Weekend in Review: A Win, A Loss and Some Rain
For the second straight weekend, it's a short slate of games.
It would be nice if the Royals could get into a rhythm. That’s something that plagues just about every team in the early part of a season. The Royals had one game on, one game off. Then they played three games before a rainout gave them another off day. Then they played three more before yesterday’s rainout and leading into today’s scheduled day off.
The weather for the upcoming week looks like it may not be very kind either, so there’s every chance in the world that there’s continued breaks in the action. Which stinks for now and then between having to fit in that initial White Sox series and making up these rainouts, they might find themselves playing too much later in the year. It’s the yearly battle teams that don’t play in domes or in the warmer areas face.
What a Relief
I wrote last week about the Royals and their winning formula of great defense and a good bullpen. Of course, as soon as I wrote about that, the key relievers had a tough day on Monday afternoon and then Jake Brentz alone had another tough day on Thursday. But I still very much believe in this bullpen. As a team, their 5.35 ERA through eight games is pretty unsightly, ranking second to last in baseball heading into action yesterday. But I learned in 2014 that it’s not quite that simple. You might remember that great bullpen in 2014, but you also may remember that outside of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, the bullpen ERA was 4.86.
Why does that matter? Not all bullpen innings are created equal is why. Looking at this team’s bullpen, they’ve allowed 20 runs on 38 hits in 33.2 innings. What happens if you take away Jackson Kowar? That’s down to 13 runs on 27 hits in 30.1 innings. You’re already down to a 3.86 ERA. Yes, the innings were pitched and everything was allowed, but his job was to throw innings and he did. They weren’t good, but those were very low leverage. You can argue that you need to leave Brady Singer’s performance in there because he’s both still a part of this roster and someone who they’re counting on, but I also feel like he’s a low leverage guy right now. Just for fun, knock out his performance too and they’re down to nine runs on 21 hits in 27.1 innings. That’s a 2.96 ERA just from removing outings in one game.
Brentz is an issue. He’s come in to two tie games and given up runs that led to a loss. But the rest of the bullpen that the team is counting on has been outstanding. The closest thing to an actually valuable late inning arm struggling other than Brentz was Josh Staumont in that 10-7 game last week and what he showed on Saturday afternoon (I’ll get to it) was electric to close out that game. I remain very confident in Staumont, Scott Barlow, Amir Garrett (though why isn’t he pitching?), Dylan Coleman and, yes, Collin Snider. Before I get to Snider, I’ll touch a second on Taylor Clarke. He’s thrown way more sliders than last season (small sample, of course) and it’s been nasty. He looks like a nice find as a middle man.
The biggest surprise, to me, has been Snider, who took his big league debut in the 10th inning last Saturday and got through it with grounders (and great plays) and strikeouts. And he’s slowly worked his way into the role of fireman. On Thursday, he entered the game in the sixth inning with a runner on second and one out and got a strikeout and then allowed a hit that Whit Merrifield picked up an assist at home on. On Saturday, he came in the game in the fifth inning with two on and one out and got a popup and a strikeout. He gets big-time drop on his slider and has gotten a ton of whiffs on it. The 60 percent ground ball rate is fun too. He’s basically been, so far, what the Royals hoped and dreamed for so long what Kevin McCarthy would become.
I watch a lot of other teams and I follow Pitching Ninja on Twitter and sometimes I wonder why the Royals don’t seem to have these random guys with this nasty movement. And then I see this 26-year old who was sort of randomly added to the 40-man roster in November do this in a big situation and I think, hmm…maybe the Royals have those guys too.
Friday - Tigers 2, Royals 1
Boy, Brad Keller was awfully good for a second straight outing. The line was one that you’ll take every single time - 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 5 K, 2 BB. He got up to 86 pitches through seven innings, which likely puts him in line to have no restrictions in his next start beyond the typical restrictions. I thought that he was not only outstanding, but he continued to pound the strike zone and show off the slider that got him strikeouts at the end of 2021 as well. And through two starts this is now his line:
He doesn’t have a win to show for it, which is a regular reminder that the win stat isn’t all that important for a starting pitcher, but also a huge indictment on the Royals offense in his two starts. I’ll get to that, but I want to praise Keller a little bit more. He once again showcased his slider and got a 37.5 percent whiff rate on it, which was even more than in his first start and still up from last season. While he didn’t get the whiffs on his four-seamer, he did get very weak contact on that with the hardest-hit ball traveling at 91.7 MPH and the average exit velocity on it at 80.8 MPH. He didn’t get grounders at quite the rate he did against the Guardians in his first start, but he still got plenty.
