What Happened to Jakob Junis?

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

It’s hard to believe, but April was a simpler time when analyzing the Kansas City Royals. Everything was new, there weren’t any nine game losing streaks, and most importantly, there was still hope.

Jump forward a few months and not only has the train veered off the tracks, but the train has come to a grinding halt, the doors have fallen off and someone decide to light it on fire. In other words, things aren’t going great.

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Credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

In fact, some of the players who appeared to be glimmers of hope have now lost their shine. That includes the performance over the last month of Jakob Junis. I actually had taken a deeper look at Junis back in April when hope was still a thing. He was shoving throughout the month and it appeared that he was well on his way to proving his worth in the Kansas City rotation.

But the times have changed and Jake has run into a bit of a rough patch. So far in the month of June (which consists of four starts), Junis has thrown 24 innings, allowed 18 runs while posting an ERA of 6.75. The numbers don’t get any better from there: batters are hitting .289/.346/.526 against him this month with seven home runs allowed and a WPA of -0.685. So how did we go from an April where the league was hitting .181/.244/.422 against him…to this?

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Credit: Morry Gash-AP

Let’s start with his pitch usage and if there is a notable change:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

There are a few noticeable things here, like the increase in using his change-up and a decrease in his four-seamer. But what is more concerning is how the use of his slider (his main weapon) has gone down this past month. Maybe the bigger question to ask here is how are hitters performing against these pitches. First, here’s batting average against:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

So ignore the insane increase in average on the curveball; Junis has only thrown one curve this month. The most concerning part here appears to be the sinker, which in April was helping his cause. Batters hit .219 on the sinker in the first month of the season, compared to .440 now. Obviously it is not having the same affects.

The good news is the slider is still doing its job, as batters are only hitting a paltry .132 against it. Now let’s move to slugging percentage:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

Once again, ignore the curve. The two biggest upticks in slugging percentage appear to be on the four-seam and the sinker. We already established that the sinker wasn’t having the same success it did earlier in the season, and it appears the four-seam is getting hammered, as evidenced by the .846 slugging percentage against. These numbers are backed up by the isolated power numbers:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

This shows that hitters are getting a number of their extra base hits off of Junis’ four-seam fastball and the sinker has seen an almost 100 point increase since April (.188 to .280). One encouraging sign here is the value of his slider, as it continues its two month slide (pun intended). Back in April, there was a .204 ISO against his slide-piece while in June it sits at a robust .079.

One answer might be in the vertical location of his pitches:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (4) The chart shows an increase up in the zone with both the four-seam and the sinker. While there are times a fastball up in the zone is a plus, if it catches too much of the zone it can be a problem, which appears to be the case here with Junis.

Finally, one last chart to drive home the lack of productivity from these two pitches:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (5)

There has been a noticeable increase in the percentage of grooved four-seamers and sinkers, while his other pitches have seen a decline. In fact, his slider has gone down from 7.36% last month to 3. 25% in June.

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Credit: Charlie Riedel-AP

So more than anything, it appears the fastball and sinker are the cause for most of the ills for Junis over the last couple weeks. The easy answer would be to throw both of those pitchers less, which he is doing with the fastball.

The problem lies in that the sinker could still be a nice weapon for him, even if it was just to change-up the eye level for the batter. The bigger issue appears to be its location; so at this point it almost would help him more to work on keeping the sinker (and fastball) a bit lower in the zone than how much he is actually using it. This would also probably increase the amount of groundballs hit off of the sinker and decrease the balls hit in the air.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken

While it’s obvious where the issue lies, to me it also speaks of an easy fix for Junis. His problems appear to be more in where he is placing the ball with his hard stuff. While changing up the batters eye level is important, it does no good if you are leaving the ball in their wheelhouse.

It will be interesting to see if we notice an adjustment soon and if location is the biggest part of it. Junis has a great slider and if he can get his other pitches working he will be tough to hit. A tweak and a slight drop might be all it takes to get Jake Junis back on track this season.

 

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Did Yordano Ventura’s Tragic Death Slow Down the Royals Rebuild?

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

(Writers Note: The intention of this article is to see the effect that Yordano Ventura’s death had on the Kansas City Royals organization and the building of the roster. In no way, shape or form, is it trying to trivialize his passing. Hopefully you, the reader, see that he was a vital part of the Royals future and a beloved player within the Kansas City fanbase. This is purely a ‘What If’ article.)  

January 22, 2017 is a date that will always be a painful reminder of how fragile life can be, as that was the day that former Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura passed away. Ventura’s death was only four months after the passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and the similarities between the two pitchers was remarkable.

But maybe the biggest similarity was the effect both deaths had on their respective organizations. Both left a giant hole in not only their rotations but also the locker rooms. The loss of each not only forced their organizations to take a second look at their future, but also to reassess what path they were already on for 2017.

We’ve seen what it did for the Marlins. Miami finished 77-85 last year and they spent the winter dismantling their roster, as key players like Giancarlo Stanton and Christin Yelich were sent to greener pastures. The Marlins threw up the white flag and decided to begin what feels like the umpteenth million rebuild during their 25 year history.

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Credit: Associated Press

But despite being told that Kansas City is in a “rebuild”, it sure doesn’t feel like it at times. The Royals have a very veteran heavy roster and while that could (should) very well change by August, as of now it feels like they are straddling a fence. Because of that I have to wonder: did Yordano Ventura’s passing slow down the Kansas City rebuild?

Before we head down this path I feel the need to clarify a couple of things. First, I won’t dabble in any possible deals the team could have made or should have made. Instead we will look at the pitching moves made since his passing and determine whether or not they would have still taken place.

Second, there is no way to determine how the Royals would have done with Ventura still on the team so that won’t be discussed as well. The honesty of this is that there is no surefire way to know how things would have developed with Yo'(unless you know something about time travel I don’t. If that’s the case, quit holding out on us!) so this is just an estimated guess based off of how the front office has acted over the last couple of years.

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Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Let’s start with the three moves made not that long after Ventura’s death last year. Brandon Moss was signed on February 1st, Jason Hammel on February 5th, and Travis Wood on February 13. It’s hard to tell if Moss’ signing was directly connected to Ventura, especially since the team had been looking for another bat throughout the winter. More than likely the Moss signing would have still happened, even without Ventura’s loss.

Hammel and Wood totally felt like a reaction to losing Yordano. The Royals rotation at that point looked set with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Ventura, newly acquired Nate Karns and Jason Vargas. The team even had Chris Young, Matt Strahm and Jake Junis as backup options for the rotation, so there wasn’t any real need for Hammel or Wood at that time.

One could make the argument that the Royals might have had interest in Wood as a reliever, which is very possible considering that had been his role for the majority of the previous two seasons. But if not, then Kansas City would have never signed them and we could take their contracts off the books, not only for 2017 but 2018 as well.

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Credit: Associated Press

Let’s move to the winter and the Royals deal with the White Sox and Dodgers. In that trade, Scott Alexander would go to Los Angeles while Soria would eventually end up in Chicago. One has to wonder if Kansas City would have been compelled to deal either reliever if the team had never signed Hammel or Wood.

The crux of this trade was moving Soria’s contract, which might not have been as important without those signings. If that is the case, then the trade might have never happened and Alexander and Soria would have stayed in Kansas City.

We could easily see a scenario where Soria would have still been shopped, but even if that is the case I doubt they would have felt moving him was important enough to lose the club control that Alexander would have (which runs through the 2022 season). This would mean the Royals would have kept two big cogs in their bullpen and we might have not seen the likes of Tim Hill, Brad Keller and Burch Smith when the season began (which would have meant some tough decisions, considering Keller and Smith were Rule 5 draft picks).

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Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Then at the end of January, the Royals traded Moss and Ryan Buchter to Oakland for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. This is a trade that feels like it would have happened no matter what. Moss had an awful season in 2017 (.207/.279/.428, -1.0 bWAR) and trading him would probably allow the Royals to move a portion of his salary commitment.

The interesting part of this becomes whether or not Buchter would have actually been a Royal. We all remember the ill-fated trade with San Diego but that trade happened for two reasons. One, the Royals needed pitching. Two, the Royals were still in the hunt for a playoff spot, 1.5 games out in the AL Central while holding down the second Wild Card.

I could see the Royals needing pitching, even with Yordano still in the picture. It’s very possible the deal could have gone down, but that is also trying to determine where Kansas City would have been in the standings. This is probably a good place to mention that Ventura finished 2016 with an ERA+ of 97 and a bWAR of 1.6. While some felt he was going to turn the corner in 2017, there was no guarantee that would happen.

So with that in mind, we’ll go with the San Diego trade still going down. Almost every team can use more pitching and it’s easy to see the Royals in a situation where they would need more arms. In other words, this is a deal that just reeks of fate.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So with all these moves out-of-the-way, we can start assessing whether or not the rebuild was slowed down by the passing of Ventura. With what we saw in 2017, it was very apparent the Royals were going to stick with the core group (Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.) and give them every opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. So any idea that they would be dealt was probably slim and none from the very beginning.

