Player Profiles 2020: Kansas City Royals Starting Pitchers
Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff with be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.
Royals At A Glance
While the Royals certainly didn’t have a memorable 2019 season, there were still a few pockets of wonder. Danny Duffy became a surprising streamer candidate in the second half. Brad Keller’s excellent north-south separation with his fastball and slider in concert with a late uptick in fastball velocity hinted at better days. And when Jakob Junis’ slider was on, it was on. There isn’t much more to look forward to in the near future, save for Daniel Lynch (who is likely to make his debut in 2021) and Brady Singer. Look elsewhere for lottery picks, and likely streaming options as well.
Danny Duffy – Locked Starter
Nickname: The Duff Man
2019 In Review
Another season, another 4.00+ ERA from Duffy with fewer than 30 starts. We saw a season of wonder during his 2015 season that returned a 1.14 WHIP, 26% strikeout rate, and 3.51 ERA, but nothing has come close since, nor has the scent of 180 frames returned. Still, there were times in 2019 when Duffy returned to our fantasy radars, whether it was occasional streams against the Marlins in September or even an eleven strikeout game against the Braves. Who knows, maybe those nights turn into weeks or even months in 2020.
Fastball (53% usage)
It’s mostly four-seamers here from Duffy, and gone are the glory days of 94/95 as he lost yet another tick last season, down to 92/93. It led to not necessarily a terrible offering, but not a good one, either. Duffy can command it well on certain evenings and pair it with secondary stuff to suggest a proper leader of the staff, though other nights this pitch gets punished and there’s little in the bank to stop it.
If his overall command improves, Duffy’s heater can help more than hurt. Still, all his current trends suggest movement in the opposite direction.
Slider (26% usage)
On the plus side, Duffy improved with his slider last season, earning two ticks more swinging strikes, while lowering his batting average on the pitch over 55 points. You don’t often see such a huge bump in effectiveness when you increase its usage by 50%, and Duffy defied the odds. It was much needed, too, as this slider was the savior of his season. It’s not quite enough to suggest Duffy can pull himself out of his downward spiral, but there may still be enough left in the tank to produce a fringe fantasy-relevant season if his fastball and changeup show up.
Changeup (12% usage)
Don’t let the season usage fool you, Duffy changed his game plan in the second half, evening out his slider/changeup usage to 20% & 18% across his final ten starts. The ERA was close to the same, but a 1.25 WHIP and 23% strikeout rate suggest there may be something to his approach change. Throw in an IL stint that disrupted his rhythm, and there’s enough rhetoric there to convince some to take a chance in 15-teamers.
Let’s pull back a touch. While the pitch certainly improved last season, its 32% O-Swing still leaves plenty to be desired. A 42% zone rate and 15% SwStr rate each will suit Duffy’s needs fine, but it’s far from electric or “approach defining.”
Curveball (9% usage)
This is a show-me curveball … that barely sat under a 40% zone rate. Its 31% O-Swing could be worse, though it didn’t crack the 10% SwStr mark, as it lacked deception, and led to an unsurprising .333 BAA. Duffy is sure to keep the pitch around for the rare mix-up, and it’ll be a pitch that’s simply … there.
There’s good news and bad news. The bad: Duffy lacks a plus offering in his repertoire and will have to rely on command with his heater as his four-seamer likely continues its inevitable descent. The good: A shift in approach to feature a near-even split of 40% sliders and changeups could hint at a slightly improved 2020. It will come down to his fastball consistency and feel for his slow ball, and in all likelihood, Duffy will be relegated as an occasional streamer.
Realistic worst-case projection: 4.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20% K rate in 100 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Danny Duffy 2020 projection:
4.30 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 21% K rate in 150 IP
Jakob Junis – Locked Starter
Nickname: Two Face
2019 In Review
2019 didn’t bring many happy memories for Junis, recording just eleven starts of 2 ER or fewer despite stepping onto the hill 31 times. His approach stems from a slider that can make or break any outing, using fastballs and the rare changeup to help set up the pitch. It’s been a struggle to find consistency over the years, and last season’s 5.24 ERA is a sign of the times.
Fastball (51% usage)
Junis featured four-seamers to sinkers at about a 2:1 ratio, though neither were effective in the slightest. Each pitch featured a BAA above .345, with his four-seamer returning a ghastly 183 wRC+ and sinker tallying a -5.4 pVal. Yeah, not the ideal heaters to keep batters on their toes.
With a great (at times elite) breaker in his back pocket, Junis needs to be precise with fastballs, nailing the corners and inducing weak contact out of the zone. Don’t hold your breath for it to click in this season.
Slider (44% usage)
Despite not getting the whiffs you’d imagine from an excellent breaker (just a 14% SwStr rate!), this slider is why Junis has continued to pitch in the majors. It finds the zone constantly, forcing batters to take hacks they don’t want to take, rendering a .177 BAA across a whopping 1,281 sweepers thrown. There are times Junis elects to take speed off the pitch to get more out of it — in the same vein that we’ve seen Patrick Corbin in the past — which haven’t been very effective, but is still better than featuring his horrid heaters or rare changeups more often.
We’ve seen Junis used as a streamer in the past, and it’s possible to pick his spots well by following the recent trend of this pitch. Monitor it before strong matchups throughout the year.
Changeup (5% usage)
On occasion, Junis whips out this changeup against lefties to give them another look. It’s far from a strong offering, without enough depth or command to become a proper threat in his arsenal. Treat Junis as a two-pitch arm.
The slider is still strong, but there isn’t much else to help him through the season. Save for the occasional stream backed on the conviction of his slider, Junis should be disregarded as a fantasy asset.
Realistic worst case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 20% K rate in 160 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 4.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23% K rate in 190 IP
Nick’s reluctant Jakob Junis 2020 projection:
4.60 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 21% K rate in 170 IP
Brad Keller – Likely Starter
Nickname: Mr. Crave
2019 In Review
There was something here in Keller. Sure, the 4.19 ERA wasn’t quite what we wanted, nor was the season-ending “arm fatigue” that took him out before September, but we saw two intriguing developments in 2019: A sudden peak in fastball velocity to 95 mph (season average was 93.2!), and an approach focused on four-seamers up and sliders low. Let’s hope it sticks for 2020 with a clean bill of health.
Fastball (67% usage)
Like Junis, Keller favored four-seamers to sinkers at a 2:1 ratio, though I wonder if a heavy dose of the former will do him better. Keller did an excellent job of keeping the pitch elevated, while he also began raising its velocity in July. A .259 BAA on fastballs is a solid return for a pitch thrown over 1,000 times, and if he’s pairing it with effective sliders, Keller will be able to churn out productive innings pumping four-seamers up in the zone.
It’s not a phenomenal pitch, but if he’s showcasing 94/95 consistently, there will be more good than bad.
Slider (31% usage)
If Keller had Junis’ slider, he would be cooking with his four-seamer, but, sadly, this pitch isn’t quite there yet. It had a wildly productive 2019 season with a 10 pVal and a paltry .194 BAA, but it wasn’t a pitch Keller could turn to deep in counts. Its sub-30% strikeout was a product of both a low 31% zone rate and 37% O-Swing, amplified by its struggles to miss bats (12% SwStr rate).
The one area where Keller excels with the pitch is its location: down. A lot. Keller does a good job of spreading the locations of four-seamers and sliders across the zone, changing eye level and helping induce a .243 BABIP as batters try to adjust.
It’s not elite or pristine, and acts more as a #3 than a #2 pitch, but it works.
Changeup (2% usage)
This pitch is barely touched and shouldn’t be considered a part of Keller’s arsenal, featuring only 52 slow balls in the entirety of 2019, with just one whiff to show for it.
We are still in the dark about Keller’s health after ending the season with “arm fatigue,” but once he hits the field, he should be good to go as Kansas City’s #2, if not their ace. Watch his fastball velocity closely to sit 94/95 mph once again, and keeping great separation of his fastball and slider. If either fails to reach its peak, then it’s best to stay away.
Realistic worst-case projection: 4.60+ ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 16% K rate in 80 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 20% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Brad Keller 2020 projection:
4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 18% K rate in 140 IP
Jorge Lopez – Likely Starter
2019 In Review
2019 wasn’t great for JorLo. A 6.33 ERA and 1.47 WHIP tells enough of the tale as he danced between the rotation and bullpen, searching for answers. His stuff has flashes of brilliance, from front-door sinkers that freeze batters to a changeup that can add sneaky strikes, but the whole package speaks more to mediocrity than a path to greatness. He’ll need to make adjustments across the board to survive 2020.
Fastball (54% usage)
It’s an even mix of four-seamers and sinkers, but neither pitch did Lopez any good. His sinker had a horrid 18% O-Swing (we want over 30% for a sinker!) with just a 4% SwStr rate, returning a 142 wRC+ and .311 BAA. Ouch.
