Welcome back to our Kings of Kauffman offseason series analyzing the 2023 performances of various KC Royals players. Today we look at pitcher Jackson Kowar.
The 2018 pitching draft class was the biggest make-or-break experiment in recent KC Royals history. The team spent extensive draft capital on college pitching arms, in hopes of quick help in the major-league rotation. The Royals selected 11 college players to start the draft, including Florida pitcher Jackson Kowar 33rd overall.
Jackson Kowar's 2023 season saw progress, but was it enough?
To say Kowar's MLB career to 2023 was rocky would be putting it lightly. Kowar could not stick as a starter in 2021, so the Royals began transitioning him to the bullpen in 2022. This past season, Kowar's third in the majors, had clear expectations. Royals fans are used to seeing former first-round picks transition to the bullpen with some success. Would Kowar be the next?
“It’s a little bit of a different opportunity than in years past,” Kowar said. “Years past, it’s been start and develop some different stuff. It’s been a little more work out of the ‘pen.”
Let's start with the good parts. Kowar recorded the first two wins of his career this past season, both of those coming in September against AL Central opponents. He also posted a career-high 23 appearances this past season after only seven in 2022. His ERA, fielding independent pitching, WHIP, and fastball velocity, all reached career-best marks.
The worst part is that most of those career bests did not amount to an effective reliever. His 6.43 ERA and 14.6% walk rate were fifth-worst amongst Royals relievers this past season. His 5.29 FIP shows he was pitching better than the results, but even that is not enough to show an effective arm out of the bullpen. Sure, his fastball velocity ranked in the 91st percentile, but opposing batters still made meaningful contact on the pitch.
The 27-year-old reliever was called up four times this season, giving room for the Royals not giving him a steady shake in the MLB bullpen. There are plenty of things to like from his 2023 season, but it all still resulted in his third straight negative WAR season and him not being a positive contributor to the team.
Just because a player is getting better does not mean they are, well, better or fixed. Kowar's 2023 saw plenty of progression in key areas, but the results were still not great. 2024 will be a decisive season in his career. But, his 2023 season deserves a D-.