Looking at Josh Staumont’s 2020 start…and what it could mean for the Royals in 2021

One of the more interesting reliever stories going into 2020 was Josh Staumont, a former second-round pick of the Royals in the 2015 MLB Draft who is known for his top-notch stuff, but has been plagued by wild control and command as a professional. The Royals’ top prospect according to Baseball America going into the 2017 season, Staumont made his debut in Kansas City to mixed results: while he posted a 3.72 ERA in 16 appearances and 19.1 innings of work in 2019, his 1.50 K/BB ratio, 40.3 hard hit rate, and 6.06 FIP belied that his rookie debut may not have been as good as advertised. And thus, it was not a surprise that despite his elite-reliever stuff, Staumont was on the “bubble” in some ways when it came to making the Royals’ bullpen in Spring Training.

However, in 2020, Staumont has arguably been one of the Royals’ best relievers through the first 11 games of play. Not only is his ERA down at 1.80 through five appearances and innings of work, but his K/BB ratio (4.50), hard hit rate (25.0), and FIP (4.44) have all improved as well. And lastly, his K rate has also dramatically increased, as he is posting a strikeout rate of 42.9 percent, which is 25.8 percent better than his strikeout rate with the Royals in 2019. And thus, it is no surprise that Staumont has been impressing not just Mike Matheny and Royals fans, but also other baseball fans as well, especially after he mowed down Javier Baez, Wilson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs on Monday night.

That being said, it has been just a short sample of five games for Staumont. And thus, Royals fans are wondering if Staumont can continue to be this kind reliever not just over the course of the 2020 season, but into 2021 and beyond, with perhaps a larger role?

Let’s take a look at some of Staumont’s metrics, and what that could mean for the remainder of 2020 as well as 2021.

There is no question Staumont’s stuff is playing up more this year than in 2019. Staumont starting out with the Royals club out of Spring Training/Summer Camp has probably resulted in him being more fresh on the mound, unlike last year, where he spent most of the year in Omaha and didn’t really get much work in Kansas City until rosters expanded in September. That is evident in his fastball velocity, for according to Statcast data, Staumont is averaging 98.6 MPH on his fastball in comparison to last year, where he only averaged 95.9 MPH. That kind of velocity difference is huge, especially for a power reliever like Staumont who relies primarily on his four-seam fastball (he threw it 59.5 percent of the time last year, and he is throwing is 58.0 percent of the time this season).

With the added velocity, Staumont is also seeing more effectiveness with the four-seamer. According to Statcast, his whiff percentage on the pitch is 33.3 percent and his put away percentage is 16.7. That is a vast improvement from 2019 when those rates were 15.4 and 9.1 percent, respectively. In addition to the added velocity making his fastball more effective, it has also helped make his secondary stuff tougher against opposing hitters as well.

Staumont has condensed from a four-pitch arsenal a year ago (four-seamer, curve, sinker, and cutter) to just a three-pitch one, as it seems like he has eliminated his cutter from his repertoire (he only threw it 4 percent of the time last year, anyways). He has boosted the use of his curve ball this year from 30.4 percent in 2019 to 35.8 in 2020 and he has seen gains in the higher usage of the pitch as his go-to secondary weapon. His curve was already pretty effective in 2019, as it possessed a whiff rate 43.2 percent and a put away rate of 31.6 percent. This year? That whiff rate has increased to 66.7 and the put away rate has also increased to 63.6. Those kind of metrics show that Staumont has the potential to not just be an effective reliever for the Royals this year, but one who could usurp the closer’s role by season’s end.

The biggest sign of progress though for Staumont in 2020 has to be his command, as is 4.50 K/BB rate is not only a vast improvement from a year ago (3 points higher to be specific), but it also is better than anything he has done in the minors by a long shot. In fact, over his five-year career in the Minors, Staumont has only posted a K/BB ratio over 2 twice: 2015 (in rookie ball, which it was 2.13) and in 2019 (with Omaha, which it was 2.00). Granted, a 4.50 K/BB ratio may be unsustainable considering Staumont’s Minor League history, and Royals fans should probably be preparing for some rough outings soon if Staumont’s past performance counts for anything. Nonetheless, this hot start and sudden demonstration of command show what Staumont is capable of, and that he can demonstrate excellent command of his pitches over a stretch of time, which he has done in 2020.

The Royals bullpen currently is loaded with veteran arms and it seems unlikely that Staumont will gain on them anytime soon. Early on this year, it appears that Matheny will rely on the trio of Ian Kennedy, Trevor Rosenthal, and Greg Holland out of the pen to get the Royals out of jams or earn save opportunities (though it seems like Matheny is going with a “closer-by-committee” thus far). That being said, Staumont has been more impressive than Scott Barlow, an early favorite to be the Royals closer in 2021 when Kennedy’s contract would be at the end of 2020. Barlow has made more appearances than Staumont (6 to 5), but Barlow has been less impressive, with lower strikeout rates (18.8 to 42.9 percent), K/BB ratios (1.50 to 4.50), and a higher ERA (1.80 to 3.18). While Barlow does possess a better FIP (3.57 to Staumont’s 4.44), that is probably due to the fact that Barlow induces groundballs better than Staumont, as Barlow is posting a GB/FB ratio of 2.00 to Staumont’s 0.60.

As stated, it is still early in the season and a lot could change for Staumont, especially considering how one bad performance can derail a reliever’s metrics. That being said, there is a lot for Royals fans to like from what the 26-year-old reliever has showed so far in 2020. If he continues to progress this year like he did from 2019, it could be an indicator that Staumont indeed could be the closer of the future in Kansas City. His command will need to hold (history says that it won’t, but he’s off to a good start to proving people wrong) and it will be interesting to see how opposing hitters adjust to his stuff and pitch variety as they get a better scouting report on him. Nonetheless, much like Kyle Zimmer, who has found new life out of the bullpen in 2020, Staumont is giving Royals fans hope that the late innings could be in safe hands in 2021 and beyond.

After all, Kansas City has a great tradition of relievers from Dan Quisenberry to Jeff Montgomery to Joakim Soria to Wade Davis to even Greg Holland.

It would be a great story for the Royals if Staumont could also join that list.

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