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How much worse did the Royals' rotation really get?

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Earlier this month we looked at how much worse the Tigers' rotation projected to be without Max Scherzer. The Royals also lost their staff ace to free agency this offseason. How much worse will they be?

James Shields indicating the number of years he will pitch for the Kansas City Royals
James Shields indicating the number of years he will pitch for the Kansas City Royals
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

When the Royals traded for James Shields it was said that they’d better make the playoffs in one of his two seasons for the juice to be worth the squeeze. As it turns out, the juice was delicious, as the team rode his staff leading 3.7 fWAR to the first Wild Card berth. Predictably, he departed in free agency leaving behind a compensation pick and World Series memories. The question is: Does the 2015 rotation have what it take to keep the playoff window that Shields helped to open from snapping shut?

In 2014, Yordano Ventura joined Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, and later Danny Duffy – who himself replaced an injured Bruce Chen in May – in the club’s starting rotation. Entering the season, those pitchers were projected to rack up 8.2 fWAR (average between ZiPS and Steamer projections).

Fast forward to this season and Ventura, Duffy, Vargas and Guthrie bid Shields farewell and welcome former Texas Ranger, Cincinnati Red, San Diego Padre, and Pittsburgh Pirate Edinson Volquez to the rotation. Together, the five project to produce a paltry 6.4 fWAR.  Although the 2015 rotation is projected for 1.8 fewer fWAR (despite being projected for 43.2 more innings) the Glass family will pay only about $1.5 million less than for their 2014 cohort.

Group Average Projected fWAR Average Projected IP Total Salary (in millions)
2014 8.2 786.1 $29,526,500.00
2015 6.4 830.0 $27,960,675.00

But the 2015 rotation isn’t competing with the 2014 projections; they’ll be compared to the actual results from last regular season. In 2014, Ventura, Vargas, and Duffy each blew past their projected fWAR. Ventura and Duffy each logged far more innings than expected, but even when you take the difference into account that they still outperformed their projections. Even Guthrie was able to moderately exceed his while logging the second most innings on the team. Together, they formed one of the most durable rotations in baseball, logging a collective 949 innings.

Player IP fWAR fWAR- Average Projected fWAR
James Shields 227 3.7 0.0
Yordano Ventura 183 2.8 1.3
Jason Vargas 187 2.6 1.4
Danny Duffy 149.3 2.2 1.3
Jeremy Guthrie 202.6 1.5 0.6
Total 949 12.8 4.6

Before you leave the Royals for dead, remember that Volquez wasn’t the only free agent starting pitcher that Dayton Moore landed this offseason. Moore also signed Kris Medlen who was non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves while rehabbing his second Tommy John procedure.

Medlen figures to join the rotation mid-season, either picking off the weakest member of the herd or a substitute in case of an injury. Add Medlen to the mix and you get 7.6 fWAR over 926.2 innings, just shy of the total logged by the 2014 rotation. While it certainly doesn’t match last season`s production, the situation seems less dire. In addition to his bat, ZiPS and Steamer likes Medlen to bring Shields-lite production at a discount, due to the risk in signing a pitcher rehabbing from major arm surgery.

Player Average Projected fWAR Average projected IP
Yordano Ventura 2.5 184.1
Danny Duffy 1.5 123
Jason Vargas 1.3 179
Jeremy Guthrie 0.8 182.2
Edinson Volquez 0.3 161.1
Kris Medlen 1.2 96.1
Total 7.6 926.2

For the Royals to succeed again this year, they’ll not only continued health, but for Ventura and Duffy to take another step (or two) more in their development and for the rest of the rotation to replicate their 2014 performances. It’s either that, or figure out a way to just start every game in the seventh inning with a one-run lead.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, Cot`s Contracts, and The Baseball Projection Project.

Matt Jackson is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.