A week and a day into the season, the Royals played all six games. It’s the typical pace for the first week of the year, but it was helped a bit by Wednesday’s rain in St. Louis. And what we learned about this team is… not much because there’s not much you can learn in six games. It’s probably a bit of a tired trope at this point, but it’s also true that if you took a sample of six games midway through the season, you wouldn’t think too much of a slump or a few poorly pitched games in a row. . It’s when it’s the only sample we have that it becomes something to dwell on and worry about. The reality is that if you thought this Royals team would be good before the season, your opinion should remain the same. If you thought they would be bad, your opinion should remain the same. Nothing in the first week of a season apart from a catastrophic injury to one of a team’s best players should change one’s mind. That’s easier said than done, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
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Much has been made of the struggles of young pitchers during a somewhat brutal three-game streak from Sunday to Tuesday. The fact that five of them have struggled in three games is just an extra kick in the groin I feel, especially after Zack Greinke and Brad Keller gave the tone in those first two games. I’m not here to tell you it’s going to be okay or, hey, it’s just first-run nervousness. Honestly, it could be. There is also an argument to be made that it is difficult to judge starting pitchers when they are off schedule. Kris Bubic pitched a game on March 31, then waited nine days to pitch again. Brady Singer pitched in that same game. Daniel Lynch launched on April 3, then not again until April 12. Carlos Hernandez and Jackson Kowar weren’t working on the irregular rest. I think it’s fair to say let’s wait and see what they will look like once their workload becomes much more regular.
But my point is not to say that there is still time. We all know there is still time. What I find so interesting is that the Royals have largely hitched their wagon to young pitchers who have stepped up. They have all been successful in the minors, some even more so than others. But so far, neither have enjoyed consistent success at big league level. Apart from Kowar, they all had their moments and the Royals staff were much better in the second half last year, but hopefully jobs would be on the line this season. You simply cannot trust these young arms heading into their second full season as much as the Royals and provide a bye to whoever is responsible for their success at big league level. The question I have and really don’t know the answer to is how much of the transition from the minors to the majors rests at the major league level and how much rests at the minor league level. But if there’s no real progress, they’ll have to do something different, which they’ve been hesitant to do in the past. I’m not saying we look the barrel to failure, but they need to be prepared if that’s the barrel they’re looking into.
Stop the presses, but the Royals are running their roster in a weird way. Okay, maybe not so weird because it’s so predictable, but I don’t get it. Whether or not you believe Kyle Isbel and/or Edward Olivares are capable big leaguers, I think everyone would agree that neither of them should just sit on the bench, which is exactly what both have. fact. Neither have started a game, which is actually a bit surprising given the comments about Adalberto Mondesi enjoying regular time off. I guess we’ll never know what would have happened on Wednesday, but last night was back in the opening day lineup for the fifth time in six games. I kinda feel for them in the sense that I think they probably considered Isbel and Olivares in the Omaha outfield, but their springs were so although they just couldn’t send them. But when you get to that point, don’t you need to give them playing time?
It could still. Of course, they only played six games and, like I said, who knows what the line-up would have been on Wednesday. And at some point the process will begin for Carlos Santana to leave this team. It will start with him moving to the bench, which will lead to a lot of Hunter Dozier at first base (for now) and the rotation of guys to the DH point. That should give one or both of the reserve outfielders plenty of opportunities between that and Mondesi’s days off. I got something wrong a few weeks ago talking about not wanting to waste any of their time picking a player because that won’t come into effect until the rosters are reduced to 26 players on May 2 so if you don’t go there to play them even semi-regularly at the big league level, they have to be in Omaha. The options are limited, but a guy like Dairon Blanco would be a much better choice as a fourth outfielder. Or the hell, bring JaCoby Jones. If whoever it is isn’t going to play, it doesn’t particularly matter. But, to me, it’s just gross player mismanagement that could potentially be part of the solution.
Jake Brentz was such a great story to start the 2021 season. It’s easy to see why they were all about him and he absolutely delivered on his promise. A southpaw with that kind of speed and the ability to get swings and misses on his slider any way he can is something every team needs to explore. The hit on him was still controlled, but until June 20 of last year, Brentz had a 1.93 ERA and he was walking with a bunch of guys, but he was doing to get around those walks. The running rate of 14.1% was not yet a problem. He had a 28.2% strikeout rate to balance it out nicely. But then they issued this sticky stuff edict and, coincidence or not, things went downhill. He gave up runs in five consecutive outings and finished the year with a 5.46 ERA. His walk rate was actually a bit lower, as was his takedown rate, but regardless, he struggled for over three months.
So he’s coming to camp this year and he’s added a two-seam. Everyone talks about the quality of the camp. And he threw three in three outings. Of course it’s a small sample, but one wonders why he doesn’t use it. But anyway he was good on the opening day and was brought in two games with the score tied and when he left the score was no longer tied. He has two losses, which is pretty bad for a reliever. One of the knocks on Mike Matheny when he was hired was that he fell in love with relievers and it looks like he might need to get away from Brentz. Things are so good you want to figure out how to get it back to where it was at the start of last year, but they acquired Amir Garrett for a reason. I know he had a tough year last year, but they’re going to have to reverse those two roles and put Brentz in lower leverage positions. If he can go back, so much the better. Otherwise, they have plenty of depth in both the big leagues and the minors. This team can’t afford to lose games because of their bullpen. It’s supposed to be a great strength and I still think it is, but they’ve lost two games now and whether it’s all Brentz’s fault or not, he started the damage in both.
I wouldn’t recommend looking at defensive stats right now as they don’t shine very brightly on the Royals. The general consensus is that defensive stats take a lot longer to normalize than offense or pitching, so obviously a handful of plays isn’t even close enough, but I was just curious so I went looking. So I went to field stats on Fangraphs and sorted by DRS. Didn’t see the Royals so I kept scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and then all the way to 28 they’re there. Somehow, over the course of six games, they recorded -6 defensive points. For what it’s worth, they were -10 before last night, so there you have it. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go ahead and say there’s something wrong with watching this team. Yes, Michael A. Taylor popped a ball out of his glove on Tuesday night and I think Bobby Witt Jr. may have also had one on a play he probably wouldn’t have made anyway, but this defense passes every eye exam you might have.
I’m not bashing DRS or anything like that because it’s all about the undersized sample but I just thought it was too crazy to pass up the write-up given how much we talked of the quality of this Royals defense and can be. I’ll be keeping an eye on that over the next few weeks and keeping everyone updated so you don’t have to look at a stat that takes much longer than that to normalize.