A game of adjustments
Things threatened to get out of control before Daniel Lynch figured out how to get through. Not a lot of offense to be had, but Hunter Dozier remains a force at the plate. And another pitching debut!
With an early start in Cleveland, Tuesday’s Royals game threatened to get out of control before the first drink of Happy Hour was polished off. Suddenly, I was wishing I had ordered a double.
The crisis was mostly averted, but the Royals couldn’t get any offense going, falling 4-1 in defeat.
Lynch struggles but grinds through six
Sometimes the wheels almost go flying off before you can even get the car out of the garage.
Miles Straw led the game off for Cleveland. These are the first four pitches delivered by Daniel Lynch on Tuesday.
Yikes. He’s closer to hitting the guardian statues on that bridge outside of downtown than the strike zone on a couple of those pitches.
Lynch remained elevated with the fastball to Oscar Mercado, the second batter of the evening, but couldn’t come close with his slider.
Two batters in and we are officially at DEFCON 3. Elevated fastballs. Burrowing sliders. Lynch was looking every bit the mess.
José Ramírez, a quality hitter, and a scorching hot one to boot, didn’t wait around for the free pass. He just went ahead and invited himself to occupy first base on an elevated changeup on the outer edge
Ok, ok, ok…Three batters. Two walks and a single. The bases are loaded. The ever-dangerous Franmil Reyes is up. This is the tipping point. And suddenly, Lynch is making adjustments, finding his equilibrium and, most importantly, his arm slot.
He’s still missing here with the fastball up and the slider down. But what is so intriguing about this pitch chart after the first two is how Lynch is slowing dialing it in. In hindsight, it’s easy to point to this at bat as the one where Lynch got everything together, because in the moment it still felt like he was living on the edge. But this pitch, the diving and driving fastball on the inside corner for a called strike three after Reyes couldn’t handle couple of get-me-over full-count heaters was the stuff.
It was the first out of the game. There was still a long way to go and unfortunately, his defense failed him at the worst possible moment.
It was a damp evening in Cleveland at the start of the game. It looked like Andrew Benintendi broke in on a sinking line drive, slipped on the wet turf, was in too far because of that, and couldn’t recover to make the catch. Just some brutal luck for Lynch, Benintendi and for the Royals.
A defensive interlude
If I may detour for a moment in this section about Lynch, Benintendi’s defense this year in left has been sneaky good. I write that because if you asked me point blank about his glove work, I would most likely describe it as “very solid.”
It turns out according to The Fielding Bible, Benintendi has been worth +10 Defensive Runs Saved. That’s good for second-best in the majors behind the Cardinals’ Tyler O’Neill. It’s on par with what we saw from Benintendi with the Red Sox in 2017 and 2018. One of the things I like about The Fielding Bible is they track what they call “Good Fielding Plays” and “Defensive Miscues.” While Tuesday night’s slip would certainly fall under the latter, Benintendi does grade out at a +5 in that metric, meaning he’s made five more good plays than miscues. That’s the best in the majors.
To get a little more granular, Baseball Savant rates Benintendi at a +1 on Outs Above Average. That’s a decent mark for a left fielder, tied for eighth-best in the majors this year. He gets better grades for going back than coming in. On balls hit where Benintendi breaks in, he’s at a -1 OAA according to Savant. So wet grass, plus ball hit to Benintendi’s weakest spot…It was a less than optimal moment.
Back to Lynch
Lynch really didn’t have his slider. At all. I mean, not even close.
He was just so far off the edges with the majority of the sliders. He still managed five swing and misses on it and threw it 27 percent of the time, just off his average of 29 percent in his major league outings this year. On Tuesday, it was more of a “show” pitch designed to keep Cleveland hitters honest than the put away pitch that it can be. There were only nine swings total on the slider because it was so easy to spit on and take for a ball. It was rarely close.
The adjustment Lynch made in the later innings was to depend primarily on his four-seamer. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t one of those “hang this in the Lourve” outings we salivate over when everything is clicking. This was pure survival mode. Primal pitching where Lynch was just flicking 93 mph heaters up there and getting by on guts. In the fifth and sixth inning, it was primarily the four-seamer. Lynch threw it almost 65 percent of the time over the final two frames.
Maybe it’s hyperbole on my part, maybe it’s my bias in continuing to believe that Lynch has the highest upside of his draft class, but I left Tuesday’s outing still feeling fine about the future of Lynch in this rotation, even with the first inning struggles and the lack of feel for the slider. He showed that with just a lone pitch working, he has enough in his toolbox to keep it competitive. The slider was a struggle, but he could flick a changeup or curve up there to further keep the hitters from hunting fastball. It’s a game of adjustments and we saw Lynch make some critical ones early in the game that ultimately kept him on the mound for six frames. The wheels were threatening to fly off, but he managed to get right and survive. It was good that he was able to get right, but Lynch himself said after the game it wasn’t good enough.
