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Evaluating Royals pitchers halfway through the season

There hasn’t been as much raiding the zone as I’d like.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

It is an “evaluation season”, according to the Royals front office, so last week I evaluated how the position players have done so far this year. This week, I evaluate the pitchers, divided into starters and relievers. Overall, Royals pitchers have a 5.30 ERA, the third-worst in baseball, on pace for the worst ERA by a Royals pitching staff since 2006. Despite calls to “raid the zone” in spring training, Royals pitchers have the sixth-worst walk rate, and a higher rate than they had in 2022. Pitchers are organized by innings pitched.


Jordan Lyles didn’t bring high expectations when he signed a two-year, $17 million deal last winter. He was brought in to eat innings and is doing that, averaging 5.7 innings-per-start, above the league-average mark of 5.2. But they have been far from quality innings - he’s dead last among qualified starters in ERA and he has been pretty home-run prone - the sixth-highest rate among starters. Grade: D-

Brady Singer got off to a dreadful start - perhaps attributable to his missed time in spring training playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. But he has a 3.54 ERA over his last ten starts and has look more like the 4.5 rWAR pitcher he showed last year. His strikeout and walk rates are much worse than last year - even during his last ten starts - and his velocity is down, something to watch for going forward. He’s still not throwing his change up - his usage is actually down from last year. For a pitcher that was hoping to solidify his place in the Royals’ future, he is still very much a question mark. Grade: C+

Zack Greinke is still finding a way to retire big league hitters at age 39, although not at the rate he used to. He has the third-slowest fastball among qualified starters, but he has the second-lowest walk rate. He has been hit hard recently, with an 8.01 ERA and .972 OPS against over his last six starts, perhaps due to a shoulder injury that put him on the Injured List this week. He has been the worst pitcher in baseball the third time through the lineup by OPS, with opponents hitting .415/.409/.877 against him, so perhaps a quicker hook could improve his numbers. Grade: C+

Brad Keller has seemingly lost the ability to throw strikes. He has the worst walk rate in baseball by anyone with at least 40 innings pitched by a large margin. He has walked 7 of the 13 hitters he has faced on his minor league rehab assignment. His velocity was also down this year, another worrying sign. Still, he wasn’t getting pounded when he did throw strikes - opponents hit .261 against him with a .369 slugging percentage. But his days in a Royals uniform are likely coming to an end soon. Grade: D

Daniel Lynch missed the first eight weeks of the season, an unfortunate development in a critical year for a critical pitcher for Kansas City’s future success. His change up ranks as one of the best in baseball with opponents hitting just .091 against it with a 39 percent whiff rate. But his fastball velocity is down and he isn’t striking out hitters like he did last year. The second half will be pretty important for Lynch to establish he will be part of this rotation going forward. Grade: B-

Ryan Yarbrough was brought in to serve as a versatile long-reliever and occasional starter. His 6.15 ERA is awful, but he wasn’t actually hit that hard despite a very low strikeout rate. The 31-year-old lefty suffered a scary injury on a line drive to the face in early May and has been out since then. He is currently on rehab in Arizona and could return later this year, but with an ERA over the last three seasons combined, he may not get a MLB contract offer this winter. Grade: C

Austin Cox has been a pleasant surprise, setting a club record by not allowing a hit to the first 39 batters he faced in the big leagues. He was getting a lot of whiffs on his fastball as reliever, but was much more hittable in his two starts. He shows some promise as a lefty with decent drop to his curveball, but he’ll have to exhibit superior command to get hitters out with his 91 mph fastball. Grade: B+

Others: Mike Mayers flirted with a perfect game against St. Louis, but was otherwise unremarkable. Kris Bubic looked like he had figured something out in his three starts, but he will miss the rest of the season after Tommy John surgery. There were things to like about Alec Marsh’s first two starts, but overall he has given up 8 runs in 9 innings.


Carlos Hernandez always had one of the fastest heaters in baseball, but never had good strikeout rates until this year. He has even improved his walk rate, giving him a very solid strikeout-to-walk rate of 3.9. His ERA is over four, but that is in large part due to a five-run, no-out appearance back in April against Texas. His 2.67 FIP is 15th among relievers with at least 30 innings, and he could be due for some closing duties if Scott Barlow is dealt. Grade: A-

Taylor Clarke was having a terrific season until he wasn’t. He had a 2.70 ERA over his first 27 appearances, but has given up 16 runs over his last 6 23 innings. He found success early on the season relying on a sweeper and using his fastball much less than before. But it may be time to go back to the drawing board and re-tool, as he could be released if he continues to struggle this badly. Grade: C

Jose Cuas leads the majors in most inherited runners when he enters game and he has allowed 53 percent of them to score, the eighth-highest percentage of any reliever with at least 10 inherited runners. He’s a terrific pitcher with no one on base - opponents are hitting .250/.323/.268 against him. But with runners on base, he is gasoline to the fire - opponents are hitting .281/.388/.524 against him. He’s not a bad long reliever, but Matt Quatraro definitely needs to use him more judiciously. Grade: C

Scott Barlow had some early struggles, but he’s been pretty nails lately with a 2.59 ERA and a .544 OPS against since April 22. His velocity is down from last year, which was down from 2021, and yet he continues to strike hitters out. He has the 18th-best strikeout rate among relievers and one of the lowest hard-hit rates. He should be one of the more attractive trade assets the Royals have this summer, with the odds high that he is dealt. Grade: B+

Amir Garrett has not let many hitters put the ball in play against him - 43 percent of opponents either strike out or walk. His command isn’t great, but he can miss bats. An elbow injury cost him a month, but he is back now and if he pitches well the next few weeks, he could be another trade asset for the Royals. Grade: B

Josh Staumont had a promising future a few seasons ago, but he has been plagued by injuries and a lack of control the last two seasons. He is currently out with a neck strain and suffered a setback in his rehab, so his return date is unclear. He had a nice stretch in May, and his 3.80 FIP is much better than his 5.40 ERA, but he will need to throw more strikes and stay healthy to be part of the Royals’ future. Grade: C+

Others: Nick Wittgren has performed just as a 32-year old on a minor league deal would be expected to perform. Josh Taylor did strike out some hitters, but was largely unimpressive before a back injury sidelined for the remainder of the season. Max Castillo had mixed results, but could be a “bulk inning” guy as long as you don’t expect many strikeouts. The Royals were hoping a move to the pen could save Jackson Kowar’s career, and while he has had flashes of competence, overall he has been a disappointment. You will probably forget Brooks Kriske was ever on the 2023 Royals. The Royals had high hopes for Dylan Coleman, but his inability to throw strikes has been a huge disappointment. Jonathan Heasley showed promise with a velocity bump as a reliever. Collin Snider is probably getting his last best shot at making the bullpen. James McArthur set a club record for most runs allowed by a reliever making his MLB debut.