Royals' Top 5 lefty starters: Flanagan's take

June 1st, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Jeffrey Flanagan’s ranking of the top five left-handed starters in Royals history. Next week: relievers.

Royals' all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RH SP

1. Paul Splittorff, 1970-84
Key fact: Royals' all-time leader in wins (166)

Royals team historian Curt Nelson said of Splittorff, “He was a bulwark for so many years. It is still strange that neither Splitt nor [Dennis Leonard[ were ever named to an All-Star team.”

Splittorff emerged in 1973 with a 20-11 mark and a 3.98 ERA while throwing 262 innings. But it really wasn’t until after manager Whitey Herzog arrived in mid-1975 that Splittorff’s career took off. Splittorff won 84 games from 1975-80 with a 3.78 ERA while logging 1,252 2/3 innings.

“When Whitey came in, all of a sudden, there was a credibility there," Splittorff once said. "He was so popular, so honest, so believable. He was a great fit.”

And Herzog was a great fit for Splittorff, who was one of many key components to the Royals’ rise to national prominence from 1975-85. Later, Splittorff became a tremendously popular Royals television announcer known for his candor.

“He was so informative,” Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre said. “He taught all of us so much about the game. And he was so humble.”

Splittorff, who died in 2011, was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1987.

2. Charlie Leibrandt, 1984-89
Key fact: Went 17-9 with a 2.69 ERA in 1985

Nelson described Leibrandt as the “forgotten man” during the Royals’ mid-1980s success.

“His postseason luck was downright bizarro-world stuff,” Nelson said. “He threw some really stellar games and always seemed to have a break go against him and take the no-decision or loss despite it all. Still, the 1984 and 1985 Royals wouldn't have done what they did without Charlie Leibrandt. He was a guy that his manager always had supreme confidence in.”

In Game 3 of the 1984 American League Championship Series, Leibrandt threw eight innings of one-run ball against Detroit, only to lose, 1-0. In Game 4 of the '85 ALCS, he threw eight innings of two-run ball against the Blue Jays and lost.

Nonetheless, Leibrandt was stellar for the Royals during his six-year career in Kansas City, piling up 76 wins and posting a 3.60 ERA.

3. Danny Jackson, 1983-87
Key fact: Posted a 3.42 ERA in 208 innings in 1985

If just based on pure stuff, Jackson probably would leap to No. 1 on this list. In five years in Kansas City, he posted a 3.69 ERA in 119 games.

Longtime Royals fans will forever remember Jackson for his postseason heroics. He threw an eight-hit, six-strikeout shutout in Game 5 of the 1985 ALCS against the Blue Jays. Then, in a must-win World Series Game 5 against the Cardinals, he threw a five-hitter, allowing one run in a 6-1 win.

Jackson’s best season came later with the Reds in 1988, when he went 23-8 with a 2.73 ERA, was an All-Star and finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting to Orel Hershiser.

4. Larry Gura, 1976-85
Key fact: Named an All-Star in 1980 and finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting three times

On the subject of forgotten men, there is Gura. He racked up 111 wins over 10 years with the Royals.

For the Royals, Gura was similar to Chris Young in 2015, at least early on. Gura was an exceptional swingman, eventually becoming a go-to starter by 1978. In 1980, when the Royals made their first World Series appearance, Gura went 18-10 with a 2.95 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.

In nine postseason games, Gura posted a respectable 3.89 ERA.

5. Bud Black, 1982-88
Key fact: Went 17-12 with a 3.12 ERA in 1984

Another key contributor to the Royals’ mid-1980s success. Black went 56-57 over seven seasons with Kansas City, posting a 3.73 ERA. In 1984, he led the NL with a 1.13 WHIP in his best season for the Royals.

After a 15-year playing career, Black spent nine seasons as the manager of the Padres, and he's been the Rockies' manager since 2017.

Honorable mentions

Danny Duffy, 2011-present: You certainly can make a case for Duffy being at No. 5 on this list, given his contributions to the 2014 and '15 Royals. Duffy holds the Royals’ single-game strikeout record with 16.

Jose Rosado, 1996-2000: It looked like Rosado was headed for big things in his rookie season, when he went 8-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 16 starts. He ended up being a two-time All-Star during a time in which the Royals struggled.