It’s safe to assume Dayton Moore wrapped up his off-season spending spree, splashing the cash on the starting pitcher to fill the void in the Royals rotation.
Here are five thoughts as we all welcome Edinson Volquez to the Royals rotation.
Volquez is not a replacement for James Shields.
He will take the spot Shields vacated, but Volquez is not a replacement. Shields had fWARs of 4.5 and 3.7 in his two seasons in Kansas City. We can quibble about whether or not Shields was a “number one” starter, but there’s no denying he was the best starting pitcher in the Royals rotation in each of the two seasons he called Kansas City home. Volquez has posted a fWAR above 1.1 exactly one time in his career. And that was all the way back in 2008. Before his Tommy John Surgery. In his last three seasons combined, Volquez has been worth 2.1 fWAR. That’s fifth starter material. At best.
David Glass isn’t cheap.
Frankly, I’m kind of tired of this Royals meme. Glass hasn’t had an issue spending money since Dayton Moore was hired. I won’t go so far as to call Glass a “model owner,” but he’s done a nice job of staying out of the way of the baseball operations. Royals payroll, with arbitration estimates and unsigned players combined figures to be around $115 million. That’s pretty huge for this franchise. Although spending the money poorly is kind of the same as not having that money at all.
Volquez could see an uptick in his walk rate.
I know we aren’t supposed to speak ill of St. Sal, but Volquez really benefitted from Russell Martin behind the plate in Pittsburgh. Martin is regarded as one of the better pitch framers and stats say he’s the third best pitch framer in the game. The same stat puts Perez in the bottom tier of regular backstops.
This is key because Volquez has earned the moniker of “Walkman.” He has a career walk rate of 4.5 BB/9. He walks over 11 percent of all batters. Working with Martin last summer in Pittsburgh, Volquez’s walk rate was a career best 3.3 BB/9 and his percentage dropped to 8.8 percent. He is two years removed from a BB/9 over five and a whopping 13 percent walk rate. Read this post from Mike Petriello at Fangraphs for an in-depth study on the affect Martin had on Volquez. Certainly, there could be something mechanical that has led to his reduction in walks. I haven’t watched him enough to know. But this is something to watch going forward. If Volquez struggles with command, the best defense in the world isn’t going to be much help.
Volquez’s 2014 ERA of 3.04 was done with smoke and mirrors.
While Volquez has improved his walk rate, his strikeout rate has declined in each of the last three seasons. In 2014, his BABIP was .263. His xFIP was 4.20. His strand rate was 78 percent. These are not positive peripherals. He will not come close to his 3.04 ERA he finished with in 2014.
Volquez is a fifth starter.
It’s entirely possible with the Royals bullpen and their defense, they can overcome Volquez’s shortcomings as a starter. I’ve been waiting for Jeremy Guthrie to regress for the last two seasons yet he’s somehow become a serviceable back of the rotation starter. That’s what I see as the best case for Volquez.
I’m not slamming this signing. Volquez is probably the best pitcher the Royals could have plucked off the open market at this point and within their budget. There’s a whiff of “it is what it is” about this. It’s uninspiring, but when the Royals won’t make a trade and can’t go for the big players on the market, this is the new reality for the Royals. It reminds me of the Jason Vargas signing last winter in a way. Vargas signed for four years and people were shocked the Royals would hand out such a lengthy contract to a mediocre starter. But I saw the Royals locking in a starting pitcher to an affordable deal. They knew inflation would rapidly push the price of mediocrity and with Vargas, they got in front of the inflation. So far, so good. Because look at how much mediocrity costs in 2015. With Volquez, they needed to go two years for a much more inconsistent starter. I don’t see an upside here, but on two years, at least the Royals exposure is somewhat limited.
No matter what happened this offseason, repeating as AL champions was going to be a difficult task. Forget about what the White Sox, Indians and Tigers have done. Even in a vacuum, it’s just damn difficult to repeat. Volquez doesn’t help their chances as much as Shields leaving hurts, but no matter who the Royals got to fill the rotation, they simply weren’t going to make up Shields’s production.
Finally, here’s how I rank the Royals free agent signings by order of usefulness to the team:
1. Alex Rios
3. Kendrys Morales
Not an inspring list, to be sure, but it’s maybe functional? I don’t know. All three carry huge risks with some upside. Not much. Some. To me, betting on three players of this ilk to produce is risky business. But after last year, who knows.