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Ups and Downs: Gas can edition

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“‘Pen to win!” is not working out so well, lately.

Colorado Rockies v Kansas City Royals
Jake Junis prepares to pitch to the Rockies
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

To say that August has not been kind to the Royals would not be much of a stretch. Most fans, had this month of bad baseball been prophesied, probably would have guessed it would be due to a weak offense; something that nearly killed them in the first month of the season. However, while the offense has been almost entirely MIA for an entire week now, they were averaging more than 5 runs a game for the 20 games prior to that.

No, the problem for the Royals has been their pitching. They’ve been bitten by both ineffectiveness and injury. Since the last time we gathered here to judge the pitchers the Royals have sent a pair of starters and a pair of relievers to the DL - three of those guys weren’t pitching well even before being temporarily removed from the roster. Of the remainder every pitcher, with only two exceptions, has had least a stretch of bad performance. Some of them have even spent the entire last four weeks pitching poorly. It’s been a disaster.

All stats are thanks to FanGraphs, and represent the games played between July 30 and August 26.

Incomplete

SP Trevor Cahill - Key Stats: 5 ER, 7 IP, 4/7 K/BB ratio

To say that Cahill has not lived up to the Royals expectations when they traded for him would be a massive understatement. He was very bad and is now very hurt. They were counting on him to stabilize the back of their rotation but he now seems likely destined for bullpen duty if and when he returns. His best start as a Royal would remain a 4.2 inning outing against Seattle in which he allowed only a pair of solo home runs to score.

RP Neftali Feliz - Key Stats: 10.80 ERA, 5 IP

Neftali had started to look decent for the Royals but he had two very, very bad outings against the Cardinals in this stretch which led to five earned runs allowed on four hits, three walks, and a home run with only three outs recorded. He made only one more appearance against the White Sox before being sent to the DL with ulnar nerve palsy.

P Eric Skoglund - 0 GP

Eric has technically been in the big league bullpen for about a week. He got the start for injured Duffy on Sunday, but fortunately for him it’s not counted, here.

Bad

SP Ian Kennedy - Key Stats: 7.99 ERA, 2.66 HR/9

The big knock on Ian when the Royals signed him to what even then appeared to be a ridiculous deal was that he had suddenly and inexplicably started giving up tons of gopher balls. The hope was that with Kauffman’s home-run-unfriendly confines he would be able to bring that down a bit. He actually did, last year. This year it’s skyrocketed to a brand new career high, though.

His walks are up and his strikeouts are down. He’s near to setting a career low in stranding runners. Over his last five starts he managed only a single quality start, he averaged fewer than five innings per start, and he is currently on a three game streak of allowing multiple home runs. Forget opting out, if he doesn’t pull himself together soon he will have his least valuable season by fWAR in his career.

RP Joakim Soria - Key Stats: 10.80 ERA, 2.73 FIP

Everything continues to be confusing for Jack. All the peripherals tell the tale of a man who should be good. He’s striking out batters at a rate higher than he has seen since 2013. He’s never induced so many ground balls or had so few home runs allowed. His walks are down nearly a runner per nine innings from last season, a rarity on the Royals’ 2017 staff. The only red flags are his season BABIP of .351 (.421 in the last four weeks) and his strand rate; the 66% LOB (40% in the pertinent 5 games pitched) would be his worst in a season since 2014, a season which saw the last time he managed a WHIP under 1 to make his numbers work out, anyway.

RP Brandon Maurer - Key Stats: 6.97 BB/9, .417 BABIP, 72.9 Med+Hard%

He still has a chance to be a decent reliever if he can reduce the number of walks and the amount of decent contact he allows. I’m not entirely sure how he’d go about doing that, right now, but his pitch velocity will never matter while the exit velocities are so high and so many men get free passes.

SP Jason Vargas - Key Stats: 7.11 ERA, 4.26 BB/9

Several of Vargas’ numbers are eerily similar to Kennedy’s. He’s also made five starts in the past four weeks and only come up with a single quality start. He’s striking out more and allowing fewer home runs than Ian but he’s walking way too many and still only averaging about five innings a start.

RP Mike Minor - Key Stats: 11.57 K/9, 1.54 BB/9, 5.40 ERA

Whatever disease Joakim Soria has that makes his peripherals look tasty while still allowing way too many runs appears to be contagious because Mike Minor has caught it.

