Oct 1, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Bruce Chen (52) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

Historically Mediocre

Thousands upon thousands words will be written this off-season about the Royals rotation. In fact, it’s already started, here and elsewhere. While most writers will naturally be looking forward I want to take a look back. It’s no great secret that the 2012 rotation was awful but I don’t think many realize how historically awful they actually were (royally speaking, of course).

Before this year there was only one season in team history where a pitcher tossed 185+ innings with an ERA+ below 85. One season from 1969-2011, and that was Larry Gura, in 1983 (200.1 IP, 83 ERA+). Now there are three. Bruce Chen (191.2, 81) and Luke Hochevar(185.1, 71) are now card carrying members of this club. Overall, Chen was actually just the third 35 year old left-hander since 1901 to have such a season. Gura and Hall of Famer Rube Marquard (198, 78 in 1922) are the other two. While Gura was even worse at 36 years old (77 ERA+) Marquard was much better, posting a 106 ERA+ in 1923. I’m still not a fan of Chen’s but I think his SO/BB numbers suggest he’s legitimate bounce back candidate (as in bounce back to league average).

Luis Mendoza exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations and pitched 166 innings. He was better than Chen and Hochevar but was still below league average. This means that the Royals had three players pitch 162+ innings with ERA+’s less than 100. It’s not an uncommon occurrence overall, they’re the 17th team to accomplish this since 2002, but it had never happened before in Kansas City.

Rk Year #Matching
1 2012 3 Bruce Chen / Luke Hochevar / Luis Mendoza
2 2011 2 Jeff Francis / Luke Hochevar
3 2005 2 Zack Greinke / Jose Lima
4 2004 2 Brian Anderson / Darrell May
5 1997 2 Tim Belcher / Glendon Rusch
6 1984 2 Mark Gubicza / Larry Gura
7 1979 2 Rich Gale / Larry Gura
8 1973 2 Steve Busby / Dick Drago
9 1969 2 Bill Butler / Dick Drago

Mendoza performed better than I thought he would but I’m not going to be eating any crow. I maintained that he would be unsuccessful if he didn’t strike more people out. He also walked entirely too many hitters to thrive as a pitch to contact guy. Success came this year when his SO/9 went up and his BB/9 went down. Well maybe I’ll have a small slice since I didn’t think he had it in him to drastically improve his SO and BB rates. He did. Splitting his season in two shows the differences.

4/9 – 6/23: 60 IP, 4.5 SO/9, 4.5 BB/9, 4.95 ERA
6/29 – 10/3: 106 IP, 6.28 SO/9, 2.46 BB/9, 3.82 ERA

If Mendoza can carry those second set of numbers into 2013 he would slot nicely into the back end of the rotation. It’s somewhat similar to the song we sang with Hochevar last winter so there is reason for pessimism.

Innings often fail to tell the whole story because if a pitcher is bad enough he’ll be bounced from the rotation. We’ve seen this many, many times this century (Chris George, anyone?) So ignoring innings, and looking at games started, we find that for the second consecutive season the Royals had five pitchers start 10+ games and end the season below league average. Only the 2006 team had more. Will Smith and Jonathan Sanchez join Chen, Hochevar and Mendoza on this list. Those five pitchers accounted for 73% of the starts this year.

And that, my friends, is how you lose 90 games in a season.

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Tags: Bruce Chen KC Royals Luke Hochevar

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