The Royals have had big problems this year with two of the most mediocre teams baseball has to offer this season - the Indians and Cardinals. Against those two teams, the Royals are a combined 2-16. Add in games against the Angels, and they’ve played 24 games against teams within four games of .500. They’re 4-20 against them and 55-54 against everyone else, which is downright near respectable. Without those two teams, the Royals themselves would be considered one of the most mediocre teams in baseball, which is a title they probably wouldn’t mind considering where they actually sit and where they’ve been since 2018. It does seem like it’s always one or two teams that help to torpedo a Royals season, so hopefully they can fill in those cracks next season to at least ascend to the title of Most Mediocre Team in Baseball in 2022.
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It would be nice if we were getting a chance to see more young position players, but it’s hard to argue with getting to see all this young pitching for the Royals, especially since the break. With Jackson Kowar’s really nice return to the big leagues, it’s been really impressive to see what the young pitchers have been able to do. The Royals currently have 12 pitchers on their roster who are either in their age-25 season or younger or have less than three years of service time. There’s also Brad Keller and Richard Lovelady currently on the IL, and it’s been really fun to watch most of them pitch. The group of 14 pitchers since the break has gone a collective 300.1 innings with a 3.57 ERA, 22.6 percent strikeout rate and 9.9 percent walk rate. Some are obviously bigger parts of the future than others, but it’s still been really nice to see the young and inexperienced pitching succeed.
The best of the bunch have been the ones you really want to be the best of the bunch, which is great. Daniel Lynch has been fantastic. So has Carlos Hernandez. We’ve seen a lot of great relief work from Richard Lovelady and Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont has his fastball back and is looking like a force (with a 5.6 percent walk rate since the break, by the way). What I find interesting here is where the narrative goes with these guys. I’ve been one of the most outspoken against Cal Eldred, and while I don’t believe he’s really been a catalyst here since it seems they did a lot of their development after leaving his care and getting back to Omaha, it’s also not entirely fair to take away credit from him if we’re blaming him for the issues before. With Lynch, Kowar on Wednesday night and some others, they’ve been in the minors and came up better than before, but as they sustain that success, it does bring into question where the credit belongs. If pressed, I’d still say the Royals have a new pitching coach next year, but every game they continue to have success with these young arms, it becomes a touch less likely.
I feel like I’ve harped on this quite a bit on Twitter, but I’m not sure I’ve really mentioned it here, so I’ll just take a second to discuss Carlos Santana. The guy is virtually unplayable right now, and it’s been that way for awhile. I wonder a little if there’s something going on with the injury that would have kept him out of the lineup the day before the break if that game hadn’t been rained out. You might recall that a bad throw carried his glove into the runner and his hand bent back. He was in some pretty serious pain. It might not be that at all, but to that point, he was hitting .246/.368/.421. That’s really not good enough for a corner infielder expected to be a middle-of-the-order bat, but as Alec Lewis would say, it certainly plays. Since then, he’s hit .178/.241/.255. He’s had just three multi-hit games and he’s even lost his ability to work a walk, which is the one thing that made it almost impossible for him to go into a truly deep slump because he would always be getting on base regardless of if he’s hitting.
I can’t sit here and say that signing him was a bad decision because that wouldn’t be fair. I really liked the deal at the time. It was made before they had any inkling about what Nick Pratto or MJ Melendez could be. The Royals signed one of the most patient hitters of our era, which was kind of crazy. But now, the deal looks like it might be as much of an albatross as another year at seven figures can be. A lot of people have commented that they should have traded him when they could and Dayton Moore made a huge mistake keeping him. And I agree that if there was a market, he should have moved him. But I think the market that people point to was overblown. The Red Sox were interested, but he wasn’t their first choice and he wasn’t their second choice from what I’ve heard and they acquired their second choice. If we see the issues, big league scouts and front offices see the issues and I just don’t think the market was there. Now we have to hope Santana either rebounds or the Royals have a short leash with him. While they often do hang on to players too long, they have cut bait in the last year of deals, so we’ll see how things go, I guess.
It wouldn’t be a Friday without me talking about the way the Royals are planning to line up with Adalberto Mondesi now back on the big league roster. While Dayton Moore kind of walked back his comments about not being able to count on him, it sounds like he’s pretty much going to be playing third base and DH for the rest of the season. First of all, count me in on Mondesi as a third baseman because there isn’t going to be a more athletic third baseman in the game. Think about Jose Ramirez when he first shifted over there in terms of athleticism, but Mondesi is a better defender and if the bat that we’ve seen from him in his 11 games is for real, it certainly plays at the hot corner. There is the question of if they really should be playing Nicky Lopez at shortstop over Mondesi when Mondesi is the better defender, but the way Lopez has played shortstop this year has made that question less in need of an answer. Mondesi is absolutely more spectacular, but Lopez has shown he’s more than good enough to stick at shortstop.
Where the question comes in is when you bring Bobby Witt Jr. into the equation which is going to happen and probably on Opening Day. I personally don’t think you move Witt off his natural position for Lopez, but, again, Lopez has at least made a case for staying there with how he’s played this year. But of Witt, Lopez and Mondesi, none of them have played outfield before. The easy move is to look at Mondesi at third, Witt at shortstop and move Lopez to second, but then you’re moving Whit Merrifield to right field. And while that’s fine, Merrifield has been legitimately great defensively at second base. Plus, if you believe in Edward Olivares or Kyle Isbel or both, then you’re missing out on an opportunity to get them in the lineup. The easy move is to work Mondesi in the outfield this winter, but there remains a logjam. And I haven’t even mentioned MJ Melendez, who played third base for the first time the other night. These are generally good problems to have and they tend to work themselves out, but it’ll be an interesting off-season to see how they handle all of this. In the interim, I think we’ll really enjoy Mondesi at third at least.
This is just a general thought about the September roster increases from 26 to 28, but I have to say that I wish they went about it a different way. The idea behind it makes sense to me. With rosters building to up to 40 players, games were taking forever with each time having potentially two full bullpens at their disposal. Plus, games in crunch time of a pennant race were being played with entirely different roster rules than the rest of the season, which changed the calculus. So I understand that, but I feel like it ends up hurting teams like the Royals who are out of contention and have an opportunity to see some of their players who they need to make decisions on after the season or just players who are going to be added to the 40-man roster anyway. Only adding two players just doesn’t really allow for that. The Royals have used it to see one young player and get one player back from the IL.
So what’s the solution? That I don’t know, and this season is also a little different with the minor league seasons going longer because of starting later, so maybe it’s irrelevant this year because you still want to get those minor league rosters filled. But still, I think there’s a better solution like maybe you have to designate certain players available for the upcoming series. You can replace them for injury without putting them on the IL, but then they’re not eligible for the next series or something like that. I don’t know what the solution is and I understand the thought process behind the change, but I definitely think it needs some tweaking.