The Royals dropped a tough one today, as their offense was incredibly punchless against Joe Ryan and the Minnesota Twins bullpen in a 1-0 loss. The Royals finish the homestand against the Tigers and Twins 3-3, with the finale against the Tigers delayed due to Weather.
While today was a disappointing end to the series against the Twins, the fact that the Royals are 5-6 and third in the AL Central despite a complete lack of production in the lineup from anyone beyond Salvy, Benny, and to a degree, Nicky, is a minor miracle of sorts. Honestly, I would rather have the Royals have a mediocre or slow April, and do better in the middle months of May, June, and July than the inverse, which happened a year ago.
And there are some Royals fans who are thinking the same way:
Of course, I know more impatient Royals fans will beg to differ, as evidenced by the constant “yelling needlessly into the void” on Royals Twitter right now.
Anyways, in this edition of the “3 Stars”, I am going to look at the bullpen, who definitely shined against the Tigers and Twins during this homestand.
Three Stars: Collin Snider, RHP
Despite all the problems Royals fans have with Dayton Moore, this much can be said: he and the front office know how to identify and promote bullpen talent.
Snider was a surprise addition to the 40-man roster this offseason along with Lee’s Summit North grade Nate Webb. Snider was solid in Double-A Northwest Arkansas a year ago but struggled in the transition to Triple-A at the end of the year. Many Royals fans were puzzled why Snider got the nod over other options like Austin Cox and Josh Dye, who were Rule 5 eligible and had better Minor League numbers a season ago.
So far though, Snider has arguably been the Royals’ third best-reliever behind Josh Stuamont and Scott Barlow. The former Vanderbilt product has not allowed a run so far this year in six appearances and 5.1 IP, and he has only allowed three hits and one walk while striking out four.
In his last three appearances, Snider has gone three innings while allowing only one hit, one walk, and has struck out one.
That lone strikeout was against Detroit’s Jeimer Candelario, whom Snider struck out on his nasty slider, which he throws 63.4 percent of the time, according to Baseball Savant.
The season is still early, and one has to wonder what will happen to Snider once hitters get more used to his slider-sinker combo (he throws his sinker 36.6 percent of the time). Currently, he’s generating a groundball percentage of 61.5, which feeds into the solid Royals infield defense behind him.
If Snider wants to continue to hold his spot as one of the “top three” guys out of the Royals bullpen, he will need to continue to generate that high of a groundball rate going forward, especially since he may never be a high-strikeout kind of reliever.
Two Stars: Scott Barlow, RHP
Barlow is off to a weird start. On one hand, his numbers look great, almost similar to what he did a season ago when he emerged as the Royals’ best reliever.
Barlow’s ERA is 1.35, and his xERA is not that far off at 1.85. His K rate is slightly down at 28 percent (in comparison to 29.7 percent in 2021), but his walk rate of four percent and hard-hit rate of 17.6 percent are both dramatically down from his numbers last year (9.2 and 36.8 percent, respectively).
However, Barlow has only one save this season, and with the exception of April 20th, it seems like Staumont has been Matheny’s go-to guy in the ninth more often in 2022 (more on that later).
Barlow’s four-seamer is down velocity-wise at 93 MPH, which is 2.3 MPH slower than a year ago. That being said, he’s using the fastball far less in 2022.
In 2021, he threw the pitch 33.1 percent of the time. This season? That percentage is down to 24.2 percent, which makes it his third-most thrown pitch behind his slider (49.5 percent) and his curveball (26.5 percent).
His curveball has been a nice development this year, as Barlow is not only using it 26.5 percent of the time (6.5 percent more than a year ago), but he is incredibly effective with it, as evidenced by the 56.3 percent whiff rate on the pitch.
Here’s an example of Barlow getting Tigers veteran Miguel Cabrera to “sword” strike out on Saturday, April 16th at Kauffman:
There were some Royals (and fantasy baseball fans) who thought Barlow could be a 20+ saves guy this year. Judging by the early results, it is unlikely that he reaches that 15-save mark, let alone a 20-save one.
However, with the increased usage (and effectiveness) of his curve, it seems like Barlow could still be an effective high-leverage reliever out of the Royals bullpen, even with the slight dip in four-seam fastball velocity so far in 2022.
One Star: Josh Staumont, RHP
Staumont had a rough outing on April 11th, as he gave up two runs on three hits in 0.2 innings against the Cleveland Guardians.
Since then though, Staumont has not only been effective but has arguably emerged as the Royals’ best reliever, at least in the eyes of manager Mike Matheny.
From April 15th to April 20th, the former Royals’ top prospect (according to Baseball America in 2017) has allowed no hits and runs with only one walk in 4.0 IP.
Additionally, he has struck out six batters over that timespan, which included this strikeout of Detroit’s Akil Baddoo in the clip below, which was on a 101 MPH sinker:
Yes, you saw that right. 101 MPH. In the strike zone.
That’s going to be tough for opposing hitters in the ninth.
And if that wasn’t enough, Staumont has been able to find command of his curveball, which he throws 29.3 percent of the time. He is generating a whiff rate of 45.6 percent and put-away rate of 55.6 percent on the pitch, which makes it arguably one of the best pitches in his arsenal.
Here’s a look at Staumont getting Daz Cameron to whiff badly against Staumont’s 84 MPH curveball thrown low in the glove-side area of the strike zone:
That kind of bender is hard to adjust to as a hitter, especially when one is expecting a 98-101 MPH four-seamer or sinker.
Staumont is coming to his own in his second full season at the MLB level (and his fourth season overall).
It will be interesting if it will be Staumont, not Barlow, who’s getting 20+ saves for the Royals by the end of the 2022 season.
Right now, it’s not out of the realm of possibility, especially if Saumont continues to pump 101 MPH fastball along with 84 MPH breaking balls.
Photo Credit: Ron Schwane/Getty Images