The Royals are done playing baseball for 2020,and the playoffs are in full swing. Despite a shortened season and increased variance, the Royals finished the season with a final record of 26-34. There was some obvious progress towards contention, and some fairly obvious things that may continue to hold the Royals back moving forward. I decided to discuss my top three good and bad things from 2020.
In an effort to end on a good note, we’ll do the three bad things first, and move on.
Bad Thing #1: Adalberto Mondesi, huh?
So, we’re probably going to have to have some discussions about Adalberto Mondesi in the near future, but this year he just didn’t have it. In 59 games he hit 11% below league average, struck out 30% of the time, walked only 11 times and was caught in 25% of his stolen base attempts. His defense was still good (though my eye test says he was rushing his throws a bit a lot this season, I don’t really want to talk too much about this), and he’s definitely good enough to be a starter, but at 25 years old, the chance for improvement feels lower than it has in a while.
I’m not saying replace him, or trade him, or send him down. Just for the guy who was “untouchable” in 2015 when the Royals went all-in to win the series, who was supposed to be the first face of the next wave, his performance this season is definitely a bad thing.
Bad Thing #2: The First Base Platoon
Royals first-basemen hit a collective .222/.318/.389 which is... bad. It’s bad. Neither Ryan O’Hearn or Ryan McBroom showed any real progress towards becoming a more consistent big league hitter, and dreams of a platoon seem completely shattered with O’Hearn hitting a dismal .178 against right-handed pitchers. That will be the last I mention O’Hearn in this article as I had high hopes for him and they feel completely dashed now.
For his part, McBroom managed to muster a .247/.282/.506 line good for 7% above league average. His power is definitely there, and he’s not terrible at first or in the outfield (though he’s not really good, either). McBroom has, at best, shown he deserves to be a 25th/26th man on a roster due to his positional versatility. He’s definitely not the answer for the Royals at first moving forward, but he is only 23, and was a nice pickup for nothing.
Bad Thing #3: Foster Griffin
Nothing is better than having a rookie make it to the big leagues and find success. Foster Griffin, a Royals first round pick from the 2014 draft threw only 23 pitches before being pulled due to apparent injury. He had to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season. His likely timeline is a return to throwing mid-late 2021, but it’s likely he won’t be back to full form until the 2022 season.
This highlights the insane attrition rate of pitching prospects. Each one is always one pitch away from being down for 12-24 months, or potentially being out forever. The Royals have done a good job in having depth at on the backs of their 2018 draft class so this feels less bad than it might have, but don’t forget TNSTAAPP.
Good Thing #1: Brady Singer
Brady -effing Singer man. Singer had a lot of ups and downs in his rookie season, but ended the year with impressive numbers. His 8.53 K/9 and 3.22 BB/9 are both respectable, his GB% of 53.1% is great, and his 4.06 ERA (and almost identical FIP/xFIP) was the second only to Brad Keller (whose xFIP was actually significantly higher than Singer’s, whatever that’s worth).
Singer really impressed late in the season, going 3-1 in his last four starts, pitching 24 innings and allowing only 4 earned runs (good for a 1.50 ERA), walking 8 but striking out 25. This run includes both his best performance (8 IP, 1 hit) and his worst (3 IP, 3 earned runs) performance of the season and includes a stretch of 14 innings where he gave up only 3 hits and 0 earned runs.
Singers future is hard to figure. He’s likely a middle-rotation pitcher who flashes dominance from time-to-time (what I think of as a typical #3/#4 starter), but if he could develop his change-up to a pitch he throws more than 4.7% of the time effectively, he could be better than that, and having just turned 24 it’s not unreasonable to think he could do this.
Good Thing #2: Hunter Dozier
Hear me out. Dozier’s 2019 was a breakout performance, but it was a tale of two halves (really, more like 35/65, but we’ll call them halves). In the first half, he put up all-star caliber numbers, batting among the league leaders. He had an injury that led to him being out for a month or so, and upon returning hit much more in-line with his career numbers.
Coming into 2020, I was very skeptical about Dozier’s future. I expected him to be okay, good, not great, and continue to struggle striking out too much and walking too little.
Well, he did struggle some this season. Upon returning from COVID, he hit only .228 (compared to .279 in 2019). But the rest of his numbers were at least somewhat encouraging. His walk rate was dramatically up (9.4% in 2019 to 14.5% in 2020), leading to his OBP being almost identical despite his loss in average (.344 vs .348). Most pronounced was his drop in ISO (.165 vs .243), but his BABIP also declined to only .288, below league average. Most concerning was his hard hit rate, which had always been high, it dropped from 45% to 30%.
That all being said, Dozier proved his positional versatility and increased his walk rate in a 60 game season where he missed significant time. Walk rates tend to stabilize very quickly (~120 plate appearances) whereas things like BABIP, SLG, hard hit rate, etc all require more data to draw conclusions from. In short, his improved walk rate is likely real, where his drop in other areas may or may not be real.
Good Thing #3: Salvy’s back
What a season Salvy had, huh? In 37 games he hit 11 home runs, and carried a 162 wRC+ (62% above league average). Only 9 hitters in baseball had a higher wRC+ this season.
Is this the new Salvy? No, probably not. Salvy isn’t going to suddenly become one of the best hitters in baseball with a walk rate below 2%, but he was back, and playing, and it was a lot of fun. We have one more year with Salvy, and it doesn’t hurt to just enjoy his presence on the field. Hopefully he can carry some of his improved hitting over to next season.
What were your favorite things about the season? Or least favorite?