Originally written on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 11/16/14

From last Thursday's season preview of the Royals...

Burning Question
Are the Royals going to get enough out of their rotation to contend in 2012?

Checking in a week later, the Royals rotation currently consists of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, Luis Mendoza, and Danny Duffy. One of the more effective Royals starter last season, Felipe Paulino, will start the season on the DL with elbow soreness. That's not a good look at all for Kansas City. In 20 starts (21 games) last season, Paulino had a 3.51 FIP and an 8.59 strikeout rate, amassing 2.6 fWAR. That was tied for the highest among all Royals pitchers with the departed Jeff Francis, who threw nearly 60 more innings than Paulino.

Of the five Royals starters currently in the rotation, all but Mendoza had at least 20 starts in the majors. Mendoza spent most of the year at AAA Omaha for the Royals, and he only struck out 81 batters in 144 1/3 innings while walking 54. Last season in Omaha, he threw 131 2/3 innings and struck out 59 while walking 32. The walk rate is fine. The strikeout rate is...really, really bad. If you're going to strike out that few batters, you need to walk less than two per inning. I don't think Mendoza will be very effective in the rotation, and if Paulino is ready to roll soon, he'd represent a huge upgrade...possible two or three wins over the course of the season.

Hochevar qualified for the ERA title for the first time in his career last year, at age 27. This is Luke Hochevar's age 28 season? Really? Wow. Anyway, Hochevar really hasn't lived up to his status as a former number one overall pick. He has a career 5.29 ERA (but his 4.41 FIP says he's been better than that), a 5.95 strikeout rate, and a 3.01 walk rate. He also allows a homer every nine innings. This is not the guy you want heading up your rotation, but that's where the Royals are right now. Despite a career high 2.3 fWAR last year, Hochevar still had a bad 4.68 ERA (4.29 FIP) with 128 strikeouts and 62 walks. I actually think that this is his ceiling...maybe a three win guy if everything falls into place for him. Three win pitchers don't head the rotation of contenders.

The Royals made a big deal about re-signing veteran journeyman Bruce Chen this offseason, but really...it's Bruce Chen. He'll be 35 at midseason, and his strikeout rate has steadily decreased as his career has gone on. The 5.63 mark he posted last year is more than a strikeout per inning lower than his 6.82 career line, but his walk rate of 2.90 last year was also half a walk lower than his 3.45 career mark. If I could choose one word to describe Chen, it would be "mediocre". He's never had a 200 inning season. In fact, he has just one season where he qualified for the ERA title (2005 with Baltimore). His career ERA is slightly north of 4.50, and his career FIP is slightly north of 5.00. He's never had a two win season. And this is the guy you want to sign to make a free agency splash? OK then. 1.5 wins is probably his ceiling at this rate.

Former Giant Jonathan Sanchez is probably going to be the team's best starter this season, and that's not really a great thing. The 29 year-old had a horrific season last year, throwing just 101 1/3 innings. He struck out a batter per inning, but had a 5.86 walk rate. That is really, really bad. Sanchez is a guy that can give you an ERA around 4.00, but because of his high strikeout and walk rates, he can't throw a ton of innings. If the Royals got 180 innings out of 4.00 ERA ball out of him, they'd be thrilled. With his strikeout rate, I'd say that's a 2.5 win pitcher. 

And then, there's once highly touted prospect Danny Duffy. He made his major league debut last year, and only threw 105 innings in 20 starts. He had a 5.64 ERA, allowed more than a homer per inning, and walked more than four batters per nine innings. However, it was his first full season after missing a ton of time in 2010, when he only threw 78 innings. 2009 showed what Duffy has the potential to do, as he struck out nearly a batter per inning while walking fewer than three per nine. Duffy has ridiculous potential, but will he ever tap it? He's just 23, so there's plenty of time for him to translate his minor league dominance into a solid role in the majors. But still...two wins seems like a ceiling for him in 2012. Maybe three if everything goes correctly.

So assuming Paulino is healthy for most of the season, the Royals have what...a 12-15 win rotation? Last season, their rotation was worth 13.5 wins, and that was good for 21st in baseball. Repeating that would put them in around the same position. Of last season's eight playoff teams, the Cardinals rotation had the lowest fWAR, at 14.3. So it's certainly conceivable for the Royals to make the playoffs with a 15 win rotation...but the young offense would really need to deliver like it's capable of.


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