‘Another Missed Chance’: Three takeaways from the Brewers-Royals series

There was some hope going into this weekend’s series against the Brewers that the Royals could finish the year around .500. At 21-29 going into Friday’s game, if the Royals went 9-1 over their last 10 games, they would finish the year 30-30. While that seemed like a tall feat, the Brewers, Cardinals, and Tigers seemed like opponents who were not necessarily head and shoulders above the Royals in 2020. Furthermore, after winning seven of eight going into the weekend series against Milwaukee, there was some hope that the Royals could end the year on the kind of torrid run that could give Royals fans the hope that this was a season closer to their 2013 run, which preceded their success from 2014-2017.

Unfortunately, that long-shot dream of a .500 season seems to be dashed after the Royals were swept by the Brewers over the three-game slate, which was also their final road trip of the season. Now, as the Royals head into their final homestand of the season, the Royals are hoping to finish the year in a respectable way at Kauffman Stadium over the next seven games, even though it seems hard to imagine that the Royals will escape the cellar at this point. The Royals may be a better team than they were in 2018 and 2019. That being said, this is a club that is still in “rebuilding-mode” which can make it easy for casual Royals fans to tune out, especially as the Kansas City Chiefs continue their Super Bowl defense in dramatic fashion.

Thus, as the Royals head into the seven-game homestand to finish 2020 back at Kauffman, let’s take a look at three takeaways Royals fans may have after the most recent sweep to the Brewers.

Danny Duffy’s future in Kansas City looks hazy

There’s no question Duffy’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster with the Royals. Duffy gained notoriety from his DUI at Burger King in 2017, and he has done his fair share to try to overcome those demons from a few years ago. However, after signing a five-year $65 million extension following the 2016 season, not only has Duffy had off-the-field issues dog him, but his on-the-mound performance has left a lot to be desired as well. In 2018, Duffy posted a 4.88 ERA and 1.2 WAR in 28 starts. Last year, those metrics improved, as he posted a 4.34 ERA in 23 starts, but only pitched 130.2 innings, his fewest IP since 2013 (in which he only pitched 24.1 innings).

Even though he was thrust into the No. 1 role due to Brad Keller testing positive for COVID, Duffy once again has struggled overall, especially when it comes to his surface-level metrics. While he has increased his strikeout per nine rate from 7.92 to 9.30 from 2019 to 2020, respectively, his ERA and FIP have risen to 5.01 and 5.07, respectively. Unfortunately that increase has been mostly due to Duffy’s struggles once he faces a lineup the second time through the order. After his most recent start, according to Fangraphs splits, he is posting an 8.38 ERA in little over 19 innings when going through a lineup for a second time, in comparison to a 1.23 ERA in 22 IP when going through the order the first time through.

The initial thought may be to move Duffy to the bullpen in 2021, which seems to be the logical decision for GM Dayton Moore and manager Mike Matheny, should the Royals decided to keep him for the last year of his contract. However, Clint Scoles made a suggestion that the time to trade Duffy may be this Winter, with the Angels being a logical destination considering his Southern California ties and the Angels’ need for starting pitching. Here is what he said on Royals Academy:

While we don’t know the circumstances of Duffy’s incident this week, it may be a good time for the Royals to part ways. One team in desperate need of starting pitching who may work well with Duffy and the Royals is the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels already spent big last offseason and need a couple starting pitchers to add to their rotation this offseason. It’s a big ask for ownership to purchase both pitchers on the free-agent market, but a trade for Duffy, getting him closer to home and freeing some money for the Royals makes almost too much sense.

Minor Thoughts: 9/18/20 by Clint Scoles; Royals Academy

Whether the Royals move him to the bullpen or trade him for some organizational depth, it seems unlikely that the Royals will keep Duffy in the rotation following a disappointing 2020 campaign.

