To adapt (steal) a Twilight Zone opening narration for a moment:
A major leaguers son, a Catcher who wants to catch 162 games a year, a relief pitcher who'll be pitching for a contender in August, a relief pitcher who worked for UPS a few years ago, and a very likely Hall of Famer. These improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation, just a prolonged slog in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows.
Welcome to the 2023 Kansas City Royals. A team that was expected to be much better because Mike Matheny was fired last year. This is a fanpost about the Royals because fanposts are only slightly livelier than the 2023 Royals, and because I am one of the 11% of Americans without a Substack.
Now before we get too deep into this. People like to assign identities to baseball teams. What kind of ball do they play? The sort of thing that is hopelessly generalized. In the case of the Kansas City Royals, their identity is that they're a losing team. When positive identity is absent, negative identity is more than willing to fill that void.
The Royals are, as of April 16th, 2023, a 4-12 baseball team. Some will emphasize that the Atlanta Braves are very good (they are), that the Toronto Blue Jays are very good (they are), that the Minnesota Twins are good (maybe, check back later), that the Texas Rangers are good (eh, they've improved), and maybe they'll overrate the San Francisco Giants (who appear to be a bad team this year). The sort of thing where it sounds like the Royals are mid-80s Kansas State playing Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, and Tom Osborne in their first three Big 8 games. But we get around to facing Bob Valesente in the rivalry game, watch out, Independence Bowl here we come.
Depending on your point of view, the Royals are only a bad team right now or also a bad team for the rest of this season. But who are the characters in this cavalcade of malarkey? let's investigate a few parts of this 2023 team.
Let's mention Michael Massey first. Not because he's the most important player but because he might not be on the 26 man roster by the time you read this. Michael Massey has started this season with some really bad numbers. Last here, he proved that the best ability was availability as he had the opportunity to play some games last July, and then was on the radar for when the Royals traded Whit Merrifield (those two events are connected, but let's not get into that right now). Massey had 143 plate appearances in AAA Omaha, not really enough to say that he's conquered AAA. Some players didn't need that much time in Omaha before they became Major Leaguers, but those players also didn't start their second year with an OPS+ of negative 31. Because Michael Massey is hitting worse than Hunter Dozier and Massey has options, he will likely get sent down sometime on either Monday or Wednesday afternoon and the Royals will probably call up Maikel Garcia. Unless they find a way to open a spot on the 40 man roster to call up Nick Loftin (gee, how could they do that?). Or if they feel that Samad Taylor could be called up to fill a spot in the outfield while Nicky Lopez plays second base. Michael Massey isn't the most important player on the team, but he's the scapegoat of the moment. Dylan Coleman was the scapegoat after the road trip as the Royals found a way to bring Josh Staumont back after he spent a few days in AAA. There'll be new targets if the team continues to struggle. Michael Massey will go down to Omaha, maybe he'll smack the ball around and return once somebody else gets hurt or disappoints us enough to open a major league roster spot. This might have been Michael Massey's biggest opportunity to establish himself in Kansas City and his impending replacement will lock down the spot.
One reason why Samad Taylor might be in Kansas City sometime soon is the fact that the Royals outfield situation is a bit sketchy. A lot of days, MJ Melendez plays right field and he's reasonably nondescript out there. A lot of days, Kyle Isbel plays center field. Some days, Edward Olivares stands in left field and seems surprised when the ball is hit in his direction. Nate Eaton also plays the outfield with the furiosity of a man fighting off bees and Franmil Reyes is a DH who sometimes stands in the outfield. The Royals outfield defense is as consistent as their lineups out there. Samad Taylor is actually playing more second base right now than outfield, but don't let what they're doing be any sort of guide for what they might do. If they have a guy who can play the outfield or infield, they might choose to take advantage of that. Even better if he can hit. The Royals outfield right now is not close to being a finished product. Edward Olivares has had the most attention-getting errors out of all the outfielders. Olivares owes the Kauffman Stadium official scorer a steak for the scorer's hard work at not charging Olivares with more errors. In theory, a player like Olivares could be a DH. Likely not a good one, but it would be less frustrating than watching him field. On a roster where other guys are competing for time as the DH, and a roster where Franmil Reyes is employed. Olivares' road to value as a defensive outfielder involves hoping that the other team won't hit the ball towards him.
