The Royals avoided the sweep against the Oakland Athletics with a 5-1 win on Sunday and improved their record to 9-26 for the year, which keeps them one game ahead of the Athletics for the worst record in baseball.
Nonetheless, it was a disappointing series for a struggling Royals team looking for series victories. Furthermore, on Saturday, it was an especially disappointing outing for Brady Singer, who is in the midst of a rough 2023 campaign.
Looking at this year as a whole thus far, it’s hard to find a lot of positives in Singer’s performance.
In seven starts and 33.2 IP, he is posting an 8.82 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 7.06 xERA, and 5.44 FIP. His K-BB percentage is decent at 13.5 percent, but it is a regression from his 18.5 percent in that category a season. A big reason for that has been an increase in his walk rate, as it has gone from 5.6 percent in 2022 to 7.7 percent so far this season.
Lastly, hitters are hitting the ball harder than ever against Singer. His barrel rate allowed has gone from 8.2 percent last year to 13 percent this season, according to Savant. Furthermore, his home runs allowed have also spiked dramatically, highlighted by a 1.87 HR/9 and HR/FB percentage of 19.4 percent. Those are 81-point and 5.4 percent increases, respectively, from 2022.
Here’s an example of Minnesota’s Byron Buxton absolutely launching one on April 30th at Target Field against Singer, which unfortunately has been a more common trend for Singer in 2023.
It’s not a surprise that Singer is posting an ERA of nearly nine when Royals fans factor in the combo that he’s not just struggling with his command, but also allowing more hard contact than ever before in his MLB career.
Singer went into this season looking to prove himself on the mound after the Royals were unable to come to an agreement on an extension or deal and instead went to arbitration. Unfortunately, not only is he proving that the Royals were wise not to give him an extension this offseason, but his long-term future is becoming a hazier issue as well.
Can the Royals fix Singer after this rough stretch of starts? Or should the Royals explore some kind of trade, with the idea of cashing in on his value while his stock is relatively high?
Let’s take a look at Singer’s issues so far on the mound, what can be done, and what the future could look like for the former 2018 first-round draft pick out of Florida.
Decrease in Velocity Leading to Poor Results
After a slow start in 2022, Singer finished the year strong and entered the offseason as arguably the Royals’ best starting pitcher for the upcoming 2023 season. Not only was he named to the USA squad in the World Baseball Classic, but he also posted a career-best 2.9 fWAR and 3.23 ERA in 27 appearances (24 starts) and 153.1 innings pitched.
Singer’s strong K-BB%, SIERA and xFIP numbers had many Royals fans and even fantasy baseball players thinking optimistically about this upcoming season for Singer, especially when compared Miami Marlins ace Sandy Alcantrara, who won the NL Cy Young in 2022.
Unfortunately, it was a wonky Spring Training for Singer that seemed to have an effect on his preparation for the 2023 season. Despite making the Team USA roster, Singer only made one appearances for Team USA, which came against Mexico in the preliminary round.
And then this happened to Singer against Team Mexico and Nationals slugger Joey Meneses:
The lack of consistent spring work, and shelling of confidence in the WBC didn’t do Singer or the Royals any favors.
Because of the lack of competitive innings in international competition, Singer had to cram in a lot of work in Surprise when he returned from the WBC. That was a big reason why he wasn’t named the Opening Day starter, even though Royals fans and even players were identifying him as the Royals’ best pitcher going into the 2023 season.
While the Royals claimed that everything went as “planned” with Singer “warm up” wise despite his WBC stint, it is obvious that Singer is not the same pitcher now that he was in 2022.
And his velocity decrease from last year, especially with his sinker, is a big red flag that something didn’t click for Singer in preparation in for the 2023 season.
Singer is averaging 92.5 MPH on his sinker this season, which is not only 1.3 MPH lower than a season ago, but the lowest of his career by a considerable margin.
Here’s a look at how his sinker pitch velocity this season compares to his previous three seasons in the Majors.
It’s interesting to see that despite the massive velocity increase, Singer has actually still garnered strikes at a high rate, especially on a called-strike end.
According to Pitcher List data, Singer actually ranks in the upper 27th percentile in CSW (Called Strike Plus Whiff) rate with a 31.1 percent mark this season. Additionally, his sinker CSW data this season doesn’t look a whole lot different from last season, which can be seen in the data comparison below.
