The season is over, and while the Royals didn’t expect to contend, they also probably didn’t expect to tie the club record of 106 losses. It was supposed to be an evaluation season, so with the season complete we brought together our writers to evaluate the team.
J.J. Picollo said he didn’t feel like this was a 106-loss team, do you agree?
Jacob Milham: I wholeheartedly agree with Picollo on that. This team had some rotten luck, whether it was on the field or not. Their Pythagorean record is still not great, but I would prefer the 64-98 record. The difference between the Royals’ actual winning percentage and the Pythagorean winning percentage is the largest in team history and one of the biggest in MLB this season. It was still a bad season.
Greg Walker: No. Even though they undershot their pythag by eight wins, a 106-loss and 98-loss team don’t feel much different. Regardless what the exact loss total is, this felt like a very bad team. Positive developments that we hoped to see from young players mostly did not materialize, and progress that seemed to be made last year did not carry over.
Max Rieper: You’re going to take your lumps with a young team and a lot of unknowns, so we should have figured there would be a lot of potential variance from the record and the true talent level of this team. I do think the pitching was perhaps worse than expected and that really cost them a lot of games. I mean, Jordan Lyles led the team in innings pitched, what kind of record do you expect in that scenario?
Hokius: In fairness to Picollo, he also admitted that the record was still real and had to be addressed. It’s a subtle difference, but a large one from how Dayton Moore always described things. All that said, no, I still don’t agree. You are what your record says you are. I’ve never seen anyone from the team jumping to exclaim that the 2014 Royals weren’t actually infinitely superior to all of their league playoff opponents; they’re perfectly happy to accept that record as a description of the team.
Matthew LaMar: Yeah, I think Picollo is technically right here. By second and third order winning percentage, the Royals were a 96-loss team as opposed to a 106-loss team. From a true talent level perspective, that certainly feels more accurate; there was a lot more talent on this team than a lot of 100-loss Royals teams. Now, does that matter? Maybe not as much as Picollo thinks. A 96-loss team is still a very bad team. But he’s got an argument that the Royals were more productive than they seemed.
What was the biggest disappointment this year?
Jacob Milham: The starting rotation was the biggest disappointment by far. Just about everything that could go wrong did for Kansas City. Cole Ragans’ performance is the lone bright spot, but every other player fell short of expectations.
Max Rieper: The pitching overall. In the offseason they insisted they had talent, but implied the poor pitching development the last few years stemmed from a lack of the Major League coaching staff using data effectively, and that using data now could yield pretty quick results. We saw perhaps small glimpses of how data and coaching helped players - namely Cole Ragans, a pitcher acquired from another organization that got help from outside sources. But no one else really took a step forward, and Brady Singer - perhaps their most important pitcher - took a huge step backwards. Injuries to Daniel Lynch IV and Kris Bubic cost a crucial evaluation year, and the overall walk and strikeout rates improved very marginally.
Greg Walker: Pitchers from the ‘18 draft class. Brady Singer followed a strong ‘22 with the worst season of his career. Kris Bubic looked good for three starts before getting hurt and now we won’t see him until next summer. Daniel Lynch IV was once again bad and injured. Jackson Kowar is a middle reliever at best. Ditto Jonathan Heasley. And Jonathan Bowlan has not been the same since returning from Tommy John. All of these guys (save Bowlan) were drafted out of high-end Power 4 programs. Five years later, only one of them has looked like a big league caliber starting pitcher for any extended period of time. It seems clear now that the starting rotation of the next contending Royals team is not currently in the upper levels of the organization.
Hokius: I think the biggest disappointment is that it felt like a redux of last year. We saw a lot of improvements late in 2022 and expected those to carry over in 2023, instead, the team was absolutely awful to begin the year and gradually improved as things went on. The Royals aren’t going to get any better if they keep up with the “two steps forward, two steps back” approach.
