The Royals pitching hasn’t been good this year.  Fact.  Oh, there have been some quality performances here and there.  And the bullpen is certainly improved following their disaster known as April.  Still, you can’t ignore the numbers.

The Royals are allowing 4.97 runs per game.  Only Cleveland (5 R/G) and Baltimore (5.3 R/G) are worse.

Their collective WHIP is 1.43.  Only Cleveland (1.51 WHIP) and Baltimore (1.51) are worse.

The Royals collective SO/BB ratio is 1.84.  Only Baltimore (1.7 SO/BB) and Cleveland (1.43 SO/BB) is worse.

Royal pitchers have surrendered 100 home runs.  Only Baltimore (101 HR allowed) is worse.

The Royals ERA+ is 89.  Only Cleveland (86 ERA+) and Baltimore (86 ERA+) are worse.

Get the idea?

This is supposed to be the year of the pitcher, but the Royals didn’t get the memo.

(Do you want me to blame Jason Kendall for this?  Because I can.)

(That was a joke.)

Actually, I’m surprised the numbers are so negative.  I know the starters haven’t been that great and the bullpen didn’t start the season well, but I thought the pitching had been a little better.  The numbers say otherwise.

Let’s start with the rotation to see how things grade out in the first half of 2010…

Zack Greinke
1.7 BB/9, 7.6 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
113 ERA+

No one expected to repeat his stellar 2009 season… That would just be too much to ask.  However, we sure expected him to at least come close.

My main concern with Greinke has been his decline in strikeouts.  Last year at the break, he owned a rate of 9.1 SO/9.  Losing a strikeout and a half from one season to the next is kind of a big deal.  It hurts a little less because Greinke’s rate was so high to start, but this isn’t really something that should go unnoticed.

Why the change?  For starters, hitters began laying off his slider, which was his huge strikeout pitch.   At this time last year, Greinke was getting a swing and a miss 25% of the time when batters offered at his slider.  This year?  He’s getting a swing and a miss just 16% of the time.  (Just 16%?  That’s still a sick number, but compared to last year, it’s not so impressive.)

I’m not bringing up Greinke’s declining strikeout rate to bag on the guy or anything… I’m merely pointing out the biggest difference between this year and last.  He’s still the ace and is still one of the top 10 pitchers in the AL.

Thankfully, Greinke’s xFIP has improved as the season has chugged along.

April: 4.30 xFIP
May: 4.39 xFIP
June: 2.88 xFIP
July: 2.18 xFIP

Of course, that July number is based on seven innings of work since he didn’t make his scheduled start on the Sunday prior to the break.  Still, that outing was vintage Greinke… Probably his best one of the year:

7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO

I think Greinke is poised for a big second half.  Pay attention to those strikeouts, though.  They’ll let us know how he’s doing.

GRADE: B+
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Brian Bannister
3.0 BB/9, 5.3 SO/9, 1.6 HR/9
75 ERA+

I’m glad Bannister is a smart guy because his numbers this year are just a freaking mess.  His decent April (3.48 ERA) was built on the back of an unsustainable strand rate of almost 85% (meaning just 15% of all base runners scored while he was on the mount.  League average is around 25%.)  He posted big – for him – strikeout numbers in May and June, but hitters pounded him for a .325 batting average.

Through everything, he’s surrendered 18 home runs.  Ick.  Even worse, 11 of those allowed the opposition to either tie or take the lead.

GRADE: D+
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Kyle Davies
4.2 BB/9, 5.7 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
75 ERA+

Davies can’t seem to pitch deep into games and he can’t seem to find any consistency.  The good kind of consistency, I mean.  He’s been pretty awful for most of this season.  Again, though, he’s sprinkled just enough decent starts – one hit in six innings against Seattle in April or one run in seven plus innings against the Angels in July – to make the Royals think he’s one bullpen session from putting it all together.

Uhhh… That’s never going to happen.
He and Bannister don’t belong in the rotation.

GRADE: D+
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Luke Hochevar
3.2 BB/9, 6.6 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
85 ERA+

Hochevar is quietly having the best season of his career.  I say quietly, because I’m certain you were hoping for more than a 1.39 WHIP and a 4.23 xFIP from our former number one draft pick.  Still, it’s an improvement.

Last year, hitters put up a line of .364/.422/.649 against Hochevar with runners in scoring position.  This year, he’s allowing a line of .333/.425/.486 in the same situation.

As you can tell from the difference in the slugging percentage from one year to the next, he’s finally figured out how to keep the ball in the park.  It’s been kind of frustrating to watch a sinker ball pitcher get taken deep with alarming regularity.  And in previous seasons, a lot of those bombs came with runners on base.  Eleven of his 23 home runs last year came with runners on, to be precise.  This year, not only is he allowing fewer home runs – just six all year – only one of those have come with a runner on.

