Could the KC Royals turn a Cub disappointment around?

(Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports) /

No matter how you cut it, dissect it, interpret it, or try to spin it, one fact about the starting rotation is beyond dispute when you talk KC Royals pitching.

It wasn’t good in 2021. Some starters, especially Carlos Hernandez, had their moments, but the body of work was poor.

Collectively, Royal starters had the fourth worst ERA (4.97) in the American League. They also issued more walks than any other AL club, surrendered the fourth most hits and runs, hit more batters than all but three clubs, and balked less than only two teams.

Two regular Kansas City starters, Brad Keller and Mike Minor, had ERAs that unacceptably exceeded 5.00—Keller’s was 5.39, Minor’s 5.05—and both tied for a club-worst 12 losses. Other than Hernandez, who went 5-2 in 11 starts after joining the rotation in mid-July, and Danny Duffy, who was 4-3 before landing on the Injured List for a final time in July (and being traded to the Dodgers several days later), no KC hurler who saw regular starting action finished 2021 with a winning record.

Suffice it to say, then, that the club must strengthen its rotation. One place it may look for help is the lone starter in the Chicago Cubs’ free agent pool, a somewhat thin group including four catchers (another backstop isn’t among the Royals’ needs) and three relievers—Dillon Maples, Adam Morgan and Dan Winkler—all of whom Kansas City can do better than.

So, what about that starter?

Zach Davies is a pitcher the KC Royals might want to consider for 2022.

The first thing to understand about Zach Davies, starter of 32 games for last season’s Cubs, is that he can pitch. His 6-12 2021 record isn’t shocking for a hurler who toiled for a poor 71-91 club, and is only the second losing big league season he’s had in seven. He’s won as many as 17 games (2017 with Milwaukee)) and went 11-7 in 2016 and 10-7 in 2019 for the Brewers.

But he also disappointed the Cubs last season after coming to Wrigley Field in the big offseason trade that sent Yu Darvish to San Diego. Especially after his excellent 7-4, 2.73 2020 Padre campaign, the Cubs expected better than the six wins he gave them.

Their disappointment is perhaps best explained by two numbers glaringly uncharacteristic of Davies. Typically free of control problems—he came to the Cubs with a career 2.6 BB9—he tied Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo for the most walks issued in the National League (75); his 4.6 BB9 is by far the worst of Davies’ career. And his ERA exploded to 5.78, also his poorest single-season effort and one that exceeded his previous worst mark (2018’s 4.77) by more than a run.

What is it, then, that can commend Davies to the Royals?

First and foremost, 2021’s blemish on his record may be nothing more than an aberration. He entered the season 50-36 with three double-digit victory campaigns in six years. His control is historically good. In only two seasons has his ERA been over 4.00. And at 29, he’s not an age risk.

The right-handed Davies won’t scare or overwhelm any batters with power (his hardest pitches typically don’t quite reach 90 mph), but his four-pitch sinker, curve, cutter and changeup assortment has proven successful and served him well.

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The Royals, perhaps not desperate but at least needy, shouldn’t ignore Zach Davies when the transaction freeze ends. Looking him up might be worth it.