The Greatest Center Fielder in Royals History

For a franchise that has been around now for 50 years, you would expect some big names to fall under the radar when talking franchise best’s at certain positions. The Kansas City Royals are no different and while positions like third base or second base are no-brainers when it comes to the best in Royals history, other positions aren’t quite as easy.

For instance first base feels like a dogfight between Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry. At shortstop, arguments can be made for both Freddie Patek and Alcides Escobar. Even left field could get interesting, although Alex Gordon numbers tend to topple someone like Johnny Damon pretty easily.

But initially I thought center field would be a nice little battle, as the Royals have had some great players manning the middle the of the outfield in their history. It would be easy to see how someone could imagine a tug-of-war going on for the best at that position between Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and Carlos Beltran. Unfortunately, there is a blow away winner and he quite possibly might be the most underrated player in team history.

In fact, when I started this post I fully expected a nice back and forth between these three players before one of them would decidedly pull away and be considered the best center fielder. Instead, it didn’t take long looking at the numbers to see that Amos Otis is not only the best at this position, but that the other two aren’t really keeping it a close competition.

The other interesting part to this is that I’ve long felt Otis was vastly underrated when it comes to talking Royals legends. Royals fans spend a lot of time praising the usuals like Brett, White and Saberhagen but sometimes we forget what guys like Leonard, Cowens and Otis did during their time in Royal blue. In fact what I say next might even be the most shocking thing I mention today: Amos Otis might be the second best Kansas City Royal of all-time.

Before we get to that, let’s look at just how great his career was. Otis is second in Kansas City history in bWAR for position player, offensive WAR, runs scored, total bases, walks, stolen bases, runs created, times on base, sac flies, RE24 and WPA. Otis is also third in games played, plate appearances, hits, triples, home runs, RBIs, adjusted batting runs, adjusted batting wins, and first in Power-Speed #. In other words, he not only did a great job with accumulative stats, but also the ones that mattered in the most important situations.

I really thought Willie Wilson was going to make this a closer race, even while knowing that his power numbers weren’t going to even come close to the level that Otis had. While Wilson’s WAR numbers were right behind Amos (and defensively, Wilson had the higher total while Otis didn’t even crack the top ten), most of the other ones lagged behind a bit. It does say a lot about Willie, as he sits just under Otis in all-time Royals hits and runs scored, and even tops Otis in triples, stolen bases, and singles.

But stats like extra base hits and total bases I expected to be quite a bit closer and even runs created was a big gap between the two outfielders. It does appear that when Wilson’s numbers started declining in the mid 80’s, it was a lot more drastic than Otis’ gradual decline. While both men are mainstays when it comes to many of the Royals all-time offensive statistics, there is a noticeable gap between the both of them.

Credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

When it comes to Carlos Beltran, his short stay in Kansas City ends up hurting his chances of taking top center field honors. In fact Beltran’s power numbers easily top Otis (he is top five all-time in slugging and OPS), but he also left the Royals in his prime and played in an era that was a bit more offensive driven. I do think that if the Royals had been able to lockdown Beltran rather than trade him ( and maybe that was possible if Kansas City ownership had made him more of a priority) this conversation could be a lot different. Instead, we are stuck with ‘coulda, shoulda’ type discussion that leans heavily toward ‘what could have been’.

Which leads us back to Otis. It seems clear that he was the second biggest offensive force in team history and the argument for being the second best player is close as well. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, Otis sits at 44.8 while pitchers Kevin Appier and Bret Saberhagen are at 47.1 and 40.7 respectively. If you wanted to say Appier or Sabes are right behind George Brett, I’m not sure I would put up much of an argument.WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it does give you some weight on their overall value. To be fair, a stat like WPA holds quite a bit of weight with me and Otis and Appier are pretty close there too, 27.5 to 25.4.

So if we say Otis is the second greatest statistical Kansas City Royal of all-time, then it raises a number of questions on why he isn’t mentioned more often. I have to believe that his strained relationship with the media was a big part of it, as back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the media could make you or break you. It probably also hurt him that he played on a team with flashier players like Brett or Hal McRae. Whatever the reason, even within Royals circles, Amos Otis isn’t talked about as much as he should be.

Credit: Royals.com

As a younger fan, I just hardly ever knew much about Amos. Maybe it was because he left the Royals after the 1983 season and I started following baseball in 1984, but over the years Otis isn’t put on the same pedestal that other former Royals are. In fact most of us talk more about Bo Jackson (and justifiably we talk about this once in a lifetime athlete) than we do a guy who should be at least considered for the team’s Mount Rushmore. Amos Otis was very close to being a five-tool player (his power numbers were a bit lacking) and finished 3rd in the MVP voting in 1973 and 4th in 1978. For some reason, Otis has fallen into a background character rather than one pushing his way near the front of the line.

