A year after establishing himself with a strong second half, Scott Barlow had a strange September for the KC Royals.
Lost amid the turmoil of the months following the KC Royals’ 2017 season was the acquisition of a shaggy-haired starting pitcher. While the club and fans fretted over the free agency of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, the Royals quietly signed free agent Scott Barlow, a veteran of six minor league seasons and a campaign forfeited to Tommy John surgery while with the Dodgers’ organization. The move didn’t make many headlines.
Barlow came to the Royals with a 29-34 record and an ongoing battle with control, so his unremarkable 2018 season wasn’t surprising. He bounced back and forth between Kauffman Stadium and Triple A Omaha in the first half of the campaign and spent the second on the Injured List and serving rehabilitation and regular assignments in the minors; he went 1-1 in six relief appearances for Kansas City and 1-4 with a 5.37 ERA record spread across starting and relief stints with three farm teams.
The Royals converted Barlow to a reliever in 2019 and he found himself back in Omaha before the All-Star break, but returned to the majors just days after it ended. And that’s when he became a legitimate major league reliever. He held opposing batters to a .205 average, posted a 2.12 ERA, averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, and didn’t give up any homers in 31 second half games.
Barlow entered the 2020 campaign as the KC Royals’ presumptive set-up man, but pitched frequently in the sixth and seventh innings in the early going and shared the set-up role with others. He remained effective and carried a 1.80 ERA into September.
The month essentially became a tale of two Barlows—one bad, the other good.
Barlow’s first six September outings constituted the bad. Looking little like the pitcher who finished off an excellent 2019 second half with a superb September (2.08 ERA and 10.4 SO9 in 11 games), Barlow gave up three runs in a third of an inning in his first appearance of the shortened season’s final month. Then, sandwiched between two scoreless games, he gave up one, two and one runs, respectively, in three consecutive appearances, giving him a 12.35 ERA for the month.
Barlow’s start to the month’s second half was worse. He started a clean eighth inning against Milwaukee with the Royals trailing only 1-0, but the Brewers blew the game open by rocking Barlow four runs and won 5-0.
Fortunately, Barlow returned to form in his last five games. He pitched a scoreless inning against St. Louis his next time out; the Royals won. He didn’t give the Cardinals any runs two days later and Kansas City won again. He held the Tigers scoreless and struck out two in an inning the next day; Kansas City won. Detroit couldn’t touch him a day later as Kansas City won its fourth straight game. Finally, Barlow didn’t give the Tigers a hit or a run in the last game of the season and his club preserved its winning streak.
It was a strange September, then, for Barlow, the pitcher who made his bones with that stellar second half in 2019, but the good outweighed the bad and reaffirmed his value to a club nearing the end of a rebuild.
More importantly, his final six appearances solidified another good season for Barlow and further entrenched him as a key component of the KC Royals’ resurgent bullpen. Barlow pitched 20 times in July and August, posted a 1.80 ERA and struck out 24 in 19.2 innings. He finished the campaign 2-1 with a 4.20 ERA unfortunately skewed by two bad September efforts, and averaged almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings. His problematic control improved: he walked nine in 30 innings to drop his BB9 to 2.7, down 2.0 from 2019. And he led the majors in appearances with 32.
So it is that we can feel good about Scott Barlow. His July and August, and the second half of his strange September, prove that.
September was a tale of two Scott Barlows. Fortunately, the first part of the month didn’t ruin his good season.