The Royals And Their Arms

SURPRISE, AZ: Starting pitcher Luke Hochevar #44 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the spring training game at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

People have a pretty good idea that the Royals will be able to hit. It looks like the Royals might be able to throw, too, if only a little.

I saw a tweet the other day that caught my eye, even though it probably shouldn't have. I noted it here. The tweet came from Jon Heyman:

One AL exec: 1 team that’s "going to give other teams hell" if they get any pitching, is the #royals

I think this is a pretty popular sentiment. The Royals are seen as a team on the rise, and rightly so. They're loaded with promising young talent like few other teams. This season might not be their time, but maybe 2013, or maybe 2014. The Royals are coming, allegedly.

What this tweet did, though, was make me curious about the current Royals pitching staff. And that made me curious about the current Royals rotation, since bullpens can be so hard to predict. Just how much of a weakness is their rotation, in truth?

The Royals' rotation isn't officially figured out, but it basically is. Barring surprise, they'll begin the year with a five-man consisting of Bruce Chen, Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino, and Danny Duffy. Proven shutdown aces, none of them. But looking over the names, what stands out to me is the strikeout potential.

Not from Bruce Chen. Bruce Chen isn't a strikeout guy. Bruce Chen isn't not a strikeout guy, like Nate Cornejo or Kirk Rueter, but he doesn't miss bats like he did a decade ago. Bruce Chen, incidentally, debuted in 1998. The first guy he faced was Tony Phillips (who struck out.)

But look at the others. Sanchez? Sanchez is switching leagues, which is hard. He's never had a problem getting strikeouts, though. For his career, he's struck out nearly 24 percent of opposing batters. Last year, it was 23 percent. The year before that, 25 percent. Strikeouts have never been Sanchez's problem, and he should remain difficult to square up, even as he stops facing pitchers. His career strikeout rate against non-pitchers is better than 22 percent.

Hochevar? Here's the thing about Luke Hochevar: his 2011 numbers might be misleading. Through June 15, covering 15 starts, he struck out 42 batters. Fewer than three per start. On June 15, against the A's, he went seven frames without striking out a single batter. From that point on, though, covering 16 starts, he struck out 86. More than five per start. A rate of 20.3 percent. For a handful of reasons, Hochevar started getting whiffs, which bodes well for his 2012.

Paulino? The Royals purchased Paulino from the Rockies in May. Purchased, for money, with no player going the other way. Paulino was 27, and over 20 starts with Kansas City, he struck out a batter per inning. He has the stuff to back that up. Paulino's a power pitcher, with power-pitcher numbers.

And Duffy? As a highly rated prospect, he struck out better than 18 percent of batters in his first exposure to the bigs. He dominated in the minors, and just the other day, he struck out five Reds in two innings. That's spring training, I know, but the point is that Duffy held his own, and could and should only get better. He has people excited, who aren't just Royals people.

Bruce Chen generates some strikeouts. The other four could generate a lot of them, especially if you buy into Hochevar's improvement, and Duffy's potential. If you want to add Aaron Crow to the mix, he could get strikeouts as a starter, too. He certainly has the pitches.

Fun Fact: the highest American League strikeout rate for a team's rotation over the last decade is 19.5 percent, set by the 2007 Devil Rays. The average for the five Royals starters above, using their 2011 numbers, is 18.8 percent. If you plug in Hochevar post-improvement, that jumps to 19.8 percent. Not that teams go through seasons without needing sixth and seventh and eighth starters, but the point is, the Royals' starters could get a lot of strikeouts.

There's more to pitching than strikeouts, obviously. I don't need to tell you that Jonathan Sanchez has control problems, or that Felipe Paulino has control problems, or that Danny Duffy needs work, or other things. There will be walks, and there will be home runs. But because there should be strikeouts, there should be some effectiveness, so given health, the Royals might get pitching after all. Decent, 1-through-5 starting pitching. I don't think this is a playoff rotation just yet, but there will be times that it looks like one.

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