For the Royals, the future is now
The Royals opened the weekend by celebrating the past but the present is all about the future. And from here, it looks very bright.
The series with the Red Sox opened with a trip down memory lane as the Royals welcomed back one of their championship heroes. It was fitting that Salvy Perez provided the big hits on Thursday. However, it concluded with the focus firmly on the future as the rookies took charge and led the way to three victories in the four games.
The youth movement was underfoot when the season opened, but with moves to remove some of the veterans from the roster in order to open spots for the rookies, the Baby Royals have arrived. It’s their team now. New leaders are emerging. There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but it feels like there’s a new energy around this club. Something that was absent before is present in abundance.
This team is fun.
Yeah, it’s great when you’re winning. Taking three of four from the Red Sox will make anyone feel good about themselves. Yet you get the feeling this Royals team is just getting started. They’re not overmatched in any facet of the game. They may take their licks, but they dust themselves off and keep pushing ahead. It doesn’t always work, but when it does…It’s something.
The Baby Royals are here to stay. The future is now.
In the 17 games ahead of the All-Star break, the Royals were 8-9. It was, up to that point, their best stretch of the season. In the 17 games since the break, the Royals are…8-9. Perhaps you see that as maintaining the status quo, but the record after the break comes as the Royals dealt away their best all-around player in 2022 in Andrew Benintendi and Whit Merrifield. They’ve fully committed to their young bats and they haven’t lost a step. The numbers may be the same, but the record after the break is much more exciting than how they performed before.
It’s baseball worth watching.
Before the Royals could fully turn the focus to the future, they needed to pay homage to the past. The opening of the series was all about the return of Eric Hosmer to Kansas City and The K for the first time since he left after the 2017 season. You have to feel for the guy…He was shipped to Boston at the trade deadline in a salary dump by the Padres. It was a contract San Diego seemed to regret from almost the moment they signed him.
Conventional wisdom at the time had the Royals as the runners-up in the Hosmer sweepstakes. Can you imagine the state of this team had Hosmer decided to stay in Kansas City? Obviously, some of the other contract extensions wouldn’t have been done, but that contract would’ve really boxed in the Royals. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you are prevented from making.
Still, it was good to see Hosmer back in Kansas City. Nostalgia can be healthy sometimes and with the Royals finally moving forward after what has been several seasons where they’ve been stuck in neutral, it was a good time to celebrate their former first baseman.
This is just a really well-done video. Sound up!
This was MJ Melendez depositing the first pitch of Saturday’s game over the fence in right-center.
The nadir of Melendez’s season was, coincidentally or not, just before the Royals departed for their series in Toronto. The series Melendez missed due to his vaccination status. At that time, he was hitting .217/.309/.406 with a wRC+ of 101. That’s ok. Could’ve been better. Could’ve been worse.
Since then, however…He’s been on some kind of heater. Entering play Sunday, Melendez has hit .279/.353/.508 in 68 plate appearances. That’s good for a 143 wRC+. Much, much better.
(There will be more Melendez info to come. But I’m committing to a bit here. You’ll see.)
Saturday’s contest was a see-saw affair where both starting pitchers never seemed content to hold a lead. After the Royals and Melendez ambushed Red Sox starter Nate Eovaldi in the first, they taxed Daniel Lynch for a run in the second, coming on an error from Bobby Witt, Jr. at short.
If I’m being honest here (and that’s kind of the point of this entire enterprise, you know) I have to say I’m completely underwhelmed by Witt at shortstop. Well…that’s probably not entirely honest. Sorry! He’s capable of making the amazing, jaw-dropping, highlight-reel play from time to time. He’s also capable of kicking it around. The error Saturday came when Witt tried to play a short hop on high chopper. Not an easy play, but one that really…should’ve been made.
The 2022 Royals were supposed to have a good team defense. That hasn’t happened. Witt at short has been part of the problem. According to The Fielding Bible, he’s been worth -17 Defensive Runs Saved, which ranks dead last among the 35 shortstops who have qualified. To take it a bit further, his -17 DRS is one of two shortstops greater than -7 DRS. (Luis Garcia in Washington is at -13 DRS.)
Witt fares better with Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average, but only just. He’s currently at -5 OAA, third from the bottom. Garcia is the worst at -10 OAA while Geraldo Perdomo in Arizona has -6 OAA.
Look, I’m not trying to tear Witt down. The numbers (and the eye test) are what they are. While he’s capable of the sublime, overall he’s just not playing a good shortstop this year. Maybe the Royals need to move him off the spot permanently, pushing him over to third. They have a high-caliber defender in Nicky Lopez who can step in for the rest of this year. He could play there next year as well. (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Adalberto Mondesi—remember him?—won’t be on the roster in 2023.) Plus, with Witt’s bat, he could most definitely provide value at the hot corner. It’s fine. The Royals need to seriously be considering making this a full-time move.
You see, it was Witt who untied the game in the Royals half of the third, lining a cement mixing slider into center to plate two runs. Yeah, the bat will play anywhere.
I’ve written this several times this year, and it remains true. If you have to bring a run home and could pick any Royal to hit with runners on base, you’d choose Witt. (Assuming Salvy is unavailable, naturally.) Witt is driving home 17 percent of all runners on base. The league average is just over 13 percent. (For the record, Perez is driving home a whopping 19 percent of baserunners. The man is amazing.)
