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Jason Miller

A revamped rotation and a solid bullpen shall lead this team to .500.

As I noted Monday, the Royals have been averaging four runs per game in June. That's right in line with their seasonal average of 3.95 R/G. Sure, the Royals made some noise at the end of May when their fired their hitting coaches and brought George Brett and Pedro Grifol as a "special assistant" on board. But there hasn't been an offensive bounce of any kind. Really, it would have been foolish to expect an immediate turnaround.

What we've seen this month is quality pitching. We saw it on Monday from James Shields and again on Tuesday from Ervin Santana. Despite the bullpen coughing the game away last night, we've seen some pretty great pitching performances this month.

It's been the arms that (momentarily) brought the Royals back to .500.

Two tables. The first table is the Royals pitching from the month of June.

Name

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

GB%

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Ervin Santana

28.2

6.28

1.26

0.31

0.197

82.50%

53.20%

4.80%

0.94

2.74

3.32

James Shields

27.0

7.33

3.33

0.33

0.308

86.70%

39.70%

4.20%

2.00

3.13

3.90

Jeremy Guthrie

19.1

1.86

4.19

1.86

0.235

90.60%

38.60%

12.90%

3.26

7.04

6.60

Wade Davis

17.2

7.64

3.06

0.51

0.302

75.20%

42.60%

6.30%

2.04

3.29

3.82

Luis Mendoza

17.1

3.63

3.12

1.04

0.276

90.10%

44.10%

9.50%

2.60

4.96

5.17

Greg Holland

9.0

15.00

3.00

1.00

0.214

100.00%

26.70%

14.30%

1.00

2.17

1.82

Tim Collins

8.0

6.75

9.00

0.00

0.182

100.00%

31.80%

0.00%

0.00

4.56

6.32

Aaron Crow

6.0

10.50

3.00

0.00

0.313

87.50%

31.30%

0.00%

1.50

2.23

3.63

Bruce Chen

5.0

5.40

5.40

0.00

0.214

100.00%

42.90%

0.00%

0.00

3.66

5.06

Juan Gutierrez

5.0

5.40

1.80

1.80

0.267

87.00%

43.80%

16.70%

3.60

5.06

4.14

Kelvin Herrera

4.2

7.71

7.71

0.00

0.231

57.10%

61.50%

0.00%

5.79

3.92

4.82

Luke Hochevar

4.1

6.23

4.15

0.00

0.000

100.00%

50.00%

0.00%

0.00

3.06

4.68

Compare that to the table that covers the entire season.

Name

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

GB%

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

James Shields

106.0

8.07

2.55

0.76

0.280

81.40%

43.20%

9.10%

2.72

3.30

3.51

Ervin Santana

99.0

7.00

1.36

1.27

0.246

84.60%

46.70%

14.10%

2.64

3.88

3.45

Jeremy Guthrie

92.0

4.30

3.03

1.86

0.256

86.10%

43.60%

16.70%

3.72

5.96

5.01

Wade Davis

74.2

7.83

3.62

1.21

0.381

69.50%

41.30%

13.90%

5.18

4.34

3.95

Luis Mendoza

64.0

5.63

3.66

0.98

0.293

72.50%

48.10%

10.90%

4.08

4.49

4.48

Greg Holland

26.0

14.19

3.81

0.35

0.333

76.10%

42.30%

6.30%

2.08

1.67

2.03

Luke Hochevar

25.0

8.28

2.52

1.08

0.194

85.10%

35.90%

9.70%

2.52

3.73

3.92

Kelvin Herrera

25.0

10.08

4.32

2.88

0.233

87.70%

45.60%

32.00%

5.04

6.41

3.66

Tim Collins

24.2

8.76

4.74

0.00

0.277

77.40%

35.40%

0.00%

2.19

2.69

4.34

Bruce Chen

23.1

6.56

3.47

0.00

0.284

84.40%

32.90%

0.00%

1.16

3.01

5.24

Aaron Crow

21.0

7.29

3.43

0.86

0.302

78.00%

51.60%

10.00%

3.86

4.10

4.20

Juan Gutierrez

20.2

5.23

2.61

0.87

0.290

77.60%

46.90%

9.50%

3.48

4.02

4.19

I sorted the tables by innings pitched to easily discern between the starters and the bullpen.

Some thoughts:

-- I'm not a fan of Ervin Santana's strand rate either. It was normalizing a bit in June before his start on Tuesday. However, his improved control (a career best walk rate) and a career-high in ground ball percentage have converted me to a believer. He's throwing a two-seam fastball more than ever and he's getting a ground ball on 62 percent of all sinkers put in play. It's a great pitch for him. He's getting hitters to chase at a career best 32 percent and his swing and miss rate of almost 10 percent is his best since 2008.

Plus, as Connor noted the other day, the Royals defense has been really good this season, so Santana is benefitting from having a ground ball pitch and by having these guys behind him.

-- James Shields is as advertised. And probably better. He may not be an ace in the traditional baseball sense, but he's the Royals ace. Good enough for me.

-- Even Wade Davis has thrown some quality innings. He's not going deep into games, but he's been doing his part. His June numbers are helped by three unearned runs in his start against the Twins. All runs were coughed up in the first inning, including a two-run home run that don't go on his permanent record thanks to a Mike Moustakas error and a dropped third strike. I know I have opined about moving him to the bullpen, but he's actually been a serviceable back of the rotation starter. A number four or number five. That's probably best case scenario for his career, so if he can maintain his performance we should be happy.

-- Jeremy Guthrie is already in regression mode, but is so heavily invested in smoke and mirrors, he's somehow been able to keep his head above water. He has struck out as many batters in June as home runs allowed. And his strand rate has increased this month. When we talk about unsustainability going forward, I'm looking at Guthrie. He's a ticking time bomb.

-- Luis Mendoza has struggled with his command at times, but is fine in the back of the rotation. He will still be the odd man out when the Tommy John duo of Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy are ready for their return.

-- Royals starters have thrown at least six innings in 52 of the 69 games this year. They didn't hit game number 50 last year until game number 115. Remember all the noise about 1,000 innings from the rotation last winter? Damn if they're not on target for close to 1,025 innings from their starting staff.

A couple of random bullpen notes:

-- The Royals bullpen has thrown a league low 171.1 innings.

-- Before Tuesday, the bullpen had allowed four earned runs in their last 41 innings. Welp. Kelvin Herrera was tagged for three earned runs.

-- Their collective 2.63 ERA is the best in baseball.

Yes, the bullpen coughed up a lead, but the relief corps remains a strength of this team. Herrera seems to have solved the home run issues from earlier in the year, but is now just all over the place with his command and is hittable when he's in the zone.

The Royals have their best rotation since the early 1990s. The Shields and Santana duo should help aleve the inevitable pain that will be felt from the Guthrie regression. Hopefully, Davis can avoid the mega inning and Mendoza can remain servicable in the back. As for the reinforcements, I'm not sold on Danny Duffy, but the Royals at least have the option to keep him in the minors. And Felipe Paulino was recalled from his rehab because of back stiffness. The guy is a good pitcher, but health isn't a skill set in his pitching toolbox.

May left a mark. It happened and it was real. And while I've been preaching regression from the pitching, that's not necessarily a negative. Look at the chart at the top of this post and tell me how they can keep this up. Because they can't. Going forward, the hope is things will normalize a bit and we can avoid the swings we've experienced over the first 69 games. The pitching is improved and it is really good. It's a strong component of this team and it's something we haven't seen around here for 20 years. Yet at some point - soon - the Royals will be dependent on the offense to occasionally carry the load. That's a scary thought.

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