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Davies Holds the Keys to the Rotation

The future is bright in Kansas City for the Royals. We all know that. As the spring training schedule is getting into full swing, the Royals prospects are doing nothing to dispel that notion as almost all of the big names have performed strongly in the early going. We also know that we’ll be seeing very few of them in the 2011 season unless they have unreal seasons in the minor leagues, which the Royals have to be rooting for. Either way, the prospects are not the keys to 2011. The way I see it, this team will be made or broken by the performances of their starting pitching, which many expect to be incredibly poor. It’s easy to say that when your Opening Day starter has a career ERA well in excess of 5.00 and yet there’s still very little rotation competition in camp.

I think there’s a chance the rotation is absolutely awful. I expect Luke Hochevar to break out, but it’s just as likely that he doesn’t. I like the signing of Jeff Francis and I’m actually a Bruce Chen fan in spite of what I may have said in this space. I think Vin Mazzaro has a chance to be an excellent number three starter and maybe even more, though that’s a real longshot. He’s young, though, and may not quite reach his potential in 2011. The other pitcher in the rotation is one who I am least optimistic about, but probably has the best chance of actually being good, and he’s Kyle Davies.

We all know the story of Kyle Davies. He’s a Georgia boy who was ranked as the best 14 year-old and best 15 year-old in the country. The Braves drafted him in the fourth round and he motored through their system before making his big league debut a few years ago. He was okay, then struggled and then was traded to the Royals for Octavio Dotel. At the time, the Royals knew they had a project on their hands, but obviously loved the talent and potential. Well now after three full seasons in the organization and one tantalizing September, Davies is the highest paid pitcher in the rotation and probably the number five starter.

If that seems backwards, it is, but that’s something to get used to on the Royals over the next few years. The younger players figure to also be the best players, which means that the players signed to fill roles on the team will likely be higher paid than them. It’ll be an interesting dynamic on the Royals for a few years before the young stars begin collecting serious paychecks. As a side note, I sure hope the Royals are stockpiling the money saved on payroll this year and the next couple in order to pay their prospects when they start to get expensive. Back to Davies, though. He’s the highest paid starter on the staff, and he’s also probably the biggest disappointment on the staff, though he has to battle pretty hard with Hochevar on that one.

The question is whether he’s going to be able to finally put everything together and be the very good starting pitcher that we know he’s capable of. Pitchers don’t have stretches like his September of 2008 or April of 2009 without having some talent. We think of Davies as a flyball pitcher, but he actually gets about the same number of ground balls as he does flyballs. Last season, Davies had a FIP of 4.46, which didn’t exactly jive with his actual ERA of 5.34. His luck is bound to even out as the Royals defense has improved over the off-season. If you watched yesterday’s game on MLB Network, you know that the Royals infield defense has a chance to be legitimately fantastic with Escobar anchoring things.

So the defense should play a role in Davies’ reversal of fortunes for 2011. I don’t think he’s the type of guy who will put up an ERA in the low 3’s or anything, but with a little bit of help from the guys behind him, he could lower his ERA by a full run or more, which would be huge. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) allowed was roughly 30 points higher than could have been expected by the line drive percentage he allowed, so that could play a role in lowering his traditional numbers as well.

The thing a lot of people forget or maybe don’t even realize to begin is how important innings are to a starting staff. They’re valued quite highly, and Davies is durable enough that you know you’re going to get 180+ innings out of him. Fangraphs assigns a dollar amount to players to determine what they would or should be worth on the open market based on the assumption that a win above replacement is worth a certain amount of money. In 2010, a year where many Royals fans believed Kyle Davies was essentially worth, Fangraphs valued him at $7.9 million. I think there are certainly some flaws with their valuation system, but I’m also not smart enough to figure out what those are. Still, he’s not the worthless pitcher many believe him to be.

This is Kyle’s age 27 year, which is that magical peak year that many players have. Obviously some peak earlier and some peak later, but the average age is around 27, so maybe this is the year that Davies puts things together completely. I’d say he’s a good bet to at least be better based on the defense behind him and luck turning around for him a little bit in 2011. We obviously have no way of knowing what will happen, but if Davies does break out and even proves to be a capable number three starter, which he hasn’t yet, the season could go a lot smoother than many believe it will.

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