The Royals won seven straight between July 29 and August 5th in what might have literally been the most unprecedented winning streak in baseball history. They did so on the back of Bobby Witt, Jr. who, in the midst of an already torrid stretch that featured a walk-off grand slam, put together a 254 wRC+ during those seven games.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but the stretch personified the move from what was to that point a strong season from Witt to the cusp of stardom. There are now only 12 players in baseball with a higher fWAR than the shortstop.
Evaluating Bobby is easy. He is a 4.6 fWAR player on a really bad team, good for the 8th best mark in baseball. The last time a Royals finished that high was Carlos Beltran in 2003. He’s the first player in MLB history to hit at least 20 homers and steal at least 30 bases in his first two seasons. We know what he is, as well as what he can be.
The other players that contributed to that streak are a different story. Since the All-Star break, MJ Melendez, Drew Waters, and Michael Massey have logged 123, 109, and 99 wRC+’s respectively, and Massey’s steady defense has made him more valuable than Waters or MJ since the break. Massey and Melendez both have six homers since the break. That’s not to mention Maikel Garcia, who has 2.0 fWAR and is one of the better defenders in baseball.
On the other side of the diamond, Cole Ragans has been a bit of a phenom in his four starts with Kansas City. Brady Singer has a 2.85 ERA since the break and a 3.43 mark since June. He is in the 4th percentile of average exit velocity at 91.4 MPH and the 1st percentile of HardHit% at 49%. Not good. But since June, those figures are down to 90.2 MPH and 43.8%, numbers that are still high, but more comparable to his previous seasons. His Barrel% of 5% since June is significantly lower than last season’s and over a healthy 81-inning sample.
Nothing here is earth-shattering and it’s a small sample with a lot of games left to be played. But the Royals are playing better. That’s undeniable. This puts us in a situation we have been in many times as August and September roll around and Kansas City starts to win a few games. How do we evaluate these players and what future role they have on a competitive Royals team?
It’s complicated. I think the general feeling is that any team that isn’t going to compete should be blown up. And Royals fans are scared, as they should be, that a decent August and September from certain players will convince the front office that they are closer to competing than they actually are and give another run at this iteration of the team, the same team that has barely won 30% of its games.
Bobby Witt Jr is a budding superstar and Vinnie Pasquantino has proven that he will hit and hit a lot at this level. But aside from them, you have a position-less Melendez who has league average hitter in him if you squint hard enough, a 55-future-grade hitter in Massey who has never gotten close to that assessment at this level, and Waters, Dayton Moore’s archetypal toolsy position player a 35-grade hit tool.
Singer’s ceiling is a #3, and we have no clue what we’ll get out of Daniel Lynch or Kris Bubic. Ragans’ sample is so small in Kansas City that he’s probably still got unpacked boxes in his living room. On top of that, there aren’t reinforcements on the way. The current farm system is one of the worst in baseball.
A blow-up could be warranted. Aside from Witt and Pasquantino, can we reasonably expect any of these guys to contribute to a winning team in Kansas City? Probably not. The issue is that the Royals don’t have a lot of alternatives. If they aren’t needle movers, then they are waiting on an organization to draft, develop, trade for, or sign needle movers, something they are notoriously bad at.
The challenge for Royals fans over the final month and a half remaining this season is to rightly evaluate players without the sour taste of a bad organization in our mouths. There shouldn’t be optimism for a competitive team next offseason. But there are 40 games left to evaluate the players that can be contributors.
We can’t throw them out with the bathwater. Freddie Fermin came out of nowhere because the Royals were in the midst of a cataclysmic season. David DeJesus was a better player for Kansas City than Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas but doesn’t get his due because he played for miserable teams. Fans wanted Nicky Lopez out of town because he was a good 5th infielder being forced to start on a terrible roster and now could be a valuable asset on a World Series favorite.
Evaluating players must be done outside the stink of their organizations. So as this season wraps up, it’s possible for us to be optimistic about some of these guys and hope they get better while also acknowledging that Kansas City can’t rely on them to win games. As I said, it’s complicated. But there might be some good players in this bunch.