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Lesky’s Notes: Walking on the wild side

Royals pitching has done everything they can do to tell the team it’s time to find a new pitching coach after the season.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Some things stick with you throughout the course of a long season and even over multiple years. I can still hear Dayton Moore say he needs to be more transactional and then literally never making good on that promise, for example. But one thing that I think about a lot during the season, and it’s because the team almost forces it on me, is how big of an emphasis they made on throwing strikes this season. I will say that I was surprised they’ve only thrown the 11th lowest percentage of pitches in the strike zone of any team in baseball (but third-most total pitches in the zone…you know, because they throw a lot of pitches). This isn’t news or anything new to you, both because you have eyes and because this happens every single year. The Royals have the most games in baseball with four or more walks, five or more walks, six or more walks, seven or more walks and eight or more walks. Weirdly, teams have more games with nine and 10 or more walks in a game, but yeah, it’s bad. This is the 54th season of Royals baseball and with 30 games left to play, this version has walked more than (19 2to 22) previous versions. Which is not great. All of this is to say that there’s a lot to be excited about with the bats, but they need to fix this.

This won’t fix the pitching, but it’ll make me feel better to watch all the walks if you’d be so kind as to subscribe to Inside the Crown. It’s totally free and you’ll get it in your inbox most weekday mornings!

Starting off on the wrong foot

Sticking with the pitching and control issues, the other big thing they preached during spring training was throwing first pitch strikes. Now, of course, a strike can be on a pitch outside the zone, but heading into yesterday’s action, the Royals staff has thrown 50.8 percent of first pitches inside the zone, which is the sixth-lowest total in baseball. When you combine that with having one of the lowest chase rates of any staff in baseball, you get to the point where they’re nearly a full two percent behind the second-lowest first-pitch strike staff in baseball. The difference between 29th and 30th is roughly the same as the difference between 12th and 29th. I’m no mathemagician, but that seems bad to me. The league average for first pitch strikes is 61.2 percent and the Royals have four pitchers still in the organization who have thrown more than two games this year above it. For starting pitchers, the league average is 61.8 percent, so even higher. That means that Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Amir Garrett, Daniel Lynch, Carlos Hernandez, Jonathan Heasley, Brad Keller, Wyatt Mills, Josh Staumont, Dylan Coleman, Jackson Kowar and Collin Snider are all below average.

Again, I’m aware I’m not providing you any news you didn’t know, but it’s just crazy to see how bad it is when it’s all presented like that. I believe Cal Eldred is in his last month (and a few days) on the job. When the Royals are searching for the next coach, I really think they need to simplify things and think about what organizations do the things well that lead to success. I know, that’s a very obvious thing to say, but look at the organization at the top of the chase rate list. It’s the Rays, Blue Jays, Braves, Yankees, Mets, Guardians and Mariners. All seven of those teams are in a playoff spot right now. The top of the swinging strike leaderboards are the Braves, Rays, Mets, Yankees, Astros and Dodgers. All playoff teams. First pitch strike rankings are more of the same, just in a different order. Find the guy who pushes those teams to success and poach him. They did it with their hitting, going to the Dodgers for instruction and we see how that’s worked out well. I think they need an organizational overhaul here and it is blatantly obvious where they should be turning. I anticipate we’ll find out where they decide to go in about six weeks.

Who to move?

I think we’ve thought for a long time that the Royals might do something similar to the 2012/2013 offseason this winter and make a move to add some veteran presents and presence to the roster. The general consensus around these parts from the James Shields (eventually Wade Davis) deal was that it was a year too early. I know that was my thought on it. Turned out I was wrong, which happens way more than I’d like to admit but people do a great job of reminding me. It’s probably a year too early to be considering a move like that from a competitive factor, but as I noted on Inside the Crown on Monday, this is the winter to make a payroll splash with what they owe to players over the next few seasons. But the issue is that the strong farm system they had to start the year is mostly in the big leagues now. It just gets so much more difficult to trade a guy once they’ve come to the big leagues. Either they perform well enough that you’ve seen them perform in your uniform or they struggle enough that it takes some shine off them. So if the Royals are going to make this move, who goes?

