It was a pick that lacked imagination, but Bruce Chen was named as the Royals Pitcher of the Year on Thursday.
I say that because there’s always two options among the writers when voting: Starters and closers. That’s usually the way it should be in these things. (Although, if you know me, you know I think the closer has to be pretty damn exceptional to get votes.) So that’s the problem with the Royals this year. The rotation was extremely limited: Hochevar had a solid second half and Paulino showed flashes, but that was pretty much it. And we know about the closer.
So the writers chose the guy who missed part of the year with injury, but was fairly steady when he took the ball.
You won’t get an argument from me that Chen was the Royals best starter for the entire 2011 season, but was he the Royals best pitcher? I say no. That would have been Greg Holland.
Holland had the second best walk rate in the bullpen at 2.9 BB/9 and his strikeout rate of 11.1 SO/9 was by far the best. He was the only pitcher who allowed less than a baserunner per inning (0.93 WHIP) and he did throw 60.1 innings, which was just one-third of an inning less than Soria.
And Holland did most of this work under some pressure. According to Baseball Reference, he entered the game in 25 high leverage situations. That ranked him 31st among all AL pitchers, which meant he mostly trailed only closers when it came to pitching under pressure situations. Holland ranked third on the Royals, behind only Soria and Aaron Crow.
Working against Holland, was the fact he pitched in the seventh and eighth innings. While that was good enough to get Crow an All-Star nod, it wasn’t enough to get Holland end of the season hardware.
Back to Chen… Even though he was coming off a strong 2010 campaign, last winter Chen was something of an unproven commodity. Simply, he had been either out of the majors or basically terrible in each of the previous five years, that there wasn’t a team willing to commit multiple years to Will Ferrell’s favorite pitcher. Understandable. Nobody wants to give a long contract to a player who found something for a season and then could flame out (again) just as quickly.
Now, things have seemingly changed. In the last two seasons, Chen has posted a 3.96 ERA with a 1.8 SO/BB ratio and a 105 ERA+. Those aren’t the numbers of an ace, but they are the numbers of a solid, middle of the rotation contributor. It’s entirely likely some team will see his performance and give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s made the transition to crafty, veteran left-hander.
According to Dutton, that’s already happening. He sent out a Tweet shortly after Chen was announced as the Royals top pitcher:
LHP Bruce Chen says he’s already been contacted by two other clubs expressing serious interest.
Two things can be inferred by this. One, teams are truly starting to look at Chen as a guy who can fill out their rotation. Or two, Chen is posturing. I don’t know what’s going on, and I’m not sure it matters. It takes at least a month for the free agent market to evolve and nothing happens (generally) until the winter meetings. There may be teams with “serious interest,” but it’s highly unlikely anything happens until the guys ahead of Chen in the pecking order go off the board.
(And can we please stop referring to Chen as the Royals ace? He’s not. The Royals don’t have one. That’s why we’re going to spend the next four months discussing the starting rotation. If they had an ace, we wouldn’t be obsessing over pitching.)
Let’s try a little exercise: If you are a major league GM and are interested in signing Chen, what do you offer? Myself, I think it will take two years at a total of $8 million to get his signature. I’m sold that he’s going to find someone who will offer him more than one year. If you have a guess, leave it in the comments. We can revisit when he actually signs.
– The hot stove finally fired up as the Royals found themselves in the middle of their first trade rumor of the winter. According to a report on MLB.com, the Braves called the Royals and discussed the possibility of unloading Jair Jurrjens. Speculation has the Braves interested in Wil Myers or Lorenzo Cain.
Jurrjens is a risk. Plain and simple. The guy has made 43 starts over the last two seasons and although his ERA looks shiny at 2.96, his strikeout numbers were down. Plus, according to PitchF/X, his average fastball lost two mph from the year before. In his best two seasons, he’s outperformed his xFIP by more than a run each time, suggesting those strong seasons are the exception, not the norm. He’s a medium risk, medium reward kind of guy. And that’s the upside.
Now, let’s talk cost. If the Braves want Cain, fine. He’s yours. The Royals are set with their outfield, making Cain surplus. I’d prefer they keep him around, just in case the Melk-Man spends his winter in the buffet line, but if they can swing him for a starting pitcher, do it. Even one with an injury history and a true mediocre track record. That price seems about right.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t trade Myers for Jurrjens. No way. That doesn’t even require any kind of thought. Insanity. Keep in mind that the Arizona Fall League is a hitter’s wonderland, but he’s hitting .338/.471/.632 with 11 extra base hits in 68 at bats and looks to be back on track after struggling through his first season of Double-A. I’m not saying that Myers is an untouchable. It’s just that if you’re going to deal a prospect of his caliber, the return has to be better than Jurrjens.
It’s just another reminder of the sad state of the rotation when we can look at Jurrjens as a potential upgrade for the back half.