Can Kris Bubic recover and rediscover his KC Royals rotational role?

Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's 2024 KC Royals player projection series. Over the next few weeks, we'll be reviewing how various Royals performed last year and predicting how they might fare this season. Today, let's look at pitcher Kris Bubic.

KC Royals starter Kris Bubic is undoubtedly the most underrated member of the pitcher-heavy 2018 draft class in Kansas City. He has been a dependable starter across four seasons, with obvious flaws keeping him from being fantastic. He looked great to start the 2023 season and posted a 3.94 ERA and 2.63 FIP through his first three starts. On a Royals team that needed every improvement they could get, Bubic's strong start was a welcome surprise. But how quickly things change.

After displaying some increased velocity and pitch location, Bubic missed a start in mid-April. The Royals placed Bubic on the 15-day injured list with a left flexor strain, hopeful for a return in a couple of weeks. However, after a second opinion, Bubic underwent Tommy John surgery on April 26. It was a premature end to the 2023 campaign for the lefty while casting doubt on his 2024 availability.

Kansas City is not relying on Bubic being ready come Opening Day, and rightfully so. The team placed him on the 60-day injured list last week, making room for catcher Austin Nola to join the 40-man roster. Bubic will hopefully return in 2024, but his role and effectiveness are massive questions.

How FanGraphs projects Kris Bubic will do this season

FanGraphs (Depth Chart) does not have a projection out for Bubic, due to his injury status. Dan Szymborski's ZiPs has an aggressive projection for Bubic though. ZiPs predicts 22 appearances and 19 starts for Bubic, racking up 106 innings of work. His projected 4.79 ERA and 4.64 FIP are acceptable for a lower rotation arm, especially coming off Tommy John surgery.

How will Kris Bubic actually perform for the KC Royals?

Bubic's stats in 2024 aren't nearly as important as him just back to the MLB. He isn't a free agent until 2027, and his fully recovering and finding his better form from 2023 will make him an important member of the rotation. Bubic took a major step forward last week, throwing his first bullpen session on Wednesday.

"It's good to get off the slope again," Bubic said Wednesday. "Obviously, it's been awhile. But overall, I feel pretty good today, feel like I bounced back well. It's just exciting to do normal pitcher things again. ...It's more of a mental hurdle than it is physical because early on, when you first start your throwing program, you know you've done the rehab and it's been repaired. You should be good to go. But I think it's just like that last little bit of letting the ball go and really trusting your body again."

I am not going to expect much from Bubic if anything at all. He still has months of bullpen sessions ahead of him, ramping up in pitch count and intensity. Any setback in the coming months could derail a 2024 return. But, if he is stretched out again as a starter and makes a handful of competent starts, chalk it up as a win for Bubic.

The latest from Kings of Kauffman