The KC Royals’ starting pitchers were a mixed bag in 2020. With the season concluded, how do they grade out?
Our Kings of Kauffman writers have reviewed the 2020 season and graded the KC Royals. In this first installment of a series covering each position group, Mike Gillespie assigns grades to the club’s starting pitchers.
Evaluating major league players isn’t always easy, and the smaller sample size and reduced data resulting from a shortened 2020 season complicates the task. But 60 games still yielded enough to work with; with that in mind, we offer grades for the KC Royals’ starting pitchers.
Brad Keller: A
Third-year starter Brad Keller can go directly to the head of the class. He earned it, and his “A,” with a convincing comeback performance that proved he’s the Royals’ ace. Keller’s 2019 (7-14) was nothing like his 2018 rookie year when the club named him its Pitcher of the Year, but he bounced back in 2020 with a 5-3, 2.47 ERA record and led the Royals in pitching WAR, wins, ERA, FIP, SO/W, and WHIP. And he did it all despite missing some early starts after testing positive for COVID-19. That’s two well-deserved “A’s” in three seasons for the 25-year old right-hander.
Danny Duffy: B
I’m a Danny Duffy fan and always have been. I’d love to give him an “A” for 2020, but objectivity prevents it. Although the short season didn’t stop him from winning over half as many games (4) as he did last year (7), and he posted an excellent 9.1 SO9, his too-high 4.95 ERA was an increase of over half a run. Duffy did give up two runs or less in six of his 11 starts and pitched effectively much of the time, but a pitcher earning $65 million over five years needs to be more consistent. And he needs to go deeper in games than he did in 2020.
Brady Singer: B+
It would be easy to look at Brady Singer’s 4-5 record, give him a “C,” and call it good. But Singer, forced by circumstances into the big league rotation a bit sooner than the KC Royals probably preferred, pitched well for a youngster with only one prior professional season under his belt. Demonstrating pitching savvy well beyond his 24 years, Singer led all rookies in starts, innings pitched and strikeouts; had excellent stuff, mound presence and poise; lived up to his uber-competitor billing; and had a stingy 1.166 WHIP and acceptable (for a rookie) 4.06 ERA.
Kris Bubic: B
Like Singer, Kris Bubic assumed a rotation spot sooner than the club probably anticipated, rendering his 1-6 record less suspect than it might otherwise have been, especially considering he’d never pitched above High A before 2020. Bubic’s good outings prove he can pitch, but his control and command need some work and he must reduce his 5.22 RA9 and pitch count (he averaged 93.2 pitches and five inning per game). Look for Bubic to improve his performance and grade next season—if he does, he and Singer will be a better combination than they were in 2020.
Jakob Junis: C-
To what extent testing positive for COVID-19 may have accounted for Jakob Junis’ decline is unknown, but he had to work into shape before rejoining the rotation in early August. Winner of 27 games in his first three seasons, Junis averaged 4.16 innings and gave up two runs in each of his first four starts, then surrendered five in both of his next starts (lasting 4.1 innings in the first and just 2.1 in the second) before moving to the bullpen. His 0-2 record, 6.39 ERA, 12.4 H9, 1.618 WHIP and 2.49 home run rate were career worsts, leaving his future as a starter in doubt.
Matt Harvey: F
Someone has to get the worst grade, and Matt Harvey’s “F” was an easy mark to give. Expectations were low for Harvey and, at least in that respect, he didn’t disappoint. A late signing who worked at the team’s alternate site before getting the call to the Royals, Harvey’s good innings were rare. His final stats, compiled over four starts and three relief appearances, prove his “F” was well-earned: 0-3, 11.57 ERA, 41 ERA+, 20.8 H9, 2.743 WHIP, and six home runs surrendered in 11.2 innings. Look for the former Mets star to pitch elsewhere in 2021.
Carlos Hernandez: C
If not for the room this short season provided for auditions and experimentation, Carlos Hernandez’s major league debut probably wouldn’t have occurred in 2020. KC’s desire to see its No. 10 prospect pitch probably had more to do with his call-up than did his undistinguished minor league record. His best start (one run and four strikeouts in 3.2 innings) came against St. Louis; he gave up seven runs across 4.2 innings in his other two. He showed some promise and pitched moderately well for a 23-year old who’d never pitched above Class A. But he needs work.
Ronald Bolanos: D+
Short on early season starters, the Royals wasted no time throwing Ronald Bolanos into the breech after acquiring him a week before Opening Day. Bolanos started the third game and gave up two runs in two innings. His next, and last, start was worse—the White Sox jumped on him for five runs in just 1.2 innings, and the Royals optioned him to the alternate training site the next day. It’s hard to grade a pitcher who threw only 3.2 innings and never got another chance, but giving up seven runs, eight hits and three walks in those 3.2 frames probably warrants a D+.
The KC Royals will need more than just one “A” pitcher to win again. How soon their young “B” hurlers get there will help determine when the club will be ready to contend.