Jake Brentz has uphill battle to return to KC Royals bullpen

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Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's 2024 KC Royals player projection series. Over the next few weeks, we'll be reviewing how various Royals performed last year and predicting how they might fare this season. Today, let's look at pitcher Jake Brentz.

The KC Royals revamped their bullpen this offseason, and rightfully so. Before free agency additions, Dan Szymborski's ZiPs projected Kansas City's bullpen to be worth -.1 fWAR in 2024. That unenviable feat was something the veteran writer couldn't "remember the last time that happened." Thankfully, several new faces are coming from the Royals bullpen heading into 2024. This makes Jake Brentz's return all the more difficult, but the lefty could recapture his 2021 magic.

There was a glimpse in time when Kansas City had a fledging terror trio coming out of the bullpen. Josh Staumont and Scott Barlow are both gone from Kansas City, finding new homes around the AL Central. Brentz remains and most Royals fans forget just how good he was after making his MLB debut.

The power lefty accrued a 3.66 ERA, 49% groundball rate, and 27.3% strikeout rate in 64 innings out of the Kansas City bullpen. His fastball was among MLB's best, averaging 97 MPH. It was strikeouts like this that made him an exciting reliever for the Royals' future.

But, the 2022 campaign could not have gone much worse. Brentz only pitched in 5 1/3 innings that season before landing on the injured list. Then, the 28-year-old underwent surgery to repair the UCL in his throwing elbow in July 2022. It was hopefully just a bump in the road. That road became way bumpier in 2023 when a lat strain ended his rehab assignment way too early. Now, after an offseason of healing, what can Brentz bring to the bullpen?

How FanGraphs projects Jake Brentz will do this season

FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts Brentz will only pitch in 35 innings in 2024, with a 4.98 ERA and 4.82 FIP, striking out 24.5% of batters and walking another 13.9%. His 35 predicted appearances are a respectable workload following his injury.

How will Jake Brentz actually perform for the KC Royals?

Royals fans who were watching the spring training already witnessed Brentz's comeback, but unfortunately, the results were less than stellar. He only pitched for 1/3 of an inning and during that time, he walked four batters while allowing one hit. However, he did manage to strike out the 2023 All-Star Marcus Semien and his velocity was impressive. Nevertheless, the number of walks he gave up was not a good sign.

Brentz has always been prone to walking batters, but it hasn't been a major issue given his ability to strike them out. However, if he wants to be considered as a reliable secondary left-handed option to veteran Will Smith, he needs to improve his control during spring training. While his velocity seems to have improved, we need to see if he can regain control over his pitches, particularly his slider and changeup.

There is no doubt that his performance during spring training will be a key factor in determining his potential for the 2024 season. We have full confidence that he will regain his top-notch form and remain injury-free ahead of Opening Day.

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