Kansas City Royals: Year-end review, starting pitchers

The primary area of focus this offseason for the Kansas City Royals should be the starting rotation. Let’s see how each member performed in 2019.

All eyes will be on new owner John Sherman and General Manager Dayton Moore this offseason, knowing full well that they badly need to improve the starting rotation. Just so we’re clear, if the rotation remains the same next year while they wait for the pitching prospects to make their big league debuts, we might as well pencil the Royals in for another 100-loss season and a fifth straight year of declining attendance.

Certainly, the offense is not great but one could make a great argument that the big league roster has more keeps for position players than they do starting pitchers. The rotation finished with the 8th worst ERA and the 4th worst K/9 in baseball. Strikeouts are not end-all, be-all to have an effective rotation, but right now the standard is the Houston Astros who have a combined 10.54 K/9.

Let’s give our grades for each member of the starting rotation this season.



Jakob Junis got off to a terrible start in the 2019 season, spinning a 5.33 ERA in the first half of the season. He tossed 106.1 innings with 98 strikeouts, but he allowed 20 home runs and 63 earned runs. It looked like he was going to right the ship in the month of July, as he allowed opponents to hit just 0.238 off him but then the wheels fell off again in the month of August. In the second half, Junis tossed 69.0 innings with 66 strikeouts, but still gave up 11 home runs and 39 earned runs. He was shut down after making 3 starts in the month of September after seeing his monthly ERA balloon up to 8.59.



One of the few bright spots on this pitching staff, Brad Keller entered the 2019 season as his first full year as a starting pitcher. He made 20 starts last season and 41 appearances total while spinning a 3.08 ERA. The 24-year old put together a decent first half of the season with a 4.47 ERA in 110.2 innings of work. He struck out 77 batters but allowed 55 earned runs and walked just as many. He put together a very strong half, highlighted by a 2.12 ERA in the month of July. His command improved as well, walking just 15 batters in 54.2 innings while striking out 45. Keller was shut down in late August due to arm fatigue and was originally going to be limited to 180.0 innings this year. Given the Royals record and the point in the season, there was really no need to push Keller any further.



Oh boy. Where to start with Glenn Sparkman. His last win of the 2019 season came on July 16 which he tossed a complete game. That one was an odd game in general as Whit Merrifield had an inside the park home run as well. Sparkman tossed 64.1 innings in the first half of the season to the tune of a 5.18 ERA, while allowing 14 home runs and 37 earned runs. He’s not a big strikeout pitcher but still put away 34. The second half of the season was not kind to Sparkman, who tossed 71.2 innings and allowed 16 home runs, 24 walks (1.58 WHIP) all to the tune of a 6.78 ERA.



Up until Danny Duffy was placed on the injured list with a strained hamstring, he had a pretty underwhelming season. With all the recent discussion of him potentially moving to the bullpen in 2020, it was looking more and more like a possibility. Through 100.1 innings of work, Duffy carried a 4.93 ERA and allowed 19 home runs and batters were hitting 0.269 off him. However, when he came back from the injured list, he looked like a completely different player. He was in a word, dominant, in September. In 5 starts, Duffy posted a 2.37 ERA in 30.1 innings of work while striking out 25 batters and holding them to a 0.185 batting average.



The Kansas City Royals signed Home Bailey in February under a minor league contract. He got off to a rough start with the team posting a 5.70 and 5.91 ERA in the months of April and May, respectively. He looked like he had righted the ship, posted a 3.48 ERA for the month of June while striking out 29 in 33.2 innings of work. Bailey was traded on July 14 to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for infielder Kevin Merrell. After the trade, Merrell was assigned to Double-A NW Arkansas and slashed 0.235/0.278/0.313 with 5 doubles, 4 triples, 13 RBI, and 9 stolen bases in 42 games with the Naturals. Bailey put together solid months of August and September for the Oakland Athletics with a 3.86 and 2.28 ERA, respectively.



Soon after the Bailey trade, Jorge Lopez was given a chance to earn a starting spot in the rotation. The 26-year old ended up making 18 starts for the Royals this year, which is more than enough sample size to know if he’s worthy of a spot next year. However, he did little to impress with a 6.57 ERA in 86.1 innings while allowing opponents to slug 0.540 and gave up 21 home runs and 63 earned runs.



Mike Montgomery came over to the Royals in July and did little to impress right away and he posted a 6.75 ERA for the month of July. However, he put together a promising performance on August 10, striking out 12 in a game against the Detroit Tigers and posted a 2.45 ERA for the month. However, he looked shaky in the final month of the regular season with a 5.79 ERA in 23.1 innings and allowed opponents to hit 0.323 off him. Consistency is Montgomery’s biggest problem right now. He’s shown the ability to put together a string of quality games but then will follow those with several duds. He’ll have a chance to improve next season as a member of the rotation.



After both Keller and Junis were shut down for the season, Eric Skoglund was given the chance to prove himself in the rotation. As a pitcher who primarily plays to contact, Skoglund was an absolute trainwreck. He finished with a 9.00 ERA in 4 starts (6 appearances) for the Royals this year and allowed opponents to bat 0.358 off him in the final month. In 21.0 innings of work, Skoglund had just 4 strikeouts while allowing 30 hits and 21 earned runs.



Heath Fillmyer made a few spot starts this season and things did not go well. He tossed 12.0 innings in 3 starts but allowed 18 hits, 14 earned runs, and 4 home runs while opponents hit 0.436 off him. It will be interesting to see if he remains in the bullpen next year because he didn’t exactly impress there either in limited action.
Next: Breaking down Kyle Zimmer’s 2019 season

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So obviously, the Royals front office has some work to this offseason. Outside of Duffy, Montgomery, and Keller, there is not a whole lot to like here. Before bringing out the pitchforks regarding Junis being left off, consider this. Batters have an average exit velocity of 90.0 mph off Junis and a hard-hit rate of 41.0 percent, both near the bottom of the league.

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