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What would a Royals post-season rotation look like?

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Is this staff good enough for October?

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Turnovers are amazing. Or at least, I think they are. Whenever someone says to me, "Apple turnover!" I first tell them that that is not a complete sentence. And then I get hungry because that’s a tasty apple stuffed pastry of some sort, right?

Turnovers are horrible. Any fan of American football can tell you that. There are few things more frustrating than when the guy you’re rooting for throws an interception or fumbles it away.

Turnovers are neutral. A lineup turns over every 9 batters. A rotation turns over every 5 games or so, depending on off days and Terry Collins. But it’s also a term used to describe the hiring and loss of employees. Joe in accounting quit? Well, just go ahead and hire Tracy. That’s turnover.

The Royals’ starting rotation has already endured quite a bit more turnover than we as fans would have liked to have seen this early in the season. Only two of the starters that began the year in the rotation have not missed a start. They have also "turned over" the game to the bullpen while behind a fair bit more than we had hoped, especially on the road.

What if the season were to "turn over" and die, right now? The good news is, the Royals would be in the playoffs! The bad news is that they’d be playing as the away team in a wild card death match against Boston. Who would Ned Yost pitch for the Royals in that game? Better yet, who would we want him to pitch? What if the playoffs waited until after the boys in blue catch Cleveland? (This is inevitable, right?) What would be the best order for Ned Yost to set up his playoff rotation?

If the season ended right now, the Royals would be stuck with the players they have right now, so I won’t be looking at any free agent/trade possibilities. What about in the minors, though? Could there be any help for us, there?

A table depicting the uninspiring numbers for AAA starters FanGraphs.com

Source: Fangraphs.com

Nothing super inspiring here, unfortunately. Brooks Pounders has a nice ERA, but less than half of his appearances have been starts. Luke Farrell doesn’t look terrible until you notice that he’s averaging only a hair over 5 innings per start. Brian Flynn has the same problem as Pounders plus he hasn’t looked better than average even as a reliever, so far this year with the big league club. Minor is hurt again even if his numbers weren’t atrocious.

I think you can see where I’m going with this, the Royals are going to have to use the starters they’ve got. I will now turn over their overall numbers:

A table depicting some basic and a few advanced stats about the Royals rotation. FanGraphs.com

These stats are only in starts, so Duffy’s and Young’s bullpen numbers aren’t included. Duffy’s stats from Wednesday’s start are also missing. There’s some interesting stuff to see here. Let’s break it down a bit.

Edinson Volquez

Good ol’ Steady Eddie has been worth the most fWAR in the rotation so far this year and the reason why, it seems, is that he’s been very average in the most innings out of anyone in the rotation. The K/9 is a touch below average, the BB/9 is a touch above. His home run-to-flyball rate is a little below average, though it’s better than any other starter except Kris Medlen. His ERA and FIP are very similar to each other. Despite have some value by fWAR, he’s actually been overall a negative impact in the team by Win Probability Added (WPA), something he shares with the most of his rotation mates.

Yordano Ventura

Yordano has been an enigma his entire career, and this season is no different. He had a great second half last year after a temporary demotion to AAA, when he ‘returned’ he got lots of strike outs, and lots of outs in general. Except for his last two starts, Yordano has been pretty horrid this year. Admittedly, those starts were good enough to drop his ERA back under 5 but his strikeout rate is still way lower than you want from someone with his stuff, and his walk rate is nearly unplayable - though it has declined a touch over his last few games. He does have the second best home run-to-flyball rate of the starters, but even then it is pretty bad.

Danny Duffy

Danny has more or less been the savior of the rotation ever since he joined it. However, there are a few things that suggest not is as well as it seems even with him. His BABIP as a starter this year is a full 30 points below his career mark, so you have to wonder if that’s sustainable. His home run-to-flyball mark is worse than anyone not named Chris Young. And his Left on Base % is 93.5%, which probably isn’t sustainable. There are some really good things happening here, too. His strikeout rate and walk rate are both best on the team in a minimum of five starts. Duffy is also the only player to make an overall positive WPA contribution in the rotation.

Ian Kennedy

Kennedy was a signing blasted by many people, including myself. It is not that I was opposed to having him, but that money seemed ridiculous. And then he started pitching in the regular season and I began to think that maybe Dayton had Midas locked in his office closet after all. But then things started to fall apart a bit. To demonstrate this let me share a new stat I discovered today GSv2. You are probably familiar with Game Score, this is a stat devised by FanGraphs that’s based on it with a few modifications to help improve it. According to FanGraphs, a pitcher with a 65 game score should win approximately 65% of the time. Of his first six starts, Kennedy approached or eclipsed that mark 5 times. Not too shabby. Since then he’s only even come close in one of eight games. And that one game was back at the end of May.

Because of his slide he has actually, believe it or not, been a below replacement-level player overall this season, according to FanGraphs. His K% is not terrible, but it’s not great either. His FIP and BABIP say he’s actually been very lucky not to have seen even worse results. So as bad as he’s been lately, it sure as heck seems like he could be even worse.

Chris Young

What to tell you about Chris Young? Did you know his strikeout rate is actually best on the team in a minimum of ten starts? Similarly only Kennedy’s walks-per-nine innings rate is better with the same restriction. Unfortunately his ERA is the worst among those so qualified, and his FIP says it could be even worse than that. His home run-to-flyball rate is 25%. Put another way, Chris Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher, is allowing one out of every four of those fly balls to leave the park. You almost want to say that’s got to regress, but it hasn’t so far. He also has been below replacement level so far this year, even worse than Kennedy. He did have a pretty good start with six innings and only one run allowed last time out, so he’s got that going for him. Of course that one run was a home run which has kept his streak of 10 straight starts (also known as ALL OF THEM) with at least one home run allowed.

On the other hand, he has yet to give up a single run in four innings of relief while striking out six.

Dillon Gee

Everything about Dillon Gee comes with a small sample size disclaimer. His ERA is atrocious, it’s true. And his home run-to-flyball rate is not what you want to see, either. You have to think that if he had some more starts his BABIP would regress positively a bit, and his FIP also indicates he’s definitely been a bit unlucky. Of course, even his FIP is probably higher than you want it, though his xFIP is easily best of the starters - meaning if his home run rates alsp regressed a bit, he might actually be the best choice for a starter we have. His strikeout rate is best of all the starters and his walk rate isn’t bad, either.

Kris Medlen

I would admit to cheating by including him in my list - he’s still on the disabled list and therefore couldn’t pitch if the playoffs were to start today - but it’s hardly cheating to include someone who looks like your absolute worst option. He has the worst strikeout-per-nine innings rate among the starters, the worst walks-per-nine innings rate among the starters. He has stranded only about half of the runners he has allowed on, and his BABIP is .354 which you might expect to regress, but not enough to repair that damage.

In the pro column, his FIP says he’s unlucky to the tune of about two runs per nine innings, which would mean he was only really bad instead of terrible and he is the only guy to start for the Royals this year to have a home run-to-flyball rate better than really not very good. It’s actually well above average, but small sample sizes and lots of runners in front of the home runs negate that a bit.

Verdict

So...those are our choices. Not inspiring, but I’m sure you remember that in the playoffs Ned can use every reliever every night. If the playoffs were to start today, I would guess Ned would use an order of Volquez, Kennedy, Duffy, Ventura. He believes a lot in veteran leadership and especially since Duffy has only thrown 100 pitches once so far this year and Ventura is currently serving a suspension for maturity issues, he’s not going to want either of them leading the way. Volquez has been better and is the more known quantity so he gets the nod in a Wild Card matchup, as well.

If you want to go purely by FIP, which is usually a pretty good indicator of future performance then you’d see a rotation of Volquez, Duffy, Gee, and Ventura. If you wanted to go by WAR it goes Volquez, Ventura, Duffy, Gee. If you wanted to pick just by pitcher wins, because you think they’re an amazing stat, You’d go Volquez, Ventura, Kennedy, Duffy. Duffy breaks the tie with Gee by having more starts.

If I was setting the rotation, I’d probably pick more than one stat to base it on. Otherwise why am I managing instead of a spreadsheet? Volquez actually seems like the best choice for number 1 starter to me, too. Though I think I’d actually go with Duffy in a 1 game playoff like the Wild Card game because I think he’s got the higher ceiling to Volquez higher floor and the risk is worth it there. Either way, neither of them is ever pitching more than 5 innings for me. So Duffy starts my WC game, Volquez starts the ALDS followed by Ventura, then Duffy (flip that if they get to skip the wild card) and then I’d get crazy and pick Gee for my number 4 starter.

Why Gee? Mostly because Kennedy, Young and Medlen have been horrid in the rotation. I love the way Chris Young pitched in the pen last year, especially in the playoffs and he has done nothing this year to make me think that isn’t still a viable option for him. Medlen probably isn’t even on my 25 man, right now. I still believe he’s got some ability somewhere in him, but he’s going to have to show it to me, first. Since we’re starting the playoffs today, he can’t so he’s out. I honestly have no idea what Ian Kennedy might do in the pen, but I probably need more than one emergency long man since I plan to keep my starters to 5 inning pitch limits. Gee’s secondary stats also point to a guy who might be able to hold it together as my last starter, if he can just control the home run ball a bit he’d be halfway decent.