It’s probably also safe to say that if Kansas City had somehow found their way to the playoffs last year with Ventura, that would be one more reason to not completely tear the whole thing down and start over. The Royals would have still had a nice nucleus together (Perez, Whit, Duffy, Ventura, etc.) and with the way the free agent market collapsed this winter it’s possible Dayton might have been even more aggressive than he was.

It also appears Moore has never been down with a real “rebuild”. Back in March Dayton had this to say about how competitive the team would be this season:

“I believe that we can put a strong, competitive team on the field each and every night and also develop in the minor leagues,” he said. “I believe we can build our farm system back to the level it was in 2010 and 2011, and maybe even do it better and still win games at the major-league level.

“You can’t just turn it on and turn it off. If you want a winning culture, you’ve got to do everything in your power each day to win.”

It just doesn’t feel like the front office has ever been behind a full rebuild with this club. In fact, it has sounded like they would be content with piecing together the roster as needed, letting the younger talent filter in when they were ready and letting them get comfortable at their own pace.

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So with all that in mind, my guess is that Yordano Ventura’s untimely passing didn’t slow down a Kansas City rebuild. As much as moves made after his passing felt like a knee-jerk reaction to his death, the team had already committed to being “all in” for 2017 and even taking on less payroll wouldn’t have deterred that frame of mind.

Unless…the Royals decided to deal Yordano. While in some circles that might sound crazy, it might not be as far-fetched as you think. In fact, in the winter before the 2017 campaign, the Houston Astros were rumored to have shown interest in Ventura:

Royals starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are two of the pitchers on the Astros’ list of rotation targets, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.  The two K.C. arms join several other previously-known names (i.e. Jose QuintanaChris ArcherJake Odorizzi and other Tampa Bay’s starters) as potential trade fits for a Houston team looking to upgrade its starting pitching.

Now, showing interest isn’t the same thing as on the trading block. But if you are any team, you should probably be willing to listen to any offers on any player, just in case a team is willing to go way overboard just to acquire a player. While Ventura could have been under club control until 2021(with the help of club options), that might have been a selling point for Kansas City:

Their willingness to least listen to other clubs’ offers could be due to doubts about his personality, or it could just be due diligence, as Ventura’s years of control could net K.C. a nice return in a trade.

If a team was willing to offer a nice package of talent for Yordano, Moore would have to at least listen. One would think if a deal actually went down and the Royals were able to acquire young talent, it’s possible the rebuild could have sped up a bit.

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Credit: Royals.com

In fact, that might have been one of the few scenarios where guys like Hosmer and Cain would be dealt before the trade deadline. While it feels like a long shot, it could have very well happened considering in the last year the Astros have picked up both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to improve their starting rotation.

While I highly doubt Kansas City would have dealt Ventura, it does show how one or two moves can sway a team in different directions. Ventura very well could have gone from a building block for the team to an asset to fill multiple holes on the roster.

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So while his death probably didn’t slow down the Royals rebuild, it definitely changed the fabric of the team and the organization. Ventura is that hole that hasn’t been filled and it could be generations before they have another pitcher with his potential.

While it would be nice to say losing one player was the cause for the lack of youth on this Royals roster, the answer is far deeper than that. Trades, injuries, bad judgment and bad luck all play a part in why the Royals aren’t rebuilding more than they are right now.

Maybe in a different dimension or a different universe (Earth 2 or even Earth 81) this is all different and the Royals are still a potent contender in the American League. But in this reality, they are a team trying to build themselves back up without many pieces. While Yordano’s death was tragic, it is not the cause of their current situation. It’s just not that simple.

Ryan Goins Might Not be What We Want, but He Might be What the Royals Need

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Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We’ve all had that thought, especially us longtime Kansas City Royals fans. At one point of another, you’ve noticed a player on the roster that is receiving a bunch of playing time and you just ask ‘why?’. For whatever reason, these players seem to be a mainstay throughout Kansas City history.

Who will ever forget Willie Bloomquist, the definition of a utility player who became a lineup regular for the Royals in 2009, despite never posting an above average offensive season before or after (unless you count his 2013 season, where he posted an OPS+ of 101 over 150 plate appearances)?

The one that always bothered me was Chris Getz. If you want some amusement, go read some posts of mine from back in 2012-2013 at bleedingroyalblue.com; I even started a (fake) Q & A column around Getz based off of my confusion to the playing time he was receiving.

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The player who currently is taking up a fairly regular spot in the Royals lineup is infielder Ryan Goins and more than one Royals fan has deemed their displeasure with Goins, including old friend Craig Brown:

Craig pretty much sums up what a lot of us are thinking: why is Ryan Goins on this team? The simple answer is that Kansas City needs a backup infielder who can play multiple positions and Goins fits the bill.

