KC Royals: What The Royals Know About Pitching That Others Miss

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Dec 11, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher

Zack Greinke

puts on a baseball hat during a press conference at Chase Field . Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Insane Arms Race For Starting Pitching 

Why are teams in an arms race to improve their starting pitching when recent history shows winning the World Series does not require a great starting staff?

The teams that handed out these big contracts could very well understand that the starting staff need not be dominant. Instead, they could be chasing after top-of-the rotation guys with the idea that the fourth and fifth pitchers in a rotation mean less in the post-season due to travel days that allow managers to use their most talented starters more often. Perhaps the idea is that aces are important, not the whole rotation.

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Indeed, Madison Bumgarner‘s dominance in the 2014 World Series is their best argument.

However, if great starting pitching were the key to success, why haven’t the Nationals, Tigers, or Dodgers won a title in recent years? At one point the Tigers had Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello on one staff. The Dodgers had Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke the last three seasons. Last year the Nationals boasted Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmerman. None of those staffs carried their team to the promised land.

If recent results don’t worry you, what about the cost? Pitchers are the most fragile athletes in baseball. Yet to sign an ace from the free-agent market, you need to pony up a six or seven year deal for players who are often on the wrong side of 30. Heck, the Giants just shoved $130 million at Johnny Cueto after he suffered from a sore elbow with the KC Royals that likely contributed to a 4.76 ERA over the last two months of the season.

How much value has Cliff Lee delivered on his mega-deal? San Francisco GM Brian Sabean seems determined to provide a living embodiment of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. He signed Cueto after getting burned on over $100 million deals for Barry Zito and Matt Cain. Clearly, he expects to get different results despite making the same mistake over and over.

San Francisco GM Brian Sabean seems determined to provide a living embodiment of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity

In fact, much of the craziness is centered in the NL West, where the Diamondbacks paid $206.5 million for 32-year-old Zack Greinke and traded four top prospects in a widely panned deal for Shelby Miller. The Giants countered by signing Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

Notice that gifted Los Angeles Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman has largely avoided the insanity, even though he has more chips to spend than everyone else. He allowed Greinke to walk when his price zoomed beyond reason. Friedman also refrained from reaching for Johnny Cueto or Samardzija. Instead, he restrained himself to signing Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year, $45 million contract plus dealing for Reds fire-balling reliever Aroldis Chapman to replace Greinke.

That the Dodgers put the trade on hold after uncovering domestic abuse allegations against Chapman doesn’t nullify the clear strategic choice at play.

The KC Royals small-market limits have helped Dayton Moore resist deals for starting pitchers that almost never work.

Next: A Dominant Bullpen Is A Better Alternative