The Royals lost 2-1 to the Minnesota Twins in the series finale at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday afternoon, and once again, Royals fans witnessed an inconsistent performance from pitcher Brady Singer. For the second straight start, the 2018 first round pick went 5.2 IP and gave up eight hits. Unlike his start against the Pirates on Tuesday June 1st, where he gave up five runs (four earned), he only gave up two runs against a much-better Twins lineup, though he did walk more batters (three) than his outing against Pittsburgh (he only walked one). As a result, Singer saw his ERA decline from 5.06 to 4.88 after Sunday’s performance, which is a little more palatable, but still discouraging overall.
Singer has pitched 12 games in 2021, which is exactly how many starts he made during the abbreviated 2020 season. On the surface level, many of Singer’s metrics are worse from a year ago. His ERA is up (4.88 in 2021 to 4.06 in 2020); his WHIP is up (1.46 in 2021 to 1.17 last year), and he has given up 11 more hits than a year ago (63 this year to 52 in 2020), despite pitching 5.1 less innings (64.1 to 59 IP). To many Royals fans, it is possible to think that Singer is getting worse and going through a sophomore slump, which is not a good sign for him and this promising group of pitching prospects (Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, and Asa Lacy) who all have had their shares of ups and downs at both the Major AND Minor league level in 2021.
However, when diving deeper into Singer’s numbers, he’s a more complicated case, as there are actually signs that he may be pitching BETTER in 2021.
Will he be the “ace” of the Royals rotation, whether this year or in the future? That is hard to tell, and may not be answered until the conclusion of this year or the beginning of next. That being said, while some Royals fans may be losing faith in Singer after two months of play this year, it is possible that Singer could be due for some correction, which may be good for not just him, but the Royals overall as well.
There is no doubt that Singer has regressed as the 2021 season has worn on. Here is how he breaks down each month according to traditional metrics:
- April: Five starts, 23.1 IP, 3.09 ERA, 19 hits allowed, 12 runs allowed, 9 walks, 26 strikeouts.
- May: Five starts, 24.1 IP, 6.66 ERA, 28 hits allowed, 18 runs allowed, 10 walks, 23 strikeouts.
- June: Two starts, 11.1 IP, 4.76 ERA, 16 hits allowed, 7 runs allowed, 4 walks, 13 strikeouts.
The good news? The strikeouts are still there for Singer, and that is further evidenced in his swinging strike rate of 10.6 percent, which is 0.4 percent higher than a year ago, and his 30.9 percent CSW (called strike plus swinging strike rate) which is lower than last year, but still solid, especially considering his high ERA and WHIP numbers.
Unfortunately, while Singer is piling up the K’s, he also piling up the hits and runs allowed, as he has given up 44 hits and 25 runs allowed in 35.2 IP during the months of May and June combined. Thus, Royals fans have to wonder: what is making Singer so hittable, especially over these last two months of play?
Well, a big issue for Singer has been his slider, which has been less effective than a year ago in a myriad of ways.
The first big issue for Singer’s slider has been his struggle to generate strikes consistently on the pitch. Singer’s slider generates a lot of swings and misses, as he is generating a whiff rate of 30.8 percent and a K rate of 26.9 percent this season, according to Baseball Savant. Furthermore, according to Pitcher List data, he is generating a 40.7 percent O-Swing percentage (swings outside the strike zone) and a swinging strike percentage of 17.6 percent, which are both improvements from 2020. When the slider is clicking, Singer can flat out be hard to hit at times on the mound, as evidenced below in this punch out of White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada:
But Singer depends on hitters chasing to be effective with his slider, especially this year. His called strike rate is only 11 percent, and his CSW is 28.5 percent on the slider this year, which are 5.2 percent and 2.9 percent declines from a year ago. His slider has also been particularly bad at generating non-swinging strikes as of late, which is demonstrated in his game log via Pitcher List:
Notice how his called strike rate (CS%) has been in single digits the past three starts, which have been three of his rougher starts this year. Furthermore, with the exception of that 25.8 percent called-strike rate on May 22nd, his CS rate has been in single digits since April 30th. That’s not necessarily a bad thing when he’s generating 20 plus swinging strike rates on the pitch, as he did from May 11th to May 27th. However, when he doesn’t, like he did on May 5th, or in the past two starts, his slider become pretty mediocre, which hurts his ability to generate outs and quality outings as a whole.