But the true answer probably lies a bit deeper. Goins adds some versatility, as he has played every infield position in his career plus a few innings in the outfield. He also threw an inning of relief back in 2016, but we already have Drew Butera for that.

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Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

In fact Goins has been a plus defender for most of his career, mainly at second base. The defensive metrics don’t speak as highly of him at shortstop (-3.7 UZR at short in 2017), but luckily the Royals won’t need him there, since Alcides Escobar will be playing shortstop for the Royals until the end of time. I’m joking…I think.

Goins defense at second base allows manager Ned Yost the option of moving Whit Merrifield around and gives the lineup the overall flexibility they haven’t had for years. At the end of the day, Goins is a steady hand that Yost can rely on to keep the defense steady in a pinch.

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Credit: Associated Press

Before you think this is going to turn into a ‘Ryan Goins Appreciation Club’ article, don’t be fooled. Offensively Goins is a bit of a drag on the lineup. So far in 2018 he is hitting .234/.265/.319 with a wRC+ of 56. 56!! To put that in context, Alcides Escobar’s wRC+ is 55. Essentially, Goins and Escobar have put up similar offensive production, which is slim and none. So when both Goins and Escobar are in the lineup at the same time, it truly does create a black hole of death at the bottom of the order.

I thought maybe the deeper I dove into the numbers I would find something that would explain Goins’ playing time, but overall the numbers just aren’t pretty. Even the Win Probability numbers are in the negatives, which means he is probably hurting the Royals more than helping. Trying to justify those 21 starts is getting more and more difficult.

The small positives I could find offensively was a good BABIP (.324) and a noticeable increase in his line drive rate (up to 29.2% from last year’s 14.9%) combined with a lower ground ball rate (41.5% compared to 2017’s 50.3%). Whatever positives that come from his defense it is almost completely negated by his non-existent offense.

Kansas City Royals v Toronto Blue Jays
Credit: Getty Images

This shouldn’t be breaking news to you and more than likely it isn’t. But what I am going to say next might shock you: Goins is probably just what Kansas City needs right now. No, not the lackluster offense or the constant bunting. Where Goins has value right now for the Royals is as a stopgap.

It’s obvious the front office and coaching staff like Goins and see value in him where maybe we as fans don’t. It all really does come down to what you value as an individual. While on the surface we see a player who probably only has value on the defensive side of the ball, that might be enough for the higher-ups in the Royals organization. You and I might disagree with that, but we aren’t the ones making those decisions for the team.

That is not to say you are right or the Royals are right; there is more than one way to put together a contending baseball team. What I am saying is that occasionally as fans we believe we have the answers to how and why a team is successful, mainly based off of what we value. But we all value aspects of the game differently, and while on the surface it might not appear that Goins has value to this ballclub, his value might be part of a bigger picture.

It has become obvious that the Kansas City brass don’t feel that Adalberto Mondesi is quite ready for a bigger role on the big league club, a role that in part Goins is playing right now. While Mondesi shouldn’t be a backup infielder once he finally gets the call, he also probably won’t be in specifically one role for them once he is on the roster. There is a good chance that once he is recalled he will be playing all around the infield rather than just shortstop or just second base.

The good news is that it feels like Mondesi is getting closer and closer. He is hitting .257/.299/.514 at Omaha right now and his walk rate has seen a slight increase while the strike out rate has taken a dip. Mondesi has shown a proclivity of improving the longer he stays at each level over his career, and it appears that is what is going on in AAA as we speak.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

So while you and I might not understand the ‘Ryan Goins Experience’, it is definitely not a permanent answer for the Royals infield. While Mondesi will probably leap over Goins and be a starter at some point, the role of backup will probably transition over to someone like Ramon Torres, who appears to be a younger and better version of Goins.

Sometimes we just need to take a step back and allow the bigger picture to show itself. I’m not advocating for Goins being a part of this Royals roster, but I do feel Kansas City is looking at the future more than we give them credit for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Royals aren’t going to get better just by ditching Ryan Goins. More than likely though, Rome will appear sooner once Goins is no longer an option.

Kevin McCarthy is Proving He Should Have Been on the Opening Day Roster

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

When Opening Day rosters are announced there are always a few surprises that end up heading north with the team. Sometimes though, it isn’t who made the team as much as who is left off. That was the case with Kevin McCarthy, who did not make the Kansas City Royals roster out of Spring Training and instead began the year in the minors.

