Coming off their first World Series and playoff appearance since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are looking forward to 2015 as being a stepping stone to cement the Royals as the kings of the AL Central. As seen in the 2014 playoff run Kansas City put on display, the Royals relied on stellar defense and one of the best bullpens in the league to win games. The Royals scratched out runs using speed and small ball without hitting nearly as many homeruns as the other teams in the league. Secondary to those two strong points on the Royals’ roster, solid outings from their starting pitching staff also will have a huge hand in the ongoing success of the Royals in 2015. Last season, the Royals staff was bolstered by James Shields, who is yet to sign on with a team this offseason, but is unlikely to return to small-market Kansas City. Without Shields, the Royals still have a very solid and possibly undervalued rotation… outlined below.
Yordano Ventura –
Ventura, the flame throwing twenty four year old from the Dominican Republic will be asked to step into a role that to this date he has quite had to fill yet. Yordano will be expected to be the ace of the staff. His potential and raw ability alone projects Ventura to be a #1 starter for the Royals, but inconsistency has plagued his short career to this point. If Ventura can learn how to pitch more, rather than just chucking the ball in there at 100mph, he and the Royals will be better off as he will fulfill his high expectations.
Ventura’s stats from 2014 look like this: (14-10) with a 3.20 ERA and 159 K’s. These are strong numbers for a starting pitcher on any team, with the only glairing problem with Ventura which can be seen by the 69 walks he allowed and from the naked eye when watching Ventura as he can be a bit wild at times. If Ventura can tone down the walks and keep runners off the base paths more, his numbers should improve and get to a point where he is regarded as one of the best pitchers in the league. This maturity step by Ventura is painfully important for the Royals going into the future, as money will not buy them a high priced ace like Max Scherzer. More games like his September 23rd outing against Cleveland where he threw 7 strong innings, not allowing a run and striking out 6 will be expected out of the young righty.
Ventura’s development is going to be the largest story line to follow with the Royal’s staff, and if there is no sign of a sophomore slump with Yordano, than the Royals should be in good position if he can put them in a position to win each time he takes the mound.
Jason Vargas –
Jason Vargas and his 89mph fastball is not the prototypical #2 starter on a playoff contender’s staff, but for the Royals he is a guy that goes out each start and contends. In last year’s offseason, Vargas was signed as a free agent from the Angels. He came in and did what people expected him to do, by just changing speeds and pitching to contact to let the Royal’s defense do the work behind him to log successful innings. The south-paw recorded the lowest ERA of his career in 2014, posting a 3.71 ERA, just a few decimal points above his previous lowest in 2010 with Seattle (3.78). His 2014 win total (11) was also the highest since 2011, proving that Vargas fit into his new home at Kauffman Stadium well.
The Royals will need Vargas to have a duplicate season of last years. Everyone in the baseball world knows that Vargas is not going to blow anyone away with huge strike out numbers, but by mixing speeds he still can be successful and give the Royals an opportunity to win games while he is starting. If Vargas can just get the Royals to the 7th inning, with a tie or the lead it is almost a lock that Kansas City will come out victorious with their stellar bullpen (Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrara and Greg Holland). Jason Vargas showed last year that he was capable of that, and if that continues into 2015 than it will spell well for Kansas City.
2015 will mark the 11th Major League season for veteran journeyman pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie has spent the last three and a half seasons in Kansas City and the fly ball pitcher has found a nitch at the back end of the starting rotation in the spacious Kauffman Stadium with gold glovers Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordan tracking down almost everything for Guthrie. Now, I am projecting Guthrie as the #3 pitcher for the Royals staff… but solely based off of the question marks that are situated behind him in this very moment in time. If the pitchers I touch upon later in this article over-achieve expectations, than it will be very possible that Guthrie slides into the #4/#5 hole in the rotation or even the bullpen.
Guthrie’s best statistical season came back in 2008 with Baltimore, where he went 10-12 with a 3.63 ERA. If Guthrie in 2015 can post numbers anywhere the numbers he put up in 08’, well then the Royals will be in business as any ball club would be happy to have numbers like that out of their #4/#5 starter.