Witt scuffled a bit at the start of the month, but overall, his second half is off to a strong start. He owns a 122 wRC+ since the break and has generally stayed hot.
Basically, since his rough start out of the gate, Witt has been rolling with a wRC+ anywhere from 115 to 125. He’s been consistently above average since those first couple weeks of the season.
He’s going to be a good one.
Unfortunately, Lynch couldn’t hold the lead. The Red Sox did their fourth inning damage with two outs. A Christian Arroyo single was followed by a Bobby Dalbec dinger. Lynch hung a slider and Dalbec didn’t miss.
The slider wasn’t a good pitch for Lynch on Saturday. According to Baseball Savant, it was averaging 100 RPMs fewer than his norm. When the pitch averages around 2,000 RPMs, losing that much amount to a five percent decrease. That’s substantial. The result was a pitch with less vertical drop than normal which meant Lynch’s slider was catching far too much of the zone.
If the slider is going to work, he has to be locating it low and in to right-handed batters. There’s just so much in the above pitch plot that’s just hanging in the meaty part of the zone. Red Sox hitters only put five sliders in play. Four were hit with an exit velocity greater than 95 MPH. Two–including Dalbec’s homer in the fourth—left the yard.
After the teams traded solo home runs—Kyle Isbel in the fifth and Alex Verdugo on a first-pitch slider leading off the sixth—the bullpens held the offenses at bay for the remainder of the game.
When I write “bullpens” for the Sox, that meant just Garrett Whitlock. He cruised through the seventh and eighth innings, retiring all six batters he faced. He also set down the first two hitters he faced in the ninth. Of the eight outs Whitlock recorded, only a Lopez ground ball was hit harder than 92 MPH.
Up came Nick Pratto.
In the small sample of 17 big league games to that point, Pratto has been pretty much as advertised. He walks quite a bit, hits for some power and has plenty of swing and miss. He’s had some tough matchups that have resulted in some tough plate appearances (that have generally ended in strikeouts)
When Pratto isn’t overmatched though, the plate appearances are fun to track. He has a keen eye and strike zone judgment and is adjusting to what I’m sure is a bit of a different zone (and an obvious enhanced quality of pitching as well). The plate appearance against Whitlock was a prime example of the best of Pratto. He spit on early inside sinkers and when he missed on a change to even the count at 2-2, he went into protect mode, fouling off a couple of tough pitches—a change on the outer edge and a high, inside sinker. After watching a change outside, the count was pushed to 3-2.
At this point, the likeliest outcome was probably either a walk or strikeout. Almost half of Pratto’s plate appearances end that way.
But Pratto got a hanging change and squared it up. Walkoff. Ballgame.
Take a moment to savor this.
There are moments where Pratto is absolutely elevating going around the bases. I can’t imagine many moments with a better feeling that launching a walk-off dinger.
So if you were paying attention to the previous section, there’s a gif at the open and another gif at the close. Saturday was just the second time in franchise history that the Royals opened the game with a home run and walked it off the same way.
What I love about this is it was Freddie Patek who hit 41 home runs in his career who started things off. He did it against Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. Paul Schaal actually hit two home runs in this game. He was the Royals’ regular third baseman before George Brett arrived for good in May of 1974.
Sunday’s game was devoid of drama, yet completely satisfying. When the Royals win, it’s going to be because of the rookies (or Salvy, of course). That’s just basic math. On a given day, they are rolling with six or seven rookies in the lineup. They had six on the field Sunday. They accounted for all the runs driven in and nine of the 11 hits. They scored 11 of the 13 runs. (Kyle Isbel is still a rookie.)
Still, when these Baby Royals curb stomp a team that, while in the process of disintegrating, had eyes set on October at the start of the season, that’s something to behold.
Melendez alone drove in six with two hits (including a three-run home run) and a pair of sacrifice flies. Nate Eaton and Isbel hit back-to-back triples to open the seventh. They batted around in the eighth with all six rookies either scoring or driving in a run (or both!). It was a complete offensive performance. It was an afternoon that could make one giddy about the future.
Finally, some wholesome goodness for your Monday:
So much good stuff here, Craig.
I was thinking about the Royals and especially the last two games this morning, and I thought "hey, I'm not supposed to be enjoying them this much this late in the year!" Almost hate to say it for fear of jinxing, but they are starting to remind me a bit of when the youngsters started arriving in 2013. Maybe Hoz being in town got me nostalgic. Anyway, LOVE the enthusiasm and fun they play with, as well as the talent.
Your point on Witt is one that I had also entertained recently. Maybe I am mis-remembering, but I thought reports on his glovework in the minors was excellent. I think I am onboard with a possible move back to third.
Pratto and then Sunday -- I wonder if we will look back and see this as a turning point. The walk-off followed by the beatdown seemed to change the atmosphere at the K and with the team.
Craig - I enjoyed your most recent appearance on 810 so much that I decided to subscribe. Seems I'm spending more and more time on substack lately! (You can blame Seth Keysor and one of your competitors for that.)
Based on your column that I just read, I think you're gonna be partly to blame for that as well!
I'm right there with you on putting BWJ at 3B and Nicky at SS. Just because guys can play multiple positions doesn't automatically mean that it's best for them or the team to have them do so.
BWJ appears to be in too much of a hurry on some plays while taking others for granted. Admittedly that's an odd combination but that's what I'm seeing.
I'll be back. Looking forward to future columns....