Three Good (And Two Concerning) Surprises from the 2022 Royals PECOTA Projections (Part 2: Pitchers)

A few days ago, I took a look at PECOTA projections and analyzed how Royals hitters fared for the upcoming 2022 season. For the most part, PECOTA seemed to have a more positive outlook for Royals hitters, which is promising for a team looking to improve upon their 74-88 record from the 2021 season.

In this post, I take a look at the pitcher projections for Royals pitchers. In all honesty, the outlook isn’t quite as sunny for the Royals pitching staff (for both starters and relievers).

That being said, considering that the Royals pitching staff as a whole ranked 20th in fWAR and 21st in staff ERA last season, according to Fangraphs, it’s not a surprise that PECOTA is a lot more conservative with Royals pitchers for 2022.

Therefore, let’s take a look at three “good” and two “concerning” PEOCTA projections for Royals pitchers for 2022, and what Royals fans can take away from those five specific player outlooks.

Good: Brady Singer, SP

Of the Royals’ young pitching corps, Singer had the best outlook for 2022, according to PECOTA. His projected 0.8 WARP is the highest of any Royals pitcher, and he is also projected to have a decent ERA at 4.12, which is the second-best mark for any Royals starting pitcher in 2022 (only Mike Minor is projected to have a better ERA at 4.06).

In terms of Baseball Prospectus-specific stats, Singer led Royals starting pitchers with a Deserved Run Average (DRA) of 4.79 and Deserved Run Average Minus (DRA-) of 103 (DRA- is like DRA, but on a scale of 100 as average; the lower number, the better the pitcher is). He also is projected to have a cFIP (adjusted Field Independent Pitching) of 108, which is not only the best mark for Royals starting pitchers, but also 11 points better than the second-best Royals starting pitcher (Minor, who has a cFIP of 119).

A big contributor to Singer’s strong outlook is the fact that he is expected to continue to generate strikeouts while limiting walks. PECOTA projects that in 127 IP, Singer will strike out 122 batters while only walking 48, good for a K/BB ratio of 2.54. Only Minor is expected to have a better ratio for Royals starting pitchers at 2.98.

I have written before that I think Singer is capable of having a strong season in 2022, especially if he can refine his pitch mix, and maybe develop and trust his changeup and four-seamer a bit more next year. His sinker has proven to be an effective pitch, and it could be even better, should Singer be able to complement it better with his four-seamer.

In fact, Baseball Prospectus recently had an intriguing article about the versatility of Singer’s primary pitch that is worth checking out:

While Singer may not have as high an upside as other young Royals starting pitchers, it isn’t out of the question to think that Singer could become a solid No. 3 or possible No. 2 starter for the Royals as soon as 2022.

Concerning: Daniel Lynch, SP

Daniel Lynch made his MLB debut last year and it was a rollercoaster, to say the least.

In his first call up to the Royals in May, he got absolutely shelled, as word came out that he was tipping his pitches, thus explaining why hitters were able to feast on him in his first few appearances at the MLB level:

After spending some time in Omaha to work on his mechanics, Lynch returned to the Majors later that summer. In his first start back, he was absolutely superb, as evidenced by this stat line from his return on July 25th to August 17th:

Unfortunately, Lynch cooled in the last couple of months of the season, and he finished with a 5.69 ERA and 4.81 FIP in 15 starts and 68 innings pitched. It wasn’t necessarily a “horrible” debut by any means, especially when compared to some of the other young Royals pitchers (i.e. Jackson Kowar).

That being said, for a pitcher who many Royals fans envision to the the “ace” of the Royals rotation for years to come, it wasn’t the most promising first exposure to the Major Leagues. Furthermore, it also left Royals fans and experts with more questions than answers.

Unfortunately, Lynch’s PECOTA projections aren’t necessarily promising either for the upcoming 2022 season.

PECOTA projects Lynch to finish with an ERA of 4.85, a DRA of 5.51, and a WARP of -0.1 in 78 IP.

Of Royals starting pitchers, only Jon Heasley is projected to have a higher DRA- (123) than Lynch’s 118 mark. Lynch is mostly hurt by a paltry strikeout mark, as PECOTA is only projecting Lynch to strike out 68 batters next season (though his walk total is relatively low at 30).

Those numbers aren’t exactly characteristic of a possible MLB “ace”.

Of course, it is possible that Lynch will make some adjustments this Spring, and be able to increase his strikeout numbers in 2022, which will make him more likely to outperform his mediocre PECOTA projections. However, the pressure will be on Lynch to take a step forward in 2022, especially if the Royals are serious about trying to compete in 2023.

Right now, Lynch’s outlook isn’t off to a great start.

Good: Jackson Kowar, SP/RP

While Lynch struggled in 2022, his issues were tame compared to what Kowar experienced at the Major League level last season.

In nine appearances and 30.1 IP, Kowar posted an 11.27 ERA and an fWAR of -0.3, according to Fangraphs. Kowar not only struggled with control (1.45 K/BB ratio) but he also was hurt by the long ball, as he allowed an HR/FB rate of 17.1 percent, which included home runs like this one to Amed Rosario at Progressive Field in Cleveland in late September:

However, there are some reasons to optimistic about Kowar going forward in 2022.

First off, in a recent Baseball America podcast about the Royals system, it seemed like scouts are optimistic that Kowar will bounce back after a rough rookie campaign:

And secondly, PECOTA projections for Kowar are pretty optimistic for this upcoming season.

