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Bubic Battled But Bats Betrayed
Another offensive thud negated decent enough pitching.
Kris Bubic pitched well enough for a no decision. He was good enough with a lot of encouraging things that I’ll get to, but had a few too many guys on base for me to feel great about the outing. The problem was that the offense went back into its shell after a breakout performance Monday night. I feel like they completed all the possible ways an offense can look within the first five games of the season. And maybe they should feel good about that because that’s difficult! Difficulty in futility is still difficulty and to achieve that is at least noteworthy.
In the first game of the season, I will stand by the fact that they were beaten by Pablo Lopez. It happens. The second game, I think they hit into some terrible luck. The third game, they were fine. They scored a few runs, probably the exact number they should have and that was that. Then on Monday, they had the big day. And last night, I think they just weren’t very good. Don’t get me wrong, they continued to hit the ball hard, so I think it’s fair to say there was some bad luck. They hit eight balls 100 MPH or harder and went three for eight on those. You’d expect four or five his there instead of three. But they only had three more hard-hit balls other than that.
And before anyone bemoans me talking about hard-hit balls again, let me give you the league averages from 2022 on a few exit velocities to show why it actually does matter.
95+ MPH: .488
95 MPH: .294
98 MPH: .397
101 MPH: .502
105 MPH: .627
110+ MPH: .770
<95 MPH: .221
94 MPH: .258
90 MPH: .222
87 MPH: .206
And this doesn’t even talk into account launch angle or anything like that. The point is that hitting the ball hard is a good thing and the harder you hit it, the better. The Royals are still second in the league at 54.5 percent, which is actually higher than it was the other day when they were leading the league. The indicators are still very good for this team. But I think they got beaten by Yusei Kikuchi yesterday and I didn’t find him to be that impressive in the effort. I did think he threw harder than expected and it is his M.O. to be much better early in the year before his numbers tank in the last three or four months, but the Royals should have done more against him
There was one massive highlight in the second inning and a good sign for the offense moving forward. Franmil Reyes put a pitch in a spot we don’t see very much from anyone.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a bad idea to leave a pitch there against him. Reyes actually only swung and missed twice and hit another ball hard as well later in the game, so that may be encouraging for him getting timing down. That homer was a prodigious bomb and it sort of felt like the Royals were off to the races again after a loud first that didn’t result in much.
Matt Duffy followed the home run with a single and then he moved up to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a line out by Hunter Dozier. But the next batter, Jackie Bradley Jr., hit a fly ball to medium depth left and Daulton Varsho got to show off his arm and got Duffy at the plate by a fair amount. They vaguely threatened in he fifth with another Duffy hit and then a Bradley walk with one out, but both Nate Eaton and Nicky Lopez struck out. They only had one more hit the rest of the game, another Duffy single.
I’ve got some thoughts on that. First, Duffy needs to be playing over Dozier. He’s now played two games and he’s five for seven. Will it continue? No. But ride the hot hand, especially when the other hand is cold. He put some good swings on the ball again in this one and, in spite of the fact that he was wearing shoes filled with bricks, I think he should be playing.
The second is that the Royals are really struggling against relievers. They’re not alone, but they are hitting .204/.297/.337 with a 21.6 percent strikeout rate against starters (not good, but the strikeout rate is fine) and .109/.197/.236 with a 31.1 percent strikeout rate against relievers. This is a Royals issue too. Starters, league-wide, actually are striking out more hitters than relievers. I very much believe in Alec Zumwalt, Keoni DeRenne and company, so I don’t think this is a huge issue to think there’s a lack of preparation or anything beyond the starting pitcher, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
There are a handful of reasons why this could be the case. The Royals have played two 3pm games, which can be tough on hitters when relievers come in. Their relievers have a higher strikeout rate than their starters, so that checks out some, though the Royals also pitched two guys in those games who aren’t strikeout artists. So I’d tend to not lean there. But I do think the easy answer is they’ve been trailing and trying to do too much against pitchers who are extremely talented. Of course, Blue Jays relievers did strike out four in 2.1 innings on Monday, so that theory may be bunk as well. The point here is let’s watch this as the sample gets bigger and see if it doesn’t even out a little.
