Man, this Royals team is annoying, huh? They’re 10-9 against the White Sox, 4-3 against the Astros, 4-0 against the Brewers, 3-1 against the Mariners and you can even include 9-7 against the Tigers, who have been generally pretty good since the first month of the season. But even with the win last night, they’re under .500 against the Orioles, Rangers, Angels, Cardinals and Indians, all teams they should either beat or be competitive with. I talked last week about their record against mediocre teams, but the Orioles and Rangers are downright bad and the Royals weren’t able to win more than they lost against those teams this year. What does that mean? In my opinion, it has some good and bad. With the good, it means that they’ve got enough talent to beat these good teams. With the bad, it means that they probably aren’t treating all 162 as important. Maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world, but also if they’re ever going to actually win anything, they’ll need to find a way to bank wins against those teams. That loss on Wednesday is still running through my brain. There are way more players to blame than just Hunter Dozier or Edward Olivares on that dropped fly ball. And I can’t help but think Jake Brentz was demoralized by it and gave up that home run to Ryan Mountcastle that put the game out of reach. So much bad there, and it’s just so infuriating when you know they’re capable of better. As I wrote this morning on Inside the Crown, yesterday was a bigger win than it probably seemed because of Wednesday.
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Andrew Benintendi is having such an interesting season that I don’t know the best way to compare it. He’s obviously not been as good as the Royals had hoped, but you can see the segments of his season easily. He started off in the dumps, which is actually something I predicted (the odds were I’d get something right) before he turned things around. Through the end of the series with the Rays (when it was so so cold in Kansas City), Benintendi had hit .180/.254/.230 without a home run. And then from their road trip in Detroit on to the day before he went on the IL with broken ribs, he hit .323/.374/.506 with eight homers and a 16.1 percent strikeout rate. This was the guy the Royals thought they were getting. And then he came back and hit just .211/.238/.361 through the end of the last homestand. Since the Royals have been in Baltimore (and probably a few days before that honestly), he seemed like he was starting to see the ball better at least and has had a nice series in Baltimore, going 6 for 15 two doubles, a home run and seven runs batted in.
There was and might still be a question of if he should be non-tendered this winter. He was under contract for this year at $6.6 million and even though the Royals aren’t paying all of that, that’s what the number will be based on. He hasn’t been good, but he’s been good enough that he would get a raise, if even a modest one. Maybe that jumps to $8.5 million, which is generally pretty cheap for a baseball team, but one that has Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares in addition to any other number of inexpensive free agent options might opt to not pay that. I think they’ll bring him back either way. That’s too big of a trade for them to walk on, and I mean that as an indictment on the way Dayton Moore does business. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. My question becomes what happens if he finishes strong. His number likely won’t approach anything more than average given the limited time left, but if he hits something similar to the .323/.374/.506 for the last 22 games, that should bring his numbers up to somewhere around .265/.315/.425, which is still not great. I could see the Royals being interested in locking him up maybe on a three-year deal. I’m not sure I’d do that, but it wouldn’t surprise me too much if they do.
When the Orioles intentionally walked Salvador Perez Wednesday night, it gave him another career high for a single season to add to this season’s accolades. He recently mentioned how he’s starting to realize the importance of taking some pitches that are outside the zone, and while it boggles my mind that it took him into his 11th season to recognize that, I guess it’s better late than never. Also, in a season like this, it’s hard to find things to criticize him for offensively, so I’m fine with whatever plate discipline he provides. He is doing a better job of laying off bad pitches, but the biggest factor here is that pitchers have just stopped throwing him strikes. I don’t know what took them so long, but they seem to have finally figured it out. Heading into play last night, Perez had seen the second lowest percentage of pitches inside the zone of any hitter who has seen at least 500 pitches this season at 42.2 percent. Only Javy Baez, a similar free swinger, is lower. And since the break (lowering the minimum to 200 pitches), he’s still second lowest to Baez, but his number has dropped to 38.4 percent.
