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Comparing Royals rotations

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Help us Danny Duffy, you’re our only hope!

Seattle Mariners v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Fellow Royals fan Warden11 suggested a couple weeks ago that someone should compare this Royals rotation to the 100 loss rotations. Being of sound mind and body, I agreed to do it. But I threw in a couple of the more decent rotations too, just for variety’s sake. Courtesy FanGraphs.com:

Season Team W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2016 Royals 28 37 0 89 89 477.2 8.20 3.43 1.66 .293 72.9% 42.1% 15.8% 4.96 5.03 4.60 2.3
2015 Royals 65 53 0 162 162 912.2 6.49 2.94 1.06 .300 72.4% 41.8% 10.3% 4.34 4.32 4.48 8.4
2013 Royals 53 52 0 162 162 986.2 6.54 2.82 1.03 .296 75.0% 41.8% 10.4% 3.87 4.12 4.14 10.2
2006 Royals 38 66 0 162 162 848.2 4.91 3.87 1.40 .312 66.4% 42.2% 12.2% 5.85 5.50 5.28 1.8
2005 Royals 33 73 0 162 162 861.1 4.91 3.48 1.25 .312 64.9% 42.6% 11.2% 6.00 5.07 4.97 3.8
2004 Royals 38 74 0 162 162 926.1 4.91 2.85 1.48 .304 66.2% 38.4% 11.9% 5.50 5.13 4.96 7.0
2002 Royals 40 69 0 162 162 949.1 5.15 3.04 1.38 .290 68.8% 41.0% 12.2% 5.17 4.94 4.69 7.7
1985 Royals 75 54 0 162 162 1077.0 5.10 2.72 0.62 .276 71.6% 3.43 3.42 21.0

Look at that ‘85 rotation. Then look at that '06 rotation. And just in case you want to be reminded who pitched those years, from baseball-reference.com:

Year Starter 1 Starter 2 Starter 3 Starter 4 Starter 5 Closer Reliever 1 Reliever 2 Reliever 3
2016 Edinson Volquez Ian Kennedy Yordano Ventura Chris Young Danny Duffy Wade Davis Kelvin Herrera Joakim Soria Luke Hochevar
2015 Edinson Volquez Jeremy Guthrie Yordano Ventura Chris Young Danny Duffy Greg Holland Kelvin Herrera Wade Davis Ryan Madson
2013 James Shields Jeremy Guthrie Ervin Santana Wade Davis Luis Mendoza Greg Holland Kelvin Herrera Tim Collins Luke Hochevar
2006 Mark Redman Runelvys Hernandez Odalis Perez Scott Elarton Luke Hudson Ambiorix Burgos Jimmy Gobble Andy Sisco Joel Peralta
2005 Zack Greinke Runelvys Hernandez Jose Lima D.J. Carrasco J.P. Howell Mike MacDougal Ambiorix Burgos Andy Sisco Jeremy Affeldt
2004 Zack Greinke Darrell May Brian Anderson Jimmy Gobble Mike Wood Jeremy Affeldt Jaime Cerda Scott Sullivan Nate Field
2002 Jeff Suppan Darrell May Paul Byrd Miguel Asencio Shawn Sedlacek Roberto Hernandez Jason Grimsley Scott Mullen Cory Bailey
1985 Danny Jackson Bret Saberhagen Charlie Liebrandt Mark Gubicza Bud Black Dan Quisenberry Joe Beckwith Mike Jones Mike LaCoss

Dadgum but that ‘85 team had a good rotation. They have the most WAR out of any Royals rotation ever, and the way things are going that’s a record that might never be broken - it’s still better than all but 3 other complete pitching staffs in Royals History. Also, as bad as the 2016 staff has been, this should serve as just a little reminder that things can get worse: it’s already produced more WAR than the 2006 Royals rotation, for example.

For most of the stats, they’re primarily on pace to be somewhere in between the good teams and the bad teams, though closer to the bad teams than one would like. We all kind of thought that would be the case, I imagine. So, sure, the rotation has been bad, though not quite as bad as it could have been or as it was in the really dark years. That's gotta count for something, right?