It was a bit of a surprise, as McCarthy had put together a pretty nice rookie year for the Royals in 2017. McCarthy threw 45 innings last year over 33 games in the big leagues, posting a 3.20 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 0.2 fWAR. But what really impressed me was his ability to produce in tight situations:

Maybe the most impressive part of his game was that he only allowed a hard hit rate of 26.3% and proved to be a clutch performer, posting a 0.30 WPA and 0.45 CLUTCH. While the team will be bringing back a number of their relievers for the upcoming season, one would have to think McCarthy could see a growing role in the Kansas City pen next year.

In proper context, the WPA was 9th best on the Royals last year while Clutch was 5th best. Sure, not ‘blow off the doors’ amazing but steady and a good starting point for a pitcher during his rookie campaign.

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Credit: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire

These were all reasons that it appeared a foregone conclusion McCarthy would be with the Royals to start the year, but the numbers game probably got the best of him. McCarthy had options left and the team wanted to keep Rule 5 picks Burch Smith and Brad Keller on the roster. Thus, McCarthy started the year at Omaha, appearing in 3 games before being recalled by Kansas City on April 13th. Since then, it is safe to say he has been one the Royals top relievers.

McCarthy has appeared in 22 games headed into play on Tuesday, tossing 25.2 innings posting a 3.16 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 3.31 xFIP and 0.2 fWAR (which ties him with his total from last year). McCarthy is keeping pace on his strike out rate this year, but has lowered his walk rate a bit (5.9%) and a 1.01 WHIP, which is down from 1.13 in 2017.

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But where it gets even more interesting for him is looking at some of the advanced numbers. Win probability is where McCarthy continues to impress. He currently sits second on the team in Win Probability Added at 0.40, and third in RE24, at 4.22. Both of these are accumulating statistics and should continue to rise as the season progresses, barring a major setback. It also shows how McCarthy easily should be one of the most trusted arms out of the bullpen right now.

In fact, McCarthy’s success appears to be coming on a slight shift in his pitch selection. Here’s a look over his pitch usage since the beginning of 2017 to today:

Brooksbaseball-ChartMcCarthy has gone from a pitcher that relies on his sinker and slider most often to one who is using his slide-piece less and less and using the change-up more. This shift appeared to happen around September of last year and he’s continued it into this season.

By doing that, he is inducing groundballs at a higher rate thanks to the change:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

For McCarthy, the higher rate of groundballs has led to a lower batting average against, pretty much all across the board:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

McCarthy has almost entirely ditched his four-seam fastball and is relying heavily on the sinker, tossing in the change-up, curve and slider to compliment it:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

It’s not quite the extreme that we saw from Scott Alexander last year, but it does show that if you have a pitch that is working and getting outs, using it more often would seem to translate to more outs.

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It also appears that the coaching staff is trusting him more and more as the season progresses. During May, the Royals used McCarthy 12 times, compiling a 2.25 ERA with batters hitting .179/.193/.304 against him. The bullpen struggled throughout the first month of the season, with a number of veterans like Blaine Boyer and Justin Grimm contributing to the bleeding rather than stopping it.

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Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With Brad Keller shifting to the rotation, it would appear to be as good a time as any for Kansas City to give McCarthy a shot at being a setup guy for closer Kelvin Herrera. With Herrera being a heavily coveted arm this summer, it is as good a time as any to see what McCarthy can do late in the game.

The Royals bullpen is continuing its evolution and it appears McCarthy will continue to evolve as well. More than likely there will be a few more shifts before it is all said and done and McCarthy is as good a choice as any to be a major part of it. So far he is passing all the Royals tests with flying colors; there is almost no reason to stop the development now. Moving forward should be the mantra.

Jay Traded to Arizona for Two Prospects

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Pretty much from the beginning of Spring Training this year, we have been aware that the Kansas City Royals would be sellers come the trade deadline. In fact, it was obvious who the Royals would be dangling as bait when that time came. But what none of us saw coming was outfielder Jon Jay being dealt during the first week of June:

So while we might have known Jay would be dealt before the end of summer, I’m pretty sure none of us saw this coming as early as it has. But from the first glance, it looks like a solid deal for Kansas City.

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In his short stint in Kansas City, Jay had proven to be exactly what the Royals needed. In fact, Jay is coming off of a great month of May. During those 31 days, Jay hit .368/.402/.436 over 28 games, racking up 43 hits and a sOPS+ of 132. May was big enough for him that he is still 14th in the American League in batting average (.307) and 5th in hits with 73 (2nd in singles at 61 behind only Jose Altuve). So it makes sense that Jay’s value is at a high right now and with the Diamondbacks dealing with some injury issues in the outfield (both A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza are currently on the disabled list), it only made sense for Arizona to be on the look-out for some help.

