Is the Royals Rotation Actually Showing Signs of Improvement?

After firing hitting coach Terry Bradshaw, Royals Twitter quickly latched onto Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred, who has failed to inspire much confidence in Kansas City since being hired prior to the 2018 season. Eldred had been on the Royals coaching staff as long as Bradshaw, and the numbers haven’t been much better on a pitching end, as evidenced by their pitching ERA, which ranks 27th overall since 2018, according to Fangraphs.

That being said, based on the responses from Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore, it seems like for the time being Eldred’s job as pitching coach is safe, much to the dismay of frustrated Royals fans who are wishing for the Royals to move on from Eldred after five frustrating seasons.

Moore’s comment definitely signals a disconnect between Moore (and consequently the Royals front office) and the Royals fanbase.

Yes, Kansas City is a loyal fanbase that does love the Royals through thick and thin (and the moments have been thinner since 2018). The fact that the Royals still are able to bring a decent number of fans to the ballpark each night is a feat in itself, especially considering the state of Major League Baseball currently.

Nonetheless, it’s tough to watch a Royals team struggle, especially on a pitching end, night after night, as evidenced by their record which is currently 13-22 going into Wednesday night’s game.

While patience is thin with Eldred and the Royals pitching staff, the Royals pitching outlook took a step in the right direction on Tuesday night, in the second game of their scheduled doubleheader. Former 2018 first-round pick Brady Singer made his return to not just Kansas City, but the Royals rotation, as he began the season in Kansas City in the bullpen before eventually getting demoted.

Safe to say, Singer made his presence known in his return to Kauffman after a short stint in the Omaha Storm Chasers rotation, highlighted by the more frequent inclusion of his changeup.

In fact, Singer’s player breakdown from Baseball Savant was quite impressive, as he finished the game with an overall CSW (called-strike plus whiff) rate of 43 percent overall (including a 56 percent CSW rate on his changeup alone).

The Royals starting pitching staff has not been good this season. That is evident in their ERA (26th), WHIP (25th), and K/9 (30th).

On the other hand, after a stellar Singer return to the rotation, as well as another decent start from Zack Greinke on Wednesday, could the Royals rotation actually be showing signs of improvement?

Or is this latest string of decent starts just a mirage that may save Eldred’s job, but not actually produce any serious fruit or growth by the end of the 2022 season?

While the overall ERA of Royal starters doesn’t look good, when diving deeper into their metrics, the rotation is a bit more intriguing and is providing signs of optimism, especially considering all the changes they have made in the past couple of weeks.

Here’s a look at Royals starting pitcher metrics this season, via Fangraphs:

Of course, there are some ugly numbers from a few of the Royals starters on this list.

Bubic’s 13.14 ERA and 8.68 FIP are absolutely ghastly. Carlos Hernandez not only has a BB/9 higher than his K/9, but his 10.3 percent HR/FB rate is the third-highest rate on the team. And while Jon Heasley’s 4.32 ERA is serviceable, his 5.48 FIP and 6.80 xFIP hint at some regression soon unless he can lower that walk rate and consequently increase that strikeout as well.

On the other hand, there is a lot of promise from other starters in the Royals rotation that should placate even the most frustrated Royals fan.

Greinke’s numbers don’t look great on a K/9 end, as his 3.29 rate is almost comical, especially in this era where strikeouts are so highly valued. Furthermore, his xERA of 5.30 is 1.78 points higher than his actual ERA, which makes one wonder if things could come crashing down for Greinke, especially as the weather gets warmer, and the ball starts to fly a little bit more.

However, that certainly wasn’t the case on Thursday at the K, as Greinke’s called strike and whiff numbers against the White Sox were some of the best he’s had all season long.

But Greinke is just the tip of the iceberg for this Royals rotation.

Brad Keller, much like Greinke, isn’t striking out a tremendous amount of batters, as evidenced by his 5.15 K/9 rate. But, the former Rule 5 pick is limiting his walks (1.85 BB/9) and has done a tremendous job of keeping batted balls on the ground (51.5 GB rate). Those two factors have been key reasons why his ERA is 2.89, a tremendous improvement from his 5.39 mark a season ago.

Now, he has experienced some batted-ball luck (.227 BABIP) and he has the second-highest HR/FB rate on the team (11.6 percent). Nonetheless, his FIP (4.05) and xERA (3.30) are still respectable, which means that even if Keller experiences some regression later in the season, he still will be a productive starter in the Royals rotation.

And lastly, one of the biggest stories in the rotation this year has been Daniel Lynch, who is not only posting a 3.30 ERA in six starts and 30 IP but is also generating a K/9 of 8.70 and a K/BB ratio of 2.20 to boot.

Lynch has particularly succeeded with his slider, which has seen an 8.1 percent increase in usage from his rookie season in 2021. Lynch’s primary breaking pitch is generating a whiff rate of 28.9 percent, a K rate of 28.8 percent, and has a run value of -3, his best overall pitch, according to Baseball Savant.

His slider has also been a tremendous pitch in terms of generating swings outside the strike zone as well, as Nate Schwartz of Pitcher List highlighted:

It’s still early in the 2022 season, but that’s a tremendous group of pitchers that Lynch is keeping company with in regard to his slider.

And it shows that the “ace” potential that many have bestowed on Lynch a couple of seasons ago isn’t all that far-off, especially with him ranking higher than Clayton Kershaw and Gerrit Cole in that particular slider category.

It’s hard to remain optimistic with a rotation that is led by Eldred, especially given all the frustrations with this Royals pitching staff since 2018.

Singer and Bubic, two pitchers with higher expectations going into 2022, were not impressive this year before they were demoted to Triple-A. Additionally, Hernandez may be on the way to Omaha soon as well, especially considering his struggles on the mound this season.

However, Lynch, Keller, and Greinke have been solid contributors in the rotation, which is the reason why the Royals have won 13 games so far this year. Singer may be a force as well, especially if he’s able to utilize the changeup as frequently as he did on Tuesday night against the White Sox.

And while Heasley may not be an “ace” by any means, he works quickly and has held his own on the mound, even if he may struggle the third time around against a batting order in the process.

But then again, the Royals do not need Heasley to be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. They just need him to be a serviceable No. 5 guy, and he may become that as he gets more exposure to Major League hitters, and makes the proper adjustments.

And who knows what Bubic could do, especially once he irons out his command issues in Omaha (he needs to work on that fastball command and velocity). With the proper adjustments in Triple-A, he could also challenge for a spot in the rotation in late June or July, especially if Hernandez or Heasley don’t improve.

Perhaps Bubic could have his own “Brady Singer” moment…

And if he does, then this Royals rotation will not only be set up for the second half of the season but in 2023 and beyond.

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

6 thoughts on “Is the Royals Rotation Actually Showing Signs of Improvement?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s