We've all heard the old adage that pitching is the currency of baseball, because every team needs pitching and in most cases, good pitching will beat good hitting. The truth of the matter is that a great hitting team can make the playoffs with a below average pitching staff, but rarely will they make the World Series, let alone win it. Much like football, you can make the playoffs and even the Super Bowl with a high octane offense, but again, more often than not the defenses are what decide the big game.
The Royals have had very little to brag about in the starting pitching department for quite some time. And since the goal is to make it to the World Series, it should be noted that the average ERA for the World Series champion since the 2001 Diamondbacks is 3.91, the average for the Royals over that same period, 4.97. Not surprisingly we've been atrocious over the last decade plus. What is somewhat surprising to me however is that Dayton Moore knows that pitching is vital considering he was a scout and later in player development for the Atlanta Braves during their string of 14 Division titles, division titles that were won mostly on their stellar pitching.
I'd like to analyze those Atlanta Braves and how they got their great pitching, and then see where Dayton Moore has gone off course on implementing a similar rotation in KC:
The Atlanta Braves hired Dayton Moore in the strike shortened 1994 season, but by then they already had their rotation already in place, it consisted of:
John Smoltz- He was drafted in the 22nd round of the 1985 amateur draft by the Detroit Tigers. John was traded to the Atlanta Braves on Aug 12, 1987 in a trade deadline deal that sent Doyle Alexander to the Tigers. At the time of his trade he had a 5.86 ERA in 21 starts for Detroit's AA affiliate. Apparently the Braves saw something in him though because the next year in '88 he had a 2.79 ERA for their AAA team, he then went on to win 210 games for the Braves from '88 to 2008 and won the Cy Young in 1996.
Greg Maddux- He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1984 draft out of high school by the Chicago Cubs. After some pretty stellar numbers in the minors Greg made his major league debut at the age of 20 in '86. He struggled in '87going 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA, but then wouldn't have a losing season again until 2005. He was released to Free Agency for some absurd reason by the Cubs in 1992 after posting a 2.18 ERA, with 199 SO and 70 BB. The Cubs misfortune would be the Braves treasure as they signed him in the offseason. He would go on to win 3 more Cy Young awards in his first 3 seasons with them '93-'95. He won an amazing 194 wins to 88 loses for the Braves over his 11 years there, which equates to a .688 win percentage, with an astounding 1828 strikeouts to 383 walks, which is a 4.77 SO/BB ratio, ridiculous.
Tom Glavine- Thomas Michael Glavine was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 2nd round of the 1984 draft like Maddux. He made his debut in 1987 but his first full season was in '88 and much like Maddux he struggled early going 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA that year. He would turn it around in '89 and was pretty much impressive from then on winning a Cy Young in 1991 and again in '98. He posted a 244-147 record with Braves over a 17 year period with the team and a 3.41 ERA before he took his talents to go pitch for the Metropolitans.
Steve Avery- The last man out, Avery was drafted in with the 3rd overall pick in the first round of the 1988 draft. He made his major league debut in 1990 and in '91 went 18-8 with a 3.38 ERA. He was not in the same inner circle caliber as the other big three, however he would have been a number two on most other teams at the time. He pitched from '90 to '96 with the Braves and was effective going 72-62 with a 3.83 ERA, however from '91 to '94 he was 55-28. He signed as a free agent with Boston in 1997 and would never be good again.
This is obviously best case scenario for any pitching staff, and I would never insist that a GM use this as his bench mark as that would be like telling any football GM to just go draft and build the '85 Bears defense. However in this rare circumstance the GM in question was apart of and around to see the success of this talented player acquisition. He knows what a great pitching staff can do for you. And in my opinion it is much easier to build a high powered offense than it is an amazing pitching rotation, even if you try and over-pay for one, ahem Yankees, cough.
