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Can Brady “Two-Pitch” Singer succeed in the Major Leagues?

“I have been here before, I am here now, I will be here again.” — Roger Ebert

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Let me kick this off by saying I want to be wrong. I want this article to be a joke in a year after Brady Singer becomes dominant once again. But I don’t believe it will. I don’t like writing articles targeting specific players, or giving up on them. Players go through a natural ebb and flow and usually, those sorts of articles are written in emotion and frustration. Plus, these guys are people just like you and me. They’re doing their job and I don’t always do great at my job — I’m certainly not always good at this one.

With all that clarification out of the way, I’m not giving up on Brady Singer the player but I am giving up on the current iteration of Brady Singer, the pitcher. He simply can’t keep doing the same thing and be a great pitcher in this league. Sure, he changed his slider this season but he’s still essentially a two-pitch starter. He’s thrown his changeup just 7.1 percent of the time this season. In now his fourth season in the major leagues, he should be progressing with a fourth pitch by now. Instead, he’s too stubborn to throw his third.

The 2023 season hasn’t been kind to Singer thus far. He ranks in the bottom 10th percentile in nearly every major pitching metric, according to Baseball Savant. Opponents are hitting him hard and rarely chasing him out of the zone. On the surface, one might point to those metrics as a cause for Singer’s early struggles. I thought as much at first but found that he wasn’t really that great in those avenues last season either. Over the course of his break-out 2022 season, Singer ranked in the 24th percentile for hard-hit rate allowed and 16th percentile for chase rate.

Instead, the major difference is a drop in strikeouts and more walks allowed. So far this year, his strikeout rate is down 3.0% and he’s walking 2.1% more batters. If the Royals pitching mantra this season is “Raid the Zone,” Brady Singer has done the exact opposite to start his season. As a result, his 8.82 ERA ranks dead last among the 109 pitchers to throw at least 30 innings this season. His FIP is the 17th highest among that same group and his K%-BB% ranks 55th.

Many entered this season with the idea that Singer would become the Ace of the Royals' pitching staff. He was fantastic last season with a 3.23 ERA that was even better over the second half of the season. But now, the barrier preventing Singer from reaching the next level is the same one that has plagued him since his debut in 2020. Not much has changed since then, and it’s starting to look like he was more lucky than good last season.

Brady Singer needs to throw a third pitch to succeed

Is that a sense of déjà vu I’m getting? We’ve been here before with Singer. To be honest, we never really left. The results just improved despite no real change in his repertoire. So far in 2023, he’s thrown 54.5% sinker, 36.2% slider, and 7.1% changeup. That’s a drop from a 7.7% changeup rate in 2022 after he threw it at just 3.8% in 2021. It’s not enough. Opponents this year are hitting .338 against the sinker and .278 off of the slider. They’re slugging over .600 on both of those main offerings. There’s no deception, no guessing at the plate, and no real challenge for hitters. Wait for it to enter the zone and smash it.

If Brady Singer wants to remain a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball, he has to develop. Even the best pitchers in this league change and critique their stuff from year to year. Doing the same thing year in and year out just allows the league to catch up and that’s what we’re seeing right now.

Singer was at one time ranked as MLB Pipeline’s number two overall prospect in the 2018 draft, behind only Casey Mize. “He surprisingly lasted until the 18th pick, where the Royals signed him for $4,247,500, a franchise record for a pitcher.” Looking back, maybe those 17 other teams ahead of Kansas City knew something we’ve been too proud to admit. Here’s his scouting report at the time of the draft:

Singer throws two versions of a fastball, ranging from 91-96 mph with a two-seamer that sinks and a four-seamer that rides, and commands both well. When he stays on top of his slider, it gives him a second plus pitch, and he has tremendous feel for altering the depth and speed of his breaking ball. He didn’t use a changeup much in college but flashes the potential for a solid third offering.

In 2018 when drafted, the league was talking about the “potential” of a solid third offering. Again in 2021, those in the Royals-sphere were saying the same thing. Finally, nearly five years later in 2023, it’s still the “potential” of a third offering. There isn’t even any more potential for a solid third pitch. For all we know, the changeup may not be a very good pitch. It’s hard to know when he rarely throws the damn thing.

For all this talk about “two-pitches” and changeups, it begs the question: is this all overblown? How much does throwing a third pitch even matter? There aren’t a ton of starting pitchers in baseball that throw two pitches at the rate Singer does. Tyler Glasnow is one example that I look to most when looking at how to fix” Brady Singer.

Glasnow entered the league in 2016, a former fifth-rounder turned top prospect in the Pirates organization. He ranked as the 12th overall prospect in 2015 before his debut. By 2018, he threw his fastball/curveball combination 88% of the time. In 2019, it was 96.5%, and then 95.4% in 2020. Glasnow pitched to a 4.27 ERA in 2018, followed by 1.78 in 2019, and 4.08 in 2020. That ERA over time is eerily similar to what we’ve seen from Singer in the last three seasons.

Things changed for Tyler Glasnow in 2021. He was traded from the Pirates to the Rays in 2018 as part of the Chris Archer deal. In 2021 Glasnow’s ERA was down to 2.66 over 14 starts and he’s pitched to a 1.35 mark early on this season. He struck out 123 batters last season and walked just 27. So what did he do differently? The Rays had their starter introduce a slider, and he threw it 32% of the time. He didn’t throw the changeup any more than ever before — still just 2.5% of the time. Instead, he introduced an entirely different offering that worked better to mix his pitches.

Ironically enough, to unlock Glasnow he had to be traded from a struggling organization in Pittsburgh to one much more renowned for pitching development in Tampa Bay. The same may have to happen for Singer to fully reach his potential. However, with new pitching coaches Brian Sweeney and Zach Bove, the possibility is there for it to happen in Kansas City.

For Singer, re-inventing a repertoire or adding a new offering is not traditionally something that occurs mid-season for starting pitchers. Instead, he’s probably in for the long haul with his current offerings this season before the pitching development team can take a better look at how to improve his arsenal next offseason. The frontline starter potential isn’t gone for Singer, but real change has to happen in order for him to reach those new heights. Without change, he’s destined to fail as we’ve already seen.