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The Final Roster Projection: The Pitching Staff
The guys who throw the baseballs will determine how far this team can go.
We’ll know how far off I’ve been on these roster projections in about a week, but one thing I’ve found so interesting (and some have noted this) is that there have been roster battles that are actually tough decisions for this staff. And for the first time in awhile, a lot of them are tough decisions because guys are pitching well enough to make them tough decisions. Whatever the quote you choose to go with regarding how competition can make people better, it generally applies with a lot of the pitching staff. You hope those quotes ring true.
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As with the hitters, I’m using the Steamer projections for this final roster projection. I didn’t create it. I don’t know the methodology. I just know it’s out there and I’m using it as one of the many groups of stats I’ve used throughout this series over the last month and a half or so. And also as with the hitters, I have who I think makes it followed by who is next up if (when?) there are guys who falter or get hurt.
Zack Greinke - 4.66 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 14.3% K, 5.2% BB, 1.1 WAR
Brady Singer - 3.84 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 21.9% K, 7.0% BB, 3.1 WAR
Jordan Lyles - 4.99 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 16.3% K, 7.4% BB, 0.9 WAR
Brad Keller - 4.25 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 18.2% K, 8.8% BB, 1.0 WAR
Daniel Lynch - 4.35 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 19.7% K, 8.6% BB, 0.8 WAR
This is the starting five I projected before camp started and I haven’t deviated from it. Part of it is because we knew the first three spots were decided before anyone even got to Surprise and part of it is you could read the tea leaves. Keller got hit a bit his last time out, but his new curve and revamped slider have been big for him. I can’t talk to a scout who has seen him without him telling me how impressed I’ll be. And I was when I got the chance to see him on a televised game a couple of weeks ago. I hope he is able to carry that into the regular season and regain some of that effectiveness he had from 2018 to 2020 when he was actually quite good.
Lynch is the one who has the most to prove, I think, to stay in the rotation for the long haul. I’ve been told that this season is a big one for all of these young pitchers. They have to figure out how they’re going to succeed on a big league roster or they’ll find someone else who can moving forward. Lynch has options remaining, so he’ll still be a part of the mix no matter what happens, but he has to show in 2023 that he can be counted on in the way many thought he could when he was drafted.
His spring, I think, has been a mixed bag. He’s throwing strikes, but he’s still not getting strikeouts like you’d think he can. He did mention on the broadcast last night working on some things, but still, you want to see some more strikeouts from a guy like him. It’s hard to break down a baseball schedule because there are just so many games, but it seems like he’ll get Toronto with a ton of righty power, then San Francisco, Atlanta and either Texas or Atlanta to start his season, so he’ll be tested fast.
Lyles struggled again with his control last night, which is kind of surprising, but he did get himself up to 90-ish pitches. Like the Dozier deal, the money for Lyles isn't actually that prohibitive in the baseball world, but I still question the need for a second year. That said, the $8.5 million AAV was tied for 23rd-highest signed among free agent pitchers this year and 18th out of 20 multi-year deals signed, so that’s probably what we should expect from him. Greinke is Greinke and Singer likely won’t be ready to go until at least the third game of the season. He’ll start tomorrow in Surprise and then again on Tuesday against the Rangers, so he could be good to go 90-100 pitches by that first Sunday of the season.
Kris Bubic - 4.31 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 20.3% K, 9.6% BB, 0.6 WAR
Ryan Yarbrough - 4.84 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 14.3% K, 6.6% BB, 0.6 WAR
Jonathan Heasley - 4.89 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 17.1% K, 8.4% BB, 0.1 WAR
Jackson Kowar - 4.08 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 22.0% K, 9.4% BB, 0.0 WAR
Mike Mayers - 4.38 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 20.7% K, 8.5% BB, 0.0 WAR
The depth here, as I noted on Monday, isn’t ideal. Bubic has had a pretty nice start to his spring, but the fact that it’s March 22 and we’re still talking about the start of his spring is informative that he won’t be ready for starter innings because of getting going late. The same is likely true of Yarbrough who I’ve got in the bullpen below. Then you look at Heasley, who was demoted after a dreadful big league spring and you realize that the initial five need to hold down the fort for a bit while some other guys get built up/healthy. Additionally, Kowar is someone who is interesting to me now with them pushing his slider so hard. I think they want him in relief, but they may not have a choice if he’s pitching well in multi-inning stints.
The surprising name here is Mayers, who I wouldn’t have included, but Anne Rogers did the other day and it made a lot of sense with the depth issues. He doesn’t have an opt-out for awhile and the Royals really could use someone who can come in and give five or six innings without completely bombing. It’s hard to say if that’s Mayers or not, but he’s worked mostly as a starter this spring and did make three real starts in 2022 (I say real because they weren’t as an opener). Maybe you see some sort of piggyback situation too with him. I don’t know. They really need to get their young arms going, whether that’s Heasley or they can get Jonathan Bowlan and Alec Marsh ready to rock. I’d also be on the lookout for TJ Sikkema and Beck Way by mid-season if they’re still searching.