If he keeps this up, he could develop into a solid number three starter.  If I recall correctly, that seemed to be his upside when he was drafted.

GRADE: B-
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Gil Meche
6.3 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 1.3 HR/9
63 ERA+

Just an absolute disaster.  When Bruce Chen takes your place in the lineup and people are thankful… Well, you’ve pretty much stunk up the stadium.

I know, I know… It’s not really his fault.  He’s hurt and remains the $55 million victim of Trey Hillman’s Starting Rotation Massacre.  If only Hillman had the guts to tell Meche he was out of a game…

GRADE: F
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Bruce Chen
4.7 BB/9, 7.4 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
110 ERA+

So the only Royal starters with an ERA+ of over 100 is Greinke and Chen?  Who would have guessed that at the start of the season.

Wanna know why he’s been successful (relatively speaking) this year?  Check out these two graphs from texasleaguers.com.  First, features his release point from the entire 2009 season.  The pitch classifications aren’t important.  Just the single big blob.

Here’s the chart illustrating his release point for 2010.  This year, he has two blobs.

For Chen, it’s all about the release point.  By alternating – and throwing all his pitches – from different angles, he’s been able to keep hitters off balance.  His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2003 when he was primarily a reliever.

A couple of concerns though:  For some reason, in his last start, he was only throwing his slider from the lower arm angle.  That’s probably why he struggled and was pulled so early.  Also, he’s still a fly ball pitcher.  Over 50% of all batted balls are fly balls against Chen.  His home run rate is almost certainly going to go up in the second half.  And he’s walking too many batters.

Still, he’s been the surprise in the rotation.  I’m still shaking my head over this development.

Come on, Chen!!!

GRADE: B-
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Anthony Lerew
2.5 BB/9, 5.8 SO/9, 2.9 HR/9
56 ERA+

Yes, Lerew has thrown more gopher balls than walks.

His two good starts have been at home.  His three bad ones have been on the road.  I’m sure the guy who gets to use the lone computer at the K has this one sorted out.

GRADE: D

OK, now to the relief corps…

Blake Wood
3.6 BB/9, 2.9 SO/9, 0.7 HR/9
107 ERA+

Double check that strikeout rate again… Make sure I didn’t mess that one up.  Nope… He really has whiffed just eight batters in 25 innings.  For some reason Yost has been using him primarily as an eighth inning guy in close games.  He’s blown a couple of games and coughed up a few runs in a tie game a few weeks back, but otherwise he’s done what the manager has asked.

It’s one of the biggest mysteries of the year.  Once it’s solved, it’s not going to end well.

GRADE: C-
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Dusty Hughes
3.7 BB/9, 5.5 SO/9, 0.9 HR/9
106 ERA+

Lefty, but not just a LOOGY.  Hillman used him in tight games, but Yost doesn’t trust him.  Since Yost took over, Hughes has made 16 appearances and pitched just once with a lead – and that was with seven runs.  He has entered two tie games, though.

He gets a higher grade than Wood because he can actually strike a batter out.

GRADE: C
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Kyle Farnsworth
2.4 BB/9, 7.2 SO/9, 0.5 HR/9
175 ERA+

His strikeouts are down (he whiffed 10 batters per nine last year) but Kerosene Kyle is having his finest season since 2005.  Really.

I give him grief for not being able to pitch in pressure situations and the Royals have done a fair job of keeping him out of the fire.  According to Baseball Reference, he’s appeared in 14 low leverage situations, five medium leverage situation and 10 high leverage situations.  Here are the results:

High Leverage: .259/.286/.407
Med Leverage: .212/.297/.242
Low Leverage: .231/.302/.346

Keep bringing him into the game in the sixth or seventh inning.  I’m fine with that.

Currently, the most likely Royal to be dealt at the deadline.

GRADE: A-
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Robinson Tejeda
4.9 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9, 0.2 HR/9
126 ERA+

Tejeda will spend the entire season digging out of his miserable April where he held a 12.96 ERA through his first 10 appearances.  Since then, he’s been awesome… A 0.84 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 32 innings and he’s limiting hitters to a .171 batting average.  He’s faced 124 batters and allowed four extra base hits.

He’ll still walk a guy – or three – and that will always keep him from being the top of his class.

GRADE: B+
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Joakim Soria
2.3 BB/9, 11.1 SO/9, 1.0 HR/9
182 ERA+

Stud.

Should have appeared in the All-Star Game.

He’s also another reliever who’s improved since Yost took over as manager. (I know… there’s been a ton of talk about how the bullpen is improved because Yost keeps guys in their assigned roles.  And Soria was always the closer.  Still, the numbers are what they are.)  Soria has a 1.35 ERA since mid-May and hasn’t allowed a home run since May 11.

GRADE: A

There you go… Time to have your turn in the comments.