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Are the Royals really THIS bad?

Our expectations were low but holy crap.

Jun 5, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Kansas City Royals center fielder Drew Waters (6) drops a catch as Kansas City Royals right fielder MJ Melendez (1) moves out of the way against the Miami Marlins during the fifth inning at loanDepot Park. Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals went into this season not really expecting to contend, but rather to use the year as a time to evaluate their young players. Still, there was hope that some of the young players could surprise, and maybe the team could have some success in the standings, enough to give them hope for the future.

Instead, this season has been an utter disaster in the standings. The team is 62 games into the season and has a record of 18-44, the second-worst start in club history behind only the 16-46 record in 2006 that got then-general manager Allard Baird fired. In fact, it’s tied for the 11th-worst start after 62 games for any team since the Royals came into existence in 1969.

Worst 62-game start since 1969

Team 62-game record Final record
Team 62-game record Final record
2023 Athletics 12-50 ?
1982 Twins 14-48 60-102
1996 Tigers 15-47 53-109
2006 Royals 16-46 62-100
2003 Tigers 16-46 43-119
1988 Orioles 16-46 54-107
1987 Padres 16-46 65-97
2010 Orioles 17-45 66-96
2009 Nationals 17-45 59-103
1969 Expos 17-45 52-110
2023 Royals 18-44

Our expectations were low, but dear god, this is awful.

Now I’ve seen a lot of bad Royals teams over the years. I’ve seen Eduardo Villacis start in Yankee Stadium. I’ve seen Abraham Nunez hit cleanup. I’ve seen the Royals lose 19 games in a row. This team doesn’t seem to be that-level bad. Legendary NFL coach Bill Parcells famously said “you are what your record says you are.” But are the Royals really THIS bad?

Run differential has proven to be a pretty good metric for true talent level, and by the pythagorean run expectation, the Royals would be 22-40 - still pretty bad, but not near-historically bad. The offense has been a roller coaster this year - ice cold in April, very good in May, and in the first week of June it has gone cold again.

Royals 2023 offense, by month

Month Games Runs/Game HR/Game BB% K% AVG OBA SLG
Month Games Runs/Game HR/Game BB% K% AVG OBA SLG
April 29 3.3 0.7 6.6 25.2 .220 .279 .345
May 27 4.6 1.3 8.0 23.9 .245 .314 .428
June 6 2.7 0.8 2.2 24.4 .207 .269 .326

The Royals have talked about being a more patient team, but they have the second-lowest walk rate and the lowest on-base percentage in baseball - in fact they currently have the lowest OBA in club history by a significant margin. And they’re not ambushing teams and putting the ball in play - they have the sixth-highest strikeout rate in baseball.

Have they been unlucky in balls they have hit in play? A bit. Their .283 BABIP is on the low side, and they are fifth in hard-hit rate. It may be little consolation to some fans, but some of these hard hit balls should find more holes over the course of a long season.

But overall, the approach to hitting still seems flawed. The Royals are fourth in baseball in swing rate, yet have the fourth-lowest contact rate. No team swings and misses more than the Royals.

In fairness, some of the worst offenders are older veterans - Salvador Perez and Jackie Bradley Jr. Hitting coach Alec Zumwalt can’t be expected to change Salvy’s approach at his age, and Bradley isn’t part of the Royals’ future. Young hitters like Vinnie Pasquantino, Maikel Garcia, and Nick Pratto are taking a much more patient approach, all with swinging strike rates better than league-average.

Defensively, the Royals have some good defenders, but there have been far too many mental lapses and gaffes. The Royals are fourth-worst in Defensive Runs Saved, yet are seventh-best in Defensive Runs Above Average. Bobby Witt Jr. has made some impressive strides defensively, but can still lose focus at times. The biggest issue still seems to be the Royals have players out of position - namely Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez in the outfield.

The Royals stressed that the pitching woes of the last few seasons were a Major League issue, not a minor league development issue. Picollo said that “what needs to happen is mostly at the major league level”, which he tried to address by bringing in coaches Brian Sweeney and Zach Bove. Sweeney stressed throwing strikes, or “raiding the zone.”

There has been some improvement, but Royals pitchers still have the fifth-worst walk rate in baseball. The team seems to have finally put an emphasis on missing bats, although they still have the tenth-worst strikeout rate. The staff has been a bit BABIP-unlucky, they have the second-biggest gulf between ERA and FIP in baseball. The pitching staff has also been hurt by the injuries to Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Brad Keller, and Ryan Yarbrough, but there has been virtually no depth in the upper minors to fill the void.

After a tough April schedule, the Royals were looking forward to facing easier opponents in May. Yet they have faced the five worst teams in baseball other than themselves - the Athletics, Nationals, White Sox, Cardinals and Rockies - and gone 7-11. They have lost 75 percent of their games against everyone else. They have had 20 series this year and have won three of them. They have already been swept six times this year. They have yet to win three games in a row.

The Royals have been horrible, terrible, no good, and very bad this year. There are some things to like with the young hitters, although they have some red flags as well. But the pitching looks just as bad as ever, with few signs of help on the way. Teams can improve drastically after a god awful season - just ask the 1989 Orioles, the 2008 Rays, the 2011 Diamondbacks, the 2016 Twins, and last year’s Orioles. But it’s not at all clear that the Royals have the pieces in place to make that happen.


How many games will the Royals lose in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    (524 votes)
  • 50%
    (597 votes)
  • 3%
    (40 votes)
  • 0%
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Fewer than 90
    (7 votes)
1173 votes total Vote Now