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Searching for signs of life in the Royals offense

Are there brighter days ahead for the bats?

St. Louis Cardinals v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

I had my concerns about the Royals' offense before this season started. After all, the Royals lineup produced a meager 89 wRC+ and 686 runs scored in 2021. Those figures placed them 14th and 13th, respectively, in the American League. The only team in the AL that was worse by wRC+, Texas, made significant upgrades to their offense by adding Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Mitch Garver. Meanwhile, the Royals were prepared to run out a lineup of basically the same personnel. It wasn’t hard to imagine a reality where this offense is the worst in the league.

It’s very easy to imagine now, as that reality is the one we’re living in. Here is where Kansas City currently ranks among AL teams in various offensive categories:

  • wRC+: 80, 15th
  • Batting average: .218, 14th
  • On-base percentage: .286, 12th
  • Slugging percentage: .317, 14th
  • Home runs: 13, 13th
  • Runs scored: 70, 15th

Kansas City has company in the basement of those rate stats, but holistically, this has been the worst offense in the league. I’m not here to diagnose why the offense hasn’t hit because that’s already been done on this site: bad hitters hitting lousy fly balls. Rather, I’m going to investigate if there are reasons beyond blind optimism to believe there are better days ahead for the bats.

We will begin with the only everyday player off to a strong start: Andrew Benintendi. He’s hitting .354! 152 wRC+! Striking out just 11% of the time! He’s turned a corner! Surely there won’t be any peripherals indicating this is an unsustainable hot streak....right?

Oh no! It’s great that he’s showing excellent control of the strike zone, but he’s not hitting the ball hard at all. In fact, his hard-hit rate is down 9% from last year. He’s rocking a .378 wOBA but just a .319 xwOBA. His career numbers in those stats: .338 and .337. It’s worth noting that he had his best offensive season in 2018 with similarly mediocre hard-hit metrics. The difference is he sprayed line drives all over the field that year. This year, he’s hitting a bunch of groundballs that just happen to be finding holes. At some point, those are going to stop getting through. When that happens, he’ll need to either start taking some walks or access some power to still be a valuable hitter.

Not an especially encouraging start. How about Hunter Dozier? Sure he’s still striking out a lot and not walking at all, but he’s second on the team in slugging percentage and ISO! Should we get excited?

The plate discipline metrics are truly ghastly, but the batted ball metrics are pretty solid! His hard-hit rate is right in line with his 2019 peak and the barrel rate is even better. The problem is he hit a lot more line drives in 2019; a career high, in fact. This year, he’s hitting groundballs at his highest rate since his cup of coffee in 2016, and he’s pulling the ball more than ever. Statcast lists similar batters based on batted ball profile, and one of the comps for Dozier is...2021 Ryan O’Hearn. Yikes. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: he hits the ball hard, if only he can just elevate the ball more there’s really something here!

Ok ok but how about Nicky Lopez? Man he was awesome last year! Yeah he’s off to a bit of a slow start, but as the weather warms up I’m sure he’ll turn it around and start hitting like he did las-

Dammit, that’s an awful lot of blue. I will admit I was low on Lopez coming into the year. I thought his breakout was largely BABIP-driven, with his BABIP spiking from .269 to .347 without any notable change in his hard-hit rates or batted ball profile. This year he’s hitting the ball in the air more than ever, which is problematic for a guy with no power. His line drive rate is down 5.8% from his career rate. His issues are basically the inverse of Dozier’s: hitting the ball softly and in the air. He’s staying afloat on offense thanks to a career high 10.8% walk rate, but unless he conjures whatever wizardry he used last year to force all his groundballs through the infield, he’ll be hard-pressed to improve on his current 86 wRC+.

How about Salvador Perez? He has to be hurt, right? Ever since getting plunked in the hand he hasn’t hit. Plus, it was the second half last year that he really heated up. Perhaps, but I can only look at what has happened so far:

We know Salvy is gonna swing at everything and not draw walks. That much is obvious. We saw a notable change from Perez starting in 2020 where he basically decided “I’m alright with striking out more often if it means I can slug .550.”

But those strikeouts are getting out of control. He’s actually chasing fewer pitches than ever, yet his whiff rate is a career high. He’s quite simply missing pitches in the zone. When he does connect, he’s not punishing pitches like last year, as his hard-hit rates have regressed from elite to merely good. I think he can still get close to last year’s level; perhaps he just needs a day off (haha, yeah right). I do worry, however, that he’s losing bat speed. With his approach, his offensive numbers won’t survive that. Alternatively, the Royals are just playing an injured guy like they did last year with Dozier and Carlos Santana. Stay tuned.

This has not been a particularly encouraging exercise. Let’s look at the young guns. How about Bobby Witt Jr.? Top prospect in baseball, there’s gotta be something there. After a truly dreadful start, he’s gotten going of late.

There is something here: he’s the fastest guy in baseball and has flashed elite exit velo. His issues mostly come down to swing decisions. He’s doing a decent job of putting bat on ball, but he’s swinging at way too many pitches out of the zone (and probably just swinging too much in general). We know what he can do on pitches out of the zone, but more often it’s leading to poor contact quality. Pitchers have attacked with pitches away, often to great effect:

He’s adjusting and the numbers against breaking balls are ticking up, What worries me is his performance against fastballs: he’s hitting just .190 off four-seamers without an extra-base hit. I’m sure that’ll improve going forward (you can’t reach top prospect status if you can’t hit fastballs) but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Let’s take a look at one more guy: Edward Olivares. He’s off to a torrid start and has somehow avoided being sent down. Let’s check out his metrics:

Not enough playing time to show up on percentile rankings, thanks Mike Matheny/Dayton Moore/J.J. Picollo! The first thing that jumps out when comparing Olivares this year to last is that he is smoking the ball. His hard-hit rate is up from 31% in 2021 to 55.2%, which is 19th-highest in baseball among players with at least 25 balls hit in play. It would behoove him to elevate the ball more to take advantage of the exit velo, but a 31% line drive rate is nice too. He’s doing all this with just a 17.6% whiff rate, which would be around the 86th percentile among qualified hitters. The only real red flag is his .414 BABIP, which is bound to regress. Even when that happens, if he can continue consistently making hard contact, he can be a productive hitter. Olivares tore up AAA last year, so it’s about damn time he gets an opportunity to stick in the majors.

Poll

What do you expect from the offense moving forward?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Nothing, worst offense in the AL
    (236 votes)
  • 47%
    They’re not great, but they won’t be this bad
    (256 votes)
  • 8%
    Everyone will improve!
    (43 votes)
535 votes total Vote Now