Last night, while the Royals’ hitters were busy chewing up Francisco Liriano and spitting him out like they have so many left-handed pitchers this year*, Kyle Davies was brilliant for his third straight start.
*: Perhaps the least discussed aspect of the Royals this year has been their platoon splits. Against left-handed pitchers this year, the team is hitting .288/.343/.435. Against right-handed hitters, they’re hitting just .260/.310/.381. Against LHP, they have the 5th-best OPS in the league; against RHP, they’re 13th, just a rounding error ahead of the Mariners for last place.
That’s not a fluke. While Gordon’s struggles against southpaws are well-documented, he’s the only left-handed hitter with a pronounced platoon split – DeJesus and Teahen have hit almost equally well against either side. Meanwhile, Jose Guillen, Billy Butler, and Mike Aviles have all crushed left-handed pitching, while the first two at least have struggled badly against RHP. Miguel Olivo is a famed lefty-masher. Even Grudzielanek hit .395 against LHP in limited playing time.
As a team, the Royals are 35-24 when a left-hander** starts against them. Against right-handers, they’re 39-62. Bring back C.C. Sabathia!
**: Against left-handers not named “Cliff Lee”, they’re 35-19. Lee’s five wins against the Royals have been discounted by some people, but maybe they shouldn’t be.
Here are Davies’ last three lines, each of them resulting in a win:
9/15: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K
9/20: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K
9/26: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K
How unusual has this stretch been? A lot more unusual than it should be, certainly. Let’s start with a simple search: find the last time a Royal made three straight starts where he threw at least 6 innings, and allowed no more than 4 hits. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Davies is the first Royal to do so this century. The last Royals with 3 starts of 6 or more IP, and 4 or fewer hits, was Blake Stein in August, 1999.
Stein didn’t win any of his three starts, in part because he walked 12 batters in 21 innings. (Also, that was the year the Royals had arguably the worst bullpen of any team in major league history.) Those were the first three starts Stein made for the Royals after he was acquired from Oakland in the Kevin Appier trade – he wouldn’t have another such start for almost a year.
Davies, on the other hand, hasn’t walked more than two batters in any of his starts. Who was the last Royal with three straight starts with 6 IP, 4 or fewer hits, and 2 or fewer walks?
Appier, who actually had a stretch of four straight starts. In June, 1993. Appier won just two of those four starts, as back then the Royals had the kind of offense you’d expect from a team that thought David Howard was a solid everyday shortstop.
So how about this: when was the last time a Royals pitcher won three consecutive starts (in any number of innings) and allowed no more than 4 hits and 2 walks in each start?
Seriously. Never. Kyle Davies is the first pitcher in the 40-year history of the Royals to accomplish what would seem to be a fairly commonplace feat.
I’m not sure how meaningful this is. I mean, the Royals had a pretty fair run of success from 1976 to 1985 without ever having a pitcher accomplish this. (Davies is helped by the fact that starters throw fewer innings today; it’s a lot easier to allow 4 hits in 6 innings than 4 hits in 9 innings.) But I do think that Davies has earned the right to go for four in a row, as a member of the rotation next April.