The Royals have built another quality bullpen
Plus, first pitch strikes and wasted opportunities on offense. Some early observations eight games into the 2022 season.
It’s absolutely too early to draw any conclusions from what we’ve seen to this point in the 2022 season, but it’s never too soon to identify trends.
While the Royals stand at 3-5 on the young season and currently reside in fourth place in the AL Central, there have been some positives to glean from those eight games. Yes, along with the negatives.
Let’s jump to it.
The Royals’ desire to throw more first-pitch strikes seems to be working
In the abbreviated 2020 season, Royals starting pitchers threw a first strike just 56 percent of the time, the worst rate in the majors. The next season, it was more of the same. In 2021, Royals starters opened a plate appearance by offering a first strike just 57 percent of the time. Again, that was the worst percentage in the majors.
This year, they’re throwing a first-pitch strike nearly 64 percent of the time, quite an improvement over the last couple of years, and one that has actually seen them move up the leaderboard into the top 10. They’re the ninth-best team at offering a first-pitch strike.
Brad Keller, who has been outstanding in his first two starts, and Daniel Lynch are the headliners here, both throwing first-pitch strikes over 70 percent of the time.
Has anyone seen Brady Singer?
Singer has made one appearance this season out of the bullpen in an extreme mop-up role, closing out the 17-3 defeat at the hands of the Guardians in the season’s fourth game. In that appearance, the threw 60 pitches over three innings, allowed six hits and four runs. He threw one changeup. In other words, it was a very Brady Singer appearance.
During my weekly radio appearance on 810 Sports on Monday, I was asked about Singer. Honestly, I haven’t given him much thought, and that’s probably a bad thing. The Royals have played generally close games and Singer has only appeared in a the game that was already wildly out of hand. Tuesday, it will be nine days since he took the mound. I suspect that we will see him at some point in the Twins series, weather permitting. It will be worth noting the situation where he is used.
The bullpen is providing value—as expected
According to FanGraphs, the Royals relief corps has been good for a 0.8 fWAR, that’s tied for the second-best bullpen in baseball in the early going. (The Orioles have the best bullpen in baseball with a collective 1.0 fWAR. Baseball is strange.) It’s worth noting that WAR is a cumulative stat…and of the six teams bunched between 1 and 0.8 fWAR, the Royals have thrown the fewest innings.
Look at those peripherals. A double-digit strikeout rate, an extremely low walk rate…and they’re keeping the ball in the yard. And then peep that ERA. Hilarious. That’s what happens when your two long guys get lit up in their only outing of the season. That and Jake Brentz giving up two runs in two of his three appearances.
Again it’s early days and small sample size caveats apply, but this is a very promising start.
They aren’t scoring enough runs
Duh. They’re averaging around 3.1 runs per game. That’s not going to get it done.
I remain amazed that the Royals have scored more than three runs in a game twice…and have lost both times. Yet they are currently 3-3 when scoring three runs or fewer. That’s…wild.
Yet, they aren’t wasting opportunities
This seems to contradict the last section, as well as what we’ve seen on the field, but hear me out. The Royals are currently scoring 13 percent of all runners they put on base, which is slightly below league average. With a runner on third and less than two outs, the Royals have found themselves in that situation 14 times and come home to score seven. That 50 percent success rate is again, just a couple of percentage points below league average.
Granted, it’s not ideal to be below average, but the point is the Royals aren’t all that far off. The issue is their collective .263 OBP which is worst in the AL and in the majors only better than the Reds at .254. They simply aren’t getting enough runners on base.
It’s not that they’re wasting opportunities. It’s that they’re not creating enough of them.
Mike Matheny seems set with his batting order
I can recall the halcyon days of the late 1990s when newspapers were still relevant and managers were supposed to have a set lineup they sent out every evening. In those long-ago times, Jeffery Flanagan at the Kansas City Star came up with the Boone-O-Meter to keep track of the myriad lineups put forth by Royals manager, Stanford alum and noted baseball savant Bob Boone. The 1996 Royals sent out 152 different lineups that season.
While the game has changed, that is a lot of different lineups, even for today. And through the first handful of games of the 2022 season, Matheny seems intent on going the opposite way of Boone. He’s used just three different lineups total and has used his most-favored batting order six times.
Aside from the game in St. Louis where he had Cam Gallagher at catcher and gave Salvador Perez the defensive night off at DH, the biggest lineup change has been flip-flopping Perez and Andrew Benintendi in the order in last Friday’s game against the Tigers.
Stubbornness or patience? I’ll hedge my bets and say it’s too early to call. However…
Let’s optimize the lineup
The Royals always stress patience. Dayton Moore is known for saying he wants to see 40 games before he makes any kind of an impactful roster decision. So, taking that into account, how about shuffling the lineup to see if there would be a way to get some of these bats at least lukewarm as we roll into the second half of April.
Lopez hasn’t walked yet in 2022, but has struck out only once. He’s your catalyst and belongs at the top of the order.
Benintendi is chasing pitches outside of the zone fewer than 20 percent of the time, and his contact rate is always going to be among the highest on the team.
Merrifield drops to second here, but I’d move him lower if I could. One thing this exercise underscores is the lack of options the Royals have for the top two spots in the order at this time. He’s been the Royals’ leadoff hitter for every game but one in Mike Matheny’s tenure in KC, but the time has come to move him down. I like him here as a leadoff hitter 1.5 or something. He remains valuable on the bases, so I wouldn’t want to completely restrict his plate appearances. And he continues to make contact on around 80 percent of his swings.
Santana has had a brutal start to the season, but his Statcast metrics are solid. He’s in the 73rd percentile of HardHit% and 82nd percentile in average exit velocity. The power isn’t a thing for him anymore, but I get the feeling he’s going to go on a little mini-run shortly. The BABIP gods can’t stay angry forever.
The Royals were aggressive with Witt Jr to open the year, hitting him second on the regular, but 11 strikeouts against just one walk and five hits total thus far isn’t a great start. Eventually, he will return to the second spot, but for now, he would benefit from a little less pressure that comes from hitting lower in the order.
What’s your lineup?
long time royals fan here...now in New Mexico. I like you articles, does it really cost 30 bucks to park at the K this year?
My lineup would be.
We need some hitting, but realizing Matheny will never do this. Thanks Craig.