The Kansas City Royals didn’t get a lot of buzz when they traded for Nate Karns, but he may be a key figure in their 2017 pitching rotation.
When the Kansas City Royals recently traded away Jarrod Dyson for Nathan Karns, I recognized his name, but to be honest, it reminded me of one of those guys who’s a fifth starter on Cleveland who we learn a lot more about after they come out of nowhere and blank the Royals.
My immediate judgment didn’t quite do him justice. First of all, losing Jarrod Dyson wasn’t thrilling. I wrote last year about how his value (both in salary and as a projected starter) was being under-utilized, and that fans should be excited for his expanded role in 2016.
He didn’t disappoint, putting up a 3.11 WAR (including a 1.95 dWAR, which ranked 14th in baseball) in just 107 games. That’s real value – his overall WAR ranked 110th, sandwiched between Trevor Story and David Price. So, yes, we lost something. But when you have Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Paulo Orlando, and speedster/Dyson doppelganger Billy Burns, you’re almost just trading in a spare part for a legitimate deep rotation starter.
How legitimate though?
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Simply put, the Kansas City Royals are getting a cheap (almost league minimum) power arm under team control through 2020. In 2015, his 3.67 ERA was good for 20th in the AL for pitchers with 140+ innings thrown. And while his 2016 numbers don’t sparkle, his HR rate was down and his strikeout rate was up (he averaged over one per inning, better than both Corey Kluber and Chris Sale).
On top of that, his FIP was over a full point less than his ERA (4.05 compared to 5.15), so we can be hopeful that the Royals defense could help pull that number down to where it belongs this year.
Finally, if we isolate the games he started last year – he moved to relief in July due to an influx of new pitchers in Seattle – his ERA drops to 4.56, and included seven straight quality starts from late April all the way through May. That’s all you can ask from a fourth or fifth starter; remember, this was the same year Jeremy Guthrie had a league-worst 5.95 ERA…and the Royals still won the World Series.
I liked this trade for the Kansas City Royals. And I like this trade even more after Danny Duffy’s contract extension. We’re now looking at studs at the top of the rotation in the Duff-man and Yordano Ventura (maybe being a bit generous here), stability with Ian Kennedy in the middle, and a back-end that includes a mix of Karns, Jason Vargas, Matt Strahm, Mike Minor, and Chris Young. That’s legitimate depth. And even if all they do with four and five is play the hot hand, I think I like our odds.