August 19, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (33) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

All in with a pair of threes?

David Glass: All About Average. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

We’ve all seen the comments from David Glass. The Royals position players and bullpen stack up with anyone in the division. It’s time to open up the checkbook and buy some quality starting pitching. Finally.

But then comes the rain on our parade. Glass says we can make a run at things with a pair of threes. That’s a heck of a bluff in poker…but in baseball? The other players at the table can see our cards. Can a pair of threes take us to the postseason? Do we even know what a “number three” starter really is?? Is there a definition? I’m going to define a “number three” and see where that might leave the pitching rotation in 2013.

To get really basic, a starting rotation is made up of five pitchers. Looking at it that way…you figure, ideally, you have two guys who are above league average (your numbers 1 and 2) and two guys who are probably below average (numbers 4 and 5). That leaves us with the third spot, sitting right in the middle of the rotation, the barrier between below average and above average. A number three pitcher is basically league average. That’s simple enough.

What is average?

Looking at it from a team aspect, the American League is made up of 14 teams with starting pitcher WAR that ranges from 19.3 (Detroit) all the way down to 2.4 (Minnesota). The Royals starting pitching, through Tuesday’s games, sits at 7.3, which is better than three other AL teams – the Blue Jays, the Indians, and the Twins (luckily, two of those teams are in our division).

The average AL starting rotation has a WAR of 9.65. Looking at average from that perspective, the league is split right down the middle with seven above and below average teams. The Royals are below average and out of contention. Six teams with above average rotations are still in the playoff hunt.

The one above average team not anywhere close to the postseason is Boston, with a 10.2 WAR. A couple of teams who are slightly below the mark are the Orioles at 9.5 and the Angels with a 9.3 (they rank 8 and 9, just behind Boston). Simply put, above average seems like the way to go.

I next looked at individual pitchers in my hunt to define that number three guy. I decided to include starting pitchers from both the AL and NL, and put a minimum of 100 innings pitched on my query. Fangraphs came back with 128 starting pitchers on a total of five pages.

That works out pretty well, with the number of pages being equal to number of spots in a rotation. I thought the best way to figure out what makes up an average pitcher in the big leagues would be to jump to page three. What I found was a group of pitchers who ranged from 2.3 to 1.6 WAR. Then I checked pages two and four, making sure to include everyone in the 2.3 through 1.6 range, with the results listed below.

Chris Capuano 2.3
Clay Buchholz 2.3
Bartolo Colon 2.3
Jake Westbrook 2.3
Homer Bailey 2.3
Wandy Rodriguez 2.3
Marco Estrada 2.2
Ryan Vogelsong 2.2
Joe Blanton 2.2
Ross Detwiler 2.2
Matt Moore 2.2
Paul Maholm 2.1
Scott Feldman 2.1
Felix Doubront 2.1
Wei-Yin Chen 2.1
Colby Lewis 2.0
Alex Cobb 2.0
Justin Masterson 2.0
Kevin Millwood 2.0
Jose Quintana 2.0
Vance Worley 1.9
Tim Lincecum 1.9
Phil Hughes 1.9
Brandon Morrow 1.9
Jeff Francis 1.8
Gavin Floyd 1.8
Brandon McCarthy 1.8
Derek Holland 1.7
J.A. Happ 1.7
James McDonald 1.7
Francisco Liriano 1.7
Mark Buehrle 1.6
Dillon Gee 1.6
Ivan Nova 1.6
Dan Haren 1.6

The average WAR of the 35 pitchers listed above is 1.98. Taking that number and multiplying by 5, we get a total of 9.9, which is pretty close to where we started earlier with an average rotation WAR of 9.65 (remember with the team WAR, we only included AL teams).

We can safely say the average major league starting pitcher with at least 100 innings has a WAR of about 2. I think it’s safe to include all of the above guys, taking into account that guys will have up or down seasons.

The Royals have one guy at the low end of our scale – Jeremy Guthrie, with a 1.6 WAR in 78 innings since coming to KC (the number is lower if you figure in his time with the Rockies). The current rotation of Guthrie, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, and Will Smith have a combined WAR of 6.2.

David Glass wants to shove his chips into the middle of the table with a pair of threes. Should he? Or should he fold and see what the next hand brings?

