Presence of Pitching

A couple months ago when I started with Kings of Kauffman I wrote a post introduce myself on both a personal and baseball level. In my closing I made a prudent point that Dayton Moore would need to add established starting pitching in order for “Mission 2012″ to really take off. That point is no less true now than it was two months ago.

It’s hardly a profound thought, just a matter of fact. Most who follow the team had been saying this at the beginning of the season. And most Royals fans are now beginning to come around to that notion. However, what’s changed is the belief that this is truly the only thing missing from a team that has a chance to compete for the AL Central next season.

I was optimistic about the young bats in the system, but I never thought that the offense would come together the way it has this season.

Lets face it, Alex Gordon was on his last leg in an otherwise disappointing career before his sudden outbreak this season. Jeff Francouer had turned into one of baseball’s journeymen and the move to bring him in was solely based off of his relationship with GM Dayton Moore, yet his performance this season has been a revelation and a bargain at 1 yr./$2.5 million. (Some have their skepticism about extending him, but you can’t argue his value for this season.) The Melky Cabrera signing was widely criticized and it has turned out to be yet another great move by Moore this season and once again it came at the bargain of 1 yr./$1.25 million.

The outfield has been a historic success for the franchise defensively and offensively and it is comprised of lowly-sought after free agents and a revitalized once-upon-a-time star prospect that appeared to be at the end of his road.

Around the diamond there is complete turnover at every position. And that turnover is younger and much better than the product before it. Hosmer is a star and no one could have expected this kind of success from him right away—after all we are Royals fans. Alcides Escobar has almost gone unnoticed lately at shortstop, and that’s a good thing. He makes the difficult play seem routine and the routine play, look, well, routine. Mike Moustakas and Johnny Giavotella have struggled a little with the bat and the glove, but both have shown enough flashes that their spots are secure in the line-up next season.

Sal Perez is the biggest success of this franchise’s youth movement so far in my opinion. For a franchise that has had very little success at the catcher position, Sal Perez’ peripherals are fantastic at this point. No one had concerns about his ability behind the plate, it was his ability at the plate that raised question marks. Perez’ line of .344/.381/.488 in 33 games with the Royals answered a lot of those questions and surprised a lot of people. To give you a larger sample size for this season his numbers between the three levels are .308/.357/.385. Still very encouraging.

I bring up all these offensive superlatives, because I think it lends notion to the increased importance of adding an established arm for next season’s rotation. I thought the Royals would need to add an arm, but I didn’t think the line-up would look this good this early. And I truly think the only thing standing between this team and an AL Central title is starting pitching.

Luke Hochevar has been very good in the latter part of the season. Since July 19 he is 6-3 with a 3.73 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 21 walks over 71.2 innings. Felipe Paulino has established himself as a part of next year’s rotation and with be a valuable workhorse and innings eater. Danny Duffy, quite frankly, wasn’t very good in his 20 starts. But it’s not for a lack of stuff. He averaged more than seven strikeouts per nine innings, but also walked more than four batters per nine innings. He will be a part of the rotation next season, but is still clearly adjusting to big-league hitting and figures to be a back end of the rotation guy next season. Everett Teaford has shown some flashes as a guy that could possibly figure into the rotation next season. Mike Montgomery improved toward the end of the Storm Chasers’ season, but his numbers are almost identical to Duffy’s and he’s a level lower. Montgomery can and will come around and at some point will figure into the rotation next season.

There are many other options at the Royals’ disposal for the rotation next season, but they all have one thing in common: They aren’t front-line starting pitchers. Montgomery has the ability to be that, but he isn’t that right now and most likely won’t be by next season. Jake Odorizzi is in the same boat.

This is the part where Dayton Moore comes in. C.J. Wilson, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt are the early 2012 free agency names that jump out. C.J. Wilson and Hiroki Kuroda are the most likely options from that list, however, it wouldn’t be the big splash most Royals fans are looking for.

In next week’s post, after the season is over, I will weigh the options of a free agent pickup vs. trading for a proven starter. And which is more likely and why I’m not confident Dayton Moore will do either.

Until next time.  

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