For many Royals fans, Richard Lovelady was supposed to be the beginning - or maybe the end! - of the next HDH. He was the best performer in a farm system bereft of talent and it wasn’t even close. By age 21 in 2017 he was promoted to AA where he had a 2.16 ERA in 33.1 innings. People loved the nickname. He was destined to be a star! When could they call him up?
2018 saw Lovelady arrive in Omaha where he pitched the entire season. He didn’t start well but by the end of the year, he’d lowered his ERA back down to a terrific 2.47. This year he started in AAA and he’s split time between there and the big leagues. In AAA he’s been as good as ever with a sparkling 2.19 ERA backed up by a 3.12 FIP despite the addition of the juiced ball to that league, this year. The big leagues, however, have been a different story for poor Richard. In nearly as many innings Lovelady has a 7.65 ERA. What has happened to our bullpen savior and can he ever recover?
Nope. He’s a goner.
No! Come on! It was a joke! No. Stop! Put the rotten fruit down! Sheesh. Tough crowd.
Anyway. Yes, there’s a lot of reason to believe that Lovelady’s struggles this year don’t have to continue. The most obvious issue facing Lovelady is that he’s only pitched 20 big league innings. That’s not even enough to disqualify him as a rookie in 2020 (time on an MLB roster is another consideration and I think he passed the 45-day threshold there, but still.) So it’s a small sample size complicated by the fact that those appearances were broken up across multiple stints at the big league level. I can only imagine that it’s very hard to get comfortable when you have to keep changing clubs and routines like that.
But even in that small sample size, we can see some information that stands out as likely indicative of some bad luck that should right itself in future appearances; His FIP is more than three runs lower than his ERA and he’s carrying a ridiculous .412 BABIP. The rate of hard-hit balls against him is a bit concerning; he’s only getting soft contact 11.4% of the time but 50% of all balls hit against him are groundballs. Ask Ryan O’Hearn how well hitting a ball hard on the ground usually works for you. Spoiler: Not very. And yet, somehow, it’s worked for guys batting against Richard Lovelady.
Baseball Savant has a list of stats and then X (which stands for eXpected) versions of those stats for players based on things like exit velocity and launch angle. In the image above you can see that for Lovelady’s three primary pitches batters outpaced the expectations in every way. Savant isn’t kind to his sinker, they think it should be punished, but not to the degree that it actually was.
FanGraphs and Baseball Savant both agree: Richard Lovelady has an excellent fastball with above-average spin rate and velocity. FanGraphs is also convinced that he has a very good slider that could get even better. That should be good enough to get at least the lefties out. But Baseball Savant reports that the slider is getting less movement both horizontally and vertically compared to other sliders at the same velocity. Considering how high FanGraphs is on the pitch, and how well Lovelady did with it even in that state, you’d have to think that will improve as he gets more experience and coaching.
Finally, remember that the kid just turned 24 last month. His body isn’t even finished maturing, yet. There is every reason to believe that he will improve in 2020.
Hey speaking of Ryan O’Hearn...
Yes, I also noticed that O’Hearn seems to have turned a corner of some sort, recently. Since August 18 he has slashed .235/.350/.529/.879 with three home runs for a 128 wRC+. That’s much closer to the guy he was in 2018. And what seems to be the primary difference? Launch angle. O’Hearn’s season GB% now sits at a Hosmerian 47.6% but in the last two weeks, it has been only 32%.
If O’Hearn is hitting the ball in the air he’s going to be successful. The question is, has he figured out what he was doing wrong earlier this year or is this just a fluke? He just turned 26 last month so he’s still not old, quite yet. The Royals don’t have a better answer at first base next year - no, Cheslor Cuthbert is not the guy. So they might as well give him one more shot. Besides, Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield didn’t put things together until they were 27, either. If it doesn’t work for O’Hearn maybe the Royals should see if Jorge Soler could work at first base. He obviously has no business in the outfield but maybe he’d offer a bit more benefit as a first-baseman than as a DH?
The Royals have a new owner (sort of)
As I’m sure you’ve read elsewhere David Glass has sold the Kansas City Royals to local businessman John Sherman. This would be pretty big news even if the team on the field was offering a lot more to write about, right now. Since they aren’t, I imagine this is all anyone will be talking about in regards to the Royals for the next week, at least. The deal won’t be final until November when MLB vets Sherman but he’s been a minority owner in Cleveland for the past two years so, like everyone else, I imagine that will be a mere formality.
So what should you think about this news? Good question. There has been a lot of theorizing about Glass’ health which I find to be kind of gross. There have also been some people theorizing (and hoping) that Sherman will fire Moore, Yost, and maybe everyone else on the business side of the club in preparation for a massive overhaul. That might happen. I’ve certainly not been subtle about my desire to replace Dayton Moore with someone more analytically-minded and less prone to doing bizarre things like giving seminars about porn addiction with agencies that use questionable statistics, refusing to use the word “Rebuild”, and comparing a guy who smoked marijuana to a guy who confessed to sexually assaulting a minor. But we’ll have to wait and see what Sherman does once he officially takes over.
For what it’s worth, Moore’s current contract is up in 2020 so even if Sherman doesn’t immediately demand his resignation, if you don’t see Moore get an extension you can expect he’ll leave after spending 2020 transitioning to whoever Sherman would replace him with. In that sense, if you’re opposed to Moore, even no news might be good news.