The Royals entered this season with by far the best farm system in baseball and have since stocked their major league roster with prospects, including first baseman Eric Hosmer, second baseman Johnny Giavotella, third baseman Mike Moustakas, lefty starter Danny Duffy (who will pitch on Tuesday), and relievers Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Greg Holland, Everett Teaford, and Rule 5 pick Nathan Adcock. Those players haven't accomplished much more than getting their feet wet, however.
Moustakas has been awful. Hosmer has hit just .254/.317/.384 since June 8. Giavotella has been solid but has only been up for ten games. Duffy has just six quality starts in 15 turns. Crow, a curious choice for the team's lone All-Star selection, has a 4.08 ERA and three blown saves in his last 16 outings. Tiny Tim Collins has walked 6.7 men per nine innings. Teaford has just one more strikeout than walk. Coleman and Holland have been excellent, but neither was considered among the cream of the farm system, and Adcock, who is in this discussion only by virtue of being a rookie, has a 5.23 ERA.
That said, the Royals do have a roughly league-average offense thanks to the unexpected performances of their outfielders, two of whom were roundly mocked when the Royals acquired them this offseason. Alex Gordon, who is finally fulfilling his potential at age 27 is actually one of the most valuable players in the league according to Baseball Prospectus's WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player). Melky Cabrera is, at 26, having by far the best season of his career, hitting for unprecedented average and power. Jeff Francoeur is having his best season since his rookie year of 2005, thanks in part to a career-high walk rate and his best power performance since 2006. Add in Billy Butler's typical not-great-but-good showing at DH, and the Royals have half of a solid major league offense.
Of course, that has been undermined by Joakim Soria going rotten, posting the worst save percentage among the 24 men with 20 or more saves this season, most recently collaborating with Crow to blow a 7-3 lead against the Rays last Wednesday. Put it all together, and the Royals have the third-worst record in baseball, which is an unfortunately familiar place despite all those new faces, and are 2-8 over their last ten games coming into this series. They did, however, take two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx in May, handing David Robertson a blown save and Ivan Nova a loss in the process, though Nova is a different pitcher now than he was then.
A.J. Burnett (8-9, 4.60) vs. Felipe Paulino (1-4, 3.45), Monday, August 15, 8:10, YES
So, Phil Hughes pitched well enough on Saturday the he deserves to keep his rotation spot, and Ivan Nova is already confirmed as among the Yankees' top five starters, which nearly forced the issue on Burnett, except Freddy Garcia cut his finger and couldn't throw his split-finger well enough to start on Sunday, allowing Burnett to stay on turn in his place, but then Sunday night's game got rained out, giving the Yankees the chance to avoid a Burnett start with Garcia likely to be ready to take his next turn, but then they just decided to avoid the whole mess, push every one back a day, and, I'm guessing, give Burnett one more chance to make his case relative to Hughes, who may just be headed to the bullpen regardless, never mind how self-defeating that move would be for a team whose former top prospect seems to have finally re-righted his ship. As for Burnett himself, since his last quality start and/or win in June, he has posted a 6.00 ERA in seven starts. I can see no defense for keeping him in the rotation, which, contrary to Brian Cashman's complaint about Burnett being unfairly criticized because of his contract, is an opinion that is most easily arrived at by ignoring Burnett's contract. Of course, none of this is new to you, loyal Pinstriped Bible reader, but Jay pointed out something that further points toward moving Burnett to the bullpen. Over the entire season, his ERA in the first three innings is 2.88, thereafter it's 6.22.
Former Astros prospect Felipe Paulino has always had good stuff, but control and injury problems plagued his development with Houston. Flipped to the Rockies for Clint Barmes this past offseason, the 27-year-old righty struggled in relief, but through it all he's maintained a solid strikeout rate north of eight per nine innings. After the Rockies sold him to the Royals at the end of May, he seemed to get a handle on his control and has since proven to be quite a savvy addition. He's not a diamond in the rough, exactly, but he might be an emerald. Paulino throws in the mid to upper 90s with a good slider, changeup, and curve and has a 2.04 ERA over his last three starts, all of which came against contending teams (the Indians, Tigers, and Rays). He has never faced the Yankees before.
Ivan Nova (11-4, 3.85) vs. Danny Duffy (3-6, 4.97), Tuesday, August 16, 8:10, Ch. 9
Among the elite prospects in the Royals system are three left-handed starters that the team hopes will form the bulk of their next playoff rotation. Duffy is the first of those to reach the majors, though he may also be the least of them, projecting as little more than a solid mid-rotation arm, a ceiling he has yet to reach. The team's third-round pick in 2007, Duffy actually retired prior to last season at age 21 only to have a change of heart two months later and pitch his way back through the system from rookie ball to his Double-A debut. This year, the Royals called him up after just eight Triple-A starts in which he struck out 48 men in 42 innings against just ten walks, one of many aggressive promotions by the Royals in the wake of the pre-season hype over the upper-level talent in their system. Duffy has a mid-90s four-seamer, the result of some extra ticks he picked up after returning from his brief retirement, which he mixes with a curve and changeup, and, increasingly, a low-90s two-seamer, and has overcome some early wildness to post solid peripherals over his last nine starts. Duffy hasn't walked more than three men in a game since June 14 and has allowed more than three runs in a start just thrice in 15 major league starts. Still, he has yet to provide the Royals with much in the way of reliability. Just one of his last four starts was quality and just six of his 15 starts have been quality this season.
