Weekend in Review: Some Sticky Talk, Three Losses and Looking Ahead
At least it wasn't a sweep!
The struggles came on as fast as they left a few weeks ago. I was talking about this on Friday, but since scoring 13 runs in the first two innings against the Twins last week, it was like they were just…done. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe it was the game ending double play on Saturday that set this off or leaving the leadoff man on second on Sunday in what could have been a walk-off. I don’t know what it was, but it sure seems like they turn the switch on and off with way more speed than most teams.
It shouldn’t be too terribly surprising that this offense goes through fits. They don’t walk and they don’t hit many home runs. When you can’t do that with it so difficult to get a hit against most teams, you’re likely going to go through a lot of ups and downs. Now, I think the Royals ups and downs are even more extreme than you’d like to see, but when they aren’t getting anything out of Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier, I’m really not sure what they should do at this point. Sure, they can bring Edward Olivares back (in a few more days) and try that, but they’re not calling up Nick Pratto or Bobby Witt, Jr. tomorrow to fix the offense, nor should they. My recommendation is to weather this storm and hope the sudden turnaround back to success happens soon because you know it’ll happen based on this team’s history.
This is more of a baseball issue, but you’ve probably heard by now that Major League Baseball is about to start cracking down on the use of illegal substances for pitchers. I think there are a lot of offensive issues around the game that can be explained by a lot of different things, but the substances pitchers are using to help their spin rates and to generally manipulate the ball are definitely a big part of what is impacting pitchers. One of the guys most suspected to be doctoring the ball is Trevor Bauer, so let’s check in on his spin rates from his start on Saturday:
Well that’s not curious at all. It was actually even more damning on Saturday night when the game hadn’t dragged his averages down yet. This isn’t to single out Bauer because so many pitchers are using these, but it’s interesting to see this in the week leading up to the league claiming they’ll start actually doing something about it. This tweet shows that we are seeing a lot of pitchers potentially making changes:
And of course, this doesn’t all mean that every last one of them is using a substance. Sometimes spin rates drop for reasons that can’t be explained by anyone. It just happens. But it’ll be very curious to see how the numbers change offensively. League-wide, we saw something in the last week (from Sunday through Saturday) compared to previous weeks and the season as a whole:
Now, the sample is small, so you can’t really take anything from this other than just a polite nod, but it was interesting to me to see the numbers take a kick up. Personally, I think the lack of sticky stuff benefits the Royals. For one, I find it extremely hard to believe they were using it as a staff for the most part. I mean, if they were, they seem to have been using it wrong anyway. But for the offense, they’re a team that relies on contact in a time when it’s harder than ever to make contact. If it becomes a bit easier, that should give them something of a boost. You’d think anyway.
After an exciting win on Thursday to start the series, there was hope that maybe that turnaround had started without us even realizing it. Then the weekend’s slate of games happened and, well, not so much. I’m going to try to stay a little more brief than usual, but you know me, no promises!
This ended up being a mostly well-pitched game actually. Brady Singer had been struggling so much lately with a number of things, but he came out and I thought both his two-seamer and his slider looked really good. He had a test in the first inning with an error from Whit Merrifield letting Tony Kemp reach first and when he walked Matt Olson next, I thought we were in for a rerun of something we’ve seen before, but he got the next two outs rather easily.
He was really good through three. Olson was the only base runner and a double allowed to Elvis Andrus was the only hit. When the lineup got to the middle a second time, he ran into trouble. On a 2-2 pitch, he gave Mitch Moreland a fat slider.
It wasn’t a bad pitch to Matt Chapman that he hit for a double, but he left his two-seamer on a 2-2 pitch to Seth Brown over the plate just a bit too much and he drove it 405 feet for a two-run homer.
It didn’t take long, but three balls hit almost exactly the same exit velocity gave the A’s a 3-0 lead.
At this point he’d given up three runs in four innings and I was upset with him. And here’s my first issue. If he had a usable changeup, you can make an argument that he would have thrown it to both Moreland and Brown on the pitches they both crushed. It would have been a perfect time for Brown. He had just thrown a slider in the dirt, so even a changeup that had some break might freeze him. On the at bat to Moreland, maybe the changeup wouldn’t have been used, but it could have been. That was more about location, but it was still a spot he could have used it.
And then what bothered me was after the game when Singer talked after the game. He said he thought he threw good pitches in that fourth inning. I’m sorry, but a middle-middle slider on 2-2 isn’t a good pitch. Prior to Friday night, Brown had a .636 SLG on fastballs in that zone on the plate. So no, that’s also not a good pitch. I will give him the Chapman pitch. The guy got it and you have to give the hitter credit, but no, Brady, they weren’t good pitches. I hope that he’s since realized that.
