Grading the 2020 KC Royals, Part III: The Bullpen

KC Royals, Jesse Hahn (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
KC Royals, Jesse Hahn (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals finally found some dominance from their bullpen. While a few relievers struggled, many made their case for a future spot.

Our Kings of Kauffman writers have reviewed the 2020 season and graded the KC Royals. In this third installment of a series covering each position group, David Scharff assigns grades to the club’s relievers.

Assigning grades is always a difficult task and 2020 hasn’t made it any easier. In grading the Royals relievers though, many of them have made the task simple in that they provided good innings and a bright spot for the season. While one included reliever didn’t end with KC, and some pitched only a small sample of innings, here are the grades for the 2020 Royals bullpen.

*Due to the large number of relievers the Royals employed in 2020, grades were given only to players who pitched 10.0 innings or more.

Trevor Rosenthal: A

Rosenthal, of course, did not finish the season with the Royals after being traded to the San Diego Padres on August 29th. Still, Rosenthal was a big enough part of the bullpen turnaround that his actions warrant a grade for 2020. Rosenthal fully deserves his “A”. He did exactly what he was supposed to do and likely plenty that wasn’t expected.

GM Dayton Moore’s reclamation projects don’t always go well, but Rosenthal pitched 13.2 innings in Kansas City with an ERA of 3.23, FIP of 3.78, and struck out 21 batters. He struggled with walks at times but completed 7 of 7 save opportunities and helped the young arms find their way.

Scott Barlow: B+

Scott Barlow deserves an A for the majority of his season. Unfortunately, he let a few games get away from him towards the end of the season. Still, his 4.20 ERA and 3.42 FIP over 30.0 innings pitched is nothing to turn away from.

Barlow pitched in a major league-leading 32 games so it’s likely some fatigue could have played into the few issues he saw through the season. Barlow kept his walks fairly low compared to past years and was able to strike out 11.7 per 9. He cemented his place in the future bullpen with ease. Barlow just needs to tighten up the screws a bit and stay away from those innings that eat him up. Increasing his arm endurance even more than he already has should help him go far as a major league reliever.

Greg Holland: A

Holland was another reclamation success story like Rosenthal, except he made it to the end of the season with the Royals. Holland started to look like he did during the early years of his career and first stint with the Royals.

Holland ended the season sitting at an ERA of 1.91 and FIP of 2.52, giving up only 2.2 walks per 9 and striking out 9.8 per 9. It’s apparent that Holland has lost some of his steam but he was able to work past that. Holland is a likely candidate to be back in Kansas City for 2021, as long as the Royals can grab him in free agency.

Josh Staumont: A 

Josh Staumont should probably be sitting at an A++, but for these grades, he is going to have to settle for an A. Staumont shocked baseball with his speed, topping 102 mph multiple times and hitting 100 with ease. Batters didn’t know how to hit him and he used his speed to get out of some sticky situations.

Staumont ended the season with an ERA of 2.45 and FIP of 3.54. He struck out 37 batters over his 25.2 innings pitched, but also struggled with command at times, walking 5.6 per 9. Staumont proved his worth but must continue to focus on his command. If he can control the ball and lower his walks a little, he can have as many +’s on his “A” grade as will fit.

Tyler Zuber: C 

Tyler Zuber may have gotten a lower grade, but there is one fact that must be remembered, he jumped from AA. Zuber got knocked around to start the season, though this wouldn’t be totally unexpected from a young pitcher with no major league experience. Zuber ended the season with an ERA of 4.09 and FIP of 5.69. He stuck out 12.3 per 9, but struggled with command, walking 8.2 per 9.

If Zuber can control the ball in 2021, his grade will rise significantly. If looking for a glimmer of hope for Zuber, his September stats are a good spot to start. Zuber pitched 9.1 innings in September while striking out 18 and only giving up 1 run. He also walked about a batter an inning, but his progress his obvious as the season went on.

Kyle Zimmer: A 

It’s difficult to explain how happy I am to give Kyle Zimmer an “A”. Zimmer has been working for this season his entire career. Zimmer pitched 23.0 innings for the season and ended with an ERA of 1.57 and FIP of 2.36. While he walked a few more than hoped at 3.9 per 9, he also managed to strike out 26 over his 23 innings for a decent rate.

Zimmer continued to struggle at times with injury but his ability to push through and bounce back speaks volumes and is just one example of how he has worked for success in his career.

Jake Newberry: C+

Jake Newberry had a lower grade when the list originally started. His command was an issue and he gave up his share of walks. His ERA of 4.09 isn’t terrible, though his FIP of 4.69 could use some work. As the mention of his command issues likely suggests, Newberry walked 4.9 batters per 9, though he also stuck out a decent 9.8 per 9.

Where things get interesting with Newberry are his game logs. Newberry had 1 earned run in two separate appearances, 3 in one, and 5 in another. Other than those 4 appearances, Newberry has a big 0 in every other game ER column. Newberry, like Barlow, was great for the majority of the season but got hit hard in just a few games. If he can up his damage control and quit giving up so many walks, Newberry could be a good piece for the future bullpen in Kansas City.

Jesse Hahn: A+

Jesse Hahn gets the lone A+. While there may be some argument on that, there is typically a high and a low, and Hahn fits the high criteria. Hahn ended the season with 17.1 innings and an ERA of 0.52 and FIP of 2.56. He struck out 19 over those 17.1 innings and struggled a bit with walks, giving up 4.2 per 9. Hahn only allowed 1 earned run, 0 home runs, and only 4 walks.

Hahn had something to prove in 2020 and wanted to show the Royals were right to take a chance on him. Hahn had a record year, and depending on what moves the Royals make during the offseason, he may have moved into the closing role for 2021.

Ian Kennedy: F

Just like jumping from the high point “A+” to the low “F”, Ian Kennedy saw one of his best recent seasons jump to one of his worst. Kennedy was one of the few consistent bullpen arms for the Royals in 2019 and he secured his role for 2020. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

Kennedy pitched 14.0 innings and held an ERA of 9.00 with an FIP of 8.83. Kennedy walked 3.2 per 9 and struck out 9.6 per 9. Kennedy had trouble with his control, and while he didn’t give up as many walks as some, he couldn’t keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. He got hammered for 7 home runs which really hurt his ERA. Kennedy was in the last season of his contract and likely played his last innings as a Royal in 2020.

Other relievers: 

The Royals had plenty of other relievers but they all only pitched a few innings. Foster Griffin looked good in his 1.2 innings of work, and Kevin McCarthy was decent but saw some similar struggles from years past.

Others like Chance Adams, Randy Rosario, and Glenn Sparkman, among others, didn’t show enough to provide any outlook or positive vibes for their season or future.

Next. Grading the 2020 KC Royals, Part II: The infielders. dark

The Royals had plenty of highly graded pitchers in the bullpen for 2020 and a few of them who were low could easily find themselves moving up for 2021. The future of the bullpen is bright in Kansas City and will hopefully only get better.