Sunday was my final day with the FanGraphs crew in Arizona. We tried to see the Cubs-Angels game but it was sold out. So, to make Matt Klaassen happy, we ended up seeing the Royals for the second time, as they took on the A’s. Leaving aside the question if watching the Royals makes a fan of their team happy or not, the game did provide a nice opportunity to see two pitchers vying for a spot in the rotation.
The Royals are set at the top of the rotation with Zack Greinke and Gil Meche. But after that comes a host of interchangeable pitchers. The depth charts at MLB.com, CBS Sports, ESPN and Yahoo! each show Kyle Davies as having a starting spot. Davies got the start today but was ineffective. He allowed 6 ER, 7 H and 3 BB (no Ks) in 2.2 IP.
Davies was relieved by Robinson Tejeda, who did not make the top five in any of the above listed depth charts. Tejeda cleaned up the mess left by Davies and pitched 2.1 scoreless innings. He allowed just one hit and struck out two. Tejeda was much more effective, although he was helped greatly by two nice catches by center fielder Jarrod Dyson.
It is never a good idea to read too much into Spring Training outings, but is there any reason to believe that Davies is a better option for the rotation than Tejeda? In two-plus seasons with the Royals, Davies has never had an ERA below 4.06 or a WHIP below 1.451, both of which he posted in 2008. That season, Davies’ numbers look good due to a 6.9 percent HR/FB rate. His xFIP for that season was 4.82, right in line with his 5.08 career xFIP.
Meanwhile, in 60 games for the Royals covering 113 IP, Tejeda has a 3.42 ERA. Last year Tejeda had a 4.07 ERA as a reliever and then in six games as a starter, he went 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA. Overall, he posted a 3.54 ERA, right in line with his 3.60 FIP. Tejeda’s xFIP checks in at 4.47, as he had a 4.7 HR/FB mark. In 373.2 IP in the majors, Tejeda has a 7.8 HR/FB mark.
But even if his xFIP is indicative of his true talent (it was 4.46 in 2008), that still makes him a better option than Davies. With a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a change, Tejeda racks up the strikeouts because he can produce swings-and-misses. He had a 10.63 K/9 last year and a 71.7 Contact%. In 2008, Tejeda had a 70.7 Contact%. If he could do that over an entire season of pitching, that would be among the best marks in the majors, if not the best.
With Tejeda, the big thing is his control. He had a 6.11 BB/9 mark last year and in his career he has a 5.23 BB/9. Even in his successful stint as a starter last year, Tejeda allowed 20 BB in 31.2 IP. The danger is with all of those baserunners that Tejeda could implode with an unlucky year in HR/FB rate. The potential for disaster is even greater because he is a fly ball pitcher. Last year Tejeda had a 0.69 GB/FB ratio.
But he has never had a season like that in the majors. In five seasons in the bigs, Tejeda’s worst HR/FB mark was the 10.7 percent ratio he posted in 2007. In order to justify starting Davies over Tejeda, one has to assume that Tejeda will have a season like he’s never had before while also assuming the same for Davies, just in the opposite direction.
Davies’ problem is that his fastball is not an effective pitch. While he averaged 91.6 with his heater last year, he was 9.5 runs below-average when throwing his fastball. In his five seasons in the majors, his fastball has never been even an average pitch. Last year he tried throwing it fewer times but the results did not change.
Very few pitchers can throw a fastball 50 percent of the time or less and be successful. Those that are able to usually feature a cutter as their second main pitch. Only James Shields used his changeup as his second main pitch, as Davies hopes/needs to do. And even Shields throws his cutter nearly 20 percent of the time the past two seasons. Last year Davies introduced a cutter for the first time in his career and threw it 11.1 percent of the time. By Pitch Type Values it was a neutral pitch. If Davies is to succeed going forward, he will have to throw more cutters and have it be a plus pitch.
The odds are against Davies succeeding, based both on his past history and the lack of success with his fastball. Fantasy players would be better off drafting Tejeda hoping he gets a shot at the rotation and that he can at least curb his walk rate a little bit. While Tejeda is unlikely to be a star, he has a more likely path to success than Davies does.