Chris Young the odd man out in Royals rotation, 2.0

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Royals new hired gun Johnny Cueto officially joined the Royals last night. To clear roster space, Joe Blanton, one day after recording his second save (this one the rare 3-inning variety) in three appearances (only two career saves), was shipped out, designated for assignment.

Blanton, gave us more than we ever expected this season, producing a 3.89 ERA over 41 2/3 innings, including two good starts before two poor ones as he was forced into the rotation back in June. When the season began, imagining Blanton, who other than a brief stint in Triple-A Sacramento last year, was owning and operating a winery, being in the rotation that early in the season was an unlikely scenario; one in which the Royals were probably in big, big trouble. He went out and won his first two starts after winning just two in 20 in a 2-14 season in 2013.

Adding Cueto to the rotation means someone is out. Just a week ago, that man was Yordano Ventura, who in his second post-DL start, allowed six runs on 10 in just four innings (increasing ERA to 5.19) in a 10-7 loss to the Pirates, but managed to strike out seven Prior to that start, I thought Chris Young’s spot was in jeopardy, but Ventura was demoted when Jason Vargas was activated. Four outs later, Vargas elbow did the inevitable (since he had been on the DL twice already with Tommy John precursor flexor injuries) and exploded. So, Ventura, who had not even left for Omaha, was back less than 24 hours after his demotion. He responded awesomely, tossing seven one-run innings, scattering six hits and striking out five as the Royals beat AL All-Star starter Dallas Keuchel 5-1 on Sunday. It was so good, in fact, that manager Ned Yost said, “It was the old Ventura and that’s good news for us, bad news for everyone else.”

Yeah, he isn’t leaving the rotation (I said that last time, too). But, he REALLY isn’t this time. Ned says a lot of things, but he isn’t going to say that and take him out of the rotation. It was only the first time since May 31 (7 shutout innings in a 3-0 win over, ironically, Johnny Cueto) that Ventura went beyond five innings (a span of five starts), but it was one of his three best starts of the season. It was also his second win in his last three starts, improving to 5-7.

Then, there’s Danny Duffy. Before acquiring Cueto, I had repeatedly said that Duffy (4-4) is the best pitcher on the team, when healthy. In his six post-DL starts, he has a 2.15 ERA, 1.115 WHIP. In process has lowered his ERA and WHIP from 5.87 and 1.70 to 4.03 and 1.41. Saturday, he received a no-decision after leaving down 1-0 after the sixth inning (Royals later came back and won 2-1) and for the first time in his career, produced four straight quality starts. In that span, he has a 1.36 ERA & 0.98 WHIP.

Despite a shaky start Monday night (9-4 Royals win), “Steady Eddy” Volquez (10-5, 3.21 ERA) has been on a roll. He is 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA in his last four starts (30.1 IP) and the team is 4-1 in his last five starts. He walked five Monday, but it was only the second time all year that he has walked more than four batters, and his 3.2 BB/9 entering the game was on pace to be the best of his career. Volquez has a 3.3 BB/9 over the past two years spanning 318.2 innings. His 47 walks are second best in the AL and his winning percentage (.667) is 10th best in the AL.

That trio has produced three straight quality starts for the first time since June 26-28 (the sweep of Oakland). Cueto will anchor them down the stretch and form a formidable, legit, four-man postseason rotation.

So, that leaves us with Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Young. And just like last time when I claimed it would be Chris Young, it’ll be Chris Young.

The Royals might not even be in first place if it were not for guys like Blanton and Young. Young got off to a blazing start this season, posting a 2.11 ERA over his first eight starts. But, then regression set in. Over the next eight seven starts, he has a 4.87 ERA. Before tonight’s 4.2 IP, it was 5.50 ERA in that span (with 10 HR after allowing just three in the first eight starts). He only allowed one unearned run tonight, but, it could have been A LOT worse and the box score was deceiving. He needed 57 pitches to get through two innings, where he had five base runners and was at 96 pitches in the fifth inning when he was pulled with two guys on before Franklin Morales pitched out of it on just three pitches and ended Young’s line. He walked three and allowed SIX stolen bases.

How about Guthrie? One would look at his stats (7-6, 5.35 ERA, 1.54 WHIP), and instantly want to remove him from the rotation. But, there are some other things to consider here. Outside the espically bad start at Yankee Stadium – where he was the first pitcher to allow 11 runs while throwing fewer than 60 pitches since Jason Jennings for the Astros on July 29, 2007 (somehow doing it on just 39 pitches!!), the fourth pitcher ever and just the second starter (Jennings the other) to allow 11 runs in two innings or fewer and the last starter to allow four home runs while pitching fewer than two innings since Jae Kuk Ryu as a Cub on May 28, 2006 – he’s been solid, considering. Yes, he has been one of the more hittable starting pitchers in the game this season having allowed 135 hits in just 107.2 innings. Yes, he’s averaging just 5.7 innings per start (but, it is better than the team average of 5.5), has only seven quality starts, has allowed 14 HR and has just 56. But, in his last 14 starts, he has allowed three earned runs or less, 11 times, with six of his seven quality starts coming in that span, with the Royals going 9-5 in those starts. He has a 4.96 ERA over his last six starts, but since that Memorial Day start at Yankee Stadium, he’s posted a 4.25 ERA, going 3-3 (team 6-4), in 59.1 IP.

While Young has the better season numbers (8-6. 3.25 ERA, the AL’s 7th best WHIP at 1.10), over the last two months, you could argue – and have a very good case – that Guthrie has been better. Young’s numbers have slowly regressed since a hot start, and he has lasted just six innings once in July and has tossed a total of 7.2 innings in his last two starts. Meanwhile, Guthrie is gonna Guthrie at times, but lately his “bad starts” have not been THAT bad. For instance in Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Astros, he struggled through 4, allowing 4 runs on 10 hits, pushing 80 pitches. But, managed to go seven innings by retiring nine of his final 10 batters faced. As a fifth starter, you can live with that AND a 4.24 ERA over a 10 start stretch.

Chris Young is the most logical candidate to head to the bullpen. Nothing Guthrie does today as the Royals try to beat the reigning Cy Young champ Corey Kluber for the fourth time THIS SEASON changes this. Young may have regressed, but he has been a blessing for the Royals this year. He’s been huge, and earned an A on our Mid-Season Grade Card. You can never have enough pitching. It’s the currency of baseball. This, for the Royals, is a good problem to have. He may be needed to start again as the season winds down and the Hunt for Blue October heats up.

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