The good thing for Arizona is they are now getting a veteran outfielder who can play all three outfield positions and who can fit about any role that is needed. Jay isn’t going to wow anyone, as he is not a flashy player, but he is consistent and should help the team with some depth until Souza or Pollock are able to return.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals Twitter Account

The two pitchers that Kansas City acquired in this trade was 18-year old righty Elvis Luciano and 23-year old lefty Gabe Speier. Fangraphs did a nice little scouting report last night after the trade went down:

Luciano is a live-armed 18-year-old Dominican righty who spent most of 2017 in the DSL, then came to the U.S. in August for a month of Rookie-level ball, then instructional league. During instructs he was 90-94 with an average curveball, below-average changeup, and below command, especially later in his outing as he tired. He was an honorable-mention prospect on the D-backs list.

His velocity has mostly remained in that range this spring, topping out at 96. Luciano’s delivery has been changed to alter his glove’s location as he lifts his leg, probably to help him clear his front side a little better. He’s still had strike-throwing issues and might be a reliever, but he has a live arm and can spin a breaking ball. Though 18, Luciano’s frame doesn’t have much projection, so while he might grow into some velocity as he matures, it probably won’t be a lot. He’s an interesting, long-term flier who reasonably projects as a back-end starter.

As for Speier, he’s repeating Double-A. He’s a sinker/slider guy, up to 95 with an average slide piece. He projects as a bullpen’s second lefty and should be viable in that type of role soon.

So there is some definite upside to Luciano and Speier very well could have a future role for the Royals in the bullpen. Considering that Jay is essentially a league average hitter, it appears Kansas City actually got a couple of players who could be a part of the main roster in the future, even if it will be awhile before either is ready to contribute.

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Credit: RON JENKINS

While I know there was some uproar from the ‘Facebook’ crowd that the Royals went and traded one of their best players, the honest truth is it made sense and is a smart deal for the future of the organization. Jay was on a short, one-year deal and part of the point of signing him in the first place was to turn around and flip him in a trade this summer. The Royals accomplished that goal and in return added a couple of arms to add depth to their farm system.

While it might make the “on-the field” product a little lacking, the trade makes the future a little bit brighter. This is the whole point of this 2018 season: see what you have on the roster, keep the younger players with value and trade the veterans that can bring back some prospects. Jay is just the first of many deals we will be seeing from the Kansas City front office this summer. If this deal upset you, you probably aren’t going to like what happens next.

 

 

Jon Jay is What the Royals Need Him to Be

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Credit: Associated Press

Writers Note: I wrote this last week for Royals Review. Jay was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday evening. Hopefully I can get a piece up on the trade sometime soon.

When the Kansas City Royals signed veteran outfielder Jon Jay back in March, it felt like a move made out of necessity. The Royals needed a center fielder and were also looking to add another left-handed bat to a very right-handed heavy lineup. Jay checked off both of those needs and came on a very team friendly, one-year deal.

But expectations weren’t huge. The book on Jay was pretty simple: he will get on base, won’t hit for much power, not much of a base-stealer, and his defense is average at best. For the most part that is exactly what Kansas City has gotten from him so far in this 2018 campaign.

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Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is that Jay has been getting on base as advertised and on a consistent basis. Going into play on Tuesday night, Jay was hitting .305/.361/.362 and was leading the team in hits. Jay has the third best strike out rate (15.4%), on-base percentage (.361) and led the team in batting average on balls in play (.366) on the team. All of those numbers are in the ballpark of what he has done over his career and are a good sign that he should be able to continue on his current pace.

Jay is also putting the ball in play more often this year, as he is sitting on an 83.0% contact rate. To add to the good news, he is also hitting the ball harder:

jon jay snip
Credit: baseballsavant.com

So while he might be putting the ball on the ground at a higher rate this year (58.5%, up from 47.1% in 2017), it is not hurting him because he is hitting the ball harder when he does make contact. From the chart, it also shows he is barreling the ball more often (1.7%) while essentially keeping the same exit velocity (83.9% compared to last year’s 84.0%).

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Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

To add to the positives, there is still room for Jay to improve even more on his ability to get on base. Jay’s walk rate is a bit lower this year than last year (7.3% to 8.5%) and if he could hit a few more line drives (down to 22.2% this year) he might be able to get more doubles (he did get three on Monday night against Minnesota) and increase his extra base hit total.