Salvador Perez may be the Royals’ MVP this year

This year certainly hasn’t been easy for catcher Salvador Perez. He not only was coming off Tommy John surgery which resulted in him missing all of 2019, but he caught COVID, which put him out in the beginning of the year, and he also missed time due to an eye issue. However, despite those issues, Salvy has continued to mash at the plate, and without a doubt has resurrected his case that he may be one of the best hitting catchers in the American League. (He leads all catchers with 100 or more plate appearances in WAR, according to Fangraphs.)

Salvy, despite only playing 29 games this year, has done a lot at the plate and in the field (his fielding and framing has improved slightly this year) to prove that he still should be considered as a key part of this Royals franchise’s future, even with catching prospect MJ Melendez lingering at the Alternate Site. Salvy has been the heart and soul of this Royals clubhouse for the past five seasons, and his return has been much welcomed, even if he has had bad luck keep him from the field more than he (or Royals fans) wanted. He will be a free agent after the 2022 season, and the Royals will have a tough decision to make on him: do they extend him and make him the Western Missouri equivalent of Yadier Molina? Or do they part ways, and give the reigns to Melendez or perhaps Meibrys Viloria? (Even though the latter seems more unlikely.)

Whatever Salvy’s future is, this much is certain: despite his abbreviated stint this year, he has been the Royals’ MVP and without a doubt, it makes one wonder what this team could have done in 2020 had Salvy been fully healthy and available for 60 games. Maybe the Royals would’ve still hovered around .500, but this team is better when he’s in the lineup, and that was fully evident in this Brewers series, as he had six hits, six RBI and two home runs in the three-game span.

The Royals have some decisions to make in the bullpen for next year (specifically with Scott Barlow)

Scott Barlow had been pretty good this year until this Brewers series, as his meltdown on Saturday night may make his future in Kansas City a little more unpredictable for 2021. Barlow gave up three hits and four runs, which included a home-run in his inning of work in a 5-0 loss on Saturday evening. When Barlow came into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Royals were only down 1-0 with a shot to still come back in the ninth. After he finished the inning, they were down 5-0, their chances pretty much shot at that point.

The trade of Trevor Rosenthal, and Greg Holland’s expiring contract could leave an opening for the closer’s job in 2021, and if the Royals should part ways with Holland, it could be interesting to see who would usurp the ninth inning spot. Barlow seems like a logical choice considering Matheny’s usage of him in the late innings and in crucial spots this year. However, while he has increased his strikeout rate, lowered his walk rate, and improved his BB/K ratio from 2019, his ERA has increased from 4.22 to 4.85 over the past year. The main culprit? His tendency to give up the long ball more often, as his HR/9 rate has increased from 0.77 to 1.38 from 2019 to 2020, respectively. That is not exactly the kind of trend Royals fans or management want to see from a potential closer.

Furthermore, the race for the closer’s position could be tight in ’21. Josh Staumont has made his case for the job as he possesses the most electric stuff out of the Royals bullpen in 2020 and beyond. Kyle Zimmer and Jesse Hahn have been successful reclamation projects who have overcome a history of injuries the past couple of seasons to be lights-out in the later innings. And Royals fans shouldn’t count out Tyler Zuber, who has looked much better after a rough patch on the mound during the middle of the season.

And thus, one has to wonder if the Royals may explore a trade of Barlow this Winter. After all, if Tim Hill could get a package of outfielder Franchy Cordero and pitcher Ronald Bolanos this season, it is possible that Barlow could fetch something similar. Barlow doesn’t seem like he would be in line for the closer’s job at this moment, for Staumont seems to be the most likely option, should the Royals not re-sign Holland (which seems less likely now considering Barlow’s struggles and Holland thriving since the trade of Trevor Rosenthal). Yes, Barlow is better than his ERA and has been solid for the most part this year sans some tough outings, but he also doesn’t seem to be like a long-term piece to this Royals team either. And if that’s the case, Moore would be smart to handle Barlow like he did Hill, which is trade him while his value is still high.

Only this time, it would be interesting to see this Winter if Barlow fetches something similar on the trade market to what Hill did shortly before the 2020 season began.

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