Things are looking up for Ivan Nova these days. He seems to have finally locked down a rotation spot, and not just because Garcia cut his finger, and he made his first appearance on my list of the top the five American League Rookie of the Year candidates in my Awards Watch column at SI.com. Dig:
Nova leads major league rookies in wins and, after correcting for their disparate home ballparks, actually has a better ERA+ [Michael] Piñeda, which suggests that I’m undervaluing his candidacy a bit here. Nova has been coming on strong of late, too, going 7-0 with a 3.10 ERA and a solid 6.5 K/9 in his last eight starts. The catch is that the Yankees actually sent him to Triple-A for most of July, something his performance did not warrant, but A.J. Burnett’s contract did. The “last three weeks” line above includes all three of his starts since his return, which saw Nova called up to make a spot-start in a double-header and immediately pitch his way into a permanent spot in the Yankee rotation. Included in those three starts is a game against the White Sox in which Nova struck out a career-high ten men while walking none and allowing just one run in 7 2/3 innings. Also worth noting: Nova, now 24, threw 187 innings between Triple-A and the majors last year and thus shouldn’t be inhibited by innings limits down the stretch the way [Jeremy] Hellickson and Piñeda likely will.
Bartolo Colon (8-6, 3.31) vs. Bruce Chen (7-5, 4.15), Wednesday, August 17, 8:10, YES
The 34-year-old lefty Chen, a 13-year veteran, is 6 2/3 innings away from posting consecutive 100-inning seasons for the first time in his major league career. That alone tells you a lot about him. An American Leaguer in his last seven seasons and a former Oriole, Chen is no stranger to the Yankees, who beat him twice last year, hanging a 6.55 ERA on him in the process. I took a brief look at Chen when he was a free agent this offseason and the Yankees were dumpster diving for starters. Here's what I wrote:
This veteran lefty has played for ten major league teams in his twelve-year career, which doesn’t count the Blue Jays, who owned him for six months between his Red Sox and Orioles stints. He throws an 86-mile-per-hour fastball and assorted other left-handed slop, gives up a ton of fly balls (and thus home runs), and is pretty much the definition of a replacement starter. He’s not incapable of the random solid season, but seeing as he just did that for the Royals last year (101 ERA+ in 140 1/3 innings), betting on him to do it again in his age-34 season is unwise.
Since his disaster in Toronto, Colon has gone posted a 2.79 ERA in five starts with his usual solid peripherals. He's also pitching in August for the first time since 2005 (though he has made five September starts in between). That's all par for the course for Colon this season.
Kansas City Royals
2011 Third-Order Record:
Manager: Ned Yost
General Manager: Dayton Moore
Home Ballpark: Kauffman Stadium
Bill James Park Indexes (2008-2010):
LH Avg-107; LH HR-72
RH Avg-103; RH HR-87
Who has replaced whom:
• Mike Moustakas (mL) has replaced Wilson Betemit (DET)
• Johnny Giavotella (mL) has replaced Mike Aviles (BOS)
• Salvador Perez (mL) has replaced Matt Treanor (DL)
• Felipe Paulino (HOU) and Danny Duffy (mL) have replaced Kyle Davies and Sean O'Sullivan (mL)
• Greg Holland and Everett Teaford (both mL) have replaced Jeremy Jeffress and Jarrod Dyson (both mL)
1B - Eric Hosmer (L)
2B - Johnny Giavotella (R)
SS - Alcides Escobar (R)
3B - Mike Moustakas (L)
C - Brayan Peña (S)
RF - Jeff Francoeur (R)
CF - Melky Cabrera (S)
LF - Alex Gordon (L)
DH - Billy Butler (R)
L - Chris Getz (IF)
L - Mitch Maier (OF)
R - Salvador Perez (C)
R - Luke Hochevar
L - Jeff Francis
R - Felipe Paulino
L - Danny Duffy
L - Bruce Chen
R - Joakim Soria
R - Aaron Crow
L - Tim Collins
R - Louis Coleman
R - Greg Holland
L - Everett Teaford
R - Blake Wood
R - Nathan Adcock
C - Matt Treanor (concussion)
C - Jason Kendall (rotator cuff surgery)
L - Alex Gordon (LF)
S - Melky Cabrera (CF)
R - Billy Butler (DH)
L - Eric Hosmer (1B)
R - Jeff Francoeur (RF)
R - Johnny Giavotella (2B)
S - Brayan Peña (C)
L - Mike Moustakas (3B)
R - Alcides Escobar (SS)