The 2011 starting rotation, as currently constructed, has taken a lot of grief. Frankly, it deserves it and will continue to earn even more barring something on the order of not one, not two, but three pitchers dramatically improving. That said, the quarter of Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies and Sean O’Sullivan is almost certainly not the worst group the Royals have sent out to start a season. I can comfortably say that without even researching beyond the 21st century.
Like me, a lot of you are rather leery (maybe even a little embarrassed?) that Luke Hochevar, he of the career 5.60 ERA, is likely to be Kansas City’s Opening Day starter. Certainly, Luke pales in comparison to the Opening Day starters of the past four years – Gil Meche and Zack Greinke – but check out some other pitchers to have gotten the nod for the boys in blue:
- 2006 – Scott Elarton: He came to Kansas City via free agency after compiling an ERA of 4.61 over 32 starts for Cleveland in 2005. Scott’s 2004 ERA was 5.90 and he had given up 65 home runs combined in the two years before signing with the Royals. After giving up two runs in five and two-thirds innings on Opening Day, Elarton actually threw quality outings in five of his first seven starts, but by July 16th was done for the year with his ERA at a nice and juicy 5.34. Along the way Elarton served up 26 home runs in just 114.2 innings.
- 2005 – Jose Lima: To be honest, Limatime was coming off a decent season in 2004 (13-5, 4.07 ERA with LA) on the heels of a career resurrection during the Royals magical 2003 season. Jose was tagged for 5 runs in just 3 innings on Opening Day on his way to eating 169 innings with a 6.99 ERA in 2005.
- 2004 – Brian Anderson: He had pitched well for the Royals down the stretch in 2003 and finished that year a combined 14-11 with a 3.78 ERA. Resigning him for what seemed to be a run to the AL Central title in 2004 made all the sense in the world. Anderson gave up 5 runs in 5 innings on Opening Day, 5 more in his next start, 5 in the start after that and by the end of May was sent to the bullpen for time. When the season mercifully ended, Anderson had fashioned a 5.64 ERA over 166 innings, during which time he allowed 217 hits.
I could bring up Jeff Suppan here, too, who started on Opening Day from 2000 to 2002, but the guy took the ball for every start for four straight years and has gotten enough grief from Royals fans as it is. His four year run of 864 innings with a 4.73 ERA for the Royals gets him a pass in this discussion.
Back to Luke Hochevar, who could pretty much be exactly who he has been and still be a better ‘number one’ starter than at least three of his predecessors. What about the rest of the rotation? Even if Hochevar is better than Lima and Elarton, what about the others?
Well, the other 2006 starters were:
- Mark Redman (5.71 ERA in 29 starts)
- Runelvys Hernandez (6.48 ERA in 21 starts)
- Luke Hudson (4.79 ERA in 15 starts)
- Odalis Perez (5.64 ERA in 12 starts)
- Jeremy Affeldt, Jorge dela Rosa, Mike Wood, Brandon Duckworth, Denny Bautista, Joe Mays and Bobby Keppel (among others) also got starts for this team. NONE of them were any good. I mean, Kyle Davies was/is better than everyone on the list was that year!
The 2005 group was not any better. After Lima, a kid named Greinke pitched, but it was hardly the Zack we now know:
- Zack Greinke (5.80 ERA in 33 starts)
- Runelvys Hernandez (5.52 ERA in 29 starts – man he really parlayed that good start in 2003 into a lot of chances, didn’t he?)
- D.J. Carrasco (4.79 in 20 starts)
- J.P. Howell (6.19 in 15 starts)
- Brian Anderson (6.75 in 6 starts)
- A host of others, if you can name them all without looking at Baseball Reference you need to find a hobby.
My intention here is not to depress or to bemoan the less than splendid near past of this franchise, but simply to remind us all that it actually has been worse. Seriously, browse your way through the 2004, 2005 and 2006 pitching stats.
Hochevar, Mazzaro, Davies and O’Sullivan suddenly doesn’t sound quite as bad as it did before, does it?