Yesterday we looked at the Royals’ position players for 2019. Today we are going to discuss the pitching so let’s get to it.
We know the pitchers in the first series of the season against the Chicago White Sox. After that it gets a little uncertain.
Brad Keller won the Opening Day start. Keller is an amazing story. Selected as a Rule 5 draft pick before the 2018 season, Keller had to remain on the major league roster all season or be offered back to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Keller not only stayed on the roster, he was the best pitcher for the Royals in 2018. Keller posted a 3.08 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in 140.1 innings. It says something about the team’s pitching staff when a player one year away from being a Rule 5 pick is the opening day starting pitcher.
Jakob Junis is starting the second game of the season on Saturday. Junis won nine games for the second consecutive season even though he got 14 more starts. He posted a 4.37 ERA compared to a 4.30 ERA in 2017. Junis had an almost identical WHIP (1.27 vs 1.28 in 2017).
Jorge Lopez is scheduled to start the third game of the season. Lopez will be in his fourth season in the major leagues in his age 26 season. His WHIP for both the Royals and the Brewers last season was 1.47. That’s down from 1.90 in his first season and 2.50 in his second season. There appears to be improvement happening but so far his stuff has been better than his results. Lopez should get a full season of starts in 2019 and hopefully he is able to take another step forward.
The fourth starter is expected to be Homer Bailey. The Royals only have to pay Bailey the major league minimum of $555,000 in 2019. The Dodgers are picking up the rest of his $23 million salary. At that price it will be difficult for the Royals to not keep throwing Bailey out there regardless of how he is pitching. The Royals shouldn’t need a fourth starter until their seventh game of the season at Detroit on April 6. Bailey has a history of injuries. He hasn’t pitched more than 145.2 innings since 2013. His ERA the past three seasons in Cincinnati has been over 6.00. It will be interesting to see how much pitching in Kauffman Stadium helps him. The ideal outcome for the Royals would be for Bailey to have an excellent first half of the season so he could be traded for minor league talent.
When the Royals need a fifth starter it will likely be Heath Fillmyer. Fillmyer went 4-2 with a 4.26 ERA in 17 games including 13 starts in 2018. Fillmyer will start the season in the minor leagues and likely will be called up when the fifth starter is needed.
There are several options for the bullpen all of which will probably see time with the big-league club either on opening day or at some point during the season.
Ian Kennedy is the second name I think of when I think of the Royals pitching. The Royals are paying Kennedy $16.5 million and are moving him from the rotation to the bullpen. Let’s just say that contract worked out great for Kennedy and not so great for the Royals. The Royals had better hope Kennedy is yet another starting pitcher who has his career resurrected with a move to the pen. The Royals owe Kennedy another $16.5 million in 2020 and that’s hard for a small market team to have to eat if he falls apart in this role.
Kyle Zimmer is the first name I think of when I think of royals pitching and he might be throwing better than anyone on the team right now. I previously wrote about how it was time for Kyle Zimmer to make the big-league roster and he did just that. Zimmer appears to finally be healthy. He had a fantastic spring. He should be one of the guys called on to work in high leverage situations.
The Royals signed left-handed reliever Jake Diekman on February 13. Diekman pitched pretty well for the Texas Rangers last year but then struggled after joining the Arizona Diamondbacks. Diekman throws hard. He had a 2.13 strikeout to walk ratio in 2018. The Royals will need Diekman to have one of his under 3.00 ERA seasons if this bullpen is going to be as good as it needs to be.
Brad Boxberger has spent time with San Diego, Tampa Bay and in 2018 he was with Arizona. He has been a one inning type of reliever throughout his career. His WHIP of 1.43 last season is higher than you would like for a relief pitcher and his strikeout to walk ratio of 2.22 was down significantly from 2017.
Tim Hill will be in the bullpen for the second consecutive season. He is much better against left-handed batters than right-handed batters as you might expect. He gave up significantly more fly balls to high-handed batters in 2018. Hill is one of those left-handed specialist who could be impacted by the three batter rule scheduled to be implemented in 2020, but I saw plenty of occasions in 2018 where he was successful against batters on both sides of the plate.
Wily Peralta took over as the Royals’ closer during the 2018 season. That statement right there goes a long way towards explaining why the bullpen was so bad. It’s not that Peralta is bad. He just shouldn’t be the closer for a contending team. And he wasn’t in 2018. He was the closer for a bad team. Peralta will be back in the bullpen in 2019 and likely as the closer to begin the season although there are more options in 2019.
The rest of the bullpen options include Rule 5 pick Chris Ellis, Kevin McCarthy, Scott Barlow, Michael Ynoa and Brian Flynn. I would expect Chris Ellis to make the team if the Royals feel he has any chance to stick with them the entire season. Again, this team is not going to be in the playoffs this season so using Ellis in a mop-up role out of the bullpen to keep him in the organization is a good idea if the Royals see him having a bright future.
The pitching staff doesn’t look great. The bullpen will almost by accident have to be better than it was last year. The rotation is limited in options. If there are any injuries at all in the rotation this team is in big trouble. The good news is that the Royals’ top 2018 draft pick Brady Singer shouldn’t be far from the major leagues. If he pitches well in the minors in the first half he could push for a spot with the major league club later this season. I think it’s more likely he will be up sometime in 2020 at the earliest.