Taking a look at the battle for the Royals 4th postseason starter.

There is only four weeks left to go in the MLB regular season and the time to discuss the potential postseason starters for the Royals is now.

The situation that Kansas City currently faces isn’t what they had anticipated one month ago. For starters, Johnny Cueto, who Kansas City claimed off free agency in late July hasn’t lived up to the immense potential after showing promise early on. Cueto’s numbers haven’t been drastic as far as BB/K ratio goes since he has been in Kansas City (the ratio is still 4:1 in favor of strikeouts all year). But the biggest disparity for Cueto as a Royal for the most part has been allowing more hitters to reach base.

During the entire first half of this season, Cueto’s average OBP for opponents has been .290. Through eight starts as a Royal, his OBP allowed is .360. Of course these numbers are somewhat flawed considering the less amount of starts he has made in Kansas City where opposed to Cincinnati, yet the numbers that are indicated next speaks volumes to his significant drop-off.

His BAA and SLG for hitters are 100 points higher than they have ever been in his career. Cueto has represented a career .234 BAA. In 50 innings pitched for Kansas City, his BAA is .328. Also, batters have seen very low slugging percentages typically when they face Cueto, as it’s .379. Yet again, Cueto’s numbers take a heavy spike as hitters have slugged .476 since Cueto as been a member for Kansas City.

The necessary need for Cueto to produce quality outings is mandatory for the Royals postseason chances, but also in a way is a big reason for who Ned Yost hands the ball to as his 4th starter in October.

Right now, with the way everything is going the Royals should clinch the Central division in a few weeks’ time, maybe even sooner. It will take a little bit longer to clinch home field throughout the playoffs, but this is a position the Royals are currently leading. It will also depend on how Yost deviates his main starters of Cueto, Volquez, and Ventura. Whatever order he starts with, those three won’t matter for the division series. Since it is a best-of-5 set-up, there will be no need to start Danny Duffy or Kris Medlen. However you should expect to see them plenty in long relief solely for that round.

After that, the decision who to start is tricky. Between the two starters in Danny Duffy and Kris Medlen it is a toss-up. Both are relatively the polar opposite as far as command and mechanics are concerned, but can be equally as effective.

Up next will be the breakdown and claim of which starter deserves the head role.

 

Danny Duffy has the tools to make you confident, but his efficiency is concerning

Coming into this season, Duffy was poised to be the #2 starter in the rotation. Through mild setbacks, Duffy has at times flashed signs of brilliance, but other times for instance in early May has produced anything but a quality start.   Duffy is also the Royals’ lone left-hander, which allows Duffy to gain the overall edge as far as depth goes. By throwing a lefty in a best-of-seven series, this administers stability at the back-end. Throwing the lefty Duffy is needed considering Houston and Toronto have left-handers of their very own that will likely be their represented #1 starters (David Price for Toronto and Dallas Keuchel for Houston). 

After starting off the season poorly, Duffy has been able to turn the ship around respectively during the second half of the season. Duffy yielded an abysmal 4.65 ERA in the first half and since the All-Star Break has lowered it down to  3.66. The almost 1 full run difference in his ERA reveals that Duffy has done a better job of getting ahead of the count, this is shown by his 46 strikeouts. This already surpasses his first half strikeouts which was 41.

Overall, Duffy’s progression through 2015 has been steady, but nowhere near the “front-line starter” they previously envisioned. The inability to go to deep into ball games and pitch efficiently is one reason why placing him as their 4th postseason starter is a cause for concern.

Over his last 12 starts, six times Duffy has gone at least 6 innings into his starts. This isn’t half bad, but considering how inefficient he’s been, relying on their middle relief  when he is pitching may not be a bad option. Recently, through his entire starts from August to September, Duffy has struggled avoiding the “big mistake” early on. Walks primarily have become his achilles heel. He has averaged roughly 3.5 BB/9IP and typically his walks have occurred during the first time through the lineup.

Basically, Duffy has done very well as of late keeping the Royals in the game. Even amidst going short into games, Duffy has only surrendered 19 earned runs in his last 50 innings pitched. For Yost to leave Duffy out of the playoff rotation seems improbable considering the front office put so much stock into their home-grown talent.

 

Kris Medlen pitches smooth, but for long-term isn’t there yet 

For most of the regular season, Kris Medlen had been recovering from Tommy-John surgery. Medlen missed all of April through early June and went through rehab starts until the middle of July. To say that Melden’s arm and health is fragile is an understatement.

Once Medlen was cleared to pitch for the Royals in late July, he was demoted to long-relief duty. After former starter Jeremy Guthrie endured harsh set-backs, Yost made the decision to make Medlen the interim 5th starter for the remainder of the season. So far, the transition from the bullpen to starter has saved the Royals pitching staff. With only four starts under him, Medlen has commanded his pitches well. By staying away from the “big inning” that typically has plagued Duffy. Medlen has been able to go deeper into games much more smoothly than Duffy has, which in return works out well for his claim as a postseason starter.

Quite frankly, GM Dayton Moore’s outlook on Medlen was for 2016. No one speculated for Medlen’s return to the big leagues to come this fast. Despite the circumstances, before Medlen’s first relief appearance on July 22nd against Pittsburgh, it had been two years before he ever pitched in a major league game. Medlen’s numbers speak for themselves, through 37.1 innings pitched, he maintains a 4.58 ERA and 7.2 SO/9IP. But the big takeaway is that he is much more efficient than Duffy has been the last month.

Disregarding the small sample size of innings pitched, Medlen has faced 94 batters as a starter and opposing hitters have hit .264 off him. To compare numbers, this entire season Duffy has allowed hitters to bat .262, by facing 542 batters. Also, Medlen doesn’t play with hitters, he goes right at them. Medlen K% and BB% are significantly better than Duffy. 

Duffy 16% of strikeouts and 5.3% of walks compared to Medlen’s 21% and 9% is startling.

You can find these by taking  a look at both Medlen’s and Duffy’s splits on Fangraphs.

 

Conclusion: Who should get the start?

This is a win/win scenario for the Royals. Whoever they label as their 4th starter, the one that is left off will be serviceable in long relief. If Yost is going by stamina and a pitcher who can eat innings, Medlen would be the better option. But the Royals overall plan wasn’t to have Danny Duffy come out of the bullpen for a handful of innings.

Duffy, while he has been sporadic at times is the Royals future along with Ventura. Leaving him out just wouldn’t make sense. In this case, the Royals are well-worth gambling for who to use as their 4th starter because their bullpen has been dependable all season. Kris Medlen wasn’t planned to start in the postseason this early and placing him in a smaller role in the bullpen will work out better for him, as he continues to build and become Kansas City’s long-term starter next year.

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