Series without ever appearing in a game.
Also: on August 18th, 2014, Kratz pinch-hit for an ailing Salvador Perez in the top of the seventh inning, with the Royals leading, 3-0, and homered. He batted again in the ninth with the Royals leading, 5-1, and homered again. The Twins then scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth, meaning Kratz’s two home runs were the margin of victory in a 6-4 final score. That activates Postulate #2. Erik Kratz is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Danny Valencia (0.0 bWAR): Valencia came to the Royals in December 2013 in exchange for David Lough, and then was traded in July 2014 for Liam Hendriks and Erik Kratz, both of whom had their own role to play in the drama of the last two years.
Also: on April 16th, 2014, Valencia started at third base against an up-and-coming left-hander named Dallas Keuchel, and homered in the second inning. The Royals would need 11 innings to defeat the Astros that day, 6-4. This activates Postulate #2. Danny Valencia is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Pedro Ciriaco (-0.2 bWAR): Yeah, apparently Pedro Ciriaco played for the 2014 Royals.
Also: on May 29th, 2014, Ciriaco started at third base in Toronto, and with the Royals losing 4-2 in the fifth inning, he doubled in a run and then scored the tying run in what turned into a three-run rally. The Royals would fall behind 6-5 before tying it in the ninth when, with two outs and Dyson on second base, Perez hit a routine ground ball to shortstop Jose Reyes, only Reyes’ throw to first bounced out of Edwin Encarnacion’s glove, and Dyson came all the way around to score. The Royals would win in 11 innings. This activates Postulate #2. Pedro Ciriaco is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Drew Butera (-0.2 bWAR): The best hair of any backup catcher in the business.
Also: in Game 4 of the ALDS in Houston, playing in favor of an ailing Perez, Butera batted with two on and one out in the top of the eighth inning in a tie game, and against Luke Gregerson’s filthy slider, somehow worked a ten-pitch walk, keeping the line moving for Gordon to drive in the go-ahead run with a groundout to second base. This activates Postulate #3. His reward: catching the final out of the World Series. Drew Butera is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Billy Butler (-0.3 bWAR): We’re not making fun of Billy Butler here. From 2009 to 2013 he was one of the best DHs in baseball. Unfortunately this run began in 2014.
Also: in the Wild Card game, facing Luke Gregerson in the eighth inning while representing the tying run with one out, Butler didn’t hit into the inning-ending double play we all feared – he punched a single to right-center field, making the score 7-5 and bringing Gore out of the dugout to pinch-run as the potential tying run. Gore wouldn’t score, but Hosmer – who had moved to third on Butler’s single – would, and the Royals would tie the game an inning later. This activates Postulate #1. Billy Butler is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Jonny Gomes (-0.4 bWAR): As a hitter, Gomes is pretty much washed up. As a clubhouse guy, Gomes is still at the peak of his powers.
Also: On October 1st, 2015, Gomes drove in three runs for the Royals – a two-run single in the second and a sacrifice fly in the fifth – in a game they won, 6-4. If they don’t win that game, perhaps the Blue Jays take Game 162 more seriously and don’t start Mark Buehrle…okay, you’re not buying that one? How about this: if Gomes played better defense, he wouldn’t have collided with Sam Fuld in the 12th inning of the Wild Card game, and maybe Hosmer would have held at second base, in which case he would not have scored on Colon’s infield single, and then who knows if the Royals tie the game, let alone win it.
So Postulate #4 is partially activated, and Postulate #1 is partially activated, and then Gomes activated both of them by coaching and counseling Colon all October to be ready if and when his opportunity presented itself, which it did in Game 5 of the World Series. If you have any doubt left, he gave a speech during the parade. If you have a problem with that, you hate America. Jonny Gomes is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Raul Ibanez (-0.8 bWAR): He may well have given the most important clubhouse speech in a players-only meeting in the history of baseball.
Also: on August 1st, 2014, Ibanez hit a home run off Sonny Gray in Oakland. It was the only run in a 1-0 game, the only time since 1993 the Royals have won a game 1-0 on a home run. Coming against the A’s, this definitively activates Postulate #2. Raul Ibanez is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
Alex Rios (-1.1 bWAR): He was signed by the Royals to be a productive right fielder, and it only took him six months to do it.
Also: in Game 4 of the ALDS, he led off the eighth inning rally with the Royals losing, 6-2, and singled to left field on the first pitch. This alone activates Postulate #3. He also drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the fifth inning of Game 5, the only other elimination game the Royals played all season. Alex Rios is responsible for the Royals winning a world championship. Grade: A+
I hope you agree that these grades accurately reflect how each player performed over the last two years. Pitchers and others still to come.