Chris Young has been an utter disaster this season in the Royals rotation. The flyball pitcher leads the league in home runs allowed with 26, despite pitching just 60 innings this year. His 6.90 ERA is the seventh-highest in baseball for a pitcher with 60 innings pitched. He lasted six innings or more in just two of his 13 starts, and the Royals are 5-8 when he starts. After Tuesday's drilling at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays, Ned Yost was non-committal on whether Young would start the first-half finale on Sunday at home against Seattle.
Ned Yost said Royals will discuss starter for Sunday when they get back to KC tomorrow. If not Young, Gee, Flynn, Mills could be options.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) July 6, 2016
Let's take a look at the options for starting Sunday's game.
The most likely scenario is that Ned Yost sticks with his guy. That is the modus operandi for Ned, for better or for worse, and sometimes his patience pays off, as it did with Mike Moustakas in his career, and with Kendrys Morales this season. But sometimes Ned sticks with a guy far too long, as he did sticking Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot or starting Omar Infante. Is there any hope Chris Young can turn his season around?
Pros: He did post a 3.06 ERA and was huge in the post-season last season, and it would be surprising if he fell off a cliff this quickly. His strikeout rate is actually at an all-time high, and he leads the team with 9.6 strikeouts-per-nine-innings. His home run rate seems laughably high, that would likely regress just because no one gives up homers at that incredible rate. He has given up just 8 of his 26 home runs at Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals will play Sunday. He is earning $4.25 million in the first year of a two-year contract, although that is a sunk cost at this point.
Cons: He's a flyball pitcher in a year in which home runs are up all around baseball (juiced baseball?). His BABIP of .279 suggests he has actually been a bit lucky. I shudder to think what he would happen if those outs turned to hits. His walk rate has spiked this year, and he has the sixth-highest walk rate among pitchers with 60 innings pitched.
Gee got his chance to start when Young landed on the disabled list in May with a forearm strain, but he did not exactly make the most of his opportunity. Gee gave up 14 runs in 19 1/3 innings over four starts, including a three-home run game against the Twins.
Pros: Gee has been effective over multiple innings in relief. Perhaps he would thrive in a 3-4 inning start. Despite overall poor numbers in his four starts, he did strike out 23 in 19 1/3 innings. Was a 2 WAR pitcher as recently as 2013.
Cons: Over the last two seasons he has a 5.97 ERA in 11 starts with the Mets and Royals. His 38% flyball rate is an all-time high and he has already allowed 11 home runs in just 53 1/3 innings. He has been much worse at Kauffman Stadium this year, allowing a .930 OPS to opposing hitters, with a .763 OPS on the road.
Flynn would give the Royals a second lefty, and they have been stretching him out in Omaha to get him more used to starting. The 26-year old was originally acquired from the Marlins for Aaron Crow and missed all of last year with a lat injury.
Pros: Good numbers through 21 Major League innings this year, although all in relief. Struck out 20 in 12 2/3 inning as a starter in AAA this year with a .559 OPS against. Has been much more a ground ball pitcher in his Major League career, with a 46.9 groundball rate in 46 innings. Did not show much of a split against lefties and righties in the minor leagues this year.
Cons: Has a high walk rate in his limited Major League career with 4.5 walks per-nine-innings. Major League right-handed hitters are hitting .328/.400/.485 against him in his career.
Mills has put together the most impressive minor league season for a Royals pitching prospect. Between AA Northwest Arkansas and AAA Omaha he has a 2.67 ERA with 8.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings and just 1.8 walks. The right-hander was called up for a brief appearance back in May and faced six Major League hitters, retiring just two of them.
Pros: We don't know what he could do at the Major League level.
Cons: He could wet his pants at the Major League level.
Sunday's game is the last day before the All-Star break, giving the bullpen four full days to rest afterwards. The Royals could decide to just let Gee or Young start and go two innings, followed by Flynn for two innings, then some combination of Peter Moylan, Chien-Ming Wang, Brooks Pounders, Joakim Soria, Luke Hochevar, and Kelvin Herrera to close things out.
Pros: It would play to the Royals strength, their bullpen. Seeing different pitchers each inning could present challenges to Mariners hitters.
Cons: It would require the Royals not using their bullpen much on Saturday. If the game goes to extra innings, the Royals could be in a bind.
Others: Chien-Ming Wang twice won 19 games in a season for the Yankees, but hasn't started a Major League game since 2013 and has been largely terrible as a starter since 2011. Brooks Pounders was just called up and has worked as a starter and reliever this year, although his stuff plays better out of the bullpen. Miguel Almonte is the Royals top pitching prospect that is reliably healthy, but he has struggled with a 5.15 ERA and 6.4 walks-per-nine innings in Omaha. Would it be crazy to put Luke Hochevar back in the starting rotation? Desperate times call for desperate actions, but the Royals probably cannot afford to lose another valuable bullpen piece. Drew Butera looked good in his one inning of relief, but would probably be exposed as a starter.