Grading the KC Royals: Pitcher stays on club's radar

A Kansas City southpaw came through late in the year.

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Four games were left in the season, and Ángel Zerpa had just turned 22 when the KC Royals summoned him to Kansas City for his first major league game. Tasked with starting against Cleveland, Zerpa didn't disappoint — the only run he surrendered in five full innings was unearned, and he walked just one and struck out four before giving way to the bullpen to begin the sixth with his club trailing 2-1. The Royals eventually lost 6-1, tagging Zerpa with a loss he arguably didn't deserve.

Unfortunately, injuries cut into Zerpa's 2022 season, but he still pitched well enough during his short three-game big league stint to keep the Royals interested. He went 2-1 and gave up two runs in 11 innings in July before an early August knee injury ended his season.

Zerpa's health got in his way again this year. He and his ailing left shoulder began the campaign on the Injured List; not until August did he return to major league action.

And for a month, things were ugly. Luckily, they didn't stay that way.

How did Ángel Zerpa pitch for the Royals in 2023?

Saying Zerpa's first month back in the majors was rough understates the situation. Opponents knocked him around for 19 runs (18 earned) in 23 innings, and he lost three of four decisions. Four times he gave up three or more runs, including five in three innings against Oakland Aug. 22 and five against St. Louis in four frames 11 days before that.

Perhaps because he had few better options, but more likely because the Royals wanted to take a long look at Zerpa, Quatraro continued to deploy his young lefty, who in September looked little like he had in August. In seven appearances out of the bullpen, he won twice and yielded five runs in 19.2 innings (2.29 ERA).

He finished his brief season 3-3, 4.85; highlighting his 15 overall outings was a stellar 1.69 BB/9. While not overwhelming, his strikeout numbers — 36 in 42.2 innings — were adequate.

Barring a disastrous 2024 spring training, or a trade (the Royals could consider dealing him), Zerpa's September made his inclusion on next season's roster all but a foregone conclusion.

What grade should Ángel Zerpa get for his KC Royals season?

Basing player grades on far less than a full season can be tricky. But in Zerpa's case, especially considering how well he pitched down the stretch after a rugged August, we're comfortable giving him a B-.

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