Do the Royals have starting pitching depth?

I guess it is time for part two of the Royals Review point-counterpoint series.  It started with the Zack Greinke contract extension (Will disagreed with me).  Now we're on to Sidney Ponson and the back of the Royals rotation.  I was a little surprised to read Will's complaints about the signing of Sidney Ponson and the state of the Royals fifth starter spot in general.  First, we'll start with Sidney Ponson.



Everyone wants to be the team that turns a guy like Sidney Ponson around. Why, I don't know. It must be intensely pleasurable to tell a reporter, "our people saw something, and we knew that he still had good baseball left." That must be the GM-speak equivalent of ripping off your shirt and running around pumping your chest. I don't know. Anyway, the Orioles were wrong when they brought him back. Then the Cardinals were wrong. The the Twins were wrong. Then the Rangers were wrong. Then the Yankees were wrong.

Really?  Were they wrong?  Were they wrong because they thought he'd be genuinely good and he wasn't genuinely good for them?  I guess it all depends on how much money you spend on a pitcher and what role he is to play on your team.  If you bring Sidney Ponson in for $5M to be your #3 starter, then you need him to be a league average pitcher.  If he isn't then you were wrong.  But if you bring him in for less than league minimum (like a minor league contract) for starting pitching depth, which might make him the team's #5 starter at some point, then even league average #5 SP performance would be acceptable, wouldn't it?

Let's see how Ponson stacks up.  Last year, I did a study to find out what the performance range was for each rotation slot.  This study found that over the last three years, #4 SP's had a FIP from 4.74-5.11.  And over that time period, #5's were, obviously over 5.11.  For 2008, the numbers were just a bit better than that at 4.69-5.05 for #4's and #5's over 5.05.  These are Sidney Ponson's projected FIP's for 2009:

CHONE 4.86

ZiPS 5.24


Average of those three projections = 5.00

This would put him on the high end of the #4 SP spectrum.  I think we need to dispense with the notion that it only makes sense to sign a pitcher if he's genuinely good.  For some roles and some amounts of money, being "decent" is good enough.  So is it such a bad thing that the Royals signed him to a minor league deal?  Is it awful to have such a pitcher for starting pitching depth?  Would it hurt the team for him to make some starts in 2009?  Does it ever hurt to have a #4-quality pitcher as your #5 starter?

But Will also had some beefs with the Royals starting pitching depth in general.

...despite doing so much to build a good staff, Dayton has gotten lazy or stupid on the details, and currently seems to be left with either Brian Bannister, Horacio Ramirez, or Sir Sidney as the fifth starter. Maybe one of the six guys named Wright and Bruce Chen is also in the mix. 

So do the Royals really have a lack of starting pitching depth which shows Dayton Moore to have been either lazy or stupid in that regard?  Let's look at the numbers.  After the Royals top four (let's say Meche, Greinke, Davies and Hochevar), these are the Royals next five starting pitchers on the depth chart, along with their average projected FIP's (same method as above)

HoRam 4.39

Bannister 4.82

Duckworth 4.84

Ponson 5.00

J. Wright 4.31

Now, the FIP projections for both HoRam and J. Wright are as relievers.  As starters, those FIP's would be higher.  But this gives a good, general picture of the Royals starting pitcher depth (5-9).  Adding another .5 to both HoRam and Wright still gives the Royals five pitchers who project to pitch at a #4 SP level.  So the Royals go nine deep in potential starting pitchers with none of them projecting to pitch worse than a #4 SP.  Doesn't that sound like good depth? 

Well, let's compare this depth to the rest of the AL Central.  Devil_fingers posted a great article this morning at Driveline Mechanics on AL Central starting pitching, from which I am going to steal liberally.  If you haven't read it yet, you really should.

Using his numbers, here are the average FIP's for the top four starters from each AL Central team:

Twins (Baker, Liriano, Slowey, Blackburn) 4.36

Royals (Meche, Greinke, Davies, Hochvar) 4.42

Indians (Lee, Carmona, Sowers, Reyes) 4.42

Tigers (Verlander, Bonderman, Jackson, Galarraga) 4.47

White Sox (Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, Contreras) 4.55

This is a simple talent/performance breakdown which doesn't cover the number of innings each pitcher should pitch.  If you include that (as devil_fingers did), you'll see that the Royals starting five projects to have the second best WAR in the division, behind the Twins and ahead of the Indians.

Ok, so that's the core of the rotation.  Now, what about the depth.  Using the same methodology, I averaged the next four pitchers on each team's depth chart (#5-#8).  (I tweaked this just a little from d_f's list by adding Dickey and Marquez and subtracting Egbert).

Indians (Laffey, Pavano, Huff, Wesbrook) 4.52

Royals (Bannister, HoRam, Duckworth, Ponson) 4.76

Tigers (Robertson, Porcello, Miner, Willis) 4.98

Twins (Perkins, Dickey, Humber, Mulvey) 5.22

White Sox (Colon, Richard, Marquz, Poreda) 5.24

As with the first four, the Royals are second best in the division.  (Note that if Wright were included, the average FIP goes down to 4.67)  It appears to me that by any reasonable measure, the Royals have many acceptable #5 SP candidates and a good deal of depth.  Sure, I'd like for the Royals to have average or even above average pitchers competing for the #5 SP job, but that just isn't realistic.  But it's good to have #4-quality pitchers competing for that job, and to have many who can step in.  Depth is important, because every team is going to need to go 7, 8, 9 or even 10 deep (sometimes more) in starting pitchers over the course of the season.  I that regard, I think the Royals are in good shape.

Lazy? Stupid?  In some things, yes.  But in this, I don't think so.  This is part of how you build an effective rotation.  In addition to getting some good and average pitchers for the front and middle of the rotation, you have to get some decent pitchers for the back end who won't mean automatic losses for the team if he has to make a start.  It appears that Moore has done a very good job in that regard, acquiring a number of pitchers who can pitch better than one could or should expect from a #5 SP.


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