Starting Pitching – Filling the Holes

As we all know and most have pointed out, the Royals biggest obstacle to putting a .500 or better team on the field in 2012 is the starting rotation.  There is no massaging the fact that the Royals had the 12th worst team ERA in the AL behind only the Twins and Orioles at 4.44. With the large decline in offense all around baseball, pitching  and defense has taken on even greater importance. Walks are always an important issue when talking about pitching so it’s no coincidence that the Royals poor pitching was in part attributed to leading the AL in walks. With the addition of Jonathan Sanchez, the amount of walks the Royals give up doesn’t appear to be coming down any time soon. It’s no secret that to build a good pitching staff you need quality pitchers.  Quality pitchers usually have low walk rates.  Sensing a theme here.  That’s not to say that with Sanchez, Paulino and possibly Duffy the Royals don’t have the makings of a good staff but I feel it will be imperative for this staff to be rounded out by one or two pitchers who can go deep into games.  That means low walk rates.  This years market doesn’t contain many of those types.  Thus, the bidding is and will be fierce.

Yes we all got at least a little excited when Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the Royals would be meeting with Bob Garber, the agent for Roy Oswalt (as well as CJ Wilson).  Shortly after that it was tweeted that the Royals were interested in Mark Buehrle.  Needless to say that sent Royals Universe into a full-out uproar. But I think we all know that signing either one of those guys is essentially out of the question.  Dayton won’t spend the money nor will Oswalt or Buehrle sign for less than market value.  The biggest stumbling block for the Royals will be the length of the contract.  Both pitchers will want multiple years and the Royals are not going to invest that much money or years in players of that age.  That may be a sound strategy anyway.  You can rule out Edwin Jackson as well.  Unless Dayton Moore,  Dan Glass  and Ned Yost absolutely feel that they have a team capable of competing for the division and can find a pitcher that would be willing to sign a club friendly contract, I think the best bet to fill out the rotation will be internally.  May be more to the point is that I feel is the direction the club will go.  Yes a trade could be made but I don’t see the Royals having the depth of prospects at the higher levels to get the quality of  pitcher they need/want in return.  Unless Moore goes back on what he said earlier in the off-season about not wanting to move any of his top prospects (a position I agree with).  With all that being said, lets take a look at some of the internal candidates already in the Royals organization.

Mike Montgomery: LH 6’4″ 190lbs  22yrs old – Montgomery has all the tools to be a top of the rotation starter.  He spent the entire 2011 season at AAA Omaha where he posted a 5.32 ERA in  a little over 150 innings.  His ERA coupled with a  7.7 K/9 as a 21 yr old at AAA isn’t a reason to jump ship on him but for a top 16 MLB prospect most of us were expecting much more.  I’m competely torn between him making the club out of spring training or getting a call up during the year.  What the Royals front office does in the next two months will tell us a lot about what they think of Montgomery in the present.  If they hold fast and go to spring training with what they have, then I think it will be a good bet that Monty will be in the rotation.  Right now, he’s the only one in my opinion that has the ability to anchor the rotation.

Danny Duffy:  LH 6’3″ 195lbs  23yrs old – Duffy made it to the big leagues last year at the age of 22.  He showed flashes of why he was one of the Royals top prospects coming into the year.  He also displayed the inconsistency of a young pitcher.  Duffy started the year at AAA Omaha and put up superb numbers making it hard to argue with his call up.  He just never could find the strike zone consistently enough to have sustained success at the Major League level.  He had a solid 7.4 K/9 but totally offset those strike outs with a BB rate of 4.4/9.  Some people may have Duffy penciled in as their 5th starter.  While that wouldn’t bother me much putting Duffy behind Sanchez, Hochevar and Paulino without adding a frontline starter would be asking for more of the same.  I expect Duffy to take a big step forward at the Major League level this year but still show some of the inconsistencies that plagued him this year.  He has #2-#3 stuff but if Duffy is in the rotation I think it will take adding someone else at the top (other than Montgomery) to stabilize the rotation.

Luis Mendoza:  RH 6’3″  180lbs  28yrs old – Mendoza had a fine season in AAA Omaha and got a September call up for his troubles.  He ended up throwing 14 2/3 innings in 2 starts and only giving up 2 ER.  He’s not going to have high K rates and his BB rates aren’t really all that good either.   Since changing his arm angle he does tend to get hit less.  Though his ground ball % isn’t any better than it used to be but his BABIP has gone down.  Hitters just don’t seem to be squaring Mendoza up near as much as they used to.  For me Mendoza is someone who is a stop-gap, a luxury to have in AAA but not someone you give a spot in the rotation to.  He’s out of options so unless the Royals stand pat and he has a tremendous spring training Mendoza is likely to become a FA in April.

Sean O’Sullivan/Vin Mazzaro/Aaron Crow/Greg Holland/Everett Teaford and anyone else you may think about trying out in the rotation, don’t.  It’s not worth it.  This team doesn’t need to be doing experiments with failed starters, PERIOD.  No Holland and Crow may not have started in the ML’s but there is a reason.  I’m fully in agreement with the value of a starting pitching being worth much more than a reliever.  But rarely does converting a reliever back to a starter ever work.  CJ Wilson made it work but I feel he is one of the exception rather than the rule. And there are reasons why, mechanics, arm troubles, mindset etc.  Sully and Mazzaro are just simply not ML level starters.

Jake Odorizzi/Will Smith/Chris Dwyer – all three may see some time up with KC this year but if they do it will mean that the season has not gone the way we all had hoped.  I will say Odorizzi may have a chance to get called up with a solid first half of the season.  He will likely start out at NW Arkansas but there is a chance he gets sent to Omaha in April.  Injuries happen all the time and if the Royals do not make a move to add another starter Odorizzi could be on the short list to make some starts in KC next summer.  As for Smith and Dwyer, I have both projected as back of the rotation guys and will likely spend the whole season in the minors.

So there are the internal candidates as I see them.  You could come up with a few more but the point of this exercise was to show how few options we actually do have.  Moore could resign Bruce Chen and I’m sure he would give us another average  150 IP season but I want more for this team.  I want them to strive for more.  We all are tired of the same thing over and over again.  It gets old.  I agree with not tying a lot of money up in long-term contracts for aging veterans but the time is now for this club.  Yes they should be competitive for the next 3-4 years at the very least but I get tired of hearing people disregard this season as being one where the Royals can compete.  In the AL Central there is always a chance.  Hopefully the powers that be at 1 Royal Way will do something we all hoped they would have done for years, go out and acquire a player that will help this team win NOW!

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