You also probably noticed his almost non-existent power numbers, which are on life support at best right now: .362 slugging percentage, .057 ISO and ten total extra base hits. The good news is that Jay has never been a power hitter and the Royals don’t pay him to “hit bombs”. Jay’s bread and butter is to find a way to get on base and so far this year he is doing his job.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

The unfortunate part is that the Royals just aren’t taking advantage of Jay roaming the basepaths. Jay has been on-base 83 times this year (64 hits, 17 walks, 2 hit by pitch) yet has only scored 23 runs, or 28% of the time (he has been between 32-40% throughout much of his career). Obviously this doesn’t fall in the lap of Jay, as it is more a commentary on how the Royals offense deals with runners on base (.243/.311/.353 with runners on base, .218/.306/.320 with runners in scoring position). But it does make you wonder what could be if the Royals offense wasn’t so punchless.

The good news is that if Jay can keep up his production, Kansas City should be able to flip him at the trade deadline in July. There is definite value in a hitter like Jay and there should be at least one contending team interested in his services. It won’t garner the Royals a top-flight prospect, but Jay should bring the team a player they can work with.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals
Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

While Jay overall might just be an average hitter (101 wRC+ this year, 105 over his career), there is value in a guy who just finds a way to get on base. While the Royals have a number of powerful bats in the middle of their lineup that can go yard, it means very little if you don’t have someone at the top of the order who is on base ahead of them.

Jay might not bowl anyone over with his consistent hitting, but without him the Royals might have struggled even more these first two months of the season. His hitting might not be powerful enough for some, but it’s exactly what Kansas City needs right now at the top of their lineup.

The Royals Want All the College Pitchers

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the 2018 MLB Draft will go down as one of the most pivotal in the history of the Kansas City Royals, one way or the other. The Royals farm system has been continuously ranked as one of the worst in baseball by almost every publication around. With Kansas City getting compensation picks this year from the free agent losses of Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer, this year’s draft was the perfect time to re-stock the farm and begin the slow climb back up to contender. If their goal was to make a big splash, then they have succeeded.

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Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals first pick was at #18 and their pick was Baseball America’s College Player of the Year Brady Singer from Florida. Most had Singer going in the top five of the draft and some felt the lowest he would drop would be around #10. So what did Kansas City get with their top pick? Here is part of the scouting report from MinorLeagueBall.com:

Singer is listed at 6-5, 210 (he was 180 in high school), born August 4th, 1996. His fastball is his best pitch, up to 95-96 with boring action in on right-handed hitters when things are going well. He can also show a plus slider and has made good strides with his change-up this spring; a recent in-person report from Burke Granger at 2080 Baseball describes the change with “above average deception and tumble, parachuting out of the zone.” One of the few complaints about Singer in 2017 was the need for a better change-up and it sounds like things are going well in that department.

So why did he drop to #18? I’m sure sign-ability came into play, but there were also some concerns by some scouts when it came to Singer:

Despite the good statistics, several observers have noted Singer’s harder pitches, especially the fastball, flattening out at times this year. This is traced to changes in his arm angle although the exact cause/effect chain is a bit unclear from a distance.

His delivery has always been somewhat unusual with a three-quarters approach and some whippy action. His arm angle and release point looked higher at times this year and this has been enough to lower his projection in the eyes of some very respected observers.

So there are a few worries about Singer, but overall he has a plus arm that is already pretty far along in his development. What this means is as long as things go according to plan, Singer could be in the majors by the end of 2019. This was a great pick for the Royals and one that could pay off sooner rather than later.

2017 College World Series: TCU defeats Florida 9-2
Credit: Steve Cheng

With the 33rd pick in the draft, the Royals would draft Singer’s teammate at Florida, Jackson Kowar. Kowar is an interesting pick, as evidenced by the reports on him this season:

As a prep his fastball was generally 88-92 with higher peaks. In college that’s up to 92-95 with peaks as high as 97-98.

His best secondary pitch is his change-up, drawing plus ratings. Development of his breaking ball has been key this spring and while it is sharper and more consistent than in 2017, it is still his third pitch behind the fastball and change. Further refinement of the breaking stuff and general sharpening of his command will obviously be the first items on his agenda as a pro.

So while Kowar isn’t as far along as Singer, there are a few scouts that preferred him to Singer:

When Kowar is at his best he shows three plus pitches. He’s not as close to being a finished product as Brady Singer but in some ways Kowar is a more conventional prospect than his teammate and some scouts like Kowar better.

Kowar might be the more interesting pick to watch out of the two Florida boys, and I like the idea of the two teammates getting to move through the Royals system together.

