Maybe the Royals have weathered the latest storm, ending their five-game losing streak on the road trip and then winning three of their last four. Of course, with the way the bullpen has thrown, it might not really matter in the long run. We’re at the point now where the long run isn’t really the long run anymore with just 42 games left and 10 of them against the first place Indians. As it stands, I don’t see the division as a viable solution, but I reserve the right to change that opinion after this weekend’s huge series. We’ll know in a few days what the Royals lot in the American League playoff race is.
- I guess we should start with the bullpen because that’s the hot topic. It looks like Joakim Soria is going to miss some time with the now popular intercostal strain, which should make some fans very happy. And I get it. He’s blown more leads than we care to remember and you can make an argument that his performance, especially late last season, was a driving force in the Royals missing the postseason in 2016. I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. Soria has both been better than you think and is still (when healthy) one of the better options for the late inning work. There are four relievers other than Soria who have been in KC most or all of the season – Kelvin Herrera, Mike Minor, Peter Moylan and Scott Alexander. The only one of them with a higher percentage of his outings ending without allowing a run is Moylan. That’s not even remotely close to a perfect metric for evaluating a reliever, but with seemingly everyone struggling and needing someone to pitch the other innings, the options just aren’t great right now. For my money, I’d believe in Mike Minor given what he’s done all season, but he’s allowed seven runs in his last 9.1 innings, which is six of his last eight games. I certainly don’t believe in Brandon Maurer. Maybe they should give Ryan Buchter a shot at the eighth inning given his swing and miss stuff. But unless they’re willing to use Herrera for more than three outs (and that’s probably the real answer here), while Soria hasn’t impressed, the options are thin.
- Jorge Bonifacio has had an interesting season at the plate. From when he was called up to June 4th, he hit .281/.338/.496 with seven homers. He was walking at a decent clip and striking out a fair amount, but he looked the part of a big league regular. The reason I chose June 4th is because that’s when he was moved to the number two spot in the lineup and struggled a bit as he adjusted to being pitched differently. This is all arbitrary, but in the first 17 games at the top of the lineup, he hit .179/.267/.358. Then, as young hitters do, he turned it around, showing that he could make adjustments. He hit .302/.374/.490 in his next 24 games before the Royals went to Boston where things started to fall apart for him. He’s hit .171/.244/.244 since, and I believe there’s a reason for it. Well, I think there are two reasons for it. One, his decreased playing time isn’t helping. Just like Cheslor Cuthbert, young guys used to playing every day sometimes struggle in part time roles. But two, he’s struggled with big league fastballs, which isn’t a great sign for him moving forward. This season, he’s hit just .221 with a .368 slugging percentage on four-seam fastballs. The common denominator during both his slumps is that he was seeing more fastballs during that time. In his most recent, he’s seen fastballs about 45 percent of the time, up from 33 percent early in the year and 38 percent a few weeks ago. In particular, the hard fastballs are eating him up. He’s hitting just .227 with a .273 slugging percentage on fastballs 95 mph or more. Pitchers have adjusted to Bonifacio. It’s time for him to adjust back if he wants to make it in the big leagues.
- I think I hit this rant a couple times per year, but I guess it’s time for it again. Stop using Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) as gospel. Just stop. If you haven’t started yet, don’t start. FIP has its value, without a doubt, but the implication with FIP is that pitchers have zero control over batted balls that are not home runs, and that’s just silly. I’m not smart enough to tell you the coefficients or the formulas to determine what impact pitchers do have on batted balls, but to say a pitcher literally only impacts the number of walks, strikeouts and home runs they allow is a blatant misunderstanding of the game. Like any statistic, I think FIP can be part of the equation of evaluating a pitcher, but in my mind, there are far better ERA predictors out there to use, such as DRA from Baseball Prospectus and SIERA from Fangraphs. Both of these statistics acknowledge that not every batted ball is simply the product of luck and incorporates that into the equation. If you want to keep using FIP, that’s fine, but just know that it’s more flawed than many other alternatives.
- As we do, let’s talk schedule and what the Royals need to do moving forward. Their next 12 games have a chance to define the season. They have six against the Indians, three against the Rockies and three against the Rays. While the Rays have fallen on hard times, we’ve seen what one good week can do in the Wild Card race. Basically, it comes down to this. If the Royals can take two of three in every series, not only will they likely have created a much easier path to the playoffs, but the division will still be in play. If they lose every series, they would become big time longshots to even get to the postseason. Following this stretch, they have 13 games against the Twins, Tigers and White Sox before heading to Cleveland to play them once more. If they can go 8-4 in this stretch and then take care of the business they’re supposed to take care of and do something like 9-4, they’ll be sitting at 78-67 and that series against Cleveland could be with the opportunity to take over the AL Central lead. The minimum to me in the next 12 games is 6-6 and then 8-5 in the 13 games following it. A 74-71 record might have them in a playoff spot or at least close enough that the dream isn’t dead. Either way, these next 12 will set the table for either a really fun (and likely hair graying) September or a month-long going away party for the pending free agents in the core.