As the Royals’ season began, many personnel, analysts, and fans across the nation saw Kansas City as a team on the cusp of a breakthrough. Possessing a team with mounds of young talent—Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Johnny Giavotella, Danny Duffy, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler—Kansas City had finally identified a core on which it could build a constant contender in the American League. Playing in the weakest division in all of baseball, many pundits saw an opportunity, a la the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, for the Royals to breakthrough and win the division and push for a World Series title.
Yet, the Royals had one glaring problem—starting pitching. Failing to acquire an undisputed ace to the staff, or even a solid number 2, the Royals fielded a rotation headed by career vagabond Bruce Chen, former number one pick Luke Hochevar, and centerpiece offseason acquisition Jonathan Sanchez. The rest of the rotation would be filled out with Danny Duffy, a promising prospect, and Luis Mendoza, who would fill in the five spot in the rotation until Felipe Paulino returned from injury.
At this point in the season, the rotation has been nothing short of disaster. Our Opening Day starter, Chen, boasts a 4-5 record, along with 4.86 ERA while only managing 5.2 innings per start. Luke Hochevar has been an interesting case. Although loathed by many Royals fans for his 6.19 ERA, Hochevar has not been as bad as many seem to think. Advanced metrics show that Hochevar has been unlucky to a degree, with an FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) below the league average of 4.00, registering in at 3.69. However, Hochevar is surrendering more line drives than he has at any point in his career, while seeing his WHIP (Walks + Hits per inning pitched) rise to 1.53. While the metrics show that he hasn’t been as bad as it appears, Hochevar was the number one pick. With the increased publicity of number one picks in recent years with the immediate success of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, fans expect number one overall picks to be studs; Hochevar, to this point in his career, has been nothing short of a bust.
The Royals do have two young pitchers on which they can build around, however. Danny Duffy, before blowing out his elbow, was far and away the Royals’ best pitcher. While struggling mightily on the Major League level last year, it looked as if Duffy had finally put his electric stuff together on the hill this year in the Majors and had certainly taken a step forward in his career. Felipe Paulino, aside from Duffy, has been the Royals’ best pitcher. It seems astounding that he almost didn’t make the team in Spring Training, with the Royals preferring to opt with Luis Mendoza over Paulino due to Mendoza’s AAA numbers in 2011. Paulino has rocked the Major Leagues this year to the tune of a 2.03 ERA along with a 2-1 record, which has been amazing, considering that the Royals claimed him off waivers last season when the Rockies designated him for assignment. Paulino was always regarded as someone that had plus stuff but had never been able to harness his potential on the Major League level. Since coming to the Royals last season, it certainly looks like Paulino has put it together.
Yet, the Royals have trotted names out to the mound such as Will Smith, Luis Mendoza, Nate Adcock, and Vin Mazzaro. While these players have sometimes pitched well on the Major League level (and none of them have consistently), why are these players taking valuable developmental innings away from Aaron Crow? Crow was drafted number 12 overall in a Dayton Moore draft—the Royals obviously think very highly of him. No one utilizes the number 12 overall pick on someone that they want in a pseudo set up role shared with Greg Holland near the end of the Royals’ bullpen. This kid should be starting in the Major Leagues right now. In a season in which pitching was the known to be the biggest question mark of the team, why is one of the Royals’ bright young starting pitching prospects banished to the bullpen with the likes of Will Smith, Luis Mendoza, Nate Adcock, and Vin Mazzaro starting ahead of him? Ned Yost, known as a player developer, is ruining Aaron Crow by making him stay in the bullpen for far too long. Aaron Crow could be the shut down ace the Royals will need in the future, but he has no hope of fulfilling his potential if he is left in the bullpen.