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Royals Ups and Downs: Best rotation in baseball edition

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It’s true, the Royals’ rotation has the lowest ERA in baseball.

Kansas City Royals v Texas Rangers
Is Nate Karns good or is he bad? Are the Royals cursed or are they blessed? Will they ever win another game?
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last time we did this the offense was sputtering horribly and the pitching was carrying them along to a .500 record. More recently the offense has sputtered horribly and the pitching hasn’t been quite so dominant. They’ve now lost nine in a row - the bullpen and offense have been so bad, with the help of Jason Hammel, that they can’t buy a win anymore. Amazingly, the Royals still have the best ERA

All that being said, we’re still seeing some really great performances from our starting pitchers and we should celebrate them! (All stats current as of after Sunday’s game)

The Good

SP Jason Vargas - Key stats: 1.1 fWAR, 1.40 ERA, 9.82 K/9, 0.70 BB/9

Despite his recent poor start, Jason Vargas still has an ERA under 2.00 and all his peripherals are still very good. Mostly his ERA just got closer to his FIP, which is still stunning. He’s still worth as much fWAR as the rest of the rotation combined.

SP Ian Kennedy - Key Stats: 2.30 ERA, .184 BABIP, 4.02 BB/9

Ian Kennedy also continues to pitch very, very well. He carries an ERA under 2.50 and a decent strike out rate. Keep an eye on the BABIP and walk rates, though. The one is abnormally low and the other abnormally high for how few runs he’s allowed. He could be due some bad regression very soon.

SP Danny Duffy - Key Stats: 2.81 ERA, 39.6% GB%, 10.3% IFB%

Danny was looking extremely dominant as the season began but he hiccuped a bit in Chicago and now his states don’t look quite so good. However, the incomprehensible combination of continuing his high popup rates with what would be a career high grounder rate into nearly half his opponents batted balls turning into likely outs it seems he should look great again in no time.

RP Mike Minor - Key Stats: 0.4 fWAR, 2.27 FIP

Mike Minor has quietly put together a very solid season out of the bullpen, so far. He’s striking out his fair share and not walking too many, for a reliever. He’s also shown an ability to go long stretches of quality relief with that 3 inning outing against Texas last week plus the 2.1 inning outing, Sunday. If Hammel continues to struggle I predict a lot of people will be begging Ned to insert Minor into the rotation instead, very soon.

RP Joakim Soria - Key Stats: 10.97 K/9, 58.3% GB%, 2.53 ERA

Jack is back. Yeah, he blew up a bit in the first game of the weekend series but that wasn’t all his fault. He got pretty much no help from his defense - a common theme from last season - and he wasn’t going to carry a 0.00 ERA the entire season. He’s doing just fine as a setup man.

RP Scott Alexander - Key Stats: 78.1% GB%, 1.59 ERA

Scott made a strong push to join the team out of spring training but was ultimately demoted to the minor leagues in the interest of inventory and allowing Kansas City to utilize Terrance Gore as a pinch runner. Since returning he’s been nearly lights out, using his heavy sinker to get plenty of ground balls in key situations.

The Bad

RP Peter Moylan - Key Stats: 5.59 ERA, 14 Games

If this had been done last week Peter would have been on the good side of things, but allowing six runs in only one inning in Chicago - his first runs allowed of the season - just won’t do. Hopefully he’ll right the ship in short order.

He has pitched in a league leading 14 games so far, this year, and the appearance against Chicago was his third straight day pitching. Supposedly his sidearm delivery prevents him from getting the arm fatigue you’d see among other pitchers, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. for what it’s worth he didn’t pitch an entire inning in any of those appearances and he did have a 3 straight day pitching schedule in the first week of the season without incident.

SP Jason Hammel - Key Stats: 1 HR Allowed, 5.40 BB/9, 6.65 ERA

Jason Hammel is in the bad section and he only finally allowed his first home run, Sunday, that’s pretty impressive if you think about it. He does it by carrying an absurd walk rate. It’s hard to limit runs if you don’t limit batters. He also has the highest BABIP against among the starters at .384 so hopefully that will regress in a good way, soon.

