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.
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
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.