After a rough 2012, Royals GM Dayton Moore looked to cut the rebuilding process short by a year or two by trading for James Shields, Ervin Santana, and resigning Jeremy Guthrie. Moore is counting on Shields to be the #1 he was in 2011, lead the Royals into the playoffs, and possibly save his GM job. Moore’s trade for Shields drew rave reviews from national baseball writers, many of whom declared the Royals were now a contender and a threat to win 90+ games. And while their roster is improved this year, we just don’t think that the current roster is capable of being better than .500.
The Royals offense last season struggled mightily. The team as a whole hit .265/.317/.400, a line buoyed by a monster season from Billy Butler. Moustakas didn’t develop as some had hoped, and Hosmer took a huge step backwards, producing a .291 wOBA with a .127 isolated slugging. Jeff Francoeur was one of the worst players in all of baseball, posting a -1.2 fWAR. The Royals need Moustakas and Hosmer to have much improved seasons to help bring this team into contention, but both are still very young and are likely to endure further growing pains before they start producing at the levels expected of them. Replacing Jeff Francoeur with Wil Myers would have likely been a 3-4 win improvement, but Myers was shipped off to Tampa Bay in the offseason for a chance to improve the the rotation by an even greater margin.
Unfortunately, we don’t think that move is going to pay off as much as Royals fans hope. James Shields had a relatively tough go it in 2012, posting a 3.52 ERA in 227 innings pitched, and Wade Davis hasn’t started since 2011, when he posted a 4.45 ERA in 184 innings pitched. Shields pitched like a true ace in 2011, but that year looks like an anomaly given the .258 BABIP, 79.6% LOB%, and the lowest HR/9 of his career. Looking at FIP, Shields appears to have settled in as a 3.40 FIP pitcher over the last two seasons, a number that is very good for the number of innings he throws, but certainly is not in the #1 range. Shields is likely a 4 win pitcher again this season. Davis has never been more than a good back of the rotation guy as a starter, and is likely a 1-2 win pitcher this season.
Dayton Moore also went out and traded for Ervin Santana, a puzzling move considering the Angels were likely going to non-tender him anyway. Santana is owed a lot of money in 2013, and he did not pitch particularly well in 2012. He is probably an improvement on Luke Hochevar, but not by much. This is a rotation that has definitely improved, but still carries a lot of ugliness. This is the projected rotation with their 2012 ERAs and fWAR (2011 for Davis, his last year as a starter):
James Shields – 3.52 ERA, 4.3 fWAR
Jeremy Guthrie – 4.76 ERA, 1.0 fWAR
Wade Davis – 4.45 ERA, 0.9 fWAR
Ervin Santana – 5.16 ERA, -0.9 fWAR
Bruce Chen – 5.07 ERA, 1.3 fWAR
That is not the rotation of a playoff team.
The 2012 Royals rotation produced 7.7 fWAR, but large chunks of that came from Luis Mendoza and Luke Hochevar, who are no longer in the rotation. Guthrie posted 1.5 fWAR for the Royals in 90 innings last year, a performance he is not likely to repeat. If Santana matches what Mendoza did, and Davis covers Hochevar’s 1.5 fWAR, the only real improvement in this rotation is coming from James Shields, who is adding about 5 wins over the worst pitchers in last year’s rotation.
This team as a whole has only really improved by those 5 wins. Having a healthy Perez will probably add another win, and improvements by Hosmer may add another 1-2 more. Even if the Royals have improved by a few more wins than that, that’s only 10 more WAR than last season, when they won only 72 games. That would be 82 wins in 2013, possibly 1-2 more if they get lucky. And this is all before you start factoring in having to face the much improved Indians and still-great Tigers 38 times this season. We just don’t see how this team can contend for a wild card, let alone win 90 games.