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Lesky’s Notes: The rest of the teams exist again!

The offseason can know, if teams actually make moves before the potential lockout.

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the games weren’t terribly competitive, but I thought that was a pretty fun World Series. Maybe I just enjoyed Jorge Soler doing his thing. I feel like a broken record at this point, but I think it’s important to remind people that the Braves didn’t “fix” Soler. He was “fixed” before the deadline which allowed the Royals to get anything for him. After a dismal start to the year, he found his power stroke, with the help of the Royals coaching staff, and hit six homers in nine games (nice?) before the deadline to bring back a live arm at a time when most everybody was happy to trade Soler for a handshake with the guy at Rawlings who inspects the balls. I know this probably sounds like me being a homer and defending the Royals coaching staff, but man, there are so many things to rag on them about. A guy struggling all year, being coached to find his swing and then bringing back something when the return for him a month earlier wouldn’t have even been that handshake is not one of them. Anyway, congrats to the Braves and specifically Soler, Terrance Gore (the man has TWTW), Will Smith, Jesse Chavez, Kevin Seitzer and Sal Fasano. I prefer it when guys have success with the Royals, but I’m also happy for them when they have it elsewhere.

I’m going to keep putting this in here until Max kicks me out, but I hope you’ll take a second and subscribe to Inside the Crown for FREE! I love writing it, you’ll tolerate reading it, but it’ll come directly to your inbox so you don’t even have to go hunting it down. Thanks to all who have! I’d love to make a big offseason push to add a few hundred subscribers before the season starts!

I wrote earlier this week about some pitching splits for the 2021 Royals that I found interesting. The first three were a little less traditional. I looked at record by starter game score, runs allowed and pitchers used. I don’t know if there’s actually any use to those stats outside of just the knowledge of how they did, but it intrigued me. But then I got to some of the more traditional ones and one that I keep coming back to in my head is the fact that the Royals excelled using a six-man rotation. When they moved to that, and it was for most of the second half, their starters seemed to find a groove. It started in earlyish August when Brady Singer came off the IL, so I want to push the date out a week to August 16 on because that’s when the pitchers started working on five days rest rather than four. I wouldn’t say it turned them into a top tier rotation or anything, but the starters had a middle of the road ERA at 4.47 and threw the fourth most innings of any team’s starters from that date forward. Yes, they only averaged a touch more than 15 outs per start, but that was still up there.

So I wonder a bit what that means moving forward. We know the Royals have a ton of numbers to throw at the rotation. They had 10 options who are still under contract with the team make starts in 2021 alone and that doesn’t include guys like Ronald Bolaños, Asa Lacy, Alec Marsh, Austin Cox, Jonathan Bowlan (when he gets back from TJ in Augustish) and maybe someone else I’m missing. It could be that this is the best setup for this group. If you’re thinking ahead to hopefully a postseason run, there are certainly worse things than starting pitchers being a bit fresher than what most teams will have to offer. So I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea to maintain the six-man rotation, especially with the 2022 season probably still being a build back year for innings after the short 2020. The Royals will clearly need some of their pitchers to step up and be better more often, but they certainly have the options to make it work.

I think I tweeted through this last week when Alec Lewis wrote about the first base problem in The Athletic, but I just keep being bothered by the timeline of Carlos Santana’s season, so I’m going to write about it here and hope that I can shake the annoyance out of my head. Santana was good for the first couple of months, tailed off a bit, and was still putting up perfectly fine numbers at the break. This wasn’t mentioned in the article, but you might recall a bad throw led him into a runner in what ended up the last game before the break. He was set to sit the next day, but it got rained out, so he didn’t miss a game. I actually think his issues started then, but that’s just my conjecture. The real injury that Alec mentioned was the quad strain on August 23 that he played with the rest of the season. That date is particularly interesting because August 23 is the day he picked up his 525th plate appearance. And that number is interesting because it’s the last plate appearance incentive he had in 2021. I understand playing a guy until he reaches his incentives. If he wants to play and feels he can and you’re going nowhere anyway, it’s probably good long-term business practice to get him an extra $25,000. But once he hits that, I just don’t get the point.

So he’s playing hurt and with nothing financially to play for. All he was doing is hurting his offseason trade market if he was regretting signing with the Royals and hurting his future value on a free agent deal after 2022 (that’s probably a big stretch, but I’m going to leave it). And the Royals were missing out on an opportunity to see Kyle Isbel or Edward Olivares (we love to joke here) while playing Hunter Dozier at first. The real problem in missing out on those guys was Ryan O’Hearn, but Santana playing hurt at that moment made it even more blatant. What drives me nuts is it isn’t like he was hitting and just struggling to run. He had 19 hits in his last 118 at bats. His walk rate of 11.2 percent was fine, but not elite. And for a guy who was struggling to run, a walk isn’t as useful as it should be anyway. And he wasn’t even driving the ball. He had one double and two home runs, so he was sitting on first, not able to get the extra base on a hit behind him. It just still bothers me to think about what the hell the team was doing there and this rant hasn’t helped me to feel better about it like I thought it would, so now you all have to be miserable with me thinking about it.