If you have read anything else I’ve written at this site, you know I am a proponent of cutting Luke Hochevar loose. This is my experiment, so bye-bye Luke.

We appear to be stuck with Bruce Chen (under contract through 2013), so we’ll leave him in the mix. Dayton Moore has expressed interest in retaining Guthrie. I’m still not nuts about the idea (depending on the contract), but he’s definitely had some nice success in KC. Some think he’s phenomenal, and he has looked good. I personally believe he’s pretty average (the Fangraphs WAR numbers agree), but hey, this team is all about average.

A big question with Guthrie, though: does he count towards our pair of threes? We’ll assume, given our owner’s history, that Guthrie is in fact one of our signings, giving us one more addition.

At this point we’ve got Guthrie and Chen for a combined WAR of 3. Let’s say our remaining addition brings a 2 WAR to town. That’s three pitchers at a combined WAR of 5, with two falling into our previously determined range of being average (Guthrie with his 1.6, and our Free Agent with a 2).

We can safely assume the rest of the rotation will be rounded out with two of the following: Smith, Mendoza, or Jake Odorizzi.

Jake’s an unknown at this point, but has more upside than anyone in the rotation. Given his potential, let’s

KC’s secret weapon? Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

plug him in as our number four and round things out with either of the other guys (I don’t really care which one), and assign the last two rotation spots a WAR value of 2.5 (combined). That puts us at 7.5, right about where we are right now.

Ok, so I took the scenic route to my point. What I’m saying is this: two average guys won’t do it.

If we upgrade from two to three average guys, each with a WAR of 2, and mix in two below average guys (let’s give them a each a 1.5), we’d have a total WAR of 9, which is absolutely better, still below average, but in the ballpark.

Sure, guys can pitch over or under (see Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren) their general skill level. Dan Haren is a guy, by the way, I think the Royals should be very interested in this winter. A possible “buy low” candidate who could come out firing in 2013.

So who knows? Maybe a couple of those 2 WAR guys put up better numbers and nudge our rotation to a WAR of 10 or 11. If that happens, we can absolutely hang tough in the Central. If Odorizzi hits the ground running, that certainly improves our chances.  Remember though, in this scenario of a WAR between 9 and 11, I upgraded to THREE average pitchers…not just a pair. Even then it’s no sure bet.

So, Mr. Glass, if the Royals are going to have a real chance…I’d recommend you have at least three of a kind heading into 2013. And you might want to consider setting your sights on something a little more “above average” before you think about going all in.

Tags: Jake Odorizzi Jeremy Guthrie Kansas City Royals

  • jimfetterolf

    I’ve yet to see any suggestion that the team intends to go “all-in”, a phrase usually used on the ‘net. What has been suggested is $25-30 mil for FAs and even as much as $15 mil higher if Luke is non-tendered and Alex Gordon traded for a basketful of prospects. Working from those assumptions it’s just a matter of who Dayton Moore can get who is willing to come to KC in the AL and play for a rebuilding team and who has low risk of regression and good health and how much they will have to be paid above market in money and years.

    $45 mil might get Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, and Jeremy Guthrie. We can assume of that three that at least one will get hurt or be a bust. We can also assume that that kind of money will seriously impair the ability to retain Moose and/or Hoz. We can’t assume that that investment will bring a playoff berth, much less a Series championship, as Phillie, Florida, and Anaheim is demonstrating this year.

    • Bob Ellis

      As far as “all in” I’m using that phrase based on what Glass said…which is that our bullpen and lineup stacks up against anyone in our division, and that we will do what needs to be done to add starting pitching (the missing ingredient)…he went on to reinforce that he’s always said when we got to this point of being so close to contending, that he’ll go out and get the pieces we need to win. He even tells us what we need to stack up against the division and compete – a couple of number three pitchers.

      Maybe people are reading too much between the lines of what Glass has said…probably because he rarely says this type of thing. But by coming out and saying this…he’s setting expectations. Anything less than winning – or at least coming close to it – is going to be viewed as a failure by a lot of fans.

      I’m not suggesting he mortgage the future or anything…but I do believe at some point he’s got to make a move to win at the highest level…it can’t always be “wait til next year”. Most of the prospects won’t pan out, that’s the nature of the beast.

