Chris Stratton brings steady, healthy middle-inning arm to KC Royals bullpen

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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 reliever Shris.

The KC Royals plundered the Texas Rangers bullpen this offseason, first signing Will Smith and then adding righty Chris Stratton to the fold. Smith was already a recognizable name for Royals fans, as he made his MLB debut for Kansas City more than 10 years ago. But Stratton, splitting last year with the Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, is more unknown to the casual fan. Don't worry, because Stratton will be a well-known reliever in Kansas City by season's end.

Stratton was a 26-game starter back in 2018 for the San Francisco Giants but transitioned to the bullpen full-time by 2020. Since then, he has pitched 255 1/3 innings in 219 appearances, recording a solid 3.91 ERA. He limits the long ball as a reliever, allowing only .85 HR/9 and inducing groundballs at a 42% rate. Playing in Kauffman Stadium will only do favors for the former Mississippi State Bulldog, as he has pitched well in Kansas City before.

His one-year, $3.5 million deal is a raise for Stratton, after posting a career-high 1.1 fWAR in 2023. I was surprised to see that Stratton has improved his fWAR year after year since 2019 when he posted a .2 fWAR. That metric is not a perfect way to evaluate relievers, but it shows Stratton's steady improvement and value, no matter the team, year, or role.

How FanGraphs projects Chris Stratton will do this season

FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts notable regression from Stratton in 2024. They predict he will make 62 appearances with 62 innings pitched, recording a 4.33 ERA and 4.27 FIP. In that body of work, the predictions say Stratton will strike out 21% of batters while walking 8.7%.

How will Chris Stratton actually perform for the KC Royals?

Now, coming to Kansas City, Stratton has a chance to prove his performance on the other side of the state was no fluke. Being a veteran in the Royals bullpen will likely give him more high-leverage opportunities, alongside Smith, Nick Anderson, and other bullpen arms. Stratton has the experience that contenders covet, but Kansas City needs seasoned arms to not only close games but prevent bullpen blowups.

I could not disagree with these predictions more, as some of this regression is absurd considering Stratton's new home. FanGraphs also predicts he will allow 1.12 HR/9, which would be his worst mark since becoming a reliever. Also, the workload doesn't feel realistic as those 62 innings would be the fewest he's had since 2020. All in all, they projected his fWAR to fall in 2024 to .2 fWAR.

Stratton only had three save opportunities in 2023, his fewest since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Instead, he served as a lengthy reliever, as he recorded at least four outs in 36 of his 64 appearances. That length will serve Kansas City well, in case a starter is in a jam or another reliever has a meltdown. He will prove the doubters, and predictions, wrong this season in powder blues.

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