“As frustrating as it is just to not really set yourself up to put us in a position to get ahead, I can take away the fact that I know I can battle. I know that I really didn’t have much tonight, I felt like I at least did a good job to get through six innings. But as a competitor you don’t want to ‘get through’ six innings. You want to pitch well for six innings.”
Lynch has an awareness in his game that is impressive. There will be more starts like Tuesday’s and some will have even worse outcomes. But I’m still excited about Lynch’s future in this rotation.
On Tuesday, it was Dylan Coleman’s turn to make his major league debut. Acquired along with Edward Olivares from the Padre organization as the player to be named later in the Trevor Rosenthal trade, Coleman can absolutely bring the heat.
Can I interest you in some triple-digit smoke? What a ridiculous question. Of course you’re interested.
Whew. That’s some easy cheese with a tricky arm slot. Have I ever told you how glad I am that I’m not a major league hitter?
Coleman posted a 15.3 SO/9 in Omaha along with a less than impressive 4.6 BB/9. His walk rate was better in Double-A, where he opened the season (1.8 BB/9), but the command will get lost in the smoke at times. Still, it’s difficult not to be enthused about another power arm in the Royals’ bullpen.
Coleman threw 20 pitches, 12 for strikes in tossing a scoreless seventh. He allowed just one hit—on his fastest pitch of the night clocked at 100.6 mph—but didn’t issue a walk or collect a strikeout.
Did Salvy homer?
Sorry, no. Salvy did not hit a home run. He remains on 46, tied for the league lead.
It’s a three-man race the rest of the way.
In the old baseball days, this would probably heavily impact the outcome of the AL MVP vote. These days, not so much. But I would proffer that the top four finishers in the upcoming balloting are the four dudes who have blasted over 40 dingers this year.
I’ll have more on Perez’s MVP chances in a future newsletter. Stay tuned!
Nicky Lopez, Professional Hitter
With a third inning double, Nicky Lopez reached base for his 31st consecutive game.
Since the streak began on August 21, Lopez is hitting a nifty .380/.437/.457. That’s just absurd. And it coincides with Mike Matheny moving him to the second spot in the order, just behind Whit Merrifield and ahead of Perez, on a full-time basis.
Earlier this summer, I applauded Matheny resisting the temptation to move Lopez up in the order. He was having fantastic success as the ninth place hitter. Why mess with success? But with Perez banging home runs and Merrifield doing Merrifield things at the plate, Lopez has thrived in the second spot. This is why I manage the team from afar.
Skirting the shutout
The Royals had opportunity against Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill all night. They had their leadoff runner on in the first and they had runners on the corners with one out in the second. Both times the inning was undone by a double play.
They had two runners in scoring position in the third with Perez up. He popped out. They had runners on in the fifth and six, but couldn’t capitalize. Overall, they were 0-6 with runners in scoring position. It was just one of those nights from the offense where they were close, but couldn’t find the big hit to break through.
Hunter Dozier saved the team from the shutout in the seventh inning when he clubbed his 15th home run of the season.
A hanging slider that Dozer didn’t miss.
Since June 29, when Dozier reached his nadir for OPS, he’s hit .263/.333/.444. That’s an above average line that is absolutely a positive. Sliding the arbitrary end point forward a bit, the power is starting to manifest. Since the start of September, Dozier is hitting .288/.371/.627 with five home runs and five doubles.
It’s shaping up to be a good finish for a hitter who battled a thumb injury that most definitely impacted his performance at the plate in the early going of the 2021 season. As discussed with Benintendi’s September surge, there’s sure to be a lot of offseason talk from the organization about how we finally saw the true Dozier in the season’s final month and he will feature in lineup projections for 2022. That’s all well and good and I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt here. But the Royals will need this September performance to carry over into 2022.
White Sox 3, Tigers 5
Detroit broke open a 2-2 deadlock in the bottom of the seventh, plating three. Nico Goodrum and Victor Reyes did the honors with run-scoring singles.
The Sox are now 8-10 in September.
Twins 9, Cubs 5
Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler and Nick Gordon each drove in a pair and the Minnesota bullpen held firm, throwing six innings and allowing just two runs.
The White Sox magic number remains two, meaning they can clinch on Wednesday. If that happens, I suspect the reaction will be more one of relief than of celebration.
The Royals close out their series in Cleveland, sending Carlos Hernández to the mound against Logan Allen. First pitch is scheduled for 5:10 CDT.