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Mental Ward: Have starter, will travel

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The only thing holding the Royals back was supposed to be a strength, or at least a know quantity.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Let's speak relatively for a moment. Yes, the Royals are 20-11. Yes, they are in first place in the American League Central. All of these things are known, so with that in consideration, let's talk about what's going wrong for a moment.

The Kansas City Royals are tenth in the American League in starters' ERA, coming in at a full run higher (4.46) than the Tampa Rays (3.40) who lead the league. One of the reasons the Rays lead the league is former Royals prospect Jake Odorizzi, who currently sports a 2.21 ERA (and a 2.26 FIP) across 40.2 innings. It's hard to complain, because Wade Davis, but there was a reason why he was the centerpiece of the Zack Greinke trade.

It's not a pretty picture on the periphery either. Kansas City ranks 12th in the American League in strikeouts per nine, 9th in FIP, 10th in xFIP, and 11th in fWAR. They are 10th in innings pitched by starters, 9th in WHIP, 12th in BB%, and 12th in SIERA.

Thank God for Edinson Volquez and Chris Young, eh?

Volquez has thrown 37.1 innings and, even with recent struggles included, sports a 2.65 ERA (3.11 FIP) and leads the team in innings pitched, strikeouts, and forehead inches.

Chris Young has made two starts this year, both of which have come against the Detroit Tigers, favored sons of the American League Central and presumed frontrunners for the division title. Across both games, he's gone eleven innings and yielded three hits, zero earned runs, struck out twelve and walked three.

Both starts have been replacement duties. On May 1st, Young was starting in place of Yordano Ventura, who was serving his dubious suspension for saying bad words towards another adult. Yesterday, he replaced Jason Vargas, who was placed on the disabled list with elbow discomfort.

The regressive train that Vargas is conducting was expected. The downturn in Ventura's effectiveness has been alarming.

Last year, Yordano Ventura averaged 96.0mph on his fastball, 96.6 on his two-seam fastball, and 94.9 on his cutter.

This year, he is averaging 94.5, 95.6, and 92.1, respectively. His peripherals have also taken a tumble from last year as well, and the numbers bear it out:

Year K/9 BB/9 HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
2014 7.82 3.39 8.3% 3.20 3.60 4.30
2015 6.48 3.51 14.8% 5.13 4.73 3.74

It could just be a bad stretch. Ventura certainly had his share last year. But the velocity decline is worrisome. Coupled with the cramp issue, the minor shoulder problems from last year, the new contract, the velocity decline, the attitude concerns, there isn't a shoulder shrug deep enough to show how little sense any of his performance so far makes.

Jason Vargas has a 5.26 ERA and an elbow injury. He also has two years left on his contract. Jeremy Guthrie, even after his sterling performance on Saturday, has a 5.70 ERA. Danny Duffy is the best of the also-rans with a 4.55 ERA.

Moreover, what you see is what you are going to get for now. Kyle Zimmer, until further notice, should just be considered injured, as he suffered another setback in his recovery last week. Sean Manaea isn't expected to leave extended Spring Training until the end of May after suffering an oblique injury in the Spring. Kris Medlen headed to Surprise, Arizona this past week, and is expected to be there for a month before starting a rehab assignment.

The golden boy of 2014 rising prospects Christian Binford has a 5.86 ERA, 2.93 K/9, and 4.88 BB/9 in AAA (I had to double-check those numbers, because they look like they've been mixed up). Unless you fancy multiple starts out of Joe Blanton or Aaron Brooks, there is little to find in Omaha.

It's early. It's possible that Duffy and Ventura can be still be the stalwarts that the rotation needs them to be. Vargas sounds like he might be in full collapse, and Guthrie may not be far behind. Volquez has a certain volatility to him, and it is hard to know what's there, as it is with all of these players.

With each passing month, hunting for a starting pitcher in July is becoming more and more of a possibility. It will be interesting to see how the rotation shakes out over the next two months.