PECOTA projects Kowar to put up an ERA of 4.54, DRA of 5.15, and DRA- of 111 in 71 IP in 2022, while essentially serving as a “swingman” for the Royals pitching staff (i.e. someone who can switch between the rotation and bullpen as needed).

I think that role would suit him in 2022, especially since I am not sure if he’s ready for a rotation spot full-time, but he doesn’t have anything else to prove in Triple-A Omaha. Starting out in the bullpen in long relief would be a win-win for Kowar and the Royals pitching staff.

To give some context about Kowar’s projections, he is predicted by PECOTA to finish with a better DRA than not just Lynch, but Carlos Hernandez (5.30) and even Brad Keller (5.21). Thus, if Hernandez or Keller struggle in the rotation at the beginning of the year, Kowar could slide in and be effective in their place.

Without a doubt, 2021 was a season to forget for Kowar…

On the other hand, there are a lot of signs that point to a rebound performance in 2022 for Kowar, though it may take him a couple of months to re-join the Royals rotation.

Concerning: Domingo Tapia, RP

Tapia was a pleasant surprise for the Royals bullpen in 2021, as he joined the Royals’ pitching staff midseason after being waived by the Seattle Mariners. At 29-years-old, and with only 4.1 innings at the Major League level prior to 2021 under his belt, expectations weren’t high for the fireballer from the Dominican Republic when he arrived from the Seattle organization.

However, Tapia surprised Royals fans with an effective campaign in the second half of the Major League season. In 34 appearances and 33.2 IP, Tapia posted an ERA of 2.67 and accumulated an fWAR of 0.5. After Scott Barlow and Josh Staumount, there was no reliever down the stretch that manager Mike Matheny trusted more than Tapia.

And when Royals fans check out clips like this below, it makes sense why Matheny depended on Tapia so heavily in those late-inning, high-leverage situations late in the season:

While Tapia’s 2021 was a season to behold and appreciate, Royals fans may need to temper their expectations a bit in 2022, especially after taking a look at his PECOTA projections.

In 65 IP, PECOTA projects Tapia to finish with a 4.99 ERA, 5.52 DRA, and DRA- of 119, which would contribute to a WARP of -0.4. Not only is his WARP the worst-projected mark of any Royals reliever in 2022, but his DRA is the third-worst mark for any Royals reliever, with only Collin Snider (5.69) and Ronald Bolaños (5.68) projected to be worse (and they are projected to throw under 30 IP).

It will be interesting to see if Tapia can overcome these lackluster projections, and still be a force in the Royals bullpen in 2022. The Royals have some up-and-coming arms on the 40-man roster, with not only Snider but also Nathan Webb and Dylan Coleman as possible options for the Royals in middle relief, should Tapia flounder.

At 30-years-old, Tapia won’t have much of a leash as the Royals setup man in 2022. If he wants to keep his spot, he will need to do a better job in terms of not just striking out more batters, but also limiting walks as well (his 1.73 K/BB ratio last year was sub-par).

As of now, PECOTA isn’t optimistic that he’ll be able to do that next season.

Good: Dylan Coleman, RP

Speaking of young relievers, Coleman is one Royals fans should be excited about in 2022, and not just because he’s a local product who played his college ball in Springfield, Missouri at Missouri State University.

In five appearances and 6.1 IP, the former Padres draft pick (who was acquired in the Trevor Rosenthal deal in 2020, along with Edward Olivares), impressed Royals fans with an explosive four-seamer that averaged 98.2 MPH, according to Baseball Savant. That being said, while his four-seamer garnered most of the attention with Royals fans, his slider was arguably the better pitch, especially as it generated a 40 percent whiff rate and a K rate of 50 percent a season ago.

Coleman threw his slider 39.4 percent of the time, and he was able to put hitters away on the pitch 20 percent of the time as well.

Here’s an example of Coleman freezing up the Twins’ Ryan Jeffers on a slider that touches the outside corner in the last game of the season at Kauffman Stadium:

Though it was a small sample, the 25-year-old former MSU Bear posted a 1.42 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. PECOTA seems to believe that Coleman will build on that stellar rookie “cup of coffee” and parlay that into a solid campaign in 2022.

PECOTA projects Coleman to finish with a 3.25 ERA, 4.02 DRA, and 86 DRA- over 52 innings of work next season. He is also projected to accumulate a WARP of 0.6, which would tie him with Barlow for the highest mark of Royals relievers. In fact, Coleman actually outpaces Barlow in projected ERA (3.34), DRA (4.17), and DRA- (89).

That isn’t to say Barlow is going to be bad in 2022. In fact, all of those projection metrics prove that Barlow will still be an effective ninth-inning man for the Royals next season.

It’s just that PECOTA projects Coleman to be slightly better, which could give Dayton Moore and the Royals front office some flexibility when it comes to entertaining possible trade offers for Barlow next year.

After all, Barlow will be a free agent after 2024, and he will be hitting his second season of arbitration after 2022, according to Roster Resource payroll information. That year-to-year negotiation process could get expensive for the Royals. Thus, trading Barlow this season, while his value is high, could be a way for the Royals to not just save money, but also clear space in the ninth inning for Coleman to take over.

Of course, Coleman has to perform at the MLB level first, and over a period of time that is more than just six innings.

However, PECOTA is optimistic that Coleman will do so as soon as next season.

And that’s a good sign for the Royals bullpen as well as the team overall, especially as it looks to be more competitive in the AL Central in 2023 and beyond.

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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