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The Royals are playing well in September, what does that mean?

Should we expect this to carry over to next year?

Kansas City Royals v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Royals are the hottest team in baseball, having won 10 of their last 11 games. It would be surprising enough to see a team on pace for one of the worst records of the last 50 years go on such a streak to end the year, but its even more amazing considering five of those wins came against the Houston Astros, one of the most dominant franchises in baseball the last six years and a team fighting for their post-season life.

There are many things to like about the way the Royals are finishing the season - Nelson Velázquez has been one of the best power hitters in baseball the last two months, Edward Olivares looks invigorated at the plate, MJ Melendez is finally getting his bat going, and they have gotten some good pitching from Cole Ragans and James McArthur. But playing well when the team is already buried in the standings after a miserable season is met with a bit of skepticism from Royals fans. After all, they’ve seen this before. This is the fourth time in five seasons the Royals have improved their winning percentage in September.

Royals September baseball

Year April-August Win pct Runs scored Runs Allowed September Win pct Runs scored Runs Allowed
Year April-August Win pct Runs scored Runs Allowed September Win pct Runs scored Runs Allowed
2018 43-91 .321 3.8 5.3 15-13 .536 4.7 4.2
2019 48-89 .350 4.2 5.4 11-14 .440 4.4 5.4
2021 59-72 .450 4.1 4.9 15-16 .484 4.6 4.8
2022 53-78 .405 3.9 5.1 12-19 .387 4.0 4.7
2023 41-94 .304 3.9 5.3 13-8 .619 5.8 5.0

I omitted the shortened 2020 season, but the Royals were much better in September of that year (12-13) than the rest of the season (14-21) as well. Overall, Royals winning percentage went up in September of these years by 33 percent. Their runs scored-per-game went up 18 percent and their runs allowed-per-game went down 9.6 percent. Obviously playing well in September didn’t carry over into the next season, as the Royals have been mired in a six-season rebuild that has gone nowhere.

The Royals team that did take a big jump in recent history actually didn’t play well the previous September. In 2013, the Royals surprised baseball by having a hot second half and making a run at a Wild Card, a preview of the championship run they would later have. But the young nucleus of that team played poorly in September/October of 2012, going 13-19 those months, and dropping nine of their last eleven to end the season. That did carry over a bit the next year as the team got off to a slow start (particularly offensively, where they changed hitting coaches) and it wasn’t until the summer that the team took off.

Does a hot September mean anything on an individual level? Here are the best offensive Septembers for the Royals since 2018.

Royals players with hot Septembers

Salvador Perez 2020 1.197 64 7 .371 .391 .807
Jorge Soler 2019 1.136 108 10 .330 .402 .734
Adalberto Mondesí 2020 1.075 100 6 .356 .408 .667
Andrew Benintendi 2021 .969 128 5 .342 .398 .570
Ryan O'Hearn 2018 .965 92 5 .266 .370 .595
Vinnie Pasquantino 2022 .931 98 2 .361 .449 .482
Hunter Dozier 2021 .922 107 6 .272 .346 .576
Adalberto Mondesí 2018 .886 119 8 .282 .322 .564
Salvador Perez 2021 .875 131 10 .261 .321 .555

Salvador Perez had a torrid September in the shortened 2020 season, then went on to lead the league in home runs the next season. He finished strong again in 2021, but got off to a poor start in 2022 and regressed that year. Jorge Soler was closing out his league-leading home run season in 2019 with a strong September, but saw his numbers regress in the shortened 2020 season. Adalberto Mondesi twice finished with a strong September - in 2018 he followed it up with a solid start the next season, but injuries caught up with him. He finished strong again in 2020, but injured himself just before Opening Day in 2021 and never really got started.

Andrew Benintendi followed a strong finish in 2021 to earn his first All-Star appearance in 2022 and he was a coveted trade asset that summer, eventually being dealt to the Yankees. Ryan O’Hearn impressed fans with his performance as a rookie in 2018, but was never able to duplicate that until this year with the Orioles. Vinnie Pasquantino ended strong last year and began well this year but he began to slump in late May and an injury in June ended his season. Hunter Dozier offered some hope with a strong finish in 2021 and he actually got off to a good start in 2022, but by mid-season he was just as bad as ever.

So there may be some evidence a strong finish can carry over if injuries don’t get to you. Maybe it can be indicative of a young player on the verge of a breakout? I took some selected breakout seasons in recent Royals history to see how they performed the previous September.

Royals players pre-breakout September

Player Pre-Breakout AVG OBA SLG
Player Pre-Breakout AVG OBA SLG
Alex Gordon September 2010 .182 .321 .330
Lorenzo Cain September 2013 .185 .214 .259
Mike Moustakas September 2014 .247 .287 .296
Whit Merrifield September 2016 .307 .360 .416
Hunter Dozier September 2017 .234 .265 .447
Bobby Witt Jr. September 2022 .264 .306 .360

Aside from Whit Merrifield, those are pretty poor numbers. So it doesn’t seem like these players figured anything out down the stretch, they were able to use the off-season to re-tool and grow.

I certainly don’t think it’s bad to play well in September (aside from hurting their chances in the draft lottery!) and for players with little MLB data, we may be seeing the true talent level of guys like Velázquez and Ragans, which bodes well for the future. If nothing else, it could at least help the mental psyche of a young team that doesn’t have much to hang their hat on this season.

Ultimately, the Royals lost a ton of baseball games this year because they had a bad roster. There is a core they can build around, but there will need to be many moves to complement that nucleus with players that can make the team competitive next year. It is encouraging that the players doing well in September are players that will be here for the future, but there is much work to be done.