Kansas City Royals: Who Cares Who The 5th Starter Is On Opening Day

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Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The big question surrounding the Kansas City Royals as we entered Spring Training was, who will be the Royals fifth starter? Tom Barkwell over at our sister site, Kings of Kaufman, posted a lengthy article just yesterday on the topic.

What nobody seems to understand however, is that the answer to that question really is irrelevant. Who cares who the opening day 5th starter is? Really.

Now you may be wondering why I would say such a thing. It’s not because I have issues with Tom Barkwell (for what it’s worth, I’ve never met him but I’m sure he’s a great American), no, the answer is really quite simple. The opening day 5th starter is not going to be the 5th starter by the time June rolls around, maybe even sooner.

In fact, I would wager that with the exception of James Shields, none of the Royals opening day starters will be slotted in the rotation where they are projected to be when camp breaks. As things stand, the likely rotation when the Royals break camp would appear to shake out as follows…

James Shields, Jeremy GuthrieJason VargasBruce Chen, and one of either Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, or Yordano Ventura.

Many think Ventura will be the guy but my money is on Hochevar. Royals manager Ned Yost likes his veterans, and Hochevar needs another shot at the rotation with all the success he had last year.

If nothing else, the Royals need to take one final stab at justifying selecting Hochevar with the number one overall selection in 2006 and then resigning him this season for that $5M price-tag, so I think Hochevar gets the early nod.

Still, no matter how you slice it, that rotation does not exactly instill fear in the opposition. By no means is it a rotation worthy of a playoff berth, let alone a division title.

Now here’s the fun part…almost none of that rotation will hold up. By the time June rolls around the Royals starting rotation will look like this…

James Shields, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Luke HochevarJeremy Guthrie.

That’s right Royals fans, both Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are going to break out this season and will both post 14 to 16 wins. Luke Hochevar is going to realize the promise that made him the number one overall pick in the draft back in 2006, also posting 13 to 15 wins.


Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (41) Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Combined, the trio will have us all experiencing flashbacks to the Golden Age of Royals baseball and helping the Royals lay claim to the best pitching staff in the division, and one of the best in baseball. Think I’m smoking something inappropriate (except of course in Colorado and California)?

Consider the following. Danny Duffy was on the cusp of a breakout season in 2012 before tearing up his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery early in 2012. Up until that point in the year, he had gone 2W-2L with a 3.90 ERA. Slightly better than league average, but definitely trending up.

In fact, USA Today ran a story after the injury calling Duffy the team’s best starter. Former Detroit Tiger manager Jim Leyland was quoted on YardBarker.com as saying the following about Duffy just after facing him early in 2012,

I might be going out on a limb, but I believe this with all my heart: I think he has a chance to be a star. Duffy, I really like him a lot. He’s got a lot of potential, and you’ll never know if it will play for sure. But he’s a baby left-hander who’s really, really good. 

His history throughout the minor leagues has been one of success, even dominance, at each stop from rookie ball to AAA. He took his lumps in 2011, posting a 4-8 record with a 5.64 ERA and a WHIP of 1.61 across 20 starts for the Royals. Like any rookie, he had a lot to learn, but he appeared to have started to really put things together prior to his elbow injury.

History tells us it takes just over a year to get back to 100% physically following Tommy John surgery, and there is additional time required, which varies by individual, before a pitcher’s command returns. Duffy is in that window.

In his initial return to the squad last season, he made five starts posting a 1.85 ERA, before being shut down for the last three weeks due to arm inflammation. The bottom line however, is that he’s young (25 yrs. old), he’s hungry, and he’s ready to take a prominent role in the Royals rotation.

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Tags: Danny Duffy Kansas City Royals Yordano Ventura

12 Comments on Kansas City Royals: Who Cares Who The 5th Starter Is On Opening Day

  1. Chad Woelk says:

    I highly doubt that Vargas is not in the starting rotation in June for the price and years they gave him. Unless they are somehow lucky enough to trade him for a bag of peanuts. This is the Royals you are talking about.

  2. Joel Wagler says:

    Unless injuries, or just horrible performances come into play (which probably spells doom anyway), I think Shields, Guthrie, and Vargas are locks all season. The other two spots could be more fluid though. It will be interesting to watch how the rotation plays out during the course of the season.

