The Royals have been mostly in the sweet spot of ineptitude where they’ve been both bad and unlucky. That’s, uh, not where you want to be. Heading into play last night, they had barrelled the ball 27 times, which is more than the Cubs, White Sox, Yankees, Reds, Astros and 20 other teams. Their average exit velocity was tied for 9th. They had more hard hit balls than all but three times. And yet, they’ve scored just 58 runs with 27 of them coming in two games after last night. The upside is that last night could have been part of the turnaround where they say goodbye to the bad luck at least. Heading into last night’s game, they were hitting .517 on balls hit 105 MPH or harder compared to .684 for the other 29 teams. Their slugging percentage on those was .897 with 1.606 for the rest of the league. Last night, they went 3 for 3 with two homers and a triple for a 3.667 SLG. With the outburst, they’re still not up to league average, but it’s a start, and hopefully there’s more to come because that was much more fun than the first couple weeks.
- Brad Keller made his season debut last night, and looked surprisingly good, handling a pretty good Cubs lineup with relative ease. The only trouble he really had was when he sat while the Royals scored a bunch of runs in the bottom of the third. He came out in the fourth and struggled with command, but still escaped with his shutout in tact. His slider is what intrigued me the most. He threw 22 total and got swings on 15 and misses on eight of them. That 53 percent whiff rate was way above what he did last season on his slider, which was a very good pitch for him last year. He threw just two changeups all night, which has been a question about Keller as a starter for awhile, but if the fastball and slider play as well as they did last night, it won’t matter. It sure seemed like it had more spin on it, and sure enough, his spin rate was 2671 on it, compared to 2510 last year. And now it looks like the Royals rotation is at least filled with big league pitchers after Jakob Junis came back last weekend. Danny Duffy is looking as good as he has in a few years, Brady Singer and Kris Bubic will have their ups and downs but they both look like they belong and Keller and Junis rounding out the rotation with a nice group of relievers including Trevor Rosenthal, Scott Barlow, Ian Kennedy (who has struggled), Greg Holland and the amazing story of Kyle Zimmer looking fantastic gives some hope for the pitching staff. They now have a 4.09 ERA as a staff (with 14 unearned runs) with a 22.5 percent strikeout rate. Compare that with a 5.20 ERA last year and a 19.5 percent strikeout rate and there are clear improvements.
- I mentioned those 14 unearned runs they’ve allowed this season. Those still count, unfortunately, and as bad as the offense has been for the most part, I really wonder just how much this defense has cost the team. It’s not so simple just to look at unearned runs that scored and finals of the games, but a Nicky Lopez error in the home opener let in an unearned run and the Royals lost by one. That’s an easier one to look at, but you wonder about how errors impact pitch count, ability to come back, etc. For another example, look at Wednesday’s game where Ian Kennedy had pitched well and gotten three outs until Maikel Franco struggled with a very basic throw to first base. After that, the floodgates opened. Would the Royals have come back? Likely not, but that error led to them being taken out of the game and losing the opportunity. Fangraphs lists the Royals as the worst team in the league as far as runs above average at -7.1. I feel silly even look at defensive stats this early, but the numbers kind of prove what the eye sees with only Alex Gordon with a positive UZR/150. Don’t pay attention to the defensive stats even though I just mentioned one of them. It’s just been tough to watch and they need to be better. In my opinion, I’d give Nick Heath more time in center field and hope that Adalberto Mondesi continues to play well after his rough go of it in the first few games. Oh, and they need to find a way to help Franco throw to first. Some of that would help clean up the mess.
- One area where the Royals seem to have been pretty good, and the numbers (again super early) back it up is in base running. The vast majority of the regulars are putting up positive metrics on the bases, according to Fangraphs. Ryan O’Hearn hasn’t, which isn’t a huge surprise, but Nicky Lopez is the other who hasn’t, which kind of is a surprise. Look, I’m a Lopez guy even though he’s been a pretty big disaster since he came up, but I’ve now mentioned an error that might have directly led to a loss and poor baserunning numbers. If he’s not doing those things well, then I really don’t see how he can continue to get regular playing time. I know I went in on him last week, so I went dwell here, but moving Whit Merrifield to second will also help the outfield defense as Whit just isn’t great out there. The concern here, if you want to find it, is that even the fastest guys just haven’t been quite as fast. Adalberto Mondesi’s sprint speed this year is just 28.7 feet per second. Okay, just isn’t fair because that’s super fast, but it’s still down from 29.9 last year. He did get over 30 on his hustle double last night, so that’s good, but worth following. And if you were wondering, Alex Gordon has dropped below Salvador Perez, which if you’re scoring at home, is not what you want.
- With rosters down to 28 and now staying there for the rest of the year, the Royals have answered some of their roster questions, but they still have a lot of maneuvering to do at some point. Hunter Dozier is the most pressing as he’s now at the alternate site camp and probably relatively close to coming back. They had mentioned it’d be 10-14 days at the beginning of this week, but they have a tendency to move a little quicker with guys when they’re struggling, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back any day now. They could cut down a pitcher and have 14 of each, but I doubt that’s the idea. It could be the end of Brett Phillips or they might continue to value their inventory and send down Heath. Jorge Lopez and Jesse Hahn are both on the bereavement list. Actually Hahn is now on the restricted list, but either way, both of those two should be back at some point. I don’t know if they’d cut bait with Hahn, but I’m guessing we’ve now seen the end of Lopez. And when Bubba Starling comes back, they’ll need to decide if they’re going to keep him or expose him to the rest of the league with a DFA. My guess is if they do decide to remove him from the 40-man that nobody will pick him up, but they may not want to take that risk. The point is that while the roster is now at its final size for the rest of the year, that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be questions and issues, so stay tuned to see how they deal with those.