Kevin Appier: Better Than Awards Voters Realize

One of the refractors I picked up from a collector breaking up his set this month features Royals pitcher Kevin Appier. When searching for this card I have always lumped it in with other commons. After all, he wasn’t the team’s ace and didn’t win many awards, right?

The Royals of the 1990s were notorious for uninspiring offense. George Brett was riding into the sunset and Bo Jackson had left for Chicago after suffering a serious hip injury. That left a talented crop of pitchers to carry the team. Brett Saberhagen was the franchise ace, throwing the team’s only no-hitter through that point before being traded to the New York Mets in 1991. Former Mets star David Cone began a multi-season stint with Kansas City in 1993 before going on to resume winning five World Series championships elsewhere. Although he was a first round draft pick, Kevin Appier didn’t stand out as the bedrock of the rotation. At least, that’s my memory of the time.

The 1993 season was the best of Appier’s career and the story is best told through that year’s American League Cy Young Award. Appier posted a record of 18-8 in 238 innings of work while the Royals went 84-78. He generated nearly 7 wins above replacement, a figure commensurate with the output of Randy Johnson and ahead of perennial MVP candidates like Frank Thomas. An ERA of 2.56 was well ahead of the 3.00+ figures posted by that year’s pitchers.

Who won the award for 1993’s best AL pitching performance? Jack McDowell of the playoff-bound Chicago White Sox. Although Appier had outpitched McDowell by almost every metric (strikeouts, ERA, homeruns given up, complete games, WAR), McDowell had the honor of playing for a contending team. Appier finished third in Cy Young voting arguably because he was absent from post-season baseball and a lack of run support prevented him from posting 20 wins.

Appier wasn’t a pitcher with a good season or two followed by an uninspiring career. Many of his rate stats improved in the years following 1993 and he carried a good deal of the rotation’s workload as Cone and other key Royal’s players left. Prior to an injury in 1997 he held some of the decade’s best overall pitching stats. Appier finally left the Royals in 1999. He anchored the Moneyball A’s rotation before bouncing around a few more teams as a value-pick rather than the dominant starter he had been for a decade.

In the end he reminds me of Ned Garver, a pitcher best known for winning 20 games for the sub-.500 St. Louis Browns in 1951.

Appier’s lifetime FIP/WAR numbers put his name in the same performance conversation as Chuck Finley, David Cone, and even a damaged Doc Gooden. Cone’s legacy is probably most representative of what his would have looked like had he escaped Kansas City earlier for a competitive team.

After Baseball

Appier retired (twice) from MLB and settled in on an expansive ranch near Paola, Kansas. He sold the property a few years ago and relocated to Michigan where he now competes in kayak races.

Other Kevin Appier Links: