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Ragans Does It Again
Cole Ragans Day is becoming almost as big as Rex Manning Day for the Royals.
Who would have guessed that signing Aroldis Chapman at the end of January would lead to something that Royals fans could actually look forward to every fifth or sixth day in the second half of a lost season? Nobody, that’s who. Nobody would have even guessed it on June 30 when Cole Ragans was announced as the headliner in return for Chapman in a trade with the Rangers. But less than 10 weeks later, Ragans is currently pitching better than anyone in baseball and it’s not particularly close.
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Since he was called back up for good on August 2, Ragans has the second-most innings of anyone in baseball. He has the lowest ERA among starters. He has the most win, the highest fWAR (the difference between him and second is the same as the difference between second and 24th), the second-most strikeouts per nine, the most strikeouts and the second-highest strikeout rate. He won himself American League Pitcher of the Month in August and then came out in September and started a campaign for this month’s award too.
The White Sox aren’t what you’d call a strong opposition, especially with Luis Robert out, but they’re still a big-league club with a few legitimate big league hitters. But they looked helpless against Ragans. He faced 19 hitters and the lone single he allowed was on a little bloop to center hit at 80.6 MPH. Of the 11 batted balls he allowed, just one had an expected average of more than .180, the single to center. Just two were considered hard-hit. Tim Anderson hit one 96.3 MPH and Korey Lee hit one 95.0 MPH. He wasn’t just getting by. He was dominating.
And that was just mentioning the balls that actually were put in play. He threw 92 total pitches and got swings on 55 of them. Of those 55 swings, the White Sox came up completely empty on 22 of them. He had them swinging at 37 percent of his pitches that were outside the zone, and his command wasn’t his best yesterday, so there were plenty of pitches outside the zone. That almost made this start more impressive than the last couple when he was truly dominant and could do anything he wanted to do.
I noticed this early in the game, and I wonder a little if this would come back to bite him against a better offense, but he was missing arm side quite a bit.
What does that mean? It doesn’t always mean anything, but I did notice that Freddy Fermin was having to move his glove quite a bit on a lot of these pitches, so if I had to guess, I’d say it means he wasn’t finishing his pitches quite as well. but this is where velocity and pitch mix really come into play. Because sometimes missing on the arm side means catching way too much of the plate. If he’s trying to get in on a righty and just can’t quite get it there, a lot of times it ends up in the middle. You can see a nice cluster in the middle for Ragans. But it matters a lot less when the fastball is 97+ and it could also be a cutter, changeup, slider or curve.
Ragans threw all five of his pitches at least 10 percent of the time yesterday and, other than his curve, he had at least five whiffs on the other four. In the end, the 22 swings and misses were the most in a game by a Royals pitcher this year, the most since Daniel Lynch IV had 23 whiffs in a game last June and the sixth-most in the pitch-tracking era. Danny Duffy had more three times in 2016, including his 35 whiff game against the Rays and then there was Lynch and Luke Hochevar ahead of him. This isn’t new for Ragans. He’s made eight starts with the team and he has five of the 13 games where a Royals pitcher has at least 15 whiffs.
He got strikeouts on his slider,
and his changeup.
After Ragans made his first start, I noted that he needed a pitch to get swings and misses with two strikes and that he should scrap the cutter. Well, we all know he added a slider and that’s been a big pitch for him. The White Sox were able to put just just one in play yesterday and it was a weak grounder back to the mound. But the cutter is playing well now too even without getting a strikeout yesterday. It’s a pitch that he was struggling with in Texas and maybe it’s that starting has allowed him to throw it a bit more to get it better, but it’s been an outstanding pitch for him since he’s been back with opponents going just two for nine on it with no extra base hits.
And now Ragans continues to pile up numbers. Since joining the Royals, here’s what he’s done:
63 K (34.2%)
11 BB (6.0%)
As a Royals fan, you always wonder when the other shoe is going to drop and maybe it will, but everything he’s doing is sustainable from a numbers standpoint. No, I don’t think he’s going to continue to be prime Pedro Martinez, but it’s not like he’s getting a bunch of a strikeouts with a 91 MPH fastball that doesn’t move or anything. He is both pitching like and looking like a legitimate big league ace. If it feels like I’m repeating myself after every Ragans outing, it’s because I sort of am. He’s given up no runs on six hits in his last three starts. That’s 19 innings. In that time, he’s struck out 27 and walked one. It’s absurd. And it’s really fun to watch.
