The new starting rotation is doing exactly what we all hoped for as Royals fans. They are pitching well, and that leads to longer starts, less stress on the bullpen, and more wins. One thing keeps bothering me though, and that is the other starter’s pitch count. This was bothering me so much after the last couple of nights that I started pulling data while watching the game last night. The following is the result.
Last year the Royals rotation was a train wreck. In descending order by number of starts there was Bruce Chen (34 starts), Luke Hochevar (32), Luis Mendoza (25), Will Smith (16), Jeremy Guthrie (14), Jonathan Sanchez (12), Felipe Paulino (7), Danny Duffy (6), Vin Mazzaro (6), Everett Teaford (5), Nathan Adcock (2), Jake Odorizzi (2), Ryan Verdugo (1). That is 162 games of suck. Granted, it would have looked significantly better had Duffy and Paulino not blown out their elbows, but they did. This led to an average start length of 5.5 innings and a lot of bullpen work.
Only two of the names from last year’s parade of horrors are still a part of the rotation. That has made Royals games a lot more watchable, and has pushed the innings per start number up to 6.3 innings so far this year. The starter this year are averaging almost a full inning more per start, or an increase of a little over 14% better than last year. That’s great, but when I am watching the games there is a pitch counter on the FSN broadcast and I feel like it is still trying to tell me something. Last night was the worst of them, until the Royals finally got to Alex Cobb in the sixth. At the end of 5 innings Cobb had thrown only 56 pitches (and only 88 when they pulled him), and despite our pitchers pitching pretty deep into games they still always seem to have higher pitch counts.
Pitchers for the opposing team have combined this year for an average start of just over 6 innings. So, despite the improved rotation, impatient Royals hitters are giving most of the starting advantage back by failing to knock out the opposition. If you go look at ESPN’s stats page (expanded batting) there are 99 qualified players right now and eight of them are Royals. I ranked them all by pitcher per plate appearance, and we have three patient hitters on the team; Billy Butler at 4.13 P/PA(24th), Eric Hosmer at 4.11(26th), and
Alex Gordon at 4.0(34th).
Jeff Francoeur and Alcides Escobar are slightly below average in seeing pitches at 3.88 (54th) and 3.84 (60th) respectively. That leaves four very impatient hitters. Remember I am saying that the rest are impatient with respect to Frenchy. Lorenzo Cain sees 3.62 (82nd) pitches on average and right there with him is Salvador Perez at 3.56 (86th). Chris Getz would be slightly ahead of those two with a lackluster 3.68, but is not qualified right now. That leaves the least patient hitter of the bunch, 90th out of 99 qualified big leaguers this season, Mike Moustakas with a 3.48 P/PA.
This team is unlikely to get significantly better at seeing pitches. I would love to see upgrades at second and right, but there is no guarantee that whoever took over those spots would be better. All I know is that the opposing starters are getting deeper into games than I would like, and that the obsession with pitch counts makes running up the opponent’s count a very valuable tool.