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The Future is Way More Exciting Than the Past
When the young guys do their thing, the plan starts to seem a little more possible.
It’s kind of crazy how different things felt at about 10:20 last night than they did at about 5:30 on Tuesday. I guess this goes back to the sequencing I was discussing yesterday. But at 5:30 on Tuesday evening, the Royals were about 40 minutes away from playing the second game of a doubleheader that saw them get shutout in the first game.
They had also lost the game before. Both games to start this White Sox series were winnable, but the Royals didn’t win either. Then Brady Singer looked every bit like the guy who people thought could go 1:1 in the 2018 draft early in that season to help the Royals get a win and then last night, it was the rookies who led the way to get the Royals back-to-back wins for the first time since April 19th and 20th.
I’m always a little bummed when the broadcast starts to pick up on something I was tracking throughout the game because it becomes just a slightly less interesting angle to write about, but I think Royals rookies going 8 for 15 with two home runs, a triple and five RBIs in a 6-2 win is still quite noteworthy and worth talking about because it truly is games like last night where you start to squint and see how everything could fall in place to make the Royals a winner sooner than later.
And what is the point of having your very own newsletter if you can’t toot your horn when you get it right (and do the Homer Simpson into the bushes gif when you're wrong)? I had said before the season that I thought MJ Melendez would start off hotter in the big leagues than Bobby Witt Jr. would. I wasn’t sure if Melendez would be the better hitter in the long run, but I thought Witt would be the better player. The reason I thought we’d see better results from Melendez was he simply gives a better plate appearance. That’s not a knock on Witt, but Melendez is more selective and makes more contact.
Here we sit and through 38 plate appearances, Melendez is hitting .265/.342/.471 with two home runs, a 10.5 percent walk rate and a 26.3 percent strikeout rate that actually does sort of surprise me, but he also has just a 10.3 percent swinging strike rate. The only Royals with a lower rate of swinging and missing are all young players, Carlos Santana and Cam Gallagher. Out of 45 rookies with 30+ plate appearances, Melendez ranks 19th in swinging strike rate.
Kyle Isbel ranks sixth on that list at an even seven percent and Emmanuel Rivera is right ahead of Isbel at 17th with a 10.2 percent rate. Stuff like this is exciting to see!
And it’s super exciting when we get to see it action. It felt like it was going to be another one of those games in the first when Lucas Giolito simply couldn’t throw a strike after the first two betters were retired. Witt started things with a hard-hit single up the middle. Then Hunter Dozier walked on five pitches, with actually none of them in the zone. Carlos Santana then walked to load the bases for Melendez. If he had gotten the job done there at that moment, woo boy, but he didn’t. On a 3-2 pitch, Giolito finally made the absolutely perfect pitch and Melendez missed the changeup to end the inning.
Thankfully, they weren’t down long, scoring started in the bottom of the second, but it was boring because it was only led by Nicky Lopez getting a hit and stealing a base with two out and Whit Merrifield driving him in. It was important because Zack Greinke had just given up a run, but that wasn’t the main event.
In the third inning was where the fun began. Greinke actually had a couple swinging strikeouts in the top half of the inning and Giolito, with 54 pitches started with a couple pitches that did not go where he wanted them to, but had a 1-1 count. And then he hung a curve.
At 108.9 MPH to get out of the park, it’s kind of fun that it was just his seventh-hardest hit ball of the season, but the hardest he’d hit a home run yet. And it was tied for the farthest. It was also his third in the last six games and an even more impressive shot than the ones in Coors Field because they weren’t hit in Coors Field. The numbers aren’t great, but since those first 10 games for Witt, he’s now hitting .263/.314/.474 with 11 extra base hits and a strikeout rate of 23.5 percent, which is absolutely manageable. Also, his .313 BABIP is fine in that time, but for the guy with the fastest sprint speed in baseball, you also might think he could up that a bit, so there’s definitely even better days to come for Witt.
