All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup: Kansas City Royals

Who are the greatest Royals of all time?

Welcome to the All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review one of the 30 current MLB franchises every other week to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week we’ll build a lineup for the Kansas City Royals, a franchise with a relatively short history whose success has revolved around two eras. If you like this article, you can find all the other teams we’ve reviewed here.

 

The Ground Rules

 

  • Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. We used two WAR calculations, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WAR between players was similar, we considered other factors, such as stats and awards, to break the tie.
  • We only considered statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
  • Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period in their career.
  • Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
  • Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
  • Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.

 

Franchise Overview

 

The Kansas City Royals were one of four teams formed in 1969, along with the Seattle Pilots (Milwaukee Brewers), the Montreal Expos (Washington Nationals), and the San Diego Padres. The Royals found success faster than the other three, winning their first pennant in 1976. The divisional championship was no fluke, as the Royals won the AL West seven times from 1976 to 1985. However, the team only broke through to the World Series twice during this streak, in 1980 and 1985. The Phillies beat them in 1980, but the Royals became World Champions for the first time in 1985 when they took down the Cardinals. Many players from this era of Royals’ baseball find their way into our lineup below.

After the 1985 championship, the Royals endured a long dry spell. Despite the format’s expansion, they did not make the playoffs again until 2014. Once they broke through, however, they went all the way back to the World Series. In 2014, the Royals lost to the Giants, but they returned a year later and took down the Mets. Of the four 1969 expansion teams, the Royals are by far the most successful.

 

Catcher: Salvador Perez

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals (to date)

Salvador Perez is the only current Royal to make our lineup and one of two who played on the 2015 championship team. He debuted for Kansas City in August 2011 and, by 2013, was the team’s primary catcher. Perez won his first of five Gold Gloves that year and represented the Royals at the All-Star game for the first of seven times. In 2016, he took home his first of four Silver Sluggers, but his best offensive season was in 2021 when he led the AL with 48 HRs and 121 RBI.

“Salvy” was behind the plate for the Royals in their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015. He was an offensive force in both series, particularly in the team’s victory in 2015, when he was named World Series MVP after hitting .364/.391/.455 in the five-game series. An elbow injury cost Perez the 2019 season, but he returned strong in the short 2020 season and re-established himself as one of the top backstops in the league. He was also beset by injuries this past season, playing only 114 games, but he still managed to hit 23 HRs and drive in 76 runs. Perez is one of the “faces of the team” now as he approaches the twilight of his career.

 

First Base: Mike Sweeney

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

It was a tough choice between Mike Sweeney and John Mayberry for our first baseman. Mayberry was more dominant in his time with the team but only played for the Royals for six seasons. Thus we went with Sweeney, a very good player who was with the team for a long time.

Sweeney began his career behind the plate and made four plate appearances for the Royals in 1995. He bounced between the minors and majors playing backup catcher until 1999 when he lost the gear and became the team’s first baseman. Sweeney hit .322 with 22 HRs and 102 RBI that year and cemented himself as an everyday player. The following season, he made the All-Star team, an accomplishment he repeated four more times over the next five seasons. During his prime years, from 1999 to 2005, Sweeney hit .313 and averaged 23 HRs and 97 RBI per season.

Sweeney became injury prone after 2005 and never amassed 300 plate appearances in a season again in his career. After two injury-plagued seasons, he left the club in February 2008, signing a free-agent contract with the A’s. Sweeney played four more seasons after leaving Kansas City and finally reached the postseason with the Phillies in 2010, his last season before retirement.

 

Second Base: Frank White

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

Frank White was a career Royal, playing 18 seasons with the franchise. He debuted midway through the 1973 season as an injury replacement for our shortstop, Freddie Patek. For the next few seasons, White was a role player, bouncing between second, short, and third. In 1976, he took over at second base full-time and remained there for the rest of his career. The following season, White won his first of eight Gold Gloves. A year later, he attended his first of five All-Star games. He also won a Silver Slugger in 1986 at the age of 35 after hitting .272 with 22 HRs and 84 RBI.

White played on seven postseason clubs, including the 1985 World Series championship squad. He struggled for the most part in the playoffs, with one big exception being the 1980 ALCS. White was the MVP of that series, which was a huge one for the franchise as it was the first time the Royals were able to beat the Yankees and advance to the World Series. Over the three games, White hit .545 with a double, HR, three runs, and three RBI.

