The Royals have added Jason Hammel to the rotation, filling a spot sorely needed following the tragic death of Yordano Ventura. He joins a rotation that already includes Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, and likely Nathan Karns, although Chris Young, Matt Strahm, Mike Minor, or Kyle Zimmer could challenge for a rotation spot.
Dayton Moore has stressed pitching ever since he arrived in Kansas City, but he has had trouble fielding an above-average rotation. The Royals have finished in the top half of the American League in starting pitcher ERA just twice - in 2013 and 2014.
Does the 2017 edition have a chance to be the best rotation Dayton Moore has fielded to begin the year?
We can probably ignore all the awful rotations from 2007 to 2012. There is no need to consider any rotation that includes Sidney Ponson, Jeff Francis, or Kyle Davies as among the best of anything. Not surprisingly, the Royals began winning when the team dramataically improved the starting pitching. How does this year’s projected rotation stack up?
Here is how ZIPS sees the projected Royals rotation.
*-note Hammel's projection is with the Cubs, and Karns' projection is with the Mariners
You can see that ZIPS projects a low number of innings out of Royals starters due to some health concerns. Danny Duffy has had Tommy John surgery before and has never made as many as 30 starts in a season. Jason Vargas is coming off Tommy John surgery. Nate Karns missed half of last season with a back injury. Ian Kennedy - well I'm not sure why Kennedy is given such a low number of innings considering he has has made at least 30 starts each season since 2009. So while the Royals rotation has a number of health risks, you can probably expect some of those pitchers to exceed their innings pitched projection, increasing their projected WAR as well.
Here is how past opening week rotations have fared. Keep in mind, this is just the rotation from the beginning of the year, and of course the Royals made adjustments along the way. For example, Danny Duffy was the best Royals starter last season, but didn't join the rotation until May, while Kris Medlen and Chris Young proved to be disasters. But these are the rotations the Royals thought they would go into battle with.
The 2014 rotation will be tough to beat - Shields was very solid frontline pitcher that year, with Jason Vargas and Yordano Ventura very solid options behind him. Once the team had jettisoned Bruce Chen and got Danny Duffy regular starts, the rotation was among the best in the league, finishing fourth in starting pitching ERA.
But the 2017 rotation has a chance to be competitive with that one. Duffy looked poised to be the kind of frontline pitcher Shields was when the Royals acquired him. Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel, if healthy, could be 2 WAR pitchers, and solid mid-rotation options. The question will be whether Vargas or Karns turns in a disastrous fifth starter performance that has plagued the last few rotations. Do the Royals have the kind of depth that can withstand that kind of implosion?
This is a bit of an unfair comparison, since we are taking actual results compared to 2017 projections. But right now, on paper, the 2017 rotation projects to be among the best Dayton Moore has put together.
Now don’t ask us about the bullpen.