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Doing the right thing the wrong way, part 2: The Fallout

The consequences of an inability to develop starting pitchers.

The Trade.
The Trade.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Part 1 of this series detailed the Royals' emphasis on downhill plane and the mechanical philosophy necessary to achieve it. Read Part 1 here.

Because the Royals lack homegrown guys in the rotation, they have to make trades or sign free agents in order to field a competent group of starters. If they want to make a trade for an impact MLB player, the lack of pitching assets pushes the Royals toward including position players as the main pieces in trades, which is a shame because position players are more reliable assets. We saw this with the Wil Myers-James Shields trade, as Myers was the main piece. For some reason, the Royals threw in one of the few pitchers who had made it through the gauntlet of the Royals' development system, Jake Odorizzi, and Mike Montgomery. While it's unclear, or even unlikely, that either one would have achieved success with the Royals*, they traded two cheap starting pitchers and got one expensive one in return, in addition to an expensive reliever. This is a mismanagement of resources.

*Montgomery to date this season in AAA: 13 starts, 75 innings, 64 strikeouts, 23 walks, 4 home runs, 3.34 FIP. Odorizzi to date this season in MLB: 13 starts, 65 innings, 76 strikeouts, 26 walks, 6 home runs, 3.23 FIP.

With free agents, they can't afford the cream of the crop, so they're forced to spend money on guys like Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas-the mid to low tier guys. In addition, because the Royals can't develop starting pitchers, there is a distinct lack of depth in the system. The alternatives are so grisly that the Royals HAVE to value durability very highly on the free agent and trade markets in an asset class not known for durability. This is another reason why Guthrie, Vargas, and Shields pitch for the Royals. Aside from Vargas' blood clot last year, that's a "durable" group of pitchers. I would imagine that agents, when negotiating with the Royals, are also placing a high premium on durability. This could be a reason why Guthrie and Vargas are getting paid seemingly more than they should. Nick Kenney and Co are supposed to be the best, so it's possible that the Royals have to prioritize the medical staff as well to keep guys healthy, which isn't really a bad thing. I have no problem with the Royals spending money to retain a good medical staff.

Another consequence of the inability to develop starting pitchers is manifest in the bullpen. With the failure to develop starting pitchers, a lot of those failed starters convert to relief roles, where their mechanics are less of an issue (Aaron Crow comes to mind. Potentially Danny Duffy). Some of the pitchers in the Royals bullpen probably have the talent to be starting pitchers, but their mechanics prevent them from achieving the repeatable delivery that is essential to be successful at starting. As long as the Royals emphasize downhill plane, they'll probably have a good bullpen. Other teams likely have this issue as well, but there are always teams looking for bullpen help.

This brings us to another aspect of resource utilization. Dayton Moore has put together a run of great bullpens for the past few years, partially because of the flawed development philosophy and partially because he just might have a knack for it. Essentially, the Royals have a competitive advantage against other teams when it comes to relievers. The Royals are using this advantage, but not as much as I would hope.

We know that relievers are inconsistent, and their performance can drop off at basically any time. It makes sense to trade relievers when their value is highest. The most recent trade involving a reliever was the Will Smith-Norichika Aoki trade. The Royals relief pipeline can replace Smith; the Royals had no one ready to play RF after the Myers trade. This is an example of utilizing a competitive advantage to exchange plentiful goods for scarce goods. Other trades of relief pitchers include the Jonathan Broxton, Brandon Sisk, and Kevin Chapman trades. The returns were mixed, but I can support the logic behind making those trades. The Royals have a lot of good relievers in MLB and the minors right now. They could be doing more.

Summing up, the Royals are teaching a pitching philosophy based on achieving downhill plane. They seem to be adept at teaching it, but it could be causing the starting pitcher development pipeline to break. The inability to develop starting pitchers is causing the Royals to look outside the organization to find pitchers, and they might have to pay a premium for durability for a type of player generally not known for durability. In addition, the Royals have shown an uncertain ability to manage effectively the resources they do have. The Process, year 8, at work.