Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the Kansas City Royals here.
Image: Ed Zurga / Getty Images
2022 Record: 65-97 (.401 win%, 5th in Division)
2022 Payroll: $105,345,711 (24th)
1. C/LF MJ Melendez, .217 AVG/.313 OBP/.393 SLG, -0.2 fWAR
2. SS/3B Bobby Witt Jr., .254 AVG/.294 OBP/.428 SLG, 2.3 fWAR
3. C/DH Salvador Perez, .254 AVG/.292 OBP/.465 SLG, 0.5 fWAR
4. DH/1B Vinnie Pasquantino, .295 AVG/.383 OBP/.450 SLG, 1.5 fWAR
5. 3B/1B/RF/DH Hunter Dozier, .236 AVG/.292 OBP/.387 SLG, -1.0 fWAR
6. 1B Nick Pratto, .184 AVG/.271 OBP/.386 SLG, -0.3 fWAR
7. CF Michael A. Taylor, .254 AVG/.313 OBP/.357 SLG, 1.5 fWAR
8. RF Kyle Isbel, .211 AVG/.264 OBP/.340 SLG, 0.7 fWAR
9. 2B Nicky Lopez, .227 AVG/.281 OBP/.273 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
1. Brady Singer, 153.1 IP/3.23 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 2.9 fWAR
2. Zack Greinke, 137.0 IP/3.68 ERA/1.34 WHIP, 1.9 fWAR
3. Daniel Lynch, 131.2 IP/5.13 ERA/1.57 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR
4. Kris Bubic, 129.0 IP/5.58ERA/1.70 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
5. Brad Keller, 139.2 IP/5.09 ERA/1.50 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR
2022 Top 4 Relievers:
1. CL Scott Barlow, 74.1 IP/2.18 ERA/1.00 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
2. Dylan Coleman, 68.0 IP/2.78 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR
3. Amir Garrett, 45.1 IP/4.96 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
4. Josh Staumont, 37.2 IP/6.45 ERA/1.75 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR
Regular Season Recap:
The Royals’ season was very disappointing. Fans didn’t expect the playoffs, but they expected a better record than their 74 win 2021 season. While the Royals won a measly 65 games, I am here to tell you why there needs to be more optimism. However, before I get to the positives, I need to go over what went so wrong.
First off, the pitching was a mess. There is no sugar coating when your staff has the fourth-worst ERA in Major League Baseball at 4.72, according to Fangraphs. Besides Brady Singer and Zack Greinke, the starting pitching was the weakest point of the team. Brad Keller came into the season as the ace of the staff looking to build off a struggling 2021 season. Instead, nothing was working and by the end of the season, Keller ended up in the bullpen where he didn’t pitch any better.
Beyond Keller, Lynch and Bubic, who were part of the big 2018 Draft with Singer and Jackson Kowar, struggled as well. Bubic had an improved 2021 year finishing strong looking to surprise many in 2022, but this ended with an ERA over 5.00 (just as Keller and Lynch did too). Some of the older pitching prospects like Angel Zerpa, Jackson Kowar, and Jonathan Heasley didn’t perform well either. The bullpen had its ups and downs, but veterans Amir Garrett and Josh Staumont having ERA’s at 4.96 and 6.45 wasn’t what the team envisioned.
The offense was even more complex and complicated. Starting off with the negatives, the veterans that the Royals planned on relying on this year dropped the ball big time. Whit Merrifield started out the first two months of the season as one of the worst hitters in all of baseball and then after he heated up a little bit was eventually traded.
When Merrifield left, Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn took the role of struggling veterans. Both had negative fWARs at -1.0 and -0.3 respectively. While Nicky Lopez is still young at the age of 27, he was also seen as a veteran the Royals were going to rely on after coming off a shocking 2021 where he put up a .300 batting average and 5.9 fWAR. This was not the case either as he hit below .230 and produced an fWAR that was one-fifth of the previous year.