He also talked about that changeup a bit and said that he threw quite a few late. I count three in his last two innings. One was a ball. One was a pitch down the middle and one was a foul ball in a really good spot. I don’t care if the third pitch he develops is a changeup or a curve or a splitter or some concoction that we’ve never seen before, but he needs to do something because the predictability without elite command of his two pitches isn’t enough. And I’d really like some better reflection. I’ll cut him some slack on the latter because maybe he hadn’t had a chance to really dig in, but I think it’s pretty obvious he needs to be better even though he was outstanding in five of his six innings.
For the second straight night, the offense was stymied through six, but Salvador Perez started what was a heck of an effort by leading off the seventh with his 15th home run of the year.
That was a line drive to get the Royals on the board and make it a 3-1 game. Elvis Andrus kicked a ball around a little bit on a Michael A. Taylor ground ball that ended up scoring Andrew Benintendi to make the game 3-2. And then Hanser Alberto hit a ball up the middle and Taylor just beat Andrus to second, so the inning would continue with Merrifield coming to the plate. On a 3-1 pitch, with the tying run on third and the bases loaded, he swung at this pitch:
It was a 70 MPH looping liner to the second baseman to end the inning. Maybe I’m harder on Merrifield than I should be, but this was a brutal at bat from him. Just take the pitch and the game is tied, but if you’re going to swing the bat when you’re up that far in the count you had better be able to put some mustard on the ball. Thankfully for the Royals, Perez got to hit second against former Royals pitcher, Jake Diekman.
After that, an Andrew Benintendi walk and a bloop single by Hunter Dozier led to some craziness. Benintendi got a pretty decent read on the ball and was flying around third, but then hesitated for some reason and ended up getting thrown out at the plate. Replay looked like he might have been safe, but honestly, this is one that it was just tough to see, so I can understand how it didn’t get overturned.
I don’t have much to say about the rest of the game. The Royals had a chance in the ninth with a single from Kelvin Gutierrez and then Jarrod Dyson pinch ran and stole second, but they couldn’t move him and the A’s just did their thing in the bottom of the ninth to get the win against Scott Barlow.
I suppose we need to talk about Jackson Kowar’s second big league start, huh? Okay fine, but just know I’m not happy to be doing this. I was very excited to see how he’d respond to the nerves that were so apparent during his first start. When he took the mound, he looked like the guy I’ve seen when watching games of his in Omaha. I had high hopes.
They were dashed quickly. But then they also sort of rebounded. He gave up a leadoff single and eventually walked both Sean Murphy and Brown to load the bases, but after a visit from Mike Matheny (and not Cal Eldred), he got Chad Pinder to ground out to end the inning. That’s the sort of thing that you can look at for a young pitcher and wonder if that turns the tide. He was in trouble and he got himself out of it.
He gave up a single to the suddenly hot Andrus before he did get his first strikeout. Since it’s still his only one, I’ll memorialize it here:
That was a nice pitch. He hit his spot perfectly. Maybe that would get him going.
He walked Tony Kemp, gave up back-to-back doubles to Chapman and Olson and then was done. He got two more outs than he did in his first game on Monday, but that only meant four total outs. Once again, he was just all over the place. I guess on the plus side, he wasn’t in the middle of the plate too much?
But even so, you just can’t live like this in the big leagues if you have no idea where the ball is going. We can break down the way he pitched and talk about the fact that the whiff above is the only one he got on 19 swings. We can talk about how his changeup was getting whacked around. We can talk about how he just couldn’t command much of anything, but what is there to say here? This is a situation that I don’t think the team could have really figured on happening.
Kowar hasn’t shown the moment be too big for him in the past. Short of a psychiatric evaluation before a callup (and maybe that’s not actually a terrible idea, seriously), I’m not sure how they could have predicted this. He passed every test on the field at Omaha before getting called up to the big leagues. This one feels like something is going on between the ears, whether it’s being overwhelmed by the stage or something less, but he’s not trusting his stuff and it’s not allowing him to succeed.
I don’t know what the answer is. I think he either has to go back to Omaha or go to the bullpen and pitch only in blowout situations to get his feet under him. If you think he has nothing left to learn in Omaha, then I guess the bullpen is the answer, but you can’t leave him in to get his brain beat in as a starter while he’s figuring things out.
On the bright side, Ronald Bolaños came in and was fantastic for the second straight appearance. He wasn’t quite as amazing as he was in Anaheim, but his two-seamer and his slider were nasty. He got to 56 pitches, which might be a good number to start getting stretched out to maybe take the start the next time the Royals need a fifth starter on June 26. With the way the rotation is going, you have to assume he’ll have another opportunity to get that worked up to 70-75 in the big leagues, but I wouldn’t hate him going down to start in Omaha just to be ready to go for that start with the way he’s thrown the ball.
And I don’t want to spend much time on this, but Wade Davis did what he’s done far too often this season. It’s a tough move, but they’ve got to make it. I’d pull the plug on that and get Richard Lovelady another shot now that he’s healthy. I suppose they could go with Gabe Speier, who has been nasty at Omaha this season, but Lovelady is a guy they need to see more of. He hasn’t been good in the big leagues, but given their bullpen issues, they should give him another chance and move on from Wade.
