Is starting pitching suddenly the KC Royals' new identity?

Kansas City's rotation has much to do with the team's early success.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The KC Royals have so far lived up to their claims that they could fight for a playoff spot this season. A successful start like theirs required several things to develop and break in the Royals' favor — the club has squeaked out close wins, pulled off some comebacks, and put together some offensive fireworks.

Just what is, though, the identity of this team moving forward?

Is Kansas City's offense good?

The Royals have manufactured several impressive offensive performances, spurred on in great part by Bobby Witt Jr. and Salvador Perez. The team struggled at the plate much of last season, which meant the roster required a significant overhaul or meaningful development from key players to create even an average offense. The Royals have been much more potent this season, but it's hard to say their identity is based on their offense.

Kansas City finished 23rd in runs scored last season and 28th in wRC+ (87). Those dreadful results have undergone a fascinating turnaround, despite the team's below-average, but improving, offense. The Royals' collective 95 wRC+ is 23rd in baseball, yet they rank 11th in runs scored, according to FanGraphs.

But there's room for better results. Better offense has been a valuable aspect of their hot start, but labeling that as their core strength could lead to disappointment over the span of the season.

Is improved pitching this club's new identity?

One of the most gripping talking points surrounding the Royals this year has been the success of their starting pitching. The starters' collective 3.15 ERA is the fifth-best in the majors and ranks third in the American League.

Cole Ragans' impact on the Royals' success can't be understated, but his profile is unique among Royals starters. The rotation doesn't strike out many batters, but Ragans' 11.39 K/9 ranks sixth among all qualified pitchers. There's a confidence that any game is winnable when he takes the mound.

The rest of the rotation has been better than one could have hoped. Brady Singer's new approach could lead to a renaissance of sorts as a leading member of the rotation. He is on pace for career bests in ERA, home runs per nine innings, strikeout rate, and groundball rate. Singer was hit hard last season but has forced weaker contact while generating more whiffs and more groundballs.

The two main additions to the staff, Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, have done admirably in transforming the rotation. Lugo's 1.60 ERA 1.60 might seem misleading given his 3.43 FIP, but he's stranding runners and limting home runs. Wacha's performance is almost the opposite with a much higher ERA (5.50) than FIP (3.83). Wacha's primary pitch, his changeup, is allowing just a .186 batting average.

The Royals have the best Defensive Runs Saved in baseball, melding with their successful pitching staff. The offense has put together some highlight nights but hasn't found the consistency or depth to be a season-defining strength. Instead, the Royals are building the foundation of their season on the performance of their rotation, a group that has so far been one of the best in the majors.

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