Things quieted down until the sixth inning, which has actually been a pretty good point for the Royals lately. After scoring just 47 runs after the fifth inning in their first 29 games, the Royals have scored 21 runs after the fifth in their last seven. They also allowed 57 runs in their first 29 games, which is actually in line with the 13 they’ve allowed since, but they went from being outscored by about a run every three games to outscoring by about a run per game. And that’s what brings us to the sixth, which is interestingly enough an inning the Royals have allowed just five runs in all season long.
Greinke was out there, trying to do his thing. His pitch count way getting up there, but he got the first out with Jose Abreu and then gave up a single to Yasmani Grandal. Then he got AJ Pollock, but thorn in the Royals side Leury Garcia got another hit and the Royals went to another rookie, Collin Snider. Now Snider has not been good lately, so I was a bit worried, but he had stranded all 13 runners he’d inherited this year along with the one guy in extra innings in that first appearance. But of course Adam Engel can’t be retired. Luckily he hit a grounder up the middle that Lopez could field to keep the runner from scoring. And then he got Andrew Vaughn to hit a weak grounder to short on a hanging slider to get to 15 stranded runners.
In games he’s come in without any runners on, he’s gone seven innings with a 6.43 ERA, 12.5 percent walk rate and 25 percent strikeout. That’s eight games. In the other 10, he has a 3.24 ERA, 6.6 percent walk rate and 13.3 percent strikeout rate. That’s maybe unsustainable but quite interesting to me.
But after stranding those two (and the one he let on), the Royals young offense went to work against Reynaldo Lopez. First, of course, Carlos Santana had to start things off with a popout. But then MJ Melendez hit a single to left field on a pitch I’d actually like to see him turn on, but it was 98 MPH on the inner third, so I won’t complain too much about it. And then Rivera did what he seems to be trying to do sometimes and took an inside-out swing on a fastball on the inner-third and hit a sinking line drive to right field.
Engel falling down there right when he tried to get up is one of those things you feel sort of bad for laughing at but just can’t stop.
I thought Rivera might get an inside-the-park homer there, but he stopped at third with one out for Isbel.
We joke a lot about productive outs, but the Royals hit the second most sacrifice flies last season. They got the runner in from third an awful lot with a good plate appearance to get the ball in the air to the outfield. They just haven’t done much of that this year. Isbel’s sac fly was the team’s ninth and the first by someone not named Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor or Ryan O’Hearn. Yes, you want a hit, but as long as a guy can get the ball in the air, that’s what matters.
And that brings us to the eighth inning. With the Royals up 4-2 and looking for an extra run to help Scott Barlow shut the door, Hunter Dozier led off with the hardest-hit ball of the game, a 109.4 MPH double to left center. He moved to third on a Santana groundout (hey, another productive out!) and that brought Melendez to the plate. Burr threw him a cutter on the outer third and Melendez was just trying to lift the ball.
Oh yeah, I’d say he lifted it. Tuesday night’s home run was impressive because it looked like he was off balance. This one was impressive because that just looked like effortless power to left-center. A 428-foot home run to that part of the park without looking like he was even swinging hard is really something.
The scoring ended there, but the Royals had to get one more line drive from a rookie with Isbel hitting a hard single to get on base, though he was ultimately stranded.
I didn’t even talk about the great play Bobby Witt Jr. made in the second to save a run (that ended up scoring anyway) or the fantastic job behind the plate Melendez did once again after a bit of a rocky defensive start or the nice work Rivera did at third or Isbel in center. These were the highlights I discussed, but these four players had excellent games in every facet.
Barlow shut the door, as he usually does, and the Royals had their second win of the series. There was kind of a fun dichotomy with 38-year old Zack Greinke giving 5.2 more solid innings, though he did issue his first walk in about a month, and a bunch of rookies leading the way for the rest of the team. The moral of this story, friends? PLAY THE KIDS!
It won’t always be like this. Melendez might pop up with that runner on third and less than two outs next time. And Witt might go 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. But the Royals aren’t ever going to win long-term because Santana or Merrifield or even Taylor get a big hit. They’re going to win long-term with the guys who got it done last night.