Why the KC Royals must rethink Brady Singer now

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

Three years ago, the KC Royals went all-in on pitching and used a combination of regular, compensatory, and competitive balance picks to draft four college hurlers before the second round of the 2018 draft even began. At the head of this promising class was Brady Singer.

The superlatives were endless. Can’t miss. Mature beyond his years. Poised. Competitive. Wants to win. Great stuff.

Those all may be accurate, but for now the Royals need to rethink their approach to Singer. Never has that been more true, and more apparent, than Saturday night.

Singer started at home against usually hapless Baltimore, the second-worst team in the majors and a club his team thrashed 9-2 the night before. Against Singer, though, the O’s looked like contenders—despite going down in order in the first inning, they scored twice in the second before Singer could get his second out, then scored four times in the fifth before he retired anyone. The one run Richard Lovelady then allowed was credited to Singer. (Baltimore won 8-4).

In his two official innings, Singer gave up seven runs and eight hits to lose his seventh game of the season (he’s won only three times), and saw his 4.32 ERA jump to 5.13. As it has too frequently, his command betrayed him—he left too many pitches in the middle, and the Orioles made him pay.

The beating was nothing really new for Singer this season. Only occasionally does he seem to fool anyone, he misses far too often in the heart of the plate, and he simply isn’t as effective as the KC Royals need him to be.

Singer has started all of his 19 games this season and averages just about 4.2 innings per outing. The seven runs he gave Baltimore Saturday are a high for the year; unfortunately, though, he’s surrendered six runs twice, five once, four twice, and three five times, totals too high for a 4.2-frame average.

Why is Brady Singer struggling so much for the KC Royals this season?

Diagnosing the causes of Singer’s continuing difficulties is easy. He suffers terribly from lack of command, an inability to put his pitches where he wants them. Only fireballers who consistently blow fastballs by hitters can hope to survive life in the middle, and Singer isn’t a fireballer.

But there’s more to his troubles than elusive command. Singer’s present arsenal consists of four pitches: four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, and changeup. He prefers the sinker and slider and throws the four-seamer occasionally. Rarely, though, do opposing hitters see his change.

And that’s a problem. Even average changeups keep hitters off-balance; because Singer foregoes his change and four-seamer so often, batters have little reason to expect them early in the count and look instead for his sinker and slider, both of which aren’t yet so consistently mesmerizing that he can survive on them primarily.

In fact, BaseballSavant’s tracking shows Singer’s thrown 901 sinkers and 550 sliders this season, but only 54 changeups and 39 four-seamers. Hitters have their best luck against the change (.429), their least success against the four-seam (.125), and hit .244 against his slider and .287 against his sinker.

That he gets punished with his changeup may explain why Singer seldom throws it. There’s also the fact he doesn’t seem comfortable using it unless he’s commanding his other pitches well. But the Royals have made no secret of their desire to see him throw more changes—they obviously see something in it they believe Singer needs to exploit and master.

What should the KC Royals do to help Brady Singer get on track in 2021?

The Royals aren’t going anywhere. Their three season-ending games with Minnesota will be the only October baseball they’ll play this year. So, Manager Mike Matheny and his staff have time to work with Singer, and Singer has ample opportunity to step up use of his changeup in games without jeopardizing a playoff run. The risk is worth the potential reward—he won’t become a top-flight big league starter until he increases the variety of his offerings and develops an effective third pitch for times his favored slider and sinker aren’t quite what he needs them to be.

So far, the Royals don’t appear to be forcing Singer when it comes to the changeup. But it’s time for them to rethink that approach, perhaps even to force feed the pitch by requiring him to throw it more. Or maybe Matheny, an accomplished and respected signal caller for 13 years as a major league catcher, could call changeups from the dugout when they’re the best choice. That isn’t the big league norm, but it might be a way to get Singer to rely more on the pitch. He and his catcher can reassume control when Singer gets more comfortable with it.

The best case scenario is, of course, for Singer to choose to immediately start using his changeup more. That is, after all, what his employers seem to want.

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Brady Singer isn’t having a good season for the KC Royals. It’s time for the club to rethink their approach with him.