Grading the KC Royals: Scott Barlow’s great season

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

Some baseball people hold fast to the notion that good closers, while valuable, are expendable because they’re easy to develop, easy to find, and easy to replace. Thus, those folks reason, closers can and should be traded for other value before they peak. If that’s indeed the case, maybe it’s time for the KC Royals to deal away Scott Barlow.

Or not. Barlow is the best closer the club has had for awhile and gives General Manager J.J. Picollo good cause to keep him, especially after the Royals took at least a couple of steps backward this season and have enough pitching headaches without having to worry, even for a moment, about the closer’s role.

Barlow is worth keeping, not just for 2023, but for the foreseeable future.

Just consider his 2022 performance.

Reliever Scott Barlow definitely had an excellent season for the KC Royals.

To say Kansas City was a pitching-challenged club this season states the obvious. Among the American League’s 15 pitching staffs, the Royals’ had the worst ERA and OBA, gave up the most runs, hits and walks, and struck out the least number of batters; of the 15 bullpens, Kansas City’s posted the highest ERA and OBA, issued the most walks, yielded the second most runs and third most hits, and struck out the second fewest batters.

The bright spots were few. Barlow was one of them.

A season after being named the club’s Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year, Barlow appeared 69 times, went 7-4 with a fine 0.996 WHIP, and averaged less than three walks per nine innings.

And despite former manager Mike Matheny’s obvious reluctance to officially label any of his pitchers “closer,” Barlow proved once again that that’s precisely what he was for the Royals—their closer, and an efficient one at that. The righthander’s 24 saves surpassed by eight the previous career high he set last year and were the most achieved by a KC reliever since Ian Kennedy posted 30 in 2019. His ERA was 2.18, well within the acceptable range for a good closer.

When it comes to Barlow, then, his 2022 performance proves the club should stand pat—he isn’t likely to lose value anytime soon, the Royals’ several pitching problems are big enough already without adding another by losing him, and they don’t have a ready replacement with whom they should feel truly comfortable.

And why not keep a proven pitcher who deserves a rock solid A for his efforts this season? That’s the grade we’re giving Barlow.

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For 2022, Scott Barlow gets an A.