PECOTA and the Royals: The Pitching

Today, it's about projecting the arms.

Yesterday, was all about the hitters. Today, the pitchers take their turn on the spreadsheet tab. Let’s see how PECOTA views the Royals’ pitching staff for 2021.

The Royals haven’t improved their rotation enough to take the next step in the AL Central.

The Royals made a free agent splash early, inking Mike Minor to a two-year contract. According to PECOTA, he immediately moves to the head of the Royals’ rotation, projected to lead the way in WARP.

With four projected holdovers from 2020 in the rotation, Minor certainly will fill a spot that had previously been occupied by starters such as Jakob Junis and Matt Harvey. But Minor’s presence alone doesn’t project to be enough to elevate the starting pitching to a level that would be on par with the cream of the AL Central crop.

The above is the projected WARP of the five starters projected to pitch the most innings in 2021 for that particular team according to PECOTA.

That’s why this pipeline of pitching the Royals are trying to establish is so important to their future. They need Brady Singer and Kris Bubic to progress. They need Daniel Lynch to debut and probably replace Danny Duffy. And they need Asa Lacy to get minor league innings so he can contribute at the major league level as soon as possible. Even with so many prospects in the fold, it still feels like there is little margin for error.

TINSTAPP, you know.

PECOTA still doesn’t believe in Brad Keller.

As I briefly touched on earlier this week, Royals’ Pitcher of the Year Brad Keller finds success in a way that defies the hard-throwing, strikeout-generating power pitching that has become the norm. And with low strikeout totals, the projections don’t quite know what to do with Keller.

For 2021, PECOTA projects Keller to finish with a 104 DRA- and 0.7 WARP. (DRA- is Deserved Run Average, Baseball Prospectus’s metric that assesses overall pitching performance. It’s an index stat, so anything under 100 is above average. The minus means lower is better. In this case, PECOTA is projecting that Keller will be four percent below league average. You can read more about DRA- here.) That’s not much better than his career averages through his first three seasons in the majors. For perspective, in just nine starts last year, Keller ended with an 84 DRA- (16 percent better than league average and among the 81 starters who threw at least 50 innings last year, ranked 34th overall) to go along with a 1.0 WARP. Obviously, those numbers were compiled in just about a third of a season and it’s entirely possible Keller could’ve hit a few bumps along the way that meant giving back some of that production.

But as noted Tuesday, Keller more than did his job as a starter, routinely keeping the Royals in ballgames. He just may be one of those pitchers who generally outperforms his projections.

And the best reliever is projected to be…

With Greg Holland back in the fold to resume his Saveman duties, he’s projected by PECOTA to pick up 23 saves to lead the team. But the computer doesn’t think of him as the best reliever on the team.

That would go to Scott Barlow.

Barlow last year was firmly entrenched in manager Mike Matheny’s Bullpen of Trust, tying for the league lead with 32 appearances on his way to a DRA- of 76 and a 0.7 WARP. PECOTA sees that at a career year for Barlow and follows up with an 89 DRA- and 0.5 WARP over a full slate of games.

PECOTA is also bullish on the seemingly-forgotten Richard Lovelady, projecting a 93 DRA- and 0.4 WARP, making him the Royals’ second-best bullpen option overall. However, it has no faith in personal favorite Josh Staumont, checking in with a 112 DRA- and 0.3 WARP. Blaspheme! At least it projects a 12.2 SO/9 for the fireballer.

If you’re wondering about free agent Trevor Rosenthal, you’re looking at an 86 DRA- and 0.5 WARP. Hmmm…It’s almost as if he could be an asset in a bullpen.

A couple of final notes about PECOTA and projections in general. First, don’t take them too seriously. Really! They’re a nice diversion when the temperatures are below freezing, but as the mean kids like to say, they don’t play the games on a spreadsheet. These are snapshots based on past data. When the Royals are projected to have the fourth-best starting rotation in the five team AL Central that doesn’t mean they can’t be better. It just means a computer took the cold, hard data and came up with some numbers.

Also, I find that most projection systems have a difficult time getting a proper handle on players with less than two years of major league experience. That matters when you’re thinking about a starting rotation loaded with arms with limited time in the bigs. Give Lynch, Singer, et al a couple of years together in a rotation, and then let’s talk. For now, do I buy PECOTA thinking the Royals are the fourth-best rotation in the Central? Probably. But I’m willing to be surprised.