The other adage I've always heard is that when you are trying to get a stud starting pitcher, a reliable 2 or 3, that it takes about 5 solid prospects to develop one stud pitcher. 1 or 2 are bound to get hurt, 1 or 2 are going to flame out or lose their stuff, and if you're lucky 1 will develop. This means that in order to get a solid rotation through the draft, which is what the Royals seem committed to, you have to throw just a massive amount to numbers at it.
The last stud pitcher the Royals developed that could be considered an Ace on a second division team, or a 2 on great team is Zack Greinke. He won the Cy Young for us and paid massive dividends, but got frustrated and demanded to leave town. Which leads me to the first part of how the Royals have tried to develop a starting pitcher since Dayton has been in town, the draft:
I'm all for drafting position players, don't get my wrong there are 9 spots on the field you have to field and pitching is just one of them. Pitchers are oft injured and a stud position player can pay massive returns over the course of their career, but knowing that the Royals are trying to develop starting pitching through the draft, let's play devil's advocate and just see where they could have done better at drafting pitching instead of position players or other pitchers.
2007 1st round- Mike Moustakas was who the Royals picked with the second overall pick, obviously that has turned out nicely so far, and looks to be getting even better every day. He could be our third baseman for years to come. The only legit pitcher the Royals could have taken that high was Madison Bumgarner, a high school pitcher who went 10th to the Giants, he has a 6.8 WAR to date compared to Mous' 3.3, and has a 3.11 ERA with 31 wins and 24 losses. He would probably be the first or second best pitcher on our staff at the moment if he were a Royal.
2007 2nd round- We took Sam Runion a high school RHP who I can honestly say I don't know a thing about. The Nationals took Jordan Zimmerman with the very next pick. Zimmerman has a 7.5 WAR to date with a 3.44 ERA.
As an aside, the Royals took Hosmer in the '08 draft which was the correct choice as that draft has produced next to nothing for pitching talent. The Giavotella pick looks good as well.
2010 1st round- The Royals picked Christian Colon with the 4th pick, a SS out of college, and at the time I hated the pick. A classic case of a GM drafting for position of need/signability and not best player available. Chris Sale went 13 to the White Sox and has been amazing this year. I would have even settled for Drew Pomeranz at this point who went 5 to the Indians. Colon can't get out of AA and looks to be a super utility guy at best now.
Obviously, like I said earlier, hindsight is 20/20. But I think if you have stud pitching that you can acquire position players with ease, since everyone else will want your stud pitching, see Tampa Bay Rays. Therefore when given the opportunity the Royals should have taken some or any of these pitchers instead of the picks they did make. Even a couple of these picks made could completely change the complexity of our staff right now.
I can't fault GMDM for the injuries and all the Tommy John that's going around like the freaking bird flu, but this season has been atrocious for starting pitching. The sad thing is everyone knew going in to the season that it would be and DM still did little to fix it. I could talk about the Sanchez trade or the Gil Meche signing but those have been covered ad nauseum. Clearly Dayton Moore has a pretty horrific track record at acquiring veteran pitching talent, save Paulino and Soria.
We're hoping that Odorizzi can be our John Smoltz, acquired though trade. I would just like to know who Dayton thinks our Steve Avery and Tom Glavine will be, stud pitchers that develop from within through drafting. And will he be able to evaluate a talent on another team and sign him through free agency like Greg Maddux, and will Glass give him the money to pay that free agent? So far his record hasn't been good, and like a read on a post here earlier, Dayton is in rare territory with having 6 losing seasons in a row. I'd say this offseason will be huge in defining his tenure here. He needs to get a Odorizzi and some other big prospect to develop and come up strong. He needs to make a trade that doesn't involve Brian Sabean tea-bagging the collective Royals fan base, and he needs to sign a big name free agent that can be a solid 2 or 3 for several years, and that doesn't mean getting Bruce Chen on the cheap. If you add in those moves with Duffy and Paulino coming back midseason next year we have the talent and offense in place to compete. But that's a lot of work for him to do and a lot of things he has to hit on that he hasn't had the ability to hit on so far. Time will tell.......