That’s the formula for him. You’ll see some intersection with the two pitches in this chart, but put the four-seamer up and the slider down and he’ll find plenty of success against offenses both good and bad.
The issue for him was a simple mistake with a sinker that I’d like to see him move away from with his four-seamer looking so good. I know that he needs a third pitch to showcase and the changeup is still pretty iffy for him at times, but I’d just like him to back off the sinker a touch. The at bat against Spencer Torkelson when he gave up the two-run homer that was the difference was a perfect example. He started him with a sinker in and off the plate. That’s fine, a perfectly acceptable opening salvo. But he came back with another one and it caught too much of the plate. I wish he’d gone with the four-seamer on that second pitch because Torkelson had seen the sinker spin and when it caught too much of the plate, he was able to destroy it. If Keller had put a four-seamer a few inches higher, we may be talking about another 1-0 Royals win.
Again, it’s very difficult to complain at all about a game like he pitched, but there is always room for improvement and that’s something I’d like to see him and Salvador Perez learn from moving forward.
But it wouldn’t matter if the bats weren’t basically silent again. They admittedly did hit into some tough luck and the Tigers made some plays on them as well. They were just 1 for 4 on balls hit 100 MPH or harder and were just 3 for 11 on hard hit balls, but that doesn’t tell enough of the story. They had just one hit with a runner in scoring position, a single by Carlos Santana of all people to score the run. The bigger issue was that they only had four at bats total with a runner in scoring position. Tarik Skubal was outstanding, but I don’t believe he was as good as the final line. He was greatly boosted by the Royals offense. It wasn’t all a disaster, though.
I mentioned the hard-hit balls, and those were nice to see, but I was impressed with the adjustments the Royals made. The first time through the order, they struck out six times. That’s terrible. Again, Skubal looked great and I think he’s very good, but that’s crazy. But the second time through and then into the third time through where Skubal faced four more hitters, they struck out just once more. Skubal seemed to move away from his four-seamer the second time through when the Royals were getting better swings on it and that limited him some in terms of the swing and miss. It only resulted in one run that second time through, but if you’re looking for any kind of coaching impact, I think you have to mention that.
But the fact that Jacob Barnes was able to come in and shut them down before turning it over to Joe Jimenez and Michael Fulmer doesn’t say much about this team. And when things are going bad, good things don’t happen. Even when Santana hits a ball on the screws in the ninth like this one:
That’s probably a hit next year. But it was just the second out this year. And the game ended on one of the most feeble swings you’ll ever see from Hunter Dozier:
Saturday - Royals 3, Tigers 1
This one was a lot less aesthetically pleasing, but the end result was so much better. Kris Bubic took the hill trying to make up for the worst start of his career last time out. And…he walked the leadoff hitter. It never really got better for Bubic, but he also didn’t pay too dearly for it. He got three groundouts after the leadoff walk to pitch a scoreless first. Then in the second, with two outs, he walked Daz Cameron and gave up an RBI double to go down 1-0, but that was it for runs.
He gave up a single, got a strikeout and then a double play in the third. Then walked a batter, got a double play, walked another batter and got a strikeout in the fourth. And coming out for the fifth, he struck out the first batter but walked the next two. In total, he threw 89 pitches in 4.1 innings, so at least he looks to be fully stretched out. But he walked a career-high six batters and only threw 49 strikes total.
My first thought is that Bubic looks like a pitcher afraid to throw a strike and so he’s aiming the ball. But then I wanted to look at something mechanically from him. He has so much going on with his delivery that it’s easy to get something out of whack. Pretty simply, the problem when pitches stay up is often simply not finishing a delivery. So look at where he finished one of his fastballs to Robbie Grossman when the ball hit the glove on Saturday:
Now look at where he finished a good fastball last season.
You can even see how much lower he finished on Saturday when he threw a better fastball.
I don’t pretend to be a pitching coach or anything, but it’s pretty easy to see how much lower he finished against Andrelton Simmons last season. That’s just one screenshot and there’s a lot going on, but I would wager that the solution to the control issues, at least on the fastball is simply for him to finish the pitch. A lot of people will likely read that and wonder why Cal Eldred and Company don’t see it. As you know, I’m as big of a Cal basher as there is, but I think it’s at least reasonable to expect they have seen it and it’s just not quite as easy to fix as saying “hey, finish lower.”