Matthew LaMar: The scouting department and the draft. The Royals absolutely cannot keep drafting top 5 or top 10 and continue getting nothing out of it. This year, they doubled and tripled down on extreme risk, not only by taking high school catcher Blake Mitchell but by taking high school arms afterwards. Lo and behold, the arms didn’t pitch a lick of pro ball this year and Mitchell stunk in short season ball, while other first round draft picks (Kyle Teel) have already made Double-A. I can deal with the 2023 Royals being bad, but the organization is in an awful, awful spot because of rotten processes. This year’s draft approach was like dumping cold water on fans’ heads. It is not likely to work out.
What was the most surprising bright spot?
Max Rieper: Bobby Witt Jr. is a bona fide star now. I will admit, I harbored some doubts he could become a big time impact player due to his low walk rate. But I was pretty impressed with the mid-season adjustments he made, and his power and speed can make up for a lack of walks. José Alguacil also deserves a lot of credit for helping Bobby become a legit Gold Glove candidate at shortstop, it was impressive to see him play the position this year.
Matthew LaMar: Cole Ragans and Nelson Velázquez, not just because they’ve been good—they have—but because it is encouraging to see the Royals front office identify players that they think they can make better, trading for those players, and then following through on making those improvements. It’s the right kind of “transactional.” Otherwise, yeah, it was nice seeing Bobby Witt Jr. take the next step. That’s a big deal, because there is a world out there where Witt never became a star because of contact and on base issues.
Jacob Milham: I was surprised by how smoothly Maikel Garcia transitioned to third base. That is not his natural position at all, and he only started a handful of games there in the minors. Now, he is one of the league’s best defensive third basemen. His bat still leaves much to be desired, but that was to be expected. His glove is the real story.
Hokius: It’s gotta be the juice the coaching staff showed in regard to their ability to coach mediocre pitchers into being good, right? Cole Ragans and James McArthur were just guys and the Royals turned them into dudes to genuinely be excited about. It might be an even greater indictment on the previous administration, however, that they were seemingly unable to do anything with the pitchers that were already around, except for maybe Kris Bubic, but we won’t know until he returns - if he does.
Greg Walker:This is tough to answer given the only bright spot among fulltime players was Witt, and I’m not surprised he broke out. I guess I’ll give it to Freddy Fermin and Dairon Blanco. According to both fWAR and bWAR they were among the five most productive Royals position players this season despite playing less than half the season. That really says more about the rest of the roster than it does about them, but Fermin and Blanco both produced more in the majors than I ever expected them to.
What do you expect from the Royals this off-season? Give me one predicted transaction.
Matthew LaMar: I think the Royals will sign Witt to a huge extension. Normally I’d be skeptical the Royals would spend that cash. But they have to - the new stadium project is not going to get approved by the public until ownership shows that they’re willing to invest or until they start winning. Extending Witt would be the biggest and most influential piece of advertising they could possibly do.
Greg Walker: I don’t expect enough to make me optimistic about the ‘24 Royals. I do expect they’ll add pitching and I can see them overpaying for a bounceback candidate type of starting pitcher. Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, Frankie Montas, and Alex Wood come to mind.
Max Rieper: I’m expecting a very busy off-season, but probably not the big name moves some fans may be expecting. Look for a lot of trades like the Nelson Velázquez deal, a search for more James McArthurs in the bullpen, and turning over rocks to find another Cole Ragans. I think payroll will go up to $100 million, but it will be mostly on short-term free agents - let’s say a starting pitcher (Michael Wacha), a bullpen arm (Emilio Pagan), and an outfield bat (Hunter Renfroe).
Jacob Milham: Picollo laid out the Royals’ needs pretty clearly. The team will definitely make budget moves at each one of those positions, but I think they will sign a 2023 All-Star this offseason. Michael Lorenzen started 2023 strong but fizzled out in Philadelphia. The Royals will bring him back to the AL Central on a one-year, prove-it deal that is beneficial for both parties.
Hokius: If the Royals don’t trade Edward Olivares to someone else I’ll taze Jacob during a special live edition of the Royals Rundown podcast.