      Basically all I attempted to do was look at the phrase “number three pitcher” and assign a value to it…so we can see the type of guys the team should be looking at – guys that fall into that category. I’m not even saying he has to get better guys…but it may take 3 instead of 2. I think it’s feasible that we could bring in 3 guys like that (with one being Guthrie) without hurting our chances of locking up some of the young talent at the same time.

      • jimfetterolf

        Good work on suggesting value, I appreciate that effort, but David Glass, like the rest of us, is still unsure about JaKKKe, it’s still too early to predict the rehabs of Duffy, Paulino, and Lamb, we’ld all like to see a little more of Selman and the #1 pick, drawing a blank on his name, Yordano Ventura is close, and with the new ESPN deal no one has an idea of what FAs will cost or even much of a clue as to the set that might at least consider coming to KC. I think Glass was just setting the bar low. Imagine the blogosphere if he said “two #1s” and Zack and Anibal said, “No way”. “Glass lied to us! Wahhhh…”

    • Bob Ellis

      On a side note…I hope Gordon is NOT traded…but if Luke was gone, we could take that $30M for FA pitching and add another $5 to $7M I would think? That gets us up to lets say $37M…which should still be able to pull in some solid pitching…will it be enough, who knows? But we’ve got to take a shot right?

      • jimfetterolf

        I like Alex, don’t get me wrong, but that is the kind of trade that Tampa or Oakland would make, dump a bunch of payroll for a major haul of prospects.

        I’ve suggested the Reds as a possible partner, they need an LF and have about half a dozen good looking young arms in A+ and AA. If two months of Greinke is worth three prospects, three years of Alex should be worth six or eight power low level, high ceiling prospects, and the freed up $10 million would do some good for either FAs or extending Moose/Hoz even Myers and Odorizzi, if warranted. Trading Alex for non-roster players gets the potential up to $45 mil and I suggested the three pitchers we might get for that. And Alex can be replaced, maybe not completely, but LF isn’t a high skill position.

        • Bob Ellis

          I totally agree Jim…easier to replace a corner outfielder or first baseman than some other spots on the field – SP, SS, 2B, C, CF for example….if it was an offer Dayton couldn’t refuse, I’d be okay with it. It would certainly free up money and we could get by in LF while using the money to upgrade the rotation,etc. I think a lot of fans would revolt if Gordon was moved though…or maybe the fans pretty much expect it given all the players we’ve had to move in the past!

          • jimfetterolf

            If a trade looks certain, sign the pitchers, the fans rejoice, then dump Alex amid the wave of good feeling with the explanation that we basically traded Alex for Anibal. I think it’s an easy sell and it pretty much guarantees Wil Myers an opening day spot. An Of of Dyson or Lough, Cain, and Myers would have some impressive speed and defensive capabilities.

          • Bob Ellis

            Don’t forget Frenchy….

          • jimfetterolf

            Frenchy is in the mix, but I like the speed of the rest. We’ll just have to see if Seitzer can fix Frenchy’s swing once more. It’s all technique.

          • Bob Ellis

            I was being sarcastic…but we are probably stuck with him. He’s obviously got the ability to hit…you just never know with him. And if he’s still here, you know they will run him out there often.

          • jimfetterolf

            Frenchy is still young and has athletic skills and had a fine ’11 after working with Seitzer over the winter. He’s a coin-flip at the moment, but I expect him to give it all he’s got. He’ll have to win a job next spring, I think, but I have faith in Seitzer.

  • Geoff

    I like the breakdown Bob. Good research. Good topic to discuss for sure. I also like the idea of going after Dan Haren. I’m sure a lot of teams will. I personally think we need to make a trade for a #2 at worst. I would be willing to get a young guy who might not pitch like a #2 next season, but has the makings to develop into that over the next couple of seasons. I know we would have to give up a stud, but as long as its not Escobar, Perez, Butler, or Moose, I would be ok with that.
    Congrats to the Billy Butler for his season! STUD!
    If we could make a trade for a #2 and sign another guy capable of being a 2, I think we can expect a playoff run, barring injuries of course. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team try and bring back Soria to help the rotation. That might cost us some $ though.
    Anyway, it’s too hard to predict at this point. I’m anxious to see this team make a real commitment at the Major League level. The drafts have been wonderful, but our window is now open and won’t stay that way for long. Look at Tampa Bay.

  • Geoff

    I meant Soria help the bullpen, not rotation. Duh!

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