Royals bullpen fizzles on the Fourth
The bullpen coughs away another one. Plus notes on Pasquantino's start, Singer's strikeouts and a swing and a miss from Peacock.
Monday’s game was a perfect metaphor for a dud of a firework. The Royals lit the fuse by jumping over Astros starter Jake Odorizzi for five runs in the first three innings. As it reached the final stages, the Royals bullpen made sure the gunpowder was no good, and just like that, the potential bang of a victory was snuffed out.
Does that work?
Or maybe it’s the opposite where Mike Matheny and the Royals lit the fuse and just decided to hold on to the ordinance and it just exploded in the form of a 444 bomb from Yordan Alvarez to give the Astros the victory.
Hell, I don’t know. Maybe both are valid metaphors. The Royals hung with the Astros for a few innings but couldn’t hold on to that early lead as Houston walked off to their Fourth of July barbeque 7-6 winners.
Let’s focus on a couple of positives to open. Jonathan Heasley pitched six solid innings where he cruised through the Astros lineup the first time through, retiring all nine batters he faced in the first three innings.
Heasley continues to confound with his lack of swing and miss stuff. He entered the game with a 22 percent whiff rate, a couple of points below league average. On Monday, he generated one whiff on his four-seamer, two on his slider and three on the change. Overall, it was a 21 percent CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs), which isn’t usually good enough to get the job done. Yet he was able to dance around trouble in the fourth and fifth innings. Of note was the fact he was able to get a couple of those swings and misses on Alvarez punchouts in the first and sixth innings.
His percentiles on his page at Baseball Savant are similarly confounding. Heasley sports poor quality of contact rates along with subpar strikeout and walk rates.
I know there’s been talk among analysts that Heasley’s fastball has a bit of rise to it that can bring the swing and miss, but he’s consistently locating the pitch in the middle of the zone. Not ideal if you’re looking for a whiff. This was Heasley’s heat zone for the four-seamer prior to Monday’s outing against the Astros.
Peep where he was locating that four-seamer on Monday.
He was everywhere but middle-middle with the four-seam. So while he only got one swing and miss on the four-seamer, he was locating in a space where if the Astros made contact, it wasn’t going to hurt. Indeed, while a couple of those fastballs were hard-hit, they were generally under the pitch and lofting them high in the stratosphere. Take the Jose Altuve encounter in the first. It was 105 MPH off the bat, but with a launch angle of 55 degrees, it had an xBA of just .020. Same with a Kyle Tucker flyout in the second. The only four-seamer that was punished came off the bat of Alex Bregman in the sixth that took Edward Olivares to the wall in right. Heasley, who was allowing a .300 BA and .650 SLG on four-seamers entering Monday’s game didn’t allow a single knock on the pitch. Location, location, location.
Another positive would have to be MJ Melendez who yanked a couple of baseballs out of the yard to right field. He’s been in a bit of a funk of late, going just 4-41 with a line of .098/.178/.122 over his last 11 games before Monday. And that was with just four walks and 12 strikeouts. That’s not our MJ. Nope. Not at all.
Hopefully, what we saw on Monday can propel him out of this slump. Both homers were crushed, with exit velocities north of 107 MPH and were absolutely barrelled.
Then, there was the bullpen. Wyatt Mills, the newly acquired sidearmer who should be tough on right-handed bats with that funky delivery, wasn’t so tough. Introduced in the seventh to face the bottom of the Astros lineup that was stacked with righties, Mills surrendered a one-out triple to Jake Meyers. He scored on a ground out.
Mills was back out in the eighth on 21 pitches to face the right-handed hitting Jeremy Peña. Mills walked him, missing wildly with sliders. That was the pitch that betrayed him once he got past the first couple of batters.
Enter Amir Garrett. Man, I just don’t know…Garrett is so wild, the idea of bringing him in with runners already on base seems ill advised. And he was wild on Monday, walking the first two batters he faced to load the bases. Tucker brought home two on a single in a sequence that featured five sliders all well off the dish before he spotted a middle-cut fastball.
Not a bad idea, but the pitch was grooved. Tucker, protecting with two strikes and probably looking for another pitch away, was able to get his hands in just enough to flare it over second.
Enter Taylor Clarke who delivered a 1-2 fastball well up and out of the strike zone that Yuli Gurriel somehow got on top of it to ground it back up the middle to tie the game. Clarke got out of the jam with some largesse from the Astros, but it only delayed what had become the inevitable.
The Royals held a win probability of 94 percent in the eighth inning. The bullpen was the other six percent.
So close to a weekend sweep
Let’s rewind ourselves to the weekend where the Royals were two Joel Payamps pitches from sweeping Detroit. Understand, this is the Tigers we’re talking about here, owners of the major’s worst offense this summer. Another way to frame it is that even though the Royals are pacing for 100+ losses, their pitchers (for the most part) did exactly what they were supposed to do against a team that scored three runs per game. It helped that while holding the Tigers to nine runs over the three games, the Royals offense did their part as well, jumping out to early leads. They opened the scoring with one in the third on Friday, two in the first on Saturday and three in the second on Sunday. The only time they trailed at any point in the series was when Riley Greene’s ball clear the fence in dead center to end Saturday’s contest.
