The KC Royals 2023 season has been anything but promising. Fans' spirits are near an all-time low after losing the Oakland Athletics series and the season is a lost cause in early May. The Royals are already getting transactional, forced to make some minor moves in hopes of finding a pitching solution. The team has more struggling players than dominant ones, and one of the more confusing cases was reliever Scott Barlow's start to the 2023 season.
KC Royals reliever Scott Barlow has quickly turned his 2023 around. Will it stick though?
For a lack of better terms, Barlow looked washed to start this season. The Royals closer was now an extreme liability, quickly and without reason. Barlow gave up seven earned runs and two home runs in his first 7 games this season. The numbers got ugly fast, with a 9.45 ERA and surrendering a 1.054 OPS in that same span. A blown save in extra innings against the Texas Rangers was a crushing loss to a team still trying to find their footing. Barlow already had two losses, a blown save, and clear problems seven games into the season.
But, Barlow has quietly reverted back to his shutout self in recent games. His last six games, dating back to April 22, have been stellar appearances for Barlow. He has not allowed a run, struck out 12 batters, and only walked two. Batters were once again struggling for good contact against Barlow, and he was locating 5% more pitches within the strike zone. He returned to premier form as quickly as the Royals' closer was among the league's worst. Barlow himself acknowledge the bad start, but wanted to keep with the process.
“The first couple (of games) were not my best, but it’s just getting into the groove of things,” Barlow said. “Knowing that everything is going to even out eventually as long as you stick with the process. (Keep) throwing strikes and good things will happen.”
The Royals team's success may have something to do with Barlow's return to form. In his last six appearances, the Royals are 4-2 and Barlow has three saves. Kansas City manager Matt Quatraro notes that Barlow performs best when the pressure is on.
“He’s also come in the last few outings in super-high-leverage (situations),” Quatraro said. “He seems to really respond well to those.”
That is true if stats can measure situational levity. Baseball Reference's Average Leverage Index measures "the average pressure the pitcher or batter saw" in a given appearance. It is not a perfect measurement, but Barlow's ALI has risen nearly a full point from his struggling seven games to his successful six games. Sometimes, a player just does better when his performance means more.
“It’s always good to have nerves,” Barlow said. “I think you have to in this business. It’s something you recognize early and use to your advantage. (You) know it’s a good thing to be nervous because it means you care.”