There are a couple stats where this staff is outside the limits of either side. The early 2000s were a time of lots of dingers. But the HR rates of the 2016 staff blow every team in that table up there away, despite being the third best ground ball inducing team in the group. The strike out and walk rates are also off the chart compared to the other teams on this table. It appears that the Royals starting rotation is becoming a three-true-outcomes staff. If you need a refresher, the three true outcomes are walk, strikeout, and home run. They are so named because the defense cannot affect the result - barring the odd inside-the-park-home run or home run robbing catch - but those are vanishingly rare.

A quick check on FanGraphs shows that this year in rotations throughout all of baseball, strike out rates are at an all time high, something that has been true for every year since 2012. Home run rates so far are second of all time, 0.01 behind the top number of 1.23 HR/9 set in 2000. Walk rates on the other hand, are only 39th all time, though they are the highest they’ve been since 2010. So it's not just the Royals games that are becoming TTO affairs, it looks like it could be all of baseball. If so, this is a huge problem for the Royals starting rotation, as currently assembled; it's giving up far too many of the bad outcomes.

I know this is supposed to be about the rotation, but the recent Royals teams have used a super bullpen to cover numerous deficiencies in the rotation, so it's only fair to take in the whole picture. From FanGraphs, the overall stats from the entire Royals pitching staffs from the previously selected years:

Season Team W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2016 Royals 45 44 21 339 89 782.2 8.37 3.25 1.36 .292 76.0% 44.1% 14.0% 4.19 4.49 4.33 5.6
2015 Royals 95 67 56 655 162 1452.0 7.19 3.03 0.96 .286 75.0% 42.8% 9.9% 3.74 4.04 4.25 13.4
2013 Royals 86 76 52 589 162 1448.1 7.51 2.91 0.96 .290 76.9% 41.8% 10.0% 3.45 3.83 3.90 16.5
2006 Royals 62 100 35 635 162 1426.1 5.70 4.02 1.34 .311 67.1% 42.2% 12.1% 5.67 5.29 5.09 0.5
2005 Royals 56 106 25 605 162 1413.1 5.88 3.69 1.13 .317 66.5% 44.4% 10.7% 5.56 4.74 4.72 6.1
2004 Royals 58 104 25 571 162 1420.1 5.62 3.28 1.32 .307 68.0% 41.0% 11.3% 5.16 4.92 4.85 9.0
2002 Royals 62 100 30 583 162 1441.0 5.68 3.57 1.32 .296 69.0% 43.1% 12.6% 5.21 4.91 4.62 7.5
1985 Royals 91 71 41 378 162 1461.0 5.21 2.85 0.63 .281 72.2% 3.49 3.45 24.8

2016’s bullpen has already accrued almost as much WAR as the ‘85 team, and has accounted for ~100 innings fewer, so far. 2015 and 2013 both surpassed those numbers, of course.  Then again. not only was the '85 team in a different time, they also had that amazing rotation. Only the ‘85 team and the 2002 team, with it’s terrible, no-good, just plain bad bullpen actually see their numbers get worse once you add in the bullpens. But the bullpens the last few years have been terrific, even by those standards.

The 2016 Royals bullpen is actually doing something we've never seen done before in franchise history; It is producing more WAR than the rotation. That does seem as much a condemnation of this year's rotation as a testament to the talent of this year's bullpen. However, this bullpen is on pace to produce more WAR than the entire pitching staffs of the 2006 and 2005 teams. It could be the best bullpen by WAR in Royals’ history.

However, as impressive as the bullpen as been - it has been impressive, some melt downs aside -  and despite the fact that we can quickly point to recent Royals rotations that were even worse, this rotation would easily be the worst in Royals history to ever reach the playoffs - if they somehow get there. Chances are, they’re going to have to improve drastically, whether through trade or players currently under contract improving their performance. As we've said more than once this year, they're going to have to walk fewer and give up fewer home runs if they want to make that happen.