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A Few Good Months

Small sample sizes be damned.


He may not seem so, but I have no doubt that Dayton Moore is a gambling man. In 2013, we will find out if Moore is a good gambler or just the major league equivalent of the goof who messes up the mojo at the craps table by throwing a one dollar hard way bet in as you throw the dice.

Moore and the Royals have put big money down on a revamped rotation and done so, in some cases, based upon a few good months of data. In a world full of projection systems and Pitch F/x, where pretty much anyone can analyze a pitcher's release point, velocity and break for every pitch, the Royals (and truthfully many other teams) are still suckers for a hot hand. Honestly, they could be right.

For the price, they better be right.

The Royals went big early, trading for Ervin Santana and his $12 million (net) salary for 2013. Hey, when it comes to Santana, I'm a sucker, too, but he could have likely been had for half the price later in the off-season. I am a fool for Ervin only because he is infinitely unpredictable. His fWAR from year to year is a roller coaster: 1.7, 3.4, 1.1, 5.8, 1.0, 2.2, 2.9, -0.9. If you prefer bWAR, the numbers are a little different, but the ride is the same. There is justifiable concern over Santana's declining velocity, but there are some signs of hope as well: a few good months.

2012 was the most enigmatic of Santana's inconsistent career. He was awful early with four bad starts to begin the season, but that was followed by five good starts, only to spin back to four more bad starts after that. While Santana has enjoyed far more success overall in the majors than Luke Hochevar, he was very much Hochevarish for much of last year.

Santana's fourteenth start was a one hit complete game shutout, followed by an eight inning-two earned run outing. Then, however, gasoline was liberally spread around the mound and Ervin was really, really, really bad for five starts: twice not able to survive the second inning. After that, Santana went on a string of nine straight starts where he went six full innings or more. Over those 59 innings, he allowed 38 hits, 19 earned runs, walked 15 and struck out 54. Sure, he had a stinker at the end of the year, but that messes up Dayton and I's train of thought.

Moore will point to the seven years of Santana's career prior to 2012 and the success, however inconsistent it was, that Ervin has enjoyed for a long period of time. He will also point to the last two months of the season as a sign that the 'old' Santana is back and ready to put up another 200 inning season with an earned run average below four. That's right, EARNED RUN AVERAGE, because...Royals.

That's along winded way to point out that Kansas City is gambling $12 million on nine late season starts indicating that Ervin Santana is at least back to the form he displayed in 2010 and 2011.

Once you start gambling, trust me - I know, it is hard to stop. Moore doubled down and signed Jeremy Guthrie to a three year $25 million deal in no small part because of what Guthrie did the latter half of the 2012 season. Sure, prior to a disastrous stint with Colorado to start 2012, Guthrie had a pretty solid track record. Four straight seasons of 190 innings or more and a five year fWAR record of 2.6, 2.6, 1.3, 2.4, 2.2. Now, bWAR likes Guthrie considerably more (3.7, 3.8, 1.6, 4.3, 1.4). Either way, they point to a pitcher who is pretty consistent and pretty durable.

In 14 starts with Kansas City (and remember the first two were bad), Guthrie piled up 1.7 bWAR. In his final 12 starts, Jeremy went six innings or more 11 times - eight times pitching seven innings or more. Eight times he allowed two earned runs or less and only twice allowed four or more. That is a very good few months.

Over his career, Guthrie has enjoyed some similar stretches, but the final two months of 2012 comprised the most dominant stretch of Jeremy's career. Good enough for Dayton Moore to give him a three year deal at age thirty-four (almost five year older than Santana).

Of course, the really big move came later with the trade of Wil Myers and others for James Shields and Wade Davis. We have analyzed Davis forwards and backwards over the past month and Shields has had a few good months for basically six straight years. Shields' problem is not his ability (although a different ballpark and different defense will likely have an effect), but who he was traded for.

The point is, trading Myers was a 'win now' move. That mentality would not have existed without the belief that Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie were going to be legitimate number two/three major league starters and that belief was set, in no small part, by a few good months in the latter half of 2012.

That is a dangerous gamble.