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The 2022 Royals are going to get better

It isn’t a question of whether they’ll improve, it’s how much and when

Whit Merrifield follows through on a swing Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

There is no getting around the fact that, one month into the 2022 baseball season, the Royals have been nearly unwatchable. Before Friday’s action, only two teams had worse records than the Royals - the Tigers at half a game back with an extra game played and the Reds with a remarkable three total wins. The Royals’ pitching has been inconsistent with some dominant performances paired with some awful ones while the offense brings to mind the demotivational phrase, “Consistency is only a virtue if you’re not a screw-up.”

The thing is, these Royals are a bit weird. Take the offense, for example, it’s been bad, no doubt, But it also contains 1/3 bad hitters, 1/3 average hitters, and 1/3 above-average hitters. You don’t expect a lineup like that to be a world-beater, necessarily, but you also don’t expect it to be the worst in the league. Their rotation consists of three guys who have been pretty good, one guy who hasn’t been awful, and one guy who has been completely terrible. But instead of winning 60% of their games, or even 50%, they’re losing 65% of them. That can’t last, especially because...

Addition by subtraction

The Royals have already made some early steps toward improvement simply by removing some players from the roster. Two of the Royals’ biggest problems on offense were Adalberto Mondesi and Carlos Santana. Neither one is currently playing; admittedly, they’ve been removed from the lineup because of injury but Mondesi isn’t coming back this year and the Royals had already shown they were willing to bench Santana back-to-back days in service of getting other guys in the lineup. The writing is on the wall for him whenever he returns from his current injury. On the pitching side, Kris Bubic has to be nearing the end up of his current rope segment while the worst member of the bullpen, Jake Brentz, has already been placed on the Injured List with a vague injury that seems like an excuse to let him rest and try to figure out what’s going wrong for a bit.

Manager Mike Matheny has also shown more flexibility in lineup construction than I was afraid he’d be willing to as he’s moved the hot-hitting Edward Olivares into the lead-off spot and demoted the ice-cold Whit Merrifield to the bottom half of the batting order. The Royals can continue to add with subtraction by giving Whit and Salvador Perez some time off to try and figure out what’s wrong as well as demoting a pitcher like Bubic and giving one of their other promising arms in AAA a chance to do a little bit better.

Addition by doing nothing

Another way the Royals are likely to improve as the season goes on is by doing absolutely nothing. I’ve been predicting Merrifield’s downfall for a while, but I don’t think any reasonable person thinks he has permanently fallen off a cliff that steep. Bobby Witt Jr. currently carries a 79 wRC+ but has been hitting the tar out of the ball lately and just ended a 10-game hitting streak, odds seem good he’ll continue to get hotter as the weather warms up. Salvador Perez has always been streaky and - as noted earlier - probably needs some time off, but it seems entirely reasonable to expect him to hit a groove again before too long. Hunter Dozier is hitting the ball hard to all fields, again, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time until his numbers better reflect that as well.

Dylan Coleman, with an ERA over 6, seems primed for improved numbers as almost all of his runs were allowed in a pair of awful appearances against the Yankees. For all I think Bubic needs to be out of the rotation, for now, he’s still the guy who carried 3.88 ERA in the second half of last season and 2.20 in the final month, including five starts. I still think he’ll figure it out eventually, too.

Addition by addition

The Royals only recently promoted MJ Melendez to the roster and in an incredibly small sample size, he’s contributed. Edward Olivares is finally getting starts and trying to make sure they leave him in the lineup for a long time. They still have top prospects Nick Pratto, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Nick Loftin in the minors who could all debut at some point this year. There are a plethora of pitchers who can help, too: guys from Brady Singer to Richard Lovelady to Yefri Del Rosario could all yet positively contribute to this team.

The Royals have the third-worst record in the American League and they are still only 5.5 games back in the division. If this ends up being the worst stretch that they play - which is a real possibility - they could end up being OK in the end. They can’t just sit back and wait; they’re going to have to make some aggressive decisions. They’re also going to need a fair bit of luck if they want to be anything more than mediocre. But the Royals have too many decent cards in their deck to be as bad as they’ve looked for the entire season.