There’s no question that Sunday was a rough afternoon for Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, and Brady Singer, three of the Royals’ prized young pitchers from the 2018 Draft class.
Already, some dominoes have fallen roster-wise from that difficult-to-watch game of baseball, as Kowar was demoted to Triple-A Omaha on Monday to make room for Joel Payamps, who was on the family emergency list to begin the season.
Bubic and Singer remain on the Royals roster…for now. However, it is likely that they won’t have much of a leash, especially if they put out similar performances to what they did at Kauffman on Saturday.
While Bubic’s outing was too short to come to a definite judgment on (he threw only 29 pitches after all), there could be some takeaways from Singer’s first (relief) outing of the season.
At the surface level, it will be easy to dwell on the six hits, four runs allowed, and 12.00 ERA.
However, when digging deeper, there are some positive signs from Singer’s outing, and it’s possible that this bullpen stint could be exactly what he needs, be it in the short or even long-term.
I had already shared Singer’s Statcast breakdown in a previous post on the struggles of the pitchers on Saturday, but here’s it again, just for perspective:
As Royals fans can see, he was pretty successful in generating whiffs with the slider, as he posted a whiff rate of 31 percent. On the other hand, he struggled to get called strikes with the pitch, as he only garnered two called strikes with the slider in his first outing of 2022, which lowered his CSW rate to 25 percent on the pitch.
It was pretty much the inverse for him with his sinker.
He generated 10 called strikes and a CSW rate of 32 percent, which are both solid marks. Unfortunately, he didn’t generate a single whiff on the pitch, despite him throwing it 52 percent of the time, and hitters swinging on the pitch 13 times.
Here’s a look at his pitch chart from Saturday, and notice how his sinker (orange) and slider (yellow) break down around the zone.
Singer’s slider was thrown glove side in the lower part of the strike zone against the Guardians, and he did throw his sinker up a lot in his first outing. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it would be more ideal for Singer to locate his sinker lower in the zone, especially with tailing action that will result in more groundballs.
In fact, let’s take a look at his pitch result chart from Savant, and see how that correlated with his pitch chart above.
When Singer threw pitches up in the zone, hitters tended to do well. Four of five batted balls in the middle to upper parts of the strike zone resulted in hits. That included a sinker to Jose Ramirez that was thrown in that upper gloveside part of the strike, which resulted in a home run.
Here’s a look at that pitch in the GIF below:
Now, Royals fans may see that blue dot, which went for a double. That came on Singer’s slider, which he hung too much up in the zone to Steven Kwan, who was a foil at the plate for the Royals pitching staff all series long.
Here’s a look at that pitch:
It’s actually not a bad choice by Singer.
The slider came on a 3-2 count, and for a hitter who may be sitting on a sinker, it could produce a swing and whiff. Unfortunately for Singer, Kwan has such good balance and plate discipline, that he’s able to sit back and still rope it, even though it’s traditionally a fastball count.
What’s interesting to see from Singer’s metrics is what his command looked like when he was “ahead in the count”. Take a look from the pitch charts from his three pitches when Singer was pitching in “pitcher-friendly” counts against the Guardians.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at what those charts looked like when Singer was “behind in the count” (he didn’t throw any changeups when behind):
The slider is more concentrated in the gloveside lower corner of the strike zone, which is a positive. However, the sinker’s location is not really ideal.
If that’s a four-seamer with vertical rise? Sure, that’s not bad. That being said, for a sinker with tailing down action, that location is going to get hit often (which it did in Singer’s outing).
Here’s an example of Singer locating his sinker effectively in a 1-2 count, in the lower part of the strike zone. It freezes up Yu Chang, who strikes out looking in the process:
When it came to the slider, when he located it well, and threw it in the right counts, he was able to generate some nasty-looking whiffs.
In the GIF below, Singer throws the slider on a 1-0 pitch to Franmil Reyes, who’s obviously looking for a sinker in a hitter-friendly situation (especially with runners on second and third). Instead, Singer’s 85-mph slider gets Reyes to swing and miss out of his shoes badly.
Many people will look to the home run allowed and the array of singles and think Singer’s outing was a hot disaster. Yet, a deeper dive shows that there was some promise from his limited three-inning outing, even if it was far from the start to the 2022 season that Royals fans or Singer wanted from his first appearance.
There’s no question that Singer needs to utilize his changeup more if he wants to be successful and make a return to the Royals rotation. With him only throwing it once on Saturday, it is likely that it will be a tough ordeal for him to be more than a two-pitch pitcher.
And such approach will make him more suited for the bullpen, especially for the time-being.
What’s interesting to note though was how Singer’s line looked when broken down by inning:
Notice how in the first inning, he gave up four hits and three runs. In the next two innings, he only gave up two hits and one run.
Thus, it may have been a case where Singer wasn’t fully warmed up, which would make sense since he doesn’t have a whole lot of bullpen outings under his belt at both the Major AND Minor League level.
While I think Singer ultimately wants to return to the rotation, this bullpen stint could be what he needs, especially if he’s not going to use his changeup all that much. Singer could thrive like Adbert Alzolay did when moved to the bullpen a season ago, and Alzolay and Singer profile as similar pitchers on a speed and movement end, according to Baseball Savant similarity scores.
Alzolay finished the season strong in 2021, and there was a lot of hype going into 2022 that he would build on that strong finish, until he suffered injury in Spring Training. Thus, it will be interesting to see what the Cubs will do with Alzolay when he returns off the IL.
As for Singer, Royals fans should expect him to be in the bullpen for at least a few weeks.
And that could help him iron things out in lower leverage situations, which may be what he needs after a rough outing on April 10th.
Singer did show some promise on Saturday, even if it is hard to see at first.
Let’s hope Singer can build on the positive from his outing, especially in the second and third innings of work.
Because just maybe…he can develop into a somewhat productive pitcher…
Even if it will be a slightly less-than-expected path from the pitcher who was the Royals’ top draft pick in 2018.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images