It’s been a rough year for Royals starting pitchers, and the numbers pretty much back that up, unfortunately (much to Royals fans’ chagrin).
According to Fangraphs’ Roster Resource, Royals starting pitchers rank 27th in ERA, 28th in WHIP, 25th in BB/9, and 26th in K/9. While Kansas City starting pitchers don’t rank last in any one category, they’ve been tremendously mediocre in more ways than one. That is a primary reason why the rotation ranks 27th in the league in starting pitcher fWAR, according to Fangraphs.
One bright spot though of this Royals starting pitching staff this year has been Brady Singer, the Royals’ first selection (and 18th overall) in the 2018 MLB Draft.
For the year, Singer is 8-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 24 appearances (including 21 starts) and 134.2 IP. The former Florida Gator is also generating an 8.75 K/9, a 2.07 BB/9, and 4.23 K/BB ratio this season (the latter two categories are career-best marks). After struggling with consistency in 2021 and in Cactus League play this past Spring, Singer has put it together in 2022 to become the Royals’ most consistent starter.
In fact, he’s been so dependable this year, that Royals general manager JJ Picollo referenced him in a recent interview as a model of what other young starting pitchers, such as Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, and Jon Heasley, should be working toward.
Singer has definitely solidified a spot in the Royals rotation for 2023. However, can the 25-year-old pitcher be the Royals’ ace not just next year, but beyond as well? After all, he will be eligible for arbitration this offseason, and in the process, could be an extension candidate for Picollo and the Royals front office, with the primary goal to buy out his remaining four years of arbitration at the very least.
That said, the Royals have many “extension” candidates this offseason, with some interesting decisions looming on the offensive end of things (including Witt, Pratto, MJ, and Pasquantino). If the Royals do extend Singer, that could close the door on a long-term deal for one of those talented offensive players in the near future.
Thus, let’s take a look at three metrics that could give Royals fans an idea of whether or not Singer can handle top-of-the-rotation duties in Kansas City for the next three to five seasons.
7.9 percent Changeup Usage
The biggest difference in Singer’s pitching arsenal has been the increase in changeup usage from 2021 to 2022.
A season ago, Singer only threw the changeup 3.8 percent of the time. This year that percentage is up 4.1 percentage points, which includes a 13.8 percent usage against left-handed hitters.
Here’s a look at Singer’s spike in changeup usage against lefties since 2020, according to Baseball Savant.
As Royals fans can see, Singer has nearly doubled his changeup usage against left-handed hitters, which makes sense considering the changeup complements his sinker very well movement-wise.
Here’s a look at Singer getting a called strike on the lower part of the strike zone against Houston Astros hitter Kyle Tucker at Kauffman Stadium in early June.
Now, let’s take a look at Singer’s sinker, and notice how the sinker not only falls in the same area of the strike zone against the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux back in August but possesses a lot of the same tailing movement as the changeup.
Singer doesn’t need his changeup to be “elite” by any means. After all, it’s only producing a whiff rate of 10 percent and a K rate of 9.7 percent, according to Savant. Those are both pretty paltry marks at the surface level.
That being said, hitters are only producing a .231 wOBA on the pitch this year, and he is seeing a -2 run value on it as well, making it his second-best pitch in terms of run value. As a result, he’s seeing MORE success with the third pitch’s increase in usage, which was something Royals fans were hoping to see from Singer at the beginning of Spring Training.
How Singer’s changeup continues to develop in 2023 could be the critical factor in terms of whether Singer improves and solidifies his spot as the Royals’ ace, or if he regresses and simply become a middle-of-the-rotation kind of pitcher.
7.8 percent Barrel Rate
A discouraging trend we have seen from Singer this year has been the increase in barrel rate against him in 2022. His overall barrel rate has increased from 4.5 percent in his rookie season to 5.6 percent in 2021 to 7.8 percent this year.
For further context, here’s a look at how his barrel rate has fared against certain pitchers over the past three years.
Obviously, the barrel rate against the changeup stands out the most at first glance. But to be perfectly frank, that was going to jump regardless due to his lack of usage of the pitch in 2020 and 2021.
On the other hand, though, the barrel rates on his slider and sinker have also increased, which is not an encouraging sign.
This is an example of Singer making a mistake with his sinker command against Oakland’s Seth Brown back in June, and Brown make him pay by barreling the ball for a home run at Kauffman Stadium.
While the rise in barrel rate from 2021 to 2022 is discouraging, Singer’s month-by-month barrel rate data paints a more optimistic picture.
Back in April and May, Singer was allowing a barrel rate of 11.1 and 12 percent, respectively. However, that rate has gotten down to as low as 2.5 percent in September, which can be seen in the chart below.
Will we see this regression continue for Singer in 2023? Or will that barrel rate spike up again next April and May much like it did in 2022?
The barrel rate data in those first two months of next season could make the difference for Singer when it comes to him taking over as the “ace” of the Royals rotation in 2023.
26.1 percent Chase Rate
Singer improved his overall chase rate from 24.9 percent in 2021 to 26.1 percent in 2022. While that improvement is encouraging, his chase rate is still 2.3 percent below league average, according to Savant.
Additionally, his chase rate on his main two pitches (slider and sinker) has pretty much stagnated since last season, which can be seen in the following chart:
The sinker has seen the most positive improvement in the chase rate of his four pitches (it hovers just under 20 percent). But the slider, which has been the most effective chase pitch of Singer’s repertoire over his career, hasn’t seen as much of an increase from a year ago, even though the pitch still remains effective when it comes to enticing hitters to chase out of the zone.
Overall, his chase rate ranks in the 19th percentile for pitchers, according to Savant, which is only two percentile points better than his ranking in 2021. This is a concern, and this issue is particularly amplified when Royals fans take a look at his Swing/Take run data, which is evidenced in the graphic below.
Notice how effective Singer is in shadow and heart zones, where he is producing a total of -30 runs (negative is good). Unfortunately though, in that chase area, his run value is +12, which is pretty mediocre.
What does this say about Singer’s pitch profile?
Well, his pitches are good enough to freeze up hitters on the edges or overwhelm them in the heart of the zone. However, they are not nasty enough to get pitchers to swing out of the strike zone on a frequent enough basis.
It’s a shame though because when Singer’s commanding his slider well, he can produce nasty swing-and-miss strikeouts, much like this one in July against Tampa Bay’s Francisco Mejia.
Now, Singer doesn’t need to dramatically improve that chase rate in 2023. If he can get that run value in the single digits, that could make him an even more frontline starter next year and beyond.
When it comes to the best starting pitchers in the league in terms of chase rate, Royals fans can see that being in the single digits in this category can have a huge impact on a pitcher’s overall run value in terms of Swing/Take data.
Can Singer can be in the same category chase zone-wise as Gausman, Cease, and even Bieber as soon as next season?
If that can come to fruition, I think Royals fans will be more game for a long-term extension for Singer this offseason.
Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports