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Hok Talk: Evaluating Daniel Lynch’s first start

Daniel Lynch throws a pitch Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Daniel Lynch day, everyone!

The most heralded prospect in the Royals’ farm system since at least Zack Greinke will be making his second major league start this afternoon. It’s an exciting time to be a Royals fan even if the Royals have been in a bit of a slump, lately. Immediately after his first start, prognosticators jumped to their keyboards to announce that he had shown promise. And he did! He was far from dominant and I’m sure he’d be the first to say he would have liked to pitch better but there were still a lot of reasons to think he could be very good going forward.

First, let’s talk about the bad news. Lynch did not have his best control on Monday night. I went to Baseball Savant and took a look at all of his fastballs and sliders, he didn’t throw enough changeups or curveballs for me to feel comfortable gleaning anything from them. His fastballs regularly and consistently missed up and arm-side from the target his catcher was giving him. His sliders, on the other hand, were usually missing a little up or to the glove-side, but not both.

Here’s the good news, his command did improve as the night went on. Considering how amped he was for his major-league debut and the fact that’s been known for his excellent control before this, I see no reason to be concerned. We’ll want to keep an eye out today to see if he can hit his targets from the start of the game, though. Additionally, his slider control problems seemed to be more about having tons of movement rather than aiming it poorly or having bad mechanics. The pitch looks like it can be absolutely deadly if he can put himself in a position to make hitters chase it with some well-spotted fastballs. The final bit of good news is that he maintained his elite velocity throughout the start. He only threw 74 pitches on the night but he was in trouble a lot and being amped up early means wearing out sooner. Still, even in his final inning, he was able to hurl a 96.9 MPH fastball.

Matheny is not bad at managing the bullpen

In response to last week’s Hok Talk where I praised manager Mike Matheny’s people skills and tactical acumen, I got a lot of feedback from Royals fans that they hated the way he managed the bullpen, actually. Those sorts of remarks intensified as the bullpen blew three straight leads against Cleveland. While I disagree with the decision to move Jakob Junis to the bullpen, I still think Matheny is managing tactically as well as can be expected.

Yes, the bullpen struggled this week, but it wasn’t Matheny’s fault. I mentioned last week that pitching depth is a strength of the Royals. Unfortunately, that depth is not quite ready. When I wrote that piece I didn’t expect the first injury to come so soon and force the Royals to make a move before the minor leaguers could deliver up some results to go with their promise. Unfortunately, Kyle Zimmer did get hurt and the Royals don’t yet have a great option for replacing him.

The bullpen has had to eat a lot of innings this year and that was only working because they had a large number of reliable pitchers. Having Zimmer out is a lot like an engine going out on a jetliner. Yes, the other engines should be enough to get you where you’re going but the pilots still try to land as quickly as possible in those scenarios. Why? Because not only do you have one fewer engine to rely on at any given moment but there is now more strain on the remaining engines so they’re more likely to fail than before, too.

On top of that, the bullpen was already straining against the hurricane winds of a rotation that almost never goes deep into a game for more than a month. The bullpen was already at or beyond its limit when Zimmer went down. They needed the rotation and lineup to step up in a big way and both declined to rise to the occasion. Let’s take a look at how things stood when the bullpen was called upon in the first four games this week:

  • Sunday Brad Keller is yanked in the fifth inning. He had allowed seven runs, even if only two were earned, and he has struggled all season. The Royals had just gotten back into the game by scoring four runs over the previous two innings to make it 7-4.
  • Monday Daniel Lynch leaves in the fifth inning with a three-run lead but with two on and Franmil Reyes coming to the plate. It was his first big league start, his third time through the order, and he’d walked more batters than he had struck out.
  • Tuesday Mike Minor gets pulled in the sixth inning with a three-run lead but with the bases loaded. He was in the middle of his third time through the order, had thrown 93 pitches, and Franmil Reyes was coming up again.
  • Wednesday Brady Singer is removed in the sixth inning because of a rising pitch count and an increasing break in his composure with a one-run lead.

Mike Matheny’s choices led the Royals to lose the first three games against Cleveland but the rotation and lineup weren’t giving him any better options. Every time a starter got pulled, the game was close and the starter was on the verge of blowing it. Additionally, if you think he’s been going to the bullpen too early all year you might want to take a look at the splits for the starters on their third times through the lineups; only Brady Singer seems capable of handling it while Junis, Mike Minor, and Danny Duffy all turn into pumpkins. If Matheny wasn’t going to the bullpen early and often the starters would be blowing the games instead of the relievers and everyone would be complaining that he leaves them out there for too long, instead.

If the Royals are going to weather the storm they are currently facing the bullpen needs help. The team decided Jakob Junis was the best option to replace Kyle Zimmer so you have to assume no one else is particularly close to being ready to reinforce them directly. That means the starters and batters need to come together and provide fewer high-leverage innings for the bullpen to cover. They can do this by having the starters get deeper into the game or the lineup scoring more runs. Or both. If the rest of the team can give the bullpen a break that will give them time to get Zimmer and Jesse Hahn back or to see if any of the guys in the minor leagues make sense to fill in some of the holes.

Or maybe Richard Lovelady will stumble across some rum runners on whatever desert island he’s been abandoned. Then he can hold the liquor hostage until the smugglers agree to deliver him back into civilization. From there he can haggle the glove-hat Alex Gordon gave him and which was his only friend for the last few weeks for an opportunity to borrow a cell phone. He’ll call the Royals and they’ll immediately arrange to charter a private jet to bring their bullpen savior home.

Albert Pujols career appears to be over

In the spring of 2001 I was visiting my grandmother in North Carolina. Despite it being 20 years ago I was as attached to my computers then as I am now,. The only difference was that I didn’t own them, and so they had been left at home. I was so bored out of my mind that even a random Cardinals spring training game seemed like a good time to me. As I watched the game the announcers kept talking about this up-and-coming star who had never played in AAA but was absolutely tearing apart spring training. Manager Tony LaRussa had repeatedly said that the kid wasn’t ready and that he definitely would not break camp with the big league team. And then I watched that 21-year-old kid crush a home run OVER the centerfield scoreboard. The announcers estimated it at more than 500 feet. It was the most mammoth home run I had ever seen, and I had closely followed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they chased Roger Maris’ record in 1998.

That kid was, of course, Albert Pujols.

I’ll always remember Albert fondly because after watching him slam that home run my first act upon getting home and logging back into the internet was to sign him to all four of my fantasy teams. All the other players “knew” that Pujols wasn’t going to start the year in the big leagues but I had seen that home run and I “knew” better. I won three of the leagues and was runner-up in the other that year, mostly on the weight of that undrafted free agent signing.

Albert Pujols may or may not sign with another Major League club to finish out 2021. He might even sign with the Royals! But, for all intents and purposes, his career is done. He has been a shadow of himself for years and this season he appears to be a shadow of even his shadow. This might be one of the saddest kinds of moments in baseball. Most sports movies show the stars going out on their own terms. They have one last hurrah and then ride into the sunset. It’s a rude awakening when we see our childhood heroes and Hall of Fame locks unceremoniously paid to go away because it was better for the ball club than paying them to play.