If you are a Royals fan, and you haven’t subscribed to David Lesky’s “Inside the Crown” substack, that needs to change pronto.
Because today, Lesky wrote a great piece about the starting pitching being a real concern of this squad for the upcoming 2023 season, even with the positive moves being implemented by the new Royals coaching staff.
His piece got me thinking a lot about the Royals’ pitching staff as a whole, especially when it comes to who I have been impressed by this Spring, and who has left some to be desired. While I do think the Royals’ pitching staff is in better hands under Matt Quatraro and Brian Sweeney than Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred, it is plausible that some of Kansas City’s young pitchers may not see a major turn in the right direction this year, if ever.
In this post, partially inspired by Lesky’s article, I am going to take a look at three pitchers that Royals fans should be concerned about for the upcoming 2023 season, based on what we have seen this Spring in Arizona thus far.
Lynch was one of the main pitchers mentioned in Lesky’s article, and this tidbit below is a big reason why he rises to the top when it comes to Royals pitchers who should be monitored closely by fans and the organization as a whole this season:
Daniel Lynch, on the other hand, I’m less enthused by. He started on Saturday against the Rockies back in Surprise. The line was ugly. He went 3.1 innings with five hits allowed and gave up four runs (three earned) with just one strikeout. He did only walk one and I couldn’t hear any of this game, but I did get a chance to catch up with a scout who’s seen a lot of Lynch.
“It looks the same, but just with more strikes,” he said. “I see the stuff, I see how he can get there, but I don’t see it happening and I can’t figure out why. I’m sure the staff is just as confused.”“The Weakest Link” by David Lesky; Inside the Crown
I was optimistic about Lynch and his outlook in 2023 under the new coaching staff, as I wrote about in a post earlier this offseason. Lynch has always displayed good stuff, and his PLV data seemed to confirm that Lynch’s pitch quality may be the best of any starting pitcher candidate on the Royals staff.
Here’s a look at how his PLV and PLA chart from 2022 looked like a season ago, according to Pitcher List data.
According to Pitcher List’s PLV starting pitcher rankings from 2022, Lynch’s overall PLV of 5.03 ranked 60th of starting pitchers with at least 100 IP. In fact, his PLV was higher than Brady Singer and Zack Greinke, who both had a 4.99 mark (which tied them for 74th in those same rankings with Milwaukee’s Eric Lauer, San Diego’s Joe Musgrove, and Chicago’s Lance Lynn).
Based on pitch quality alone, it is easy to think that Lynch, under new pitch instruction, would thrive and rise to the top of the Royals rotation at some point in 2023.
And yet, I am less optimistic that will happen, especially when reading about Lesky’s comments, and looking at his line in Cactus League play.
In five appearances (including three starts) and 13.1 innings pitched, Lynch is not only posting a 4.73 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, but he has given up five walks while striking out seven.
The hits and runs can be understandable considering the hitter-friendly environment of Spring Training. On the other hand, the lack of strikeouts and a decent number of walks are alarming numbers.
To compare, Brad Keller, who has also made five appearances this Spring, is posting a 6.60 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP, highlighted by three home runs allowed this Spring. That being said, he has struck out 16 batters while only walking five in 1.2 more innings pitched than Lynch.
Safe to say, Keller’s 3.20 K/BB ratio puts a positive spin on his otherwise rough Cactus League stint. Conversely, it’s harder to be more optimistic about Lynch’s 1.40 ratio. And to make matters worse for Lynch, Kris Bubic, who got off to a late start this Spring due to a minor shoulder injury, has struck out as many batters as Lynch (seven) in 8.1 fewer innings of work.
Lynch still remains in the driver’s seat for a spot in the Opening Day starting rotation, in my opinion. I think Bubic would benefit from a few more outings, whether it’s an extended Spring Training or in Omaha and Ryan Yarbrough needs more time as he just started pitching again after suffering a setback as well earlier this Spring.
