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Predictably, Brady Singer has struggled mightily with getting lefties out

Can he fix his biggest problem?

Starting pitcher Brady Singer #51 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 9, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Starting pitcher Brady Singer #51 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 9, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Brady Singer’s name has been known in scouting circles for quite a while. Baseball America ranked Singer as the 54th best prospect in the 2015 draft, and Fangraphs had him ranked as the 56th best player. Singer elected to go to college at the University of Florida, where he improved his draft stock by developing a strike-throwing, bulldog reputation on the mound—with the results to back it up. Baseball America ranked Singer as the fourth best player in the 2018 draft, and Fangraphs ranked him as the 13th best.

After sitting out the remainder of the 2018 season after being drafted by the Kansas City Royals at 18 overall—Singer was nursing a quad injury, and Kansas City elected to shut him down as a precaution—Singer ripped through the minors in 2019. At High-A Lexington, Singer rocked a strikeout-to-walk ratio north of 4, throwing 57.2 innings with an ERA of 1.87. And after a slower beginning to his Double-A Northwest Arkansas stop, Singer finished the year over his last nine starts by throwing 55 innings with a 1.96 ERA and, once again, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of over 4.

Singer was clearly ready for the big leagues, and the Royals were all to eager to have Singer start in the rotation after injuries to Mike Montgomery, Jake Junis, and Brad Keller. Singer was everything the Royals expected. His fastball is pure joy to watch; usually sitting between 92 and 94, it has extreme horizontal movement, roaring toward the third base side and inducing plenty of ground outs. His slider is a fantastic weapon, too. It bites hard, with late movement that makes it very difficult to square up.

Singer leads all rookies this year in innings pitched (25.2) and strikeouts (24). Yet, despite his skill and strikeouts, Singer has been a little off key. His ERA of 4.56 is not particularly special—it’s pretty much spot-on as league average. However, his FIP is a much higher 5.20, and unlike what’s happened in the minors, Singer’s strikeout-to-walk ratio has been anything but elite; Singer has struck out 24 batters, yes, but he’s walked 12.

Singer’s problem stems almost entirely from a severe platoon split. That’s just a fancy way of saying that Singer is much better against same-handed hitters than he is against opposite-handed hitters, which is itself a somewhat fancy way of saying that lefties have crushed Singer so far. This plate appearance by Max Kepler in Singer’s most recent start is indicative of a lot of plate appearances by lefties (aka, a crushed ball, in this case a home run):

It’s perfectly normal for a pitcher to have a platoon split of some kind. As a general rule, opposite-handed hitters do better than same-handed pitchers. But Singer has been significantly worse against lefties. Not only are lefties hitting Singer for more power, but Singer has a much lower strikeout rate and a much walk rate against them; in other words, Singer is struggling to put lefties away.

Brady Singer vs. Lefties and Righties

LHH 64 0.236 0.344 0.418 0.762 17.2% 14.1% 1.2 6.19
RHH 44 0.220 0.273 0.366 0.639 29.5% 6.8% 4.3 3.91

As you can see, Singer is well above average against righties, but turns into Jorge Lopez against lefties. And teams have noticed this—Singer has faced nearly 50% more left-handed hitters than he has faced right-handed hitters. Until he shows he can compensate, that will continue to happen.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all this, though, is that Singer is showing to be nearly exactly what scouts have said about him. Almost universally, scouts noted the downside in Singer’s game. Here’s Baseball America before the 2018 draft (emphasis mine):

Singer’s fastball sits in the low to mid-90s with impressive natural movement and he also has a sharp slider that has been a weapon for him in the past. Singer’s slider can be inconsistent at times, however, because of his low arm slot, which is a point of concern for some evaluators. While Singer doesn’t throw many changeups currently, scouts think he has the ability to develop at least an average changeup in pro ball, when he would be able to throw it more frequently. Teams more skeptical of Singer will see a two-pitch starter with a concerning arm slot that might lead to the bullpen, while less critical scouting departments might see a potential middle-of-the-rotation arm who has impressive strike-throwing ability and more high-level track record than any pitcher in a deep 2018 class.

Here’s Fangraphs before the 2018 draft (again, emphasis mine):

There’s plenty to pick apart here if you want to: his stuff still isn’t loud, he doesn’t get many whiffs from pro level hitters, his delivery turns off some scouts and his breaking ball is often fringy. Even scouts that like Singer think he has limited upside, but you can’t argue with the results he has gotten in the SEC for several years and with his long track record of health. He has feel for pitching and a bulldog mentality, performing at the highest levels of amateur baseball.

And here’s Baseball-America again, profiling Singer before this season:

Singer’s strong fastball and slider were enough to get college hitters out consistently and made him a dominant starting pitcher at Florida, where he had a career ERA of 3.22 to go along with 281 strikeouts and just 71 walks in three seasons [...] But he didn’t hear his name called until the Royals picked him 18th overall, despite some buzz that he could factor among the top picks of the draft.

Some teams projected Singer as a two-pitch starting pitcher with a low arm slot that could lead to a relief role [...] “I needed a third pitch,” Singer said. “It’ll really help me out during the long run. I spent the whole offseason working on it.”

The single best pitch against an opposite-handed hitter is the changeup. There are lots of reasons for this, but the simplest and most direct is that it has the opposite movement of other breaking pitches. Not only does it provide a third thing to think about during a plate appearance, but the changeup moves down and away against opposite-handed hitters, which is much less dangerous than, say, a slider, which moves down and in—into many hitters’ power wheelhouses.

However, Singer’s changeup has been an afterthought during his pro career. Throughout college and through the minors, Singer didn’t really need the changeup, even against lefties, due to the lower quality of hitters. But in the big leagues, everything is different. According to Statcast, Singer has thrown his changeup barely 9% of the time.

Pitching is too complicated for it to all come down to one pitch. And for Singer, who has had particularly painful splits against lefties, throwing the changeup more won’t necessarily be a silver bullet for his platoon problems. But Singer’s changeup has been good—in a small sample size, it’s actually been his best pitch. Throwing it more will be a necessary step for Singer to get better.

What now?

Singer has been impressive in his young career. Without a single inning in Triple-A to his name, and with only one year of experience as a professional baseball player in the minor leagues, Singer has nonetheless held his own while pitching against tough opponents (he has faced the first-place Minnesota Twins twice, the first-place Chicago Cubs once, and the second-place Cleveland Indians once).

But the numbers are the numbers, and Singer has been just as advertised in his struggle to get out left-handed hitters as he has been in his professional demeanor and mental toughness on the mound. To be clear: the sky is not falling for Singer. He only has five big league starts to his name. It is simply up to Singer to improve upon what is a clear problem with an obvious first step solution. Should he do so, Singer can carve a long career out as a solid rotation piece.