Friday, February 20, 2009

My Dislikes: Yanks, Red Sox, and Redbirds

This topic is almost sure to draw criticism from at least two of my younger brothers, who root for teams that I'm going to discuss in this post. But I'm really just fishing for some comments from readers in general, and a little increased activity on my site after months of being stagnant.

I'm wondering which team(s), or fans of a particular team, you most dislike, and why? Everyone is more than welcome to share their thoughts and opinions. Yes, even fans of the teams discussed in this post, or others. And, if you hate the Royals, for whatever reason, I'd sure love to know why.

For me, there are just three teams that stand out above the rest when it comes to a dislike for particular franchises, and surprisingly, none of them are in the American League Central (although the White Sox were close).

Among fans of small market teams, I think there's a natural tendency to dislike teams that have overwhelmingly large payrolls. Obviously, the New York Yankees top that list, with the Boston Red Sox a close second.

When Gil Meche signed as a free agent with the Royals in December of 2006, his five-year, $55 million contract equaled former Royal Mike Sweeney's deal for the largest in Kansas City's history. Zack Greinke's recent four-year, $38 million package now ranks as the second-largest in terms of overall dollar value. But those pale in comparison to what the Yankees have been able to do.

This offseason, New York signed C.C. Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million deal, then added A.J. Burnett for five years and $82.5 million, and still had enough in the coiffers to ink Mark Teixeira to an eight-year contract for $180 million. And, keep in mind that Alex Rodriguez signed on the dotted line for 10 years and $275 million prior to the 2008 campaign. That's sick, and it's a primary reason behind my hatred of the Yankees, which happens to be my brother Brian's favorite team.

The Red Sox didn't make any major splashes in the free agent market this winter, and Boston owner John Henry has even been calling for a salary cap after the Yankees' recent spending spree. But, even with a lower projected payroll for 2009, Boston still ranked second in 2008 by distributing $147.1 million in salary to its players.

By contrast, Kansas City is getting set to increase its 2009 payroll to an all-time high of somewhere around $74 million -- yes, that's about half of what Boston spent last year, and a third of the $222.5 million the Yankees dealt out in 2008.

In my opinion, the ability to spend money like that creates an arrogance and an "East Coast is best" mentality that just oozes from fans of either of those two organizations. They often scoff at the notion that teams like Kansas City should even be able to be on the same field as their teams.

It's a cockiness and bully mentality that is fed by the fat wallets of their team owners, who have endless cash to spend thanks to lucrative television deals with YES (Yankees) and NESN (Red Sox), as well as top-grossing merchandise and licensing profits due to the enormous population located along the East Coast.

And it just drives me crazy, when listening to MLB Home Plate on XM Radio, to hear seemingly endless talk about either of those teams. Man, it'd sure be nice if I could hear something more than just the occasional brief mention of the Royals. I think, as much as anything, this stokes the hatred I feel for the Yankees and the Red Sox. Well, that, and the fact that Reggie Jackson acted like an ass when I asked him for an autograph at the College World Series a few years ago.

Granted, with 26 World Championships and a rich history -- wow, that word fits so well -- fans of the Bronx Bombers have obvious reasons to gloat. Red Sox Nation seems to always be competing with, but chasing, its rivals from New York. Sorry, Boston, but seven titles will always keep you in that chasing mode -- not that seven titles is anything to turn your nose up at.

With that in mind, though, and knowing that the Yankees are about to make their 2009 debut in a sparkling new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium, it really makes you wonder if venerable old Fenway Park's days are numbered.

Okay, okay...enough about the East Coast. I think my disdain is quite evident.

For most Royals fans, you simply have to look across the state of Missouri to find another rather obvious choice -- those, Redbirds, of St. Louis. Even though they play in the National League, I think, more than any other team, I feel a sense of satisfaction when the Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals.

My brother Matt (NOT pictured...thank God) is a die-hard fan of the Cards -- even though I have a picture of him from elementary school wearing his Royals jacket -- and he will assuredly be e-mailing me after reading this post. We go back and forth all the time, although there is a prevailing brotherly respect to our debates, which probably wouldn't exist if either of us was talking smack about our teams to just any other fan.

Obviously, I love to bring up the 1985 World Series anytime Royals-Cardinals is discussed. Of course, he automatically claims that series should have an asterisk by it due to Don Denkinger's call during Game 6. But I always respond to that by saying that if the Cardinals really deserved that World Championship, then they should have been able to come back and be more competetive in Game 7. And we all know that Kansas City then went on to kick the crap out of St. Louis by a score of 11-0, and celebrated the organization's greatest triumph.

The thing that I really dislike about many Cardinals fans, though, is their sense of arrogance. I can deal with my brother's pride in the Cardinals, but if you talk to an everyday fan of the Redbirds, they'll probably claim that they're the best fans in baseball, and that they're also the most knowledgeable crowd in the game.

For the most part, I think those claims by St. Louis fans are in comparison to fans of the other team in the Show Me State, which is why it bugs me. Cardinals versus Cubs is probably always going to be more of a rivalry to fans in the Gateway City, but I think their second love is to hate the Royals.

So, I truly enjoyed it last year when the Royals went to St. Louis and swept all three games at Busch Stadium. God, it would have been so fun to have been wearing all of my Royals gear, and sitting among the throng of red-clad St. Louisans as the young Royals won by scores of 2-1, 3-2, and 4-1. Imagine how cool it would've been to have been waving a broom back and forth as Joakim Soria recorded his third save in three days to finish the sweep! And, of course, Kansas City won last year's series against the Cards, four games to two, so Matt owed me some beers in our annual friendly wager.

