The biggest struggle for the Royals for the 2022 season was the lack of consistent command from its pitching staff.
Kansas City posted the highest walk rate percentage in all of the MLB, walking on average almost 4.5 batters per nine innings. They also had one of the worst strikeout rates in the MLB. This season’s pitching core, especially the bullpen, looks to improve on those numbers.
This is the starting rotation projected going into the start of spring training. Zack Greinke, Brady Singer, Jordan Lyles, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic. Greinke is the opening-day starter. He is a veteran of the rotation. He is entering the twentieth year of his MLB career. Greinke was at the top of the league in not walking batters. While he did struggle to strike out batters that is no longer part of his game. Greinke’s game is about his command. Seven out of the last eight seasons he has been elite in his command and not walking batters.
Singer has been a starter with the Royals since 2020. Singer was one of the Royals starters that struggled with walking hitters. He struggled early in the early part of the year posting a 10.5 ERA in April. In April he started four games and pitched only 12 innings. In May Singer posted a 33.75 ERA with 1.1 innings pitched. As bad as those numbers are, he did move closer to becoming an average pitcher. From June through the end of the season, Singer pitched 115 innings and posted an ERA of 4.79. The start of Singer’s season was so bad; it overlooks some of the improvements he made over the season.
Lyles has bounced around the MLB. Since he got his first start with Houston in 2011 he has spent time with the Rockies, Padres, Brewers, Pirates, Rangers, and Orioles. Over his career, he has posted a league-average ERA. He relies on six pitches with his main five being a fastball, slider, sinker, curveball, and changeup. His role throughout his career has been a middle-of-the-rotation piece. That is the role he will fill pitching for the Royals.
Daniel Lynch has pitched nearly 200 innings from 2021 to 2022. Lynch was one of the players that struggled with noncompetitive pitches last season. He gave up one of the highest hard-hit percentages in the league and was constantly having pitches hit hard with a high exit velocity.
In order for Lynch to have success this year he needs to improve the location of his fastball as it hung over the middle of the plate and without elite velocity on his fastball he needs to take advantage of location. He does have an upside. The fact he is young means Lynch has not reached his full potential. With a new coaching staff, they may be able to work with him.
Bubic has a similar problem that Lynch. Bubic is a young player that gives up a lot of hard-hit balls with a hit exit velocity. He walks batters at a higher rate than the MLB average and is limited by his pitch arsenal. Bubic only has three pitches. He has a fastball, a changeup, and a curveball. A starting pitcher needs to have four pitches. If a player can only throw three pitches as a starter he is inevitably going to not have one of his pitches work for a game. This means he is only going to be able to use two pitches. That leaves a batter in a spot where they can reliably sit on one of two pitches. That is a huge advantage to the batter. If Bubic can add another pitch like a slider or sinking fastball he would be better set up for the future.
The bullpen will see a combination of new guys as well as returning faces. Scott Barlow, Ryan Yarbrough, Josh Staumont, Jackson Kowar, Brad Keller, Dyan Colman, and Aroldis Chapman fill out the bullpen.
Barlow, Yarbrough, Staumont, and Chapman are all veterans and have proven they are valuable assets for MLB teams. Kowar, Keller, and Colman are all younger arms that spent time in the bullpen last year for the Royals.
Keller is the biggest question mark for the bullpen. He was part of the starting rotation when the 2022 season started but his struggles put him in the bullpen. One of the advantages of moving a player from the starting role to the bullpen is they can maximize their velocity. If a player does not have to pitch for five to seven innings they don’t need to pace themselves. Moving in the bullpen means pitching for one inning. The problem is Keller does not have elite fastball velocity. His fastball averages around 92 miles per hour even when he was in the pen. He may be the odd man out if he does not make changes to his stuff.
The overall pitching staff is not going to blow any team out of the water. Royals fans should not expect this team to lead the league in any metric. However, the team should be able to reduce the number of walks and the starting rotation should be able to keep the Royals in more games. One of the biggest culprits for the Royals’ failures last year was the pitching staff dug teams into holes the offense was not able to get out of.
A roster marginally better on the outskirts should lead to more wins and more competitive baseball as the year goes on.
The Royals’ offense has the potential to be an above-average run producer with the Royals’ pitching staff being around league average. The Royals will be a better team not only on the field but should also end the year with a better record than last year’s 65-97.