A Little HR Derby for the Royals
They don't hit a lot of home runs, so we have to appreciate the games they do.
The Royals haven’t exactly had an easy time with Lucas Giolito since the White Sox acquired him after the 2016 season. Even when he wasn’t especially good, he was shutting down the Royals. Coming into last night, he’d made 16 starts against the Royals with a 3.02 ERA and just 66 hits allowed in 98.1 innings. It took until his last start of 2019 to give up more than three runs in a start against the Royals. But over the last couple of years, the Royals have handled him a bit better…sort of.
They hadn’t done anything like what they did to him last night. Giolito threw four innings and the Royals scored on him in all of them. In the first, they played some 2014 Royals baseball with a couple singles and a sacrifice fly, but in the second, they got a home run from Edward Olivares (and an RBI single from Whit Merrifield). In the third, they got a home run from Salvador Perez. And then in the fourth, they got one from Michael A. Taylor. Three home runs in four innings by the Royals against Giolito is enough that it should shock you. It definitely shocked me.
When Ryan O’Hearn hit a two-run home run to provide some insurance for the Royals in the seventh inning, it gave the Royals their second four-home run game of 2021. With that, let’s take a quick interlude.
A Brief Recent History of Royals Four Home Run Games
The Royals homering four times in a game isn’t quite as uncommon recently as you might think, but it’s still not a regular occurrence. Last season, they hit exactly four home runs in a game three times. Those games were against the Cardinals, these White Sox and the Twins. They also hit six (!) in a game last year against the Tigers on July 27.
In 2019, they had four homers twice and five homers twice. And one of the games was in Chicago against the White Sox. They did it three times in 2018, seven times in 2017 (the year they set their franchise home run record by a lot), three times in 2016 and just twice in 2015, both in September and both against Detroit. So with last night’s four home runs, they’ve hit at least four home runs in a game 25 times and have gone 22-3 in those games. Randomly, two of those losses are to bad Tigers teams.
Let’s get back to your regularly scheduled programming now.
Of the four home runs the Royals hit last night, three of the four had exit velocities of less than 100 MPH, which I found interesting. I honestly would have guessed there were way fewer home runs hit at less than 100 MPH, but the Royals had actually hit 33 of their 176 home runs since the start of 2020 at less than 100 MPH coming into last night. How does that compare to the league? There had been 6,169 home runs before play started yesterday and 1,029 were less than 100 MPH.
So to do the math for you, 18.8 percent of the Royals home runs the last two seasons had been less than 100 MPH before last night and the league was at 16.7 percent, so really not too far off.
But there’s still something that is so intriguing to me about “soft” home runs. Let’s take a look at each one because a good Royals home run gif is a lot of fun.
Michael A. Taylor:
The Olivares home run is the one that is so intriguing to me because I’m weird. It was hit at 93.9 MPH and was just the 22nd hardest hit ball of the game. The xBA on the home run was .130. It is the softest home run the Royals have hit this year and the third softest in the last two seasons and the 10th softest since 2018. Why do I care about these things? I couldn’t tell you, but I find them interesting, so I’m sharing them with you.
Soft homers and rocket homers are all homers, so the good news is that they were able to take advantage of some mistakes from Giolito and get Carlos Hernandez a bunch of runs to work with early. As the broadcast noted last night, the Royals had gotten into a habit of trailing by three within the first few innings in every game of this road trip. It was so good to get Hernandez a lead.
And he really ran with it even though he didn’t have his best control, and the fact that he succeeded without it is huge. I’m a big believer in Hernandez, but I also know that if his control is off, he’s going to be in trouble. We saw it in that start against the Tigers a couple weeks ago. And when you add in the fact that he just faced the White Sox last week, it was going to be a tough start for him anyway, good control or not.
You can see that he was kind of all over the place, but the only place he wasn’t was right in the middle of the plate.
