KC Royals rumors suggest general manager Dayton Moore asked the Detroit Tigers about David Price before dealing for Johnny Cueto, according to Kansas City Star writer Andy McCullough:
If true, this largely ignored tidbit from the Johnny Cueto trade is a rather interesting piece of information. That rumor suggests that Dayton Moore might have preferred Price over Cueto, and the natural question that follows is: “Why?”
Now, McCullough didn’t offer an explanation for why the Kansas City Royals might hold this preference—so inquiring minds are left to speculate. Since I’m a guy that sat through three years of law school, hypothetical questions are something I’m rather fond of addressing.
So, KC Royals fans, let’s put on our thinking caps and try to figure out why Dayton Moore might have favored David Price over Johnny Cueto.
[Note: I’m well aware the alternative hypothesis that Dayton Moore was simply doing his due diligence before making a move in the marketplace could well be true, but I’ll presume—for purposes of this article—that Moore favored Price over Cueto in order to see where that might take us. I think the result is rather interesting.]
Looking at both players yield numbers that are quite close. David Price has a slightly better FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) than Johnny Cueto at 3.00 to 3.14 (FIP) and 8.5 to 8.3 (K/9). But Cueto has a better adjusted ERA (ERA+, a stat adjusted for park factors and opponent quality) of 145 (45% better than league average) to Price’s 124 (24% better than league average).;
When you realize that Cueto has put up his numbers in the bandbox known as Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, the question becomes a bit more puzzling. Johnny Cueto’s 2.52 ERA in Cincinnati is significantly more impressive than David Price’s 2.69 ERA in Detroit.
The most obvious answer is: health. While both Johnny Cueto and David Price missed some starts earlier this season due to injuries, Cueto suffered from “elbow soreness” while Price had an hamstring injury. Between the two, David Price’s hamstring is much less worrisome to the Kansas City Royals than Cueto’s elbow—which could tear at any time.
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Losing your ace rental for the rest of the season would be a devastating blow when you’re paying a prospect premium for that guy to carry you to the promised land. So, this reason alone is enough to push the KC Royals toward the David Price camp if they had their druthers.
Yet, there’s another wrinkle to this equation.
The Kansas City Royals lineup has been significantly less productive against left-handed pitchers than right-handers. The KC Royals rank 11th in MLB with a 99 wRC+ (adjusted runs created, which accounts for opponent quality and park factors. A 99 wRC+ means the Kansas City Royals lineup is 1% below league average at scoring runs against lefties). Against righties, the KC Royals rank 8th in MLB with a 103 wRC+ (3% above league average).
While the Kansas City Royals are pretty good against both flavors of pitchers (as befits the team with the AL best record), you’d much rather start a lefty against them in a must-win game.
The KC Royals potential AL playoff rivals are certainly aware of this, as Royals super-blogger Rany Jazayerli pointed out on Grantland when referring to the Scott Kazmir trade to Houston. This logic yields yet another reason Dayton Moore might have preferred David Price over Johnny Cueto: if the Kansas City Royals landed Price, they wouldn’t have to face him in the playoffs.
Following this rabbit hole puts the Blue Jays acquisition of David Price in a rather ominous light. In some ways, I’m glad Toronto won the Price sweepstakes, since—at 51-51—there’s a real chance they won’t even make it into the playoff sweepstakes.
But, the Jays are only two games behind the Twins for the AL’s second wild card. They also boast the largest run differential in the AL, and the second highest in baseball, at +100. By landing David Price, and maybe another mid-tier arm yet to come, they’ve addressed their horrendous starting pitching. The Toronto Blue Jays are a real threat if they can skin their way into the playoffs with their potent offense and David Price.
In fact, with Price, they could become Kansas City Royals Kryptonite.
So, while I’m celebrating the KC Royals twin coups in landing Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, I”ll also be pulling hard for the Blue Jays to lose until they’re eliminated.
It may not be good sportsmanship, but as Haymitch reminded Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, “There’s only one winner, right?”