Royals Starters Struggling To Put Hitters Away
Why does it seem like Royals pitchers are being beaten to death by foul balls?
Dave Eiland is a diabolical genius, and you would be hard pressed to find a good argument telling me I’m wrong.
He has squeezed maximum value out of guys like Jeremy Guthrie, made risky free agents in Edinson Volquez, Chris Young, and Ian Kennedy (so far) into better pitchers than anybody expect, and has made bad starting pitchers into excellent relief pitchers with Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar.
He has also had a knack for getting the maximum upside out of his starting pitchers in the run prevention department.
Sure, the historically great defense (you’re welcome Guthrie) and really odd-ball pitchers (looking at you, Young ) have helped, but the correlation is there.
Here are some recent examples (yeah, I made that chart, look at me):
As you can see, Eiland has a history at taking average to good pitchers and making them either really good or above their talent level in run prevention.
Some obvious examples of this are both of Shields seasons under Eiland, as well as 2013 Santana, 2014 Duffy, and 2015 Young.
Throw in the fact that Guthrie almost got his ERA under four in 2013 and it should hit home that Dave Eiland is good at what he does.
However, you will also see another trend there. If you look at the guys who have strikeout stuff or a history of striking hitters out, each of them struck out fewer batters under Eiland.
I didn’t make a chart for that, because I only have so much time to devote to this blog, but James Shields is a fantastic example.
In 2014, Shields prevented runs to the tune of a 3.21 ERA, the third best mark of his career. However, 7.14 batters per nine innings, the second lowest mark of his career.
He proceeded to leave the Royals and join the Padres in 2015, where he struck out 216 batters, which equates to 9.61 per nine.
Long story short, Eiland and the Royals don’t really care about strikeouts or missing bats, and have taken advantage of having a crazy good defense and a spacious home ball park.
That has not changed in 2016.
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Although the starters were missing a ton of bats early on, that has come back down to earth in recent weeks, and the starters are beginning to miss fewer bats than the rest of the league.
I don’t have a ton of evidence to back this up, but *pitching to contact has really hurt the eating of innings from their starters.
*Full disclosure, I hate the term “pitching to contact,” and I don’t think that pitching staffs ever do that. Yes, there are teams like the Royals who are more inclined to accept contact, because the defense is so good, but all pitchers are trying to make the batter miss.
Again, not a ton of evidence, but I can’t be the only one noticing the Royals giving up a ton of foul balls.
One way to quantify this is to use Fangraphs plate discipline tool for the Royals starters. I won’t go into too much detail. You have the link, so I would encourage you to make your own opinion on this matter.
However, if you do research it, you will find that every Royals starter is either at or above league average when it comes to contact percentages and are at or below average in whiff percentages.
The lone (real) exceptions being Ian Kennedy with whiff and contact percentage.
Naturally, if my theory holds, this inability to miss bats (and hypothetically, draw more foul balls), the Royals starters have thrown more pitches and thrown fewer innings.
This is supported with the Royals rotation being dead last in the AL in innings pitched and second to last in baseball.
Of course, some of this can be attributed to the lack of production from the four and five spots in the rotation and the subsequent pitch limits on Danny Duffy and Dillon Gee as they work to fill those spots.
However, guys like Ian Kennedy and Edinson Volquez, who have been reasonable to good innings eaters for their careers, are also not going deep into games.
The rain delay hurt Kennedy last night, but through nine starts, he is averaging under six innings per start. Over his last six season, he has averaged just over six innings per start.
As of tonight, Volquez leads the Royals with just over six innings per start.
To be fair, Kennedy’s inning eating took a hit last season when he averaged under six innings per start. But his track record shows he has been a workhorse and the Royals signed him to be that.
The bullpen is obviously legit and they have picked up a lot of the slack.
However, if the Royals are going to make another run, they will need a fresh, healthy bullpen to do it.
Next: Royals Rotational Decisions Loom
Guys like James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie helped keep that bullpen fresh by eating innings. Volquez did it last season and Ventura has done it in the past.
The rotation is nothing special, and likely won’t be, but they also don’t need to be.
They need to better than they are right now, though.