The KC Royals have a starting rotation problem in need of correction.
My mornings, every single one of them, begin with coffee and baseball. The coffee helps wake me up; the baseball, with the focus on the KC Royals, finishes the job the java started.
The routine is the same: a methodical, yet in-depth, perusal of the Internet designed to discover the big and small of baseball news and to awaken my brain. Some of the information is good, some is bad, and some sadly amounts to nothing but troll food.
This morning provided much of the same. But there amid the stories and accounts of games, players, and deals described on websites, Twitter, Facebook and other places where baseball news and chatter of all kinds reside, one thing in particular stood out. Not because it’s blockbuster news, or a jarring revelation, but instead because it explains a good bit of the Royals’ present misery.
Here it is, straight from the reliable and knowledgeable Alec Lewis, who covers the Royals for The Athletic:
To call this instructive tidbit astonishing perhaps exaggerates its magnitude, but not by much, if at all.
Even in today’s baseball universe, where the concept of “openers” remains more the focus of debate than wide acceptance, the notion that a big league rotation averages less than five innings per start is simply unacceptable, especially for one whose potential effectiveness was questionable even before this season started.
Two negative factors inherent in Lewis’ information render it especially disturbing.
First is the most obvious—a starting staff that so frequently fails to make it to the fifth, or even sixth, inning simply isn’t getting the job done, at least not well enough for its team to win consistently. Openers may have their place, but because the KC Royals haven’t adopted the concept, it doesn’t explain so many starters not going deeper into games.
The second, of course, is the cost the starters’ early departures exact on Kansas City’s bullpen, which unfortunately is showing its own faults lately. A reliever who pitches three or more innings, like Ervin Santana so effectively did in Tuesday’s loss to Detroit, probably won’t pitch much, if at all, for at least a couple of days. Unfortunately, rubber arms other than those possessed by closers have all but vanished from the game. When pressed into early service so often, bullpens tend to suffer, and with them their teams.
So just how deep does the problem run? Of the four KC hurlers who’ve started regularly this season, only Danny Duffy approaches a six-innings complete average (5.94), Mike Minor barely makes it through five (5.14), and Brady Singer (4.61) and Brad Keller (4.04) don’t come close enough to six.
Duffy is, so far, the staff ace (4-2, 1.26 ERA going into his scheduled start against Detroit tonight) and the rotation workhorse. He’s completed seven innings once and six frames three times, and made it through five twice, in his six starts.
At the other end of the spectrum, Keller, beset by game-by-game and in-game inconsistency, has failed to make it out of the second inning twice, the fourth inning once, and the fifth inning another time. He’s pitched into, or completed the sixth frame, three times.
Then there’s Jakob Junis, who started the season in the bullpen, then started four games only to return to the pen when the Royals brought up Daniel Lynch. Junis, 1-1 as a starter, finished the fifth inning in three of his starts and pitched into the seventh in his fourth. His ERA out of the rotation is 3.80; out of the pen it’s 11.12. Why he isn’t in the rota is a discussion for another day, but the KC Royals’ immediate interest in Lynch, who will start Thursday in Detroit, certainly has something to do with it.
Lynch, by the way, is the only other KC pitcher who’s started at least two games. He left in the fifth inning after pitching decently in his major league debut, but failed to make it out of the first when he gave up eight runs against the White Sox last week. His starting job may hinge on how he performs Thursday.
The starters’ overall inability to consistently go deep isn’t the only reason these Royals, who started the season so well, have dropped nine straight and out of first place in the American League Central. The relief work is now suspect, the offense struggling.
Still, the rotation needs to solve its problem. The rest of the club isn’t good enough yet to carry a load made heavier by the starters’ early exits and the consequences those departures visit on the bullpen. Things need to change, and soon.
The KC Royals’ starting rotation wasn’t expected to be great this season. It’s certainly meeting that expectation.