Opening Day is just the best. Baseball is back, and so is our ability to analyze, nit-pick and second guess. Damn the sample size! We have fresh data!
The Royals held on to a 5-3 victory over the White Sox on Thursday in a game that featured results that you could imagine extrapolating over a full slate of 162 games. So, why not? Let’s jump to half-baked conclusions!
Brad Keller is good…
Keller leaned on his fastball when he fell behind in the count, throwing it about half the time in that situation. He started lefties off with a slider in half their plate appearances and did the same to hitters from the right side 20 percent of the time. As expected, he turned to the slide-piece as his put-away offering, going to it 50 percent of the time when he had two strikes on right-handed batters and a whopping 83 percent of the time when he held the same advantage against lefties.
According to data collected by Brooks Baseball, Keller spun 30 sliders on Thursday. Of those, batters offered at 14. They missed at seven. That’s a healthy swing and miss rate. A bit of the caveat on slider usage. Keller completely abused Eloy Jimenez in his major league debut. Jimenez saw 12 pitches total from Keller—nine of which were sliders. Still, a slider is a slider is a slider. It’s a weapon for Keller. We saw that on Thursday. Four of his five strikeouts were tallied on the slider.
Ned Yost was full of praise for his number one after the game and said he expects Keller to front the rotation for years to come. It’s not difficult to imagine that actually happening.
The bullpen is bad
When Ian Kennedy walked off the mound after recording three outs on seven pitches, I thought to myself that he should go back out for the ninth inning. (I have no proof of this, as I was watching the game by myself at that moment. Such is the scourge of the second-guesser.) My thinking of this is two-fold. One, he’s used to multiple inning stretches of work. Take advantage of what the situation gives. Second, being in the position of potential swingman, he needs to stay stretched out if at all possible. Give him two or three innings a turn. Yes, the knee-jerk reaction is to comp him to Wade Davis. Don’t do that.
Despite my feelings of extreme logic, I knew Ned Yost would not agree and we would see a different pitcher for the ninth. Yost’s logic, like mine, was sound. It had been several days since any reliever had thrown a pitch in anger. They need work. Especially with the opening week off days sprinkled through the calendar. Yost said as much himself in his postgame comments where he mentioned his thought was to dry-hump Jake Diekman and Brad Boxberger in the ninth.
He did not expect to have to use four pitchers to get three outs.
Therein lies the problem with the Royals bullpen. The names on the back of the uniforms are new, the results are too familiar. As mentioned earlier this week, the bullpen figures to be improved from last year if only because it can’t get much worse. What if it’s not improved enough?
Mondesi and Merrifield are the spark plugs…
For my money, the triple is the most exciting play in baseball. Adalberto Mondesi would’ve justified my price of admission had I not wimped out because of the rain. The dude went from home to third on his first three-bagger in an insane 11 seconds. Come on.
Whit Merrifield had a hit, a walk and swiped two bags. He clearly let us down because we don’t get to use the Two-Hit Whit moniker today, but overall, it wasn’t a bad day at the office.
With the table-setters doing their thing by reaching base four times in eight trips to the plate, Alex Gordon and Jorge Soler did their part by bringing home three runs between them. Gordon crushed one that went 384 feet according to Statcast. Unfortunately, the fence in the part of the park where he hit it is 385 feet from home plate. Not difficult to imagine if the wind wasn’t howling in from right that that would have left the yard. Unlucky.
The bottom half is a rusted engine block
Frank Schwindel put the ball in play (and, as a result, made things happen), but that’s about the only positive you can draw from hitters five through nine. Combined, they were 0-21 with two walks and three strikeouts.
Chris Owings did scorch one at 105 mph that had an xBA of .910, but he was robbed by shortstop Tim Anderson. Schwindel brought home a run via an error on a batted ball he hit at 103 mph. Beyond that, the bottom half rarely put good wood on the ball.
Game two is Saturday promising more data and more overreactions. So glad baseball is back.