Through 519.1 innings, that’s the cumulative ERA of Royals starters this season. That includes such immaculate performances as Kyle Davies‘s 7.74 ERA, Sean O’Sullivan‘s 6.57 ERA and a steaming pile of Luke Hochevar Blowup Innings (patent pending).
With hitting prospects rising up the professional ladder, the Royals have hope for the future, but as a pitching staff goes, so goes the team. A pitching staff may not need to be the Braves of the early ’90s, but they have to be at least competent.
This group is not that – and it has to change for that hope to be realized.
That’s not to say that the rotation has been all that bad. Bruce Chen has been solid and while Jeff Francis hasn’t been lights out, he’s shown excellent control in 2011. Hochevar, for all of his remarkably frustrating implosions, has shown flashes of brilliance (as he usually does).
Regardless, by the end of the month, the current Royals rotation should look far different from how it does now. There’s always a market for pitching, especially of the left-handed variety. They may not fetch any blue chippers, but Chen and Francis could be good trading chips for a contender in need of a southpaw or injury replacement.
Davies may have one or two more starts to show something and if not, I can’t see him sticking around. He’s shown nothing this season, and when viewed in relation to his previous seasons, it’s not like he has a prior track record to fall back on.
The Royals are 37-54 at the All-Star Break, good for most losses in the American League and third most in the majors. The optimism of May is gone; playoff dreams, no matter how grand, are gone. This team isn’t going to finish higher than fourth, and that’s even a stretch at this point.
That’s disappointing, but at the same time, it puts the Royals in a decent position to try something different that can pay off down the line. What do the Royals have to lose? It’s not different from the current weather in the midwest. What’s the difference between 95 degrees and 100 degrees? It’s going to be too freaking hot no matter what. The real difference is mental. It’s perception. That third digit changes things but really changes nothing. The Royals have nothing to lose.
It’s time to look at next year.
Danny Duffy has done well. At just 22 years old, he’s shown the ability to make adjustments against big league hitters. His last four starts have been much better than his first six. Felipe Paulino has been a great surprise since coming over and might be the best starter at the end of the year. Really.
Mike Montgomery has had two strong starts in a row, and, as the Royals former top prospect, has to be in next year’s plans. He’ll have to be up in September, but if Chen and Francis get swapped (and Davies gets axed), there will be plenty of spots for him to step up. Add another year of Luke Hochevar and you get a quartet of Duffy, Hochevar, Montgomery and Paulino the rest of 2011 and going into 2012.
That leaves a spot for a fifth for next year’s rotation. We could wait and see who the Royals go after in the free agent market or settle for Vin Mazzaro or O’Sullivan, but really, it should be clear to the Royals that neither of those will be starting options in any team that sniffs contention.
There are rumblings that Aaron Crow should get stretched out to join the rotation. Drafted as a starter out of Missouri, the former first rounder needs to work out a third pitch to really be effective. His velocity over a full starter’s workload may take a hit, too, so at this moment, while the concept is solid and sensible, the application could be difficult.
Everett Teaford effective but he’s always been a player that’s been overlooked and probably doesn’t have the talent to get by consistently. Out of the bullpen, he’s struck out just four batters per nine innings. That probably won’t fly in a starting rotation unless he improves his walkrate. Walking batters then letting them put the ball in play can be dangerous. Nate Adcock has had strong stretches but he’s already made a big jump from A ball to the big leagues as a Rule V pick.
If the Royals were going to accelerate a pitcher from A ball to the rotation, they may as well go for Jake Odorizzi. Of course, with Odorizzi, the Royals have been patient and only recently promoted him to Double A after he dominated the Carolina League. Of the top five (in my opinion) pitching prospects in the Royals system right now, only Mike Montgomery is really near the big leagues. Odorizzi is next but his timeline should land him in Kansas City sometime next season, even if he’s just a September call up.
John Lamb‘s Tommy John surgery has him out for a while and both Jason Adam and Noel Arguelles are starting their first professional seasons in 2011. So while that group should be strong about 2013, plans need to start now to get everything else in line so the young guns can fit in at the back of the rotation and get their feet wet while the more seasoned starters lead the charge.
My best guess is that the Royals won’t trade both Chen and Francis, but one is likely to get moved. Davies will probably hang around until someone needs to join the 40 man roster, so Dayton Moore will hold out on him a bit longer. The Royals don’t seem to view Crow as a starter, but they might toy with the idea, similar to how they stretched Jeremy Jeffress out in Omaha for a time to see if it would take.
Regardless, changes are coming and changes are necessary. We’re all but assured another top five draft pick anyway. We may as well figure some things out for next year (and beyond), even if we have to take our lumps in the process.