Sep 18, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8), designated hitter Billy Butler (16) and relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) are congratulated by teammates after the game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

How Do The Royals Stack Up? (Part 2)

In the first installment I looked at the Kansas City hitters versus Detroit’s.  Now we move on to the pitching.  Let’s look at the starting five for each team:

Royals Tigers
#1 James Shields Justin Verlander
#2 Jason Vargas Max Scherzer
#3 Jeremy Guthrie Anibal Sanchez
#4 Danny Duffy Drew Smyly
#5 Bruce Chen Rick Porcello

James Shields would be the fourth starter for the Tigers.  This is the biggest hurdle for the Royals to overcome in 2014.  The Tigers have gotten off to bad starts repeatedly, and hopefully they do again, but there is a possibility that the pitching is so good that they run away and hide.  I think their offense as enough age and question marks, and this is a good rotation but not quite as good as it might seem at first glance, so I would doubt they are riding this rotation to 100 wins or anything.

Justin Verlander showed some chinks in the armor last year.  His fastball velocity was down a little bit, 94 MPH rather than 94.7 the year before.  It has been trending down since 2010, but very slowly.  He is still a great pitcher, but not likely to repeat his MVP season.  Max Scherzer had luck on his side last year with a .259 BABIP and 7.6% HR/FB rate.  Projections are assuming that is not sustainable so he should come back to Earth a bit, though that is still a 3 to 3.5 ERA most likely.  Anibal Sanchez also had some homer run rate luck last year, but if he can maintain that strike out rate increase he is similar to Scherzer, which is a small step above Shields.

That is a solid front three, but not the 2011 Phillies.  The back end is a little less certain, which can probably be said of about any rotation.  Drew Smyly was good out of the pen last year, and has not been great as a starter so far in the big leagues.  It is hard to say what Smyly will do and how many innings he has in him as a starter.  Rick Porcello is better than Smyly from an expectation perspective.  He had his best year in the majors last year with a big uptick in strike outs and his usual control.  The ERA was still unspectacular and he seems to have the Luke Hochevar syndrome of posting better FIP/xFIP numbers than actual results.  Still, he is very good for a fifth starter.

Sep 27, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

After Shields, the Royals are mostly boring and mediocre.  Guthrie and Vargas are slotted 2/3 and are likely to put of 4 to 4.5 ERAs.  That puts them at, or slightly worse than, Porcello.  Right now it looks like Bruce Chen will be at the back end to start the year.  He had a great year last year, but over a full season starting is probably not much different than Guthrie or Vargas with a slight chance for better.

That means Danny Duffy needs to be a big difference maker for this rotation to be good.  He has all of the stuff, but has exhibited none of the control so far.  If he continues walking 5 per 9 innings and being highly pitch inefficient, then he will be frustrating at best.  Hopefully he will be far enough removed from Tommy John to start bumping the walks down and finishing batters off a little quicker.  He can strike out almost a batter an inning, so anything below 4BB/9IP would likely lead to some substantial increases in his effectiveness.

A big boost to the rotation could also come from Yordano Ventura and/or Kyle Zimmer forcing themselves into the mix.  That would be a welcome sight, but I think we all know enough to not count on pitching prospects.  One of the two making an impact is reasonably likely, so I will guess some value comes here and I would guess from Ventura.  How much and how soon may make a huge difference for the Royals playoff chances.

Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis will also get a chance to make the rotation, especially Davis since I believe Moore still wants the trade to look good and that would help.  They should only get a shot if they have great numbers during spring training.  Expectations for either in any situation should be low.

The bullpen shapes up a lot better:



Greg Holland Joe Nathan
Aaron Crow Al Alburquerque
Kelvin Herrera Bruce Rondon
Tim Collins Phil Coke
Luke Hochevar Joba Chamberlain
Wade Davis Luke Putkonen
Donnie Joseph  
Louis Coleman  

The Royals have a ton of arms for the bullpen, and some mix of them is likely to be good.  Holland is a stud.  There are some issues with Crow, Herrera, and Collins at times, but it is unlikely all of them will blow up and guys like Joseph should be ready to step up if any do.  Hochevar looked great last year and might have found his place.  Davis has been successful in the pen in the past.  Coleman was dominant in a small sample last year and just crushes righties.  This should be a good bullpen again.

Sep 26, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) reacts after getting the save against the Chicago White Sox at U.S Cellular Field. Kansas City defeats Chicago 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit has Joe Nathan, one of the best closers ever, and a lot of question marks.  Alburquerque was great in 2012 and terrible in 2013.  Rondon has a lot of promise and control issues.  Coke and Chamberlain are just not good.  Putkonen is a nice middle reliever, but not much more.  I assume if they had a lot of minor leaguers that showed promise we would have seen them by now.  Bullpen is a solid advantage for the Royals.

My overall reaction to this exercise is that the Royals are pretty solid across the board, but that they are not as good currently as Detroit.  I would call the bullpen and defense an advantage for the Royals.  That advantage probably takes care of any deficit in offense on Kansas City’s part and maybe a little more than that.  If at that point the Royals are ahead of the game, it all gets wiped out since the Tigers are better by quite a bit in the first three rotation spots and equal or better in the 4th and 5th spots if Duffy doesn’t take a step forward this year.

That is not to say I don’t thin the Royals can beat Detroit.  They are not that far behind.  What I am saying is that well more than half of the time I would expect the Tigers to finish ahead of the Royals as currently constructed going into the season.  Next I will look at Cleveland in a similar manner, and then try and guess what the chances of winning the AL central are.  Wild card will be an additional playoff probability bit on top of that.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals MLB

  • jessanders

    Mendoza is no longer with the Royals…

    • Brian Henry

      Oops, copy and pasted the wrong word document. Thanks.

