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Bad hitters, bad offense. It’s not hard.

Everybody’s overthinking it

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Michael A. Taylor #2 of the Kansas City Royals bats against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 12, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri.
Michael A. Taylor #2 of the Kansas City Royals bats against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 12, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri.
Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images

Every year, the Royals run into a string of games where they can’t score. This year, the Royals decided to start off on the “struggling to score” bandwagon, but it can happen in the middle of the season, too—we just got an early jump on the discourse in 2022. Even after a solid offensive performance where they scored seven runs on Saturday night, the Royals have only scored 39 runs as of Sunday and are scoring the third-lowest runs per game out of any team in baseball.

Regardless when this slump happens every year, it prompts the Royals’ beat writers to write about it. Those pieces are pretty good! Alec Lewis, for instance, wrote about how the coaching staff and hitters are trying to make adjustments, and it was insightful about how modern day hitting theory has changed.

Gone are the days of “swing down” or “stay back.” Elite hitting coaches must understand the intricacies of each individual player’s movement ability on any given day. The coach also must recognize the angles at which hitters deliver their barrel to the ball.

“It’s all about body movements and angles: putting your body in the right position,” Bradshaw said. “When your body is in the right position, you can control what you’re trying to do. When your body is in the right position, you can create that angle, maintain it and swing with it.”

But the core issue at hand is, unfortunately, a lot more basic: the Royals have stocked their pantry full of bad hitters, and when you do that, you’re gonna struggle to score runs. It reminds me of one of my favorite tweets which, while expletive laden (apologies if it offends you, but have you been to the internet before?), is both hilariously and occasionally depressingly true. The later is certainly the case here.

Standing for “weighted runs created plus,” the stat known as wRC+ takes into consideration the properly weighted run value of a player’s entire offensive contribution, from walks to double play balls to home runs and everywhere in between. It is an adjusted statistic where 100 is league average for that specific year and each point above or below 100 is one percentage point above or below league average.

So far this year, there have been 13 players to take a plate appearance for the Royals. One, Bobby Witt Jr., is a 21-year-old rookie. Another, Kyle Isbel, hit better than league average in his stint with the Royals last year but got sent to Triple-A last week after getting one plate appearance. But of those remaining 11, a whopping nine (9!) have hit at below league average level since 2020 per wRC+; only Salvador Perez and Andrew Benintendi have been positive contributors at the plate recently.

Royals subpar hitters, 2020-2022

Nicky Lopez 220 803 8.6% 14.8% 0.075 0.326 0.275 0.344 0.350 0.694 94
Hunter Dozier 200 776 9.0% 27.7% 0.178 0.284 0.223 0.300 0.401 0.701 91
Whit Merrifield 235 1040 5.2% 13.5% 0.123 0.295 0.270 0.311 0.394 0.705 90
Carlos Santana 229 957 14.7% 15.7% 0.133 0.216 0.205 0.324 0.337 0.661 86
Cam Gallagher 78 194 7.7% 18.0% 0.103 0.312 0.259 0.316 0.362 0.678 86
Edward Olivares 74 216 4.2% 21.3% 0.154 0.268 0.239 0.279 0.393 0.672 80
Adalberto Mondesi 107 415 4.6% 31.1% 0.162 0.319 0.234 0.273 0.396 0.669 79
Michael A. Taylor 192 665 6.5% 26.6% 0.128 0.301 0.236 0.291 0.365 0.656 78
Ryan O'Hearn 130 393 8.1% 27.7% 0.130 0.268 0.211 0.277 0.341 0.618 66

Now, you might be asking why we’re only looking at recent data going back a few years. The reasons are threefold. One, a few weeks of games in 2022 is rather useless by itself but is valid as recent data within a larger sample size. Two, looking at the last three seasons helps give weight to legitimate offensive breakouts, such as Nicky Lopez’s 2021 season or Perez’s heel turn into a bigtime slugger, compared to career numbers. And three, the Royals have a lot of old players who are on their plateau or decline phase; their offensive peaks from 2019 and earlier aren’t really relevant or helpful.

Is there upside still left in a couple of these players? Sure. The longer we go into this season when Hunter Dozier is a productive hitter, the more it seems like 2021 was an aberration and not the norm. Adalberto Mondesi has literally never had a fully healthy season; he posted a 113 wRC+ in 2018 across 291 plate appearances, and he could very well capture some of that production if he avoids injury. And Lopez has been an on base machine in over 600 PA since last season, a development that has seem to stick.

The Royals, many Royals fans, and even some of the media are quick to provide excuses here. But the fact of the matter is that good teams don’t rely on guys who could potentially be good. Every team has those guys. What differentiates successful teams from unsuccessful teams is that successful teams simply have good, reliable, established hitters—full stop.

Look: there are 101 players in the league who have accrued 400 or more plate appearances since 2020 and have a wRC+ better than 110. Only one of those players is a Royal. Furthermore, there are 20 players with a wRC+ of greater than 135 with those same parameters. The Royals don’t employ any of them.

The good news for the Royals is that they have guys with the upside to become the types of good, reliable hitters that a playoff team needs. Vinnie Pasquantino, 24, has mashed at every level of the minor leagues. Nick Pratto, 23, and MJ Melendez, 23, are top 100 prospects who dominated Triple-A last year. Kyle Isbel, 25, dominated the second half of the year in Triple-A and returned to the big leagues with a vengeance.

But until the Royals decide to cash in on their young hitters and give them real playing time, I really don’t want to hear anybody on the team scratching their head why the Royals are struggling to score. Kansas City’s hitters are doing their best, and I’m sure they’re working very hard to adjust and improve. However, it is not their fault the team is not hitting. The Royals front office declined to add help via free agency or trade, and they stocked their team with a bunch of old hitters on the back end of their aging curve and flawed late-20s bats. This is the bed they made.