RP Ryan Buchter - Key Stats: .176 BABIP, 2.19 HR/9

Ryan Buchter isn’t the worst reliever in the Royals ‘pen; he’s actually got one of the lower ERAs. The BABIP and home run rates are scary, however given that the former should regress and the fear that the latter might not. Add in that he’s not striking out very many and it becomes obvious that he’s treading on thinner ice than you’ll find on a lake north of The Wall.

Good

RP Kelvin Herrera - Key Stats: 2.70 ERA, 6/5 BB/K

Kelvin’s ERA is much lower, lately. He gave everyone a scare when he was pulled from a game against Colorado last week but ultimately it was ruled that the injury wasn’t serious and he return to the mound Sunday against Cleveland. The lack of strikeouts continues to be a massive concern, for him, however.

SP Danny Duffy - Key Stats: 4.50 ERA, 11.10 K/9

In contrast to the starting pitchers we’ve looked at so far, Danny looked tremendous. He was not walking many or allowing a lot of home runs, and those strike out numbers are not just impressive but seemed to promise a return of Duffy to the ace form that earned him his contract extension. The Royals’ hopes that Duffy was returning to ace form appear to be dashed by the revelation that he has an elbow impingement following his last start against Colorado. They claim he may only miss a single start, but they’ve been rushing players back from the DL to be ineffective all season long so hopes aren’t high.

SP Jason Hammel - Key Stats: 4.62 ERA, 1.22 BB/9

This has been written before, it will be written again, Jason Hammel has been remarkably consistent for the Royals since his disastrous first month. There is value in a starting pitcher who will give at least five innings and no more than four runs. That value is best when that pitcher is the worst starter on the staff; such as not been the case in KC this season. That walk rate is highlighted because it’s a drastic departure from the beginning of the year when he was easily the worst starter in the rotation.

RP Peter Moylan - Key Stats: 66.7 GB%, 2 HR

Those two home runs are highlighted because they match the total he had allowed the entire season previous to this stretch. Ned has done a good job limiting Moylan’s opportunities against lefties the last four weeks, as he’s seen a left-handed better once for each week covered, and one of those simply got intentionally walked. He held righties to a .194 batting average.

RP Scott Alexander - Key Stats: 65 GB%, 2 HR

Similar to Moylan above Alexander gets his home runs highlighted because he’d limited them prior to this stretch; he’d only allowed two in his entire MLB career going back to spot appearances in 2015 before this. His groundball rate is down drastically from where it has been, but it’s still good. He’s currently on a seven appearance streak without allowing a run.

RP Kevin McCarthy - Key Stats: 0.00 ERA, 5/1 K/BB

K-Mac has been on the shuttle between Kansas City and Omaha all season long; that must be very frustrating for him because he’s actually been really good. Since the latest recall he hasn’t yet allowed a run.

SP Jake Junis - Key Stats: 19/2 K/BB, 1.02 WHIP, 0.42 HR/9

Junis was recalled to take Cahill’s spot in the rotation when he was injured and has been a revelation in his latest trip to KC. The last 4 weeks include 3 starts and a relief appearance after his start was skipped to ensure the veterans got to pitch against Cleveland. The relief appearance did not go well, but contrast his starts with the other pitchers currently in the rotation.

He hasn’t gone fewer than 5.1 innings in any start and he’s the only one to have an eight-inning appearance, his triumphant return in a double-header against Seattle where the bullpen badly needed him. In his three starts he allowed 1, 2, and 1 runs while striking out a total of 16 in 19.1 innings and walking a sole batter.

One thing that really stood out as the stats were being compiled was that the strand rates for the Royals’ pitchers all seem ludicrously low. According to FanGraphs the MLB average Left on Base percentage is usually about 70-72% and most pitchers hover around there, but over the last month more than half the Royals pitchers have strand rates significantly worse than that.

Typically one can view LOB%, BABIP allowed, and HR/FB in conjunction to identify bad luck. The Royals have some very low LOB% and some very high BABIP and HR/FB numbers. This is not a guarantee, but it would not be surprising at all to see the Royals bounce back and pitch much more effectively, very soon.