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Now THAT'S a Good Win
The Royals put everything together in a blowout win that at least shows glimpses of what they can do.
Sometimes it just looks easy. All you need is your starter to pitch into the seventh and allow next to nothing while just about everyone in the lineup contributes. Add in that your young core at the top goes 6 for 13 with four runs and five RBI and, voila, it’s a big win. Of course, it isn’t always that easy, but when it is, it’s definitely fun to watch. I wrote on Friday that it wouldn’t be too surprising if they get back on track a little on the road, just like the 2012 team did. They squandered a chance to actually go 5-1, but 3-3 after a 1-6 homestand feels like a miracle.
Even with a couple of instances of losing their grips on a late lead, I think you have to be happy enough with the road trip. I don’t think the Giants are a good team necessarily, but that’s not an easy place to play. And I think the Rangers have a good offense, at the very least. I’m pleased with what they did. There were a few things that stood out to me from last night’s big win to even up that road trip and make it a relative success.
Bobby and Vinnie Are Fine, MJ is a Mixed Bag
I’d be lying if I said I wasn't more sure about Vinnie Pasquantino being on the way to a huge season, but Bobby Witt Jr. has turned things on lately. He had a 3 for 5 day last night with three stolen bases. There are a bunch of quirky stats about his age and doing that and those are all great, but I don’t care so much about that. I care about a couple of things he did. In the first inning, he took an 0-2 slider and hit a rocket up the middle to center field for his first hit. It was a pitch he should have hit hard, but prior to last night, he was just 1 for 12 on sliders and just 14 for 65 in his career against sliders with two strikes.
He hit this one 104 MPH and even though he didn’t score in the inning, that was a good sign. He came up a couple times later and faced a 1-2 count. Eovaldi tried to sneak a 94.6 MPH fastball by him, but Witt had a nice swing and tripled down the line to score MJ Melendez.
This is a super niche stat, but on fastballs in that spot with two strikes, he was 1 for 19 in his career with 14 strikeouts. He fouled plenty off, but that’s something he’s struggled with in the past, so to hit a ball hard the other way like that is very encouraging. He hit a soft single later in the game for his third hit and ended up stealing two bases to give him three on the night. H’s now hitting .333/.357/.630 in his last seven games, which is a tiny sample, but they’ve only played 13 total games. And the other part of that is he’s only struck out 17.9 percent of the time. I’m still calling 30/30 for him.
Pasquantino is on fire. He went 1 for 3 with a home run and a walk before getting to relax for the last couple of innings of the blowout. He’s now hitting .293/.408/.561 for the year with as many walks as strikeouts. It’s easy to forget just a week later that he was 2 for his first 17, but he’s now hitting .417/.500/.833 in his last seven games. And he’s hitting the absolute stuffing out of the ball seemingly every time up. He had three more hard-hit balls last night and is now. up to a 52.9 percent hard-hit rate for the season. Here’s his homer last night because I like homers.
And finally, Melendez, who had an up and down night. He had a big double and an RBI single after getting a big hit last night, but also struck out twice more. He’s still walking at a 12.5 percent clip and hitting the ball hard, but he just needs to make more contact. He’s now whiffed on 18.1 percent of pitches he’s seen. I still think this is just a blip as he didn’t have anywhere near these issues with contact last season, so that should right things and he has also at least had a couple of big hits the last two nights. So we’ll see on him, but he contributed in a big way last night at least.
Rad Keller Returned
I remember writing before the 2021 season about how much of a unicorn Brad Keller was. I had a hard time even finding comps for him and that led to two general conclusions. The first is that since there was nobody who had the success he did in the way he did that he was a trailblazer. The second is that it was fleeting and things would turn. Then he struggled the last two years and finally made changes that had to be made. He was good in his first start, though with too many walks. But last night against the Rangers, it all came together beautifully.
He went 6.2 innings, allowed just three hits while striking out seven and walking one, his final batter. It was just the sixth time in his career that he struck out at least seven and walked either zero batters or just one batter. And he did it once again while featuring his new toy, a curve. He did throw more four-seam fastballs than any other pitch, but he threw his curve the second most and it was really good. He got 14 swings that got five whiffs and four foul balls. Rangers hitters took seven of them for strikes to give him a CSW% on his curve of 46 percent. That’s outstanding. They chased 45 percent of them that were out of the zone. That’s also outstanding.
Yeah, it caught plate a lot, but Rangers hitters just didn’t have much of an answer for it. I wonder a little if Statcast is having a tough time differentiating slider from sweeper with Keller because the stats showed that he didn’t throw any sweepers but there were at least two sliders that I thought were sweepers on the television. I could be wrong, but Keller has shown that he is a different pitcher than the one we last saw struggling out of the bullpen to end the season.
He’s a big reason why Royals starters are tied for the sixth-best ERA in baseball and are averaging the second-most innings in baseball. They still aren’t striking out enough hitters with just a 20.5 percent rate (though Brady Singer hasn’t really gotten the strikeouts going), but they’re walking just 6.3 percent of hitters, which is fifth-best in the game. If even some semblance of this keeps up, I will have been more wrong about the 2023 Royals rotation than anything I’ve ever been wrong about, and it’s a long list to choose from.
The Luck Evens Out Quickly
I wrote yesterday and have written a few times about how the Royals have been somewhat unlucky with the bats. They certainly have done a lot to cause some and maybe even more than some of that bad luck, but nobody would argue they were hitting into good luck. Well, their BABIP rose from .237 to .258 in one game. That’s still well below average, but that big jump underscores two things. One, it’s a long year and things eventually do even out. And two, it’s still so ridiculously early that a team’s BABIP can jump by 21 points in the span of nine innings.
The Royals were 13 for 30 on batted balls that ended up in play (it doesn’t count home runs). They actually only hit 11 of their batted balls hard. They went 4 for 6 on balls hit 70 MPH or slower. They had two hits on 23 batted balls that slow all year before last night. You can’t count on that, but you can chalk that up to getting back on the plus side of the ledger for a bunch of hits that arguably “should” have been. Now, there’s still some catching up to be done for sure.
Their xBA on batted balls of 100 MPH or harder is still .122 higher than the actual average. That’s the biggest gap in baseball. The Tigers are next, at least in the underperforming side, at .072 and then the Dodgers are at .053. The difference between the Royals as the biggest underperformers and the Dodgers as the third-biggest is the same as the difference between the Dodgers and the Phillies who are overperforming. On slugging percentage, the Royals xSLG is .333 higher than their actual SLG on those bated balls. The next biggest underperformer is the Braves at .248 lower on actual SLG. The difference between the Royals at one and the Tigers (-.181) at three is the same as the difference between the Tigers and roughly the Cardinals at 14th. So there’s work to do, but they did even out a little last night.
Now the Royals finally have an off day. It’s a bit weird to look at an April schedule wth so few days off, but I’m not complaining. The tests continue for this team as the Braves come to town and they’re arguably the best team in the National League. Remember the 2012 Royals. They had that 0-10 homestand and then had a 4-3 road trip. They came home and went 4-3. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if this team is back on track, which is, of course relative, but far better than what we watched the last time they were playing at Kauffman Stadium.