How competition has fueled Massey to put unlucky '23 behind him

February 22nd, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- While questions swirled online about ’s role on the Royals after they signed Adam Frazier, another left-handed second baseman, in January, Massey was one of the first people to text his new teammate, welcoming him to Kansas City and talking about their goals to go after the American League Central this year.

Even with similar profiles, the Royals have stressed there’s room for both in 2024.

“It’s a competitive game,” Massey said. “The biggest thing is just learning from him. And he’s going to help us win. After losing 106 games, that wasn’t fun for anybody. They had to bring in guys. [Manager Matt] Quatraro says it all the time, ‘You can never have too many good players.’ You don’t just use 26 guys throughout the season. We have to pick everybody up.”

Frazier will move around the field when the Royals need a left-handed heavy lineup. If Massey doesn’t start one day, the Royals will rely on his bat and defense late in those games. Massey’s open to anything if it helps the team, and he has come to Spring Training with a different focus.

“He’s in a lot better of a place, I think, all the way around, than where he was last spring,” hitting coach Alec Zumwalt said. “Through the experience of the season, he learned a lot of lessons. I think he looks game-ready right now, which is a good thing. The hard part is making sure that we maintain the work and not overdo it."

After a disappointing .229/.274/.381 slash line last year, Massey and the Royals hitting coaches worked to create an offseason plan, which focused on three things:

  • Controlling the strike zone
  • Using the whole field
  • Increasing his range and arm strength in the field

Offensively, Massey was incredibly unlucky last season. His chase rates didn’t help, to be sure, as those fluctuated throughout the season. But he had a .261 BABIP last year, which was nearly identical to his expected batting average -- calculated based on quality of contact -- of .260. His actual batting average was .229.

The 31-point difference was third-highest in baseball last year.

In June, Massey had a .154 BABIP (league average last year was .297) and a .225 expected batting average, but he hit just .118 while his chase rate increased, too. July wasn’t much better with a .192 BABIP, .278 expected batting average and .215 actual average.

“Unfortunately, he had to be in the top tier of the league in hard-hit balls that were not hits,” Zumwalt said. “A lot of good decisions didn't have a lot of good outcomes at times. That’s really hard on a player -- when you do everything right and don’t succeed. But through that experience, it gave him a really good map of what he wanted to do with his training.”

Based on batted ball data, Massey goes from a disappointing season to being a hitter who lengthens the bottom of the lineup and plays reliable defense. But production matters more than expected stats, and Massey knew that going into the offseason.

Mentally, Massey had to accept that ups-and-downs happen. Physically, he found drills and cues that help his goals of using the whole field and controlling the strike zone. One drill ensures he’s staying through the ball to the center of the field and not letting his front hip leak open. Every day, he does some sort of work to improve his decision making, whether it’s using high-velocity or offspeed machines or having a batting practice pitcher mix up speeds and locations.

“The game has a way of telling you what to work on,” Massey said. “Last spring, we didn’t have a full year of, ‘What did teams try to do to us? What did we struggle with for a full year? What adjustments do we need to make?’ We got a good look at that last year.”

Defensively, Massey has been getting some reps at third base -- not because he’ll play games there, although increasing his versatility is helpful. He does it because throwing across the infield helps him become a better second baseman by seeing different angles, using his legs and getting more carry on the ball when he throws across the infield.

After all, Massey’s in a comfortable spot early this spring, but he wants to show how he can help the Royals win in multiple ways.

“It gives me a little bit of experience, gives the coach different options,” Massey said. “One of the things I looked at is, ‘How can I make myself a better asset for the team?’ If you can find a way to have 26 guys who are really elite assets, you’re going to win more games. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”