Grading the 2021 KC Royals, Part 4: Starting pitchers

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KC Royals, Carlos Hernandez
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The most consistent rotation member started the season in the bullpen.

Carlos Hernández pitched three solid innings Opening Day to earn his first big league win. After a few subsequent rough spots and a short stint in Triple-A, he was by midsummer becoming a reliable mid-to-late inning choice for Manager Mike Matheny.

Then came the club’s July 6 game with Cincinnati. Matheny called on Hernández to relieve starter Kris Bubic with KC trailing 5-0 in the fifth; Hernández struck out six of the 14 Reds he faced and gave up only a run in 3.1 innings. Save for an isolated relief appearance in late September, his bullpen days were over.

Matheny moved Hernández to the rotation several days later and he won five of six decisions to finish 6-2, 3.68. He was 5-2 with a 3.55 ERA as a starter and is a lock for the 2022 rotation. For pitching so well as a starter in what was officially his rookie season, he gets an A.

Brady Singer, an inconsistent 4-5 rookie in 2020, was even more inconsistent this season. He was 5-10 and his ERA rose from 4.06 to 4.90; his year will perhaps best be known for his reluctance to regularly supplement his sinker and slider with a changeup, a pitch he mixed in just 3.9% of the time.

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Singer can do better. He gets a C.

Then there’s Kansas City rotation enigma Brad Keller, a talented starter who performs well every other year. He was 9-6, 3.08 as a rookie in 2018, 7-14 in 2019, 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA the next season, and 8-12 with a team-worst 5.39 ERA this year.

Nagged by a lat strain late in the season, Keller didn’t pitch after August 26, but the injury doesn’t account for a season long on inconsistency and unpredictability. Had he been better, the KC Royals might have seriously considered an early contract extension (he’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season), but extending him now seems unwise.

Hopefully, 2022 will be better for Keller, but he gets a C for 2021.

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Kansas City’s starting rotation, and most of its members’ final grades, weren’t very good this season.