- Salvador Perez continues hitting for power
- The Royals got Kluber out of the game early by stringing together tons of hits
- Whit "The Hit" Merrifield got more of those hits!
- Ian Kennedy’s home run problems continue to plague him
I sure like this Whit Merrifield in the leadoff spot thing. Or, at least I think I do. My frame of reference is Alcides Escobar at leadoff. We’ve thoroughly documented the issues there. AAAnyway, Merrifield got going against Kluber immediately by starting the game with a single. Escobar, now in the two hole, bunted Merrifield to second. I guess as long as Escobar is an out, it might as well be a productive out?
That brought up Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, two heart-of-the-order bats with power. Hosmer put a beautiful swing on a tailing front-hip fastball that ran too far over the plate. He laced a line drive double into the right-center gap to score Merrifield easily. Cain followed Hosmer’s lead by pulling another tailing fastball that caught too much of the plate. Cain doubled down the left field line, and Hosmer scored.
This upset Corey Klubot. There were some defensive miscues in the second inning that allowed Royals baserunners to reach, but Kluber did not allow another hit until the bottom of the fifth. More on that in a second.
Ian Kennedy was rolling along as well through the early innings. There was a walk here, a hit batsman there, a single there, but it did not amount to anything until the fifth inning. After a Michael Martinez single, Kennedy gave up a home run to Rajai Davis. Rajai Davis, who has never hit double-digit homers in a single season but is well on his way this year. Rajai Davis, noted speedster. Oh well.
Remember that hit Kluber allowed after a long string of retiring Royals hitters? Well, Royals slugger Drew Butera doubled, which started a rally of sorts. Merrifield and Escobar both made outs after Butera’s double, but he moved to third in the process. Kluber let loose a wild pitch that bounced in front of the batter’s box, which allowed Butera to score.
With the bases cleared and two outs, Kluber failed to record another out until after lots of awesome things happened. Hosmer and Cain had back to back hits again, which set up a Salvador Perez three-run dinger, his 11th of the season, to blow the game open 6-2. Kluber’s pitch wasn’t really that bad; it was another tailing fastball, but this time it didn’t tail over the plate. It stayed on the outside corner, right where the catcher had the target. Perez just plum muscled it out to deep center field.
Kluber finished out the fifth inning and came back out for the sixth, but he failed to record an out as Christian Colon and Butera singled. Dan Otero replaced him, and he had trouble recording an out as well. Merrifield floated a single to right field to score Colon, and Escobar followed with another single to load the bases with no outs for the heart of the order.
Terry Francona opted to switch Otero for Tom Gorzelanny, though the outcome was not necessarily what he wanted. Hosmer hit a grounder to second baseman Jason Kipnis, but the ball bounced off his leg to shortstop Francisco Lindor. The shortstop managed to throw out Hosmer, but Butera scored and the other runners were safe. Gorzelanny intentionally walked Cain with first base open, and Francona brought in another pitcher, Jeff Manship, to face Perez and Cheslor Cuthbert.
Manship struck out Perez but walked in a run by giving a free pass to Cheslor. Manship got Reymond Fuentes to ground out to end the inning, but it was 9-2 when it was all said and done.
Kennedy’s home run issues popped up again in the seventh. He walked Tyler Naquin before giving up a home run to Michael Martinez. Kennedy struck out Davis after, but Ned Yost decided that was enough and brought in Luke Hochevar, who finished off the inning by striking out Kipnis.
Kennedy’s final line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 2 HR. Aside from those two dingers, Kennedy really didn’t run into any trouble. Is it bad luck, or is something wrong with him? I don’t know right now, but he did get a rather large ovation for a fellow who gave up four runs. He threw 113 pitches.
The bullpen finished the game without any events. The Royals sweep Cleveland and are 35-30 and now tied with Cleveland for first place in the AL Central. The Tigers are up next -- Danny Duffy vs. Justin Verlander in the first of four games.
Salvador Perez’s power is way up this year, and it’s awesome
Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs wrote about this just yesterday. In Jeff’s quick analysis, Perez was revealed as one of the few players whose exit velocity has increased and whose launch angle has pointed more up.
Perez is striking out more than ever, but he’s hitting for more power than ever. After several years straight of declining offensive output, Perez’s line coming into tonight’s game was .294 / .322 / .525 for a 125 wRC+, a big rebound from last year. Perez’s HR/FB rate is the same as last year, but it's the big trade of ground balls for fly balls in addition to a big increase in hard-hit rate that is leading to his increased offensive output.
Rajai Davis is entering the late-career Marlon Byrd phase
Davis is showing classic old guy skills right now. Though he can still run, the evidence points to him being a late-career harvester. Davis’ home run was pulled to left field; though the pitch was only 86 mph, it sure looked more like a fastball than a changeup. I’m not sure what it was supposed to be, but it was a bad pitch.
About Davis, consider the following:
- His rate of pulling the ball is at its highest since 2007
- His strikeout and walk rates are up
- Related, his swinging strike rate is up. The increased K% is a real thing.
- He’s being more aggressive on pitches in the zone
- He’s making a lot less contact overall. Inside and outside the zone.
All the signs point to Davis hunting fastballs and swinging out of his shoes; his HR/FB the past two years just suddenly took a jump. His whiff rate against fastballs ticked up just a little bit, but he's whiffing breaking pitches more than he ever has in his career and his whiff rate against changeups is up from last year as well (though not entirely out of line with career values).
That pull rate increase is manifest mostly in ground balls — his pull/oppo ratio is 7.4, which is very much shiftable territory. Davis has not been shifted much, and he retains his speed so he can still leg out infield hits. It might be time to find the cutoff point for shifting on Davis.
Pitchers have noticed Davis’ strategy and have thrown him fewer fastballs this year than the last three years. This is a risky play on Davis’ part, though it could be that there is no other play for him. Pitchers will continue to adjust, and harvesting in this way is especially weak to pitch mix adjustments.