When looking at a Royals rotation that has been restocked through trades and through the re-signing of one of their own, it’s hard to argue that the rotation can be worse than it was in 2012. I think anybody who tried to argue that point would be rightfully looked at as if they were crazy. Remember, the 2012 rotation featured a terrible Luke Hochevar, a very bad Bruce Chen, injuries galore and featured Luis Mendoza as the best starter for most of the year. I don’t mean to knock Mendoza, but he was actually a touch below league average last season. When that’s the best you have to offer, there’s nowhere to go but up. So the Royals started wheeling and dealing, and it’s looking like 80% of the 2013 Opening Day rotation will be different than the 2012 Opening Day rotation. That, in itself, is probably a good thing.
Where the questions begin is whether or not the difference is enough for the Royals to make noise in the 2013 playoff race. My gut reaction before I dove into the numbers was that they could contend if a lot of things go right, and many of those are beyond the rotation. But we’ll leave the hopeful bounce back seasons of Hosmer and Moustakas for another article and focus just on the guys who take the ball to start the games. I went through the rotations of the Royals, White Sox and Tigers and looked at each starters fWAR from 2008 through 2012 just to see how the Royals stack up. I didn’t look into the Twins or Indians because I think if the Royals are in competition with them, then they aren’t competing, so who cares? Before you chime in with complaints about the fWAR stat, I know there is no perfect stat, but it’s just one way I chose to look at this. I know there are many others. I also know that baseball isn’t played on a spreadsheet, but right now, spreadsheet baseball is all we have, so I’m enjoying crunching the numbers.
The first and probably biggest point I discovered when looking through these three rotations is that for the Royals to compete with the White Sox and Tigers in the rotation, they’re going to have to have all their guys at their very best. Here are the rotations I used for comparision:
Royals:Â Shields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis, Chen
Tigers:Â Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Fister, Porcello
White Sox:Â Sale, Peavy, Floyd, Danks, Quintana
Some of you may argue that I should replace Chen with Hochevar, but ultimately that one doesn’t matter a ton and I’m still living in my fantasy world where Luke Hochevar is traded prior to Opening Day. I wrote this rotations out on a piece of paper and the note I made before ever looking at a number was “White Sox could be amazing or terrible, Tigers likely can’t be bad and the Royals need some luck.” The reason I had that note for the White Sox is there are a lot of injury questions in that rotation. Chris Sale has been said to be mere minutes away from an elbow injury for some time. While he hasn’t had those issues, I’m still not convinced he won’t. Jake Peavy isn’t exactly a picture of health throughout his career and John Danks is coming off a lost season himself. Add in Jose Quintana not being especially good and if they can’t find a replacement for him when he flames out, they could be in trouble.
If you take a look at what each rotation provided in 2012, the Royals are left dead in the water. Their five starters put together an fWAR of 6.8, but if you extrapolate the year of Wade Davis and maybe double his fWAR moving from the bullpen to the rotation, it gives the Royals a total of 7.9 from their rotation. I think Shields is a pretty decent bet to repeat his 4.3 or so, but I do think Jeremy Guthrie has a chance to do far better than the 1.0 he put up for the full season. Based on what he’s done throughout his career, I think 2.2 or so is a reasonable projection for him. Ervin Santana was worth negative fWAR last season, but showed a lot of improvement as the season progressed. Optimistically, I’d love to put him at his 2011 total of 2.9, but let’s call him a 1.5 win player in 2013 just for the sake of argument. I’m admittedly a little optimistic about Wade Davis, but I’ve talked to multiple people who believe his time in the bullpen will be extremely helpful to him and should boost him in the rotation, so I have him at 1.5 fWAR and I’ll keep Chen around the same as he’s been for a few years. If you look at the table below, you’ll see that if this combination of five starters matches their career highs, they’ll be worth 16.1 wins and if they’re all at their career worsts, they’d be around 2.8 wins. So there’s a large variance here.
Getting into the Tigers rotation is where things begin to look more bleak for the Royals, especially now that they’ve re-signed Anibal Sanchez to a five-year deal. By doing that, they now have four starters who you could argue would be the number one starter on the Royals. I’m not sure that’s the case necessarily, but the argument could be made and it could be made convincingly. Rick Porcello is quite clearly their worst starter. While he’s not very good, he’s an upgrade over at least Bruce Chen and maybe even over Wade Davis and Ervin Santana. I’d be surprised if he is better than the latter two, but not at all if he was better than Chen. All in all, the Tigers rotation is significantly better than the Royals. As I did with the Royals rotation, if they’re all at their career bests, the rotation has Â combined total of 25.6 fWAR. That’s a big chunk more than the Royals, but where the difference is even more noticeable is if you add up all their career worst performances, their total fWAR would be 14.6. At their worst, they aren’t noticeably worse than the Royals’ best.
The White Sox rotation, to me, is somewhat similar to that of the Royals, but with a bit of a higher upside. A guy like Jake Peavy has the potential to put up an fWAR of 5+ and Chris Sale is the same way. I don’t think any Royals starter other than James Shields has that potential for the Royals. If John Danks is healthy, he’s got a chance to be better than anyone on the Royals staff. Their weak link is probably weaker than the wink link in the Royals rotation, but he’ll likely be replaced pretty quickly if he’s as bad as I think he will be. The White Sox best rotation fWAR total is 20.1 while their worst is 11.4.
**Either spent year in relief or with less than 20 starts
The Royals rotation at their best still likely can’t compete with the other two teams’ rotations at their best, but the possibility exists that the Royals could be within shouting distance of the Tigers for the division’s best rotation. I wouldn’t predict it, but it’s a better than zero percent chance. Of course, the Royals rotation isn’t the only deciding factor in their competing for a division title, but it’s the only thing the Royals have focused on upgrading this off-season, so it’s the major talking point. I think their lineup has a chance to be deeper than either the White Sox or the Tigers. Not necessarily better, but deeper. Of course, a lot of things have to happen, but that’s sort of the rally cry for 2013. If everything goes right, they have a real shot to make some noise in the American League Central. One thing is for certain, the rotation is better than last year, and while that may not be enough, it’ll be nice to see some quality starts strung together in 2013.
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