Credit: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

There is also a story that shows the person that Amos Otis really was:

On September 12, 1977, with Kansas City cruising to its second straight American League West crown, a game in Royals Stadium was postponed because of a drenching storm. As 16 inches of rain swamped the city and flooded many areas, eventually resulting in 25 deaths, Otis came across eight wet, frightened boys. He piled them into his Lincoln Continental, fed them, and lodged them for the evening. One of the youngsters to whose aid Otis came, Richard Brown, eventually became a Missouri state legislator and in 2017 sponsored a proclamation commemorating the flood and honoring Otis as a Good Samaritan and humanitarian. “I was doing what any other dad would have done,” Otis said

So while many us talk about George and Frank, Quiz and Bo, Sabes and Splitt, I hope moving forward that the name ‘Otis’ will get floated out there as well. The Royals have great, rich history and it feels like a shame that one of the biggest names doesn’t even get brought up as much as he should. Amos Otis is the greatest Royals center fielder in team history, case closed. Let’s hope we start talking about it more, Royals fans.

 

 

 

FLASHBACK: The Curse of Buddy Biancalana

Author’s Note: The Flashback articles on here I originally wrote for the website royalsbaseball.net. That website has now become defunct, so I thought I would move them over here to Bleeding Royal Blue. I’d like to thank Joel Matheny for giving me the opportunity to write for his website, even if it was for just a few months. So enjoy, and go Royals!

buddy bMany a Major League baseball team have that one position they are constantly looking to upgrade. For whatever reason, they can’t seem to find stability and are stuck every few years finding someone else to take over that spot and hope they finally have found that player who will be there for years to come. Over the years, The Royals have gone through countless players at Shortstop and none ever seem to stick. Why exactly is shortstop a black hole for Kansas City?

patekIt wasn’t always like that. Back in the offseason of 1970, the Royals acquired a little known Shortstop by the name of Fred Patek from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Patek was not the tallest man alive(5’5″, some even say 5’4″)but Patek was like a hoover on the field. Patek was a three time All-Star with Kansas City and even finished sixth in the MVP voting back in 1971. Patek would end up being a vital cog for the Royals as they made 3 playoff appearances in the mid-to late 70’s. Former Royals manager and Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog once said about Patek that he was  “the best artificial turf shortstop he ever managed”, ranking him even higher than Ozzie Smith. Patek would leave the Royals at the end of the 1979 season, signing with the California Angels.  Alas, him leaving began the Royals carousel of revolving Shortstops.

ULPatek’s leaving left the spot open, and in slid UL Washington. Washington had been with Kansas City for a few years as a backup infielder and was going to finally get a chance to show what he could do. Washington had great speed, and was yet another success of the Royals Baseball Academy, a program that also netted them Frank White. Washington was above the league average in batting those first few years, and combined solid defense with excellent baserunning to give the Royals another weapon in their lineup. Washington had a career year in 1982 after coming back from injury, and it looked as if the Royals had their Shortstop for the near future. In 1983 UL slumped badly and injuries ruined his 1984 season, as Onix Concepcion had made his way into the lineup. After the 1984 season, Washington was dealt to the Montreal Expos.

Concepcion took over the job in 1984, and was the starter for most of 1985. Not happy with his play, Royals manager Dick Howser replaced him with rookie Buddy Biancalana, and Biancalana would finish not only the season as the starter, but would start all 14 playoff games for KC that season. Biancalana was inserted in the lineup more for his defense, but his offense in the playoffs was a big boost for the ballclub. His funny name even brought mentions on the David Letterman show, and eventually an appearance on Late Night. Buddy would come back to reality in 1986, hitting .242 in 100 games, although providing solid defense. By 1987 the Royals had traded Biancalana to the Astros and was out of the big leagues by the end of the next season.

