Dingers and hamstrings: The dichotomy of a victory
The Royals open their homestand with a victory. Adalberto Mondesi puts one into orbit but leaves late with an apparent hamstring issue. Plus, some awards for the end of the month.
It should’ve been fun.
A capper to a wet holiday weekend in Kansas City. The rain stayed away. The first game without attendance restrictions. The lowly Pirates in town…
But it was all kind of forgotten in the bottom of the eighth when PA announcer Mike McCartney uttered the words:
“Pinch hitting for Adalberto Mondesi, number two, Nicky Lopez.”
Nothing against Nicky Lopez who did a fine job of filling in at short while Mondesi spent the first month and a half of the season on the shelf. (He doubled in his pinch-hit appearance and ignited a rally that tacked on a pair of late insurance runs.) But at that moment it was a two-run game and Mondesi was having another fantastic evening at the yard. A pinch hitter? Something was amiss.
Mondesi has posted multi-hit games in four of the seven contests he’s started since returning from the IL with an oblique strain, including Monday. Overall he’s hitting .360/.360/.720 good for a wRC+ of 197. He’s knocked three doubles and a pair of home runs, including this moonshot from the fifth inning Monday.
It was a hanging curve on the first pitch of a PA that was absolutely crushed. At 109.8 mph it was his hardest-hit ball of 2021 by five mph. It was actually the second-hardest hit ball of his career. (He smoked a 111 mph single last year against Cleveland.) Seriously, the way the camera cuts to the outfield you expect the ball to enter the frame much earlier. It’s just kind of wild how the ball hung up for an extra little bit.
It’s been a very good week with him back in the lineup.
“Hated to see him come out of the game right there. He had a tweak in his hamstring.” Mike Matheny said after the game. “So we’re still kind of getting our eyes on what that exactly is. Unfortunate, but we’ll see what the trainers have to say.”
It was later revealed it was the left hamstring. There was some speculation after the game that he may have tweaked it on the opening play of the eighth inning when he charged a ground ball off the bat of Kevin Newman and fired off-balance for the out. It was a nifty play.
We can slow this gif down like it’s the Zapruder film (Zapruder gif?) but there’s really nothing to see that would point to a potential injury. Mondesi doesn’t break stride as he’s charging. The camera cuts to him after the play as the ball is going around the horn and he looks fine. He was even kind of smiling as he came off the field at the end of the inning. He certainly didn’t look in distress. But as the broadcast showed, he went directly to the trainer and then down the tunnel and into the clubhouse. That’s never a good sign.
(Those two gifs above perfectly encapsulate the importance of a healthy Mondesi to this team. If I had thrown in one with some speed on the bases, it would’ve been a trifecta.)
If Mondesi is out again for any length of time, this would be just a brutal blow. Cruel, actually. In the week with Mondesi back in the lineup, the Royals have gone 4-3 and once they left Tampa where they scored just five runs in three games, the offense with Mondesi as a fulcrum, has just kind of started to click. He’s lead the way.
I’m loathe to put WAR on a chart that has just a week’s worth of games, but it does serve to underscore just how valuable a healthy Mondesi is to this team. He can literally do everything on the field. The issue has been actually staying on the field for any length of time and once on the field, firing on all cylinders for an extended period. We caught a glimpse of what could be in the second month of games in 2020. We got a tantalizing look in the last week of May in 2021. Hopefully, the tests come back okay and Mondesi can get back to action immediately.
Every batter in the Royals lineup (including pinch-hitter Lopez) collected at least one base hit on Monday. It was the first time that each member of the starting nine collected a hit in a game since August 6 of last year, a stretch of 97 games. Among those hits was a Hunter Dozier double. In what’s been an extremely difficult season for Dozier, 13 of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases.
Since his return from the IL last week, Dozier has hit in three of the four games. Encouraging, perhaps. But he’s still not using the whole field. In 2021, just one of his base hits has been to the right side of second base. And even then, just barely.
Contrast the above spray chart with what we saw in his breakout season of 2019. Or even last year in abbreviated action when he was largely league average in terms of offensive production. As you can probably tell based on the number of plots, the 2019 chart is on the left.
What I really like about the spray charts from 2019 and 2020 is the opposite field power. Dozier’s double’s production inexplicably fell off last year but his home run output was fairly close to the pace he established in 2019 and the placement of the home runs was kind of evenly distributed to all fields.
But now that we know how the story unfolds, perhaps the warning signs could be spotted in the 2020 spray chart. The lack of deep outfield outs. The decrease in doubles power.
The data from Statcast reflects this. His average exit velocity dropped over 4 mph from 2019 to 2020. His Hard-Hit rate dropped over 11 percent. This year, the average exit velocity and Hard-Hit percentage have rebounded, but he’s become so pull happy that it seems to have negated those rates. In the past, a quarter of the balls Dozier would put into play would be classified as hit into the opposite field. This year, it’s 12 percent.
It’s not that Dozier finds production in going the opposite way. Like every major league hitter, the majority of his power lies in the pull field. It’s more about his approach. He needs to find comfort in driving a few pitches the opposite way.
The May Player of the Month
As we close the books on the second month of the season, it’s time to hand out a little ITF hardware, specifically for the Royals’ Player and Pitcher of the Month.
Once again, I’m going to have to go with Carlos Santana as the Royals’ Player of the Month.
He was second on the team in home runs, tied for first in runs scored and of course he led the way with 22 walks against just 20 strikeouts. Because he’s a Royal, he added a few productive outs for good measure—a team-high three sacrifice flies.
Andrew Benintendi had an exceptional month and continues to hit well after a slow start, but he scuffled a bit in the last week. And Salvador Perez continues to have a fine season at the plate, building on his exceptional 2020. But for my money, Santana has been an absolute rock in the lineup. Just an inspired free agent signing who’s paying immediate dividends.
The May Pitcher of the Month
I’m very tempted to hand the hardware to Mike Minor. After all, he made six starts in the month and was generally decent. But the Royals won just two of his starts in the month and well…there’s just not that much exciting about a Minor start.
Instead, I’ll look to the bullpen and give the award to Scott Barlow. He led the relief corps in whiff rate, was second in appearances to Jake Brentz, didn’t give up a home run and stranded more than his share of runners.
The Royals bullpen collectively didn't have the best month, but Barlow really set the pace. At this point he has to be the Royals’ most trusted reliever.
Twins 3, Orioles 2 — 10 innings
José Berríos pitched the best game of his season in dominating the Orioles. (Honestly, can’t we just swap out Berríos’ name and insert any random starter in the previous sentence and have it be accurate?) He went eight innings and allowed five hits against no walks while striking out six. He should be on schedule to make his next start on Saturday at The K.
Jorge Polanco provided the difference with a two-run home run in extras.
White Sox 8, Cleveland 6 — 8 innings
White Sox 1, Cleveland 3 — 7 innings
The short doubleheaders are still weird. The eighth inning as an extra inning? Sure.
The Sox extended a winning streak to five games before it was snapped in the nightcap.
Tigers 2, Brewers 3 — 10 innings
An interesting contrast as the Tigers went with a bullpen game and the Brewers countered with Corbin Burnes. Both teams were scoreless through five before breaking out for runs in the sixth. Detroit tied it up on an Akil Baddoo dinger in the seventh but Luis Urías drove home the winning run for the Brewers in extras.
The Royals wrap this quick two-game series on Tuesday. Will Crowe starts for the Pirates and the Royals will counter with Brady Singer. Singer was knocked around in his last start, which was his worst of 2021 so we’ll see how he rebounds. First pitch is 7:10 CDT.