RP Chris Young - Key Stats: 5/4 K/BB, .387 BABIP, 5.87 ERA

Chris Young is not surprising anyone anymore. Except that he’s only allowed 1 home run in 6 appearances, so far this season. Still his ERA is close to 6.00 and he’s walking nearly as many he’s striking out. He’s also lost his ability to completely baffle hitters into weak contact. His current BABIP against is much, much higher than his career rate of .253.

SP Nate Karns - Key Stats: 6.26 total ERA vs 4.84 starter ERA, -0.3 fWAR, 6 HR Allowed

His ERA looks a lot nicer if you remove that random relief appearance from his line. Even so, the rest of the stats are as a starter and he’s carrying a negative fWAR and has allowed far too many home runs. Of course, two-thirds of those home runs came in his last start, against Texas. Still, he gave them up. Before that he’d had 3 pretty decent starts so we can hope for him to get back to that in a hurry.

For reasons that may seem baffling Hammel actually has a positive fWAR, so far, despite having a much worse ERA than Karns. That can probably be tied to fWARs use of the FIP statistic which suggests Hammel has actually pitched much better than Karns, and had less help from the defense. The thing is that FIP punishes you far more for home runs than walks, and since Hammel has only allowed the one home run while Karns has allowed 6, FIP really likes Hammel. That will change if he can’t get the walks under control and faces Miguel Sano a few more times.

The Ugly

RP Travis Wood - 18.56 ERA, 13.50 BB/9, 2.25 HR/9

This was a signing that a certain dashing writer suggested the Royals shouldn’t make well before they made it. The one caveat was that if Wood were only used against lefties, he might be useful. Surprise, surprise Ned hasn’t done that - he’s actually faced more righties than lefties, so far. Unfortunately, even if he was being utilized ‘properly’ he wouldn’t be helping much: against right-handed hitters he has allowed a slash line of .400/.550/.733/1.283. Ouch. Against lefties he’s allowed .300/.462/.400/.862. Still terrible. In 9 appearances he has held the opponents scoreless only 3 times. He’s allowed multiple runs 4 times.

If you’re looking for positives he is at least striking out nearly as many batters as innings pitched...so that’s something, I guess.

RP Matt Strahm - 11.81 ERA, 10.13 BB/9, 1.69 HR/9

Every problem Travis Wood is having Matt Strahm has had, only worse. With the addendum that the Royals were absolutely counting on him to be a huge part of their pen, this season. The good news for Strahm is that since his demotion and return he’s actually had four straight scoreless appearances. Hopefully he’s back on track and ready to help anchor the leaky pen.

The Confusing

RP Kelvin Herrera - Key Stats: 3.00 ERA, 6.00 K/9, -0.1 fWAR

Kelvin goes here because he has a perfectly serviceable, if unspectacular, ERA of 3.00, but a negative fWAR due to the home runs allowed affecting his FIP the same way it did Karns above. His strike out rate is also at a drastic career low. You’d have to assume that the strike outs will come up as the season goes on, but it may be hard if he keeps having huge gaps in between appearances because the Royals can’t score any runs to give him save situations to pitch in.

RP Jake Junis - Key Stats: 1 Games, 18.00 BB/9

Jake Junis is here because he only got to pitch in one game. It was a scoreless inning but also included a pair of walks and a double. It was a miracle he didn’t allow a run. Shortly after that appearance he was demoted back to Omaha where he has resumed starting.

If you had told me before the season started that Karns would look serviceable while Vargas, Duffy, and Kennedy would look dominant for the first month of baseball I think I would have felt pretty confident in predicting the Royals would have a winning record at this point. Unfortunately the offense has been historically bad and the bullpen has seemed to fail miserably every time the offense does manage to show up. Them or Jason Hammel.

Only time will tell if the offense can find its way out of their slump and if the starters can keep up their amazing pace, even after Sunday the starters lead the league in ERA and are second in FIP - which gives one the sense that it hasn’t been entirely luck-based. The bullpen has shown enough flashes of excellence to think they’ll be able to hold up their end, should they be given a few more leads to protect. Preferably at least a couple of the large variety to get them warmed up.

Poll

Are you satisfied with the pitching?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Yes, it’s been very good.
    (98 votes)
  • 68%
    The rotation has been great, but the bullpen has been garbage.
    (262 votes)
  • 6%
    It’s a dumpster fire. Trade Duffy NAO!
    (25 votes)
385 votes total Vote Now