KC Royals: How the rotation stacks up in the AL Central

Kansas City's starters could exceed projections.

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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The KC Royals made significant offseason additions to their roster with a heavy focus on improving their pitching. After bringing in several fresh faces, the Royals will need improvement from their rotation if they are to beat expectations.

How does the KC Royals rotation stand up in the AL Central?

FanGraphs' projections of AL Central teams' starting pitching fWAR leaves Kansas City in a bizarre situation. Per those projections, the Twins will lead the division (and rank 5th overall in the majors), followed by the Guardians (21st), Tigers (22nd), Royals (25th), and White Sox (27th). In a division that could end up being unpredictable and highly competitive, the Royals' staff could perform to a much higher degree than FanGraphs projects and separate themselves from that cluster of teams in the 20's. Last season, they had the 27th-ranked corps of starting pitchers with a 5.12 ERA.

This restructured team clearly has a higher ceiling. Situated among most of their rivals, yet still expected to be one of the worst in the league, will the Royals offseason acquisitions be enough to lift them from the pack?

Their rivals can each boast an ace: the Twins have Pablo López and the Guardians have Shane Bieber. The Tigers' Tarik Skubal could reach that level over a full season. Even the White Sox, the only Central team FanGraphs ranks lower than Kansas City, have Dylan Cease. The Royals don't have the same projections for fielding an elite ace, but it isn't hard to believe in a player like Cole Ragans running with the momentum he had with his 2.64 ERA as a Royal last year.

Even if no Royal contends for Cy Young Award votes, the middle of the rotation is flush with hurlers who could lift the entire rotation. Brady Singer is projected for a 4.44 ERA. Depending on your level of optimism, if Singer returns to his 2022 form, he could be another high-quality option. Both Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo are expected to post ERA's in the mid-4.00s. Given their performance in recent years, they could easily beat FanGraphs' projections.

Wacha, for example, has a 3.27 ERA over the past two seasons. He displays impressive command and generally limits hard contact. He has the arsenal and approach to be an anchor in the rotation. This top group of starters could form a convincing, standout staff in the Central.

Singer still has the potential to become a consistent, solid starter, but he needs to adapt his game to find his best results. According to Baseball Savant, he didn't fare well in metrics regarding the quality of contact allowed or his swing-and-miss ability. Primarily a two-pitch pitcher, what will Singer change going into 2024?

The high groundball rate that had helped spur his previous success was still present last season, but opponents hit an astonishing .338 against his sinker after he allowed a .255 average against the pitch in 2022, and FanGraphs' heatmap shows he left it over the middle much more often last season. If Singer can manipulate his sinker like he has done in the past, he could see a quick bounce back after a disappointing season.

Of course, it's risky to rely on each pitcher having one of his best career seasons. As encouraging as this group is, do the Royals have the depth to stay relevant over a full season? Most observers don't have any Kansas City pitchers in their Top 100 prospects lists, so internal reinforcements might be few. Even goood prospects like Ben Kudrna and Frank Mozzicato are still in the low minors and likely won't arrive in the majors this year.

These factors point to a group that could be the driving force behind the Royals' newly found hope. Perhaps it is just an outgrowth of being overly optimistic about all four top starters, but the team has made its intentions clear. The Royals want to improve significantly this year and the rotation is undoubtedly capable of being a strength.

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