Analyzing three key Royals stats
This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
KANSAS CITY – The Royals are 15-36 to start 2023, which is one of the worst starts to a season in Royals history and not how the beginning of a new era was expected to start.
But if the Royals’ goal was to evaluate the young talent on their roster to have a clearer picture moving forward, they’re sticking to that process. The young core is playing nearly every night, with the club even releasing Hunter Dozier earlier this week to free up more at-bats for younger players.
So, with that in mind, here are three Royals stats to note as we near the end of May:
Bobby Witt Jr.’s on-base percentage is lower than it was in his rookie season (.294), a concerning trend when looking at his whiff rate of 25.2% and chase rate of 33.5% – both numbers that have not improved from last year. Manager Matt Quatraro moved Witt down in the lineup recently to perhaps change the look and feel for the 22-year-old at the plate.
Witt very clearly has the tools to be a superstar as one of the fastest and most athletic players in the game, but cutting down on the strikeouts (21.5%) and swing-and-miss will be crucial to him reaching that status.
What’s encouraging about Witt’s sophomore season is his improvement on defense. After registering -11 Outs Above Average, per Statcast, between shortstop and third base last season, Witt has completely turned that around this year with six OAA. Serving as the Royals’ everyday shortstop has helped, but so has his work with infield coach José Alguacil on Witt’s first step and slowing down the game for the ultra-quick athlete.
The rotation’s ERA is ranked in the bottom five of baseball and not where the Royals hoped it would be.
But perhaps the better number here is four: The number of starters the Royals currently have on the injured list. Daniel Lynch has not thrown a Major League pitch this year (although he’ll be back soon), Kris Bubic is out for the rest of the year after Tommy John surgery, Ryan Yarbrough is out indefinitely after being struck by a line drive and Brad Keller is on the injured list with shoulder soreness.
The Royals are piecing together pitching and relying heavily on their remaining starters in Zack Greinke, Jordan Lyles and Brady Singer. There are several young pitchers in the Minors turning things around, but they are not yet at the upper levels.
Depth for 2023 is lacking.
“We’ve been trying to piece it together,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “I know the road trip didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but when you look at getting into the fifth or sixth inning, using some openers, I think they did a respectable job to give us a chance to win.
“We have some internal options that quite honestly need to pitch a little bit better to get consideration to pitch here in the Major Leagues. And we have some younger guys who are putting together nice years. We’ll make those decisions as we go.”
Carlos Hernández’s average fastball velocity is nearly 100 mph, but it’s what surrounds that electric fastball that raises eyebrows.
Hernández is a multi-inning reliever who throws gas and has three other pitches to keep hitters off balance. He has allowed one run in his last nine innings. Batters are hitting just .138 on his slider and whiffing 52.4% of the time on his split-finger.
It’s easy to look at the 26-year-old – who had never pitched above Class A Advanced before he made his debut in 2020 – and wonder if he could be a starter again. But Hernández is thriving in this role the Royals have carved out for him, sometimes used as an opener and sometimes in high-leverage situations at the backend of the ‘pen. His laid-back personality fits well with pitching multiple times a week instead of every five days, and he enjoys helping the team in different ways.
Evaluating young pitching this year includes learning what the future bullpen could look like, and Hernández figures to be a key piece.