Halfway through the 2022 season, the Royals are not where they were hoping to be. Last year’s hot start in April brought some hope that perhaps the rebuild was further along than expected, and even a summer swoon was hand-waved away as being due to injuries to key hitters and part of the lumps you take integrating young pitchers to the big leagues. The expectation was that with some more experience, the pitchers would begin to take hold in the rotation, and young hitters like Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez would energize the lineup. The Royals weren’t expecting to contend necessarily, but there was hope they could flirt with a winning record.
Instead, the team fell flat on their face. Halfway through the season, the Royals have the fourth-worst record in baseball at 30-51. They are on pace to lose 100 games for the seventh time in franchise history, and third in the last five years. It is the sixth-worst start by a Royals team at the halfway mark in club history.
Worst first half record in Royals history
The stat that sticks out is the walks being issued by Royals pitchers. They have issued 326 free passes, on pace to walk more hitters than any Royals team except the 2000 squad. The 2018 White Sox are the only team in baseball since 2008 to issue that many walks in a season.
The bullpen has been particularly wild. Royals relievers are on pace for 324 walks alone, more than any club in Royals history, and more than any team in the Wild Card era except the 1996 Tigers and 2000 Pirates.
Offensively, the rookies Witt and Melendez have brought some energy and quality at-bats to the lineup, but while the team has begun to turn it on offensively lately, they have still scored the fifth-fewest runs-per-game in baseball. The Royals are scoring fewer runs-per-game than any Royals team since 1992, on pace for just 636 runs scored.
A big part of the lack of offense stems from the season-long slump from Whit Merrifield. The former All-Star has been a table-setter for the Royals, twice leading the league in hits, and three times topping the league in stolen bases. But this year he is leading the league in a different category - outs made. The 33-year-old is making outs at a historic level.
Whit Merrifield has made 270 outs in 81 games. On pace for the 4th highest total ever:— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) July 7, 2022
560: Omar Moreno 1980
545: Frank Taveras 1979
542: Horace Clarke 1970
536: Bobby Richardson 1964, Sandy Alomar 1971, Jose Reyes 2005
535: Alomar 1970, Moreno 1979 & '82, J.J. Hardy 2012
The lack of offense has hit Brad Keller particularly hard as he has received very little run support this year. Despite an ERA near league-average at 4.37, he has a record of just 4-9, leading the league in losses. Pitcher win-loss record is largely meaningless, but he would be on pace to have the most losses by a Royals hurler since Darrell May lost 19 games in 2004, tying a club record. Keller has pitched well enough to stay in the rotation, could he become the first Royals pitcher with 20 losses?
The first half hasn’t been all bad. Rookies have been bright spots for the Royals. Bobby Witt Jr. is on pace to hit 24 home runs and steal 24 bases, which would make him just the 12th rookie in history to reach the 20/20 mark.
Rookies to hit 20 HR, steals 20 bases
Although he was called up a month later than Witt, MJ Melendez has posted the higher OPS+ at 107, and he is on pace to draw 54 walks, which would be the most by a Royals rookie since Bob Hamelin drew 56 in 1994. He is also on pace to hit 18 home runs, something just seven rookie catchers (Eric Haase, Gary Sanchez, Wilin Rosario, JP Arencibia, Buster Posey, Geovany Soto, and Kenji Johjima) have done since 1995.
Those rookies, plus the promotion of Vinnie Pasquantino, a potential call up for Nick Pratto, the emergence of Hunter Dozier, and the possibility that Whit Merrifield can bounce back give some hope for improved offense in the second half. The pitching shows glimmers of potential, only to have hopes dashed after a Cal Eldred mound visit.
There is a good chance the second half will be better than the first - a “dead cat” bounce and regression to the mean will see to that. But Royals fans will need to see some serious improvement to have any faith this rebuild is on the right track.