Still, they need to do something and figure something out because while the end results were much better with him giving up just the one run, they need more innings and against better hitting teams in better hitting weather, those six walks are going to cause Bubic a lot more nightmares than we saw on Saturday. I’m also a bit curious why he hasn’t busted out the slider.
If he can mix in some sliders with those locations, I think they can be very effective. I get it to some extent. If he can’t throw strikes with his long-time pitches, how is he supposed to throw them with a new pitch, but it would have at least changed some eye levels. Before I get to the offense, I want to just praise the bullpen once more. I showed you a Snider slider above, but it wasn’t just him. Coleman came on and struggled with control but a couple big outs and then Barlow came in as another fireman and got through 1.1 innings with two strikeouts.
And then Staumont came in and hit 100.6 MPH with his sinker in a dominant outing that features five whiffs on seven swings and took just 10 pitches to put the Tigers away in the ninth inning. Here’s some fire for you to think about all day:
Offensively, there were some things to like. Bobby Witt Jr. had his first multi-hit game and did it with an infield hit and a bloop single. The Royals scored a first inning run for the first time this year. They had eight at bats with runners in scoring position. And Andrew Benintendi had another multi-hit game.
Of course, Whit Merrifield took another zero. So did Perez. And Michael A. Taylor. And Santana. And somehow Vance Wilson froze at third base as Dozier rounded third in the second inning on a very shallow single to left and hung Dozier out to dry and got him thrown out at the plate.
But they did finally get a big hit. In the sixth inning, after a Perez groundout, Santana walked and that brought Dozier to the plate. Remember how feeble that swing was to end the game. This one was less so.
Dozier hit it over the fence, the Royals had the lead and that bullpen didn’t give it up. So after a lot of consternation about the start to the season, the Royals played very poorly through the first week and a half and are still 3-5 and hanging around .500, just half a game behind both the Tigers and Guardians.
The Royals are off today and then hope to get in three against the Twins this week. With the rainout, they’re saying Carlos Hernandez will go Tuesday with Daniel Lynch on Wednesday and Zack Greinke on Thursday. The Twins have made a lot of changes since last season with a flurry of moves between the lockout ending and the regular season starting. There’s no more Josh Donaldson, no more Mitch Garver and that’s not even counting the moves made at the end of last year. They had hoped to get Alex Kirilloff back this year, but he is back on the IL already with the same wrist hurting him that ended his year. And Byron Buxton is day-to-day with a knee injury he sustained a few days ago, so who knows if we’ll see them? Chris Archer, Chris Paddack and Joe Ryan are scheduled to pitch in the series, all pitchers picked up since late July.
After that, it’s a trip out West, but I don’t believe this is the annual season-ender of a trip out West. That said, the Mariners won 90 games last year and got better. If rotations hold, the Royals will get Chris Flexen, rookie sensation Matt Brash and last year’s Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray. So that’ll be a tough series for the Royals, but if they want to dig out of their early hole, one they’ll need to fare well in.
Mr. L, why has the cutter faded from prominence. Seems like just yesterday it was the "It" pitch?
Bubic, is a major league pitcher, has potential to win 15 games in a season. Please, look at the current picture on web sites of his pitching motion. Notice the land foot is 4" to 6" outside the pitching rubber on the 1st base side. And in a video of Bubic his left hand(drop hand) is going past his hip. Mechanics: Bubic motion goes to 1st base side with land foot and then the pitching arm is going in a circular direction. Pretend you are on the pitchers mound, have your land foot go 4" to 6" out side the rubber and then swing your pitching arm 4" to 6" behind your hip to the 3rd base side. The reason why they have instructed this is the Royals are trying to create deception and this has "killed" his ability to locate his pitches. Also, the Royals want him to establish the FB, and in the present pitching form Bubic cannot locate the FB and is a "Fat Pitch" when Bubic throws a strike. I cannot recall the exact time the Royals sent Bubic back to the minors and Bubic worked on his motion(today) this is not the same pitching motion. Also, Bubic lead pitch was his breaking ball and was effective. Bubic is a potential 15 game winner. recommendation: send him down and get the pitching motion corrected. Bubic must pitch backward: lead-establish with curve or change and not FB. Again, pretend you are Bubic and his motion, have your land foot go 4" to 6" on the first base side, left hand(drop) hand got 4" to 6" toward 3rd base side and then bring the ball forward. BUBIC YOU ARE A 15 GAME WINNER!!!! Ben Wierzbicki