I know I have been absent for a while, and you all know that I am prone to hyperbole, but the Royals recent revelation the Luis Mendoza has won the job of fifth starter has brought me out of the shadows…and my hyperbole with it. A month ago everyone considered it a lock that Luke Hochevar would win the fifth spot…and they sent him to the bullpen. A week ago we speculated that Bruce Chen would get the nod despite Mendoza’s outstanding offseason…and they sent him to the bullpen. What this leaves us with is quite possibly the best rotation for the Kansas City Royals in 20+ years. Let’s take a look at the contenders:
The Greinke Years
The signing of James Shields brought Kansas City a legitimate replacement for their last ace, Zach Greinke. What Shields possesses that Greinke did not is a legitimate rotation behind him. In 2010, Greinke’s last with the Royals, both Chen and Hochevar not only made the rotation but were arguably the team’s second and third best starters. In 08-09 the team had Gil Meche, a quality #2, but rounded the rotation out with Hochevar, Kyle Davies, and Brian Bannister. From 04-07 the Royals had only three pitchers post an ERA below 4, and less than half of the clubs’ starters were below 5. Clearly, no rotation from this era stacks up.
Best Rotation- 2009
Greinke, Meche, Hochevar, Bannister, Davies
Combined WAR: 12.6
The Allard Baird Era (pre-Greinke)
We don’t need to spend much time on this era at all. For every breakout performance from Paul Byrd or Darrell May, there were three Chad Durbins to mess up the rotation. Even in the club’s lone season above .500 their rotation was a mess. While May had a career year and posted a WAR of 5.7, the team had 25 starts (and an ERA well north of 7) from the trio of Chris George, Brad Voyles, and Kris Wilson.
Best Rotation- 2003
Combined WAR: 8.7
The Herk Robinson Era
As much time as I spent loathing Robinson, I can’t deny that he put together some of the best rotations in the last 30+ years. In 1999, all five starters in his rotation had a positive WAR, which doesn’t say much unless you’ve read the last two sections. In ‘96 Kevin Appier, Tim Belcher and Chris Haney all posted a WAR above 2 with 30+ starts. Jose Rosado posted a 3.3 in just 16 starts! Even veterans Mark Gubicza and Doug Linton were above replacement level. 1994 was even better. In a strike shortened season David Cone was incredible (16-5, 2.94 ERA, 6.6 WAR), Appier was his normal steady self (7-6, 3.83 ERA, 4.3 WAR) while Gubicza and Tom Gordon rounded out the top four nicely. The only fault that can be found with this rotation is that the fifth spot was dreadful with Chris Haney and Bob Milacki combining for an ERA over 7.
Best Rotation- 1994
Combined WAR: 15.9
While the current rotation may be challenged to top that performance in ’94, they’ll have to go to a whole new level to match the staff from ’87. In that year Bret Saberhagen, Gubicza, Charlie Leibrandt, Danny Jackson and Bud Black combined for WAR of 23.5! For perspective, let’s look at the career year for each of the current starters:
James Shields (2007) 5.2 WAR
Ervin Santana (2008) 4.8 WAR
Jeremy Guthrie (2010) 4.3 WAR
Wade Davis (2012) 1.4 WAR
Luis Mendoza (2012) 1.4 WAR
That comes out to 17.1, and that’s the best year any of them have ever had. While it’s unlikely that any of the top three match their career year in 2013, I’d say it’s very possible that Davis and/or Mendoza improve upon their 2012 numbers. This will not be the greatest rotation in the history of the Kansas City Royals, but it’s very possibly the best in the past 20 years. If that happens you can expect to hear a lot more from me and my hyperbole.