Diving Into Brady Singer’s Complicated Arbitration Case With the Royals

Going into Spring Training, Brady Singer was the only Royals player that had failed to come to an agreement with the organization prior to their arbitration hearing. On Wednesday, news broke that the Royals had won their arbitration case over their former 2018 first-round pick who made 24 starts (27 appearances total) and pitched 153.1 IP in 2022, which led all Royals pitchers in 2022, according to Fangraphs.

As expected, the decision has been a polarizing one among Royals fans especially those who felt Singer merited a long-term extension of some sort after his successful 2022 campaign (he was one of my top candidates this offseason).

On Thursday, Singer made his first appearance at Royals Spring Camp in Surprise, and it was nice to see him focusing on baseball (instead of contract talk) and looking comfortable on the mound.

With Singer expected to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, it was nice to see Singer get some work in with not only the Royals coaching staff but fellow Royals pitchers as well.

On his first day back to the Royals camp, Zack Greinke and Singer were working together on the mound, a promising sight considering the pair were the Royals’ two best pitchers from last season. The fact that they get another year together should not just benefit Singer (who gets another year of tutelage from Greinke), but the Royals rotation overall in 2023.

There were positive vibes from Singer’s first day in Surprise. That said, a complicated situation will hover over Singer and the Royals this season, especially considering the Royals have been an organization that typically avoided hearings with arbitration-eligible players, especially under former club president and general manager Dayton Moore.

Both sides certainly had arguments to make in regard to Singer’s contract situation this offseason.

Singer showed he could be a top-of-the-rotation guy for the Royals last season. On the other hand, he showed plenty of flaws in 2020 and 2021, and one can understand JJ Picollo not wanting to make the same mistake with Singer that Moore made with Hunter Dozier prior to 2021 (i.e. sign a guy to an extension too early).

Nonetheless, Royals fans are simply hoping that this recent arbitration spat doesn’t affect his performance this season or the Royals’ ability to sign him to a long-term extension in the near future.

The Case For Singer’s Arbitration Case

After the announcement broke that the Royals had won their arbitration case against Singer, Anne Rogers of MLB.com broke this comment from Singer in his response to the ruling and how he was handling it.

Much like Greinke, Singer is a candid guy and isn’t shy to express how he’s feeling, whether it’s on the mound or in the clubhouse. He was one of the 10 Royals players last season who missed the Blue Jays series in Toronto due to being unvaccinated (it didn’t seem to bother him much), and he also was hesitant to throw his changeup in his first two MLB seasons.

In fact, he was quite vocal to the media at the time about his reluctance to throw a third pitch to help vary his pitch arsenal.

Stubbornness seems to be a characteristic of Singer’s that has worked for him and against him over the course of his three-season MLB career in Kansas City thus far. For as stubborn as he can be, however, when the rubber meets the road, Singer has stepped up more often than not.

After being demoted to the Minors after a lackluster start to the 2022 season out of the bullpen, Singer finished with a 3.23 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and generated a 2.9 fWAR, which led all Royals pitchers with 10 or more innings pitched. His ERA was 1.68 points better than his mark in 2021, and his BB/9 and K/BB ratio were 1.65 and 1.82 points, respectively, better than his numbers in those categories a season ago, according to Fangraphs.

Furthermore, according to splits data, in 81.2 IP in the second half of the season, Singer not only posted a 2.53 ERA, but he also generated a 3.12 FIP and 4.76 K/BB ratio after the All-Star break as well. Those numbers were considerably better than what he produced in 71.2 IP over the first half of the season (4.02 ERA; 4.10 FIP; 3.83 K/BB ratio).

A big adjustment Singer made after coming back from a short demotion to Triple-A Omaha in late April and early May was showing a bit of humility, and dropping his previous “hard” stances against utilizing the changeup.

After throwing the changeup less than two percent of the time in April, Singer’s usage of the pitch dramatically spiked in his return to the Majors from Omaha (though to be fair, it did regress a bit as he pitched more innings in 2022).

Now Singer’s changeup is not a strikeout pitch by any means.

According to Baseball Savant, his changeup only produced a whiff rate of 9.1 percent and put away rate of 8.1 percent on a usage rate of 7.7 percent in 2022. Those were by far the worst marks in those categories of his three primary pitches (with the others being his sinker and slider).

