The KC Royals' signing of Taylor Clarke was news nearly missed in the confusing final hours before the MLB lockout began a year ago, a development dwarfed by the bigger story of baseball trying to gain the upper hand in an unresolved labor dispute by wielding its mightiest economic weapon against the players.
Fortunately for club and player the signing, which came with only hours to spare before the lockdown started and brought the curtain down on all big league-level player transactions until its March conclusion, turned out to be mutually beneficial. With a $975,000 major league contract in his back pocket, Clarke reported to a delayed spring training camp all but assured of a spot in the Kansas City bullpen, then sealed that spot with five scoreless Cactus League appearances.
Then, he proved worthy of the contract with a decent regular season.
How should Clarke's first year with the Royals be graded?
Taylor Clarke established himself as a key part of the KC Royals' bullpen.
Clarke came to Kansas City after a three-season stint with Arizona. He spent most of his 2019 rookie season in the Diamondbacks' rotation but was pitching exclusively out of the bullpen by the time the club non-tendered him after the 2021 campaign. He'd just gone 3-1 with a 4.98 ERA in 47 games and Arizona moved on from the righthander who left with a 12-9, 4.78 career record.
The Royals, clearly impressed by him and his spring training performance, deployed Clarke early and often. He saw action in four of KC's first six games and, after 12 appearances, owned a minuscule 0.75 ERA to go with a win, a save, and 11 strikeouts in 12 innings. And he hadn't walked any of the 46 batters he'd worked against.
But Clarke immediately hit a six-game wall, and the 11 earned runs he surrendered in only 4.1 innings drove his ERA up to 6.61 by May 29.
Clarke, though, found his way back. He went 2-0 with a save and a 2.10 ERA, and fanned 30 in 30 innings, over his next 25 games. A pretty good season was back within his grasp.
As fate would have it, however, he pitched only four more times before the season ended. Forced to the Injured List Aug. 9 with a left oblique strain, Clarke didn't return until Sept. 26, but found himself back on the IL after striking out four and walking none in two innings spread across three games.
How Clarke would have finished had he not missed almost the entire final two months of the campaign will never be known. But his final numbers were certainly adequate: he ended the year 3-1 with an excellent 1.47 BB/9, 1.18 WHIP and a 4.04 ERA.
A final grade? We'll give Clarke a strong B.
Taylor Clarke had a good first season with the Royals.