There are a lot of interesting things going on inside this team right now. I though I would just highlight a few and see what if anything looks like it is real and what is just a blip that will smooth out as the sample expands.
Salvador Perez has seen his K% increase over the past six years after having a very low rate early in his career. Part of that is just the league strikeout rate increasing because pitchers have gotten better and better. Part of it is that he is hitting for more power, which tends to correlate with strikeouts. All of a sudden, his strikeouts have dropped back to 13.6%, nearly 10% below last season and the lowest we have seen since 2012. This is not Salvy finally becoming a selective hitter. His swing rate is actually the highest of his career at 60.1%, and he is swinging less at in the strike zone pitches, so it is him swinging even more than usual at out of zone pitches. That is not typically a recipe for success, but he has a contact rate of 72.5% on non-strikes, which is reminiscent of his early years when it was as high as 88% once!
I will reserve judgement on whether this is good or not (probably not), but it is likely really happening and sustainable. We have seen this before out of Perez, and that makes it more likely to continue. The stabilization rate on K% is about 60 PA, so I guess we could see it go back to last year, but we are almost to that threshold already.
Edward Olivares Statcast data
The thing I might be most frustrated with right now, is the playing time for Edward Olivares. Offensive struggles are the main problem so far, and yet the team finds space for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Hunter Dozier most days, but not Olivares. The results for Edward early were good, and have tapered a bit, but the underlying metrics are solid. His average exit velocity, launch angle, barrel rate, and hard hit rate are all career highs currently. If this season is really about finding out what parts are possibly going to help with the next playoff team, then Olivares should be playing every day to find out if this is real. I would call this too early to tell for now, but I want to see him get every day at bats to find out.
Hunter Dozier’s everything
Hunter Dozier is walking less, striking out more, has shown no hitting tool or power, his defense has been bad - all of his Statcast metrics are as bad or worse than last season. There is no silver lining to anything he has done this season that I can find, except that maybe his low BABIP should regress to the mean? He is not this bad, I would call this fake, but only sort of. He will be better than he has been, but not likely good enough to justify playing him, as we have seen for almost the entirety of his career. With Matt Duffy hitting fairly well, and Logan Porter and Maikel Garcia hitting well in Omaha, there is no reason to continue trotting Dozier out there.
Perez and MJ Melendez are good catchers now?
Last year, the catcher defense stats HATED both Royals backstops, especially MJ Melendez. Paul Hoover moved them up closer to the batter, and bam, both of them are average framers now and have positive defensive runs saved. Melendez was the worst pitch blocker in baseball by a mile last season. Now he is one above average? None of it makes any sense! How can such a drastic change happen to both catchers so quickly? Defensive statistics take forever to trust, so I would call this way too early to tell, but just the fact that it is a question, for Melendez especially, is a very big deal. His bat is so much more valuable long term if he can stick at catcher.
Kris Bubic K% and peripherals
Bubic looked like a different pitcher last time out, and his numbers so far are mind boggling relative to his past and expectations for this season. But there is a lot of reason to believe in it to some degree. One major point in his favor is that his fastball velocity is up. This is the one metric I am least sure of though. There were a handful of games last year where his velocity spiked up, and then it would fall back down again over the next start or two. It was already a half mile an hour slower on average from game one to game two, so we shall see.
The peripherals all back up the stellar performance though when your xERA is 2.51, FIP 1.59, and xFIP 2.78 it is hard not to think something is happening. Most of this is his K-rate jumping to 10.64 per-9-innings and walks virtually disappearing at 0.82 per. The second value is almost impossible to maintain for any pitcher, so some regression is coming. The strikeouts are at least plausible, see here. The result that looks most shocking, and pushes the improvement narrative, is the swinging strike rate sitting at 18.8%, basically double his historic rate. That would have led baseball among starters last year, except for Jacob deGrom who only threw 64.1 innings. He also has a top ten slider in baseball by Stuff+ so far.
Michael Massey’s dismal hitting
When you do not walk a single time and strike out nearly 40% of the time, it is very hard to be successful at the plate. Michael Massey is in that place right now. He is playing decent second base defense, but there is not much else to recommend him right now. He is not without some signs of it being a case of bad luck, well, except for the strikeouts. He is barreling more balls than last year and has a better hard hit rate, so his actual line of .129 average and .161 slug is way below his .237 and .468 expected. That .200 BABIP is not likely to continue in other words. Even so, his strike zone judgement has been a bit worse, and that swinging strike rate is concerning. It might be that the league adjusted to him (he is seeing very few fastballs), and if he can’t adjust back soon, he may need to go to the minors and let Nicky Lopez man second for a while.
Pasquantino Beast Mode
For six games Vinnie Pasquantino struggled, and then put together nine hits and three walks over the next six. He is now nearing the magical .300/.400/.500 slash line of the truly elite. He actually isn’t hitting the ball as hard as last year from a max EV and barrel% perspective, and his BABIP is a little high, but only a little. I think Pasquantino is a hitting machine and we should just expect that for the next several years.
Aroldis Chapman has his velo back!
I was skeptical when the Royals signed Chapman in the offseason. In a do we want this guy in the clubhouse way, I still am. From a results perspective however, Chapman has looked like the dominant reliever we remember. He is sitting 100 on his fastball and striking out 16 per nine. That is going to be a fun trade piece to have in a couple months. That velo is definitely a for real. He probably won’t bring back as much as Josh Hader last year, but maybe 70 to 80 percent of that.