You might see a lot of green in that chart for the changeup. That’s a pitch the Royals think can be a difference maker for Hernandez. We know he has a good slider and a good curve that can get a ton of swings and misses, but the changeup is a pitch that can really help out everything. Prior to last night, he’d thrown 48 changeups all season and then he threw 23 last night alone. And it was good!
He got 12 swings on the 23 changes. Four were whiffs and five were foul balls with three more put in play. The hardest was hit 89.7 MPH and the softest was 64.1 MPH. That will certainly work. Oh and he added in another called strike for good measure. Suddenly, Hernandez is looking like a four or even a five pitch pitcher given that he mixes in a sinker to show a slightly different look from his four-seam fastball.
Hernandez may or may not make it as a big league starter, but he’s giving himself a chance with multiple above average pitches. Just look at these. That’s a big fastball for a strikeout first and a nasty changeup for a strikeout second.
It’s hard to miss a spot by more, but that’s a fun pitch anyway.
In the end, Hernandez got strikeouts with four different pitches. Only his curve didn’t get in on the action. That’s pretty fun
It should be difficult to face a good offense twice in a week, but Hernandez went 11 innings and allowed six total hits while striking out 10 and walking just three. That’s good for a 0.82 ERA. I think that’ll work. It’ll be another test up next for Hernandez, just like the whole team throughout August. He’ll get the Yankees, now equipped with a couple big lefty bats, so the changeup will likely play a role again.
MJ Reminds Me of Someone
If you were too busy watching the Royals power display last night, you might have missed that MJ Melendez hit his 26th home run of the season last night. Then he hit his 27th. And then he hit his 28th. They weren’t all in one game as Northwest Arkansas played two, but he is now hitting .294/.380/.650 with those 28 homers along with 18 doubles and just a 21.3 percent strikeout rate. By all accounts, he’s a good catcher too. I really believed the Royals would look to move Cam Gallagher to get Sebastian Rivero to the big leagues as the backup and give Melendez a chance to join his former teammates, Bobby Witt Jr. and Nick Pratto, in Omaha. And yet, here we are with Melendez making AA pitchers look silly still.
You’re probably wondering who he reminds me of, and it has nothing to do with his play. You might recall that the Royals had Wil Myers in AAA in 2012 while Jeff Francoeur was in the midst of a .235/.287/.378 season at the big league level. Myers was absolutely ready for the big leagues, but the Royals just refused to call him up. And as it turned out, they ended up trading him in a deal we all recall pretty well. I sort of wonder if the Royals are doing the same thing with Melendez. Why move him up and potentially show off some warts when you can continue to show his very best if you’re planning to move a guy in the offseason? I’m not saying it’s a guarantee, but him having yet another fantastic day in AA and there being no signs of him getting promoted made me think a bit about that.
The injury to Andrew Benintendi in Tuesday night’s game opened up, at least temporarily, a shot for Emmanuel Rivera to come back from the injured list after five rehab games. The Royals continue to say that they’re hopeful Benintendi can avoid an injured list stay, and if he does avoid it, it’ll make for some interesting lineup decisions. Rivera plays third and can handle some first. Hunter Dozier can play in any of the four corners and he can DH. Carlos Santana is going to play. Edward Olivares needs to play. And if Benintendi is healthy, he’ll play. So someone has to sit and it should be O’Hearn, but I think we all know about that. The thing about Rivera is he’s the best defensive third baseman they have. I mean look at this play:
That’s some outstanding range and a great throw. I know Eloy Jimenez isn’t exactly a burner, but still a fantastic play. The Royals could use that. And they could use guys like him and Olivares to come up and show they belong, especially with Dayton Moore’s comments the other day about Adalberto Mondesi not being a guy you can count on for a full season. I hope Rivera gets a chance to show he can be a big leaguer because the infield is going to get even more crowded soon with Witt and Pratto on their way up at some point. The road to competing in 2022 depends a lot on the stars, but also on the edges of the roster. Sometimes it’s not about having more good but rather less bad. If Rivera can be a piece to help toward that goal, that would be a very good thing for the Royals.