The starting rotation of the Kansas City Royals was labeled as the team's biggest weakness heading into last offseason. The same was said about the Royals roster heading into spring training. Now that the 2012 regular season is underway, the predictions were true -- the starting pitching is the team's achilles heel. And this was all before losing the team's most promising starter for the next year.
Buster Olney uses dramatic words to describe the loss of Danny Duffy and for good reason. While veterans like Bruce Chen can hope to hold the fort down for a decent five innings, Duffy's potential was as high as anything the Royals hold in their hand. Coming into the second year, Duffy was expected to make a significant jump forward with another 30 starts of MLB experience as the team and player grew together. Alas, it is not to be.
Olney writes, "The Royals' luck has been all bad this year ... You cannot overstate how important Duffy's development is to this organization, so you cannot overstate how devastating this injury is."
Duffy will need Tommy John surgery soon and that puts him out until 2013. However the injury usually takes a couple of seasons to completely come back (a la Jake Peavy). Joakim Soria experienced the same, so the Royals will hope both pitchers can come around. Even with medical advances, however, that gets the Royals nowhere in terms of starting pitching.
Other pitchers are taking steps forward, but Duffy was called up last season to lead the charge -- to turn into a capable veteran as the young guys established themselves year by year. It should have been Luke Hochevar, but that clearly hasn't worked as expected, so the responsibility fell to Duffy. Now, once again, the Royals are waiting for some homegrown product to take the ball every fifth day and anchor the staff.
Eventually it might come in the form of Mike Montgomery or Jake Odorizzi, but we're years from seeing that consistency. Unless the Royals import a known product, the starting pitching will continue to keep the Royals from seizing what is a surprisingly weak AL Central.