Another plus to having a veteran like Guthrie on the Royals’ staff is that for the last four seasons he has shown how reliable he can be, posting over 200 innings logged. A work horse like that is very beneficial to Kansas City, along with Guthrie’s leadership abilities that can rub off on younger pitchers like Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy.
Volquez has shown flashes of brilliance, mixed in with some flashes of complete crap, mixed in with some really mediocre outings. A chunk of the Royals’ success is going to rest on the arms of thirty two year old Edison Volquez, it all just depends which Volquez the Royals get. If Volquez can post numbers that look like his 2008 (17-6, 3.21 ERA) and 2014 (13-7, 3.04 ERA) seasons, than Volquez will find a home nicely in the #2 starters role on this team. But if we get the 2011 Volquez (5-7, 5.71 ERA), than the Royals will be in trouble each day he takes the mound.
A lot like his new rotation mate at the top of the food chain, Yordano Ventura, Volquez is another flame throwing product of the Domican Republic. Both pitchers have had a similar upbringing in the major leagues; Volquez can teach the maturity skills he has settled into his last few seasons can also be very beneficial to Ventura’s development and keep him from making the same mistakes that Volquez did as a young Major League pitcher.
As long as Volquez continues to pitch like he has been in the last few seasons in Pittsburgh, than the Royals’ investment in him to be a big piece of their rotation should bring back a great return on investment. The only thing that worries me about Volquez is the inconsistency factor that has been a theme along his Major League career. It makes me place a big question mark next to his name, but believe me the potential is absolutely there for Volquez to make a big splash and pitch great in Kansas City.
The Fifth Starter… Danny Duffy or Kris Medlen
The tale end of the Royals rotation houses two more young pitchers with a potential to be great for the ball club. Right now, barring injuries, it looks like the Royals have six starting pitchers for the five spots, which is a great problem for the Royals to have. Injuries are something that cannot be skated around anymore, as you look left and right big time pitchers are on the shelf with arm problems. By having an excess amount of arms at will, Kansas City will be in great position to do the best damage control act they can pull off.
The last two pitchers I will touch upon today are Danny Duffy and Kris Medlen, first starting with Duffy. Danny Duffy, who is still very young at the age of twenty seven, was brought up to the big leagues in 2011, but struggled by only going (4-8 with a 5.64 ERA). After a trip back down to the minor leagues, Duffy has come back strong and has shown that he has figured out his craft a bit more, by posting a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts last year for the club. If Duffy can continue these numbers, the Royals will have no choice but give him the ball every five days. Duffy was featured coming out of the bullpen in the 2014 playoffs, but will be relied on to give the Royals many important innings coming up in 2015 as a starter.
Next, free agent accusation Kris Medlen was a great addition to the Royals roster. Kris Medlen has spent his entire career in Atlanta with the Braves. In 2012, Medlen was on fire, going 10-1 and posting a nasty-low ERA of 1.57. That is hall of fame numbers. Not to get too carried away, Medlen only started 12 games that year, but still everyone should take time out to appreciate some really great stats. 2013 was another solid year for Kris, as he won 15 games and still posted a very good ERA of only 3.11. 2014 looked to be another promising season for Medlen, but his elbow thought otherwise. In spring training he left a start with discomfort in this elbow, leaving him destined for his second Tommy John surgery since 2010. The health problems with Medlen has scared off many teams, but not the Royals who are looking for a low-risk, high reward investment on the righty.
If the combo of Medlen and Duffy both stay healthy and live up to their abilities shown in the last few seasons than the Royals will have no choice but to find a way to have both pitchers in the rotation… leaving a pitcher like Guthrie like a bullpen candidate.
The Royals rotation has the potential to be one of the strongest in the American League as long as each pitcher stays healthy and pitches to their abilities. James Shields or no James Shields, I see the Royals rotation being strong and being able to allow Kansas City to get back into playoff baseball in 2015.