James Shields, Wade Davis and 2013 Contention


Now that I’ve had a few days to digest the big trade I think I’m going to stick with my initial reaction. The Royals gave up way too much for James Shields and Wade Davis. That’s not to say they didn’t improve the rotation, they clearly did, I just think six plus years each of Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi (and whatever the heck Mike Montgomery is at this point) was too high a price to pay for the two pitchers. But whatever, the deed has been done and I’ve moved on to acceptance.

The trade’s motivating factor is Dayton Moore’s desire to win now. An understandable goal and one I could get firmly behind if Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz were to find themselves elsewhere next year. It’s hard to dispute the belief that signing Edwin Jackson or Ryan Dempster and replacing Francoeur with Myers would do more to accomplish Moore’s goal than trading for Shields. The Royals weren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut last season and Moore has thus far ignored question marks at second base, right field and centerfield (sorry, kids, Willy Taveras doesn’t count).

Oh right, acceptance, moving on then.

Shields instantly becomes the team’s best starting pitcher and will front the rotation. Since 1994, there have been 19 seasons where an AL Central starter pitched 200+ innings with a SO/9 of 8 or higher. Of those 19, only 2 saw ERA+’s of less than 110 (Javier Vazquez, in 2006 and 2008). Shields has reached that combo three seasons in a row. Moving away from the tough AL East it’s not hard to imagine him putting up an ERA+ in the 115-125 range. A lot has been made about his career 4.54 road ERA, but if you remove trips to Boston and New York, it drops to 4.26. Granted that is still unimpressive but it’s not awful.

Davis has been described over and over again as the wild card in the trade, which I think is an accurate assessment. His two years as a starter were very Hochevar-ish so the hope is that he can take the lessons learned in the bullpen, where he was dominant last season, and apply them in the rotation (think Zack Greinke, 2007). The more I think about it, I believe that when it comes to 2013 contention, Davis may be more important than Shields. Shields will certainly be good but if Davis steps up and fulfills his potential KC will have two above average starters to go along with Santana and Guthrie, two pitchers who will likely hover around league average. Of course if Davis can’t transition effectively back into the rotation he’ll be moved to the bullpen and a various assortment of junk will take his spot.

July 19, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher

Wade Davis

(40) throws a pitch against the Cleveland Indians at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Cleveland Indians 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Southside Sox did a rotation comparison between the Royals, White Sox and Tigers and found the Royals still trailing their division rivals, despite the overhaul. They used 2012 numbers which I think can be a little deceiving. Shields, Davis and Santana are coming over from tougher divisions so I think they’ll receive a Central bump in effectiveness, so to speak. I’m not saying the Southside Sox author was necessarily wrong in his conclusion but that it’s just not an ideal comparison. He does make a solid point about Guthrie you may want to check out though.

His article made me curious about how the Royals top four have fared in their careers against the Central. They’ve done pretty well as it turns out. Shields actually has the highest ERA, which I found surprising but not concerning since most of the damage was done by the White Sox. Below are their career innings pitched and ERA’s vs the Royals’ Central opponents.

Chicago White Sox73.2 (4.76)93.2 (3.94)97.1 (3.24)29.1 (1.84)
Cleveland Indians58.2 (3.99)80.1 (4.71)26.1 (6.84)18.2 (2.89)
Detroit Tigers59.0 (3.66)72.2 (3.59)76.1 (3.89)26.2 (3.42)
Minnesota Twins70.2 (4.08)62.2 (4.31)51.2 (3.31)30.1 (4.75)
Total262.0 (4.16)309.1 (4.13)251.2 (3.83)105.0 (3.26)

Something else that can’t be discounted is that KC will open the season with five starting pitchers capable of eating innings. That will take a tremendous load off a bullpen which saw way too much action last season. The Royals opened 2012 without a single pitcher possessing even one 200 inning season in their respective careers. That has now changed because Shields, Santana and Guthrie have combined for 13 such seasons. Davis, Chen and Hochevar each have at least one 180+ inning season just within the last couple years. So yeah, the bullpen should stay fresh.

I think Moore has built a solid rotation, albeit at a high cost. The Royals may very well be good enough to contend next season, of course that’s depending on your definition of contend. I define it as staying in the race until early August. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino should be back by then to give the team a late season boost, but they’re likely to be a bit rusty, so how much they’ll actually contribute is anybody’s guess.

Winning now though? I don’t see it happening. Detroit is just too good. KC won’t take the their division but we could see the team’s first .500 season since 2003, in fact I’ll be disappointed with anything less. 2014, however, could be when the magic happens. Full seasons of Duffy and Paulino with Kyle Zimmer and John Lamb on deck, yeah, that’s going to be fun to watch.

Myers is gone and I’ve made my peace with it. Now I’m ready for KC to win some games and set this city on fire.