stillwell_11Now, I joke about the curse of Royals Shortstops being on Biancalana’s head. Whether it was bad judgement or just plain bad luck, the Royals would continue to go through Shortstops throughout the next decade. The player that seemed to have the best shot of longevity for the Royals was one Kurt Stillwell. Stillwell was acquired from the Reds after the 1987 season, as the Royals parted way with lefthander Danny Jackson. The Reds had a logjam at Shortstop, as another youngster was ready for the bigs at the point. Some guy named Barry Larkin…ever heard of him? So Stillwell became the starter at Short and after injuries hit a few All-Stars, was an American League All-Star in 1988. Stillwell showed flashes of greatness at Shortstop, and would have streaks at the plate where it seemed he was really starting to advance, only to have equally as down periods. 1990 seemed to start off as Stillwell’s coming out party, hitting .386 in April and was still over .300
in June. Unfortunately, injuries hampered him the rest of the year and could only hit .205. In 1991, Kurt would get off to another hot start, but by Independence Day he was mired in another slump and manager Hal McRae ended up benching Stillwell. Kurt was not very fond of his new manager, and after the season wrapped up, Stillwell, still only 26 at this point, packed up and headed to San Diego. Later Kurt would say his relationship with McRae, or lack of one, sent him on his way, and alas another Shortstop for the Royals was out the door after only 4 years.

Over the next few years, a number of players tried to solidify the position, only to leave earlier than expected. Greg Gagne, Jose Offerman, Jay Bell and Rey Sanchez are just a few of the players who occupied the position. Most were solid players, but none were long term solutions.

berroaThat seemed to all change in 2003. Rookie Angel Berroa was handed the Shortstop job and seemed to be the future of this organization. Berroa had a rocky start to the season, but by years end his defense seemed to get better and his hitting had more than improved. Berroa hit .287 that season with 17 Homeruns,  73 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. Berroa would win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, being only the fourth Royal to accomplish such a feat. Things went downhill from there on. Season by season, Berroa seemed to regress more and more, especially defensively, as his error rate was the highest in the Majors during that period. Angel also seemed lost at the plate, not seeming to have any real gameplan and flailing at pitches out of the strike zone. Finally in 2007, the Royals acquired Tony Pena Jr. from Atlanta, and Berroa was sent to the minor leagues. Outside of nine games that season, Berroa spent the rest of his time in AAA Omaha. 2008
started the same way and on June 6th was traded to the Dodgers.

tony_pena_jr_2008_04_13Pena wasn’t the answer here either. As much as Pena was a good fielder, he couldn’t hit worth a lick. By mid-2008, Pena was out and in stepped Mike Aviles. Aviles was finally getting his shot in the Bigs, and he took advantage of it. Aviles ended the season hitting  .325 in 102 games, with 10 home runs and 51 RBI’s. Aviles’ season was so good that the Royals named him their 2008 Player of the Year. Aviles, unfortunately, would suffer an arm injury playing winter ball, and be forced to miss most of the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery. Whatever it was that Aviles had in 2008, he never seemed to catch it again. Aviles split 2010 between Omaha and the Majors, but mainly as a backup. Mike started the 2011 season at Third Base for KC but never got going and was traded to Boston at the end of July. I was always an Aviles fan and really hoped that he would end up breaking the curse. Unfortunately, Mike Aviles was not meant to be that guy.

YuniWhen it became apparent in 2009 that Aviles would be gone for the foreseeable future, the Royals acquired Yuniesky Betancourt from the Seattle Mariners. Betancourt went from being one of the better defensive Shortstop’s in the game early in his career to a plodding Shortstop with no range by the time he appeared in Kansas City. Betancourt brought a little pop in his bat as well, and to be honest, at the time it wasn’t like there was a better option for the team either on the roster or in the minors.  In 2009, he had the lowest on base percentage of any starter in the major leagues, at .274, and the lowest slugging percentage in the American League with .351. His numbers did improve in 2010, but he still was a liability on both defense and offense. Yuni obviously wasn’t the long term answer.

In the winter of 2010, the Royals would acquire their current Shortstop, trading Ace pitcher Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Milwaukee Brewers for Alcides Escobar and three youngsters. Escobar showed last season why he was a good commodity, flashing great defense at Shortstop. After the Berroa/Betancourt years, it was good to see a Shortstop with a great glove. Escobar even earned the nickname “Shortstop Jesus” by Royals fans. Escobar struggled with the bat, although he seemed to hit better as the season went on. By the time it was all said and done, Escobar hit .254 for the Royals, and some experts predict he could hit as high .269 this upcoming season.His defense though, is why he is in the starting lineup. Any offense is just an addition to his amazing play on the diamond.

EskySo is Escobar the one to break the curse? Time will only tell, but if Alcides can hit even in the .260 range, he seems like a good fit for the position for many a year. He was a .300 hitter in the minors, so it is possible. One thing is for certain; luck has not been on the Royals side when finding a Shortstop all these years. For them to break the curse, they need both good judgement and good luck…and maybe a guy who stands only 5’5″. Hey, it worked before!

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