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The Royals’ offense could be better than you think

Can last year’s second-half resurgence continue into 2024?

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Kansas City Royals have spent the entire offseason building around their young core of talent. There’s Cole Ragans and Brady Singer in the rotation, but there’s also a lineup full of young hitters. Outside of a couple of role players, the Royals haven’t done much to overhaul their offense from last season. The front office has signed outfielder Hunter Renfroe to a two-year, $13 million contract. They’ve also inked utilityman Garrett Hampson, to a one-year deal worth $2 million. Outside of those two moves, the offense will be more or less the same next season as what we saw in 2023. Is that a wise move for the Royals?

Last season, the Royals finished the year with an 87 wRC+, good for 28th in the entire league. By OPS they ranked 25th. Kansas City’s OBP and walk rate both ranked among the bottom three as well, 28th and 29th respectively. On the surface, returning the same lineup that posted those less-than-stellar results looks like a mistake. If the team is going to spend on starting pitching in free agency, they’ll still need an effective offense to compete for a playoff spot. It wasn’t all bad, however, and a look at the ways the offense improved last season could give a glimpse into why the front office is so confident in building around their young hitters.

A second-half improvement gives hope for 2024 and beyond

Many of the Royals' season-long offensive statistics were poor, we’ve already covered some of those number. However there weren’t at the bottom in every category. The team also ranked 18th in strikeout rate. They finished the year with a .244 team batting average, good for 19th. The team finished the year with a .398 slugging percentage, just ahead of the New York Yankees. All this to say, the offense wasn’t nearly as poor last season as it looks on the surface. Much of that was driven by a second-half resurgence.

The Royals finished with a team OPS of .665 from Opening Day through July 14. Then the All-Star Break happened. Once the Royals returned from the break, they posted a .745 OPS through the end of the season. Compared to the rest of the league, the Royals had a good offense after the All-Star Break. After July 15, the team’s .745 OPS ranked 12th in all of baseball. They hit .260 as a team — the sixth-best mark over that span — and slugged .432. The Royals ranked in the top half of the league (top-15) in average, slugging percentage, strikeout rate, isolated power (ISO), and OPS.

That sort of turnaround is a great sign of things to come. It shows the potential of the Royals’ young offense and just how good it could become. It wasn’t just the team results either. A handful of key hitters improved their OPS after the All-Star Break.

Royals OPS, 2023

Player: OPS Pre-All-Star Break OPS Post-All-Star Break Difference
Player: OPS Pre-All-Star Break OPS Post-All-Star Break Difference
Royals 0.665 0.745 0.080
MJ Melendez 0.622 0.836 0.214
Bobby Witt Jr. 0.742 0.906 0.164
Drew Waters 0.647 0.695 0.048
Kyle Isbel 0.612 0.699 0.087
Salvador Perez 0.723 0.702 -0.021
Michael Massey 0.597 0.705 0.108
Maikel Garcia 0.731 0.639 -0.092

Aside from Maikel Garcia and Salvador Perez, every single starter improved their OPS as the season went on last season. Some of this can be chalked up to the natural ebb and flow of a 162-game season. That doesn’t account for all of the improvement, however. I spoke with Royals hitting coach, Alec Zumwalt about the improvement. Zumwalt points to the development of young players and their resilience at the plate.

“The whole group continued to make strides as a unit and their individual performances reflected that,” said Zumwalt. “Part of the maturing process played out before everyone’s eyes as the season went on as the individual pressing eased. To see this group finish the way they did in a large sample size (post All-Star) speaks to their resilience.”

The more comfortable Kansas City’s young hitters got at the plate, the better their performance came through.

Looking ahead to next year, the Royals have positioned themselves to rely again on their young core while keeping them in good situations. Veterans Salvador Perez and Hunter Renfroe can anchor the lineup. Utilityman Garrett Hampson adds his own veteran presence. All three also offer varying levels of postseason experience. The front office has chosen to put even more confidence in their young hitters while surrounding them with a veteran presence to help them throughout the season.

The key next season will be avoiding the cold start that’s plagued the Royals for at least a couple of seasons now. Bobby Witt Jr. started slowly in both of his major league seasons thus far. In 2023, the entire offense sputtered out of the gate. There’s confidence that the lessons learned last season can help the Royals avoid that slow start next year. Much of that would be thanks to the young core buying into the message of their coaches. Zumwalt saw that during last year’s turnaround.

“The message was clear before the turn around and we all bought into the mindset.”

With a more stable starting rotation and a much-improved bullpen, the sky is the limit if the Royals can maximize their young lineup. Instead of entering the season with hope for improvement, many Royals fans have turned their sights to the American League Central. The division is weak and Kansas City has positioned itself to make a run. General Manager J.J. Picollo has coined the phrase “Why not us?” for much of the offseason. Now, the Royals have put that thought process to work and made it a reality.

It’s important not to put too much pressure on their young lineup, but Zumwalt echoed his message from last season to his young players. “When you are going through adversity, you are either an excuse maker or a warrior. That’s a choice.”

That mantra gives a bit of insight into the team’s Gladiator helmet from last season. Based on how they finished last year, this young group looks more than up to the task next season.