August 22, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields (33) gets ready to throw a pitch against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Royals Starting Rotation Projections For 2013


Every year, Dan Szymborski from Baseball Think Factory generates projected stats for the upcoming season for every team’s major league roster (and a few extra players in their organization). On Thursday, the Royals had their number called.

The Royals are on track to have four starters for the entirety of 2013 who didn’t pitch a full season with Kansas City in 2012. It’s a major overhaul of a starting staff that threw less innings than all but two teams (the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies had less innings from starters) and were in the bottom third in the majors in ERA, FIP, xFIP and WAR from their starters. After all that activity, of course I’m going to be curious about these projections.

Be sure to check out the full Royals ZiPS projections here – I’ve filtered out everyone but the top eight potential starting pitchers (James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza, Bruce Chen and Will Smith) for the Royals in 2013 (omitting Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino due to an uncertain timetable of recovery), but definitely go to Szymborski’s link for the full listing of projections which include ratios, counting stats, and advanced elements like WAR.

Along with ZiPS projections, I looked at projections from the Bill James Baseball Annual for 2013 as a means of comparison. The James projections have a reputation of being optimistic so I think seeing both together can give us an idea of how these things can vary. I’ll add the disclaimer that these are just projections and not predictions.

Here’s a table of our select group of pitchers in alphabetical order:

Pitcher Innings ERA BB K HR FIP
Chen – James 182 4.25 50 128 27 4.66
Chen – ZiPS 141.1 5.03 43 98 23 4.80
Davis – James* 69 3.78 26 54 8 4.40
Davis – ZiPS 153.1 4.34 56 119 20 4.45
Guthrie – James 197 4.20 56 118 27 4.79
Guthrie – ZiPS 163.2 4.40 45 102 24 4.73
Hochevar – James 192 4.45 62 137 24 4.52
Hochevar – ZiPS 156.2 5.06 51 113 22 4.55
Mendoza – James 193 4.62 70 109 16 4.44
Mendoza – ZiPS 134.1 5.02 50 70 16 4.85
Santana – James 205 4.04 68 161 30 4.67
Santana – ZiPS 178.1 5.05 62 132 32 5.11
Shields – James 218 3.67 56 191 27 3.92
Shields – ZiPS 208 4.11 53 183 28 3.92
Smith – James 129 4.81 40 90 14 4.22
Smith – ZiPS 163.2 4.95 56 93 21 4.76

In general, that looks alright. Shields is expected to be the leader of the staff and the projections demonstrate that. The James projections were done just after the 2012 season (the book came out in early November) so Davis is projected as a reliever. ZiPS has him as a starting pitcher. Based on these projections, here are your top five in FIP and ERA:

(ZiPS) ERA (James) ERA (ZiPS) FIP (James) FIP
Shields 4.11 Shields 3.67 Shields 3.92 Shields 3.92
Davis 4.34 Davis 3.78 Davis 4.45 Smith 4.22
Guthrie 4.40 Santana 4.04 Hoch 4.55 Davis 4.40
Smith 4.95 Guthrie 4.20 Guthrie 4.73 Mendoza 4.44
Mendoza 5.02 Chen 4.25 Smith 4.76 Hochevar 4.52

You can how the two systems differ. If the James ERA projections are how the season goes, it’ll be a fun summer. Everyone’s either better than or right around average. But ZiPS? Not nearly as fun. Again, projections aren’t predictions, but they take into account various factors and try to get close. Last year’s ZiPS projections had Billy Butler at 19 home runs and Jonathan Sanchez having a 4.36 ERA. They weren’t too far off from getting Chris Getz right, though, and Mike Moustakas finished with one more homer than ZiPS projected.

What I take away is that these projections look more like a range of performance. Players find ways to do better than you’d ever expect or to have a bad season that confuses everyone. It is a game played on the field and not on the spreadsheet, after all. (If you’re curious, Bill James projects Wil Myers to hit 28 homers with an OPS of .824 in 147 games.)

September 16, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Will Smith (53) delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With pitching, it can be even more difficult to project because pitchers get hurt, numbers can look awful after just a handful of bad games, performance regresses. Making things more difficult, the Royals have a trio of pitchers acquired via trade who now have different defenders behind them, a different catcher behind the plate and will pitch about half their games in a different stadium.

Szymborski notes that his projection for the average American League ERA is 4.09. By that measure, none of these pitchers will be better than average (though that figure also factors in relievers. He doesn’t give a projected average ERA specific to starting pitchers). That’s a little bit scary considering these were the moves that were supposed to put the Royals right at the heels of the Detroit Tigers. The Royals should be better than in 2012, but looking at their top five starters ERAs (with more than 80 innings pitched) from last season, it’s hard to not be better.

2012 ERA FIP
Guthrie 3.16 3.84
Mendoza 4.19 4.30
Chen 5.07 4.73
Smith 5.32 4.66
Hochevar 5.73 4.63

Injuries factored into those depressing totals – I’m sure Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino would have done better than Smith and Hochevar did last season at least – but that’s no excuse. Every team deals with injuries.

I do find it interesting to see how well the projections treat Smith and Davis. If Davis can be better than average, that adds a lot of value to the trade that got him here. Smith could be a lot closer to pushing Chen out than we think. Either of them could surprise.

The  Royals should be better, but it’s no guarantee. It’s important to recall that while they were active and made improvements to the rotation, they did so by acquiring players who were made available to them. Santana was expendable to the Angels. Davis had been shifted to the bullpen by the Rays, and a crowded (and younger) rotation made Shields available. Guthrie wouldn’t have been an option last season if not for his own struggles in Colorado. All four have shown what they can do – Santana had strong years as recently as 2010 and 2011, Davis wasn’t too far from being an average starter during his first two full seasons in that role, Shields has been very good the last two years – but now this group has to go out and do it again. They have to outperform these projections if they’re to lead Kansas City to meaningful baseball that extends past the All-Star break.

Tags: James Shields Kansas City Royals

  • Eric Akers

    Good article. I have always been curious how they come up with some of their projections. For instance, why does Zips project Hooch to pitch only 156.2 innings when he has averaged over 190 the last two years? Does it predict injury, replaced due to being terrible, or what? And how much does the number of innings affect the projections? Would it project Hooch to be good if it also projected him to throw only 55 innings?

    • Michael Engel

      It takes into account previous seasons, so in the case of Hoch, his 2009 and 2010 (when he combined for just 246 innings) weighs it down a bit. Projecting him as a reliever would probably change because RP usually have lower ERAs so he’d be put into that projection model. The template projects better so his numbers plugged in would look better too. Might be some of what makes Davis look so good too even if he was projected as a starter.

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