It’s no secret that the Royals have been a trainwreck this season. It’s also no secret what is currently the cause of all that destruction. The Royals’ pitching staff is just awful. Their biggest free-agent acquisition is currently the least valuable pitcher on the roster. Zack Greinke, their second largest free-agent acquisition, carries an ERA over 5 with all the advanced metrics agreeing that that is almost exactly where it should be.
Brad Keller has walked more batters than he has struck out. Brady Singer has seen his control slip from the progress he had made last season. The Royals’ lone bright spot in the rotation was Kris Bubic, but even after exiting the season to receive Tommy John surgery more than a month ago, he remains the third-most valuable pitcher on the team, per FanGraphs.
If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Ryan Yarbrough had a 6.15 ERA before being placed on the 60-day IL after being hit in the face with a line drive and the Royals have had to resort to bullpen games during his scheduled starts in the interim because they simply do not have another pitcher they can trust to even be as good as Lyles or Keller.
Early in the season articles were being written left and right about the progress the rotation had made. Warnings were issued that the sample sizes were small but hope was high. It didn’t take long for it to all come cratering down. At the time I wrote that I wondered how much the team was benefitting from the outside coaching provided at places like Driveline. Given these results, I now have to wonder how beneficial such places can be. After all, if the slider they developed for Keller was really as effective as it had looked after a couple of starts, he’d still be succeeding, right? If they had truly had anything to offer Greinke you wouldn’t expect him to have fallen off a cliff the way he has after a solid 2022 campaign.
It seemed once upon a time that the outside help might jumpstart some success for the Royals. Those hopes are faded. Left in their place is only the hope that the Royals signed the right coaches and we were simply silly to have believed significant change could come more quickly. In other words, all that’s left to do is wait and watch.
The Royals need to take more chances
Well, that’s not entirely true. Of late the Royals have made some interesting minor-league free-agent signings. There’s no telling if those will work out, as of yet, but at least there is movement in a system that is - and I cannot stress this enough - currently so devoid of talent that three-fifths of their rotation are Keller, Lyles, and a carousel of relievers. Though Keller’s next scheduled start is currently listed as TBA on the Royals’ website.
In fact, the idea of signing minor-league free agents is such a good one, they should bring it to the major league level. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of professional baseball pitchers currently not signed to a team. A team that lacks a fifth starter has very little to lose by picking one of those free agents and giving him a couple of starts to see if magic can be found. I’d prefer younger pitchers who, if gold is struck, would be available to continue pitching for the team into the future. But there is a benefit to going after veteran starters they could try to trade for lottery picks at the deadline as well. Anything other than what they’re doing now - i.e. bullpen games and pitchers who have already proven to be bad - would be a good start.
I recognize that doing this would mean handing out guaranteed contracts for the pro-rated major league minimum for the remainder of the season. I don’t think those expenses are sufficient to preclude this from being a worthwhile endeavor for a major league team as lacking in major league pitching talent as the 2023 Royals.
People may not remember this, but the 2013-2016 Royals actually took a lot of chances on starting pitchers. Ervin Santana was no guaranteed thing when they traded for him. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson, and Chris Young all carried certain levels of risk when the Royals brought them on board - all for a lot more than they’d be paying the kinds of guys I’m talking about - but all found some level of success with the team. Brad Keller and Scott Barlow were unproven acquisitions that each worked out for a time.
No, the Royals haven’t gotten any superstars this way, but in the same way that Brent Rooker might never be a star but is definitely playing better than Hunter Dozier right now, the Royals have continually acted like they have something to lose by letting ineffective veterans go in order to take chances on other guys. They don’t. They’re on pace to lose 110 games. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch a 120-loss team that was at least trying things than continue to see the same bad players continue trotting onto the field to continue being bad.