Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rotation Thoughts

It's possible that the Royals 2012 contention hopes rest on one tiny word, if. As in they'll contend if Dayton Moore can find a quality SP this winter, if Luke Hochevar's second half really was a taste of things to come, if Felipe Paulino can avoid regressing to his pre-Royals numbers, and finally, if Danny Duffy can take a John Danks-like step his sophomore year.

Of course not all of the above mentioned ifs need to occur for the Royals to play meaningful baseball in September but I would argue that probably three of them do. I'll tackle them one at a time.

The offseason acquistion

Many rumors and suggestions have floated around about who Moore should target to front the 2012 rotation. There are only a handful pitchers in baseball who can be considered true aces and Moore is not going to get one. But there are many above average guys who would slot nicely into the #1 spot in Kansas City, the three I like most are James Shields, Chad Billingsley and Edwin Jackson.

  • Shields - After a 225 strikeout season he probably would cost the most prospect-wise. Those who fret over his .260 BAbip are right to worry as that's a career low. Last season a .344 mark produced a 75 ERA+ but from 2007-2009 his BAbips were all in the .284-.311 range and he put up ERA+'s of 117, 124 and 105. He seems an unlikely bet to match his 2011 numbers but he'll still strike out a lot of hitters while walking very few.
  • Billingsley - He is owed 32 million over the next three seasons (actually 35M counting the buyout for the 4th year team option, which they'd almost assuredly decline), and given the Dodgers internal mess, I'd wager that's a contract they'd like to part with. At 27 he is still fairly young but he has put up an ERA+ south of 100 two of the last three seasons, so there's that. Also his 7.3 SO/9 was the lowest he'd ever put up in a full season so you have to wonder what's going on there.  
  • Jackson - Unlike the previous two Jackson is a free agent so he won't cost prospects, only money, and in a weak class he is probably going to be overpaid. At 28 he is coming off four consecutive seasons of 180+ innings pitched and has had an ERA+ above 100 in three of them. If you'd rather see Moore give Jackson 3/39 than pay Shields or Billingsley less but have to part with Wil Myers or Mike Montgomery, then you're probably not alone.
All three of these guys would be significant upgrades over Jeff Francis.

The pitcher of our discontent


Split W L ERA G GS IP BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
1st Half 5 8 5.46 19 19 118.2 38 60 1.382 4.6 1.58
2nd Half 6 3 3.52 12 12 79.1 24 68 1.134 7.7 2.83
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

This was the first season I exited the Hochevar bandwagon and I'm pretty certain I was one of the last few off. But that was before the All Star break, and well, look at what he did afterwards. If increased use of his slider really was what turned around his season (and possibly career) around then he may be in line for a big 2012. I'm not ready to make that prediction though.

One of the running jokes in the Royals blogosphere is that Hochevar is only consistent in his inconsistency, you see it's funny because it's true. Because of that it would surprise no one to see him totally bomb next season, even after his fantastic second half. Now I suppose it's likely that Moore rolls the dice and buys in to Hochevar's second half, that could mean an SP won't be a high priority as he'll feel comfortable with Hochevar at #1 again. That's just speculation on my part though but given how Moore tends to ignore track records I see it as a real possibility. It'd be a tremendous gamble though and I imagine a currently excited fan base would not react well to such a decision.

The strikeout artist

Rk Player Date IP SO
1 Felipe Paulino 2011-09-10 7.0 11
2 Felipe Paulino 2011-09-26 6.0 9
3 Luke Hochevar 2011-09-08 6.2 9
4 Bruce Chen 2011-08-23 7.2 9
5 Kyle Davies 2011-07-18 5.1 9
6 Felipe Paulino 2011-07-05 6.0 9
7 Danny Duffy 2011-06-19 3.2 9
8 Felipe Paulino 2011-09-21 5.0 8
9 Bruce Chen 2011-09-13 8.0 8
10 Luke Hochevar 2011-09-03 8.0 8
11 Felipe Paulino 2011-07-17 7.0 8
12 Felipe Paulino 2011-06-23 8.0 8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used

Of the twelve games all year in which a Royals starter recorded 8 or more strikeouts Paulino started exactly half. His 8.59 SO/9 was the fourth best in franchise history among pitchers who started 20+ games. If Moore does indeed acquire a back of the rotation SP then I think I'd rather see Paulino at #1 instead of Hochevar.

Regression is of course the worry here but I'm not overly concerned with it. True he was abysmal with Houston and Colorado but considering that he only pitched 151.1 innings at AA and AAA combined I think he's a case of a guy who's finally figured things out. Of the four ifs, his is the one I'm most confident about coming true.

The young southpaw

I mentioned Danks as comp to Duffy earlier, which may be wishful thinking on my part, but take a look at the two left-handers rookie seasons and you'll see why I came to that conclusion.

Age W L ERA G GS IP BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
Danks 22 6 13 5.50 26 26 139.0 54 109 86 1.540 10.4 1.8 3.5 7.1 2.02
Duffy 22 4 8 5.64 20 20 105.1 51 87 73 1.614 10.2 1.3 4.4 7.4 1.71
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

In 2008 Danks produced a 138 ERA+, 6.4 bWAR sophomore season helping the White Sox take the Central one year after they finished 72-90. Granted that type of season seems unlikely for Duffy but there's no doubt that he has the talent and stuff to be well above average. I expect that the lack of high minor league seasoning (81.1 combined AA/AAA innings) will result in next season being another learning experience. In fact, I don't believe it's a given that Duffy even breaks camp with the club, and really, additional AAA innings are certainly not going to harm his development. In a rotation full of wild cards he may be the wildest card of them all.

Now you may have noticed the absence of Bruce Chen in this post, that's because I don't think he'll be back. If he does though, I expect we'll see more of the same, and that'll fit in nicely at #5.

So here's what we're potentially looking at next season:
1. Shields/Billingsley/Jackson
2. Hochevar
3. Paulino
4. Duffy
5. Crow/Teaford/Montgomery/Chen

I tend to get incredibly optimistic in the offseason but I think any of the 1 and 5 combinations along with the three holdovers would work, if things play out like we hope.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I am very used to the "ifs" in my sporting teams. It's the "ifs" that keep bringing me back. If Duffy is back in AAA, AND they don't bring Chen back, there are 3 spots in the rotation that will need to be filled. I have a feeling they go after a "bigger" FA, like Jackson. I also think they go after at a middle type trade with a big contract, like Lowe or Billingsly. Or vice versa Large trade (Shields or Minor) and middle FA (Bedard or Vazquez).

There are options out there, and I think they are only those two moves away from putting up 85 or so wins next year.