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Singer dances around trouble
Singer wasn't at his best but showed some moxie as he worked around poor location and a decline in velocity to get through six innings.
The box score line for Brady Singer’s outing against the White Sox on Wednesday is unimpressive. Six innings with 11 hits. Four runs allowed with one walk against three strikeouts.
Don’t be deceived by the stat line. This was a gutty performance from the righty.
The Royals dropped the series finale 4-1 to the White Sox, but Singer battled the entire afternoon. The only inning he retired the Sox in order was the second. That was split by an hour-plus rain delay. He allowed a season-high 11 hits, but 10 of them were singles.
The Singer from 2020 and 2021 would’ve unraveled at some point. There were runners on base against him all afternoon. Despite the rain and a subpar sinker, that he kept his composure and was able to gut through six innings was a major achievement. He wasn’t as dominant as his last couple of starts, but he kept his team in the game when it all could’ve gone off the rails. Pitchers aren’t going to have their best every time they take the mound. Wednesday was one of those times.
I thought Singer should’ve been pulled after five. The rain delay, the baserunners (including an extremely stressful fourth where the Sox opened the inning with three consecutive singles to load the bases) and a creeping pitch count presented the perfect opportunity for Mike Matheny to pull Singer and still feel decent about the afternoon. The sixth did not start off auspiciously with Singer’s only walk of the day.
But the Sox, perhaps not knowing the opposing starter was on the ropes, decided to give away an out with a sacrifice bunt. After that, Singer was able to record the final two outs to get out of the inning.
I thought I’d look at how Singer wasn’t at his best on Wednesday, but was able to work through his issues to deliver a solid start.
Decline in velocity
Singer opened throwing 15 sinkers in the first on Wednesday. One was delivered at a velocity greater than 94 MPH. Contrast that with his previous outing in New York where he threw nine first inning sinkers, with all of them delivered faster than 94 MPH. From the jump, Singer’s velocity was way down.
His sinker is averaging 93.9 MPH this year. He averaged 92.6 MPH with the pitch on Wednesday. He was averaging 95.1 MPH with the pitch last Thursday against the Yankees. He was properly amped up in his last start. I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t fully recovered by the time his start against the Sox rolled around.
Yikes. That’s not a good look.
Entering Wednesday’s start, Singer had thrown 84.2 major league innings this year. Add his Triple-A work and he was at just over 98 innings total in 2022. That’s certainly not a lot, but let’s not forget he had an interesting start to the season. He opened the year losing out to Daniel Lynch for the fifth starter role and was exiled to the bullpen. After appearing in just three games in April, he was optioned to Omaha to build his arm back up. He made his first major league start on May 17.
In other words, he didn’t have the benefit of a normal open to a season that a starting pitcher would expect. He probably wouldn’t use that as an excuse, but perhaps he’s starting to struggle a bit with fatigue. Plus, as we see above, he really unloaded in that start in New York earlier in the road trip. That probably took plenty out of him and that’s what we saw on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds.
Now, location. Singer simply wasn’t sharp, especially with his sinker. This may not be the fairest of comparisons because his previous start in New York was so sublime—the best of his season—but it kind of serves to show the difference between a Singer who has full command of his fastball versus a Singer who doesn’t.
On the left was his start in New York last week. On the right, was Wednesday’s start.
The difference is obvious. There’s more of a cluster of sinkers closer to middle-middle in his start against the White Sox. He also was just generally more elevated with the pitch on Wednesday. There’s an alarming lack of pitches on the bottom edge of the zone.
I think the heatmaps can help contextualize Singer’s location. Again, Yankee start on the left. White Sox start on the right.
There is a difference in lineup construction in that the Sox are a heavy right-handed hitting club. The Yankees brought a more balanced lineup. Still, there’s just too much action in the middle of the zone on the sinker in Wednesday’s start.
That he was still able to get eight ground ball outs on the sinker is a testament to the quality of the pitch. It was averaging 23 inches of vertical break on Wednesday, around three inches more than normal.
The damage—and the difference in the game—was provided by José Abreu; a three-run dinger in the third. With the heatmaps and such above, you’d think it was a meaty sinker that Abreu crushed. That wasn’t the case.
All three pitches were sinkers. Down and in fouled off for the first pitch. Up and in off the plate for the second.
It’s fine to go away after coming in with the first two sinkers, but this one was a bit elevated. Again, Singer was missing his location all afternoon. Catcher MJ Melendez was positioning for a pitch down. A mistake in location, but it shouldn’t necessarily have been a fatal one.
Credit to Abreu. He went with the pitch and muscled it to right for an opposite field homer. That’s just good hitting. Then again, that’s what the guy does. Maybe if the sinker was at 94 MPH and not 92 MPH, he gets a different result.
The missing changeup
Just under six percent of the changeups Singer has delivered in 2022 have gone to a right-handed batter. The White Sox lineup leans extremely to the right side. Only switch hitter Yoán Moncada dug in to the left-handed batter’s box against Singer. So it would stand to reason in this game we’d see fewer changeups.
He only threw one.
Again, that’s entirely down the Sox lineup swinging eight from the right. Singer has been much better about throwing his change this year, offering it nine percent of the time. The results are there, too. Opposing batters own a .182 batting average and .273 slugging percentage against the pitch when they end a plate appearance against the Singer cambio. According to Baseball Savant, the pitch is worth a -2 run value, which is a good number.
Danger does seem to be lurking with the pitch, however. Batters have a 47 percent hard-hit rate against the change and the xBA is .321 with a lofty .568 xSLG. Still, I’m thinking the more Singer throws the pitch, the more comfortable he will become. The real rates will normalize a bit and the expected rates will drop. It is going to be a solid pitch in his arsenal. The fact he didn’t throw it on Wednesday isn’t an issue.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough, while Singer wasn’t at his best, he was one swing away from working around trouble. The margins are so thin. Singer was on the tightrope all afternoon and he navigated the trouble with aplomb. A further positive in his development in 2022.
The most worrying item from above would be his drop in velocity. As I wrote, maybe it’s a hangover effect from letting it eat against the Yankees in his previous start. That’s the hope, at least. But that’s some kind of drop in average sinker velocity from one start to the next. It’s something that will definitely be worth watching in his next outing.
The Royals return home Thursday with a four-game set against the Boston Red Sox. The Sox are scuffling, having won just five times in 13 games since the break. They currently reside in the basement of the AL East. Here are the probables for the series:
Aug. 4 - RHP Nick Pivetta (8-8, 4.47) vs. LHP Kris Bubic (2-6, 5.45) @ 7:10
Aug. 5 - TBA vs. RHP Zack Greinke (3-6, 4.41) @ 7:10
Aug. 6 - RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-3, 4.11) vs. LHP Daniel Lynch (4-7, 4.70) @ 6:10
Aug. 7 - RHP Kutter Crawford (3-3, 3.86) vs. RHP Brad Keller (5-12, 4.61)
Hey! It’s the return of Eric Hosmer to Kansas City. It’s his first time back at The K since his swansong in Royal blue at the end of the 2017 season. In fact, it will be the first time he’s ever played against the Royals. His old club, the Padres, are due in KC later this month. The trade to Boston just accelerated his travel schedule.