When it comes to Kansas City Royals baseball, there are normally a few things you can always count on. They are normally a team that arrange a solid defensive unit out on the field, they’ve been known to compile a slew of fiery arms for their bullpen and maybe most notably to us fans, an offense that relies on putting the ball in play more than the average team.
While on the surface none of this sounds bad, it’s the Royals offense that has been put in question and for good reason. After coming off of a less than stellar 2021 season offensively the team barely did anything to improve on their lineup for 2022 and in fact have attempted to use the old ‘try the same thing again but expecting different results’ thinking for this year. Let’s just say this flawed belief should have all Royals fans up in arms.
Let’s start by taking a look back at 2021. The Royals finished the year near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories, including last in walk percentage and next to last in wRC+. Besides the lack of walks (which has become a staple for Royals baseball for the last 30+ years), the power numbers in 2021 were very lackluster. Kansas City was last in home runs, next to last in the league in isolated power and barrel percentage, and 13th in slugging percentage and runs.
Now the Royals did actually hit the ball fairly hard last year, as they were 9th in hard hit percentage and 6th in exit velocity. But they also had the 5th highest ground ball rate and fly ball rate was 36%, 11th in the American League. Combine that with an average BABIP and you have a team that would hit the ball hard but a lot of times they found gloves.
While lack of walks and lack of power hurt them, the real killer for last year’s team was their plate discipline or more to the point, lack of. The Royals led the AL in swinging at pitches outside of the zone (O-Swing%) and swing percentage in general and were in the top five in swings and misses (SwStr %). Apparently the belief within the team was that when all else fails, keep swinging at pitches whether or not they are strikes. Considering how high their ground ball rate and infield fly ball rate was last year (IFFB %), it’s easy to see why this team struggled to score runs.
So you would think with all of these issues surrounding the offense that the Kansas City front office would make improving the team’s batting at least a minor focal point this offseason, right? Nope. In fact, back in November Royals General Manager J.J. Piccolo sounded like he was fine with the group of bats they already had:
“Big time,” Picollo said of the priority on the bullpen. “We like a lot of our position players. Defensively, they were really sound. We’ve got a lot of promising starting pitchers that need to take that next step. But the bullpen is going to be what protects them.”
Defensively they were sound. Offensively, not so much. We are all aware that a lot of hope for the team’s batting this year was going to be focused on the rookies: Bobby Witt, Jr., Kyle Isbel, Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and possibly even Vinnie Pasquantino. That is a lot of weight to put on the back of players who haven’t even played a major league game before this year.
Even back then, I felt like they were missing the boat on the offense or at the very least should go looking for a couple of veteran bats just in case. That way if the rookies struggle or the veteran bats continue to regress, they have an emergency plan in place. Instead, they did nothing.
So where are we at so far in 2022? The Royals are last in runs scored and OPS, next to last in slugging percentage, wOBA, wRC+, and 13th in Win Probability, Isolated Power and home runs. Somehow they are 9th in walk rate (I fully blame the White Sox series for this), and 8th in swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, two big issues they have had for years.
A big concern came while glancing at the Statcast numbers. Royals have an average Exit Velocity of 88.7 and a 36.3 hard hit rate. Throw in the 13.5% infield fly rate and a 43% ground ball percentage and you have a recipe for a pungent offense.
While the Statcast numbers are worrisome (and lower than last year’s numbers), this would be a good time to throw out there that offensive numbers are down all across the board in baseball. Whether it is the deadened ball, the humidors, a shorter spring training or even the weather, offense in general is not booming. This is affecting every team, not just the Royals. So there has to be at least a little leeway given to all of these factors. But the bigger picture is the concern here.
While the weather will warm up and the Royals bats could as well, this is still a front office that saw all the issues with their run production and said “We are good with this. Let it fly.” It’s one thing to see the monster seasons that Pratto and Melendez put up last year and expect them to help your lineup when recalled. There are even numbers that show Hunter Dozier had a massive improvement in the second half of last year. But while you can point to those players and see the positive, you also have to look at the negative.
Carlos Santana is aging and probably won’t see his bat speed increase. Whit Merrifield has started regressing and even at his peak was praying at the altar of the BABIP Gods. Michael A. Taylor is a great defender…and that kind of sums up his offense. There were major flaws in the lineup last year and counting on a couple of rookies and aging vets to improve on those numbers is the definition of shortsighted. It feels like the Kansas City front office had a Plan A that was the best case scenario yet no Plan B in case there were issues.
The rookies very well might pick up the offense and help in a few of the categories (walks, home runs, etc.) that have plagued this team for years. Dozier is off to a good start and looks more like the 2019 version of himself. Andrew Benintendi is playing like a player wanting a contract extension. I’ll even say that the hitting development program in the minors has been a success and appears to be the impetus for the turnaround for both Pratto and Melendez (as well as the power numbers we have seen from Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez over the last few years).
But this also neglects the lack of depth in the organization and the issues that have arisen whenever players ascend to the major leagues. It’s almost like there is a disconnect between what is being taught in the minors and what is emphasized on the big league club. We’ve already seen that with the pitching, so maybe it is happening with the hitters as well.
The Royals have been a team for years that tried patterning their offense around Kauffman Stadium: spray hitters who could hit line drives all over the stadium and a couple of big boppers to drive them in. The problem the last few years is a reliance on hitters who don’t get on base enough and streaky power hitters. Which also leads to this:
72 runners left on base in their last 8 games. For those that struggle with math, that is an average of 9 runners stranded per game. Think about all the opportunities the Royals have had recently to score and how many times nothing happened. I can’t even count all the games I have turned off recently because I could tell by the 4th inning that the offense wasn’t going to do anything. This isn’t just a ‘this year’ thing or a ‘cold weather’ thing. This is a ‘the Royals have bad hitters’ thing.
I am fully aware it won’t be like this all year long. I know there will be periods where the Royals look like an offensive juggernaut and the last two weeks will be a distant memory. I know this because I have seen this film before and it plays out the same way every time. There are flashes of hope but at the end of the day the Royals front office is valuing the wrong things. Having good people on your team is a positive. Having good people who aren’t really good for the overall production of your team is not positive.
It has been said many times that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Some of us have smartened up to the fact that while the names have changed, this whole thing plays out the way it always does. Until the front office starts putting value in performance and production over everything else, don’t expect too much.