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Looking for improvement from Royals bats

Maybe the offense won’t be quite so...offensive.

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MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals
Sep 28, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals designated hitter Jorge Soler (12) celebrates as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Minnesota Twins during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Royals were magicians in a way. They were able to use sleight of hand to make some believe that the offense was good enough to win, but the pitching was the real problem. And yes, the pitching was absolutely a problem but they also hit just .247/.309/.401 with a wRC+ of just 84. There was a pretty solid argument to be made that they were the third worst offense in all of baseball. The career years of Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler along with Whit Merrifield’s continued excellence might have put some lipstick on the pig that was the offense, but that’s all it was.

So here we are, just past the start of the 2020 calendar year and the Royals have hope that their offense won’t quite resemble that barnyard animal. I don’t think they have any expectation that they’ll be on the level of the Astros, Yankees or Twins, but hope they can reach somewhere in the middle range. And to aid in that hope they signed...Maikel Franco. Now, I don’t think they’re inherently wrong. In fact, the inspiration for me looking at this was an article in The Athletic by Eno Sarris looking at hitters who are projected to be bounce-back candidates and Franco is on the list.

With that, let’s take a look at hitters who have a great opportunity to be better than they were in 2019 and how that can help take the offense from a 1981 Ford Tempo to something more like a 2002 Toyota Camry.

Jorge Soler

Looking at Soler’s Steamer projection, his line of .257/.349/.503 is actually a drop-off from where he was in 2019. But if I was just looking at projections, that’d be awfully boring. Here’s what I see from the raw numbers that he put up last year, with a lot from the amazing Baseball Savant. One, his xSLG was actually 24 points higher than his actual. His xwOBA was actually 14 points higher and his xwOBA on contact was 23 points higher. These stats don’t necessarily mean that’s what you can expect moving forward, but as Sarris points out in his column linked above, barrel percentage is something that often portends future success and Soler’s was 10th-best in baseball. The other encouraging thing to me shows up in the stats, but his progression from month to month shows me that he was getting more and more comfortable with his approach as he saw his OPS rise every month before a second half that saw him hit .299/.411/.665 with a perfectly acceptable 23 percent strikeout rate. I do believe he can actually be better in 2020.

Ryan O’Hearn

A lot has been written about O’Hearn here on these pages. Seth Jarman isn’t ready to give up on him. I wanted to let you know that hard hit balls weren’t enough to actually call him especially unlucky. Based on his Steamer projection, he’s going to get better. That .235/.314/.434 line is a breath of fresh air compared to what he posted in 2019. It’s still not good enough, but it’s so much better that it’s almost like a mirage of competence. And even though I don’t think he was nearly as unlucky as is mentioned, he was at least a bit on the unlucky side and should see a BABIP boost at the very least. If he can start going the other way again, which he showed at times, he might find himself with improved numbers across the board.

Maikel Franco

I’m stealing for Eno here because he was mentioned in his article, but his WAR is projected to go from a gentleman’s -0.5 to 1.3, which is a pretty big improvement from year over year. Of course some of that is banking on a continued increased walk rate that was probably boosted in 2019 too much from intentional walks that are a National League special (hitting in front of the pitcher). Sarris notes that Franco hits the ball hard enough and barrels enough but that it’s nothing exceptional. The BABIP to me is where Kauffman Stadium is going to be a gift to Franco, as I’ve mentioned. He has enough power to hit the ball out of any park, but that extra real estate is going to be a gift to him. It won’t increase his ISO too terribly much because it’ll likely be a good chunk of extra singles with a few doubles mixed in, but I think having that extra grass to find will be really helpful to Franco in 2020. Remember, as with O’Hearn, improvement doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be good, but just better than 2019.

Nicky Lopez

This one doesn’t have a ton of statistical backing, so there’s every chance in the world it’s more hope than fact, but I think Lopez is in for some improvement for some anecdotal reasons. He has a history of taking some time to figure out a new level before excelling at that level the next year. His first stint in AA, he hit .259/.312/.293. Then he hit .331/.397/.416. That earned him a promotion to AAA where he hit .278/.364/.417 (which is not struggling at all obviously) before coming back last year to hit .353/.457/.500. He struggled mightily in the big leagues, but did show some promise toward the end of the season in a sample so small that I’m hesitant to mention it, but it shows a glimmer. Add that to his offseason work to try to add strength to a frame that didn’t have much and I’d bet on a better season. Steamer does project a .272/.326/.377 line, which is a pretty big jump, so at least one projection agrees with me, though the reasoning is much more based in minor league stats than anything else.

I thought looking at potential risers would be more encouraging and optimistic than it actually ended up being, so that’s not ideal, but I think there’s every chance that a guy like Adalberto Mondesi takes his game to another level and Hunter Dozier at least continues what he did in 2019 (though I am at least somewhat skeptical about that) and the Royals do find themselves in the middle of the pack offensively. I will say this. If the outfield actually does end up as Alex Gordon, Whit Merrifield and Dozier and Franco, O’Hearn and Lopez do take steps forward and Salvador Perez does come back to provide the power he’s provided for years, it could happen. Which, I suppose, is better than it being impossible. Hope, amirite?

Poll

Who are you most confident in to get better in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Jorge Soler
    (58 votes)
  • 21%
    Ryan O’Hearn
    (139 votes)
  • 11%
    Maikel Franco
    (75 votes)
  • 47%
    Nicky Lopez
    (312 votes)
  • 3%
    Other (Let us know who in the comments)
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    Nobody. They’ll all get worse.
    (55 votes)
660 votes total Vote Now