The O-Swing percentage (swings on pitches outside the strike zone) on the sinker is down a lot from 18.4 percent in 2022 to 12.8 percent in 2023. Furthermore, his swinging strike rate is slightly down 0.6 percent as well from last year. That shows that hitters are a little more familiar with Singer’s sinker and his well-noted nasty movement on it that would freeze opposing hitters, especially left-handed ones.
On the other hand, his called strike and CSW rates are actually higher than a year ago. Those positive improvements demonstrate that finding the strike zone isn’t necessarily as big a problem for Singer in comparison to some of his Royals starting pitcher peers (Brad Keller especially).
While Singer is still able to generate called strikes with his sinker this season at an encouraging rate, the quality of contact on them is a lot different from a season ago.
And not in a good way.
Here’s an image comparison via Savant that looks at Singer’s xwOBA and barrel rates by season over his career, and notice the massive spikes in both categories in 2023.
Barrel rate has been seeing a positive trend since his rookie season in 2020, so the spike isn’t too surprising (though it’s still discouraging nonetheless, especially considering how sharp the spike is).
The xwOBA trend though is a bit more discouraging.
He saw a decrease of nearly 40 points in xwOBA on his sinker in 2022, which was a positive development from 2021. However, it has jumped up nearly 100 points from last season, and it’s a big reason why the pitch itself is producing a PLV of 4.73, which ranks him in the bottom 29th percentile in that pitch category.
Singer’s wOBA zone chart comparison on his sinker from the 2022 and 2023 also shows a concerning trend.
Many of the zones that Singer succeeded with the pitch last season have trended in the wrong direction this year, with especially high wOBA marks in the armside areas of the strike zone.
Notice how Singer generated sub .250 wOBA marks in zones 1 and 7 in the armside area and a sub .300 wOBA in zone 6 in the glove side area last season. This season? 1 and 7 are producing .594 and 1.422 wOBA marks, and hitters are producing a .597 wOBA on the sinker in zone 6.
This is where the decrease in sinker velocity is having a big effect.
In this clip compilation below, I took two clips of Singer facing Ketel Marte of the Diamondbacks in both 2022 and 2023. Notice the difference in velocity on the sinker in 2022 and 2023, though it hits similar areas of the strike zone.
Singer’s sinker is 4.1 MPH faster in 2022 and notice how it locks up Marte with ease. The combo of horizontal movement and velocity is just too much for Marte to handle last year.
This season though, Marte is honed in on the pitch due to the velocity decrease, even though he swings and misses in that particular at-bat.
It makes sense that hitters are doing more damages on the edges against his sinker this year in comparison to a season ago. While it does sport similar movement, the lack of velocity makes it easier to pick it up, which in turn makes it easier to hit.
And that is not good for a pitcher like Singer who leans so heavily on his primary two pitches: his sinker (54 percent usage) and slider (38 percent usage).
What Changes Need to Happen?
The first big priority needs to be for Singer to get back that velocity, especially on his primary pitch.
David Lesky of Inside the Crown mentioned it could be a “dead arm” issue that typically happens during Spring Training as the arm develops full strength, and that the lack of work due to the WBC could be a contributing factor.
On the other end, it’s possible that what Singer is experiencing could be due to a mechanical issue in his delivery.
Bayou Billy Butler on Twitter noticed some differences in his mechanics from 2022 and this season, with his leg kick difference being the primary one. He pointed out that the subtle changes in delivery and mechanics could not just be affecting his velocity, but his movement and command of his pitches this season as well.
Lastly, the biggest change that Singer needs to make is to find a reliable third pitch he can throw more than just a few times a game.
As of now, Singer is primarily a two-pitch pitcher. As Preston Farr of Royals Review noted on Twitter, it will be difficult for Singer to have any kind of long-term future as a MLB starting pitcher if he doesn’t somehow develop another decent pitch or two in his arsenal.
Initially, it seemed like it was going to be his changeup, which he threw more last season after a demotion to Omaha at the beginning of last season. However, this year, after throwing the changeup nearly 20 percent in his third start of the year, his changeup usage has regressed and continues to do so with each and every start, as one can see in the pitch usage chart below.
The interesting development is that since his start on April 25th he has added a sweeper to his arsenal. Thus, it is possible that he has the potential to have a four-pitch arsenal, which could make him an even more effective starting pitcher long term, especially if his sinker velocity returns.