White retired after the 1990 season, though not by choice. The Royals were ready to move on from the 39-year-old second baseman, even if he wasn’t ready to call it quits. However, any hard feelings didn’t last long, as the Royals retired White’s #20 in 1995. White is one of only two Royals players to have his number retired by the team.

 

Shortstop: Freddie Patek

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

The shortstop hasn’t been a deep position for the franchise. Freddie Patek gets the nod for our team due to his excellent defense and exceptional speed. He began his career in Pittsburgh halfway through the 1968 season. After the 1970 season, the Pirates traded him to the Royals, and he took over as their starting shortstop. Patek rewarded the club for having faith in him by stealing 49 bases and leading the league in triples in 1971. Patek stole over 30 bases for the team for eight straight seasons, eclipsing 50 twice. He also made three All-Star squads in 1972, 1976, and 1978.

Patek played on three postseason clubs while with the franchise. He hit an identical .389 in the two five-game losses to the Yankees in 1976 and 1977 but struggled in the 1978 series. The following season was Patek’s last in Kansas City, and it was a difficult one for the shortstop. Injuries limited his playing time and effectiveness, and eventually, he lost his starting job. Patek joined the Angels via free agency after the season and retired in 1981. Patek is third on the Royals’ all-time stolen base list and tied for the lead in games played at shortstop with Alcides Escobar.

 

Third Base: George Brett

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

George Brett is Royals’ royalty, spending his entire 21-year career with the franchise and leading them in plate appearances, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs, RBI, and walks. He’s also the only member of the Royals’ lineup to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and he made our list of the Top Ten Third Basemen of All-Time.

Brett debuted with the club in August 1973 and was their starting third baseman the following spring. He was one of the premier hitters of his era, winning three batting titles and leading the league in hits/triples/SLG/OPS three times and doubles twice. In 1976, Brett attended his first All-Star game and would continue to represent the Royals at the mid-summer classic for the following twelve seasons.

In 1980, Brett flirted with .400 but fell short, hitting .390 on the year en route to his first of three Silver Sluggers and his lone MVP. He added a Gold Glove to his collection in 1985. Brett won his third batting title in 1990 at the age of 37, making him the first player to win titles in three different decades. He is one of only four players to retire with 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, and a lifetime .300 batting average.

Brett was a perennial postseason participant with the club that made it to their first two World Series with him at third. Brett was his usual stellar self in October, batting .337 in the postseason and .373 in the Fall Classic throughout his career. Brett retired after the 1993 season, and the Royals took his number 5 out of circulation the following year. In 1999, his first year of eligibility, 98.2% of the BBWAA voted him into the Hall of Fame.

 

Left Field: Alex Gordon

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

Alex Gordon is the second player in our lineup to play on the 2014 and 2015 World Series teams, along with Salvador Perez. Gordon broke into the big leagues with much fanfare after winning the Golden Spikes Award with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2005 (top college baseball player). He was a third baseman in college and began his pro career at the hot corner. However, he shifted to left field in his fourth season and developed into one of the best defensive outfielders of his era.

Gordon won eight Gold Gloves between 2011 and his final season in 2020. In two of those years, 2014 and 2020, he earned the “Platinum Glove.” If you are unfamiliar with this award, it goes to the best overall defender, regardless of position. Gordon led AL left fielders in putouts five times and assists/double plays/TZR three times during his career. He was also a productive hitter, leading the league in doubles in 2012 and generating high OBPs during his best seasons. In addition, Gordon made three consecutive All-Star teams from 2013 to 2015.

Gordon’s postseason offense was a mixed bag, but he fared well in their World Championship over the Mets in 2015, slashing .222/.391/.444 in the series with a home run, three runs, and three RBI in the five games. He could have cashed in via free agency after the series but re-signed with Kansas City and finished his career as a life-long Royal.

 

Center Field: Willie Wilson

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

Willie Wilson ranks 12th in stolen bases all-time. He was fast, and he terrorized AL catchers for over a decade. Wilson debuted in September 1976 at the age of 20 but didn’t stick in the majors until 1978. Even then, he was limited to a bench role as he was still adapting to major-league pitching. In 1979, Wilson got his opportunity to start after an injury sidelined Al Cowens. At that point, everything clicked for him, and he led the league with 83 stolen bases that season while hitting .315. The following year, he further cemented his position by leading the AL in several categories, including plate appearances, runs, hits, and triples. Wilson finished fourth in the 1980 MVP voting and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.