When one looks at Singer’s swing-take profile, it’s in the shadow zone where Singer has lost so much value from a year ago. That shadow zone is just outside the heart of the plate but just inside the chase area, according to Savant. The shadow is a key area for a pitcher to live in, as getting those strikes on the edges can make or break a pitcher in a game or season overall.
Let’s take a look at his swing-take chart from 2020, his rookie season:
Notice he was 14 runs better than average when it came to generating strikes and outs in the shadow zone in 2020. Now, let’s take a look at how things changed in his swing-take profile this year:
Singer is a little better in the chase zone in 2021, but a little worse in the waste and heart zones. However, the biggest difference is that shadow zone, as he is 10 runs WORSE than a year ago. Hence, it’s not a surprise that he on a run value basis, Singer is +7 this year, which is a 15 run change in the wrong direction since 2020. His slider has been the most glaring contributor to that high run value mark, as he is posting a run value of +6 this year on the slider. Last year, he was posting a -1 run value, according to Savant, which meant that he was one run better than the average starting pitcher with his slider.
Because he struggles to throw his slider consistently for strikes, Singer has been more reliant on his sinker, as he is throwing his sinker 60.4 percent of the time, a 3.1 percent increase than a year ago. That is not necessarily good for a two-pitch pitcher like Singer, as it makes him more hittable overall.
His sinker paid dearly especially last month, when his slider usage dropped to from a 35 percent usage in April to a 29.7 percent usage in May. After seeing hitters post a .234 wOBA against his sinker during the first month of the season, they posted a .353 wOBA on the pitch during the month of May. Furthermore, Singer also saw a drop in put away rate on the pitch, as it went from 22.6 percent in April to 12.5 percent in May, a dramatic drop.
If Singer had a reliable third pitch, perhaps he would be able to overcome these slider command issues. Unfortunately, he only throws the changeup 4.1 percent of the time, and it hasn’t been very effective either, as it is generating a zero percent whiff rate, and has a run value of +2, according to Savant. The changeup has been a project for Singer and the Royals since debuting a year ago, but after 24 starts, one has to wonder if it will ever be a serious part of his repertoire, especially considering that he has generated such a small number of whiffs on the pitch the past couple of seasons.
Therefore, in order for Singer to find his groove again on the mound this summer, Singer will need to recapture that command on his slider.
On a positive note, despite the high ERA, Singer’s overall profile doesn’t look as bad, and some data suggests that Singer has been going through a rough-luck patch on the mound. Here is a look at Singer’s percentile rankings from Baseball Savant:
Yes, the whiff rates and max exit velocity aren’t great, but the rest of his profile is promising. His expected metrics are a far cry from his actual results, which is a classic sign that Singer hasn’t been lucky when the ball is put on play. For example, his xwOBA is 21 points lower than his wOBA this year, which could point to a turn around soon, if some of those balls can find fielders for outs. This hit below is just a classic example of Singer this year not getting the benefit of the doubt on a groundball that should honestly be an easy ground out.
Even when compared to his metrics last year, there are a lot of signs that Singer is improving. His hard hit rate is down, as it has decreased from 40.1 percent to 34.3 from 2020 to 2021, respectively. His xwOBA on Contact (xwOBACON) has gone down from .350 to .335, and his xERA has also regressed from 3.87 to 3.51. On a WAR basis, Singer has been the second most valuable starting pitcher for the Royals, as his 1.2 fWAR is the second-best mark for Royals starting pitchers this season, according to Fangraphs.
As stated before, it is easy for Royals fans to dwell on Singer’s recent starts, lackluster ERA and WHIP numbers and think that he is a much different pitcher from a year ago. He really isn’t, and if anything, he’s just going through a rough patch with his slider command, and he is just seeing a lot batted balls find the gaps, which could be corrected soon with the Royals defense improving over the past month. Singer has demonstrated signs that he is a better pitcher than his numbers indicate, and it would not be surprising to see Singer go on a hot stretch and show that ability, especially when Royals fans least expect it. He did it last year after he hit a rough pitch in the middle of the shortened season, and it’s plausible he is capable of doing that again.
It is easy to forget about Singer amidst the Jackson Kowar hype, the strong start from Bubic, and the debut of Lynch, even though the latter didn’t go as well as hoped. That being said, Singer has been one of the Royals’ most important starting pitchers this year on an innings-end (only Mike Minor has thrown more and Singer has allowed a lot less home runs). Singer’s impact could be even more important in the next couple of months, especially with Danny Duffy’s return unknown at this point.
And if Singer can regain that slider command…
Well, who knows what the former Florida Gator, and this Royals pitching staff overall, could do during these important summer months.
Photo Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports