I was all set to really dive into what Jackson Kowar did in his big league debut, excited to break down various pitches and at bats and swoon over his changeup. But some combination of bad command and some obvious big time nerves (that maybe caused the bad command) made it so that isn’t the best way to go for this debut. The line, she was ugly. He didn’t get out of the first, requiring 39 pitches to get two outs. He gave up four runs on three hits with two walks and no strikeouts. By my count, he threw maybe four or five truly good pitches. It was ugly.
I was probably a little too quick to fire off a tweet last night questioning the Royals evaluation process in wondering why they believe pitchers are ready and then they get shelled, so that’s on me. Daniel Lynch obviously struggled and then Kowar as well, but guys like Brady Singer and Kris Bubic both handled their first season perfectly well. I’ll own that. I think we all say things a little too quickly at one time or another.
While there isn’t much to break down, let’s take a look at Kowar’s first start before we move on to the rest of the game.
As I said before, the command was broken. He was pretty much either in the middle or so far off the plate that hitters weren’t going to offer at it. He had a gift given to him by Justin Upton for the first out. He did throw a couple really good changeups, which is what I was most excited to see. Here’s one:
But in all, he got his fastball up to 97.3 MPH and averaged 95.9 MPH. He threw 20 fastballs, 17 changeups and two curves. He did get two whiffs on the changeups, including one of them above and got one on his fastball, which I thought might be a sign he was about to settle in, but in hindsight, it was middle-middle, so maybe not. I think one thing that we see a lot for rookie pitchers is that pitches that get swung through in AAA get fouled off in the big leagues and there was some of that too for Kowar.
I feel the same way about Kowar as I do about Lynch. The first taste was, quite frankly, a disaster, but I still have faith that both of these pitchers can and will be good big league pitchers much sooner than later. I just wish I had more fun things to break down with Kowar from last night.
Somewhat surprisingly, Ervin Santana came in and was really good. I say somewhat because he’s actually been really solid for the Royals this season as a long reliever and spot starter. He came in to try to limit the damage in the first and he got a strikeout on his first batter. He ended up giving up some runs, but I don’t think he should have been out there for the fifth inning at all. He looked good for the first four he threw, but then just ran out of gas. The end result wasn’t great for him, but it wasn’t his fault he was put in the situation he was in. That fifth inning sent him 13 full pitches above his previous season high for pitches and it showed.
For the season, he’s now thrown 24.1 IP with 19 hits allowed and miraculously for a Royals team that walks way too many batters, just seven walks. I appreciate the work he’s done in the role he’s in, but I’m kind of at a point where I’m curious to see what he could do in a short relief role. He averaged 92.2 MPH last night but had averaged 92.8 MPH for the year and I wonder if that might tick up and we’d see 93-95 MPH. With their issues finding reliable arms, I’d be curious about it at least.
Some Good, Some Bad with the Offense
Ultimately, the Royals scored just three runs against a very bad Angels pitching staff and a very bad pitcher in Dylan Bundy. It was reminiscent of some Royals games from earlier this season. Let’s touch on the good first. As a team, they hit 13 balls hard. They had the five hardest hit balls of the game and eight of the 10 hardest hit balls of the game. When you see this on Baseball Savant, it’s usually a very good sign:
That all led to an xBA for the game of .324, which is actually their fourth highest xBA in a game this season. They went 9 for 34, so it’s fair to assume they probably should have had a couple more hits. It wouldn’t have made a difference, but still good to know.
Individually, it was nice to see Salvador Perez pick up a couple hits after he had been hitless on Saturday and Sunday, but the two hitters struggling the most in the lineup and who the team needs the most both had some good things happen.
First, for Jorge Soler, he hit his first home run since May 19th. It was a really nice swing on a curve. Not to be the downer here, but I don’t tend to read too much into it because he basically put the same swing on that ball he’s been putting on everything all season, but Bundy just allowed him to make that sort of contact and let the swing actually work for once.
I don’t want to discount the potential for confidence, but he also went hitless for six straight games following that last home run, so I’ll hold back on assuming that it means something until it means something.
But for Hunter Dozier, last night is something that really has me interested in what he might do moving forward. He had his first three hit game of the season with two doubles and his very first opposite field hit of the season. That does seem crazy, but it’s true. Now with Dozier, he’s had a hot stretch already this season that really didn’t get him going like I expected, but I really liked his swings in this one. This double in particular seemed like a really good one:
If Dozier can get going, that would be so big for this Royals offense looking for anything beyond the top four in their lineup. Selfishly, it would make me look like slightly less of an idiot for predicting a big breakout for him this season, but I’m looking out for the team more.
All that said, the Royals had 35 plate appearances and only saw 124 pitches. That’s 3.54 pitches per plate appearance. Coming into the game, they ranked second to last in baseball at 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, so this was pretty much just more of the same. I was so sold that this offense would see more pitches, but the issues just continue with that. I don’t know what the answer is, but the Royals aren’t doing a good enough job of getting starters out to take advantage of bad bullpens and that needs to change.
I’ve been critical of Perez with his pitch blocking, but last night I don’t think he was to blame for anything even though the team threw five wild pitches last night, which, according to Royals Review, tied a team record. Perez did enter last night with the second most blocking chances of any catcher in baseball. The team is just throwing the ball in the dirt an awful lot. Is that a command issue? Is that trying to get swings and misses? Honestly, it’s probably a combination of both, but it certainly makes life difficult for catchers.
The issue is that it sure seems like teams are starting to be more prepared for the ball in the dirt. We’ve seen guys advance quite a bit on that over the last few days, so that might be something to address for the pitching staff. Or maybe there’s nothing to do really. It’s a really slider heavy staff, throwing the second highest percentage in baseball, so maybe that’s just an occupational hazard, but it’s worth paying attention to over the next few weeks.
It really feels like Kelvin Gutierrez is a tweak away from being a monster. He hits the ball hard, averaging a 91.7 MPH exit velocity and with a max of 111.9 MPH. His average launch angle is 0.3 degrees. That’s quite bad. His ground ball percentage is 67.8. That just doesn’t get it done. I know that he had worked with a swing coach a couple years back and some of the offensive development staff has worked with him over the past couple seasons, but I just don’t see a change. Some guys struggle to carry these things over to the game from the batting cages, but I would really like to see what he could do if he could just get a little more lift on the ball.