Monday, December 27, 2010

The "Rotation"

As David Gobielewski pointed out earlier this week over at FanGraphs, the Royals' rotation heading into the 2011 season is looking pretty dicey.  ZiPS is not particularly kind to any of the projected rotation with the best ERA+ projection being Luke Hochevar's 91*.  Luke's 6.4 K/9 is also the best rate amongst projections for the potential 2011 rotation.

*Gil Meche is also listed at 91, but I have yet to see anyone talking about Gil Meche realistically being anything but an arm out of the pen in 2011. 

It is obvious that even with tempered optimism for Hochevar in 2011 that the rotation is going to be brutally awful.  The rotation of Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Sean O'Sullivan, and Vin Mazzaro is not a Major-League-caliber rotation, and that is only four pitchers.  As mention, Meche's shoulder negates his ability to log innings as a starter.  As of Sunday, Anthony Lerew has gone the way of Bryan Bullington is pitching in Japan in 2011.  Bruce Chen is still a free agent but wants a multi-year contract.  Brian Bannister's days in Kansas City are--for all intents and purposes--over. 

While the issue of what will happen with the fifth slot is certainly one of concern, there is another issue that is likely to present itself.  What follows is a list of the current Royals "starters" and the number of starts they have logged over the past three seasons with additional minor league starts in parentheses:
  • Luke Hochevar: 2008 - 22 (+3), '09 - 25 (+8), '10 - 17 (+2) 
  • Kyle Davies: '08 - 21 (+11), '09 - 22 (+8), '10 - 32
  • Vin Mazzaro: '08 - 0 (+27), '09 - 17 (+9), '10 - 18 (+6)
  • Sean O'Sullivan: '08 - 0 (+25), '09 - 10 (+16), '10 - 14 (+15)
Granted, O'Sullivan is only 23 years old and Mazzaro is 24, so their respective start totals can be expected to have been curbed a bit as a result of their age, but the pitchers listed above have averaged 25.67, 31.33, 25.67, and 26.67 starts over the past three years.  Hochevar managed to pitch only 103.0 innings in the Bigs last season.  The top four candidates from the current 40-man roster for spots in the rotation combined for 81 starts in the Majors last year.  That's half a season's worth of starts (read: oh, shit, that's not enough).

In 2010, the Royals were able to plug in guys like Bullington, Lerew, and Chen who were able to eat starts for a team beset by injuries.  Unlike last season, Zack Greinke won't be making 30+ starts.

Everett Teaford as he escapes grasp of the Matrix
The Royals are also getting to the point where the pitchers at the upper levels of the farm system are pitchers whose development is actually integral to the future of the franchise and whose arbitration clocks need to be delayed.  Yes, Dayton Moore & Co. have said Everett Teaford and Danny Duffy will likely be competing for that final spot in the rotation come Spring Training.  Teaford has made one start above Double-A.  Duffy has made seven starts above High-A.  Given Moore's general pattern of hesitancy in regards to the deliberately slow advancement of their top prospects through the system, it doesn't really make much sense to me that Duffy would be in the mix.  It would absolutely shock me if Duffy broke camp in the starting rotation in Kansas City.  Hell, I'd be a little surprised if he was in Omaha.  Past Teaford (who at the very least isn't a prospect-type that needs to be treated with kid gloves), there is organizational filler like Manauris Baez, Kevin Pucetas, Luis Mendoza, or Nathan Adcock (the Royals Rule V pick who has never pitched above High-A) who could conceivably spot start, but there is a serious lack of starting pitching depth at the upper levels of the organization that is expendable enough to be able to throw to the wolves, a la Eduardo Villacis.

So unless we are talking about transitioning Robinson Tejeda or Joakim Soria to the rotation, the Royals are realistically going to have to add multiple arms.  As much as Jeff Parker* is going to hate this, I think one of those arms needs to be Kevin Millwood

*Apparently, we are going through the same Week-After realization because I just went over to Royally Speaking to find that link, and saw this column...

It isn't a sexy signing, but in the wake of the Zack trade, the Royals simply need to be able to have a starter give them innings, especially in light of the fact that their presumed top four starters cannot be relied upon to make 30 starts a piece.  What follows is the list of starting pitchers available on the free agent market who can reliably be expected to give you 30 starts: Kevin Millwood.  That's it.  One guy.  From the rest of the crop, Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, and well, just those two could reasonably give you 30 starts next year.

Of the Royals highly touted prospects, Aaron Crow has had 22 rough starts at Double-A, Mike Montgomery has 13 starts at Double-A, John Lamb and Danny Duffy have seven starts at Double-A, Chris Dwyer has logged four starts at Double-A, Tim Melville has made 22 starts in High-A, and Will Smith made nine starts in Triple-A for the reckless Angels before he was traded to the Royals and reassigned to High-A.  The first of those guys who is likely to make it to Kauffman is Mike Montgomery, barring some breakthrough for Crow.  For all the talk of Duffy getting a shot at the rotation in Spring Training, I just don't see how his lack of innings pitched equates to him breaking into rotation before Montgomery.

Regardless of how the prospects break into the Major League rotation, I just do not see how they can make it through this season without getting a ton of innings pitched out of someone who is not currently with the organization.  Unfortunately, Kevin Millwood fits this need better than anyone else.  Even more than that, I don't know that signing him for two years would be the worst thing in the world.  The Royals are not going to be playoff-bound in 2012 anyway, and if they were, it would mean that Millwood was likely their Number Five starter.  Given that they have no money on the books for 2012, the modest salary Millwood would be due would be palatable.

Now that I've said that, I'm going to curl up into the fetal position and suck my thumb until I fall asleep because 2011 is going to be brutal in Kansas City.


Kyle said...

I don't see the 2011 season as being any worse than 2010. The defense is exponentially better, and the offense can't get much worse. The bullpen is going to be WAY better. The rotation is the one spot that is going to be worse. Losing Greinke and Chen (the #1 and #2 starters), is going to hurt. But I still haven't lost faith in Hochevar or Davies and SOS and Mazarro will be good adders. Hoch and Mazarro will be helped alot by this improved defense.

I drank too much blue kool-aid over the christmas season.

Old Man Duggan said...

@ Kyle - The lack of depth in the rotation and viable spot starters from the current roster construction is really going to be a problem, especially as the bullpen begins to become taxed from having to provide 4+ innings of work five nights a week.

The other issue that will likely arise (that I intend to address at some point this offseason) is that DeJesus's production offensively is not likely to be replaced from this lot of players, which is problematic. They already had issues scoring runs because no one in a Royals uniform can draw a walk by law, but so far the pieces that are looking to be vying for playing time this year don't have a lot of offensive upside, at least in the short term.