Royals Outpost

The heart-felt musings of a Kansas City Royals fan who isn't always right, or logical, but does always care.

1.1.06

Player Interrogation: Mike MacDougal

In the opening post of what will be a crucial year for the Royals, both as a 25-man roster and as a franchise looking to regain it's footing in the league, we will begin with a player that is accustomed to finishing games. I'll go ahead and confess right now that Mac' is one of my favorite players currently with the team, but I'll do my best to deliver an even-keeled look at the volatile reliever.

At 6'4" with an upper-90s fastball, a sharp, diving slider, and a changeup that has become much more deceptive, MacDougal is what comes to mind for many when they first envision a closer .. even the spotty control. But he wasn't always tagged as the team's closer of the future.

Taken with the 25th pick of the first round in 1999 out of Wake Forest as an erratic, lanky starter, MacDougal arrived at Class A Wilmington at the age of 23, and between that and his late call-up to Wichita for two starts, he threw 156.1 IP in 28 games, all but one as a starter, and allowed just 131 hits, struck out 138 -- but walked 83. He didn't legitimately earn his promotion to Omaha after a measly two looks at the Texas League, but he was already 24, so he climbed again. In 28 games in Omaha (27 starts), he logged 144.1 innings, walked a very similar 76, but allowed 144 hits, a predictably sharp climb. With his ERA, WHIP, K/BB, and other ratios all at or below league average, questions about whether or not he should remain as a starting pitcher began carrying serious weight. Then 2002 happened.

A flying bat that fractured his skull in his 2002 September call-up deprived him of a chance at a smooth start to the year, which led to an eye-popping 84 walks in 82 innings to 57 strikeouts. He cited numbness in his fingers because of the injury as the cause, but at this point, it was clear that his career as a starting pitcher was over.

Along with nearly every other unknown on the Royals that year, MacDougal exploded on to the national stage as a reliever in 2003, emerging as one of several young pillars for a Kansas City club that ravaged the AL Central for much of the season. Through July 13th, he had logged 42.2 IP, allowed 35 hits, struck out 32, and walked 22, accruing a 2.59 ERA and 24 saves in that time, while allowing just one(!) home run. From there he tired, much like the rest of the team, and finished with a 4.08 ERA, but he'd made it clear he had the mental and physical makeup to close.

Unfortunately, his big fade at the end of 2003 carried over to 2004, where he saved just one game at the big league level, spending most of his year between Wichita and Omaha, and struggling mightily with his control at both levels, with 34 walks in 44 innings between the majors and minors. His status in the organization had never been more unclear, with Jeremy Affeldt assuming the closer's job at the end of 2004.

Faced with the prospect of falling out of favor with the organization, the light came on big-time for MacDougal in 2005, which saw him quietly reclaim the closer role from an injured Jeremy Affeldt. While he could only save 21 games, that was largely attributable to the harsh shortage of opportunities provided by the Royals. His ratios improved dramatically across the board, as he walked just 24 in 70.1 innings, allowed 69 hits, and struck out 72, finishing with an ERA of 3.33 and a WHIP of 1.32.

MacDougal is once again the man in KC, but 2006 is an essential year for him in particular: With flamethrowing relief prospects lining up behind him, he must solidify himself as a stable, dependable presence in the bullpen, or risk losing his job to the very promising Ambiorix Burgos, and perhaps being discarded from the team's plans entirely. His mechanics are tough to keep in line, and his body type is very wily, so walks will likely always be an issue, but if he continues his progression in terms of using his strikeout stuff more efficiently, he should be a bullpen staple for several years to come.

Up next: Mark Redman

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