That said, Singer only allowed a .235 batting average and .296 wOBA on the changeup last season. Those numbers on the changeup were better marks than the sinker and slider in those categories last season, which can be seen in the table below:

Here’s an example of Singer being effective with his changeup against the Astros back in June, as the speed difference on the third pitch generated an easy pulled groundball out from Houston’s Kyle Tucker at Kauffman Stadium.

At first glance, the changeup doesn’t appear like an effective pitch, especially with it catching so much of the strike zone against Tucker back in June. However, the changeup does have the same kind of horizontal movement as Singer’s sinker, which is his primary pitch (53.7 percent usage rate).

Here’s an example of his sinker catching a similar part of the strike zone, only this time in August and against Tampa Bay’s Francisco Mejia. Notice a much different result with the 93 MPH tailing sinker.

It will be interesting to see if Singer can continue to sequence the sinker and the changeup on the edges of the strike zone in 2023. As seen in the heatmap comparison below, Singer did a good job of generating called and swinging strikes with the sinker and changeup in similar areas of the strike zone a season ago.

(Scroll right for sinker CSW; scroll left for changeup CSW).

That kind of command with those two pitches made things tough on hitters last year. That proved to be especially true with the sinker sporting a similar horizontal break (14.5 inches with the changeup; 14.9 inches with the sinker) but a big difference in velocity (93.8 MPH with the sinker; 86.9 MPH with the changeup).

The slider will always be a premium pitch for Singer going forward, especially in 2022. That is especially true when considering the pitch has generated whiff rates of 33.9 and 29.1 percent and put-away rates of 24.5 percent and 22.2 percent over the past two seasons, respectively.

That being said, the development of his changeup, as well as his sinker-changeup sequencing is a big reason that he not only had a big season in 2022 but further gives credence that Singer can be a solid no. 1 or no. 2 pitcher in the rotation for the Royals for years to come…

Which merits an extension, not a “lower offer” in the arbitration negotiation process, as was the case this offseason.

The Cases Against Singer’s Arbitration Case

There are two reasons I think the Royals would be skeptical of handing out big money to Singer this offseason: 1.) His hard-hit metrics were not good; 2.) His overall three years with the Royals still leave a bit to be desired.

In terms of tackling the first point, let’s take a look at Singer’s percentile rankings via Baseball Savant:

When it came to batted ball quality metrics, Singer was below the 30th percentile in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, and under the 40th percentile in barrel rate and expected slugging percentage. For a pitcher who is expected to be a possible “ace”, those hard-hit metrics aren’t “ace” quality by any stretch of the imagination.

Furthermore, Singer, struggled with the long ball as well in 2022, which was surprising considering he seemed to improve in most categories from his 2020 and 2021 seasons.

In 2022, Singer allowed an HR/FB rate of 14 percent. While that was better than his rate in 2020 (15.1 percent), his 2022 rate was actually one percent higher than his rate in 2021, which was a season that saw him post an ERA of 4.91.

A big reason for the slight increase in home runs could be credited to the jump in barrels allowed by Singer from 2021 to 2022, which can be seen in the data table below:

As Royals fans can see, the 2.6 percent jump in barrel rate and 1.8 point increase in barrels/plate appearances are concerning numbers for Singer and his long-term outlook. There’s no question that Singer can generate called and swinging strikes on a consistent basis (his career 30.7 percent CSW rate illustrates that).

However, when it comes to limiting extra-base hits, that’s a different story, as hitters certainly took advantage of him when he made mistakes, as demonstrated in this extra-bases hit chart from last season, via Savant:

Notice a lot of those extra-base hits stemming from pitches grooved in the zone. The GIF below is an example of a slider that hangs too much, and Arizona’s Daulton Varsho is able to crush it over the right field wall at Kauffman Stadium.

How Singer can limit “hard hit” batted balls in 2023 could be a key development to watch from him for this upcoming season. If he makes progress and is able to induce fewer barreled balls, an extension could be looming soon. If the barrels continue at the same rate or go up, it could be tough for Picollo and the Royals to justify anything long-term.

In the table below, Royals fans should look at Singer and compare his career data to the career data of three other Royals pitchers (Brad Keller, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch) who have seen significant time in the rotation since 2020 and have been seen at some point as possible “building blocks” of the Royals rotation over the past few years. While Singer is at the top of this list on an fWAR end, he does not differentiate himself as significantly as he should for a guy with such good K and BB numbers.

