Why this veteran newcomer is the real KC Royals ace

Seth Lugo is the best Kansas City has.
Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages
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Surprising was something last June's trade of KC Royals reliever Aroldis Chapman to Texas wasn't. Chapman's stay in Kansas City always seemed temporary by design, a move general manager J.J. Picollo made for short-term purposes with a midsummer trade deadline flip for prospects the inevitable result.

What was surprising was the return. To secure Chapman's services, the Rangers gave the Royals little-known outfielder Roni Cabrera and Cole Ragans, a pitcher with a too-high 26-game major league ERA of 5.26. It will take time for Cabrera to make an impact — he's playing in the Arizona Complex League — but Ragans made a stunningly quick rise to the top of Kansas City's rotation. His 5-2, 2.64 ERA performance in a dozen down-the-stretch Royal starts immediately endeared him to a fanbase hungry for heroes, and earned him the club's Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year award.

Ragans pitched so well that even before the season ended fans and media alike declared him Kansas City's new "ace", a title that sticks even to this day in game accounts, telecasts and broadcasts, and on social media.

Calling Ragans the staff ace may be close, but it defies numbers and reality. He's indisputably good, but the Royals' real ace he's not.

Nine-year major league veteran Seth Lugo is.

Why newcomer Seth Lugo is Kansas City's true ace

Saturday wasn't kind to Ragans. Definitely not as good as he has been and can be, he officially gave up five runs (Ángel Zerpa let two of the runners Ragans put on base score) in 4.2 innings. Blame the umpire review crew's controversial call on the disputed go-ahead Jhonkensy Noel homer Ragans gave up in the fourth inning if you must, but the fact is Ragans' pitching had a good bit to do with his club's 7-2 loss.

Ragans is now 5-6 with a 3.33 ERA in 18 starts. That might be good enough for ace status on lesser teams, but it's not for these new Royals.

Lugo's record, on the other hand, is good enough. He joined the Royals in December and goes into his start against Cleveland today as one of the best pitchers in the majors. He's 10-2 with a 2.29 ERA; those 10 wins tie him for most in the big leagues, and his ERA ranks third.

But there's more. Today's start will be Lugo's 18th, which will equal Ragans' total, but Lugo's 13 quality starts exceed Ragans' by one. And even if he fails to retire a single Cleveland batter, he'll remain in front of Ragans in innings pitched — Lugo's worked 110 frames, Ragans 102.2.

Both starters are faring well against opposing hitters, but Lugo's 1.05 WHIP and .220 OBA best Ragans' 1.17 and .224.

Some observers may resort to more exotic peripherals to support the notion that despite Lugo's superb 2024, Ragans is still the best starter the Royals have, their ace. But results matter more, and the facts are that Lugo has been the more reliable of the two, the club wins more often when he starts than when Ragans does, and Lugo is one of the best hurlers in the game at the season's midpoint. And a loss to the Guardians today won't change any of that.

Reasonable minds may differ, and opinions may conflict. But isn't that one of the beauties of this great game?

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