Baseball is a marathon and a game of failure at different levels. Those factors can drown out a player's positive moments across a season. There may be no better example of this in 2023 than KC Royals reliever Taylor Clarke.
Taylor Clarke returned to the KC Royals after a stellar first season.
The Royals likely expected big things from Clarke in 2023, after his strong 2022 showing. He was not an overpowering pitcher but simply did his job well. His 1.184 WHIP was among the league's best and he allowed a measly 1.5 walks per nine innings (BB/9). He set career-highs with 47 appearances and three saves for the Royals as well. He was not a relief stalwart, but certainly a positive contributor.
Those positive contributions continued into 2023. He recorded his first win on April 8 against the San Francisco Giants with a three-hit, three-strikeout inning. The season's opening month was an overall struggle for the veteran though. He carried a 5.54 ERA and .872 opponent OPS into May. He began to turn a corner once the May flowers sprung.
Clarke made 16 appearances from May 2 through June 12 and only allowed one run across 17 innings. The Royals were turning a corner overall, but Clarke was a big part of that. He had seven holds in that span, not being the meltdown member of the bullpen. Yes, Clarke's fortunes turned quickly once again, this time for the worst.
From June 17 through Aug. 2, Clarke had a horrific 11.81 ERA and allowed a 1.110 opponent OPS. He went from a trusted arm to the bullpen's weakest point very quickly. Royals manager Matt Quatraro offered a reason for Clarke's struggles after he landed on the 15-day IL in early August.
“He’s got some elbow inflammation and something he’s been trying to battle through,” Quatraro said. “In this case, we think it’s better for him to let it calm down a little bit.”
Fifteen days of rest did little to change Clarke's MLB outlook. He made 14 more appearances from Aug. 18 through Oct. 1, recorded two more losses and sporting a 6.23 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio greatly improved, but he still allowed quality contact to opposing batters, evident by the .593 slugging he surrendered.
After a rollercoaster season, what grade does Taylor Clarke get?
Clarke walked away from the 2023 season with several career worsts. His 1.610 WHIP and 5.95 ERA are two career lows, and those led to his -.2 fWAR season in Kansas City. Clarke had points where he looked like the bullpen's best reliever and then other times he looked like the worst in all of baseball. It was a polarizing season for the 30-year-old veteran.
The Royals chose to retain Clarke this offseason, signing him to a $1.25 million deal. That was significantly below his projected arbitration salary, showing the team only wanted him at a discount. Those terms do not change his grade though. This writer feels generous in giving Clarke a D+ for his 2023 season.