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Royals Rotation A Fantasy Mess

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Starting pitcher Luke Hochevar of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the spring training game at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Starting pitcher Luke Hochevar of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the spring training game at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Royals might be up-and-coming in the near future thanks to a glut of prospects making their way to the bigs, but the rotation still isn't fantasy-worthy just yet. Even in AL-only leagues, where 276 of the 350 active players need to be rostered, the Royals don't feature any starters to get worked up about.

Let's take a look at the projections that Baseball Prospectus's Player Forecast Manager has spit out for the Royals rotation in AL-only formats:

Player $ IP W SV SO ERA WHIP
Luke Hochevar $5.36 201.6 9 0 136 4.74 1.42
Jonathan Sanchez $5.20 159.6 8 0 157 4.46 1.46
Bruce Chen $5.03 180 9 0 123 4.62 1.42
Danny Duffy $1.41 108.3 6 0 94 4.73 1.49
Aaron Crow $1.31 100.7 5 2 84 4.81 1.52
Felipe Paulino $0.56 108.3 5 0 93 4.93 1.54

It's easy to see why these pitchers don't get any love from the PFM. The average American League ERA in 2011 was 4.08; the "best" projected ERA here is 4.46. The Royals had a 4.70 ERA last season, and Sanchez -- after switching leagues and out of a severe pitcher's park -- isn't a huge upgrade on that. All of these pitchers are expected to give up hits, walks, or both, as evidenced by the lofty WHIP rates. The league-average WHIP was 1.33 in 2011, so this isn't even close to what would be needed from a starter to be productive.

Throw in that none of the non-Sanchez pitchers can counter the hits, walks, and runs with strikeouts, and you're left with whether or not these pitchers can notch Ws or not. Given the Royals haven't arrived just yet -- even if they're close -- betting on wins from pitchers with numbers like that is a good way to sabotage your own season.

Is there any hope that these projections are just pessimistic? Sanchez might hold up a bit better in his transition from the NL to the AL than this, but he's also averaged just 154 innings per season since 2008. He isn't likely to provide both quality and quantity, and he'll need that to elevate about the $5 level. Aaron Crow could see a jump in value, as he's projected here for a low inning total due to working in the bullpen last season. But look again at the ERA and WHIP -- is more of that going to fix things?

Hochevar is the kind of pitcher who is more useful in reality than in fantasy. He'll give you innings, and it's not his fault he's considered the top starter in town. But his best season featured an ERA+ of 87 -- he's not winning any leagues for you.

The only one of the group who is worth a real flier is likely Danny Duffy. Duffy pitched well in the minors before taking a beating in the majors, but he'll be all of 23 years old in 2012, and actually missed bats at an above-average rate despite his struggles last year. If he can keep the ball in the park a bit more often, and the Royals start to help him out defensively -- he had a .331 batting average on balls in play last year -- then he will likely surpass this negative forecast.

As for the rest of the group? As with most things Royals these days, don't worry -- help is coming. It's just not here yet.