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Royals playoff rotation problem

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We often see people say that there's nothing to worry about and no changes should be made. The Royals have a first place team in their division and overall. They are locks for the playoffs (the first team to hit the 100% mark I believe) and worst case scenario at this point they are looking at being the #3 seed in the AL.

I know we here at Royals Review are normally known as being the downers of the Royals internet family, but I think we are more objective and critical. It's time to be objective (maybe critical) again. The Royals can't brush off their rotation problems just because they are in first place. Unfortunately they are also at a point in the season where they can't really do anything about it either through roster moves really.

The Royals acquired Johnny Cueto in July to not just be their playoff anchor, but also to clinch a playoff spot and most importantly home field advantage (something that can't be taken lightly for many reasons). Cueto to date as a Royal:

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP fWAR RA9-WAR
56.1 6.55 1.28 1.44 5.43 4.3 0.6 -0.1

Cueto hasn't been very good in almost any of the above stats however by fWAR he's been worth roughly 2 wins over 180 innings (an average starter). By earned run based wins (RA9-WAR) he's been replacement level.

Sometimes it can be seen as unneeded panic when your players (or team) struggle. Cueto probably isn't this bad. In fact Depth Chart projections (per Fangraphs) has him projected to be worth 0.4 wins the rest of the season (~25 innings). That is nearly the value he's been worth over the season so far in half the innings.

Time IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP fWAR
Aug-Sept 56.1 6.55 1.28 1.44 5.43 4.30 0.6
RoS 25.0 7.31 2.11 0.87 3.32 3.63 0.4

A better projection than past results almost across the board.

Of course we don't have playoff projections for players because that seems like it would be mostly trivial. So instead we have to look at what rotation has done so far against what they are projected to do the rest of the season to get maybe some sort of idea.

The Royals rotation so far this year has been poor. There's no good way to put it. Out of all the teams current in the playoffs, the Royals have the worst rotation and one of the worst overall.

Just playoff teams

The Royals are a little more than a win behind the Rangers, but the gap quickly widens when it gets to the other AL brethren in the Blue Jays (2.3 wins), 2.7 (Twins), 4.3 (Yankees), and the Astros (8.5).

We knew the Royals rotation wasn't a strong point to begin with, but how does the current rotation project the rest of the season compared to the playoff teams?

Still not so hot and closer to last place than third to last (technically). The difference between 0.1 win and 0.2 wins isn't much but it's the projected difference between Shelby Miller or Yovani Gallardo vs Kyle Kendrick. That's not nothing when you're working with roughly 20 innings or so the rest of the season and probably another 25 max or so in the playoffs.

How does this 2015 Royals rotation compare to playoff teams the past few years (at least since the expansion of the Wild Card game)? For this practice we'll add the projected 1.3 wins to the already accrued 6.7 to make eight total wins for the 2015 Royals.

2014

2013

2012

All the above

Yes, you are seeing that right. As of this writing the Royals project to have the worst playoff rotation since the expansion of the Wild Card (in the history of the modern playoff format technically).

Now how do they do against each team? Stacking up each teams fWAR leader vs leader, #2 vs #2, etc... (only going to #4 since that's all that's needed in a playoff series) this is how the individual match ups look.

The Blue Jays have a pretty sizeable advantage as David Price is really good. The Royals at one point only had to worry about Price once as the Jays were Wild Card contenders but now they sit atop first place in the AL East and reckon to pitch Price twice.

This Yankee rotation is without Nate Eovaldi (their best pitcher) right now and there's a chance he makes doesn't pitch for them in the playoffs at all.

Including Eovaldi looks like this:

That's about a two win swing difference with or without Eovaldi as Pineda vs Volquez is better for the Yankees than Pineda vs Cueto. However it looks like Eovaldi will be out most likely if the Yankees make the ALDS, though the few extra days of rest between the WC and ALDS may help.

I don't know if we can call -0.4 a wash necessarily, but it's pretty close to be an even matchup. Holland has missed a significant chunk of 2015, but has been decent since his return and he's pitching at a 2 win pace per 180 IP.

Yeesh.

Now note that isn't isn't a direct match up comparison. If the Blue Jays are the Wild Card team or the Astros, they'll likely use Price/Keuchel in the one game playoff which means they won't be available against KC's #1 starter (Cueto) so the match ups are a little different. Instead just think of this more as a comparison of talent.

And just for being comprehensive, let's compare the potential NL teams in case of a World Series match up.

The Cardinals are kind of the anti-Dodgers. Not any star-like guys like Kershaw/Greinke, but just solid, above average pitchers in every slot and I even left off Jaime Garcia and his 2.3. Not to mention they are with Adam Wainwright.

Maybe the Mets will be without Harvey for the playoffs, but it's not like the Royals win the Neise vs Duffy match up anyways. Colon as a 4th starter is nice for them.

I don't know...maybe all the graphs are redundant. Maybe you don't need the individual match ups because you saw the 6th graph that shows how poor the Royals rotation is and that painted the picture for you. Either way, the Royals probably aren't going to have the advantage in any pitching match ups so much, and especially not when they are on the road.

The Royals aren't necessarily doomed though. They've won at a .590 pace this year with that same staff going against a more diverse group of pitchers (better and worse of course). They've clearly had some way of outdoing both their projections and perhaps true talent level this year. There's not necessarily anything saying they are just going to stop being a good team, but there are concerns for the playoffs and it's not just the rotation only.

True they aren't the worst team by collective fWAR (both hitters and pitchers) and they are ahead of the Rangers and Twins by a large margin. The Rangers are almost a lock to make the playoffs at this point as either the division winner or the second Wild Card team. The Twins aren't that far behind the Rangers/Astros, but they've got roughly a 20% chance of making the playoffs so they aren't entirely ruled out yet.

However both of those teams are playing well above their true talent level through variance/luck/randomness or whatever you want to call it. By Pythag the Rangers and Twins are a 69 and 72 win team respectively. By BaseRuns (stripping out run sequencing) they are 69 and 64 win teams. They really shouldn't be in the playoffs, but here we are...September 17th and it's a non-zero chance that they both will be. They are the team the Royals want to play in the ALDS if they had the choice (or the Phillies/Brewers if we can pick anybody).

However when you look at the stronger teams (ie: not the Rangers/Twins) the Royals are the weakest team...yet here we are. It's September 17th and the Royals are the #1 seed in the AL for now...