For the first time in who knows how long, the Kansas City Royals have a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Their two biggest offseason acquisitions — James Shields and Ervin Santana — have stepped up to lead the staff with the best ERA in the American League. They’ve been reliable all season long, combining for about six wins above replacement and pitching the Royals within shouting distance of a playoff spot.
Before the season began, though, nobody was hailing the dynamic duo as saviors. Instead, every baseball fan with a working brain was ripping Royals GM Dayton Moore for giving up so much to acquire Shields, Wade Davis and a player to be named later (Elliot Johnson). Moore, in a desperate effort to win-now, dealt Wil Myers and three prospects to Tampa Bay for Shields and spare parts. Shields is a number-two starter who’s going to be a free agent after the season. Myers is a 22 year-old phenom who’s already setting the world on fire and is going to be a star for years to come.
It’s scary to imagine what would’ve happened if Shields had gone bust — either by getting hurt or regressing to the dismal form he displayed in 2009 and 2010. The baseball universe would have imploded. Moore would be out of a job and probably hanged, drawn, and quartered in the streets of Kansas City by bloodthirsty Royals fans.
Thankfully, Shields has lived up to his end of the bargain by doing what he does best: staying healthy and pitching very well. The ever-durable Shields leads the American League in innings pitched while maintaining the second-best ERA of his career. He’s completed six innings or more in 26 of his 29 starts and has never pitched fewer than five. Even on days when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he still manages to go deep into games and preserve the bullpen.
Santana, on the other hand, represented a much bigger question mark. Nobody knew what to expect from the 30-year-old pitcher with a spotty track record coming off the worst season of his career, one in which he led the majors in home runs allowed and had an ERA over five. That didn’t discourage the Royals from taking him off the Angels’ hands and hoping he would pitch like he did the two years before last, when he delivered over 450 innings with a 3.65 ERA.
Sure enough, Santana bounced back. He’s been almost as valuable as Shields, and in some respects a better pitcher. Shields has the shinier counting numbers and a better ERA, but it’s Santana who owns the superior WHIP, xFIP, BB rate and K/BB ratio. The gamble has paid off.