The Royals might be looking to trade to get a #1 or #2 type pitcher, and you have to ask the question what difference that one pitcher could make for a team currently sitting at 71-89. Well, when you break it down……quite a bit, actually.
You have to start with the premise that the Royals are a pretty GOOD offensive team. They are, and they are getting better all the time. They appear set to finish 6th in the AL in runs scored at 726—and their run differential is actually good for 8th in the league, despite their 11th-place record overall in the AL. They actually have the second-best run differential in the Central at -28. Despite their respective 80 and 78 wins, both Cleveland and Chicago have a run differential of -52. For how the Royals score in relation to the runs they give up, they SHOULD have more wins than they do. The Baseball-reference.com Pythagorean W-L formula says they should be 77-83 right now—6 more wins than they actually were able to achieve.
So you can start to hypothesize that one or two disproportionately bad starters just MIGHT be throwing a monkey wrench into what might otherwise be a .500 or so ball club (give or take a few games).
AND YOU WOULD BE RIGHT
The Royals dedicated a combined 44 starts to Kyle Davies and Jeff Francis this year. Now, Francis wasn’t awful, I guess—but aside from rookie Danny Duffy, he had the worst ERA of any Royals starter with at least 10 starts this year (4.8).
In the 44 starts (over 25% of the season) by Davies and Francis, the Royals were a combined 13-31.
That means in the 116 starts so far by ALL OTHER PITCHERS, the Royals are 58-58—a .500 ball club.
Let’s break it down further. Danny Duffy made his major league debut this season, and got 20 starts. Let’s be honest….he had some nice work, but the overall majority of his first stint in the Majors was sub-par. WE KNOW THE TALENT IS THERE, and we have every reason to expect improvement. But the Royals were just 6-14 in the games started by Duffy.
SO….minus the 64 starts made by Francis, Davies and Duffy, the Royals had 96 games started by other pitchers, and in those 96 games the Royals are 52-44.
THE THREE MEN WHO ABSOLUTELY SHOULD BE IN THE ROTATION NEXT YEAR are Chen, Paulino and Hochevar. Those three combined for 75 starts this year, and the Royals were 41-34 in those starts. That includes the 9-11 the Royals went when Paulino was on the hill, but he suffered a little from some poor run support earlier in the year. He had some nice support late, which came close to evening it up for him on the season (not quite, but close).
SO LET’S MAKE SOME CONSERVATIVE ASSUMPTIONS FOR NEXT YEAR…..
The one guy that might be available for trade that appears to be the best option available is James Shields, at least according to Buster Olney and others. Can the Royals get him? Who knows, but let’s assume he’s THE GUY the Royals get.
The Rays are 20-13 in the 33 games Shields has started this year, and that’s with a far WORSE run support than the average Royals game. The Royals average 4.54 runs per game, while Shields got only 3.91 a game from the Rays this year—about two-thirds of a run less a game. So it’s reasonable to believe that the Royals may have a similar record (or better) with Shields pitching for Kansas City as what he got for Tampa.
So let’s assume he enters the rotation, and the Royals duplicate the 20-13 in his starts from a year ago. Again, I think that’s conservative, because he’s shown himself to be extremely durable, AND the Royals score better than the Rays did for Shields. But we’ll leave it at that.
And let’s make some assumptions about Chen, Paulino and Hochevar. Hoch, I’m going to leave exactly the same. If he pitches like he did in the 2nd half of 2011, he might be a 17 or 18 game winner by himself, but we’ll assume no improvement. We’ll also give Chen the exact same 15-9 in 24 starts, because he will be 34, and there’s always a chance he could end up on the DL again.
As for Paulino, I’m going to cheat him up a little to 30 starts (since we’ll have him from the beginning of the year), and have the Royals go 15-15 in games he starts. I think this is reasonable to expect, and maybe we should expect just a bit more. He had some pretty bad run support for the first half of his time here. The better support towards the end helped even it out some, but he still finished about a quarter of a run worse for run support than the average Royals game.
So here you go for the top 4 in your rotation, with the projected number of starts, and the Royals’ record in their games (not their win-loss records, but the Royals’ records in games they start):
Shields: 33, 20-13
Chen: 24, 15-9
Hochevar: 31, 17-14
Paulino: 30, 15-15
Totals: 118 games, 67 wins, 51 losses.
That leaves 44 starts to be covered by your 5th starter (Duffy?), and whoever gets spot starts to fill in for Chen on the DL and what not.
FOR THE ROYALS TO HIT .500….the Royals would only need to go 14-30 in the 44 starts by Duffy and the spot starters for the club to be .500.
BRINGING THAT BACK AROUND TO THE BEGINNING….you’ll recall that Davies and Francis COMBINED to go 13-31 in 44 starts this year, or almost exactly the same number that Duffy and spot starters would have to go to make the Royals a .400 team in 2012. In other words, they don’t have to be that good for the Royals to hit .500. You could add Shields and bring Davies and Francis back, give them 44 starts again, and you’re probably a .500 team.
If Duffy makes even a SMALL improvement in 2012, the Royals could easily sneak several games above .500.
It’s all so elementary, when you break it down.