That being said, he has thrown not just the sweeper, but the changeup so infrequently lately, that it’s not producing much even in the few times Singer throws it.
The changeup was especially hit hard at the beginning of the year, and that seems to be a big reason why Singer has pretty much abandoned the pitch, as it hasn’t registered a lot of strikes in the zone recently. The same also proves to be true with his sweeper, though that is a much smaller sample due to the pitch being introduced recently.
Ironically, when Singer utilized his four-pitch mix, he was able to be effective with finding the strike zone with his sinker, slider, and even sweeper. This was despite the changeup not being as effective. When he stopped throwing the changeup and sweeper at a high amount, the zone percentage of both the sinker and slider dropped in his most recent outings.
The fact of the matter is this: Singer needs to refine and grow confident in this four-pitch mix, or at least three-pitch mix (by settling on the change or sweeper).
And he needs to do that in Omaha where the stakes are a lot lower.
Would Singer Accept Such a Demotion?
Singer has two Minor League options left, so it wouldn’t be a “transactional” issue for the JJ Picollo and the Royals to send Singer down to work on increasing his velocity and growing more confident his pitch arsenal, especially with his changeup and sweeper. Doing so in Omaha, where the focus is not on “winning” but “development” seems to be most logical conclusion, especially since Singer really didn’t get a full Spring Training to work on these two areas of focus.
The question is this though: Will Singer see the benefit of such a demotion? Or would he continue to be stubborn against it, much like he has been stubborn with utilizing a third pitch more in the past?
After all, this isn’t the first time that Singer has tried to utilize a changeup in the past.
During times of development like Spring Training and the offseason, Singer has frequently been “open” about the need for a third pitch and has been positive about incorporating it more. That said, it has been a different story during the regular season, especially when Singer runs into some trouble or difficulty on the mound.
That was a big reason why the Royals demoted him to Omaha last season. It wasn’t because they couldn’t have used him out of the bullpen.
Rather, it was due to the fact that he wouldn’t have changed his approach against MLB hitters on the fly.
And I imagine Picollo and the Royals pitching development team probably feels the same way, but it’s a lot harder endeavor this time around.
Back in the beginning of 2022, Singer didn’t have a set spot in the rotation, and he was coming off a disappointing 2021 season. This time, he entered the year with super high expectations, and honestly, there aren’t a whole lot of great starting pitcher options looming in Omaha, though Daniel Lynch did make a rehab start there on Sunday and could be returning to Kansas City soon.
When Lynch is ready, the Royals could swap Lynch with Singer and give Singer a month to figure things out. Then, he would be ready after the All-Star break, and could be due for a strong second half that could be as good, if not better than what he produced in 2022.
However, Singer would have to agree to that kind of development route.
And for a pitcher looking for a big-time extension after this season, that kind of path for the rest of the 2023 season may be hard for Singer to agree to, especially since it could deflate his value this offseason.
Picollo and the Royals pitching development team have a tough choice coming up with Singer…
But the fact of the matter is that they cannot continue to employ a near-9 ERA pitcher in the rotation for the remainder of the season.
So something has to give.
Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
4 thoughts on “Can the Royals Fix Brady Singer’s Issues? (And How Should It Happen?)”
With the season shot, why not just throw the likes of Singer and Kowar out there every 5th day and see if they can figure things out, either with MLB pitching coaches or on their own steam. At some point, a decision has to be made on these ’18 hurlers and there’s no point on letting any notion of winning games cloud the decision-making process.
I mean, I get that, but increasing velocity and changing mechanics isn’t easy to do on the fly, especially at the MLB level. I am not saying Singer needs to be in Omaha long, but rather work on tweaking his mechanics and pitch mix for a month and then having return and let the chips fall where they may at this point. But right now, pitching him as he is may not be doing him or the Royals any favors in the short and long term.
[…] That is a stark contrast to what Royals fans saw on Monday from Brady Singer, who only threw three pitches primarily in Monday’s loss, and has struggled to throw his third pitch with any kind of consistency this season. […]
[…] Royals rotation has not been good this season, and that’s putting it lightly. Brady Singer looks like a shell of his 2022 self, and in my most recent post, I argued that manager Matt Quatraro may have to think creatively about […]