Kansas City Royals: Jorge Lopez vs. Heath Fillmyer
Going into the 2019 season, the Kansas City Royals starting rotation is nearly set. While four of the five spots are filled, the Royals have just one spot open for competition. So who will take advantage of the situation?
For the Kansas City Royals, the starting rotation is nearly finalized. Whether the rotation is the same by the end of the year is another story though. However, right now the rotation consists of Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, and Ian Kennedy.
While Kennedy has quickly become someone fans are critical of and pushing to be moved to the bullpen, I don’t think he will to start the year. If he struggles to stay healthy or have success, then maybe he is moved. But for now, he will be marked as the 4th starter.
Which leaves the fifth spot open. While pitchers like Sam McWilliams, Trevor Oaks, and Eric Skoglund have been brought up (before Skoglund was suspended) I don’t think they were really in the conversation. Rather, I think the decision will come down to Jorge Lopez and Heath Fillmyer.
A case for Jorge Lopez
When the Kansas City Royals acquired Lopez in the trade with Milwaukee last year in the Mike Moustakas trade, many people, including me, considered the trade to have primarily been for outfielder Brett Phillips. However, Lopez seems to have forced his name into the conversation as someone to be taken seriously.
Lopez was someone who has bounced back and forth between starter and bullpen arm while moving up the Brewers system. Eventually, he zeroed in on being a bullpen arm, which when the Royals acquired him seemed like a great trade addition. However, the Royals seemed to have a different idea of how they were going to utilize him. And it actually seemed to work.
In 2018 with the Brewers, Lopez had appeared in 10 games, throwing 19.2 innings and posting a 2.75 ERA. The Royals viewed him more as a starter than a bullpen arm though and over his seven starts in Kansas City, he posted a 6.35 ERA over 34.0 innings.
While his 6.35 ERA is not good, especially in comparison to what he was doing coming out of the bullpen, it’s easy to explain why his ERA jumped. In his first game with the Royals, Lopez only made it 4.2 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays and surrendered six earned runs. Over his next five starts, he posted a 3.49 ERA over 28.1 innings. His 2.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio was decent as well.
In fact, he nearly threw a perfect game for the Royals back in September against the Minnesota Twins. He made it to the 9th inning before walking the first batter.
Unfortunately, in his very next start, Lopez was hit by a comeback hit and didn’t pitch again to end the season. Whether or not he was finally clicking with Salvador Perez or not will be something to pay attention too, but watching Lopez have back-to-back games of one-run baseball and throwing 7.0 and 8.0 innings before getting injured, and showing some success in multiple, consecutive games is encouraging.
A case for Heath Fillmyer
Fillmyer was acquired by the Kansas City Royals in a trade that sent Brandon Moss to the Oakland Athletics. Yeah, let’s let this sink in a little bit more.
When the Royals acquired Fillmyer, similar to Lopez, it was uncertain whether or not he would be used as a starter or bullpen arm. While in Omaha, Fillmyer struggled a little, posting a 5.75 ERA over 67.1 innings and 13 starts. Which made it a bit of a surprise when he was called up. However, he took advantage of his time at the big league level.
Spending some time in the bullpen, Fillmyer made 13 starts over his 17 appearances. But his numbers are a bit deceiving. His season ERA sits at 4.56 over 71.0 innings. However, his home and away splits are drastically different.
He made seven starts, eight total appearances, at Kauffman Stadium and posted a 2.91 ERA over 46.1 innings. When you see that, you can’t help but think he deserves to be in the starting rotation. The other end of the conversation makes you think a little longer though. Over his six starts, nine total appearances, away from Kauffman saw him post a 6.00 ERA over 36.0 innings.
The thing that is encouraging for Fillmyer though is how he ended the season. Over his last six starts, three home and three away, he posted a 3.89 ERA over 37.0 innings, five of those six games going 6.0 innings or better, and four games going 7.0 innings or better.
What about Homer Bailey?
Homer Bailey more than likely isn’t going to finish Spring Training with Kansas City. The biggest indication for that thought process is the fact that he signed a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training and an opt-out for March 25th if he wants.
Not only are his numbers less than impressive, a career 4.56 ERA over 12 years and 6.29 ERA over that last three years and 44 starts, but he doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Royals. When it comes to the future, looking at a younger player in the organization to fill the fifth spot is the most logical direction to go.
This is essentially a try out for Bailey to prove that he still has something left in the tank, similar to what Clay Buchholz did last year with the Kansas City Royals. If Bailey does, however, make a great comeback, the Royals would only have to pay him the league minimum, while the Los Angeles Dodgers pay the remaining $23 million of his contract, and they can flip him for something by July. May not be the best move, but it still is a possibility.
When looking at the potential options at the 5th spot in the rotation, I think Fillmyer should be leading the pack. With the way he ended the season, showing more consistency at home and away, if he has a strong Spring Training I think he ends up winning the spot.
What will most likely happen is Lopez gets the 5th spot due to his upside. Since Fillmyer doesn’t have “blow it by you” or “make you miss” stuff. Rather, he will manipulate the zone and is more of a contact pitcher, his fastball and sinker top off at about 93mph, a changeup and slider that sit about 85mph, and a curveball the drops to about 80mph.
Lopez throws a little bit harder, sitting around 95mph with his fastball, but has a better ratio when it comes to striking out hitters. Fillmyer has a 1.78 K/BB ratio, while Lopez has a 2.56 K/BB ratio.
With a higher ceiling, Lopez might get a chance over Fillmyer. According to early projections as well, MLB Royals Beat Writer Jeffrey Flanagan also believes that Lopez will win the 5th spot as of right now.
Obviously, things can change as time goes on. Adding Bailey to the mix, Skoglund getting suspended, and maybe another trade/signing all being examples as to how things change quickly leading up to the Spring Training. To me though, it seems like the right answer is giving Fillmyer a chance to continue where he left off. If he struggles, then giving Lopez or another starting option a chance is the teams next step.
2019 is a year to figure out who will continue being a member of the rebuilding Kansas City Royals and who will start to fade. Who do you think should win the duel? Should Fillmyer get a chance over Lopez? Or should Lopez get a chance based off of ceiling? Let us know below!