KC Royals: Starting pitching plotlines

Jun 22, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Danny Duffy (41) pitches against the New York Mets during the fourth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 22, 2016; New York City, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Danny Duffy (41) pitches against the New York Mets during the fourth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Can Duffy be an ace all season? Will Karns be an effective starter? And who grabs the No. 5 spot ?

There’s a lot of plotlines regarding the Royals starting pitching to follow this season, especially since the tragic death of Yordano Ventura.

Here’s the three that intrigue us the most:

Can Danny Duffy be a true No. 1 for the course of the entire year?

In a season of mediocrity last year, Duffy’s emergence as a legitimate ace was the highlight of the summer.

The question now is can Duffy lead the Royals’ staff for a whole season?

After opening the season in the bullpen, Duffy made 26 starts and went 12-3 with a 3.56 ERA in those starting appearances. He struck out 167 over 161 1/3rd innings during that time.

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Being in the rotation full-time this year,  Duffy will likely get 33 or 34 starts this season. How will he hold up ? By far his worst stretch of 2016 came during the last month of the season when he went just 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA in his last six starts. A Royals postseason berth likely hinges on Duffy’s ability to be an ace from the start to the end of the year.

Is Nate Karns a big league starter?

The power’s there.

Over 265 1/3rd Major League innings, Karns has fanned 270 batters.

It just hasn’t translated to a lot of success yet. Last season in Seattle, Karns posted a 5.15 ERA over 94 1/3rd innnings. He bounced back and forth between the Mariners’ rotation and bullpen before his season was shut down early because of a back injury.

Karns’ only other full season in the big leagues was in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays. He went 7-5 and made 26 starts, posting a 3.67 ERA in 147 innings.  Despite his swing-and-miss stuff, Karns gives up lots of hits, almost one an inning over his career. In those 265 1/3rd big league innings, Karns has allowed 251 hits.

With Ventura’s death, Karns will likely open the season as the Royals’ No. 4 starter. His development – and how quick it takes – are crucial with the gaping hole in the rotation Ventura’s passing caused.

Who wins the No. 5 starter job?

Before Ventura’s death, the Royals’ No. 5 starter figured to be Karns, but with healthy competition from rookie Matt Strahm and possibly Chris Young.

That’s no longer the plan as Ian Kennedy is now the No. 2, Jason Vargas slots in at No. 3 and Karns goes from probable No. 5 starter to near-lock No. 4 starter. We touched on the rotation dilemma earlier this month, concluding that Kansas City will likely be on the lookout for at least one more veteran starter.

If the Royals are priced out of the the likes of Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and/or Doug Fister, Strahm is probably the favorite to win the job. (Can anyone really see Young winning the job? Yeah, we can’t either.)

A difference-maker out of the bullpen last year, Strahm posted a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings of relief for the Royals in 2016. The lanky lefty struck out 30 against just 11 walks in his first big league action.

The Royals No. 2 overall prospect according to Baseball America, Strahm  has excelled at every stop in the minors since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2014. Splitting time between A and High-A ball, he had a 2.59 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 94 innings in 2015. He followed that up by recording a 3.43 ERA in 102.1 innings for Double-A Northwest Arkansas last season, fanning 107 during that stretch before getting the call-up to Kansas City.

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Still technically a rookie because he hasn’t pitched 50 innings in the big leagues yet, Strahm has yet to throw more than 125 innings during his pro career. In fact, last years 124 1/3rd innings of work between Northwest Arkansas and Kansas City was about a 25 percent workload increase from his previous high of 94 innings in 2015.

One popular pick among fans is fireballer Josh Staumount, a former NAIA standout who now regularly hits triple digits on the radar gun in the minor leagues. Staumont will likely open the season at Double or Triple A regardless how he does in spring training. Staumont, who just turned 23 in December, went 4-11 last year in Single A and Double with a 4.23 ERA.