Assessing the Royals after 40 games

Dayton Moore has often said that the first real judgment of a team comes after 40 games, and after a quarter of this season, the Royals are guilty of playing bad baseball. Here are a few quick notes on the badness:

  • They are tied with the Tigers for the third-worst record in baseball, ahead of only the Reds and Nationals.
  • They have won three series all year.
  • They have been shutout five times already.
  • They have tied with the Pirates for allowing the most first inning runs in baseball with 37.

The Royals have been remarkably consistent in their poor start to the season. Aside from their hot start last season (followed by an immediate collapse in May), the Royals have reached the quarter-mark of the season with a nearly identical record in each year since 2018.

Royals after 40 games

Year Record Runs scored HR BA OBA SLG Runs allowed ERA K / 9 BB / 9
Year Record Runs scored HR BA OBA SLG Runs allowed ERA K / 9 BB / 9
2018 13-27 164 37 .260 .323 .395 233 5.55 6.9 3.3
2019 14-26 185 48 .242 .315 .429 200 5.01 7.9 3.9
2020 14-26 155 45 .238 .305 .396 197 4.61 8.9 3.9
2021 18-22 164 37 .234 .305 .378 194 4.65 9.3 4.1
2022 14-26 145 28 .232 .293 .354 201 4.70 6.9 3.8

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

Offense

The Royals have averaged 3.62 runs scored-per-game, seventh-worst in baseball. They have the fourth-fewest home runs, the sixth-lowest on-base percentage, and the seventh-lowest slugging percentage. They have put the ball in play with the sixth-lowest strikeout rate, but they have the second-lowest line drive rate.

Andrew Benintendi is off to a good start. He’s the only qualified Royals hitter in the top 50 of MLB in wRC +. He’s also not likely to be on next year’s team unless they work out a long-term deal with him in the next month. Hunter Dozier has also been a bright spot with an OPS + of 120. His BABIP suggests some luck and his low walk rate is a bit worrying, but he has also likely been robbed of a few home runs and is hitting the ball with some authority, putting last year’s dismal performance behind him.

After a slow start and a steady diet of sliders, Bobby Witt Jr. has made the adjustments you like to see out of a rookie and has become a solid offensive presence.

He is already second on the team in fWAR, behind only Benintendi, and has transitioned well to shortstop in recent games. Michael A. Taylor has not been a complete offensive black hole, posting a career high walk rate of 12.8 percent. Emmanuel Rivera and MJ Melendez have looked good in limited playing time and will hopefully earn more at-bats as the season progresses.

The rest of the lineup has been a disaster. Whit Merrifield has been the third-worst qualified hitter in baseball. Carlos Santana has the second-worst batting average of anyone with at least 100 plate appearances. Nicky Lopez has regressed badly. Adalberto Mondesi failed to hit at all before he got hurt. Even reliable Salvador Perez has hit just .206 / .239 / .397.

Pitching

Royals starters have the fifth-worst ERA in baseball at 4.72. That has been weighed down by some poor performance by pitchers that are no longer in the rotation, so perhaps there is some hope that a rotation of Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Daniel Lynch, and Brady Singer can improve that performance going forward. That quartet has a 3.28 ERA in 148 innings this year. But it is not going to be a rotation that misses many bats – Greinke and Keller have the two lowest strikeout rates of any qualified pitcher. Royals starters have struggled in the first inning, allowing a league-worst 12 home runs and an opposing hitter’s line of .313 / .383 / .581.

Scott Barlow has been his usual reliable self for the most part and Joel Payamps has been a bright spot in the bullpen with a 1.47 ERA. Ronald Bolaños has been a pleasant surprise in the pen as a long reliever, and Collin Snider has looked good at times. Josh Staumont, Dylan Coleman, and Amir Garrett all can miss bats with some electric stuff, but all have had their problems with walks. The bullpen seems like it should be better, but they have a 4.69 ERA collectively, third-worst in baseball, with the third-highest walk rate.

Overall, the Royals have the fifth-worst ERA in baseball at 4.70, and the fourth-worst FIP ​​at 4.25. They are the worst team in baseball at striking hitters out, and yet have given up the fifth-most free passes. They wanted to emphasize first-pitch strikes this year, and yet they are the worst in baseball in that category.

Defense and Baserunning

The Royals can put together a team that can get the ball. The Royals are fifth in Defensive Runs Above Average and tops in Ultimate Zone Rating. The Royals are sixth in baseball with 25 steals at a 78.1 percent success rate, and they are ninth in baserunning runs. Bobby Witt Jr. has the highest sprint speed in the game, according to Statcast.

The Royals have not played a particularly difficult schedule, according to ESPN’s strength of schedule. Only 13 of their first 40 games have come against teams that currently have a winning record. ZIPS projects them to go 55-67 the rest of the season, to finish at 69-93.

Overall it has been a hugely disappointing start for a team that was hoping to make progress. With young rookies like Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, and Kyle Isbel ready to make an impact, and young pitchers like Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernández, and Jackson Kowar ready to take a step forward, it looked like The Royals could make a big leap this year, with a winning season even a possibility.

After 40 games, it seems like the Royals are as far away from contention as they’ve ever been. Management seems to be too loyal to players that haven’t gotten the job done, coaches seem to have players ill-prepared for games, and player buy-in to make adjustments has been too slow or it hasn’t happened. This doesn’t feel like the 2012 Royals, who lost 90 games but were a fun team that you could see a brighter future for. This is more like the 2009 Royals, a hugely disappointing team that squandered the progress the franchise seemingly made.

Perhaps the next 122 games will be better. But fan patience has run out.

Poll

How many games will the Royals win this season?

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