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Lesky’s Notes: The peaks and valleys are strong with this team

If the pattern holds, the Royals will look like the best team in baseball for a few weeks starting soon.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve said this multiple times and I’ll keep saying it because this boggles my mind. The Royals, sequentially, have gone 16-9, 0-11, 13-6 and 1-11. They’ve come to an overall record of 30-37, which is a pace of 72 to 73 wins, which is probably not terribly far off where most people predicted. And if you had said before the season that Danny Duffy would be out for a month plus, Brad Keller would be rocking a 6+ ERA, Adalberto Mondesi would miss 45 games and then another 14, Jorge Soler would have an OPS below Nicky Lopez’s and Hunter Dozier would be worse, then I think most people would say that 30-37 was just about right. It’s more the way they’ve gotten there. If they had been 12-13, 3-8, 10-9 and 5-7, nobody would really be batting an eye, but I can’t imagine many teams have ever had multiple stretches of playing .600+ baseball and sub-.100 baseball in at least 10 game stretches before we’re even done with June. Just a lot of streaks, and this current one is less than fun.

I wanted to give a bit of an update on Whit Merrifield from something I mentioned here and on Inside the Crown a few weeks back. Sidebar: c’mon guys, just subscribe to Inside the Crown already. It’s free. You know you want to do it. Anyway, I wrote that and he’s been better since the end of that Rays series. He’s hit .313/.326/.446. I don’t love the fact that he’s only worked two walks, but he has hit the ball harder in that time with an average exit velocity of 89.1 MPH compared to his season average of 87.4 MPH. If it seems like I’m taking full credit for him turning it around, I absolutely am. Okay, maybe not, but if someone wants to give me credit, I’ll take it. Nobody? Fine, moving on then.

I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that he won’t take a day off. Maybe that’s not said the right way. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that he won’t sit at all. I understand the consecutive games streak is important to him, but at the same time, I still think he could use a little extra time to recover. He’s 32 now, which is in no way old, but it’s also not young for baseball. He’s coming off a season that didn’t even start until late July and they only played 60 games. And even when he fouled a ball off his foot and was in so much pain that he seemed to delay his at bat for more than a minute, there was no discussion of him missing some time. I thought the series finale on Wednesday was a perfect chance since they were playing Hanser Alberto at second base anyway, but there he was in left field while Edward Olivares, who has now since been demoted...again...sat on the bench. I’m all for keeping players happy, but in the grand scheme of things, adding another game to a streak like this just seems like it’s a good way to decrease production in the long run.

I spoke with a scout who saw the Naturals play the last couple nights and he had some really good things to say about both Nick Pratto and Bobby Witt, Jr. that I want to pass along. On Pratto, he was even praising him for a strikeout, talking about the professional approach he had at the plate. With Witt, he thought he could play in the big leagues right now and be just fine, but did say that it wouldn’t hurt to get some plate appearances in Omaha before coming up just to see a big leagueish breaking ball here and there. And the one that he was most excited about was Dylan Coleman, the fourth round pick out of Missouri State by the Padres. He was sent over to complete the Trevor Rosenthal trade and has been really good for Northwest Arkansas this season showing big time velocity and good control.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see Coleman in the big leagues at some point sort of soon. He’s a pitcher who needs to be added to the 40-man following the season and he would without a doubt get picked in the Rule 5 draft. His slider will determine just how good he can be, but that’s been working for him this year, so when the Royals are looking to make their next bullpen move (okay, maybe a couple after the next), I could see Coleman getting his chance. And as for those other two I mentioned, well, it’s just fun to see them continue to succeed. I would expect both of them to be in Omaha within the next few weeks and then maybe a trip to the big leagues for either or both not long after. It’s just nice to get a glowing report on the guys you want to get glowing reports on.

Let’s talk some sticky stuff, shall we? I have some all over the place thoughts, so I hope I don’t ramble too much, but first of all, MLB is doing what they always do, which is looking the other way at an issue and then blaming it on the players publicly. Actually, they weren’t even looking the other way; they were kind of encouraging it. And now that offense has decreased so much, they had to do something about it and now the microscope is on the players as if the league didn’t play a role in this growing to such extremes. That’s frustrating. The fact that players aren’t allowed to use sunscreen and rosin is frustrating. Look, I want a clean game too, but if they’re not going to produce baseballs that need help to grip, then they need to allow pitchers to use something. I do understand the idea that if they can’t grip it while ripping it that they shouldn’t rip it as much and maybe velocity can decrease a bit, but that’s something to do in the offseason, not 40ish percent of the way through the season.

From a Royals perspective, I’m curious who is impacted the most by this. On the pitching staff, I looked at the starting pitchers who had pitched enough both before and after the league mentioned they would be cracking down and from a spin rate perspective, Kris Bubic had dropped. He’s also got some mechanical issues, so it’s hard to say if that’s sticky stuff or the issues, but he’s worth watching. On the hitting side, I kind of thought Soler would benefit the most, but he’s actually hit .283 with a .567 SLG on fastballs with a spin rate of 2500 rpm or higher. Other than Soler, Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi, the rest of the team has really struggled with 2500+ spin rates. Even Salvador Perez has hit just .160 with a .200 SLG. You drop that down to 2000-2499 and every Royals hitter who has struggled really ups both their average and slugging percentage. So while I hate the way MLB is going about this, it could be beneficial to the Royals struggling offense.

If it seems like there have been a lot of pitches right down the middle from Royals pitchers lately, you’re right. Since they hit the road to Anaheim (and through play on Wednesday), they’d thrown 135 pitches right down the middle, which is nine more pitches than second-place Detroit. The gap between the Royals 135 and third place’s 115 by the Blue Jays is the same as the gap between third and 14th, so they’re grooving a lot of pitches. And not getting away with it either. Opponents are hitting .509 with a 1.105 SLG. The average is the second-highest in that span on pitches down the middle (to their weekend opponent, Boston). The SLG is also second highest to Boston. The average distance on batted balls is actually only third-highest, so they’re really slacking there.

What confuses me some is that this wasn’t an issue before. They threw the ninth fewest pitches right down the middle before that road trip. They were still getting hurt pretty badly on them with one of the higher averages and slugging percentages allowed, but it just wasn’t happening nearly as much. I really don’t know what changed in that time. But what I do know is this staff doesn’t have enough deception to be able to throw a pitch down the middle and get away with it, so whatever changed to put them in this position is going to need to change back and fast because this offense can’t handle coming back every single night.