The First Time Through: The Royals New Rotation


Apr 1, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers a pitch during the second inning against the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals opened the 2013 season with a starting rotation entirely different than the one they had at the beginning of 2012.  Spending as much as the Royals did in the offseason should yield much better results than last year.  So, here’s a look at how well the starting rotation has performed thus far.  While one start is a small sample size, it’s fun to keep tabs on how well our pitchers are performing.  With that said, here’s a table with the results of everyone’s starts plus some peripheral statistics to keep an eye on.

RoyalsInningsK%BB%GB%FB%ERAHome Runs

As a whole, the rotation has had a great ERA.  Last year, a 3.54 ERA would have placed second in the AL.  They shouldn’t sustain a 3.54 ERA throughout the season, but the way they have gotten there has been encouraging.    For instance, the Rays had the highest K% in the AL last year at 21.9%.  The A’s had the lowest BB% at 6.3%.  There’s no way that the Royals can keep these numbers up but these next several starts will be interesting.  Strikeout and walk rates tend to stabilize fairly quickly.  Here’s a look at each start individually along with some important things to take out of each.

James Shields

Causes For Concern

If Shields is going to be successful, he needs to induce more ground balls.  Shields has many years of data to show that this start was probably an anomaly in terms of GB%.  (Note: Shields was back on track in today’s start with 11 ground balls for a 55% GB%.)  The reason GB% is so important is that, on average, fly balls produce more runs than grounders.  This is primarily because fly balls turn into home runs.  I didn’t put this in my table, but Shields had BABIP (batting average on balls in play) issues in this start.  According to DIPS (defense independent pitching stats) theory, pitchers have little control over balls in play, meaning everything except walks, strikeouts, and homers.  While there are outliers, research has shown this theory to be valid.  Shields has had a season with an exceptionally high BABIP (2010) and an exceptionally low BABIP (2011) so it’s hard to know what to expect from him.

Causes For Optimism

The strikeouts are there, and the walks are not.  This is the most important thing to keep in mind.  As long as Shields can punch guys out and not walk them (no walks today, either) then he will be very successful.  Home runs will happen on occasion and there’s no reason to be upset with a home run allowed at U.S. Cellular Field.  Shields will be fine.

Ervin Santana

Causes For Concern

Obviously, Santana is not going to get by giving up three home runs a game.  Home runs were a problem for Santana last year as he gave up a league high 39.  There was anticipation prior to the season that Santana would return to normal form and that his home run rates would return to his career norms.  This performance significantly dampened that optimism.  Additionally, Santana’s fastball appears to be much slower than in years past.

Causes For Optimism

Just like Shields, Santana struck out a lot of batters.  This is huge because it will be Santana’s saving grace if he continues to give up homers.  Also, 3 home run games are uncommon.  Precise home run data has not been around for long but Santana’s current rate is unsustainable.  Last season, Santana had the worst home run rate since Odalis Perez‘s 2003.  When you look at Santana’s career last season was probably a fluke and one three homer game at U.S. Cell isn’t something to get extremely worried about.

Jeremy Guthrie

Causes For Concern

There’s not much to report here aside from the fact that Guthrie probably won’t consistently repeat this.

Apr 4, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) pitches against the Chicago White Sox in the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Causes For Optimism

Guthrie tied a career high with nine strikeouts in his first start of the season.  Guthrie has always had decent velocity on his fastball but never these strikeout numbers.  He doesn’t need to repeat this kind of performance to warrant the extension the Royals gave him this offseason, but I’m sure that the Kansas City FO is thrilled with him so far.

Wade Davis

Causes For Concern

Davis didn’t look too sharp in Philly.  He wasn’t striking guys out and he gave up a couple home runs.  Davis also lasted only 4 innings which will need to change if he hopes to hold on to his spot in the rotation.

Causes For Optimism

This was only one start.  Also, Davis didn’t walk anybody.

Luis Mendoza

Causes For Concern

See Guthrie, Jeremy.  Also, the walks are a little high.

Causes For Optimism

Mendoza’s strikeouts surged last year after being taught a cutter by Dave Eiland.  That strikeout stuff was on display yesterday.  In addition to the strikeouts, Mendoza had his sinker working.  His GB% was by far the highest of any Royal pitcher.  Unfortunately, the Royals let the lead slip away at the end, but that doesn’t diminish what Mendoza did yesterday.

Overall, the Royals had a good first turn through the rotation.  Their 2-3 record in those games might not look very good, but this Royals team looks much better than the Royals of the past.  We’ve seen good starting pitching and decent offense.  Surprisingly, the only thing which has faltered this year is the bullpen.  This season is shaping up to be a good one in large part thanks to this new and improved rotation.  It will be cool to see how they are doing come mid-season.