Jerry Royster – 1978 Topps
March 14, 2012
Oh, It Was That Bad…
The mid-70’s Braves put the “M” in moribund, even though they were owned by Ted Turner and foisted onto the eyes of the country via the first “Superstation” – Channel 17 in Atlanta.
The 1977 collection was probably the most heinous of those bad Braves squads.
You’d probably point to the pitching as to why they were so rotten. And you definitely could point there as their ERA was the highest in the NL. But that would be a tad bit unfair. The “Launching Pad’ fluffed up ERAs a bit so that Andy Messersmith’s 4.40 slate actually had an ERA+ of 102. Don’t get me wrong, there were issues with injuries (Messersmith and Dick Ruthven missed some time), worn out players wearing out more (Steve Hargan, Steve Kline, Mike Marshall, Buzz Capra) and a reliance on kids that weren’t ready (and never would be) (Don Collins, Mickey Mahler, Mike Davey, Duane Theiss), and the usual suspects (Jamie Easterly, Preston Hanna, and the Frank LaCorte Experience complete with 11.68 ERA).
Yes, pitching bad.
Their OPS was good for 11th in the league, which was bad enough, except that this was “The Launching Pad” – their OPS+ as a team was 72.
Second baseman Rod Gilbreath had an OPS+ of 72 that year. Their entire offense hit like Rod Gilbreath.
That figure includes Jeff Burroughs’ monster season (41 home runs, 123 OPS+ and somehow with 114 RBI) and decent seasons by Biff Pocoroba (no fooling) and Gary Matthews.
There was the rest of the bozos on the bus.
Willie Montanez hit 20 home runs, but you want a first baseman with a higher OPS+ than 99. Rowland Office slapped his way to a sub-.300 OBP and a 52 OPS+. Barry Bonnell hit .300 with a .339 slugging percentage in 360 ABs (think about that). There was the infield mess with Gilbreath, Pat Rockett (he of 11 total XBH), Darrell Chaney, Junior Moore and Mr. Royster, pictured above.
Now, my memories of Royster as a player are of a decent enough middle infielder with some speed for the Braves and Tim Flannery’s platoon partner for the Padres. I had a dice baseball game using the 1976 season and Royster wasn’t horrible and he had some stolen base ability.
But for the 1977 Braves, Royster was, well…
Awful. There’s not two ways about it.
Because of the issues with Moore, Gilbreath, Rockett, and Chaney, Royster played 140 games, though he wasn’t the regular at either second, short or third. He got the most time at third where his defense was poor but not totally lousy. He was worse at second but reserved some extra special play for shortstop with a .917 fielding percentage.
Rockett was pretty bad at short too, to be honest, though he made less errors. He just didn’t get to enough balls to make more errors.
All in all, Royster’s dWAR was -2.7. He was bad at three positions and played enough to make it count, or not count, as it were.
On offense, he was fast. He stole 28 bases but was caught 10 times, which is right on the edge where you probably shouldn’t run at all. Royster hit .216 with a .278 OBP and a .288 SLG. Remember, he played 81 games in a place called “The Launching Pad”.
The result was a -4.0 WAR season.
Really, though, those Braves had little option but to keep running Royster out there. It was a year before they drafted Bob Horner. Dale Murphy couldn’t play the middle infield (though he was still trying to catch at that point). Guys like Rockett and Gilbreath where probably better bets than Craig Robinson or Rob Bellior. Royster LOOKED like a baseball player, at least, though his middle-infield hitting prowess was miscast as a third baseman. (And damnit, Chaney was a member of the BIG RED MACHINE, so he knows how to play the game!)
When you look at teams that are bad year-over-year for a stretch, you’ll notice they have a lot of players like Royster hanging around, where they’re stretched to fill holes because others are totally lacking, but in doing so also fall off the cliff performance-wise. When one craters, the entire team just makes a bigger hole in the ground.
Royster did recover and played another decade, thanks to his speed, versatility and perseverance. But man, 1977 was just a bad year on all fronts for him and the Braves. But at least he wasn’t scowling on his card.