Even so, it was still better than his four-seamer’s 189 wRC+ with a worse 17% O-Swing and -11.7 pVal. It may be shocking to see these numbers from pitches sitting 94/95, but Lopez’s command is far from pristine, while he lacks the deception found in other fastballs.
In other words, his secondary stuff needs to do the heavy lifting as fastballs just don’t get it done.
Curveball (32% usage)
Lopez’s favorite secondary offering is a curveball that isn’t particularly good, but it would settle in well as a strong #3 pitch in a more complete arsenal. It hovers around a 40% zone rate and 14% SwStr, and is the pitch he turns to in big situations. It certainly helps Lopez and keeps him afloat, but when carrying such a poor combination of fastballs, there needs to more from this hook to produce in the majors.
Changeup (7% usage)
There are moments when Lopez’s changeup shows up and impresses — especially with a 42% O-Swing! — but it’s wildly inconsistent and creates doubt to throw it in deeper counts.
There is room for growth in this changeup, though there will be plenty of bumps and bruises along the way if Lopez elects to invest in this slow ball.
Slider (6% usage)
I’m a bit intrigued by Lopez’s slider. It comes in at 87 mph and was a back-pocket strike-getter through the year, boasting a 57% zone rate and 17% SwStr rate — a pair of excellent rates.
It could have performed well simply by taking batters by surprise, though with little promise in his fastball and curveball, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lopez took a chance on this pitch a bit more through a full season. And hey, it’s not like the Royals are playing meaningful games in 2020.
Development of this slider is the clearest path to improvement for Lopez (it’s unlikely for his heater or curveball to make a significant step forward and the changeup growth is a long shot), though it will take some time if that day were to come.
Despite holding a 95 mph fastball, there’s a lot of improvement left for JorLo to make in the majors. He lacks an overpowering breaking pitch, while his heaters are as hittable as they come. There’s a chance development comes through his slider and changeup, though the hypothetical brighter days would arrive far in the future. 2020 will come with a lot of hurt.
Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 17% K rate in 110 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20% K rate in 170 IP
Nick’s reluctant Jorge Lopez 2020 projection:
4.80 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 20% K rate in 150 IP
Mike Montgomery – Fringe
Nickname: Half Monty
There’s often a moment in the season when Montgomery gets a few starts under his belt and suddenly becomes a streamer. Then he burns you. Nothing in his repertoire across his cutter, deuce, or fastball suggest longevity as a starter or worthiness of your fantasy team, and while he may be sent up to the bump often for the Royals this year, he’ll get quickly passed on for younger arms. Expect close to a repeat of his near-5.00 ERA from 2019.
Chance Adams – Fringe
Nickname: The Gamble
The Yankees moved on from Adams after never giving him a proper chance in the bigs (just 33 innings in the majors, the heavy majority in relief) and he may get a new opportunity with the Royals. His arsenal doesn’t speak to high upside — neither his slider nor curveball eclipsed an 11% SwStr rate last season as he pumped 92 mph fastballs out of the pen — and while he’ll likely get some time as a starter, there’s nothing appealing here for you to consider.
Glenn Sparkman – Fringe
Nickname: The Electrician
Sparkman had himself a day against the White Sox last season, earning a complete shutout with eight strikeouts as his fastball and slider were as good as you’ve ever seen them.
And then life came back down to Earth, continuing the 13% strikeout rate and 6.00 ERA. There’s little to grasp onto for hope of anything better (maybe that slider can take over properly?) and fantasy irrelevancy seems to be his destiny.
Eric Skoglund – Fringe
Nickname: His name is Skoglund
I’ve wanted Skoglund to be a strong pitcher for a while, as I want “Skoglund” to be a household name. Eric hasn’t come close to that reality, sadly, matching his 9.00 ERA in the majors with a horrid 6.14 ERA in Triple-A last season.
His heater dropped two ticks of velocity last season, and while his curveball is decent, there’s nothing to write home about. You don’t recognize his name and I’ve come to terms with that. It’s okay.
Scott Blewett – Fringe
Blewett may be slated for the bullpen over starting for the Royals after having a horrid time starting in Triple-A in 2019, and Rick Graham outlined his potential in the Royals’ bullpen preview.
Brady Singer – Fringe
Nick Randall took a look at Brady Singer in the Royals’ Top 50 Prospects article this off-season. Keep an eye out for Singer when he makes his debut, as he can quickly land as the Royals’ ace. Not necessarily a big splash, but an arm to consider.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)