It’s even more fun when the offense has a day like they did yesterday (and like the one on Friday too). I didn’t write a Weekend in Review because of the holiday, but it does feel like the offense might be starting to find some footing. They scored 13 on Friday night in a pretty fun offensive onslaught, then they got five the next day. But yesterday was another fun one with everyone contributing in some way.
The only starter without a hit was Salvador Perez and he had an RBI (thanks to Maikel Garcia’s speed). He actually was also the only starter without a run scored. MJ Melendez and Freddy Fermin were the only two without RBIs, but Melendez had two more hits and Fermin had one with a walk. They only struck out three times all game and had a hard-hit rate of 51.5 percent with five barrels. I know that Jesse Scholtens, Declan Cronin, Sammy Peralta and Edgar Navarro isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of arms faced, but 12 runs on 16 hits is impressive nonetheless.
The ringleader was a surprise - Edward Olivares. He was just recalled on Friday as part of rosters expanding and Brady Singer going on the paternity list. I legitimately thought that he would be sent back down when Singer was activated, but Samad Taylor was, which makes some sense given how little he was playing. And it’s a good thing for the Royals they made that call because Olivares took the sixth pitch he saw a long way.
The Royals scored again in the second when Michael Massey lined a double down the line and Drew Waters got him home with a single. Then in the third, Garcia singled, moved to third on an Olivares single and scored on a Perez sacrifice fly to the second baseman.
That did take legitimate speed, but it wasn’t quite as difficult as the announcers made it seem live. Lenyn Sosa was going back and lollipopped a throw a home. Salvy wouldn’t have scored on it, but I think a few guys would have there. Still, nice that Garcia was able to.
Then the fourth saw the Royals score quickly with a Fermin single followed by another Nelson Velazquez home run.
The Royals actually had the bases loaded with two outs in the fourth, but Perez popped up to end it. It could have been more, but it was enough, especially with what was coming next.
The fifth was the crushing blow that ended the game with four innings to play. The Royals scored seven runs, which was their second-biggest output of the year behind and eight-run inning against these same White Sox. A single and two walks loaded the bases for a Massey fielder’s choice. Then Waters signed to drive in Fermin and get Massey to third. Then Nick Loftin doubled to drive in two more. A Garcia double scored him and Olivares came to the plate again.
Perez and Melendez made outs to end the inning and that was that. It was 12-0. The Royals, as you know, would go on to win 12-1 with only Collin Snider allowing an unearned run in the eighth.
I just want to get into a couple of things from the weekend and yesterday since I didn’t write a Weekend in Review yesterday:
Loftin looks pretty legit at the plate. He had two hits on Friday and two more yesterday. He’s doubled in all three of his games. His plate appearances look like he actually has a plan and he’s been solid defensively at both second and third. He even played first on Sunday, but I didn’t really see him get challenged there. He was someone I thought could make some leaps last season on prospect lists and it just didn’t happen. And this year, it sort of felt like he was running in neutral a lot in the minors with numbers that were fine, but not great. But he doesn’t swing and miss, he takes pitches and he has enough power to be dangerous. I don’t know where he plays long-term with this club, but there appears to be a spot for him somewhere.
For all of the grief a lot of us (myself included to some extent) gave the Royals at the deadline, it’s hard to be anything but thrilled with the returns. Ragans has been bonkers good. Velazquez isn’t a polished product, but he’s put up a .597 SLG and made Kauffman Stadium look small. They got him for freaking Jose Cuas. Derlin Figueroa hit .571/.659/1.029 in 44 plate appearances in the Complex League. They got him for Ryan Yarbrough. Devin Mann has been playing better lately too, by the way. Henry Williams has a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings for Columbia with a strikeout per inning since the trade. Yes, trading for Hearn was a head-scratcher but Nicky Lopez has six singles in 29 at bats since his big first two games. The deadline looks like a win so far.
Steven Cruz had a terrible first game for the Royals last week in helping to blow a Ragans start. But dare I say it he’s looked pretty darn good since then. Yes, two of his three outings have been closing out Royals blowout wins, so there’s not a lot of pressure, but he’s thrown three innings and given up just a hit and a walk with four strikeouts while throwing a lot of strikes. It’s just three innings, so grains of salt, but it’s nice to see a young player bounce back. We’ll see if and when John McMillon comes back this year, but if Cruz can keep this up, I’ll be intrigued.
The series with the White Sox continues tonight and tomorrow night with Brady Singer returning to face Dylan Cease tonight and Jordan Lyles going up against Touki Toussaint on Wednesday night. Remember, if you’re heading to the games, they start at 6:40. Hopefully we’ll get to see a couple more like yesterday.