I’m going to say something here that you probably don’t realize, but the Royals need more selective hitters. I know, I know, I should have warned you to sit if you weren’t already and I’m going to give you a few seconds to collect your thoughts before I move on to give you the stats. Okay, you ready? The Royals saw the third-fewest first pitch strikes of any team in baseball in 2021. But! They swung at the third most first pitches. I know what you’re thinking. That doesn’t seem smart. And that’s why I think you’re smart because we’re right on the same page here. Sometimes it’s not a terrible idea. For example, part of why the Royals are so high on the list is that Salvador Perez swung at the first pitch 290 times. He hit .394 with 14 home runs on the first pitch. Why pitchers put a ball anywhere near him on the first pitch, I don’t know, but that’s their problem and not mine. And actually, the Royals did a pretty nice job when the at bat ended on the first pitch. As a team, their .366 average was third-best and their .637 slugging percentage was third-best too. And they even hit the third-most home runs on the first pitch. So all that of that seems like maybe they should swing at the first pitch more often, right?

The only team that either missed or fouled off more first pitches was the Atlanta Braves. It’s hard to find better company than the World Series champs, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to be down in the count 0-1. For one thing, the Braves’ offense wasn’t as good as you might think. They finished the year with a wRC+ of 98. They scored a bunch of runs because they mashed a bunch of home runs that masked a lot of their issues (and they certainly don’t care how they did it now especially), but until the Royals get the power the Braves have, they can’t play that game. It’s just amazing to me how infrequently the Royals were in hitter’s counts. They got to 2-0 just 12.7 percent of the time, which was third-worst in baseball. They also got to 3-0 at the third-lowest rate. They were 3-1 at the lowest rate in all of baseball. Of course, in those three counts, the Royals also had the lowest average and lowest SLG in baseball, so maybe it doesn’t matter and there are bigger issues, but I just thought it was interesting how little interest they seemed to have in getting into pitcher’s counts when the opponent was basically offering them a free 1-0 count almost more often than anyone. The moral of this story is when they’re looking at free agent hitters, just sort by walk rate and add the guys who walk the most because that worked so well with Santana.

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last few months talking about raiding the A’s rotation for the Royals to find the veteran starter who can sit at the front of their rotation. You know they want to because it’s just their nature, even if you think they have enough starters already. But with the Reds comments on Wednesday about having to align their payroll to their resources (a kind way to say they’re done spending money for now), the Reds have entered the fray as a team the Royals should absolutely be dealing with. My number one choice is Luis Castillo and then they need to get whatever the producers of Stuck on You used to attach Greg Kinnear with Matt Damon and put Jackson Kowar with him 24/7. I would also accept Sonny Gray. Both are under team control through 2023. You know what? Tyler Mahle would be okay too. He’s also under team control through 2023. Castillo is going through arbitration and is projected at a very reasonable $7.6 million for 2022 and then likely somewhere around $13 million in 2023 is my guess. Gray is guaranteed just under $10.2 million in 2022 and the option is for $12 million in 2023. Mahle is projected to get $5.6 million in 2022 and then probably would be around $9 million or so in 2023. All are quite reasonable for the quality they provide.

The Reds have a quality system that’s fairly balanced. Their two best prospects are pitchers, one righty and one lefty. Jose Barrero is a shortstop who I was actually thinking was a bit farther away, but he hit very well in AAA this year and has had some big league time too. They also drafted Matt McLain in the first round this year. But teams love pitching depth and the Royals have plenty of that. Plus, with the likely addition of the DH to the NL next season, it doesn’t preclude them from taking on someone at a position they already have filled like first base. The Royals have Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino and the marketing opportunities for the Reds with Pratto and Votto would be pretty fun, though that’s a steep cost to acquire a pitcher for two seasons. I’m not sure if I’d make that trade or not. On one hand, am I overvaluing Pratto when the Royals need to find a spot for MJ Melendez and first base might be that spot, at least for some games? On the other hand, guys with Pratto’s patience and defensive abilities at first don’t grow on trees. I don’t know what it would cost, and I’m not sure if the Royals would say yes to what the Reds would want, but they have the depth to make it happen.