The New Rotation – Good Enough?


December 12, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher James Shields speaks during the press conference at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think too many fans will argue Dayton Moore has done quite a bit to improve the starting pitching on this team – but how much has it improved?

Back in September, I took a look at the Kansas City rotation versus an average staff using fWAR. An average AL rotation had an fWAR of 9.65, while Kansas City’s, at that time, was a 7.3…well below average. By the end of 2012, it had gone up to a 7.6…still well below average.

At the time, I was examining whether getting a couple of number three starting pitchers would be enough to get us to that average mark of 9.65…of course, the Royals have almost completely overhauled the rotation at this point, so I’m going to go back to that fWAR number and try to see where the team sits as of right now.

We’ll start with James Shields, the new ace of the rotation who came over from the Tampa Bay Rays.  For his career, Big Game James has a cumulative fWAR of 25.3 over the span of seven years. I’m going to toss out the first season, which only saw him throw 124.2 innings, and begin with his first full season. That gives Shields a total fWAR of 23.4 in six seasons from 2007-2012. During that stretch, Shields has an average fWAR of 3.9…not too shabby, and puts the Royals more than halfway to that 7.3 number. We’re off to a good start.

The number two man in this rotation will likely be Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched in KC last year after Moore was able to sucker the Colorado Rockies into taking Jonathan Sanchez in a swap of struggling pitchers. Guthrie pitched like an ace once he arrived, although it’s safe to say he won’t be quite that good again…but given his history of pitching for the Baltimore Orioles – should be at least an average pitcher. Beginning with his first season in Baltimore, Guthrie has amassed a career fWAR of 12.1 (2007-2012).  That works out to an average fWAR of 2.16 per season. The new rotation already sits at 6.06 based on these two pitchers just doing what they normally do.

Ervin Santana – The key to a winning season? Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The number three pitcher in the 2013 rotation is Ervin Santana. With Santana, we have a pitcher who can either be dominant or pretty frustrating to watch…probably not as frustrating as Luke Hochevar…but I’m not here to bag on Luke (this time). Santana has been a monster at times – posting fWAR’s of 3.4 and 5.8 in 2006 and 2008…but last year dropped all the way into negative territory with a -0.9. For his career, however, Santana has a total fWAR of 17.3 from 2005-2012, good for an average of 2.16. This puts him even with Guthrie. Guthrie has probably been a steadier performer throughout his career, but Santana has shown flashes of brilliance, and could be the guy who really makes the difference in 2013.

Three pitchers into this experiment – and the fWAR of the rotation sits at 8.22, already surpassing what the Royals starting rotation did in 2012. Given the average for an AL rotation last season was roughly 9.65, the front end of this rotation puts KC in a position to be at least average, if not a little better.

There are still question marks at the back of the rotation. Will Wade Davis be able to perform well enough as a starter? He was below average from 2009-2011 in the role (only six starts in 2009), putting up a total fWAR of 2.6 during that time, in 64 total starts. As a reliever in 2012, he was dominant, and put up a 1.1 fWAR in 69 innings, while posting an ERA of just 2.43. If Davis can be a legit number four…and I think (hope) he can…we’re in business.  Even if he only posts an fWAR of about 1.0, the team total sits at 9.22, just a shade below that 9.65 mark.

The number five spot will probably go to Hochevar, Bruce Chen, or Luis Mendoza…with all three probably sharing the duty during the season. I’m guessing Chen breaks camp with the job, being the only lefty of all the pitchers mentioned thus far, but I don’t know that he’ll be good enough to hold the job for long. Whatever the case, Mendoza had an fWAR of 1.7 last year, Hochevar a 1.5, and Chen a 1.3. As bad as Chen and Luke were last year as the 1-2 combo for this team…they won’t hurt the team nearly as much sharing the duties of the fifth man.

The bad news? Those last two spots could be trouble.

The good news? Last season, all five spots were trouble (outside of Guthrie’s run).

Keep in mind the intangibles these guys bring to the table as well. Shields is a proven number one starter with postseason experience, and by all accounts, a strong leader. Santana has seen postseason action (five series in four seasons) on a winning Angels team, and Guthrie came of age pitching against the AL East, facing dominant Yankees and Red Sox lineups.

With the new front three, the Royals should have pitchers who can fight and hang in there with the best the AL Central has to offer. I’m not saying any of the three are Justin Verlander, but I think all three could beat Verlander on any given day. And hey…if we get to a Wild Card game…I’ll take my chances that, with a guy like Big Game James on the bump, we’ve got a shot.