I think it’s fair to say that Bobby Witt Jr. isn’t getting traded. I don’t believe MJ Melendez is going anywhere, though his weird days off on Sunday and Tuesday make me wonder if there’s something there we don’t know about it. I think Vinnie Pasquantino has reached that point where he isn’t going anywhere because of his performance. So that leaves Nick Pratto, Michael Massey and Drew Waters. I can tell you the Royals think the world of Waters, so he’s not the guy and I don’t think he can headline a deal anyway. I don’t think Massey can headline a deal either. So that leaves Pratto. He’s going to need to continue to hit well as he has over the past few games, but he has the prospect pedigree and the long-term power to potentially headline something. Otherwise, there just isn’t much they can do outside of pairing someone like Lynch, which they don’t want to do, with Massey to bring back something of value. And this is where I think their timing is just off. Because it wouldn’t surprise me if next offseason, guys like Cayden Wallace, Gavin Cross, Tyler Gentry (if he doesn’t make the big leagues next year) and someone else who we probably aren’t even thinking about could be the type to headline a big trade. I’m just especially intrigued with how they might go about making this sort of move if thy choose to do it.

Innings limits closing in

This is something that old school baseball watchers will probably cringe at, but the Royals starting rotation is getting awfully close to some innings milestones, which are something we should at least be monitoring. Brady Singer has thrown 135.1 innings this year between AAA and the majors. His career high is 128.1 in the majors and 148.1 in 2019. Kris Bubic is at 118. His career high is 130 in the majors and 149.1 in 2019. Daniel Lynch is at 110.1 between his rehab starts and the big leagues. His big league career high is 68 and his professional career high is 125 last season. Jonathan Heasley is at 110 innings. His career high was 120 last season. It’s easy to forget because we’ve gotten farther and farther away, but while Singer and Bubic threw a few innings in 2020, Lynch and Heasley didn’t throw a competitive pitch that year. I think pitchers are babied a little too much as they’re being developed but there’s also a right way to continue to expand their workload year over year and, like it or not, everyone with young pitching is still dealing with the lost season of 2020.

I wonder if we’re going to see some ugly-ish starts (yes, more than before you heathens) down the stretch as they do what they can to give guys an extra day here and there. Maybe we see some bullpen days, but I think that’s going to give us a chance to hopefully see Max Castillo more after his strong start against Tampa Bay a few weeks ago. I almost wonder if we’ll see Brad Keller starting some more games because I don’t know that the Royals thought ahead to the fact that we might see some guys get shut down. This kind of goes back to what I wrote about last week with next year being the first “normal” year since 2019 and I think that after this season, things should be back on track for young pitchers to be able to work a little bit deeper into the season, but for now, it looks like it might be another September of figuring things out on an almost daily basis.

Slump busting

Years ago, I heard a GM for a team that wasn’t the Royals talking about how they wanted to see a prospect fail. I honestly can’t remember who it was and I’ve heard the Royals echo that sentiment since, but it struck me as something that was just so odd. Why on earth would you want someone to fail if you’re rooting for their success? As I got older, it became something that made a lot more sense and it’s really stuck with me ever since. Part of playing in the big leagues is failing. The idea that even the best hitters make an out 60 percent of the time is true. And there are times when even those hitters struggle. The best way to learn how to get out of a slump is to actually have to get out of a slump. And I’ve been very encouraged by so many of the Royals young hitters figuring out how to work their way out of slumps and it makes me believe that when the next one hits, they’ll find their way out even quicker because they have an idea of what works now.

Sure Pratto went 0 for 4 yesterday, but he’s still 9 for 25 with seven extra base hits in his last six games. That came on the heels of going 2 for 35 over a 13-game stretch. He and Melendez both have the experience of a terrible full season and bouncing back, but it’s nice to see him do that. Michael Massey came into yesterday’s game 4 for his last 30 over his last 11 games and he went 3 for 3 with a walk. He also had one hit in each of the first two games of the series. For him to break out of that will be big if he can continue. We’ve seen Witt do it this year. We’ve seen Melendez do it this year. As much as it hurts to see the struggles, sometimes those struggles are what can allow them to be better faster moving forward and I’m glad they’re taking those lumps this year. There will be other slumps. Heck, Luis Arraez is leading the league in hitting and he had a 4 for 33 stretch recently. But it’s about coming out of those stretches even better and I feel good about the Royals hitters learning how to do that.