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The Royals were right and I was wrong - Cole Ragans is a dude

The Royals appear to have found a gem in Ragans.

St. Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

There is a popular Twitter (X?) account called Freezing Cold Takes that highlights sports takes that have turned out to be incredibly wrong. Predictions like the Chiefs will miss the playoffs in the year they ended up winning the Super Bowl are saved for posterity.

Well you can add my July 3 article reacting to the Aroldis Chapman trade to the Freezing Cold Takes pile. In the piece, I lamented that the Royals had eschewed upside in favor of MLB-readiness by acquiring left-hander Cole Ragans. In fairness, Ragans was a two-time Tommy John surgery recipient with a 5.32 ERA in 64 1/3 big league innings with a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was a 25-year-old who reportedly threw in the low-90s and was labeled a potential back-end starter by Baseball America if he could get his velocity up.

Well he has gotten his velocity up. A lot. And he has suddenly turned into one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball over the last month.

Ragans ended the month of August with 53 strikeouts, the third-most by any Royals pitcher.

His 1.72 ERA for the month was the fourth-best by any Royals starting pitcher since Zack Greinke’s 2009 Cy Young season.

Best Royals ERA in a month (min. 5 starts), since 2009

Pitcher Month ERA IP K
Pitcher Month ERA IP K
Chris Young May, 2015 1.45 31.0 25
Yordano Ventura April 2014 1.5 30.0 31
Danny Duffy June 2014 1.69 37.1 31
Cole Ragans August 2023 1.72 36.2 53
Ian Kennedy August 2016 1.86 38.2 31

In August alone he was worth 1.8 fWAR, most among any pitcher in baseball. He had the lowest ERA of any starter, the most strikeouts (seven more than anyone else), and the second-best strikeout rate.

He has averaged 96 mph on his fastball, up from the reportedly 92-93 mph he was sitting at before the trade. Last month he had the fifth-best cutter in baseball with a plus slider to boot. He had the fourth-best swinging strike rate, including a 35 percent whiff rate on his change up. When hitters do make contact, they rarely barrel up - he is in the 89th percentile in barrel percentage. He induced a groundball rate of 47 percent and had the third-lowest home run rate in baseball last month.

In short, Cole Ragans is a dude.

I was wrong to write Ragans “has a chance to be the next Jordan Lyles” - he has already exceeded that low bar. One guy who was on to Ragans early was Preston Farr, but even his optimistic take at the time - calling Ragans a mid-rotation starter - may have been too low.

I don’t think the Royals just stumbled into him by accident either. They did their homework on the guy and noted the velocity bump. Players with an injury track record can be a bit undervalued in the trade market - once healthy they may be capable of exceeding expectations. Ragans has a very fluid, repeatable delivery that generates power without a lot of moving parts. It’s not hard to see why scouts might like his profile.

That’s why its always important to remember that stats, analytics, aging curves, prospect Future Value rankings, they’re all guides - very useful guides in fact - but they are not the last say on a player. Players all develop on their own timetables, with obstacles thrown in their way. That’s why team player development is so important. Teams like the Rays and Orioles have taken players no one else wanted and turned them into All-Stars. Hopefully Ragans is the first sign the Royals are on their way to becoming one of these type of franchises.

In the meantime, Ragans is the most exciting part of the Royals 2023 season not named Bobby Witt Jr. He gives the Royals another rotation option and has perhaps the most upside of any pitcher in the organization right now.