I wish the offense was the story in one of these games, but alas, we’re talking about a young pitcher once again. Kris Bubic gave up four home runs in his last start and all of them were against the changeup. All of those changeups were left in the middle of the plate, and no matter how good that pitch is, you’re not going to find success with a changeup in the middle.
Before that start on Tuesday, Bubic had allowed nine hits in 54 at bats on the changeup with just two doubles allowed. In the last two starts, he’s allowed eight hits and six home runs on the changeup. Here is his changeup heat map from those first eight games:
And here’s from the last two:
You just can’t live there. He’s also had trouble with his fastball and his curve, so it could very well be that the changeup is something he’s feeling like he has to go to more and that it exposes it. He has thrown it a lot lately, even going back to that start against Minnesota where he wasn’t good, but he wasn’t as bad as he has been. In contrast to Singer, I really appreciated his answers after the game. He mentioned that he’d looked at the heat maps and that it wasn’t good enough.
In my opinion, Bubic is the guy I’m least worried about when it comes to making adjustments. He’s very analytical and does a great job of assessing what went right and what went wrong. His stuff isn’t as good as many of the other young arms we hear about all the time, but he’s got such a great feel for the game that I don’t find myself too worried about him. I’m not saying he’s going to go out in the next game and dominate, but when there’s an issue, he’s the guy I’m least worried about fixing it.
I’m going to start the rest of the game analysis with the bad and end with the good. Merrifield is again a problem at the top of the Royals lineup. He went 2 for 20 in the series and in big situations, he came up very small. He fouled a ball off his back foot on Thursday and was wearing some protection on that foot the rest of the weekend. I just feel like his consecutive games streak is leaving him in there when he could use a day or two off here and there. In this game, he came up in multiple big spots and came up empty.
Like Friday night’s game, he came up in the second with the bases loaded. He started off with taking three pitches in a row for balls, though one was likely a strike so he was gifted one. He took the 3-0 pitch, which you could expect and then he took the 3-1 pitch as well. I kind of wonder if that was a result of Friday night because that’s likely a pitch he’d shoot to left-center if he’s going well. He fouled off two more pitches that I really do believe a healthy and rested Merrifield does something with and then he took strike three. Here’s the whole AB:
Look, that last pitch was absolutely borderline. Kyle Zimmer threw a couple in that general spot, but he didn’t get the call. Technically the pitch was a strike, but I’m kind of upset about pitch six and seven the most. Of course, the A’s put more up in the bottom of the inning, so leaving the bases loaded there got magnified. Then with runners on first and second in the sixth and the Royals down 5-2, Merrifield came up again, this time against Yusmeiro Petit. There wasn’t as much drama in this at bat. On the second pitch, he swung at a ball on the outer third that I mentioned a few weeks ago when I wondered what was wrong with Whit. And an 83.5 MPH ground ball to short later, the inning was over. That’s five runners left on from the guy who really ought to be doing more than he has been lately.
On the bright side, the Royals have also been killed by Carlos Santana at the two spot, which is something we haven’t been able to say much this year. I know what you’re thinking. How is that the bright side? Well, he hit the ball hard yesterday and did pick up a late home run. We’ve seen late home runs get the guy going before, so that’s a good sign.
And Benintendi continued to do his thing with another home run to the opposite field. He’s now hitting .323/.374/.506 with eight home runs and 27 RBI in his last 44 games spanning 174 plate appearances. I’d love to see some more walks as his walk rate is just 7.5 percent in that time, but he’s also only struck out 16.1 percent of the time. This is absolutely the guy the Royals thought they were getting and while it was a bad, bad weekend, I want to end the recap there because Benintendi is a very good thing for this team.
The Week Ahead
The Royals will be back home for six games against the Tigers and Red Sox. The Tigers are obviously not very good, but the Red Sox obviously are. Against Detroit, the Royals will get the chance to see Matthew Boyd and Casey Mize again for what seems like the 11th time this season, but they’ll see Tarik Skubal for the first time. Skubal is the guy who I thought might be the best of their bunch of young pitchers. He’s been pretty good lately with 57 strikeouts in 41 innings since going back to the rotation at the end of April with a 3.95 ERA. As for the Red Sox, they can score, hit home runs and they have a better pitching staff than you might realize. I think it’s easy to see the Tigers on the schedule and think things open up, but with their good pitchers going and the Red Sox, it’ll be a tough week. If they can split the homestand, that honestly wouldn’t be the worst thing. You hope for 4-2, but you accept 3-3.
Well that was depressing David! We so need these young pitchers to amount to something to have any chance to get back to October baseball. What we've seen so far isn't much to get excited about! Singer has had probably the best start to his career than anyone, but what are the chances he can be a top echelon pitcher with basically only 2 pitches? Did the Royals think when they drafted him they could teach him a 3rd? If that's the case they are obviously failing. Love your work!
do they they have the balls to drop Soler and Dozier down in the lineup, it's terrible knowing they they are both going to make outs 8 out of 10 times.