Prophecy in Pitching


When you watch Royals games, do you have a friend who predicts a home run before an at bat, and then it happens?

That friend jumps, dances, and duck-walks right along with the home run trot, and pronounces him/herself the prognosticator of prognosticators? Maybe, you even mention that the friend predicts a homerun on virtually every at bat and was bound to be right eventually despite his/her 0-1,567 streak?

I’m that guy.

I celebrate my correct predictions as if the thing I predicted was so unheard of I must have some special connection with the forces of fate, like how Al Gore knew the Internet would be a hit before he invented it.

Now, I’m going to make another fairly obvious prediction and examine the possible ramifications of this occurrence.

Prediction: The Royals will trade Jonathan Sanchez before the 2012 trade deadline … if they aren’t in serious contention.

I know it’s obvious. In fact, it seems bound to happen. Sanchez is a free agent after this season, and I’m sure the Royals want to get some value for him. No surprise if this happens.

But before I start looking at the ramifications of trading Sanchez midseason, I’d like to pose an interesting question to readers and myself. Would/should the Royals consider trading Sanchez even if they are in contention?

Tough question. If Sanchez isn’t pitching well, and a starter in Omaha is lighting it up (Mike Montgomery, Aaron Crow—who I think is going down to season as a starter, Everett Teaford—same as Crow), maybe they ship him off and make a call to Omaha. That doesn’t seem out of the question, especially if one of the AAA starters is really grooving to the tune of a sub 3 ERA, 7-8 K/9, 3.5 or under BB/9.

The really, really tough question: what if Sanchez is pitching well, not Cy Young well, but sub 4 ERA well? The fact is that if Sanchez is pitching like he did in 2010, not only is his value playing for the Royals at its peak, his trade value is at its peak as well. I haven’t read anyone who thinks Sanchez is staying past 2012. For a small market team, like the Royals, will it be prudent to trade Sanchez nearing the deadline, to get some value for him even if he’s pitching well and they’re in contention?

The demand for him, if he’s pitching well, will probably be pretty high. Starting pitchers with his stuff, and a World Series ring don’t come around too often for a playoff push. They demand pretty high return. Sanchez is no CC Sabathia, but could Sanchez warrant a Matt LaPorta type prospect, minus the three others, the Brewers gave up for a Sabathia rental?

These are interesting questions to consider. Personally, I think the Royals have to look seriously at the prospect of trading Sanchez midseason unless they’re leading in the division and he’s pitching lights out. To get no value for him at all would be terrible unless the value they get is a playoff run.

Now, let’s assume Sanchez is traded this season. If you’re like me, which I hope for the sake of your mental health you aren’t, you believe that Crow, Teaford, and Montgomery will start the year in AAA. If you’re like me, you believe that Montgomery will get his call up in May or June, when someone either gets hurt or is ineffective (This is, of course, predicated on Montgomery pitching well, which I believe he will). That means either Crow or Teaford gets the call up when Sanchez is traded, assuming they haven’t already been called up to take someone else’s spot.

The potential is there for the starting pitching rotation to look very different by midseason than it will when the season begins. It will probably begin like this:

  1. Hochevar
  2. Sanchez
  3. Chen
  4. Paulino
  5. Duffy

It may be this after the trade deadline:

  1. Hochevar
  2. Crow (not necessarily the #2 just taking Sanchez’s spot)
  3. Montgomery (Chen has an injury and ineffectiveness history, despite his last two seasons)
  4. Teaford (Paulino is by no means a sure thing in terms of effectiveness)
  5. Duffy

The possibility exists that Duffy may struggle as well. Perhaps Crow or Teaford will be asked to take his place at some point. Will all these things happen (Paulino ineffective, Chen hurt/ineffective, Sanchez traded)? Probably not. But the potential for them to happen is there, and it is reasonable to see how each could happen.

Starting pitching presents a pretty unusual situation for the Royals in that theirs is pretty terrible, but pretty deep. It’s like a 20 piece chicken mcnuggets meal. They’re made with God knows what, but you get 20 J. Who can turn that down? Each of the Royals starters is barely major league worthy (based on past performance), but they are at least major league worthy, all five of them. So, what do they do when someone from AAA is ready to be called up?

I would like to mention the dark horse rotation candidate very few people are talking about as well—Luis Mendoza. I like Mendoza, though I understand that he’s a long shot for good reason. He’s 28; he’ll be 29 in October. He had an incredible year in 2011 in Omaha, but still, his secondary stats don’t jump out at anyone (5.05 K/9, 3.37 BB/9, 1.25 WHIP, 3.80 FIP). The WHIP is pretty good, and his walk rate is decent (and often lower). He’s a groundball pitcher who doesn’t strike out a lot of guys and doesn’t walk a lot of guys.

Instead of the rotation, I’d like to see him get a chance as a swing man in the Royals bullpen (does long relief, gets spot starts). Perhaps he could move into the rotation when Sanchez is traded if none of the guys in Omaha look ready. In two starts for the Royals in September last season, he won both games, gave up 11 hits in 14.2 innings, 5 walks, and 2 earned runs. That’s pretty good, especially when looked at in comparison with his AAA season numbers (12-5, 2.18 ERA, 144 innings, .31 HR/9). Some of those will come back to earth against major league hitting and as a result of a regression to the mean, but the Royals need a swing man. I think he might be a perfect fit.

Note: If my prediction that Sanchez will be traded comes true, AND Montgomery gets called up in May or June, AND Crow/Teaford gets called up for Sanchez, AND Louis Mendoza becomes the Royals’ swing man, I reserve the right to jump, dance, and duck-walk all I want.

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