June 10, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing the AL Central Rotations

On paper, according to Jon Morosi, the Royals have the second-best starting rotation in the American League Central.

Maybe you agree with that assessment, maybe you don’t, but that sets up an idea of what expectations should be for the 2013 season. There will need to be some growth from the offense, but even that won’t be enough. If the Royals are going to be close to a division title or even a wild card spot, Morosi’s take has to be true – the new rotation of James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis and whoever ends up winning the fifth spot has to be better than the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins.

Just to get an overview, I looked at the projected starting rotations (based off of MLB Depth Charts) and compared the four non-Tigers pitching staffs and looked at their previous three seasons and the ERA+ figures for those rotations. There’s no clear second-best team, but the Royals are at least in the mix by that quick comparison.

Kansas City Royals IP ERA+ Chicago White Sox IP ERA+
Shields 680.1 102 Chris Sale* 286.1 150
Guthrie 599 100 Jake Peavy* 437.2 106
Santana 629.1 94 John Danks 437 103
Davis* 422.1 97 Gavin Floyd 549 102
Bruce Chen 487 94 Jose Quintana* 136.1 115
Cleveland Indians IP ERA+ Minnesota Twins IP ERA+
Ubaldo Jimenez 365 82 Vance Worley* 277.2 112
Justin Masterson 602.1 92 Scott Diamond* 212 106
Brett Myers* 505 105 Kevin Correia 470 78
Zach McAllister* 143 87 Liam Hendriks* 108.2 71
Carlos Carrasco* 191.2 81 Brian Duensing* 401.1 93

There are, of course, caveats to consider with this comparison. Pitchers with asterisks have either relieved for significant parts of one or more seasons (Myers, Davis, Duensing) or are young enough that they don’t have three full seasons to measure (Carrasco, McAllister, Hendriks, Sale, Quintana, Diamond). Peavy only pitched half seasons in 2010 and 2011.

Also, players like Jimenez look bad in this measurement when his seasons prior to the last three were very good. Santana is dragged down by a bad 2012 after a solid 2010 and 2011, while Shields has 2010 as an anchor but his last two seasons were great. But if we assume that most of these pitchers will be around where they’ve been in the past this gives a close enough overview of who the Royals have to compete with.

I think they hold up pretty well, but Chicago has a mix of solid contributors and one potential true “Ace”. Theirs is a strong group and I’d give them a solid edge over Kansas City. Sale has the potential to be very good for years to come. He could also get hurt. Or Peavy could. Or Danks and Floyd could both collapse and fail to reach their league average performance of the last few years. Of course, there’s enough skepticism about Shields outside of Tropicana Field (and without Tampa Bay’s defense behind him) to raise similar questions, and if Santana’s terrible 2012 wasn’t just an outlier, he’s going in the wrong direction.

Davis is a complete wild card. He was dominant for much of 2012 but that was exclusively out of the bullpen. He has some good pitches, good movement, and throws hard, but those attributes don’t always stick around for a full game as a starter when a reliever can just let it all out in shorter stints. If he can harness it and utilize his arsenal over six inning stretches consistently, well, the Royals will have a nice #4 starter. But there’s just as much chance he gets shuffled back into a bullpen role later on if he struggles with the transition back to starting. If he can hang around average (which he was close to in 2010-2011 as a starter in Tampa) he’ll stick in the back-end.

So many factors. So many possibilities. The Detroit Tigers rotation is the class of the AL Central, but maybe Morosi’s right. Maybe Kansas City will have the second-best rotation in the division. I heart hopes he’s right. My head says he’s still a bit off.

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