Our good friends over at Kings of Kauffman posed an interesting question on Twitter. If the Royals were in a one-game, must-win situation, which starting pitcher would you put on the mound? The response thus far has been mostly in support of Bruce Chen, and when I saw that I wondered what criteria their followers had for making the selection. Not that I necessarily thought Chen was wrong, but were they just picking him because he’d been the Royals most reliable and (and by virtue of the others’ lows) best pitcher? Is that what you want in a one-game, must-win situation? I’m not so sure.
If I’m facing a must-win situation, I want the guy with the highest ceiling, almost regardless of his floor. Theoretically, in a must-win situation nearly everyone is available, so it is fairly easy to circumvent an “off” night from your starter by simply giving someone else a chance. Sure, you have to be ready to have a quick trigger finger, but the reward of a dominant performance outweighs the risk, at least in my mind. That being said, which Royals starter has the highest one-game upside heading into 2012? Let’s take a look:
For the purposes of this study I did not consider anyone with less than a full season at the major league level. That rules out phenoms Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, and even Danny Duffy. One of them may very well turn into the best pitcher on the club, but for now it would be ridiculous to suggest giving the ball to them when it is all on the line. Let’s take a look at the other four probable starters for the Royals, starting with the favorite on Twitter:
Bruce Chen- I certainly do not want to disparage the 2011 Royals Pitcher of the Year. His consistency and, for lack of a better word, craftiness, have been essential to the Royals maintaining some sort of a rotation. That being said, I came into this study expecting that Chen’s ability to dominate a major league lineup was much less than it is. Five times last season Chen pitched 8 innings while allowing one run or less. That is absolutely dominant and far more than I remembered. As impressive as that is, it is important to note that he accomplished against the Mariners, White Sox (twice), and Twins (twice). Those teams ranked 18th, 25th, and 30th in runs scored last season. Furthermore, three of the games came in September, against the Sox and Twins who had absolutely nothing to play for. Chen had accomplished this feat just once before in the last five years and heads into the season as a 34 year old with four career complete games and a 4.52 career ERA (4.28 with the Royals). Surely we have someone more likely of putting up a dominant performance, right?
Felipe Paulino– Okay, I love Paulino, and so does Rany…but let’s not get crazy here. A workhorse he may be, but that has not, to this point, translated into dominant performances. His K/9 innings ratio is outstanding, and good for 6th in the AL last year, but not quite enough to outweigh his control issues. Does Paulino have the greatest potential amongst Royals starters? Maybe, but the unknown makes him too risky.
Jonathan Sanchez– As the only real splash made by the Royals this offseason I am surprised Sanchez didn’t get more love. He had four of these “dominant” performances in 2010, after posting one each in 2008 and 2009. He is five years younger than Chen, and certainly is regarded to have more “dominant” stuff, at least when he throws strikes. That “when he throws strikes” issue is probably the reason more people didn’t choose him, but is there any more easily assessable problem with pitchers than not having control of the zone?
Luke Hochevar– I may be biased here, because Hochevar is my pick for a breakout performance in 2012, as Cool Hand Luke has lowered his ERA over the last three seasons from 6.55 to 4.68. He is 28 years old and, in my opinion ready for a career year in 2012. Hochevar has been maddeningly inconsistent, and has only thrown four so-called “dominant” starts in the last three years. Still, Hochevar posted a 3.52 ERA from the All-Star Game forward in 2011, allowing opposing hitters to hit just .222 off him. I can certainly understand the argument against him, but I’m betting by June he may be our number one choice, with a bullet.
The bottom line is this is absolutely a subjective choice, and subjectively I would absolutely take Cool Hand Luke in a “one-game must-win situation.” Chen may very well be the “ace” because his consistency makes him the guy you want out there the most often. Sanchez may be the most hyped just because Dayton would like to pump up his new acquisition. But for my money, I’ll take Hochevar when it is all on the line. Disagree? I’d love to here your choice in the comments.