Whit Merrifield comes alive
The scuffling man about the lineup has two hits and scores three runs as he leads the Royals' offensive explosion. Meanwhile the bullpen collectively shoves and the Royals win!
The beauty of mid-May baseball is that, for a player who is struggling offensively, one great game can still heavily impact the stat line.
Entering Wednesday’s game, Merrifield owned a -2 wRC+. Yes, you read that correctly. A -2 wRC+. He was, according to FanGraphs, worth a -0.7 WAR. Both those numbers were the worst in the majors among regular players. The negative wRC+ was especially troubling, given that the player closest to Merrifield at the bottom of the leaderboard, Jonathan Schoop, had a 30 wRC+. Wrap your head around that for a moment. Since wRC+ is an index stat and 100 is average, not only was Merrifield 102 percent worse than the league average hitter in 2022, he was 32 percent worse than the next worst hitter in the league.
There’s bad and then there’s Merrifield offensive bad. At least until Wednesday. Then, he did this in leading the Royals to an 8-2 victory over the Texas Rangers…
The hole Merrifield put himself in to open the year is so deep, it will take quite a bit of time for him to dig out. However, if he’s going to get hot, Wednesday was a decent start. Merrifield collected three hits for the first time this year, homered for the first time since August of last year and scored four runs. And he swiped third base in the ninth inning as the Royals broke the game open. He is now the proud owner of an 18 wRC+ and a -0.5 fWAR.
Here’s a wild stat for you: Those runs Merrifield scored on Wednesday were his first runs since April 29. Part of that is due to his struggle to reach base—he owned a .211 OBP over his previous nine games dating back to the last time he scored. Another part of that struggle is the offensive ineptitude surrounding Merrifield.
In an attempt to unlock Merrifield, the Royals have dropped him from first to second to fifth to sixth and finally to eighth in the batting order. Nothing has worked until Wednesday. Is it sticky? Is what we saw on Wednesday something that can carry over into the series finale and through the rest of the road trip? Is this the start of a rejuvenated Merrifield? He’s not the key to this offense anymore, but he’s certainly still a major player, especially given the fact that he never comes out of the lineup. The next few games will tell us a lot more about how his season will go.
No, I don’t understand why the Royals insist on penciling Ryan O’Hearn in the lineup and hitting him cleanup
I mean, it’s as simple as that, isn’t it?
Since Carlos Santana last played on May 2, O’Hearn has found himself in the starting lineup five times in seven games. He’s had 18 plate appearances. He’s hitting .118/.111/.118.
Once again, on Wednesday, the Royals and Mike Matheny decided to pinch hit for their so-called cleanup man in the ninth inning. With the bases loaded. I understand that it was lefty Matt Moore on the mound, so the Royals were going for the platoon advantage. I also understand that the Royals have generally used O’Hearn in that platoon situation, even with Santana sidelined. Of O’Hearn’s 24 plate appearances this year, 19 of them have come against right-handed pitching. Including three on Wednesday as the Rangers themselves leveraged a bullpen game.
Entering this season, O’Hearn had accumulated 926 plate appearances. He hit .216/.294/.401 over that time.
I can never remember how many plate appearances Dayton Moore says a player needs before he reveals his true ability at the major league level. The standard seems to shift from time to time. Maybe it’s 1,000. God help us if it’s 1,500.
Since O’Hearn made his debut in 2018, he’s been worth -1.4 fWAR. Among the 287 players who have accumulated at least 900 plate appearances since that time, O’Hearn ranks 285 in fWAR. The bottom five:
Daniel Murphy - -1.2 fWAR
Albert Pujols - -1.3 fWAR
Ryan O’Hearn - -1.4 fWAR
Lewis Brinson - -3.2 fWAR
Chris Davis - -4.6 fWAR
At least he’s keeping company with a first-ballot Hall of Famer I suppose.