But I am not sure how long Lynch will have command of that spot in the rotation, especially if this struggling trend for him transitions into the regular season.
Heasley was optioned to Triple-A Omaha almost immediately after a pretty disastrous outing on St. Patrick’s Day against the Angels where he allowed nine runs on nine hits in 2.1 innings of work.
Heasley only walked one on the outing, which was a positive. However, he gave up two home runs, including this bomb to Jake Lamb below which ended up being the nail in the coffin for him that afternoon.
Heasley’s line from the Angels is comical at the surface level. Unfortunately, his overall Spring Training numbers aren’t much better, as Royals fans can see below.
So it’s not just one start where Heasley has gotten lit up. He’s been pretty much batted around all Spring, which is not good for a guy coming off a season in which he posted a 5.28 ERA and -0.5 fWAR in 104 innings pitched.
For context, his fWAR was the worst mark of Royals pitchers with 10 or more IP in 2022, according to Fangraphs.
I was slightly optimistic about Heasley going into this Spring, though not as bullish on him as Lynch or even Bubic. I do wonder if the Royals will be transitioning Heasley to a long relief role to begin the season, which seems to be what they are doing with Jackson Kowar after Kowar also struggled this Spring and was consequently optioned.
Kowar’s initial move to the bullpen (and a focus on emphasizing his slider this Spring) has seemed to show some early dividends, as evidenced by Kowar’s most recent outing.
Could the same thing happen for Heasley in his next outing in Arizona?
Perhaps, but I think Heasley has a long way to go, even if he has pitched more innings at the Major League level than Kowar.
I know. It’s weird for me to say I am “concerned” about Coleman, especially after the season he put together a year ago.
In 68 innings of work, Coleman not only produced a 2.78 ERA, but also a 24.6 percent K rate and 0.4 fWAR, which are all impressive marks for his first full season at the Major League level (he only had a cup of coffee in 2021).
Coleman was mostly fueled by a strong second half that saw him decrease his walk rate from 16.8 percent in the first half to 7.4 percent in the second half. As a result, all his other metrics were incredibly boosted after the All-Star break, as one can see in the table below, courtesy of Fangraphs splits.
There’s no question that Coleman has some of the best stuff in the Royals organization. It’s a big reason why he’s penciled in to be a setup man in the Royals bullpen along with Aroldis Chapman for the upcoming 2023 season, according to Roster Resource.
In addition, it seemed like Coleman got in some intense work this offseason with Driveline, a good sign that he is doing what he needs to do in order to build upon his impressive rookie campaign.
So far, it hasn’t been a “poor” Spring by any means for Coleman, but it hasn’t been as impressive as Royals fans would’ve hoped back in February.
He is posting a 3.00 ERA and has struck out 10 batters in six appearances and six innings of work. He also has seemed to add some bite to his already nasty slider, and that has been a big contributor to the high strikeout numbers in Cactus League play.
While the strikeouts have come in droves for Coleman this Spring, so have the walks and hard hits, unfortunately.
He leads all Royals pitchers this Spring in walks with eight, which is two more than Jordan Lyles, who has pitched 5.2 more innings than Coleman. Additionally, he has given up six hits, including two home runs. Even though that hasn’t hurt his overall ERA, it has contributed to a high 2.33 WHIP.
I don’t think Royals fans should feel as pessimistic about Coleman as Heasley or even Lynch. Coleman will still be a major contributor to this bullpen, and the only way he wouldn’t make the Opening Day roster would be due to an injury.
That said, there’s been a lot of talks that Coleman could slide into the Royals’ closer role early on this year, especially if something should happen trade-wise with Scott Barlow or even Chapman (which has been heightened in the wake of the Edwin Diaz injury).
In regard to that, it would be prudent for Royals fans should cool their jets.
It is plausible that Coleman could be in store for another rocky start to the 2023 season, unless his control can stabilize soon.
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports