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:
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:
DetroitGreg HollandJoe NathanAaron CrowAl AlburquerqueKelvin HerreraBruce RondonTim CollinsPhil Coke
Luke HochevarJoba Chamberlain
Wade DavisLuke PutkonenDonnie JosephLouis 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.