Royals' chance at success hinges on rotation

The Kansas City Royals could be a surprising team in 2013.  Or they could be just as bad as ever.  The starting rotation will likely be the determining factor in any success or failure the team sees this year.  And two of the biggest parts of that rotation have major injury question marks.

As I wrote when the trade was made, there is a good chance Ervin Santana was pitching with an injury last season.  Now, their other big trade landing - James Shields - may also be breaking down.  If both pitchers are less than 100 percent, the Royals' may struggle.

Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs wrote a fantastic piece on Shields' control and how it may indicate an injury.  He points out that a drop in velocity is not the only indicator that a player could be pitching with an injury.  In Shields' case, he has not lost velocity on his fastball, but his control has suffered.  Pedro Martinez once said that when he was fatigued on the mound, you wouldn't see it in his velocity, but you'd see it in his control.  The same can be true with injuries.

In Santana's case, his velocity dropped and his arm angle dropped.  Arm angle, as I suggested back in November, was another indicator of injury.  If a pitcher suddenly drops his arm angle, it may be to compensate for pain while pitching.  Sanatana's command was not a good indicator of injury as he has never had great command in his career.

If the top two starting pitchers in the Royals rotation are hiding injuries (or injured and just don't realize it yet), Kansas City is in trouble.  The American League Central is not necessarily a powerhouse.  The Detroit Tigers are loaded, but other than that, there is very little real competition.  The fan base in Kansas City realizes this.  They also realize that for the first time in years the Royals have a team that could actually compete.

Santana is not an ace, but he was brought over for his potential and because he's been in the game long enough to figure out ways to win.  Santana has a career ERA of 4.33, but in numerous seasons he's shown an ability to pitch like an ace.  For him, the 2013 season marks a second chance.  The Los Angeles Angels game him plenty of time to develop, but he never got to where they wanted him.  In Kansas City, there will be pressure, but instead of simply being expected to win, fans in the city will actually appreciate him winning.

Shields is expected to be the team's ace this year.  That may not be fair considering he was never the ace in Tampa Bay.  However, Shields will embrace the role.  He is a good pitcher and a considerable upgrade over what the team had last season.  Although Zimmerman points out some concerning trends for Shields, the 31-year old left has still managed to pitch 200 or more innings in his last six seasons.

The 2013 season will determine whether or not either or both of these new pitchers for the Royals are dealing with undisclosed injuries.  It's important to remember that they both passed their physicals prior to joining the Royals.  But as the season wears on, watch Santana's release point.  Watch his velocity.  And when Shields is pitching later in a game, watch his command.  Kansas City need both of these players, but if they are injured, it would be best for the team to catch that now and get them healthy.  That almost never happens though.

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