Everybody loves a good reclamation project and Royals fans have seen more than most. Zack Greinke in 2009. Alex Gordon in 2011. Mike Moustakas in 2015. Heck, let’s throw in 2011 Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera and 2015 Ryan Madson for good measure.
Royals fans are no strangers to seeing seemingly bad players finally figure it out or rediscover themselves in Kansas City. The common denominator between all of them, however, is talent. Greinke, Gordon, and Moustakas were all once top prospects. Francoeur as well. Melky was a serviceable outfielder in New York before finding his way to Kansas City while Madson was one of the better relievers in baseball from 2007-2011.
Eric Skoglund is not that guy.
We were all taken aback when he burst onto the scene with 6.1 innings of scoreless ball last May, but those days are long behind us. He has given the Royals very little reason to believe that he is a starting caliber pitcher and it might be time to give someone else a look in the rotation. Let’s just look at the obvious.
In his debut, Skoglund surrendered just two hits in 6+ scoreless innings and outdueled Justin Verlander in route to his first win as a major leaguer. Since then, he has started nine games to the tune of a 9.24 ERA. If you remove his April 28 start where he gave up just one run over 7.0 innings, that number balloons up to 11.03.
He hasn’t been good. He hasn’t been good at preventing runs, but he also hasn’t been able to give the Royals innings.
In four of his five starts this season, Skoglund has failed to pitch more than five innings. In six of his 10 career starts, he has failed to even get through five innings.
Now, I know that 10 starts aren’t a huge sample size, but there are obvious red flags here. Skoglund has given up at least eight hits in two starts this season. He gave up six in another start. Last season, he had multiple starts where he gave up more hits (7) than he recorded outs (4).
He isn’t fooling anybody. The Royals have certainly had worse pitchers, but there isn’t a whole lot to suggest that he is a major league starting pitcher at this point. You could point to his strikeout rate in 2018 (25 in 26.1 IP) but when he does give up contact, he has taken a beating. So far this season, 50% of opponent batted balls have been hit hard, while just 15% have been hit softly. The former leads the league while the latter is also near the bottom.
From the little research I did for this piece, there seem to a few identifiable issues. The first is the most obvious. His stuff just isn’t that great. Fangraphs gave Skoglund a future 40-grade as a prospect, which made him most likely to be a middle reliever and a spot starter.
This grade is much due to him having no plus pitches and just one above-average pitch in his curveball. His fastball and changeup are both average, while his slider is below average. Other entities, such as MLB.com and 2080 Baseball, gave him a future-45 grade, which would hypothetically make him a 5th starter, because they viewed his command in higher regard than Fangraphs. The others viewed his command as above-average while Fangraphs viewed it as average.
And unfortunately for Skoglund, his command has been proving Fangraphs right.
While watching yesterday’s action, I observed that Skoglund was throwing a lot of pitches middle-middle. So as any diligent blogger does, I meandered over to Brooks Baseball to take a look at his zone profile. This is what I found.
The most likely outcome of a Skoglund pitch for his career is a pitch thrown middle-middle. That isn’t increasingly uncommon, but for guys with average to below-average stuff, it isn’t ideal, especially at that high of a rate. Now, in his defense, this chart isn’t as extreme this season.
But he is still throwing a lot of pitches in the middle of the zone, whether that be horizontally or vertically. And it gets uglier when you single out right-handed batters, who are doing most of the damage against Skoglund this season.
The moral of the story is that middle-middle pitches are not ideal, even for the best pitchers. But having good stuff makes those bad pitches stink way less. Eric Skoglund doesn’t have that luxury.
I’m all for letting the youngsters sink or swim this season, so I won’t be offended if Skoglund gets 15-20 starts this season. If anything it will push the Royals closer to that magical first overall pick in next summer’s draft. But it might be time to look at Skoglund’s role.
I have been fooled in the past, but he isn’t looking like a Major League starting pitcher, so we might not want to pretend that he is. And given the Royals history, a move to the bullpen might not be the worst thing.