Pitching wins games.
Pitching wins Division titles.
Pitching wins pennants.
Pitching wins in the playoffs.
PITCHING WINS WORD SERIES’.
To say that the Royals pitchers last year were good is an understatement. Across the board, Royals pitching did things they haven’t done in a VERY LONG time. In some cases, like striking out opponent batters, they did things never done before, by Royals pitching. The Royals TEAM ERA of 3.45 (No. 1 in the American League in 2013) was fifth best in franchise history, and best since 1978 (3.44). The Royals 601 runs allowed was the third fewest in franchise history (excluding strike shortened seasons in ’81 and ’94) and best since 1972 (545). The Royals pitchers struck out a FRANCHISE RECORD 1,208 batters in 2013. The Royals pitchers gave up only 155 home runs in 2013, their best effort there since 1995 (142). They were regularly serving up into the 200’s in the early 2000’s. The Royals pitchers only walked 469 batters in 2013, their best total since 1996 (460). They had three starters with 200+ IP and they arguably had the best set-up man – closer combo in the AL last year with Greg Holland’s 1.21 ERA and Luke “Papa Hoch” Hochevar’s 1.92 ERA and unreal 0.82 WHIP.
Even if everyone was back, 2013 would be hard to replicate. In fact, the teams with the best bullpen in the league are regularly regress outside of the Top 10 the following season. Add in the departure of Ervin Santana (Atlanta) and Hochevar (Tommy John surgery), regression is certainly expected. But, how far? They can still be really good and still have regressed. But, will they? Career norms indicate that they can still be an above average bullpen. But, the rotation will certainly regress. But, how far? The lack of a legitimate number two starting pitcher behind ace, James Shields is a must if this team wants to live up to the playoff expectations they are placing on themselves. Even with considerable improvements in the offense by addition of players (Infante at second base and Aoki in right field), or improvement of returning players, these guys aren’t going to slug their way into the postseason. That just doesn’t happen very often anywhere, much less in Kansas City, where power numbers are sapped by the spacious Kauffman Stadium.
It’s James Shields and the Other Guys. Big Game James is Big Game James. We know what we are going to get out of one of the major league best, and most durable starting pitchers. It gets sketchy after that though. I cannot imagine Jeremy Guthrie matching his 15 wins from a season ago. Bruce Chen, re-signed in late January, is a very average pitcher at best, though he is somewhat of a fan and Will Ferrell favorite. So there’s that. Jason Vargas, very much a younger version of Bruce Chen doesn’t offer a lot of potential in filling the No. 2 slot.
Yordano Ventura, who has been electric in spring training – catching the eye of many opponents and scouts, is the wild card here. Possibly he can fill the void left by Santana’s departure? The upside is there. He is going to have to do it. His numbers could be just as good, or even better, but he certainly won’t reach Santana’s innings from a year ago. That is a lot of pressure to put on a 22 year old, but like Obi-wan Kenobi in Star Wars, he is probably our only hope. Kyle Zimmer could be there for us down the road, but down the road does us no good. This team cannot afford to just be .500 from the start, or God forbid, under .500. They will have to be good, better than .500, every month. The Tigers are too good. The Indians are too good. The American league is TOO GOOD.
The offense could not be as bad as it was last year, it just can’t. It is also nearly impossible that the bullpen is as good. So, something has to give. Based on a drastic offensive improvement and the bullpen and pitching staff still being above normal, our projections have the Royals going 89-73 in 2014. Will that be good enough to win the division? To make the playoffs? We don’t know for sure. But, we’d certainly like to find out and look forward to what this season brings.