  • jimfetterolf

    Tigers were much better than the Royals last year, also, yet the Royals played them well. All the Royals need from the starters is the basic less than 3 runs in more than 6 innings, a 4 and change ERA and a 200 inning pitcher. Then it gets down to offense, defense, and bullpen. Royals should score more than 4 runs this year.

  • Royals_Fan

    I don’t think the Royals are as far off as you make it sound and everyone else does.

    Max Scherzer isn’t going to have near the same year again. Posting a 2.90 era, going 21-3 with a ND in 8 games and posting his first 200 IP season. He struck out a carrer high 240 batter while only walking 56 and a total of 152 hits and 73 total runs…….the guy had a carrer year and a god like year. His best year before last year was a 3.50era, 12-11 record with 184K. If he has another year like that then yeah he’s gotta be doing something right, but lets get real. Sanatana does this every other year. He’s a stud, then he’s about average, then he’s a stud, then he’s about average. Sanchez, just like Scherzer, had a carrer year as well. He is a typical high 3.00 almost 4.00 ERA pitcher. He had his first winning season since 2010 and best stat line since 2010.

    My whole point here is looking at the starting rotations, the Tigers barely got past us this year as leaders of the Division…and they has 2 SP with the best career numbers they have every had. Verlander even had a great year. So they had 3 SP that did great and last year any team would have taken those three pitchers in a heart beat. They Royals had Shields and Santana that are worth anything (according to everyone). Yet, our #2 and #3 guys (Vargas and Guthrie) have perivous years that are similar, not identical, to some of Scherzer and Sanchez. Duffy can go more than 5 innings. Being brought back slowly last year he still put up a 1.85 ERA. Chen is a swingman. Once Ventura proves he is completely ready for the bigs I bet Chen gets moved to the pen and Ventura takes his spot. Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Duffy and Ventura. The only difference in this rotation is Santana isn’t there. Vargas had the exact number of wins as Santana and Vargas did it in 8 less games. Vargas will be just fine in the rotation. This rotation is not as bad as everyone says it is.

    How is it that the Yankees can consistantly have the worst pitching rotation in the league, yet everyone considers them a World Series contenders or even playoff contenders every year, yet the Royals have one of the best defenses in the league, the best bullpen in the league and younge and talented hitters in our line up, yet because of our rotaion we are lucky to win 80. Is it beause we have been so used to terrible teams that when we finally have a solid team all around and a team that can take us to the playoffs for the first time since ’85 we write them off because we assume its going to happen again? People, baseball isn’t determined on paper. Otherwise the Dodgers would have already won because in everyones mind pitching wins the World Series. The Royals have the best chance of making the playoffs in nearly 30 years and we have writers and fans who have already said the year is done and over just because we don’t have a marke #2 pitcher. WHO CARES! Vargas will do great, Guthrie will continue to be an innings eater, Duffy will prove every hater wrong and everyone loves a little Chen Music and Throwing Fire. If you’re doubting the Royals already and say we have no chance against the Tigers, remember…..we won the season series against DET last year with their unbeatable bats and 2 of there 3 best pitchers having career years. Royals will do great this year. And I’ll be here to laugh at every hater when they make playoffs as they start saying they knew all along the Royals were going to make the playoffs and they never doubted the team to begin with. Can you say Fair Weather Fans?

    Rant. Over. Stay warm everyone! Its a little chilly outside!

    • Brian Henry

      I never said we have no chance. On paper Detroit is better because their rotation is better. This is in expectation only, and teams always over/underperform. Actually I am more optimistic after doing this as I think the Royals once I work through everything will look like the type of team with a reasonable shot at the playoffs since the Tigers are flawed and so are the Indians and two wild card spots open up even more spots. Being a fan does not mean never doubting the team.

      • Royals_Fan

        The Royals vs Tigers this year, I take the Royals. We have more power and line drive power then the Tigers. They won’t have a 1-3 punch in pitching like they did last year and I think the Royals pitching will be identical to the Tigers if not better. Especially when Ventura comes up to be a starter we will be that much better.

        The article makes sense, it really does. Like you said, on paper it does look like DET might have the upper hand but DET didn’t have 5 Golden Glove choices with 3 winners — the other two came in 2nd. Miggy can’t stay healthy for DET anymore which is why he’s the 1B/DH now and he is the last big star on offense that they have. If Miggy comes back to the world of humans, where do they get their power from or consistant run support from?

        • Brian Henry

          If Miggy isn’t healthy after the groin surgery their offense becomes a huge problem.

          • Royals_Fan

            I highly doubt he continues on this god like streak. Look at Hamilton, Pujols, Batista and whomever else. They did great for a couple years but their bodies gave out on them. Miggy’s body has started giving out on him and it’s at a rapid pace. What power do they have now the Peralta and Fielder are gone? Marinez? Hunter? They are hoping Kinsler starts playing like a freak but he’s been average the last couple years.

            The Tigers are old and the Royals are young. Cleveland didn’t do anything big this offseason except get older. The Yankees are perfect examples of what happens when you have a team that’s old. They start getting hurt and the back ups are cheap players that aren’t very good. If they stay healthy they are good, but playing a full season will never happen for them (or even 150 games).

            I think the Royals can win the Division this year or be within 1.5 games. If they have another bad month like last year then I see them still making the Playoffs as a WC team and no one will want to play them because they are scrappy and the Royals never seem to give up.