So far this month, the average Major League team is scoring 4.7 runs per game in April, the Royals are scoring 3.3 runs per game. The Royals have the 2nd worst batting average, the 2nd worst on base percentage, the 3rd worst SLG, and the 2nd worst OPS in baseball. If the Royals are Arkansas, the Detroit Tigers are Mississippi. The Royals have 4 players with an OPS+ above 100 through Saturday. Matt Duffy, who occasionally appears in games, Vinnie Pasquantino, Bobby Witt Jr, and Edward Olivares. Players like BWJ and Pasquantino are the hope that we’re not wasting time watching this team. Meanwhile, Matt Duffy has more hits than Hunter Dozier in around half of the playtime time. Matt Duffy also has the range of a radio station that must run pledge drives to stay on the air. Matt Duffy hasn't really played enough for people to get sick of him. That hasn't been the case for Jackie Bradley Jr, who has 30 plate appearances in the first 16 games to go along with playing in 11 of 16 games. One of these days, Drew Waters will return from the injured list and decisions will have to be made. The joke i've made s that JBJ will stick around the roster after Waters returns because the best ability is availability and JBJ is very available to play some part of the outfield instead of a less good defender.
The Royals bullpen was the site of the first roster move of the 2023 season. Dylan Coleman spent the first 2 weeks of the season giving up hits and walks. Coleman's WHIP is 2.80, which is about twice as bad as a bad 1.40 WHIP. The rest of the Royals bullpen is Taylor Clarke, who has pitched 5 games without really doing much of note. Jose Cuas, who is still around somehow. Carlos Hernandez, who might be closing games for this team in August. Ryan Yarbrough, who is likely to be starting in Kris Bubic's spot soon. Josh Staumont, who just got back to the majors. Amir Garrett who seems to be the first guy out of the bullpen on some days. Scott Barlow, who has struggled while also pitching lewss than most of the bullpen. Lastly, there's Aroldis Chapman, who's pitching like a man aiming to be on the Dodgers in 4 months. On a normal team that wins more than 1 of every 4 games, Chapman would be closing games. On this team, there's not really a purpose to designating a closer. Barlow has a save. Chapman has a save. Allegedly this organization has bullpen depth that could see the light of day sometime, even before Chapman is traded to the Atlanta Braves. There are other guys who could get optioned. Scott Barlow might even get traded to Toronto for Samad Taylor and Max Castillo (too soon?). The Royals have 8 relief pitchers but have received more innings than most of the league from their starting pitchers.
Going into Sunday's game, the Royals had the 5th most innings in baseball from their starting pitchers. Zack Greinke pitched 6 innings on Sunday so we're likely to remain at the top of that list. This tendency has even applied to games like Friday Night when Brady Singer was being hammered by the Braves, or Saturday afternoon/evening when Kris Bubic threw 100 pitches in 5 innings with a tight forearm. Matt Quatraro comes from an organization that uses relief pitchers more than any other team. This philosophy has not been seen in Kansas City in the first 16 games of the season. In fact, Matt Quatraro and Mike Matheny have seemed similar in the lineups and game decisions, a resemblance that might say something that the people advising Mike Matheny are still around to pitch Matt Quatraro on another Hunter Dozier start. Matt Quatraro appears to be a more laidback manager than most of the managers we're used to seeing in Kansas City. When the team sucks, there is a tendency to want a manager who'll flip stuff over and throw phones at reporters and get ejected. Does any of that actually help a team win games? probably not (then again, the 1993 Royals did go on a run after Hal McRae's rant, but they were older than dirt and probably bound to surge eventually). Eventually Matt Quatraro will metaphorically snap for a few moments if this team keeps being terrible. You can really only hold it in for so long before either you take it out on umpires, or you're seen yelling for once. I’m not asking for Matt Quatraro to switch from milk to tequila, but this brand of baseball will make one want to drink tequila before long. Nice guys don’t always finish last and the reality distortion field works a lot better once you’ve won a few ballgames.
One logical reason to hire Matt Quatraro is because you believe that he can become a good manager as this team also becomes good. There are some managers who would be better than Matt Quatraro right now, but those managers may also be as smart in year three as they are in year one. Get used to Matt Quatraro because baseball managers don't tend to get fired after one year unless they're employed by George Steinbrenner, they make up stories about serving in Vietnam, or Joe Maddon becomes available. Someone like Trey Hillman had to make a lot of mistakes to get fired 25 months after his first game. Guess you better hope that Matt Quatraro can start getting better advice as we get deeper into this season.
When your foundation was a 65-97 team and several valuable players were traded off of that team and the new parts are veteran filler and guys who were here last year, what did you really expect? The Rays and Guardians are inspirations for what's being attempted here, and they're guessing on how to become the Rays or the Guardians.
Demoting Michael Massey won't make this team good. DFAing Hunter Dozier won't make this team good (but it's a start). There is a losing culture around this team, something which tends to happen around the same time that you lose a bunch of baseball games without any sort of end in sight. There's no shortage of impulsive and potentially destructive ways to change things around this team. If this team starts winning, there'll be some sort of positive identity attached to why they're winning instead of losing. It'll probably be more of an accident than an intentional effort to force that identity. It’s hard to love a losing team. Losing teams tend to have all the life of a quiet downtown after dark once the daily ballgame has ended. Whatever way there is to escape from perpetual losing and a continuity of suck, it’ll take some unknown path to get actually have relevant summer baseball around here any time soon.