Scott Barlow - 3.76 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 24.1% K, 8.7% BB, 0.5 WAR
Aroldis Chapman - 3.46 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 29.2% K, 12.7% BB, 0.5 WAR
Dylan Coleman - 3.78 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 25.2% K, 10.9% BB, 0.3 WAR
Josh Staumont - 4.19 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 23.9% K, 11.3% BB, 0.1 WAR
Amir Garrett - 4.07 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 23.4% K, 12.1% BB, 0.1 WAR
Carlos Hernandez - 4.41 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 19.0% K, 9.0% BB, 0.0 WAR
Richard Lovelady - 3.91 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 22.0% K, 9.6% BB, 0.2 WAR
This bullpen is tough to figure out. You can see how many pitchers are below. It’s a full bullpen that weirdly looks like some of the bullpens we saw for stretches last year for the big league club. Of the eight above, I’m completely sure that, if healthy, five of them are on the roster. Coleman, Lovelady and Hernandez all could go either way. It does appear that both Lovelady and Hernadnez have gotten their fourth option granted, so I think they could start the year in AAA for pure inventory purposes.
I’m confident Barlow is the closer and Chapman is his primary setup guy and occasional closer if the situation calls for Barlow earlier or Chapman later. I’m confident that Staumont is on this team if he’s healthy. He’s looked like old Staumont this spring and the pitch clock hasn’t been a problem for him. I’m confident that Garrett is on this team unless he’s traded, but I can’t see the future that well, so he has to be on this list for now. And I’m confident that if the Royals believe Yarbrough is healthy, he’s going to be in that bullpen.
I feel like I should be confident about both Hernandez and Lovelady because of the way they’ve pitched this spring. Hernandez looked great in camp and then looked great again for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Lovelady has been dominant this spring, though largely later in games against some lesser competition than some others. Still, four hits over seven innings with nine strikeouts and no walks will get attention. And in an open competition, it’s hard to argue he doesn’t deserve to get a spot, especially over someone like Josh Taylor who is similar but has gotten hit a little bit with a 1.650 WHIP and six runs allowed (though only three earned) in 6.2 innings. Sure we’re talking about impossibly small samples, but if there’s a competition, that’s what we have to go on.
So I think Lovelady has to be on this roster and it’ll be at the expense of someone I wouldn’t have guessed would be starting the year in the minors. And I think barring an implosion by Hernandez when he gets back in game action with the team, I think he’s shown that the upside is just too high to keep him off the roster. This list is why I think Hernandez has to be on the roster:
Where I’m less convinced every day, and I hate it, is Coleman. He is clearly nasty. He has struck out 10 hitters in six innings this spring. But he’s walked eight. And, again, when there’s competition, sometimes you just have to go with the guy who earned over the guy you think should have earned it. Coleman has struggled with control before. He walked 17 and struck out 19 in 17 innings from April 16 to May 31 last year.
He was sent down for a few days and came back and walked 20 in 47.2 innings the rest of the year. He had a 7.4 percent walk rate after the break. I think, at his best, he is probably the best reliever in that bullpen, but if he’s not at his best, the Royals have options who are better. It’s not a forever thing that he’s down in AAA, but I’m the least confident of anyone on any of my roster projections of Coleman making this club because of how he’s pitched.
Josh Taylor - 3.65 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 23.8% K, 9.5% BB, 0.3 WAR
Collin Snider - 4.65 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 15.9% K, 10.5% BB, -0.2 WAR
Jose Cuas - 4.36 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 19.6% K, 10.8% BB, -0.1 WAR
Taylor Clarke - 4.16 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 21.1% K, 7.4% BB, 0.2 WAR
Max Castillo - 4.54 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 18.3% K, 8.5% BB, 0.1 WAR
Ryan Weiss - 4.76 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 17.0% K, 9.2% BB, 0.0 WAR
Nick Wittgren - 4.57 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 17.3% K, 7.9% BB, -0.1 WAR
As a second eight, this is a pretty impressive bullpen. I think all could contribute to a playoff bullpen in some way, though the avenues are a bit different for all of them. Taylor’s exclusion from the Opening Day roster has more to do with others pitching too well and just being more ready than him pitching that poorly. Cuas was electric before he struggled the other day. The same can be said for Snider. And Weiss has been maybe the most mentioned NRI of anyone when I talk to people who have been around the team this spring. There’s also the familiarity of Brian Sweeney with Wittgren (and he’s been pretty good), the new slider for Kowar and Castillo is someone the organization really likes, though he’s had a big spring.
The big question for me is on Clarke. I mentioned this in a comment yesterday and on the radio in Columbia on Monday evening. He was, at times, the Royals second-best reliever in 2022. Today, I had a hard time putting him on the Opening Day roster, though I think there’s a pretty good chance they find a way. Some of that is purely because he’s another guy who got a late start and may not be ready to go. But part of it is just that there are only so many roster spots. Maybe the Royals shock me and option Lynch or something like that and let Yarbrough go as long as he can and that opens up a spot, but with this roster, I’m just not finding a place for Clarke, which is crazy to me.
It’s a big reason why I think this bullpen is going to be so good. Even if someone doesn’t do what we expect them to do, there’s a replacement ready. And, theoretically, there should be more replacements ready as the season progresses with maybe some of those starter candidates able to slide in and either try to do better in the bullpen or cut their teeth in the bullpen. It’s an interesting group that I maintain is going to be the best part of this team in 2023 and a reason why they can win more games than they should.
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The pitching on this club should be better. Their bullpen is better and you hope the influence of new coaches helps the returning inexperienced starters be better as well. But there are no guarantees. The 2022 Royals didn’t do much of anything well, but the starting rotation is what I’m most concerned about for the 2023 team. If they can figure some things out, who knows what this team can do? It’ll be interesting to watch as the season unfolds.