The Royals Will Go as Far as Their Rotation Will Take Them

If the Kansas City Royals' rotation continues to perform at the high level we have seen so far this season, they might surprise us in 2024.

SURPRISE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 26: Seth Lugo #67 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during a spring training game at Surprise Stadium on February 26, 2024 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

If you pegged the Kansas City Royals as a sleeper team in 2024, you may have been onto something.

Less than two weeks into the club’s regular season slate, one positional group has made an early impression: the starting rotation.

There’s a lot to like about Kansas City’s starters in the early going, including their 1.60 ERA, which ranks second in all of baseball behind only the upstart Boston Red Sox. Opponents are also hitting just .167 against Royals starting pitching, which leads the sport.

But perhaps the most impressive development so far? The unit’s 62 innings pitched through 10 games, averaging out to over six innings per start.

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That reliability is proving to be immensely valuable, too, as pitching injuries have ravaged baseball, with recent high-profile victims such as Cleveland Guardians ace Shane Bieber, Atlanta Braves ace Spencer Strider and Houston Astros ace Framber Valdez all succumbing to various elbow injuries.

Therefore, if the Royals can keep their starters healthy, they could ride their health advantage to unprecedented heights in 2024.

This is the Best Royals’ Starting Rotation in Years

It’s quite a change from a year ago, when Kansas City’s 5.12 starters ERA ranked 27th in baseball. Opponents also hit .265 against Royals’ pitching in 2023, which unsurprisingly was the sixth-worst mark league-wide.

So what changed in such a short span? A talent influx, really.

The Royals were one of baseball’s more active teams this past winter, adding a slew of veterans to their otherwise inexperienced roster in hopes of accelerating the club’s contention window in a weak AL Central division this season.

Among the names added? Former San Diego Padres starters Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, both of whom have played a major role in uplifting Kansas City’s rotation so far this season. Lugo has a miniscule 0.71 ERA in his first two starts of 2024, while Wacha sports a nifty 2.25 ERA in his own two starts.

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Pairing Lugo and Wacha with breakout sensation Cole Ragans (1.46 ERA), homegrown veteran Brady Singer (0.68 ERA) and Alec Marsh (3.09 ERA) has resulted in a combined eight quality starts through 10 total games played. For comparison, the Royals had a total of 32 quality starts (QS)* last season, meaning Kansas City already has one-quarter of its QS output from 2023 in early April.

* A quality start is an outing of at least six innings pitched, with no more than three earned runs allowed.

So what does all of this mean? The Royals are winning games at a higher clip (6-4) than they have in years thanks to their best starters ERA through 10 games in franchise history. And that history includes two World Series championship seasons in 1985 and 2015. Not too shabby.

Royals Starters Are Masking the Team’s Bullpen Malaise

For all the positives about Kansas City’s rotation, the pitching staff as a whole doesn’t come without its imperfections.

The Royals are relatively weak in their bullpen this season, as they own a cumulative 4.67 ERA through 10 games. That’s good for 11th in the American League and 18th in all of baseball.

Moreover, opponents are teeing off against Kansas City late in games, hitting at a .294 clip. This is also reflected in the bullpen’s 1.67 WHIP as hitters are reaching base at a high level, thus creating plenty of RBI opportunities.

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Despite numerous signings this past off-season, including defending World Series champions Will Smith and Chris Stratton, the Royals’ bullpen is a major work in progress that will undoubtedly need mid-summer reinforcements should the team remain in contention by that point.

Fortunately for Kansas City, though, their starting rotation has consistently delivered quality starts so far. Whether that trend continues throughout the duration of this season will be something to watch, but generally speaking, starters that pitch deep into games do wonders for minimizing weakness in the bullpen.

Not to mention, the Royals’ bullpen would be preserved for important innings during any potential playoff chase later in the season. That works out to be a win for all sides.

The Royals Will Go as Far as Their Rotation Takes Them in 2024

Between an underrated starting rotation and a leaky bullpen, all signs seem to point to the former making or breaking the Kansas City Royals’ 2024 postseason hopes.

If Seth Lugo, Alec Marsh, Cole Ragans, Brady Singer and Michael Wacha are able to continue raising the bar, so too will the bar raise for the Royals this year, just as their front office likely intended when they signed Lugo and Wacha in the first place.

Kansas City is also buoyed by its young superstar shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., veteran catcher Salvador Perez, intriguing third baseman Maikel Garcia and power hitters MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino (though it’s been a slow start to 2024 for the latter).

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Still, though, the bulk of the heavy lifting will be done by the Royals’ rotation, especially since their lineup could benefit from having some extra thump. Ditto the bullpen, which will also need further upgrades if Kansas City emerges as a contender this season.

But overall? 2024 has started off on the right foot for the Royals. And in their weak division, any positive momentum could prove crucial in giving the 2023 AL Central champion, the Minnesota Twins, a run for their money as they attempt to repeat as division winners.

Ultimately, however, time will tell if Kansas City’s starting pitching will hold up over the remaining 152 games to bring postseason baseball back to Kauffman Stadium for the first time since 2015.