Now, this is a lot of negatives for Royals fans to harp on, but we haven’t even gotten to the rookies. This Royals rookie class on offense was one to remember. The list consisted of Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Nick Pratto, Nate Eaton, Drew Waters, Michael Massey, and more. Every single one of them gave the Royals rebuild hope for a bigger future.
To start with Witt Jr. and Melendez, both had over 15 home runs and looked like they have the potential to be future all-stars. Vinnie Pasquantino was the best rookie with a weighted run created plus of 137 and a BB/K ratio of 1.03. Nick Pratto wasn’t as stellar as the other three but he still showed flashes of his minor league gold glove defense and his first-round hit tool.
Beyond the most popular and highest-ranked rookies, guys like Nate Eaton and Drew Waters surprised everyone, including many Royals fans. To start off with Nate Eaton, no one expected him to make a real impact on the 2022 squad, but he ended up playing 44 games and producing a 0.9 fWAR as well as a wRC+ of 101, 11 stolen bases, and a DRS of 7. While this is a very small sample size, it is very encouraging to see that if Eaton can be just an average hitter, he could be a very impactful addition with stellar speed and defense.
Drew Waters, along with two other prospects, were traded to the Royals before the trade deadline by the Atlanta Braves for the Royals’ conditional first-round pick. Waters tore it up in AAA with the Storm Chasers for over a month before finally getting the call. When he arrived, there were major questions regarding his strikeout rate and if he would be able to produce similar numbers at the Major League level. While also a small sample size with 32 games and 109 at-bats, Waters produced a wRC+ of 125 and a fWAR of 0.4.
Waters is similar to Eaton in the fact that he is a defensive wizard with well above average speed, but as an early top-100 prospect in his career and with a lot of hype around him after getting drafted, his hit tool is more promising. This still may be just a small sample size in AAA and MLB with the Royals organization and his strikeout rate is somewhat concerning, but there is a lot of potential for Waters to be an above average end of the order bat filling the gap in center field every day that has been a problem since Lorenzo Cain left for the Brewers in 2018.
There were other rookies to get excited about such as Michael Massey who played excellent second base and looked like he could be the Royals’ second baseman of the future.
Going back to the pitching, there still were some bright sides. First off, the story of Zack Greinke. Many baseball fans expected 2022 to be his last season and the expectations weren’t very high. He ended up finishing the season with a sub 3.70 ERA and left an even bigger impact on the clubhouse that is full of so many young pitchers and position players.
On a more future note, Brady Singer, the face of the rebuild that started in 2018, finally pitched the way the Royals thought he could pitch. He was the clear ace and proved that he can be a solid number-two starter on a playoff-contending team. He also did this pitching over 150 innings and improving his strikeout rate. The pitching has a lot of question marks for the future, but Singer looks to fill one of the roles.
Finally, the bullpen had a few bright spots as well. Scott Barlow had another stellar season as the Royals’ trusty reliever that could come in at any time but also secure the save when they needed him. While Barlow pitched to a 2.18 ERA, Dylan Coleman may have been the best star in the bullpen. Coleman pitched to a 2.78 ERA in over 60 innings in his rookie season looking like he could be the closer of the future. There also was a surprise in the former delivery truck driver and sidearm flame thrower Jose Cuas who looked like a potential set-up man of the future.
There is a lot to be negative about after the 2022 season and the rebuild is not going the way the Royals front office promised fans, but there is a future in that Royals team and the next couple of years will be crucial to the development of their new young core.
M-SABR Predicted Record (80-82) vs. Actual (65-97):
Well, I was wrong. I, including many others, expected a lot from the Royals this season with a year under all of the young starting pitcher’s belts and a lineup that finished strong at the end of the 2021 campaign. As already mentioned, a lot went wrong from the starting pitching to the veteran bats who didn’t produce.
