Another Rough Night Out West
Will the Royals ever win again? Tune in tonight to find out! (They will...probably)
This is starting to feel familiar, and it’s not a good feeling. The Royals started May with an offensive outburst and then didn’t win again until May 14. This month, they won the first three games of the month, but two close losses to the Twins have now been followed by two pretty non-competitive games against the Angels in which they were trailing big early.
Do I believe they’re about 36 percent of the way through another 11-game losing streak? No. Would I be surprised? Okay yeah, probably a little, but not as much as I maybe should be. But this team is clearly up and down and this won’t be the last down stretch nor will the 19 games before it be the last good one.
But again, this is an opportunity for them to show month-to-month growth. I’ve said this so many times, but the biggest difference for the Royals when they went from ascending to the top of the mountain is that they limited losing streaks. Teams both good and bad go through bad stretches that will last eight games, 19 games, 14 games, whatever.
One of the biggest differences between a bad team and at least an above average team is their ability to turn an 11-game losing streak into a 3-8 stretch. I think we’d all agree that a 3-8 stretch is pretty bad, but it’s much better than 0-11. What does the Royals season look like if they had done that in May? Well their record is 32-27 instead of 29-30. So now they’re four games into a losing streak. Does it get to five? Eight? 14? I don’t know, but they can show some growth if they limit this streak and at least win a few games while things are not going well for them.
Kris Bubic was due for some regression. We all knew it. And it started in his last start when he just didn’t have anything but his changeup against the Twins. The problem last night was he didn’t have his changeup against the Angels, and without that pitch, Bubic is in big trouble. His fastball works off the changeup. He doesn’t throw it hard enough to work without the changeup working.
And last night, he threw 34 changeups in his 91 pitches. He got swings on 24 of them, but whiffs on only five. He doesn’t get a ton of whiffs on the changeup usually, but his season percentage coming into the game was 27.7 percent, so being at just 20.8 percent isn’t what you want. He’d allowed two doubles and a triple on the pitch in 58 plate appearances that ended on his changeup.
Last night was different. The Angels fouled 11 changeups off. They put eight in play with a maximum exit velocity of 111.7 MPH and an average of 96.5 MPH. Compare that to the season-long average exit velocity on the pitch of 89.5 MPH and it’s pretty obvious things weren’t working. From a sheer results standpoint, remember when I said he’d given up three extra base hits on the pitch all season? Yeah, he gave up FOUR home runs on that pitch.
Let’s take a look at where those four changeups were.
Here’s Ohtani’s in the first inning:
And Max Stassi’s in the third:
And Jose Iglesias’ in the fourth:
And finally Justin Upton’s, also in the fourth:
Look at those locations. I don’t care who you are. You simply cannot live in the middle of the plate. I’m not sure what was going on with him. His break on the pitch was consistent with his season numbers, both vertical and horizontal. The spin was down a bit, but not anything worth really noting. For now, it sure just seems like it was one of those games that happen from time to time.
The Angels absolutely rake at home, which is something that is probably one of those weird quirks you see during a season. It was a bit surprising as the Angels had hit .177 with a .274 SLG against lefty changeups heading into the game, but they definitely had their way with the pitch last night.
Before I get to the offense, let’s have a little chat about Ronald Bolaños, who entered in the fifth to relieve Bubic. When the Royals traded Tim Hill and got Franchy Cordero and Bolaños back, a lot of people were very excited Cordero, myself included. But one thing I kept seeing was that the best player in the deal for other side was Bolaños. And we saw a bit of him last season but he was pretty erratic. You could see the stuff was really good, but he looked like a guy who needed a fair amount of refining.
His first inning was crisp. He threw 15 pitches, got seven swings and four whiffs and his two-seamer jumped as high as 98.5 MPH. The movement was really impressive and was something I don’t remember seeing from him last season, albeit in a small sample. His strikeout of Phil Gosselin made me give a small sports yell. Okay, maybe not a yell, but maybe a whoop? Either way.
Then he threw 10 more pitches in his second inning of work and looked maybe even better. He got five more swings and three more swings and misses and his fastball topped out again around 98. This is so obviously the best we’ve ever seen him that I found myself incredibly disappointed that he didn’t come out for the seventh inning because I wanted to watch more of him. Just because the game was such a dud, here are a couple more fantastic pitches because you deserve something good.
Now that’s what I call hitting a target.
Look at that movement.
Bolaños finding some consistency to pitch at even 80 percent of this moving forward would be absolutely huge for the staff. I’ve never really believed that he can maintain the stuff as a starter, but in a role where he can get six outs, that can be really helpful in a bullpen. It’ll take more than one game, of course, but you have to start somewhere and this was a heck of a start.
I do want to touch on the offense for just a second, but not more than that because they aren’t really worth talking about much. The bottom third of the order, manned by Michael A. Taylor, Edward Olivares and Hanser Alberto went a combined 4 for 11 with a walk, the only run scored and the only RBI. The rest of the order went 2 for 20 with three walks. I know they lost 8-1, but that game might look very different if any of the top six could have done much of anything. The worst came in the seventh when Salvador Perez continued his mini-slump with a bases loaded ground out with the team trailing by five.
And the hope that Hunter Dozier had turned something around on Monday with his three hits, including an opposite field hit and turning around a 97 MPH fastball was dashed pretty quickly. He did walk in his first plate appearance, but then struck out three times. We’ll see how he responds today, but that’s not a great first step in his hope to rise back to prominence.
The Staff Isn’t Prepared
If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’d know I have zero faith in Cal Eldred as the pitching coach for all these young pitchers. I’ve long believed that they weren’t prepared in ways other staffs were. It just seems like they don’t have a great plan of attack. I think some of that is actually on Perez, who I just don’t think is a great game caller, but some of that just feels like they aren’t prepared. I couldn’t quite my finger on what else I was thinking might be an issue, but Alec Lewis of The Athletic nailed it last night.
That’s just a perfect observation. I am absolutely not speaking for Alec here, but who is responsible for that? Of course, it’s the pitching coach. And to be clear, it’s never as simple as blame the coach. The players have to perform. But this is just another example of something that I believe a better pitching coach would be able to avoid. I’m definitely biased against Eldred as I have never believed in him, but as close as he and Mike Matheny are, I hope the organization is able to evaluate Eldred appropriately. They may determine he’s the guy. I will disagree with that, but I really hope he isn’t retained just because of personal relationships.
There was a big concern about Josh Staumont’s velocity before he went on the IL a couple weeks ago. When he hit the IL with the knee injury, it was one of those situations when you almost like an injury because it provided an explanation. Last night, in his second game back, he averaged 94.6 MPH on his fastball. His season average is 2.2 MPH higher, which is more than a full MPH lower than 2020. He’s shown some velocity fluctuation in the minors, so this isn’t that surprising, but I worry that he’s not really more than a solid middle reliever (which has value) without his velocity.
Look at this home run he allowed last night to Taylor Ward:
Yes, the spot isn’t great, but at 94.7, he has to be much finer. If that was 97.7, maybe it’s a hit, but I have a very good idea that it’s not a home run. I’m willing to wait it out a bit because he didn’t go on a rehab stint and hadn’t pitched in awhile, so maybe he’s still ramping up, but topping out at 95.9 MPH just isn’t enough for him. It has my attention and that attention might escalate to worry if we don’t see a few 98s soon.