Starting pitching, good or bad, affects every part of a baseball game. Look no further than the two disastrous outings by starters Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo last Monday and Tuesday night. In two games with the Seattle Mariners, Sanchez and Verdugo gave up a combined 13 runs over three innings. Neither pitcher got out of the second inning and the Royals lost both games, 9-4 and 9-6. The Royals had enough of Sanchez, designating him for assignment Tuesday after a 1-6 record and 7.76 ERA. As for Verdugo, he’s on I-29 back to AAA Omaha.
So now the Royals starting rotation consists of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza, Everett Teaford and Will Smith. This is why the Royals as of Wednesday were 38-51, 11.5 games back of the Chicago White Sox and the starting rotation had only four quality starts in their last 17 games.
And the Royals top three pitchers, Chen, Hochevar and Mendoza, haven’t pitched well lately. In their last three starts, the trio has given up a combined 34 earned runs in 51 innings. The Royals record in those games is 3-6.
Of the three, Mendoza is the only one with a sub 5.00 ERA at 4.32. He’s also gave up the least amount of runs with six in 21.1 innings. But the Royals lost two of the three games Mendoza started. Chen is a good pitcher, but in his last three starts before Wednesday’s game, he’s gave up a combined 18 runs in 13.2 innings. The Royals went 0-3 in those games. Hochevar is pitching a little better lately, giving up a combined 10 runs over 16 innings in his last three starts. The Royals went 2-1 in those games. But Hochevar has a 5.16 ERA and could be one start away from giving up another big inning.
So what about Everett Teaford and Will Smith? Teaford has bounced between Omaha and Kansas City, appearing in eight games, four of them as a starter. Of those four starts, the Royals won three of those games. In his last three starts, Teaford gave up a combined 10 runs in 16.1 innings, where the Royals went 2-1. His 2012 ERA is 4.98.
As for Will Smith, he’s spent most of 2012 in Omaha, with only three games with the Royals, all starts. In those three games, Smith gave up a combined 14 earned runs in 14 innings, with the Royals losing two of those three games. He has a 9.00 ERA.
And there’s not much help in the high minors either. The Royals top pitching prospect, Jake Odorizzi, is in Omaha and projects to be a number three starter. These days, a number three starter would be an improvement for the Royals starting rotation. It’s certain we’ll see Odorizzi this year, but he won’t be able to turn the Royals fortunes around by himself. And remember Mike Montgomery, who had a chance to make the starting rotation out of spring training? He’s in AA Northwest Arkansas, trying to figure things out.
When the starting pitchers struggle, the whole team struggles. If a starter doesn’t have at least a quality start, that gasses the bullpen, who have to pitch more innings. If the starter gives up a lot of runs, it forces the offense to try and overcome the run deficit. And if a starter has a high pitch count per inning, the defense behind them are more likely to make defensive mistakes.
It’s simple. Teams with a good starting rotation are more likely to win games and make the playoffs than a team with a decent to bad starting rotation.
This year, the Royals have a good offense, good defense and the bullpen is holding its own. But the starting rotation, this year and in years past, is atrocious. And unless the Royals land a top tier pitcher via free agency or a trade, the Royals starting rotation will continue to be atrocious.