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The Royals at the halfway mark

Only 81 games left to go!

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

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

Year W-L PCT Second Half PCT
Year W-L PCT Second Half PCT
2018 25-56 .309 33-48 .407
2005 26-55 .321 30-51 .370
2006 27-54 .333 35-46 .432
2019 28-53 .346 31-50 .383
2004 29-52 .358 29-52 .358
2022 30-51 .370 ? ?

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.

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

Player Team Year HR SB
Player Team Year HR SB
Randy Arozarena TBR 2021 20 20
Andrew Benintendi BOS 2017 20 20
Mike Trout LAA 2012 30 49
Chris Young ARI 2007 32 27
Carlos Beltran KCR 1999 22 27
Nomar Garciaparra BOS 1997 30 22
Marty Cordova MIN 1995 24 20
Ellis Burks BOS 1987 20 27
Devon White CAL 1987 24 32
Mitchell Page OAK 1977 21 42
Tommy Agee NYM 1966 22 44

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.