There is no arguing the fact that Cardinals fans are loyal, and Busch Stadium is almost always full. But would those fans keep coming out to the ballpark if they had had to suffer through what Royals fans have had to put up with for the past decade-and-a-half? I don't think so. In fact, I think Busch Stadium would be about as empty as Kauffman Stadium has been in recent years if the tables were turned.

St. Louis fans I run into (like this guy) always love to bring up the Royals' struggles over the past 15-20 years. I'm just waiting for the day when the Cardinals head into a similar tailspin that lasts at least a few years, so I can make a comment or two about the dwindling attendance at Cardinals games, and about how mismanaged that franchise is. Kansas City's change in ownership, and Allard Baird, gave Cardinals fans great joy and satisfaction for years and years.

I want to feel arrogant and cocky again. I want to be able to respond with confidence to comments made by fans on the East Coast or across the state. I'm hoping Dayton Moore and David Glass are successful in restoring that sense of pride in being a fan of the Kansas City Royals.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kyle Davies is Key for Royals in 2009

I'm shelving the dream of Orlando Hudson-to-the-Royals for now, as it seems more and more likely that David Glass has really put a stop to Kansas City's offseason spending. I know, it's easy for me to sit here at the computer and figure out ways to spend Glass's money, but it just seems like adding Hudson, even at a "bargain" cost somewhere between $4 and 5 million, is not likely to happen. Dammit.

So, let's take a look at a player who's already in the fold for the 2009 season: right-handed starting pitcher Kyle Davies. I think the performance of Davies in Kansas City's rotation this season will go a long way toward determining whether this is a great season -- with the potential to reach the playoffs -- or simply another slight improvement for the franchise.

Davies is coming off a 2008 season in which he recorded career-best totals for wins (9), ERA (4.06), ERA+ (105), and WHIP (1.45) after being called up from Class AAA Omaha in late May. He finished with a record of 9-7, making 21 starts, and allowing 121 hits in 113 innings pitched.

In his second season working with Royals pitching coach Bob McClure, the 25-year old Davies finished with 71 strikeouts and 43 walks for a K/BB ratio of 1.65, the best of his career. And his 4.06 ERA was lower than the league average (4.27) for the first time in his four-year career at the Major League level.

Davies seemed to put things together late in the 2008 season, as he combined to go 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA in five September starts. In those games, he allowed just 22 hits in 31.2 innings, holding batters to a line of .198/.246/.270 with 24 strikeouts and just seven walks. His WHIP was a solid 0.92 during that span, and he surrendered just one home run.

I'm sure there are those who will try to attribute Davies' impressive September numbers to the fact that many teams utilize players called up from the Minor Leagues late in the season. But if he can start the 2009 season with the type of confident mindset he honed during those late-season starts, Davies could be the type of #3 starter the Royals have been hoping for.

Davies was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves with the 29th pick (135th overall) in the 4th Round of the 2001 amateur draft.* A native of Stockbridge, Ga., Davies was acquired by Kansas City in a deal that sent closer Octavio Dotel to Atlanta at the trade deadline on July 31, 2007.

*The Royals had selected catcher John Draper with the ninth pick in that same round. In five Minor League seasons, none higher than Class AA, Draper batted .245/.311/.323 with just 12 home runs and 226 strikeouts in 1,357 at bats. With the fourth pick of the fifth round that year, just five spots before the Royals selected, the Phillies drafted a guy named Ryan Howard out of Missouri State. Thanks, Allard.

Davies always showed promise as a Minor Leaguer, combining to go 18-6 with a 2.97 ERA during 2004-07 in Atlanta's farm system prior to the trade to the Royals. Overall, in eight Minor League seasons (including time in Omaha during 2008), Davies owns a mark of 42-22 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. In 595 innings pitched, he has allowed just 498 hits, while fanning 576 batters and walking just 215.

But he's had his struggles facing Major League batters. In parts of three seasons with Atlanta, Davies was 14-21 with a 6.15 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP.

Nevertheless, Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore knew what he was getting in Davies, and figured it was worth the risk -- and a little criticism from some Royals fans -- despite Davies' failure to stick around for long in the Major Leagues.

"He's a young pitcher who's trying to establish himself," Moore said after the trade. "I don't pay much attention to young pitchers' statistics. If you did, John Smoltz and Tommy Glavine never would have gotten off the ground."

Since coming to Kansas City, Davies' numbers have improved somewhat, resulting in a combined record of 12-14 over the past two years with a 4.86 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP.

That doesn't seem like much of a jump, but it's his numbers during most of the 2008 season that have Royals fans hoping for something great from the guy who spent this offseason doing construction work for his father's company.

He began last season at Class AAA Omaha, where he posted an impressive record of 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. After his recall to the Royals, Davies got off to a sizzling start by going 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA over his first four starts in Kansas City.

He then ran into a rough stretch of three starts -- versus San Francisco, St. Louis, and Baltimore -- in which he went 0-1 with an 11.57 ERA. Take away those three games last season, and Davies was 9-6 with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP.

Let me repeat that for everyone. Other than three straight bad outings between June 22 and July 3 last season, Kyle Davies had a 3.20 earned run average for the rest of the season, totaling 101.1 innings pitched.

That's not a bad sample size, and those are the kind of numbers that can hush the naysayers who think that Davies only pitched well in September last season. They're also the kind of numbers that could make him a very effective No. 3 starter for the Royals.

If Davies can continue to improve, and Kansas City gets the type of performances it expects from its top two starting pitchers -- Gil Meche and Zack Greinke -- then I'd argue this team can compete for the American League Central crown in 2009.

Kyle Davies Photo Credit: Gail Burton/AP
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