Singer sports the second-highest HR/FB rate of the bunch, and that is concerning, especially since he’s behind Keller and Lynch, who have had noted struggles with the longball since 2020.

And that relates back to point two for Picollo and the Royals when it comes to Singer’s future in Kansas City. There’s no question that Singer proved he could be really good for the Royals based on what he did last year. But Keller did the same thing in 2020. The Royals didn’t extend him in 2021, and it proved to be the right call.

The Royals may just be waiting to see if he can repeat in 2023 what he did in 2022 or even improve upon that performance.

If he does, the Royals may be less stingy in an extension, and not only with the number of dollars, but the number of years as well, which holds more value to MLB pitchers in the long run.

Will There Be Issues Going Forward?

While Singer’s reaction certainly merited attention from Royals fans, it certainly wasn’t as intriguing as Corbin Burnes, the Brewers ace whom Milwaukee went to a hearing with. Burnes, a two-time All-Star and Cy Young Winner in 2021 was quite vocal about his dissatisfaction with the Brewers and how it affected his desire to stay with this club beyond the 2023 season (he’s set to be a free agent in 2024, according to Roster Resource).

Singer didn’t go as far as Burnes. That being said, there are still some similar vibes in Singer’s statement to Burnes’ comments, and it could get to that level if Singer and Royals continue to go year-to-year in this arbitration process (Singer has three more arbitration-eligible years remaining).

It’s hard to tell Singer’s investment in this team. He doesn’t seem to be part of the Vinnie, Bobby, MJ, and Massey crew, and a lot of the players he was close to in 2021 and 2022 (Whit, Benny, and O’Hearn) are gone.

Ultimately, it’s about money typically. However, does Singer, a Florida native, want to be somewhere closer (or in) his home state? And would Picollo and the Royals be willing to trade him for an impressive prospect package in return, especially if they have tried and haven’t been successful in terms of convincing him to take a long-term deal?

There still are a lot of questions to be answered between Singer and the Royals. Granted, there still is time for both sides and while arbitration hearings can be awkward, players and teams do get over them (look at Nicky Lopez for example, who lost his hearing last year).

But the Royals and Singer can’t have another offseason or two like this. Otherwise, it could be Singer being vocal to the media like Burnes.

Of course, that would mean Singer has turned into a Cy Young candidate in the next year or two…

And I got to imagine Picollo wouldn’t leave a Cy Young-caliber pitcher hanging for long.

Photo Credit: Fernando Leon/Getty Images


5 thoughts on “Diving Into Brady Singer’s Complicated Arbitration Case With the Royals

  1. I definitely don’t have a problem with the Royals being cautious with Singer, and wanting to see a little more. And if he does show that last year wasn’t a fluke, I’m hopeful they can ink a deal that would make all the arbitration stuff moot. The key is being able to get to that point without getting sideways with Singer. That’s a tightrope I don’t envy the Royals having to walk, and based on the little I know of Singer’s public persona, I could see him reacting either way. Hopefully the Royals are more tactful than the Brewers apparently were with Burnes, although I don’t think Singer has Burnes’ track record and I’m not sure he’s yet earned the right to take serious offense to any reasonable reservations the Royals might have. That said, I also don’t know that dollar amount in question was significant enough for an MLB franchise to even take the risk of hurting its relationship with a potential star pitcher. Fingers crossed it works out for both Brady and the Royals, hopefully together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I agree with you on most parts, especially why I don’t like comparing this situation to Burnes. Burnes is a Cy Young winner and multi-All-Star. Singer had a shaky career as an SP going into ’22, and his start to ’22 wasn’t too hot either. This is a normal part of the business and Max Fried’s situation shows that MKE hasn’t handled Burnes’ situation well (though I do think some of it stems from Burnes not really wanting to pitch in MKE anymore and painting MKE as a “bad guy” could force their hand and trade him).

      Everyone is kinda doing the “at least Dayton didn’t go to arb with guys!” argument, and I would also point out that DM was probably too player-friendly and got himself into deals that did hamstring the org (i.e. Dozier). I also think the Royals have made some smart arb decisions lately: they held firm on Nicky, and Nicky regressed in ’22. It’s easy to look at this and think it’s a mistake, but if Singer backs up his ’22, the Royals will throw money and years at him…it’s just a matter if Singer wants to take it (and I’m not totally sold that Singer is as invested in KC as some of the other young guys).


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