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A tsunami of bad baseball sees the Royals drop three to Atlanta. Meanwhile, Bubic hits the IL, Olivares tries to play defense and the Royals can't buy a hit with runners in scoring position.
First off, heartfelt apologies for failing to publish a single “Three Up, Three Down” recap from the just-completed weekend series. Although, maybe you should be thanking me. Royals baseball these days is like the “hard” setting in Oregon Trail where everyone immediately develops dysentery and there is no hope for anyone involved. Who wants to read about that?
So thank you for reading today. Alas, the Braves swept the Royals in a three-game set over the weekend at Kauffman Stadium. The combined score in the series was 24-10. The good news…it was kind of impressive that the Royals scored 10 runs in three games.
Look, the Braves are good. Their record is 12-4. The Royals are…not good. Their record is the inverse at 4-12. Three games does not define a season. It does provide a decent barometer for where both these teams stand at this early point in the season.
After two starts where he was the early season starting pitching darling, Kris Bubic was rocked in his start on Saturday. The next morning, he landed on the IL with a left flexor strain.
Asked if the cold conditions had an impact on his pitches, Bubic said: “Maybe a little bit. To be honest, my forearm tightened up fairly early today. But we’ll take a look at it tomorrow and go from there.”
“I just felt like I couldn’t execute pitches when I got ahead,” Bubic said. “There was harder contact today. I didn’t really have a great feel of putting guys away with any pitches, as I had in previous outings. I wanted to keep battling, keep grinding and give us a chance.”
Bubic said his forearm tightened up “fairly early.” The trouble was obvious from the first pitch. Literally. In his 2023 debut, Bubic’s first fastball of the game was delivered at 95.7 MPH. His first fastball in what was supposed to be his breakout start against San Francisco came in at 93.5 MPH. His first fastball on Saturday? It only hit 90 MPH if you were rounding—it registered at 89.9 MPH. Maybe by “early” Bubic meant his forearm tightened in the bullpen while he was warming up. Something was off from the get-go.
I’m sure he, and the Royals, wanted the issue to be the cold. Saturday’s game was delayed by rain for almost two and a half hours and by the time it finally got underway, the temperature was 46 degrees. That’s not taking into account a wind chill factor that came with 20 MPH gusts. It was a brutal night to be pitching. Or hitting. Except the Braves didn’t seem to have any difficulty in tagging Bubic. Every ball they put in play in the first was Hard-Hit according to Statcast. Four of the five were scalded at exit velocities that topped triple-digits.
The decrease in velocity manifested in a lack of movement in his pitches. It resulted in some locating that was…suboptimal. Two pitches to catcher Sean Murphy in particular raised red flags.
The first was in the first inning. An 0-2 fastball down the chute.
I mean…why? Even the previous 0-2 pitch—a hanging curve without a lot of hang—was in the zone. Murphy at the plate is a human grease fire these days. When you have an advantage in the count, you have to use it. Bubic couldn’t and the Braves had their first run.
The count was reversed in Murphy’s second plate appearance. Here’s an 0-2 fastball.
A little better in that this was a pitch he was getting swings and misses on in San Francisco. Except that was when it was riding at 94 MPH. This one? A tasty 89 MPH meatball. Murphy wasn’t going to miss.
Losing five MPH on a fastball is a huge deal. Bubic wasn’t down that much on average (he was 2 MPH down on the four-seamer), but it was enough that, combined with a lack of movement and an inability to locate, doomed his start. The fact the Royals left him out there to “compete” boggles the mind. Bubic threw 100 pitches.
I get not wanting to burn the bullpen but a pitcher’s health has to trump that concern. The signs were obvious to everyone that Bubic wasn’t right.
On the other hand, once a pitcher experiences said forearm tightness, the injury has already happened. We’ve heard that plenty of pitchers have slight tears or strains in their forearms and are able to continue to pitch through it. Greg Holland comes to mind. It’s about pain tolerance and effectiveness. I’m going to theorize (and hope) that Bubic didn’t do further damage by staying out there. Still, throwing 100 pitches on a cold day when he’s not feeling right? Not a smart call.
Hopefully, this is one of those things where a little rest and rehab can keep the Tommy John surgeons from putting on their scrubs, but I fear the worst. Which absolutely sucks because I was buying into Bubic in 2023.
Ryan Yarbrough came on in relief for Bubic and was good in his first inning, wobbled a bit in his second and then came undone in his third of work. His final line wasn’t helped by Carlos Hernández emptying the bases of all three of his inherited runners.
After Saturday’s game, the Royals bullpen had allowed nine of their 20 inherited runners to score. The nine inherited runs scored is the sixth-most in baseball. Their 45 percent rate of allowing inherited runners to score is the fifth-worst in the majors. Yet in the AL Central, they’re the third best in both categories.
I’ll leave it up to you as to whether you’re a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty reader when it comes to the Royals bullpen and inherited runners.
One place where the glass isn’t half-full, but where it’s totally empty? How about Edward Olivares’ defense? Not only is that glass empty, but it was also dropped and shattered into a million pieces. We’ll be picking shards out of the carpet for days.
With one out and runners on first and second against Zack Greinke in the third inning, this happened…
It’s not even a particularly tricky play. It’s a sinking liner that Olivares doesn’t have a chance to snare. He needs to square his body up and play it on a hop. The one thing he can’t do is olé it and watch it run to the wall.
It led to two runs because the previous batter, Ronald Acuña Jr., reached after Matt Duffy couldn’t handle a hard liner. Sure, it’s the hot corner, but Duffy didn’t have to really move all that much. He just didn’t move enough.
You may not know it from watching this sequence in Sunday’s game, but the Royals’ team defense is markedly improved from last year. Kyle Isbel, as promised, is a revelation in center. He leads the team with four Defensive Runs Saved. Right field has also been a position of strength for the team with Nate Eaton and, believe it or not, MJ Melendez posting positive DRS numbers.
Sunday was the first time Olivares has played right this season. He’s appeared in 10 games in left and has been worth -1 DRS in 83 innings. According to Statcast, Olivares gets the worst jumps among all outfielders. Yes, the worst. He’s -6.2 feet vs. average, ranking dead last among the 63 outfielders who have qualified. Only two outfielders are worse than -5 feet vs. average. (Wil Myers is at -5.7 feet vs. average. Next worse is Will Brennan at -4.4 feet vs. average.)
It was a bold defensive alignment on Sunday with Franmil Reyes in left and Olivares in right. Especially with the wind. Isbel can only cover so much ground.
Here we go again. On Friday, the Royals went 2-11 with runners in scoring position. Saturday was worse at 1-13 with RISP. There were fewer opportunities to be had on Sunday, but the Royals still cashed in one, finishing 1-4.
Add it all up and in the three games against Atlanta, the Royals were 4-28 with runners in scoring position.
Do you think that’s bad? Because it is. It’s very, very bad. In fact, it’s abysmal.
For the season (through Saturday) the Royals were hitting a collective .187/.250/.276 with runners in scoring position. Their OPS+ in that situation is 41, meaning they’re 59 percent worse than the league average when they’re hitting with runners in scoring position. Fifty-nine percent worse than the league average! You won’t be surprised to hear that the Royals are the worst team in the league when they’re hitting with runners in scoring position.
Let’s extrapolate that a little further. Baseball Reference has a fantastic statistic that calculates a team’s percentage or base runners scored. You will not be surprised to learn the Rays are the best team in baseball at cashing in their runners. Through Saturday, they had had 351 baserunners. Seventy of them touched home, a 19.9 percent success rate.
The Royals, on the other hand, have had 316 baserunners and have scored 37 of them, an 11.7 percent success rate. Hey! That’s not the worst rate in the majors. That belongs to the Marlins at 10.6 percent.
So to recap, the Royals aren’t very good at getting runners on base—their team .273 on-base percentage is the worst in the majors. And, they can’t figure out how to get their precious few baserunners to come around to touch home.
It’s a brutal start where they’re scoring, on average, 3.3 runs per game. Only the Marlins score fewer runs on average than the Royals.
The Royals will tell you this is all some bad luck. And there is something to that. Their average exit velocity and hard-hit rate both remain in the top five in the majors. Yet their batting average on balls in play is just .269. Their BABIP with RISP (don’t you just love acronyms?) is even worse at .258.
Something has to change, right? Right???
While I do subscribe to the theory that it will get better, I have questions as to exactly how much better it will get. One thing that troubles me is their collective approach at the plate.
For example, let’s wrap this post with how the game on Sunday ended. (Symmetry!) This wasn’t a PA with runners on base, but with the Royals down one run in the bottom of the ninth, it was a critical plate appearance. They needed a base runner and Bobby Witt Jr. was at the dish. This was how his plate appearance played out.
Witt looked at the first two pitches off the zone and got ahead in the count 2-0. This tips the scales heavily in his favor—hitters have a .513 OBP when hitting after a 2-0 count so far this year. Except Witt chased the third pitch…and missed. You can see from the plot above that it was further off the zone than either of the first two. The approach was just messed up here. At 2-0, Witt needed to make A.J. Minter throw him a strike. Minter missed. Witt whiffed.
After that, it was academic. Witt fouled off an elevated cutter and then missed one down. Both pitches were strikes (the last one was low, but with two strikes, too close to take) but the plate appearance was settled two pitches prior.
Witt had a chance to prolong the game, but his approach took himself–and the Royals—out of any opportunity to succeed.