Surprisingly, the sun actually came up this morning despite the travesty of four position players from the team with the best record in the American League being voted All-Star starters. (And, yes, in answer to several tweets yesterday, Alex Gordon IS that much better defensively than J.D. Martinez). Perhaps just as shocking, the moon did not fall from the sky last night even though not one, but two – TWO I TELL YA! – relievers from the best bullpen in the game the past TWO years were chosen to compete in an exhibition game next week. An exhibition game, by the way, that currently would seem to be of more importance to the team that is the odds on favorite to represent the American League in the World Series. You know, the team with six All-Stars.
Enough, however, has been said about this. The fan voting is always a matter of much consternation (exactly how many All-Star starts did Derek Jeter get well after he was no longer the best shortstop in the game?). Truth is, the players are not any better at it or the sportswriters or the managers. Why, you ask? Because differentiating between the second best outfielder and the eighth is really, really hard. Sure, Mike Trout is the best in the AL and Miguel Cabrera is stupid good, but after that it gets murky. If you want to tell me Adam Jones is the second best outfielder, I might believe you, but I can come up with just as many reasons that it is Lorenzo Cain. Comparing and contrasting J.D. Martinez, Brett Gardner and Alex Gordon could take up the rest of the month. Picking any of them (Jose Bautista gets an obvious mention, too) is not a travesty, nor is it stupid, but screaming about it is a good way to get noticed. Right, Christopher Russo?
Anyway, that is one paragraph too many on the subject out of me. Let’s focus up, people.
Despite the best record in AL and a comfortable 4.5 game lead over the Twins and despite the Tigers having to spend the next six weeks without Miguel Cabrera and WITH Justin Verlander pitching, the Royals should/need to get better. The common consensus it they must bolster the rotation. I ran into a fair amount of debate last week when I offered that the real priority was making the offense better.
The starting rotation is awful I was told and they are. Well, maybe not awful – awful is Scott Elarton, Mark Redmond and Bobby Keppel – but the rotation is below average to be sure. Royals starting pitching is 13th in the American League in earned run average with a 4.40 mark and 12th in FIP at 4.17. They are dead last in innings pitched and even if the starters pitched four straight complete games while everyone else waited (Kansas City is way behind the rest of the league in games played right now), the starters would still be last in innings pitched. That is not optimal.
Despite the rotational struggles, the Royals overall are 3rd (THIRD) in the American League in team earned run average with a 3.52 mark. That lofty ranking is due to the lights out bullpen that is currently averaging 3 1/3 innings per contest. That is a lot of innings, but do you feel the bullpen is tired? Very crudely, Wade Davis is on a pace to pitch in 72 games, Herrera 70, Madson and Morales 68 games and all of those games basically averaging out to one inning per appearance. That is a big workload, but not a crazy-big-give out in September workload. Add to the mix and improving Luke Hochevar and Brandon Finnegan with Greg Holland at the back end and that is a seven deep group of monsters.
On top of the depth and the talent, Royals’ manager Ned Yost has been quite good in handling his pen this year. He loves to give his guys roles, but Ned has been willing to shuffle when he thinks guys need a rest. We have seen Wade Davis close not just when Holland was hurt, but when Greg had pitched a couple of days in a row. We have seen Ryan Madson pitch the seventh to give Herrera a day off and Herrera the eighth.
We are beginning to see the Hochevar that got us excited at the end of 2013 and Finnegan – while we can debate what this is doing to his development – is eating innings when the team needs it. One can make a case that the worst pitcher in the pen is a 29 year old lefty with 267 major league appearances. This is exactly the type of bullpen a team needs when its rotation is sub-par and Yost, thus far, appears to be the kind of manager you need to use that pen correctly.
Internally, the Royals will welcome back Yordano Ventura on Thursday. He has been a hot mess this year, but he was also an outstanding pitcher in 2014 and it is not like his stuff has evaporated. Also due back soon is Jason Vargas and, with a little luck, we will see Kris Medlen sometime this month. I might even throw John Lamb into the mix as possible in-house options if push comes to shove. Will they make the Kansas City rotation dominant? Not even close, but they have a realistic chance to make it better.
Offensively, the Royals are eight in runs scored per game, but that very average mark has an anchor on it. After averaging 5.4 runs per game in April, the Royals are averaging 3.75 runs per game since (those numbers are from memory, so if it is 5.3 and 3.8 don’t get all bunched up – the point remains the same). That is NOT ENOUGH RUNS. They have scored two runs or less 27 times. Johnny Cueto has allowed two runs or more in 11 of his 15 starts this season.
Using wRC+, Alex Rios is the fourth worst in the league among players with 100 or more plate appearances. Omar Infante is seventh worst. Using wOBA, Rios and Infante are fifth and eighth worst. WAR? Using fWAR from Fangraphs, Rios is 147th out of 169 players with 100 or more plate appearance, while Infante is 135th. On-base percentage? Infante is 5th worst, Rios is 8th. For godssake, Alex Rios has the fourth most putrid SLUGGING percentage in the league and he plays rightfield!
The Royals’ in-house options to bolster those spots are playing Jarrod Dyson against right-handers (not a bad idea, by the way) or playing Paulo Orlando. The could opt for Christian Colon, who currently is in Omaha while Dusty Coleman takes up space in Kansas City. Cheslor Cuthbert is up for a bit, but if he is your offensive savior…..
If you believe, as I do, that the Royals have enough prospect power (and money, by the way) to make one big move, then I really don’t see how you would not first look to make a splash with an addition to the lineup. I have a lot more faith that Ventura, Vargas and Medlen will make the rotation better than in Alex Rios and Omar Infante becoming passable offensive contributors.