Wilson played left field primarily during his early seasons due to the presence of Amos Otis in centerfield. Although Wilson possessed superior defensive range, Otis was a fixture in center, and he didn’t slide over full-time until 1984. In the meantime, Wilson kept running and hitting. He made two All-Star teams, won another Silver Slugger, led the league in triples four more times, and won a batting title during the 1980s. Wilson played on many of the Royals’ playoff teams during this period and saved his best for last when he hit .367 with three SBs and three RBI in the clubs’ World Series victory in 1985.

Wilson remained with the Royals through the 1980s, leaving as a free agent after the 1990 season. He played three more full seasons after that and retired in May 1994. Wilson ranks first in SBs, second in triples, and third in runs in the Royals’ record books.

 

Right Field: Amos Otis

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

Amos Otis played almost exclusively centerfield during his career, and we wouldn’t argue if you wanted to swap him with Wilson positionally. Wilson had a higher defensive WAR than Otis, but some of that came with him playing left, and Otis did win more Gold Gloves (three). In any case, they both belong in the Royal’s all-time lineup.

Otis began his career with the Mets, but New York traded him to the Royals after his second season in 1969. The Royals gave Otis the opportunity to start, and he excelled from the get-go, making his first of five All-Star games in his first season with the club. Otis led the league in stolen bases in 1971 and led the AL in doubles twice. He was an excellent all-around talent and one of the cornerstone players of five of the Royals’ playoff teams during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Otis raised his game in the postseason, especially in the Royals’ first World Series, when he hit .478 with three HRs and seven RBI in the loss to the Phillies. After the 1983 season, the Royals were ready to move Wilson to center, and the aging Otis left via free agency, playing one last season with the Pirates. Otis was among the inaugural inductees into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1986.

 

Designated Hitter: Hal McRae

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

Hal McRae began his career with Cincinnati and didn’t join the Royals until the Reds traded him there after the 1972 season. McRae was 27 and hadn’t accomplished much but proved to be a late bloomer. In 1974 McRae hit .310 and drove in 88 runs. The following season he made his first of three All-Star teams and hit over .300 for a second consecutive year. In 1976, McRae led the league in OBP and OPS while hitting .332 with 22 SBs, and he led the AL in doubles in 1977. McRae was an excellent hitter in the Royals’ speedy lineups of the late 70s and early 80s.

Despite being 36, McRae had his best season in 1982 when he led the league in doubles and RBI while hitting a career-high 27 HRs, winning his only Silver Slugger. He was a fixture in the lineup for most of Kansas City’s postseason runs during this period, although he was limited to a pinch-hitting role by the time of their championship in 1985. McRae finally retired two years later, mid-way through the 1987 season. In the 1990s, McRae returned to the Royals’ bench as their manager, helming the team for four seasons.

 

Right-Handed Starter: Bret Saberhagen

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

We had a few good choices for our right-handed starter. Along with Saberhagen, Kevin Appier, Mark Gubicza, Dennis Leonard, and Zack Greinke warranted consideration. Appier had a higher WAR than Saberhagen on both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference; however, Saberhagen’s stats were generally superior. We opted for Saberhagen for two reasons. First, he was more dominant, winning two Cy Young awards. Second, he was the World Series MVP in 1985.

Bret Saberhagen debuted in 1984 when he was only 20 and had a fine first season. He followed up his rookie year by winning 20 games over 235 innings with a 2.87 ERA and a league-leading 2.89 FIP and 1.06 WHIP. These stats earned Saberhagen his first Cy Young award, and he didn’t stop there. After a rough ALCS, Saberhagen threw two complete games in the World Series, allowing only one run in his 18 innings, and took home series MVP honors. The 21-year-old Saberhagen probably didn’t imagine at the time it would be the last time he’d see the playoffs for a decade.

Saberhagen returned to earth in 1986 but continued to pitch well for the Royals through 1991, making two All-Star appearances in 1987 and 1990. His best season came in 1989, though, when he won his second Cy Young after posting an AL-best 23 wins, 2.16 ERA,  2.45 FIP, 0.96 WHIP, and 12 complete games in 262 innings. Saberhagen took home the Gold Glove that year to boot. However, the innings came at a price, as he managed only 135 innings the following season due to injury. Saberhagen rebounded in 1991, throwing his first no-hitter on August 26. A few months later, the rebuilding Royals traded him to the Mets, ending his tenure with the club.

