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Lesky’s Notes: One month in and we’re almost halfway done

The Royals might be thoroughly mediocre, and that’s a heck of an improvement.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals have played about 42 percent of their season in about a month, which is the magic of 2020. Typically, this would be the part of the season where we’d start to think we can glean some things from what’s happened, but it kind of both feels later and earlier. Since snapping their six game losing streak, they’re a pretty respectable 7-5. The day of their first win after the losing streak was also the return of Brad Keller, which gave them an actually full rotation (for a bit before Jakob Junis went down). I think there’s an argument to be made that this Royals team, at fullish strength, is actually pretty darn mediocre. Of course, that’s a huge improvement from past seasons. During their 7-5 stretch, they’ve outscored their opponents 52 to 41, which is a solid +11 in the ol’ run differential. I’m not here to say they’re good or even a playoff team, but it’s been nice to see some competent, if not frustrating baseball over the last couple weeks. With the next 20 games against the Twins, Cardinals, White Sox and Indians, they’ll continue to be tested pretty heavily. If they can come out of that at, say, 9-11 or even 8-12, I think that’s a pretty solid run for a team not expected to be very competitive. Oh, with three games to go in their Twins/Reds stretch that looked pretty daunting from the start, they’re 6-5. Not too bad.

  • I don’t think I ever expected Matt Harvey to pitch in a Royals uniform, maybe not even after they signed him to a minor league deal. He just looked so...done last season with the Angels. Of course, he started getting talked up immediately, so you knew then that he’d be up eventually and then the injury to Junis opened the door. I don’t know what I expected from him on Wednesday night, but in spite of giving up a couple home runs, I left that start encouraged that he might be able to contribute something. He seemed to really hit a wall around his 40th pitch, which sort of makes sense. He probably wasn’t terribly built up in the alternate site camp and also that’s not a real game action, no matter how much they try to simulate it. And once he seemed to lose it, it was gone real fast. But what I saw before that was a fastball with way more life than he’s had in years and a changeup that can be a real difference maker. HIs slider also flashed positive signs early too before getting hit around a little bit. At this point, I really have no problem giving him another start or two while Junis is getting healthy. I think there’s every chance in the world that maybe he just can’t hold stuff anymore beyond 35-40 pitches, but I’m willing to see if that’s not true. And the good news is that if he can’t hold his stuff too long, there’s a role for that where a fastball that actually hit 95.5 and a changeup that good can play. It’s called the bullpen. Or maybe he’s the answer as an opener when Junis comes back. Either way, the experiment with him that seemed misguided when it started doesn’t seem quite as crazy after seeing him, even in a rough start.
  • The trade deadline is now just 10 days away. Weird, but it’s true. And this year, teams trading for players will get them for a minimum of 40 percent of the season, which is a fair amount more than normal, so there’s maybe a little added value in that way on some of the returns. The big question for the Royals is what they’ll do. At this point, the best they can be by the time the August 31 deadline hits is 19-15 with their game on the 31st coming after the deadline. Obviously the worst they can be is 10-24. If they hit either of those two extremes, the calculation is probably pretty obvious, but somewhere in between and questions arise. I’m personally not even for the Royals being buyers if they do win their next nine games before the deadline, but I would understand if they are. Their biggest pieces are some of the usual suspects like Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler and Danny Duffy. I’m of the belief that players under team control through exactly 2021 are among the highest commodities as they can provide value beyond this shortened, weird season. Still, though, a guy like Trevor Rosenthal who has been outstanding as Royals closer should get a lot of attention. I believe the Royals are more likely to try to keep him long-term than trade him, but it makes me wonder why not both? Rosenthal is pitching well in his home town for a manager he leaves for a team theoretically on the rise. Unless some team makes him an offer he just can’t refuse, I feel like he’s one of the few good bets to actually return to the team that traded him in the offseason. I don’t know what you can get for him alone, but I think with the rise of Josh Staumont and Scott Barlow pitching well and Kyle Zimmer looking like maybe he’s figured it out, they need to move Rosenthal basically no matter what. And like I said, if you want him back, sign him in the winter.
  • Like it or not, there is always a chance that the Royals will make a move to add a player. The good news here is that I can’t imagine they add a player on an expiring contract, so at least it would be a player who could help out in the future. One thing that Clint Scoles has been saying for awhile, and I agree with, is that the Royals likely will need to pick a pitcher or three to move in deals to find some offensive talent. I’m not sure they’ll do that right now, but if they do target a bat in the next week and a half, they don’t have a ton of choices because they’d want guys in the big leagues already or guys who are close. The other good news is that there aren’t going to be a lot of teams that fit what the Royals want since so many teams are in close proximity to a playoff spot. Maybe the Red Sox are willing to move on from Andrew Benintendi (though he’s on the IL right now), but he’s struggled for a bit now, so is he worth whatever he might require to pick up? The Angels would definitely do what they could to get out from under Justin Upton’s deal, but that doesn’t really seem like much of a Royals move. You might be able to get Mike Yastrzemski or Austin Slater from the Giants, and they’ve both been excellent, but they’re also 29 and 27 respectively. Slater does have a minor league track record of some success, so maybe that could be interesting. Until last year, Yaz wasn’t really lighting up the minors, so while you want to believe this is real, it’s kind of hard to believe. Anyway, the point here is that there just isn’t going to be much available, even if the Royals do decide to add.
  • I just wanted to take a look at some of the Royals Statcast numbers to this point in the season. There’s some question of how real those numbers are, but we are close to halfway through the season and I like to check in with this stuff. Jorge Soler is, not surprisingly, at the top of the hard hit list for the team with the highest average exit velocity, most barrels, highest barrel rate and highest hard-hit rate among qualified hitters. Salvador Perez is hitting the cover off the ball with an expected average of .359 and an expected slugging percentage of .648. Oh and Ryan McBroom? A lot of the numbers aren’t matching up with his actual slash stats, but he barrels the ball a lot with a 16 percent barrel rate. On the negative side, Brett Phillips has just a 13.6 percent hard hit rate, which is considerably lower than Nicky Lopez, who is way down there at 21.7 percent. But Lopez, while he hasn’t hit the ball especially hard, has looked better and the numbers bear that out with an xBA of .289 and xwOBA of .339. On the pitching side, Brad Keller and Danny Duffy have been better than average on hard hit rate with Keller also allowing just one barrel through three scoreless starts. And that barrel percentage is an interesting one for the Royals staff with just four active pitches above seven percent, and that’s pretty darn good. The other thing these numbers are showing is that Kyle Zimmer is absolutely for real. I hope he gets more time. I’ll probably look a little more in depth on the numbers soon, but that’s a good cursory glance.