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Brad Keller shoves and Jorge Soler is feeling squeezed

Things can feel so good and then go so wrong.

St Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Brad Keller has been generally given the Royals strong outings of late. Sure, there have been bumps along the way—last month’s three home run game against the Blue Jays, for example—but the overall results have been good. Since the start of July, Keller had thrown 47 innings with a 2.87 ERA with a 3:1 SO/BB ratio entering Wednesday’s game.

Keller was dominant against the Cardinals. Yeah, six no-hit innings will get you a “dominant” tag in this space. At least until our friends from the east went all 2015-Keep-The-Line-Moving on him in the seventh inning. So even though the final pitching line isn’t particularly noteworthy (6 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO), it was a generally effective performance. Especially the way he worked his slider to play off his fastball.

Brad Keller pitch chart
Baseball Savant

This is a thing of beauty and a signature snapshot of a quality outing from Keller. He got just four swinging strikes off his fastball, but also induced 15 fouls. By keeping the slider down in the zone, he was able to get five swinging strikes, or 17 percent of all sliders thrown. Keller needed 96 pitches to navigate through six no-hit innings, so the idea that he could complete the no-no wasn’t a realistic one—his high-water mark on the year for pitches is 118.

Despite the elevated pitch count, the fastball didn’t lose any steam in the seventh (all three hits came on the fastball) and Keller had negotiated the top third of the order the inning prior, so we can speculate that perhaps it was a third time through the order penalty at work, but really it just seems like one of those sequences that sometimes just happens in baseball. Still, it’s encouraging that Keller has developed into a solid mid-rotation type of starter for the Royals. He’s made every start this season and is averaging 99 pitches per start. With an overall ERA of 4.09 with a 6.6 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 to go along with an 87 ERA-, he’s become the Royals’ most reliable starter.

Jorge Soler certainly isn’t shy about letting the home plate umpire know when he’s missed a pitch. Perhaps he’s toned his comments down of late—maybe since he was ejected in the eighth inning of a Royals 11-0 win last month, his second ejection for arguing balls and strikes this season—but he’s still more than willing to offer his opinion on a strike zone.

With Baseball Savant, we can isolate all of Soler’s strikeouts on pitches outside of the zone. There’s a healthy amount of swing and miss, but there are also quite a few calls that haven’t gone his way.

Jorge Soler called 3rd strikes
Baseball Savant

Soler certainly has the right to gripe. And there’s nothing more frustrating that for one of the league’s premier power hitters to have the bat removed from his hands by an umpire. However, he has to walk that line all hitters must abide by. Show up too many umpires too often and even more of those borderline calls could go against him. Which would be a damn shame. Because everyone wants to see Soler hit dingers.

The reigning AL Player of the Week has seen his strikeout rate drop the last six weeks (along with a nice bump in his walk rate). Soler started the year slowly, but has steadily improved as the season has progressed and we have now reached the point where the man is locked in at the plate. It’s fun to watch.

The Royals have been underperforming their 3rd Order Winning Percentage all season, but as the losses have mounted and the margins have expanded, the gap has narrowed. Entering play Wednesday, the Royals had 43 wins compared to 45 projected by 3rd Order.

With the two losses against the Cardinals to open the homestand, the Royals crossed back into a negative triple-digit run differential. After Wednesday’s 6-0 defeat, that now stands at -107.

Run differential and Pythagorean record are fine and all that, but what really matters is the damn record. (This analysis is free. Can you believe that?) The Royals are now on pace for 104 losses. That’s the same record as last year and comes with the abysmal Detroit Tigers in the division. That can be difficult to accept given we mark progress by wins and losses, but in the nascent days of The Process 2.0, the record doesn’t matters all that much. Absorb the losses, collect another elevated draft pick and keep the focus on the long term. We can debate the logic of the Royals stated target of 2022 as the return to contention, but if that was the date stated prior to the season, there’s really no reason that should change. For now, at least.

Even so, that pitching help that’s being cultivated in the minors can’t reach The Show fast enough.