Brady Singer needs a change
A change-up, that is. Adding a third pitch would tremendously help tonight's starter against the Yankees who has yet to find consistency in the majors. Also, Adalberto Mondesi lands on the IL. Again.
I’m just going to drop a Brady Singer fact right from the jump: He’s a two-pitch pitcher.
Yeah, yeah, yeah…He throws a change. Sometimes he eschews the sinker for a four-seamer. But over 93 percent of the pitches Singer throws are either his sinker or his slider.
His usage of the change has been sporadic this year. He threw 10 of them in his first start of the season and three starts later didn’t throw it once. He’s made 14 starts to this point in 2021. He’s thrown two or fewer change-ups in nine of those outings.
I point this out because of an interesting (and lengthy) study posted to Fangraphs last week by Carmen Ciardiello about starting pitchers who rely primarily on two pitches. Ciardiello details methodology and process and it’s an interesting read. The part I’ll focus on here is the buckets of pitchers created based on their top two offerings and the frequency they throw those two pitches. The buckets Ciardiello creates are groups divided by 10 percentage points. For example, there’s a bucket for pitchers who use their top two pitches between 60 and 70 percent of the time. Another for pitchers who use their top two offerings between 70 and 80 percent of the time. And so on. The most populated bucket is the 60-70% grouping. Since Singer throws his sinker/slider combo over 93 percent of the time, he’s in the 90-100% bucket.
In this subset of pitchers where Singer resides, the study revealed there were just 28 such starters who relied on their top two pitches greater than 90 percent of the time and threw at least 100 innings in a season from 2010-2019. The 2020 season was bypassed for obvious reasons. This means Singer isn’t included in the findings. But we can still apply the conclusions and data to how he’s performed this season.
According to Ciardiello, pitchers who throw their top two pitches 90 to 100 percent bucket of the time posted the following rates on average:
K% — 21.5%
BB% — 7.5%
FIP- — 97.0
fWAR per 180 — 2.58
Here’s how Singer has done in his career:
K% — 23.2%
BB% — 8.2%
FIP- — 89.0
fWAR per 180 — 3.38
Singer measures up quite well against his cohort of two-pitch starting pitchers. He walks a little more but counters that with a higher strikeout rate. And his FIP- and fWAR per 180 compare very favorably.
The meat of the study is about the times through the order penalty (TTO) and how it impacts pitchers with less of a mix in their arsenal. Ciardiello found that, when broken into these buckets, a pitcher’s TTO penalty was negligible the second time through the order. The real damage occurred when hitters came through the third time against pitchers who relied more on two pitches rather than deploying a variety.
Using wOBA, for pitchers who relied on their top two offerings 40 to 50 percent of the time, the TTO penalty for the third time through was .018, meaning the wOBA for hitters increased that much on average when they saw that particular starter the third time. That’s a solid advantage for the hitters. However, the advantage tips even further in the hitter’s favor as the percentage for pitchers relying mainly on two pitches increases. The TTO penalty jumps to .025 wOBA for pitchers who throw their top two pitches 60 to 70 percent of the time. It leaps all the way to .033 wOBA for 80 to 90 percent. Because the sample size for starters who throw their top two pitches between 90 and 100 percent of the time was so small, Ciardiello didn’t include the calculations for wOBA the second and third time through the order for this particular bucket. But given the trends, we can expect that the TTO penalty for starters who rely on their top two pitches between 90 and 100 percent of the time would be greater than the .033 wOBA increase found in starters who throw their top two pitches between 80 and 90 percent of the time.
Singer’s TTO numbers are a bit…different.
In 2021, Singer has had difficulty navigating the second time through the order. He rallies when going through the third time to the point where a TTO penalty for him is non-existent.
Singer has allowed 40 runs to score in 2021. Twenty-two of them have crossed home plate in the third or fourth innings. He just gets punished in those frames.
He’s given up at least one run in the third or fourth inning in each of his last five starts. The difference is, when he’s going good, like in his start on April 18th against Toronto, he’s able to get past the danger innings without any damage, which allows him to go deeper into games. But when he’s allowing multiple runs in the third and/or fourth frames, he’s generally scuffling and isn’t going to go much further than the fourth inning. Indeed, he’s pitched into the fifth inning in just nine of his 14 starts.
So when Singer gets into trouble it’s not because he’s facing a lineup for the third time, it’s most likely because one of his two particular pitches (or sometimes both the sinker and the slider) isn’t working.
Take his first start of the season where he was knocked out in the fourth inning. Rangers batters went 4-9 against his slider with a home run. On May 27, three of the four sinkers put in play went for hits, two for extra bases. On May 11, both his sinker and his slider were getting hit. Not particularly hard, but batters were finding success against both pitches.
This is an issue with a two-pitch starting pitcher beyond a potential TTO penalty. When one pitch isn’t working, it’s going to be a long night for the starter.
Using Game Score, Singer has topped 56 in just two of his starts. He posted a Game Score of 71 on April 18 against the Blue Jays and followed that up with a start on April 24 against the Tigers where he finished with a season-high Game Score of 75. Suffice it to say that both the sinker and the slider were working on those nights.
Eight of Singer’s starts have wrapped with a Game Score between 46 and 56. Two of those starts were short for other reasons than performance. One was his last start discussed in a moment below. The other was against the Twins at the end of April where he took a comebacker off his ankle.
In that last outing against the Tigers, the Royals limited Singer to three innings and 51 pitches. After the game, the club revealed that Singer had battled through some shoulder discomfort, so they were playing it safe by limiting his output. He allowed one run on four hits and a walk. Two hits came on the slider, two on the sinker. He didn’t throw a change.
Perhaps we witnessed the ideal way the Royals should handle Singer going forward.
Of the 26 sliders he threw, he got six swings and misses. Three sliders were put in play with an average exit velocity of 83.7 mph. While the Tigers got to that pitch for two hits, it looked like Singer’s slider was on point. His sinker meanwhile didn’t generate a single swing and miss and of the five that were put in play, the average exit velocity was 101.2 mph. If Singer had stuck around for the fourth, would the Tigers have roughed him up? Who can say? But injury concerns or no, Mike Matheny made the right call in getting him out early.
This brings us back to the change. Unless Singer can develop a third pitch, it’s likely he’ll continue to see inconsistent results based on how either the sinker or the slider is working on a given evening. While the TTO penalty isn’t an issue at this point with Singer, it’s likely that on the rare outings where both pitches are doing well, at some point it will become one. His last outing may be more of a predictor for his future than anything else we’ve seen. If he’s to remain in the rotation long-term, Singer desperately needs to develop and find confidence in his change.
Until then, each start from Singer should see him pitch on a short leash. Pencil him in for three innings and adjust based on how the pitches are looking early. If both the sinker and slider are effective, maybe he can go a little longer. Just don’t plan on that happening with any kind of consistency.
Mondesi to the IL…again
You hope for the best, but fear the worst. That’s just how it’s going for Adalberto Mondesi in 2021. The Royals placed the shortstop on the 10-day IL with an oblique strain on his left side. That’s a different injury from the one that caused him to miss the first 45 games of the season. That injury was an oblique strain on his right side.
As I wrote in yesterday’s edition, I get the frustration. In the 10 games Mondesi has played in 2021, he’s shown amazing talent. The Royals are a better ballclub with him on the field. And that’s the problem. He’s not staying on the field. Twice in those 10 games, he’s exited due to injury. Both times a stint on the IL has followed.
That this comes after the Royals were seemingly cautious in handling his return by giving him a scheduled day off on Saturday only compounds the frustration.
You may be asking yourself, what do the Royals do with Mondesi? Honestly, there’s not much they can do, except try like hell to get and keep him healthy. They’re not going to shop him in a trade. They’re not going to release him. The Royals have him under control for the next two seasons. Mondesi is making $2.525 million in 2021 and was looking at a nice pay raise through the arbitration process this winter had he stayed healthy. Perhaps even an extension. These injuries are costing him money and potentially some long-term security.
Why? Why is Mondesi injured so frequently? Both obliques in less than three months? With a hamstring strain? There are a lot of questions that need answers. The Royals will say it’s just one of those things…some bad luck. That may be, but the onus falls on the medical staff to keep him healthy. And failing that, getting him back on the field as soon as possible without risking further (or another) injury. Or is Mondesi just the kind of athlete who will be dogged by various injuries throughout his career? Do the Royals part ways at the end of the 2023 season and let him walk into free agency, frustrated that they had such a talent in their organization, yet were ultimately unable to get the most out of it?
Naturally, the focus turns to Bobby Witt Jr. who is currently laying waste to Double-A Central pitching. The Royals say that the Mondesi injuries have no impact on the timetable for Witt. Perhaps that’s true. But the drumbeat will only grow louder with each bomb he hits in Northwest Arkansas. Personally, I like that the Royals are saying they’re are letting Witt dictate how he moves up the organizational ladder. That’s how it should be. Don’t rush a top prospect just because of what’s happening at the major league level. The Royals made that mistake with Mondesi. It took him several seasons to finally get to where he was realizing that potential. They really can’t afford to make the same mistake with Witt.
For now, we’re back on Mondesi Injury Watch. Sigh.
Cleveland 4, Cubs 0
Aaron Civale left in the bottom of the fifth with an apparent finger injury, but four Cleveland relievers combined to shut out the Cubs. Bobby Bradley and Josh Naylor hit home runs against Cub starter Adbert Alzolay to power Cleveland to the victory.
Reds 5, Twins 7 — 12 innings
Miguel Sanó walked-off the Twins with a two run homer, mercifully ending a five-plus hour slog of a ballgame. Tied at three going into extras, both teams combined to use 17 pitchers. Matt Shoemaker pitched scoreless 11th and 12th innings to ensure the victory for Minnesota.
It’s Singer against Gerrit Cole in the first game for both clubs since MLB started checking pitchers for foreign substances during games. The umpires are searching caps, gloves and belts as pitchers come off the mound between innings.