In that ninth inning when the Royals sent up Emmanual Rivera in O’Hearn’s place with the bases loaded, Rivera laced a grounder down the first base line for a bases-clearing triple.
Again, the question I keep returning to when watching the 2022 edition of the Royals is: Is this player going to be a part of the club when (or if) this team returns to contention. It seems to run counter to the question Matheny asks when filling out the lineup card which is: Is this the player that’s going to give the team the best chance at winning that night? I just don’t understand why the Royals are so stubborn when the answer to both questions when presented before O’Hearn is an overwhelming “no.”
Bullpenning with style
By nature, a bullpen game makes me a bit apprehensive. It’s just that bullpen roulette can be dangerous. Pick the wrong reliever at the wrong time and the whole thing can get completely out of hand.
That didn’t happen on Wednesday as Gabe Speier and Joel Payamps combined for five innings of shutout baseball. Together, they allowed just two hits and struck out six. That was a helluva combo. To get five innings out of two relievers in a so-called bullpen game? That allows you to play with house money the rest of the night. And with the lead, Matheny went into win mode, bringing Collin Snider, Taylor Clarke and Scott Barlow for the next three innings.
The Royals bullpen continues to be a strength of this team. Speier is an absolute beast.
Mixing a sinker, four-seamer and the slider you see above, Speier didn’t miss many bats, but he kept hitters off balance. They simply could not square him up. On the three balls in play off the four-seamer, the average exit velocity was 92 MPH. Heck, it’s easier if I just show you the results on the balls the Rangers put in play.
I mean…the Rangers did absolutely nothing against him.
Payamps was just nasty. He worked the slider…
And the change…
To perfection. He finished with a 44 percent CSW% (called strikes plus whiffs), which is just an outstanding rate. Let’s put it in terms Alex Gordon would appreciate. He dominated.
Shuffling the rotation
The Royals announced prior to Wednesday’s game that Jonathan Heasley will make the start in the series finale. It wasn’t surprising, given that Heasley has done relatively well pitching for the Storm Chasers. He currently has a 4.44 ERA in 26.1 innings with 30 strikeouts and six walks. The strikeout rate and strikeout to walk ratio will get you noticed.
The Royals will need to make a roster move ahead of Heasley joining the club. I would bet that it’s Bubic going down. First, he kind of needs to get to Triple-A to get back on track. Second, that’s generally how the Royals operate in that they’ll throw a pitcher who is ticketed for a trip on I-29 just to keep the rest of the bullpen fresh. Bubic got hot earlier in the game because that was probably the plan. But when Joel Payamps was able to go three and with a three-run lead, Matheny went into protect-the-lead mode which meant he wasn’t going to use Bubic. That’s why, once the Royals broke the game open, Bubic finally made an appearance. For the roster nerds out there, Bubic has two options remaining.
Meanwhile, Brady Singer made a start in Triple-A on Wednesday, going six innings and allowing four runs. Reports were, he looked generally strong, flashing that elusive changeup on occasion. He gave up two dingers, but at least one of which was a bit wind-aided. Despite the success of the bullpen game, it’s not difficult to connect the dots and see Singer back in Kansas City when this spot in the rotation comes back around.
Guardians @ White Sox - Postponed
I was told Covid was over. It’s not. And it caused what I believe to be the first Covid-related postponement of 2022. The Guardians are off today, which gives them more time to sort through this. The White Sox are to host the Yankees.
Astros 4, Twins 1 - Top 4 - Suspended
Storms ripped through the Twin Cities on Wednesday night, forcing a suspension. It wasn’t before Chris Archer scuffled through three innings, allowing five runs on five hits and three walks.
A’s 9, Tigers 0
Joey Wentz, from Shawnee Mission East, made his major league debut. It didn’t go well. He couldn’t get out of the third inning, allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks.
The Royals close out the series in Texas with the aforementioned Heasley making his 2022 major league debut. He’ll face Taylor Hearn. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.