The KC Royals were once high on a lanky left-handed pitcher, but bad outings and a PED-related suspension have marred his career. What kind of season will he have in 2020?
Welcome back to the Kings of Kauffman 2020 Royals Preseason Player Previews. Our writers are breaking down 30 KC Royals throughout the next month; we’ll analyze how each fared last season, discuss projections for 2020, and offer commentary about both. Up for today is pitcher Eric Skoglund.
Eric Skoglund is a 27-year old left-handed major league pitcher who will receive over half a million dollars to ply his trade with the KC Royals in 2020. He isn’t eligible for salary arbitration until 2022, can’t test free agency until 2025 and, unless he suddenly becomes a dominating hurler, certainly won’t be a candidate for a contract extension to spare him from the uncertain world of one-year contract tenders.
For now, the money he’ll get in 2020 is better than most occupations would pay, but not great by baseball standards; presumably, his 2020 salary will slightly exceed the major league minimum of $563,500, the amount the current collective bargaining agreement requires clubs to pay their players. It is a far, far cry, however, from the money the Royals gave Danny Duffy before the 2017 season–$65 million over five years–to avoid both arbitration and Duffy’s first run at free agency then set for the end of the 2017 season.
A Duffy-type deal is hardly in the cards for Skoglund, not because Duffy’s failure to meet expectations has made the club gun-shy, but instead because Skoglund has failed to live up to his potential. Although Duffy’s deal was a rarity for the notoriously stingy Royals, the possibility of future early contract extensions for KC players can’t be foreclosed simply because Duffy’s didn’t work as planned; despite some promising moments, however, Skoglund isn’t likely to receive any extension offers.
Skoglund has had only two stellar big league games–his first was probably his best, a scoreless, two-hit 6.1 inning stint in May 2017 against Detroit and Justin Verlander in which he retired 14 consecutive Tigers en route to his first major league victory. But poor performances have dominated his carer since, rendering much of the magic of his debut a distant and fading memory. He went 0-2 the rest of 2017, with an ugly 9.50 ERA and disturbing 2.333 WHIP; his numbers at AAA Omaha, where he spent most of the season, weren’t impressive.
A UCL strain complicated and reduced Skoglund’s 2018 playing time, resulting in a 1-6 record and 5.14 ERA. (The one win he posted was his second stellar performance–he pitched seven innings against the White Sox, surrendering one run on two hits and striking out nine). The pitching poor Royals had rotation spots open for 2019 and Skoglund was, for better or worse, as likely to win one as many other KC hurlers. Such was the state of the club’s pitching.
But Skoglund’s prospects to begin the 2019 regular season in the rotation ended before even Spring Training began–Major League Baseball hit him with an 80-game PED-related suspension in January 2019, rendering him ineligible until the season’s midpoint. His performance when he returned was at best disturbing, and at worst terrible–he was 0-3 in six games with a 9.00 ERA (53 ERA+), a 1.857 WHIP and 1.7 SO9; at Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, he was 3-5 with a 6.04 ERA. He’s now 2-11 with a 6.61 ERA in the majors.
2020 Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs projections. Are Skoglund’s two fine performances simply outliers, occurrences too isolated to justify his continuing presence on the Royals’ roster? Probably–Baseball-Reference projects he’ll go 3-5 with a 5.45 ERA over 71 innings, and average 3.2 walks and 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings, while FanGraphs predicts 1-2 in 24 innings, a 5.70 ERA, and 3.06 walks and 5.31 strikeouts every nine frames.
How will Skoglund actually perform? There is little, if any, reason to believe Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs are wrong–although his pair of big league wins were impressive, Skoglund’s major league record is unsightly and his 20-26 minor league record uninspiring.
Too, Skoglund’s velocity has dropped across his entire five-pitch repertoire over the last two seasons–his fastball, slider, changeup, curve and sinker have almost all decreased approximately two miles per hour. And none of his pitches seem remarkable.
The unfortunate fact is that his two excellent games notwithstanding, Skoglund might not be a major league caliber pitcher. He hasn’t established consistency in the majors or minors; in the final analysis, his bad likely outweighs his good. An occasional fine start or relief appearance won’t suffice, especially with the Royals’ crop of talented pitching prospects approaching major league readiness. Sadly, Skoglund’s time with the KC Royals is likely nearing its end.
Measured against the bulk of his major league pitching performances, Eric Skoglund’s flashes of brilliance against the Tigers in 2017 and the White Sox in 2018 suggest he may occasionally dominate hitters; unless he proves he can do so more frequently, even the KC Royals, a team beset with pitching woes, won’t have a spot for him. Look for this season to be his last with the Royals.