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At #34, Kansas City would stay in the college ranks and draft left-handed pitcher Daniel Lynch from Virginia. Here is an assessment of Lynch earlier in the year:

A lean and narrow 6’4’’, Lynch won’t overpower hitters and needs to hit spots to have success. He throws from a clean abbreviated windup, getting consistent extension over his front half with little overall effort in his mechanics. He repeats well, able to stay around the zone with a four-pitch mix. The fastball has fringy velocity, sitting right around 90 mph while ranging anywhere from 88-to-93 mph without a lot of lateral movement. He’ll mix a cutter in the mid-80s as well, though the pitch has light, sweeping action and doesn’t project to be more than a wrinkle pitch to keep hitters off his fastball. Lynch commanded both sides of the plate with his four-seam fastball and cutter, though the loud contact allowed shows the limited margin for error he has within the zone. He’s more comfortable with a changeup than a breaking ball, showing more confidence in a fading low-80s circle-change that can get righties out on their front foot.

While Singer and Kowar would probably be ranked as power arms, Lynch appears to rely more on location:

Lynch projects to be a finesse lefty at the professional level. Scouts cite his thin frame as reason to wonder if his already fringy stuff backs up when he pitches on a more demanding schedule in the minor leagues. The best-case ceiling is that of a fifth starter who can soak up back-rotation innings, though he could fit a long or situational reliever if he ultimately lacks the stuff to face lineups more than once pitching out of the rotation.

So through their first three picks, Kansas City went with college pitchers with a good amount of upside. Their next pick didn’t stray far from the pattern.

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Credit: Stanford University

With the 40th pick (a competitive balance pick), the Royals would draft Stanford lefty Kris Bubic. Bubic has a delivery similar to Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw but that is where most of the similarities end:

Bubic is armed with a fastball that works best in the low-90s. He has a little reach-back velocity and can touch 95 MPH. It has some natural arm-side run, as is common with most lefties. What really has him on a path to success is a plus-changeup. He’s able to repeat his delivery and arm slot with it, giving it the look of a fastball. It has good fade down-and-away to right-handers, but he isn’t afraid to throw it against any hitter in any count. His curveball is a work in progress. He didn’t use it much during his first two seasons with the Cardinal, but it has improved enough this season to be a viable third pitch.

The good news is that while his ceiling is a bit unknown, his floor is higher than most:

A standout in the Cape Cod League last year, Bubic has the ceiling of a low-end No. 2 starter should everything click. More likely, he’s a solid No. 3/4 guy who thrives with his command/control profile and a borderline double-plus changeup. He could move quickly if he takes well to professional instruction. But don’t expect much more velocity, as he’s physically maxed out.

I’m interested to see how Bubic develops and he feels like a pitcher to keep an eye on. His change-up should get him places and it will be interesting to see what the Royals will want to do with his curve.

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Credit: Joe Murphy/University of Memphis

At this point it just made sense to continue on the trajectory they were on, so the Royals drafted another college pitcher, going with Memphis right-hander Jonathan Bowlan at #58:

The Memphis product has a solid fastball in the low-90s. The slider will flash better than average at its best, while an average changeup completes his arsenal. Not really a guy who will punch out a lot of hitters unless there is a serious uptick in stuff, Bowlan is probably a fifth starter or middle reliever within a few years.

Bowlan appears to be a underslot signing for Kansas City, but it also felt like the Royals had a direction they wanted to go in once Singer fell to them and they just went with it.

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Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

So what direction might that be? Maybe it’s just what lingers on the surface, but it appears Kansas City went the safe route with their picks on the first day by going with college pitchers. The Royals have been burned in the past by prep pitchers, so maybe they felt going with the older, more mature arms would garner a higher success rate than going with a high school player who has more talent but would take much longer to develop.

It also would make sense that the college pitchers could possibly start at a higher level, possibly in A ball. Maybe someplace like Lexington, where Royals prospects Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Seuly Matias are currently playing at. Maybe, just maybe, the Kansas City brain-trust remembers how the core players from their 2015 championship (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, etc.) came up through the minors together and won together on their way to the major leagues. Maybe…they are looking to repeat history. I could just be reaching here, but if I’m not it’s definitely not the worst idea in the world.

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The one thing we absolutely can determine from the draft is that the Kansas City Royals have done a good job of replenishing the farm system, especially with their pitching. It will be years before we can determine the true value of these players and where they rank among other former Royals draftees.

The one thing we can say is the team went in with a game plan and it appears they followed it down to the letter. The baseball draft always feels like a crap-shoot and as far as we know none of these picks will truly leave their mark. But there is a chance they could be the next Splittorff, Saberhagen, or Duffy. Pitching is the currency of the sport and the Royals just increased how much they have sitting in the bank.

 

 

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