    • Michael Engel says:

      I think it’s a very safe assumption that Bruce Chen won’t make 32 starts this year. Maybe he can hold up physically, but can he be effective with a 180 inning workload? Ehhhh. So yeah, very fluid with those two spots.

      I guess the premise of this post is somewhat true – it doesn’t matter *that much* who the fifth starter is on Opening Day. Injuries happen, a skipped start happens. Good performances may force their hand. But if the team is hitting the gate strong right away the right selection for the fifth starter spot, that’s a shot at more wins. If in the first month of the year, having Ventura in rather than Hochevar (I just don’t buy him through a lineup more than once – but I buy him as a strong reliever) means four starts of a high upside starter and four better chances to win four games in April, that matters. Baseball is such a long term game that if you can leverage those small advantages over the long term, you can come out with them adding up to a big advantage. If they’d have made a quicker change on Wade Davis last year, maybe that’s five or six games they would have had a better shot at winning — and that would have made a big difference in the standings.

      Should note that Duffy’s start to 2012 looks good by the ERA but I don’t think he’d have kept it up with the walkrate he was rolling with. Maybe he could have, or likely the walkrate would have lowered and he’d maintain the other peripherals. Interested to see how his experiment with a slider turns out…

    • Dave Hill says:

      I’m actually not sold on Guthrie remaining in the rotation all season. His peripheral statistics indicate that he is a prime candidate for regression. Chen is likely to go back to that long reliever/spot starter role that he excelled in. If Hochevar is pitching well, someone else will need to come out of the rotation if Duffy and Ventura are lighting it up. Of the other three starters, Guthrie would be the one most likely to be removed from the rotation in my opinion.

  3. jimfetterolf says:

    I’m guessing Hochevar also, as he showed the stuff last year. If he makes the rotation and looks solid the Royals either trade him or extend him, as it’s his walk year. Also think Vargas stays in the rotation, but should everybody be pitching well and Shields won’t extend, Shields would be the likely ASB trade leaving a rotation containing Duffy, Ventura, Hochevar, Vargas, and Guthrie or Zimmer in some order.

    • jessanders says:

      I don’t think there’s a chance we trade Shields at the ASB unless we’re in the toilet as a team.

      He’s too durable, and too good to risk losing his production if we’re still in the hunt. Losing his 4 WAR half way through the season could mean (as 4 war/2 would lead you to believe) the difference between 90 wins and 92 wins, or maybe even 93. That’s a huge difference in a must-win year for GMDM.

      That, and the QO we’ll extend him to get the extra draft pick. No way is a guy who will likely be top 5 in the Cy Young voting this season not get signed to a deal next offseason.

      On a side note, that’s a very good reason for Santana to NOT want to be a FA again next season. With the number of top-notch starters who will be FA next year, he’d be hard pressed to crack the top 10 FA starters.

      • Tyler_KC_Fan says:

        I agree. I think if any pitcher will be traded this year it will be Hoch and/or Davis, but that’s about it. Shields is to important to the success of this year and trading him because he most likely wont sign for next year is not the best choice, in my opinion. We need to make the playoffs this year.

  4. jessanders says:

    I find your lack of lack of faith in Hochevar disturbing…

    Don’t get me wrong, I really wish he would pan out. And if the rotation in June looks like the one you posted (I’d expect Vargas instead of Guthrie, but either way), then I’ll be happy as can be.

    However, I feel Hoch has figured it out, as a bullpen guy. I don’t count on him being able to produce in the starting rotation successfully.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

    That said, a rotation of Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Duffy, Ventura (not necessarily in that order) if both Venutra and Duffy are producing at or above 3 WAR, could lead to a very successful summer.

    I think the concern about the opening day rotation goes back to May of last season. Everyone knows if we had played .500 in May, we’d have ended up with 92 wins, and a seat in the play-in (WC) game. Clearly we’re not wanting to end up looking back in September (or October) going, “Man, if only we’d have had Ventura in as the #5 starter in April, we might have picked up those extra 2 games that (insert starter who blew up, likely Chen or Hoch or Davis) lost us. Then we’d be in the play-in game this season.”

    I know hindsight is 20-20, and I have a strange fascination with Mendoza early last season, so I’m guilty of liking fringe starting candidates as well, but I’m afraid that your entire premise is flawed. Every game counts, and you can’t make it to playoffs in the first month, but you can run bad enough to keep yourself from the playoffs in the first month. That’s our concern.