If anything, this series serves as an indictment on the Royals’ management this season. How in the world can this team be looking up at the Tigers in the standings? It’s all about the pitching as the Detroit rotation has been decent enough, but their bullpen has uncharacteristically been a strength. Royals pitching has been worth 2.8 fWAR this year. Detroit’s is 6.4. That’s quite a gulf in production between the two teams. All the more galling when you understand that the Royals are counting on their pitching to pull them back into competitiveness.
I suspect that the positions will flip-flop at some point. But it’s not a good look for the Royals to be behind the Tigers. At all.
Reaching base with Vincenzo
Let’s check in to see how Vinnie Pasquantino has done in his first week in the big leagues. Through Monday, he’s come to the plate 24 times…He’s reached base in 10 of those plate appearances. If you’re not close to a calculator (or are reading this before your second cup of coffee has kicked in and you’re slow on the math), that’s a .417 on-base percentage. That’s courtesy of six walks, three hits (including that laser of a home run for his first career knock) and one hit by pitch.
His plate discipline is exactly as advertised. (Probably even better due to the small sample.) His chase rate through five games is 14 percent, roughly half (half!) the league average. He’s barrelled over eight percent of the balls he’s put in play and has an average exit velocity of 97 MPH. Again, this is all small sample stuff. However, given the struggles we’ve seen from myriad rookies who have come up through the ranks, it feels like this at least deserves an early mention.
I do think it’s funny that after the Royals’ front office early-season protestations about how they don’t want their young players arriving in Kansas City with a struggling team where they feel they have to carry the lineup, it took Mike Matheny all of two games before he dropped Pasquantino at cleanup…behind Bobby Witt Jr.
Striking out with Singer
We’re running long and I’d like to get to one more topic, but have to take a moment to dole out some Brady Singer appreciation. He wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen on Sunday in Detroit, but his strikeout chart was a thing of beauty. Below are the locations and pitch types of the nine third strikes he registered.
Sinkers up (for the most part) and sliders down. When he’s dotting the zone with those pitches when he’s ahead in the count, he’s going to be difficult to hit.
It seemed Singer was on fumes by the time he reached the fifth. Matheny tried to let him get that pitcher win, damnit. Ultimately, Singer couldn’t do it and finished with a Game Score of 50. Not his best start by any means, but he did flash dominance at times and was able to wriggle out of a potential two-out jam in the first.
Swing and a miss for Peacock
Did you happen to catch the Sunday morning broadcast on Peacock? The one without the traditional play-by-play announcers? What a trainwreck.
First, let’s be clear about this…The reason this happened was NBC couldn’t be bothered to send Jason Benetti and the regular crew to Detroit. Royals-Tigers? Are you serious? Who is going to be watching that on a holiday weekend? So I completely understand the rationale behind attempting something a little different to get people to tune in.
Second, I was completely intrigued when I heard they would be doing the game without the usual announcing crew. As someone who has had my fill of the Royals TV on-air talent usually by the end of the first week of the season, it would be something I have been seriously craving for years. Just the sound of the crowd, the in-stadium sound system and the crack of the bat or the ball hitting the glove…count me in.
What the experiment showed was actually how critical the play-by-play team is to the broadcast. They work in tandem with the technical team in the truck where the shots are called and the graphics you see on screen are produced. The broadcast prep starts hours before the game where everyone involved gets together to go over not only storylines they’ll touch on during the game, but what to watch for. It’s especially critical for the national broadcasts where the announcers and crew aren’t as familiar with the teams. It could be something like, “Whit Merrifield loves to steal third.” Ok…so if he’s in a situation where that could happen, pop an isolated camera on him and follow along.
Then, during the game the technical crew works off of what the play-by-play crew is seeing—and saying. A rhythm builds, even on a broadcast for a team like the Royals, with an announcing crew I consider to be firmly in the bottom tier in the league. Removing the announcers, but not having a conduit between the field and the truck left everyone lost. It was a disjointed broadcast that missed moments or didn’t accurately convey their importance. It was a disaster—and disservice—for the viewer.
The real distraction came from the in-game interviews. I understand talking to Riley Greene’s parents. Those kinds of interviews happen all the time during Royals’ broadcasts. In the hands of Joel Goldberg, they’re well done. On Sunday with the NBC crew, they were inane, annoying and often uncomfortable. Now, about the fact that the broadcast was very Tiger-centric…It was just laziness from NBC. They could’ve mic’ed up a Royals player or interviewed Mike Matheny, just like they did Greene and AJ Hinch. Did we really need an interview with the head groundskeeper or the souvenir guy? (Spoiler alert: No.)
Three more with the Astros this week to close out the road trip.
Tues - RHP Zack Greinke (2-4, 4.38) vs. RHP Luis Garcia (6-5, 3.54) @ 7:10 CDT
Wed - RHP Brad Keller (3-9, 4.24) vs. RHP Cristian Javier (6-3, 2.58) @ 7:10 CDT
Thurs - LHP Kris Bubic (1-5, 7.06) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (10-3, 2.03) @ 1:10 CDT