Grading the 2021 KC Royals, Part 4: Starting pitchers

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /
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KC Royals, Brady Singer
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images) /

If there was ever a season packed with “what ifs” for a KC Royals starting rotation, the 2021 campaign was it.

What if Danny Duffy hadn’t suffered two left flexor strains and the Royals hadn’t traded him?

What if Brady Singer had embraced a changeup?

What if Brad Keller hadn’t been so inconsistent?

What if the Royals had waited another season to call up Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar?

Those questions defy conclusive resolution. Easy to answer, however, is the question of how the Kansas City rotation performed.

It was a disappointment, which begs another question: how should the primary starters grade out?

A pair of veteran KC Royals deserve different grades for the 2021 season.

Danny Duffy entered the season with things to prove. He’d never lived up to the expectations underlying the five-year, $65 million contract he signed shortly before 2017 spring camp opened, couldn’t escape speculation he’d be better in relief than in the rotation, and needed to excel in the final season of his lucrative contract.

For the first month of the campaign, Duffy looked like the Duffy whose 12-3 2016 season convinced the Royals he was their $65 million man. After beating the Twins May 1, he stood 4-1 with a tiny 0.60 ERA. But he lost his next two starts, giving up seven runs in 11.2 innings, and suddenly found himself on the Injured List with the first of two left flexor strains that cut deeply into his season.

Duffy returned to the IL July 10 with his second flexor strain; the Dodgers traded for him in late July, but he never pitched for them and is now a free agent with a cloudy future. But how he pitched for the Royals this season can’t be forgotten. He was good again, and for that he deserves a B+.

Mike Minor, a former Royal whose return the club secured with a two-year deal last December, is a different story. The 10-year major league veteran gave the club something it wanted—a lot of innings—but wasn’t the complete pitching package it hoped for. Instead, he went 8-12, 5.05; yes, he tied Brad Keller for most Royal wins, but he also tied him for most losses and posted the second-worst ERA. Opposing batters hit .297 against him.

We recently gave Minor a C when we evaluated the Royals’ offseason additions. That grade won’t change here.