So the offense biffed it, but what is both kind of fun and terrible about this season is that everything is viewed with a lens toward the future and Bubic’s performance is way more important than Reyes and Duffy carrying the offense. And Bubic finally got to debut his brand new slider that was shelved because Cal Eldred somehow gets worse the more I even think back on his tenure. Anyway, I digress.
The results were fine, but I really liked a few things I saw from Bubic. First, he didn’t use the slider a ton, but he used it effectively. He threw nine of them, got swings on five and got whiffs on three. That will play. I’d like to see him start to get more swings out of the zone on it, so that’s something to be looking for in his next few starts because he’s getting a big chance while Daniel Lynch remains out. But there was a very interesting point brought up on Twitter.
We were actually DMing about this a little too. I’m not sure what point in the game that was, but Bubic actually spun a fastball even more after this, so the range ended up at 2225-2516. The minimum was still nearly 100 rpms higher than his average last season. I found that fascinating. His changeup was showing that too, though the spin data is a little weird. It showed one at 23 rpm and one at 3534. Maybe we just throw those two out or I guess they cancel each other out. But even throwing them out puts his average spin at about 1838 rpm, which is 148 rpms higher than last season.
To this point, Baseball Savant hasn’t updated everything, so I don’t have the answer for you just yet on the release point, but it was absolutely different than what we saw last year. It was kind of funny too because the broadcast was talking about how he comes over the top (and he did!), but he absolutely was not last night. So I’m going to put a pin in this, but just know that I’m on it and we’ll be talking about this throughout the next few weeks.
Edit: Some has been updated (guess I should have waited!), but the extension is crazy different! He was at 6.6 ft. extension on his fastball and changeup last year and 6.3 ft. on his curve. Yesterday, it was 6.9 ft. on his fastball and curve and seven on his changeup. That’ll do it.
The good from the start is that his changeup remained a heck of a pitch. He can make some money if he can maintain that changeup, especially with the new slider. His fastball was coming in at an average of 93.5 MPH, which was 1.6 MPH higher than last year. That’s notable too. We’ve talked about his fastball being so important so many times. And he threw 72.7 percent first-pitch strikes. But he was only in the zone 37.5 percent of the time. The command was still obviously an issue. Of course, he also got a nice number of whiffs with 14. His swinging strike percentage of 14.8 percent was the sixth-highest he’s had in any start in his career. And the 38.2 percent chase rate was the second-highest he’s had in any start.
You want to see better command, of course, and way fewer baserunners, but this was a start that made me hopeful for Bubic. Oh, and I can’t move on from this game without sharing one of the best plays we may see all year from Bobby Witt Jr. on the first batter of the game.
I tweeted this and I believe it. That’s the sort of play you see on a career retrospective video after a guy retires. It was ridiculous.
Today’s Game Preview
The Blue Jays ace, Alek Manoah, will take on the Royals. It’s a tall task in spite of his rough first outing of the year when he gave up five runs on nine hits in just 3.1 innings against the Cardinals. What happened? His fastball looked…different. His extension jumped from 6.7 ft. last year to 6.9 ft. this year, which seems small enough, but can make a difference. The spin was basically the same and the velocity was basically the same, but it was moving differently and was kind of all over the zone. So it got hit a little bit and he just wasn’t getting any swings on it outside the zone. Is that because of a very good Cardinals offense or was it something that was easier to pick up? I guess we’ll find out today.
To this point in his career, Manoah hadn’t experienced anything quite like that start on Opening Day. The nine hits were the most he’d allowed in a start. The five runs were tied for third-most. The two home runs were also tied for third-most. Manoah handled the Royals with relative ease twice last season, throwing six shutout innings in June and seven innings of one-run ball in July. In the start in June, he didn’t use his changeup much but then in July, he threw it 20 percent of the time. That may have been because of the inexperience in the Royals lineup as that was the series in Toronto, but much of that lineup is similar to what he’ll see in this one.
I think the weather will be a factor as it has cooled down a lot, so that might suppress the offense, which the Royals can’t really afford. But it should help Zack Greinke. If you’re into gambling. The over/under for this one is nine. Feels like a decent bet. If you want a pick to click, man, I don’t love any of these, but I guess I’d say Kyle Isbel? He’s got a couple hits off Manoah at least.