Royals Rotation and Replacing James Shields


In 2014 the starting rotation was nearly what Dayton Moore has always said he wants, with the goal being 1,000 innings from your main 5 guys.  James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie combined for 949 innings (Duffy had 8 1/3 of those as  a reliever), which is at least within shouting distance of the goal.  Now the team needs to replace Shields’ production, mostly to keep the pressure off of the bullpen so that they can continue to be the best at what they do.  What does replacing Shields look like?

From an innings perspective guessing what you need to replace from Shields is pretty straight forward.  In the past three seasons he has thrown 227 2/3, 228 2/3, and 227 innings respectively.  We need 225 innings from somewhere and for quality anything around a 3.25 ERA would be fair relative to what he has done for the Royals.  I know David has said Edinson Volquez could do it, but I will be shocked if he does, and I will get to that later.  Luckily he is not the only option to fit the bill, and part of Shields’ production could be shouldered by others.

The first 2 players that should be filling in the void are Ventura and Duffy.  Both can match the quality level and both should throw more innings this season.  Combing regular and post season work, Ventura threw 208 1/3 innings and Duffy 154.  These were career high work loads for them, so some caution should be taken with them this season, but both should be able to exceed their regular season load of last season.  Personally I would be looking to cap them at 190 and 175 respectively, and then only more if the Royals make the playoffs again (writing again is so much fun).  Right there we can probably say 30 to 35 innings are taken care of or conversely someone has to pick up the other 190 to 200 innings.

Edinson Volquez, as previously mentioned, is going to be first in line to pick up the slack.  He got quite lucky last year and he is moving to the AL, so it is very unlikely that he will repeat the 3.04 ERA.  The Royal defensive prowess will help him out some, but my expectation would be an ERA in the low fours, which is still optimistic relative to his 4.56 Steamer projection.

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Kris Medlen is the guy I am looking at as the key to this rotation matching last year.  Don’t get me wrong, Volquez and his $20 million contract is going to pitch, but Medlen is much more likely to be in the James Shields effectiveness range if healthy.  His rookie season he was not, but in the other three seasons where he was healthy his ERAs were 3.68, 1.57, and 3.11 with FIPs and xFIPs that say he can be a sub 3.50 guy.  He is coming off of a second Tommy John, so whether he is still that guy is a question, but he is in my mind the most likely of the current stable of pitchers.

A second TJ surgery is not something we have seen tons of players do, so it is hard to set expectations.  Some come back and are effective, and most lose some velocity. Medlen is not velocity dependent though, and never has been.  Even in his early years he had an average fastball around 90 MPH.  Velocity is not his game, so he already knows how to pitch.  We can expect that coming off of a second TJ he is not going to eat up 200 innings, but if he can take care of half of that I think James Shields can be replicated in some fashion by this staff.

Medlen can get those innings in multiple ways.  Giving a break to the youngsters since neither of them should get a full workload as we have already discussed, injuries to any of the five that are likely to start in the rotation, taking innings away from a struggling Guthrie or Volquez or even Vargas who had some rough patches last year.  If he can be effective along with the increased workloads of Ventura and Duffy, then Volquez only needs to be a 4.00 ERA or so to get this team close to last year’s starter production

Last year’s success, especially the ability to ride the bullpen arms in the playoffs, was in large part due to a solid front five.  The biggest workhorse is now likely gone, but Kris Medlen may be the key to replicating last year’s starting rotation output.

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