2021 was a bit of a roller coaster for Brady Singer. And that’s saying something, considering that it was a roller coaster for pretty much every single young arm in the Royals system. At the Major League level, Daniel Lynch tipped his pitches, Kris Bubic seemingly only made great and horrendous starts, and Jackson Kowar forgot how to throw strikes. In the minors, Asa Lacy struck a whole lot of hitters out but didn’t get very many of them out overall.
But for Singer, he faced another challenge that none of those guys faced as severely: bad luck. For much of the season, Singer did two things pretty darn well. He got ground balls and kept the ball in the yard, all without a third pitch.
But these factors, when compared to his production, show just how badly he needs that third pitch. And that really is the moral of the story. Let’s see how we got there.
Where Brady Singer was good
As has been the case for Singer, he isn’t particularly great at anything, thanks in large part to him missing that third pitch. His ceiling as a starter is limited in that sense. However, he has consistently been average-to-good at three things: Limiting home runs, striking hitters out, and getting ground balls.
For much of the season, he was actually great at limiting home runs. Through September 10, only five pitchers in baseball with as many innings pitched as Singer had given up fewer home runs per nine innings than Singer and his nine home runs given up were tied for the fewest in the American League. Then his September 9 outing against Minnesota happened.
Even with that start, he finished top-10 in the AL in HR/9 and his 4.91 ERA is a gigantic outlier among the other pitchers that surround him.
That was due largely to his ability to get ground balls, with only four AL pitchers forcing ground balls at a higher rate. He was great at forcing ground balls and not allowing the fly balls he gave up to leave the yard. Pair that with his at least league average ability to strike hitters out, thanks to a weird ability to convince hitters not to swing at pitches in the zone, and an above-average ability to limit hard contact, you can see Singer did a lot of good things!
So why was he so ungood at preventing runs?
Where Brady Singer was unlucky
Well, one aspect of Singer’s struggle was his luck. His xERA sat at 4.57 compared to his actual 4.91 ERA. His FIP sat at 4.04, which is nearly a full run lower than his actual ERA. His K%, BB%, average exit velocity, and other similar peripherals looked similar in 2021 when compared to 2020. Even his FIP was almost identical to his 4.08 FIP in 2020 and his xFIP was very similar as well (4.11 v. 4.05).
The biggest change was his BABIP, which rested at a reasonable .260 in 2020 but shot up to .350 in 2021. That’s a nearly 100 point jump, so we shouldn't be shocked to see a bloated ERA. It’s impossible to deny his tough luck. He wasn’t giving up a ton of hard contact, but was giving up more hits. With that said, luck can only go so far.
Where Brady Singer was bad
All season, I was on the Brady Singer is unlucky train, and I don’t think I was wrong. But giving up 70 earned runs over the course of 128.1 innings pitched can’t all be attributed to bad luck. Now, I understand that ERA is a flawed stat. It is dependent on defense and, in many cases, good fortune. As we saw, his expected stats and FIP are far better.
With that said, where Singer struggled in 2021 is a good reflection of his limitations as a starting pitcher. He needs certain things to go right for him and when they don’t, he struggles.
So that increase in BABIP, among other things, killed him. But only because he depends so heavily on those things at the moment. His ineffectiveness against left-handers is difficult to deny. Righties hit .296 against Singer, but he had a 3.17 FIP against them and gave up very little hard contact, so there was some bad luck there.
Left-handers only hit .268 against him, but got a lot more hard contact (36.4% v. 24.4%) and accounted for nearly 80% of his home runs. Batting average is a flawed stat, which is shown in these numbers, including a .350 wOBA against for lefties compared to a .324 mark for righties. He also walked lefties at a higher clip (10.4% v. 7.4%), which hurt even more with teams stacking their lineups with lefties against Singer.
The reality: Brady Singer did a lot of things you want a pitcher to do. He got lots of ground balls, he kept the ball in the yard, and struck out a decent amount of hitters. But he still struggled to get outs and prevent runs. But his lack of a third pitch makes him far more dependent on things going right than other pitchers.
Where Brady Singer goes from here
This was always the problem with Brady Singer. His lack of a third pitch makes him vulnerable against left-handers. That didn’t change in 2021. The question that remains is how much he can compensate for that if he isn’t able to develop a third pitch.
It’s hard to give an answer to that after 2021. He was undeniably unlucky. He didn’t pitch all that differently than he did in 2020 and he was pretty good in 2020. He was always a high-floor, low-ceiling guy and you’ll take that from a low-to-mid end starter.
His changeup development hasn’t worked, so it’s hard to see where a third pitch will come from. So perhaps this is just what Singer is. At best, he can continue to hone his craft and get the most out of his two pitches. At worst, he becomes a bullpen guy, which wouldn’t be the worst thing with the Royals depth of young arms at SP. 2022 will hopefully give us more insight into which side he lands on.
What grade would you give Brady Singer for 2021?
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