The recent focus for Royals fans has been around the pool of left handed starting pitching talent in the MLB’s top Minor League System. Mike Montgomery and John Lamb were the two most recent southpaws recognized as two of the six Royals prospects ranked in Baseball America’s 50.
The focus has deterred attention from a complete lack of left handed rotation depth for the last decade in Kansas City. This year’s lefty combo of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen will be relied on by the Royals. If the duo can both throw more than 140 innings, they would be the first Royals to do so in over five seasons.
To most Royals fans 2004 is a fog. The names Darrell May, Brian Anderson, and Jimmy Gobble forgotten in the losing haze. In a decade of left handed disparity, this trio all topped the 140 inning mark in 2004.
Since 2000, the Royals have only boasted six left handed starters producing more than 140 innings in a single season. The fact 2004 cultivated half of them is impressive, but not nearly as impressive when you see their production. May, 9-19, 186 IP, 5.61 ERA/ Anderson, 6-12, 166 IP, 5.64 ERA/ Gobble 9-8, 148 IP, 5.35 ERA.
In comparison to Kansas City’s total of six lefty innings eater since 2000, C.C. Sabathia has ten seasons of 180+ innings thrown.
The newest Royal, Francis, had four seasons of his own over the 140 IP mark. From his rookie season (2005) until his arm injuries (2008) Francis held together a young and talented Rockies rotation.
The Number One ranking from Baseball America for the Royals Farm System has gotten most of the media. Francis’ firsthand account of the talent being produced has him extremely excited about being with the Royals. Francis talks about how having rehab starts against the AA Naturals, gave him an inside track to the game’s best prospects in an MLB.com interview.
Francis helped the Rockies from improve from Royals like depths in 2005 to the World Series in 2007. Colorado finished in the bottom two spots of the division in nine consecutive seasons. 2007 was the turnaround, finishing second in the division. Of course then the Rockies made history in a few wild playoff games. Since, the Rockies haven’t finished lower than third in the NL West.
It’s no surprise 2006-07 saw the biggest turnaround for the Rockies, but also Francis began to smother NL hitters. In the two seasons Francis made 66 starts, going 30-20, 4.19 ERA, 414.1 IP, and 1.335 WHIP. It culminated in a disappointing World Series appearance not only for Francis, but also the Rockies.
Nabbing Francis for only $2 million (plus incentives), is being advertised as the best move GM Dayton Moore has made in his tenure. I have to agree with the likes of Matt Kelsey, but I don’t think the knocks on Francis will stick.
Many see Francis as aging damaged goods, with a subpar fastball. I couldn’t believe Francis was on the market as long as he was. He seemed like a good fit for nearly every roster, especially for $2 million.
According to Fangraphs.com and Bill James 2011 Projections, Francis will make 18 starts, amassing 87 innings. Personally I think this is a conservative estimate. If Francis’ shoulder is healed he will be a major part of the rotation. Perhaps his shoulder was the main reason his market value was driven down.
James also project Bruce Chen:
9-11, 177 IP, 6.36 K/9, 4.37 ERA
While another solid year from Chen and a return to form for Francis isn’t Zack Greinke, it would be some stability which has been absent for more than five seasons. Moore gave Royals fans reason to hope for the Kansas City rotation this season by signing Francis. A successful campaign and long term Billy Butler like commitment from Francis could make Moore look like a genius in a perfect world.
Luckily it’s still January, so our hopes can still become realities in February. April and beyond, the realities start becoming more harsh.