    • Brent G says:

      Jess, as always great comments. Particularly your opening line:) I guess time will tell. Admittedly, I’m leveraging my own personal experiences with the game and trying to apply them to Hochevar.

      Look, I don’t know the guy and I don’t know what his mentality is when he takes the hill but I do know that some of the comments he made and the corresponding results we saw on the field last year, to me, are indicative of more than just a flash in the pan. I think he’s truly figured it out.

      Of course, the real wild-card to me then becomes Ned Yost. You just never know what Ned is going to do but I think his track record supports the fact that if all things are equal coming out of Spring Training, Hochevar wins the 5-spot.

  5. Tyler_KC_Fan says:

    I agree with parts of what you said. But their are also some glaring points where you don’t make to much sense. You made the comment that Vargas and Chen, according to their numbers, are just average pitchers. Where in the numbers that you see from Hoch make you believe he’s better?

    Hoch has terrible numbers. Might I add, that while both Hoch and Chen were in the starting rotation Chen was better than Hoch still. I am utterly confused as to why people still hold Hoch to this standard of “oh he’ll bounce back.” He never amounted to his draft status. The Royals don’t owe him anything and just because he was the #1 overall pick doesn’t mean anything now. It’s been 8 years. As a starter, Hoch was terrible. Now, his one year in the ‘pen he was unbelieveable. This honestly is not rocket science, as a starter he struggles and 9 times out of 10 we lost the game unless we score over 5 runs a game. As a bullpen arm he succeeded. If someone continues to fail somewhere, why continue giving it to him? Leave him alone in the pen.

    The logic you are using by saying Vargas and Chen are just average pitchers based off of numbers is a terrible example because according the Hoch’s numbers he should never be considered as a starter because of his numbers. Let me as you this question. If we had traded Hoch to the Red Sox, do you think they would ever think of him as a starter? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no, because they wouldn’t consider Dempster a starter anymore and he has better stats than Hoch. Leave Hoch in the pen and trade him at the ASB. I can almost guarantee you that if we start Hoch vs leaving him in the pen, his trade value will drop significantly.

    As for the starting rotation to start the year, it should be: Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Chen and Duffy. Ventura should get called up as soon as his arbitration situation is taken care of and when that happens he would take Chen’s spot and Chen would go to the bullpen. I don’t see that happening till the ASB for one huge reason. Where are we going to put Chen when Ventura takes his spot? The bullpen would be full with Hoch, Davis, Collins, Crow, Herrera and Holland. That’s not even including Joseph and Coleman who might get snubbed and be in Omaha. If the Royals wait till the ASB to bring Ventura up then the arbitration situation is taken care of and he might be signed to a new deal, we trade both Hoch and Davis which would make room for Chen and potentially either Joseph or Coleman to join the team. But as it stands, their is no way the team has enough room to do the moving around people are thinking we can. When you move Chen to the bullpen we have to move someone out of the bullpen and I feel like people are ignoring that little detail.

    So the year starts off: Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Chen and Duffy.
    The end of the year rotation: Shields, Vargas, Guthrie, Duffy and Ventura.

    I do agree with you that Duffy and Ventura could easliy become top of the rotation pitchers because they both have the ability to do that. I want them to do that. But signing Vargas to a $30M+ contract just to send him to the bullpen at the ASB…come on now. If we allow Hoch to “try again” for the 7th year as a starting pitcher, that is when we have gone to the mentality of “wait till next year”. Leaving him in the bullpen is us finally waking up and smelling the roses and doing what is best for the team.

    • Brent G says:

      Tyler, believe me I know what you’re saying ref: Hochevar. Don’t know if you read the post I did last week regarding him but if you didn’t I can see why you’d be confused by my argument here. You and Jess may both be right when it comes to Hochevar but I just have a sense that the changes he made last season are more indicative of a sea change in his approach to pitching than they are of him simply catching lightning in a bottle last year. If that’s true, I expect him to finally earn his keep. If not, well, I won’t be the first guy to be wrong about Hoch:)

      • Tyler_KC_Fan says:

        My thing is we are comparing 70.1 IP in 58 games and averaging 1-2 innings a game to pitching 180-200 IP and pitching 6-7 innings a game. Of course, when you’re only throwing maybe 20-30 pitches you can throw the ball harder. Every pitch Hoch had pitched either had more movement or was faster and thats because he wasn’t expected to go deep into games.

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