This team started out very differently than anyone could have predicted as Adalberto Mondesi, Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield, and Carlos Santana were all out of the starting lineup and off the team by the deadline. No one also expected all these rookies to have a major impact on the season as well. While there was a lot that couldn’t have been accounted for, I was way too positive and didn’t account enough for the continued downfalls to the pitching and key veterans to not produce as some were already regressing.
Surprise of the Season:
There were a lot of candidates for the surprise of the season, but the surprise of the season came down to two: Vinnie Pasquantino and Brady Singer. Going with either would be fine but I believe Singer was the biggest surprise. Singer went from a 4.91 ERA, 4.04 FIP, and 4.54 xFIP in 2021 to a 3.23 ERA, 3.53 FIP, and 3.97 xFIP in 2022. He also improved his K% by almost 2 full points this season while more importantly lowering his BB% from 9.0% to 5.6%. Singer went from looking like a possible bust of a first-round draft pick to looking like a future top-of-the-rotation arm. If Singer can sustain these numbers for a while, it will be huge for the Royals’ rebuild.
Players We Watched:
While my record prediction was far off, I was much more correct in this section. The three players I said to watch in 2022 were the exact three players you should have watched. Brady Singer was a big deal because of his disappointing 2021 and the outlook of his future. He lived up to expectations and then some.
As for Bobby Witt Jr., everyone knew he was the most interesting and most important player on the Royals’ roster this year. Coming into the season as the number one prospect in all of baseball, everyone wanted to see how his rookie year would go. While his defense was very disappointing, he still hit over 25 doubles, over 20 home runs, and stole over 25 bases.
Finally, MJ Melendez. Everyone knew MJ Melendez was going to get called up at some point in the season but no one knew it would be so early with a Salvador Perez injury. Melendez showed his all-star potential hitting over 15 home runs in less than 500 at-bats with a walk rate of 12.4%. These three players are the core of the future and they need to be watched for the coming season as well.
This offseason, the Royals need to focus on two things: 1. Extending their young stars and 2. Signing starting pitching. The Royals should aim to follow the same blueprint as the Atlanta Braves and lock up as many of their young rookies and pre-arbitration players as they can before the season on a cheaper deal than they will be able to sign them to as free agents in the future.
This list should include (in order of importance) Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, and Brady Singer. These are the biggest pieces to the future of Kansas City and if they can lock the young studs down for six or more years, winning baseball can return a decade after their historic playoff runs of the 2010s.
Starting pitching should also be a priority as they only have one legit starting pitcher in Brady Singer signed for the next couple of years. Zack Greinke is a free agent and the rest of their starters disappointed greatly. If the Royals could look for a couple of buy-low starters and maybe surprise some people in the industry and sign a pitcher like Zac Gallen, the 2023 Royals could be in a much better position than their predecessors.
Besides focusing on the young stars and adding starting pitching, they could also look to add a few depth pieces to the bullpen and sign a veteran bat or two to help out this extremely young lineup that only consists of current veterans Salvador Perez, Nicky Lopez, Hunter Dozier, and Edward Olivares (with some of them not even potentially starting next season). There is a lot in the air for the offseason regarding the coaching staff and front office, but if some of the young talent can be guaranteed to stick around for a while, I believe Royals fans will be satisfied.
Something to Watch:
The Royals recently fired their President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore who has been with the club since 2006. They promoted their General Manager J.J. Picollo and have put him in charge of all baseball operations. This was a big move made by recently new owner John Sherman showing a real focus on change and improvement for the franchise. Picollo worked under Moore for the Royals since the start and many fans question how firing Moore and promoting his subordinate will have an impact on the club and it will remain to be seen.
Following the front office changes, the Royals went on to fire head Coach and former Michigan graduate Mike Matheny and Pitching Coach Cal Eldred. This is a continued emphasis to show Royals fans that change is finally coming. The Royals will look internally at bench coach Pedro Grifol and externally at various candidates such as Dodgers first base coach Clayton McCullough. The future makeup of the Royals’ front office and coaching staff will be one of the most important stories of the offseason and is something to watch.