Judging the Royals

Strengths and limitations, Part II: Assessing the Royals’ pitching staff for 2016

Edinson Volquez’s ability to go deep into games helps preserve the Kansas City bullpen.
Edinson Volquez’s ability to go deep into games helps preserve the Kansas City bullpen. skeyser@kcstar.com

Yesterday we took a look at the strengths and limitations of the position players that are returning to the Royals in 2016. Today we’ll look at the pitching staff.

Edinson Volquez

Strengths: In 2015, Edinson showed durability and consistency; he made 33 starts, put up a 3.55 ERA and pitched 200.1 innings. Getting length from the starting pitcher helps avoid wearing out the Kansas City bullpen.

Limitations: A bad right cross. In the brawl in Chicago, Edinson let loose with one of the worst punches I’ve ever seen and luckily missed the guy he was aiming at. (I’m hoping Eddie hasn’t taken boxing lessons and wants to show me how much he’s improved once I arrive at spring training.)

Edinson’s supposed to be the grown-up who tutors Yordano Ventura — at least in theory — so getting in fights isn’t a good example. I asked Eddie what he planned on doing if he ever got at any of the people he was trying to fight, and he had the good grace to laugh at himself and admit he didn’t know.

Yordano Ventura

Strengths: Yordano has great stuff. A 100 mph fastball is a nice pitch to have, but it’s important for Yordano to throw his secondary pitches for strikes early in the game; that way hitters can’t just sit on the heater.

Limitations: Emotional stability. Ventura can’t get upset and drag his teammates into meaningless confrontations. He also can’t go into a shell and quit pitching inside because he’s afraid he’ll hit somebody and set off another round of criticism.

Yordano Ventura is as talented as they come, but he needs to keep his composure on the mound.

Chris Young

Strengths: Chris saved the Royals bacon on more than one occasion. Between Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Joe Blanton, Dayton Moore found 19 wins.

He is also a very smart pitcher. He knows what he’s doing, and because he can hit the mitt, the Royals’ defense can set up knowing that if the pitch is supposed to be inside, that’s probably where it’s going to be.

Chris also pitched well as a starter and a reliever, so that gives the Royals flexibility.

Limitations: Chris really does need to hit the mitt; if his location is off, he might not have enough velocity to get away it. With a fastball that rarely hits 90 mph, he does not have a lot of room for error.

Danny Duffy

Strengths: When he’s on, Danny has electric stuff and can be extremely hard on left-handed hitters.

Limitations: Consistency. Finding a consistent windup that results in consistent location is a knack that often eludes him. When that’s the case, the Royals’ defense needs to play straight up behind him because nobody — including Danny — knows exactly where the ball’s going.

That lack of consistency may be solved by moving to the pen; if Danny can’t be consistent over 100 pitches, maybe he can do it for 15.

Kris Medlen

Strengths: Like Chris Young, Medlen has experience as a starter and a reliever. And once again, that gives the Royals options. If Kris winds up in the pen, he can be used as a spot starter. Even though Kris pitches right-handed, he’s tough on left-handed hitters.

Limitations: That gets us to Medlen’s platoon splits; he usually throws a fastball, curve and changeup, but often doesn’t throw his changeup to right handers. The change moves down and toward his arm side, so that’s down-and-in on a right-handed hitter, down-and-away to a lefty.

If he doesn’t throw that changeup to righties (I’ve seen him do it, but not a lot) Medlen becomes a two-pitch pitcher when facing right-handed hitters, and that might make it tough to go through an order three times.

Luke Hochevar

Strengths: The Royals have had some success turning scuffling starters into successful relievers, and Luke’s one of them. As a starter, Hochevar was — at times — throwing six different types of pitches, and Dave Eiland believed Luke was throwing too many pitches of similar velocity. As a reliever, Luke can throw fewer types of pitches and achieve better velocity separation.

Limitations: In 2015, Hochevar was coming back from injury and got off to a slow start in May. That helped skew his numbers for the rest of the season. Luke needs to get off to a better start in 2016.

The Royals have had success when they have three lights-out relievers to call on because starters only need to go six innings. Pay attention to who gets slotted into that seventh inning role; it might be Hochevar.

If Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are as good in 2016 as they’ve been recently, get the ball to them with a lead and the game’s almost won. So that seventh-inning pitcher who has to bridge the gap between the starter and the back end of the KC pen will be crucial.

Kelvin Herrera

Strengths: A 100 mph fastball. He’s also got a breaking pitch and a changeup and he’s better when he can throw all three for strikes. When Herrera pitches, pay attention to the radar gun and see if he’s throwing secondary pitches for strikes.

Limitations: Kelvin can’t follow Salvador Perez into trouble; Sal can get fastball happy and call a bunch of them in a row. If that happens, Herrera might need to shake him off.

On the other hand, Eiland told me nobody gets mad if you throw 15 fastballs in a row but still punch out the side. Pitch execution is always more important than pitch selection.

Wade Davis

Strengths: One of the smartest pitchers I’ve ever been around. Once he moved to the pen, Wade’s fastball velocity jumped because he didn’t have to pace himself. Bullpen coach Doug Henry once told me Wade’s key pitch was his curve; Davis throws a hard one, and when it comes out of his hand, hitters can mistake it for his fastball.

Wade also has incredible mound presence. He just never appears to get shook.

Limitations: Not too damn many. Last year, when the Royals got closer to the finish line, manager Ned Yost was willing to use Davis for more than one inning, but most of the time Wade’s limited to three outs.

Again, this is by no means a complete listing of each player’s strength and weaknesses, but it should give you some things to look for once the Royals start playing baseball again.

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