To his credit, he swung at 45.1 percent of the pitches outside the zone before the break and he’s down to 41.4 percent since the break. Since August 8 when he started drawing walks, he’s down to a 39.2 percent chase rate. It’s hard to change as a hitter in the big leagues, but if he has gone from one of the very least patient hitters in baseball to simply bottom quarter, that changes the equation for him moving forward. He’s clearly shown that he can punish pitches in the zone and he’s also shown he can expand and hit pitches outside the zone for power, but if he has learned to lay off some pitches even just a little bit, maybe that adds 10-15 points of OBP and the Royals are in great shape. For years, the idea of Salvy DHing and playing first was met with the idea that he wouldn’t hit enough, but even with slightly better plate discipline and his insane power, he suddenly has the bat to carry any position on the field, so that’s a huge development if he can keep it up.
I’m going to wallop a dead horse here, but I have to say this somewhere. How did it come to be that Ryan O’Hearn has gotten every opportunity while Ryan McBroom has gotten such a little look? I know that O’Hearn is a Matheny favorite and that he did have a legitimately very good end to the 2018 season, letting the Royals know that it’s in there, but since the end of that season, he’s hit .204/.276/.361. Not that any level of defense would accommodate that line, but he doesn’t play good defense anywhere either. I know that McBroom doesn’t play good defense anywhere either, but he’s hit .288/.370/.543 in AAA between 2019 and 2021 (heading into play last night). O’Hearn has been better in the minors than that even, so I guess in that way it makes sense, but he’s also proven beyond what I think is a reasonable doubt that he’s not a big leaguer.
The thing is that it’s not about McBroom. I actually don’t think McBroom will be good enough either in the big leagues, but I’d love the chance to actually know that and, at this time, I don’t have enough evidence to actually know. It’s just the mindset of this organization that irks me so much sometimes. I don’t have any problem if Edward Olivares is losing playing time to Andrew Benintendi, for example, but to sit in favor of Ryan O’Hearn or even Hunter Dozier is just silly to me. At some point, they’re going to be out of audition time and into winning time. That time is honestly probably 2022 whether anyone believes it should be or not, and I think we’re going to find out that they’ve wasted these opportunities to learn what they have in certain players while knowing all too well what they have in others and that’s just frustrating to me.
Over on Inside the Crown, a commenter asked me who the next big pitching starting pitching prospect to debut would be. It’s a good question because the big four are already in the big leagues and have been joined by Carlos Hernandez, who has shown that he maybe has a higher upside than any of them. But we all know all know there’s more on the farm in terms of pitching and I mentioned the other day how there will still likely be some innings limits put on guys in 2022 as the Royals don’t want to overuse these arms who could take them to the promised land soon enough. My first reaction was that it would easily be Jonathan Bowlan if he hadn’t gone under the knife. Heck, that might have happened this season. But since he’s out until at least June or July next year, he’s probably out. So my candidates in alphabetical order are Austin Cox, Jon Heasley, Asa Lacy, Alec Marsh, Drew Parrish and Angel Zerpa. There can definitely be a wild card to slip in like Marcelo Martinez, Anthony Venexiano or Yefri Del Rosario, but if they do it, I’m okay that I didn’t name them in the likeliest group.
You might notice that none of these arms are even in AAA other than Martinez, so it’ll be interesting to see how this race goes, but if I had to guess, I’d put my order of debuting next probability at Cox, Marsh, Zerpa, Heasley, Parrish and Lacy. But there’s a big caveat there. If Lacy ends up pitching in the AFL and dominates or even just starts 2022 rolling, he moves directly to the top. These guys, other than Lacy, are all a step or two below the top prospects who have debuted this season, but it’s fun to see that this organization has so many young arms that even if they do find a way to screw it up, one or two are likely to seep through and make it in spite of everyone there. The fact that there are six pitchers who are as good as I think they can be underscores the fact that the Royals have some decisions to make very soon. There are only so many arms they can keep around, so they will have to make some moves. Hopefully they make the right ones.