What KC Royals trends you should believe, not believe after MLB's first month

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What not to believe

1. Matt Sauer's productive run

I love Matt Sauer's story (so far) in 2024. A Rule 5 draft pick last winter, Sauer has made the transition from Double-A to The Show seamlessly. His 2.38 ERA through 11⅓ innings is one of the best stat lines in the Royals bullpen. Quatraro has deployed the righty primarily in low-leverage situations, to ease his transition and build his confidence at the major league level. But not everything has been sunshine and daisies for Sauer. In fact, he has been one of Kansas City's worst relievers in many aspects.

Sauer has five strikeouts to nine walks in his MLB career, resulting in an ugly 5.80 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). Additionally, MLB's expected stats project a 7.50 FIP for him, ranking second-worst among all MLB pitchers. Sauer's walk-to-strikeout ratio will come back to bite him eventually, and if he doesn't improve his control, the wheels will likely fall off.

2. The bullpen being above average

See Sauer's outlook and apply that to most of Kansas City's bullpen to a minor degree. The Royals' bullpen, outside of closer James McArthur, usually feels unreliable in high-pressure situations. The bullpen's collective 3.53 ERA is more than acceptable, ranking in MLB's top 10. They are stranding baserunners, but the real concern is how often they allow baserunners to reach base.

Royals relievers cannot buy a strikeout to save their lives, as the group's 18.2% strikeout rate ranks as the third-worst in the MLB. They still walk batters at a 10.4% rate, so having less than a two-to-one ratio for strikeouts to walks is not a recipe for success. They do limit the long ball, but their 4.75 expected FIP only trails that of the Chicago White Sox for the worst in baseball. Something has to give, and fans have already seen meltdown performances from several relievers in crunch time, raising alarms.

3. Cole Ragans early-season slump

Are you noticing the FIP trend? I love it for evaluating pitchers because it accounts for what is truly important: strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed. FIP provides a more accurate representation of a pitcher's performance than the traditional ERA. In that vein, I fully believe that Cole Ragans remains one of the AL's best pitchers, despite his 2-2 record and 3.44 ERA.

His 2.22 FIP is elite, thanks to him striking out 27.8% of opposing batters. Meanwhile, he has improved his control, reducing his walk rate to 7.5%. He also has the demeanor that any team wants from their top pitcher. He stays calm under pressure and is in control from the mound. The Royals are lucky to have him as their ace, as he continues rebounding from that flukey start against the Baltimore Orioles.

4. Kansas City's winless rubber match streak

Author Ian Fleming once wrote, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." Well, Mr. Fleming, what is four times? I need to know because the Royals are currently 0-4 in rubber matches this season, and it's starting to feel like a curse.

This isn't a trend that can be explained by FIP, a stat, or any other rational explanation. However, it is concerning since this streak is hard to ignore. The Royals need to find a way to break this pattern before it fulfills itself. Regardless of superstitions, they can't continue to lose those final games. If Kansas City has postseason hopes, they need to learn how to close out a series and step up when necessary.

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