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Hok Talk: Royals starting pitching is suddenly a strength

Maybe there is such a thing as a pitching prospect, after all.

Kris Bubic #50 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game at Target Field on August 17, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Royals rookie hurler Kris Bubic delivers a pitch.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

What a difference a year makes.

So much of the focus last year was on the abysmal Royals bullpen, but the reality was that the rotation was pretty subpar, too. The Royals were so desperate for starting pitching depth that they re-acquired Mike Montgomery from the Cubs to join their rotation even after he had pretty conclusively proven he wasn’t going to be an asset there. Against all odds, he became one of the more reliable Royals starting pitchers down the stretch, but that’s more a testament to small sample sizes than his likely talents.

However, this year, the starting pitching looks fairly solid. Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Danny Duffy, Brady Singer, and Kris Bubic have combined for a 3.65 ERA in 20 starts. That’ll play. Even better is how they’ve gotten there. Brad Keller has improved his slider, Danny Duffy looks like a new man, and Brady Singer and Kris Bubic look like the real deal. Suddenly Jakob Junis is the fifth-best starter in the rotation which is exactly where you want him to be.

Much ado has been made about how the bullpen has improved. And, yeah, it has. But mostly because it couldn’t be much worse than last year’s iteration. Trevor Rosenthal, Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer and Scott Barlow have all been fantastic. But the remainder of the ‘pen has combined for a 6.07 ERA. Even Greg Holland, after his terrific start, has given up runs in three straight appearances and isn’t striking out people nearly like he used to. In order for the improved part of the bullpen to function the starters need to get the game to the back end without completely blowing it. And that’s more or less what the Royals’ rotation has given them this year. If the offense had any kind of consistency they’d probably be over .500. As it is, they’re still barely hanging on in playoff relevance and that’s largely due to the solid-plus work of the rotation.

Keller, Singer, and Bubic are the near-future of this team. If the Royals are good in anything between one and three years it will probably involve all three of those guys getting it done. And, for the most part, they have. I know Singer and Bubic don’t have great ERAs but they’re both still young and they’re having trouble with their control which has led to them giving up more walks and home runs than you want. When they’re hitting their spots they’ve been able to strike guys out and get groundballs. If you strike out a batter or more per inning and half of the balls put in play against you are groundballs you’re doing something right and they’ve both been right around those numbers. Among all MLB starters with 10 or more innings pitched they’re all three in the top 50 in GB% and Singer and Bubic both crack the top 50 in K/9. What’s more, I expect the strikeout numbers to go up as they get their legs underneath them at the big league level and start hitting their spots with a bit more consistency.

Of course, it’s possible that I’m wrong and they never quite figure out how to get the job done and they tease us for years. That would be very Royal of them. But right now their stats are reminiscent of a Yordano Ventura with a couple more walks and a lot more home runs. And both of these guys seem a bit more composed on the mound when things don’t go their way. Sadly, we’ll never know what might have been with him but these guys are showing very early that they could be something special.

Thom Brennaman and the failure to apologize

If you were blissfully unaware - as I was until a few days ago - Thom Brennaman is (was?) an announcer for the Cincinnati Reds TV team. He delivered a homophobic slur during the first game of the Reds-Royals doubleheader earlier this week. He left the broadcast in the fifth inning of the second game after “apologizing” for the slur. There’s a lot to unpack here, so bear with me.

Let’s start from the top, shall we? Brennaman should not have been given a platform to apologize on FOX Sports. He should have been unceremoniously removed from the booth and he could have used social media to apologize if he felt so inclined. He didn’t deserve the platform. He didn’t deserve to command our time in that way. It also would have neatly eliminated the bizarreness of calling a home run in the middle of “apologizing.”

I’m certain I’ve explained this before but it’s pretty problematic that he delivered what has become something of a boilerplate non-apology. A nonpology, if you will. Part of apologizing is owning up to what you did. That’s why the Latin synonym is “mea culpa” which means, “To acknowledge one’s fault or error” and literally translates to “by my fault.” When someone insists, as Thom did, that their actions do not reflect who they are they are insisting that wasn’t really their fault. It just...happened. It was an accident! And, hey, you can absolutely accidentally say a bad word. Tongues get tied by accident all the time. If you did that, though, you’d apologize for the slip of the tongue and promise to be more careful. That’s not what Thom did, though. Thom promised that wasn’t him. And here’s the question I want everyone to ask Thom. “If it isn’t you, then how did you say it? Did a demon possess you? Were you hypnotized? Please explain how this doesn’t represent who you are as a human being.” Because your actions define who you are. That’s just how it works.

Finally, I’m incredibly frustrated because if the mic hadn’t been hot no one would be dealing with Thom’s homophobia. I imagine some people out there will try to argue that it was just a one-time accident and he shouldn’t be punished too harshly for it. But here’s the truth. If you’re saying something like that at work it’s because you feel comfortable saying it. It means you don’t see anything wrong with it. It means you don’t think your coworkers will see anything wrong with it. It means something inside of you wants to share it with others who don’t see anything wrong with it. All of that means that the Reds broadcast booth has almost certainly been a homophobic environment for longer than the few moments it took Thom Brennaman to utter that word into a hot microphone. If the Reds and FOX Sports are serious about how upset they are about this situation they can’t just fire Brennaman and walk away. They need to do some serious investigation into why Thom thought that would be a thing it was OK to say to his coworkers and make sure there is no more bigotry lurking where mics didn’t pick it up for the world to see. Because chances are, there is. And chances are there has been for a long time. And this is why when someone tells me that racism or homophobia doesn’t exist or isn’t as prevalent anymore I know they’re wrong. Because without that microphone getting turned on a few seconds too soon we never would have known about Thom Brennaman. So I guess I just wonder which is more likely; that Thom Brennaman uttered that slur for the first time ever in a booth that was completely intolerant of such thinking while being possessed by an evil spirit or that people out there are using these slurs and - more importantly - thinking these thoughts regularly and just don’t ever accidentally say it where it might get them in trouble.

The unwritten rules of baseball get more out of hand every year

Last week I addressed the Joe Kelly vs. Astros drama. This week it looks like I get to talk about the Fernando Tatis Jr. vs. Rangers drama. In case you missed it, Fernando had the audacity to hit a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch while his team was up by seven runs. The Rangers threw at the next batter to prove how angry they were, to get their revenge, and to attempt to enforce what they believed was an unwritten rule of the game. If you want to know my opinion about throwing baseballs at people click the link at the top of the paragraph.

But I’m curious, what exactly was Fernando supposed to do there? What if he hadn’t swung there and ended up making an out before a stunning Rangers comeback? And remember, these aren’t the Padres that perennially sit in the basement. These Padres are currently in line for a playoff spot; sacrificing wins is not an option for them. Furthermore, though, was Tatis supposed to just leave money on the table so other professionals could keep their pride? That’s what they were asking him to do. That grand slam improved his stats. Which helps determine how much he’ll eventually get paid. If he doesn’t swing there he’s just throwing money away. I stand in agreement with the players who have commented on social media in support of Tatis. If you don’t want him to hit a 3-0 grand slam throw better pitches.