Saberhagen’s career was far from over, as he didn’t retire until 2001, pitching for the Mets, Rockies, and Red Sox. Though he had a few more high-end seasons left in him, he battled injuries for much of the remainder of his career. The injuries may have cost Saberhagen a shot at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but he was inducted into the Royals’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

 

Left-Handed Starter: Paul Splittorff

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

The Royal’s history with lefties wasn’t as replete with options as it was with righties. Our choice came down to Paul Splittorff, Charlie Leibrandt, Larry Gura, and Danny Duffy. Splittorff got the nod as his WAR was the highest of the four, although it took him many more innings to get there. Longevity counts, though, and Splittorff spent his entire career in Kansas City.

Splittorff debuted at the end of the 1970 season and started 1971 in the minors. He was back in the bigs in June, though, and posted a 2.68 ERA his rookie year. Splittorff became a mainstay in the Royals’ rotation for the next 12 seasons, throwing over 200 innings seven times. His best season was in 1978 when he won 19 games with a 3.40 ERA in 262 innings and garnered some Cy Young votes. Splittorff made seven postseason appearances for the Royals in their various playoff runs during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He only started four times but acquitted himself well, winning two games with a career 2.79 ERA in October.

Splittorff retired in June 1984 and went on to a long career as a broadcaster for the team. Sadly, he passed away in 2011 after a long battle with cancer.

 

Reliever: Dan Quisenberry

Career Stats with the Kansas City Royals

Our reliever came down to a choice between Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery. Montgomery saved more games for the Royals, but Quisenberry had a higher WAR and better peripheral stats. Plus, Quisenberry was a pioneer and an integral part of the franchise’s two World Series appearances in the 1980s. “Quiz” debuted in 1979 as an odd, little-known submariner who threw a mean sinker. He pitched well enough to emerge as the team’s closer in 1980 and led the league with 33 saves. In the World Series that year, Quisenberry pitched in all six games, winning one, saving one, and losing two.

The disappointment of the World Series didn’t slow Quiz down, and he led the league in saves four of the next five seasons and made three All-Star teams. Despite a low strikeout rate, Quisenberry was a dominant force, finishing second in the Cy Young voting twice and third twice from 1982 through 1985. Quiz got his championship ring in 1985, though he didn’t have to work as hard thanks to Saberhagen’s two complete games. He finished three games, though, and earned the win in the tightly contested Game 6.

Quisenberry had two more solid seasons for the Royals after 1985 but fell into a closer committee as the Royals’ run came to a close. He wasn’t happy about his reduced role, and the club granted him his release on July 4th, 1988. Quiz pitched well in 1989 in a non-closer role for the Cardinals, but the end was near, and he retired six innings into the 1990 season. In another tragedy for the franchise, Quisenberry passed away from brain cancer in 1998 at only 45 years old.

 

On Deck

 

We’re headed to California for our next two All-Franchise Starting Lineups. We’ll start with the Angels, who will undoubtedly have a Trout and a Salmon in their lineup a few weeks from now. If you love baseball as much as we do, check out the We Love Baseball section for more great content!

 

Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Scott Youngson

Scott is a SoCal native who, after two decades of fighting L.A. traffic, decided to turn his passion for fantasy sports into a blog - the now-defunct Fantasy Mutant. He currently writes for FantasyPros and Pitcher List and will vehemently defend the validity of the Dodgers' 60-game season championship.

7 responses to “All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup: Kansas City Royals”

  1. Dean says:

    How about Mark Littell for the Royals ?

  2. Tom Lawrence says:

    Wilson, LF
    Otis, CF
    Brett, 3B
    Sweeney, 1B
    McRae, DH
    Salvy, C
    Beltran, RF
    White, 2B
    Patek, SS

    Bench: Mayberry, Gordon, Bo, Porter, Butler, Cookie

    Pitchers: Busby, Sabes, Splitt, Leonard, Greinke, Cone, Appier, Gura, Drago, Quiz,

  3. Brian says:

    Hosmer didn’t get any consideration for 1B?

  4. Al Brown says:

    Going with Sweeney over Mayberry because he was in KC twice as long does not make sense if WAR is the criteria. Mayberry had similar WAR in half the time Sweeny was a Royal. So WAR per year Mayberry was much more valuable.

    • Scott Youngson says:

      It was a coin flip between the two. Sweeney’s offensive numbers were slightly better on a per-game basis, but he played in a more hitter-friendly era, hence the WAR. I opted for Sweeney due to more longevity and similar numbers but have no problem putting Mayberry there.

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