When the Royals traded Matt Strahm and Esteury Ruiz away for three Padres pitchers, Trevor Cahill being the headliner at the time, most of my excitement around the deal was geared towards Brandon Maurer. When the trade went down, his ERA was nothing to drool over, but with decent peripherals and a promising amount of raw talent in his right arm, and the fact that he was controlled until 2020, my thoughts at the time weren’t crazy. I’ll defend that.
By my gosh, that deal couldn’t have gone any more poorly. My statement about Brandon Maurer being the prize of the trade deadline couldn’t have been anymore wrong. Since the trade, only Bruce Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Blaine Boyer have posted as many innings as Maurer with a worse ERA. All those pretty peripherals? Gone. Only eight pitchers have had a lower FIP in that time. Only 20 have had a worse K-BB%. He became so bad that he had a short stint filled with inconsistencies in AAA earlier this season and even had a point where he wasn’t on the 40-man roster.
Things with Brandon Maurer were just seeming to not have worked out. In one year, we had seen not even the slightest of improvement, only a sharp decline. His major league career was seemingly dangling by a thread.
In his time with the Royals, Maurer has given us little to none material for positive things to be said about him as a player. But in watching the Royals in the past couple weeks, hiding under all the performance issues going on with this team, Maurer has actually been… good? After a disastrous three-run outing against the Tigers on July 23rd, he’s allowed a grand total of one run in ten innings. Small sample size, I know, but when a pitcher has been struggling as bad as Maurer has, I’ll take notice to any improvements.
To summarize things, we could essentially split his season into two parts to tell the story. The first part being from Opening Day to July 23rd (the game he blew against the Tigers). The second part being since then.
Part One: 12 IP, 25 H, 19 R, 19 ER, 11 B, 7 SO, 4 HR, 14.25 ERA, 9.07 FIP
Part Two: 10 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 7 BB, 14 SO, 0 HR, 0.90 ERA, 2.46 FIP
Most of his plate discipline peripherals are clearly heading in the right direction.
As with the fastball velocity.
Perhaps the added thump is coming from an adjusted vertical release point.
The biggest key to Maurer’s recent success may lie in the slider though. It seems to be doing most of the work in his strikeout surge, as in his last 12 innings, 10 of his 14 strikeouts have come on that offering. Relying on it with two strikes has been big for him, as in the first part of his season (see range above), he threw it 36.4 percent of the time in two strike counts. In the second part, he’s thrown it 56.3 percent of the time. And as visualized below, the location for it has changed a bit, throwing it down and away from righties more often, possibly explaining their .217 xwOBA against the pitch in August.
With other expendable options on the 40-man roster and a lack of real bullpen depth, there isn’t a whole lot of reason for the Royals to ditch Brandon Maurer at this point. Tendering him a contract this offseason should be a tough decision, but it’s not like the Royals have a ton of guys with the raw capabilities that Maurer has. Already owning a fastball that sits mid-to-upper-90s, flattening out the consistency on his offspeed will be important. If he can continue his success with his hard slider, he’ll still have potential of growing into a true two-pitch power arm to pitch the later innings. The command and control have both seen major steps forward recently, now he’ll just need to hold it.