The Kansas City Royals, a club on a quest to improve its pitching, has signed a former first-round draft pick with unremarkable major league experience.
While other teams pursue and sign premier free-agent pitchers guaranteed to help them immediately, the Kansas City Royals continue to search primarily for bargain deals among the available crop of hurlers with undistinguished major league credentials.
The club’s quest to bolster their pitching corps with inexpensive but hopefully reliable help continued Tuesday with the signing of Braden Shipley, a former Arizona Diamondback with an unremarkable 5.49 ERA in his short major league career. Shipley will apparently earn $600,000, a salary barely above the major league minimum if he makes the big club.
The Royals’ minimal financial risk is commensurate with Shipley’s big-league record. In three short stints with the Diamondbacks, the team that picked him in the first round of the 2013 draft, Shipley is 4-6; his 5.49 ERA covers 100 total innings accumulated after pitching in 13 games in 2016, 10 in 2017 and three in 2018. Not possessed of overwhelming power or finesse, Shipley strikes out less than six batters per nine innings and has averaged more than four walks per nine frames.
Aside from Shipley’s brief trips to the majors, the Royals’ latest acquisition spent most of the past four seasons at Reno, Arizona’s AAA affiliate, where his ERA increased disturbingly each campaign: it was a serviceable 3.70 in 2016, but ballooned to 5.66 in 2017, 5.81 in 2018, and 5.95 last year. Not surprisingly, his RA9 numbers were correspondingly troubling: 4.00, 5.83, 6.30 and 6.51, respectively.
Although pitching apologists frequently (and accurately) characterize the Pacific Coast League, of which Reno is a member, as overly accommodating to hitters, its hitter-haven status isn’t the lone source of Shipley’s concerning tendency to surrender runs. He walked over 10% of the batters he faced in 2018 and over 9% of them in 2019. Hitting safely isn’t the only way batters reach base against him.
Shipley has, however, enjoyed some success since turning pro in 2013. Pitching at three minor league levels in 2014, he posted a serviceable 3.86 ERA and 9.1 SO9, striking out 127 in 126 innings. He gave up less than four runs per nine innings over 27 starts and lowered his ERA to 3.50 at AA Mobile in 2015; he was 8-5 at Reno in 2016 with only 22 walks in 119.1 innings before earning a promotion to the D-backs. Despite his disconcerting ERA’s, he was 7-6 and 6-4 at Reno in 2017 and 2018.
So it is that the Royals are again pinning some of their pitching improvement hopes on a once-promising, but yet unproven, free agent, one who relies primarily on a four-seam fastball and then a changeup, but mixes in a curve and rare slider. How Kansas City plans to use him is unknown-once a starter, the Arizona organization utilized him increasingly as a reliever. He’s performed unremarkably in both roles.
On the positive side, and if he sticks with the organization, Shipley will be under club control until becoming eligible for free agency for 2026; he has one minor league option left.
Unlike their recent signing of veteran pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, the acquisition of Braden Shipley does not bring an experienced hurler with a track record of success to the Kansas City Royals. The move is, however, consistent with the club’s tendency to bring aboard inexpensive alternatives to high-priced, proven free agents. Time will tell if KC’s latest low-risk acquisition gives the team a pitching placeholder while it awaits the big league debuts of its promising young minor league pitchers or a diamond in the rough long-term pitching solution.