Royals Starters Biggest Barrier To Contention

The Royals surprising start thus far has been built on middle of the order production, defense and shutdown performances from a very young bullpen. As expected, the weak link has been the starting pitching. Royals starters are sporting a collective 5.17 ERA, worst in the American League. That the team with the worst starting ERA has jumped out to a 17-14 record is a minor miracle. It is also the major factor preventing many fans from fully buying into this team as a contender just yet.

photo by Minda Haas

I have delved deep into the numbers to see how the Royals rotation stacks up within the AL Central. The results probably will not be encouraging to the Royals faithful, though there is some reason to hope for minor improvement.

My ranking of the rotations (through May 4):

The White Sox, Indians, and Tigers clearly have the superior rotations to this point, with the Twins and Royals lagging far behind. But here is one reason for (slight) optimism I found:

While the starters have so far allowed runs at a terrible rate, their xFIP suggests some of that is bad luck and the staff ERA has the potential to decrease significantly. The bad news is that their 4.30 xFIP is still only good for fourth in the division.

Here is how that ERA/xFIP discrepancy is distributed among the Royals starters:

Those ugly ERAs from Davies, Francis, and Hochevar are three of the worst five among ALC starters, but there is significant room for improvement if their xFIPs are any indication. Those three have the most “unlucky” ERA to xFIP ratio among ALC starters. The biggest reason I see for this is the high rate of fly balls that are leaving the park: 13% of fly balls have gone for home runs against KC starters, highest in the majors, and a number that should dip closer to the norm of 9.5-10%.

But even with room to expect improvement, the starting staff as now made up will continue to be the achilles’ heel of the 2011 Royals and temper dreams of contending for the division crown. If the team continues overcoming the starting rotation and can hang around .500 or better, the Royals front office will face critical decisions about promoting one or more of the arms from the farm. People who know about these things suggest Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy are close and could have an impact. The early promotion of Eric Hosmer suggests one or more of those pitchers could follow him to KC soon. If the offense, defense and bullpen can carry on at current levels, a shot in the arm to the rotation could really start to make this team interesting.

For more nerd kicks, a look at the AL Central pitchers by their average game score (through May 4):


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